by Rina Terasaki
The discussion held in the last class reminded me about Japanese government’s policy of foreign residents. So today I would like to choose a topic about immigrants in Japanese society and express what I feel about the system, with telling some stories that I have heard from my friend. First of all, I feel that Japanese society is quite exclusive about other nationality or cultures. Even though more than two million foreigners are having life here as foreign resident nowadays, it seems to be very ‘Japanese’ in the political scenes. Not similar to those multicultural nations, foreign residents in Japan seems to be treat as ‘outsider’ in invisible way. I even sometimes happen to hear that some people or the government says Japan is a racially homogenous nation. It sounds to be like they do not recognize there is not only one ‘culture’ or forms of people’s life, even sounds they are ignoring those people’s existence.
One of my best friend, who is a Korean resident in Japan (zainichi-Korean), has told me dissatisfaction about the government’s political system. For example, she and her family does pay taxes and pay for whatever same with those who has Japanese nationality, but she has no right to vote for elections. Also has no right to become a national civil servant. I felt there is a big discrimination between Japanese and non-Japanese residents with just a reason of their ‘nationality.’ Even she was born in Japan and spend almost the same lifestyle with me, her rights of participation in government are very little.
Then it reminds me the story I heard in the discussion in last class. Some (or might be many) countries accept dual citizenship, but Japan does not. I came up with a reason: I think Japanese government try not to have people whose mind is half Japanese and half others. For example, if there are many people that have Japanese citizenship but thoughts are anti-Japanese, then Japan, as a nation, would be ungovernable. Population of Japan is also not that big compared to others, so it might be a crisis when non-Japanese residence includes and give influences to the original thoughts and the norm and might destroy the racial unity in Japan.
To conclude, in my opinion, place where someone was born is just a place, nationality is only for convenience and it should not be an identifiable tool. Sometimes it is needed to think decidedly between nationality and identity. Therefore, people’s action and rights has to be freedom beyond nationality.
2012年6月13日公表 法務省 2011年度登録外国人統計 http://www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001089591
I find this subject incredibly fascinating. Compared to many Western societies, Japan (and other East Asian countries like China and South Korea) seems very insular and homogenous, and this invites a lot of interesting questions for outsiders interested in sociology. The US, Canada, and Great Britain have a very unique set of cultural issues in regards to how social cohesion is maintained in a culturally heterogeneous society which comparatively homogenous societies like Japan’s can easily avoid.
I hypothesize that one of the consequences of this that we can readily see between Japanese society and Western society is something as simple as employment. To work in the United States, Canada, and GB, you often must pass extensive criminal background checks as well as illicit drug screening. This does not seem to be the case in Japan (please correct me if I’m wrong, as it’s the premise that the hypothesis hangs on) for anything but the most important security related jobs, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a problem with people running afoul of workplace rules or the law due to on-the-job drug use (and it could be argued that the same is true in the West, but I digress). If this is true, why is it true? It can’t be that nobody in Japan uses drugs irresponsibly, since we know they do. Instead, I posit that it is an effect of the homogeneity of the culture. In a culturally (and seemingly racially) homogenous nation, people are more apt to trust one another to uphold the same values as each other, whereas in a culturally and racially heterogeneous society, the human mind has a harder time accepting that national identity alone is enough to guarantee that others uphold same or similar values as one another.
As you can see (again, only if my original premise is true), the idea of whether to have a melting pot society or a culturally and racially rigid society has serious and fascinating public policy implications. Cultural heterogeneity poses many “problems” for societies as a whole, but perhaps for individuals it has many benefits. Speaking from personal experience, where I am from I had normalized exposure from a very young age to a wide variety of cultures and races, and I feel this has given me a wider capacity for empathy than perhaps someone who grew up in the same country as me but didn’t have the same exposure to other cultures. I can go anywhere and meet anybody and truly recognize that their joy and pain is just the same as mine, whereas in more rural areas, people seem to find it difficult to recognize the humanity of people who were not raised in the same milieu.
