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date: 17 February 2018

Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration in East Asia

Summary and Keywords

East Asian countries have varying levels of ethnic homogeneity. North and South Korea have long been considered among the most ethnically homogeneous nation-states in the world. In South Korea, the number of foreigners who were long-term visitors (over 90 days) or residents accounted for 1.3 percent of the total population in 2006. While no equivalent statistics are available for North Korea, given the data available, it seems safe to assume that the ethnic minority population in that country totals less than 1 percent. The Japanese also view themselves as a racially distinct and homogeneous people, despite the historical presence of foreigners and ethnic minorities. China is composed of a patchwork of ethnicities with around 55 state-recognized minority groups. However, according to the 2005 census, minorities accounted for only 9.4 percent of the overall population or 123 million people. Despite different levels of ethnic homogeneity, China, Korea, and Japan are witnessing a rise in international (and internal) migration over the past three decades. The recent increase of foreign migrant workers and spouses has challenged the dominant perceptions of ethnic homogeneity in Korea and Japan, while further strengthening the bonds of ethnic heterogeneity in China. These changes have not only forced a reshaping of the notions of identity and citizenship, but have also helped fuel the rise of various “reactive” forms of neo-nationalism, such as “state nationalism,” “ethnic nationalism,” and “cultural nationalism,” that attempt to fortify or recuperate ethnic or race-based definitions of national identity.

Keywords: ethnicity, nationalism, migration, China, Korea, Japan, homogenous society, ethnic homogeneity


East Asian countries are experiencing a sea change in the study of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration. These countries contain different levels of ethnic homogeneity. North and South Korea have long been considered among the most ethnically homogeneous nation-states in the world. Similarly in Japan, the Japanese also view themselves as a racially distinct and homogeneous people, despite the historical presence of foreigners and ethnic minorities. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is composed of a patchwork of ethnicities with over 50 state-recognized minority groups. In homogeneous societies like Japan and Korea, political leaders historically constructed a primordial view of their homogeneity based on ancient myths. However, the Japanese belief system of national polity under official nationalism misled the people towards international wars. Ironically, Japanese expansion contributed to the development of Chinese and Korean nationalism during the early twentieth century.

Although they have different levels of ethnic homogeneity, China, Korea, and Japan have witnessed a rise in international (and internal) migration over the past three decades. The recent increase of foreign migrant workers and spouses has challenged the dominant perceptions of ethnic homogeneity in Korea and Japan while it further strengthens the bonds of ethnic heterogeneity in China. These changes have not only forced a reshaping of the notions of identity and citizenship, but have also helped fuel the rise of various “reactive” forms of neo-nationalism, such as “state nationalism,” “ethnic nationalism,” and “cultural nationalism,” that attempt to fortify or recuperate ethnic or race-based definitions of national identity.

This essay provides a comprehensive literature review of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration in China, Korea, and Japan. It is organized into three country sections, each of which will examine how these issues have interacted to generate new developments in these countries in the twenty-first century.


The social fabric of the PRC is composed of a patchwork of ethnicities, with some 55 state-recognized minority groups living with the majority Han Chinese. However, according to the 2005 census, minorities accounted for only 9.4 percent of the overall population or 123 million people. Over three-quarters of this minority come from just one of 11 main ethnic groups: Zhuang, Manchu, Hui, Miao, Uyghur, Yi, Tujia, Mongol, Tibetan, Buyei, and Korean. Nonetheless, the importance of these minority groups cannot be overstated, as they are often concentrated in areas rich with minerals and resources, and span nearly 60 percent of the Chinese territory. Thus effective management of interethnic relations is critical to China’s unity.

Considerable debate exists on the impact of ethnic tensions and divisions on China’s national identity. State nationalism is an attempt by a state to create a more unified nation (the idea of nation building), by claiming that its goals embody those of a nation. But these goals are usually dependent on the cultural, political, and sometimes territorial centrality of a dominant ethnic group – in this case, the Han Chinese (Smith 1971:176). However, some ethnic groups in the PRC do not actually identify themselves as “Han Chinese,” and have demanded autonomy. The growth of localized, ethnic nationalism – a potential incubator for aspirations of independence – has become a source of concern for the central government. Party leaders, who promote their view of state nationalism, regard ethnic nationalism as an obstacle to the nation’s unity and stability. The steady influx of North Korean political refugees and other foreigners into China further challenges its notions of nationalism, ethnic relations, and social control.


Two divergent viewpoints arise on the role of ethnicity and its impact on state nationalism and the integration of the nation-state. Some argue that ethnic diversity does not pose a threat to China’s national identity and unity, while other scholars assert that it creates great challenges for the Chinese state.

Nimrod Baranovitch (2001) argues that the role of ethnicity is not necessarily in conflict with China’s state nationalism, claiming that ethnic minorities sometimes represent themselves as “Chinese,” which suggests complex layers of identities. For example, Sara Friedman (2006) analyzes different forces in the identity politics of the Hui’an minority in the southeast. The people of Hui’an insist they are Han Chinese and are officially recognized as such; however, women there practice certain customs that are not typical Han. Chinese scholars see the unique dress style and marriage pattern of Hui’an women as evidence of non-Han origins and perceive the exotic customs and sensuality as an affinity with ethnic minorities. Friedman argues that the inclusion of such peculiar customs into Han would challenge the homogeny of Han-ness. However, the villagers never accepted the idea that they were not Han.

Baranovitch (2001) and Si Joong Kim (1995) provide more examples of ethnic minorities who do not pose a threat to Chinese state nationalism and integration. The Tujia, Manchus, Zhuang, Hui, and Kazakhs are happy to remain a part of China. In the case of the Tujia of central China, some suggest that the ethnicity is as much an outside construct as it is a result of innate differences between the Han and the Tujia (Mackerras 2003:16). The Manchus, mainly found in northeast China, are also ethnically and culturally close to the dominant Han Chinese, assimilating into the Chinese people during their rule over them from 1644 to 1911 (Qing dynasty).

Others argue that ethnicity is indeed a divisive issue and poses a great challenge to state nationalism and the integration of the nation-state. Baogang He (2004:148), Colin Mackerras (2003:16), Dru Gladney (1998), and Suisheng Zhao (2000) all argue that significant differences in culture may make minorities hostile to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). But the mere presence of differences in ethnic identity and ethnic nationalism among minority groups is not necessarily the problem. The problem, Mackerras (2004:148) argues, arises when the growth of ethnic nationalism rivals that of state nationalism, and leads to separatist movements which challenge the established national borders of China. Many of these ethnic minorities live in the far-border regions; thus such separatist movements potentially compromise China’s territorial integrity.

