The racialization of Japan
How global racialism is threatening Japan's raceless nationality
By William Wetherall
First posted August 2002
Last updated 15 January 2008
1. Race, racialism, and racialization 1.1 ICERD's definition of race 1.2 Racial politics and nationality 1.3 Racialism and racism
1.4 Racialization and deracialization
2. Japan and ICERD 2.1. Naturalized Japanese 2.2. Ainu and Wajin 2.3. Okinawans 2.4. Buraku residents
3. Racialization by JCLU Increasing racialism in the name of reducing racism -- and at the expense of civil society
4. Hidden racialism The Ministry of Foreign Affair's multiple personalities: Kunihiro Michihiko on Nakasone Yasuhiro
5. Protection and privacy Sawada Miki's children simply Japanese, Japanese Americans just Americans
This article is a corrected, appended, and hyperlinked version of the following article.
"The Racialization of Japan"
David Blake Willis and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu (editors)
(At the Borderlands of Race, Gender and Identity)
[Routledge Studies in Asia's Transformations]
London: Routledge, 2008 (xxv, 342 pages, hardcover)
Pages 264-281 (Chapter 12)
The following scheme has been used to mark all text which differs from the published article.
Revised parts are overstruck.
Revisions are shown in purple.
Addenda are boxed and shown in blue.
Links to related articles are shown in green.
Two terms that tend to be racialized require qualification.
As a status in Japanese law, "Japanese" refers to anyone who possesses the nationality of Japan, regardless of the person's race or ethnicity, which are private matters. This has been a condition of Japanese law since the Meiji period, when nationality was formally tied to membership in family registers affiliated with Japan's sovereign territory.
As an English term used in nationality law, "Korean" is also an entirely raceless label. However, unlike "Japanese", which refers to only one nationality, there is no single "Korean" nationality.
As a label for alien status in Japan, "Korean" conflates nationals of the Republic of Korea (韓国人 Kankokujin), residual affiliates of the defunct Japanese territory of Chosen (朝鮮人 Chōsenjin), and nationals of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (also called 朝鮮人 Chōsenjin).
From the standpoint of Japanese law, these three "Korean" statuses share in common only the existence of a principle household register on the Chosen (legacy) or Korean (present) peninsula now governed by ROK and DPRK. They differ only in whether one has a recognized national affiliation with ROK (ROK national) or DPRK (DPRK national), or no recognized affiliation with either ROK or DPRK (Chosenese).
Koreans in Japan are further differentiated by their status of residence. Because statuses of residence cut across nationality statuses, there are many subcategories of Koreans in Japan, in addition to personal differences in race and ethnicity, which for Koreans too are private matters.
For more about nationality, see Nationality in Japan: The legal foundations of a raceless nation.
In Japan, race has generally been a private matter. Often enough, racialism and even racism have been reflected in attitudes and behaviors, and in regulations and policies, in all quarters of society. But race has rarely been an element of national or local laws. Race has not been a factor in Japanese nationality, and Japanese are not racialized in family registers or other public records. However, Japan is now under pressure from the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to racialize official descriptions of its population. Inspired by ICERD, human rights organizations like the Japan Civil Liberties Union are also pressuring Japan to adopt laws that would racialize its people in the name of outlawing racial discrimination. Such racialization, though, would undermine the civility of Japanese nationality.
William Wetherall received a BA, MA, and PhD in Japanese and Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied psychological anthropology and literature. He writes on suicide, minorities, and other social issues in Japan, and translates and writes fiction. He moved to Japan in 1975 and became a permanent resident in 1983.
All citations, except as noted, are from public documents available on United Nations and Ministry of Foreign Affairs websites. All transliterations and translations from Japanese sources are those of the author, who is also responsible for all interpretations.
See also the author's "Nationality in Japan" -- an overview of the development of nationality as a legal entity in Japan and of past and present nationality issues -- Chapter 2 in Soo im Lee, Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Harumi Befu (editors), Japan's Diversity Dilemmas: Ethnicity, Citizenship, and Education, Lincoln (NE): iUniverse, 2006.
1. Race, racialism, and racialization
Race, by any name, is a state of mind. It is also on the minds of states that have signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), adopted by the United Nations in 1965. Some signatory states have been under pressure to racialize their national populations in ways that could increase racialism, if not also unwanted racial differentiation and discrimination. Japan, which acceded to ICERD in 1995, is a case in point.
The formal exchanges between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), which mediates treaty matters for Japan, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which monitors compliance with ICERD for the United Nations, suggest that both parties fail to appreciate the racelessness of Japanese nationality as a civil status, and also fail to grasp its natural biological complexity as a population. Some parts of these exchanges show that Japan's racial state of mind is either delusional or deceptive, as the Japanese government is either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the legal and anthropological fact that Japanese nationality is an essentially raceless population of people representing most of the worlds many races. Other parts reveal that CERD itself is ideologically too racialist to effectively challenge Japan's official racial narcissism.
Before looking at Japan's exchanges with CERD, we need to examine, at some length, ICERD's definition of race in the light of other aspects of race, including geographical and political race, racialism and racism, and racialization and deracialization, especially as they relate to civil nationality. This general discussion will continue after the analysis of Japan's responses to ICERD.
1.1 ICERD's definition of race
ICERD defines "racial discrimination" as
any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin [jinshu, hifu no iro, seikei mata wa minzoku-teki moshikuwa shuzoku-teki shusshin] which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
In ICERD, racial is anything pertaining to race in an unspecified sense, or to color, descent, or national or ethnic origin. Such broad parameters allow each state to define race in accordance with the dictates of its own racial politics. The races thus legitimized by recognition and labeling are inevitably political (social, artificial) races rather than geographical (biological, natural) races. Hence virtually all putative races -- African, Ainu, Arab, Asian, Basque, black, Caucasoid, Chinese, European, German, Han, Hispanic, Iroquois, Japanese, Korean, Kurd, Mongolian, Mongoloid, Native American, Negroid, Okinawan, Tamil, white, yellow, Zulu, ad infinitum -- are political races. The fact that some such "races" may bear a geographical name, or otherwise appear to be a geographical population, does not alter their political artificiality.
