Multiethnic Japan

Multiethnic Japan

Multiethnic Japan

Multiethnic Japan

Excerpt

If the dominant view of modern Japanese society were correct, then Multiethnic Japan would be either an oxymoron or an occasion for a very short essay. The received wisdom is that Japan is monoethnic. Edwin O. Reischauer (1988:33), the leading Japanologist of his generation, wrote: “the Japanese today are the most thoroughly unified and culturally homogeneous large bloc of people in the world,” with “the possible exception of the North Chinese” (see, however, Eberhard 1982; Honig 1992). Moreover: “Race looms large in the self-image of the Japanese, who pride themselves on the ‘purity’ of their blood” (Reischauer 1988:396). In Japan Today, Roger Buckley (1990:82) declaims: “No other major industrial society has anything approaching the racial homogeneity of Japan.” The opinion of Western Japanologists is shared by Japanese scholars. Bito Masahide (1993:17), an eminent Japanese historian, remarks: “we are in reality of a singular ethnicity.” A Japanese sociologist asserts: “Japan is more racially and ethnically homogeneous than almost any other modern nation” (Kumagai 1996:9). In 1986 Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro declared that “Japan has one ethnicity (minzoku), one state (kokka), and one language (gengo)” and drew a favorable contrast to the multiethnic United States (Terazawa 1990:64–65).

Many Japanese believe that they live in a monoethnic society, which they also regard as one of their most distinctive—and, some would add, positive—characteristics. The assumption that Japan is a monoethnic society is widely shared not just by scholars of Japan and the Japanese themselves but also by virtually everyone else. A study of Japanese Americans, for example, notes that Japanese “are among the most homogeneous people in the world, on both physical and cultural dimensions” (O’Brien and Fugita . . .

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