Social Movement Is A Process of Policy-Making in Japan

by Miki Imamura

It is often said that Japan is not the country that there are not so much social movements effecting policy-making process.  I was also thinking so until I knew this movement which happened in Hokkaido. I didn’t know that Japan had been believed as Unitary state till 2008. It was changed by Citizen-turned-politic-activists. In 2008,  “the resolution for assuming Ainu race an aborigine” was adopted in both houses of Representatives and Councilors. (Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan.) This story had begun from two Ainu citizen-turned-politic-activists in 1984.

At first, I would like to briefly introduce Ainu. Ainu is indigenous people who have lived in Hokkaido prefecture. From Edo period, the Japanese central government forced assimilations policy to Ainu people by depriving their land, pushing public education in Japanese. In 1899, “Hokkaido Aborigines Protection Act” was established and Ainu was considered to be “an old aborigine”. After WWII, Ainu had been not recognized as indigenous people by the government so that there weren’t any policies for Ainu. For long time, Ainu also has been suffered discrimination by Japanese even until now. (Hokkaido)

In 1984, there was a plan for constructing a dam in Hokkaido, Nibutani district, where had been considered as “a sacred place” for Ainu. It was the important land for Ainu cultural ceremony of salmon capture. Shigeru Kayano was an Ainu who grew up in Nibutani and speaks Ainu language. He opposed the construction plan and brought a suit to stop the construction for protecting Ainu culture. Social movements had begun not only in Japan, but also at global level. There were demonstrations in Japan done by Ainu and Japanese for the protection of Ainu culture.  At global level, the representative of Ainu made the keynote speech at United Nations General Assembly in 1992 for the “International age of world indigenous people”. In 1994, the Human Rights Commission jurisdiction gave an advice to the Japanese Government about “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, which has been said that it brought influence for Nibutani dam judgment and the recognition of the Ainu. Under those movements, Kayano became a Japanese Diet member (from 1994 through 1998 a member of the House of Councilors).

In 1997, the suit was basically lost, however the court recognized Ainu for the first time as an aborigine. Kayano continuously worked for the abolishment of “Hokkaido Aborigines Protection Act” and for the approval of “the Ainu Culture Promotion Act”.  After the approval in 1997, he resigned the member of Assembly and made an effort to regenerate the Ainu culture. It can be said that one man who wanted to protect homeland and its culture became citizen-turned-politic-activist and changed the law with the social movements.

Now Ainu recognizes as indigenous people and receives various policies for improvement of living standard of Ainu and for promotion of Ainu culture. There are various social movements by not only government, but also Ainu as well. Ainu has been promoting Ainu culture through education or ceremony domestically, and they have been promoting international conferences such as Indigenous Peoples Summit or World Indigenous Peoples Conference. However, considering “the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” which includes acknowledgment of the rights such as culture, land and resources, Ainu should be treated more properly. In Hokkaido, there is a new wave for that. Ainu party has established in January 2012, the representative is a son of Shigeru Kayano, Shiro Kayano. They will challenge the national election for advocate the right recovery of the Ainu. (Shinbun, 2012) From these facts, it can be said that the one citizen-turned-politic-activist clearly influenced the national policy-making in Japan.


Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan. (n.d.). About the council . Retrieved 11 30, 20121, from Council for Ainu Policy Promotion :

Hokkaido, T. A. (n.d.). 私たちについて. Retrieved 11 30, 2012, from The Ainu Association of Hokkaido :

Shinbun, Y. (2012, 11 26). アイヌ民族党が国政選初挑戦北海道9区擁立へ. Retrieved 11 30, 2012, from Yomiuri Online :

貝澤耕一. (2011). Restoration of the Ainu as an indigenous people : building a Japanese society in solidarity with the Ainu. 京都: 法律文化社.

Why does the gap between poor immigrants and rich immigrants exist?

by Ayana Nishizaki

Last week, in my post about ‘International Immigration’, I was wondering why poor immigrants stay poor while the rich get richer. Though my study, the causes are different ones than I expected. There are two main reasons: educational opportunity, and inefficient use of human capitals. I would like to discuss these reasons in terms of ‘illegal Hispanic immigrants’.

Immigrants of America are divided into two groups: legal immigrants who can speak English and illegal immigrants who can’t speak English well. Recently, increasing the number of illegal Hispanic immigrants is one of the big problems. They try to stay longer after the tourist VISA expired because it takes long time and much money to get the right of permanent residence.

The first reason of the gap is their education. According to one reading, Gross Enrollment Ratio of Hispanic is 57while that of American is 80. Most illegal immigrants don’t have enough money to take educational opportunity. Therefore, they have no choice to get low income jobs. On the other hand, educational cost of the high quality school is getting higher. It means only the rich can get high quality education and tend to get high income jobs. Therefore, the gap is still not getting close.

