Der Spiegel: “Border Controls: Japan’s fear of foreigners”

mytest

SPIEGEL ONLINE – 26. November 2007, 16:30
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/reise/fernweh/0,1518,519596,00.html

Translated by Ralph, original German at
http://www.debito.org/?p=803
==============================
Border Controls
Japan’s fear of foreigners
by Christoph Neumann

No Japanese citizen even needs an Identity Card; yet the biometric data of foreigners will be stored for 70 years. Civil rights campaigners can smell the terrorism hysteria and racism, while the National Tourist Office fears for the country’s image.

“Yokoso!” Welcome! The Japanese National Tourism Office greets visitors to Japan at the airport by displaying giant-sized notice boards with the word Yokoso! in red letters. The Japanese Immigration Department however is somewhat less exuberant in its welcome for arriving foreigners: since last week, foreigners no longer have to just show their passports as previously, but also, as in the USA, have to provide their fingerprints, have their photos taken and survive a short interrogation. This regulation concerns not just tourists and people travelling on business, but also applies to foreigners who are resident in Japan. Excepted are only diplomats, children under 16 years of age and family members of Korean nationals who were forcibly brought to Japan during the Second World War.

JAPAN: PROTESTS AGAINST FINGERPRINTING
(A selection of photographs starts. Click on any one of four.)

Yuki Ogawa from the National Tourist Office does not at first regard the measures as being a contradiction to the heartfelt welcome: ” Just like us, the Immigration Department officials could be relied upon to extend a warm and hearty welcome to Japan to foreign visitors. But there have been some cases….”

These “cases” are highlighted by the Japanese Ministry of Justice in an information video. Scenes from the collapsing World Trade Center and the bomb-destroyed Atocha Railway Station in Madrid appear. The smiling woman speaker then links the increased security measures explicitly with the “ever-growing threat of terrorism”. When the new system was officially inaugurated at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, the Minister of Justice, Kunio Hatoyama, promised that:” Now we will be able to prevent any Al-Qaida terrorists from entering the country”.

“I’m making my contribution”

Over several years the promotion of a very selective terrorism hysteria within Japan has failed to achieve any actual results. On Tokyo’s gigantic railway stations, such as Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, both of which see over one million passengers every day, almost no real security measures are apparent. Instead, passengers even on slow trains and barely used country lines are being bombarded with announcements and posters urging them to immediately report unattended baggage: all of this in the name of “measures to protect against terrorism”.

For a while last winter, women working at the country-wide chain of railway station kiosk shops wore a sticker proclaiming:
“Me too, I’m making my contribution to the battle against international terrorism”. As to how exactly she would do this, when she was squeezed in between plastic bottles of tea, sandwiches and newspapers, the determined woman brusquely brushed off the question: “We all have to wear this, but I don’t have any time to think what they might actually mean by it”.

In fact Japan as a rich Westernised industrial power and an ally of the USA in the Iraq war has reasons to fear a terrorist attack. Actually, not so long ago, Japan was the victim of several terrorist attacks, such as the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground network in March, 1995. However, even such Draconian immigration controls as those they have now would not have prevented a single one of these attacks, because up to now all terrorist attacks on Japanese soil, have been carried out by Japanese citizens.

Protests against ID cards

The Japanese Ministry of Justice does not even have photographs of many of its own citizens, let alone their fingerprints. Japanese commonly identify themselves by means of their Health Insurance card. For many mobile phone providers in trusting Japan, all Japanese need to do to prove their identity is to show their latest electricity bill. A few years ago, when the Government finally got round to proposing the introduction of ID cards for its citizens, something which most of the rest of the world has had for ages- and these were just cards with a photo, but no fingerprint- there arose cries of protest throughout the country. In 2006, the Japanese Constitutional Court even declared that such cards would be unconstitutional.

