Is Japan a “Racist Monoculture”? On Anders Breivik’s Japan

As I was leaving the train station, I heard the Japanese national anthem. People were waving flags. Some guy was shouting about “gaikokujin” (“foreigners”) through a loud-speaker. I stopped and stared until a young flag-waving woman raised her bullhorn, looked directly at us and shouted, “GET OUT OF JAPAN!”

Her English was really good.

The Rise of My Noticing Japanese Fascists
I had seen them camped out with flags and loudspeakers in front of banks and train stations spitting rapid-fire Japanese through the feedback of cheap bullhorns: Gaikokujin this, gaikokujin that.

I didn’t think much about Japanese fascists until this happened:

A bus carrying Chinese tourists in the western Japanese city of Fukuoka was surrounded on Wednesday by more than 10 cars carrying Japanese right-wingers, who then banged windows and kicked the sides of the buses while screaming abuse. Police arrived at the scene and the bus left safely.

Even then, the attack seemed politically motivated by a land dispute rather than random hatred. The attack was disturbing, but I didn’t feel targeted. I had spent too many years internalizing my majority status to realize that I was suddenly a minority.

But recent news from Europe has me feeling a little uneasy.

Anti-multicultural Terrorism
If you watched the news, you’ve heard about Anders Breivik, aka Andrew Berwick, the Norwegian far-right-wing “anti-multiculturalist” whose idea of a Utopian culture is detonating car bombs and methodically slaughtering camping school children.

The news was a stomach-churning blend of Columbine and Christian Jihad, dressed up as a martyr’s “ideology.”

I don’t have a problem with religion, but I have an enormous problem with dickheads. Breivik was special breed of dickhead, one using terminology you’d never hear in America: As as anti-multiculturalist, or a “radical monoculturalist,”  Breivik was an admirer of what he called Japan’s nationalistic and racial purity. Here’s an excerpt from his manifesto; you can read more of his incorrect ideas about Japan at JapanProbe:

“The most functional countries in the world are Japan and South Korea. … They believe in cultural monoculturalism mixed with a free-market democracy. … We believe in cultural monoculturalism and to a large degree ethnocentrism, because we know that is the only proven way of preserving social cohesion levels required to facilitate a welfare state. We believe … that the fundamental requirement for a democracy and a welfare state is social cohesion and a non-reformable cultural conservative framework. And as history shows, you cannot have social cohesion in a multicultural society. The US illustrates this quite well.”

Just one more point of his:

“Japan’s and South Korea’s post-World War II forty-year economic growth surge without immigration has always been an embarrassment to the immigration and multiculturalism enthusiasts. … The current trend of poaching highly educated foreign nationals is nothing more than a negative spiral.”

Let’s understand, first, that what Breivik’s manifesto calls for is “an open democracy” so long as the culture is radically conservative. You can have any color government you want, as long as it’s white.

Of course, Breivik is probably nuts, and it’s pointless to argue with nuts. But his admiration for Japan may leave some people wondering if the two are actually ideologically aligned.

If you want evidence in the affirmative, you could consider Japan’s resistance to foreign labor. The population is aging faster than any other country in the world, and they’re still resisting employing Japanese speakers from the Philippines.

Is Japan the racist monoculture of Anders Breivik’s dreams? It’s not so simple.

The Perks of Monoculturalism
Japan is monocultural and monoculture has its perks. People usually understand one another, which leads to more social cohesion. Everyone is part of the same “in-group.”

But for most Japanese, monoculture is complicated.

Unlike Breivik’s dream of Norway, Japan isn’t organized on the principle of being “a racist monoculture.” Governments have tried in the past, and that didn’t go well for anybody.

For mainstream Japan, immigration isn’t about something as stupid as racial purity. It’s a quality-of-life issue: Japanese culture is intricate. Learning it is a burden for immigrants and teaching it is a burden on the Japanese.

That isn’t a strength, but dumbing down the culture isn’t an option.

Breivik is taking an oversimplified aspect of Japanese society and pretending it is the central organizing principle. It’s an overvalued idea, and he’s overselling the benefits.

