In fact, Japan is a multiethnic society

Controversy was caused over a commercial released by a sporting goods maker on the Internet in November 2020.

In the commercial, Koreans in Japan and schoolgirls who seem to have roots in Africa are discriminated against and bullied at school and worry whether they should be in Japan or not, but try to overcome the problem through sports.

The pros and cons of the commercial were raised on the Internet. While people with a positive opinion said that they were moved by it or sympathized or empathized with it, others had an opinion that the commercial makes foreigners imagine that all Japanese bully ethnic minorities, or that there is little such discrimination in Japan in the first place.

Moreover, there was a critical opinion that, though there is cruel racial discrimination in the United States, contempt for Japan was shown by the commercial, as the creators shut their eyes to their own faults, as the parent company of the sporting goods maker is in the United States.

It was reported that the commercial was viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube within about one week since its release and that 250,000 comments were posted on Twitter, including retweets. It shows that the commercial attracted very considerable interest.

I took notice of the fact that the commercial raised controversy.

One of factors behind the opinion that there is little discrimination in Japan, for example, may be that the present situation of Japanese society is not properly recognized. In other words, before the recognition of whether there is discrimination or not, quite a few Japanese recognize that the issue of discrimination against or bullying of foreigners is that of other countries, as very few foreigners live in Japan. Therefore, Japanese people may believe that very little such discrimination or bullying exists in Japanese society.

It seems that such recognition is premised on the understanding of the fact that Japan is an ethnically homogeneous nation. In Japanese society, foreigners are, so to speak, considered visitors who visit Japan for sightseeing or business, only stay temporarily and return to their countries someday.

As Japanese treat such people as visitors without having a deep connection with them, they think that there is no discrimination against foreigners in Japan.

However, about 3 million foreign nationals live in Japan. About 500,000 children have been born in Japan through international marriage. In addition, it is said that about 500,000 people have acquired Japanese nationality. In other words, about 4 million people who have their roots in foreign countries live in Japan.

The people who have their roots in foreign countries are not visitors but rather immigrants who live in Japan. However, the category of immigrant is hardly recognized in Japanese society.

Japan is not an ethnically homogeneous nation but already a nation with immigrants, in which people with various ethnic and cultural backgrounds live. Naturally, various types of discord and problems may be caused in Japan. However, if people do not recognize that Japanese society is one in which many immigrants live, such types of discord and problems will not be recognized. In other words, discord and problems will not be visualized.

Therefore, regarding the commercial mentioned at the beginning, some opine that contempt for Japanese society was shown by the commercial while some insist that there is no such thing as discrimination in the Japanese society.

So why has such a situation emerged? I think that it is because the government has not properly given a message that Japan is a multiethnic society, and the existence of immigrants is thus not visualized.

Germany adopts a policy different from Japan’s

As the labor force is markedly decreasing in Japan due to the rapidly aging population and chronically low birth rate, Japan has been expanding the system of accepting foreign workers. Messages concerning the framework are often reported.

However, at the same time, the government has conveyed the message that the Technical Intern Training Program and the Specified Skilled Worker System are not systems under which foreigners are allowed to settle in Japan. In other words, in principle, they are not systems for accepting immigrants, and the ethnic homogeneity of Japanese society will thus be maintained. However, the actual conditions are quite different.

In fact, Germany was in the same state as that of present Japan a short time ago. Germany accepted many foreign workers in the postwar restoration period of the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, in about 2000, Germany became an immigrant nation in which 7.3 million foreigners lived, while its total population was about 82 million.

However, although that was the reality, Germany continued to insist that it was an ethnically homogeneous nation and not an immigrant nation, over many years. Consequently, considerable confusion and various social problems emerged, including discrimination and movements against foreigners.

In response, from the 2000s, the German federal government gave a message that German society was one in which many immigrants lived and made public data about immigrants to convey their actual conditions widely to the society.

