How do/should we learn from this course, Japanese Society?

Jiro Okada

“What do you think in the lecture room?”

This is what I would like to consider on this blog post.

(I do not criticise on this post, I just want to have a consideration with questions.)

When people look at something, there is an aspect of it that the person glances. Also, every single person has her/his own perspectives, backgrounds, and interests. Then, how do they apply to the class that we are taking? I am, personally, quite curious about how other classmates of mine are looking at this class. There would be something we have not known though it must be quite beneficial and exciting.

This class, Japanese Society, gives a quite interesting spotlight on minorities in the Japanese society, and we can actually recognise them through the class with the rich knowledge provided in it. The issues already presented are; for example, Ainu; Burakumin; Hafu; and Japanese Peruvian. Likewise, it vividly draws attention and gives us the great opportunities to consider the issue related identity. What are the mostly treated in the class are the issues and the facts with full of sources of thinking. Those contents in the course strongly make me think about the issues both in and out of the classroom.

However, I sometimes consider like “So what? What should we think from just knowing their existence and issues?” We can know the issue, and we can understand the contents of the issue. Then, we can feel something struggling inside of ourselves.

So, what?

I have known the reality Ainu people faces.

I have understood that Okinawans has been marginalised from mainland.

I know it is obvious that the issues in the class are all quite controversial.

Likewise, it is obvious that those controversial issues cannot be solved in a day or week.

Thus, it leads to the question on me:

“For What?”

On the other hand, there is another question. In this class, we often consider about the issue of identity. We can consider that there are people who have troubled with there identities. The issue of identity is actually difficult to think. Even this is the concept which did not exist in Japan before, as it can be seen from the fact that there is no direct translation of the word ‘identity’ in Japanese language.

In this class, the issues of identity get attention. It must be quite worthy to study this issue. Even around the world, there are several places that provide the course related identity issue. Also, there are several people who have mixed identity.

Then, this is my question.

Is this for whom, in what way?

It must be quite meaningful for everyone. But, sometimes I wonder how I should contribute to the discussion because I, personally, do not have any of the obvious identity problems on myself. Is there no way to contribute the discussion not just only asking to somebody who has something inside of her/him?

As I mentioned first, I am not criticising. For both questions I mentioned, I have got my own answers as meanings for study these issues. I am enjoying the class every Wednesday, and this class is actually brilliant. I would simply like to know how our perspective towards the class could be cultivated, and it must be worth to share. Though it might be answered in each of blog post in issue by issue, how about sharing the idea about this whole course?

The Mechanism of Discrimination

Masayuki Tanaka

In today’s multiethnic society, there are number of situations that people discriminate against someone. For example, we have learnt the facts of discrimination against Japanese-Peruvian, Okinawan, Ainu, Chinese and Zainichi Korean. But we have not studied why people discriminate. Although this is an extremely huge and fundamental question, I believe it is important to know the mechanism of discrimination and how to solve it for making Japan a discrimination-free society.

Discrimination can be classified in two ways. In one case, people do or say some discriminatory things on purpose. This is called ‘conscious discrimination’ because there is a certain intention to discriminate. For example, if parents tell their child, “Don’t go to that area! Many Burakumins are living,” this is conscious discrimination since the parents recognize that they are discriminating against someone (even if they are not feeling guilty).

In the other case, however, people often discriminate without recognition. This is called ‘unconscious discrimination.’ For instance, many Japanese people used to call an instant camera ‘bakachon-camera’ (which means even stupid Koreans can take pictures) without understanding its meaning. Although many of them were not trying to discriminate against Korean people, they eventually did. So this type of discrimination is called ‘unconscious discrimination.’

What makes people discriminate? To know its mechanism, I am going to give an example of ‘unconscious discrimination’ by showing a short scene of a film called Gentleman’s Agreement. This is a fiction movie which focuses on ethnic discrimination in the US society. A Catholic American journalist spends a couple of months in New York with his family, his mother and little son between his ex-wife, as Jewish to write about his first-hand experiences of anti-Semitism.

