By Arudou Debito
Made public July 22, 2005

This post is structured thus:

1) WHIRLWIND TOUR OF VENUES: Lafcadio Hearn, NUGW, Black Tokyo


This brief is a little hard to write because it's hard to be brief. A lot goes on whenever I go south, and it's difficult to strike a balance between writing too much and giving you a satisfactorily full account of events. But I'll try:

THURS JULY 14, 2005
I hit the ground running, landing at Haneda from Sapporo at 6:30 PM, arriving late for an evening talk sponsored by the National Union of General Workers (NUGW) Tokyo South (http://nambu.generalunion.org). NUGW is a labor union I am proud to support--thousands of people strong and one of many. Japan's reemerging unionism (after abortive attempts during the horrors of turn-of-the-century breakneck industrialization, the militarization of the 1930's, and the squelching of the Postwar Left by SCAP in the name of anti-Communism) is something one doesn't hear about much even today in the mainstream Japanese press. But it's there, and growing. Especially now, given 1) the rending of the bubble economy, creating a recession nearly a generation old, 2) the reemergence of a visible economic elite (concerned only with the bottom line) to supplement the ages-old political and social one, and 3) the deterioration of Japan's longstanding postwar social order of (for better or worse) full and lifetime employment. Not to mention a developing-world foreign underclass, brought over here on "trainee visas", working for much less than minimum wage with no social safety net just to keep Japan's factories from going bankrupt or moving overseas. Consequently one can see the cleaving of Japanese society further and further into camps of Left and Right. But I digress. NUGW, run by non-Japanese and making inroads in labor disputes in certain business sectors (attracting much press for illegal working conditions at Berlitz and NOVA, to name a few high-profile cases), is in my view a dream of sorts come true. More on that in a minute.

Spokesperson Louis Carlet hosted me for a 2 1/2-hour talk on the history of discriminatory treatment of foreign educators in Japan. I started from the precedent set by Lafcadio Hearn in the late 1890s: Despite becoming naturalized citizen Koizumi Yakumo, Hearn suddenly found his English-teaching chair at Tokyo Imperial University reassigned to writer Natsume Souseki (the man on the old 1000-yen note). Natsume had been sent to England for three years to study Shakespeare (snigger--given what I've seen of Japanese academia, then or now, I'm hard put to imagine him getting fluent enough to comfortably teach it; his record later at Toudai indeed showed he hated the job and instead became a newspaper novelist). Natsume thus became part of the push to "indigenize" Japan's nacent university structure (which was then riddled with foreign trainees) with "real Japanese"--an intellectual "import-substitution" strategy, if you will. This employment legerdemain wound up killing Koizumi--embittered, he quit Toudai and died a year later at the age of 54 (cf. Japan Times Sep 25, 1998, http://www.trussel.com/hearn/letter.htm). The precedent set: keep all "foreigners" disenfranchised and disposable by relegating them to one-year renewable contracts.

This revolving-door employment system of contracts for foreign university educators only (while all Japanese full-timers got "tenure" from day one of hiring) continued unchanged for nearly a century--until 1982, when directives were issued permitting three-year contracts for foreigners. In 1997, the market was technically opened further, to allow Japanese full-timers to be contracted like foreigners, and foreigners (to this day quite rarely) to be tenured like Japanese. But in any case, legal precedent in the courts (Gallagher vs Asahikawa U, Worthington et al vs Prefectural U of Kumamoto) has chipped away at labor law protections for foreign workers in the field of education. (More detail at http://www.debito.org/activistspage.html#ninkisei, and Ivan Hall, CARTELS OF THE MIND, Ch 3, "Academic Apartheid".)

The point of my NUGW lecture was to rally the troops. Ten years ago, when I first became active in human rights (the first case I took up was in fact Academic Apartheid), it was a lonely job. Foreigners (at least the ones I was fighting for) were afraid of their own shadow, unable to rock the boat and demand their rights--even those guaranteed them by law. Overwhelmingly "guestist" in nature (i.e. unable to criticize their "Japanese hosts") or easily cowed into submission by Japanese spouses convinced that "Japan doesn't like public protest"(conveniently forgetting or too young to remember the AMPO demonstrations of the early Sixties), many foreign workers hoped that by hunkering down, the axe would pass them over.

That has changed. Because more people--witnessing past actions and developing an institutional memory--realized that just being a doe in the headlights would not save them. Thankfully gone are the days when Ivan Hall had to supplicate himself before the Ministry of Education, involving the US Ambassador (Mondale, at the time), just to ask for pink-slipped teachers to receive part of their pension after decades of service (result: MOE did not one whit to help). Nowadays, labor unions are growing and taking up the cause because more people realize nobody else will. Relying on the government, the judiciary, or even other elements of civil society is simply ineffective. People are taking it to the streets, because there is no other way.

And it is a dream to see it. I could not have done ten years ago what they are doing now. With this speech, I wanted to tell them about the bad old days and how far we've come, if only to make their efforts less thankless. I suggest readers keep an eye on this movement, as I see it as a historical development in the internationalization of Japan.

Oh, and two more meetings of note:

FRI JULY 15, 2005
had me meeting with Eric, in charge of Black Tokyo (http://www.blacktokyo.com/), a bulletin board and advocacy group for Africans and African-Americans in Japan. We came up with some concrete ideas for where to take the issue of Japan reprinting Little Black Sambo (http://www.debito.org/chibikurosanbo.html), which I'll let you know about as they come to fruition.