The Strengths of Multiculturalism
Breivik rails against importing foreign professionals into Norway, citing multiculturalism’s failure in the States. This is pretty extreme – even Japan has immigration exceptions for skilled laborers. A quick scan of American innovation from “foreign” minds:

Immigrant inventors were behind 72 percent of Qualcomm’s international patents, 65 percent of Merck’s patents, 64 percent of GE’s patents and 41 percent of government patents. [Cited from][Source]

America has taken on a multitude of lifestyles and cultures since 1776. Everyone gets to do whatever they want, for better or worse, so there’s no burden placed on society when someone forges their own path and plenty of benefits if they succeed.

Japan has done the exact opposite of that for hundreds of years longer: Rigid career paths leave little room to experiment. For many Japanese business owners, the first failed business is the last one, as banks look at private failure rates in determining future loans. Higher-level management types who quit one job are specifically banned from seeking the same job at another company; new workers start at the bottom, every time.

It’s difficult for Japanese entrepreneurs to take risks, since failure is final.

The pro-immigration side says that diversifying Japan’s business practices and workplace culture could attract more foreign experts, while the anti-immigration side says that’s just too hard, and not worth the social cost: Importing foreign experts into Japan’s complicated culture is tricky, and many foreigners don’t want to deal with that atmosphere.

Notably, the business world is doing it anyway, and the number of foreign millionaires in Japan is rising. The highest-paid executive in Japan is named Carlos.

Monoculture is slowly cracking. And that’s pissing a lot of people off.

White Pig, Go Home!

This video was taken in Shibuya last year at a nationalist parade.

I haven’t run into anything like this. The clear, smiling English enunciation of the girl I met at the train station was the worst display of pure Japanese racism I’ve seen. It didn’t really scare me: It was funny. It was even sort of cute.

But when you see militant right-wingers emboldened by delusional certainty, such as Andy Breivik, the military marches singling out two white guys on the street, buses being run off the road and smoke bombs being thrown at embassies, it starts to get uncomfortable.

I’ve never felt unsafe in Japan. I’ve been treated like an infant, which is a less pernicious kind of racism; Japanese people assume their culture is densely complicated and crazy for foreigners (which is correct) and feel obligated to help you.

Granted, Japan’s small group of right-wing extremists are angry that I’m here. They want stricter immigration laws and the Emperor back in political power. They show off their anger by occasionally getting together in army uniforms for military drills in public parks. They drive a bus into Fukushima for no good reason, then end up getting satirized in movies like Battle Royale.

But the simple arguments of militant nationalists are an obscure subset of Japanese politics. For everyone else, the immigration issue is a tricky blend of cultural pride, cultural complexity and yes, cultural cohesion.

It’s a debate, not a war.

If Anders Breivik imagined something else, he was thinking of another country.

Next week I’ll talk about something fun. You can keep abreast of updates by following me @owls_mcgee on Twitter, or “likingThis Japanese Life on Facebook. 

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30 Responses to Is Japan a “Racist Monoculture”? On Anders Breivik’s Japan

  1. Dave says:

    Really interesting article, I’ve seen these nationalists myself in Japan and have discussed the issue with co-workers (who think these guys are nutjobs). However, I don’t understand your point ‘Breivik was a new breed of dickhead, one that could only be forged in Europe’. Why only Europe?

    • owwls says:

      The reason I say Breivik is a particularly European kind of dickhead isn’t a slight on Europe. It’s just that Europe is in the midst of a disruptive multicultural endeavor with the EU. In my time there, which was quite limited, there’s a strange mix of nationalism and pan-Europanism that has put the idea of “multiculturalism” on the radar of your run-of-the-mill dickheads.

      In America I just don’t think it would occur to anyone to become an “antimulticulturalist,” they’d just be racist; Asia is too monocultural to fight for monoculturalism (it’s inherent). Breivik goes out of his way, many times, to say he “has Muslim friends” and his targets weren’t chosen by race, they were chosen for their embrace of diversity. I just think it’s unlikely that an American, Asian or African terrorist would choose his victims based on that specific criteria, but not too odd for an antsy Euro-Redneck terrified of EU consolidation, the Euro and waves of Muslim immigrants.

      The rhetoric, and rhetorical terminology, is just very specific to Europe at this stage in history, I feel.

