Home » “Embedded racism” in Japan’s official registry systems: Towards a Japanese Critical Race Theory

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“Embedded racism” in Japan’s official registry systems: Towards a Japanese Critical Race Theory

Vol. 10, No. 1 (2014): 49-77


Critical Race Theory (CRT), grounded in American legal theories of power and dominance, has been increasingly applied to other countries to analyse racialised power relationships between social groups. Applying CRT to Japanese society, where “racism” is officially denied as a factor in the systemic differentiation of peoples into a dominant majority and disenfranchised minorities, nevertheless reveals racialised paradigms behind deciding who is a “member” of society (as in a citizen) and who is not (as in, a non-citizen), systematically allocating privilege to people with “Japanese blood.” This research focuses on recent changes to Japan’s official registry systems vis-à-vis non-citizens. Historically, the Family Registry (koseki) and the Resident Registry (jūmin kihon daichō) have employed biological conceits to give systemic advantages (in terms of citizenship, employment, access to social welfare and official recognition as residents and family members) to “Wajin” (Japan’s dominant social group with “Japanese blood”) over “Non-Wajin.” Although the Resident Registry system was amended in July 2012 to allow equal registry of non-citizens, this research finds under CRT methodology that the dominant Wajin majority did not further enfranchise or cede power to the disenfranchised non-citizen minority. The reforms were merely cosmetic changes to a segregating system that remains largely intact in scope and enforcement.

Author’s bio

Debito Arudou is a former Affiliate Scholar at the East-West Center, Honolulu, and a graduate of Cornell University and University of California, San Diego, United States. A regular columnist for The Japan Times newspaper since 2002, his nonfiction books include Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan, 3rd ed. (Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 2013) andHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan, 2nd ed. (Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 2013). A resident of Japan for twenty-five years and a naturalised Japanese citizen, he will be defending his PhD on the sociological roots of racial discrimination in Japan in 2014.


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