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Beyond the Concepts of Fellow Citizens and Foreigners--

Rika Lee
Associate Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Immigration Studies, Historical Sociology, and Transpacific Studies

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted at the 2015 United Nations Summit. Interest in the SDGs is increasing rapidly both in Japan and overseas as issues and objectives for all countries in the world, including developed countries. By focusing on universities as centers for creating knowledge and examining research activities by researchers of Chuo University, this special feature explores the role which must be fulfilled by universities in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

In the fourth installment, Associate Professor Rika Lee (Faculty of Policy Studies) discusses the unequal structures surrounding people and countries as arising from the dualism of fellow citizens and foreigners that exist in Japan, as well as changes in said structures. Lee also points out the role of universities in achieving SDGs Goal 10 "Reduce inequality within and among countries."


SDGs are the abbreviation for Sustainable Development Goals. The official name of the plan is "Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."*1 The global goals adopted at the UN Summit in September 2015 consist of 17 goals and 169 targets. UN member nations have pledged to leave no one behind. The SDGs indicate universal challenges to be undertaken domestically and on a global scale by both developing nations and advanced nations. In this article, I would like to discuss the role of universities and research in achieving Goal 10 "Reduce inequality within and among countries," while also focusing on domestic issues that specific actions can be taken in Japan.

Belonging to a country: Paradigm in the 20th century

The 20th century was an era in which the nation-state system spread to every corner of the world. National borders were drawn everywhere in the world, and people were divided into citizens and non-citizens. Non-citizens were called "aliens" and recognized as "foreigners" from outside the borders of that nation. Furthermore, national identity was prioritized and a sense of belonging was formed around the nation. In East Asia, people formed national sentiments on the basis of race and ethnicity. Accordingly, classifications such as Japanese and Korean came to mean people with the same ethnic roots, in addition to the nationality and passport of a certain country. Therefore, when people witnessed the loss of numerous lives during the era of Japanese empire, people regarded it as a loss of their blood. Unfortunately, this ethno-national sentiment is still prevailing today as an anti-Korean and anti-Japanese sentiments in Japan and Korea.

Unequal structures surrounding people and countries--Case of Stateless person

Then what happened to the stateless person in this kind of era? I would like to particularly focus on the case of Korean long-term residents in Japan, as a case to think about the conditions in Japan.

Under the Empire of Japan, Koreans and their descendants who "migrated" to Japan (hereinafter, Zainichi Korean) came to Japan as subjects of the Empire of Japan. However, Zainichi Koreans were classified as aliens per the Alien Registration Ordinance of 1947. At that time, the term of Chōsen (a Japanese word referring to the whole of the Korean peninsula) was listed in the columns which indicated hometown and nationality. As a result, Zainichi Koreans became people with the nationality of Chōsen; however, Chōsen is not the name of an actual country. Instead, the term indicated roots originating in the Korean Peninsula, and did not confer nationality to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or the Republic of Korea.*2 In other words, at this point, Zainichi Koreans became people who did not belong to any nations (a status called de facto statelessness or unidentified nationality).*3 The political and social status of the people with the Chōsen nationality then were structured in conjunction with the Cold War structure, the international situation in East Asia, and the national systems of Japan. In particular, when diplomatic relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea were normalized in 1965 by the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, Zainichi Koreans were able to obtain nationality as citizens of the Republic of Korea. However, at that time, permanent residency and qualifications for receipt of social welfare were only granted to people who had acquired the nationality of the Republic of Korea, thus creating disparities among Zainichi Koreans.*4 Afterwards, as Japan joined the International Covenants on Human Rights (1979) and the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1982), this system was increasingly criticized by the international community. In response, Japan started its effort to improve the system by introducing residence statuses such as Exceptional Permanent Resident (1981) and Special Permanent Resident (1991). Nevertheless, this series of events clearly indicated an unequal structure surrounding people and countries (including people without a country); namely, the fact that people are tied to a country/countries (including when such ties result in statelessness) and are differentiated and/or discriminated in accordingly.