      • Mr.O says:

        In Norway, over 50% of rapes are committed by immigrants. In Oslo 100% of (stranger) rapes are committed by immigrants and over 40% of rapes commited by people who know the victim are commited by immigrants as well. The source is the Oslo police department.

        In every Western European country immigrants have completely pushed ‘natives’ out of the prison system. Crime has risen across the board, making Sweden the country with one if not the country of the highest number of reported rapes in the world. In Belgium 2005, Minister of equal opportunities Grouwels even stated that many Belgian women living in immigrant neighborhoods now wear a scarf over their heads to be safe from assault. In 2006, a small French Union demanded the government to do something about the constant assaults on police officers which they labeled “a permanent intifada”. Police complained they were constantly ambushed and trapped while their attackers yell “Allahu Akbar”.
        Peter Golden, a labor politician in England, could no longer work in his district as he was constantly assaulted for his sexual preferences, echoing complains of the local gay community. I could go on & on, but fact is, you sir, can no longer walk safely in many European neighborhoods, and for women, its a whole lot worse.

        There are areas in Sweden even the police do not dare to show up, and one particular neighborhood is no longer served by the postal services.

        For those who live in such neighborhoods, this is nothing new, it is only the unwillingness of the media to adress such questions and people like you who take no issue with the disturbing statistics of this new Europe. I know many women who have been assaulted and have been called “white sluts” or “blond whores”. I’m tired of this, and even though i will constantly be labeled a racist, although hate is no motivation of mine, i will gladly accept another monicker you use. At least i can look myself in the mirror.

        I am sure you are part of the “all religions are the same crowd” without ever cracking open a quran or reading about “Prophet Muhammed” and wonder if he is the perfect rolemodel Muslims should have in mind for their daily lives.

        The next time a Islam critic is killed in Europe or elsewhere, google Abu Afak, Bint Marwan or sunayna. You may get a glimpse of the answers ordained by the prophet of Islam for those who criticize his religion.

    • owwls says:

      TLDR: An American terrorist blowing up The White House in the name of “monoculturalism” is about as likely as a British terrorist blowing up Parliament because he hates Mexicans.

  2. Dave says:

    Europe is having an increasing problem with its right wing, there is no denying that. However, there are a few issues with trying to argue that this is specific to such a diverse continent – about which generalisations are particularly hard to make. Firstly, Norway isn’t in the EU. Secondly, the ‘anti-multicultural’ feeling, while it does have some strong criticisms of closer European integration, isn’t primarily aimed at other Europeans. Rather, it is predominately aimed (since 9/11) at Muslims. Furthermore, this isn’t at all specific to Europe. Australia, for example, is currently in the throws of debate about multiculturalism and there have been some rather extreme views expressed there. This comparison is easy as Australia shares the same terminology as Europe in the debate. I would argue that there is ‘anti-multicultural’ feeling in America also, but it gets placed in the framework of patriotism. It would be hard to argue that some of those vigilantes catching immigrants on the Mexican border are not trying to defend what they believe to be American culture from an influx of Spanish-speaking Latinos. The Tea Party Movement also reeks of monoculturalism. Sarah Palin’s ‘One Nation Tour’ of the northeast is a great example of this.

    Essentially, the EU isn’t the issue here and the terminology of the debate in Europe and Australia does not limit the issues being discussed to those places.

    • owwls says:

      I agree completely. My statement was specifically about the terminology, and my answer was specifically about why that terminology is used in Europe vs the States – not why the ideology exists.

      We’d have (we’ve had) the same guys, they just never use the word “antimulticulturalism” or describe their motives using that term because American culture already has a completely different linguistic framework for it.

      Basically, I’m not saying “only Europe breeds dickheads,” I’m saying “Only Europe breeds dickheads who use words like antimulticulturalism.”

    • owwls says:

      Either way thanks for pointing out that I’m not being clear. I tweaked the original language to reflect more of what I’ve meant to say.

  3. Brandon says:

    First off, of course these killings were unjust and there is zero excuse for such an attack…But to the debate of multiculturalism, why is it only right for European nations to have to accept immigrants and not other countries? If you look at Chinese, Japanese, etc. immigration laws, they are very strict and it is extremely hard for people of another ethnicity, let alone race, to naturalize. I agree that interaction between different cultures is essential for the world to progress, but it is not fair for one culture to have to succumb so much to multiculturalism that it has to give up its own. By doing that, in a sense, that country is giving up its contribution to multiculturalism since it’s culture will eventually disappear.

