Racism in Japan
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The national census shows the majority of Japan's citizens identify as Japanese, approximately 97.8% as of 2018, according to the Japanese Statistics Bureau. Japanese people make up 98.1%, Chinese 0.5%, Korean 0.4%, and other 1% (includes Filipino, Vietnamese, and Brazilian) of people living in Japan, according to the CIA World Handbook.
According to census statistics in 2018, 97.8% of the population of Japan are Japanese, with the remainder being foreign nationals residing in Japan. The number of foreign workers has increased dramatically in recent years, due to the aging population and a shrinking labor force. A news article in 2018 suggests that approximately 1 out of 10 young population residing in Tokyo are foreign nationals.
In the early 20th century, driven by an ideology of national unity, the Japanese government identified and forcefully assimilated marginalized populations, which included Ryukyuans, Ainu, and other underrepresented groups, imposing assimilation programs in language, culture and religion.
|South Korea + Chōsen[note 1]||479,198||17.7%||0.40%|
|Total (as of 2018)||2,731,093||100%||2.2%|
The above statistics do not include the approximately 30,000 U.S. military stationed in Japan, nor do they account for illegal immigrants. The statistics also do not take into account naturalized citizens from backgrounds including but not limited to Korean and Chinese, and citizen descendants of immigrants. The total legal resident population of 2012 is estimated at 127.6 million.
Racism and ethnic discrimination in Japan by target
Japanese ethnic minorities
The nine largest minority groups residing in Japan are: North and South Korean, Chinese, Brazilian (many Brazilians in Japan have Japanese ancestors), Filipinos, Taiwanese, the Ainu indigenous to Hokkaido and the Ryukyuans indigenous to Okinawa and other islands between Kyushu and Taiwan. The Burakumin, an outcast group at the bottom of Japan's feudal order, are sometimes included. There are also a number of smaller ethnic communities in Japan with a much shorter history.
- the national minorities of Ainu and people of Okinawa,
- people and descendants of people from neighbouring countries (Chinese and Koreans)
- and the new immigrants from other Asian, African, South American and Middle Eastern countries.
Prior to World War II, Koreans sought asylum and educational opportunities that were available in Japan. In 1910, the Japan-Korean Annexation Treaty was established and stated that Koreans were to be considered Japanese as citizenship by law as Korea was annexed by Japan. During World War II, Japanese government established the National Mobilization Law, which constrained Koreans from getting jobs, which were very limited for Koreans even prior to World War II. Koreans that were not constricted were forced to work in factories and mines in inhumane conditions; an estimated 60,000 Koreans died because of work conditions. Following World War II, Koreans decided to participate in the Post-world war II illegally because of the unfair treatment and wages in Japan both politically and economically. Zainichi (resident in Japan) Koreans are permanent residents of Japan registered as Joseon (Korean: 조선, Japanese: Chōsen (朝鮮)) or South Korean nationality. Joseon was annexed by Japan in 1910, therefore Zainichi Koreans with Joseon citizenship are de facto stateless. After World War II, 2 million Koreans living in Japan were granted a temporary Joseon nationality under the US military government (because there was no government in Korea then). However, the meaning of Joseon nationality became vague as Korea was divided by the United States and the Soviet Union, and in 1948 North and South Korea each established their own government. Some obtained South Korean citizenship later, but others who opposed the division of Korea or sympathized with North Korea maintained their Joseon nationality because people are not allowed to register North Korean nationality.
Most Zainichi came to Japan from Korea under Japanese rule between 1910 and 1945. A large proportion of this immigration is said to be the result of Korean landowners and workers losing their land and livelihood due to Japanese land and production confiscation initiatives and migrating to Japan for work. According to the calculation of Rudolph Rummel, a total of 5.4 million Koreans were also conscripted into forced labor and shipped throughout the Japanese Empire. He estimates that 60,000 Koreans died during forced labor in places such as Manchuria and Sakhalin.
During the occupation of Korea by Japan, the Japanese government enforced a policy of forced assimilation. Korean culture was oppressed; the Korean language was labeled a dialect (方言) of Japanese and banned, Koreans were forced to learn and speak Japanese and to take Japanese names. However, Koreans resisted this and by the end of the 1940s it was almost completely undone.
