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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Japan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date June 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Japan, June 2008, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated: June 2008


Japan is an island-state located in the Pacific Ocean to the east of China, Korea and Russia. With some 128 million people, it has the world's tenth largest population. Its relative geographic isolation explains the country's relative - though not complete - ethnic homogeneity, with its northern (Hokkaido) and southern (Ryūkyū Islands, including Okinawa) extremities the home of Japan's own distinctive national minorities.


For Japan's minorities, the period of reform and modernisation that occurred during the Meiji era (1868-1912) also saw some of the most momentous developments for their status. For the Ainu, it meant the formal incorporation of their land which was formally renamed Hokkaido, and the extinguishment of traditional Ainu ownership of land offered to Japanese settlers, who colonized the Ainumoshiri (Land of the Ainu), with the result that the indigenous Ainu became a minority. Its subsequent wars and conquests during this era brought it to control Korea, Taiwan and the southern half of Sakhalin, events which to this day explain the origins of some of the country's other minorities. It is also during this period that the Ryūkyū Kingdom was formally annexed to Japan.

Japan's defeat at the end of the Second World War saw its emergence as a democracy with a liberal constitution in 1947 which, while containing a number of traditional Western rights and guarantees, has no specific provision in relation to the rights of its minorities and indigenous peoples. Article 14 of the Constitution does prohibit discrimination, though its wording and scope appear somewhat limited as it is not a general prohibition of discrimination, but one which only applies 'in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin'.


Main languages: Japanese, Ryūkyūan, Korean, Chinese, Ainu

Main religions: Shintoism and Buddhism, also Protestantism and Roman Catholicism

Minority groups include Burakumin (no reliable figures available: between 1,163,372 (Source: General Affairs Agency, 1985) to 3 million) (Source: Buraku Liberation League, 2007), Okinawans (1,200,000) (Source: Yukio Uemora, 2000), Koreans (901,284, of which 515570 were permanent residents) (Source: Immigration Bureau of Japan, 2005), Chinese (500,000) (Source: Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2005), and Ainu (no reliable figures available: between 24, 381 (Source: Hokkaido Government Survey, 1984) and 50,000 (Source: Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, 2006).


Japan is to all appearances a highly developed democracy with the world's second largest economy. But despite its liberal constitution, minorities and indigenous peoples are for the most part ignored in Japan's constitutional and legislative framework, a reflection of the long-standing popular perception of Japan as a mono-ethnic state. That Japan is only made up of 'ethnic Japanese' (the Yamato people) has been until recently the prominent view within much of Japanese society, sometimes leaning dangerously towards a belief that this is part of the country's key to stability and economic success. It explains also the infamous 1986 statement by the Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone its successful was due to not having ethnic minorities. This also explains why authorities have responded decades sooner to the claims of the Burakumin - a caste rather than an ethnic minority, and thus considered to be 'Japanese'.

The absence of comprehensive human rights legislation, including against discrimination by public and private parties in particular is a problem for many minorities and indigenous peoples, as such legislation is quite often one of the few effective ways to assert and protect their rights and interests. International criticisms of this lacuna and increasing efforts and pressure from minority groups and civil society have contributed to a number of attempts after 2002 to have the Diet to enact human rights legislation. All of these failed to receive the necessary level of support within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The position of more recent migrants in society represents another issue which is often debated in Japan, as it faces an aging and even declining population, but legislation in areas such as the right to vote for permanent residents and the acquisition of citizenship remain largely unresponsive.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA)
Tel: +81 6 6577 3578

Centre for Human Rights Affairs (Jinken Kyoiku Keihatu Suisin Centre)
Tel: +81 3 3503 3165

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism Japan
Tel: +81 3 3568 7709

Japan Civil Liberties Union
Tel: +81 3 3437 6989

Kyoto Human Rights Research Institute (Sekai Jinken Mondai Kenkyu Sentaa)
Tel: +81 75 231 2600

Research Center for Human Rights (RCHR)
Tel: +81 6 6605 2033


Ainu Association of Hokkaido
Tel: +81 11 221 0462

The Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture
Tel: +81 11 271 4171


Buraku Liberation League Headquarters

Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute
Tel: +81 6 6568 0905


North Korean Residents Union in Japan (Chongryon)

Research Action Institute for Koreans in Japan
Tel: +81 3 3203 7575

South Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan)
Tel: +81 3 3454 4901


Association of the Indigenous Peoples in the Ryukyus (Okinawa People)
Tel: +81 98 982 9355

Okinawa Peace Network of Los Angeles

Shimin Gaikou Centre (Citizens Diplomatic Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)
Tel: +81 3 5662 0906

Sources and further reading


Asia Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 4, 1982, special issue on Okinawa.

