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  • Ibuki & Abe on human rights & butter, plus reactions from media and UN

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on March 1st, 2007

    Hi All. Sorry to be slow on this issue, but for the record, let me blog a few articles and reactions on this issue without much time right now for comment (will include comments from others). Debito in Youga, Tokyo


    Ibuki: Japan ‘extremely homogenous’
    The Japan Times Feb 26, 2007

    NAGASAKI (Kyodo) Education minister Bunmei Ibuki said Sunday that
    Japan is an “extremely homogenous” country, a type of comment that in
    the past has drawn criticism.

    In 1986, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone described Japan as a
    “homogenous race” nation and faced strong criticism, mainly from Ainu
    indigenous people.

    Speaking at a convention of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s
    chapter in Nagasaki Prefecture, Ibuki said, “Japan has been
    historically governed by the Yamato (Japanese) race. Japan is an
    extremely homogenous country.

    “In its long, multifaceted history, Japan has been governed by the
    Japanese all the way,” Ibuki said in a 40-minute speech on education
    reform. Ibuki is minister of education, culture, sports, science and

    QUICK COMMENT FROM DEBITO: Just like, “In it’s long, multifaceted history, America has been governed by the Americans all the way.”?

    Or how about Japan’s postwar SCAP? Oh, that doesn’t count, I guess. The issue is too silly to dwell upon any further. Let’s get to what makes this more problematic:


    Abe sees no problem in education minister calling
    Japan ‘homogeneous’
    TOKYO, Feb. 26 KYODO

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday downplayed
    criticisms over his education minister’s remarks a day
    earlier and said there was nothing wrong with the
    minister calling Japan an ”extremely homogenous”
    ”I think he was referring to the fact that we
    (the Japanese public) have gotten along with each
    other fairly well so far,” Abe said when asked to
    comment on the remarks by education minister Bummei
    Ibuki. ”I don’t see any specific problem with that.”
    Abe, who has been hit by a series of gaffes by
    members of his Cabinet recently, added, ”Of course
    there have been battles in our history, as in the
    Sengoku (warring states) era, but it was rare that one
    side would completely wipe out their opponents, so I
    believe we’ve cooperated well with each other through
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the
    top government spokesman, also said he did not find
    the remarks ”specifically problematic” but warned
    that ”Cabinet ministers must be responsible for their
    own words.”
    Ibuki said Sunday at a convention of the ruling
    Liberal Democratic Party’s chapter in Nagasaki
    Prefecture that ”Japan has been historically governed
    by the Yamato (Japanese) race. Japan is an extremely
    homogenous country.”
    Remarks regarding homogeneity have drawn
    criticisms in the past, such as in 1986 when then
    Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone described Japan as a
    nation with a ”homogenous race.” He faced strong
    criticism mainly from Ainu indigenous people.
    In his 40-minute speech on education reforms,
    Ibuki, who is minister of education, culture, sports,
    science and technology, also said, ”In its long,
    multifaceted history, Japan has been governed by the
    Japanese all the way.”
    Ibuki also issued a warning about paying too much
    respect to human rights, illustrating his remark by
    pointing out what happens if one eats too much butter.
    ”No matter how nutritious it is, if one ate only
    butter every single day, one would get metabolic
    syndrome,” he said. ”Human rights are important, but
    if we respect them too much, Japanese society will end
    up having human rights metabolic syndrome.”


    Abe fine with ‘homogeneous’ remark
    The Japan Times Feb 27, 2007

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday downplayed criticism of remarks
    by his education minister the day before and said there was nothing
    wrong with Bunmei Ibuki calling Japan an “extremely homogenous” country.

    “I think he was referring to the fact that we (the Japanese public)
    have gotten along with each other fairly well so far,” Abe said. “I
    don’t see any specific problem with that.”

    Ibuki said Sunday at a convention of the Liberal Democratic Party’s
    chapter in Nagasaki Prefecture that “Japan has been historically
    governed by the Yamato (Japanese) race. Japan is an extremely
    homogenous country.”

    Remarks regarding homogeneity have drawn criticism in the past. For
    instance, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone faced a strong backlash,
    mainly from Ainu indigenous people, when in 1986 he described Japan
    as a nation with a “homogenous race.”





