Tokyo must embrace diversity and inclusion to avoid a bleak future


In recent years, diversity has become a buzzword. Barely a day goes by without some mention of it in the media. As in many other areas, Japan is noticeably behind in embracing the concept.

For this reason, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan has made a point of promoting it in speeches and seminars as well as in this very magazine. But what exactly is meant by the term?

One of the best definitions I have come across, from a website hosted by the University of Oregon, reads as follows,

“The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences. These can be along 
the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, 
political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual”.

I particularly like the reference to “a safe, positive, and nurturing environment” because it seems to underscore just why diversity is so important in our schools, workplaces and communities.

It is important in our schools because this is where values are inculcated and prejudices that may be encouraged (albeit unconsciously) at home can be challenged and set in perspective.

Young children are naturally free of prejudice; hatred and bigotry have to be learnt, as must the fear of those who are different.

It is argued that a diverse workforce is likely to be more creative and productive. A staff member who feels included (regardless of, say, ethnicity or sexual orientation) is likely to be happier and more committed.

Increasingly, astute firms are learning how best to recruit an increasingly diverse workforce and, more importantly, how to retain them.

Firms with more sophisticated approaches to recruitment and retention pay particular attention to the communities in which they operate; does the internal population reflect that on the outside?

Some HR departments offer managers training that is designed to build awareness of how to handle diversity across the board and how to manage potential conflict that can sometimes arise.

Of course, in some countries there are laws that oblige employers to ensure the rights of the disabled, or make it illegal to discriminate against women and people of colour. But there are other minorities who may not enjoy such strong legal protection.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities frequently fall into this category. That said, an increasing number of enlightened employers identify LGBT-friendly managers and HR personnel.

In the community as a whole, the importance of inclusion of the diverse cannot be underestimated.

Take, for example, the years of hostilities in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants. Even today, across the world ethnic and religious intolerance results in a heartbreaking loss of life and the suffering of countless innocent men, women and children who are persecuted simply for who and what they are.

It is equally important, of course, not to allow political correctness to develop to the point where it makes a mockery of diversity and inclusion.

In UK schools these days, I am told the term “blackboard” is frowned on (though for some reason, it is still alright to refer to a “whiteboard”). Some people have suggested the term “brainstorming” should be avoided for fear of offending those who are afflicted with conditions such as epilepsy.

We can perhaps live with the need to refer to a “spokesperson”, but when local councils debate the political correctness of manholes, I suggest we are in danger of losing the plot.

Which brings us to Japan. There are a variety of reasons why this country lags behind the West in embracing diversity, and there are those who say that the relative safety we enjoy is a direct result of that.

But how long can it last?

Japan is only slowly beginning to recognise the need to bring more women into positions of power. It is Neanderthal in its attitude to its LGBT population (which is significant and economically important), and it has until very recently refused to even contemplate the obvious need to open its doors to more foreign workers.

The need could not be greater here for “a safe, positive and nurturing environment” if the country is to avoid a bleak future.

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As a Brit who has lived in Japan for over 10 years and loves the country i would say please ignore comments like this. So called politically correct ideas are what have ruined the charactor of my homeland.

Whats great about Japan is that it is Japanese, when I return home there is no longer any English culture. its been swamped. I visited Paris last year and the suburbs in some areas are almost no go areas where gangs of eastern europeans roam around at will ignoring the law. If Japan needs to import labour for its Industry then please dont allow settlement and lose your cultural identity as England has done. I would never call myself a racist but when i hear that schools in certain areas of England are not allowed to have Christmas Nativity plays as they might upset Muslim children or their parents then It shows that diversity has gone very very wrong

5 ( +16 / -11 )

Lulz, this is great coming from a Brit. Prime minister David Cameron did say that multiculturalism has failed. Get over it, it does not work. It's coming under much needed attack in the West, so how are you even going to bother promoting it in the East?

