Debito’s SNA VM column 57: “Overtourism as racism” (July 1, 2024). Most media on too many foreign tourists in Japan ignores how xenophobes are using “overtourism” to bully foreigners. Debito.org even argues it’s producing discriminatory policies worse than “Japanese Only” signs!

mytest

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Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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“OVERTOURISM” AS RACISM

Much media has covered the downside of too many foreign tourists in Japan. Less attention has been devoted to how xenophobes use “overtourism” as a means to bully foreigners.

By Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

SNA Visible Minorities column 57, July 1, 2024

Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/07/01/visible-minorities-overtourism-as-racism/

In late May, Joshua Sherlock, an eight-year resident of Kyoto offering local tours, took a group of foreign tourists on an evening visit of Yasaka Shrine.  They were confronted by a local middle-aged woman (Twitter handle @fujino_ojo), accusing them of ringing the shrine’s bell too loudly and disrespecting a religious place.

Fujino took the liberty of filming the occasion, and according to her video, Sherlock’s group apologized multiple times.  But she still chased after them as they left.  Sherlock repeatedly asked her to leave them alone in English and Japanese, to which Fujino accused Sherlock of discrimination because he spoke English to her.  Finally, he answered in Japanese using the same tone she used on him.  Claiming Sherlock had “rudely brushed her off,” Fujino then uploaded her videos to Twitter where they got a million views.

What happened next was devastating.  According to The Times (London), Sherlock’s family reported people telephoning his home to scream insults and demand he leave Japan.  A removal van arrived to collect their belongings.  Strangers began prowling their neighborhood, and somebody threatened to set their apartment on fire.  His wife began having panic attacks and their daughter was taken out of school.  

Sherlock says that he no longer feels safe in Kyoto, and, suspending his tour services, fears that even stepping outside might result in him being “attacked by a lynch mob of extreme right-wing people.”  

The Times’ headline:  Japanese hospitality wears thin as overtourism takes toll”.

“OVERTOURISM” AS A MEANS OF HARASSMENT 

“Overtourism” has become a trendy word to describe Japan attractions (e.g., Shibuya Scramble, Hachiko, Ginza, Kyoto, Senso-ji, Mount Fuji) being overrun by tourists.  But in Japan the word is specifically associated with “foreign tourists,” i.e., mobs blocking traffic, disrupting local businesses and mores by littering and chattering away in their foreign languages.

I don’t dispute that “overtourism” can happen.  Too many people crowding into a place can produce problems of noise, pollution, disruption, and property damage.  

But be careful about associating it with “foreigners.”  As evidenced by the Karen-esque confrontation at Yasaka Shrine, it’s giving license to Japan’s busybodies, bullies, and xenophobes.

This column will argue that “overtourism” is not only becoming the latest incarnation of racialized bullying, it’s also producing reactionary public policies that are actually worse than the “Japanese Only” signs of yore.

WHAT EXACTLY DOES JAPAN WANT FROM ITS TOURISTS?  

Given Japan’s excellent public transportation systems, tourism has long been a source of economic activity.  As Japanese discovered they had more disposable income, depopulating rural areas realized they needed more revenue.  

So local governments launched programs to encourage people to visit.  Even during the privations of the pandemic, there were subsidized traIns, cut rates on hotel and airplane packages, and ad campaigns for local festivals and seasonal sights encouraging people to get out and spend money.

This included foreign tourists.  Hard to believe now, but Japan once whined that there weren’t enough foreigners sightseeing.  An article in the June 6, 2010, Asahi Shinbun grumbled that Chinese consumers were being “stingy,” noting their “tendency to scrimp on accommodations and meals and bypass tourist attractions for the main purpose of their trips—buying electronic appliances and designer brand clothing and accessories.”  

So the national government steered them towards those attractions with slogans about Japan’s special “omotenashi” (hospitality) and splashy “Cool Japan” and “Yokoso Japan” campaigns worldwide.  For good measure, Japan also sponsored major international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, and the Olympics.  

The goal was to make Japan a major world tourism destination.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  

In 2023, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Japan’s tourism sector was forecast to employ about 5.6 million people and represent 6.8% of Japan’s GDP.  With the devalued yen, I expect the numbers will be even better this year.

But there can be too much of a good thing.  Local governments in Kyoto and Mt. Fuji have started restricting entry to certain areas.  A town in Yamanashi famously put up a screen to block a view of Mt Fuji behind a convenience store, blaming this overkill on “bad manners” from foreign tourists.  And as seen in the Yasaka Shrine case, there have been increased confrontations with “culturally disrespectful” tourists.

The flip side is that there are people eager to take offense and capitalize on confrontation.

“CULTURAL DIFFERENCES” USED AS A WEAPON

In 2019, this column wrote about how Halloween in Shibuya was a target of “Xeno-Scapegoating”, where drinking in public was somehow portrayed as an imported problem.  Yes, despite Japan being the origin of “cosplay,” the seasonal festivals and outdoor partying, entertainment sectors in every Japanese city, and the lack of open container laws, Shibuya Mayor Ken Hasebe made that argument with a straight face when he banned all festivities in 2023.

He could because whenever foreigners are proximate to a problem, they tend to get blamed for it.  

Why?  Because of cultural conceits about “unique Japan.”  If Japan is different from everywhere else in the world, foreigners must axiomatically have “different manners” (or they wouldn’t be foreign).  So “cultural differences” are seen as an inevitable source of problems wherever foreigners congregate.

But there are people who take advantage of this dynamic:  bullies.  They exist in every society, but are especially powerful in Japan because of the general avoidance of confrontation.  They get a freer hand to push people around because fewer people push back.

Bullies generally prey on the vulnerable, so they especially like to push foreigners around.  After all, foreigners are supposed to be “guests” (not residents) while Japanese are their “hosts,” so the former occupies a lower rung on the social ladder.  (If you doubt that, consider how it is official policy in Japan’s civil service to not grant administrative jobs to foreigners, expressly because they would have authority over Japanese.  They must remain subordinate.)

This makes foreigners, not to mention Japan’s Visible Minorities (Japanese citizens who do not “look Japanese”), an easy target.  Allow me to illustrate.  

Last month I was lined up waiting for a taxi in front of Tokyo Station, and just as a cab pulled up for me, some pushy middle-aged guy jumped the line and took it.  When I told him in Japanese that I was in fact next, he cursed me out, shouting that I should speak “proper Japanese” (peppered with a few “omae”s to establish dominance).  So I obliged, telling him in “proper Japanese” to get bent and eat shite.  Clearly not used to being challenged by the likes of me, he shut up, took my cab anyway and fumed as the door closed.  I got the next cab and got on with my day.

Now, if any culture-policing Karen at Yasaka Shrine had been filming that, they would have seen people in line apologizing to me.  I also looked over the crowd and saw no hairy eyeballs on me, so clearly they had seen his queue jumping too. 

But the lesson I took from this incident is this:  The bully chose the foreign-looking guy as the spot to jump the queue, thinking he could get away with it.  And he kinda did.  

Now consider what happens when these bullies think they can empower themselves as Culture Police as part of the “overtourism” backlash.

FROM ENFORCEMENT OF THE RULES TO MAKING UP YOUR OWN RULES

Live in Japan long enough and you’ll probably encounter the Culture Police.  They’re essentially the people wanting foreigners to “get off their lawn.”  Of course, all of Japan is their lawn and they consider themselves the arbiter of “the Japanese Way.”  

They’re in parks enforcing arbitrary rules like telling you not to eat in public or talk loudly in foreign languages.  Or they’re gruffly sorting through your garbage bags on Gomi Day assuming foreigners can’t follow the rules.  Or drunkenly giving you a piece of their mind on the street regarding something they’ve taken an instant dislike to, such as your not walking on the correct side of the sidewalk or daring to date a Japanese.  

Some of these weirdos take their policing role quite literally.  There have been cases of people masquerading as uniformed cops to demand foreigners’ ID and get their private details, which is one reason why the government rendered that info invisible on Gaijin Cards.

Usually it’s best to ignore these Karens.  But sometimes you can’t, especially when they swarm online.

Yasaka Shrine is an excellent case in point.  It’s one thing for Fujino to point out somebody’s social faux pas, then accept their apologies in good faith.  It’s a completely different matter to film them and vindictively upload it for millions to see, encouraging doxxing, destroying Sherlock’s livelihood and terrorizing his family.

But the online swarm went even further, calling their shrine visit a “desecration” (fukei), and advocating criminal prosecution under Penal Code Article 188 with 6 months imprisonment and a 100,000 yen fine.  So if they didn’t drive Sherlock out of Japan, they could try to get him arrested.  

All this for ringing a bell too loudly. 

BULLYING CRYSTALIZING INTO BAD GOVERNMENT POLICY

But the overkill doesn’t stop there.  Riding the backlash to “overtourism,” people are already creating nutty policies that target foreigners.

Restaurants are charging higher “foreigner” prices and blaming it on Japan’s cheapening yen.  Local government officials are demanding an entry tax for foreign tourists at attractions.  The Osaka Governor and Himeji Mayor are currently considering a significant Gaijin Surcharge to enter their local castles.  Others have established “foreigner-only” buses and hotels.  

It only promises to get more amateurish.  For example, Remi Kimura, indicatively a “former volunteer guide who currently works in the social media content industry,” somehow got a one-off column published in the Japan Times on June 21 calling for an “arrival tax” on foreigners, to “dissuade some from coming to Japan while funding cultural preservation.”  

What was she basing this on?  She opens with how she went back to her hometown in the Japan Alps, finding a restaurant with “avocado toast” and “cold cuts and bread,” something she claimed “virtually no Japanese person would order.”  To her this was evidence that “tourism has transformed the places of my childhood.”

I’m not sure what she’s trying to preserve beyond her own personal preferences.  I found a charcuterie plate (rendered as such in katakana) at a local craft beer place in Tokyo Jinbocho.  I also found avocado sushi combos in a kaiten sushi restaurant in Engaru, all the way out in the Hokkaido outback.  

Photo:  Avocado on the menu:  Toriton restaurant, Engaru Town, untouristed Hokkaido, June 2024.

Neither place is overtouristed.  So Kimura is essentially blaming foreigners for Japanese tastes evolving when she wasn’t looking.  Get off my lawn!

“OVERTOURISM” COUNTERMEASURES ARE IN FACT WORSE THAN “JAPANESE ONLY” SIGNS

When I put this issue up on Debito.org last month, regular commenters had a lot to say.  One even made the case that Gaijin Surcharges (dual pricing systems, or nijuu kakaku sei) are actually worse than “Japanese Only” signs and rules outright excluding all foreigners.  

First, exclusions cost the company because they lose business.  On the other hand, overcharging foreigners rewards the company with more money.

Second, how will the dual pricing systems be enforced?  Will Foreign Residents have to produce their Gaijin Cards to prove their residency?  Will these ID checks, once unlawfully required by hotels at the behest of the police, now be expanded to regular shops nationwide?  Will Japan’s Visible Minorities also be forced somehow to prove their Japaneseness to get the “local” price?

Third, the pressure to change course disappears.  A “Japanese Only” sign not only invites public shame, it is in fact unconstitutional with lawsuits supporting its removal.  A Gaijin Surcharge is a lot more sustainable and probably harder to challenge in court, especially if the government is behind it.  

So financial incentives are there to make things more expensive for foreigners only nationwide, including those working here and getting paid in Japanese yen like any other Japanese.  The social hierarchies that already force “foreigners” onto a lower social rung are now fostering an economic apartheid.

CONCLUSION:  YOU WANTED THEM HERE.  NOW PROTECT THEM.

The utter irony behind this situation is that, again, Japan wanted tourists to save Japan’s economy.  Now that they’re here doing so, they’re getting punished.  Local governments are succumbing to vocal xenophobes and coming up with discriminatory policies.

Foreign Residents and Visible Minorities are also getting caught in the backlash.  What’s happening to Joshua Sherlock’s family is not just Cultural Karenism.  It’s outright terrorism.   

Japan has for nearly three decades already refused to protect foreigners against racial discrimination despite international treaty promises.  Not protecting them from the “overtourism” bullies is similar negligence.  

What should be done?

First, let’s create an official definition of “overtourism” that doesn’t encourage foreigner bashing and racial profiling.  Have it show some nuance that reflects the fact that plenty of tourists are Japanese citizens and Foreign Residents too.

Second, develop suitable infrastructure to accommodate incoming foreign tourists.  If that means siphoning off numbers to more outlying attractions, make that possible and do the groundwork to prepare locals for any anticipated language and cultural barriers.

Third, bring in qualified tourism experts.  Not the “get off my lawn” Cultural Karens with an aversion to avocado.  From what I’ve witnessed, the “overtouristed” places are already doing a pretty good job.  Get their advice on how to protect our “guests” as good “hosts” should.  

Above all, stop blaming the tourists for doing what you asked them to do—come here and enjoy themselves.  Yes, tourists can be more respectful and mannerly.  But make those rules, norms, and manners clear, and enforce them gently but firmly.

And do it quickly.  Japan’s cultural hypersensitivity is already a source of overseas humor.  Last month The Onion ran a satirical article entitled, “Tourist Immediately Breaks 34 Sacred Local Customs While Deboarding Airplane,” where an American “within 30 seconds of unbuckling his seat belt at the gate, had unknowingly violated countless unwritten rules that inhabitants of Japan had observed for thousands of years.”  

Tourists can always take their money elsewhere. After decades of effort to get them here, don’t let Japan’s Cultural Karens, bullies, and xenophobes spoil things for everyone.

ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities column 56: Addressing Japan’s Child Abduction Problem (on the recent bill passed to allow joint custody after divorce (May 27, 2024)

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Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Hi Blog.  Here’s my latest SNA column.  There are mixed feelings from many people hurt by the Koseki System, but I hold the view that the new law allowing for Joint Custody after divorce is a step in the right direction.  Read on and see what you think.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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ADDRESSING JAPAN’S CHILD ABDUCTION PROBLEM
By Debito Arudou, Ph.D., Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 56, May 27, 2024

Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/05/27/visible-minorities-addressing-japans-child-abduction-problem/

It has been one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets.  It has shattered lives and caused enormous international embarrassment to Japan’s reputation as a nation of laws.  It has caused untold misery to countless children and families worldwide.  And amongst all the G7 “developed” nations, it only happens like this in Japan.  

I’m talking about Japan’s issues with child custody and access after divorce.  

Japan has something called the Family Registry (koseki) system.  It serves the important purposes of not only conferring Japanese citizenship, it also prioritizes the family unit over the individual.  A throwback system unamended for more than a century, the Family Registry has a major bug:  If you get divorced, the bureaucracy forces the couple as a registered family unit to cleave back into two unconnected individuals with completely severed family ties. 

The problem is that children are likewise forced into one severed family registry or another,  This means they lose all legal ties with one parent, and that parent (usually the father) has not rights of joint custody or child visitation.  

This means that divorce in Japan completely disappears a “Left Behind Parent’ (LBP) from a child’s life.

This invisibility is enforced by the rest of society too.  For example, if you want to visit your child’s school and find out how they’re getting along, the school will turn you away as a stranger.  Or if you want to say hello to your child at home or on the street, your ex can call the police and have you arrested as a stalker.  Even in extreme cases where the custodial parent dies or abandons the children, grandparents have adopted the kids (since the kids are still legally registered to that family unit) and shut out the LBP all over again!  Despite this, LBP are obligated to pay child support.  So essentially the system is there to punish you for ever getting divorced, since you lose everything and can’t even pay to play.

This cruel system affects everyone in Japan, Japanese citizen or not (as former Prime Minister and LBP Junichiro Koizumi can attest).  But it hits international divorces especially hard.  If you are, say, a foreign resident with a Spouse Visa you void your status to live and work in Japan.  Then on top of that you get specially targeted by two evil narratives.  

One is of course the racial profiling that happens when your ex siccs the police on you, and you get the regular third degree for existing while foreign in Japan.  The other is a conviction that foreigners are naturally violent and prone to spousal or child abuse.  Yes, people actually believe (and are repeatedly told by mass media and even the Japanese government) that despite all the bullying in Japan that goes on at home, school, and the workplace, foreigners are the ones who beat their children because of automatically presumed “cultural differences.”

Your rights are even fewer if you marry a Japanese and live overseas.  Umpteen cases have been recorded of illegal child abductions (e.g., taking a child across an international border without the permission of both parents) by Japanese spouses fleeing to Japan.  Sometimes they are assisted by abduction guidebooks you can find on Amazon Japan.  Sometimes they have been actively abetted by the local Japanese consulate issuing them a new passport, in defiance of overseas court orders granting joint or sole custody to the Non-Japanese parent.  And when the LBP comes to Japan to enforce the court order in Japanese court, they get ruled against because “habitual residence” has already been established here.  She who dares, wins. 

Many a Non-Japanese LBP has been arrested, gone on hunger strike, or even committed suicide due to this nightmarish lack of rights.  And enough international arrest warrants on Japanese spouses have piqued the interest of foreign governments.  Finally, after decades of overseas government pressure (gaiatsu), Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abductions in 2014, only a decade ago.  Unfortunately, Japan just caveated its way out of ever enforcing it.  

People filing claims under the Convention rarely got a Japanese court to side with them.  If the abduction took place many months ago, then “habitual residence” was established and that’s that.  Or there’s the common prejudice that a child naturally belongs more with their mother.  And one verbal claim of “child abuse” or “spousal violence” (which in Japan, according to some spokespeople, could include a raised voice, an angry look, or even a silent stare in an argument) is usually enough to close ranks.  Plus there’s the conceit that Japan’s population is decreasing, so there’s a demographic interest in stopping depopulation through repatriation.  We got our kid back, so that’s that.

This system has even inspired racism.  As I mentioned before, the Japanese mass media and government surveys have long had a white-hot curiosity about finding what causes conflict in any international marriage.  (Japanese men are pretty browned off about losing their women to foreigners—even though the majority of international marriages are Japanese men to foreign women—so there’s a smug satisfaction in knowing that foreign men aren’t perfect either.)  But a Foreign Ministry pamphlet in 2014, issued shortly after Japan signed the Convention, clearly reinforced the narrative that foreigners are violent through illustrations depicting a Caucasian father beating his child.  For good measure, the pamphlet also insinuated that Japanese can’t get a fair deal in a foreign court, and was clearly written working backward from a conclusion that the Convention disadvantaged Japanese.

Likewise, the most creative argument came from far-right propaganda network Sakura TV, which opined in 2018 that Japan’s signing the Hague Convention was just the judiciary trying to appease White people.  The Convention’s main goal was to empower White men playing around with women from “uncivilized” countries, who would then divorce them in favor of White women, and convert their foreign playthings into de facto babysitters of their offspring.  Therefore the Convention exists to ensure White cads still enjoy access to their bastard children!

But let’s return to reality and get to the good news occasioning this column.  First, full disclosure:  I too have been through a divorce in Japan and lost all contact with my children.  So have many of my friends and colleagues, Japanese and foreign.  I have argued before that nobody, Japanese or foreign, should get married under these conditions and have children, as it’s just too risky should the relationship sour.  I stand by that argument even today.  

But finally this May the Japanese Diet passed a law establishing joint custody.  Starting in 2026 and working retroactively, this law means that both parents will now, at least on paper, legally have a say in a child’s upbringing after divorce.  Unless both parents agree to sole custody, joint is presumed under Family Court proceedings.

Naturally, there will be caveats for accusations of domestic violence or child abuse.  But these have to be recognized by a court case-by-case as legitimate concerns.  It is the first change to Japan’s laws concerning parental authority in 77 years, and it will be revisited in five years to assess how well it’s working.

Not surprisingly, the response has been muted from my experienced colleagues.  Some, inured to decades of Japan’s bad-faith negotiations and policing, doubt the law will ever be properly enforced.  Signing the Convention didn’t work, so why should this?  After all, what Japanese court would ever willfully give priority to a foreigner over a Japanese in a dispute?  Or by now the law is too little, too late, as their children are all grown up and the damage is done for a lifetime.  An outcome that makes up for all the past cruelty and denial is simply impossible.  

Nevertheless, my take is that this new law is still good news.  It’s better to have it than not.  It can be pointed to as the law of the land, as opposed to a malleable norm that can be much more easily bent away from any LBP in any convoluted “he-said, she-said” dispute.

In principle, giving power to both parents over the well-being of a child is better than giving all power to one vindictive spouse.  It will at least allow the possibility of a child hearing both sides of a story, which is a valuable skill set for anyone in their formative years.  Moreover it will bring Japan back within international practices.  

It’s been pretty much determined by child psychologists that, on average, children need both parents in their life.  It’s about time the law in Japan reflected that.  The Japanese government has finally taken that step in the right direction.  Now let’s wait and see if it gets enforced in good faith.
ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities col 55: “From Dancing Monkey to Symbol of Hope”: Interview with Ibaraki Prefectural Assemblyman and naturalized Canadian-Japanese Jon Heese (May 2, 2024)

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Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Hi Blog.  Here’s my latest SNA column, where Jon Heese and I have yet another candid chat (previous ones here, here, and here) about politics in Japan — he as a politician, me as a columnist with a PoliSci background and a more adversarial relationship to power. Enjoy. I did. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

Visible Minorities: From Dancing Monkey to Symbol of Hope
Shingetsu News Agency, May 02, 2024, by Debito Arudou
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/05/02/visible-minorities-from-dancing-monkey-to-symbol-of-hope/

BIOJon Heese is becoming an old hand in Japanese politics, having served 13 years at various levels of government. He is presently one of five councilors representing Tsukuba (60 km NE of Tokyo) in the Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly—similar to a state or provincial legislature. After winning four terms at the city level, Mr. Heese leveled up in December, 2022. He is the first foreign-born politician to ever serve at the regional level.  He sat down for an interview with Debito Arudou for his Visible Minorities column in April 2024.

SNA:  Hi Jon.  Thanks for agreeing to yet another interview with me. 

Heese:  It’s the least I can do for my favorite rabble rouser.

SNA:  Let me open with an argument:  I make the case in one of my recent columns (https://www.debito.org/?p=17392) that we don’t see enough former Non-Japanese running for office because the Japanese government doesn’t want them to.  With no immigration policy, the GOJ doesn’t just encourage NJ to become voters and citizens, they make it hard to graduate up to Permanent Residency and citizenship.  Would you agree with that assessment?

Heese:  No immigration policy? Do you mean “no policy to import labor willy-nilly à la every western country?” The question is already loaded. As for policy to prevent naturalization, thereby enfranchisement, I do not see any active policies intending to keep NJ from getting citizenship. Overall I see their immigration policies as an attempt to ensure that only contributing foreigners are allowed to stay beyond the 90 day tourist visa by obtaining a longer visa. Many countries try to keep out deadbeats. Japan is no different. By deadbeats, I mean people who are only coming to take advantage of our rather generous social services.

SNA:  Hang on.  Point of order.  We’re still falling back on those boilerplate arguments we see in the chauvinistic media that some foreigners are freeloaders.  Not so.  Every person in Japan one way or another pays some form of tax, and we’ve had study after study showing that migrants and immigrants on balance contribute more to every society than they take out.  So let’s not resort to reflexive foreigner bashing “à la every Western Country”.  Now back to your point about naturalization.

Heese: Immigrants are by their nature successful. The poorest and sickest cannot afford the cost of the trip, whether to pay for flights, boats, or other forms of transportation. Migrants demonstrate their motivation just by reaching our borders. Unsurprisingly they work hard to continue in their successful ways or leave for greener pastures. My “à la every Western Country” comment is a reference to how much stricter Japan is to whom they give visas.

SNA:  And that’s kinda the point I’m making in my opening argument. 

Heese:  To continue, it’s been my observation that the highest bar for naturalization is Japan’s demand that new citizens give up their previous citizenship. Though I disagree with the government’s ban on dual citizenship, I believe the government, as representatives of the people, have the right to make the rules. Are their rules shortsighted? In my opinion, yes. Will they change those rules at some point? I believe they will. However, given that it’s actually easier to get citizenship than permanent residency, it’s not the government keeping people from voting, it’s the foreigners themselves that are keeping themselves from voting.

SNA:  Okay, spoken like a true Japanese politician.  Blame the foreigner for the rules that are set by the politicians and bureaucrats. 

Heese:  Would you have the foreigners setting their own rules…?

SNA:  Yes.  I think they should have some input into the process.  They know better what’s best for them.  Especially if they’ve leveled-up out of being foreign.  To circle back to my opening point, the government is trying not to let them level up.

Heese:  It is my understanding that only a few countries out there that allow non-citizens to vote. And those countries that do permit participation limit foreigners to local elections. I understand Japan’s logic but disagree with their fears of potential consequences.

SNA:  Granted, I also make the case that NJ have to take it upon themselves to stop being “guests” and enfranchise themselves.  You’ve advanced a similar argument (even to me when I considered running for office), only much more softly.  Have you encountered much “guestism”

Heese:  I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “guestism,” but I will assume you mean foreigners who see themselves as guests in spite of their very heavy investments in land and life in Japan.

SNA:  Yes, basically.  What of it then?

Heese:  I see guestism all the time. I have also seen quite an uptick in people taking citizenship. Back when you and I naturalized we were still outliers. That is no longer the case. I estimate that the experiences of those who have become Japanese has influenced the thinking of lifers. When I arrived in Japan in ‘91 it was years before I ever met a naturalized person. You may be the first one I ever talked to. Former Upper House Diet Member Tsurunen Marutei would likely have been the first I ever heard of. You can’t be what you can’t see. As more of us appeared, and, with the ability to share our experiences via social media, that we never had any issues getting through immigration, never felt pushback from our surrounding communities, indeed, life was really no different from pre to post naturalization, others took the plunge.

SNA:  Yes, but that was then and this is now.  I say there is a lot more pushback now.  It’s harder to get Permanent Residency because you need a 3-year visa to get it, and there are plenty of incentives—and examples—of people being stuck on perpetual one-year visas.  Then COVID really flipped the script, where even those who had graduated up to Permanent Residents suddenly realized that they were no better than any short-term visa holder.  They were, in the end, just garden-variety foreigners who couldn’t come back if they left.

Heese:  I would argue it’s much easier than when I first came in ’91 to get PR. My first experiences with PR lifers, they needed to have worked 10 (continuous) years or be married to a local to get their PR in 5 years. These days they are offering the same to desired workers after 3 years. Other workers only need 5 years. No Japanese family necessary. I would also point out it’s now easier to get citizenship. Back in our day we needed to have a Japanese spouse to get citizenship. No longer.

SNA:  Just a quick interruption, sorry.  That last bit is not actually true.  I know of a number of single people who managed to naturalize despite being dedicated bachelors or unsavory characters.  Delfo Zorzi or Nicola Zappetti, for example.  And again, back to PR:  Yes, the years are less on paper, but reaching the 3-year visa threshold is harder.  I will agree with you, however, that naturalization is easier than PR nowadays.  As long as you are willing to burn bridges with your country of origin, of course, and that’s no small thing.

Heese:  I was told specifically back then I needed to be married. However, the Japanese bureaucracy does, on occasion, make exceptions. When I make the case these days to lifers, I point to what happened during the COVID pandemic. When the first travel bans were enacted there were no restrictions on the Japanese themselves. Japanese all had the right to come back. Yes, it was shameful, but the mewlings of you and I were not going to influence the Immigration officials.

