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  • Outrage over Mie-ken teacher criminalizing students thru fingerprinting. Well, fancy that.

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 30th, 2009

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
    Hi Blog.  I received word a couple of days ago from James and AS about a schoolteacher in Mie-ken who dealt with a suspected theft by taking everyone’s fingerprints, and threatening to report them to the police.  He hoped the bluff would make the culprit would come forward, but instead there’s been outrage.  How dare the teacher criminalize the students thusly?

    Hm.  Where was that outrage last November 2007, when most NJ were beginning to undergo the same procedure at the border, officially because they could be agents of infectious diseases, foreign crime, and visa overstays?  How dare the GOJ and media criminalize NJ residents thusly?

    I’m not saying what the teacher did was right.  In fact, I agree that this bluff was inappropriate.  It’s just that given the sudden outrage in the media over human rights, we definitely have a lack of “shoe on the other foot” -ism here from time to time.

    The articles haven’t appeared in English, but no problem.  Here are some links in Japanese, and I’ll translate one article.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    担任が学級全員の指紋 三重・海星高

    2009年1月27日 朝刊 中日新聞






    (translation by Arudou Debito)

    Homeroom teacher fingerprints all of his students:  Mie-ken Kaisei High

    Chuunichi Shinbun January 27, 2009, Morning Edition

    [Mie-ken Yokkaichi] At Kaisei, a private high school in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, a homeroom teacher (57), who heard accusations from a freshman that somebody had stolen his cellphone memory card during PE, took fingerprints from all 27 students in class, and said that he would report them to the police.

    Principal Nishida Hideki was quoted as saying, “This is an issue of human rights”, acknowledging that this action was inappropriate.  “We have apologized to the students and their guardians, and will thoroughly admonish our staff member.”

    According to the school, on January 21, during lunch break after PE, the student reported the incident to the teacher.  The keitai had been collected from all students as personal valuables before PE in the dojo, placed in a bag left in the dojo, and given back after class.  

    The teacher that day said, “I’m taking your fingerprints and will let the police analyze them”,  forcing all students to put their fingers on red inkan pads and render their fingerprints on pieces of paper.  The teacher apparently said, “I did this because I wanted the thief to reveal himself quickly.”

    Principal Nishida said, “I think there was definitely a case where somebody in this class was involved in the loss of that memory card, but this was not the way to deal with it.  We’re considering disciplinary action.”



    Dozens more articles here:

    And AS adds:
    Hi Debito,

    I caught a story on the news last night (News Watch 9, 9:00pm 1/27 broadcast, channel 1) about the community outrage that resulted from a teacher fingerprinting his students in Mie prefecture.

    Apparently what happened was that a boy in the teacher’s homeroom class reported that the memory card for his cell phone was missing. The teacher asked repeatedly for the culprit to come forward, and when nobody did he decided to fingerprint everybody in the class. When asked by the principal why he did this, the teacher said he was disappointed that nobody came forward on their own, and he thought that by doing something so serious and dramatic that it would prompt the offender to confess. The teacher’s logic is very odd since 1) there is no way for him to analyze prints and 2) there is no suspect print for him to compare the samples to, so it’s obviously intended solely as a scare tactic.

    Anyway, the part that interested me was the reaction from the community and the school. Everyone agreed that it was completely inappropriate, and that the teacher was treating the students like criminals. One person said that it unnecessarily caused hurt feelings and embarassment among the students, and another said that teachers should treat their students with more trust.

    While this case is obviously very different from the fingerprinting of foreign nationals at the border, it does show once again that there is a double-standard in how Japanese view fingerprinting. If the people involved are Japanese, then it is a very serious issue and the dignity of the individual must be preserved. If the people are NJ though then there is little thought given to issues of dignity, privacy, or convenience.

    Anyway, I thought you might want a heads-up to look for articles covering this story to add to your archive.

    15 Responses to “Outrage over Mie-ken teacher criminalizing students thru fingerprinting. Well, fancy that.”

    1. Kakui Kujira Says:

      Just what every teacher has in his/her classroom desk: a fingerprinting kit…

    2. James N Says:

      I’ve been wondering if the general Japanese populous and especially the media recognize the double standard here. Could it possibly be that they genuienly don’t see it? It’s mind blowing which ever way you slice it.

    3. alex Says:

      They genuenly don`t see it because unlike Foreigners, Japanese aren`t reminded every single day of their foreign status because they are not foreigners.

      Does that make sense?

      I showed this article to a friend and she was outraged. I mentioned the fingerprinting of NJ and I was simply reminded that it`s to stop real criminals.