Many Korean refugees also came to the country during the Jeju uprising 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.
Zainichi who identify themselves with Chongryon are also an important money source for North Korea. One estimate suggests that the total annual transfers from Japan to North Korea may exceed US$200 million.
Japanese law does not allow dual citizenship for adults over 22 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 as 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.
An increase in tensions between Japan and North Korea in the late 1990s led to a surge of attacks against Chongryon, the pro-North residents' organisation, including a pattern of assaults against Korean schoolgirls in Japan. For a long time, Chongryon enjoyed unofficial immunity from searches and investigations, although it has long been suspected of a variety of criminal acts on behalf of North Korea, such as illegal transfer of funds to North Korea and espionage.
The Japanese authorities have recently started to crack down on Chongryon with investigations and arrests. These moves are often criticized by Chongryon as acts of political suppression.
When Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara referred to Chinese and Koreans as sangokujin (三国人) in 2000 in the context of foreigners being a potential source of unrest in the aftermath of an earthquake, the foreign community complained. Historically, the word has often been used pejoratively and Ishihara's statement brought images of the massacre of Koreans by civilians and police alike after the 1923 Great Kantō 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.[excessive citations]
In 2014, a United States government human rights report expressed concern about the abuse and harassment directed against Korean nationals by Japanese right-wing groups.[excessive citations]
Mainland Chinese people
Mainland Chinese are the largest minority in Japan (according to the 2018 statistics as shown above). An investigator from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) said, racism against Koreans and Chinese is deeply rooted in Japan because of history and culture.
There are a number of Taiwanese people that reside in Japan due to close ties between Taiwan and Japan. Taiwan was a colony of Japan from 1895 to 1945 and Taiwanese during this time were considered Japanese citizens. In general, Taiwanese people are treated relatively well compared to other minority groups, such as Chinese and Koreans, due to the positive image towards Taiwan among Japanese people. Renhō, the leader of the Democratic Party, is known to be the most famous Taiwanese-Japanese politician.
- I referred to the "many sangokujin who entered Japan illegally." I thought some people would not know that word so I paraphrased it and used gaikokujin, or foreigners. But it was a newspaper holiday so the news agencies consciously picked up the sangokujin part, causing the problem.
- ... After World War II, when Japan lost, the Chinese of Taiwanese origin and people from the Korean Peninsula persecuted, robbed, and sometimes beat up Japanese. It's at that time the word was used, so it was not derogatory. Rather we were afraid of them.
- ... There's no need for an apology. I was surprised that there was a big reaction to my speech. In order not to cause any misunderstanding, I decided I will no longer use that word. It is regrettable that the word was interpreted in the way it was."
The Ainu people of Japan are considered to be the aboriginals of Northern Japan; during the Meiji period, they were considered 'former aboriginals.' The native group of Japan, namely the Ainu, are a group estimated to be 25,000 of the entire population in Japan. They have maintained their language of Ainu among 15 families. Although the population of Ainu people in Japan is officially recorded as 25,000, the actual population is thought of to be of a higher number: 150,000. Many genetically Ainu individuals don't identify as Ainu or they identify as Japanese in order to avoid discrimination within society, the workplace, and educational institutions. As of 2019, the Ainu people are now officially recognized as indigenous people of Japan. The Ainu are an indigenous group mainly living in Hokkaidō, with some also living in modern-day Russia. At present, the official Japanese government estimate of the population is 25,000, though this number has been disputed with unofficial estimates of upwards of 200,000.
For much of Japanese history, the Ainu were the main inhabitants of Hokkaido. However, as a result of Japanese migration into the island after 1869, the Ainu were largely displaced and assimilated. Due to Meiji era policies, the Ainu were evicted from their traditional homelands and their cultural practices were outlawed. Official recognition of the Ainu as an indigenous group occurred over a century later on June 6, 2008, as a result of a resolution passed by the government of Japan, which recognized both their cultural differences and their past struggles.
