Tomorrow (Tuesday) heralds the publication of my 60th Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, closing out five years of regular monthly columns. I feel like I’m just hitting my stride. As evidence, here’s my assessment of the new PM Abe Administration. As you might guess, I have a negative take of his second crack at “leadership”. Just how negative might surprise you. I think he’s potentially the most dangerous postwar PM Japan has ever had. Here are the opening paragraphs:
ABE ON REPLAY: Why his second chance as PM is bad news (tentative title)
JUST BE CAUSE By Arudou Debito, to be published February 5, 2013
Column 60 for the Japan Times Community Page
On January 1, The Japan Times’ lead story was, “July election to keep hawk (Prime Minister Shinzō) Abe in cage.” It made the argument that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) alliance lacks a majority in the Japan’s Upper House, so until elections happen this summer he lacks a “full-fledged administration” to carry out a conservative agenda.
I believe this is over-optimistic. The LDP alliance already has 325 seats in Japan’s overwhelmingly powerful Lower House – safely more than the 320 necessary to override Upper House vetoes. Moreover, as Japan’s Left was decimated in last December’s elections, about three-quarters of the Lower House is in the hands of avowed hard-right conservatives. Thus Abe already has his mandate.
So this column will focus on what Abe, only the second person in postwar Japanese history given another chance at PM, is up to this time…
Read the rest tomorrow in The Japan Times!
UPDATE: Here it is: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/02/04/issues/keep-abes-hawks-in-check-or-japan-and-asia-will-suffer/
“At Home Abroad” is an important, ambitious academic work that offers a survey, both from academics in the field and from people with expertise on living in Japan, of theories on how people can assimilate into foreign culture both on their own terms and through acquisition of local knowledge. Dr. Komisarof, a professor at Reitaku University with a doctorate in public administration from International Christian University in Tokyo, has published extensively in this field before, his previous book being “On the Front Lines of Forging a Global Society: Japanese and American Coworkers in Japan”. However, this book can be read by both the lay reader as well as the academic in order to get some insights on how NJ can integrate and be integrated into Japan.
The book’s goal, according to its Preface, is to “address a pressing question: As the Japanese population dwindles and the number of foreign workers allowed in the country increases to compensate for the existing labor shortage, how can we improve the acceptance of foreign people into Japanese society?” (p. 1) To answer this, Komisarof goes beyond academic theory and devotes two-thirds of the book to fieldwork interviews of eleven people, each with extensive Japan experience and influence, who can offer insights on how Westerners perceive and have been perceived in Japan.
The interviewees are Japan literary scholar Donald Keene, Japan TV comedian Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan, columnist about life in rural Japan Karen Hill Anton, university professor Robin Sakamoto, activist and author Arudou Debito, Japan TV personality Daniel Kahl, corporate managing director of a Tokyo IT company Michael Bondy, Dean of Waseda’s School of International Liberal Studies Paul Snowden, Tokyo University professor and clinical psychologist Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, politico and business executive Glen Fukushima, Keio University professor Tomoko Yoshida, and Japan scholar Donald Richie…
Debito’s Top Ten human rights issues in Japan for NJ residents in 2012:
10. DONALD KEENE’S NATURALIZATION
9. OSAKA CITY DEFUNDS LIBERTY OSAKA
8. COURTS RULE THAT MIXED-BLOOD CHILDREN MAY NOT BE “JAPANESE”
7. DIET DOES NOT PASS HAGUE CONVENTION
6. GOVERNMENT CONVENES MEETINGS ON IMMIGRATION
5. MAINALI CASE VICTORY, SURAJ CASE DEFEAT
4. JAPAN’S VISA REGIMES CLOSE THEIR LOOP
3. NEW NJ REGISTRY SYSTEM
2. POST-FUKUSHIMA JAPAN IS IRREDEEMABLY BROKEN
1. JAPAN’S RIGHTWARD SWING
Links to sources included
My next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column will be coming out in a little over 24 hours. The topic: My annual round-up of the Top Ten Human Rights Issues that affected NJ residents in Japan in 2012. I do this every year, and it’s fun (although rather arduous, as I essentially have to write ten tiny stand-alone essays of under 200 words each, then put them in a hierarchy). I won’t give away what made the list this year (I also have five other issues that “bubbled under”). Enjoy!
UPDATE: Here it is: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20130101ad.html
JBC Intro: Remember grade school, when the most demanding question put to you was something as simple as “What color do you like?” Choose any color, for there is no wrong answer.
This is the power of “like,” where nobody can dispute your preference. You don’t have to give a reason why you like something. You just do.
In adult society, however, things are more complicated. When talking about, say, governments, societies or complicated social situations, a simple answer of “I like it” without a reason won’t do.
Yet simply “liking” Japan is practically compulsory, especially in these troubled times. With Japan’s swing towards the political right these days (to be confirmed with this month’s Lower House election), there is ever more pressure to fall in line and praise Japan.
“Liking” Japan is now a national campaign, with the 2007 changes to the Basic Education Law (crafted by our probable next prime minister, Shinzo Abe) enforcing “love of country” through Japan’s school curriculum. We must now teach a sanitized version of Japanese history, or young Japanese might just find a reason not to “like” our country…
I’m very happy to announce that at long last (it takes a number of months to get things through the publishing pipeline), the Second Edition of HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS AND IMMIGRANTS TO JAPAN goes on sale in December 2012.
This long-selling bilingual guide to life in Japan, co-authored with legal scrivener Akira Higuchi, has assisted thousands of readers and engendered rave reviews. Its goal has been to assist people to live more stable, secure lives in Japan, and walks the reader through the process of securing a better visa, getting a better job (even start one’s own business), troubleshooting through difficult situations both bureaucratically and interpersonally, establishing one’s finances and arrangements for the next of kin, even giving something back to Japanese society. It is a one-stop guide from arrival in Japan through departure from this mortal coil, and now it has been updated to reflect the changes in the Immigration and registry laws that took place in July 2012. Get ready to get yourself a new copy!
(Oh, and my Japan Times JBC column has been postponed a week due to a major scoop this week that will fill the Community Page…)
JT JBC: On Oct. 25, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced his resignation from office. He now plans to stand for election to the Diet as head of a new conservative party. He suggested political alliances with other conservative reactionaries and xenophobes, including Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) chief Takeo Hiranuma (Just Be Cause, Feb. 2, 2010). And all before a Lower House election that must be held within two months.
