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  • Proof positive that some people really do suck: JT responses to proposals for a Japanese immigration policy

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 24th, 2009

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    Hi Blog.  It’s times like these when I think human society really has a bottomless capacity for oozing disdain for and wishing ill-will upon others.  Get a load of these letters to the editor (including authors who won’t reveal their names, or don’t live in Japan anyway) responding acidulously to my Japan Times column earlier this month, where I made constructive proposals for making Japan a place more attractive for immigration.  (Many of these proposals were made not just by me, but also by former Immigration bureaucrat Sakanaka Hidenori; so much for their pat claim below of imposing my moral values).

    None of these respondents appear to be immigrants, or have any expressed interest in investing in this society, yet they heap scorn upon those who might plan to.  I know paper will never refuse ink, but surely these people have more productive uses of their time then just scribbling poorly-researched and nasty screeds that help no-one.  The self-injuring, snake-eating-its-tail mentality seen in NJ vets of Japan is something worthy of study by psychologists, methinks.  Any takers?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    The Japan Times, Letters to the Editor Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009

    Level playing field for immigrants: responses
    A selection of readers’ responses to Debito Arudou’s Dec. 1 Just Be Cause article, which proposed policy changes to “make life easier for Japan’s residents, regardless of nationality”:

    Get your fill and head off
    I’m getting tired of listening to foreigners moaning on Japan. The answer is very simple: You don’t like it, leave it. Why do these people want to live in Japan at all costs if they don’t like the system? The world is big; go somewhere else. I’ve been in Japan for 4 years with my Japanese wife and now we have understood it’s time to move on for our future, and therefore go back to Europe. We all know Japan is a homogeneous country. It will never become a cosmopolitan society like the West. Who are we to change a deep-rooted, xenophobic culture where Japanese have been living for centuries? It’s much easier for Japanese to live in the West than for us to live in Japan. There are big Japanese communities in every Western country. Japan is not an expats’ resort by tradition. Foreigners come here either for marriage or overseas contracts, meaning it can be a beautiful place to live for a few years but not to settle permanently. My suggestion to all those disillusioned gaijin is to make the most of your stay in Japan and return home when you think you’ve had enough.


    Takasaki, Gunma Pref.


    Unwelcome, no matter what
    This article implied that Japan is seeking to welcome foreigners, which is far from the case. I came here (unwillingly) under a Japanese scholarship, graduated here top of my class, work here, did volunteering to help in disaster relief . . . But everyday I wake up, I find myself in the same position: potential thief when I walk in a store; a potential terrorist when I enter a government building, even when I spend my time there volunteering; my neighbor keeping watch on me every day; unable to obtain a bank recommendation when I need it . . . In my case, I gave up on Japan and will (leave) with a bitter taste.



    Homogeneity works well
    Japan has been often criticized for its immigration policy, which does make it somewhat difficult for a non-Japanese (NJ) to obtain permanent residency or citizenship. I disagree that this policy has worked to Japan’s disadvantage in the global labor market. . . . (Arudou) says Japan needs a new immigration ministry that would decide clear public standards that would give immigrants what they want. It is not an obligation of the government to give immigrants what they want. The (role of the) ministry is to be sure that the immigrants who are allowed into Japan will obey the laws of Japan and not become wards of the state.

    Also, I disagree with Arudou’s desire to have citizenship based on birth in Japan. Look at the U.S.: Illegal aliens come into the U.S. and have what is called an “anchor baby.” The baby is automatically a U.S. citizen, and his/her parents then become eligible for permanent residency and then citizenship. And the American taxpayer pays for their health care, housing, food stamps, education and more. They create their enclaves, demand bilingual classes, etcetera, and never learn English.

    Japan has been very fortunate to have about 98 percent of its population (form) a homogeneous society, in which the people share a common language and culture. Of course there are local variances, but by and large the people speak one language, which helps to maintain a high level of literacy and an appreciation of a common culture, language and history. . . . Debito Arudou should abide by the laws of immigration of Japan, stop whining or simply find another place to live.


    Bellevue, Wa.


    Let Japan run its own shop
    I am an American who lived in Japan for 4 years and find it pathetic how many people want to force Western ideologies onto Japan. Japan is its own country. Let them do as they please. At least they can control their immigration issues, unlike most European countries and the United States. I bemoan how my country, the United States, can’t tackle or has an unwillingness to tackle the issue. Japan has a right to keep the country as Japan sees fit. Forcing non-Japanese moral values on it to satisfy the short-term aging population issue is not in best interests of Japan.


    Address withheld


    52 Responses to “Proof positive that some people really do suck: JT responses to proposals for a Japanese immigration policy”

    1. Emanuele Granatello Says:

      You know Arudou, there’s a nice old proverb from the place I come from: “Dumbasses mother’s always pregnant”. The people who wrote the comments will die as they lived: as slaves. They imply that NO MATTER what you do, nothing will ever change. A real Nippo-Confucian thought. Also, the statement that “Japanese appreciate Japanese history and culture” is an UTTERLY ridiculous one. Just go around asking some [Japanese] about [Japanese] culture and history… then start laughing! As Dante wrote in the Divine Comedy: ” Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass.”

    2. let`s talk Says:

      I do not think that people who wrote “Foreigners come here either for marriage or overseas contracts, meaning it can be a beautiful place to live for a few years but not to settle permanently” should expect a serious answer.

      — Or should expect publication in the Japan Times, but there you go.

    3. Gavin Peters Says:

      Mr. Wahl is either ignorant or lying about the benefits of having a US citizen child. I’m a Canadian living in the US with my Canadian wife and two American children, and I assure you there’s no benefit to me of their citizenship.