SNA:  Right.  But again, the rules are not set by the foreigners, so I think mewling is warranted here.  It was a border control policy grounded in racism, not immunological science.

Heese:  No counterargument on my part. As the memory of the pandemic fades I will fall back to my initial argument of, “You have too much invested here for you to have no right to return.” In principle I ask lifers if they honestly believe they’re going back to their “homeland.” If not, then why are they holding on to some privilege they’ll likely never use? In addition, even if they give up their previous citizenship, it’s been my understanding that reacquiring their previous citizenship is pretty easy and straightforward.

SNA:  Really?  Maybe in Canada, but I doubt other countries are so forgiving.  I’ve found that United States officials even view giving up US citizenship as an act of betrayal.

Heese:  I think Canada would be more a world model than the US. Much of Canadian immigration policy would be influenced by the British Commonwealth. Last I saw there were more than 50 countries in the Commonwealth. In any case, I ask what is really being risked by taking citizenship? Importantly, why are they risking their working life’s investment for a “maybe someday” idea?

SNA:  Okay, so to summarize, it’s clear that you’re very much on the side of the philosophy of “shit or get off the pot” when it comes to living in Japan as a Japanese citizen, even finding naturalization preferable to just taking out PR.  Again, COVID made that choice much clearer.  So how hard have you pushed people to naturalize and get elected?  What arguments have you made to them to do so?

Heese:  I would generally recommend PR before naturalization for people from developed countries. Immigrants from less developed societies likely have nothing to go back to so giving up their citizenship is not an issue.

Regarding my efforts to get others to run, there is one poor woman I’ve been hounding to run for city council for a decade already. By now it’s just a personal joke between us. She’ll never run but it wouldn’t surprise me if she naturalizes. I don’t understand why she hasn’t already. Different strokes, I guess.

SNA:  Definitely.  I too came this close to running for Sapporo City Council back in the day.

Heese:  Yes you did. And your decision gave me a lot to ponder on. What I have come to realize is people run for their own reasons. The candidates best suited to run don’t need a dumbass like me to push them. At best I can show them the ropes. Towards that end I’ve written a few blog posts, one with instructions on how to run an election, and another outlining what I actually did as a city councilor. I think I shared those sites already. If not, I’ll pass them along.

There is a link to the second post in the first.

Heese:  This year I’ve started a new project to log all my work activities at the prefecture, including travel times. You may have seen some of them on LinkedIn. As well as activities I try to liven my posts up with personal observations regarding the political system. People think politicians are the government. How naïve! I’m doing my best to show how much work and what the work involves. My job is not at all what people think it is.

SNA:  Well, spill the tea, Marie.  What exactly is your job?  Sell it to us, since you even hound people to run.

Heese:  Rather than just explaining my job, it will be useful to explain government. Understand that even after 15 years my views are still a work in progress.

SNA:  As they should be.  Politics is complicated.  Any official who thinks they have all the answers is self-delusional.  Please go on.

Heese:  The government is actually a symbiosis of elected and unelected officials. I’ll start with the unelected officials, commonly known as civil servants. Their role is to maintain the machine as well as come up with solutions to problems society encounters on our common journey. Maintenance looks automatic but small adjustments still need to be made.

SNA:  So you clearly fall into the camp of government exists in order to solve problems.  For the record, I agree, but remember I came of age during Reagan and Friedman’s “small government” era, where “government is not the solution to the problem; government IS the problem.”  And I’ve spent a lifetime realizing that good public policy is possible.  Japan convinced me of that.  Pity Japan, for its part, is too timid sometimes to solve problems because people fear taking responsibility for making mistakes or causing unintended consequences.  Instead they should better prepare the public in advance for what the potentially positive or negative consequences of a policy might be.  [Sighs]  Yeah, maybe I should have run for office after all…

Heese: Ha! I believe you should have. Serving would have been an eye-opening experience for you. As for public problems, a considerable amount of effort is made creating, distributing, and analyzing questionnaires. Walk-ins also make requests at the various service counters, keeping the civil service well informed of the needs and wants of the people. It is from these questionnaires that new policy is born.

SNA:  So you see policymaking in Japan as more bottom-up rather than top-down.  I think most observers of Japan might think the opposite.

Heese:  Yes, like everywhere the media poorly portrays how the sausage is really made. Generally the populace believe that civil servants are managed by the elected officials, thus the power lies with the politicians. I believe it’s the other way around. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to watch the BBC programs, “Yes, Minister,” and “Yes, Prime Minister,” their depiction of how government actually works is much closer to the truth than the media leads us to believe. If you haven’t watched it, it is MUST WATCH TV for anyone who wants to understand government. In my opinion it is the groups of unassuming civil servants who wield the greatest amount of collective power. Just as the CEO is the one who gets all the credit, it is more than likely the secretary that runs the ship.

SNA:  Then policymaking in Japan actually is top-down, yes?  Then why so many questionnaires?  Are we actually seeing an example of successful Marxist “Democratic Centralism,” where input is collected from below and channeled upwards, but once the decision is made from the top, people below must follow it since they have given their input?  Okay, sorry, I’ll stuff my PoliSci textbook back in my mouth and let you continue.

Heese:  As I said, it’s a symbiosis. My role, as elected representative of the people, is to act as the immune system. My duties in council are generally to shoot down any brick balloons some aspiring group of civil servants might try to float past the house. That bills seldom get shot down is due to a deep understanding by the civil service of what the people want.

SNA:  Okay, let me underscore this.  As a politician, you see yourself as actually protecting the people from the bureaucrats?

Heese:  Absolutely!!!!! One only needs to look at failing countries to see how terrible things can get when the bureaucracy or politicians capture the public purse. If the balance is off, look out!

My secondary job is to act as a mouthpiece for the people. I bring ideas and problems to the civil service they may not yet have been exposed to. However, I am also a teacher, in a sense. I find that I spend about 30% of conversations with citizens explaining how the system works. In addition, I listen to people’s issues and try to solve them by pointing them in the right direction, whether that’s toward the entry point of the government service they are looking for, or the company which will be able to handle their situation.

SNA:  I doubt most people see politicians in Japan, or anywhere for that manner, so positively.  Do you think most of your elected compadres have a similar view of themselves being a dedicated public servant?

Heese:  That is a very good question I’ll need to ask. I’m sure the topic will provide some interesting fodder. Ask me again in 6 months and I’ll spill what I learned.

How I personally approach the public relations part of the job is to engage as many people as I can on any given day. I try to be approachable. I can’t possibly know what people’s needs are beyond Maslow’s basics. And I’ll never know if they don’t tell me.

SNA:  Huh.  Well, that’s a bit strange to me.  In my dealings with Japanese politicians in the past, especially when I was trying to get legislation passed to outlaw racial discrimination and get “Japanese Only” signs down, I rarely saw them giving much more than a popcorn fart about listening to the people.  Perhaps it was the complexity of the issue.  Perhaps it was because people who look like me probably can’t vote so who cares?  But for the most part, if there wasn’t an election at hand, I found Japanese politicians at best noncommittal, at worst actively avoiding any chance to listen to folks like you say you do.  Are you an outlier?

Heese:  Of course I’m an outlier. To be blunt, I take the approach of being constantly in election mode. I don’t have an election machine I can just fire up nor can I assume I’ll get reelected simply because I’m an incumbent. I’ve seen too many cases of incumbents getting their walking papers to believe it can’t happen to me. In my case every vote is won at the individual level so I am required to be out and about.

I am, by nature, very curious. I am always happy to listen to what people do. In “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell mentions three kinds of people: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. I do my best to be a bit of all three but I know I am best suited to be a Connector. I don’t know enough about any given topic to be a Maven and my ideas aren’t well developed enough to be a Salesman. Hence, I spend a lot of time just trying to get to know people and introducing them to others who can help them.

SNA:  I plead guilty to being a Maven.

I can’t speak to your experiences with other politicians except to say that NJ needs are seldom a high priority, not because their needs aren’t important, but because there’s unlikely to be traction within the surrounding community. Your concerns regarding “Japanese Only” signage won’t be showing up in questionnaires either.

On the other hand, here in Tsukuba, where foreigners are plentiful and a vital part of the community, such a sign would only last a day or two before the Mayor’s office would come down like a ton of bricks on any business foolish enough to post one. On a few occasions I’ve been informed, for example, of a policy that a local gym, a chain, has implemented requiring members to be able to communicate in Japanese. Their argument is safety in case of an injury. Pure BS. The problem is invariably a new manager from outside Tsukuba thinks they can run their shop like they do in Butthole-shi. Have staff who speak English ya moron! Or train them in basic English. Easy enough in highly educated Tsukuba. I’ve spoken to the mayor about the issue and he was very attentive, requesting I pass on unresolved instances.

So, to summarize my job, I shoot down bad ideas, promote good ones, and introduce people to others with solutions to their problems. To be blunt, I love my job, but I also recognize that not everyone can do it. One needs a tough skin to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous allegations.

SNA:  I’ll say.  Again, I’m not sure I’d have the patience to put up with what I see you putting up with, just from the standpoint of shrugging off your how you’re treated occasionally as an outsider or an anomaly in the halls of power.  But that’s perhaps a topic for a future interview.  That’s really all the time we have for today.  I want to thank you for agreeing to another interview with me, Jon.  I look forward to slinging some arrows at you again next time. 

======================
Heese:  We all have our roles to play. At times I’m the dancing monkey. On other occasions I am the symbol of hope for newbies straight off the boat. I do my best to play my part well. Thanks for keeping me on my toes. I look forward to our next conversation. ENDS

======================
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Debito cited in article, “Japan is becoming more diverse. Will its government?” Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2024. As are several other naturalized and elected Japanese citizens originating from Canada, Uzbekistan, Syria/Egypt, and Bolivia.

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Hi Blog.  What follows is an insightful article on how NJ are becoming Japanese to the point where they’re getting elected at the local level.  Meaning it’s possible.  This is, in Debito.org’s view, a good thing, because having diverse voices enfranchised in a democracy does matter at the policymaking level.  Groundwork for this article also inspired one of my recent SNA columns, where the reporter asked me if this was real evidence that fundamental changes were afoot.  The exchange went something like this:

Reporter:  “I think Heese, Orzugul, Inoue, and Sultan offer interesting insights into the shifting demographics of Japan.  But none of them are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino—the four groups who make up the most non-Japanese residents.  Do you think it is easier for certain types of Non-Japanese to gain power and acceptance in the country?”

Debito:  “I don’t know.  There is certainly a hierarchy of treatment based upon country of origin and skin color in Japan, especially in naturalization processes.  But certainly people of Chinese and Korean ancestry have been elected in the past.  Probably when other ethnic groups aren’t overworked, underpaid, and restricted to unstable visa statuses, we’ll see more of them naturalizing and running for office.”  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Japan is becoming more diverse. Will its government?
By Takehiko Kambayashi, Christian Science Monitor April 12, 2024.  Article with photos of the interviewed at:
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2024/0412/japan-immigrants-local-government
TOKYO, KAWAGUCHI, AND TSUKUBA, JAPAN

A former swimming instructor from Egypt is helping revive the sleepy mountain town of Shonai, Japan. About 200 miles away, a Canadian polyglot is singing the praises of Tsukuba city. And Orzugul Babakhodjaeva is standing onstage at a food festival outside Tokyo, decked in a traditional Uzbek dress, expressing her desire to “create a society where diversity is accepted.”

The first-term city councilor in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward – who does not use her family name, and campaigned simply as “Orzugul” – is one of a small but growing number of foreign-born local government members bringing fresh perspectives to an island nation long known for its homogeneity. These lawmakers are often multilingual and have rich international work experience. Their platforms have resonated with many Japanese voters, as well as with a growing population of non-Japanese residents.

The number of non-Japanese residents jumped 10.9% from 2022 to 2023, reaching a record 3.4 million, as the country struggles to address a chronic labor shortage driven by its aging population. Last year, 8,800 residents were naturalized as citizens, allowing them to vote in elections.

Shifting demographics are challenging Japan’s reputation as a homogeneous society – and creating unprecedented openings for immigrants to participate in local government.

Arudou Debito, author of the book “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination,” says the election of immigrants to local government is “very important” for Japan’s democracy.

“Non-Japanese residents’ viewpoints are woefully unseen in Japanese society. They’re treated as ‘guests,’” explains Mr. Arudou, who is a U.S.-born naturalized citizen. “The fact that former non-Japanese residents are getting elected means they aren’t ‘guests,’ meaning Japanese society can trust immigrants with public policymaking power.”

Outsiders’ lens

About 30 miles northeast of Tokyo, first-term Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly member Heese Jon cuts a dapper figure as he drives a reporter around the city of Tsukuba, boasting about its 360 parks and its culinary delights. The city also hosts the University of Tsukuba, the headquarters of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and other leading institutes.

“We are sitting at the heart of Japanese research,” says the native Canadian from the driver’s seat of his electric vehicle.

About 12,700 non-Japanese residents from 144 countries live in Tsukuba, making up 5% of its population, nearly twice the national rate of 2.8%.

Before his victory in the 2022 assembly election, Mr. Heese had already served four terms as a Tsukuba city councilor and won the most votes for three straight elections. He credits his popularity to his passion for women’s issues and the environment, as well as to his fresh face.

“The incestuousness of the political scene is really stunning,” he says. Especially in smaller cities, politicians “are almost all related to each other.” On billboards displaying local candidates, he stands out.

“One thing they can say is, ‘This is not someone who can be bribed,’” he says.

Tsukuba resident Sciortino Atsuko, who is married to an immigrant, believes that local government needs to reflect the city’s diversity. She says Mr. Heese, being married to a Japanese woman and raising kids in Tsukuba, understands the experience of being in an interracial family.

“Jon has long supported a non-Japanese community here, and played a role as a bridge with the government,” she says. “When non-Japanese speakers were in trouble at shops or gyms, Jon was the one who helped them out. … Jon has brought the needs of the minority to the table.”

Mr. Heese, who speaks five languages, says his long-term goal is to “bring politicians from all over Japan to foreign countries and be their guide. They do not look beyond their communities very far.”

Bolivian-born Inoue Noemi, a fourth-term member of Tokyo’s Sumida City Council, agrees that Japan can be an inward-looking country. “We need to go global,” she says.

Ms. Inoue worked at Bolivia’s central bank and the United Nations Development Program before moving to Japan in the late 1990s with her husband, a former member of parliament.

Inoue Noemi, a fourth-term member of Tokyo’s Sumida City Council, is from Bolivia. When she first came to Japan in the 1990s, women’s low social status was “the most shocking issue,” she recalls.

Before her first stint in local government in 2011, Ms. Inoue founded the Japan-Latin America Friendship Association in Tokyo to develop cultural, social, and business relations overseas. She also taught Spanish and still sees language barriers as a big problem.

Non-Japanese residents often have trouble communicating with police and hospital staff, she says. When facing problems from bullying to domestic abuse, few know what to do or where to go. Such information is not readily available in their languages.

Back in 2021, Sultan Nour was seriously considering leaving the northern town of Shonai, where he’d moved five years prior to be closer to nature. Like many rural areas in Japan, Shonai had struggled with severe depopulation, and no longer had any pediatricians. Mr. Sultan, who was born in Syria and grew up in Egypt, had two small children to care for.

But then he stumbled upon news of an upcoming by-election for the Shonai Town Assembly, and decided to go for it. He won that race and the next one, securing reelection with the highest vote count of all the candidates.

“I have long wanted to contribute to society,” says Mr. Sultan, who had taught English, managed an Arabic restaurant, and worked for a construction company in Japan before running for local office. He also works as an Arabic interpreter for authorities.

Change came in December 2023: Thanks in large part to continued pressure from Mr. Sultan and other parents, Shonai’s main hospital now has a pediatrician four days a week.

It’s not the end of Mr. Sultan’s mission in Shonai.

Japan’s population is aging rapidly, and like other policymakers who face the daunting task of reinvigorating Japan’s rural towns, Mr. Sultan emphasizes the need to “put more efforts into child care support, measures for the falling birthrate, and job creation.”

Ms. Inoue sees immigrants as a key part of the solution – but they need support. “Japan needs to have good immigration law to support foreigners to find a job and live a decent life,” Ms. Inoue says. “Now foreigners come, but nobody wants to rent a house to them.”

Her comments echo the experience of Orzugul, who was rejected by 53 companies when she first arrived in Japan, mainly because she did not graduate from a Japanese university. Later, she found it almost impossible to rent an apartment or business space in Tokyo without her Japanese husband present.

Despite the discrimination she faced, “I love Japan deeply,” says Orzugul. “That’s why I cannot look the other way. I would like to help open up doors to those who seek opportunity in this country.”
ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 54: “Non-Japanese Residents claim political power” (Mar 31, 2024), where I argue the power of the vote matters whether you are a candidate or part of the electorate; the J Govt tries hard to make sure neither happens for Japan’s Immigrants.

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Hi Blog. My latest SNA column talks about how NJ do have the ability to get some political power in Japan.  It will of course mean some work on their part, but that’s inevitable for all minorities anywhere.  But the biggest obstacle, aside from the willful exclusion of NJ from the electorate, is the will to naturalize and run for office.  You can do it, and I believe it’s likely you’ll get in, since the Japanese electorate is really quite hungry for something different to choose from.  But you’ve gotta stop believing that you’re merely a “guest” in Japan in the first place.  Read on to see some examples of elected former NJ and take note.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Non-Japanese Residents claim political power despite obstacles
Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities column 54, March 31, 2024
Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/03/31/visible-minorities-non-japanese-residents-claim-political-power/

I teach Political Science at the university level.  In my first lecture every semester, I try to convince skeptical students why they should bother studying Political Science at all.

I argue that understanding how power flows through political structures will help students enfranchise themselves in a democratic system.  Because if they don’t, other people who understand the system better will use it to their advantage instead.

But this assumes one major fundamental:  that they can participate in the democratic system at all.  Fortunately, most of my students are citizens, so they can vote.  Given how abysmal youth voter turnout generally is, I consider it a major educational outcome if they bother to.  Persuading people that their vote matters is the bare minimum a civics class can accomplish.  

If I have the opportunity in higher-level classes to proselytize further, I encourage them to engage in community building, such as organizing into interest groups and consolidating power into voting blocs.  

My real converts consider running for local office, thereby embedding themselves within the very power structure itself.  Because political power, especially for minorities in any society, is rarely surrendered without a struggle.  We need more diverse views in office as demographics change the makeup of future majorities.  

That’s how democracy is supposed to work.  Unfortunately, this is a lesson that Japan’s Non-Japanese (NJ) Residents and Visible Minorities still have trouble grasping.  As a result, they are letting the Japanese government deprive them of their potential as a political force in Japan.

GETTING BEYOND THE “GUESTISM”

A lot of the issue is that, as I have written before, many of Japan’s minorities believe they really don’t have the ability—or even the right—to shape Japanese society.  They convince themselves that they are merely “guests” in Japan—not taxpayers and residents—and therefore have no say in how they’re treated by public policy.  

After all, they’re in Japan by choice, and if they don’t like the way things are, they should go “home.”  They’ve internalized the narrative that Japan is not “home” and foreigners don’t belong here.

This dehumanizing mantra is well-established and reinforced on a daily basis.  But less considered are the underlying political structures enforcing it.  It’s hard to have a stake in a society when it might be booting you out shortly.  

Official permission to work, i.e., visas, are generally only one to three years in duration, sometimes non-renewable, and often tethered to a specific job sponsor.  This means many NJ can’t change jobs without losing their visa and risking going to jail as overstayers.  Employers, of course, are happy with this situation, leveraging this vulnerability to abuse and exploit NJ workers even further.  Thus all the incentive structures are there to make NJ life in Japan temporary and miserable.

But consider one more disenfranchising mechanism:  The larger scheme to make sure NJ never coalesce into interest groups and voting blocs.  

In other societies, minorities, newcomers and immigrants cluster in like-minded regions where they can create communities.  Harlem.  Chinatowns.  The Navajo Nation.  Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, and Little Saigon.  The Dearborn Muslims.  New York’s Jewish communities.  The Polish Patches.  The Castro District.  The proposed states of Jefferson and Deseret.  And the majority-minority states of Hawaii, California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Maryland, and soon Georgia.  

Once people reach a critical mass in a population, they can foster entire social movements, even elect representatives and become an unignorable political force.

PREVENTING RESIDENTS FROM BECOMING VOTERS

But Japan makes sure NJ never reach a critical mass.  Whenever we hear about, for example, Chinese buying up land in an area, out come the politicians stoking fear about Chinese becoming the local majority and “seceding from Japan.”  Essentially, the logic is that more foreigners means less Japan, and if NJ ever get power over Japanese, Japan is lost.  That’s especially visible when NJ are officially denied administrative roles in any public sector positions.

Then there’s simply getting rid of NJ Residents by not renewing visas en masse.  Clean house and ethnically cleanse.  The lost historical Iranian, Filipina, and Brazilian communities in Japan are testament to that. 

But even without a critical mass, power within a democracy is granted to people who can vote, so Japan makes sure NJ Residents never become part of the electorate.  

Japan still has no official immigration policy to encourage NJ Residents to become Japanese citizens.  Further, whenever Japan announces an expansion to any working visa program, politicians at even the highest levels of government are quick to clarify this does not mean these migrants will become immigrants.  The very word “immigrant” (as in a person) isn’t an established concept in Japanese policymaking circles.  

This situation seems unlikely to change, despite the recent resumed mass migration into Japan.  Japan’s NJ Registered Resident population reached a record high of 3.4 million in 2023, up more than 10% over the previous year.

Yet the government has made it more difficult over the past two decades to go from a one-year visa to a three, not to mention obtain Permanent Residency.

The numbers reflect this.  Although the largest group of NJ Residents are Permanent Residents, their numbers only grew about 3% in 2023.  

Then there’s the issue of actually taking out Japanese citizenship, as this author has.  Yet the number of people who have naturalized on average over the past decade is less than 1000 per year, and on a general downward trend.  

No wonder.  After years languishing in nasty jobs and jumping through so many visa hoops, getting Japanese citizenship is often a very arbitrary process, with applications rejected even for parking tickets and “cultural incongruities.”  There’s also favoritism shown to applicants from countries with richer economies and lighter skins.  Not to mention the identity sacrifice of forcing people to give up their birth nationality.

IMMIGRANT POWER AND POLITICIANS IN JAPAN

Consequently, the only NJ groups in Japan that have accrued any political power are the Zainichi generational “foreigners.”  They’re the Japan-born descents of the former citizens of empire, who have lived in Japan more than a century yet are still “foreigners.”  Also known as the “Oldcomers,” they have formed lobbying groups such as as Mindan, Mintoren, and Soren.  Then there are also historical and indigenous minority groups such as the Burakumin Liberation League and Utari Kyoukai.  They all have managed to move the needle on how minorities are portrayed in the media.  

But in terms of shifting real political power, there is no substitute for getting the vote and a seat at the policymaking table.  And that means overcoming it all to become a citizen and get elected to office.

That happens, even in Japan.  Perhaps the most visible case was Finland-born Tsurunen Marutei, who not only served in his local town council in Kanagawa Prefecture from 1992, he also served two terms in Japan’s national Diet from 2002 to 2013.

Others have since followed.  Decades ago US-born Anthony Bianchi and Canadian-born Jon Heese won back-to-back city council seats in Inuyama and Tsukuba respectively.  Bianchi has since retired, but Heese (whom I have interviewed for this column before) has since graduated up to a prefectural-level elected position.  

We have also seen incumbents such as Bolivian-born Noemi Inoue, elected in 2011 to the Sumida-ku Assembly; Syrian-born former Egyptian Sultan Nour, elected in 2021 to Shonai Town Assembly in Yamagata Prefecture; and Uzbekistan-born Babakhodjaeva Orzugul, elected to a seat in Tokyo’s Setagaya-ku Assembly in 2023. 

Notably, all of them won their seats quite easily, some even getting the highest number of votes of all candidates running, despite the fact that their fellow NJ Residents cannot vote for them.  Bravo.

A reporter recently asked me if this meant change in Japan was afoot.  

My answer was that yes, this is not something we’ve seen before, and Visible Minorities claiming the right (and the structural power) to be Japanese is a positive change.  I think anyone who wants to see the change has to be the change, and they’re doing that.

How did they win so handily?  My theory is that given Japan’s single-party democracy, I think the Japanese electorate are hungry for any hope of change.  Something different.  Newcomer Immigrant Japanese can be precisely that.  So for once, being seen as an outsider in Japan can be an advantage. 

This theory also holds when you consider the opposite example:  When Diet Member Tsurunen didn’t offer his constituents anything new beyond having blue eyes (seriously, that was his slogan), he got voted out.  They realized he was basically running more for himself than them.  So you really have to be the change, not just look it.

Finally, the reporter said, “I think Heese, Orzugul, Inoue, and Sultan offer interesting insights into the shifting demographics of Japan.  But none of them are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino—the four groups who make up the most non-Japanese residents.  Do you think it is easier for certain types of Non-Japanese to gain power and acceptance in the country?”

My answer was this:

“I don’t know.  There is certainly a hierarchy of treatment based upon country of origin and skin color in Japan, especially in naturalization processes.  But certainly people of Chinese and Korean ancestry have been elected in the past.  

“Probably when other ethnic groups aren’t overworked, underpaid, and restricted to unstable visa statuses, we’ll see more of them naturalizing and running for office.”

We’ll talk again with Jon Heese about running for office next column.

ENDS
======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities column 53: “Miss Japan Shiino Karolina lost her crown. Inevitably.” (Feb 26, 2024)

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Hi Blog.  People have been clamoring for me to write about this case.  Well, here you go.  No surprises in my conclusion, probably.  Just some new research.  Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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

MISS JAPAN SHIINO KAROLINA LOST HER CROWN, INEVITABLY

By Debito Arudou. Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities Column 53 February 26, 2024

Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/02/26/visible-minorities-miss-japan-karolina-shiino-lost-her-crown-inevitably/

You might have heard the big news last month about Shiino Karolina, a Ukrainian-born Japanese citizen who won the title of Miss Japan.

You have also heard earlier this month that she lost her crown due to allegations of her having an affair with a married man.

Yappari.  I thought that might happen.  How convenient.  Let’s put this event in perspective.  

This not the first time a Japanese beauty contest in has chosen a person not “pure-blooded” to represent Japan.  In 2015, African-American-Japanese Miyamoto Ariana was chosen as Miss Japan in 2015. 

This was big news back then too for winning despite her biracial status.  I say “despite” because oodles of internet trolls questioned whether a half-Japanese could represent Japan.  

And guess what?  She could, since lightning struck a second time a year later, when Indian-Japanese Yoshikawa Priyanka was crowned Miss World Japan.

However, with Shiino, the third time was not the charm.  She only lasted two weeks.  Why?  Because she was a bridge too far.

Shiino, who came to Japan as a child from Ukraine and was raised and naturalized in Japan, was admitted to the contest on the basis of her Japanese citizenship, meaning without any blood-quantum qualifier.  

