by Kazuhiro Handa
Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Japan invites a lecturer to give an online seminar on peacebuilding each month to provide a platform for moral and innovative leaders. Akira Ishiwata, Vice Chairman of the NPO, Aozora (Blue Sky), was the latest guest who spoke to an online audience about multicultural coexistence—a growing issue in Japan, as its dwindling population has created the necessity to hire workers from abroad.
Mr. Ishiwata served as the secretary-general for the International Exchange Association in Meguro, one of the twenty-three wards of Tokyo. He shared that the number of foreigners increased by about five percent since the bubble collapse in late 1991. However, foreigners had to assimilate more into Japanese culture, often causing distress among them. Although external influences had helped shape post-war Japan, the country is a prime example where monoculturalism is prevalent, and the concept of multicultural coexistence did not take root until the mid-2010s, during the country’s buildup towards the 2020 Olympic Games.
The federal government has called on local governments to accept foreigners as members of local communities to realize diversity in society. There has been a push for language education—English education to younger age groups and Japanese education to incoming foreigners—to bridge the communication gap and empower foreign communities to boost their desire to contribute and revitalize Japanese society. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has even changed its guidelines so foreign residents can play an active role in shaping communities and for natives and non-natives to realize a society where everyone can live peacefully.
This positive change in attitude towards foreigners is creating opportunities to create a new socio-economic system. It has also provided a chance for the local governments to reflect on the current public sector and how to bring about changes that can create a new inclusive society that protects the human rights of people of all nationalities.
Of course, opposition to accepting foreign residents remains, which, according to Mr. Ishiwata, originates from the barrier in one’s heart. However, he also believes that the endgame for multicultural coexistence is world peace. If multiculturalism can be realized in many countries, mutual understanding will advance, building friendships instead of enmity. Therefore, he believes it is essential for each individual to tackle the barriers in one’s own heart and change to a heart of peace and acceptance.
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