Is Japan racist?

Yes and no.

Hmm. Perhaps I’d better explain.

There’s a widespread belief that Japan is the best country in the world, with the best food and the best way of doing pretty much everything. I’d describe that as nationalism, but with an almost entirely homogeneous population, the line between country and race is pretty blurred.

Is Japan racist?

As are Japanese attitudes towards other “races.” There’s not a lot of love for the Chinese, even though they’re both Asian. There’s discrimination against Koreans living in Japan, even though some of them have been here since WWII. But while there’s a lot of anger about political issues both North (abductions of Japanese citizens) and South (refusal to accept Japan’s “apology” for comfort women), race has nothing to do with it.

There is some prejudice against blacks, but it has none of the intensity of the American variety. I’d say it’s more about a lack of familiarity than racial hatred.

There are still some traces of prejudice against whites, but it’s usually based on social class rather than race. White businessmen are a-o.k. White English teachers have suspect motives (many of them are single males — you do the math). Whites working at night are best avoided.

I’m obviously exaggerating hugely (and dangerously) to make a point. Japan, like every other nation on earth, isn’t free of prejudice or discrimination. But race plays a smaller role than it does in most countries, largely because it pales in insignificance compared to whether or not you’re Japanese.

There is discrimination against half-Okinawan / half-Americans though. They receive racism from both foreign and Japanese people. It may be minor most of the time but it is there. Example: Foreign looking half-Okinawans trying to enter a business with a “No Foreigners Allowed” sign posted by the door. That must be frustrating.

I have no doubt that there is racism to be found in Japan, just as there is some found in Puerto Rico or among people anywhere else in this world … that’s because all nations are comprised of people, subject to human failings … but judging from my personal experience, I believe that racist episodes in Japan to be likely the exception rather than the rule.

Here’s an interesting and relevant aside for your consideration:

I learned of a US Colonel Virgil R. Miller, born and raised in San Germán, Puerto Rico, who had been the Regimental Commander of the 442d Regimental Combat Team, a unit which was composed of “Nisei” (second generation Americans of Japanese descent), during World War II. Col. Miller held them in such high regard that, when he was named Commanding Officer of Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry Regiment, he declined the assignment because he preferred to continue with the 442nd Combat Team.

In my experience, treat people with dignity and respect, and it’ll likely be returned in kind.

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