Ethnic Stratification and Conflict

Ethnic Stratification and Conflict


The significance of ethnic stratification as well as conflict in regards to forces influencing human affairs in terms of a phenomenon requiring understanding and a threat that requires control cannot be denied anymore (Kim, 2003). Horowitz, (1985) note that ethnic conflicts have claims that ethnic conflicts have claimed the lives of in excess of 10 million since the end of World War II. Indeed, the last two decades have seen the worst of ethnic conflicts resulting from ethnic conflicts a case in point being the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. In order to understand the role of Ethnic Stratification and Conflict in shaping outcomes in different countries, one must appreciate that ethnicity is a foundational aspect in many countries and therefore presents a portent cause of challenges affecting cohesion among ethnicities, states, and influencing international tensions.

Ethnic conflict is essentially the result of class differences in ranked societies. Moreover, ethic conflict is a barrier or else alternative to class conflicts (Horowitz, 2005). These assertions are both true but not in abroad sense as previously assumed. In his 1959 acclaimed book, Dahrendorf (1959) argues that ethnicity as well as class conflicts are mutually exclusive while class and ethnicity coincided within a ranked system. This author further notes that conflicts in this regard always encompass “the arrangement of social roles endowed with expectations of domination and subjection (p.96).  This description is equally applicable to ethnic stratification and therefore conflicts between dissimilar ethnic assemblages within a rank society.

Based on the arguments above, a sociologist must be able to analyze racial as well as ethnic differences within diverse national contexts. Race and ethnicity are constructed differently in different places and at different times (Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict, 2005). For example, in the United States, race is defined in a way such that two children with the same biological parents cannot possibly be of different races. In contrast, some countries, such as the Dominican Republic, define race in a way that would allow for siblings (born of the same parents) to be placed into different racial categories. This research paper will therefore seek to analyze ethnic stratification and conflict in Japan and compare the findings to the situation in the United States.

Japanese Society

When considering countries or else societies that lay claim to homogeneity in terms of racial diversity, Japan comes to mind. The construct of homogeneity as well as uniqueness in regards to the ethnic composition of the country has assumed a central role since the 1970s (Siddle, 2011). Indeed, the hegemonic image outside as well as arguably within Japan reflects a culturally, linguistically and ethnically homogeneous setting. Compared to other nations like the United States, Japan is relative more homogeneous but this does not in any way imply that the country is underlined by the absence of cultural or ethnic diversity. On the converse, minority populations have formed a significant part of the Japanese society for centuries and as such continue to elicit widespread scholarly interest from diverse disciplinary approaches across the globe (Krauss & Rohlen, 2004).

The homogeneity claim notwithstanding, social stratification and the associated conflict are rife in Japan as minorities continue to fight for economic and political equality and more importantly, social inclusion (Kim, 2003).  However, the manner in which these struggles evolve differs markedly from other societies like the United States based on the construction of ethnic minorities, denied rights in addition to the level of marginalization existing today (Roth, 2012).

The vast majority the population in Japan is essentially Japanese from an ethnic perspective. The Japanese are closely associated with other populations in the Wider East Asian country and are believed to have arrived in modern-day Japan after they migrated from the South Pacific and The Asian Continent more than two millennia ago (Krauss & Rohlen, 2004). The only indigenous ethnic assemblage n Japan is represented by the Ainu whose origin is uncertain although conventional belief argues that they origins can be traced from the original inhabitants of the country prior to the arrival of foremost Japanese.

Early anthropologist considered their corporeal characteristics as Caucasoid with their definitive origins traced to Southeastern Europe or Australia originating from South East Asia and Australia (Siddle, 2011). Recent scholarly findings suggest that this is ethnic grouping is closely related to the Altaic,Uralic, and  Tunguistic people of Siberia. Previously, the Ainu inhabited a greater area within the northern part of the country but today, they only occupy countable settlements in Hokkaido. Out of the current 20,000 indigenous inhabitants, only a small proposition speaks their native dialect (Horowitz, 2005).

Koreans on the other hand represent the largest non-native ethnic group within Japan with current figures placing their population at 645, 00. This number is relatively higher compared to other non-ethnic minorities and indeed ethnic groupings due to the fact that many were Koreans were forced to relocate to Japan to provide cheap labor in factories as well as mines during the reign of Japanese colonizers in Korea (Herbert, 2010).  In fact, many of the Korean currently residing in Japan is the direct descendants of the unwilling immigrants. Koreans are the epitome of ethical stratifications well as associated conflicts within the Japanese society. Despite them having permanent residency status and enjoying most rights as enjoyed by native Japanese, they are faced with significant barriers to acquiring full citizenship in addition to the rampant discrimination they face.

The second-largest non-ethnic minority group in Japan is the Chinese population, which like their Korean counterparts were forcibly relocated Japan during the latter’s occupation of Taiwan during the closing and starting epoch of the 19th and 20th century respectively. Other communities from Brazil, America and the lives also reside in Japan in sizeable numbers. all in all the non-native component of the Japanese population accounts for 2% of the country’s entire population making it the most homogeneous nation in the world – a fact that gives rise to continued social stratification based on ethnic stereotypes and the resultant conflicts in terms of equal access to social, political as well as economic opportunities (Roth, 2012).

