J Times’ Philip Brasor on Sasebo Shooting: “Japan faces up to a world of gun crime”


“I’m worried that Japan may have become just like foreign countries…we have to think of a good way to prevent such occurrences.”
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, commenting on the fatal shooting at a Sasebo sports club. (NHK)
Japan Today Sunday, December 16, 2007


Hi Blog. More on the Sasebo Sports Club Shooting last December 14 (where the J media speculated a gaijin dunnit just because the shooter was reputedly tall). Seems that according to Philip Brasor of the Japan Times, the willful “exceptionalism” that Japan practices as part of its national narrative (“Gun crimes are a foreign problem, not something that happens in our peaceful society”–as alluded to by our PM above) has made it quite blind to just how deep gun control problems go here.

Most of the 300,000 (!!) privately owned firearms in Japan are shotguns, and ammunition is this loosely regulated?? And that’s just for starters. Read on.

Excellent investigative journalism, Philip. We should have more of it in the vernacular media, dammit. Arudou Debito in Monbetsu


Japan faces up to a world of gun crime
By PHILIP BRASOR The Japan Times: Sunday, Dec. 23, 2007
Courtesy James Eriksson

As is often the case with breaking news stories, the on-site, real-time television coverage of the shooting at the Renaissance Sports Club on the evening of Dec. 14 in Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture, was a flurry of vague incidentals and conflicting accounts.

The basic truth was stark enough to make an impression: A person dressed in camouflage-style clothing entered the club and started firing a gun, injuring several people, two of them seriously, and then fled into the night. Anything more specific was speculation.

But speculation was all that TV had, since the police were barely on the case at the time. The gunman was wearing a motorcycle helmet, or maybe it was a ski mask. He was tall or he was heavyset, or both — one witness described him as “well built.” Some said he entered the building and started blasting away indiscriminately, while others thought he acted purposefully.

When reporters asked how many shots were fired, one person said 30 or 40, another said fewer than 10. Some said the gunman looked “like a foreigner”; one even conjectured he was black.

Some of the witnesses appeared on TV, but most did not, and if anything was clear, it was that none of these testimonials could be called reliable. The information changed from one TV station to another. The foreigner angle was eventually dropped, but not before it was given some credence by TV Asahi’s “Hodo Station,” where that night’s guest commentator, veteran journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, explained it was natural for some people to think the shooter was not Japanese, since Sasebo hosts a major U.S. naval base, and recently there have been so many shooting incidents in America.

However, Torigoe added to this suspicion, perhaps inadvertently, by commenting on the gun that was used, saying that if the shooter had in fact fired off 30 or 40 rounds then he might have been using “a machine gun,” and though he didn’t say so, it’s obvious he was thinking that only military people have access to such weapons in Japan.

What makes this remark strange is not so much the underlying implication that a renegade American sailor had decided to carry out some bloody personal agenda, but that Torigoe knows nothing about guns. The police had already stated that the shooter was armed with a sandanju, a shotgun, and while the U.S. military does use such weapons, the bulk of the 300,000 privately owned firearms in Japan are, in fact, shotguns.

Torigoe wasn’t the only media person who didn’t really understand what a shotgun is and how it works. In the days since, the suspected shooter, a Japanese man who owned three shotguns, apparently killed himself later the same night. Meanwhile the press has been busy educating itself in matters to do with guns. Perhaps because the Japanese word “tama” is used for all ammunition, be it bullets, slugs or shotgun shells, people were understandably confused at what distinguishes a shotgun from other guns. On Sunday night, NHK spread this confusion to some of its foreign viewers when its English-language news broadcast said that the shooter had in his possession “2,700 bullets,” instead of the more accurate “2,700 shells.”

As an American who has never fired a gun much less owned one (which disqualifies me for citizenship in the eyes of many of my countrymen), I have nevertheless absorbed the lore and science of firearms by forced osmosis, and I found the media’s general ignorance of the subject surprising. No American newspaper would have ever had to print a tutorial on shotguns and shells as the Asahi Shimbun did on its front page last Monday. Had the reporters on the scene in Sasebo known anything about the mechanics of a sandanju, they would have realized that the shooter couldn’t have fired off 30 to 40 rounds in rapid succession.

There are people who will no doubt find comfort in the media’s implied ignorance, since it would seem to represent a popular sensibility that isn’t interested in guns. But disinterest can also be a sign of apathy, and another aspect of guns that the media has had to learn about since the Sasebo shooting is the legal side of firearm ownership in Japan.

The general impression one gets living in Japan is that only the police, soldiers and yakuza have guns. Of course, there are some hunters and sportsmen who own rifles, but they are a small group and the law regulates such ownership very strictly. Consequently, everyone wants to know how the suspected Sasebo killer was able to buy three shotguns and enough ammunition to blow away an entire neighborhood.

Apparently, it was easy. The laws may be strict, but their application and enforcement are not. A license must be obtained for each gun and renewed periodically, but these seem to be mere formalities. Various news reports cited instances of local police doing background checks on gun owners following complaints from neighbors, but such checks are pointless, since they are carried out after the licenses have been granted.

The only uses allowed for firearms are hunting and sports, but the authorities don’t check to see if the applicant really is hunting or skeet shooting — the alleged Sasebo shooter did neither. And while ammunition is also strictly regulated, it is more or less self-regulation. The suspected Sasebo shooter bought 1,000 shells at one time, though it’s against the law to possess more than 800. However, it isn’t against the law to sell that many at one time, and the owner of the store who sold the alleged shooter those 1,000 shells told reporters that he informed the man he would have to use 200 that day, otherwise he’s be breaking the law.

This is a common bureaucratic pattern in Japan: Regulations are treated more as road maps than as rules subject to active enforcement. Japan is still a very safe country when it comes to guns, a reality that has less to do with laws than with prevailing attitudes, which is why the Sasebo shooting received such breathless, blanket domestic coverage. Overseas, it barely merited mention.

The Japan Times: Sunday, Dec. 23, 2007

Holiday Tangent: SAYUKI, Japan’s first certified NJ Geisha, debuts


Hi Blog. In the first of a series of tangents, here’s news of the first-ever NJ geisha. Anthropologist Liza Dalby (author of GEISHA) got close to the ranks, but never became a geisha herself. Sayuki has. Congratulations and best wishes for her future understanding this very closed world! Arudou Debito


Japan’s first ever foreign geisha
Courtesy of Sayuki

For the first time in the 400 year history of the geisha, a Westerner has been accepted, and on December 19, will formally debut under the name Sayuki.

Sayuki is specialized in social anthropology, a subject which requires anthropologists to actually experience the subject they are studying by participating in the society themselves.

Sayuki has been doing anthropological fieldwork in Asakusa – one of the oldest of Tokyo’s six remaining geisha districts – for the past year, living in a geisha house (okiya), and participating in banquets as a trainee. She has been training in several arts, and will specialize in yokobue (Japanese flute).

Sayuki took an MBA at Oxford before turning to social anthropology, and specializing in Japanese culture. She has spent half of her life in Japan, graduating from Japanese high school, and then graduated from Japan’s oldest university, Keio. Sayuki has lectured at a number of universities around the world, and has published several books on Japanese culture. She is also an anthropological film director with credits on NHK, BBC, National Geographic Channel programmes.

For further information please contact:

In English:

http://www.sayuki.net, sayuki.geisha@gmail.com

In Japanese:

お問い合わせ―所属事務所 マスターマインド
メールアドレスinfo@master-mind.jp www.master-mind.jp

Photographs are available for purchase and download at:

Photo by Kerry Raftis http://www.keyshots.com©

SAYUKI 花柳界歴史上初の外国人芸者


SAYUKI 花柳界歴史上初の外国人芸者
国籍 オーストラリア




お問い合わせ マスターマインド
メールアドレスinfo@master-mind.jp http://www.master-mind.jp

In English:
http://www.sayuki.net, sayuki.geisha@gmail.com

Photographs are available for purchase and download at:

Photo by Kerry Raftis http://www.keyshots.com©

Depressed? Consult with Int’l Mental Health Professionals Japan


Hello Blog. How do you feel this time of year? Not too dusty, I hope. But I have to admit, I hate spending the Xmas-New Year Holidays in Japan. No semblance of a real Christmas atmosphere, absolutely boring nenmatsu-nenshi (TV’s Kouhaku is the pits), and no way for a Hokkaidoite like myself to get to a warmer clime unless we pay the minimum RT 50,000 yen airline connection “tax” to get to a bigger international airport.

Not that I’m blaming Japan (or Hokkaido–we have to do pennance somehow for our magical summers)–that’s just the way it is, and part of the dues of choosing to live and be a part of this society. But I still don’t like it.

I have my own strategies for dealing with it (writing, DVDs, trashy magazines, and pizza). For those who aren’t confident about their strategies and need some professional help, here’s information about a group in Japan called “International Mental Health Professionals Japan” which offers psychological services to an international clientele. Heard about it at a recent speech in Tokyo from Dr Jim McRae, President.

Given the state of mental health services in this country (generally pretty lousy; most Japanese quasi-“counselors” will probably unhelpfully attribute any mental issue involving a NJ to a matter of “cultural differences”, and Japan doesn’t even have certifications for clinical psychologists), this group is a boon. Some friends and I have had horrible experiences trying to check friends (who were acting mentally erratically to the point of presenting a clear and present danger to others) into mental clinics in Japan. Many clinics/mental hospitals simply won’t take foreigners (claiming, again, cultural or language barriers), advising us to “send them home” for treatment.

It’s nice to see professionals in Japan in the form of the IMHPJ below trying to help out. Spread the word.

Happy Holidays–or as happy as you can make them. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


What is IMHPJ?
(taken from their website and from a flyer I received from Dr Jim McRae)

IMHPJ is a multidisciplinary professional association of therapists who provide mental health services to the international communities in Japan. Members are working in private practices or mental health related organizations worldwide.

Founded in 1997, IMHPJ’s goals are to improve the quality, quantity, and accessibility of mental health services available to the international communities in Japan by:

–maintaining an up-to-date database of professional therapists, where you can find the professional profile of the therapist of your choice.
–providing a forum for discussing and making co-ordinated joint efforts related to important issues or events.
–encouraging a high standard of ethical and professional performance for mental health professionals.
–providing opportunities for continuing education for members.
–facilitating peer support and networking among members and with related Japanese mental health organizations.

Clinical Members hold a Masters Degree or higher and have supervised postgraduate clinical experience. Assocate Members work in fields related to mental health or are students or therapists not yet eligible for clinical membership.

IMHPJ is multidisiplinary, including Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers, Family Therapists, and Child Psychologists etc.

IMHPJ members offer a range of recognized theraputic approaches for the treatment of relationship issues, stress, anxiety, depression, abuse, cross-cultural issues, children’s emotional and educational problems, and many other issues. Many of our members also offer phone counseling.

Native speakers offer therapy in English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Polish. Some members are bilingual.

For more information, consult our website at:

Mediocre Economist Survey on Japan Business Dec 1 2007


Hi Blog. December 1st 2007’s Economist (London) magazine had a 14-page survey on business in Japan.

As is true of almost all Economist articles (and much more so than the US-published glossies such as Time and Newsweek, which is why I have been a subscriber for nearly twenty years), there were plenty of useful statistics and some valuable insights.

But the author, Tom Standage, seems to be a neophyte to Japan, trying too hard to use his metaphor of a hybrid car as a grand allusion for Japan’s economy (contrasting it with “Anglo-Saxon capitalism”–cutely rendered as “JapAnglo-Saxon capitalism”, as if there is such a clear contrast or even such a concrete economic model). He winds up making what could have been an interesting survey into a graduate-school term paper. It even feels as if he swallowed the lines fed him by the GOJ Gaijin Handlers, that Japan’s economics and business practices are that transparent and quantifiable.

Also, I have the feeling Mr Standage might have been reading a bit of Debito.org. I complained on the blog about how an Economist article last July talked about Japan’s demographics and labor market, without even one word considering foreign labor. One sentence, “if only to dismiss immigration as a possibility”, is what I said I wanted.

Well, I got that one sentence in this Economist Survey, and here it is:

Large-scale immigration, the solution favoured in other rich countries, is not culturally acceptable in Japan. So it will have to put more women and old people to work in order to maintain its workforce.

Oh, it’s culture. The end. “Culture” is a category people throw information into when it’s too taxing to understand. It’s the analytical category for lazy people. Especially when most things that are “cultural” are actually perfectly rational–you just have to understand the rationale behind people’s behavior. And that takes acculturalization, which I feel the author lacks a bit of.

If Mr Standage thinks Japan’s antipathy towards foreigners and immigration is merely a cultural issue, I would ask him to read and consider my upcoming Japan Times column (#42) coming out Tuesday, December 18, 2007, where I try to demonstrate that Japan’s rising xenophobia is in fact by grand design. And how it is serving the country poorly. I even use some statistics from his survey, thanks.

Here are links to the Economist Survey articles. Here’s hoping the magazine finally gets on the ball regarding Japan. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


SPECIAL REPORT: Business in Japan (Nov 29th 2007)
Going hybrid
After 15 years of gloom, Japan’s companies have emerged with a new, hybrid model a bit closer to America’s, says Tom Standage


Message in a bottle of sauce
Japan’s corporate governance is changing, but it’s risky to rush things


Still work to be done
Japan’s labour market is becoming more flexible, but also more unequal


Not invented here
Entrepreneurs have had a hard time, but things are slowly improving


No country is an island
Japan is reluctantly embracing globalisation


JapAnglo-Saxon capitalism
Have Japanese business practices changed enough?

Little Black Sambo dolls on sale at Rainforest Cafe, next to Tokyo Disneyland.


Hi Blog. Here’s something from John C, postmarked December 3, 2007. Plus what he did about the issue–successfully. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Hey Debito.

This is the first time I have written something like this to your site.

I went into The Rainforest Cafe in iksepiri Maihama, Chiba (the shopping centre next to Disneyland) today with my son.

Rainforest Cafe (Jungle theme)
Ikspiari, 1-4 Maihama, Urayasu-shi, Chiba-ken (tel: 047-305-5656). Open 11am-11pm daily.
Nearest stn: Maihama http://www.rainforestcafe.com

I was utterly disgusted to find these Little Black Sambo dolls…

I spoke to one of the staff and asked her if she knew what it was and what it meant, she said “Yes” they knew and that they had told the manager that there may be problems. I asked to speak to the manager and was told that the Manager was off today but the asst mng was in, he came up and talked to me for a little bit.

