Kyodo: MOJ says GOJ to scrap NJ registration system and Gaijin Cards


Hi Blog: Could the rumors have been true after all?

Gov’t plans to scrap registration system on foreign nationals
Courtesy Martyn Williams

The government plans to scrap the current registration system for foreign nationals living in Japan and introduce a new resident registry system similar to that for Japanese residents, Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said Friday.

”We are moving in the direction of deciding to abolish it,” Hatoyama told a press conference, indicating the Justice Ministry and the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry are working to craft a bill to that end to submit in next year’s ordinary parliamentary session.

Under the current registration system, the personal data of foreign nationals living in Japan, including their address and marital status, are registered only on an individual basis and not on a household basis, hampering local municipalities from grasping the situation of foreign residents in Japan.

Since foreign residents are not obliged to report to municipalities a change of address, it has also been difficult for the authorities to provide foreign nationals with information in areas such as school enrollment, health insurance, and residence tax procedures.

The move to scrap the system comes amid mounting calls for action from local municipalities with growing populations of foreign nationals such as Brazilians of Japanese descent. Some of the children of such residents are failing to enroll in local schools at the appropriate times.

”We are unable to properly notify families having school-age children of necessary information on school enrollment,” an official from the town of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, where foreign nationals account for about 16 percent of the overall population.

A social insurance consultant from the town, Shuichi Ono, said, ”Some foreign residents frequently move from one place to another. Once they return to their home countries, it is not easy to send them residence tax notifications.”

Under the envisioned registration system, information on foreign residents will be handled on a household basis as well.

The government is also considering replacing the current alien registration cards, which foreign residents are required to carry at all times, with a new certificate card.

COMMENT: Pinch me. Let’s keep an eye on this one, people, as it’s fundamental to our lives in Japan–and getting rid of the Gaijin Card could be the best news we’ve had all decade. It all depends on what goes in its place. What’s with this “certificate card”, and will not carrying it 24-7 still be a criminal offense?

As commenters below put well, it’s not like any government to give up a means of control over people, especially when you consider that practically all governments to some degree control information about their foreigners (not to mention their citizens). But imagine if the Gaijin Card Checks actually became somehow less nasty (or even nonexistent–but that’s sky pie at this point), and NJ were actually formally registered as “residents” with some kind of juuminhyou?

In sum, will the new system be a way to ensure all people regardless of nationality are informed of and guaranteed the fruits of Japanese society? Or will it still just be a means to police them?

If you see any more articles before I do, please add them to the Comments section in full text with links. Thanks. Arudou Debito in Tokyo

Komeito leader agrees with DPJ proposal to give NJ Permanent Residents the right to vote


Hi Blog. Do I hear the sound of a wedge being driven into the ruling LDP/Komeito coalition? Debito in Tokyo

Komeito leader welcomes Ozawa’s proposal to give foreigners voting rights
Courtesy of Stephen Vowles

Kazuo Kitagawa, secretary-general of ruling coalition partner Komeito, has voiced support for opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Ichiro Ozawa’s suggestion of considering submitting a bill to give foreigners with permanent residence status the right to vote in local elections.

“I would like a bill to be compiled and submitted,” Kitagawa said of the proposed move, adding that there had been arguments against it within the DPJ. “If they compiled it I would welcome that,” he said.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Ozawa said, “I’ve stressed before that the right for foreigners to vote in local elections should be granted. I’ve been criticized by long-time supporters, but the bottom line doesn’t change.”

There has been a strong tendency within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to take a cautious approach over granting foreigners with permanent residence status the right to vote in local elections. In 2005 Komeito submitted its own bill to the Diet, and the bill remains under deliberation.

Some LDP members have expressed concern over Ozawa’s comments, calling them a move to break up the ruling coalition.



毎日新聞 2008年1月23日 18時02分




Ryan Hagglund on how he successfully dealt with an exclusionary landlord


Hi Blog. Turned 43 years old today… Here’s Ryan Hagglund of Yamagata on how he successfully dealt with a very common problem in Japan–exclusionary landlords.

As you probably know, if a landlord has a “thing” about foreigners and decides not to rent to you, legally there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan. But Ryan found a place he liked and wasn’t having any of it. And he managed to change the landlord’s (and realtor’s) mind.

How? Sticktoitiveness and accountability. Lessons: 1) be as polite as possible while being clear that you will not accept a denial based on being foreign, and 2) audio record everything just in case you have to go to court.