I realize this is an incredibly long comment, but I hope you found it as interesting as I found this blog post!
Thank you for following the blog and for replying to my student’s post. Let me address your comment point-by-point.
1) Obtaining a long-term resident visa in Japan requires providing proof that you have no criminal history in your home country. This can be a significant bureaucratic hassle, as you’d have to navigate multiple levels of government in your home country to provide the paperwork that the Japanese government requires.
2) While illicit drug use in Japan is relatively low, the same cannot be said about alcohol use. So, if you put both under the category of “substance use,” then I imagine the prevalence would not be dramatically different from that of other countries. Public drunkenness is also not illegal in Japan, and drinking after work with co-workers is a routine custom. As for drinking at work, it’s frequent enough for people to not be too surprised when they hear of it happening.
3) We’ve already established that the first part of your argument (lower substance use) is inaccurate, so we can avoid the claim that its existence is due to the presence of a homogeneous population. But to further cover that point, while Japan is less diverse than many other countries, it is not homogeneous. The idea that Japan is unique because of its homogeneity is actually a post-war idea intended to re-unify the country following its defeat in the war and the collapse of its colonial empire. Prior to the end of the war, Japan was a colonial empire, and colonial empires are, by definition, multiethnic.
4) Do Japanese trust each other more than people in other countries? Some scholars argue that social norms are so strong in Japan precisely because people have relatively low levels of trust in each other. That is, you need strong rules to keep people in line because you don’t trust them. Thus, the level of trust isn’t necessarily connected to the degree of diversity in the society.
5) As you note, diverse societies have their benefits, and homogeneity also has its appeal. But in a world of roughly 7,000 languages and about 200 countries, diversity is the norm, not the exception. Even in Japan. We need to look beyond concerns about my neighbor’s ethnicity to find ways to connect with each other. Often people inside and outside Japan think of Japan as significantly different from other places, but after having lived here for a number of years, I find we have much more in common than we think.
Thanks so much for your reply. I take most of the points as they stand, but I am a little unclear about a couple of things. While I admit that strong rules can have some influence on social cohesion, it’s also been argued that rules imposed by the state can’t have any real influence or meaning unless they mirror the norms that are generally held by the society being governed; if there is too great a disparity between laws and norms, you have a society with a population in which nobody follows the law because there is no social pressure to do so. Japanese citizens don’t seem “lawless,” so I assume that the laws and the norms generally coincide. Whether that’s a consequence of cultural homogeneity is the question of the hour, I suppose, and I accept that there are other likely explanations aside from a cultural homogeneity which may or may not exist.
I also don’t want to suggest that in some way I believe Japan is mired or stuck in a certain cultural mode. I believe (rightly or wrongly, I guess) that it is a society still in transition towards something that includes multiculturalism, that indeed is becoming more accepting of outsiders attempting to assimilate and naturalize (as Tsurunen Marutei’s election to the Diet in 2007 exemplifies), but it’s a transition that, for clear geopolitical reasons, has only just begun. However, as a resident and expert, I defer to your experience on this matter.
Finally, just for clarification, I was referring in my first paragraph to the difference between Japanese citizens obtaining employment within Japan and citizens of other nations obtaining employment in their home countries. On reflection, it was erroneous anyway (employment and labor relations is a pet subject of mine, so I might tend to shoehorn it into pretty much any subject of interest), so it’s not of any real consequence.
Pardon my intrusion into your class blog, but again, I find the subject fascinating, and sadly there aren’t many English-language resources on the subject. Of course, most of my education and reading in sociology was done from a domestic perspective without offering much more than cursory, comparative mention of how modern societies organize themselves outside of North America and to a lesser extent, Western Europe, so it’s valuable for me to see views on these topics from students living and studying outside of that particular framework, and I will continue to follow the blog with interest.