Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in December 2009 told the local Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry that Japan has to take in more foreigners despite fears of racial dilution in order to make up for its fast-ageing population. "Bakka!", Prime Minister Hatoyama must thought to himself, as he mouthed the politically correct response that he was broaching a "sensitive issue".
Japan has some of the world's strictest controls on immigration, as its people are reluctant to, as Lee put it, "dilute or to complicate the society by bringing in people of different cultures, different races."
But the Japanese cannot be labelled xenophobic. Not with France spending a long hot summer clearing camps of foreign-born gypsies, Australian Tony Abbot vowing to "stop the boats" of aslyum seekers arriving by sea, Netherland's anti-Islamic Geert Wilders calling for Muslim headscarves to be licensed and taxed, and Americans screaming for stricter border control. Even Britain's Conservative Party supporters tweeted, "It's time to put a limit on immigration."
So how is Japan faring without a calibrated inflow of newcomers? The Land of the Rising Sun (spelled with a "u" not "o") certainly has had its share of economic doldrums, but it hardly resembles a place wallowing in crisis. The workaholic salarymen are ditching the traditional practices of drinking into the wee hours with the boss, for a greater work-life balance, focusing on their homes and hobbies. Some even take sabbaticals or drop out of corporate life altogether, strumming air guitars at Harajuku. The "shin-jin-rui" women folk are forgoing diapers and ironing for shopping trips to Paris and Hongkong. Despite a ridership exceeding 3 billion a year, world's busiest by far, Tokyo's public transport system is still easy and cheap to get around in. PUB could learn a thing or two from their ingenius urban flood control schemes. Crime levels are among the lowest, the Koban system is discrete, and cops are not trigger happy types who discharge firearms in congested subway stations. Social cohesion remains strong, strong enough to relocate an American air base on Okinawa. Income disparities are low - Gini coefficient in 2009 for Japan is 24.9, compared to Singapore's 42.5.
With life expectancy averaging 82 years, Japan in the face of a shrinking population seems to be able to improve the quality of life for many of its senior citizens. Without having to pack them off to Johore or Batam.
Most significant of all, walk down cosmopolitan Ginza or entertainment district Shinjuku. Except for the odd tourist, the gaijin is truly a rare sighting. If only Singapore would learn from Japan.