1.2 Racial politics and nationality
As a biological concept in sciences like evolutionary anthropology, genetic epidemiology, and forensic medicine, race is vaguely useful. Individuals differ genetically, but similar traits may be evident among people who, with some variation, share a common language and culture acquired through upbringing in communities that have inhabited a relatively isolated geographical niche for many generations. Encounters between such local races typically undermine the ecological conditions that favor their emergence and continuity. They may stimulate migration and mixing across stable or changing niche boundaries. Or several local races can find themselves under the suzerainty of a dominating race that sets about altering the political as well as geographical meanings of race.
During the evolution of humans as a species, one can imagine a constant interplay between "geographical" and "political" forces. Part of a niche population might stray, become isolated in another niche, and evolve into a distinct geographical race. Or one local race might encounter another with political consequences varying from peaceful coexistence or negotiated merger to conquest, decimation, and even extinction. Today, however, all populations that qualify as erstwhile or surviving geographical races have been incorporated into multiracial states.
As artificial entities, all states encompass the niches of more than one erstwhile or surviving geographical race. The political nature of such states, rather than geography, are now the principle agents of racial definition. The races a state recognizes and labels within its jurisdiction are now political, since recognition and labeling are determined by racial politics. Only people with the collective political will and power to compel official recognition as a race will be treated as a race under ICERD.
All "race box" races in the United States are artificial political entities. People classified as "white, black, American Indian and Alaskan native, Asian, native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander" do not exist as natural niche races. These broad categories actually cover thousands of races, including hundreds of indigenous tribes that are recognized as racial nations within the civil federal nation. Most of these tribes are scattered, mixed, and assimilated. Only a few still survive, but only marginally, as niche races.
Unlike the United States, Japan does not recognize any race within its nationality, Ainu notwithstanding. Unexceptionally, the population inhabiting Japan includes, in addition to remnants of a few older geographical races, more recent migrants and the descendants of migrants from many if not most of the world's numerous geographical and political races. Yamato, Ainu, and Okinawan are composited political races. If the legendary Yamato people once existed as a niche race, they lost their political innocence at the dawn of Japanese history when they began to expand territorially, conquer, and absorb other geographical races. Most of these races have long since vanished as identifiable entities. The few "historical races" that survive in Japan today are politically composited as Yamato, Ainu, and Okinawan, but the labels are shaky, even historically.
"Japanese", too, is a slippery label. In the United States, "Japanese" can mean either race or citizenship (nationality) depending on the box in which it is entered on, say, a death certificate. In Japan, however, "Japanese" legally refers only to a person who is a national of Japan by virtue of possessing Japanese nationality -- a purely civil status having nothing to do with geographical or political race, or with ethnicity by any definition.
There are no race boxes in Japan. There are no legal provisions for racial differentiation and labeling. There is no "Yamato race" or equivalent in Japanese law. "Ainu people" are categorically recognized as a racial minority by the state, but the state does not extend this recognition to individuals. Japanese who consider themselves Ainu do not constitute an ethnic nation within the larger civil nation that comprises Japanese nationality -- unlike hundreds of Indian tribes in Canada and the United States and dozens of minority nations in China. "Okinawan people" are not recognized even categorically, which reflects the political weakness of Japanese who consider themselves racially Okinawan and would like official acknowledgment of their existence as a race.
As human beings in their natural state, all Japanese are genetic mixtures of their biological parents. Since the lands now called Japan were originally and continue to be peopled by in-migrants, and race is not a factor in the acquisition of Japanese nationality, the Japanese nation represents numerous putative races and mixtures thereof. But there are no provisions in Japanese law for racially classifying Japanese individuals as African, Ainu, Caucasian, Chinese, Happa, Hawaiian, Hayato, Filipino, Korean, Nigerian, Ogasawaran, Okinawan, Thai, Yamato, or whatever. In Japanese law, Japanese are just Japanese -- a raceless nationality.
1.3 Racialism and racism
Only "Ainu people" in Hokkaido are to some extent racialized within Japan's raceless nationality. Virtually all people in the United States, however, are subjected to legalized racialization at various times in their life. Informally, of course, racialism and racialization exists in all societies.
Racialism is the belief that race, however defined, is somehow real, and that individuals are by degrees affiliated with one or more races on account of genetically inherited (biological) and/or socially acquired (cultural) traits. Regarding a woman named Suzuki as "Japanese" simply because Suzuki is assumed to be a Japanese "ethnic" name is racialist. It is racialist even if the woman's face seems to be broadly "East Asian" or more narrowly "Japanese". Racialism, then, is an association of people's visible and other traits with racial labels. Passive racialism involves a silent perception of raciality: you see someone and think, "I'm Japanese, he's Ainu." Active racialism involves an expression of such thoughts: you ask the person you see, "Are you Ainu?"
The difference between racialism and racism is subtle. Racialism motivates a person to differentiate and label people according to their perceived or acknowledged race. Racism motivates a person to treat people differently according to their race. Denying someone a job on account of their putative race is racism. Accepting a job offered on account of one's putative race is double racism. Signs saying "No Foreigners" or "Japanese Only" might be discriminatory, but they would not be racist -- so long as the differentiation was based on nationality, as confirmed by a passport or other suitable ID, and not on race.
