Structural Denial of Ethnic Diversity in Japan

by Sten Alvarsson

Japan’s ethnic diversity is continuing to be denied at the expense of a more equal and inclusive society. Ironically, equality and inclusivity are both at the heart of mainstream Japan’s perceived identity. This could be described as “ethnicity blindness” and is best described by Professor Kondo (2013) who states that, “Japan is still the only developed industrialised democracy that does not have an anti-discrimination law” (para. 6). This can be seen as a result from the belief that racism and discrimination do not exist in Japan so, therefore, there is no need to have laws targeting such behavior. On the whole, however, ethnicity blindness is not the most accurate depiction of the situation regarding ethnic minorities in Japan. Instead, the inequality and exclusivity regarding the country’s ethnic diversity is what I would describe as being “ethnic denial”.

While Japan’s ethnic diversity is fully comprehended by the country’s ethnic minorities, amongst the Yamato majority, however, the belief in a monolithic and homogeneous national identity persists. This belief is structurally enforced which was highlighted by the country’s 2010 census which failed to provide a measure for ethnicity (Japan Times, 2010). Instead, only nationality was measured without the acknowledgment of the ethnic diversity that exists under the umbrella of Japanese citizenship. This structural denial of the ethnic diversity of minority groups includes the Ainu, Koreans, Ryukyuans, Chinese, naturalized citizens and children from mixed marriages. Ethnic minorities are ignored despite the fact that minority groups such as these make up around 10 percent of the local population in areas such as the Kinki region of central Western Japan (Sugimoto, 2010). This structural denial is one of the keystones in maintaining the myth of a national identity that is both monolithic and homogeneous.

Japan’s structural denial of ethnic diversity within the country in order to enforce the myth of a monolithic and homogeneous national identity is not only a domestic issue but is also of international consequence and concern. Japan uses its perceived ethnic and cultural purity to ignore its international obligations as a signature member of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Instead, Japan maintains a policy of neglecting asylum seekers and rejects the overwhelming majority of their claims (Dean & Nagashima, 2007). In fact, from 1981 to 2007 Japan only accepted 451 refugees (Sugimoto, 2010). Sadako Ogata, a Japanese national who served as the former High Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 – 2001 stated that one of the fundamental reasons for Japan’s exclusion of asylum seekers is due to, “prejudice and discrimination against foreigners which is based upon the mono-ethnic myth” (as cited in Dean & Nagashima, 2007, p. 497). It must be remembered that this mono-ethnic myth has no historical routes and was brought into popular consciousness after the Second World War.

Ethnic diversity in Japan needs to be acknowledged and accepted. Unlike the country’s last census in 2010, Japan’s next census in 2015 should strive to measure its ethnic diversity. In order to achieve this, such questions as, “Where were you born?”, “Where were your parents born?” and, “What national origin or ethnicity do you consider yourself to be?” should be included in the census. As a multicultural country, Australia recognises 275 different cultural and ethnic groups in its census (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). For Japan, there is no excuse not to also measure the diversity that exists amongst its citizens.

The structural denial of ethnic diversity in Japan needs to end in order to contribute to a more equal and inclusive society for all its members. After all, in Japan there are over 100 different varieties of the chrysanthemum flower (kiku 菊) with a myriad of different colors, scents, sizes, textures, patterns and durations. Wouldn’t it be a shame if Japan only recognised a single variety of chrysanthemum and denied the existence of the rest?

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/1249.0main+features22011

Dean, M., & Nagashima, M. (2007). Sharing the Burden: The Role of Government and NGOs in Protecting and Providing for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Japan. Journal of Refugee Studies, 20(3), 481-508.

Japan Times. (2010, October 5). Census blind to Japan’s true diversity. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2010/10/05/issues/census-blind-to-japans-true-diversity/#.Umt_AflmhcZ

Kondo, A. (2013, May 6). Can Japan turn to foreign workers. Retrieved from http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2013/05/06/can-japan-turn-to-foreign-workers/

Sugimoto, Y. (2010). An Introduction to Japanese Society (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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Immigration for children in Japan

by Yuki Muto

Children are victims of immigration. Their parents migrate with their children, even if the children don’t want to go. We learn from the two articles that bilingual children get high grades in their cognitive tests. Then we think, “They should learn not only English but also their mother tongue there” But I think many immigrants can’t. Most immigrants migrate as laborers, and they don’t have enough money to let children learn their language or enough time to communicate and teach with their language.