Among the groups with striking differences to the Han are the Uygurs of the far-northwest Xinjiang province, and the Tibetans of the southern plateau. The Uygur people, ethnically Turkic, speak a language similar to Turkish and are predominantly Muslim (Mackerras 2003:16). Geopolitically, Xinjiang borders the independent states of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, which supply Uygur separatists with “sources of weapons, money, training, and places of refuge” (Lawrence 2000:23–4). Xinjiang’s location on China’s remote border, combined with a rise in ethnic nationalism, worries Chinese leaders that ethnic separatism may override nationalist appeals and challenge the established borders of the multiethnic state (Michael 1979:102; Zhao 2000:24).

Tibetans, too, differ from the Han Chinese ethnically, linguistically, and religiously. Given these differences, Mackerras (2004:151) argues that ethnicity is a major issue in Tibetan–Han relations, and that strong support exists for a nation-state independent of China. The first major separatist movement emerged in 1959, when Tibetans declared independence during the March 1959 rebellion. This was immediately crushed by Chinese suppression and resulted in the exile of the Dalai Lama to India. Many more demonstrations for independence have since occurred, especially in the late 1980s, which were all quickly and brutally suppressed by the authorities. Resentment towards the Han soared during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 under Mao Zedong’s rule when he forced the Tibetans to assimilate to the Han culture because he did not see the need for separate ethnic identities.

Only after Mao’s death in 1976 did new policies dramatically improve rights for Tibetans and other minorities, albeit with some variations and inconsistencies in application. Preferential policies towards minorities were introduced in the 1980s, which included quotas for higher education, preference for certain kinds of employment, economic investments in ethnic areas, and special measures taken to alleviate poverty. Mackerras (2003) argues that these preferential policies were introduced to mitigate ethnic unrest by gradually eliminating the political, economic, and cultural inequalities that initially caused deep resentment and the beginnings of ethnic nationalism.


A plethora of factors contribute to the emergence of Chinese nationalism. James Townsend (1996) explores a range of reasons for this development, specifically when defeat by Japan in 1895 catalyzed Chinese nationalism; China’s longstanding aversion to foreign influence; the Nationalist victory in 1927; the Communist victory in 1949; the disastrous Cultural Revolution; and finally Maoism and post-Mao modernization. This section examines the three main explanations for the rise of Chinese nationalism in the contemporary era: state nationalism as a reaction to imperialism; nationalism as a new legitimizing ideology of the ruling party; and nationalism as anti-American sentiment.

China was a vast, powerful, and wealthy empire for much of premodern history. This ancient nation was then humiliated by Western powers in the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century. Suisheng Zhao (2000:25), Peter Hay Gries (2004), and many others argue that reactive sentiments to foreign invasion provided the impetus for modern Chinese nationalism. Erica Downs and Phillip Saunders (1999:117) also agree that nationalism in China was chiefly triggered by the aggressive actions of foreign imperial powers in the early nineteenth century, when Japan, Russia, and the West all penetrated China.

Due to these external threats, Peter Harris (1999:127) argues that China turned to the ideology of state nationalism to resist imperialism in an effort to “save China.” In particular, Chih-Yu Shih (1995:543–4) emphasizes the central significance of Japanese imperialism to the development of Chinese state nationalism. Japan’s military victory in the 1894–5 Sino-Japanese War and its subsequent seizures of both Taiwan (1895) and Korea (1910) were particularly humiliating for the Chinese, who had always assumed cultural superiority. Japan’s continued expansion into China in the 1930s and wartime atrocities like the 1937 Nanjing massacre gave rise to the popular anti-Japanese sentiment that is embedded in the foundations of Chinese nationalism. Xiao Gongqin (1996) calls Chinese nationalism a “reactive defensive type” of nationalism, which arose in response to a “negative stimulus” from foreign imperial forces. Thus, Lucian Pye (1993:109) and Peter Harris (1997) conclude that modern Chinese state nationalism appeared during the rise and growth of modern nation-states, at a time when China sought to assert its identity and authoritatively take ownership of its own affairs.

Scholars such as Shuisheng Zhao (2000), Erica Downs and Phillip Saunders (1997) view the rise of Chinese nationalism as the new legitimating ideology adopted by the Chinese Communist Party to justify its rule. Zhao (2000) argues that the emergence of nationalism in post-Mao China stemmed from a legitimacy crisis faced by the Communist regime when its market-oriented economic reforms in the 1970s undercut the CCP’s claim of China as a socialist country. Furthermore, the Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist ideologies find increasing difficulty in legitimating the CCP’s political governance following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 (Downs and Saunders 1999:117). This crisis climaxed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, in which intellectuals and students turned to Western liberal ideas and called for democratic reforms. The government, in response, suppressed the protests with military force. Ben Xu (2001) also argues that from late 1989 to early 1992, the CCP established nationalism as its new official ideological basis, in order to maintain its rule and buttress the legitimacy of its tattered regime after the Tiananmen Square massacre, relying on the last remaining bedrock of political belief shared by most Chinese.

To understand Chinese nationalism, one must also focus on the Chinese perception towards one of its most important rivals: the United States of America (Gries 2004:4). George Wei and Liu Xiaoyuan (2002:34) argue that the formation of Chinese nationalism was born of a crude form of anti-American sentiment that continues to incite fierce emotions. Disenchantment with the West came to a head in a series of incidents with the United States in the 1990s, prompting an “anti-Westernism” movement. Three issues in particular stand out: the American bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on May 8, 1999; the collision between a Chinese fighter plane and a US spy plane on April 1, 2001; and growing tensions due to the United States’ alleged support of separatist forces in Taiwan as an effort to contain and weaken China (Wei and Liu 2002:104).

Of these three events, Gries (2004:27) argues that the Belgrade bombing has the most intrinsic importance to understanding Chinese nationalism today. Western academics such as Thomas Christensen (1996:37) dismiss Chinese nationalism as a tool used by Communist elites to prop up their declining legitimacy. Susan Shirk (2007) makes similar allusions in her descriptions of CCP-facilitated demonstrations against the US embassy by bused-in Chinese students. She argues that the CCP’s primary concern was that a failure to focus attention on the USA would result in negative attention on the CCP itself for allowing a humiliation like that to occur (Shirk 2007). Gries (2004), on the other hand, disputes the top–down view of Chinese nationalism and insists that the Chinese reaction to the bombings represents genuine popular opinion and should not be dismissed as propaganda. For the Chinese, the Belgrade bombing was not simply an isolated event, but rather the latest in a long history of Western aggression towards China.