As the second reason, human capitals of immigrants are not used effectively and correctly. Recently, new immigrants are more highly educated than old immigrants because the number of immigrants who graduated from universities is increasing. However, immigrants are still faced with a difficulty to get acceptation of a job they want. The problem comes up when immigrants enter host country and show their qualification and ability to employers. These qualifications that they got in home country are not necessarily useful in host country. Even if these qualifications of home countries are similar to those of host countries, their ability of communication, language knowledge, and adopting culture are different from those of natives. There is a fact that there are many opportunities to get jobs like house keeper and restaurant server. However, when it comes to more high-skill-required jobs such as IT manager, it seems more difficult for immigrants than natives. Therefore, some high educated Hispanic immigrants have no choice to work what they really don’t want because of unpractical use of their ability.

From this study, I realized that the problem of the gap is caused by less education opportunity and inefficient use of human capitals. I though the main reason was merely their poor economic situation. However, even if some immigrants achieved high academic ability, they can’t get jobs they really want. In my view, that point (how difficult it is for immigrants to get acceptation from employer in terms of language skills, ability of adaptation) is one of the barriers when they assimilate. Therefore, as one of the solutions, I think government should clarify what kind of skills and ability in each jobs is exactly necessary in host country and inform immigrants of the clear criteria. By doing so, immigrants can make their life plan (such as which skills is necessary to get in advance) to reach their goal and also employer can easily measure and their ability and communicate with them.

Ethnic and Civic Nationalism in Japan

by Sakiko Maruyama

In the class, we learned there are two nationalisms; one is the ethnic nationalism and another is the civic nationalism.  While the ethnic one pays attention to the roots or ethnicity, the civic one emphasizes the attitude to obey the law. Then, we link the ethnic one with intolerance, while the civic one with tolerance for immigrants. In this way, both nationalisms seem to be opposite, but in fact, they can be seen in the same nation; there are some nations which their nationalisms change depending on the conditions, even if they have strong biases to one side. Japan is one of those countries which close to ethnic nationalism. We tend to regard the Japanese government as intolerance for immigrants and think the citizen is tolerant. But this matter is more complex than we think. We sometimes take more ethnic attitude than the government. I want to describe this situation by comparing the position of us and the government about two problems surrounding Korean school in Japan.

The first problem is about the compulsory education. Korean school isn’t authorized as the school participates in the system of compulsory education. Even though children graduate from Korean school, that doesn’t mean they meet compulsory education. On the other hand, many Japanese universities accept their applications because they have scholastic ability which is worth to take the entrance examination. In this problem, the government seems to be more ethnic and universities take more civic position.

The second one is the discussion about the free tuition of Korean school in Japan. Comparing to the first problem, we can find the government has different opinion about this discussion. The government seems to think seriously about the adoption of free tuition of Korean school, while some local governments obviously against it. The local governments independently focus on the question whether they give a subsidy to Korean school or not, and the local government which decides to cut it off is caused by ethnic reasons. For example, Osaka prefectural government cut it off because Korean school hold portrait of Kim Jong Il. Most of citizens agree with this policy, and free tuition may be out of the question for them. Therefore, in this case, the citizens support ethnic citizenship and the government sees the matter from the civic perspective.

In conclusion, we citizens sometimes take firm ethnic stance. We generally see the policy of the government as important to solve the question of immigrant. But seeing the above two discussion, I think the later problem is more serious. This is because we citizens seem to have a greater influence in this problem.

Citizenship in Japan

by Yuuka Kageyama

What is the meaning of being Japanese or having a citizenship in Japan? The answer can be various, depending on the idea of citizenship and when and where is the citizenship used or considered. Citizenship is usually defined as a form of membership in a community. One of the biggest features of Japan is that many people have same or similar culture, language (Japanese) and race, that is, Japan has less ethnic diversity compared to other countries such as America which has so many kinds of ethnic groups and immigrants. However, with the advance of globalization, Japan came to have various people and culture. In this society, how does the citizenship work especially on the immigrants from other countries or people whose parental origin are different from that of Japanese?  Let’s think about it from three dimension of citizenship.

First, in order to hold the citizenship as legal status, people need to have Japanese mother or father. However, there are many immigrants and people who were born and grown up in Japan but don’t have Japanese parents. Such people cannot be “Japanese” in terms of nationality. They also don’t have Japanese passport.  I met a student whose both parents are American but born and grown up in Japan and even have never been to America. He was educated as Japanese and his way of thinking and behavior is quite Japanese. However he doesn’t have Japanese citizenship in this regards even if he spends his entire life in Japan.

Second, citizenship ensures the right of participation in the community. In a society in Japan people who have right to be Japanese have responsibility to obey the law, which gives the government obligation to protect them at the same time. Moreover, individual needs to be treated equally as human right. Although it sounds natural and easy to implement, the reality is that people are not always equal in some part. For example, people who don’t have Japanese nationality cannot be national civil servant and cannot join the government by voting. It is true that there is a difficulty to give every citizen equally the right to be involved in the national important organizations, however, such people as immigrants should also have chance to reflect their wishes in some ways.

Third, citizenship gives people in a community a sense of belonging. People in a community share their own culture, belief, language and so on, which is closely connected with their identities. Immigrants who don’t share such identity can be ‘other’ in the society. The citizenship in this regard is different from the one which come from legal or political meanings.

Immigrants in Japan have still difficulty to join the society there is a need that Japanese government takes measures including achievement of substantive citizenship or expansion of the criterion to hold citizenship.