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  • My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 47: 2011’s Top 10 Human Rights Issues affecting NJ in Japan

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 4th, 2012

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    The Japan Times, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012
    JUST BE CAUSE, Column 47

    Kim to ‘flyjin,’ a top 10 for 2012

    Illustrations by Chris Mackenzie
    Version with links to sources

    Here’s JBC’s fourth annual roundup of the top 10 human rights events that affected Japan’s non-Japanese (NJ) residents last year. Ranked in ascending order of impact:

    10.  Kim Jong Il dies

    News photo

    This might rank higher with the benefit of hindsight, but right now it’s unclear how things will settle after the succession. Still, potential regime change in Asia’s most wild-card country might improve things for NJ in Japan. The biggest counterargument to granting NJ more rights has been, “If resident Chinese or North Koreans get any power over Japanese, Japan will be lost.”

    Kim’s demise may not silence the alarmists (China will still be seen as a threat, especially now; more below), but even a tamping down of the standard foaming-at-the-mouth invective was impossible while “Dear Leader” was still around.

    9.  Child abductor Emiko Inoue nicked

    News photo

    Emiko who? You might not know this case because Japanese media have intentionally omitted her name (even pixelating out her face in photographs) — and the fact she is a convicted felon in America — in their reports. But Inoue is one of the many Japanese who, following a separation or divorce, have abducted and then attempted to alienate their children from their former spouse. In the case of international relationships (because Japan is still not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction), no child, according to activists, has ever been extradited from Japan and reunited with an NJ parent.

    But check this out: After abducting daughter Karina in 2008 to Japan from husband Moises Garcia (who was then awarded custody in America), Inoue had the nerve to drop by Hawaii last April and try to renew her green card. Arrested and sent to Wisconsin to face trial, Inoue was given a choice in November by the court: spend a decade or so in jail, or return Karina to Garcia by Christmas. Inoue chose the latter, and Karina was back by Dec. 23 (the mother, incidentally, will remain in the U.S. with visitation rights — a better deal than NJ in Japan ever get in custody battles).

    The Karina Garcia case brought further attention to Japan’s insane system of child custody (see Zeit Gists, Aug. 9, 2011Sept. 21 andSept. 28, 2010Jan. 26 , and Feb. 2, 2010; and Just Be Cause Oct. 6, 2009), and made it clear to Japanese abductors that outstanding arrest warrants will be enforced.

    Unfortunately, the Japanese public is again getting the pixelated version (e.g., Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24): Poor Karina, who reportedly wants to live in Japan, is forced to live in America to “save her mother” (never mind that her irresponsible mother put everyone in this position in the first place). A victory for the rule of law is yet again spun into victimhood for Japanese.

    8.  Olympus whistle-blowing

    News photo

    The slimy practices of Olympus Corp. garnered a great deal of press this year, thanks to former CEO Michael Woodford’s refusal to go quietly. After raising questions about odd corporate expenditures, Woodford was sacked in October for “a management style incompatible with traditional Japanese practices” — meaning Woodford, whose superhuman tenacity got him from entry level in 1980 to corporate head, was fired for not abdicating his responsibilities.

    That an international company would immediately invoke culture to defend their criminality is testament to so much of what is wrong with Japanese corporations. But also consider the plight of NJ employees like Woodford, promised during the bubble years that fluency in Japanese, hard work, sacrifice and company loyalty would bring opportunities. Decades later, it turns out their contributions matter not one whit if they ever speak up with integrity; in the end, they’re just another gaijin out on their ear. “Tradition,” indeed.

    As it is unlikely this scandal will lead to any cleanup of Japan’s tribal (and consequently corrupt) corporate culture, the unfortunate lesson is: Don’t work for a Japanese company as an NJ and expect equality and upward mobility.

    7.  Death during deportation

    News photo

    Whatever you might think of visa overstayers, few would argue it is a capital offense. Yet the death of Abubakar Awadu Suraj (ZG, Nov. 1) in March 2010, while being bundled onto an airplane back to Ghana, raised eyebrows not only because of the brutality of his treatment by government officials, but also because of the predictable results when it went to court this year: The domestic media either downplayed or ignored it, foreign media were stonewalled, and investigations by both police watchdogs and the judiciary stalled.

