Hi Blog. Here’s an excerpt of my latest SNA column, discussing in part why journalism on Japan has historically had so many topical, “weird Japan” stories. Part of it is because some commentators on Japan remain willfully ignorant of the Japanese language. Others get duped by the industry of “Gaijin Handlers” designed to steer foreign perceptions of Japan in the “right direction”. And some commentators, like the late Henry Scott-Stokes, former Tokyo Bureau Chief at The Financial Times, Times of London, and New York Times, become willing abettors of the Japanese far-right, selling their reputations to maintain their privilege.
Have a read. It resolves one mystery I always felt when meeting numerous veteran foreign correspondents during the Otaru Onsens Case. They would often arrogantly question my standing to work within the Japanese system as resident, citizen, and activist. Yet they could barely read the menu. Time for me to question their standing too. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
////////////////////////////// Visible Minorities: Henry Scott-Stokes, Sell-Out to Gaijin Handlers Shingetsu News Agency, May 23, 2022, by Debito Arudou
SNA (Tokyo) — Henry Johnstone Morland Scott-Stokes, patrician among Japan’s foreign correspondents since 1964, recently died in Tokyo at the age of 83, but not before he did untold damage by performing as a foreign handmaid to Japan’s fascists.
A man described as “tweedy” and “entertaining and congenial,” Briton Scott-Stokes was nonetheless a man of privilege, lucky enough to land in Japan as Tokyo bureau chief of the Financial Times only three years after graduating from Oxford.
Becoming bureau chief of a major newspaper at the wizened old age of 26 might seem odd today, but back then foreign journalism in Japan had lower standards, and the field was infused with neocolonial attitudes towards the “natives.” Fluency in your assigned country’s language was not required.
Nor was Japanese required at the other “Big Three” English-language newspapers in Japan, as Scott-Stokes later became bureau chief of The Times of London and the New York Times through the 1970s and early 1980s. For a man described as “someone who really understood Japan,” he spent his entire 58 years in Japan as a functional illiterate, unable to fluently read, write, or speak Japanese…
Most hacks in his station moved on to other countries or settled into a quiet life in Japan, living a harmless twilight existence as cottage consultants in their cups.
Scott-Stokes didn’t. He didn’t just continue to rely on his privileged access to Japan’s elite for his income; he decided to embrace their fascist tendencies…
Hi Blog. My most recent SNA column is a think-pied about how the Left keeps losing out to the Right. Because working with the Left is like herding cats. Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
Visible Minorities: Why Progressives Keep Losing
Shingetsu News Agency, April 18, 2022
SNA (Tokyo) — Shingetsu News Agency President Michael Penn wrote about my previous column:
“Debito found a way to provoke them again, and I must say that I don’t understand the way a lot of people think these days. Those who read the article and interacted with what was written tended to say on social media that they largely agreed with it. But there was a more vocal cohort who, not really disagreeing with any specific arguments made, were outraged on the basis that Debito, a white man, had dared to give any advice to Naomi Osaka. Apparently, we are now supposed to live self-contained within our own little tribal identities, and universal humanity is no longer recognized as sufficient grounds to express an opinion, even for a news columnist whose job is to comment on public affairs.”
There’s a lesson here.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder said recently in a television interview, “The Left loses for the right reasons; the Right wins for the wrong reasons.”
One of the reasons why the Left, particularly the Progressives who have not enjoyed much power worldwide for more than a century, keeps losing is because of their fractiousness.
Just as soon as they gain an advantage or start making headway in the policy arena, they lose focus and begin turning on themselves. They alienate natural allies because they are not ideologically pure enough, or worse yet, as seen above, the wrong skin color.
Granted, the Left has always had a tougher time mobilizing people than the Right. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, the Left wants leaders they can fall in love with, while the Right wants leaders they can fall in line with.
Let’s unpack that. Voices from the Left are discordant and diverse, and expectations are high and sometimes uncompromising. It’s also a lot tougher for a Leftist leader to gain and sustain the “love” of their supporters since, no matter what else happens, there will always be winners and losers with every decision they make.
But for Rightists, it’s a lot easier to “fall in line” behind an ideological camp whose basic organizing principle is money (and the shameless acquisition of it). And once they gain enough of it, money in itself not only buys power, but also, oddly enough, credibility. […] Sadly, that’s why the Right understands power better…
But that’s Right vs. Left. Now let’s talk about Left vs. Left, and how they undermine themselves…
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Hi Blog. This semester has been an extremely busy one, so I haven’t had much time to blog. All my writing energies are being devoted to creating lectures. Sorry. Anyway, here’s my latest SNA column. Debito Arudou, PhD
SNA (Tokyo) — At a recent tournament in Indian Wells, California, Japan tennis champion Naomi Osaka was heckled by some troll in the audience who shouted out “you suck!” while she was playing on court.
That reduced Osaka to tears. She asked the referee if she could address the crowd, then asked to have the troll ejected. Both requests were denied, and play resumed. Osaka then lost in straight sets.
In post-game comments, Osaka tearfully noted the distraction and compared her situation to a 2001 incident where Venus and Serena Williams faced crowd abuse, again at Indian Wells. The Williamses boycotted the venue for more than a decade after that.
Fortunately, this time Osaka’s heckler was the outlier. The audience at the venue, fellow players afterwards, media and internet chatter were overwhelmingly supportive of her.
Still, others noted that Osaka needs to develop a thicker skin.
I’m afraid I agree.
Osaka has been around on this circuit for quite a while. She’s now 24, and obviously has the talent to be world champion. Now the question is, given the choices she’s made, does she have the mettle to maintain it?
Osaka has been around on this circuit for quite a while.She’s now 24, and obviously has the talent to be world champion.Now the question is, does she have the mettle to maintain it?
Remember, these are the choices she made:As I’ve written before in a Japan Times column, “Warning to Naomi Osaka: Playing for Japan can seriously shorten your career” (September 19, 2018), she chose to represent Japan, a country with a long history of putting grueling (sometimes fatal) pressure on its athletes.They’re expected to put their country first and their personal best a distant second.
And it’s further complicated by the fact that Osaka is a Visible Minority in Japan, moreover living the preponderance of her life in America and remaining unproficient in Japanese.
That means, like for so many Visible Minorities in Japan, her foreignness is tolerated as long as she keeps winning.Put simply:If she wins, her Japanese half is celebrated.If she loses, her Non-Japanese half is to blame.
And she’s not winning.She’s skipped tournaments due to mental health issues and underperformed in the recent ones she’s attended.Despite having the honor of lighting the Olympic flame in Tokyo 2021, she only made it to the third round in the tennis event.Currently she’s dropped to 78th in the world rankings.
That is all tragic, especially since her Japanese sponsors will someday start questioning their money’s worth, as she’s the highest paid female athlete in history.She’s also used her status (rightly) to visibly advocate for minority causes in America, including BLM (but notably, not for fellow Visible Minorities in Japan; she even ironically dismissed racism in Japan as merely a matter of “a few bad apples”).
But here’s the point:What is Osaka’s goal?
If she wishes to settle for the celebrity status of “famous for being famous,” then mission accomplished.Tennis or no tennis, she can continue to attend her gala events and model for magazine covers and advocate for her causes.Those are her life choices, so power to her.
But if she wishes to remain a tennis champ, especially one representing and compensated by Japan, she’s going to have to develop some focus.
No matter what, there will be detractors.That’s the hazard of being a public figure, especially as a Japanese athlete.And her championing off-court issues like human rights attracts even more detractors.
I speak from some experience here.While I am by no means an athlete and cannot claim to be a world champion at anything, I too have fought for human rights causes in Japan.I’ve kept a sustained public campaign against racial discrimination in Japan for decades, writing several books and garnering domestic and international media attention against “Japanese Only” signs and rules.We took our case all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court and made it clear to the world, despite all the denialists, that racial discrimination is an embedded, systemic reality in Japan.
That too brings forth detractors who think that pointing out something shameful in Japan is shameful in itself.As do the trolls of the Global Far Right, who hold up Japan as their model ethnostate, and from them I get death threats on a weekly basis.
But my goal has always been straightforward:Get a national law passed against racial discrimination in Japan with criminal penalties.It might not happen in my lifetime, but that remains my focus and I pay the trolls no heed.
As should Osaka.At some point in time she’s going to have to stop letting hecklers take her power away.This is that point in time.
Look, if it’s a matter of unfairness in the rules, or something that targets her because of things she cannot change (such as her racial and ethnic background), by all means, protest that.Racism should never be tolerated.
But a matter of a generic “You suck!”, while unpleasant and undeserved, is something people her age should have learned to deal with by now.
Bullies will always exist, and you’ll probably encounter them outside of Indian Wells.Showing them that they have the power to affect you like that only emboldens them further.Reclaim that power by showing them you’re stronger than they are.Be unfazed.Otherwise you will appear to lack the mettle to stay champion, and they, not you, will accomplish their goals.
Yes, it’s Indian Wells’ job to create a comfortable and level playing field for athletes, and they should have taken responsibility for that.It’s our job as the general public to make sure those conditions are in fact enforced and to support our favorite athletes.If Indian Wells isn’t going to cooperate, then yes, boycott the place.
But it’s still the athlete’s job to train both physically and mentally and play their personal best.
So do your best, Naomi Osaka.Enforce what you can, tune out what you can’t.That’s what champions do.That’s the path you chose, and to a certain degree these detractors come with it.
As you might say, dismiss them in your mind as just “a few bad apples.”
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Hi Blog. Just a follow-up on my Shingetsu News Agency column of this week. When I was talking about the roots of the Olympics, I made the case there that the Games are less about athleticism than national demonstrations of power, particularly in the vein of racial superiority and thoroughbred-ism. In my summary of their history, I wrote:
///////////////////////////////// SNA: Thanks to my background in political science, I’m trained to view nationalism with a critical eye: How governments convince people to live, fight, and even sacrifice their lives for their country. The Olympics are rooted precisely in these attitudes, and forever filter athleticism through the lens of national representation and superiority.
Remember that the Olympics were first framed as a way for the ancient Greeks to assert their superiority over neighboring city-states.
When the Games were resuscitated by aristocrats in 1896, in spirit they were still grounded in contemporary attitudes equating national strength with physical strength. Thanks to the racialized social theories in currency at the time, including Social Darwinism and eugenics, the Games soon became a public demonstration of the social engineering of supermen, which depended on how racially “thoroughbred” an athlete and a society was. It’s not difficult to draw a straight line from the geneticist attitudes promoted by the prewar Olympics to The Final Solution.
Even in the postwar Games, despite all the emphasis on individual athleticism and sportsmanship, the legacy of national superiority still exists. You easily find it in the schlong-measuring national medal tallies, and the enormous pressure put on athletes to prove themselves worthy of all the national attention and hype they’re getting.
Japanese athletes in particular must get Gold (especially in sports Japan thinks it owns, such as judo or karate) or publicly apologize for taking Shameful Silver or Despicable Bronze. This culture of self-sacrifice for the sake of nationalism is one reason why, as I have written elsewhere, Japanese athletes live surprisingly shorter lives, and why I constantly wince at the nasty nationalistic coverage in NHK and Japan’s sports newspapers.
I want to highlight how one athlete, who won Silver for Japan in Surfing, decided to depict himself. Again, as I wrote for SNA above:
SNA: Kanoa Igarashi, US-born resident of Huntington Beach, CA, indicatively promotes himself on his Olympics website entry in classic Olympic “thoroughbred-ism”: “I have so much support here in the USA and America will always be part of who I am. But I’ve grown up with a lifestyle and in a generation where things can seem a bit borderless. And so representing Japan felt like a solid, comfortable decision. My blood is 100% Japanese. That’s something that you don’t change.”
COMMENT: Now that’s playing to type. Blood type, in fact. As I responded in my column:
SNA: Good for his bloodline, I guess. But for mongrel non-medalists like Osaka Naomi, as the New York Times noted, Japan’s social media pounced, contesting her Japanese language ability, her standing to represent Japan, and even her Japaneseness…
In sum, I wanted to highlight one of the main arguments of my column: how The Olympics also brings out racist attitudes not only in its governments but also in its athletes.
Again, you can self-identify with and play for whatever country will have you. But a person like this who has benefited from both systems does not deserve respect for this throwback-Eugenicist attitude, and it should be challenged appropriately in public. Doing so here. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
UPDATE: According to the Japan Times, Igarashi faced online hate during the Olympics. While I feel for Igarashi’s situation when it comes to online hate and racism, he doesn’t seem to have reflected on how his express pure-blood-ism further encouraged by Japan’s blood-oriented nationalism and Olympic attitudes encourages those hateful and tribal attitudes as well. Excerpt from the JT article in Comments Section below.
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Hi Blog. My latest Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 14 discusses how Japan weaponizes its language to require “perfect Japanese” from non-native speakers only, and when they can’t speak it perfectly, they get discriminated against. Consider this:
=================================== Visible Minorities: Weaponizing the Japanese Language Shingetsu News Agency, SEP 21, 2020 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
On August 28, Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s foreign minister, was giving an official press conference to reporters in Japanese. A foreign reporter for Japan Times, Magdalena Osumi, asked some questions in Japanese. When Osumi followed up on a point he left unclear, Motegi responded to her in English.
Osumi then retorted in Japanese, “You needn’t treat me like I’m stupid. If we’re talking in Japanese, please answer in Japanese.” Damn right.
How many times has this happened to you? You ask a question in Japanese of a shop keep, clerk, passerby, or somebody on the other end of a telephone, and they flake out because you got some words in the wrong order, had an accent, or just have a foreign face? Many automatically assume that because you’re foreign-looking or -sounding, you must be able to speak English. So they reply in English.
Or how many times, as a budding Japanese language learner, were you told that what you just said “is not Japanese,” not “it’s not correct Japanese”? Just a flat-out denial, as if your attempt is in some alien tongue, like Klingon.
This phenomenon, where it’s either “perfect Japanese” or you get linguistically gaijinized, is odd. It’s also based upon a myth…
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(And if you haven’t subscribed for Japan’s last bastion of independent journalism in English at SNA, I strongly suggest you do. In any case, check out this article before it goes behind a paywall in a few days.)
SNA (Tokyo) — In a recent SNA Speakeasy on “Foreign Residents in the Coronavirus Era,” I argued that Non-Japanese (NJ) must band together and be vocal about claiming what’s due them as taxpayers. We shouldn’t wait for the government to deign to divvy out what it thinks foreigners want, as if it’s the omotenashi (hospitality) Japan offers any guest. Instead, NJ residents should be telling the government what they want, on their terms; trying to influence policy agendas that affect them by, for example, participating in local government forums and policy deliberation councils (shingikai).
People have been advocating this for years. Why isn’t it happening as often as it should? Because NJ (especially those in the English-language communities) collectively suffer from something I call “guestism”: falling for the fiction that they are merely “guests” in Japan subject to the whims of the Japanese “hosts.” Their mantra is “It’s their country, not mine. Who am I to tell them what to do?
Still, eventually some NJ live here long enough, develop deep connections and language abilities, and even become Japanese citizens. Some transform into community leaders, prominent business owners and spokespeople, media mavens, and elected officials. They are definitely no longer “guests.”
But once they earn due respect and authority, another problem comes up: Many squander their position by becoming “collaborators.”
Instead of using their power for good, such as showing other NJ how to follow in their footsteps and to assimilate and enfranchise themselves, collaborators pull the ladder up behind them. They actively consort with the powers-that-be to preserve their privilege and to undermine other NJ Residents.
For example, consider Marutei Tsurunen, Donald Keene, and Oussouby Sacko…
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Hi Blog. In July 2018, Debito.org talked about a New York Times feature article on Dr. Oussouby Sacko, a Mali-born naturalized Japanese citizen who is currently the President of Kyoto Seika University. I took a dim view of his views on discrimination by physical appearance in Japan, as he pointedly refused to equate being “treated differently because he does not look Japanese” with racism.
As I wrote back then,
Sorry, that’s not now modern definitions of racism work anymore, Dr. Sacko. Differential treatment of Visible Minorities in Japan is still a racialization process. But I guess anyone can succumb to the predominant “Japan is not racist” groupthink if it is that strong… But the questions remain: Is this a form of Stockholm Syndrome? A cynical attempt to parrot the narrative for the sake of professional advancement? A lack of awareness and social-science training on the part of a person, despite fluency in several languages, with a doctorate in a non-social science (engineering/architecture)? I’m open to suggestion. Especially from Dr. Sacko himself, if he’s reading.
Diverse Leaders in Japanese Education In this plenary speech, I would like to share my experiences as a Japanese university manager with a foreign background, and to point out the necessity of collaboration between Japanese and foreign teachers to cope with the needs of more open and global education.
Dr. Sacko also gave a Practice-Oriented Long Workshop on the same day:
Educational Leadership With Dr. Oussouby Sacko This session will be an open discussion moderated by one of JALT2019’s conference co-chairs, Catherine Littlehale Oki or Steven Herder. This format provides the opportunity to delve further into the themes introduced in Dr. Sacko’s plenary while allowing participants to ask new questions around the topic of educational leadership. We invite audience members to bring questions about teaching, learning, and leading within the Japanese context.
My friend YZ gave Dr. Sacko’s plenary a positive review on FB (all quotes below used with permission), saying:
YZ: I just saw him speak at JALT in Nagoya …he gave a plenary and he was fantastic! I could listen to him for hours…humorous, serious, to the point. A real voice for change in Japan.
Reading this, I sent a link to the abovementioned Debito.org post and NYT article to YZ for consideration.
In response, another friend who also attended Dr. Sacko’s plenary session offered this observation:
================================= JT: I’m wondering if there need to be people who may not be completely honest with the situation to move things forward. When said like this, it sounds like a terrible insult to Dr. Sacko, and I don’t mean to insult him, but there were some disingenuous notes in his talk, but I had to leave before questions. Though I’m not sure I would have brought them up anyway. But I put them here because they have been gnawing at me.
For example, he talked about how he wanted discussion about his targets for Seika, and produced a document with % targets that _to his surprise_ were taken as an order and discussion started on how to implement them. I can’t believe that Dr. Sacko didn’t realize that he was setting out a mandate and that the uni staff would look at it as a debate opportunity.
Likewise, the charming story about how he would hold parties in his Kyoto rented house and his landlord said his place was too small and it would be better for him to hold them downstairs when he was there, which he did. And then have his landlord and later his neighbors come and speak to him about the _weekly_ parties and because they began by saying ‘we like you and all your friends’, he took that as permission to continue the parties when they were actually expressing their discomfort.
It’s a cute story, but I’ve seen those sorts of situations blow up and looked at from one viewpoint, Dr. Sacko was taking advantage of the Japanese unwillingness to voice objections. While taking advantage of situations is unavoidable sometimes, to do so and pretend you aren’t seems problematic to me.
A lot of problems arise when asymmetries are exploited and I think the solution is not to find asymmetries that you can counter exploit but for you to be honest and upfront. Of course, that may not apply when the other side is not going to take any of your suggestions for change seriously, but if someone said to me ‘you took advantage of X’, I wouldn’t want to play dumb and say ‘how can you say that, they didn’t complain’.”
To which I replied:
================================= Debito: I think Dr. Sacko is oblivious to many things. Not only as evidenced in the report from JT above, but also as he expresses himself about racism in Japan in the New York Times article I referred to above.
Obliviousness is a hallmark of most leadership in Japan. But presenting himself as an expert with these obvious blindspots is more than a little annoying. He should know better and say better.￼
To which YZ replied:
YZ:I attended his plenary and found it to be very engaging and interesting…in part, I think, compared to the other plenaries that were so academic and language-based, it was refreshing to hear another’s point of view (that was more cross-cultural) about coming here, learning the language, maneuvering through the culture, language, and human-based relationships…and the other various obstacles that can be put in one’s path, yet be able to obtain a position that is normally reserved for native Japanese people. I felt that his experiences, etc struck a chord with many of the long-termers in attendance as many of us could relate to some of his trials and tribulations. No doubt he isn’t perfect in his assimilation, but who of us are? We all do the best we can within our particular circumstances, abilities, and personal goals. Hats off to him for achieving what is nearly impossible for most people who come here with stars in their eyes of wanting to make a difference and to break that glass ceiling that is an obstacle for foreigners trying to work on equal footing with their Japanese counterparts.
To which JT replied:
JT: I agree with YZ about having him as a counter balance to the academic presentations, and I didn’t want to harsh the buzz by asking him a pointed question (getting mellow in my old age) I also think it is an interesting illustration of how the high profile foreigner who is really in the minority can effect some change, but that change comes with the caveat that the person has to be treated as a token.
Conclusion: Educators, especially those who are seen as prominent enough to invited as plenary speakers, are supposed to be experts on what they are speaking of — in this case, according to JALT, “the Japanese context”. And in research situations, they are required to be self-aware of their position in the society they are studying and opining about. Dr. Sacko is clearly an expert on his own life. But given his repeated blind spots toward how he is treated in Japan, to the point where he remains oblivious towards the privilege and tokenism he enjoys as an outsider in Japan (while essentially minimizing/denying the discrimination that happens to other outsiders), I think he is out of his depth in terms of social science. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
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LIMA – Princess Mako paid a visit to Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra on Thursday in Lima during her trip to mark the 120th anniversary of the start of Japanese immigration to the South American country.
“I feel Japanese Peruvians are treated very well in Peru. I’m grateful that Peru accepted Japanese immigrants,” the 27-year-old princess, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Akishino, said during the meeting at the president’s office.
Vizcarra said he is glad that Japanese Peruvians are actively involved in various fields.
The president also showed his gratitude to Japan’s contribution to Peru in the areas of technological and economic cooperation and archaeology. […]
She later met at a hotel in Lima with representatives of Japanese people living in Peru and Japanese volunteers dispatched by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, thanking them for their efforts in the country. […] On Wednesday, she attended a ceremony marking the immigration anniversary and met with Peruvians of Japanese descent. She is scheduled to travel to Bolivia on Monday to mark the 120th anniversary of the start of Japanese immigration to that country, and return home on July 22.
More than 200,000 people in rural Peru were pressured into being sterilised by the government of former President Alberto Fujimori, an official report has revealed.
The Health Minister, Fernando Carbone, said the government gave misleading information, offered food incentives and threatened to fine men and women if they had more children.
Poor indigenous people in rural areas were the main targets of the compulsive family planning programme until 2000, when Mr Fujimori left for Japan amid mounting corruption allegations against him.
Mr Carbone said there was evidence that Mr Fujimori and a number of high-ranking ministers could be held responsible for “incorrect procedures” and “human rights violations”.
He called for a deeper investigation and promised that action would be taken against those found responsible for the forced sterilisations.
Figures show that between 1996 and 2000, surgeons carried out 215,227 sterilising operations on women and 16,547 male vasectomies.
This compared to 80,385 sterilisations and 2,795 vasectomies over the previous three years.
The result has been a demographical drop in certain areas, leaving an older population and the economic disadvantages which will result from fewer people able to earn a living.
The report, by the commission investigating “voluntary contraceptive surgery” activities, concluded that there had been numerous programmes during the Fujimori regime which threatened poor women in Peru.
The operations were promoted in a “deceitful” publicity campaign of leaflets, posters and radio advertisements promising “happiness and well-being,” the report said.
Investigations found that there was inadequate evaluation before surgery and little after-care.
The procedures were also found to have been negligent, with less than half being carried out with a proper anaesthetist.
The commission’s report said the inadequate family planning policy had a psychological and moral impact and harmed the dignity and physical integrity of men as well as women.
Five hundred and seven people, from rural areas such as Cuzco and Ancash, gave testimonies to the commission.
Only 10% of these admitted having voluntarily agreed to the sterilisation procedure after promises of economic and health incentives such as food, operations and medicines.
Others said that if they refused they were told they would have to pay a fine and would not be able to seek medical help for their children.
The report added that most of the women interviewed said they were scared of talking because of threats made against anyone who spoke out.
The programme was found to have been designed, encouraged and monitored at the highest levels in Fujimori’s government, including the president’s office.
The number of operations, and pressure from government, started to fall after increasing concerns from human rights organisations within Peru and the international community.
COMMENT FROM DEBITO: Now, before anyone writes in and says, “You’re being racist. Alberto Fujimori didn’t do this BECAUSE he is Japanese. He just happened to be of Japanese descent.” (And self-claimed citizenship.) While doing monstrous things.
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Hi Blog. Foreign Minister Kouno Taro (whom I have met, for the record, and can attest is one of the more liberal, open-minded people I’ve ever negotiated with in the LDP) came out last week to say that Japanese names should be rendered in Japanese order (last name, then first) in overseas media. This debate has gained significant traction in the past couple of weeks (not to mention quite a few scoffs). But I will defy the scoffs, make the case for why it matters, and why I agree with Kouno (after the WaPo article below):
Ahead of a series of important international events in Japan, including a visit from President Trump this weekend, Japan’s foreign minister has said he will issued a request to foreign media: Call our prime minister Abe Shinzo, not Shinzo Abe.
“The new Reiwa era was ushered in, and we are hosting the Group of 20 summit. As many news organizations write Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, it is desirable for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s name to be written in a similar manner,” said foreign minister Taro Kono at a news conference Tuesday, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.
Or perhaps we should say, Kono Taro said that? Kono is the foreign minister’s family name, just as Abe is the Japanese prime minister’s family name. The Japanese diplomat says the family name should be first when referred to in English, as it is when it is written or spoken in Japanese.
Chinese and Korean names have their family names first in English — for example, in the cases of Xi and Moon, as Kono noted.
The convention for English-language transliterations of Japanese names, however, has long put the family name second. The custom is believed to date back to the 19th century, during a period when the Meiji dynasty reformed Japan’s complicated naming culture — and encouraged both foreigners and Japanese people themselves to write their family name second when writing in English, part of a broader attempt to conform to international standards.
But this system has long been used inconsistently. As far back as 1986, the government-funded Japan Foundation had decided to use the family-name-first format in its English-language publications and historical works or academic papers often did too.
In his remarks Tuesday, Kono referred to a 2000 report by the education ministry’s National Language Council that had recommended the use of the Japanese format. That report did not change things at the time, but as the foreign minister noted, it is now a new era.
The arrival of a new emperor has resulted in a new era, named “Reiwa” for two characters that symbolize auspiciousness and harmony. Japan is hosting a number of major events at the start of this period, including the G-20 summit of world leaders next month and the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Trump is arriving in Japan on Saturday for a state visit, where he will be the first foreign leader to meet with Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito. The U.S. leader has formed an unusually close bond to Abe — even referring to him as “Prime Minister Shinzo” in 2017.
It is unclear whether the U.S. government will conform to Kono’s request. It also remains unclear whether the entire Japanese government is behind the idea.
Last month, Kono told a parliamentary committee on diplomacy and defense that he writes his name in the Japanese order on his English-language business card, and that this issue should be discussed by the government as a whole.
But Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Daichi Suzuki has said the public should be consulted before the move.
“We should be deciding after spending some more time examining how discussions among the public are,” Suzuki said, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.
I know this personally because I have had several name changes in my life, both through adoption as child and naturalization into another society. And through those experiences I’ve realized that names are something you should be allowed to control.
What name I had at whatever stage in my life profoundly shaped how I was treated by others — from being respected as a distinct human being (e.g., I get significantly more respect and cooperation from bureaucrats for having a kanji name than a katakana name), to being an object of mockery and even racialized scorn. (Enough online trolls had virtual hernias for my audacity to insist I be rendered as ARUDOU, Debito — because, how dare I? What do I think I am, Japanese?!?)
Because you can’t please everybody (and when it’s a matter of your own name, you’re the only person you should have to please), choose the outcome you’re more comfortable with. Which means: if you don’t like to be called something, then demand something different. And hold fast to what you want, no matter what people say.
Case in point: North Korea (for want of a better example) has done this successfully. In contrast to how Japan renders Chinese leaders’ names (Deng Xiaoping is “Tou Shouhei” due to Japanized “Chinese readings” (on-yomi) of the Chinese kanji), Japan’s media and government officially calls Kim Il-Sung et al. “Kimu Iru-Son” in katakana as per Korean readings, not “Kin Nissei” as per on-yomi. Because that is the rendering the DPRK demanded until it stuck. Similarly, as Foreign Minister representing Japan, Kouno Taro is within his mandate to demand a Japanized rendering.
Now, does this order of names matter?
Yes. It goes beyond the confusion of not being to tell “Which name is the surname?” when names don’t match what other societies are accustomed to.
It’s a matter of being consistent.
Western media already renders Chinese and Korean names in the native order (Last name, then first, as in Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-Un). Eventually overseas readers adjusted. They’ve even cottoned on to changes in rendering, regardless of order: Mao Zedong has also been called Mao Tse-tung, and the sky hasn’t fallen.
There’s another reason I’ve long supported the Japanese rendering of surname first in overseas media, and not only because it’s accurate. (After all, Western academia has already long rendered Japanese names as surname first, because international studies by definition requires study.) It’s also because the present system of surname last in overseas media is in fact built upon a flawed, racialized premise.
Think about it. Why does Japan get different treatment from other Asian countries with the same system?
Because, as the WaPo article above alludes, the names were switched to “Western order” because of an artificial push (demanded, again, until it stuck) to make Japan appear more “Western”, an “Honorary White” status in Asia. This was part of a larger historical pattern of Japan trying to present itself as non-Asian, pro-Western, and “modern”. Even if subconsciously, Kouno Taro is trying to redress this misleading 19th-Century concept of “modernism by pandering to Western styles”.
Conversely, it’s also annoying to have to deal with the phenomenon of assuming “Western order” for “Western contexts”: people in Japan assuming that “foreign names must also go in Western order in Japanese”, not to mention the “we must deal with foreigners on a first-hame basis” (calling somebody Jon-san instead of Sumisu-san — if you’re lucky enough to get even the damned –san attached). Having this mixed-up system just encourages people to further alienate each other.
This brings me to something that further thickens the debate:
The primary assumption behind all of this is mutual respect and reciprocity, i.e., “We’ll respect your styles if you respect ours. However, as pointed out on Debito.org for many years, Japan has not been respectful of the rendering of foreign names within its own registry systems.
As long-time resident Kirk Masden in Kumamoto pointed out on Facebook:
Hi! Masden Kirk Steward here with some thoughts on the cultural integrity of names.
As you can see from the images of my Japanese IDs, the Japanese government has determined that the correct, official way to write our names is in Japanese order (family name followed by given names), without a comma to show a change in order. I have been told that I must “sign” my name in this order, in English, in order to complete a cell phone agreement. I protested but ultimately complied because I wanted the phone.
As you can imagine, I felt a bit irritated but had forgotten about the issue until I saw today’s news:
“As an example, Kono said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s name should be written as ‘Abe Shinzo,’ in line with other Asian leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae In.”
As one who would like have the cultural integrity of my own name respected, I’m sympathetic to this position. OK, Mr. Kono, have it your way. But first, please do the following:
* Formally sign your request 太郎河野 in Japanese — the cultural equivalent of what Japanese policy has forced me to do * Apologize, on behalf of the Japanese government, for not respecting the cultural integrity of non-Japanese names * Make an adjustment to current practice
If for example, individuals could choose to place a comma after a family name on an ID, that would be an improvement in my view. Or, IDs could have separate boxes for “Family name” and “Given names”. It would also be nice to publish something on an official Japanese website about not forcing people to sign names in the order they appear on a Japanese ID.
Yours truly, Masden Kirk Steward — NOT!!!
P.S. One more point: The Japanese government forces us to opt in if we want our names written In Japanese. That may be OK but after going to the trouble of opting in once, I forgot to opt in again when I got my next card — even though the new card was a new version of the old card and I was required to submit the old one at the same time I submitted the new one. So, now I have no official indication of how to write my name in Japanese — which I had specifically requested earlier. 🙁 End of rant
P.P.S. I would just like cultural and linguistic integrity of non-Japanese names to get a little more respect and understanding. Pretty much the same thing that Kono is asking for. The gap between “This is Japan and we will mangle your names as we see fit” on the one hand and “Respect Japanese culture and present our names in the correct order” on the other bugs me.
DEBITO: This is before, of course, we get to how names of children of international marriages get rendered, where the koseki has no extra slot for a middle name, meaning the first and last names can get mashed together into an unwieldy polyglot. As Facebook commenter ID pointed out:
=========================== ID: I’m with Kirk. When I went to register my daughter at the city office, they tried to tell me that her name couldn’t be Christine. She could be “Kurisuten” or “Kurisucheen”. He didn’t get long shrift… A friend of mine has a son whom they insisted was called “Ando-ryu”.