    Bunmei Ibuki’s comments were *worse* than I realized. If this isn’t
    big news, in my opinion, it *should* be. If I have time I will blog
    on this tomorrow. I hope others do as well.

    The Japan Times articles did *not* report on other comments that
    *did* get reported in the Japanese press. Searching around I did find
    that some of these comments got reported in at least one English
    newspaper, the Telegraph.

    Ibuki makes comments that show on a fundamental basis he
    misunderstands constitutional government.

    He seems to view rights as entitlements sort of handed out by the
    government. However, these rights can be overemphasized and to the
    detriment of the minzoku.

    Minzoku translates as folk, but it’s code words for *race*, as in
    Yamato Minzoku.

    Ibuki’s opinion is that rights should not be overemphasized at the
    expense of the minzoku. And he explicitly identifies the Yamato Minzoku.

    This is the *same* minzoku that so many Japanese lost their lives
    over during WWII.

    This is sort of like saying, yes, it’s nice to have rights, but don’t
    forget that the heart and soul of Japan is the Yamato minzoku, our
    homogenous race heritage.

    This is really unbelievable and stunning. The fact that Abe does not
    see a problem with these comments is also political miscalculation he
    hopefully will suffer for.

    Ibuki should resign and Abe should profusely apologize.

    Because of the importance with which I see this issue, I’m posting
    the entire Telegraph article:

    Minister’s human rights rant shocks Japan
    By Colin Joyce in Tokyo
    Last Updated: 6:39am GMT 27/02/2007

    Japan’s education minister has stunned the country with a gaffe-
    strewn speech in which he claimed that too much emphasis has been
    put on human rights.

    Bunmei Ibuki, 69, also said that Western-style individualism is
    damaging Japan, while he praised Japan’s racial homogeneity and
    appeared to denigrate minorities.

    Japanese newspapers reported yesterday that Mr Ibuki, a veteran
    politician who worked at the Japanese embassy in London for four
    years in the 1960s, implied in his speech in Nagasaki that problems
    with Japan’s education policy stemmed from the fact that it was
    imposed by the US occupation authorities after the Second World War.

    “Japan has stressed the individual point of view too much,” he
    said. He also argued that a society gorged on human rights was like
    a person with an obesity-related illness.

    “If you eat butter everyday you get metabolic syndrome. Human
    rights are important but a society that over indulges in them will
    get ‘human rights metabolic syndrome’,” he said.

    The speech raises questions about Tokyo’s commitment to concepts
    such as human rights and democracy, which Japanese commentators
    note were brought to Japan by defeat in the war rather than created
    independently by domestic reforms.

    It is unclear whether Mr Ibuki’s choice of the word “butter” was
    intentional or unfortunate, but it echoes an old disparaging
    Japanese expression for Western ideas: “stinking of butter”.

    The term came about because Westerners traditionally had a far
    higher dairy content in their diet than Japanese and hence were
    thought to smell of butter.



    Here is a link to his comments in Japanese:

    Some of his comments:
    1. 人権だけを食べ過ぎれば、日本社会は人権メタボ
    ningendake wo tabesugireba, nihonshakai wa ninken metaborikku shoukougun
    “If we (eat) partake too much of human rights, our society will
    degrade as the human body does when it partakes of unhealthy food.”

    2. 権利と自由だけを振り回している社会はいずれだ
    kenri to jiyuu dake wo furimawashite iru shakai wa irzure dame ni
    naru. kore ga konnkai no kyouiku kihonn houkaisei no ichiban no pointo
    “If we only brandish our desire for freedom and rights, then society
    becomes useless. That is the number one point of our educational

    The idea that there is some kind of trade off between rights and a
    “good” society is completely misconstrued. A good society is one
    where people have rights and those rights are protected, period.

    If we allow that rights can be curbed at the needs of *society* we
    introduce a random variable that can be interpreted however one wants
    to interpret it. We *all* have different views on what a *good*
    society would be. This is why we have democracy.

    Moreover, Ibuki doesn’t seem to grasp that freedom in a political
    sense *only* means freedom from (physical) coercion. The government
    cannot grant freedom in any other sense of the word. We accept that
    the government will have to use a limited amount of (physical)
    coercion to carry out its job, this is why we recognized the
    fundamental danger inherent in governmental power.

    Shall we allow more government physical coercion in in order to
    support the Yamato minzoku. This is absurd. And its coming from the
    minister of education!

