Places for dialoge with others: A short reflection on the emergence of racism and the possibility of educational practices of everyday multiculturalism in contemporary Japan

Author: Yoshikazu Shiobara, Keio University, Japan




I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this conference, and I am sorry for not attending in Sydney due to my educational duties in Japan. I study and teach multiculturalism from a sociological perspective in a university in Tokyo. I have organized service learning programs for children and youths of non-Japanese backgrounds, including screen literacy projects, with my undergraduate students in urban industrialized areas of Yokohama and Kawasaki since 2007 (Shiobara 2013a). Based on these experiences, in this study, I suggest that it is important for young people to provide opportunities for the practice of multiliteracy in everyday multiculturalism to resist the tendency toward the emergence of racism in contemporary Japan.

Social change and our time/space experiences

The values of globalism and neoliberalism have come to dominate people’s experiences in everyday life in developed countries. In terms of temporal experiences, people are increasingly encouraged to value the idea of “efficiency”. In both business and ordinary life, we are often required to move with a sense of speed (“Supido-kan” in Japanese). As the American anthropologist Aihwa Ong suggested, the dominance of efficiency in a society may encourage the creation of “places of exception” by neoliberal states, in which various types of “de-regulation” occur (Ong 2006). It is important to recognize that the targets of “de-regulation” are not just economic legislation; ideals such as minority rights, social citizenship, social security, the political participation of citizens, and the dignity of humankind can be “de-regulated” if governments and capitals see them as “barriers” to the promotion of the efficiency of the market economy. In developed countries, in special economic zones as well as in everyday lives, people are increasingly faced with such “states of exception”, in which social security, personal identity, and civic deliberation are privatized in the name of efficiency. The Australian historian Tessa Morris-Suzuki called this situation the “deepening of the market mechanism in the social dimension (Shijo no shakaiteki shinka)” (Morris-Suzuki 2004).

Many sociologists, such as Anthony Giddens and Zygmunt Bauman, have suggested that such temporal and spatial experiences may increase people’s existential anxiety or liquid fear (Giddens 1990; Bauman 2006). Anxiety may lead to an increased sense of vulnerability in the social structure. As the Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage suggested, when a sense of vulnerability causes the emergence of a sense of collective deprivation among the majority of people, intolerance and exclusionism against minorities spreads rapidly throughout society (Hage 1998, 2003).

Racism in contemporary Japan

One of the common characteristics of the logic of exclusionism toward minorities in developed countries is that the majority of people attempt to legitimize their discrimination by claiming that minorities have “privileges” and that majorities are “reverse-discriminated”. In Japan, a racist group called “Zainichi-tokken wo yurusanai shimin no kai: Zaitokukai (Citizen’s Association against the Privileges of Old-Comer Korean Japanese)” has been active since the end of the 2000s. Initially, their membership was relatively small, and they delivered hate speeches mainly on the Internet. However, after launching hate speech demonstrations in the streets of cities around Japan, Zaitokukai has rapidly increased its membership (Arita 2013).

Racist groups such as Zaitokukai have become more extreme recently. Hate speech demonstrations are often conducted in areas where foreign residents or immigrants are concentrated, such as Shin-Okubo in Tokyo and Tsuruhashi in Osaka. Hundreds of hatemongers are shouting on the streets in front of Korean residents and shopkeepers, “Kill all Koreans because they are not humans like us; they are inferior species like cockroaches!” At a football stadium of a Japanese national football league, a “Japanese Only” banner was displayed, and a Korean-Japanese field player was cursed by some of the supporters of his own team. Some people even openly admire Adolf Hitler on the Internet and insist that the Holocaust is a forgery. In Japan, we have no anti-racism legislation; therefore, the police do not take action in response to hate speech and demonstrations. Unfortunately, the influence of racism is extending not only on the Internet and on the street but also in politics. Exclusionists support some rightist politicians in elections. In the last election for the Governor of Tokyo in February 2014, a rightist candidate supported by exclusionists received more than 600,000 votes, 12.5 % of the votes cast [1.].