This is a very positive step, as it acknowledges that “Japaneseness” is a legal status.  (And yes, this pronouncement came with all the caveats that she’s a fluent speaker, acculturated, “more Japanese than we are” from all the people who would vouch.  Phew.)

Shiino’s win showed that people can become Japanese over time, not just be ascribed it from birth and bloodlines.  

This matters to Japan’s rapidly depopulating society.  If Japan can bring immigrants over and see them as “Japanese” like any other, well enough to represent Japan even if you don’t “look” it, this portends well for Japan’s inevitable international future.

But then came the backlash.

The first problem was the media making a big deal of this for the wrong reasons.  Instead of heralding the positive steps and future implications for Japanese society, they used racialized headlines (most without even mentioning Shiino by name, making her an issue instead of a person) to focus on how they anticipated readers would react.  Never mind the judges’ decision, where she won because of her looks.  Media once again made her win a “despite.”   

Media also empowered the self-proclaimed Identity Police.  Instead of focusing on the voices of how Shiino was in fact Japanese, media again devoted an outsized proportion of space to the trolls who reinforce the unhealthy narrative that “real” Japanese have to look a certain way.  

The trolls should not even make the news.  There are racists in every society, and their unhealthy hate will always be underground chatter.  Unearthing and megaphoning them just resuscitates their dying ideologies.  Manufacturing drama for the sake of clickbait is irresponsible pandering.

The second problem here is with “beauty contests” in general.  They are a throwback idea that women should be pedestaled just because they won the “lovely lottery”.  Too bad for all those who “fell out of the ugly tree at birth and hit every branch on the way down.”  (There’s a half-trillion-dollar cosmetics industry to help fix that, of course.)

Remember the origin of these pageants.  According to a well-researched article in Honolulu Magazine, “the first modern contests involving the judging of women’s outward appearance can be credited to P.T. Barnum, one of the country’s greatest showmen, who also held national contests for dogs, chickens and babies, in 1854.”  

So putting people on display like dogs and chickens was always problematic.  And by “people,” of course we mean “women.”  Where are the international beauty pageants similarly subjecting men to the “male gaze”?

Now put it through the Japan filter, where looks are linked to citizenship:  you have to “look Japanese to be Japanese.”  

Thus any contest that focuses on “looks” means Japan adds an extra hurdle.  “Shiino doesn’t even look Asian, let alone Japanese.  How can she possibly represent ‘us’?” 

Try claiming that a Visible Minority (or a Person of Color, however defined) doesn’t represent “us” in a lot of other societies, and then try to dodge the accusation of being a “racist country.”

The same embedded racism is so hard-wired in that you see it in overseas ethnic-transplant societies.

In Hawai’i, for example, there are the Miss Chinatown Hawai’i, the Narcissus Festival, The Cherry Blossom Festival, the Miss Latina Hawai’i and the Miss O’ahu Filipina beauty contests, where contestants have to exhibit sufficient blood quanta to qualify.  

For the Japanese exhibitors, purity of bloodline mattered.  The Cherry Blossom Festival wasn’t even open to “multiethnic Japanese-American women” until 1999.  And that’s before you get the extra layer of now having to be stewardesses not just of countries, but of entire cultures.

But back to the worldwide pageants where ethnic identity is less important than looking good in a swimsuit.  You still have the issue of, “Who can represent ‘us’?”  And what befell Shiino is similar to what happened to Vanessa Williams, the first African-American woman to win Miss America in 1984.  

Out came the Identity Police back then too:  A black woman representing America?  Oh hell no.  Eventually Williams lost her crown due to nude photographs taken two years prior.  

Now with Shiino:  A Ukranian-Japanese with no Japanese blood whatsoever representing Japan?  Oh hell no.  Find a reason to dethrone her.  

It only took two weeks to find a sex scandal.  After all, pageant women are also supposed to be virginal and available too.  (Hence the “Miss” in the title.)  Being c*ck-blocked by a married man sort of spoils the male gaze.  

Nevertheless there’s a whiff of hypocrisy to what happened to Shiino.  It’s hard to believe other contestants weren’t also having sex as consenting adults.  So why Shiino?  Because the pageant organizers didn’t anticipate how controversial a win by a Japanese without any bloodline would be.  They blinked and looked for an off-ramp.  

The sad conclusion to draw from this case is that Shiino Karolina got hers.  Japan still isn’t ready to recognize Japaneseness as a legal status instead of an ethnic bloodline, and people will still resort to any means to revert to type.  In this case, blood type.  

But if you really want to fix this situation, you’ll abandon beauty contests altogether.  They just bring out bad habits in society, and at the expense of women.

ENDS
======================
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My latest SNA VM column 52: “Positive Steps for Non-Japanese in Japan” (Jan 23, 2024), a report of a month spent in Tokyo and all the progress towards tolerance observed.

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Hi Blog. While I’m aware that the bigger news is the recent Miss Japan Carolina Shiino debate once again bringing to light Japan’s ethnostatist narratives, I’ll get to that in February’s SNA column. Meanwhile, here’s January’s column. Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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

POSITIVE STEPS FOR NON-JAPANESE IN JAPAN
By Debito Arudou. Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 52, January 23, 2024
Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/01/23/visible-minorities-positive-steps-for-non-japanese/

Last month SNA (and this column) went on vacation for Christmas and New Years. During the hiatus, I spent a month in Tokyo meandering around visiting sights and people, developing my inner flaneur as well as conducting relaxed random research. Tokyo, a walking city riddled with world-class transportation and public facilities, is an ideal place for that.

I spent almost every afternoon or evening talking with long-term Japan residents from many walks of life. This included six academic researchers, two foreign correspondents, a media celebrity, a long-term resident vlogger, an employee of NHK, two secondary school teachers, a naturalized regional politician, a rural ryokan operator, a high-tech product salesman, a retired airbnb operator, a foreign exchange graduate student, and a labor union leader. All are specialists in their fields in terms of training and experience, most are Lifers in Japan, and all offered insightful analysis of current conditions in Japan. My research will probably inform future columns this year.

This month’s column will offer my impressions about how much Japan has changed regarding the issues that have always been on my radar screen — society’s openness to Newcomers. On that score, I have some positive developments to report:

  • RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS HAVE EASED TOWARDS EQUALITY

One of my biggest qualms about Japan has been its two-tiered official registration system that openly excluded foreigners as residents. One is the Family Registry (koseki), which is required for all Japanese citizens, and continues to overlook foreigners as spouses of Japanese and parents of children. But the other, the Residency Certificate (juminhyo), has been revised in a good way.

To illustrate, consider what happened to a foreign friend. She was able to move to Japan on a researcher visa, go to the local ward office and place herself on a juminhyo, then have her Japanese husband come over later and place himself on her juminhyo. Even better, when asked who the Head of Household (setai nushi) was, the foreign wife stepped forward as the main breadwinner and claimed the spot.

This is significant. I can remember when bureaucrats refused tp accept women as household heads since they assumed the man must be the main income earner, adding sexism to the racism. None of this was possible before 2012, so finally Non-Japanese residents are getting equal official recognition as family members and breadwinners.

WHAT STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE

Despite being listed as “Residents” in official tallies, Japan’s official population tallies still do not include foreigners — listed as “the population of Japanese” (nihonjin no jinko) rather than “the population of Japan” (nihon no jinko). And of course, the Koseki System has to be reformed to list foreigners under the “spouse” column properly. Hardly likely anytime soon, but one can dream.

  • JAPAN’S GEARING UP FOR TOURISM

Japan has done it again — turned on a dime and accepted a new reality. Despite years of sweaty handwringing about how “Yokoso Japan” and Cool Japan” would ever deal with foreigners and all their pesky foreign languages (as seen in the dozens of hotels nationwide at the time that said they would refuse service to any foreigner), Japan has now risen to the challenge of catering to the influx of foreign folks and money (which in 2023 approached record levels again).

Multilingual signs, instructions, and apps are all over, as are multilingual staff in shops. Major foreign credit cards can now buy JR train tickets easily. One friend even noted that his neighboring hotel didn’t have his website in Japanese anymore, since he preferred Non-Japanese customers for their flexibility regarding his more spartan accommodations!

It’s been rewarding for Japan after three “lost decades” of economic doldrums. Between 1 and 2 percent of Japan’s annual GDP is now reliant on non-domestic tourism, and multilingual speakers face abundant opportunities in service sectors all over Japan. After brazen “Japanese Only” signs for decades, Japan simply can’t afford to treat foreign customers like shit anymore.

WHAT STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE

Japan (including those whiny foreign residents who think more foreigners somehow spoil their “pure Japan” experience) have to bellyache less about how things are getting too touristy — for tourism is what you wanted. Also, Japan’s government has to tame its impulses to blame foreigners for any ills, as was blatantly seen in the reflexive blanket ban on all foreigners (including Permanent Residents) during the Covid Pandemic. And of course, there’s nothing to stop any bigot from putting up a “Japanese Only” sign, as they still remain legal. Pass that anti-discrimination law, already!

  • FOREIGNERS ARE PRETTY NORMAL IN TOKYO

Perhaps it’s because my quarter-century in Japan was living in the sticks, but I’ve noticed just how comfortable I feel in Tokyo. In my month there engaging in some pretty intense negotiations, almost never did I get “Nihongo ga jozu”-ed, nor did anyone “weird out” as if speaking Japanese to me was like dealing with a talking dog. A near-majority of convenience stores had Non-Japanese staff, doing stuff any Japanese could do, and their speaking Japanese (even to me) was no big deal.

Tolerance for diversity and difference was quite palpable this trip. I rarely felt like I had to rehearse my dialog before negotiating — even talking extemporaneously resulted in working through any problem to a solution via trial and error. Even all the accented Japanese wasn’t an issue, unlike the bad old days where people would simply dismiss anything slightly abnormal with a blank stare. It just didn’t happen, at least in Tokyo.

WHAT STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE

This “can do” attitude needs to spread nationwide. A few quick trips outside Tokyo later showed me how old ways, including stares, “jozu-ing,” and “weirding out” at accents, are still a thing. Again, one can dream.

In sum, a trip back to Tokyo was delightful. In previous trips, I usually get triggered by something sooner or later and wind up reflexively “doing a Debito,” i.e., getting pushy and scoldy to get some respect from the intolerant and intransigent. This time around, however, even after more than a month, nothing really got under my skin.

Maybe I’ve mellowed. But I think Japan has changed quite a bit for the better too. I’ll offer some more thoughts and case studies in future columns this year.

ENDS

======================
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My SNA VM column 51: “Being thankful despite adversity” (Nov 27, 2023), a think piece on how people survive terrible lives because the basic unit of survival is being part of a pair. And if you’re not in one in Japan, life is especially difficult.

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SNA VM 51 BEING THANKFUL DESPITE ADVERSITY
Subtitle:  We all know life can be tough, especially for people in Japan. But practicing being thankful, particularly if you can find someone to thank, isn’t just a matter of good fortune. Psychologically, the basic unit of survival is being part of a pair.

By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities Column 51, Nov 27, 2023
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/11/27/visible-minorities-being-thankful-despite-adversity/

Last week heralded American Thanksgiving, and with it some life lessons.

While I’m wary of transposing an American holiday on SNA’s overseas audience, I think any excuse to be reflective and thankful for what you have — and grateful for avoiding what ill could have befallen you — is a valuable life skill.

As they say, any excuse is a good one for a party, so likewise any excuse is good to be thankful. That means any day can be for thanksgiving. I choose today.

Life is full of big emotions, many of them caused by you, others the product of your being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some are just the cards you were dealt from birth and environment.

We can put that down to bad luck or some godforsaken ordeal. Or we can rationalize about things that don’t kill you making you stronger, adversity building character, etc.

But I don’t believe in ordeals anymore. I’m 58. My character is pretty much built. Moreover I’ve seen, through elders turned bitter in their old age, that too much adversity just makes you mean.

So as I approach my sixties, one of my life projects is understanding the science and practice of happiness. Interim conclusion: I choose to be happy. To me that means being thankful for the people who carry you through the inevitable tribulations of life while you do the same for them.

The life hack is having another person — at least one — who wishes you well, has your best interests in mind, and is there to see what you see, reminding you that you’re not the only one going through all this.

There is some science here. A book called “Escape from Camp 14” describes a survivor’s account of escaping a North Korean concentration camp. It offered the following life lesson:

The protagonist at first accepted his harsh life in North Korea as his lot in society, even as he ended up interned for reasons beyond his control. But he didn’t seriously contemplate escape until a fellow prisoner said he would do it with him. Somebody else confirmed he wasn’t crazy for wanting out.

As “Escape from Camp 14” notes on page 84, “Their relationship echoed, in many ways, the bonds of trust and mutual protection that kept prisoners alive and sane in Nazi concentration camps. In those camps, researchers found, the ‘basic unit of survival’ was the pair, not the individual. (Emphasis mine.)

“‘It was in the pairs that the prisoners kept alive the semblance of humanity,’ concluded Elmer Luchterhand, a sociologist at Yale who interviewed fifty two concentration camp survivors shortly after liberation. Pairs stole food and clothing, exchanged small gifts and planned for the future. If one member of a pair fainted from hunger in front of an SS officer, the other would prop him up. […] Finally, the death of one member of a pair often doomed the other,” noting that Anne Frank, for example, “lost the will to live after the death of her sister.”

This example is obviously extreme, but it is instructive. It’s hard to imagine a greater sense of isolation than an entire state apparatus designed to destroy you.

Or in Japan’s case, consider a society designed to perpetually alienate you, say your thoughts and feelings are deviant or inapplicable, or remind you don’t belong here no matter what you do. Some accept it as their lot as a foreigner. Others leave for more accepting societies. But for those who stay in a polity predicated on finely tuned embedded racism, people do survive. The key is finding somebody to go through with it as a pair.

(You may of course argue that solitude in a secret world will also do. Plenty of Japanese malcontents and dropouts do exactly this. Known as the hikikomori, I don’t think they are a healthy model.)

That’s why I’m thankful for my life partner now. I had one before while in Japan. But Japanese society has a habit of driving couples apart through divisive role play.

The idealized family is where one person spends his waking moments absent from home making the money (the so-called “salary delivery vehicle”, or kyūryō unpansha), while the other devotes her life to running the home and raising a family (ryōsai kenbo). It doesn’t matter that your personality might not be into kids, into being a corporate drone, or into conspicuous consumption as a lifestyle. Even as Japan modernizes and diversifies, these slow-drip pressures over decades are palpable and unyielding.

I’ve been through a divorce in Japan and understand why it happened. When you realize that cultural and media tropes are steadily morphing your erstwhile partner into a stranger, and all the basic values you thought you shared (such as childrearing values, saving and spending habits, personal space and housekeeping, openness to new experiences, leisure activities and holiday celebrations, even physical intimacy into old age) turned out to be faux or fleeting, that’s very isolating.

At first you accept it as your lot. Until you realize just how unhappy you’ve become.

This can of course happen in any society. But given the high separation and divorce rates amongst my long-term friends in Japan (who, given Japan’s lack of psychological counseling for couples, were generally encouraged to seek solace elsewhere), I can’t but help feel that there’s a culturally based pathology at work.

There definitely is one when you want out. That’s when you get into how Japan’s divorce system deliberately forces contestations into acrimonious negotiations, killing parent-child relationships in the process. Your life partner has suddenly become your worst enemy who can legally steal the kids.

Some never escape this prison, stuck in a “separation under the same roof” (kateinai bekkyo) where they live together but never interact. Others succeed in getting out, but I’ve seen many survivors of Japanese divorces languish for years alone wondering what it was all for. They drift off into the mental illness of never trusting partners again: Once bitten, twice shy.

The ones who fully recover find friends — or better yet a new life partner — who tell them they were not nuts. Forged in the furnace of similar adversities, they create a constructive pair of individuals with fully formed characters. They escape from isolation with someone who actively cultivates the relationship: nurtures instead of blames, consults instead of shuns, understands instead of indulges, actively listens instead of merely dismissing as foreign.

If that means you escape an intolerant society together through relocation, so be it. You must prioritize getting into an environment that makes the two of you happy. Otherwise you just might spend your twilight years resentful, bitter and mean.

Not for me. I choose to exercise happiness, thankful for other people’s help — and for my current life partner in specific. May you find yours.

ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities Column 50, “Memory-holing the ‘Japanese Only’ signs” (Oct 31, 2023), where I conclude that, since racial discrimination is unconstitutional but not illegal in Japan, the most effective way to get “Japanese Only” signs down is to get the media and government involved. If they won’t help, you’re probably out of luck.

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Memory-holing the “Japanese Only” signs

Exclusionary businesses have a long history in Japan, and people seem to be forgetting it.  Here’s a reminder from somebody who has studied them more than anybody.

By Debito Arudou.  Shingetsu News Agency VM 50, October 31, 2023

News Item:  The Okinawa Times reported that an izakaya pub in Naha put up a sign saying, in a mix of English and Japanese, “Because our staff can only speak Japanese, Japanese Only (sorry).  We don’t allow customers from overseas to enter our bar.”  Once it made the news, the local government tourist agency intervened, and after some weeks and back and forth, the bar took the sign down.  

For this, my 50th column for SNA, I’d like to take the reader on a little nostalgia trip through a project I’ve been working on for a quarter century:  “Japanese Only” signs.  

I’ve investigated and interviewed hundreds of these exclusionary places, published and updated seven books on this issue in English and Japanese, and curated on Debito.org the “Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments” since 1999 to make sure this issue doesn’t get memory-holed.   

For it seems that memory-holing is happening.  A SoraNews24 article on the Naha Case didn’t do much research, claiming somehow that, “Bars with Japanese-customers-only policies aren’t unheard of in Japan, but they’re becoming increasingly uncommon in the modern age. Moreover, when you do come across such establishments, they’re generally dedicated bars.”  (Incorrect.  The highest incidents of exclusionary rules are in fact hotels.)  

Then we get to the public reaction to the news.  When I put it up on Debito.org, some readers were defensive as usual, basically ranging from the “self-othering” by the Guestists (quote:  “I understand why they do it. I’m not offended. It’s their business and country.”) to the Ostriches who prefer, in spite of decades of evidence to the contrary, to bury their head in the sand and pretend the problem simply doesn’t exist (quote:  “You are overdramatizing things.  It doesn’t say we do not allow foreigners.  Being to those places as long as you speak Japanese you can enter anywhere.  You have to see things from their perspective too you know.  They don’t wanna get in trouble because a tourist doesn’t read nor understand.  As simple as that.”)

But it’s not as simple as that.  “Japanese Only” signs in fact predate the massive tourist influx to Japan over the past decade and thus cannot be blamed on them.  Yes, signs have popped up here and there since foreigners were allowed back in after the pandemic, but the earliest signs I’ve been able to verify started in 1992, when public baths in the city of Kofu put up signs refusing foreigners — particularly foreign women imported during the Bubble Era to work as bar hostesses and in the sex trades — due to the contemporary fear of AIDS (which of course was linked to foreigners).  Fortunately, once the Kofu Case hit national news, the city health department intervened, demanded the bathhouses cease excluding, and educated the public about how AIDS is actually transmitted (i.e., not through shared bathwater or bathhouse).

But then it bubbled up again in Otaru, a seaport in Hokkaido, when in 1993 “Japanese Only” signs went up in a couple of public baths ostensibly to bar Russian sailors shipping in seafood from former Soviet waters.  However this time local media and government ignored the situation, because they knew the locals have a “thing” about about Russians.  

After WWII, many Japanese who lived in wartime-occupied Sakhalin and the Kuriles were forcibly repatriated by international agreements, and most emigrated to Hokkaido in general and Otaru in specific.  Memories are long in a defeated people, so they ate the Russians’ seafood but drew the line at “smelly, scary, and drunk Russkies” (their words) sharing their public baths.  And up stayed the exclusionary signs for years.

How on earth can this happen?  Because in Japan, “Japanese Only” rules are unconstitutional but not illegal.  

Unconstitutional because discrimination by race is explicitly barred under the Constitution of Japan (Article 14).  Not illegal because Japan is the only developed democratic country without any law in its civil or criminal code specifically banning racial discrimination (jinshu sabetsu).

And it shows.  Compare what would happen if a business open to the public put up a “no foreigners” sign in other developed democratic countries.  Civil rights laws would kick in and the local civil rights division would probably get their their business license suspended.  Media would also make an issue of it.  There might even be boycotts, spray paint, and broken windows.

Not in Japan.  Quite the opposite, actually.  When we took up the abovementioned Otaru Case in 1999, we actually had people and opinion leaders rallying on the side of the exclusionary establishments.  They made sophistic arguments claiming that unique Japanese culture must be protected from allegedly illiterate, ignorant, and rampaging foreigners.  (A column explicitly titled “Antiforeigner discrimination is a right for Japanese people” even appeared in The Japan Times.)  Or that businesses could exclude anyone anytime for anything.  (Try making that argument to the Burakumin, for example, and see how far you get.)  One establishment mentioned that their patrons have bad WWII memories (to which we replied, “What about German customers?”)

But it wasn’t just offhand, ill-considered comments.  The government was even complicit back then.  The Potemkin department for overseeing discriminatory issues in Japan, the Ministry of Justice’s Bureau of Human Rights (which has only advisory, not punitive powers), actually coached the Otaru City Government in writing NOT to do anything about their “Japanese Only” bathhouses — because, they argued, it would legally carry no penalty!

And that’s only talking about the discrimination that’s clearly signposted.  Now consider, for example, renting an apartment in Japan or trying to get a job at the “Hello Work” unemployment agency.  Racist landlords and corporate practices are so normal that explicitly stating “no foreign applicants” in their descriptions is perfectly acceptable. 

This is all really funny, because Japan signed a United Nations treaty in 1995 (the CERD) in which it promised to take all effective measures to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.  As the Naha Case proves nearly 30 years later, Japan was just going through the motions of a “developed country,” signing treaties without any intention to enforce them.

So why not just go elsewhere and spend your money at a place that won’t exclude you?  Because the problem with leaving “Japanese Only” signs up is that covert discrimination in Japan becomes overt.  Racism becomes an option for any bigot who obviously need fear no penalty.  

History bears this out.  After the Otaru Case made national and international news after 1999, exclusionary signs and rules spread nationwide across industries.  This included bars, discos, internet cafes, restaurants, stores and shops, hotels, realtors, schools, and even hospitals.  It goes without saying, but these industries have a fundamental impact on a minimum standard of living.  It’s not just a matter of getting a drink in a bar.  If there’s ever even the possibility that you can’t shop, stay, reside, receive an education, or get medical treatment, you’re in trouble.

So if you leave discrimination alone, it not only spreads — it mutates.  Consider the most elaborate exclusionary sign I ever saw:  “Chinese and naturalized citizens, war orphans, and children with mixed Chinese blood are absolutely refused entry.  Only pure-blooded Japanese males only.”  That’s grounded in some mighty specific prejudices.  

But why do these places exclude in the first place?  In my interviews over more than a decade, their standpoints range from, “Foreign customers were disruptive to my business” to “I personally hate foreigners.”  Some who thought their prejudice through a bit more cite an apparently exclusive clientele that want their dining or bathing experience to be “foreigner-free.”  Even those who never dealt with a foreign customer cited rumor to claim that something bad might happen, so the signs were a preventative measure.  

All point to a pretty simple logic:  If foreigners are let in, they’ll go bankrupt because Japanese customers will stay away.  (Even though plenty of these places went under anyway despite their exclusionary policies.  So maybe it wasn’t the foreigners after all.)  

But here’s the most insidious thing:  enforcement.  To the gatekeepers, a “foreigner” can be determined on sight.  This happened in practice when people who didn’t “look Japanese” enough were still refused entry even after they showed proof of Japanese citizenship.  That means they excluded by race, not nationality.  “Japanese Only” signs exclude Japanese too.

So you see, the “Japanese Only” sign in Naha was nothing new or all that simple.  What’s new is that the Okinawa media and the local government played a role in getting it down.  

After decades of thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that seems to be the best route.  

With the Otaru Case, we tried everything else.  We spent more than a year negotiating with the exclusionary businesses, the local, regional, and national governments, and the general public.  Then we spent much money and many years in Civil Court trying to get one place to open their doors and one government to take responsibility for their years of negligence.  I even took the Otaru Case to Japan’s Supreme Court in 2005, which stunningly denied cert because it somehow “didn’t involve any Constitutional issues.”  At least the courts formally acknowledged that “Japanese Only” signs are in fact “racial discrimination.”  But that was a lot of energy spent on one bathhouse.  Now try doing that for all the other places that exclude foreigners.

As the Naha Case shows, the most effective way to get an exclusionary sign down is to get it in the media and make the government fear an impact on local tourism.  In a society where issues of human rights perpetually take a back seat to business ethics (which, in any society, would happily make money selling poison to the public as long as there’s no law to stop them), you really have few other reliable or effective options in Japan.  

Sad to say, but it’s as simple as that.

ENDS

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My SNA col 48: “Visible Minorities: Citizenship and Authoritarian Racism”, on how conservative movements worldwide are using racist “real citizens” tropes to reserve power for themselves and create minoritarian governments (Aug 22, 2023)

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Visible Minorities: Citizenship and Authoritarian Racism
Shingetsu News Agency, August 21, 2023 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/08/21/visible-minorities-citizenship-and-authoritarian-racism/

Subtitle: Authoritarians are once again trying to racialize citizenship. In Asia, that’s quite normal. The problem is that conservative movements worldwide are similarly trying to shore up their dwindling popularity by undemocratically disenfranchising the very immigrants they had once invited over.

SNA (Tokyo) — News Item: On August 1, 2023, Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, tweeted his thoughts on multiracial immigration: “It is normal for migrants wishing to become citizens of any country to identify themselves linguistically and culturally with the definitive people of their adopted country. They would break off and reject their links with their countries of origin. Certainly, the children and grandchildren of the new citizens would have forgotten their previous languages and culture.”

https://twitter.com/chedetofficial/status/1686205569806536704

This tweet from a world opinion leader isn’t just wrong-headed, it’s dangerous.

Not only is it trying to disenfranchise entire peoples through racialized attitudes towards citizenship, it’s actually threatening democracy itself.

Can’t see it? You’re not alone. The lack of public outcry is part of the problem. I put this down to a world largely untrained in civics. Racialized attitudes towards immigration and citizenship are normal in Asia, and conservatives worldwide are trying to popularize them in their own societies too. Citizenship is the gateway to political enfranchisement in society, and messing with it means reviving old racist policies all over again.

Let me explain from the perspective of a political scientist.

First, it’s surprisingly difficult to get people to see Dr. Mahathir’s tweet for what it is: racist hate speech.

It would be nice if people could see the long-term implications of this proposal without a long, elaborate explanation. But many people dismiss political science as a science at all, one that develops a skill set and a trained eye. Instead, they throw up their hands and see any political opinion as fair dinkum, or too complicated to deal with due to freedom of speech. That blinds them to the fact that Dr. Mahathir is floating a policy trial balloon to willfully exclude people.

Consider the practical application of this proposal: newcomer residents (and their Visible Minority children) must prove their loyalty to a country by giving up the multicultural and multiethnic sides of themselves.

