DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER OF SEPT 10, 2006

mytest

Arudou Debito in Sapporo here. Welcome back from summer break, everyone. Got quite a backlog of articles for this newsletter.

Let me briefly open with my summer break: Two weeks cycling 940 kms (Sapporo to Wakkanai to Abashiri), averaging around 100 kms a day, and a trip average of 16.9 kms an hour, on a mountain bike. Friend Chris accompanied me for the entire trip, and he’ll soon have a site up with a report and photos. And yes, I as usual lost no weight on this cycletrek (my third, see my first at http://www.debito.org/residentspage.html#cycletreks), but I feel great, and wish I lived in a climate with no winter so I could do this all year round.

On to the updates. As I said, there’s a backlog, so apologies if you have seen some of these articles before:

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1) PROGRESS ON “JAPANESE ONLY” ESTABLISHMENTS
2) YOU TUBE: “JAPAN DOESN’T LIKE YOU!” VIDEO ON EXCLUSIONARY SIGNS
3) NEWSWEEK JAPAN ON NATURALIZATION IN JAPAN
4) METROPOLIS: DIETMEMBER TSURUNEN MARUTEI
5) ASAHI: RACIALLY-MOTIVATED BULLYING FUKUOKA COURT CASE RULES FOR VICTIM
6) SF CHRONICLE: CHILD CUSTODY IN JAPAN IS NOT BASED ON RULES
7) KYODO: NEW “FOREIGN CRIME” CAMPAIGN HITS SNAG: DISSENT
8) CALLING ALL NATURALIZED CITIZENS: NEW BOOK FORTHCOMING
… and finally… NEW DEBITO.ORG BLOG
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September 10, 2006, Freely forwardable.
Full text of all articles below blogged at
http://www.debito.org/index.php

1) PROGRESS ON “JAPANESE ONLY” ESTABLISHMENTS

The reason I opened with our cycletrek is to segue nicely into this topic: Upon reaching northern cities Wakkanai and Monbetsu, Chris and I did the rounds of “Japanese Only” signs on public establishments. Photo archive, eyewitness reports, and links to newspaper articles international and domestic available at:
http://www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html#Wakkanai
http://www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html#Monbetsu

WAKKANAI
Chris and I went by public bath “Yuransen”. An egregious entry in this gallery, Yuransen for years has violated the Public Bath Law to refuse all foreigners (including foreign taxpayers) entry. Then it built a separate “gaijin bath” with separate entry and separate prices (2500 yen, six times the entry fee of 370 yen, and without male and female sections). This attracted international attention, even making the New York Times in April 2004:
http://www.debito.org/iht042304.html

Well, guess what. Yuransen went bankrupt in March 2006. So much for its claim that letting foreigners in would drive them out of business. Meanwhile, its rival onsen some miles away, Doumu, does a brisk trade. And it has never refused foreigners. Does anyone else see a lesson here? Current photo of Yuransen’s storefront at the above Rogues’ Gallery link.

MONBETSU
has also had “Japanese Only Store” signs up since the previous century. Despite demands from the Ministry of Justice for them to be taken down in July 2000, some signs (we counted four) are still up to the present day, with the city government turning a blind eye to repeated requests and petitions for resolution.

Well, Chris and I dropped by a yakiniku restaurant and got the manager to take one of the signs down. It took less than a minute! Photos up soon at the Rogues’ Gallery. Bonus: if you’d like to hear me in action negotiating the sign down, courtesy of Chris’s mp3 player/recorder, download a soundfile at

Best part: Hear me stuttering in surprise at how easy it was, and Chris giggling at the very end.

Y’know, we’re going to win this battle. Not least because this issue has legs:

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2) YOU TUBE: “JAPAN DOESN’T LIKE YOU!” VIDEO ON EXCLUSIONARY SIGNS

In a similar vein, somebody has been filching photos from the Rogues’ Gallery, to create a YouTube photo gallery entitled “Do you like Japan? Japan doesn’t like you!” Japanese national anthem included. A two-minute vid, it has been viewed as of this writing about 25,000 times, with more than 700 comments, and the dubious honor of being one of the top ten most accessed “Travel and Places” videos in YouTube history.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCeK0Trz9E0&mode=related&search

And before you ask: No, I didn’t have any part in creating this video, and knew nothing about it until a friend notified me a few weeks ago.

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3) NEWSWEEK JAPAN ON JAPAN NATURALIZATION

Newsweek Japan this week has two articles (English and Japanese each) entitled “The New Face of Japan–Foreigners are not only coming–They’re staying”. Friends Kaoru and Kiichi (formerly Coal and Jayasinghi), are featured on the very cover. Get a copy of both issues quickly while they’re still on the newsstands!

For those who cannot, text at
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14640269/site/newsweek/

Excerpt (included not because it quotes me, but because it luckily encapsulates the spirit of the article nicely):

———ARTICLE EXCERPT BEGINS———————
Meanwhile, so-called permanent residents–foreign born people who have chosen to live in Japan for the long term–are steadily growing. “It shows that immigrants, not generational foreigners, are now becoming the more common permanent residents in Japan, meaning they’re not going to leave,” says human-rights activist Debito Arudou, a former American turned Japanese citizen. “I used to say half of the foreigners in Japan were born here. Now it’s more like a quarter.”

And the fundamental consequence, says Arudou, is clear. “We’re going to see people who don’t look Japanese being Japanese. That’s undeniable.”
———ARTICLE EXCERPT ENDS———————–

(NB: Those who would like to see some substantiation for this sea change in Permanent Residency, see my essay on this last January at http://www.debito.org/japanfocus011206.html )

A couple of quick corrections to the article, if I may: The figure of 15,000 people cited as the total number ofnaturalized people in Japan is the rough estimate of the YEARLY intake of naturalized citizens. According to the Minister of Justice, around 300,000 foreigners (mostly the Zainichis) took citizenship between 1968 and 2000. Update the number by 15K per year and you’re closing in on 400,000 newly-minted Japanese of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

And former Finn Tsurunen Marutei is not the only naturalized Japanese in the Diet. As friend Chris pointed out, “Renho, formerly of Taiwanese nationality, and Shinkun Park, formerly of Korean nationality, are two other naturalized Dietmembers.”
http://www.renho.jp/
http://www.haku-s.net/index.html

Newsweek has told me they will be issuing corrections in short order. Speaking of Tsurunen:

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4) METROPOLIS: DIETMEMBER TSURUNEN MARUTEI

Reporter friend Oscar did a bang-up job of an article on Tsurunen for Metropolis Magazine last August. Article available at
http://www.crisscross.com/jp/newsmaker/345

Soon up for re-election, Tsurunen gives his views on Yasukuni, foreign crime, assimilation, education, nationalism, and constitutional changes. Highlight:

———ARTICLE EXCERPT BEGINS———————
Tsurunen’s more than 30 years of naturalized citizenship–if not books he’s penned in Japanese with titles such as “I Want to be a Japanese,” “Here Comes a Blue-Eyed Assemblyman” and “Blue-Eyed Diet Member Not Yet Born”–speak to his vested interest in foreigner acceptance. But he’s no longer as optimistic as when he took office in 2002.

“Well, it is still my goal–or wish [to get suffrage for foreigners]–but I’m not sure I have been able to do much. For example, I am for the right of permanent foreign residents to vote,” he says of a bill now on ice that would allow them to do so in local elections. “But our party is not united on this issue. Last year, I was the leader of a committee that dealt with the issue of accepting more foreign laborers and we made some progress. But I’m not sure if it’s the best solution now. Japanese people are not ready to live with foreigners. There will be problems such as discrimination. We have some cities where 10% of the population is foreign and they already have these kinds of problems.”… “For foreigners this is not a very friendly country–it can be very cold. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
———ARTICLE EXCERPT ENDS———————–

COMMENT: I’ve met Tsurunen on several occasions, even had a chance to talk to him one-on-one (see my October 2003 interview with him at http://www.debito.org/tsuruneninterview.html ). I personally like the guy. I also understand that he’s trying to make his mark as a politician trumpeting more than just ethnic-rights issues (one of his biggest policy pushes is for recycling), and as a politician, he’s not in a position to please everybody.

However, I have qualms about the degree of his distancing. For example, when UN Special Rapporteur Doudou Diene came to Japan for a second time, talking about racial discrimination and the need for legislation to combat it (see http://www.debito.org/rapporteur.html ), Diene attended a 2PM meeting at the Diet’s Upper House on May 18, 2006. A few Dietmembers attended, and some of their offices sent secretaries to at least leave their office’s meishi business card behind as a sign of awareness or interest. Tsurunen’s office did neither. I find this deeply disappointing. This is, after all, a meeting with the United Nations–and on foreigner and ethnic issues. If Tsurunen’s office can overlook this, what kind of example does this set for the rest of Japan’s politicians?

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5) ASAHI: IJIME CASE IN FUKUOKA RULES IN FAVOR OF VICTIM

Elephant-minded readers of Japan’s media might remember the “Pinocchio” Case of 2003–where a grade-school teacher had a “thing” about the mixed racial background of a child in his class. He would pull on the boy’s nose until it bled, calling him “Pinocchio”, do the same thing with his ears with a “Mickey Mouse”, and devise all sorts of public punishments (even demanding he die for having “stained blood” (chi ga kegareta)) until the child became mentally unstable.

On July 28, 2006, Fukuoka District Court ruled positively that the PTSD the boy suffered deserved compensation–awarding 2.2 million yen (continuing to push up the “market value” of racial discrimination lawsuits from the generally-accepted 1 million yen or so).
Full report at
http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200607290180.html
Original Japanese at
http://www.asahi.com/edu/news/SEB200607280015.html

The downside to this case is that the teacher only received a suspension from teaching for six months, and is now back on the job with full responsibilities. The man deserves, in my view, incarceration, if not institutionalization.

Moreover, this is not the first case of racially-motivated power harassment between teacher and student I am aware of by any means. I will soon be reporting on a future Kawasaki court decision regarding a Chinese-Japanese in similar straits. For now, info site at http://www.debito.org/kawasakiminzokusabetsu.htm (Japanese).

