Fun Facts #19: JT: Supreme Court denying welfare for NJ residents inspires exclusionary policy proposals by fringe politicians; yet the math does not equal the hype


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Hi Blog.  Further setting and normalizing the national narrative for denying NJ their due as supporters of Japan’s social safety net, here is another article from the Japan Times charting the moves of the exclusionists.  Afterwards is a comment doing the math behind the hype, exposing it as just that:  hype.  But of course, nobody in the press seems to want to do their sums and expose it for the non-story it should be.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Ruling denying welfare for foreign residents finds homegrown, biased support

The landmark Supreme Court ruling in July that found permanent residents of Japan legally ineligible for public assistance is already having an impact. Moves are afoot both at the national and local levels to try to scale back or remove welfare payments to foreign residents.

In a lawsuit filed by an 82-year-old Chinese woman from Oita Prefecture, the nation’s top court made it clear that permanent foreign residents do not qualify for public assistance because they are not Japanese nationals. Article 1 of the 1950 Public Assistance Law states the law concerns “all nationals,” which the court said referred only to Japanese citizens.

Despite the ruling, the welfare ministry has stood by its long-standing policy of offering the same level of welfare protection to foreigners as Japanese, based on a notice it issued to municipal governments in 1954.

In line with the ministry policy, the municipal governments have distributed welfare benefits — ranging from cash assistance to free health care services to housing aid — to needy foreigners with permanent or long-term residency status, including the spouses of Japanese and migrant workers from Brazil.

But the July ruling has given momentum to some forces, including those harboring anti-foreigner sentiments and advocates of cutting “waste” in government spending, to try to limit foreigners’ access to welfare.

The minor opposition party Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), co-founded by ultranationalist Shintaro Ishihara, plans to submit bills to the extraordinary Diet session that would give destitute foreigners a year to choose between two extremes: becoming naturalized citizens or leaving the country.

The move follows an August proposal, by a team of lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic party tasked with eliminating wasteful state spending, to restrict welfare assistance to foreigners.

“The welfare outlays to foreigners run up to ¥122 billion per year,” the Aug. 4 report by the LDP team said. “We must say it is difficult to maintain the status quo.”

The team also said the government “should create guidelines (on public assistance) for foreigners who arrive in Japan, and consider deporting those who cannot maintain a living.”

Taro Kono, a member of the Lower House who heads the LDP project team, said the envisioned revision to the welfare system would not affect permanent residents, but those on mid- to long-term visas. The changes would likely materialize in the form of denied access to public aid for a certain period after one’s arrival in Japan, to prevent abuse by those coming here just to receive welfare, he said. He added that the team has yet to decide on the number of months or years before foreigners would be granted access.

According to Kono, the rationale for creating a probational period is a provision in the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that states the government would deny entry to “a person who is likely to become a burden on the Japanese government or a local public entity because of an inability to make a living.”

“People who come to Japan on mid- to long-term visas would undergo a lot of events here, and some of them might lose their ability to make a living and apply for public assistance. That’s fine. But if they apply for assistance right after they arrive in Japan, that would mean they made a false claim (about their reason for coming),” Kono told The Japan Times earlier this month.

“Likewise when they renew their visas, they are supposed to have means to support themselves or otherwise their requests for visa renewals would be rejected. But if it turns out that they cannot sustain their living in, say, six months after their visas are renewed, that would mean they were not truthful about their means when they applied for a renewed visa, and (this would constitute) grounds for denial of public assistance.”

The LDP team also proposed that all welfare recipients be prescribed generic drugs unless otherwise specified by doctors. If they want to be prescribed patented drugs, they should pay for their share of the costs, according to the team’s report.

The team’s proposal for an eligibility requirement for foreigners based on their period of stay appears to be more or less in line with practices in other advanced countries.

Most European countries do not have a nationality clause for welfare benefits, but do list a residency period as a condition for eligibility, said Shinichi Oka, a professor of social security at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo.

At the same time, in Europe there is little distinction among different visa statuses, Oka said, noting that whether people have permanent resident status doesn’t affect their chances of qualifying for welfare.

“I’m not aware of any major European countries that (enforce) a nationality clause for public assistance eligibility,” Oka said. “The only requirement they have is that the applicants have lived in the country for a certain period of time.”

While the U.S. and Britain in principle deny welfare benefits to illegal aliens, in France, foreigners who have entered or are staying illegally in the country are also considered as “having the right to live” and are often deemed eligible for welfare benefits, Oka said.



From the comments below the JT article. Readers, go ahead and take apart the numbers if you like:


Charles: “The amount of welfare being paid to foreigners is 122 billion yen! That’s a really big number!” That’s what the average man on the street thinks.

But wait a second, let’s actually do the math. Yeah, I know, you hate math, but it’s okay, we can use a calculator!

Japan’s GDP is 536,122,300,000,000 yen (over 536 TRILLION yen). So 122 billion yen is less than 0.03% of Japan’s economy. Basically, Shintaro Ishihara with his Jisedai no Tou, and the LDP, are wasting countless hours of time on something that, at best, will save Japan 0.03% of its GDP.

To make an analogy, I make about $28,000 a year. So this is the same as me OBSESSING and LOSING SLEEP AT NIGHT over how I can save $8 per year.

I think that maybe instead of spending all this time obsessing over 0.03% of its GDP, Japanese politicians should instead spend that time reviewing their math notes from elementary school, especially division, multiplication, and percentages. If they did that, they might find that this problem isn’t nearly as big as they’d thought.[…]

“According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan’s total social welfare benefits reached ¥103.487 trillion in fiscal 2010, topping ¥100 trillion for the first time.”

Okay, so in Japan, the total welfare budget is 103.487 trillion yen. But only 0.122 trillion yen of that goes to foreigners, so that means that the other 103.365 trillion yen are going to Japanese people!

Here, let’s do some more math:

103.487 trillion yen / 127 million Japanese = Each Japanese person is, on average, sucking 814,858 yen per year from the welfare system!

Now let’s do the math for foreigners:

122 billion yen / 2 million foreigners = Each foreigner is, on average, sucking 61,000 yen per year from the welfare system!

So…who’s REALLY sucking welfare, here? I guess I now know where my income tax (所得税) and 8% consumption tax (消費税) are going, now…

…you’re welcome, Japan!


Fun facts #18: More than 10% of all homes in Japan are vacant, will be nearly a quarter by 2028


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Hi Blog.  With some media outlets forecasting a rise in rents due to an alleged economic recovery Abenomics (somehow seeing rising fixed costs for businesses and people as a harbinger of something good), here’s an article stating that Japan’s depopulation (except in Tokyo, where any real opportunity for economic upward mobility is clustering) is probably going to render that moot.  Japan’s housing (as you longer-termers probably know, it’s already pretty crappy and not built to last) is also depopulating, as this fascinating article from the Japan Times excerpted below demonstrates.  Already more than 10% of all homes in Japan are vacant, and in less than a generation it will be nearly a quarter.  And yet there are forecasts for rents (okay, office rents) to rise again.  I smell another real estate bubble in the works, although media-driven instead of demand-pulled.  Should be some bargains out there for those who can find the realtors and renters who aren’t “Japanese Only.”

I put this under “Fun Facts” because these stats are surprisingly insightful statements on the way things are, or will be, in Japanese society. Those of you more in the know about Japan’s property market (I’ll ask Terrie Lloyd and see if he’ll comment), please feel free to prognosticate.  ARUDOU, Debito


Land tax loophole ensures unused, dilapidated firetraps stay standing, till they fall
Abandoned homes a growing menace

As Japan’s population ages and shrinks, run-down, uninhabited properties like this are becoming more common. As of 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 7.57 million vacant homes, or 13.1 percent of all houses in Japan, up from 3.94 million in 1988 and 5.76 million in 1998, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. The rate is expected to rise to 23.7 percent in 2028.

