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Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 20th Peace Philosophy Salon Report "Foreigners in Japan"

We, university student members of Peace Philosophy Centre, are so glad to have had a wonderful time at peace philosophy salon yesterday. Tank you very much for your attendance and participation in our salon yesterday.

The main topic for yesterday's salon was the rights of non-Japanese people in Japan, and we approached the issue from different point of views and various perspectives.

We started with a presentation by our guest speaker, Go Murakami (UBC, PhD student of political science major). He presented on political issues related to immigration and fundamental rights of foreigners living in Japan. His presentation made me to rethink about the concept of state sovereignty, citizenship and our fundamental rights as human who must live somewhere, within a defined territory no matter what you like it or not.

Relating to that, Arc Zen Han (UBC, International Relations major) presented on political and philosophical analysis on the conception of citizenship and community as well. Even though it seems very complicated, it is always important to think about the world around us radically- "radical" in a sense that "going back to the roots". In China, for example, there is no simple and single definition of "Chineseness" which can be applied for ALL the people living within China, since the country is consisted of so many different regions of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In Canada as well, there is no such "Canadianess" that can define each Canadian people as one particular kind of people. We think we understand that in our head, but in practice, it might be difficult for us to be aware of that constantly. In order to think about any kind of discrimination and prejudice, we need to go back to fundamental and radical factors and philosophical approach is definitely necessary.

Dan Aizawa (UBC, Political Science and History major) presented on the issue of social and political position of international schools in Japan based on his personal experience and thoughts. His presentation led a deep discussion on whether or not those non-Japanese schools that are not fully following Japanese education curriculums need to be recognized as "school" in Japan. They should follow Japanese curriculums? or, should it be individuals' freedom to choose not to be part of Japanese education system while living in Japan? By discussing on these questions together, it urged us to rethink not only how non-Japanese schools should be treated, but also what the fundamental role and purpose of education is and what "good" education is.

In addition, and highly importantly, we also discussed the issue that the Japanese government currently discriminates Korean high schools in Japan institutionally by not providing them funding, whereas other non-Japanese schools can receive money from the government just like other Japanese schools. This is clearly representing racial discrimination against Zainichi Koreans and the government just got warned by UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) for its commitment to racial discrimination.

I (Shoko, SFU Sociology major) shared my perspective and thoughts based on my own "sociological" analysis about social and cultural implications in discrimination against non-Japanese people in Japan. The situation is changing due to political, economic, and cultural globalization, but I personally think there still exist cultural and social aspects, which are peculiar to Japanese society, causing discrimination against non-Japanese people in grass-root levels.

Andrew Livingston (UBC Asian study major) shared his experience and his' stories of living in Japan, and it was a great opportunity to hear how discrimination against non-Japanese people still exists in Japanese society from non-Japanese point of views. However, he and one of the participants who have lived in Japan as a foreigner also addressed that their experience of living in Japan was great and they met lots of great Japanese people who helped them during their stay. They told us that their impression about Japan is quite positive, even though they have come across with discrimination explicitly or implicitly.

My belief is that small shifts in individual consciousness create massive shift in consciousness just like a small pebble thrown into a pond produces a wave farther. Therefore, as a Japanese who have lived in abroad and learned the importance of critical thinking, I feel responsible to see Japan, the country where I was born and grew up, in critical way and have dialogue with others to know different perspectives and thoughts. As a Japanese student who have been studying in abroad, not only criticizing negative part of Japan but also I need to recognize positive aspect of the country and its people.

From this salon, I learned a lot about Japanese political background and situation of non-Japanese people living in Japan, and most importantly, discussion with participants urged me to have balanced perspective in order to improve my critical thinking skill into more constructive one :)


Student members would love to thank Satoko-san, for guiding and supporting us to have such a wonderful time. Thank you, always!!!