    This horrific event confirmed, along with the suspiciously unsolved deaths of Scott Kang and Matthew Lacey (ZG, Sep. 6), that foreigners’ lives are essentially held in low regard by Japan’s police forces (ZG, March 24, 2009) and media (in contrast to the hue and cry when a Japanese is murdered overseas, or by a foreigner in Japan). The point is, once Japan’s unaccountable police get their hands on you, your very life is potentially in jeopardy.

    6.  Oita denial of benefits overturned

    News photo

    In 2008, Oita Prefecture heartlessly rejected a welfare application from a 78-year-old Chinese (a permanent resident born in Japan) because she is somehow still a foreigner. Then, in a shocking ruling on the case two years later, the Oita District Court decreed that NJ are not automatically eligible for social welfare. Finally, in November, this stubborn NJ, in her 80th year, won a reversal at the Fukuoka High Court — on the grounds that international law and treaty created obligations for “refugees (sic) (to be accorded) treatment at least as favorable as that accorded to their nationals.”

    What caused the confusion was that in 1981, the Diet decided that revising the public welfare law to eliminate nationality requirements was unnecessary, since practical application already provided NJ with benefits. Three decades later, Oita Prefecture and its district court still hadn’t gotten the memo.

    Bravo for this NJ for staying alive long enough to prize her case away from xenophobic local bureaucrats and set congruent legal precedents for all NJ.

    5.  Japan as No. 3

    News photo

    2011 was the year that China’s GDP conclusively rose to second place behind the United States’, meaning Japan had to deal with no longer being the largest, richest and apparently most attractive economy in Asia. Marginalization sank in: More NJ studying Mandarin than Japanese, world media moving offices to Beijing, rich Chinese starting to outspend Japanese worldwide, and the realization that a recessionary/deflationary spiral for two (yes, now two) full decades had enabled others to catch up, if not surpass Japan.

    It was time for a rethink, now that Japan’s mercantilist economy, largely intolerant of any standards but its own, was being seen as an untenable modern Galapagos. But fresh ideas from long-ignored resident NJ weren’t forthcoming. For they seemed to be leaving.

    News photo

     4.  NJ population drops, again

    After an unbroken rise between 1961 and 2009, it was announced last June that the total population of registered foreign residents dropped again in 2010, by another 2.4 percent.

    Brazilians, once the workhorses of Japan’s most competitive exporters, fell the most in raw numbers (more than 16 percent), while Chinese, already the largest NJ contingent in Japan, still managed to grow a smidge. But that was before the events of last March . . .

     

    News photo

    3, 2, 1.  The Fukushima nuclear disaster

    A no-brainer, this. The chain reactions set in motion on March 11 illuminated so many things that are wrong with Japan’s current system.

    Let’s start with the obvious examples: The unwillingness of TEPCO to come clean with their data, of politicians to forsake petty political games of interference, and of administrators to give proper guidance to people in danger- all of this devastated public faith and trust.

    Then the abdication of accountability of people supposedly in charge reached new heights as irradiated land and water spread (e.g., Tepco claimed in court (Aera, Nov. 24) that it no longer “owned” the radiation, and was therefore not liable for decontamination).

    Meanwhile, despite a huge amount of volunteer work at the grassroots, official relief efforts were so bungled and corrupted that reconstruction funds were even proposed for free tourist plane tickets and whaling!

    Then we get to the outright nastiness and hypocrisy of Japan’s media (and the self-hating gaijin toadies) who accused NJ residents (aka “flyjin”) of deserting their work stations ( JBC, May 3). Never mind that under the same conditions Japanese do the same thing (even encourage others to do so; remember, Japan imported Thai workers during Bangkok’s floods), and that NJ contributions before and during the Tohoku disasters were insufficiently reported and praised.

