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  • Meeting with US Embassy Tokyo Sept. 9, 2010 regarding State Dept. Country Reports on Human Rights

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on September 10th, 2010

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    Hello Blog. Yesterday three friends and I visited the US Embassy in Tokyo to discuss employment and other issues of discrimination in Japan. The consular official who received us, a Mr Thomas Whitney, kindly gave us 90 minutes to give as much information as we liked for consideration in the US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, an annual report given by the USG on individual countries that has in past years included information on even the Otaru Onsens Case (thanks). What follows are the summaries provided in advance of what we would say:


    Workplace Apartheid in Japan
    by Louis Carlet
    Executive President
    Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (“Tozen”)
    See also Wikipedia article for Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union

    Segregation of the workplace is standard practice in Japan, with open discrimination against foreigners. The following focuses on the conditions of foreign teachers, including US citizens.

    Three types of foreign teachers predominate: English conversation, public and private school teachers and university teachers. All three groups are regularly kept out of Japan’s public health and pension system (“shakai hoken”) despite clear laws requiring enrollment.

    This leads to serious problems in the event of sickness, injury or retirement. Hospitals provide inferior or no care to patients outside the system. Employees are deprived of sick pay guaranteed by the government Retirees find themselves with no pension benefits after decades of service.

    Under pressure from unions and human rights groups to address the non-enrollment crisis in conversation schools, the Social Insurance Agence issued an openly discriminatory directive on May 19, 2005 targeting “foreign teachers.” By making it more difficult to enroll in shakai hoken, the SIA encouraged illegal non-enrollment of foreign teachers.

    ALTs meanwhile are caught up in a system of fake-outsourcing (giso ukeoi). Schools outsource teaching of English to private firms offering the lowest bid. This results in a race to the bottom as well as non-enrollment in shakai hoken and unemployment insurance. Schools then shirk all employment responsibilty in the event problems arise.

    ALT morale is extremely low as they are treated far worse than Japanese teachers literally standing next to them at the podium.

    Finally, university teachers are openly given contracts “for foreigners” that lack all benefits that most teachers have. They receive a high per-class wage but nothing for work outside of class. Further, many foreign teachers are told they must leave after three, five or nine years, apparently because foreigners tend to lose their just-off-the-boat freshness.

    Americans and other foreigners who teach in Japan find it nearly impossible to procure a steady job with normal benefits that Japanese teachers enjoy. The government refuses to take the action needed to move toward equality.



    In 1992 I was hired by the University of Tokyo, the premier university of Japan, as the sole American lecturer. My contract specified exactly that I was hired as a citizen of the USA. My contract was a yearly one which was renewed 17 times.

    I inquired about the pension situation, as was informed that at the end of 17 years of service, I would be eligible for an annuity funded by the government of Japan.

    During 17 years I carried out my duties, taught pro bono several graduate courses, and represented the university in over ten publications and 8 international conferences as well as teaching courses with specific American content.

    In 2005 I was informed that I would not be getting the annuity. It was allocated in a random fashion to five other nationals, myself and my Austrian colleague not being deemed eligible for the annuity. There were no clear criteria on why certain nationals received the annuity and certain other nationals did not. This in itself constituted a clear discrimination based on the Japanese Labor Standards.

    I continued working until 2010 at the university and completed the required 17 years.

    My main issue is not a specific labor issue (this is being addressed through a union), but the completely discriminatory manner in which certain nationals were arbitrarily excluded from the annuity due to them. The exclusion by nationality constitutes a grave human rights violation based on both international law and Japanese law. Of course, it was discriminataion in that as a foreigner I was not placed in an obligatory national pension scheme to start with.

    This is a very brief summary.
    Frances Fister-Stoga



    The Japanese Government (GOJ) has a history of not abiding by its treaty obligations. With “Japanese Only” signs and rules in businesses nationwide (despite unlawfulness under both the Japanese Constitution and the UN CERD) and clear and present inequality towards non-Japanese in both the workplace and in protections under the law, Japan still has no national law with penalties against racial discrimination. The GOJ continues to make arguments to the UN against adopting one (i.e., freedom of speech and the efficacy of the Japanese judiciary for redress), while abuses towards non-Japanese and ethnically-diverse Japanese worsen (e.g., new and overt examples of hate speech and xenophobia, racist statements by politicians and media, even targeting of naturalized citizens for suspicion and exclusion). The GOJ has had more than a decade (having effected the CERD in 1996) to make legislative attempts to rectify this system, and its negligence presents ill precedent for abiding under future treaty signings (such as the Hague Convention on Child Abductions). Friends must help friends break bad habits, and gentle international pressure to assist the GOJ under a new reformist administration move in the right direction is a good thing for all concerned.

