Ayako Sono and Japan’s Intersectional Oblivion


She said that opening up to mass immigration, as Japan is considering doing, would only work if the country segregated races. “It is next to impossible to attain an understanding of foreigners by living alongside them,” she said.
South Africa’s ambassador to Japan wrote to the newspaper saying Miss Sono’s proposal was “shameful and extravagant”, and “tolerated and glorified apartheid”.
Mohau Pheko said apartheid was a crime against humanity that could never be justified in the 21st century in any country.
Miss Sono’s suggestion also sparked outrage among her compatriots.
“So while the rest of the civilised world was condemning apartheid, Sono decided that she rather liked it, and now wants to bring it back,” wrote a blogger on the Japan Times website. “And she is a government appointment on an education panel?”
The right-wing Japanese government has distanced itself from Miss Sono, saying she had been an education adviser some time ago and had no current relations with government.
After years for strict immigration policies which meant that only two per cent of its population is foreign, Japan is considering opening its doors to large-scale immigration in a bid to head off the dual problems of a shrinking and ageing population.

A full translation of the editorial in question can be found here.

Ayako Sono is is a major figure in postwar Japanese literature, and has been described as the nation’s leading Catholic writer after Shusaku Endo. She’s traveled all over the world, and those experiences are reflected in her works, along with a strong belief in pacifism. She has been an advisor to the Japanese government on education and culture for many years. As such, it may be surprising to see her produce an editorial which acknowledges Japan’s dire need for more immigrants, but at the same time promotes their ghettoization on the grounds of it being “next to impossible to attain an understanding of foreigners by living alongside them.” “Humans can do together everything from business, research to sports,” she said, “But living quarters had better be segregated.”

But these attitudes are not unique to Japan. Racial obliviousness born of isolation also permeates China and Korea. Any non-Asian who has done more than simply pass through multiple borders in Asia will experience many aspects of “Gaijin Syndrome” wherever they go.

Japan faces huge challenges. Becoming a stronger player in world affairs has become a necessity. A major obstacle to achieving this remains her political establishment’s difficulty in acknowledging their imperialist past. As Ms. Sono has demonstrated, a perhaps even greater one will be reconciling the self-image of the Japanese people with how they see those from the outside world — an issue relevant to all the cultures of Northern Asia, as well as to those which intersect with them.

Originally published at b-copy.com on February 16, 2015.