Multiculturalism or Anti-Multiculturalism in Japan

English: Ainus wearing their traditional cloth...

English: Ainu wearing their traditional clothes, Ainu Museum, City of Shiraoi, Hokkaido, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Naresh Kumar

The Japanese version of multiculturalism is anti-multiculturalism. Every action or support, provided by the government and people of Japan is not for cultural minorities but for the social and cultural majorities. When we read the literature it provides us with skepticism. I believe that the job of the literature is not to tell us whether it is right or wrong, but it needs to urge readers to think critically before they decide what is right or wrong. There is a need to accept people for who they are, rather than trying making them into who we are. We all are different but isn’t that a good thing. Japan is the last developed country to move towards minorities’ rights. A tradition which was important to Ainu’s ancestors has become to modern Ainu, a matter of cultural survival. It is hard to find someone in the current generation who speaks Ainu fluently, and it is because of the oppression by the Japanese government from the past century.

The Ainu minority in Japan is struggling to keep up their identity and culture. The oppression from the government is not anymore but it has driven Ainu minorities towards extinction. After Japan started its internationalization, the slogans like international exchange, cultural exchange, etc., are heard very often. Commentators say that Japan is on the route of becoming a multicultural country. The notion of Japanese multiculturalism is embedded in Japan’s culture, education and society and this excludes minority groups of Japan.

In Hokkaido, Ainu museums and cultural centers can be found, but is it to distinguish themselves as different people or to provide a picture of Ainu culture for Japan? It is hard to figure out whether Japan is preserving history or ignorance. Many see Ainu people as part of Japanese people. However, it is hard to distinguish whether government policies are to include or exclude the Ainu people. Behind different policies promoting Ainu culture, there is a continuing story of Ainu discrimination.

The consensus by the government shows that there are around 30,000 Ainu people left (Onishi, 2008). However, the exact number of Ainu population in Japan in unknown as Ainu people are excluded from the census. Many argue that this is the result of an exclusion policy by the government. The Ainu language is passed through parents to children without any proper written forms (Aljazeera, 2010). 1974’s Ainu welfare program was introduced to raise the living standards of Ainu, but the Ainu’s living standards have lagged behind those of other Japanese (ibid). Many Ainu people hide their identity because they fear discrimination. Japan is the last developed country which is working towards equality but the process is really slow. I fear that if such cases of discrimination, exclusion from social welfare, etc. carry on, then Ainu population might extinct from Japan.

References

Aljazeera, (2010, February 4). Japan improves relations with Ainu. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2010/02/20102465020204126.html

Onishi, N. (2008, July 3). Japan Recognizes Ainu as an Indigenous People, but what comes next? Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/world/asia/03ainu.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Advertisements

Colorism and Discrimination in Japan’s Marriage Scene

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heia...

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heian era courtier and bureaucrat.This picture was drawn by Kikuchi Yosai(菊池容斎) who was a painter in Japan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Seimu Yamashita

The concept of “white supremacy” has spread almost everywhere around the world, along with colonization. This concept of deeming lighter skin as better has been problematized since it contains aspects of racial discrimination, compared to other physical traits, such as height. This paper will deal with colorism, which can be a form of racial discrimination, but is simply discrimination according to skin color. It is not common to find a distinct lighter skin color preference or privilege in Japan like that in India, possibly because of its mostly homogeneous population. However, a preference for a fair complexion as a form of beauty still exists in Japan. This paper will address colorism in Japan by looking at Japan’s marriage scene, which is assumed to have a clear connection with colorism. This paper will analyze how Japan’s marriage scene relates to the concept of white supremacy, addressing how fair complexions are preferred over other skin colors, and treated as a trait of beauty in women.

The first part of this essay will describe the history of fair skin as a beauty trait in Japan. The second part of essay will explain Japan’s marriage scene, and the role fair complexions play in the shifting scene. The third part of the essay will describe how there is still a preference for fair skin in modern Japanese society. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn by comparing the situation of the preference for fair complexions in Japan with other multi-racial countries.

It is crucial to know the origin of the preference for fair skin in Japan. White skin is actually a traditional concept of beauty, with the notion of fair complexions as beautiful in Japan started in the Heian Era, from 794AD to 1192AD (Graham-Diaz, 2001). The reason for the preference of fair skin back then is quite different from today. The lifestyles of rich, noble women who were considered sophisticated and classy during the Heian Era consisted of just staying indoors in their residence without going outside, waiting for the men to be back. In this era, it was semi-dark inside the residence even during the daytime and there was not enough light at night thus women needed to have extremely white complexions, so that the face would stand out and be attractive in such environment where there is not enough light. That is why the tradition of putting powder on their face to make it look white began. White powder thus became a common make-up to look beautiful in the Heian Era. However, the trend of applying heavy make-up on the face did not last long, and died out after the Heian period. It was in the Edo era (1603AD to 1868AD) that such make-up became popular again. This style of make-up still remains in Japan on maiko and geisha who are now symbolic of the traditional city of Kyoto (Graham-Diaz, 2001). Although the standard of other physical preferences in Japan differed in different times of history, women with fair complexion have been always preferred, not just during the Heian and Edo periods.

