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Racism in Japan

Konichiwa :),

Although I may not be Japanese, I am part Chinese, and you might think that that automatically gives me an unprecedented sense of social and cultural awareness of people who are Japanese and do live in Japan. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re wrong. (Ah well)

As much as Icelandic people are different from Americans, Japanese people are very different from the rest of the world including to their close neighbors China, Malaysia, Vietnam and likewise other countries in South-East Asia. Despite being a very technologically advanced country (10 bucks you’re using a Samsung Phone right now), Japan is a very small and relatively detached region physically. It sometimes boggles me when seeing it in relation to the other continents/countries on the map.

Map of the world

And in a way, I think this physical characteristic reflects in the way that it is “socially isolated” as well. No, I’m not insinuating that Japan is a “loner”, but it seems that many people (myself included) know little about the social aspects of Japan, but in particular, racism.

What drove me to write this post was a short video I saw the other day by an American school teacher, in which he highlights to his students many of the civil conflicts apparent in the country today. Why? It seems that the students that he teaches are completely oblivious to any sort of discrimination in Japan. When the classed was asked whether or not they think racism exists in the country, a maximum of 2 students would raise their hands out of 40. (that’s 5% bruh) On the other hand, most of them felt perfectly fine in saying that discrimination is solely an American problem.

However, the teacher illustrates in his video that this is clearly not the case, giving numerous examples that insist on the fact that prejudice and discrimination are very (unexpected, yet) prominent issues in Japan. To highlight a few:

  • “A camera so stupidly easy to use, a Korean could do it”

One of the examples pointed out was that among certain groups in Japan, disposable cameras are commonly called “Baka-Chon (馬鹿 朝鮮) Cameras”. Baka (馬鹿) literally means fool, and Chon is an abbreviation of Chōsen (朝鮮) which is a Japanese term for Korea. Thus, describing a camera with these two terms is essentially saying, “This is so stupid even a Korean could use it”, something that may be considered somewhat “rude” an “unadvised” by some. This also doesn’t apply to cameras alone-one can describe anything with this to be honest. Do you have a really easy to use radio and want to practice your Japanese (and feel racist at the same time)? Go a head and call it a Baka Chon radio! (Seriously, don’t though this is just an example).

  • “Leave these people to work with Death”

Secondly and a lot more shockingly was the example the teacher gave of the “Burakumin”. If you were to go back a few centuries in Japan, (To the Eto era, about 300 years ago) You’d find that a caste system was established in Japan. At the top of this social hierarchy you would of course have the emperors, then the Shōgun, the Samurai and so on. Now at the very bottom of this social hierarchy were the people known as “Burakumin”- people who often worked as butchers and undertakers, and other jobs associated with death. For quite imaginable reasons, these people were likewise heavily discriminated against as well, since 300 years ago and counting. Feel free to watch the actual video where again, the teacher goes into a lot more detail about this particular type of discrimination-you’ll find that a very recent and relevant example occurred not too long ago at all.

Photo Credit: SHINICHI SUZUKI

  • “Damn we ran out of measures to defend ourselves from the opposition-grab the outcasts”

Last but not least were the Okinawans (沖縄/うちなー), Japanese people native to the Okinawan Islands of Japan. These people were harshly discriminated against since the past, quite striking was what occurred during World War 2, in which the Okinawans were used as human shields to protect the “superior” soldiers from enemy attacks they faced in intricate tunnel systems established during the war-don’t forget that this was less than only 70 years ago. Again, you’ll see how this discrimination evidently did not remain in the past according to the original video, and quite peculiarly how discrimination is present WITHIN the Okinawan people as well, between the different settlements on the separate Okinawan Islands-we humans are crazy sometimes. Check that out here:

I hope this post served it’s intention of being somewhat informative, and despite my certainty of you (reading this right now) being a lot smarter and generally aware than I am, I am more than sure that you discovered something in this post which you may have not known a few minutes ago. As a little side note, according to a few sources including the original video, the teacher is actually facing considerable hate and harassment for uploading this video (can’t imagine why). However, we must realize that the message he is sending is nothing for anyone to be offended about but rather an opportunity for us to educate ourselves about the inner workings of other cultures and what we can do to combat issues present in them.

Hey, smarter everyday right?

Till next time, just carry on being awesome 🙂

~Azzam Anwar

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