Race in Japan: Challenges and Changes

Saturday, March 4th, 2006
Sophia University, Ichigaya Campus
1pm –5 pm

David Slater, Sophia University
Michael Wiener, San Diego State University
Gracia Farrer, University of Chicago
Angelo Ishi, Musashi University
John Russell, Gifu University
Keiko Yamanaka, UC Berkeley

Perspective Abstract of Session

(Your comments welcome!)

The workshop is designed to explore Race in Japan today. While the assumed isomorphism of race, language and culture has served as an unreflective popular supposition and ideological backbone for academic scholarship for some time, there is less to suggest these images of homogeneity as the basis of hegemonic national identity today. If we assume that the contents and consent of any national image is as much a product of the social and political situation of a nation-state as it own discursive self-representations, we must acknowledge that some fundamentals have changed. At a moment when the population is dwindling and the once recessionary economy is recovering, the possibility of increased immigration of foreign nationals, and the repositioning of existing ethnic groups within Japan, has become more prominent in the popular press. The meanings of race and the possibilities of "racialized" identities, always dynamic and relational, are once again in a time of flux. Less prominent is sustained academic attention being paid to this emerging dynamic.

In this relative new terrain, different pragmatic and political practices and tactics are emerging that open the way from some hybrid identity. The duality of "self" and "other" do not capture the range of complexity part of daily experience in urban Japan (if they ever did). Within this new terrain, race presents new resources and shifting social identities. While the term "multiethnic" is rarely used to refer to Japan in any unproblematic way, it is becoming more of the taken-for-granted urban experience of everyday life. At the same time, we a state less intent on excluding racial others or denying internal racial difference (dare we even say "diversity"), but looking to anticipate it, control it and co-opt it in ways that allow for its management.

This Workshop has asked experts in a range of ethnic populations to reflect upon the shifting meanings of race and its patterns of deployment (at the state, institutional and/or individual levels) that capture the prominent dynamics that confront different ethnic groups. Through our discussion, we will identify important understudied areas for future research.