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Racism and Capitalism in Japan

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The problems of racism are often inextricable from the capitalism and colonialism throughout the entire world. One of the best examples to illustrate this phenomenon is the exploitation and discrimination Japan exerted on Korea during the early twentieth century, as illustrated by Kawashima’s arguments on the unfair treatments the Korean tenant workers faced in his book, The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan. Because of the rice production policy which the Japanese landlords and capitalists put into practice with the wealthy Korean landlords, Korea soon became the source of cheap rice exports and land exploitation. In addition, many Korean peasants became landless and could only survive by becoming tenanted or semi-tenanted , or going to Japan to work as a general laborer. Although they were regarded as the source of indispensable labor power and an advantage for their employers, they were treated harshly and discriminatorily by their employers as if they are disposable at any time , and even their potential landlords and the legal system in Japan. The Koreans not only suffered racism when seeking employment but also when looking for a place to rent.

The Koreans were treated as if they were cheap, temporary, and exploitable individuals whose purpose is to mend the gaps of the labor power shortage caused by the previous factory strikes organized by the Japanese workers, as well as to serve as additional supply of laborers. Their presence is for the sole purpose of carrying on the capitalist production by making sure the labor power is always available particularly when there is a shortage of labor , to enable the capitalists to generate the maximum profit with all the possible means. Being given wages that were 30 to 50% less than those of their Japanese counterparts , the Korean workers had a difficult time paying the high, unregulated rent imposed by the landowners. They were the first ones being fired despite their relative low wages. The barriers of racist screening for obtaining leases worsened the prospect of renting affordable places for living. Even if the Koreans could afford the rent, the Japanese landlords refused to give them the leases due to their ethnicity. They had few methods to address the housing crises except employing Japanese pseudonyms and renters, subleasing the rental property (therefore many people could divide the rent together), living in geshuku (boarding houses) and barracks, exercising communal living, and demanding eviction fees from the landlords to move from place to place ; sometimes the Korean tenant-workers could get away with these methods, but unfortunately they faced severe consequences once they were caught doing so. Japanese landlords frequently used physical violence as a medium to evict the Koreans forcibly from their leased houses and rooms.

There were cases which involved the courts to settle the disagreements among the landlords and the tenants; however, the cases that were either dismissed or withdrawn was about 50%, which implied that around half of the cases required private reconciliation on evictions and other terms. This decision implies that the Korean tenant-workers could only undergo the dangerous negotiations themselves, which is a sign of deferred eviction. As for the Korean workers who constructed barracks to maintain their marginal survival under the capitalist government, they were often made to undergo mandatory evacuations for a series of urban planning projects. The cases which the city governments offered them alternate locations to live at the expenses of the governments and the changing of the status of lands from unclaimed to substitute are rather scarce. As the ultimate result, most of the Korean tenant-workers ended up being the floating surplus populations who remained stuck within the cities, with nothing guaranteed besides their ability to work. Because of the bar of means of subsistence for Koreans drastically decreased, the Koreans required less than their original meagre wages to survive. This welcomed more utilitarian, racist exploitations and mistreatments towards the Koreans, such as lowering of the wages.

Other barriers imposed by the landlords to bar the Korean tenant-workers from obtaining leases successfully are the security deposits, transfer fees, and the number of guarantors. These became the “legitimate” reasons to prevent Korean tenant-workers renting properties, thought they are not as direct and obvious as asking the origins and names of the applicants. According to the statistics from The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan, the Koreans were required to pay an equivalent of 3.41 months of rent as security deposits, whereas the Japanese paid merely 1.84 months of rent. 12% of Koreans had to pay the compulsory transfer fees, whereas for the Japanese, it was only 6%. It was compulsory for 23.3% of the Japanese to provide two or more guarantors; as for the Koreans, it was 31%.

From these evidences, we can observe that there exist more financial burdens and social pressures for the Koreans to successfully securing their leases compared with their Japanese counterparts. Stemming from the fears of rising wages and politicized labor force for both the Japanese and Korean workers, the Japanese capitalists and employers put in a lot of efforts to check the spread of independence movements and suppress the laborers, particularly the Koreans. Because of the fostering of such racist atmosphere and practices, the Koreans were compelled to employ survival methods that are illegal under the eyes of the legal system and landlords in order to survive on the margins of the Japanese society, both physically and economically. This aids in fuelling the despite, anxieties, and anger of the landlords, and further constitutes the presumed, negative impressions towards the Korean tenant-workers seeking leases, as well as the encouraging the continuation of the vicious cycle of prolonged discrimination and abuse.

Racism is the common method employed throughout the process of capitalism to fully control the subjects and the workers working for the major industries. It serves as a medium enabling the people to be absolutely obedient and passive to the government for a certain period while the State exploits the colonies to the maximum extent for the highest profits. Racism enables the Japanese capitalists and landlords to exploit the Korean tenant-workers to their own advantages by forcing the Korean tenant-workers to compromise to the status quo at that time and leaving them stuck in plights which they could neither go back to Korea nor settle smoothly in Japan. However, this is not the ultimate solution to acquire a stable government and prosperity of the nation. Even if the State manages to accumulate significant amount of wealth and capital through the very means, the State is guaranteed to have more countless unrests protesting against the building blocks of blood, tears, and sweats of Korean tenant-workers which paved the way of imperialism in Japan.

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Racism and Capitalism in Japan. (2019, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
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