Monday, July 2, 2007

Racism in Japan (again)

This article examines the problems minorities face in Japan. Taken from:

Ethnic Issues in Japan

Amongst the major industrialized countries, Japan is one of the most ethnically homogeneous and some consider Japan's ethnic homogenity to be the main reason for social and political stability in Japan.

In 2005, a United Nations report expressed concerns about racism in Japan and that government recognition of the depth of the problem was not total.[1][2] The author of the report, Doudou Diène (Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights), concluded after a nine-day investigation that racial discrimination and xenophobia in Japan primarily affects three groups: national minorities, descendants of former Japanese colonies and foreigners from other Asian countries.[3]


Only about 1.5% of Japan's total legal resident population are foreign nationals. According to 2003 data from the Japanese government, the principal groups are as follows

Nationality Number Percentage
North and South Korea 613,791 32.1%
China and Taiwan 462,396 24.1%
Brazil 274,700 14.3%
Philippines 185,237 9.7%
Peru 53,649 2.8%
USA 47,836 2.5%
Others 277,421 14.5%
Total 1,915,030 100%

The above statistic does not include about 50,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Japan and illegal immigrants. Moreover, the statistics do not reflect minority groups who are Japanese citizens such as the Ainu (an aboriginal people primarily living in Hokkaido) and the Ryukyuans (who may or may not be considered ethnically Japanese).

Japanese minorities

The four largest minority groups residing in Japan are the Zainichi Koreans, the Ainu, the Ryukyuan, and the Burakumin. There are also a number of smaller ethnic communities in Japan with a much shorter history.

Korean people

Main article: Zainichi Korean

Zainichi (resident in Japan) Koreans are permanent residents of Japan, but hold North or South Korean citizenship. Most Zainichi were part of the Korean diaspora during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, when Korean landowners and workers lost their land and livelihood to Japanese land and production confiscation initiatives. Those who continued to work the land suffered harsh conditions and saw their harvest shipped to Japan proper. This created large scale internal displacement, and many Koreans migrated to Japan for work. A total of 5.4 million Koreans were also conscripted into forced labor, and shipped throughout the Japanese Empire. Of these, 210,000 to 870,000 Koreans died during forced labor in Manchuria, Sakhalin, etc..[4] Large numbers of Korean immigrants also came to the country during the Jeju massacre in the First Republic of South Korea. Though most migrants returned to Korea, GHQ estimates in 1946 indicated that 650,000 Koreans remained in Japan.

After World War II, the Korean community in Japan was split between allegiance to capitalist South Korea (Mindan) and communist North Korea (Chongryon). South Koreans in Japan are called Zainichi Kankokujin (在日韓国人, 재일한국인), while North Koreans are called Zainichi Chosenjin (在日朝鮮人, 재일조선인). Zainichi who identify themselves with Chongryon are also an important money sources of North Korea. Charles Wolf, Jr. of the RAND Corporation estimated the total annual transfers from Japan to North Korea may equal more than $200 million.

Japanese law does not allow dual citizenship, and until the 1980s required adoption of a Japanese name for citizenship. Partially for this reason, many Zainichi did not obtain Japanese citizenship as they saw the process to be humiliating. Although more Zainichi are becoming Japanese citizens, issues of identity remain complicated. Even those who do not choose to become Japanese citizens often use Japanese names to avoid discrimination and live their lives as if they were Japanese. This is in contrast with the Chinese living in Japan, who generally use their Chinese names and openly form Chinatown communities. Because of their citizenship and legal status, Zainichi Koreans have traditionally been excluded from select employment, housing, education, etc.[citation needed]

Chinese and Taiwanese people

Main article: Chinese in Japan

Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese are the second largest group after Koreans. Mainland Chinese in particular have been the target of anti-immigrant sentiment partially because of their perception of having a taste for committing crime, and also due to strained relations between the two nations, and the simple fear of a large unfriendly nation on their doorstep, and differences in cultural politeness and economic development.


Main article: Ainu people
Main article: Ainu independence movement

The Ainu are an Indigenous group mainly living in Hokkaidō. The Tokugawa Shogunate tried to develop Hokkaido to counter Russia's growing influence in the Far East, but mostly left the place for the native Ainu. Then the Meiji government started development programs, increasingly aimed at assimilating the Ainu, outlawing Ainu language and restricting them to farming on government-provided plots. Many of the Ainu were also used in slave-like conditions by the Japanese fishing industry. As the Japanese government encouraged immigration of ethnic Japanese to populate Hokkaido, the Ainu became increasingly marginalised in their own land.

