Lie, John. Multiethnic Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. Summary
: In this scholarly monograph, John Lie explores the history of Japan's various minority groups. He then argues that Japan has always been a multiethnic society and that the current monoethnic ideology stems from the postwar period and Japan's renunciation of (multiethnic) empire. Comments
: What a wonderful, lucidly written book! Besides stating in no uncertain terms things I've already known intuitively about Japanese language (e.g. gaijin = white person, gaikokujin = non-white person; bunmei = the West) and culture (e.g. Japanese "race" and cultural homogeneity as modern social constructs), it also had plenty of new revelations on offer: I had not previously imagined Lie's central thesis about the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere and the implications of its rejection, for example...and yet it makes perfect sense. His laundry list of famous Korean-Japanese was also intriguing; they're like black people in the U.S., taking up the rare star-studded career as athlete or entertainer because they are often institutionally barred from more ordinary occupations.
One of Lie's most controversial claims, that the burakumin constitute an ethnic minority group in Japan, is quite a brain bender. At first I wasn't convinced. They're certainly a minority group, but why wander into the fuzzy definitions of ethnicity? In some ways, it seemed akin to calling gay men and lesbians in the United States an ethnic group. But I thought Lie made a compelling argument about how Jews, a religious group, acquired "ethnic minority status" in Europe through discrimination, and I suppose the same argument may be made for the burakumin. Still, I'm not sure how well it serves his argument to call them an ethnic group, other than to utilize them in further exploding the overarching cultural homogeneity thesis.
My other main quibble with Multiethnic Japan
, and it's relatively small, was Lie's seeming overeagerness to leap to the defense of Japanese people as not "really" racist. Uhh...why is this necessary if you're arguing against a single cultural disposition? So there's nothing about Japaneseness that makes you inherently racist--fine--but that doesn't eliminate the argument that many Japanese people tend to be profoundly bigoted against black people. It felt like he was making excuses and blaming American media, but my own experiences in Asia have led me to believe that there's more to the story. Certain stripes of bigotry struck me as distinctively homegrown and domestically perpetuated/passed down from one generation to the next. Rating
- A great contribution to the literature that should be accessible even to casual readers from one of the world's premier sociologists.