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  • Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Col 62, Apr 2, 2013: “Tweak the immigration debate and demand an upgrade to denizen class”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 3rd, 2013

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    Hi Blog.  Thanks to everyone who read my article, as it has been trending within the most-read articles within the past couple of days once again this month.  Here it is on the blog for commentary with links to sources.  Enjoy!  Arudou Debito

    Tweak the immigration debate and demand an upgrade to denizen class
    BY ARUDOU Debito
    The Japan Times, Just Be Cause Column 62, published April 2, 2013
    Version below with links to sources

    Crucial to any public discussion is defining the terms of debate. However, often those terms must be redefined later because they don’t reflect reality.

    One example is Japan’s concept of “foreigner,” because the related terminology is confusing and provides pretenses for exclusionism.

    In terms of strict legal status, if you’re not a citizen you’re a “foreigner” (gaikokujin), right? But not all gaikokujin are the same in terms of acculturation or length of stay in Japan. A tourist “fresh off the boat” has little in common with a noncitizen with a Japanese family, property and permanent residency. Yet into the gaikokujin box they all go.

    The lack of terms that properly differentiate or allow for upgrades has negative consequences. A long-termer frequently gets depicted in public discourse as a sojourner, not “at home” in Japan.

    Granted, there are specialized terms for visa statuses, such as eijūsha (permanent resident) and tokubetsu eijūsha (special permanent resident, for the zainichi Korean and Chinese generational “foreigners”). But they rarely appear in common parlance, since the public is generally unaware of visa regimes (many people don’t even know foreigners must carry “gaijin cards”!).

    Public debate about Japan’s foreign population must take into account their degree of assimilation. So this column will try to popularize a concept introduced in the 1990s that remains mired in migration studies jargon: denizen.

    Denizenship,” as discussed by Tomas Hammar of Stockholm University, is a mid-step between migrant and immigrant, foreigner and citizen — a “quasi-citizenship.” In his 1990 book “Democracy and the Nation State,” Hammar talks about three “entrance gates” for migrants to become citizens: 1) admission to the country, 2) permanent residency, and 3) acquisition of full citizenship.

    Denizens have passed the second gate, having become resident aliens who have been granted extensive civil and social citizenship rights — including national and/or local suffrage in some countries.

    Although denizens lack the full political rights of a citizen, scholars of international migration note that countries are increasingly giving denizens faster tracks to full citizenship, including relaxation of blood-based nationality (e.g., in Sweden, Holland, Switzerland and Germany), official guidance in naturalization procedures after obtaining permanent residency (e.g., United States), greater tolerance for dual citizenship (e.g., Mexico) and some electoral rights (e.g., European Union). [all claims within books by scholars below, but some quick references here]

    A similar discussion on denizenship has taken place in Japanese academia, thanks to Atsushi Kondo (1996), Chikako Kashiwazaki (2000) and Akihiro Asakawa (2007) et al., all of whom rendered the term in katakana as denizun, translating it as eijū shimin (permanent “citizens,” so to speak).

    Perhaps this will come as no surprise, but their extensive research highlighted the comparatively closed nature of Japanese immigration policy. Japan has been an outlier in terms of citizenship rules, going against the trend seen in other advanced democracies to enfranchise denizens.

    For example, Japan has an intolerance of dual nationality, high hurdles for achieving permanent residency, arbitrary and discretionary rules for obtaining full citizenship, few refugees, and strict “family” blood-based citizenship without exception for future generations of denizens (which is why Japan is still home to hundreds of thousands of zainichi “foreigners” 60 years after their ancestors were stripped of Japanese citizenship).

    Essentially, Japan does not recognize denizenship. This was underscored during recent debates on granting local suffrage rights to permanent residents (gaikokujin sanseiken). Opposition politicians stated clearly: If foreigners want the right to vote, they should naturalize.

    Sadly, steps to humanize the debate, by incorporating the perspectives of long-term residents themselves, were not taken, creating a tautology of disenfranchisement. The antireformers eventually won the debate, retrenching the binary between “foreigner” and “citizen” and obscuring the gray zones of long-term residency.

    There are long-standing systemic issues behind this entrenchment. As Kashiwazaki notes: “The system of naturalization is not designed to transform foreign nationals promptly into Japanese nationals. Restriction on naturalization corresponds to the government’s stance on border control, namely that Japan does not admit immigration for the purpose of permanent settlement.”