To which Kirk answered:
=========================== Masden Kirk Steward: In my case, the disagreement was with the people who had the power to approve or disapprove how their names would be listed on their Japanese passports. With our son, whose name in English is Leon and 理恩 in Japanese, the spelling “Leon” was approved. Reason: They determine from looking at the names that “Leon” had come first and that “理恩” was ateji. With our daughter whose name in English is Mia and 美弥 in Japanese, the spelling “Mia” was not approved — it had to be Miya. Reason: They determined (in their infinite wisdom) that we had started 美弥 (a “real” Japanese name) and therefore a “deviant” spelling could not be approved — even though her U.S. passport is “Mia.” The best we could do was to get them to add “(Mia)” in parentheses.
DEBITO: Ditto on my account. I’ve had two passport renewals (and a Japan Times column) haggling over whether I could spell my own name Arudou or ArudoH (Hepburn Style, which MOFA, in their infinite wisdom, requires, even if that means names like Honma and Monma being spelled misleadingly as “Homma”and “Momma”).
So point taken. Let’s have rendering conventions respect the original renderings of names as accurately as possible in the target language. And let’s have some reciprocity when it comes to allowing individuals to control their identities through their names.
Opening the floor now to discussion…
David Christopher Schofill / Aldwinckle / Sugawara Arudoudebito / ARUDOU, Debito / Debito Arudou Ph.D.
Hi Blog. Related to our recent posts by Senaiho about the unchecked bullying power of the self-appointed “Hair Police” in Japan’s secondary education system, here’s how a progressive system deals with it, particularly when it comes to hairstyles in the professional world. New York City’s Human Rights Commission will soon be enforcing guidelines dealing with racial discrimination when it comes to how people choose to wear their hair professionally. And these penalties have real teeth: The NYC HRC can levy fines on companies of up to a quarter-mil, plus damages in court afterwards!
PHOTO CAPTION: The New York City’s human rights commission specifically asserts the right of people to have “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”
Under new guidelines to be released this week by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the targeting of people based on their hair or hairstyle, at work, school or in public spaces, will now be considered racial discrimination.
The change in law applies to anyone in New York City but is aimed at remedying the disparate treatment of black people; the guidelines specifically mention the right of New Yorkers to maintain their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”
In practice, the guidelines give legal recourse to individuals who have been harassed, threatened, punished, demoted or fired because of the texture or style of their hair. The city commission can levy penalties up to $250,000 on defendants that are found in violation of the guidelines and there is no cap on damages. The commission can also force internal policy changes and rehirings at offending institutions.
The move was prompted in part by investigations after complaints from workers at two Bronx businesses — a medical facility in Morris Park and a nonprofit in Morrisania — as well as workers at an Upper East Side hair salon and a restaurant in the Howard Beach section of Queens. (The new guidelines do not interfere with health and safety reasons for wearing hair up or in a net, as long as the rules apply to everyone.)
The guidelines, obtained by The New York Times before their public release, are believed to be the first of their kind in the country. They are based on the argument that hair is inherent to one’s race (and can be closely associated with “racial, ethnic, or cultural identities”) and is therefore protected under the city’s human rights laws, which outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion and other protected classes.
To date, there is no legal precedent in federal court for the protection of hair. Indeed, last spring the United States Supreme Court refused an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund request to review a case in which a black woman, Chastity Jones, had her job offer rescinded in 2010 at an Alabama insurance company after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.
But New York City’s human rights commission is one of the most progressive in the nation; it recognizes many more areas of discrimination than federal law, including in employment, housing, pregnancy and marital status. Its legal enforcement bureau can conduct investigations, and has the ability to subpoena witnesses and prosecute violations.
“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” said Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
“They are based on racist standards of appearance,” Ms. Malalis continued, saying that they perpetuate “racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”
In New York, it isn’t difficult to find black women and men who can speak about how their hair has affected their lives in both subtle and substantial ways, ranging from veiled comments from co-workers to ultimatums from bosses to look “more professional” or find another job.
For Avery, 39, who works in Manhattan in court administration and declined to provide her last name for fear of reprisal at work, the answer to how often she fields remarks on her hair in a professional setting is “every day.”
Avery said her supervisor, who is white, encourages her to relax her hair, which she was wearing in shoulder-length chestnut-colored braids. “She’s like, ‘You should do your hair,’ when it is already styled, or she says, ‘straight is better,’” Avery said. She added that the only hair color her supervisor approves of is black.
Georbina DaRosa, who is interning to be a social worker, had her hair in box braids as she ate lunch with a colleague at Shake Shack on East 86th Street on a recent weekend afternoon. Ms. DaRosa said her hair sometimes elicited “microaggressions” from her superiors at work.
“Like, people say, ‘I wouldn’t be able to recognize you because you keep changing your hairstyle,’ that’s typical,” said Ms. DaRosa, 24.
Her lunch partner, Pahola Capellan, who is also black and whose ringlets were bobbed just above her shoulders, said, of her own experience: “It’s very different. There’s no discrimination because my hair is more acceptable.”
A 21-year-old black woman who gave her name only as Enie said she quit her job as a cashier at a Manhattan Wendy’s six months ago when a manager asked her to cut off her 14-inch hair extensions. “I quit because you can’t tell me my hair is too long, but the other females who are other races don’t have to cut their hair,” said Enie, who now works at a hospital.
There has long been a professional toll for those with certain hairstyles. Almost 18 percent of United States soldiers in active duty are black, but it is only in recent years that the military has dropped its prohibitions on hairstyles associated with black culture. The Marines approved braid, twist and “lock” (usually spelled loc) hairstyles in 2015, with some caveats, and the Army lifted its ban on dreadlocks in 2017.
And certain black hairstyles are freighted with history. Wearing an Afro in the 1960s, for instance, was often seen as a political statement instead of a purely aesthetic choice, said Noliwe Rooks, an author and professor at Cornell University whose work explores race and gender. Dr. Rooks said that today, black men who shave designs into their hair as a stylistic choice may be perceived as telegraphing gang membership.
“People read our bodies in ways we don’t always intend,” Dr. Rooks said. “As Zora Neale Hurston said, there is the ‘will to adorn,’ but there is often a backlash against it.”
Chaumtoli Huq, an associate professor of labor and employment law at City University of New York School of Law, said that attitudes will change as black politicians, like Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia, and Ayanna Pressley, who represents Massachusetts in Congress, rise in prominence.
“As more high-profile black women like Abrams and Pressley opt for natural hairstyles, twists, braids, we may see a positive cultural shift that would impact how courts view these guidelines that seek to prevent discrimination based on hair,” Ms. Huq said.
Hair discrimination affects people of all ages. In the past several years, there have been a number of cases of black students sent home or punished for their hairstyles. In New Jersey, the state civil rights division and its interscholastic athletic association started separate investigations in December when Andrew Johnson, a black high school student, was told to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a wrestling match.
Last August, an 11-year-old student in Terrytown, La., was sent home from school for wearing braids, as was a 6-year-old boy in Florida who wore dreadlocks. In 2017, Mya and Deana Cook, twin sisters in Massachusetts, were forced to serve detentions because officials said their braids violated their school’s grooming policy.
Similar instances in New York City could fall under the human rights commission’s expansive mandate, as do instances of retailers that sell and display racist iconography.
In December, the commission issued a cease-and-desist order to Prada, the Italian luxury fashion house, after the window of its SoHo store was adorned with charms and key chains featuring blackface imagery.
The fashion company instituted training in the city’s human rights law for employees, executives, and independent contractors. It also immediately pulled the line of goods from its United States stores.
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So strong is this centuries-old belief that even Mali-born naturalized Japanese Dr. Oussouby Sacko, recently-elected president of Kyoto Seika University (congratulations!), made the bold statement in the New York Times that his differential treatment in Japan is not due to racism:
“Dr. Sacko, a citizen of Japan for 16 years, says he is treated differently because he does not look Japanese. But he distinguished that from racism. ‘It’s not because you’re black,’ he said.”
Sorry, that’s not now modern definitions of racism work anymore, Dr. Sacko. Differential treatment of Visible Minorities in Japan is still a racialization process. But I guess anyone can succumb to the predominant “Japan is not racist” groupthink if it is that strong. Read the NYT article below for fuller context.
But the questions remain: Is this a form of Stockholm Syndrome? A cynical attempt to parrot the narrative for the sake of professional advancement? A lack of awareness and social-science training on the part of a person, despite fluency in several languages, with a doctorate in a non-social science (engineering/architecture)? I’m open to suggestion. Especially from Dr. Sacko himself, if he’s reading.
Anyway, much better articles than the NYT’s about Dr. Sacko’s background and training are available from Baye McNeil in the Japan Times here and here.
In any case, congratulations, Dr. Sacko. But I would suggest you utilize your position also to raise awareness about the very real issues of racism in Japan, not attempt a mitigating or denialist approach. Dr. Debito Arudou
KYOTO, Japan — On a beautiful spring Sunday during cherry blossom season, the new president of Kyoto Seika University welcomed students for the start of the Japanese school year. “You have left your home,” he told the 770 first-year and graduate students gathered in a gym on the hilly campus. “But this is also your home.”
In Bamanankan — the lingua franca of his native Mali.
And so Oussouby Sacko, 51, quickly dispensed with the elephant in the room: He is a black man in a homogeneous country that has long had an ambivalent relationship with outsiders.
Dr. Sacko, who is believed to be the first African-born president of a Japanese university, segued elegantly into fluent Japanese, invoking Hannah Arendt, Edward Said, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ. The university, Dr. Sacko said, was “diversifying and internationalizing,” and he wanted the students to “recognize your difference from others.”
In this island country that is sometimes less than welcoming to immigrants, Mr. Sacko is an outlier. A resident for 27 years, he obtained Japanese citizenship 16 years ago and worked his way up through the ranks of a Japanese institution.
With a declining population, Japan is being forced to confront its traditional resistance to taking in foreigners. Last year, according to government figures, the number of foreign nationals living in Japan hit a record high of more than 2.5 million, with about 15,140 of them from African countries.
Yet that total number of foreign nationals makes up less than 2 percent of Japan’s population of 127 million, a lower proportion than in South Korea, for example, where foreigners make up about 3.4 percent of the population. The share is much higher in the United States, at 14 percent, and it is close to 40 percent in Hong Kong, according to data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Obtaining Japanese citizenship is extremely difficult. Since 1952, just over 550,000 people have managed to naturalize as Japanese citizens, most of them ethnic Koreans whose families have lived in Japan for several generations since the colonial occupation of Korea.
And despite recent efforts to allow highly skilled foreigners to obtain permanent residency more quickly, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared that he will not relax immigration policy to address the country’s falling population.
Dr. Sacko says he believes Japan needs to allow in more outsiders, simply as an act of self-preservation.
“Japanese people think they have to protect something,” he said during an interview in English before a reception recently to celebrate his appointment. But, “someone who has a broad view from outside on your culture can maybe help you objectively improve your goals,” he said, occasionally interrupting the interview to greet his guests, switching effortlessly between English, French and Japanese.
Dr. Sacko, the eldest son of a customs officer and homemaker, grew up in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. A strong student, he won a scholarship from the Malian government to attend college abroad.
He had never been anywhere other than the neighboring country of Senegal. With 13 other students from Mali, he was assigned to study in China and landed in Beijing in 1985 to study Mandarin before embarking on a degree in engineering and architecture at Southeast University in Nanjing.
On a vacation to Japan after obtaining his undergraduate degree in 1990, Dr. Sacko found himself enchanted by what he observed as strong community ties and the hospitality toward guests. Although he had begun graduate studies in China, he was frustrated that a government minder always shadowed him when he conducted field research in local villages.
He had also met and started to date a Japanese woman, Chikako Tanaka, whom he later married and with whom he has two sons.
Dr. Sacko moved to Osaka, Japan, for six months of language lessons before enrolling in a master’s degree program at Kyoto University. In meetings with colleagues, he was often asked to take minutes, which helped him improve his listening comprehension and writing ability. At night, he watched Japanese television shows and socialized with Japanese classmates.
Twenty percent of Kyoto Seika’s student body comes from abroad, much higher than the 4 percent overall ratio in Japanese higher education. Dr. Sacko hopes to raise Kyoto Seika’s figure to 40 percent within a decade.Kosuke Okahara for The New York Times His dedication to becoming fluent distinguished him from other foreigners. “They said, ‘If you speak Japanese, they will put you in meetings and on committees and that’s not interesting,’ ” he said. Many foreigners, he added, “spend too much time among ourselves.”
Dr. Sacko said he had hoped to return to Mali someday, but after a military coup in 1991, his employment options were limited. As he pursued a doctorate in Japan, he worked to understand a culture where people can say the exact opposite of what they mean. “You don’t always catch things from the meanings of the words,” he said. “You have to go deeper.”
Along the way, there were some misunderstandings.
After hosting a few parties at his apartment, his neighbors remarked that he and his friends always seemed happy and that they were envious. Dr. Sacko urged them to join his next party.
Instead, they called the police.
“The police said, ‘You are too noisy,’ ” Dr. Sacko recalled. “And I said ‘But my neighbors like that!’ ”
He applied for a job at Kyoto Seika, which specializes in the arts, and started as a lecturer in 2001. Colleagues say that over the years he has worked very hard to adapt to Japanese social codes while also retaining his own sensibility.
“He deeply understands Japanese culture and the way of thinking,” said Emiko Yoshioka, a professor of art theory whom Dr. Sacko appointed as vice president at Kyoto Seika. “But he also is able to poke fun at the fact that he is a foreigner.”
The faculty vote for president was extremely close, with Dr. Sacko winning by just one vote. At his inaugural reception, a group of musicians played Malian music on a patio, and Dr. Sacko stood quietly on a small stage during a parade of speeches from the mayor of Kyoto; the Malian ambassador to Japan; and various academic colleagues, including a professor from Kyoto University who repeatedly slipped up and called him “Professor Mali.”
Ryo Ishida, chairman of Kyoto Seika’s board, noted that the university had recently started a campaign to embrace diversity.
“But I don’t think his election was much to do with the university’s promotion of diversity,” Mr. Ishida said. “He was elected as the best leader of the university among his colleagues.”
In a practical sense, Dr. Sacko’s appointment could help Kyoto Seika appeal to more foreign students at a time when many universities across Japan are struggling to maintain enrollment.
Already, 20 percent of its student body comes from abroad, much higher than the 4 percent overall ratio of foreign students in Japanese higher education. Dr. Sacko said he hoped to raise Kyoto Seika’s level to 40 percent within a decade.
“I think he will help shrink the distance between Japanese and foreigners,” said Chihiro Morita, 18, an illustration major from Hyogo Prefecture.
Other black residents of Japan said that Dr. Sacko could help improve race relations in a country where performers still appear on television in blackface.
“The fact that he has been placed in such a prominent position will have a significant impact on how we’re perceived,” said Baye McNeil, a Brooklyn-born black columnist for the English-language Japan Times who has lived in Japan for 13 years.
Dr. Sacko said he had not experienced racism in Japan but said he was treated differently simply because he does not look Japanese. Despite his Japanese citizenship, for example, he says he is automatically routed to lines for foreigners at the airport when he returns from trips abroad. “It’s not because you’re black,” he said. “It’s because you’re different.”
He said he considered it his mission to foster differences beyond race. When recruiting Ms. Yoshioka as vice president, he told her he wanted her for the job because she was a woman and a single mother.
“If we don’t have a person like you in the top administration of the university, the board will just be filled with men,” he told her when she first hesitated to take the job. “And that doesn’t fit my vision.”
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Hi Blog. We had an important Supreme Court ruling come down earlier this month, where an international custody dispute between two Japanese divorcees living in different countries resulted in the custodial parent overseas being awarded custody of the child, as per the Hague Convention on International Child Abductions. (See Japan Times article excerpt below.)
As evidence, consider this TV segment (with English subtitles) on Japan’s ultraconservative (PM Abe Shinzo is a frequent contributor) Sakura Channel TV network (firmly established with the “present Japan positively no matter what” NHK World network). It contains enough bald-facedly anti-foreign hypotheticals (including the requisite stereotype that foreign men are violent, and Japanese women are trying to escape DV) to inspire entire sociological articles, and the incredible claim that Japan’s court system is just appeasing White people and forcing a “selfish” alien system upon Japan.
The best bits were when banner commentator Takayama Masayuki claimed a) White men just marry women from “uncivilized” countries until they find better women (such as ex-girlfriends from high school) and then divorce them, capturing the former as “babysitters” for once-a-week meet-ups with their kids (which Takayama overtly claims is the “premise” of the Hague Convention in the first place); and b) (which was not translated properly in the subtitles) where Takayama at the very end cites Mori Ohgai (poet, soldier, medical doctor and translator who wrote sexualized fiction about a liaison between a Japanese man and a German woman) to say, “play around with White WOMEN and then escape back home.” (Who’s being selfish, not to mention hypocritical, now?)
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in favor of a U.S.-based Japanese father seeking to reunite with his teenage son, who was taken by his estranged wife to Japan in 2016, concluding that the wife’s dogged refusal to abide by an earlier court order mandating the minor’s repatriation amounts to her “illegally confining” him.
The ruling is believed to be the first by the Supreme Court on cases where return orders by courts have been refused. It is likely to send a strong message regarding domestic legislation that is often slammed as impotent on cross-border child abductions, despite Japan’s commitments under the Hague Convention, following mounting criticism that return orders issued by courts have been ignored.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Nagoya High Court.
This latest case involved a formerly U.S.-based Japanese couple whose marital relationship began to deteriorate in 2008. According to the ruling, the wife unilaterally took away one of her children, then aged 11, in January 2016 and brought him to Japan where the two have since lived together.
Upon a complaint by the husband, a Tokyo court issued in September the same year a “return order” for the child under the Hague Convention, but the wife didn’t comply. When a court-appointed officer intervened to recover the child the following year the wife “refused to unlock the door,” prompting the officer to enter her residence via a second-story window, the ruling said. The mother then put up a fierce fight to retain the child, who also articulated his wish to stay in Japan.
On Thursday the top court overturned a Nagoya High Court ruling that acknowledged the child’s desire to stay in Japan. The latest ruling judged the minor was “in a difficult position to make a multifaceted, objective judgment about whether to remain under control of his mother,” citing his “heavy reliance” on her and the “undue psychological influence” she was likely exerting upon him in his life in Japan. The apparent lack of his free will, the ruling said, meant the mother’s attempt to keep the child equated to detention…
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Hi Blog. This month sees a Japan Times column that I’m particularly proud of, as it ties a lot of things together. My research question was, “Why do people react so viscerally whenever somebody criticizes Japan?” And I think I found the answer: Japan attracts and nurtures White Supremacists.
Here are the opening paragraphs:
========================================== WHITE SUPREMACISTS AND JAPAN: A LOVE STORY JBC 111 for the Japan Times Community page By Debito Arudou, Thursday, March 8, 2018
JUST BE CAUSE
The Washington Post reported something interesting on Feb. 14: A farm put up a sign saying “Resist White Supremacy.” And it incurred a surprising amount of online backlash.
Calls for boycotts. Accusations and recriminations. One-star Facebook reviews that had nothing to do with their products.
The article pondered: Who, other than a White Supremacist, would object to a message rejecting white supremacy?
But if you’ve ever protested racism in Japan, or read comments sections in Japanese media, you’ll know these reactions have been old hat for nearly two decades.
In fact, this column will argue that online intolerance and attack have been Japan exports…
This will be the anchor site for discussion about the article on Debito.org. Thanks for reading, everyone. Dr. Debito Arudou
PS: If trolls show up here, as they probably will, as per Commenting Guidelines, Debito.org reserves the right to make public their IP addresses.
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Hi Blog. Here’s something interesting and something to support if you are a Japanese living abroad — the maintenance of your legal identity in the form of dual nationality.
The Asahi reports that several Japanese citizens in Europe unprecedentedly plan to sue the government to abolish the law forcing Japanese to pick one nationality if they take another. Some emigres also want to undo the damage and restore their Japanese nationality.
PHOTO CAPTION: Hitoshi Nogawa, a Japanese-born citizen in Basel, Switzerland, holds his now invalid Japanese passport in Geneva on Feb. 13. The Japanese government refused to renew it in 2015 after he gained Swiss citizenship. (Ichiro Matsuo)
GENEVA–Japanese residing in Europe plan to file a lawsuit demanding the right to dual citizenship, arguing that the Japanese law that forces people to pick only one nationality are outdated, unconstitutional and invalid.
The lawsuit, to be filed against the government at the Tokyo District Court next month, will be the first litigation of its kind, according to the legal team of the eight would-be plaintiffs, who include Japanese living in Switzerland and France.
Six of them have been granted foreign citizenship and want to restore their Japanese nationality.
However, Section 1 in Article 11 of the Nationality Law stipulates that if “a Japanese citizen acquires the nationality of a foreign country at his/her choice, he/she loses Japanese nationality.”
The remaining two want to confirm that they can keep their Japanese citizenship even if they obtain a foreign nationality.
Teruo Naka, a lawyer for the group, says it is unreasonable for Japanese to lose their nationality at a time when they have growing opportunities to live and work regardless of national borders.
“The plaintiffs are hoping to keep their Japanese nationality out of an attachment to Japan and ties with their relatives living in Japan,” he said.
The plaintiffs are expected to argue in court that Section 1 in Article 11 was originally established to prevent the granting of multiple citizenship from the perspective of compulsory military service when the 1890 Constitution of the Empire of Japan was in effect. That clause was automatically passed into the current Nationality Law, which became effective in 1950, after the postwar Constitution took effect in 1947.
Sovereignty rested with the emperor under the previous Constitution, known as the Meiji Constitution. The current Constitution upholds sovereignty of the people.
They will also argue that a wide disparity has grown between the ideal of a single nationality, championed since the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and the current realities of globalization.
The group will also contend that the right to retain Japanese nationality is guaranteed under articles of the current Constitution.
Article 13 of the postwar Constitution, for example, guarantees the right to the pursuit of happiness, they said. Paragraph 2 of Article 22, they noted, states, “Freedom of all persons to move to a foreign country and to divest themselves of their nationality shall be inviolate.”
Unlike in the United States and some European countries, where residents can hold more than one citizenship, the Japanese law still pushes for a single nationality.
Individuals with dual or multiple citizenship, such as children born to Japanese and foreign nationals, are required to select one nationality by the age of 22 under the Nationality Law. Their numbers have increased in recent years with the rise in international marriages in Japan.
If Japanese citizens obtain a foreign nationality through, for example, an international marriage, they are legally obliged to renounce either the foreign or Japanese nationality within two years.
But there is no clause that penalizes those who do not come forward to announce their decision.
“Only those who honestly declare their selection in compliance with the law lose their Japanese nationality,” one of the plaintiffs said.
It is common for Japanese families overseas to acquire the citizenship of their host country for business or employment opportunities.
Hitoshi Nogawa, 74, who leads the plaintiffs and serves as head of the Japanese community in Basel, Switzerland, said he needed Swiss citizenship to enable his company to participate in defense-related public works projects in the country.
Another plaintiff said it is common practice for Japanese expatriates to use their Japanese passports only when they return and leave Japan. Inside their host country, they use the citizenship they have acquired there for business.
It is widely believed that many Japanese with dual citizenship have not declared their status. But not coming forward can lead to problems.
In 2016, questions arose about the nationality of Renho, an Upper House member who then headed the main opposition party. She was born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, and doubts were raised that she had renounced her Taiwanese citizenship under the Nationality Law. She produced documents showing she did so in 2016.
According to the Foreign Ministry, about 460,000 Japanese with resident status were living overseas as of October 2016. It was not clear how many of them actually held more than one nationality.
Justice Ministry statistics showed that the number of Japanese who renounced their Japanese nationality after selecting a foreign citizenship or for other reasons ranged from 700 to 1,000 annually between 2012 and 2016.
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Hi Blog. About a month ago, Briton Kazuo Ishiguro, who writes exclusively in English, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Predictably, Japan’s media boasted that a third Japanese writer (with the caveat that he was Japan-born) had won a Nobel.
Well, not really. Imagine, say, Germany claiming as their own all the Nobel-laureate scientists of the Deutsch diaspora living abroad, even those without actual German citizenship, for however many generations?
In Japan, this highly-questionable social science is hardly problematized. As noted below by Reuters, a similar claim was laid to Shuji “Slave” Nakamura, inventor of the LED, who due to his foul treatment by Japan’s scientific and academic communities quite actively disavows his connections to Japan (in fact, he urges them to escape for their own good). Same with Yoichiro Nambu, who got Nobelled as a team in 2008 for Physics, yet had been living in the US since the 1960s, was a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, and had even relinquished Japanese citizenship and taken American.
I suspect these odd claims massage a rather insecure national pride. Also because they are largely unquestioned under the concept of Japan as an ethnostate, where nationality/citizenship is directly linked to blood ties. That is to say, anyone who is of Japanese blood can be claimed as a member of the Japanese societal power structure (i.e., a Wajin). And the converse is indeed true: Even people who take Japanese citizenship but lack the requisite Wajin blood are treated as foreign: Just ask Japan’s “naturalized-but-still-foreign” athletes in, say, the sumo wrestling or rugby communities.
It’s a pretty racist state of affairs. One I discuss in depth in acclaimed book “Embedded Racism” (Lexington Books, 2015). And, as I argue in its closing chapter, one that will ultimately lead to the downfall of a senescent Japan. Dr. Debito Arudou
TOKYO (Reuters) – Minutes after Japanese-born Briton Kazuo Ishiguro was announced as the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Japanese took to Twitter to ask: “Who (the heck) is Kazuo Ishiguro?”
For those who had never heard of the author of “The Remains of the Day” and other award-winning novels, the name that flashed across smartphones and TV screens was puzzling – it was undoubtedly Japanese-sounding, but written in the local script reserved for foreign names and words.
Far from the super-star status that his erstwhile compatriot – and perpetual Nobel favorite – Haruki Murakami enjoys, Ishiguro is not a household name in Japan.
But by Friday morning, the nation was celebrating the 62-year-old British transplant, who writes exclusively in English, as one of its own, seizing on his own declaration of an emotional and cultural connection to Japan, which he left at age five.
“I’ve always said throughout my career that although I’ve grown up in this country (Britain) … that a large part of my way of looking at the world, my artistic approach, is Japanese, because I was brought up by Japanese parents, speaking in Japanese,” Ishiguro said on Thursday.
Japanese newspapers carried his Nobel win as front-page news, describing him as a Nagasaki native who had obtained British citizenship as an adult.
“On behalf of the government, I would like to express our happiness that an ethnic Japanese … has received the Nobel Prize for Literature,” Japan’s chief government spokesman said.
The Sankei daily boasted: “(Ishiguro) follows Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe as the third Japanese-born writer” to win the prize.
The country similarly celebrated with gusto the 2014 Nobel Prize co-winner in physics, American Shuji Nakamura, despite his having abandoned his Japanese nationality years ago. Japan does not recognize dual citizenship for adults.
Many Japanese are familiar with Ishiguro’s 2005 dystopian novel “Never Let Me Go” through its dramatisation in a local TV series last year, though the fact that Ishiguro wrote the work was less known. In the last 16 years, Hayakawa Publishing, which holds exclusive rights to translate Ishiguro’s works into Japanese, sold less than a million of his eight titles.
Japanese may yet yearn for an elusive Nobel for Murakami, but for now, Ishiguro is their man of the hour.
“Since last night, we’ve received orders for 200,000 copies,” Hiroyuki Chida at Hayakawa Publishing said. “That’s unthinkable in this day and age.” ENDS
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In wake of Charlottesville, U.S. should follow Japan and outlaw hate speech BY DEBITO ARUDOU THE JAPAN TIMES AUG 23, 2017
Let’s talk about Charlottesville.
As you probably heard, two weeks ago there was a protest in a small Virginia town against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general who defended slavery in the American South. Various hate groups, including white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, assembled there with shields, weapons, fascist flags and anti-Semitic slogans. They were met with counterprotest, and things got violent. A supremacist slammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19.
Charlottesville has shaken hope for a post-racial America to the core. But before readers in Japan breathe a sigh of relief and think, “It couldn’t happen here, not in peaceful Japan,” remember this:
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Hi Blog. I thought it prudent to archive here on Debito.org another case of how other societies deal with discrimination. We keep on hearing that, “Well, people discriminate all over the world, and it’s just as bad in [insert country, usually the US] as it is in Japan. So do something about racism in your own country before you lecture Japan.” Okay, but here’s yet another example of what American society, for example, often does when somebody says something racist. There are social repercussions that deter both the current and future racists. In the case mentioned below, the racist got fired. Not ignored, defended (including being defended by foreign media in Japan), given a venue (or his own political party; see here too) to spout and normalize even more racism, or even further elected to office, as can happen in Japan.
For your consideration, and for the record. Dr. Debito Arudou
Terry Frei, a columnist who has been named Colorado’s sportswriter of the year four times, is out of a job after tweeting that he was “very uncomfortable” with Japanese driver Takuma Sato winning the Indianapolis 500 on the day before Memorial Day.
Denver Post publisher Mac Tully and editor Lee Ann Colacioppo apologized Monday for a “disrespectful and unacceptable tweet” as they announced that Frei is no longer an employee of the newspaper because of the social media comment that sparked intense backlash.
“We apologize for the disrespectful and unacceptable tweet that was sent by one of our reporters,” the statement reads. “Terry Frei is no longer an employee of The Denver Post. It’s our policy not to comment further on personnel issues. The tweet doesn’t represent what we believe nor what we stand for. We hope you will accept our profound apologies.”
Frei apologized for the tweet he put up shortly after Sato’s historic win. He later deleted it.
“Nothing specifically personal, but I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend,” Frei tweeted after Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the prestigious race.
“I apologize,” Frei tweeted hours later. The Denver Post tweeted an immediate apology Sunday night and indicated that Frei’s tweet “does not reflect the standards and values of our organization.”
— Terry Frei (@TFrei) May 29, 2017
Frei later tweeted a lengthier apology, which he deleted and replaced with a slightly revised version to remove the title of one of his books. “I made a stupid reference, during an emotional weekend,” wrote Frei, who said his father was a World War II veteran.
Frei also apologized to Sato, who has had no public reaction to Frei’s comment.
Here’s the full text of Frei’s apology:
I fouled up. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said when I said it. I should have known better and I regret it. I in no way meant to represent my employer and I apologized to The Denver Post.
On Sunday, I was going down to Fort Logan National Cemetery to place flowers on the grave of and to salute my father, Jerry Frei, who spent the four-year gap between his sophomore and junior seasons at Wisconsin flying the F-5 unarmed version of the one-man P-38 fighter plane in the 26th Photo Squadron. (And I did make that visit.) He flew alone, or with a partner in a second plane, over Japanese targets in advance of the bombing runs. When Blake Olson of Channel 9 asked him about being unarmed, he laughed and said, ‘I had a pistol.’ He flew 67 missions, crossing the 300 combat hours threshold, and earned the World War II Air Medal three times. I have written much other material about American athletes in World War II. I researched and wrote quite graphically about the deaths of my father’s teammates, Dave Schreiner and Bob Baumann, in the Battle of Okinawa. I have the picture wallet containing photos of his family and girlfriend that Schreiner was carrying when he was killed. That is part of my perspective.
I am sorry, I made a mistake, and I understand 72 years have passed since the end of World War II and I do regret people with whom I probably am very closely aligned with politically and philosophically have been so offended. To those people, I apologize. (In fact, the assumptions about my political leanings have been quite inaccurate.) I apologize to Takuma Sato. I made a stupid reference, during an emotional weekend, to one of the nations that we fought in World War II — and, in this case, the specific one my father fought against. Again, I will say I’m sorry, I know better, and I’m angry at myself because there was no constructive purpose in saying it and I should not have said it, especially because The Denver Post has been dragged into this.
Contrast this reaction with the kind of treatment Japanese media gave a Japanese high school baseball player Okoye Rui nearly two years ago. Okoye, who just happens to have Japanese-Nigerian roots, brought forth reactions from the Japanese press that portrayed him as an “animal” with “wild instincts” on the “savannah”, and more. Yes, there were criticisms, as noted in Huffpost Japan, but nobody was fired or in any way clearly sanctioned for saying this about a schoolboy! Where’s the deterrent? — DDA.
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Hi Blog. Here’s a submission from Debito.org Reader CR, about the application of the “five year rule” of Japanese Labor Contract Law in Japan’s blue-chip companies. Although the 2013 revision in the law was meant to say, “five years of contract renewals means you must rehire the person as a regular employee (sei sha-in) without a contract” (which would end the exploitative system of unstable employment through perpetual contracting), it’s had the opposite effect: encouraging employers to cap the contracts at five years. Meaning that starting from April 1, 2018, five years since the revised Labor Contract Law took effect, we’re expecting to see a mass firing of Japan’s contract laborers.
