Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Khandelwal, Meena

Second Advisor

Ryang, Sonia


Japan is currently facing a demographic shift that will alter the nation’s social, cultural, and economic institutions significantly in the years to come. Due to a declining and aging population, foreigners have steadily comprised a greater portion of Japan’s population and workforce for the past three decades. Although foreigners currently comprise only 2% of Japan’s population, some experts predict an increase to between 8% and 27% by 2050.

If even the most conservative of these estimates are true, this would raise serious questions about Japan’s future. Historically, Japan has relegated cultural and ethnic difference to the social margins, leaving little room for the integration of cultural Others. This has produced problematic relationships between Japan and its minority communities. Foreign and cultural Others have been denied rights and recognition within Japanese society and their presence has been largely overlooked. These recent demographic changes, however, are producing novel interactions between foreigners and Japanese in schools, restaurants, retail establishments, and other public spaces. Yet, the current research on Japan has not updated our knowledge of Japan with a critical look into the recent shift and its effects.

This dissertation examines the parameters of Japan’s diversification and explores its broader social impacts. Specifically, it uses the novel contexts through which Japanese and non-Japanese people are coming into contact as a backdrop for examining questions about how Japanese-foreigner relations, Japan’s identity (internally and externally), and the ways foreigners are being positioned within contemporary Japanese society. In doing so, this thesis explores topics such as the newfound ways that Japanese and non-Japanese workers are coming into contact with one another, the role of language in facilitating multicultural encounters, and how biracial people destabilize conventional idea about Japanese identity and compel critical reconsiderations of it. This research incorporates data from over thirty formal interviews, and many more informal interviews from diverse voices, to expound upon the conceptual and material ramifications of Japan’s demographic changes and pose implications for the trajectory of Japan in the near future.

In exploring these questions, this dissertation also draws upon theories of race, ethnicity, space, place, and communication to understand these demographic changes and their impacts. This work examines contemporary theories about the intersection of race and ethnicity, and how they relate to a non-Western and quickly changing sociocultural milieu. It also examines the ways that contemporary migration patterns destabilize and reconfigure notions of spatiality, which are closely linked to identity constructions. It further considers theories about intercultural communication and language learning to show how communicative and linguistic processes facilitate the novel encounters that are unfolding between Japanese and non-Japanese people.

The primary finding from this research is that Japan’s demographic changes are compelling new forms of sociality and interpersonal dynamics between Japanese and foreigners that heretofore have not been observed. The novel characteristics of these encounters are creating a new social milieu within in which Japanese and foreigners are crossing paths more frequently in everyday life. This is leading to more critical inquiries about Japan’s future and the role of non-Japanese people within that future. This work gives voice to the actors on the ground who are living out these changes firsthand and presents their experiences, ideas, and aspirations of future Japan.




ix, 252 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 229-252).


Copyright © 2019 Paul Capobianco

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