    As discussed on these pages numerous times, the firewall keeping foreigners from ever becoming settlers is maintained by Japan’s revolving-door visa regimes, strict punishments for even slight administrative infractions that “reset the visa clock,” and a permanent “police the foreigners” credo from a Justice Ministry not configured for immigration or integration.

    This has a long history. As Japan’s “Immigration Bureau” has argued repeatedly after it designed the postwar rules on any foreign influx (here in 1959): “Since Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, policies of controlling both population growth and immigration are strongly called for. It should therefore be a government policy to severely restrict the entry of foreigners into Japan. Particularly because there are undesirable foreigners who would threaten the lives of Japanese nationals by criminal activity and immoral conduct.”

    After a high water mark of “internationalization” in the 1990s, Japan’s conservatives in the 2000s (backed up by periodic official “foreign crime” and “visa overstayer” campaigns to scare the public) managed to stem the tide of liberalization seen in other advanced democracies, turning Japan into an immigration Galapagos increasingly reactionary towards outsiders — even as demographics force Japan’s decline.

    Like the people it represents, denizenship as a concept remains invisible within Japan’s public discourse, oblivious to how foreigners actually live in Japan. Categorically, people are either gaikokujin or nihonjin. Rarely if ever are the former termed eijūsha, eijū shimin, imin or ijūsha (immigrants).

    Let’s tweak the terms of debate. If you’re planning on living in Japan indefinitely, I suggest you get your neighbors warmed up to the fact that you as a non-Japanese (let’s at least avoid the dislocated, transient trappings of the generic word “foreigner”) are not merely gaikokujin. You are jūmin (residents). And as of 2012, most of you now have a jūminhyō (residency certificate) to prove it.

    Then spread the word through the grass roots, such as they are. Upgrade your status and mollify the binary. Or else you’ll just be stuck in a rhetorical limbo as something temporary and in transit. Not good for you, not good for Japan.


    Debito’s most recent publication is “Japan’s Rightward Swing and the Tottori Prefecture Human Rights Ordinance” in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus ( Twitter: @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Pages of the month. Comments:

    8 Responses to “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Col 62, Apr 2, 2013: “Tweak the immigration debate and demand an upgrade to denizen class””

    1. Peter Says:

      Boggles my mind about the whole voting and citizenship debate. You’d think as a tax payer of whatever country, that automatically gives you the right – the gov’t is taking your money, common sense says that you should have a say on policies that could affect you. Even as a resident, subject to the laws of a given country should afford you some voice, should it not??

      Japan isn’t the only county that doesn’t allow voting if not a citizen but to think that only a citizen knows what’s best for the country (an effect, what’s best for people who can’t vote) is just dumb.

    2. Baudrillard Says:

      I am afraid that these labels are in fact just labels; there is little real merit in upgrading to permanent resident as you will still be gaijinized, so I never felt motivated to do so, despite some young and helpful immigration officials naively offering it thinking they were “helping” me.The trappings of a modern western society interested in giving out citizenship that ill fit a society which in fact has severe doubts about any immigration at all.

      Peter’s comment above brought me to a postmodern philosophical formula;they do not want to give out more votes, therefore it is not a democratically inclined society, ergo “Democratic Japan” is an oxymoron. (or just moron).

      Japanese politicians have gone on record saying they “do not want the people to mistakenly think they have influence in deciding policy!” (sorry, cannot remember who, maybe Debito recalls).

      Ditto Liberal Democratic Party. Its not liberal, its not democratic and its not even one party. Or Minna no Tou, which excludes NJs, so hardly everyone’s party.

      The sooner we all just accept that none of these labels describe the real Japan, which is bascially about as “western” as the new Mainland Chinese middle/business class is now,perhaps even less so if Harvard/Yale graduate figures are anything to go by, then the better.

    3. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      I firmly believe that the Japanese language needs an upgrade re:terminology.
      Where are immigrant, permanent resident, etc. in the vernacular? Nowhere, because there is insufficient pressure (critical mass) from either above (govt, education, etc) or below (grass roots, mass media, etc)to ensure these terms and therefore concepts reach the masses.

      We don’t have an immigration office, we have an office for administring entry to the country. Which seems rediculous for someone who “entered” over a decade ago.

      OK, a lot of people don’t know that we have to carry cards, the same way they don’t know that there are over 27 visa statuses, or that until recently we couldn’t get juminhyo… but some who needed to be told repeatedly that I couldn’t go to the Australian Embassy to renew my visa…

      When I was a teenager, a friend had a running joke that there were only two colours in the universe – orange and not orange. It seems to apply to Japan.