This isn’t just a dick move by some politician taking political pot shots by saying, “You come here, you speak our language.” When Dr. Mahathir demands people become “full Malay” (with arbitrary goalposts determined, naturally, by Malays), that’s a pretty convenient way to keep all the power in the family.

Then we get to the historical revisionism…

Rest of the article at
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/08/21/visible-minorities-citizenship-and-authoritarian-racism/

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My SNA Visible Minorities column 47: “The Reverse Culture Shock of Leaving Japan” (July 25, 2023), with some pointers on how to resettle and reassimilate overseas despite all the things you might miss about Japan

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The Reverse Culture Shock of Leaving Japan

Caption: It’s tough to leave Japan when there’s so much to like and miss. But there’s also things to like and miss elsewhere, so it’s a matter of being self-aware about what you like.

By Debito Arudou.  Shingetsu News Agency, July 25, 2023.

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/07/24/reverse-culture-shock-of-leaving-japan/.

SNA Editor Michael Penn is now doing SNA from the United States. Inspired by his big move, my previous column was about my leaving Japan in middle age, where I suggested readers decide whether or not to be a lifer in Japan by age 40. Accordingly, this column will talk about establishing a new life outside Japan.

I’ll open with a big caveat: These are my thoughts as a White guy born in America who spent a quarter century in Japan, half of it as a naturalized Japanese citizen, who eventually moved back. Readers returning to a different country of birth, or moving to a different third country altogether, may of course have different experiences. In my personal and anecdotal observations below, I’ll try to generalize enough for everyone but ground them in culturally specific examples. Keep the appropriate pinches of salt handy.

Soft Landings?

The biggest culture shock I felt after Japan was right after I arrived overseas. In the United States, for example, many big airport hubs are dirty, run-down, and relatively unpredictable compared to their Japanese counterparts. The waiting areas in particular feel like bus stations. Facilities are sometimes ill-maintained, instructions to your connecting flights or ground transit often monolingual and poorly signposted, ground staff often inattentive and inaccessible, and the food… well, it’s “airport food,” enough said. I quickly missed Japan’s clean, efficient, and plentiful public transportation that follows a schedule, and the restaurant fare that actually looks like the picture on the menu.

My theory is that Japan does travel hubs better because its international reputation is at stake. You can’t let the Gaijin tourists go home with a sour image of us! So signs are multilingual, maps are clear, and ground staff at least take pains to wave you in the right direction. In contrast, the US government seems relatively indifferent to tourists: “You’re obviously here because we are #1 and do things better than anybody—so no need to try harder to impress you.”

This initial culture shock starts fading once you’ve had a good night sleep and enjoy a few familiar things: Larger hotel rooms. Comfort foods like a thick steak with A1 Sauce or a spiral-cut ham hock. An apple pie that actually has more than one apple in it. Supermarkets full of cereals, dozens of flavors of canned soups, bulk goods, and cheap rice and vegetables. News media that is an absorbing read not just because it’s in your native language, but because the topics are interesting! Procuring a car so you can merge into society like everyone else.

But things will still grate for awhile: Being forced to tip. Dirty public restrooms that seem to be the norm, not the exception. Bureaucrats who seem to have little personal dedication to a job well done. Political discourse more concerned with riling you up than with solving problems. The din of people on cellphones or kids having public meltdowns that you can’t shut out because they’re speaking in your native tongue. And the biggest worry: Getting sick or injured and having to deal with American healthcare! It’s worse with family in tow, listening to their grumbles about future uncertainties and cultural differences and feeling helpless to offer quick fixes. During this purgatory period of constant irritability, the grass will always seem greener elsewhere.

Things Settle Down as You Settle Down

It takes months, but resettlement does happen. Things that you miss about Japan eventually get overwritten by new routines which you establish and things feel more like home.

Problem is, “home” will probably not be as you remember.

For me, after a quarter-century away, my country of birth had moved on and I felt like a foreigner here too. I had trouble pronouncing “ciabatta,” “pilates,” or the fast-food chain “Chipotle.” I had never watched cultural touchstones like Friends or Seinfeld, and was about twenty seasons behind on The Simpsons. I still can’t tell the difference between Techno, House, and Hip-Hop. I still say “Waikiki,” “karaoke” and “tiramisu” with a Japanese accent. And nothing in English quite captures the communally cathartic convenience of muttering Japanese words like baka! and mendokusai!

But that dislocation is softened when you rediscover things you really appreciate because you were so long without them: aspirin; dishwashers and in-sink garbage disposals; clothes washers and dryers that actually do their jobs; apartments that have real kitchens and balconies you can actually sit out on; houses with yards; trees that are allowed to grow without being culled like bonsai by the city government; full weekends without work; relaxed summers; week-long vacations without guilt; freeways that are actually free; speed limits that aren’t enforced by beeping speedometers in your car; traffic lights that sense when cars are waiting; right-on-red rules at intersections; beaches that don’t close down at particular times of the year just because it’s tradition; and the freedom of road trips.

Eventually it dawns on you why Japan never quite felt like “home”: the constant reminders of your outsider status; feeling constantly watched because you stand out; old ladies approaching you in the supermarket to peer into your shopping basket; obnoxious schoolchildren shouting English at you from the safety of a group; some businesses and rental agencies refusing you service just because the manager or landlord has a “thing” about foreigners.

That’s just what happened to me, but society as a whole just seemed to behave wrongheadedly at time.

People kept falling for those media-generated scares leading to egg and butter shortages every few years. Friends realized that their marriages were running aground because their partner was suddenly preaching the virtues of “sexless couples.” There is the frustration of never being able to have a “clearing the air” conversation because the default is to “put a lid on smelly things.” Annoying too is the “bureaucrats know best” of Japan’s “nanny-state” not only producing a shrugging, apathetic shikata ga nai public, but also dismissing any suggestion for how things might be done better. If you get an answer at all, it will most likely be a glib “there is no precedent for it, and besides this is Japan and you’re a foreigner.”

Ultimately, I realized my biggest issue in Japan was the relative lack of life choices. For example, in the United States and many other societies, if you wish to live in a more liberal environment, you can move to a liberal city. You can find “your people” and partake in self-sufficient communities celebrating alternative lifestyles, with voting blocs to match.

In Japan, however, the top-down structure of government and the ascription pressures of Japanese culture mean deviations from the norm are flattened, disenfranchised, and made secretive. It’s the “nail sticking out getting hammered down” and all that.

That’s why secret worlds abound in Japan. They are wonderful to partake in but they never become mainstream or normal. By definition, they’re secret. You can only inhabit them on a temporary basis. Then, at daybreak, you have to get serious and get back to work.

This goes double for foreigners and people who look “foreign.” For them to feel part of a community in Japan, they have to resort to a foreign enclave where by definition they do not belong.

The Lessons Learned

I believe the trick to straddling cultures is to inhabit what you like. I realized that there are a small number of things about Japan which I really like, but a large number of little things in Japan that I simply could not stand. On the other hand, there are a small number of things in the United States that I simply cannot stand, but a lot more little things I like. Of the two, the latter provides me with a lifestyle more attuned to my tastes.

Again, your own preferences may vary, but in any case be self-aware about what you like, and choose to partake in the best elements of each society and culture. Fly between cultures when you need to.

I enjoy Japan because I don’t need a car, a menu, or a can of pepper spray to enjoy it. I enjoy the United States because I can be left alone.

Ultimately, that’s the problem with being an international traveler. No matter where you are, you’re aware that nowhere by itself is perfectly suited to your needs. Something is always better someplace else. You know because you’ve experienced it. So that’s why you go where you can enjoy yourself until you get your fill.

As Michael Penn settles into his new lifestyle in a rural American town, may he use his knowledge of what he likes in Japan and America to fit in and flit between.

Archived at SNA at

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/07/24/reverse-culture-shock-of-leaving-japan/

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 46: “Visible Minorities: Departing Japan at Middle Age” (May 15, 2023)

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Hi Blog. My latest column offers a frank assessment of living your life out in Japan as an immigrant. It of course can be done, but most of you will find that even after decades swimming against the current in terms of legal status and social acceptance, you will get no commensurate reward after all your efforts.  In fact, I found that life opportunities dwindle as you age in Japan, and you get locked into a dreary, impoverished lifestyle like most other elderly here. If you think you can avoid this situation, power to you, but I suggest you make your decision to stay permanently or not by age 40.  Good luck.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Departing Japan at Middle Age
MAY 15, 2023 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/05/15/visible-minorities-departing-japan-at-middle-age/

SNA (Tokyo) — As you have probably have heard, SNA President Michael Penn will be moving his operations overseas. He’s leaving Japan. At his age, that’s probably a good idea. I speak from experience.

I came to Japan during the “Bubble Years” of the 1980s, when Japan was ascendant upon the world stage and buying everything in sight. Money orgiastically sloshed around the economy.

Finding work was pretty easy. Lots of Japanese companies were trying to “internationalize” by hiring token foreign staff who were looking for an international experience. Or, if being a corporate drone wasn’t your thing, you could teach English for about US$100 an hour. It was one great big party. I came over, fell in love with the language and a girl, and decided to make a go of it here.

It was a pretty good go. I lived in Japan for 24 years, married and had kids, became tenured faculty at a university, bought land, built a house, and learned the language and culture well enough to write books in Japanese and take out Japanese citizenship. In terms of trying to assimilate into Japan, I don’t think there’s a lot more I could have done. I was an ideal immigrant.

But then, like Michael, I too left Japan. That’s both a pity and, in my case, an inevitability.

Japan should be trying harder to keep people like us. It really doesn’t. The longer you’re in Japan, the more your opportunities dwindle.

Opportunities Denied

Let’s first talk about the natural obstacles to people staying on, starting with how difficult it is to keep a visa.

Unless you marry (and stay married to) a Japanese, it’s quite difficult for foreigners to control their own professional lives in Japan. Becoming a salaryman is one thing, where you can work until you drop, but promotion is tougher for foreigners, and they are the first ones laid off in any economic downturn. Moreover, the types of jobs you can take are mostly “foreigner” jobs in certain industries.

So how about starting your own business in Japan? It can happen, and there are a few successful entrepreneurs. But I’ve seen many, many more failures. Some were dragged down by onerous requirements such as expensive shareholder investment and being forced to hire Japanese staff. Others got tripped up either by mandarin rigmarole that is designed more for the bureaucrats’ convenience than yours, or by pedantic officials who are out to get you, finding any mistake in your paperwork so they can reflexively revert to the “culture of no.”

You’re better off establishing a headquarters overseas and setting up a branch in Japan than registering a company in Japan proper. But if you do that, suspicion is triggered in the Immigration Bureau and you face even more visa rigmarole.

That’s all before we get to how Japan has toughened up its visa requirements over the years.

Compared to when I first arrived, it’s harder to graduate from a three-month visa to a one-year; and so is getting a three-year and Permanent Residency, especially for people of color or from developing countries. The assumption is that people from poor countries are only in Japan for the money, not to positively contribute to Japanese society as a resident and taxpayer like everyone else.

In any case, the mandarins’ overall attitude is that foreigners must prove themselves worthy of the honor of staying in Japan. Japan’s graveyard of defunct visa statuses, discontinued because they had qualifications so ludicrous that few people applied, reflects that.

The clearest indication that Japan really doesn’t want us to stay is the lack of an official immigration policy, an official Ministry of Immigration, or other governmental organs at the national level to help foreigners become Japanese. Politicians have repeatedly said that they want foreigners to come work for awhile but not stay on. Take them at their word.

Nevertheless, You Persisted

But let’s say you have satisfied all these requirements and gained Permanent Residency or even Japanese citizenship. What do you get for after all that effort? Not enough.

You start realizing this when you hit middle age in Japan. Around 40 I could see where I had been and where I was heading, and it looked pretty bleak.

This is because I was seeing how old people actually lived in Japan. Yes, there are great networks for them to be active both physically and mentally, including mountain climbing, gateball, mahjong, or go boardgames. Japan’s medical system is very good, especially compared to, for example, the hellscape that is US healthcare. Of course there’s good food and drink to be had everywhere.

That might be satisfactory if you’re a Japanese old fart. As a foreign old fart, you’re stuck in treadmill conversations with people who have mostly lived for work and often don’t have many interests beyond it. If they are educated, they’ll often see you as a cultural curiosity to be studied, or as a basis of comparison to sharpen their predispositions informed by the “we Japanese” superiority complexes.

If you can psychologically handle a life where your friends are mostly insular and conservative, enjoy. If not, you’re going to be lonely.

Chances are you’re also going to be poor. The average payout for the Japanese pension, according to Reuters in 2019, is about 150,000 yen per month. That might cover rent and leave enough for a comfortable lifestyle in many of Japan’s dying countryside towns, but not in the major cities.

This should not have come as any surprise. Even during the Bubble Years Japan’s elderly were poor, and were being sent overseas to “silver zone” enclaves so their yen could go farther with the exchange rates.

But now that the value of the yen is dropping, that has all slipped away. Forget traveling much, especially overseas, unless you have additional savings or means of your own. It’s highly likely you’ll find yourself stuck in Japan.

This situation will not improve, because Japan has ignored its demographic issues for decades. All the way back in 2000, both the United Nations and the Japanese government agreed that Japan’s aging society would soon become top-heavy with geriatrics with not enough young taxpayers paying into the pension.

The proposed solution–then, as now–was immigration. Foreigners were going to save Japan. But, again, the Japanese government assiduously declined to take us.

Policymakers clung to homogeneous-society narratives and stopgap measures like the exploitative “trainee” visa system, and watched pension contributions per capita dwindle. What is their solution now that the warnings from nearly a quarter-century ago proved accurate? Raise the retirement age to the late 60s and pay out less pension. We’ll probably see Japan’s retirement age raised to 70 before too long.

By the time you want to retire, you’ll get a pittance, or might not be expected to retire at all.

Twilight Years in Japan

Let’s say you’ve done better future planning than the Japanese government did, and you can live your middle and late age comfortably anywhere you wish. Why not spend your later middle age and twilight years in Japan?

Because, as I said above, the longer you’re in Japan the more your opportunities dwindle.

Let’s start with dealing with the inevitable “midlife crisis.” It’s highly likely your current job has become boring or gone sour. Often the younger workers aren’t happy with having a foreign senpai above them, and won’t treat you with the dignity and respect that was required of you when you were lower on the totem pole. Changing a job in Japan is culturally frowned upon. You’ll lose both salary and seniority. You’ll probably have to take what you can get, like everyone else.

Eventually all that’s left is the “make-work” jobs for seniors. Can you imagine wearing a uniform and flagging people past traffic cones? Sure, it’s nice to supplement your income and get out of the house, but it’s probably going to be boring at best, humiliating and a soft target for bullying at worst. Again, people aren’t going to forget that you’re a foreigner.

The fact is that geriatrics in Japan are expected to be impoverished, housebound, and satisfied with monotonous days full of television, drinking, and gateball. Sure, you might have your “forever home,” but you’re expected to die in it. You won’t get much money if you try to resell your house or other equity and expect to live on the proceeds, as only the land is worth anything. You can’t, for example, buy an RV and live the nomadic life of retirees on pensions in Western societies. You can only live like you’re expected to live.

Personally, I couldn’t take this encroaching monotony. Around the time I turned 45, I realized that the main reason I had loved life in Japan was the adventures–the curious and weird things that happened around me daily. But the more familiar I became with Japan, the adventures largely evaporated.

After more than twenty years in Japan, every day became Groundhog Day. I could sleepwalk through most conversations. I had to find diversions to alleviate the boredom; they no longer found me.

The fact is, unless a brick had fallen from the sky and brained me, I could predict what was going to happen from the morning when I woke up to the moment I went to bed. So I decided to leave.

What Happens If You Leave Japan?

Leaving Japan is also made into something difficult. You’re constantly reminded that if you ever depart for good, you’ll lose everything and have to start from zero, especially professionally.

A very sad discovery is that your Japan experiences don’t count for much in other countries, given that now China is the Asian regional power. Even if Japan had retained its luster, there were always people overseas with Japanese roots competing for your Japan-specialist job, and got it by arguing bald-facedly that foreigners can’t know as much as Japanese with “real Japanese blood.” The Japanese Only attitudes you see in Japan’s hiring practices are exported worldwide.

If you have a family in tow, it’s even tougher to leave. They’re especially scared by the Japanese media constantly rattling on about how dangerous life is overseas. If your kids are still in the Japanese school system, they’ll begrudge being uprooted too. They know that if they ever return to Japan, they’ll never be considered “Japanese” enough because they haven’t passed through the Japanese education system.

Coming to Japan was always a carefully baited hook–if you get past all the obstacles, you’ll find yourself trapped in a society where you’re not allowed to truly belong, yet are constantly expected to try.

Yet some people do leave, sometimes permanently, sometimes not.

People like Japan specialists Alex Kerr and Donald Keene regularly split their time between Japan and overseas. Authors Haruki Murakami lives permanently in Honolulu and Marie “spark joy” Kondo lives in Los Angeles.

Even famed Tale of Genji translator Edward G. Seidensticker departed Japan back in 1962, signing off with, “The Japanese are just like other people. They work hard to support their–but no. They are not like other people. They are infinitely more clannish, insular, parochial, and one owes it to one’s sense of self-respect to retain a feeling of outrage at the insularity. To have this sense of outrage go dull is to lose one’s will to communicate and that, I think, is death. So I am going home.”

Eventually Seidensticker went back on these words, living his life on both sides of the Pacific, dying in Tokyo in 2007 at age 86.

I too spend extended periods in Japan and am much happier (and prosperous) by having a foot in two countries. I can pick and choose the best of both societies when I want, and I think I’ve earned that option.

But I had to make a choice: I wouldn’t have been able to do that with Japan as my home base. Having a “totalization agreement” for both my pension systems helps too. I’m having to catch up with my pension contributions in my new tax home, but fortunately the opportunities are here for me to do so.

So if you’re thinking about staying in Japan permanently, I suggest you make the final decision by age 40. After that, you’ll be stuck in a rut in Japan. Then if you change your mind, you’re probably not going to make an easy transition back to your home country, as your friends and family themselves retire and die off. Fair warning.

Godspeed, Michael Penn. May you and SNA prosper more in another society than Japan would let you. ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 45: “Judges Strip Equal Protection from Naturalized Citizens”, on the unjust Aigi Country Club decision (Apr 24, 2023) (full text)

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Hi Blog.  My blog post from yesterday has become a full-blown column at the Shingetsu News Agency. Have a read, and lament for Japan’s future if horrible legal precedents like this are allowed to stand. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

//////////////////////////////////////////
Visible Minorities: Judges Strip Equal Protection from Naturalized Citizens
Shingetsu News Agency, April 24, 2023 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/04/24/visible-minorities-judges-strip-equal-protection-from-naturalized-citizens/

The website archiving and substantiating all of the claims below is at
https://www.debito.org/?p=17240

SNA (Tokyo) — It’s the next stage of evolution in Japan’s variant of racial discrimination: a naturalized Japanese citizen was last year denied membership at a golf course—explicitly for being a former foreigner. He sued. This month a district court in Mie Prefecture ruled that this was not an illegal act of discrimination.

You read that right: not illegal. Follow me down this rabbit hole.

Aigi Country Club in Kani city, Gifu Prefecture, refused a former Zainichi Korean with Japanese citizenship. Their justification, according to the Asahi Shinbun, was that “our club has a quota for foreign nationals and former foreign nationals who have become naturalized Japanese and restricts new memberships. We currently have no vacancies in that quota.”

In court, Aigi Country Club duplicitously denied outright racism by claiming that they refused him for more reasons than foreign roots. It didn’t matter. The judges acknowledged that the plaintiff was refused for being foreign and they still ruled against him. They accepted that this was an instance of discrimination, but it wasn’t enough discrimination.

The judges ruled that a golfing club by design is a “closed and private organization with strong personal ties among its members” and that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees “freedom of association.” In their reading, private groups are free to decide their membership criteria and, at any rate, playing golf is “not indispensable for social life.”

In sum, it wasn’t an instance of discrimination “beyond socially acceptable limits.”

Really?

Exclusionism is rampant at Japan’s golf courses. Last May the Asahi Shinbun provided an excellent overview of how Japan’s country clubs routinely refuse not only membership but also entry to foreign golfers. Some have even refused women. According to interviews, they have “nationality clauses” (i.e. Japanese Only rules) because “the atmosphere slightly changes when there are foreigners around.”

To them, these are just their rules, established long ago. In its case, the Aigi Country Club started in 1964. They won’t change without outside pressure, such as when the International Olympic Committee forced changes in a few Japanese clubs before they were permitted to host international competitions. Without such international scrutiny, they are content to preserve their discrimination in amber.

This Aigi ruling clearly empowers golf bigots to stay the course.

Legal Logic of the Ruling

There are two elements of the logic behind the ruling that deserve to be highlighted.

First is the “beyond socially acceptable limits” reasoning, which has been circulating for generations within Japan’s jurisprudence. It holds that some discrimination is inevitable (for example, separating bathrooms by gender). So as long as institutions or individuals don’t go beyond the “socially acceptable level” of discrimination, there is no legal sanction.

A problem with this approach is that “social acceptance” is determined entirely by the subjective impressions of individual judges. There is no hard data or social science involved. It’s all in the eyes of the judges.

The United Nations has repeatedly criticized Japan for this kind of reasoning (especially its legal corollary of “rational discrimination”).

In this case, even prior Japanese court precedent disagrees. In a similar golf club suit brought in 1995 by a Zainichi Korean plaintiff, the Tokyo District Court ruled that a denial of membership on the grounds of nationality was unconstitutional under Article 14—all people are equal under the law. The Tokyo court also previously dismissed some other bits of the Aigi decision—ruling that golf is a leisure activity and thus a necessary place to socialize. It also noted that, since golf memberships can be purchased on the market, they aren’t really all that exclusive.

Unfortunately, a separate lawsuit in 2001 by another Zainichi Korean against a golf course ruled against him, affirming the primacy of private corporations to choose their members, even if that includes excluding foreigners.

This brings us to the second big issue: the plaintiff in the Aigi case was not a foreigner.

What’s even the point of naturalizing and taking Japanese nationality if the legal status conveyed offers no equal protections?

We’ve already seen this occur within the Japan Sumo Association, which also limits the number of foreign wrestlers in sumo stables. Even if they become Japanese citizens, they are still counted as “foreigners.” Nobody has yet challenged this practice as unconstitutional.

The plaintiff in the Aigi Country Club Case effectively did challenge it, and yet the Aigi judges accepted the argument that Japanese citizens with foreign roots are not equally protected under the law. They will forever remain “Japanese” with an asterisk.

Open Season on Foreign Roots

If the Mie ruling stands, there will be nothing preventing–at least at the formal legal level–almost any private enterprise from putting up a “Members Only” sign and enforcing “nationality clauses.” Many institutions could conceivably argue for keeping memberships exclusive in order to “preserve the atmosphere” at their venues.

It’s not even unprecedented. During the 2002 World Cup, coordinated “Members Only” signs went up on restaurants and bars throughout Sapporo’s party district; other “Members Only” places like public bathhouses can be found on the Debito.org Rogues’ Gallery of “Japanese Only” Exclusionary Establishments. What’s next? Sports clubs? Hotels? Hospitals? Schools? In fact, all of these kinds of institutions have been found to possess formal and informal “Japanese Only” rules.

Thanks to the Aigi Country Club case, bigots are being offered stronger legal grounds to maintain and extend discrimination.

Naturally, this means that not only first generation immigrants, but also those born in Japan may discover that they are not equal under the law.

With all of Japan’s international marriages, there are hundreds of thousands of Japanese children with a foreign parent or relative. The ruling of Aigi Country Club case means that if some children “look foreign” and due to their presence the “atmosphere slightly changes,” then they can be excluded by organizations because it is “socially acceptable” to do so.

Of course, it is remarkably easy in many cases to spot any mudblood whose kin or relative has a katakana or odd kanji name. Through this ruling, children can be regarded as biologically radioactive and refusable. Citizenship will not protect them.

The Signposts Along the Way

Finally, let’s put things in a larger context. This decision is actually part of a broader trend eroding all civil protections for “foreigners” (however defined) within the Japanese judiciary.

Consider this arc of precedents:

1) The Ana Bortz case of 1998-1999 found that foreigners in Japan were protected by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) against being turned away by private enterprises open to the public (in this case a jewelry store). The court awarded Bortz ¥2 million.

2) The Otaru Hot Springs case of 1993-2005 found that two foreigners and one naturalized Japanese citizen (yours truly) were not allowed to be turned away from a private enterprise (in this case a public bathhouse). The courts eventually whittled the award down to ¥1 million yen each. However, the courts undermined the Bortz Case by ruling that, a) the CERD offered no actual protection against racial discrimination—it was merely a guideline without the force of law; and, b) racial discrimination did happen, but that was not necessarily illegal. Discrimination only becomes illegal when it goes “beyond socially acceptable limits.” Sound familiar? To cap things off, the Supreme Court also summarily dismissed the case as involving no constitutional protections—not even Article 14, which also explicitly forbids racial discrimination.

3) The Steve McGowan case of 2004-2006 undermined the Bortz and Otaru precedents further, finding no protection for his denial by a private enterprise (an eyeglass store). Instead, the ruling found that any discrimination that occurred was essentially due to a misunderstanding. McGowan, as a non-native speaker, allegedly didn’t understand enough Japanese to portray his case correctly. This ruling was handed down in spite of the fact that the defendant was caught on tape explicitly saying that he refused McGowan because he “hates black people.” The initial ruling was overturned on appeal, but McGowan’s court award was also whittled down to only ¥350,000, insufficient even to cover his legal fees.

4) The Aigi County Club case potentially drops rights down to near zero. It finds that: a) there are no inherent protections for foreigners; b) even if they have Japanese citizenship; c) and even if everyone admits that the discrimination was nationality or ethnicity-based. It’s not a legal problem to discriminate because golf clubs are designed to be exclusive, by whatever standards they choose to employ. This is “socially acceptable” and thus legally permissible.

I hope I’m not the first one telling you this, but Japan has no national law against racial discrimination, despite treaty promises back in 1995 to pass one “without delay” when it ratified the CERD.

At a UN hearing in 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially claimed that “the Constitution of Japan stipulates not only guarantee of being equal as Japanese nationals under the law but also guarantee of equality of all rights as Japanese nationals. Therefore, there is no discrimination at all for civil, political, economic, and cultural rights under the legal system.”

The Aigi County Club case demonstrates openly that this was a lie.

The case is on appeal. I hope the plaintiff prevails.

(UPDATE:  He does.  Read the comments to this blog entry.)

ENDS

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

The SNA article is at
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/04/24/visible-minorities-judges-strip-equal-protection-from-naturalized-citizens/

The website archiving and substantiating all of the claims above is at
https://www.debito.org/?p=17240

======================
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My latest SNA Visible Minorities column 44: “Interview with Jon Heese: Life Lessons from a Naturalized Japanese Politician”, March 20, 2023

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Hi Blog My latest SNA VM column 44, which came out today, is an interview with Jon Heese (pronounced Hayes), a naturalized Canadian-Japanese and elected Tsukuba City Councillor of twelve years. A Caucasian Visible Minority of Japan, Heese has long been advocating that other Non-Japanese Residents naturalize and run for office in Japan like he did.