In comparison however, there is no problem with storing the fingerprints and photographs of all foreigners in Japan for 70 years, and even to share them with the “authorities of other countries” “under certain conditions”. At the National Police Agency, they may well be rubbing their hands in glee, but Japanese civil rights activists are in an uproar. Debito Arudou, the author of a book about racism in Japan, calls the new regulations “a part of a government plot to have all foreigners declared criminals”.

Makoto Teranaka from Amnesty International Japan explained at a protest meeting: “Since 9/11, even in Japan, under the banner of the fight against terrorism, all sorts of human rights have been being cold-bloodedly eliminated. The fact that our government is going after foreigners using these measures is nothing other than racism”.

Meanwhile, the conservative Japanese media are having a field day over the news that since the introduction of the new system, eleven foreigners, who had overstayed their visas and previously been deported, were able to be discovered and refused entry.

Discrimination becomes socially acceptable

Nevertheless, most Japanese are still helpful and friendly to foreigners and curious to know more about them. But the 15-year economic crisis and a visibly increasing foreign population have made many Japanese jittery and open discrimination has become surprisingly socially acceptable.
Many clubs, public bathhouses and even noodle shops have notices at their entrance stating Japanese Only, explicitly forbidding entry to foreigners. The police in Nagano Prefecture had notices displayed at ATMs, in which white-skinned confidence tricksters are to be seen, who are in the process of Japanese of the money, which they have just withdrawn.

Moreover, the popular leading politician, Shintaro Ishihara, the Governor of Tokyo, a man notorious for his racist outbursts, recently became responsible for the promotion of a campaign to bring the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016, something which does not bide well as a symbol of interracial understanding.

And Ms. Ogawa from the Tourism Office fears that worse may still come: ” The Government has asked us to carefully observe tourists’ mood regarding these changes over the coming few weeks. If Japan’s image really does drastically deteriorate, then in our final report, we may have to include the recommendation that that these measures be abandoned.”

===================

以上
Hopefully, all this typing has helped to destroy some of my fingerprints….
Ralph

13 comments on “Der Spiegel: “Border Controls: Japan’s fear of foreigners”

  • I live in Japan, but have since canceled planned vacations out of the country because finger printing is degrading. And I now recommend to friends and family not to visit Japan for the same reason.

    While I love Japan, with each passing year it gets harder to put up with.
    Deep down I really do think that the government is trying to return Japan to its xenophobic Edo period closed country (鎖国) policy.

    Reply
  • “And Ms. Ogawa from the Tourism Office fears that worse may still come: ” The Government has asked us to carefully observe tourists’ mood regarding these changes over the coming few weeks. If Japan’s image really does drastically deteriorate, then in our final report, we may have to include the recommendation that that these measures be abandoned.”

    Is this not an excellent angle from which to resist the new xenophobic measures? The Tourism Office is at least aware of the danger to Japan’s image, so if the level of Japan’s anti-foreigner sentiment were more widely known around the world, the Tourism Office might be able to make a difference.

    Reply
  • It destroyed not only your fingerprints but my work and time invested in translating, as I ask if somebody is out there who could do faster than me. No reply, so I started work only to find today it has already been done. Thanks for “cooperation”.
    Dirk

    –SORRY DIRK. THANKS FOR YOUR EFFORT! DEBITO

    Reply
  • Dirk, My apologies too. I had a lot of spare time on a train yesterday and didn’t think anyone else was going to translate
    it, so I did it. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again.
    Ralph

    Reply
  • Well, I can only express the same sentiments as Brian. I’m a PR and I’m not going to leave the country any time soon as I refuse to submit to these racist fingerprinting measures. And too, a group of friends were planning to visit next summer but have now decided on Hongkong and Singapore instead for their holiday. Who can blame them not wanting to be treated as potential terrorists? I truely believe Japan’s tourist industry is going south in a major way. Fully deserved.

