Last year, 5,000 people applied for refugee status in Japan. 11 were accepted.
This past March, the Economist ran a headline, “No entry: As the world’s refugee problem grows, Japan pulls up the drawbridge.” The article included an image of the red circle (Rising Sun) that is the flag symbol of Japan with a white bar through it, the symbol for “Do Not Enter” signs in Europe.
That same month, Tokyo lawyer Hiroshi Miyauchi filed a lawsuit on behalf of four Syrian men against Japan’s Ministry of Justice, seeking to oblige the Japanese government to approve the men’s applications for refugee status, arguing that the rejection of 61 applications filed by Syrian refugees since 2011 is “appalling.” The four had been granted “special permission to stay,” but had been denied refugee status.
In September, The Washington Post weighed in with an article headlined, “As Europe makes room for refugees, some in Japan ask why not us?”
Japan is a strong target for refugee criticism because of its modest engagement in social media and global communications. Typically, it doesn’t proactively make its case to the world, largely allowing the international press and the Twitterverse to frame its issues for it.
The Washington Post article, comparing the refugee response of Europe to Japan’s closed doors, quotes heavily from Twitter messages that argue for opening the doors to refugees in Japan, including @robotopia, who wrote, “It's insane that Japan, which has enough abandoned homes to house all Syrian #refugees TWICE over, took in only 11 asylum seekers in 2014.” The comment sparked a debate, including from me (@drpersuasion) about the feasibility to open abandoned houses in rural areas of Japan to refugees from Syria. @GoodandbadJapan responded, “But they don’t speak Japanese and might put the rubbish out on the wrong day.”
The focus on Syria may carry with it a bitter memory for many JapaneseNancy Snow