The Ryukyuan people lived in an independent kingdom until it became a vassal 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. They are now Japan's largest minority group, with 1.3 million living in Okinawa and 300,000 living in other areas of Japan.[incomplete short citation]
The Okinawan language, the most widely spoken Ryukyuan language, is related to Japanese, the two being in the Japonic languages. Ryukyuan languages were heavily suppressed through a policy of forced assimilation throughout the former Ryukyu Kingdom after it was annexed in 1879. With only Japanese taught in schools and students punished for speaking or writing their native language through the use of dialect cards, the younger generations of Ryukyuans began to give up their "backwards" culture for that of Japan. The Japanese government officially labels the Ryukyuan languages as dialects (Hōgen) of Japanese, although they are not mutually intelligible with one another, or even between each other. In 1940, there was a political debate amongst Japanese leaders about whether or not to continue the oppression of the Ryukyuan languages, although the argument for assimilation prevailed. Japanese soldiers outright shot people who spoke Ryukyuan languages during the Battle of Okinawa, believing they were spies. There are still some children learning Ryukyuan languages natively, but this is rare, especially on mainland Okinawa. The language still is used in traditional cultural activities, such as folk music, or folk dance.
After the annexation of the islands, many Ryukyuans, especially Okinawans, migrated to the mainland to find jobs or better living conditions. They were sometimes met with discrimination, such as workplaces with signs that read, "No Ryukyuans or Koreans." At the 1903 Osaka Exhibition, an exhibit called the "Pavilion of the World" (Jinruikan) had actual Okinawans, Ainu, Koreans, and other "backwards" peoples on display in their native clothes and housing. During the fierce fighting in the Battle of Okinawa, Japanese soldiers committed multiple atrocities against Okinawan civilians, including rape and murder, using them as human shields, and forcing them to commit suicide. In 2007, the Ministry of Education attempted to revise school textbooks to lessen mention of these atrocities, but was met with massive demonstrations in Okinawa.
Culturally, Okinawa is also close to southern China, Taiwan, 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.
Western foreigners in Japan, particularly those from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, are often called 外国人 Gaikokujin or 外人 Gaijin. The first large influx of such 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 sizable 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 of Japanese society.
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 Southeast Asia (particularly Vietnam and the Philippines) and Southwest Asia (and Iran) also entered Japan during this time, making foreigners as a group a more visible minority in Japan. Those foreigners are called 来日 Rainichi ('coming to Japan') in contrast to 在日 Zainichi ('in Japan'). The TBS television series Smile is about Bito Hayakawa who was born to a Japanese mother and Filipino father, and struggled to overcome the difficulties faced as a mixed race child.
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.
South Sakhalin, which was once part of Japan as Karafuto Prefecture, had indigenous populations of Nivkhs and Uilta (Orok). Like the Karafuto Koreans but unlike the Ainu, they were thus not included in the evacuation of Japanese nationals after the Soviet invasion in 1945. Some Nivkhs and Uilta who served in the Imperial Japanese Army were held in Soviet work camps; after court cases in the late 1950s and 1960s, they were recognised as Japanese nationals and thus permitted to migrate to Japan. Most settled around Abashiri, Hokkaidō. The Uilta Kyokai was founded to fight for Uilta rights and the preservation of Uilta traditions in 1975 by Dahinien Gendānu.
Although protection and refugee status has been granted to those seeking asylum from Myanmar, the same has not been offered to refugee Kurds in Japan from Turkey. Without this protection and status, these Kurds who have fled from Turkey due to persecution are generally living in destitution, with no education and having no legal residency status. A clash took place outside the Turkish embassy in Tokyo in October 2015 between Kurds and Turks in Japan which began after a Kurdish party flag was shown at the embassy.
The Burakumin group within Japan is ethnically Japanese; however, they are considered of lower status and lower class standing in comparison to other ethnicities in Japan. They worked as primarily farmers and were considered peasants on the social hierarchy pyramid. Post-World War, the Burakumin group was heavily dissociated from society as the abolishment of the feudal caste system did not put an end to the social discrimination that they faced within restricting housing systems; movements and protests have been maintained throughout the years as they fight to receive and equal status as their peers in regard to access to certain educational, housing, and social benefits and citizenship rights. In order to gain attention to the problems and injustices that they experience, groups such as the militant style, Buraka Liberation League, which uses presentations and speaking to prove and explain their frustrations to a panel.
