Fully Revised and Updated

By Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
(Lexington Books, a division of Rowman & Littlefield, Hardcover January 2022)


We accept that you’re a Japanese citizen.  But you don’t LOOK Japanese.  So we refuse you service.”


Despite domestic constitutional provisions and international treaty promises, Japan has no law against racial discrimination.  Consequently, businesses around Japan display “Japanese Only” signs, denying entry to all “foreigners” on sight.  Employers and landlords routinely refuse jobs and apartments to foreign applicants.  Japanese police racially profile “foreign-looking” bystanders for invasive questioning on the street.  Legislators, administrators, and pundits portray foreigners as a national security threat and call for their segregation and expulsion.  Public rallies advocate the disenfranchisement – even killing – of foreign residents born and living in Japan for generations.  Nevertheless, Japan’s government and media claim there is no discrimination by race in Japan, therefore no laws are necessary.


How does Japan resolve the cognitive dissonance of racial discrimination being unconstitutional yet not illegal?  Embedded Racism carefully untangles Japanese society’s complex narrative on race by analyzing two mutually-supportive levels of national identity maintenance.  Starting with case studies of hundreds of individual “Japanese Only” businesses, Embedded Racism carefully analyses the construction of Japanese identity through legal structures, statute enforcement, public policy, and media messages.  It reveals how the concept of a “Japanese” has been racialized to the point where one must look “Japanese” to be treated as one.


This augurs ill for Japan’s future.  With Japan’s low birthrate, aging society, and decreasing population, one hope for Japan’s revitalization, after more than two “lost decades” of economic stagnation, is immigration.  However, if people (including Japanese citizens) face phenotypical barriers to integration and acceptance, then Japan will not be able to reverse its demographic decline by creating “new Japanese”.  Thus, the systemic treatment of what the author calls Japan’s “Visible Minorities” is the “canary in the coal mine” for Japan’s future economic vitality and solvency.


Completely revised and updated for this Second Edition (with 100 new pages including landmark events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Covid Pandemic, and the Carlos Ghosn Case; more details below), Embedded Racism is the product of three decades of research and fieldwork by a scholar living in Japan as a naturalized Japanese citizen. It offers a perspective into how Japan's entrenched, misunderstood, and deliberately overlooked racial discrimination not only undermines Japan's economic future but also emboldens white supremacists worldwide who see Japan as their template ethnostate.

The Second Edition has a brand-new concluding chapter that argues that Japan’s racism is not only hurting Japan demographically, it is undermining liberal democracies worldwide.  Japan's Netto Uyoku (far-right internet denizens) have for decades successfully beta-tested internet templates that mobilize racially-motivated hatred, and these have been widely adopted by alt-right trolls worldwide.  No longer is Japan merely a place for Neocon policymakers to indulge as “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier in Asia” for the sake of containing communism.  Japan’s long-ignored racism has empowered ethnostatists and white supremacists (such as Steve Bannon, who explicitly calls former PM Abe Shinzo “Trump before Trump”) to influence public opinion, and shift the course of political campaigns and the outcome of elections in favor of the illiberal racists found in every society.


In this revised edition, Debito Arudou offers more trenchant explication of what it means to be able to identify as “Japanese” in today’s Japan—and not. Arudou's analysis underscores that even with the guise of “diversity,” Japanese government policies themselves undermine the future health of the nation. Contrary to expanding Japan’s future possibilities, the “embedded racism” sponsored by the country’s elite is leading only to Japan’s economic and social decay. -- Alexis Dudden, University of Connecticut

This is a valuable update that reinforces the author’s analysis of how racial discrimination is endemic and harmful not only in managing demographic problems but also Japan’s global relations. The author explains how wide the gulf is between Japan’s governing elite and global norms. Readers also learn how non-citizen residents have endured an intensified Othering during the pandemic that belies official preening on diversity. -- Jeffrey Kingston, Temple University Japan

Debito has made intellectual enemies in Japan, but they struggle to match his depth of understanding, erudition, and commitment. He brings those qualities to bear in the revised edition of his classic text Embedded Racism. The book is the summation of a life spent trying to understand the internal logic that justifies and embeds racism not just in Japan, but everywhere. -- David A. McNeill, University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo

This book has been completely updated and revised. The previous edition covered up to 2015, and a lot has happened to make the situation for Japan’s Visible Minorities and foreign residents both better and worse:
Summary of the First Edition in "Tackle embedded racism before it chokes Japan", Japan Times, November 1, 2015.
Summary of the First and Second Editions in "Japan's Fast Breeder Reactor of Racism", Shingetsu News Agency, November 22, 2021.