The topic of migration in China has primarily been focused on the internal migration of people moving from rural communities to urban centers such as Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, and Qinghuangdao (Kim 1995:112). Studies in internal migration in China have rarely focused on the role of gender in the migration process. However, research on women’s mobility has proliferated recently and more attention is given to female migration and the role of gender in migration. Pun Ngai (1999:1) observes a gendered migration of rural women moving into industrialized districts to take advantage of rural–urban disparities. The labor migration from rural to urban cities is in the context of social and economic changes transitions in China and is largely the consequence of a “socialist market economy” model which juxtaposes market mechanisms with a planned economy (Fan 2003:24).

Cindy Fan and Youqin Huang (1998:227) observe that often peasant women in poor areas are constrained by their institutional positions, rural origins, and low education and status, which shut them out from cities and the urban labor market. For women in poorer rural areas who are not competitive in the urban labor market, marrying men in another rural but more desirable location is a strategy to improve their social and economic mobility. The internal migration of rural women could in part be due to the deficit of females in the Chinese countryside. The cause of the imbalance of sex ratios has been the topic of much scholarly debate. During the 1980s scholars stressed female infanticide alongside the underreporting of girls. However, by the late 1990s, a consensus emerged that abandonment and underreporting of girls and sex-selective induced abortion were the main explanations (Greenhalgh and Li 1995; Johnson 1996; Croll 2000; Chu 2001). Getting rid of unwanted children, girls in particular, has been a culturally accepted means of regulating family composition, and before China’s 1949 revolution female infanticide was a culturally sanctioned practice (Murphy 2003:602). Rachel Murphy (2003) concurs with the growing consensus that infanticide has been largely replaced by sex-selective abortions. Referring to the situation in Jiangxi province, a predominantly agricultural area located southeast China, Murphy argues that gender preference for at least one son combined with the restrictions imposed by the one-child policy has contributed to imbalanced sex ratios. Murphy identifies a male bias inherent in state institutions that implement population policy and in local culture. If the gender inequalities embedded in both state policy and local culture do not come to an end, altered sex ratios will persist, resulting in a surplus of men, and the migration of rural women is likely to continue into the future. Interestingly, Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Den (2002:37) argue for a direct relationship between imbalanced sex ratios and violence. They claim that the behavioral syndromes associated with surplus young adult male groups serve as a catalyst to violence, social disorder, and corruption.

In regard to international migration, conventional discussion usually revolves around emigration out of China. According to Ronald Skeldon (2004), there were an estimated 33 million Chinese living outside China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong at the end of the twentieth century. Of these overseas Chinese, there is a considerable number of ethnic Korean-Chinese called ChosInjok who emigrated as well. In 2006, there were 170,000 ChosInjok in South Korea (Skrentny et al. 2007:799). ChosInjok are the descendants of Korean emigrants during the Japanese colonial period of 1910–45, who fled to China to escape the Japanese oppression and/or plot Korean independence (Seol 2000:10). Wang-Bae Kim (2004) argues that given their linguistic, cultural, and geographic proximities to Korea, these workers have an obvious advantage over other foreign workers. ChosInjok all speak Korean and to a great extent share Korean culture. However, Kim (2004) observes that ChosInjok have experienced strong racial discrimination in South Korea. This disillusionment may have led some to return to China and embrace more their Chinese identity and nationalism while diluting their Korean ethnic identity.

In terms of immigration patterns in China, the public discourse has focused mainly on the North Koreans. This has been brought to the fore with the world’s renewed concern at North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and egregious human rights violations. To reach China, North Korean migrants have defied their government’s criminal prohibition on illegal exit and China’s rigorous border controls. China’s policy towards North Koreans in its territory is immediate expulsion in an effort to maintain good relations with neighboring North Korea and deter further migration (Human Rights Watch 2002:1). Many human rights organizations report the forced repatriation of hundreds of North Korean asylum seekers by the Chinese government each week, and these asylum seekers then face harsh interrogations, long prison terms, torture, and/or execution upon return because the North Korean government criminalizes people for leaving the country.

China views North Koreans who enter the country as illegal economic migrants and refuses to recognize them as refugees. China argues that North Korean migration is mainly for economic reasons – the North Koreans have been illegally crossing the border in search of refuge since the 1900s, when many died of starvation due to the North Korean famine. The fact that food is distributed in North Korea based on political loyalty to the regime means that economic and political aspects are inextricably linked. Stephan Haggard and Noland Marcus (2006) accordingly view North Koreans who enter China as refugees because they are politically persecuted within the political dimension of North Korean’s economic deprivation.

The effects of North Korean migration on Chinese nationalism and interethnic relations are debated. Chinese nationalists are concerned about the consequences of the estimated 10,000–300,000 North Koreans hiding in northeast China, mainly in the province of Jilin, intermingling with the Chinese citizens of Korean ethnicity (Human Rights Watch 2002:2). The Chinese government is afraid that the high numbers of North Koreans living with the ethnic Korean-Chinese may spark a revival of ethnic Korean nationalism and separatist movements (Kim 1995). Jilin’s geographical proximity to the Korean peninsula intensifies the CCP’s concern that Koreans may seek to detach themselves from China in order to become part of Korea, with a growing Korean population in Jilin due to the influx of North Koreans (Suh and Shultz 1990:102). Although the Chinese government may have legitimate reasons to be wary of nationalistic ethnic minorities leading separatist movements, however, the Koreans seem happy to remain part of China. While China may regard ethnic Koreans as one of the most distinct minorities in China, others argue that their distinct ethnicity is not in contention with China’s nation-state, as members of the Korean minority appear unlikely to rejoin the two Koreas and have shown themselves loyal to China (Mackerras 2004:150). Thus, migration of North Koreans does not seem necessarily to pose a threat to Chinese state nationalism, national identity, or integration.


