Doudou Diene, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, who was in Tokyo last week, spoke with Takehiko Kambayashi of The Washington Times about racism and xenophobia in Japan. His report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission last year urged Japan to immediately adopt a law against racism, race discrimination and xenophobia.
Question: What made you investigate racism in Japan?
Answer: I was elected by the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a special rapporteur and given a mandate to investigate racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. I issue a yearly report on racism worldwide and investigate racism in different countries.
First, Japan is a global economic power, but the country is insular. This contradiction interested me, and I investigated racism in Japan. Japan’s population had been isolated for long [from the 1630s to the 1850s, under a national policy], but it is now becoming more multicultural and multiethnic. So I wanted to investigate how Japan is coping with this.
Second, I’ve come to Japan many times. I knew about the Burakumin, which made me interested. I visited Buraku communities. I spent a great amount of time with the people and looked at their situations and listened to them.
I also met the Ainu, [indigenous people living mostly on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island] and learned how they tried to save their identity and were facing different forms of discrimination. And finally, I realized the complexities among Japan, China and Korea. I also learned of the discrimination Koreans and Chinese suffered in Japan.
[<I>Editor’s note<I>: The Burakumin are not a racial minority but a castelike minority among the Japanese. They are recognized as descendents of an outcast population of the feudal days. According to the Buraku Liberation League, Japan has 6,000 Buraku communities with more than 3 million people.]
Q: Can you tell us how the issues of racism in Japan differ from those in other countries?
A: Each country has its own history, its own culture and dynamic population. It is difficult to compare.
In Japan, one of the deep roots of discrimination is history — not only the history of Japan but the history of the relationship between Japan and neighboring countries. It is in the context of this history that discrimination has been built up strongly. It is clear that the history of discrimination against the Burakumin and the Ainu has been profoundly related with the history of Japanese feudal society and Japan’s history.
It is also clear that discrimination against Koreans living in Japan is also the consequence of the history of Imperial Japan, the way Japan dominated their country with an ideology of cultural domination and contempt. History is a very important factor.
Q: So this is a challenge to Japan?
A: The challenge to Japan is the writing and teaching of history. The Ainu and the Burakumin are absent in national history. Their history, their culture, the process of the discrimination, the deep causes of the discrimination, all of these are absent in Japanese history.
Japanese history, as it’s taught in schools, is also silent about the way China and Korea profoundly influenced the construction of Japanese identity. China and Korea are considered to be the father and mother of Japan, in a way, in terms of language, culture and religion.
My recommendation is for Japan to agree with China, Korea and other countries in the region and start a joint drafting of the region’s history. I recommended that these countries call upon [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] to coordinate.