While racism is obviously impossible without racialism, racialism does not necessarily result in racism. The boundary between the two is often vague. Is "Are you Ainu?" merely a form of racialist curiosity or rudeness, when asked only of people who are visually or otherwise thought to be Ainu? Or is the very act of asking someone their race racist, regardless of the purpose of the question or the application of the answer? This is the problem with race boxes, virtually unknown in Japan but a highly evolved, institutionalized, and controversial form of racialism in the United States, where racial privacy is a growing political issue.
Racialism and racism trade off in significant ways. The global trend is toward less racism but more racialism. In several stages during its history, the United States shifted from being a very racialist and racist state to being an even more racialist but less (or at least differently) racist state. Older "bad" racist laws (legalizing segregation and prohibiting miscegenation) were nullified, while newer "good" racist laws (legalizing affirmative action) were introduced. On balance, fewer people are now, at the start of the 21st century, affected by formal racism, than midway through the 20th century. Public support for newer forms of racism, like affirmative action, are also beginning to wane as more people question the long-term drawbacks of reverse discrimination, including stigmatization and divisiveness.
However, the cost of less racism in the United States has been more bureaucratic and public racialism. The legal embrace of "good" racism, to correct accumulated historical effects of "bad" racism, has been motivated by demands for racial equality. These demands have been fueled by an increase in racialism in the form of racial awareness and racial pride. Ethnic studies programs in colleges, and cradle-to-grave multicultural education, have been nurturing such racialism as a solution to racism.
Race boxes, a product of earlier racialism and racism, facilitated the enforcement of yesterday's "bad" racist laws. Now they have proliferated, in order to enforce today's more complex racialist policies and "good" racist laws. The federal government has standardized the most politically significant "races" for the purpose of collecting what race-box proponents regard as politically if not scientifically vital racial data. Race boxes have become mandatory in more federal, state, and local programs, which depend on official racial data for their authorization, funding, and administration.
The interplay of racialism and racism in Japan has been somewhat different. Since race has not been an element of law in Japan, there has been no racialism or racism in national laws, and none to speak of in prefectural or municipal laws. Informally, of course, people in Japan have been as racialist and racist as people anywhere. Yet Japan, too, has been witnessing less racism and more racialism. Racial minorities in Japan in the year 2000 were arguably much less likely to be treated differently because of their race than in, say, 1970. During this period, however, racialism in Japan increased as the existence of racial minorities in all walks of life received more public attention and recognition. In Japan, as in the United States, racial themes have become more fashionable and prominent in education, media, and entertainment. Natural ethnicities are being romanticized and commoditized, and their public faces are increasingly shaped by political correctness.
1.4 Racialization and deracialization
One way to eliminate racial discrimination is to publicly celebrate race and racial equality to the point that everyone pretends to respect and treat others without regard to race. Race is a matter of public record. The state racializes its citizens throughout their lives, from birth certificates to death certificates. It hard-wires race into so many venues of life that a citizen cannot escape the rubric of race. Multiculturalist curricula racialize culture to the point that culture becomes a code for race. Race is literally in everyone's face. Race boxes drive politics as more races politically incorporate and vie for larger cuts of the racially-sliced social-budget pie. Such is the obsession with race in America.
Another way to eliminate racial discrimination is to regard race as a strictly private matter, as personal as religion or sex. No one, even (or especially) the state, has the right to make another person's race their business. People are deracialized to the point that race never enters into the formal definition of their being. There are no race boxes, and the state's only business is to inculcate racial tolerance to protect individuals and organizations from racial discrimination. Though still inadequate in this regard, Japan is nonetheless a credible candidate for becoming a deracialized state. Whether Japan succeeds in becoming such a state rests on its willingness to abandon racialism as a lens through which to view its nationality, and to resist pressure, from advocacy organizations and publicists with racialist agendas, to racialize its people.
Given the long history and centrality of race in American law, it is not surprising that Americans are becoming ever more racialized today. Japan, though, became a state without recourse to race boxes. Since Japan began to legally define its nationality in the late 19th century, principally through local polity (village, town, city) registration of domiciled families, Japanese nationality has been a purely legal status devoid of race or ethnicity, neither of which has been a factor in acquisition at birth or later. In contrast, race was a cause for discrimination in the acquisition of US citizenship, other than through birth, until after World War II.
Scratch the surface of Japan's raceless nationality, however, and the country reeks of officially sanctioned and widely shared beliefs and pride in the myth of Japanese racial homogeneity. Before Japan became a state in the late 19th century, people were naturally inclined or socially encouraged to assimilate into the mainstream. After becoming a state, and nationalizing the populations within its claimed sovereign territory, Japan began pouring people with regional, local, and ethnic differences into a very self-conscious Yamato mold. Yamatoization was also the goal of Japan's long-term legal and social assimilation of the populations of Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea. After it accessioned these territories into its sovereign empire, Japan nationalized their populations as Japanese, and otherwise began extending its internal (prefecture-germane national) laws to these external (non-prefectural) territories in order to integrate them as prefectures.
Despite such earlier attempts at racial homogenization, however, Japan has never racialized its nationality. Nor has its parliament ever authorized the government to racialize its official descriptions of the country's population. MOFA's exchanges with CERD, however, betray a government bent on upholding the Yamatoist facade of homogeneity. Japan's argument against the racialization of national origin is sound. But its objections to the racialization of buraku residents and Okinawans, while reasonable, are perversely reasoned. And its Wajinization (Yamatoization) of Japanese who do not consider themselves Ainu epitomizes the racialist narcissism that stands in the way of Japan becoming a non-racialist civil state.
