Perceptions of Refugees and their Communities in Japan

Mr Atsushi Yamagata2

2University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia

As of the end of 2018, there were 25.9 million documented refugees across the globe, and most of them were hosted by developing countries. Despite expectations that developed countries should accept more refugees, Japan has been reluctant. In 2018, only 42 people were recognised as refugees in Japan out of 10,493 asylum applications. To explore the rationales behind Japan’s attitude toward refugees, in this paper I focus on perceptions of refugees and their communities of origin in Japan. In the 1970s, Japan decided to accept Indochinese refugees in the aftermath of the Indochina War and more than 10,000 Indochinese refugees were accepted between 1978 and 2005. Except for these Indochinese refugees, though, Japan has almost closed its borders to refugees. In this paper I look at discourses about refugees and their communities in various publications from the 1970s and discuss how refugees and their communities have been perceived in Japan. By contrasting media representations of Indochinese refugees accepted in the 1970s with more recent media representations of asylum seekers and their communities of origin, I will consider how the perceptions of refugees and their communities have been formed, and their implications for Japan’s future relationship with refugees and asylum seekers.




The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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