This is precisely what has been happening to Japan’s non-tenured foreign academics for generations in Japan’s Academic Apartheid System, with the occasional “massacre” of older Japanese contracted academics just to save money, but now it’s being expanded systemwide to the non-academic private sector. We’ve seen rumblings of its application at Tohoku University for everyone. But of course we have to make it even worse for foreign workers: At Canon, one of Japan’s flagship companies, NJ are being given special “temp” employment categories with contracts explicitly capped at five years from the outset. One more reason to read your employment contracts carefully, if not avoid entirely the increasingly unstable and segregated jobs in Japanese companies. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
I work as a translator for Canon. Although I don’t work at the 本社 (HQ), I am a Canon Inc. employee.
First, let’s just get this out of the way: you are welcome to use any information I provide here in your blog (and I am willing to get additional information as far as I am able), but I would prefer to remain anonymous.
At Canon, NJ are hired as “プロ社員” (pro sha-in), which basically means “contract employee”. Note that there is also a “Jプロ社員” (J-pro sha-in) category, as Japanese can also be hired as contract employees (my understanding is Japanese who are 中途採用 (chuuto saiyou, or halfway hires) start as contract employees, but can move to 正社員 (sei sha-in, or regular non-contract workers) within a year or two; I don’t know the conditions for this, however).
The contracts are typical one-year contracts with the option of renewal, provided renewal is the desire of both parties; basically the standard you would expect. As you know, in 2013 the revision to the Labor Contract Act came into effect, essentially giving contract employees an avenue to become 正社員 regular non-contract workers after five years of continuous, contract-based employment (the earliest this could happen for an employee is then April 1, 2018). This, presumably, was designed to help people like myself achieve greater employment security.
Here’s the thing. Apparently, after the revision to the law, and I’m not sure of the exact date that they started doing this because to my knowledge there are not really frequent hirings of NJ and nobody I’ve spoken with seems to know, NJ hires have a clause in their contract stipulating that there will be no further renewal after their period of employment reaches the 5-year mark. Potential hires are informed of this before or during the interview process, apparently, so those in the know can make an informed decision. However, it is also my understanding that there are people who were hired before this change took place and are being grandfathered in; in other words, the 5-year limit clause is not being added to their contracts, and presumably they will be able to become 正社員 when the time comes, but newer NJ hired will not.
Obviously I’m pretty incensed about this, it’s difficult to work in an environment where there are clear discriminations such as this. Note that while I believe the discriminations are racially-based, the only thing that is visible is based off nationality. I don’t know how the company handles NJ who have naturalized, or even if any naturalized Japanese citizens are among the employee ranks. It rankles even more because there are always various “Compliance”-related initiatives, announcements, and activities, to show employees how important it is to play fair, not discriminate, follow the rules and the law, etc.
So, big, established, famous, international Japanese companies are already putting discriminatory clauses that violate the spirit, if not exactly the letter, of the law into the contracts of NJ. Also, this effectively puts the kibosh on any potential promotions of NJ; you cannot be promoted as a contract employee. The glass ceiling is alive and well.
It would be nice to this get some attention and change as a result, but I won’t hold my breath about changes, at least.
All the best, CR
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Now we have a new looming massacre. The labor laws changed again in 2013 to require employers to stop keeping people on perpetual renewable contract status. After five years of employment, employers must switch them to permanent noncontracted status. Well, the five-year mark is April 1, 2018, meaning there is an incentive for employers to fire people before they hit a half-decade of employment. Debito.org said before that that would happen, and there were some doubters. But here’s the first published evidence of that happening, at Tohoku University, courtesy of our labor law expert at the Japan Times. After all these years of service, even less job security awaits. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
I have discussed the “five-year rule” several times before in this column — the revision of the Labor Contract Law (Rodo Keiyaku Ho) enacted in 2013. Under the amendment, any worker employed on serial fixed-term contracts (yūki koyō) for more than five years can give themselves permanent status. See my earlier stories for more details, particularly my March 2013 column, “Labor law reform raises rather than relieves workers’ worries.”
The amendment was supposed to give workers more job security. Or at least that is what lawmakers claimed the purpose was. From the start I had my doubts — doubts that are now being borne out.
The fact is, employers are using the amendment as an excuse to fire their workers or change their working conditions before April 2018. When the law was enacted, it was not grandfathered to entitle those who had already worked more than five years. That meant the clock started on April Fools’ Day, 2013, and that the first time it will be possible to use this purported job-security measure will be April 1, 2018.
After enactment, some employers put new hires on one-year contracts with a three-renewal limit, or a five-year maximum with no renewal possible afterwards. It seems obvious this was to avoid being restricted by the five-year rule, which is really a “more-than-five-year rule.” Other employers are planning to either change their employees’ working conditions or fire or nonrenew their employees over the coming year, 2017. Again, it seems obvious that their intention is to avoid the new law and thereby violate its job-security spirit.
And this month I’ll name names — or a name in this case. This month’s installment delves into the “Tohoku University massacre.” This prestigious, famous and respected college with a long history and tradition has revealed that it plans not to renew the fixed-term contracts of up to 3,200 employees when they next come up for renewal. This kind of move — effectively a mass firing — is rare in Japan, and the plan has already had a huge impact in education and labor-law circles.
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THE STORY: “Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin” is a mockumentary that focuses on a Caucasian expat living in Japan who, after receiving a blow to the head, wakes up believing that he is a member of an ultranationalist right wing group (the “uyoku dantai”). An idealistic amateur “director” (in the scheme of the mockumentary) is making a documentary film about this odd character because he believes that it will propel his own filmmaking career towards prominence. As the director and his subject’s views begin to diverge though, things begin to fall apart. “Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin” is a story about identity, delusion, myopic nationalism, ascendent conservative trends in Japan’s current government, other big words, and how those beliefs do not accurately reflect the political and social reality of Japanese society. Only the best ingredients for a controversial comedy.
SELECTED CAST AND CREW:
Debito Arudou (Actor) is a writer, blogger, and human rights activist. He was born in the United States and became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 2000. He is the author of Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan, Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan and has recently published Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination (Lexington Books).
Shintaro Naka (Actor) is an educator and actor in Southwest Japan. He has performed in several short-films, including A Portrait of No One in 2009, as well as performing as Toshio in Kazuhiko Konoike’s Sensitive (2012) and the follow-up film Suddenly (2013).
Robert Nishimura (Writer/Director) is among the last generation of “Zonians,” born and bred in the Republic of Panamá. In the last two decades, under the Primolandia Productions label, he has produced short films, TV documentaries, video installations, provided art direction for Japanese fashion magazines, and designed promotional material for films in Japan and the US. Based in Japan for the past 11 years — and now a permanent resident — he currently is the co-owner and curator of an art gallery in southwest Japan.
Stirling Perry (Writer/Producer) is an educator living in Hiroshima, Japan. He previously co-wrote and directed Gokurōsama (2008) with Robert Nishimura, a short film shot exclusively for the Akira Kurosawa Short Film Competition. Stirling is currently writing several feature films, with the first slated to go into production in 2016.
Paul Leeming (Cinematographer) began his film career in Sydney in 2005 and graduated from the Sydney Film School in 2006, majoring in Directing, Cinematography and Sound. In 2007 he moved to Japan and started Visceral Psyche, writing and directing several award-winning films and shooting many more as a cinematographer. Paul is now living in Berlin with his sights set firmly on Hollywood.
Kazuhiko Konoike (Producer/Assistant Director) began his production career at Tsuburaya Productions (creators of Ultraman) and GAGA Distribution before starting his own production label, cinepos, in 2008. Since then, Kazuhiko has made several short films and promotional videos, with many more to come.
COMMENT: This is an excellent video featuring the former Japan synchronized swimming team in various hot springs (onsen) around Oita Prefecture. I have been to some of these myself, and can attest to the magic of both the location and the waters.
I hate to pee in the pool here, but there are several things happening here that are absolutely impermissible by Japanese standards (in fact, they were cited as reasons for excluding all “foreigners” entry to the baths during the Otaru Onsens etc. Case of 1993-2005):
Making noise in the bathing area.
Wearing bathing suits in the pool.
Wearing towels in the pool.
Mixed bathing in a non-rotenburo area.
Not washing off one’s body completely before entering (note that they get in dry after only a cursory splash).
Instead, without any irony whatsoever, we have the Japan synchro swim team breaking most of them. To raucous applause. Good thing they didn’t bring in a NJ synchro team to do this stunt — because then “cultural insensitivity” would creep into the mix.
Granted, there is a lengthy disclaimer at the end to say that swimming and bathing suits are not allowed in Japanese baths, and that rules etc. must be followed. But I still remain grumpy at the lack of historical sensitivity shown towards the “foreigners” who suffered for being refused entry to Japan’s public baths despite following all decorum and rules. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Hi Blog. Debito.org has long complained about how NJ (especially the “Trainees” being thrust into sweatshop and slave labor) were being exploited by ill-designed and unsupervised visa statuses in Japan. Let’s take a look at the American example and do a bit of triangulating. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
It didn’t take long for the 30-year-old Japanese pastry chef to realize that she was getting the raw end of the deal.
She had arrived in Hawaii only days before, lured by a promise of pastry training as part of a cultural exchange program run by the U.S. State Department. The terms of her stay, under a visa known as J-1, were to spend the next 18 months working in the kitchen of a Waikiki restaurant — six days a week on 8-hour shifts beginning at 6:30 a.m.
But she found herself toiling inside the kitchen in a shift that began at 5:30 a.m. and stretched to 12 hours — without any breaks or overtime pay.
In 2012, a Japanese pastry chef arrived in Hawaii on a J-1 visa, only to find herself working at a Waikiki restaurant in sweatshop conditions. She requested her name and the name of the restaurant not be used.
When she complained, she said no one lent a sympathetic ear.
Initially, she said she was told that none of the restaurants in Hawaii offered any breaks. And, if she were to work on a shorter shift, her salary would have to be reduced accordingly.
Unsatisfied, she went to her American sponsor organization and its Japanese contractors that had matched her up with the restaurant, but she said her pleas for their intervention were met with threats that her visa could be taken away.
Soon, it dawned on her that she faced a Faustian choice: endure the grueling conditions at the restaurant or risk being deported for not showing up to work.
“Because the J-1 terms are so restrictive, if they stop working for a day, they are out of status and deportable, so the employers hold all of the strings.” — Kathryn Xian, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery
“At the time, I was confused and didn’t know what to do,” the chef said, recalling her ordeal in 2012. Civil Beat granted her anonymity and withheld the restaurant’s name at her request. She said she feared reprisals.
The chef’s story, recounted in an interview conducted in Japanese, provides a rare glimpse into the dark side of the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program, which was created half a century ago to foster “global understanding” through cultural exchanges but has since blossomed into the source of thriving, multi-million-dollar businesses.
But it’s virtually impossible to determine just how common these experiences are among about 2,000 J-1 visa holders in Hawaii.
That’s in part because the program, as a cultural exchange, isn’t subject to monitoring by the U.S. Department of Labor — unlike other guest worker programs.
The State Department, for its part, recently established a system to keep track of all complaints it receives, but spokeswoman Susan Pittman told Civil Beat that the tally for the entire program isn’t readily available, and a Freedom of Information Act request must be submitted before the data could be compiled.
Kathryn Xian, founder and executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, says another reason the issue tends to fly under people’s radar is that the victims often choose to escape their situation by simply returning to their home country.
“What’s difficult about J-1 is that these people usually don’t seek help,” Xian said. “Because the J-1 terms are so restrictive, if they stop working for a day, they are out of status and deportable, so the employers hold all of the strings.” ‘Notoriety’ and ‘Disrepute’
Created under the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, the J-1 program was designed to give foreign students and young professionals a temporary work experience and expose them to the American way of life — at no cost to taxpayers.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people pay upwards of $10,000 in fees and insurance to enter the country under the program and work for four to 18 months. The State Department’s latest figures show that more than 297,000 J-1 visas were issued in 2012, including 2,021 visas for those heading to work in Hawaii.
But, in recent years, some participants — and their advocates — have complained that it’s being used as a source of cheap, foreign labor with little federal oversight.
The issue grabbed national headlines in 2012, when hundreds of J-1 visa holders working at Hershey’s packing plant in Pennsylvania staged a raucous protest. About 400 of them were staying in the country for “Summer Work Travel,” the biggest of the 14 categories of the J-1 program allowing students of modest means to work in a temporary job as a way of offsetting the costs of their travel to the U.S.
“In theory, these sponsors are supposed to be helping keep participants safe and avoid exploitations of any kind to take place. But, in reality, a fox is in charge of the hen house.” — Stephen Boykewich, National Guestworker Alliance
They were put to work, often on night shifts, lifting heavy boxes and packing chocolates on Hershey’s fast-moving production line — while being paid substantially below the minimum wage after deductions.
The troubling tales of the summer programs were nothing new to officials at the State Department. In 2010, an investigation by the Associated Press uncovered widespread abuse, finding that some students were taking home less than $1 an hour, while others were being forced to work as strippers — even though the regulations prohibit the students from taking on work that could “bring the Department of State into notoriety or disrepute.”
In response, the State Department conducted a systematic review of the summer program and eventually acknowledged that its “work component … has too often overshadowed the core cultural component.”
The department later issued new rules for the program that significantly reduced the types of jobs the students can perform — to keep them away from most warehouse, construction, manufacturing and food-processing work. The rules also tightened requirements on the sponsor organizations and their contractors that administer the J-1 program on behalf of the State Department, ensuring that students were matched up with jobs that are appropriate and safe. Ripe for Exploitation
The changes haven’t rooted out all the unlawful labor practices in the J-1 program.
Last week, the Labor Department announced that a Waikiki-based wedding planner called Wave USA Inc. — aka Ka Nalu Wedding — agreed to pay more than $35,000 in restitution to a group of eight Japanese employees, all of whom were here on J-1.
According to the Labor Department, the eight were the company’s “front-line workers” from November 2012 to July 2014 and were paid full-time salaries that varied from $700 to $1,000 a month — a rate well below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Stephen Boykewich, communications director at the National Guestworker Alliance, which helped organize the Hershey’s protest in 2012, said the problems persist because of the program’s flawed setup: The sponsor organizations and their contractors, which are responsible for vetting the hosting companies, are the ones tasked to monitor the working conditions. So, when any problem comes up, they have a vested interest in downplaying it.
“In theory, these sponsors are supposed to be helping keep participants safe and avoid exploitations of any kind to take place,” Boykewich said. “But, in reality, a fox is in charge of the hen house.”
In Hawaii, the issue is compounded by the fact that there are only seven sponsor organizations operating in the islands, and they only place participants into academic institutions — typically as scholars or physicians.
That means those looking for nonacademic work in Hawaii are forced to find their sponsor organization from the mainland, and this arrangement makes the regular, on-site monitoring of the working conditions a logistical nightmare.
John Robert Egan, an immigration attorney who once chaired the Hawaii chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says the way the system is set up now works to the advantage of unscrupulous employers.
“Part of the problem is that they are bringing in people who don’t speak good enough English and are not familiar with the legal system and don’t know what protections are available. So that’s ripe for exploitation,” Egan said.
‘Alleged Bad Acts’
The Japanese pastry chef came to Hawaii hoping that her training here would bring her closer to realizing her dream of opening her own bakery.
To make her trip possible, she had to work with layers of contractors in Japan. First, she dealt with a company called Global Associates and its subsidiary, Hawaii Exchange Service. They then put her in touch with their affiliate — a Japanese company called the American Career Opportunity Inc. — to help her go through an English proficiency test and work with a California-based sponsor organization called the ASSE International Student Exchange Programs.
In all, she paid about $8,850 in fees and $1,300 for her medical insurance. And she spent thousands of dollars more to make living arrangements in Hawaii.
By the time she arrived and discovered her restaurant’s working conditions, her savings account had been tapped out. “I felt trapped as I had invested so much time and money to come to work on my J-1 visa,” she wrote in her 2012 affidavit to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “I did not believe I could go home as I would realistically never have another opportunity to come back to the U.S.”
But going back to work for the restaurant wasn’t much of a choice for her, either. Luckily, a network of friends, victims’ advocates and pro bono attorneys came to her rescue and got her in touch with officials at the U.S. State and Labor departments.
“I’m terrified of running into the restaurant owners. I’m too scared; I still can’t walk alone in Waikiki.” — Pastry chef from Japan
This, in turn, triggered a barrage of calls from officials at American Career Opportunity and Global Associates. They called her — and her mother in Japan — incessantly, trying to convince her to go back to work at the restaurant. When it became clear that she wasn’t going back, she said they tried to intimidate her into voluntarily returning to Japan.
Fearing that she’d be deported, she fled her apartment and went into hiding. At first, she stayed at the house of a married couple she had befriended during her first week in Hawaii. Then, Xian of the Pacific Alliance found her space at a shelter run by a local church.
As far as the chef knows, the investigations at the State and Labor departments are still pending — more than three years later. Meanwhile, with the help of attorneys, she applied for a T-1 visa, which is set aside for trafficking victims. After about a year, her application was approved, enabling her to stay in the country and start working again.
Ira Kurzban, general counsel for ASSE, says the company wasn’t notified about the case until federal authorities got involved.
“From our perspective, we did everything we could possibly do as soon as we learned that there was a problem,” Kurzban said, adding that the State Department “has never said” that the company engaged in “any of the alleged bad acts that were claimed to have happened.”
Officials from the State and Labor departments declined to comment on the case, citing privacy concerns.
Officials at American Career Opportunity did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment. Global Associates and Hawaii Exchange Service could not be reached.
The chef is trying to move past her bitter experience. With Xian’s help, she managed to recover the fees she had paid for her visa. And, last year, she got a cooking job at the Kahala Mall and has saved enough to move into her own apartment.
But there’s one thing she still can’t shake: “It’s been three years now, but, to this day, I’m terrified of running into the restaurant owners. I’m too scared; I still can’t walk alone in Waikiki.”
Hi Blog. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting to my next Japan Times JBC Column 90, disputing the discourse that people 1) have to “look Japanese” in order to be “Japanese”, and 2) cannot be Japanese AND something else (such as a different nationality, “race”, or ethnicity). I make the case that many things such as these, once ascribed from birth, are now a matter of personal choice — and that person must claim it (in the face of constant identity policing) in order to own it.
I get this all the time. Understandably: Most people don’t expect a Caucasian to have Japanese citizenship.
It’s just a shame they so carelessly articulate their surprise. No matter where I go, a natural curiosity about my background soon turns into vocalized judgment.
“What an unusual name. Where are you from?” Me: “Japan” (or, “Born in the U.S., lived in Japan,” if I’m feeling chatty). Their most common response: “But you don’t look Japanese.”
Or Customs and Immigration at any border: “What’s with the Japanese passport?” “I’m a naturalized Japanese citizen.” Again, “You don’t look Japanese.” (That’s the milder reaction. In Jamaica, officials took my passport around the office for a laugh. In the U.S., they rendered me to secondary for a few hours of waiting and inquisition until I missed my next flight. Seriously.)
Trying to dodge these questions by saying “It’s a long story” often doesn’t cut it. (American official: “Oh? We’ve got time.”) Having to school everyone about my background on a daily basis gets tiring, and biting my lip through many an intrusive and sometimes humiliating experience leaves psychological “triggers” after a while.
I realized that last month on vacation in Canada, when a bank teller asked for my ID. Passport presented, out it popped: “It’s funny you have a Japanese passport. You don’t look Japanese.” I snapped back: “Let’s not go there. Lose the racism and complete the transaction.”
Afterwards, I asked the teller (an Asian gentleman), “How would you like it if you produced a Canadian passport and I said, ‘That’s funny; you don’t look Canadian’?” He said, not much, and apologized.
There are a few important details to this story I don’t have space for (see www.debito.org/?p=13381), but the conclusion was that the manager sent the teller home for the day (a surprise to me, as I never asked for any sanction) and then invited me to his office for a chat.
“I understand your frustration,” said the manager, “because I am Metis.” He was referring to his official minority status in Canada as a descendent of First Nation aboriginals and colonial settlers.
“I hate it when people I’m doing business with tell me that I don’t ‘look Metis,’ even after I show my status card.” He said that this kind of behavior was unacceptable at his bank, and in Canada.
Refreshed by this experience, I blogged and Facebooked about this no-nonsense zero tolerance. And then the topic blew up in my face.
Some readers wrote in to say I had overreacted. Instead of jumping straight to “racism,” I could have defused things with a quick explanation of my background or a joke.
Others said that I was defying common sense. A white guy with a Japanese passport expecting no surprise? Unreasonable. (Surprise I do expect. Vocalizing that surprise in a professional setting and calling a customer’s identity “funny” is problematic.)
The critics that really got my goat were those that expressed disgust at my acting so “un-Japanese” (as in, not avoiding conflict) and went on say that, to them, I no longer qualified as a Japanese. (I unfriended them because that’s pretty thoughtless. By their logic, I could murder somebody and still qualify, since some Japanese do murder.)
The most interesting argument accused me of exercising my “white privilege”: “You get to be white and Japanese? You’ve taken this too far!” I had victimized the Asian teller because I had the power in this relationship as a white in Canada’s white-dominated society. (The critic’s thoughtful essay and my answer are archived at www.debito.org/?p=13404.)
For the record, I don’t doubt the existence of white privilege. (You can even find an example on our Community pages: Gregory Clark’s Dec. 4, 2014 “Kick out the touts who rule Roppongi” Foreign Agenda column.) I acknowledge that I have received advantageous treatment worldwide due to my lighter skin color and white background.
But the two of us parted paths at the point where the critic said I could not be “white and Japanese.” I do not believe that they are mutually exclusive. (Neither does Japan: In apartheid South Africa, Japan successfully lobbied to be Japanese and “honorary whites”.)
I’m Japanese and white because I earned it — through decades of study and self-education, acculturation, living and contributing to Japanese society, dedication and sacrifice (including my American citizenship and even my very name), and close scrutiny by the Japanese government of my “Japaneseness” in ways not seen in other countries’ naturalization processes.
I am certifiably Japanese because the Japanese government says I am, and they gave me a tough test to prove it. I am not Japanese but white. I’m claiming the “and.”
So why write a column about this? After all, I got myself onto this sticky wicket by naturalizing into a country with few “non-Asian-looking” citizens.
Because this goes beyond me. What about the people who didn’t have a choice — like our Japanese kids?
It shouldn’t be an issue. They are Japanese children, full stop. And they can be something else yet 100 percent Japanese. It’s not a zero-sum game. (That’s why I am not a fan of the term hāfu.) I say claim the “and.” For them.
Mountains out of molehills? OK, how will you react the 100th time (or the fifth time in a day) that you hear, “Oh, what cute gaijin kids!” Will you stand idly by when people openly doubt your kids’ identity as they grow up and risk being denied equal opportunities in society?
We’re fully formed adults — we can take these sucker punches — but kids need someone in their corner, pushing for their right to be diverse yet belong.
The push must happen until the point where the surprise is switched around — into shock at someone daring to imply that a citizen or resident with a surprising background is not a “real” or “normal” member of society.
Admittedly, careless comments from individuals are not something you can immediately fix, but alienating attitudes about people’s identities should not be expressed in a corporate or official capacity. To anyone. Anywhere. That’s where the push starts.
Don’t get me wrong: People can think what they like. But if they articulate thoughts inaccurate, unkind or alienating about us or the people we care for, we should reserve the right to push back accordingly — and not succumb to the majoritarian identity policing that goes on everywhere.
But let’s come down from ideals and return to the bank counter. The main issue there was not the law of averages determining “normal” or “triggers” or “privilege.” It was one of self-identification.
Pause for a second and take stock of where things are going these days: Somebody can self-identify as Japanese and African-American, and represent Japan at the Miss Universe contest (like Ariana Miyamoto). Or be male and then female or vice versa (like Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox and Lana Wachowsky). Or be LGBT and married. Or, like Rachel Dolezal, be white and “culturally black” enough to head a chapter of America’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
A future is emerging where the major social statuses assigned us from birth — e.g., gender, “race,” nationality, even ethnicity — are breaking down. They can be a matter of personal choice.
That’s a good thing. With the unprecedented porosity of international borders nowadays, the notion of a “normal” person is ever eroding. That’s why I believe that anyone should be allowed to shape, control and, yes, claim their own identity.
Now, you might think that Japan, the island society, is unaffected by these trends. I would disagree. As I describe in my forthcoming book, “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination,” the pressure of Japan’s aging demographics is unrelenting. If Japan cannot get over the conceit of having to “look Japanese” to be treated as one, then it cannot make “new Japanese,” and the country will continue to sink into an insolvent economic abyss.
Thus, if our Japanese kids cannot self-identify, hundreds of thousands of them (eventually millions, as people continue mixing) will spend their lives having their identities policed back into being “foreign,” not fitting in when they should be welcomed for all their potential as individuals with more worldly insights.
Let’s knock off the identity policing. Stop telling people who they are. Let them tell us. Let them claim the “and.”
Debito’s 20-year-old historical archive of life and human rights in Japan is at www.debito.org. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears in print on the first Monday Community Page of the month. Your comments and story ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org
This was quickly dealt with in a way that I had never seen done in, for example, Japan (where this behavior would in my experience be explained away as a cultural misunderstanding, oversensitivity on my part, etc.). In Canada, the manager intervened, and (unbeknownst to us at the time) sent the teller home. The manager, who happened to be a minority in Canada, then said he well understood my distaste for identity policing of this ilk. In sum, the blog post was to give kudos to Canadian society for stopping this sort of thing in its tracks.
I had thought this was a pretty summary case, and wrote it up as such. However, I had no idea that it would blow up in my face.
This blog post is to archive the essence of a very informative discussion on my Facebook that was occasioned by this blog entry.
The discussion cleaved into several quite distinct camps, essentially:
Support for what I did.
Criticism for my overdoing it — surely this could have been handled better by me, e.g., by deflecting it with a quick explanation of my background or a bit of humor.
Disbelief at my inability to use common sense: To them, of course I don’t “look Japanese” (especially in a society with so few Caucasian Japanese), so my apparent expectation of the teller’s lack of surprise is unreasonable.
Anger (especially from Canadians) of my acting like a typically-loud and conflict-encouraging American in Canada.
Disgust at my acting so atypically Japanese that I no longer qualified as a Japanese in that person’s eyes (and that was it for us: Unfriended. Anyone who says I’m not “Japanese” because I don’t look or act “Japanese” in their view is neither a friend nor a person I care to talk to again. That’s taking the identity policing too far. After all, I could have committed a murder, and that would not have disqualified me — since some Japanese people murder, and don’t lose their “Japanese” status; my objecting to a teller’s inappropriate statement is somehow worse than that?)
Outrage towards my victimizing the teller (who as, I pointed out in my blog post, I deduced to be of native Korean background). To them, I was oblivious towards my White Privilege in a White-majority and White-dominated society.
The most articulate proponent of Camp 6 was a person I will call JG, and he posted a comment so well-argued that I thought it worth archiving in full at Debito.org. I answered it after a few days (again, I had a number of other commitments while on vacation, and didn’t want to just toss something off again), but here it is:
(N.B. There is one more bit at the very end, after JG’s and my exchange, where I essentially capitulate and agree that I overdid it this time. Do read to the bottom if you’re convinced that I never admit I’m wrong.)
Debito: Hi Everyone. At long last, here is my reply to JG essay. I am sorry for taking so long — these things take time to compose, so thank you for your patience. For completeness’ sake, I will quote it in full with my answers after each one of his paragraphs:
JG: Sorry, this smells of white-privilege, dude! You get to be white AND Japanese! You’ve taken this TOO far! […] I mentioned in another sub-thread that your actions smacked of “white-privilege”, but I think that you missed my point, or choose to ignore it, which is a very symptom of said privilege. What I mean by “white-privilege” in this context is that when one speaks about discrimination, one cannot ignore the part that power plays in the situation. In this case, you are in Canada, NOT in Japan, so the context of power changes. In Canada, you are perceived as WHITE, which in North America is the gold-standard (it is also the case in Japan, but that is another discussion). People who are perceived as White have certain advantages that others who are not perceived as White. Please note that I am not talking about ethnicity or culture here, but the socially-constructed notion of RACE that is defined primarily by stereotypical physical attributes and phenotypes interpreted through the lens of the observer. So while you may “feel” that you are Japanese, others will see you as WHITE; and this is especially salient in the North American context where being labeled as WHITE affords you privileges not afforded to others, even though they may be citizens through birth or naturalization.
Debito: I do not dispute either in concept or form the existence of White Privilege. I acknowledge that being White has assisted and does assist me and others who look like me from society to society, and that the treatment of people deemed to be “White” by society provides systemic advantages in societies that are both White-majority and Non-White-majority dominated. And I acknowledge that people will see me as “White” anywhere I go.
Where you and I part company in this paragraph is my wish to be White AND Japanese. I do not believe that they are (or should be) mutually exclusive. Just as Japanese themselves in Apartheid South Africa successfully lobbied to be Japanese AND “Honorary Whites” under the law. And this was not a case of naturalization in the ASA example, either. My being naturalized as a Japanese gives me even more standing to claim that I am Japanese AND White; I’ve earned this qualification through decades of study and self-education, acculturation, time spent in and contributions to Japanese society, dedication and sacrifice (including my American passport and even my very name), and close scrutiny by the Japanese government of my “Japaneseness” in ways not seen in other countries’ naturalization processes. I am certifiably Japanese because the Japanese government says I am, and they gave me a tough test to prove it.
Moreover, I am not willing to have my identity policed by others, unaware of this degree of dedication, into being Japanese BUT White anywhere I go. I am a Japanese, full stop. As are my Japanese children, full stop. As are yours, full stop. Regardless of how our children look, anywhere in the world, they are ALSO Japanese. It is up to us to claim that for ourselves and them, and not succumb to the majoritarian identity policing that goes on everywhere. Otherwise we’d still have people saying in other societies that they were not “real” members of (insert society here). This must stop, as borders nowadays with international migration and immigration are porous like never before. I believe that introducing White Privilege into the mix here distracts and detracts from the main issue, which is: self-identification. I believe that a person has the right to shape and control their own identity, and claim it when necessary without being unduly accused of an abuse of social power.
JG: Now, in consideration of the above, can you see how YOU were the one with the power in this exchange? Sure, the statement that the guy made may have been insensitive or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may have not experienced a “white” person who identified himself as part of a group that has been historically “non-white”, especially when identifying as “white” affords so much advantage and social capital. Also, considering that he himself was a visible minority, might take a bit of offense to someone with such obvious social advantage, identifying himself as a part of the Asian community. In other words, “Why is this White guy trying to be like us? Is he trying to appropriate our culture like the other whites in the past took the land, culture, and livelihood during colonization?”
Debito: Yes, now let’s talk about the power relations here in this particular case regardless of self-identification. You made the case that I, as a White person, had the power in this relationship. That could very well be the case, and I won’t deny it as a possible factor. (Not mentioned is that I also had the power in this relationship as an account holder and a customer.) He was no doubt surprised by a person like me having a passport like that (I don’t blame him for that — it’s an understandable reaction). And his reaction was probably innocuous and not ill-intentioned. All agreed so far.
That said, the issue in this situation I believe is the remark he made. If the teller had also been identifiable and self-identified as “White”, I would have reacted the same way to this social othering. It doesn’t matter what the teller’s background is: It’s an inappropriate remark.
Where we part company further is in seeing everything revolving around a person socially-identified as “White” as riddled with White Privilege that is actually being enforced consciously or unconsciously. My existing as a White Japanese possibly (as you argued) being seen as an appropriator of his culture is his baggage. And if he wants a job dealing with people in a customer-client relationship, he must lose that baggage, or at least not act or remark on it — just as anyone “White” who has to deal with any Visible Minority must lose their personal baggage, as part of company policy as a company representative.
Whether or not that baggage can ever be properly “loseable” is something we can debate (I also concur that racialization processes make that impossible to reduce to zero), but I don’t think its existence should be used as an excuse to empower hypocrisy. By that I mean, if I can’t do it to him, he can’t do it to me. And to imply that he can just because I’m apparently White and he’s not is unduly switching the victimization. That goes for anywhere that has any claims (including the Non-White majoritarian societies) to having anti-discrimination rules and practices.
(Further, if legacies of colonization that you brought up were an issue for this gentleman, the Japanese colonized Korea, so Whiteness is quite probably not a factor in this.)
If the very sight of me somehow, as you put it, “offends” him (which I think is unlikely, but that’s how you couched this issue), I don’t think he should be doing this particular job. But anyway, I really don’t think that’s what happening here. I’m sure he’s a fine teller that just let his tongue slip and vocalized the first thing that popped into his head. You can make the case that I overreacted to it (and I’m fine with that interpretation), but to say that I victimized him just because I happened to be White and he didn’t is in my opinion, in this case, a stretch.
