Reinforcing identities? Non-Japanese residents, television and cultural nationalism in Japan

Hambleton, Alexandra

Between 1997 and 2007 the foreign population of Japan increased by more than 45% making it the largest at any time in the postwar period, constituting 1.69% of the overall population. At the same time, the trans-border flows of people, capital and media increased at an unprecedented rate. In the Japanese media, there has been a marked increase in the number of television programs featuring non-Japanese. This paper focuses on the phenomenon of non-Japanese residents of Japan on variety television programs and shows that the increase of foreign faces on Japanese television is significant as non-Japanese residents are used here to reinforce ideas of Japanese cultural identity. These programs, while usually advertised as opportunities to look at issues from an international perspective, instead highlight perceived differences which exist between Japan and the outside world as a form of entertainment, rather than to seriously examine the issues Japan faces as it becomes more international. Employing a discourse analysis of recent programs as well as interviews with program participants, this paper examines media mechanisms which create an image of the foreign “other” that is employed to create, perpetuate and strengthen the idea of a unique Japanese cultural identity.