The Full Wiki

Ethnic issues in Japan: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Foreigners in Japan in 2000 by citizenship.
Source:Japan Statistics Bureau[1]

About 1.6% of Japan's total legal resident population are foreign nationals. Of these, according to 2008 data from the Japanese government, the principal groups are as follows.[2]

Nationality Number Percentage
China (PRC) / Taiwan (ROC) 655,377 29.6%
South Korea / North Korea 589,239 26.6%
Brazil 312,582 14.1%
Philippines 210,617 9.5%
Peru 59,723 2.7%
USA 52,683 2.4%
Thailand 42,609 1.9%
Vietnam 41,136 1.9%
Indonesia 27,250 1.2%
India 22,335 1.0%
United Kingdom 17,011 0.8%
Nepal 12,286 0.6%
Bangladesh 11,414 0.5%
Canada 11,016 0.5%
Australia 10,708 0.5%
Others 141,440 6.4%
Total (as of 2008) 2,217,426 100%

The above statistic neither include the approximately 30,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Japan nor illegal immigrants. Moreover, 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), and ethnic Koreans and Chinese who have adopted Japanese citizenship.

Japanese ethnic minorities

The nine largest minority groups residing in Japan are the North and South Koreans, Chinese, Brazilian people (most Brazilians in Japan have some Japanese ancestors), Filipino people, Taiwanese people, the Ainu, and the Ryukyuan. There are also a number of smaller ethnic communities in Japan with a much shorter history.

Korean people

Zainichi (resident in Japan) Koreans are permanent residents of Japan, but hold North or South Korean citizenship. Most Zainichi came to Japan during the colonial period.[3]

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.[citation needed] According to the calculation of R. J. 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.[4]

Many Korean refugees also came to the country during the Jeju massacre 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). South Koreans in Japan are called Zainichi Kankokujin (在日韓国人, 재일한국인), while North Koreans are called Zainichi Chosenjin (在日朝鮮人, 재일조선인).

Zainichi who identify themselves with Chongryon are also an important money source of North Korea.[5][6] One estimate suggests that the total annual transfers from Japan to North Korea may exceed $200 million.[7]

Japanese law does not allow dual citizenship, 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.

The Diène report identifies Zainichi Koreans as those who have been most discriminated against in Japan, for example in employment, housing and marriage.[citation needed]

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.[8] 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.[9]

When Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara referred to Chinese and Koreans as 三国人 sangokujin in 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 Kanto 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.

Chinese people

Mainland Chinese are the second largest minority in Japan after Koreans. 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.[10]

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.


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.[citation needed] Then the Meiji government started development programs, increasingly aimed at assimilating the Ainu,[citation needed] 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, fewer than 20,000 Ainu are considered racially distinct.[citation needed] Most, if not all, of the Ainu in Japan are of mixed ancestry. 80-90%[citation needed] of Ainu now either ignore or don't know of their Ainu identity. 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. Thus, as of late, some schools in Hokkaido have been established to preserve and revive the Ainu culture.[citation needed]

Ryukyuan people

The Ryukyuan people lived in an independent kingdom until it came under the control 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.

The Okinawan language, the most widely spoken Ryukyuan language, is related to Japanese from Japonic Languages. There are still some children learning Ryukyuan languages natively, but this is rare even on mainland Okinawa. The language still is used in traditional cultural activities, such as folk music, or folk dance.

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.

Some Okinawans intensely resent what they perceive to be second-class treatment from the Japanese government[citation needed], especially in regard to friction with the United States military presence in Okinawa.[citation needed]


The Buraku people are a stigmatized group who have faced bigotry and persecution in Japan for centuries. They have been characterized as "the invisible race", because while they are still considered socially inferior by much of Japanese society, they are not typically held to be racially different.[11][12]

Presently, there is a steep income difference between "buraku" and "non buraku" people ranging at about one million yen, or $10,000 income per year less than the Japanese mainstream. Lately however, there has been some awareness of the mistreatment of the Buraku and some measures have been taken to provide these people with better education and housing situations.

The history of the prejudice of these people comes from ancient times when the Burakumin were labeled "unclean" because of their occupations as leather cleaners, butchers, or executioners. There are approximately 2-3 million burakumin in the country.