While these figures include second homes and properties waiting to be rented out or sold, more than a third of the 7.57 million vacant homes in 2008 were categorized as properties left unattended by owners or whose owners have died and are not taken care of at all. Many of these properties are now causing problems in their communities, experts say. As the structures age, the risk of collapse and fire increases. Some have leaked wastewater, damaging neighboring properties. They are also a magnet for criminal behavior, such as arson. 

Rest of the article at

Holiday Tangent: Other Americans who have relinquished US Citizenship (not just me; I am in good company)


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Hi Blog.  I found this tasty website on TIME Magazine, showing that other famous Americans have chosen to relinquish their US citizenship.

Think singers Tina Turner and Maria Callas, film directors John Huston (AFRICAN QUEEN and MALTESE FALCON) and Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam, actors Jet Li and Yul Brynner, performers Yehudi Menuhin and Josephine Baker, writers T.S. Eliot and Shere Hite, politicians Valdas Adamkus (Lithuanian President) and Andreas Papandreaou (Greek PM), and businesspeople Earl Tupper (of Tupperware) and Eduardo Saverin (co-founder of Facebook — yes, the guy with the chicken problem in the movie SOCIAL NETWORK).

I found this even tastier Wikipedia entry giving stories of dozens of people who have not only given up their US legal status, but also even got it back after doing so (Liz Taylor!) or never clearly gave it up (Bobby Fischer, Grace Kelly, Jesse Ventura, and Boris Johnson — yes, that Boris Johnson, London Mayor!)

I could spend hours here (and have) reading the cases and following the links.  Many of the stories are fascinating, such as:

  • Activist against racial discrimination in America, seminal researcher of what would eventually become Critical Race Theory, and personal hero W.E.B. Du Bois took Ghanian citizenship (at age 95!) when, in a fit of clear asshollery, the US State Department refused to renew his US passport from abroad (he was in Ghana managing the Encyclopedia Africana project in 1961).  He then lost American (he didn’t renounce) because US laws at the time forbade voluntary naturalization and swearing an oath of allegiance to other countries.
  • Engineer family Mr. and Mrs. William Gorham, formerly of Gorham Engineering in San Francisco, naturalized into Japan (in 1941!) and became Gouhamu Katsundo. According to the entry, “Gorham, a native of San Francisco, moved to Japan with his wife and children in 1918, where he worked as an engineer for various predecessors of Nissan before transferring to Hitachi. He and his wife renounced U.S. citizenship to naturalize as Japanese citizens in May 1941, apparently to escape increasing wartime restrictions on foreigners. He worked on jet engines at Hitachi during the war, while his son moved to Washington, D.C. and joined the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.” That son Don, a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University in 1941, died in 2011.
  • Python Terry Gilliam: “Gilliam was born in Minneapolis. In 1968, he obtained British citizenship, then held dual U.S. and British citizenship for the next 38 years. In January 2006 he renounced his U.S. citizenship, describing the George W. Bush administration as having created an environment “scarily similar to the Orwellian nightmare” of his 1985 film Brazil.”
  • Doctor Ma Haide, formerly George Hatem, who helped eliminate leprosy and some forms of VD in China (died 1988). His entry: “Born in Buffalo, New York to Lebanese American parents in 1910, Hatem came to Shanghai in the 1930s to set up a medical practice. In 1949 he became the first foreigner to naturalize as a citizen of the People’s Republic of China.”
  • Activist Garry Davis: “Davis was born in Bar Harbor, Maine. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Davis renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1948 in Paris in order to become a “citizen of the world”, and created the first “World Passport”.” Meaning he had the citizenship of NO country.  That’s pretty brave.
  • Private Dancer Tina Turner “was born in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, and rose to international fame as a singer. She began dating German music executive Erwin Bach in 1985, and moved to Zürich with him in 1994. Her application for Swiss citizenship was approved in April 2013, and she confirmed her relinquishment of U.S. citizenship to the U.S. Embassy in Bern in October 2013.” That’s only a few months ago, and what occasioned the TIME Magazine article mentioned above.

There are a few patterns: In the old days people renounced because of tax issues (which is why I believe there is still a stigma attached to doing it (e.g., “the yacht people”), as the US remains practically the only country that taxes its citizens abroad), marrying overseas royalty, running for political office overseas, and as a sign of political protest (e.g., becoming Canadian to avoid the Vietnam War draft). Nowadays we see more lifestyle choices (becoming a citizen of the land in which you live, such as Tina Turner turning Swiss), sports (being able to represent other countries in The Olympics), or occupational choices or opportunities.

The people who are associated with Japan include, of course, Donald Keene, but also James Abegglen (veteran of Iwo Jima, Economics Professor at Sophia University, and author of 1985’s KAISHA and 1958’s THE JAPANESE FACTORY; died 2007), Cathy Reed (ice skater), and Takamiyama Daigoro (Jesse Kuhaulua, sumo wrestler). There is no mention, however, of other sumo wrestlers who took Japanese citizenship, such as Konishiki, Akebono, or Musashimaru. One assumes they did not renounce (good for them; don’t).

My point is that the Americans are so convinced that American citizenship is so coveted and honored that one must be crazy to ever give it up (I personally have been called a “traitor” by an official at the US State Department for doing so).  Not true.  As one can see by that Wikipedia article, people have been doing it for as long as there have been formal citizenships to adopt or forsake.  It’s a legal status like any other.  And anyone who plans to live in the country, any country, for good I think should take it.

Further, countries should finally come to their senses that having multiple citizenships is not worrisome, and allow this to happen without forcing anyone to relinquish.  Many are.  Good for them.  And good for us.  I am in good company.  Arudou Debito

Bad social paradigms encouraging bad social science: UC Berkeley prof idiotically counts “flyjin” for H-Japan listserv


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Hi Blog. I have a real rib-tickler for you today. Here we have an academic employed at UC Berkeley trying to squeeze flawed data into an already flawed paradigm — not just that of “gaijin” [sic], but also of “flyjin” — as she goes around Tokyo counting NJ as if they were rare birds (or, rather, rarer birds, according to her presumptions under the rubric).

I raise this on because it’s amazing how stupid concepts from Planet Japan somehow manage to entice apparently educated people elsewhere to follow suit, and… I’ll just stop commenting and let you read the rest. Courtesy of H-Japan’s online archives, accessible to the general public.  Arudou Debito



From: H-Japan Editor
List Editor: H-Japan Editor

Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 / empirical evidence on “flyjin”
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 / empirical evidence on “flyjin”
Date Written: Sun, 19 Jun 2011 18:19:01 -0400
Date Posted: Mon, 19 Jun 2011 18:19:01 -0400
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin

June 19, 2011

From: Dana Buntrock

For those of you who have not yet returned to Japan since 3/11, it may be helpful to understand how significant the absence of “gaijin” is in the capital, a point noted more than once on this list.

I am using the term “gaijin” here to refer to racially differentiated (non-Asian) individuals, including those who appear to be from the Indian subcontinent. If mixed-race children were with a non-Asian parent, I counted them. I also counted one woman in a version of the headscarf worn by Moslem women, seen from behind, and her child (in a stroller), because the attire was clearly non-Japanese in nature. That is, I tended to err on the side of counting individuals as being foreign.