JG: Regardless of what was going on in his head (because it is impossible to know), the facts as you have stated yourself, are that despite his initial shock of finding out that you were “Japanese”, he STILL provided you with service and did not challenge your identity in any meaningful or legal way that denied you anything; which is what TRUE discrimination is. As we understand it, you were not refused or denied service, you were not suspected of misrepresentation or of being a criminal, and the authorities were not called. It only seems that your feelings were hurt because this guy could not immediately recognize from your appearance that you were Japanese (or part of the larger imagined Asian community). And your response to this, instead of using this opportunity to educate him of the larger, diverse, growing imagined Asian diaspora to which you seem to be laying claim; and maybe making an ally in the process; you go for the nuclear option and call his boss on him, claiming “racism”!
Debito: Quite so. This is the better case to make that I overreacted, and, again, that interpretation is quite solid. He did not deny me service (although, as my accompanying eyewitness attested, he did interfere with us seeing the manager — but this information came later and you couldn’t have known it; you later still doubted I my second eyewitness was telling the truth, but more on that later).
However, let’s at least admit that he did deny me a comfortable space for doing business as a customer by socially-othering me. People may say that they wouldn’t react in the same way (that’s their prerogative, of course). Maybe that comment wouldn’t even make them personally uncomfortable. But again, I say, how much of this do you tolerate before you say enough?
One of the issues I have had to deal with just about every day no matter where I go in the world is the natural curiosity about my background turned into vocalized judgment. Where are you from? “Japan.” (Or, “Born in the US, but lived in Japan” if I’m feeling chatty.) Common response: “But you don’t look Japanese.” Or, “Interesting last name, where’s it from?” “Japan.” (Or some more elaborate variant.) “But you don’t look Japanese.” Customs official whenever I cross a border (except, amazingly, in Canada or Japan): “What’s with this Japanese passport?” “I’m a naturalized Japanese citizen.” “But you don’t look Japanese.” And that’s the milder version (at the Jamaican border they actually took my passport to their back room and had a laugh at it), before the Americans in particular render me to Secondary for a few hours’ of wait and inquisition until I miss my flight. I’m serious. Just saying “It’s a long story,” just doesn’t cut it, having to “school” everyone on a daily basis gets tiring, and having to bite my lip through a number of these intrusive and humiliating situations leaves a psychological mark after a while. It causes “triggers”, and that’s what I think was at play with this teller in Canada. That’s why I’m such a big fan of microaggressions as a social diagnosis — I face them every day and know the signals for my situation inside and out.
You might say I got myself into this situation by naturalizing into a country where there are few Non-“Asian”-looking citizens. Fine. But I’m not a unique case. What do you do when it starts happening to your Japanese kids who don’t look so-called “Asian”? How will you react the hundredth time (or the fifth time in a day): “Oh, what cute gaijin kids!” And will you stand by when people doubt your kids’ identity as they grow older and start dealing with society’s veto gates? Alienating comments like these between individuals are not something you can do much about. But these alienating attitudes being expressed in a corporate or official capacity should not happen. To anyone.
Further, as I have said before, I was not in the bank that day to school the teller. That’s not my job. Just like it was not my job to correct everyone’s English everywhere, anyplace, when I was an English teacher. My job is to complete the transaction and get on with my day, and I’d like that to happen without having to deal with vocalized prejudice.
JG: Please do not get me wrong, as a permanent resident of Japan for almost 18 years with a Japanese wife and child, as well as considering Japanese citizenship myself, I understand that if this happened in JAPAN, one MIGHT understand the desire to call the boss in. However, this happened in CANADA, NORTH AMERICA! Why would you hold the same standard of being treated as a Japanese to a person who is not Japanese, in a place that is NOT Japan?
Debito: Sorry, we’re not going to agree on this, but I don’t believe this should happen anywhere regardless of whatever humans we’re dealing with, or what “race/ethnicity/group/etc.” is dominant in a society. That includes Japan, Canada, wherever. When it happens to you as a Japanese citizen enough times, you might react differently. I don’t know you and I’m not sure, of course, but you don’t know me either, and I wouldn’t be so summarily dismissive of my position (and just put it down to “White Privilege”) when you’re not in it yet.
JG: The most critical point to my argument is this: YOU were the transgressor in this situation, NOT the teller. I am sure that the boss took your complaint seriously, openly scolded the teller, and summarily dismissed him in your presence; but guess what? It wasn’t because you were JAPANESE, it was because you were WHITE! You were in a bank in North America, where white people have social advantage due to physical attributes that are interpreted by the majority as being advantageous, where the system is tilted more to the side of said people, and where visible minorities have historically (and are still) at a disadvantage.
Debito: You might be right that I got preferential treatment because I’m White, I don’t know. But I rather doubt it in this case. Remember, you’ve got the facts of the case wrong (and wouldn’t believe further testimony): 1) the teller was not dismissed in our presence (he was after we left the building the first time), 2) we didn’t ask for the sanctions that he got (in fact, we didn’t ask for any sanctions at all), and 3) we would not have even KNOWN that those sanctions had happened if we hadn’t gone back and talked to the manager (meaning his sanction was not done for our benefit to curry favor with the White privileged). Moreover, 4) if White Privilege was a factor, wasn’t the fact that the manager was a minority himself in a position of power have any bearing here? Might one not be able to make the argument that since both the teller AND the manager were minorities in Canada, that they might have banded together to protect each other against the White Privilege? I don’t know. But I can’t conclude definitively that White Privilege was at play here, and I hope that you won’t simply say, “You can’t conclude because you’re White.” The evidence just isn’t conclusive either way.
JG: I notice that you have fallen in love with the term “microaggression” in your writings and I would like to say that your understanding of the term falls extremely short, and this situation is stark evidence of it! Again, as as WHITE person, no, better yet, a WHITE MALE in North America, who (whether you are aware of it or not) has social capital and power afforded to him by his physicality, you basically bullied a visible minority Korean-Canadian into accepting the way YOU see the world and you possibly endangered his carreer and future job prospects! How can you call yourself a crusader for visible minorities when you used your WHITE-PRIVILEGE to take the livelihood of a person with less power than you over a simple comment?!?
Debito: I think the bank was the one who told the teller how the company sees the world and how he should represent the company, not us. I know, you’ll couch it as the bank trying to appease the Dominant Whites, but I think this would have happened to any teller of any background who said this. Agree to disagree.
Also, I somewhat doubt this teller’s career is in danger, and I base this on a conversation I had with another Canadian manager friend I consulted with two days ago who has experience in these customer-service situations. Although my friend would not have taken the measure of sending the teller home (and he doubts that it involved a day without pay, either), he said that after a reprimand and a promise not to do it again, this would be seen as a teachable moment and forgotten shortly thereafter as long as it didn’t happen again. He strongly doubts that there would be any career endangerment.
Of course, this is all speculation. But so is the speculation about career endangerment, as is the speculation that White Privilege was involved here. We simply don’t have enough data about the event to say definitively what power relations were at play.
JG: And since you tend to use personal anecdotes as “facts” for your arguments, allow me to follow suit: I am a Irish-Scottish-Chickasaw-Chotaw-Jamaican-African American. I am most often identified as “black” by others (although I have been called Indian, Arab, Mexican, or just “foreigner” in my time in the US) mainly due to skin color. When I go back to the US to visit, I shop with my Japanese credit card and sign the card in Japanese because that is the name I use in Japan. I almost ALWAYS get looks when I do this, just as I do here in Japan. Both here and in other countries I sometimes even get, “Are you SURE this is your signature?” and I simply reply with a matter-of-fact, “Yes” or “Sou desu”, for whichever the situation calls. I do not call for a manager and complain as it is not necessary. I know that you are more Japanese than I am, but from my understanding, the prevailing culturally appropriate attitude for most Japanese is to avoid conflict when at all possible.
Debito: Okay. That’s how you deal with it; I respect that. Not necessarily how I would always deal with it. Perhaps you think we have different coping strategies because you are seen as “black” and I am seen as “white”. Perfectly feasible. But saying that I can’t react a certain way because I’m seen as “white” is a bit disempowering when facing discrimination. I’d rather deal with discrimination using ways granted to us as human beings within a society by the law, regardless of my (or anyone’s) skin color.
JG: Now imagine that I, as a “black” person, reacted the way YOU did at the bank in Canada. Do you honestly believe that I would be treated with the same respect? Well, in Canada, maybe. But in the US, it could very well turn into a story on the evening news! Let me give YOU a teaching point that you failed to give the Canadian teller: Visible minorities go through this ALL THE TIME! When a black person experiences and awkward moment or a “mistake” happens, we always have to question whether it was just an innocent misstep or was there actual discrimination going on. Where the PRIVILEGE comes in is that you, as a WHITE MALE, you have the freedom to question and complain, while a black person risks being called “ghetto”, “uncivilized”, or “an angry black man”! Your white-privilege shelters you from this reality. I am not blaming you for it, but as a so-called social activist you should be aware of it!
Debito: I see your point very well. I am aware that Visible Minorities have had (and still have) it pretty rough in various societies, and that Whites have had it pretty damned good for centuries. I would hope that if a person identified as Visible Minority in any society had this happen to her/him, that they too would stand up for themselves as I did, regardless of the social opprobrium and unfair facile labeling that frequently befalls them. That they have done so bravely for so long is inspiring and instructional, not to mention progressive. But clearly the “White Privilege” really hasn’t shielded me this time, in this discussion. Nor has it shielded me over the years, as people have seen me as the “outraged man tilting at windmills” etc., and assumed that just about everything I do is something I do with anger and out of anger etc. (See examples of criticism at http://www.debito.org/?p=12274, and proof of my style of activism at http://www.debito.org/?p=13365). Anyway, your point about having to question whether it was an innocent misstep or actual discrimination going on is well taken.
JG: It is natural for people culturally, socially, and economically “double-dip” if it is advantageous and if they can get away with it, but PLEASE do not insult the intelligence of the people here by telling us that you are “doing it for the greater good” and “doing it for us”!
Debito: Did I tell you that? Are you quoting me? I’ll answer that: No. I did not say that. Please do not cite things I did not say as some kind of evidence.
JG: I know by telling you all of this, I run the risk of being blocked and unfriended, as you have demonstrated by doing it to others who disagree with you. This is why I find your earlier comment about how society and the law agrees with you very ironic, since you quite liberally exercise your power to divorce yourself from dissenters. However, I hope you choose not to, as I hope that we can learn more from one another though this exchange.
Debito: No, you did not run the risk of being blocked for telling me all this (in fact, as I’ve said repeatedly, it’s a very thoughtful, well-crafted, earnest essay; thanks for it). What I do block people for is for being abusive. You were not abusive here. You were abusive later, which is why I eventually blocked you, long after you refused my request for retracting the angry comments you made later:
(For the record, what I requested of JG: “I would like you to retract the statements you make above basically accusing me of lying about having another eyewitness to this issue, not to mention bad faith and profiteering. These: “Even if your “eyewitness’s” account of what happened is accurate”,” “dodge the issues by posting a mysterious anonymous eyewitness account and advertising your book”. “conveniently-timed “anonymous” eyewitness who refuses to be identified because you have “stalkers”” (I do have stalkers, JG). All of those statements are grounded in anger, not reason. If you cannot retract them, I cannot engage in discussion with you, as you seem unable to fundamentally trust me. Usually when somebody becomes this abusive towards me, I block and unfriend them. But your essay on White Privilege was earnest and thoroughly-argued enough to warrant a response, so I didn’t unfriend you. But after this subsequent unfair indictment of my character, motives, and my friend’s testimony, I do not feel as inclined to discuss until these are retracted. I want a civil discussion. These accusations are not civil. So please retract, or end of discussion with me.”)
If someone wants to forward this response to JG, go ahead. But I don’t think there is any room for discussion between him and me as individuals. As to the points he raises, I hope my attempt to answer them to all of you in a calm, reasoned manner will be seen as earnest and well-intentioned on my part. I apologize in advance for any blind spots I may have due to my personal background being raised and living in several racialized societies, but I hope that, as JG said, we can all learn from one another through this exchange. I know I feel I have. Thank you for reading and discussing.Debito
Final thoughts from Debito:
One of the reasons I like having discussions like these, even those that sometimes bruise the Ego, is that they make me think and self-reflect, even help me lose some bad habits. The best comment came from a person whose tone of criticism proved his very point. From SMC:
SMC: You presuppose a lack of empathy on the teller’s part. But an awkward, inappropriate remark is not the same thing as a lack of empathy. I wasn’t there, so I cannot say anything about the tone, volume, etc., of the teller’s remark that might give me a better idea of the nature of the exchange between you and him.
But it would appear that you chose to respond to a perceived (and probably unconscious) lack of empathy by being consciously non-empathetic, and dealt with the situation in a legalistic, self-validating way.
The Buddhists have an interesting concept called “skillful means”; in other words, having the wisdom to know how to adjust one’s tactics to make one’s point in the most effective way possible.
In a legal/juridical context the kind of approach you took would be appropriate, but in this case it appears that you missed the chance to help educate and enlighten a fellow human being with a few well-chosen words. You’ll probably do better next time, friend.
Hi Blog. I’ve been doing Debito.org for decades now, and one thing that I admit I find annoying is how people talk shite about me. I don’t mind if people disagree with me — as I note below, it’s the nature of the beast when dealing with issues this contentious. But what really rankles is how some types will criticize me for things I didn’t say and didn’t do. Even when there’s ample record out there (decades of archives and thousands of articles on Debito.org and elsewhere) for people to properly cite and research, some people still cling to preconceptions and prejudices they formed either long ago, or based upon information they got second- or third-hand from other people of their ilk also talking shite. And since there are lots of them and one of me, I largely have to remain silent towards these criticisms or else I’d have no time to get anything done.
But I had an exchange some time ago when someone shared my blog entry on the Ten-Take tempura restaurant’s “JAPANESE ONLY” sign in Asakusa, Tokyo on a social networking site. As you will see below, the critic is clearly someone who is articulate and should, based upon his education, be able to research better. He voiced his criticisms in much the same way the garden-variety trolls do, but with a degree of persuasiveness that I thought deserved an answer.
Let this exchange be a stock answer to all the people who think I’m making matters worse through my actions to fight racism and discrimination in Japan. Naturally, I’m gonna disagree, and here’s why. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
This is how the conversation began, being the first response to the shared post:
April 6, 2014: [Name changed, rendered as Billy] writes:
The problem I always have with David Aldwinkle [sic] comes in his suggestion at the end. Asking people to start harassing the restaurant owner with phone calls? Way to reinforce the 迷惑 stereotype of foreigners that this restaurant owner already has. Aldwinkle often seems to want to head up some kind of gaijin mafia hit squad that goes around naming, shaming, hounding, and publicly humiliating anyone suspected of mistreating foreigners in Japan. It’s ugly mob tactics, and it makes him look just as ugly, if not uglier, than the people with the “Japanese Only” signs. In many cases, Aldwinkle’s attitude and tactics earn some sympathy for those signs.
Aldwinkle’s crude approach especially comes to light in the fifth comment on that blog post. Someone suggests a sensible, conciliatory approach with the restaurant owner, offering to translate menus for him and to resolve other problems. Aldwinkle won’t let this comment go up on his blog without attaching to it a snarky, bolded response that aims to humiliate the comment’s author. Maybe Aldwinkle would be proven right in the end that this restaurant owner wouldn’t budge, but Aldwinkle isn’t particularly interested in finding out. His first pass in these situations is to accuse and attack, immediately putting anyone in his path on the defensive. He tosses hand grenades in situations where gentle words might have more effect.
Arudou Debito…the guy who took Japanese citizenship so that he could try to force Japanese people to behave more like Americans.
April 6, 2014 (in response to some comments): Billy writes:
In my experience, people don’t attack Debito-san for “their own reasons” so much as they criticize him because he is a highly abrasive person who burns bridges and seeks to cause offense. Debito-san always turns these criticisms into attacks against him, and then proceeds to alienate his critics even further. Whatever good points he sometimes has are often lost to his heavy-handed language used to bully people into his viewpoint. This is a guy who publicly stated to a room full of people that he got Japanese citizenship so he could rub it in their (Japanese people’s) noses.
Bully really is the best word to describe him. That, and hot-head. He takes offense at everything, and he tears into anyone who offends him. I’ve seen him in action. He lived for years in my wife’s hometown. If Debito called a restaurant about a sign, I’m fairly certain he launched immediately into angry, confrontational accusations. If a Japanese restaurant owner feels that he can’t deal with foreigners, encouraging a lot of foreigners to call is only going to engender bitterness.
But Debito doesn’t seem to care about how people feel. He doesn’t want to win over hearts and minds. His own abrasive demeanor can’t do this, and so he’s concluded that it’s impossible for anyone to succeed in Japan by being kind. When I’ve spoken to him before, his version of winning seems much more oriented toward orchestrating a public shaming against someone, after which Debito engages in some crowing about how his stance is morally superior to anyone else’s. Threatening and forcing people into submission is much more his style. From my limited interactions with him, I’ve had to conclude that he’s simply not a nice human being, nor a happy person. Even when he does have a legitimate complaint, his approach typically only reinforces whatever negative stereotypes he’s complaining about.
April 6, 2014 (in response to more comments): Billy writes:
That sentiment that society needs to change is, in itself, not a particularly Japanese one. Society is changing nonetheless, but Japan has spent much of its history trying either to avoid change or to carefully manage it within strict (Japanese) boundaries.
We can think Japan needs to change, but short of a massive influx of foreigners into Japan who gain citizenship and through raw numbers effect rapid change, the pace of change is going to be controlled by Japanese people more than by anyone else. Any approach that doesn’t involve changes happening from within the belly of Japanese society might win a few superficial battles (a court settlement against an onsen, for example), but it’s not going to bring about any real change.
In the case of this restaurant sign, I can think of three approaches that might possibly work:
The first is polite confrontation that involves questions instead of accusations and offers to help (menu translations, etc.) It’s hard to say with certainty the odds of this working, but it sometimes does.
The second is simply to walk into the restaurant, sit down and order, and if challenged, reply in Japanese, “Your sign said no one under five years old. I’m over five, so is there a problem?” Focusing on what the Japanese says and pretending the English isn’t even there forces the owner to initiate the confrontation, which many Japanese people won’t do. It may not get the sign taken down, but enough instances of this will render it meaningless in the owner’s mind.
The third way, and probably the most effective in Japan, is to subtly draw attention to the sign and the restaurant to Japanese friends and allies. Make a lot of friends, and make those friendships the sort where those Japanese people will be aghast that you might be barred from an establishment. Many of those Japanese friends might, as Japanese people tend, opt to avoid any conflict, but many will talk. They’ll express in passing how awful a sign like that is to other Japanese people, and then those people will steadily begin to take note of such signs and find them odious, too. It’s a long-game approach. It won’t get the sign taken down today. But it’s probably the best chance at actually changing anything in Japan.
I quite vividly remember eating a very good sushi meal in Abashiri one spring a number of years back with some friends after the owners tried to keep us out. In that case, there wasn’t a sign, but we were told that we wouldn’t be served as soon as we walked in the door. After asking just a couple questions trying to clarify the restaurant’s policy (within earshot of a dozen or so customers at various tables who were in various stages of eating), we were quickly seated. The owners saw their Japanese customers starting to look uncomfortable at our being turned away, which we drew attention to with our questions, and that unspoken pressure from the other customers was enough to resolve the situation favorably. We got good sushi. They got some friendly, polite customers who spent a fair amount of money, and the service grew less awkward and reluctant as our meal progressed.
But Debito? He probably would have opted for a press conference in front of the place rather than eat a meal there, which would have benefited no one.
April 7, 2014: [Another poster Curtis; name changed] writes:
When [my wife] and I first took over [our workplace], the first teacher we hired was initially denied the apartment we had found for her for being foreign. I contact Debito and his advice and support were very practical and measured. Thanks to his help we ended up getting the teacher into the apartment. I think he has become somewhat more forceful recently–probably out of understandable frustration and in response to attacks that are very often unreasonable and apologist in nature–but the stereotype I hear of him doesn’t match the Debito I’ve encountered in real life. From what I’ve seen in person, I think he would handle an encounter with the restaurant owner in a measured and reasonable fashion.
April 7, 2014: Arudou Debito writes:
Thank you, [Curtis]. And that’s exactly what I did, in a measured and reasonable manner. I called Ten-take, simply asked if they had a Japanese Only rule in place (they do), and asked why — as I always do. They gave me the three reasons why as I reported them on my website (they wouldn’t have given them if all I did was accused them). When I asked if he thought all foreigners would behave in the manner he gave as reasons, he said that he just couldn’t handle them (tai’ou shi kirenai) due to a language barrier. When I asked him if this was not in some way discriminatory (kore wa sabetsu de wa nai deshou ka), he hung up on me.
You might ask the other person who was in the room with me when I made this call, but there was no confrontationalism, no shouting, no raising of voices on either side, no taking offense at “everything” — in fact, nothing of what [Billy] is accusing me of without any evidence whatsoever (which is quite unbecoming of a PhD-level researcher and former educator of his stature over at [XXXX]).
Frankly, I don’t think he’s ever seen me in action. If he would do some research over at the Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments and read up on some case studies I have recorded there as my doctoral fieldwork, he would see that I have at various junctures taken every one of the steps that he suggests above. Further, if he would read my book JAPANESE ONLY, he might see that we spent more than fifteen months trying to win over hearts and minds during the Otaru Onsens Case before we finally resorted to going to court and holding those inevitable press conferences.
Moreover, I don’t recall ever having the pleasure of ever meeting or talking with [Billy]. And I certainly don’t recall ever saying to any room that I took Japanese citizenship so I could rub it in their noses (the narrative for my naturalization I have always used has been the same as I have said here: http://www.debito.org/japantodaycolumns1-3.html); anyone who has read my essays or seen my speeches online or live knows that sort of language is just not in my vocabulary. Given the length and degree of confrontationalism within this very exchange, I think [Billy] is the one with the anger issues.
April 7, 2014: [Curtis]: I also want to stick up for [Billy]. While I disagree with the Debito comments and believe they would be hurtful, he is also usually very measured in his responses and I have difficulty imagining him having issues with anger management.
April 7, 2014: Billy: You never know, [Curtis]. I might be seething deep down inside.
But I am glad, Debito, that you joined this thread. I’d much rather have a discussion of your tactics with you here.
No, I wasn’t present for the phone call to this restaurant. But your description doesn’t do much to alleviate my concerns. I don’t know what the tone was on your initial questions or how the conversation started, but where it ended strikes me as highly confrontational. Accusing someone of racism in any language or culture is probably going to cause them to clam up, circle the wagons, or just walk away.
Yes, the sign is plainly discriminatory. But I question how likely an accusation of discrimination is to resolve the situation. My experience is that the language you use in that conversation, “差別,” is inflammatory, not likely to resolve the situation, and potentially likely to make it worse. At the very best, it will force a superficial change in the behavior (the sign comes down), while leaving a sour impression among those involved. Externally pressuring people to keep their racist tendencies hidden under the surface maybe gets a person into an establishment today, but does it ultimately make the culture or the individuals involved better?
And in Japan, word about such things gets around, and being on the right side of sympathy helps a lot. I’ve had about half a dozen conversations with various Japanese people over the years, some whom I’ve known very well and regarded as good friends–people who are not at all sympathetic to racism–about you and your tactics, Debito. They’ve brought up the topic of you, often knowing I’d lived in Hokkaido and wondering if I knew you or knew of you. What I’ve heard said in some form or another in every conversation is that, while you identify many real problems, your approach decidedly does not fit with Japanese culture, and it probably earns the people putting up those signs more sympathy than they’d otherwise get. That’s the public image that you often project, Debito. Maybe you’re O.K. with that; maybe you disagree that it’s how many Japanese people think about you. But I’ve heard it from enough people that I’m not making off-the-cuff remarks here.
Finally, yes, Debito, you are unlikely to recall, but we have crossed paths on a few occasions. The one at which you made the rather indelicate comment about why you opted for Japanese citizenship was at a JET recontracting conference in Kobe about 14 years ago. I asked a question or two to you during your session and talked briefly with you afterward. Your comment was made in response to someone else asking you why bother with Japanese citizenship if you are so critical of so much in Japan. You gave two three reasons, as I recall, the first two being that it made sense since you owned a home and were invested here that you have the commensurate status and political rights and that some day it might allow you to run for political office if the opportunity presented itself. But then you said that the other reason is to–whether your exact phrasing at the time was to rub or to hold, my memory is fuzzy, but “noses” was definitely a part of it–wave that passport under their noses when they tried to exclude you as non-Japanese. The statement drew quite a reaction from the people sitting around me–it struck all of us as a very crude reason to get citizenship, one in which the goal was less to become part of this other culture and nation and more to gain political standing (power) in this nation in order to force people to bend to your sensibilities.
And, of course, there you are, pictured in your rogue’s gallery, passport in hand, putting pressure on managers to give you entrance. Should they open their doors to all customers? Yes. But I’m not particularly clear how trying to impose on these Japanese people Western ideas of nation-state citizenship when their idea of “Japanese” is cultural and ethnic is really going to solve the problem. In some cases, you’ve definitely gotten policies reversed. You’ve definitely drawn attention to the problem. But is it really progress when a lot of this has to be accomplished by force through courts, human rights offices, and tourist bureaus? I remain skeptical.
April 7, 2014: Arudou Debito: Thank you for your response, [Billy]. I can see better where you’re coming from now.
1) First, about the discrimination. I’m glad that we can agree that the sign is discriminatory. What you’re objecting to is me and my alleged tactics. So let’s focus on that.
2) When it comes to me, I can only see that you’re basing your information on what I do and have done on the embers of a memory, i.e., a speech I gave for the Hokkaido Association of Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (HAJET) and AJET, on “Survival Strategies, and How You Can Make a Difference in Japan” (Hakodate February 27 and Kobe May 29, 1999, respectively — before I had even “bothered with” Japanese citizenship or gone to the Otaru Onsens). You can read my write-ups for the occasion (which serve better than your memory — since I will again categorically deny that I said anything like what you claim) at http://www.debito.org/residentspage.html#survivalstrategies.
3) Despite this, and despite testimonials from others who said that I do not behave as you claim, and despite the fact that I have recorded doctoral-quality fieldwork up at the Rogues’ Gallery (again, if I went in there only making accusations, I would not have engendered such detailed information about why the excluders were excluding), you still cling to this self-admittedly “fuzzy” memory as proof of my malicious character (viz. “not a nice human being”). Then you wonder why “Debito always turns these criticisms into attacks against him.” Because instead of dealing with the issue of the discriminatory sign, the first sentence you open up with in this exchange is a volley against me: “The problem I always have with David Aldwinkle [sic]…” QED.
4) Understandably, much of this invective is the nature of the beast, as we are dealing with contentious issues (racism, which many people deny even EXISTS in Japan), and so doing anything that goes against the status quo (especially in Japan) will cause controversy. Doubly so for somebody trying to get an exclusionary sign down. Trying to get sympathy for that is pretty challenging when we don’t have empathy to begin with — most people who ever see that sign are not being targeted by it, and even if they feel it’s wrong, many conflict-avoiding habits would encourage them to simply ignore it and take their business elsewhere. But as the Rogues’ Gallery demonstrates, that simply encourages copycatting elsewhere, nationwide; the sign must come down, for it legitimizes and normalizes overt exclusionary behavior.
But again, let’s recognize this field of racism for what it is — a minefield — and understand that nobody is going to agree on one solution for how to deal with it. I have basically tried everything (including all the tactics you have suggested), with varying degrees of success. In some circumstances, it MUST be accomplished through courts, human rights offices, and tourist bureaus. Why else do you think these means of mediation exist? Because every society has bigots who simply will never change their minds and treat people without their own racialized baggage. Short of a law to criminalize discriminatory behavior, that is how anyone can (and sometimes must) seek recourse in Japan.
5) Now, usually I don’t bother with this type of bullyragging from people like you who play the man instead of the ball, but I see you have a Ph.D. (in English), and should be able to engage in better research. So I steered you towards some information sources to research. However, all you cite within them is a photograph of me “passport in hand” (for the record, it was taken after I had been refused entry, so forgive me for looking a bit indignant), without citing anything from the sources that would weaken your case (such as the many hours I spent with many of these discriminators calmly trying to convince them to repeal their rules). You thus steadfastly maintain your standpoint by collecting only the information that supports it. This is called confirmation bias, and as such goes against your doctoral training.
6) Finally, if you want to use the old “Japanese culture” meme to level criticism at me, then we’ll have to agree to disagree there (not the least because of the difficulty in defining “culture”). Since you cited some anonymous people who disagree with my alleged methods as some sort of cultural representatives, well, I’ll cite back all the Japanese people who have told me they’re very glad I’m doing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it — partially because they never could (they themselves say they don’t have the mettle), and partially because they’re not in my position as a Caucasian Japanese, fighting for my children’s future of equal treatment here. You don’t agree with that, fine. But don’t serve this soft science to further ground unfounded accusations about my tactics and character.
Let’s put the shoe on the other foot: I can’t help but think that what’s really bugging you is that you’re seeing a White guy doing all this (you even started out this conversation refusing to use my real name, let alone research it sufficiently to spell it correctly). If a native Japanese speaker went in and said, “Sabetsu de wa nai deshou ka?” (which I have heard said by native speakers on these occasions many times; it is a question, not an accusation), I bet you wouldn’t dare accuse him or her of defying Japanese culture or of imposing Western values. Because he’s not Western, in your eyes. Ooh, that sounds a bit racist on your part.
Now, how does that feel? Rather presumptuous, no?
But I have no evidence (short of that interaction you said we had long ago, and we are having now) to impugn your character like that. [Curtis] (a man I have great respect for) vouches for your anger-free character (as I hope he would, since he hired you). So I won’t make a claim that you are being racist. But the evidence is certainly present in this exchange that your spurious judgments about me as a person have overpowered your research training. I can only conclude that if it is not prejudicial in nature towards people like me fighting racial discrimination in my country, then it is based upon a latent anger on your part being facilitated by the Internet that needs pacifying with evidence and reason.
Let’s hope that this exchange ultimately brings your training as an educator and researcher out of you. If not, thanks for the debate, and let’s get back on with our lives.
From “Are forces of darkness gathering in Japan”, by Jeff Kingston, Japan Times, May 16, 2015
JT: “[Government officials] have become more numerous, blatant and unapologetic,” [US-based journalist Ayako Doi] says, adding that the government is targeting both Japanese and non-Japanese critics alike.
Japan Times columnist Gregory Clark says the atmosphere of intimidation has become exceptionally “ugly,” attributing it to a “right-wing rebound and revenge.”
“Something strange is going on,” he says, citing recent attacks on progressive media. “Particularly given that Tokyo keeps talking about its value identification with the West.” […]
Clark himself was publicly defamed for his alleged anti-Japanese views because he raised some questions about government and media representations concerning the North Korean abductions of Japanese nationals. Following that, he says his university employer received a cascade of threatening letters demanding he be sacked.
“Requests to write articles for the magazines and newspapers I had long known dried up,” Clark says. “Invitations to give talks on Japan’s lively lecture circuit died overnight. One of Japan’s largest trading companies abruptly canceled my already-announced appointment as outside board director with the vague excuse of wanting to avoid controversy.”
Lamentably, he added, “You cannot expect anyone to come to your aid once the nationalistic right-wing mood creators, now on the rise, decide to attack you. Freedom of speech and opinion is being whittled away relentlessly.”
I’ll let Debito.org Reader JDG conclude this blog entry:
JDG:Please spare a moment’s thought for the plight of Gregory Clark. Even though this has happened to him (and seriously, see how low an opinion of him is held in the article ‘Our Other Man in Japan’), I have to say that such intimidation and discrimination, EVEN against Gregory Clark, is deplorable (in fact, when you or I are discriminated, we get the whole apologist slapdown. When it happens to Clark, suddenly it’s ‘The Forces of Darkness’! I mean what is this? Lord of the Rings?). I just wish that he’d used all his years of access to policy makers to work to improve the lot of NJ in Japan, rather than for his own personal gain, and IMHO, vain pride and sense of self-entitlement.
Anyhow, starting with that time he got annoyed with the police because they didn’t care who he was, and therefore didn’t arrest some black guys for him, he seems to have just gone downhill. What’s next? Black vans outside his house, and bullets from the uyoku in the post?
Since I read in previous articles about Gregory that he was loaded and flush with cash from property deals and public speaking, I won’t be asking Debito.org readers to donate any money to get Gregory off the street, nor will I be asking any of you to ‘adopt an Australian’ for $5 a month (or anything like that).
Dear Greg, If you’re reading this, you always have a home here with us (maybe. I dunno, after all, it’s Dr. Debito’s page, and you’ve been kind of critical of him in the past. Just sayin’.). What I mean is, now that you’ve seen Japan ‘through the looking glass’ as it were, had your bubble burst, and have experienced the kind of discrimination that you always said didn’t exist for NJ in Japan, anytime you want to pitch in and lend a weighty hand in this struggle for human rights, we (well, I guess ‘I’, after all, I can’t speak for the others) would welcome you, and your past sins would be forgiven, as it were (again, that’s an ‘I’ statement).
