Social Movements and Japanese Political Culture

English: Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Rally on 19 ...

English: Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Rally on 19 September 2011 at Meiji Shrine Outer Garden 日本語: 2011年9月19日に明治神宮外苑で行われたさようなら原発集会 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Chihiro Kobayashi

When I was in the U.S., I joined some social movements such as “Stop Modern Slavery Walk” and “9.11 Unity Walk” for the first time. My image toward the U.S. is that they insist and try to change their society by themselves through social movements if the current society is not what they want. Therefore, when they want to change the society, social movements are one of the most important ways.

However, in Japan, many people would think social movements are a bad thing and they avoid doing it. One of the biggest reasons why Japanese people do not join social movement is that they fear the bizarre eyes toward people those who join movements such as demonstration march. I do not say there is no social movements at all in Japan, but I think the understanding toward social movements is lower than other countries. Since demonstration type of social movement is hated by Japanese, it is important to find the suitable social movement instead to change our society better.

At the Japanese Political Culture Theory class, I learned Japanese people tend to avoid joining social movements as their culture. Instead, they tend to rely on others to change the society. For example, in the case of politics, many Japanese people complain current policies and criticize about the government as well. However, Japanese citizens tend not to make social movements to change these, instead they depend on politicians to change these problems. I do not really know if these tendency is because of Japanese culture as I learned in the Political Theory class, but I think it is sure that many Japanese have negative image toward social movements. However, I think Japanese people need to have better understanding toward social movements because it is difficult to make our society only by depending on the politicians.

In the past seven years, the Prime Minister of Japan has changed seven times, and Japanese citizens do not expect politicians to make our society better anymore. Since Japanese cannot rely on and trust politicians anymore, how we can change our society? I think we individuals need to join social movements and speak out about the problems to the government.

For example, more and more anti-nuclear plants demonstrations have been occurring in Japan recently, since the Fukushima Nuclear disaster. However, Japanese still might avoid joining a social movement, such as a demonstration march, because they do not want to be seen as bizarre in the eyes of other people. I think there are many other ways which is more suitable for Japanese cultural characteristic to join social movements which is other than demonstration. For example, in the case of anti-nuclear power plants, we have these variety of social movements.

  1. Voting for anti-nuclear politicians: Social Democratic Party and Communist party are anti-nuclear plants.
  2. Purchasing campaign: By buying the products from local area, they can appeal that they do no need to depend on money from the nuclear power plants but they can be independent.
  3. Consumer Boycott: Avoid buying the products which company is related to building nuclear power plants, such as Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Hitachi, Ltd.
  4. Changing the deposit account: Our deposit which is deposited in mega bank such as Japan Post Bank and Bank of the post office is used in bond purchases, and as a result, it will be used to construct dam construction and nuclear power plant constriction. By changing the bank account such as to National Association of Labor banks, it is possible to prevent our deposit from being used for building nuclear power plant. (Stop Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant)

Even though these social movements do not stand out openly rather it is more hidden movement different from demonstration march in the city, these movements still have big power to change the society. Also, even if we cannot change our society and policies, we can still influence public policy by bringing attention to the issues. Considering the recent lack of trust in politicians, we individuals need to stand up to make our society better.

I think it is important for Japanese people to find the best suitable social movements for them, based on their political culture (avoiding demonstrations) because we have different culture and characteristics from Americans and other countries. These little by little hidden social movements might change not only policies but also might change people’s negative perspective toward the social movements in the future.

Reference

“Stop Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant.” Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Promoting Super Dads and Permitting Normal Moms

by Ayaka Nakamura

One of my Japanese American girl friends told me, “I hate the idea ‘equal rights’ between men and women. Why do I have to work like a man? I just want to marry someone and be a mother.” I was surprised, as I had always wanted to have a professional job and be treated in the same as men. She continued, “Who on earth did start to talk about equal rights? I want to go back to mom’s generation! Then, no one would blame me for not having a job.” Although I had not thought about the equal rights in that way, I could understand what she was saying. She was afraid of working in the same conditions as men because she wanted to have a child, so that a happy marriage was the only way to realize her desire. It is actually too tough for women to have a job with being a great mother at the same time. Equal right discourses having a place in Japan are about promoting women’s rights and giving the same amount of opportunities in job hunting, which would be good for those who want to work like men but not for those who want to enjoy being women. Also, this type of equal rights does not let men to enjoy their fatherhood either because raising children is still entrusted to women and embedded in women’s rights. Although the Japanese government declare equal rights, gendered ideologies and norms still remain vital. Therefore, some women, such as my friend, are having struggles between expectations for powerful women and the reality of women. The government set the equal opportunities, but women often have different life styles from men because male and female are different and only female can give a birth (I would like not to touch arguments about trans-sexual here), so that different approaches to realize the equality within considerations of gender differences are necessary.

