Human Rights Dialogue (1994–2005): Series 1, Number 6 (Fall 1996): The Human Rights Discourse in East Asia: Reports from the Region: Articles: JAPAN

Sep 5, 1996

The human rights discourse in Japan today can be categorized in terms of three challenges that Japan is facing. The first category is linked to the need to eliminate the remaining forms of social discrimination in Japan. The second is related to Japan's relatively slow participation in various international human rights conventions. The last category derives from the debate over how Japan can contribute to the enhancement of the human rights situation around the world. The books selected reflect all three areas.

The first two books deal with the most fundamental causes of human rights issues in Japan by criticizing the enduring myth of Japan's homogeneity and attempting to increase public awareness of the different levels of discrimination existing in Japan and acceptance of a multifaceted Japanese society. Discrimination exists against the burakumin people (descendants of the lowest caste in Japan's past feudalistic class system), other ethnic groups like Korean nationals, against the handicapped, and against women. The next two books offer a sample of the education materials on international human rights instruments. These are intended to promote further academic research as well as encourage the Japanese government to become a signatory to the relevant human rights conventions at the earliest possible date. The last book explores the possibility of Japan using development assistance as a diplomatic tool to promote human rights. Interest in this foreign policy debate is rising. At question is how Japan can reconcile its present commitment to universal human rights principles with its past deeds in the region.

Between Japan and the Far East—Internationalization in History and Civilization (Wakoku to Kyokuto no Aida—Rekishi to Bunmei no naka no Kokusaika ) by Yasuaki Onuma. Chuokoron-sha, 1988.

In this thoughtful book, the author challenges the prevalent myth of Japanese homogeneity. This is an expansion of an earlier thesis put forth in his 1986 book Beyond the Myth of a Single Nation Society (Tanitsu Minzoku Shakai no Shinwa o Koete). The author also highlights the pitfalls of internationalization and Japan's seeming blind faith in Westernization. With reference to social discrimination in Japan, Onuma argues that those who oppress others cannot be liberated themselves and stresses the need for social education to foster respect for intercivilizational dialogue, as well as spiritual and cultural diversity.

Human Rights and Multicultural Society (Jinken Mon-dai to Tabunka Shakai) by Shin ichi Sowa. Akashi Shoten, 1996.

The author begins his argument by tracing the historical, cultural, and social roots of discrimination and continues with a history of the various kinds of social discrimination existing in Japan. He points out that we should strive for a society in which each individual realizes and respects the differences of other people. He takes a thoroughly academic approach, discussing the ideas of multiculturalism, independence of the individual, and coexistence to develop his argument.

Textbook on International Human Rights Law (Tekisutobukku Kokusai Jinken Ho) by Koki Abe and Tadashi Imai. Hyoron-sha, 1996.

This is an introduction to the human rights legal field with a detailed analysis of the various international instruments in effect in the world and Japan's participation in them. The book explains the universal (namely, United Nations) and regional mechanisms for the protection of individual human rights. It is designed as an undergraduate textbook.

Commentary on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Chikujo Kaisetsu Jido no Kenri Joyaku) by Ribot Hatano. Yuhikaku, 1995.

This is the most authoritative treatise on the rights of the child published in Japan. It gives a thorough analysis of each provision of the Convention, including its traveux preparatoire, to which Japan has already become a member. The author, one of the prominent scholars of international law and the expert of the United Nations Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities since 1988, made this his legal comment on the rights of the child in Japan.

ODA and Environment/Human Rights (ODA to Kank-yo/Jinken) by Chikako Taya. Juhikaku, 1994.

A good analysis of environmental and human rights factors influencing Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) to recipient developing countries. The author argues that ODA human rights conditionality could be counterproductive in that it prevents aid from reaching those in need and can be construed as interference in a country's domestic affairs. She stresses, however, that the demanding social reforms asked of recipient governments are important to ensuring that aid reaches the people who need it most, and should not be construed as unwarranted interference.

Ms. Taya contributed a similar article to the March 1995 issue of Kokusai Mondai (International Affairs), the journal of the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), which was devoted to the topic of development and human rights. Among the articles in this collection of scholarly studies of development and human rights is "Human Rights/Democratization and Assistance Policy: A Comparative Study between Japan and the U.S." ("Jinken/Minshuku to Enjo Seisaku: Nichibei Hikakuron") by political scientist Juichi Inada, which discusses how human rights and democratization issues are considered in Japanese ODA policy making.

The writings from Japan were reviewed by Toshiya Hoshino, senior research fellow for the Center for American Studies at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), and Tetsuya Yamada, research fellow at JIIA.

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