Debito’s SNA VM column 57: “Overtourism as racism” (July 1, 2024). Most media on too many foreign tourists in Japan ignores how xenophobes are using “overtourism” to bully foreigners. Debito.org even argues it’s producing discriminatory policies worse than “Japanese Only” signs!

Excerpt: “Overtourism” has become a trendy word to describe Japan attractions (e.g., Shibuya Scramble, Hachiko, Ginza, Kyoto, Senso-ji, Mount Fuji) being overrun by tourists.  But in Japan the word is specifically associated with “foreign tourists,” i.e., mobs blocking traffic, disrupting local businesses and mores by littering and chattering away in their foreign languages.

I don’t dispute that “overtourism” can happen.  Too many people crowding into a place can produce problems of noise, pollution, disruption, and property damage.  But be careful about associating it with “foreigners.”  As evidenced by the Karen-esque confrontation at Yasaka Shrine, it’s giving license to Japan’s busybodies, bullies, and xenophobes.

This column will argue that “overtourism” is not only becoming the latest incarnation of racialized bullying, it’s also producing reactionary public policies that are actually worse than the “Japanese Only” signs of yore!

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JULY 3, 2024

Table of Contents:

1) Robert Whiting on “Slaughter in Saitama adds to list of foreigners murdered in Japan, shines light on social issue”, on the Bishop Family Murder Case, an underreported event in 2022 that I consider to be a hate crime

2) Incidents of confrontationalism toward NJ are on the rise. Debito.org argues that this is standard social bullying of foreigners being disguised as a reaction to alleged “overtourism”. Push back at it.

3) My SNA Visible Minorities column 56: Addressing Japan’s Child Abduction Problem (on the recent bill passed to allow joint custody after divorce (May 27, 2024)

4) After decades of international exposure, embarrassment, broken treaty promises, xenophobic and racist tropes, and deprived children, Japan finally changes its laws to allow joint custody of children after divorce, taking effect in 2026.

5) Reuters: Biden calls ally Japan ‘xenophobic’ along with rivals China and Russia (May 2, 2024). Bravo Biden!

6) My SNA Visible Minorities col 55: “From Dancing Monkey to Symbol of Hope”: Interview with Ibaraki Prefectural Assemblyman and naturalized Canadian-Japanese Jon Heese (May 2, 2024)

7) Debito cited in article, “Japan is becoming more diverse. Will its government?” Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2024. As are several other naturalized and elected Japanese citizens originating from Canada, Uzbekistan, Syria/Egypt, and Bolivia.

8) My SNA Visible Minorities 54: “Non-Japanese Residents claim political power” (Mar 31, 2024), where I argue the power of the vote matters whether you are a candidate or part of the electorate; the J Govt tries hard to make sure neither happens for Japan’s Immigrants.

… and finally…

9) Kyodo: “Record 3.4 million foreign residents in Japan as work visas rise” in 2023. Only a brief reference to foreign crime (i.e., overstaying) this time. Fancy that.

Robert Whiting on “Slaughter in Saitama adds to list of foreigners murdered in Japan, shines light on social issue”, on the Bishop Family Murder Case, an underreported event in 2022 that I consider to be a hate crime

Whiting: Tokyo was stunned in late December by the news of the brutal killing of longtime Japan resident William Bishop, a 69-year-old U.S. national, his 68-year-old wife Izumi Morita, and their daughter Sophianna Megumi Morita, 32. All three were found dead outside their residence in Hanno, Saitama, with multiple wounds early Christmas morning.

Later that day, prefectural police arrested the Bishops’ neighbor, a 40-year-old Japanese man named Jun Saito, at his residence around the corner believing he had bludgeoned the Bishop family to death with what was believed to be a hammer. Saito had barricaded himself in an upstairs room, and the police had to force their way in to apprehend him. […]

Although all the facts are not yet in, the suspect appears to be part of a troubled generation suffering from mental disorders, who dropped out of school and work in droves in the ’80s and ’90s, when Japan’s economic bubble burst, Japanese firms retrenched and downsized, and jobs were not readily available. The Japanese government has identified over half a million of these, so-called hikikomori, social recluses, who live at home, passing their time on the Internet — the rise of which has contributed to their continuing isolation, remaining economically dependent on their parents, who, in turn, do not know what they can do to help their offspring find their footing outside of the household and try to hide what they view as an embarrassing situation. Hikikomori have failed to develop necessary social skills and are unable to adjust in a society that is very structured and sensitive to social stigma, one which fails to provide for social resources and professional treatment for mental illness, primarily because parents are too ashamed to seek it for their offspring. […]

Murder is rare in Japan compared to other countries. Social civility and strict hierarchical codes of conduct are often cited as reasons for the low incidence of violent crimes in Japan. However, Japanese assaults on foreigners are not new in in the long history of Japan’s relations with the West. […] The most prominent such incident was the murder was of British citizen Charles Lennox Richardson in 1862…

Incidents of confrontationalism toward NJ are on the rise. Debito.org argues that this is standard social bullying of foreigners being disguised as a reaction to alleged “overtourism”. Push back at it.

We’ve had plenty of reports in recent months of people being confrontational towards NJ (Resident and Tourist), or people who look like NJ, accusing them of all manner of cultural slights and faux pas. In recent weeks, we’ve had a confrontation at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, and enough tourism in Kyoto and Mt Fuji to warrant bans on people going to certain places — even the recent overkill of a local government putting up a screen to block a view of Mt Fuji around a convenience store, with predictable accusations that foreigners are spoiling everything.  Halloween in Shibuya even became a target, with drinking in the street made out to be a foreign-imported problem (seriously?!).

Some of this is inevitable.  For quite some time now we’ve had grumbles about Chinese consumers’ spending habits in places like Ginza.  And whenever foreigners are about, they tend to be the first people blamed for any problem due to “cultural differences” that are automatically at odds with Japan’s putative “uniqueness”.  They’re a soft target. And “overtourism” is now being used as a means to empower bullies who want to push foreigners around.

It even happened to me yesterday in front of Tokyo Station, when some ojisan decided to jump the line in front of me for taxis and then curse me out for saying something. Mayhem ensued…

My SNA Visible Minorities column 56: Addressing Japan’s Child Abduction Problem (on the recent bill passed to allow joint custody after divorce (May 27, 2024)

SNA: It has been one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets.  It has shattered lives and caused enormous international embarrassment to Japan’s reputation as a nation of laws.  It has caused untold misery to countless children and families worldwide.  And amongst all the G7 “developed” nations, it only happens like this in Japan.  

I’m talking about Japan’s issues with child custody and access after divorce.  

Japan has something called the Family Registry (koseki) system.  It serves the important purposes of not only conferring Japanese citizenship, it also prioritizes the family unit over the individual.  A throwback system unamended for more than a century, the Family Registry has a major bug:  If you get divorced, the bureaucracy forces the couple as a registered family unit to cleave back into two unconnected individuals with completely severed family ties. 

The problem is that children are likewise forced into one severed family registry or another,  This means they lose all legal ties with one parent, and that parent (usually the father) has not rights of joint custody or child visitation.  This means that divorce in Japan completely disappears a “Left Behind Parent’ (LBP) from a child’s life. This invisibility is enforced by the rest of society too…

After decades of international exposure, embarrassment, broken treaty promises, xenophobic and racist tropes, and deprived children, Japan finally changes its laws to allow joint custody of children after divorce, taking effect in 2026.

Debito.org has been quiet on these developments until they actually came to fruition, and now that they have, it’s time to cheer.  Japan has finally gotten around to fixing one of its worst-kept secrets:  Child Abductions after divorces.  After years of international pressure (and all manner of racist justifications of the status quo, including even the Foreign Ministry accusing foreigners of being naturally violent, and Japan offering safe haven for international child abductions despite signing an international treaty against it), the Diet has just passed legislation allowing for joint custody after divorce.  Meaning both parents now have the ability to have a say in raising a child even if the relationship falls apart.  It comes into effect in 2026 and will be reassessed five years later.

Debito.org has talked about this issue for decades (since I too lost all contact with my children after my divorce, which is in fact the norm in Japan, thanks to the Koseki Family Registry system forcing split couples to sever all legal family ties and thus all rights to any contact).  Not only because NJ are particularly vulnerable to becoming “Left Behind Parents” in intercontinental relationships (since the J spouse can either make off with the child back to Japan or deprive you of a Spouse Visa), but also because this situation affected ALL divorces in Japan, regardless of nationality. It left all children in Japan vulnerable to being used a pawn used to punish one parent out of spite. And that would often carry on into adulthood, with the adult offspring hating the LBP parent without ever hearing both sides of the story or knowing the LBP cares about them.  This is not normal even in peer countries.  As the Mainichi notes below, “Japan had been the only country among the Group of Seven industrialized nation with no joint custody system, according to a Justice Ministry survey of other countries released in 2020.”

