Despite domestic constitutional provisions and international treaty promises, Japan has no law against racial discrimination. Consequently, businesses around Japan display “Japanese Only” signs, denying entry to all 'foreigners' on sight. Employers and landlords routinely refuse jobs and apartments to foreign applicants. Japanese police racially profile “foreign-looking” bystanders for invasive questioning on the street. Legislators, administrators, and pundits portray foreigners as a national security threat and call for their segregation and expulsion. Nevertheless, Japan’s government and media claim there is no discrimination by race in Japan, therefore no laws are necessary.
How does Japan resolve the cognitive dissonance of racial discrimination being unconstitutional yet not illegal? Embedded Racism untangles Japan's complex narrative on race. Starting with case studies of hundreds of “Japanese Only" exclusionary businesses, it carefully analyzes the social construction of Japanese identity through laws, public policy, jurisprudence, and media messages. It reveals how the concept of a “Japanese" has been racialized to the point where one must look “Japanese" to have equal civil and human rights in Japan.
Completely revised and updated for this Second Edition (including landmark events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Covid Pandemic, and the Carlos Ghosn Case), Embedded Racism is the product of three decades of research and fieldwork by a scholar living in Japan as a naturalized Japanese citizen. It offers a perspective into how Japan's entrenched, misunderstood, and deliberately overlooked racial discrimination not only undermines Japan's economic future but also emboldens white supremacists worldwide who see Japan as their template ethnostate.
Debito Arudou is author of Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan and Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan. www.debito.org.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why Such a Long Introduction?
Part One: The Context of Racism in Japan
Chapter One: Racial Discrimination in Japan: Contextualizing the Issue
Chapter Two: How Racism “Works” in Japan
Part Two: “Japanese Only”: Examples of Racial Discrimination
Chapter Three: Case Studies of “Japanese Only” Exclusionary Businesses
Part Three: The Construction of Japan’s Embedded Racism
Chapter Four: Legal Constructions of “Japaneseness”
Chapter Five: How “Japaneseness” is Enforced through Laws
Chapter Six: A “Chinaman’s Chance” in Japanese Court
Chapter Seven: Fetishization and Fear of Foreigners in the Japanese Media
Part Four: Challenges to Japan’s Exclusionary Narratives
Chapter Eight: Maintaining the Binary despite Domestic and International Pressure
Part Five: Discussion and Conclusions
Chapter Nine: Putting the Concept of “Embedded Racism” to Work
Chapter Ten: “So What?” Why Japan’s Embedded Racism Matters: Japan’s Bleak Future
Chapter Eleven: Conclusions for the Second Edition: Japan’s Embedded Racism Undermines the World’s Democracies
In this revised edition, Debito Arudou offers more trenchant explication of what it means to be able to identify as “Japanese” in today’s Japan—and not. Arudou's analysis underscores that even with the guise of “diversity,” Japanese government policies themselves undermine the future health of the nation. Contrary to expanding Japan’s future possibilities, the “embedded racism” sponsored by the country’s elite is leading only to Japan’s economic and social decay.
This is a valuable update that reinforces the author’s analysis of how racial discrimination is endemic and harmful not only in managing demographic problems but also Japan’s global relations. The author explains how wide the gulf is between Japan’s governing elite and global norms. Readers also learn how non-citizen residents have endured an intensified Othering during the pandemic that belies official preening on diversity.
Debito has made intellectual enemies in Japan, but they struggle to match his depth of understanding, erudition, and commitment. He brings those qualities to bear in the revised edition of his classic text Embedded Racism. The book is the summation of a life spent trying to understand the internal logic that justifies and embeds racism not just in Japan, but everywhere.
Arudou’s book is a timely and important contribution to social and scholarly debates about racial discrimination in Japan.
Debito Arudou demonstrates that racism is pervasive in Japan and that many individuals and institutions deny this reality. He also shows that racism augurs ill for a society that will shrink for decades to come unless it changes how it treats visible minorities. People who care about the future of Japan need to engage with this pellucid and provocative account of one of the country’s most urgent but neglected problems.