This interview took me more than a decade to secure, as I first invited Jon to interview back in the early 2010s. This time he contacted ME for the interview, so I felt less guilty about serving up some non-softball questions. Excerpt:

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

Debito Arudou: Hi Jon. Please introduce yourself as you’d like to be seen by your voting and non-voting public.

Jon Heese: Obviously I would like them to see me as a combination of Brad Pitt and Nelson Mandela. But I would be satisfied if they only see me as someone who is doing his best. I’m left of center on social issues and a fiscally conservative social democrat. This means freedom for people to be who they are within the structures of society. Businesses should also be free to function within a social structure. And I underline social. Businesses function within society. They are not entities unto themselves. It is the community that is educating their workers, building their infrastructure, and protecting their property. Businesses need to pay their taxes and stop trying to privatize profits while socializing risks. Fundamentally, governments should be in the business of regulating, not competing with legitimate businesses…

Debito Arudou: Woah, woah, woah. I asked how you wanted us to see you, and you’re starting to give us us your personal philosophy of government. Okay, but I was asking more: “Where are you from, and what do you do?” Let’s back up a sec and get into that.

Jon Heese: Silly me. As a good politician I’ll blame someone else for my misunderstanding. Okay. So, who am I. I’m a small town boy from Wymark, Saskatchewan, Canada, population 175. If you’ve ever seen Dances with Wolves, that’s pretty much what the area looks like. I’m from a family of eleven kids (six adopted). My family moved around a lot due to my father’s career as a Mennonite preacher. I spent about two years as a kid in central Kansas, and after high school I went to Europe for two years to see a bit of the world. I then attended the University of Regina and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Education. In 1991 I landed in Narita looking for one of those sweet English teaching jobs I’d heard so much about. I got a bunch of crap jobs, but they paid the bills. Eventually I ended up in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, a city about 60 kilometers north of Tokyo with a population of about 150,000 at the time. Eventually I understood that students didn’t really want to learn English so much as have an hour of entertainment with one of them movie star types. In the end I lasted about six years in the English biz. By ‘97 I was burned/bummed out and could already see the writing on the wall. The Bubble was bursting. Pay was in decline and finding students was getting harder. Besides which, after six years I had hardly learned any Japanese. I knew I needed to find a job where I would be forced to speak Japanese. I opened a bar and ran that for seven years. Then I opened an import company to supply the many foreign researchers in Tsukuba and rewrite papers for the Japanese researchers. I also did a bunch of acting for TV and movies. Eventually I got into politics at the city level.

Full interview at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/03/20/life-lessons-from-a-naturalized-japanese-politician/

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 43: “Salute to the “Author of Cartels of the Mind’,” an obituary of influential Japan Studies scholar and mentor Ivan Hall (1932-2023)

mytest

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Hi Blog.  My latest SNA column 43 is a tribute to old friend, mentor, and influential scholar Ivan Hall.  I blogged about him shortly after he died here.  This is a fuller treatment, excerpted.  RIP.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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

Visible Minorities: Salute to the Author of Cartels of the Mind
By Debito Arudou
Shingetsu News Agency, February 20, 2023

SNA (Tokyo) — Ivan Parker Hall, author of landmark book Cartels of the Mind: Japan’s Intellectual Closed Shop, died in Berlin on February 1, 2023, at age 90.

Before I start writing another obituary, please let me pause and talk about our very close relationship: Ivan Hall fundamentally changed my life into an activist researcher in Japanese Studies.

It wasn’t always this way. When I first arrived in Japan during the latter 1980s, I was in fact a cultural relativist. Carefully trained in the non-judgmentalism of the liberal arts, I had the mantra of “Who am I to judge Japan?” It had its own way of doing things, and would get along just fine without one white Western interloper (or even the outside world) telling it what to do. As per my classic Edwin O. Reischauer Ivy League training, Japan was one of those precious “culturally unique” jewels that should just be left to flourish in its own way.

That’s why at first I was a devoted scholar of the “Japanese Way.” After all, Japan must be doing something right. Its people were living the longest in the world. Its economy measured per capita had just surpassed that of Americans. It was buying up major world assets on the strength of the Yen. Our next boss, according to movies such as Back to the Future II, was going to be Japanese.

It took just one stint working for an abusive Japanese trading company–and the bursting of Japan’s asset bubble–to disabuse me of those early notions.

But it wasn’t until I became a Japanese university professor that I saw just how much the Japanese system was wasting talent due to racism. Japanese faculty hired full-time were getting permanent tenure from Day One, while almost all foreign educators (who were often more qualified than their Japanese counterparts) were getting permanent contract work.

Enter Ivan Hall, who summed this situation up most pithily as “Academic Apartheid.”…

Read the rest at the Shingetsu News Agency at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/02/20/visible-minorities-salute-to-the-author-of-cartels-of-the-mind/

======================
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My latest SNA Visible Minorities column 42: “Japan’s Remilitarization is a Bad Idea” (Jan 23, 2023), on why Japan is simply not the country to represent the world’s liberal democracies as a revived military power

mytest

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Hi Blog.  My latest SNA column on recent geopolitical developments and the bad habits they may revive.  Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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

Visible Minorities 42: Japan’s Remilitarization is a Bad Idea
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, JAN 23, 2023 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/01/23/visible-minorities-remilitarization-is-a-bad-idea/

SNA (Tokyo) — News item: Cheered on by the United States for its “bold leadership,” last month “Japan unveiled a dramatic revamping of its security strategy and defense policy, including a plan to acquire long-range weapons–a so-called counterstrike capability–that can target and hit enemy bases” (Japan Times, January 14).

Doubling its defense spending to 2% of GDP within five years, Japan will soon have the world’s third-largest military budget, behind only the United States and China.

Pushing Japan to remilitarize was never, and still is not, a good idea.

This is not just because an arms race in Asia is the last thing the region needs. But also because Japan, consistently unable to face up to its own history, is simply not the country to represent the world’s liberal democracies in Asia, especially as a military power.

Let’s start with that history…

Read the rest at
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/01/23/visible-minorities-remilitarization-is-a-bad-idea/

======================
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My SNA column 41: “Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise” (Dec 27, 2022), about what to do when people say you shouldn’t celebrate regular traditions you hold dear because they’re “not Japanese”

mytest

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Hi Blog.  Let me say it upfront:  If you’re celebrating December customs such as Christmas, then I hope you had a Merry (and unobstructed) Christmas and a Happy New Year.  If your Christmas was in fact obstructed in some way by people who claim that “Christmas is not Japanese” or “Christmas is something you should outgrow” (as happened to a friend of mine recently), my end-year SNA column is for you:

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

Visible Minorities: Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise

SNA (Tokyo) — A long-term Non-Japanese resident friend, married with a Japanese husband and adult kids, recently told me about a new development in their relationship: Christmas was no longer to be celebrated in their household.

Their children were all grown and didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore; so no more presents or any big dinner to celebrate the day. They would allow her only a tree.

Why this sudden change of heart? To her surprise, all this time Christmas had been regarded by the family as a nuisance, a cultural imposition on them. Now it was time to grow out of it.

It raises a fundamental issue that someday comes up within any intercultural relationship: How much culture do you give up for the sake of compromise?  

I argue that Japan’s “unique” culture narrative (and therefore its lack of commonality with anything “foreign”, by definition) can often create sudden, long-term culture shocks.  Because people here can see any accommodation of “foreign” culture as an identity sacrifice, a denial of “Japaneseness”, this can kill relationships, and I offer advice on what to do about it.  

Article at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/12/27/visible-minorities-celebrating-christmas-as-a-compromise/

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

Thanks for reading!  Seasons Greetings to all Debito.org Readers and beyond!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My SNA Column 40: Visible Minorities: “Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events” (Nov 28, 2022), due to all the nasty and racialized attitudes towards our athletes, and the lack of fair play in general

mytest

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Hi Blog.  My latest SNA column was inspired by the World Cup.  Intro:
//////////////////////////////////////////
Visible Minorities: Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, November 28, 2022

SNA (Tokyo) — First off, bravo the Japan team for its upset victory over Germany in their first match of the 2022 World Cup!

It was a game where the Samurai Blue showed world-class skill against a lackluster team, and didn’t let the nerves of playing a former world champion get the better of them. Of course, they did lose their next game against Costa Rica, but their achievement against Germany stands.

I want to devote this column to why it’s difficult for me to root for Japan teams in general. It’s not an issue of nationality (since I have that). It’s a matter of how Japan as a society approaches international sports; given the racialized obstacles towards “foreign” participants, a lack of fair play, the unrelenting pressure on our athletes, and media attitudes that oscillate between racial superiority and victimhood, we take all the fun out of it…

Thanks for reading!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My SNA Column 39: Visible Minorities: “Never Forget Japan’s Racist Covid Policies” (Oct 24, 2022), where I ask you to seriously reconsider devoting your life to a place that could revoke your legal status at any time

mytest

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Visible Minorities: Never Forget Japan’s Racist Covid Policies
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, OCT 24, 2022 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/10/24/visible-minorities-never-forget-japans-racist-covid-policies/

SNA (Tokyo) — This month Japan finally lifted its Covid restrictions and reopened its borders to tourists. Well, whoop-de-doo.

For now, foreigners will no longer suffer entry caps, or go through extra procedures just because they’re foreign, such as being sequestered in foreigner-only floors of hotels with tour-minders so they don’t wander off and contaminate the rest of Japan.

Never mind that Japanese entrants, barely subjected to these strictures put on foreigners, had all this time predictably infected Japan quite freely.

Remember how this whole thing started back in 2020, when cases were found in Yokohama Port aboard a luxury liner called the Diamond Princess? It soon became mired in Japan’s bureaucratic politics, the ship’s patients counted by no country as part of their Covid case total. This was the bellwether for Japan’s future Covid border policies of incompetence and racism…

Rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/10/24/visible-minorities-never-forget-japans-racist-covid-policies/

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Debito’s SNA VM37: “Reforming Japan’s Dickensian Foreign Trainee Program,” Aug 22, 2022, and why I remain skeptical that reforms will actually happen

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Visible Minorities: Reforming Japan’s Dickensian Foreign Trainee Program
August 22, 2022, By Debito Arudou

SNA (Tokyo) — News Item: video footage surfaced in 2020 of a Vietnamese “trainee” being physically abused by Japanese co-workers at a construction company in Okayama Prefecture, resulting in injuries including broken ribs and a broken tooth. Despite a criminal complaint, the Okayama Prefectural Police Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute the four Japanese co-workers involved.

Here is the video footage that started it all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK1HhnvktOc&t=76s

This Vietnamese trainee is not alone. Despite the strict Covid border controls, currently 280,000 foreigners toil as temporary low-wage workers in Japan’s farms and factories nationwide. Given Japan’s often nasty work environments, which generally combine exploitative work ethics with a normalized bullying culture, this means that more than a quarter of a million foreigners are here and in harm’s way under a system of unfettered abuse…

[…]

Fortunately, there are some stirrings that reforms might happen. Even the conservative Yomiuri Shinbun said in an August 20 editorial that reforming the system is “unavoidable.” Moreover, the government announced last month a full-scale review of the program, intending to “bring this long-standing issue to a historical conclusion.”

I am skeptical these reforms will achieve what is promised, which is basically to resolve the ongoing human rights abuses which have always characterized the trainee system. One reason for my doubts is because…
==================================

Read the rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/08/22/visible-minorities-reforming-japans-dickensian-foreign-trainee-program/

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 36: “Abe’s Assassination and the Revenge of History” (July 18, 2022), on how his historical revisionism created a blind spot that ultimately killed him

mytest

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Hi Blog.  After the Abe Assassination, people have been asking me what I think about it.  In short, I think Abe’s historical revisionism is what got him killed.  Opening of my latest SNA column 35:

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

Abe’s Assassination and the Revenge of History

By Debito Arudou,  Shingetsu News Agency, July 18, 2022

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/07/18/visible-minorities-abes-assassination-and-the-revenge-of-history/

SNA (Tokyo) — The assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has occasioned a lot of valuable, eye-opening discussions in the media, but few if any have focused upon how Abe’s death could be seen as a form of karmic payback–-what happens when you ignore the lessons of history in the pursuit of raw political power.

The discussions have instead focused on the veneer of Japan’s “safe” society being blown away by a homemade gun; or about how the world’s democracies have been deprived of a Japanese leader comfortable on the international stage (while egregiously overlooking all the damage he did to Japan’s democracy).

A few intrepid journalists (starting with the SNA) have explored the swamp of Abe’s political connections with the “Moonies” religious cult, and how that probably gave motive to the killer.

To me the most absurd debate has been whether Abe’s death was an “assassination” at all –- the Japanese media have uniformly refused to use the corresponding word ansatsu, portraying it as merely a “shooting event” (jugeki jiken).

These important topics have been covered elsewhere by people with more expertise, so this column will take a different tack. It will discuss the role of national narratives in a society, how dishonest national narratives stunt the maturity of societies, and how a willful ignorance of history due to these national narratives circled back to kill Abe.

First, let’s talk about what national narratives are: stories created by governments, education systems, and media that unify people within a nation-state. For example, Japan sees itself as a pure-blooded monoethnic society that can be mobilized under shared collective goals to accomplish political and economic miracles. On the other hand, the United States sees itself as a “melting pot” of immigrants and cultures whose harnessed diversity has made it the richest, most powerful nation in the world. And so on.

Accurate or not, all societies create national narratives as a matter of necessity. They tell us what we as a group believe and share as collective history. Without them, policymakers would have great difficulty getting disparate people to obey social norms and laws, or accept their status as a member of society. When people believe that they share a history, starting with national education from childhood, political “legitimacy” can be entrenched. You really know it has worked when someone “loves” their country so deeply that they’ll die for it.

But there’s a problem endemic to creating a shared history–you have to decide who’s a member of society and who’s not. Narratives that unify also must exclude. You can’t have an “in-group” without the existence of an “out-group” to contrast yourself with. You can’t have “citizens” without also having “foreigners.”

Sooner or later even the most well-intentioned people make mistakes that turn people against each other, privileging some people at the cost of others, disenfranchising and even killing in the name of national integrity.

So from that comes two types of history: a “good” one that is celebrated, and a “bad” one that people generally don’t want to talk about.

Consider a few examples of the latter:

When the European powers of the world were colonizing other lands, they soon discovered they couldn’t extract treasure without exterminating local peoples. Consider Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean.

Or as the United States grew and developed, “Manifest Destiny” wielded an unspeakable impact on Native Americans–and that’s before we mention the horrors of chattel slavery.

Japan too didn’t secure its borders without committing cultural genocide against the Ainu and Ryukyuans. There was also that brief episode in the last century when it decided to “liberate” Asians abroad under the auspices of a racist Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The point is that every country has a dark side, and any honest historical accounting would allow for that.

Unfortunately, most countries would rather see themselves as the “good guys” in their own narrative, and either downplay or ignore the atrocities committed in the name of the nation.

That’s a bad idea for a number of reasons: not only because it produces poor public policy that leaves past injustices and grievances unresolved, but also because it leaves people blind to the more genuine lessons of history.

For example, the American tendency to see the US Civil War as merely a good-spirited contest between North and South economic and cultural needs overlooks the fact that owning people as property was the central cause of the war. And yet, narratives are still circulating in the South that downplay slavery and its impact.

Why do you think there’s so much backlash these days towards Critical Race Theory, which highlights the legacy of unequal racialized treatment still embedded within current legal systems and narratives? It is because many people would rather just pretend these issues are all settled.

Similarly, why do you think there’s so much backlash in Japan to teaching about atrocities like the Unit 731 biological warfare, the Nanjing Massacre, the brutal colonization of Korea and China, or the government-sponsored sexual slavery of the Comfort Women? It is because some would prefer to pretend that it never happened.

This is where Abe comes in–he was deeply committed to historical revisionism, asserting that Japan was a victim (not an aggressor) in the Pacific War, no more guilty of wrongdoing than any other great power. He also wanted to remove many of the “Western” elements (such as civil rights and individual liberties) that had been enshrined in Japan’s “Peace Constitution” to prevent a recurrence of Japan’s past militarism.

For people like Abe, a national narrative depicting Japan as the “bad guys” would force Japanese to feel shame about their country and to “love” it less. That’s the rubric behind his enforced patriotism and revised compulsory education curriculums.

It was an immature approach which forestalls ever coming to terms with and learning from the past.

Some other countries are more mature about it. Germany, for example, has accepted that its inexcusable historical deeds are just that–inexcusable–and contemporary Germans are taught as such.

There’s no denying that Nazi Germany was one of the worst political systems that ever existed. German schoolchildren are rightly taught to “Beware the Beginnings” (Wehret den Anfängen); that is, to be vigilant against something similar ever happening again.

South Africa has done something similar with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canada is finally coming to grips with its genocidal Indian Residential School System. And so on. Some societies acknowledge a portion of their dark past and try to move forward on a healthier basis.

On the other hand, societies with dishonest historical narratives wind up stuck in the past, continuously refighting and relitigating old battles. Remember what George Santayana said about people not learning from history? They’re doomed to repeat it.

Was American mob violence against the US Capitol on January 6 something entirely new? In fact, this sort of thing happened in city and state legislatures many times in the past. Have you ever heard of the Meridian Race Riot of 1871, the Battle of Liberty Place in 1874, the South Carolina Race Riots of 1876, and the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898? Probably not, and that’s the point. If you don’t know about them, it’s like they never happened.

These and many other incidents evicted anti-slavery politicians from elected offices in the South, established Jim Crow laws for nearly a century, and created the longstanding ahistorical narratives that pervade some elements of Trumpist politics to this day.

In other words, the Capitol insurrection was in fact a repeat from a historical blueprint..

Likewise, the Abe assassination was, in the longer view of history, not unique. Mark Schreiber recently offered a “guided historical tour” in the Asia Times on the long list of political killings in Tokyo alone, calling it “practically routine” in times that are not so distant from our own.

But such history was so suppressed in favor of “safe Japan” narratives that Abe himself scoffed at the need for additional security around public political events. During a 2015 Diet floor session, Abe officiously dismissed a question from MP Kiyomi Tsujimoto about the possibility of domestic terrorism, sniping that it was an attempt to “denigrate Japan.”

That was one of the historical blind spots that got Abe killed.

Even now the narrative of “safe Japan” is reasserting itself. The Japanese media still won’t accurately portray Abe’s killing as an “assassination.” Yet, as the Japan Times noted, similar political killings are freely portrayed as ansatsu–as long as they happen overseas.

Why? Apparently because, in Japan, assassinations are somehow “historically unexpected.”

Even the excuse that Abe’s killing was not “political” is inaccurate. This was not a random murder. As reported in various media, the killer wanted to retaliate because his family had been financially crippled by the Moonies, and specifically targeted Abe for his connections to them. That sounds political to me. Yet the Japanese media initially tried to suppress Abe’s Moonie connection until SNA and social media commentators broke the story.

Societies that stunt growth with “love-of-country-at-all-costs” narratives do themselves an enormous disservice, and not just because it leads to things like politics through violence.

Japan is still stuck in other hackneyed feedback loops: that it has always been a monoethnic society without actual minorities (it has ethnically cleansed itself numerous times); that it never actually lost the Pacific War (using the term shusen–war’s end–instead of haisen, war defeat) in historical accounts; and that Japan is not responsible for past militarism, much to the aggravation of nearby countries. These are counterproductive to Japan’s present and future.

Ahistoricity also keeps Japan from facing one more essential fact it has known for decades–that it is an aging, stagnating society, facing senescence and insolvency within a generation or two unless it allows immigration. To move forward, it needs to adopt more inclusive narratives.

That means coming to terms with, and teaching, the dark side of its history. The senseless death of Abe, who was the most prominent proponent of head-in-the-sand nationalism in postwar Japan, is a good opportunity for a reevaluation.

Otherwise history will continue to exact its revenge.

ENDS
======================
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My SNA VM35: “Visible Minorities: Torture and Murder in Japan Detention Centers” (June 20, 2022) including the Sandamali, Suraj, Fernando, Okafor, Ekei etc. Cases.

mytest

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Visible Minorities: Torture and Murder in Japan Detention Centers
Shingetsu News Agency, June 20, 2022, by Debito Arudou

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/06/20/visible-minorities-torture-and-murder-in-japan-detention-centers/

SNA (Tokyo) — News Headline: “Prosecutors drop case over death of detained Sri Lankan woman.”

In August 2020, a Sri Lanka national named Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali was arrested for overstaying her visa, and detained in a Nagoya Immigration Detention Center. She had arrived in Japan in 2017, but her student visa was cancelled in 2019 because she couldn’t afford tuition fees. While in detention, she opted not to return to Sri Lanka, reportedly due to reduced flights during Covid and an abusive boyfriend back home.

During her seven months in custody, however, Sandamali’s health steadily declined due to a stress-induced stomach condition. According to the Straits Times, Sandamali “was vomiting blood in her final days, and was so weak that she had no control of her arms and legs. The immigration authorities allegedly turned a blind eye to medical expert advice to put her on an intravenous drip or to grant her provisional release to ease her stress. A report by public broadcaster NHK suggested that officials tend to suspect malingering for minor illnesses in their reluctance to grant provisional release.”

That’s a questionable decision, since she had lost 20 kilograms from her small frame over seven months—hard to dismiss as mere “malingering” or “minor illness.” And her decline was not sudden: According to the Asahi Shinbun, she had notified her jailers from mid-January about nausea and lack of appetite. Nineteen days before her death, a urine test indicated she was in a state of starvation. The New York Times noted that in her final days she could ingest little more than water, sugar, or morsels of bread, and could barely make a fist or speak. Yet she was again refused provisional release for hospital treatment.

On March 6, 2021, Sandamali died in her cell, aged 33. An August 2021 postmortem probe by Japan’s Immigration Services Agency ruled that Sandamali had been “mistreated” by the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau, formally reprimanding the bureau’s director and three other supervisors for not reporting her requests for examination and treatment to an outside doctor.

But overlooked was cruelty of her captors. According to Nikkei Asia, “one immigration officer allegedly mocked Wishma when she was unable to swallow her drink,” and the Mainichi Shinbun reported that other Immigration officers misled a doctor about her condition two days before her death, dismissing her illness as merely “psychosomatic.”

By the time Sandamali’s family received her body, “her skin was wrinkled like an old person, and it was stuck firmly to her bones.” In November 2021, Sandamali’s family lodged a criminal complaint against officials at the Nagoya facility, accusing them of murder through willful negligence.

Unfortunately, as noted above, last week the Nagoya District Public Prosecutor’s Office dropped the Sandamali case, citing an inability to establish criminal liability or even a cause of death, blaming it on “multiple factors.”

Multiple factors indeed. Sandamali’s case is not unprecedented. According to CNN, since 1997 at least 27 foreign detainees have died in Japan’s Immigration detention centers (aka “Gaijin Tanks,” because they detain foreigners only).

The main factor here is the cruel and unusual punishment by public officers, expressly forbidden under Article 36 of the Constitution.

Yet nobody has ever been held criminally liable for foreigner deaths in detention. That’s what makes Japan’s Gaijin Tanks so cruel and unusual.

Let’s consider a few more cases, then talk about the system that killed them…

Read the rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/06/20/visible-minorities-torture-and-murder-in-japan-detention-centers/

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities col 34: “Henry Scott-Stokes, Sell-Out to Gaijin Handlers, dies.” May 23, 2022, with ruminations on why foreign journalism in Japan has historically been so astray.

mytest

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Hi Blog. Here’s my latest SNA column, discussing in part why journalism on Japan has historically had so many topical, “weird Japan” stories. Part of it is because some commentators on Japan remain willfully ignorant of the Japanese language. Others get duped by the industry of “Gaijin Handlers” designed to steer foreign perceptions of Japan in the “right direction”. And some commentators, like the late Henry Scott-Stokes, former Tokyo Bureau Chief at The Financial Times, Times of London, and New York Times, become willing abettors of the Japanese far-right, selling their reputations to maintain their privilege.

Have a read. It resolves one mystery I always felt when meeting numerous veteran foreign correspondents during the Otaru Onsens Case. They would often arrogantly question my standing to work within the Japanese system as resident, citizen, and activist. Yet they could barely read the menu. Time for me to question their standing too. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Henry Scott-Stokes, Sell-Out to Gaijin Handlers
Shingetsu News Agency, May 23, 2022, by Debito Arudou

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/05/23/visible-minorities-henry-scott-stokes-sell-out-to-gaijin-handlers/

SNA (Tokyo) — Henry Johnstone Morland Scott-Stokes, patrician among Japan’s foreign correspondents since 1964, recently died in Tokyo at the age of 83, but not before he did untold damage by performing as a foreign handmaid to Japan’s fascists.

A man described as “tweedy” and “entertaining and congenial,” Briton Scott-Stokes was nonetheless a man of privilege, lucky enough to land in Japan as Tokyo bureau chief of the Financial Times only three years after graduating from Oxford.

Becoming bureau chief of a major newspaper at the wizened old age of 26 might seem odd today, but back then foreign journalism in Japan had lower standards, and the field was infused with neocolonial attitudes towards the “natives.” Fluency in your assigned country’s language was not required.

Nor was Japanese required at the other “Big Three” English-language newspapers in Japan, as Scott-Stokes later became bureau chief of The Times of London and the New York Times through the 1970s and early 1980s. For a man described as “someone who really understood Japan,” he spent his entire 58 years in Japan as a functional illiterate, unable to fluently read, write, or speak Japanese.

To be fair, this was normal: Scott-Stokes arose from a bygone generation of Japan commentators who were poorly trained in social science methods. That’s actually one reason why newspaper analysis on Japan at the time was so topical. They simply couldn’t do their own deep and rigorous research in the vernacular.

As a result, overseas readers usually got the topical “weird Japan” stories–dismissively called the “Three Es” of economics, exotica, and erotica–that condescendingly promoted the Japanese as “inscrutable” and the Japanese language as “the hardest in the world” for foreigners to learn.

Of course, that had the self-serving effect of absolving their willful ignorance. The problem with doing onsite research dependent on interpreters (in Scott-Stokes’ case, his second wife) is that professionals become blinkered. Not only are you less able to talk to the hoi polloi on their own terms about their daily lives, but in Japan in particular you become vulnerable to the elite, targeted by a particular class of people with an agenda for prominent Western journalists.

Also known as “Gaijin Handlers,” this industry of information spooks is designed to distract attention from politically troubling or shameful stories about Japan, and at best mislead foreign correspondents into parroting government propaganda.

After all, the Japanese government is well-practiced in steering domestic media and influencing public perception for social control–hence Japan’s enormously restrictive “Press Clubs.”

Until the mid-1980s, the Gaijin Handlers succeeded quite well. The image of Japan transmitted to the outside world was kept “harmless and weird,” and Japan got richer and richer on its trade surpluses.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Japan suddenly emerged even wealthier than the United States in terms of per capita GDP. Japanese companies bought up prominent overseas properties while the US taxpayer footed the bill for Japan’s regional defense. Overseas editors started demanding that Japan be studied as an economic powerhouse, if not a rival.

