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The other day the New York Times highlighted anti-black discrimination in Japan. Focusing on the experiences of Ariana Miyamoto, a half-black/half-Japanese beauty queen who was born in Japan and enjoys full Japanese citizenship, the Timespresented a troubling and convincing account of a degree of explicit racial discrimination long unthinkable in respectable circles in the United States.
The story rang true – so far as it went. But a larger and more revealing story lay unexplored just below the surface: the mystery of what happened to countless mixed-race children conceived during the U.S. Army’s occupation of Japan in the aftermath of World War II.
The occupation lasted from 1945 to 1952, which means that such children are now in their early to late sixties. Up to 40,000 GIs were based in Japan at any one time, about one-seventh of them blacks. Thus a reasonable guesstimate is that several thousand mixed-race children were born, many of them of part African-American heritage. But where are they now? Certainly not in Japan. It is a remarkable fact that though I lived 27 years there, I never came across a mixed-race person who might date from that era. Indeed – occupation or no occupation – Japan has remained what it has always been, one of the world’s most ethnically homogenous nations.
Why is this worth mentioning? The point is less that the Japanese people as individuals are exceptionally racially intolerant. Rather it is that the Japanese system, qua system, is programmed to maintain racial purity — and to do so while remaining under the radar of American criticism. Although there seems to be no publicly available record of what happened in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a reasonable inference is that the Japanese authorities found ways to move mixed-race children abroad, typically probably almost immediately they were born. Yet nothing of this was reported at the time or later. Even countless American academic researchers who pride themselves on their political correctness have steered clear of the subject. Probably advisedly so, if they want to remain in receipt of the Tokyo-controlled funding that suffuses the Japan studies field. (Even when funding comes from ostensibly American corporations, it typically comes from the Japanese subsidiaries of such corporations. Japanese executives, responding to Japanese bureaucratic “guidance,” determine where the money goes, and recipients who go too far in speaking truth to power find themselves quickly frozen out.)
Note as of June 24: This commentary has evoked an exceptionally vitriolic response. My critics suggest that among other things I have an agenda and that I know nothing about Japan. What is absent is any direct quotes to show I am wrong. Rather, straw-man arguments have been used in which statements have been attributed to me that I never made. My point stands: the fate of thousands of babies conceived during the occupation has been swept under the rug. American scholars, correspondents, and other Japan watchers have evidently concluded that in this matter, as in so many other aspects of Japanology, discretion is the better part of valor.