Happy New Year 2017 from Debito.org!

Hi Blog. Sorry for the silence.  I was just taking some time off cold turkey from social media.  Everyone should try it sometime.

With this last day of the year on this side of the Dateline, and a new year already starting on the other, I just wanted to wish all Debito.org Readers a Happy New Year.   I’d like to believe that 2017 will be better than 2016, but frankly I’m not all that optimistic at the moment.   I hope you are.

If you’re wondering about my annual Japan Times countdown of the Top Ten Human Rights Issues as the affected NJ in Japan, it’s out next week, Jan 9, as this year’s offering falls on a press holiday.

Again, happiness and health to all!  Debito

Book “Embedded Racism”, acclaimed as “important, courageous and challenging”, now discounted to $34.99 if bought through publisher directly, using promo code LEX30AUTH16

Books, eBooks, and more from Dr. ARUDOU, Debito (click on icon):
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Hi Blog. My book “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination“, acclaimed by prominent Japan Scholar Tessa Morris-Suzuki as “important, courageous and challenging“, by the Pacific Affairs as “a timely and important contribution to social and scholarly debates about racial discrimination in Japan“, and by the Japan Studies Association of Canada as “an important contribution to geography, cultural and area studies“, has been discounted 30% for a limited time to $34.99 in paperback and Kindle if bought through my publisher (Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield) directly.

Go to https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498513906/Embedded-Racism-Japan’s-Visible-Minorities-and-Racial-Discrimination and use promo code LEX30AUTH16. (Japan residents have reported getting the book in about a week for $40 including quick shipping.)

More information and reviews on the book at http://www.debito.org/embeddedracism.html.

Download a book flyer and order form at http://www.debito.org/EmbeddedRacismPaperbackflyer.pdf

More than 100 of the world’s major research libraries (including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, Columbia…) have in its first year of publication made “Embedded Racism” part of their collections (according to WorldCat).  Add it to yours!

Thanks very much as always for reading! Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

BLOG BIZ: Debito.org’s facelift; outstanding issues with Index Page and appearance on mobile devices

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Hi Blog.  At the end of Debito.org’s 10th Anniversary as a blog (and 20th Anniversary as a website archive), here’s the best Christmas gift ever:  a facelift and a cleanup!  (Thanks for that!)

You probably noticed how slowly Debito.org loaded in recent months.  That was because we had issues of memory and backlog buildup over a decade (to the tune of 55GB of it), as well as a customized WordPress theme that was so obsolete it alone took fifteen seconds to load!

That’s why the revamp of the site’s appearance. Of course, we kept the “Debito.org” typeface banner (that’s always been there, however crufty), but hopefully the site is easier to load and read now.

We are still having issues with (beware, neophyte Geek Speak follows):

  1. Reordering widgets for appearance on mobile devices — on cellphones and tablets the contents of the left sidebar appear, then the blog excerpts, then the right sidebar.  I’ve tried to figure out to reorder them so the blog excerpts appear at the top, so if anyone could steer me in the right direction, I’ll get right on it.
  2. Creating an Index Page that has post excerpts that lead to entire full-text single posts.  Until a short time ago, we had the Index Page with excerpts that led to excerpt-text only single posts.  I’ve fixed it so that all the contents are visible, but alas, they’re all visible on the Index Page too.  I’ll have to create a “child theme” shortly to straighten that out.

Meanwhile, Happy Holidays to all Debito.org Readers!  My next Japan Times column, my annual roundup of the Top Ten Human Rights Issues of 2016, will be out on January 9, 2017.  Enjoy!  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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

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Tangent: Michener’s “Presidential Lottery” (1969) on dangerous US Electoral College

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Hi Blog. On this fateful day in American history, where an utterly unqualified person has just been chosen by the US Electoral College to be the next POTUS, I went to the local library to take out one of James Michener‘s least-read books, “Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in Our Electoral System” (Random House, 1969).  The points he raised back then are just as important now, if not more so.

The opening paragraphs, as always, pull you right in:

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

“On election day 1968 the United States once again played a reckless game with its destiny.  Acting as if it were immune to catastrophe, we conducted one more Presidential election in accordance with rules that were outmoded and inane.  This time we were lucky.  Next time we might not be.  Next time we could wreck our country.

“The dangerous game we play is this.  We preserve a system of electing a President which contains so many built-in pitfalls that sooner or later it is bound to destroy us.  The system has three major weaknesses.  It places the legal responsibility for choosing a President in the hands of an Electoral College, whose members no one knows and who are not bound to vote the way their state votes.  If the Electoral College does not produce a majority vote for some candidate, the election is thrown into the House of Representatives, where anything can happen.  And it is quite possible that the man who wins the largest popular vote across the nation will not be chosen President, with all the turmoil that this might cause.