I say: Bring it on. Because it’s time for somebody to make clear which way Japan is heading.
The world’s media has largely misunderstood — or misrepresented — what kind of an elected official Ishihara is, often portraying him as a “nationalist” (which sounds like a patriot). He is in fact a hate-mongering racist bigot.
This is the man, remember, who began his governorship by calling for foreigners to be rounded up on sight in the event of a natural disaster — for they might (unprecedentedly) riot! Cue one natural disaster in 2011: No riots. Yet no retraction. Thus he got a free pass.
This is also a man who goes beyond the standard right-wing denials of the dark side of Japanese history, such as the Nanjing Massacre and the “comfort women.” He has called the 2011 tsunami “divine retribution” for Japan’s sins, insinuated that Africans in Japan are unintelligent, said commentators on Japan “don’t matter” if they’re foreign, likened foreign judo practitioners to “beasts,” claimed Chinese are criminals due to their “ethnic DNA,” called parts of Tokyo with higher foreign populations “hotbeds of crime” too scary for even Japanese crooks to enter, and stigmatized Japanese politicians who support more rights for foreigners by saying they must have foreign roots themselves (as if Japanese with tainted bloodlines are somehow unpatriotic).
He has also stated that old women are “useless” and “toxic” to civilization, gays “gadding about” are “pitiable,” French is unqualified as an international language because of its counting system — and so on ad nauseam, painting grotesque caricatures of foreigners and minorities in broad, bigoted strokes. Just listing them all would take up my entire column.
Yet, instead of pillorying this piece of work out of office, the media has generally dismissed his statements as “gaffes.” But a gaffe is technically an error or an unintended misstatement — and Ishihara’s are too frequent to be anything but deliberate.
Sadly, due to the limited attention span inherent in media cycles, Ishihara managed to out-stare the press. They then excused their own lack of tenacity by treating his outrageous comments like a personality quirk, as if he suffers from a particularly offensive form of Tourette’s — effectively handing him a free pass. Passes got freer after one re-election. Then another…
Before I wrote my monthly Japan Times column on the Senkakus/Takeshima Disputes published on Oct 2, I wrote a completely different column that approached the issue from the back door: How Japan’s enormous focus on “genuine” and “legitimate” leads to diversity getting subsumed. And when it leads to diversity in opinion being subsumed, you get a society that is particularly susceptible to top-down control of not only the dominant social discourse, but also the very perception of reality within a society. And that leads us to crazy ideas such as a few far offshore rocks being worth all this fuss.
Heavy stuff. Unfortunately, the people who approve columns at The Japan Times didn’t “get” it, even after two major rewrites and sixteen drafts. (Actually, in all fairness it wasn’t only them — two other friends of mine didn’t “get” it either. But two of my friends in academia did. And we suspect that it was just too “Ivory Tower” for a journalistic audience.) So eight hours before deadline, I rewrote the damn thing entirely, and what you saw published is the result.
But The Japan Times suggested that I blog it and see what others think. So here it is: The column on the Senkakus/Takeshima Disputes that I wanted to run. I think there are plenty of ideas in there that are still worth salvaging. But let me ask you, Debito.org Readers: Do you “get” it?
Japan Times: No doubt you’ve seen the news about the Takeshima and Senkaku disputes: Japan is sparring with China, South Korea and Taiwan over some specks in the ocean.
Why is this happening? Theories include pre-election political posturing and securing borders to exploit resources. But it’s gotten to the point where even respected academics (such as Stanford’s Harumi Befu and Harvard’s Ted Bestor) are worriedly writing, “current developments are counterproductive to the lasting peace in East Asia and are dangerously degenerating into belligerent diplomacy.”
My take on these scraps is pretty simple: They are merely a way to distract the Japanese public from a larger malaise, the symptoms of which include Japan’s loss of clout as Asia’s leading economy, perpetual economic funk, ineffectual political leadership and an irradiated food chain.
But the larger question remains: How could these far-flung rocks get so much domestic political traction? …
JT: Some weeks ago I was asked to give a speech at my current research institute. When I offered workshops on activism and racial discrimination in Japan in general, they asked for something more personal: “Tell us how you’ve made a difference in Japan.”
I said, “How can I do that without sounding boastful and self-aggrandizing?”
They had no answer. Thus this perfectly legitimate topic was oddly taboo only because I would be talking about myself. That’s when I became aware of the undermining effects of modesty and humility.
Modesty, according to dictionaries, is essentially a lack of conceit or vanity; humility is a lack of pride in oneself and a sense of deference.
These two words are associated with very positive and virtuous feelings, whereas their antonyms — arrogance, hauteur, egotism, conceitedness, etc. — are very negative. Within that contrast lies immense subliminal and normalized pressure to be humble and modest in society.
But there are negative aspects to that. Given my recent studies in sociology, where one thinks about what is “normal” in a society and what justifies the status quo, those alleged virtues can in fact be enormous barriers….
Hi Blog. Hope you had a good summer in the Northern Hemisphere. We’re back after a few weeks off. To break the fast of Debito.org entries, here’s a sneak preview of my next Japan Times column, which is out within 48 hours. Enjoy.
ON MODESTY AND HUMILITY (tentative title)
By ARUDOU Debito
JUST BE CAUSE Column 55 for the Japan Times Community Page
To be published Tuesday, September 4, 2012
As per this column’s title, this month’s topic was chosen, well, “just because” it’s been on my mind.
Some weeks ago I was asked to give a speech at my current research institute. When I offered workshops on activism and racial discrimination in Japan in general, they asked for something more personal: “Tell us how you’ve made a difference in Japan.”
I said, “How can I do that without sounding boastful and self-aggrandizing?”
They had no answer. Thus this perfectly legitimate topic was oddly taboo only because I would be talking about myself. That’s when I became aware of the undermining effects of modesty and humility…
UPDATE: Here’s the rest: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120904ad.html
With apologies to Franz Kafka: As Beto awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his futon into a gigantic cockroach.
“What’s happened to me?” he thought. In his native land down south, he had been a person — if at times underprivileged due to his nikkei status. So, years ago, he “repatriated” to Japan, attracted by promises of better milk and honey. Yet now he felt even more marginalized by the locals here, who called themselves “people” yet treated him at times like he was an insect.
Beto scurried off to work, where people shied away and refused to sit by him in the train cars. But as the end of the line approached, the coach filled up with fellow cockroaches, and people stopped paying attention.
