March 20th Peace Philosophy Salon Report: Foreigners in Japan
by Shoko Hata
The Peace Philosophy Centre, established and directed by Satoko Norimatsu in Vancouver, holds a monthly study group called the Peace Philosophy Salon. Based on the principle of the centre—“to provide a community-based place where people of all backgrounds can get together and learn from each other to create a peaceful and sustainable world”—the centre provides us space and opportunities for collective learning in historical, political and social issues in order to achieve a sustainable and peaceful world at the grass-roots level.
I am an international student from Japan, studying sociology at Simon Fraser University, and the Peace Philosophy Centre is like another school to me. Through activities at the centre, I have met a lot of wonderful people from various backgrounds, enabling me to widen my point of view and to realize the importance of collective and sustainable learning for the empowerment of individuals. I would like to report on the most recent salon we had, and share what I learned from the salon with you.
The university student members of Peace Philosophy Centre were encouraged by the director of the Centre, Satoko Norimatsu, to organize and facilitate a student-led study session. On March 20th, the student members of the Peace Philosophy Centre were glad to have had a wonderful time. The main topic of the salon was the rights of non-Japanese people in Japan, and we approached the issue from different points of view and various perspectives.
We started with a presentation by our guest speaker, Go Murakami (UBC, PhD student of Political Science Major). He presented on political issues related to immigration and fundamental rights of foreigners living in Japan. His presentation made me rethink the concept of state sovereignty, citizenship, and our fundamental rights as human who must live somewhere, within a defined territory no matter whether you like it or not.
Relating to that, Arc Zhen Han (UBC, International Relations major) presented on political and philosophical analysis on the concept of citizenship and community. Even though it seems very complicated, it is always important to think about the world around us radically—”radical” in a sense that “going back to the roots.” In China, for example, there is no simple, single definition of “Chinese-ness” which can be applied to ALL people living within China, since the country consists of so many different regions and different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Similarly, in Canada there is no such thing as “Canadianess” that can define Canadians as one particular kind of people. We think we understand that in our head, but in practice, it might be difficult for us to be aware of that constantly. In order to think about any kind of discrimination and prejudice, we need to go back to the fundamental radical factors and a philosophical approach is definitely necessary.
Dan Aizawa (UBC, Political Science and History major) presented on the issue of the social and political position of international schools in Japan based on his personal experience and thoughts. His presentation led to a deep discussion on whether or not those non-Japanese schools that are not fully following the Japanese education curriculums should be recognized as “schools” in Japan. Should they follow Japanese curriculums? Or, should it be the individuals’ freedom to choose not to be a part of the Japanese education system, while living in Japan? By discussing these questions together, it urged us to rethink not only how non-Japanese schools should be treated, but also what the fundamental role and purpose of education is and what “good” education is.
We discussed the issue of the Japanese government’s current discrimination against Korean high schools. Japan institutionally discriminates against Korean high schools by not providing them funding, whereas other non-Japanese schools can receive money from the government just like other Japanese schools. This is clearly representing racial discrimination against Zainichi Koreans and the government has received a warning from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) for its commitment to racial discrimination.
I shared my perspective and thoughts based on my own sociological analysis about social and cultural implications in discrimination against non-Japanese people in Japan. The situation is changing due to political, economic, and cultural globalization, but I personally think there still exist cultural and social aspects, which are peculiar to Japanese society, causing discrimination against non-Japanese people at the grass-roots level.
Andrew Livingston (UBC Asian study major) shared his experience and his stories of living in Japan, and it was a great opportunity to hear how discrimination against non-Japanese people still exists in Japanese society from a non-Japanese point of view. However, he and one of the participants who have lived in Japan as a foreigner also stressed that their experience of living in Japan was great and they met lots of great Japanese people who helped them during their stay. They told us that their impression about Japan is quite positive, even though they have come across discrimination, both explicit and implicit.
My belief is that small shifts in individual consciousness create massive shifts in consciousness, just like a small pebble thrown into a pond produces bigger waves. Therefore, as a Japanese who has lived abroad and has learned the importance of critical thinking, I feel responsible to see Japan, the country where I was born and raised, in a critical way and have dialogue with others in order to know different perspectives and thoughts. As a Japanese student who has been studying abroad, I must not only criticize the negative parts of Japan but also recognize the positive aspects of the country and its people.
From this salon, I learned a lot about the Japanese political background and the situation of non-Japanese people living in Japan, and most importantly, discussion with participants urged me to have balanced perspective in order to improve my critical thinking skills into more constructive ones.
Student members would love to thank Satoko-san, for guiding and supporting us to have such a wonderful time. Thank you, always!!!
Shoko Hata is a SFU Sociology major