In this second part the focus will shift to Japan’s marriage scene, which is a great scene to view the preference of fair complexions even through the many shifts and changes over time. In Japan, there have been two types of marriage: arranged marriage s and love marriages. Although more than 90 percent of today’s marriages in Japan are love marriages, arranged marriages were more common until a few decades ago. Data show that the shift of the percentage from arranged marriages to love marriages in Japan has been dramatic. Arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% in the 1930s, but the proportion of love marriages gradually increased, whilst arranged marriage decreased relatively. The number of love marriages surpassed the number of arranged marriages only recently in the 1960s (National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center, n.d.).

The traditional Japanese style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a written profile with a picture called tsurigaki is used as a marriage resume that helps find a marriage partner (Hendry, 1981). A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find a good partner for them either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki other matchmakers have. The matchmakers pass the tsurigaki to the potential couple, and if they are interested, they can arrange a meeting.

In miai, there has been racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of hibakusha, those who were exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases (Uchida, 2002). Due to such discrimination, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There was also a preference for women with a fair complexion; however, this did not mean people of darker complexions could not participate in miai. The existence of a preference for a white skin was because of its beauty, and a belief that can be seen from an Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults (Old Proverb Dictionary, n.d.). It is basically saying that as long as a woman has fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults. Thus even if a woman’s other features are not considered beautiful, having a fair complexion is the most important in determining her beauty.

This third part will address a preference for a fair skin in modern Japanese society. As stated in the introduction, it is not really common to feel and find white supremacy recent days in Japan. As can be seen by the explanation of white skin as form of traditional beauty, this may be because white skin is not associated with Europeans or being a different race. It only means having a fair complexion compare to everyone else in society who are mostly Japanese. As the form of marriage shifted to love marriage and people desperately look for love, the online matching site became popular in Japan (Tokuhiro, 2010). Getting deeper into the online world, more casual version of matching site, online dating sites also appeared. People especially young generation use the site to meet new people. On the website, they make profile for other people to look at. Thus, modern days tsurigaki is online and more casual. Same as a miai picture, a picture is important for the profile to give good impression on both matching site and online dating site.

Recently, girls use apps to edit their photos to make them more attractive. For example, they make their face look whiter and make their eyes bigger. Another type of edited photo that is used for profile is purikura. Purikura is a type of photo that is popular among girls in Japan.

Purikura automatically edits the people to look prettier. For example, it makes eyes bigger, makes legs longer, and sharpens chin and nose. The most obvious change purikura makes is the skin. It makes skin look brighter and whiter. Those effects of purikura reflect a physical preference for women. Hence, recently in Japan, we can acknowledge the existence of a fair complexion for women by looking at technology.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene for example, in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists. This may be because it is a relatively homogenous society, so everyone has a similar level of skin colour, whereas in India, there are different races that have differences in complexions. In Japan, the concept of white skin as beautiful has existed since the Heian period in the 1st century, and still exists today as can be seen in the purikura machines that automatically make girls have features that they believe are beautiful. The marriage scene reflected how women’s beauty were determined only by how fair their skin was, and how having darker skin put a woman at a disadvantage of being wanted as a bride, which in the end, is not so different to the discrimination in a country like India.

References

  1. Graham-Diaz, N. (2001). Make-Up of Geisha and Maiko. Immortal Geisha. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://www.immortalgeisha.com/makeup_01.php
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/whitepaper/w-2009/21webhonpen/html/i1112000.html
  4. Old Proverb Dictionary. (n.d.). Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu(A fair complexion hides faults). Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/iroshiroishichinankakusu.html
  5. Tokuhiro, Y. (2010). Marriage in contemporary Japan. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  6. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://blhrri.org/kenkyu/project/kekkon/kekkon_0002.html
Enhanced by Zemanta

From arranged to love marriages in Japan

by Seimu Yamashita

I researched the relationship between Japan’s marriage scene and race and ethnicity by comparing the cases of Japan and India. The vast majority of marriages in India are arranged marriages, in which usually a family member initiates and determines the marriage partner. However, more than 90 percent of marriages in Japan are love marriages. If we look at the data showing the shift of the percentage of love marriages and arranged marriages in Japan, we see that arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% of all marriages in Japan in the 1930s. The proportion of love marriages gradually increased (and that of arranged marriage decreased relatively), surpassing arranged marriages in the 1960s.