(Covert recordings are also admissible in court. I did it for the Otaru Onsens Lawsuit, and it removed any possible element of plausible deniability or misunderstanding.)

Good work Ryan. Here are the series of emails he sent to the Life in Japan List. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Apartment Refusal
Date: December 4, 2007 10:10:00 PM JST

I have a quick question, if anyone can help. This afternoon the school I manage was told point-blank by the real estate agent we’ve been using that the apartment we had decided on for our new teacher is not available because the landlord doesn’t rent to foreigners, even if the company acts as the official tenant. We would like a chance to talk with the landlord, but the real estate company refuses to divulge any of his information. Is there any way to find out who the owner of an apartment building is? I would imagine there has to be some kind of public record out there. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you very much.

Ryan Hagglund, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Apartment Refusal
Date: December 5, 2007 8:21:40 PM JST

Thanks to everyone for the comments and thoughts so far. I thought I would write with a quick update and a little more background information.

Anyway, the whole situation started with a new teacher who needs housing accepting a position at our school. My wife, who is Japanese and works for the school, went apartment hunting while I was teaching and found a really great one. The real estate agent kept telling her how wonderful it was and she was right; it is by far the best apartment we have seen in the area for the price and in a good location too. We wanted the new teacher to have a chance to look at it, so my wife called to let the real estate know that her husband, me, and a new employee would be down to look at the apartment as well. Up to this point we had not said that the occupant would be a foreigner. We weren’t purposely trying to hide that fact by any means; we just hadn’t thought to mention it. It’s legally a non-issue anyway. When I arrived with the new teacher and came in saying we wanted to look at the apartment that had been played up for my wife, the agent was hesitant. She said she would show us it, but that “special permission” is required for foreigners to rent. I mentioned that such as policy was illegal and that we would like to see it. Aside from the comment about special permission, she was quite polite and pleasant, though I had to ask for her business card as she was walking back to her car to return to the office, something I thought was unusual. This all happened Saturday, just before the office closed. (All the above conversations happened in Japanese, by the way, though our new teacher doesn’t speak much at all.)

On Monday we called to confirm the apartment, but were told this afternoon that it is not available for rent by foreigners. When my wife asked to please speak with the landlord she was told that wasn’t possible. Following the suggestions on this list, my wife went to the city hall, but was told that they could not divulge private information on the ownership of a building. We decided, then, to return to the real estate agent. We were polite, letting her know we realize she is in a difficult situation, but that denying an apartment to someone simply because they are foreign is illegal, a conclusion with which our school’s attorney agrees. We said that we would like to speak with the landlord and were willing to work with him to find a suitable compromise, such as the school renting the apartment instead of the new teacher, but that we definitely wanted that apartment and feel it is very important for the law to be followed. (We also recorded the conversation so that we have proof that we were in fact denied based on being foreign.) The real estate agent said she would talk with landlord and get back to us, so we’ll se what happens. We’ve also scheduled a consultation with an attorney tomorrow to talk about our options in case the landlord refuses. I hope that won’t be necessary. Trying to be polite, but firm.

Ryan Hagglund, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Re: Apartment Refusal
Date: December 17, 2007 12:07:44 AM JST

I want to thank everyone for their support, comments, and suggestions on the apartment situation we encountered. At least one person asked for updates, so I hope you don’t mind if I oblige.

As you may remember, my wife checked apartments through many realtors for a new employee for our school. We decided on the best one we could find, a nice, newer, spacious 1LDK with 9-foot ceilings; bar separating the kitchen from the dining area; three-panel, glass-inlaid sliding doors separating the kitchen and dining from the main room; outdoor storage connected to the balcony; hikari-fiber internet; and video intercom system for the front door in order to evade the NHK guy :-). All of this for 45,000 yen per month, which is a decent price in this area without all the extras. As the realtor had told my wife, “If I was looking for an apartment, I would live here.” We agreed.

When we told the realtor we wanted the apartment and it became apparent that it was for a foreigner, we were then refused since the apartment owner has apparently had problems with a foreigner in the past. We found the same apartment listed with another agent in the area who told us the same thing. We have one of the refusals recorded. Neither agent was the main listing agent for the apartment, however. We wanted to talk with the owner or main agent about the situation, but we were refused the information.

