“Will there ever be a rainbow Japan?”

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Hi Blog.  Speaking again today in a few hours, so let me post this one again for comment.  I’m not one to take CNNGo all that seriously as a source, but try this article on for size.  Arudou Debito


Will there ever be a rainbow Japan?
Government statistics suggest multiculturalism is on the rise, but social organizations for mixed-race Japanese say ‘hafus’ still face challenges
By Tracy Slater 1 December, 2010, courtesy PKU

Japan, which closed its borders from 1639 to 1854 and later colonized its neighbors, has an uneasy history with foreigners, national identity, and multiculturalism.

Yet government statistics and grassroots organizations say multiculturalism in the famously insular country is now on the rise.

Japan: The new melting pot?

Japan’s national government recently announced it is turning to travelers in a foreigner-friendly mission to boost diversity — at least in tourist spots — by paying them to provide feedback on how to increase accessibility for non-Japanese speakers.

David Askew, associate professor of law at Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University, identifies more profound changes.

In 1965, a mere 1 in 250 of all marriages in Japan were international, he notes. By 2004, the number had climbed to 1 in 15 across the nation and 1 in 10 in Tokyo.

According to Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government, by 2005, foreign residents in the city numbered 248,363, up from 159,073 in 1990.

According to Askew, the upswing in diverse residents and mixed marriages has led to another phenomenon: between 1987 and 2004, more than 500,000 children were born in Japan with at least one foreign parent.

Celebrating diversity

A handful of new organizations are tied, at least in part, to the increase in multicultural marriages.

Groups such as Mixed Roots Japan and Hapa Japan, founded by children of mixed-Japanese couples, aim to celebrate the broadening scope of Japanese identity, both nationally and globally.

“There is a real need now to recognize that Japan is getting more multiracial,” says Mixed Roots founder Edward Sumoto, a self-described “hafu” of Japanese/Venezuelan ethnicity. “The Japanese citizen is not simply a traditional Japanese person with Japanese nationality anymore.”

The issue of the identity of hafu is also being explored in a new film titled “Hafu,” currently under production by the Hafu Project.

In support of multiracial families, Mixed Roots holds Halloween and Christmas parties, picnics and beach days.

The organization also sponsors a monthly radio show on station FMYY, and “Shakeforward” concerts in Tokyo and Kansai, accompanied by youth workshops and symposia.

“These events feature mixed-roots artists who promote social dialogue with their songs,” says Sumoto.

The next “Shakeforward” concert will be held on November 27 in Kobe.

One of Sumoto’s primary goals is to “enable mixed-race kids to meet and talk, so they know there are other people like them.”

Despite the statistics, achieving widespread recognition for Japanese diversity has been a struggle for Sumoto and other grassroots organizers.

“Mentally, do the Japanese think the country is becoming more multicultural?” asks Sumoto. “Possibly more than 20 years ago, because you see more foreigners, but people are still not sure what to do with it.”

Multiculturalism on the margins

Like Sumoto, Erin Aeran Chung, assistant professor of East Asian politics at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, sees the issue of Japanese multiculturalism as multifaceted.

Chung has written extensively on Japan, ethnicity and citizenship, especially as relates to Zainichi Koreans, descendents of pre-war immigrants, many of whom were brought to Japan as slave labor.

Zainichi literally means “staying in Japan temporarily.”

“The concepts of ‘multicultural coexistence’ (tabunka kyōsei) and ‘living in harmony with foreigners’ (gaikokujin to no kyōsei)” — catchwords for multiculturalism used by local government officials and NGOs — “are based on the idea that Japanese nationals, assumed to be culturally homogenous, can live together peacefully with foreign nationals, assumed to be culturally different from the Japanese,” Chung said in a series of interviews.

“Rather than expand the definition of Japanese national identity to include those who are not Japanese by blood or nationality,” Chung argues, “the concept of kyōsei suggests that Japanese nationals must rise to the challenge of living with diversity,” instead of as part of a group of diverse citizens belonging to a truly multicultural nation.

A recent move by the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) suggests not even citizenship guarantees acceptance as “truly” Japanese.

At a meeting last February, the JSA administrative board mandated limiting foreign-born wrestlers to one per stable. The upshot: even if a competitor born abroad becomes a Japanese citizen, he’s still considered the stable’s token foreigner.

