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Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

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  • Baye McNeil’s “Loco in Yokohama” blog brings up uncomfortable truths in the debate on racism in Japan

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 29th, 2012

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    Hi Blog.  Since the debate on “Microaggressions” and racialized treatment of people in Japan went into full swing over the past month, one other blog has been offering a good deal of insight as to how people are ultracentrifuged for special treatment in Japan by race, and how those people being ultracentrifuged likewise treat each other in a racialized manner.  Such are the habits fostered by this dread social disease called racism, and in Japan’s case it’s good to have a different take on it at last.

    Baye McNeil, author of the new book “HI, MY NAME IS LOCO AND I AM A RACIST“, has a dynamic blog called “Loco in Yokohama” I think you ought to check out.  He writes about racism in Japan with a fresh brazenness that I think many Readers might find interesting.  His 4-part (so far) series entitled, “Why do Gaijin Clash Over the Issue of Racism in Japan” is what drew me in.

    Links and quick summaries of those four parts below, and you should read the posts in order.  If you’re at all interested in how you (and your multiethnic children) are being slotted in the subordinated “gaijin” category in Japan not only by Japanese, but by other NJ, you will want to read these and have a think.

    Also interesting is our respective positions in the blogosphere.  As Baye himself points out, I’m White, and he’s Black (or whatever label you want to use:  Caucasian/African-American etc.), and how we get treated by NJ as vehicles of the debate is a facet little covered in discussion (case in point:  the “Tepido” Stalkers are friendly towards him, natch — ‘cos they don’t to be branded as “racists”).  So let’s read some Baye and cue up on that issue before we get into my next Japan Times Just Be Cause Column (out June 5), where I will offer “Microaggressions Part Two”.  Enjoy.  Arudou Debito


    Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part One (May 13, 2012)
    (where Baye excerpts from his book discussing his motivations for writing about the topic of racism in Japan, since many people seek to dismiss it as figments of the imagination; he also divulges his connection with me (where he attended a speech of mine a writers’ conference) before writing his book, and compares it to his connection afterwards with a full-of-praise Tepido “Hikosaemon”)

    Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part Two: Trust Issues (May 15, 2012)
    (where Baye makes it clear what sort of debates on racism he’s dealt with on the Loco blog before, his take on “Microaggressions”, and why he doesn’t want to be categorized as “The Black Debito”)

    Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part Three: The Dark Side of “When in Rome…” (May 19, 2012)
    (his most contentious entry so far, where he gets into the politics of being a denier of racism in Japan, and how apologism leads to reification and replication of that racism amongst NJ themselves)

    Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part Four — I can’t make this shit up! (May 27, 2012)
    (where Baye argues that fighting the status quo is where people show their true colors — in this case, how Whites aren’t allowed to play the “race card” like Blacks can (e.g., witness the outrage towards Debito for daring to suggest McDonald’s “Mr. James” was racism — even though it was a prime opportunity for Whites “to see the world, however minutely, through the eyes of a marginalized race”))


    20 Responses to “Baye McNeil’s “Loco in Yokohama” blog brings up uncomfortable truths in the debate on racism in Japan”

    1. Eric C Says:

      I have to say that the moniker “Loco” is very apt here. I gave two or three of his posts a pretty careful reading and my best response is: “What is this guy on about?” He’s raving and raving, but I can’t dig out a thesis and I don’t believe myself to be particularly obtuse. To be honest, Debito, I think you’re casting a little bit too far and wide for material, given as this falls hard on the heels of the recent guest post from Aly. Surely, with all the shenanigans in Japan surrounding Fukushima, Ishihara, declining population, ludicrous immigration “reforms,” protests against Koreans in the United States building monuments to comfort women and so on and so on, I would have thought there would be more than enough material for you to make more substantive and interesting posts.

