DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JANUARY 2, 2012

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IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito
New novel IN APPROPRIATE by ARUDOU Debito

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DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JANUARY 2, 2012

Happy New Year! Hope it’s a better one for Japan than 2011. Regarding that, have a read tomorrow of my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column #47, coming out Tuesday, January 3, with my fourth annual round-up of the top 10 human rights events that affected Japan’s NJ residents last year. I won’t spoil the surprise of what made the list, but let me say that I pull no punches. Here’s my concluding paragraph:

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“2011 was the year the world realized Japan has peaked. Its aging and increasingly-conservative public is trapped in a downward spiral of economic stagnation and inept governance. It is further burdened by an ingrained mistrust of the outsider (JBC Oct. 7, 2008) as well as by blind faith in a mythology of uniqueness, powerlessness as a virtue, and perpetual victimhood. Japan has lost its attractiveness as a place for newcomers to live and settle, since they may be outright blamed for Japan’s troubles if not ostracized for daring to fix them. Now, thanks to the continuous slow-burn disaster of Fukushima, anyone (who bothers to listen anymore) can now hear the doors of Japan’s historically-cyclical insularity slowly creaking shut.”
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Have a read tomorrow! And a Happy New Year, everyone!

Table of Contents:

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END TIMES
1) The System really is irredeemably broken: BBC: Tsunami relief funds diverted to GOJ whaling program
2) Japan’s Broken System Pt 2: H-Japan cites AFP, Reuters, Yomiuri. NYT on how bad GOJ ineptness and obfuscation re Fukushima fiasco is getting

WEIRD AND CAPRICIOUS J BUREAUCRACY
3) Tokyo Reporter: Bust of Gas Panic bars in Roppongi due to “poorly behaving” foreigners allegedly breaking J laws against “dancing”
4) Arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles for registering international marriages in Tokyo Edogawa-ku Ward office. Have things changed?
5) J on how Japan’s Immigration Bureau uses unlegislated bureaucratic guidelines to trump the letter of the law, in this case re obtaining Permanent Residency
6) Gaijinwife blog on her house check — is having authorities visit Permanent Residency applicant’s home and throughly photograph its interior now SOP?

HOLIDAY DIVERSIONS:
7) How “religious” treatment of things Japanese allows for Japan to be kid-gloved through international public debate
8 ) Seidensticker in TIME/LIFE World Library book on Japan dated 1965. Compare and contrast with today’s assessments.
9) End-year Irony #1: Japan cancels free flights for NJ tourists, claims it’s “insensitive”, while funding GOJ whaling expeditions
10) End-year Irony #2: Japanese cast as Roman in “Thermae Romae” despite J complaints about Chinese cast as Japanese in “Memoirs of a Geisha”
11) DEBITO.ORG POLL: Agree or disagree: “2011 was a good year for me.”

… and finally…

12) My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Dec. 6, 2011, on the effects of a lack of “fairness” as a strong cultural value in Japan (full text)
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By ARUDOU Debito (debito@debito.org, www.debito.org, Twitter Feed arudoudebito (now at 900 followers, thanks!)
Freely forwardable

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END TIMES

1) The System really is irredeemably broken: BBC: Tsunami relief funds diverted to GOJ whaling program

A bit of a tangent, but an important one, as it’s a watershed moment. I saw some news last December that made me say out loud, “That’s torn it. The System is irredeemable.” According to the BBC and the SMH below, we have relief efforts that should be going towards helping its own citizens recover from a tsunami and botched corrupt nuclear disaster going towards a GOJ pet project, a corrupt one that essentially exists to thumb its nose at the world: whaling. Yes, whaling.

People might have excused the GOJ for botched relief efforts up to now because a) the scale of the disaster is unprecedented or facing too many unknowns, b) the infrastructure was too damaged for efficient cleanup and rescue, c) things just take time and money to fix. But there is NO excuse for diverting money away from relief efforts for this kind of vanity project. It’s porkbarrel at the expense of a slowly-poisoned public.