The myth of mono-ethnicity

Underneath the debate over Japan’s willingness to embrace multiculturalism lies the question of how mono-ethnic the nation ever really was.

According to Ritsumeikan’s David Askew, “The idea of Japan as mono-ethnic is actually a postwar belief.”

The Ainu and Ryukyuan ethnic groups, engulfed by Japan during its prewar colonial movement, are examples.

As for Taiwan and Korea, they “were part of Japan until 1945, so you could hardly talk about a homogeneous population before then.”

“The conversation about multiculturalism today is one that focuses on accepting ‘foreign’ cultures, ignoring the broad range of cultural practices within Japan itself,” says Askew.

“Unless the Okinawas and Osakas of Japan are accepted as different cultures, the discourse will continue to promote the idea of a homogeneous Japan,” says Askew.


58 comments on “ “Will there ever be a rainbow Japan?”

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  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    @ Jonholmes:
    No humour meant, and you’ve brought up an excellent point.
    Whereas I was refering to Wada’s Japanese status (or rather,lack thereof) in legal terms while so many people embrace her as Japanese by appearance, language and culture (to whatever extent that may be), you’ve concluded that she IS Japanese except legally, and that she SHOULD BE Japanese.
    Agreed, her Korean ancestry shouldn’t matter. Just as my ancestry shouldn’t make my kids any less Japanese than the Ishiharas and Hiranumas of this world.

  • @Joe

    You said: “I’d like you to meet my kids and their friends. Because they’d certainly disagree with you.”

    Well, then I’m very happy for your kids and their friends – I hope they go on to have successful lives. But I trust you’re not assuming that I don’t personally know many kids who have one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent, because I do. And what I’ve noticed is that as they grow up they tend to leave Japan for greener pastures. Your children might be perfectly happy but I’d like to remind you that a school of goldfish spending their lives in a fishbowl may not see anything wrong with life in a fishbowl – that’s all they know. They may be perfectly happy with what they have – it’s safe, comfortable and they know their place in the world: to be stared at as a curiosity.

    I’m also not American, and I feel you’re reaching when you try to characterise this as a ‘thin-skinned, mainly-American’ gripe and vaguely imply that most British people feel the same way you do. I don’t believe that’s the case.

    I don’t have kids myself but I can’t help be vocal about this topic because I really do care about it and the way it effects some people, even if they don’t realise it. If Japan wants to be ‘international’ they really have to make a change in the way they view the world. If they don’t want to be ‘international’ then that’s fine too, but make it clear. It’s fundamentally dishonest to, on the one hand, proclaim that Japan is completely open to foreign people, but deny them equality with the other hand.

  • Hi Debito and everyone 🙂

    About “the Japanese race”, what do you all think of this 2009 chart:

    created by this scientist:

    from this scientific study:

    with these references:

    Here are some gems from the PDF:

    (Note to Debito, if any of the following paragraphs seem uninteresting, please feel free to delete them, I promise I won’t complain this time.)

    “This review addresses the distribution of genetic markers of immunoglobulin G (Gm) among 130 Mongoloid populations in the world. These markers allowed the populations to be clearly divided into 2 groups, the northern and southern groups. The northern group is characterized by high frequencies of 2 marker genes, ag and ab3st, and an extremely low frequency of the marker gene afb1b3; and the southern group, in contrast, is indicated by a remarkably high frequency of afb1b3 and low frequencies of ag and ab3st. Based on the geographical distribution of the markers and gene flow of Gm ag and ab3st (northern Mongoloid marker genes) from northeast Asia to the Japanese archipelago, the Japanese population belongs basically to the northern Mongoloid group and is thus suggested to have originated in northeast Asia, most likely in the Baikal area of Siberia.”

    “The results obtained from Japanese populations living in Japan are shown in Table 1 and Fig. 1. The Ainu population and the 8 island populations (Sadogashima, Kamishima, Tanegashima, Yakushima, Amamiohshima, Miyakojima, Ishigakijima, and Yonakunijima) were not included for the calculation of the mean frequencies in the general Japanese (17 populations, general Japanese), because the Ainu are indigenous Japanese people and the 8 islanders are isolated and small in number. The mean frequencies of the Gm genes observed among the 17 Japanese populations were 0.458 for Gm ag, 0.176 for Gm axg, 0.260 for Gm ab3st, and 0.106 for Gm afb1b3. These 17 Japanese populations were shown to be genetically homogeneous, when compared with each other.

