Thursday, March 8, 2007


While Japan is becoming more multicultural and multiethnic, some say coping with it is still a daunting task. That is exemp- lified by recent comments by Japan’s Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki, critics say.

“Japan has been historically governed by the Yamato race [ethnic Japanese],” Mr. Ibuki told a convention of the Liberal Democratic Party’s chapter in Nagasaki late last month, adding that the country is “extremely homogeneous.”

However, international marriages in Japan increased from 27,727 in 1995 to 41,481 in 2005.

Mr. Ibuki, who describes himself on his Web site as an “internationally minded person acquainted with many foreign dignitaries,” shocked the Japanese with his comments and infuriated minorities like the Ainu indigenous people.

Yupo Abe, vice president of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, said he was astonished to hear Mr. Ibuki’s comments, adding that the head of Japan’s Education Ministry “lacks an understanding of history.”

Mr. Abe said the Ainu people had long lived in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, which makes up about 20 percent of the country’s land mass, but in 1869 Japan took away their land.

The stir created by Mr. Ibuki’s remarks coincided with a visit by Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance who wrote a report on Japan.

“I am surprised that these comments were made by the minister of education, whose function is to educate children, enlighten them and transmit values to them,” said Mr. Diene. “There is no such thing as a homogeneous society.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, said there was nothing wrong with Mr. Ibuki’s remarks.

“I think he was referring to the fact that we [the Japanese] have gotten along with each other fairly well so far,” he said. “I don’t see any specific problem with that.”

“Such words will only fuel doubts about Mr. Abe’s integrity as a national leader,” countered the Japan Times, an English-language daily, in an editorial.

Last year, Mr. Diene submitted his report on Japan to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and U.N. General Assembly, urging Japan to recognize the existence of racial discrimination and immediately adopt a law against it.

Some recent incidents seem to indicate the need for such a law.

Last month a sensational magazine titled “Secret Files of Foreigners’ Crimes” went on sale across the country with its cover screaming “Will we let gaijin [foreigners] lay waste to Japan?” and “Everyone will become a target of foreign crime in 2007!” [“Gaijin” is a loaded word that literally means “outsider.”] The magazine provoked outrage over its garish depictions of Chinese, Koreans, Iranians and U.S. servicemen.

A boycott movement prompted major convenience stores like Family Mart, 7-Eleven and others to pull the magazines off their shelves.

The magazine’s editor Shigeki Saka of Eichi Publishing was not apologetic. He said the magazine wanted to discuss crimes committed by foreigners and how to be prepared for them.

The Japanese press generally ignored the issue, said U.S.-born Debito Arudou, a Japanese citizen. “There’s a reason for that: It’s not something that people want to discuss when it comes to real, naked racism.”

Moreover, in a nation that aspires to a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, some businesses still display “Japanese Only” signs. In Koshigaya, a bedroom community of Tokyo, Eden, an “adult entertainment shop,” has posted a sign saying “Pure-Blooded Japanese Male Only,” and “Chinese and Naturalized people, Japanese war orphans left in China, people of mixed race with Chinese origin, Absolutely No Entry.”

A manager said the shop itself did not mean to discriminate against those at whom it pointed a finger, but its female staff members don’t want them.

Such “Japanese Only” signs can be seen across Japan, said Mr. Arudou, author of “Japanese Only.”

“It’s getting worse. It’s nationwide.”

” ‘Japanese Only’ signs are unconstitutional, but they are not illegal because there is no law to enforce the constitution,” Mr. Arudou said.

Ironically, since Japan’s current population of 127 million is expected to fall to below 100 million by 2050, some say more foreigners should be encouraged to live and work in Japan for the country’s own survival.

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