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"The Spirit of The Community"
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The Community in The News


(delivered in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, on August 28, 1999, on the founding of The Community. Asahi Evening News article here)

Every society has room for improvement, and Japan is no exception. Japan's treatment of non-Japanese and Japan-born ethnicities can be irritating, unnecessary, and even outright discriminatory. However, as is historically quite normal anywhere, the "majority" is either unaware or takes little notice of the situation of the "minority"--in this case us non-citizens, whose legal rights and protections (all "kokumin"--nationals--are equal before the law) are unclear even in the Japanese-language version of the Constitution. Since few effective domestic social structures are in place to redress or resolve grievances, it is time for us to organize our own--an action group called "The Community"--to raise awareness and deal with problems we decide merit attention.

Anyone who wants to be, regardless of nationality. It's that simple. Desirable are those who see Japan as "home", as they will be more likely to seek constructive social improvements. Communication languages: English primarily, Japanese secondarily.


* 1) To record information on social phenomena which encourage stereotyping, bad social science, or discrimination against non-Japanese in Japan, as part of a readily-referencable Public Record.
* 2) To point out problems and social disadvantages arising from these discriminating actions to the proper authorities and the general public, in order to have them addressed, ameliorated, or repealed.
* 3) To establish constructively that non-Japanese are every bit a permanent and contributing part of Japanese society at large, and thus have rights and privileges worthy of respect and trust.

a) NETWORKING. With the internet, there is low-cost access to a vast body of information and records, plus networks (ISSHO, UFJ, AFWJ, ACCJ, FCCJ, DFS, JALT etc) which already address concerns and link the non-Japanese community to an unprecedented degree. Thus "The Community" already de facto exists. Let's make it de jure with a name, some guidelines, and a subscription and recording service.
b) RECORDING. Web pages are cheap to make and easily accessible worldwide. Establish a site for recording past endeavors and requesting action on future endeavors.
c) TAKING ACTION. "The Community" for now is not designed to be a dues-paying union with snail-mailed newsletters. It is more a mailing list where people interested in community issues can join, receiving occasional emails and electronic calls to action. Ex: if a pool adopts a policy of refusing service to foreigners, we would let our members know, provide them with contact information (pool and governing-authority addresses and phone numbers), and ask them on their own initiative to make contact. If members are in the neighborhood, they might even drop by to confirm, record the situation, and let the instigators know our discomfort. Thus The Community would not be a top-down bureaucratic organization. More a nerve-net. Afterward, any actions taken would be reported, then recorded on The Community URL.


* 1) FOREIGNER FINGERPRINT LAW (1980-1999). Laws instituted from 1952 to keep track of foreigners ran afoul of ethnic Korean-Japanese, who disliked the association with criminals and 3-year renewals. ACTION: Scattered refusals by ethnic Asians later became high-profile when non-Asians and the foreign press (Time Magazine, NYT) joined in, court cases in litigation mushroomed until general amnesty was declared with death of Emperor Shouwa. RESULT: Over time renewal periods lengthened, Permanent Residents were eventually exempted, culminating this year with a complete repeal of law.
* 2) KUME HIROSHI GAFFE (1996) "Gaijin wa nihongo ga chotto katakoto no hou ga ii yo ne", sniped a major newscaster on national TV about a fluent non-Japanese. ACTION: ISHO call to action, protesting emails to TV Asahi, a phone call lodging a formal complaint. RESULT: TV Asahi digresses from the issue via a segment on the word gaijin, reporter Dave Zoppetti interviewing protesters; no apology or retraction.
* 3) AZUMA-MURA POOL (1998) Public pool in Gunma-ken closed to all foreigners after alleged rough-housing incident by Brazilian bathers. ACTION: ISSHO Project, letter writing campaign, article in Wash. Times. RESULT: As pool was public facility, banning is illegal. Pool reluctantly un-bans under pressure.
* 4) ANA BORTZ CASE (1998- ) Brazilian denied entry to private store expressly because of nationality. ACTION: Bortz, a journalist, publicized her case to Brazilian community etc.. ISSHO Project, publicity to overseas journalists, anti-discrmination case wending through Japanese courts. RESULT: Ever pending, as it is a court case.
* 5) ONSEN IN OTARU (Sept. 19, 1999- ) Some bathing establishments expressly reserve entry and patronage to Japanese citizens, with signs and managers enforcing it. ACTION: ISSHO/UFJ fact-finding mission with families and reporter in tow, vernacular newspaper article in Hokkaido Shinbun, frequent and full reports to huge body of internet subscribers and newspaper and TV reporters, admonishing travel advisories,ISSHO Project. RESULT: Too early to say, but there has been lots of press attention (including an article in the Asahi Evening News, the Mainichi Daily News, two follow-ups in Hokkaido Shinbun, and Brazilian-community media) and letters to organizations and lawyers.

