Can Foreigners Ever Be Japanese?

A recent exchange between two members of the Japanese Diet revealed deep seated feelings by those born in Japan toward anyone born abroad who attempts to claim the right to express opinions about Japan. Takeo Hiranuma, former Trade Minister, became upset at a remark made by Renho, a woman of Taiwan/Japanese heritage who has Japanese citizenship and graduated from a Japanese university. “I hate to say this, but she’s not originally at heart (motomoto) a Japanese.” She had questioned the need for vast sums in computer development to make Japan number one in the world which upset Hiranuma. “This is most impudent (fukinshin) for a politician to say.” Of course, he denied there was any racial prejudice to his remarks that challenged her right to express an opinion. In 2006, Hiranuma wrote a book claiming allowing human rights to prevail in Japan would “exterminate (horobosu) Japan.” He also expressed the view Japan should never have a female ruler because she might “marry a blue-eyed foreigner.”

There is a movement in Japan to allow suffrage in local elections to Permanent Residents. Of course, many of these people came from nations conquered by the Japanese and then sent to Japan to work. They remained in Japan after World War II, but are denied the right to Japanese citizenship even though some of their relatives actually fought in the Japanese armed forces. The reality of Japan is to marginalize foreigners and make it very difficult for them to become citizens.

As Japan’s population declines there may come a day when even blue-eyed foreigners will be welcome in Japan.