In this film, I would like you to pay attention to the scene when a woman said some words to a crying boy from 00:45. After you watch, I am going to explain how she unconsciously discriminated against Jewish people.

When Tommy, the journalist’s son who was also pretending to be a Jewish, said, “They (his friends) called me a dirty Jew. And a stinking Kike!,” Kathy, the journalist girlfriend, embraced him and replied, “It’s not true. It’s not true. You’re no more Jewish than I am. It’s just a horrible mistake.” Kathy was just trying to comfort Tommy, but she unconsciously gave Tommy a negative image about Jewish people. What this scene telling us is that people unconsciously discriminate against somebody without vicious intention. This type of discrimination is more serious than the conscious discrimination because the people do not recognize their words or behavior as discrimination.

How can we avoid it? ‘Conscious discrimination’ (discrimination on purpose) is easy to prevent if you have a sense of human right, but in the case of ‘unconscious discrimination,’ it is very hard to avoid because even a moral person often discriminate carelessly. It means even if you are not trying to discriminate against anybody, you might hurt someone. The solution is knowing discriminatory words and behavior. If you recognize certain words or behavior as discrimination, you will not use it. I think this is the only way to solve the mechanism of discrimination.

Consequently, there are two ways of discrimination: conscious discrimination and unconscious discrimination. In order to prevent them, we have to learn the mechanism of discrimination.

Takeda no Komoriuta

Kudo Tomofumi

It was a 2years ago when I heard a famous artist, Kazumasa Oda, was singing “Takeda no Komoriuta” that was born in Takeda area in Kyoto. It attracted me so much, but he told it has some story behind it. I immediately realized that this song must have been a “Buraku” song. At that time, I did not know that “Takeda” area exists in Kyoto and we can go there by JR.

“Takeda no Komoriuta” was a million hit song in 1970s, and many artists song it. However, at some point, this song have disappeared from the media, radio, and TV.  Do you remember the “Imjin River” which Kosuke song in Pacchigi! and the reason why it was not allowed, or hesitated to sing it in public? This was just because it was  a “Buraku” song. In 1969, Akaitori, a folk song band, song “Takeda no Komoriuta” and got a first prize in the Yamaha Music Contest, which made Akaitori famous afterwards. However, it was not its lyrics but melody that attracted many listeners. Actually, most people, even the member of Akaitori, did not know the meaning of the lyrics, and what was worse, few people could notice which “Takeda” area  this song represented. Once these uncertainties has got revealed, it was thrust into a taboo as a “Imjin River”.

I have learned about “Buraku” in my junior high school days, but it seemed a past story at all. I had thought liberation of Buraku movements have not solved “Buraku” problem, but recreated it, and that is why many broadcast station have imposed the voluntary regulation on broadcasting “Buraku” songs. However, almost all of the Buraku songs were self-explanations as a grief, anger. I believe that the images of “Buraku” is disappearing in a various societal change such a trend toward the nuclear family, but what we need to think most carefully is how to overcome the recreation of negative images, including “Buraku”.

“Takeda no Komoriuta” was not just a lullaby for baby, but one which awakes people who try to “sleep” pushing their countless experiences of discrimination away and trying to make those forgotten for good.  Its lyrics makes us notice that Japanese nursery rhyme cannot be represented only by the peaceful, innocent, and adorable ones like “Akatonbo”, “Edo no Komoriuta”. We should not forget  the grievous voices of young baby sitters who were too impoverished to study at school.

Here is a link of “Takeda no Komoriuta”.

Akaitori version:


To understand Zainichi

Yuki Kuori

How many of us in this class know about Zainichi people or are related to them? I do not think that we often have connection with them. To be honest, I did know much about them until I watched “Pachigi” and “Go”. Although, watching just two films dose not mean I am quite familiar with Zainichi people, these two films were meaningful for me.

I have been living in Osaka since I was born. Osaka is one of the famous places where many zainichi people live in, and lots of them are in Turuhashi where we can eat cheap Yakiniku but good quality. but I had little chance to get involved with them when I was a kid because their schools and Japanese public schools were separated and it seemed they lived in their community. Therefore, I did not know much about them.