We cannot ignore existing gender ideologies, such as women are supporters of men, women are inferior to men, women are emotional and illogical beings, and child caring is women’s job, which have been continued within this patriarchal society. We cannot skip any steps to realize the equality. It seems that giving equal opportunities is an idea of “gender-neutral society” in which people do not have gendered fetters and only one’s ability is a criterion of a judgment. Yet, Japan obviously has not reached that point, so that it has to aim for “gender-understanding society,” as the first step, in which people accept the differences of sexes and gender roles and aim to get equal results. Also, at this point, people understand not only that women have been victimized and had lower statuses at work, but also that men have been marginalized from child caring and forced to work outside.

In order to realize gender-understanding society, I believe education would play a key role to develop people’s new norms. Current Japanese schools are saturated with gendered ideas. From my experiences, girls’ bathrooms were more beautiful and had more mirrors than boys’. Girls had different P.E. curriculums. Girls were expected to perform better than boys in home economic (kateika 家庭科) classes. Boys were expected to perform better than girls in science and math classes. Girls were more likely to go on to language majors at universities. Scientific schools (rikei 理系) were full of boys. Most of English teachers were women while math teachers were men. All art history professors were women at American University in Washington, D.C. As to job hunting, mostly men got in a career course (sogoshoku 総合職) and women in a non-career course (ippanshoku 一般職). These examples seem to prove that Japanese gender ideologies are generated in children’s minds from elementary schools to universities. Therefore, it should be changed. All students and teachers have to be aware of gender norms and gendered decision-making processes. Having a lecture about gender at elementary school level would help children to have more equalized and neutral ideas about their future. Moreover, ability-based, not gender-based, curriculums and advices would give students wider opportunities to find their best field.

However, only education would not be enough for a gender ideology reform. Politics that promote gender-understanding society would be necessary. Ikumen 育メン, which can be translated to cool fathers, project has started with supports of the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare of Japan. According to its website, the projects aim for increasing the percentage of paternity leave from 2.63 % to 10 % by 2017 and 13 % by 2020.[1] I believe this project is worth to try for both purposes: to release women from child caring roles and to let men fulfill their fatherhoods. Moreover, companies’ supports by establishing a new paternity and maternity leave system are essential to produce ikumen and to achieve gender equality. Equal start lines that only force women to work like men do not bring reasonable results, thus companies must let women have a paid maternity leave that can cover their living for a limited time. Also, accepting mothers and fathers who have worked at the companies as part-time workers while they need a certain time for childcare. Those part-time workers should be able to have salaries at the same rate as full-time workers. I believe the experienced part-time workers are more worth to hire than a new graduate full-time worker who have not got any skills yet. Although giving a paid maternity leave is an expensive solution for companies, contributing society will end up bringing benefits for them, too. Many people would choose more flexible and more secured companies to work with than old-fashioned companies that use women as tea servers and fire pregnant workers.

If educations are improved and society understands gender ideologies and norms, then the number of female workers will increase and women will get more independent and free lives, and someday the society could achieve the real gender equality appreciating equal start lines. Yet, the change would not come in one or two years because the whole patriarchal system has lasted for hundreds of years and is a part of Japanese culture. Gendered ideas construct the bases of its society. Therefore, ikumen project and other gender equalizing projects must be kept going until we see the change in next generation. I hope, in the future, there are more super dads who are evolved from ever-at-work dads and normal moms who are released from pressures of being super moms.


[1] “育メンプロジェクト” Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare of Japan. http://ikumen-project.jp/project/index.html

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.

Bibliography

Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan. (n.d.). About the council . Retrieved 11 30, 20121, from Council for Ainu Policy Promotion : http://www.kantei.go.jp/jp/singi/ainusuishin/policy.html

Hokkaido, T. A. (n.d.). 私たちについて. Retrieved 11 30, 2012, from The Ainu Association of Hokkaido : http://www.ainu-assn.or.jp/about03.html

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 : http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/election/shugiin/2012/news1/20121126-OYT1T00189.htm

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.