I asked him if he knew what the problem was with these dolls, he said yes, but a month ago when they went on sale. A couple of Americans from Head office came over for a business trip, they saw the dolls on the shelf and said nothing about them. He also tried to win me over by saying that he had friends of African decent. I asked him to think of how he would feel if one of those friends called him “Nip” he said he wouldn’t like it much. I asked him how I should explain to my son (who is 1 part Japanese and 1 Part British) why mummy’s country can sell this crap. ( that was hard to put into Japanese!!)

I asked him to take them down and he mumbled something about he would talk to the mng. I told him that I had to leave but that I would be contacting head office in America to talk to them and that I would be sending the pictures to you.

I will be going back today or tomorrow to see what he has down, and with a better camera…

I would also like to say that the Maruzen bookshop in Nihonbashi sells the same book, I have asked them repeatedly to take it down, they always take it off the shelf while I am there but the next time I go in they have it back for sale. (I would like yours/writers permission to show them chibi kiroi nipu and ask if they would sell that.)


Follow-up, full report, from the top:

My 4 year old son and I went into the rainforest cafe at about 2pm today, 3/Dec/2007 and while there found the L.B.S dolls on sale. (as you can see from the picture, “Tracy the Tree” is in the background, quality is low though cause taken on my mobile phone)

I asked the staff why the shop was selling these and if they knew the meaning and racial insult implied. One replied yes She knew and had previously thought and said they may cause problems.

I asked to speak to the manager, she went away to contact the manger, returned and said that it was the mangers day off, but the asst mng was there.

I asked to speak to him. To wit he arrived about 5 minutes later. I asked him what the dolls were and why they were on sale.

He said they had been on sale for over a month and during that time 2 Americans from Head office had come over to Japan and checked the merchandise etc and made no comments.

I told him that they were offensive and that I had many friends who were of African decent and would really hate to see them. He said that he too had friends who were from African decent.

I asked him how I should explain these to my son, who is British and Japanese… no reply…

I asked him how he would feel if one of his friends called him a “Nip” he replied that he would not like it at all. I told him that if someone called one of my kids that I would become extremely unpleasent ( I am not known for my loving personality)

Then I asked him to try calling one of his African decent friends a “nigaa” or “kuronbo” and see what they say.

I then had to take my son to his English class, so said “Please remove them from the shelf, look at this web site (gave Debito’s site) and that I would be back later or the next day to see if they were still on sale.

I went back at about 5:30 pm armed with a better camera, and found that the dolls were all off the shelves and no where to be found. I spoke to the asst mng again, and thanked him very much for taking such prompt action.

He said that the dolls would be returned to the supplier. I thanked him again and said that I would still be calling the US head office, and that I still planned to go in periodically to check. but that I would also be giving a good review of his prompt actions.

I got a call from Landry’s Restaurants America and they are checking on this incident now, they also said they were appalled by this, and that the Man who came over a month ago was African American and that they are sure he would have said something if he had seen them.

I sent them the pictures and said also that they were going to be posted on the net, but that they please commend the asst mng Mr. Yamamoto for his quick action.

I have now recieved a call from the Gentleman who came to Japan, he has heard about this very quickly and taken the time to call me and explain that his company in no way supports this type of thing. He said had already written to the Japanese partner to ask for pictures and an explanation of this product, but that he had not seen the dolls when he was here. ( so one lie was told by the shop…)

He did think that he may have missed this because he does not speak Japanese, but I told him that there is no way they could be missed, there was a box full of “gollywogs” next to “Tracy the Tree” (I hate these words, my arsehole father used stuff like this often when I was young (read: smaller than him))

I thanked him again and told him that I would like them all to commend Mr Yamamoto (asst mng) on his prompt actions.

He also asked me what website the pictures would be posted on, so I told him, and a little about Debito’s site.

I am still a bit wary that the dolls will return to the shelves, but deep down want to believe they won’t.

John Spiri reviews Gregory Clark’s book “Understanding the Japanese”


The Japanese and Ware Ware Non-Japanese
A review of UNDERSTANDING THE JAPANESE by Gregory Clark
By John Spiri, former Assistant Professor at Akita International University

(written for a mass media outlet, unpublished)

UNDERSTANDING THE JAPANESE: Gregory Clark. First published 1982 by Kinseido, Tokyo

It is difficult to imagine a book written by a Japan “expert” having as little of substance to say as Understanding the Japanese by Gregory Clark. The book, awash with trivial generalizations, simplistically attempts to dichotomize everything—brains, societies, and the entire world—while presenting “theories” that would be better left to barrooms and pubs.

The mother of all Clark’s dichotomies is between “Japanese” and “non-Japanese.” Clark writes, “For us non-Japanese peoples the identity of a nation lies in its ideas and culture.” Clark even goes so far as to title a section, “The Non-Japanese Nation” citing stereotypes about the French (who are happy to accept even millions of refugees and workers), Chinese (who have even refused to accept Western technology), and Americans (who exclude homosexuals since they are seen as a threat to Christian ideology). The conclusion is “culturally advanced non-Japanese peoples are more exclusive to foreign ideas and culture than they are towards foreigners” while Japanese are the reverse.

Later, after generalizing that Japanese have a “dual morality” (with his evidence being banal inconsistencies that exist within every human), Clark claims, “With non-Japanese it is not possible to admit to such a dual morality. Our behavior is supposed to be guided by law and principles.” One example of Japanese morality that Westerners supposedly lack is the “generosity” of booksellers who allow customers to read books for free. Clark might be a little shocked to see evidence of this “Japanese morality” in any Barnes & Noble bookstore in the United States, where customers sit around in lounge chairs reading unbought books.

Towards the end of the book readers are told the Japanese negotiate “heart to heart” while all the other peoples in the world negotiate “mind to mind.” “It is as if Japan were to insist on playing shogi while the rest of the world plays chess.” Oh, those Japanese are so, so, what’s the word?, different!

As the thin book wears on, we learn that “non-Japanese” might not really be meant to include everyone; only the “advanced” peoples are worthy of the ultimate comparison. After telling his readers again that “the Japanese seem to be very different from other peoples” Clark claims the reason is that all the other “advanced peoples” had protracted conflict with foreign nations. “Meanwhile,” readers are told, “the rest of us, for the past thousand years or much more, have been constantly involved in fighting each other.” Besides the historical falsity, Clark doesn’t bother to explain how the experience of warring samurai factions of generations past has failed to affect modern Japanese in the same way that warring knights in medieval Europe has supposedly affected modern Europeans.

Clark’s efforts to engage readers in Socratic dialog are juvenile: “Do the Japanese lack a sense of morality?” (answer No! their morality is different from ours), and, “Why does (Japanese flexibility) exist?” (answer: Japan is a nation without ideology!). Then, Clark resorts to citing “someone” to modify: “Someone once said that the ideology of Japan is Japanism!” One would think an “expert” would be held to higher standards.

However, readers learn that if a writer tosses around enough unsupported opinions and generalizations, some will resonate. My favorite was the section about the Japanese propensity for booms. Clark notes that when he first came to Japan there was a “hula hoop boom,” followed by the bowling boom. “The businessmen had convinced themselves,” he writes using his finest prose, “that the Japanese people wanted to do nothing else for the rest of their lives except throw large balls at distant pins, and the relics of their emotionalistic judgment still dot the nation in form of unused bowling parlors.” Hopefully, one day the same can be said of pachinko parlors.

The Japanese, according to Clark, are comparable to one other nation. The Chinese? Never! They are like Westerners. The Koreans? Perish the thought. The Mongolians? They’re not “advanced.” It may come as a surprise, but the one nation that resembles the Japanese are Cretes! Like Japan, the Cretes could “borrow the ideologies of the advanced rationalistic societies around it” and was also a “very durable civilization, lasting almost 1,500 years.” Of course, concrete comparisons are tough to make considering the fact Crete society perished 2,500 years ago in a massive volcanic eruption. “Perhaps there is a message there for Japan,” Clark tells readers, without elaborating.

Some of the stereotypes are downright mean-spirited. “Under the Christian ethic stealing is forbidden,” Clark tells readers, “But that does not stop taxi drivers from trying to short-change their passengers.” The recent stories of the New York city cabbies would undoubtedly surprise Clark. One returned a bag of diamonds; a second sped to the airport to return a forgotten wallet containing thousands of dollars.

The book, constantly hammering home the theme that “Japanese are unique,” is clearly trying to cash in on a writing style, and topic, that appeals to Japanese. Clark frequently tosses in yokeina (superfluous) Japanese: tanitsu minzoku, gyousei shidou, and nantai doubutsu, to either benefit the Japanese reader or put his knowledge of the Japanese language on display, and ends with 13 pages of notes in Japanese.

If Clark weren’t writing with apparent seriousness, the book might be amusing; the illustrations, however, give a hint that the book is not to be taken seriously. As Clark himself has (according to Brad Blackstone, a former associate professor at AIU) been heard to say, “I milked that baby (Understanding the Japanese book) for 20 years, going to speaking engagements around the country.” So, in a sense, it’s “hats off” to the author for getting away with elevating barroom blather to social theory and still maintain status as a culture commentator and Japan expert.

More on Gregory Clark, columnist at the Japan Times, on Debito.org at

Asahi: Hunger strike after rotten food in Immigration Gaijin Tank


Hi Blog. Here’s another reason you don’t want to be apprehended by the Japanese authorities–in this case Immigration. Bad food. No, I don’t mean humdrum food. Read on:




Asahi Shinbun Oct 18, 2007


Translated by Arudou Debito

Japanese original in previous blog entry.

OSAKA IBARAKI CITY–Forty foreigners being detained in the Ministry of Justice West Immigration Detention Center are claiming, “There have been instances of stuff being mixed in with the meals provided by the Center, such as caterpillars (kemushi). We cannot safely eat it”. The Asahi learned on October 17 that they carried out a hunger strike on both October 9 and 10. The Immigration Center has confirmed that there have been 30 instances from April of inedibles mixed in the food. It has formally demanded their cooks improve the cooking.

According to the Center, as of October 17, there are 240 foreigners being detained. They receive three meals a day, cooked on site by professionals and provided in detainees’ cells. However, the company contracted to provide these meals have since April have had materiel mixed in the food, such as hair, cockroaches, and mold.

Consequently, the Center has taken measures from September to sure there is no extraneous stuff in the food, but one detainee claims it happened again on October 8. The Center said that they had already cleared the food and refused to exchange it for more, so the next day from breakfast the detainees went on hunger strike. By breakfast October 10, an additional 30 people had joined the movement. After the Center told them it would thoroughly check the sanitation procedures of the meal preparers, the detainees called off their strike.

The Center said, “We have demanded the meal preparers clean up their act, and will keep a sharp eye on them from now on.”



QUICK COMMENT: You know things have gotta be pretty antipathetic when even inmates have bad food (and food in Japanese prison, from what I’ve read, is apparently sparse but not all that unhealthy). But then again, this is not a prison. It’s a Gaijin Tank–where NJ are held indefinitely and not subject to the same standards (such as exercise, baths, time outside their cells, and–most importantly–a definite time limit to their incarceration) that people who have been formally sentenced to a Japanese prison will have.

Back to the food. Remember where we are: This being Japan, a land of foodies, it’s famous for being a place where it’s hard to get a truly bad meal. People are really fussy, and it shows in the marketplace. No professional in their right mind in the Japanese meal services lets quality slip.

It might be the effect of a captive market, literally, meaning no competition and no incentive for quality control.

Or it might be antipathy. Either this Detention Center’s meal preparers are completely shameless people, or they just don’t like foreigners and feel no compulsion to serve them properly.

Anyway, pretty stunning. Stop faffing about and fire the cooks already, Immigration. Debito in Sapporo



ブログの皆様こんにちは。有道 出人です。ご無沙汰しております。



 私はムズリムの友人に問い合わせ、「これはイズラム教違反です!コラン(イズラム教の聖書)によると、イズラム教について全ての興味を持つ人は断っていけないと書いてある!」と言い、彼(アリと者)も問い合わせてみると、同じ結果。代表の『セリム』氏は(名字を明かしてくれなかったという)は、「これはファミリーみたいな集いなので、これは日本人とイズラム教の人たちのみ」と弁解したが、アリさんは「違うでしょう。これは『コミュニティーとの連絡・イズラム教についての意識高揚』のためでは?また、いついきなり日本人のみが『ファミリー』となったのですか。なぜ外国人が外国人を断るのか。そうすると、私たち外国人はこれから日本人が外国人に対する『Japanese Only https://www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html 』の看板などを掲げると、苦情や抗議を言う立場が崩されていないでしょうか。」それでも、セリム氏は一切譲らなかった。

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フリーダイヤルは、こちら: 0120-519-599
(受付時間) 火〜金 10:00〜18:00   土 12:00〜18:00

 なお、今朝、私は開催場の行政している京都市国際交流協会 (075-752-3010, http://www.kcif.or.jp/jp/footer/06.html)の高木さままで連絡して、「お客様からお金をもらって、開催の仕方について分かりません。」私は「公共施設はこうやって外国人納税者を却下できませんよね」と言っても、「調べてみるが、借りているのイベントについて詳しく分かりません」と言った。私の連絡先を高木さまに伝えたが。

 要は、こうやってコミュニティーに下手に「リーチ・アウト」すると、逆効果もありえると思います。先週の英字新聞「メトロポリス」(9月14日版)で「日本国内のイズラム教コミュニティー」の特集を載せ、結論としてある代表はこう発言した(有道 出人和訳):



 宜しくお願い致します。有道 出人
debito@debito.org www.debito.org
September 21, 2007

Kyoto Islamic Festival refuses foreigners, accepts Japanese Only


Hello All. Turning the keyboard over to friend Ali Rustom, a British national of some Middle Eastern descent, with an essay of great irony. Comment from me at the bottom.



I am a Muslim. I make no apologies for my beliefs, and until today (September 20 2007), I was proud and happy to be a Muslim.

A Muslim festival is due to be held on September 30 2007 in Kyoto (http://www.islamjapan.net/html/festival.html), sponsored by the Islam Culture Center in Kyoto (free dial 0120-519-599, email getsurei@islamjapan.net). Recently, a non-Japanese said that he was interested in joining the festival, but when he called to ask if he could go, the sponsors’ first question was if he was a Muslim. He replied that he wasn’t. He was then told that the festival was open only to Muslims and Japanese. Non-Muslims, unless they were Japanese, were forbidden from attending.

As a fellow Muslim, I found this hard to believe. So today I called to see if this was true. First, I got a Japanese lady, who sure enough, asked me if I was a Muslim. I said “no”, but reiterated that I was interested in going anyway. She told me to call back in 10 minutes. I did.

