Gaijin Hanzai's withdrawal from the market showed real power of 'newcomers' for the first time"

By Arudou Debito

Column 35 for the Japan Times Community Page Published March 20, 2007

DRAFT FIVE, "DIRECTOR'S CUT" with links to sources.

Japan Times version at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20070320zg.html

An academic version of this article is available at Japan Focus (http://japanfocus.org/products/details/2386)


Making headlines worldwide last month was the publication of a magazine entitled GAIJIN HANZAI URA FAIRU (The Underground Files of Gaijin [sic] Crime).  On sale at major Japanese bookstores and convenience stores nationwide, Gaijin Hanzai (GH) attributed criminality to nationality, and depicted foreigners as "dangerous" and "evil".


Much ink and many pixels have already described the magazine as an example of "hate speech" (archive of the events at www.debito.org/index.php/?cat=27 ).  So this article will not dwell on its contents.  See all of it scanned at www.flickr.com/photos/ultraneo/sets/72157594531953574/


The news:  Despite Japan's lack of laws, or a civil society which can curb hate speech of this sort, activists put GH out of circulation.  Despite no help from domestic groups or even Japan's press, "Newcomer" residents and immigrants demonstrated their power as organized consumers for probably the first time in Japan's history.




On January 31, GH went on sale nationwide.  According to the Japan Times (February 23), about half of the 30,000 copies produced went to FamilyMart, Japan's third-largest convenience store. 


The reaction was immediate.  That same day, an Internet blogger named Steve scanned it and notified mailing lists.  Soon dozens of Japan-related websites (including Japan Probe, Big Daikon, Trans-Pacific Radio, Mutant Frog, Gaijin Pot, Ikeld, Joi Ito, Ejovi, Fukumimi, Japanjin, Japundit, ESLCafe, and Debito.org.) were buzzing with opinion and outrage.


On February 2, Japan Probe proposed an official boycott of GH stockers.  Emails of protest went to their domestic and overseas offices.  Overseas newspapers took notice.  The Guardian that day: "[GH] goes beyond being puerile and into the realm of encouraging hatred of foreigners."


Within 24 hours, apologies from distributors were coming in:  FamilyMart's US subsidiary Famima promised to have GH off the shelves "within seven days".  Other convenience stores soon followed suit.  I also dropped by two local conbini, showed managers GH's famous "nigger" and "Korean kimchee pudenda" pages, and got it summarily removed with apologies.


On February 3, Debito.org offered a bilingual letter to stores explaining why the bearer would refuse to shop there unless GH was immediately returned to the publisher.  The letter, downloaded at least 1156 times over February, demonstrated that the threat of boycott was real.


Successive days brought more articles:  The Times (London), Reuters, Australia's ABC News, China's People's Daily, Bloomberg, South China Morning Post, IPCJapan (Spain), finally even our Japan Times.  In powerpoint presentations to domestic human rights groups nationwide, I included GH's images, eliciting empathy and outrage (albeit no visible action).  Nevertheless, no Japanese press picked up the story.


On February 5, FamilyMart (which had only sold 1000 copies) officially returned GH to the publisher.  Amazon Japan rebutted with freedom of speech arguments (comparing GH to Mein Kampf), but soon sold out and offered no more for sale.


By February 9, GH had become a collector's item.  Even the publisher, Eichi Shuppan, advertised that Gaijin Hanzai was "out of stock", and Amazon Japan offered used copies (list price 690 yen) for 20,000 yen (within a week 40,000 on eBay).  Shortly after, there would be no record on Eichi's website that they ever sold the book.  Victory was total for the activists.




Protest is not unprecedented.  Non-Japanese residents have often successfully decried actions deemed disparaging, unfair, or even racist:  Anchorman Kume Hiroshi’s "Gaijin should speak broken Japanese" gaffe (Kume apologized a decade later); the Tamachan Sealion Residency Certificate Demo; the NTT DoCoMo "Gaijin Deposit" Boycott (NTT repealed the tariff); the Mandom "Rastafarian Monkey" ad campaign; police "foreign crime" posters; anti-discrimination lawsuits such as the Ana Bortz, Steve McGowan, and Otaru Onsen cases (all discussed at Debito.org).


Crucial has been the Internet, linking advocates worldwide as never before.  Networking and campaigning effectively enough to be noticed by domestic authorities, press, and opinion makers--through letter campaigns, media exposure, public shame, face-to-face negotiations, demonstrations, even humor.  It gave non-Japanese (especially the "Newcomer" immigrants, who have anti-defamation leagues nowhere nearly as powerful as the longstanding "Oldcomer" Zainichi organizations) unprecedented influence. 


