GOOD NEWS FROM GRASS ROOTS
JUST BE CAUSE COLUMN 4
By Arudou Debito
Japan Times June 3, 2008
Draft ten with links to sources.
Reader Rodney in Vancouver recently emailed: "I've often found
your articles informative and useful, but they tend to take a tone of
complaint. Please tell us about some face-to-face, grassroots
efforts that have helped make Japanese more considerate and respectful
of those who are different."
Thanks. Yes, my essays sound like "complaints" because I focus on ongoing issues that need redress
. That doesn't mean I don't see the good news too
. Here are 700 words to prove that (apologies for leaving out anyone's favorite topic):
First up, the labor unions (i.e. the ones that let non-Japanese join, even help run). Their annual Marches in March
, for example, have made it clear to the media (and nasty employers like NOVA
that non-Japanese workers are living in and working for Japan--and that
they are ready to stand up for themselves, in both collective
bargaining and public demonstrations.
These groups have gained the ear of the media and national Diet members, pointing out the legal ambiguity of Trainee Visas
, and systematic abuses of imported labor such as virtual slavery
and even child labor
. For example, Lower House member (and former Prime Ministerial candidate) Taro Kono in 2006 called the entire work visa regime "a swindle"
, and opened ministerial debate on revising it
In the same vein, local NGOs are helping NJ workers learn Japanese
and find their way around Japan's social safety net. Local
governments with high NJ populations have likewise begun multilingual
services; Shizuoka Prefecture even
abolished their practice of denying Kokumin Hoken health insurance to
NJ (on the grounds that NJ weren't "kokumin", or citizens)
These governments are holding regular meetings, issuing formal petitions (such as the Hamamatsu and Yokkaichi Sengens
) to the national government, recommending they improve NJ education, social insurance, and registration procedures.
Still more NGOs and concerned citizens are petitioning the United Nations. Special
Rapporteur Doudou Diene has thrice visited Japan on their invitation,
reporting that racial discrimination here is "deep and profound" and
demanding Japan pass laws against it
Although the government largely ignored Diene's reports, United Nations representatives did not. The Human Rights Council frequently referenced them when questioning Japan's commitment to human rights last May
. That's how big these issues can get.
More successes from the grassroots: Separated/divorced NJ parents with no custody (or even access) to their Japanese children have drawn attention
to Japan's unwillingness to abide by international standards against child abduction. After international media coverage
and pressure, Japan announced last month it would finally sign the Hague Convention on Child Abductions by 2010
Decades of civil disobedience by "Zainichi" Korean Permanent Residents led to the abolition of all NJ fingerprinting in 1999
. Although claims of "terrorism and crime" led to Japan reinstating NJ fingerprinting at points of entry into the country in November
, the Zainichis were granted an exception.
Last year, a viciously racist magazine on foreign crime entitled "Gaijin Hanzai"
found its way into convenience stores nationwide (Zeit Gist March 20, 2007
Internet mail campaigns and direct negotiation with store managers
occasioned its withdrawal from the market--even helped bankrupt the
And of course, there is the perennial campaign against "Japanese Only" establishments
, which often exclude any customer who doesn't "look Japanese". Following Brazilian Ana Bortz's 1999 court victory against a Hamamatsu jewelry store
, I was one plaintiff in another successful lawsuit (2001-2005) against a public bath. The Otaru Onsens Case
has become, according to law schools, a landmark lawsuit in Postwar Japan.
It's a long story, but here's the "face-to-face" for Rodney: Only
one Otaru bathhouse got sued because we went to each one (and a number
of others around the country) for long chats. One owner even
became my friend, and, heartsick at what he was doing, took his "no
foreigner" signs down. As did many other places when persuaded
politely by us. (More in my book Japanese Only
These are the butterflies flapping up a storm, sweeping down barrier
after barrier. Things are indeed getting better in many ways for
And that's partly because we have shed our "cultural relativism" and
"guestism", pushing more for our due in a society that needs us.
People are listening. Some steps forward, some back. But we
shall proceed and succeed, as the above examples demonstrate.
Arudou Debito is co-author of Handbook For Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan. A version of this essay with links to these issues at www.debito.org/japantimes060308.html