I did a casual count Friday, June 17 through Sunday, June 19. The first two days, I went about normal activity, but the last day, I confess, I deliberately went to a tourist spot. I included those seen within my hotel, a nice business hotel that maintains a reservations web site in English and often has foreign guests.

Friday count: 22. (8 a.m.-7:30 p.m.) I went through 9 subway stations:
Akasaka, Meijijungumae, KitaSando, Shinjuku (Oedo at Minami Shinjuku), Aoyama Itchome, Gaienmae, Akasaka-Mitsuke to Nagatacho, and Kojimachi. I walked at least 6 kilometers: from my hotel to the first station (.6 km), from Kita Sando west for 1.2 km, from there to several floors, including the 6th, of the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Minami Shinjuku (1.8 km), from Aoyama Itchome to Gaienmae (.7 km) and from Kojimachi back to the Akasaka area (1.6 if done efficiently, which I did not).


Saturday count: 135. About 15 under 5 years old.

I went through Roppongi twice, Hiro once, and Midtown twice. I went through three crowded shopping areas–Ebisu, Midtown, and Roppongi HIlls, plus the Photography Museum. I went to National Azabu (upstairs) on a Saturday.

I was out 8 and a half hours, and I went through Roppongi Station (10:30 a.m.), Ebisu (subway) Station, and HIro Station. I walked 1.5 km around Ebisu, and from Hiro to Roppongi HIlls (another 1.5 km) to Gallery Ma (another 1.5 km) to Midtown (600 meters) and back to the hotel (1 km). About 6 kilometers.


Sunday count: 60. I counted 13 women; 4 were children.

Out at 9 a.m., walked from Akasaka to near the foot of Tokyo Tower via Ark Hills (1.9 km), continued on to Daimon Station, boarded a monorail to Tenozu Isle (1.5 km), Walked a very short distance from there, then boarded a cab back to Akasaka. Afterward, walked to Kasumigaseki (2 km), continued to the Imperial Palace Gardens (3 km), walked from there to Otemachi Stn (1.5), direct line back to Akasaka, and back to hotel (.5 km) about 6:30 p.m.

21 men and 8 women were seen in the area of the Imperial Palace, including joggers and apparent tourists. (Note: I attended an English-language church service, but did not count the congregants. There were about 45 people in the church, and between half and two-thirds were non-Asian. The church would normally have at least 50% more congregants, and often double.)

Walked about 10.5 km, was in three not-particularly-busy subway stations, but lingered around the Imperial Palace.

Associate Professor
Department of Architecture
University of California, Berkeley




From: H-Japan Editor
List Editor: H-Japan Editor

Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 (2 responses)
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 (2 responses)
Date Written: Mon, 20 Jun 2011 22:18:52 -0400
Date Posted: Tue, 20 Jun 2011 22:18:52 -0400
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin

June 20, 2011

(1) From: Georg Blind

Re: empirical evidence on “flyjin” vs. “fryjin”; ample statistics available

This is both a response to an earlier question on this list, and a comment to Dana Buntrock’s post.

Concise entry and departure statistics are available from Ministry of Justice:

The latest available tables are for March 2011. Total “gaijin” departures were about 1% down from March 2010. In contrast, US citizens were down about 20%; citizens of European countries about 5%.

As soon as available, April data will show the full extent of the exodus if corrected for overall fluctuation (e.g., from a comparison of February to April changes in 2010).

While interesting as an individual observation, Dana Buntrock’s gaijin counts, are methodologically highly questionable. The following – not too serious example – might illustrate this: let’s define “fryjin” as foreigners working in Japanese KFC restaurants. Let’s assume one would count fryjin presence in 10 different locations in Tokyo. Would that yield a reliable picture of the “fryjin” situation? 1. The mere count of “fryjin” would need to be compared to the number of Japanese staff. – How many Japanese did Dana Buntrock count during her survey? 2. How many “fryjin” were there one year ago; i.e., was there a change in the number of “fryjin”? – And putting 1. and 2. together, was there some change in the share of “fryjin”? 3. Are observations at Tokyo KFC restaurants representative for the whole country? In that sense, the church example is by far more telling than the street counts.

Best, Georg


Georg Blind
Research Fellow and Lecturer
The University of Zurich
Institute of East Asian Studies
8032 Zurich

(2) From: Cecilia

With respect, I am not sure how constructive it is to be adopting the term “flyjin”. Though the term may appear to be cute and clever, in reality in the Kanto area in particular it is a loaded word that in some circles has become derisive and abusive. The term flyjin trivialises the reality that there is an evacuation zone in place and that there is a serious radiation problem – the extent of which is still not clearly determined. It also fails to consider that people who left were in many cases acting on embassy advice or company instructions. I have been in Tokyo since the earthquake, except for a Golden Week sojourn in Tohoku, with no thought of leaving but have been dismayed at the macho vitriol around who stayed and who left. It’s disappointing to see the term being picked up unproblematised in academic circles.

A spot count of conspicuous foreigners on the streets of Tokyo tells nothing about the numbers of people who have left Tokyo. In particular it ignores a distinction between residents (short and long term) and tourists. It also ignores the fact that most foreigners (both resident and tourists) are Asian. A spot count that has no control, defines foreigners in racial terms (which probably labels Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Singaporeans and many other SE Asians as Japanese) and conflates people that have actively left with people that decided not come, is meaningless. For the dip (plunge) in foreign visitor numbers the Ministry of Justice data is much more useful.

Cecilia Fujishima


OKAY, ONE MORE COMMENT FROM DEBITO:  Bravo Ms. Fujishima.  It’s also disappointing to see the racial term “gaijin” thusly being picked up unproblematized in academic circles, but that’s a long-standing terminology that people just seem to laugh off as grounded in general use.  But see how it feeds into a general idiocracy and flawed paradigms vis-a-vis scholarship on Japan?  D.


Fun Facts #15: Percentages of J high school grads matriculating into college by prefecture


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb

Hi Blog.  As a Sunday Tangent, here are the Ministry of Education’s latest figures (2009) for Japanese high school students entering college.  In most prefectures, it’s only about half the graduates:

Source:  Eiken Facts 2010, “Eiken Shikakku Shutokusha Kakutoku de Daigaku no Miryoku Zukuri o”, (Zaidan Houjin Nihon Eiken Kyouryokukai/MEXT 2010, pg 5)

A cursory look reveals that Okinawa has by far the fewest percentage of students going on to college (the national average is 53.9%), and Tokyo/Kyoto (Kyoto allegedly being the place with the highest number of colleges per capita) the highest.  Hokkaido is significantly below average as well (third from the bottom), but it’s still higher than Iwate.  See how your prefecture stacks up.

As this is a Fun Facts category, I’ll leave interpretations to others.  But this is significantly less than the American percentages, according to the US Department of Labor, reporting that 70.1% of high school graduates went to college last year.  Given that university is significantly more expensive in the US than in Japan (it costs at least a luxury car per year these days in tuition alone to go to, say, an elite private or Ivy League), I’m disinclined to say it’s a matter of economics.  Thoughts?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Fun Facts #14: JK provides budgetary stats to show why current immigration-resistant regime is unsustainable


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Hi Blog. Frequent commenter and contributor to JK offers a follow-up about a recent article featured here on, about the NJ nurse import program (one that as of this time is doomed to become yet another revolving-door visa program). He offers some “Fun Facts”, as in budgetary statistics, about why the current visa regime discouraging labor imports but not immigration is unsustainable. Read on. Arudou Debito in Tokyo, not quitting activism.