2. Japan and ICERD
How race affects the lives of nationals and non-nationals in a state's jurisdiction depends on whether the state champions civil (raceless) membership in its society. To the extent that a state's policies appear to favor a particular race, the state will be unable to protect all of its residents from racial discrimination. By this measure the state will fail to meet the standards of civil statehood defined by several United Nations conventions.
Because all states are racially complex, they need to address racial issues within their borders. The fact that a state may have evolved race boxes to facilitate a description of its population in racial terms is neither surprising (given the predominance of racialism in the human condition), nor alarming (so long as people accept the racialism). The people of the United States have never formally authorized their government to racialize them. The same is true in Japan, though unlike the United States, Japan has eschewed race boxes. Like the US government, however, the Japanese government has been racializing its nationals in ways that color and subvert the quality of their civil nationality and sovereignty. Ironically, evidence of this coloring and subversion is most clearly seen in Japan's treatment of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
When Japan acceded to ICERD in 1995, it put reservations on Article 4, which would oblige the signatory state to punish "all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin." Japan, like other dissenters, has argued that application of the article would violate its own constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly, association and expression. The United States and some other countries have placed similar reservations on this article. Such states claim they are sufficiently protecting people from racial discrimination and feel no need to restrict freedoms of speech and other behaviors that do not themselves deprive anyone of their human rights. The point is well taken: if governments were to censor or criminalize racialist or racist attitudes that fell short of overt acts against individuals or groups, they could no longer pretend to be champions of free speech.
In 1966, the United Nations adopted two other major treaties that deal with general human rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Japan signed both in 1978, and ratified both the following year. Japan's reports on ICESCR have dealt with its legal restrictions on employing foreigners in government posts. In its first, 1980 report on ICCPR, Japan claimed it had no ethnic minorities. By its second, 1987 report, the government had been pressured to extend token recognition to "Ainu people" [Aino no hitobito] as an ethnic minority. Since then, ICERD has become the more important treaty concerning racial discrimination.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights oversees compliance with treaties like ICERD, which is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). A state that is party to a treaty is required to submit reports to the treaty committee. After reading a report, the committee makes critical observations, to which the state replies. This formal process is repeated periodically as required by the treaty.
Japan mediates all United Nations accords through the International Conventions Division of the Treaties Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. MOFA prepares all reports related to ICERD, submits them to CERD, and replies to CERD's observations, in English. The English versions are officially the "originals" and the Japanese versions are "translations". The two are close, but the English versions sometimes lack the precision and detail of the Japanese versions.
2.1 Naturalized Japanese
In its combined first and second report on ICERD, submitted to CERD in 2000, Japan stated:
the ethnic characteristics of [the population of] Japan are not clear since Japan does not conduct population surveys from an ethnic viewpoint [minzokusei to itta kanten kara no chosa].
This statement is qualified in a footnote on naturalized Japanese which reads:
The number of naturalized Japanese nationals [Nihonkoku ni kika shita mono] was 301,828 as of the end of 1998. The ratio of naturalized people to Japan's total population is not clear since it is difficult to obtain information on the exact number of persons deceased after naturalization.
So far so good. Japan does not compile data on the ethnicity of its nationals. It counts the number of successful naturalization applicants. Hence it can estimate the total number of foreigners who have become Japanese over the past several decades. But once these foreigners are nationals, they are nationals like all other Japanese. The fact that they did not become Japanese at the time of their birth is not cause for the government to differentiate them. There are no legal provisions for statistically tracking naturalized Japanese, and to do so would arguably violate Article 14 of the Constitution (see below).
Nor is there anything wrong with pointing out that the number of living naturalized Japanese is less than the cumulative number of successful applicants. All people eventually pass away, and the Nationality Law does not extend to the next world. But what about the number of descendants of naturalized Japanese?
Japan collects no data to answer such questions. Yet CERD expects it to describe the ethnic composition of the Japanese nation. The government could hazard a ballpark figure, somewhere around one million, as the number of Japanese who might be wholly, or partly, of recent foreign ancestry. While a guesstimate of this kind would shed no light on the ethnicities of such people, it would show that MOFA's bureaucrats, products of Japan's most elite universities, recognize that Japan's population is undergoing more mixing than would appear.
However, such speculation would also encourage racialization by attaching importance to race, which would undermine the civil, raceless character of Japanese nationality. Seen in this light, MOFA's reluctance to speculate beyond legal facts is laudable. As a legal event, naturalization in Japan has no racial or ethnic significance.
2.2 Ainu and Wajin
MOFA's ICERD report goes on to say:
the Ainu, who lived in Hokkaido before the arrival of Wajin ["Wajin" to no kankei ni oite Hokkaido ni senju shite ita Ainu no hitobito wa], continue to maintain their ethnic identity [minzokusei no dokujisei] with continuous efforts to pass on their own language and culture.
Note that "Wajin" is marked in brackets in the Japanese "translation" but not in the English "original". A footnote states that "Wajin refers to all other Japanese, except the Ainu themselves [Ainu igai no Nihonjin]."
The report then cites a survey, conducted by the government of Hokkaido in 1993, which estimated that about 23,830 Ainu were living in the prefecture that year. Another footnote observes that, in the survey, "Ainu" refers to
the people in the local community who are considered to have inherited the [sic] Ainu blood [Ainu chi o uketsuide iru to omowareru] and those who reside with the Ainu people due to marriage or adoption.
The footnote also remarks that
a person is not included in the survey when that person refuses to be identified as Ainu in spite of the likelihood of his or her being of Ainu descent [Ainu chi o uketsuide iru to omowareru].
The phrase in the Japanese version corresponding to "the likelihood of his or her being of Ainu descent" actually translates "being considered to have inherited Ainu blood". ICERD uses "descent" but not "blood", and the Japanese version of ICERD is faithful to the original. However, the English version of Japan's report to CERD mixes a "blood" metaphor with "descent", while the Japanese version uses only the blood metaphor.