The people at his factory also took no notice of his metamorphosis. His supervisors were used to dealing with cockroaches. Bugs seemed an inevitable part of lower-rent circumstances. As in the train, it seemed some people had learned to “co-exist” with them in close quarters.
In public, however, reactions were different. Alone, Beto was often seen as something exotic, maybe even collectable if there was a curious person flitting about who was interested in “speaking bug.” But if seen as part of a swarm, people’s knee-jerk reactions were to take steps against them. Bugs might overrun the place, making it feel less the realm of the masters, more of the roaches…
My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 53 dated July 3, 2012, is on the Japanese Government’s renewed policy debate on creating conditions conducive to immigration (without actually portraying it in any way as “immigration” (imin), just more NJ residents). It’s their attempt to address Japan’s demographic and probable economic nosedive despite their assiduous efforts over the decades to a) exploit NJ as temporary workers on a revolving-door labor visa regime, b) blame NJ for all manner of social ills, including foreign crime and desertion, and in the process c) poison the public debate arena for productive discussion about ever treating NJ well enough that they might want to actually stay (since the past three years have seen the NJ population continuously dropping, after 48 years of unbroken rise). The writing’s on the wall, and the GOJ is finally doing something constructive. But (as usual) the bureaucracy is controlling the agenda, and the typical blind spots are coming into play, so as things stand now I think the policy drive will be ineffective. Have a read and a think.
JBC: Last month’s column on “microaggressions” was my most debated yet. Thanks for reading and commenting.
So this month, let’s explore how the microaggression dynamic works in all societies, and why some people live in denial of it. Brace yourself for a bit of theory …
All societies, when defining themselves, decide who is “us” and who is “them.” So do countries. In the name of sovereignty, nation-states must decide who is a member (i.e., a citizen) and who is not (i.e., a foreigner). (If they didn’t, there’d be no point to citizenship.)
Nation-states also perpetuate themselves by creating a feeling of community for their citizens — national narratives, invented traditions and official shared histories. So the concept of “Who is ‘us’?” gets created, reinforced and generationally encoded through the media, public policy, primary education, etc.
What about encoding “Who is ‘them’?” It is by nature a process of differentiation. Foreigners by definition have different legal, civil and political rights in any society. (They usually cannot vote, for example.)
But differentiation is also codified in everyday interaction. To determine their community’s borders and clarify their identity within it, people tend to contrast themselves with outsiders. This is a process of socially “othering” people.
Eventually the presumptions of “Others” as “different” become normalized into mundane assumptions, such as stereotypes. Herein come the microaggressions…
The Japan Times today devoted its entire community page column section to reader responses regarding my May 1, 2012 Just Be Cause column on “Microaggressions”. (And yes, most listed were actually quite positive.) I think that’s plenty today for a blog entry. Have a read starting from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120522hs.html and feel free to comment on them below (if you wish to comment on the article itself on Debito.org, go here). And yes, the old column once again got put back in the JT Online Top Ten Most Read Stories! Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone!
Someone in Taiwan named “Chopsticks Master” said they got a lot out of my most recent Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column on “Microaggressions”, and kindly translated it into Taiwanese Chinese. Thanks very much! I can’t read the Chinese myself, but FYI, pass it around if you like. Any more languages out there people want to translate it into?
by Chopsticks Master on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 3:29am ·
As the very popular and quite influential Community Page at the Japan Times celebrated its 10th Anniversary this week, I was asked (along with their former editor and best reporter) to say a few words as their featured columnist (now for four years plus). Here’s what I said. There are links to other celebratory articles below that. Enjoy, and congrats Community Page. You’re doing great things. Thanks for being there for our writings, and for us.
ZG: Having been an infrequent contributor to other publications, I was impressed by the comparative professionalism at The Japan Times: I was never forced to toe any editorial line by the Community Page (unlike, say, the vanity projects that pass for English-language newspapers at the Asahi and Yomiuri, who tend to take criticism of Japan in English by NJ authors as a personal affront). It was also nice that the JT paid its contributors the amount as promised promptly, something relatively rare in this business.
Honesty has served the Community Page well. Over the past decade, we have had hundreds of contributors writing exposes on subjects few other domestic outlets would touch, including unequal hiring practices due to nationality, the merits of unionization, international divorces from the studiously ignored NJ partner’s perspective, the Japanese judiciary’s systematic discrimination against claimants based on race or social origin, the biased treatment of NJ crime by police and the media, public policies and government statements that latently and blatantly disenfranchise whole peoples in Japan, one’s rights under the law and revised visa regimes, and even new takes on the perennial debate over the epithet “gaijin.”
Where else in our domestic media could this motley collection of journalists, scholars, pundits, activists and general malcontents consistently splash their views across a page (now two) every Tuesday — and have their presence permanently recorded in this country’s best online archive of English articles on Japan?
For that matter, where else in Japan’s media does anyone even acknowledge that there is a “community” of NJ in Japan, or offer authoritative information specifically for the benefit of this community? Only here.
JBC: Microagressions, particularly those of a racialized nature, are, according to Dr. Derald Wing Sue in Psychology Today (Oct. 5, 2010), “the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities, and denigrating messages sent to (visible minorities) by well-intentioned (members of an ethnic majority in a society) who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated.”
They include, in Japan’s case, verbal cues (such as “You speak such good Japanese!” — after saying only a sentence or two — or “How long will you be in Japan?” regardless of whether a non-Japanese (NJ) might have lived the preponderance of their life here), nonverbal cues (people espying NJ and clutching their purse more tightly, or leaving the only empty train seat next to them), or environmental cues (media caricatures of NJ with exaggerated noses or excessive skin coloration, McDonald’s “Mr. James” mascot (JBC, Sept. 1, 2009)).
Usually these are unconscious acts grounded in established discourses of interactions. Nobody “means” to make you feel alienated, different, out of place, or stereotyped.
But microaggressions are also subtle societal self-enforcement mechanisms to put people “in their place.” For NJ, that “place” is usually the submissive status of “visitor” or “guest,” with the Japanese questioner assuming the dominant position of “host” or “cultural representative of all Japan.”
It’s a powerful analytical tool. Now we have a word to describe why it gets discomfiting when people keep asking if you can use chopsticks (the assumption being that manual dexterity is linked to phenotype), or if you can eat nattō (same with taste buds), or if you’ll be going “home” soon (meaning Japan is just a temporary stop in your life and you don’t belong here). It can even help you realize why it’s so difficult for the NJ long-termer to become a senpai in the workplace (since NJ subordination is so constant and renewed in daily interaction that it becomes normalized).
