The Arita family, who lives in Saki City, Osaka, says many Japanese have little sensitivity when it comes to racial issues.
So the Aritas formed a group to combat racism. Yesterday, the family visited Baltimore at the invitation of black-owned companies promoting business ties between black American and Japanese firms.
The family operates the Association to Stop Racism Against Blacks in Japan. Founded in 1988, the organization has fought to remove from Japanese society products demeaning to blacks -- such as black dolls with exaggerated facial features and Little Black Sambo toys.
The group that brought the family to the United States for one week, the Washington-based Black Business Council, is comprised of large black-owned businesses. The council works for equity in the marketplace for black entrepreneurs, said Janie S. McCullough, the council's staff coordinator.
At yesterday's reception at the city's Community Relations Commission office downtown, McCullough said Japanese businesses have made few contacts with black companies. Also, she said, Japanese firms have shunned black workers by locating factories in the middle of white communities.
A statement issued by the Community Relations Commission said the family's visit emphasizes "the importance of Japan taking action to practice and exhibit a greater sensitivity as a world economic leader."
The commission's statement referred to "racist attitudes in a country whose homogeneous population and island isolation lead to an extraordinary lack of understanding of other peoples and cultures."
Toshiji Arita said his family and its organization of more than 100 members are trying to make Japanese more sensitive toward minorities. Less than 1 percent of Japan's population is black, he said. The Aritas spoke through an interpreter.
Toshiji Arita was described as a "museum educator," and his wife, Kimiko, as an elementary schoolteacher. Their 10-year-old son, Hajime, is also active in the organization.
"We are not solving this problem for black people," Hajime said. "We are solving this problem for us, Japanese."
Then he said: "I hate racism and discrimination." He fell silent.
"That's the last word he wanted to say," said the interpreter.
The Aritas were accompanied by American and Japanese students who call themselves The Human Rights Study Group.