Minorities real and fictive

New intents and old habits

By William Wetherall

Posted here are the dozens of articles I have published over the past three decades -- in books, pamphlets, journals, magazines, and newspapers -- about minorities in Japan and related topics. The older articles reflect more the history of my outlook than what I think today.

I would like to say that most of what I considered "facts" thirty years ago are still "facts" today. Facts, though, have no meaning without interpretation. And it is mostly my earlier interpretations of facts that I have had to change.

In the past I accepted conventional interpretations because I had no reason to think they were wrong. I simply believed them. They seemed to be true because they were stamped with authority. They continue to be fashionable because they continue to be endorsed by professors and journalists who appear to be authorities.

At some point, though, I began to suspect that much of the opinion I grew up with did not explain the facts. I now find reason to think that some of the "facts" are also wrong.

One million what?

I have learned, since beginning to study the topic of "minorities", that counting "1,000,000 people" is a monkey-level exercise. Any petty official armed with a mandate to conduct a census can come up with a ballpark figure for how many people reside in this or that locality.

The problem is that you cannot characterize 1,000,000 people as "1,000,000 beans" without proof that they are in fact "beans" -- and without their acknowledgment that they are "beans" as opposed to "residents" or just "people" like the heads counted in adjacent localities.

In the 1970s I estimated that there were "2,000,000 burakumin" in Japan. This figure was a compromise between the "3,000,000" claimed by "buraku liberation" organizations, and the "1,000,000" actually counted in localities officially recognized as having once been outcaste settlements.

Today I would totally reject the 3,000,000 figure as politically motivated hype. And while 1,000,000 would still be acceptable as a round figure for the number of people who reside in localities that are officially listed as vestiges of yesteryear's outcaste settlements, I now reject the idea that it is appropriate to call them "burakumin" -- rather than just "residents" or "people" like everyone else.

In fact, there are no outcastes in Japan by any name and haven't been since 1871. Allegations to the contrary are simply academic and journalistic fictions. And such fictions are perpetuated by interests other than those of the people the New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof insisted were "outcasts" and called "burakumin" 86 times in a single article he wrote in 1995 entitled "Japan's Invisible Minority: Better Off Than in Past, But Still Outcasts" (The New York Times, 30 November 1995, page 18).

Living in a glass house

I am barely in a position to criticize Kristof. Thirty years ago I would have praised him, thought him brilliant, even courageous. Today I simply shake my head. Not out of pity but because, in earlier incarnations, I did the same thing he did -- not once, but many times. And I have to be careful, when writing, not to revert to old habits.

The kindest thing I can say about my earliest research on "minorities in Japan" is that it was enthusiastic and impressive. Enthusiastic because I truly believed in what I was doing and put a lot of energy into it. Impressive because I broke just enough academic conventions in writing about "minorities in Japan", while following most of the rules, to get a lot of favorable attention from academic mentors and peers.

Berkeley was an exciting place to be in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was blessed with unlimited opportunities, resources, and support that, looking back, I will always appreciate. What I am today, in terms of my dynamic approach to understanding the human condition, is largely thanks to the inspiration and encouragement I received from George De Vos in the Department of Anthropology -- while my standards of research were mostly informed by Helen and William McCullough in the Department of Oriental Languages (now called East Asian Languages).

It was George De Vos, of course, who most directly influenced my understanding and writing about minorities like "burakumin" and "Koreans in Japan". It was mostly his ideas I extended into other these and other "groups" I began to list by the dozens.

De Vos got a lot a things right. And his insights into the human condition continue to amaze me. But the sort of "understandings" one usually arrives at when studying "minorities" as "groups" -- contrasted with "majorities" or "the mainstream" as "a group" -- I now find highly misleading and even counterproductive -- if the purpose of research is to illuminate, rather than fabricate, social truths.

Where things stand

However cosmopolitan and learned its student body and faculties, and well-equipped and provided its libraries, Berkeley is remote and isolated from Japan. Living in Japan for over three decades, while dealing with matters I never imagined while studying Japanese and the history and literature and anthropology and sociology of Japan at Berkeley, has led me to seriously revise my own thinking about all manner of subjects -- not just "minorities", and not just related to Japan.