Today, many influential Japanese figures such as politicians, actors, artists, and businessmen, are compelled to conceal their true Buraku heritage for fear of losing their positions because of such heavy prejudice.[13] The Burakumin are commonly compared to the untouchable caste present in the Indian caste system and the cagots of Europe, because of the similar lower class positioning in society as well as the discrimination from the greater population.[14]

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 outside 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 (particularly 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 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.

Although there is only a small Jewish community in Japan, made up mostly of American businessmen, and Jews have little historical ties to the country, Japan has been repeatedly accused of anti-semitism.[15]

Black people

During the 1960s, Takara created and sold a doll called Dakko-chan (ダッコちゃん), an inflatable dark-colored plastic doll with fat lips and arms that could wrap around human arms or other pole-like objects. It became the company mascot until 1990. After receiving numerous complaints, the sales of the doll were stopped.

Sales of Japanese translations of the book Little Black Sambo (ちびくろサンボ chibikuro sanbo) and dolls were halted by protests by foreign residents and international pressure in 1988. In 2005, however, Little Black Sambo once again went on sale in Japan.[16]

Ethnic issues

Government policy

Transition of Numbers of Registered Foreigners in Japan from 5 Major Countries, based on Immigration Control 2007, by the Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice (Japan), 2007-9-21.

Because of the low importance placed on assimilating minorities in Japan, laws regarding ethnic matters receive low priority in the legislative process.[17] 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.[citation needed]

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 enforces 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.[18] 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.

Though the anti-discrimination clause raised little objection, the anti-hate speech clause received very hostile reception from Japanese media. In 2005, the ruling coalition government attempted to resubmit a revised version of the draft which somewhat limited the application of hate speech clause, but it still failed to reach a consensus within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

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.[citation needed] Zainichi organizations affiliated with North Korea are against this initiative, while Zainichi organizations affiliated with South Korea support it.[citation needed]

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

Some apartments, motels, night clubs, 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[19] However these places are rare and many Japanese claim that the prohibitions are due to perceived social incompatibility—for example, foreigners may not understand proper bathhouse etiquette—and not racism.[citation needed]

Some legal battles have been fought on this issue. Most notably, activist Debito Arudou, a naturalized Japanese citizen of American descent, has sued the Japanese government several times for not upholding Article 14 of the Constitution.

In housing there is also discrimination based on ethnicity. In a 2006 survey by the Information Center for Foreigners in Japan, 94% of foreign residents reported being refused by at least one real estate agent.[20]

In fact, there were a substantial number of lawsuits in regards to 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.[21]

“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.[22]

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.[23]

Non-Japanese citizens and crimes

Similar to other countries, many foreigners come to Japan to work, sometimes entering the country illegally, and overstaying the terms of their visas. Their employment tends to be concentrated in areas where most Japanese are not able to or no longer wish to work. Consequently, accusations of foreigners stealing jobs are not often heard in Japan.[citation needed]

According to National Police Authority record in 2002, however, 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).[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

The former head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Emergency Public Safety Task Force, Hiroshi Kubo, published a book disputing foreign crime statistics, suggesting that such statistics were being manipulated by politicians for political gain.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

A comment by U.N. special reporter 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.[24][25]

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.[26] In spite of the widespread belief that Japan is ethnically homogeneous, it is probably more accurate to describe it as a multiethnic society.[27]

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 organisation 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 organisation whose stated purpose is to propagate the official ideology of North Korea.[28]

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.[29] The committee was critical of the lack of antidiscrimination legislation in the country and the treatment of Japanese minorities and its large Korean and Chinese communities.[30] "There seems to have been little progress since 2001," when the last review was held, committee member Regis de Gouttes said. "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.