South Korea and North Korea have long been considered among the most ethnically homogeneous nation-states in the world. The most commonly used Korean term for “nationalism” – minjokjuJi – might be directly translated as “ethno-ism,” or more accurately, “ethnic nationalism,” since the term can be parsed easily: minjok means “race,” “ethnie,” or “state,” while juJi means “-ism.” The statistics seem to confirm the stereotype: the number of foreigners who were long-term visitors (over 90 days) or residents accounted for 1.3 percent of the total population of South Korea in 2006, compared to resident foreigners forming 2.4 percent of Japan’s total population in 2005. While no equivalent statistics are available for North Korea, given the data available, it seems safe to assume that the ethnic minority population in that country totals less than 1 percent.

At the same time, it would be misleading to simply accept the notion that South Korea has always been and remains a “homogeneous” culture, only now challenged by waves of immigrants borne on the waves of globalization. The existence of a 7 million plus diasporic community, combined with quantitative and qualitatively new forms of immigration, has already triggered reassessments of the conflation of ethnicity with the nation-state in South Korea. In North Korea’s case, nationalism continues to be nurtured by variations of the siege mentality, but increasing migration in the form of a steady outflow of economic refugees has eroded the power of state ideology to maintain social control.


According to the primordialist view of Korean ethnicity, the Korean race has descended uninterrupted from the mythical founding father, Tan’gun. Constructionists tend to emphasize the more recent creation of ethnic identity and modern Korean nationalism. Although fervent adherence to primordialist views is not common among academics, many scholars have at the same time simply assumed an unbroken and mono-ethnic history of the Korean peninsula. Consequently, there were few studies that analyzed constructions of “ethnicity” in Korea until around the mid-1980s. Since then there has been a notable move to historicize the emergence of the collective ethnic category of “Korean,” and the links between such conceptualization and the rise of modern nationalism. Several historians have questioned when and how Koreans began to see themselves as “Koreans” rather than identifying themselves by clan, kinship, class, or village. Several scholars have identified the 1890s as the period when modern notions of “Korean” ethnic identity first began to emerge, at least among intellectuals (Chandra 1988). While some have noted that there was little sense of social solidarity among all Koreans until the late nineteenth century (Eckert 1991:226–8), others place more emphasis on the proto-nation, or preexisting notions of community on which the discourse of modern nationalism and ethnic identity were built (Duncan 1998).

While acknowledging the importance of proto-nationalism in serving as the foundation for modern forms of Korean ethnic identity and nationalism, Schmid (2002) identifies the diffusion of the term minjok (the word is actually a compound of the characters for “people” and “tribe”) among intellectuals to the period between 1895 and 1910, while others have stressed the importance of Japanese colonial racism as the coagulating agent for notions of “Koreanness” (Lee 1963). Rather than just resistance to Japanese oppression, the polarization of the Korean independence movement spurred the rhetoric of a unified Korean race and defined modern nationalism, according to other scholars (Robinson 1988; Shin 2006:41).

However, the literature generally overlooks the presence of ethnic minorities that have long been a part of Korea’s modern history. Admittedly, the ethnic minority population has never been more than 2–3 percent of the total population in Korea even in the pre-1945 period: however, accounts that erase them from historical record simply end up unintentionally reproducing primordialist views of Korean ethnic homogeneity. Countering such views, Lynn (2007:82–5) points out that the history of at least four groups of ethnic minorities ought to be included in any discussion of Korean ethnicity: first, the Chinese, who have been present since the 1890s; second, the Japanese, many of whom settled in Korea during the colonial period or accompanied Korean spouses back to Korea in 1945–6; third, “Amerasian” children of US soldiers and South Korean women starting in the Korean War; and fourth, “Dai Laihan” (Vietnamese for “mixed-race Koreans”) children of South Korean soldiers and Vietnamese women who mostly live in Vietnam. There have been studies of such populations in historical contexts, such as the Chinese in Korea during the turn of the twentieth century (Larsen 2008), Japanese urban settlers in colonial Korea (Uchida 2005; Henry 2005), and “Amerasian” babies sent out for adoption in the 1950s (Hubinette 2005; Kim 2007). However, there are few studies of ethnic minorities in contemporary South or North Korea in English.

Recent challenges to the dominant perceptions of ethnic homogeneity have come in two forms: foreign migrant workers, who have been a significant part of South Korea’s labor market since the late 1980s (Moon 2000); and even more importantly, foreign spouses. Transnational marriages have increased exponentially in the 2000s to the point that 40 percent of all rural marriages that occurred 2006 were between Korean men and non-Korean women (Lee et al. 2006). Naturally, there has been a dramatic increase in the population of so-called “Kosian” (a portmanteau for “Korean-Asian”) children, especially in the rural areas. In addition, a case could be made that North Korean defectors/refugees are a distinct “ethnic” group given the significant differences in customs and values (Grinker 1998).

Studies of North Korea have generally not problematized ethnicity. One group that might be termed an ethnic minority is the 93,000 Korean residents of Japan who “returned” to North Korea between 1959 and 1984, although most were originally from Cheju Island in the South (Morris-Suzuki 2007). With only a few exceptions, these families were placed at the bottom of North Korea’s social structure upon arrival and relocated to the remote provinces in the northeast. In addition, some 300,000 Chinese soldiers remained in North Korea after the Korean War until Mao Zedong asked Kim Il-Sung to repatriate them in 1958 to be used as labor for the Great Leap Forward. The post-Great Leap Forward famines in China and the growth of the North Korean economy in the 1960s also prompted Chinese in the northeast to flee to North Korea as economic refugees. Around 45,000 Chinese reside in North Korea to this day, most of whom entered the country during this period.

American and Japanese defectors to North Korea and abduction victims constitute another group of “ethnic minorities.” Nine members of the radical Japanese Red Army Faction defected to North Korea after hijacking a plane in 1970 (Steinhoff 2004), while four American soldiers also defected separately to North Korea between 1962 and 1965. South Korean fishermen have been captured by the North (the South Korean government’s official list of abducted nationals is 485) and some prisoners of war still remain in the North ever since the end of the Korean War in 1953 (an estimated 600). North Korean agents also abducted nationals from Japan, Thailand, and Lebanon during the 1970s and early 1980s. Of these, the abductions of Japanese nationals have received the bulk of the attention (Niksch 2002; Lynn 2006).


