Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan

by Robert Moorehead

Film description from ““:

In a war on suicide, who is the enemy? ‘Saving 10,000′ is the story of an Irishman’s personal passion to uncover the true causes of the high suicide rate in Japan. The disturbing findings include the Japanese media`s perverse love affair with suicide, a variety of cruel and predatory economic pressures and an outdated and failing mental health care system. With the help of front-line experts and ordinary Japanese, many touched by the horror of suicide, the movie delivers practical proposals on how Japan can win a war on suicide. However with suicide such a taboo, the odds are nobody will listen. Or will they?

Saving 10,000 – Winning a War on Suicide in Japan” is a 52-minute documentary directed by Rene Duignan and filmed by Marc-Antoine Astier. Unusually for a small low budget documentary, “Saving 10,000″ has attracted a lot of media interest with Rene giving over 30 interviews to date. The movie also sparked interest from politicians with DVD requests from a Minister and Vice-Minister and a screening was held at the Japanese Parliament. Rene has had the privilege of sharing his ideas in a meeting with the Suicide Prevention Unit of the Cabinet Office. After the high profile Japanese media coverage, a large amount of screening requests have been coming from all over Japan. Due to huge public interest and the extreme urgency of raising suicide awareness in Japan, Rene has made the decision to release the full movie online for free. Please note DVDs will be provided free of charge to any organisation/university/NGO that would like to hold a public screening.

Rene will endeavor to fulfill as many speaking requests as is feasible for a “film director” with a day job.

Requests and enquiries to


Immaculate Conceptions and Japanese Citizenship

by Robert Moorehead

According to the Mainichi, on September 13, the Osaka Family Court ruled that a child conceived through sperm donation must be registered as fatherless. The Court rejected the petition of a 31-year-old transgender man and his wife, who had sought to add their son to their family registry. The Tokyo Shinjuku Ward Office had refused to record the man as the child’s father, noting that he was biologically incapable of fathering the child. Instead, the Ward Office left the father section of the family register blank. An immaculate conception!

The man had legally changed his gender in 2008, and married his partner shortly thereafter. The Court ruled that Japanese law bases parenthood on a biological connection between parents and child. Since government officials are unable to watch people conceive their children and they do not require DNA tests to add children to family registers, the standard practice has been to record both parties in a married couple as the child’s parents—even if the child was conceived through sperm or egg donation.

This case comes down to whether the government knows whether you’re capable of conceiving a child. If the government does not know that reproductive technologies have been used, then the parents are in the clear to record the child as theirs. However, if you’re a transgender parent and had legally re-registered your gender, or a woman whose fertility is in question, then your claim to parenthood may be denied.

This privileging of biological ties is inconsistently applied, as in 2003 authorities refused to register actress Aki Mukai as the mother of twins who were born through an American surrogate, and instead registered the surrogate as the children’s legal mother. Mukai’s ova and the sperm of her husband, wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, were used in the surrogacy. However, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that Japanese law only recognizes the woman who gives birth to the child as the legal mother. Mukai and Takada were required to adopt their children, who were registered as American citizens and foreign residents of Japan.

In another example, a woman’s spouse will be automatically recorded as the father if the child is conceived during the marriage, regardless of who the biological father is. If the woman conceives the child with someone other than her spouse while she and her spouse are separated, and she subsequently divorces and re-marries, the ex-husband will be listed as the child’s biological father.

Why engage in such legal and mental gymnastics? Defenders of the current law say that it is necessary to support the sanctity of marriage. Such marriage laws also legally discriminated against children born to unmarried parents by limiting them to half the inheritance their “legitimate” siblings would receive. On September 4, the Japanese Supreme Court unanimously overturned a 1995 decision that upheld the law.

Following the logic of the Osaka Family Court’s decision, if a child is born through anonymous sperm and egg donations to infertile parents, and the government knows the parents are infertile, that child could legally be recorded as having no parents. An even more immaculate conception!

Such a child would also be stateless. For children to receive Japanese citizenship at birth, they must have at least one parent who is a citizen. Thus, if the mother of the child in the Osaka case is not a Japanese citizen, then her child will also not be a citizen, as the child’s legally non-existent father would not be able pass on citizenship to him.

A further wrinkle is that an overseas birth must be registered with Japanese authorities within 90 days for the child to receive citizenship. Given the dearth of reproductive services in Japan, many women seek services outside the country. If, upon returning to Japan, the couple’s parenthood is in question, the couple must choose whether to register the surrogate as the mother, or challenge the decision and risk missing the window in which to register the child for Japanese citizenship.