Representation of black people in Japanese media, such as anime, has been subject to criticism.
Racism and ethnic discrimination in Japan by field
Although foreign professors teach throughout the Japanese higher education system, Robert J. Geller of University of Tokyo reported, in 1992, that it was extremely rare for them to be given tenure.
Non-Japanese citizens and crimes
As in other countries, foreigners sometimes do work that is not allowed by their visas, or overstay the terms of their visas. Their employment tends to be concentrated in fields where most Japanese are not able to or no longer wish to work.
A large portion of crimes by immigrants are by Chinese in Japan, and some highly publicized crimes by organized groups of Chinese (often with help of Japanese organized crime) have led to a negative public perception. In 2003, foreigners from Africa were responsible for 2.8 times as much crime per capita as Japanese natives but were slightly less likely to commit violent crime.
According to National Police Authority records, in 2002, 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 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.
By a 2010 study by the National Police Agency illegal residents decreased from 219,000 in 2004 to 113,000 in 2008, and in addition, the number of arrested foreign visitors decreased from 21,842 in 2004 to 13,880 in 2008. The percentage of foreign nationals in all arrestees charged in penal code crimes was about 2.0% and this number has remained relatively stable. While the percentage of foreign nationals among all arrestees charged in cases involving robbery or burglary was around 5.5% in 2008.
The former head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Emergency Public Safety Task Force, Hiroshi Kubo, published a book called Chian wa Hontouni Akkashiteirunoka (治安はほんとうに悪化しているのか) (in English: Is Public Safety Really Deteriorating?, ISBN 978-4-86162-025-6) 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 handful of apartments, motels, night clubs, brothels, sex parlours 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.
In February 2002 plaintiffs sued a Hokkaido bathhouse in district court pleading racial discrimination, and on November 11 the Sapporo District Court ordered the bathhouse to pay the plaintiffs ¥1 million each in damages.
In fact, there were a substantial number of lawsuits regarding discrimination against foreigners. For example, in 2005, a Korean woman who attempted to rent a room was refused because she was not a Japanese citizen. She filed a discrimination lawsuit, and she won in Japanese court.
"Discrimination toward foreign nationals in their searches for homes continues to be one of the biggest problems", said the head of the Ethnic Media Press Centre. Organizers of the service said they hope to eradicate the racism that prevents foreigners, particularly Non-Westerners, from renting apartments since there are currently no laws in Japan that ban discrimination.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many establishments started to exclude non-Japanese customers over fears that they would spread the coronavirus. For example, a ramen shop owner imposed a rule prohibiting non-Japanese people from entering the restaurant.
Racial discrimination against other Asians was habitual in Imperial Japan, having begun with the start of Japanese colonialism. The Meiji era Japanese showed a contempt for other Asians. This was exemplified in an editorial titled Datsu-A Ron, which advocated that Japan treat other Asians as other western empires treat them. The Shōwa regime preached racial superiority and racialist theories, based on nature of Yamato-damashii. According to historian Kurakichi Shiratori, one of Emperor Hirohito's teachers: "Therefore nothing in the world compares to the divine nature (shinsei) of the imperial house and likewise the majesty of our national polity (kokutai). Here is one great reason for Japan's superiority."
According to the An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus, a classified report in 1943 of the Ministry of Health and Welfare completed on July 1, 1943, just as a family has harmony and reciprocity, but with a clear-cut hierarchy, the Japanese, as a racially superior people, were destined to rule Asia "eternally" as the head of the family of Asian nations. The most horrific xenophobia of the pre-Shōwa period was displayed after the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, where in the confusion after a massive earthquake, Koreans were wrongly maligned as poisoning the water supply. A vicious pogrom resulted in the deaths of at least 3,000 Koreans, and the imprisonment of 26,000.
Attacks against Western foreigners and their Japanese friends by nationalist citizens, rose in the 1930s under the influence of Japanese military-political doctrines in the Showa period, after a long build-up starting in the Meiji period when only a few samurai die-hards did not accept foreigners in Japan. For an exception, see Jewish settlement in the Japanese Empire.