The first time I was related to them was when I was in junior high school. I belonged to the soccer club and through the soccer match against “Chosen schools”, I came to know them. When I saw them for the first time, I was very shocked. Because they all were with shaven heads, spoke Korean and Japanese by turn and their soccer skills were amazing. At that time my images of zainichi people were kind of scary and totally different from us. After I graduated from the junior high school, there has been no opportunity to know them.

But recently, I have watched ” Pacchigi!” and ” Go” in this class and I have never watched those films describing Zainichi people before. Although the films describe them violence, we Japanese should watch them, because we rarely learn about Zainichi people in school and I think that films are very important means for most Japanese to understand them.

As long as we live together in this land we have to know each other and get along with. At the moment, Japanese do not know much about Zainichi people, so I think watching those films will give us the opportunity to understand them.

Struggle of Nikkei people living in Japan

Wakana Dohtan

As we already learned in the Japanese Society class, the issue of Nikkei people living in Japan has been a quite controversial topic. Now it is apparently true that Japanese economy is heavily depending on foreign labor forces in a variety of places, for instance, manufacturing or agricultures. The home countries of these foreign workers are mainly from China, Korea, and the growing number of Nikkei people.

Especially talking about Nikkei people, since the new law, which enables Nikkei workers come and work in Japanese society with almost no conditions required, came into force in 1990, the number of them has been skyrocketing up until today. They usually devote themselves to unskilled and low-paid jobs which is so called 3D (Dirty, Dangerous, and Demeaning.) The reason why Nikkei people poured into Japan then were also associated with the very big economic downturn happened at the same time and mal-politics back home in large part of Latin America. Japanese government decided to accept Nikkei people because they predicted that if they have at least something in common with native Japanese like an ancestral linkage, there would be less conflicts and disagreements among Japanese society which seemed to prefer homogeneity and resulting efficiency at working place. However, this easygoing assumption turned out to be completely wrong. Even though they were “Nikkei”, their attitudes, culture, or speaking languages were totally Peruvian, or Brazilian, therefore, they had great difficulties of integration and there appeared so many problems like lack of necessary information, housing problems and cultural clashes with Japanese neighbors.

For such a situation, a friend of mine told me that Japanese government does not have to do anything to support them. He insists that Nikkei people were coming to Japan spontaneously with their own will and that they may not get any jobs if they stay in their home countries. In comparison with their homeland, Japan must be much better for them, therefore Japanese government should not take any extra responsibility for them.

Well, that could be one reasonable opinion. I personally, however, believe that as long as Japanese government is economically willing to accept cheap labor forces to fulfill the demand at working site, they also have to prepare and supply them basic circumstances for coming immigrants, for example by providing them with the Japanese-learning class, multilingual information, some sorts of social security, or checking system that investigates if their working contracts with the company is legal, all of which are greatly important for foreigners to survive in Japan. However, the reality is completely insufficient. Especially after the economic crisis in 2008, Nikkei people have been suffering from sudden and wrongful determination or unexpected cut down on their salary.

Self-help is the theory which is applicable only to the majority I think. Thus Japanese government should take it into account that Nikkei people are not only cheap labor forces but also “human beings”.

Should we all know about Buraku?

Eri Kobayashi

Eta/Hinin system was built up in Edo period to categorize people in a hierarchical way. This system is one of characteristic discrimination forms in Japan which has led to “Buraku discrimination” today.

Eta/Hinin lived in a certain district called buraku so they are called “burakumin”.

The factor of buraku discrimination lies in the backgrounds of their ancestors. They were divided into a group of Eta or Hinin on grounds that they had committed crimes, they were homeless, or unable to pay taxes out of poverty. They usually did the work like nobody would want to do such as talking care of dead bodies, working in a sewage disposal plant, skinning animals, and the like.