March 27, 2010
Hi Debito:
Another immigration-related thread for you. From the article, you can tell that a comprehensive immigration policy is needed:

1st foreign nurses pass national exam

On a different topic, the legislature just approved a record 92.3 trillion yen budget for fiscal year 2010 (which, BTW is 4.2% larger than the budget for fiscal year 2009). In my opinion, it is unlikely that the budget will stimulate the economy because of the huge shortfall in taxes which only amount to 37.4 trillion yen. This is an 8.7 trillion yen / 18.9% decrease from fiscal year 2009. Because of the drop, the government had to issue a record 44.3 trillion yen in bonds, which is an 11 trillion yen increase from fiscal year 2009.

To my knowledge, this is the first budget in which bond issuance is greater than tax revenue.

All of this raises more questions about the nation’s fiscal health — government debt reached 189% of its gross domestic product in 2009 (the highest among industrialized countries) and I expect it to reach 200% in 2010.

What does this have to do with Well, a shrinking tax base (read: population) is directly related to the country’s fiscal / economic condition. If for no other reason, a comprehensive immigration policy is needed to bring in more taxpayers in order shore up the GOJ’s increasingly unsustainable economic situation.

Here are the various sources:

Japan’s parliament passes record trillion-dollar budget

Japan’s ruling DPJ has record budget passed through Diet

Japan parliament passes record $1 trillion budget

Regards, -JK


Fun Facts #13: National minimum wage map


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog.  Have you ever wondered what the minimum wage is in Japan?  Well, guess what, it depends.  On the prefecture.  On the industry.  On the industry within the prefecture too.

Now, before you throw up your arms in anguish and wonder how we’ll ever get an accurate measure, along comes the GOJ with a clickable minimum wage map by prefecture and industry.  You can have a look and see where people on the bottom rung of the ladder are earning the least and most.  Found this while researching the PhD.  To quote Spock, “Fascinating.”

MHLW sponsored minimum wage prefectural map at

Here’s a partial screen capture of it.  It’s very well organized.  They’ve made it real easy even in terms of language.  See, when the GOJ really wants you to have the information, they do a pretty good job of it.


If you want to see more about their definitions and science, click here:

Of course, when I say “on the bottom rung of the ladder”, I mean citizens.  There are however, tens of thousands of people (i.e. NJ “Trainees”) who don’t qualify for the labor-law protections of a minimum wage.  They get saddled with debts and some make around 300 yen an hour, less than half the minimum minimum wage for Japanese.  See more here, here, and here.

FYI.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Fun Facts #12: Statistics on Naturalized Citizens in Japan; holding steady despite immigration


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hi Blog.  Again, something interesting that cropped up while researching my thesis:  The stats on people who have naturalized (or applied and been rejected for Japanese citizenship for the past ten years.  Courtesy of the MOJ.


COMMENTS:  Once upon a time (as in 2000), the MOJ would not give me these numbers, citing “privacy”, and it wasn’t until relatively recently before these stats, the ultimate in immigration, were so freely public.

Over the past ten years (1998-2007), 153,103 people became Japanese citizens.  That’s a sizeable amount, for if you assume reasonable influx for the previous five decades (1948-1997), we’re looking at at least half a million people here as cloaked NJ-blood citizens.  That’s a lot of people no matter how you slice it.  (Of course, these older stats are still not available online for confirmation.)

As you can see, numbers have held steady, at an average of about 15,000 plus applicants per year.  And about the same number were accepted.  In fact the rejection rate is so low (153,103/154,844 people = 98.9% acceptance rate), you are only a little more likely to be convicted of a crime during criminal trial in Japan (99.9%) than be rejected for citizenship once you file all the paperwork.  That should encourage those who are considering it.

Of course, one would hope that a high acceptance rate would be the case.  There is a weeding-out procedure at the very beginning, as when you go to the MOJ Kokuseki-ka, they’ll sit you down for a one-on-one interview for an hour or so and ascertain whether or not you qualify.  And turn you away if you don’t.  Sensible, since there is a lot of paperwork (naturally), and you don’t want to be rejected after getting everything together (it took me a year; documents aren’t always comparable or easy to get from overseas, especially if your family is not all that cooperative).  

Note how the numbers of people either applying or succeeding over the years are not really rising (in fact, they’ve often roller-coastered significantly every year).  Considering the rapid rise of the NJ resident population over the same period, this is a little surprising.  

Also note the high numbers of Korean and Chinese applicants (around 90% or more).  I was one of the few, the proud, the 725 non-K or C who got in in 2000.  Less than five percent.  However, the numbers of non-K or C accepted over the past ten years have tripled.  I wonder if I was part of blazing some sort of trail.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

More on my naturalization here.


Fun Facts #11: Ekonomisuto estimates 35% of Japan’s population will be over 65 by 2050


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog. Today’s entry is part of an occasional series called “Fun Facts”, where I come across a statistic so unzipping of reality that it bears memorizing. True “Fun Facts” are fun both in their predictive power and in describing how things got to where they are today. See what I mean by looking at previous Fun Facts on this blog.

The facts I will talk about today are about the future. While researching stuff on, I realized that one source I quote often in my powerpoint presentations has never been blogged: An Ekonomisuto Japan article, dated January 15, 2008, with an amazing estimate.


UPDATE:  Some corrections made, courtesy James Annan.  Incorrect text crossed out.

The yellow bar (left-hand scale) indicates the population of people aged 65-74 in given years. The orange bar (same scale) indicates population of people aged 75 and up. The dotted line (right-hand scale) indicates percentage of population those people aged 65-74 would take up in those given years. The red line same for people aged 75 and up ([including the 65-74 age bracket]).

[Thus] The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that well more than half of the J population (57.2%, as in 21.5% +35.7%) well over a third of the Japanese population (35.7%) will be over 65 years of age by 2050, and the majority of those oldies will be well beyond a working age. Can you imagine over a third of a population above 75 65 years of age? Who works and who pays taxes, when most this many people are retired on pensions or should be? That’s if trends stay as they are, mind. That’s why the GOJ has changed its tune to increasing the NJ population. We’re talking a demographic juggernaut that may ultimately wipe out this country’s productivity and accumulated wealth.

Although this is more estimate than “fun fact”, it is still the MHLW’s estimate, and as such worthy of consideration. But if you want more fun, consider these numbers about NJ working visas from the same Ekonomisuto article of last January. Their source: MOJ Immigration Bureau, as of the end of 2006.

Topping the list of people who can work in the top left-hand column are the “Specialist in Humanities/International Services” (i.e. language teachers). Then we have “Engineers” (as in System Engineers) , “Entertainers” (as in, in many cases, human trafficking), “Skilled Laborers” (contract workers in factories, but not Trainees), and on down. The numbers are for numbers of individuals.


The right-hand column is for people who cannot work, topped by “Exchange Students”, “Dependents”, “Trainees” (who do work but aren’t counted as “laborers”, as they are not covered by labor laws) on down. Below that are the six-digit numbers for people who can work without restrictions: The Zainichis (Special Permanent Residents), the Regular Permanent Residents (immigrants, fast gaining), the Long-Term Residents (as in the Nikkei Brazilians etc.), Spouses of Japanese Nationals etc.

What I don’t get is that the media reports that “The number of people entering Japan to become trainees had been increasing since the foreign trainee system started in 1993, topping 100,000 in 2007.” So, well, where are they in the numbers above? I only see 70,519. Anyway, companies are slashing their Researcher and Trainee numbers, so I think we might even see a fall in the number of NJ residents in Japan for the first time in four decades

Illegal overstayers are estimated at 170,839, but their numbers keep dropping.

