Japan is an international society. It has over 2.2 million foreign residents. It welcomed over 20 million tourists in the last year. It also has over 18000 refugees seeking asylum here. And furthermore intakes over 20000 low-skilled workers every year under its “trainee” system. The legacy of colonialism and the movement of people across East and S.E Asia can be seen in the large numbers of 2nd, 3rd and even 4th generation “zainichi”* who have in recent years born the brunt of attacks from an influx in hate-speech in major cities, leading to recent (inadequate) passing of an Anti-Hate Speech Law. Yet despite the complex make up of this society and its dwindling work force there is no active immigration policy, no public services to support social integration and a heavy rhetoric of “Japaneseness”.
At the same time we are witnessing backlashes against immigration across Europe and America, as tensions fray from cultural difference and perceptions of outsiders taking over jobs, burdening public services and overpowering previously established ways of life, a stance much encouraged by opportunist politicians. We have observed a frightening spate of hate crime against refugees and immigrants in Greece, Sweden, Germany and UK to name but a few, and we are reminded on a weekly basis of the lethal prejudice which exists in law institutions of the US as spotlighted by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Does the freedom of movement, the crossing of borders and the blurring of identities as part of global society ultimately result in this conflict? This is perhaps a useful argument for a government which aims to restrict immigration to only a privileged few, but such a stance cannot be accepted out of convenience.
The project of multi-culturalism is perceived to have failed as separate cultures have developed from isolation from each other in the same community, whilst “assimilation” refuses the diversity of culture from the start. “Inclusivity” has become already a dated word but its renewed interpretation is perhaps most pressing to debate in the current state of Japanese society.
This research group has been established to bring different fields together, not only those of sociology, anthropology and law but also, importantly, actors of the cultural fields of art, literature and music, to share in a dialogue on immigration and the issues of inter-cultural conflict and racism. It intends to go beyond mere observation of the state of different individuals and communities in Japan(and the wider world) and aims to provide a platform which actively encourages the personal expression of a multitude of subjectivities, seeking empowerment by raising visibility of individual creativity and self representation which surpasses the demands to be categorized and represent one’s “associated group”.
Every month we will publish papers from our members and special guests on our dedicated web platform. We shall also organize regular face to face meetings to share experience and debate various positions, whilst also engaging in field work, workshops and presenting timely events which pin point key issues currently facing society. Ultimately this group is not concerned solely with lobbying on immigration policies but hopes to foster a heterogeneous community of diverse “becomings” which might be activated by each other through discourse and action.
Through this program we hope to break through the dated myth of a homogeneous society and show the plethora of cultural identities and experiences which exist in our daily life. Its purpose is not only to inform people of this reality but also explore and create this together, providing a stage for numerous voices and expressions which are each to be respected in their singularity.
As Japan heads towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and appears to welcome foriegn tourists with wide open arms we need to turn a critical eye towards the lack of long term commitment to immigrants to this country, the opportunistic use of a labor force with no strings attached (sent back to their countries after 3 years) and the lack of visibility of the fundamental contribution which such individuals make to the very infrastructure and economy of this country. We observe in this “Quadriennale” the very conflicts and contradictions of global society which welcomes the open movement of people and commerce upon an economic level, but later reveals this omotenashi (hospitality) to be far from unconditional and fixed with a time-limit. We hope to reach beyond mere celebrations of “cultural exchange” and rather highlight cultural realities lived day by day. This is not a case of the “outsider” entering the established circle of a society/community but rather exploring how the translocal cultures of foreign migrant workers, refugees, immigrants and travellers might be vital in reconfiguring our sense of belonging and commonality which may contribute to the very formation of the “Commons” and the action of commoning.
It is not a case of us and them.
I am, you are, we are, they are 1>>of<