Understanding “Inclusion”

What is it like to experience inclusion in Japan? Inclusion can be considered as being a part of a group or community. For Jennifer Shinkai, to experience inclusion in a homogeneous society like Japan, one has to conform to many Japanese norms. 

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Trying to find a place in Japan requires a lot of sacrifice

Nick: This touches on, I guess, the theme of this podcast, inclusion. And I know that's really important to you. And so I thought, well, what is inclusion? Some of us have a vague idea, I'm sure you have a very clear idea of what it is. So I thought I'll look this up and provide some context. So according to inclusion.me.uk:

 "Inclusion is seen as a universal human right. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, disability, medical or other need. It's about giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance (removal of barriers)." 

And this is fascinating in the context of living in Japan, either as a foreigner or even as a Japanese. And so I do have all these questions for you, both your life experience, but also what you observe of Japanese.

Because we know a lot of Japanese suffer from bullying, or many Japanese just choose to remove themselves from society, because it can be a very hard life, with all the conformity. So, with that definition in mind, how would you describe inclusion in Japan? And how does it play out in such a homogeneous society?

Jennifer: Yeah, well, I think the first myth that Japan is a homogenous society, that is simply not true. I'm not a statistics expert or anything from that perspective. But the story of we are homogenous, and with all the same Japanese exceptionalism.

But there's as many different needs, there's lots of intersectionality, there's people from the LGBTQ+ community that have different ways of showing up in the workplace, there's neuro diversity, there's people who have different heritage, different backgrounds, because we have Chinese and Koreans, and so on. 

There's always been diversity in Japan. But the narrative of we are all the same, we are homogenous, as it's a political and social structure that serves and has worked very well for Japanese society, from my perspective. But now, I think there's more awareness of what are the limiting factors of that.

And as you said, hikikomori, who are locking themselves away in their home, high suicide rates, mental illness, a sense of, you know, I love that you talk about ibasho, because I think that trying to find a place in Japan requires quite a lot of sacrifice on the part of the individual. And that comes at a price. So the price of inclusion is quite high. 

And you have to hide parts of yourself, you have to grin and bear it. So it's a cost to show up authentically, to be fully yourself. And many people are just like, they see someone who pays that price, and then he thought they were strange persons like, oh, hang on.

Yeah, I don't want to be in that. So parts of society can be quite unforgiving if you fit outside the norms. And I always forget the Japanese translation, the original and I'm sure you know it, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. That's the received wisdom. And let's have inclusion.

Nick: This is interesting. It sort of reminded me of a few things. I remember correcting students saying, this expression "We Japanese do this or that", I remember thinking how odd, and it's grammatically correct, but we don't say this sort of thing in English.

It really made me think that there is this general sense among Japanese on what is correct or right, or how things should be. Because I use this expression, "We Japanese think this or we Japanese do this." 

And yeah, to sort of go back to what you're saying, there is diversity in Japan, but I guess, my perception of Japan is what you've pointed out to be individualistic, or to be from a minority group, whether that's, you're gay, or you're half Japanese, or Korean, or you're just a bit different.

There'll be great concern on how you're accepted. And my assumption is, for most part, you won't be fully accepted. You'll have to face a lot of criticism, resistance.

I've actually got a Japanese friend who told me, "I've told no one that I'm half Korean, do not tell anyone." But he kind of had this need to let me know. And it really shocked me how fearful he was of anyone in his community finding out.