My aunt teaches Japanese to foreign children. The children learn Japanese earlier than their parents, but their scholastic ability is not high. One reason is the difficulty of learning “in Japanese.” (They can speak Japanese fluently but they can’t read and understand subjects in Japanese.) Another reason is their family background: many immigrant families have trouble providing care for their children. For immigrant children, learning the host country language and adopting Japanese culture are pressing needs to live, and their mother tongue is of low priority, and a “luxury option.” That’s why they tend to lose their mother tongue and their own cultural identity. That show how difficult it is for minorities to keep their cultural background in the host society. Immigrants are required economic power and their cultural capital to live in the society.

Some minorities are closed to their narrow community and feel difficulty in assimilating to Japanese society. In 1989, the Immigration control and refugee recognition act was revised, and the government allowed Japanese Brazilians to stay in Japan as migrant workers. So in some industrial areas (Toyota-city in Aichi, Hamamatsu-city in Shizuoka etc), there are some Brazilian communities. They can work in factories with Brazilian colleagues, and their children can take classes in Portuguese. They can live without being able to speak Japanese fluently. The problem is, once they lose their jobs, they will be isolated from Japanese society. They only can speak Portuguese even though they have worked in Japan. That kind of troubles was occurred in 2008, when the Japanese economy fell into a recession because of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Many Brazilian immigrants lost their jobs and crimes of Brazilian immigrants were reported in the news. That’s because the students in Brazilian school couldn’t get their jobs. Their case is worse, because some of them don’t have any connection to Brazil, and they are not allowed to live as Japanese in Japan.

In my conclusion, all immigrants’ children should have rights to learn same level as children in the country. I hope they will have rights to decide their future living place, their nationality irrespective of their parents’ nationality or economic power.

Accepting immigrants in Japan

by Yuri Kasai

From Asian countries such as the Philippines, Korea, and China, many immigrants have come to Japan. After World War II, the Japanese government accepted many Nikkeijin (日系人), who have one Japanese parent or Japanese parents under the Immigration Control Act of 1952 and taking part in the convention of international immigration. Since the 1970s, in the bubble economy, there were four categories of immigrants, according to sociologist Hiroshi Komai. Firstly, many immigrants such as Filipinos, Koreans, Taiwanese and Thais have come for entertainment work and they can get an ‘entertainer’ visa. Secondly, refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos have come to Japan for the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees between 1970s and 1980s. The third category consists of Japanese group who went to Manchuria during the World War II. The fourth category consists of businessmen in Europe and the US.

Japanese Immigration laws are more limited to European countries and the US because Japanese society has not accepted immigrants historically. After the crackdown of the bubble economy, the number of immigrants from Europe and the US dropped. However, globalization has been widespread today and immigrants have grown again while international companies come to open their brunches in Japan. The Japanese immigration system needs to be amended because we need to accept more immigrants than before.

In Japan, 24 percent of the population is over 65 years of age, and in 2055 this aged people is estimated as 40 percent of Japan’s total population. We will need more care workers and nurses. We already lack the number of care workers and nurses because these jobs are tough for long working time and heavy tasks. They have a low salary and they struggle to work as care workers and nurses. We need to foster more care workers and nurses and to give higher salary to them.

However, it is difficult for Japan government to use money for more public service because the government holds deficits financing for the pension. Therefore, Japanese government needs to invite more immigrants from Asian developing countries such as the Philippines and to foster immigrants to support our aging society. Especially, Filipino women can care well for elderly people because they have the culture to respect for elder people. Many Filipino women emigrates overseas such as in the US or the UK. They can speak English well and can adopt to an English-speaking environment.

In Japan, although Japan accepts many Filipino women with the skills of nurse or caregivers in the hospitals, Japan government mandates them to pass though each skill exam and Japanese proficiency exam. Because of it, many Filipino nurses or caregivers cannot pass through national qualifying exam and have to go back to their home country. However, they can study Japanese while communicating with patients after they can pass through their skill exam. I think that getting human resources is the urgent problem. The government needs to reconsider and deal with the aging society and the deficit finance for the pensions. Accepting immigrants is a good solution to aging society.