This time she dispatched me to a man, coordinator of the event, who confirmed my friend’s allegations. The cultural event was indeed open to only Muslims and Japanese. Non-Muslim foreigners are to be excluded.

The reason he gave me is that the Muslim community was trying to reach out to the Japanese community and promote understanding of Islam in it.

I asked him, “Isn’t reaching out to foreigners in the community you live in also a part of reaching out to the community and promoting Islam? After all, non-Muslim foreigners are a part of our community, same as Muslims, and same as the Japanese you are reaching out to. Or don’t they count?”

The man answered with an analogy that since the Muslim community was providing food, it was their right to choose who to invite. He said that if he was inviting his family for a meal, someone not related to the family couldn’t complain about being not invited. He said that this case was the same. Non-Muslim foreigners are not family, slam the door.

I replied that it was not the same. Why now are suddenly all Japanese “family”? I told him that a public event is not a “family feast”, and that his comparison was ludicrous.

For the next 10 minutes, he continued to give me stupid excuses, and I continued to refute them, trying to show him the error of his ways. This went on until I realized that there was some grovelling going on here. The fact that he was as adamant to exclude foreigners who were non-Muslim sounded harrowingly like a man who wants to exclude all infidels, but has no choice but to branch out to the Japanese community for fear of being labeled a terrorist. This to me makes the image of Islam in the community even worse.

I finally asked his name. He then said I should go first. I gave him my full name, but then he refused to give anything more than Selim, his first name. He is apparently from Turkey, and he is the spokesman for this festival. That to me is cowardly.

And bigoted. It’s terrible that now, not only do we have to combat prejudice from Japanese people, but now also from fellow non-Japanese. In this case, foreign lickspittles are just trying to get into Japan’s good books. What a setback to community unity, something this festival was supposed to promote!

Think about the damage done: Now that foreigners are discriminating against each other, how can we ever complain about, much less campaign against, racism in Japan by Japanese if the foreign community is doing the same?

I find it, frankly, disgusting that this “Selim” attempts to identify himself as a Muslim. Believe it or not, this goes right against the tolerance that Islam teaches.

Let me give you an example from our teachings: There is a story in the Koran about Prophet Mohammed (Praise Be Upon Him) when he was visiting with non believers (Kooffar) and trying to reach out to them with peace and understanding. Then along came a old man who was lame and who obviously had spent lots of energy to get to the Prophet (PBUH). But when the old man sat down, the Prophet (PBUH) turned his back to him and continued with his conversation to the non-believers in which an Aya (passage) came down from the Koran. The basic gist of this story is that no-one should ever turn away from a person who purposefully comes by his own will asking to learn more about Islam.

Now, it is certainly not my wish to compare someone like this “Selim” to someone as wonderful as our beloved Prophet (PBUH). What I am suggesting is that we should not turn away people who are interested in Islam and learning more about us. Especially when we are inviting them. That means that this festival should be open to everyone, not only to people who are suddenly “family” members thanks to their “host’s” nationality.

Maybe “Selim” should learn how to become a better Muslim, instead of spending his time organizing “exclusionary festivals and parties about cultural understanding” (moronic and oxymoronic). Read the Koran and really understand what it means to a member and a representative of our faith.

Aly Rustom in Tokyo
Cellphone 080 5088 2637

The “Islam World Festival” (Islaamu Sekai Festival) will be held in Kyoto at the Kyoto City Kokusai Kouryuu Kaikan, Tokubetsu Kaigishitsu 2F on Sunday, September 30, between 4:30 and 7:30 PM (doors open 4PM).

The person in charge (gleaned from their website) is Quireshi Selim Yujel (spelling unclear, from Katakana), Director, Islam Bunka Center.

Access: Tozai Subway Line, 6 minutes walk from Ke-age Eki
Cost: Free, with events and food provided
Places for 100 people. Reservations are requested via free dial number 0120-519-599, or via email at getsurei@islamjapan.net
More information in Japanese Only (naturally) at
Try to sign up if you can. Failing that, register a complaint with them if you are inclined.


COMMENT FROM ARUDOU DEBITO: I called the Islam Bunka Center this morning to inquire about my situation as a naturalized Japanese. They said they would let me in, but, alas, they’ve filled up their reservation slots. Thanks, I guess.

I also called the holders of the venue, the Kyoto City International Foundation, at 075-752-3010, and talked to a Mr Takagi. He said that all they do is take money and don’t supervise what these groups do. I asked if a public space refusing foreigners is permissible, as public spaces cannot refuse taxpayers. He said that he would look into it, but the KCIF can’t tell them not to refuse foreigners.

Irony in relief. Metropolis Magazine last week quoted the Muslim Community in Japan in a special article (“True Believers”, Sept. 14, 2007) as saying, “We want more Japanese people to come to talk to us. We want them to share what they are thinking. And we want to help anybody, whether or not she or he is Muslim, in order for us to exist on a cultural level.”

I doubt what’s happening in Kyoto reflects the same spirit. Talking to Japanese at the expense of other members of their community? A lot more of the world than just Japanese also need their image of Muslims adjusted. This won’t help.

Amazing what ironies abound when even foreigners will resort to the same tactics as the worst elements of their “hosts”.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo
September 21, 2007

Yomiuri: “Moral education upgrade” proposal shelved


Hi Blog. Yomiuri reports that one tenet of former PM Abe’s “Beautiful Country” master plan has been withdrawn since his resignation–that of upgrading moral education.

Good. I opposed this because these sorts of things, such as teaching (and grading) “patriotism”, would leave Japan’s children of international roots in a bind–how can they “love” Japan “properly”, in a way quantifiably gradable? Officially-sanctioned identity education is a very difficult subject to broach indeed (and it is by no means limited to Japan). But forcing young students to “love” Japan (and having their future possibly affected by bad grades for it) says more about the political elite and their families who would support this sort of policy, believing love and morality can be thusly commanded.

Anyway, the article on this follows, courtesy of guregu at the Life in Japan list. Arudou Debito

Plan to upgrade moral education to official subject shelved
The Yomiuri Shimbun Sep. 20, 2007


The Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education, science and technology minister, has decided to shelve a plan to upgrade moral education to an official subject in a revision of the official school curriculum guidelines scheduled for this fiscal year, according to sources.

The council concluded that “morals are related to the heart and mind and cannot be knocked into children via a textbook.”

The upgrading of moral education to an official subject was proposed by the Education Rebuilding Council, a Cabinet organ charged with education reform, in its second report released June.

Currently, the official school curriculum guidelines state that moral education should be taught for about one hour a week at primary and middle schools–using supplementary reading materials distributed by the ministry or books and videos edited by private educational material makers– with the aim of teaching values such as “compassion” and a “respect for life.”

However, unlike the five-grade system, pupil assessment is not required, as moral education is not a subject.

The Education Rebuilding Council’s proposal came amid rising public demand for moral and ethical teaching at schools in light of falling standards in society.

However, mandatory conditions that were to be attached to the upgrading, such as assessing students, the use of authorized textbooks and the creation of a new teachers license for the subject at middle and high schools, have been a source of debate. Opponents believed such conditions were not conducive to moral education. Some members of the Central Council for Education also have expressed skepticism, especially with regard to the authorized textbooks, saying, “It is unfeasible to screen textbooks for moral education, since they deal with issues in people’s minds.”

The Central Council for Education decided not to recommend the upgrading, while stressing the importance of moral education. The policy will be taken into consideration when the ministry revises the official school curriculum guidelines.


Prospects for education reform unclear

“The cultivation of normal consciousness” and improvements in academic ability were important pillars of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s education reforms. Shelving the moral education upgrade symbolized the uncertain outlook for education reforms.

From the outset, caution prevailed among the council members when discussing the upgrading of moral education to a full official subject. Some specialists have also pointed out that Abe’s sudden resignation announcement weakened the authority of the Education Rebuilding Council, as the body was established as a private advisory panel for the prime minister.

Meanwhile, the time allotted for moral education is being switched to other subjects in some schools.

(Sep. 20, 2007)

Hiroshima Peace Foundation Director Steven Leeper’s odd views on NJ in Japan


Hi Blog. Normally I would shout “congratulations” from the rooftops at the news: The momentous appointment of a non-Japanese to be director of an important Japanese institution.

Particularly when said institution is tasked with keeping the faith on with an important international issue–one the GOJ brings up constantly in its untiring quest for uniqueness in the world stage (“the only country in history ever bombed by nuclear weapons”). As well as for world peace.

But Steven Leeper, the newly-appointed director of the Hiroshima Peace and Culture Foundation, is proving to be a historical curator with an odd attitude not only towards history (see KTO August 2007 and Steve Silver article below), but also towards non-Japanese in Japan (a category he still falls into, of course).

Cited recently in several media, including the International Herald Tribune, the Asahi Shinbun, the Japan Times, and the Kansai Time Out, Leeper rings hollowly at the end of the KTO article (full article scanned at the bottom of this blog entry):

“I’m afraid I don’t see much of a role for foreigners in the Japanese government. It would never have occurred to me to pursue the position that I am in. I did absolutely nothing to pursue it, and I would not recommend that anyone pursue such a path. From what I have seen and experienced, foreigners who make a commitment to Japan and are willing to give what they can over a very long term get utilized in ways their communities need, and they get rewarded more than fairly for what they give.

In general, though, I see Japan as being a place where Japanese people can go about the business of being Japanese. Those of us who are not Japanese but enjoy living in Japan can learn from them and help them to relate to the outside world. But our influence is and should be rather limited. I personally hope the Japanese will remain quite Japanese. In fact, I wish they would get back to being more Japanese than they are today. For those who like diversity, which I also enjoy, we have the U.S. I truly enjoy both cultures, but I want them to stay different.

I see. So whatever “going about the business of being Japanese” means (it’s obviously automatically “different” from what foreigners do, even from what “today’s Japanese” do), it’s clear to Leeper that foreigners (and their Japanese children, one assumes) being in our country somehow sully that and should be constrained. Never mind that some “foreigners” have been here for a “very long term” indeed (generations), and many have not reaped the ultimately forthcoming “fair rewards” he assures us of. And then there’s the hundreds of thousands of others (like guess who) have even naturalized, and still have to fight for an equal shake in this society.

But if these intruders aren’t somehow “Japanese enough” to qualify for GOJ jobs (or aren’t fortunate enough to have one fall into their laps through no fault of their own), they should go someplace more diverse, like America? (which will surely grant them all visas)

How odd. I’m trying really hard to see this as a “you stand where you sit” sort of attitude made by a person bound by his job. But it’s square-pegging a round hole. I understand why Leeper might take a 100% Pacifist line–for example, that nuclear weapons should never be used, moreover eliminated from the face of the earth given the damage they do.

But Leeper is clearly out of bounds when he says that NJ should have no role in the decisionmaking processes of Japan. NJ should merely settle for whatever scraps Japanese society might deign to throw them (as opposed to pushing for more equal treatment)? Why this ironic disposition to pull up the ladder behind him?

If Leeper feels this strongly, why accept this job? Oh, because it was a scrap thrown him due to circumstances beyond his control. Congrats, you won the lottery. But now that you’ve been included, why go out of your way to make exclusivist arguments?

Here’s hoping Leeper wises up a bit, and remembers his own position in society both before and after his appointment. Otherwise he’s going to come off as an Uncle Tom, echoing the more xenophobic and conservative elements of Japan (some of whom led Japan down the road culminating in the extreme acts of war he curates), damaging his own reputation and credibility in the process.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Steven Leeper’s email address:


Excellent article from Steve Silver on other aspects of Leeper’s views:

(click on images to expand in your browser)


J Times column on Hair Police and NJ educational underclass


Hi Blog. Yesterday (July 17, 2007) the Japan Times Community Page published my 36th column, on the “Hair Police” in Japan’s schools, and how they are part of the forces in Japan interfering with NJ education.

I’ve just put up a “Director’s Cut” version on my regular website, with links to sources. That can be found at:


UPDATE: It’s available at the Japan Times site at

Have a read! Debito


Schools single out foreign roots
International kids suffering under archaic rules

The Japan Times: Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Column 36 for the Japan Times Community Page
“Director’s Cut” with links to sources
Courtesy http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20070717zg.html
PDF scan of the article courtesy Ben Goodyear at https://www.debito.org/JTHairPolice071707.pdf

Since 1990, when Japan started allowing factories to easily import foreign labor, the number of registered non-Japanese (NJ) residents has nearly doubled to more than 2 million. [SOURCE]

Many migrant workers have become immigrants: staying on, marrying, and having children.

Some have faced illegal work conditions, according to the domestic press: incarceration, physical and emotional duress, even child labor and virtual slavery. [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2, SOURCE 3, SOURCE 4] Policymakers at the highest levels are currently debating solutions. [SOURCE]

Good. But less attention has gone to the children of these immigrants, particularly their schooling. This is a crisis in the making for Japan.

The bellwether of any country’s internationalization is the altered composition of the school population. Many of Japan’s immigrant children are becoming an underclass, deprived of an education for being born different than the putative “Japanese standard.”




Dealing with the ‘follicle enforcers’
Following is some advice on what to do if your child gets nabbed by the school “hair police.”

1. Support your child. Reassure him/her that he/she is as “normal” as anyone else.

2. Seek an understanding with teachers and the principal. Point out that variation is normal. There are plenty of Japanese with naturally lighter, curly hair.

3. Get written proof from your previous school that your child’s hair color or texture is natural.

4. Raise this issue with the Classroom Committee of Representatives (“gakkyuu iinkai”) and/or the local Board of Education (“kyoiku iinkai”). With all the attention on “ijime,” or bullying, these days, the board may be sensitive to your concerns.

5. Be firm. Dyeing hair is neither good for your child’s mental or physical health.

6. If compromise is impossible, consider changing schools (“tenkou”). Your child deserves a nurturing educational environment, not alienated by perceived “differences” on a daily basis. (D.A.)


Full article at:

J Focus on PM Abe’s Fundamental Education Law reforms


Hi Blog. Let me post this before I put up my July 17, 2007 Japan Times article, since it has bearing on Japan’s fundamental attitude towards education.

Japan Focus.com online academic site has just put up (July 9) an excellent analysis of PM Abe’s “teach primary students patriotism and love of Japan” reforms to the Fundamental Law of Education, passed December 2006.

Entitled, “Hammering Down the Educational Nail: Abe Revises the Fundamental Law of Education”, by Adam Lebowitz and David McNeill, the conclusion of the article is the most excerptable part:

Changes to the Fundamental Law of Education: From Citizens to National Subjects?