As previously mentioned, Koreans are the most affected by conflicts stemming fro ethnic stratification coupled with racial profiling. In this regard, the nationality of Koreans especially first generation minorities from the Zainichi background has evolved severally from over a moderately short period thereby presenting a fundamental identity crisis or conflict (Kim, 2003). After Japan regained full political autonomy from Allied forces in 1952, it embarked on a sustained campaign aimed at radically transforming the country from the empire to a unified nation state (Horowitz, 2005). Towards this end, the administration developed policies that largely excluded colonial subjects still living in Japan. As a result, Zainichi Koreans, who had become citizens through forced cultural assimilation beamed and are still radicalized as well as disfranchised as foreigners through exclusionary policies underlining the post-war epoch.

Post-war Japan nationalism continued to stratify ethnicity based on one’s closeness to the

Inherent culture and therefore widened the rift between those considered authentic Japanese and those seen as foreigners and hence inferior. The key emphasis in this regard still remains  the “natural” or else “immutable “Japanese Identity aspect in addition to blood-lineages considered to this day as the ultimate representation of legitimate authority and superiority (Siddle, 2011).

These mode of conceiving “Japanessness” continues to alienated Koreans in this regard as in it does not in the a authoritarian sense avail the same treatment to Zainichi Koreans even after acquiring citizen status through naturalization. The end result is the emergence of social conflicts driven by the dynamics of a ranked society where one ethnic strata considers the other inferior despite both being citizens of the same country. This is  classic exemplar of the all-too familiar “second class citizen” ideology that has led to some of the worst ethnic conflicts ever recorded in modern times (Roth, 2012).

The argument presented above concurs with Horowitz (2005) in that ethnic conflict is essentially the result of class differences within ranked societies. What is more, ethic conflict is seen a barrier or else alternative to class conflicts. However, such assertions in regar1ds to the Japanese society and therefore ethnic stratification are both true but not in abroad sense as previously assumed. As Dahrendorf (1959) argues. As such, ethnicity as well as class conflicts are mutually exclusive while class and ethnicity coincides within a ranked system in Japan. This author further notes that conflicts in this regard always encompass “the arrangement of social roles endowed with expectations of domination and subjection (p.96).

This description equally applies to ethnic stratification and therefore conflicts between dissimilar ethnic assemblages within a rank society where a grouping that considers itself superior to others assign particular roles or opportunities to the inferior community aimed at restricting their progress in terms of ascending the social scale as it were. A case in point is the fact that Zainichi Koreans will always be considered aliens as they do not share a similar blood lineage with native Japanese and as such will be assigned to roles befitting these stereotyped profiling (Herbert, 2010).

From a historical perspective, Pre-war xenophobia dominated most social interactions in the country and still continues to influence the way Japanese people view ethnic minorities that are not considered the appropriate emblem for Japanessness. During this period, and in the same way non-natives and especially Korean are treated, racial as well as ethnic discrimination against non-natives from the Asian period was a regular practice practiced by imperial Japan leading to current stratification and social conflicts defining the current society (Roth, 2012).

Another area epitomizing the significance of ethnic stratification and conflict in the country relates to access to affordable and dignified housing as well as other social amenities in regards ethnically inferior Japanese. To this day, there are still a number of apartment building and entertainment facilities that restrict access by foreigners irrespective of whether one is a citizen or not. One must therefore be accompanied by authentic Japanese in order to gain access (Siddle, 2011). Nonetheless, many contend that such prohibitions are rare and go ahead to cite social incompatibility which is basically a euphemism for ethnic ranking the driving force behind such proclamations. For instance, an excuse often provided to mask the evident ethnic discrimination is that most foreigners and indeed “second Class” citizens may not understand Japanese etiquette (Roth, 2012). The truth is however to the contrary in that relevant literature reviewed thus confirms that targeted ethnic ranking is a key determinant of societa1l interactions an1d outcomes in Japan.

The Japanese Constitution doe provide various legal instruments to protect aliens from ethnic discrimination. One such avenue is the provision that states that there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race” (Herbert, 2010). While this proclamation led to the official recognition of the Ainu people in 1997, the truth is however that most ethnic minorities are not accorded the same treatment in terms of economic, social as well as political opportunities.

In all fairness, the overriding hypothesis in regards to ethnic stratification and resultant conflicts suggests that under a number of pre-conditions established by the post-war government policies, including but not limited to recognized freedom in terms of movement; and individual-specific  drive to seek formal citizenship status; as well as the subsequent secondary  integration into the wider society does not portend any significant contributions to finding solutions to fundamental problems associated with stratification and ethnic conflicts of modern Japan. The end result is thus differentiation is nor realized and recognized, enhancement of capacities among different ethnic assemblages occurs in a skewed manner, and social systems remain largely unstable (Herbert, 2010).

