17 comments on “Racism in Japan: Missing the Point

  1. Weird! I’ve lived in Japan for nearly six years and not one of those things has ever happened to me– except, perhaps for the obvious #6. I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet.

    • It’s a mixed bag, obviously. I can go a week without anything happening, and then I’ll have a day where it’s like I can’t step outside. Meanwhile a friend of mine, who’s black, is lucky if she can get from her house to the train station without someone shouting “KURAI!!!” or “KOWAI!!!” at her.

      Occasionally I have conversations with other foreigners who’ve never experienced these things, and who tell me (or my non-white friends, which is a riot) that I’m imagining things, or I’ve done something wrong, that if I just “tried harder” to “be Japanese” this wouldn’t happen. It’s the exact same thing that happens back home. “If it hasn’t happened to me, it doesn’t exist”. :/

      • I feel awful for your friend. I wonder why people would say “you’re just imagining it” or “try harder to be Japanese” . . . that is such a put-down. Even the atmospheric “you will never belong”-ness wears me down sometimes. This stuff really happens, and it has really unpleasant affects.

        • Yeah, she’s not staying another year, mostly because of those things, and it makes me sad. What a reason to go home, eh? Other foreigners are just as bad — a guy at a bar said to her, “It’s just because you’re black, and you people take offense at everything”.

          Even without it being personal, I read a blog post recently that was called something like “how to avoid getting stared at in Japan” — and all the advice was like, “stop wearing inappropriate clothing”, “stop talking loudly”, “stop eating or drinking”, “stop using your cell phone on the train”. Total onus-on-the-recipient. Not even a single mention of the fact that people might not do ANY of those things, but get stared at anyway — no acknowledgement that this is actually a deep-rooted problem that has very little to do with surface issues.

  2. Wow, Lora. This isn’t racism. I think it’s xenophobia – at an instututional level. The problem must originate with the government and filter down through every level of society. Nothing will change until the establishment – those in charge – have an epiphany.

    • Oh, that too, for sure. This is a country whose ex-health minister and leading lawmaker actually said the phrase, “I do not think that Japan should ever become a multiethnic society.” But I mean, the point is, lawmakers and politicians in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, everywhere, are saying the same things. This isn’t a Japan problem, it’s a world problem. I think too many people get caught up in nationalistic finger-pointing and not at the underlying problem.

      But yes, as far as trickle-down racism/xenophobia is concerned, Japan is up there.

  3. This article is fantastic and came right on the heels of a family member who is anti Islamic sending an article to my husband about how brilliant the Japanese are for not letting Islamic people onto their country. I know and highly respect some Islamic people that I’ve come to know. I don’t know that many because there is not a large Muslim community where I live. They are not “backward biggots”. They are warm friendly intelligent people. But they must feel constantly judged for the actions of the extremists in that faith . What if we hated all the Irish? Or the Germans? Or for that matter the Japanese! Each person should be taken as the individual they are, not as a member of a culture, race, or religion. Didn’t anybody watch little house on the prairie?

  4. So what do you suggest we DO to help end racism/xenophobia? What should you DO when you see someone treated like this?

    • I think you’re missing the point. This post was not meant to point a finger at Japan; the point was to show that after we get mad about racism in Japan, we need to remember that it happens in our home countries as well. In that case, what you DO is SAY SOMETHING. Say “dude, that’s not cool”, or “that’s really racist” or “I don’t appreciate that”. If that’s too confrontational, just look at them and say “…..wow” in a really unimpressed tone. The trick is not to let them get away with thinking it’s appropriate or acceptable or that people will just let it go.

  5. Love your article.
    I’m from Malaysia, a multiracial country consist of 3 main races, Malay, Chinese & Indian. Although we are peaceful country but at the same time facing racism everyday. Most of us are racist but only talks secretly behind. The most obvious is job vacancies which you will see “chinese only” or “preferably malay”. Especially when someone is mad at someone, they will say “stupid indian”, mentioning the race or ethnic of someone instead of the person’s name. I don’t know how long we will keep our country in peace, but its getting worse day by day :(

  6. I’ve been here since 2006, and thankfully have had nothing but good experiences. I know that it isn’t the case for everyone though, and even in Japan where people tend to keep their ideas to themselves there will always be those who take out the frustrations of their own lives on a vulnerable group – foreigners.

    I could go home to avoid ever possibly being targeted like this, but unfortunately my husband who is Japanese has been told to “Go home” when we were in Australia, and I recently read the story of a national news reader who, along with his 2 year old daughter, were the brunt of a 15 minute racist tirade on a bus in Sydney.

    Racism sucks – but you’re learning the language, helping out at orphanages, being a standup role in public – your example will change people’s mind so they have better informed views in future ^^

    • Yeah, I might do a re-visit on this one, because my original intent wasn’t to point fingers at Japan the big bad racist country, but to use it as an explanation to Westerners that this is what our countries do to non-white-people all the time. I’m not sure I was clear enough on that.

      Canada (my home country) is a little better with Asians now, but this still happens, and in ways it’s even worse because we spend a lot of time just being smug that we’re more enlightened~ than the US.

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