Racism in Japan

"Roots" by Jaume Plensa, Monument at Toranomon Hills

Racism is a complex issue, especially in the United States, which has a tragic history of mistreatment of African Americans. This summer, following the killing of George Floyd, anti-racism protests took place across the United States. The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the wide disparity between Black Americans and White Americans, which includes access to healthcare. Other minority groups, including Asians, may have similar experiences in the United States.

I used to live in New York, where I faced discrimination because of my race and nationality. Most Asians who have lived in the United States report that they experienced some sort of discrimination because of their race, culture, and/or language.

On the other hand, I understood that the United States have made great efforts to enact civil rights legislation and establish regulation in relation to racial issues to manage a multi-cultural society.

Have you ever been discriminated against because of your race or nationality? It is impossible to say what it feels like unless you have actually suffered discrimination. It was an unpleasant and offensive experience that I would never have experienced in Japan because I cannot change my race even if I wanted to do so.

This is not to say that there is no racial discrimination in Japan! The degree and depth of discrimination in Japan is, however, much less than in the United States. Older generations discriminated against Koreans, but younger people tend to be more open-minded. Japan is a surprisingly egalitarian culture compared to Western societies, which are generally class-based. Japan is also homogenous, and Japanese awareness of racism may not be on the same level as that of other countries. Indeed, most of the racism here tends to be rooted in cultural differences.

In 2017, the Ministry of Justice conducted a nationwide survey of 18,500 people about racial and ethnic discrimination in Japan, and a total of 4,252 people responded. About 30% of them had experienced discriminatory remarks because of their race or nationality, and 80% of those had experienced unpleasant feelings or anger about the incident. Of the 2,788 people who had worked or looked for a job in Japan, 25% were denied positions because of their race, despite their Japanese language proficiency. Of those surveyed, 20% received lower wages than Japanese workers did while 40% of the 2,044 foreign residents experienced housing discrimination because of communication issues or the lack of a guarantor.

The above data are rather surprising to me because these results show that racial discrimination does exist in Japan. Although it exists, however, it does not escalate into violence.

The government is currently trying to get more skilled foreign workers to secure a labor force for our aging society. This potential incoming foreign population may offer additional perspectives and greater opportunities to learn about other cultures in Japanese society.

Posted on September 4, 2020