Debito, Arudou, Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan, Akashi Shotan, Tokyo, 2006.

'Caste, Ethnicity and Nationality: Japan Finds Plenty of Space for Discrimination', Human Rights Features HRF/39/001, 18 June 2001, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, India.

Japan's Minorities Yet to Find their Place in the Sun, Human Rights Features HRF/56/02, 3 May 2002, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, India,

Japan, Race and Identity, Michael Weiner (ed.), Routledge, New York, 2004.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (Mission to Japan), UN Document E/CN.4/2006/16/Add.2 and Corr.1, 24 January 2006.

Overcoming 'Marginalization' and 'Invisibility': Towards the Realization of a Multicultural Society Free of Prejudice and Discrimination (NGO Joint Statement in response to UN Special Rapporteur Diene's Report on his Mission to Japan, signed by 85 groups and 18 individuals as of 31 October 2006),


Ainu Museum,

'Ainu: spirit of a northern people' William W. Fitzhugh and Chisato O. Dubreuil (Eds), University of Washington Press, 1999.

Aoki Possion, Barbara, 'The Ainu of Japan (First Peoples)', Times Edition, 2002.

De Vos, G.A., Wetherall, W. and Stearman, K., Japan's Minorities: Burakumin, Koreans, Ainu, Okinawans, London, MRG report, 1983.

Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture,

Hasegawa, Yuuki, 'Social Insecurity and Minority Rights in the Information Age: The current status of the Ainu people', Asia Rights Journal Issue 2, 2004.

'Japan's Suppression of the Ainu Moshiri', Ainu Association of Hokkaido.

Kayano, Shigeru, 'Our Land was a Forest: An Ainu Memoir', Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

Kayano, Shigeru and Iijima, Shunichi, 'The Ainu: A Story of Japan's Original People', Tuttle Publishing, 2004.

Maher, John, 'Ainu in Japan: Language Loss, Language Recovery', in La Modernisation et la Post-Modernisation Japonaises, William Steele and Araki Toru (Eds), Asian Cultural Studies Special

Issue No. 6, International Christian University Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, 1995.

Miyajima, Toshimitsu et al, 'Land of Elms: The History, Culture, and Present Day Situation of the Ainu People', United Church Pub House, 1999.

Morris-Suzuki, Tessa, 'The Ainu: Beyond the Politics of Cultural Coexistence', Cultural Survival Quarterly, Issue 23.4, 1999.

Siddle, R.M., Race, Resistance and the Ainu of Japan, Sheffield, Centre for Japanese Studies, and London, Routledge, 1996.

Siddle, Richard, 'An epoch-making event? The 1997 Ainu Cultural Promotion Act and its impact', Japan Forum, Volume 14, Number 3, 2002.

Sjoberg, Katarina, 'The Return of the Ainu: Cultural Mobilization and the Practice of Ethnicity in Japan', Harwood Academic Publishers, 1993.

Sonohara, Toshiaki, 'Toward a Genuine Redress for an Unjust Past: The Nibutani Dam Case', ELAW Volume 4, Number 2 (June 1997),

Stevens, Georgie, 'The Ainu and Human Rights: Domestic and International Legal Protections', Asia Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law, Volume 2, Number 2, 2001, pp. 110-133.

Tanaka, Yoichi, 'Ainu People Today - 7 Years after the Culture Promotion Law', FOCUS Asia-Pacific News, HURIGHTS Osaka, Volume 36, 2004.

Thomason, Andy, 'The Ainu of Japan',

Tsunemoto, T., 'Rights and Identities of Ethnic Minorities in Japan: Indigenous Ainu and Resident Koreans', Asia Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law, Volume 2, Number 1, 2001, pp. 119-141.