    Reply
  • Okay Debito and Ralph. To avoid double work we will check before for the next work. Anyway Ralph, excellent translation !
    Regards,
    Dirk

    Reply
  • Ah… Britain is instituting biometric measures for their visas now too. And not just at the border. Anyone who needs a visa has to submit their fingerprints to their nearest Embassy, High Commission or Consulate, which may involve travelling long distances even before getting to the land of Blighty.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/topic/story.cfm?c_id=467&objectid=10480588

    I can’t wait for the articles from Der Spiegel denouncing British racism.

    –I SEE. SO WHAT JAPAN’S DOING IS OKAY, THEN, I GUESS IS YOUR POINT.

    Reply
  • No my point is not that what Japan is doing is okay. My point is that what Japan is doing is not necessarily racist. Japan insists on fingerprinting foreign nationals at the border – as do other nations, such as Britain and the U.K. We may (rightly) hear how the British and American system are an incursion into privacy, but we (rightly) don’t hear about how these systems are connected to other aspects of “racism” in British or American society. And yet every time the Japanese government institutes a policy that its foreign population doesn’t like (and don’t get me wrong, I oppose the fingerprinting system too), publications such as Der Spiegel haul out Ishihara Shintaro to make the case for systemic Japanese racism. Some of the points the article makes are valid – it somewhat implies (correctly) that the system is a ploy to please Japan’s larger (and by the way foreign) alliance partner, but if this is the case, then why are Ishihara, no foreigner signs and the like even relevant? After all the impetus for the system derives from a “foreign” source, right?

    Magazines like Der Spiegel seem to hold Japan to a different standard than everyone else, I suppose.

    –QUITE THE OPPOSITE. THE FOREIGN PRESS (NOT TO MENTION THE JAPANESE PRESS) HAS BEEN HOLDING JAPAN TO A DIFFERENT STANDARD (FREE PASS ON RACISM DUE TO CULTURAL, ECONOMIC, OR CHRYSANTHEMUM-CLUB GROUNDS) FOR FAR TOO LONG ALREADY. JUST BECAUSE A MEDIA OUTLET DON’T DO COMPARATIVE INTERNATIONAL ANALYSIS IN EVERY ARTICLE DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN OTHER COUNTRIES ARE BEING IGNORED. ESPECIALLY WHEN OTHER MEDIA OUTLETS HAVE GIVEN THE OTHER COUNTRIES A LOT OF STICK ON THIS ISSUE ANYWAY. FOR JAPAN, IT’S ABOUT TIME. ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE OVERTLY DEFAMATORY GROUNDS (FOREIGNERS ARE CRIMINALS, TERRORISTS, AND CARRY CONTAGIOUS DISEASES) JAPAN IS JUSTIFYING THIS POLICY UPON, AND THE PRESS HAS INSUFFICIENTLY VETTED. ARE YOU SAYING DER SPIEGEL SHOULDN’T HAVE PUBLISHED THIS ARTICLE?

    Reply
  • No, I’m saying Der Spigel shouldn’t have included the last section full of traditional platitudes about “discriminatory Japan”. If the article is about the fingerprinting policy, then it is about a policy that has been instituted to please some foreigners (in this case the U.S. government) at the expense of others. The motive for introducing border fingerprinting has very little connection to “evidence” of “Japanese” “discrimination” such as the fact that the governor of Tokyo is a mad-ass bigot.

    Although I don’t expect “comparative international analysis” in every article, I do expect the MSM to hold Japan to the same standard as other countries. In the critiques of the British fingerprinting policy, few would even think to look at racism within modern British society or politics, so why do they do so for Japan every time? And why is it always quasi-relevant indicators like Ishihara or a few unenlightened business owners that are served up as proof of “Japanese” resentment towards foreigners? Do Der Spiegel’s articles on the British fingerprinting policy look at racism within the British conservative party or the growing publicity garnered by the BNP? I doubt it. And even if they did it would be unjustified, as Britain has instituted its policy for precisely the same reasons that Japan has. United States (that is, foreign) pressure.