Beyond the common situation of the law not keeping up with rapid changes in reproductive technology, these cases show how the law gets twisted and turned as judges and other officials see fit, to support a status quo that does not serve the interests of children or parents.

Twilight of the Yakuza

Click on the image to view Twilight of the Yakuza on

Click on the image to view Twilight of the Yakuza on

by Robert Moorehead

Sebastien Stein’s film, Twilight of the Yakuza, explores the decline of Japan’s organized crime syndicates. Stein says the yakuza are a dying breed. Their members are aging and the government of Japan has launched a large-scale crackdown on them to eradicate them once and for all. But who are the yakuza? A threat to public safety or a necessary evil?

(For a detailed review of Stein’s film, check out, and for a great read on the yakuza post-March 11, check out Jake Adelstein’s article on The rest of this post borrows heavily from Stein’s description of his film.)

The film follows three members of the yakuza: Yoichi Nakamura, the “Tiger of Ginza” who was recently excommunicated from the Sumiyoshi-kai; Toyohiko Tanaka, head of the Matsuba-kai; and Daikaku Chōdōin, a yakuza consultant. Nakamura’s story is the most compelling, as he struggles at age 60 to leave his yakuza past behind him and succeed as a “legitimate” businessman.

Tanaka laments the low standards and lack of honor of young yakuza. As Jake Adelstein has described them, “the yakuza are Goldman Sachs with guns increasingly white collar criminals who follow no code and who serve no function in society.” Deeply rooted in Japanese society, the yakuza are seen as a necessary evil and ‘problem solvers.’ They have been around since the 1700s and were said to protect the weak from the strong, following a rigorous code of honor. Several clans even contributed aid for the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami. As Adelstein notes:

in the midst of the dark days that followed the great earthquake, there was a time when the yakuza lived up to their claims to be humanitarian groups, and it was oddly inspiring. For a brief time, the yakuza, the people and the police all had a common enemy: natural disaster. And as the saying goes, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and for that short time — it seemed like we were all friends.

Unlike the mafia, the yakuza is a legal, public group making them relatively easy to check on. You can find their offices by looking on the National Police Agency website, and you can read all about them in their many fanzines. I’ve even sat near them at Japanese pro baseball games in Nagoya, while they tried to explain the sport to the Filipino women sitting with them. Strict government crackdowns have moved many yakuza underground. As the police concentrate their resources on the yakuza, many criminals simply don’t register with clans anymore and start operating underground, evading the grasp of police. A clear trend is emerging towards a new structure of organized crime in Japan, resulting in a steep decrease in the numbers of the traditional yakuza while the underground is soaring – including foreign Russian and Chinese mafias.

This documentary deals with the struggle of the yakuza for its survival and the restructuring of the organized crime scene in Japan. Furthermore, unprecedented access to the secret world of the yakuza gives you an insight on who the yakuza are: criminals, outcasts, but also family men and a part of Japanese society.

Japan to Foreigners: Tell Us How Impressive We Are

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 2.20.33 PM

From the Japan Times

by Robert Moorehead

The above photo and caption from the Japan Times really says a lot about Japanese attitudes toward the country and the rest of the world.

The article is about a symposium in which youth from various countries, and dressed in their ethnic attire, gave short speeches in Japanese about peace and communication. Hailing from the United States, Poland, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Romania, Kazakhstan and China, the speakers spent a month in Japan, visiting various sites, including Toyota Motor Corporation and tsunami-hit areas of Tohoku.

One speaker discussed the need to challenge Japanese stereotypes of Romania as a dangerous place. Another discussed the need for people in Poland to become more rule-abiding, like the Japanese.

We can analyze the symposium, and others like it, as performances that are staged to define meanings and relationships. In particular, the symposium is about “internationalization” and “native place-making.”

As Jennifer Robertson notes in her article “Empire of Nostalgia,” “internationalization and native place-making exist coterminously as refractive processes and products, and … together they index the ambiguity of Japanese national identity and its tense relationship with cultural identity (or identities)” (p. 98).

While the symposium includes the views of non-Japanese, the event is less about “securing a place for ‘real’ foreign bodies in Japan and more about reducing the level of ontological anxiety supposedly experienced by Japanese” (p. 101) who worry about Japan’s place in the world, or who are exposed to non-Japanese inside Japan.

The photo at the top of the article captures a telling moment, in which the speakers are asked to hold up signs displaying their thoughts on “the most impressive feature” of Japanese corporate culture. In other words, they were asked to tell their hosts how great they are.