Now let’s consider microaggression’s effects. Dr. Sue’s research suggests that subtle “microinsults and microinvalidations are potentially more harmful (than overt, conscious acts of racism) because of their invisibility, which puts (visible minorities) in a psychological bind.”
I’m happy to announce that more than a year after writing my piece within (and what with major disasters in Japan naturally setting back the publication date), FODOR’S has just released their JAPAN Guide, 20th Edition (of which I got a copy yesterday, thanks!).
I was privileged to be allowed to write their Section on Hokkaido, so if you can’t get enough of my writing, get yourself a copy!
Scans of the cover, Table of Contents, and my opening essay on what’s so nice about Hokkaido are below. Enjoy!
As I wrote last week, next week heralds a celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of the Japan Times’ Tuesday Community Page. As I’ve written about 100 articles and JBC columns for it so far, I’ll be doing double duty next week with two articles, one in commemoration, and one a regular JBC column (more on the topic shortly before publication).
This week, however, in anticipation, the JT announced that it would be offering FIVE free copies of Akira Higuchi and Arudou Debito’s bilingual HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS, AND IMMIGRANTS (more on it here), which has been a solid and steady seller, what with all the information about getting the right visa, getting a steady job, getting settled for a permanent life in Japan, and dealing with problems and issues that may come up.
That’s right, five free copies of HANDBOOK, and all you have to do is write a Haiku in English about Japan — “the good, the bad and the ugly”. Some examples by Zeit Gist contributor Colin Jones this week include:
Random card checking
Fingerprints at the airport
Have constitutional rights
Except when they don’t
Barred from the hot springs
for invisible tattoo
It says “foreigner”
Now, those are my kinda Haiku. And no doubt we’ll have some anti-Debito ones too (taste the irony of being rewarded by the very person you’re dissing!). Go for it! Submit via:
SPECIAL NOTICE: The JT Community Page: A decade serving the community
JT: On May 8, the Japan Times will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Community pages, which have been providing news, analysis and opinion by, for and about the foreign community in Japan since May 9, 2002. To mark the occasion, we are asking readers to pick their favorite Zeit Gist article of the past decade, be it a memorable scoop, informative feature or scathing critique.
In return, The Japan Times is offering readers the chance to win a B4-size poster (above) illustrated by longtime Community artist Chris Mackenzie.
Alternatively, winners can opt for one of 10 copies of “3.11: One Year On,” a 64-page Japan Times Special Report bringing together JT articles from the past year about the triple disasters in Tohoku and their aftermath. Please state your preference on the form below. This offer ends at 5 p.m. JST on Friday, May 5.
The following are the Community editor’s picks of just some of the standout Zeit Gist articles of the last decade. Some were chosen because they help tell the story of of the last 10 years in Japan, others because the articles proved to be extremely popular – and in some cases simply because they are great reads.
COMMENT: Short list of the editor’s picks at
Debito has two of those articles listed, “Punishing foreigners, exonerating Japanese” (on skewed criminal jurisprudence by nationality), and “Demise of crime magazine historic” (on the GAIJIN HANZAI magazine and how we not only got it off the shelves, but also helped drive the slimy publisher bankrupt). Or you can see all the Community Page articles I’ve written, with one-line synopses, at http://www.debito.org/publications.html#JOURNALISTIC
JBC: The point is, Keene has made his life one of careful, disciplined research, and he should have tapped this wealth of knowledge and reactivated his critical faculties before shooting off his mouth like this.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not to impugn Keene’s life choices — he can live where he likes and take out whatever citizenship he desires. But he should not be denigrating other people’s complex and personal life decisions (many made with careers to consider and families in tow) based upon flawed paradigms about NJ — paradigms fabricated by a sensationalist media and grounded in a discourse of prejudice and hypocrisy.
If he does, he should be called out on it like anyone else. And in that spirit, let’s consider a few inconsistencies:
Keene has said that he wants to live out his remaining years in Japan out of respect to the “resilient spirit of the Japanese people in a traumatic situation.” However, Kyodo reported on March 9 that this move was “partly because travel (between his homes in America and Japan) had become physically demanding.” At his advanced age, that’s understandable. But why so much public self-hugging for naturalizing?
Moreover, what sort of support in “solidarity” for the Tohoku victims will Keene be involved in? The Yomiuri on March 9 notes that this month he’s traveling by ship to India and Africa for vacation. As soon as he gets back, he said, “I’ll continue to work more diligently in a suitably Japanese way. I also want to contribute to areas affected by the disaster.”
Like how? Collecting and driving supplies up to Fukushima? Volunteering to help out at gymnasiums sheltering displaced people? Organizing international fund drives? Moving rubble around, as so many NJ residents who did not “flee Japan” have already done?
Here’s one thing Keene could do: Publicly retract his denigrating statements with apologies, and acknowledge the good that NJ have done for Japan all along — working here for decades, paying taxes, raising families, and living lives that fly in the face of the hegemonic yet unquestioned discourse that “NJ disrupt Japanese society.”
Japan Times: Last December, the Japanese government announced that a new visa regime with a “points system” would be introduced this spring.
It is designed to attract 2,000 non-Japanese (NJ) with a “high degree of capability” (kōdo jinzai), meaning people with high salaries, impeccable educational and vocational pedigrees, specialized technical knowledge and excellent managerial/administrative skills.
Those lucky foreign millionaire Ph.Ds beating a path to this land of opportunity would get preferential visa treatment: five-year visas, fast-tracking to permanent residency, work status for spouses — even visas to bring their parents and “hired housekeepers” along.
Sweet. But then comes the fine print: You must get 70 points on the Justice Ministry’s qualifying scale (see www.moj.go.jp/content/000083223.pdf) And it’s tough, really tough. Take the test and see if you qualify (I don’t). Symptomatic of decisions by committee, it’s a salad of idealized preferences without regard for real-world application. There’s even a funny sliding scale where you get more points the longer you’ve worked, yet fewer points the older you get.
Interesting is how low Japanese language ability is weighted: only 10 points — in a “bonus” category. One would have assumed that people communicative in Japan’s lingua franca would be highly prized (especially when the call for kōdo jinzai is in Japanese only).
However, I would argue the opposite: Crowds of NJ completely fluent in Japanese are exactly what the government does not want. Visa regimes with illiterate foreigners facing insurmountable hurdles are what maintain Japan’s revolving-door labor market.