Anyway, this is an extremely positive and long overdue development, and it’s another example of Japanese domestic law not changing without international shame and pressure.  It’s just a shame it couldn’t have happened decades ago when it would have made a difference to me and my divorced friends. Let’s hope this brings more reality to future relationships.  Divorces are complicated.  Adding more child abuse into the mix (and by this I mean the child abuse that is inherent in an automatic severance of custodial ties) just made it worse.

Reuters: Biden calls ally Japan ‘xenophobic’ along with rivals China and Russia (May 2, 2024). Bravo Biden!

Reuters: U.S. President Joe Biden included ally Japan along with rivals China and Russia in a list of countries he called “xenophobic” on Wednesday, in a speech at a campaign fundraising event in Washington. Biden reiterated remarks he made last month linking China’s economic woes to its unwillingness to accept immigration. […] “You know, one of the reasons our economy is growing is because of you and many others. Why? Because we welcome immigrants,” Biden told Asian American and Pacific Islander donors Wednesday. “The reason — think about it — why is China stalling so bad economically? Why is Japan having trouble? Why is Russia, why is anyone? Because they’re xenophobic, they don’t want immigrants.”

COMMENT:  Debito.org says “Bravo Biden!”, for obvious reasons we’ve covered on Debito.org since its beginning back in 1995.  For generations now Japan has gotten a free pass on its racial discrimination (about which I’ve written entire books) simply because it’s an ally.  It’s about time somebody in leadership chided things in the right direction, Unfortunately, geopolitics and human rights do not mix, and the latter has taken a back seat to the former for too long. The reaction will be predictable and obvious.  There will be the handwringing from the diplomats and media, and the knee-jerk reactions from the ethnostatists defending Japan’s putative ethnic purity or sovereignty in various comments sections (although human rights supersede pat claims of sovereignty if you’ve signed the CERD, which Japan did nearly 30 years ago and still has not passed any laws against racial discrimination).  Whatever.  It’s long overdue to state the fact that Japan as a polity simply will not keep its international promises, and Debito.org agrees with Biden that Japan’s lack of any official immigration policy hurts Japan as a society both economically and demographically.

My SNA Visible Minorities col 55: “From Dancing Monkey to Symbol of Hope”: Interview with Ibaraki Prefectural Assemblyman and naturalized Canadian-Japanese Jon Heese (May 2, 2024)

BIO:  Jon Heese is becoming an old hand in Japanese politics, having served 13 years at various levels of government. He is presently one of five councilors representing Tsukuba (60 km NE of Tokyo) in the Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly—similar to a state or provincial legislature. After winning four terms at the city level, Mr. Heese leveled up in December, 2022. He is the first foreign-born politician to ever serve at the regional level.  He sat down for an interview with Debito Arudou for his Visible Minorities column in April 2024.

SNA:  Let me open with an argument:  I make the case in one of my recent columns that we don’t see enough former Non-Japanese running for office because the Japanese government doesn’t want them to.  With no immigration policy, the GOJ doesn’t just encourage NJ to become voters and citizens, they make it hard to graduate up to Permanent Residency and citizenship.  Would you agree with that assessment?

Heese:  No immigration policy? Do you mean “no policy to import labor willy-nilly à la every western country?” The question is already loaded. As for policy to prevent naturalization, thereby enfranchisement, I do not see any active policies intending to keep NJ from getting citizenship. Overall I see their immigration policies as an attempt to ensure that only contributing foreigners are allowed to stay beyond the 90 day tourist visa by obtaining a longer visa. Many countries try to keep out deadbeats. Japan is no different. By deadbeats, I mean people who are only coming to take advantage of our rather generous social services.

SNA:  Hang on.  Point of order.  We’re still falling back on those boilerplate arguments we see in the chauvinistic media that some foreigners are freeloaders.  Not so… [And the conversation gets warmer from there…]

BLOG BIZ: Coming out of the busiest semester I’ve ever had; will try to update more.

On a personal note, it’s been the busiest semester for me ever, teaching around 250 students and 19.5 college credits.  Consequently, updating Debito.org has been slow since I’ve been devoting all my energies to creating lectures, lecturing, grading, and sleep.  Repeat cycle for sixteen weeks.  Just coming out of it now.  I’ll try to do better, since there’s plenty to comment about (and Debito.org Readers have been doing an excellent job in the Comments sections; thanks!).  But for the first time ever, I didn’t immediately blog my most recent SNA column!  I’ll get to it.  Thanks very much to everyone for reading and commenting to Debito.org.

Debito cited in article, “Japan is becoming more diverse. Will its government?” Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2024. As are several other naturalized and elected Japanese citizens originating from Canada, Uzbekistan, Syria/Egypt, and Bolivia.

CSM: A former swimming instructor from Egypt is helping revive the sleepy mountain town of Shonai, Japan. About 200 miles away, a Canadian polyglot is singing the praises of Tsukuba city. And Orzugul Babakhodjaeva is standing onstage at a food festival outside Tokyo, decked in a traditional Uzbek dress, expressing her desire to “create a society where diversity is accepted.”

The first-term city councilor in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward – who does not use her family name, and campaigned simply as “Orzugul” – is one of a small but growing number of foreign-born local government members bringing fresh perspectives to an island nation long known for its homogeneity. These lawmakers are often multilingual and have rich international work experience. Their platforms have resonated with many Japanese voters, as well as with a growing population of non-Japanese residents.

The number of non-Japanese residents jumped 10.9% from 2022 to 2023, reaching a record 3.4 million, as the country struggles to address a chronic labor shortage driven by its aging population. Last year, 8,800 residents were naturalized as citizens, allowing them to vote in elections.

Shifting demographics are challenging Japan’s reputation as a homogeneous society – and creating unprecedented openings for immigrants to participate in local government. Arudou Debito, author of the book “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination,” says the election of immigrants to local government is “very important” for Japan’s democracy.

“Non-Japanese residents’ viewpoints are woefully unseen in Japanese society. They’re treated as ‘guests,’” explains Mr. Arudou, who is a U.S.-born naturalized citizen. “The fact that former non-Japanese residents are getting elected means they aren’t ‘guests,’ meaning Japanese society can trust immigrants with public policymaking power.”

My SNA Visible Minorities 54: “Non-Japanese Residents claim political power” (Mar 31, 2024), where I argue the power of the vote matters whether you are a candidate or part of the electorate; the J Govt tries hard to make sure neither happens for Japan’s Immigrants.

Intro: I teach Political Science at the university level.  In my first lecture every semester, I try to convince skeptical students why they should bother studying Political Science at all. I argue that understanding how power flows through political structures will help students enfranchise themselves in a democratic system.  Because if they don’t, other people who understand the system better will use it to their advantage instead. But this assumes one major fundamental:  that they can participate in the democratic system at all.  Fortunately, most of my students are citizens, so they can vote.  Given how abysmal youth voter turnout generally is, I consider it a major educational outcome if they bother to.  Persuading people that their vote matters is the bare minimum a civics class can accomplish.  

If I have the opportunity in higher-level classes to proselytize further, I encourage them to engage in community building, such as organizing into interest groups and consolidating power into voting blocs.   My real converts consider running for local office, thereby embedding themselves within the very power structure itself.  Because political power, especially for minorities in any society, is rarely surrendered without a struggle.  We need more diverse views in office as demographics change the makeup of future majorities.  

That’s how democracy is supposed to work.  Unfortunately, this is a lesson that Japan’s Non-Japanese (NJ) Residents and Visible Minorities still have trouble grasping.  As a result, they are letting the Japanese government deprive them of their potential as a political force in Japan…

Kyodo: “Record 3.4 million foreign residents in Japan as work visas rise” in 2023. Only a brief reference to foreign crime (i.e., overstaying) this time. Fancy that.

Kyodo: “The number of foreign nationals residing in Japan hit a record high of over 3.4 million in 2023, government data has shown, with employment-related visas seeing significant growth amid the country’s efforts to address its acute labor shortage. As of the end of December, 3,410,992 foreign nationals resided in Japan, up 10.9% from the previous year to mark a record high for the second consecutive year, the Immigration Services Agency said Friday.

“The number of specified skilled workers jumped 59.2% to around 208,000, while trainees under Japan’s technical internship program grew 24.5% to around 404,000 to approach the record high level marked in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, the data showed. The specified skilled workers visa, which allows the holder to immediately take on jobs in designated industries without the need for training, was introduced in 2019 in response to Japan’s severe labor shortage resulting from its declining birthrate, with the aim of attracting foreign workers.

“Meanwhile, permanent residents, who made up the largest group by residential status, stood at around 891,000, up 3.2%. Engineers, specialists in humanities and international services, including foreign language teachers, rose 16.2% to around 362,000. By nationality, Chinese accounted for the largest population of foreign residents at around 821,000, followed by Vietnamese at around 565,000 and South Koreans at around 410,000…”

COMMENT: So the foreign labor imports have resumed, and how. Also interesting is that Kyodo doesn’t seem to feel the need to shoehorn in foreign crime statistics this time (just a brief allusion to overstaying at the very end).  I’ll be incorporating these stats into my next SNA Visible Minorities column, out shortly, and argue how this influx can translate into political power.