The cynic in me imagines the conversation going a little like this: “First question, tell us how great our corporations are. Second question, tell us how great our culture is. Third question …” you get the idea. “Now go back to your countries and teach everyone how great we are.” By implication, the message is also how inferior the youths’ home countries are.

After spending a month in Japan, these youth are not going to be offering analytical insights on life in Japan, or on the merits or demerits of the organizational culture of Japanese corporations. But that’s not the point. The point is to reify differences between Japan and the rest of the world by dressing up foreigners in ethnic attire and having them talk about Japan from “foreign” perspectives.

Robertson notes something similar in the inclusion of foreign residents in a parade during the city festival in the Tokyo suburb of Kodaira. In 1992, City Hall allowed the first foreigner contingent to march in the parade, and required the foreigners to dress in kimono.

Instead of using the parade as an opportunity to display visually the differences represented by a multi-ethnic assortment of resident foreigners, City Hall has insisted on their marching dressed in kimono. Accompanying the sartorially Japanized foreigners are Japanese residents wearing the stereotypical folk costumes of the representative foreign countries. Both parties are reduced to caricatures of cultural and ethnic difference in a spectacle informed by an underlying ontological anxiety (fuan). (p. 100)

… what is represented as ‘international’ is but dominant stereotypes of the national characters, as it were, on parade (e.g. lederhosen for Germany and Stetson hats for the USA). Not only do the kimono-wearing foreigners reify Japanese tradition, but the diverse cultures they represent are reduced to the quaint and unthreatening images embodied by the costumed Japanese. (p. 117)

In 2006, my family and I participated in the city festival in Kasugai, in Aichi Prefecture. Our role was to sit at a table in City Hall so that Japanese could come up to us and practice speaking English. We smiled as people approached us and said hello, or pushed their children use the English they had been learning in school and private lessons. After two hours, we had sufficiently performed our role of reducing English-speaking foreigners to “quaint and unthreatening images,” while making Kasugai seem like a cosmopolitan hub of cross-cultural communication. There were no tables where Japanese could try their hand at speaking other languages, and my neighborhood still had crime-watch signs in Chinese posted in front of nearly every home, so Kasugai still had a long ways to go before it became truly “international.”

These events define Japanese and foreigners as distinct entities, and internationalization as a controlled space where the twain shall meet only briefly, and under safe conditions—like going to the zoo, except in this case, the animals are not asked to tell the humans how impressive they are.


Robertston, Jennifer. 1997. “Empire of Nostalgia: Rethinking ‘Internationalization’ in Japan Today.” Theory, Culture & Society 14(4):97-122.

TEPCO, Nuclear Disaster & Spaghetti-Os: Bad Deeds Get Rewarded

by Robert Moorehead

I’m re-blogging Jake Adelstein‘s brilliant post from the Japan Subculture Research Center. Adelstein figures out TEPCO’s plan: to do a sufficiently poor job of cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear disaster that the Japanese government has to take over. The more TEPCO spends cleaning up the mess, the less profit it makes. So it spends as little as possible, until the situation becomes so untenable that it gets relieved of the responsibility.

As Homer Simpson said, “If adults don’t like their jobs, they don’t go on strike. They just go in every day and do it really half-assed.”

The mis-measurement of radiation at the plant is especially mind-blowing: TEPCO used devices that maxed out at 100 millisieverts, thereby avoiding having any record of the true radiation levels, which were later measured at 1800 millisieverts, which enough to kill a person after 4 hours of exposure.

This clever use of technology reminds me of the speedometers on American cars in the 1970s and 1980s, which topped out at 85 mph. So, if you floored the gas pedal and kept it floored as you flew down the highway, you would have no visual cue that you were going any faster than 85. Unless you looked out the window, of course.

Or maybe if you don’t want to know how much weight you’re putting on, but you’re expected to weigh yourself every day, get a scale that tops out at your ideal weight.

TEPCO, Nuclear Disaster & Spaghetti-Os: Bad Deeds Get Rewarded.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, is getting a lot of criticism for its inept clean-up attempts of the Fukushima nuclear power plant site, which had triple-meltdowns in March of 2011—after the company had failed to take precautions which might have prevented the meltdown in the first place. There is also a 4th reactor where spent fuel rods are waiting to be extracted, and if mishandled they have the potential to release huge amounts of radiation into the air. TEPCO, like the Central Intelligence Agency, has a wonderful legacy of failure, and now it literally has “a legacy of ashes”.

