A recently released commercial about a retired gentleman in some future year getting a drive in the production model of an autonomous vehicle concept prominently shows the man as part of an interracial, perhaps international, family, thus recognising and normalising the increase in mixed families in Japan.

We can very clearly see in this 80s or perhaps even early 90s picture that we have a 86 Toyota Corolla, probably a Levin from the headlight configuration, and in front of it is a clearly mixed-heritage family. I know many of our readers would like to dwell on the Levin, but there is something wonderful happening here, and Toyota should be commended for it.

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This advertisement is not an overseas advertisement. It is for domestic consumption, and this is incredibly important given the changing face of Japan.

As the Japanese birthrate declines, the one demographic of births going up is where at least one parent is “Non-Japanese.” I use these quotes because Japan does not categorise individuals based on race/ethnicity/genetics, but rather on nationality. Naturalised Japanese, another increasing segment of the population, are officially counted as Japanese “ethnically.”

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Regardless of whether one is counted, on paper, as “ethnically” Japanese, Japanese society is still something like 98% Yamato (the “ethnic group”), and as such non-Yamato, even if they are Japanese, are noticeable. But they are increasingly understood to be permanent residents, either as those with the actual status of “permanent resident” or as citizens, and therefore as contributing members of Japanese society.

Yet it has been a struggle to see much representation of those who choose to make Japan their home despite not being native Japanese. And even up to the point when I first arrived over eight years ago, children of such international/interracial unions were often bullied or ignored and struggled with dual identity of being Japanese but being not-Japanese at the same time, especially if their looks trended towards non-Asian phenotypical features.

However, I have seen this improve in my years as a public school teacher, and in my last few years, my mixed-heritage students have been rather popular. Their dual identities are still recognised, but it seems like in at least some places, this leads to peers wanting to know more about their non-Japanese background without dismissing their Japanese background.

The video shows the man reliving his experiences of meeting his wife, growing his family, and making his home in Japan. The ease with which he moves about the very traditional Japanese house and the length of time the flashbacks suggest he has been in the country demonstrates that Japan is his home. It is where his most important memories have been made. A sentiment I know very well.

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Toyota’s decision to recognise the increased diversity of Japan, even going so far as to have the retired gentleman’s grandchildren (who are, I would guess, 3/4ths Yamato) use English in the advertisement, sends a powerful message to viewers. There is enough of a change to the population of Japan going forward that recognition of non-Yamato or part-Yamato members of Japanese society is vital to Toyota’s interests as a business and as a corporate citizen.