At present, fewer than 20,000 Ainu are considered racially distinct. Most, if not all, of the Ainu in Japan are of mixed ancestry. 80-90% of Ainu now either ignore or don't know of their Ainu identity. Many customs and traditions of the Ainu have been lost, abandoned or annihilated by way of assimilation, and the Ainu language is no longer in daily use.

Only in the decades after World War II have the Ainu started to become aware of international aboriginal rights movements. Thus, as of late, some schools in Hokkaido have been established to preserve and revive the Ainu culture.

Ryukyuan people

Main article: Ryukyuans

The Ryukyuan people lived in an independent kingdom until it came under the control of Japan's Satsuma Domain in 1609. The kingdom, however, retained a degree of autonomy until 1879 when the islands were officially annexed by Japan as Okinawa prefecture.

The Okinawan language, the most widely spoken Ryukyuan language, is unintelligible to many Japanese people, yet sometimes believed to be a distant dialect of the Japanese language. Even within the four main islands of Japan, different regions may speak local dialects that are unintelligible to other regions.

Culturally, Okinawa is much closer to southern China and Southeast Asia reflecting its long history of trade with these regions. However, because of the standard use of Japanese in schools, television, and all print media in Okinawa, these cultural differences are often glossed over in Japanese society. Consequently, many Japanese consider Okinawans to be Japanese, sometimes ignoring their distinct cultural and historical heritage in insensitive ways.

Some Okinawans intensely resent what they perceive to be second-class treatment from the Japanese government, especially in regard to friction with the United States military presence in Okinawa.


The Burakumin are a social minority group with no distinct ethnicity from other Japanese. Rather, their status is derived from policy introduced in the Edo period, when the government designated butchers, leather workers, executioners, and others as eta (filth) or hinin (non-persons) and imposed various restrictions on their lives, including the clothes they were allowed to wear and areas they were allowed to visit. The Meiji Restoration abolished these caste-like restrictions. However, those having eta or hinin status were registered as shin-heimin (new commoners) which allowed social and economic discrimination against them to continue to this day.

After the war, shin-heimin registration as well as other differential registration was abolished. However, at the time, family registry (koseki) in Japan was tied to the location of original (i.e. ancestral) registration. This meant that one's burakumin background could be revealed easily before marriage or when applying for employment. A law prohibiting the transfer of koseki was amended during the 1980s, so it is now possible for burakumin to avoid discrimination simply by changing the location of their koseki.

Municipal rubbish collection, sewage cleaning, and cremation—jobs which Japanese associate with filth—have historically been performed by people with a burakumin background. Discrimination is still an issue for kaihou seisaku (liberation policy) in the local municipalities. Unlike other minority groups, however, the burakumin are decidedly integrationist due to the lack of a distinct cultural heritage.

Other groups

Foreigners in Japan, particularly those from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, are often called Gaikokujin or Gaijin. The first noticeable influx of foreigners occurred in the 1980s, when the Japanese government adopted a policy to give scholarships to large numbers of foreign students to study at Japanese universities. In addition, as the Japanese economy grew quickly in the 1980s, a sizeable number of Westerners began coming to Japan. Many found jobs as English conversation teachers, but others were employed in various professional fields such as finance and business. Although some have become permanent residents or even naturalized citizens, they are generally perceived as short-term visitors and treated as outsiders to Japanese society. For some, it is hard to find the Japanese myth of "them and us" because of Japanese hospitality.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Keidanren business lobbying organization advocated a policy of allowing South Americans of Japanese ancestry (mainly Brazilians and Peruvians) to work in Japan, as Japan's industries faced a major labor shortage. Although this policy has been decelerated in recent years, many of these individuals continue to live in Japan, some in ethnic enclaves near their workplaces. Many people from Asia (particularly Vietnam and the Philippines) and the Middle East (particularly Iran) also entered Japan (often illegally) during this time, making foreigners as a group a more visible minority in Japan. Those foreigners are called Rainichi ("coming to Japan") in contrast to Zainichi ("in Japan").

The main concerns of the latter groups are often related to their legal status, a public perception of criminal activity, and general discrimination associated with being non-Japanese.

Ethnic issues

Government policy

Because of inherent discrimination and the low importance placed on assimilating minorities in Japan, laws regarding ethnic matters receive low priority in the legislative process. Still, in 1997, "Ainu cultural revival" legislation was passed which replaced the former "Hokkaido ex-Aboriginal Protection" legislation that had devastating effects on the Ainu in the past.

Article 14 of the Constitution of Japan states that all citizens are equal under the law, and they cannot be discriminated against politically, economically, or socially on the basis of race, belief, sex, or social or other background. However, this clause does not apply to discrimination committed by private individuals or establishments. Hate speech is not a criminal offense, but insulting, such as calling someone "fool!", is a minor civil offense resulting in monetary compensation (which is often lower than the cost of going through the judicial process). Japan does not have human rights legislation which enforces or penalises discriminatory activities committed by citizens, businesses, or non-governmental organisations. The country does not have specific hate crime laws. Racism and hate-motivated offenses that include assault, vandalism, and robbery are prosecuted as regular crimes.