In a word -- much of what I was taught or otherwise came around to believing must be true about "minorities" in general, and about "minorities in Japan" in particular, has turned out to be other than true. Mistaken assumptions and misinformation rather than lies, but nonetheless distorted if not simply wrong.

Mistaken assumptions and misinformation continue to malnourish much of what is written about "minorities in Japan" even today. The "even" in this remark points to another false hope -- that understanding will improve simply because more money is spent to train more researchers and disseminate their findings. With few exceptions, conventional beliefs about "minorities in Japan" are simply being recycled in the politically correct jargon of postmodernist "discourse" -- particularly outside Japan.

Reading what I have written over the years does not depress me so much as remind me how much I have had to "unlearn" while becoming aware of new facts and flaws in older interpretations. The dull pain felt in mental muscles forced to twist and stretch in new ways and directions is actually exhilarating.

Please first read the general overviews that follow on this page, by clicking on the color highlighted (gray, blue, and purple) headings on the menu. Then read the color highlighted (yellow and green) articles. Many of the other articles also contain a lot of still credible information and opinion, but they are also more apt to be dated.

16 January 2006


Counter reports

Here you will find my critiques of current reports by advocacy organizations and government agencies, and critiques of controversial books, films, and other materials.

The critiques are grouped under headings that are also found elsewhere on the menu. Counter reports related to ICERD are under "Racialization" because this UN treaty concerns race, and advocacy organizations that are lobbying the CERD to pressure Japan to comply with their demands are attempting to "racialize" Japanese law.



Here you will find articles about topics that concern all people, but are here examined in relation to one or more categorical minority. Some of the articles may also be listed under the minority.



All general articles, encompassing many topics about one or more categorical minority, will be found here.



Crime is often an issue in disputes over whether a given cohort is a threat to other cohorts. Official crime statistics are periodically released and reported to the public through mass media. Reports typically feature gross number of incidents, and crude incidence -- an incident rate computed as a simple ratio of total incidents to total population.

Gross figures invite misunderstanding when, for example, it is reported that there were "fewer" teen crimes last year but changes in the teen population are not considered. If the population is rising, then "fewer" is unquestionably good news. But "fewer" could mean "worse" if the teen population fell by a greater percent than the fall in teen crime.

While "teens" might seem like a small enough cohort, reporting crude (static) incidence of occurrence of teen crimes may not resolve ambiguities about whether crime is really "increasing" or "decreasing" -- since one can divide "teens" into "low teens" and "high teens", and their demographics might be different -- i.e., the population of one might be increasing, while that of the other is decreasing.

Such problems are compounded when reporting adult crime stats. Males and more likely to commit crimes than females, and males in their 20s and 30s are more likely to commit crimes of all kinds than younger or older males. So changes in the proportion of males in these age cohorts greatly affect the gross number of crimes, and therefore the crude crime rate, even when the total population remains the same.

Breakdowns by nationality

When annual crime reports include breakdowns by nationality, interpretation problems arise because no consideration is made for differences in the age and sex compositions of different nationality cohorts. While no increase in crime, by any cohort, is welcome, an increase does not necessarily mean that a cohort is more criminal.

If vastly more younger Chinese men migrate to Japan than older Chinese men, or than Chinese women of any age cohort, crimes by "Chinese" will naturally increase. Are these Chinese more criminally inclined that Japanese or other nationality cohorts in Japan? Are they more criminally inclined that Chinese in China?

Such questions cannot be answered with the sort of data that the National Police Agency includes in its press kits to the media. More refined data is annual compilations of crime statistics. But journalists and scholars are generally not motivated to dig into these statistics -- which, in any case, will not facilitate answering the more difficult comparative questions.

Given this climate of innumeracy on the part of the police, media, and even academia, one needs to keep in mind -- when encountering crime statistics in newspaper reports or on newscasts -- that figures for different nationalities, prefectures, and other cohorts cannot be directly compared without refining and correcting them for differences in age and sex composition. Other factors, like marital status and employment, may also effect the underlying or "dynamic" rates for a given cohort.

Sufficient data available

All the data required to compute more accurate crime indices for resident aliens are available. Crime statistics are annually compiled by nationality, sex, and age group. Resident populations are also annually compiled by nationality and age group.

