Are multi-culture and multi-ethnicity accepted in Japanese society?

by Naoko Yoshida

In 2007, Taro Aso, the then Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, made a statement that Japan was the only racially, linguistically, and culturally homogeneous nation. Throughout the history, many politicians and celebrities have said that Japan is a mono-ethnic and mono-cultural country, and those statements have caused a lot of disputes. Although there have been some other races and cultures besides Japanese ones, why so many people consider that Japan is mono-cultural or mono-ethnic nation? I believe this fact shows that Japanese society tacitly has not accepted multi-culture and multi-ethnicity.

There are several minority races in Japan, two of them are Koreans with permanent residence of Japan, who are called Zainichi Koreans, and the Ryukyu race in Okinawa, who are also called Okinawans.

Zainichi Koreans are people who moved to Japan in search of work and as forced labor before and during World War II, and the offspring of those people. Although their nationalities and races are Korean, many of them have Japanese family names. That is because they can adapt to Japanese society more easily with Japanese family names. For example, one of my friends has her Japanese family name “Nakamura” as well as her Korean name “Kim.” She almost always uses her Japanese surname except when she is abroad. In addition, Koreans in Japan usually speak Japanese instead of their mother language, Korean. Those facts show that although they are proud of their own culture, they should follow Japanese customs not to stand out in Japan.

Also, Ryukyu race is a minority in Japanese society. Although Okinawa is one of the prefectures in Japan, it is seen as unique in Japanese society. That is because they show off their indigenous culture. Here, we can say they have strong pride for their culture. And, indeed, Okinawan society is sometimes considered to be separate from Japanese society. That is also shown throughout the history. Japanese government offered Okinawa as a hostage to the US soon after World War Two.

In summary, Zainichi Koreans had tried to be inconspicuous in Japanese society with using Japanese family name and speaking Japanese, and Okinawans had hard time probably because of their too strong pride of their own culture. By considering those facts, multi-culture and multi-ethnicity are not accepted in Japanese society. Since we are in the world of globalization, Japanese people should be more acceptable for other races and cultures.

Reference

Tai, E. (2004/9). Korean japanese. Asian Studies 36 (3), 355-382. doi: 10.1080/1467271042000241586

Hoffman, M. (2012/6). Okinawa: a long history of hardship. The Japan Times, 14.

麻生総務相「一民族の国はほかにない」九博開館式で発言. (2005/10/16). asahi.com. http://web.archive.org/web/20051018033046/http://www.asahi.com/politics/update/1016/001.html

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