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6) SF CHRONICLE: “CHILD CUSTODY IN JAPAN ISN’T BASED ON RULES”

Friend and legal expert Colin has done an excellent article in the San Francisco Chronicle on another one of my hobby horses: Child custody after divorce in Japan, the weakness of courts to enforce their own decisions, and the “Who dares, wins” attitude behind many of the officially-mediated battles.
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/08/27/INGD3KO4C71.DTL

———ARTICLE EXCERPT BEGINS———————
Imagine discovering you have been living in an artificial world with rules designed to mask a terrible reality. This is, of course, the premise of “The Matrix,” but it is also an analogy I use to explain child custody and visitation in Japan, a subject in which I do research (and have had personal experience). Japan’s family courts have rules and procedures that hide a sad truth: They are powerless to protect the parent-child relationship when a divorce turns hostile… Child custody litigation is always sad, but particularly so in Japan. For starters, there is, quite literally, no law…

Those who seek cultural (as opposed to institutional) explanations for this state of affairs should be wary. In a recent book in Japanese on visitation, a widely published expert on family problems explained why visitation was different in Japan than in the United States or Europe. The book said Japan is a Confucian society where children are important for continuing the bloodline (but only within marriage), while Western countries had gun cultures, long histories of incest, and frequent cases of parents abducting, raping and even killing their children.
———ARTICLE EXCERPT ENDS———————–

Colin also talks about about the dynamic behind judicial decisionmaking–where judges who don’t toe the official current in their decisions are denied promotion and reappointment. It adds up to a horrifying state of affairs where children (especially those in international or intercontinental divorces) are the big losers, being technically kidnapped by one parent to Japan with no recourse whatsoever.

Fortunately, this issue is finally gaining some attention internationally. See report at Children’s Rights Network Japan about a recent protest at a Los Angeles film screening on the “Megumi Yokota Story”, drawing (stretched, but effective) comparisons between kidnappings to North Korea and child kidnappings to Japan:
http://www.crnjapan.com/events/2006/en/megumiyokotaprotest.html

A primer on this issue available from the Japan Times at:
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20060718z1.html

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7) KYODO: NEW “FOREIGN CRIME” CAMPAIGN HITS SNAG: DISSENT

You may have seen on the news a new slew of programs on “foreigner crime”. It’s periodical. The National Police Agency spoon-feeds the media every six months or so with new “foreigner crime” statistics, and special “tokushuu” shows doubling as public-service announcements appraise the public on how to avoid becoming victims of hordes of foreign criminals.

Some historical examples of how the NPA has finagled statistics and manufactured crime waves at
http://www.debito.org/japantimes100402.html
http://www.debito.org/opportunism.html
http://www.debito.org/foreigncrimeputsch.html
http://www.debito.org/TheCommunity/ihtasahi121502.html
http://www.debito.org/japantimes033004.html
http://www.debito.org/NPAracialprofiling.html
http://www.debito.org/TheCommunity/communityissues.html#police

This time around, however, there’s been a snag–in that “Chinese Criminal DNA” proponent Tokyo Governor Ishihara’s former deputy chief has even come forward to call all the grandstanding an exaggeration.

The text of the article available on my blog (no other extant link available) at

Aug 24, 2006 Kyodo: “Ex-deputy of Tokyo Gov. Ishihara cries foul over ‘safe town’ campaign”

———ARTICLE EXCERPT BEGINS———————
Hiroshi Kubo, who released a book titled ”Is Public Safety Really Deteriorating?” in June, said such measures could make people excessively wary, encourage prejudice against foreigners and benefit those in authority like the police…

Some analysts say these concerns are entirely reasonable and have urged authorities to work harder to get rid of factors threatening public order, such as the widening income disparity, instead of simply telling people to brace themselves for possible crimes.

Kubo, 59, was a senior bureaucrat in the Tokyo government. He led various crime prevention projects as a division chief in charge of public safety in the governor’s headquarters from August 2003 to March 2005, when he quit the municipality.

Kubo said he felt ”embarrassed” when he involved himself in or led projects he said were aimed at prompting people to think the community was becoming more and more dangerous and to rely on the authorities, especially the police, to deal with the situation.
———ARTICLE EXCERPT ENDS———————–

Finally, a voice of reason, even at the top…

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8) NEW BOOK ON NATURALIZED CITIZENS FORTHCOMING

Calling all naturalized Japanese readers:

Naturalized Chinese-Japanese Professor U Hoden, of Japan Women’s University, and myself will be collaborating on a new book over the next few months. We aim to feature the views of life in Japan from a “newcomer citizen” perspective, with essays in Japanese from those who have naturalized. This will be in their own words. We have a basic outline of questions ready, so if anyone is interested (Kaoru, Kiichi?), please let me know at debito@debito.org.

Meanwhile, my friend and I have just finished the fourth draft of our new GUIDEBOOK TO LIFE IN JAPAN, which we think should be coming out in the next six months or so. More on that later…

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And finally, let me announce here my new blog at debito.org, to more easily archive these newsletters. Go to
http://www.debito.org/index.php
to see what’s going out. There is also RSS capability, for those who want to sign up for reports in real time, before I collate into an update. I’m still getting used to the technology, but I hope you like what you see.

As always, thanks for reading, and welcome back for what promises to be an eventful autumn!
Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan
debito@debito.org
http://www.debito.org
Sept 10, 2006
NEWSLETTER ENDS

SF CHRONICLE Aug 27 2006: “Child custody in Japan isn’t based on news””

mytest

Child custody in Japan isn’t based on rules

-By Colin P.A. Jones

San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, August 27, 2006

[COMMENT AT VERY BOTTOM]

Imagine discovering you have been living in an artificial world with rules designed to mask a terrible reality. This is, of course, the premise of “The Matrix,” but it is also an analogy I use to explain child custody and visitation in Japan, a subject in which I do research (and have had personal experience). Japan’s family courts have rules and procedures that hide a sad truth: They are powerless to protect the parent-child relationship when a divorce turns hostile.

Take the case of Samuel Lui, whose Japanese wife took their 2-year-old son from California to Japan in violation of a California court order that gave him custody. The validity of his U.S. custody order was confirmed by Japan’s Supreme Court, yet his wife remained in control of the child. In the meantime, he had to file proceedings in the Osaka Family Court just to seek visitation with the child who was supposed to be living with him in California.

By this time, his wife had thoroughly poisoned the child against him, and he ultimately had to agree to a mediated settlement whereby he gave up custody in exchange for limited (and unenforceable) visitation.

Child custody litigation is always sad, but particularly so in Japan. For starters, there is, quite literally, no law. A couple of articles in the Japanese Civil Code give Japan’s judges the authority to decide custody in divorce cases based on the best interests of the child. But there are virtually no provisions expressing what those interests are (California’s Family Code, by comparison, states clearly that best interests of a child involve frequent and continuous contact with both parents regardless of their marital situation).

Visitation, a matter of course in most U.S. divorces, is in Japan a vaguely defined notion created by judicial precedent and only sometimes described as a right. In reality, both custody and visitation are effectively administrative decisions made at the discretion of judges and untrained mediators, some of whom may even regard visitation as harmful to children.

The judges are part of an elite bureaucracy. Chosen from a small minority of those who have passed one of the most difficult exams in the world, the Japanese bar (which until recently had a pass rate of 3 percent), judges usually enter the judiciary in their 20s and spend their careers in a variety of postings around the country, often living in government housing, isolated from the rest of society.

A judge’s postings reflect the progress of his or her career, which depends on annual reviews. Well-rated judges will end up in higher courts or become part of the judicial administrative apparatus.

While the criteria used by the judiciary in evaluating its members are not public, efficient docket-clearing is an important factor. So, it seems, is not embarrassing the judiciary as an institution.

In one recent case, a judge who wrote a popular book criticizing the excessive length of some judicial opinions was denied reappointment. The reason? His opinions were too short.

Disfavored judges may end up spending most of their time in lower courts outside of Tokyo or other major cities, or in family court, where excessive tenure may be a sign of a stalled career.

While some judges may seek out such postings, others may have joined the judiciary expecting to preside over cases of national importance rather than resolving marital bickering. Thus, other factors may be at work when the best interests of a child are adjudicated.

Because docket clearing is one of these factors, a judge may be too busy to participate in the mediation proceedings that by law must precede divorce and custody litigation in Japan.

If the mediation is deemed unsuccessful, however, the judge may issue a judgment based primarily on the recommendation of the mediators and a family court investigator (another employee of the judicial bureaucracy). A parent may thus lose custody and be denied virtually all meaningful parental rights in proceedings where the judge has barely heard the parties speak and has never seen the child in question.

Custody and visitation decisions also present the judiciary with a problem from the standpoint of preserving its status because they are generally unenforceable.

The Web site of the U.S. State Department Office of Children’s Issues warns that compliance with Japanese family court orders is essentially voluntary. Police rarely get involved in family disputes and courts do not have marshals who can enforce compliance.

The penalty for violating a family court order is at most a fine of less than $1,000. There are other remedies, but they also have limited efficacy, particularly against a party with limited financial resources or who cannot be located.

I interviewed one mother whose attempts to enforce visitation were thwarted when her ex-husband simply hung up the phone on the court officer who had been trying to persuade him to comply. “There is nothing more we can do,” the bureaucrat explained, apologetically.

From the standpoint of resolving cases without exposing the judiciary’s weakness, it is small wonder that family courts so often seem to find the status quo to be in the best interests of the child, particularly when it comes to visitation.

If this means no visitation when one parent refuses to cooperate, then it is often denied or terminated. If the child is too young, visitation may be detrimental. If the child is going through puberty, visitation might be upsetting. If the parents cannot get along, then it would be bad for the child to be exposed to their fighting (though courts do not seem to care about such exposure within a marriage).

If Dad buys too many expensive presents for the children, then that, too, is potential grounds for termination of visitation.

It doesn’t seem to take much for Dad to become optional: One man (who has become a fathers’ rights activist) saw his visitation terminated by the court because his ex-wife said thinking about the visits made her physically ill.

Fathers who insist on their rights may be told by family court mediators, “Children don’t need a father all the way to age 18.”

Those who seek cultural (as opposed to institutional) explanations for this state of affairs should be wary. In a recent book in Japanese on visitation, a widely published expert on family problems explained why visitation was different in Japan than in the United States or Europe.

The book said Japan is a Confucian society where children are important for continuing the bloodline (but only within marriage), while Western countries had gun cultures, long histories of incest, and frequent cases of parents abducting, raping and even killing their children.

Whatever the explanation, the sad dynamics of custody litigation can lead to a vicious downward spiral. If a wife moves out of the home with the children and files for divorce (most divorces in Japan are initiated by women), she might be inclined to allow visitation.

However, her lawyer is likely to recommend against it, seeing it as a potential opportunity for the father (or hostile ex-in-laws) to take possession of the children. The courts may be unable to intervene and the woman could lose custody.

