Combating xenophobic rumors and media: Debito.org asks US Forces, Japan for clarification on their COVID testing and vaccination policies

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From: Debito Arudou <debito@debito.org>
Subject: From Debito.org: Questions regarding US Forces, Japan vaccination procedures.
Date: January 13, 2022
To: indopacom.yokota.usfj.mbx.pao@mail.mil (courtesy of this site)
Cc: Shingetsu News Agency <shingetsunewsagency@gmail.com>

To Whom It May Concern,
US Forces, Japan

Dear Sir or Madam,

My name is Debito Arudou, Ph.D., coordinator for Debito.org (www.debito.org), an award-winning online archive for life and human rights in Japan for more than 25 years. We address issues that affect Non-Japanese Residents of Japan, particularly Visible Minorities, and have acted as a launching pad for hundreds of journalistic and academic articles, government and NGO reports, and actions that have changed the course of national narratives and public policies. I am also the author of “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination” (Lexington Books, Second Edition 2022), and am a columnist for the Shingetsu News Agency.

Debito.org has some questions we would like to ask about the policies of US Forces, Japan.

In recent weeks, the Japanese media has portrayed US Forces in Japan as a major vector for infection in Japan, portraying the US military presence in Japan as a leak in their otherwise tight border policies. Consider:

============================
“Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters on Thursday that ‘U.S. military bases are one of the major causes of the spread of infections,’ while Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka said, ‘The fact that (military personnel) were not tested before departure from the United States had a big impact.’ Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki also called the U.S. military’s measures ‘extremely regrettable.’”
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/07/national/anti-us-base-sentiment/
“U.S. military personnel are believed to have triggered a coronavirus resurgence in the three prefectures. Many people in the three prefectures live in close proximity to American bases. Infection prevention measures taken by the U.S. forces, which some have criticized as being too lax, are thought to be behind that explosion of cases.”
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/08/national/japan-coronavirus-january8/
============================
with a public advertisement in Okinawa published by Kyodo News in the Japan Times, showing a Westerner (not an Asian) sneezing:

From https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/08/national/japan-coronavirus-january8/

As you know, Japan’s border policies for most of the past two years have refused entry to most foreigners, including foreign residents regardless of visa status, while letting in Japanese under often lax quarantine conditions to spread Covid anyway. Yet media and policymakers in Japan have frequently portrayed Covid as an exogenous, “foreign” disease, with the highly problematic interpretation of seeing foreigners as more likely to spread Covid than Japanese.

The World Health Organization last month noted the lack of good science behind that claim, stating that “Epidemiologically, I find it hard to understand the principle there. Does the virus read your passport? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident? Our concern here is that we apply public health principles, not political principles, to selecting measures that are used to control the spread of diseases. The idea that you can put a hermetic seal on most countries is frankly not possible.” (https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2021/12/28670f8f00db-urgent-kishida-hints-at-review-of-japans-re-entry-restrictions-over-omicron.html)

My point is that the US Military in Japan has a responsibility to dispel rumors and reports that are playing a part in potentially increasing xenophobic attitudes towards foreign residents of Japan.

I understand that you have made an attempt to do so with announcements on your US Forces, Japan, website dated January 5 and 9, 2022:
https://www.usfj.mil/Media/Press-Releases/Article-View/Article/2889890/us-forces-japan-increases-to-health-protection-bravo/and
https://www.usfj.mil/Media/Press-Releases/Article-View/Article/2893181/us-japan-joint-committee-statement-on-measures-to-address-the-spread-of-covid-19/

But please permit me to ask some clarifying questions, for publication on Debito.org:

==================================
1) Pursuant to President Biden’s order that all federal employees and military be vaccinated and tested by February 15 (“as of early December, 92 percent of federal employees and military personnel had received at least one dose”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/11/biden-federal-coronavirus-mandate-testing-rules-unvaccinated/), does this mean that all US Forces in Japan, both incoming and resident, have been vaccinated and boosted, and tested for Covid, including the Omicron variant?

2) What happens when members of the US Military test positive for Covid? If in Japan, are they quarantined within the base? If outside Japan, are they denied entry into Japan and quarantined overseas?

3) Do you have any response to the claims within the following reportage in the Japan Times:

“It was revealed in December that U.S. forces had been lax in their border measures against the virus… But it was found that the U.S. side was not conducting pre-departure and post-arrival testing, as required by Japan, and that it had shortened the period of restrictions on arriving personnel’s movement from 14 days to 10. It also allowed people in the restriction period to move freely within U.S. bases.” https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/07/national/anti-us-base-sentiment/
==================================

I have heard unsubstantiated reports from American military members on social media that US Forces must be properly vaccinated and tested before they arrive in Japan. This would be at odds with what the Japanese media is saying.

Debito.org would welcome your clarifications for the record.

Thank you for reading and responding.

Sincerely, Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
Coordinator, Debito.org
Columnist, Shingetsu News Agency (https://shingetsunewsagency.com)
ENDS

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2 comments on “Combating xenophobic rumors and media: Debito.org asks US Forces, Japan for clarification on their COVID testing and vaccination policies

  • Kirk Masden says:

    Thanks for taking on this issue. Being located in Japan and watching the Japanese media myself, I may have been taken in to some extent. I’d like to improve my own understanding.

    One concern I have is masking. I’ve seen quite a few TV reports where Okinawan citizens complain that US military personnel are not masking up enough. I’m not sure the extent to which these assessments are accurate but, given the cultural differences I’ve noted between Japan and US regarding masking, I suspect that they may be.

    My biggest concern is that foreign students have not been allowed to come to Japan for almost two years now. I see this as a huge problem both for the students and for Japan as a country. I wonder how many would-be Japan specialists have already given up on Japan as a result. Despite the testing, if military personnel are behaving in a way that confirms pre-existing biases about foreigners, I think it makes it that much harder for Japan’s leaders to open the country up to foreign students.

    This is not to let the political leadership of Japan off the hook. Even now, with the spread of Omicron, it should be possible to implement a stringent regime that makes it possible for budding scholars to enter the country, isolate for the required period, and then study in Japan. The only reason not to do this is xenophobia.

    I’ll be interested to follow this thread to learn more about what I’ve missed (how I may have been taken in by the Japanese media) and what other people think.

  • An excellent approach. This is a definite pressure point. The USA mainly is concerned with its bases in Japan, and Japan only really listens to or respects armed force, just like that other country it increasingly culturally resembles, post communist Russia (military aggressiveness aside).
    I think it is very foolish of the Japanese media to diss the US military in this manner, there will be pushback.

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