    • owwls says:

      I’m not sure if that question was directed at me or rhetorical, but I’ve not put forth any opinion on European multiculturalism. What I can say is that, as an American, multiculturalism works for America. Many Japanese say it won’t work in Japan, and I’ve outlined their arguments and the arguments against.

      The argument on European immigration is not one that I feel particularly qualified to make, for or against, outside of saying it is a particularly stupid excuse to slaughter schoolchildren.

      • Brandon says:

        No doubt it is stupid and there is no excuse to kill schoolchildren, or any innocent people, but that terrorist/horrific act does not invalidate some of his arguments…Multiculturalism has worked for America, but I believe a large part of this is that we (I’m American as well) really do not have a deep, rooted history or culture that extends many hundreds or thousands of years back such as European countries or Japan or really any “Old World” countries and, though it was mostly white men who founded this country, people of every race and ethnicity helped build it and America would not be what it is today without contributions from everyone (yes, Native Americans were here long before this country’s founding, and it is a shame that their culture has been virtually wiped out and their land was taken, but, to be quite blunt, I think we can agree that sheer numbers prevent them from regaining back this land-a sad, but honest asstatem)

  4. Brandon says:

    statement). However, just because the Native American culture was wrongly taken over does not mean it is just for a European culture to be ousted as well. Yes, ethnic Europeans still dominate that continent’s population, however the population of outside groups is rising much more quickly than of the European population. A country/nation is defined by its people and culture, and for many European countries, this idea is being challenged, which does not set well with many people. If Japan/India/China,etc. are allowed to hang on to their traditions and keep a relatively homogenous population, it is only fair that European countries can do the same without being deemed racist.

    • LARP says:

      Karma. Natives are often told to shut up and take it when they lodge legit complaints against mainstream society and the inherent stereotypes tossed out there, stereotypes often shared by other non-white groups. European action in the past doesn’t give them that privilege of dictating how things should be run (after all, European descendants are currently dictating how things should be run for Natives). So Euros should shut up and take it.

  5. dfd says:

    People should really stop comparing Europe and USA. It’s not the same. I am not supporting this mad man, but where there is smoke there is fire. Constantinople, Kosovo, Bosna etc were once Christian lands. Now they are Muslim. Who gives guaranty that 50-100 years from now things will stay the same in various EU countries? They won’t, it’s that simple. Whites have few kids, Arabs have plenty. Majority rules, it’s democracy. Very simple. I think it is very ignorant not to care about your culture, history and identity. Who ever tries to convince you otherwise is a liar.

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  7. Maggie says:

    ‘anti-multicultural’ feeling, ……… is predominately aimed (since 9/11) at Muslims.” Not so. It’s aimed at all non-whites, particularly Africans, eg, Somalis and Nigerians. Having said that, most Europeans, given a choice, would pick Asian Muslims over Africans any time. Asians are usually productive members of society and have good family values. Ideally, of course, most Europeans would prefer to have none of them at all.

  8. You make some very good points, but I disagree about Japanese culture being too intricate or difficult to teach. The biggest impediment to learning Japanese culture is the attitude that it is so. The truth is that the Japanese, having grown up in their culture, are largely unaware of how to present it. What is more, they operate from the idea that it is too hard for foreigners to understand, so they don’t bother to explain it. What is more, most Japanese can’t understand their own culture very well (classic example: ask them to explain rather than give an example of “wabi sabi”) and merely operate within it without truly knowing it. It is akin to being a native speaker of a language who speaks it without knowing the grammatical rules and therefore not being able to explain why sentences are structured as they are.

    All cultures are complicated and sophisticated. Placing Japanese culture in a special category as hard to learn is simply a reflection of a lack of experience with it. It’s no easier to learn to navigate the cultural land mines in America than it is to learn them in Japan (which is not actually a monoculture, as the differences between those in Osaka and those in Tokyo illustrates). The difference is in the expectations of adherence. Only in Japan is the tolerance so low for deviation (especially when it comes to foreigners) from expectations that it is an issue. Japanese people hardly follow all cultural rules, but it is more readily tolerated when they go their own way.

