The perception of whiteness in Japan refers to a hierarchy of races, which remains topical in the today’s Japanese world. The Caucasians experience certain degree of racism that is present at legal and social institutions. Hence, given the modern phenomena of economic and social globalization, in which Japan is actively involved, the interracial relations become more composed and cross the boundaries of the habitual terms such as race, racial discrimination or, vice versa, dominance. The purpose of this paper is to study the perception of whiteness in Japan with the aim to understand the causes and outcomes of this phenomenon as well as identify the functions of otherness.
To begin with, it is appropriate to detect the insights carried by the discussed otherness. The main stereotypes that are associated with whiteness are the following: “a dominance of white males; a portrayal of white males in positive terms; a sexualization of white females”. Each of these notions is historically based. In particular, being subjected to western imperialism, the Japanese adopted and developed the superior image of the whiteness.
Nevertheless, the modern openness and friendliness towards the western world as well as the necessity to conduct business with foreign partners and social media that increased interracial communication altered the previous attitude towards the Caucasians. The change in international relations predefined the need to preserve the authentic national features while allowing and benefiting from whiteness-based stereotypes. Comprehending this idea, Japan uses xenophobia as a remedy to avoid excessive assimilation. As a result, the local system “privileges Japanese over non-Japanese”. To a degree, distancing is present at all state levels and it is an appropriate measure to conserve the authentic culture of Japan. In this regard, one should understand that certain discrimination of otherness has a positive purpose and, thus, it is deployed by every state.
As for the matter of whiteness in Japan, the US scholars suggest that racial distancing and even discrimination is typical for this state. At the same time, they stress that the notion of otherness is more connected to the actual or expected behavioral patterns of the white, rather than is linked to their visual properties. Nevertheless, there are a lot of cultural and psychological considerations are based solely on the physical differences between the natives and the Caucasians. Both behavioral and visual kinds of stereotypes that shape the perception of whiteness will be discussed below.
Apart from the state institutions, the nation of whiteness is emphasized in the business, social, and cultural relations. Specifically, a critical remedy of carrying the message of otherness is mass media, including social networks. For example, the aforementioned stereotype of the dominance and prestige of the white men is excessively utilized in the local vehicle commercials. Moreover, the image of the superiority of the Caucasians while being deployed in branding implies the world-wide recognition and luxury of the advertised good/services. This strategy displays using the visual images of the discussed otherness to encourage economic growth through utilizing the notion of the white males’ dominance in the modern commercials.
Simultaneously, behavioral stereotypes are often used for the same purpose. Consider an example, western people are usually depicted as carefree individuals who do not have any troubles and live a life full of joy and adventures. This peculiarity of perceiving whiteness in Japan is often deployed in advertising the luxury products. In this regard, this image of restfulness and life satisfaction joy is especially relevant for presenting the products and services of western multinational corporations that enter the Japanese markets. In particular, this perception is especially common in car commercials, which is rational given that this sphere is oriented more towards the male customers and refers to the actions/behavioral patterns.
Whereas, the aforementioned example reveals the notion of the whiteness superiority, in socio-cultural terms it is utilized to set the symbolic boundaries. For example, the carefree lifestyle of the Caucasian people implies that they are idle and lack tenacity. This negative notion is the downside of the trouble-free and adventurous life. Thanks to this balanced perception, the above-identified purpose is being successfully achieved. Specifically, the Japanese may benefit from the images of otherness without adverse assimilation that may stem from strong desire of the natives to adopt the behavioral patterns of the white people.
Continuing to discuss the behavioral stereotypes, it is appropriate to stress that whiteness is associated with considerably stronger self-expression. Scholars state that foreigners are portrayed as more extreme characters “in terms of physique, exposure of skin, achievement, or emotional expression”. In many cases, it presumes the expression of affection in public. The fact is that, it is untypical for the Japanese to display love and affection physically. Scrutinizing this particularity, it is natural to deduce that the notions that are carried to the Japanese lifestyle while perceiving whiteness greatly affect the local popular culture. As a result, the younger generations, especially, mixed race couples, exceed the restrained cultural boundaries by starting to be more expressive. In a word, the image of otherness significantly alters the habitual social interactions and cultural life of the today’s Japanese. This level of cultural penetration is considered to be acceptable and not dangerous for the national authenticity. On the contrary, it facilitates cultural penetration, which necessary for economic and social globalization.
