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Queen's University
 

Multiculturalism Policies in Contemporary Democracies


Japan

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TOTAL SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 0 0


1. Federal or quasi-federal territorial autonomy

   No.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 0 0

Evidence:

  • Japan has been a unitary country since the adoption of its constitution in 1946. It is composed of 47 prefectures, each overseen by an elected governor, which are responsible for the implementation of some governmental policies.
  • The Ryukyuan minority is concentrated in the Okinawa prefecture, a group of islands in the south of the country.
  • Most government expenditure takes place at the regional or local level, but the prefectural government is dependent on money transferred from the central government and is very limited in its autonomy with regard to spending (Inoguchi 2007).
  • The Burakumin are widely dispersed on the Japanese territory and have no form of territorial autonomy.
  • No change has been observed in the last decade.


2. Official language status, either in the region or nationally

   No.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 0 0

Evidence:

  • Japanese is the only official language of the state, and more than 99 percent of the population of Japan is said to speak it as their first language.
  • The Okinawan languages (or the Ryukyuan languages) are similar to, but distinct from, Japanese. They tend to be presented as dialects of Japanese—a portrayal that is considered to be based on political reasons, rather than on linguistic ones (Gottlieb 2005).
  • For over a century, after the annexation of the Ryukyuan islands by Japan in 1872, language planning activities in favour of standard Japanese have led to the almost complete disappearance of the Okinawan languages, which are now spoken only by older members of the population or in traditional activities (Heinrich 2004).
  • Recently, attempts have been made to revitalize the Ryukyuan languages: many research centres and organizations were established in past decades, and the preservation of the languages has become the policy of the prefectural government. Created in 2000, the Council for Restoration of the Okinawa Dialects is now seeking to establish a standard orthography for a variety of Ryukyuan languages (ibid.).
  • The Burakumins have no language of their own.


3. Guarantees of representation in the central government or on constitutional courts

   No.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 0 0

Evidence:

  • Japan’s legislative organ is the bicameral Diet, consisting of a House of Councillors and a House of Representatives. Members of both houses are elected according to a supplementary member system or mixed member majoritarian system (House of Councillors 2010).
  • A majority of the members of the Diet, that is, 300 members of the House of Representatives and 146 members of the House of Councillors, are elected in multiple-seat constituencies. The remaining members are elected by proportional representation in prefectural constituencies, in the former case, or from a single nationwide electoral district, in the latter (House of Representatives 2010).
  • According to election law, prefectural constituencies are ensured a minimum of one representative. This, de facto, ensures that at least one representative of Okinawa is elected to the House of Representatives, but there is no indication that this was adopted to guarantee representation to the national minority (Free Choice Foundation, 2007).
  • There is a Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, but there is no requirement that this position be taken by a member of the Ryukyuan minority.
  • In fact, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance reports that national minorities are “invisible in state institutions” (Commission on Human Rights 2006, 22), and recommends that “political representation of minorities should be guaranteed” (ibid.).
  • As indicated by the Constitution of Japan (1946), judges to the Supreme Court are appointed by the Cabinet. This appointment is then reviewed by the people at the first general election of the House of Representatives, and judges can be dismissed if the majority of the voters decide so (Supreme Court of Japan 2006). Since this vote is cast on the national level, this system does not guarantee representation for national minorities.
  • Two electoral reforms have taken place—in 1994 for the House of Representatives and in 2000 for the House of Councillors—but no evidence has been found that previous systems ensured representation of national minorities.


4. Public funding of minority-language universities/schools/media

   No.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 0 0

Evidence (education):

  • Even though public schools in Okinawa are overseen by their own regional prefectural board of education, language planning activities in the 20th century have consistently imposed negative measures against Ryukyuan languages. These minority languages were banned from schools in 1907 in an attempt to enforce the “standard language,” Japanese (Heinrich 2004).
  • The central government does not recognize or authorize languages other than standard Japanese as the language of instruction in public and private schools, or as the language used in textbooks and pedagogical material. In fact, Maher (1997) reports “neither government financial support nor accreditation will be given to those institutions” (that seek to maintain minority languages or cultural habits). Children graduating from minority-language schools are also ineligible for entry to institutions of higher education.
  • Attitudes towards minority-language education are slowly changing, particularly because of the growing awareness of the declining use of these languages and of the pressure made by groups seeking to revitalize minority cultures. According to Heinrich (2004), “Ryukyuan plays and songs have recently been incorporated in local schools” in Okinawa.
  • Basic Ryukyuan language courses are beginning to be offered at many universities. While they enjoy great popularity, more advanced Ryukyuan courses are not offered yet (Heinrich 2004).

Evidence (media):

  • There is little evidence of government support for minority media, both in terms of content and as a medium.
  • Television and newspaper coverage of Japan’s national minorities seems marginal. Gottlieb, for example, mentions that “online searches of newspaper archives have not produced many instances of reporting of Burakumin issues in the major dailies” (2006, 56).
  • In 1997, Maher noted the sole use of standard Japanese in radio, television, and all print media, suggesting that this accelerated the decline of vernaculars such as the Ryukyuan languages. In 2004, however, Heinrich reported the broadcasting of news in Ryukyuan twice a week by a local radio station in Okinawa, as well as the publication of four issues of a newspaper in Ryukyuan per year. It is unclear whether these minority media are publicly or privately funded.
  • In its 2006 report on Japan, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance recommends that “Japanese national media should give more space to programmes on minorities,” which should be developed with the collaboration of minorities (Commission on Human Rights 2006).


5. Constitutional or parliamentary affirmation of “multinationalism”

   No.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 0 0

Evidence:

  • Japan is far from acknowledging its multinational character; on the contrary, the state’s claims of racial and cultural homogeneity are vigorous (and numerous).
  • The preface of the 1946 Constitution of Japan starts with “We, the Japanese people” emphasizing a unity among all Japanese that is not nuanced later on. In a more explicit way, the central government has repeatedly denied the existence of linguistic minorities over the years and affirmed the racially homogenous character of the country, describing it as having one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, and one race (Maher 1997; Gottlieb 2006; Burgess 2007).
  • While Burakumin and Okinawans have never been recognized as racial, ethnic or national minorities, the government has acknowledged the deep discrimination and economic difficulties suffered by these groups (particularly by the Buraku people), and took a set of actions to improve their social conditions. Thus, the Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects (1969, terminated in 2002) and the Okinawa Promotion and Development Plan (2002) were adopted in order to improve the living conditions of the minorities, without, however, recognizing their particular needs and characteristics as such (Commission on Human Rights 2006).
  • Still today, discussion of minority rights and recognition is taboo in Japanese public space, partly because of the population’s continued ignorance of the minorities’ distinct culture and heritage. Parts of history books dedicated to the Buraku and Ryukyuan people, for example, are reported to have been particularly reduced, reinforcing the impression of a Japanese uniform history (ibid.).


6. Accorded international personality (e.g., allowing the sub-state region to sit on international bodies, sign treaties, or have their own Olympic team)

   No.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 0 0

Evidence:

  • Article 73 of the Constitution of Japan (1946) states that managing foreign affairs and concluding treaties are prerogatives of the state’s Cabinet. The constitution does not recognize any role of the prefectures in that matter.
  • No evidence can be found of independent international activities undertaken by the Okinawa prefectural government, and no change in these criteria can be observed over the last decade.

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