    4. STP Says:

      “Where was that outrage last November 2007, when most NJ were beginning to undergo the same procedure at the border, officially because they could be agents of infectious diseases, foreign crime, and visa overstays? ”

      Where was the outrage in 2004 from ordinary Americans when they started the fingerprinting procedure? Virtually none because Answer:it didn’t apply to them.

      Now if you try to pull a stunt like that in U.S. schools, I’m quite positive that you’ll get the same reaction.

      — Yes, I think you’re quite right, on both counts.

    5. AWK Says:

      James N

      I don`t think so. I spoke with a few Japanese and they were very surprised about things I told them about being foreigner in Japan. I think they are unaware of double standard but they also are unaware that we pay taxes as they do. At least a group of Japanese I spoke were surprised that we pay the same taxes. Well…

      Regarding students` fingerprinting. A few days ago there was news about someone (student?) killed a teacher. I was wondering whether they (Police) are going to take from each students fingerprints. I doubt, but this is what I would do in order to at least try to solve the crime.

    6. AET Says:


      I agree with you as well. Americans like myself often remind ourselves that just about anything that bothers us about Japan is happening back home too. But I suppose that is exactly why we have to stand up to it. We know quite well that it’s wrong, so we shouldn’t let it stand here, or there. Perhaps under President Obama we may see a change in the fingerprinting system in the U.S. And if the U.S. removes it, so too might Japan. But with all the fear mongering over terrorism and increasing reports about Mexican drug trade related violence, I doubt it.

      Regardless, what’s wrong is wrong, no matter where it is. I think the discrepancy simply comes down to awareness, as others have pointed out. I never once thought about immigration, visas, or any related subject until I was living overseas. Like AWK, I’ve had friends, even coworkers, who were not aware that I paid Japanese taxes, just like them. Or that I ate Japanese food, with chopsticks, on a daily basis. It just hasn’t occured to them because they’ve had little reason to think about it.

      My question is then (asking you, Debito), how do we raise awareness on the fingerprinting situation?

      — I have some larger-scale ideas and I’ll get to them later when FRANCA really gets going.

      Meanwhile, do exactly what you’re doing:

      1) Understand that the disconnect may be an issue of people just not thinking about it because it either doesn’t apply to them, or they haven’t thought outside the box to consider the life circumstances of a NJ (about whom the assumption is that everything must be different because he’s not Japanese; that apparently includes paying taxes).

      2) Use this incident to bring up the issue as a topic of conversation and (subtly) show the contrast. You may not get people to agree (the J spouses of some posters here at this very blog, were annoyed at being fingerprinted in the US but understanding of NJ getting fingerprinted in Japan; again, shoe-on-other-foot-ism), but you will get people around you to think, and perhaps even in time empathize. And that’s where it starts.

    7. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      Interesting. I’m not condoning the teacher’s actions, although having worked in schools both in Australia and here I genuinely sympathize with him.
      What I find interesting is the outrage over fingerprinting of SUSPECTS of a SPECIFIC CRIME after the fact as opposed to fingerprinting A GROUP OF PEOPLE (“Group accountability” as one writer liked to put it) as a means of preventing crimes WHICH HAVE NOT HAPPENED.

    8. jim Says:

      I think we should do another tamachan protest and show up at the mie boe dressup as fingerprints and then maybe they will notice the injustice of the fingerprint policy

    9. john k Says:

      Sounds like a nice piece for analysis in an article for a newspaper to raise the issue and awareness!!

    10. DR Says:

      Buenos Debito! I’m reminded of the JT article from July of last year reminding us that Human Rights in Japan are only for Japanese Humans! Sigh!
      And also about a discussion that occurred in this forum, and my absolute shock, about foreign spouses being noted as only ” a remark” on koseki documents. Deeper sigh!
      I mean, “remarks” don’t have human rights, do they? I sometimes felt that, had I been a Japanese dog, I might have had more rights than I did as a NJ “human remark.” Even deeper sigh!

      — Weallll… it’s not quite that bad.

    11. elena Says:

      About treatment of foreign nationals – we have regular discussions about this with my Japanese husband, and something that he recently said just rings the bell here again, I thought I might as well share it – to change the perspective, maybe. The greatest part of Japanese do genuinely beleive that what some people call Nihonjinron, that is, Japanese being special, actually applies to all other nations, that is, all other nations are just as xenophobic and unfriendly to foreigners as they are as a nation, in fact, you can see it in every group inside Japan, local “communities” are an indication of this – there are “outsiders” and “insiders”, and this is also visibile in the “Bushido” and “corporate culture”, the samurai are reponsible only to the “head of their gang”, so to say (forgive my euphimism, I really don’t have time to search for an appropriate expression, I just hope this will convey the psychological meaning, please, do not take it literally), and every company has the “kaisha hoshin”, it’s own “code of values, loyalty” – well, exactly the same thing, once you enter the company you are supposed to follow this – and do not forget that all other companies are considered to have their own “direction” which is supposed to be different from this particular company. The possibility that there exist some “common sense”, I mean, in the sense of common, is (pun intended) “foreign” for them… I think, this outlook basically captures their “box” outside of which they find it difficult to think, except for some people who are exceptions, well, we say in RUssia that exceptions only “stress the rule”, that is, make it easier to notice.

