Chapter 2 Ideas about Japaneseness Nihonjinron and Influences

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Chapter 2 Ideas about Japaneseness Nihonjinron and Influences

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Chapter 2: Ideas about Japaneseness, Nihonjinron, and Influences
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While the concept of Nihonjinron helped Japan navigate through the devastating post-war period, it encouraged the development of homogeneity influences that have affected society adversely. Precisely, Nihonjinron has encouraged the discrimination of minority groups such as Zainichi Koreans. Japanese homogeneity is a myth that encourages the suppression of indigenous people. The idea that the country is homogenous and the existence of ethnic discrimination is impossible due to the lack of diversity is central to the illusion of Nihonjinron. The illusion has encouraged widespread ignorance regarding the issues of racism in Japan. Regardless of external pressure, the government has failed to implement policies aimed at protecting minority groups from discrimination due to the homogeneity illusion. Minority groups, especially Zainichi Koreans continue to endure a broad range of injustices related to imminent violence and crimes. Nihonjinron has instigated the growth of systematic discrimination against minorities. The government has strengthened this institutionalized discrimination by excluding Koreans from a various segment of society such as free high school education.

Keywords: Nihonjinron, Japan, discrimination, racism, Zainichi Koreans, minority groups
Chapter 2: Ideas about Japaneseness, Nihonjinron, and Influences
A report conducted on Japan by the Commission of Human Rights highlighted the existence of racism and xenophobia in the country. Minority groups such as Zainichi Koreans are not only marginalized socially but also ignored politically. Serious cultural and historical factors that are primarily overlooked also encourage discrimination in Japan. The country is often considered as a homogeneous society. The broadly held view regarding the Japanese has encouraged the origination of concept of Nihonjinron. It is worth to note that this widely held view has resulted in the development of the Nihonjinron concept. The concept ranges over diverse fields related to psychology, sociology, and anthropology and it implies the Japanese people. It emphasizes the exclusivity and homogeneity of the Japanese language, culture, and shared blood. Both foreign and domestic scholars have criticized the Nihonjinron concept for mystifying the country, agitating nationalism, and instigating discrimination. Although Zainichi Koreans have assimilated into Japanese society, they often experience social discrimination due to the Nihonjinron concept that encourages the view that the Japanese are superior to other populations.
Section 1
Nihonjinron is a general phrase used to demonstrate the treatise of Japaneseness. It entails theories, thoughts, discussion, and reflections associated with the facets of cultural identity and nationalism. Aside from history, this concept revolves around the fields of philosophy, psychology, music, arts, sociology, science, anthropology, and linguistics. According to Yamamoto (2015), Nihonjinron occasions the effort to consider the underlying behavior, character, and personality that identify a specific group of people as unique and different from others. While some provisions of Nihonjinron are deliberated as hypothetical, most of the discourse occurs in Japanese media. Nihonjinron involves a series of vague explanations regarding tradition and culture, and it is the typical Japanese translation of the theory of Japaneseness.
The concept of Nihonjinron involves three distinct underlying assumptions. Yamamoto (2015) identifies the first assumption as the notion that the Japanese constitute a socially and culturally homogeneous ethnic entity. According to this perception, the essence of the Japanese has virtually remained unchanged from the prehistoric era down to the contemporary world. In the second assumption, the Japanese are considered as a unique people who differ radically from other populations (Park, 2012). The last assumption describes the Japanese as visibly nationalistic. Based on this notion, the Japanese usually display procedural and conceptual hostility to modes of analysis that opt to derive from outside, non-Japanese sources. Generally, the Nihonjinron focuses on the homogeneity of Japan in all aspects of life.
The Nihonjinron genre also involves various theses linked to its homogeneity. Kawai (2015) asserts that the Japanese consider themselves as a unique race to the point of lacking affinities with other ethnicities. They reside in an island that separates them from other global countries. The country enjoys distinctive seasons that shape not only their thinking but also their behavior. The Japanese consider themselves as a part of nature due to their unique location. The structure of their language is also unique, an aspect that makes the Japanese think vaguely and peculiarly. While some foreigners can speak Japanese fluently, their perfection cannot be compared to that of the indigenous people.
