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Nakasone Apologizes to Aboriginal Japanese for Race Remark

November 4, 1986

TOKYO (AP) _ Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone apologized to Japan’s aboriginal Ainu people for saying Japan is an ethnically homogenous society, an Ainu spokesman said Tuesday.

It was the second apology by the Japanese leader in recent months for remarks made about race.

Nakasone told his governing Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 22 that Japan has a higher literacy level than the United States because Japan is a ″homogenous society″ and America has ″a considerable number of blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans.″

Nakasone’s remarks were sharply criticized by members of the U.S. Congress and minority groups in the United States, who charged the Japanese leader’s words were discriminatory.

Four days later, Nakasone formally apologized to all Americans, and during a session of the Diet, or Japanese parliament, last month he also apologized to the Japanese people for his remarks.

Nakasone apologized to the Ainu in a letter, said Takao Yokoyama, a member of the Kanto Utari, a Tokyo-based Ainu organization. But he said Nakasone blamed what he called distorted press reports for any hard feelings.

Kanto Utari is made up of individuals who are all or part Ainu, the people who inhabited the Japanese islands before ancestors of modern-day Japanese came from the Asian continent about 3,500 years ago.

Anthropologists believe the Ainu may descend from a Caucasoid people who once lived in northern Asia. Their physical appearance - the men have fairly heavy beards, for example - sets them apart from mainstream Japanese and other Oriental populations. Ainu religion is animist and centers on a bear cult.

Nakasone wrote to Kanto Utari on Saturday saying, ″I deeply apologize for causing trouble to you because of distorted newspaper reports″ about his remarks, Yokoyama said.

Nakasone’s reply was ″not an answer to our question,″ Yokoyama said. ″He shifted his responsibility to the news media.″ The group, which was formed in 1980 and is made up of 50 households with at least one member who is Ainu, will send another written inquiry to Nakasone, he said.

Hiroshi Ibata, an acting director of the Hokkaido Utari Association, an Ainu organization on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, said Japanese newspapers all reported Nakasone’s ″homogenous″ comment the same way and that the premier’s remarks were not distorted.

Ibata said about 24,000 Ainu live in Hokkaido. He did not know the number of Ainu living in other parts of Japan because there are no nationwide statistics on the subject.

″It is a fact that the Ainu have an independent language and culture,″ Nakasone said in televised remarks to a Lower House budget committee session Tuesday.

But he added, ″From an objective standpoint, it is a fact that the Japanese are more homogenous than other people.″

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