Women workers

by Natsumi Ichioka

In this society, it is said that all people are equal, but this is not always. There are still many problems for our truly equal life and society. Then, I consider about the better situation for the women’s workers in Japan. There are three points from the class discussion and my opinion.

First, from the class discussion, women who want to work are also hoping to raise their children. I think this is too greedy that women want to do both work and housework. But so many women want to do that if they are in good situation. Actually, I would like to work in near future and also make my family and raise my children by myself. But in present situation in Japan, women have to choose whether work or housework in the general company. Some companies have the child-care leave systems, but they are just apparent system in most company. I can say that there are still some kinds of women’s discriminations. Some companies have the label that women will quit the job because of the childcare. Actually women quit their job, but there is no choice in our society. So, all the companies have to make the child-care leave system. In addition, the companies have to make a good situation for all the people in order to people can take this system as one of the natural rights.

Secondly, I also think it is important to think about this system for all the people. It means not only for women but also men. There are so many situations in the family. If woman is in the important position like general manager, she have to come back soon in her position. Then, instead of woman, man takes the child-care system. Like this, we do not make the fixed idea like this system is for the women. It is important to think this system without fixed idea for the truly equal society.

Thirdly, man cannot substitute for woman in some points in present situation. In Japan, some people are still thinking that women have to work in the house and men work out. This case meets that women have to work more than men, because women are working in the house and in the company. It because that some men do not know how to do the housework and how to raise their children. I think it is important to change the education in the house. For not to rely on women too much, men also need to know how to do the housework and how to raise their children. In each family, all children need to know how to do some housework. It is not good to teach housework only for girl. I think the basic change in our family is needed. In this way, we will gradually change the social situation more equal one.

We need to change the basic ideas of gender in three points. It is not good to rely on one side. In the present situation, men and women cannot share the difficulties each other in Japan. If we can make an equal society, Japan will change better. In addition, Japanese society will change kinder one for all the children. For the truly equal society, now is our social reform.

The Power of Non-Violence in Social Movement

by Saki Hirama

There was the famous photo that showed a police let his dog bite the man who did not resist against it. That photo captured a moment of the Civil Rights movement in America, and it made worldwide people pay attention to the movement. I think world attention was one of the most necessary factors to achieve the goal. And now, here is the question, what is the power of non-violence in social movement?

Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are known as leaders of non-violent movement. They led various movements like boycott, sitting and marching without any violence. It was said that even though they were attacked by police or others, they never resisted it. Journalists reported it, and we can find the photo or film still now. When I saw these, I was shocked and had question about the justice of police or others because activists did not do anything bad. Similarly, the people who watched the report at the time might have had such kind of feelings. It might encourage people’s support in the movement, and also became pressure for government. I think this is strong power to show the ambition for the goal of social movement, and make the opposition an object that should be blamed.

However, we can imagine how difficult non-violent social movement is, and actually there have been many movements depend on violence. I think social movements are established with the existence of opponents, and activists sometimes have strong anger or hatred against it. Therefore, the movements tend to use violence.  Once they use violence, however, it gives reasons to arrests or criticizing. Keep non-violence can not only prevent from giving the reason, but also can be gathered people’s attention by sympathy or empathy. Non-violent movement is seemed that it has power more than the movement with violence.

Recently, more and more social movements came to be non-violence, like anti-Iraq war movements and Arab spring. These movements could get achievement. However, when we think about the case of Japan, even though the movements are totally non-violence, they hardly achieve the goal. In my opinion, the difference is caused by smaller scale and less attention. Japanese movement is much smaller than that in the world, and too well- regulated. We rarely find the huge social movement enough to get overwhelmed, and rarely find the movement that becomes the obstacle to something. Moreover, Japanese have been too accustomed to non-violence, so non-violent movement could not get enough attention. I think the problem of less attention in Japan can be deal with expansion of scale that involving more and more people.

After all, non-violence is effective way for the movement, and non-violent social movement should be improved. If it becomes more fascinated and ingenious, the power of non-violence might come to be stronger.

Social Movements, globalization and gender

by Julia Helbing

When thinking about Social Movements and globalization, there are many points that come into my head.

