Paul Toland on US House of Representatives vote against child abductions to Japan 416-1

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Hi Blog.  Busy day today speaking today and tomorrow at the University of British Columbia, so no commentary.  Important news.  Arudou Debito in Vancouver

September 29 2010

Paul Toland writes:

I know coincidences happen, but the coincidence of timing of today’s date seems almost too significant to be simple coincidence. It was one year ago today, on September 29, 2009, that major networks throughout the United States picked up on the story of a Tennessee man (Chris Savoie) who had been arrested in Japan for trying to recover his children. On that date, a number of parents appeared on major news programs throughout the US to discuss Christopher’s case.

As important as that day was for bringing the child abduction issue into the national spotlight, today was even more significant. In fact, from beginning to end, today was perhaps the most significant day ever for advancing the issue of returning abducted children from Japan. Here is how the day unfolded:

The day started with a press conference at the House Triangle at 11:00 AM. Present were CNN, the Associated Press, Kyodo News Service and others. Congressman Moran began with a passionate speech condemning Japan for Child Abduction. He then introduced parents. First up was Chris Savoie, followed by Paul Toland. At that point, Congressman Chris Smith showed up and as always, he was able to speak eloquently of the abduction issue without the assistance of any notes. Congressman Smith is so vested in our issue that he can simply speak from the heart when speaking of our issue. Next up was Nancy Elias, followed by Doug Berg, William Lake and Patrick Braden. All of the parents spoke eloquently, and the common factor among all of us was the love for our children. Each of us had something different to add. From Chris’ discussion of how the Resolution has already been used to prevent abductions, to Doug’s discussion of his bedtime talks with his kids that are now only memories, to Nancy’s tears that brought the rest of us to tears, it was a great opportunity to get our stories out to the world.

After having a quick lunch, we headed over to the House Floor to watch the vote, but Congressman Smith’s staffer sent us an email informing us of a 2 PM Foreign Affairs Hearing at which Assistant Secretary Campbell would be testifying and that Congressman Smith would then be asking questions at the hearing about Japan Child Abduction. We immediately left the House and headed over to the Rayburn Building for the Hearing. Upon entering the hearing room, Assistant Secretary Campbell saw the lineup of Bring Abducted Children Home (BAC Home) members in the second row and immediately came back and spoke to us, holding up the hearing for a few minutes. He told us about some recent White House involvement in our issue. Congressman Smith once again gave an amazing opening speech about child abduction in Japan (there was a large Japanese press contingent). Assistant Secretary Campbell then opened his speech with an extended discussion of Japan Child Abduction. Later in the question and answer session, Congressman Smith asked some pointed and direct questions about whether or not President Obama discussed the abduction with Prime Minister Kan at the recent UN General Assembly in New York. Assistant Secretary Campbell was somewhat evasive in his answer, stating that Secretary Clinton addressed the issue, but not discussing whether President Obama addressed the issue.

Immediately after the Q&A, Congressman Smith had to depart for the floor vote on H.Res 1326, so we accompanied him to Congress and sat in the “Member’s guests” section of the House Gallery to watch the vote. As we walked into the gallery, the entire Congress was cheering and looking up at the gallery to exactly where we were. As we looked around we realized that we were surrounded by New York City Firefighters and Police Officers. Congress had just passed the 911 First Responder’s Bill to pay for the variety of heath conditions incurred by the brave firefighters and police who were the first to respond on 9/11/2001. It was an honor to be in their presence.

Soon after, the vote came on H. Res 1326. 416-1, with only Ron Paul of Texas voting against it. Randy Collins has already been in touch with Ron Paul’s opponent in this November’s election and they are VERY interested in Ron Paul’s vote in favor of the abduction of US Citizen children to Japan. Additionally, there were some Congressmen who voted for both the bill preceeding and the bill immediately after H.Res 1326, leading me to believe that those Congressmen “abstained” from voting on H.Res 1326 due to some possible Japanese influence.

From there we went back to the House offices to thank both Congressman Smith and Congressman Moran’s offices. While we were in Congressman Moran’s office, he walked in and a big cheer went up. He presented BAC Home members with the poster he used at the Press Conference earlier in the day, and signed the poster for us, writing “your children would be very proud of you” on the poster. We concluded the day with a visit to Ron Paul’s office, but, as we figured, they would not see us, so we left a BAC Home book with them.

Overall, it was a whirlwind day, and without a doubt our biggest day yet. However, as we have said again and again, today was only the “first step” and we still have a way to go before we are reunited with our children. As mentioned in my speech today, there is an old Irish Proverb that states “Hope is the physician of each misery.” While hope alone can never fully heal us, hope is the physician that provides us with the daily medicine we need to remain standing, with our heads held high, and carry on to fight another day for our children. Today, Congressman Jim Moran, Congressman Chris Smith and their colleagues in the House of Representatives have provided us with hope. Hope that Japan can change its’ ways and join the family of nations that understands that children require love from both parents to grow up healthy in body and mind. Hope that President Obama and Secretary Clinton will address this problem forcefully and demonstrate to the world that they truly care about the security and well-being of abducted American children. Hope that someday soon we may again be able to share the love of our children. Hope that Erika Toland may someday meet the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who are waiting for her with open arms, and hope that Erika and I are reunited once again, so she may know and feel the love I so wish to give to her. Thank you all. Sincerely, Paul


U.S. lawmakers pressure Japan on child custody rights
Thursday 30th September 2010, 05:47 AM JST

The U.S. House of Representatives turned up the pressure Wednesday on Japan, strongly urging Tokyo to return immediately half-Japanese children that lawmakers say have been kidnapped from their American parents.

The House voted overwhelmingly for a nonbinding resolution that “condemns the abduction and retention” of children held in Japan “in violation of their human rights and United States and international law.”

The resolution, which passed 416 to 1, also calls for Japan to allow Americans to visit their children and for Tokyo to join a 1980 international convention on child abduction that would allow for the quick return of the children to America.

Democratic Rep Jim Moran told reporters that the resolution sends a strong signal to Japan that the U.S. Congress “is watching and expecting action.”

Republican Rep. Chris Smith said, “Americans are fed up with our friend and ally Japan and their pattern of noncooperation.”

The Japanese Embassy said in a statement that Japan is sympathetic to the plight of children caught in custody battles between Japanese and American citizens and “is continuing to make sincere efforts to deal with this issue from the standpoint that the welfare of the child should be of the utmost importance.”

The United States often calls Japan its lynchpin ally in Asia, and tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed in Japan. But Japan’s stance on custody rights has been a source of friction. U.S. lawmakers say that at least 121 American children currently are being held in Japan.

Japanese law allows only one parent to have custody in cases of divorce, usually the mother. Activists say the court system in Japan is tilted against fathers and foreigners.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, told lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday that the issue is a priority, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raising it in meetings with her Japanese counterpart.

Campbell said that he would also raise the matter when he travels to Tokyo next week and that Japan should act urgently.

“We’re going to need to see some progress on this,” Campbell said.

Christopher Savoie, a father who was arrested last year after going to Japan in a failed attempt to reclaim his two children, joined lawmakers and other fathers at a news conference before the House vote. Japan, Savoie said, should be ashamed for keeping parents from seeing their children.

However, the problem is not only restricted to abductions by Japanese citizens, according to William Lake, whose daughter was taken without his knowledge by his ex-wife, who is not Japanese, to Osaka.

In several cases like Lake’s, non-Japanese parents have fled to Japan with their children so as to take advantage of permissive child custody laws that have led some to describe Japan as a ‘‘black hole’’ for abducted children, a fact that illustrates the depth and seriousness of the problems with the current system.

‘‘Neither I, my ex-wife, or my daughter are Japanese in any way shape or form,’’ Lake noted, adding ‘‘The Japanese government should have no say in this issue whatsoever, other than to choose what airline they’re going to send the children home on.’