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER MARCH 31, 2024

Table of Contents:
1) My SNA Visible Minorities 54: “Non-Japanese Residents claim political power” (Mar 31, 2024), where I argue the power of the vote matters whether you are a candidate or part of the electorate; the J Govt tries hard to make sure neither happens for Japan’s Immigrants.
2) Kyodo: “Record 3.4 million foreign residents in Japan as work visas rise” in 2023. Only a brief reference to foreign crime (i.e., overstaying) this time. Fancy that.
3) Debito.org Reader XY on “Rakuten Card is asking for sensitive Koseki Family Registry documents for Naturalized Japanese clients as a prerequisite for continued service”, even though nobody is clearly requiring them to.
4) My SNA Visible Minorities column 53: “Miss Japan Shiino Karolina lost her crown. Inevitably.” (Feb 26, 2024)
5) Reuters: Visible Minorities (“Foreign-born residents”) file lawsuit against government for police racial profiling. Good. Go for it.
6) My latest SNA VM column 52: “Positive Steps for Non-Japanese in Japan” (Jan 23, 2024), a report of a month spent in Tokyo and all the progress towards tolerance observed.
7) Japan Times: “Japan should aim to maintain population of 80 million by 2100”, says private panel of business interests. 24 years later, no new ideas, since it calls for rises in birthrates, not immigration, yet again.

… and finally …
8 ) Japan Times: “Fukuoka court rules ban on dual nationality is constitutional”. Debito.org makes the case for why banning dual nationality is unrealistic, not to mention just plain stupid, with an excerpt from my book “Embedded Racism”.

Debito.org Reader XY on “Rakuten Card is asking for sensitive Koseki Family Registry documents for Naturalized Japanese clients as a prerequisite for continued service”, even though nobody is clearly requiring them to.

Dr. Debito, I’m writing you because I’m experiencing a new type of discrimination by Rakuten Card.

I’ve been a Rakuten Card owner since 2014, and it is the card I’ve hold the longest, making it the biggest chunk of my credit history. Also, I’m a naturalized Japanese citizen, that naturalized back in 20XX, and one month afterwards I had already completed all the requirements for change of name and status according to what I was asked by Rakuten Card, which, if I remember correctly, required me to send copies of documents proving my change of name and status.

About a month ago, I received a mail by Rakuten Card asking me to send them a copy of my current Residence Card. I was very confused by this, so I contacted them, and they told me that since when I applied for the Card I was a foreigner, I needed to provide them with something that “proved” my residence status, and they asked me for my Koseki Family Registry, which is insane. I told them that I already gave them the documents they required back when I naturalized, that I’ve never been asked this by any other Bank or Credit Card company, and that it is insane for them to ask me for a Koseki, which is a very sensitive document that should be handed for these kind of requests, since something as simple as my Juminhyo Residency Certificate, which I think is what I sent back in 20XX proved my nationality, and they also have my “My Number” information, which should gave them access to corroborate this.

They insisted that this was something that the Financial Services Agency as part of an anti Money Laundering KYC thing, I asked them to give me more specifics on this, and they refused to do so, so I called the Financial Services Agency… (continues)

COMMENT FROM DEBITO: The dragnet of suspecting any foreigner, including NJ Residents, of being a money launderer expands to people who are no longer foreign as well.

My SNA Visible Minorities column 53: “Miss Japan Shiino Karolina lost her crown. Inevitably.” (Feb 26, 2024)

SNA: You might have heard the big news last month about Shiino Karolina, a Ukrainian-born Japanese citizen who won the title of Miss Japan. You have also heard earlier this month that she lost her crown due to allegations of her having an affair with a married man.

Yappari.  I thought that might happen.  How convenient.  Let’s put this event in perspective.  

This not the first time a Japanese beauty contest in has chosen a person not “pure-blooded” to represent Japan.  In 2015, African-American-Japanese Miyamoto Ariana was chosen as Miss Japan in 2015. 

This was big news back then too for winning despite her biracial status.  I say “despite” because oodles of internet trolls questioned whether a half-Japanese could represent Japan.  

And guess what?  She could, since lightning struck a second time a year later, when Indian-Japanese Yoshikawa Priyanka was crowned Miss World Japan.

However, with Shiino, the third time was not the charm.  She only lasted two weeks.  Why?  Because she was a bridge too far…

Reuters: Visible Minorities (“Foreign-born residents”) file lawsuit against government for police racial profiling. Good. Go for it.

Reuters: Three foreign-born residents of Japan filed a lawsuit on Monday against the national and local governments over alleged illegal questioning by police based on racial profiling. It is the first such lawsuit in Japan, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and comes amid a sharp rise in the number of foreign workers coming to the country to help stem labour shortages as its population ages and declines.

The three men filed the lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court demanding that the national, Tokyo Metropolitan and Aichi Prefecture governments recognise that it is illegal for police officers to stop and question people solely on the basis of their race, nationality or ethnicity.

COMMENT: This has made big international news, the likes I haven’t really seen since the Otaru Onsens Case.  Good. Debito.org has reported at length on how racial profiling is standard operating procedure for the Japanese police, so it’s an issue that deserves to be pursued in court. We’ve also sued the government before, and think it’s unlikely they’ll win (we didn’t). But it’s worth doing for the awareness raising. If we can get it on the record that the judiciary recognizes this as “racial profiling”, or even that “racial profiling” actually exists in Japan as a term and a phenomenon, this will be a big step ahead. Plaintiffs, go for it, and good luck, says Debito.org.

My latest SNA VM column 52: “Positive Steps for Non-Japanese in Japan” (Jan 23, 2024), a report of a month spent in Tokyo and all the progress towards tolerance observed.

I know I should be talking about the Miss Japan 2024 debate, but I’ll get to it. Meanwhile, my latest SNA VM col 52 excerpt: Last month SNA (and this column) went on vacation for Christmas and New Years. During the hiatus, I spent a month in Tokyo meandering around visiting sights and people, developing my inner flaneur as well as conducting relaxed random research. Tokyo, a walking city riddled with world-class transportation and public facilities, is an ideal place for that.

This month’s column will offer my impressions about how much Japan has changed regarding the issues that have always been on my radar screen — society’s openness to Newcomers. On that score (in contrast to what’s happening with the debate over Miss Japan), I have some positive developments to report…

Happy 2024: Japan Times: “Japan should aim to maintain population of 80 million by 2100”, says private panel of business interests. 24 years later, no new ideas, since it calls for rises in birthrates, not immigration, yet again.

JT: Amid concerns over rapid depopulation, a private panel has proposed that Japan should aim to have a stable population of 80 million by 2100 in order to maintain economic growth. Last April, the government released an estimate that the population would be reduced by half to about 63 million in 2100, with 40% of people expected to be 65 or older.

Japan has wrestled with the issue of a declining birthrate for decades, but the situation is about to “change drastically,” with the country now entering a serious phase of population decline, the panel, headed by Nippon Steel honorary chairman Akio Mimura and consisting of 28 members including prominent academics and business leaders, said Tuesday. […]

To avoid such a future, Japan needs to slow down the pace of the decline and eventually stop it, the panel said, adding that government strategy should focus on stabilizing the population at around 80 million by 2100. As of last month, Japan’s population was estimated to be 124 million. The panel carried out several simulations and argued that if the country raised the total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime — to 1.6 by around 2040, 1.8 by around 2050 and eventually 2.07 by 2060, it could maintain a population of around 80 million by 2100.

COMMENT: Nothing new here when you have the same old people retreading the same old shinola to the same perpetually-elected party in power.  Getting all these people together to wish for a skypie solution of increasing birthrates (while somehow also boosting productivity) is silly, as it has already been proposed multiple times over the decades without success.  This is no way to craft public policy that actually solves a problem.

Indicatively, *once again* this report makes no mention of immigration, despite both the UN and then-PM Obuchi agreeing as far back as the *YEAR 2000* (see below) that immigration is inevitable to keep the economy going.  But as we saw afterwards in 2009, xenophobic politics intervened, and even Japan’s demographers are forbidden to mention foreign inflows as part of Japan’s domestic demographic science. (See My JT column on that here.) In conclusion, a quarter-century later nothing has been learned.

A further note:  Whenever you have business interests involved (as if they’re any experts on demographic engineering), the primary concern will be about business interests, i.e., profits and cheap labor.  Now remember what the likes of elite business lobby Keidanren wrought by bringing in foreign labor on exploitative revolving-door visa regimes since 1991 (the “Trainee” slave-labor program, for example).  Allowing the grubby little hands of Japan’s business lobbies any more input into future policy drives only guarantees more inhumanity, because with population drops and an elderly society come labor shortages.  Who will fill them?  Robots; but robots don’t pay taxes into the rickety national pension system.  So foreigners.  Hence business interests will only continue to advocate importing labor without ever letting foreign workers become permanent Japanese residents.

Japan Times: “Fukuoka court rules ban on dual nationality is constitutional”. Debito.org makes the case for why banning dual nationality is unrealistic, not to mention just plain stupid, with an excerpt from my book “Embedded Racism”.

