This issue has been the rock in my shoe for some time now. I feel like I have landed myself in the middle of a serious and historic concept of us and them and I’m completely powerless to stop it. The magnitude of this issue is simply unfathomable not only by your average Japanese person but even other foreigners living here as well. Japanese people of course feel offended and become defensive if you suggest that racism exists in Japan in any way and other foreigners will tell me to go home because that’s just how it is here. Since this is not my country and I am basically a long-term visitor who am I to make this my problem? Also even trying to convince someone who is open minded that Japan has a serious problem with racism is exhausting. I have never had a Japanese friend who saw me as Valerie and not the foreigner Valerie. Even friends I have known for years ended up growing distant because their exploration phase was over and it was time to live and act like normal Japanese people, which is to not really have any foreign friends. Or they will have foreign friends kind of on the side for when they want to travel or seem like an exotic person at parties or company meetings, “Yea I have three foreign friends, check out how diverse I am!”.
You know what gets to me the most though? Despite all of this crap that I have to deal with here, sorry fellow expats I can’t just go back to America because it’s no different. Except of course I wouldn’t feel that America has any kind of race problem because I’m white. When I realize that how I’m feeling now is possibly how every Latino, Asian, or African American etc feels since they were born, practically everyday of their life I feel so ashamed. Ashamed because I’ve been living under this happy lie that America is progressive and I ate it up wholeheartedly because I didn’t want to deal with the reality. Well, I didn’t have to deal with the reality and because this problem is so grand I preferred staying in my fantasy world, like many people. However I’m going to stop beating myself up about it because until you experience the marginalization, discrimination, assumptions, and exclusion that a privileged group can put you through, you really have no idea how bad it is. How much inner strength you need to get by day after day.
Getting back to Japan if you don’t believe that Japan has a serious race issue then take a look at this BBC video where company officials, who are the heads of robotic units. say literally they they are making robots to keep Japan from resorting to immigration.
Apart from this being economically idiotic, and overall unrealistic, this is pretty potent racism. Maybe in the back of your mind you are saying America isn’t that bad! So I will politely remind you of the bill Arizona tried to pass to enable police stop Latino looking individuals driving who might “look suspicious” but are otherwise following the rules of the road and so on. More details of that bill can be found here:
So what can be done about it? Well personally I think the first step is deciding that something can be done about it and it’s not a lost cause. A lot of companies who hire overseas ALTs try to weed out people who come off as too feminist or outspoken against racism because the Japanese BOEs would discontinue their contracts most likely. I understand that for these companies staying afloat in the sea of numerous Eikaiwas and competing companies is a priority over this social issue. However I also think there are polite and positive ways one can remind their coworkers, students, and peers that the world is changing and becoming more and more global and it is important to be able to have positive relationships with different kinds of people because of this.