    But the most profound realization of 2011 — arguably the worst year for Japan in my lifetime — is how this society cannot fix itself. As I have argued before ( JBC, April 5 and Oct. 4), the culture of ganbatte (do your best), flippantly said to victims by people largely unaffected by the disaster, is once again giving way to expectations of their gaman (silent endurance). Backed up by a dynamic discouraging people from “spoiling things for everyone else” by daring to speak out or complain, activism gets hamstrung.

    Meanwhile, the muzzling of investigative journalism, independent academic research and credible criticism outside of official channels further disempowers the public of their right to know.

    Conclusion: Generations under Japan’s control-freak “nanny state” have accustomed people to being told what to do. Yet now the public has been deserted, with neither reliable instructions nor the organization to demand them.

    Nothing, short of a major revolution in critical thinking and public action (this time — for the first time — from the bottom up), will change Japan’s destructive system of administration by unaccountable elites.

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

    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.

    ARUDOU Debito’s novel “In Appropriate” is now on sale (www.debito.org/inappropriate.html) Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Twitter @arudoudebito. Send comments on this issue to community@japantimes.co.jp
    ENDS

    14 Responses to “My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 47: 2011’s Top 10 Human Rights Issues affecting NJ in Japan”

    1. AJ Says:

      This was the year when foreign residents across the board, many of them long term committed residents with jobs they liked in communities and environments they were financially and socially content in for all intents and purposes, sat up, took a look at what was happening in Japan, said to themselves “this place is screwed.” and took the drastic steps of at first sending their children away to their countries of origin, and in many cases, sent their Japanese spouses too. Said spouses who had always been adamant about wanting to stay in Japan whatever it takes and whatever their foreign spouses desired, went willingly, and in some cases, were the first to suggest leaving. Then the foreign residents, having wound up their business, or got their work transfers put through, left the country too.

      And there was the lull in people coming into Japan from abroad. They stopped coming. Companies hiring foreign teaching staff began to find themselves forced to hire non native English speakers from Asia, Europe, Africa and South America, because no native speakers applied, or could be accessed through networking.

      Those who stayed, and particularly those who stayed with children, agonized over their decision. “Am I doing the right thing?” “Am I putting my kids at risk of serious long term
      Illness?”

      Those who didn’t looked around at the nuclear crisis, and all the other messed up stuff going on and asked themselves, “Is it really worth it anymore?”

      This was the year when the mindset changed.!(

    2. heading towards ‘sakoku’ « the enigma of arrival Says:

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    3. snowman Says:

      Great article as usual Debito! Always enjoy reading your articles, you talk so much sense!

    4. Flyjin Says:

      I agree with AJ and the spirit of what is said but think the following statement needs statistics;

      ” Companies hiring foreign teaching staff began to find themselves forced to hire non native English speakers from Asia, Europe, Africa and South America, because nonative speakers applied, or could be accessed through networking.”

      This should be fairly researchable. All I can see happening though, is companies I know relying more on lower quality, but more “stable”, teachers e.g.without degrees but married to Japanese, who previously got passed over for better qualified but single or internationally mobile candidates.

      But if anyone can find evidence that non natives are being hired more, please post it.
      Incidentally an article in the Japan Times predicted this would happen years ago in an article called “Do you want fries with your McEnglish” but of course could not predict that the last straw would be a nuclear disaster.

    5. Charuzu Says:

      Debito,

      Bravo!

      I particularly enjoyed:

      “Nothing, short of a major revolution in critical thinking and public action (this time — for the first time — from the bottom up), will change Japan’s destructive system of administration by unaccountable elites.”

      I would welcome your thoughts and those of others, as to how you imagine Japan in 10 or 20 years or 50 years.

      I presume that there will be no such major revolution.

      What will be the Japan of your children and grandchildren?

      I recognise that this requires speculation, but such speculation itself may help us all to imagine the future more concretely.

    6. Anon Says:

      @Flyjin

      Well, non-native speakers of English are being employed as teachers at Gunma Kokusai Academy.