To read more, check out Jake Adelstein’s full post.

Can Japanese Women Serve the Nation by Serving Tea? The Jietai, J-Jobs, and Justice


by Robert Moorehead

Japan’s Self-Defense Force is joining the nation’s efforts to offer more employment opportunities for women, through this recruitment campaign. Women can get a “j-na shigoto,” or a j-job. What’s a j-job? Actually there are 3 j’s, so you know it’s good: Jietai (self-defense force), joyful, and job. “Won’t you try?” says one of the uniformed women, photographed lounging about.

If Prime Minister Abe’s efforts to recruit more women into the workforce are to be successful, employers like the Jietai might want to rethink how they treat women. Are they workers, or are they eye-candy? Can they help defend the nation, or can they answer the phones? Serve the nation or serve tea?

As Laura D’Andrea Tyson noted recently in a blog post for the New York Times, Japanese women’s employment rate is 25 points lower than men’s, and when women are working, they are paid on average 28% less for equivalent jobs. Japanese tax laws also penalize two-income families, and Japanese women face a greater “mommy tax” than women in any other OECD country.

Plus, not only is childcare rarely available, but the burden of childcare remains clearly gendered in Japan. Policy debates of how to enable more women to work discuss how women, and only women, can better work the “second shift,” balancing work and family. Such proposals ignore men completely, even though my male Japanese students often tell me they too would like to be able to have a career and raise a family.

What’s behind the move to get more women into the workforce? Japan’s aging society needs more workers. As Tyson notes:

These initiatives are not motivated by softhearted political correctness but by hard-headed economic logic. Japan needs to expand its work force, which is shrinking rapidly as a result of a sagging birth rate and an aging population. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Japan’s working-age population will fall by almost 40 percent by 2050. The share of citizens older than 65 is expected to jump from 24 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2050, when the ratio of the working population to the elderly population will be 1 to 1.

“Japan is growing older faster than anywhere else in the world,” the I.M.F. reports. Unless the nation can shore up its work force, it faces a long-term drag on economic growth at a time of soaring obligations for old-age entitlements.

My university classrooms are filled with intelligent, highly trained women who are looking for career opportunities that take advantage of their skills. They do not want to be asked to serve tea, or be expected to quit when they get married or have children.

They want real jobs, not j-jobs.

“Now I know what it’s like to be black!” Invisible Minorities and Privilege in Japan

by Robert Moorehead

Recently, the Japan Times ran a column encouraging readers in Japan to take advantage of their new minority status to re-examine their racial attitudes. In “What Being a Minority Allows Us to See,” columnist Amy Chavez tries to contextualize complaints about ethnic and racial inequality in Japan as reflecting the eye-opening experiences of those who, for the first time, find themselves as racial subordinates.

So far, so good. Chavez makes an important point that living abroad can place us in unfamiliar situations, and that we should apply the lessons of those situations to our lives back home. Those of us who were in the majority in our home countries, and are in the definite minority in Japan, could think about how our experiences parallel those of other minorities, and maybe we can learn some empathy.

However, digging deeper we see how this approach perpetuates problems facing racial minorities. Firstly, Chavez assumes that her readers are members of racial majorities in their home countries. As she writes,

“The Japanese are no more racist than Americans or people of many other countries. The only difference is that when you come to Japan, for the first time in your life, you are a minority and get to see what it’s like to be one.”

In one sentence, Chavez renders invisible the people in Japan who were minorities in their home countries. I doubt the Nikkeijin (overseas people of Japanese ancestry), including Japanese Americans, Brazilians, Peruvians, and Filipinos, are experiencing being in the minority for the first time. Rather, they migrate to what they’ve been told is their ancestral homeland, only to find themselves racialized as gaijin. Adding insult to injury, now they’re left out of the discussion altogether.

“After being subjects of discrimination here, we scream like spoiled children … While we have suddenly gained … an ability to see though the eyes of minorities …, we are blinded by our own self-worth and don’t suddenly empathize with other minorities struggling to achieve equality. No light bulb goes on in the head making us think: Aha! … So this is what … African-Americans in the U.S. struggle with every day!”

Does an African American need to travel to Japan to learn what African Americans in the U.S. face?

