Introduction | Nobutaka Otobe

by Critical Asia

by Nobutaka Otobe, June 2022】

For this Japan-curated sub-issue, we focused on the topic of borders. After the cold war ended, many anticipated the advent of a borderless and globalized egalitarian world. Thirty years later, borders seem to return everywhere: the immigration bans that followed the pandemic demonstrated the lasting power of states over their borders; the Ukraine war revealed that inter-state war remains a major form of conflict; politics have become increasingly polarized, attesting to the multiple borders running within and across societies. Do we live in a new age of borders?

Sara Park explored the border restrictions in Japan and Finland during the pandemic. Faced with COVID-19, Japan introduced the most stringent border controls, some of which are still effective. Park, a Finland-based sociologist, assessed these measures by combining reflecting on her own experiences travelling between Japan and Finland with a scholarly analysis. Park pointed out several characteristics of Japan’s border control measures during the pandemic: they were not necessarily effective; these bans selectively decided who could enter;  and these measures imposed burdens on those individuals. Park also emphasized that the selective immigration policy is not new; it functioned long before the pandemic to target specific groups. The selective border measures used during the pandemic were consistent with Japan’s practices towards Koreans and Taiwanese after 1952.

Park’s analyses of the selective functioning of state borders suggest that borders not only separate sovereign states, but also collaborate with other borders that divide people into several groups, such as nationals, permanent residents, and immigrants. Sachi Tayaka focused on one of these vulnerable groups, temporary migrant workers, and analyzed how the pandemic damaged them. Tayaka found that temporary migrant workers were often denied access to public welfare benefits. In addition, she argued that the pandemic immigration ban challenged the institutional assumption that aligned with territorial borders. Although temporary migrant workers were supposed to engage solely with economic production in receiving countries and leave other reproduction activities in their home countries, the pandemic severely delayed their actions. Kantaro Ohashi’s article discusses another kind of border that is currently being challenged: the border between true and false. This may seem irrelevant compared to the other borders discussed in this issue, because the former appears to vanish in the current “fake news” situation while the other borders appear to strengthen. However, Ohashi shows that the border between true and false has not faded away, but has realigned and been deployed in the current situation. Ohashi assessed the debates over fake news and points out the influence Japanese internet culture, namely 2chan (4chan in US), has had on the global rise of fake news.

Nobutaka Otobe, Osaka University, Japan

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