      — Sorry that you don’t think what we’re talking about here on is worthy of your radar screen. I for one am happy that more places than just are talking about issues of discrimination in Japan (the ones excusing it instead are Legion). I only choose ten topics per month to talk about (I have a life beyond blogging), so if you think there should be more discussion of “Ishihara, declining population, ludicrous immigration ‘reforms’, protests against Koreans in the United States building monuments to comfort women and so on” (all of which, including the comfort women (but not overseas monuments to them) we have discussed here in the past), then please bud out and start your own discussion forum so they get more coverage. If you do noteworthy stuff, I’ll similarly point Readers to you too.

    2. Charuzu Says:

      These blog entries are fine, although I do wish that he had dealt with the point that Japan is hostile to those with a wide array of inborn traits that are not accepted by Japanese society, and that race is but one large group of such traits.

      Being gay is another.

      And, I am sure that there are others as well.

      Marginalisation is a key problem in Japan, and if there is to be any change, there will have to be common purpose amongst a wide array of marginalised groups in Japan.

    3. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Eric C #1
      Sure, Loco didn’t hit on any of the big social problems of the day, but that wasn’t the objective of his posts, was it? (maybe it was, I could be wrong).
      I think that Loco’s posts were thoughtful in regards as to why some NJ in Japan feel the need to tear into each other on the internet; a basic lack of tolerance of those with different opinions, and the (I’m paraphrasing) kind of ‘white liberal guilt’ that some NJ stranded in Japan by job and family circumstances that leads to viscous apologism and denial (as opposed to the ‘look the other way’ attitude that most people use when confronted by a fool in normal life). Loco is right; it would be better if to let that kind of squabbling/hating go, and actually live your own life.

      @ Charuzu #2
      You are right about ‘the wide array of marginalized groups’ in Japan. Can’t be too hard on Loco for not talking about them though; he is speaking of his personal experiences. More important is to identify the dynamics within and external to the marginalized group (NJ) that Loco is discussing, and see if it is a common pattern that can be found in regards to (for example) the homosexual community of Japan, or the zainichi. I would suggest that the ‘lack of common purpose’ that you speak of is due to marginalized communities having their marginalized throats ripped out by their own ‘go along to get along’ crowds, leading to a lack of open debate that would allow groups to find common purpose for initiating change. What do you think?

    4. Charuzu Says:

      J gays do fear — they tell me — the go along sentiments, and they suffer from microaggression in ways that an NJ non-gays rarely face.

      My friends tell me that they are interested in what NJs do on the matter, because NJs, unlike J gays, do have the option of leaving Japan.

      There is some debate in J gay blogs, etc. I am told (my Japanese is too weak to verify that), but most J gays I know are rather bleak in their views about change.

      Most simply resign themselves to marginalisation, in much the way that most East Asian gays do.

    5. Anonymous Says:


      I have to say it: why do Japanese people often say “Japanese people don’t have the option of leaving Japan?”

      Non-Japanese have the option of living anywhere in the world, but Japanese mentally-imprison themselves in Japan.

      Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but yourselves can free your mind. Japanese have the option of leaving Japan. :)

    6. Loverilakkuma Says:

      The blogger is not an academic professional and he does not have a reason to signify social problems affecting non-Japanese on a daily basis. I think he just wants to keep it within his realm. You don’t have to be an activist to merely address the issues. It’s the matter of choice and commitment.

    7. Charuzu Says:

      Anonymous #5

      I disagree with your statement regarding J gays: “Japanese have the option of leaving Japan.”

      Realistically, due to the total failure of the J educational system, Js are essentially monoglots and cannot realistically emigrate.

      This is in stark contrast to other countries that speak an isolated language, like the Netherlands. Most Dutch (I say proudly) speak English rather well, in addition to Dutch (which is spoken only in 2 countries).

      As such, were J gays to emigrate, they would be unable to economically function as middle class individuals.

      They would exchange gay social marginalisation and exclusion in Japan for linguistic and economic marginalisation and poverty outside Japan.

      Japan’s linguistic failures play a key role, I believe, in preserving the current system.

      Were it not for such failures, I believe that more Japanese would emigrate.