Some lawyers actually recommend against visitation until the divorce is final — which may take months or years because of the mandatory mediation.

Nor will a family court want to order visitation if it might result in a new status quo it cannot remedy but will surely be blamed for. After months of not seeing his children, the father may come to view abduction as the only way of preserving their relationship. In a recent case, a former judge was arrested for abducting his own daughter.

One Japanese mother I interviewed had a custody order affirmed all the way up to Japan’s Supreme Court. Her ex-husband still has their son despite years of litigation. Since she lost almost all contact with the child when he was 1 year old, she hopes to have at least enough contact that he will remember his mother’s face.

Sadly, Japan’s courts cannot seem to help realize even this meager hope.

——————————

Colin P.A. Jones is an associate professor at Doshisha University Law School in Kyoto. Contact us at insight@sfchronicle.com.

Page E – 3

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/08/27/INGD3KO4C71.DTL

COMMENT: Fortunately, this issue is finally gaining some attention internationally. See report at Children’s Rights Network Japan about a recent protest at a Los Angeles film screening on the “Megumi Yokota Story”, drawing (stretched, but effective) comparisons between kidnappings to North Korea and child kidnappings to Japan:

http://www.crnjapan.com/events/2006/en/megumiyokotaprotest.html

A primer on this issue available from the Japan Times at:

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20060718z1.html

end

METROPOLIS: DIETMEMBER TSURUNEN INTERVIEW AUG 9, 2006

mytest

Foreign-born lawmaker puts Japan’s acceptance of outsiders to the test

By Oscar Johnson
Courtesy http://www.crisscross.com/jp/newsmaker/345

Marutei Tsurunen stands in front of the Diet. PHOTO BY TSUTOMU FU
TOKYO — Marutei Tsurunen relentlessly clawed at the doors of the Diet for a decade with two goals in mind: to get the inside scoop on politics and offer an outsider’s perspective in a land he says is far from ready to accept its foreign residents. It’s a task that Japan’s first and only foreign-born parliamentarian likens to a mission from God — literally. In fact, he left North Karelia, Finland, 40 years ago as a Lutheran lay missionary bent on helping Japan see the light.

“Of course, I’m a Christian and I still say I’m a missionary, not as a churchman but as a politician,” says Tsurunen, 67, whose mission has always been more about social practice than religious preaching. Having graduated from Finland’s Social Welfare College, he was a caseworker for a children’s home in Kyushu before forgoing his church ministry to head an English-language school. In 1992, he was elected as the nation’s first foreign-born assemblyman in Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

“Originally I had no interest in politics,” he confesses. “I had been wondering why I left the church and why I was here. There was very little I could do to affect society as a foreigner. Then suddenly it hit me like lightening: maybe I should try it. It took a long time but I finally found my calling.”

To be sure, the House of Councilors seat that fell to him in 2002 can be seen as nothing short of a miracle. Having made three failed bids (and another for the House of Representatives), it came only after former television celebrity Kyosen Ohashi stepped down, dramatically declaring politics too lowbrow for his own tastes. The job automatically went to Tsurunen, fellow Democratic Party of Japan member and runner-up in the 2001 election, whose close-but-no-cigar defeat he and everyone else considered the end of his political career.

Tsurunen is an unabashed Japanophile who, in addition to rendering his Finnish name, Martti Turunen, into its current Japanese form, has translated “The Tale of Genji” and other local classics into his native language. His populist tactics brought him tantalizingly close to victory in each race, and upon finally taking office he touted protecting the environment and “internationalizing” the nation as his priorities. These days, he’s homed in on sustainable agriculture as a member of the Diet’s Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and founder and secretary-general of the Parliamentarian’s League for the Promotion of Organic Agriculture. But he says his mission is not confined to these.

Task is to improve Japanese lifestyles

“I feel this society is sick in many ways,” says Tsurunen, an amiable and soft-spoken vegetarian with a grandfatherly demeanor. He lays much of the blame for today’s social ills on an increasingly popular “law of the jungle,” which he says rewards selfish ambition and ignores the less fortunate.

“Morale is down and there are many things that are unhealthy about Japanese lifestyles today. There are more than 30,000 suicides every year and maybe five times as many attempts. Many people drink a lot and eat too much. Environmentally, more chemicals are used in Japan than anywhere else. Sixty percent of our food comes from other countries — one of the highest rates in the world. That’s because we eat a lot of meat. My task is to improve our lifestyles, to make them healthier.”

That’s not to say that the nation’s self-styled “blue-eyed lawmaker” hasn’t spied a number of recent political trends that put foreigners who are in — and in close proximity to — Japan on edge. There’s an ominous rightwing shift toward deepening nationalism, he concedes. It’s one that includes fingerprinting foreigners, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s insistent public homage at Yasukuni Shrine and an education bill that mandates patriotism.

“It is a shift,” Tsurunen says, “and a very dangerous one. I’m very worried about it. It’s mainly in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, not its junior coalition partner New Komeito.” True to his calling, he broaches such issues with caution.

“A few years ago we stopped fingerprinting foreigners and I thought it was a good idea,” he explains. “In some ways it’s good now because of terrorism. But maybe 1% of foreigners entering the country are criminals, while 99% are not. To fingerprint all of them, I think, is counter to basic human rights.” Yet, it comes as no surprise to the member of a government wont to fault foreigners for its crime woes — to the extent of mulling a legal cap on their residency to 3% of the population.

Tsurunen’s more than 30 years of naturalized citizenship — if not books he’s penned in Japanese with titles such as “I Want to be a Japanese,” “Here Comes a Blue-Eyed Assemblyman” and “Blue-Eyed Diet Member Not Yet Born” — speak to his vested interest in foreigner acceptance. But he’s no longer as optimistic as when he took office in 2002.

Goal is to get right to vote for foreigners

“Well, it is still my goal — or wish — but I’m not sure I have been able to do much. For example, I am for the right of permanent foreign residents to vote,” he says of a bill now on ice that would allow them to do so in local elections. “But our party is not united on this issue. Last year, I was the leader of a committee that dealt with the issue of accepting more foreign laborers and we made some progress. But I’m not sure if it’s the best solution now. Japanese people are not ready to live with foreigners. There will be problems such as discrimination. We have some cities where 10% of the population is foreign and they already have these kinds of problems.”

Tsurunen says he and his views as an outsider are welcome in the upper house, but admits it wasn’t always so in the Yugawara assembly, a post he resigned to run for the Diet. After spending two-thirds of his life here with his Japanese wife Sachiko and two adult children, he’s “hopeful” but makes no promises.

“For foreigners this is not a very friendly country — it can be very cold. I’m one of the lucky ones.” The key, he insists both by word and example, is to learn the language and avoid retreating to the bubble of gaijin communities. “If they want to get inside Japanese society, they should try to work for this society, not just for their rights. Japanese must learn to live with foreigners, but foreigners must also learn to live with Japanese,” he says. That may also mean living with an increasingly nationalistic worldview fostered by public education.

On plans to revise the 60-year-old Fundamental Education Law to mandate “loving the nation,” Tsurunen defers to the Democratic Party line. The ruling LDP bill, which is widely expected to prevail over opposition alternatives, plays on a conservative-posited notion that occupation-era education reforms are behind national woes ranging from declining academic performance to surging juvenile crime. Critics fear it could turn back the clock to a time when loving the nation meant nosediving fighters into battleships, occupying neighboring countries or rationalizing sexual slavery for a war effort deemed unpatriotic to question.

“This Fundamental Education Law bill is very difficult,” Tsurunen says. “In our (DP) bill we say patriotism should be encouraged but not mandatory. Maybe this trend has something to do with the law on the national anthem in Tokyo,” he says of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s popular nationalist reforms. They have punished well over 300 teachers — and reportedly some parents — in the metropolis for not standing before the flag and singing the anthem, or for not encouraging students to do so, at school events.

“They’re very strict about it. In Japan the history of the flag and the anthem, which pays homage to the emperor, is unique,” he says. “I’m afraid if this new education bill gets through in its present form, then when you look at students’ records you’ll be able to say, ‘You love the government this or that much.’ That’s not good.” Recent media reports have noted that 40 to 50 schools in Saitama — citing the Ministry of Education’s current guidelines for social studies — have already started to assess sixth-graders on their demonstrated “love of the nation.”

As for Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which memorializes Japan’s war dead including convicted Class-A war criminals, Tsurunen offers a measured but candid view.

“Yasukuni Shrine very much relates to China,” he says of Japan’s emerging rival in terms of regional power and resources. “I’m a little afraid of China because it wants to control the region. The prime minister should not go to Yasukuni now — but not because of China’s protests. We must find a good solution.”

He notes that controversy still swirls over the convictions of the criminals enshrined at Yasukuni and says building a new national memorial to bypass them is untenable. “I think it would be best if we could remove them from Yasukuni. But solving this issue will not solve all our problems with China.”

Japan’s relationship with China is not the only one that gives Tsurunen pause. “I think there should also be less emphasis on our relations with the United States,” he says. It’s a recurring theme in his thoughts on diplomacy.

In July, a week after North Korea lobbed seven Scud, Nodong and Taepodong-2 missiles into the Sea of Japan, Nagatacho rang with the bullhorns of right-wing protestors calling for an attack on the Stalinist state. Tsurunen dismissed the caravan of black vans with the wave of a hand. “They’re here all the time,” he says. “I’m not worried about North Korea. If they do anything, it would be suicide. To tell you the truth, I’m more worried about what the United States will do. Japan cannot act alone. If North Korea continues to aggravate the situation too much, the United States may attack them. That would destroy them and a lot of people would die.”

Tsurunen developed a distaste for war at the tender age of 4, when his family was one of a few in their small Finnish village to escape an attack by Soviet soldiers. “Our house was in the middle of the forest so they didn’t notice we were there,” he recalls. “Yes, you could say I am a pacifist. I don’t believe war can solve anything; it just makes things worse. Of course, sometimes it’s unavoidable, such as if we are attacked and must defend ourselves.”

War-renouncing Constitution is outdated

As director of the Diet’s Research Commission on the Constitution, this informs his position on whether and how to revise war-renouncing elements of a constitution the U.S. imposed on Japan during its occupation. He says the document is outdated, and polls show 60 to 70% of the nation believes some kind of amendment is in order.