Yours sincerely, JDG (the kind of NJ you wouldn’t have given the time of day to).
Hi Blog. Here’s something very interesting I found while researching other things, and the first step I’m taking to start grounding my research in a Hawaiian context. An old essay in a plantation-era manual on “sharing prosperity” amongst the capitalists in the islands, talking about Japanese newcomers and second-generationers. Written more than 100 years ago, it offers perspectives long before their time, and also attitudes more inclusive than I would anticipate. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Here are the pages scanned (click on image to expand in browser), with full text retyped below them:
JAPANESE CHILDREN ARE NO MENACE IN HAWAII AMERICAN-HAWAII, PEOPLE AND INDUSTRIES (By Wallace K. Farrington) From “Prosperity-Sharing System for Plantation Laborers”, by Royal D. Mead, 1912
One of the favorite fads of the alarmists is to point with fear and trembling to the large number of Japanese children who are supposed to be growing up in the Territory of Hawaii, and who are expected, by the alarmists, to control the electorate at some future day.
Japanese born in the Territory may of course elect to accept American citizenship and vote. Theoretically they might overwhelm the population other than Japanese-American. But it is to be supposed that people of other races and nationalities will not cease to grow and increase.
The facts are that there is a steady exodus of Japanese children born in these islands to the homes of Japanese parents in Japan. In other words a very large proportion of the Japanese send their children back to Japan as soon as they are old enough to travel.
This is proved by the statistics. For the seven years from 1905 to 1911 inclusive the departures of Japanese children for Japan from the port of Honolulu exceeded the arrivals by 6,734. In other words excess of Japanese children born in the islands and sent back to the home of their parents in Japan amounted to about one thousand a year for seven years. This exodus is going on continually.
It is true that the parents of many of these children previous to their being sent away take out certificates of birth showing that they were born in Hawaii.
The records of the office of the Secretary of the Territory gives the fol-lowing totals of certificates of Hawaiian birth, which it should be understood is merely a record of American birth, for the years under comparison:
HAWAIIAN BIRTH CERTIFICATES ISSUED TO JAPANESE.
Year Males Females Total [if difficult to understand, click on pages above to see original charts]
1906 60 6
1907 16 0 16
1908 353 42 395
1909 715 68 783
1910 2611 325 2936
1911 7 8 15
3708 443 4151
Year Males Females Total
1910 7 6 13
17 11 28
It thus appears that less than two-thirds of the excess of Hawaiian-born Japanese who were sent back to the homes of their parents took out certificates to establish the fact that they were born on American territory.
The purpose of securing these certificates is undoubtedly to assure these children the right of free entry to the United States should at any future time rules be laid down by Japan or the United States to restrict the movement of the Japanese laboring classes between the two countries.
The Hawaiian-born Japanese as shown by the records of the Japanese consulate in Honolulu for the years 1905 and 1911 inclusive a period of seven years, amounted to a total of 18, 775 divided as follows:
Year ….. 1905 1906 1907
Male ….. 1167 988 1134
Female … 1070 933 1045
Total ….. 2237 1921 2179
1908 1909 1910 1911 Grand Total
1505 1578 1668 1608 9, 648
1365 1428 1832 1454 9, 127
2870 2006 3500 3062 18, 775
Taking into consideration the death rate for this period, it would be safe to say that during the seven years, inclusive, a surplus of ten thousand Japanese children male and female remained in the Territory of Hawaii to become citizens of the United States.
If none other than Japanese children were born in Hawaii from year to year the alarmists might have some ground for their fear. The Portuguese-American and the Hawaiian-Americans are more prolific than the Japanese, and there is also the Chi-nese-American and the Caucasian races to be taken into account. It should also be borne in mind that there is a steadily increased influx of Americans from the mainland.
To claim or expect that these Japanese children will control the electorate in the sense of voting as a unit is preposterous.
It should be remembered that these children are attending the American schools. They are instructed in the English language. They are in their play and in the work associated with the American children of all classes and thus are growing up in an American atmosphere.
On this point we quote from an article by Prof. M. M. Scott, principal of the McKinley High school and a foremost educator of Hawaii for many years. This article was published in a previous issue of the Bulletin “People and Places of Hawaii. ” In this Mr. Scott says:
“To show more clearly the voting population in the near future, it may not be amiss to give the statistics of the school population for the year taken from the report of the superintendent of Public Instruction: nationalities: Hawaiian,4767; half-castes, 3691; American, 999; British, 189; German, 265; Portuguese, 4777; Scandinavian, 67; Japanese, 6095; Chinese, 2797; Porto Ricans, 447; Korean, 168; unclassified, 594.
“It will be seen from this table that nearly 9000 of the approximate 25, 000 children in all the schools, both public and private are Orientals, i. e., Japanese and Chinese. There are no compiled figures ready at hand to show the number of these two nationalities born here. Most of the Japanese native to the territory are of very recent birth, as it is for the last few years only that the Japanese brought their women folk here. They are a Virile and fecund race. Though most of the Japanese in Hawaii are young and vigorous men in the prime of manhood, either unmarried or have left their wives in Japan, yet last year were born 3024 Japanese children in this territory.
“There are some that are concerned lest these children, growing up here will not assimilate to American ideals. They have too intense a patriotism for their own country, it is said. Such criticism ignores a well established truth that those who have no love for their native land or race, will not become patriotic adopted citizens. The Japanese have ever been a loyal people. Under feudalism, they were almost fantastically loyal to their feudal lord. Feudalism being abolished, their loyalty was with equal zeal transferred to the Emperor—to Japan as a whole. Ambassador Uchida recently touching Honolulu on his way to Washington, advised the Japanese boys born here, and intending to live here, to become patriotic American citizens.
“The American public school is the great assimilating crucible, which transfuses and blends the various nationalities. How could it be otherwise? One language, one literature, one playground, the same songs, manners and customs—coupled with mild and just laws, giving equal opportunities to all, irrespective of race.
“Nor is this mere theory. There have been born in Hawaii both Chinese and Japanese, educated here to man’s and woman’s estate, and, going back to their own country, have found themselves entirely at variance and out of sympathy with things there. Provision is made in Hawaii for the sound education of all its youth of all nationalities, in a public school system not surpassed in any state or territory of the mainland. Education is free and compulsory. A school is kept open for forty-two weeks in the year in the remotest country districts. It would he an anomaly to find an adult Hawaiian who can not read and write, most of them in both English and Hawaiian. This laudable foresight in providing means for the training of the young originated with the early missionaries, whose descendants, many of whom are now men and women of wealth and social influence, are leaders in all the activities that make for the betterment of the rising generation of all our races. Interest in education is not confined to any one class. Planters, business men, lawyers, doctors—all urge upon every legislature the importance of generous provisions for the education of the youth of the land. ”
There is nothing in evidence thus far to show that the Japanese-American citizen will not make as loyal and trustworthy an American as the other races and nationalities that have been absorbed by the American body politic and are now numbered among the Americans who set the highest standards of citizenship.
Of course Hawaii is doing something new in this connection. But the first fruits of the Chinese-American gives every promised that the American influence in Hawaii over the Oriental of the Far East will be as bene-flcient and will develop as certainly a good and loyal American as the Americanism of the Eastern and Middle States in its influence on the Oriental of the Asia Minor, Russia and the population of what is in general terms the Near East.
No American need worry over the future of Hawaii’s Americanism if the present immigration policy, agreeable to both Japan and the United States, is followed out. That is, to allow Hawaii to assimilate what Oriental population it already has, and at the same time balance the proportions by allowing, for a time a larger immigration of toilers from Europe.
Hi Blog. Here’s something for the Shoe on the Other Foot Dept.: A “No Japanese Passengers” taxi in Thailand, refusing to take all “Japanese” passengers. There’s even a sign (courtesy of Khaosod English):
What’s important is how swift and decisive the challenge from society is, and whether it is effective. In the Thai taxi case below, according to media, the taxi driver (rightly) lost his license to do business at the airport, and quite a furore happened both online and in print media denouncing this act as wrong-headed, even racist. Good. A similar furore also happened when a hotel in India had “Japanese Only” rules (the Indian authorities did not brook this kind of discrimination either).
Of course, some hay has been made about this Thai taxi on Japanese social media, with rightly-deserved (but unironic) condemnations of the “discrimination” against Japanese overseas.
One last point: Koki Aki, the Japanese gentleman who set this issue in motion by complaining online after being ripped off by a Thai cabbie (prompting the cabbie to exclude), subsequently defended himself against trolls who said he must not like Thailand: “I criticize Thailand, but I don’t hate Thailand.” Well put. Now, if only other debaters in Japan’s debate arenas would be so cognizant. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
BANGKOK — A taxi association at Bangkok’s international airport has condemned a cabbie who is reportedly refusing to take Japanese passengers, one day after a Japanese man made headlines with his rant against a driver who refused to turn on his meter at the airport.
A photo widely shared on social media this morning shows a sign posted on a taxi window in English, Japanese, and Thai. The Thai text reads: “No picking up of Japanese passengers.”
The notice ends with the text, “From: Association of Suvarnabhumi Airport’s Taxi Drivers.”
The photo surfaced a day after airport authorities fined a taxi driver 1,000 baht and banned him from picking up passengers at Suvarnabhumi Airport for trying to overcharge a Japanese man. The punishment was carried out after the Japanese man’s harsh rebuke of the cab driver, who reportedly demanded a flat-rate of 700 baht for a ride to Bangkok’s Saphan Kwai district, went viral on social media.
However, Sadit Jaitiang, director of Association of Suvarnabhumi Airport’s Taxi Drivers, told Khaosod in a phone interview that he had nothing to do with the notice, and only found out about the sign from social media today.
“I have not seen the sign with my own eyes, but I have seen photos of it. Let me stress that the Association is not related to such notice in any way,” Sadit said. “Taxi drivers cannot be picky. We cannot choose to take or refuse passengers of certain nationalities. If we do that, we won’t have any money. We have to take care of our families.”
Sadit said he is looking into who is responsible for sign, and will hold that person accountable if he or she is a member of the airport taxi association.
“As the director of the Association, I condemn this action. The Association wholeheartedly disagrees with it. We are working to find out which driver put up the sign. If we discover that one of our members indeed put up the sign, that person will be held responsible,” Sadit said.
Hundreds of Thai internet users have vented anger at the “No Japanese” sign, with some accusing the taxi driver of racism, discrimination, and refusing to obey the regulation. Others have jokingly commented that the driver should stop using a Japanese car.
BANGKOK — A taxi driver has been suspended from picking up passengers at Bangkok’s international airport after a Japanese tourist’s complaint about the driver’s refusal to use a meter went viral on social media.
Koki Aki posted on Facebook, in Japanese and Thai, on Sunday that the cab driver assigned to him at Suvarnabhumi Airport refused to use a meter and demanded a flat-rate of 700 baht for a ride to Saphan Kwai district in Bangkok.
Aware that a usual fare for the trip would not cost more than 350 baht, Koki reportedly asked the driver to use the meter, but the driver refused. Koki said he complained to the staff managing the airport’s taxi kiosk system, but was told that it was normal for passengers to negotiate fares with drivers for a long distance trip.
Airport staff say they instructed Aki to file a formal complaint, but that he declined to do so. However, Aki wrote in his Facebook post that it was he who requested to file a complaint, only to be ignored by the staff who “acted like they don’t care about my concern and don’t want to do their job.”
“This is the international airport of Thailand, and this is the place to take cabs from the airport, but there are even scams here,” Aki wrote. “They don’t care about the passengers at all. What can we foreigners do?”
Aki’s complaint came at a time when many Bangkokians have been airing grievances about taxi drivers who refuse to pick up them up in downtown Bangkok, preferring to take tourists who can be duped into paying extortionate fares. Tapping into this grief, Aki’s Facebook status soon went viral on Thai social media accounts, garnering more than 15,500 “shares.”
Prapon Pattamakijsakul, the director of Suvarnabhumi Airport, said he has already launched an investigation into the incident and punished the taxi driver who tried to overcharge the Japanese tourist.
According to Prapon, the driver, Chaiyan Charoensopha, has been stripped of his license to pick up passengers at Suvarnabhumi Airport’s taxi queue, in accordance with the airport’s regulation and penalty codes.
“Taxi drivers must always use their meters in their service,” Prapon said, adding that passengers who encounter any problems should keep the tickets issued by the taxi kiosks as evidence for filing complaints to officials. Complaints can be filed by calling 02-132-9199 at any time of day, he said.
Prapon also told reporters that there are 35 complaints about taxis at Suvarnabhumi Airport on average per month, which amounts to 0.01 per cent of all rides.
“Nevertheless, if the airport authorities investigate these complaints and discover that the drivers are guilty, we punish every one of them strictly without any exception,” Prapon said. “Therefore, the airport would like to ask everyone to file a complaint if they ever see a taxi driver behaving inappropriately, such as refusing to use meters, being rude, or refusing to take passengers.”
Teerapong Rodprasert, director of the Department of Land Transport, said Chaiyan, the taxi driver, confessed to the allegation and was fined 1,000 baht for violating the department’s taxi regulation.
“We didn’t suspend his driving license because he committed the offence for the first time,” Teerapong said. “So we recorded his wrongdoing into the database and sent him to participate in a lecture about service mentality for four hours.”
After his complaint was publicized by a number of Thai media outlets, Aki wrote yesterday that he was “very surprised” to see such a reaction. He explained in another Facebook post that he has been regularly visiting Thailand for the last 10 years and even knows how to write in Thai.
“Many Thais sent messages to my inbox … Most of the comments say “I apologize on behalf of my fellow Thai,” or “Please don’t forget that not all Thais are bad,”” Aki wrote. “These comments, I feel that they are comments from the Thai people with sincere hearts. I am very glad to hear them. I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I criticize Thailand, but I don’t hate Thailand.”
Past victimhood blinds Japan to present-day racial discrimination Like the abused who then go on to abuse, Japan is too psychologically scarred to see discrimination going on within its borders BY DEBITO ARUDOU
Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 78, August 14, 2014
But many have already expressed shock and outrage on these pages, pointing out the injustice of paying into a system that may choose to exclude them in their time of need. After all, no explicit law means no absolute guarantee of legal protection, no matter what court or bureaucratic precedents may have been established.
I’m more surprised by the lack of outrage at a similar legal regime running parallel to this: Japan’s lack of a law protecting against racial discrimination (RD). It affects people on a daily basis, yet is accepted as part of “normal” unequal treatment in Japan — and not just of noncitizens, either.
This brings me to an argument I wanted to round off from last month’s column, about how Japan has a hard time admitting RD ever happens here. Some argue it’s because RD does not befit Japan’s self-image as a “civilized” society. But I would go one step further (natch) and say: RD makes people go crazy.
First, let me establish the “hard time admitting it” bit. (Apologies for reprising some old ground.)
As covered in past columns, Japan’s government and media are seemingly allergic to calling discriminatory treatment based upon skin color or “foreign” appearance racial discrimination (specifically, jinshu sabetsu).
Bravo. Thank you. But so far, it’s the exception that proves the rule.
This see-no-evil attitude even affects scholarship on Japan, as I discovered during my doctoral dissertation literature review. Within the most-cited sources reviewing discrimination in Japan, not one listed “skin color” as among Japan’s discriminatory stigmata, or included RD as a factor (calling it instead discrimination by nationality, ethnicity, ingrained cultural practice, etc.). Indicatively, none of them (except some obscure law journal articles) mentioned the Otaru onsen ruling either.
Now peer into Japan’s education system. Jinshu sabetsu happens anywhere but Japan. The prototypical examples are the American South under segregation and apartheid-era South Africa. But homogeneous Japan, the argument runs, has no races, therefore it cannot logically practice racial discrimination. (Again, the Otaru onsen ruling disproves that. But, again, see no evil.)
So why can’t Japan own up? Because RD inflicts such deep psychological wounds that whole societies do irrational, paranoid and crazy things.
Consider this: Harvard University anthropologist Ayu Majima, whose chapter in Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel’s 2013 book “Race and Racism in Modern East Asia” I cited last month, also discussed the aftermath of the United States’ Asian exclusion policy of 1924 — under which Japan, despite all its attempts to “Westernize” and “de-Asianize” itself, was subordinated as a “colored” nation.
Japan’s public reaction was (understandably) furious, and visceral. The Kokumin Shimbun called it “a national dishonor” and demanded that U.S.-Japan ties be severed. In the words of one liberal Japanese journalist at the time: “Discrimination from the United States was due to regarding the Japanese as a colored people. This is a disgrace to the most delicate matter of the Japanese ethnic pride.”
Public outcry morphed into mass hysteria, including countless letters to the government urging war on America. Several people even committed suicide outside the American Embassy!
Although these events subsided, Japan’s elites never let go of this slur. The Japanese ambassador wrote the U.S. secretary of state, saying that the issue was “whether Japan as a nation is or is not entitled to the proper respect” that forms “the basis of amicable international intercourse throughout the civilized world.” Emperor Hirohito later called the act “a remote cause of the Pacific War.” It has also been connected to Japan’s rejection of the West and invasion of Manchuria.
See how crazy RD makes people? Mass hysteria? Calls for war? Suicides? International isolation? Invading China?
RD also psychologically wounds people to the point that it can feed illogical exceptionalism, denialism and perpetual victim status.
It short-circuits the ability to run self-diagnostics and see the fundamental hypocrisy behind the idea that, for example, Japanese are perpetual victims of RD, but rarely, if ever, perpetrators of it — as if Japan is somehow an exception from the racialization processes that happen in every society.
Seriously. During Japan’s colonial era, when Japan was “liberating” and colonizing its neighbors under the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, officials argued that under Japan’s Pan-Asianism, where (unlike Western colonization) her new subjects were of the same skin color, Japan could not practice “racism” in the Western sense.
Source: Oguma Eiji, A Genealogy of “Japanese” Self-Images, 2002, pg. 332-3.
But the historical record indicates that Japan’s colonized subalterns were subordinated and exploited like any racialized minority — something Japan’s similarly psychologically-wounded neighbors have never forgotten.
Then, in the postwar period, Japan’s national narrative mutated from “heterogeneous Asian colonizer” to “pure homogeneous society.” How did official illogic accommodate this shift? Again, with fallacious ideas such as “Japan has no races, therefore it cannot possibly practice racism.”
This claim is easily disproven by pointing to the country’s “Japanese only” signs. But then what happens? Relativism, denialism and counterattack.
Either deniers repeat that Japan has no RD (patently false; again, that pesky Otaru onsen case), or they argue that everyone else in the world is racist and Japanese have been victims of it (citing wartime examples such as the U.S. and Canadian Japanese internment camps, or the atomic bombings) — as if racism is just how the world naturally functions, and two wrongs make a right.
Then the focus turns on you. You face accusations of racism for overgeneralizing about Japan (e.g., with the counterargument that only a few places post “Japanese only” signs — just don’t point out the standard practice of denying NJ apartments . . .). Or you are charged with being remiss for not acknowledging the “positive discrimination” that “esteemed NJ” get (some, that is), and that positive discrimination somehow compensates for and justifies the negative. Then the debate gets tangled in red herrings.
But the point is that the reaction will be as swift, clear and visceral as it was way back when. The milder accusations will be of cultural insensitivity, Japan-bashing or Japan-hating. But as you get closer to the heart of the matter, and the incontrovertible evidence moves from anecdotal to statistical, you’ll be ostracized, slandered, harassed by Japan’s shadowy elements, stalked and issued death threats. Believe me, I know.
Again, racism is not seen as something that “civilized” countries like Japan would do. To call it out is to question Japan’s level of civilization. And it conjures up an irrational denialism wrapped within a historical narrative of racialized victimization.
Thus Japan’s constant self-victimization leads to paranoia and overreaction (justifying even more tangential craziness, such as defenses of whaling and dolphin culls, international child kidnappings after divorce, and historical amnesia) due in part to fears of being besmirched and discriminated against again. Like a jilted suitor heartbroken by an exotic lover, Japan thus takes extreme precautions to avoid ever being hurt again — by forever forsaking close, equal and potentially vulnerable relationships with anyone with a whiff of the exotic.
Until Japan gets over itself and accepts that racialization processes are intrinsic to every society, it will never resolve its constant and unwarranted exceptionalism. Bigots must be dealt with, not denied or justified. Like the abused who becomes the abuser, Japanese society is simply too psychologically damaged by RD to stop its RD.
This remains the fundamental hurdle Japanese society must overcome before it can empathize fully with outsiders as fellow equal human beings. As was evident in last month’s Supreme Court ruling.
There — now you have my comment on it.
Debito Arudou’s most recent publication is the Hokkaido and Tohoku Chapters in Fodor’s 2014 Japan travel guide. Twitter: @arudoudebito. An excerpt of Ayu Majima’s chapter can be read at www.debito.org/?p=12122, and more of Debito’s analysis of the Supreme Court ruling at www.debito.org/?p=12530. Just Be Cause usually appears in print on the first Thursday of the month. Your comments: email@example.com
You’ll hear, for example, that Japanese feel a sense of akogare (adoration) towards them, wishing Japanese too had longer legs, deeper noses, lighter and rounder eyes, lighter skin, etc. You’ll see this reflected in Japan’s advertising angles, beauty and whitening products, and cosmetic surgery. [Endnote 1]
This can be quite ingratiating and disarming to the (white) foreigners being flattered, who have doubtless heard complementary refrains in Western media about how the short, humble, stoic Japanese are so shy, self-deprecating and appreciative.
But people don’t seem to realize that inferiority complexes have a dark side: They justify all kinds of crazy beliefs and behavior.
For example, Japan’s pundits have already begun arguing that Japan’s disappointing performance in the World Cup in Brazil was partly down to the fallacy that Japanese bodies are smaller and weaker than those of foreigners. Japan’s sports leagues have long used this belief to justify limiting foreign players on teams — as if it somehow “equalizes” things.
This “equalization” is not limited to the infamous examples of baseball and sumo. The National Sports Festival (kokutai), Japan’s largest amateur athletic meeting, bans almost all foreigners. Japan’s popular Ekiden footrace bans all foreigners from the first leg of the marathon, and from 2007 has capped foreign participants on teams at two (the logic being that the Ekiden would become “dull” (kyōzame) without a Japanese winning).
These limitations also apply to intellectual contests. Until 2006, Japan’s national Takamado English Speech Contests barred all people (including Japanese) with “foreign ancestry”. This included non-English-speaking countries, the argument being that any foreign blood somehow injects an unfair linguistic advantage. (After 2006, Takamado provided a list of English-speaking countries whose descendants would continue to be ineligible.)
This is atrocious reasoning. But it is so hegemonic because of Japan’s long history of race-based superiority studies.
In 1875, Yukichi Fukuzawa (the man gracing our ¥10,000 note) wrote an influential treatise called “An Outline of a Theory of Civilization.” Borrowing from Western eugenics, he reordered the world to correlate levels of civilization with skin color.
White-hued people were at the top, dark-skinned people at the bottom. Naturally for Fukuzawa, Asians were ranked just below whites. And, naturally, Japanese were the most “civilized” of the Asians.
The West has largely moved on from this dangerous bunkum, thanks to the “master race” excesses of World War II and Nazi Germany’s Final Solution. However, Japan’s social sciences still largely ascribe to century-old social stratification systems that see race as a biological construct, and bloodlines and blood types as determinants of behavior.
So far, so Japanese Society 101. But the point I want to stress here is that inferiority complexes are counterintuitively counterproductive.
I say counterintuitive because they foster feelings not of humility towards people they admire, but of anger. Yes, anger.
Harvard University anthropologist Ayu Majima discusses this in her 2013 essay “Skin Color Melancholy in Modern Japan.” She talks about how the elites of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) (who would set Japan’s nascent national narratives) felt a sense of “distance, inferiority and disjuncture towards the West.”
Distance was a big theme back then. Although Japan is of course geographically Asian, with deep historical connections to China, Fukuzawa and other Meiji Era elites advocated that Japan “quit Asia and enter Europe” (datsu-a nyū-ō).
So that’s what happened. Over several decades, Japan industrialized, militarized, colonized and adopted the fashions and trappings of “Western civilization.” Japan sought recognition and acceptance from the West not as an inferior, but as a fellow world power. Japan wanted the sense of distance to disappear.
But that didn’t happen. Japan’s elites were shocked when the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) refused to include in its 1919 Covenant an anti-racial discrimination clause that Japan (yes!) had demanded. More shocking was when Japan was treated like a “colored,” “uncivilized” nation under America’s Asian Exclusion Act of 1924.
This is where the psychology of inferiority complexes is generally misunderstood. When people try this hard for validation and don’t get it, it doesn’t engender the passive humility and must-try-harder attitudes so often gushed about in the Western media regarding Japan.
Majima argues, “While an inferiority complex is generally regarded as a sense of inferiority towards oneself, it should rather be regarded as a sense of indignity and anger towards the lack of recognition of one’s worth . . . for not being recognized, approved or admitted by the important ‘other.’ “
So instead you get isolation, loneliness, anxiety and scant sense of belonging. (I’m sure you long-termers who feel unrecognized for all your efforts to “fit in to Japan” can relate to this.)
How did Japan react to being rebuffed? Policymakers declared that Japan neither belonged to the East nor the West. It isolated itself.
Worse, according to Majima, “Japan sought to identify itself through the unstable ‘distance’ between self and others as ‘tradition.’ “
Ah, tradition. Lovely thing, that. It turns this angry mindset from a phase in Japan’s history into part of its permanent self-image.
This feeling of isolation gave rise to Japan’s “cult of uniqueness,” and it dominates Japan’s self-image today, constantly vacillating between superiority and inferiority when dealing with foreigners. This “tradition” of ranking oneself in comparison with others, particularly in terms of degrees of civilization, has become ingrained as cultural habit and reflex.
And that’s why inferiority complexes are counterproductive for Japan’s relationship to the outside world: They make it more difficult for “foreigners” to be seen and treated as individuals. Instead, they get thrust into the impossible role of national or cultural representative of a whole society.
They also make it more difficult for Japanese to be neutral towards foreigners. Rather, the default reflex is to see them in terms of comparative national development and civilization.
These complexes also interfere with constructive conversations. For if acceptance, recognition and superlative praise of Japan as a safe, peaceful, developed country are not forthcoming from the outsider, insult and anger almost inevitably ensue. After all, criticism of Japan besmirches its self-image as a civilized society.
This is especially true when it comes to issues of racial discrimination in Japan. Japanese society is loath to admit it ever happens here — because racial discrimination is not what “civilized” societies do. I will discuss this in a future column.
============================ Debito Arudou received his Ph.D. from Meiji Gakuin University in International Studies in April. Twitter: @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Thursday of the month. Your comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity.” Journal of Material Culture 10(1): 73-91.
 References includeArudou Debito, “A level playing field? National Sports Festival bars gaijin, and amateur leagues follow suit.” Japan Times, September 30, 2003; “Sumo shutout in Fukushima.” Japan Times, September 30, 2003; “Top court upholds foreigner ban.” Japan Times, June 12, 2004. See also Douglas Shukert’s testimonial about his case at www.debito.org/TheCommunity/kokutaiproject.html. Also, JASA’s information on the Kokutai is at www.japan-sports.or.jp/kokutai/, in English at www.japan-sports.or.jp/english (which makes no mention of nationality requirements for participants).
 Dilworth, David A. et al. trans. 2009. Yukichi Fukuzawa: An Outline of a Theory of Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press.
 Majima, Ayu. 2013. “Skin Color Melancholy in Modern Japan: Male Elites’ Racial Experiences Abroad, 1880s-1950s.” In Kowner, Rotem, and Walter Demel, eds., Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
 Cf. Lauren 1988; Kearney 1998; Dikötter 2006. Even then, as Russell (in Weiner, ed. 2009: 99) notes, “[Japan’s] rhetoric of racial equality left much to be desired, for not only did Japan’s racial equality clause not question the right of League members to possess colonies (at the time Japan was also seeking [a new colony in China]) but its demand for ‘fair and equal treatment’ applied only to ‘civilized nations’ (bunmei koku) and League member states – not to their colonies and subject peoples. Japan’s ruling elites were less interested in securing equality for non-whites than in ensuring that Japan, as a sovereign nation and member of the League, would be afforded the same privileges as Western nations…”
Hi Blog. While we’re on the subject of sports, here’s something that I found very positive: A Japanese baseball player for the Toronto Blue Jays named Kawasaki Munenori doing his darnedest to meet the domestic press:
I have written in the past about how certain other Japanese athletes overseas do it differently. In fact, my very first newspaper column (in the Asahi Evening News — remember when it was titled that?) way back in 1997 was a grumble (what else? I’m Debito) on how J-baseball pioneer Nomo Hideo (remember him?) was skiving in terms of trying to connect with his adoptive community:
I will admit right now that I’m no expert on sports, but from what I’ve seen (and I’m welcome to correction/updates), many of Japan’s athletes overseas don’t bother to publicly learn the language, or connect all that much with their local community. Baseball superstar Ichiro is the immediate example that comes to mind, as AFAIK he assiduously avoids American media; some might justify it by saying he’s all business (i.e., focused on the game) or trying to avoid gaffes. But I still think it comes off as pretty snobby, since these sportsmen’s lives are being supported by fans, and they should give something back.
Hi Blog. Bit of a tangent here, but when we saw Japan drop behind China to become the #3 largest economy, we saw reactions of craziness that still reverberate today (not the least sour grapes, but more heightened security issues). I wonder how the Americans will react to this news.
The Economist (London) tells us like it is, with the aplomb of a former world power itself, declaring the American Century over. China will be the world’s largest economy years at the end of this year, nearly half a decade ahead of schedule.
Myself, I think this is (or should be) inevitable: China has the most people, so it stands to reason that it should have the most capacity to produce and be rich if not richest. After all, the Pax Americana Postwar goal of helping countries become rich and developed is that they’ll become more stable economically, thus more likely to suppress warlike urges in favor of the mutual profit motive. Plus the Americans always held out hope that an emerging middle class would agitate for democratic reforms, and shudder at the thought of the Chinese system in its current form becoming the global hegemon. Will it react similar to Japan and see China as a threat, or will it keep Postwar historical goals in perspective and see it as a form of mission accomplished?
Yet China, as the second article below indicates, is downplaying that kind of future. Although global development theories are something I studied in grad school, China isn’t my field. So Debito.org Readers. any thoughts as to why? Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
UNTIL 1890 China was the world’s largest economy, before America surpassed it. By the end of 2014 China is on track to reclaim its crown. Comparing economic output is tricky: exchange rates get in the way. Simply converting GDP from renminbi to dollars at market rates may not reflect the true cost of living. Bread and beer may be cheaper in one country than another, for example. To account for these differences, economists make adjustments based on a comparable basket of goods and services across the globe, so-called purchasing-power parity (PPP). New data released on April 30th from the International Comparison Programme, a part of the UN, calculated the cost of living in 199 countries in 2011. On this basis, China’s PPP exchange rate is now higher than economists had previously estimated using data from the previous survey in 2005: a whopping 20% higher. So China, which had been forecast to overtake America in 2019 by the IMF, will be crowned the world’s pre-eminent country by the end of this year according to The Economist’s calculations. The American Century ends, and the Pacific Century begins.
China plays down GDP size BY FRANK CHING THE JAPAN TIMES, MAY 18, 2014
More than a week after new World Bank figures indicated that China would overtake the United States this year and become the No. 1 economy comes the news that, for the first time, the world’s three biggest public companies and five of the top 10 in the Forbes Global 2000 List are Chinese.
American companies accounted for the remaining five on the top 10 list. The biggest U.S. companies were JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, in fourth and fifth place respectively, trailing Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China.
There are no European companies among the top 10. Royal Dutch Shell and HSBC Holdings, among the top 10 last year, have been edged out.
Xinhua, the official Chinese press agency, reported the news without comment under the headline “China has world’s 3 largest companies: Forbes.”
This was unlike the treatment given to the report the previous week that China would become the world’s largest economy this year. Then, the news was played down, if reported at all.
In fact, the official People’s Daily newspaper made clear the disdain with which the Chinese government held predictions using purchasing power parity by declaring, “Chinese want a better life, not an artificial ranking as world’s no. 1 economy.”
It cited “another report from the World Bank” that “indicated that the GDP of the U.S. was about $16.8 trillion in 2013, ranking first, while China’s GDP was only $9.18 trillion, ranking second.” It then put things in better perspective by saying: “China’s per capita GDP ranks only 99th in the world.”
Clearly China not was comfortable about its elevation to the world’s No. 1 economy by the end of this year. Being in second place is more comfortable and can be used by the government to urge the Chinese people to work harder.