This is when a new generation of Japan scholars came in, where if you weren’t fluent in Japanese you simply weren’t respected.

We did our own research outside of government meddling, using the same vernacular sources the Gaijin Handlers read and tried to obfuscate. We knew their code because we spoke it too. Our analysis wasn’t perfect, but we could better see through the propaganda.

Times change, and most of the old hacks moved on to other countries or settled into a quiet life in Japan, living a harmless twilight existence as cottage consultants in their cups.

Scott-Stokes didn’t. He didn’t just continue to rely on his privileged access to Japan’s elite for his income; he decided to embrace their fascist tendencies.

He first attracted attention from Japan’s far right in 1974 with his signature book, a biography in English of his alleged friend Yukio Mishima. It proved useful to Mishima’s ilk. With the imprimatur of a pedigreed white man whitewashing one of Japan’s far right fanatics into a sympathetic hero, he helped refashion Japan’s fascism for the outside world.

Then, by the 2010s, as journalistic standards rose and money got tighter, Scott-Stokes went all-in with his Gaijin Handlers, selling his reputation for thirty pieces of silver.

His 2013 book Falsehoods in the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist, came out in Japanese only, and it sold an estimated 100,000 copies within a few months.

But Scott-Stokes wound up blindsided by its contents. Despite his name being on the cover and his standing as the titular “British Journalist,” it turns out that he didn’t actually write the book, let alone read it. The Times of London reported that he had essentially dictated it to an interpreter.

Later asked about sections denying “as a historical fact” the Nanjing Massacre of civilians by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937, he initially said he was “shocked and horrified” at having been unable to check that “rogue passage.” Then Scott-Stokes reversed himself and stood by what was written. “If I’ve been taken advantage of, it’s with my complicity.” Books needed to be sold, after all.

Further, he doubled down on minimizing Japan’s “alleged” war crimes with whataboutism, comparing them to the “war crimes” of the atomic bombings, and of the “victor’s justice” of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal–all Japan historical revisionist tropes. He even argued that the United States, not Japan, bears “prime responsibility” for the Pacific War.

Some of his absurd claims are still visible on far right websites, such as, “It is largely as a result of Japanese shedding their blood that we entered a new world where colonies did not exist any more and there is racial equality.”

He concluded, “You should not be misled by anti-Japanese propaganda but rather take pride in Japan as a nation,” noting that Japan was “Asia’s light of hope” which “liberated Asian countries from white domination” (replaced by, the record also demonstrates, Yamato domination; they too were brutal colonizers, after all). All of this effort was to “protect the Japanese soul.”

Fortunately, Scott-Stokes’ former employers took responsibility for their own, acknowledging in their obituaries that his book was “embraced by right-wing apologists for atrocities committed by the Japanese military during World War II” (New York Times), and “Scott-Stokes was certainly sympathetic to Japanese nationalist right-wingers” (The Times of London).

I can find no specific buy-in from Scott-Stokes for other tropes that the far-right takes pride in, such as encouraging thoroughbred Wajin bloodlines free of miscegenation or promoting “pure” Yamato males as the only people entitled to represent and rule Japan.

But his sympathies for those who do, especially those who lament Japan’s postwar disapproval of “traditional Japanese values,” including Meiji Era martial training and the Emperor as the head of state, gave their rhetoric a sense of legitimacy. And it runs directly counter to Japan’s inevitable future, given its low birthrates and aging society, as a multicultural, multiethnic society.

The point is that Scott-Stokes’ lifetime peddling in and profiteering off of Japan’s mysticism has interfered with seeing Japan’s history, and its present-day realities, realistically.

His son, Harry Sugiyama Scott-Stokes, a celebrity broadcaster in Japan and frequent commentator at NHK, has announced that he will be “carrying on in the spirit of my father,” whatever that means.

In the end, what is the measure of a life well spent? In my view, it is to leave the world a better place than you found it. By this measure, Scott-Stokes did quite the opposite.

By passively, then later actively, promoting the aims and ideology that undergird Japan’s fascist xenophobes, he offers no template for Japan’s foreign communities, let alone his professional colleagues. His support of people who would never grant equal rights to minorities, particularly Japan’s Visible Minorities, is especially ironic and counterproductive.

Future residents and interpreters of Japanese society should see Scott-Stokes as a cautionary tale. Here was a man who lived most of his life in a country, even tried to rewrite the narrative on it, yet remained in a bubble of privilege so opaque he could never see the obvious–that he was being used by elites who would never let his type into their club.

Henry Johnstone Morland Scott-Stokes became a “useful idiot” to the Gaijin Handlers, destroying his legacy.

ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 33: “Why Progressives keep losing” (short answer: because they alienate their own allies), April 18, 2022

mytest

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Hi Blog.  My most recent SNA column is a think-pied about how the Left keeps losing out to the Right. Because working with the Left is like herding cats.  Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Why Progressives Keep Losing

Shingetsu News Agency, April 18, 2022

SNA (Tokyo) — Shingetsu News Agency President Michael Penn wrote about my previous column:

“Debito found a way to provoke them again, and I must say that I don’t understand the way a lot of people think these days. Those who read the article and interacted with what was written tended to say on social media that they largely agreed with it. But there was a more vocal cohort who, not really disagreeing with any specific arguments made, were outraged on the basis that Debito, a white man, had dared to give any advice to Naomi Osaka. Apparently, we are now supposed to live self-contained within our own little tribal identities, and universal humanity is no longer recognized as sufficient grounds to express an opinion, even for a news columnist whose job is to comment on public affairs.”

There’s a lesson here.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder said recently in a television interview, “The Left loses for the right reasons; the Right wins for the wrong reasons.”

One of the reasons why the Left, particularly the Progressives who have not enjoyed much power worldwide for more than a century, keeps losing is because of their fractiousness.

Just as soon as they gain an advantage or start making headway in the policy arena, they lose focus and begin turning on themselves. They alienate natural allies because they are not ideologically pure enough, or worse yet, as seen above, the wrong skin color.

Granted, the Left has always had a tougher time mobilizing people than the Right. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, the Left wants leaders they can fall in love with, while the Right wants leaders they can fall in line with.

Let’s unpack that. Voices from the Left are discordant and diverse, and expectations are high and sometimes uncompromising. It’s also a lot tougher for a Leftist leader to gain and sustain the “love” of their supporters since, no matter what else happens, there will always be winners and losers with every decision they make.

But for Rightists, it’s a lot easier to “fall in line” behind an ideological camp whose basic organizing principle is money (and the shameless acquisition of it). And once they gain enough of it, money in itself not only buys power, but also, oddly enough, credibility. […] Sadly, that’s why the Right understands power better…

But that’s Right vs. Left. Now let’s talk about Left vs. Left, and how they undermine themselves…

Read whole column at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/04/18/visible-minorities-why-progressives-keep-losing/ 

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities column 32: “On the Naomi Osaka Heckling” at Indian Wells tournament (March 21, 2022)

mytest

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Hi Blog. This semester has been an extremely busy one, so I haven’t had much time to blog. All my writing energies are being devoted to creating lectures. Sorry. Anyway, here’s my latest SNA column. Debito Arudou, PhD

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Shingetsu News Agency
Visible Minorities: On the Naomi Osaka Heckling
MAR 21, 2022 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/03/21/visible-minorities-on-naomi-osaka-heckling/

SNA (Tokyo) — At a recent tournament in Indian Wells, California, Japan tennis champion Naomi Osaka was heckled by some troll in the audience who shouted out “you suck!” while she was playing on court.

That reduced Osaka to tears. She asked the referee if she could address the crowd, then asked to have the troll ejected. Both requests were denied, and play resumed. Osaka then lost in straight sets.

In post-game comments, Osaka tearfully noted the distraction and compared her situation to a 2001 incident where Venus and Serena Williams faced crowd abuse, again at Indian Wells. The Williamses boycotted the venue for more than a decade after that.

Fortunately, this time Osaka’s heckler was the outlier. The audience at the venue, fellow players afterwards, media and internet chatter were overwhelmingly supportive of her.

Still, others noted that Osaka needs to develop a thicker skin.

I’m afraid I agree.

Osaka has been around on this circuit for quite a while. She’s now 24, and obviously has the talent to be world champion. Now the question is, given the choices she’s made, does she have the mettle to maintain it?

Remember, these are the choices she made:  As I’ve written before in a Japan Times column, “Warning to Naomi Osaka:  Playing for Japan can seriously shorten your career” (September 19, 2018), she chose to represent Japan, a country with a long history of putting grueling (sometimes fatal) pressure on its athletes.  They’re expected to put their country first and their personal best a distant second.

And it’s further complicated by the fact that Osaka is a Visible Minority in Japan, moreover living the preponderance of her life in America and remaining unproficient in Japanese.  

That means, like for so many Visible Minorities in Japan, her foreignness is tolerated as long as she keeps winning.  Put simply:  If she wins, her Japanese half is celebrated.  If she loses, her Non-Japanese half is to blame.  

And she’s not winning.  She’s skipped tournaments due to mental health issues and underperformed in the recent ones she’s attended.  Despite having the honor of lighting the Olympic flame in Tokyo 2021, she only made it to the third round in the tennis event.  Currently she’s dropped to 78th in the world rankings.

That is all tragic, especially since her Japanese sponsors will someday start questioning their money’s worth, as she’s the highest paid female athlete in history.  She’s also used her status (rightly) to visibly advocate for minority causes in America, including BLM (but notably, not for fellow Visible Minorities in Japan; she even ironically dismissed racism in Japan as merely a matter of “a few bad apples”).  

But here’s the point:  What is Osaka’s goal?

If she wishes to settle for the celebrity status of “famous for being famous,” then mission accomplished.  Tennis or no tennis, she can continue to attend her gala events and model for magazine covers and advocate for her causes.  Those are her life choices, so power to her.

But if she wishes to remain a tennis champ, especially one representing and compensated by Japan, she’s going to have to develop some focus.

No matter what, there will be detractors.  That’s the hazard of being a public figure, especially as a Japanese athlete.  And her championing off-court issues like human rights attracts even more detractors.  

I speak from some experience here.  While I am by no means an athlete and cannot claim to be a world champion at anything, I too have fought for human rights causes in Japan.  I’ve kept a sustained public campaign against racial discrimination in Japan for decades, writing several books and garnering domestic and international media attention against “Japanese Only” signs and rules.  We took our case all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court and made it clear to the world, despite all the denialists, that racial discrimination is an embedded, systemic reality in Japan.

That too brings forth detractors who think that pointing out something shameful in Japan is shameful in itself.  As do the trolls of the Global Far Right, who hold up Japan as their model ethnostate, and from them I get death threats on a weekly basis.

But my goal has always been straightforward:  Get a national law passed against racial discrimination in Japan with criminal penalties.  It might not happen in my lifetime, but that remains my focus and I pay the trolls no heed.

As should Osaka.  At some point in time she’s going to have to stop letting hecklers take her power away.  This is that point in time.

Look, if it’s a matter of unfairness in the rules, or something that targets her because of things she cannot change (such as her racial and ethnic background), by all means, protest that.  Racism should never be tolerated.

But a matter of a generic “You suck!”, while unpleasant and undeserved, is something people her age should have learned to deal with by now.  

Bullies will always exist, and you’ll probably encounter them outside of Indian Wells.  Showing them that they have the power to affect you like that only emboldens them further.  Reclaim that power by showing them you’re stronger than they are.  Be unfazed.  Otherwise you will appear to lack the mettle to stay champion, and they, not you, will accomplish their goals.

Yes, it’s Indian Wells’ job to create a comfortable and level playing field for athletes, and they should have taken responsibility for that.  It’s our job as the general public to make sure those conditions are in fact enforced and to support our favorite athletes.  If Indian Wells isn’t going to cooperate, then yes, boycott the place.  

But it’s still the athlete’s job to train both physically and mentally and play their personal best.  

So do your best, Naomi Osaka.  Enforce what you can, tune out what you can’t.  That’s what champions do.  That’s the path you chose, and to a certain degree these detractors come with it.  

As you might say, dismiss them in your mind as just “a few bad apples.”

ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 31: “Shintaro Ishihara: Good Riddance to an Evil Man”, an honest obituary. Feb 20, 2022

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Visible Minorities 31: Shintaro Ishihara: Good Riddance to an Evil Man
Shingetsu News Agency, February 21, 2022
By Debito Arudou 

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/02/21/visible-minorities-good-riddance-to-an-evil-man/

Former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who died February 1, was an evil man. Any honest obituary would admit as such. Unfortunately, the media’s retrospectives have tended to eulogize him, using weasel words so as to not speak ill of the dead.

But that’s the wrong reflex. Evil should never be whitewashed, especially when it comes to a person as evil as Ishihara, and by doing so they are complicit in historical revisionism. I will try to rectify that with this column by recounting Ishihara’s actual record.

COMPARISON AND CONTEXT

I do not use the term “evil” lightly.  Consider other people in Japan who, when granted power, did wrong:

Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, a rehabilitated war criminal, stunted Japan’s development into a mature sovereign country by perpetually subordinating Japan’s geopolitical interests to the American military under the US-Japan Security Treaty.  

Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who abetted the “Comfort Women” system of wartime sexual slavery, spent his life not only denying its existence, but also reconstituting Japan’s ruthless revisionist far-right.  

And Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, did all he could to restore prewar elitism to the postwar governing system, by destroying any “Western” ideals of individuality, human rights, and pacifism; and (unsuccessfully) trying to “revise” Japan’s postwar Constitution.  

But all of these horrible little men still pale in comparison to a man as irredeemably evil as Shintaro Ishihara.

WHITEWASHING THE RECORD THROUGH WEASEL WORDS

Most obits have used weasel words to describe Ishihara’s life:  “Controversial,“ “brash,” “charismatic,” “unapologetic,” “chauvinistic,” “contentious,” a “firebrand (or fiery) nationalist,” “staunch right-winger,” “outspoken conservative,” even “gaffe-prone,” woefully understating his misdeeds.  

Some went even further, looking for some good in him:  His establishment of the Shinginko Tokyo bank using public monies (which failed, becoming a windfall for the yakuza), involvement with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (and we’ve written here what a nationalist mess that became), restrictions on diesel cars in Tokyo (yes, less air pollution is good, but rarely were his policies green), and an “outspokenness” towards anything he didn’t like (that’s not a virtue; just a guilty pleasure to watch).  

One of the harsher ones, after calling him a “rightist, elitist, racist, misogynist, patriarchal pig,” still fell for his “unmistakable, evocative allure,” and concluded that “Tokyo has lost something” with his death.

What we lost was a legitimizer of hatred.  

Revealingly, one of Ishihara’s elitist co-conspirators described him as “a politician who challenged what became the norms in the postwar era… He was not afraid of criticisms and insisted on what he had to say” (Shinzo Abe).  Translation:  Ishihara’s extreme stances and policies helped our right-wing policy aims seem less extreme.

INSTEAD, MEMORIALIZE ISHIHARA’S HATEFUL DEEDS

So let’s recount Ishihara’s actual record, starting with his peerless sense of entitlement.  

Born into wealth, he got lucky getting a prestigious book award at an early age which catapulted him into celebrity status.  This enabled him to hobnob with elites and attain elected national office for several decades.  After all, electorates in any society are suckers for celebrities.

He eventually found himself in a position of real power, elected multiple times to the governorship of the world’s largest and richest city.  And he used that bully pulpit to further aims explicitly motivated by hate, admitting in 2014, “Until I die, I want to say what I want to say and do what I want to do, and I want to die hated by people.”

Accordingly, Ishihara infused hate and spite into just about any public policy he sponsored.  Remember how mere weeks into his first term as Tokyo Governor he called for the Japanese military to actively round up foreigners (using the racist epithet “Sankokujin”) in the event of a natural disaster?  How were they to do that?  Unclear — probably just arrest anyone who “looks foreign.”  Why?  Because in his words, foreigners are “heinous” and will of course riot and run amok when given the opportunity.  

That claim was put to the test during the Tohoku Tsunami, and surprise, no foreigner riots.  Any retractions from Ishihara?  Of course not.  Men of no conscience or sense of consequence for their actions never apologize unless they’re forced to.

For Ishihara was a man who unapologetically said that he loathed Koreans and Chinese, and went out of his way not only to justify Japan’s occupation of its Asian neighbors, but also deny its colonial and wartime atrocities.  (All while calling the US atomic bombing of Japan racist.)  Ishihara even claimed, in his regular Sankei Shinbun columns, that Chinese were innately criminal due to their “ethnic DNA.” 

A hateful man who poured his hate into concrete policies, Ishihara installed Japan’s first neighborhood surveillance cameras specifically in areas of Tokyo he claimed were “hotbeds of foreign crime,” and went on TV at regular intervals to propagandize that Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Roppongi at night were no longer Japan.

He also said that Japanese politicians who support more civil and human rights for foreign residents must have “foreign ancestors” themselves, and abetted political witch hunts and loyalty tests to root out politicians with international connections.

Essentially, Ishihara was trying to ethnically cleanse Japan, undoing the “internationalization” phase of the 1980s and 1990s of openness and tolerance. 

In its place, he sponsored overt racism and normalized xenophobia.  He fueled Japan’s reflexive self-victimization by scapegoating foreigners, accusing them of crime, terrorism, subversive activities, and a general undermining of all things “Japanese.”  

And it worked. To this day, entire political parties, candidates, and hate groups publicly rally for the expulsion of foreigners and the extermination of Koreans. That’s why current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida can’t easily lift the world’s longest, most draconian and unscientific Covid border policies–because polls say 57% of the fearful Japanese public want them kept.

In his spare time, Ishihara also found ways to hate anyone who wasn’t like him, even blaming his own citizens for their woes.  Such as the time he said the 2011 Tohoku Disasters were “divine punishment for Japanese people’s egoism.”  

Ever the misogynist in his novels and policy statements (one obit called him “the King of Toxic Masculinity”), he called women who survived past menopause “a waste” and “a disease of civilization” (as opposed to men, however senile, who can still “propagate the species until their 80s and 90s”), said that a woman euthanized for having ALS suffered from a “karmic disease due to the sins of a past life,” and averred that gays and lesbians are “genetically subnormal.”  There’s plenty more, but I’ll stop there.

STOP EULOGIZING A HITLER PROTOTYPE

That’s why I find it so jarring that obituarists minced their words.  Stop it, because you are complicit in historical revisionism.  

To find any redeeming qualities in a man like Ishihara is like noting that Hitler liked dogs, built Germany’s autobahns, or created Volkswagen.  But that shouldn’t be the focus of any honest historical accounting of a balance sheet of evil.

And yes, I made a comparison to Hitler.  That’s not Godwin’s Law.  Think about it:  If Ishihara had been given the powers Hitler had, do you think he would have done much different?  

Other people of Ishihara’s ilk (such as Prime Minister Taro Aso) have expressed admiration for Hitler, saying he had the “right motives,” because that enables politicians to achieve results.  Shucks, if only Japanese politicians’ power wasn’t so diluted by Japanese bureaucracy, and the Japanese military freed to project more power wherever it wanted, what could we accomplish?

Well, that was precisely what Ishihara was trying to do whenever he had power.

Remember when Governor Ishihara tried to leverage public and private monies (eventually forcing the national government’s hand to do so) to buy up the Senkakus, some disputed rocks in the East China Sea?  That was, in his words, his attempt to “start a war with China and win.”  To this day, major world media that should know better blithely portray this conflict as merely a “feud,” a “row,” and a “spat.”  

Given that Ishihara was also calling for Japan to develop nuclear weapons, that means, if Ishihara had achieved his results, he would have mass-murdered the people he hated.  

Thus comparisons with Hitler are not hyperbole.  They’re history.  

DEATH BY “KARMIC DISEASE” IS NOT ENOUGH

Ishihara died at age 89 of recurring pancreatic cancer.  I’m told it’s a painful way to go.  Good.  But no amount of pain he would ever feel would make up for the suffering he caused out of purely personal animus and spite.  He was a cruel man who spent his life persecuting people not only because they crossed him, but also simply because they were born a certain way.

So this is my obit:  Shintaro Ishihara was a monster and now he is dead.  May he rot in hell.

ENDS
======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 30: “US Military Should Combat Japan’s Xenophobia”, i.e., counteract apparent Japanese media disinformation about their bases’ Covid policies (Jan 24, 2022)

mytest

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Visible Minorities Column 30: US Military Should Combat Japan’s Xenophobia
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, JAN 24, 2022 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/01/24/visible-minorities-us-military-should-combat-japans-xenophobia/

SNA (Tokyo) — Shingetsu News Agency has reported for two years on how the Japanese government and media have gone out of their way to blame foreigners for the domestic spread of Covid. Each time we’ve gone out of our way to point out that Covid was usually brought in by Japanese citizens disobeying lenient quarantines.

The government’s exclusionary border policies, treating people without Japanese passports as somehow more contagious, is routinely supported neither by logic nor science.

The latest mutation of this narrative has been the blame targeted at US military bases in Japan for community spread.

For example, Japan Times reported on January 8, stitching together wire reports from Jiji Press and Kyodo News, that “US military personnel are believed to have triggered a coronavirus resurgence in [Okinawa, Yamaguchi, and Hiroshima]. Many people in the three prefectures live in close proximity to American bases. Infection prevention measures taken by the US forces, which some have criticized as being too lax, are thought to be behind that explosion of cases.” […]. But this is contradicted by what the US Forces Japan say are their actual policies, claiming 92-98% vaccination rates and limitations on movement.

So is the blame game grounded in facts and science? Or are these reactions to people trying to find another foreign scapegoat for the latest Covid spike? We don’t know because US Forces Japan aren’t making their practices sufficiently loud and clear. As usual.

The upshot: How US Forces Japan are yet again ignoring being used for domestic political capital is irresponsible. USFJ has the duty to recognize that what they do affects Visible Minorities in Japan, whether it be inspiring “Japanese Only” bigots to slam shop doors in their faces, or giving more ammunition to reactionaries who seek to seal off Japan’s borders.

Full article at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/01/24/visible-minorities-us-military-should-combat-japans-xenophobia/

Page with more sources at https://www.debito.org/?p=16964.

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My annual “Human Rights Top Ten for 2021” countdown now at Shingetsu News Agency, VM 29 Dec 27, 2021

mytest

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Hello and Happy Holidays to all Debito.org Readers! Here’s my annual Top Ten, this year moved to the Shingetsu News Agency because The Japan Times isn’t in the market for articles like these anymore. Excerpt:

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Visible Minorities: Human Rights Top Ten for 2021
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, DEC 27, 2021 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN

SNA (Tokyo) — Since 2008, I have always devoted my end-year columns to counting down the Top Ten human rights issues as they pertain to Non-Japanese residents of Japan. This year I’m moving this feature to the Shingetsu News Agency. Let’s get started:

10) Debito.org Turns 25 Years Old…
9) Tourism to Japan Drops 99% Since 2019…
8 ) Vincent Fichot Hunger Strike against Japan Child Abduction…
7) Tokyo Musashino City Approves, Then Defeats, Inclusive Voting Proposal…

Full countdown with write-ups at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/12/27/visible-minorities-human-rights-top-ten-for-2021/

Enjoy!  More to come in 2022!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My SNA VM28: “Japan’s Fast Breeder Reactor of Racism.” Summarizes book “Embedded Racism” First and Second Editions, Nov 22, 2021

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Guidebookcover.jpgGuidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Hi Blog.  my Second Edition of “Embedded Racism in Japan” (Lexington Books, 2022) has just come out, and I summarize both editions in my latest Shingetsu News Agency “Visible Minorities” column.

Since the First Edition is probably well-known by frequent readers of Debito.org, let me excerpt the new arguments of the Second Edition.  Read the whole SNA column for the full context.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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

Visible Minorities: Japan’s Fast Breeder Reactor of Racism
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, NOV 22, 2021 by Debito Arudou
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/11/22/visible-minorities-japans-fast-breeder-reactor-of-racism/

(Excerpt) In my new Second Edition of Embedded Racism (2022), I’m now arguing that Japan’s long-ignored racial discrimination undermines the rest of the world, especially its liberal democracies, because Japan is in fact a fast-breeder reactor of radioactive racism.

Since the end of World War II, the capitalistic side of the world, particularly the United States, willfully ignored and indulged Japan’s explicit expressions of racial and ethnic superiority. After all, the conservatives of the world would rather Japan be right-of-center and anti-communist. So they funded conservative governments and offered favorable access to international markets, ensuring that Japan got rich and deferential.

For what do the conservatives care if Japan violates its human rights treaties or inflames regional tensions, through historical denialism and the arrogance of racial superiority? As long as Japan keeps hosting the bases, buying the weapons, and acting as America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier in Asia, they have in them a harmless and controllable ally.

Except that it’s not. Here’s where the chickens come home to roost.

One axiom in this field of study is that if you ignore racism, it spreads. Bigots exist in every society, and if they realize they can get away with discriminating against people, they’ll gleefully do it, especially if they have templates to follow.

Japan offers those templates… In short, embedded racism has made Japan into the world’s template “ethnostate.”

That is to say, to numerous white supremacists worldwide, Japan is the model for a society organized along beliefs of its own ethnic purity. As one of the richest and most-respected countries in the world, Japan, unlike other rich countries, has prospered while keeping minorities and migrants to a minimum…

The conclusion is that my second edition of Embedded Racism is a clarion call for liberals and progressives to wake up, and get ready to defend democracy from the ethnocentrists. Fight with all your might the fiction that the way to deal with a race problem is to exclude and cleanse races from your society. That’s the Japan template. Don’t let it be yours.

Again, if you leave discrimination alone, it spreads. Leaving Japan alone to practice its embedded racism has finally reached the point of blowback. It’s time for a new set of templates to fight racial discrimination in the world, including and especially Japan’s.

Overseas policymakers should also be ready to make Japan take responsibility for what it’s wrought upon the world. It’s time to pressure the Japanese government to observe its treaty promise to the United Nations more than 25 years ago—passing a law against racial discrimination—and begin the process of enfranchising its minority voices.

That includes doing more than just scolding or issuing strongly worded letters. I suggest putting pressure where Japan’s elites care—limiting access to overseas markets. Or else Japan will remain a fast breeder reactor of racism irradiating the rest of the democratic world.

EXCERPT ENDS.  Full article at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/11/22/visible-minorities-japans-fast-breeder-reactor-of-racism/

If you are interested in reading the fully revised and updated Second Edition, please download this publisher promo flyer (with discounts), take it to your local library, and have them order a copy. Then you can borrow and read it for free.

http://debito.org/EmbeddedRacism2ndEdFlyer.pdf

======================
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Debito’s SECOND EDITION of “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination” (Lexington Books, 2022), fully revised and updated, now on sale

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Hi Blog. The new SECOND EDITION of “Embedded Racism” (Lexington Books, 2022), completely revised and updated with 100 extra pages of new material, is now on sale.

Information site outlining what’s new, with excerpts and reviews, and how to get your copy at a discount at

https://www.debito.org/embeddedracism.html

(Or you can download a flyer, take it to your library, have them order the book, and then borrow it for free at EmbeddedRacism2ndEdFlyer)

Read a sample of the book on Amazon here.