Reference
Komai, Hiroshi. 2000 “Immigrants in Japan. Asian And Pacific Migration Journal 9(3):311-326.

 

The Latin Americanization of Korean race relations

by Yang Jicheol

The process of Latin Americanization is simply about keeping white supremacy from other colors. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David Dietrich introduce an example of how the U.S. follows the way of the Latin Americanization for its white supremacy, which is challenged from increasing population of other colors. There is similar example of the Latin Americanization of U.S. race relations in Korea.

As with the United States’ race relations, Korea has also experienced a similar process in terms of racial issues. That appears from young aged population because young aged population tends to be more multiracial. Many Korean consider themselves as a single-race because of same language and skin-tone. However, that single-race nation does not exist anymore. The races are becoming more complex and wider in current Korea. Many western people, whom we regard as white, come to Korea for having job or traveling. Not only western people, but other races such as Southeast Asian also come to Korea for working or marrying with Korean. In that process, a hierarchy has been constructed, which pure Korean place at the top, other western and East Asian people are middle, and others, the Southeast Asian and black people, are at the bottom.

In current Korean society, the interracial marriage rate has dramatically increased between whites with Koreans and nonwhites with Koreans as well. So, there are many multicultural children in Korea now. The multicultural children mean that children have at least two different cultural backgrounds because of their parents’ nations. At the first appearance of multicultural children, it became a hot social issue because of Korean attitudes towards them. The Korean attitudes were harsh to typical multicultural children, who are born from Southeast Asians or blacks. Unlike that attitude, it considered other multicultural children, who are born from the white or East Asian, positively. The multicultural children, born from Southeast Asian or the black, have been considered as negative perspectives such as poor background, dirty, and non-beneficial to Korean children. Nonetheless, other multicultural children have been thought differently. This perspective made Korean society to change its preference towards typical races for equality and norm, which is “We are all Korean”. To solve this problem, schools and libraries have been built only for multicultural children, especially for children having nonwhite parents. Also, government has made public advertisements to make citizen not to discriminate against them. It seemed to work at first because those children have started to respect their identity and have self esteem. Also, the harsh discrimination seemed to disappear. However, those solutions did not work actually. Although people do not tend to show their attitudes directly, they still regard those children as not real Koreans, poor, and shunned children. When we see the surface of that problem, it seems to be solved, but under of the surface, the pure Korean supremacy becomes much stronger and discrimination remains invisibly.

The reason why similar phenomenon appears in Korea is that the world has become smaller that different races are easy to move to other nations where other races are dominant. This makes diversity of race more complex in many nations. So, phenomenon of the Latin Americanization would occur in many other nations like U.S. and Korea to keep position of their majority from influx of immigrant.

 

Lighter skin as an escape from discrimination

by Chris Leung

In Hong Kong, it is also popular for women to lighten their skin. Since in the old days, having lighter skin has meant a woman did not have to work, so she was more noble than those who had darker skin. As the result, lighter skin signifies higher social status and eventually it lead to the definition of beauty.

However, in most cases, no matter where you are, I think that instead of saying lightening your skin is a choice, it is more appropriate to say that it is just an exit door in order to escape from discrimination. Let’s say if you have dark skin and you were discriminated against, can you say that skin lightener is a choice for you? Or is it a path towards salvation for you? Can you proudly say that you chose these products ‘freely’? People who want to have higher social status lighten their skin. Although there are exceptions that some dark skin people could also enjoy higher social status, or some of them chose to keep their darker skin even if they would have a poorer life, the outcome of having darker skin and lighter skin are obviously different because of colorism. If most of the people think that lightening their skin could benefit them, can it still be called as a choice?

Further, I think that money cannot justify everything especially moral values. It is true that because of development, we might have to lose some of our traditional stuff in order to fit into society. For instance, we have to give up building traditional architectures in which few people can live, instead we build skyscrapers because of increasing population and limited lands. But lightening our skin is definitely not because of evolution or development, but to fit into a society which is full of discrimination.

In conclusion, I think that reducing the yearning of lightness is not because keeping diversity is important, but the values of everyone living equally is essence. Even though there are people who are rich and people who are poor, the way to wealth you have should be based on your own efforts and abilities, but never should be based on your racial appearances. The main issue about skin lightening is not the huge industry that many people live from it, but fundamentally, it is devaluing certain skin color, which is an act of discrimination.