      In theory, when they’re 21, they could sponsor me. Otherwise, nope.

    4. Eric Says:

      It’s pretty simple: Many of these people think (correctly IMHO) that nothing they say to Japan or Japanese people will have any effect or cause any meaningful change. So rather than trying to convince the Japanese to change, they work to isolate the Japanese by telling the outside world that Japan is xenophobic and racist (again, correct IMHO). Only when Japanese universities/students start getting bad reputations throughout the world, European/American companies pass by Japanese firms to do business in China, and Japan becomes economically/politically weak will they actually change anything. Actions/effects speak louder than words, and so far, from the pro-immigration/anti-racism side there has been pretty much only words.

      Honestly, you are only contributing to this phenomenon through this website. If you want to make an impact, you should be writing much more in Japanese for a Japanese audience. However, I understand that it’s hard to do so when the audience doesn’t want to hear what you’re saying. And you might say we’re cowards for not standing up for this, but most people are more interested in living their lives than fighting for what they deem a pointless cause.

    5. Mike Says:

      The nattering nabobs of negativity. Don’t let them get you down, Debito! These people seem to be of the Rousseauian view of the Japanese as some sort of “noble savages” who have been corrupted by us foreigners and NJ from other lands. Utter BS. Forget that the fact that we all have human rights…. Anyhow… don’t let them drag you down.

    6. Tom R. Says:

      I think its about the whole “cultural” argument thing. That somehow its Japanese culture to be xenophobic and no one should try to force an alien way of thinking on the Japanese.

      Which of course is completely wrong.

      I just think the bureaucrats, business leaders, and politicians of Japan have done such a good job at hiding the culture excuse as an ideology, and spreading it around the world, most people don’t see it for what it is.

      And these people all have westerner names, westerners, Americans, Europeans are extremely afraid of being thought of as ethnocentric, which is one step away from being labeled a racist, which is a buzz word these days. Remember the 80s with all the news in America about “Japan Bashing”? Same applies here I believe.

    7. snowman Says:

      Don’t lose heart Debito. The views of those who are nothing but short termers in Japan or don’t even live here have absolutely zero credibility. Who would bother to listen?? Even among the long termers there will always be some who are anxious and ready to “bend over and spread’em” but I’m sure most of us read your fine column and agreed wholeheartedly with your ideas.

    8. TT Says:

      I absolutely agree with the commenters in the JT response article. Why just the other day, when a Japanese lady was crying to me that she was sexually harassed I said “Hey, this is Japan, if you don’t want to be felt up on the train, maybe you should leave…” Obviously this is sarcastic, but hopefully people will get this point.

    9. sebarashii Says:

      Indeed there are a lot of such people out there, I’ve met a few and they’ve only been interested in earning a quick buck in the big city and drinking their way around every bar in the vicinity, never mind looking beyond their own world. I’ve always found that the most racist people I’ve met in Japan are the few foreigners who take issue with every little thing that doesn’t matter and blame the Japanese for it forever. I say, take issue when it’s discrimination on someone else’s part but don’t do it back or you’re just inviting more of the same back onto yourself and others. Even worse, do nothing about it at all and let it get worse and as the comment above says, be a slave to a system that should be much better than it currently is. Some people definitely do suck don’t they? Keep up the good work, Debito.

    10. TT Says:

      I do not always agree with you, but had to come to your site to show some support after reading the letters to the editors in the JT. Some of the writers are either ignorant or just plain stupid. I am not going to discuss the fact that as a [resident of Japan and/or Japanese citizen] you have the right (and some would argue duty) to try to make Japan a better place but rather will comment on the love it or leave it cultural mindset that seems to be in many of the letters.

      Culture and customs are always evolving. I was told that in the in the 70s secretaries would give their bosses back massages. This was an accepted part of the company culture (and society in general). Obviously something like that today would not be acceptable.

      I am guessing that the overall issue that the individuals above have is that they “think small” and in a micro environment in regards to the overall culture, they believe that they only options are to accept the culture, perhaps try to ignore it, or leave. They do not think about the longer term investment in the culture and society that will make it in general a better place to live for all. This is a truly sad mindset but does speak to the truly small mind.

    11. Another John Says:

      Quote: “Japan has been very fortunate to have … an appreciation of a common culture, language and history.” (End quote)

      Oh, God – I snorted coffee out my nose on that one and, man, did that hurt! I’m still laughing. OK, I can concede the point on language, but appreciation of culture and history? Yeah, I’m gonna have to stop the train on that one.

      During one of the countless bonenkai (bonenkais?) this year, I delved into countless meandering – and somewhat drunken to varying degrees – talks with clients and vendors, many of whom had a curiosity of why a foreigner would want to live here for 20 years. It dawned on me that, at least at the level of the central Tokyo salaried worker, there’s not a lot of depth of understanding of native culture or history…especially history.

      Let’s run the gamut. Not one person could explain the Meiji restoration; nobody knew who won the Russo-Japanese War; ditto on why did Japan try to colonize East Asia (learning by a bad example set by the then colonial powers of Europe), etc. I fared a little better on post-war GHQ/SCAP issues, but c’mon – these events are why the Japan of today is the Japan of today.

      I assumed the position of teacher when trying to recall recent prime ministers, too,. Not a lot of luck there, much less on their their policies. Even as recent as the post-Koizumi era (Koizumi, Abe, Fukuda, Aso, Hatoyama), I got a lot of 「小泉の後、だれだっけ?」type responses. Memories of relatively contemporary events such as the Ehime Maru disaster, the Recruit scandal, Japanese astronauts on shuttle and space station flights (Doi, Mukai, Onishi, etc.), Japanese performance at recent Olympic games (“Oh, that’s right – we did win a gold in Torino. Speed skating was it? No…figure skating? That’s right. I forgot”), among others, seem already shrouded in the mists of time.

