Japan's Culture

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Ethnic Issues in Japan - Race, Government & Media

Japan, being a nation whose population is greater than 99% born in Japan and speaking Japanese, experiences difficulty in coping with an increasing foreign population (end of 2002: 1,851,758).

The issue of racism, although serious, is not openly discussed in Japanese-language based media whether televised or written. Also, unlike nations like the United States of America, racism in Japan is often not directed so much against people of a particular race or ethnic group but rather against those who are non-Japanese. The Japanese language uses the word gaijin (外人 lit: outside person) to express this division. The word can therefore be applied equally to non-Japanese Asians as to white Americans. This is because Japanese do not consider themselves Asians in the same manner that some British people may not consider themselves European.

Japanese Media

It is not uncommon to see the word Gaijin written on billboards or hear it when watching television and no consideration is apparent in its usage. The media often portrays foreigners as trouble-makers. Television reports often exaggerate the incidence and cruelty of foreign crime and place particular emphasis on Chinese crime and perceived Chinese crime.

Japanese Government

With the introduction of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's new 2003 cabinet and a public perception of an increase in violent crime throughout Japan, there has been a new wave of calls to rein in foreigners who are either in Japan illegally or are commiting crimes. Foreign-rights advocates argue that these efforts are disproportionately given that foreigners are estimated to be responsible for only 2% of crime. Referring to Chinese using the derogatory pre-war word "sankokujin" (third-country person) and calling for the SDF to protect Japanese from marauding foreigners in the event of a massive Tokyo earthquake, Tokyo Governor Ishihara has become infamous amongst the foreign community for his reactionary policies and inflammatory comments.

Racism faced by non-Japanese Asians

Japanese children who are not born in Japan, or whose parents are not 100% Japanese, experience racism from a very young age and can even be subject to beatings or stonings by their peers and adults. One recent example is of a 9 year old boy of 1/4 American heritage whose teacher aggresively pulled his nose while yelling "Pinochio, Pinochio" until his nose bled. Initially the school refused to confront the issue until the boy's parents became incessantly vocal. The confused child was quoted as asking his parents if he was "dirty" because he was 1/4 American.

Recently there has been an upsurge in hate-crimes towards Koreans with many buildings being terrorized and even exploded with bombs. This stems from the abduction of Japanese nationals (often as teenagers or young adults) by North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s from Japan's western shores. These abductions were long denied by North Korea and often considered a conspiracy theory by observers. Although some abductees have been returned to Japan, many of their families are being held in North Korea as tensions between the two countries persist. (see external links)

There are many Koreans who were imported as slaves during WWII but who never returned to Korea after the war. Some of these people originate in what is now North Korea and openly support North Korea's current government hence their becoming a target for hate-crimes by Japanese people. The upsurges typically coincide with the yearly arrival of a North Korean ferry which docks in the free-port of Niigata for supplies.

Okinawans, despite being of the same background as Japanese, were regarded as non-Japanese prior to WWII. Their islands were later claimed by Japan, occupied by the U.S.A following the war, and have since been return to Japan.

Prime Ministers and high ranking officials have repeatedly visited Yasukuni_Shrine, a burial place for Japan's war dead, including many infamous war criminals such as Hideki Tojo. These visits have been considered troubling and provocative by many Asians, and some Japanese, who are concerned that the visits might indicated rising Japanese nationalism.

Racism faced by non-Asians

It is common to be denied the right to rent a dwelling based on race in parts of Japan and some for-rent notices explicitly state gaijin-dame (外人駄目 lit: Foreigners not acceptable). The common reason stated for this policy is that foreigners are associated with being overly loud and more likely to host parties or other disruptive events.

A small minority of hot-springs may deny access to their facilities based on the belief that foreigners are more likely to clean themselves in the bath water rather than washing in a shower prior to entering the bath. Japanese only relax in bath water after washing, at least symbollically, and do not wish soap or dirt to be present in the water. Most foreigners understand this but some onsens, citing problems in the past, refuse to allow them to prove it.

Japan's History of National Isolation

From 1603-1867 Japan enjoyed its Edo Period where its borders were closed to most of the outside world in a bid to prevent external influence, (particluarly religious, and economic) from gaining a foothold. Japan did not voluntarily end the Edo Period. Japan was forced open by the U.S.A. Despite the opening, 264 years of being an isolated island nation with an isolationist national policy seeded the current climate seen in Japan.

Difficulty assimilating into Japanese Society

Although not racist in intention there are many differences between Japan and other countries that can cause difficulty for non-Japanese.

Lack of Inkan. An inkan is a stamp that when dabbed in ink and pressed to paper leaves the family surname surrounded by a circle. It is the Japanese equivalent to one's signature and without it one may be refused the opportunity to open a bank account, sign for important documents etc... Inkan may be purchased cheaply and easily by foreigners, with names carved in romaji, katakana, hiragana or kanji according to the desire of the owner.

Lack of Entry in Koseki. Japan does not issue birth certificates to authenticate a person's identity. Each Japanese person has an entry in their family Koseki. Many government services may not be rendered without authentication. Foreigners with legal reason for residing in Japan are issued an alien registration card which when presented (sometimes with one's passport, visa attached) can be used to receive such services. By law, foreigners must carry their passport or alien registration card at all times.

Kanji (Chinese characters). Not generally an obstacle for Chinese or Koreans in Japan, kanji are used for all printed materials aimed at adults and are often not accompanied by furigana or romaji. Materials specifically targeting foreigners often include translations in English, but resident foreigners faced with paperwork from their local city wards and places of employment must generally learn more than 1000 kanji before they can function independently in Japan.

Article text is from Wikipedia and licensed under terms of the GFDL. The original article can be found here.
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