Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The New Multicultural Japan

Picture of Nagano courtesy of Fuji Film staff

These days, it seems silly to hear the phrase "...we Japanese..." as if "Japanese," are so unique orout of the ordinary. Many Japanese are either married to a non-Japanese, have a sister that is, or know someone who is. One percent of the population of Japan is now non-Japanese and growing every year. One out of twenty-five marriages in Japan last year were between a Japanese and a non-Japanese.
Ten percent of marriages in Tokyo are now international marriages. In Osaka the number is 8%. It starts in the cities and spreads outwards, that is what trends tend to do.

Many of these marriages result in children who are Japanese and share another culture. The die has been cast, Japan is changing faster than most people realize. At my English school some of my students are studying English because they have a foreign fiance, they dream of marrying a foreigner or their sister has married a foreigner.

Koreans and Chinese account for the bulk of these multicultural numbers, but there are many peoplefrom all over the world here now, and the longer they stay, the more likely they are to marry a Japanese. Moreover, Japanese physically, will fit in nicely in all the other Asian nations. My wife was mistaken for being Thai, everywhere we went in Thailand. Many of my friends would fit in nicely in Shanghai, orKuala Lumpur, Singapore or Jakarta. Japanese after all are oriental people like most Asian people.Some Japanese want to fight this it seems, trying to state that they have unique physical characteristics,or pointing out that their clothes look different as if that matters very much. Some Japanese look like their ancestors came from India, with a very roman nose and very brown skin. Others look likethe Phillipines was the home of their ancient kin, and still others must have a family lineage linking them to Koreaor China. Some of the Indians of South America have been discovered to have very similar DNA to Japanese. What's so unique? Japanese share more with the UK than any other nation. Both share a proud, long, yet tarnished history. Both cling to the concept of being different, with not much evidence to support it. Both are struggling to come to terms with the multicultural new millenium and need to look with aless prejudiced eye towards countries like Canada for guidance. Multiculturalism is the future. It isn't a crime ridden ghetto as many Japanese seem to imagine it. It is exciting and interesting,and will make Japan a different, yet better place.

If you go to Tokyo now, you will see non-Japanese everywhere. They may own and operate the restaurantyou eat in, be your friend's boss--my friend's boss at Johnson in Yokohama is an American. He mustmeet her everyday, and speak English. I think it's great that Japan is having to open up somuch. The foreign population here adds the spice to a very stable society, without foreigners,like white rice, Japan would be a very bland place. Foreigners often act like policemen and womenin Japan, pointing out to the rule breakers, that "...this area is non-smoking." Where mostJapanese will not raise a hand in protest, a foreigner will. Foreigners help to keep theharmony and shame the rule breakers. Foreigners will point out that your dogis making a lot of noise and bothering all the neighbours. They act for the good of alland some Japanese quite frankly need a wakeup call.

I digress, yet even the Yakuza are intimidated by foreigners (to some extent at least).That comes straight from a Yakuza I had the dubious pleasure of talking to once.Very few foreigners are ever bothered by the Yakuza. We are an unknown commodity tothese punch permed bullies. Not being able to function in society on their own, and needingthe safety of an organization like the Yamaguchi Gumi to do their bidding, they feel shame whenseeing foreigners thrive in their own country; when they themselves have not been able to function,without resorting to crime. Many foreigners are big people and walk around by themselves.Whereas the Yakuza and the bosozoku like them, rely on safety in numbers.On their own, they are weaklings and cannot make a living.

You still hear the phrase, "Gaijin ga ippai," (Literally: We are full of foreigners or It is full offoreigners.") occasionally, but this is usually not a negative statement. Sometimes Japaneseare still surprised, having stuck to their stereotype of their own country as being that of:"one people" for too long. While Japan is not America, it has grudginglybecome multicultural. But with that, growing pains are evident. Ultra-racist Tokyo Governor Ishiharais not recognized as such. Most Japanese people, not having experienced racism themselves, cannotunderstand when one of their own is being racist. Even when Ishihara called Chinese by the derogatory name,"sangogujin" this was sluffed off as he being old and out of touch with modern, polite termsfor Chinese people. Bull-tweety I say, the man is a writer, he is the last person to be out of touch with the Japaneselanguage. Ishihara was chastized severely by the Japanese press and for that I am thankful. I am happythat they recognized his dark side, which has no place in the modern, multicultural Japan.Ishihara went so far as to suggest that the military need be brought into Tokyo during a majorquake, as the foreigners might riot and loot the capital. Not wanting to rub salt into old wounds,I would like to mention that it was the Japanese who rioted and looted during the last BIGearthquake in Tokyo--The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. It was the Koreans who were thevictims of this mass uprising. A rumor caused some Japanese to attack Koreans. Hundreds ofKoreans were killed, their homes and businesses ransacked. Many went back to Korea after this massacre.I don't think Japanese would do this again against foreigners--witness the well behaved manner ofJapanese and foreigners in the aftermath of the Hanshin earthquake, yet people like Ishihara needto end their racism, especially when they occupy places of power; the Japanese need to recognize aracist when they hear one, not elect them to office in the first place,and need to know the truth about their own past. "All of this in good time my son."Ishihara is a dinosaur, and we all know what happened to them. I have them in my carand boy do they move me!

I imagine the above massacre in Yokohama will be news to some of our Japanese readers. Which is a shame! If you don't know your own history, what do you know?What we have now is based on the past, if you don't know your own past correctly, how can youjudge anything? How can you know when someone is a racist or not? All of the rules,prejudiced or otherwise were made in the past. You must know thine own history to know yourself.

Yet I am optimistic about Japan's future. Ishihara, as if knowing he must keep his prejudiced ideas to himself to survive is silent, hurray! The more Japanese study and live abroad, learn a foreign language and make foreign friends, the further we are from the old, stodgy Japan. The Japanese with foreign living experience are some of themost liberal and modern thinkers in the world. The growing non-Japanese population including people like myself, and the children of bicultural marriages (like my own children),will forever change the face of Japan. One day, one of the completely bicultural children of Nippon will be prime minister and then I will know we have really arrived!

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