9 ( +11 / -2 )

I respect your opinion but disagree with it Harvey. It's so easy to only look at the negative aspects. I too am a Brit and yes the demographic of my hometown has changed a lot in the last 15-20 years. However, a lot of the immigrants are opening independent businesses where high street chain stores have closed down, which brings some difference and variety to a community and as much as I loved living in the UK before, I am happy to see the change. To say there is no English culture any more is absolute tosh, it's there as strong as it ever has been, there are just a lot of other cultural influences living and working along side it. Not all immigrants want to change everything to suit them, that belief comes from sensationalist journalism. The reality is probably that immigrants actually change themselves consciously or subconsciously. Japanese don't even accept diversity all that much among their own, so I certainly don't expect/want Japan to change for me. As a nation Japan should probably take a good look at its priorities but, as much as I love my life here, the country needs to open up a bit and change something for the well being of the Japanese because I don't think i've ever met a bunch of people who are so blinkered.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

Amen! Sounds like an utopia though. As Harvey commented, this utopia doesn't work in reality. Deniers write such comments off as racist or nationalist views but they don't realize that cultures are like ebb and flow. And some of these are more aggressive in their expansionism than others. This aggressive nature (even though not obvious) can't allow for such an utopia.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Prime Minister Abe's wife marched in the Tokyo LGTB parade last weekend. Who says things aren't changing here.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I would agree with Harvey if he were to leave Japan; leave it for the Japanese and never come back. Probably won't happen because his home country scares him so. Or is he the 'right' kind of immigrant?

I, on the other hand, enjoy hearing different languages in a supermarket or hearing people speaking Hindi in an Indian curry shop, Spanish in a Mexican restaurant, or Korean in a Korean BBQ rather than, again and again UK or US Teen-English (Like, you know?).

Also, if you think about it, the very English culture of fish and chips originally came from, are you ready? Immigrants.

A Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin opened the first recorded combined fish-and-chip shop in London in 1860

(Wikipedia, of course.)

And yes, there are downsides to people of different cultures lurking in each others' countries. There are ignorant people everywhere and I suspect, if Japan were to be as accepting of their own minorities (who are culturally and genetically the same as non-minority Japanese), it will be forced on them by finances rather than being politically correct or listening to non-Japanese insist on cultural diversity.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

The UKs problem is not cultural diversity, it is the people from either side who have jumped on it to further their own pollitical agendas.

Most Brits know now that as of 2012 they cant bring their non-EU spouses back to the UK without jumping through several sets of restrictive hoops which almost certainly guarantee a forced separation of families for a while. For non-working British women (raising children for example) its impossible (unless they have approx. 65,000 GBP in savings). Japan gave me a spousse visa without question, renewed it 3 years later, and 2 years later my PR came through in 2 months. Japan was far more welcoming to me than the UK would ever be to my husband.

Disallowing nativity plays IS exclusion. Why not allow nativity, divali, hannukah and all the other celebrations? What a great way for the kids to learn.

But when it gets to debates about manhole covers? Blackboards? Thats just ridiculous.

I think Japan needs immigration but lets get it right and learn from the mistakes of previous countries.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sounds like Japan-Bashing as i read it. Japanese people Are Very Tolerant but like any sane people they reject politics & agendas being Pushed upon them. give it a rest,already!

3 ( +4 / -1 )


I completely agree with you, you made great points and I think we can all learn from the mistakes of immigration. I am for LEGAL immigration, I think diversity is good and it helps the country in the long run, provided, the immigrants settle and acclimate themselves and understand and adopt the languages and customs of their new adoptive home, Japan should be no exception, all of us foreigners live here, but we seem to forget that WE ARE FOREIGNERS and other foreigners have rights to come here as well. We as foreigners can't say or dictate or should wish that other foreigners should be barred from entering in this country. We are in the year 2014 and Japan cannot and should not be exclusionary, that is, unless it wants to become an isolationist nation once again and let the world pass it by. What gives one set of foreigners rights over other foreigners as far as who gets to stay here and who not. Some foreigners are equally as xenophobic in this adoptive country as well as in their native homeland. I'm not comparing America to Japan, but cultural diversity is what made America a great nation, Japan doesn't have to be like that, but diversity on some levels is good and Japan can benefit greatly from it, if done properly or Japan can be another lost nation as countries like China, South Korea, India and Brazil pass them in this competitive world.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If it's a toss up between, say, "diversity" and "civility, efficiency and order" ... I'll take the later, thank you.

There is no real intrinsic value to a mixed up society, just for the sake of mixing it up. Indeed, about the only real value to what these people are being swept along to promote as "diversity" is the undercutting of the value of indigenous labor, for the capitalist industries ... in short, more profits by paying cheaper wages for the money makers.

The real costs of promoting mixed up immigration based societies are many and mostly afford, again, by the lower classes living in working in poorer areas into which immigrants are dumped by the policy makers (and circumstances).

I agree wholeheartedly with Harvey Manning both about what is happening in the UK, in France and happened in the racially divided USA, and would go further to say Japanese does not have the "enzymes" and "anti-bodies" to digest mass immigration, nor defend itself from the social problems it will bring.

