Japan is one of the world's most ethnically homogeneous societies. With its long history of isolation Japan has been immune from the patterns of population mixing that elsewhere have resulted from open borders, immigration and conquest. For well over a thousands years, as the scholar and diplomat Edwin O. Reischauer has noted, "there have been no significant additions of blood to the Japanese race." The consequence of this has been the development and nurturing of a profound and pervasive sense of racial and cultural identity. Out of this has come a remarkable ability to mobilize national willpower. Out of it, too, has come an unmistakable feeling of superiority toward other, more racially diverse societies.
Some of this came through last week when Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, in a speech to junior members of his party, seemed to suggest that the United States is lagging behind Japan in achievements because the American population contains large minorities of blacks and Latinos. Precisely what Nakasone said or intended to say isn't clear. One newspaper that reported his remarks thought that he was talking about literacy levels. Another concluded that he was referring to intellectual abilities. Clarification has been impossible because Japanese officials have refused to release the text of Nakasone's statement. Significantly, Nakasone's comments were not at first considered important news in Japan, probably because their thrust reflected views that are commonplace assumptions among Japanese.