Wire reports

Japan Times “Richard Cory” on child custody woes part 2: Who abducts wins

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As part two to yesterday’s excerpt, here’s how Richard Cory managed to save one of his children from a cheating, insane, abusive mom — by simply abducting her. Too bad for the other two. Godspeed. Arudou Debito in transit

Behind the facade of family law
Having been reunited with his daughter, Richard Cory faces a tougher battle for custody of his sons
By Richard Cory
The Japan Times Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010

(excerpt): Look at my case (and what the judge wrote in her custody ruling in July). My wife had admitted to the following:

• More than three years of ongoing adultery (“The reason for the breakup of the marriage was the respondent’s adultery”); Giving large sums of money (¥7.7 million) to her lover to help him pay off his gambling debt (“Respondent lent a large sum of money to her colleague”);

• Taking my children on dates to bet on horse racing;

• Being currently on medication for various disorders (“Respondent became mentally ill and started seeing a doctor in or around January 2010 and worried about her insufficient communication with the children”);

• Physically abusing her own spouse and children (“Respondent attacked petitioner . . . and used physical power that cannot be justified as discipline against the children”).

Her own daughter fled from her after being abducted, and then testified against her. Moreover, my wife did not even petition for custody of the children until four months after I filed for divorce and custody. I even submitted a video showing my wife with not one of the bruises or injuries she claimed to have sustained the day before the video was taken. And we even had eyewitness testimony of her trying to injure herself. Could my case be any stronger?

Nevertheless, when the judge awarded me physical custody of my daughter, she also awarded physical custody of the boys to their mother. The reason: “There’s no big problem (with the boys staying where they are).”

Based on such reasoning, you can bet the bank that this judge would have awarded custody of all three children to my wife had I not been able to rescue one. And the judge would probably have given me custody of them all had they all been able to get free.

Japan’s family court is simply a facade designed to make an unevolved system appear civilized.

Let’s not kid ourselves. In Japan, “possession of the children” trumps the “best interests of the children” every time, particularly when the “best interests of the children” are never even addressed. And when you have a country that is pouring great sums of money into a system that shuffles children off to hidden locations whenever a parent makes an unverified DV claim, the state, in essence, becomes complicit in the abduction of the children…

Full article at

Japan Times “Richard Cory” updates us on child custody woes and systematic bias against NJ fathers

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Hi Blog. Here’s the first part of a sad story from a friend whose marriage broke down, and how the system is geared against NJ (particular fathers) who want custody of and access to their children.  This came out last week, and part two came out today.  You can also read about it in Japanese here.  Wow.  May more stories like these get into print and offer cautionary tales.  Arudou Debito in Calgary.


The Japan Times THE ZEIT GIST
Battling a broken system
A left-behind father tells the story of his fight to find and win custody of his lost daughter
September 21, 2010

(excerpt) In December 2009, shortly after I detailed my fears in this column (Zeit Gist, Nov. 3, 2009) about my wife’s ongoing affair potentially resulting in me losing custody of my children, family life got even worse as she became increasingly physically abusive toward our children. In fact, the police visited my home after one incident in December and recommended that I take my daughter to the Child Guidance Center (jidosodanjo) so that we could determine how to best handle her mother’s violent behavior. Over the next few months, my daughter was interviewed twice at the Child Guidance Center and a few times at her public elementary school.

Unfortunately, as we neared the abduction date, bias against her American father started to become evident. Exactly two weeks before her abduction, her female school principal met privately with my daughter, who summarized her principal’s comments as follows: “Your mother might be violent, but we know she’s a very nice mother on the inside. She will change one day. She’s just stressed right now.”

Two days before the abduction, the school principal and two child welfare officers met with my daughter in the principal’s office, and just hours after returning home, my daughter reported the following exchange between her and one of the welfare officers, an older Japanese woman: “And then she said, ‘Who are you going to choose?’ And I said, ‘Because Mama beats me, I want to go to Daddy’s side. I’m going to choose Daddy.’ Then she said, ‘Your mother does all the stuff at home, like cooking and doing the clothes and stuff like that, so I think it would be better if you choose your mother.’ “

Rest of the article at

What are the going rates for English private lessons in your neck of Japan?

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Hi Blog.  I often get requests from people online who think about moving to Japan and supplementing their Eikaiwa income with “private lessons”, i.e. your own cottage industry of meetings with an individual or groups in an informal setting and at an hourly rate.  They inquire how efficacious that plan my be.

I usually caution people against that, since the Bubble-Era fees are long gone (I was pulling down JPY10,000 an hour once upon a time).  Moreover, the Post-Bubble “McDonaldization of Eikaiwa” (as I have heard it described on other listservs) by the NOVAs and ECs have driven average rates for English teaching down to hardscrabble levels, meaning people without a full-time job with health insurance and benefits will probably not be able to make a living on private lessons alone.

But that’s just what’ve I heard.  I haven’t done many privates for years now (Sapporo’s market rates, if you can get privates at all, appear to be around JPY2000-3500 an hour).  I thought I’d ask Readers around Japan what they’re getting/can get for private lessons (in English or in any language you teach) in their local area.  Let us know.  Arudou Debito not in Sapporo

“Pinprick Protests”: NJ refusing to comply with GOJ Census?

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Hi Blog.  I got this a couple of days ago, and am hearing that others are now getting their 5-year Japan Census forms (recently discussed on here).

Friend KD writes the following:


September 23 2010

Hi Debito, Today a lady rang my door and kindly asked me to fill out the census papers. As you probably remember from previous censuses, in the spirit of civil disobedience I refuse to participate with the census, in protest of long-term resident NJ’s not having the right to vote in local elections.

I discussed this with the lady who brought the census papers. She clearly understood my position and also brought up some points herself why it was strange that long-term NJ have no voting rights.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I do not intend to be an activist, but I thought that perhaps other people who follow you might be interested in the idea of protesting our lack of voting rights in this way.

In itself it won’t get us voting rights, but it does send a message. Sending that message, whenever we can, and in every way we can, is important.


COMMENT:  I am of two minds about this.  As KD says, one way to make the GOJ take notice of NJ needs is to deny the GOJ something it wants (information from us all).  But then again, I also want the GOJ to record how diverse Japanese society is (even if it won’t do it properly, by providing an optional question to indicate ethnicity; as it stands, it keeps the “pure Japanese society” (as in, no visibly off-color Japanese citizens) discourse secure).

Another person commented back at the previous thread on the Census:


Anton:  According to this:– the census questionnaire must be available in 27 languages. Got mine yesterday, in Japanese of course. And all foreigners I know got it in Japanese. And the only contact phone is Japanese only. So, OK guys, I can’t help you here, you’ll get no data from my family.


What do others think about this?  Yet another discussion.  Arudou Debito in Calgary

Discussion: Oguri Saori’s “Darling wa Gaikokujin” manga series: Does it help NJ assimilate?

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Hi Blog. We’ve recently had a decent discussion come up in my previous blog entry, and it’s good enough to warrant its own entry.

The topic was Oguri Saori’s Daarin Wa Gaikokujin” (My Darling is a Foreigner), a best-selling series of manga depicting the life of a quirky bilingual foreigner by the name of “Tony” who marries a Japanese woman. The manga chronicles the different personalities of the husband and wife as they deal with issues in Japan, create a life and a family together, travel from one place to another, and generally try to get inside “Tony’s mind”. There are several books under Oguri’s authorship (at least one with real-life husband Tony Laszlo’s co-billing — his “Guide to Happiness”), and even a movie earlier this year, not to mention an English translation, subway and train PSAs, and an ANA advertising deal. It’s a very influential economic juggernaut that has spawned imitators (there are other “Darling”-types of books connected with different nationalities), and now with “DWG with baby” on board the epic is anticipated to continue for some years to come.

The question for Readers: Is the DWG manga series really working in NJs best interests? As in, as far as is concerned, helping NJ to assimilate, be treated as equals and moreover residents of Japan?

I came out in my last blog entry and said I wasn’t sure it is. Let me give my standpoint and open the floor up for discussion:

First a disclaimer: I knew Oguri Saori personally, stayed with Laszlo and Saori for many days during trips to Tokyo, and even helped Saori with some grunt work (as in erasing pencil lines) in earlier non-DWG works. We were quite close. I have immense respect for her as an illustrator (as I too like to draw) and a storyteller. I think she has earned every bit of her success after developing her talent and investing years of hard work in her craft. Bully for her. May she earn millions more.