What made the Gaijin Hanzai case special, even historical, is that the campaign was waged and won by the Newcomers alone.  As I wrote in a rebuttal to GH editor Shigeki Saka, who claimed that a long-overdue debate on foreign crime had been censored by an "army of bloggers":


"Even then, we as demonstrators never asked for the law, such as it is, to get involved.  We just notified distributors of the qualms we had with this book, and they agreed that this was inappropriate material for their sales outlets.  We backed that up by proposing a boycott, which is our inviolable right (probably the non-Japanese residents’ only inviolable right) to choose where to spend our money as consumers. We proposed no violence.  Only the strength of our argument and conviction."


Funny thing is, editor Saka assumed foreigners would not be part of this debate.  He stated on February 7:  "In principle it is a magazine written in Japanese and sold in Japan... it’s for Japanese people to read...  Maybe foreigners can’t read the articles in there and they only see the pictures of the discriminated."


This blind spot, surprisingly frequent in the Japanese media, assumes that non-Japanese residents simply "don't count"--that they haven't any real voice in Japanese society.  Or can't even read. 


Wake up.  Other public appeals by literate non-natives have enlisted the domestic media to change many a policy. 


However, this time Japan's masukomi took a powder.  Which means for the first time the power of non-Japanese as a consumer bloc was the force to be reckoned with.




One remaining mystery is:  Who produced GH?  According to an industry source, a magazine of this quality and quantity would cost at least US$250,000.  Given that GH contains no advertising whatsoever, the patron (listed as a nonexistent Joey H. Washington") is clearly quite rich.


Some speculation on Joey:


First, the deep pockets.  What are deeper than taxes?  Japan's police forces, particularly the National Public Safety Commission, have both secretive budgets and a clear mandate to monitor foreigner activity (footnote[1]).


Second, police access.  At least three articles quote the NPA or ex-cops, and GH's last 13 pages have excellent summaries of foreign crimes best collated from police databases.  Even the editor admitted, "We have spoken with Japanese police in order to write each article.  For them this issue is serious and they have provided the data."


Why would police cooperate with Eichi, a pornography publisher affecting "public morals"?


Biggest giveaway is GH's photos.  Everywhere at once, either the photographer has the patience of Ansel Adams, or GH includes police camerawork of crime scenes.  Cops feature prominently in the photos, despite disliking being photographed on the job.



Plus some of the shots are "eye in the sky", at just the right angle to be from police surveillance cameras.  Which just happen to be proliferating in parts of Tokyo with lots of foreigners.



Now that you mention it, every GH gaijin crowd scene is shot in Tokyo, coincidentally in places with those spy cameras.  Even though GH aims to catalog foreign crime throughout Japan (and towns in Shizuoka and Gifu Prefectures have higher foreign population percentages). 


Finally, GH has data which only the police or Immigration would have, such as the passport photo of a suspect.



This is not out of character.  I have written in the past (Zeit Gist February 20, 2007) about the NPA targeting foreigners as threats to public safety.


Since they apprise the media biannually of the rise in foreign crime, the NPA  working with a magazine publisher is unsurprising.  GH feels like a public service announcement.




Many felt Gaijin Hanzai was "hate speech", as it concertedly and maliciously attempted to encourage fear and loathing of an entire segment of Japan's population.  Yet startlingly few raised their voices against it.


Contrast this with how another society responded in a similar case:


On February 23, AsianWeek in San Francisco published "Why I Hate Blacks".  Within were justifications for discrimination:  their racist attitudes towards Asians, their slave history, their lack of intelligence, and their Christianity.


Within days, news media, ethnic anti-defamation leagues, even Nancy Pelosi, were demanding apologies and retractions.  Civil society kicked into action, debated the issue, and shouted the columnist down.


In Japan, however, the domestic press went quiet.  Coincidentally, Education Minister Ibuki Bunmei dismissed the notion of focusing on human rights at all as "eating too much butter, resulting in 'Human Rights Metabolic Syndrome'"--demonstrating the low regard that even people in policymaking positions have for expanding constitutional protections to Japan's international residents.


Consequently, publications like GH remain on shelves:  Another book (Joshi Gakusei Daraku Manual) compares foreign penis sizes, cautioning its intended female audience that foreigners "don't have money", "want a lot of sex", and "are junkies".  Other manga give reasons for hating Koreans, and depict Chinese as cannibals (footnote[2]).  In other societies signatory to the same treaties as Japan, they probably would not be on sale, or would at least face controversy.


So who fought the good fight this time?  Civil society in the form of "Newcomer" activists got Gaijin Hanzai off the market.  They are learning how to fight for their rights--this time completely by themselves for the first time in Japanese history.  Clearly now even the "gaijin" do "count".



An academic version of this article is available at Japan Focus (http://japanfocus.org/products/details/2386)


1550 WORDS

[1] Arudou, Debito, JAPANESE ONLY, The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan.  Akashi Shoten Inc. 2006, pages 261-265.

[2]「マンガ嫌韓流」August 2005 (1) and sequel February 2007.  Respective ISBNs: 488380478X and 4883805166. 「マンガ中国入門 やっかいな隣人の研究」ジョージ秋山 (), 文雄 (監修) August 2005. ISBN 487031682X.  Both available at Amazon Japan.