      — Charuzu, you want to talk more about gays as a minority in Japan, and I understand why very well, but please stop wedging their issues into every blog entry without relating things back to the topic at hand properly. If you’d like to guest post an essay on about the treatment of gay NJ in Japan, I’m amenable.

    8. Jim Di Griz Says:

      Japanese people DO have the option of leaving Japan.
      The thing is, it’s not the marginalized ones who ‘can’t take it anymore’, but the rich J-elites who know that they are driving the country to the wall! They are all slipping off to Hawaii and Singapore.

      — Source please.

    9. Jeff Says:

      Slightly off topic:

      What am I missing about the “total failure of J education system”? I work with people in Japan, US, Canada, Germany, Taiwan and China. Have also with Korea and Sweden in the past.

      I have many many many Japanese engineers and scientists who are among the most intellectually deep and also intuitive I have met. I am always astounded by the relative number and quality of academic papers and patents relevant to what I’m working on (which is completely non Japan specific) written at Japanese institutions and organizations. My experience does not say “total failure” of education to me, at least in certain areas of study (really!).

    10. Fight Back Says:

      Great points Debito and a fantastic preamble to the upcoming column on the same topic. Looking forward to it!

      Realistically, before any progress can be made on the rights of NJ in Japan, the issue of the apologists must be dealt with first. Any such obstacle must be overcome before tackling the issue at the source.

      I hope the upcoming column looks at some ways we can win hearts and minds to “cleanse the ranks” as it were. We really need to present a united front as NJ before we can effect real change.

      As always we look to you Debito to shine some light on the way forward.

      — I have a feeling that “the ranks” are already pretty much poisoned against me in particular as an advocate of change in part by the Apologists (who I do identify by type, behavior, and motivation in my upcoming column), which is how they assist in cutting the movement off at the head. What’s necessary is that the movement become a Hydra. More people have to become vocal advocates. Somebody else has to lead this charge. I’ll still be there to help if it’s welcome.

    11. Jim Di Griz Says:


      It’s the figure from the JT about the 27 and a half thousand more Japanese that left in March and April 2011 than the year before, and the hotels in Hawaii being packed with Japanese, as in Singapore. The point I was making is that those with most who can leave, do. Just like NJ.

      — Thanks. It’s just best if we make it clear and avoid potential criticism if empty claims. I personally know the stats, but the person making the argument has to cite them.

    12. Charuzu Says:

      #9 Jeff:

      When I referred to the total failure of the Japanese educational system, I meant that in relation to foreign language learning.

      I am not commenting on the quality of their education in engineering (about which I know little).

      So long as Japan is unwilling or unable to teach most Japanese (I recognize that there are exceptions) foreign languages (especially English), Japan will remain culturally isolated in some important ways, thereby hindering the free flow of individuals into and out of Japan.

      I believe that such a failure reinforces existing patterns of Japanese xenophobia.

      Rural Dutch children generally speak far better English than Tokyo college graduates. It cannot be that such a large disparity is due to either a Dutch propensity or a Japanese cognitive deficit.

      The educational system in Japan is to blame.

      — Defenders of the Japanese system of language education will argue that Dutch and English are similar languages, so Dutch have an advantage over Japanese learners. Just like Koreans find it easier to learn Japanese than Chinese do. But anyway, if you want to address that argument, do so and we’ll close this tangent at that.

    13. Charuzu Says:

      To add to my comment, and to address the notion that Japanese is a language that would make learning English more difficult, I would refer to my time when I lived in Finland.

      Finnish is a non Indo European language that has a grammar and basoc word set that is not based on any Indo European language.

      In that way, it is like Japanese.

      Yet, Finnish children generally speak, read and write rather well, on the whole, two foreign languages — Swedish and English.

      There are data from the EU and Finland that show such language skills to be of good quality.

      As such, the idea that a Japanese language speaker is intrinsically unequal to the task of learning English is not based on fact.

      The reasons for Japan’s inability to meaningfully learn English are not due to an inherent blockage within Japanese linguistic processing skills, but are found outside of that.

      Japanese can learn English as well as any other group of non-English speakers, on the whole.

