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Xenophobia thriving in Japan as racist book sales surge

By Jon Day in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2014-08-15 08:20

Books and publications with disparaging content about China and South Korea have been growing in popularity in Japan, to the point that some bookstores even have a dedicated corner for such xenophobic literature.

But to fully understand the recent rise in this trend, beyond Japan's recent trials and tribulations with some of its closest neighbors over territorial and historical issues, anthropologists advocate looking at the situation from both a historical and a psychological perspective.

They note that Japan has always been a homogenous culture that largely isolated itself from the rest of the world until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

But in modern days, Japan, the world's third-largest economy, presents itself on a global stage as a progressive, hardworking, peace-loving country, committed to the ideals of internationalization. In terms of Japanese history and persona, this creates inherent ethnological conflicts and contradictions, social paradoxes and divergence, resulting in a homogenous nation with a dichotomous personality.

It would appear, experts in the field of anthropology have said, that Japan's xenophobic gene, masterfully hidden from uninformed outsiders, is alive and well and has simply been lying somewhat dormant since Japan's warring days.

The recent revival of jingoism, including the proliferation of racist literature in particular in Japan, can be understood from two perspectives, according to some leading sociologists. These can best be described as "in group versus out group" cultural ideology, and an "elitist social hegemony."

"It wasn't until I'd lived overseas for some years that I could truly see Japan, my country, objectively. And while I was shocked at first, it makes sense when you consider the idiosyncrasies, many of them engendered historically, that comprise the Japanese psyche," Keiko Gono, a prominent Tokyo-based sociologist, said in a recent interview.

"I realized that Japan was obsessively group culture oriented, meaning that if you weren't a member of a particular group, be it socially or at work, or were rejected by the 'in group', then you were socially ostracized and became an 'outsider,'" Gono said.

"By rejecting other countries' norms and values, or by discrediting or disparaging them, such as the case with the recent wave of nationalistic books, Japan's own norms and values are fortified," said Gono.

And herein, it would seem, lies the recent popularity of the genre of books known in Japan as kenchu-zokan ("dislike China, hate South Korea").

As Japanese politics took a major step to the right with the rise to power of the hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party in December 2012, the popularity of books slamming China and South Korea leapt.

In 2013, according to an accredited book list in Japan, three kenchu-zokan publications on the list reached the top 10 best-sellers.

According to official distributor Tohan Corp, no kenchu-zokan-related books were listed in the top 10 in 2012, evidence that the phenomenon is a new one and is on the rise.


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