ERISA TAKEDA WRITES – Japan’s Justice Ministry wants to answer what is apparently a pressing question for the country: Are we racists?


The ministry has announced that it will be sending out surveys of questionnaires to foreign residents written in 13 different languages to ask about their experiences of discrimination. The results are slated to be released in March 2017.


The survey comes in reponse to cases of  alleged human rights violations in 2015, as well as protests against hate speeches and racism in Osaka and Tokyo. But there’s also been international pressure to address racism: the UN human has called on Japan to address the issue, particularly regarding discrimination against Koreans.


As the number of foreign residents continues to grow in Japan, reports of discrimination have simultaneously increased. These include reports of people being denied hotel reservations and apartment leases and children being bullied in school.


One of the most severely targeted foreign groups is Koreans, many of whom are descendants of forced laborers from the Japanese imperial era who do not yet have Japanese citizenship. Right-wing extremist groups, such as Zitokukai, have done all they can to make Koreans feel unwelcome. This group has described Koreans as “criminals” and “cockroaches” and called for their deaths.


On the brighter side, Japan finally passed a law against hate speech in June. In conjunction with the racism survey, this could be light at the end of a tunnel of a past marked by an isolation that’s lasted over three centuries. While this period of Sakoku has sustained beautiful aspects of Japanese traditions and culture, it has also, in a way, nurtured a certain mentality against foreigners.


The racism survey will not eradicate racism in Japan. But it shows the country is facing a deep-rooted truth, a truth that it is not at all only a country that welcomes millions of foreign travellers, but also one that is severely racist. Whatever actions the government decides to take using the knowledge gleaned from the responses will ultimately be more important. As Japan prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to welcome people from all over the world, it is in the country’s interest to prioritize and address the issue of racism and hate speech.

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