Foreign-born residents of Japan file a lawsuit against the government over alleged racial profiling

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The three plaintiffs appear before the Tokyo District Court on January 29, 2024.


Three foreign-born residents of Japan have filed a lawsuit against the country's government over alleged racial profiling, highlighting the ongoing debate over Japanese identity and nationality.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in Tokyo National Court and held a press conference with their lawyers on Monday, according to Tokyo News Agency. Public broadcaster NHK.

The lawsuit alleges that police interrogated them on the basis of race, skin color, nationality and other factors, constituting discrimination in violation of Japan's constitution, NHK reported.

They are seeking compensation of 3 million yen (about $20,355) per person from the national government, the Tokyo metropolitan government, and the Aichi Prefectural government.

NHK reported that one of the plaintiffs came to Japan from India after marrying his wife, and lived there for more than 20 years. Since then, he has been stopped and questioned repeatedly by police officers on the street, sometimes twice a day. He said, according to what was reported by Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), that the situation had become so bad that he became afraid to leave the house sometimes.

“I think people in Japan have an image that foreigners who look like foreigners commit crimes,” another plaintiff, a Japanese citizen born in Pakistan, said during the press conference.

He added, according to what was reported by the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation: “I was cooperating with (the police) because I thought it was important to maintain public safety, but when this happened not once but more than 10 times, I really began to have doubts.”

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The third plaintiff is an American-born man who said he hopes to raise awareness of the issue among the Japanese population. According to Reuters.

Philip Fung/AFP/Getty Images

The three plaintiffs and their legal team walk outside the Tokyo District Court on January 29, 2024.

When contacted by CNN, the Aichi government declined to comment on the specific case — but said police officers receive training in “respect for human rights” and are obligated to carry out their duties in accordance with the prefecture's human rights law.

The Tokyo government also declined to comment on the case, but said it had passed a human rights law in 2019, provided adequate training for its police, and was “conducting educational activities to respect the human rights of citizens, including foreign nationals, and eliminate discrimination.”

Japan is an ethnically homogeneous country with relatively low levels of immigration, which in recent years has led authorities to push for more immigration. Residents and foreign workers To fill the gaps left by population aging.

Japan is struggling to balance its conservative views on immigration with the need for new, younger workers, despite 2018. Pew survey It showed that 59% of Japanese people believe immigrants will make the country stronger.

The country's high ethnic homogeneity means that people who look different can attract unwanted attention and stigma from others even if they identify as Japanese – especially those with darker skin.

For example, People who are “hafu” — the Japanese word for “half,” referring to those who are ethnically half Japanese — described being treated as foreigners even if they were Japanese citizens.

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Number of Controversies over the years It highlighted these prejudices, raising questions about beauty standards and what it means to be Japanese. In 2019, the noodle company Nissin apologized after being accused of this “Bleaching” tennis star Naomi Osaka – who is of Japanese and Haitian descent – in an animated ad depicted her with pale skin, brown hair, and Caucasian features.

And this month only National beauty pageant She created a sensation by crowning Ukrainian-born model Karolina Shino as the “No. 1 Beauty of All Japanese Women.” Some critics questioned whether someone who was not of Japanese descent could represent the country's beauty ideals.

But Shino, a naturalized citizen who has lived in Nagoya since she was 5 and speaks fluent Japanese, said she considers herself “completely Japanese,” and wants to be recognized as such.

“Ultimately, we live in an age of diversity — where diversity is needed,” she said.

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