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.
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.
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
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
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
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.