October Meeting Recap: Multiculturalism through Japan’s Eyes

Japan has been dealing with an influx of foreigners in the past few years, with overseas residents here reaching 2.38 million in 2016. But how has it been coping with that, and how do foreigners fit into broader government policies for a multicultural Japan?

That was the issue debated by the four panelists at FEW’s October monthly meeting. First, Yusuke Sasaki, a project director at the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), gave us an overview of the situation and government initiatives to help foreigners, and then Chris Burgess, a professor at Tsuda College, Tokyo, talked about his research into migration issues in Japan, plus his thoughts on the future.

Then, Louise George Kittaka, a newspaper columnist, university lecturer and cross-cultural trainer, gave us some insight into how multiculturalism has touched people’s lives in Japan, and Anjeli Narandran, an international coordinator at Peace Boat, outlined her organisation’s mission in creating a space to allow multiculturalism to flourish.

It quickly became clear that a lot is being done on a grassroots level, for example with CLAIR providing assistance to local governments, and PeaceBoat providing positive experiences to its participants, but that Japan is lacking a clear and concerted immigration policy on a national level.

One of the issues discussed was ‘labeling’, whether it is people of mixed Japanese parentage being referred to as ‘hafu’, or the honorific ‘-san’ not being used for foreigners in business meetings, even though it was used for the Japanese attendees. The panelists discussed how to change that mindset.

The importance of education also came up, especially in creating a safe space for people to consider different ideas in a culture where people aren’t really encouraged to speak up.

Judging by the range of the questions from audience, it’s clearly an issue that affects all our lives in Japan. One important point that everyone took away from the discussion is that education on understanding of the issues is a two-way thing, and that hopefully the distinction between foreigners and Japanese will become less acute over time.

Find out more information about our panelists and their organizations’ work below:


Chris Burgess’s research and writings on Japan:

Peace Boat:

Louise George Kittaka’s columns: Savvy Tokyo and The Japan Times

October Monthly Meeting_website photo


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