A Japan-based Global Study of Racial Representations

This joint research project is funded by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S) by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (No. 22222003).

Purpose and Background of the Research

The validity of “race” as a biological concept has long been refuted. However, as a social reality it remains as deeply rooted as ever. Our joint research group has tackled with this problem based in Kyoto University’s Institute for Research in Humanities. We have hosted international symposia including Is Race a Universal Idea? (2002) and Transforming Racial Images: Analyses of Representations (2008). Building on these achievements, this five-year joint research project, which is generously funded by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S), aims to examine the ways in which different forms of racial representation interact with each other to construct race as a social reality. In doing so, it pays attention to “invisible races” found in East Asia as well as “mixed race” or those who have multiple cultural backgrounds, whose presences are becoming visible in globalizing Japan. It is truly multi-/interdisciplinary, bringing together scholars in a wide range of disciplines ranging from cultural anthropology to history of science, to genetics and physical anthropology.

Major objectives of this research program are as follows:

  1. Studies of visual representation of race have hitherto been based on Western experiences in external and internal colonization. This project also spotlights “invisible races” found in East Asia such as the burakumin and Korean nationals in Japan, with a focus on their non-visible representations. Formulating new theories on “invisible races” based on Asian experiences, it also make comparisons with theories and empirical studies based in Western experiences.

  2. This project examines how science was historically used to promote public health and social policies through the analyses of scientific representation. It also examines the contemporary issues of population descriptors in genomic science and biomedicine, and thus tackle social discrimination against minority groups in Japan and beyond.

    Research Methods

    The word, “Japan-based,” in the title is intended to clarify its agents, that is, researchers who are based in Japan, and to exploit the characteristics of joint research projects in Japan where researchers frequently meet face to face to conduct a joint project. The major activities of this project will comprise joint workshops to be held about 10 times a year by the program’s representative (Prof. Yasuko Takezawa) at the Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University. In addition, at least two international symposiums are planned in the five-year program period. Annually, several smaller international conferences will be held, along with several open seminars. All co-researchers and collaborators are expected to attend these meetings. The project members engage in field work, data collection, DNA analyses and other research activities to present their research results, including findings and problems identified for resolution at workshops and open seminars. At the same time, greater efforts will be made toward publishing research results and making academic exchanges with the international academic communities.

    Expected Research Achievements and Scientific Significance

    One of the largest issues that we face in the 21st century is “invisible racism,” a different type of racism from that which existed in the 19th century or in the first half of the 20th century. In addition to the Africans and other indigenous peoples who had been the primary subjects of previous studies of race, this project will shed light on representations of “invisible races” including burakumin (former outcasts in Japan) and Koreans in Japan. Such studies will reveal further implications by illuminating, from the reverse angle, the representation of invisible races in regions outside of Japan and Asia. Through collaboration with overseas researchers, this project will integrate results of conventional studies on race (studies based on Western colonization experiences) and results of racial studies from viewpoints based on experiences in Japan and other Asian regions. The outcomes of this project, a global collaboration based in Japan, will be disseminated internationally as well as in the wider society.