      Oh, but ask about Norippi and everyone…and I do mean freakin’ *everyone*…had an opinion. The consensus is that most people, male and female, want to see her do a nude spread. Glad there was something we could all talk about. *sigh*

    12. Kimpatsu Says:

      Just a brief rewrite of the first letter above:
      “I’m getting tired of listening to foreigners moaning on Europe. The answer is very simple: You don’t like it, leave it. Why do these people want to live in Europe at all costs if they don’t like the system? The world is big; go somewhere else. I’ve been in Europe for 4 years with my European wife and now we have understood it’s time to move on for our future, and therefore go back to Japan. We all know Europe is a homogeneous country. It will never become a cosmopolitan society like the East.”
      Then compare with the following:
      “The British National Party is the only political party that opposes mass immigration.”
      “The BNP’s policy is to “stop all immigation… (and) offer generous grants to those of foreign descent resident here who wish to leave permanently.”
      (For non-Europeans: the BNP is a British far-right, racist political party.)
      Notice the similarity between the letters and the BNP manifesto: namely that countries should be ethnically homogenous. (Although that is scientifically impossible anyway.) If you agree with the one but not the other, you are a hypocrite. Or would all these nay-sayers rather support apartheid-era South Africa?

    13. Ben Says:

      John, Name Withheld, Karl, Mike –

      The goal is – improving the quality of life. So the solution for the above letters to the Editor, leave Japan, right on! We don’t need you, you have no interest in Japan, and you don’t want roots here. So go back to your home country, drink your double skim-milk latte and think of ways to make your life better.

      For me, home is where I hang my hat. I will do everything in my power to improve the quality of life for my family and friends. Don’t let a tragedy force you to have a change of heart, but that’s what it’ll take for you to wake up. Only then it’s too late.

      So bugger off! By the way, Happy Holidays.


    14. Yonatan Says:

      I wrote a counter-argument letter in response to the Japan Times two days ago, but I don’t know if it will get to see the light of the day or not.

      The main thing is that all of the people listed have basically given up on Japan and are leaving/have left/(possibly never even lived here in the first place)… They dismiss any attempts at improving life in Japan while admitting their defeat at the hands of said societal problems in the same breath. It’s like an athletic team that has been kicked out of a tournament explaining how winning the tournament was never worth it anyway. I think the Japanese term might be 負け犬の遠吠え…

    15. Deepspacebeans Says:

      This degree of stupid can be avoided with one simple and easy step: Just read out-loud what you are thinking/writing and ask yourself, does this really make any sense? Question your presuppositions and if the argument stands it is, more than likely, at least decent enough to write down.

      We have an interesting “Japan does not welcome immigrants very well, so we should stop trying to change that” argument. It’s a sort of live and let savagely beat you with a leather strap piece of logic. This one seems to predominately come from those that have “given up” on Japan and no longer live there themselves. It is an interesting piece of thought that seems to combine two or three interesting premises. The first is that “when I went to Japan, I found life to be difficult for immigrants and I’ll be damned if people who follow in my footsteps have an easier time of it”. The second is “We should not force western values like “equality” and “pluralism” on Japan. Their culture is xenophobic and we should not change their culture.” The last is something along the lines of “Immigration reform = forcing our morality on Japan.” This last one is especially cute because it assumes that those who would call for reform are outsiders with no rights and not tax-paying members of a society whose governmental policy affects our day-to-day lives.

      Then there is the more insidious implication of this “Japan is a homogeneous country (sorry, Zainichi and Ainu) and WHY DO YOU WANT TO CHANGE THAT? THAT IS SO AWESOME. IF ONLY EVERY COUNTRY COULD JUST KICK OUT ALL THOSE FOREIGNERS, WE WOULDN’T NEED AN IMMIGRATION POLICY AT ALL. WHAT ABOUT ANCHOR BABIES??? MEXICANS ATE MY GRANDMOTHER” argument. These wonderful people are just trying their darndest to make sure that Japan continues to exist as a place where tourists can come and view the native Japanese in their natural environment. Or at least, trying to save them the money that would be necessary to make new immigrants to Japan feel welcome. I MEAN, THEY DON’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE, SO WHY THE HELL DO THEY WANT TO COME OVER HERE? THEY SHOULD JUST GO BACK TO KIM-CHI LAND AND BE HAPPY. In actuality, the sort of veiled support of racism in these comments can only be caricatured as a kind of crazy so extreme, it almost seems genuine.

    16. crustpunker Says:

      “Oh, but ask about Norippi and everyone…and I do mean freakin’ *everyone*…had an opinion”

      Pardon my ignorance, but who or what is a “Norippi”?

      — Sakai Noriko. It’s her nickname.

    17. mitly Says:

      Parasite — an animal or a plant that lives on or in another organism at whose expense it obtains nourishment and shelter

      Mr. Testore,

      It’s time to move on for your future? Comments like this sound parasitic. Live here, live there…whatever suits you at a particular junction in time. You need to also make contributions and seek the betterment of where you live not merely use until it no longer suits you. You may find one day that there will be no place on the planet that will suit you precisely because people share the same attitude as you–take what’s there and move on. Nature has such beasts; they’re called parasites. Although I cannot make comment because they continue to survive. They must serve a purpose. Do note that when you refer to a person as a parasite, it’s pejorative in nature.

