To My Friend Who Declared that “Racism Doesn’t Exist in Japan”
It happened when I was casually chatting with an acquaintance one day. After seeing an advert in town, he made the following comment:
“I’m glad I was born in Japan. After all, racism doesn’t exist here.”
I must have misheard that. I couldn’t believe the words I had just heard. Various thoughts raced through my head, as I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. I asked him to repeat what he had just said.
“Sorry, what did you say?”
Hoping that it had all been a mistake. However, the words that came out of his mouth were:
“Oh I said, I’m glad because racism doesn’t exist in Japan.”
I was overwhelmed with sadness, anger, frustration, and indignation as I struggled to regain my composure and was too shocked to say anything for a while.
Well, I’m sure you know that racism does exist in Japan as well. (I hope you do.)
However, when you hear the word “racism,” you might think of the power struggle between white people and Black people.
But that’s not the only form of racism: it's much more pervasive than you think.
Let’s take a look at some data for those of you who aren’t convinced unless presented with facts:
People who have been denied housing due to being a foreigner: 39.3%
People who have been denied housing due to not having a Japanese guarantor: 41.2%
People who have given up on housing due to signs such as “no foreigners allowed”: 26.7%
This is the data on people who have been denied access to housing when moving or relocating simply because they “aren’t Japanese.”
Mistreating people solely based on their appearance or nationality—this is undeniably a form of discrimination.
Let’s take a look at some data on workplace discrimination next:
People who have been rejected from a job due to being a foreigner: 25.0%
People who received lower pay than their Japanese coworkers despite having the same position: 19.6%
People who have been disadvantaged in some way, such as being barred from promotion, due to being a foreigner: 17.1%
People who received poorer working conditions, such as fewer holidays or longer work hours, than Japanese people: 12.8%
As you can see, there are people who are disadvantaged simply because they’re “not Japanese,” even when it comes to working.
“That doesn’t seem like a lot, though.”
Did that thought cross your mind? (I’m looking at you.)
Just because the numbers are “few,” it doesn’t mean discrimination doesn’t exist or should be ignored.
Besides, this data is about “Japanese people” discriminating against people who “aren’t (don’t look) Japanese.” This isn’t about white people versus Black people; this is something that Japanese people actively partake in.
Are you thinking, "But these are all cases of national origin discrimination and not racism?"
Ha-fus—multiracial and multicultural people—who have Japanese nationality also face various forms of discrimination due to looking “foreign.”
(If you want to learn more, check out Mia Glass’s article “The Mixed Experience in Japan” on our website.)
“It can’t exist because I’ve never experienced it.”
“I’ve never seen people discriminated against in Japan, so racism doesn’t exist here.”
Sorry to burst your bubble, but that sort of thinking is unfortunately misguided.
Even if you’ve never personally met them, the celebrities you see on TV exist, don’t they?
Even if you don’t speak them, other languages exist, don’t they?
Even if you’ve never experienced working, other professions exist, don’t they?
There’s nothing more frightful than ignorance. Hurting other people without realizing is the cruelest thing you can do to both the victim and yourself.
These are words that I live by each day.
Even as I spill my thoughts onto the page, I am aware of how perfectly imperfect I am, and I’m constantly learning new things. And that’s okay.
You may experience shame or discomfort at your lack of knowledge, but instead of remaining ignorant and closing your eyes to reality, it’s vital that you educate yourself. That’s what matters the most.
The Research Society on Racial Discrimination. 『日本国内の人種差別実態に関する調査報告書』[An Investigative Report on Racial Discrimination in Japan]. 2016.
Center for Human Rights Education and Training. 『平成28年度 法務省委託捜査研究事業 外国人住民調査報告書-改訂版-』[Foreign Residents Survey 2016: A Research Project Commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (Revised Edition)]. 2017.
Translated by Yuko C. Shimomoto
Graphic by Maya Kubota
Edited by Emiru Okada