Who’s here from what country is in the pie chart, sourced from Immigration. The numbers (2006) are indeed now historical, as the Chinese surpassed the Koreans to become the number one ethnic minority in Japan for the first time in 2007. Third are Brazilians, then The Philippines, Peru, the US, and then a whopping number of “others”.

NOTE: the top numbers (visas) and the bottom numbers (pie chart) don’t add up to each other (they’re not counting some of the more obscure visa statuses, like Diplomat). I’m not sure what the American military on their bases in Japan are counted as.

There are some estimates and Fun Facts. A bit historical, but they give some idea of scale. Have fun. Arudou Debito in Sapporo.

Fun Facts #10: Excellent Japan Times FYI column on the sex industry in Japan


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hi Blog. Yet another excellent and informative Japan Times FYI column, this time on the sex industry in Japan. I’m not going to comment specifically on why I’m reposting it on (because anything I say will just be misconstrued). It’s just a great article on a pervasive topic in Japan. Arudou Debito


Law bends over backward to allow ‘fuzoku’
By JUN HONGO, Staff writer
The Japan Times May 27, 2008

Some desires money can’t gratify, but for appetites of the flesh, there are ways in Japan to legally sate one’s carnal cravings.

News photo
Hey sailor: Two men stroll among “soapland” parlors in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, last year. JUN HONGO PHOTO

Like many countries, prostitution is illegal in Japan, at least on paper. Brothel-like “soapland” and sexual massage parlors get around these barriers.

And the overt, erotic services of the so-called fashion health venues found in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district and the soaplands in the hot springs resort of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, ensure that the world’s oldest profession lives on, only under another name.

The context of Japan’s legal definition of prostitution is narrow enough to provide ample loopholes for red-light district operators.

Following are questions and answers regarding Japan’s sex industry — commonly known as “fuzoku” — and the attempts or lack thereof by the government to curb them:

What law bans prostitution in Japan?

The Prostitution Prevention Law, enacted in 1957, forbids the act of having “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment.” It also punishes acts including soliciting by prostitutes and organized prostitution, such as operating brothels.

Legal experts say it is hard for police to crack down on prostitution because it is tricky to verify if a couple had consensual or compensated sex.

The law meanwhile does not ban paid sex with a “specified person,” or someone who has become an acquaintance. It also defines sex exclusively as vaginal intercourse. Thus other paid sexual acts are not illegal.

Soliciting sex on the street could be punishable by a maximum six-month prison term or ¥10,000 fine. Parties who provide locations for prostitution could face a maximum seven-year sentence or ¥300,000 fine.

According to National Police Agency statistics, 923 people were arrested for violating the Prostitution Prevention Law in 2006.

How many types of fuzoku businesses are there?

Enacted in 1948, the Law Regulating Businesses Affecting Public Morals breaks down the sex industry into several major categories, including soaplands, “fashion health” massage parlors, call-girl businesses, strip clubs, love hotels and adult shops.

Soaplands, the “king” of fuzoku, are where clients have sex. “Fashion health” massage parlors offer sexual activities other than straight intercourse.

The law requires such businesses to register with police and operate only within their registered category. It also bans people under age 18 from working or entering fuzoku establishments.

All sex businesses except soaplands abide by the prostitution law because they do not provide straight intercourse and limit other services to mainly massages.

So how can soaplands operate legally?

To dodge the law, soapland operators claim their male clients and their hired masseuses perform sex as couples who have grown fond of each other.

A customer entering a soapland, legally registered as “a special public bathhouse,” pays an admission fee “that holds the pretext as the charge to use the bathing facility,” Kansai University professor Yoshikazu Nagai said.

The client then is usually asked to pay a massage-service fee directly to the masseuse — giving the pretense that the woman is working on her own and the soapland owner is not running a brothel.

According to Nagai, who authored “Fuzoku Eigyo Torishimari” (“Control of Sex Business Operations”), the process also allows the two to be deemed as adults who became acquainted at the soapland.

The law is conveniently interpreted to mean the male customer is having sex with an acquaintance, not with an “unspecified” person in exchange for cash.

Is that an acceptable justification?

“Is it nonsense to deem that the couple fell in love while massaging at a soapland? Yes. But that is how things have operated inside the Japanese legal framework for over five decades,” Nagai said.

Nagai noted the legal framework on prostitution varies worldwide. Sudan, for instance, punishes prostitutes with death, but the same act is legal and out in the open in the Netherlands.

Many observers say police avoid cracking down hard on prostitution mainly because it is considered a necessary evil and they would rather keep the industry on a loose leash than let the market go underground.

“Putting aside the debate of whether it is right or wrong, the definition of prostitution differs greatly by country and is influenced by cultural, historical and religious backgrounds,” Nagai explained.

When did the sex trade begin in Japan?

Prostitution goes back to ancient times, and there were only local-level laws against selling sex until the prostitution law was enacted in the postwar period.

According to Nagai, 16th century feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the first to demarcate part of Kyoto as a red-light district.

“Hideyoshi knew that it would be easier for him to supervise the brothels if they were concentrated in a single location,” Nagai said. “It also made it easier for him to collect levies from business owners.”

What are the health concerns at fuzoku establishments?

In regards to sexually transmitted diseases, most fuzoku businesses conduct comprehensive medical tests when hiring a female worker. Soaplands undergo monthly inspections by public health centers to maintain hygiene.

Some establishments turn away foreign clients.

“This is because of the worldwide outbreak of AIDS in the late 1980s,” Nagai said, noting some premises continue to ban foreign nationals because of the misguided fear that AIDS is spread by them.

How big is the sex industry?

There were approximately 1,200 soaplands in Japan and 17,500 sex-related businesses, including massage parlors and strip clubs, in 2006, according to statistics released by the NPA.

While some have suggested the sex business is a ¥1 trillion industry, Nagai said coming up with an accurate estimate is difficult because of the diversity.

But it is still a way for women to make quick cash, as a soapland “masseuse” can make ¥10 million or more a year, he said.

The sex industry also remains a source of funds for the underworld. According to the NPA, 20 percent of people arrested in violation of the prostitution law in 2006 were related to the mob.

But Nagai believes the industry may be facing a downtrend, since information technology has made it easy for amateurs to operate as freelancers.

Many outdated sex businesses will face such competition in the future, he said.

“One only needs a cell phone to secretly start a call-girl business,” Nagai said. “It has become so convenient and there is no need for professional knowledge or the effort to maintain a bathhouse.”

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk
The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fun Facts #9: Divorce, Population decrease, Japan’s minus GDP growth, and inherited Nat’l Diet member seats


Hi Blog. Here are another series of “Fun Facts”–innocuous-looking statistics which open portals into grander trends at work:

Fact one: Divorce rate rocketing, as predicted by

-> National Chauvinistic Husbands Association
Courtesy Terrie’s Take #442, December 2, 2007

The advent of a new law back in April this year which allows women to seek half of their husband’s pension has spawned both a boom in divorces (up 6.1% in April alone) as well as a reactionary protest group called the National Chauvinistic Husbands Association (NCHA). The group says that the “chauvinistic” part of their moniker, “kanpaku” in Japanese, refers more accurately to the top assistant to the emperor in days gone by, rather than the current negative meaning that it has today. Regardless, the association faces an uphill battle. Apparently 70% of Japanese women are staying single until 29 or later, versus 75% of them being married at that age twenty years ago, and 95% of all divorce applications come from women. (Source: TT commentary from, Nov 29, 2007)

COMMENT: Surprised by both the jump and the fact that almost all people asking for divorce are women. I was in the tiny minority. More on the issue of divorce in Japan at

On to Fact 2: Japan’s imminent depopulation:

-> Workers to fall 10.7m in 22 years
Courtesy Terrie’s Take #441, November 25, 2007

The Labor Ministry has said that Japan’s working population will drop by around 17%, or 10.7m people, by 2030. This will cause the current labor force of 66.57m to fall to 55.84m. The Ministry says that the fall could be held to less than half this amount if more women and elderly joined the workforce. ***Ed: And tell us again why the Japanese government has turned xenophobic about foreigners living in Japan? It’s only a matter of time before the realities of the market force a mind shift in the politicians and bureaucrats who today are so busy trying to keep foreigners and their child-breeding ways out of Japan.** (Source: TT commentary from, Nov 23, 2007)

COMMENT: I will point out the irony behind the wan hope that forcing more women to work is actually going to help women want to have babies? And that the oft-touted development of robots (including this silly article from The Economist Dec 20th 2005 “Japan’s humanoid robots–Better than people: Why the Japanese want their robots to act more like humans”) is no elixir.