Attempts have been made in the Diet to enact human rights legislation. In 2002, a draft was submitted to the House of Representatives, but did not reach a vote. Had the law passed, it would have set up a Human Rights Commission to investigate, name and shame, or financially penalise discriminatory practices as well as hate speech committed by private citizens or establishments. Though the anti-discrimination clause raised little objection, the anti-hate speech clause received very hostile reception from Japanese media, including liberals who saw it as a potential threat to the freedom of speech and publication. In 2005, the ruling coalition government attempted to resubmit a revised version of the draft which somewhat limited the application of hate speech clause, but it still failed to reach a consensus within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Another issue which is often debated, but has not received much legislative attention is whether to allow permanent residents to vote in local legislatures. Zainichi organisations affiliated with North Korea are against this initiative, while Zainichi organisations affiliated with South Korea support it.

Finally, there is debate about altering requirements for work permits to foreigners. Currently, the Japanese government does not issue work permits unless it can be demonstrated that the person has certain skills which cannot be provided by locals.

Higher learning

Tenure for foreigners in Japanese universities is extremely rare. However, many professors from all over the world teach throughout the Japanese higher education system.[5]

Non-Japanese citizens and crimes

Similar to other countries, many foreigners come to Japan to work, sometimes entering the country legally, and sometimes overstaying the term of their tourist/entry visa. Their employment tends to be concentrated in areas where most Japanese are not able to or no longer wish to work. Consequently, accusations of foreigners stealing jobs are not often heard in Japan. Due in part to intense institutionalized discrimination by Japanese government & society, some foreigners resort to criminal activity.

According to National Police Authority record in 2002, however, 16,212 foreigners were caught committing 34,746 crimes, over half of which turned out to be visa violations (residing/working in Japan without a valid visa). The statistics show that 12,667 cases (36.5%) and 6,487 individuals (40.0%) were Chinese, 5,272 cases (15.72%) and 1,186 individuals (7.3%) were Brazilian, and 2,815 cases (8.1%) and 1,738 individuals (10.7%) were Korean. The total number of crimes committed in the same year by Japanese was 546,934 cases.

Within these statistics, Japanese committed 6,925 violent crimes, of which 2,531 were arson or rape, while foreigners committed 323 violent crimes, but only 42 cases are classified as arson or rape. Foreigners, however, were more likely to commit crimes in groups. About 61.5% of crimes committed by foreigners had one or more accomplice, while only 18.6% of crimes committed by Japanese were in groups.

However, the former head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Emergency Public Safety Task Force, Hiroshi Kubo, published a book disputing foreign crime statistics, suggesting that such statistics were being manipulated by politicians for political gain. He suggested, for example, that including visa violations in crime statistics is misleading. He also said that the crime rate in Tokyo is based on reported rather than actual crimes.

Access to housing and other services

A sign outside an Onsen in Otaru printed in Japanese, English and Russian barring foreigners from entry. (See Arudou Debito#Otaru onsen lawsuit)
A sign outside an Onsen in Otaru printed in Japanese, English and Russian barring foreigners from entry. (See Arudou Debito#Otaru onsen lawsuit)

Some apartments, motels, night clubs, and public baths in Japan have put up signs stating that foreigners are not allowed, or that they must be accompanied by a Japanese person to enter, though these signs are rare. The most common reason cited for this policy is that foreigners are associated with being overly disruptive and ignoring Japanese etiquette (which causes Japanese residents or clientele to feel uneasy and leave).[citation needed] This is considered to be a big social problem in Japan, however there has been no known opposition nor any legal battles against such a measure.

In the case of housing, it is often stated that those that cannot bring references from their employer or professors might be illegal immigrants who may sublet their room to a large number of other foreigners (which is undoubtedly due to a lack of housing these illegal immigrants encounter). Despite this, the Japanese in general are increasingly becoming more open to certain foreigners, (mostly North Americans and Europeans or those with Japanese oriental ancestry) believing they can bring new energy and information to Japan.[citation needed]

Political correctness

By global standards, Japan is highly homogenous ethnically. Thus, there are some issues which many non-Japanese find insensitive. The debate over these issues parallel the debate over political correctness in the West.