    18. Peter Says:

      The real question is if Japan does indeed revise its immigration policies, are we actually gonna see a huge influx of immigrants and not just hostess girls from Thailand but skilled workers, professionals, teachers, etc etc?? What can Japan offer to these people that they don’t already have in their home country, especially western immigrants

    19. Steve VonMaas Says:

      You have some truly great commentators here. I want to respond just to the “multi-cultural”, “to each his own”, “they have their own customs” angle:

      First, there is some international consensus, (“international law”) on how states must treat “aliens” within their borders, and a certain minimum of decency is simply beyond excusing on the basis of “tradition.” With that established, it is perfectly legitimate for all humans to assert an interest in improving the treatment of themselves and other humans when they are abroad, and to fight for universal standards which are increasingly equitable. It astonishes me that many people who would never think of supporting the Old Southern Confederacy or the Ku Klux Klan will reflexively defend whatever the Japanese do as if they were some sort of different species entitled to opt out of living in the world with the rest of us. It is all the more ridiculous to envy their approach, which leads to Mr. Wahl and his fellow travellers:

      As Mr. Peters correctly points out, Mr. Wahl could not be more misinformed concerning immigration laws in the United States, but he has plenty of company in his misconceptions. I’m going to refrain from systematically correcting him now, however, because any comparison of the two countries’ approaches and situations would suffer from a lot of false analogy, even if we all took the time to understand both systems perfectly, and I’m eager to get on with pointing out the obvious, because this is my superpower:

      I realize that annecdotes have limits when it comes to understanding the world, but I can’t resist suggesting that your own story, Mr. Debito, is so amazing and so inspiring, partly because it reveals that the Japanese are thinking quite differently from how the uninitiated assume. Did you not make it quite clear to Japan’s officials that if they naturalized you, you would continue to fight for the rights of the oppressed in Japan? Did they not nevertheless proceed quite deliberately and purposefully to take the astonishing (to me) step of recognizing you as Japanese, officially declaring you to be one whom they wanted in Japan, doing exactly what you do? So many of the big changes in Japan’s social system came about only through foreign pressure, that I suspect many Japanese assume this is a natural part of how Japan improves. Your agitation should be viewed as an integral part of the evolution of a very conservative culture in which change bubbles up slowly from below the surface, eventually appearing suddenly like revolution to the outsider, but feeling like sensible and obvious progress to Japanese. I join your other fans in urging you to keep up the good work, and as the “Latin(?) ‘scholars'” in the U.S. Army say, illegitimus non carborundum!

      — I will, thanks. The officials at the MOJ knew who I was (and showed me a big file of newspaper clippings to prove it) when I applied for citizenship. When I asked them if my Otaru Onsens activities would affect my application, they said it wouldn’t. “Everything you are doing is within the bounds of the laws and the Japanese Constitution.” And then less than a year later, I became a Japanese citizen.

    20. Jim Says:

      Just read your article and I cannot see why it elicits the response you received.

      It might be useful to clarify that Citizenship by Birth is only granted in most countries whereby a parent is a Citizen or has the equivalent of a Permanent Residency… I am not an expert but the US seems to be the exception whereby you can get Citizenship even if your parents are both resident illegally.

      — Thanks. Need a source for this.

    21. Jim Says:

      Also the Wiki has information on this;

    22. DM Says:

      The first two letters, I basically agree with overall. The last two are the typical Japologist’s “one-way internationalization” line, which is flat-out racist IMO.

    23. GS Says:

      It seems that the Japan Times chose the most ignorant and inflammatory letters they could find, which seems to be a trend.

      Debito, keep up the good work! Your original article was 100 percent on the mark.

    24. Mark Hunter Says:

      Hi Debito. I also read the response letters in the paper and felt most of it was a load. To you, I say keep up the good fight and remember that what you are doing is making lives better for Japanese and non-Japanese alike. The naysayers need to remember that fact. These human rights issues are not us vs them. They are about everyone and, thankfully, there are a lot of Japanese people who are supportive of improving everyone’s human rights. Thank-you very much for what you do and take time for yourself to recharge when possible. This fight would be greatly weakened if you could not continue. Have a great break.

    25. JP Says:

      Honestly, if those were the most printworthy letters of the lot they received, I wonder how bad the rest rest were???

    26. Shinrin Says:

      Dear Mr. Mike Tull,

      I do understand that, for many who dwell among fantasies of “Orientalism”, Japan seems to be a “Living Museum”. The fact is that for most foreign residents living in this country, it is clear that life is REAL down here.
      I would advise you to rebuild your understanding on “Japanesess” based on the present reality, and not inspired by your dreams built upon “Jidaigeki” and the glorious Edo Period.

    27. Doug Says:

      I liked the article and Debito-san, you make very good points. Your work in Japan is much appreciated and I generally agree with you.

      However some of the letters posted above make a few good points as well and some of the people admittedly chose to leave Japan. I admire that they saw Japan is not for them and left.

      I actually agree with John Testore, “My suggestion to all those disillusioned gaijin is to make the most of your stay in Japan and return home when you think you’ve had enough.” I have to ask what is wrong with that statement? The guy does not like the place and leaves. It sounds like a mature and adult way to handle the situation.

      In the end you wrote, “The self-injuring, snake-eating-its-tail mentality seen in NJ vets of Japan is something worthy of study by psychologists, methinks. Any takers? Arudou Debito in Sapporo”

      Not trying to engage in “trolling” – whatever that means but reading some of the responses in this post that come to your defense is rather interesting. Namecalling, questioning the intelligence of those that disagree, and in some cases downright arrogance.