For example, consider 2008′s visa program to import elderly-care nurses from the Philippines and Indonesia…
JT: The Just Be Cause column has been running now for four years (thanks for reading!), and I’ve noticed something peculiar: how commentators are pressured to say “nice” stuff about Japan.
If you don’t, you get criticized for an apparent “lack of balance.” As if one has to pay homage to the gods of cultural relativism (as an outsider) or tribal commonalities (as an insider).
This pressure isn’t found in every society. Britain, for example, has a media tradition (as far back as Jonathan Swift, William Hogarth and George Cruikshank) where critics can be unapologetically critical, even savage, towards authority (for example, Private Eye magazine).
But in Japan, where satire is shallow and sarcasm isn’t a means of social analysis, we are compelled to blunt our critique with pat niceties. Our media spends more time reporting nice, safe things (like how to cook and eat) than encouraging critical thinking.
Likewise, Just Be Cause gets comments of the “If Debito hates Japan so much, why does the JT keep publishing him?” ilk. As if nobody ever criticizes Japan out of love (if we critics didn’t care about this place, we wouldn’t bother).
Moreover, why must we say something nice about a place that hasn’t been all that nice to its residents over the past, oh, two stagnant decades (even more so since Fukushima)? Japan, like everywhere else, has problems that warrant attention, and this column is trying to address some of them.
Still, as thanks to the readership (and my editor, constantly put off his beer defending me in bars), I’ll succumb and say something nice about Japan for a change. In fact, I’ll give not one, but 10 reasons why I like Japan:
About a month ago Japan Times reporter Masami Ito contacted me for information about GOJ naturalization procedures (I’m honored; there are many other people out there who have done the same, and my information, more than a decade old, is by now probably a bit out of date). It appeared December 27, 2011 as the year’s last FYI Column. Excerpt follows. I enclose the original questions I was asked as well as my answers since they may be instructive.
JT: Nationality has long been a controversial issue in Japan. For most, it is something they are born with; for others, it is something they had to fight for. For some, nationality may be a source of pride, while for others, it may be the cause of discrimination. Meanwhile, citizenship may be something that they have to sacrifice in order to pursue their goals or dreams — like comedian and runner Neko Hiroshi, who made headlines last month after announcing he had obtained Cambodian nationality in the hope of competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
What are the conditions for obtaining Japanese nationality? …
Here’s my fourth annual round-up of the top 10 human rights events that affected Japan’s NJ residents last year. Concluding paragraphs:
Generations under Japan’s control-freak “nanny state” have accustomed people to being told what to do. Yet now the public has been deserted, with neither reliable instructions nor the organization to demand them.
Nothing, short of a major revolution in critical thinking and public action (this time — for the first time — from the bottom up), will change Japan’s destructive system of administration by unaccountable elites.
2011 was the year the world realized Japan has peaked. Its aging and increasingly-conservative public is trapped in a downward spiral of economic stagnation and inept governance. It is further burdened by an ingrained mistrust of the outsider (JBC Oct. 7, 2008) as well as by blind faith in a mythology of uniqueness, powerlessness as a virtue, and perpetual victimhood.
Japan has lost its attractiveness as a place for newcomers to live and settle, since they may be outright blamed for Japan’s troubles if not ostracized for daring to fix them. Now, thanks to the continuous slow-burn disaster of Fukushima, anyone (who bothers to listen anymore) can now hear the doors of Japan’s historically-cyclical insularity slowly creaking shut.
JBC: These past few columns have addressed fundamentally bad habits in Japanese society that impede positive social change. Last month I talked about public trust being eroded by social conventions that permit (even applaud) the systematic practice of lying in public.
This month, let’s discuss the lack of cultural value invested in “fairness.”… The point is, you are simply less human in Japan without Japanese nationality, and institutional practices back that up.
One reason these practices can be perpetuated is that the Japanese public tacitly (and not so tacitly) acquiesces to them, instead of reflexively helping foreigners fight against them. I believe the root cause is how little cultural value is generally assigned to “fairness.”…
Only an ironclad guarantee of “fairness,” a cornerstone of liberal societies and held in as high regard as “Do unto others . . .” will ensure equal opportunity and essential civil, political and human rights. One has to believe this, and have it promoted constantly in the public arena to raise awareness, until it too becomes an unquestioned given….
That’s simply not the expectation in a society as rigidly hierarchical as Japan’s, hard-wired to see shades of superior and subordinate in just about every possible interaction (down to the linguistics).
JT JBC: There is an axiom in Japanese: uso mo hōben — “lying is also a means to an end.” It sums up the general attitude in Japan of tolerance of — even justification for — not telling the truth.
First — defining “telling the truth” as divulging the truth (not a lie), the whole truth (full disclosure) and nothing but the truth (uncompounded with lies) — consider how lies are deployed in everyday personal interactions.
Let’s start with good old tatemae (charitably translated as “pretense”). By basically saying something you think the listener wants to hear, tatemae is, essentially, lying. That becomes clearer when the term is contrasted with its antonym, honne, one’s “true feelings and intentions.”
Tatemae, however, goes beyond the “little white lie,” as it is often justified less by the fact you have avoided hurting your listener’s feelings, more by what you have gained from the nondisclosure.
But what if you disclose your true feelings? That’s often seen negatively, as baka shōjiki (“stupidly honest”): imprudent, naive, even immature. Skillful lying is thus commendable — it’s what adults in society learn to do.
Now extrapolate. What becomes of a society that sees lying as a justifiably institutionalized practice? Things break down. If everyone is expected to lie, who or what can you trust?…
Letter to the Editor: Ganbatte and gaman stifle debate, hinder recovery, Nuclear debate discouraged (excerpt)
Re: “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action” by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Oct. 4): I was wondering when such an article would show up in the newspapers. Thank you for finally commenting on some of the finer workings of how the triple disaster is being dealt with in Japan.
Like any event on this scale, the catastrophe has brought out the best and worst in Japanese culture. While one cannot help but admire the stoicism, calmness and composure in dealing with the events in March, the lack of discussion about the future of nuclear energy, food safety and lessons learnt is shocking.
For non-Japanese it is difficult to follow the social workings in Japan. Concepts such as ganbatte and gaman, which are raised by the author, play an important part in discouraging necessary debate. Also, the Japanese social convention of considering the expectations and feelings of others suppresses discussion….
