When I saw this book on the rack at Kinokuniya I just had to buy it. Japanese culture insists upon it’s homogeneity and the importance of everyone being the same, however once you look slightly below the surface you find this isn’t always the reality. It’s no secret that people even go as far as changing family records at their local town hall, and private investigators are often hired by large companies to check the validity of potential employees lineages. For some reason this dynamic absolutely intrigues me.
authors on different ethnic groups within Japanese society and how they are perceived. The title alone seems to instantly generate an array of opinions. In this article from Japan Today, the author claims that,
“This book’s strident title immediately informs the reader that the editor and the nine writers have an axe to grind.”
Personally, I’d rather think of it as an in-depth inquiry on the dynamics of ethnicity in Japan, and not necessarily Japan-Bashing. Maybe because I am from a country (USA) that has a plethora or its own racial problems and some severe history on the subject to boot, but I read the book from a non-finger-pointing perspective. The chapter The other other by John G. Russell on Japanese views of Black people definitely confirms my personal suspicions that much of the negativity towards black people was inherited from the west, and also in my opinion, probably negative media coverage as well.
Richard M. Siddle in his chapter about the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, makes a very relevant point about how one of the tactics used to dispel Ainu culture was though constant portrayal as being a primitive, “dying race,” and the having a tourism industry based around,
“tacky parodies of ‘Ainu culture’ as exotic tidbits for a new generation of mainland Japanese tourists.”
What further validates this article is how this is not a situation unique to Japan, but a commonly occurring theme in colonization. Pretending to celebrate the artifacts of a perceived “ancient” cultural while it is still not quite dead (i.e. struggling for survival) as a cute way of putting the final nail in the coffin. Essentially eliminating the possibility of displaying the cultural as a living, breathing, and currently evolving entity.
Ian J. Neary also writes a very informative chapter about the Burakumin, Japan’s “outcast” class, who were ostracized because of the type of work they did, usually working with dead animals, such as leather workers or butchers. Many people would like to think of this as a thing of the past here in Japan, but current headlines seem to prove them wrong. First of all, until reading this book, I was completely unaware of this part of Japanese history, and I was even more surprised when two weeks ago a related article appeared in the associated press. Again, Google is proving to the world that it has access to absolutely too much information. I do sympathize with the complaints about Google publishing exact locations of old Burakumin communities on GoogleMaps, especially when peoples careers and reputation could be at stake. However, I could also understand how Google would be unaware that this was such potentially harmful information.
The book contains plenty more for those interested. There is a chapter by Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda on the Brazilian-Japanese. The plight of the Brazilian-Japanese is a topic I didn’t know too much about until recently, and its sad that in these harsh economic times, they were the first too be sent out of Japan, and essentially paid never to return. However, the chapter on Chinese immigrants, by Gracia Liu-Farrer has a slightly different feel. He claims that in these modern times of easy internet communication and international flights, Chinese immigrants have begun to strive towards a more international community within Japan, as opposed to assimilation. While this is also fascinating, this chapter does seems a little out of place considering its company.
Japan’s Minorities can come off with a slightly harsh tone at times, but i think that it’s a topic that deserves some discussion, and complete denial of such complex diversity within Japan seems, to me, a much harsher reality than the willingness to openly and honestly look into these histories.
There is also a series of interviews posted on this forum talking with mixed race Japanese college students. Several of the comments in the forum accuse the interviewer of “leading the witness” to get her own opinions across, but still the videos are very compelling.
May 15, 2009