ASIA Japan’s foreign residents face discrimination due to COVID-19

Japan’s foreign residents face discrimination due to COVID-19

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Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, there have been increasing reports that foreign residents living in areas with prominent international communities in Japan are being subject to discrimination and hateful remarks.

A 22-year-old Indian student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University was targeted in a verbal attack while walking around JR Beppu Station, Oita Prefecture, in the middle of August.

“Sh—- foreigner, corona,” a Japanese man apparently in his 30s said, standing with two others.

Although the student’s university, also located in Beppu, had reported from Aug. 8 that a dozen or so exchange students had tested positive for the virus, he was not one of them. He attempted to object, but the men told him to “get lost” because they were social distancing, so in the end the student could do nothing.

Such prejudice against non-Japanese is seen to be the result of an excessive fear of infection and ignorance among those who lack opportunities to communicate with the international communities with which they reside.

The some 2,700 exchange students at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, who make up almost half of its enrollments, usually forge deep connections with the local community through part-time jobs and extracurricular activities.

A notice reminding locals not to discriminate against foreign residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic is displayed at Beppu Station in Oita Prefecture earlier this month. | KYODO

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, however, the city has received reports that some hair salons and dining establishments have put up signs denying entry to students from the university.

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.”

Some businesses in Yokohama’s Chinatown near Tokyo also reported receiving hate mail in March blaming Chinese people for the coronavirus outbreak, with messages saying such things as “Get the hell out of Japan.”

According to a May survey of around 400 foreign residents living in Fukuoka Prefecture by monthly multilingual magazine Fukuoka Now, around 20 percent of respondents said they have experienced some sort of discrimination related to the coronavirus.

Toshihiro Menju, managing director and chief program officer at the Japan Center for International Exchange, believes that ensuring local and foreign residents have opportunities to interact is the solution to eradicating discrimination and prejudice.

“The relationships built in the community on a daily basis thrive during extraordinary times,” he said.

With foreign residents, many of them Japanese-Brazilians, accounting for around 10 percent of the population of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, the city has been working to strengthen information sharing with its international community.

City officials, together with a pastor with interpreting experience, are visiting around 10 churches with foreign congregations to urge them to take thorough measures against the coronavirus’ spread.

“Local governments should treat foreign residents in the same way as Japanese residents, and make their guidelines and other policies clear,” Menju said.

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