Apart from failing to control the level of formality of its English and Japanese reports to CERD, MOFA romantically, arbitrarily, and extralegally racializes Japanese nationality by dividing the entire population of "Japanese" into only two putative races, "Ainu" and "Wajin". Having stated earlier that it has no nationwide ethnographic data -- and having also acknowledged that Ainu population figures do not include people who do not consider themselves Ainu even though someone might consider them to be of Ainu descent -- how can MOFA be so sure that all "Japanese other than Ainu" (Ainu igai no Nihonjin) would consider themselves descendants of Wajin?
Most naturalized Japanese, the majority of whom were once Koreans, would probably not choose to classify themselves as "Wajin", which is written with Chinese characters that can also be read "Yamato no hito" (Yamato person). Natural Japanese of Korean or other Asian descents, or of African, American, or European descents, would also probably demur at being reduced to "Wajin".
In any event, "Wajin" is a racialist term used to refer to "Yamato people" as opposed to "Ainu" -- not, say, Okinawans. Those who consider themselves Okinawan might well question why MOFA either overlooked their existence, or decided that they ought to be called "Wajin" -- when they are likely to call themselves Uchinanchu (Okinawan people) as opposed to Yamatunchu (Yamato people).
MOFA did not mention Okinawans or buraku residents in its initial ICERD report. Only when CERD purported that these, too, should have been included did MOFA comment on them and argue, correctly but speciously, that they were not racial minorities.
After Japan files a human rights treaty report, anyone can submit a counter report or other critical comments to the treaty's monitoring committee, which considers such input when making its formal observations. The Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute (BLHRRI) -- the research and publicity arm of the Buraku Liberation League (BLL), the largest publicist for so-called "Burakumin" -- has been the most vociferous over the years in protesting MOFA's reports to the Human Rights Committee (HRC), which monitors ICCPR. The Japan Civil Liberties Union (JCLU) has also submitted counter reports to HRC.
CERD has similarly been petitioned by NGOs and individual critics to pressure Japan to account for alleged omissions in its ICERD reports. CERD responded to Japan's 2000 ICERD report in 2001. After the usual diplomatic praises of progress, CERD got down to business, beginning with the following observation and recommendation concerning the ethnic composition of Japan's population.
While taking note of the State party's point of view on the problems involved in determining the ethnic composition of the population, the Committee finds that there is a lack of information on this point in its report. It is recommended that the State party provide in its next report full details on the composition of the population, as requested in the reporting guidelines of the Committee, and, in particular, information on economic and social indicators reflecting the situation of all minorities covered by the Convention, including the Korean minority [Kankoku/Chosen mainoritii] and the Burakumin and Okinawa communities [Burakumin oyobi Okinawa no komyunitii]. The population on Okinawa seeks to be recognized as a specific ethnic group and claims that the existing situation on the island leads to acts of discrimination against it.
Immediately after this paragraph, CERD made the following remark and request concerning the meaning of "descent" and "Burakumin":
With regard to the interpretation of the definition of racial discrimination contained in article 1 of the Convention, the Committee, unlike the State party, considers that the term "descent" has its own meaning and is not to be confused with race or ethnic or national origin. The Committee therefore recommends that the State party ensure that all groups including the Burakumin community are protected against discrimination and afforded full enjoyment of the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights contained in article 5 of the Convention.
CERD's comments are colored by the sort of romantic language that flaws most analyses of minorities. In the real world, there is no "the Korean minority" or "the Burakumin community" or "the Okinawan community". The individuals who are presumed to collectively "define" or "belong to" a categorical "minority" never truly constitute a "group" or "community" in any country. The "majority" is equally fictitious as a singularity. What one typically finds in all countries, including Japan, are a number of political organizations that vie with one another over their claims to represent the interests of a categorical minority consisting of anonymous and uncountable (at worst "race box" counted) individuals who are dispersed over many parts of the country, are not necessarily interested in minority politics, and might choose not to be regarded as a "member" of the politically defined categorical minority.
MOFA made no attempt to expose such fallacies, most likely because its bureaucrats, their brains pickled in conventional racialist wisdom, accept CERD's romantic "community" characterizations at face value. Instead, they disputed CERD's interpretation of the scope of "discrimination" in ICERD, focusing on "descent", as follows.
In the first place, Article 1(1) of the Convention provides "racial discrimination" subject to the Convention as "all distinctions based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin . . ." Therefore, the Convention is considered to cover discrimination against groups of people who are generally considered to share biological characteristics, groups of people who are generally considered to share cultural characteristics and individuals belonging to these groups based on the reason of having these characteristics.
Immediately after this, MOFA made its first remark on Okinawans.
Those who live in Okinawa prefecture or natives of Okinawa [Okinawa-ken no shusshinsha] are of the Japanese race [Nihon minzoku], and generally, in the same way as natives of other prefectures, they are not considered to be a group of people who share biological or cultural characteristics under social convention [shakai tsunen jo], and therefore, we do not consider them to be covered by the Convention.
Later in its comments, MOFA made a second remark about Okinawans, which elaborated on the first one.
We know that some people claim that the population in Okinawa is a different race [betsu no minzoku] from the Japanese race; however, we do not believe that this claim represents the will of the majority of the people in Okinawa [Okinawa no hitobito]. Also, as described [above], those who live in Okinawa prefecture or natives of Okinawa are of the Japanese race, and they are not generally considered to be a group of people who share different biological or cultural characteristics from the Japanese race.
This is a good example of how politics, not geography, determine what constitutes a "race" in the eyes of a state. The "deracialization" of Okinawa began many decades if not centuries ago, and includes, within the second half of the 20th century, the reclassification of Okinawan (Uchinaguchi) from a "foreign" language to a dialect of Japanese. MOFA's argument would have been more credible had it simply reported such deracialization without coloring it as Wajinization.