“I think under certain conditions it’s needed,” Tsurunen says. “The first article should be changed so that it mentions the Self-Defense Forces, their task to defend the nation and to help with international humanitarian efforts at the United Nations’ request. Right now, it doesn’t,” he says of the missions that Japan’s quasi military have already undertaken.

But he stresses SDF deployment overseas should only be at the behest of the U.N., not the United States, as was the case with sending troops to Iraq. He also notes that similar to the fate of the education law, there’s a need to be on guard against LDP hawks that might seek to expand the SDF’s international role.

“Our party’s idea is quite different than the LDP’s,” Tsurunen says. “They may have ideas about making Japan stronger, more independent or nationalistic but they cannot change the constitution alone. Still, we must be careful when the LDP makes their proposals.”

In this case, his faith is not so much in his party’s ability to stop such tactics as it is in the need for a referendum to change the constitution. But he’s also hopeful the day will come when the Democratic Party of Japan will break the near half-century grip the conservative LDP has had on government.

“Because there is so much corruption many people are finally anticipating a shift in power,” he says, adding it’s the most significant change he’s seen in politics since he’s been in Japan. “During the last election the opposition actually won the most votes. The LDP won the election but that was because of the proportional electoral system. For the first time, more than 50% of the voters want change.”

To that end, Tsurunen is putting the faith he has in his political calling to the test one last time in a bid to retain his seat in the 2007 upper house election. It could be his first and only outright victory in a Diet election before reaching retirement age. “The people are very interested in me,” he says of his two-hour early morning glad-handing sessions with locals at train stations. “I believe I can get it.” The result may also say a little something about how truly ready Japan is to accept their “blue-eyed Diet member”— or any other foreigner.

August 9, 2006
ARTICLE ENDS

COMMENT: I’ve met Tsurunen on several occasions, even had a chance to talk to him one-on-one (see my October 2003 interview with him at http://www.debito.org/tsuruneninterview.html ). I personally like the guy. I also understand that he’s trying to make his mark as a politician trumpeting more than just ethnic-rights issues (one of his biggest policy pushes is for recycling), and as a politician, he’s not in a position to please everybody.

However, I have qualms about the degree of his distancing. For example, when UN Special Rapporteur Doudou Diene came to Japan for a second time, talking about racial discrimination and the need for legislation to combat it (see http://www.debito.org/rapporteur.html ), Diene attended a 2PM meeting at the Diet’s Upper House on May 18, 2006. A few Dietmembers attended, and some of their offices sent secretaries to at least leave their office’s meishi business card behind as a sign of awareness or interest. Tsurunen’s office did neither. I find this deeply disappointing. This is, after all, a meeting with the United Nations–and on foreigner and ethnic issues. If Tsurunen’s office can overlook this, what kind of example does this set for the rest of Japan’s politicians?

END

PROGRESS ON “JAPANESE ONLY” ESTABLISHMENTS: Sept 10, 2006

mytest

PROGRESS ON “JAPANESE ONLY” ESTABLISHMENTS

The reason I opened with our cycletrek is to segue nicely into this topic: Upon reaching northern cities Wakkanai and Monbetsu, Chris and I did the rounds of “Japanese Only” signs on public establishments. Photo archive, eyewitness reports, and links to newspaper articles international and domestic available at:
http://www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html#Wakkanai
http://www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html#Monbetsu

WAKKANAI
Chris and I went by public bath “Yuransen”. An egregious entry in this gallery, Yuransen for years has violated the Public Bath Law to refuse all foreigners (including foreign taxpayers) entry. Then it built a separate “gaijin bath” with separate entry and separate prices (2500 yen, six times the entry fee of 370 yen, and without male and female sections). This attracted international attention, even making the New York Times in April 2004:
http://www.debito.org/iht042304.html

Well, guess what. Yuransen went bankrupt in March 2006. So much for its claim that letting foreigners in would drive them out of business. Meanwhile, its rival onsen some miles away, Doumu, does a brisk trade. And it has never refused foreigners. Does anyone else see a lesson here? Current photo of Yuransen’s storefront at the above Rogues’ Gallery link.

MONBETSU
has also had “Japanese Only Store” signs up since the previous century. Despite demands from the Ministry of Justice for them to be taken down in July 2000, some signs (we counted four) are still up to the present day, with the city government turning a blind eye to repeated requests and petitions for resolution.

Well, Chris and I dropped by a yakiniku restaurant and got the manager to take one of the signs down. It took less than a minute! Photos up soon at the Rogues’ Gallery. Bonus: if you’d like to hear me in action negotiating the sign down, courtesy of Chris’s mp3 player/recorder, download a soundfile at

Best part: Hear me stuttering in surprise at how easy it was, and Chris giggling at the very end.

Newsweek Japan on Naturalized Japanese–Sept 11, 2006 issue

mytest

Excellent article on how Japan is changing as more people naturalize. The article in full follows.

==========================
This is the New Japan
Immigrants are transforming a once insular society, and more of them are on their way.
By Christian Caryl and Akiko Kashiwagi
Newsweek International
Courtesy http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14640269/site/newsweek/

Sept. 11, 2006 issue – A few years ago, when Milton Minoru Takahashi first set out to improve conditions for Brazilian guest workers living in Nagoya, he thought he’d be telling Japanese about soccer, samba and Brazilian beaches. They were the sales hooks the Brazilian-Japanese Takahashi—who works for a nonprofit foundation that aids the 60,000 foreigners in Nagoya—thought could open locals’ eyes to the beauties of Brazilian culture. But, he says, “the Japanese didn’t want to hear about those things. They wanted to talk about noise and garbage”—problems allegedly caused by the Brazilian immigrants in their neighborhoods.

Takahashi now spends most of his time on more mundane tasks, trying to help his fellow Brazilians overcome the bewildering array of barriers to integration into Japanese society. But he still wonders why the Japanese government is largely indifferent to the problems facing foreigners. What would he like to see from Tokyo? “Action,” says Takahashi. Something, anything, to acknowledge that there are immigrants in the country—and that they require recognition and support.

Takahashi’s frustration underscores a critical disconnect in Japan—a split between what the country is becoming and what most Japanese want it to be. For mostly economic reasons, Japan must open itself to other ethnicities. Japan’s population is not only aging rapidly, but starting to decline. By the year 2050, it is expected to fall from 128 million now to around 105 million. To keep the economy viable, experts say, the country must let in more immigrants—not just guest workers, but foreign-born naturalized citizens. A government panel acknowledged that in a report this summer, while at the same time recommending that the foreign percentage of the total population not exceed 3 percent, roughly double what it is now.

Consciously or not, ordinary citizens and government bureaucrats still cling to the notion that Japanese society is a unique, homogeneous culture. There is a conspicuous lack of public debate about how this insular country should adjust to the reality that more immigrants are coming—and that those already here are changing Japan. “The government has no [comprehensive] immigration policy,” says Marutei Tsurunen. Rather, the approach is piecemeal, with different agencies issuing often contradictory regulations. Tsurenen should know. He’s a former Finn turned Japanese citizen and the only naturalized member of the national Parliament, or Diet.

Travel around Japan today, and one sees foreign residents holding a wide range of jobs: there are Chinese short-order cooks, Indian software programmers, Bangladeshi used-car dealers, Brazilian textile-factory workers, Sri Lankan department-store cashiers. The overwhelming majority of the approximately 15,000 ex-foreigners who now hold Japanese citizenship are Chinese and Koreans—but increasingly one can also meet people like Kaoru Miki (formerly Colin Restall, born in the United Kingdom). “Generally people don’t expect someone who looks like me to be a citizen,” says Miki, 33, who makes his living translating software into English. He was naturalized this spring.

The number of foreigners in Japan has more than doubled over the past 15 years—rising from 886,000 in 1990 to over 2 million today. That amounts to 1.57 percent of the overall population—still small even by Western European standards (not to mention the United States or Canada). But that figure tells only part of the story. The rise in the foreign population is taking place against the background of Japan’s demographic decline; as the population ages, native-born Japanese constitute a diminishing share of the work force. Meanwhile the number of marriages between Japanese and non-Japanese has been rising sharply. So-called international marriages made up 5.5 percent of the total in 2004 (the last year for which data are available).

The numbers also reveal a growing trend toward what one might call “genuine immigration.” For many decades, the bulk of foreigners in Japan were ethnic Koreans, the vast majority of them born in the country but not automatically entitled to citizenship. In recent years, as their members have either died out or increasingly opted for naturalization, their share of the total number of foreigners has been declining. Meanwhile, so-called permanent residents—foreign-born people who have chosen to live in Japan for the long term—are steadily growing. “It shows that immigrants, not generational foreigners, are now becoming the more common permanent residents in Japan, meaning they’re not going to leave,” says human-rights activist Debito Arudou, a former American turned Japanese citizen. “I used to say half of the foreigners in Japan were born here. Now it’s more like a quarter.”

And the fundamental consequence, says Arudou, is clear: “We’re going to see people who don’t look Japanese being Japanese. That’s undeniable.” Essentially, any foreigner who has lived in Japan for five years, can prove he or she is in good financial health and has no criminal record can petition the Justice Ministry to become a citizen. In reality, the naturalization process is more complicated, and can take about 1 to 2 years to complete.

Many Japanese officials seem inclined to address the immigration issue as if it were merely a matter of good public relations with the outside world—let’s be polite to foreigners. In fact, though, immigration is often driven by hardheaded economic realities. Thanks to Japan’s resurgent economy and shrinking population, many industries are suffering from labor shortages, and immigrants are already sustaining sectors where native-born Japanese simply aren’t able or willing to pick up the slack. That’s the case in towns like Hamamatsu, where the local car and motorcycle industries have been buoyed by an influx of foreign labor, and in Ota City, where a Subaru factory and its parts suppliers are located.

Or take Homigaoka, a suburb of Toyota City, where ethnic Japanese from Brazil make up 5,000 of the 9,000 people living in a vast public-housing development. The Brazilians came to Japan thanks to a 15-year-old law designed to alleviate labor shortages in certain sectors of the economy. These days the Aichi prefecture firms that supply parts to Toyota and other local manufacturers are heavily dependent on the cheap labor provided by Brazilians (many of them now permanent residents who are entitled to stay in the country indefinitely). The magazine Weekly Diamond neatly summed up the situation in a headline recently: WITHOUT FOREIGNERS TOYOTA’S JUST-IN-TIME SYSTEM WOULDN’T WORK. Says Hidenori Sakanaka, a former director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau: “This labor force is contributing to Japan’s ability to make good and cheap cars.”