And do you think the domestic media would have exposed this if activists and the foreign media hadn’t? The System is broken, and the Japanese public, cowed by a forever-fortified culture of submission to authority that punishes people for ever trying to do something about it, will not fix it. As I have argued before, Japan has never had a bottom-up revolution. And I don’t see it happening at this time no matter how corrupt and poisoned things get.

http://www.debito.org/?p=9745

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2) Japan’s Broken System Pt 2: H-Japan cites AFP, Reuters, Yomiuri. NYT on how bad GOJ ineptness and obfuscation re Fukushima fiasco is getting

DS: Here is a review of the SDF (Self-Defense Forces) and their uneven and slow attempts to clear irradiated soil. It seems that they carry as little protection as many of the ad-hoc volunteer groups. Some of the work was outsourced to private companies, but all of the different groups mostly work with shovels and buckets. “‘There’s no magical way to decontaminate the areas instantly. Our job is to prove our technology, even though it’s low-tech,’ said an official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which is jointly conducting the decontamination project with the central government.” And “A dosimeter briefly displayed radiation levels of seven to eight microsieverts per hour during the cleanup. The central government has set a goal of lowering the radiation level to 20 millisieverts per year and 3.8 microsieverts per hour in the contaminated zones.”

Here is the New York Times article that gives a broader scope to the issues, and problems, of decontamination. Fackler writes, “So far, the government is following a pattern set since the nuclear accident, dismissing dangers, often prematurely, and laboring to minimize the scope of the catastrophe. Already, the trial cleanups have stalled: the government failed to anticipate communities’ reluctance to store tons of soil to be scraped from contaminated yards and fields.” This is midst continuing reports of opposition by local communities to allow radioactive soil to be relocated and dumped in their own area…

http://www.debito.org/?p=9756

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WEIRD AND CAPRICIOUS J BUREAUCRACY

3) Tokyo Reporter: Bust of Gas Panic bars in Roppongi due to “poorly behaving” foreigners allegedly breaking J laws against “dancing”

Sometimes it seems to me that rules in Japan are made just to keep people from having fun. For example, cultural conventions hinder swimming after Obon in the south (despite still being jolly hot outside — I’ve been in southern Shikoku in late August and found campsites closed and beaches deserted), and have seen police command the public get out of the ocean in Okinawa (I’m told there are some times of the year when ocean swimming in this semitropical climate is officially frowned upon) on New Year’s Day. We’ve been told we can’t play games (such as chess or euchre) at izakayas by barkeeps; similarly, in a Tokyo “Irish bar” during a JALT conference, we had Irish friends who brought out their pocket instruments to play Irish music, only to be told that it was causing discomfort to the customers (it wasn’t; people were clapping and tapping along), and they had to be quiet in favor of the canned Irish music being piped in. Japan’s frowning on outdoor screens during the World Cup 2002 (unlike in Korea, Japan’s fans had to watch the games within walls) due to alleged traffic control and crime prevention concerns. I’m sure Readers can come up with lots more examples — of anal-retentive people who use their power to summarily prevent public expressions of joy and release (that is, without the socially-accepted cloak of too much alcohol).

Now we have this actually legally-established ban on “dancing without a license” after 1 a.m. I could understand late-night controls on noise etc., but dancing?? Not only that, the cause of dancing is deemed to be foreign in origin. Yeah right, Japanese don’t dance. And when does dancing begin and just tapping out a rhythm end? And when does the accusation, made below, of making the neighbors uncomfortable because foreigners are around end?

Sounds like yet another NPA pretense to raid the “foreigner clubs”. And it isn’t the first time — try 2007’s raid on Hiroshima’s “El Barco” (which let anyone visibly Japanese go and targeted the NJ for Immigration checks) on the charge of dancing violations, and 2009’s Roppongi bar raids and NJ spot urine checks for drugs (which in this case are supposed to require a warrant). So I guess accusations of “dancing” are something that doesn’t involve racial profiling — unless, of course, you say that the foreigners in specific are committing them. As the article below basically does. Arbitrary and capricious.