Rest of the letters at: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20111101hs.html
You hear this expression every day in Japan. “Do your best!” “Try harder!” “Stick to it!” “Don’t give up!” are but a few of the positive messages conveyed. It offered succor 25 years ago when I was in university bushwhacking through the Japanese language: One “ganbatte!” from Sensei emboldened me for the rest of the week.
However, recent events have exposed a problem with ganbatte.
It’s gone beyond being a harmless old saw, platitude or banality. It’s become at best a sop, at worst a destructive mantra or shibboleth. It creates a downward cycle into apathy in the speaker, indifference in the afflicted…
I was invited last week to contribute a bio of who I thought was one of Japan’s “most useless” Prime Ministers. I was surprised to find that Murayama was not taken. So here’s my writeup (#5, ordered by when they held office). There are nine other biographies done by some very knowledgable writers and observers of Japan, so have a read of them at the Japan Times from this link here. Enjoy!
JT: Short tenures, imprudent public statements, poor character judgment, weakness under pressure — when we think of useless prime ministers, all this seems like standard operating procedure. However, Tomiichi Murayama’s particular brand of uselessness was peerless. Essentially, everything he touched turned to sh-te…
He was the first Socialist Party prime minister, and the last. Having made a Faustian bargain to take the top job, he then proceeded to sell his party’s soul so blatantly that in his wake the Socialists were moribund and fractured. He proved to Japan’s voters that the left cannot govern, putting the corrupt Liberal Democrats back in power for 13 more years.
No other PM can be credited with setting back Japan’s development into a two-party democracy while killing his own party in the process. Yet. For that, he gets my vote not only as Japan’s most useless, but also its flat-out worst postwar prime minister.
No.1 Shimbun: In the quarter century I have been examining the treatment of foreigners in both the English and vernacular media, I have seen little improvement. In fact, in many ways it’s gotten worse. The foreign element has been increasingly portrayed as the subterfuge that will undermine Japanese society. To crib from a famous book title, Japan has become not only the “system that soured,” but also the “media that soured.”
When I first got here in the mid-1980s, at the start of Japan’s bubble era, non-Japanese (NJ) were seen as quirky “misunderstood outsiders,” treated with bemusement for their inability to understand “Japan’s unique culture.” NJ were here to help Japan learn English and internationalize itself into its hard-earned echelon as a rich country in the international community. After all, Japan had just surpassed the per-capita gross domestic product of its mentor – the United States – so the media was preparing the public for Japan’s new role as oriental ambassador to the West…
The next phase, which has essentially continued to the present day, overtly began on April 9, 2000, when recently elected archconservative Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara made his famous “Sangokujin” speech. He claimed that some NJ were “repeatedly committing heinous crimes,” and called for the Self-Defense Forces to round up NJ in the event of a natural disaster as they would (unprecedentedly) riot. Even in light of the Tohoku disasters, where this has been proven as utterly false, there has been no amendment or retraction. But this speech emboldened Japan’s reactionaries (particularly its police, fortified by its new internal “Policymaking Committee Against Internationalization”) to see rampant NJ bashing as politically viable…
In sum, the “blind spot” of Japanese media is that hardly any of it treats NJ as actual residents, with needs, concerns, and a stake in Japan. Local media do give spots on how NJ community events are faring, with the occasional update on social problems facing stricken foreign families. But that generally happens in areas with “high” concentrations of registered NJ residents (around 10% of total local population, achieved in increasingly fewer places as the NJ population drops). Rarely does NJ community news leak into more national arenas (unless, of course, it concerns foreign crime). Hardly anywhere in the Japanese-language media is a constant “voice” or venue granted to NJ regulars to offer an alternative viewpoint of life in Japan. (Please note, and this is not meant as a criticism, but tarento regulars like Dave Spector are first and foremost entertainers, rarely spokespeople for minorities, and foreign tarento have in fact visibly declined in number compared to their bubble era heyday.) Thus, unabashed bashing of NJ in the Japanese media goes unanswered without check or balance.
Here are some comments from Japan Times readers regarding my August JUST BE CAUSE column, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Foreigner”, how difficult it seems to make long-term Japanese friends. Good stuff within, as well as the prerequisite hate mail. A friend commented that I’d probably still get hate mail if I posted a cure for cancer! Have a read. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110913hs.html
The thing a writer likes most, aside from (hopefully) the craft of writing itself, is to be read. The second thing is, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, is praise. But praise (or even agreement) is a huge luxury in my field. This is why whenever I put something on the market (as I have with six other books), I hope that reviewers, if they give a negative review, will at least do me the courtesy of reviewing the book, not the author. But in this small literary corner (i.e., books in English on Japan) where we have very few rewards (or awards) for quality, having a professional review one’s book professionally is also a huge luxury.
That’s why I’m pleased to mention Amanda Harlow’s review of my most recent book, novel “IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan”, which came out on the Being A Broad website last week. She doesn’t really dig the book. But she actually DOES talk about the book both in terms of content and context, and offers ways in which the book might have in her opinion been better. The job of the reviewer is not simply to say what’s right or wrong about any work, but also to suggest improvements — offer the creator something he or she could learn from this experience to put into the next effort. Amanda does this, and I thank her for it…
It’s a pretty nasty world out there, and it’s easy to be a critic. It’s harder to be a good critic, and people like Amanda Harlow I would like to salute and thank for a critique well done, even if she didn’t like the book much. I of course don’t agree with all her assessments, but I think this review is fair and I can learn something from it.
Japan Times: In its cover story last month, The Economist newsmagazine looked at the issue of “Asia’s lonely hearts: Why Asian women are rejecting marriage and what that means.” It offered many reasons — including economics, education level, changes in family structures and gender roles, divorce difficulties, and demographics — for why many Asian women (and of course, by extension, Asian men) are marrying later or not at all.
I commend The Economist’s well-intentioned attempt at dealing with an important social issue. But its discussion left one major stone unturned: sex.
At the risk of turning this month’s scribbling into a Hugh Hefner column, I think it incumbent upon those of us planning a life in Japan to consider a fundamentally unhealthy social phenomenon: how sexuality in Japan is downplayed, if not encouraged to be omitted completely, from many married lives.
First, an axiom: Healthy adults have sex throughout their lives, and this should not necessarily change just because people get married.
JT JBC: A few months ago I had beers with several old Japan-hand guys (combined we have more than a century of Japan experiences), and one of them asked an interesting question:
“After all our years here, how many close Japanese male friends do you have?” (Excluding Debito, of course.)