Banal racism?

Many Japanese citizens, of course, do not support such racism, exclusionism, and historical revisionism. However, it is a serious problem that Japanese society does not have legislation against racism and hate speech. Thus, we are experiencing a flood of racist and exclusionist discourse in the Japanese language Internet media. Most of these discourses lack evidence and are foolish and venomous, and a relatively small number of racists may spread these discourses intentionally. However, when such racist discourses spread and become ubiquitous in Internet spaces and when they are combined with anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism, a sense that “there are ‘facts’ on the Internet which school teachers, academics and mainstream mass media do not tell us” emerges and is shared among people, especially the younger generations who are likely to be strongly influenced by Internet media. As a result, misunderstandings and prejudices about ethnic minorities gain influence and are reproduced in society.

This does not necessarily mean that everyone who supports this discourse has a firm belief in racism and exclusionism toward minorities. Like Zaitokukai, there are certainly quite a number of conscious racists in contemporary Japanese society, but the majority of people who believe in the “privileges” of old-comer Korean Japanese (which is absolutely a myth) and who express unpleasant feelings toward Korean people do not believe themselves to be racists. Rather, the problem is that discourses produced by conscious racists are fragmented; they are spreading and becoming ubiquitous. When “ordinary” people connect to the Internet, contact with these discourses becomes a “banal” experience. That is, racist discourses are becoming obvious in people’s everyday lives.

Michael Billig suggested the concept of “banal nationalism”, situations in which symbols and discourses of nationalism are unnoticeably embedded in the everyday lives of developed countries. According to Billig, such “cold” banal nationalism can be a resource for “hot” nationalist movements (Billig 1995). In contemporary Japanese society, “banal” forms of racism are spreading, and they are increasingly becoming sources of “hot” racism. When people who feel a sense of vulnerability accept “banal” forms of racist discourses, their sense of relative deprivation increases, and they often become “hot” racists (Shiobara 2013b). In this sense, as Japanese journalist Koichi Yasuda suggests, it is true that many members of Zaitokukai are “ordinary” people who are similar to “us” and who have a sense of vulnerability in the face of rapid social change in contemporary society (Yasuda 2012).

Multiliteracies and bodies

Because of the flood of information on the Internet, young people who have less life experience are likely to have deja vu about the existence of others: “I know everything about others who I have not met yet”. In addition, the current technology of Internet communication, such as SNS and email, is primarily based on texts, while we are gradually becoming accustomed to communicating with others via voices and web cameras (such as Skype). When we watch pictures and moving images on the Internet, we understand, or are forced to understand, the meaning or interpretation of the texts that are added to them.

By communicating with others through media other than the Internet, young people can realize the biases in their sense of reality that are created by information on the Internet, and they can recognize the simple truth that they do not know others who they have not yet met. In this sense, I believe that the concept of multiliteracies is increasingly important to address banal racism in contemporary Japan. As Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis have suggested, this concept implies that people familiarize themselves with skill in various types of media, including art and moving images, and that we can understand and communicate with others with different backgrounds through these various types of media and understand multiple aspects of their character (Cope and Kalantzis eds. 2000). In particular, through face-to-face communication, we obtain information on those with whom we communicate through various mediums: expressions, breathing, vitality, smell, silence, etc. That is, for people in contemporary society, especially youths whose sense of reality is dominated by Internet media, meeting and conversation with “flesh and blood” others can be a practice of multiliteracies.

Everyday multiculturalism and places for dialogue

To resist banal racism in contemporary Japan, teachers and activists should attempt to create opportunities for the younger generation to experience meetings and face-to-face dialogues with “flesh and blood” ethnic minorities rather than attempting to know them indirectly through mass media or communicating with them via the Internet. Such meetings and dialogues provide training for the practices of “everyday multiculturalism” for young  people. The Australian sociologist Anita Harris suggests that young people of diverse ethnic backgrounds in multicultural cities and suburbs in Australia learn how to respect and negotiate with others from different backgrounds in their everyday lives (Harris 2013).

