Debito panelist on Al-Jazeera program “The Stream”: “The politics of identity in Japan” after Yoshikawa Priyanka’s pageant victory


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The politics of identity in Japan
The conversation on race and ethnicity widens in the island nation. Program “The Stream”, September 14, 2016

For the second year in a row, Japan has crowned a biracial woman the winner of a major beauty pageant, reviving a conversation in the island nation about race, xenophobia and what it means to be Japanese.

Japan is frequently labeled as one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, but some say this is a myth that discounts the minorities living there and stifles dialogue about discrimination in the country.

In May, Japan passed its first anti-hate speech law in an attempt to curb racism and xenophobia. While critics sceptical about the law’s effectiveness poked holes in the bill, many have applauded the government for taking steps toward addressing what they say is an often ignored issue.

Some have viewed Priyanka Yoshikawa’s Miss World Japan win as a sign the country is becoming more open to diversity. Others argue Japan has been open for a long time, and stories suggesting otherwise are reinforcing antiquated stereotypes. We discuss at 19:30 GMT.

On today’s episode, we speak to:

Priyanka Yoshikawa @Miss_priyanka20
Miss World Japan 2016

Baye McNeil @locohama
Author, columnist for The Japan Times

Edward Sumoto @MixedRootsJapan
Founder, Mixed Roots Japan

Debito Arudou @arudoudebito
Author, “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

Yuta Aoki @ThatYuta

See it at


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9 comments on “Debito panelist on Al-Jazeera program “The Stream”: “The politics of identity in Japan” after Yoshikawa Priyanka’s pageant victory

  • Nice video. To avoid subjective opinion, hopefully future efforts will focus on one fact: Japan’s lack of Civil Rights Law.

    Instead of opinion, focus on one act which all rational humans want outlawed and penalized: Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.

    “The 1995 U.N. CERD Treaty requires Japan to enact a Civil Rights Law to outlaw & penalize Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    “Japan signed the U.N. CERD Treaty in 1995, but still in 2016: refuses to outlaw and penalize Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    “The United States of America enacted Civil Rights Law in 1965: which outlaws and penalizes Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    “Hate speech law is meaningless when businesses in Japan can STILL legally politely commit Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    “Over 100 Million Japanese claiming ‘We are not racist’ is meaningless: when Japan ALLOWS Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    “Regardless of opinionated claims of ‘No racism in Japan’: Japan MUST outlaw and penalize Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    “The fact which makes subjective opinions irrelevant is: No Japan law to outlaw and penalize Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    “To stop being in violation of the 1995 U.N. CERD Treaty: Japan MUST outlaw and penalize Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”

    People accidentally&purposefully ineffectively frame the debate as an endless subjective opinion debate about Japan.

    It’s more effective to focus on ONE objective reality: Japan MUST now outlaw and penalize Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.

  • Interesting program, nice selection of participants. I like Yuta and a lot of his videos, but his response to the last question was embarrassing. “Probably not” = “When hell freezes over” Very revealing of A) why the problem is so completely unchallenged, and B) the fact that he’s very much aware that the major news media is completely opposed to acknowledging it. I can’t believe they got Yoshikawa-san to participate, awesome.

  • Phew. I’m really glad Debito was on that panel to keep the train on the tracks and steer everyone back to thinking rationally about these issues.

    A couple observations.

    1. I was disappointed that the female host felt that the ANA ad was funny. I’m sure that she would have been pretty upset if ANA had used black face instead of a white nose. Her reaction suggests a double standard – one applicable to blacks and other races that are typically viewed as the subject of racism and one applicable to those that are not (in this case, caucasians).

    2. The same host posed a bizarre question which, for some reason, she felt was profound – Is it racism if no one [among the dominant class] believes that it is? The answer, as Debito said, is of course. People do not need to have malice to be racist. Remember, racism is, at its core, treating people differently on the basis of their skin color. I like to refer back to the US in the 19th and early 20th century to drive this point home. Although there were clearly examples of people who truly hated blacks in that era, such as members of the KKK, I am sure that many whites of that time period were taught that it was natural for whites and blacks to be separated and did not treat blacks differently out of malice. Of course, we know now that separate but equal, a la Plessy v Ferguson, is never really equal and that separation and othering is in fact discrimination and harmful on its face, but I suspect that many people at the time were simply acting in a way that they were taught to believe was natural. For anyone living in Japan, this should ring a bell, as the majority of Japanese are taught the same type of thinking from a very young age. For the Japanese, racism (sabetsu) is a feature of US society and refers almost explicitly to discrimination against blacks by whites in the US. This is why many Japanese balk at the suggestion that racism exists in Japan. To many Japanese, treating visible minorities differently from Japanese is differentiation (kubetsu) but not racism (sabetsu), since racism, by definition, only exists in the US. Some Japanese may also be attributing malice to racism and believe that they cannot be racist since they are not treating people differently out of malice, but I suspect that most Japanese have not thought that deeply about the issue. Instead, most Japanese are educated to believe that we are simply different animals and that treating visible minorities different is part of the natural order of things. This form of discrimination is based on a discriminatory world view that is passed from generation to generation through parenting, formal education, the media and society generally and will ultimately require a sea change in thinking at all levels of society to address at any material level. The thinking is so engrained in natural law, as it is understood by the Japanese, that I am afraid the thinking may never really change absent a massive and unlikely influx of change agents (i.e., foreigners) who are able to speak their mind and raise national awareness surrounding these issues.

  • as JP said, in the western world racism is seen as an intended malicious (violent) act of discrimination.
    So I had the feeling the anchorwoman was struggling to fit Japan racism into this category.

    In Japan “racism” is embedded the culture, status quo, habits, mainstream does certain things without thinking.

    So the question is, how can this be changed? I think people like Priyanka and all biracial Japanese people, us long term permanet resident foreigners, we should keep confuting this embedded racism at all levels, in pravite and public.

    Most of the times, if you raise the point people tell you “this is Japan culture, if you do not like it you can leave”, in the sense that to be a good Japanese assimilated citizen you, non Japanese/Asian looking person, must accept to be discriminated, to think of yourself as inferior (gaijin, ha-fu)

    So it is up to us to confute Japan embedded racism.

  • Here are 3 sentences to keep folks on track, to avoid opinion-based-feelings-debates, to focus on Civil Rights Law:

    “Yes or No, should countries legally allow businesses to commit Race-Based-Entry-Refusal: e.g. ‘No Black People’?”
    No! Of course not! Absolutely not. Every 1st-world country has Civil Rights Laws outlawing Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.

    “Well: in 2016 Japan STILL has not outlawed businesses committing Race-Based-Entry-Refusal: e.g. ‘No Black People’.”
    Japan still hasn’t outlawed businesses committing Race-Based-Entry-Refusal? ‘No Black People’ signs are still legal?

    “Correct, in violation of the U.N. CERD treaty, Japan hasn’t outlawed businesses committing Race-Based-Entry-Refusal.”
    Wow, no more opinion-based-debates needed: that treaty states Japan MUST outlaw Race-Based-Entry-Refusal now! 🙂


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