Hi Blog. Two Cries du Coeur from ethnic residents of Japan being shaken down by the Japanese police–one by Zero, a Issei Japanese-Filipino, the other by Ali Rustom, and Englishman of Egyptian descent. Racial profiling and the lingering anger it creates towards the authorities… Arudou Debito in Tokyo
An Isseijin’s Outcry
By Reijiro “Zero” Abrera
zero DOT abrera AT yahoo DOT com
Before reading any further, let me inform the readers that I am keeping my whole identity confidential, for the sole reason of protecting myself. But what I can tell you is this: that I am a Japanese citizen by birthright (born in Japan, and my father being a Japanese) and a half-Filipino half-Japanese in terms of ethnicity. I can understand Nihongo, but I have yet to become fluent with my native tongue. I was raised in my mother’s homeland to become an educated and responsible person and I have returned here in Japan with the hopes of pursuing my goals and aspirations.
Prior to my return, I have been informed of many accounts about the realities that people have faced during their stay here. I kept all these in mind but made utmost effort not to make hasty assumptions about the Japanese people in general. But now, only after 3 months of my stay, I am writing this entry because I am beyond compelled to relate to the readers an encounter that has exacerbated my growing skepticism about this country:
November 1, 2007. For Christians, it was a day designated in commemoration of the Church’s role models, the saints. Here in Japan it was just a typical autumn morning… or at least it was supposed to be. My brother walked out of our apartment as I was left making final preparations for a day’s work. When the clock struck 6:20 am, I knew I had 3 minutes left before I miss the train ride en route to the city where we work. And without a second thought, I hurriedly took the usual route on the way to the train station. And just when I was about a corner away, I caught a
glimpse of a scene that rendered me speechless for events to come – my sibling backed against a wall, holding his Japanese passport while being surrounded by not less than 8 men clad in blue suits or work clothes (genba). They were representatives from the local police and the immigration office, who disguised themselves as civilians to catch us off our guards.
Two of them saw me coming and tried to stop me from going any further. But they didn’t have to. I stood still, dumbfounded with what I saw, wondering how this could have happened to us. As I approached my brother, he told me that they are in pursuit of illegal immigrants and we appear to be their targets. But what baffled me was the fact that my brother had already shown his passport yet these individuals continued to bombard him with questions. Nor did they even back down to give my brother some personal space to explain that we are Japanese but have been raised elsewhere. Shouldn’t his passport suffice to let him continue to go to work? And what confused me even more was that I recall a policeman conducting a census in our area less than a month ago. My brother himself showed the proper documents as a proof of our legitimate residence.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I can hardly respond to their multiple queries. Then one of them asked if I was his brother. We responded “yes” and I was asked if I brought my passport. The first thing that entered my mind was “Why in the world do I have to bring it with me to work?” Obviously I didn’t have one, and so we were asked to escorted to our house and get it. And then it struck me. What if I was the one who went ahead to the station?
As we showed them my passport, they knew they were left with squat. My brother was psyched out and so he decided to stay in the apartment. I chose to go to work and explain the incident to our supervisor; but as I rushed back to the station, I noticed that there were more men than ever surrounding the vicinity of our house. I wasn’t there for their explanation, but I was told later that a tip from a source prompted them to make a move against us as soon as they heard it. But as far as I know, a tip in itself does not establish enough grounds to arrest someone. Just because of the way we look, we were tagged as criminals. Because of our complexion and facial features, because of our heritage… it was enough to send an armada of men to put us down, as if we were highly dangerous to the society. We felt debilitated, humiliated and dehumanized. And as an added insult to injury, I have to bear with the fact that I have to keep a passport handy whenever I go out for personal or work purposes, ironically, in a country where I bear a citizenship.
Now, I know for a fact that this incident is not as rare as a solar eclipse; there are some who may contend that everyone who is “gaijin” or considered to be one will most likely go through similar troubles here in Japan, thus it does not hold much gravity. But this experience is enough to stir thoughts that have been welling within me for quite some time; for this is just one facet of what my brethren, the so-called Japanese-Filipino (or Ja-pino) issei-jins go through in this country. Allow me to speak for those who share these burdens but are not able to articulate themselves, as I share to the readers our story that is perhaps unknown to many.