The People’s Daily recalled that “catching up with the United States” was once stated as the goal of the Chinese people. But it added pointedly, “this meant not only the pursuit of economic strength but also a strong demand for self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Hi Blog. Today’s post is a history lesson, about a very different Japan that took racial discrimination very seriously. Especially when Japanese were the victims of it overseas. Let me type in a section from Majima Ayu, “Skin Color Melancholy in Modern Japan”, in Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel, Eds., Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2013, pp. 398-401. Quick comment from me follows (skip to it if you think this text is a little too academic for your tastes).
Japan’s Racial Equality Clause was denied by the Western powers, and racial discrimination such as the Japanese exclusion in California still remains, which is enough insult to raise the wrath among the Japanese. — Emperor Showa, 1946.
Although Japanese exclusion was largely caused by racial discrimination, some elites tried to deny this by replacing the issue with class issues, similar to the interpretation of physical grooming. According to the minister of war, Terauchi Masatake (1852-1919), the Anti-Japanese movement arose because Japan had sent “bottom-class workers” who looked like “monkeys in the zoos” to the United States. In fact, the Japanese government encouraged workers from farming villages to emigrate because these villages were so impoverished and their population continued to grow. Terauchi’s view towards the Japanese immigrants to the United States was shared among elites since racial issues originally emerged as labor issues. However, the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924 did not support the Japanese elites’ interpretation of existing class issues but made obvious the racial distinction between Japan and the United States.
As cited, the Emperor Showa (1901-1989) saw the Exclusion Act as “a remote cause of the Pacific War” (Terasaki & Miller 1995: 24). When President Woodrow Wilson met Ambassador Chinda Sutemi (1857-1929) in 1913, he was shocked by Chinda’s grave reaction to the Law, and knew then that war was more than a possibility. As a letter on 8 February 1924 from Secretary of State Charles E. Hugues to Chairman of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization Albert Johnson stated, “The Japanese are a sensitive people, and unquestionably would regard such a legislative enactment as fixing a stigma upon them.” It also aptly used the term stigma used before by Taguchi. In fact, opinions against the Japanese Exclusion Act were an immediate reason for public outcry in Japan. The population had become exasperated by the weak-kneed diplomacy that brought national dishonor amidst the emotional bashing from the mass media. This manifested in extremely emotional and near mass-hysteric situations, such as the suicides near the American Embassy on May 31, the follow-up suicides, the events for consoling the spirits of the deceased, and the countless letters sent to the Naval Department calling for war against the United States (Matsuzawa 1980: 363-4).
While the situation heated up rapidly, it quickly subsided. However, the elites’ reaction against the Act remained strong. On the 15th of January 1924, Hanihara Masano, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, stated in a memorandum that to “to preserve the self-respect” of Japan, “the sole desire of the Japanese Government was to relieve the United States Government of the painful embarrassment of giving offense to the just national pride of a friendly nation”. Three months later on April 10th, Hanihara sent another letter to Secretary of State Hughes:
To Japan the question is not one of expediency, but of principle. To her the mere fact that a few hundreds or thousands of her nationals will or will not be admitted into the domains of other countries is immaterial, so long as no question of national susceptibilities is involved. The important question is whether Japan as a nation is or is not entitled to the proper respect and consideration of other nations. In other words, the Japanese Government asks of the United States Government simply that proper consideration ordinarily given by one nation to the self-respect of another, which after all forms the basis of amicable international intercourse throughout the civilized world.
Some criticized Japan’s contradiction in terms of its pressure on Asia, but their anger only focused on Japan’s national dishonor and on the insults to its reputation. According to Hanihara’s correspondence with Secretary of State Hughes, the Exclusion Act “would naturally wound the national susceptibilities of the Japanese people.” It would also bring the “possible unfortunate necessity of offending the national pride of a friendly nation… stigmatizing them as unworthy and undesirable in the eyes of the American people” and “seriously offend the just pride of a friendly nation.”
Even Kiyosawa Kiyoshi (1890-1945), known as a liberal journalist, also took a critical stance of this. “Discrimination from the United States,” he wrote, “was due to regarding the Japanese as colored people. This is a disgrace to the most delicate matter of the Japanese ethnic pride.” On the 2nd of July at the Kokumin Shinbun, Tokutomi Sohou designated the 1st of July 1924 — the day the Anti-Japanese Immigration Law had passed — as the “Day of National Dishonor”. He explained the significance of the day to be one of “cutting ties with the United States”, and embracing their Asian brothers.” Tokutomi explained that the Anti-Japanese Law had caused “the Japanese to suffer unprecedented insult.” He also stated, “The immigrant issue is not simply a matter of US-Japan relations, it is the issue [lying] between the United States and the colored races” In the meantime, Nitobe Inazo (1862-1933) wrote in his 1931 correspondence on the night before the Manchurian Incident that the Exclusion Act was “a severe shock which came completely out of the blue… my heart was deeply wounded and I felt strongly insulted as if we Japaense were suddenly pushed down from our respected status to being the wretched of the earth.”
American’s racial categorization aggravated Japan’s anger, which turned to anxiety as a result of Japan’s diminishing sense of belonging in the world; “the world being limited to the Western powers,” as Tokutomi cited earlier, even if Japan earned a status equal to that of the Western powers, there would still be a great “distance” between them, namely one of racial and religious differences, and the whole difference between the East and West. The sentiment of being a “solitary wanderer” rejected by the West contradicts the manner in which Japan brought about its own isolation. Tokutomi also asserted that the express “Asian” had no other meaning beyond the geographical, and thus Japan’s self-perceptions and identity no longer belonged to Asia. The sense of isolation was actually based on the denial of “Asia”, and it came from Japan’s own identification built upon the idea of “Quit Asia and Join Europe”. It could be said that Japan’s contradictory identification came to reveal Japan’s inability to identify with either the East or the West, a situation that came about through the emergence of a consciousness of the racial distance, especially from 1919 to 1924.
COMMENT: There is a lot here to parse and analyze, and I’ll leave space for Debito.org Readers to tell us their reads. But mine on the most topical level is this:
Look at how crazy racial discrimination makes people. Mass hysteria? Suicides? Rumors of war? Feeling rejected by the West after the elites had taken a risk and turned the national narrative away from the East? Thereby laying the groundwork for Postwar Japan’s narrative of uniqueness and exceptionalism that fuels much of the irrational and hypocritical behavior one sees in Japan today (especially vis-a-vis racial discrimination towards anyone NOT “Japanese”). Yet during Prewar Japan (when Japan was colonizing), the GOJ denied that it could even ideologically PRACTICE racial discrimination, since it was liberating fellow members of the Asian race (Oguma Eiji 2002: 332-3); and now we get denials that it exists in Japan, or that Japanese even understand the concept of racial discrimination because Japanese society allegedly has no races. After all, racial discrimination is something done to us Japanese by less civilized societies. It couldn’t happen in Japan. Yet it does. And when that is pointed out, then the denialism comes roaring back intertwined, as the above passage demonstrates, with the historical baggage of victimization. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
“When you think like this,” he continued, “when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers — it becomes harder not to act, harder not to help.”
I agree. Enormous social problems arise when people don’t understand (or rather, don’t try to understand) what’s going on in other people’s minds. I was mindful of that during my Ph.D. fieldwork, when I interviewed dozens of “Japanese Only” businesses. I always asked for (and got, often in great detail) the reasoning behind their exclusionism. I never agreed with their stopgap solutions (shutting out people they thought were “foreign” because they didn’t look “Japanese” enough), but I gained some sympathy for what they were going through.
But sympathy is not the same as empathy, and that is one reason why discrimination against foreigners and minorities is so hard to combat in Japan. Japanese society is good at sympathy, but empathy? Less so…
However, there remains a marked lack of empathy in Japan towards outsiders, especially minorities and foreigners. Why? I would argue it’s because few Japanese ever leave their carefully constructed comfort zones to become minorities or foreigners themselves.
If you think about it, concerns about security, safety and comfort basically dominate all levels of Japanese existence — especially if it involves leaving the Japanese existence entirely. Even though going overseas is the only way Japanese will ever walk in the shoes of a foreigner, many still spend their short jaunts within group buses on package tours, experiencing a foreign land from a controlled environment geared to Japanese comfort levels. SEE ENDNOTE FOR SOURCES
I do sympathize. Why would anyone pay all that money for a quickie trip and suffer the discomfort of unpredictability? Being a member of a rich, developed country with a high expectation of quality, service and social order should have taken care of all that.
Who wants to deal with all those scary foreign languages and potential criminal behaviors lurking beyond the hotel stoop, anyway? It could spoil a stress-free vacation.
But there’s a deeper disconnect going on here. I’ve written before about Japanese society’s overwhelming conceit with social power maintenance, and power plays a part in this discussion too.
You see, sympathy is in fact about power. People worthy of sorrow or pity have to appeal to people in a position to give that sympathy. Sympathizers have the power to decide to be charitable or merciful.
On the other hand, empathizers have to give up their power. They have to live situations like somebody else, feel their discomforts and disadvantages, walk in their shoes.
But we won’t. We’re rich. We’ve earned the right to stay in our own shoes.
So never mind empathy. Sympathy’s simpler, for if anyone needs our help, we’ll send money — if they’re within our ambit of concern. It’ll still have no real impact on our lives — or, more importantly, no real impact on our perceptions of their lives.
Now let’s seal off the attitudinal loop from foreigners in particular: Hey, if you don’t like living in Japan as a disadvantaged foreigner, you shouldn’t have come here in the first place. We don’t go to your country as a guest and tell you what to do in your house, do we?
Probably not, because one can understand the feelings of fellow Japanese in this situation. Empathy, however, generally doesn’t go outside the tribe: Japan can discriminate against foreigners, but woe betide the foreigners if they do it to Japanese!
Again, I do sympathize, since a lack of empathy is by design. The government has long portrayed foreigners as Japan’s opponents — agents of crime, terrorism, disease and land grabs.
The end result is that even the most well-intentioned people in Japan, who do protest clear examples of racial discrimination (e.g., the “Japanese only” signs at businesses, the racist street demos saying “Kill all Koreans,” the “Japanese only” banner by Urawa Reds soccer fans), use a different subtext.
They denounce racism as “Nihon no haji,” decrying the shame (haji) that xenophobia brings upon Japan on the international stage: It makes Japan, and by extension themselves as Japanese, look bad.
Shame is a very effective message — thank you for it — but the more empathetic tack would be to argue that foreigners are people too; that they live in Japan just like any Japanese; that they deserve to live in Japan as residents, patronize bathhouses and restaurants as customers, attend soccer matches as fans, like anyone else; that foreigners deserve exactly the same human rights and access to public goods as any other Japanese.
But equal treatment is rarely part of the debate. Instead people argue, “If they want to be treated the same, they should naturalize,” as if that fixes everything. Trust me, it doesn’t.
Again, empathy is key. If more people had it, they would advocate for Japanese society to “do unto foreigners,” because they would understand how foreigners feel, as Obama argued, and wouldn’t wish that treatment upon anyone.
Japan, let’s work on that empathy deficit. Less dōjō (sympathy), more kyōkan (empathy). Broaden your ambit beyond the tribe and you just might realize that power is not “zero-sum,” i.e., that giving more power to foreigners in Japan does not mean less power for you. In fact, it makes things better for everyone, as it gives more people more opportunity to fulfill their lifetime potential in society.
Now, who wouldn’t empathize with that?
=============================== Debito Arudou, who has just received his Ph.D. in International Studies from Meiji Gakuin University, is editing his dissertation on racial discrimination in Japan into a book. Your comments and story ideas: email@example.com
ENDNOTE I have gone through several databases, including ProQuest, and searched through the full archives of about ten academic peer-reviewed journals on tourism, and there really isn’t much related rigorous sociological/anthropological in recent years on this, it would seem. What I could track down published within the past five or so years:
From: Generalized pattern in competition among tourism destinations Dawes, John; Romaniuk, Jenni; Mansfield, Annabel. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research3.1 (2009): 33-53.
Establishes that Japanese tourists take shorter holidays and more picky about their destinations of the four groups selected: “This suggests Japanese tourists travel to a smaller range of destinations than USA, UK and Singaporean Tourists. This result might be due to greater loyalty to single destinations or due to taking fewer holidays overall.”
Cross-cultural tourist behaviour: a replication and extension involving Hofstede’s uncertainty avoidance dimension Litvin, Stephen W; Crotts, John C; Hefner, Frank L. The International Journal of Tourism Research6.1 (Jan/Feb 2004): 29-37.
This one tells what we already know about Japanese avoidance of uncertainty and risk, replicates older results: ABSTRACT: Hofstede’s five cross-cultural dimensions have been broadly applied in the literature. Money and Crotts recently applied the dimension of uncertainty avoidance to a matched sample comprised of low uncertainty avoidance German and high uncertainty avoidance Japanese tourists, finding their behaviors consistent with those behaviors predicted by Hofstede. This study both replicates and extends their research across a representative sample of first time leisure visitors to the USA representing 58 nations. It was found that visitors from high uncertainty avoidance cultures exhibited behaviors consistent with those of the Japanese in the Money and Crotts research, whereas visitors from low-uncertainty avoidance cultures behaved similarly to their German subjects. Such findings, across a broad sample population, validate the original research through a more rigorous test of its propositions, provide increased confidence regarding their generalizability, and further contribute to our understanding of the influence of national culture on tourist behavior. http://marketing-to-japan.com/the-japanese-tourist.html
(sourced from www.visitbritain.com, date unknown) Package tours 48.2% Individually arranged 37.1% (increasing) Group travel 6.2%
Hi Blog. Although I have been commenting at length at Japan’s right-wing swing, I have focused little on the geopolitical aspects (particularly how both China and Japan have been lobbying their cases before the congress of world opinion), because Debito.org is more focused on life and human rights in Japan, and the geopolitics of spin isn’t quite my specialty. That said, I’m happy to cite other articles that get the analysis pretty much right. Here are two, one from Bloomberg, the other from Reuters. After all, Japan can take its constant “victim” narrative only so far, especially in light of its history, and that distance is generally its border. These articles highlight how outsiders are increasingly unconvinced by the GOJ’s behavior and invective, despite the longstanding bent towards giving Japan the benefit of the doubt as a regional ally. ARUDOU, Debito
A series of recent blunt statements from U.S. officials have left no doubt that Washington blames China’s maritime expansionism for rising tensions in Asia. Now, America’s main ally in the region needs to hear a similarly forthright message.
Japan had been clamoring for the U.S. to speak out more forcefully after China imposed an “air-defense identification zone” over a set of islands claimed by both countries. Officials in Tokyo have warned that any hint of daylight between Americans and Japanese only encourages further bullying from the mainland. For that same reason, U.S. officials have tempered their criticism of statements and actions by Japanese leaders that irk China, not to mention other victims of Japanese aggression during World War II.
This circumspection is becoming counterproductive. Since China imposed its air-defense identification zone in November, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited the deeply controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors, along with millions of fallen soldiers from various conflicts, 14 Class A war criminals from World War II. What’s more, several of Abe’s nominees to the board of the state broadcaster NHK have made appallingly retrograde comments that Abe has declined to disavow. One claimed the horrific 1937 Nanjing Massacre never took place, while another pooh-poohed complaints that the Japanese military had exploited thousands of women from Korea and elsewhere as sex slaves during the war. Other Abe allies are busily trying to rewrite textbooks to downplay Japan’s wartime brutality.
Japanese officials seem unconcerned with the impression all this creates abroad, arguing that relations with China and even with fellow U.S. ally South Korea can hardly get worse, and in any case are unlikely to improve so long as nationalists remain in power in those countries. A more conciliatory Japanese attitude, they are convinced, would only prompt endless humiliating demands from Beijing and Seoul.
Worse, Japan seems to be taking U.S. backing for granted. Abe went to Yasukuni even after Vice President Joe Biden quietly urged him not to. Details of their conversation were then strategically leaked, presumably to showcase Abe’s defiant stance. In private, Japanese officials snipe about the Barack Obama administration’s alleged unreliability. Anything other than unstinting support for Japan is taken as a lack of backbone.
The U.S. should push back, and less gently than usual. President Obama’s trip to Asia in April is an opportunity for the White House not only to reaffirm its disapproval of Chinese adventurism but also to make clear that Abe’s provocations are threatening stability in the region, and damaging the U.S.-Japan alliance.
This won’t change many minds inside Abe’s inner circle, of course. But most Japanese are acutely sensitive to any hint of U.S. displeasure. (Nearly 70 percent of respondents to one poll called on Abe to heed the negative reaction to his Yasukuni visit, which included a mild expression of “disappointment” from U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.) Voters threw out Abe once before when he let nationalist obsessions distract him from minding the economy. Sustained domestic pressure is needed to rein him in again.
Abe is not necessarily wrong to want to make Japan a more muscular nation — to rejuvenate its economy, open up its society and normalize its self-defense forces. A more robust Japanese military could play a bigger role in promoting global and regional stability — whether through anti-piracy patrols or peacekeeping missions — and come to the defense of its allies. Inflaming Chinese and Korean sensitivities helps achieve none of those goals.
All it does is raise the likelihood of conflict in the region. That Abe’s recent actions and comments may be less dangerous than China’s adventurism is beside the point. He’s eroding the international goodwill that Japan has built up over decades as a responsible democracy — all for no good reason. If he can’t see that for himself, perhaps the U.S. — and his own citizens — can help him.
Japan risks losing a global PR battle with China after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial shrine for war dead and comments by other prominent figures on the wartime past helped Beijing try to paint Tokyo as the villain of Asia.
Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by territorial rows, regional rivalry and disputes stemming from China’s bitter memories of Japan’s occupation of parts of the country before and during World War II.
Relations chilled markedly after a feud over disputed East China Sea isles flared in 2012.
Beijing, however, has stepped up its campaign to sway international public opinion since Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine is seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism because it honors leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals with millions of war dead.
That strategy has helped China shift some of the debate away from its growing military assertiveness in Asia, including double-digit defense spending increases and the recent creation of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that was condemned by Tokyo and Washington, experts said.
“Right now, this is a real war,” said Shin Tanaka, president of the FleishmanHillard Japan Group in Tokyo, a communications consultancy.
“Japan and China are using missiles called ‘messages’ and the reality is that a lot of damage is already happening in both countries,” he added, warning of a mutual backlash of nationalist emotions and potential harm to business ties.
Abe has repeatedly said he did not visit the shrine to honor war criminals but to pay his respects to those who died for their country and pledge Japan would never again go to war.
Getting that message across is not easy, communications and political experts said. Abe’s Yasukuni visit “gave China the opportunity . . . to attack Japan and send the message that China is the good guy and Japan is the bad guy,” Tanaka said.
Some Japanese diplomats and officials dismissed any suggestion they were worried, saying Tokyo’s rebuttals and the country’s postwar record of peace would win the day.
“Their Goebbelsian PR binge — repeat it 100 times then it becomes true, ungrounded or not — shows all the symptoms of a Leninist regime still remaining in the 21st century,” Tomohiko Taniguchi, a councilor in the Cabinet secretariat of the prime minister’s office, said in an email.
He was referring to Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda from 1933 to 1945.
“Yes we feel annoyed, but the next moment we relax for we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Still, experts said Abe’s shrine visit had made it easier for Beijing to try to link Abe’s plans to bolster the military and loosen limits on the pacifist Constitution to Japan’s militarist past.
“The most fundamental thing they say is to assert that Japan is going on a path of militarism a la the 1930s. That’s just nonsense,” said Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. “But the problem is the Chinese are able to blur a lot of this stuff because of what Abe did.”
Recent remarks about Japan’s wartime past by the chairman of NHK and members of its board of governors have added grist to China’s PR mill.
Among those remarks were comments by new NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii, who told a news conference last month that the “comfort women” — a euphemism for the vast number of females forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels — had counterparts in every country at war at that time. He later apologized.
NHK’s chief is selected by a board of governors that includes four Abe appointees.
Since the start of the year, Chinese ambassadors and other officials have targeted Japan 69 times in media around the world, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo. The campaign includes interviews, written commentaries and news conferences.
As of Feb. 10, Japan had issued rebuttals in 67 cases with the other two under review, Foreign Ministry spokesman Masaru Sato said.
Asked if China had won over international opinion, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said countries such as South Korea — where memories of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule run deep — had also criticized Tokyo.
“The mistaken ways of the Japanese leader have incurred the strong opposition of the international community,” Hua told reporters. “China is willing to work with other victims of the war and the international community to uphold historical justice.”
The verbal jousting has spanned the globe from capitals such as London and Washington to remote Fiji and South Sudan.
The best known exchanges are the “Voldemort attacks” in which China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, last month compared Japan to the villain in the Harry Potter children’s book series. In reply, Japan’s envoy, Keiichi Hayashi, said China risked becoming “Asia’s Voldemort.”
“We try to explain that Japan faces its history squarely and has expressed remorse . . . (and that) Japan will continue to pursue the path of a peace-loving country,” Sato said.
“Sometimes they try to link the visit to the shrine to security policy. That is a totally unrelated matter.”
Still, some in Japan fear that China’s PR blitz is having an impact on world opinion.
“A lie is repeated so that people are brainwashed and start to believe it,” Akira Sato, head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s panel on defense policy, told Reuters.
Echoed a Western diplomat in Beijing: “China is being successful at getting its message across while Japan keeps saying stupid things like questioning the existence of comfort women. I think (China) has changed opinions.”
Tokyo’s mostly reactive approach, some PR experts said, was not enough to sway international public opinion, a worry some Japanese diplomats share privately.
“Japan is very worried that China is winning this propaganda war,” said an Asian diplomat based in Beijing. “Their diplomats have been asking how they can better put their side of the story and win people over in the West.”
That could be tough if Abe declines to say whether he will visit Yasukuni again or other prominent Japanese figures make contentious comments on wartime history, experts said.
Other matters, such as revisionist changes to Japanese textbooks to promote patriotism, could add fuel to the fire.
“Even if he doesn’t go to Yasukuni again, there are plenty of issues on their (the Japanese government’s) agenda,” Sneider said.
Hi Blog. Only a few days into the case of racialized advertisement from ANA, I got tapped by the Japan Times to cover it. Debito.org Readers and Facebook Friends certainly gave me plenty of food for thought, so thank you all very much. Here’s my more polished opinion on it, which stayed the number one article on the JT Online for two full days! What follows is the “Director’s Cut” with excised paragraphs and links to sources. Thanks as always for reading and commenting to Debito.org. Arudou Debito
Making headlines recently has been a commercial by ANA, one of Japan’s flagship airlines. Released last Saturday, its 30-second spot shows two Asian men (one a comedian named Bakarizumu, but let’s call them A and B) standing at an airport window speaking English with Japanese subtitles.
Looking out at the jets, A says, “Haneda Airport has more international flights nowadays.” B replies, “Finally.” Then their exchange goes, “Next stop, Vancouver.” “Next stop, Hanoi.” “Exciting, isn’t it?” Then B says, rather oddly, “You want a hug?” When A only gives him a nonplussed look, B continues, “Such a Japanese reaction.” When A explains, “But I am Japanese,” B counters, “I see. Let’s change the image of Japanese people.” And A, smiling broadly, agrees to it.
Alright so far. Except that, as you can see in the picture below, A is now wearing a strapped-on long nose and a big blond wig. Off they fly to their destinations.
This has occasioned considerable debate and media coverage. Many commenters in the English-language online forums have called this advertisement “racist” (one even said “Debito bait”; I’m chuffed), and have made motions to take their business elsewhere. Others have said the advertisement isn’t racist, just lame. A few managed to find a deep pocket of latent irony, saying it’s actually poking fun at the Japanese people and their insular attitudes. Meanwhile, within Japanese-language forums, according to a Yahoo Japan poll, 82% of respondents see no problem with it.
(NB: Note look how the question is worded. It introduces the issue by saying that a comedian (Bakarizumu) performed the act (read: it’s a joke!), and says that the complaints came “from foreigners” (read: not from Japanese) of “racial discrimination” (read: misleading representation of the issue). So we’ve set up the question as “we joking Japanese” vs “those kvetching foreigners” “taking a madcap jape” too seriously, and bingo, you get a vast majority of people wondering what the problem is.)
It probably comes as no surprise to you that JBC objects to this ad. If ANA had really wanted to “change the image of Japan,” it should have avoided racializing their product. Instead, it’s just business as usual.
Consider some other racist marketing strategies from not so long ago (visuals and reports archived at debito.org/?p=12077):
Last year, Toshiba marketed a bread maker with an obnoxiously overexuberant Japanese girl speaking katakana Japanese, wearing a blond wig and a big nose. (Ad archived at debito.org/Toshibasuipanda.mp4.)
In 2010, Nagasaki Prefecture promoted its “foreign” buildings by showing Japanese tourists wearing—you guessed it—blond wigs and big noses. (Ad archived at debito.org/?p=7523.)
In 2005, Mandom sold men’s cosmetics with a Rasta-man motif, juxtaposing black people with a chimpanzee. (Ad archived at debito.org/mandomproject.html.)
Dare I mention the resurrection of book “Little Black Sambo” in 2005, which inspired overtly racist nursery-school songs in Saitama about black butts? (See Matthew Chozick, “Sambo racism row reignites over kids’ play,” Zeit Gist, April 13, 2010.)
Har har. Can’t you see it’s all just a joke, imbued with a deep sense of irony subversively directed at Japanese people? Except that, as I’ve pointed out in JBCs passim, irony as humor is not one of Japan’s strong suits.
Moreover, remember when McDonald’s Japan was using a nerdy white guy to hawk newfangled burgers? JBC argued (“Meet Mr. James, Gaijin Clown,” Sept. 1, 2009) that stereotyping of this nature only works as humor if, among other things, there is a “switch test” – i.e., everyone is fair game for parody.
But in Japan it’s not fair game. Japanese society and media takes quick umbrage to being lampooned by the outside world, especially in a racialized manner.
Case in point: To commemorate the publication of “Little Black Sambo,” I drew up a parody called “Little Yellow Jap” to put the shoe on the other foot (debito.org/chibikurosanbo.html). I made the protagonist as stereotypically exaggerated as the ink-black gollywogs in the book: bright yellow skin, round glasses, buck teeth, and clad in a fundoshi loincloth. I pointed out on every page that this was a parody of Japan’s Sambo, and contextualized it with a full explanation in Japanese of why racialized books for children are bad.
Or consider the case of British TV show QI (Philip Brasor, “Cultural insensitivity no laughing matter,” Media Mix Jan. 30, 2011, discussed here). Producers were forced to apologize for a joke about a recently-deceased Japanese who in 1945 unluckily travelled to Nagasaki, after experiencing the first atomic bombing, to catch the second one. A panelist had dryly quipped, “He never got the train again, I tell you.”
That’s not funny! That’s insensitive. And insulting! And racist, according to the more unified online communities in Japan, backed up by protesting Japanese government officials, all of whom clearly understand irony. (For the record: I’m being ironic. Please laugh.)
Back to ANA. I bet the omnipotent gerontocracy at corporate headquarters didn’t think anything amiss (obviously; they approved the ad), because, as is often claimed in these situations, Japanese in fact “admire” (akogareru) white people. This ad is, if anything, a paean. After all, look at him! He looks like Robert Redford, one of the prototypical kakkō-ii foreigners of our generation! (They could do with a Brad Pitt update, I guess.)
In tepid apology letters, ANA uses the standard disclaimer: “We didn’t mean to offend anyone.” Okay. And I’m sure many of your potential customers didn’t “mean” to be offended either. But many were. And if you have any pretentions to being an international company, you wouldn’t get in these sticky wickets in the first place.
To be fair, this campaign was probably cooked up not by ANA, but by one of Japan’s advertising oligarchs (no doubt Dentsu, with nearly a third of Japan’s market share). Anyone with an eye on the Japanese media knows how they make silly amounts of money on silly stereotypes (including the one that Japanese don’t hug), while reaffirming the binary between “Japan” and “the rest of the world.”
“Dear ANA: Are you aware that most of your foreigner customers are from places like Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur? And that most of them probably don’t have blond/orange hair? Oh, and even the ones with blond hair probably don’t have noses like a tengu goblin. And pretty sure that Japanese people enjoy being hugged and have emotions. Well, at least the Japanese who aren’t sticks-in-mud CEO boardroom types with no sense that the world doesn’t really resemble their 19th-century, ‘we are so different from you funny-looking white gaijin’ Meiji-Era mentality.
“Look forward to seeing your 2020 customers. They may surprise you. Sincerely, A Big-Nosed White Guy who speaks Japanese.”
Touché. Look, Japan, if you want to host international events (such as an Olympics), or to have increased contact with the outside world, you’ll face increased international scrutiny of your attitudes under global standards.
For one of Japan’s most international companies to reaffirm a narrative that Japanese must change their race to become more “global” is a horrible misstep. ANA showed a distinct disregard for their Non-Japanese customers—those who are “Western,” yes, but especially those who are “Asian.”
Only when Japan’s business leaders (and feudalistic advertisers) see NJ as a credible customer base they could lose due to inconsiderate behavior, there will be no change in marketing strategies. NJ should vote with their feet and not encourage this with passive silence, or by double-guessing the true intentions behind racially-grounded messages.
This is a prime opportunity. Don’t let ANA off the hook on this. Otherwise the narrative of foreigner = “big-nosed blonde that can be made fun of” without turnabout, will ensure that Japan’s racialized commodification will be a perpetual game of “whack-a-mole.”
Hi Blog. A bit of a tangent this time, but what do you think about this article? It suggests that diversity in Japan’s corporate culture is being suppressed, and overseas experience is in fact a DEMERIT to placement and advancement. If true, then how the heck are NJ supposed to get ahead in Japanese companies if even Japanese face the same resistance? And what does it say about Japan’s future in the global market? Arudou Debito
Many young Japanese students go abroad to study with high hopes. They return home with foreign degrees and even higher hopes, only to be shot down by conservative company ideals.
On the very first day in her first job after graduation, Tomoko Tanaka says her dominant emotion was of disappointment.
Tanaka, who does not want her real name or the name of her company used in this article because it could affect her career, began work in April of this year and had high hopes that the years she spent studying overseas would make her a popular candidate with Japanese employers.
Instead, it seems, the effort and money that went into perfecting her English skills in the UK may have been wasted as Japanese firms do not always welcome potential recruits who have been exposed to foreign ways of thinking and behaving.
“I did not have a clear dream for my career, but I did want to work for a big and famous company,” 23-year-old Tanaka told DW. “I studied in the UK for one year, I learned about the difficulties of living with people from various countries, from different cultures, and the importance of taking action in order to change something and to make myself understood.
“And I felt more confident after living abroad because I could overcome many difficulties,” she added.
High test scores Initially, Tanaka was encouraged by her job interviews as employers seemed to value a high score in language assessment tests.
After securing a job that appeared to offer good career prospects, Tanaka learned that she was being sent to a rural part of Japan and would be working in the administration department. Since she started, she has not yet had an opportunity to use her English skills.
“In my opinion, most Japanese companies want young people who have a ‘Japanese background’ and international communication skills, but I think that is global human resources in a very limited sense,” she said.
Graduates from foreign universities find it difficult to get a job
“It seems that Japanese companies want young people to obey their rules, but only to use their skills when the company needs it,” she added.
But this runs counter to what Japan needs in the rapidly evolving world of international trade, commerce and international relations.
In March, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that Japan would take part in negotiations to construct the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement and indicated that opening up to the rest of the world offers the best chances of growth for the nation.
Japan has also actively been seeking a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, the government is planning to revise parts of the constitution that will enable Japanese troops to play much larger roles in international peace-keeping operations and companies are being encouraged to go further afield to secure the resources and markets that will provide for the nation’s future.
Companies lagging behind Many companies here, however, are not keeping up with that vision.
A survey conducted in March 2012 by Disco, a Tokyo-based recruitment company, determined that less than one in four firms planned to hire Japanese applicants who had studied abroad.
Even among major, blue-chip companies, less than 40 percent said they would employ Japanese who had attended a foreign university.
Aware of the problems they face if they have invested their time and funds on an education overseas, more are staying closer to home. In 2004, there were 82,945 Japanese at colleges overseas; in 2010, the figure had contracted to less than 60,000. In the US alone, the number has fallen from a peak of 47,000 in the 1997-’98 academic year to just 19,900 in 2011-’12.
Inevitably, as places are freed up at foreign institutions, they are being snapped up by students from developing nations with a thirst for knowledge, with China and India in the forefront of the surge.
“It seems to me that for the first few years of young Japanese graduates’ careers, they are effectively being ‘trained’ in the corporate culture and requirements of their company,” said Chris Burgess, a lecturer in English and Australian Studies at Tsuda College in Tokyo.
Talent going to waste “That means that despite all the rhetoric from the government, these companies are wasting so much talent,” he said.
PM Kan indicated that opening up to the rest of the world could help the country’s growth
“They are usually long-standing institutions with structures that are very difficult to reform,” he said. “There is an inbred corporate culture and they are very reluctant to evolve, even when they need to do precisely that to survive in an increasingly competitive business world.”