Up until now, especially in our grandparents’ generation, it was common to see people from buraku. At school, there were often 2 or 3 students from buraku in a class. According to my grandmother, people could tell if he or she was from buraku according to where they lived. My grandmother said that she was told not to be close to burakumin by her parents, otherwise she would get into a trouble. At that time, many people had a bad image over burakumin and they had to face severe discrimination in finding jobs, marriage, and education.

But now, the situation is different. Buraku area has been reconstructed and improved its condition as a government policy initiated to correct a gap between buraku and other areas. Also, after experiencing a rapid economic growth, people have moved in and out, so buraku areas are no longer a place peculiar to burakumin. Like this, buraku discrimination has gradually become an unfamiliar matter for young people and children.

Although buraku discrimination is now cooling off, the word of “buraku” still seems to be considered as a taboo. I have learned about buraku as a part of moral education(dowa education) in high school and was taught that “we shouldn’t talk about buraku so easily in public because some people hide their origin and can get hurt by your inconsiderate words”. After listening to a teacher say like this, I felt I was forced to be always aware of buraku discrimination though I can’t really see or know about it around me. It is indeed important to pass on a story of buraku to prevent further discrimination, but if it is done excessively or in a wrong way, the result will be otherwise.

Buraku areas dispersedly exist in Japan, so education level of buraku should be limited to each area, for example, a place where used to have a large number of burakumin. Since these places have a deep and long history of buraku and people have more chances to get to know about it from their families, relatives, or schools, they can have a better understanding about the discrimination, accordingly,  dowa education can finally reach its goal to stop discriminstion from spreading ever again.

Minority or Majority? Both or Neither?

Tomofumi Kodo

What does the word of “minority” and “majority” mean? I do not know the answer, because it seems, for me, that these idea can easily be created based on arbitrary criteria. For example, when we consider “Okinawan” people as a minority group, that means WE are in a majority simply because we are not them, or because they have different dialect, culture, behavior, and so on compared to us, “Japanese”. However, these criteria implicitly mean that we share same identities and deny the diversity within us. Since the awareness of diversity, or being different, makes people alienate the different group from them. “We are not same.” Within the majority group, other minorities are created, and then, “original minority”, “Okinawan” people in my post, would be categorized into “majority”, after those segmentalization of original majority. I think that majority turns into a minority, and then, various minority idea would be taken over by the idea of majority. Then, we notice that it is useless to consider “Okinawan” people as a minority. “Why do we need to think ‘Okinawan as minority’, even though we are not majority?”

However, I do not think this process does not, or hardly, occur in reality, because people, including me, try to avoid from being treated as minority, ignoring lots of difference. I have Japanese nationality, but am not sure I have Japanese identity as other Japanese have. Some tell me the definition of Japanese people with various identities, but I do not totally agree to the definition because there must, and actually, be Japanese people who is not Japanese based on his definition but I believe he is. It’s true that there is minority group in number, but this does not mean at all. We put them various identities and create as minority groups, not as a relative, but as an absolute one through the discrimination to them, for example.

It’s almost impossible to clear away minority groups from this world unless these activities of creation and recreation of minority disappear. However hard do I try not to make minority or majority group, we would intentionally do. But it would still be important to ask ourselves that “on what point can we say so?” when we see some people, or group, as minority or majority.

At some time, maybe I’m either minority or majority, but other times I’m both or neither.

Japanese in Diaspora Community

Nana Uno

 Japanese who live in Japan may not know the fact that there are many Japanese immigrants in many countries. According to Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there are 373,559 Japanese immigrants in the world in 2009. They immigrated into the U.S, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany and other countries all over the world. Into Peru, 33,000 Japanese immigrated between 1899 and 1942. They were denied to access to the capital and Peruvian bank. Therefore they kept their ties, and they even made revolving credit system among their community. Now, they are not denied by Peruvian bank system, but they still get together and have a big community among Japanese in Peru.