But the problem I have had with the DWG series (and I’ve come to this conclusion after many years of watching how DWG appeals to people) is that it is selling “foreigner” as “exotic” and “different” all over again. A friend of mine concurs, seeing the appeal of DWG as “making foreigners into things, even accessories, for collection and display”. I won’t go quite that far. But watching what kind of audience the DWG media machine generally seeks to appeal to (young to middle-aged women who might want to date a foreigner — or are dating/married to a foreigner), I see that they are being encouraged to view DWG as a guide to “foreigners’ minds”. This might be an overstatement, but the title itself (“Gaikokujin”) already sets Tony-chan apart as something perpetually different, moreover something to be studied (and there is enough bad social science in Japan treating NJ as cultural representatives, worthy of petri-dish examination). Regardless of how Saori originally intended, the marketing of these books plays right into this. Tony-chan is cute, sure. Eccentric and interesting, sure. Representative of anything? No.

Imagine if we were to publish a book, “My Darling is a Japanese”, and we had this quirky Japanese man who spoke geeky English and studied all sorts of [insert country here] cultural norms and had all sorts of eccentric tics? Then imagine a publisher pushing it as having insight into how Japanese men (or for that matter, any kind of Asian man) behave within this cultural context? We’d have people buying it if it were funny, sure. But I bet there would be a little more care against pushing it as something representative of anything. Even Borat, for example, was sold as performance art, not fodder for the study of Kazakhstan or foreigners in general.

In sum, I initially liked the idea of DWG as an eye-opener and a softener. But subsequent mutations of the phenomenon have turned it into simply more of the same: Quirky foreigner comes here and still is seen as quirky because he is foreign. Not because he is a quirky person. And people lap it up because they think it offers insights. Doubt that? Read this.

I don’t see it furthering the cause of helping NJ assimilate and being treated as equals and residents, not foreigners. DWG has been a wasted opportunity.

Now let’s open up the floor to discussion. I ask respondents to please try to leave Laszlo’s and my personal relationship out of this (because it’s irrelevant, and the DWG books are not Laszlo’s anyway). Please critique the DWG phenomenon on its own merits. I seriously look forward to seeing what people (especially fans) say. Arudou Debito in Radium Hot Springs, BC uses “gaijin” stereotypes (blond wigs and fake noses) to push their website on TV

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Hi Blog. Reader RN sends this:

September 19, 2010

Hi Debito, Hope all is well. Not sure if I’ve told you this before but I own a Slingbox in Fukuoka which allows me to watch live Japanese television from home here in the USA. This evening I was watching 福岡放送 (FBS) and saw a commercial that was apparently trying to depict two Japanese people feeling like they were in a foreign country while on vacation. To make them look “foreign” they placed large noses and blonde hair on them and made them speak Japanese with a distinct foreign accent. It kind of reminded me of the whole McDonald’s Mr. James deal (not as blatant but still made me think, “What the heck?!”). I was attempting to put together screen shots, etc. for you (as my Slingbox allows me to pause and back up) but I found the commercial on YouTube. The company is ながさき旅ネット [which links to an English site sponsored by the “Nagasaki Prefecture Convention and Visitors Bureau“]. Here is the CM link:

(Now made “private”. New link at

And here are some screen captures.  How nice.  Not.  Arudou Debito




Tangent: American Soap Operas vs. Japanese Houmu Dorama

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Hi Blog.  Completely self-indulgent tangent, but I will relate it back to Japan, never fear.

I watched on a complete whim the very last episode of American soap opera “As the World Turns”.  It’s been going on for 54 years, with some characters apparently going on (according to Entertainment Weekly; it’s not as if I watch this stuff) for nearly forty.  It has even been parodied by the Carol Burnett Show as “As the Stomach Turns” (god I miss Carol’s comedy; what happened to her?); the soap opera has, however, outlasted her.  Until now.

I watched it and felt that the parody was appropriate.  Fascinating was that every scene (this was a final tie-up all the relationships, making them all “happy ever after”, no drama necessary) ended with a hug if not a hug and a kiss.  Every scene, seriously.  As if all conflict, inner or outer, was healed by the power of hugs.  In general, I find the more lower-market (as in, shooting for a larger, “average” audience, real or imagined) the American programs aimed for, the higher the hug frequency.  And the mantra of the ATWT’s last show was that “we all lead normal lives”, real or imagined.  Ewg.  (The commercials, aiming for a female audience of course, stressed family security and warmth of the hearth; it added to this different world of “normalness” I’ve never really been a party to.)  The last scene (there was no retrospective, no cast bows at the end saying goodbye like on some American farewell stage shows) showed the anchoring-character of the doctor leaving his office for retirement, switching off his light, and leaving a spotlight on this cheesy globe (out of place in the dark-panelled room) doing, you guessed it, a long spin…  Just in case you lack comprehension of metaphor.

Contrast that with the “home dramas” of Japan that I’ve managed to sit through.  Wataru Sekai ni Oni Bakari, a couple of Matsuda Seiko throwaway vehicles, and the second Fuyuhiko (Dare ni mo Ienai), which I actually kinda liked.  I haven’t tried the grandmaster of all dramas, Fuyu no Sonata, but that’s Korean (even if it’s probably a bigger hit in Japan).  My point is, if you can get past the interminably loooooong pauses for dramatic effect, Japanese dramas seem to me to have more fighting and less (in fact, NO) hugging, sappy music (especially in Wataru Sekai, my ex-wife’s favorite) to cover up the nastiness of the fight.  I feel there’s a nastier edge, of people never forgiving and alway collecting resentments and slights (sometimes making those slights incredibly contrived!) until somebody blows up like a grenade, and makes unretractable declarations in front of a whole family or crowd of onlookers.  It seems that drama without reconciliation (in such as self-avowedly “conflict-free society”; bullpucky) makes for better “dorama” in Japan.  Don’t know how they end the long-running ones for good (William Penn of the Yomiuri, feel free to comment), ‘cos I never last that long, but I have the feeling there might be a higher body count.

Anyhoo, I find this genre on either side of the Pacific to be pretty unwatchable (which is why my comments above are probably half-baked, apologies; feedback welcome) if only because they’re so cheesy and seem to claim that they’re not.  The only dramas I can watch with any semblance of self-mockery seem to be the Mexican ones (I can’t understand a word, but the over-the-top spitfire diction is hilarious; plus the people in it are way hotter than you get in the well-scrubbed, relatively averagely-beautiful faces found on American soaps).  Oh, and pro wrestling.  Vince McMahon, you are shameless, and we love to hate you.

Hey, this blog is about writing what’s on my mind, and at the moment, that’s it.  End tangent.  Arudou Debito in Calgary

Police notice: “Oreore Sagi” and other theft crimes with NJ crime placed in the proper context

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Hi Blog.  In the same vein as a previous post putting Japanese and NJ crime in context, we have the Hokkaido police issuing a warning (procured from a Sapporo post office ATM area last February) about “Oreore Sagi” (“Hey Mom, it’s me, I need money fast” fraud) and other types of snatch and grab thefts.  As you can read below, we have 1) a shyster phoning some old mom claiming to be her son and asking for emergency funds to be sent to an account, 2) a cash card being used for theft because the owner uses his or her birthday as their PIN number (duh…), 3) people storing their inkans too close to their bankbooks, 4) mysterious people distracting marks so they can snatch their belongings, and 5) call the police immediately if they think they’ve been a victim of crime.

Item 4) below in particular is germane to  It mentions (in passing) that grabbers might say “you dropped some money” or “your clothes are dirty”, or speak to you in a foreign language.  After distracting you, then they run off with your cash or bag.

Fine.  It’s in context of other crimes committed by Japanese.  Compare it with some past NPA posters making foreigners out to be the main culprits, including racist caricatures (which are fortunately avoided above), like this nasty one:

Darkies speaking katakana.  How nice.  More at

I think this new one is a definite improvement.  Perhaps we’re getting listened to.