Love & Peace ,



  1. Thank you Shoko for this wonderful report and for all the things you have done for the Salon when you are also busy with school works. And thank you to everyone who joined us yesterday. I really enjoy the discussion.
    Two topics caught my attention yesterday. The first is the importance of diversity. To my understanding of the life-circle of a civilization, it always starts boom with an increase of diversity and declines with a decrease of diversity. Nations always face difficult challenges; diversity brings new ideas and mechanisms to deal with these new challenges. Therefore, to emphasize the homogeneity of a nation actually is not good for the nation. Such a cultural arrogance could eliminate the nation’s capacity of dealing with new challenges. My understanding of the Chinese history tells me it is this arrogance of the great central kingdom actually made Chinese leaders in the 19th century blinded themselves, thus ruined China with the 100 years f humiliation.
    Moreover, culture is not something fixed and never changes. Japanese culture itself has changed over centuries. So we cannot use a fixed criteria to judge whether someone is culturally Japanese. We talked about the MOJ using whether a person can correctly classify garbage as criteria to judge the citizenship applicants, but before the garbage classification system was established, Japanese didn’t classify them as well. So can we say Japanese at that time were culturally not Japanese?
    Then the second topic attracts my attention is about education. I think using education system to enforce some ideology or culture actually shows the cowardice. If a nation is confident enough for its culture, it doesn’t need to use national machine to enforce it, and it should firmly believe that everyone would naturally follow their culture because their culture fits this land well.
    Instead of teaching one set of culture, education system should be open and diversified. We should just give kids all the options and trust the next generation have the ability to choose the best one. I know this sounds really idealistic, but this is my ideal (I guess I get this idea from “The Cather in the Rye”. I really love this book when I was in high school. )

  2. Thanks Shoko and Arc! Great comments with considerations. I learn a lot from exchanges of different ideas.

    I would like to offer an additional piece of information on this issue, which I found interesing. I'd hope this is good food for thoughs, too. I found that the prefectures with fewer number of foreign residents tend to oppose introduction of the suffrage for foreign residents.

    One source of this finding comes from the recent news article by MSN Sankei Shimbun.

    According to this article, 28 out of 47 prefectures passed some resolution to oppose granting a local election suffrage to foreign residents as of March 20th. On the other hand, 16 prefectures are for the idea.

    I merged this data with a the number of foreigners, permanent residents, Zaninicih residents, etc. by prefecture released by MOJ in 2008 (you can download all the data from here). Although the correlation is moderate, I found that the prefectures with more foreign residents (FRs), permanent residents (PRs), and Tokubetsu permanent residents (Zainichi) are more likely to be agree, and the prefectures with fewer of those are less more likely to oppose the suffrage. Here are stats (standard deviations in parenthesis):


    Median FRs: 37259 (110432.6)
    Median PRs: 6673.5 (23342.53)
    Median Zainichi: 5312.5 (29797.66)


    Median FRs: 11602 (33448.48)
    Median PRs: 1829 (9500.977)
    Median Zainichi: 1557.5 (2647.183)

    ** Correlation (Somers' D)**

    FOR and FRs: .34
    FOR and PRs: .42*
    FOR and Zainichi: .38

    AGAINST and FRs: -.42*
    AGAINST and PRs: -.51*
    AGAINST and Zainichi: -.42*

    * Statistically significant at p<.05.

    Why do we have such a correlation? I think it's an interesting question. But please note that this is an ecological relation, and probably we may have many possible explanations.

  3. Many thanks for one of the greatest salons we had. I learned
    so much.

    Go, your knowledge of the "immigration bureaucracy" is amazing. I look
    forward to hearing more. Thank you for making such a big contribution
    to the salon that you participate in for the first time.

    Arc, your facilitation and leadership skills were strongly demonstrated
    throughout the event. Your presentation on the political philosophy was
    interesting, and I look forward to learning more.

    Dan, I appreciated hearing your experiences with the American School in
    Japan. What stood out for me is your ability to engage the audience by
    challenging them, inviting their input, and encouraging dialogues.

    Andrew, thank you for sharing your experiences and observations in
    Yamanashi and beyond. They made me realize that Japan hasn't really
    changed for the direction of "internationalization" that it has been
    aiming for the last three decades or so. I hope to hear more.

    Shoko, you fully utilized your academic and personal backgrounds to
    present the issue of racism and discrimination in Japan, which helped us
    relate well to the problem both on the intellectual and emotional level.
    Your genuineness and open-mindedness are a treasure always.

    Thanks so much again and we should do something like this again soon!