The problem, though, is that these immigrants may not prove so cheap in the long run. Many of the immigrants in Homigaoka are part-time workers who lack the basic health insurance or social security usually enjoyed by full-time employees. A loophole in the law means that their employers can get away without making any contributions on their behalf. Many of them have only limited Japanese-language skills. And there’s no law that compels them to send their children to Japanese public schools, where they might have the chance to gain the know-how that would give them social mobility. Most foreign children attend schools, but their Japanese language skills tend to be weak, and the government has virtually no provisions for teaching Japanese as a foreign language to students entering the system. As a result, the dropout rate is high. Needless to say, the creation of large groups of unemployable young people is a recipe for social problems in the future.

Or take the burgeoning Indian community in Tokyo’s Edogawa ward. In 1998 the government of then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori passed a law designed to alleviate a catastrophic shortage of software engineers by easing visa restrictions for programmers from India. Jagmohan Chandrani, 52, who has been living in the area since 1978, says 243 Indians were registered in Edogawa in 2000. Today there are 1,014—a fourfold increase.

In “Indiatown,” as it’s already being called, the classic immigrant dynamic is beginning to take hold. Newcomers who’ve established themselves offer support networks to the ones that follow—for example, by acting as guarantors when the new arrivals sign housing leases. The majority of the newcomers are writing code for financial firms in downtown Tokyo, a short subway ride across the river. They have confounded the stereotype of poor, unskilled foreigners held by many Japanese.

Yet members of the community are still desperately seeking a building to house a school for the burgeoning population of children. Tokyo isn’t helping, even though the Indian government in New Delhi provides facilities to the Japanese community there. Technically the Indians can be sent home when their visas (or jobs) run out—although as the growth of the community demonstrates, some will almost certainly find ways to stay on, and bring their relatives with them.

Five years ago a group of communities with large foreign populations sent a set of urgent policy recommendations to the government. They’re still waiting for an answer. And they’re not the only ones who are worried. Japan’s business leaders are at the forefront of calls for a comprehensive immigration policy. Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has predicted that the present work force of 66 million people will decline by 10 million by the year 2030. Before he stepped down earlier this year, the chairman of the Japanese Business Federation, Hiroshi Okuda, made headlines by calling on the country to accept foreign workers “in all business categories.”

Immigration proponents do perpetuate the occasional myth. One common misconception: that immigrants alone can counter the demographic decline. Economists say that just isn’t so. Robert Alan Feldman, an economist at Morgan Stanley, points out that immigrant workers almost always have lower productivity than natives, meaning that vast numbers of foreigners have to be brought in to make up the gap. (The solution, he says, is to find ways to encourage greater productivity from underutilized members of the population, such as women and the elderly.)

And despite the vagaries of life in their new country, most of the foreigners in Japan are living better lives than they would have back home. That’s certainly true of the Brazilians in Homigaoka. Twelve-year-old Editon Arakawa says that he loves living in Japan, even though he can express the thought only in broken Japanese since he dropped out of public school a few years back. “I don’t want to go back to Brazil,” he declares.

He might well get his wish, and manage to stay. But if he does, it’s in Japan’s own interest to respond to the challenge he poses—by making it easier for people who are born in the country to apply for citizenship; by forcing employers to bear some of the costs for social insurance; by making education mandatory for the children of foreigners legally in the country, and by providing resources to ensure that foreign residents learn Japanese. None of those measures may have been all that critical in the Japan of the past. But they’re the only way to the future.

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14640269/site/newsweek/page/2/

ENDS

=============================

(NB: Those who would like to see some substantiation for my quote, talking about this sea change in Permanent Residency, see my essay on this last January at
http://www.debito.org/japanfocus011206.html )

A couple of quick corrections to the article, if I may: The figure of 15,000 people cited as the total number ofnaturalized people in Japan is the rough estimate of the YEARLY intake of naturalized citizens. According to the Minister of Justice, around 300,000 foreigners (mostly the Zainichis) took citizenship between 1968 and 2000. Update the number by 15K per year and you’re closing in on 400,000 newly-minted Japanese of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

And former Finn Tsurunen Marutei is not the only naturalized Japanese in the Diet. As friend Chris pointed out, “Renho, formerly of Taiwanese nationality, and Shinkun Park, formerly of Korean nationality, are two other naturalized Dietmembers.”
http://www.renho.jp/
http://www.haku-s.net/index.html

Newsweek has told me they will be issuing corrections in short order.
ENDS

May 27, 2006: Police patrols, Diene, immigration and foreign workers

mytest

Hi All. Arudou Debito here. Updates:

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
1) “POLICE PATROL CONTACT CARD” ASKS FOREIGNERS FOR PERSONAL DETAILS
2) SHUUKAN DIAMONDO ON “IMMIGRATION ARCHIPELAGO JAPAN”
3) ANOTHER TAKE ON THE UN RAPPORTEUR DIENE TRIP
4) THE RIGHT WING START GEARING UP AGAINST DIENE REPORT
5) LETTER TO YOMIURI RE FINGERPRINTING LAW
6) OTARU ONSENS MEDIA TAPE
7) YAMATO DAMACY’S CONCLUDING INTERVIEW
8) and finally… THE COMPLIMENT OF THE YEAR
/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
May 27, 2006, freely forwardable

1) “POLICE PATROL CONTACT CARD” ASKS FOREIGNERS FOR PERSONAL DETAILS

I received this information earlier this week from a friend in Tokyo, who said cops patrolling her area came to her door asking for personal information about her and her wherewithal in Japan.

Entitled the “Junkan Renraku Caado” and issued by the police forces, this A4-sized paper reads, in English (as this form is clearly designed for English-reading foreigners):

———————————————
“This police officer is assigned to work in your area. His duties require him to establish rapport and maintain positive contact with community residents of his beat. As such he will occasionally call at your place of residence. These visits have a long history in the Japanese community and is [sic] not meant to be intrusive in nature. The activity is intended to provide the public with the best crime prevention and traffic awareness services the police can offer. We would also like to hear your difficulties, complaints, and opinions on community affairs, thereby helping us to serve our community better. On his first visit, the patrolman will be asking you to fill out this form. Information provided by you will be mainly used for communication purposes, should you suffer from crime, disaster, or traffic accident. Necessary precaution [sic] will be taken to maintain your privacy. Information provided by you will not be affected [sic] nor disclosed to third parties. We request your assistance in this matter. Thank you for your understanding.”
———————————————
See a scanned copy of it here
http://www.debito.org/junkairenrakucard.jpg

Above this section are boxes in Japanese only asking for “Head of Household” (setai nushi) and patrolman details.

Below it are boxes in English and Japanese for filling out Home Address (in Japan) with phone number, Nationality, and Period of Stay. There are several rows for FAMILY MAKE-UP, with Name in Full, Relationship, Sex, Occupation/School, Alien Registration Certificate Number.

The bottom half has:
a) POINTS OF EMERGENCY CONTACT (Name and address of Householder’s business, Name and address of Householder’s School, Name and address of close friend or next of kin)

b) TENANTS OTHER THAN FAMILY (with the same information required as the above FAMILY MAKE-UP SECTION

c) VEHICLE REGISTRATION NUMBER

Then finally,
d) COMMENTS/SUGGESTIONS/REQUESTS TO THE POLICE.

Okay, here are some things I would write in this section:
———————————————
1) Why are you asking me for this information?
2) What bearing does this information have on the stated goals of public prevention of crime, disaster relief, and traffic awareness?
3) Is filling out this form optional?
4) Do you gather all of this information from Japanese residents too?
5) If foreigners were allowed to have juuminhyou residency certificates, like all other residents of Japan who happen to be citizens, would you police need to come around to my house and collect it yourself?
http://www.debito.org/activistspage.html#juuminhyou
———————————————

Actually, in the time period spanning twenty years I have had contact with the Japanese police, I never once have had them come to my door and ask for anything like this. Yet I have heard so far that this has happened to two foreigners residing in Tokyo Nakano-ku and Shinjuku-ku. Anyone else? Let me know at debito@debito.org.

I will pass this on to one of my lawyers and ask whether or not filling this out is mandatory. Given that answering the Japan Census Bureau is completely optional, I have a feeling that filling this out would be optional too, at least for Japanese. (Ask your cop directly yourself: “Kore o ki’nyuu suru no wa nin’i desu ka?”)

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

2) SHUUKAN DIAMONDO ON “IMMIGRATION ARCHIPELAGO JAPAN”

Since a major overseas magazine will soon be doing a large article on foreign labor in Japan, I finally sat down and webbed something I keep referring to in my Japanese writings on immigration and foreign labor in Japan: Fifteen pages of a special report in Shuukan Diamondo (Weekly Diamond) economics magazine, concerning the importance of Immigration to Japan, which ran on June 5, 2004. All scanned and now available at:
http://www.debito.org/shuukandiamondo060504.html

Highlights:

Cover: “Even with the Toyota Production style, it won’t work without foreigners. By 2050, Japan will need more than 33,500,000 immigrants!! Toyota’s castle town overflowing with Nikkei Brazilians. An explosion of Chinese women, working 22 hour days–the dark side of foreign labor”

Page 32: “If SARS [pneumonia] spreads, factories ‘dependent on Chinese’ in Shikoku will close down”.

Page 40-41: Keidanren leader Okuda Hiroshi offers “five policies”: 1) Create a “Foreigners Agency” (gaikokujin-chou), 2) Create bilateral agreements to receive “simple laborers” (tanjun roudousha), 3) Strengthen Immigration and reform labor oversight, 4) Create policy for public safety, and environments for foreigner lifestyles (gaikokujin no seikatsu kankyou seibi), 5) Create a “Green Card” system for Japan to encourage brain drains from overseas.

Remember that powerful business league Keidanren was the one lobbying in the late 80’s and early 90’s for cheap foreign workers (particularly Nikkei Brazilians) to come in on Trainee Visas, working for less than half wages and no social benefits, to save Japanese industry from “hollowing out”.

Now that Keidanren boss Okuda has stepped down in favor of Mitarai Fujio (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nb20060525a3.html), it’s time to see what Keidanren’s new tack on foreign labor, if any, will be. At 7:50 AM yesterday morning, NHK interviewed Mitarai, and made much of his 23 years living overseas with foreigners (and his comments were, sigh, directed towards “understanding foreign culture and traditions”; when will we outgrow that hackneyed and sloppy analytical paradigm?). The interview made no mention of foreigners within Japan, however. Do I hear the sound of hands washing?