Much criticism of the amended education law has focused on statements clearly privileging the state over the individual; that is, statements affirming civil liberties still appear, often unchanged, from the original version, but are often undercut and diluted by new language. Perhaps more importantly, however, what makes the amended version of the law appear less a legal document than an expression of authoritarian will is not so much what is said, but how it is said. That is, the language of mystique and belief makes the very notion of individual rights seem anachronistic at best. For this reason the amended version is not a reflection of a democratic and constitutionally law-driven society but resembles in content and in intent the Edict, a product of a wartime regime.

The article contains an unofficial translation of the changes to the Fundamental Law of Education, side-by-side with the original 1947 document, at http://japanfocus.org/products/details/2468

Of course, left out of the article (as it is tangental) is the issue of how Japan’s children of international roots–including both the children of immigrant workers and the children of international marriages–will be affected by these revisions.

Even from the change in the word “we” (meaning Japan’s residents/citizens–still not completely overlapping), I see great problems in interpretation and exclusion. Excerpting again:

Old: Warera

Amended: Wareware Nihon Kokumin [We the Countrymen of Japan]


Warera is a non-partisan and generalized grammatical subject written phonetically. The new form in kanji is long and bombastic, and most notably conceptualizes “Japan” in an essentialist manner eliding a legalistic framework. The Constitution is not mentioned until the third paragraph. In short, the “we” of the old law were citizens of a constitutionally based body politic; now, “we” are in effect national subjects.

Thanks to PALE’s Robert Aspinall for notifying me. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Mainichi Waiwai: Schoolkids smell, partly cos they’ve got foreign parents


Hi Blog. Article from one of the Weeklies, so it’s naturally suss. But people read these things (I do–they’re well written), and Ryann Connell translates one that blames the decline in school student standards partially on foreign parents… Good ol’ “Education Insiders” stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for their comments, naturally.

Thanks to David Anderson for notifying me. Debito in Sapporo


Teachers crying foul over unhygienic kids
Mainichi Shinbun WAIWAI Page June 26, 2007, from Sunday Mainichi Issue Dated July 8, 2007


Japanese schools are getting filled with more kids that stink, according to Sunday Mainichi (7/8).
Growing disparity between the country’s haves and have-nots is believed to be behind the increase in unhygienic children.

But broken homes and the increasing number of foreigners in Japan are also being blamed.

“We have a lot of kids from homes where the parents aren’t financially blessed and few have a decent education. There are a few kids who live in really shoddy apartments,” a third grade teacher at a public elementary school in Tokyo tells Sunday Mainichi. “You can tell from the way they look and the way they talk that their lifestyle gives them something that makes them clearly different from the other kids.”
Often that leads these children to become the subject of teasing and bullying from their better off classmates.

Other teachers blame the widening gap between the rich and poor for the situation.

“There are definitely more smelly kids around,” a Tokyo junior high school teacher says. “Both parents are working during the day and some have to moonlight with bar work at night to make ends meet, so they’re never at home. Kids just go to sleep whenever they feel tired, and a lot of them nod off without having taken a bath. Some kids stop coming to school because their friends keep telling them that they smell, so you can’t treat the problem lightly. I tell the kids not to say things about the smell in the classroom, but frankly I find the reek to be disgusting, myself.”

Since Japan’s economy slipped into the doldrums in the early 1990s, companies have been shifting away from employing people as permanent staff and instead have been relying more on irregular hires. The upshot of this has been an increase in what’s being called the “working poor,” the people in paid employment who make barely enough money to stay above the poverty line. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported that last year 27.2 percent of Tokyo families are now living on less than 3 million yen a year, a 9.3 percentage point increase over the past five years.

It’s not just money worries, either. Parenting standards are also apparently in decline. In a central Tokyo school, teachers were worried when one little girl stopped turning up for class. Her mother, a single parent, was not forcing her to attend and willingly let her stay away whenever she felt like it.

“Her homeroom teacher went out to the girl’s home to check up on the situation. The little girl was sitting there with her hair done up in curls and dressed up like a princess. The homeroom teacher was shocked that the child was being treated virtually like a pet,” a teacher at the school says. “Turns out the mother got lonely at home by herself and wanted her daughter to be around with her.”

Growing numbers of foreigners are also having an influence on Japanese schools.

“There seems to be a lot of trouble surrounding couples where an older Japanese man has married a young Southeast Asian woman who’s come to Japan to make some money,” an education insider says.

One teacher approached a Japanese father and spoke of how his wife, who worked as a nightclub hostess and saved whatever she could while living in squalor in Japan so she could build a palatial home in her native country. The teacher, pointing out that Japan is living through an age of internationalization, encouraged the father to help his child learn Tagalog, the native tongue of his mother’s homeland, the Philippines. The teacher was shocked by the father’s response.

“There’s no need to do that,” the teacher tells Sunday Mainichi the 60-something Japanese father said. “If Japan had won that war, they’d all (Filipinos) be speaking Japanese by now.” (By Ryann Connell)
June 26, 2007

UPDATE June 27: My week speaking in Tokyo and facing the madding crowds


UPDATE JUNE 27, 2007

Hello Blog. I’ve left you fallow for a week now, my apologies. I’ve just come through what is probably my busiest speaking schedule yet. I gave what amounted to six speeches in as many days, all of them brand new, with Powerpoint presentations in two languages. Phew.

Backing up a bit on the timeline, I have had an incredible June, in the sense that there was no letup. From my mind-blowing trip to the USA and my Cornell 20th Reunion, where I discovered that bullying can become trans-generational (https://www.debito.org/homecoming2007.html), to coming home with jetlag only to be smacked by a car while riding my bicycle to work (https://www.debito.org/?p=453 –finding myself still able to cycle and walk but not climb stairs unassisted for awhile), I’ve had to deal not only with hospitals and insurance companies, but also deadlines that were constantly nipping at my heels. Finish one speech, start preparing another. Every day for about a week.


Early on Tuesday morning June 19, I finally started the paper I would be delivering on Friday and Saturday at Waseda University and the 2007 Asian Studies Conference Japan. Topic? Immigration’s effects on Japan, and how lack of governmental oversight has created Frankenstein’s Monster in the labor market. By Tuesday evening, I had pounded out seventeen pages with footnotes and references, and by Wednesday night I was on my third draft and 19th concluding page. I was still writing it on the plane down to Tokyo the next day, and by Thursday evening the fourth and final draft was finished (see it at https://www.debito.org/ASCJPaper2007.doc). I forwent catching up on any Internet or blogging, getting started on my concomitant Powerpoint presentation right away before any sleep (speeches I do nowadays are never only just reading from a printed document anymore; I find using Powerpoint to create visuals from the computer, instead of the Mind’s Eye or the OHP, to be very effective. Sadly, this means my workload is doubled.) Staying with friends Leisa and Stephen Nagy, I found myself striking a decent (but slightly worried) balance between being social, and wondering if I hadn’t taken outdone myself by saying “yes” to everyone who asked me to speak on this trip.


So Friday morning June 20, I went to Waseda early and used the graduate student facilities to pound out my Powerpoint in four hours (see it here at https://www.debito.org/japansmulticulturalfuture.ppt). I gave my speech to several grad students (even the American Embassy showed, thanks), and found that the presentation (with questions from the audience during) stretched what had to be a 20-minute talk into well over an hour (which earned tuts from timekeeper Stephen). A couple of grad students said I lacked data (naturally, the Powerpoint is a capsule summary; I suggested they download and read my whole paper), and one asked what percentage of Non-Japanese workers have working conditions as bad as I was citing from the newspapers.

I answered that it’s not a matter of degree–what percentage of exploitation and slavery by nationality would be the proper threshold for saying the system needs improvement? 1%? 5%? 20%? And anyway, we’ll never get reliable stats on this topic when many workers, legal or illegal, won’t come forward to bad-mouth their bosses or get deported. It’s like trying to guestimmate the amount of rape or DV in a society. To me it’s a red herring anyway, since horrible work conditions, even child labor and slavery, being inflicted upon even one laborer in Japan is too many. It’s illegal, too, but poorly enforced–both created then left to forge its own cruel realities by our government.

Anyway, yes, I didn’t have that data, and I could sense the glee in the grad students’ eyes. Gosh, they got me, the big bad speaker who for some reason needed to be shown he’s not all that smart or impregnable, without discussing the problems brought up. Such is one weak spot of academia. Not only does the “dispassionate view” that the academic must take suck the humanity out of issues of human rights, but also the trauma inflicted upon the researcher, suffering constant supervisor and peer vetting of theses in the name of “rigor”, creates a pecking order of nitpicking questions and data for data’s sake. After all, in an arena like this, it’s always seen as better to have data than not, right?, even when it’s irrelevant. “I don’t know” (rather than the consideration of “it doesn’t matter”) in a forum like this becomes an unforgivable weakness.

Then, ironies upon ironies, right afterwards I went to a series of lectures at Waseda on “Cool Japan”. There we had people discussing the intricacies of candles on the heads of certain manga characters, and musings on how Pokemon creates a self-actualizing world for children. Culture vulture stuff, nonrigorous hooey, but received with heavy-lidded adulation out of politeness. Lousy Powerpoint too. Left early.


Saturday June 23 was the Asian Studies Conference Japan at Meiji Gakuin University, and quite frankly, I found few papers all that interesting (and even fewer papers available for reading–made me wonder why I tried so hard to get my paper done on time). Some stuff on disaffected youth made me think, but nothing made me blink. And I used some of the time in droning presentations to whittle down my upcoming Powerpoint presentation to its bare essentials. Our roundtable (which had been gratefully preserved by people despite having one of our panelists drop out) had the torture of doing five papers in a two-hour period; each person got 24 minutes including Q&A. Stephen clocked in at 21 minutes with his interesting presentation on the official openness of local governments in different Tokyo Wards towards NJ residents (Adachi-ku sounded pretty progressive, whereas Shinjuku-ku ironically didn’t care–in fact was disinclined to see foreign residents as much more than a potential source of crime). Then I stampeded through my 35 slides and clocked in at 23 minutes just. We had a full house, no questions about data or lack thereof. Probably no time, alas.

Evening was spent catching up with old friends Ken, Garrett, and Alby from Transpacific Radio (http://www.transpacificradio.com –I’ve asked them if they’ll let me read the news sometime), plus newfound friend Aly who surfaced from the Internet to tell me about his woes getting stopped by the police all the time in Saitama (it’s getting worse; the cops apparently target foreigners more than the increasing number of shops with “JAPANESE ONLY” signs…). Stayed out too late and had one beer too many.


Sunday June 24 was even busier, if you can believe it. First thing in the morning (as in 9AM, running all the way to deserted downtown Tokyo), I met an Italian journalist (a lovely former fashionista named Stefania with a lovelier accent) who interviewed me for more than three hours for a 5000-word article on activism in Japan. Then taxied back to the ASCJ Conference, since I had been specially invited to attend a post-lunch talk by Nikkei Americans and Canadians about their feelings returning “home” to Japan.

Humph. With even less “rigor” (but good media), we had talks of what I call the genre of feel-good “baachan essays” (or conversely whiney ponderings about defeated expectations–i.e a “Japan don’t treat me right, despite” sort of thing). A love-in for those genetically-admitted, we received a talk about the narratives of older Japanese Americans and Canadians in the Kansai (which, since there were no narrative samples taken from younger women, or from any men at all “because they would disrupt the flow of information”, essentially became a survey of nattering older housewives shooting fish in a barrel). When I asked about if there were any plans to include the no doubt fascinating narratives of Nikkei Brazilians etc. (their factory schedules and language barriers notwithstanding), the answer was no, since, it was claimed, the study of Nikkei North Americans is far more underresearched. This surprising claim was based upon the fact that the Nikkei North Americans had fought or been betrayed by Japan in WWII, adversely influencing research of them. Aha. When the last speaker even asserted that Nikkei should being a White person to Japanese restaurants to get better service, I said, “It cuts both ways. There’s no science here.”

This confirmed a number of things I have been mulling over about these so-called Nikkei “returnees” (kibei) to Japan: How they seem to forget that their ancestors generally left Japan for perfectly good reasons, often because they didn’t fit in economically or socially. And they expect to come back and fit in now? I think it’s best to come here with no expectations or any trump cards due to genetics and make do as individuals, not Nikkei. But I’m sure they wouldn’t agree. To them it’s somehow some matter of birthright. Ah well. Enjoy the questionable social science from identity navel gazing and defeated expectations. It makes for exclusive ideological love-ins all over again, which happen to be just as exclusive as they feel they are facing in Japanese society.

Then in the late afternoon I carted my monolithic suitcase (full of books and T-shirts, https://www.debito.org/tshirts.html) through the subways (surprisingly unbarrier-free; I really feel sorry for people in wheelchairs), and found my way out to Tokai University, out in Odawara, an hour west of Tokyo. Hosts Charles and Yuki Kowalski had invited me out for two speeches care of their E-J translation ESP Classes in the International Studies Department. I had fortunately pounded out an 8-pager on “What is a Japanese?” shortly before I went to America weeks ago. I couldn’t even remember what I wrote, but as soon as we finished our home-cooked meal and some homeopathic remedy for my aching bike leg (it worked, actually–my leg hasn’t hurt since!), I went off to a deserted stay-over teacher’s dorm (I felt like I was walking the halls of the Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING, expecting to find twins behind every corner), was given two nights in a lovely old corner room with big windows overlooking trees, and got started on my Tokai speech Powerpoint (see it at https://www.debito.org/tokaispeech062507.doc)


Rising early the next morning (5AM), Monday, June 25, I put the finishing touches on a few visuals, was escorted at 9:30AM into a full classroom of perhaps 150 students, and asked to read my speech in English (without the E-J translation department there to help). I looked at the list of keywords carefully prepared by several teachers (who had done a hell of a lot of groundwork for my speeches–with classroom exercises on Japan’s internationalization, their opinions on who qualifies as a Japanese, and Japan’s future), and saw a full small-print page with words that were second-nature to me by now, but challenging to even advanced non-native speakers. Oops. Wound up paraphrasing the hard stuff, throwing in translations for difficult concepts, and finishing my talk early to power the rest of the presentation with Q&A. Anything to keep people from falling asleep. They didn’t. The questions came easily and quickly, and people of all langauge levels seemed to enjoy the conversation about Japan’s future.

But that’s not all. Later on in the afternoon, we were seated in a 500-seat auditorium with our ten translators, all raring to go, dreading the Q&A, but doing just fine on the prepared statements. I had prepared even more Powerpoint visuals in the interim (see the full version at https://www.debito.org/tokai062507.ppt), and we had a grand old time–especially since the hall had actually filled to 600 souls!, containing the crowded tension and interest when jokes come up and the speaker gets a little bombastic with his points.