JT: The Fukuoka District Court ruled Wednesday that Japan’s law that bans dual nationality is constitutional, rejecting an argument by a Japan-born plaintiff who lost her Japanese citizenship after she naturalized as an American. Yuri Kondo, 76, had argued that the nationality law — which stipulates that Japanese nationals will lose their citizenship if they become a citizen of a foreign country — undermines fundamental human rights to pursue happiness, self-determination, and identity, as guaranteed under the Constitution. While the nationality law was deemed constitutional, presiding Judge Fumitaka Hayashi said the wish of the individual who would lose their nationality should be considered as it is part of a person’s identity.

COMMENT: Most arguments made by the Japanese Government dovetail around the idea that people will be somehow confused in terms of national allegiances if they have more than one nationality. For what if Japan went to war with the country you have a second passport for? Where would your allegiances lie?

Making public policy merely on the basis of hypotheticals is not the best way to make laws. As noted above in the article, the number of countries allowing dual nationality is in fact increasing (“the number of countries allowing dual nationality has increased from one-third to three-quarters worldwide”), as more people around the world travel, resettle, immigrate, marry, and have multinational children as well as lives.  Forcing them to give up their other nationality is to force them to give up part of their identity — a completely unnecessary and moreover psychologically damaging move just for the sake of bureaucratic convenience.  And that’s before we get into issues of arbitrary enforceability, as discussed in my book excerpt below.

The increase in diversity should be reflected in laws to accommodate reality.  Instead, we have pig-headed J politicians who can’t imagine a life beyond their own experiences (with the exception of the LDP’s Kouno Taro, who actually argued for dual nationality, albeit to coat the Kokutai in more glory, not for the sake of the individual’s identity) and refuse to legislate reality into reality.  And that feeds into a hidebound judiciary that claim they can only enforce the law as it’s written (even presiding Judge Hayashi above expressed regret at that).

To finish up, let me excerpt from my book “Embedded Racism” on this topic.  It’ll make the case about why public policy is as stupid as it is as best I can…

My SNA VM column 51: “Being thankful despite adversity” (Nov 27, 2023), a think piece on how people survive terrible lives because the basic unit of survival is being part of a pair. And if you’re not in one in Japan, life is especially difficult.

Excerpt: Life is full of big emotions, many of them caused by you, others the product of your being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some are just the cards you were dealt from birth and environment.

We can put that down to bad luck or some godforsaken ordeal. Or we can rationalize about things that don’t kill you making you stronger, adversity building character, etc.

But I don’t believe in ordeals anymore. I’m 58. My character is pretty much built. Moreover I’ve seen, through elders turned bitter in their old age, that too much adversity just makes you mean.

So as I approach my sixties, one of my life projects is understanding the science and practice of happiness. Interim conclusion: I choose to be happy. To me that means being thankful for the people who carry you through the inevitable tribulations of life while you do the same for them.

The life hack is having another person — at least one — who wishes you well, has your best interests in mind, and is there to see what you see, reminding you that you’re not the only one going through all this.

There is some science here. A book called “Escape from Camp 14” describes a survivor’s account of escaping a North Korean concentration camp. It offered the following life lesson…

My SNA Visible Minorities Column 50, “Memory-holing the ‘Japanese Only’ signs” (Oct 31, 2023), where I conclude that, since racial discrimination is unconstitutional but not illegal in Japan, the most effective way to get “Japanese Only” signs down is to get the media and government involved. If they won’t help, you’re probably out of luck.

Opening: For this, my 50th column for SNA, I’d like to take the reader on a little nostalgia trip through a project I’ve been working on for a quarter century:  “Japanese Only” signs.  

I’ve investigated and interviewed hundreds of these exclusionary places, published and updated seven books on this issue in English and Japanese, and curated on Debito.org the “Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments” since 1999 to make sure this issue doesn’t get memory-holed.   

For it seems that memory-holing is happening.  A SoraNews24 article on the Naha Case didn’t do much research, claiming somehow that, “Bars with Japanese-customers-only policies aren’t unheard of in Japan, but they’re becoming increasingly uncommon in the modern age. Moreover, when you do come across such establishments, they’re generally dedicated bars.”  (Incorrect.  The highest incidents of exclusionary rules are in fact hotels.)  

Then we get to the public reaction to the news.  When I put it up on Debito.org, some readers were defensive as usual, basically ranging from the “self-othering” by the Guestists (quote:  “I understand why they do it. I’m not offended. It’s their business and country.”) to the Ostriches who prefer, in spite of decades of evidence to the contrary, to bury their head in the sand and pretend the problem simply doesn’t exist (quote:  “You are overdramatizing things.  It doesn’t say we do not allow foreigners.  Being to those places as long as you speak Japanese you can enter anywhere.  You have to see things from their perspective too you know.  They don’t wanna get in trouble because a tourist doesn’t read nor understand.  As simple as that.”)

But it’s not as simple as that.  “Japanese Only” signs in fact predate the massive tourist influx to Japan over the past decade and thus cannot be blamed on them…

“Japanese Only” sign on izakaya bar in Naha, Okinawa (Okinawa Times and Japan Today). Removed after govt scrutiny and media exposure.

Here’s the latest entry for the Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments, where a bar in Okinawa refuses all “customers from overseas” (=”Japanese Only”) to enter the bar.  The difference is that the media took it up and ran them through the wringer of logic.  Not to mention they faced government scrutiny, which history shows makes all the difference.  It came out poorly for the bar, so they took the sign down.  Good. Two articles on this case are archived on Debito.org for the record.

My SNA VM 49: Be Mindful About Cultural Education (Sept 25, 2023), on how teaching people about Japan can backfire if the regular stereotyping found in language education isn’t carefully considered

Like it or not, Japan’s internationalization is happening.  There are fewer Japanese and more foreigners than ever.  In 2022, the population of Japanese citizens dropped below the 125 million mark for the first time in Japan’s modern era, while the registered Non-Japanese (NJ) population reached a record high at over 3 million, or 2.4% of the total population.

That can only grow.  Even if the NJ population numerically stayed the same as it is now, its percentage of the total population will still rise due to Japan’s below-replacement birthrates.  But the NJ population will not stay the same — the economics of Japan’s aging labor force is reaching the point where officials see the writing on the wall.  According to a recent Kyodo News survey, a whopping 86% of Japan’s municipalities want more NJ workers to do the jobs and save their senescent cities from extinction. All of these figures do not, of course, include all the multicultural and multiethnic children already in Japan with diverse identities and backgrounds — routinely ignored because Japan’s Census does not measure for ethnicity. So if anything, Japan’s internationalization is grossly underestimated.

TEACH THE CHILDREN WELL

The front line of this trend is Japan’s education system, where the children of immigrants make an immediate and urgent impact on society. This is not news. For more than a quarter century, local governments have begged for enhanced services to help their residents with language and acculturation barriers assimilate into their schools and communities. The national government has basically ignored them. But we are seeing some progress. Multilingual manuals about local customs and rules have long been issued by governments and civil society, including some helpful training videos to help explain elementary school rules and cultural practices in simpler Japanese. A good example was produced by students at Wakayama University and featured in the Mainichi last year.

This is highly laudable. But a point of caution: This isn’t just a matter of telling all Newcomers to “Do as the Romans do.” Without mindful production of teaching materials grounded in solid social science, cultural education could have the opposite effect: Solidifying stereotypes, entrenching prejudice, and making the perceived newcomer feel like a perpetually subordinated outsider. Consider some bad habits that are the default mode:

One is systemic — the tendency towards stereotyping within language teaching itself. I recall my French language textbooks introducing “French things” (petit pan, grande pan, etc.) as something all French people ate. No mention, say, of couscous, or other ethnic but Francophone cuisines. Or for that matter of other Francophone people. All French people in my textbooks were white, which simply didn’t reflect reality. To the untrained eye, that meant that whatever doesn’t fit a textbook image of “Frenchness” wasn’t seen as “French.” It put up artificial walls between peoples simply out of habit or convenience. That’s because basic language training necessarily tends to overgeneralize about societies and boil them down to foundational language. But resorting to prototype omits developments in society, such as cultural diversity from international migration. That’s why we need trained eyes to avoids stereotyping. Let social scientists, not just linguists or untrained do-gooders, also have input into the learning process.

But there are also some bad habits that are intrinsic to Japan, easily seen when even the most educated people teach Japanese culture…
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/09/25/japans-internationalization-is-inevitable-so-is-teaching-japans-future-generations-of-diversity-if-done-wrong-educating-about-japanese-culture-and-society-could-do-more-harm-than/

My SNA col 48: “Visible Minorities: Citizenship and Authoritarian Racism”, on how conservative movements worldwide are using racist “real citizens” tropes to reserve power for themselves and create minoritarian governments (Aug 22, 2023)

Subtitle: Authoritarians are once again trying to racialize citizenship. In Asia, that’s quite normal. The problem is that conservative movements worldwide are similarly trying to shore up their dwindling popularity by undemocratically disenfranchising the very immigrants they had once invited over.