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

3) ANOTHER TAKE ON THE UN RAPPORTEUR DIENE TRIP

Last update, I gave a synopsis of Doudou Diene’s trip last week to Tokyo, Osaka, and Okinawa, sponsored by IMADR (available at http://www.debito.org/rapporteur.html#May2006. I received a response from Trevor Bekolay, student at Kokugakuin University and University of Manitoba, who was at a meeting with Diene which I could not attend. Forwarding with permission:

——————————————————
Just to add to your email about meeting with UN Special Rapporteur
Diene, I as well had the opportunity to meet him at the public meeting
on May 13th at IMADR’s building. The meeting consisted of but 20
people [due to the short notice of the schedule]. Most of the points
that he made you already included in your email…

The three-hour meeting included statements from IMADR, the NGO
representative, Dr. Diene himself, then about half of the time was
allotted to questions from those who attended. Here are the notes I
made on what I heard:

“Dr. Diene received a fair amount of negative media coverage after the
initial UN report due to the possibility of omissions which are
believed to be added to Diene’s report. IMADR attempted to address
these problems in their open letter to Dr. Diene, but the purpose of
the meeting really, was for Diene to receive feedback on the report,
especially of issues that were omitted in the original report. He
stressed that one does not have to be in a group, any individual can
inform the Special Rapporteur of individual cases of racism and
discrimination which will immediately be acted upon. Basically, the
UN is starting to police Japan’s government more closely, to determine
if they should remain in Human Rights groups in the UN.

[Inform the Special Rapporteur via sr-racism@ohchr.org
(Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)]

“The report’s goal is to be the first step in starting social change,
not just a report on the current situation. The responsibility of
activist groups like IMADR is to inform Diene of new developments.
Give as much information as possible so he can give a good report to
the UN. Consider how the report can be used as part of the fight
against racism in Japan.

“Question Period: Mainly specific issues, such as pension issues for
disabled Zainichi Koreans. However, a representative for the Civil
Liberties Union seemed to be there to defend the Japanese right to be
racist. He mentioned the issue of freedom of expression vs. racial
discrimination. He claimed that freedom of expression isn’t well
protected in Japan, so only public servants are punished for making
racist remarks in public forums. He gave two examples of problems
with freedom of expression: one in which public servants who were
distributing political leaflets were arrested, and one in which
environmentalists were arrested by SD forces while distributing
political leaflets.”…
——————————————————

Well and good. Especially since the conservatives are now feeling threatened by Diene enough to start organizing and publishing: Witness this:

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

4) THE RIGHT WING START GEARING UP AGAINST DIENE REPORT

A friend who studies conservative politics in Japan called me up just before dinner tonight, to inform me of the “emergency publication” of a new book by “right-wing nutjobs” decrying the spread of human rights in Japan.

Entitled, “Abunai! Jinken Yougo Houan, Semari Kuru Senshinkoku kei Zentai Shugi no Kyoufu”
(“Warning! The Human Rights Protection Bill: The Imminent Terror of the Totalitarianism of the Developed Countries”, or somesuch), it was just published April 27 and is visible at:
http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/product/4886562825/249-5993086-5621147?v=glance&n=465392

Complete, my friend notes, with manga (what else?) lots of Chinese living in an apartment on top of each other in violation of housing contract, being found out by the landlord, and taking action against him “to defend their own human rights”. Or of a “gaijin” picking a fight with a Japanese in a bar, getting turfed out, then taking action against the bar for “violating his human rights”. Hoo boy.

It zeroes in on the Diene report in specific. Not quite sure how (as I haven’t gotten a copy of the book yet), but will let you know. I ordered two copies today and will send one to Diene at the UN for his perusal.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

5) LETTER TO YOMIURI RE FINGERPRINTING LAW

Last week I forwarded you an article from the Yomiuri entitled:
New ID card system eyed for foreigners
The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2006, still up temporarily at:
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060514TDY01001.htm

Well, here’s a letter I sent to the Yomiuri shortly afterwards:

—————————————-
Sir, Your article, “New ID card system eyed for foreigners” (May. 14, 2006), makes an unfortunate omission and even an error.

In its haste to portray the change in the Alien Registration system as little more than a centralization and rationalization of power, your article neglects to mention the new “Gaijin Cards” will have imbedded IC computer chips.

These chips will be used, according to government proposals, to track even legal foreigners in Japan through swiping stations nationwide. [*1] This is an unomissible change.

Your article errs when it reports, “an increasing number of foreigners do not register themselves at municipalities after gaining admission at the bureau or fail to report an extension of their stay”. In fact, according to Immigration, the number of illegal foreigners has gone down every year uninterrupted since 1993. [*2] Even the figure cited within the article, “at least about 190,000 illegal aliens as of January”, is still lower than the 2003 figure of 220,000 overstays.

In this era of exaggeration of foreign crime, please endeavor to provide us with accurate reportage.
Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan

—————————-

[Note 1 for editors: Source, Japan Times, “Computer-chip card proposals for foreigners have big potential for abuse”, November 22, 2005.
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/member/member.html?appURL=fl20051122zg.html ]

[Note 2 for editors: Source: http://www.debito.org/crimestats.html , very bottom for an orange bar chart indicating the number of illegal aliens in Japan (courtesy of Immigration)]
—————————————-

Well, AFAIK it didn’t get published. Ah well. To be expected.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

6) OTARU ONSENS MEDIA TAPE

For the Diene visit, I put together a tape of media (TV shows and news broadcasts) concerning the Ana Bortz Case, the Otaru Onsens Case, and NHK’s portrayal of foreign crime. (Synopsis of the tape’s contents at http://www.debito.org/rapporteur.html#video ).

If you would like a copy sent to you (for a nominal fee of, say, 1000 yen to cover tape, postage and handling, see http://www.debito.org/donations.html), please be in touch with me at debito@debito.org. Quite a few teachers are using this as classroom educational material on the subject of human rights. Be happy to help.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

7) YAMATO DAMACY’S CONCLUDING INTERVIEW

What is shaping up to be the last and best bilingual interview of the bunch just came out yesterday on Yamato Damacy.
http://yamato.revecess.com/?lang=en&episode=23
Touching upon survival strategies in Japan, the future, and a special appearance of Tama-chan–probably the most successful issue we ever took up on The Community!

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8) and finally… THE COMPLIMENT OF THE YEAR

When I was having dinner with M. Diene on May 17 in Osaka, in attendance was a former vice-rector of a major Japanese university who paid me a wonderful compliment:

“I am in fact a quarter French. When I was younger, I really disliked the three-quarters of the Japanese side of myself that ridiculed my foreign background. But now no longer ashamed of my French roots. I’m even proud to be a Japanese. Because we have Japanese now like Arudou Debito who say the things I could never say.”

That was a tearjerker. Here I am just doing my thing, and it somehow helped an elderly gentleman overcome longstanding hurts he’d had for decades…

Arudou Debito
Sapporo
debito@debito.org
www.debito.org
UPDATE DATED MAY 27, 2006 ENDS

Jul 2, 2006: Immig feedback, MOFA, Kimigayo, El Barco

mytest

//////////////////////////////////////////////////
1) DIETMEMBER KOUNO TARO’S RECOMMENDATIONS ON IMMIGRATION.
GIVE YOUR FEEDBACK
2) MOFA HAS NEW HEARING ON FOREIGNERS’ RIGHTS JULY 28
3) “NO DANCING LICENCE”: POLICE RAID HIROSHIMA FOREIGNER PUB EL BARCO
4) ASAHI: WITCH HUNT FOR PARENTS WHO REFUSE TO SING “KIMIGAYO”
5) LINKS TO HANDOUTS FROM RECENT SPEECHES
6) JAPAN TIMES JUNE 27 ON UN REP DIENE VISIT AND AFTEREFFECTS
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
July 2, 2006 Freely forwardable

1) DIETMEMBER KOUNO TARO’S RECOMMENDATIONS ON IMMIGRATION
GIVE YOUR FEEDBACK

I reported on June 6 about Kouno Taro, Dietmember and Senior Vice Minister for the Ministry of Justice, and his suggestion to cap foreigners at 3 percent of the population. Backlogged at:
http://www.debito.org/?p=10

Well, there’s a full report available online, at
http://www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan51.html
http://www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan51-1.pdf

As a friend reported:
—————————–
The Ministry of Justice is currently seeking public comment on a proposal to revise Japan’s immigration laws. Among the ideas are

1. Cap foreigners at 3%.

2. Continue to monitor foreigners even after they are permanent residents, requiring continuing reports on their activities, employment, etc.

3. Intervene to change the mix of nationalities among resident foreigners, presumably by denying visas to some nationalities with large numbers in Japan.
—————————–

There’s more. You can send your thoughts about it directly to MOJ Immigration Bureau by July 15 by snailmail, email, or fax:

Address: 100-8977 Houmushou Nyuukoku kanrikyoku Kanri Kikaku Kanshitsu
Fax: 03-3592-7940
Email: nyukan42@moj.go.jp
Questions to 03-3580-4111 ext 5685
It’s all up at http://www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan51.html in Japanese.
Or you can contact Kouno Taro directly (he reads English) at http://www.taro.org

As I wrote before, my feelings about these sorts of immigration caps is that they are largely unworkable, as history has shown repeatedly, in variable migration policies in the US, Australia, Canada, etc. Examples of distortion in the labor markets, not to mention the often awful eugenics treatment of immigrants both present and potential, should send up a few flags. Moreover, not only are we going to have to police the birthrates of those foreigners already here (to somehow keep the total under 3%), but I also wonder how Toyota, Suzuki, Yamaha, Nissan, et al would feel about this proposed labor force cap. Close to two decades of “Foreign Trainee” workers, working for less than half wages, no social benefits, and no job security, are what’s keeping Japan’s labor costs down, stopping many of Japan’s major industries from relocating overseas. How about Toyota? In its national-pride push to finally overtake GM as the word’s leading automaker, it’ll need even more cheap labor for the foreseeable future. More on all that at
http://www.debito.org/shuukandiamondo060504.html

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2) MOFA HAS NEW HEARING ON FOREIGNERS’ RIGHTS JULY 28

In an apparent follow-up to its hastily-patched-together hearing of NGOs and human-rights groups on March 7, 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be holding another hearing between 3 and 5 PM in the Tokyo MOFA building on Friday, July 28. It’s open to the public, but you have to apply in advance, and it’s best if you have something to say (and optimal if you send MOFA a statement in advance). Deadline for application is 5PM July 13. Particulars follow:

Address: 100-8919 Gaimushou Daijin Kanbou Kokusai Shakai Kyouryokubu Jinken Jindou Ka
(Jinshu Sabetsu Teppai Jouyaku Iken Koukan Tantou), Subject: Iken/Youbo Soufu)
Email: cerd2@mofa.go.jp (put Iken/Youbo Soufu in the Subject line)
Questions to 03-3580-3311, but they don’t accept applications by phone.
It’s all up at http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/press/event/jinshu.html in Japanese.