See an example of a recent breakdown of resident aliens by nationality, sex, and age in "Resident aliens, sex and age" under "Foreigners".

Rainichi gaikokujin

Since the late 1990s, the National Police Agency has been making a distinction between "rainichi gaikokujin" and other foreigners in Japan. So-called "rainichi gaikokujin" are literally "foreigners who have come to Japan" and stay on short-term visas. Excluded from this category are foreigners with permanent residence status (general or special), most of whom are Koreans and Chinese -- and foreigners with long-term status, most of whom are Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry and their accompanying families.

Although NPA has been compiling crime statistics by nationality all along, it now publicizes only the "rainichi gaikokujin" figures -- presumably because this gives the a clearer picture of crime being committed by recent migrants. However, the "rainichi gaikokujin" cohort excludes large numbers of relative new comers who are granted long-term status upon entry.

As it turns out, the nationality most represented by gross "rainichi gaikokujin" crime figures are Chinese. And Chinese take the brunt of the sense of "peril" being created in mass media -- all because the police don't bother to factor in the effects of differences in sex and age composition.



Here you will find presentations of statistics on intermarriage in Japan by nationality. There are many kinds of intermarriage between people of different qualities, such as faith, race, generation, interests in music. Nationality is just another variable, and its value or import will differ with each couple.

Though fashionable to speak of marriages between individuals of different nationalities as "international", they are such only in consequence of how laws classify people by their nationality -- an artifact of how states brand individuals they regard as their nationals. Ultimately, marriage is a union of two people, not of states or nations.

By definition, intermarriage requires accommodation of the implied differences. Nationality differences are formally nothing more than a difference in legal status. However, being of a different nationality than the mainstream often implies that one is an immigrant or descendant of an immigrant. And this often implies racial, linguistic, and other differences that might constitute added barriers in what would ordinarily be just a boy-girl relationship.

Fortunately, Japan has no race boxes. Hence any commentary about the putative raciality or ethnicity of couples in Japan, based only on knowledge of their different nationalities, has to be both speculative and racialist. Nothing specific or credible can be said about the extent of such differences or their impact on the basis of only nationality.

The statistics presented here tell only one story: X individuals of one nationality have married Y individuals of another. And such quantities can be expressed as ratios or rates.

On the surface, the rate that minority nationals marry majority nationals is a measure of how many minority nationals assimilate into the mainstream through marriage, and how many majority nationals accept minority nationals through marriage. Such a rate is therefore, first and foremost, an indicator of mutual acceptance on the part of the individuals who marry. Yet is is also an index of the extent that both their families and society at large discounts nationality as a dissuasive impediment to marriage.

The higher an intermarriage rate for a given combination of nationalities, the less it would seem that people are concerned about the "differences" that difference in nationality implies. And if a higher rate of intermarriage is a mark of tolerance in society, then Japan has to be regarded as fairly tolerant.


Human rights

Rights, like beauty, do not define themselves. Does a mother have the right to nurse her child whenever and wherever? Does the public have the right to prevent her from doing what is natural?

What is natural?

Are human rights natural? Are truths ever self-evident? Are people really born equal? Are we truly endowed with unalienable rights, among them "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" -- Thomas Jefferson's adaptation of John Locke?

No, no, no, and no.

The notion that rights are natural -- something we have simply because we are human -- is untenable. All rights are conferred by states, churches, and other brokers of power, including an individual acting alone. Someone standing up and claiming "This is my right!" is no less an agent of authority.

No, rights don't fall from trees. They are defined, declared, and defended.

Truths are never self-evident. They are no more, and no less, that what you believe. And if you believe that people are born equal, and possess the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then much of what is being done in the name of "human rights" becomes impossible.

In practice, many human rights are accorded upon recognition that people are not equal -- or that some people are more equal than others, as it were. All manner of measures of difference -- like gender, age, ability, and wealth -- are used to justify making compensations for the inequalities in the conditions of human existence.

Race and ethnicity have also been regarded as traits which confer advantages or disadvantages that require equalization in the form of racial preferences in employment or school admissions. Otherwise known as affirmative action.

The achievement of one measure of equality (proportional representation, for example) requires setting quotas that can only be met by implementing unequal measures of quality (lower or higher bars depending on an applicant's race, ethnicity, gender, whatever). Discrimination becomes a tool for fighting discrimination.