Front Cover:

Full cover with reviews:

Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

My SNA VM27: “The Bright Side of Japan’s ‘Culture of No’.” Surprise! Debito has something positive to say about Japan. Oct 18, 2021

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Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
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Hi Blog.  As I am swamped with preparations for the release of my next book, here is a human-interest essay on Japan where, surprise!, I say something positive about what I learned from Japan about how to cope with the adversity of the global pandemic.  Enjoy.  Arudou Debito, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities 27: The Bright Side of Japan’s “Culture of No”
Surprise! Debito has something positive to say about Japan.
Shingetsu News Agency, October 18, 2021
By Debito Arudou

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/10/18/visible-minorities-the-bright-side-of-japans-culture-of-no/

SNA (Tokyo) — As the pandemic stretches into yet another season, the media is starting to assess how Covid is changing the world permanently. At least one pundit has called the situation “epochal,” with the ever-rising worldwide death toll causing disruptions to politics, government, economics, and social life in general. It’s no longer a matter of just getting everyone vaccinated and then everything going back to normal: for the foreseeable future, we’ll have to accept some form of deprivation as the new normal.

Some countries are coping with deprivation (or at least a deferred gratification) less well. The United States is a good example. Despite being one of the most advanced economies and developed civil societies in the world, it has botched the pandemic badly–and it is not only because the previous president was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of people to maintain his power. It’s also because of a design flaw deeply embedded in America’s national psyche.

American society is oddly susceptible to charismatic frauds posing as leaders, inept at everything except the uncanny talent of playing off social expectations framed as “freedoms”: 1) “freedom from want” (i.e., in a land of plenty, you should be able to get whatever you want); and 2) “freedom from being told what to do by government” (better known as “liberty,” where, as long as it’s not specifically illegal, you should be able to do whatever you want).

Consider how Covid has devastated American expectations. In terms of want, supply chains worldwide have broken down, meaning Americans have had to defer consumer gratification in places where it hurts, from toilet paper to used cars to sudden exorbitant rents. In terms of government nonintervention, the audacity of a national vaccine mandate demanding people get a Covid shot is being denounced as “tyranny.” Not all societies have reacted like this…

This is where Japan comes in.

At a time of historic stressors around the globe, I realized that my decades living in Japan have come in handy. In fact, Japan has been an excellent training ground for deprivation and deferred gratification. They seem to lack the ability to keep things in perspective, particularly the one I gained from living under Japan’s “Culture of No.”…
=============================

Read the rest before it goes behind paywall at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/10/18/visible-minorities-the-bright-side-of-japans-culture-of-no/

Or read it anytime by subscribing to SNA and supporting your local progressive journalism for about a dollar a week!

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 26: “The ‘Inconceivable’ Racial Discrimination Law”: Japan’s human rights reports to the United Nations are a case study in official dishonesty

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Visible Minorities: The “Inconceivable” Racial Discrimination Law
Japan’s human rights reports to the United Nations are a case study in official dishonesty.
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, September 20, 2021

SNA: The signature function of the United Nations is to promote world peace, and one way to do that is to encourage ethical standards of behavior from its member countries. They get people to agree on those norms and standards through signing international treaties.

One of the standards that matters most is human rights practices. After all, countries which want to belong to the respected club of “civilized” countries are expected to sign the treaties covering a whole host of noble issues: the elimination of torture; the protection of women, children, and people with disabilities; and the protections of people in general in terms of economic, political, social, civil, and political rights. Signatories are expected to submit periodical reports (usually about every two years) to UN Committees to demonstrate how they are progressing.

Japan has signed most of those treaties. My favorite one, of course, is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which protects people, especially our Visible Minorities, against discrimination by “race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.” But getting Japan to actually abide by CERD is one of the hobby horses I’ve been riding for decades.

When Japan signed the CERD in 1995, it explicitly agreed to “prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination,” and they were to do it “without delay.” Yet more than a quarter century later, Japan still has no national law against racial discrimination…

So when called upon to justify its record of nasty treatment of its foreign, ethnic, historical, and visible minorities, how does Japan get away with it? By delaying, of course. Let’s take a look at the last time Japan submitted its Periodic Report on the Implementation of the CERD, and reveal its pattern of reporting in bad faith…
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Rest is at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/09/20/visible-minorities-the-inconceivable-racial-discrimination-law/

Read it before it goes behind paywall later this week, or subscribe and support your local progressive journalism for about a dollar a week!

All reports mentioned in this article can be found at

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 25: Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postmortem, where I argue the Games failed its goals of “Diversity and Inclusion” predictably and by design

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Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Visible Minorities: Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postmortem
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, AUG 16, 2021 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN (excerpt)
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/08/16/visible-minorities-tokyo-2020-olympics-postmortem/

SNA (Tokyo) — The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are now past. This is a postmortem.

Last month’s column talked about the “evil” of the Japanese government and International Olympic Committee (IOC) in forcing an unpopular Olympics upon Japan’s residents, all the while as Tokyo’s cases spiked during a global pandemic. But I also argued how host Japan in particular is trained by national narratives to see “outsiders” (including residents who don’t “look Japanese”—our Visible Minorities) specifically as terrorists, hooligans, criminals, and vectors of disease.

These fault lines have predictably exacerbated the endemic social disease of racial discrimination. International events just give people more excuses to create “Japanese Only” signs and rules.

That’s not to say that I boycotted the Olympics. In fact, given my background, I should be a superfan. […] But thanks to my background in political science, I’m trained to view nationalism with a critical eye: How governments convince people to live, fight, and even sacrifice their lives for their country. The Olympics are rooted precisely in these attitudes, and forever filter athleticism through the lens of national representation and superiority.

So despite all their promises to showcase “Diversity and Inclusion,” the Tokyo 2020 Olympics shirked that opportunity — predictably and by design…

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Rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/08/16/visible-minorities-tokyo-2020-olympics-postmortem/. Go read it before it goes behind paywall. Or better yet, support independent progressive journalism and subscribe to SNA for as little as a dollar a week!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 24: “The Tokyo Olympics Trap”, on how these Games are harming Japan’s minorities, and how the IOC is harming Japan

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Hi Blog. My latest SNA column 24 is about the fiasco the Tokyo 2020 Olympiad has become. Introduction:

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Visible Minorities: The Tokyo Olympics Trap
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, July 19, 2021

SNA (Tokyo) — On the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, let’s talk about the mess.

Much space has been devoted to the idiocracy behind spending record amounts of money on infrastructure that is not built to last, or even if it is, it often winds up abandoned. Further, holding a superspreader sports meet during a global pandemic is a surefire path to social discord and preventable death.

But it matters that Japan is hosting this mess. This column as usual will first focus on the Olympics’ impact on our minorities, and then talk about the IOC’s responsibility for scamming Japan…
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Rest is at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/07/19/visible-minorities-the-tokyo-olympics-trap/

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My SNA VM Column 23: “Gaijin Card Reader App Obliterates Privacy,” June 21, 2021, on how NJ privacy is of so little concern that the Govt. has enabled anyone to swipe Gaijin Cards

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Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Poster Title: “When you employ a foreigner, check their Zairyuu Card!  Employers will also be punished for employing illegal workers!!” Ministry of Justice, Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau. Photo from Hiroo Subway Station, June 16, 2021, courtesy of K on Twitter.

Hi Blog. As you may have heard, the Justice Ministry has enabled the general public to collect your personal data from your “Gaijin Cards” via downloadable app. That’s the subject of my most recent SNA column, out today. Opening:

==========================
Visible Minorities: Gaijin Card Reader App Obliterates Privacy
By Debito Arudou
Shingetsu News Agency, June 21, 2021

“Privacy in Japan… is not being seen.”

This quote, usually attributed to former US Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer, was made in the context of an overcrowded Japan in his day, used to explain the stark difference between public and private behaviors of Japanese (sneaking off, for example, to love hotels for a bit of private time).

But privacy is taken quite seriously in Japan, especially if it will damage a reputation. Television broadcasts of criminal suspects on perp walks often have their handcuffs blurred, since the person hasn’t been convicted yet. Media reporting on businesses accused of unsavory activities (such as food poisoning or putting up “Japanese Only” signs) often refuse to report their company names so it doesn’t adversely affect their sales. Even people who park their cars in those love hotels may find themselves in a parking garage with curtains, or with their license plates covered up by pieces of plywood provided by the establishment.

So why doesn’t this concern for privacy apply to foreign residents? (Examples of egregious violations of privacy by nationality, contrasted with all the legal protections for citizens, follow. Then we get to the new Gaijin Card Reader App…)
==========================

Rest is at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/06/21/visible-minorities-gaijin-card-reader-app-obliterates-privacy/

Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities column 22: “Interrogating the Discriminatory Covid Self-Quarantine Scandal”, May 17, 2021

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Hi Blog. Hello Debito.org Newsletter Readers. This month’s SNA Visible Minorities column 22 updates us on how Japan’s discriminatory border policies disproportionately punish Non-Japanese residents, even when things that are going wrong are due to government mismanagement. Paraphrased excerpt:

==============================
Visible Minorities: Interrogating the Discriminatory Covid Self-Quarantine Scandal
By Debito Arudou, May 17, 2021 (condensed intro)

SNA (Tokyo) — Sometimes government-designed policies lack sense. Or, in places where the government is as unaccountable as Japan’s, policymakers ignore cautions—-or don’t get cautioned at all because a docile mass media is mobilized behind a national goal. So when things go wrong, very bad things can happen, especially when punishments for noncompliance only go one way and hurt innocent people.

That is what’s in the cards yet again with Japan’s Covid border controls. The current policy is that if you are a resident of Japan returning from overseas, you face a mandatory self-quarantine system. Everyone, regardless of nationality, signs must notify the authorities of their current location each day. If not, authorities will contact them via Skype, WhatsApp video call, or by voice cell phone number.

If you are found to be breaking quarantine as a Japanese, you get your name exposed to the public. However, foreign residents will lose everything—their lives, livelihoods, and anything they ever invested in Japan—by getting deported. So with punishments this disproportionate, the government had better make sure nothing goes wrong. Guess what? Things are going wrong, and it’s the government’s fault…
==============================

Rest is at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/05/17/visible-minorities-interrogating-the-discriminatory-quarantine-scandal/

Links to sources cited in the full article:  Kyodo News May 1, Japan Times May 12, MOFA self-quarantine pledge.

Enjoy! Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
======================
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SNA Visible Minorities 21: “A Retrospective on 25 Years of Activism”, April 19, 2021

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SNA — I’ve been involved in activism in Japan for many years. Indeed so many that my online archive of work, Debito.org, just turned 25 years old last week. With that in mind, I’d like to devote this column to a retrospective of the past quarter century: What, if anything, has Debito.org contributed to help make conditions for Non-Japanese residents and Visible Minorities better?

Debito.org first went live on April 15, 1996, during the earlier days of the World Wide Web, as a means to respond to online bulletin board critics. When topics came up over and again, I’d just archive a previous essay on Debito.org and send a link. After a couple hundred essays were organized into general information sites, Debito.org became a platform for issues involving foreign residents of Japan.

The first major issue I took up was “Academic Apartheid” in Japan’s universities. This is where all Japanese full-time faculty were granted contract-free tenure from day one of employment, while all foreign academics, despite many being better qualified than their Japanese counterparts, got perpetual ninkisei contracts (some of them term-limited) without the opportunity for tenure.

I discovered a “smoking gun” one day in my university mailbox: A paper directive from the Ministry of Education encouraging national and public universities to fire their older foreign professors by not renewing their contracts. I scanned it, archived it, and sent a link to prominent advocates like Ivan P. Hall (author of Cartels of the Mind) for further exposure. It turns out that a government demanding their universities axe all their foreigners over forty is state-sponsored discrimination, and it blew up into an international issue that even then-US Ambassador Walter Mondale took up.

All of that information is still up on Debito.org today, and it turns out that a permanent archive that is searchable, citable, with context and without paywall, is a valuable resource, especially as many unscrupulous people would rather have a history of their actions and policies disappear into the ether. Once archived on Debito.org, it didn’t. Soon other issues on Debito.org garnered national and international attention, even generating public policy movements…

Rest is at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/04/19/visible-minorities-retrospective-on-25-years-of-activism/

======================
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My SNA VM column 20: “The World’s First ‘Japanese Only’ Olympics?”, on how Japan’s new ban on “overseas spectators” may lead to banning all foreigners (out of linguistics and force of habit) (UPDATED)

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Hi Blog.  Here’s an excerpt of my latest Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 20. Have a read before it goes behind paywall, and please subscribe if you want to see the rest of their articles — it’s but a dollar a week, and it supports progressive journalism. Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: The World’s First “Japanese Only” Olympics?
Shingetsu News Agency, March 15, 2021, By Debito Arudou

SNA (Tokyo) — Reuters and Kyodo recently reported that Japan is banning “foreign spectators” (or “overseas spectators”) from the Tokyo Olympics: “The government has concluded that welcoming fans from abroad is not possible given concerns among the Japanese public over the coronavirus and the fact that more contagious variants have been detected in many countries.”

Blogging about this at Debito.org, I worried aloud that excluding all “foreign spectators” would be interpreted to mean all foreigners, including Non-Japanese living in Japan. But commenters (some of whom already have tickets or will be volunteering to help) were quick to stress that the “overseas” wording meant only foreign tourists, not them.

But I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

Granted, the original wording in Japanese is kaigai kara no ippan kankyaku (regular spectators from overseas), not “foreigners” (gaikokujin). But words matter, especially when you’re categorizing people, and doing it wrong will lead to discrimination.

I think Japan will do it wrong, due to linguistics and force of habit…

Rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/03/15/the-worlds-first-japanese-only-olympics/

(Read a rough draft of the contents of this article before it became my SNA column at https://www.debito.org/?p=16480)

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

UPDATE MARCH 20, 2021: The NYT reports that it’s a done deal now. The IOC has approved the exclusion of all “spectators from overseas”. And it’s just being passed off as a “concession to the realities of the pandemic”. Its possibly problematic enforcement in terms of NJ Residents is not touched upon — more focus is on the plight of overseas ticket holders. — Debito

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

Spectators From Overseas Are Barred From Tokyo Olympics
The move, announced Saturday, is a significant concession to the realities of the pandemic, even as organizers remain determined to hold the Games this summer.

By Motoko Rich and Ben Dooley
New York Times, March 20, 2021
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/20/world/asia/tokyo-olympics-spectators.html

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

JOC’s official statement on this:

ABOUT THE GAMES
Statement on Overseas Spectators for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020
Japan Olympic Committee 20 MAR 2021, courtesy of BM
https://tokyo2020.org/en/news/statement-on-overseas-spectators-for-the-olympic-and-paralympic-games-tokyo-2020

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SNA VM 19: “Yoshiro Mori’s Overdue Comeuppance”, Feb 15, 2021, on how the former Japan Olympics Chair melded misogyny with racism — for decades!

mytest

Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
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Hi Blog. My latest Shingetsu News Agency column recounts former Prime Minister and professional bigot Mori Yoshiro’s tenure as Japan representative, and the mystery behind Japan’s consistent waste of talent in favor of hopelessly incompetent and elitist old men. Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities 19: Yoshiro Mori’s Overdue Comeuppance
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, February 15, 2021
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/02/15/visible-minorities-yoshiro-moris-overdue-comeuppance/

SNA (Tokyo) — When I started writing this month’s column, Yoshiro Mori, an 83-year-old fossil of Japanese politics, was still president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organising Committee, where he had come under fire for comments claiming that women in leadership positions “talk too much,” cluttering meetings with competitive chatter. He has since resigned, but in the wake has come much media commentary about Japan’s sexism and women’s disenfranchisement.

Photos appeared showing meetings of top-level Japan business organizations (such as Keidanren) that look like old-boy clubs. Pundits noted that Japan has slipped in the World Economic Forum’s gender-empowerment index to 121st place out of 153 countries measured (the lowest amongst the developed countries, behind China, Zimbabwe, Brunei, and Myanmar). And my favorite: Japan idiotically sending a man (Kono Taro) to the world’s first meeting of women foreign ministers in 2018.

All this has occurred despite former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much-touted policy of unlocking the women workforce as the “greatest potential for the growth of the Japanese economy.” He would create “a society in which women can shine.” Mori’s sexist comments make clear that hasn’t happened.

So let’s focus on what Mori himself represented: the worst of Japan’s politics, melding misogyny with racism…
/////////////////////////////////

Rest is at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/02/15/visible-minorities-yoshiro-moris-overdue-comeuppance/

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities column 18: “Latest visa rules could purge any foreigner” (Jan 18, 2021), on how Covid countermeasures disproportionately target Non-Japanese against all science or logic

mytest

Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
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Hi Blog. My latest SNA column’s point is this: Even after political leadership has finally shed Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government has found new ways to discriminate against foreign residents of Japan. This is no accident, as NJ were in no way protected, considered, or involved in this policymaking that profoundly affects them.  Soon, any foreign resident of Japan may be under threat of immediate deportation. Excerpt follows, full article at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/01/18/visible-minorities-latest-visa-rules-could-purge-any-foreigner/  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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

“Latest visa rules could purge any foreigner”

Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities column 18, January 18, 2021

[…] New year, new salvo of foreigner bashing: Last week, the Suga administration unveiled re-entry rules that permit non-Japanese residents to re-enter the same as Japanese, as long as they completed the same paperwork and fourteen-day quarantine.

Good, but here’s the wrinkle: If you are found in violation of any quarantine regulations, you don’t just get in trouble like Japanese by, err, having your name made public. You may lose your visa status and get deported from the country. You read that right.

This policy was in reaction to the discovery of the United Kingdom mutation of Covid within Japan this month. But like most policy created in times of shock, it has hasty assumptions: that a foreign variant meant that foreigners were somehow responsible. In fact, the Patient Zeroes who came back from England and went out partying instead of quarantining were Japanese.

This new policy is ironic. In addition to the past year of Japanese media blaming foreigners for creating “foreign clusters,” it also ignores the lazy government response to Covid. Nobody at the national level wanted to take the responsibility for declaring a blanket state of emergency. But since infections have now reached record numbers, here comes the crackdown—and once again foreigners are being disproportionately targeted.

Granted, the government is now threatening to mete out jail time and fines for Japanese who don’t cooperate with measures to reduce Covid’s spread. This has occasioned the perfunctory hand-wringing about the effectiveness of punishment in curbing infections and “infringing too much on personal freedoms” for Japanese. I see that as part of the healthy give-and-take of political debate, to make sure things don’t go too far. But where is the parallel debate about the “freedoms” of non-Japanese residents who are receiving unequal treatment under the law?

A Japanese getting a fine or a spell in the clink is one thing, but it’s incomparable to a foreigner losing their legal status gleaned after years or decades of residency, followed by deportation and permanent separation from their lives, livelihoods, and families in Japan.

We know that one of the reasons Covid became a pandemic is because of asymptomatic transmission. So what if a person who doesn’t know they’re sick and hasn’t left the country gets linked to a cluster by contact tracing? If that somebody happens to be a foreigner, his or her life in Japan may well be over…

Read the rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/01/18/visible-minorities-latest-visa-rules-could-purge-any-foreigner/
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My Japan Times JBC 119: Top 5 Human Rights Issues of 2020: “A Watershed Year for Japan’s Foreign Residents” (Dec. 31, 2020)

mytest

Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
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======================
Hi Blog.  Happy New Year!  As has happened at the Japan Times for more than a decade, here is my annual countdown of the top human rights issues for the past year in terms of their impact on NJ Residents in Japan.

I usually do a Top Ten, but since I only had 1000 words this year, it became a Top Five with a few “bubble unders” snuck in.  Enjoy!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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justbecauseicon.jpg

2020 was a watershed year for Japan’s foreign residents
By Debito Arudou, The Japan Times, Just Be Cause, Dec 31, 2020

“May you live in interesting times,” goes the famous curse. By that standard, 2020 was captivating. One thing affected everyone worldwide: COVID-19. And in Japan, our international community was hit particularly hard by public policy regarding its containment.

There were many other issues worth mentioning, however. For example, the Education Ministry announced an increased budget for language support in schools for non-Japanese children next year — a promising sign. However, Japan’s continued mistreatment of those kept in immigration detention centers, and an officially acknowledged incident of “hate speech” in Kitakyushu that went unpunished, were also steps backward from the goal of an inclusionary society.

We don’t have space for them all, so below are the top five issues I feel were of greatest impact to Japan’s non-Japanese residents in 2020, in ascending order.

5) Black Lives Matter in Japan…

Read the rest at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2020/12/31/issues/japan-2020-foreign-resident-issues/

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

The issues that bubbled under (with links to sources):

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 17: NIKE JAPAN Advertisement on Japan’s Visible Minorities does some good (Dec 21, 2020)

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Hi Blog. As promised in a previous blog entry, I would be giving my opinion on a recent advertisement from Nike Japan that got a lot of attention. We’ve already debated the ad itself on Debito.org here. Thanks for your feedback. Now here’s my take, as part of my latest Shingetsu News Agency column. Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Nike Japan Does Some Good
Shingetsu News Agency, DEC 21, 2020 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/12/21/visible-minorities-nike-japan-does-some-good/

SNA (Tokyo) — Nike’s television advertisement depicting a multiethnic Japan stands out as a bright spot to close out the dreadful year of 2020.

Entitled “We Will Continue Moving: Myself and the Future,” the two-minute ad depicts a series of diverse Asian youths pensive about their lives in Japan.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G02u6sN_sRc

Some are running about and kicking soccer balls while musing about their identity and their abilities. A voiceover has them wondering if they’re “normal,” or living up to expectations. One girl, shown in closeup in a school uniform, is clearly a Japanese with African roots. Another boy, after eating a Korean meal with his family, looks up the Zainichi issue late at night on his cellphone. Tennis champ Naomi Osaka’s photo makes a fleeting appearance, with a question about whether she’s American or Japanese. A girl finds Japan’s culture of cuteness doesn’t resonate with her, and wishes she could just ignore it all. Another girl gets glares for going out in public in her Korean school uniform. After more cuts to kids practicing their sports skills, scenes follow of school crowds staring and group-bullying minorities. One lad, drawn attention to by the teacher in class as a new transfer student, feels pressure to be liked by everyone. Another isolated kid feels pressure to tolerate her ostracisation, and then the African-Japanese girl reappears, trying to ignore the other kids who are making a fuss about her kinky hair in a school bathroom. As the music swells, these kids then seek solace in sports, becoming appreciated by their peers for their talents as star athletes—to the point where one girl tapes “KIM” over her Japanese name on the back of her jersey.

The takeaway message in a final montage of voices is the treatment they’re getting is not something they should have to tolerate. They shouldn’t have to wait for a world where they can live “as is,” without concealing themselves.

Now, before I say why this advertisement is important, let’s acknowledge some caveats. One is that this is from Nike Japan, and like all corporations their motivation is to make money. It is a stunt to attract attention and sell products.

Moreover, Nike taking a high road with social justice issues is a bit ironic, given their history of child labor and sweatshops. Above all, human rights and business do not always mix well, and businesspeople are essentially opportunists. So let’s first not delude ourselves to think Nike is primarily motivated by altruism.

The other point worth mentioning is the attention that the ad got: 11 million views so far on YouTube. Naturally, internet trolls, xenophobes, and haters got triggered. Unfortunately, even responsible media (such as the AFP and BBC) gave them oxygen by reporting their overblown calls for a boycott, then fumbled the issue by getting soundbites from unqualified “experts” with no real training in Japan’s history of civil rights, social movements, or race relations issues. These rubes missed the mark by denouncing Nike Japan as a “foreign brand,” or dismissing these kids as “outside voices.”

This is worse than just lazy journalist hackery. This fumble was a missed opportunity to highlight issues that have long been ignored in Japan’s media—the existence of a growing number of visible minorities. So let’s make up for that in this column by acknowledging that Nike Japan’s ad was a big step in the right direction.

First, let’s recap how big 2020 was for minorities in Japan sports:

Rest of the article at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/12/21/visible-minorities-nike-japan-does-some-good/

Read it before it goes behind a paywall on Friday.

======================
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My latest SNA VM column 16: “US Elections Repudiate Trump’s Japan-Style Ethnostate”, suggesting that the US might be taking real steps towards a post-racial society, Nov. 16, 2020

mytest

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Visible Minorities 16: US Elections Repudiate Trump’s Japan-Style Ethnostate
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, November 16, 2020

SNA (Tokyo) — The US elections captured the world’s attention. No wonder. Given America’s hegemony as an economic, political, cultural, and military power, the results underpin the future of geopolitics and world order.

But here’s another angle: This election offers the world some insights into how countries painfully evolve into multiethnic, post-racial societies. It even demonstrated how enfranchised people would rather destroy their governing system than relinquish power.

Fortunately, they didn’t win. Let’s recount some important facts.

The contest between incumbent Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was indeed, as depicted in campaign slogans, a battle for the “soul of America.”

At stake was whether Trump’s nepotistic, corrupt administration—one that shamelessly used whatever means they could to perpetuate their power, punish political enemies, and undermine democracy both domestic and worldwide—would get four more years; or whether America’s place as a world leader, for better or worse, would be restored to less capricious leadership, with policymaking sane enough to keep its own citizens alive in a self-inflicted pandemic.

Clearly American voters chose the latter course; Biden won. He got five million more votes in an election where more people voted for a president than ever before, with voting rates on track to be among the highest in modern US history. […]

[There are of course some caveats, and] given the current status of Trump refusing to concede the election, and his lackeys interfering with a transition to the presumptive winner, it’s clear that no matter who wins, Republicans feel they are the only ones entitled to run the country. They view cheating, sabotage, soliciting foreign interference, and spreading unscientific conspiracy theories as fair play. The United States’ 233-year experiment in democracy be damned; 73 million voters in this election agreed with Trump’s authoritarianism. The intractable polarization of American politics is complete.

Still, the fact remains that this election was a repudiation of Trump, and, in retrospect, it’s a textbook example of democracy in action. […]

Ultimately, the history books will remember this about the past four years: Trump was the worst president in American history—the only one who was impeached, served only one term, and lost the popular vote. Twice.

Well, good for the United States. But there are also lessons here for Japan, particularly its minorities: how countries make slow and painful transitions to a post-racial society…

Read the rest on SNA at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/11/16/visible-minorities-us-elections-repudiate-trumps-japan-style-ethnostate/

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 15: “New Covid Foreign Resident Re-Entry Rules Still Racist”, on how they are actually a natural outcome of Japan’s bullying bureaucracy (Oct. 19, 2020)

mytest

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

Hi Blog.  Here’s my latest Shingetsu News Agency “Visible Minorities” column 15.  Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

=========================
Visible Minorities: New Covid Foreign Resident Re-Entry Rules Still Racist
OCT 19, 2020 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/10/19/visible-minorities-new-covid-foreign-resident-re-entry-rules-still-racist/

SNA (Tokyo) — Sometime during your life in Japan, you will probably feel a chilling attitude in Japan’s bureaucracy: as a foreign resident, you don’t really matter. To Japan’s policymakers, you’re at best an existence to be tolerated, at worst an unpredictable element that needs constant policing.

You’ll see it in things like Japan’s special foreign registry systems, or the “Gaijin Cards” that must be carried 24-7 and leave you vulnerable to random street ID checks by racist cops.

