Ethnic minorities experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.
Although not subject to governmental discrimination, Buraku (the descendants of feudal era outcasts ) frequently were victims of entrenched societal discrimination. Buraku advocacy groups reported that despite the socioeconomic improvements achieved by many Buraku, widespread discrimination
persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessments. While the Buraku label is no longer officially used to identify people, the family registry system can be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers, including many government agencies, which require family registry information from job applicants for background checks, may use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.
Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, the country's populations of Korean, Chinese, Brazilian, and Filipino permanent residents--many of whom were born, raised, and educated in Japan--were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities. Other foreign nationals resident in Japan as well as foreign-looking Japanese citizens reported similar discrimination and also said they were prohibited entry, sometimes by signs reading Japanese Only, to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Noting that the discrimination is usually open and direct, respected NGOs complained of government inaction in prohibiting it. In addition, the March21 report on the March 2010 visit by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants criticized Japan for lacking legislation to protect migrant rights and prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or nationality and for inadequately addressing the persistence of racial discrimination and xenophobia regarding migrants.
In general, societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans who were permanent residents or citizens continued to improve steadily. In 2010, 6,668 ethnic Koreans naturalized as Japanese citizens. Although authorities approved most naturalization applications, advocacy groups complained of excessive bureaucratic loopholes that complicated the naturalization process and a lack of transparent criteria for approval. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights, and according to Japan's periodic submissions to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, regularly encountered discrimination in access to housing, education, government pensions, and other benefits.
A Japanese Social Insurance Agency enforcement directive explicitly makes it easier for employers to avoid paying pension and insurance contributions on behalf of their foreign employees who teach languages as compared with Japanese employees in similar positions. A labor union representing the teachers stated during the year that the directive provides impunity to employers who illegally fail to enroll foreign teachers in the system.
Many foreign university professors, especially women, were hired on short-term contracts without the possibility of tenure.
There was a widespread perception among citizens that "foreigners," including members of Japan-born ethnic minorities, were responsible for most crimes committed in the country. The media fostered this perception by heavily reporting crimes committed by non-Japanese citizens, although Justice Ministry statistics showed that the crime rate for foreigners, excepting immigration violations, was lower than that for citizens.
Many immigrants struggled to overcome obstacles to naturalization, including the broad discretion available to adjudicating officers and the great emphasis on Japanese-language ability. Aliens with five years of continuous residence are eligible for naturalization and citizenship rights. Naturalization procedures also require an extensive background check, which includes inquiries into the applicant's economic status and assimilation into society. The government defended its naturalization procedures as necessary to ensure the smooth assimilation of foreigners into society.
Representatives of some ethnic schools continued to press the government to have their schools recognized as educational foundations and to accept the graduates of their high schools as qualified to take university and vocational school entrance exams. The Ministry of Education stated that the graduates of ethnic schools certified by international school associations as being equivalent to a 12-year program could take the entrance exam.
Marches by nativist groups declined in frequency and intensity during the year compared with 2010, and there were fewer significant incidents.