Japanese society values hierarchical relationships. Groupism persists in this society, and it functions on parent-child patterns of behavior. Individuality is rare in this society, an aspect that supports the superiority feeling among the Japanese. The popularity of the Nihonjinron concept rose after World War II with the publishing of articles and books aiming to explore, analyze, and explain the peculiarities associated with Japanese mentality and culture. In most cases, scholars compared these aspects with those of the US and Europe.
Stereotyping of both Japanese personality and culture has been a vital part of the country’s reading public for several decades now. Literary works that claim to identify the uniqueness of Japan have flooded the market, and some have sold millions of copies globally. It is worth noting that major bookshops in this country have set aside a Nihonjinron section where avid readers hypnotized with Japan’s embodiment and cultural core can access dozens of literature. Although the extent of obsession has oscillated over time, reputable writers keep publishing works with titles desired to praise the country’s homogeneity. Sugimoto (1999) asserts that approximately seven hundred works related to the idea of Nihonjinron were circulated within the period 1945 and 1978. As the number of scholars interested in Nihonjinron continues to rise, over 1000 publications have been distributed in the modern world.
Most of Japan’s population is fascinated with this idea. According to Sugimoto 1999, at least a quarter of the country’s population has read one or more books associated with the Nihonjinron idea. It is essential to note that a quarter of Japan’s population represents twenty-million people and above. While the theoretical distinction between ethnicity and race keeps attracting significant controversies across the world, the Japanese term Nihon implies that the people of Japan decent are not only a racial group but also a culturally defined ethnic populace. In other words, the country considers the Japanese as people with the country’s biological pedigree.
Nihonjinron proponents emphasize the relationship between ethnicity, culture, and nationality as determinants of being a Japanese. In this context, Nihonjinron operates like a façade that conceals both racial and nationalistic guidelines that it exemplifies. A broad range of observers has associated Nihonjinron with prejudicial ideologies that encourage racist assumptions that can be compared to those that existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Contrarily, the Japanese believe that their culture is not only courteous but also benevolent. Although all theories in this country may not be nationalistic and racist, it is hard to refute that Nihonjinron entails implicit racial classifications. According to Sugimoto (1999), Nihonjinron’s logic is a state ideology of national integration in Japan. The reasoning often defines Japanese culture in monolithic terms that encourage racial segregation.

Japan is a sophisticated and significantly segregated society. In this country, a myriad of rival cultural matrices that are associated with the multiplicity of classes and stratification lines have emerged. Variables such educational background, age, gender, professional position, and firm size define the reputation that people earn in society. The dimensions of culture, nationality, and ethnicity expose ethnic minority issues, international variations, non-ethnic disparities, and conflicts. Nihonjinron originates from a wide range of ideological elements that compete based on political issues. While some of these philosophies are narcissistic, others indicate the critical status quo of this country. However, all these ideologies unite in sharing the myth that Japan is a homogeneous society.
Section 2
While scholars of Nihonjinron usually claim to be describing Japan objectively in their works, their accounts entail clear emotional colorings. It is worth to note that these judgments can be positive or negative. According to Yamamoto (2015), positive Nihonjinron inclines on Japan being a smoothly functioning community. Here, people not only understand but also treat each other with decency. This decorum often leads to excellent industrial and economic progress. Contrarily, negative Nihonjinron displays Japan as a tyrannical society often characterized by substantial stress on conformity and obedience. The stamping out of individualism in Japan result in the loss of freedom to a series of social obligations.
The concept of Nihonjinron has initiated a feeling of superiority and power among the Japanese. The UN, in 2014 reported the existence of deep and profound racism in Japan. According to this report, the government has failed to recognize the depth of this problem due to ignorance (Shipper, 2010). Contrarily, the Japanese government maintains that racism does not exist in the country. It is critical to note that the definition of race based on the UN convention that desires to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination does not fit Japan’s minority groups. Although the government continues to deny the reality of racial discrimination in the country, the UN emphasizes the importance of recognizing the problem.
The distinct variations in the statement on race and racism between the UN and the government of Japan elucidate profound misinterpretation or misrecognition of race. The problem of racial discrimination in the country is extremely difficult to manage due to the government’s failure not only to define but also acknowledge the existence of segregation of minority groups. Nihonjinron often encourages the view that Japan is culturally and racially homogeneous. The idea of homogeneity rules out the existence of racism in Japan as there are no minority groups (Park, 2012). Nihonjinron is a widely accepted social myth that keeps encouraging new-nationalism among the Japanese.