And have we learned to see through anyone else’s eyes? Is getting rude treatment from a taxi driver (as I did recently) the same as what African Americans face? Am I being stopped and frisked repeatedly? Do I risk being shot for wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and iced tea? Am I attending poor schools? Do I stand a greater chance of being in the correctional system than in a university? Am I more likely to live in a highly segregated neighborhood? Am I more likely to get a subprime mortgage, when I’m able to get a mortgage at all? Do I have a higher risk of heart disease or diabetes? Do I have a shorter life expectancy?

The problems Chavez refers to, like employment discrimination and racial stereotyping, are real, but they do not compare to the African American experience. Not all forms of discrimination are equal.

“Your small brush with discrimination in Japan is something that has been a lifelong battle for others who were born into a life of being a minority in our own countries. And many of them suffer far worse than we do in Japan.”

“Try being an African-American in the U.S. Or an aboriginal in Australia.”

Some readers do not need to try being an African American or an aboriginal. They are African Americans or aboriginals.

Chavez’s approach is similar to John Howard Griffin’s classic book Black Like Me, in which Griffin, a white man living in the Jim Crow South, darkens his skin to learn what it’s like to be black. Griffin recounts his experiences and shares the terrorism of Jim Crow with a white audience. But this is only half of the equation. This idea that blackness is something to be understood leaves whiteness unexamined. We study discrimination but we avoid examining privilege.

“This is the role of compassion. To accept that these problems are your own and be willing to not just admit they’re wrong, but to do something about them. Speak on the behalf of other minorities, help raise their profile. Especially you — you who have had a taste of what it’s like to be in their shoes!”

Minorities can speak for themselves, thank you. They do not need a white guy who had a racial epiphany in Japan and now suddenly understands black experiences to speak for them.

Chavez also avoids the word “privilege,” even though this is what she is trying to describe. Instead, she chastises readers for allegedly lacking compassion, and tells them to talk to minorities about their experiences. Instead of trying to understand minorities and speaking for them, how about understanding the white experience and try to dismantle the systems of privilege that give unearned advantages?

“The best way to fight discrimination is by using your experience for personal growth, and to spread the idea of compassion while working to develop a mind that is non-judgmental.”

No, the best way for those in the majority to fight discrimination is to gain a broader understanding of their role in systems of privilege, and to challenge that privilege. Non-judgmental minds that operate in systems of institutional inequality are not enough. A non-judgmental mind does not challenge the fact that the median wealth for whites in the U.S. is 20 times that of blacks, or that more black men are currently in the U.S. correctional system than were enslaved in 1850.

Don’t get me wrong, non-judgmental minds are wonderful. But we live in a world in which racial inequality is built into the very structure of our societies. Challenging this requires much more than looking in the mirror and freeing our minds. To paraphrase Canadian PM Stephen Harper, now is the time to commit sociology. If it helps, we can crank Michael Jackson and En Vogue while we do it.

I strongly recommend the work of Tim Wise, including the new documentary film, White Like Me. The film is available for online streaming until August 31. Tim’s books are also widely available in paper and electronic forms.

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Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project

Peruvian Student Ricardo Relaxes in the Remedial Japanese Language Room

by Robert Moorehead

My article in The Asia-Pacific Journal examines the remedial Japanese language program at a school in central Japan. I argue that the program systematically denies educational resources to low-performing immigrant students. Despite the Japanese educational model of equality and inclusion, these immigrant students are tracked into a program that is separate and unequal.

Teachers explain this pattern in ethnic terms by referring to immigrant students’ supposed need not for specialized remedial instruction, but for relaxation as a break from the difficulties of learning Japanese.

To read more, please visit The Asia-Pacific Journal, a peer-reviewed, open source journal that focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. Also, check out Language and Citizenship in Japan, an edited volume published by Routledge.

Learning to read hiragana, katakana, kanji, and the air

Celebrate Diversity!by Robert Moorehead

With the spring semester now over, I’ve been thinking about the challenges of getting students to think differently about incorporating non-Japanese into Japanese society. The arguments students make and the ones sociologists usually cite in the research literature are like two roads that never meet.

As I’ve written before, students’ view of Japanese history seems to skip the roughly 100-year period between the Meiji Restoration and the Tokyo Olympics—nothing important happened in Japan between the 1860s and the 1960s, did it? Based on this, students often claim that Japanese people have little to no experience interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds. Plus, Japan is an island and thus was inaccessible to other groups. The invention of boats around the world apparently didn’t impact Japan … but I digress.

Students also state that Japan, unlike other countries, is a “high-context culture,” meaning that much communication in Japan is unspoken. Meanings are implied, and understanding those meanings requires reading between the lines and reading the context of the situation. Those who can’t “read the air” (空気を読む or “KY”) are treated as socially inept and may struggle in their social interactions.

