Working to secure the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples

Minority Rights Group International campaigns worldwide with around 130 partners in over 60 countries to ensure that disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples, often the poorest of the poor, can make their voices heard.

This information pack has been produced with the support of E4D.

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Japan’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples: A History of Denial

Japan, 2020
"With the Tokyo Olympics celebrating ‘Unity in Diversity’, it is time to put these principles in practice."

From hate speech and discrimination to exploitation and invisibility, MRG's Peter Grant highlights the different challenges experienced by minorities, indigenous peoples and immigrants, and how they are still entrenched in Japanese society today.

Chapter One

Japanese society is at a crossroads. With a population that is not only ageing but also in decline – some estimates suggest it could reduce as much as 30 per cent over the next 50 years – there is an urgent need to attract migrant workers into the country. Nevertheless, the launch of a new policy to allow entry to […]

1 min read

Chapter Two

For many centuries, when Japan was structured along feudal lines, the lowest category of all were known as eta or hinin – derogatory terms for outcaste groups typically associated with stigmatized work, such as butchers and leather workers. Living in isolated communities on the margins of society, they were eventually classified together as Burakumin (literally ‘hamlet people’) and suffered a range of dehumanizing policies in their everyday lives. With the […]

8 min read

Chapter Three

This difficult history of Japan’s Buraku population is illustrated by the case of Sumiyoshi, an area of southern Osaka home to a community dating back hundreds of years: there appears to be documentary evidence of Buraku as far back as 1284, when a nobleman refers in a diary entry to a group cleaning Sumiyoshi shrine. […]

4 min read

Minorities and indigenous peoples in Japan have all contended with marginalization... Indeed, some are still unrecognized by the government.

Chapter Four

It is estimated that there are up to 1 million ethnic Koreans living in Japan today, almost half of whom do not have Japanese citizenship. A large proportion of this population are the descendants of migrant workers brought over, many by force, from the Korean peninsula as cheap labour during World War Two. As colonial subjects of Japan, they were […]

5 min read

Chapter Five

While education is often seen as the best chance of a more inclusive future for Japan’s minorities, the issue of minority schools is currently one of the most contested in the country – with Korean schools in particular on the frontline of this debate. The most visible manifestation of this has been the harassment of Korean students […]

5 min read

Chapter Six

The challenges of assimilation and invisibility in Japan are starkly illustrated by the recent history of the Ainu community. Indigenous to the northern islands of Hokkaido, for centuries they maintained a lifestyle of hunting, fishing and foraging until the wholesale occupation of their land.  Unfamiliar diseases, a coercive colonial administration and an influx of Japanese settlers from the mainland proved devastating to the Ainu and their way of […]

5 min read

Chapter Seven

Ryukyuans, also known as Okinawans, have inhabited Okinawa through a long and often difficult history that has included colonial rule and occupation. Though previously claimed by the Japanese shogunate in the early seventeenth century, it also remained a tributary of the Chinese emperor and was not formally annexed by Japan until 1879. This was the beginning of a much harsher era […]

3 min read

Chapter Eight

With falling fertility rates and an ageing population, Japan’s demographic challenges are especially acute. Around 28 per cent of the national population are now 65 or older, a proportion that is set to rise further in the coming years while the number of younger Japanese declines. As a result, there is likely to be a growing need […]

10 min read