It is an alarming statistic that fully 25 percent of new employees at Japanese companies resign within the first three years, he said, simply because they are not satisfied with what they are doing.
“I felt confident and really motivated when I started my job interviews,” said 26-year-old Yumi Hara, from Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo.
Two years in London and a degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Virginia that gave her Chinese and Korean on top of her English would make her an attractive option for a Japanese company that had ambitions of expanding its operations overseas.
“But in the interviews, they didn’t really want to know what I thought, but whether I was able to give them the perfect answer, to tell them what they wanted to hear,” she said.
Hara admits she was “devastated” at the constant rejections – particularly when she discovered that friends who had opted to go to Japanese universities and had very limited language abilities were getting the very jobs that she wanted.
“Today I’m teaching English in a small school and I’m pretty happy doing this as it’s a small company and I have the responsibility to start new things,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll be going to work for a big Japanese company any time soon.”
Hi Blog. As a followup to the previous blog post talking about racist public notices by the Japanese police forces, here is another type of discriminatory sign that is also worthy of discussion — one that warns the public that NJ are criminals:
(in Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and English)
WARNING If we find any kinds of criminal acts of foreigners, we SURELY report not only to the police but also to your workplace and your agency.
— GENKY Stores Inc (a drugstore in Kani-shi, Gifu-ken, dated February 28, 2013, taken by HSD, courtesy of shared links on Facebook through SM)
(Reuters) – Tokyo police will try to rein in a wave of shoplifting by lonely elderly people by involving them in community service, a police spokesman said Thursday.
One out of four elderly shoplifters in the capital blamed their crime on loneliness, Japanese media quoted a police survey as saying. Another 8 percent said it was because they had “no reason to live.”
More than half the elderly shoplifters said they had no friends and 40 percent of them lived alone, media said.
“Making shoplifters do volunteer work in the community is effective,” the Tokyo Shimbun quoted J.F. Oberlin University professor Akihiro Sakai, head of a police research panel set up to tackle shoplifting, as saying.
“Instead of increased punishment, I hope we can rehabilitate shoplifters with special care.”
A police spokesman declined to confirm the details of the survey but said it would be released to the public soon.
Elderly shoplifting cases in Tokyo reached all-time highs last year, nearly catching up with the number of cases involving young offenders.
People 65 years or older accounted for 23 percent of the 17,800 known shoplifting cases in 2008, more than doubling in the past five years, media said.
An example cited in the Ministry of Justice’s annual report on crime describes a 76-year-old woman who turned to shoplifting several years ago as a way to battle loneliness after her parents died.
Over 20 percent of Japan’s population is aged 65 or over, with that figure set to double by 2050.
==================================== At least one blogger writes that, statistically speaking, it’s to be expected. Masamizu Kibashiri (an obvious pseudonym) points out that the fatalist tone of the reporting on elder shoplifting hides a salient and very apparent fact: The number of old people has risen sharply during the past decade while the number of minors has declined at almost the same rate. In the past 20 years, the over-65 population of Japan has jumped from 15 million to 27 million. Given this increase, the slighter rise in shoplifting arrests could actually be taken as being encouraging: Not as many older people are shoplifting as might be expected.
Kibashiri proposes a different statistical model for gauging the phenomenon: Number of elder arrests per 10,000 population of over-65s. Using that statistical model, he finds that the percentage of elder shoplifters has, in fact, risen significantly, from 2.8 in 1989 to 9.5 in 2009, with the largest jump coming around 2005. Obviously, there is a meaningful increase here, but the media needs to qualify its reporting of an “epidemic.”
Hi Blog. We have an interesting case of a Japanese sports player quitting an overseas soccer team claiming “racial discrimination” (jinshu sabetsu). Nakamura Yuuki, formerly of Slovak football club MSK Rimaska Sobota, has been reported in the Japanese press as returning to Japan last September, blogging about his treatment negatively. But look closely at this case and some odd thoughts come up. According to the press (English-language ones first, then Japanese, translated):
Japanese soccer striker Yuki Nakamura has quit his Slovakian club Rimavska Sobota saying his club and his teammates did nothing to support or protect him from the racial abuse targeted at him by supporters.
“It’s a real shame but I have come home because I have been subjected to racism at Rimavska Sobota and I can’t carry on living there,” Nakamura posted on his blog. The 25 year old, on loan from Czech side Viktoria Zizkov, said that fans would hurl racial slurs at him before and after games. When he told the club about it, they said there was nothing they could do about it. He decided he couldn’t continue living there and decided to just come home to Japan. He has previously played in Romania and the Czech Republic.
Other Japanese players have also experienced difficulties while playing overseas. Most recently in 2011, Lierse goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was taunted by opposing fans with chants of “Fukushima, Fukushima” in reference to the nuclear disaster from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Racism in football is still a persistent, serious problem and FIFA president Sepp Blatter believes it is one of the biggest scourges in the sport. He believes points should be deducted from teams in cases of racial abuse. Kevin Prince Boateng of AC Milan, who also plays for the national team of Ghana, walked out of a friendly match against Pro Patria after fans didn’t stop their “monkey” chants, even after being called out by the stadium announcer. United State’s Jozy Altidore is also another recent victim of racist chants, during a Dutch Cup game for his club AZ. The referee wanted to halt the fixture after fans continued hurling abuse at him, but Altidore asked for the game to continue.
Japanese striker Yuki Nakamura says he has left Slovakian club Rimavska Sobota because he was a target of racist abuse.
“It’s a real shame but I have come home because I have been subjected to racism at Rimavska Sobota and I can’t carry on living there,” the 25-year-old Nakamura wrote on his blog on Wednesday.
Nakamura, who has also played in Romania and the Czech Republic, says supporters would hurl abuse at him before and after games and that none of his teammates would offer help.
“This is not normal,” said Nakamura, who was on loan from Czech side Viktoria Zizkov. “Some type of threat was made to the club but they said there was nothing they could do about it, so I came home. I doubt there are many players that have experienced this.”
Several Japanese players have encountered difficulties while playing overseas. In 2011, former Lierse goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was taunted with chants of “Fukushima, Fukushima” by opposing fans in reference to the nuclear disaster following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently reiterated his belief in deducting points from teams in cases of racial abuse — which he believes is the one of the biggest scourges in soccer.
TOKYO: Japanese striker Yuki Nakamura says he returned home over intolerable racism at Slovak club Rimavska Sobota, adding that the side had received threats over his appearances.
The incident is the latest in a string of racially-linked incidents in European football, with Italian giants Lazio fined a total of 140,000 euros ($190,000) by UEFA on Wednesday after their Europa League clashes against Tottenham and Maribor were marred by racist chanting.
In an online blog entry dated Wednesday, Nakamura, 25, said he returned to Japan because of racism that had even involved some of his own teammates.
“Unfortunately, I have come home because I was subjected to racism at the club I belonged to, Rimavska Sobota, and could not live there any more,” the footballer wrote.
Calling out his name before and after matches, some club supporters raised their middle finger to Nakamura “with a look of furious anger”.
“No teammates helped me. There were even some players who joined in (the harassment),” he added.
“It wasn’t normal anymore, and the team even received some sort of threats. They cannot be responsible (for my safety), so I came home,” he said.
Nakamura played in Romania and the Czech Republic before joining Rimavska Sobota on loan in July last year.
Compare these with the Japanese-language reports below (my translation, then originals)
Japanese Soccer Forward quits club due to severe discrimination
Sankei Sports, January 31, 2013 (translation by Arudou Debito; corrections welcome)
Forward Nakamura Yuuki (25), of Slovak football club MSK Rimavska Sobota, wrote on his own blog on January 30 that “I received racially discriminatory treatment and could no longer live there, so I came back to Japan”, making clear that he had quit his team.
According to his blog, Nakamura had already returned to Japan by last September. The target of racial discrimination from soccer fans, he also made clear that teammates would side with them. “Before and after games, soccer fans would say my name with an angry demonic look in their eyes (oni no gyousou de), give me the finger… and none of my teammates would help me. It also seemed like some of the players would have a hand in it too,” Nakamura wrote in detail.
In addition, Nakamura reported that the club explained to him, “We cannot take responsibility if threats come to the team.”
Nakamura began playing for a Rumanian club after graduating from Kokushikan University. In 2012 he switched to the Viktoria Zizkov team in the Czech League, and in August he was on loan to MSK Rimavska Sobota.
Regarding incidents of racial discrimination towards Japanese players, in August 2011, Japan Team Goalie Kawashima Eiji, then a member of club Lierse in the Belgian League, was jeered at fans during a game where they said “Kawashima, Fukushima!” in reference to the nuclear accident. This led to Kawashima protesting to the head referee and interrupting the game.
The soccer world is thick with (habikoru) problems of racial discrimination, FIFA president Sepp Blatter (76) has is considering deducting winning points from any team which engages in racial discrimination.
Japanese soccer player in overseas league confesses that “racial discrimination” made him “unable to live there anymore”
RBB Today/Livedoor Sports, February 1, 2013 (translation by Arudou Debito; corrections welcome)
Forward Nakamura Yuuki (25), of second-tier Slovak football club MSK Rimavska Sobota, blogged that he had been subject to racially discriminatory treatment and could no longer carry on living there.
On January 30, in a blog entry entitled “The truth is…”, he wrote “This time I wanted to return to Japan sooner than usual. So by the end of September I was back,” reporting that he had already come home. “It’s a shame, but because I received racial discrimination at MSK I couldn’t live there anymore and so came home,” clarifying why he came home earlier than usual.
The treatment that Nakamura called “racial discrimination” was, as reported, “There were many things that made me think ‘Would such a thing happen in this day and age?’ Before and after games, soccer fans would say my name with an angry demonic look in their eyes (oni no gyousou de), give me the finger… and none of my teammates would help me. It also seemed like some of the players would have a hand in it too.” Nakamura also added that “things that looked like threats” also happened to the team. But since the team wouldn’t take responsibility (for Nakamura’s safety), it looks like he made the decision to leave.
On Nakamura’s blog in August before he repatriated, Nakamura reported about recent play and living conditions, “Honestly, I’m tired. I’m the only gaijin [sic] on this team and there are lots of communication problems;” “Well, it doesn’t matter where you go in this world, there’ll always be problems, right?’ Problems and adverse conditions. It’s times like those when you really have to think about how to think about them,” showing the difficulties he was having with playing for overseas teams. On his most recent blog entry, when he revealed how severe the bashing he was getting overseas, he said, “I think few other sportsperson have had this kind of experience,” concluding his blog entry with a positive feeling.
[Last paragraph of the article details his former Japanside career as a soccer player.]
As Submitter AS notes: Reading through the article and the blog quoted in the article, I can’t find anything that clearly shows racial discrimination. People giving him the finger? With no context, that could mean anything from racial discrimination to thinking he’s a useless player.
As Submitter HS notes: I find it very interesting how low the bar is for Japanese to scream “racism” overseas. Someone yells “Kawashima Fukushima” during a soccer game and Kawashima stops the game to protest?? And the Japanese media consider this taunt to be “racism”?? Surely the jeer is not appropriate but racism???
Try looking for an apartment – a place to live! – and being told “No!” simply because you are not Japanese. THAT’S racism. But why do I get the feeling that the Japanese media would make excuses, justify, and attempt to convince me that this is not racism but just a big misunderstanding on MY PART?
Where is FIFA or any other international sports league to decry racism when this sort of thing happens in Japan? Buried in cultural relativism. You can see that even more strongly in the comments to the Japan Today article cited above, which are overwhelmingly sympathetic to Nakamura. I don’t doubt that Nakamura had readjustment problems and decided not to stay because he wasn’t comfortable overseas. But imagine the reaction if a NJ player in the J-League were to quit, justifying it by saying “fans gave me an angry look” or “people gave me the finger”. He’d be told by commenters to grow a pair, and would have bloggers both in English and Japanese questioning not only the veracity of his claims (dollars to donuts they would dismiss his claim of “racial discrimination” as cultural misunderstandings or insensitivity) but also his mental stability.
That’s not happening in Nakamura’s case. Now why? Are we that programmed to holding Japan to a different standard? Arudou Debito
Debito here. Let me make a clarification to my post, since some people (off list) aren’t getting it:
Here’s what I am and am not saying:
I am NOT saying that Nakamura has no standing to have a complaint about the way he was felt he was treated.
I am NOT saying that Nakamura should have stayed on if he felt that way.
I am NOT saying that because racial discrimination (RD) also exists in Japan that Nakamura has no standing to claim RD in Europe.
I AM saying that the standards for what is called RD in Europe and in Japan seem to be different.
I AM saying that it is ironic that unequal treatment towards NJ sportspeople in Japan is not similarly decried as RD.
I AM saying that if international sports authorities are willing to acknowledge Nakamura’s treatment in European sports leagues as RD, those same international sports authorities (not to mention pundits and media commentators) should also have something similarly critical to say about the way NJ sportspeople are treated in Japan as well.
Thus, the irony I am pointing out is not that Nakamura claimed RD. The irony is that Japan’s unequal treatment of people by race/nationality/national origin is not held to the same standard as Europe’s unequal treatment of people by race/nationality/national origin.
For Nakamura, the threshold (based upon the standards of proof that he offered) was much lower than what people claim (and find their claims discounted for “cultural reasons”). Again, if any NJ quit his Japanese team due to getting the “stink eye” and “the finger” from the stands, nobody would take him or her at all seriously. It’s sweet that people (both European and Japanese) did in Nakamura’s case. But let’s universalize the thresholds and standards, shall we?
Hi Blog. Second in a series of two of prominent passings is American Senator Daniel Inouye, a notable Congressman who held on to his congressional seat longer than even legacy legislator Ted Kennedy. As per the local obit excerpt below, he had a quite glorious career in the military as part of the groundbreaking 442nd (some veterans I’ve even met in Hawai’i), then was a pathbreaker for Asian-Americans as a public servant.
http://www.kitv.com/news/hawaii/Sen-Daniel-K-Inouye-dead-at-age-88/-/8905354/17808008/-/wsjrh/-/index.html Senator Inouye began his career in public service at the age of 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He served with ‘E’ company of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, a group consisting entirely of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Senator Inouye lost his arm charging a series of machine gun nests on a hill in San Terenzo, Italy on April 21, 1945. His actions during that battle earned him the Medal of Honor.
But consider how he was able to do this, as pointed out by submitter PKU:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/442nd_Infantry_Regiment_%28United_States%29 President Roosevelt announced the formation of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team (the “Go For Broke” regiment), saying, “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” Ultimately, the draft was instated to obtain more Japanese–Americans from the mainland and these made up a large part of the 14,000 men who eventually served in the ranks of the 442nd Regiment.
Now this is important. Even as least AS FAR BACK AS FDR (the better part of a century ago), we had the United States at the highest levels of public office attempting to disentangle race/national or social origin from nationality.
This is something that Japanese society to this day has never accomplished (Japan’s Nationality Law still requires blood for citizenship, and from that derives the entanglement of race and legal status). Nor is Japan really trying. I speak from personal experience (not to mention court precedent) when I say that civil and political rights in Japan are grounded upon being “Japanese”, and “Japaneseness” is grounded upon phenotype (i.e., “looking Japanese”). This MUST be untangled by Japan if it ever hopes to encourage people to come in and settle down as “New Japanese”, not to mention allow people of mixed heritage to breathe as people of color and diversity. But I neither see it happening soon, nor are progressive steps even being taken towards it (I am in fact arguing that Japan in recent years has been regressing… see here, here and here).
As further proof of the helpfulness of a society with notions of citizenship disentangled from race/national or social origin, we have another Senator from Hawaii who just got elected, Mazie Hirono — and she wasn’t even born in the United States! She was born in Japan.
In comparison, the hurdles Hirono overcame were significant but not insuperable. Even though she was nowhere near as articulate or politically thoroughbred as her Republican opponent, former Hawai’i Governor Laura Lingle, Hirono still grossed nearly double the votes (261,025 to 155,565) last November 6 to clinch the seat. Further, if the legacy of Inouye is any template, I think Hirono will do more than just settle for being a symbolic sphinx in her role as a legislator. Because she can — in a polity which can elect people for life despite their foreign (or foreign-looking) backgrounds, she has more opportunities in society than Tsurunen ever will — or will make for himself.
My point is, the disentanglement of race/social origin from nationality (i.e., rendering clearly and politically at the highest levels of government) is something that every state must do if it is to survive as a nation-state in future. Given its demographics, especially Japan. Arudou Debito
UPDATE: U.S. Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono defeated former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle on Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press. Ms. Hirono becomes the Aloha State’s first woman senator as well as the first Japan-born immigrant to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
As Japan’s politicians jockey over when to hold the next general election, one of Japan’s own is on the cusp of making U.S. election history.
Recent polls show Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono is favored to win the open Senate seat in Hawaii when voters cast their ballots Tuesday. If successful, Ms. Hirono will usher in a wave of firsts. She will be the first Japanese immigrant to be elected senator. She will also be the first Buddhist and Asian-American woman. She will be the first woman senator to represent the Aloha State, and is already the first foreign-born woman of Asian ancestry to be sworn into Congressional office.
The 65-year-old congresswoman was born in Fukushima, the northeastern prefecture where the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is located. When she was 8 years old, her mother moved the family to Hawaii. Ms. Hirono once said the immigrant experience and being raised by a single mother in economically difficult circumstances made her a “feisty and focused” lawmaker. She became a naturalized citizen in 1959, the same year Hawaii became a state.
Regardless who wins, Hawaii will get its first woman senator. Ms. Hirono, currently serving her third term in the House of Representatives, is up against former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican and long-time political rival to whom Ms. Hirono lost the 2002 gubernatorial race. The two women are chasing the seat opened up by Hawaii’s 88-year-old junior senator, Daniel Akaka, a Democrat. After a 36-year career, Mr. Akaka, the Senate’s only Chinese American, announced his retirement last year.
Scores of Americans of Japanese descent have been elected to public office since World War II. Case in point: If Ms. Hirono wins, both senators from the Aloha State will be of Japanese descent. Senior senator Daniel Inouye, who is also a Democrat, made his own imprint on Asian American history as the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and later, the Senate. The 88-year-old Mr. Inouye has been a senator since 1963, making him the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history.
There have been only five Asian American senators until now. Four have represented Hawaii and one has represented California.
But no Japanese-born–or any Asian-born for that matter–has been elected to the Senate. According to the U.S. Senate Historical Office, of 1,931 senators who have been sworn in since 1789, there have been 58 born outside the U.S. Most immigrated from Ireland (16), England (12) and Canada (10). One each came from Cuba, Mexico, Antigua and Sweden. People who have been U.S. citizens for at least nine years are eligible to be senator.
Ms. Hirono is a familiar face among Hawaii’s Democratic establishment. Since returning from the mainland after earning a law degree from Georgetown University, she served for 14 years in the state legislature, eight years as lieutenant governor and is currently in her fifth year in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her one election failure was her bid to become governor in 2002. But it raised her profile, both at home and in Japan. State broadcaster NHK covered her campaign extensively and had plans to televise the 2002 election live, according to a Chicago Tribune story.
Ms. Hirono, whose immigrant story seems to resonate with Hawaii’s diverse voting population, has campaigned fully backing President Barack Obama’s platform, casting her opponent as a Republican lackey. The Hawaiian-born president recently recorded a radio ad for Ms. Hirono, noting that she once worked with his late grandmother, Madelyn Dunham.
“So Mazie isn’t just a reliable partner of mine in Washington; she is part of my ohana at home in Hawaii. Now, I need Mazie’s cooperative style and commitment to middle-class families in the U.S. Senate,” said the president in the ad released Saturday. “Mazie is a nationally recognized leader in early childhood education. A staunch defender of Medicare and Social Security.”
Ms. Lingle’s campaign challenges Ms. Hirono’s past claims of support for the middle class. “Contrary to her rhetoric and her efforts to portray herself as caring about working people, Mazie Hirono’s actions clearly illustrate either that her words are just talk or that she simply does not understand the impact of her votes,” said Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, Ms. Lingle’s campaign manager, in a statement on Oct. 23.
In the final days of campaigning, polls indicated Ms. Hirono breaking away from her opponent with as much as a 22-percentage-point lead.
The Noda Cabinet approved bills at its meeting on February 14 that will assign an identification number to every citizen and every company, without regard to concerns over privacy abuse or to apprehensions about the possibility of having to pay more in taxes in order to receive better welfare services.
The identification system will collate personal information currently administrated under different programs such as for pension, healthcare, and taxation. The government states that it wants to implement a national ID system in January 2015.
There is now growing concern that such a national identity system could lead to invasion of privacy issues and may also be used to restrict government social security payments.
The government claims that a national ID system will provide easier access to social welfare programs for low-income families.
If that is the aim, it can use other means to provide benefits. What is the government’s true motive?
Akahata reports that the true intention is the promotion of the idea that “social welfare is a benefit one pays for,” which contradicts the established idea of social welfare as a basic human right. The government, in essence, aims to cut back on its payments for social welfare benefits and increase social welfare premiums on the general public.
Democratic Party of Japan member of the Lower House Tamura Kenji during a Cabinet workgroup meeting candidly stated that the introduction of a national ID system is aimed at strengthening tax collection.
The DPJ has since 2009 called for a national ID system as “essential” to “avoid paying unneeded or excessive social security benefits.”
Japanese business leaders have also pushed for a national ID system. Chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) Yonekura Hiromasa said point-blank, “That’s for the purpose of cutting social security expenditures.”
An opinion poll conducted in November last year by the Cabinet Office shows that more than 80% of respondents “do not know” about the proposal to introduce a national ID system. The government should not be allowed to proceed with the plan to introduce such a system while keeping it secret from the general public.
Baye McNeil, author of the new book “HI, MY NAME IS LOCO AND I AM A RACIST“, has a dynamic blog called “Loco in Yokohama” I think you ought to check out. He writes about racism in Japan with a fresh brazenness that I think many Debito.org Readers might find interesting. His 4-part (so far) series entitled, “Why do Gaijin Clash Over the Issue of Racism in Japan” is what drew me in.
Links and quick summaries of those four parts below, and you should read the posts in order. If you’re at all interested in how you (and your multiethnic children) are being slotted in the subordinated “gaijin” category in Japan not only by Japanese, but by other NJ, you will want to read these and have a think.
Also interesting is our respective positions in the blogosphere. As Baye himself points out, I’m White, and he’s Black (or whatever label you want to use: Caucasian/African-American etc.), and how we get treated by NJ as vehicles of the debate is a facet little covered in discussion (case in point: the “Tepido” Stalkers are friendly towards him, natch — ‘cos they don’t to be branded as “racists”). So let’s read some Baye and cue up on that issue before we get into my next Japan Times Just Be Cause Column (out June 5), where I will offer “Microaggressions Part Two”. Enjoy. Arudou Debito
Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part One (May 13, 2012) (where Baye excerpts from his book discussing his motivations for writing about the topic of racism in Japan, since many people seek to dismiss it as figments of the imagination; he also divulges his connection with me (where he attended a speech of mine a writers’ conference) before writing his book, and compares it to his connection afterwards with a full-of-praise Tepido “Hikosaemon”)
Books etc. by ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
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Hi Blog. Whenever I make a point about the anti-assimilative nature of many of the GOJ’s policies towards NJ, one of the common counterarguments I hear is the foreigners can freely buy land in Japan (unlike in other societies), so it’s not that bad.
Well, it looks as though the recent push to keep an eye on foreign land acquisition in Japan “due to issues of national security” is still afoot. As Submitter MMD notes:
//////////////////////////////////////////////// May 1, 2012 Dear Debito: Just found the article linked below on Yomiuri’s website which gives some food for thought.
The article comments on Yomiuri’s own survey in which prefectural governments were asked “about the number of land acquisitions by foreigners and the size of the land acquired” The article also includes the usual ingredients for fear mongering, starting with:
“In one example in which a Japanese name was used to disguise a land transaction, a Chinese in his 40s living in Sapporo bought 14 hectares of mountain forest and other lands near the Niseko area in Hokkaido last autumn. For this transaction, he used the name of a Japanese real estate company.”
and concluding with:
“It’s necessary to establish an ordinance on land transactions at a local level so that local governments are fully aware of the owners of land and water sources,” said Makoto Ebina, a professor at Otaru University of Commerce who participated in a discussion on the ordinance in Hokkaido.”However, as many land transactions are unclear because names are borrowed, it’s important to carefully check out each transaction,” Ebina said.
The title of the article which reads “ Foreign buyers snap up land / Survey shows many people use Japanese names to hide acquisitions” already says it all actually.
Aha, but there you go. There are foreigners and then there are FOREIGNERS! In this case, it’s apparently those sneaky Chinese we have to fear. Gotcha. Makes perfect sense if you’re a Japanese policymaker, a xenophobe who claims that Chinese are trying to carve up Japan, or an editor at the Yomiuri, I guess. Good company to be within. And as MMD pointed out, never mind Japan’s government-level bid to buy up land the Chinese contend is theirs… Arudou Debito
At least 1,100 hectares of mountain forest and other land have been acquired by foreigners, with Hokkaido providing the lion’s share, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
The survey discovered 63 land transactions involving foreign purchasers, but Japanese names were apparently used to disguise many of the deals, a subterfuge not recognized by local governments.
This indicates the number of deals in which Japanese land and forests are falling into foreign hands may be much larger than those found in the survey.
The survey, conducted from the end of March through earlier this month and covering all 47 prefectures, asked prefectural governments about the number of land acquisitions by foreigners and the size of the land acquired.
Under the National Land Use Planning Law, those who acquire more than one hectare of land are required to notify the prefecture concerned.
According to the survey, foreigners bought 57 pieces of land totaling 1,039 hectares in Hokkaido, accounting for 94 percent of land acquired by foreign capital nationwide.
Of the purchased land, about 70 percent was obtained by corporate bodies or individuals in Hong Kong, Australia and other places in Asia and Oceania. Corporate bodies in British Virgin Islands, known as a tax haven, were involved in 11 land transactions.
Regarding such deals, some people believe water resources are being targeted by foreign buyers. In response, Hokkaido and Saitama Prefecture introduced ordinances in March to require prior notification whenever someone tries to purchase a designated reservoir area. Fukui, Gunma, Nagano and Yamagata prefectures are considering similar ordinances.
In one example in which a Japanese name was used to disguise a land transaction, a Chinese in his 40s living in Sapporo bought 14 hectares of mountain forest and other lands near the Niseko area in Hokkaido last autumn. For this transaction, he used the name of a Japanese real estate company.
During an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, the man said he was afraid of provoking a backlash from the Japanese if he bought the land under his name. He also said he hoped to resell the land for a profit as he thought Japanese land prices had bottomed out.
A real estate agency in the Kanto region that was involved in the sale of a mountain forest to a foreign customer said: “Even though foreigners don’t aim to obtain water resources, their acquisitions could cause consternation. They feel safe if their deals are registered under a Japanese name.”
Regarding mountain forests acquired by foreign buyers, the central government said in May last year that 40 such transactions have been carried out in the five years up to 2010, with land acquired totaling 620 hectares.
“It’s necessary to establish an ordinance on land transactions at a local level so that local governments are fully aware of the owners of land and water sources,” said Makoto Ebina, a professor at Otaru University of Commerce who participated in a discussion on the ordinance in Hokkaido.
“However, as many land transactions are unclear because names are borrowed, it’s important to carefully check out each transaction,” Ebina said. (Apr. 28, 2012)
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Hi Blog. In line with the current theme of the GOJ targeting NJ, here’s some idea of just how ignorant Japanese are of what happens to foreigners in Japan, e.g., Gaijin Card Checks. Submitted as a comment in November 2010 by Marius, it deserves resurrecting as a separate blog entry today:
COMMENT: I find this amusing, less because the ditzy Japanese panelists don’t seem to realize that once outside of Japan THEY become foreigners, more because nobody there seems to realize (or, for the purposes of balance in this admittedly short segment, have it pointed out) that this practice of random search with criminal penalties is already standard procedure in Japan. NJ have been profiled this way for at least two generations now, regardless of whether or not they’re tourists!
Lack of public awareness of this issue is part of the problem, and it enables the Japanese police, as we have seen on Debito.org, to feel like they can take liberties with their law enforcement as soon as a foreigner is involved. “Do unto others…” should also entail that regular Japanese folk consider what might happen to them if THEY were foreigners (but as this show demonstrates, for many that is simply pin to konai). Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. I’ve been to South Korea a few times, and always thought it felt like I was visiting Japan in a different dimension. No more so than right now.
According to the Korea Times article below, we have a naturalized citizen getting turned away from a bathhouse. The management justifies it by saying that she, as a foreigner by appearance, is dirty or contagious. She calls the police, but it turns out there is no domestic law to prevent this from happening. The excluded person then claims racial discrimination, takes it up with the authorities, and we currently are at the point of seeing whether anything official will happen to stop this.
Ku Su-jin, an Uzbek native who was naturalized in Korea, shows her passport indicating Korean nationality during a media briefing at Gyeongnam Migrant Community Service Center in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, Thursday. Ku said she was prohibited from using a sauna in a case of racial discrimination. / Yonhap
Lack of law against racial discrimination leaves foreigners vulnerable
By Kim Rahn
An ethnic Uzbekistan woman has filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission after she was denied entrance to a sauna here.
A sauna employee refused to admit to the woman, a naturalized Korean, saying she was still a “foreigner” by appearance and foreign users may “make water in bathtub dirty” and “pass on AIDS.”
Such an action was possible because there is no law on discrimination by race, according to a support center for immigrants.
“Many foreigners face such discrimination often but mostly they remain silent because they don’t speak Korean well and don’t know where they can appeal,” said Ku Su-jin, whose Uzbek name is Karina Kurbanova.
Assisted by a civic group, she held a media briefing at Gyeongnam Migrant Community Service Center in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, Thursday.
“I’m filing the petition on behalf of other foreigners and especially our children including my seven-year-old boy, as I don’t want him to be discriminated against because of physically appearing different to Koreans,” she said.
Ku visited a sauna in Busan at around 3 p.m. on Sept. 25. But the employee denied her entry, saying foreigners are prohibited.
She reported this immediately to the police.
“The sauna worker told police that foreigners are not allowed there because they may make the water dirty. He also said Koreans customers don’t like using the facility with foreigners because in the town there are many foreign women working at bars and there were rumors that some have AIDS,” she said.
Ku is legally a Korean as she obtained citizenship in 2009 after marrying a Korean man. She told this to the owner, but he said she was a foreigner by appearance.
Police officers said there is no law to regulate such racist discrimination, advising her to go to another sauna, she said.
Officials at the center, who are supporting Ku’s petition, said the owner took advantage of a legal loophole regarding discrimination.
“There are laws banning discrimination by gender or by worker’s status. But there is none governing discrimination by race, not only do Koreans discriminate against foreigners but also Koreans discriminate against other Koreans like in Ku’s case,” a director of the center said.
The director said if the rights commission recommends the sauna to change, the group will help Ku file a civil suit against the sauna owner for the mental distress she sustained.
She said what Ku and the center ultimately call for is the establishment of a law banning discrimination by race, against both foreigners and naturalized Koreans.
“In these modern times when 1.3 million immigrants live here, it is shameful that they have their human rights infringed upon and are deprived of many entitled rights in daily life only because they look different or they came from other countries. Korea claims to stand for multiculturalism, but is far short of laws and systems for immigrants,” the director said.
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Hi Blog. While I still want to reserve the summer for cycling and outdoor non-blog stuff, one thing has to be said: Fukushima is a mess, just like we suspected it would be. More than five months later, the Japanese public still has insufficient information about what’s going on down there, and people are being slowly poisoned as radiation percolates through the food chain and begins to be picked up overseas. As I’ve said before, this is Japan’s long-burning tyreyard fire, and there is still no end to the crisis in sight.
But one other thing also has to be said. Back in March, when Debito.org merely had the audacity to raise some questions about the situation and the information we were getting, we were roundly criticized for being “alarmist”, “ignorant”, “wrong”, “reputation-damaging”, and even “racist”. One even said, “The greatest health effects of all nuclear incidents have been due to the anxiety that people like you are doing their best to ramp up. Thanks a lot for contributing to the problem.” That’s pretty bold — as if we were trying to instigate a panic and damage people’s health just because we wanted to know more information (which the nuclear industry worldwide keeps a lid on, down to the very science, to keep the public in the dark about their shenanigans and corruption).
Well, guess what critics — five months later, clearly YOU were wrong.
The Fukushima Crisis has exposed the inability of the GOJ (whether you mean politician or bureaucrat) to respond in a timely or safe manner, to follow the rules and safety standards (even changing safe radiation levels to suit political exigency), to show proper leadership or even adequate concern for its citizens in harm’s way, to release facts of the case so that people could make an informed decision, or to acknowledge there had even been a meltdown (something other observers knew based upon reasoned analysis of reactors’ output, but the GOJ would not admit), for months! The political culture which enables people in power in Japan to evade responsibility is now slowly poisoning Japanese society, if not eventually parts of the world, and that has to be addressed in the arena of public opinion.