See also


  1. ^ Japan Statistics Bureau, accessed 8 December 2007
  2. ^ (Japanese) [1] 平成20年末現在における外国人登録者統計について].
  3. ^ John Lie Zainichi (Koreans in Japan)))(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008)
  4. ^ Rummel, R. J. (1999). Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1990. Lit Verlag. ISBN 3-8258-4010-7.  Available online: "Statistics of Democide: Chapter 3 - Statistics Of Japanese Democide Estimates, Calculations, And Sources". Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War. Retrieved 2006-03-01. 
  5. ^ "N. Korea threatens to ‘bolster war deterrent’". Financial Times. 2006-07-16. Retrieved 03-10-2006. 
  6. ^ "Lost gamble: How Japan's attempt to slow nuclear work in North Korea failed". Wall Street Journal. 1996-07-24. Retrieved 03-10-2006. 
  7. ^ Tokyo's Leverage Over Pyongyang, Charles Wolf, Jr., The Wall Street Journal Asia, November 21, 2006.[2]
  8. ^ Terror attacks on Koreans rise in Japan accessed at January 16, 2008
  9. ^ FM Spokesman Urges Japan to Stop Suppression of Chongryon, Choson Sinbo, 5/13/06.
  10. ^ Voice of America news
  11. ^,9171,910511,00.html
  12. ^ Condry, Ian (2007). Hip Hop Japan. California: Duke University Press. pp. 37. 
  13. ^ Wood, Joe. The Yellow Negro. Stable URL:
  14. ^ Burakumin-Everything on Burakumin. 3 April
  15. ^ Rotem Kowner, On Ignorance, Respect and Suspicion: Current Japanese Attitudes toward Jews, ACTA: Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism, 1997, No. 11, p. 53.
  16. ^ Japanese publisher defies Little Black Sambo protest on Guardian Unlimited News accessed at January 16, 2008
  17. ^
  18. ^ LDP forgoes immediate Diet submission of human rights bill | Japan Policy & Politics | Find Articles at BNET
  19. ^ "THE ROGUES' GALLERY" PHOTOS OF PLACES IN JAPAN WHICH EXCLUDE OR RESTRICT NON-JAPANESE CUSTOMERS on Debito's official website accessed at January 16, 2008
  20. ^ Foreigners still dogged by housing barriers on The Japan Times accessed at January 16, 2008
  21. ^ The Chosun Ilbo article
  22. ^ a UNHCHR report PREVENTION OF DISCRIMINATION The rights of non-citizens
  23. ^ Robert J. Geller, Letters: Tenure for Foreigners in Japan, Science, 258, 5087, 1421 (1992).
  24. ^ "Press Conference by Mr Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights". Retrieved 2007-01-05. 
  25. ^ "Japan racism 'deep and profound". BBC News (2005-07-11). Retrieved on 2007-01-05.
  26. ^ "'Overcoming "Marginalization" and "Invisibility"', International Movement against all forms of Discrimination and Racism" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-01-05. 
  27. ^ John Lie Multiethnic Japan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001)
  28. ^ "報告の陰に連携 (産経新聞「妙」 2005/11/13) 国連人権委員会のディエヌ特別報告者(セネガル)が七日、国連総会第三委員会(人権)で、日本に存在する差別を指摘、それを受けて中国、韓国、北朝鮮の代表が日本を批判したという記事が目に留まった。「差別」の存在は厳粛に受け止め、解消に向けて努力するべきだが、あまりに見事な連携ではないか。「仕組まれた」という思いが拭いきれない。近年、日本に「悪意」をいだくグループが「人権」を武器に、国連を利用し日本に”言いがかり”をつけることがよくあるが、今回もそうではなかったか。そもそもディエヌ氏とはどういった経歴の持ち主なのか。そして、日本のどこをどれほどの期間調査したのか。また、彼をアテンドしたのはどういった団体だったのか。疑問は次々とわいてきた。国連広報センターに問い合わせてみた。明らかになった事実を記す。ディエヌ氏は1993年から2002年にかけて国連科学文化機関(ユネスコ)の文化間・宗教間対話部長を務め、02年に国連人権委員会により現代的形態の人種主義、人種差別、排外主義および関連する不寛容に関する特別報告者に任命された。今年の七月三日から十二日まで日本を訪れ、大阪、京都、北海道で被差別部落、在日韓国人・朝鮮人、アイヌ民族などのグループと面接調査した。訪問は初めてだった。 ディエヌ氏の調査をアレンジしたのは、反差別国際運動というNGO。この団体の理事長は武者小路公秀氏。ピースおおさか(大阪市)の会長であり、金正日の思想を普及しようとするチュチェ思想国際研究所と関係の深い人物である。(桑原聡)"
  29. ^ "Japan faces U.N. racism criticism". The Japan Times. Feb. 26, 2010. 
  30. ^

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address