      Finland, Estonia and other non- Indo European language speakers demonstrate that.

    14. Pitarou Says:

      I’m an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) at a junior high school in Japan, and I’m thoroughly convinced that the junior high school system is failing its students in English. I’m not alone in my views — it seems to be axiomatic on the Internet forums frequented by ALTs.

      I wish I could find good statistical evidence to back up my claim. The best I can do is invite you to compare Japan’s ranking in English ( with its ranking in Reading, Maths and Science ( Hardly conclusive, I know, but … just spend a few hours in a typical junior high English class and measure how much time the kids spend speaking English, how much they spend listening to English, and how much they spend listening to expositions on English grammar in Japanese. And of the time they spend speaking, check how much time they spend just mindlessly echoing the teacher. Alternatively, imagine a piano class which consisted almost entirely of music theory.

      Debito — you see the kids at the other end of the conveyor belt. Do you think they were effectively taught?

      — My former “university” was not a place offering English majors. It was a glorified technical college for computer types — self-selected for better reading and writing than speaking in any language. We had some successes with people becoming fluent enough to live overseas, but most people became Hokkaido homebodies — a bit insular within insular. That said, I think we made most students less afraid of a foreign language, and that, despite the socially-pathological way English is generally taught in Japan, I think was effective teaching. We did the best we could.

    15. Charuzu Says:

      This new study

      suggests that efforts to downplay one’s true nature (a foreigner, etc.) will likely result in less job satisfaction, higher turnover, and thus lower productivity.

      As such, the institionalised racism and xenophobia in Japan cost the J economy valuable resources.

    16. Paul Says:

      I am very interested in the next column, partly because I want to know what exactly an “apologist” is. (If there are any succinct definitions already on this site, someone please link me).

      I wonder about this, because I am curious what are the tenants of the “united front” that NJ’s should show? I mean, it’s always going to be difficult to get NJ’s to agree with everything.

      For example, I am all for the creation and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in Japan. However, I don’t agree with those who say foreigners should be able to vote simply because they are residents of Japan and pay taxes here. Does that differing opinion make me an apologist or someone who needs their heart/mind “cleansed”? I am disgusted when the media stirs up fear over the suffrage issue as that’s pretty despicable, but that doesn’t change my opinion that one should be a citizen to have the right to vote.

      — You really should look into what it takes to be a citizen in Japan, how much a factor jus sanguinis and racially-based constructs play into the laws behind becoming a citizen in Japan, and the normalized social constructs behind the lack of acceptance of people who are citizens in Japan and don’t “look Japanese”. It’s not a simple matter of law, as it should be, behind determining “who is a national of Japan”, so the suffrage issue, given that there are people here born in Japan living here for generations (who can’t, won’t, and don’t see the point of naturalizing) is not based upon the simple dichotomy (of “citizen” vs. “foreigner”) probably found in your society of origin.

      That doesn’t make you an Apologist. It just makes you ignorant of the systemic differences that, if you knew more about them, should make you support suffrage for Special Permanent Residents (the Zainichi) at least.

      And yes, I do define “Apologists” in my next column. Four types of Apologists, even. Thanks for your interest.

    17. Paul Says:

      Thank you very much for your reply Debito.

      Yes, I realize that the Zainichi make suffrage not entirely a cut and dry citizen vs foreigner issue. And I would say that my “foreigners shouldn’t be able to vote” position would likely hold an exception for them (but as you say, I should really learn more about their issues/status).

      However, I would stand by the statement that someone like myself, who has moved to Japan in my lifetime and doesn’t really have the requisite knowledge of the political system nor advanced enough Japanese ability…basically I don’t think I’m informed enough to vote simply because I’ve been here for a number of years and pay taxes.

      Obviously not all citizens are “informed”, and they CAN vote, but that’s one of the imperfections of democracy anywhere.

