Experiences of Racism in Japan

It has recently been reported that the Ministry of Justice is to survey 18,500 foreign residents to ask about their experiences of racism and discrimination. A lot of the reports are describing this as “unprecedented”, but while it is larger scale than the Kawasaki survey, and apparently focused on racism, the Kawasaki survey is a precedent. One benefit of the reports is that they have motivated me to get the discrimination section of the report on the interview survey translated into English, and publish it online. You should read this before the rest of the blog post, or the post will not make sense.

Problems of Discrimination and Human Rights among Foreign Residents of Kawasaki

As for my translation and discussion of the results of the questionnaire survey, I have separated the translation of the report, which was approved by the city, from the rest of this blog post, which is about my reactions to it.

First, I think it is clear from the survey that the biggest problem facing foreign residents of Japan is discrimination when trying to rent somewhere to live. They have a high chance of being refused outright, and, it seems from the interviews, an even higher chance of being asked to find multiple, or Japanese, guarantors. This is clear and direct discrimination, and as it could easily lead to people being homeless, it is very serious.

Some people, when this comes up, suggest that it is reasonable for landlords to require foreign tenants to find Japanese guarantors, because the foreign tenant might fail to pay the rent and then disappear back to their own country. This has some initial plausibility. However, it is still discrimination, and a parallel example should make that clear to most English speakers.

Jews have the right of return. They may, at any time, go to Israel, live there, and claim Israeli citizenship. If you believe that it is reasonable, and in no way racist, to require foreigners in Japan to find a Japanese guarantor before they can rent property, you are committed to believing that it is reasonable, and in no way anti-Semitic, to require Jews to find a gentile guarantor before they can rent property. My feeling is that such a requirement would obviously be anti-Semitic, and that the Japanese situation is therefore racist.

I am, in fact, pushing the Kawasaki committee I am on to look into more concrete approaches to this problem, but we have been asked by the mayor to look at the second problem mentioned in the report first: hate speech.

We had a bit of a problem writing this part of the report, because none of the interviewees spontaneously brought it up, and they weren’t as bothered about it as might have been expected. In part, that is because the interviews were done before a recent series of hate-speech demos in Kawasaki; I suspect that people would have a lot more to say about it now. In part, though, it seems to be because this is not an issue that affects many foreign residents of Kawasaki on a daily basis. It is true that the hate speech groups are loud, but they are also small, and at their last attempt in Kawasaki they were outnumbered 10 to 1 by the counter demo. Further, it is very difficult to do anything directly about hate speech, because it is speech, and freedom of speech is, quite rightly, protected by the constitution. My personal opinion is that the best the city can do is to keep the hate groups marginal and isolated, while working on making sure that foreign residents do not feel discriminated against in their daily lives. In short, I think the city should be actively supporting F’s approach to the problem. We can’t shut them up, so we have to make it possible, and sensible, to ignore them.

One observation that is not obvious from the report, because I couldn’t quote everything, is that the interview reports tended to confirm the impression from the questionnaire that white people experience as much racism, of broadly the same sort, as all the other ethnic groups in Japan. At present, there is no evidence to support the common claim on the internet that white people in Japan have it easier than members of other ethnic groups, and there is evidence to the contrary.

I’d also like to comment on the section on problems with the police. The Japanese police occasionally single out foreigners due to their race, and ask them questions. Sometimes, they make them call their mothers. In the context of BlackLivesMatter, I’d have to say that we don’t have a serious problem with the Japanese police.

I’m looking forward to seeing the results from the national survey, particularly if it does a lot of analysis by area of residence and region of origin. I’d really like to know whether Kawasaki is typical, or whether twenty years of effort have actually made a difference in reducing racism here. According to the news reports, I only need to wait until March to find out.



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2 responses to “Experiences of Racism in Japan”

  1. […] Note added November 2016: The results of the interview survey have been published, and I have, once again, translated my section of the report for my blog. […]

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