A common example of this issue is the Japanese use of the colloquial term "gaijin" instead of "gaikokujin" to refer to foreigners (particularly Westerners). Many strongly object to the word,[citation needed] as it literally means "outside person",[citation needed] as opposed to "foreigner",[citation needed] and allegedly has an implied exclusionary tone. Others view it as an abbreviation of the more formal term gaikokujin, which is used by the government and media.[citation needed]

Similarly, when Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara referred to Chinese and Koreans as "sangokujin" in context of foreigners being a potential source of unrest in the time of an earthquake, it caused an outcry among the media. Historically, the word has often been used pejoratively and Ishihara's statement brought images of the massacre of Koreans by civilians and police alike during the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake to mind. Therefore, the use of the term in context of potential rioting by foreigners is considered by many as provocative, if not explicitly racist.

Another example, which had been particularly shocking to some in the West,[citation needed] was a lack of sensitivity among the Japanese toward racism against black people. For example, one Japanese doo-wop pop group (see Rats & Star) in 1970s routinely appeared on stage painting their skin dark brown and wearing sunglasses to look black, totally oblivious to the implications of such an act in the West. Similarly, during the 1980s, Takara created and sold a doll called "Dakko-chan" (snuggle baby), an inflatable dark-colored plastic doll with fat lips and arms that could wrap around human arms or other pole-like objects. The doll was a commercial hit and was soon exported outside Japan as "Little Black Sambo". Many Americans made claims that it resembled blackface costumes worn by performers in the minstrel shows popular in the past.[citation needed] After receiving numerous complaints, the sales of the doll were stopped. In Japan, as a sort of hasty reaction, there were efforts to remove anything that people believed were racist against black people. The sale of Japanese translations of the book "Little Black Sambo" was halted. Any pictorial representations of blacks with fat lips, especially in manga and anime, were purged during this period.[citation needed]

Assimilation and integration

There are a number of aspects of Japanese society which foreigners find difficult.

  • Japanese citizens are recorded in koseki (family registry) and jūminhyō (resident registry) systems, while foreigners are only recorded in a separate alien registration system. A non-Japanese person cannot be directly added to a koseki, which is the main record of familial relations. As a result, based on official records, the Japanese spouse of a foreigner may appear to be a single head of household, and children may appear as illegitimate. Some municipalities compromise by allowing foreign spouses to be recorded in the "Notes" section of the koseki and jūminhyō.
  • Foreigners residing in Japan for longer than 90 days are issued an alien registration card. By law, foreigners must carry their passport or alien registration card at all times and present it to police upon demand, even though Japanese citizens are not required to carry identification. Recently, government officials have relaxed this policy, but foreigners still need identification.
  • Kanji (Chinese characters) are used as part of virtually all Japanese writing. Resident foreigners faced with paperwork from their local city wards and places of employment must generally learn about 2000 kanji before they can function independently in Japan. This often poses great difficulty for those from outside East Asia. However, many business and government offices provide translations of forms and other documents in English, and occasionally in other languages as well (such as Chinese and Korean). However, by their nature, such documents are often inaccurate, especially where specialist terminology is involved (e.g. vaccination notices, legal instructions etc.). Moreover, by their very nature, translated versions may not be up to date and thus pose additional procedural hurdles to those who are illiterate in Japanese and thus forced to rely on secondary documents.

Japanese view of racism

When most Japanese hear other accounts of racism throughout the world it is met with shock and disgust. Japan feels they are in a unique situation due to the combination of a declining population and rapid migration to urban areas. Some think every year knowledge and skills unique to their culture are lost. The Japanese consensus is that any means needed to preserve their culture are legitimate, even if they may seem "racist" to outsiders[citation needed]. Many youth in Japan feel a tremendous burden to keep the culture alive and many times leave the country and completely assimilate to their new homeland. This has compounded the problem in two ways: it exacerbates the decline in population and fosters a deeper fear of the influence of outside cultures.[6]


  1. ^ Press Conference by Mr Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights. Retrieved on {{#time:F j, Y|2007-01-05}}.
  2. ^ "Japan racism 'deep and profound". BBC News (2005-07-11). Retrieved on 2007-01-05.
  3. ^ 'Overcoming "Marginalization" and "Invisibility"', International Movement against all forms of Discrimination and Racism. Retrieved on {{#time:F j, Y|2007-01-05}}.
  4. ^ Rummel, R. J. (1999). Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1990. Lit Verlag. ISBN 3-8258-4010-7. Available online: Statistics of Democide: Chapter 3 - Statistics Of Japanese Democide Estimates, Calculations, And Sources. Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War. Retrieved on {{#time:F j, Y|2006-03-01}}.
  5. ^ Title:Tenure for Foreigners in Japan, Author:Geller, Robert J. Publication: Science, Volume 258, Issue 5087, pp. 1421 Publication Date: 11/1992 Bibliographic Code:1992Sci...258.1421G
  6. ^ Meri's Monthly Circular August 2006 No.92

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