    • owwls says:

      I just want to state for the record that I agree with you, but I’m trying to outline mainstream Japan’s position on immigration when I say that they think the culture is too difficult for foreigners to get a handle on. It’s a common Japanese myth – why even the most well-meaning Japanese people will be surprised when I can order food in Japanese and eat it properly after being here for a year. The myth is that Japan is way too complicated for foreigners to grasp.

      That said, I think there is a lot about Japan that would make many people not WANT to fit in 100 percent. That, I think, is a legitimate point.

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  12. liwei says:

    Better a xenophobic, nationalist idiot than a “tolerant” liberal idiot
    Multiculturalism just doesn’t work. It’s not about who’s better or what race, it’s that putting different people together means infighting at some point.

    No Asian country would take any significant amount of permanent foreign immigrants, that’s precisely why we have the longest continuous histories and will probably stay that way.

  13. Balti says:

    Longest continuous histories? What does this even mean? And who is we? I cannot think of a single Asian country whose history that has not been ‘interrupted’ by war or colonialism. Furthermore, if you were truly to pick countries with the longest continuous history you would have to look to Europe – Great Britain in particular (even though it would be such a futile exercise).

    It begs belief that you can even take the time to write such drivel. Your point is essentially ‘better an idiot who hates people than an idiot who likes people’.
    In addition to all this you cannot use history to predict future trends. Especially when your ‘facts’ are so flawed (Singapore, a city state based upon immigration, springs to mind).

    One more point. You say that multiculturalism doesn’t work and leads to just more infighting. Do you think that infighting just wouldn’t exist? Look at the class and caste systems around the world. People throughout history have always attempted to differentiate each other. The class system, for instance, was a way of differentiating against people who looked the same. Multiculturalism can work – again, just look at Singapore.

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  15. Horgh says:

    As a Canadian hailing from Quebec province and speaking French as a native language, I’ve been subjected to countless discussions on the notion of culture and multiculturalism.

    Understand that many immigrants have complained about my province making it hard for them by demanding knowledge of French and forcing them to send their kids to French schools. Not to mention the language police doling out fines for those businesses that refuse to display French more prominently than any other language. Chinese immigrants are particularly irked by that later point.

    In any case, the question of Quebec’s place in Canada is obviously a hotly debated topic that has been lingering around since the 60′s and even before, albeit in a much more subdued “leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone” isolationism. While I’ve heard Albertans demanding their own independence based on some fear of “God hating, pro choice, free market destroying commies” in other provinces, Quebec’s claim to independence has always been “cultural” in nature. Oh sure, some separatists will tell you about Ottawa screwing Quebecois over, but in almost all instances of Quebec nationalism it comes down to “we’re different”. Why? French language, obviously, and some vague references to being “more left leaning” than the other provinces. Of course, Quebecois are not French, despite France’s overwhelming presence in our literature and history classes in school. That so many “intellectuals” end up deferring to French auteurs and find few if any home grown peers to look up to is equally overlooked. But rest assured, Quebec culture is a real thing.

    Like Canadian culture, really. Quebecois might snicker that their bloke neighbours are lacking in that department (hence the constant “minimum Canadian content” regulations in media output), but ask your average Joe Canadian and he’ll tell you that maple syrup runs in his vein (even though most of it comes from Quebec) and Hockey is his bread and butter (because only Canadians like hockey, right? I mean, those Slavic or Nordic sounding names in the NHL belong to pure bred Canadians right?).

    There is Canadian culture and there is Quebec culture because… well because there is! It’s there, plain to see for all! Don’t see it? Then you’re a traitor. To the separatist, you’re an agent of Canadian hegemony. To Canadians, you’re a vile American apologist.

    When asked to define said culture beyond the language or trite stereotypes, things become more complicated. Canadians are not Americans, and Quebecois speak French in a continent full of English speakers.

    The association between culture and nation is a result of the French and American revolutions demanding that people work together on a purely consensual basis while maintaining established national borders, borders forged in bloody wars and uneasy compromises. With war for territory being a bad thing (unless you’re a barbarian and need to be civilized), culture becomes a very useful tool to justify national borders.