But the questions were hell for the interpreters. One asked, “What do you think is the definition of ‘country’?” (as in nation–kuni). Another asked if my demand for Japan’s Census to measure for ethnicity was not a form of privacy invasion, even discrimination. Still another asked if I objected to the word “haafu” for international children (going instead for “double”), then how do Nikkei fit in? Having interpreters was lucky for me–their time taken to interpret gave me time to consider my answer, but when my answer go too tough to translate, I wound up giving my full ideas in fast Japanese like SNL’s Subliminal Man–to quite a few laughs. In the end, we had a wonderful time, and an audience, according to the ESP coordinators, more numerous, engaged, and thoughtful about the topic at hand than any other guest speech they had ever hosted.

Much merriment followed that evening over beers with the interpreters (two of them were actually Chinese, with excellent Japanese skills and even higher tolerance for alcohol), so much so I realized I had stayed out too late again and drunk too much. And I hadn’t even started my Powerpoint presentation for my last speech to be given in less than 24 hours. The problem was this time it was entirely in Japanese…


Rising even earlier (4AM) on Tuesday, June 26, I set to work. Major publisher Shogakukan in Jinbochou, Tokyo, had invited me as part of their guest lecturer series for raising the awareness of their writers, inviting minorities and interest groups to give their perspectives on the mass media. They asked me to speak on a dream topic–“Language that Japanese don’t notice is discriminatory”–and believe you me I had a lot I’ve wanted to say.

So much so, however, that my Powerpoint slides kept growing and growing. By 9AM I had finished a first draft of 45 slides. On the train back to Tokyo I started getting more ideas, and by the time I camped out for two hours at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Library, I had put together 51 slides (see them all here at https://www.debito.org/shougakukan062607.ppt), proofreading and checking text animations just once more with 30 minutes to go. Grabbed a sandwich and a cab, sailed into Shogakukan (in my daze I remembered that I had tried to sell them both my novel MS in 1994 (excerpts at https://www.debito.org/publications.html#FICTIONAL), and my children’s comic book two years ago (more on that later sometime)), and with T minus ten I was hooked up and let fly. It was not the first time I’ve finished my Powerpoint presentation less than an hour before I gave it, but it was the first time I’d ever done it without any help from a native speaker. And from what I was told afterwards, the Japanese was just fine.

I won’t get into what I said here, as this essay is long enough, (read the Powerpoint–maybe I’ll get around to translating it some day), but two hours later I was back on the street, having accomplished my goals completely. I headed back to the FCCJ, had a big dinner of comfort food (nachos and fish and chips, washed down with Grolsch), and attended a compelling Book Break by Roland Kelts (http://www.fccj.or.jp/~fccjyod2/node/2272), author of “JAPANAMERICA: How Japanese Pop Culture has invaded the US”, who very articulately spelled out how manga and anime are influencing both American society and international print media. And in passing he described how Pokemon really affects kids, without lapsing into jargon or faffing about with personal impressions. Well done. We exchanged books (or actually, he’ll send me a copy of his later), and someday I might even get around to reviewing it for Debito.org.

Then friend and Amnesty International Group 78 Coordinator Chris Pitts (http://www.aig78.org), gave me a room to crash in in West Tokyo, and we stayed up nursing beverages until the wee hours. I was up this morning at 5AM to beat the morning rush hour and catch my 9:50 flight back to Sapporo. Then I taught a class, writing this up before and after.   I’m going to leave the keyboard now and sleep, thank you very much…


Again, I don’t think I’ve been this busy since grad school. Well, okay, once or twice since then. I can see that my daily grind of one paper per day back then was indeed good training. I’ll be down again in Tokyo in late July for yet another speech–if more don’t pop up like dandelions like what happened this trip. Keep you posted.

Returning to my regular blog schedule, I hope. Sorry for the hiatus. Arudou Debito back in Sapporo, Japan

YouTube on the Uyoku (Right Wing) in Japan


Hi Blog. Here is a recently-added series of YouTube videos about the Right Wing (Uyoku) in Japan. It’s an hourlong TV show for broadcast on the commercial networks (meaning five 10-minute parts) put online by a Japanese (who by his YouTube record is archiving a lot of visual history).

The show was produced by Fuji TV. It has a somewhat sympatheic bent towards the Uyoku (i.e. the interviewers even get rides inside the soundtrucks, and they depict the rival Sayoku (Extreme Left–in this case only the Chuukakuha is mentioned) as monolithic, militant, and unclear in ideology). I still found it a fascinating insight into the people behind the black windows and steering wheels of the sound trucks.

It’s not made clear when this show was broadcast (it mentions twenty years since Mishima Yukio’s suicide, the recent institution of the Heisei Emperor, and the collapse of Soviet Communism creating a loss of mission for the Uyoku), so let’s say the early 1990’s. Given we are now in Heisei 19 it may be a bit dated.

It opens with a branch of Uyoku lecturing NJ in Roppongi on how to behave in Japan (even if they’re saying “Obey Our Laws, Gaijin”, not “Yankee Go Home” sorts of things, I still find this attitude quite rich…). As this show was filmed long before official GOJ campaigns to depict and target foreigners as criminals, it’s not clear how the Uyoku would behave in the same situation nowadays.

The archiver also insinuates (below) that most people (especially the “gaijin”) are uninformed, in that the Uyoku are somehow misunderstood as “militant racists”. But this show hardly sets the record straight for me; it remains clear that even with all the splinter groups, the common thread is still deification of the Emperor, purity as ideology, and having all Japanese share a common mindset of birthright. Given that I saw the Dai Nippon Aikoku Tou speak yesterday in Odori Park, Sapporo, for more than an hour by their big blue bus (slogan on the back: “Give us back Karafuto [Sakhalin] and Chishima Rettou [the Kuriles]” (i.e. not just the Northern Territories), it’s not clear how they would treat the racially-separate peoples on those islands (or within Japan itself, given all the children of international marriages with Japanese citizenship). I remain doubtful that they would be accepting, which by definition would lead to militant racism.

In sum: As I believe Japan is lurching rightward in recent years, this is worthy of a viewing to get an idea what the extreme version wants. In Japanese with very good English subtitles. Somebody put a lot of work into making this series accessible to the outside world. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Here is the write-up on the series from the person who YouTubed the series:


Added May 09, 2007
From oniazuma

1990-The Uyoku are a flamboyant, more hard line faction of Japan’s Right Wing Movement. NOT to be confused with the traditional, regular right wing conservatives.

Also note that the Uyoku is not a single united entity, rather there are many factions voicing many opinions on almost all issues. Some uninformed Japanese and almost all gaijin will just see the surface of the movement and assume they are all militant racists.

This documentary covers the various factions of Uyoku, and their transition from a united front of Anti Communism as Communism dies out, to a shaky future without a ultimate goal. What is the new path for the Uyoku?

Kodo (Action) Uyoku——————————-
We see the Great Japanese Vermillion Light Association, who looks for a new objective. They believe that the Uyoku should change from a feared organization with a violent gangster stereotype to one that is loved by the people. They have taken up the environment as their primary concern, and voice that they are a Human Rights Organization.

Ninkyo (Yakuza) Uyoku—————————–
We see the Japan Youth Society, backed by the Sumiyoshi Yakuza Family. We see that the Yakuza Culture is a Culture of itself. This group may possibly have the strongest mobilization and manpower of them all. They are guided by the old code of gangster honor, and they are not afraid to let anyone know that.

New Uyoku———————————– ——
Characterized by Writer Mishima Yukio, who slit his stomach and had his comrade behead him after a failed coup. The New Uyoku Group we meet, The Issui-Kai (One Water Association) wears casual clothing, appeals to the youth and has a new philosophy of Anti Americanism through popular culture – manga, punk rock etc. The Anti-Americanism directly conflicts with the Original Uyoku, who are very much Pro-American.

Original Uyoku———————————– –
After Senator Akao Bin passed away, his Great Japanese Patriotic Party still lives on. Its members still continue the Anti Communist Stance, “Until it completely dies out.” They lead a humble lifestyle, supported by a small but loyal following. They do not seem to be changing anytime soon.

The Great Japanese Patriotic Union’s leader Asanuma Michio is a hard core old school Uyoku to the end. He firmly still believes that terrorism is right, and that one day a Japan with the Imperial Majesty as the leader will be constructed.

All-Japan Patriot’s Conference Chairman of the Board of Directors Kishimoto Rikio is another old school Uyoku, from before the war. A staunch Shintoist, he seems to be more of a religious old man than a gangster or a fanatic. He seems to not believe in taking over the nation, or making Japan Uyoku. He sees Japan as already having changed too much, that possibly he and his movement are a product of a different time.

Westernized (?) Uyoku—————————–
Nationalist Philospher Nomura served 17 years in the penitentiary for various violent political crimes. Now, he is seen as the leading spokesperson for the Uyoku. Media friendly and immaculately dressed not in Traditional Japanese clothing but in Italian Fashion, he may be the New Face of a Laid back, Informal, Westernized Uyoku.

What is the new path for the Uyoku?

Japanese Uyoku 1

Japanese Uyoku 2

Japanese Uyoku 3

Japanese Uyoku 4

Japanese Uyoku 5

Fun Facts #4: Indicative Postwar “Child’s Play”


Hi Blog. This will be my last blog entry for at least a week (if not until around May 7), as I will be cycling around Kyushu with friend Chris without email or probably web access.

So let’s break on a more pleasant note: From one of my favorite books on Japan (John Dower, EMBRACING DEFEAT, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning tome on the strategies Post-WWII Japanese society used to cope with losing a war), my favorite section (pp. 110-112). Brief comment follows:


Children’s games can provide a barometer of their times. With consumers of any sort still in the distant future, youngsters were thrown back on their imaginations, and their play became a lively measure of the obsessions of adult society. Not long before, boys in particular had played war with a chilling innocence of what they were being encouraged to become. They donned headbands and imagined themselves piloting the planes that would, in fact, never return. They played at being heroic sailors long after the imperial navy began to be decimated. Armed with wooden spears and bayonets, they threw themselves screaming at mock-ups of Roosevelt and Churchill and pretended they were saving the country from the foreign devils [48]. In defeat, there was no such clear indoctrination behind children’s games. Essentially, they played at doing what they saw grownups do. It was a sobering sight.

There were not many commerical toys in this world, although the first popular one after the war was revealing. In December 1945, a toy maker in Kyoto produced a jeep not quite 10 centimeters long that sold for 10 yen. The stock of one hundred thousand quickly disappeared from store shelves, heralding the modest revival of the toy industry. The quintessentially American nature of the product was appropriate, for the child’s world was defined, in generally positive and uncritical ways, by an acceptance of the fact of being occupied. Jeeps were associated with the chocolate and chewing gum handed out by cheerful GIs, and thus with the few delicious amenities imaginable in these war-torn lives. “Hello,” “goodbye,” “jeep,” and “give me chocolate” were the first English words most youngsters learned. They also learned to fold newspapers into soft GI-style hats rather than the traditional samurai helmets of the past. To older, nationalistic Japanese, a good part of child’s play seemed to involve finding pleasure in being colonized.

The games *were* happy–that was the point of playing, after all–but in ways that almost invariably tended to sadden grownups, for they highlighted so clearly and innocently the pathos that war and defeat had brought into their lives. Early in 1946, for example, it was reported that the three most popular activities among small boys and girls were yamiichi-gokko, panpan asobi, and demo asobi–that is, holding a mock black market, playing prostitute and customer, and recreating left-wing political demonstrations.

Black-market games–hawkers and their wares–might be seen in retrospect as a kind of school for small entrepreneurs, but to grownups at the time they were simply another grim reminder of the necessity of engaging in illegal activity to make ends meet. Panpan asobi, prostitution play, was even harder for parents to behold, for panpan was a postwar euphemism for freelance prostitutes who catered almost exclusively to the GI trade. A photograph from early 1946 shows laughing youngsters in shabby clothes reenacting this–a boy wearing a soft GI hat, his arm hooked into that of a little girl wearing patched pants. In the demo game, children ran around waving red paper flags. As youngsters grew older, play shaded into practice. The press took care to note when roundups of prostitutes included girls as young as fourteen, while schoolboys as well as orphans and runaways quickly learned how to earn pocket money as pimps by leading GIs to women. “You like to meet my sister?” became, for some, the next level of English after “give me chocolate.”

As time passed, the playtime repertoire expanded. In mid-1947, a teacher in Osaka reported that his pupils seemed absorbed in playing “train” games, using the teacher’s platform at the front of the classroom as the center of their activities. In “repatriate train,” children put on their school knapsacks, jammed together on the dais, shook and trembled, and got off at “Osaka.” “Special train”–obviously a takeoff on the railway cars reserved for occupation personnel–allowed only “pretty people” to get on. A “conductor” judged who was favored and who wasn’t. A button missing? Rejected. Dirty face? Rejected. Those who passed these arbitrary hurdles sat in leisure on the train. Those rejected stood by enviously. In “ordinary train,” everyone piled on, pushing and shoving, complaining about being stepped on, crying out for help. Every so often, the conductors balancing on the edges of the platform announced that the train had broken down and everyone had to get off. It was, the teacher lamented, a sorry spectacle to behold: from playing war to playing at utter confusion.

Well into 1949, children continued to turn social disorders into games. In runpen-gokkothey pretended to be homeless vagrants. The game took its name from teh German word lumpen, which had come to Japan earier as “lumpenproleteriat” and then acquired the everyday meaning of being an unemployed vagrant. The atmosphere of lawlessness was reenacted in “to catch a thief” (dorobo-gokko) and “pretending handcuffs” (tejou-gokko). “Catch a thief,” it was said, had replaced hide-and-seek in popularity. Desire to strike it rich was captured in a lottery game. Predictably, child’s play also included kaidashi-gokko, pretending to leave home to search for food [49].


COMMENT: This marvellously-written and researched account by Dr Dower, in parts guffaw-inducing, in others depressing, is something rarely considered in historical accounts: The barometer of social suffering as absorbed and reflected in its children doing what kids do: trying to have fun.

The photo accompanying the text (and referred to within), concerning panpan asobi is priceless:
(Click on image to see whole photo)

I especially love the expressions on the girls’ faces. And I can see why people in most societies shield their children’s eyes from what happens next when the couple repairs elsewhere.

On a more serious note, this play wouldn’t be quite so beneficial to society if it wasn’t seen as fun by the children. More like trauma. And given that Tokyo Guv Ishihara Shintaro was about to turn 15 by the time the war ended, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he couldn’t see the brighter side of the Occupation, and became the very stripey character (particularly regarding non-Japanese) that he is.