We, the isseijins, are children born out of the Japanese bandwagon during the 80’s until the 90’s, when a great interest in the Philippines (among other Southeast Asian nations) and its people was highly prominent. (Nowadays, it is apparent that the people from the West are getting the attention.) And when the time came for our country to lose its popularity, it is as if the Filipinos were reduced to almost non-existent. Nowadays, I have noticed that there is not a single Filipino featured in any television show that involved representatives from other countries. But that’s nothing compared to our current state of living. Today, isseijins like me, whether raised in Japan or elsewhere, are far from being recognized to be a part of the society. Most, if not all, are subjected to tough working conditions in a factory, required to produce perhaps twice the output of the “true” Nihon-jins and compelled to work longer hours when “requested” (they will deem us irresponsible if we decline). And while we do just that, at the end of the day, we will still be “arubaitos” (temporary workers) – and as such, we do not have the support of labor laws. Is this a predetermined social script that has been handed down to our kin? And unlike the “gaijins,” we have nowhere else to go; in our “other” homeland, we cannot easily get a job as the locals take precedence over us.
I myself have taken steps to get out of this social milieu. I tried vying for an English teaching job for almost a year now, but I only managed to merit three interviews in that length of time, all of which were from a reputed learning center. I recall the first one wherein I almost lost the chance for an interview from a branch within the prefecture, as the Japanese manager was deliberately deferring me to another school. I was told that the latter is nearer, only to find out that the opposite is true! Fortunately, the interviewer still gave me that chance, although I did not make the cut because “someone was in the immediate area and is willing to train immediately.”
It’s really sad, but I to continue the fight as I refuse to say “shoganai” and just stick to the program. I am willing to exert 10 times more effort in order to secure a job that I can be proud of, one that can inspire my fellow people to strive for excellence, instead of being kept in the shadows of a backbreaking unskilled labor job in a factory. I truly seek for recognition, if not acceptance, of our kind in this society; and I feel that that time has yet to come.
Reijiro “Zero” Abrera (pen name)
zero DOT abrera AT yahoo DOT com
From: Aly Rustom
Subject: My story about harrassment by the yoshikawa police
I would like to start off by asking Japanese people who have traveled overseas a very simple question: while overseas, how many of you actually had problems with police harassment. How many of you were asked to show your passports or proof of alien registration or visa just because you were not the right color, or because you just looked different? Chances are, most of you would say ”never!”
Now please sit back and read about the following situations that I, an Englishman, have had to endure. These incidences have taken place in the city of Yoshikawa in Saitama Prefecture and the authorities mentioned here are all members of the Saitama-ken Yoshikawa Keisatsu.
This is the incident that caused me to finally say enough is enough and tell someone about this. I was having the oil changed in my car and I had decided to take a walk to the local police box by Yoshikawa station, because I had lost my mobile phone the week before and I was wondering if they had found it. While walking, a police car passed me, and the two coppers inside stared at me intensely. I ignored the stares and walked on. I was close to the station, when the car pulled up beside me, coming to a screeching halt; there was only one cop inside. The other had snuck up behind me. I hadnft done anything wrong, yet both were treating me like a fugitive on the run, trying to cut my avenue of escape, as if I would try to run anyway! The one behind me asked if I was working here. (this whole conversation was conducted in Japanese) I said yes. He asked to see my GAIJIN card, a word that I find extremely offensive, as do most foreigners I know.
I asked him, ”Why? Have I done anything wrong?
”Nothing at all” he replied. ”We’re just checking foreigners’ GAIJIN cards, making sure that they are all legal. Recently there have been a lot of problems with Chinese people.” Did I miss something here?
I asked him, ”Do I look Chinese to you” (I’m white)? He said no. I continued, “As a matter of fact, you two look more Chinese than I do, correct?” They both laughed uncomfortably, not knowing whether to agree or disagree with my statement. The older one spoke up.
”Its not just the Chinese now days. Recently wefve been having many problems with Middle Eastern people. They are terrible people.” Now I was starting to get upset. My grandparents on my mother’s side came from Egypt. I told him that.
”Oh! Well, I don’t mean all of them are bad. Just some of them,” he said. ”And the Iranians. We have so many problems with Iranians.”
“In Yoshikawa?!” I was shocked.
“In Misato. But they are right next to each other.”
“I’ve never heard about anything happening,” I said.
”They’re minor infractions, but they do happen.”
“This is discrimination. Do you know that there are more than 100,000 Japanese nationals living in the UK alone? And what about America, Canada, Australia, etc. When Japanese nationals go overseas they don’t get treated this way. Why do you do this to us?”
”Over there, that’s England. This is Japan,” was the reply.
”And you are a racist,” was mine.
”We are often told that by people when we stop them, but it’s really not true.”