    Creating and maintaining such an illusion of cohesiveness is not always easy when efforts to populate your newly found (or forcefully taken) territory in short order requires importing people from various parts of the world. Language barriers, for example, lead to the formation of “cultural” enclaves – meaning people who speak the same tongue and therefore able to function as a group more easily and better able to provide essential services to said individuals. When these enclaves grow in number and the borders begin to generate hybrids, one might start talking about “cultural melting pots”. But aside from language and culinary preferences (which often have less to do with human intervention than adaptation to locally available products, resources and technology which become habit), what is Italian culture, Greek culture, Spanish culture or even Mexican culture? Are people all over Italy, Spain, Greece, and Mexico the same? Do they all share the same preferences, ideas, and values?

    For a nation State to exist there needs to be the illusion of culture. The Japanese State knows this and does impose a daily set of rituals through compulsory education. Conveniently enough, said compulsory education will also put much emphasis on Japanese identity through the much debated “moral education” which of course does not exist in North America… ever… because everyone is a free spirit and free to follow their own path, right?

  16. Once again you have left me speechless.
    I am currently working on my own article with regards to racism in Japan (in addition to http://www.thejapanrants.com/blog/hottest-brand-in-japan/ and http://www.thejapanrants.com/blog/js-story-make-the-best-of-it/) and swung by hoping to get a look at your view on things.
    I hadn’t seen that video until today either (o.O)

    But I really liked how you approached it from multiple angles.
    Thanks again for yet another good read.

    Cheers

  17. Joe says:

    My time spent in Japan and the rest of Asia tells me that these people, like many in Quebec, are bogged down with Racism or what ever you want to call it. It is a weakness and a product of insecure teachers of some sort.

    I have lived in Quebec. Many of these people will try to explain why they hate the “English” and it makes this group where there isn’t even one.

    What people fear they hate. In Quebec, they fear losing their “culture” no matter how generic and North American it seems to outsiders, they have had to replace the control of the population by the church with something similar to religion, “Quebec culture” . It is nothing but a way to make the population ignorant without the tools that religion used to carry.

    Same in Japan, how else can you keep the old boys club in power without a Religion that can strike down on person ? They brainwash their youth with “culture” to try to turn them into robots for that old boys club.

    This method of control works well, until open minded people come and spread the good news of unity and respect of all people, and show them how wrong there controller were, and all the lies ( no place is more advanced than Japan, French gives you better culture)

    It is all lies.

  18. Ron says:

    Europe is heading for a slow but sure decay. Take a look at European societies’ family values, and you’ll see where they’re heading. Why blame immigration and “multi-culturalism” when they’re heading for oblivion in any case?

  19. Drahcir Alletor says:

    In reply to Balti:

    I lived and worked in Singapore as a physician. I’m American of Italian extraction and speak fluent Mandarin Chinese and Indonesian. While there is a modicum of “multiculturalism” as you say in Singapore, it is more a tolerance than a true cross-mixing and blending of the various racial and ethnic groups. They tolerate each other’s presence mostly at work, in business, in schools and in mixed neighborhoods. To a degree they even fraternize with each other, and rarely there may even be an intermarriage,(my Goan Indian friend was married to a TeoChiew Chinese woman) But there is also an enduring, but carefully concealed prejudice based on stereotypes shared by almost everyone. Another Indian Tamil friend of Brahmin caste could not date a pretty Tamil girl of lower caste for fear of social ostracism. In the hospital where I worked the Chinese spoke their own dialects to exclude other Chinese from their petty intrigues. Cantonese hated Hakka, Hainanese hated TeoChiew, and Hokkien hated everybody. When they saw me approaching they would instantly shut up, fearing I would spy on them. Since they knew I spoke Mandarin, they could not be sure whether I also understood Hokkien. In the hospital cafeteria there was self segregation: Tamils with Tamils, Punjabis with Punjabis, and of course Muslims strictly with Muslims. Asians are highly civilized people, and are experts at living in harmony simply because they want to succeed and thrive, with a generous helping of their Hindu-Buddhist traditions of laissez-faire. But understand that this “multiculturalism” is based on the realism that a swarming population must share limited space and resources, and not on some Western utopian idea of schmoozy “love”.

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