Arudou Debito in Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo

Alex Kerr falls into “Guestism” arguments with unresearched comments


Hi Blog. I covered some of this material in a previous post on the blog. However, for the newsletter I did a significant rewrite last night, describing how flippant and unresearched comments from a noteworthy person (Alex Kerr) can cause problems for others (particularly through unscrupulous anonymous editors on places like Wikipedia). I don’t want this new version to be buried in a newsletter, so I repost it separately and delete the older version from the blog. Debito in Sapporo


Some time ago, Alex Kerr, author of DOGS AND DEMONS and LOST JAPAN (and a person I have great respect for), was asked in an interview with the Japan Times (Oct 25, 2005) about he thought about activists (and, er, about me in particular). He responded:

JT: In Dogs and Demons you argue that Japan has failed to internationalize. What do you think about the work of Debito Arudou and others to combat racial discrimination in Japan?

AK: Well, somebody has to do it. I’m glad that there is a whistle-blower out there. But, I am doubtful whether in the long run it really helps. One would hope that he could do it another way. He’s not doing it the Japanese way. He’s being very gaijin in his openly combative attitude, and usually in Japan that approach fails.

I fear that his activities might tend to just confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.

That said, perhaps we who live here are slow to stick our necks out when we sense an injustice, and quick to self-censor in order to get along smoothly in our communities.

To me the most interesting aspect of Arudou Debito is that, in taking on Japanese citizenship, he has brought the dialogue inside Japan. His activities reveal the fact that gaijin and their gaijin ways are now a part of the fabric of Japan’s new society. A very small part of course, but a vocal and real part.

This sticks in my craw for two reasons: One is that Alex, who does incredible amounts of research for his books, seems ill-informed about the ways we have combatted racial discrimination. If he had read my book JAPANESE ONLY (and despite receiving a copy from me nearly two years ago, he wrote me last January that he still hadn’t read it), he might understand that ARE doing it the so-called “Japanese Way”. We took every channel and route available to us WITHIN the Japanese system, as I meticulously detail in the book. In fact, there are plenty of Japanese who do exactly what we do (and more), and don’t get slapped with a “gaijin” label. It is out of character for Alex to comment on something he hasn’t done thorough research on.

The other reason is that this quote has been lifted out of context and selectedly reproduced by the unscrupulous on places like Wikipedia:
Some critics question Arudou’s brand of conflict resolution: the judicial system. Alex Kerr, author of the best-selling Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan (ISBN 0-8090-3943-5), criticize such tactics as “too combative,” is doubtful “whether in the long run it really helps,” noting that “in Japan…[the combative] approach fails.” Acknowledging that “gaijin and their gaijin ways are now part of the fabric of Japan’s new society,” Kerr also notes that Arudou’s activities may “confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.”[24]
The essence and thrust of Alex’s comment, which is in fact about two-thirds positive, is lost.

Anyhow, the reason I bring this up now is because Matt Dioguardi in a recent, thoughtful essay, grounds this phenomenon in historical context, from an angle I hadn’t considered before:

=========== MATT DIOGUARDI WRITES =================
As a foreign national who is making a life for himself in Japan, I’m personally concerned that remarks like his have a negative effect on me (as a so-called “gaijin”). Because regardless of what one may or may not think of Debito, unintentionally Kerr is commenting on all “gaijin”.

Compare this to C. Eric Lincoln’s vivid description of a “smart nigger” in Coming Through the Fire: Surviving Race and Place in America:

The smart nigger was likely to be everything the good nigger was not. Most likely he was educated above the norm considered sufficient for colored folks; whether he got it in school or some bigger fool than he had put it into his head, he had some dangerous notions. In either case, Mr. Martin said that the smart nigger was a pain in his own ass, and everybody else’s too. He wanted too much. He wanted his street paved, and he wanted it paved because he paid taxes rather than because his wife cooked for the judge. His house was painted and well kept and he didn’t waste his money on rattletrap cars. He didn’t “owe money downtown,” or “take up” advances on his pay every Monday morning. More than likely he had “been up North,” and he had a colored newspaper come to his house in the mail. The smart nigger paid his poll taxes, and he was mighty slow, it seemed to Mr. Dubbie Gee, to answer when somebody said “Boy!” He didn’t think that the bad nigger was funny, or that the good nigger could be trusted. Clearly, every smart nigger would bear watching. “They don’t last long,” Mr. Martin said, and he “flat out had no use for them.” He said that if he were colored he’d either kick a smart nigger’s ass down off his shoulders or keep away from him. A smart nigger, he said “is a damn fool hell-bent for trouble. And mark my words, he’s gon’ find it quicker’n a catfish can suck a chicken gut off a bent pin.”

Is Alex Kerr saying Debito is a “smart nigger”?

I’d like to note that Kerr should be more specific in his comments, because is it really the case that there are no non-“gaijin” doing the things that Debito does? Is he saying that when Japanese file lawsuits, this is a natural evolution of culture, but when Debito does it, it’s reinforcing the notion that “gaijin” have an “openly combative attitude”?

Is he saying the teachers who refuse to sing Kimigayo are acting like “gaijin”?

What exactly is the definitive way some one displays an “openly combative attitude”?

Moreover, what is the definitive “Japanese way”? And in what specific way is Debito not doing it?

It’s very disappointing to see some of Alex Kerr’s calibre engaging in Nihonjinron. He should know that there is nothing so destructive to Japan’s traditional local customs as Nihonjinron. Do I need to quote from his own books? Just like the centralization of construction standards begins to make all parks and all buildings look bleakly similar, the centralization of identity around the concept of “Japanese” in an essentialist sense is just as destructive to the development of a full personality.
=========== END MATT DIOGUARDI ==============

More at

The point is, I always find it amazing how easily people can fall right back into the “Guestist”-sounding paradigms of “nicely, nicely, don’t get too uppity, for it’s not ‘The Japanese Way'”. When in fact everything we have ever done has also been done by Japanese. I hope Alex gets around to reading my book (https://www.debito.org/japaneseonly.html) and will offer more informed comments. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

BBC: Japan set for divorce rate boom


Hi Blog. I’ve written a few essays on the problems with divorce in Japan in the past. (see artery site at https://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html#divorce

Well, the BBC is projecting the same thing as I have: that yesterday’s pension reforms are going to bring about a few changes in the artificially low divorce rates in Japan. Wait and see. The most recent issue of Terrie’s Take also offers some forecasts afterwards. Debito


Japan set for divorce rate boom
By Chris Hogg BBC News, Tokyo
Published: 2007/04/01 05:44:14 GMT


New pension laws coming into effect in Japan could lead to an explosion in divorces, some experts are warning.

The rules will make it easier for wives to claim up to half their husband’s pension once the marriage is over.

The number of divorces in Japan has been rising for several decades, but the trend reversed four years ago when the new laws were first discussed.

Many believe that wives in unhappy marriages have been waiting for the new laws to come into effect on Sunday.

Japan’s divorce rate is still quite low – around two divorces for every 1,000 marriages.

Shame is one reason. A failed marriage is frowned upon here, particularly among the older generation.

But money is another important factor. Wives often have real concerns that they will not be able to support themselves if they leave the marital home.

Retirement looms

The change in the law will help. It will make it easier for women to force their husbands to share their pensions.

One survey suggested that in as many as 42,000 couples, wives have been waiting for the rules to change.

Last autumn, the social insurance agency began offering a confidential service which helped couples calculate how much of the husband’s pension should be given to the wife.

Some 90% of the applications have been from women.

And there is another factor at work. Japan’s baby boom generation is starting to retire this year.

That adds up to around five million mostly male workers, who have spent their lives working long hours, and often drinking long after work, several nights a week.

These absentee spouses will now have much more time to spend at home – all day, every day – perhaps for the first time in the couple’s married life.

Many here believe that will prove too much for their wives to cope with.



The wave of retirements will definitely bring about some interesting socio-economic changes. Not having a “family” of like-minded salarymen to report to every morning will be a big shock for most male baby boomers — who have been described as the “generation waiting for instructions”. They will be forced to make lifestyle changes and as a result, many will become angry, upset, and confused. We expect the suicide and divorce rate to soar as a result.

The problem, of course, is that many of these men have followed a rigid routine for the last 40 years and find it very difficult to make friends outside their work — particularly with their alienated wives. As a result, they are likely to become part of the statistics contributing to the pending divorce surge we wrote about several weeks ago.

After the divorce, the future is unremittingly bleak for many of these male retirees. A recent OECD survey found that Japanese men are amongst the loneliest in the world, with 16.7% of males rarely or never having contact with friends or colleagues outside work. However, with Need being the Mother of Invention (and life changes), we imagine that a growing number of retirees will realize that to save their marriages, they have to start a new life and get to know their partner again.


Otaru Onsens “Japanese Only” sign incorporated into video game


Well, here’s a surprise. Incorporated into an online video game (a first-person shoot ’em up called “Counter Strike, Condition Zero”, one of the most popular, with customizable characters, weapons, and backgrounds), here is a scene where our hero gunman faces a door with a “JAPANESE ONLY” sign.

Believe it or not, that is a copy and paste from the Otaru Yunohana Onsen sign (up between 1998 and 2000), defendant in a lawsuit for racial discrimination between 2001 and 2004 (which it lost). More on that here. (I was one plaintiff in that case.)

Here’s a screen capture of the scene (click thumbnail for larger image):

Here’s a picture of the original Japanese Only sign, for comparison’s sake:

BTW, the scene apparently didn’t make the final cut.
(Japanese text)

Amazing to think how far this case and lawsuit has entered the popular culture. Not only has it been featured on entrance and final exams for law degrees in Japan, I’m told it also has been cited as one of the twenty most influential postwar law cases in a Waseda University law publication, not to mention overseas textbooks studying Japanese law.

Now it’s been slipped into a video game? I wonder if as the gunman character I could have used the gun to shoot the sign up. Oh, well, I can dream, can’t I?

Thanks to Dan for notifying me. I wonder what’s on the other side of that doorway… Not me I hope. 🙂 Debito in Sapporo

Losing the “Sugawara” from my koseki


Hello Blog. This might come as news to some (but not those who follow the biased Wikipedia entries on me), that my official name on my koseki (the Family Registry, which is what all Japanese citizens must have to be) is in fact Sugawara Arudoudebito (meaning “Arudou Debito” is in fact officially my first name).

See why at https://www.debito.org/kikaupdate3.html

Well, that will be changing. Two Wednesdays ago, I took this up with Family Court to get my name officially changed to Arudou Debito (losing the Sugawara).

Two Fridays ago, the Sapporo Family Court judge came down in my favor. That’s it. Done. Fastest I’ve ever seen a Japanese court move–a decision within TWO days!

Bigger report to follow on the procedure. Fascinating journey, that. Arudou Debito (for real at last) in Sapporo



Good evening all. Recent articles on my blog have reached saturation point, so here’s a roundup:

This post is organized thusly:

and finally…

This and future material available in real time by subscription at


The Otaru Onsens Case (https://www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html) refuses to fade into obscurity, thank goodness. Still, the facts of the case are being increasingly bleached out as time goes on. Witness how in this English teaching book discussing the case for educational purposes:

From “Shift the Focus”, Lesson 4: “Discrimination, or Being Japanese…?” pp 18-21, on the Otaru Onsens Case. Sanshusha Pubilshing Co., Ltd. February, 2006. Written by Colin Sloss.

After developing the case to make it appear as if I was doing this all on my own, the dialog continues:

======== EXCERPT BEGINS ===================
Some foreigners who had been living in Japan for a long time, lets [sic] call them “old Japan hands,” objected to the claim that this was discrimination and should be stopped. Their argument, as I understand it, was that trying to make Japan like other countries would, in fact, make Japan less distinct and more ordinary. Japan, as it is now (regardless of any problems it may possess, such as discrimination and racism), should be appreciated because of its uniqueness. Ultimately, this argument is romantic, condescending and resistant to the globalization of Japan. Lafcadio Hearn could be said to represent an extreme of this kind of thinking. During the late Meiji Period, Hearn was strongly against the Westernization of Japan, which he feared would destroy the charms of old Japan. Such hopes, though understandable, tend to be disappointed with the changing times.
======== EXCERPT ENDS ===================
Entire dialog at https://www.debito.org/?p=88

While I am happy that the issue has been condensed and replicated for future discussion in an educational setting, I wish the author could have gotten a little closer to the facts of the case. Perhaps included the fact that there was more than one Plaintiff in the case (Olaf and Ken), not just me alone.

I also think he should take less seriously the intellectual squirrelling afforded those postulating pundits he calls “old Japan hands”, found chattering away on places like NBR. They are hardly representative of the foreign resident community in Japan, the proprortionally-shrinking English-language community in Japan, or of anything at all, really. Except perhaps old grouches and bores.



Received a mail (I get a lot of these, especially on weekends) from people wanting some advice. This time, a person named Alisa told me about how cops keep hanging out outside the “gaijin guesthouses” of Sakura House (http://www.sakura-house.com) essentially to snare foreigners (this is not the first time I’ve heard about this, by the way):

======== EXCERPT BEGINS ===================
Anyway this morning I was stopped by three men in black jackets (windbreakers) and one of them flashed me a badge. They asked me if I had my “card”. Even though I had read your article, I was running late for work and was extremely frazzled at being approached like that. I could feel my Japanese fumbling but did manage to ask “nan de desuka?”. They told me that they had heard that some sakura house people had overstayed their visa and were “just checking”. They went to far as to ask my room number and whether I lived alone. They made double sure to check the address on the back of my card and sent me on my way. I was very insulted and humiliated at being stopped like that…
======== EXCERPT ENDS ===================
Entire email at https://www.debito.org/?p=86

Alisa even took the trouble to print up copies of the law regarding these instant checkpoints for the benefit of fellow residents
(see https://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html#gaijincard)
and to contact Sakura House about the harassment.

Well, let the hand-washing preclude any hand-wringing. Response from Sakura House:

======== SAKURA HOUSE RESPONSE BEGINS ===============
Dear Ms. Alisa West
Thank you very much for your staying at Sakura House.

In fact, Japanese police officer or imigration [sic] officer has a right to check your passport, visa status and alien registration card. If they ask you to show your passport, you have to show it to them. This is a leagal [sic] action. They do that kind of inspection without informing.

With best regards,
Takuya Takahashi
======== SAKURA HOUSE RESPONSE ENDS ===============

Pity Mr Takahashi doesn’t know the law better. It’s not quite that simple. So much for helping out his renters.