    Heterogeneities, however, were found when the 17 Japanese populations were compared with the Ainu and with the Miyakojima population; whereas homogeneity was observed between the Ainu and the Miyakojima populations. In other words, the Ainu and the Ryukyu islanders (Miyakojima, Ishigakijima, and Yonakunijima) differed from the general Japanese populations in Gm gene pattern. Both Ainu and Miyakojima populations showed a more remarkable northern type, characterized by a higher frequency of one of the northern genes, Gm ag, and by a lower frequency of the southern gene, Gm afb1b3.

    In particular, the frequency of the other northern gene, Gm ab3st, was much higher in the Ryukyu islanders than in the general Japanese populations. Another view of this is that the general Japanese populations have a higher frequency of the southern afb1b3 gene than the Ainu and the Ryukyu islanders, resulting from some admixture at rates as low as 7 – 8% with south Asian populations having the Gm afb1b3 gene in high frequency, but yet all of these Japanese populations studied had the Gm pattern of the northern Mongoloid.

    On the other hand, in sharp contrast to the 3 Ryukyu Islanders, a native tribe in Taiwan, theTakasago, and a Taiwanese population (descendants of people who migrated from southern China about 300 years ago) showed a typical southern Mongoloid pattern, as dipicted in Fig. 1, in spite of the fact that there is only an 80-km distance between Taiwan and the southwestern-most inhabited island of Japan (Yonakunijima). This difference in pattern was reflected in heterogeneities observed between the Yonakunijima islanders and the Takasago population and between the Ainu and Takasago populations.

    Based on these Gm results, it is hard to consider that peoples from the south migrated through the Ryukyu islands northwards to mainland Japan.”

    “Regarding the roots of the Japanese, Hanihara1 proposed the “dual structure model”, which suggests that the Jomon (12,000 – 2,300 years ago) and Yayoi (2,300 – 1,700 years ago) peoples originated from South Asia and North Asia, respectively. This model assumes that people of the South Mongoloid lineage settled Japan first, later followed by a considerable number of immigrants of the North Mongoloid lineage and that the Mongoloid of both lineages mixed with each other to form the present-day Japanese people.

    Furthermore, the Ainu are assumed to be Jomon people of the South Mongoloid lineage that had evolved with little or no mixture with other races. This model was based on the computer multivariate analysis of the results of osteometry, an outdated, uncertain method. It is known that such physical measurement values easily change with nutrition, environment, and culture in a short time, as is well understood from the physique of the present young generation.

    Instead of morphological studies, polymorphic markers harbored in macromolecules such as proteins and glycoconjugates including blood group systems have been widely applied during the last century to studies of genetic variation in human populations because of their simple Mendelian inheritance. Among them, Gm types are unique genetic markers that can define a Mongoloid population in terms of its origin by the combination pattern of the gene types and the ratios of them, even though Gm is a classical marker.

    In sharp contrast to the “dual structure model”, our data on the geographical distribution of Gm gene types throughout the Asian and American Continents, and Pacific islands show that the Japanese population belong basically to the northern Mongoloid group; that the Ainu, as well as the Ryukyu islanders, are genetically closer to the northern Mongoloid group than to the general Japanese population; and that Taiwanese have a Gm gene composition characteristic of the southern Mongoloid group. The extent to which Japanese were admixed with the southern group is estimated at as low as 7 – 8%, assuming the admixture with southern groups having the highest frequencies of the Gm afb1b3 gene.

    The results of a population study by Bannai et al. who analyzed HLA polymorphisms, suggested that the Ainu might share the same ancestor in eastern Asia with native Americans (Tlingit and Amerindians). Their findings indicate that the indigenous Japanese people, i.e., the Ainu, belong to the northern Mongoloid group, and are in good agreement with our results that the Ainu have the northern Mongoloid Gm genes at higher proportions than the present-day Japanese people.

