Pride and Prejudice, the Japanese Style

For eons, the world has advised humans that “Life isn’t a bed of roses”. Today in Japan, “Life isn’t like anime”.

Japan has long hosted a society where harmony takes precedence over individuality. After all, in the Japanese society, harmony is so well preserved to the point of stubborn reverence, there is no place for ‘being alone’. Schools group their students from the slow learners to the faster students together, teaching all of them at the same pace. Everyone is expected to hold the age hierarchy in high respect. Everyone is expected to uphold the values taught to them by the Japanese society. To summarise, no one is left behind.

But in the midst of all of this, the Japanese society conceals a fatal flaw. Those who act differently are immediately and instinctively seen as outcasts. They’re seen as the reprehensible, the deplorable, and they’re immediately excluded on many aspect of society. In the workplace, such people are divided from the rest of the office, often experiencing shunning and awkward smiles. In schools, these people are the subject of ostracising and bullying. That, however, is present in many societies, as any Japanese person may argue. The only problem lies in how much this is pronounced – the juxtaposition of treatment makes this social discrimination far too obvious.

Still, it is not to say that the Japanese society is completely deleterious. The Japanese society has been a pretty well established society, with rules not often needed to be said while the actions of every Japanese is guided by the eyes of the masses. That has bred politeness, cleanliness and consideration for those around them. As written by The Guardian (clicking this link is highly advised), such politeness has materialised into the Japanese infrastructure which cares for the elderly, the injured, the disadvantages, the pregnant, mothers and fathers and children all alike. Public telephones are lowered to help those on wheelchairs for their usage. Children have been inculcated with the importance of cleanliness by cleaning and sweeping the hallways and toilets in their schools. Even for the very sake of environmentalism and overall tidiness, residents are expected to sort their own garbage. Almost every aspect of Japanese society is already built upon the foundation of care and concern, but in this foundation lies a massive issue – this has established an extreme social congealment of sorts, to protect the consistency and cohesiveness of the society, differences or their progenitors must be eliminated.

Almost all too awkward, it seems, when this very elimination still comes with sheepish yet contemptuous courtesy. As primitive as it seems for a society which is expected to have evolved throughout their history within an already developed country, Japan still faces a now defunct caste system which may threaten the very harmony they preach. Deep down in the pits of the caste system lie the Burakumin, or ‘the untouchables’ as reported by the BBC. Almost wholly is the system built upon the theory of survival of the fittest, yet almost awkwardly, the system depends on these Burakumin. For those in or associated with the lowest caste, discrimination must feel almost humiliating in the deepest level, as they face scowls, hostility and an almost any form of degrading contempt cast upon them. The multitudinous hate speech bestowed ruthlessly should not be forgotten too, for this too disregards both people and the foundation of the Japanese society. How then should the Japanese inform themselves of this social discrimination and how can they then take steps to rescind their hurtful gimmick.

This discrimination, not the Burakumin themselves, is the greatest humiliation of the Japanese society.

The unsustainable policy of the Japanese government was not to see nor touch this issue, preferring to sweep this issue under the rug, as if it was never there, as if Japan was and will always be clean. The truth lies far from that, as the 3 million Burakumin continue to face this stigma against them. This issue, already treated as taboo, starts to resurface in Japan, no matter the sheer number of anime churned out, no matter the amount of J-pop that clog their media. Looming over Japan last December was a barrage of legislative bureaucracy, but within its midst was a law which should deal with such discrimination. This new law deals with educating the public about discrimination, providing consultations and launching investigations into ‘Burakumin’ discrimination. Still, it remains almost impossible to dissolve this social stigma. After all, this entire law does not guarantee a stoppage to this entire mess, more often than not putting a hold on any constructive efforts in ensuring the harmful status quo. This law does not criminalise discrimination, not does it impose any punishment nor fines, thereafter providing no routes but failures for this law.

However, there still remains a silver lining. For decades has this issue been swept off by the Japanese government. The media outright yet silently refuses to raise this issue in regard. Almost all hope is lost, yet it prevails as this law is brought into light. The only problem lies in the effectiveness of this law, which does not seem all to promising either for the future of the Burakumin. Already, the Internet crawls in hordes of cyberbullies who harass the humble tranquility the Burakumin seek. A Burakumin rights group found a list in the mid 1970s that contained a list of Burakumin and their addresses. Today, this parallels threats over the internet that companies wouldn’t hire at all anyone with suspects ties to the Burakumin. As reported by the Japan Times, a court ordered a Japanese publisher to delete the names, occupations, addresses, numbers and any vital information relating to the Burakumin over reports of an invasion of privacy. As of this point, it should be absolutely clear that Burakumin rights must be boosted to maintain their equality with the Japanese people, as opposed to the Edo era (1603-1868), when a Burakumin was one-seventh the worth of an average Japanese.

Or maybe the label ‘Burakumin’ should be outlawed entirely. An adherence to a system that was meant to be forgotten by history tells a prophecy that promises nothing but chaos to befall the Japanese society. Whatever the case is, for this caste system to maintain a foothold on the Japanese society only spells trouble. The Japanese mafia (yakuza) can only get stronger as more Burakumin start to join their ranks. Poverty and submission can only breed a rebellion. There will be a time when even the cornerstone of the Japanese society turns against the very object it supports. Eventually, we’ll only be expecting a country ruled by the dominance of rage and revenge.

In other instances, discrimination affects more than just the locals.

June (not her real name), a Singaporean housewife married to a Japanese man, shuts her door behind her. She could still hear the murmurs about her, how she’d have a sad life in Japan, with her  working long hours with almost no time to spare. Other neighbours gave a smug look, whispering to the others that she didn’t belong in Japan, that she didn’t deserve to be in Japan because of her weak command of Japanese. She is Chinese.

Max (not real name either), was with me in a Japanese restaurant. He spoke to the server in Japanese. His command of the language was good to begin with, but the server disregarded it and conversed in English. For a moment, I was ignored. Then came our drinks, which was on the house, weirdly. We were only given that because of his presence. A white male.

All of these concerns matters relating to the Japanese mindset. While xenophobia and racism seem to go wild in the Japanese society, the opposite of it, when preferential treatment is given to other races other than their own, also known as the Gaijin complex, occurs just as rampantly. It’s weird to think that racism and xenophobia happens in Japan, given their homogeneity. Many people, however, do forget that this homogeneity only extends to the Japanese people.

This in itself is already spinning out of control, especially when this deep-seated racism continues to perpetuate without any visible control, be it from the entertainment media (Japanese news organisations have performed decently in reporting these cases) or the government. Already evincing all of this is the prevalence of racism despite the existence of Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution, which asserts that “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” Open any news source, book or blog, they say the same thing: Racism isn’t criminal but is unconstitutional.

As polite as the Japanese people look, things are far more sinister than just superficial virtue. So flagrantly, as reported by the Japan Times, have Japanese officials denied people rights to services. “I’ll have to deny you service just because you don’t look Japanese/ aren’t Japanese,” is a good enough and socially acceptable response to a foreigner or foreign looking persons, even if that racism takes a blatant form. The Asahi Shimbun itself reports instances of hotels and business refusing service, foreign students being bullied and foreigners being unable to rent homes. Still, to understand better the nature of discrimination in Japan, the Japanese Justice Ministry has since made an unprecedented move to conduct a survey targeted at foreigners living in Japan regarding the possible discrimination they would’ve had experience prior. Whether or not this survey succeeds lies in the questions they use, the sample they draw their responders from and how they fairly interpret. However, the issue does not only lie in whether or not the Japanese Government tries to understand, but on whether steps have been taken. The fact that this is seen as a trait of the Japanese community contributes to the rampant racism Japan experiences. It is not an issue to be ignored.



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