Is there anything less natural, or more political, than the notion of human rights?



Here are a just a few of my articles about, and reviews and translations of, fictional stories featuring minorities. Other such articles, and my own short stories with minority characters, can be found in the "Literature" section.

Writers who qualify as "people of color or women" are of two extremes. One wants to be known as a "novelist" or whatever. The other wants to be known as a "Native American poet" or as an "Chinese American playwright" or whatever.

Some bookstores integrate their shelves. Others separate works by certain minority and female writers from their main offerings. Publishers, too, are divided over whether to promote a given work as just a work of literature, or as a work of minority or female literature.

In Japan, too, there is a debate as to whether "Japanese" fiction means fiction written by anyone "in Japanese", or fiction written "by Japanese" in any language. There has been some degree of "minoritizing" literature, as in 1971 when the Akutagawa Prize was given to both Karafuto-born Yi Hoe Song (Ri Kaisei) for "Kinuta o utsu onna" [The woman who pounded cloth] and Okinawa-born Azuma Mineo for "Okinawa no shonen" [Okinawan boy].

Some expats and returnees, as well as a few Europeans and Americans, have also been exceptionalized as minority writers. For the most part, though, works by minority writers are integrated into the mainstream fiction shelves in bookstores. Many stores separate contemporary and historical fiction, and may separately shelf contemporary fiction by women. Translated fiction may also be shelved apart from original Japanese fiction.

Inevitably there are writers, publishers, and readers who feel that different genres of fiction should be read for different reasons and judged by different standards. As with music, though, I prefer to let my ear, not my eye, decide if a story is good.



See the "Medicine" section for articles I have written which touch upon discrimination against HIV carriers, lepers, and the mentally ill.

People who suffer from debilitating medical conditions, whether acquired genetically or through malnutrition, infection, or accident, often experience discrimination. Others avoid them, stare at them, or make fun of their appearance or condition. Or refuse them admission or service.

Medical minorities constitute the largest group of socially discriminated people, if one leaves women (or even men) off the list. The variety of actual and potential medical minorities is truly staggering -- people who are physically and/or mentally less abled, victims of mercury poisoning and other environmental pollutants, and all manner of other people who become conspicuous as a result of having been born less healthy or losing their health at some point in life.

Even Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors and their offspring, who are thought have higher risks of certain kinds of cancer as a result of radiation exposure, are in some sense a medical minority.

Unusually tall or short, skinny or fat, and beautiful or ugly people are stigmatized by how they regard their appearance in comparison with others, and how they are affected the attention they attract from others.

Left-handed and extremely bright people may also qualify as medical minorities. But those whose organ symmetry is reversed, whose hearts are on the right instead of the left, are merely medical anomalies.



The articles here show that Japanese names come in all sizes, colors, and flavors. Someone named Kim or Wagner could be Japanese. Someone named Watanabe or Yamaguchi could be Korean, Canadian, Russian, Italian, or anything.

The articles also explore the universal phenomenon of changing a name, or adopting alternative names -- to assimilate or pass, to avoid unwanted attention or to gain attention.

See Soshi kaimei myths for a look at how the attempt by the Governor-General of Chosen to impose prefectural family laws on Chosenjin, in 1940, created considerable confusion at the time, and how the facts are distorted today.



Here you will find a few articles dealing with minority athletes, including Rikidozan, Oh Sadaharu, and a few sumo wrestlers.

Equal inequalities

The world of sports may seem to be a level playing field when it comes to racial, ethnic, and other forms of discrimination, but what you see in sports today reflects the social conditions that produce many of the athletes who represent categorical minorities. If all you do is play basketball or baseball or compete in track and field events when growing up, then you are more likely to develop the skills that translate into a professional career -- all other things being equal.

And if you haven't had access to golf courses, tennis courts, ski resorts, and ice skating rinks, then you are probably not about to become an Althea Gibson or Arthur Ashe or Michael Chang or Serena or Venus Williams, or a Tiger Woods or Michelle Wie, or a Toby Dawson, or an Apolo Ohno, or a Kristi Yamaguchi or Michelle Kwan. All things, when it comes to the influence of family, being unequal.