Expert View on Ethnic Stratification and Conflicts

Krauss & Rohlen (2004) that Japan is erroneously considered a homogeneous society where serious conflicts are largely absent despite the ethnicity being stratified. However, surveys conducted in Japan indicate that persistent ethnic tensions as well as serious conflicts. This author therefore proposes that the issue be examined from a different perspective as opposed to engaging in endless discourse as to whether ethnic conflicts truly exist in Japan. He thus suggests that the focus should shift to examining how ethnic stratification occurs and how this leads to conflicts and further examine it in terms of expression, control as well as resolution.

Kim (2003) on the other focuses ethnic stratification as well as ranking by presenting a discourse on the stereotypes associated with Ethnic Koreans in Japan. He notes that stereotyping is a common practice and that for this minority grouping, resources availed by a ranked ethnic composition essentially translates into lower educational attainment.  Further, the trends of attainment with respect to ethnic minorities differ from those considered authentic Japanese.

Horowitz (2005) argues that conflict is fundamentally the consequence of class differences in ranked societies as evidenced by the case of Japan. Moreover, ethic conflict is a barrier or else alternative to class conflicts. These assertions are both true but not in abroad sense as previously assumed. Moreover, Dahrendorf (1959) argues that ethnicity as well as class conflicts are mutually exclusive while class and ethnicity coincided within a ranked system. This author further notes that conflicts in this regard always encompass “the arrangement of social roles endowed with expectations of domination and subjection (Dahrendorf, 1959).

According to Siddle (2011) ethnic stratification as well as conflict in this regard is entwined between different modes of classifications including citizenship, ethnicity, language as well as culture.  Therefore, in order to clearly understand the manner in which the Japanese society constructed from an ethnic or else racial perspective, the author suggest that it is of critical importance to examine different minority groupings with a view of understanding how mainstream identity in Japan has developed vi-sa-vi these characteristics.

Finally Roth (2012) concludes that it is important to take note of the fact that minority groups within Japan are characterized by overlapping encounters of oppression and discrimination. He goes further to provide examples of regions where low-wage workers congregate including foreigners and it is these populations that are most affected by government policy regarding to social wellbeing  particularly in cases of disasters like the Fukushima nuclear crisis (Roth, 2012).

Japan vs. the United States

Race and ethnicity are constructed differently in different places and at different times. In this regard, Japan differs from the United States in terms of ethnic ranking purely from an ethnic definition perspective (Haller & Eder, 2015). This then means that the ethnic composition and resultant conflicts are similar in both countries. This submission has identified government policy as the overriding causal factor responsible for ethnic divisions. Despite both countries have express provisions aimed at curtailing ethnic divisions and unconstructive classifications based on stereotypes; government policy in both countries has continued to encourage discrimination.  In recent times, there have been calls for placing a moratorium on immigrants in the U.S regarding the rights of generations born by illegal immigrants despite being born in the country and therefore qualifying automatically for citizenship status (Marger, 2015).

Additionally, minorities like African Americans as well as Hispanics are considered aliens and as such, they have been stereotyped as criminals or associated with negative activities within the society further increasing the ethnic divide and associated conflicts. In Japan, it is a widely accepted notion that Chinese as well as Koreans residents are responsible for most crime incidences but this assumption is not predicated on empirical evidence or a concrete understanding of the causal factors- a case well evidenced by the U.S (Haller & Eder, 2015).

Kim  (2003) conducts a comparative analysis of the two societies and notes that stereotyping  is a common practice and that for the minority groupings, resources availed by a ranked ethnic composition essentially translate into lower educational attainment which essentially means that ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in terms of social, economic as well as political outcomes.


From this, a sociologist must be able to analyze racial as well as ethnic differences within diverse national contexts. Races as well as ethnicity are created in a different way, in different places and at different times. Incessant scholarships on the issue notwithstanding, minorities are still widely unacknowledged and unrecognized among popular Japanese understandings. This research paper therefore avails a theoretical discourse regarding concepts of ethnicity coupled with a discussion of minority assemblages vi-sa-vi other societies of the same stature. By presenting key findings based on pertinent research on ethnic ranking and associated conflicts, this submission places the issue in the forefront of achieving global recognition of minorities not only in Japan but throughout the world. If this issue is not examined and addressed appropriately it could escalate ethnic tensions and result in unprecedented conflicts as previously witnessed in areas like Rwanda.


Dahrendorf, R. (1959). Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society. Stanford University Press.

Haller, M., & Eder, A. (2015). Ethnic Stratification and Economic Inequality around the World. Ashgate Publishing.

Herbert, W. (2010). Foreign Workers and Law Enforcement in Japan. New York, NY: Routledge.

Horowitz, D. L. (2005). Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

Kim, M. (2003). Ethnic Stratification and Inter-Generational Differences in Japan: A Comparative Study of Korean and Japanese Status Attainment. International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 12 (1), 6-12.

Krauss, E. S., & Rohlen, T. P. (2004). Conflict in Japan. University of Hawaii Press.

Marger, M. N. (2015). Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives. Cengage Learning.

Roth, J. H. (2012). Political and Cultural Perspectives on Japan’s Insider Minorities. Retrieved February 12, 2016, from Japan Focus:

Siddle, R. (2011). Race, Ethnicity, and Minorities in Modern Japan. Japanese Culture and Society.

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