      To change this, the only possible way that I see is to try to induce a sort of personal “growth” of each individual person who has this mind set, which involves a lot of communication, but not just any communication, but based on deep study of what’s behind each and every so-called “unique Japanese” thing, like “tea ceremony” which has developped historically to bring at least a short time of calmness and contemplation neede to discuss things reasonably, during the violence of the “sengoku” period, where the world around was full of rage and death – something like a muslim prayers, as I see them, the muslim world was always torn with violence somehow, and they just need a LOT of time to calm themselves down and try to peacify themselves – so they need to have to do this prayer so many times a day…

      But I’m also looking forward to what Debito is going to put forward, as he announced in one of the above posts.


    12. norik Says:

      When I first read this post, I’d just finished watching the evening news, where a part time flight attendant(Japanese) was sueing Turkish Airlines for ” discrimination based on nationality”. Her specific complaints were:
      *While she is working part time, her Turkish coleagues are working full time
      *Her Turkish colleagues earn twice more than her
      *Japanese flight attendsnts were the first laid off
      *She didn’t have a room to change her uniform and had to do it in the restroom (it was unclear, however, if her Turkish colleagues had such room)
      Sounds familar?Only I was thinking that if all foreigners in Japan who have encountered same or similar discrimination would sue the companies and public institutions, Japan would go bancrupt.

      — I saw that news report myself and felt the same irony. There’s nothing yet in the English-language press. I guess there’s nothing to do but to translate another Japanese article for a future blog entry…

    13. Kimpatsu Says:

      Don’t you understand? Unlike the honest and trustworthy Japanese, gaijin ARE criminals. So we all deserve to be fingerprinted and racially stereotyped in this way.
      You should make this double standard over outrage at fingerprinting the subject of your next JUST BE CAUSE, Debito.

    14. Sean Says:

      A large number of the Japanese people that I have talked to about the fingerprinting issue have been sympathetic and quite a few said (without me nudging them in any direction) that they should fingerprint everybody at the border, Japanese included.

      There has been outrage at the teacher fingerprinting the children but Japan does not fingerprint children under 16. The UK has started fingerprinting all foreigners over the age of 6 outside the EU or UK who want to emigrate to the UK.

      That really is scandalous. And just to prove that it’s not just the Japanese that are ill-informed, read some of the comments below the article form British Guardian readers.

    15. James Says:

      An important note about the article of The Guardian is that it’s not all foreigners, but foreign residents. Tourists, scientists on a conference, anyone who comes for a short stay, is not currently fingerprinted, though there have been proposals in that direction ( So far it’s been quiet around that proposal since last year.
      This situation has to do with the so-called Visa Information System The issue is that a VISA application in any EU country, either accepted or rejected, applies to all the 27 member states. What they hope to accomplish is that someone who is denied a visa in one country for good reasons does not try again in the next one (up to 26 times) under a different name, and by being accepted there being accepted in the country that denied the request. It’s still a wrong idea though, and it should be changed.
      And another important point. This system has a list of countries for which visa are obliged ( Japan is not on the list, and several of the member states do not require VISA.
      I don’t understand why The Guardian brings in the biometric passports, because those EU regulations apply to EU citizens only. So you get a situation – for tourists and other short-term visitors at least – that is upside down from the one in Japan, EU citizens need to have their fingerprints registered, but Japanese tourists don’t…
      In any case, fingerprints are fingerprints, and all systems are prone to the same dehumanising problems.
      But there’s another difference that is important to mention. And that is what to do about it.
      There are some organisations, far from perfect though, that you can turn to. If you find out that an organisation is breaking the privacy laws of that EU member state, go to the Data Privacy Authority (in the case of the UK: Foreigner or not, EU organisations are supposed to obey the law just like anyone else and can get some tough (not always tough enough though) penalties for breaking them…
      Another place to turn to is the European Court of Human rights ( It wouldn’t be the first time if they were to convict a government or even the EU organisations for making illegal rules. It doesn’t always work, but at least it’s something.
      And there are some government and non-government organisations that can also help out. I would encourage anyone to seek them out if need be.

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