Living in the age of globalization

Upon entering the age of globalization, we now live in a time where people, goods, money, and cultures frequently cross national borders. There are now many people classified as "foreigners" living in Japan. The number of foreigners was 2.82 million as of June 30, 2019, marking the seventh consecutive year in which the number of foreigners increased. Additionally, in April 2019, the Japanese government revised the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (the Revised Immigration Control Act) and has stated that it will accept up to approximately 345,000 foreign workers during the next five years. More people are coming from abroad and living in Japanese communities than ever before, which means dramatic changes in the lives of Japanese people who have always lived in those communities. Moreover, the number of Japanese people with "foreign roots" is increasing due to international marriage and the acquisition of Japanese nationality. Today, the boundaries between "Japanese" and "foreigners" are becoming blurred and fluid in Japan.

Amidst such circumstances, what kind of multicultural policies have been implemented by Japan thus far? Fuminori Minamikawa, a sociologist on multiculturalism, introduced that the number of new migrants accepted by Japan in 2017 surged to become the fourth-highest number of all OECD member nations, ranking behind only Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Minamikawa also pointed out that Japan received the worst evaluation among developed countries by research institutions which index the achievement of multicultural societies.*5 From the 1990s, Japanese government have promoted the Internationalization policies (including the "internal" internationalization of Japan itself) and this policy is the foundation of the multicultural coexistence policy that Japan have been promoted today, even in the local governments. Unfortunately, such policies failed to produce the expected results in a variety of aspects. Nevertheless, in addition to the Revised Immigration Control Act, the Japanese government is trying to invest 21.1 billion yen in Comprehensive Measures for Acceptance and Coexistence of Foreign Nationals.*6 Why has Japan failed to achieve multicultural coexistence despite such measures?

Going beyond dualism of fellow Japanese citizens and aliens

One reason for said failure is that current multiculturalism in Japan simply divides people and cultures into the categories of "Japanese" and "foreign." In reality, the boundaries separating Japanese citizens from foreigners are ambiguous. This ambiguity leads to the spread of differentiation, prejudice, and discrimination in complex ways. For example, in the aforementioned example of Zainichi Koreans, there are many third and fourth generation Zainichi Koreans who were raised with Japanese as their first language due to the process of generational change. Very few of these people appear to be so-called foreigners. However, they are still disregarded as aliens, and are even targets of hate speech. Even if they were to acquire Japanese nationality (to undergo the process of naturalization as Japanese citizens), they will be viewed differently as naturalized Japanese if their background as Zainichi Korean is discovered. For example, in 1970, Masaaki Yamamura committed suicide by immolation due to the stress that he suffered as a naturalized Japanese. Regrettably, that stress has not disappeared with the passage of time; rather, many aspects of that stress remain even today.*7 One example can be found in a narrative interwoven by Zainichi Brazilian who described his efforts to appear completely Japanese and denying his Brazilian culture to hide his Brazilian background, in order to avoid differentiation or discrimination from the mainstream society. This kind of reality is ignored and underestimated in the simplified structures which only see people as "Japanese" or "foreign."*8

The roles of university and research

Therefore, the first step we need to do in the university is to unveil the complicated boundaries between people and countries. This means understanding historical and actual events, the realities which existed in the past and exists in current times, and the ethnic relationships, social structures, and international relations behind such realities. These research results could be utilized in university education simultaneously. The university education can provide the understanding on how domestic mechanisms surrounding people and countries (including unequal structures) are connected or disconnected with the world, and how we can comprehend an increasingly complex society from a global viewpoint. Fieldwork such as on-site surveys and interviews is an essential opportunity for engaging in such education. It is a great chance for the students to realize and understand the "reality". However, fieldwork must not be positioned as the study of "others"; instead, we must instruct students to ensure that they realize that they share the responsibility for achieving a global multicultural era together with the subjects being studied.

