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  • Writer's pictureKomaba Times

Why White 'Works' Right


White privilege in Japan in the employment sector

“It’s the 21st century and I thought none of it mattered anymore… until I came to Japan and started being treated as a demi-god, just because of the color of my skin!” said Dave*, a 25-year-old JET teacher from Canada.

White privilege in Japan is indeed the unspoken reality.

There has been much discussion around the world about the privileges Caucasian people tend to receive in contrast to the treatment given to people of other ethnicities. Unfortunately, this topic has not been actively covered by the media in Japan even though it is a hot topic for foreigners in Japan.

Being a foreigner in Japan in itself gives a unique perspective into this sea of homogeneity, wherein there is always the so called ‘special treatment’ given to the ‘Gaijins’, the Japanese word for foreigners. Interestingly, this behavior of Japanese people towards the foreigners contributes to the overall issue of white privilege.

Teaching in Japan. Photo by Angie from Chiba, Japan | Wikimedia Commons.

Six out of the ten Japanese people who were surveyed in Shibuya said that the first image that comes to their mind with the term ‘Foreigner’ is that of a White Caucasian in their late 20s. This is quite surprising since the official facts and figures tell a different story. According to the annual immigration statistics published by the Government of Japan, foreigners in Japan are predominantly from China and Korea with a total of approximately 9 million, a figure which is over nine times the number of American travelers entering Japan in 2015. However, this does bring us to the understanding of how the Japanese view foreigners.

A young university student from India currently studying at a university in southern Japan had an interesting story about his application to an English Language school as a part-time teacher, a job for which he got rejected while his German classmate got selected. The surprising factor here is that even though the Indian, a native speaker of the English language, got higher points on his English proficiency tests wasn’t given the job because ‘he didn’t look like a native speaker unlike the German boy’. In the blunt words of the Director of the English Language school, “people would prefer learning English from a man who is white”. It is also common to see advertisements for English teachers on Craigslist (Tokyo) also often explicitly state their strict requirement of ‘Whites apply only!’

A Caucasian Craigslist’: sample advertisements from Craigslist, Tokyo |

This attitude of believing in a supposed superiority of the Caucasian race, suggests the basis of discrimination towards other races. This behavior is most often revealed in employment. Most English language conversation cafes, bars and even restaurants prefer to hire only Caucasians.

Even in the Japanese entertainment industry, it is intriguing to see mostly white people being hired as models and actors. On questioning one such model recruiter, Shutaro, it turns out that the reason why most companies want to hire Caucasian models is because their presence arguably makes their product seem ‘more international’.

Katerina*, a Russian immigrant, also had a similar story. She came to Tokyo two months ago and is currently hired as a hostess at a hostess bar in Shinjuku. Her club has a strict policy of only hiring white women in their early 20s, predominantly from East Europe and other Western countries.

These are not stand-alone incidents. White privilege in Japan is witnessed too often in everyday life and not just limited to the case of employment. The idea of racial equality specifically in times of globalization has only recently been introduced in an otherwise predominantly mono-ethnic Japan. Over the years this has unfortunately resulted in making people ignorant or incompetent to deal with the fast-growing multi-ethnic country Japan is on the path to become, especially in light of the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

The first step towards finding solutions is to actually open up the discussion on ethnic equality in Japan which has been avoided for far too long. The need of the hour is to encourage culturally informative and ethnically stimulating discussions in order to forge an accepting and eventually appreciative multi-ethnic workforce in Japan where employees are not subjected to discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.

*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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