The general trend in recent English language scholarship has been to challenge the hegemonic position of ethnic nationalist scholarship within South Korea. Nationalist scholarship emphasizes Korean independence movements and the unity of the ethnie under Japanese colonial rule in large part to counter colonial historiography that portrayed Korea as backward and stagnant, and also as a reaction to the division of the peninsula in the post-1945 period. In contrast, the revisionist views do not take independence in 1945 or the formation of an anti-Communist South Korea as the inevitable terminus for history; instead they have focused on issues of timing and causes of modern nationalism. Currently, constructivist or modernist views of nationalism as a recent creation (Robinson 1988; Em 1999; Shin 2006) outnumber approaches that might be termed ethno-symbolic (Duncan 1998; Hwang 2004).

The question of when modern nationalism in Korea emerged is inextricably tied to the rise of notions of a unified Korean ethnic identity. If older literature depicted Korean nationalism as having risen through resistance against Japanese colonial oppression, more recent works stress the importance of the late nineteenth century or the continuities in social structure from the precolonial to the colonial periods (Schmid 2002; Hwang 2004). Research on the colonial period has taken more nuanced approaches to highlight the multiple political and intellectual axes that informed the development of modern nationalism in this period. King (1998) links the emergence of nationalism to the debates to standardize the Korean language during the late nineteenth and colonial periods. Manela (2007) also turns to the colonial period, specifically the largest independence demonstration (the March First movement of 1919), but places such Korean anticolonial nationalism squarely within larger international contexts rather than in domestic narratives.

Scholarship on the post-1945 period has taken several approaches to modern nationalism. The division of the peninsula and the attempts at reunification and state building have been emphasized by Cumings (1981; 1990) and Armstrong (2003), while others have shifted the focus away from state-centered studies of nationalism to examine alternative conceptualization of the nation-state and nationalism among labor unions, farmers’ associations, student organizations, and NGOs (Wells 1995; Abelman 1996; Kim 2000; Koo 2001; Lee 2007).

Gendered approaches have contributed new perspectives to nationalism as well. Some examples include modern nationalism as reinforcing fixed notions of gender roles (Choi 1998), the links between the developmentalism of the 1960s and gender (Jager 2003), gender and militarized modernity (Moon 2005), and gender and international relations through the case of prostitution around the US bases in South Korea (Moon 1997). Other studies that intersect with contemporary South Korean nationalism involve analysis of the nexus of consumerism, gender, and nationalism (Nelson 2000), the uses of Confucianism by various actors in cultural constructions of nationalism (Cho 1998), the impact of generational differentiation on national solidarity (Shin 2001), and anti-Americanism in contemporary South Korean nationalism and politics (Steinberg 2005).

The division of the peninsula has also prompted several sustained analyses of nationalism. Grinker (1998) suggests that the rhetoric of ethnic homogeneity in South Korea is a myth that compensates for the “loss” of North Korea in the South. He also points to the difficulties experienced by North Korean defectors in the South, while Foley (2003) details the resonances of the personal tragedies of the divided families in the rhetoric of unification in South Korea. Shin (2006) analyzes the historically contingent emergence of the discourse of ethnic homogeneity and its correlate, ethnic nationalism, but just as importantly, explains the profound effect that such discourses have had on politics in South and North Korea. Lynn (2007) argues that that the ostensible improvement in North–South relations since 2000 has in fact been fuelled by the polarization in national identities and the increasing economic disparities between North and South.

There are fewer studies that focus exclusively on nationalism and state building in North Korea, but we might note three approaches below. If Armstrong’s (2003) focus was on the pre-1948 period in North Korea’s state formation, Lankov (2005) emphasizes instead the failure of de-Stalinization in post-Korean War North Korea to explain the growth of the Kim Il-Sung personality cult. Park (2002) examines the role of ideology in fostering the strong sense of nationalism in North Korea.


Combined with the inflow of North Korean refugees into South Korea, the increasing number of transnational marriages and “mixed-race” children will force South Korea to become, in essence, a multicultural country whether or not the government or public opinion support this notion. Therefore, migration has been forcing redefinitions of what it means to be “Korean” and encouraging some reassessments of the dominant ethnic nationalist discourse.

There have been studies in the history of migrations, such as Korean diasporic communities in Hawaii (Patterson 1988), Japanese migration into rural colonial Korea (Lynn 2005), and Koreans in Manchuria in the pre-1945 period (Park 2005), but the migration after 1987 is based on a fundamental demographic shift and long-term capitalist development. Low fertility rates, prompted by high costs of child rearing and changes in the position of women (albeit within a patriarchal society) have led to widespread labor shortages, especially in the unskilled sector. Combined with South Korea’s long-term economic growth, liberalization of travel restrictions in 1987, and an imbalanced sex ratio, a steadily increasing flow of foreigners entered the country, primarily as workers, but more recently as brides. While migrants themselves are not motivated by the need to address changes in South Korea’s demographic profile, this demographic turn creates a fundamentally different structure to gendered migrations than had been the case previously.

The number of foreigners registered in South Korea increased by 25 percent per year from 1992 to 1997, and 18 percent per annum from 1998 to 2007. According to the National Statistics Office of South Korea, the number of registered foreigners has increased from around 124,000 in 1995 to 630,000 as of 2006, with an additional 210,000 estimated illegal migrants (1.3 percent of the total population). The rate of foreign population growth is faster in the rural and regional cities than in the larger cities such as Seoul or Pusan, due in large part to the fact that an increasing proportion of all marriages in rural areas are transnational. In some regional cities, such as Ansan to the southwest of Seoul, around 5 percent of the total population is foreign.

NGOs such as the Joint Committee on Migrant Workers in Korea (JCMK) have been active in lobbying the government for legislative reform and campaigning for greater public awareness of the need to improve the rights of foreign migrant workers (Lim 2003). Of the foreign migrant workers in the official statistics, only around 35 percent are women compared to the world average of 48 percent for foreign migrant workers. Unlike Hong Kong or Singapore, where Filipino women employed as domestic workers form the majority of female foreign workers, after an initial surge of nannies and domestic workers from the Philippines in the 1990s, most such work in South Korea has increasingly been filled by Korean Chinese (Lee 2003).