As the government and the people of Japan keep rejecting the existence of racism, minority groups such as Zainichi Koreans continue to suffer. Throughout history, the Japanese have often categorized Zainichi Koreans as different due to their limited contact with other ethnicities. During the Edo period, the Japanese discriminated this group due to their low population (Shipper, 2010). In the modern world, the Japanese continue to discriminate against Zainichi Koreans based on their physical features and origin. They are considered as foreigners and often get bullied by stereotypes and negative attribution. For people to be accepted as Japanese, they have to be of the Japanese race, look like a Japanese, have Japanese parents, and share the local culture.
Currently, there are approximately 700, 000 Korean in Japan. The greatest majority of this population was born and raised in Japan. Legally, most of these Koreans are categorized as resident aliens, and they make up 85% of the country’s alien population. Wickstrum (2016) asserts that the historical link between Japan and Korea is primeval. The connection dates back to the seventeenth century whereby many Japanese aristocrats claimed Korean descent. Documents associated with the Nara period indicate that the Yamato regime-controlled part of Korean.
History reversed this trend later following the widespread attacks on Korea by Japanese pirates. For instance, Toyotomi Hideyoshi embarked on a seven-year war with Korea as a preface of occupying China. While he mostly failed in his attempt, he managed to destroy large segments of Korea. After several centuries of war, Japan finally overran Korea in 1904 (Wickstrum 2016). It seized the country in 1910 and emigrant Japanese residents disposed of Koreans their land for farming purposes. The threat of starvation forced Koreans to migrate to Japan and by 1930, approximately 419, 009 Koreans had moved into Japan. The period 1939 and 1945 was marked by forceful eviction of Koreans into Japan. When World War II ended, approximately 2.4 million Korean had moved into Japan where they primarily worked as coal mine workers.
By working in coal mines and other factories, the Korean freed the Japanese to join the military. According to Wickstrum (2016), the need for soldiers exacerbated by 1944, which forced the government to recruit even Koreans. It is during this period that the Japanese embarked on forceful assimilation of Koreans into the country’s culture. They not only burned their books but also forced Korean school-going children to learn Japanese. During the post-war period, most Korean relocated back to their home country leaving only 544, 903 people of Korean descent in Japan by 1950 (Wickstrum, 2016). It is worth noting that Korean who remained in Japan were stateless for several years up until 1972 when the government granted them permanent residency (Wickstrum, 2016). Most Koreans have embraced Japanese names in addition to theirs due to the ridicule often associated with their names.
While it is conceivable for Korean Japanese whose parents were born in the country to gain citizenship through naturalization procedures, successful application entails demonstration of good behavior. People with even the most minor police records cannot receive Japanese citizenship. It is critical to note that most Koreans do not wish to become naturalized as they still desist the Japanese due to the country’s past actions (Wickstrum, 2016). Other believe that becoming naturalized will deny them acceptance of both the Korean and Japanese communities. Naturalization requirements necessitate the Japanizing of names, which is an emotionally difficult step for many Koreans (Wickstrum, 2016). These conditions have forced Koreans to embrace intermarriage as the significant step toward full assimilation in Japan.
Section 3
Although the idea of homogeneity in Japan prevails both inside and outside the country, it is essential to note that it only emerged after the Second World War. Ironically, the Japanese were regarded as a mixed breed of diverse ethnic groups in the war and prewar period. When WW II ended, over thirty-five million foreigners had moved into Japan. Most of them resided in a cosmic region extending the Solomon Islands to the border in Burma (Cho, 2016). However, their territories shrunk significantly following the country’s defeat in the war. During the post-war period, the state replaced the kokutai doctrine that emphasized Japanese uniqueness with Nihonjinron. Academicians began to convey the concept of Japanese nationhood that displayed the country to be entailing a homogeneous people.

The government became hesitant to assimilate the Korean and other previous imperial subjects into the Japanese citizenry. It embarked on measures that excluded ethnic minorities in mainland Japan (Shipper, 2010). Multiethnic conceptions that had flourished during the colonial ear regarding this country disappeared both from the public and academia. A new emphasis on uniformity and pure blood of the Japanese emerged instead. The new ideology enthralled a significant part of the country’s population who had previously lost confident in the aftermath of degrading defeat. The dominant notion of Japanese nationalism after 1945 was based on Japanese blood as Korean states sought to return to their mother country.