As I’m sure I’ll get nitpickers with short memories or attention spans thinking this is much ado, a few reminders from the record accumulating on debito.org:

Re the developing tendency towards racial profiling in Japan:
“Here comes the fear: Antiterrorist law creates legal conundrums for foreign residents”
Japan Times May 24, 2005

“Justice system flawed by presumed guilt
Rights advocates slam interrogation without counsel, long detentions”
The Japan Times: Oct. 13, 2005

An excellent summary from the Japan Times on what’s wrong with Japan’s criminal justice system: presumption of guilt, extreme police powers of detention, jurisprudential incentives for using them, lack of transparency, records or accountability during investigation, and a successful outcome of a case hinging on arrest and conviction, not necessarily on proving guilt or innocence. This has long since reached an extreme: almost anything that goes to trial in a Japanese criminal court results in a conviction.

Point: You do not want to get on the wrong side of the Japanese police, although riding a bicycle, walking outside, renting an apartment etc. while foreign seems more and more to incur police involvement.



At the beginning of this month, I told you about a restaurant in Kitakyushu which refuses service to foreigners. I was tipped off by a victim at a JALT national conference, and sure enough, I too was initially refused service as well. More details at https://www.debito.org/?p=69

Well, after sending letters on November 9 to the Kitakyushu Mayor, the tourism board, the local Bureau of Human Rights, the local newspaper, and JALT Central, I am pleased to report that I have had official responses.

The City International Affairs Desk (kokusai kouryuu bu) called me on November 20 to tell me that they had called the restaurant in question and straightened things out. No longer, they were assured, would foreigners be refused there.

The Bureau of Human Rights also called me on November 19 to get some more facts of the case. They would also be looking into them. “Go give them some keihatsu,” I urged them. They said they would.

Now, all we need is a letter from the Mayor’s Office and/or from JALT Central and we have a hat trick. I appreciate the concern given this matter (I have known many Bureaus of Human Rights, such as Sapporo’s, which couldn’t give a damn–even if it’s something as clearly discriminatory as the Otaru Onsens Case). Probably should write this up as a website later on to give people templates on how to work through administrative channels to deal with discrimination. Sure would help if we had a law against this sort of thing, though…

On that note:



On November 10, Kyodo reported that Japan is going to add to Koizumi’s “Yokoso Japan” campaign to bring over more tourists from Europe:

======== EXCERPT BEGINS ===================
Staff at the Japan National Tourist Organization are also hoping to attract spa-lovers by promoting Japanユs many “onsen” (hot springs) and Buddhist retreats.

The campaign “Cool Japan–Fusion with Tradition” officially kicked off at this week’s World Travel Market in London, an annual trade fair that attracts more than 5,000 exhibitors. This year, 202 countries will be there.

The latest promotion follows the successful “Visit Japan Campaign” in Europe in 2003, which helped boost number of tourists traveling to Japan. Britain currently sends the most visitors to Japan from Europe, followed by Germany and France.

As part of the “Cool Japan” campaign, staff are sending out brochures on “manga” (comic books) and animation-related attractions, along with information on Japan’s cutting-edge architectural sights…

This year, representatives from a ryokan are on hand to advise travel agents and tour operators on how to promote traditional forms of leisure. Many Europeans do not think of Japan as place to relax and staff at JNTO are keen to change that.
======== EXCERPT ENDS ===================
Rest of the article at https://www.debito.org/?p=87

That’s fine. But as a friend of mine pointed out in a letter he got published in the Japan Times:

============== LETTER BEGINS ====================
Obstacle to increased tourism
The Japan Times, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006

Regarding the Nov 10 article “Japan works on a makeover to attract more Europeans”:

While it is admirable to see the the Japan National Tourist Organization making efforts to draw more foreign tourists, our government officials are omitting one important thing–the promulgation of a law making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or nationality.

The article states that JNTO staff are “hoping to attract spa-lovers by promoting Japanユs many onsens (hot springs) and Buddhist retreats.” But what about the many onsen that refuse entry to those who don’t look Japanese (including Japanese citizens)? What impression will “young tourists” get when they seek to enter discriminatory bars, hotels, discos, pubs (izakaya) and other spots only to be greeted with the words “Japanese Only?”
============== LETTER ENDS =====================

Well done. We need more people pointing out this fact as often as possible. I keep on doing it, but I say it so often (and alone) that to some I probably sound like a health warning on a cigarette box. If others say it as well, it makes the message come from more quarters, and increases credibility (i.e. I’m not just a lonely voice in the wilderness).

I encourage everyone to keep pointing out the elephant in the room thusly. Thanks for doing so, Hidesato.



No, it’s not what you might think. I reported last newsletter that TBS noontime program “Pinpon” would be doing a segment on Nov 18, regarding Internet BBS and frequent host of libel “2-Channel” (https://www.debito.org/2channelsojou.html). Thought the issue had reached a saturation point. Hell, they even flew up a producer and hired a camera crew on a moment’s notice all the way up to Sapporo just for an interview.

Well, guess what–the story got bumped for extended segments on Clint Eastwood’s new movie on Iwo Jima and supermodel Fujiwara Norika’s on-again/off-again engagement to some dork, er, nice guy.

Anyhoo, I called up the producer again ten days later. She says that the network wants a response from 2-Channel’s Administrator Defendant Nishimura Hiroyuki before airing. They’re still waiting for a response, unsurprisingly.

Ah well, that’s it then. Nishimura communicates with the press only by blog, as a recent story in AERA (https://www.debito.org/?p=48) indicates. He’s not going to make a TV appearance on this.

Meanwhile, the story cools, by design. S o might as well assume the TV spot is cancelled. Sigh. Sorry to inflict lunchtime TV on you, everyone.



This was sent to me by a reporter friend which caused bewilderment in both him and me.

Japan will be reinstituting trial by jury (they had it before between 1928 and 1943, according to Wikipedia entry for 陪審制) in 2009. This will be for criminal cases, and there will be six laypeople and three judges on the jury (given the GOJ’s nannying instincts, you can’t trust the people with too much power, after all).

Kyodo reported extensively on Nov 23 about a mock trial to test the system. But what an intriguing test case to use:

======== EXCERPT BEGINS ===================
Citizen judges on Thursday came out with a mixed verdict on a Briton, who was indicted for bodily injury resulting in death, at a mock trial in Osaka.

Paul Lennon, 36-year-old English teacher, stood trial at the mimic court, sponsored by the Osaka Bar Association, on the assumption that he kicked a Japanese man because he thought the man had assaulted a woman, although the man was just caring for his drunken girlfriend. The man died after falling down on a street and hitting his head…

Some citizen judges argued the defendant’s act was excessive as he should have realized its danger as a karate master, while others said it was not excessive, based on testimony of the witness that the victim collapsed dizzily, arguing that he would have fallen fast if the karate grade-holder had kicked him hard.

While the citizen judges did not reach a consensus, Takashi Maruta, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University law school, said after observing the conference, “The mock trial showed ordinary citizens can develop reasonable and persuasive debates.”
======== EXCERPT ENDS ===================
Rest of the article at https://www.debito.org/?p=83

I don’t know what the Osaka Bar Association is anticipating by putting a foreigner on mock trial like this, but there you have it. My reporter friend writes:

“Not sure what to make of this. Should I be disappointed that they chose a foreigner as the defendant in their mock trial or pleased that the jury didn’t necessarily lock him up and throw away the key just because he wasn’t Japanese?”

Quite. A real head scratcher. Anyway, what odd things make the news. With all the events jockeying for your attention, why so much space devoted to this highly-contrived fake court case? And I fail to see how this is any harbinger of the future of Japanユs upcoming jury system. Surely they could have come up with a more average case to test a jury with?



I mentioned the JALT meeting above. Our interest group PALE (https://www.debito.org/PALE) held a roundtable on Nov 3 to discuss future employment issues in Japan’s academia. Panelists were Jonathan Britten, Michael “Rube” Redfield, Pat O’Brien, Evan Heimlich, and Ivan Hall. Introduction to a collation I made of the event:

======== EXCERPT BEGINS ===================
Continuing the Roundtable forum that packed the hall at JALT 2005, five PALE members paneled a meeting to discuss a variety of issues relevant to the conference’s theme of “Community, Identity, and Motivation”. All presentations touched in some way upon employment issues, including issues of job security, union representation, the relationship of nationality to job description and employment terms, and the growing role of dispatch teaching arrangements in Japanese universities. They dealt explicitly or implicitly with the proper roles and responsibilities of PALE and JALT in managing these issues.
======== EXCERPT ENDS ===================
Full writeup at https://www.debito.org/?p=80

and finally…



This article is making the rounds of the communities out there (at least three people have sent me the link), so I’ll forward this on to fill the gaps.

Yes, the Japanese Government will be establishing a bonafide committee to police the quality and authenticity of Japanese food restaurants overseas.

======== EXCERPT BEGINS ===================
TOKYO – On a recent business trip to Colorado, Japan’s agriculture minister popped into an inviting Japanese restaurant with a hankering for a taste of back home. What Toshikatsu Matsuoka found instead was something he considered a high culinary crime–sushi served on the same menu as Korean-style barbecued beef.

“Such a thing is unthinkable,” he said. “Call it what you will, but it is not a Japanese restaurant.”

A fast-growing list of gastronomic indignities–from sham sake in Paris to shoddy sashimi in Bangkok–has prompted Japanese authorities to launch a counterattack in defense of this nation’s celebrated food culture. With restaurants around the globe describing themselves as Japanese while actually serving food that is Asian fusion, or just plain bad, the government here announced a plan this month to offer official seals of approval to overseas eateries deemed to be “pure Japanese.”…

A trial run of sorts was launched this summer in France, where secret inspectors selected by a panel of food specialists were dispatched to 80 restaurants in Paris that claimed to serve Japanese cuisine. Some establishments invited the scrutiny, while others were targeted with surprise checks. About one-third fell short of standards–making them ineligible to display an official seal emblazoned with cherry blossoms in their windows or to be listed on a government-sponsored Web site of Japanese restaurants in Paris.
======== EXCERPT ENDS ===================
Rest of the article at https://www.debito.org/?p=84

I think you can imagine where I’ll be going with my comment on this, but anyway:

Certification as “real” and “pure Japanese”, hmmm? Sort of like the beauty contests in the Japanese community in Hawaii I read about a decade ago open only to people with “pure Japanese blood”?

Anyway, I know Japan is a nation of foodies, but fighting against overseas restaurants tendency towards “fusion food”? Especially since, as the article notes, so much of Japanese food is from overseas, anyway? Tenpura, castella, fried chicken (“zangi” where I come from), even ramen!

And what if J restaurants innovate, and want to offer something from another country on the menu (such a Chinese or a Vietnamese dish)? Will it have to be offered in J restaurants first in Japan before it can be offered in J restaurants overseas as “authentic Japanese cuisine”? Silly, silly, silly.

This culinary Balkanization seems to be yet another way to give some retired OBs some work after retirement. What better way than for them to take money from either the restaurants or the J taxpayer than by offering the good ol’ “certifications”?

Anyway, food for thought. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)


That’ll do it for this newsletter. Thanks for reading.

Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan

Otaru Onsens Case published as English teaching material


Hello Blog. The Otaru Onsens Case (https://www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html) refuses to fade into obscurity, thank goodness. Still, the facts of the case are being increasingly bleached out as time goes on. Witness how in this English teaching book discussing the case for educational purposes. Thanks to Bert for sending me this. Comment at the bottom.

From: Sloss, Colin; Kawahara Toshiaki; Grassi, Richard: “Shift the Focus”, Lesson 4: “Discrimination, or Being Japanese…?” pp 18-21, on the Otaru Onsens Case. Sanshusha Pubilshing Co., Ltd. February, 2006. ISBN 4-384-33363-3.


Lesson 4
Discrimination, or Being Japanese…?

Having lived some twenty years in Japan, I have not often felt I was facing negative discrimination for being a foreigner. On the other hand, I have often felt conscious of positive discrimination and of being given special treatment because I am a foreigner. However, like everything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to being a foreigner in Japan.

This is why there are varying opinions regarding the Otaru Onsen Case amongst foreigners living in Japan. To explain the case, a few years ago a foreign university professor who had lived a long time in Japan and who spoke Japanese fluently was denied entry to a hot spring, because the hot spring had a “no foreigners” policy. The foreign professor then received Japanese citizenship and went back to the hot spring. Once again he was stopped for being a foreigner, but he showed the people at the hot spring proof that he was now a Japanese. However, he was still refused entry because the owner said that Japanese people at the hot spring would still think he was a foreigner because of his appearance. So, the professor filed a court suit against the owner of the hot spring for discrimination and he won the case. There is more to this story than this brief summary, but I was interested in the reaction of the English-language-speaking foreigners to this incident.

Some foreigners who had been living in Japan for a long time, lets [sic] call them “old Japan hands,” objected to the claim that this was discrimination and should be stopped. Their argument, as I understand it, was that trying to make Japan like other countries would, in fact, make Japan less distinct and more ordinary. Japan, as it is now (regardless of any problems it may possess, such as discrimination and racism), should be appreciated because of its uniqueness. Ultimately, this argument is romantic, condescending and resistant to the globalization of Japan. Lafcadio Hearn could be said to represent an extreme of this kind of thinking. During the late Meiji Period, Hearn was strongly against the Westernization of Japan, which he feared would destroy the charms of old Japan. Such hopes, though understandable, tend to be disappointed with the changing times.

Many foreigners, particularly those who have been hurt by real or perceived discrimination in Japan, supported the man’s case against the hot spring. They were interested in the legal implications of the incident and the need to establish that open discrimination should be illegal in Japan. To some extent, I agree with them.

Nevertheless, if you look hard enough it is possible to find, or to imagine, discrimination everywhere. Once, I was at my local station and some women were handing out leaflets to people. However, they did not give anything to me. Inside my head a voice shouted “discrimination against foreigners.” So I walked back to the people who were handing out the leaflets and demanded one for myself. Then I read the leaflet and I felt embarrassed. The leaflet was asking young women to step forward to enter a “Miss Hyakumangoku” competition. What I had assumed had been racial discrimination was, in fact, sexual discrimination!

C.S. (Colin Sloss, author).

While I am happy that the issue has been condensed and replicated for future discussion in an educational setting, I wish the author could have gotten a little closer to the facts of the case. Perhaps included the fact that there was more than one Plaintiff in the case (Olaf and Ken), not just me alone.

I also think he should take less seriously the intellectual squirrelling afforded those postulating pundits he calls “old Japan hands”, found chattering away on places like NBR. They are hardly representative of the foreign resident community in Japan, the proprortionally-shrinking English-language community in Japan, or of anything at all, really. Except perhaps old grouches and bores.

