The Internationalization In Japan Cultural Studies Essay

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Monolinguistic, monocultural are some of the terms describing Japanese society. It is true considering the former history, but the Japanese government is now placing emphasis on moving toward a globalized society. Due to rapid globalization, Japan is in need of moving toward global understanding in order not to fall behind the trend. In this essay, internationalization is defined as people understanding and working together among different ethnic groups in Japan. The introduction of internationalization gives a ray of light toward immigrants and returnees, because these groups use to attract little attention within the country. However, despite global awareness, there is still an area where Japanese conservatism is powerful toward these minority groups living in Japan. So, is internationalization in Japan, real or imaginary? This paper will examine the Japanese government's response to immigrants and Japanese returnees in the past and present; we will then endorse the government's attempts on internationalization, and also undermine the minority groups' confidence in government.

Background on Immigrants in Japan

The issue on immigration is often seen as a part of kokusaika (国際åŒ-), or internationalization. Kibe (2011) mentions that it is a true fact that the governments were trying to limit the numbers of immigrants accepted inside Japan in the past. However, due to low birthrate and the growing number of the aging population becoming a serious issue in Japan, OECD (2006) explains, the Japanese government has to take a positive approach on immigrants. In other words, there are no other options left for the Japanese government than to rebuild the economy with assistance from the immigrant groups. Despite the hostile treatment against the immigrants in previous history, Japan stands at a crossroads in which they are recently trying to establish trust and further understanding towards the immigrants. The Japanese government highlighted the idea of internationalism in 1980s, and contributed to the increase of public understanding of Tabunka kyousei (多æ-‡åŒ-共生). Willis (2008) states, this concept explains the importance of coexistence in a multi-cultural society. The main focus of this teaching is for Japanese citizens to be able to understand and respect different cultures. On the other hand, the hidden meaning of this curriculum is to put emphasis on honoring Japanese culture rather than accepting different cultures.

There are several immigrant groups who came to live in Japan. Tsuneyoshi (2011) mentions people from China, Korea, and Brazil account for the largest portion, followed by people from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and India in 2010. As the number of immigrants grew, the awareness about internationalization increased within Japan. This has led the government to lean toward new policies on integration for immigrants. In 1986, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan presented a proposal in the foreign policy blue book explaining the importance of internationalization. Ishizuka (2011) adds, although this book emphasize the fact that Japan is a highly homogeneous country, it claims that the citizens of Japan can still work together for mutual harmony with other ethnic groups. Although Japan is still a highly homogeneous country, a shift in the legislation shows that the government is now offering a safe and secure environment trying to improve the standard of living of the immigrants. It has often been claimed that the change in policy is usually received in a positive way, taking in account that the government would be less likely to force assimilation. Due to the shift in the immigrant policy, the number of immigrants entering Japan is increasing yearly.

Background on Japanese Returnees

To promote further internationalization of Japan, people who are Japanese returnees have started to attract attention from the government. Since Japan is such a homogenous country, both culturally and socially, the people who have experience outside Japan quickly became an asset to the Japanese government. Kikokushijo (帰国子女), a term used to describe returnees, often refers to children who have been taken abroad due to their parents' job or study. As Kurashige (1999) states, returnees means children with previous experience of spending a year or more outside Japan, before going back to study in their own country.

Goodman (1992) explains that the statistic shows a high percentage of the parent's jobs are diplomats, businessmen working for a multicultural company, or professors. In view of internationalization of the economy, many Japanese companies put a priority on mass production and move outside Japan to reduce cost of labor. As many businessmen starts to work abroad in 1970s, the numbers of returnees have also increased. According to Goodman, 'The number of children living and attending schools outside Japan quadrupled between 1971 and 1982' (Goodman, 1992, p.164). From then, the number of Japanese students living abroad has been increasing.

Since moving towards a multi-cultural society became a task of immediate importance, returnees suddenly flagged up to be considered as elite. The rapid process of internationalization exemplifies the importance of bilingualism and biculturalism in the late 1990s, and these effects are still continuing today.

According to Willis (2008), the Ministry of Education has supported the returnees from 1985, and a successful example of this is the special quota system for university entrance examinations. Usually, Japanese returnees are tested in the traditional exams where they memorize everything written in the textbook, and certain levels of Japanese language skills are required. However, the new system is created to test their English ability rather than their Japanese language skills, so they can enter a competitive university a lot more easily than before. This system is created to let students have a wider range of choices for their future. Although there have been controversies on this topic being fair or unfair to others, this education system has led to a phenomenon where many of the parents take their children abroad for a short period of time and then move back to enter good universities. Since graduating from a university at a certain level is essential to get a respectable job in Japan, many returnees are thought to have advantage in job hunting and one step ahead of others in their remaining life.

Restriction and Limitations on Internationalism: Immigrants

It has been suggested that immigrants and returnees, at some level, are warmly welcomed in the society. In other ways, these people are still struggling for a better living. The government is continuity suppressing freedom of these minority groups, limiting their actions under controlled conditions. When looking at cases of immigrants moving into a new country, adaptation is usually a gradual process. Yet, the government is taking an advantage of their positions, forcing immigrants to assimilate faster into the host society.

