Japan needs to recognize immigrants as members of our society

by Miki Imamura

What is multiculturalism? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of multiculturalism is “The characteristics of a multicultural society; (also) the policy or process whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within such a society are maintained or supported.” (Press) My understanding for the definition is that multiculturalism is recognizing those who have different identity or norm that has different language, appearance or religion as a member of a community.

In my opinion, the base concept of multiculturalism can be seen in Japanese fashions. We have some established fashion style such as Gal, Lolita, Otaku style and Harajuku style. Each fashion style established their own culture, which consists of their unique languages that some of them are only understandable within each style. They also established fashion industries and their own fashion media. I see the base concept of multiculturalism in the Japanese fashion society. Even though they hardly get together to hang out cross the style, they do not deny each other and they recognize each other as a member of Japanese society.

However, this can be seen only within the society consists of Japanese. Historically, Japanese have been good at dealing with different culture or religion if only it can be assimilated in Japanese society.  For adaption of different culture or religion, Japanese assimilate those elements into Japanese culture. The basic concept of multiculturalism is available because at the bottom of the each fashion difference, we share the same Japanese norm and the concrete notion of assimilation. Even though people who are not Japanese can perfectly speak Japanese, Japanese norm has prejudice for “foreigner”. It does not really matter if they have Japanese nationality or not. The prejudice for foreigner comes from different appearance, language or religion, or culture unless they are not “real” Japanese whom born in Japan from Japanese parents.

It is because we do not recognize them as a member of Japanese community. I think Japanese people tend to think that “foreigner” in Japan as temporary residents, and if they will live in Japan for rest of the life, they have to be Japanese. This is the crucial problem we are facing in Japan. This idea is creating misunderstanding and hostile or social vicious cycle for immigrants in Japan. We have to admit that immigrant who has different norm is our member of a community.

Recognizing them as a member of our society is creating the environment for them to live as they are.  Just like Japanese fashion styles, Japanese society has to admit their own language, business and norm. I believe the terms to create such environment is changing the early childhood education and for immigrant to take part in the planning of local authority.

Actually, there are some changes already happen government level and civil level. In 2005, Japanese government has established the committee for promoting multiculturalism claiming for local authority to promote multicultural policy. (Yujiro) Some of the local authorities such as Shizuoka, or Shiga already act to involve immigrants in local policies. Taking immigrants to be part of decision making process will make not only local Japanese but also immigrant to recognize immigrants as a member of community. Additionally, Director for Policy for Foreign Residents was established and they promote policies for a wide range such as education, employment, and housing. (Society) However, this is just only for a Nisei, or Sansei and their policy of education only focuses on providing opportunity leaning Japanese and Japanese society. They do not provide any policy to enhance their original identity.

At the civil level, there are some NPO to provide educational service for immigrant children in not only Tokyo, but also suburban areas such as Shiga. The NPO “Minna no ie” in Oumihachiman, Shiga, is one of the good example of such an NPO. This is a bilingual (Japanese and Portuguese) day care center. (Shinbun, 2010) Their concept is providing an environment where immigrant children can enhance not only Japanese culture but also their original.

We should promote these services in all the place of Japan. I believe those service will contribute the environment where immigrant can live as a member of the community even thought they have different norms. Multiculturalism is not assimilation. It is admission and recognition for immigrant as a member of Japanese society. It is the environment where all the member of community lives as they are. Japanese society needs to understand the real meaning of multiculturalism.


Press, O. U. (n.d.). multiculturalism. Retrieved 11 5, 2012, from Oxford English Dictionary : http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/234921?redirectedFrom=multiculturalism#footerWrapper

Shinbun, A. (2010, 7 1). 〈はぐ〉ニッポンに暮らす――就学前から「多文化」実践. Retrieved 11 8, 2012, from The Asahi Shinbun Digital : http://www.asahi.com/special/hug/TKY201007010200.html

Society, P. o. (n.d.). 日系定住外国人施策. Retrieved 11 8, 2012, from 共生社会政策: http://www8.cao.go.jp/teiju/index.html

Yujiro, M. The Regional Actions to Progress of Multicultural ―By the International Policy and Multicultural Activities in Shiga Prefecture―. Seisen University .

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