In the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics the number of foreign residents in Japan has never been higher, yet they represent less than 2% of the population. There is little or no integration between the Japanese and the immigrant communities. Furthermore, immigrants are frequently insulted or discriminated against because of their race. In fact, racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan.
To challenge racism and reduce racial bias through empathy, I designed an experiment and an experience to initiate positive interactions and perspective taking (=empathy) between Japanese and foreign residents.
My approach involved two phases: 1. Research and data collection: interviewing 6 Japanese and 6 foreign residents about their experiences of cross-cultural interactions.
2. Experiment and experience: to propel the unaddressed issue to the surface and to push people to confront their own prejudice, I challenged cultural and social norms by staging the intervention out in the public on the streets of central Tokyo across 2 days and 3 locations.
As part of the experience I invited two strangers - a japanese person and a foreigner – to sit down to very literally face each other and to listen to audio recordings of real first-hand accounts of cross-cultural interactions from the perspective of the other (derived from phase 1). The moment helped to break the ice between the strangers and initiate conversation and engagement.