Then I spent the evening on the other side, with some yuppie friends (not meant pejoratively--even they call themselves that; plus they're young, bright, and fun to talk to, as they haven't yet lost their souls to the profit motive) in a Tameike Sanno bar, discussing Just-War Theory and related Neo-Con stuff. Scared theories for a scared world, and the moneymakers don't like risk and uncertainty unless they are on the winning side. Quite a mixed bag of a day. See one fellow diner's feeling about our meeting at http://ridingsun.blogspot.com/2005/07/dinner-with-debito.html



By "again", I'm referring to an older case I took up last March. I never found time to write this up, but last spring, shortly before my Peace Boat trip began, I visited a business hotel in Shin-Okubo (Hyakunin-chou 1-15, an area ironically with a high concentration of ethnic Koreans) that had a sign up saying, "For the present, Foreigruse [sic] cannot be performed. Very sorry for this. HOTEL TSUBAKURO", with a corresponding sign in Japanese.

"For the present, Foreigr [sic] use cannot be performed. Very sorry for this. HOTEL TSUBAKURO"

「大変申し訳ありません 当分の間  外国人の方の利用は出来ません。ビジネスホテル つばくろ」
(Photo Credit: Declan Murphy, July 21, 2003)

(See more photo evidence and writeup at http://www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html#Shinjuku) Well, on March 5, about five of my friends and a reporter from Mindan Shinbun went along as we tried to negotiate for the sign down.

The owners of Tsubakuro, Mr and Mrs Takahashi, were rather indignant, insisting that foreign guests must speak Japanese or else they cannot stay. (It even says so clearly on the Recruit website blurb for the hotel) (Japanese). When we pointed out that refusing people for lack of language ability was against Hotel Management Law Article 5, they grew even more annoyed and said they didn't care about the law, they were just trying to run a business. Foreign guests they couldn't communicate with would result in trouble (mentioning inter alia, breakages and theft, as if that had anything to do with language ability). We still told them to take down that sign, which blanket-refuses foreigners. They refused. So our compromise: a sign saying "WE WELCOME GUESTS WHO SPEAK JAPANESE OR WHO HAVE A JAPANESE-SPEAKING CONTACT" (a statement of preference rather than an outright refusal; we still do not condone refusals, however indirect). We told them to stop refusing foreigners, and they said they would think about it.

(photo credits--Arudou Debito. Click on photos to see larger image

Now fast forward to July 11, 2005. I got an email from somebody who told me his Japanese wife tried to make a reservation for him at Tsubakuro, and he still got refused, which means that even an interlocutor is not necessarily a qualifier. So I went back to Tsubakuro on July 16, tape recorder in pocket, and got Ms Takahashi on tape stating 1) they still refuse foreigners, in violation of the Hotel Management Law, and 2) that they would continue doing so no matter what, so there. I should take it up with the police if I had anything more to say.

Which is what I did. I then walked over to the nearby Hyakunin-chou 1-Chome Police Box, showed two cops some keitai photos of Tsubakuro's signs (the new ones mentioned above), showed them the law, and told them to enforce it. No dice. They said they could not investigate (shinsa) from this Police Box (Oh really?! That must give the neighborhood some relief!). They told me to take it up with the Shinjuku Police HQ. (I got that down on tape too; shows how thoroughly Tokyo's finest does their job.) So I guess I'll just have to call HQ and see what happens. More later. An Asahi reporter, BTW, heard the tape. Here's hoping for a story (unlikely, given Asahi's ongoing editorial lurch to the right as well).

Finally, I spent Friday evening talking to activists around the Shinjuku 2-Chome area (incidentally, the gay district of Tokyo; friendly place--recommend sidewalk cafe/bar "The Advocate" for their 6-9PM all-you-can-drink for 1000 yen!), and following up a lead at a local hotel (which didn't definitively refuse foreigners--only those people who didn't follow hotel rules; several non-Japanese at the bar testified that they've gotten in with no problem). I met up with activist friend Monty and his girlfriend, who tolerated us spending the wee hours howling selections from Genesis's best album "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"...

But I promised to be brief... I wound up the trip by giving a:


JULY 17, 2005

My thesis, in short, was that racism will eventually be outlawed in Japan, but activists must keep pushing and the government must take the lead in awareness raising. Here's the Executive Summary:

ABSTRACT: This paper discusses the phenomenon of racism in Japan, and how Japan's version is subtler than those found in other societies. This subtlety has both positive and negative consequences: Negatively, it deprives the issue of the power of social shock, alleviating pressure to eliminate racism through clear and expedite legislation. Positively, because the Japanese variant is grounded less in an inexorable hatred per se, it will be comparatively easier to persuade people of racism's evils, particularly since Japanese paradigms conflating race and nationality increasingly affect multinational and genetically-diverse Japanese citizens. Nevertheless, it will take some time to convince the government that anti-discrimination laws are necessary, and the government must counteract a fear and hatred of foreigners currently being generated by domestic law enforcement. After activists lay the groundwork, by stressing the humanity of foreigners and the benefits of immigrants to an aging Japanese society, it is entirely conceivable that Japan will create said policy to protect all of its residents, regardless of nationality and appearance, against racial discrimination.

The rest of the paper (4200 words) can be read at:

I even tie in UN Rapporteur Doudou Diene's Japan visit.

Okay, that's all for this brief. Thanks to all who met me for yet another wonderful tour of Tokyo. I don't know how people in that city can sleep!

Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan
July 22, 2005

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