As seen in a recent tweet by Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, who opined on multiracial immigration: “It is normal for migrants wishing to become citizens of any country to identify themselves linguistically and culturally with the definitive people of their adopted country. They would break off and reject their links with their countries of origin. Certainly, the children and grandchildren of the new citizens would have forgotten their previous languages and culture.”

This tweet from a world opinion leader isn’t just wrong-headed, it’s dangerous. Not only is it trying to disenfranchise entire peoples through racialized attitudes towards citizenship, it’s actually threatening democracy itself…

Mainichi: “UK won’t extradite man over Tokyo jewelry heist, cites Japan’s human rights record”. Looks like Japan’s reputation for “hostage justice” is gaining ground

Looks like Japan’s reputation for human rights abuses under its “Hostage Justice” criminal procedure is finally being recognized in legal circles overseas. Carlos Ghosn is no doubt having the last laugh.

Mainichi/Kyodo: A British court has ruled that one of three men detained over his alleged involvement in a 2015 jewelry robbery at a luxury store in central Tokyo will not be extradited to Japan, citing concerns over the country’s human rights record.

Friday’s decision not to extradite Joe Chappell, who is currently on bail, was based on the grounds that the Japanese authorities could not provide “sufficient assurances” that he would be treated in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The three men — Chappell, Daniel Kelly and Kaine Wright — left Japan two days after the heist, which netted 106 million yen ($731,000) worth of jewelry. They were put on an international wanted list by Japanese police through Interpol. Chappell’s defense team has expressed concerns that if extradited, he might be made to confess under duress. Japan has argued that police interrogations in principle are recorded…

Kyodo: “Japanese population falls in all 47 prefectures for first time”. Actually, untrue, even according to the article itself. Once again, Japan’s exclusionary population tallies are only for “Japanese nationals”, not all people living in Japan

The point of this quick blog post is to demonstrate that once again, in its official population tallies, Japan will only count “Japanese nationals” as actual people living in Japan.  Foreigners are mentioned in the Kyodo News article below, yes, but look how things are worded.  I’ve underlined the questionable bits.

This is normal in Japan’s population tallies, even after more than 10 years since the local registry reforms began including foreign residents on juuminhyou Registry Certificates.  It’s a highly questionable practice in terms of accurate demographics and social science, not to mention disrespectful of all the contributions foreign residents make.  

Debito.org says that anyone registered as a resident in Japan gets counted as a part of the population of Japan.  No walls or caveats.  Little reforms like these can start now to normalize no distinctions and cost no tax money.  It’s just a matter of considering NJ as fellow human beings living lives in Japan like everyone else.

My SNA Visible Minorities column 47: “The Reverse Culture Shock of Leaving Japan” (July 25, 2023), with some pointers on how to resettle and reassimilate overseas despite all the things you might miss about Japan

Excerpt: SNA Editor Michael Penn is now doing SNA from the United States. Inspired by his big move, my previous column was about my leaving Japan in middle age, where I suggested readers decide whether or not to be a lifer in Japan by age 40. Accordingly, this column will talk about establishing a new life outside Japan…

The biggest culture shock I felt after Japan was right after I arrived overseas. In the United States, for example, many big airport hubs are dirty, run-down, and relatively unpredictable compared to their Japanese counterparts. The waiting areas in particular feel like bus stations. Facilities are sometimes ill-maintained, instructions to your connecting flights or ground transit often monolingual and poorly signposted, ground staff often inattentive and inaccessible, and the food… well, it’s “airport food,” enough said. I quickly missed Japan’s clean, efficient, and plentiful public transportation that follows a schedule, and the restaurant fare that actually looks like the picture on the menu…

This initial culture shock starts fading once you’ve had a good night sleep and enjoy a few familiar things: Larger hotel rooms. Comfort foods like a thick steak with A1 Sauce or a spiral-cut ham hock. An apple pie that actually has more than one apple in it. Supermarkets full of cereals, dozens of flavors of canned soups, bulk goods, and cheap rice and vegetables. News media that is an absorbing read not just because it’s in your native language, but because the topics are interesting! Procuring a car so you can merge into society like everyone else.

But things will still grate for awhile: Being forced to tip. Dirty public restrooms that seem to be the norm, not the exception. Bureaucrats who seem to have little personal dedication to a job well done. Political discourse more concerned with riling you up with than solving problems. The public din of people on cellphones or kids having public meltdowns that you can’t shut out because they’re speaking in your native tongue. And the biggest worry: Getting sick or injured and having to deal with American healthcare! It’s worse with family in tow, listening to their grumbles about future uncertainties and cultural differences and feeling helpless to offer quick fixes. During this purgatory period of constant irritability, the grass will always seem greener elsewhere.

It takes months, but resettlement will happen. Things that you miss about Japan eventually get overwritten by routines you establish as things feel more like home…

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JULY 25, 2023: THE FUTURE OF DEBITO.ORG

Table of Contents:
1) My SNA Visible Minorities 46: “Visible Minorities: Departing Japan at Middle Age” (May 15, 2023), where I make the case for deciding whether you’re a “lifer” in Japan by age 40.
2) My SNA Visible Minorities column 47: “The Reverse Culture Shock of Leaving Japan”, with some pointers of how to resettle and reassimilate overseas despite all the things you might miss about Japan
3) BLOG BIZ: Thoughts about the future of Debito.org: What’s next?

BLOG BIZ: Thoughts about the future of Debito.org: What’s next?

Hi Blog. I want to tell you a bit about what’s on my mind.  I’ve been researching and commenting on Debito.org for nearly thirty years.  I’m not tired of writing, but my writing here has become monthly because, in terms of the urgency of commenting about Japan, I’m not really feeling it right now, and want to devote those energies to something more productive, such as my students and my retirement savings.  In terms of profession I am, after all, a university instructor of Political Science first and an essayist/activist second.

Not to worry, Debito.org as a blog and a searchable website resource on life and human rights in Japan, will stay up in perpetuity.  I will continue to write monthly columns for the Shingetsu News Agency, and I will post excerpts on Debito.org. And I will of course continue to approve comments here on a regular basis.  But would you be interested in my blogged thoughts even if they’re not about Japan?

My SNA Visible Minorities 46: “Visible Minorities: Departing Japan at Middle Age” (May 15, 2023)

My latest column offers a frank assessment of living your life out in Japan as an immigrant. It of course can be done, but most of you will find that even after decades swimming against the current in terms of legal status and social acceptance, you will get no commensurate reward after all your efforts.  In fact, I found that life opportunities dwindle as you age in Japan, and you get locked into a dreary, impoverished lifestyle like most other elderly here. If you think you can avoid this situation, power to you, but I suggest you make your decision to stay permanently or not by age 40.  Good luck:

Excerpt: I lived in Japan for 24 years, married and had kids, became tenured faculty at a university, bought land, built a house, and learned the language and culture well enough to write books in Japanese and take out Japanese citizenship. In terms of trying to assimilate into Japan, I don’t think there’s a lot more I could have done. I was an ideal immigrant. But then, like Michael Penn at the Shingetsu News Agency, I too left Japan.

That’s both a pity and, in my case, an inevitability. Japan should be trying harder to keep people like us. It really doesn’t. The longer you’re in Japan, the more your opportunities dwindle. Let’s first talk about the natural obstacles to people staying on, starting with how difficult it is to keep a visa…

My SNA Visible Minorities 45: “Judges Strip Equal Protection from Naturalized Citizens”, on the unjust Aigi Country Club decision (Apr 24, 2023) (full text)

My Debito.org post from yesterday has become a full-blown column at the Shingetsu News Agency. Here’s the opening:

SNA (Tokyo) — It’s the next stage of evolution in Japan’s variant of racial discrimination: a naturalized Japanese citizen was last year denied membership at a golf course—explicitly for being a former foreigner. He sued. This month a district court in Mie Prefecture ruled that this was not an illegal act of discrimination.

You read that right: not illegal. Follow me down this rabbit hole.

Aigi Country Club in Kani city, Gifu Prefecture, refused a former Zainichi Korean with Japanese citizenship. Their justification, according to the Asahi Shinbun, was that “our club has a quota for foreign nationals and former foreign nationals who have become naturalized Japanese and restricts new memberships. We currently have no vacancies in that quota.”

In court, Aigi Country Club duplicitously denied outright racism by claiming that they refused him for more reasons than foreign roots. It didn’t matter. The judges acknowledged that the plaintiff was refused for being foreign and they still ruled against him. They accepted that this was an instance of discrimination, but it wasn’t enough discrimination.

The judges ruled that a golfing club by design is a “closed and private organization with strong personal ties among its members” and that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees “freedom of association.” In their reading, private groups are free to decide their membership criteria and, at any rate, playing golf is “not indispensable for social life.”