      Seems to me that the snake has 2 heads…bites from both ends.

      — People can cope with Japan as they like, of course, within reason (and includes leaving if they so choose; admire it if you like). But they shouldn’t sit in such harsh judgment of others who choose not to, and make them out to be culturally insensitive, stupid, or even insane for trying (however unsuccessfully, in their view) to make a go of it here. (It’s not as if I condemned them for leaving Japan and they got their backs up and retaliated…)

      Especially when in doing so they invite the most exclusionary, even racist, attitudes, and seek to deny others their own (inclusive) coping strategies. It’s not the same process at all. One side tries to accept and encourage tolerance, the other denies it completely.

      The way we try to promote at is more inclusive, as opposed to being extremely exclusive, and you know which side I think succeeds in the long run, as I tried to argue in my JT piece. And if they judge us, we’ll take the liberty to judge them right back, thank you very much.

    28. Gavin Peters Says:


      If you’re suggesting that not all countries offer citizenship by place of birth, I suppose you’re right. But to suggest that the US is exceptional in doing so is not accurate.

      Citizenship by birth is offered in Argentina, Canada, the USA, Lesotho and Pakistan, as well as many other countries. But the list of jus soli nations spans four continents!

      (cite: )

    29. Mark in Kanto Says:

      The kind of response that Debito’s article got is, I think, usually written by those who think themselves superior to others by noting how “different” one place is and then indicating “I can handle it.”

      They eat fermented camel dung? “Hey, I learned to like it–its actually quite tasty when you get used to it.”

      They demand foreigners to go without sleep for days at a time? “No problem for a tough cookie like me, it is just a cultural thing.”

      They execute J-walkers? “No sweat, never bothered me, I just didn’t do it.”

      And so on. So the naive, irresponsible cultural relativist who hasn’t bothered to think a moment about more general ethics, more equitable politics, or fundamental human similarities comes out with the self-gratifying conclusion that (s)he is superior to all others because (s)he was able to deal with discrimination, hardship, and stupidity and lived to tell about it. Or didn’t even notice it.

      Self-aggrandizing, self-righteous bullsh*t, I would say. But oh it feels so good, so powerful, so superior to its propagator!

    30. Graham Says:

      The whole “love-it-or-leave-it” argument is so old, my brain no longer can register it as a substantial argument. Karl’s argument about the “anchor baby” didn’t seem compelling either. But I think Mike Tull pretty much summarized everything that has to be said about this issue, or at least what I would have liked to say.

    31. Jay Says:

      No offense to Debito-san, but the Japan Times will print anything; I once read something they printed by a woman in Hokkaido talking about how homosexuality causes AIDS, spreads disease, and, in many other various and unfounded ways, hurts people. There were no facts at all in the article, yet the Japan Times decided it was suitable for print. I guess we just have to use our wits and sort out which of them is worth paying attention to. I thought the article on immigration was fantastic: it had great suggestions on moving forward and managing immigration that is inevitable, not some sort of choice or ‘western value’. So I find it really hard to believe that *all* of the comments they received were this negative. Debito-san, do they send you all of the comments about articles you submit? I’d request the others, too.

      — No, I saw none of the comments in advance. My editor is overseas for the holidays. Methinks somebody unsympathetic took the helm. (The HAVE YOUR SAY column is notorious for taking contrarian positions, anyway, especially towards my writing. This time was pretty egregious, however, given the lack of another positive opinion for even the veneer of balance.)

    32. Peter Says:

      Interesting take on naturalization.

      “The most common reason respondents gave for wanting to keep their Korean passport was a sense of national identity, with 42.6 percent, followed by a lack of practical need for Japanese citizenship with 36.4 percent of them.”

      [overgeneralizing conclusion deleted]

    33. Kimberly Says:

      The first letter in particular is so ignorant, it made me laugh out loud. This: “It’s much easier for Japanese to live in the West than for us to live in Japan. There are big Japanese communities in every Western country.” Are those two sentences supposed to be related? Is the presense of other people with the same birthplace and/or native language equivalent to a place being “easy to live”? This absolutely depends on the individual… in our case, I am bilingual and my Japanese husband is not, we celebrate most Japanese holidays and only one “Western” one (Christmas, with KFC and all) etc etc etc… I refuse to believe for a second that my own family would last for a month in a Western country. Just because Mr. Testore and his wife are apparently the opposite does not mean that ALL international couples and families are, and nowhere in your article did you suggest that EVERYONE should become permanent immigrants to Japan, just that it should be possible for those who DONT want to go “home” after four years.

      I don’t know that I agree with citizenship by birth ALONE, but a modified version of that (citizenship for the children of legal residents or legal permanent residents, for example) would prevent pregnant women from sneaking in on tourist visas (the fact that Japan is an island without a border like the US/Mexico one also helps, it’s a completely different situation physically).

      As far as “forcing Japan to change,” Japan is becoming Westernized on its own, and even if it weren’t, you never mentioned forcing Western culture or values on Japan. I don’t know how you PERSONALLY feel about people who live here for ten or twenty years and never bother to learn the language, but at least in the article you say this: “qualifying examinations that allow for non-natives’ linguistic handicaps, including simplified Japanese and furigana above kanji characters” That doesn’t seem to me to applaud a failure to learn the language, but a way to reward people who HAVE learned the language… just not necessarily since birth, 24 hours a day.

      And this
      “minority schools funded by the state that teach children about their bicultural heritage, and teach their parents the Japanese language” Again, not sure if I agree personally (and you never outlined a detailed plan) but again, taking ONLY what is written in the article, nowhere does it say that you DON’T want to teach children about Japan… BIcultural does, by definition, mean two cultures, and if these schools would be teaching the parents Japanese, one can only assume that the kids would be learning Japanese as well.