2.4 Buraku residents
MOFA fought a very significant semantic battle over CERD's contention that residents of so-called "buraku", or former outcaste communities, are in some sense a "descent" minority and therefore fall within the scope of ICERD. MOFA expressed its contrary opinion regarding "national origin" and "descent" minorities as follows.
Furthermore, concerning "descent" provided in Article 1(1) of this Convention, in the process of deliberation on the Convention, there was the problem that the words "national origin" may lead to the misunderstanding that the words include the concept of "nationality" which is a concept based on legal status. In order to solve the problem, "descent" was proposed together with "place of origin" as a replacement for "national origin". However, we know that the wording was not sufficiently arranged after that, and "descent" remained in this provision.
Based on such deliberation process, in application of the Convention, "descent" indicates a concept focusing on the race or skin color of a past generation, or the national or ethnic origins of a past generation, and it is not understood as indicating a concept focusing on social origin.
At the same time, with regard to the Dowa issue (discrimination against the Burakumin), the Japanese government believes that "Dowa people are not a different race or a different ethnic group, and they belong to the Japanese race and are Japanese nationals without question."
In order to understand MOFA's concern with CERD's view that buraku residents constitute a "descent" minority, certain facts need clarification. First, there are no outcastes in Japan today. To allege otherwise would be discriminatory under the Constitution. Nor are there alive today any former outcastes, for outcaste status was abolished in 1871. There are only residents and former residents of neighborhoods historically associated with outcaste communities. How many present or former residents are descendants of yesteryear's outcastes is not clear. Demographically, though, simply being affiliated with a buraku through present or past residence, not ancestry, engenders the risk that a person will incur discrimination from someone who harbors prejudice.
Second, CERD incorrectly refers to buraku-associated people as "Burakumin." The term is rarely used in Japanese for good reason: "Burakumin" do not exist. In fact, usage of the term exceptionalizes buraku residents (buraku jumin), who generally wish to be labeled the same as non-buraku residents -- i.e., as just people, residents, citizens -- or as Japanese, Koreans, or whatever, as the nationality shoe fits. The government, including MOFA, refers to buraku as "dowa areas", many of which have benefited from improvement projects that have brought them to par (if not greater than par) with surrounding neighborhoods, thus facilitating integration or "dowa" (equality and harmony). The exceptionalist labeling of present and former buraku residents as "Burakumin" is pandemic in English and other non-Japanese reports about buraku/dowa issues and usually signals derivation from misinformed sources. It is both significant and ironic that the English version of MOFA's response to CERD perpetuates the "Burakumin" label.
MOFA, like CERD, stumbles through a lot of arguments concerning issues its bureaucrats do not seem to fully understand. After all, MOFA does not itself develop, or oversee, Japan's policies, such as they are, concerning categorical minorities. MOFA is merely Japan's diplomatic interface with the outside world and a clearing house for treaty issues. However, MOFA's position on the "descent" issue is consistent with government views that have evolved over many decades.
When commenting on vestiges of "status discrimination" (as the prejudicial treatment of buraku residents is called), MOFA follows the government's convention of using "dowa" as a prefix with more concrete words like district, policy, education, and problem. "Dowa" comes from the phrase "People's hearts are the same [do], and their folkways/mores are harmonious [wa]" -- which comes from the imperial rescript Hirohito issued when he became the emperor in 1926. The rescript had nothing to do with status discrimination, but in 1941 "dowa" began to replace "yuwa" (integration and harmony) as the theme of buraku policy.
The phrase "dowa people" in the English version of MOFA's comments is not, however, an accurate translation of the phrasing in the statement MOFA was quoting. The Japanese version accurately quotes the statement and, unlike the English version, notes its source. Both the source and the statement are well known. The source is the government's own Dowa Policy Council Report [to the Prime Minister] dated 11 August 1965. The aim of the statement was to dispel the "racial origins explanation" among other theories about the beginnings of outcaste status in early Japan. The quoted statement is part of a somewhat longer passage that literally translates as follows.
What has to be clearly asserted, in order to breakdown prejudice among the populace, is that residents of dowa districts [dowa chiiku no jumin] are not of a different [biological] race [ijinshu] or a different [ethnic] race [iminzoku], but without doubt are [of] the Japanese [ethnic] race [Nihon minzoku], [and are] Japanese people [nationals] [Nihon kokumin]. In other words, the dowa problem is a problem [concerning] a minority group [shosu shudan] that receives status discrimination [mibun sabetsu] within the Japanese [ethnic] race, [and] the Japanese people.
This passage reflects the view that discrimination against buraku residents is based on "social status" (shakaiteki mibun), the phrasing in Article 14 of Japan's Constitution, which provides that "All of the people [kokumin] are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin." From the standpoint of Japanese law, "social status" is not a "racial" trait, whence the rationale of MOFA's objection to CERD's attempt to define the "Burakumin community" as a "descent" minority. MOFA's translation of "descent" as "seikei" ("generational lineage") is accurate, and its position that buraku residents are not a "racial" minority is correct even if its argument is racialist and otherwise specious.
3. Racialization by JCLU
In March 2003, the Japan Civil Liberties Union (JCLU) [Jiyu Jinken Kyokai] issued a draft outline [yokoan] of a proposed Law on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination [Jinshu sabetsu teppai ho]. The proposal came from JCLU's Subcommittee for the Rights of Foreigners, and given the way the proposal would racialize nationality, it is not surprising that the proposal goes even further than ICERD in racializing people.