First of all, I think that Social Movements are very important nowadays. They are easy to start; you can just use the internet or advertisements in the radio or in the TV to inform about what you are going to do. You can create an event on Facebook and invite all your friends, who will invite other friends or post it on Twitter and other social media. This way more and more people will hear and read about your movement and maybe want to participate or support you. I think that Flash Mobs are also some kind of Social Movements. People appoint at public places to a certain time and start doing all the same at the same day, e.g. start to dance or pillow fight. After the Flash Mob is over, everyone is leaving to a different direction. Normally, the people who come to Flash Mobs don’t know each other.

In my opinion, Social Movements can really change something. For example, after the catastrophe in Fukushima, there were many protests in Germany. Germany still runs a lot of nuclear plants and even has an atomic disposal zone, which is also used by other European countries. People were shocked about Fukushima’s nuclear disaster and didn’t want something like that to happen in Germany. Therefore, they activated advertisements and thousands of people started to protest. This was reported in the TV and attracted more protester. When the movement became bigger, the government hat to react. They changed the atomic energy law and shut down nuclear plants that already were kind of a risk. In addition, they promised to shut down all nuclear plants in the future and to develop the use of renewable energy. Of course affected this changes other European countries and they are also discussing about new energy laws.

Finally, I think globalization also helped the gender revolution. Women wanted to be treated equal with men, they also wanted to be able to go to work instead of taking care of the household all day long. They went out on the streets, started protesting and this was reported by the newspapers all over the world. It influenced other women to also think about what they can do to change something. The result is that now the equal treatment of women and men is part of the law in many developed countries. And even if it is not carried out in all countries, I think it started the way that people think about gender roles. In Germany, there are some fathers who stay home now and take care of the children or the household.

So even though globalization has many bad points, at the same time some things also changed to a better condition.

Refugees in Japan

by Yuu Yokoyama

I think Japan should receive more refugees and give more support for them. Japan started to receive Indochina refugees in 1978 and joined United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (UNHCR) in 1981. It is the international organization for refugee. Then, in 2010, Japan decided to admit refugee to live in Japan as the third county resettlement for the first time in Asia. Japan contributes many refugee support programs. On the other hand, there are some problems in the system for refugees.

First, the support for refugees is very weak. For example, while they wait the recognition of the refugee application, refugees can get money to live in Japan from government. This is because they have no means to earn money, I mean, they are not permitted to work any place in Japan. However, in fact, this support money is very little; only 1,500 yen as life cost per day and about 40,000 yen as house rent per month, this means only 85,000 yen per month. There are many refugees who have disorder in their body because they barely escaped from their country in their life. Such refugees want to go to hospital, but refugees do not have enough money to take even medical examination. In addition, they cannot entry health service, so they have to pay more much money to take medical care. In 2010, the budget for refugee is not enough, so government cut support money of 100 people. This makes more refugees suffer.

Second, the number that Japan gives approval of refugee is very few. At first, in 1982, Japan gave approval of 63 refugee compared to 530 people applied to permission to live in Japan as refugee. This means one person per 9 people could be approved as refugee. However, in 2010, although about 1,800 people requested refugee application, only 21 people could get it. This means one person per 90 people, the number is very small. This is because the regulation of giving approval is very strict.

Third, there are some people who have the prejudice for refugees. People sometimes watch the news that illegal foreign people commit a crime such as violence, theft… so people think that immigration has the possibility which they commit a crime. However, news focuses too much on only foreign people although Japanese also commit crimes every day. For example, according to the research in 2007, the ratio of the crime by Philippine is only 0.3 compared to that by Japanese is 1. Thus, refugee is not dangerous, we make refugees dangerous.

I think many people don’t know there are a lot of refugees in Japan because they think refugee is the problem which happens in far countries from Japan. However, it is not. Refugee is suffering now in Japan, too. We have to corporate with each other and create society which refugees can live safely and comfortably.

Immigrants and Crime in Japan

by Saki Hirama

There is a general perception that immigrants are likely to commit crime more than Japanese in Japan. However, is that right realization? It seems that the mass media in Japan deal with crimes by foreigners or immigrants excessively, and it brings people a kind of prejudice.