Problems exacerbated by the likely sources of immigration for Japan, e.g. its nearest neighbors either being overtly hostile towards it, or engaged in a fairly backward or fundamentalistic form of right wing Islam.

To do would be to invite in fifth columns which would undermine Japanese society.

There are some dangerously naive elements within Japanese society who are besotted by the West and assume that any idea from the West is good. I very much hope they do not fall for this one.

Generally, following any criticisms of immigration one is then accused of being right wing, racist or reactionary. However, the real opposition towards mass immigration is left wing and humanistic, to defend the more vulnerable elements of Japanese society, e.g. temporary workers, who will find themselves being pushed even further down into destitution, those in poorer districts and housing who will face the full ramifications of culture clashes, etc.

Immigration is exploitive both of the immigrants and punitive of the indigenous working classes. It best suits capital; the establishment and money makers who live far away from it and never have to deal with it directly on a day to day basis. Therefore let capital take its money to where the immigrant workers already live, abroad, and earn its profit there.

And if there are any naive Japanese or policy makers reading this, please allow me to take you on tours of inner cities in the USA, London, certain arrondissement in Paris and elsewhere and show you how these people live and what they else will be importing with them along with their cheap labor.

Of course, such a short statement cannot be exhaustive, nor is it even represent my full position ... Critiques of immigration are not inherently racist.

It is not about race or skin color, it's about cultural affinities ... and the rights and welfare of the native people who immigrants are all too often used to disempower and disadvantage even further. The circumstances in Japan are too different to apply social experiments being carried out in Europe and the USA.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

I'm not sure that fear of difference needs to be learned. It seems a pretty basic reflex in all life forms. Show me a gaijin who's had a baby start crying upon seeing his foreign physiognomy, and I'll show you a about a scorpion?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think some people here are incorrectly focusing on race as the sole definition of diversity when in fact it includes other traits like socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc - which can be highly prejudiced against in Japanese society. It is more likely that they would like the discriminated groups in Japan such as women contribute more to the workforce as a method to employ Japanese citizens before having to resort to immigration.

Another benefit of the acceptance of diversity is that it reduces group-think. Instead of having people with the same background in the same room brainstorming ideas you can hire different kinds of people who can bring their own unique insights to the table.

Acceptance could also reduce bullying which many people know is a big problem in Japan, even well into adulthood. Bullying is one way to reduce productivity.

I also find it absurd that even third and fourth generation Koreans living in Japan are discriminated against when many of them are almost completely assimilated into Japanese culture.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Harvey, Aiser& CGB Spender you are 100% correct. Japan has to hang on to their tradition & culture. Your systems working perfectly and it not broken do not attempt to fix it. If you embrace diversity you soon be an endanger species.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I particularly like the reference to “a safe, positive, and nurturing environment” because it seems to underscore just why diversity is so important in our schools, workplaces and communities.

There is no better way to accomplish "a safe, positive, and nurturing environment" than ethnic homogeneity. There's a reason why countries like Japan and Iceland are among the safest in the world. Diversity for the sake of diversity is completely nonsensical. Why do Western neo-liberals insist on forcing their misguided ideals on other people?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Public orders & personal safety is a rare commodity around the world these days. I can assure you that you still can find it in Japan.Terms and conditions not negotiable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Neanderthal in its attitude to its LGBT population my foot in my opinion. I've been to countries or have relatives or homo-sexual friends who have been to countries with so-called homo-sapien attitudes towards LGBTs and while Japan has yet to embrace homosexual marriage (which I think could be a solution to the foster home crisis for instance) or completely rid itself of certain ignorances (eg. all gay men have AIDS) there are few places in the world that are as tolerant or in fact as indifferent to homosexuals and transexuals as Japan. Even countries that have legalized gay marriage still have their shares of intolerant even violently intolerant people. Not so in Japan. Or at least I've never heard of gay people being lynched there like I have in countries I've lived in.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


It's a myth to suggest that "third and fourth generation Koreans living in Japan are discriminated against". As you say, most are completely assimilated into Japanese culture.

Problems only exist where a small minority are refusing to renounce their Korean nationality and accept a Japanese nationality, as required by all others in Japan by law. They do so to exploit personal and financial benefits from both nations, e.g. taxation on one side, avoid draft on the other, higher welfare benefits in Japan.

In fact, Japan even tolerates ethnic North Korean communities running schools teaching Juche, the political theory of North Korea which is specifically anti-Japan.