    –THANKS FOR THE CLARIFICATION. IF YOU WANT TO HAVE THE LAST WORD, GO AHEAD. BUT IT’S NOT “EVERY TIME” FOR JAPAN. AS I ARGUED, QUITE THE OPPOSITE, AND I READ ENOUGH OVERSEAS MEDIA TO SEE THEY DO TALK ABOUT ISSUES OF RACISM IN THEIR OWN SOCIETIES, MORE SO THAN JAPAN DOES ITS. I’LL TAKE THE PUBLICITY FOR THESE ISSUES WHERE WE CAN GET IT. IF WE CAN’T GET IT IN THE J PRESS (AS THE MEDIA’S DEFAULT MODE OF SUPPRESSING DISSENT RE THESE ISSUES, PARTICULARLY VISIBLE ON NHK THIS TIME WITH THE FP ISSUE, DEMONSTRATES), I’LL WELCOME IT OVERSEAS.

    MEANWHILE, YOU’VE BEEN UNDENIABLY SHITSUKOI ON THESE ISSUES HERE AND ON OTHER BLOGS, AND GENERALLY DISMISSIVE OF THE THINGS PEOPLE LIKE ME ARE DOING HERE IN JAPAN. OPERATIVE WORDS BEING “HERE IN JAPAN”. I SEE THAT YOU’RE AN ACADEMIC OVERSEAS. LET’S PUT YOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE. WHAT’S YOUR STAKE IN ALL THIS, ANYWAY?

    Reply
  • I’m sorry, I didn’t know I needed a “stake”. If one were mandatory I suppose I would say I’m not a fan of crappy arguments against crappy policies. Crappy arguments just give crappy policymakers a greater ability to claim that their detractors are overreacting.

    In any case, I have lived both recently and long enough in Japan and I now occasionally travel there to conduct research. Not that I would try and use this to establish a position of authority in order to win an argument.

    Meanwhile, thank you very much for informing your readers of my position and including a link to my university profile. I haven’t been purposefully coy about my nationality or profession either here or elsewhere, and I don’t mind one iota if you personally use my email address – which I sent to you on the condition that it would not be published – to find out who I am.

    The same cannot be said of some of the random folks travelling around cyberspace. In providing a link to my details, however, you have effectively published my email address. Your comments entry form says that you don’t do this. I doubt many people will still be reading this thread, but I’d like the link removed at the first opportunity, please.

    –HAVE DONE. DEBITO

    Reply
  • Thank you.

    And good luck in your efforts against the fingerprinting policy. Despite my scepticism about its connection to racism in Japan, I do think the policy is a bad one.

    Reply
  • Bryce.

    Live and work in Japan for 30 years, pay taxes and mandatory pension with the stable career you have built in order to support the your family (and possibly kids), get permission from the Japanese government to live out your life until death in that country (PR) and then listen to that government (who granted you PR mind you) say they don’t trust you as an outsider and that they need YOUR fingerprints to combat the threat of terror in a country where the only terror threats have been born out of the hands of Japanese nationals, and then tell us it’s not a racist policy.

    Also, you would be amazed how many Japanese aren’t even aware of the fact that the rationale behind this policy was the prevention of terrorism and not the prevention of “foreign crime” despite that, ask almost anyone in japan and they will tell you they “think it’s a good way to prevent foreign crime”.

    But oh no that can’t be racist because we should of course understand that they have a unique culture (which of course we can only be a part of by blood relations…right?) which is far beyond the realm of our understanding, so there is no way we can label it as racist…oh no…

    Reply
  • Seichou, I agree with you one hundred percent. I think Bryce
    must be have some kind of academic blindfold on not to be
    able to see that this new round of fingerprinting is racist.
    It is just a continuation of a xenophobic policy by those in
    the Japanese government who did not agree with the abolition
    of fingerprinting back in the 90s. Nothing else. No other
    trumped up reason. 残念, but true.

    Reply

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