Wash Post/MSNBC on GOJ moves against fake J food abroad (with update)


Hello Blog. Fascinating article (thanks Ryan) on how Japan is instituting “quality control” in Japanese restaurants abroad–by certifying them as “real” and “pure Japanese”. Sort of like the beauty contests in the Japanese community in Hawaii I read about a decade ago open only to people with “pure Japanese blood”…?

Anyway, I know Japan is a nation of foodies, but fighting against overseas restaurants tendency towards “fusion food”? Especially since, as the article notes, so much of Japanese food is from overseas, anyway? Tenpura, castella, fried chicken (“zangi” where I come from), even ramen! And what if J restaurants innovate, and want to offer something from another country on the menu (such a Chinese or a Vietnamese dish)? Will it have to be offered in J restaurants first in Japan before it can be offered in J restaurants overseas as “authentic Japanese cuisine”? Silly, silly, silly.

This culinary Balkanization seems to be yet another way to give some retired OBs some work after retirement–what better way than for them to take money from either the restaurants or the J taxpayer than by offering “certifications”? Anyway, enjoy the article. Food for thought. Debito


Putting the bite on fake sushi and other insults
Japan plans to scrutinize restaurant offerings abroad

By Anthony Faiola, Washington Post. Courtesy of MSNBC
Updated: 5:18 a.m. ET Nov. 24, 2006

TOKYO – On a recent business trip to Colorado, Japan’s agriculture minister popped into an inviting Japanese restaurant with a hankering for a taste of back home. What Toshikatsu Matsuoka found instead was something he considered a high culinary crime — sushi served on the same menu as Korean-style barbecued beef.

“Such a thing is unthinkable,” he said. “Call it what you will, but it is not a Japanese restaurant.”

A fast-growing list of gastronomic indignities — from sham sake in Paris to shoddy sashimi in Bangkok — has prompted Japanese authorities to launch a counterattack in defense of this nation’s celebrated food culture. With restaurants around the globe describing themselves as Japanese while actually serving food that is Asian fusion, or just plain bad, the government here announced a plan this month to offer official seals of approval to overseas eateries deemed to be “pure Japanese.”

Some observers here have suggested that the government’s new push for food purity overseas is yet another expression of resurgent Japanese nationalism. But the mentality in Japan also echoes a similar movement by several nations — including Italy and Thailand — now offering guidelines and reward programs to restaurants abroad to regain a measure of control over their increasingly internationalized cuisines.

So beware, America, home of the California roll. The Sushi Police are on their way.

A trial run of sorts was launched this summer in France, where secret inspectors selected by a panel of food specialists were dispatched to 80 restaurants in Paris that claimed to serve Japanese cuisine. Some establishments invited the scrutiny, while others were targeted with surprise checks. About one-third fell short of standards — making them ineligible to display an official seal emblazoned with cherry blossoms in their windows or to be listed on a government-sponsored Web site of Japanese restaurants in Paris.

‘A highly developed art’

Matsuoka, who took over Japan’s top agricultural job in September, is the mastermind of the new “Japanese restaurant authentication plan.” He said it does not always take a culinary sleuth to spot an impostor. “Sometimes you can tell just by looking at their signs that these places are phony,” he said.

“What people need to understand is that real Japanese food is a highly developed art. It involves all the senses; it should be beautifully presented, use genuine ingredients and be made by a trained chef,” he continued. “What we are seeing now are restaurants that pretend to offer Japanese cooking but are really Korean, Chinese or Filipino. We must protect our food culture.”

In recent years, few culinary traditions have witnessed the kind of global boom, and distortion, of Japanese food.

In the United States alone, the number of restaurants claiming to serve Japanese food soared to 9,000 in 2005, or double the number a decade ago, according to Japanese government statistics. The government projects that the number of Japanese restaurants worldwide will leap to 48,000 by 2009, more than double the current level.

Some have gone all-out to ensure authenticity. Masa in New York City imports its fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market while Umu in London regularly flies in the soft water of Kyoto, Japan’s old capital, to make its bonito fish broths. But they are largely exceptions in a world where the Japanese fear their food is being lost in translation.

In the United States, the proliferation of counterfeit Japanese foods now includes seaweed rolls stuffed with smoked salmon and cream cheese. In Canada, Vera’s Burger Shack in Vancouver is offering tempura-battered onion rings. As the recent test in Paris showed, even such gastronomic bastions as France can be guilty of sushi sacrilege.

“You will find restaurants here that serve salmon sushi with a little yakitori [charcoaled chicken] on the side and call themselves Japanese,” said Tsuyoshi Nakai, the Paris head of JETRO, Japan’s overseas trade promotion arm. “Then there are the ones serving what they claim is Japanese sake, but of course, it isn’t. What is it? I don’t know. But it smells, and tastes, very strange.”

High demand for real Japanese chefs

With the demand for real Japanese chefs far greater than the global supply in a nation with a shrinking population and few modern-day emigrants, many foreign owners of Japanese restaurants have turned to cooks from other Asian countries to add a faux touch of authenticity to their establishments. Pan-Asian restaurants have also begun adding more healthful and light Japanese dishes to their menus to cater to new tastes, some of them going as far as changing their names to the inevitable “Mt. Fuji” or “Sakura” to lure broader clienteles.

That has infuriated Japanese sushi chefs overseas, leading some — including those who formed the D.C. Sushi Society in the 1990s — to unite into advocacy groups aimed at protecting an elaborate form of cooking that is tradition-bound and highly hierarchical.

Officials here emphasize that it is not the race of the cooks they are concerned about, but the fact that such chefs are rarely properly trained and know little about the culture behind the food.

In Japanese haute cuisine, for example, the aesthetics of a meal — from elegant ceramic serving bowls to suitable flower arrangements — are considered as important as the food itself. Quality quashes quantity; a single mouthful of otoro — fatty tuna sashimi sliced just right — can sell for $20 in Tokyo sushi houses. Japan’s famously elaborate kaiseki ryori can take days to prepare and must be presented in small courses on plates and in color combinations that delight and amuse.

Most importantly, such meals must be prepared by highly specialized chefs — some of whom apprentice for years before they are permitted to cook for paying customers.

Makoto Fukue, the head of the Tokyo Sushi Academy who trains about 75 Japanese chefs-for-export a year, insisted that the inexperience of some foreign sushi chefs may be driving customers away from more adventurous Japanese fare.

“Many Americans do not like the taste of conger eel sushi, but that is because the chefs are not preparing it right — and so it tastes fishy and has an odor,” he said. “If you had a trained chef preparing those same foods, you would find more openness to experiment with the same foods we eat in Japan.”

But some here have expressed caution about the launch of the government approval system, arguing that Japan is a country also notorious for adapting foreign foods to local tastes. Indeed, that rare talent gave birth to Japanese seafood and mayonnaise pizza.

In addition, many so-called Japanese foods have foreign influences or roots. Batter-coated and fried food known as tempura, for instance, was introduced to the Japanese by Portuguese missionaries during the 16th century.

“The question is, what can we really call ‘Japanese food’?” said Masuhiro Yamamoto, the Tokyo-based food guru. “Here in Japan, we believe that tonkatsu [fried pork cutlet] is essentially Japanese, but try and tell the French that isn’t porc paner.”

The government has appointed an advisory board of food luminaries and intellectuals to develop a workable method for the project ahead of its full launch in April. Matsuoka said the most likely scenario would be the creation of government-sanctioned food commissions in major countries to evaluate a restaurant’s “Japanese-ness” based on authentic ingredients, chef training, aesthetics and other criteria.

Such a method might also coincidentally increase Japanese food exports, given that restaurants using Japanese products are likely to score some brownie points.

“Of course using Japanese materials would be preferable,” Matsuoka said. “But our real purpose is to set benchmarks for how Japanese food is made overseas. We take our food very seriously.”

I think they should check the credentials of Japanese who go to the US, claim to be sushi masters and open their own shops–been to a few in Boston. Ironically, the best sushi master in Metro-West is a Chinese man who actually studied sushi for 8 years in Tokyo.

I wish I had the time to inspect the “American” restaurants here. Mos Burger and Mr. Bagu would be first on my list….CHAD

Potential Yarase on TV’s Tokudane next Weds Nov 22 re “Comedy About Japan” (with update)


Hello Blog. What follows is a post forwarded with the permission of the author from The Community, and Life In Japan mailing lists. About potential “yarase” (i.e. staging a story for journalistic sensationalism) in one of my favorite Japanese TV shows, “Tokudane”, on for two hours from 8AM every weekday. Read on. Comment from me follows:


From: martin@autotelic.com
Subject: [Community] Potentially annoying piece about comedy on Tokudane Wide
Date: November 15, 2006 12:16:53 PM JST

Community, Lifers In Japan,

As some already know, I organize and perform at some comedy shows around Tokyo with a group called “The Tokyo Comedy Store”. Last night our group did one of our regular stand up comedy shows at The Fiddler in Takadanobaba.

A film crew from Fuji TV came down to film us for a segment on the show “Tokudane Wide”. It will air at about 9:15 AM on Wednesday, November 22.

The reason they wanted to film us was because some Japanese researcher type person (didn’t catch the name), has written a book called “Sekai No Nihonjin Joke Syuu” (世界の日本人ジョーク集, “A collection of the world’s jokes about Japanese”). So for at least part of their segment, they wanted to see foreigners doing comedy on or about Japan, and talk
to us about what we find funny about Japanese culture and so on.

Up to that point, it’s no big deal. But, where it gets possibly annoying is where they clearly had an agenda for the piece. No surprise there, of course, as I’ve learned reporters always create their news as much as find it.

They specifically asked of our comedians before the show if we could bring our pieces that “made fun of Japan”. Afterwards, they came up and asked us if we could think up some new jokes about Japan. We were confused about why the entire hour and twenty minutes of material about Japan we had just done on stage was not enough for them to work with. But it became apparent that there were two reasons for this:

1. The woman they had on hand who was there to translate our jokes into Japanese was mediocre at best, and clearly did not understand most, if any, of the jokes. I mean, she probably understood the literal meanings, but not the humour. So they are probably unsure if anything we said matches the criteria of what they are looking for.

2. They wanted us to have jokes about things that Japanese people care about, like crimes against otaku in Akihabara, or about “Neets”, and other items of current interest within Japan. We tried to explain that what might be of interest for Japanese people within Japan is not necessarily of interest for foreigners observing Japan from their perspective. But that point may have been lost.

So instead of discovering what it is that we talk about when we do comedy about Japan, they were fishing for certain kinds of aspects.

What was really annoying was that they asked us to sit at a table after the show and do a bit of a jam session to come up with some jokes about Japan, and film the creative process. (Most stand ups don’t work collaboratively, but whatever). They kept asking us things like “well, what first surprised you when you first arrived?”, “What happens here that doesn’t happen anywhere else”, “What is difficult about living in Japan for a foreigner?”. You know, all the same tired old topics which are A) not funny at all after you’ve lived here any amount of time, and aren’t a wide eyed babe in the woods anymore, and B) all based on the premise that Japan is a super special unique place that is so totally different from anything anywhere else. Yes, it is different. Just as every place is different. So what?

Sorry, I’m starting to rant a bit. The point I fear most that will get perpetuated is this whole concept of “Japanese vs Western” humour, which I think is crap, and within that the idea that any joke about Japan is a criticism about all of Japan. There was a little talk about how “Western” humour is more cynical and relies on making fun of someone, and “Japanese” humour is always just childish silliness. Ugh.

One of our comedians does a few jokes about a magazine called “Ramen” magazine. And the whole bit is about how he can’t believe that there’s a whole magazine devoted to ramen. Back in his home country, it would be understood that he’s making fun of the readers and makers of such a magazine. But here it gets automatically interpreted as being a criticism of Japanese culture in general, as if “the Japanese” are crazy for having such a magazine.

Bottom line, I fear this segment is going to parade around some tired out old stereotypes about how foreigners find Japan so weird and unique, and we make fun of it, and Japanese and western humour don’t overlap, and at the end of the day “our” humour is basically kind of mean. Or hopefully not. We’ll see next Wednesday.

Oh, and last thing… maybe the most annoying thing was that after the show, they found two audience members who said everything the producer wanted to hear. I almost wanted to strangle them.

Dave M G


Fascinating post, Dave. Thanks for it. Comment:

On Nov 15, 2006, at 12:16 PM, Dave M G wrote:
> So instead of discovering what it is that we talk about when we do
> comedy about Japan, they were fishing for certain kinds of aspects.

Welcome to my world. Whenever I’ve dealt with reporters, especially those in TV, there has always been an angle, a preconception they were assigned to present before they even showed up–because the story had to be sold on a certain “peg” for it to be hung on for audience interest anyway. “Discovery” is very rare (unless you’re talking about those car crash and funny home video thingies) in essay media like what you see on Tokudane, unless you have the time to develop it like a real essay (in documentary format). These people are in a hurry to write an essay the show wants to show, not depict what actually goes on with any subtlety as a documentary.

Dave again:
> Oh, and last thing… maybe the most annoying thing was that after the
> show, they found two audience members who said everything the producer
> wanted to hear. I almost wanted to strangle them.

Yes, and that is a primary weakness in image control that people had better learn about fast if they’re being portrayed thusly. People who live under the magnifying glass constantly (as most non-Japanese do when they come and live in Japan) should know better. But few seem to learn (and like even less being advised about it), even when it clearly works to their disadvantage. I’ve found that very few people overseas have much awareness (aside from celebrities, diplomats, and those “trained” *specifically* in image self-control) about how they’re coming off in public, especially when asked pointed questions with a smile and no sarcasm.

You do that with people here, however, and voila, people wonder why you’re asking that, and look around carefully and measure how what they’re saying is being taken by the people around them. Image control here is pretty much second-nature. You’re not going to get nearly the same candor from an audience in this society. Especially if you’re talking in front of a television camera, for pete’s sake!

That phenomenon is going to give Tokudane plenty to work with, I bet, to fulfill every single fear you’re raising here. Or hopefully not, as you say. We’ll see next Wednesday.

I’ve given Dave Spector a heads-up about this, as Weds is his day on Tokudane. Maybe he can ground and temper the yarase. Debito in Sapporo



>Dave, how did the Tokudane show turn out last Weds, re your Comedy
>Story portrayal of Japan in as humor and potential “yarase”?

Happily, it turned out not so bad. Basically harmless.

Actually, you can see it for yourself on YouTube. My friend Kevin, who
does a regular video blog thing, put it into one of his entries. He
chatters (a bit aimlessly) about it for a minute, and then you can see
the clip from the show:

For all my whining about the impression I got from when they filmed it,
I think it turned out to be kind of a non-issue. Dave M G