Tokyo Reporter: The weekend bust of two popular nightclubs within the Gas Panic chain was due to the presence of undesirable foreigners, reports Nikkan Gendai (Nov. 30)… A journalist who covers the adult entertainment industry says the chain of foreigner-frequented bars is popular for those on low budgets, but in recent times police have been taking notice of trouble. “Recently, poorly behaving foreigners from the Middle East and South-East Asia have started showing up,” says the source. “They make others not want to come around, and maybe some neighbors complained.”

http://www.debito.org/?p=9706

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4) Arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles for registering international marriages in Tokyo Edogawa-ku Ward office. Have things changed?

K: My fiance and I went to get married today, and from the second we walked in the door it was: “D’oh.” I understand that there have been many occasions of abuse of the system, but my fiance called the offices to ask what we needed to register. We took everything, but the second we walked in the door, it all changed.

My fiance tried to convince me it was HIS fault that the office needed more “proof”. I told him to not give me a load of BS, and eventually he admitted that the staff even told him point blank: “Look, it’s different because you are marrying a foreigner. If she were Japanese you wouldn’t have this problem, but she’s a foreigner.”

We brought every single document that they asked for. He called, made a checklist, and we brought it with us. Now they need everything from all of my “foreign proof and documentation” translated, extra stamps, his parents permission for him to marry me, etc. They told him none of that would be needed when he called, but when it came time to actually “seal the deal”, and we were standing in front of them, that is what we were told. We double checked with my embassy, etc, and we got told the same thing: “You don’t need any of that in your ward, just what you already have”. The items they ask for aren’t even on the ward’s website.

What should I do, as I don’t feel this should be allowed. I looked at your site, but didn’t see it mentioned about what one should do if it is a governmental institution itself.

I’ve dealt with so many sideways looks, been asked not to enter into establishments down south, etc, all because I am not good enough. I am “gaijin”. I’m not sure how you take it. My Japanese professor in college told me he left after 20 years, despite having a fiance, as he couldn’t take it. No matter what he did, he was still always “gaijin”. I understand, finally, what he means.

COMMENT: So, what are experiences of others out there? I certainly didn’t have this rigmarole, but I got married all the way back in 1989. My impression from others has always been that it’s pretty easy to get married in Japan to a Japanese, period. Have things recently changed?

http://www.debito.org/?p=9731

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5) J on how Japan’s Immigration Bureau uses unlegislated bureaucratic guidelines to trump the letter of the law, in this case re obtaining Permanent Residency

J: I think I have an undeniable open-and-shut appeal case in which the courts will most likely overturn an immigration officer’s illegal decline of Permanent Residency. What makes [my] PR decline obviously “illegal” is that the following Law was ignored:
#1 reason for declination is: having committed a crime.
#2 reason for declination is: being financially too poor.
#3 reason for declination is: not being a profit to Japan.
The Law then nicely goes on to state that reason #1 and reason #2 can NOT be used to decline spouses of Japanese citizens. So, this means that if an immigration officer wants to legally decline Permanent Residency to a spouse of a Japanese citizen, he is REQUIRED to claim reason #3. My case is: I’m married to a Japanese citizen (7 years) and yet the immigration officer declined my Permanent Residence using reason #1, “previous conviction” [for a traffic accident].

Followup from J: Whoever wrote the original Law saying that reason #1 and reason #2 can NOT be used to decline spouses of Japanese citizens, their goal was clear: to let foreigners married to Japanese citizens become Permanent Residents, regardless of whether they were convicted criminals, or poor, or both. But then, some bureaucrats within immigration with the opposite goal (limiting PRs) decided to write some new “Guidelines” which say the exact opposite.

These new “Guidelines” (which the Unelected bureaucrats proclaim “trumps” the Laws written by Elected Lawmakers) say that reason #3 includes convictions… Guidelines written by Unelected bureaucrats are REVERSING and TRUMPING the Laws written by Elected Lawmakers, plus let’s remember that these Guidelines are usually secret.