This is a fair point, as communication in Japanese proceeds somewhat differently compared to communication in English, Spanish, or other languages. But, can’t people learn to “read the air”? Is Japanese culture so byzantine, so complex and inscrutable that non-Japanese can’t simply figure out how to talk to people?

Students also claim that because Japanese are not used to interacting with “KY” people, they can only accept people who are just like them. Interacting with non-native Japanese speakers and people who can’t “read the air” is too much work, so non-Japanese are just out of luck.

This inherently conservative argument could be extended to justify excluding pretty much anyone. Japanese women want a right to equal opportunities for employment? Too bad. They could never really understand men’s particular communication style, and their presence might make men uncomfortable—no more sex jokes in the workplace—so women will just have to settle for serving tea and lower pay. The disabled want to work? Sorry, accommodating their needs could be inconvenient, so they’ll just have to stay home. Okinawans and the Ainu want to express their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness in mainland Japan? Sorry.

This approach dismisses the rights of the individual in support of the rights of the majority. That is, the majority only has to respect the individual rights that are convenient. This approach fits with the LDP’s planned revisions to the Japanese Constitution. As Lawrence Repeta notes, these revisions would subordinate individual rights, such as free speech and free assembly, to the demands of public interest and public order.

On the one hand, I should be thanking students for their honesty. But do researchers cite any of these ideas when analyzing immigrant incorporation? I just finished teaching a course on international migration, and we spent the semester reviewing the sociological literature, including the main schools of thought, and issues of gender, education, transnationalism, citizenship, among others.

And not once in that literature did anyone talk about “high-context cultures,” or the whether interacting with cultural others might be too inconvenient.

So, have sociologists missed the boat? Are we just talking in circles, clueless as to the real issues?

Or is communicating across cultural and linguistic lines simply a fact of life for many people on the planet? Don’t we have to make all sorts of adjustments every day, even if we don’t have any foreigners in our midst? We communicate across lines of class, gender, age, and sexuality all the time, so why should we treat communicating across cultural lines as some special case?

As famed anthropologist Harumi Befu (2001) has noted, the United States is often held up as the main contrast to Japanese society. The US is multicultural and a nation of immigrants, while Japan is neither of those things. In the US, people complain about the challenges of diversity, like struggling to pronounce new names, understanding various accents, and talking with people who are still learning English. But … so what?

Seriously, so what? Is learning new names and using a modicum of patience to interact with non-Japanese really that difficult? Is “reading the air” really that complicated? Are foreigners really that inept at communicating in Japan?

Is it more difficult than figuring out how to pay for health care and pensions for Japan’s elderly, when Japan’s population is dropping and postwar boomers are retiring?

Since Commodore Perry’s black ships forced open Japan to international trade, Japan has gone through the Meiji Restoration, imperial expansion across much of East Asia and the Pacific, multiple wars, fire bombing, nuclear attacks, defeat, occupation, democratization, reconstruction, development into a global economic power, bubble economies, inflation, deflation, stagnation, population booms and declines, earthquakes, tsunami, and nuclear disasters.

Change is the constant. In light of all that, talking to foreigners seems like it should be the least of their worries.


Befu, Harumi. 2001. Hegemony and Homogeneity: An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.

Osaka March Against Racism

Say No to Racism!

Say No to Racism! Click the photo to view the photo set on Flickr.

Anti-foreigner protesters hold signs calling for foreigners to leave the country.

Anti-foreigner protesters hold signs calling for foreigners to leave the country. Click the photo to view the photo set on Flickr.

by Robert Moorehead

As the acquittal of George Zimmerman was announced in the US, we were on our way to Osaka, to participate in the March Against Racism. On a hot, sunny day, hundreds marched in protest against the recent hateful anti-Korean demonstrations in Osaka. The march started with speakers blasting Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and instantly we felt at home.

Rainbow flags flew, Korean and Japanese drums were pounded, and marchers carried signs calling for an end to discrimination and a celebration of diversity. In a country where a myth of homogeneity is celebrated, calls for the celebration of diversity are rare.

We ran into a few small pockets of hate, where racists held signs demanding the foreigners leave the country. One man even followed the march, holding an imperial Japanese flag, standing alone while hundreds raised peace signs (and one guy kept flipping him the bird).

The Zimmerman ruling sickens me, but the march was just the right medicine.

Click on the photos below to open a photo gallery.

Click here to view our photos and videos on Flickr.