World War II
Racism was omnipresent in the press during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Greater East Asia War and the media's descriptions of the superiority of the Yamato people was unwaveringly consistent. The first major anti-foreigner publicity campaign, called Bōchō (Guard Against Espionage), was launched in 1940 alongside the proclamation of the Tōa shin Chitsujo (New Order in East Asia) and its first step, the Hakkō ichiu. Initially, in order to justify Japan's conquest of Asia, Japanese propaganda espoused the ideas of Japanese supremacy by claiming that the Japanese represented a combination of all Asian peoples and cultures, emphasizing heterogeneous traits. Japanese propaganda started to place an emphasis on the ideas of racial purity and the supremacy of the Yamato race when the Second Sino-Japanese War intensified.
Mostly after the launching of the Pacific War, Westerners were detained by official authorities, and on occasion were objects of violent assaults, sent to police jails or military detention centers or suffered bad treatment in the street. This applied particularly to Americans, Soviets and British; in Manchukuo at the same period xenophobic attacks were carried out against Chinese and other non-Japanese.
At the end of World War II, the Japanese government continued to adhere to the notion of racial homogeneity and racial supremacy, with the Yamato race at the top of the racial hierarchy. Japanese propaganda of racial purity returned to post-World War II Japan because of the support of the Allied forces. U.S. policy in Japan terminated the purge of high-ranking fascist war criminals and reinstalled the leaders who were responsible for the creation and manifestation of prewar race propaganda.
Post-war government policy
Because of 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 previous "Hokkaido Former Aboriginal Protection" legislation that had devastating effects on the Ainu in the past.
Article 14 of the Constitution of Japan states that all people (English version) or citizens (revised Japanese version) 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.
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 penalize discriminatory practices as well as hate speech committed by private citizens or establishments.
Another issue which has been publicly debated but has not received much legislative attention is whether to allow permanent residents to vote in local legislatures. Zainichi organizations affiliated with North Korea are against this initiative, while Zainichi organizations affiliated with South Korea support it.
Finally, there is debate about altering requirements for work permits to foreigners. Currently[specify], 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.
Comment by U.N. special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia
Doudou Diène (Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights) concluded after an investigation and nine-day tour of Japan that racial discrimination and xenophobia in Japan primarily affects three groups: national minorities, descendants of former Japanese colonies, and foreigners from other Asian countries. Professor John Lie, from the University of California, Berkeley, in spite of the widespread belief that Japan is ethnically homogeneous, believe it is more accurate to describe Japan as a multiethnic society. Such claims have long been rejected by other sectors of Japanese society such as former Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō, who has once described Japan as being a nation of "one race, one civilization, one language and one culture".
Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese national newspaper, while expressing a support for combating discrimination, expressed doubt on the impartiality of the report, pointing out that Doudou Diène never visited Japan before and his short tour was arranged by a Japanese NGO, IMADR (International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination). The chairman of the organization is Professor Kinhide Mushakoji (武者小路公秀), who is a board member (and the former director of the board) of the International Institute of the Juche Idea (主体思想国際研究所), an organization whose stated purpose is to propagate Juche, the official ideology of North Korea.
In 2010, according to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Japan's record on racism has improved, but there is still room for progress. The committee was critical of the lack of anti-hate speech legislation in the country and the treatment of Japanese minorities and its large Korean and Chinese communities. The Japan Times quoted committee member Regis de Gouttes as saying that there had been little progress since 2001 (when the last review was held) "There is no new legislation, even though in 2001 the committee said prohibiting hate speech is compatible with freedom of expression." Many members of the committee, however, praised the Japanese government's recent recognition of the Ainu as an indigenous people.
In February 2015, Ayako Sono, a former member of an education reform panel, wrote a controversial column in Sankei Shimbun suggesting that more foreign workers be imported to meet labor shortages, but that they be separated from native Japanese in a system of apartheid. She later explained "I have never commended apartheid, but I do think that the existence of a ‘Chinatown’ or ‘Little Tokyo’ is a good thing."
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