      I don’t always agree with you 100% on every little issue… but there was very little in that article that even seems DEBATABLE… it’s not about forcing everyone to naturalize or to shove every world culture down people’s throats, just about allowing those who CHOOSE to be (to whatever degree) multicultural citizens the right to be equal, contributing members of society… and I realyl cant believe that anyone, anywhere really wants to ARGUE about that.

      — Finally, somebody takes up the issues I raised in my JT article!

      JT should exercise more editorial constraint and only publish letters that actually deal with the messages in the article, not the article’s author.

    34. Deepspacebeans Says:

      Even here we find several people sympathetic to this “love it or leave it” non-argument. Perhaps it is just me, but I simply cannot understand what their objection is to your article calling for immigration reform. If you do not like a country, don’t live there. Alright, I understand that much and it is good ol’ common sense for those that can afford to follow it. But how is this arguing against any attempt to reform immigration policies? Is it that trying to change government policy is difficult and it would be easier to just move somewhere else? Is it some form of righteous fury at our audacity to try and reform immigration policies? It seems to me that they are just shouting “Why bother to advocate reform? You should all just give up and/or leave Japan!” from the rooftops. As I stated above, this is a non-argument. It serves no purpose. If these people simply wish to be contrarians then so be it, but it would benefit them to at least make something resembling a point. Instead we are treated to an incessant whine about some cultural relativism malarkey and the suggestion that if we don’t think Japan is perfect the way it is then we should just leave like so-and-so did. Even worse is the implicit suggestion that we, as tax-paying residents (or, in some cases, even passport-carrying citizens) of this country do not have any right to advocate reform.

      Seriously Debito, have you ever actually come across a REAL argument against your promotion of immigration reform? because this is just ridiculous and I hope that you point this out to these people in the near future.

      — No, quite honestly, I haven’t. Any serious attempts mostly boil down to boilerplate (variations of “Japan is not an immigration country”) rather than logic. But then again, it’s easier than actually making an effort to come up with cogent arguments that make sense.

    35. Deepspacebeans Says:

      Sorry, I forgot to add something to the previous post.

      Maybe I am just missing the extremely erudite point that some of you find so compelling. I don’t know. I am not the brightest crayon in the box. Could someone who found this whole “if you don’t like it here, you should just leave japan (like I did)” line of argumentation so agreeable please inform me of the inner intricacies of its logic and demonstrate how it skillfully refutes immigration reform advocates.

    36. Steve King Says:

      I happened to buy the JT on the day these were published. One would think that the editors at the JT would screen these things for factual inaccuracies before considering them for inclusion..

      Having a different opinion to Debito is of course fine and I know he welcomes a healthy debate. But being willfully ignorant of the basic facts around the issues ( ‘we all know Japan is a homogeneous society’ ‘Debito does not follow the immigration laws of Japan’) is just plain lazy and shouldn’t win you space and a platform is what is supposed to be Japan’s best English newspaper.

    37. mitly Says:

      I wanted to address the comment made by Doug. He stated that there’s nothing wrong with leaving Japan if you don’t like it. I agree with him. People shouldn’t be forced to stay in places that do not suit them or feel an obligation to improve communities that thought they would like and then found contrary. But once you perceive yourself as temporary, it is difficult to justify the time, energy, money, commitment, etc. to a place and its betterment.

      I think my train of thought was coming from somewhere else. One of my friends laughingly made the comment that the students of Sharif University head off to the West and make their way there. She called it the country’s worst “brain drain.” Their educators create the scientists, engineers, etc., and the West happily accepts them. Another example is doctors in a particular African nation-state running off to the West to earn a better living leaving the doctor:patient ratio absolutely laughable. It’s a good thing the “Doctors Without Borders”–doctors in the West treat patients in Africa because doctors in Africa are running off to the West.

      There is something inherently parasitic to this. It leaves “places” in devastation. But, this comes to the “take your fill and leave” mentality. I just get this sense that we will ultimately create ever increasing global ghettos because we are so on the go and cannot justify investment.

      So, I think it’s a very good thing when people choose to stay and invest themselves in some place, whatever that place may be. The people who choose leave, should leave. But, long-term implications of trends should be considered.

      — More importantly, people who make the investment in another society should not be so cruelly criticized for doing so.

    38. ken44 Says:

      I tend to agree with those who say if you don’t like things here perhaps it might be best to leave. Now this isn’t to say you can’t try and create change or rock the boat if you prefer to stay. Yet my feeling is life is short and if you’re not happy where you or what you are doing maybe it is time to move on if you can.

      Personally I’ve always enjoyed living here but when work became a drag and I began to seriously think about leaving. However, my situation changed for the better and I stayed. But I work with several long-term NJ who constantly feel a need to complain and all I can think is if you’re that unhappy why are you still here? Esp. those single and without family ties.

    39. blvtzpk Says:

      I’m always amused by those who do see Japan as a ‘living museum’ – they project an image onto Japan and see any suggested change as a dilution of its purity. I also am amused that these are often the same people who dislike the concept of multiculturalism in their own country and always question their own country’s immigration policies. In their minds, Japan’s approach to immigration and ‘outsiders’ is one they wished that their country had – even though most of these vocal individuals are the descendants of people who immigrated to countries that are now multicultural. They love this aspect of Japan until immigration or discrimination face them full-on – then their view most often changes.

    40. Jeff Says:

      “Seriously Debito, have you ever actually come across a REAL argument against your promotion of immigration reform? because this is just ridiculous and I hope that you point this out to these people in the near future.