“You just stopped me simply because I don’t have an Asian face. That’s discrimination.”
“Oh, thatfs not true! We stop the Fillipinos and the Chinese as well!” was the enthusiastic reply.
”Well, that’s racism. You’re basically discriminating against non Japanese.”
“We have a lot of problems with foreign crime!” he protested.
“You don’t have problems with Japanese people committing crimes?” I asked.
”Yes we do,” he said.
”You don’t go around stopping THEM, do you?”
”They’re JAPANESE. They donft have Gaijin cards.” He laughed in a condescending way at me, as if to tell me my comment was stupid.
”That’s still discrimination. Both groups commit crimes. Both have good and bad people among them. Yet, you only stop the foreigners. That’s discrimination.”
”All right,” he challenged me. ”What DO YOU think we should do? What DO YOU think we should do?” I was quite frankly taken aback. I thought for a second. I looked at him.
”Nothing,” I said. ”Don’t do anything. You can’t do anything. You can’t arrest someone before they commit a crime, right? You have to wait until they commit a crime. Am I correct?”
”This is all we can do. We have to do this to check up on foreigners living here,” he insisted.
”Do you really think that most, much less all the foreigners in Japan who commit crimes donft have proper visas. There are foreign criminals who are married to Japanese women who are living on spouse visas. There are people living in Japan without a proper visa, but who have never committed a crime. There is absolutely no relation being a criminal and having a proper visa.”
”Hmm,” was all that came out of him.
“Therefore, you have done nothing. You have gained nothing. And you know that. This is nothing more than a racist gesture.”
He tried to argue some more, but at that moment I realized that this could go on for hours. So I gave him the ”Gaijin Card” he so badly wanted to see. He noted it momentarily, and gave it back, insisting that he shake my hand. I did reluctantly. We parted our separate ways.
A year before that, I was on my way home, riding my bike, and was a few feet from my house when 2 police cars flashing their lights and sirens told me through their loudspeakers in Japanese to stop. I did. Eight coppers got out of the car and surrounded me. Needless to say, I was quite alarmed.
”Have I done anything wrong?” I asked the one nearest to me.
”No,” he said. ”Routine Checku.” He pronounced it in katakana English.
Another one came up to my right side and growled for my Gaijin card (I really hate that word). I gave it to him. A third snuck up to me from behind and when I turned to face him, he leaned in close to me and asked me in a threatening voice that was meant to be intimidating which country I came from.
That was the last straw. Fear and alarm turned into outrage and downright fury. I leaned even closer so that our noses were almost touching and said, ”EGIRISU” in a loud and challenging voice. I glared at him, in a challenging way. He backed off, and retreated back into the safety of his comrades. I was asked a whole series of questions to which I responded to with as much patience as I could muster. I went home feeling pretty much the same way I felt after the last incident a few weeks ago: drained, tired, depressed, helpless, upset, and most of all furious.
What’s going on here? Why is Japan treating her foreigners like they are ALL criminals? Yes there is foreign crime in Japan. But it is significantly lower than in other countries and nothing when you compare it to crime committed by Japanese nationals. I can also tell you right now, the Yakuza are creating massive problems for us in London. They practically run Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and they are very powerful in parts of New York as well as North Vancouver. Contrary to popular belief, Japanese do commit crimes in other countries too, but nobody singles THEM out and forces them to show their proof of status.
Also, a very small number of foreigners actually commit crimes. I know this, because had the number been significant, there would have been martial law declared on all foreigners. This forcing people to show their passports or gaijin cards only incites hatred, disdain, and rage toward the Japanese people as a group, and does no one any good. You’re not stopping foreign crime. Anyone can get married to a national and get visa status. This happens around the world. This forcing of foreigners to carry ID with them at all times is nothing more than a racist gesture. It solves no problem. It adds to it. And believe me, it adds to Japanese people’s problems too.
Japanese people love to travel. Imagine having experiences like mine in a foreign country and coming home feeling nothing but negative about that country. Now imagine you just met someone from that country in your own country enjoying life, smiling, and enjoying the very privileges that were denied you when you were in that country. How would you feel towards that person? Hostile? Would you want revenge? All these foreigners you are mistreating have a home country. They will probably go back someday. Your friends, relatives, children, etc might someday find themselves as Gaijin in these countries. Heaven help them if they run into a disgruntled foreigner whose experiences in Japan were negative. Heaven help any Japanese national who runs into me in the UK and tells me he is a police officer in Japan.
See what you have done? And for WHAT? We are human like you.