    4. john k Says:

      Ever since i moved to Japan, I have constantly highlighted, to Japanese to whom I am conversing with, that I am not a “tourist”, nor a “temporary” stayer and neither am I an American. I simply juxtapose their questions back to them with the same context. And funny, how the penny suddenly drops usually followed by silence and a quick attempt to change tack in the conversation as they no longer control the narrative.

      It has come to the point where I have a few “stock” replies to the standard questions being asked of me, simply to jolt and shake them mentally. Sadly 99% of the time it falls on deaf ears.

      So whilst I applaud your efforts Debito, in the years I have been here, nothing has changed, despite my own efforts to affect some change. Since, even if “they” do understand and see things differently, once back to “their fold” they continue to use the same language as their peers, because otherwise, they are suddenly part of the “out” group for being ‘different’ and expressing an opposing view. Thus, its a no brain-er for them. Local grass roots wont change things, it must come from up high and constantly… not holding my breath.

      As for voting, sadly, most Western countries still wont allow voting unless a citizen. However, the path to citizenship is significantly easier and generally one can hold dual citizenship too.

    5. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I think this is the matter of who has/have the power to frame and control the debate. One big problem is that the debate is already fixed by certain agents–i.e., the state, political entities, business organizations, media, who have the rights to control the participants based on race, nationality, and/or political views. Also problematic is that many people tend to make a narrow definition of citizenship–such as the membership or eligibility for the specific political act, to the detriment of painting Japanese-ness into an utterly simplified account (i.e., homogenous, unassertive, unchallenging to the power and social injustice, etc.) or degenerating the debate into an ideological cat-and-mouse game.

      To me, it just doesn’t make sense to tout free speech and equal rights because it is powers-that-be who characterize the debate for the creation of (phony) national narrative about ‘Japanese is the most unique society’– just like privatization of public education, gun control, gay rights marriage, abortion, etc. They are the ones who describe the privilege for public participation as membership eligibility, which is exactly the same principle applied to foreign journalists who are typically required to obtain permission to participate in national press conference. And they demonize those who attempt to speak out to tell the truth on the issue to debunk the myth.

    6. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Some good news on the terminology front, heard on TBS television’s baseball report not five minutes ago: Alex Ramirez of Yokohama just got his 2000th career hit (it was a home run), and the TV reporter described him as being the first 外国出身選手 gaikoku shusshin senshu to do this.

      I’m now wondering if it was a coincidence or if it has something to do with his long tenure in the league, because a moment later, Hector Luna was called a 新外国人 shin gaikokujin when describing the three-run homer he hit in a losing effort against the Giants.

      Ramirez is in his 13th year in Nippon Pro Baseball, so he’s no longer subject to any limitations on foreign players, and is treated just as if he were Japanese. I wonder if this gaikoku shusshin senshu term is a special one for players like Ramirez (and Tuffy Rhodes, who also obtained “permanent residency” in NPB by playing for 10 years). Does anyone know?

    7. Mike2 Says:

      “it must come from up high and constantly… not holding my breath.”

      Nah, wont happen anytime soon. Everytime somebody comes along they get squashed. Its the nature of this place. Grass roots? Thought there might of been something refreshing during the Fukushima incident; we saw allot of demos outside the prime ministers residence. Dont chase that dream, its just like an accordian- it opens and closes, comes and goes.

    8. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @Baudrillard, #2

      Right. Labels are created and re-created for describing particular group of people who don’t have any cultural root to the society they belong to. Mainstream media pretend to be neutral by avoiding an overtly hostile language denigrating NJ, but they still use some words that contain bigoted views toward NJ in the first place. They can pretend to be whatever they want by lowering their voices for racially bigoted views.

      As a counterpoint, I read David Sirota’s article about the AP stopping to use the term ‘illegal’ to the Latinos for their presence, regardless of their immigration status. While I’m not very convinced this will make the AP look even better than a lesser evil, it is a good step toward objectivity in media report and journalism. Hostile words are clear indicators of bigoted views, you know.

      Wonder eliminating such words like ‘fuhou-taizai,’ or ‘fuhou-shurou’ will lead some Japanese media to fairness and objectivity in reporting NJ. What do you think?

      — I would agree. “Illegal” automatically carries a stigma. “Overstay” in English less so. But an equivalent of “overstay” is not the word used in Japanese.

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