      Peter Payne mentioned this fact back in 2003, so it isn’t proof of a post-3/11 trend, but it is proof that “Yes, surprisingly, Japanese employers do profit from employing lower-wage-accepting non-native English speakers to be English teachers.”

      “My wife says please come teach at Gunma Kokusai Academy, the school where my son goes. They have some good teachers there but also some teachers who come from places like the Philippines, Tonga and so on, rather than native speakers from North America. (Nothing against people from Tonga, etc., it’s just an accent and culturalization thing.)”

      http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:SrZbWeB8MX8J:www.peterpayne.net/2003/03/so-you-want-to-teach-english-in-japan.html&hl=en&strip=1

    7. jim Says:

      Im going to print this article out and hang it up in the office. What a way to start off the new year right Debito its a masterpiece

    8. J.J. Says:

      Well, well said by Debito-san, and all here:

      As Flyjin mentioned, statistics would perhaps be helpful, but in truth, not really necessary; many of my friends have said they are getting lessons on the Net from people in other countries for much cheaper than before. What also must be kept in mind is that as far as English teaching goes, had institutions taken better care of NJ faculty from the beginning (see the blacklist), this situation would not transpire. I attended a Japanese graduate school, and it was made very clear to me that Institutions want Japanese bilinguals to eventually take the reins, however impractical or unrealistic.

    9. AJ Says:

      I work at training level at a dispatch company. Native speakers rarely come across my desk anymore. Its my understanding that it’s not just my company where this is happening from friends employed by our competitors.

    10. Hank Says:

      I loved this one, thanks! But I do feel that this was the year the Japanese finally started to question the state outright as opposed to talking to their foreign friend or behind closed doors. I almost fell over when I saw the public protests, it was a site for sore eyes.

      This is totally irrelevant, but I found this french documentary on Japan’s prison system. I’m guessing some of you have seen it and I’m a little late in finding it but for those who haven’t and are interested, here it is. Its French with English subs.

      http://www.documen.tv/asset/Japan_form_inside_film.html

    11. J.J. Says:

      @ AJ: Truth be told, many places here in Osaka have been doing the same; although this is a situation that even my Dad called “a necessary evil” in the sense that English is a world language at this point, and people of other nationalities just as proficient are entitled to a chance, if qualified. Again, the blame lies on higher education institutions and Prefectural BOE bureaucrats not wanting to invest in quality professionals, and cutting corners by using dispatch companies, which employ unscrupulous tactics at times. This is just one area of many showing how Japanese society has allowed itself to be hamstrung.

      – Let’s draw this tangent to an end soon.

    12. Charuzu Says:

      This new article

      http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/09/120109fa_fact_hessler

      makes a case for the notion that the lack of investigative journalism is due to the corrption of Japanese society with the yakuza, who the article asserts have a very intimate connection with major Japanese media companies.

    13. Paul Says:

      Interesting you say that Charuzu. I very much noticed a stark absense of yakuza in the media this year! As a casual reader of the news living outside of Japan, the first mention I read about their hasty supply dispatches to Tohoku — aside from Adelstein’s accounts obviously — was about 6 months after the fact. Compare to Kobe…

    14. John (Yokohama) Says:

      Opinion piece in Japan Today:

      http://www.japantoday.com/category/opinions/view/child-abduction-issue-should-be-key-concern-in-japan-u-s-relations

      “Child abduction issue should be key concern in Japan-U.S. relations
      by Ryo Takahashi

      OPINIONS JAN. 15, 2012 – 06:15AM JST ( 6 )TOKYO —
      The issue of international child abductions in Japan should be a key concern in bilateral relations between Japan and the United States.

      For years, the international community has been pressuring Japan to abide by international human rights standards in preventing cross-border parental kidnapping.

      Japan has been censured for not being a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which protects children from wrongful removal or retention from their habitual place of residence.

      Though former Prime Minister Naota Kan announced on May 20 last year that Japan intends to sign The Hague Convention, Japan is the only G8 member that has yet to become a signatory. LBPs (Left Behind Parents) are cautious to find the signing as reason to cheer because changes are also needed in Japan’s family courts for them to be reunited with their children. The continued condoning of both domestic and international child abduction cases can be traced to Japan’s family court.

