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  • Writer's pictureSayaka

"How to Address the Racism at the Heart of Japan-South Korea Tensions"

An editor at the United States Institute of Peace invited me to write an essay on Japan-South Korean tensions. I felt very grateful for the opportunity, and wrote something about racism in Japan.

There are many sentences that were omitted in the final version (of course! I really appreciate the wonderful editing they did for it). But I thought some might be curious of what was cut.

First of all, I wanted to convey that Japanese people are generally unaware that racism is prevailing in Japan.

"If you ask a Japanese person on the street what they think of racism in Japan, it is quite likely that the question will utterly confuse them. 'Racism' sounds to most Japanese like something that happens in the United States and Europe, directed against people of color. Americans probably share the same view—Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, and other minorities belong to the same East Asian “race,” and how could they have 'racism' among themselves? It is not my goal to explain the history of ideas of 'race' in East Asia. But one important fact is that racism exists. In Japan, racism remains a powerful underlying social force that has shaped many issues, including the government’s general orientation."

The editor was skeptical of my expression, "the government's general orientation,"---because the assumption is that when the LDP was not in power, the government was surely less racist right? I would say, if so many laws and regulations already set up the racist system, it unfortunately makes little difference whether a couple of antiracist leaders formed the government for a few years. There is no easy fix.

Another thing that I needed to cut was about J. M. Ramseyer's white supremacy. I originally wrote an already watered-down version:

"In fact, they recently found a perfect ally in a professor at the Harvard Law School, who calls the story of comfort women 'pure fiction' and argues that leaders of Zainichi Koreans and other minorities promote the discrimination against their groups to personally profit from government subsidies, based on dubious interpretations of history and data. This professor has expressed that he believes the same mechanism happening in the US, but using “unfamiliar examples” of Japan will permit “freer discussion” than writing about U.S. politics. In other words, he is spreading misinformation about Zainichi Koreans as a proxy war of his racist agenda in the United States."

His white supremacy was important to point out in this context because I point out above that the Japanese right often use white male American figures to raise legitimacy. I believe that the mutual reinforcing effect between white supremacy and Japanese racism is the greatest concern these days.

We cannot ignore the United States, as intermediaries, a source of legitimacy, and as audience in thinking about Japanese racism. (I feel so more strongly after watching the symposium that juxtaposed Pachinko on Apple TV and the Ramseyer phenomenon.) I am grateful that I was given this opportunity for that reason.

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