At the same time, the federal government started to take public support measures so that immigrants could settle smoothly in Germany. Regarding an integration course comprising courses in German, and German culture and history, for example, the government established a public system for the course at a national level.

Naturally, those measures alone are not sufficient to resolve the discrimination and discord. Moreover, there is also an argument that the measures are an assimilation policy rather than multicultural coexistence.

However, when a plan for building a mosque is made in an area in which many Muslim immigrants live, for example, there may often be opposition from German society. The municipality, local residents, and Muslim immigrants then have negotiations to establish a mutually satisfying middle ground by compromise.

Thus, though there are various problems, Germany gives a public message that many immigrants live in the country, by sharing the actual conditions, to seek broad understanding from German society. At the same time, it is trying to form a basis for coexistence by carrying out the integration policy for immigrants and providing support so that immigrants can have active connections in German society.

Lack of foreigners coming to Japan for work

In Japan, the Act on Promotion of Japanese-language Education was promulgated and enforced in 2019, and the national and local governments and companies have a responsibility to provide Japanese-language education to foreigners pursuant to that Act. However, as it is considered that no immigrants are in Japan, an integration policy centered on state-led course in Japanese is not concretely predicted to be formulated, unlike in Germany. The present situation is too unreliable compared with Germany.

I visited a Japanese-language class in some prefecture a few years ago. Persons who retired from teaching came from neighboring prefectures at their own expense and served as a volunteer teacher. Moreover, the class was given in the same room as a culture class that older people in the area enjoyed. In such a situation, students may not be able to learn Japanese in a concentrated way.

In the criticism on the commercial mentioned at the beginning, there was an opinion that the creators showed contempt for Japan while shutting their eyes to racial discrimination in American society, but this view is too simple.

Since its foundation, at least, the United States has advocated that it is an immigrant nation and has implemented policies under which its diversity is recognized. So, in the United States, though there is discrimination by white people against African Americans, an African American, Mr. Obama, took office as President of the United States, and Ms. Kamala Harris, whose father is African American and whose mother is Asian, took office as the U.S. Vice-President.

By contrast, though Japan is a nation in which there are many immigrants, it has still carried out only a policy of accepting foreigners temporarily on the premise that Japan is an ethnically homogeneous nation, in the present situation. Doesn’t Japan need to review its present situation before it criticizes other countries?

I often hear the argument that, if the number of immigrants increases, the traditional culture of the country will be destroyed. However, as you can see from German society, immigrants make efforts to gain understanding from the local community in building a mosque. It is never a simple situation whereby German people widen their outlook and perspective of the world at the cost of their culture.

If anything, immigrants make an all-out effort to learn the German language and German lifestyle by taking the integration course. Otherwise, they will have difficulties in daily life and getting employed in Germany. Moreover, second-generation immigrants who are born in Germany to parents from foreign countries and think of Germany as their hometown have received education in German schools since childhood, and are not culturally foreign to German society.

In fact, the same has occurred in Japan. This is because second-generation immigrants are people who are raised in Japanese society.

Discrimination or alienation just because someone looks different than Japanese may cause people to become isolated and Japanese society to be divided.

In the refugee crisis in 2015, Germany accepted many refugees under the slogan of “Welcome Culture.” Many volunteers were engaged then in support for the acceptance of refugees. It was considered that the perception of refugees that people had through media was changed through actual exchanges with them.

We are apt to have a prejudice against or a stereotype of immigrants through the media, but such prejudice or image can be reduced through actual exchanges, even though they may not be dispelled entirely.

If Japan promotes a multicultural coexistence, it is essential for the government to first profess that Japan is a society in which many immigrants live and to take the lead in implementing measures to support immigrants.

As this is not being carried out, Japan’s ideas and policies concerning diversity and multicultural coexistence are weak, and remain at the surface level.

If such a situation continues, it can be expected that few foreign people will come to work in Japan, resulting in a prolonged labor shortage.

* The information contained herein is current as of July 2021.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

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