One more thing:  About this “Oreore Sagi” fraud phenomenon.  One thing I’ve always wondered is, are parents so distant from their children nowadays that they can’t recognize their own child’s voice on the phone?  I don’t understand how they get duped.  Explain, somebody?  Arudou Debito in Calgary

Transit Tangent: Hell to pay at LAX

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Hi Blog.  Now in Calgary after one day (more than that, actually) flying from Narita to Los Angeles, then transferring to San Francisco and finally here.  Redeeming air miles gets you some pretty circuitous flights.

One of the most frequent questions I get is, “Now that you’ve given up your American citizenship for Japanese, what kind of reaction do you get from US Customs with a Japan passport?”

Well, actually, up to now, not all that bad.  First time I went back was in 2005 (I never left Japan once between 2000 and 2005; boy that’s hard core), and that was Newark on the way back to Japan after getting to Montego Bay via the Peace Boat.  (The Jamaicans, btw, were so amused by my passport that they took it to the back room for a quick guffaw amongst themselves before letting me pass.)  US Customs gave me a look, asked me what I did in Japan, how long I would stay, and that was it.  I thanked him for the painlessness of the procedure, and spent the night drinking with Rutgers law school grads Curzon and friends.

Second time was more interesting.  Went to San Jose with my university students in 2006, and the African-American gentleman manning Customs did do a double take, then talked to me in Japanese about where I was going and how long I was staying.  No altercations, no incidents with my students (who didn’t speak much English and were happy to meet that Customs officer), easy peasy.

Other times also, no real issues.  Taking the train from Vancouver to Seattle in October 2006 (I always wonder why American Customs is allowed to have their border check IN VANCOUVER STATION itself — the Americans certainly wouldn’t allow another nation to plant their Customs flags on US soil), the officer actually talked to me for about ten minutes about potential places to eat and see in Japan (he was going there with his Korean wife in a few weeks); had to break off conversation because the train was about to depart.  Other visits in 2007 and 2008 also passed by without interrogation.

But this time was different.  Landing at LAX yesterday, a buff tattooed officer did more than just a few double takes, and, in addition to the regular questions about how long, birthplace, and what I did for a living, wanted to know why I was coming in on a Japanese passport instead of an American one.  “Japan does not allow dual nationality,” I explained.  “So you have no other nationalities?”  No.  “Wait a minute, I’m going to have to talk to my supervisor.  I can’t let you in on this passport if you still are an American by birth.”  I let him check, but I’m not sure if he’d get the concept of an American actually renouncing.  He came back and gave me a smile (rare for these people, as you know), and said, “Anyway, welcome back.  Enjoy your stay.”

It was a nice welcome after all that, especially given the inauspicious beginning of this trip at Narita.  Let me back up a few hours:  When I first checked in at NRT, the ticket clerk asked, “Have you checked in with ESTA?”  What’s that?  “The Electronic System for Traffic Authorization.  Every non-citizen going to America has to check their passports in with the US Government before departure.”  Oh oh.  Er, no.  But I’m only transiting to Canada.  “Doesn’t matter.  Okay, go to the internet terminals down at the end of the hall and check in online.  Should be pretty quick.  You’ve got three hours.”

So we unpacked my computer, got a day pass for online use, and went to the ESTA site.  It requires name, address, passport, date of departure, airline (hell, there are lot of them, and United was far down the alphabetized list) and flight number, a list of questions you should answer “no” to, the address you will be staying at in the US (no option for people transiting).  And oh, fourteen USD for those who qualify for the visa waiver program.  Credit cards accepted.  Humph.  How convenient, for them.

I typed in all the info with middle finger raised and got a screen which said, “AUTHORIZATION PENDING:  …A determination will be available within 72 hours.  Please return to this web site…”  That’s where I began to get pretty antsy.  My passport still has my previous surname (Sugawara) on it, and four pages later an official amendment indicating that my surname is now Arudou.  But when we tried to use the automatic check in, “Sugawara” came up in the scanner, with a button to press saying “Is this the same as the name on your ticket?”  (It wasn’t.)  The MOFA hadn’t gotten around to updating their records after four years, I guess.  Maybe that was what snagged me with ESTA.

I took my computer screen back to the ticket clerk, where he said, “Hm, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that.  Let me try to see… Oh, look, it’s just come up.  You’re cleared.  Here are your boarding passes.  Enjoy your near-heart-attack.”  Okay, I made that last one up.

So if the ticket clerk was Charon piloting me over the River Styx, the tattooed Customs officer at LAX was Cerebus at the gates of Hell.  And LAX was indeed a reasonable facsimile of it.  Consider this:  We have to get our baggage, of course, but they came to a different carousel than the one announced on the plane (and there was no sineage saying that the emerging bags were from our flight).  Then I saw a sign saying “Connecting Flights”, waited twenty minutes in line, and found out that it was actually lost baggage claims.  “No no, you go dere, dat line”, said the clerk.  “But that’s not what your sign says.”  “You go dere, dat line,” was the automated response.  So I joined everyone else in an enormous line to hand in the tickets that say, “We are not bringing in any fruits or vegetables or whatever into the US”, which required an individual passport check again with only two people on duty (took about another 45 minutes).  Then I followed the signs to Connecting Flights, got into another line, and was told after another fifteen minutes that I just needed to hand my bags to “dat guy over dere”, since they were already tagged through to YYC (then why the hell did I have to collect them myself, then?).

Bags stowed, I followed the CF (no longer “Connecting Flights”; more like “Cluster F*ck”) signs, and felt like I had been Barnumed (“Come see the Egress”), as I found myself out on the street!  Some friendly guy came up and asked if I was looking for CFs and directed me down the street and up the stairs.  Then he asked me for a donation (as an Official Airport Volunteer, with embossed name tag) to his orphanage.  I begged off and got upstairs, only to be told by another TSA officer to get into another 45-minute long line to go through Security scanning again!  Finally through that, I was back in the transit zone.  But the LAX lounges looked in a state of permanent decomposition, and the TSA people acted as if they were defending a fortress, and we would be damn lucky if we were let into their compound.  No thanks for our cooperation, no pleases when requesting.  Just, “We’re protecting you, so be grateful.  Or else.”

And what was the Or Else?  I got a glimpse of it when talking to my Calgarian seat neighbor on the last leg of my flights.  I was noticing how Canadian Customs forms for “Are you bringing any fruits in?” allow for families to write their names on one tag (no individual tags lengthening the line), and don’t even require a passport number!  He said, “Yes, my wife and I have separate surnames, and once we got to the head of the line the US Customs guy said we had to have separate tags.  So he crossed her name off and said, ‘Fill this out and get back at the back of the line.’  I reacted and said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding.’  He didn’t like that.  ‘You sassing me?’, he said.  I tried to take it back, but he called for an officer to escort me to an interrogation room where I sat alone.  I couldn’t go anywhere — he had confiscated my passport!  So after twenty minutes or so he came in and asked me the standard questions again about where and how long, then let me go to find my wife on the other side.  I don’t say anything beyond ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’ to these people anymore.”  Wow, way to put travelers in their place.

Not ten hours out of Japan, and I was already missing it.  Customs people (not to mention Narita Cops and their random racial profiling) there can be pretty surly too, but at least things are signposted, and somebody is making an effort to be clear about where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do.  And the transit lounges, although Spartan, are still clean and reasonably airy.  LAX was, in a word, a shithole.

I’ve seen it before at other decrepit airports in the US (try JFK), but what a great impression to leave upon visitors to the US — one of decay.  Enough people have complained about Japanese airports (particularly Narita), and there have been improvements (Haneda, Chitose, Centrair, and KIX are all decent if not downright nice, and even Narita has have gotten better).  Japan takes very seriously its impression overseas and works on it.  America just doesn’t seem to care — hey, you’re lucky if we let you into our fortress.  I’m sure Ellis Island too was a shithole.  But at least you only had to go through it once — it’s not a major international hub for citizens too.  What kind of place takes more than two hours to allow people just to get on a connecting flight, and charges them for the privilege?  One that doesn’t deserve my ever going there again.  I got to YYC, got my bags, and was outside and all done within fifteen minutes.  Oh Canada!