Minorities in sports in Japan

All sports in Japan have long been open to people who are perceived to be nationally, racially, or ethnically different. Sumo, wrestling, boxing, baseball, soccer, track and field, ice skating, golf, car racing and many others sports have been arenas for individuals who have not been Japanese, or whose racial or ethnic ancestries have been other than mainstream.

I am not talking here about the importing of foreign baseball, basketball, and soccer players. I am referring to athletes who were born and raised in Japan, in the former Empire of Japan, or have more recently come to Japan to engage in sports.

Oh Sadaharu

Nationality restrictions, some of them imposed by agencies or organizations in Japan, others by global organizations like the International Olympics Association, have sometimes prevented non-Japanese from participating on national teams. Oh Sadaharu, when in high school, played in games between high schools in Japan. But his Chinese nationality disqualified him as a member of the national high school team, which represented Japan in international competition.

When recruited by the Yomiuri Giants, Oh was counted as one of two foreign players then allowed on each team. In 1976, when Harimoto Isao refused to naturalize in order to move from Lotte in the Pacific League to the Giants in the Central League, the foreign-player quota was changed to exclude players who, like Oh (born 1940) and Harimoto (born 1940), were born in Japan.

Oh, an ROC national whose father had migrated to Japan from the continent, became a national hero when he broke Hank Aaron's home run record in 1977. Oh's achievement moved Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo to create and confer on him the country's first People's Honor Award (Kokumin Eiyo Sho). Only a few critics protested that he was not a "kokumin" (Japanese).

Oh is living proof that it is possible to be patriotic without being a patriot. As I write this, in March 2006, he is in the United States, proudly coaching Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic. I cannot think of anyone in Japan as widely admired and respected as Oh Sadaharu.


Minorities in the Americas

One cannot think of the Americas -- North, Central, South -- without wondering what the New World would be like today had the Old World not "discovered" it. It had already been discovered, a number of times, certainly by waves of migrants from Northeast Asia, and most likely also by people from the South Pacific.

Some say even Jomon people from what is now Japan, and much later some Chinese, reached the west coast of the American hemisphere before Columbus, sailing from Portugal, stumbled over the Caribbean on his way to the Indies, China, and Zipangu. Whatever its pre-Columbian ethnogenesis, the peopling of the Americas after Columbus -- by all manner of European, African, and Asian migrants, not all willing -- totally changed their racial and ethnic composition.

Because the post-Columbian migration to the Americas is so recent, written and later even photographic history well clearly documents the violence and inequalities that newcomers imposed on those already there as well as against each other. It is somewhat ironic that the United States, which incorporated more racism into its earliest laws than other countries at the time, also created the legal foundations for institutionalizing human rights.

Today, all American states -- from Canada, the United States, and Mexico, to Argentina and Chile -- could best contribute to the the civilization of the world by declaring an end to the notion of "minority" as a label that may once have been useful but is now mostly divisive. For all Americans have become minorities.


Japanese Americans

Japanese Americans have become one of the more storied "minority groups" in the United States. They warrant attention because a considerable number of Americans of Japanese ancestry, residing on the west coast, were interned in "relocation centers" remote from their homes.

Were the camps, in operation between 1942 and 1946, justified? Did the camps protect Japanese Americans from other Americans, or other Americans from Japanese Americans?

Even as the camps were being built, their need was doubted by not a few people other than Japanese Americans. Try as it did, the FBI did not find any spies among Americans of Japanese ancestry. And the way in which west coast Japanese Americans submitted to the relocation order proved that there was no other cause to for other Americans to feel threatened by Japanese Americans.

Conversely, Japanese Americans living east of the line used to determine who was relocated and who remained free, and in Hawaii, were at far greater risk of drawing more negative attention than they would under ordinary circumstances. Yet they weathered the war in freedom as they continued to live like other Americans.

And many relocated Americans were allowed to leave the camps to work and even go to school in eastern localities. And of course any able and willing Japanese American was welcome in the armed forces, where many made the ultimate sacrifice -- reportedly more in proportion to their numbers than other categorical minorities in uniform.

