(restaurant in Tsukiji — Japanese people only)
The ProblemIn 2005, the United Nations expressed concerns about serious racism in Japan and insufficient government recognition of the problem.
Japan doesn't have civil rights legislation which penalizes racial discrimination by citizens or businesses. In some cases, businesses openly discriminate. For example, apartment ads may say "Japanese only".
In Japan, there a several large right wing nationalist groups that regularly demonstrate in Tokyo. These groups have a great deal of political influence. Many of these groups would like to kick all foreigners out of Japan.
Since racism isn't a crime, the Japanese government doesn't track incidents. However, it's well understood that racism is a common problem. It affects access to employment and housing. Violent incidents do occur but are rare.
The MediaGaijin have a public relations problem.
The Japanese media and government tend to sensationalize the "foreign crime problem". They portray foreign crime as a serious problem that's getting dramatically worse.
According to the government's own numbers, foreign residents of Japan are statistically less likely to commit a serious crime in Japan than Japanese.
For the VisitorMost visitors to Japan enjoy their trip and have few problems.
When you have culture shock it's easy to think that people are unfriendly or unfair. Some visitors see racism where it doesn't exist.
Other visitors could walk by a nationalist demonstration in Tokyo — thousands of people chanting racist stuff and not notice a thing (due to language).
Since visitors are so bad at detecting racism it's best to just forget about it and enjoy your trip. Japan is generally very friendly to visitors from all countries.
Foreign Residents and RacismForeign residents of Japan are more likely to be affected by racism. There are generally 4 different reactions amongst gaijin living in Japan:
Some foreign residents become apologists for racism in Japan. If a restaurant doesn't allow foreigners they'll say "that's because foreigners cause problems".
Life is good in Japan. Most foreign residents are happy in Japan and prefer not to rock the boat. As a result, many foreign residents have a shoganai attitude towards racism.
Japanese society isn't easy to change — especially for an outsider. In Japan, the nail that sticks out is hammered down. Some gaijin tolerate racism with a fake smile on their face.
Some foreign residents of Japan become extremely bitter about racism. They end up complaining about it to anyone who will listen.
A select few foreigners have a great deal of influence in Japan. The American government and business elite in particular. Foreign influence is one reason that Japanese nationalist groups don't always get what they want.
It's a Two Way StreetRacism against the Japanese is also a serious problem. Particularly in Asia.