Ueda, D., 'The Ainu and their present legal questions', paper presented at International Conference on Indigenous Rights in the Pacific and North America, University of London, May 1991.

Walker, Brett, 'The conquest of Ainu lands: ecology and culture in Japanese expansion, 1590-1800', University of California Press, 2001.


Alldritt, Leslie, 'The Burakumin: The Complicity of Japanese Buddhism in Oppression and an Opportunity for Liberation', Journal of Buddhist Ethics 7 (2000).

Burakumin Liberation News,

De Vos, G.A., Wetherall, W. and Stearman, K., Japan's Minorities: Burakumin, Koreans, Ainu, Okinawans, London, MRG report, 1983.

Dowa Education: Educational Challenge toward a Discrimination-free Japan', Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, Osaka, 1995.

Grasping the Reality of Today's Buraku Towards a Post-Special-Measures Solution to the Buraku Problem, research series on a 2001 by the Osaka Prefecture government report entitled 'Study of Actual Conditions of Dowa Districts towards a Solution of Dowa Problem', Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, 2002.

Hah, C.D. and Lapp, C.C., 'Japanese politics of equality in transition: the case of the Burakumin', Asian Survey, vol. 18, no. 5, May 1978, pp. 487-504.

Ishikida, Miki, 'Living Together: Minority People and Disadvantaged Groups', iUniverse, 2005.

Ishikawa, Yuka, 'Rights Activists and Rights Violations: the Burakumin case in Japan', Global Conference against Racism and Caste Based Discrimination, New Delhi, India, 1-4 March 2001.

Ito, Takuya, 'Cooperativeness and Buraku Discrimination', Electronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies, Discussion Paper 5, October 2005.

Kitagushi, S., 'An Introduction to the Buraku Issue: Questions and Answers', Curzon Press, 1999.

Kumisaka, Shigeyuki, 'Buraku Discrimination and I,' Peoples for Human Rights 9 (2004).

Kumisaka, Shigeyuki, 'The Current Condition of Minorities in Japan and Challenge: The Buraku Issue,' Buraku Liberation News, no. 101, March 1998.

McLaughlan, Alastair, 'Japan's Burakumin: An Introduction', Japan Focus,

McLaughlan, Alastair, 'Prejudice and Discrimination in Japan: The Buraku Issue', Edwin Mellen Press, 2003.

McLaughlan, Alastair, 'Solving Anti-Burakujūmin Prejudice in the 21st Century', Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, Discussion Paper 1, 2003.

Reber, Emily Su-lan, 'Buraku Mondai in Japan: Historical and Modern Perspectives and Directions for the Future', Harvard Human Rights Journal, Volume 12, 1999.< /p>

Suginohara J., Status Discrimination in Japan: Introduction to the Buraku Problem, Kobe, Hyogo Institute, 1982.

The Reality of Buraku Discrimination in Japan, Osaka, Buraku Kaiho Kenkyusho, 1991.

The Sayama Case,

Tomonaga, Kenzo, 'ICERD and Buraku Discrimination,' Peoples for Human Rights 9 (2004).

Upham, F.K., 'Ten years of affirmative action for Japanese Burakumin: a preliminary report on the law on special measures for dowa projects', Law in Japan, vol. 13, no. 39, 1980, pp. 39-73.

Weiner, Michael (ed.) Japan's minorities: the illusion of homogeneity. Routledge, New York, 1997.


De Vos, G.A., Wetherall, W. and Stearman, K., Japan's Minorities: Burakumin, Koreans, Ainu, Okinawans, London, MRG report, 1983.

Fukuoka, Yasunori, 'Koreans in Japan: Past and Present', Saitama University Review, Volume 31(1):1-15, 1996,

Fukuoka, Yasunori, 'Lives of Young Koreans in Japan', Trans Pacific Press, 2000.

Hahn, B. and Hong, S., 'The Korean minority in Japan: their problems, aspirations and prospects', Korea Journal, vol. 15, no. 6, June 1975.

Hicks, George, 'Japan's Hidden Apartheid: The Korean Minority and the Japanese', Ashgate, 1999.

Ishikida, Miki, 'Living Together: Minority People and Disadvantaged Groups', iUniverse, 2005.