The changed economic and political circumstances in the postwar period encouraged the development of racial ideologies to respond to situational imperatives. Japanese racial philosophy was constructed grounded in the country’s retreat from an empire into a unique culture that emphasized the importance of Japanese blood (Cho, 2016). The state developed a newly born racialized identity that associated Japanese identity with local blood. The new notion resulted in the categorizing of subordinate groups such as Zainichi Koreans as members of inferior races. The spirit of Japan’s racialized nationalism relied on historical disregard of the past and the creation of antiquity in the present. The racial ideology shifted from a multiethnic empire to an equal society. In this way, the myth of homogeneity and purity of Japanese blood emerged.

The new ideologies regarding Japanese nationalism encouraged the discrimination of Zainichi Korean. Currently, the more than 370,000 Zainichi Koreans in Japan reside in the country as foreigners (Shipper, 2010). They entail people who held Japanese nationalism between 1910 and 1952 (Park, 2012). Their descendants are also considered as foreign nationals. The Japanese government deprived Korean residents off their citizenship after the signing in of the Treaty of San Francisco. The revocation measure was not only one-sided but also ignored the outlooks of residents from the country’s former colonies.
When Japan lost in WW II, the majority of ethnic Koreans moved back into Korea. The term Zainichi Korean was given to the few Koreans that remained in the country and their progenies. This term that emerged in the subsequent postwar period denotes foreigners who are living in Japan. Ethnic Koreans who stayed back embarked on their decision for a broad range of reasons. For instance, those who had established successful business ventures stayed behind to continue with their activities. Others exploited the fiscal prospects that had opened up during the postwar period to achieve a fairly advantaged position in Japanese civilization.
Although most Korean stayed in Japan for fear of going back home to poor and diplomatically insecure countries, others were unable to raise the train tariffs necessary for moving back to Korea. Ethnic Koreans who had intermarried with the Japanese and had Japanese-born and speaking children opted to stay back. It was more rational to stay in Japan as opposed to navigating the ethnic and dialectal challenges of a new environment. Racial discrimination and economic exploitation of Koreans began even before World War II. However, the government often considered Koreans as Japanese nationals by seeking to assimilate them into the Japanese society through education and intermarriage (Aki & Taiko, 2014). However, the postwar was characterized by massive segregation of Zainichi Koreans who were then identified as foreigners.

Since the postwar period, Zainichi Koreans have been living in Japan temporarily. They lost most of their privileges in 1945, including their right to vote in Japan (Aki & Taiko, 2014). In the years following this deprivation, the government implemented the Alien Registration Law. The law defined ethnic Korean as part of the country’s alien residents. Also, Nationality Law took off the citizenship rights of Zainichi children whose mothers were of Japanese nationality. The government allowed only those with Japanese fathers to keep their citizenship. As of 1952, a majority of Zainichi Koreans in the country were rendered stateless (Aki & Taiko, 2014). The situation of Zainichi Koreans worsened with the implementation of a law that called upon the fingerprinting of all registered foreigners. The government excluded Zainichi Koreans from rights given to foreigners in the country’s postwar constitution.
Policies related to employment excluded Koreans from all forms of jobs considered as Japanese during the postwar period. Being denied employment in both private and public sectors form part of the types of discriminations that Zainichi Koreans endured in Japan (Aki & Taiko, 2014). The challenges associated with finding gainful employment forced Zainichi Koreans into hunting jobs in the informal sector. Others engaged in marginal and illegal economic activities linked to the production of illicit alcohol, racketeering, and scrap recycling. Although post-war Korean organization fought for the rights of ethnic Koreans, the rise of Nihonjinron ideologies exacerbated their situation. Zainichi Koreans endured not only systemic discrimination but also discrimination from sectors related to education, housing, employment, and marriage for most of this period.
Section 4
The late 1940s and 1950s saw the growth of reformist scholarly thought and historiography that sought to hypothesize and epitomize post-war Japan in diverse ways. It is during this period that the country embraced the concept of Nihonjinron to as a measure of comforting its people for the devastating loss that it encountered during the war (Arudou, 2015). Since then, the country has been embroiled in confusion and contention related to diversity by arguing, elaborating, and assuming a monolithic culture. The view of Japan as a mono-ethnic society jostles uncomfortably with the other groups of people that reside in the country. Japan usually discusses issues of race as something that does not exist in its organization.