“In 1823 Thomas Jefferson, who as we shall see had long and painful experience with this incredible system, described it as, ‘The most dangerous blot on our Constitution, and one which some unlucky chance will some day hit.’  Today the danger is more grave than when Jefferson put his finger on it.” (3-4)

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

The book goes on to describe Michener’s own experience as a chosen Electoral College member in his state of Pennsylvania, how the process worked for him, and how the tumultuous 1968 Presidential Campaign (Nixon (R) vs. Humphrey (D) vs. George Wallace (I)) could have caused the chaos he described.  And for those who remember, Alabama Governor Wallace was that bigot who famously stood in front of the University of Alabama and other school zones in protest of the forcible integration of African-Americans into the segregated South.

As Michener describes in his book, the “winner take all” nature of the Electoral College meant that all Wallace would have had to do is secure 67 Electoral College votes, and neither Nixon nor Humphrey (locked in a close race) would have secured the 270 minimum votes for the Presidency.  Then Wallace could assign his votes as he pleased, saying to either candidate, “What will you give me for my votes?”  In essence, one would have been able to choose the next President.

Fortunately, that did not come to pass, as Wallace wound up not doing that well.  And this time, it’s not a matter of Electoral College voters refusing to follow state electoral outcomes, but rather an election this time where yet again, another popular vote victory is stymied by the Electoral College (the last one being in 2000, with Bush vs. Gore).  And there, by dint of the outcomes in few counties in a few battleground states (again, thanks to the “winner take all” nature of the vote, not votes assigned as a proportion of the vote), one man can lose overall by nearly three million votes and still win.

Michener goes on in his book to talk about what happens in the rare cases when the Electoral College is inconclusive, where the vote goes to the House of Representatives; the debacle there pitted American historical icon Thomas Jefferson vs. Aaron Burr, a man so amoral (Michener:  “a man without principle …mercurial and undependable… who would later be charged with betrayal of his nation” (27, 30)) that he was essentially the Donald Trump of his day.  Jefferson won, but after the House had more than 30 times voting.  Again, the right man was chosen, so the Electoral College got let off the hook.

With today’s result, I bet that Michener would be as dismayed to see what little effect the protests about electors “voting their conscience” nationwide had in the end.  As Trump himself said, the election was rigged.  Perhaps Michener would say that the dangerous vestige of the Electoral College has finally managed to create the catastrophe.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

=========================
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Kyodo: Japan enacts law to prevent abuse of foreign “Trainees”. Unclear how it’ll be enforced.

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Hi Blog. Here’s a little something that may or may not matter in future. As the Abe Administration seeks to expand the NJ “Trainee” sweatshop and slave-labor program out of the construction, manufacturing, agriculture and fishery industries and into nursing (not to mention the “special economic zones” so that foreigners with college degrees and Japanese language ability will have the privilege of tilling land and weeding crops on Japanese farms; seriously), we finally have a law to prevent the widespread abuses of NJ not covered by labor laws.  Abuses so widespread, as the article says below, that “about 70 percent of some 5,200 companies and organizations that accepted trainees last year were found to have violated laws,” according to the GOJ.  That’s quite a stat.

Now will this law be enforced? Remains to be seen.  I’m not sure how this governmental “body to carry out on-site inspections at companies and organizations using the program and offer counseling services for participating workers” will work in practice.  We’ve already seen how ineffectual other human-rights organs for “counseling” (such as the Ministry of Justice’s Potemkin Bureau of Human Rights) are in Japan.  And there are all manner of institutionalized incentives (and decades of established practice) for people to turn blind eyes.  After all, the only ones being hurt by this slavery program are foreigners, and they can just go back home if they don’t like it.  (Except that they can’t.)  Debito.org will keep you posted on developments. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

////////////////////////////////////////
Japan enacts law to prevent abuse of foreign trainees
KYODO/JAPAN TIMES
NOV 18, 2016
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/11/18/national/japan-enacts-law-prevent-abuse-foreign-trainees/

In an effort to prevent human rights abuses in the workplace, a law was enacted Friday to improve supervision of companies that accept foreign workers under a government program.

The move comes after the government decided recently to include nursing care in the list of industries in which foreign trainees can work under the Technical Intern Training Program, following the related legislation’s passage through the Upper House.

The change is expected to lead to an increase in the number of foreigners working as nursing caregivers in Japan, where demand for such services is expected to grow as the population grays.

Japan introduced the training program for foreign nationals in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. It currently covers 74 job categories chiefly in construction, manufacturing, agriculture and fishery industries.