On the advice of one list member who wrote privately, I went to the houmukyoku to find the registered owner of the apartment, and my wife and I gave him a visit Thursday evening. We were very polite and asked him if we could talk to him about the problems he had previously had with foreigners, but he said he has no policy against renting to foreigners and would have no problems renting to us. He then (supposedly) called the main real estate agent and gave us the news that someone else was already interested in the apartment, though, telling us to check with them about the situation the next morning. We at least got the main listing agent’s name, however.

My wife, being the amazing woman she is, knew the agency and said the light had been on when we passed it on our way to the owner’s house. We hurried into the car and got to the agency just as they were about to close. When we told them why we were there, they said the owner had refused us and there was nothing they could do. They were extremely surprised to learn we had just spoken to the owner, leading us to believe the owner had just been pretending to be on the phone. They then said someone else was interested in the apartment, so we would have to wait for their decision. We made it very clear, however, that we had made our decision a full week-and-a-half prior and considered ourselves ahead of any other possible renters. To make an even longer story a little shorter, they kept giving us the runaround until we had countered all of their “reasons” for our not being able to rent to us and essentially trapped themselves in their own excuses and twisted logic. We recorded the exchanges with both the landlord and real estate office and I would love to post them sometime, as they are absolutely mind-boggling. In the end, though, they ran out of even semi-plausible excuses and we got the apartment.

I have to admit I’m somewhat dissatisfied with the fact that we will be giving these people money. There was definitely a concerted effort going on in the background to get rid of us. At the same time, it was definitely the best apartment available and our new teacher shouldn’t have to settle for second-best simply because she’s foreign. In the end, our polite determination won out. Next time we need an apartment, though, we’ll know to have a Japanese person look first at what’s available and then decide from there. We wouldn’t have been shown the best apartment otherwise, which is a real shame.

Ryan Hagglund
My English School
Higashine, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: RESEND: Hi Ryan. May I blog your apartment report? Anything to add?
Date: January 11, 2008 10:35:07 PM JST

…Of course you may blog you like that I’ve reported to the Life in Japan list. I can’t think of anything at the moment to add to what I’ve written. I guess I would just emphasize that I made sure to be as polite as possible while being clear that I would not accept a denial based on being foreign… Thanks! Ryan


Yomiuri: DPJ pushing bill for NJ voting rights in local elections


Hi Blog. Here’s some very good news. Somebody at least is recognizing the reality that you can’t keep people who live here permanently for generations permanently disenfranchised from the democratic process. One more reason to support the DPJ (or the New Komeito, depending on your politics–hopefully enticing it out of its Faustian deal with the devil just to share power with the LDP).

Wouldn’t it be interesting if in the end what made the LDP finally fall from power was issues of immigration and assimilation? Arudou Debito in Sapporo


DPJ lawmakers to push foreigner suffrage bill
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 7, 2008
Courtesy of Chris Gunson

Lawmakers in the Democratic Party of Japan are stepping up efforts to resubmit a bill that would grant permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local elections, according to sources.

With New Komeito also strongly demanding local suffrage for permanent foreign residents, DPJ lawmakers hope in the upcoming Diet session “to split the ruling camp by submitting the bill to the House of Councillors and call on New Komeito to endorse it,” according to one of the sources.

But some conservative lawmakers in the party are determined to block the resubmission.

“Looking at this constitutionally and from the state of the nation, there’s no way we can approve this,” one party conservative said.

The DPJ previously submitted the bill to the House of Representatives on two occasions–in 1998 and 2002–but it was scrapped after failing to pass both times.

New Komeito also submitted to the lower house in 2005 a bill for granting permanent foreign residents voting rights in local elections, and discussions have spilled over into the current Diet session.

The passing of any bill of this nature has been stopped in its tracks mostly due to deep-rooted resistance mainly in the Liberal Democratic Party.

Yoshihiro Kawakami, a DPJ upper house member, plans to call on supporters in the party and establish a league of Diet members aimed at resubmitting the DPJ’s bill.

In the new bill, a “principle of reciprocity” will be introduced, in which local voting rights would only be granted to permanent residents who hold the nationality of a country that allows foreigners to vote in elections.

“New Komeito’s proposed bill has for sometime contained the principle of reciprocity, and so New Komeito won’t be able to oppose the DPJ’s bill,” Kawakami said.