Back in March, we at Debito.org did try to err on the side of caution and give some benefiting of the doubt (even shutting ourselves up when we had insufficient information). We wanted to wait and see how the cards fell. They clearly fell in favor of our original assertions that we were not being told the full story, and that things were far worse than was being let on. Now, critics, let’s have some honest capitulation on your part. You know who you are. It’s so easy to be a critic, but much harder to admit you’re wrong. Have the cojones to do that, especially about something as serious and society-changing as this.
Some referential articles follow, showing 1) the slow poisoning of children by Fukushima (NHK World), 2) how deep the institutional rot runs (NY Times), 3) more on the science of radioactivity and how seriously matters are not being taken (Japan Focus), and 4) the new attempts at spin-doctoring the situation, for starters. Knee-jerk defensive comments that do not reflect a careful reading of these references will not be approved. I think we’ve had quite enough knee-jerk-ism regarding this subject here already. Arudou Debito
(Debito.org Readers who wish to post more articles in the Comments Section, please do so with date, link, and pertinent excerpt if not entire article.)
More Fukushima-related articles on Japan Focus, a trustworthy academic site, can be found by plugging in keyword “Fukushima” in their search engine, see http://japanfocus.org/site/search
Radiation effect on children’s thyroid glands
NHK World Sunday, August 14, 2011 02:16 +0900 (JST) http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/13_26.html Courtesy BCH A survey shows that a small amount of radioactive iodine has been detected in the thyroid glands of hundreds of children in Fukushima Prefecture.
The result was reported to a meeting of the Japan Pediatric Society in Tokyo on Saturday.
A group of researchers led by Hiroshima University professor Satoshi Tashiro tested 1,149 children in the prefecture for radiation in their thyroid glands in March following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactive iodine was detected in about half of the children.
Tashiro says radiation in thyroid glands exceeding 100 millisieverts poses a threat to humans, but that the highest level in the survey was 35 millisieverts.
Tashiro says based on the result, it is unlikely that thyroid cancer will increase in the future, but that health checks must continue to prepare for any eventuality.
Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril
By NORIMITSU ONISHI and MARTIN FACKLER Published: August 8, 2011
FUKUSHIMA, Japan — The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate.
Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice.
The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that.
But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity.
“From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation,” said Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town, Nihonmatsu. “We are extremely worried about internal exposure to radiation.”
The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.”
In interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry. As the nuclear plant continues to release radiation, some of which has slipped into the nation’s food supply, public anger is growing at what many here see as an official campaign to play down the scope of the accident and the potential health risks.
Seiki Soramoto, a lawmaker and former nuclear engineer to whom Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned for advice during the crisis, blamed the government for withholding forecasts from the computer system, known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi.
“In the end, it was the prime minister’s office that hid the Speedi data,” he said. “Because they didn’t have the knowledge to know what the data meant, and thus they did not know what to say to the public, they thought only of their own safety, and decided it was easier just not to announce it.”
In an interview, Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, dismissed accusations that political considerations had delayed the release of the early Speedi data. He said that they were not disclosed because they were incomplete and inaccurate, and that he was presented with the data for the first time only on March 23.
“And on that day, we made them public,” said Mr. Hosono, who was one of the prime minister’s closest advisers in the early days of the crisis before being named nuclear disaster minister. “As for before that, I myself am not sure. In the days before that, which were a matter of life and death for Japan as a nation, I wasn’t taking part in what was happening with Speedi.”
The computer forecasts were among many pieces of information the authorities initially withheld from the public.
Meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months. For months after the disaster, the government flip-flopped on the level of radiation permissible on school grounds, causing continuing confusion and anguish about the safety of schoolchildren here in Fukushima.
The timing of many admissions — coming around late May and early June, when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Japan and before Japan was scheduled to deliver a report on the accident at an I.A.E.A. conference — suggested to critics that Japan’s nuclear establishment was coming clean only because it could no longer hide the scope of the accident. On July 4, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a group of nuclear scholars and industry executives, said, “It is extremely regrettable that this sort of important information was not released to the public until three months after the fact, and only then in materials for a conference overseas.”
The group added that the authorities had yet to disclose information like the water level and temperature inside reactor pressure vessels that would yield a fuller picture of the damage. Other experts have said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on whether the reactors’ cooling systems were actually knocked out solely by the 45-foot-tall tsunami, as officials have maintained, or whether damage from the earthquake also played a role, a finding that could raise doubts about the safety of other nuclear plants in a nation as seismically active as Japan.
Government officials insist that they did not knowingly imperil the public.
“As a principle, the government has never acted in such a way as to sacrifice the public’s health or safety,” said Mr. Hosono, the nuclear disaster minister.
Here in the prefecture’s capital and elsewhere, workers are removing the surface soil from schoolyards contaminated with radioactive particles from the nuclear plant. Tens of thousands of children are being kept inside school buildings this hot summer, where some wear masks even though the windows are kept shut. Many will soon be wearing individual dosimeters to track their exposure to radiation.
At Elementary School No. 4 here, sixth graders were recently playing shogi and go, traditional board games, inside. Nao Miyabashi, 11, whose family fled here from Namie, said she was afraid of radiation. She tried not to get caught in the rain. She gargled and washed her hands as soon as she got home.
“I want to play outside,” she said.
About 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation, according to a recent announcement by the government, which added that the levels were too low to warrant further examination. Many experts both in and outside Japan are questioning the government’s assessment, pointing out that in Chernobyl, most of those who went on to suffer from thyroid cancer were children living near that plant at the time of the accident.
Critics inside and outside the Kan administration argue that some of the exposure could have been prevented if officials had released the data sooner.
On the evening of March 15, Mr. Kan called Mr. Soramoto, who used to design nuclear plants for Toshiba, to ask for his help in managing the escalating crisis. Mr. Soramoto formed an impromptu advisory group, which included his former professor at the University of Tokyo, Toshiso Kosako, a top Japanese expert on radiation measurement.
Mr. Kosako, who studied the Soviet response to the Chernobyl crisis, said he was stunned at how little the leaders in the prime minister’s office knew about the resources available to them. He quickly advised the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, to use Speedi, which used measurements of radioactive releases, as well as weather and topographical data, to predict where radioactive materials could travel after being released into the atmosphere.
Speedi had been designed in the 1980s to make forecasts of radiation dispersal that, according to the prime minister’s office’s own nuclear disaster manuals, were supposed to be made available at least to local officials and rescue workers in order to guide evacuees away from radioactive plumes.
And indeed, Speedi had been churning out maps and other data hourly since the first hours after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. But the Education Ministry had not provided the data to the prime minister’s office because, it said, the information was incomplete. The tsunami had knocked out sensors at the plant: without measurements of how much radiation was actually being released by the plant, they said, it was impossible to measure how far the radioactive plume was stretching.
“Without knowing the strength of the releases, there was no way we could take responsibility if evacuations were ordered,” said Keiji Miyamoto of the Education Ministry’s nuclear safety division, which administers Speedi.
The government had initially resorted to drawing rings around the plant, evacuating everyone within a radius of first 1.9 miles, then 6.2 miles and then 12.4 miles, widening the rings as the scale of the disaster became clearer.
But even with incomplete data, Mr. Kosako said he urged the government to use Speedi by making educated guesses as to the levels of radiation release, which would have still yielded usable maps to guide evacuation plans. In fact, the ministry had done precisely that, running simulations on Speedi’s computers of radiation releases. Some of the maps clearly showed a plume of nuclear contamination extending to the northwest of the plant, beyond the areas that were initially evacuated.
However, Mr. Kosako said, the prime minister’s office refused to release the results even after it was made aware of Speedi, because officials there did not want to take responsibility for costly evacuations if their estimates were later called into question.
A wider evacuation zone would have meant uprooting hundreds of thousands of people and finding places for them to live in an already crowded country. Particularly in the early days after the earthquake, roads were blocked and trains were not running. These considerations made the government desperate to limit evacuations beyond the 80,000 people already moved from areas around the plant, as well as to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees, according to current and former officials interviewed.
Mr. Kosako said the top advisers to the prime minister repeatedly ignored his frantic requests to make the Speedi maps public, and he resigned in April over fears that children were being exposed to dangerous radiation levels.
Some advisers to the prime minister argue that the system was not that useful in predicting the radiation plume’s direction. Shunsuke Kondo, who heads the Atomic Energy Commission, an advisory body in the Cabinet Office, said that the maps Speedi produced in the first days were inconsistent, and changed several times a day depending on wind direction.
“Why release something if it was not useful?” said Mr. Kondo, also a retired professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo. “Someone on the ground in Fukushima, looking at which way the wind was blowing, would have known just as much.”
Mr. Kosako and others, however, say the Speedi maps would have been extremely useful in the hands of someone who knew how to sort through the system’s reams of data. He said the Speedi readings were so complex, and some of the predictions of the spread of radiation contamination so alarming, that three separate government agencies — the Education Ministry and the two nuclear regulators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission — passed the data to one another like a hot potato, with none of them wanting to accept responsibility for its results.
In interviews, officials at the ministry and the agency each pointed fingers, saying that the other agency was responsible for Speedi. The head of the commission declined to be interviewed.
Mr. Baba, the mayor of Namie, said that if the Speedi data had been made available sooner, townspeople would have naturally chosen to flee to safer areas. “But we didn’t have the information,” he said. “That’s frustrating.”
Evacuees now staying in temporary prefabricated homes in Nihonmatsu said that, believing they were safe in Tsushima, they took few precautions. Yoko Nozawa, 70, said that because of the lack of toilets, they resorted to pits in the ground, where doses of radiation were most likely higher.
“We were in the worst place, but didn’t know it,” Ms. Nozawa said. “Children were playing outside.”
A neighbor, Hiroyuki Oto, 31, said he was working at the plant for a Tepco subcontractor at the time of the earthquake and was now in temporary lodging with his wife and three young children, after also staying in Tsushima. “The effects might emerge only years from now,” he said of the exposure to radiation. “I’m worried about my kids.”
Seeds of Mistrust
Mr. Hosono, the minister charged with dealing with the nuclear crisis, has said that certain information, including the Speedi data, had been withheld for fear of “creating a panic.” In an interview, Mr. Hosono — who now holds nearly daily news conferences with Tepco officials and nuclear regulators — said that the government had “changed its thinking” and was trying to release information as fast as possible.
Critics, as well as the increasingly skeptical public, seem unconvinced. They compare the response to the Minamata case in the 1950s, a national scandal in which bureaucrats and industry officials colluded to protect economic growth by hiding the fact that a chemical factory was releasing mercury into Minamata Bay in western Japan. The mercury led to neurological illnesses in thousands of people living in the region and was captured in wrenching photographs of stricken victims.
“If they wanted to protect people, they had to release information immediately,” said Reiko Seki, a sociologist at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and an expert on the cover-up of the Minamata case. “Despite the experience with Minamata, they didn’t release Speedi.”
In Koriyama, a city about 40 miles west of the nuclear plant, a group of parents said they had stopped believing in government reassurances and recently did something unthinkable in a conservative, rural area: they sued. Though their suit seeks to force Koriyama to relocate their children to a safer area, their real aim is to challenge the nation’s handling of evacuations and the public health crisis.
After the nuclear disaster, the government raised the legal exposure limit to radiation from one to 20 millisieverts a year for people, including children — effectively allowing them to continue living in communities from which they would have been barred under the old standard. The limit was later scaled back to one millisievert per year, but applied only to children while they were inside school buildings.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Toshio Yanagihara, said the authorities were withholding information to deflect attention from the nuclear accident’s health consequences, which will become clear only years later.
“Because the effects don’t emerge immediately, they can claim later on that cigarettes or coffee caused the cancer,” he said.
The Japanese government is considering monitoring the long-term health of Fukushima residents and taking appropriate measures in the future, said Yasuhiro Sonoda, a lawmaker and parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office. The mayor of Koriyama, Masao Hara, said he did not believe that the government’s radiation standards were unsafe. He said it was “unrealistic” to evacuate the city’s 33,000 elementary and junior high school students.
But Koriyama went further than the government’s mandates, removing the surface soil from its schools before national directives and imposing tougher inspection standards than those set by the country’s education officials.
“The Japanese people, after all, have a high level of knowledge,” the mayor said, “so I think information should be disclosed correctly and quickly so that the people can make judgments, especially the people here in Fukushima.”
Radiation Effects on Health: Protect the Children of Fukushima
Kodama TatsuhikoProfessor, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo Head, Radioisotope Center, the University of Tokyo
Talk at the July 27, 2011 meeting of the Committee on Welfare and Labor of the House of Representatives
…In that case, the total dose is not much of an issue; rather, the density of radiation in each individual is the focus. However, following the recent accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, 5 μSv within 100 kilometers and 0.5 μSv within 200 kilometers from the complex were recorded. And as all of you know now, radiation reached further beyond to affect Ashigara and Shizuoka tea leaves.When we examine radiation poisoning, we look at the entire amount. TEPCO and the government have never clearly reported on the total amount of radiation doses resulting from the Fukushima nuclear accident. When we calculate on the basis of the knowledge available at our Radioisotope Center, in terms of the quantity of heat, the equivalent of 29.6 Hiroshima a-bombs leaked. Converted to uranium, an amount equivalent to 20 Hiroshima a-bombs is estimated to have leaked.
What is further dreadful is that, according to what we know so far, when we compare the amount of radiation that remained after the a-bomb and that of radiation from the nuclear plant, that of the former goes down to one-thousandth after one year whereas radioactive contaminants of the latter are reduced to only one-tenth.
In other words, in thinking about the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, the first premise is that, as in the case of Chernobyl, an amount of radiation equivalent to tens of a-bombs was released and far greater contamination remains afterward compared with the a-bomb…
Fukushima forced depopulation, Japanese plead world aid
Deborah Dupre, Human Rights Examiner, August 22, 2011, Examiner.com, courtesy BCH (excerpt)
After “off-scale” radiation contamination at Fukushima was reported in early August, this weekend extremely excessive radiation contamination around Fukushima reported by the Ministry of Science and Education is forcing the Japanese government toward what New York Timestermed “long-term depopulation” with an announcement making the area officially uninhabitable for decades, as Japanese people, including radiation refugees, plead for global help to survive human right to health violations experienced since March when Japan’s ever worsening nuclear power plant catastrophe began.
The government is expected to make a formal announcement telling many of the radiation refugees that they will be prohibited from returning to their homes indefinitely according to several Japanese news reports over the weekend reported theNew York Times on Monday.
“Broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels, several major media outlets said Monday.”
Fukushima area being uninhabited for decades is no surprise to many independent nuclear experts or lay persons aware that has been case for areas around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine after its 1986 catastrophic accident. Today, an estimated five million people in the Ukraine suffer Chernobyl radiation deformities and cancer, many of whom were not born when that catastrophe began, according to a recent Australia CBS report. (See: “Fukushima now radiating everyone: ‘Unspeakable’ reality,” Dupré, August 16, 2011)
Examiner colleague, Alfred Lambremont reported in early July that, “Leuren Moret [MA, PhD (ABT)] released her court statement as expert witness in a lawsuit brought to force government officials to evacuate more than 350,000 children from the Fukushima area where they are being forcibly exposed by the government to lethal doses of radiation.”
The anticipated Japanese government relocation announcement would be the “first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant” reported The New York Times.
This forced depopulation issue is one that “scientists and some officials have been warning about for months” and criticized the government for not doing sooner. New York Times reports that:
“… evacuations have been a sensitive topic for the government, which has been criticized for being slow to admit the extent of the disaster and trying to limit the size of the areas affected, despite possible risks to public health. Until now, Tokyo had been saying it would lift the current evacuation orders for most areas around the plant early next year, when workers are expected to stabilize Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged nuclear reactors.”
U.S. involvement in nuclear genocide abroad and at home has been recorded by Leuren Moret who wrote in her Court statement:
“Instead of evacuation, the government gives the children (sick with radiation symptoms) film badges to measure the external exposure dose… another study group like U.S. govt. studies on Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims (they are still being studied), Iraq victims, Gaza victims. And the U.S. government did the same thing to Americans during 1300 nuclear bomb tests in the US.”
Radiation deniers foster nuclear industry
There have been Japanese government televised programs espousing Plutonium is good for humans.
After the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe began, the nuclear industry urgently redoubled efforts to convince the world that nuclear radiation is safe and even more, “they are trying to say that radiation is actually good for us” according to Noel Wauchope.
“The whole idea of radiation is good for you is not new,” said Nuclear News editor Christina MacPherson in an email to Dupré. “It was pushed a few years back by Frenchman Bruno Comby with his ‘environmentalists for nuclear power’ campaign.”
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Hi Blog. Received this this morning from Terrie Lloyd. Very much worth reading, as it shows the damage done by the market aberration (if you believe in free markets as the final arbiter of fairness) of holding labor costs artificially low — you get resistance to ever raising them again once business gets used to those costs as being “normal”. As wages and working conditions in Japan continue their race to the bottom, it seems that two decades of NJ “Trainee” near-slave and slave labor will come back to haunt the Japanese economy after all. Arudou Debito
* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * * A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
General Edition Sunday, June 19, 2011, Issue No. 618
Addicted to Chinese Trainees, e-biz news from Japan
Date: June 19, 2011 11:49:26 PM JST
Presumably a big contributor to this record number of needy
people has been the Great East Japan earthquake in March.
The level of joblessness has soared to around 90% of
employable survivors in the worst hit areas, and by
the end of May about 110,000 were out of work and applying
for the dole at various Hello Work offices in Iwate,
Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures.
So, one would think that with this excess capacity of
workers, many of whom are from the agricultural, fisheries,
and manufacturing industries, juxtaposed with the
phenomenon of disappearing Chinese trainee workers from
factories around the same regions, less than half of whom
are yet to return, that there would be a slew of local
hirings to make up the shortfall. Certainly after the
Chinese trainees fled the disaster areas, there were plenty
of news reports of employers grumpily saying, “We can’t
trust Chinese employees, next time we’ll hire locals.”
But are they following through with local hiring offers?
Our guess is “not”.
The reason is because a Japanese breadwinner from Iwate on
unemployment, or even welfare, can still receive 2-5 times
more than the Chinese trainees do for the same jobs. The
factory and farm operators may grizzle about their
“unreliable” Chinese employees, but without this source of
ultra-cheap labor, they have no way of being able to
compete with the flood of goods and produce coming in from
China itself. The fact is that thousands of small companies
all over Japan are addicted to cheap trainee labor from
China and elsewhere, and to go local they would soon go out
Thus, unless the government comes up with some kind of
subsidy system, the folks in Fukushima will stay unemployed
and the missing trainees will be replaced with new trainees
just as soon as the recruiters in the remoter regions of
China can find them.
We have mentioned before in Terrie’s Take (TT-399 —
Trainees or slaves?), foreign “trainees” in Japan are paid
a pittance. On average they make about JPY60,000 a month in
the first year, then if they are lucky, around JPY120,000 a
month for the following two years, after which they have to
return to their home country.
One of our readers alerted us to an excellent report just
put out this month by a Hong Kong labor relations think
tank called the China Labor Bulletin. The report is called
‘Throw Away Labor — The Exploitation of Chinese “Trainees”
in Japan’ and is a encapsulation of the appalling
situation involving the virtual slave trade going on
between Chinese recruiters and small- to medium-sized
companies in rural Japan who need this cheap labor to
The report chronicles the various miseries that Chinese
trainees experience once they get to Japan, including:
withheld wages, no or very underpaid overtime, withheld
passports, threats of law suits if they flee back to China,
unsanitary living conditions, extremely difficult working
conditions… well the list goes on. And of course it’s
debatable whether such trainees actually receive any
education worth taking home with them.
The problem is that when you have poor and relatively
uneducated people from the Chinese hinterland making just
2,000 yuan per month (JPY26,000), almost anything sounds
better than what they have, especially when a recruiter
mentions Japan. The report details how trainees are
inveigled into a contract, and once committed, how they are
locked in to delivering that contract under very harsh (and
real) threats of legal action back in China.
This cheap labor addiction represents the reality of the
Japanese rural labor market. No doubt we’ll see the media
highlighting how locals are landing construction jobs and
getting back on their feet — that makes for feel-good
copy. But with only a comparatively small number of such
jobs going, there may well be a larger number of new
“trainee” visas being issued so as to ensure that
the rural factories and farms stay in business for a while
Earlier on this month, the Yomiuri newspaper carried an
article about an auto parts manufacturer in Akitakata,
Hiroshima, which is being investigated for hiring more
foreign “trainees” than allowed by the rules. The company
apparently padded the number of its regular employees, so
that it could bring on an additional 3 Chinese trainees
to add to the 3 already working there. The company had
discovered that not only were the trainees able to do the
same work as locals, they are more than 50% cheaper.
While this case may not seem like such a big deal, it is
the tip of a pretty ugly iceberg. The government’s foreign
trainee program, which started with the grand design of
helping to lift the basic skills of Japan’s neighbors, now
appears to have degenerated into being little more than a
pipeline of low-cost laborers to keep struggling small
manufacturers and farmers going.
The trainees work/train under near-slavery conditions and
the fall-out from this seems to be increasing. Last year
alone, 1,888 of them ran away from their postings, many
going on to become illegal workers elsewhere in the
country. Broken down by nationality, they numbered 3,516
Chinese, 2,629 Vietnamese, and 1,498 Indonesians — pretty
much the same ratios as the nationalities being brought in
under the program.
There are about 83,000 trainees accepted into Japan each
year, about 160,000 in total, of which just over 70%
(55,000 annually) are from China. They are allowed to work
(ummm, sorry, “train”) in 62 different types of industry,
such as agriculture, food processing, construction,
apparel, and animal husbandry.
The numbers in agriculture are a particular eye-opener and
foretell labor trends in this country. Young Japanese
really don’t want to work the land and thus there are now
about 9,000 foreign trainees bolstering the sector,
compared with just 2,200 Japanese high school graduates.
That means there is a 4:1 likelihood that next time you
want to buy a daikon or eggs directly from the farm, you’d
better be able to speak Mandarin.
The trainee system has been turned into a form of legalized
“slavery”. Most trainees for the duration of their 3 years
have virtually no employment rights (they are, after all
supposed to be trainees not employees) and are paid
unbelievably low compensation — just JPY66,000 (average) a
month plus accomodation in the first year, and a more
luxurious JPY118,000 (average) or so for the following two
years. Could you survive on this? We’d have problems…
The treatment some of these trainees are receiving is
pretty shocking. The “Association Tokushima”, a group
assisting Chinese laborers with problems in Japan, says
that they have documented a case of a 27-year old female
trainee working for a Tokushima-based food processing
plant, who received just JPY70,000/month for working 8
hours a day, 6 days a week, and an overtime allowance of
just JPY300/hour. Apparently she was working 14 hours a
day, then moon-lighting doing farm work on Sundays.
In another case, covered in the Asahi Shimbun back in
August, a Chinese female trainee arrived in Japan to learn
how to grow spinach and strawberries. But somehow she wound
up in a Forestry company. While there, she was required to
clean the company president’s home and even polish his
shoes. During her first year, in 2004, she received an
allowance of JPY50,000/month and JPY300/hour for overtime.
After she “graduated” from her first year and become a
so-called documented worker, her salary was supposedly
lifted to JPY112,000/month plus overtime. But in reality
the company deducted JPY90,000/month for rent, futon lease
(really!), washing machine lease, etc. To top it all off,
one of her managers had her apartment key and about 4
months into her traineeship started visiting and demanding
Conditions like these came to the notice of the press in
August, when a Chinese trainee at a pig farm in Chiba
complained about the harsh work conditions and was told
that his traineeship would be terminated. This of course
meant that he would be banished back to China — trainees
seldom get an extension unless the sponsoring company wants
them. In despair, he went berserk and stabbed 3 people,
including an official of the Chiba Agricultural
Association, the very organization that had brought him to
Japan in the first place. The official died. Since then,
the Ministry of Agriculture and other trainee
program-related ministries have started to review means of
enforcing the rules of the program that are supposed to
protect the trainees from these types of abuses.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare,
companies accepting foreign trainees and workers are mostly
small-scale businesses with less than 19 employees. There
were more than 180 documented cases of fraud or
mistreatment last year (2005) and it is suspected that a
lot more cases go unreported. In fact a Ministry of Health
survey found that of 731 reviewed companies, a full 80% of
them were violating the minimum wage law and labor
standards law for their 2nd- and 3rd-year trainees.
Obviously the problem is severe enough that the Ministry is
allocating JPY400m (US$3.38m) to its quango looking after
the placement of trainees, JITCO, for the purpose of
monitoring participating companies to make sure that they
stay compliant with the trainee program rules.
With the falling birth rate and migration of the domestic
workforce out of hard labor jobs, Japan clearly has to turn
to foreign workers to keep things going. The government
knows this and is infact planning to expand the trainee
system. Among the proposals are to increase the number of
trainees a company can employ from just one for every 20
staff, to an unlimited number, and to increase the variety
of jobs that a trainee can fill. Some employer
organizations are even calling for rule changes to make it
legal to bring in unskilled foreign workers in the same way
that they can already do with skilled ones.
But the expansion can’t go ahead until someone takes
responsibility for properly protecting the welfare of the
trainees. Although JITCO is being assigned this role, with
the increased number of inspectors, in fact, given that
they are a major player (they account for about 60% of
trainees) in sourcing and matching the trainees, and so it
seems like the current problems are in fact JITCO’s to solve.
Instead, we feel that the government should legislate to
keep traineeships to just one year and make sure that
classes from a local education institution — which need
new students — are incorporated. Once trained, graduates
should be allowed to become regular workers and enjoy the
benefits of a minimum salary, labor rights, and the ability
to get their visas renewed. Those that don’t pass their
first year should be sent home.
Already a step in the right direction is being taken, in
the way that semi-skilled Filippino health care workers are
to be handled. If they pass their language tests and gain
a solid record during their training period they will be
allowed to stay and work in Japan indefinitely… [Note from Debito: Hah.]
As for Japanese guests? Not always better. Here’s the latest mutation: The Yomiuri reports places are refusing Japanese people too from irradiated Fukushima Prefecture because they think they might be glowing:
As the article lays out, it’s not just a hotel (although hotels have a particular responsibility, even under the law, to offer refuge and rest to the paying public). A gas station reportedly had a sign up refusing Fukushima Kenmin (they must think Fukushimans spark!), while complaints came in to official soudan madoguchi that a restaurant refused Fukushimans entry and someone had his car defaced. In all, 162 complaints reportedly came in regarding fuhyou higai, or roughly “damages due to disreputation” of being tarred by the disasters. Now that’s an interesting word for a nasty phenomenon.
Good news is that these problems are at least being reported in the media as a social problem, and Fukushima Prefecture is asking the national government to address them. Let’s hope the GOJ takes measures to protect Fukushima et.al. from further exposure to “fuhyou” and discrimination. Might be a template for getting the same for NJ.
(Okay, probably not, but it’s still the right thing to do.) Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. Here’s some news on a MOFA survey that was skewed (by dint, for one thing, of it being rendered in Japanese only, effectively shutting out many opinions of the NJ side of the marriage) linguistically to get results that were negative towards the signing of the Hague Convention on Child Abductions. Even then, MOFA got mixed results (as in, more people want the GOJ to sign the Hague than don’t, but it’s a pretty clean three-way split). Nice try, MOFA. Read the survey for yourself below and see what I mean.
In any case, the bureaucrats, according to Jiji Press of Feb 1 (see bottom of this blog post), seem to be gearing up to join the Hague only if there is a domestic law in place for Japan to NOT return the kids. I smell a loophole in the making.
TOKYO — An online survey by the Foreign Ministry showed Wednesday that people who have directly been involved in the so-called parental ‘‘abductions’’ of children as a result of failed marriages were divided on Japan’s accession to an international treaty to deal with child custody disputes.
Of 64 respondents to the questionnaire posted on the website of the Foreign Ministry and its 121 diplomatic missions abroad between May and November last year, 22 were in favor of Japan joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, while 17 were against the idea.
The remaining 25 respondents did not make their stance clear, said Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Ikuo Yamahana at a press conference.
The convention provides a procedure for the prompt return of children to their habitual country of residence when they are wrongfully removed or retained in the case of an international divorce. It also protects parental access rights.
Those seeking Japan’s accession to the convention said Tokyo should no longer allow unilateral parental child abductions as the country is perceived overseas as an ‘‘abnormal’’ nation for defending such acts.
People opposed to Japan’s signing of the treaty said the convention ‘‘doesn’t fit with’’ Japanese culture, values and customs and urged the government to protect Japanese nationals fleeing from difficult circumstances such as abusive spouses and problems in foreign countries.
Some pointed to the disadvantages faced by Japanese parents seeking a local court settlement on child custody abroad, such as expensive legal fees and the language barrier.
Yamahana said the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan will further examine the possibility of joining the convention based on the results of the online survey. ‘‘We will discuss what we can do to ensure the welfare of children,’’ he said.
International pressure on Tokyo to act on the parental abduction issue has been growing, with legislative bodies in the United States and France recently adopting resolutions that call for Japan’s accession to the treaty.
At present, 84 countries and regions are parties to the Hague Convention. Of the Group of Seven major economies, only Japan has yet to ratify the pact.
Of the 64 respondents, 18 said they have abducted children and 19 said their children have been taken by their former spouses. A total of 27 said they have been slapped with restrictions on traveling with their children because Japan is not a party to the Hague Convention.
By country, 26 respondents were linked to parental abduction cases in the United States, followed by nine in Australia and seven in Canada. ENDS
Debito: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just started asking for opinions from the public regarding Japan’s ascension to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (which provides guidelines for dealing with cases of children being taken across borders without the consent of both parents, as well as establishing custody and visitation; all past Debito.org articles on the issue here.).
But now we have the MOFA officially asking for public opinions from the goldfish bowl. Despite the issue being one of international marriage and abduction, the survey is in Japanese only. Fine for those NJ who can read and comment in the language. But it still gives an undeniable advantage to the GOJ basically hearing only the “Japanese side” of the divorce. Let’s at least have it in English as well, shall we?
Kyodo article below, along with the text of the survey in Japanese and unofficial English translation. Is it just me, or do the questions feel just a tad leading, asking you to give reasons why Japan shouldn’t sign? In any case, I find it hard to imagine an aggrieved J parent holding all the aces (not to mention the kids) saying, “Sure, sign the Hague, eliminate our safe haven and take away my power of custody and revenge.” That’s why we need both sides of the story, with I don’t believe this survey is earnestly trying to get. Arudou Debito
TOKYO — Japan began Tuesday soliciting views via the Internet on the possibility of the country ratifying an international convention to deal with problems that arise when failed international marriages result in children wrongfully being taken to Japan by one parent.
The online survey by the Foreign Ministry asks people who have been involved in the so-called parental ‘‘abductions’’ to Japan of children of failed marriages what they think about Japan’s accession to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Complaints are growing over cases in which a Japanese parent, often a mother, brings a child to Japan without the consent of the foreign parent, or regardless of custody determination in other countries, and denies the other parent access to the child.
The convention provides a procedure for the prompt return of such ‘‘abducted’’ children to their habitual country of residence and protects parental access rights.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has suggested that he is considering positively Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention and ratifying it during the next year’s ordinary Diet session.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said at a regular news conference Tuesday that the government will examine opinions collected through the online survey in studying the possibility of joining the convention. The questionnaire will be posted on the website of the Foreign Ministry and its 121 diplomatic missions abroad, he said.
At present, 82 countries are parties to the Hague Convention. Of the Group of Eight major powers, Japan and Russia have yet to ratify the treaty.
SURVEY REGARDING THE HAGUE CONVENTION ON THE CIVIL ASPECTS OF INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION
Question 1: Have you ever had an experience like the ones below regarding the problem of children being moved across borders? You do not have to reveal anyone’s names in your answers:
— There was a child abducted across an international border / you had no choice but to move with your children (please give details):
— You had a court trial in a foreign country and your border movements were restricted by a court order. (Response space)
— If convenient, please tell us about the following conditions: Age of the child: — Whether you are the mother or the father — Whether you had custody of the children / The name of the relevant country (Response space)
Question 2: Did you know the existence and the content of the Hague Convention? (Response space)
Question 3: Do you have an opinion about Japan not becoming a party to the Hague Convention so far? (Response space)
Question 4: If Japan were to sign the Hague Convention, you think there would be any advantages or disadvantages given to people in similar circumstances, or yourself? (Response space)
Question 5: If you have any comments about the issues – child abduction and the Hague Convention and other international issues, please state them below: (Response space)
There may be cases where we need to contact you to receive more details on your case. Would contacting you be possible? (Yes/No)