OTHER DOMESTIC PROBLEMS WORTHY OF FUTURE COMMUNITY ATTENTION: Discriminatory job statuses within Japan's educational system (ninkisei), Juuminhyou effectively making non-Japanese (particularly women) into non-residents, foreign laborers and wanton firings, language education and overstereotyping (ex. big noses in textbooks), contract limitations within the JET Program, police random "gaijin carding", encouragement of assimilationism and public reinforcement of cultural similarities instead of differences, extra hurdles due to extranationality in opening bank accounts or getting credit cards or loans. URL these as potential Community projects and see who takes them up.
ORGANIZATIONAL CHALLENGES TO DEAL WITH: Unpaid volunteer staff, excessive pluralism, overly-uncoordinated nature of nerve-net system and consequent loose-cannnons, cynics and naysayers blunting drives, aversion of the individualists towards being lumped into a "minority", our inexperience in Japanese society with protest and procedural matters, perennnial impatience with the naturally slow pace of change, probable dearth of Japanese members which could lend more legitimacy, difficulty in distinguishing between systematic broad-view problems and "gaijin griping", the busywork of maintaining a website and answering emails diligently.
EVENTUAL FUTURE STEPS: We should contact and coordinate with other highly-organized ethnic and other groups designed to protect the "little person" (Koreans North and South, Chinese, Ainu, Burakumin, Brazilians, the Association for Foreign Wives in Japan, labor unions, Press both established and alternative, etc.). Start collecting important contact details for the powers that be. Make the group for now reactive to social events, not active, until we get enough experience to start lobbying for change. I also personally feel that, although the organizers should be a select few with a high degree of motivation, The Community in structure should remain unbureaucratic and self-motivated--not fueled by the charismatic few but by the outraged many. However, do try to balance things so we do not get besmirched as "rabble-rousers". This is a very difficult line to walk, of course, and if ultimately this is an ineffective style then organizational evolution of The Community will occur.
IN CONCLUSION: Endeavors involving social mobilization are by no means unusual in Japanese history either for the ethnic community or for the Japanese themselves. Forming The Community may be difficult to carry out particularly since it may involve a bunch of atomistic, fractious non-Japanese--linked more by what they are NOT than by what they are. However, that should not diminish its value. Community outrage over domestic events is nothing new, and for us as a group of non-Japanese residents who live exactly the same as any other Japanese--paying taxes, raising families, planning for the future in this land we call home--we need a support network, an action group, and a constructive vent. We may end up as a millipede which often steps on its own feet. We may not even get very far in our efforts. But I believe it is better than doing nothing at all.
We look forward to your comments, your improvements, and your participation.

UPDATE (May 29, 2002)
After a healthy growth in membership and a number of projects reaching fruition (see them at http://www.debito.org/TheCommunity/communityissues.html), Community Coordinators Imtiaz Chaudhry, Jens Wilkinson, and Arudou Debito have decided to establish a symbiotic relationship between The Community and United for a Multicultural Japan (UMJ). UMJ will take on more national-level issues (such as Juuminhyou, Immigration and Racial Discrimination laws), while The Community will be a bulletin board and archive for individuals who take on neighborhood problems, showing the rest of the community what can or cannot be done if one tries. It will not only ensure that the body of knowledge from attempts made to improve things will not fade into anecdotery, but also enable people to try their hand at a little activism. --Arudou Debito

UPDATE TWO (December 20, 2002)

After over three years in existence, The Community Mailing List by year-end 2002 had reached a stage of growth and effervescence where some posts were showing lower signal-to-noise information ratios. Some have said that the List was being "Fukuzawa-ized" (The Dead Fukuzawa Society was a seminal unmoderated mailing list; it eventually collapsed due to internet trolls trashing it for sport).

This was a special concern for The Community List because in future, "internet trolls" will continue to be attracted here by the controversial Otaru Onsen Lawsuit (even though it is not a Community Project), merely to make trouble. Many active members quit the List due to (they say) the debate arena's concurrent unconstructive and overargumentativeness.

Don't get us wrong: Differences in opinion are fine, but apparent tendencies towards argumentation just for the sake of it--without attempts to draw conclusions--are not productive in the long run. There are plenty of other usenet lists for that sort of thing.

This is why we decided that it would be helpful to have Members on the same page "in spirit" (i.e. as per the ideals below).

"The Spirit of 'The Community'"
(Adopted Dec 20, 2002)

As Members of "The Community", we accept the concepts that:

a) non-Japanese (and foreign-looking peoples) are residents, not merely guests, in Japan,

b) non-Japanese (etc) make similar contributions to their communities as Japanese,

c) non-Japanese (etc) should have the same access to the fruits of Japanese society, with as few restrictions as possible,

d) non-Japanese (etc) should be treated with dignity and respect, and should likewise treat people in their community the same way,

e) non-Japanese (etc) have an obligation to show respect for the laws of Japan, and respect for and interest in the language, culture, and society of Japan,

f) non-Japanese (etc) have the right to ask for reasonable changes and improvements in their social status and surroundings in Japan in a calm, reasoned manner,

g) the actions of individuals do not and should not reflect upon a group of people as a whole,

h) people should be cordial, constructive, and civil in their discourse with one another,

i) all people are equal under Japanese law in the spirit of Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution and the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination.

We adopt the above as "The Spirit of The Community", and ask that Community Members abide by these concepts in their interactions with both Community Members and their Japanese communities at large. If the reader has trouble accepting these concepts, we respectfully ask them to form their own community elsewhere with similar beliefs to the reader's own. With these understandings in mind, The Community will seek to undertake projects and promote ideas to make Japan a better place for everyone to live.

(Originally drafted by Arudou Debito, incorporating amendments from Community Members, and passed by all voters unanimously in an open Community poll on December 20, 2002.)

We are all Community Members for a reason: to accomplish something.
Let's keep that in mind when we post.



The Community Site designed byI A Chaudhry