Other American airport horror stories welcome.  Seems like the American airline industry is on a race to the bottom for standards of customer service.  Some airports have already essentially become bus stations.  I look forward to getting back to Japanese standards.  Arudou Debito in Calgary

Tangents in Transit: Visited DisneySea and tried not to enjoy myself, unsuccessfully

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Hi Blog.  I’m currently writing you from LAX from the United Airlines lounge, and am pretty zoned out at the moment what with the jetlag.  Today I’ll write something a little more off-topic and talk about something more cultural:  DisneySea.

I’m not generally one for theme parks.  I’ve been to the occasional traveling show (cue Cher song), visited a neighborhood place a couple of times called Roseland in Canandaigua, NY (with Roaring Twenties/WWII equivalents of video games — “The Feather Dance” and “Shoot Down the Zero!”, anyone?), enjoyed the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (highlights — seeing Eighties bands doing nostalgia tours, and enjoying the video arcade with the crowded corner offering video games like Pac-Man, Gorf, Tron, and Asteroids to the post-Pong generation), gone to Six Flags in a couple of places, and been to Disneys in Anaheim and Orlando.  I find the nickle-and-diming of concessions and the dodginess of the Carny booths kinda get to me.

And when I said to some drinking buddies on Saturday that I would be going to DisneySea with a friend (this would be my first time to go to Tokyo Disneyland), all the guys groaned and said, “Jeez, that’s a place for couples, all sappy’n’shit!”, while their girlfriends all gave a collective sigh of “ii naaa…”  It’s the Happiest Place on the Planet(TM), they kept saying.

But I checked my machismo at the door and went anyway…

… and I have to admit that I enjoyed myself, despite my initial trepidation.

The first thing that began to tickle was Scrooge McDuck’s store (I’m a big fan of Uncle Scrooge, and own the complete set of his comics).  I just had to get some paraphernalia, and a helpful clerk tracked me down a nicknack — the only one on the Disney lot remaining, she said, for me to buy.  For half-price too.  That was indeed within character.  Will treasure it like Scrooge’s Lucky Dime.

Then after a few standard rides (the Tower of Terror is vastly overrated, but the other roller coaster/flight simulators are quite satisfactory), I began to giggle uncontrollably at the groupies crowding around the Disney characters (the actors representing Princess Jasmine and Aladdin were gorgeous human beings) for photo ops.  One twentysomething girl, who dangled more Minnie Mouse dolls from her MM outfit than I have shirts, was in tears of joy meeting a live-costumed Minnie.  As if she was finally meeting her hero at long, long last.  She wouldn’t let go of her.  I wondered if she’d feel quite as starstruck if she was ushered into the costume room to see a whole row of empty Minnie suits, but hell, why burst her bubble?  All the person inside the Minnie costume has to do is go behind a door and shuck the garb, then she won’t be followed home by any stalkers.  I’m sure the staff deals with obsessive people all the time.

But what I really enjoyed about DisneySea — and I find this is true of many places with Japanese on vacation — is that people were really trying hard to have fun.  I noticed this when I was on Peace Boat too, but when Japanese feel they have a license to party (hell, they’ve paid for the privilege), they really party and try not to spoil it for everyone else.  They maintain a pleasant atmosphere as best they can, for after all, when might they have this much fun again?

And that’s how we went from a sticky day to a lovely evening around the Italian-themed lagoon, with all the lights and gondola music winking and couples comingling.  Plus two fireworks shows (impeccably timed with music and sound).  And lots of time to shop, meander, and just enjoy oneself before a nice late closing.  Glad to have experienced it.

Now, as I said, I’m writing to you from LAX, two hours through Customs and Immigration later.  I think it’s the polar opposite of Disneyland.  I’ll write more on that no doubt from Calgary tomorrow morning with my jetlag.

Arudou Debito in Los Angeles

Weekend Tangent: “If you could change one thing about a society…”

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Hi Blog.  In one of my nights out here in Tokyo (we have a lot of deep conversations), friend HippieChris brought up an interesting question:

“If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about a society, what would that be?”

I thought I’d pose that to the blog.  Rules are:  What one thing would you change about Japan, and what one thing would you change about your society of origin, if different?  Two places.  (It’s a useful exercise.  It’s actually surprisingly difficult to find something fundamentally changeworthy about your society of origin, since it’s hard for a fish to see the water in the fishbowl until s/he’s been out of it for awhile.)

I’ll start:

The one thing I’d change about Japan would be the lack of “Do Unto Others…”  Not enough people see a problem as something that warrants attention because it doesn’t affect them.  “Hey, that’s your problem, not mine, so why create more bother for myself by considering it or asking for it to stop?”  The lack of a universal, “this hurts people, so stoppit” has created numerous issues for me in my calls for “Japanese Only” signs to come down, for example.  A common attitude:  “Well, it doesn’t affect me”, meaning they’re not going to be stopped by the sign, has let countless apathetics off the hook of caring.  Even if we try to say, “Well, what if you went overseas and it happened to you?” doesn’t always work either:  They just say, “Well, I’m not going overseas.”  For all the trappings of the “Omoi Yari” society, people here are surprisingly diffident about the plights of others, not walking a mile in their shoes.  Magic-wanding that away would take care of a lot of social ills that affect people who aren’t in the majority.

The one thing I’d change about the United States would be the arrogance.  It’s amazing how much ignorance the “We’re Number One” attitude breeds, shutting Americans off to so many cultural influences.  Worse yet, a common assumption that everyone wants to be American, and that every society is eventually going to be (or want to be) like America, makes people blind to alternative ways of life (not a good thing when you’re trying to promote democracy as a system overseas; that ultimately puts more Americans in harm’s way).  A sobering belief that other people might be happy in their “foreign lifestyles”, even might find objectionable the things that Americans take for granted without much reflection (e.g., food as fuel, judging value in terms of money, seeing success as how rich you are, etc.), might open a few doors to a more self-examined life.

These aren’t all that different, actually.  The undercurrent is the need to understand the values and life choices of others, and treat them with the respect they deserve.  But that’s my magic wand.  How about other Readers?  I’d rather people offer their visions rather than take apart mine (participate in the exercise rather than be a critic, please).  Go for it.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo

Thrice-convicted crooked Dietmember Suzuki Muneo gets his: Supreme Court rejects appeal, jail time looms

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Hi Blog.  Good news.  Former LDP kingpin (now in his own little Hokkaido-based Party of One) Suzuki Muneo, who was twice convicted in lower courts of corruption charges, has just been convicted a third time by having his appeal rejected by the Supreme Court.

This ‘orrible little man has been of concern to for many years now, because he has shown just how some people (one of us Dosanko, no less) are above the law.  His life as case study demonstrates how in Japanese politics, a bent LDP bigwig could manipulate public policy (he was once known as the Shadow Foreign Minister, establishing under-the table kickback relationships — using GOJ discretionary budgets — with places like Russia and Tanzania, putting “Muneo Houses” in places like the Northern Territories (which he claimed were within his electorate in Outback Hokkaido). Not only that, he could get reelected despite repeated convictions just by appealing to a higher court.  See more on Muneo here, and here’s a contemporary essay from 2002 (shortly before his downfall) depicting what shenanigans he was up to in real time.

Well, it only took eight years since his arrest to get this guy properly sentenced, but there you go: That’s how slowly our judiciary moves.  Muneo faces jail time and loss of Diet seat. Good. Sadly, we’re bound to see this guy turn up again like a bent yen coin in our pocket. He’ll be incarcerated for a couple of years, wait out his five-year ban on running again, and no doubt throw his hat back in the ring before he hits his seventieth birthday. Hokkaido people can be that desperate to elect this man (one of the most charismatic Japanese politicians I’ve ever met) and he’ll be back protesting the rapaciousness of the Public Prosecutor. Article excerpt from the Japan Times follows. Arudou Debito in Tokyo


The Japan Times: Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010
Lawmaker Suzuki loses bribery appeal
Supreme Court decision means loss of Diet seat and prison time
Compiled from Kyodo, Staff report

The Supreme Court has turned down an appeal by Lower House member Muneo Suzuki to overturn a bribery conviction, meaning he will likely lose his Diet seat and go to prison.