    The primary function of government is not to create a utopian
    society, be it the Yamato minzoku, or some extreme form of Islam or
    Christianity. The *fundamental* function of government is to
    *protect* our rights. Through the exercise of those rights, we might
    be able to help society, physical coercion should not shape those

    I’ll note that at least one politician has a nice come back to Ibuki.
    Kiyomi Tsujimoto stated:
    nihon wa ninken ishiki ga tarinai kuni da to kokusaiteki ni mirarete
    iru. metaborikku dokoro ka eiyou busoku da.

    “As from an international perspective Japan does not have enough of a
    human rights sense of consciousness, I’d say as far as human rights
    rather than having a human rights syndrome, we’re undernourished.”



    Beating the Yamato drum
    The Japan Times March 1, 2007

    With health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa’s gaffe remark that women are “childbearing machines” still fresh in people’s memory, yet another Cabinet member has put his foot in his mouth. This time, education minister Bunmei Ibuki has voiced objectionable ideas on the general character of the Japanese state and human rights issues.

    In his speech about “education resuscitation” in a meeting of a Liberal Democratic Party chapter in Nagasaki Prefecture, Mr. Ibuki said the Yamato race has ruled Japan throughout history and that Japan is an extremely homogeneous country. He also expressed the idea that there should be limits to the enhancement of human rights. Likening human rights to butter, he said, “However nutritious butter is, if one eats only butter every day, one acquires metabolic syndrome. Human rights are important. But if they are respected too much, Japanese society will end up with human rights metabolic syndrome.”

    Mr. Ibuki’s comment is ideological. It is known that Japan’s ancient culture, the foundation of Japan’s present culture, was an amalgamation of various roots. No one single race formed Japanese culture. Referring to Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s remark in 1986 that Japan is a nation with a “homogeneous race,” Mr. Ibuki said, “I did not say homogeneous race.” Even so, his mentioning the homogeneous character of Japan shows he does not altogether accept Japanese society as a composite also of Korean, Chinese and other foreign residents as well as Japanese nationals who do not identify themselves as members of the Yamato race — Ainu people, for example.

    His human rights comment is also troublesome. It is clear that Japan has many human rights problems that must be addressed. Mr. Ibuki should remember that various rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are the basis of a healthy democracy. Strangely, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended Mr. Ibuki, saying his statements are not problematic. Such words will only fuel doubts about Mr. Abe’s integrity as a national leader.


    EDITORIAL/ Ibuki in the dark on rights
    Asahi Shinbun 02/28/2007

    Addressing at a convention of the Liberal Democratic Party’s chapter in Nagasaki Prefecture on Sunday, education minister Bunmei Ibuki said: “If you eat only butter every day, you develop metabolic syndrome. If Japanese overindulge themselves on human rights, the nation will develop what I’d call ‘human rights metabolic syndrome.'”

    Metabolic syndrome’s telltale symptom is abdominal obesity, which could cause strokes and other diseases. Ibuki used this medical case to voice his view that society will become “diseased” if human rights are overemphasized.

    Speaking on the present and future of educational revival, he also asserted: “Any society that goes hog-wild for rights and freedoms is bound to fail eventually. For every right, there is obligation.”

    Perhaps Ibuki wanted to point out the mistake of asserting one’s rights without accepting the obligations that go with them.

    However, although “rights” and “human rights” can overlap each other in some areas, they are not completely interchangeable concepts.

    The very fact that Ibuki coined the expression “human rights metabolic syndrome” revealed his insensitivity to human rights issues. Is there truly a glut of human rights in Japan today?

    In the education world in which Ibuki has the top administrative responsibilities, suicides among bullied children continue because they are unable to cope with the torment.

    Elderly people are increasingly becoming victims of abuse. There are also endless cases of domestic violence and threats from spouses. Foreigners and people with disabilities continue to face discrimination.

    Last week, a Kagoshima District Court ruling condemned the persistent police practice of using heavy-handed interrogation tactics to force “confessions” out of crime suspects and making up investigation reports.

    The situation in Japan is alarming not because of human rights excesses, but rather because there are too many human rights issues that are being ignored by our society.