Iwasawa, Yuji, 'Legal Treatment of Koreans in Japan: The Impact of International Human Rights Law on Japanese Law', The Law Group, 1986.

'Koreans in Japan: critical voices from the margin', Sonia Ryang (Ed), Routledge, 2000.

'Koreans in Japan: Ethnic Conflict and Accommodation', Changsoo Lee (Ed.), University of California Press, 1985.

Lee, D. Jae, 'An Ethnic Korean School Struggles to Survive in Japan,' Connect, Volume 10 No. 4 (2007).

Liberation of the Korean Minority in Japan, presented to the Division of Human Rights of the United Nations by Association Fighting for the Acquisition of Human Rights of Koreans in Japan, 1991.

Maher, John C. and Kawanishi, Yumiko, 'On Being There: Koreans in Japan', Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 16:1-2 (1995): 87-101.

Mindan News,

Mitchell, Richard H., 'The Korean Minority in Japan', University of California Press, 1969.

Motani, Y., 'Towards a More Just Educational Policy for Minorities in Japan: The Case of

Korean Ethnic Schools,' Comparative Education 38(2): 225-237. 2002.

Nozaki, Yoshiko, Inokuchi, Hiromitsu and Kim, Tae-young, 'Legal Categories, Demographic Change and Japan's Korean Residents in the Long Twentieth Century',

Ryang, Sonia, 'North Koreans in Japan: Language, ideology, and identity', Westview Press, 1997.

The Han World: Korean Residents in Japan,

Saeng So, Jin, 'The Self-Identities of Zainichi Koreans',

Song, Hesuk, 'Target of Scapegoating: Why does discrimination towards Koreans persist in Japan?' 2003.

Tamura, Toshiyuki, 'The Status and Role of Ethnic Koreans in the Japanese Economy',

Weiner, Michael, 'The origins of the Korean community in Japan, 1910-23', Manchester University Press, 1989.

Wender, Melissa, 'Lamentation as history: narratives by Koreans in Japan, 1965-2000', Stanford University Press, 2005.

Yasuaki, Onuma, 'Legal Status of Korean Residents in Japan: Past, Present and Future', in Korean Residents in Japan and Korea- Japan Relations, International Cultural Society of Korea, 1985.


A Brief History of the Uchinanchu,

Allen, Matthew, Identity and Resistance in Okinawa', Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Asia Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 4, 1982, special issue on Okinawa.

Heinrich, Patrick, 'Language Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands', Japan Focus,

History of Okinawa,

Institute for Ryūkyūan and Okinawan Studies, waseda/

International Association of Ryūkyūan/Okinawan Studies,

Ishikida, Miki, 'Living Together: Minority People and Disadvantaged Groups', iUniverse, 2005.

Kerr, George, and Sakihara, Mitsugu, 'Okinawa: The History of an Island People', Tuttle Publishing, 2000.

Lebra, William P., 'Okinawan Religion: Belief, Ritual, and Social Structure', University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

Okinawan Language,

Position Paper on the Rights of the Okinawans to Education and Languages, Shimin Gaikou Centre, presented to the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations, 16th Session, 27-31 July 1998.

'Return to Uchinā: The Politics of Identity in contemporary Okinawa', in G. Hook and R. Siddle (eds) Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity, Routledge, 2003.

Rokkum, Anne, 'Nature, Ritual and Society in Japan's Ryukyu Islands', Routledge, 2006.

Ryukyuanist Newsletter,

'Shattering the Myth of the Homogenous Society: Minority Issues and Movements in Japan', David Coates (Ed), Japan Pacific Resource Network, 1990.

Smith, Allan, 'Ryukyuan Culture and Society: A Survey', University of Hawaii Press, 1964.

Smits, Gregory, 'Visions of Ryukyu: identity and ideology in early-modern thought and politics', University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Takara, Ben, 'On Reclaiming a Ryukyuan Culture,' Connect, Volume 10 No. 4 (2007).

Uemura, Hideaki, 'The Colonial Annexation of Okinawa and the Logic of International Law: The Formation of an 'Indigenous People' in East Asia' Japanese Studies, Vol.23 No.2 September 2003.

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