    Arudou Debito

    NB: Since our focus was on employment issues, I cited my experiences with TADD and Ambassador Mondale back in 1995 (See Ivan Hall CARTELS OF THE MIND), and the systematic full-time contracting of NJ in academia as witnessed through the Blacklist of Japanese Universities. I also mentioned that the GOJ has constantly refused attempts to release hard numbers on how many NJ academics in Japan have contracts vs tenure compared to Japanese academics getting contracts vs tenure (see more on this Academic Apartheid here). I also tied everyone’s presentations at the end with a request for USG visits to the Ministries of Education and Labor (following on Mondale’s precedent), to express awareness of the problem and the desire for proper enforcement of existing labor laws (if not the creation of a law against racial discrimination).  Finally, I gave Mr Whitney the FRANCA handouts I gave the United Nations last March regarding general issues of discrimination in Japan (here and here).


    Our fourth friend, Tokyo CalBear, talked about his experiences with arbitrary dismissals at the workplace and child abductions. I have no provided summary.

    We’ll see how this comes out in next year’s State Department Country Report. Our thanks to the US Embassy Japan for hearing us out. Arudou Debito in Tokyo

    9 Responses to “Meeting with US Embassy Tokyo Sept. 9, 2010 regarding State Dept. Country Reports on Human Rights”

    1. andy Says:

      Thankyou for all that you are doing.

    2. Hoofin Says:

      I would love to know about the part where Americans here are routinely denied the shakai hoken, even though the totalization treaty requires Japan to treat Americans equally with Japanese.

      Also, other employment discrimination issues, like how hard it is to get proper and effective administrative responses from the Labor Standards Board.

    3. Behan Says:

      A lot of English schools and dispatch companies claim that their workers are part-time, even if they are at their workplaces for 40 hours a week, and say they do not need to enroll their employees. They did things like claiming time between classes was off the clock, as if we could teleport back to our homes in this time.
      In a couple of companies I have worked for, the workers were given a choice between Kokumin Kenkou Hoken and a private insurance scheme they had a tie with. Shakai hoken was never discussed.

    4. Paul Says:

      If you ask around at street level, you’ll quickly discover it’s not just foreigners.

      It’s foreigners. It’s Japanese women. It’s Japanese under 30s too. All routinely denied, often even with explicit 30 hour+ contracts, none of this shifty eikaiwa 29.5 rubbish.

    5. Hoofin Says:

      @Paul @4:

      Fine. So you are saying that Japanese employers cheat some other people among the Japanese. The rule about social insurance, which incidentally is what the U.S.-Japan totalization treaty references, is that Japanese and Americans are supposed to be enrolled on an equal basis.

      This does not mean that if some Japanese employers cheat other Japanese, then cheating the Americans (or Canadians, Australians, etc. on their treaties) is O.K. It means the Japanese aren’t following their treaty obligation, and possibly using the excuse that they’re lackadaisical about social insurance in general, so it shouldn’t be an issue. Their U.S.-business henchmen who front for this here play right along as it either reduces expenses (ALT) or gets more gap policies sold (“”).

      The shakai hoken dodging is built into the price structure of dispatch ALT hiring, which in turn is capped by the funding level for a JET. The gap policy is a band-aid to cover the true lack of health insurance. The non-enrollment in pension opens the American ALT teacher up to being deemed an “independent contractor” by the U.S. IRS in the future, and subject to 15.3% self-employment (SE) tax back home on any reported earned income above $400. No one ever thinks about that one, but the possibility is there. If you’re not registered in the Japanese social insurance as described in the treaty, isn’t the presumption that you’re just a freelancer who is subject to self-employment tax? The safe harbor to having to pay (SE) tax is that the treaty prevents double-taxation when you are enrolled in the Japanese pension program.

      It’s fantastic that the State Department, if not the U.S. Embassy itself, is finally listening. And bravo for Debito and the other activists for doing this actual activism (not keyboard activism) to put the issues before those in government who might finally help protecting us here.

    6. Paul Says:

      Hoofin, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding! I’m by no means supporting what they’re doing. Two wrongs most definitely don’t make a right! I think what Debito is doing is absolutely brilliant and I do definitely thank him for the massive amounts of good activist work he’s doing.

      The point I’m making is that, as an aside, the rabbit-hole and associated social fallout, goes much deeper.

    7. Hoofin Says:

      Paul, my apologizes for really getting going there. I agree that the part that is hitting, and hurting, the expat community is also something that the disenfranchised among Japanese have to deal with, too.

      I cue in to things that sound like someone is saying, well, put up with it because, hey, it’s happening to some Japanese too. And you were obviously not saying exactly that.

    8. tokyocalbear Says:

      Dear Debito and community at large:

      The original working paper (#9) “Academic Apartheid Revisited” by Ivan P. Hall of the Japan Policy Research Institute (JPRI) from May 9th, 1995 which includes the open letter to former Amb. Mondale and the US embassy’s press release “Mondale Meets Foreign Professors” can be found at the link below:

      Best wishes to all

    9. Hoofin Says:

      I sent some material on the IBM Japan and EEOC matter to Thomas Whitney, and I was surprised that I actually got an e-mail response. Nice to see that the Embassy under the Obama Administration and Secretary Clinton is, finally, taking note-whether or not they can or can’t do anything.

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