Do the Elected Lawmakers know that their will has been reversed and trumped? Do the Elected Lawmakers know that these new guidelines are in direct conflict with national Laws?

My conversation recently with an immigration official summed it up perfectly, when I read him the Law stating that reason #1 can’t be used against me, he said, “That’s just a law!”

I couldn’t believe it, this officer actually said, in front of his co-workers, “Sore wa tada no houritsu dake!” His tone was perfectly clear, “WE make the decisions around here, not laws.”

http://www.debito.org/?p=9650

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6) Gaijinwife blog on her house check — is having authorities visit Permanent Residency applicant’s home and throughly photograph its interior now SOP?

Gaijinwife: Two men from the immigration office [were] waiting in their car across the street when I got home from shopping at about 3pm. They show me their ID badges and say they are here to do a checkup on my application for permanent residency that I submitted in August. They give me a piece of paper to sign saying that I give them permission to come into the house and have a look round. I have had no warning they would be coming so it is just pure luck I’m not still in my PJs squiffing wine and watching horny housewife porn on an illegal streaming site.

The first thing they do is take a photo of the array of shoes in the genkan — focussing on the kids shoes. They ask me questions about the kids, where Granny K sleeps and then come into the lounge where they take a photo of the fire — the DVDs and the lego on the mantlepiece above it. We haven’t used the fire this season yet but when we do all the toys and shit will go and the big metal guard will come out — they asked about it. I offered to show them but that wasn’t necessary.

Then they wanted to know where the kids clothes were — as if shoes, lego, DVDs, and a pile of unfolded kids laundry on the sofa wasn’t enough. He even took a picture of a pulled out drawer with kids clothes in it. I then got quizzed on the futon downstairs — was that the master bedroom? No, I said, it is where I am sleeping cause I’ve got a hacking cough and no point keeping hub up as well. Oh, so you and your hub aren’t sleeping in the same room? No, but we do usually. Would you like to see our bedroom — its upstairs. So up we go where more photos are taken of our bedroom (bed miraculously made) and kids bedrooms…

http://www.debito.org/?p=9623

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HOLIDAY DIVERSIONS:

7) How “religious” treatment of things Japanese allows for Japan to be kid-gloved through international public debate

As a special treat, allow me to connect some dots between terms of public discourse: How Japan gets kid-gloved in international debate because it gets treated, consciously or unconsciously, with religious reverence.

It’s a theory I’ve been developing in my mind for several years now: How Japan has no religion except “Japaneseness” itself, and how adherence (or irreverence) towards it produces zealots and heretics who influence the shape and scope of Japan-connected debate.

So let me type in two works — one journalistic, the other polemic — and let you connect the dots as I did when I discovered them last November. I hope you find the juxtaposition as insightful as I did.

National Geographic May 1994, on world rice: “Next stop, Japan. At the Grand Shrines of Ise, 190 miles southwest of Tokyo, the most revered precinct of Japan’s Shinto religion, white-robed priests cook rice twice daily and present it to the sun goddess, Amaterasu, who, they say, is the ancestor of the imperial family.

“The goddess brought a handful of rice from the heavens,” a senior priest tells me, “so that we may grow it and prosper.” He adds that in the first ceremony performed by each new emperor, he steps behind a screen to meet the goddess and emerges as the embodiment of Ninigi no Mikoto, the god of the ripened rice plant. Then every autumn the emperor sends to Ise the first stalks harvested from the rice field he himself has planted on the imperial palace gorunds. All Japanese, says the priest, owe their kokoro — their spiritual essence, their Japaneseness — to the goddess, “and they maintain it by eating rice, rice grown in Japan.”

Japanese law, in fact, long restricted the importation of rice. “Rice is a very special case,” explained Koji Futada, then parliamentary vice minister for agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. “It is our staple food, and so we must have a reliable supply as a matter of national security. That is why we politicians favor sulf-sufficiency, the domestic growing of all the rice we eat.”

Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”: “A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts — the non-religious included — is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other… If the advocates of apartheid had their wits about them they would claim — for all I know truthfully — that allowing mixed races is against their religion. A good part of the opposition would respectfully tiptoe away.”

http://www.debito.org/?p=9728

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8 ) Seidensticker in TIME/LIFE World Library book on Japan dated 1965. Compare and contrast with today’s assessments.

Happy holidays. Today I offer you some historical perspective regarding overseas dialog on Japan, in this case policy towards Japan by the United States. The year is 1965 (first edition 1961), an excerpt from a book about my age offering Edward Seidensticker, famous translator and interpreter of things Japanese for the English-reading outsider. This is a “WORLD LIBRARY” monthly library book on Japan (published by Time Life Inc.). His conclusion, in part:

Seidensticker: So many forces shaping the future of Japan are nevertheless out of Japanese hands, and therefore beyond the power of anyone to influence, that no country can afford to be unmindful of them. This can be said of any country, but it is particularly true of a country that remains divided.

For the West, and particularly its most powerful nation, a pair of injunctions would seem to be an apt conclusion to what has been said: Be quiet, and be strong.

Be quiet. If the troubles the United States had with Japan in 1960 taught a lesson, it was that the Japanese must not be pushed to a decision about their responsibilities in the world. They may eventually come to a decision by their own devices, but as things stand today, nothing should be done that might give the impression that the United States is applying pressure…

Debito’s comment, in part: In sum, this is a thoughtful article, and in 2000 words Seidensticker acquits himself well when it comes to knowledge and sensitivity towards Japan. But it’s clearly dated (not just because of smug hindsight to see how many predictions he got wrong); it’s clearly in the Edwin Reischauer camp of “poor, poor, misunderstood Japan, let’s not be ignorant or mean towards it”, meaning protecting the status quo or else someday Japan will attack us.

Yet now, fifty years later, Japan has essentially gotten everything it wanted from the West in order to develop and prosper. Yet I believe it’s heading back towards insularity today due to structures and habits that were NOT removed from Japan’s postwar bureaucracy and education system. Such as a weak investigative press, an economic system not geared beyond developmental capitalism, a lack of solid oversight systems that encourage rule of law rather than allow bureaucratic extralegal guidelines or political filibustering, a lackluster judiciary that cannot (or refuses to) hold powerful people and bureaucrats responsible, a public undereducated beyond a mythological and anti-scientific “uniqueness” mindset, able to understand equality and fairness towards people who are disenfranchised or who are not members of The Tribe, etc. These are all essential developments crucial to the development of an equitable society that were stalled or stymied (starting with the Reverse Course of 1947) under the very same name of maintaining the delicate balance of Japan’s anti-communist status quo. Well, the Cold War is long over, folks, yet Japan still seems locked into unhealthy dependency relationships (unless it is able to lord it over poorer countries in cynical and venal attempts to influence world politics in its own petty directions; also unhealthy). Only this time, for the past twenty years and counting, Japan simply isn’t getting rich from it any longer.

http://www.debito.org/?p=9523

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9) End-year Irony #1: Japan cancels free flights for NJ tourists, claims it’s “insensitive”, while funding GOJ whaling expeditions

As the sands in the 2011 hourglass trickle away, here are a couple of posts to be filed away under Ironies. Today’s deals with how the GOJ sees “Tohoku disasters relief measures” — both in terms of funding foreign tourists and in funding ships killing whales.

Looks like one ministry is more prone to feeling public shame than the other, so, according to the announcements below, the suddenly “insensitive” proposal to give free plane tickets to foreign visitors to visit Japan has been cancelled. The Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Ministry, however, is singularly shameless, so I doubt that will happen to whaling. Now, sooner or later, we’ll have to show sensitivity somehow to those afflicted by the Tohoku disasters. I wonder which ministry that falls under. Probably a lot of it under the former Construction Ministry arm of MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism), which has a long history of being even more shameless in ripping off the Japanese public than MAFF. Once again, evidence of just how out of touch Japanese bureaucrats are with the public they purportedly serve. I guess the next disaster, sadly, will have to happen in Tokyo.

