Research Activities
【2006 Afrasia Symposium No.1】 Challenges of Changing Identity in Japan
2006 Afrasia Symposium No.1
■Speaker :Harumi Befu, Emeritus Professor, Stanford University, Bruce White, Lecturer, Doshisha University, and Julian Chapple, Lecturer, Ryukoku University
■Place :Campus Plaza Kyoto, 4F Seminar Room 4
■Date :October 6, 2006, Friday, 14:00-18:00
Keynote Address:
”Civil Society, Human Rights and Diversity in Japan”
Harumi Befu, Emeritus Professor, Stanford University
Discussant: Soo-Im Lee, Professor, Ryukoku University

Paper 1:
”Reassembling the Cultural Historical World Map: Reggae, Pacific Islands Music and the Role of Popular Culture in the Construction of New Global Identities in Japan”
Bruce White, Lecturer, Doshisha University

Paper 2:
”Non-Japanese, International Marriage, Identity and Rights: Japan’s Blurred Future”
Julian Chapple, Lecturer, Ryukoku University

Discussant: Greg Poole, Associate Professor, Takachiho University

【Summary of the symposium】
The theme of the first symposium of 2006 was ”Challenges of Changing Identity in Japan.” It took up Japan as a case study and discussed whether and to what extent Japan has changed with the recent increase in the number of foreign nationals living in Japan. While it has often been emphasised that Japan is a strongly homogeneous society, it has also been frequently criticised for tis closed nature. The symposium looked at the conditions encountered by foreigners living in Japan, the situation of minorities, and examined how and to what extent the consciousness and identity of the Japanese people is changing as a result of the increase and diversification of foreign residents in Japan.

Prof. Harumi Befu who is a leading researcher in Japan Studies in the United States, discussed the degree of diversification in Japanese society and the issues of human rights of minorities in Japan. Prof. Befu focused attention on the increasing numbers and diversity of foreigners living in Japan as a major change in recent years in the civil society of Japan. In spite of this, he argued that there are still many issues that must be resolved in order to realize a harmonious coexistence of Japanese people and foreigners in Japan. The major obstacle, according to Prof. Befu, is that the ”habitus of homogeneity”has become ingrained in the civil society of Japan.

In contrast, Prof. Bruce White focused on the new global identity being formed by fans of reggae bands in Japan and discussed how the young people of Japan are searching for a new lifestyle and new forms of self-expression through contact with the reggae world which emphasizes harmonious coexistence with nature and cultural pluralism. Prof. White argued that these young people of Japan, who accept a pluralistic sense of values and attempt to redefine the cultural map of the world through reggae, are a reflection of the conditions of a changing Japanese society.

Prof. Julian Chapple discussed the situation of international marriage in Japan and argued that Japanese society is no longer as homogeneous as it used to be. The ratio of international marriages in Japan has been increasing, and now approximately 1 in 15 marriages in Japan involve a non-Japanese partner. Although the number of international marriages and the number of children resulting from these marriages have been increasing, there has not been sufficient discussion in Japan concerning issues of civil rights and the identity of foreign spouses and offspring of international marriages. He criticised the ineffective policy reaction of the Japanese government towards the issue considering it is the government itself which has advocated greater acceptance.

Although the analyses of Japanese society by these three researchers differ, the symposium shed some light on the fact that there is an increasing demand for transformations to take place in Japanese society as globalization progresses as well as the fact that there is a call for a reconsideration of the question, ”Who are the Japanese People?”