In Japan, the number of ethnic minorities is too small to guarantee opportunities for young people to practice everyday multiculturalism. Therefore, teachers must provide students with “places for dialogue with others”. These are the places where young people learn to take time in dialogue with others; thus, these spaces function to slow “the sense of speed” in people’s everyday lives, which is accelerated by globalism and neoliberalism. In addition, sharing a place with others in dialogue means that the other is not seen as an “exception” in society. In the “places for dialogue with others”, people respect the other’s differences and collaborate as partners to maintain the value of these places for all of members of society.

Therefore, the creation and development of “places for the dialogue with others” also means the creation and development of strong points for resisting the neoliberal time/space management. That is, “places for the dialogue with others” should be created not only for minorities. Through the dialogue with the minorities, the majorities in the society are recovering their own self-determination for their time and spaces, which has been eroded by globalism and neoliberalism in contemporary world.


Arita, Yoshifu, 2013, Heito supichi to tatakau !: nihon ban haigai syugi hihan (Fighting against hate speeches!: A Critique on Japanese Exclusionism), Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Bauman, Zygmunt, 2006, Liquid Fear, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Billig, Michael, 1995, Banal Nationalism, London: Sage.

Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis eds., 2000, Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. New York: Routledge.

Giddens, Anthony, 1990, The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hage, Ghassan, 2003, Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for Hope in a Shrinking Society. Sydney: Pluto Press.

Hage, Ghassan, 1998, White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, Annandale, NSW: Pluto Press.

Harris, Anita, 2013, Young People and Everyday Multiculturalism, New York/London: Routledge.

Morris-Suzuki, Tessa, 2004, Jiyuu wo taeshinobu (Enduring democracy), translated by Masato Karashima, Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Ong, Aihwa, 2006, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty, Durham/London: Duke University Press.

Shiobara, Yoshikazu, 2013a, “Everyday multiculturalism and fortuity: A case study on multicultural screen literacy learning education in a university in Japan,” paper presented at The Fourth Annual Asian Conference on Media & Mass Communication (MediAsia2013), Ramada Hotel Osaka, Japan, November 10, 2013.

Shiobara, Yoshikazu, 2013b, “Heito spiichi to ‘kizutsukiyasusa’ no syakaigaku (Hate speech and the sociology of ‘vulnerability’), Synodos (

Yasuda, Koichi, 2012, Netto to aikoku: zaitokukai no ‘yami’ wo oikakete (The Internet and patriotism: searching for the ‘darkness’ of Zaitokukai), Tokyo: Kodansha.


About the author

Yoshikazu Shiobara was born in Japan in 1973. He got Bachelor of Law (Political Science) in 1996, Master of Law (Political Science) in 1998, and Ph.D (Sociology) in 2004 at Keio University, Tokyo. He also studied at the Australian National University (2001-2003) and Sydney University (2003-2005) as a visiting student/scholar. Dr. Shiobara’s current research interests are multiculturalism and ethnic minority issues in Australia and Japan. Since 2001 he constantly visits Australia and researches on the policies and official discourses of multiculturalism and the implications for immigrant communities, as well as policies for indigenous peoples and asylum seekers. He has published a lot of books, journal articles and papers for academic presentations mainly written in Japanese, including Tomo ni ikiru (living together in a multicultural society) (2012), Henkaku suru tabunka shugi he (toward multiculturalism as transformation) (2010), Neo riberarismu no jidai no tabunkashugi (multiculturalism in the era of neoliberalism) (2005). Some of his academic journals and papers were written in English. He is also known as a translator of Japanese translation of Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage’s White Nation (co-translation) and Against Paranoid Nationalism.

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