The JCLU proposal defines "Race" [jinshu tō] as "race, color of skin, ethnicity, nationality or national origin" [jinshu, hifu no iro, minzoku, kokuseki mata wa kokuminteki shusshin]. Note that the English equates "Race", while the Japanese equates "Race et cetera", with the set of attributes the law would cover. While the English subsumes "race, color of skin, ethnicity, nationality or national origin" under "Race", the Japanese suggests that only "race" is "Race" while "skin color, ethnicity, nationality or national origin" are "et cetera".
JCLU's Japanese term for "national origin" is "kokuminteki shusshin", whereas MOFA's rendering of ICERD's "national or ethnic origin" is "minzoku-teki moshikuwa shuzoku-teki shusshin". The semantic ranges of the terms in MOFA's expression are such that it could back-translate as "ethnic or racial origin". In fact, MOFA's understanding of ICERD's terminology is correct: "national or ethnic origin" most likely was intended to mean "ethnic or racial origin", for in racialist contexts "national" is code for "ethnic", while "ethnic" is code for "racial". In other words, "race, ethnicity, and nationality" are typically conflated (increasingly also with "culture") in vernacular contexts -- whereas in legal and other technical contexts, their semantic ranges are usually differentiated.
The foundation for JCLU's rendering of "national origin" is unclear. Under Japanese law "kokumin" (national) is a civil, not racial or ethnic term. A "kokumin" of Japan is anyone who has Japanese "kokuseki" (nationality), and "kokuseki" has no racial or ethnic requisites. In other states, too, nationality (kokuseki) signifying that one is a "national" (kokumin) is raceless. Hence "national origin" defined as "kokuminteki shusshin" could not connote anything "racial" unless "national" ("kokuminteki") is racialized. So here we have a "civil liberties union" -- of self-styled civil-minded lawyers -- aiding and abetting the racialization of civil nationality, as though to promote racialism -- i.e., the conflation of "kokumin" (national) with "minzoku" (race, ethnic group).
JCLU's proposal defines "Racial Group" [jinshu shūdan] as "any group comprised of persons who share a specific Race" [tokutei no jinshu tō o kyōyū suru mono kara kōsei sareru shudan]. Note that the Japanese definition seems to include not only "race" but also "color of skin, ethnicity, nationality or national origin" as attributes that would qualify a "group" [shūdan] to be regarded as a "jinshu shūdan" [Racial Group]. The Japanese definition of "jinshu shudan" [racial group] is therefore inconsistent with the definition of "jinshu tō" [race et cetera]. Consistency would require "jinshu shudan tō" [racial group et cetera] -- not that this would deter most people from conflating all the attributes in the list with race.
ICERD obliges signatory states to adopt anti-race-discrimination laws. However, states are free to decide for themselves such laws are necessary. Ironically, while JCLU disputes the government's argument that Japan does not need such legislation, its own proposal, rather than discourage the idea of "race" and "racialism", would categorically racialize "color of skin, ethnicity, nationality or national origin" -- attributes that civil societies are supposed to protect from discrimination. Such is the double-bind that increases racialism in the name of eliminating racism.
4. Hidden racialism
The Japanese translation of ICERD renders "national or ethnic origin" as "minzoku-teki moshikuwa shuzoku-teki shusshin". The semantic range of "minzoku" covers both "nation" in its racial/ethnic sense and "ethnos" or "ethnic group", while "shuzoku" means something more like "tribe" or even "race" in a broader anthropological sense. While this rendering accurately reflects ICERD's conflation of "national" and "ethnic" as racial metaphors, MOFA correctly argues that the "national" of "national origin" could be taken to mean merely the country whose nationality a person possesses when migrating to another country, in which case nationality (kokuseki) would be a raceless legal status.
MOFA's objection to ICERD's racialization of "national origin" reflects its position that nationality, as a legal status, is not within the scope of ICERD. Accordingly, MOFA qualified its first of many mentions of foreigners in its ICERD report with a footnote reading:
In this report, the fact that the treatment of foreigners in Japan has been focused on does not mean that Japan considers distinction based on nationality as the subject of the Convention.
This suggests that MOFA is not sincere in its position that "national origin" and "nationality" should not be racialized. For why mention Koreans and other non-Japanese under ICERD, even for informational purposes -- since foreigners are not racialized under Japanese law? For that matter, except for a few self-styled Ainu, mostly in Hokkaido, neither are Japanese. But to take a strictly legalist stance regarding the raciality of foreigners would undermine MOFA's extralegal Wajinization of "Japanese other than Ainu". MOFA's disclaimers about "national origin" and "nationality" are merely facades behind which some overschooled, undereducated bureaucrats can view non-Japanese as the racial antithesis of "Wajin" -- without admitting that foreigners are a racial entity under ICERD.
An interesting linguistic feature about the above-quoted Dowa Council statement is its "race, nationality" formula. Though race has never figured in the operation of Japan's Nationality Law, and hence "Nihonjin" and "Japanese" are legally raceless, most people speak and write as though there was a racial cline between "Nihonjin" (Japanese person) and "Nihon minzoku" (Japanese race) on the one hand, and "Nihon kokuseki" (Japanese nationality) and "Nihon kokumin" (Japanese national) on the other.
The common use of "Japanese" (Nihonjin) in popular culture, mass media, and even academia to imply "race" (minzoku) rather than denote "nationality" (kokuseki) is racialism in tooth and claw. Such racialism is innocent to the extent that it is reflexive in individuals who have passively acquired racialist attitudes and have had no opportunity to critically appraise their assumptions about race and nationality. MOFA officials, however, cannot claim to be innocent in their ignorance. Anyone who can argue, in one breath, that "nationality" is a purely legal status and therefore "nation" should not be used with racial/ethnic connotations -- and in the next breath virtually equate "Japanese nationals" with "the Japanese race" save a few Ainu and naturalized people who barely count -- is either duplicitous or schizophrenic.
