While guest-lecturing on race issues at Waseda University in Tokyo earlier this month, I was asked a question that jarred with a conviction I'd long held about Japanese people.

The students from the political science department had been assigned to read portions of my first book and come prepared to pick my brain on its contents. There were several questions, though, that could have been filed under the heading of "utterly unexpected" because, I must admit, my experience here has led me to think that most Japanese people are either incapable, prohibitively uncomfortable or lack the incentive to engage when it comes to thinking critically about racial issues. The most common remarks on this theme have generally been along the lines of, "There are no race issues in Japan because almost everyone here is Japanese."

The questions that challenged my perception came from a student who struggled to express his thoughts in English, but whose determination to make himself understood carried him through. In essence, he asked: "How much of what you're experiencing here in Japan do you think is a result of the ideas and ideals you brought with you? And how much do you think these have hindered your ability to acclimate to the environment here?"