But the scheme has faced charges both within and outside Japan that it is a cover for importing cheap labor. There have been reports of harsh working conditions, including illegally long work hours and nonpayment of wages.

To tackle such illicit handling of foreign trainees, Japan will establish a body to carry out on-site inspections at companies and organizations using the program and offer counseling services for participating workers.

Since August, the Justice Ministry has instructed more than 200 mediator groups to stop using phrases such as “securing labor” in their advertisements calling on companies to accept foreign trainees. The government says the mediator groups bear the task of making sure the firms are accepting the trainees to transfer technical skills and make international contributions.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, about 70 percent of some 5,200 companies and organizations that accepted trainees last year were found to have violated laws, with offenses including having trainees work illegally long hours.

A 26-year-old Vietnamese man who is trained for machinery use in Gifu Prefecture said some of his friends left companies after suffering violence from Japanese employees.

Under the new law, penalties will be imposed to ban employers from confiscating foreign trainees’ passports against their will and restricting their movements.

Companies that are judged as treating foreign trainees fairly will be allowed to have them work for up to five years, instead of the currently allowed three-year maximum.

When nursing care services are encompassed by the training program, it will be the first time that foreign trainees will be engaged in offering services directly to other people.

The government is planning to require the trainees to have a certain level of Japanese language skills to prevent communication problems when dealing with co-workers and people in their care.
ENDS

==============================
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CR on how Japan’s blue-chip companies (Canon) get around new Labor Contract Law: Special temp job statuses and capped contracts for NJ

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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 2003 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

——————————————–

From: CR
Date: December 8, 2016
Hi Debito,

Long-time reader, few-times commenter. I’m contacting you because I think this would be a good follow-up to your post about the 5-year massacre issue.

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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Japan Times: “Riding while foreign on JR Kyushu can be a costly business” (re train ticket discounts in Japanese only)

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Hi Blog.  First have a read of this article, and then I’ll comment:

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Riding while foreign on JR Kyushu can be a costly business
BY LOUISE GEORGE KITTAKA
The Japan Times Community Page, DEC 4, 2016
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/12/04/how-tos/riding-foreign-jr-kyushu-can-costly-business/

The last column of the year starts off with a problem regarding buying JR train tickets in Kyushu. Reader A writes:

I thought you might be interested in this issue that I encountered when using an automatic ticket machine in Hakata Station, Fukuoka.

Because I don’t read Japanese so well, I changed the machine to English language. As I went through the menu I could not select the “nimai-kippu” (two tickets of the same type) option, which offers a discount. The only options I had were two individual tickets — if I recall correctly the price difference was ¥2,000. I canceled the sale and went to the counter and had a conversation with the clerk, who confirmed that once English is selected, the cheaper two-ticket option wouldn’t be offered.

I was thinking how many hundreds of thousands of yen have been taken from people simply because they select English and don’t happen to know about the cheaper ticket options. My wife actually emailed JR Kyushu, but just got back a standard, “Thank you for your email.”

I spoke to a representative in JR Kyushu’s PR department. After some investigation, he confirmed that this situation still exists with some of the ticket machines once the foreign language option button (for English, Korean and Chinese) is pressed. It seems that there are two types of ticket machines, and while it isn’t a problem for the “two-ticket option” for shorter distances (kin-kyori), it does affect those for machines for longer distances (shitei kenbai). As our reader pointed out, this could result in non-Japanese customers paying quite a bit more if they purchase tickets through the machine.

“While JR Kyushu isn’t in a position to change the machines immediately, we will take this opportunity to discuss the situation and see how we can improve things for our foreign customers,” said the rep. He thanked the reader and Lifelines for bringing the problem to the department’s attention.

Has anyone encountered a similar problem with JR tickets in other parts of Japan? JR Kyushu’s spokesperson said it is possible the same situation could be happening in other areas, too.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

COMMENT:  Two things:  One is that we have proof positive in a national newspaper of separate pricing schemes based upon language.  And this at one of Japan’s flagship companies (Japan Railways), no less.  Consider the parallels:  A restaurant with menus with cheaper prices for customers if they can read Chinese (something frowned upon as discrimination elsewhere).  Or travel agencies that reserve cheaper plane tickets for Japanese citizens only (see here too). Japan’s train network in Kyushu is filtering customers by language ability and charging Japanese-illiterates a premium.  This must stop, obviously, because it’s discriminatory.