    The abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents constituted a grave violation of human rights. Therefore, the Japanese government submitted a United Nations resolution condemning Pyongyang’s violations of human rights. The resolution was adopted by the world body.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated in his policy speech last month that he would work closer with nations that share such basic values as freedom, democracy, fundamental human rights and the rule of law. But what we don’t understand is that the same Abe sees “nothing wrong” with Ibuki’s comment.

    Human rights issues are among the primary concerns of the world today. It is surely Japan’s role to continue upholding democracy and human rights in the fast-evolving international community and situation in Asia. Japan will be held in higher esteem only if it strives to become a “human rights nation” where every individual is respected as a person.

    It is all the more regrettable that Ibuki, the very minister in charge of Japanese education and culture, has uttered remarks that revealed his lack of respect for human rights. The last thing we want the education minister to do is give the rest of the world the wrong message–that the Japanese people are quite satisfied with the present state of human rights.

    Where human rights are concerned, Japan is nowhere near developing any disease from overindulging. It is still undernourished.

    –The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 27(IHT/Asahi: February 28,2007)

    人権メタボ 文科相のひどい誤診だ


















    6 Responses to “Ibuki & Abe on human rights & butter, plus reactions from media and UN”

    1. Matt Dioguardi Says:

      There’s a lot I want to say here, but a bit too tired. I have worked on a long post for my blog and will send it tomorrow, I hope. So just this for now

      Ibuki said: “In its long, multifaceted history, Japan has been governed by the Japanese all the way”

      You respond: “Or how about Japan’s postwar SCAP? Oh, that doesn’t count, I guess.”

      That’s *his* very point. That his point *exactly*.

      That’s why he thinks the educational system is messed up. it was during the occupation that the old system was established. He thinks we need a system true to Japan.

      Kind of sends shivers up your spine, if you ask me.

    2. debito Says:


      Thanks Matt!

      I don’t know if Abe will be made to regret it but he should be.
      Abe’s defense strikes me as more problematic than the original
      gaff. Abe is equating homogeneity with getting along well. By this
      logic, diversity (more foreigners in Japan, etc) leads to acrimony.
      It also implies that whatever peace and good human relations have
      characterized Japan thus far have been in spite of minorities such as
      Ainu, Okinawans, Koreans, etc. This is a very problematic way for
      Japan’s leader to defend a remark.


    3. debito Says:


      Further reports(*) seem to indicate the original comment on “homogeneity”
      was part of a speech about not showing individuality rather than about
      racial differences.

      Ibuki is now coming under fire for stating that overemphasis on
      individual rights is detrimental to the all important “wa”.

      As such his opinion is just as problematical, but it should induce the ire of
      not just the racial minorities in Japan.

      (*) Among others;

    4. debito Says:


      On Feb 28, 2007, at 5:39 PM, Tony K wrote:
      Further reports seem to indicate the original comment on “homogeneity”
      was part of a speech about not showing individuality rather than about racial differences.
      Ibuki is now coming under fire for stating that overemphasis on
      individual rights is detrimental to the all important “wa”.
      As such his opinion is just as problematical, but it should induce the ire of
      not just the racial minorities in Japan.


      The more I look into Ibuki’s comments the more troubled I become.

      There is no transcript available for the speech, but if one goes to
      Ibuki’s official home page, one can find much the same types of
      stuff, only worded with a slight bit more caution.

      His home page is here:

      One interesting page is here:

      There you will find the following paragraph:

      As best I can translate this (corrections would be great), it says:
      “Although there are exceptions basically, Japan is one race, ruled by
      one race, a country of one language, a country without religious
      strife, in this world a truly rare country. Throughout history, the
      work of our ancestors was to form a tacit promise with each other
      that is part of our collective consciousness and goes *beyond* the
      law. For just one sole time, following World War II, Japan was ruled
      by an occupation army, and for just under ten years, Japanese culture
      stopped. It was during that very period when a the Fundamental Law of
      Education was passed creating the current educational system, an
      educational system that has gone on for 60 years, an educational
      system nearly all Japanese have passed through. And now as we see the
      (undesirable?) results, it is time to resuscitate the educational
      system for the next one hundred years.”

      I’ve blogged on this here:

      Basically, Ibuki seems to be blaming Japan’s current problems on the
      Fundamental Law of Education that was put into place during the
      American Occupation. He probably feels it emphasizes rights to much,
      and doesn’t do enough to build or shape national character. So he
      wants wants to revise this law (already has somewhat) to fit the
      needs of the collective conscious of the nation, the Yamato race.