In sum, it wasn’t an instance of discrimination “beyond socially acceptable limits.” Really? Let’s parse the legal reasoning and put it in context in terms of the arc of court precedents on racial discrimination in Japan…

Mainichi & Asahi: Naturalized Zainichi Korean-Japanese sues “Japanese Members Only” Aigi Country Club; court rules denial of golf membership explicitly for being a former foreigner NOT illegal

In a stunning decision, a Japanese court in Mie Prefecture has ruled that a foreigner… excuse me, a JAPANESE CITIZEN who naturalized from being a Zainichi Korean, may be denied membership to a golf course that limits its membership to “Japanese Only”.  Including people who are legally Japanese. Including former Zainichi Korean Permanent Residents who have been in Japan for generations. For the record, this is Aigi Country Club in Gifu Prefecture.

Their case, as stated to the Asahi Shinbun below, is, “Our club has a quota for foreign nationals and former foreign nationals who have become naturalized Japanese and restricts new memberships. We currently have no vacancies in that quota.” This denies the privileges and equal protections under the law when you get Japanese citizenship. The court even states that Aigi Country Club’s rules were not illegal as its actions did not violate his human rights beyond “socially acceptable limits.”

Ah yes, that old legal argument. That was used in the Otaru Onsens Case to say that racial discrimination did indeed happen, but the illegal activity wasn’t the racial discrimination itself, but rather “discrimination that went beyond socially acceptable limits.” Some discrimination is acceptable, according to the courts. Here, discrimination for having Korean roots is acceptable in a club.

After all, according to the Asahi below, “private entities like the golf club are guaranteed freedom of association under Article 21 of the Constitution. In principle, such private groups are free to decide the terms and conditions of their memberships.” Especially since it’s an “exclusive and private group,” and playing golf is “not indispensable for social life.” There’s plenty more below, but let me put this in context about how the Japanese judiciary has been slowly whittling away NJ civil and human rights:

Kyodo: Kagawa Pref Govt urges hotels not to request foreign residents’ ID. Bravo. Shame it took nearly 20 years to happen.

Kyodo: The government in the western Japan prefecture of Kagawa has called on local hotel operators to stop asking foreign residents for identification when they check in, local officials said Thursday. Citing a notice issued Monday by the Kagawa prefectural government to hotel operators, the officials said it is “problematic on human rights grounds” to ask foreign residents to show their passport or other forms of ID when checking into a hotel…

COMMENT:  I’m breaking my regular busy silence to report on something we’ve been working on for nearly two decades finally reaching fruition:  Getting Japanese hotels to stop racial profiling by running instant Gaijin Card/Passport Checks on customers (including NJ residents) merely because they’re “foreign-looking” — despite ID checks not being required for customers deemed to be “Japanese” on sight by hotel management.  

Finally, after various regional police departments have unlawfully deputized random hotel clerks to act as a de facto branch of the Immigration Agency (with the explicitly illegal threat of refusal of service in the offing), a regional government has cottoned on to the fact that this might be a violation of human rights.  Bravo Kagawa Prefecture.  Let’s hope it catches on nationwide.  Seems to only take about twenty years for common sense, not to mention legal protections for NJ residents against police bullying, to seep in.

My latest SNA Visible Minorities column 44: “Interview with Jon Heese: Life Lessons from a Naturalized Japanese Politician”, March 20, 2023

My latest SNA VM column 44, which came out today, is an interview with Jon Heese (pronounced Hayes), a naturalized Canadian-Japanese and elected Tsukuba City Councillor of twelve years. A Caucasian Visible Minority of Japan, Heese has long been advocating that other Non-Japanese Residents naturalize and run for office in Japan like he did. This interview took me more than a decade to secure, as I first invited Jon to interview back in the early 2010s. This time he contacted ME for the interview, so I felt less guilty about serving up some non-softball questions. Excerpt:

=========================

Debito Arudou: Hi Jon. Please introduce yourself as you’d like to be seen by your voting and non-voting public.

Jon Heese: Obviously I would like them to see me as a combination of Brad Pitt and Nelson Mandela. But I would be satisfied if they only see me as someone who is doing his best. I’m left of center on social issues and a fiscally conservative social democrat. This means freedom for people to be who they are within the structures of society. Businesses should also be free to function within a social structure. And I underline social. Businesses function within society. They are not entities unto themselves. It is the community that is educating their workers, building their infrastructure, and protecting their property. Businesses need to pay their taxes and stop trying to privatize profits while socializing risks. Fundamentally, governments should be in the business of regulating, not competing with legitimate businesses…

Debito Arudou: Woah, woah, woah. I asked how you wanted us to see you, and you’re starting to give us us your personal philosophy of government. Okay, but I was asking more: “Where are you from, and what do you do?” Let’s back up a sec and get into that.

Jon Heese: Silly me. As a good politician I’ll blame someone else for my misunderstanding. Okay. So, who am I. I’m a small town boy from Wymark, Saskatchewan, Canada, population 175. If you’ve ever seen Dances with Wolves, that’s pretty much what the area looks like. I’m from a family of eleven kids (six adopted). My family moved around a lot due to my father’s career as a Mennonite preacher. I spent about two years as a kid in central Kansas, and after high school I went to Europe for two years to see a bit of the world. I then attended the University of Regina and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Education. In 1991 I landed in Narita looking for one of those sweet English teaching jobs I’d heard so much about. I got a bunch of crap jobs, but they paid the bills. Eventually I ended up in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, a city about 60 kilometers north of Tokyo with a population of about 150,000 at the time. Eventually I understood that students didn’t really want to learn English so much as have an hour of entertainment with one of them movie star types. In the end I lasted about six years in the English biz. By ‘97 I was burned/bummed out and could already see the writing on the wall. The Bubble was bursting. Pay was in decline and finding students was getting harder. Besides which, after six years I had hardly learned any Japanese. I knew I needed to find a job where I would be forced to speak Japanese. I opened a bar and ran that for seven years. Then I opened an import company to supply the many foreign researchers in Tsukuba and rewrite papers for the Japanese researchers. I also did a bunch of acting for TV and movies. Eventually I got into politics at the city level.

Full interview at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/03/20/life-lessons-from-a-naturalized-japanese-politician/

My SNA Visible Minorities 43: “Salute to the “Author of Cartels of the Mind’,” an obituary of influential Japan Studies scholar and mentor Ivan Hall (1932-2023)

Ivan Parker Hall, author of landmark book Cartels of the Mind: Japan’s Intellectual Closed Shop, died in Berlin on February 1, 2023, at age 90.

Before I start writing another obituary, please let me pause and talk about our very close relationship: Ivan Hall fundamentally changed my life into an activist researcher in Japanese Studies.

It wasn’t always this way. When I first arrived in Japan during the latter 1980s, I was in fact a cultural relativist. Carefully trained in the non-judgmentalism of the liberal arts, I had the mantra of “Who am I to judge Japan?” It had its own way of doing things, and would get along just fine without one white Western interloper (or even the outside world) telling it what to do. As per my classic Edwin O. Reischauer Ivy League training, Japan was one of those precious “culturally unique” jewels that should just be left to flourish in its own way.

That’s why at first I was a devoted scholar of the “Japanese Way.” After all, Japan must be doing something right. Its people were living the longest in the world. Its economy measured per capita had just surpassed that of Americans. It was buying up major world assets on the strength of the Yen. Our next boss, according to movies such as Back to the Future II, was going to be Japanese.

It took just one stint working for an abusive Japanese trading company–and the bursting of Japan’s asset bubble–to disabuse me of those early notions. But it wasn’t until I became a Japanese university professor that I saw just how much the Japanese system was wasting talent due to racism. Japanese faculty hired full-time were getting permanent tenure from Day One, while almost all foreign educators (who were often more qualified than their Japanese counterparts) were getting permanent contract work.

Enter Ivan Hall, who summed this situation up most pithily as “Academic Apartheid.”…
Read the rest at the Shingetsu News Agency at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/02/20/visible-minorities-salute-to-the-author-of-cartels-of-the-mind/

RIP Ivan P. Hall (1932-2023), author of “Cartels of the Mind” and “Bamboozled”, and one of the last major postwar scholars of Japan

It is with great sadness that I heard this morning of the passing of an old friend, Ivan Hall, aged 90, scholar of Japan and the world, and author of “Cartels of the Mind” and “Bamboozled”.  Notice of his death came from his nephew, and I will pass on his redacted announcement below.  

I just want to say that Ivan and I spent a lot of time in Honolulu together in his last years, coming over to visit twice a year, and his work on Academic Apartheid in Japan got me into activism in Japan in the first place.  He’s one of the few people in my life I can call a mentor who took his mentoring seriously.  

Now for the family notice:  Hi all.  My uncle, Ivan P. Hall (“Vani”), the last surviving member of my mother’s family, died yesterday in Hoenow, a remote suburb of what was once East Berlin, after a professional life spent primarily in Japan.