The cultural environment of NE Asia is entirely different from NW Europe. Such individuals are possibly little more than like the missionaries of old spreading their false and foreign religions, as a cover for their own personal interests which, in such a case, could simply be summarised as "I am gay and I want more gay encounters".

The truth is, there are gay and TG scenes, bathhouses, cruising spots, open street prostitution etc, all over Japan which are tolerated to point of people being utterly ignorant of them. Work is place for people go to work, not evangelise extreme sexual preferences.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All of the moralistic prattling aside, Japan needs more foreign laborers to close the coming tax deficit. That might not mean J-multiculturalism but it does mean mass immigration or fiscal insolvency. Japan cannot win its #s game with a "Japanese Only" mindset, at least not when it comes to economics or immigration.

This isn't 1985 anymore. Japanese companies are being forced to compete with foreign companies on their home turf, from the West and other Asian nations. Plus the population is shrinking and aging, thus the Japanese market itself is shrinking. Success is a #s game, and the numbers aren't in Japan's favor unless they allow more foreign workers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Common traditions, identity, cultural mores and norms are what make long-lasting cultures. Diversity creates division and tears apart societies.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Ain't gonna happen, "bleak" will be the most fashionable color in Japan for the next 4 decades.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"Bleak" ... what is bleak about the idea of small reduction in the population of Japan cities?

What it means is that in 20 or 30 year, Japanese city house sizes will be able to start to expand, have gardens and there will be more green spaces.

A managed decline of the population and economy is the way to go. What matters more is quality of life, not economic league tables which only interest bankers.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@ bass4funk and NathalieB

"I completely agree with you, you made great points and I think we can all learn from the mistakes of immigration. I am for LEGAL immigration, I think diversity is good and it helps the country in the long run, provided, the immigrants settle and acclimate themselves and understand and adopt the languages and customs of their new adoptive home"

IF the Japanese government keeps a tight lid on who comes and who goes and make no exception to the rule of the law maybe it can work!!! In the US diversity was a good thing with the inclusion of women and other groups but when you have a subculture of people who come and force the rule of law to fit their needs the entire country changes, all across America the biggest and fastest growing ethnicity is Hispanic, the country is broke because of the handouts given. All they have to do is COME TO AMERICA AND THEN THEY ARE A PROTECTED SPECIES. The government says they are not deporting anyone if they have not committed a crime. Well overstaying your visa or entering is a crime but the government don't enforce the law. So MY THINKING IS THIS ANY FOREIGNER WHO WANTS TO COME TO THE US, just buy a plane ticket and come and stay, just don't commit a crime and you are ok to do what you want. If you get arrested then you have a valid point to make which is the race card everyone in America plays. If you are Japanese you can say I have not committed no crime and you are deporting me because of my race but their are many other Hispanics and other races here so why make an example out of me. The US is built around case law therefore they CAN'T deport you or else they would have to deport all the other over stayers. Americas immigration policy is ruined and the countries inclusion of diversity even though it had GOOD intention went far beyond it TRUE intent now most of the language is all Spanish the culture is ruined if you come to America you will hear more Spanish spoken than English and the GANGS have taken over!!!

They have no clue of a a safe, positive, and nurturing environment” because it seems they come from a lawless society and they bring that to the US a nomadic gang culture that thrives in the community they move into and just take over and people move out the schools, go from the best to the worst because Jose can't speak English and the communities become graffiti boards.

Diversity is good only if the government have a hard set of rules and rule by the law with no exceptions to the rule!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


Common traditions, identity, cultural mores and norms are what make long-lasting cultures. Diversity creates division and tears apart societies."

Incidentally, fiscal crisis and massive debt also tears apart societies. Japan's in for a massive reality check regarding the long-term sustainability of a 35+% elderly population. There's no way this doesn't end in mass immigration for Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wanna bet?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Honestly, I would bet. Immigration is becoming a major part of the political discussion lately. Though the idea of mass immigration is profoundly unpopular, it's a reality Japan must face. By 2050 over half the population will be over age 70.

That means maybe 1-3rd of people will even be at the age where they can realistically work. That is completely, 100% logically and financially unsustainable. Japanese might not like to hear it, but that's the reality...

Mathematically there cannot be enough kids born in time. The only way to boost the labor shortage will be to bring more foreign people to Japan. That will mean more Koreans, more Chinese, more white and black Westerners and more mass immigration to Japan.

It's a logical necessity and a mathematical reality that Japan cannot deny. It's the law of nature.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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