We glanced amongst ourselves and realized that none of us hadany. Not one we would count on as a “friend.” Nobody to whom we could talk openly, unreservedly, and in depth with, about what’s on our minds. Or contact for a place to stay because our spouse was on the warpath. Or call at 3 a.m. to announce the birth of our latest baby. Or ring up on the spur of the moment because we didn’t want to drink alone that evening. Or who would care enough to check on us in the event of a natural disaster. Not one. One theory was…
ARUDOU DEBITO ON CHOOSING A JAPANESE NAME. Writeup from KQED-FM, San Francisco NPR:
“Pacific Time correspondent Arudou Debito in Sapporo, Japan, gives the last of three talks on the why and how of the process he underwent as a Caucasian American to become a citizen of Japan, and discusses the complex process of choosing a legally mandatory Japanese name.”
Duration three minutes, broadcast on KQED-FM’s Pacific Time weekly radio segment December 28, 2000. (NB: They cut off my bad pun at the end of my essay: “It’s the game of the name.”)
ARUDOU DEBITO ON CHOOSING A JAPANESE NAME. Dec 28, 2000, KQED-FM, San Francisco Pacific Time radio show[ 2:55 ]Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
ARUDOU DEBITO ON JAPANESE NATURALIZATION PROCESS. Writeup from KQED-FM, San Francisco NPR:
“Pacific Time correspondent Arudou Debito in Sapporo, Japan, gives the second of three talks on the why and how of the process he underwent as a Caucasian American to become a naturalized Japanese citizen.”
Duration three minutes, broadcast on KQED-FM’s Pacific Time weekly radio segment December 21, 2000.
This is a time capsule of attitudes a decade ago, mere weeks after becoming a Japanese citizen, part two of three.
ARUDOU DEBITO ON JAPANESE NATURALIZATION PROCESS. Writeup from KQED-FM, San Francisco NPR:
“Pacific Time correspondent Arudou Debito in Sapporo, Japan, gives the first of three talks on the why and how of the process he underwent as a Caucasian American to become a naturalized Japanese citizen.”
Duration four minutes, broadcast on KQED-FM’s Pacific Time weekly radio segment December 14, 2000.
This is a time capsule of attitudes a decade ago, mere weeks after becoming a Japanese citizen, part one of three. Enjoy.
Time Capsule: Debito, freshly naturalized, talks on KQED-FM San Francisco in 2000 about the process (pt 1 of 3)[ 3:53 ]Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
In this podcast: Book Break at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on my new book “IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan”. June 28, 2011, Tokyo Yurakucho, with a large discussion on child abductions after divorce in Japan.
The presentation and Q&A in its entirety. 1 hour 20 minutes. No cuts. Enjoy!
One problem with our NJ brethren who leave us — through returning to their native countries, finding opportunities elsewhere, or, in Daniel’s case, death — is the disappearance of institutional memory. With a constant recycling of people, we as a community often know little of what happened before us, and have to start again from scratch.
That is the ultimate disempowerment: the ability to erase someone’s life work by not recognizing it.
This is why, at least in the case of death, we have an obligation to honor and remember NJ lives and efforts. Otherwise what is the point of making those efforts in the first place?
So let me propose a corrective measure: obituaries in The Japan Times. We should offer, say, a “Legacy Corner,” where someone who knew a recently deceased NJ of note well can submit a eulogy for possible publication. This way a print record remains of what they contributed to Japan and to us.
Many overseas newspapers, including The Guardian, already have this system in place. So should the JT…
China Daily/Asia Weekly: An obvious concern is whether fewer tax-paying workers will be able to support more benefit-claiming retirees. Japan’s healthy personal savings may help in that regard. A more human question is, “Who will provide the daily care the elderly require?”…
In 2010, of the 257 Filipinos who took the [qualifying exam to become a healthcare worker in Japan], only one passed. The success rate for Filipinos and Indonesians over the first two years of the program was also less than 1 percent, prompting some to regard the exam as a contrivance designed to restrict foreign professionals’ period of stay.
“Japan has long maintained a tacit revolving-door policy for migrant labor,” says Arudou Debito, a naturalized- Japanese human-rights activist and researcher on internationalization.
“The Japanese government imports cheap young workers during their most productive labor years, but under short-term work visa regimes to ensure they don’t settle here. In that sense, what is happening to the caregivers and nurses is completely within character.”
Just a quick note to let you know that tomorrow sees my 41st Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, this time another segment on how NJ can help themselves in the face of perpetual disempowerment in Japanese society.
A friend of mine died last May, and it came as a shock just how fast and without fanfare he disappeared from the face of the Earth (or rather, from Japanese society). One of the problems with NJ status is that once they leave (in this case, by death), their institutionalized memory often winks out. I propose a very simple way the Japan Times could help prevent this. A simple column for a change with a point that needed to be said sometime, so why not now. Have a read!
UPDATE: Here it is: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110705ad.html Up for commentary tomorrow.
What follows (and will take us up through the weekend) is an academic paper that changed my world view about Japan earlier this year. Written by friend M.G. “Bucky” Sheftall, and presented at the Association of Asian Studies annual convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, on April 3, 2011, it talks about how Japan’s culture is dysfunctional and, put more metaphysically, unable to fill the need of a people to “deny death”. This will on the surface be difficult to wrap one’s head around, so read on, open the mind wide, and take it all in. Reprinted here with permission of the author and revised specially for Debito.org. Concentrate. It’s like a dense episode of the X-Files. And it will raise fundamental questions in your mind about whether it’s worth one’s lifetime doing service to and learning about a dying system, which is ascriptive and exclusionary in nature, yet essentially serving nobody.