Mass media in Japan often shows how foreigners or immigrants are dangerous with daily news, newspaper, or magazine. This phenomenon can be analyzed by closed society in Japan. Still in today, Japan is said that it has little variety of nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, and language, while the world comes to be more global. Compared with other countries like America, Japanese’s attitude of accepting immigrants is by far less flexible. People tend to have uncomfortable feeling against immigrants and it helps Japanese to have negative perception against them like committing crime. However, according to the data by National Police Agency, many cases of the crimes by immigrants have Japanese accomplices. It means that Japanese accomplices have been hidden because of the emphasized report of the crime by immigrants. Through this, I think it’s not necessarily appropriate to suggest that only immigrants tend to have high possibility to commit crime, and Japanese and they are standing in equal field.

However, it is also true that there are crimes committed by immigrant in Japan. The immigrants should have some reasons, because I think nobody commits crime without reason, Conceivable factors are that the lack of the opportunities for work, or the uncomfortable environment at working place or community. In Japan, it seems that most of immigrants have non-regular employment, and it means that they are in an insecure situation and also the payment is lower than the average. On a daily level, it is difficult for them to integrate into Japanese community, because of differences in language, culture, religion, and character of people. They might be isolated by community. I think these factors bring immigrants negative feelings, and sometimes it drives them to commit crime.

Although there is prejudice against immigrants in Japan, the problem of the crime committed by immigrants actually exists. We have to think how we can deal with it. I think the most important thing is that Japanese and immigrants should have good relationship by participation in communities. If they make connection, they will pay attention to each other, and it might help them when they are in trouble. Moreover, it might help them to understand their differences. The crimes committed by immigrants will decrease when the future that Japanese and immigrants can live together without prejudice or discrimination comes.

Citation

the status of arrest against the foreign crimes 来日外国人犯罪の検挙状況. (2011).  Retrieved Nov 10, 2012, from National Police Agency: http://www.npa.go.jp/sosikihanzai/kokusaisousa/kokusai/H23_rainichi.pdf

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.

Are “hafus” special?: Considering them as an individual

by Yui Matsushita

According to Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2010), the number of birth in Japan which one of parents comes from a foreign country was 21,966, while the total number of birth was 1,071,304. That means about two percent of babies (one of 49 babies) in Japan have one Japanese parent and one foreign parent. They are commonly called a “hafu.” It can be said that Japan is no longer a racially homogeneous nation.

Japan is diversifying today; on the other hand, Japanese society does not recognize this situation well. It tends to consider “hafus” as different from Japanese. They are still constrained by its stereotyped images that “hafus” are “foreigners.” Typical questions that Japanese people ask them, such as “what is your parent’s nationality?” and “which language do you speak at home?” are clarifying the difference and do not accept them as Japanese. There are a lot of “hafus” who were born in Japan, brought up in Japan, can speak only Japanese and recognize themselves as Japanese, however, they are often apt to be misunderstood that speaking Japanese fluently is surprising and speaking English is natural even it is the result of their efforts. Japanese society tends to cast people with ‘different’ appearances and ‘different’ backgrounds out (as regards appearances, it is conspicuous in people who have a white parent).

Also, there has been a lot of debate over how to call mixed-race people. In Japan, these people are usually called “hafu,” which is derived from the English word “half.” However, some people object this word because it seems to mean incompleteness of “hafus,” and those people claim the word “daburu” (the English word “double”). Both words typically focus on a “blood” characteristic of “hafus” and tend to ignore cultural and racial backgrounds (Lise, 2011). It can be applied to other Japanese words which represent mixed-race people. Every time a new word comes out, its appropriateness is argued and its fault is pointed out, however, “hafus” themselves tend not to feel its negative meaning, and some of them even think the word “hafu” is convenient to introduce themselves. Due to this, the way to call them is not a big problem because most people are not aware of the original meaning of the word “hafu” or “daburu.”

The most important issue today is that “hafus” are considered as special people and society does not treat them as individuals. They are classified into a framework of “hafu” and their action is seen as characteristic to foreigners. What Japanese society has to do is to treat them as individuals and respect their identity as Japanese. They should be considered as not foreigners or specials but one of Japanese.

References

Lise, M. Y. (2011). The hafu project: Photography and research. The booklet of The Hafu Project.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. (2010). Demographic statistics: Annual transition of the number of birth classified by parents’ nationality. Retrieved 16th October, 2012, from http://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/saikin/hw/jinkou/suii10/index.html