This leads us to Fact Three: Japan’s decreasing GDP Growth (in start contrast to the rest of the developed world. Courtesy of Niall Murtagh of The Community:

Debito — Interesting statistic on WBS news (World Biz Satellite) last night, December 2: can’t remember the figures exactly but in the 10 years from 1996 to 2006, GNP grew by over 50% in UK, Canada, Australia, 45%+ in France, Italy, and by about 2% in Japan.

In other words while Japan is not getting poorer, it is being left behind by nearly all other major (and minor) countries, as regards growth.

Immigration does seem to go in tandem with economic growth (from 1995-2005, non-nationals in Ireland went from almost none to 10% of population, while GNP increased by about 140%). It won’t happen here. Did a bit of quick googling and found figs that make the TV stats seem about right.

(Web site only gives figs in national currencies, so I calculated the % change).
It sure hasn’t been a great decade for Japan, even if statistics are only statistics!

GDP per capita, current prices
IMF World Economic Outlook and EconStats
1996 – 2006 % change
Japan: -1.47
Italy 47.14
France 38.60
UK 61.29
Germany 22.94
Netherlands 47.79
Spain 84.45
Finland 59.11
Greece 103.54
Portugal 66.93
Switzerland 22.08
Ireland 153.17
Australia 59.33
NewZealand 43.33
Canada 54.76
Korea 87.64
China 131.90
US 51.34

COMMENT: Do people really think they’re being served by the powers that be that run this country? Although I’m well aware the true policymakers in this society are the faceless bureaucrats, the actual policymaking part of Japan that is not faceless–the Diet–is actually a peerage masquerading as an elected legislature.

“When you look at the figures, what can only be called a political class becomes clear. After the last election, for example, 185 of 480 Diet members (39%) are second- or third- (or more) generation politicians (seshuu seijika). Of 244 members of the LDP (the ruling party for practically all the postwar period), 126 (52%) are inherited. Eight of the last ten Prime Ministers were from inherited seats, as are around half of the Abe and Fukuda Cabinets. When you have an average turnover of only about 3% per election, the cream floats to the top, and debates become very closed-circuit…”

Courtesy the author. Excerpted from my upcoming Japan Times Zeit Gist column out December 20, 2007, Draft Six. Otanoshimi ni…

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Fun Facts #8: Stuff gleaned from Seidensticker’s “Tokyo Rising”


Hi Blog. Been stampeding through the late Edward Seidensticker’s book TOKYO RISING (borrowed from FCCJ library, but two weeks is simply not long enough for me to get through a book; I like to suck on them over months and am never faithful to one tome unless it’s really good), and these are some things that popped up for

One powerful force in the workings of the city and the prefecture is not entirely under the control of the prefectural government: the police. The chief of the Tokyo prefecutral police is appointed by a national police agency with the approval of the prime minister and upon the advice of a prefectural police commission, which is in effectual. None of these agencies is under the control of governor and council. Tokyo becomes a police city when it is thought necessary to guard against the embarrassment of having someone shoot at a president or a queen or a pope [or a Beatle; see more about the concert gone so badly in 1966–3000 police seated to make sure 10,000 Budoukan spectators didn’t even stand up during the concert–that the Beatles never returned to Japan as a group to perform]. It has more than twice as many policemen as Osaka, though it is less than twice as large in population. The problem of police excesses is by no means limited to Tokyo–it was in Kanagawa Prefecture that a case of illegal eavesdropping was uncovered in 1986–but it is most conspicuous in the prefecture in which national embarrassments are most likely to occur. (page 169)

This might be one reason why the Tokyo Police (keishichou) seem to be much more assiduous in their Gaijin Card Checkpoints than anywhere else in the country…

There was in those days [during the Occupation] the problem of the “third nationals” [sangokujin]. It was conspicuous in the underworld and in gang squabbling. Third nationals were for practical purposes Chinese and Koreans resident in Japan [i.e. the Zainichis]. The expression put them in their place, distinguishing them both from Japanese and from the Occupation, which favored them, treating Chinese as allies and Koreans as quasi allies (enemies of the enemy). It is hard to deny that they took advantage of their position.

If the police couild not intercede in behalf of Japanese gangs that thought of themselves (or at any rate advertised themselves) as Robin Hoods and defenders of the Japanese spirit, there is much evidence that they managed to aid them surreptitiously. In the “Shimbashi Incident” of 1946, American military police and Japanese police intervened to prevent an armed battle between Chinese and Japanese gangs for control of the market. The nonbattle was in effect a victory for the Japanese. It showed the Chinese, who were progressively weaker, that they could not have everything their way even in that day of confusion and demoralization. Across the bay in Chiba, later in 1946, the police seem to have actualy encouraged a showdown between Japanese and third-national gangs. It would be the occasion, the Chiba police and the American military police agreed, for rounding up gangsters of whatever natioanlity. The Japanese police told the Japanese gangs what was to happen and invited their cooperation. The Americans do not seem to have accorded the same favor to the third nationals. The encounter took place, a few minutes of gunfire in which several men were wounded but no one was killed, and in the end only third nationals were rounded up. (page 154-155)

The most powerful force in getting [the postwar Japanese economy] moving again came fairly late. The Korean War broke out in June 1950, almost exactly at midpoint thorugh what we may call the decade of the rebuilding. For Korea it was a terrible happening, for Japan a momentous one, with little sense of the terrible… It was perhaps natural in an occupied country that had no foreign policy save to get rid of the Occupation and export things wherever possible…

Momentous the event certainly was for all that. Japanese profits from the Korean War were massive and they went into rebuilding city and land, and bring them back somewhat near, in material terms, the position that had been theirs before the folly of the forties. Procurement contracts in the remaining months of 1950 ran to $180 milion, and before the Korean War was over they ran to $2.3 billion. Production returned to and passed prewar levels. Direct Ameircan aid, which had been necessary in the immediate postwar years, now ceased to be. Brave beginnings had already been made towards putting things together again, but it was in the early fifties that matters went forward with speed and purpose… Yet it is ironic that the prosperity of a country which has renounced war (see Article IX of the postwar constitution) is founded on a war. (page 155-156)

All-in-all, in TOKYO RISING Seidensticker has created a book that is okay for those who really know something about Tokyo or Japan already (it’s a work that would thrill academic specialists in the field, but if they assigned it to their students with only incipient knowledge of Japan it would leave them nonplussed). For me, after 20 years here, it’s a decent read–it fills a lot of holes and answers a lot of lingering questions. For anyone else, it would probably be a head-scratcher. It would merely promote Japan as a land of impenetrable exotica (which is the wont of this generation of Japan specialists anyway, IMO), instead of as a land of quirks working under a mostly rational system. It takes a lot of experiences before people see the rationality. I’m sure Seidensticker himself saw it too, but he really doesn’t communicate that at all well. Too much reliance on novelists (with largely boring or uncontexted excerpts from their writings) as primary sources of information as well.