But you might not have realized until recently the most dehumanizing tenet of all: That foreigners should have no legal expectation to belong here.

Japan’s Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that Japan’s foreign residents have no “right of sojourn,” i.e., to leave Japan temporarily and expect to return. (Japan Times columnist Colin Jones called it a “reverse Hotel California”–you can leave any time you like, but can never check back in.)

That means that even if you invested your entire life in Japan, married a Japanese, had children, paid taxes, bought property, started a business, and even achieved Permanent Residency (which by definition should be a legitimate claim to reside here forever), nothing you did matters. You cross the border, you’re out.

Hypothetically, if push comes to shove, a Permanent Resident will have the same status as any foreign tourist at the border.

Well, that hypothetical came true last April when, due to Covid, Japan decided to bar all foreigners from re-entering Japan–even though Japanese could still return and merely quarantine. No other developed country does this, and there is no science indicating that Japanese passports offer enhanced epidemiological protection. It was purely arbitrary.

So foreign residents found themselves stranded overseas apart from their Japanese families, or watched helplessly from Japan as their overseas kith and kin died. This heartless and explicit racism attracted significant international attention, so from October 1, Japan announced it would open its borders to foreign residents under certain conditions.

But it turns out that, realistically, these conditions are still a ban…. By arbitrarily creating a tight 72-hour hour window requiring special paperwork unattuned to the realities of Covid testing overseas (especially when the test is meaningless if you get infected on the plane), Japan’s bureaucrats merely deflected international criticism from its regular racism by replacing it with new, improved racism.

Read the entire article at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/10/19/visible-minorities-new-covid-foreign-resident-re-entry-rules-still-racist/

======================
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My latest SNA VM column 14: “Visible Minorities: Weaponizing the Japanese Language”, on how Foreign Minister Motegi’s discriminatory treatment of Japan Times reporter Magdalena Osumi is part of a bigger phenomenon, Sept 21, 2020

mytest

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Hi Blog. My latest Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 14 discusses how Japan weaponizes its language to require “perfect Japanese” from non-native speakers only, and when they can’t speak it perfectly, they get discriminated against. Consider this:

===================================
Visible Minorities: Weaponizing the Japanese Language
Shingetsu News Agency, SEP 21, 2020 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN

http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/09/21/visible-minorities-weaponizing-the-japanese-language/

On August 28, Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s foreign minister, was giving an official press conference to reporters in Japanese. A foreign reporter for Japan Times, Magdalena Osumi, asked some questions in Japanese. When Osumi followed up on a point he left unclear, Motegi responded to her in English.

Osumi then retorted in Japanese, “You needn’t treat me like I’m stupid. If we’re talking in Japanese, please answer in Japanese.” Damn right.

How many times has this happened to you? You ask a question in Japanese of a shop keep, clerk, passerby, or somebody on the other end of a telephone, and they flake out because you got some words in the wrong order, had an accent, or just have a foreign face? Many automatically assume that because you’re foreign-looking or -sounding, you must be able to speak English. So they reply in English.

Or how many times, as a budding Japanese language learner, were you told that what you just said “is not Japanese,” not “it’s not correct Japanese”? Just a flat-out denial, as if your attempt is in some alien tongue, like Klingon.

This phenomenon, where it’s either “perfect Japanese” or you get linguistically gaijinized, is odd. It’s also based upon a myth…
===================================

Read the rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/09/21/visible-minorities-weaponizing-the-japanese-language/

The video of that Motegi press conference is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdlt9n5FDUU (watch from around minute 2 onwards)

Other sources within the SNA article:

Japan Times: In case you missed it: Trump’s awkward response to a Japanese reporter:
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/11/08/world/politics-diplomacy-world/in-case-you-missed-it-trumps-awkward-response-to-a-japanese-reporter/ 

Mainichi: Minister under fire for questioning foreign journalist’s Japanese at press conf.
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200902/p2a/00m/0na/009000c

======================
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Debito’s SNA Visible Minorities 13: “Japan’s Cult of Miserable Happy”, Aug 24, 2020, questioning whether “omotenashi” Japan is actually all that hospitable to anyone, what with such a strong “culture of no”

mytest

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Hi Blog. Here’s my latest column. Enjoy the rest of your summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Japan’s Cult of Miserable Happy
Shingetsu News Agency, Column 13, AUG 24, 2020
By DEBITO ARUDOU
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/08/24/visible-minorities-japans-cult-of-miserable-happy/

…These are sobering times for Japan fans. Thanks to the pandemic, even the most starry-eyed and enfranchised foreigners are having their bubbles burst, realizing that their status in Japan, no matter how hard-earned, matters not one whit to Japan’s policymakers.

As covered elsewhere, current immigration policy dictates that Japanese citizens can leave and re-enter the country at will, as long as they subject themselves to testing and quarantine upon return. But that doesn’t apply to Japan’s resident non-citizens.

Despite widespread protest (and some token revisions), they still generally get barred from re-entry, meaning thousands of foreign workers, spouses, and students are either stranded overseas, watching helplessly as their Japan livelihoods and investments dry up, or stranded in Japan unable to attend to family business or personal tragedy, at a time when thousands of people worldwide die of Covid daily.

Targeting all foreigners only as vessels of virus makes it clearer than ever that Japan’s requirements for membership are racist. It strips yet another layer of credibility from the “Cool Japan” trope, such as the overhyped “culture of hospitality” (omotenashi) during Japan’s buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Since this is an opportune time to remove layers of lies from Japan’s narrative, let’s address another one: That Japan is an unusually hospitable place…

Read the rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/08/24/visible-minorities-japans-cult-of-miserable-happy/

======================
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“A Despotic Bridge Too Far”, Debito’s SNA Visible Minorities column 12 on Japan’s racist blanket ban on Foreign Resident re-entry, July 20, 2020

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Visible Minorities Column 12: A Despotic Bridge Too Far
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, July 20, 2020

http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/07/20/visible-minorities-a-despotic-bridge-too-far/

SNA (Tokyo) — How bad does it have to get? I’m talking about Japan’s cruelty and meanness towards its Non-Japanese residents. How bad before people think to step in and stop it?

I think we now have an answer to that due to Japan’s recent policy excluding only foreigners from re-entry at its border, even if they’ve lived here for decades, as a by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic. Japanese re-entrants get let in after testing and quarantine; no other G7 country excludes all foreigners only.

Consequently, many Non-Japanese residents found themselves stranded overseas, separated from their Japanese families, lives and livelihoods, watching their investments dry up and visa clocks run out without recourse. Or perhaps found themselves stranded within Japan, as family members abroad died, and the prospect of attending their funeral or taking care of personal matters in person would mean exile.

However, protests against this policy have been unusually mainstream, including institutions who have been for generations largely silent regarding other forms of discrimination towards foreigners in Japan. Consider these examples of how institutionalized and embedded racism is in Japan:

You’re probably aware that Japan has long advertised itself as a “monocultural, homogeneous society,” denying that minorities, racial or ethnic, exist within it. But did you know that Japan still refuses to include Non-Japanese residents as “people” in its official population tallies? Or to list them on official family registries as “spouses” of Japanese? Or that Japan’s constitution expressly reserves equality under the law for Japanese citizens (kokumin) in its Japanese translation? This complicates things for all Non-Japanese residents to this day.

Consider how Japan’s law enforcement system still willfully targets “foreigners” for special treatment and racial profiling, encouraged by a system of registration and random street identity checks that apply to Non-Japanese residents only.

With prosecutorial presumptions of guilt and lack of human rights for foreigners, more have been incarcerated as a percentage of the population than Japanese. That is what you get when a criminal justice system has a separate track for detention, incarceration, interrogation, and jurisprudence against foreigners, one so rigged that even a foreigner as powerful as former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, despite a weak case against him, couldn’t buy, bully, or lawyer his way out of.

Then we get to Japan’s mass media, which still more often portrays “foreigners” at best as quirky outsiders and guests, at worst as terrorists, criminals, and vectors of disease. That’s before we get to the random expressions of racism and “othering” that are rife and largely unproblematized in Japan. Rarely does mainstream media salute Non-Japanese residents for their contributions to Japanese society, even as taxpayers.

Yet Japan still wants people to come work on temporary revolving-door visas, including so-called “trainees” hired without any labor rights. But when Non-Japanese residents stick it out and devote their lives to Japan, they get little encouragement to stay on permanently, naturalize, or otherwise become “Japanese.” The general expectation remains that foreigners are in Japan for a period of time to profiteer before they “go home.”

This happens despite foreigners being consigned to jobs on the margins of society, such as menial workers, entertainers, non-executive bureaucrats, healthcare workers, small-time businesspeople, and non-tenured educators. Where are the Non-Japanese licensed professionals in more influential fields like doctors or lawyers?

A handful of foreigners get promoted with great fanfare, but they remain statistical asterisks, not mainstream influencers. Positions of real power are reserved for Real Japanese, and foreigners are second-class subordinates. If not, suddenly it’s Nippon ja nai mitai (Japan is not the Japan we know). Quite.

So back to the opening question: Even with all this, how bad does it have to get before the mainstream begins to cry discrimination? The answer: Covid-19 bad.

Thanks to the re-entry ban last April, many Non-Japanese residents found themselves stranded overseas, separated from their Japanese families, lives and livelihoods, watching their investments dry up and visa clocks run out without recourse. Or perhaps found themselves stranded within Japan, as family members abroad died, and the prospect of attending their funeral or taking care of personal matters in person would mean exile.

Granted, the US government recently tried something similar when, on July 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement unilaterally decided that all foreign students taking online classes only would have their student visas cancelled.

That lasted about a week. Prominent universities (such as Harvard and MIT), organizations of higher education, corporations, and individual state governments cried foul or filed lawsuits to moot this move. It worked. Even for a Trump administration this bigoted, the policy was dropped on July 14.

So who similarly advocates on behalf of foreigners in Japan, besides the usual activist groups and human rights agencies who get routinely ignored? It’s hard to imagine a Japanese university filing a lawsuit against the government.

This time, however, Japan’s mainstream media did speak up. For example, the Asahi Shinbun on June 8 ran an editorial calling the current policy “unreasonable” and “discriminatory.”

The Japan Association of National Universities, representing Japan’s flagship educational institutions like Tokyo University, also stepped in. It recently petitioned the Ministry of Education to promptly allow both old and new students and researchers to enter their universities after proper quarantines, and to resume issuing visas.

And in a blistering critique, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan issued public statements for Japan to repeal the policy. This is quite a step, since the ACCJ in my experience cares more about unperturbed access to Japanese markets than messy issues of human rights. The ACCJ’s words are worth quoting at length:

Foreign nationals actively and positively contribute to Japan’s economy and society, and do not pose any greater risk than Japanese citizens re-entering Japan. The ACCJ statement expresses concern among our international business community that the prohibition currently in place is detrimental to Japan’s long-term interests… Such individuals, especially those with permanent residency (eijuken) and their accompanying family members or those who are immediate family members of Japanese nationals, and those with long-term working visas and their accompanying family members, need to be allowed to enter Japan under the same conditions as Japanese citizens to continue living and working in this country. Such foreign nationals are actively and positively contributing to Japan’s economy and society, and do not pose any greater risk than Japanese citizens re-entering Japan… At minimum, Japan should adopt the approach of other G7 countries to allow foreigners with established residency status and their immediate family members to depart and enter the country on the same basis as Japanese nationals.

So what was the tipping point? Perhaps it was when the Japanese government broke its own rules by unilaterally revoking the status of its lawful permanent residents; when it showed the world that it cares naught for the people it even grants permanent status to. Even with all the institutionalized discrimination for generations, a move this despotic shows just how much of an outlier Japan is among developed nations.

This might even be a bellwether. In recent years, we’ve seen a move towards authoritarianism in the world’s developed liberal democracies. As I have argued elsewhere, this systemic intolerance has its roots in Japan, which to overseas xenophobes represents a model ethnostate. Ethnic cleansers have in fact been copying many of Japan’s strategies and policies.

But even when an outlier like Japan, with a society so deferential to power and profoundly oblivious towards the treatment of its minorities, is seen to have gone too far, perhaps authoritarianism has finally crested.

We might be seeing the pendulum swinging back towards liberalism at last. It’s just a shame it had to go this far before it did.

======================
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SNA Visible Minorities Column 11: Advice to Activists in Japan in general (in the wake of the emergence of the Black Lives Matter Japan Movement), June 22, 2020.

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Visible Minorities: Advice to Activists in Japan
Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities Column 11, June 22, 2020
By Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/06/22/visible-minorities-advice-to-activists-in-japan/.

SNA (Tokyo) — Sparked by the George Floyd murder by police in America last month, street protests against official violence towards minorities and disenfranchised peoples have sprung up worldwide.

Japan has been no exception. Within recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, a wider range of people are finally decrying, for example, the Japanese police’s racial profiling and violence towards visible minorities.

I’ve talked about these and other issues for years, devoting significant space both on Debito.org and in my book Embedded Racism: Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination. That said, it should be noted that my position in Japan as a white male with naturalized Japanese citizenship has provided me significant privilege; in all humility I am not in the best position to offer advice to people who have the right (nay, obligation) to create their own identities, narratives, and agendas as they see best.

Nevertheless, this column would like to point out some of the pitfalls that activists may face in Japanese society, based upon my experience fighting against racial discrimination here for nearly thirty years. Please read them in the helpful spirit they are intended:

1) Remember that, in Japan, activists are seen as extremists

Japan has a long history of activism and protest. However, the historical narrative generally portrays activists (katsudouka) as radical, destructive elements (kagekiha), most famously the Japanese Red Army; the Revolutionary Communist League, National Committee (Chukakuha); the Japan Revolutionary Communist League, Revolutionary Marxist Faction (Kakumaruha); or even just labor unions like the Japan Teachers’ Union (Nikkyoso). If you’re out there protesting, you’re automatically seen by many Japanese as angry, unapproachable, and unable to be reasoned with.

Furthermore, public demonstrations are treated with undue alarm. They’re not, for example, normalized as a phase college kids go through and grow out of. In fact, youth might become unemployable if they carry on beyond college. That’s why high-profile student group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) disbanded as soon as their leaders approached the job market.

Additionally, the government has a long history of suppressing voices from the left more than the racket from rightwing conservatives and reactionaries, as seen in their regular rounds of unfettered sound trucks. It’s not an even playing field for human-rights advocates. That’s why there arguably isn’t a successful example of leftist protests ever decisively changing the course of government in Japan. (Contrast that with, say, the anti-Vietnam protests of the 1960s, so romanticized in Western media, which even undermined presidents overseas.)

The result is that the average person in Japan, especially your employer, will need to be convinced that what you’re doing is at all necessary, not to mention has a snowball’s chance of succeeding. Be prepared to do that.

2) Keep the debate focused on how discrimination affects everyone in Japan

One problem with protests for equal rights for “foreigners” is an assumption that the problem must be exogenous. It runs deeper than the sentiments of a) “foreigners are only ‘guests’ here, so they shouldn’t be rude to their ‘hosts’ by protesting,” or b) “if only you weren’t here disrupting our homogeneous society, your problem would just go away.” It’s again a problem with narrative.

Discrimination, particularly “racial discrimination” (jinshu sabetsu), is generally taught in Japanese schools as something other countries do towards people with different skin color, notably US Segregation and South African Apartheid. Thanks to the daily mantras about our alleged monocultural, monoethnic “island society” closed off from the world for a zillion years, Japan generally doesn’t see how “race” could be a factor here. The logic is that homogeneous Japan has no races, therefore no “race relations” problems like other countries. The Japanese government has made precisely this argument to the United Nations.

That’s one reason why Japanese media reflexively deflects the issue into terms like “foreigner discrimination” (gaikokujin sabetsu), “ethnic discrimination” (minzoku sabetsu), or merely “cultural differences” (ibunka no chigai). All of these concepts miss the point that racial discrimination is in fact a longstanding domestic issue.

So refocus the issue back on the process of racialization. Reiterate at every opportunity that this is “racial discrimination,” and stress how, thanks to generations of naturalization and international marriage, there are plenty of Japanese citizens with diverse roots. Thus discrimination against “foreigners” also affects hundreds of thousands of Japanese people.

After all, Japanese society gloms onto “racial discrimination” against Japanese citizens abroad with a surprising amount of passion. So point out that it’s happening here too. And you’ll have to do it again and again, because you will have to convince a surprising number of people who refuse to believe that racism even exists in Japan.

3) Be wary of being fetishized

Remember that a certain degree of social resonance you may be feeling in your crowd is likely not the feeling of acceptance you might want; it is not equal footing with Japanese citizens. People often join in since protesting is “cool” because “foreigners are cool” or “pitiable” (kawaisou).

There is plenty of scholarly research (read Marvin D. Sterling’s Babylon East, for example) on how Japanese adopt “foreign cultures” only on a topical level, meaning without much interest in the actual mindset or experience of being a visible minority in Japan.

Collaborate with whoever shows up, of course. Just don’t get your hopes up too far. Some people who seem like supporters might only be fair-weather groupies. So don’t rely on them too much when it comes time for them to commit their names or faces in public.

4) Be ready for the long haul

Success, of course, requires not only widespread support in Japan, but also assistance from fellow Japanese human-rights activists. They are very practiced and determined, having done this sort of thing for decades. But remember: Activist groups in Japan are very cliquey. Often the barriers for entry and being accepted as “one of us” are pretty high.

Even though, at first, being seen as “pitiable” works in your favor, remember that the default attitude towards people seen as “foreigners” is “someone here only for the short-term.”

What I mean is “foreigners” are often treated like exotic birds, as something to study because you alighted on their balcony and have interesting plumage to look at. So they give you their attention for as long as you’re around. But once it seems you’ve flitted off, you’re quickly forgotten as merely a phase or a pastime. Then things reset back to the ingrained narratives of Japan as homogeneous and foreigners as temporary.

The only way you can defy that is by showing how deeply you’ve committed yourself to this issue for as long as possible, as people in those activist groups have. They’ve made this rallying cause a life mission, and they’ll expect you to as well. Otherwise, you’re just a fickle foreign hobbyist and doors slam.

Moreover, be careful of the “get in line” attitude that one (rightly) receives from other minorities in Japan (such as the Zainichi Koreans). They have been here much longer, fought much harder, and sacrificed more simply to exist in Japan. Avoid the one-upmanships over “who’s the bigger victim here?”

Instead, focus on what you all have in common: perpetual disenfranchisement, and how you have to work together to overcome that to make Japan a better place for everyone. Remember that power surrenders nothing without a fight, so dissolving into disagreeing leftist factions is precisely what the powerful want. The status quo wins by default that way.

5) Control your own narrative

Finally, don’t rely on people who aren’t in your position to understand or promote your narrative. Do it yourselves. Organize your own press conferences. Make sure that everything you release to the public and media is also in Japanese, and have some prominent public spokespeople who are minorities. It’s your voice. Don’t let even the best-intentioned interpreters and interlocutors inadvertently dilute it.

For example, last month, the people of diverse roots who spoke out fluently against the Shibuya police roughing up a Kurdish person were excellent examples of how to do it right. They were very effective in getting the message out both to print and broadcast media. More of that, please.

There you go: five pitfalls I might suggest you avoid. I hope you find them useful, even if I have a very limited understanding of what you’re going through. In any case, it’s your time and your social movement. I wish you success, and thanks for reading.  ENDS

For breaking news, follow on Twitter @ShingetsuNews

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities col 10: “The Guestists and the Collaborators”, May 18, 2020, on how long-term NJ leverage their newfound privilege against other NJ Residents (e.g., Donald Keene, Tsurunen Marutei, and Oussouby Sacko)

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Hi Blog.  Here’s my Shingetsu News Agency monthly “Visible Minorities” column 10, talking about how some minorities in Japan sell out to authority as soon as they are granted any privilege.  I mention former Diet Member Tsurunen Marutei, Japan scholar Donald Keene, and Kyoto Seika University President Oussouby Sacko, and how they are now ironically perpetuating problems they once faced.  Full text now archived below. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

(And if you haven’t subscribed for Japan’s last bastion of independent journalism in English at SNA, I strongly suggest you do. Fund Progressive Media that enables exposes like these.)  

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Visible Minorities: The Guestists and the Collaborators

http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/05/18/visible-minorities-the-guestists-and-the-collaborators/

SNA (Tokyo) — In a recent SNA Speakeasy on “Foreign Residents in the Coronavirus Era,” I argued that Non-Japanese (NJ) must band together and be vocal about claiming what’s due them as taxpayers. We shouldn’t wait for the government to deign to divvy out what it thinks foreigners want, as if it’s the omotenashi (hospitality) Japan offers any guest. Instead, NJ residents should be telling the government what they want, on their terms; trying to influence policy agendas that affect them by, for example, participating in local government forums and policy deliberation councils (shingikai).

People have been advocating this for years. Why isn’t it happening as often as it should? Because NJ (especially those in the English-language communities) collectively suffer from something I call “guestism”: falling for the fiction that they are merely “guests” in Japan subject to the whims of the Japanese “hosts.” Their mantra is “It’s their country, not mine. Who am I to tell them what to do?”

Still, eventually some NJ live here long enough, develop deep connections and language abilities, and even become Japanese citizens. Some transform into community leaders, prominent business owners and spokespeople, media mavens, and elected officials. They are definitely no longer “guests.”

But once they earn due respect and authority, another problem comes up: Many squander their position by becoming “collaborators.”

Instead of using their power for good, such as showing other NJ how to follow in their footsteps and to assimilate and enfranchise themselves, collaborators pull the ladder up behind them. They actively consort with the powers-that-be to preserve their privilege and to undermine other NJ Residents.

For example, consider Marutei Tsurunen, a Finland-born naturalized Japanese who in 2001 became the first caucasian elected to Japan’s national Diet. Despite more than a decade as a policymaker, Tsurunen strictly toed the party line regardless of how it affected NJ residents, and disavowed any NJ causes, in favor of “environmental issues.”

Even when fellow politicians made overtly racist statements about foreigners in Japan, Tsurunen refused to offer any counter-narrative. He even avoided Diet meetings with the United Nations on NJ discrimination and human rights. The last straw was when he voided his own citizenship status, calling himself a “foreigner” in a 2010 Japan Times interview, and advised NJ to accept their fate as permanent outsiders. Ultimately, after this self-gaijinizer figuratively promised to “change the color of his eyes” if he got reelected, Tsurunen lost his seat in 2013.

(Sources: 

Or consider the late scholar of Japanese literature Donald Keene. Congratulating himself on becoming a Japanese citizen, he announced that he was staying in Japan “in solidarity” with the Japanese people during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake (contrasting himself with the mythical fleeing foreign “flyjin”). He even sniped in a press conference, “As a Japanese, I swear not to commit any crimes” (pandering to the fictitious foreigner crime wave).

Despite public promises to help out with the Fukushima disaster, he instead took a leisurely ocean cruise, legally adopted his common-law husband as his son (which is how Japan’s LGBT communities establish inheritance ties), and eventually built his celebrated Donald Keene Center in a different prefecture. Yet to the very end he publicly portrayed himself as morally superior to the foreign riff-raff.

(Sources: 

Even today, collaborators pop up in the oddest places, as seen in the following case study of successful NJ activism.

Last month, a French resident of Kyoto reported to Debito.org about a comic book issued to grade-schoolers by Kyoto city. A primer on street safety, the manga portrayed the tribulations of local kids and their granny trying to navigate mannerly through the mean streets of Kyoto. NJ made an appearance—not as residents, but as physically-distinguishable Western and Asian “tourists” disturbing the peace by loitering, littering, and speaking loudly and incomprehensibly. And, for good measure, the frightened children are depicted as scared by the prospect of having to communicate to all “foreigners” in English.

The Kyoto resident and friends contacted the Kyoto city government, objected to the negative stereotyping and propaganda being officially distributed to their kids, and successfully got the comic withdrawn. Score one for the non-guestists.

Then we looked at who created the manga; it was the Kyoto International Manga Museum and Kyoto Seika University. Both organizations, if truly “international,” should have known better. Kyoto Seika University in particular has in its statement of principles a “respect for humanity… and dignity… recognizing diverse points of view… and promoting diversity… where no individual member will be denied opportunity, be excluded, or experience discrimination.”

That statement is undersigned by Dr. Oussouby Sacko, a Mali-born Japanese citizen who became Kyoto Seika University’s president in 2018 with great fanfare. He was even featured in the New York Times in one of their “Japan is changing” articles.

So how does producing a comic book that alienates “foreigners” square with Kyoto Seika University’s mission? We’re not sure, because Sacko has not responded to inquiries.

However, we do know that Sacko has an odd view of how racism works. In his NYT feature, he claimed that he has never experienced racism in Japan—just of being “treated differently simply because he does not look Japanese.” To him, differential treatment by physical appearance doesn’t qualify as racism because “it’s not because you’re black.” Complementing his Kyoto University degrees in engineering and architecture, Sacko should undergo some social science training in modern studies of racialization processes.

Furthermore, Sacko conducts flawed social science research. In a 2019 plenary session at the Japan Association for Language Teaching, he gave high-profile talks on educational leadership and the “necessity of collaboration between Japanese and foreign teachers to cope with the needs of more open and global education… for teaching, learning, and leading within the Japanese context.”

Yet, as attendees noted, much of his expert advice on the Japanese context was oblivious to “Japanese” managerial processes, including his vague goal-setting processes that threw his administration into turmoil. Moreover, he couldn’t recognize his own privilege as he offered a charming vignette about holding weekly parties in the lobby of his apartment complex, despite the subtle Kyotoesque protests from his neighbors.

After watching a few of Sacko’s television appearances, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Instead of creating alternative narratives that push the envelope for fellow residents of diversity, he serves up personal charm, charisma, and clownery. He seems just fine with being a token gaijin, capitalizing on his respected position in Japanese society, while saying nothing about his university creating a racist manga for grade schoolers. At Kyoto Seika University, it seems he’s just a mascot.

These are some of the minorities granted positions of power in Japan—in it for themselves, oblivious to the problems they perpetuate for others. It seems the more visible these minorities become, the more likely they will forget what they went through to get where they are. Again, they pull the ladder up behind them.

No wonder Japan’s “visible minorities” have so much trouble making inroads against discrimination in Japan. They often become their own worst enemies.

ENDS

======================
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Debito interviewed by Shingetsu News Agency’s “Speakeasy” forum: “Japan’s Foreign Residents in the Coronavirus”, Apr 27, 2020

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

Hi Blog.  In lieu of a longer blog entry, here’s an interview I had with the Shingetsu News Agency, in one of their “Speakeasys” (25 minutes):

I’m making the case that the GOJ could be doing a much worse job taking care of their NJ Residents, but that’s because people have been vigilant about potential human rights abuses. It could very easily revert to racist and exclusionary habits if systems get overloaded or panic hits. Also, I argue that it’s also incumbent upon NJ Residents themselves to step out of their “Guestism” mentalities and claim their due as taxpayers and residents.

(If you haven’t become a supporter of this important (and solitary) venue for independent journalism in Japan, please do. $2 a month gets you access to all articles, including my “Visible Minorities” columns. It’s a worthy venture.)  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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