Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Jan 6 2009 reviewing 2008’s human rights advances


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Morning Blog.  Here’s my latest Japan Times column, which came out last Tuesday.  Links to sources provided.  Debito

By Arudou Debito, Article 11 for JBC Column
Published January 6, 2009
Draft Seven as submitted to editor.
Published version at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090106ad.html

As we start 2009, let’s recharge the batteries by reviewing last year’s good news. Here is my list of top human rights advancements for 2008, in ascending order:

As we start 2009, let’s recharge the batteries by reviewing last year’s good news. Here is my list of top human rights advancements for 2008, in ascending order:

6) The U Hoden Lawsuit Victory (Dec. 21, 2007, but close enough): The plaintiff is a Chinese-born professor at Japan Women’s University, who sued for damages on behalf of his Japanese grade-school daughter. Abused by classmates for her Chinese roots, she suffered at school and was medically diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Professor U took the parents of the bullies to court and won.

WHY THIS MATTERS: In an era when elementary schools are seeing the byproduct of Japan’s frequent international marriages, this ruling sets a positive precedent both for insensitive local Boards of Education and parents who want to protect their kids.

5) Strawberry Fields Forever (Feb. 11): Fifteen Chinese Trainees sued strawberry farms in Tochigi Prefecture for unpaid wages, unfair dismissal, and an attempted repatriation by force. Thanks to Zentoitsu Workers Union, they were awarded 2 million yen each in back pay and overtime, a formal apology, and reinstatement in their jobs.

WHY THIS MATTERS: This is another good precedent treating NJ laborers (who as Trainees aren’t covered by labor laws) the same as Japanese workers. It is also the namesake of German documentary “Sour Strawberries” (www.vimeo.com/2276295), premiering in Japan in March.
https://www.debito.org/?p=1018 and https://www.debito.org/?p=1221

4) The increasing international awareness of Japan as a haven for international child abductions. It’s one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets, but not for much longer: Japan’s laws governing access for both parents to children after divorce are weak to non-existent. Consequently, in the case of international breakups, one parent (usually the foreigner) loses his or her kids. As this newspaper has reported, even overseas court decisions awarding custody to the NJ parent are ignored by Japanese courts. All the Japanese parent has to do is abduct their child to Japan and they’re scot-free. Fortunately, international media this year (America’s ABC News, UK’s Guardian, and Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald) have joined Canada’s media and government in exposing this situation.

WHY THIS MATTERS: Our government has finally acknowledged this as a problem for domestic marriages too, and made overtures to sign the Hague Convention on Child Abduction (for what that’s worth) by 2010. More in upcoming documentary “From The Shadows” (www.fromtheshadowsmovie.com).


3) Opening the 12,000 yen “financial stimulus” to all registered NJ (Dec. 20). The “teigaku kyufukin” first started out as a clear bribe to voters to yoroshiku the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Then complaints were raised about the other taxpayers who aren’t citizens, so Permanent Residents and NJ married to Japanese became eligible. Finally, just before Christmas, all registered NJ were included.

WHY THIS MATTERS: Even if this “stimulus” is ineffective, it’s a wall-smasher: Japan’s public policy is usually worded as applying to “kokumin”, or citizens only. It’s the first time a government cash-back program (a 1999 coupon scheme only included Permanent Residents) has included all non-citizen taxpayers, and recognized their importance to the Japanese economy.

2) Revision of Japan’s Nationality Law. If a Japanese father impregnated a NJ out of wedlock, the father had to recognize paternity before birth or the child would not get Japanese nationality. The Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional on June 4, noting how lack of citizenship causes “discriminatory treatment”.

WHY THIS MATTERS: Tens of thousands of international children have lost their legal right to Japanese citizenship (or even, depending on the mother’s nationality, become stateless!) just because a man was too shy to own up to his seed, or didn’t acknowledge paternity in time. This ruling led to a change in the laws last December.

1) The government officially declaring the Ainu an indigenous people (June 6).

WHY THIS MATTERS: Because it not only affects the Ainu. This finally shows how wrong the official pronouncements that “Japan is a monocultural monoethnic society” have been. It also voids knock-on arguments that enforce ideological conformity for the “insiders” and exclusionism for the foreigners. On Sept. 28, it even became a political issue, forcing an unprecedented cabinet resignation of Nariaki Nakayama for mouthing off about “ethnic homogeneity” (among other things). Even blue-blood PM Aso had better think twice before contradicting the Diet’s consensus on this issue.

Let’s see what 2009 brings. Proposals to watch: a) the possible abolition of Gaijin Cards, b) the registration of NJ residents with their Japanese families, and c) dual nationality. Stay tuned to www.debito.org, and Happy New Year, everyone!

Debito Arudou is coauthor of the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants.” Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp

4 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Jan 6 2009 reviewing 2008’s human rights advances

  • Debito, I was wondering what your opinion is on the new “RFID chip” that is embedded in all Japanese drivers licenses issued this year? What effect will it have on the NJ community in addition to yourself as a “Kika Nihonkokumin”? I havn’t seen any public reaction to this despite the fact that these embedded chips can be tracked remotely…..Any thoughts?

    For what its worth, here is a Wiki entry on RFID chips: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rfid

    — My opinion is negative, of course. But I should think that tinfoil wrapping, a hammer, or a spell in the microwave should take care of some of the trackability.

  • great work in 2008 debito ..
    lets hope we can get franca going in 2009..
    just about the tochigi strawberries,its great news that they got their money but do you know if anything else happened about the chinese dry cleaning workers who were abducted and sent back to china by their boss?
    if not it means that if you can avoid workers sueing you for abuse by abducting them.

  • @James N: Personally, I am happy about the RFID chip in the driving licenses.. It means that visually my driving license is no different from that issued to a Japanese citizen (because my honseki — my native country in my case — is no longer printed on the front of the card for foreigners or for Japanese). A lot easier for me to just tell insistent hotel clerks, gym desk staff, etc. that I’ve naturalized now.

    — Have you? Congratulations! Is this recent?

  • @Debito: Sorry, that was worded poorly. What I mean is that there have been a couple times where I have told people that I’m a naturalized citizen to get them to stop when they are insistently asking for more ID than necessary. Wouldn’t do it to an actual law enforcement officer or anyplace “official” though…

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