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The Japanese Identity
Mary Scott

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Nationality is more than words on a piece of paper, instead it defines who a person is. When individuals are not considered to be affiliated with a nation, confusion both on paper and for the individual is created. This confusion for the individual is often experienced by refugees when the international community says that they no longer belong to a certain region. Like refugees, individuals of Korean descent living in Japan, as well as Okinanwans also experience confusion when their nationality is discussed. Japan’s claim as a homogenous nation, leaves many to live in Japan with permanent green cards or to be considered less than Japanese.
The notion of Japan as a homogeneous nation is not a modern propaganda tool. Instead it is a belief that stems off of thousands of years of history and religion. In most countries only one religious practice is followed, whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Buddhism, just to name a few. Yet for most Japanese, a combination of religions is practiced- a combination of Buddhism and Shintoism being the most popular. While followers of Buddhism strive to ultimately achieve enlightenment, Shintoism stresses that the Japanese are born pure and thus are direct descendants from God. With the creation of the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matter) in 673 A.D. Shintoism worked its way into Japanese government, creating an intertwined relationship between religion and state, a relationship that continues today. While Article 14 of Japan’s Constitution states that “all people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”(, Article 10 states that “the conditions necessary for being a Japanese national shall be determined by law.” ( It is this law that provides confusion for many Koreans living in Japan. Because of its ties to religion, Japanese nationality is based on blood rather than birth origin, making those individuals living in Japan of non-Japanese lineage stateless.
Prior and during the Asia-Pacific War, Koreans living in Japan were considered to be Japanese if they assimilated to Japanese culture- acquiring Japanese names and language, continuing the notion of a homogenous nation. All students were forced to recite “We will unify our hearts as one and be absolutely loyal to the Emperor.” For Koreans living in Japan, this meant rejecting Korea. By taking away what defines the Koreans as being Korean- their language and their familial names, Japan sought to make the Koreans, Japanese. Yet this period of being Japanese and embracing the “Japanese nationality” was short-lived for many Koreans.
Following the close of the war, many Koreans involved in the war were tried as Japanese for war crimes, yet once the trials ended so did their “Japanese nationality”. Because they were no longer considered to be Japanese citizens, those Koreans who fought in the name of the of the Emperor were not eligible for the same government benefits as their Japanese comrades. By not recognizing the former Korean soldiers as being Japanese, Japan has no obligation to compensate the men who chose or were forced to die in the name of the Japanese Emperor. By denying the nationalist of many Koreans, Japan maintains its image as a homogeneous state while saving money at the same time.
Assimilation denies who a person is based on their cultural background. By assimilating, the Koreans living in Japan were forced to deny their ancestry in hopes of being perceived in a positive light by those in Japanese society. Following the war when they were denied nationality to their new country, Koreans lost who they had become.
Up until 1872 when it was conquered by the Meiji regime, Okinawa was its own country separated from Japan. As its own country, Okinawa developed its own cultures and its own Japanese dialect. After conquering Okinawa, the Japanese government sought to have Okinawans assimilate to Japanese language and culture. This assimilation continues to take place today. While Okinawa may be considered apart of Japan on paper, in practice, Okinawa still remains as a conquered state and its inhabitants less than Japanese. This notion is experienced by many Okinawans as they travel through mainland Japan and are treated as foreigners rather than brethren.
For many Okinawans, their memories of the Battle of Okinawa run parallel to Okinawans being considered both Japanese and non-Japanese by mainland Japan. With the war drawing closer to Japan’s borders, Japan’s security heightened, including the eradication of potential spies- specifically Okinawan spies. Determining whether or not a person is a spy is subjective and inevitably decisions are based off of stereotypes. For Japan, loyalty to the Emperor during the war was of utmost importance, yet for many Okinawans, this loyalty was often questioned. Because of stereotypes, during the Battle of Okinawa, the Japanese Army turned against the Okinawans for reasons of national security. It was not until after the close of war that Japan considered Okinawans to be citizens of its own country. Despite the number of civilian lives that were lost, the Battle of Okinawa was deemed by the Emperor to be a success, implying that Okinawa lives are considered to be more expendable than the lives of other Japanese; re-enforcing the notion of Okinawans being less-than Japanese. Perhaps if Okinawans were able to progress from their memories, the definition of who is considered to be Japanese by mainlanders would also be left in the past.
Japan’s claim as a homogeneous nation is a claim that is subjective and used when it is most convenient to the Japanese government. The Koreans who assimilated to Japanese culture, “willingly” forgot their ancestry only to be rejected as Japanese nationals years later. Just as Korean lives were expendable to the Japanese government, so too were Okinawan lives. While on paper Okinawans are considered to be Japanese, for many mainland Japanese, Okinawans are considered to be less than Japanese. This belief may continue as a result of Okinawans inadvertently assimilating to U.S. culture and losing their Japanese identity. Whatever the case may be, Japan’s homogeneous claim leaves many to question their past and see confusion in their future.

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