This is one of the reasons I refused to read “specialist” books on Japan for so long, until I had built up my own set of experiences from which to get the hang of this place. Now that I have gotten the hang, I find it amazing how so many books on Japan are written by those who don’t have the hang, or can’t communicate that they do.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Fun Facts #7: Latest Sumo Banzuke shows one third of top ranked are NJ (UPDATED)


Hi Blog. Not a big sports fan by any means (and I won’t analyze this too deeply, since there are plenty of others out there who see and know a lot more about Sumo), but perusing the Nikkan Sports pages while on the road the other day, I saw on page 12 of the issue dated June 26, 2007, the following Fun Facts:

(this is not unprecedented–Hawaiians Akebono and Musashimaru have also done this, but there were also Takanohana and Wakanohana as Yokozuna to balance them out in the 1990’s)


3) BROKEN DOWN BY NATIONALITY (apologies for any misread names, corrections appreciated):

SEVEN MONGOLIANS (Asashouryuu, Hakuhou, Tokitenkuu, Ama, Asasekiryuu, Tsururyuu, Ryuuou)

TWO RUSSIANS (Rouhou, Hakurousan)

ONE BULGARIAN (Kotooushuu)

ONE KOREAN (Kasugaou)



4) And currently in the lower ranks (Juuryou and Makushita), we have another eight NJ listed out of the 48–and seven of those are Mongolian (the other Russian).


Crystal-balling on Japan’s internationalization based upon rankings in Sport–especially Sumo (where rankings change very quickly, particularly in the ranks that don’t attract the attention of many fans) is difficult.

But this is pretty impressive, especially when I remember the bad old days when the Sumo Kyoukai doubted foreigners would ever have the proper “spirit” to achieve the enlightened ranks of the coveted Yokozuna. Then came Akebono. Now it seems as though NJ in general, and Mongolians in particular, have come into their own in one of the world’s most exclusive and entertwined-with-nationality sports (the word “kokugi”, anyone?). Bravo.

That’s all the interpretation of the stats I’ll offer. But it’s a development, now with Hakuhou’s ascent to Yokozuna, that should observe as well.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo



…Now that you are a regular in the upper makunouchi ranks, how do you feel about all the foreign participation in sumo nowadays?

I know there are a lot of different nationalities now in sumo but I don’t see any of the foreign born rikishi as anything other than rikishi. Rikishi are rikishi to me.

In the stadiums and on television, via the Internet too, there seem to be more and more non-Japanese fans following the sport. Do you think this is good for sumo?

Definitely. At many of the basho I see more and more foreign people, even in the masu-seki box seats and it makes me happy as it gives me extra power to want to try harder.

In these days of so much dominance by non-Japanese rikishi, many Japanese and even foreign fans see yourself and Homasho-zeki as the bright Japanese hopes for the future — how do you feel about that?

I do like the attention, but there are so many rikishi in sumo nowadays that I just feel honored to be able to fight them as best I can.





National Sports Festival bars gaijin, and amateur leagues follow suit, by Arudou Debito
Japan Times, Sept. 30, 2003

Even more links here

Readers, add some more links or enclose more articles you find important in the Comments section below…?

Fun Facts #6: “Newcomers” soon outnumbering “Oldcomers”


Hi Blog. I added this on specially to the end of my previous newsletter, but don’t want it to get buried. Let me reprint it specially as a FUN FACT:

…the Permanent-Resident “Newcomers” prepare to outnumber the “Oldcomers” by 2008

Latest figures for the population of registered NJ residents (i.e. anyone on 3-month visas and up) were made public last week by the Ministry of Justice (see them for yourself at

These are up to the end of 2006 (it takes about 5 months to tabulate the previous year’s figures). The headline:

The Yomiuri Shinbun May. 22, 2007

The number of foreign residents in Japan as of the end of 2006 hit a record-high of 2.08 million, increasing 3.6 percent from the previous year, according to the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau.

The figure of 2,084,919 accounted for 1.63 percent of the nation’s total population.
By nationality and place of origin, the two Koreas combined had the largest share at 28.7 percent, or 598,219. But because of the aging population and naturalization, the number of special permanent residents is decreasing after peaking in 1991.

In order of descending share after the two Koreas, China registered 26.9 percent or 560,741; Brazil, 15 percent or 312,979; and thereafter the order was the Philippines, Peru and the United States…

By prefecture, Tokyo came top with 364,712. Thereafter, Osaka, Aichi, Kanagawa, Saitama, Hyogo, Chiba, Shizuoka, Gifu and Kyoto prefectures accounted for about 70 percent.

Gifu Prefecture increased by 7.6 percent from a year ago, and Aichi by 7.1 percent. The high rates of increase in the two Chubu region prefectures is thought to be attributable to the area’s favorable economic conditions.
(May. 22, 2007)

COMMENT: Oddly lost in translation from the original Japanese article ( was the fact that this represents the 45th straight year the NJ population has risen. And at the rate reported above (3.6%), under the laws of statistics and compounding interest rates, this means the NJ population will again double in about 20 years.

It took twenty years to double last time, so the rate is holding steady. In fact, although the average is usually around a net gain of 50,000 souls per year, 2006 saw a gain of about 70,000. Accelerating?

The bigger news is this, though only briefly alluded to above:

Japan has two different types of Permanent Resident: The “Special PRs” (tokubetsu eijuusha), better known as the “Zainichi” ethnic Korean/Chinese etc. generational foreigners born in Japan, and the “General PRs” (ippan eijuusha), better known as the immigrants who have come here to settle and have been granted permission to stay in Japan forever.

Once upon a time, thanks to Japan’s jus sanguinis laws behind citizenship, most “foreigners” were in fact born in Japan–former citizens of empire stripped of their citizenship postwar and their descendents.

No longer. Every year, the number of “Oldcomers” are dropping, while the “Newcomers” are in fact catching up.

According to the MOJ, these are the raw numbers of people each year between 2002 and 2006 respectively:

489900 475952 465619 451909 443044

(rate of decrease 2005-2006 of 2%)
223875 261001 312964 349804 394477

(rate of increase 2005-2006 of 12.8%)

If things continue at 2006’s rate, the number of “Newcomer” immigrants will surpass the “Oldcomers” this year, 2007!

Oldcomers: …434183 425499
Newcomers: …444,970 501926

which means that according to statistics, the Newcomers with PR will double again in a little under six years!

Of course, we won’t see the point of inflection officially until May 2008, but those are the trends. This is a major sea change, because with PR these people are probably here to stay forever, as per the terms of their visa.

As far as rights and internationalization advocates go, this should sound hopeful for increasing pressure on Japan to pass a law against racial discrimination. But I’m hearing rumblings:

According to sources I really cannot name, the “Oldcomers” have a much longer history of human-rights advocacy, and a greater sense of entitlement to “victimhood” than the upstart immigrants. It’s entirely likely the Zainichis might not be too cooperative. After all–they’ve suffered for generations and gotten a few policy bones thrown them by the GOJ. Why should they help make life any easier for others who haven’t paid their time and earned their stripes?

Those are some crystal-ball prognostications. Let’s see how things look in five to ten years, as the landscape keeps shifting under the advocates of human rights for minorities in Japan.