      Ibuki leads his own faction, and according to Wikipedia his faction
      is “considered by many to be the most right-wing grouping among the
      major factions.”

      See here (copy and paste and beware of white spaces):

      Not exactly the kind of person you want to have to have the Ministry
      of education.

      His speech last week-end must have been a bit like the scene at the
      end of Dr. Strangelove:

      He might genuinely have not wanted to say “Yamato Minzoku” but in his
      excited zeal the word perhaps just leaped from his lips.

      Matt Dioguardi

    5. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      I find it amusing that in the light of nearly two dozen child suicides in two months, an increase in students not attending school, and schools not teaching the required hours of cumpulsory subjects, the best the Monbusho has been able to come up with is a push for “fostering a love for the country that nutured them (students)”

    6. Global Voices Online » Japan: The Disappearing Pension Accounts Says:

      […] The next section criticizes the practice the government is using, in which frustration directed at employees of the Social Insurance Agency over their better working conditions is used to divert the government’s responsibility: ◆ ねたみ根性を利用するのは悪質  菅直人や民主党のことはまあおくとして、問題は職員に対するねたみ根性を利用したキャンペーンである。確かに労使の慣行で、データの入力に関しても、一日にこれだけとか、ノルマはない、とか民間からみれば天国、というような事態はあるだろう。しかし、こういう組織というものは「上から腐る」のである。社会保険庁の長官が天下りで渡り歩き2億9000万円ものカネをかすめとっていく職場で、まともに働くということは可能だろうか。 Using the power of envy is heinous Putting aside the issues to do with Kan Naoto and the Democratic Party of Japan [DPJ], the problem is the campaign [waged by the LDP] which uses jealousy directed at employees [of the Social Insurance Agency]. Certainly, it seems that the situation is that, in regards to a customary practice of labour and management — one that also applies to data entry — there are no absolute requirements on how much work has to be done in one day, no output quotas. From the point of view of the average citizen, these conditions are like heaven. However, this kind of organization is one which usually goes “rotten from the top”. Is it really possible for anyone to do proper work in a work place in which the director-general of the Social Insurance Agency, in his cushy job [amakudari], goes here and there and skims profits of 290 million yen? 「ケッ、面白くねえ。何かワシらだって甘い汁を吸えないか」と思うのは、当然だとまでは思わないが、気持ちとして全くわからないわけではない。  一方、民間では正社員はサービス残業、非正規は低賃金で過労死直前まで働かされて、地獄のような目に遭っている、そう考えると、ねたみたくなる気持ちもわかるけれども、社会保険庁の職員をいくらねたんでみても、我々の労働条件はよくならない。 “Pfft, this is so stupid. Why can’t we have some of this good life as well?” — I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this kind of thinking is unsurprising, but, as a feeling, it is to a certain extent understandable. Meanwhile, among the general population, full-time employees are doing off-the-clock work, while non-fulltime employees, earning very low wages, are being worked nealy to death from overwork, suffering in hell-like conditions. If you think about this, then it is understandable why such people feel jealousy, but however much jealousy one might feel, our work conditions are not going to get any better.  ぎりぎりまで働かせるような法制度を作っているのは社会保険庁の職員ではなく、自民党である。にもかかわらず「人権メタボ」などと称して、人権を少しでも削り取ろうとねらっている。贅沢は敵だと言いながら、さんざんピンハネしてきた人たちの跡取りなんだから当然といえば当然だが。  少しでも職場の待遇がよい人たちを妬んで、どんどん労働組合をつぶしていくに従って、我々の生活はどんどん悪くなっている。向こうの思うつぼなのである。 The legal system which forces us to work to these extreme limits was not designed by the employees of the Social Insurance Agency, it was designed by the Liberal Democratic Party. Despite this, under the guise of what has been called the “metabolism of human rights“, they are attempting to chip away at our human rights as much as they can. These people took the place of predecessors who themselves, while claiming indulgent spending to be the enemy, had been stealing money we had invested, so this is all not very surprising. Jealous of people with good workplace conditions, and as moves are steadily made to destroy labour unions, our life will become worse and worse. This is exactly what these people want. […]

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