    Tokunaga et al. recognized that 20 Mongoloid populations could be divided into 2 major groups (north and south) by phylogenetic analysis on the basis of HLA systems and indicated that the Japanese belong to the northern group. Phylogenetic analysis by Nei, using gene frequencies of many conventional blood group systems, found that all 3 Japanese populations (Ainu, main-island Japanese, and Okinawans) originated from northern Asia, thus invalidating Hanihara’s dual structure model.

    Nei also described that the Japanese are essentially descendants of northeast Mongoloids rather than southeast Mongoloids. Therefore, one may call this the “out-of-Northeast” theory. This view is similar to my earlier conclusion, although mine is based on the geographical distribution of only the Gm genes in eastern Asia and the Pacific.

    Recently, analyses of mitochondrial, Y chromosomal, and autosomal DNA markers have rapidly accumulated, the former two defining maternal and paternal lineages, respectively. Harihara et al. showed from analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) polymorphisms that the Ainu are closely related to East Mongoloids, and claimed that the Ainu are descendants of ancient Mongoloids who lived in the Japanese Islands in the Paleolithic and Jomon periods.

    According to Shinoda and Kanai and Shinoda, many of the human skeletal remains excavated from the Nakazuma Jomon site had the mtDNA M10 gene, which is present in 1.3% (a low frequency) of the Japanese, and had a nucleotide sequence identical to that of the DNA of the Buryat living in the Baikal area. In addition, cluster analysis of mtDNA gene frequencies showed that the gene composition of the mainland Japanese was almost the same as that of northeastern Chinese and Korean populations.

    On the other hand, the gene composition of a southern Chinese population closely resembled that of indigenous Taiwanese, and obviously differed from that of the Japanese. Okinawans were completely different from indigenous Taiwanese and the southeastern Mongoloid, suggesting that it was from mainland Japan, not from the south including Taiwan that people migrated to the Okinawa Islands. More recently, based on the comparative analyses of a voluminous number of complete and partial mtDNA sequences, Tanaka et al. described a striking coincidence of their results with our northern origin of Japanese.

    Similarly, Hammer et al. outlined the peopling of the Japan on the basis of Y chromosomal lineages, inferring that 3 major groups, D, C, and O-47z, began expansions ~20,000, ~12,000,and ~4,000 years ago, respectively. They hypothesized that the primary candidate region of Paleolithic Japanese founding Y chromosomes having C and D groups should be placed in the area between Tibet and the Altai Mountains with varying levels of admixture between these and other Y chromosomes carrying O-47z group from Southeast Asia. Further Japanese samples would remain to be analyzed for drawing conclusions from Y chromosomal data.

    Evidence from both mtDNA and Y chromosomes indicates that earlier Japanese came from around northern Asia, not from the South, which is not inconsistent with our Gm results indicating that the Japanese including the Ainu and the Ryuku islanders belong basically to the northern Mongoloid group with a little additional admixture of the southern gene, Gm afb1b3. Genome-wide analyses of autosomal DNA markers at about 640,000 sites among 17 Asian populations demonstrated distinct latitudinal changes in the ratio of their northern and southern ancestries in proportion to the north-to-south localities of the populations, and in addition homogeneity and a higher proportion of the northern ancestry in Japanese.

    Grubb, who first disclosed the Gm system, stated that the Gm genes were characteristic enough for discriminating between Mongoloid and Negroid, making it possible to clarify the process of migration of ethnic groups. Further, quoting our distribution map of the genes, he pointed out that Gm ab3st was characteristic of northern Mongoloids and varied gradually in its frequency among them and that many interesting relations between those populations were well shown on the map.

    He expressed his scientific approval of our data and conclusion that the Japanese population belongs basically to the northern Mongoloid and originated in the Baikal area and furthermore indicated that our study represented excellent probes of the Gm system.”

    “As mentioned above, abundant DNA evidence has been reported in recent years. None of these data oppose the Gm data; rather, they support it. Mongoloids generally have northern and southern ancestries in each population with varying ratios depending mainly to their latitudinal locations; northern populations have a unique gene, Gm ab3st.

