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Opinion

Japan's diversity challenge is about social inclusion

Self-righteousness is not the issue

| Japan
What many people in Japan wish for is that the "diverse" become mainstream, well ensconced within a widened range of social norms. (Photo by Karina Nooka) 

From Jody Ono, a leadership development instructor based in Tokyo, and a thought partner of Global Perspectives.

I feel compelled to respond to the article by Stephen Givens, "The Remarkable Diversity of Japan and Its People," published in Nikkei Asia on Feb. 16. I understand the author's argument to be that Japan has diversity like anywhere else, even heterogeneity, visible in regional differences and cultural tropes, and that these should be acknowledged and appreciated. Right, done.

Yet as he extols the rampant diversity soon to frolic under the sakura across Japan, he capers past why diversity is such a hot-button issue in Japan today, one that just toppled the head of Tokyo's Olympic organizing committee.

The author observes that in Japan "feelings of moral outrage and moral superiority are rare -- a good thing if diverse human beings and communities are to get along." The message I get here is that, thanks to the rich cultural traditions of Japan (which other countries sadly lack?) residents here should be more accepting of "isms" and such that have long spurred discontent and debates over political correctness: racism, sexism, discrimination based on sexual orientation, social exclusion.

Perhaps we should not be so uptight, we Americans who he claims are "attracted to high-minded, bluestocking religious and ideological movements" and engage in "self-righteous finger-pointing." As in, the American civil rights movement? Women's fight for the vote? Oops, my moral outrage is showing, how indelicate.

This one robbed me of a few inhalations: "The complexions of women from Akita Prefecture are said to be especially beautiful. Scholars do not agree whether this is because there is lots of snow and little sunlight in Akita, or a result of intermarriage with Russians from across the Sea of Japan." Scholars? Say what? Do we care? This is not a reference to diversity, but an indulgence of regional preciousness.

So what is the point being missed here? It is that as long as diversity remains in the realm of the eccentric and ornamental -- an item to place in a lighted curio -- it shall remain without voice, without representation, without institutionalized power. What many people in Japan, Japanese and otherwise, wish for is that the "diverse," especially in terms of gender, race, or lifestyle, become mainstream, well ensconced within a widened range of social norms.

The diversity challenge in Japan is not about history, culture or regional attributes. These are, thankfully, a global universal that both does and does not render any certain place unique. It is about couples feeling free to enjoy alternative lifestyles, parents confident to look for alternative (and affordable) schools for their kids and avoid 10-hour school days, companies open to hiring young talent with different ideas and tough questions for the workplace, working women able to run a household as single parents.

My concern is that Givens' article may encourage a "head in the sand" attitude toward global-scale social change that has not been serving Japan well. As a foreign resident of Japan, I try to be a polite guest. But I won't be giving up on the transformative power of moral conviction, or on the inclusive promise of a global worldview, anytime soon.

We welcome readers' letters via email to letters.editor@nex.nikkei.co.jp. Please see our guidelines.

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