Japan‘s deputy prime minister has been accused of ignoring an indigenous ethnic group after describing the country as the only one in the world with a single race.
“No other country but this one has lasted for as long as 2,000 years with one language, one ethnic group and one dynasty,” Taro Aso, who is also finance minister, said in a speech on Monday.
The 79-year-old apologised on Tuesday, saying he meant to say Japan has survived a long time without experiencing any major migrations or occupation by other ethnic groups.
The indigenous Ainu people have lived in what is now northern Japan for thousands of years, and were officially recognised by a law enacted last year to protect and promote their culture.
Japan also has has 2.7 million foreign residents, more than 2 per cent of its total population of 126 million, according to government statistics.
The figure includes more than 400,000 ethnic Koreans, many of whom came voluntarily or forcibly to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, and about 360,000 Koreans who have been naturalised.
International couples comprised more than 3 per cent of the marriages in 2017.
Last year, Japan relaxed visa requirements to allow more foreign workers to make up for a declining workforce in a nation with an aging and falling population.
In his speech on Monday, Mr Taro also praised Japan’s success in the Ruby World Cup last year and noted its ethnically diverse team.
He said Japan became “one team” while maintaining its own culture and language, and stressed the importance of having a clear sense of Japanese identity.
Mr Taro has previously been criticised for a series of remarks deemed insensitive and discriminatory.
Last year, Mr Taro blamed women for Japan’s aging and declining population. In 2018, he defended a top bureaucrat in his finance ministry against sexual harassment allegations. He was also criticised for by Nazi Germany.
Additional reporting by Associated Press