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  • COVID-19が在日外国人に与えた影響とその理由について How and why COVID-19 influences attitudes toward foreign residents in Japan: A terror management perspective

COVID-19が在日外国人に与えた影響とその理由について How and why COVID-19 influences attitudes toward foreign residents in Japan: A terror management perspective


The COVID-19 pandemic broke out in late 2019 and early 2020. Japan began closing its borders to certain countries in early April 2020. By April 29, over 100 countries were added to the ban, including all of Europe, most of Asia, and North America. This ban resulted in the exclusion of foreign residents who held a residence permit or visa (e.g., work, study, permanent, spousal) (Nakamaru, 2020).

Although Japanese nationals were allowed to return to Japan during the entry restrictions, many foreign residents who were outside Japan were not allowed back into the country when they wanted to re-enter. Despite living and working in Japan, paying into the same tax and pension system, Japanese government treated its permanent and medium-to-long-term visa holders differently from those who are Japanese nationals—treated them as if they were tourists (Kopp, 2020).

This treatment caused a frustration among those who were kept away from Japan. In response to criticism, the Immigration Services Agency finally eased restrictions in June under exceptional circumstances such as having children enrolled in Japanese schools, allowing foreign residents to re-enter Japan, and eased restrictions in August and September for other foreign residents enabling them to re-enter. However, by then, many foreign residents had been shaken for months due to the economic and psychological burden of being locked out of Japan. The way that Japanese government treated its non-Japanese residents had disrupted the lives of many foreign residents, negatively affecting trust in the foreign community.

Despite having permits, why did the Japanese government treat non-Japanese residents differently than Japanese nationals? The differences in treatment can be examined though the framework provided by the Terror Management Theory.

Terror management theory (TMT) (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) is based on the knowledge that human beings are intelligent and self-aware animals. According to the theory, as a result of this feature that distinguishes them from other living things, human beings are aware that they are mortal and of the fact that death is inevitable. The theory suggests that human behavior is drive in part by the need to cope with the potential for anxiety that arises from the juxtaposition of death awareness and an inherent desire to live.

In order to protect themselves from the fear created by this terrifying awareness, people use various defense mechanisms that act as buffers. To keep this potential under control, human beings strictly hold on to a cultural worldview and maintain self-esteem according to the standard of their particular worldview. These worldviews are shared belief systems which allow a person to hold on to the idea that she/he is a valuable individual who makes meaningful contributions to this world as long as she/he lives up to her/his worldview’s standards. According to TMT, behind the need to enhance or protect self-esteem and the commitment to the cultural worldview, lies the desire to be protected from the anxiety and terror of awareness of mortality. When individuals are reminded of their mortality (i.e., death reminders), they become more attached to their cultural worldview. This means that while they exhibit positive attitudes towards stimuli that support their cultural worldview, they make harsher judgments whenever their cultural worldview is threatened; in other words, “death reminders” lead to a feeling of need which makes them devote more to their cultural worldview.

The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the lives of many people since late 2019, reminding people of their mortality and vulnerability. Through the concept/framework of TMT, Covid-19 can be seen as a death reminder that influenced governmental policies on foreigners in Japan. As a country with a history of closing its borders to foreigners, Japanese government’s immediate reaction was to enforce the entry ban for foreign residents even for the ones who had a residence permit. Many foreigners living in Japan consider the country as their second and/or primary home. However, with the increased health and financial outcomes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were readily considered as out-group members and potential threats to national security (i.e., in-group cohesion; harmony) and discriminated in spite of having a legal status. The reminders of death function to normalize the unequal treatment of out-group members. Therefore, the discrimination toward foreign residents in Japan increased during the pandemic.

How to tackle: nurturing tolerance
Although foreigners may be seen as a threat, not all members of the majority group necessarily view foreigners as such. Worldviews emphasizing the value of tolerance can have a neutralizing effect on this tendency. In times of increased salience of threat to societal safety (e.g., natural disasters, pandemics), it is important to understand how domestic population react to foreign communities because, during times of heightened societal threat, it might arouse intolerance toward different people and lead to discrimination—which was a strict entry ban by Japanese Government for foreign residents in this case. As the number of foreign residents will continue to increase in Japan, it is important for policymakers as well as the general public to be aware of how people tend to react under certain conditions and produce policies to prevent discrimination in times of such threat, be it a pandemic or a natural disaster. Government has the responsibility to protect the rights of all residents whether it be a citizen or a non-Japanese resident. Therefore, they should be more aware of the situation and should implement more inclusive policies to nurture tolerance and positivity toward foreign residents for a harmonious society as desired.

COVID-19パンデミックが発生したのは、2019年末から2020年初頭。日本は2020年4月上旬に特定の国への国境封鎖を開始しました。4月29日までに、ヨーロッパ全域、アジアの大部分、北米を含む100以上の国が禁止対象に加えられました。この禁止令により、在留許可やビザ(就労、就学、永住、配偶者など)を持つ外国人が日本から排除されることになったのです(Nakamaru, 2020)。

入国制限中、日本人は日本に戻ることができましたが、日本国外にいた多くの外国人居住者は、再入国したいと思っても、日本に戻ることができませんでした。日本に住み、日本で働き、同じ税金や年金を払っているにもかかわらず、日本政府は永住ビザや中長期ビザの保有者を日本国民とは異なる、観光客のような扱いをしていたのです(Kopp, 2020)。



恐怖管理理論(Terror Management Theory, TMT)(Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986)は、人間が知的で自己認識を持つ動物であるという知識に基づいています。この理論によると、他の生物とは異なるこの特徴の結果として、人間は自分が死すべき存在であり、死は避けられないという事実を認識しているために、人間の行動は、死を意識することで生じる潜在的な不安に対処する必要性に駆られていると考えられています。




Nakamaru, R. (2020). Japan's coronavirus entry ban disrupting lives of foreign residents. Kyodo News. Retrieved from https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/06/29bd4e7ac3ee-feature-japans-coronavirus-entry-ban-disrupting-lives-of-foreign-residents.html

Kopp, R. (2020). The pandemic border policy that will leave a scar on Japan's foreign community. The Japan Times. Retrieved from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2020/12/07/issues/pandemic-border-policy-foreign-community/

Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. & Solomon, S. (1986). "The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: A terror management theory". In R.F. Baumeister (ed.), Public Self and Private Self (pp. 189–212). Springer-Verlag (New York).

ソシエタス総合研究所 研究員アイシェ・ウルグン・ソゼン Ayse Ilgin Sozen
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