MAI International Seminar: Rethinking Race/Racism from Asian Experiences

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Date(s) - 24/05/2013
9:30 am - 6:00 pm

Clayfield Room A1.34 Building A Level 1


Organized by Monash Asia Institute, Monash University

Co-organized by Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University

(Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S) “A Japan-based Global Study of Racial Representations”)


Date: 24 May 2013 (Friday)

Venue: Building A, Ground floor, Clayfield/Dining Rooms (A1.34), Monash University Caulfield Campus (For information on travelling, parking and map, please visit

Registration required. RSVP to (no later than 16 May 2013):



9:50-10:00 Welcome address: Koichi Iwabuchi (Director, Monash Asia Institute)

10:00-10:10 “On the project of “A Japan-based Global Study of Racial Representations””

Yasuko Takezawa (Kyoto University)


Part I Conception/theorization of race/racism in Asia

Session 1: Chair: Koichi Iwabuchi (MAI)

10:10-10:50 “De-racialized Race, Obscured Racism: Toward a More Holistic Theorization of Race and Racism”          Yuko Kawai (Rikkyo University)

10:50-11:30 “Rethinking Race and Racism in Malaysia: Colonial Inscriptions, Post-Colonial Contestations, and Post-Racial Trajectories”          Sharmani Patricia Gabriel (University of Malaya)

11:30-11:50 Discussant: Tessa Morris Suzuki (Australian National University)

11:50-12:40 Discussion


12:40-13:40 Lunch break


Part II Analyzing racism in Japan

Session 2: Chair: Margaret Kartomi (Monash University)

13:40-14:20 “The Difficulty of Differentiating Japanese Racial Difference: the Problem of Racialization and the Paradox of Visibility”        Ayako Saito (Maiji Gakuin University)

14:20-14:35 Discussant: Olivia Khoo (Monash University)

14:35-15:10 Discussion


15:10-15:30 Coffee break


Session 3: Chair: Gil-Soo Han (Monash Univerisity)

15:30-16:10 “Colonial and the Cold War Origins of Racism: Theorizing Korea-phobia in Contemporary Japan”      Ryuta Itagaki (Doshisha University)

16:10-16:25 Discussant: Ghassan Hage (University of Melbourne)

16:25-17:00 Discussion


Part III Concluding Session

17:00-18:00 Further discussion and planning for future collaboration



De-racialized Race, Obscured Racism:

Toward a More Holistic Theorization of Race and Racism


Yuko Kawai (Rikkyo University)


Examining the politics of Japanese concepts of race, jinshu and minzoku, this presentation problematizes the racial conceptualization of Japaneseness and explores its implications for theorizing race and racism. The notions of jinshu and minzoku, which were popularized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries respectively, played a role in defining what it meant to be Japanese in relation to Others before the end of World War II. Today, however, the two terms are not usually used to denote the Japanese in everyday discourse. This presentation first looks into how jinshu and minzoku have been conceptualized and transformed historically by borrowing and challenging the Western notions of race, volk, nation, and ethnicity. Second, it discusses how the contemporary meaning of the Japanese, which is shaped by the concepts (or signifieds) of jinshu and minzoku despite the absence of the words (or signifiers), relates to downplaying racism in Japan. Lastly, it addresses the importance of studying race and racism from non-Anglo perspectives for further theorizing race and racism.


Yuko Kawai is Associate Professor of Communication at the College of Intercultural

Communication, Rikkyo University, Japan. Her research covers a wide range of topics

concerning intercultural communication such as nationalism, racism, and multiculturalism.



Rethinking Race and Racism in Malaysia

Colonial Inscriptions, Post-Colonial Contestations, and Post-Racial Trajectories


Sharmani Patricia Gabriel (University of Malaya)


This paper advances an argument for a rethinking of the idea of race in Malaysia. It begins by contextualizing the discussion of race within three frameworks which give race social meaning – state discourse, popular or “everyday” discourse, and academic discourse. Historically rooted in European, specifically British colonialist, conceptions of otherness which radically transformed the social bases of Southeast Asian societies, state discourse in Malaysia, by perpetuating the colonialist concept of race as an apparatus of control, continues to mobilize race as a primary marker of difference – and inequality – between groups. Not just an administrative category, the concept of race is deeply bound in cultural and political power. It is the chief means of managing social diversity as well as imposing national hegemony in Malaysia. Indeed, racially hierarchized categories such as “Malay”, “Chinese”, and “Indian”, as well as the ensuing post-colonial constructs of “bumiputera” and “non-bumiputera” (“indigeneity” and “non-indigeneity”), exercise enormous power as bases for separation and dominance. Although like ethnicity, it is a constructed and contextual category of understanding difference, “race”, and the fixity of identities and boundaries it references, is the term (in its Malay language equivalents) used in state discourse and its array of institutions – the economic, political, legal, educational, religious, and cultural – to buttress forms of authority, privilege, and exclusion. However, despite the pervasive influence of the state discourse of race, social groups have in recent years constructed identifications for themselves and solidarities with others that transgress prevailing race paradigms and institutionalized identities, suggesting that race is neither a causal nor guiding factor in social action. Such representations as also embedded in popular discourse and literary production (primarily in English, a language that is not associated with any one of the nation’s ethnic groups) attest to the performative work of re-narrating state-imposed race identities. Despite these significant cultural shifts and reconfigurations in society, however, academic and critical discourse in Malaysian studies has largely, like state discourse, been informed by or conducted within the epistemological and ontological bases of colonialist knowledge production. This paper argues that the ruptures and disjunctures between institutional, popular, and academic discourses provide us with the impetus to reconceptualize not only “race” itself but also race-based policies of national identity and multicultural cohesion. It concludes that the analytical move to rethink race is part of the historical trajectory of tracing “where we are, how we got here — and where we can go from here”.