While Prime Minister in the 1980s, Nakasone Yasuhiro habitually used "Nihon minzoku" (Japanese race) and "Nihon kokumin" (Japanese nationals/people) in the same breath, as though he intended one to define the other. His interpreters and translators typically reduced these metaphorically very different expressions to "the people of Japan" or "the Japanese people", both of which are used in the English version of Japan's Constitution to denote people who, regardless of their race or ethnicity, are Japanese because they possess Japanese nationality.
Some Japanese-to-English translators, while admitting that "minzoku" is used with the emotional qualities of "race", prefer softer, less-jarring words like "nation" or "people." Some scholars, too, have argued that "race" is an inappropriate translation for "minzoku", which they feel is more on the "cultural" than "natural" (biological) side of "ethnic nation" (minzoku kokka). However, the prideful nuances of "minzoku", in its original sense of blood-and-soil "volk", are actually better reflected by the emotional qualities of "race". Softening "race" to "nation" or "people" merely muddles the boundary between Japanese as a legal status and Japanese as a racialized entity having no foundation in law.
When translating parts of Nakasone's 1986 speech in which he referred to "blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans" in the United States, I rendered "minzoku" as "race". Kunihiro Michihiko, Nakasone's Chief Foreign Policy Advisor, personally conveyed to me, at a very expensive Akasaka restaurant, Nakasone's thanks for the faithfulness of my translation, which showed that his comments had been widely misreported. Kunihiro, a very urbane career diplomat who had been number two at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and later became Japan's Ambassador to China, spoke Japanese the entire time I was with him, and later, in beautiful calligraphy, he wrote to me to express, among other things, his personal opinion that "people" would have been more appropriate. Ironically, Kunihiro's own Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been using "race" to translate "minzoku" in some of its glossy promotional pamphlets about Japan. And "race" has become the standard tag for "minzoku" in MOFA's reports to CERD and other United Nations treaty committees.
5. Protection and privacy
The cited exchanges between MOFA and CERD suggest that both parties are shooting in the dark with regard to the racialization of Japanese by their government. Neither party appears to have noticed that no Japanese law permits MOFA or any other government agency to racialize Japan's nationality. The state has never surveyed the diverse people who comprise its nationality as to how they would like to be racially classified, if at all.
The ethnographic history of Japan, and government statistics on recent migration, international marriages, and naturalization, suggest that Japanese nationality is comprised of people with ancestries representing most of the world's categorical races and many mixtures thereof. "What race are you?" would undoubtedly elicit hundreds, even thousands of different racialist responses, from "Japanese" and "Ainu" and "Caucasian" to "part Ainu, part Shamo" and even "half Croatian, a quarter Okinawan, and a quarter African American." But who would write "full Burakumin" or "seven-eighths mainstream, one-eighth Burakumin" in a race box?
"What is your race?" would also provoke responses like "What do you mean by race?" and even "None of your business." Why, in the first place, should anyone be the object of racialization in a country like Japan, where nationality is a civil status, the constitution forbids laws that racially discriminate, and the state has no mandate to classify people racially or otherwise racialize anyone?
When non-Japanese naturalize in Japan, they literally "accede their allegiance to Japan" (kika), and as a result they "acquire Japanese nationality." In every respect that should matter in a civil society based on law and legal status, they are Japanese. But the raceless civility of their nationality is often compromised by the prevalent racialist habit of "seeing" them as something other than just "Japanese". For most people, "Nihonjin" and "Japanese" are reflexively associated with physical appearance, language, and other traits that undermine the civility of nationality.
Even Sawada Miki, who was mother to hundreds of orphans of mixed racial parentage at Elizabeth Saunders Home, rarely called her children -- most of whom were Japanese by virtue of their having been born to unwed Japanese mothers or found abandoned -- simply "Japanese". She would say they were "children of Japanese-American mixed blood with Japanese nationality." Or she would refer to them as the "new Japanese race that has suddenly increased in Japan after the war's end." But rarely were they just "Japanese". Racialist terms like "haafu" (half), "kuootaa" (quarter), and "hachibun no ichi" (one-eighth) -- the Japanese equivalents of mulatto (one-half black, half-caste, half-breed), quadroon (one-quarter black, quarter-breed), and octoroon (one-eighth-black) -- similarly undermine the civility of Japanese nationality.
Americans whose parents or more distant ancestors came from Japan commonly experience being called "Japanese", even though they are Americans. Tellingly, many such Americans reflexively racialize "Japanese" and have trouble "seeing" people who don't "look" a certain way as "Japanese Americans". Legally, though, the connection between nikkeijin (non-Japanese of Japanese ancestry) and Japan is not racial or ethnic "blood" but a paper trail documenting, in most cases, lineal descent, back to a family register in Japan. Legally, Japanese ancestry is a purely civil, not racial, status.
While MOFA is gallantly resisting pressure from CERD to further racialize Japan, its own misguided racialism betrays a lack of faith in, if not a contempt for, the people of Japan whose interests it pretends to serve. MOFA's Wajinization of Japanese nationality reflects the arrogance of bureaucrats who play incredibly deceptive or delusional word games -- when they ought to be celebrating the racelessness of Japan's civil nationality, and the natural racial diversity of Japan's population, with an eye toward protecting all people from racial discrimination, including unwanted racialization.
Fortunately, the exchanges between MOFA and CERD have no effect on Japanese law or ethnographics. Japan's Nationality Law silently continues to confer Japan's raceless nationality on all who qualify. And the increasing biological and social diversity of Japan's population, which has been mixing and changing throughout its ethnographic history, speaks for itself to those who listen.