Trafficking of women into South Korea also accounts for a portion of the female foreign population. Visa types used for entry indicate that while “entertainer” or spousal visas increased, women entering on work visas declined from 30 percent of the annual total of visas issued in 1995 to 16 percent in 2005. As has been the case in Japan, “entertainer” visas have been used to bring sex workers into the camp towns around the US army bases. A controversy that remains unresolved is the extent to which sex work can be equated with human trafficking (Seol 2004). South Korean women have been trafficked into the USA, and continue to work in the US army “camp towns” in South Korea and in the large cities of Japan as sex workers, but their numbers decreased after the mid-1990s. There was a corresponding increase in the number of foreign women, especially Filipino and Russian women, employed in such areas within Korea. The number of Russian women entering as “entertainers” has apparently declined since the mid-2000s, but concerns about the rights of Filipino women working in the camp towns continue (Yea 2004).

While no academic research exists on the subject as yet, a small number of refugees have been allowed into South Korea. The number of asylum seekers in South Korea increased by nearly ten times between 2000 and 2005, many of them having initially entered South Korea as workers or tourists. Given the scale, the impact of this group will be minor compared to transnational marriages, but the way refugee policy is implemented and integrated into society will reflect the extent to which the government recognizes the near inevitability of a more multicultural South Korea in the near future.

The demographic turn in South Korea has been further amplified by an imbalanced sex ratio, which began in the 1980s from the introduction of ultrasound, which allowed for sex-selective abortions. This combined with greater social and geographic mobility and choice for women to create a “bride shortage” in the rural areas, which in turn has sparked a rapid rise in the number of transnational marriages, primarily between older South Korean men engaged in agriculture, and foreign women from other parts of Asia (Lee et al. 2006).

Transnational marriages accounted for 5 percent of total marriages in 2000, but this increased to 12 percent of all marriages registered in 2006. In fact, in 2006, an astonishing 40 percent of marriages for men employed in agriculture were with foreign brides. In addition, there are probably other transnational marriages that were not registered. In the 1980s, the largest group of foreign brides were Koreans from Japan; in the 1990s, the Korean-Chinese bride population increased; and since 1997 there have been increased immigrations of women from the Philippines, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the former Soviet republics. Many of these transnational couples end up living in poverty, around 53 percent according to a 2005 survey by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Even with increasing divorce rates, these transnational brides and the children of these marriages are already helping transform the rural landscape in South Korea.

In contrast, although North Korea experienced the demographic transition to lower mortality and fertility rates, economic instability and political oppression have resulted in few fundamental changes in patterns of migration. Women and men are still mobilized and exported as labor for the state, and female economic refugees remain vulnerable to trafficking (Lankov 2004; Jung and Dalton 2006; Davis 2006). Thus, migration has not affected notions of ethnicity or nationalism in North Korea.


Many Japanese people perceive themselves as living in a homogeneous society on an isolated island-nation. Their history includes a recent experience of ultra-nationalism and a disastrous war. During most of the postwar period, Japan has been characterized by pacifism or anti-militarism. By the end of the twentieth century, Japan was beginning to encounter economic and social problems associated with an aging population, labor shortages, and financial troubles. Although, over the past three decades, the influx of foreigners from developing and newly industrialized countries in search of economic opportunities has helped alleviate some concerns over these problems, the recent arrival of foreigners has also challenged Japan’s ideology of homogeneity and raises new worries over reviving nationalism.


The Japanese historically formed an image of themselves as a racially distinct and homogeneous people. International migration from continental Asia (and the South Pacific) to Japan occurred before the seventh century, when many different peoples fused with one another to form the “Japanese race.” From the eighth century to the end of the nineteenth century, immigration of any kind into Japan was minuscule. Between 1640 and 1853, Japanese rulers banned most foreigners from their territory and severely enforced this ban, which further reinforced the populace’s sense of isolation. This isolation led to the spread of uniform cultural patterns throughout the Japanese lands and a relatively high degree of Japanese ethno-cultural homogeneity, comprising of a mostly Japanese (Yamato people) population and a small number of Ainu and Okinawan people. Traditionally, they appeared intolerant of ethnic and other differences. People whom they identified as different, such as the outcasts (Burakumin), for example, were considered “polluted” (Ohnuki-Tierney 2002).

As relations with Western countries increased in significance after the arrival of Commodore Mathew Perry in 1853, the ruling elite feared that commoners would collaborate with the foreign powers and no longer support their domain leaders (Wakabayashi 1991). During the late nineteenth century, when the Meiji government needed to modernize the polity and economy rapidly, the oligarchs felt that those goals could only be accomplished through a strong sense of emotional unity and cultural identity. The myth of the imperial genealogy as directly descended from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu provided the Meiji elite with a foundation on which to build national solidarity via emperor worship. Article 1 of the Meiji Constitution exemplified the oligarchy’s efforts to establish a unique Japanese identity by assigning primordiality to the emperor system and positioning the Japanese as a divine race. In addition to consolidating the oligarchy’s domestic position, this belief system of national polity under “Shinto nationalism” led the people down a disastrous path to international wars (Holtom 1947). Benedict Anderson (1991) observes that the oligarchs consciously propagandized Japan’s spectacular military successes against China (1894–5) and Russia (1905) and the annexation of Taiwan (1895) and Korea (1910) through schools and prints. He views this governmental propaganda effort as an example of “official nationalism” because it created “the general impression that the conservative oligarchy was an authentic representative of the nation of which Japanese were coming to imagine themselves members” (Anderson 1991:96–7).

After Japan opened its ports to the West, a small group of Chinese accompanied their Western employers to Japan as servants, stevedores, and overseers. The annexation of Korea in 1910 allowed Japanese companies to bring Korean laborers to Japan on the eve of World War I, when Japan experienced an economic boom and labor shortage. In 1911, a textile mill in Osaka pioneered the idea of importing Korean laborers into Japan. Other industries began to follow its example and dispatched recruiters to depressed agrarian regions of southern Korea, particularly the provinces of South Kyongsang, North Kyongsang, and South Cholla. They brought young Korean men to Osaka and Kobe areas to do simple manual labor (Mitchell 1967). Several thousand Chinese laborers were also recruited from Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang province. Most immigrants worked in mining, railroad construction, and stevedoring industries. During the 1920s, Japan’s central government, and later the provincial and city governments, promoted a plan for subsidized public works to help unskilled labor. As a result of the public works program, seasonal migration developed with Koreans coming to Japan each year to register for work in the large cities.