In this important and insightful book, based on a long personal experience, Arudou offers a sophisticated critical analysis of the way visible minorities are treated in contemporary Japan. As immigration of work seekers to wealthy countries is on the rise, the issues treated here have wider relevance not only to the conduct and future of the Japanese society, but also to many other societies in the West and beyond. Highly recommended!
Hats off to Arudou for breaking once more and for all the Silence Barrier that has permitted Japan’s profound racial discrimination to purr along undisturbed well into the twenty-first century. Exposing at long last the definitional acrobatics of Japanese and foreign Japan studies experts—who have argued that since there is nothing we could call racist attitudes in Japan it follows that there can be no systemic racial discrimination either—Arudou lays out voluminous evidence to the contrary showing how Japan actually operates in its laws, public policy media messages, and social othering.
In an anti-globalist era of Trump and ‘Brexit’ there will be many who argue that Japan is right to severely restrict immigration and preserve as much as possible that is unique about its national character. If those who do not ‘look Japanese’ have to suffer some discrimination, then that is just the price that has to be paid. There are also many who believe that the best antidote to racism is to have a nation state whereas few people as possible look out of place. Arudou’s reply to this point of view, which acts simultaneously as a challenge to Japan’s leaders, is that if this national narrative is allowed to prevail, it will not only condemn Japan’s aging population to an ever-worsening demographic crisis, it will also have a ‘suffocating and self-strangulating’ effect on society. There are important academic contributions to the study of racism in Japan in this book, but it is as a must-read text on the crisis facing the shrinking Japanese population and its leaders that it really leaves its mark. Embedded Racism is highly recommended reading to anyone—whether they self-identify as Japanese or foreign or both—who is interested in Japan’s future.
From the immigration crisis in Europe to the growing tensions around racism and law enforcement in the United States, discussion of institutionalized racism, exclusionary rhetoric in the media, and legal barriers to equality seems essential now more than ever. In his most recent book… cultural critic, activist, and scholar Debito Arudou attempts to spark just such a discussion. A critical analysis of Japan’s treatment of visible minorities (people living in Japan who do not display phenotypical Japanese traits) and the legal, political, and social mechanisms that perpetuate the exclusion of such minorities from various aspects of Japanese society, Embedded Racism is extremely well timed. Arguing that racism operating through various institutions in Japan is akin to experiences of racism in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, Arudou’s carefully constructed work attempts to debunk the dominant narrative of Japanese exceptionalism, which he claims provides an escape from accountability to the rest of the world. Describing how structural racism behind institutional, legal, social, and media narratives influences the degree to which “outsiders” are constructed and consequently excluded from essential social and legal protections, Embedded Racism is an important contribution to the fields of geography, cultural, and area studies.
[Embedded Racism] is a brave critique of Japanese society and its failure to look outward in its demographic and economic development. The book will, no doubt, add to a lively discussion already afoot in Japanese studies, critical race studies, and critical mixed race studies of racism in Japan… The book is clearly written and seems to be aimed primarily at undergraduate students, as it makes an important contribution for those wishing to understand racism in Japan better, and it compiles interesting documentary legal data about the history of cases of discrimination in Japan. The book would easily suit courses that address global conceptions of race and ethnicity and how these are changing in Japan at both the micro and macro levels because of globalization.
This book, though, is more than a narrative of instances of discrimination and campaigns for redress. The author also seeks to explore the roots of the problem, which he locates in the legal apparatus of nationality, the workings of the court system, the lack of serious official mechanisms to combat discrimination, and stereotypes perpetuated by the mass media... This book is an important addition to the literature on problems of citizenship and minorities in Japan, particularly because it highlights the distinctive problems of visible minorities, rather than focusing on the large ‘invisible minorities’ (Zainichi Koreans and Chinese, etc.) who have been the subject of much existing research... This is an important, courageous and challenging book, and it casts a sharp light on problems which are often ignored or veiled, but which have profound consequences for the present and future of Japanese society.