Akira Takayama

Akira Takayama

What does the term refugee mean to you?

I understand them as people who lost the home they can come back to. However, when I meet people named "refugees," I feel extremely uncomfortable calling them “refugees” in their presence.  Calling them "refugees", to me feels like I would take them everything: their name, character, profession, religion, individuality, culture, history. In fact, many of these "refugees" not just simply have lost their family, land and their home; but this situation was forced on to them.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

I do not think the difference is as significant as generally supposed.
As part of a previous project, I interviewed a homeless woman in Tokyo. In this project I interviewed individuals of various backgrounds – among them homeless and foreign workers- gathered in one place. I asked them the same 30 questions and filmed their answers.  When asked, "Do you think that in the future there could be war in Japan?” the woman replied "War? There is already a war going on here.  Every day."

In Japan, many people lost their homes due to poverty. A large part of them became homeless and live on the streets. Some made places like McDonald's or internet cafés their “home” (as they are open 24/7).  They, too, are refugees, victims of war and politics. They are called "McDonald's refugees" or "Internet café refugees".

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Countless people have lost their homes following the disaster of Fukushima. They are still wandering all over Japan, without being able to settle down. They are also refugees, but you cannot detect that from the outside. In my opinion, they are humans, who have been abandoned.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When it is possible to return to the place to which one can return to, safely. Or when a new place, to which one can return to, has become home.

Is there a natural right to asylum?


If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?


Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

Realistically, the answer is probably yes. However, this "realistically" blurs our reality, and deprives us from the possibility of questioning our world. We have to ask ourselves: What are the fundamental problems? Where are the boundaries of society? Who takes possession of the fortunes of society? What makes wars start "there" but not "here"? (And so on…)We should eliminate these boundaries, even if this leads to chaos.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

This should be disposed. In Japan, it is highly unlikely to get accredited as a refugee, even if one applied for it. Last year (2015), 7586 people submitted applications, only 27 of them were approved. This attitude of accepting and preferring certain refugees over others, at least in the case of Japan, is likely to cause more and more selection, discrimination and exclusion. The bottom line result will be a reflection of political tactics.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

Not at all.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

I would like to doubt this very question. The question connotes that “the social security system” and “the absorption of more refugees” are contradictory and eludes the possibility of rearranging the financial and ideational constellations.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

The effort to accept a foreign culture, while preserving one's own culture. A combination.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

An interest in other cultures and tolerance towards them. Efforts of coexistence. Not to focus on what we can teach, but rather on what can we learn.

Do you know any refugees personally?


Do you actively support any refugees?

No. (However, I am active in raising awareness about the situation of "refugees" in Japan by creating a series of documentary films.)

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

I assume that Japan will temporarily accept more refugees as a political step, to advertise the Tokyo Olympics. . However, nothing will change fundamentally. On the contrary, I am afraid that approval or rejection will be increasingly in line with political strategies between countries, and the situation of unrecognized refugees, will become more and more difficult. (For example: Kurds from Turkey are not recognized as refugees, as Japan considers Turkey to be a friendly country.)

b) over the next two decades?

It may be that a large number of refugees from Asia will come to Japan. Japan should accept them and in the end will have no other choice but to accept them.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

No. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine this.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

No. However, after the disaster of Fukushima, I have sent my family to the region of Kansai. We had no relatives there. Those who welcomed us there, were people from Kobe, who had lost everything themselves in the Great Hanshin Earthquake (January 17, 1995).

Do you think you will ever be a one?

- If yes: why?

The disaster of Fukushima is not over yet. It is likely that in the near future an earthquake will erupt directly under the Kanto region. Freedom of expression will be more and more limited, and the possibility that Japan will participate in a war again cannot be denied. The danger of becoming a refugee yourself is constantly present.

- How do you prepare yourself?

Specifically, I cannot do anything, but I always want to keep this thought in mind. (Also to be able to make use of my imagination, when I get in touch with refugees.)

- To which country would you take refuge to?

Germany could be ideal for me, as I have many friends and acquaintances there and I could continue my work. But I think that it is more likely that I would stay somewhere in Asia.

How much “home” do you need?*

As I have never experienced losing my “home” literally; I cannot asses the actual impact of it. I believe that only when one has lost it, one painfully realizes how essential it is.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.