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Hi Blog. As we’ve talked at length before (it even topped my annual JT Top Ten Human Rights Issues for 2019), city governments have been using a racialized definition of local residents, namely “Gaikokujin Shimin“, that officially classifies even naturalized Japanese citizens, Japanese children with foreign roots, or anyone with connections to a foreign land as “foreigners”. Submitter ABC below offers a letter sent to the Kawaguchi City Government asking for clarification of the uses and effects of this official term. Thankfully, Kawaguchi City Mayor Okunoki Nobuo answered Submitter ABC. I enclose the query, Okunoki’s answer, and my attempt at a translation of the answer, below.
I’ll comment on the contents afterwards.
SUBMITTER ABC’S LETTER (reproduced here with permission):
Subject: A letter to and response from Kawaguchi mayor Okunoki
Date: January 30, 2020
To: Debito Arudou <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I wrote some posts in the comments section for “The annual Top Ten for 2019 of human rights issues as they affected NJ residents in Japan” upon seeing that the article mentioned Kawaguchi as using 外国人市民 like other municipalities. As a resident, this didn’t sit well with me and I wrote a letter to the mayor. I received a response today so I’d like to share what I sent (via snail mail) and what I received.
I’ve redacted certain sections and text for privacy reasons.
PDF: Letter to Mayor Okunoki 0113 redact (click on link to download)
TRANSLATION BY DEBITO (WITH CORRECTIONS COURTESY OF DEBITO.ORG READER LOVERLAKKUMA IN THE COMMENT SECTION)
(Basic official opening greeting)
Thank you very much for sending your opinion as a Letter to the Mayor. I will answer your questions below.
First, why does the “Kawaguchi City Vision for Coexistence with Multiculturalism” have the definition of “Gaikokujin Shimin: Not only foreigners who are local residents, but also includes residents who have taken Japanese citizenship, and residents who have cultural backgrounds in foreign countries”? It has that definition because even if someone has naturalized and taken Japanese citizenship, it is assumed (soutei) that they might still require some assistance in regards to multicultural coexistence. Please understand that this doesn’t mean our city has any intention of forcefully framing (gouin ni minasu) people who have taken Japanese citizenship as foreigners.
Second, why did the “Kawaguchi City Vision for Coexistence with Multiculturalism Ver. 2.0” delete that definition? While we were promoting multicultural coexistence based upon our “Revised Kawaguchi City Aims for Coexistence with Multiculturalism”, we were formulating our “Kawaguchi City Vision for Coexistence with Multiculturalism Ver. 2.0”. This does not mean that we revised the definition, but rather that we came to the conclusion (toraeta) that our efforts to support foreign residents — including naturalized people — had progressed enough (tsuchikawareta) to gain public understanding for those who may need support, so there was no need for further clarification of that definition.
For the third question “Under what concepts and framings is the city taking the initiatives toward foreign residents living in Kawaguchi City (short-term and/or long-term)?”: We are engaging in promotion of our multicultural co-existence by reframing the previous concept of “foreign residents,” from “recipients of support” (shien no taisho) to “providers of support” (shien suru gawa) in the “The Kawaguchi City’s Vision for Multicultural Co-existence Ver 2.0.”. This extols (utau) the vision of a city where people can participate positively in city planning (machi zukuri).
Fourth, how is Kawaguchi City envisioning the future for foreigners (and the descendants of children of international marriages)? Our city presumes that in future the number of foreigners will continue to increase. We want these people to serve as leaders in local community for any public need such as fire drills. We are seeking our goal by incorporating foreign perspectives, regardless of nationality, for the successful building community that all residents in our city can live peacefully and securely. We look forward to your understanding and cooperation.
January 29, 2020. OKUNOKI Nobuo, Kawaguchi City Mayor
PS: The people in charge of this matter are in the Cooperative Promotional Section of the city government. Yoroshiku.
COMMENT FROM DEBITO:
Y’know, I think Mayor Okunuki has his heart in the right place. I think he’s genuinely trying to assist people of diversity live peaceful lives in his district like any other person.
However, any discussion of how problematic it is to use the term “Gaikokujin Shimin“, i.e., grouping together people as “foreigners” regardless of nationality or legal status (based upon an explicit presumption that some people who have taken the trouble to naturalize still want to be treated as foreign), has been obscured in pat Bureaucratic Japanese sloganeering.
All this talk linking “multicultural coexistence” to “machi zukuri” (as if it wouldn’t happen anyway without the need to officially differentiate between people by assumed “foreignness”) doesn’t progress beyond the “sekkyokuteki” boilerplate, or the mutual-appreciation society of “let’s be nice to foreigners” that still manages to offset people with any foreign connections as somehow “different” and “worthy of special attention”. It’s as if Neanderthals still exist, and we’re still pondering policy on to integrate them into our Real-Human community.
Calling them “Gaikokujin Shimin” doesn’t help. It’s precisely the problem, actually, as the tool of offsetting. And just saying that the “definition has no forceful intent to presume that naturalized citizens etc. are foreigners” doesn’t make it so.
In sum, I think this is one of the best examples in favor of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, about how language and the very words we use constrict cognition and world views. The fact that Japanese bureaucrats cannot under any circumstances step out of their linguistic bubbles, and consider what it’s like as a minority in Japan dealing with the embedded racism of Japanese policymaking, is demonstrated very well here. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
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