Arudou Debito in Upstate NY, USA

Fun Facts #5: Nat Geo on Japan’s Tsunami Charity


Hi Blog. I voice enough criticism of Japan on this space. Let’s also give praise where it is due.

According to the National Geographic Dec 2005, Japan’s record regarding keeping its international promises regarding tsunami relief has been excellent. In fact, it’s basically the only country which made (even superseded) enormous pledges of donations for victims of the big waves a couple of years ago.

Bravo, Japan! Shame on everyone else, especially the oil-rich countries–both in terms of pledge and fulfillment. Where’s the Muslim feeling of brotherhood when you need it? Debito


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

Fun Facts #3: TIME: Japan’s postwar housing shortage and the aftermath


Hi Blog. An article I found completely by chance during a walk around Kyoto a couple of years ago.

Spotted in a basket outside a boutique: Old TIME magazines, which completely by chance had issues published around when I was born (January 13, 1965). Decided on a whim to buy the issues which straddled my birthday to see what was news back then. And discovered that TS Eliot died around when I was born (January 4). Anyway, the article:

(Widen your browser or click on image to see full article)
TIME Magazine January 8, 1965

(Here’s the cover, ‘cos I love the old painted TIME magazine covers:)

COMMENT: It’s interesting how Japan’s high-growth economy has already by 1965 created a huge economic bubble, and how even back then the Western media was noting the “rabbit hutch” housing market. And love the anecdote about this lack of space inhibiting conjugal relations…

But I cite this article because it contains the Fun Fact:


Amazing to consider, with the price of land beggaring everyone both in terms of budget and space.

This also meant that PM Satou Eisaku’s policy of earmarking public funds to alleviate this housing shortage (3 million units to be built over seven years) is probably the main reason why so many buildings in Tokyo were built for function, not form. They had to go up as quickly as possible–which meant:

1) The “rabbit hutches” were just stacked on top of each other–see the horrible danchi system to this day in Adachi-ku, for example.

2) The construction lobby (kensetsu zoku) would thus get phenomenal power in terms of politics and corruption (for when you throw public money at a problem without time for oversight, there is nearly always skimming and cut corners). This probably enabled the kensetsu zoku to continue leaning on the government for more boondoggle seibi projects (see Kerr, DOGS AND DEMONS) even after the housing shortage was alleviated. The impact of that on Japan’s financial health still resonates today.

3) As Tokyo does, the rest of the country follows. The economies of scale created by these cookie-cutter houses influenced housing design nationwide. Meaning (in my opinion) Japanese houses are still some of the the highest-priced for the lowest quality in the world, and still largely devoid of esthetic (i.e. despite many exceptions, still generally built for function, not form–especially up here in Hokkaido).

I’m probably overstating the case. But this article answered quite a few burning questions for me about why Japanese are so rich yet in terms of housing live so poorly. Debito in Sapporo

PS: Another interesting article from the following week’s TIME Magazine on PM Satou follows FYI. Contains a bit of the contemporary attitude of belittling Japanese leaders (cf. de Gaulle’s description of PM Ikeda Hayato in 1960 as a “transistor salesman”).

It also contains the bonus Fun Fact that PMs Kishi Nobusuke and Satou Eisaku were brothers. Japan’s political world is indeed riddled with an elite. D

(Widen your browser or click on image to see full article)

Fun Facts #2: Comparative govt “kokusaika”-friendliness by Prefecture


Hi Blog. More FUN FACTS (maybe this time “factoids”), courtesy of the Minami Nihon Shinbun of February 12, 2007:

(Click on image to see whole article, or widen your browser window to see color map)


This is a color-coded chart of how each of Japan’s 47 municipal governments stack up in terms of NJ user-friendliness for their NJ residents (tabunka kyousei)–behind the two other pillars the national government (Soumushou) determined in March 2006 to be the backbone of Japan’s internationalization: “International Communication” (kokusai kouryuu), and “International Cooperation” (kokusai kyouryoku). “Multicultural Coexistence”, the cleanest translation I can come up for tabunka kyousei, means, according to the article, “the mutual acknowledgement of peoples’ differences by nationality and ethnicity, and living together as equals in the local communities”.

Hm. This shows quite a bit of thought on the part of the government. Well and good. But in practice?

An NPO in Osaka (the Tabunka Kyousei Center) launched a survey to see how well each local government did. According to the article, they included services such as Japanese lessons, information in foreign languages, education for their children, and policies taking into consideration local non-Japanese residents, etc. The data was collected between October 2005 and August 2006. Full marks are 80 points.

As you can see by the color coding in the above article, Tokyo and Hyogo scored best, then high-foreign population centers near Aichi and Gifu bubbled under. Scoring worst were Aomori, Nagasaki, Saga, Ehime, and (gasp–seriously) Okinawa!

The Japan Times (Feb 15, 2007) also did a full article on this, blogged on at

The average score was just above half marks, 41 points. So any prefecture in the map above colored orange or below should hang their heads in shame. Note how they are often the ones with depopulation problems (not to mention imported brides for farmers), so if local governments want to avoid acculturalization issues in the future, they had better get their acts together and make people more comfortable living there.

Debito in Sapporo

Fun Facts #1: Comparative GDPs of J Prefectures


Hello Blog. Kicking off my first installment of FUN FACTS–an occasional series of interesting articles I’ve found and blogged for posterity. Not necessarily internationalization- or immigration-related, but fun to know nonetheless.

I’ve heard many times from people that Japanese newspapers and media are boring. But that’s often because the bored don’t know where to look. For example, have a look at this article from February 7, 2007’s Asahi Shinbun (pg 23) (click on image to see entire image; some English translation follows article):


The article talks about PM Abe’s vision of “doushuusei”, the consolidation of prefectures, to cut down on local government costs and maybe even (*cough*–pipe dream at this stage) devolving more power to more self-sufficient local governments.

If Japan’s 47 prefectures/municipal governments were cut down to eleven regions (see chart above), this would produce the following results: (All figures for GDP are dated 2003 (I won’t bother to convert), and population figures from the 2005 Census.)

1) HOKKAIDO (population 5.63 million) would be the world’s 36th largest economy, around the size of PORTUGAL.
2) TOUHOKU (pop. 9.63 million), 25th, around the size of NORWAY.
3) NORTH KANTO (pop. 16.27 million) 17th, between SWITZERLAND and HOLLAND.
4) SOUTH KANTO (including Tokyo and Yokohama, pop. 28.30 million), 8th, around the size of CANADA.
5) TOUKAI (including Nagoya, pop. 15.02 million), 17th, around the size of HOLLAND.
6) SHIKOKU (pop. 4.09 million), 41st, around the size of SINGAPORE.
7) OKINAWA (pop. 1.36 million), 64th, around the size of LUXEMBOURG.
8) HOKURIKU (pop. 5.54 million), 32nd, around the size of ARGENTINA.
9) KANSAI (pop. 20.89 million), 16th, around the size of AUSTRALIA.
10) CHUUGOKU (pop. 7.68 million), 27th, around the size of SOUTH AFRICA.
11) KYUSHU (pop. 13.35 million), 17th, around the size of SWITZERLAND.

I’ll let readers knead and pull the stats for a bit–dividing GDP sizes by population etc. But from this you can get an inkling of which parts of Japan are richest and poorest, and which are more or less likely to be self-sufficient (if the tax-hungry and control-freak national government would ever allow any political devolution to the provinces; fat chance at this stage) post-Doushuusei on an economic basis alone.

Old essay on Hokkaido’s economic dependency on the mainland here. Here endeth the first Fun Facts. Hope you enjoyed. Another one in the pipeline. Debito in Sapporo