      – No, quite honestly, I haven’t. Any serious attempts mostly boil down to boilerplate (variations of “Japan is not an immigration country”) rather than logic.”

      Oh! Ok, let me take a crack at that, Devil’s Advocate style. This is an intellectual thought process we need to have nailed, because you must counter the negative reaction that is actually occurring subconsciously (so serious arguments are not necessarily dispassionate). It’s not for the people responding to the article, but ultimately the electorate because we want to persuade them, and they will bring the GoJ along.

      1. Because life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Now, before you say that is not a logical argument, remember that fear is a (even the?) real motivator for most and any government that provokes fear instead of providing “solutions” to it is quickly out of office. And we see consistently that stereotypes have made this particular box’ packaging unappealing.

      2. Because cultural change is a necessary prerequisite _and_ consequence (can you really persuade me it’s not?), and generally people hate that. Look at the visceral reaction to Climate change mitigation which will involve changes for everyone for a global example of cultural change resistance. (see 1 about fear too).

      3. And here is, IMHO, a big one. There is no compelling reason to do this, from the POV of entrenched interests (the POV being key, Debito argues lots of reasons for, but not targeting that that point of view). What do they gain? This is a pure logic equation, actually, but from the other side and to be agents of change we need to be able to answer “benefit” before we roll out “no (acceptable) cost”.

      4. So, ok what about cost? Japan’s debt is measured in multiples of GDP. We need to show that immigration will cause the Debt:GDP ratio to decrease in real terms (this should be easy, and it would be compelling).

      5. The standard Immigration canard: Immigrants will take Japanese jobs. See 4 for a solution, otherwise, it can turn out to be true and a source of future problems should you be able to get past the political issues of point 1.

      … think of more, seriously, then I suggest an FAQ targeting the persuadable and politically necessary …

      — I’ll comment later, but others, feel free to have a crack at these DA (as in Devil’s Advocate, not my initials) questions…

    41. K.Sen Says:

      Hi There, Thanks for making a good point. All the people I’ve met so far who are naturalized citizens tend to share the same view that assimilation into the society here is extremely difficult. Starting from the PTA association at school, in cultural events etc.. And I’ve also heard this retort many times, that if you don’t like anything, you’re welcome to leave. It seems to me to be an extreme and despotic view, that if one does’nt agree with somebodies opinion, no further discussion is welcome and one is liable to be treated with disdain.

      Then considering pragmatically there would be two ways to deal with the problem. To accept everything as it is and keep griping away or to bring all parties into the discussion and keep seeking even small concessions.

    42. Allen Says:

      Well, let’s hope that the ones who truly want to be in the nation will shine brighter than those who do not. It is too bad that they are unhappy, but there is no point in dragging everyone else down with them.

    43. Lisa Wilkinson Says:

      I am definitely not the brightest crayon in the box either and therefore rarely comment on these pages. However I couldnt help but comment this time because in some ways Wahl is right. Actually the tax payer does pay for education, medical care, welfare and housing at least in Australia for immigrants. I know full well as I am part of that system here.

      I voted with my feet and left Japan as I felt the opportunities for work were not available as well as not being able to vote and always being the ‘foreigner’ which I detested. I came back to Australia where I got a job working at a Japanese company where I was employed specifically for my Japanese language skills, I was really happy. But I only lasted about 9 months as I became bored in an office environment and did not like the office politics either. I went back to teaching English (something I said I would never ever do again) and work at a government institution called TAFE (Technical and Further Education) where I teach English to immigrants. I get paid really well (more than I earnt in Japan) and the benefits are better than the Japanese company I worked for. The immigrant to Australia gets 510 hours of English tuition and then once their hours are used up, they are still in the system where their education can be continued very cheaply whether it is to continue English to help them enter university or some other skills based course or just to continue studying English at a higher level.

      The thing is if the tax payer does fund these things for immigrants such as education, welfare, housing etc they also vote with their feet. Many people want to immigrate to Australia because of the opportunities here for them and the help they get to settle here.

      What are Japanese taxes being spent on? In my eyes all I could see tax payers $ going to was rebuilding of roads and cementing up of rivers while they continue to worry about how they are going to support their aging population. Immigration actually makes sense does it not, purely on an economical level?

    44. Allen Says:

      You bring up a good point. Tax money could be used to teach foreigners japanese or other skills that would make them better residents or even citizens of the country and hopefully lessen the resentment a bit. Although, the “A foreigner is still a foreigner” mindset would be harder to get rid of.

    45. Scotchneat Says:

      I think in all this, it is important to remember the main beneficiaries of enlightened thinking about human rights are the Japanese people themselves. Basically, a small group of fascists have been working overtime to reinstate the pre-war order and have succeeded to some extent. If these fascists are willing to commit human rights abuses against vocal foreigners with awareness of human rights, one can only imagine (and to some extent we know) the terrible abuses committed against children, the mentally and physically disabled, elderly, women, employees and other vulnerable groups.

    46. Mike Says:

      After residing in Japan now for over 12 years, I would have to agree with allot of people are posting here. It does seem that the rest of the world wants to keep Japan as the place they once visited, that is something different than their own miserable existance in their own country. I actually used to be like that, I think its some sort of juvenile charateristic we all have. It always amazes me when others who havent resided in Japan but visted here in the military or some other short stay deal have the biggest mouths and will try and teach you all things Japan. There is allot going on in Japan that many dont know about, but they should know because tis all wrong and its being covered up.