      Japan’s family court often awards sole custody to the parent with whom the child is residing. If the other parent wishes to see their child, permission by the parent to whom custodial rights were awarded becomes necessary.

      This means that the parent who takes away the child from the other parent first will be in a superior bargaining position, since the family court overwhelmingly recognizes the status quo of whom the child is residing with.

      Many LBPs have criticized the Japanese judicial system for condoning abduction by granting sole custody rights to the parent who snatches the child away first. In situations where cross-border kidnappings take place, the foreign parent is effectively powerless, as the Japanese family court will rule in favor of the parent with whom the child is residing. This has led some bereaved foreign LBPs to refer to Japan as a “black hole for child abduction.”

      First, the Japanese government’s stance to become a signatory of The Hague Convention is an indication of changes in favor of adopting international human rights standards.

      The move comes at a time when the numbers of international marriages and divorces are increasing in Japan. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, approximately 19,000 international marriages ended in divorce last year in Japan, comprising 7.5% of the total number of divorces in Japan. In 2010, the ratio to divorces to all marriages in Japan was approximately 36%. Children of divorce are at significant risk of losing access to one parent in the current family law system.

      Things are finally starting to change at both the international and domestic levels. There are two model cases, one in Wisconsin and one in Matsudo, Chiba.

      Japan has stuck to awarding sole custody to one parent following a divorce since the Meiji era. Though some have mentioned this as evidence of sole custody being a part of Japan’s culture, in reality, this system has also created a legal system that condones child abductions.

      In addition, on Dec 23, 2011, a girl was returned to her father in Wisconsin after being abducted by her Japanese mother nearly 4 years earlier, the first return of an abducted child from Japan by means of the courts.

      She was reunited with her father when her mother, who had been arrested in April 2011 in Hawaii on child abduction charges, agreed to a plea bargain to be released from jail in exchange for returning their daughter to the United States.

      The case, which received wide coverage in international and Japanese media, marked the first time for Japanese media such as NHK and Asahi to use the term “tsuresari” (abduction) rather than “tsurekaeru” (to bring home).

      Of course, a plea bargain is still not the equivalent of a change in stance in Japan’s family court, but changes are also gradually being implemented in the domestic sphere as well.

      Many people following the child abduction issue are closely monitoring the development of a high-profile domestic abduction case in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, to see if a judicial precedent making child abductions an unlawful act will be made.

      On April 26, 2011, former Justice Minister Satsuki Eda mentioned three criteria that need to be considered in determining the custody of children after divorce, as stated in article 766, in his remarks to the Committee on Judicial Affairs.

      The three criteria are: the abduction of children should be eligible for consideration as child abuse; the issuance of custody rights should favor parents who are willing to allow the other parent visitation of their children (also known as the “friendly parent rule”); and parents who commit unlawful abductions of their child should be at a disadvantage in the issuance of custody rights.

      At the domestic level, article 766 of Japan’s civil code, which stipulates legal guidelines for the custody of children after divorce, was revised on June 3, 2011, to include a provision which states that visitation and economic support must be deliberated between the two spouses before divorce papers are submitted.

      As stated in the “friendly parent rule,” one of the three criteria underlined by Eda, not allowing visitation, ought to work unfavorably toward obtaining custody rights. In cases where the child has already been abducted, the LBP may offer the abducting parent visitation in fighting to recover their child in court.

      In effect, the revision of article 766 is significant, as the abduction of a child by a parent will be in breach of the new provision. This measure, if properly enforced by Japan’s family court, will help prevent the abduction of children by a parent.

      However, when asked to recognize the remarks made by Eda, Tatsushige Wakabayashi, the judge presiding over the case, reportedly remarked, “What the justice minister says at the Diet is irrelevant.”

      In response, various LBP groups have called for Wakabayashi to step down. Wakabayashi has yet to make a final verdict, leaving both domestic LBP groups and the international community tense anticipating his decision.”

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