      — And one of the imperfections of your argument is that because you’re individually in a particular situation (i.e., lacking requisite knowledge of the system) and it causes you to draw a conclusion (i.e., not informed enough to vote), it means that your conclusion applies to everyone apparently in your situation (how would you judge that, and what would give you the right to make that decision for other people?). Even if you would not specifically argue that, other people will (particularly the xenophobes), and that strips the complexity out of a truly complex situation. And it’s essentially the same argument that was made to support the denial of suffrage to women (moreover often made by other women). Go beyond.

    18. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Paul #16

      I wouldn’t call you an apologist on the basis of your comment. I did know that NJ cannot vote before I came to live here, so I wouldn’t complain about that per se (for example).
      It is natural that NJ in Japan have different opinions on some issues due to differing experiences; this is human nature, so disagreement is not a problem in itself. I would start a definition of apologist along the lines of someone who when confronted by differing opinions, takes it as a personal affront that must be revenged with the justification that it is on behalf of the greater good. Like some sort of radical religious nut.

    19. Paul Says:

      @Debito #17

      I have an idea of criteria in order for someone to be able to vote. I was using myself as an example of some of those criteria.

      If there is an “imperfection” in my argument, it is that I haven’t taken the time to outline the entirety of that argument in my example above. If you would like me to, I will.

      — Sorry, alright, go ahead.

    20. Paul Says:

      I believe all citizens who are of age and citizens of the nation should be allowed to vote. For me, this includes those convicted of a crime as I do not feel that committing a crime constitutes being cast from having a say in society.

      For me, in general I consider suffrage to be a privilege of citizenship. Citizenship should contain some unique privileges, and for me it makes sense that something as fundamental as voting in a democratic nation is something to be reserved for those who have dedicated themselves in some way further than simply living somewhere and paying taxes.

      If I pay taxes in multiple countries, I do not feel this necessarily should afford me the privilege of voting in multiple countries. If I am resident of a country, even for a number of years, I do not think this necessarily shows commitment to the nation. Commitment to your lifestyle/friends/status/family and even local community in your new home perhaps, but not necessarily the nation.

      For this reason, I could see myself supporting a system which allows non-citizen residents to vote in local elections.

      As for the Zainichi, I am writing this next part based primarily on the information gleaned from Wikipedia. I recognize that this could be giving me a mere thumbnail sketch, so if anyone wishes to point me to further sources, please do so.

      The article states the following: “ the requirements for naturalization has been steadily lowered for Zainichi to the point that only criminal records or affiliation to North Korea would be a hindrance for naturalisation.” So I thought, wait, what’s the problem? If naturalization is easier for them, why don’t they do so? But the next sentence is this: “Zainichi organisations oppose this, as both organisations see naturalisation as de facto assimilation”. Basically, the Zainichi who choose not to naturalize tend to do so because they wish to hold onto their Korean heritage and do not wish to be “Japanese”. I can’t help but feel the irony of this given how many times I’ve heard that the Japanese don’t allow foreigners to assimilate. So while the goal of many foreigners is to be accepted in Japan and not to be ‘othered’, there are a fair number of zainichi who do not wish to be Japanese as it would give up their ‘otherness’.

      To be frank, I was originally leaning towards giving the zainichi a special pass to vote in Japan because of the circumstances that brought them to Japan in the first place, but this to me sounds like they want to have their cake, and eat it too.

      The only situation I could think of off the top of my head that might possibly be comparable is the Native Americans of the US. They have a tribal sovereignty, but are still subject to the federal government as they are “dependent domestic” nations rather than foreign countries. I don’t see this as being feasible or desirable for the zainichi population.

      So it appears that the zainichi are pretty well integrated into Japanese society, and therefore it becomes up to the individuals to decide if being a Japanese citizen and gaining the voting privilege outweighs their attachment to their Korean heritage.

      So in summary, I think voting is a privilege of citizenship, although I would consider voting in local elections as being a privilege of non-citizens who have integrated into the community.

      I look forward to being thoroughly schooled in a rebuttal. :)

      — Thanks for writing it up, Paul. I’m at a conference all this week, and won’t be able to give you a reasoned reply for a little while. Meanwhile, I’ll approve this comment and let everyone have a think about it.

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