Cultural Citizenship: ‘Jun Japa’ at Japanese Universities

by Rena Shoji

What makes a “pure Japanese”? Is it Japanese lineage or nationality? I will examine the term Jun Japa, which is frequently used in Japanese universities. It often draws a border between those with/without experiences abroad within the Japanese community. Specifically, returnees who have Japanese parents and hold Japanese nationality will be analyzed. Citizenship includes both legal and extra-legal terms. Through looking at the case of the world “Jun Japa”, I found notions of inclusion and exclusion in the Japanese society.

The term is frequently used in international environments at Japanese universities. Jun Japa is a word created by the campus culture of those universities to describe Japanese students with no experience abroad. Those who are categorized as Jun Japa are often put in the bottom of the student stratification system on campus because their language skills (mostly English skills) are often lower than those of returnees, mixed-race Japanese, immigrants, international students, and native English speakers. As myself being a Jun Japa in a university with many international students, I could understand, to some extent, what my friends in other universities tell me about, such as how hard to participate in class discussions and fit in the multi-national community.

On the one hand, the word describes inferiority of Japanese students to those who have backgrounds abroad in terms of language ability. On the other hand, however, it entails an exclusionary aspect of Japaneseness. The word Jun (純) means “pure” in Japanese, and Japa is a contracted form of “Japanese”. So Jun Japa can be translated into “pure Japanese”. As a Japanese grown up in the society, I have noticed the Japanese society is, in many ways, exclusive to foreigners and mixed-race Japanese and that “pure Japanese lineage” is likely to be a measurement of inclusion or “full membership” to the Japanese society. However, returnees—even if they are Japanese and their parents hold Japanese nationality—are excluded from the meaning of this buzzword just because of their background in other countries.

In “Citizenship and Immigration: Multiculturalism, Assimilation and Challenges to the Nation-State” (2008), Irene Bloemraad and her co-authors argue that one can look at citizenship from four dimensions: legal status, rights, participation, and sense of belonging. Even in the face of globalization, nation-states still holds power “to shape the institutions that provide differentiated access to participation and belonging” (Bloemraad et al. 2008:154). A short/mid-term experience abroad can affect those “pure” Japanese’s behavior of othering, which influences returnees’ sense of belonging, and vice versa. Japanese society has diversified as globalization has continued, and the image towards those whose origin/background are from out of Japan seems to have improved. Their language abilities and experiences abroad are often seen an advantage on campus in Japan. However, the sense of otherness still exists.

What makes a “pure Japanese”? I found that this returnees’ case of exclusion in the Japanese society could be related to what Renato Rosaldo (1997) calls “Cultural Citizenship”. Citizenship includes legal terms, such as nationality, but he argues cultural background that is different from the mainstream of the country also can evoke marginalization and exclusion from the society. This concept was proposed in the process of Latino/na population increase in the United States. Rosaldo claims that Latinos/as’ bilingual ability and dual cultural background can arise marginalization and exclusion because of difference from the mainstream (living in the U.S. only, English only and Anglo heritage etc).

Not only legal terms, extra-legal terms can be applied to the notion of citizenship in the society. Even though returnees enjoy full legal membership in Japanese society, their bilingual abilities and multicultural experiences affect their evaluation from the mainstream. Thus, the term Jun Japa demonstrates the idea of exclusion in the social community in Japan, even though it is used to illustrate the sense of inferiority and envy to those who have a different cultural background.


Bloemraad, I., Korteweg, A., & Yurdakul, G. 2008. Citizenship and immigration: Multiculturalism, assimilation, and challenges to the nation-state. Annual Review of Sociology. 34. 153-179.

Rosaldo, R. 1997. Cultural citizenship, inequality, and multiculturalism. In Flores W. F., & Benmayor, R. (Eds). Latino cultural citizenships. (pp. 27-38). Boston: Beacon Press.