Kashiwazaki (2011) clearly states that the government issued a manifesto concerning the issue on accepting internationalism. It claims that internationalization in Japan do not mean that the unique traditions and cultures will be threatened. This statement leaves a visible scar to understand a country with such a reclusive tendency. Despite of the governments' intention, this statement betrays the intrinsic reclusive nature of Japanese society. Tsuneyoshi (2011) makes a valid point in connections with the previous statement explaining that the government is unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. One of the examples given is the case of residential segregation for immigrants. Now, there is less residential segregation than before, since the policy allows immigrants to live close to their community. However, previously, the government separated immigrants believing when a group is vanishingly small; the government can ignore their opinion. What the government were afraid of is that when the immigrants come together to form a community, the can no longer disregard the opinion since they have an effect in Japanese society. Despite being allowed to form a community, which allows the immigrants to hold on to their own culture and beliefs, the hostile situations have not improved. It is true that being able to form a community in Japan can affect immigrants in a positive way. However, the important reason behind this is because of the way they are treat each other in the host country. . In other words, they can live anywhere they want but still choose to stay together to feel safe. They try to live near one another experiencing discrimination, prejudice, and feeling of hostility from the host country.

Tsuneyoshi (2011) makes another point that even though there is a trend in global understanding, the system does not support the education system for immigrant groups. As to fitting into the new environment is stressful, learning the language and the custom is hard when the Japanese government most likely relies on the school itself. Lack of understanding towards their culture from teachers can cause trouble and tension for immigrant children. Discrimination was not a problem in the past, but is an ongoing issue. The immigrant groups are likely to be the ones to fall out of school, have jobs that pay low wages, working for long hours.

Restriction and Limitation on Internationalism: Returnees

The number of returnees has been growing for the past decade but they have not yet received enough attention from the Japanese government. It is often claimed that the returnees are elite in Japanese society; however, the government has seen the returnees as a threat to traditional Japanese beliefs.

Pang (2000) puts forward a strong case in which returnees have been called confused or mentally ill and usually unfairly treated within the society. Despite the positive trends toward the views of the Japanese returnees, not much support has been given for the care of the returnees. They are still expected to act "Japanese," and not to create any problems with other students or teachers. Assimilation within the Japanese society is expected to happen overnight, when it actually takes more time for the returnees to assimilate in their society.

In spite of the fact that returnees are believed to go to better universities with less competition, in order to be accepted into those schools, it is necessary to fit into the Japanese environment. Performance such as grades in school is important, but one's conduct is equally significant. If the teacher considers the student's behavior to be inappropriate, it is likely for them to be given low marks in their reports affecting their university choices. Some of the returnees even try to hide their past foreign experience so they can be accepted in society more easily.

The strict Japanese education system makes it harder for returnees to assimilate back into their own culture. Taura (1998) argues that since the Japanese education system is designed especially for students studying inside Japan, the returnee students are likely to fall behind in class because of their lack of understanding of language and custom. Being forced to assimilate into Japanese society, returnee students do not know how to behave. In cases like this, many returnees feel confused and even frustrated towards their home country since they are banned to use the customs learned abroad. Moreover, returnees continue to be treated more as outcasts. They are likely to be represented as people who have difficulties knowing their own identity, and the ones who are hard to handle. Even till this day, this negative image has not improved.

Although the conditions for the returnees seem to have improved, the government still believes in the necessity of assimilating into the host country. The government believes, wrongly, that is an easy process for returnees to assimilate since they are Japanese. Being the minority in Japan, there is less understanding from the people around them, since only a few people share the same experience, and many of the returnees feel isolated or even have no sense of belonging in Japan.

Cases in the Past: The Korean Residents, the Ainu and the Okinawans

It has often been observed that the acceptance of cultural differences in Japan has always been a problem. Ishida (1998) makes a valid point that Japan has a history of cross-cultural intolerance even within their own country. Other than returnees, strong evidence shows that the Korean residents, the Ainus and the Okinawans, living in Japan, are targets of oppression. These people experience discrimination in Japan even till this day. Moreover, the different cultures and language of the Korean residents, the Ainu and the Okinawans have been rejected and forced to assimilate into mainstream Japanese society. Because of the act of intolerance taken by the government, how many are unknown but valuable language and customs of the Ainus and Okinawans are now at the edge of disappearing.


Despite the trend towards internationalization, Japan is miles away from becoming a multi-cultural society. Although these two groups, the immigrants and the returnees, have a different situation and meaning that cannot be compared, they can be seen as a mirror reflecting Japanese society. There can be no doubt that immigrants and returnees are both minority groups that have been stigmatized and labeled in Japanese society.

When looking at the case of immigrants and returnees unfairly treated, it presents a paradox for a country entitled to work hard for mutual understanding but still unable to learn from past mistakes. Internationalization is certainly is a problem that the government and the citizens have to work on, but in order to truly achieve that goal, they should focus more on problems inside Japan rather than to build better reputation towards other countries. Despite the recent attempts on internationalization, where the government is making some progress, their visions to the future are more imaginary than real. Japan is not ready for the true meaning of internationalization.