    47. mitly Says:

      But what I can’t understand is how it can continue to be covered up to the extent that it is and for as long as it has. The level of mind manipulation and image control is astounding. Unchecked authority leads to laziness, human rights violations, and problems with violations of standard ethics. But there’s no need for thoroughness in anything because there are no consequences.

      I think it’s frightening, actually.

    48. Edward J. Cunningham Says:

      In my opinion, many (although not necessarily all) of the Western apologists for Japan’s xenophobia are flat-out racists who wish their own country could be as “enlightened” as Japan.

    49. Doug Says:


      First of all, regarding your reply to my comment – I do not think the writers of the comments to your original article are all sitting in “harsh judgment” and I do not think they “suck” I just think they disagree. The original posters have their opinion and I do not think all comments were personally directed at you. In fact some of the points they brought up were valid and relevant, especially for those that are complaining about Japan and do not have an emotional or other type of investment in the country. I personally agree with your article, but do not think those that disagree suck.

      Being out of Japan for a bit I took some time to re-read your original article (and follow the links).

      Personally I think what you have listed as Item 4, Public Relations, is the single most important issue. Even as we approach 2010 there is a nearly institutionalized fear and distrust of foreigners. If this does not change among the general public then the other items will be difficult or impossible to tackle. The PR campaign should be 95% directed inward, toward the general population. In times of economic turmoil racism tends to raise its ugly head so the message should also be geared to the impact of the aging population and its effect on the economic health of the nation and the positive economic impact more hard working, contributing foreigners can have on the country.

      Item 1, Immigration, can be tackled in parallel and then by the time the infrastructure is set up maybe some of the PR campaign will have kicked in as the new immigrants start to arrive. I also think Japan should consider additional ways of attracting talented technologists into the country and encouraging them to stay (which would require Item 3 – Improvement in human rights protection, especially those related to employment). I think the Immigration Bureau could also remain under the MOJ to speed up the process and make implementation easier (I would imagine forming an entire new ministry would be a monumental task, especially with the economic situatio as it is)

      I agree also with Item 2, Policing, however in my opinion this would require a major cultural shift within the NPA, which would take time. The first step would be to disengage them as much as possible (within reason of course) away from immigration enforcement. Japan being an island is not like the U.S. and Japan would likely not have the consequences of this action that the U.S. does. I also think the “PR” campaign should have an element directed towards the NPA. I think the NPA would have a very hard time (at this point) accepting non native speakers.

      The only disagreement I have with you is the same as Kimberly, post number 34, regarding citizenship by birth. I would probably remove this one from the list or provide some major litmus test to this issue. The “anchor baby” (I do not like the term) is a real issue in the United States. It is more evident in southern California and other border states. This is an issue the U.S. must deal with as I believe the original intent of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was to ensure citizenship to former slaves after the abolition of slavery. I have Japanese friends that have kids with U.S. citizenship just because they had a baby while studying in a U.S. university. It is a very interesting discussion when I ask them if Japan should do the same for me… the usual end result of the discussion is that all agree citizenship by birth alone is not a good idea.

      As I stated before, I would still be very interested in a blog that would lead to a discussion as to why people choose to stay in Japan (are most blog readers staying due to marriage, work reasons, improvement in their economic situation).

      I think those that are here for a known short period of time, without major investments (emotional or financial) see the issues in your original article as either being non relevant or in a different perspective.

      I also think that you, as a citizen, have a unique perspective and different level of investment that alot of the readers do not have and (whether right or wrong) I think that is why you receive some of the comments you do.


      — C’mon. It went beyond mere disagreement. Those comments were just plain mean.

    50. Taylor Says:

      I read the comments here before I read the article. I don’t understand where some of the comments seem to be ripping you a new one. They also call you a foreigner…

      I found many of the points you brought up to be valid. I hope more Japanese people start to learn of the inequalities existing in Japan today. That will help reform happen sooner.

    51. Taylor Says:

      I found an interesting article from 2006 using reference materials from 2002 about Japanese Immigration Policy:
      It may be a few years old, but I found 2 points especially interesting:
      1) “As the Japanese gradually and grudgingly open their country to foreigners…”
      – you read it right – grudgingly… as in they don’t want to let foreigners in…

      2) “… former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stated in 2005, “If [the foreign labor] exceeds a certain level, it is bound to cause a clash. It is necessary to consider measures to prevent it and then admit foreign workers as necessary. Just because there is a labor shortage does not mean we should readily allow [foreign workers] to come in.”
      -So a labor shortage need not be a reason to allow immigration. Just let in guest workers when times are good, and send them home when the economy tanks.

      So I conclude that the people currently making policy in Japan really do not want to make it easier for foreigners to come to Japan. They like things the way they are.

    52. winston Says:

      We can’t expect the government to give us what we want, if we want to end discrimination then we need to change from the inside. For the most part government should be limited in what they do in society, but thats up to the citizens to decide to prevent government from expanding it’s power upon the citizens. My opinion about that is the citizens of Japan are not doing a very good job of dealing with their government, neither is anybody else in the world nowadays.

      For the non citizens coming into Japan, they need to refuse all the propaganda being fed to them by educating themselves (all that crap thrown at you by the government and media saying that you are a foreigner), and lose the preconception that Japanese are all homogenous and are all collectivists. My argument is that Japan is more individualistic than North America. I think people especially the young assert their opinions more freely than they do in North America. you need to be in the right place and time, and stay away from the nasty collectivists. People need to stop thinking Japanese in Japan, and see everything as it is, judge people by who they are what they do. You need to lose the collectivist ideas and realize that individualism and liberty is the only thing that exists, no matter what anyone thinks or tells you.

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