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Celebrating 'Multicultural Japan': Writings on 'Minorities' and the Discourse on 'Difference'

Keywords: Minority/minorities , multicultural Japan , diversity , difference , identity , nihonjinron , discourse , migration (statistics)

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This paper critically examines the recent fascination with 'minorities' in writings on Japan. The paper begins by identifying 'multicultural Japan' writings as a particular discourse and traces their development. The paper then highlights some of the problems when this celebration of diversity is taken too far. The body of the paper focuses on the definition of 'minority'. This leads to a discussion of the importance of personal choice and change over time in the construction of identity. Finally, I illustrate how the dominant discourse in the academic literature does not necessarily reflect the notions of 'minority' and 'identity' in their social context in Japan by examining (i) the occurrence of terminology in the Japanese print media and (ii) population statistics. These emic keywords and data on Japanese and non-Japanese populations serve as useful tools for reminding us that the current dominant academic discourse is merely one of many possible narratives on Japan. The conclusion reiterates the main argument, namely that discourse can limit and constrain understanding, before making a plea for a more pluralistic, multi-dimensional view of Japan, one that embraces alternative discourses.


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