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A case of institutional racism




Today, I’m going to complain about racism in Japan. Yes, me, a white, straight, young male who loves going to the gym and drinks protein shakes. Do you have a problem with that? I know I don’t look like the best example of an oppressed minority, but here in Japan, things work differently. Japanese people are the majority here, and white guys like me are part of a minority. Plus, I’m Italian, and therefore, I can say whatever comes to my mind and I'm necessarily right. And you know why we are always right? Because we make pizza! The pizza you are eating right now!

So shut up, eat your pizza, and listen to me tell you that Japanese people are racist! All of them! 100%! And obviously, I’m not generalizing.


Anyway, don’t worry. I’m not going to complain about racism towards white people in Japan. And I’m not even here to discuss whether Japanese people are racist or not. I mean, they are racist. But everyone is racist to a certain degree. I know what’s going on in your mind right now. You're probably thinking: “I’m not racist, I’m a good person, and I don’t see colors....” List, racism is a matter of degree and spectrum. It's not a good thing, but it exists nonetheless. That's why I'm writing this post.


I want to talk about something that happened to me recently.

Here in Japan, I’m a business owner. I have my own company. And while I’m Italian, my company is Japanese. It’s a Japanese legal entity. It was founded here and it pays taxes here. So in theory, it should be treated like any other Japanese company. However, this is not always the case.

This is the story. Recently, I was randomly scrolling Twitter and found out that the Japanese Ministry of Economy had launched a program to finance movies produced in Japan. It’s a new program named So-Fu (https://so-fu.jp/). They give you up to 5 million yen (about 35,000 USD) to support the production of your film.


My company is a video production company, and my dream is to make movies. So when I saw that they were giving 5 million yen, I didn’t even think twice: I had to apply. I know the chances of getting a grant like this one are low, but I’m a strong candidate. First of all, on the website, they say they want projects that could reach a global audience. I speak English, which is quite uncommon in the movie industry in Japan. Plus, I’ve won a few awards, and I have a decent portfolio of work.


I was so (foolishly) confident that I started thinking: “I’m sure they will notice my skills and give me the money. I'm a genius after all. I’ll use the money to make a masterpiece and then I will win the Cannes Film Festival and...” I love daydreaming. But unfortunately, dreaming is not enough to get money from the government. I had to prepare a bunch of boring documents, so I read carefully every word in the entry sheet—which is only in Japanese. Here I noticed something.


Within the conditions to apply, it’s written: “日本国籍又は外国籍で日本の永住資格を有すること” Which means that to be eligible, “You have to be either Japanese or have a permanent resident visa.” This is very weird, I thought. To apply, you have to be Japanese? It must be a mistake because the entry sheets state that I can apply through my company. And since my company is Japanese, my nationality or the visa I hold should not matter. Plus, nobody makes a movie alone; you need a team of people. If you follow literally what’s written on the website, it seems that to apply for the grant, everyone in the production team must be Japanese. There’s no way this is the case.


So I sent them an email and asked them what they meant and… The fact is that I understood correctly. They need everyone in the team to be Japanese (or with a PR visa). Everyone. The director? Japanese! Producer? Japanese! Make-up artist? Japanese. The actor playing an Indian immigrant? Japanese! I’m not even joking here. If they are part of the team, they must be Japanese.


What the hell is this rule? Why would an institution be so insane? It doesn’t make any sense. Is it even legal to discriminate against a company based on the nationality of its employees? And if they wish to attract new creators and reach a global audience, why would they ever put a limit on nationality? I cannot understand the logic. One should want as many people as possible to apply. And the more diverse, the better it is, as that would increase the odds of getting a good movie.


So I spent a few days thinking about the rationale behind such a condition. But I could not get it. I couldn't understand. And then one day, finally, something in my mind clicked. I got it. "They are just racist!" There is no other logic. The guys that are in charge of this grant are racist. And when I came to this realization, I felt so much better. I felt lighter. Indeed, if you are a racist government, this is a very legitimate condition! Putting a cap on nationality: this is a great policy!


Actually, I have a few constructive comments for the government. First, along with the proposal, you should ask applicants to send a blood sample to prove that they are really 100% Japanese. Pure WAGYU! After COVID mailing blood samples has become common practice and it can be easily implemented. Second, I would ask each applicant to send a copy of their family trees. Just in case, you know… there might be some Koreans hiding here and there and blood samples might be enough. And also, speaking of Koreans... I think that applicants whose relatives were war criminals should get more points. They served the country and we should support them!

Let's get back to the main topic.

Most of the governmental grants I have seen up until now do not have any condition related to nationality. But the problem is that from now on, even if nationality is not mentioned, every time I apply for a grant and my application is rejected, I will be thinking: “Did they reject it because it wasn’t good enough? Or did they reject it because they read the name in the application and realized I'm not Japanese?”

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