And this is a great example to bring up point two:  How people still defend the practice, no matter what.  I waited a few days to post this, and sure enough, the Japan Times article predictably collected a few comments from guestists and denialists.  They decried anyone calling this practice “racist” (even though it is, under modern definitions of racial discrimination being a process of differentiation, othering, and subordination).  They instead went to the extreme of calling the decriers “racist”, or conversely the practice of selling discounted train fares to foreign tourists “racist” (actually, they can be sold to Japanese-citizen tourists as well as long as they don’t live in Japan), despite all the government campaigns to promote foreign tourism these days.

The point to stress is Japan’s subtle racism is particularly devious because of its plausible deniability.  People will seize on any excuse to justify discriminatory treatment.  Want equal rights or treatment in Japan?  Become a Japanese citizen.  Want equal access to cheaper train fares?  Learn Japanese.  You see, discrimination is the fault of those being discriminated against — because they didn’t take every measure to evade the discrimination.  Its an acceptance of a differentiated and othered status, used to justify the subordination — which deflects discussion of why this discriminatory system exists in the first place.

Why can’t customers just be treated as customers, and their money for access be valued the same way, regardless of their language ability? Well, I’ll tell you why.  Because to JR, it’s not a matter of fairness or equality.  It’s a combination of setsuyaku and mendokusai.  Making discounts multilingual would be costly, and then there’s the factor of profiteering from the extra fares.  The incentive system is clear:  Why pay more for a system that brings in less revenue?  And besides, the foreigners won’t realize it (because foreigners obviously don’t read Japanese), won’t complain (because they’re so powerless, with no voice in Japan except, ahem, the Japan Times), or they aren’t organized in numbers big enough for a meaningful boycott (plus, as seen above, anyone calling for organized action will be called racist even by their own side).

This is one reason why discrimination is so hard to get rid of in Japan.  It’s subtle enough at times for people to naysay it.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

//////////////////////////////////////////////

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JT: The flip side of coveted public-sector jobs in Japan: fewer rights, by being excepted from labor laws

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Hi Blog.  Once again, the JT comes out with an insightful article about the difference between appearance and reality, especially in Japan’s labor market.  Okunuki Hifumi tells us about how Japan’s most-coveted job — civil servant (!) — actually comes with at a price of fewer rights under Japan’s labor laws.  Depending on your status, bureaucrats lack the right to strike, collectively bargain, or unionize (not to mention, as it wasn’t in this article, engage in “political activities”).  And that can severely weaken their ability to fight back when labor abuses occur (see in particular footnote 6) or, as schoolteachers, to educate students about politics.  Read on.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito.

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(Photo Caption) Pop quiz: Which of these types of government worker has the right to strike — tax inspectors, schoolteachers, firefighters or public health workers? Answer: None of the above, thanks to an Occupation-era law designed to tamp down the influence of communism. | KYODO PHOTO

The flip side of coveted public-sector jobs in Japan: fewer rights
BY HIFUMI OKUNUKI, SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES, AUG 21, 2016
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/08/21/issues/flip-side-coveted-public-sector-jobs-japan-less-rights/

I research labor law and teach it to university students. In the first class, I break up the two groups of labor laws — those related to individual and collective labor relations — for my students. Individual labor relations law begins and ends with the 1947 Labor Standards Act (rōdō kijun hō); its collective counterpart is surely the 1950 Trade Union Act (rōdō kumiai hō).

About 99.9 percent of my 18-20-year-olds look blank the first time they hear the word “rōdō kumiai,” or labor union. Some of them have arubaito (part-time jobs) and thus already have become rōdōsha (workers) protected by labor laws, but they have not heard of labor unions and have no idea what such a creature looks like. I have my work cut out trying to explain to them the concepts of labor unions, collective bargaining and striking.

A popular professional aspiration among university students today is to join the ranks of kōmuin, or government employees. Civil servants have stable employment, meaning they don’t have to worry about the possibility of being laid off. Their work hours and days off are usually quite favorable compared with those at private-sector firms. (At least that is what is said — that is the reputation. The reality is not so straightforward.)

Once, the hot jobs were high-income positions with finance firms or trading houses, but today’s youth are more sober, preferring a steady, grounded career path. A 2015 poll by Adecco Group asked children between 6 and 15 years old in seven Asian countries and regions what they wanted to be when they grow up. Children in Japan answered in the following order of popularity: 1) company worker; 2) soccer player; 3) civil servant; 4) baseball player. Note the perhaps unexpected answers ranking 1) and 3). “Government employee” made the top 10 only in Japan. […]

Amazingly, each type of civil servant has different labor rights in Japan. I ordinarily teach labor law that protects private-sector employees, so when I tell my students that the labor laws for civil servants differ by type of job, they express shock, particularly when they find out that civil servants have fewer rights than other workers…

Read the rest of the article at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/08/21/issues/flip-side-coveted-public-sector-jobs-japan-less-rights/

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