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Anthropology of Japan in Japan Conference

I’ve put together a panel with a diverse group of junior scholars titled “Social Welfare Institutions as Sites of Inclusion in Contemporary Japan.

Here’s a panel abstract (subject to minor changes):

The Japanese state takes care of its own. State agencies ensure the health and wellbeing of the populace through social welfare programs such as reduced price physical exams, mandatory leave policies for new parents, and extensive safety measures that mitigate daily dangers while ensuring readiness for extraordinary events such as natural calamities. Japanese schools endeavor to mainstream children with special needs, while various “barrier-free” initiatives enhance access for persons with disabilities (PWDs). But behind all of these official efforts at inclusion and support lie biopolitical anxieties about social reproduction, which in turn reflect and reinforce prevailing notions of what it means to be Japanese. The Japanese state may take care of its own, but the question of who counts as a person deserving of care is decided in quotidian, localized situations where individuals receive or do not receive the care and support they need. Through three cases on social welfare institutions like public schools and assisted living facilities, this panel explores how well-intentioned efforts at inclusion can sometimes have exclusionary effects for PWDs, linguistic and religious minorities, and people who do not fit the stereotypical Japanese phenotype. The panel’s composition reflects our shared intellectual concern with diversity and inclusion: We include a non-Japanese resident working as a full-time lecturer in Japan, an American graduate student who uses a powered wheelchair, and a black American junior professor. Our discussant is a Japanese female researcher who works on the topic of women and religious minorities in modern Japan. 

And here’s my tentative abstract:

"Japanese People Don't See Race": Exclusionary Practices in Public Education

Jolyon Thomas, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania

References to Japaneseness pervade daily life in Japan. The idea of Japaneseness cloaks personal opinion with the mantle of common sense, renders specific practices and dispositions as aspects of a timeless culture, and censures undesirable behavior while establishing social norms. Little of this discussion is about race, but I contend that the language of Japaneseness is nevertheless racist. As the experiences of marginal communities such as Japanese-born Koreans (now fourth-generation, but technically not fully “Japanese,” immigrants; Chung 2010) and traditional outcaste communities (burakumin; Bondy 2014) attest, conceptions of Japaneseness create a social center that tolerates difference but does not fully include it (Brown 2006). In this talk I use the cases of two marginal student populations to highlight how insider/outsider groups may be ethnically “Japanese” but can still be racially coded as “not Japanese enough.” First, a recent Osaka District Court case about a public school forcing a Japanese brunette to dye her hair black shows how deviations from a narrow phenotype (black hair) elicit not only physical coercion but also moral condemnation. Second, the case of Japanese “returnees” (kikokushijo) shows how children of Japanese elites who live overseas for extended periods of time acquire a bodily habitus that marks them as unassimilable when they return to Japan. I conclude by examining how racist thinking in Japanese public school settings reflects recent changes to the Fundamental Law on Education (2006) and the newly revamped curriculum for mandatory morality education.

Later Event: December 10
Kyoto Asian Studies Group