Reviews and critical acclaim for the First Edition (2015)

Front and Back Cover of Embedded Racism "Recommended Reading" -- Dr. Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan, writing in The Japan Times, December 19, 2015.
As this book is updated for its Second Edition, it remains the culmination of nearly thirty five years of researching and living in Japan—from around the time I first visited in 1986 to the present day. I have always been intrigued by how some normalized images of Japan did not square with what I was experiencing in everyday life. Despite being friendly and hospitable to guests, very progressive in unexpected ways, and open enough to outside things to co-opt them (even the music for Japan’s national anthem was written by a foreigner), Japan has a palpable undercurrent of exclusionism. It is both subtle (e.g., ideas and proposals dismissed due to their “lack of precedent”) and overt (e.g., “No Foreigners Allowed” signs—the subject of my related book “Japanese Only”: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan). As I stayed longer, became fluent in Japanese, and felt acculturated and comfortable in Japanese society (to the point of taking Japanese citizenship and giving up my American), I saw the exclusionism more and more—and wanted to understand it.

As a social scientist, I like figuring out why societies behave in patterns, i.e., “why people generally do this and not that”. I eventually arrived at answers that transcended the tautological “cultural” explanations, i.e., “Japanese do this because they are Japanese”. That mattered to me. I never liked “culture” as an explanation for human behavior, since a) “culture” is hard to define, and eclipses individual choice and foible, b) it is often a “black box” that encages researcher curiosity, and c) I assume that people anywhere are generally rational: they do things because those things are in their best interests. I do not think people are unthinking “prisoners of culture”. In most cases there is a system—a collection of logics and incentives—that occasions behavior, and in this research one that encourages people to behave inclusively or exclusively. Even if those belief systems initially made no sense to me, they made sense to someone. My quest in this book was to find out how they made sense to people, and to quantify how they were underpinned by rules, customs, mores, and procedures.

Exclusionism in Japan (especially that of the racialized ilk) has been one big puzzle, taking me decades to deconstruct, then reconstruct a coherent picture of why a society as kind and conscientious as Japan’s can be so cold and unsympathetic towards people perceived as outsiders. But as we consider in this book how racism takes shape in Japanese society, one conclusion I would like readers to internalize immediately is that Japan should not be treated as “special”—again, that “Japanese do this because they are uniquely Japanese” thing.  That generally leads to the conclusion of “Japanese racism isn’t really racism as we know it in the West—it’s just something that the Japanese reflexively do as cultural practices.” Succumbing to that narrative invites all sorts of exceptionalism that is ungrounded—and it causes enormous cognitive dissonance when Japan is called upon to observe the international standards of human rights set forth under the international treaties it signed. (As we shall see later in this book, Japan officially takes advantage of this “unique” exceptionalist narrative to avoid addressing its own racism.) Avoiding this logical pitfall is not just a matter of normative principle. As I argue in the last chapter, Japan’s racialized nation-state membership processes are so exclusionary that they are undermining the very fabric of Japanese society: Japan is strangling itself demographically on its Embedded Racism. And as I argue in the new Afterword for this Second Edition, Japan’s Embedded Racism is in fact undermining the world’s democracies.

In sum, Japan is no exception, especially to the world’s racialization processes, and it deserves similar critique for racism. I believe that Japanese society behaves like any other—it just does it with an internal logic that is “special” and “unique” in ways that all societies are special and unique. This book seeks to unspool the internal logic that justifies and embeds racism. I hope you find its arguments compelling.

Table of Contents:

Part One: The Context of Racism in Japan
Chapter One: Racial Discrimination in Japan: Contextualizing the Issue
Chapter Two: How Racism 'Works' in Japan

Part Two: “Japanese Only”: Examples of Racial Discrimination
Chapter Three: Case Studies of “Japanese Only” Exclusionary Businesses

Part Three: The Construction of Japan’s Embedded Racism
Chapter Four: Legal Constructions of 'Japaneseness'
Chapter Five: How 'Japaneseness' is Enforced through Laws
Chapter Six: A 'Chinaman’s Chance' in Japanese Court
Chapter Seven: From Foreign Fetishization to Fear in the Japanese Media

Part Four: Challenges to Japan’s Exclusionary Narratives
Chapter Eight: Maintaining the Binary despite Domestic and International Pressure

Part Five: Discussion and Conclusions
Chapter Nine: Putting the Concept of 'Embedded Racism' to Work
Chapter Ten: 'So What?' Why Japan’s 'Embedded Racism' Matters: Japan’s Bleak Future
Chapter Eleven for the Second Edition:  Japan's Embedded Racism Undermines the World's Democracies

Appendix One: Sakanaka’s "Big Japan” vs. “Small Japan”
Appendix Two: This Research’s Debt to Critical Race Theory
Glossary, Bibliography, Index

Second Edition Hardcover, January 2022, 514 pages

ISBN-10 : ‎ 179365395X
ISBN-13 : ‎ 978-1793653956
ebook ISBN: 978-1-7936-5396-3

Subjects:  Social Science / Political Science / Asian Studies / Law and Social Justice / Discrimination and Race Relations / Ethnic Studies / Minority Studies / Sociology


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