Sheftall: In a single paragraph of brutal candor, Richie verbalized a certain metaphysical malaise in the Japanese condition that I had been vaguely aware of since arriving in the country in 1987. Outside of the jeremiads and diatribes of right-wing pundits, this metaphysical malaise (or lacuna, as I have referred to it above) is generally kept politely hidden – like an embarrassing family secret jealously protected – although I had caught many glimpses and snippets of it here and there during my long years in Japan, most often and vividly in the sake-lubricated lamentations of older Japanese men (especially those old enough to remember life when the Meiji cosmology was still vibrant and functional). Moreover, it explained the grievously conflicted belief systems (i.e., torn between lingering loyalty to the Meiji cosmology vs. necessary adjustments to the undeniable realities of the postwar present) I had observed to more or less of a degree among virtually all of the Japanese war veteran subjects of my ethnographic project. My subjects had gradually revealed their lingering emotional turmoil over the collapse of the Meiji cosmology to me over our months and years of acquaintance with displays ranging from self-deprecating humor and passive resignation on some occasions, to painful and unrestrained expressions of profound grief, humiliation, and snarling hinekuri resentment on others. But it was not until I encountered Richie’s passage – which is worth quoting at length here – that I could really grasp the “pathology”, if you will, of this “metaphysical malaise”:
Richie: “In the decades following the war Japan has vastly improved in all ways but one. No substitute has ever been discovered for the certainty that this people enjoyed until the summer of 1945…Japan suffered a trauma that might be compared to that of the individual believer who suddenly finds himself an atheist. Japan lost its god, and the hole left by a vanished deity remains. The loss was not the emperor, a deity suddenly lost through his precipitate humanization. It was, however, everything for which he and his whole ordered, pre-war empire had stood. It was certainty itself that was lost. And this is something that the new post-war world could not replace”(120-121).
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS CLUB OF JAPAN (FCCJ)
“IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan”
By ARUDOU Debito
Tuesday, June 28, 2011 from 6.15 pm to 8.30 pm
FCCJ, Yurakucho, Tokyo (directions via www.fccj.or.jp)
(The speech and Q & A will be in English)
If you would like to attend and are not a FCCJ member, please let me know via firstname.lastname@example.org (please put “Invitation to FCCJ Book Break” in subject line) and I will add you to the guest list. (Please be absolutely sure you can attend, because I have to pay for any no-shows out of my own pocket). Thanks.
One would think that difficult times would occasion people pulling together to help. There has of course been plenty of that, but on balance there has also been, as I wrote last month, a particularly unhelpful tendency to bash and badmouth NJ as cowards and deserters (as neatly demonstrated by the new word “flyjin”).
But this is a mere complement to the perpetually uncooperative nature of many NJ in Japan, particularly in the English-speaking community. Despite its size and stature in this society, this community has not yet fostered a comprehensive interest group to look out for the civil or political rights of NJ.
Not for lack of trying. I personally have led or been part of several groups (e.g., UMJ, The Community, Kunibengodan, FRANCA), but none garnered enough support to be an effective lobbying force. I’ll take my share of the blame for that (I am more an organizer of information than of people), but my efforts did not stop other people from organizing separately. Yet 20 years after a groundswell in the NJ population, and despite the unprecedented degree of connectivity made possible by the Internet, minority interest groups and antidefamation leagues for the English-language community have been lackluster or lacking.
Contrast this with the efforts of other ethnic or language groups in Japan. The Zainichi Koreans alone have three different organizations, which over the past 60 years have wrung political concessions from the Japanese government. The Chinese too have powerful information networks, not to mention a neighboring economic hegemon often speaking on their behalf. Even the Nikkei South Americans have their own newspapers, grass-roots schools and local human rights associations.
It’s an important question: Why are some minorities in Japan less able to organize than others? Let’s focus on the English-language community, since this very forum is part of it…
In addition to my latest Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column (out today, read it here), I am very happy to announce that my latest book, “IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping and revenge in modern Japan”, is now available for purchase at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
More on IN APPROPRIATE here.
Buy from Amazon by clicking this link. Or buy from Barnes and Noble by clicking this link.
FYI. Thanks as always for reading. Arudou Debito, speaking at Doshisha University law school.
JBC: The past two months have been uncomfortable for Japan, and for the country’s foreign residents. Non-Japanese (NJ) have been bashed in the media, unreservedly and undeservedly, as deserters in the face of disaster.
Consider the birth of the epithet “fly-jin.” A corruption of the racist word gaijin for foreigners, it appeared in English-language media as a label for NJ who apparently flew the coop in Japan’s time of need. The Japanese media soon developed its own variants (e.g., Nihon o saru gaikokujin), and suddenly it was open season for denigrating NJ…
I saw no articles putting things into perspective, comparing numbers of AWOL NJ with AWOL Japanese. Cowardice and desertion were linked with extranationality.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt that many NJ did move due to the Tohoku disasters. But my question is: So what if they did?… Why should Japan care if NJ are leaving? Japan hasn’t exactly encouraged them to stay…
Examiner.com: Divorce is tough, but divorce in Japan—especially if you’re a foreigner with kids—is a nightmare, explains Sapporo-based author Arudou Debito in his new book, “In Appropriate: A Novel of Culture, Kidnapping, and Revenge in Modern Japan”.
Originally raised in rural upstate New York as David Aldwinckle, Debito is a 23-year resident of Japan who obtained Japanese citizenship (and a name change) in 2000. As the Just Be Cause columnist at The Japan Times newspaper, his nonfiction books include Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants, and Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan.
A longtime watchdog for foreigners’ rights in Japan, Debito’s first English-language novel takes a scalpel to the polite, friendly façade that tourists typically experience. In Appropriate examines the downright ugly aspects of Japanese life when a father is cut from all ties with his children post-divorce, which is not only common in Japan, but upheld by 19th century law. In this exclusive interview, Debito discusses his personal experiences that inspired the book, his history as an activist, and his thoughts on the future of Japan.
Q: You’ve been known as an activist for over a decade and have published non-fiction works on the subject. What inspired you to write about child abduction in Japan, and what were your goals?
DEBITO: My goal with In Appropriate was to expose a dire social problem, as usual. But this time I thought fiction would be the better medium. Doing what I do, I hear a lot of stories about broken marriages in Japan, and having gone through a nasty divorce myself (seeing my children only about six times since 2003), I know a little bit about child abduction. What goes on in Japan beggars belief, but it’s hard to zero in on one non-fiction case and expect it to cover the scope of the problem.
Although international child abductions in other countries have gotten some press, the situation in Japan is much, much worse. Child abductions and parental alienation in Japan are, in a word, systematic—meaning they are hardly uncommon between Japanese, too (former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is a famous example; he never saw one of his sons for nearly two decades). One parent after a divorce is generally expected to disappear, and have little to no contact with the children anymore. In Appropriate was meant as a primer to the issue.
Japan has no system of joint custody or guaranteed visitation rights, and under this system I cannot recommend anyone, Japanese or non-Japanese (NJ), get married under it and consider having children. The risk is too great. We need fundamental reform of the Family Registry System and the laws governing divorce and child custody first.
Q: Give us a basic overview on the phenomenon of kidnapping and left-behind parents in Japan….
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