Japanese-style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a profile with a picture, called tsurigaki, has been used as a marriage ad. It functions as a curriculum vitae for marriage. A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find its partner either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki that other matchmakers have.

In the miai process, there was racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido, were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of Hibakusha, those who were exposed to the radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases. Due to such discriminations, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There were preferences in ascribed characteristics such as class and family standing in miai. Moreover, in miai, there was a preference for women with a fair complexion, but not as much as India’s case. The existence of a preference for a white skin can be seen from Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults. It is basically saying that as long as a woman has a fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists.

References

  1. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/whitepaper/w-2009/21webhonpen/html/i1112000.html
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu (A fair complexion hides faults). (n.d.). Old Proverb Dictionary. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/iroshiroishichinankakusu.html
  4. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://blhrri.org/kenkyu/project/kekkon/kekkon_0002.html
Enhanced by Zemanta

Social Movement Is A Process of Policy-Making in Japan

by Miki Imamura

It is often said that Japan is not the country that there are not so much social movements effecting policy-making process.  I was also thinking so until I knew this movement which happened in Hokkaido. I didn’t know that Japan had been believed as Unitary state till 2008. It was changed by Citizen-turned-politic-activists. In 2008,  “the resolution for assuming Ainu race an aborigine” was adopted in both houses of Representatives and Councilors. (Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan.) This story had begun from two Ainu citizen-turned-politic-activists in 1984.

At first, I would like to briefly introduce Ainu. Ainu is indigenous people who have lived in Hokkaido prefecture. From Edo period, the Japanese central government forced assimilations policy to Ainu people by depriving their land, pushing public education in Japanese. In 1899, “Hokkaido Aborigines Protection Act” was established and Ainu was considered to be “an old aborigine”. After WWII, Ainu had been not recognized as indigenous people by the government so that there weren’t any policies for Ainu. For long time, Ainu also has been suffered discrimination by Japanese even until now. (Hokkaido)

In 1984, there was a plan for constructing a dam in Hokkaido, Nibutani district, where had been considered as “a sacred place” for Ainu. It was the important land for Ainu cultural ceremony of salmon capture. Shigeru Kayano was an Ainu who grew up in Nibutani and speaks Ainu language. He opposed the construction plan and brought a suit to stop the construction for protecting Ainu culture. Social movements had begun not only in Japan, but also at global level. There were demonstrations in Japan done by Ainu and Japanese for the protection of Ainu culture.  At global level, the representative of Ainu made the keynote speech at United Nations General Assembly in 1992 for the “International age of world indigenous people”. In 1994, the Human Rights Commission jurisdiction gave an advice to the Japanese Government about “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, which has been said that it brought influence for Nibutani dam judgment and the recognition of the Ainu. Under those movements, Kayano became a Japanese Diet member (from 1994 through 1998 a member of the House of Councilors).

In 1997, the suit was basically lost, however the court recognized Ainu for the first time as an aborigine. Kayano continuously worked for the abolishment of “Hokkaido Aborigines Protection Act” and for the approval of “the Ainu Culture Promotion Act”.  After the approval in 1997, he resigned the member of Assembly and made an effort to regenerate the Ainu culture. It can be said that one man who wanted to protect homeland and its culture became citizen-turned-politic-activist and changed the law with the social movements.

Now Ainu recognizes as indigenous people and receives various policies for improvement of living standard of Ainu and for promotion of Ainu culture. There are various social movements by not only government, but also Ainu as well. Ainu has been promoting Ainu culture through education or ceremony domestically, and they have been promoting international conferences such as Indigenous Peoples Summit or World Indigenous Peoples Conference. However, considering “the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” which includes acknowledgment of the rights such as culture, land and resources, Ainu should be treated more properly. In Hokkaido, there is a new wave for that. Ainu party has established in January 2012, the representative is a son of Shigeru Kayano, Shiro Kayano. They will challenge the national election for advocate the right recovery of the Ainu. (Shinbun, 2012) From these facts, it can be said that the one citizen-turned-politic-activist clearly influenced the national policy-making in Japan.

Bibliography

Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan. (n.d.). About the council . Retrieved 11 30, 20121, from Council for Ainu Policy Promotion : http://www.kantei.go.jp/jp/singi/ainusuishin/policy.html

Hokkaido, T. A. (n.d.). 私たちについて. Retrieved 11 30, 2012, from The Ainu Association of Hokkaido : http://www.ainu-assn.or.jp/about03.html

Shinbun, Y. (2012, 11 26). アイヌ民族党が国政選初挑戦北海道9区擁立へ. Retrieved 11 30, 2012, from Yomiuri Online : http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/election/shugiin/2012/news1/20121126-OYT1T00189.htm

貝澤耕一. (2011). Restoration of the Ainu as an indigenous people : building a Japanese society in solidarity with the Ainu. 京都: 法律文化社.