Though immigration remained low in this period, Japan first encountered a situation where a large number of Asians, mostly Koreans, were working in its factories, mines, and construction sites during the 1920s and 1930s. However, some officials worried that Koreans were harboring ill-will towards Japan and its citizens. These officials spread rumors that Koreans in Japan were setting fires, looting, and poisoning wells in a planned attempt to attack the Japanese during the confusion following the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923. Vigilante corps, which comprised of both army reservists and civilian volunteers, were organized to search the streets for Koreans and acted brutally against them. Approximately 2,000 Koreans died at the hands of these vigilantes.

In 1939, soon after Japan expanded into mainland China, Korean laborers and military draftees were brought to Japan to fill the manpower vacuum created by the expansion of the military forces and the war economy. Although the use of conscripted Chinese laborers was never on the same scale as that of Korea, the Japanese authorities announced in 1942 that Manchurian Chinese were also subject to labor conscription. Between 1943 and 1945, Japan transported approximately 42,000 Chinese from the mainland and forced them to work in mines, civilian and military-related constructions, and factories in Japan. They were to complement the 150,000 men from Taiwan who had already been recruited to do military labor service in Japan. The 1944 Korean Labor Conscription Act subjected all Korean men to mobilization. By the end of World War II, over two million Koreans were residing in Japan as “imperial subjects.”

In the midst of high growth during the late 1960s, the discourse of “Japaneseness” or theories of distinctive Japanese national identity (nihonjinron) in the form of uniqueness and racial purity/homogeneity emerged as a dominant response to the question of Japanese national and cultural identity. Nihonjinron scholars identified the uniqueness of Japanese culture and mentality in its people, culture, way of thinking, social behavior, and language, which were all allegedly derived from a prehistorical world and remained unaltered throughout history, often in contrast to Western cultures. Such works were published predominantly in Japan by Japanese authors such as Aida Yuji, Kunihiro Masao, Masuda Yoshio, but also included non-Japanese like Edwin Reischauer (1988).

Beginning in the 1980s, several scholars, such as Peter Dale (1986), Michael Weiner (1997), Tessa Morris-Suzuki (1998), Harumi Befu (2001), John Lie (2001), and Eiji Oguma (2002) criticized nihonjinron and the uni-racial (tan’itsu minzoku) ideology for the inadequate attention given to the presence of minorities such as Koreans, Chinese, Ainu, and Okinawans. According to them, Ainu people (25,000–300,000) are racially distinct from mainstream Japanese. Although many Japanese regard Okinawa (1.6 million) as a region and its language a dialect, these scholars stressed that Okinawa was an independent kingdom until the late nineteenth century. Some even consider the Burakumin (2–3 million), who are ethnic Japanese, as an ethnic group due to identification and discrimination directed against them. Kosaku Yoshino (1992:1) views the debate about nihonjinron as evidence of a recent resurgence of cultural nationalism that “aims to regenerate the national community by creating, preserving or strengthening a people’s cultural identity when it is felt to be lacking, inadequate or threatened.”


Many students of Japanese nationalism have focused their studies on the historical development of Japan’s nationalism. For example, Delmer Brown (1955) examines Japanese nationalism (ethnicism) from the seventh century to the late 1940s. Maruyama Masao (1963) critically analyzes nationalism during the early and mid-twentieth century and also explores the impact of Japan’s defeat on early postwar nationalism. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney (2002) focuses on the prewar “cultural nationalism” as embodied in the aesthetics of cherry blossoms that most members of imperial Japan shared. Ohnuki-Tierney (2002:260) explains how cherry blossoms beautify the Japanese soul (yamato damashii) and provide a foundation for the transformation of footsoldiers from rural Japan – minorities, Korean, and Chinese – to become soldiers in the imperial forces, “having the Japanese soul, capable of dying without hesitancy, falling like cherry petals.”

After Japan’s defeat in World War II, many Koreans and Chinese repatriated to their homelands. Only 620,000 Koreans and 40,000 Chinese still remained in Japan by 1950.

During the Occupation period (1945–52), the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) ensured that sources of militarism and nationalism were rooted out by dismantling the Japanese war machine and strengthening democratic tendencies and processes in governmental, economic, and social institutions. Under pressure from SCAP, the government adopted a new constitution that includes Article 9, which attempts to reduce the powers of the Japanese military to self-defense. Japan’s economic successes during the 1950s and 1960s distracted the attention of its leaders and citizens away from nationalism (Morris 1960). Thus, popular attitudes during most of the postwar period have been characterized as anti-militarism or pacifism (Frühstück 2007).

Interestingly, nationalism in Japan during this period was more prevalent among the diasporic communities, especially the ideologically divided zainichi (Japan-born) Koreans and Chinese. About 400,000 zainichi Koreans who feel politically or ideologically connected with South Korea belong to the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan). Another 150,000 zainichi Koreans, who feel ideologically connected with North Korea, have joined the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (ChDsen SDren). Fukuoka Yasunori (2000) argues that these two groups face declining membership. Both organizations are highly centralized with several hundred branches and offices throughout Japan. Members of these two Korean ethnic associations hold strong ideological views and have preoccupied themselves with political activities in their home countries (Ryang 1997).

Some Japan watchers perceive nationalism to be on the rise in Japan today (Mathews 2003). Certain “normal nationalist” lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, such as Abe Shinzd, who thinks Japan should maintain military forces like other normal nations, seek to revise Article 9 of the constitution for Japan to assume a more proactive and global defense posture, for the integration of forces with the US military, and for the dispatch of Self Defense Forces abroad. Other recent salient developments include: a history textbook that some claim downplays Japan’s role in World War II, the 1998 adoption of the emperor-glorifying national anthem and militant flag as state symbols, the ongoing territorial disputes with South Korea over the Dokdo/Takeshima islands and with both China and Taiwan over the Senkaka/Diaoyu islands, and Prime Minister Koizumi’s six visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines fallen soldiers and glorifies both the emperor and the Japanese military. Despite these recent developments, Matthew Penney and Bryce Wakefield (2008) maintain that the majority of Japanese people and political leaders remain anti-nationalist.