I’ll also put in an application to be there.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

3) “NO DANCING LICENCE”: POLICE RAID HIROSHIMA FOREIGNER PUB EL BARCO

Courtesy of Matt at The Community, the following appeared on the Get Hiroshima website:

===========================
El Barco raided by 50 officers, Proprietors arrested
http://www.gethiroshima.com/en/gethiroshima/Hype/2006/05/18/barcoraid

El Barco Ltd directors Richard And Hideko Nishiyama were arrested in a raid on the El Barco nightclub in the early hours of Sunday, May 14 for a permit violation under the Night Entertainment Business Control Act (Fuuzoku eigyou no kisei oyobi gyoumu no tekiseika tou ni kansuru houritsu). The raid, taking place on the club’s busiest night of the week, involved over 50 police officers, immigration officials and riot police.

Richard Nishiyama’s wife, Kiyomi, has posted an explanation of the situation and a plea for support on the company website. Her original Japanese post can be seen here and I have published a rough translation of the whole piece on the GetHiroshima Blog here. Here is an excerpt explaining the situation:

—————————–
The directors have been arrested for making/having customers dance without a night entertainment permit. There is in fact only one establishment in Hiroshima that actually holds all the licenses technically required under the Night Entertainment Business Control Act. Obtaining such a permit however places limits on the hours that a business can stay open. El Barco is registered as a late night business (mayonaka eigyou), however, that does not permit dancing. It is not possible to obtain both permits, meaning that under current Japanese law it is legally impossible to run an establishment where you can drink and dance late into the night. It thus follows that this is matter of concern for all late night dance clubs across Japan. We also have reservations about the manner in which the arrests were carried out, with over 50 police officers, immigration officials and riot police raiding El Barco late Saturday night to arrest only two people for a permit violation…
(continues at above website link)
—————————–
===========================

This might be defended as a routine raid by Immigration, but what happened next to Richard is more grist for a case of how the Japanese police target foreigners, and abuse their powers of interrogation:

===========================
El Barco co-owner speaks after being released from custody
http://www.gethiroshima.com/en/gethiroshima/Hype/2006/06/06/barcostatement

GetHiroshima spoke with proprietor Richard Nishiyama a couple of days after he was released from 10 days in custody at a holding center in Higashi-hiroshima. Anyone who knows the Peruvian-born Richard will know he is friendly, tolerant and non-confrontational… Taken into custody in the early hours of the morning, he was continually questioned and “asked” repeatedly to sign a prepared statement until three in the afternoon. Interrogation continued for several more days, but he remained composed, refusing to be provoked by insinuations made about his sister, who was also in custody, or threats against his family….
(continues at above website link).
===========================

More on the pub at
http://www.gethiroshima.com/en/Places/Nightlife/Bar/details?placeid=50345
Go there and offer Richard some moral support, if not some business. Just be careful not to dance.

Speaking of purposeful enforcement of “laws”:

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4) ASAHI: WITCH HUNT FOR PARENTS WHO REFUSE TO SING “KIMIGAYO”

The Hinomaru and the “Kimigayo” were restablished as the national flag and anthem respectively during the Obuchi Administration in 1999. Fears of enforced patriotism (grading students on “love of country” in grade schools in Kyushu, for example) are steadily coming true.

Forwarding an article from the Asahi with comments from friend EH, who depicts a recent witchhunt in Toda, Saitama, as part of an emerging swing towards the right in Japan. The patriotism is no longer just being enforced upon the students. It is also being forced upon adult guests and parents.

===========================

“The city education board here is hunting down guests who did not stand up and sing.” The hunt is on. In fact, after Japan plays Brazil in the World Cup, I bet government officials will hunt down those who failed to stand and cheer loudly enough for the national side. You heard it here first. Seriously though, this news from Saitama is yet another horrible development:

—————————–
Board seeks guests who sat during ‘Kimigayo’
06/21/2006

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200606210153.html

TODA, Saitama Prefecture–The city education board here is hunting down guests who did not stand up and sing the “Kimigayo” anthem during spring graduation and enrollment ceremonies at public schools.

The board will question school staff members if they remember any of those guests at the 12 city-run elementary schools and six public junior high schools, the officials said.

The “investigation” will cover PTA officials, public welfare workers and city assembly members, but not the parents and guardians of the students, the officials said. The board will also ask principals of the 18 schools
about the results.

At a Toda assembly meeting on June 13, Ryoichi Ito, the head of the education board, was informed that some guests did not stand up and sing the anthem at the ceremonies.

“It makes me seethe with anger,” Ito replied. “It disrupts the order of ceremony. If it is true, then we must know (who did not stand).”

The education board has asked guests to stand up and sing “Kimigayo” since the education ministry’s curriculum guidelines made it practically mandatory to sing the anthem and hoist the Hinomaru rising-sun flag during school ceremonies.

But many view the song and the anthem as symbols of Japanese militarism in World War II. Some teachers, particularly in Tokyo, have refused to stand or sing “Kimigayo” during ceremonies, leading to reprimands and other punishments.

Some Toda assembly members have protested the investigation, saying that it infringes upon people’s freedom of thought.
(IHT/Asahi: June 21,2006)

(original article in Japanese at
http://www.asahi.com/edu/news/TKY200606200237.html )
—————————–

COMMENTS FROM EH:

1. The investigating officials say they aren’t hunting students’ parents. Like Koizumi’s assurance that nobody is being coerced, that claim is doublespeak.

2. The investigating officials say they are targeting the PTA, which of course by definition features students’ parents.

3. The investigating officials turn employees into informers–against anyone who is undemonstrative, lazy, uncooperative, un-genki, or dissenting; or indeed against anyone they care to finger. This is the worst part.
===========================

ONE MORE COMMENT: To cite friend Jens W., we always find mysterious how they will grade “patriotism” in the increasing number of children in Japan with foreign citizenships or international roots. Will they force children to choose which country to love more? Also, don’t people know that any type of “love”, including “love of country”, is something earned, not commanded? Anyone who’s experienced a relationship will know that. Perhaps this says something about the family backgrounds of the party kingpins who create such heartless policy…

Anyhoo, no follow-up article can I find in the Asahi on this. Eyes peeled. Still, the fact that the Asahi is making a big deal about this is good news (as long as they don’t drop the thread…).
Related articles at
http://makeashorterlink.com/?G35523B5D

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

5) LINKS TO HANDOUTS FROM RECENT SPEECHES

1) June 24, 2006: “The Need for a Racial Discrimination Law”, part of Workshop 5: “Basic Human Rights for Foreigners and Policy for the Prohibiting of Racial Discrimination”, with human rights lawyer Niwa Masao and Gaikiren Catholic NGO coordinator Satou Nobuyuki. Sponsored by Solidarity Network With Migrants Japan (Ijuuren, www.jca.apc.org/migrant-net), Sixth Annual Forum in Sapporo.

Powerpoint presentation (Japanese) at
http://www.debito.org/nazesabetsuteppaihou.ppt

2) June 25, 2006: “Working at University: Securing Our Future”. Forum with Louis Carlet of the National Union of General Workers (www.nugw.org), and Bob Tench of NOVA Union, June 25, 2006, 1PM-5PM, Tokyo Shigoto Center, Iidabashi, Tokyo. Sponsored by University Teachers Union (UTU, www.utu-japan.org).

Handout available in Word format at
http://www.debito.org/UTUSpeechHandout62506.doc

All presentations and publications available at
http://www.debito.org/publications.html

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

6) JAPAN TIMES JUNE 27 ON DOUDOU DIENE VISIT AND AFTEREFFECTS

My most recent article for the Japan Times Community page (excerpt):

===========================
In July 2005, Doudou Diene, a special representative of the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, came to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese government.

He visited Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hokkaido to see if Japan, an aspirant for a U.N. Security Council seat, was keeping its treaty promises regarding racial discrimination.

His trip caused quite a reaction. Although the regular domestic press largely ignored his reports, they inspired a vivid debate in the new media. This column will chart the arc of the issues, and demonstrate a potential sea change in how the U.N. holds countries accountable for human rights…
===========================

This newsletter is long enough already, so let me send the link to the website, which has the full text with links to substantiation for claims made in the article:
http://www.debito.org/japantimes062706.html

I’ll send the whole article to select lists in a few days.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

All for now. Will be trying to finish a rough draft of our book over the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be going quiet for a little while. Thanks for reading!

Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan
debito@debito.org
www.debito.org
July 2, 2006 NEWSLETTER ENDS

SUCCESS STORIES: Article on Divorce in Japan

mytest

Hi All. Arudou Debito here. What follows is a version of an essay recently published by executive newsletter Success Stories (http://www.successstories.com), and is written with that audience in mind.

Excerpted and adapted from our upcoming book, “Guidebook for Newcomers: Setting Down Roots in Japan” (working title), to be published in early 2007. I’d like to say “enjoy” as usual, but it’s not that kind of topic. Be advised, however, that the information within is very important to those hoping to stay and and create firmer roots in Japan. Because if a marriage with a Japanese goes sour, the system is not designed to protect both parents, and you as a foreigner could really lose big. FYI. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

//////////////////////////////////////////////

DIVORCE IN JAPAN
WHAT A MESS
By Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan
debito@debito.org, http://www.debito.org
(All substantiation for claims made within can be found in the Referential Links section at the very bottom.)

For many readers of Success Stories, understanding the demographics of the Japanese market is essential to your business. This essay will deal with one fundamental facet, which affects consumer preferences, disposable income, and the stability of the oldest business proposition in existence: Marriage and the Family Unit.

Given the strong image of “docile Japanese wives” and “Japan’s selfless corporate workers”, many readers might be envisioning Japan as a homogeneous land of stable families and low divorce rates. But let’s look at the figures:

According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, there have been fewer marriages between Japanese in recent years: weddings steadily dropped from 764,161 in 1995 to 680,906 in 2004, an 11% decrease.

