Thursday, January 11, 2001

Japanese Racism

Not all racisms are alike. Here in Japan racism is of a kinder gentler sort, in keeping with a culture world-renowned for its subtlety. In fact, the local take on racism is that it isn’t even happening at all.

Japan and Korea are unusual places in the world in that race, language, culture and ethnicity are isomorphic categories. That is, the lines around these categories are the same, as opposed to multicultural nations like the U.S. (and most other modern nations) where a citizen can belong to any number of constellations of categories and still be fully American. Or so it seems to the Japanese.

In truth, Japan’s islands are home to thousands born and raised here who speak Japanese but cannot claim Japanese national identity because their parents are from elsewhere. This includes the descendants of Koreans brought here by force, many of whom now have Japanese names, speak only Japanese, but do not have the civic rights of Japanese citizens. When you add to that the refugees that have managed to enter the country, the thousands of workers the country needs to survive, and the thousands of others, like myself, that have made Japan their home, you come to realize Japan, too, is a multicultural nation. But the racists are holding on to the insider/outsider distinction for dear life. And the racists are often the gentlest and kindest of people.

Japan is also a wealthy nation, and like most wealthy nations, its citizens have realized that to take advantage of that wealth you need to not burden yourself with lots of children. People are marrying late so they can get their careers started, women are gradually being freed from banishment to the kitchen, and the birth rate is disastrously low. By 2007, for example, there will be more university positions available than students to fill them, and this means universities will begin to close and standards of admission will fall drastically. The alternative of letting faculty go being, of course, unthinkable. More importantly, the number of persons in the workforce available to support the aged dependent will drop from four to two, and there is no way that is going to work economically.

So the situation is desperate. The solution is either to completely gear down the economy so that we survive with a smaller population—a suggestion absolutely nobody takes seriously—or to bring in more immigrants, or to up the birth rate. Of the last two options, everywhere you see people opting for more “Japanese” (i.e., racially Japanese) babies, as in the Japan Times and Sankei Shimbun editorials to which I responded below.

What is stunning is the near total blindness on the part of most people to the fact that this is racism and that racism has sinister implications. They get away with it by arguing the furtherance of Japanese culture, the implication being that you have to be racially Japanese to carry this off. What everybody seems to be missing is the fact that the (so-called racially pure) Japanese themselves are fostering the evolution of their culture, as everybody everywhere always does, and that outsiders who come in to stay tend to get in the swing and help that evolution in much that same way as insiders do. There will always be an England, despite (or possibly because of!) the Caribbeans and Indians who live there, and there will always be a Japan. And there is no stopping the changes.

But for now, they are giving it a hell of a fight.

If any of you would like the original article to which I responded, let me know and I’ll forward it to you. For now, I’ll just include this letter to the editor. They chose not to publish it, by the way, as I anticipated. It’s simply too far out of line by current thinking.

Readers in Council
The Japan Times
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023

Dear Editor:

You and the Sankei Shimbun suggest (your opinion page, 1/10/01) the solution to Japan's declining population problem is to keep women in the workforce, on some curious illogical assumption that if women are allowed to work more they will make more babies. The Sankei worries that if we don't turn things around Japan's population in 3001 will be a mere 83 Japanese people. Both of you convey a sense of panic about the fact that the only alternative to having women up their baby-production is to allow more foreigners in.

What causes this race panic? Is there a tunnel-vision virus? Is it something in the water? Do reasonable people really believe that the distinction between Japanese and gaijin can and should be maintained another thousand years? How much longer must we view women as economy-fueling machines?

We give citizenship to some two-bit Latin American dictator on the basis of race and deny it to Japan-born Japanese-speaking "Koreans," we deny non-Asian Japanese citizens entry to onsen and other establishments, and you in the press go on about race preservation. If the Sankei Shimbun is genuinely concerned about these islands a thousand years from now (and not just dramatizing statistics to stir up racial fears), it needs to stop fussing over class, race, linguistic and other ephemeral distinctions and devote itself to something more worthy, like justice, creativity, or an orderly immigration policy.

The foreigners are coming to stay, and they will become us. Some of "them" already are "us." The political leadership is dead in the water, but you don't need to join them. The proper response is welcome, not panic. Where is your moral imagination? Help the police see that not all Chinese are criminals, and help Japanese citizens with names like Suzuki and Tanaka see that their fellow-Japanese with names like Brown, Kim, Singh and Lopez are already at work helping to turn the economy around and keep it strong. And leave the women alone!

Alan J. McCornick
1007-8 Higashi Koiso
Oiso, Kanagawa 255-0004

phone/fax (0463) 61-9248


January 11, 2001

No comments: