Dec 11, 2020Liked by Noah Smith

Thank you for writing about this, Noah! I’m a quarter Japanese and 3/4 Taiwanese but was born and grew up in Japan, only speaking Japanese and knowing its culture. Our family naturalized when I was little so no one knew I wasn’t Japanese. But I never felt I was fully accepted which caused pain when young, even though I never experienced direct discrimination.

It’s not just about ancestry or how you look in Japan... it’s about how much you accept being Japanese and never question anything to disrupt the harmony. Many of my cousins had no problem assimilating. This is why I don’t find it odd that Japanese government doesn’t collect data about race. What’s important is the “nori,” going with the flow. If you behave in complete harmony, they tend to accept you no matter how you look. I couldn’t, and that’s why I’m American now.

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i know this isn't a genetics piece, but let me add my gene-sense

1) the yamato ppl are a mix of rice farmers + post-jomon hunter-gatherers

2) the average is 80-90% of the former with 20-10% latter

3) there is a bit of variation in japan, but not much. more post-jomon in the far northeast and in southern kyushu (toward okinawa).

if we could get a 'random sample' of ppl from japan we could actually estimate ancestry from other groups pretty well (koreans pop out of japanese samples for example)

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Dec 11, 2020Liked by Noah Smith

Good piece. My own perennial question about ethnicity and race in Japan is “what about the Ainu, the Okinawans, and the Ryukyuans?” I’ve been told by Yamato people that the Ainu are assimilated now, but it seems wise to take that with a grain of salt.

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One Thing:

1. France is pretty similar. From what I recall, they are very particular about their language (i.e. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acad%C3%A9mie_Fran%C3%A7aise). Also, they do not track racial statistics as everyone is French. Actually, there a lot of ways France and Japan parallel each other: centralized transportation system, sophisticated food cultures...but I digress.

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Dec 11, 2020Liked by Noah Smith

Interesting piece. Not something I would have expected but a random topic I enjoyed. Didn't realize that Japanese isn't the actual ethnicity and there is one called Yamato.

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Dec 10, 2020Liked by Noah Smith

Thanks for the post. Reminded me of my short trip to Toyko back in 1967. It was strange to look over a sea of black heads while in the metro. Also strange to be the only tall red headed male shopping in the Ginza. Interesting to watch the taxi's drag racing from stop light to stop light.

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In response specifically to thoughts about Japan's homogeneity, the points about it actually being relatively heterogeneous are absolutely true. Especially considering the author didn't even touch on the Eta people or on any of the native minorities, nor on the descendants of the Ryukyu people that make up much of Kyushu and Okinawa. It is my opinion that the government refraining from asking about ethnicity in the census is in part a tool used to erase these minorities' cultural identities, and it's particularly damaging to native peoples. Can't ask for equality, protection, or support if the government won't admit that you exist (as is the case with the Ainu people).

The fact that the government is pushing the ideal of everyone being "Yamato" has absolutely forced a large number of these minorities to identify themselves as part of the majority. There is probably much more ethnic diversity in Japan, but it has be intentionally suppressed. Additionally, the cultural ideal of homogeneity means that those holdouts that do not identify as Yamato (sometimes not by choice because the driving force of immigration-by-marriage is the fact that it is practically impossible to gain citizenship for you or your children/grandchildren by any other method) suffer severe racial discrimination in school, at work, and from the government.

Finally, the example of the Eta shows that even if you are racially indistinct from Yamato, and identify as Yamato, you can still be discriminated against for where you were born and who your ancestors were.

The majority of Japanese people are either not aware of the reality of diversity in their own country, or are unaware of (or agree with) the rampant and virulent racism in their culture. Part of this is precisely because the government refuses to recognize minorities. This is why I still refer to Japan as a "homogenous" country, not as a compliment.

But yeah, the angle the author took was really interesting. Living in Japan has made me realize that there are more "foreigners" living here than I thought, which is confusing because it's incredibly difficult to live here as a foreigner.

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There's also a lot of linguistic diversity in Japan that would shock Americans! Japanese people need subtitles when people from other regions are interviewed on TV, due to their different dialects (partially a product of Japan's mountainous terrain). And it's well known that each prefecture has its own culture--there's a huge different between the typical Osaka person and the typical Tokyo or Kyoto fellow.

It's not racial or ethnic division to be sure, but then again a lot of divisions in America are cultural rather than than ethnic/racial.

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Being "Japanese" depends on who you talk to.

There are thousands to tens of thousands of ex-Brazilian Japanese in Narita - the town for which the Tokyo International airport is named for. They're not considered "Japanese" by most Japanese that I have interacted with because they don't share the speech, customs and other socio-economic straitjacket norms which Japanese have.

There are also enormous numbers of Sankokujin in Japan: Koreans, Chinese and Filipinos. They also aren't considered "Japanese".

Speaking Japanese fluently in the communication sense doesn't make you Japanese.

Living in Japan doesn't make you Japanese.

Even being genetically Japanese, doesn't automatically make you Japanese.

Then there are the Ainu, the Okinawans and other islanders, the Kanto vs. Kansai divide, etc etc.

This article was clearly written more from ignorance than knowledge and is not based on knowledge of the actual culture in Japan.

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But the thing is the biggest population outside pure Japanese people are koreans followed by Chinese, both making up 95-97% of the immigrants percentage, and we know they are genetically are near enough the same, ignoring technical terms Japan is homogenous, and I as someone from the west who plans to live in Japan hope Japan stays at least 95% east Asian I do not want to see Japan face western multi culturalism issues and the Japanese population also don't want those issues. I'm glad the biggest tourists to Japan are Chinese people, and the people who flood into Japan the most are koreans and Chinese, I'm glad the Japanese government doesn't flood it's country with refugees and I'm glad the rules to move to Japan outside marriage are extremely strict, and I'm glad just being born in Japan doesn't make you automatically a Japanese citizen and give you a Japanese passport. I hope for the future to come the biggest migrant groups to go to Japan are koreans and Chinese no hate to people of other countries I don't want Japan to be destroyed by the false teachings of strong bonds via multi culturalism, it's a lie and Japan knows it, keep strong Japan and one day I'll be there too

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There is a simple answer to this whole "is multiculturalism good or bad"-discussion: time will tell. The so called "diverse" countries in Europe or America are on the track to collapse in the long term, from little cultural assimilation of immigrants, increasing violence and crime rates, parallel societies and little economical contribution from certain ethnic groups. If those countries with liberal policies towards immigration fail, while the other ones, like Japan, Korea or China survive in terms of economical success, preservation of culture and racial homogeneity, then they will be the ones, to write history and tell, which approach turned out to work better.

Before people come up with the "racist"-hammer: I and my family are immigrants ourselves. I have grown up in a relatively bad district in a European country which is usually considered as "wealthy" and have been mostly surrounded by other immigrants, from all countries and ethnic groups, and the only thing I can tell, is that things good steadily worse over the time. Even to a point, at which I have to say, that I would never ever grow up my children in such an area or maybe even country, if those developments persist, which very likely seems to be the case. Even my parents, who took more than 20 years to built up a modest life here, share the same concerns for their retirement.

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When in Japan, do as Japanese do. The so-called diversity is not a silver bullet to let people obey your selfish rules.

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Interesting piece - thanks for posting.

1. The parallels to how France approaches national identity of its citizens seems like the closest analogous example, however with France being further along in both the number of visibly and not-visibly non-ethnic French citizens (and the unfortunately associated racial tensions as well).

2. You allude to it, but there has been an interesting debate coming in and out of national attention about allowing dual citizenship (mostly an issue for Japanese living abroad, half-Japanese, and long term foreign residents).

3. I agree with the broad point of the post that despite being depicted as some extreme anomaly on the spectrum of nations, Japan's domestic ethnic/racial diversity and corresponding tensions are not dissimilar from those seen in many European countries. However, while you acknowledge it, I do think the post downplays the experience of discrimination by ethnic minorities in Japan. The US obviously has a prominent history of racism, but the level of exposure of the average citizen to other races and racial issues, and the degree to which it is raised - from micro-aggressions, bias in health care (both systemic and in individual doctors), affirmative action, the make up of company board members, etc - seems to have progressed considerably compared to many countries, including Japan where issues of racial discrimination are generally framed around the most extreme examples of it and not a phenomenon that permeates the majority of society to varying degrees.

4. No mention of Naomi Osaka? Misora Hibari? :)


I'm sure you've seen this, but this is a funny and relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLt5qSm9U80

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There is quite a bit of debate about the proto-Japanese hunter-gatherer Jomon people where some believe they are Caucasian in origin, others note similar genetic haplotypes with Southeast Asian/Ryuku people, and others find similar haplotypes with people of Central Asia/Siberia/Mongolia, while also finding similarities between the Ainu of the north with Aleutians and indigenous Americans such as the Tlingit.

Later, the Yayoi people migrated down the Korean peninsula (distinct from proto-Koreans) from around 1000 BCE and brought rice farming with them. They started to intermarry, assimilate, or killed of what remained of the Jomon people from the 3rd century CE to form what we know as modern "Japanese" people. The Jomon genes have been diluted over the years and now represents maybe 4~20% of the overall genome in mainland Japan, but more like 30% in Ryuky and Ainu people.

There are also distinct skeletal features seen from different waves of immigrations into Japan via the Korean peninsula.

But it is probably fair to say that Japan has been quite homogeneous since the beginning of the Japanese civilization dating from around the the 7th century CE.

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I come in peace but...is this not like saying the U.S. isn't 62% American it's 62% West Eurasian (European) and, even within that, there are dozens of different ethnicities? And each of these ethnicities have experienced severe discrimination. I don't think anyone on the Right would even attempt to make that argument anymore even though it's actually true.

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