In the same time period, international marriages, where one partner is Japanese, have jumped from 27,727 to 39,551 couples, or a 43% increase. (And let’s answer the inevitable question of “Who’s marrying whom?” Perhaps counterintuitively (but not so when you consider how many farmers import brides), overwhelmingly more Japanese men marry foreigners than the other way around–at a ratio of nearly eight to two, and growing!)

However, perhaps because people prefer to leave the altar with smiles and hope for happy endings, less attention is paid to divorce figures. Between 1995 and 2004, broken unions in Japan also increased nearly without pause: from 199,016 to 270,804 divorces, a 36% increase. Of those, however, divorces between Japanese have plateaued, even decreased, in recent years. International divorces, however, have increased steadily, nearly doubling within the same time period (for Japanese men-Foreign women: from 6,153 to 12,071 divorces; for Japanese women-Foreign men: from 1,839 to 3,228 divorces).

This essay chooses not to speculate on the possible “cultural” or “sociological” reasons behind these numbers (since it is difficult to even accurately calculate a “divorce rate”). Suffice it to say that marriage in any society to anyone is risky.

However, marriage within the Japanese system is especially risky, because if it goes sour, people regardless of nationality can lose big. Enforcement of laws connected to alimony, child support, visitation rights, court orders, and custody in Japan is very weak. If you marry a Japanese, have children, and then get a divorce, you–and especially you as a foreign parent–could lose custody and all access to them. This may affect not only your bottom lines, but also your future personal plans in Japan.

————————————–
PARTING IS SUCH BITTER SORROW

Divorce in Japan, like marriage, is easy if both parties agree to it. All you have to do is head for the Ward Office and fill out a Divorce Form (rikon todoke–essentially the opposite procedure for getting married using a kekkon todoke). Spouses put their inkan stamp on the todoke (signatures are not valid), and file it with the Ward Office. That is all. They are divorced. This is called kyougi rikon, or “divorce by mutual consent”, which happens, estimates a lawyer friend who specializes in these cases, in about 80% of divorces. Assets, possessions, or property are divided up either informally or through the legal community, and you make a clean sweep of it and get on with your lives.

However, if both parties do not agree to divorce, things can get very messy. According to Japan Civil Code Article 770, there are five grounds for unilateral divorce:

1) infidelity
2) malicious desertion (which for foreign spouses can include being deported)
3) uncertainty whether or not the spouse is dead or alive for three years or more,
4) serious mental disease without hope of recovery, or
5) a “grave reason” which makes continuing the marriage impossible.

What is considered a “grave reason” is unclear, and at the discretion of a judge if things go to court. One reason can be the wife refusing the husband sexual relations for a long period of time (a reason only men can claim). Another can be the husband refusing the family unit his financial support (which only women can claim). However, the simple fact that you do not like each other anymore, i.e. a matter of “irreconcilable differences”, is not, according to lawyer Mizunuma Isao of IGM Law Offices, Sapporo, considered to be sufficient grounds.

Here things begin to pinch. If one side refuses to agree to the divorce, you will have to negotiate until you do, which can take many years. You can legally separate, but this is not a divorce, and you cannot remarry. Moreover, if there is a secret relationship behind the breakup, a spouse in Japan can sue your new partner for damages, demanding both you and your partner pay consolation for wrecking the marriage!

If you after talking things out you still cannot agree to divorce, you go to Family Court. The first step is called choutei (mediation), where you sit down with three representatives, i.e. two “upstanding members of the community” (who are generally not certified counselors) and one representative of the court. This mediation system is designed to give disputing couples a forum for their grievances without snarling up the courts. However, the role of the choutei is not to find fault on either side, rather to help both sides reach an agreement–i.e. reconcile or divorce. Meetings take place around every month or two, generally in separate rooms for a few hours, and can continue for years.

————————————–
TELL IT TO THE JUDGE

If the couple cannot reach an agreement even after court mediation (which is estimated to happen in around 5% of all divorce cases), then the next step is a lawsuit in Family Court. There, a judge will only rule that a contested divorce is legitimate if you can prove that the marriage has completely “collapsed” (hatan).

This is one of the reasons why divorces in Japan get messy. Since judges hardly ever grant divorces to the person who did wrong, you must show that your partner was at fault. In other words, you cannot separate amicably–you have to dredge something up. This does not create a constructive atmosphere; it can cause even more feelings of ill-will and a future desire for revenge. Also, since laws governing perjury in Japan are at best weakly enforced in civil cases, your spouse may make some exaggerated claims about your past in court with impunity. If it goes to court, it will get very nasty.

After all that, if the judge does not rule the marriage has actually “collapsed”, all you can do is wait. Sometimes former couples still reside together yet live divorced lives (katei nai bekkyo) of no contact. Separations of at least five years (ten to twenty years are not extraordinary in Japan) are necessary before a contested divorce may be granted by a court. Meanwhile, if there are children who need feeding, child support will be assessed by looking at a fee schedule created by the Bar Association, which measures both parents’ income and determines an appropriate monthly sum.

————————————–
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

Divorce proceedings and the aftermath are tough on the kids in any society, but Japan further complicates things through legal negligence. During separation, divorce court, and onwards, the parent who does not have custody may have problems meeting the children for more than a few hours a month, if at all. Visitation rights are not granted before the divorce is complete, but even then, Japan has no legal mechanism to enforce visitation rights or other court-negotiated settlements afterwards.

Also, enforcement mechanisms for the payment of alimony or child support have loopholes. For example, if your spouse owes you money but refuses to pay, you must know the home address, the workplace, and bank account details of your spouse in order to seek redress. However, if your spouse changes any of these things and happens not to notify you, you will have to track down those details yourself, which often requires hiring your own private detective. The police or government officials will not get involved.

————————————–
MULTINATIONAL MARRIAGES COME OFF WORST

What makes this situation especially difficult for international, and especially intercontinental, divorces is that foreign partners have extreme difficulty being granted custody of children in Japan. In a March 31, 2006 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, lawyer Jeremy D. Morely, of the International Family Law Office in New York, stated:

—————————————-
“Children are not returned from Japan, period, and it is a situation that happens a lot with children of international marriages with kids who are over in Japan. They do not get returned. Usually, the parent who has kept a child is Japanese, and under the Japanese legal system they have a family registration system whereby every Japanese family has their own registration with a local ward office. And the name of registration system is the koseki system. So every Japanese person has their koseki, and a child is listed on the appropriate koseki. Once a child is listed on the family register, the child belongs to that family. Foreigners don’t have a family register and so there is no way for them to actually have a child registered as belonging to them in Japan. There is an international treaty called the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, and Japan is the only G7 country that is not a party to the Hague Convention.”[1]
—————————————-

This means that if things go intercontinentally ballistic (say, a Japanese spouse abducts a foreigner’s children back to Japan), the foreigner will lose all contact with them, according to the Children’s Rights Network.

Even if the foreigner tries to go through proper domestic channels, he loses. One clear example is the Murray Wood Case. Wood, a resident of Canada, was awarded custody of his children in 2004 by Canadian courts. Yet when his children were abducted to Japan by ex-wife Ayako Wood, he found himself powerless to enforce the court order. Not only were the Canadian Government’s demands to extradite Ayako ignored by the Japanese government, but also Japan’s Saitama District and High Courts awarded custody to her, essentially declaring that “uprooting the children from the current stable household is not in the child’s best interest”. What then? If the foreigner takes the law into his own hands and abducts them back, he will be arrested for kidnapping by the Japanese police, as was witnessed in a recent case handled by the American Embassy. Consequently, Japan has become a safe haven for international child abductions.

————————————–
CONCLUSION

The author does not wish to give the impression that divorce is any more likely if the spouse is a Japanese. “Any marriage,” my lawyer sources dryly indicate, “is a gamble.” However, what raises the stakes of the transaction is the fact that Japan has weak-to-nonexistent recourse to prevent potential abuses. According to Colin P.A. Jones J.D., Associate Professor at Doshisha University Law School, the system is geared to support the distaff side of the divorce. The woman, as wife and mother, is given overwhelming priority in divorce cases, as opposed to viewing each divorce on a case-by-case basis (spawning a cottage industry of guidebooks on wringing the most out of your man). Yes, weak-to-nonexistent enforcement of laws and court rulings mean that men in the Japanese system (as compared to, for example, the American) do not stand to lose enormously financially. They will, however, lose their children.

Veterans of broken Japanese marriages very often lead separate lives without any connection to each other or the children for decades. (Prime Minister Koizumi’s nonexistent relationship with his youngest son Yoshinaga is a prime example.) It is a system that encourages “fortress Moms”, “deadbeat Dads”, and “who dares, wins” custody battles. With all this, it is no wonder why marriage is not an option for some people, and why Japanese divorce statistics may in fact be artificially low (although we should see a jump from 2007, due to a reform where wives will be able to claim part of their ex-husbands’ pension).

In this era of modernity and more lifestyle choices, if Japan ever aspires to the ideals of “upholding the sanctity of marriage” and “strengthening the family unit”, it will have to reform this system to make all parties more accountable for relationships gone sour. Keep this information in mind if your business involves this sector of the Japanese market.

[1] Interview, Canadian Broadcasting Company, March 31, 2006, http://www.crnjapan.com/articles/2006/en/20060331-japanambassadorinterview.html

———————————
Referential Links:

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare statistics on marriage and divorce in Japan:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/saikin/hw/jinkou/suii04/

Regarding Issues of Divorce and Child Custody in Japan:
http://www.crnjapan.com/en/issues.html

The Children’s Rights Network Japan
http://www.crnjapan.com

The International Family Law Office (Lawyer Jeremy D. Morely, Esq.):
http://www.international-divorce.com

Regarding PM Koizumi Junichiro’s divorce–the perfect case study of nonaccountability:
http://www.crnjapan.com/pexper/juk/en/

The Murray Wood Case
http://www.crnjapan.com/pexper/wom/en/

About the author of this article:
http://www.debito.org

AUTHOR BIO: ARUDOU Debito, a naturalized Japanese citizen, is an Associate Professor at Hokkaido Information University, and a columnist for the Japan Times. His books, ‘JAPANESE ONLY’–The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan (Akashi Shoten Inc., revised 2004 and 2006) are available in English and Japanese. His latest book, “Guidebook for Newcomers: Setting Down Roots in Japan” (working title), is being co-authored with a Japanese lawyer and will be available in early 2007. This essay is an excerpt and adaptation from Chapter 4 of the Guidebook. The author may be reached at www.debito.org and debito@debito.org.

ENDS
June 20, 2006