Sharmani Patricia Gabriel is Associate Professor at the Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Her research interests centre on issues of nation, ethnicity, and multiculturalism in diverse diasporic contexts. She is particularly interested in the area of national and cultural identity construction, with a focus on state-society relations. She has published numerous articles in leading journals and has recently completed co-editing a special issue on cosmopolitanisms in Asia for Cultural Dynamics. She will be taking up a one-year affiliation, from September 2013, as Visiting Fulbright Fellow at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.



The Difficulty of Differentiating Japanese Racial Difference

The Problem of Racialization and the Paradox of Visibility


Ayako Saito (Meiji Gakuin University)


My presentation aims to raise questions about delimiting the concept of race based on visible evidence and representability in the Japanese context. One could argue that the dominant concept of race in the Euro-American context has heavily relied on the visible differences such as the color of the skin; that is to say, race is fundamentally divided into two: “white” versus non-white, each forming a monolithic category. The representative model for understanding race and racial problems thus has been that of black and white dichotomy, be it in the US, or South Africa, or in European countries. However, in the Asian context, racial differences are not necessarily defined as self-evident. There are two distinctive characteristics, in my view, of the problematic of race in Japan: the discrimination based on the unrepresentable/invisible difference against ethnic and class minority, notably the zainichi (Korean permanent residents in Japan) and the hisabetsu burakumin (untouchables/discriminated hamlet people) on the one hand, and the process of racialization, that is, a form of essentialization whereby historically and socially determined non-racial minority groups are regarded as different “races”. I will discuss some filmic representations of burakumin as an “invisible race,” and explore the ways in which cinematic modes of representation depict discrimination against the burakumin. I will also consider how to negotiate the gap between political discourse and representation of experiences or the emotional reality of the discriminated.  Political activists tend to value documentaries and enlightening visual materials validated by the “correct” understanding of the political predicament of the burakumin. However, is it possible to separate the reality of experience and the reality of representation? By examining some examples in film, I hope to show the paradox of confronting the problem of “invisible race” in the filmic representation precisely because the process of filmic representation requires making the invisible visible and registering such visibility as racial characteristics.  In other words, representation by its very nature requires the invisible be made visible in order to be representable, but the very act of “envisioning” may, despite the best intentions and the best political motivations, ultimately reinforce prejudice and betray the context for which the representation was created. This process of racialization and making the invisible visible seems to present a different framework of conceptualizing race than that of the US model which relies heavily on the process of making the visible invisible. By addressing this difference between the two models as well as the paradox of race manifest in the process of racialization, I hope to argue for a critical potential in filmic representation and the power of fiction as a source of deconstructing the self-evidenciality of race as such.


Ayako Saito is a professor in the Department of Art Studies at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan. She has written extensively about the work of such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Max Ophuls, Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard, and Chantal Akerman, as well as about postwar Japanese cinema and the representation of women. Her studies include “Hitchcock’s Trilogy: A Logic of Mise-en-Scène” (Endless Night: Parallel Histories, Cinema and Psychoanalysis [University of California Press, 1999]), “Orchestration of Tears: Politics of Crying and Reclaiming Women’s Public Sphere” (Senses of Cinema, 2003), and “Reading as a Woman: The Collaboration of Ayako Wakao and Yasuzo Masumura” in Reclaiming the Archive: Feminism and Film History (2010). She has also edited Film and Body/Sexuality (Shinwasha, 2006) and co-authored books, including Male Bonding: East Asian Cinema and Homosociality (Heibonsha, 2004) and Fighting Women: Female Action in Japanese Cinema (Sakuhinsha, 2009).



Colonial and the Cold War Origins of Racism

Theorizing Korea-phobia in Contemporary Japan


Itagaki Ryuta (Doshisha University)


In December 2012, Shimomura Hirobumi, the newly designated Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology, announced that the Japanese government had orientated its policy to exclude Korean Schools from the high school enrollment support fund system. Although the system has covered most of schools for foreign nationals since its enforcement in April 2010, the former government had reserved its application to Korean Schools for more than two and half years. Right after the change of government in late 2012, the Abe administration immediately decided the exclusion of Korean Schools under pretext of their relationship with the pro-North Korean community organization in Japan Chongryǒn, or The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, disregarding the concern of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that the exclusion would “have discriminatory effects on children’s education.” Such an attitude towards education for Koreans is not ‘new’ in Japan and should be analyzed as one of the latest versions of ‘Korea-phobia’ which originated during Japan’s colonial rule over Korea, was reinforced under the Cold War, and has intensified in the past 20 years as the contentious relationships between Japan and Korea, especially North Korea, gained public attention. I will theorize the contemporary Korea-phobia from historical perspective, critically collating with “new racism” theory and ethnicity theory that has been discussed in Europe and the United States.


Itagaki Ryuta is an anthropologist and historian of modern and contemporary Korea. He teaches at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan. In his award-winning book, Historical Ethnography of Modern Korea (2008, in Japanese), he explored multiple dimensions of social change in Sangju, Kyŏngbuk Province, under Japanese colonialism. He is also a co-editor of Lieux de Mémoire of East Asia (2011, in Japanese) and is a co-author of “Japanese Empire” in Philippa Levine and John Marriott eds., The Ashgate Companion to Modern Imperial Histories (2012).