Next, we must create ideas and societies that go beyond the dualistic framework of Japanese citizens and foreigners. For example, in the field of immigration studies, a new concept called the "period of stay" principle has been proposed.*9 This concept questions the conventional way in which people are divided into the categories of Japanese and foreigner based on birthplace and lineage, and then uses such categories to include or exclude certain people. Instead, the "period of stay" principle proposes that people who have resided in a certain country or region for a long period of time should be considered as members of the same collective. Furthermore, an anthropological study by Harajiri Hideki (2019) has pointed out that the traditional society and pre-modern ideas which exist in Japanese regional society actually provide an important viewpoint for achieving a multicultural society in modern Japan.*10 In order to achieve SDGs Goal 10 "Reduce inequality within and among countries" in Japan, it is essential for research and education at Japanese universities to form ideas for creating an inclusive society.

  1. ^
  2. ^ I referred to the following materials in regards to historical background. Heeryo Koh, "Constitutional consideration about the concept of nationality-Comparative study between Japan, Germany, and Korea", Doctoral dissertation for Kobe University, 2019; Young-hwan Chong, Nationality of Zainichi Korean and the Korean War (1947 to 1952): The Origin of Chosen-Seki Residency, PRIME pp. 36 to 62, 2017.
  3. ^ Some scholars have pointed out that, from a legal perspective, the situation surrounding chosen residency citizenship today is not statelessness. Kohki Abe, "Overview of Statelessness: International and Japanese Context" (paper commissioned by UNHCR), 2010.
  4. ^ Masaru Tonomura, Historical Research on Zainichi Korean Society: Formation, Structure, and Changes, Ryokuin Shobo, 2009; Hideki Harajiri, Zainichi Koreans, Kodansha's new library of knowledge, 1998.
  5. ^ Fuminori Minamikawa, "The Unmaking of Multiculturalism Policies in a County of Non-immigration: How Japan Failed to Learn from North American Experiences, Haney Lecture on Ethnicity, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy", University of Toronto, November 22, 2019.
  6. ^ "Efforts for Acceptance of Foreign Nationals and Harmonious Coexistence (Establishing the Residence Category of Specified Skills, Etc.)", Immigration Services Agency of Japan, Ministry of Justice, (, pp. 33-34.
  7. ^ Masaaki Yamamura, Inochi Moetsukiru To Mo (Until the end of Life)--Posthumous Works of Masaaki Yamamura, Daiwashobo, 1971.
  8. ^ "From the Perspective of Regional Citizens Appearing in Film"; Conference Symposium: Sports, Immigrants, and Film: What Kind of "Play" is Possible in Immigrant Studies? (28th Annual Conference of the Japanese Association for Migration Studies, June 28, 2018).
  9. ^ François Héran (translated by Masahiro Hayashi), Together With Immigrants: Population Statistics for Planning, Discussion, and Action, Hakusuisha, 2019.
  10. ^ Hideki Harajiri, Cosmological ideas and their practices of multi-cultural co-existence from the perspectives of Japanese cultural tradition, Shinkansha, 2019.

Rika Lee
Associate Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Immigration Studies, Historical Sociology, and Transpacific Studies

In 1997, Rika Lee graduated from the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University. In 2000, she completed the Master’s Program in the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University. In 2011, she completed the Doctoral Program in the same Graduate School (PhD in Sociology). She has served as Visiting Researcher in the Center for Korean Studies of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (United States), Visiting Researcher in the Asiatic Research Institute of Korea University, and Full-Time Instructor and Associate Professor at Tama Art University before assuming her current position in 2019. Currently, she conducts research on transnationalism related to the culture and identity of Korean immigrants in Japan and Hawai’i. She is involved as an editor in the writing of Chosen-Seki (scheduled for publishing in 2020 by Akashi Shoten). Her main research works include “Country-less” Diasporas: Nationalism and identity of Koreans in prewar and wartime Hawai'i, (Kanyou Shuppan, 2015, in Japaanese), “Research on immigration and foreign study by Korean women in modern American regions, (the Academy of Korean Studies, 2019, co-edited by Sungeun Kim, et al., in Korean), “Stateless identity of Korean diaspora: The second generations in prewar Hawaii and postwar Japan”, (the Japanese Journal of Policy and Culture, 2020; scheduled to be published soon, in English ) and more.