The decision, which took effect Tuesday and was made public Wednesday, came nearly six years after the Tokyo District Court handed Suzuki a two-year prison term and an ¥11 million fine in November 2004 for four counts, including taking bribes from two Hokkaido companies. The Tokyo High Court upheld the ruling in February 2008.

Suzuki, 62, said Wednesday he will “keep fighting” in the courts, reiterating that he never took a bribe.

“Under any environment, I will keep fighting against the power of prosecutors,” he said…

Rest at

Meeting with US Embassy Tokyo Sept. 9, 2010 regarding State Dept. Country Reports on Human Rights

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Hello Blog. Yesterday three friends and I visited the US Embassy in Tokyo to discuss employment and other issues of discrimination in Japan. The consular official who received us, a Mr Thomas Whitney, kindly gave us 90 minutes to give as much information as we liked for consideration in the US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, an annual report given by the USG on individual countries that has in past years included information on even the Otaru Onsens Case (thanks). What follows are the summaries provided in advance of what we would say:


Workplace Apartheid in Japan
by Louis Carlet
Executive President
Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (“Tozen”)
See also Wikipedia article for Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union

Segregation of the workplace is standard practice in Japan, with open discrimination against foreigners. The following focuses on the conditions of foreign teachers, including US citizens.

Three types of foreign teachers predominate: English conversation, public and private school teachers and university teachers. All three groups are regularly kept out of Japan’s public health and pension system (“shakai hoken”) despite clear laws requiring enrollment.

This leads to serious problems in the event of sickness, injury or retirement. Hospitals provide inferior or no care to patients outside the system. Employees are deprived of sick pay guaranteed by the government Retirees find themselves with no pension benefits after decades of service.

Under pressure from unions and human rights groups to address the non-enrollment crisis in conversation schools, the Social Insurance Agence issued an openly discriminatory directive on May 19, 2005 targeting “foreign teachers.” By making it more difficult to enroll in shakai hoken, the SIA encouraged illegal non-enrollment of foreign teachers.

ALTs meanwhile are caught up in a system of fake-outsourcing (giso ukeoi). Schools outsource teaching of English to private firms offering the lowest bid. This results in a race to the bottom as well as non-enrollment in shakai hoken and unemployment insurance. Schools then shirk all employment responsibilty in the event problems arise.

ALT morale is extremely low as they are treated far worse than Japanese teachers literally standing next to them at the podium.

Finally, university teachers are openly given contracts “for foreigners” that lack all benefits that most teachers have. They receive a high per-class wage but nothing for work outside of class. Further, many foreign teachers are told they must leave after three, five or nine years, apparently because foreigners tend to lose their just-off-the-boat freshness.

Americans and other foreigners who teach in Japan find it nearly impossible to procure a steady job with normal benefits that Japanese teachers enjoy. The government refuses to take the action needed to move toward equality.



In 1992 I was hired by the University of Tokyo, the premier university of Japan, as the sole American lecturer. My contract specified exactly that I was hired as a citizen of the USA. My contract was a yearly one which was renewed 17 times.

I inquired about the pension situation, as was informed that at the end of 17 years of service, I would be eligible for an annuity funded by the government of Japan.

During 17 years I carried out my duties, taught pro bono several graduate courses, and represented the university in over ten publications and 8 international conferences as well as teaching courses with specific American content.

In 2005 I was informed that I would not be getting the annuity. It was allocated in a random fashion to five other nationals, myself and my Austrian colleague not being deemed eligible for the annuity. There were no clear criteria on why certain nationals received the annuity and certain other nationals did not. This in itself constituted a clear discrimination based on the Japanese Labor Standards.

I continued working until 2010 at the university and completed the required 17 years.

My main issue is not a specific labor issue (this is being addressed through a union), but the completely discriminatory manner in which certain nationals were arbitrarily excluded from the annuity due to them. The exclusion by nationality constitutes a grave human rights violation based on both international law and Japanese law. Of course, it was discriminataion in that as a foreigner I was not placed in an obligatory national pension scheme to start with.

This is a very brief summary.
Frances Fister-Stoga



The Japanese Government (GOJ) has a history of not abiding by its treaty obligations. With “Japanese Only” signs and rules in businesses nationwide (despite unlawfulness under both the Japanese Constitution and the UN CERD) and clear and present inequality towards non-Japanese in both the workplace and in protections under the law, Japan still has no national law with penalties against racial discrimination. The GOJ continues to make arguments to the UN against adopting one (i.e., freedom of speech and the efficacy of the Japanese judiciary for redress), while abuses towards non-Japanese and ethnically-diverse Japanese worsen (e.g., new and overt examples of hate speech and xenophobia, racist statements by politicians and media, even targeting of naturalized citizens for suspicion and exclusion). The GOJ has had more than a decade (having effected the CERD in 1996) to make legislative attempts to rectify this system, and its negligence presents ill precedent for abiding under future treaty signings (such as the Hague Convention on Child Abductions). Friends must help friends break bad habits, and gentle international pressure to assist the GOJ under a new reformist administration move in the right direction is a good thing for all concerned.

Arudou Debito

NB: Since our focus was on employment issues, I cited my experiences with TADD and Ambassador Mondale back in 1995 (See Ivan Hall CARTELS OF THE MIND), and the systematic full-time contracting of NJ in academia as witnessed through the Blacklist of Japanese Universities. I also mentioned that the GOJ has constantly refused attempts to release hard numbers on how many NJ academics in Japan have contracts vs tenure compared to Japanese academics getting contracts vs tenure (see more on this Academic Apartheid here). I also tied everyone’s presentations at the end with a request for USG visits to the Ministries of Education and Labor (following on Mondale’s precedent), to express awareness of the problem and the desire for proper enforcement of existing labor laws (if not the creation of a law against racial discrimination).  Finally, I gave Mr Whitney the FRANCA handouts I gave the United Nations last March regarding general issues of discrimination in Japan (here and here).


Our fourth friend, Tokyo CalBear, talked about his experiences with arbitrary dismissals at the workplace and child abductions. I have no provided summary.

We’ll see how this comes out in next year’s State Department Country Report. Our thanks to the US Embassy Japan for hearing us out. Arudou Debito in Tokyo

Japan Times column on JET Programme goes viral: Most-read article for two days and counting

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Hi Blog. On Tuesday my latest Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column came out on the JET Programme, where I argued that the program, under review for cuts or abolition, should not be abolished because it is doing something meaningful, moreover is getting a bad rap for Japan’s low language ability under an already psychotic Eigo Kyouiku system (read the article as yesterday’s blog entry or up at the Japan Times at

Well, the news is that the article has gone viral.  According to the Japan Times’ top-ten ranking of most-read articles (updated every three hours for three-hour segments of the day, see it on any page of the JT, right-hand column, in a tab above the website poll), the article was #1 all day on Tuesday, #2 most of the day Wednesday, and it bounced back UP to #1 this morning.

AFAIK this has never happened before to my JT articles, and I’ve been writing for the JT since 2002 with a monthly column since 2008.  Although I’ve hit #1 for stretches before, few articles authored by anyone stay at the top for this long.  I want to thank everyone who took the time to read it moreover passed it on to others.  Here’s hoping it adds constructively to the debate.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column: ‘Don’t blame JET for Japan’s bad English”

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Hi Blog. Here it is, for discussion. I’ll be on the road from today for the next month, but will try to be online as much as possible to approve your comments. Arudou Debito in Sapporo



The Japan Times Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010
Don’t blame JET for Japan’s poor English


The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, touted as the world’s largest cultural exchange scheme, has brought thousands of non-Japanese into the country to teach at local boards of education. These days, with many government programs being told to justify their existence, a debate is raging over whether JET should be left as is, cut or abolished entirely.

