VOX POPULI: Japan's insular mind-set in the face of more foreign residents

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VOX POPULI: Japan's insular mind-set in the face of more foreign residents

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VOX POPULI: Japan’s insular mind-set in the face of more foreign residents

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun.

November 3, 2018 at 12:15 JST

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Photo/IllutrationRene Hoshino (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Cameroon-born manga artist Rene Hoshino was 4 years old when he moved to Japan. His Cameroonian mother's new husband was a Japanese citizen.

Fluent in Kansai dialect, Hoshino has published a manga titled "Afurika Shonen ga Nihon de Sodatta Kekka" (The results of an African boy growing up in Japan), where he recalls his surprise and bafflement at many of the situations he encountered as a boy.

For instance, just because he was a foreigner, most Japanese automatically assumed he spoke English and were tickled pink to see him using chopsticks.

Hoshino remembers being terrified to death of short-distance races on sports day at his school. There was the "unspoken expectation" that any black person would excel in physical activities and be able to run like the wind.

"I want to scream at the whole world," a line in his manga goes. "Not all blacks are superhuman athletes!"

Japan today has a growing number of residents with foreign roots. All they are asking is that they be treated as persons, and not as stereotypes stemming from their "foreignness" or countries of origin.

Hoshino's manga clearly conveys this all-too-reasonable plea.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Nov. 2 approved a government-drafted bill to revise the Immigration Control Law to allow more foreign workers into Japan.

But I have my doubts about the extent to which the government is prepared to welcome them as people, not just as faceless members of the work force.

The revised law limits their stay in Japan to five years in principle, and does not recognize their families' right to accompany them.

Yasutomo Suzuki, mayor of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, was quoted by The Asahi Shimbun as saying, "That is tantamount to treating those people as robots."

Suzuki's point is that, from the standpoint of a municipality such as his that has a large foreign population, Japan is already a nation of immigrants. And that means appropriate education and welfare systems must be in place, but the central government is backpedaling.

His criticism is quite correct.

Now in his 30s, Hoshino appears to have assimilated fully into Japanese society. Asked if he sees himself as Japanese or Cameroonian, he replied, "That's like asking me to choose between the heart and the brain."

He is clearly very enamored of Japan. I hope there will be more people like him.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 3

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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