So all the fuss by a few powerful publicists for relocation was groundless. The only reason they had their way was that they shouted louder than the few who raised their voices in objection. The vast majority of Americans, including not a few Japanese Americans, simply went along with what Richard Drinnon, borrowing a phrase from Hannah Arendt, the banality of evil -- and not just in high places.

Roosevelt may have issued the order that resulted in the mass relocation of west coast Japanese Americans. But it was their fellow Americans -- their neighbors, especially those who seemed to sympathize with their plight but only watched -- who allowed it to happen.


"Futatsu no sokoku" and "Sanga moyu"

In the early 1980s, Yamasaki Toyoko's three-volume novel Futatsu no sokoku [Two fatherlands], and the year-long 1984 NHK television drama Sanga moyu [Mountains and rivers burning] based on the novel, caused a great stir in Japan, coming as they did during a period of heightened interest Japanese Americans, World War II, and the Tokyo Tribunal.

Of particularly interest is how people responded to the novel's and the drama's portrayals of Japanese Americans before, during, and after the war. Japanese Americans, and even the Japanese American Citizens League (and through its Japan Chapter, yours truly), got involved in the debate.

The information presented in this section will eventually amount to tens of thousands of words.

See articles under Yamasaki Toyoko in the Literature section.


Native Americans



Minorities in Japan












Buraku residents

Perpetuating misinformation

When I look at the websites of other writers and scholars, I see mostly their more recent work. They may list all their works in a curriculum vitae but post only those they have written in the past few years.

I too am tempted to withhold most of my earlier work. Though a cause for praise and pride when written, much of it contains misinformation and errors that not only I but my mentors and peers mistook for the truth. Some of it is now a cause for embarrassment and laughter.

A friend who attended the Asia Europe Foundation symposium in Barcelona during November 2005, on "Beyond Black and White: Confronting Modern Realities of Racism and Xenophobia in Asia and Europe", called to tell me that someone had cited an article I had published thirty year earlier on minorities in Japan as the authority for a viewpoint that I now regard as untennable.

Written in the early 1970s, the article had been well-received as one of the most comprehensive every written in English on the subject of minorities in Japan. Yet it contained a few factual errors and perpetuated some common misunderstandings.

The article was posted on website shortly after it was launched in 1995 and continues to be posted here. No matter that I had prefaced the web version with some qualifications, and marked and corrected the most salient errors, people tend not to read such fine print. They assume that if I still post something, I consider it quotable.

Yes and no. I post older articles as material to be quoted in the light of newer material, when reviewing how writing about minorities has been changing. The older articles are posted as a record of my own thinking, even though some of my earlier thinking was wrong or misleading.

I am, of course, aware of the danger of posting older articles that contain information I now know not to be true, or interpretations I no longer endorse. I am aware that students or journalists in a hurry, trying to meet a professor's or publisher's deadline, will quote me as though that is what I think today.

People generally quote things that reflect what they want to think and want others to think. News reports and academic theses are typically full of quotations that are chosen to support the writer's opinions. This is particularly true of writing about minorities and discrimination.

Contention not proof

This was partly what I was doing when writing most of my earlier articles. I set out more to contend, than to prove, what I believed. To prove something, one has to doubt. To contend, one has only to believe.

I believed that "minority groups" existed and were victims of discrimination. I did not feel I needed to support such conventional wisdom.

It seemed obvious to me that "minority groups" were real. At the mere mention of "minority" I would rattle off the names of two dozen "groups" in Japan alone -- and stop only when those around me began to roll their eyes.

Now I find myself surrounded by people who role their eyes when I insist that "minorities" don't really exist -- at least not as "groups" or "communities" (now the more fashionable word).



Buraku censorship

Buraku censorship -- sometimes achieved through denunciations of publishers by buraku liberation organizations, mostly self-imposed by publishers who wish to avoid such confrontations -- is less a problem today than in the past.

After World War II, for the better part of four decades, the Buraku Liberation League [Buraku Kaiho Domei] (BLL) had openly used denunciation tactics to force publishers to retract words and other remarks that BLL considered discriminatory or incorrect, and use instead expressions that reflected its "buraku liberation" ideology.