Recent international affairs involving North Korea further contribute to the government’s precautionary reaction and a rising perception of nationalism in Japan. After North Korea launched ballistic missiles tests toward Japan in 1998 and 2006, Japan encountered North Korean spy boats in the Sea of Japan in 1999 and 2001, Kim Jong Il admitted in 2002 that North Korea had abducted Japanese citizens, and North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb test in 2006, official and popular attitudes toward North Korea have soured. North Korea’s recent military actions have helped fuel the rise of a ‘reactive’ form of Japan’s neo-nationalism, as they have given nationalists and right-wing groups new grounds for reviving nationalism under the pretext of protecting Japan’s national security, while making it easy to demand a military buildup, constitutional revision (particularly Article 9), and reexamination of educational issues (such as history textbooks and patriotism education). They have also promoted the political career of the conservative Abe Shinzo, who acted tough against North Korea. Abe became a senior advisor for the multiparty Parliamentary League for Early Repatriation of Japanese Citizens Kidnapped by North Korea (Rachi Giren). His tough stance against North Korea brought him to the political stage before he was elected as head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). By championing this one cause, Abe Shinzo rose from relative obscurity to become prime minister. In addition, the government also treats the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (zainihon chDsenjin sDrengokai or Chdsen Sdren) more harshly because the group maintains strong ties with and loyalty to North Korea. Japanese police conducted raids of Chdsen Sdren’s central headquarters in Tokyo and its affiliated organizations around the country. In 2003, Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintard ended Chdsen Sdren’s tax-exempt status. Other local governments quickly followed suit, citing allegations that Chdsen Sdren may have been involved in the illegal shipment to North Korea of items with military potential. Then in mid-2007, the Tokyo metropolitan government impounded Chdsen Sdren’s headquarters.

Hyung Gu Lynn (2006) believes that the mass media also contributed to the saturation of negative news on North Korea and the construction of an image of North Koreans as evil and strange. Consequently, Korean children attending Korean schools have faced hundreds of incidents of harassment, including female students having their school uniforms slashed. Meanwhile, Chdsen Sdren’s links with North Korea make it a favorite target of such attacks and its presence provides the public with a convenient outlet for its fears. Chdsen Sdren’s headquarters and its affiliated regional offices have received numerous threats, including phone threats, envelopes containing bullets, gun shots inside its offices, and bomb threats. In fact, the North Korean community became one of the most prominent targets of ultranationalist uyoku dantai (right-wing groups). For example, the ultra-rightist group, Kenkoku GiyEgun ChDsen Seibatsu-tai or “Nation-building Volunteer Corps to Punish Korea”), orchestrated numerous incidents of intimidation against Chdsen Sdren and its affiliated organizations: sending a threatening letter with bullets inside to its Tokyo headquarters, firing shots, and leaving homemade bombs at several Chdsen Sdren-affiliated institutions. These nationalists/terrorists were reacting to missile tests and abductions conducted by the North Korean regime, which they considered to be threats to Japan’s national security, and saw Chdsen Sdren’s facilities as approachable targets of intimidation and violence for venting their anger as well as promoting their cause for a stronger and more militant Japan.

While neoconservatives direct their nationalist sentiment mainly at North Korea, some, such as Ishihara Shintard and Nishibe Susumu, are also targeting the United States and China. They resent the ongoing subordination of Japan’s sovereignty and interests to the United States. They urge that Japan adopt a more independent foreign policy and increase its military power. During the late 1990s and early 2000s when the media often reported a dramatic rise in foreigner crimes, Ishihara made racist remarks against the Chinese (and illegal foreigners), portraying them as criminals and dangerous. He views China as a threat and has publicly stated that Chinese people have criminal DNA. Wolfgang Herbert (1996) believes that the media wrongly portray Chinese and illegal foreigners as people who are deviant and potentially dangerous. H. Richard Friman (1996) also highlights the higher visibility of certain foreign drug dealers who primarily operate in public places, thereby drawing greater attention from the police and the public. Richard Samuels (2007) interprets these changes in the views of prominent figures over recent years as an assertion of Japanese confidence as well as Japan’s response to the rise of China and the decline of the United States. For Samuels, Japan accepts its role as a “middle power,” while it hedges its relations with various rising and declining regional powers.


Today, Japan is becoming considerably less homogeneous as a result of international migration. During the past three decades, Japan has been experiencing an influx of foreign migrant workers, as the lure of economic growth and diversification attracts workers from far away as Brazil and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Japanese government officials’ desire for social stability and racial homogeneity coincides with its concern for economic productivity and tax revenue amidst labor shortages and rising welfare spending in an aging society. As a result, it has decided to bring foreign workers into the country but within a restrictive immigration framework and with inadequate welfare provisions (Shimada 1994; Weiner and Hanami 1997; Komai 2001). In order to preserve national identity, the government prefers to have these foreigners looking like Japanese; hence, their preference for Nikkeijin (foreigners of Japanese descent). Not surprisingly, several immigration scholars, such as Daniel Linger (2001), Joshua Roth (2002), and Takeyuki Tsuda (2003), have produced excellent ethnographic works on Nikkei Brazilians in various Japanese company towns. While many foreigners are zainichi Koreans and Chinese, over half are new immigrants (rainichi) from China, Brazil, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Peru, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Iran. Among the first rainichi were Filipino women, who began arriving in rural areas as foreign brides and entertainers during the early 1980s (Suzuki 2003). Korean and Chinese belong in both categories of zainichi and rainichi. Robert Efird (2008) contends that a large proportion of rainichi Chinese in Japan are family members of Japan’s war orphans (zanryu koji) from Manchuria. New foreign migrants also include another approximately 150,000 foreigners who overstayed their visas or entered the country improperly. By the end of 2005, the number of resident foreigners has risen to over two million or a little less than 2 percent of the total population.

This recent arrival of foreigners into Japan challenges the collective Japanese selfconsciousness (ethnicity and nationalism), while the government struggles to reinterpret or reform existing immigration laws and entitlement schemes in light of both economic and demographic change. Scholars generally agree that local citizenship rights and social services are conferred on foreigners and other immigrants by local governments and nongovernmental organizations (Gurowitz 1999; Roberts and Douglass 2003; Tsuda 2006; Shipper 2008). Tsuda contends that local citizenship rights are more viable, enforceable, and expansive than formal, transnational, and global citizenship from nation-states or intergovernmental organizations, albeit that this benefit of local citizenship may be an uneven one. Shipper observes an increased presence of Japanese activists who are fighting for the rights of foreigners. In addition to helping solve problems for illegal foreigners, Japanese activists seek to transform public attitudes towards, and official treatment of, certain foreigners. These activists have forced government officials to reflect on Japan’s national identity and to negotiate a new social contract with citizens on agreed rules, procedures, and responsibilities for all those who reside on their islands. This public discourse has already had a considerable impact on a number of public policies regarding membership rules, foreign relations, domestic violence, and human trafficking.


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