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Ethnic issues in Japan

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Ethnic issues in Japan

According to census statistics, 98.5% of the population of Japan are Japanese, with the remainder being foreign nationals residing in Japan. However, these statistics measure citizenship, not ethnicity, with all domestic minorities such as the Ainu, Ryukyuans, Burakumin, Hafu, and naturalized immigrants being counted as simply "Japanese." The Japanese government refuses to collect data on the ethnic identities of its citizens, claiming that there are no issues of race relations among Japanese citizens as they are all of the same race.



About 1.6% of Japan's total legal resident population are foreign citizens. Of these, according to 2012 data from the Japanese government, the principal groups are as follows.

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 minority groups who are Japanese citizens such as the Ainu (an aboriginal people primarily living in Hokkaido), the Ryukyuans (who may or may not be considered ethnically Yamato people), 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.

Japanese ethnic minorities

The nine largest minority groups residing in Japan are: North and South Korean, Chinese, Brazilian (many Brazilians in Japan have some Japanese ancestors), Filipinos (most Filipinos in Japan have Japanese ancestry), 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.

According to the United Nations' 2008 Diène report, communities most affected by racism and xenophobia in Japan include:

  • the national minorities of Ainu and people of Okinawa,
  • people and descendants of people from neighboring countries (Koreans and Chinese),
  • and the new immigrants from other Asian, African, South American and Middle Eastern countries.
  • Korean people

    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 the last Korean kingdom that perished due to the Japanese colonization, 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 established their own governments, respectively. 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 (or were brought against their will) to Japan during the colonial period. 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. Of these, 210,000 to 870,000 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 Koreans were forced to take Japanese names. However, Korean people resisted this, and by the end of the 1940s it was almost completely undone.

    Ethnic Koreans in Japan were massacred as scapegoat in the chaos of the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923.

    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.

    After World War II, the Korean community in Japan was split between allegiance to South Korea (Mindan) and North Korea (Chongryon).

    Zainichi who identify themselves with Chongryon are also an important money source of 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 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.

    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.

    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.

    Chinese people

    Mainland Chinese are the largest minority in Japan (according to the 2008 statistics as shown above). Mainland Chinese in particular have been targets of anti-immigrant sentiment along with government, police and media portrayal of them as being likely to commit crime. Indeed, 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.

    Taiwanese people

    There are a number of Taiwanese people that reside in Japan due to close (yet unofficial) ties between Taiwan and Japan. Taiwan was a colony of Japan from 1895 to 1945 and Taiwanese during this time were considered Japanese citizens.

    Japanese ultra-nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara insulted the Taiwanese, referring to them as Sangokujin-

    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 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, 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. Of these, fewer than 20,000 Ainu are considered racially distinct. Most, if not all, of the Ainu in Japan are of mixed ancestry. 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 common use.

    Only in the decades after World War II have the Ainu started to become aware of international aboriginal rights movements. Largely due to the efforts of Shigeru Kayano, the first Ainu member of the Diet of Japan, some schools in Hokkaido have been established to preserve and revive the Ainu culture.

    Ryukyuan people

    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.

    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 "Pavillion 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.

    Other groups

    Other notable minorities in Japan include Brazilians and Filipinos.

    Western foreigners in Japan, particularly those from Europe, North America, 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.

    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.

    There are a few Creole people in the Bonin Islands. Their ethnic background is various such as US, UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Micronesia, and Portugal.

    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 when the Turks assaulted the Kurds after a Kurdish party flag was shown at the embassy.

    Pre-war xenophobia

    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. 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.

    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 Shitsujō (New Order in East Asia) and its first step, the Hakkō ichiu.

    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 and British; in Manchukuo at the same period xenophobic attacks were carried out against Chinese and other non-Japanese.

    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.

    However, Japan does not have civil rights legislation which prohibits or penalizes discriminatory activities committed by citizens, businesses, or non-governmental organizations.

    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, 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.

    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 However, many Japanese claim that these signs are very rare and the prohibitions are due to perceived social incompatibility—for example, foreigners may not understand Japanese bathhouse etiquette—and not racism.

    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.

    Higher learning

    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 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.

    Comment by U.N. special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia

    In 2005, a United Nations special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia expressed concerns about deep and profound racism in Japan and insufficient government recognition of the problem.

    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."


    Ethnic issues in Japan Wikipedia

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