In the early 1990s, though, BLL changed its ways. In the late 1980s, when all kinds of NGOs were coming into vogue, BLL created a global solidarity front called International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism [Hansabetsu Kokusai Undo] (IMADR). However, the UN turned down IMADR's request for NGO status because of reports from BLL's rival, All Japan Federation of Buraku Liberation Movements [Zenkoku Buraku Kaiho Undo Rengokai] (Zenkairen), that BLL used intimidation tactics and did not endorse the UN's principle of freedom of expression.

Another reason BLL and even Zenkairen had to change their public images in the 1990s was the weakening of the political parties which had been backing them, as socialism and communism fell from grace globally, and even China embraced capitalism. Both organizations began to talk more about "human rights" though in their respective proletarian ways.

Non-BLL viewpoints have always been available in print. But since BLL set out to prove to the UN that IMADR deserved NGO status, publications openly criticizing its goals and means and increased. A series of mooks alleging corruption in BLL's operations have been distributed nationally and republished as paperback. BLL's response was to sue the compiler and publish a rebuttal, rather than harass the publisher until he bent to its will.

While BLL continues to defend denunciation as a lawful way to express its discontent, it is much less likely to engage in the sort of intimidation that gained "buraku" the reputation of being "kowai" (frightening). Now BLL's strategy is to dominate public opinion by disseminating more information than its rivals, in English as well as Japanese, in Japan as well as overseas.

Still, some publishers who remember the old days are still reluctant to accept articles or books that mention "buraku" or otherwise touch upon the "dowa problem" -- despite the fact that BLL has said it disapproves of self-censorship.

There would be no mention of "buraku" in mass media at all if not for the efforts of BLL, IMADR, and like organizations to keep the "liberation" going indefinitely. Zenkairen (now Zenjinren), however, has been arguing that the real solution to the "buraku problem" is to liberate people from the "buraku" label and the politics that maintain it.


Buraku reviews

Here you will find some brief, some long reviews of fairly recent publication about buraku discrimination and other elements of the so-called "buraku problem".

Japanese and English publications are separated, Japanese publications coming first because they are both more numerous and more important.


Sayama case

Here you will find an overview of the Sayama case, involving possibly false charges against Ishikawa Kazuo for the slaying in 1963 of Nakata Yoshiei, when he was 24 and she was 16.

The overview includes a chronology of events surrounding (1) Nakata's murder and its investigation, (2) Ishikawa's arrest, trial, and conviction, and (3) Ishikawa's imprisonment, appeals, and eventual release on parole in 1994 after serving 30 years, and (4) Ishikawa's life and the "mistrial struggle" since his release.

A number of books on the Sayama case are also introduced.



Japan, despite its distance from Israel, has to some extent been a part of the "diaspora". Apart from the crackpots who claim that Japanese descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, a number of Jews have made their way to Japan and stayed.

Jewish travelers came to Japan in earlier periods of its history, but Jews did not begin settling in the country until the latter half of the 19th century. Settlement increased with the acceptance of some refugees following the Russian revolution in 1917, and during and after World War II.

Still, there are very few foreign, and even fewer, Japanese Jews in Japan -- compared with, say, Christians, who number one or two million (0.8 to 1.5 percent of the population). Jews probably number a few thousand, as do Muslims, who also first settled in any significant number as Russian refugees.

Despite the practically invisible presence of Jews and Judaic elements in Japan, some Japanese have been fascinated by Jewish issues in other countries. A few intellectuals have compared "the Japanese" and "the Jews" with respect to alleged similarities and differences in character. Other writers have cautioned against Jewish economic power, or have argued that Japanese should emulate superior Jewish ways.

Here you will find reviews of books that have feared or favored real or imaginary Jews for the usual stereotypic reasons. Some of these books include expressions of doubt about, if not denial of, the Holocaust.



Here you will find general articles about foreigners in Japan, by which I mean people, including stateless individuals, who are not Japanese. Articles about a specific nationality are listed under the nationality.

Alien control laws in Japan

Click Alien control laws 1945-2999 for an overview of major laws and regulations related to the legal status aliens allowed to enter Japan, and the registration of aliens permitted to reside in the country.

Registered aliens by year and country of nationality

Click Resident aliens 1947-2004 for tables showing (1) the numbers of registered aliens broken down by the six largest countries of nationality -- Kankoku/Chosen, Chugoku, Brazil, Philippines, Peru, and USA -- plus others and stateless, and (2) the same figures expressed as percents of the total for each year. Preceding the table are comments on the terminology for the names of the countries, and analyses of trends.