I’m Vani’s nephew. Though he lived overseas my entire life, he being childless and I being the only child of his only sibling, we were close. He would visit the U.S. every year at Christmas and we’d eat Indian food on the Lower East Side (he had served in the U.S. Information Service in the 1950s in Pakistan and in the future Bangladesh and taught me to love egg curry) and superannuated formal meals in the Princeton Club dining room. He supported me enthusiastically in my first career as a playwright – he acted in the first play I ever saw, as a five year old: a community theatre production of Arsenic and Old Lace in the Idaho mountains. (From a production of that farce he’d directed in South Asia in 1961, two of his then-college-aged actors went on to become Ambassadors and serve as Foreign Secretary, and a third became Foreign Minister and the drafter of Bangladesh’s Constitution.)…

My latest SNA Visible Minorities column 42: “Japan’s Remilitarization is a Bad Idea” (Jan 23, 2023), on why Japan is simply not the country to represent the world’s liberal democracies as a revived military power

SNA — News item: Cheered on by the United States for its “bold leadership,” last month “Japan unveiled a dramatic revamping of its security strategy and defense policy, including a plan to acquire long-range weapons–a so-called counterstrike capability–that can target and hit enemy bases” (Japan Times, January 14).

Doubling its defense spending to 2% of GDP within five years, Japan will soon have the world’s third-largest military budget, behind only the United States and China.

Pushing Japan to remilitarize was never, and still is not, a good idea.

This is not just because an arms race in Asia is the last thing the region needs. But also because Japan, consistently unable to face up to its own history, is simply not the country to represent the world’s liberal democracies in Asia, especially as a military power.

Let’s start with that history…
Read the rest at:
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/01/23/visible-minorities-remilitarization-is-a-bad-idea/

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER, JAN 17, 2023: Happy New Year! And Debito.org’s relative inactivity

As regular Readers know, the second half of 2022 was particularly quiet for me as a blogger.  Not as an author, of course, as I still put out my regular monthly Shingetsu News Agency “Visible Minorities” Columns. And not as a professional, as I have been employed full time in recent semesters with six classes teaching hundreds of students Political Science.  All of my energies have been going towards crafting lectures and powerpoints, grading, and lecturing.  Last semester alone, despite Covid, I held 210 in-person classes, and enjoyed every minute of them.  I love teaching.  It’s probably as much my calling as writing and research.

That is why blogging here on Debito.org has taken a back seat as of late.  Also, my teaching involves Japan a lot less, as I’m teaching courses on other governmental systems, and reminding myself that it’s a big, complex world out there with lots to talk about.  Many times the things on my mind aren’t something I see as materiel for this blog, so I’ve had trouble getting my writing mojo going.

(But if my thoughts on issues that aren’t necessarily Japan-specific are also of interest to Debito.org Readers, please let me know as such in the Comments section below.)

But one thing that makes me thankful:  Debito.org Readers are still thinking about the issues long discussed here, and are carrying on the conversation even if I’m busy elsewhere.  You can see their comments both under my posts and under the Debito.org Newsletters.

Thank you everyone for keeping the torch lit.  I’ll try to do better but I can’t promise.  I’m teaching another six classes this semester, and anticipating enjoying it just as much as ever. Thank you all for reading Debito.org!

My SNA column 41: “Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise” (Dec 27, 2022), about what to do when people say you shouldn’t celebrate regular traditions you hold dear because they’re “not Japanese”

SNA excerpt: A long-term Non-Japanese resident friend, married with a Japanese husband and adult kids, recently told me about a new development in their relationship: Christmas was no longer to be celebrated in their household. Their children were all grown and didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore; so no more presents or any big dinner to celebrate the day. They would allow her only a tree.

Why this sudden change of heart? To her surprise, all this time Christmas had been regarded by the family as a nuisance, a cultural imposition on them. Now it was time to grow out of it. It raises a fundamental issue that someday comes up within any intercultural relationship: How much culture do you give up for the sake of compromise?  

I argue that Japan’s “unique” culture narrative (and therefore its lack of commonality with anything “foreign”, by definition) can often create sudden, long-term culture shocks.  Because people here can see any accommodation of “foreign” culture as an identity sacrifice, a denial of “Japaneseness”, this can kill relationships, and I offer advice on what to do about it.  
Article at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/12/27/visible-minorities-celebrating-christmas-as-a-compromise/

My SNA Column 40: Visible Minorities: “Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events” (Nov 28, 2022), due to all the nasty and racialized attitudes towards our athletes, and the lack of fair play in general

First off, bravo the Japan team for its upset victory over Germany in their first match of the 2022 World Cup!

It was a game where the Samurai Blue showed world-class skill against a lackluster team, and didn’t let the nerves of playing a former world champion get the better of them. Of course, they did lose their next game against Costa Rica, but their achievement against Germany stands.

I want to devote this column to why it’s difficult for me to root for Japan teams in general. It’s not an issue of nationality (since I have that). It’s a matter of how Japan as a society approaches international sports; given the racialized obstacles towards “foreign” participants, a lack of fair play, the unrelenting pressure on our athletes, and media attitudes that oscillate between racial superiority and victimhood, we take all the fun out of it…

Rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/11/28/visible-minorities-hard-to-root-for-japan-at-sports-events/

My SNA Column 39: Visible Minorities: “Never Forget Japan’s Racist Covid Policies” (Oct 24, 2022), where I ask you to seriously reconsider devoting your life to a place that could revoke your legal status at any time

SNA (Tokyo) — This month Japan finally lifted its Covid restrictions and reopened its borders to tourists. Well, whoop-de-doo.

For now, foreigners will no longer suffer entry caps, or go through extra procedures just because they’re foreign, such as being sequestered in foreigner-only floors of hotels with tour-minders so they don’t wander off and contaminate the rest of Japan.

Never mind that Japanese entrants, barely subjected to these strictures put on foreigners, had all this time predictably infected Japan quite freely.

Remember how this whole thing started back in 2020, when cases were found in Yokohama Port aboard a luxury liner called the Diamond Princess? It soon became mired in Japan’s bureaucratic politics, the ship’s patients counted by no country as part of their Covid case total. This was the bellwether for Japan’s future Covid border policies of incompetence and racism…

Rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/10/24/visible-minorities-never-forget-japans-racist-covid-policies/

Debito.org post #3000: SNA Visible Minorities 38: Visible Minorities: “Queen Elizabeth, Monarchies, and Progressivism” (Sept 19, 2022), on whether royals should still be allowed to exist

SNA: On the death of Queen Elizabeth II, let’s talk about monarchies. Why do they still exist, and should they still be allowed to exist?

Monarchies are as old as civilization. Kings and hereditary power were once the norm worldwide, as they were the means to control land and offer protection for farming peasants, exchanging food supply for protection from invaders—when the system worked as promised.

But it often didn’t. “Good” kings were relatively rare and their legacies unsustainable. Sooner or later, the people got unlucky under some ruler whose only claim to power was divine right, suffering under a king or queen who had gotten a God Complex, or was being manipulated by an unscrupulous elite. Either way, their regimes cared naught about the welfare of most people in their kingdom, forcing them to pay treasure to corrupt systems, sending them to die in meaningless wars, and leaving them dirt poor at the best of times or starving in the worst.

That’s the reason why today very few absolute monarchies remain in the world. You simply can’t trust kings and queens to look out for any interests but their own. It took a couple of millennia, but people eventually realized that a monarch, or any leader unaccountable for their actions, had to be reined in. Most countries acknowledge that the best of all flawed systems is a government where people can choose their leaders. That’s why even one-party autocratic states have elections. Replacing leaders bloodlessly on a regular basis, under a franchise that expands suffrage to as many people as possible, on average produces a better minimum standard of living for all. So why do so many stable advanced democracies, such as the United Kingdom, retain their monarchies?

Rest is at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/09/19/visible-minorities-queen-elizabeth-monarchies-and-progressivism/

New semester is underway. Debito.org will be updated more slowly.

Just to let you know:  My semester has started, and I have more classes than ever before (more than half of them new).  So I’m quite busy: When I’m not giving lectures, I’m preparing those lectures, grading the aftermath of those lectures, or sleeping.  So Debito.org will be updated more slowly for the Fall.  

Eagle-eyed Debito.org Readers will as always be sending articles of note in the Comments Sections of the Debito.org Newsletters, so check there for what they’ve seen of note.  Thanks as always everyone for reading Debito.org!

