Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity

Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity

Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity

Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity

Synopsis

The Japanese have traditionally projected themselves as a culturally and racially homogenous society. After years of marginalization, many of the 'hidden' minorities in Japan are now beginning to challenge this image by reasserting their cultural identities. Japan's Minorities identifies the six principal minority groups in Japan:* the Ainu* the Burakumin* the Chinese* the Koreans* the Nikkeijin* the OkinawansThe contributors to this volume show how the Japanese have incorporated events such as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings into a 'Japaneseness' which excludes these minorities. The chapters provide clear historical introductions to particular groups and put their experiences in the context of contemporary Japanese society.

Excerpt

Early in the twentieth century, in The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois predicted that issues of ‘race’, or, in his terms, the ‘Colour Line’ would be the defining problem of the twentieth century (Du Bois 1961:23). Given both the historical context within which the prediction was made and the evidence which marches across our television screens on a daily basis, there can be little doubt that ‘race’ remains a primary determinant of social relations. Nevertheless, while the invidious imagery of ‘biological’ superiority and inferiority certainly informs some contemporary forms of racism, there is reason to doubt the universal explanatory power of a colonial inspired paradigm of ‘race’. In the first place, emphasis on the ‘Colour Line’, as conceptualized by Du Bois, runs the risk of reifying skin colour, of ignoring the fact that the visibility of somatic difference is itself a social construct. Of course, the existence of physical differences between human populations is not disputed here. Of far greater relevance are the processes of signification which attribute meaning to these differences. Historically, moreover, a wide range of both physiological and cultural characteristics, either real or imagined, have been employed as natural or ‘racial’ signifiers. The assumption that one historically specific instance of signification can provide an adequate explanation for all forms of ‘racial’ exclusion, ignores evidence which illustrates that other populations (the Jews in central Europe, Koreans, Chinese, Burakumin, Ryukyuan/Okinawan and Ainu in Japan) have been signified as distinct and inferior ‘races’ without reference to the colour stigmata. Indeed, as one of the contributors to this volume argues, the construction of ‘Otherness’ can be projected on to either real or imagined populations. Here, parallels can be found in the recrudescence of anti-Semitism in parts of central Europe where the Jewish presence was eliminated some fifty years ago.

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