Permanent residents by year and country of nationality

Permanent residents by type of permanent status and nationality

Year            2000       2001       2002       2003       2004

All alien residents
Total      1,686,444  1,778,462  1,851,758  1,915,030  1,973,747 

Non-permanent residents
Total      1,028,839  1,093,609  1,137,983  1,172,067  1,195,164

All permanent residents, general and special (Eijusha)
Total        657,605    684,853    713,775    742,963    778,583

General permanent residents (Ippan eijusha)
Total        145,336    184,071    223,875    267,011    312,964
Kan/Cho       31,955     34,624     37,121     39,807     42,960
Chugoku       48,809     58,778     70,599     83,321     96,647
Brazil         9,062     20,277     31,203     41,771     52,581
Philippines   20,933     26,967     32,796     39,733     47,407
Peru           7,496     11,059     13,975     17,213     20,401
Others        27,081     32,366     38,181     45,166     52,968

Special permanent residents (Tokubetsu eijusha)
Total        512,269    500,782    489,900    475,952    465,619
Kan/Cho      507,429    495,986    485,180    471,756    461,460
Chugoku        4,151      4,060      3,924      3,406      3,306
Others           689        736        796        790        853

Kankoku/Chosen = ROK and legacy [former] Chosen
Chugoku = ROC and PRC
Others = Other foreign nationals, including stateless











Latin Americans

Most writers about Latin Americans in Japan focus on so-called Nikkeijin -- a non-legal term referring to non-Japanese who are "people related to Japan" or "people of Japanese ancestry" -- though Latin Americans in Japan include many people who are not themselves Nikkeijin, whatever their marriage or other legal ties with people who happen to be Nikkeijin.

Discussions of Nikkeijin generally tend to racialize the "related" or "ancestry" (kei) aspect of the term as used in informal references to what some laws and policies in Japan define as the alien children and grandchildren of Japanese emigrants. Legally, though, the "connection" with Japan is based entirely on a paper trail leading back to the family register of the Japanese emigrant from whom lineal descent is claimed. And Japanese family registers are not defined by race or ethnicity.

Most so-called Nikkeijin and their recognized dependents in Japan are Brazilians or Peruvians. And such aliens constitute a significant and conspicuous percentage of all aliens in Japan who have acquired the status of Long Term Residents, an non-restricted activity status of residence enabling them to freely work and live in Japan.

However, many writers overlook the fact that the Long Term Resident status was not created only to facilitate so-called Nikkeijin workers, but also refugees, war strandees, and others. And the status is available to any qualifying Nikkeijin of any nationality, whether Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Canadian, Italian, or Nigerian.


Japanese abroad

Articles about Japanese nationals living overseas are found here under region or country of residence. Non-Japanese of Japanese ancestry are not included.



Fewer Japanese have been to Korea, after World War II, than one might think, considering how close the peninsula is to Japan, and how little time it takes to get there, by air if not by sea, from major cities in Japan. More people are now going, not just as tourists but to study and even work, since things Korean, especially actors and actresses, and singers, have become popular in Japan.

You would think that I too would have been to Korea, given that I studied Korean in college and have written about the country past and present. Friends have invited me there, but I have always found excuses not to go.

I am simply not a traveler. I have traveled very little, even in California, where I was born and raised. I've never been to New York, Europe, or Tokyo Tower, and probably will never go there. My daughter, though, has been to Korea as a Japanese tourist, and my son has performed as a DJ in Seoul.


North America

There is speculation that Jomon people traveled to North America by working their way around the rim of the North Pacific. However, the earliest Japanese known to have arrived in the United States are castaways like Nakahama Manjiro (John Manjiro) in 1841, Tsunokuniya Kosome in 1859, and Hamada Hikozo (Joseph Hiko) in 1860.

But the Wakamatsu tea and silk colony, established in California in 1869, marks the first significant settlement of Japanese in North America. The 1880 census counted 148 Japanese in the United States, 86 of them in California.

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry, and as many more Japanese in the United States. Here you will find articles concerning only the latter.


The Philippines