Essentially, the two main camps argue: a) keep JET, because it gives outback schools more contact with “foreign culture” (moreover, it gives Japan a means of projecting “soft power” abroad); versus b) cut or abolish JET — it’s wasteful, bringing over generally untrained and sometimes unprofessional kids, and offers no measurable benefit (see Japan’s bottom-feeding TOEFL test scores in Asia). (see page 10)

The debate, however, needs to consider: 1) JET’s misconstrued mandate, and 2) Japan’s psychotic — yes, psychotic — system of language teaching.

First, when critics point to Japan’s bad English, bear in mind that ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction was not JET’s foremost aim. According to JET’s official goals in both English and Japanese:

“The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme aims to promote grass roots internationalisation at the local level by inviting young overseas graduates to assist in international exchange and foreign language education in local governments, boards of education and elementary, junior and senior high schools throughout Japan. It seeks to foster ties between Japanese citizens (mainly youth) and JET participants at the person-to-person level.”
(Same in Japanese: JETプログラムは主に海外の青年を招致することによって、地方自治体、教育委員会、及び日本全国の小・中・高等学校で、国際交流と外国語教育を支援し、地域レベルでの草の根の国際化を推進することを目的としています。個人レベルでの日本人(主に若者)とJET参加者の国際交流の場を提供しています。

Thus the “E” in JET does not stand for “English”; it stands for “exchange.” So when the goal is more “fostering ties,” we get into squidgy issues of “soft power.” Like “art appreciation” (view an artwork, exclaim “I appreciate it” and you pass the class), just putting people together — regardless of whether there is any measurable outcome (e.g., test scores, pen pals, babies) — is an “exchange.” Seat youths next to each other and watch them stare. Goal accomplished.

Under a mandate this vague, what are JET teachers here to do? Teach a language? The majority of JETs aren’t formally trained to be language teachers, and even if they were, it’s unclear what they should be doing in class because — and I quote JET officials — “every situation is different.” Exchange culture? Uhh . . . where to start?

But the bigger point is that Japan’s low English level is not the JET program’s fault. So whose fault is it? Well, after more than two decades’ experience in the industry, I posit that language teaching in Japan suffers from a severe case of group psychosis.

Start with the typical Japanese eigo classroom environment: Sensei clacks away at the chalkboard teaching English as if it were Latin. You get some pronunciation help, but mostly tutelage is in grammar, grammar, grammar — since that is the aspect most easily measurable through tests.

Now add the back-beat of Japan’s crappy social science: Sensei and textbooks reinforce an image that speaking to foreigners is like a) speaking to a separate breed of human or animal, where “everything is different from us” and “we must study people as things,” or b) attending an international summit, where both sides are cultural emissaries introducing allegedly unique aspects of their societies. This puts enormous pressure on students to represent something and perform as if on a stage (instead of seeing communication as a simple interaction like, say, passing the salt).

Moreover, thanks to the tendency here towards rote-learning perfectionism, mistakes are greeted with ridicule and shame. Yet mistakes are inevitable. It hardly needs saying, but communication is not algebra, with people behaving like numbers generating correct answers. Languages are illogical, have dialects and embellishments, and evolve to the point where grammatical structures that were once incorrect (such as making “gift” and “friend” into verbs) are no longer such. Just when, by George, you think you’ve got it, up pop exceptions — and Charlie Brown gets laughed back to his desk.

Then consider all the pressure on the Japanese teacher, who’s grown from scared student to scarred Sensei. The obvious problem with him teaching English like Latin comes when an actual Roman shows up (in this case thanks to JET) and speaks at variance with Sensei, giving students a snickering revenge as a defensive Sensei flubs his lines. So the incentive becomes “make sure native speakers only work within the qualification (and comfort) level of Sensei” — meaning that instead of teaching content, genki JETs provide comic relief and make the class “fun.” Once the fun is over, however, we wheel the human tape recorder out of the classroom and get back to passing tests.

Ah, well. Sensei went through the eigo boot camp of belittlement and embarrassment. So did his sensei. So that’s what gets used on the next crop of gakusei. Then the system becomes generational.

And pathological. What kind of school subject involves hectoring its students? Obviously one improperly taught. If you teach adults, take a survey of your own class (I do every year) and you’ll find that a majority of students fear, if not loathe, English. Many would be perfectly happy never again dealing with the language — or the people who might speak it. Thus eigo as an educational practice is actually fostering antisocial behavior.

Now bring in the vicious circle: “We Japanese can’t speak English.” Many Japanese do survive eigo boot camp, enjoy English, and get good at it. They pop up occasionally as NHK anchors doing overseas interviews, or as celebrities with overseas experience. Yet where are the mentors, the templates, who can make English proficiency look possible? Stifled. Ever notice how the Japanese media keeps voicing over Japanese when they speak English proficiently, or picking apart their performance for comic value? Because eigo is not supposed to be easy — so throw up some hurdles if there’s any threat of it appearing so.

Conclusion: Better to remain shy and meekly say that learning a foreign language is too difficult, so everyone feels less inadequate. The eikaiwa schools love it, making a mint out of the unconfident who, convinced they’ll never overcome the barriers, settle for being “permanent beginners.”

The point is, JET cannot fix — in fact, was never entrusted with fixing — Japan’s fundamental mindset toward language study: the dysfunctional dynamic that forces people to hate learning a language, then exonerates them by saying nobody can learn it anyway. Untangling that would be a tall order even for trained professionals. But force that upon a JET, who comes here with an unclear mandate, has no control over class, and has a contract of only a few years before experience deepens? TOEFL scores will not budge.

For the record, this columnist (who was never a JET) is still a fan of the program. For all its flaws, JET has indeed done something important: helped Japanese “get used to” foreigners. (This shouldn’t be necessary, but again, given the state of social science in Japan, blatantly fueled by stereotypes, it was probably inevitable.)

Compared to 25 years ago — and I know this because I have lived the duration in backwater Japan — there are significantly fewer stares and fingers pointed at foreigners than before. Good. Get rid of JET, however, and the eigo psychosis will force things back to the way it was, with cries of “Gaijin da!” from behind garden fences.

In sum, keep the JET program, even if it involves some cuts and tweaks. Calling for its abolition is counterproductive. Demanding that it work magic — by making Japanese enjoy learning English — is sadly beyond anyone’s mandate.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to

Keishicho Kouhou on organized crime in Japan: Places NJ gangs in context for a change

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Hi Blog.  Got this from friend MS yesterday, a monthly publication from the Tokyo Police letting us know what they’re up to regarding fighting crime.  In this case, the Yakuza.  Have a look:

I’m happier with this than usual.  Yes, we have the regular report on the evils that foreign criminals get up to.  But this time, it’s not a major focus, and it’s within a context of all the other evils that Japanese criminals get up to.

Fine.  Go get the bad guys.  Just don’t make it seem the bad guys are bad because they are foreign.  As the past NPA notices have taken great pains (and taxpayer outlay) to make clear (archive here at

This is an improvement.  It provides context as well as content.  And the appropriate weight.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Sendaiben digs deeper on those Narita Airport racially-profiling Instant NPA Checkpoints

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog. Just got this this morning from friend Sendaiben, about his latest experience with Narita Cops and their racially-profiling ways. Self explanatory, looks like the J-cops are getting free training at the expense of NJ bystanders for being visible while foreign. Have a read. More on this topic previously on here. Debito


From: Sendaiben
Date: September 5, 2010

Flying out of Narita on September 5th, I had a few hours to kill after connecting from Sendai. I was alone, reading on a bench in the restaurant area. After about 20 minutes, a young and very pleasant policeman came up and asked to see my passport in passable English. I replied in Japanese, and we had an interesting conversation. Unfortunately I was mentally unprepared for all of this, so gave him my passport from which he noted down all the details. I refused to provide a contact phone number, however.