Debito’s SNA VM37: “Reforming Japan’s Dickensian Foreign Trainee Program,” Aug 22, 2022, and why I remain skeptical that reforms will actually happen

SNA — News Item: video footage surfaced in 2020 of a Vietnamese “trainee” being physically abused by Japanese co-workers at a construction company in Okayama Prefecture, resulting in injuries including broken ribs and a broken tooth. Despite a criminal complaint, the Okayama Prefectural Police Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute the four Japanese co-workers involved. Here is the video footage that started it all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK1HhnvktOc&t=76s

This Vietnamese trainee is not alone. Despite the strict Covid border controls, currently 280,000 foreigners toil as temporary low-wage workers in Japan’s farms and factories nationwide. Given Japan’s often nasty work environments, which generally combine exploitative work ethics with a normalized bullying culture, this means that more than a quarter of a million foreigners are here and in harm’s way under a system of unfettered abuse…

Fortunately, there are some stirrings that reforms might happen. Even the conservative Yomiuri Shinbun said in an August 20 editorial that reforming the system is “unavoidable.” Moreover, the government announced last month a full-scale review of the program, intending to “bring this long-standing issue to a historical conclusion.” I am skeptical these reforms will achieve what is promised, which is basically to resolve the ongoing human rights abuses which have always characterized the trainee system. One reason for my doubts is because…

Read the rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/08/22/visible-minorities-reforming-japans-dickensian-foreign-trainee-program/

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER AUGUST 22, 2022

Table of Contents:
REVISIONISM AND RECIDIVISM
1) Asahi: Okayama public prosecutors drop co-worker violence claim by Vietnamese “Trainee” despite video evidence. No wonder Japan’s violent bully culture thrives! (UPDATE: Out-of-court settlement was reached)
2) Japan Times on neighborhood sento bathhouse restoration activists: Omits history of how Japan’s already-declining public bath industry hurt itself with “Japanese Only” signs
3) Migrant Integration Policy Index rates Japan as “Integration Denied”, and “Critically Unfavorable” in terms of Anti-Discrimination measures. And this is for 2019, before Covid shut Japan’s borders.
4) Ministry of Foreign Affairs sets up “foreign media policing website” where anyone can report to J govt any foreign info “incompatible with our country’s standpoint”. Actually, quite within character.
… and finally …
5) My SNA Visible Minorities 36: “Abe’s Assassination and the Revenge of History” (July 18, 2022), on how his historical revisionism created a blind spot that ultimately killed him

Asahi: Okayama public prosecutors drop co-worker violence claim by Vietnamese “Trainee” despite video evidence. No wonder Japan’s violent bully culture thrives! (UPDATE: Out-of-court settlement was reached)

GoEMON (from Asahi): Two years ago, a 41-year-old male Vietnamese technical trainee was abused by his four Japanese coworkers while working. The act was then discreetly recorded by another Vietnamese trainee, causing a buzz within the public at that time. The result of the case was recently disclosed by the Okayama Prefectural Public Prosecutors Office.

The technical trainee filed a case to the Okayama Prefectural Public Prosecutors Office, claiming that he had been assaulted during the past two years working at the company, in which the four coworkers, all in their 30s, were referred to prosecution on suspicion of causing injuries and other charges. The Prosecutor’s Office, however, announced that the four cannot be prosecuted, due to a lack of information. The indictments were dropped against two for injury, one for injury and violation of the Violent Acts Punishment Law, and one for violation of the Violent Acts Punishment Law.

COMMENT:  “A lack of information”!? [Well, in the original Japanese, it just says, “For reasons left unclear.”] Anyway, watch the video above. Yet another example (see the McGowan Case for another) of how even when you have photographic or audio evidence of abusive behavior, the laws are only as good as the people enforcing them.  If public prosecutors will not do their job and prosecute, the laws specifically against violent acts mean nothing.  Even despite all the promises of reform of Japan’s already abusive, exploitative, and deadly “Trainee” system.  In a sense, this poor guy is lucky he didn’t end up laid up in the hospital or worse!

UPDATE: Yahoo News: According to the labor union protecting the Trainee, there was an apology from the construction company and the administering agency, with restitution paid through private settlement.

FURTHER COMMENT: Fine. But this case shows just how much, despite calls for reform for decades, things have NOT progressed.  By now, things like this shouldn’t still be happening, in this case violence towards a foreign co-worker for about two years!  But official negligence is the norm here.  Again, good thing the “Trainee” had the video of the savage treatment that resulted in broken ribs and untold mental damage.  But he shouldn’t have had to.

Japan Times on neighborhood sento bathhouse restoration activists: Omits history of how Japan’s already-declining public bath industry hurt itself with “Japanese Only” signs

JT: “Bathhouses are a space where I can ground myself,” says Sam Holden, who first found solace in sentō when he was a graduate student in Tokyo. Holden, who labels himself an urban activist, is a writer, translator and renovation specialist. He founded Sento & Neighborhood together with four associates in 2020 with the idea of “changing historic bathhouses as little as possible but finding a way for them to become sustainable,” Holden explains, hinting at the financial difficulties that many sentō face…

To Holden, visiting bathhouses means exploring the back alleys that embody a deeper layer of Japan’s urban fabric tucked away from busy and anonymous main streets — and one that has been part of Japanese cities for centuries. “Across the street from the bathhouse you have the liquor shop where the grandpas gather, the vegetable grocer and tofu shop and all sorts of local eateries,” Holden says. “Preserving a bathhouse means not only preserving that building, but this neighborhood network.”

COMMENT FROM DEBITO: I applaud the efforts of these movements to keep neighborhood sento open. However, the writer of this article (and perhaps the activists themselves) neglected to mention an important part of history, where public/private baths have refused entry to foreign and foreign-looking residents and customers. If offering this communal experience is “an important channel of communication between neighbors”, then it’s also important to recognize the fact that sometimes sento and onsen have undermined themselves by putting up “Japanese Only” signs, and not recognized “foreigners” as fellow neighbors. Openness to all members of the community should also be part of their slogans.

Also problematic is that the Japan Times seems to be forgetful of this discriminatory history as an editorial policy, as their archive on recent articles regarding Sento demonstrates. The JT laments the decline of the industry (for example, here) without getting into how some of their decline is their own fault. That’s particularly galling, considering I wrote for The Japan Times for two decades a regular column, in addition to other stringer articles, on this very subject.

Seems the Japan Times doesn’t prioritize this type of issue anymore. So much for reporting “in the public interest”.  This is how history gets unlearned and eventually repeats itself.  Just wait for the next moral panic blamed on “foreigners”, and communal doors to a public service will shut all over again.  Even if it drives the excluder out of business. Talking about preservation without including this issue is in fact counterproductive for the industry.

Migrant Integration Policy Index rates Japan as “Integration Denied”, and “Critically Unfavorable” in terms of Anti-Discrimination measures. And this is for 2019, before Covid shut Japan’s borders.

Migrant Integration Policy Index: “Japan scores 47/100 [Rank: “Integration Denied”], slightly below the average MIPEX country (49/100) because Japanese policies still refuse to recognise that Japan is a country of immigration. This denial leads to contradictory policies that create as many obstacles as opportunities for foreign nationals. Japan’s approach to integration is categorised as “Immigration without Integration”. While Japan is a leader far ahead of the other countries in this category, its policies still deny basic rights and equal opportunities to newcomers. Foreign nationals can find some ways to settle long-term in Japan. However, Japanese policies only go halfway to guarantee them equal opportunities, (e.g., on health and education), while also denying them several basic rights, most notably protections from discrimination.

“Japan needs to invest more on all the three dimensions, especially to guarantee immigrants with the same basic rights as Japanese citizens. The way that governments treat immigrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. Japan’s current policies encourage the public to see immigrants as subordinates and not their neighbours.” […] Japan is one of the only MIPEX countries still without a dedicated anti-discrimination law and body. Japan is the among bottom three countries for anti-discrimination policies, together with other ‘immigration without integration’ countries. Japan’s approach is slightly ahead of poorer Central European countries with equally small and new immigrant populations, but far behind other developed countries…”

COMMENT: It’s as we’ve been saying here on Debito.org for decades: This is what happens when you are the only developed country without a national law against racial discrimination. And this is the MIPEX report as of 2019.  I look forward to seeing the next report, where it takes into account Japan’s racist policy of closed borders (even to lawful and Permanent Residents, for a time) due to Covid.  I strongly doubt Japan’s numbers will improve.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs sets up “foreign media policing website” where anyone can report to J govt any foreign info “incompatible with our country’s standpoint”. Actually, quite within character.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put up a website that enables anyone to submit to the government “information about any accounts in overseas [media] relating to our country that is based on misunderstandings of the truth/facts (jijitsu), or is incompatible with our country’s standpoint.”

Actually, what MOFA is doing is very much within the Japanese Government (GOJ)’s character.  The GOJ is very sensitive to how they are perceived abroad, historically stepping in many times to “correct misperceptions” in foreign media.  See here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example.  (And it’s a stark contrast to, for example, the Americans, who ignore outright disinformation even when it affects their own citizens abroad.)

Granted, compared to the US’s negligence (even making outright threats against their US citizens for not ignoring racial discrimination in Japan), I’d rather that a government step in to correct public misperceptions when their citizens abroad stand to get hurt.  But I’m also suspicious of the GOJ’s motives, as evidenced by the links above, as their “standpoint” towards historical and factual interpretation is riddled with ahistorical revisionism.  

Moreover, asking for the public’s participation like this is redolent of the “Snitch Sites” the Immigration Bureau deployed in 2004, so that anyone could anonymously sicc the GOJ on any foreigner they thought could be an “illegal” — much to the delight of all the Zainichi Korean haters out there.  

In sum, this “MOFA foreign media policing site” is yet another politically-motivated government-sponsored website that is encouraging online abuse and feeding the trolls.