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Premier’s Remarks About U.S. Minorities Raise Few Japanese Eyebrows

September 27, 1986 GMT

TOKYO (AP) _ Many Americans accused Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone of racism for his remarks last week about minorities bringing the U.S. literacy level lower than Japan’s, but the statement raised few eyebrows here.

Sociologists said Nakasone was only expressing what many Japanese believe, that Japan has benefited from a homogenous population. Foreigners comprise less than 1 percent of Japan’s 121 million people.

″Nakasone’s remarks aptly express domestic sentiments,″ said Hiroshi Tanaka, a professor of Asian Affairs at Aichi University, west of Tokyo.

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In a speech last Monday, Nakasone described Japan as ″having become a highly educated society and a very intelligent society,″ and said ″It has been possible for education to reach everyone in Japan because of its homogeneity.″

In contrast, he said, ’On the average, the United States is lower because of a considerable number of blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans.″

Japanese newspapers reported Nakasone was referring to the intelligence level, but he later said he was referring to the U.S. literacy rate.

In the same speech he said, ″In America, even today there are many blacks who do not know how to read or write.″

On Friday, Nakasone issued an apology statement, saying he realized his remark offended many Americans.

Japan has a highly educated population and claims a literacy rate of almost 100 percent. Foreign books, films and foods are abundant in major cities and English language study is a required subject in public school education.

Yet foreign residents here frequently complain that the citizens of this economic superpower view outsiders from a narrow and insensitive perspective.

A black American who has lived in Japan for four years said Nakasone’s latest remarks represent the way most Japanese view foreigners.

″It’s a kind of insensitivity,″ said the American, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ″Almost on a daily basis, I am faced with some kind of ridiculous stereotype by supposedly well-educated Japanese.″

He said many Japanese seem to think ″all blacks stand around bonfires and live in the South Bronx.″

A government survey released Friday revealed Japanese are more interested in foreign products than foreign people.

In the Economic Planning Agency’s nationwide survey of adults, 73 percent welcomed a further influx of foreign technology and 50 percent increased foreign foods.

On the other hand, only 28 percent rated an increase of foreign workers in Japan as ″positive″ and just 26 percent thought there should be more international marriages.

″Japanese people do not understand racial discrimination,″ said a leading Japanese journalist who has worked extensively in the United States.

″Growing up in a homogeneous society, (Japanese) don’t understand the gravity, complications and ambiguities of racial issues,″ he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said Japan’s 250 years of self-imposed isolation until the mid-18th century and its lack of border disputes as an island nation were among the factors to blame for the Japanese public’s ″inability to physically sense″ racism.

Nakasone said in his apology, ″It was not my intention whatsoever to imply any racial discrimination nor to criticize any aspect of the American society.″

However, he did not retract his remarks, which drew strong criticism from black Americans and members of the U.S. Congress.

Two weeks before these remarks, Nakasone fired Masayuki Fujio as education minister for saying in a published interview that Korea should share the blame for Japan’s harsh, 35-year colonial rule of the peninsula that ended in World War II. Nakasone said Fujio’s remarks were ″inappropriate for a Cabinet member in office.″

Social commentator Gen Itasaka said Japanese television perpetrates a warped image of foreigners through immensely popular quiz shows in which contestants guess the prices or functions of items in various countries, without exploring the society from which they came.

″The information we receive is from a curiousity angle and ignores the fundamentals,″ Itasaka said. ″So we have a great amount of information but it’s inadequate.″