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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (September 25, 2002)

Making Japan a More Multi-ethnic Society is an Investment in the Future

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

Every time I visit my wife's family home, I am powerfully reminded of how the internationalization of Japan is one of the best ways to build a better and brighter future for the country. Inside my in-laws' spacious house is a traditional Japanese style room in which hang the fading photographic portraits of two young men in military uniform. From highly polished wooden frames, both stare solemnly down at the visitor in eternal black-and-white youth. One of these figures is my wife's grandfather and the other is his younger brother. Sadly, my father-in-law never knew his own father or uncle as before he was born both men were killed on the battlefield of a distant land. This solitary picture is all he has to remind him of a father who never beheld the face of his own son. This is just one of the millions of tragic legacies from the last war.

When I see these pictures, I am always filled with a range of emotions. I feel deep sadness for these two men who died at such a young age, but at the same time happier memories surface of my old uncle William. He was my grandfather's energetic younger brother. Although it is sometimes hard to comprehend, when William was about the same age as the young men in the pictures, they were all deadly foes pitted against each other in a terrible conflict. William was caught in a Japanese ambush during fighting in Burma and was very seriously wounded. He just about survived the encounter, unlike nearly all of his comrades.

I find it almost impossible to believe that our grandparents' generation were actually killing each other in a brutal and costly war. I sometimes wonder what they would make of their grandchildren who have been lucky enough to experience a completely different path from theirs. I am certain they would approve. Our generation has replaced hate with love and instead of taking life, we have created it. My wife and I united the families of former wartime foes with a matrimonial union based on love. The birth of our son brought forth new life into the world, hopefully erasing some of the bloody tragedy of our forefathers' unfortunate past. Our child is a living embodiment of how internationalizing Japan can heal the painful wounds of history and create a brighter future.

In recent years, one of the most encouraging developments in Japan has been the huge increase in the number of international marriages. During the past three decades there has been an almost seven-fold increase in the number of such unions. Even more encouraging is the fact that the majority of these international marriages involve Asians from neighbouring countries. Currently, Chinese and Koreans make up the largest group of non-Japanese brides and grooms. Quite a number of the Korean and Chinese spouses must also unite Japanese families with those of their former wartime adversaries. Of course, this is just one of the many positive benefits Japan receives from such marriages. Creating a climate which facilities such unions is certainly one of the best policy initiatives the Japanese government could ever pursue. Policymakers should do their utmost to ensure that such unions continue to increase and flourish. The children of international marriages enrich Japan, offering the nation a myriad of wonderful benefits. Helping to exorcise the lingering ghosts of a terrible war is just one small example.

When our son stares up at the fading portrait of his great grandfather, he sees a distant eddy in the unbroken river of life which flows down directly into his own creation. This child brings harmony and kinship to men who never should have been foes in the first place. There cannot be a better way of making former enemies into friends. Creating a more multi-ethnic society is an investment in the future of Japan itself.

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