Foreigners in Japan becoming target of discrimination due to virus

Oita, Japan | Sat, September 12, 2020  | 8:26 pm

There have been growing reports after coronavirus outbreak that foreigners residing in areas with influential international communities in Japan are subject to prejudice and derogatory remarks. “Shitty foreigner, corona.” Such a verbal assault targeted a 22-year-old Indian student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University while walking around JR Beppu Station, Oita Prefecture, in mid-August. The statement obviously came from three Japanese men in their 30s.

Although the university of the student, also located in Beppu, southwestern Japan, had announced from Aug. 8 that approximately a dozen exchange students had tested positive for the virus, he was not one. He tried to argue, but the men told him, “We ‘re distancing from society, get lost,” so he could do nothing at the end. Such hostility to foreigners is seen as the product of an unreasonable fear of contamination and ignorance among those seeking opportunities to interact with the international communities they live in. Approximately 2,700 students meet at the APU, who make up almost half of their enrollments; usually forge deep connections with the local community through part-time jobs and extracurricular activities.

But since the coronavirus outbreak, complaints have been received by the city that some hair salons and dining establishments have put up signs denying university students entry. In response, it immediately set about distributing around 1,500 notices to business operators reminding them that “the fight is against the virus, not people.” In March, some businesses in Yokohama ‘s Chinatown near Tokyo also reported receiving hate mail blaming Chinese people for the coronavirus outbreak, with messages like “Get the hell out of Japan.”

According to a May survey by monthly multilingual magazine Fukuoka Now of about 400 foreigners living in Fukuoka Prefecture, about 20 percent of respondents said they had encountered some kind of discrimination in relation to the coronavirus. Toshihiro Menju, managing director and chief program officer at the Japan Center for International Exchange, claims the solution to eliminate discrimination and bias is to ensure local residents and foreigners have opportunities to connect. “In exceptional times the relationships built up in the group flourish on a daily basis,” he said.

With foreigners, many of whom are Japanese-Brazilians, accounting for about 10 per cent of Minokamo ‘s population, Gifu Prefecture, the city has been working to improve information sharing with its international community. City officials visit about 10 churches with international congregations along with a pastor with interpreting expertise to advise them to take comprehensive action against the spread of coronavirus. “Local governments should handle foreign visitors in the same way as Japanese citizens, and explain their policies and guidelines,” Menju said.

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