    Although data from mtDNA and Y-chromosome polymorphisms differ from the Gm data in the extent to which a southern contribution has been made to the Japanese, the geographical distribution of the 2 northern Gm genes leads us to conclude that the genes flowed from northern Asia even to the most southwestern island (Yonakunijima) of Japan, followed by culturally great but genetically small streams from southern Asia.

    In summary, our results demonstrate that the Japanese race belongs basically to the northern Mongoloid group and originated in northeast Asia, most likely in the Baikal area of Siberia. In the case of migrations of human populations, migrants would not have been allowed to escape from changes in a wide range of habitats and climates, and thus would have to have adapted to their new environments.

    Such adaptation would have been expressed in the very phenotypes of Gm since immunoglobulins play an important role in environmental adaptation. Further accumulation of DNA data on much more samples from both modern and ancient humans and the interdisciplinary scientific approach will provide the evidence needed to test our model to explain the origins and dispersal of the first Japanese.”

    PS – For those interested, I found a Japanese translation here:

    done by Toshiyuki Itō who put together this very interesting site:

    here is an additional chart he made based on Matsumoto’s data:

    and here is a subsequent chart showing how complicated reality is:

    the 2 charts shown directly above can be found on his conclusion page:

  • Nice video James 🙂 Should be required viewing at schools. It proves that “the Japanese” are the most “mixed” and “un-pure” race in Asia. And I loved how at the end it said, “If you look at the blueprint of human beings through mitochondrial DNA, there are absolutely no racial or national differences amongst us, the only thing we see is a human being living inside mother nature.”

    The only slightly disappointing thing is… while the English subtitles idealistically translated the speaker’s words to “when you look at DNA there are no differences” the guy actually said in Japanese “when you look at DNA the differences can’t be seen.” 😉

  • I know Steve but you know the old saying…….

    you say “tsure-kaeri” I say “tsure-sari”

    ah the joys of me, myself and I my……………..

  • This discussion immediately sprang to mind when one of my colleagues brought her brand new eurasian baby to the office. Amidst the clucky gathering of coo-ing secretaries, someone excitedly said “ah – Nihonjin no ko janai yo ne!” and they immediately started pointing out any features they could identify which were (to their minds) non-Japanese. The child is less than a month old, was born in Japan to a Japanese father, holds only Japanese nationality, and from the moment of his birth the society around him is already telling him all the ways in which he is not Japanese. I think that is pretty damn sad.

    — Same thing when my second daughter was born — my former sister-in-law (who in retrospect was quite an unsophisticated thud) made much the same kind of remarks not 24 hours after emergence from the womb. Granted, this was 1995, but…

  • I think the core issue here is the conflation of ethnicity with nationality.

    I have no problem with the usage of the word “hafu” in the former sense, but in the later sense it is deeply troubling.

    In the West we generally understand that someone can be of one ethnicity and another nationality (Italian-American, Chinese-Australian), and that the former has no bearing on the later. That when someone was born and raised in a certain geography, a different ethnic background is by far the more minor influence on that person’s development.

    The more interesting point is that ethnicity is a matter of fact, but nationality is a constructed concept enforced by a central power. The geographical scope of a nation-state is too wide — it seeks to marginalize (also erase) cultural differences born of geographical separation, and overplay (also introduce and enforce) cultural similarities.

    I might venture to say that “nationality” extends from our instinct to form in-groups and out-groups; but that it is a manipulation of that instinct which turns decentralized, real shades of grey into a centralized, artificial black and white — thereby particularly hurting those groups at the margins of the center who “don’t make the cut”.

    But this is not a problem unique to Japan (though the force is strong here).

    See this book review about the construction of French nationality
    (Item 83):

    “The Discovery of France (Graham Robb, 2007). As someone suspicious of government and state control, I was wondering how France did so well in spite of having the mother of all “l’ état”. This book gave me the answer: it took a long time for the government and the “nation” to penetrate the depth of deep France, “la France profonde”. It was not until recently that French was spoken by the majority of the citizens. Schools taught French but it was just like Greek or Latin: people forgot it right after they finished their (short) school life. For a long time France’s villages were unreachable by the central government. The book has wonderful qualities that I am certain will be picked up by other reviewers. But I would like to add the following. This is the most profound examination of how nationality is enforced on a group of people, with the internal colonization process and the stamping out of idiosyncratic traits.”

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