Last Updated: Wednesday, 01 June 2016, 07:42 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Japan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Japan, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
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.

In a major positive development in East Asia, the Japanese House of Representatives passed a resolution in June 2008, which officially classified the Ainu people as 'indigenous peoples'. Activists claimed it as a 'momentous victory' for the Ainu, who number some 50,000, and can now claim more rights as a people, since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is mentioned in the resolution as a standard that the government should 'work toward[s]'.

An expert panel has since been set up to discuss the indigenous rights of Ainu and future policies concerning them; however Ainu will only hold observer status and are pressing for full representation. Some Ainu viewed the recognition as merely symbolic, with unclear benefits in terms of their social and economic marginalization, and highlighted the absence of any apology for past policies of land theft, cultural repression and forced assimilation. Others noted that official recognition could lead to increased pride within the Ainu community, and a greater desire to preserve Ainu culture. Despite their change in status, the Ainu language is unavailable in compulsory education and textbooks do not feature Japanese history from an Ainu perspective.

Furthermore, rights organizations continued to assert in 2008 that the constitutional and legislative framework in Japan still lacks remedies for discrimination experienced by persons belonging to minority groups, such as returnees from China, Okinawa, Koreans and Buraku, as well as Ainu.

The state does not recognize the Okinawa as indigenous peoples in domestic legislation and fails to provide special measures to protect, preserve and promote their cultural heritage and traditional way of life, and recognize their land rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee urged Japan to provide adequate opportunities for both Ainu and Okinawa children to receive instruction in or of their language and about their culture, and include education on Ainu and Okinawa culture and history in the regular curriculum.

Japan's large populations of Brazilian, Chinese, Filipino and Korean permanent residents – many of whom were born in Japan – also face discrimination. They are viewed as 'foreigners' and as responsible for most of the crimes committed in the country. The media fosters this perception although Ministry of Justice statistics showed it to be false.

Ethnic Korean private schools in Japan are categorized as vocational schools and do not receive any government subsidies, depending on tuition fees and private donations. The schools are also excluded from tax exemption or deduction for donors. These discriminatory practices have led to Korean schools suffering economic difficulties in 2008.

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