Another example of the perception of whiteness in Japan refers to the visual properties of the Caucasians. In particular, scholars identify that “online Japanese cosmetic surgery advertisements” portray white females as the globally accepted standards of beauty and sexual appeal. Consider the statistics, “among 40 cosmetic surgery websites, only four websites used Japanese models exclusively”. In other words, the majority (90%) of businesses that are focused on plastic surgery services deploy the image of the white otherness to attract the Asian female clients.
The outcome of this stereotyped positioning is that the native women are imposed with the idea that their physical differences are disadvantageous while being compared to the beauty of the while females. This notion creates discriminative environment for the Asian women even in their homeland. This premise reveals two important assumptions. The first is that the majority may suffer from racial discrimination, which is surprising because it is more common to believe that the racial/ethnic minorities are at risk of facing inequality. In the revealed example the situation is the opposite.
The second premise is that the white otherness is being reduced to the matter of visual characteristics, which suggests that the matter of humanity is being decreased. In other words, the discrimination of the white females in Japan stems from the concentration on their beauty instead of their cognitive and emotional characteristics. As one may observe from the revealed example, the visual stereotype of the western beauty may possess the negative psychological outcomes for both involved parties.
Nonetheless, the above-discussed stereotype is successfully deployed in advertising, which means that the positive implications of the perception of whiteness are rather tangible in a business world.
It is important to clarify that, exactly as with the behavioral stereotype that is used in male commercials, the perception of the western physical standards of beauty is also ambiguous. For instance, “emphasizing white women’s sexuality creates “morally good” Japanese women in contrast to sexually Others”. This rhetoric is a remedy to achieve the needed degree of distancing. In other words, creating the contrast between the native virtues and the reproachful otherness is a proper strategy that serves to avoid unnecessary assimilation. This idea is reinforced with corresponding behavioral stereotype that western individuals are too expressive, strange, and behave in the ways that are alien to the Japanese conventions.
At the same time, there is an opposite image of the western beauty. Specifically, the mass media often portrays white women “as asexual or pure”. This image contrasts with the premise that white females are highly sex-appealed. In addition, this stereotype corresponds with the similar notion that is carried by the image of Lotus Blossom, –that is, the presentation of the Asian female beauty in the rest of the world. Scrutinizing this ambivalent perception of whiteness in Japan, one can rightfully deduce that it functions to address the diverse tastes with the goal to increase consumerism and interracial interactions. In addition, it is characterized with certain degree of xenophobia and racial inequality that are both negative tendencies, which simultaneously beneficial because they serve to conserve the authentic Japanese culture.
In this regard, one should point to the two-ways racial disparity. On the one hand, the Japanese people are being subjected to the dominance of the white in spite of constituting the non-white majority. For instance, white otherness in Japan “determines the distribution of wealth and rewards (e.g., higher educational levels and lower rejection rates for loan applications) according to the racial category or positioning”.
At the same time, the Caucasian foreigners often experience xenophobia because of the high level of distancing that is constructed and maintained at legal, social, and cultural levels. Scholars mitigate the effects of racial inequality informing that “white people are usually less aware of their racial identities and racial disparities than non-whites because they are constructed as the standard”. Without a doubt, this statement is greatly arguable; however, it is possible to suggest keeping the matter of racial identity tangible is a healthy approach for preserving collective identities in the conditions of globalization.
Summing up, one should emphasize that the perception of whiteness by the modern Japanese is greatly ambiguous. The ambivalence stems from the diverse state interests, which are to develop fruitful business and social international relations versus conserving the authenticity of the nation. In these conditions, the historically based white superiority is being altered and presented in both positive and negative light. Specifically, one may distinguish the three major stereotypes that are white male dominance, globally recognized prestige of the Caucasian ethnicity, and female beauty/sex-appeal of the white women. These insights refer to the visual and behavioral stereotypes. Both kinds are excessively utilized in the business world, which contributes to economic development. At the same time, to reach the balance of assimilation, these stereotypes are deployed as distancing strategies that help saving the Japanese authenticity. Finally, at the individual level, both the natives and white foreigners face may face racial inequality that is stipulated by the ambiguous messages revealed by the above-discussed stereotypes of the white otherness.