Same as in Peru, there is a big Japanese community in British Columbia, Canada. There are many Japanese immigrants in Canada, especially in British Columbia. Their community bases on Buddhism. They meet and have events at temples. However, they are not really religious. They gather at temples and share Japanese culture, but they do not really have religious activity. Similar to Japanese in Peru, Japanese in Canada were excluded from Canada during WWII. In order to stand from exclusions, Japanese get together through Buddhism, but they try to show Buddhism is not anti-Christianity or anti-Canada. In fact, they call the temple “church”. Even after the war ended, Japanese still got together at “church”, and “church” was becoming just a place to get together for Japanese Canadian. Still now, Japanese community in British Columbia bases on Buddhism, however it does not means they are really religious, but it means they get together, share and carry on their culture, and tie up each other through Buddhism.

Agendas in Enlightenment of Dowa Problem

Kosuke Matsuura

In Japan, Dowa Problem, which refers to discrimination against those who used to be outcaste in Edo Era, has existed for the long time; however, the number of those who are conscious of Dowa Problem has been decreasing due to the long time. Should we do education which reminds me of the past? Does it worthwhile to educate discrimination now?

Until I take this Class, I have grown up without recognizing almost no dowa problem around me. After I learned about Dowa Problem, I asked my mother whether she had ever heard about the problem around her and existence of such regions. She acknowledged the existence as true and it became clear that the region was near my hometown. The fact was surprising because I had never known at all though I was living near the region for more than 15 years. Further, she told me an episode related to the fact. When she was in high school, she fell in love with a boyfriend who was born in a region which was believed to be a Dowa area; and she was severely scolded by her father due to the boyfriend’s birthplace when she introduced him. Unfortunately, they were separated and, she said, she then first recognized existence of Dowa Problem. Finally, I asked a question whether she would accept my marriage with burakumin girlfriend or not. She answered that she would accept but my relatives might complain.

From this episode, it is obvious that, though the elderly are recognizing and, perhaps, doing discrimination, the youth are hardly recognizing. That is, the more descendant the generation is, the less consciousness toward Dowa Problem becomes. The effect of Dowa Problem is getting relatively small and, if this situation continues, we can minimize the discrimination.

We can see various measures against Dowa Problem such as sayings in everyday life. For example, it is well-known “No discrimination and keep human rights (なくそう差別、守ろう人権). Moreover, we can see others on the rear of City Buses such as “Both your and our lives have the same worth (おなじです あなたと私の 大切さ). Of course, these sayings contribute to mitigating discrimination, but they may remember the existence of discrimination due to their implication.

It is clear that we should not let the existence of Dowa Problem fade away; however, it is impossible to abandon discrimination without completely forgetting that. More and more people are forgetting the existence; and less and less people are recognizing the existence. The next step will be ceasing measures which let us recall the existence. After that, the true equality will be realized.

Is this exactly the difference of the nationality?

Yukari Deguchi

Let me write my opinions about the small differences of nationalities that we feel in our daily life. I got this during the last class.

When I discussed about Chinese social dance party and the subculture groups which were formed by Chinese participants in the class, I found that we have a belief when we come in contact with foreigners. For example, if we found some differences between me and he or she, we would usually think “it’s because he or she is not Japanese”. Of course, the idea is not wrong, but it’s not necessarily right. When you have some experiences, for example, you and the person’s opinions didn’t mesh, or you felt rude although the person thought he or she treated you with kindness, did you thought it was because of the difference of nationalities? Although most of those cases would be got over with the difference of nationalities, but isn’t it controversial topic? I think the situations can be seen in the pure Japanese society. Sometimes Japanese can’t understand each other like the situations we have with foreigners. It’s also usual in the Japanese society. However, when the person is foreigner we feel the differences between us are very unusual things because we look at him or her through lends of the race without knowing.

I have this idea because the way to form subgroups in Chinese dance party is very similar to that of Japan. They formed groups based on their regions, educational background, interests and generations, and they also feel uncomfortable to sit in different groups although both of them are Chinese immigrants.

I don’t mean that it’s not good to think “because he or she is not Japanese”. It’s natural that we feel the differences of nationalities. However, I think that getting all differences over with the nationality makes invisible barrier between people. Therefore, we should carefully think weather the differences among us were because of personality or nationality.