National Museum of Ethnology
10-1 Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka 565-8511, Japan
- Museum Top/
- Special Exhibitions/
- Ethnic Cultures Crossing Borders: People Moving, Cultures Mixing
Ethnic Cultures Crossing Borders: People Moving, Cultures Mixing
Japan as a multilingual society
In recent years, one can hear all kinds of foreign languages spoken here in Japan and it is also quite common to see foreigners in the streets and on the trains. Foreigners and Japanese have also become colleagues at work and neighbors as well. At the moment there are 1.800.000 non-Japanese living in this country (1.4% of the population). More than half of that number arrived in Japan in the late 80's and they are mainly from Asia and South America.
Many of these "newcomers" came to Japan as political refugees, students and migrant workers.
They face a lot of problems such as discrimination, prejudice and cultural as well as language difficulties. It is hard for them to fit into such a society. On the other hand, the rapid increase of foreigners has left its mark on Japanese society. Language differences became less pronounced and this influx of foreign cultures brought variety and stimulation. In the past, Japan was considered to be a country where only Japanese was spoken but this idea is changing little by little by accepting non-Japanese as citizens and neighbors. In this exhibition we will show from a multilingual point of view local government policies, volunteer activities aimed at foreign residents and as well as infomative activities by and among foreigners.
Many foreigners, while establishing themselves in Japanese society, have created their own ethnic networks. There are foreign journalists writing and publishing in their native languages and at the moment there are 100 publications in 14 languages available. On top of these activities there are also radio broadcasts in foreign languages.
Most newcomers do not understand Japanese so it is hard for them to get information and they also can not explain what they want. Daily life for them is difficult at best and many of them feel uneasy because of this. Volunteer groups are assisting them by supplying emergency information, info on human rights issues and on medical matters and they also act as go-betweens for foreigners and locals.
Multilingual services by local governments
Due to the increase in foreign residents many local governments offer information in many different languages to non-Japanese so they can understand the system and get the same benefits as Japanese. They publish guidebooks with info on medical and welfare matters and disaster prevention. Many city halls also have counseling for non-Japanese.