I have to emphasise that he was very pleasant throughout, and we had a friendly conversation. He was from Akita, seconded to Narita for two years (it seems the Narita police are drawn from all over the country). I mentioned several times that as a long-term resident I loved Japan but was uncomfortable being singled out for special attention like this due to my appearance. He sympathised and said that it also made him uncomfortable.

Some important points:

1. It seems that the whole exercise is voluntary, something he mentioned when I refused to provide the phone number.

2. I reminded him of the law on the management of personal information, but he was unable to tell me why they needed my passport details or how long they would be kept on file.

3. He claimed it was a random check but that they asked ‘people who seemed foreign’. I asked him to ask some Asian people next, and he said he would 🙂

The whole thing seemed like a training exercise, down to the silent sempai observing from ten metres away.

The most important thing I got out of this is that these checks may well be voluntary. I am therefore going to refuse (politely) to cooperate next time, and see what happens. I guess in a worst-case scenario they could ask to check my ARC, but I would then not allow them to write anything down.


M-Net Magazine publishes FRANCA March 2010 report to UN Rapporteur in Japanese

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog. Here is my FRANCA report last March delivered to UN Rapporteur Jorge Bustamante, rendered into Japanese (English original from here). Arudou Debito in Sapporo

The 2010 Japan Census from October 1: Flash GOJ multilingual site explaining what it’s all about

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog. Japan is gearing up to take another big Census of the population come October. This time, fortunately, we have a flash site explaining what it’s all about in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, and English:

(Note how turdski Pakkun has become the Token White guy…)

Jolly decent of the GOJ to make the effort to explain what’s going on, if in prime Japanicana schoolteacher style.

As for the Census itself. I’ve always had a problem about it not measuring people (using optional questions) about their ethnicity (minzoku). Up until now, respondents were always asked about their nationality (kokuseki), never their roots, meaning someone like me can’t indicate anywhere that I’m ethnically an American-Japanese (amerika kei nihonjin).  But I see that as political:  This way Japan in government statistics officially remains the nondiverse Monocultural Society, with only 1.6% or so of the population as “foreign”.  If anyone sees that being handled differently this time, please let us know.  Not a lot of time right now to tool around the site.  Thanks.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

NYT: “New Dissent in Japan Is Loudly Anti-Foreign”

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog.  Here’s an article that has been forwarded me by quite a few people.  Pretty good job, and it looks like a few of the sources for the hate speech might have come from  Good.  Shine a light on these horrible little men.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


New Dissent in Japan Is Loudly Anti-Foreign
New York Times August 28, 2010, Courtesy of lots and lots of people

KYOTO, Japan — The demonstrators appeared one day in December, just as children at an elementary school for ethnic Koreans were cleaning up for lunch. The group of about a dozen Japanese men gathered in front of the school gate, using bullhorns to call the students cockroaches and Korean spies.

Inside, the panicked students and teachers huddled in their classrooms, singing loudly to drown out the insults, as parents and eventually police officers blocked the protesters’ entry.

The December episode was the first in a series of demonstrations at the Kyoto No. 1 Korean Elementary School that shocked conflict-averse Japan, where even political protesters on the radical fringes are expected to avoid embroiling regular citizens, much less children. Responding to public outrage, the police arrested four of the protesters this month on charges of damaging the school’s reputation.

More significantly, the protests also signaled the emergence here of a new type of ultranationalist group. The groups are openly anti-foreign in their message, and unafraid to win attention by holding unruly street demonstrations.

Since first appearing last year, their protests have been directed at not only Japan’s half million ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other Asian workers, Christian churchgoers and even Westerners in Halloween costumes. In the latter case, a few dozen angrily shouting demonstrators followed around revelers waving placards that said, “This is not a white country.”

Local news media have dubbed these groups the Net far right, because they are loosely organized via the Internet, and gather together only for demonstrations. At other times, they are a virtual community that maintains its own Web sites to announce the times and places of protests, swap information and post video recordings of their demonstrations.

While these groups remain a small if noisy fringe element here, they have won growing attention as an alarming side effect of Japan’s long economic and political decline. Most of their members appear to be young men, many of whom hold the low-paying part-time or contract jobs that have proliferated in Japan in recent years.

Though some here compare these groups to neo-Nazis, sociologists say that they are different because they lack an aggressive ideology of racial supremacy, and have so far been careful to draw the line at violence. There have been no reports of injuries, or violence beyond pushing and shouting. Rather, the Net right’s main purpose seems to be venting frustration, both about Japan’s diminished stature and in their own personal economic difficulties.

“These are men who feel disenfranchised in their own society,” said Kensuke Suzuki, a sociology professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. “They are looking for someone to blame, and foreigners are the most obvious target.”

They are also different from Japan’s existing ultranationalist groups, which are a common sight even today in Tokyo, wearing paramilitary uniforms and riding around in ominous black trucks with loudspeakers that blare martial music.

This traditional far right, which has roots going back to at least the 1930s rise of militarism in Japan, is now a tacitly accepted part of the conservative political establishment here. Sociologists describe them as serving as a sort of unofficial mechanism for enforcing conformity in postwar Japan, singling out Japanese who were seen as straying too far to the left, or other groups that anger them, such as embassies of countries with whom Japan has territorial disputes.

Members of these old-line rightist groups have been quick to distance themselves from the Net right, which they dismiss as amateurish rabble-rousers.

“These new groups are not patriots but attention-seekers,” said Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser of the Issuikai, a well-known far-right group with 100 members and a fleet of sound trucks.

But in a sign of changing times here, Mr. Suzuki also admitted that the Net right has grown at a time when traditional ultranationalist groups like his own have been shrinking. Mr. Suzuki said the number of old-style rightists has fallen to about 12,000, one-tenth the size of their 1960s’ peak.

No such estimates exist for the size of the new Net right. However, the largest group appears to be the cumbersomely named Citizens Group That Will Not Forgive Special Privileges for Koreans in Japan, known here by its Japanese abbreviation, the Zaitokukai, which has some 9,000 members.

The Zaitokukai gained notoriety last year when it staged noisy protests at the home and junior high school of a 14-year-old Philippine girl, demanding her deportation after her parents were sent home for overstaying their visas. More recently, the Zaitokukai picketed theaters showing “The Cove,” an American documentary about dolphin hunting here that rightists branded as anti-Japanese.

In interviews, members of the Zaitokukai and other groups blamed foreigners, particularly Koreans and Chinese, for Japan’s growing crime and unemployment, and also for what they called their nation’s lack of respect on the world stage. Many seemed to embrace conspiracy theories taken from the Internet that China or the United States were plotting to undermine Japan.

“Japan has a shrinking pie,” said Masaru Ota, 37, a medical equipment salesman who headed the local chapter of the Zaitokukai in Omiya, a Tokyo suburb. “Should we be sharing it with foreigners at a time when Japanese are suffering?”

While the Zaitokukai has grown rapidly since it was started three and a half years ago with just 25 members, it is still largely run by its founder and president, a 38-year-old tax accountant who goes by the assumed name of Makoto Sakurai. Mr. Sakurai leads the group from his tiny office in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district, where he taps out announcements and other postings on his personal computer.

Mr. Sakurai says the group is not racist, and rejected the comparison with neo-Nazis. Instead, he said he had modeled his group after another overseas political movement, the Tea Party in the United States. He said he had studied videos of Tea Party protests, and shared with the Tea Party an angry sense that his nation had gone in the wrong direction because it had fallen into the hands of leftist politicians, liberal media as well as foreigners.

“They have made Japan powerless to stand up to China and Korea,” said Mr. Sakurai, who refused to give his real name.

Mr. Sakurai admitted that the group’s tactics had shocked many Japanese, but said they needed to win attention. He also defended the protests at the Korean school in Kyoto as justified to oppose the school’s use of a nearby public park, which he said rightfully belonged to Japanese children.

Teachers and parents at the school called that a flimsy excuse to vent what amounted to racist rage. They said the protests had left them and their children fearful.

“If Japan doesn’t do something to stop this hate language,” said Park Chung-ha, 43, who heads the school’s mothers association, “where will it lead to next?”