JNTO: This autumn there were many reports about the Japan Tourism Agency proposing to give away 10,000 free flights to Japan in 2012. After the proposal was reported, people from around the world sent messages to Japan National Tourism Organization saying they would like to participate in the programme to visit Japan and to help revitalize Japan’s tourism industry following the March 2011 earthquake. So it is with regret that the Japanese Government announced the budget for this proposal has been declined, so the flight give away will not be going ahead.

Thanks to the support of the international community, Japan is making vigorous progress towards reconstruction in the earthquake and tsunami affected northeast of Japan, but recovery from the earthquake continues to be a pressing issue.

“We realise that this announcement is going to disappoint thousands of people around the world, but we hope people will understand how insensitive it would appear for the Japanese Government to give people free flights to Japan when the cities, towns and villages devastated by the tsunami are still in desperate need of funding for reconstruction. We also would not want people thinking that the generous donations given from around the world to aide [sic] those affected by the disaster was being spent on giving people free flights,” said Kylie Clark, Head of PR & Marketing, Japan National Tourism Organization.

http://www.debito.org/?p=9807

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10) End-year Irony #2: Japanese cast as Roman in “Thermae Romae” despite J complaints about Chinese cast as Japanese in “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Here’s another bit of irony from Japanland. It’s quite petty, so I kept it as a year-end frivolous tangent: Japanese movies can cast Japanese as NJ, but NJ movies cannot cast NJ as Japanese. Works like this:

JDG: [According to Japan Probe, live-action movie THERMAE ROMAE] casts a Japanese as a Roman]. I thought that it was a bit rich to cast a Japanese guy as an Italian, considering the outcry in Japan when when a Chinese actress starred in the film adaptation of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, the showing of which was even banned by some theaters in Japan on that basis! It’s a double standard.

COMMENT: There is likewise a long history in Hollywood to cast Asians fungibly — Chinese cast as Japanese in WWII propagandistic movies, some quite odd ethnic Japanese cast as “real” Japanese or even other Orientals (e.g., Mako, Gedde Watanabe), etc., etc., and that’s before we get to the outright racial stereotyping done in period-piece embarrassments such as Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunioshi in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Doesn’t take much to dig up the same phenomenon anywhere in world cinema.

But this is becoming unforgivable in this time of greater globalization, migration, immigration, and general ability to research, travel, and understand different people. People in the media should be trying harder. And they certainly are not in the THERMAE example. Nor were they in SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (2010) — the live-adaptation of the manga and anime starring Kimura Takuya, in which the whole human galaxy is exclusively Japanese! (according to the IMDB full cast list) Even the STAR TREK crew casting did a bit better than that way back in the mid-1960’s! (Incidentally, I love how again-fungible-Asian Mr. Sulu is translated into “Mr. Katou” for the Japanese audience… But I digress. Then again, at least the cast is diverse enough to allow for that.)

I’m no doubt opening a can of worms (I can hardly wait until someone brings up the deliberate cultural insensitivities of BORAT…), but let’s end the year on a relatively frivolous note, since 2011 was probably the worst year on record for Japan and its residents in my lifetime.

http://www.debito.org/?p=9704

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11) DEBITO.ORG POLL: Agree or disagree: “2011 was a good year for me.”

Options are simply:

Strongly agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Strongly disagree

Vote at any blog page at http://www.debito.org

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… and finally…

12) My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Dec. 6, 2011, on the effects of a lack of “fairness” as a strong cultural value in Japan 

The Japan Times, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
JUST BE CAUSE column 46 for the Community Page
For the sake of Japan’s future, foreigners deserve a fair shake
By ARUDOU DEBITO
Courtesy http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20111206ad.html
Version with comments links to sources at http://www.debito.org/?p=9733

Responses to this column published in the JT last week at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20111227hs.html
(They were so full of straw men and things I didn’t say that I didn’t bother to blog about them.)

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Thanks for reading! Here’s to a better year this year! Arudou Debito
DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JANUARY 2, 2012 ENDS

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