In crafting the mono-ethnicity myth, ethnic minorities such as the Koreans and Chinese have often been swept under the political cover. Irrespective of internal constitutional provisions and international treaty promises, Japan is yet to implement laws against racial discrimination. Most segments of the society are highly racialized. For instance, businesses display Japanese Only signs, refusing entry to all foreigners. Similarly, employers and landowners regularly deny foreign applicants access to jobs and apartments. Police also racially profile foreign-looking individuals by subjecting them to invasive questioning. Politicians, legislators, and other administrators portray ethnic minorities as a national security threat. They not only call for their segregation but also expulsion from the country. Regardless of all these inequities, the Japanese government and media often deny the existence of racial discrimination.
Currently, the country is entangled in a state of embedded racism. For most of its modern history, Japan had developed a misconception of self-identity proliferated by Nihonjinron literature (Arudou, 2015). The idea that the country is homogenous and the existence of ethnic discrimination is impossible due to the lack of diversity is central to this illusion. Consequently, the government considers the formulation of policies protecting people from discrimination as unnecessary due to the illusion of homogeneity. In contemporary Japan, the number of foreigners especially those of Korean, Chinese, and Taiwan origin exceeds 2.5 million (Arudou, 2015). It is worth to note that this group forms about 2% of the overall population and continues to grow.
Japanese homogeneity is a myth that encourages the suppression of indigenous people. Over the years, Zainichi Koreans have experienced a broad range of injustices (Park, 2012). While the homogeneity myth has played a critical role in pulling the country out of the devastation it experienced during the post-war period, it has encouraged racism in Japan. The generation that dedicated its life to nationalism in Japan might find it challenging to understand the benefit of diversity for the country’s future. Japan is highly likely to end up in xenophobia as people resist change. Although human rights organizations have repeatedly encouraged the government to implement laws against discrimination, it was not until 2016 when the country began looking into these recommendations.
Zainichi Koreans have resided in Japan for over a century now. Their presence in the country dates back to Japanese colonization that not only encouraged but also forced migration into Japan. Currently, Zainichi Korean born and raised in Japan may be the third or fourth generation (Degawa, 2001). Most of them cannot speak any other language apart from Japanese as they have resided in Japan throughout their life. Despite having lived in Japan for several years now, they still experience widespread discrimination. They are primarily segregated from mainstream Japan once the Japanese discover their ethnic background. Irrespective of being socially and culturally Japanese, Zainichi Korean are still considered as minorities due to the country’s citizenship law.
Regardless of being born and raised in Japan, Zainichi Koreans cannot become citizens if their parents are not of Japanese descent. The law requires them to undergo the naturalization process which is politically problematical, especially for Zainichi populations. The country considers Zainichi residents as part of its resident population. However, they have a particular form of permanent residency status that differentiates them from more recent and temporary foreigners (Degawa, 2001). Although the law allows them this status, Zainichi Koreans continue to face widespread segregation. Largely, they are not eligible for specific forms of social service and job opportunities that Japanese citizens enjoy. The policies established during the post-war period encouraged the separation and registration of Zainichi Koreans as foreigners.
In the face of modern technology and increased internet use, Japan’s racial ideology largely remains unchanged. Japanese ignorance of the racial issues affecting the country is quite ironic. Japan’s former prime minister once boasted of the state being a cutting-edge information society. It is critical to note that much of this information is hobnailed with racist acrimony against minority groups (Degawa, 2001). Considering the current direction of global events, the issue of racism is on the increase. The spread of hate-fueled rumors especially on online platforms and social media is on the rise. The current proliferation of these anecdotes can be compared to those that led to the massacre of ethnic Koreans following the Kanto Earthquake.
The myth of homogeneity has caused a significant number of casualties in Japan. Circumstances of some foreigners being considered as Japanese while others are being discriminated against raised significant concerns regarding the idea of homogeneity. The supposition that Japanese citizens are only those who speak the local language and act in a manner considered as Japanese is deeply embedded in the country’s culture (Degawa, 2001). People who disrupt this congruence cause boundary conflict that results in unpleasant effects for both Japanese citizens and foreigners. Although a majority of Zainichi Korean identify with Japanese culture, they are primarily discriminated based on the Nihonjinron ideology that considers those who possess Japanese blood as superior.

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