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Guessing the Majority

October 1st, 2008

Something pretty surprising has come to my notice as of late. We’ve been pre-registering students at my college for next semester’s courses, which means that we show them what’s available and they let us know their preferences. One of the course we’re offering is a class called Majority-Minority Relations. When describing this class to them, I want to emphasize how they, as Japanese, have lived in such an overwhelming majority all their lives–according to the CIA World Factbook, 98.5% of the Japanese population are ethinic Japanese, with the last 1.5% being almost evenly divided between Chinese, Korean, and “other foreign” populations.

But when I ask my students to guess what percent of Japan is Japanese, the most common answer is 80%. That’s a pretty huge variance from the actual number. I thought that maybe that’s just the idea of young people who (a) live in cosmopolitan Tokyo and study at an American college located near a large Korean population center, and (b) never considered the question before. But still, even in Tokyo, even in central Tokyo, to imagine that one in five people are not Japanese is still a bit surprising.

Has anyone else living in Japan tried asking this question to anyone? I intend to ask it a lot more to Japanese people I know to see what more general impressions are, but would be interested in what others find out.

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  1. Paul
    October 2nd, 2008 at 16:50 | #1

    It’d be interesting to see if you can get stats on how “Japanese” the Tokyo metro area is. Ginger’s mom lives in the Korean area in Tokyo, and she (Ginger) says you can live there and never speak (or need to speak) a lick of Japanese because it’s so big and comprehensive.

    Of course, there’s areas in the States like that too, come to think of it. 😉

  2. K. Engels
    October 3rd, 2008 at 00:14 | #2

    Maybe 1/5th of the population is space aliens disguised as Japanese people… You know, like those aliens in some of the Godzilla movies…

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