THE NEW YORK TIMES
NOV 29, 2000
It Takes More Than a Passport
(NB: Contains webbed photo in color --the print version had it in glorious monochrome. Look carefully at the bottom of the photo, and you'll see an odd white shape: it's our dog. All we need is our cat and our whole family would have been in the picture!)
PHOTO CAPTION: "Arudoudebito Sugawara, the new Japanese citizen formerly
known as David Aldwinckle, showed his passport to his wife, Ayako, and their
daughters, Anna, 5, left, and Amy, 7, as soon as he got it earlier this
November 29, 2000
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
NANPORO, Japan Windmills are hard to find in this farm town in
northern Japan, but that hasn't stopped Arudoudebito Sugawara from
seeking them out and tilting at them ever since he first arrived in
this country 12 years ago.
In one of his first jobs, with a building materials company in
Sapporo, Mr. Sugawara, who was then known by his original American
name, David Aldwinckle, insisted that he be placed on the same
lowly track as any new Japanese recruit rather than get special
treatment as a foreigner.
The company obliged this unusual request, but it earned him 15
months of increasingly humiliating hazing, leading him finally to
From there he went to academia, a world so restricted to
foreigners in Japan that there are said to be fewer tenured foreign
professors in the entire country than there are in most major
American cities. But rather than lie low after landing a job as an
English instructor at a provincial university near here, he banded
together with other aggrieved foreign teachers in a largely
fruitless campaign for equal treatment.
Later came campaigns against the once mandatory fingerprinting of
foreign residents in Japan, and a campaign to end discrimination
against foreigners in public places in the country, especially hot
baths, where a Japanese-only policy remains in some places.
Convinced that fairness would elude him as long as he was a
foreigner here, Mr. Sugawara, 35, who is married to a Japanese
woman, took on the arduous challenge of becoming a naturalized
Japanese citizen, a status rarely granted to Westerners in a
country where immigrants themselves are few.
"Blink, blink," he said earlier this month, moments after he
received his new, blazing red Japanese passport, in final
confirmation of his new nationality and of his new legal name,
Arudoudebito Sugawara, the latter part of which was adopted from
his wife. "No one is more surprised than me, knowing this country,
knowing who I am, and knowing what I have been fighting for. And
the authorities here certainly know what I have been fighting for."
The evidence of this, he said, was the dossier of news clippings
and other papers documenting his activism that the immigration
authorities had acknowledged gathering on him. There are also the
vaguely menacing crank calls that anonymous people frequently make
to his home here in Nanporo, a town of about 10,000 people on
Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands.
"I once thought that as David I would be able to fit into Japanese
society, but I came to understand that it was very difficult," he
said. "Before I was Japanese, people could just brush me off. My
arguments didn't matter to them. But now that I am Japanese, they
will have to apply the same standards."
Armed with his new nationality, and pleased as he could be, Mr.
Sugawara almost immediately set out with two Japanese friends to a
nearby public hot bath that has become well known for barring
foreigners. But to his surprise, rather than being let in after a
flourish of paperwork proving his Japanese-ness, he was again
"They said that even though they understood that I was Japanese,"
he recalled, "the other customers would not, and that the presence
of foreigners would destroy their business."
Undoubtedly more public campaigning about the hot baths lies
ahead, and perhaps even another rare import from America: the
lawsuit. For her part, his wife, Ayako Sugawara, at times wishes
that her husband would simply learn to relax.
She said she doesn't think of him as Japanese or American, but
after 11 years of marriage, simply as her husband. "When we
married, all my relatives were disappointed about me choosing a
foreigner," she said. "Even now they are disappointed. If I tell
them that David is Japanese now, what will they think? I don't
know. I don't even care."
But Mr. Sugawara considers his struggle to be much more than a
somewhat unusual search for identity, or even the struggle of an
individual for acceptance. Rather, he sees his battles as part of a
crusade to reform Japan by loosening up conformity, making people
sensitive to the rights of minorities and reversing what he regards
as Japan's tendency to reject outsiders.
With an expected sharp decline in the country's population in the
coming decades, a national discussion has recently begun in Japan
about opening the country to more foreign immigration. A prime
ministerial commission recently concluded, for example, that Japan
must "encourage foreigners who can be expected to contribute to the
development of Japanese society to move in and possibly take up
permanent residence here." At present, as many Americans live in
Hong Kong 42,800 as in all of Japan.
Although the numbers have scarcely changed in the last decade,
about 29,000 Japanese married foreigners in 1998, compared with
only about 7,000 two decades earlier, according to government
Mr. Sugawara, a native of Geneva, N.Y., and a graduate of Cornell
University, said the discrimination against foreigners here had led
him to see his own country and its problems in a new light.
"Why am I fighting against injustices here rather than in my own
society?" he said. "Because I am a minority here, and you don't
really begin to understand injustice until you are in the
In the end, Mr. Sugawara said his battles are really not about
himself at all, but rather about what kind of society his two
little daughters, Amy, 7, and Anna, 5, will grow up in. Already, he
said, Anna has been made to feel uncomfortable about her sandy
blond hair, and her ability to speak English, alongside her natural
"It may seem silly to think that I can do anything about that,"
Mr. Sugawara said. "More and more, children like mine are going to
be part of the future here, and that is why I don't get upset or
impatient about things."
The New York Times on the Web
Visit NYTimes.com for complete access to the
most authoritative news coverage on the Web,
updated throughout the day.
Become a member today! It's free!
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company