Kawakami and his supporters hope to gain approval from the party leadership and submit the bill for prior consideration by the upper house. (Jan. 7, 2008)



2008年1月5日21時23分 読売新聞






(2008年1月5日21時23分 読売新聞)

APEC line open to NJ residents at Kansai Int’l Airport (UPDATED 1/7/08–now it is not)


Hi Blog. For those travelling over the holiday season, here are some helpful letters for those going through Kansai International Airport (Kankuu, or KIX). It turns out NJ residents can go through the APEC Immigration Channel (business line). Print up these letters if the terms apply to you, show them at the border, and decriminalize yourself more efficiently. Courtesy of Martin Issott. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(click on letter to expand in browser, Japanese and English)

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:

Yomiuri: GOJ to forbid employers from confiscating NJ passports


Hi Blog. Here’s some good news.

After much trouble with employers confiscating NJ worker passports (ostensible reasons given in the article, but much of the time it led to abuses, even slavery, with the passport retained as a Sword of Damocles to elicit compliance from workers), the GOJ looks like it will finally make the practice expressly illegal.

About time–a passport is the property of the issuing government, and not something a foreign government (or another person) can impound indefinitely. The fact that it’s been used as a weapon to keep the foreign Trainee laborer in line for nearly two decades speaks volumes about the GOJ’s will to protect people’s rights once they get here.

Glad this is finally coming on the books. Now let’s hope it gets enforced. Referential articles follow Yomiuri article:


Govt guidelines to forbid firms to keep foreign trainees’ passports
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec 18, 2007
Courtesy Jeff Korpa and Mark Schreiber

The Justice Ministry looks set to stop companies that accept foreign trainees from confiscating trainees’ passports and foreign registration certificates, ministry sources said Monday.

The toughened ministry guidelines for host companies also state that preventing foreign trainees from traveling wherever they wish to go when they are off duty is unacceptable. Firms have been curtailing the movement of workers and holding on to passports and certificates to prevent such trainees from disappearing.

The ministry will likely release the guidelines this week and will notify organizations, including commerce and industry associations, that accept foreign trainees of the new rules.

The foreign trainee system was designed to enhance international relations by introducing foreign trainees to new technology and skills, but it often has been misused as an excuse to bring unskilled workers into the country.

Commerce and industry associations and organizations of small and midsize companies accept foreign trainees, who are introduced to companies to learn skills for up to three years.

Under the current system, foreign trainees receive one year of training followed by two years as on-the-job trainees. As the training year is not considered employment, such workers are not protected by the Labor Standards Law.

The new guidelines for the entry and stay management of foreign trainees are a revised version of the 1999 guidelines.

The new guidelines prohibit host companies from using improper methods to manage foreign trainees, such as holding their passports, and foreign nationals from being accepted through brokering organizations other than via authorized organizations

Also banned are misleading advertisements for the recruitment of host companies, such as those that say foreign trainees can be used to resolve a labor shortage.

The tougher regulations are aimed at preventing commerce and industry associations from becoming nominal organizations for accepting foreign trainees. This practice has seen brokering organizations exploit foreign trainees by introducing them to companies.

To prevent overseas dispatch organizations from exploiting foreign trainees, the new guidelines also include a measure that requires host companies to refuse to accept foreign trainees in the event a foreign dispatch organization is found to have asked them to pay a large deposit. The guidelines have been revised for the first time in eight years because companies that do not not qualify to take on foreign trainees have been taking a rapidly increasing number of such workers.

Japan scheme ‘abuses foreign workers’
By Chris Hogg BBC News, Tokyo, Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Japan Times Sunday, April 29, 2007 By MARK SCHREIBER Shukan Kinyobi (April 20)

POINT OF VIEW/ Hiroshi Tanaka: Japan must open its arms to foreign workers

Nearly 10,000 foreigners disappear from job training sites in Japan 2002-2006

Govt split over foreign trainee program
Yomiuri Shimbun May 19, 2007
For starters…
Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Himu Case: Tokyo District Court orders Sankei Shinbun to pay NJ damages for reporting erroneous al-Qaeda link


Hi Blog. We’ve had enough rotten news recently. Now for some good news.

A Bangladeshi by the name of Islam Himu (whom I’ve met–he’s on my mailing lists) was accused during the al-Qaeda Scare of 2005 of being part of a terrorist cell. And the media, particularly the Sankei, reported him by name as such. Detained for more than a month by the cops, he emerged to find his reputation in tatters, his business rent asunder, and his life irrevocably changed.

This is why you don’t report rumor as fact in the established media. And as we saw in the Sasebo Shootings a few days ago, the papers and the powers that be won’t take reponsibility even when they get it wrong.

So Mr Himu sued the Sankei. And won. Congratulations. A good precedent. Now if only could get the Japanese police to take responsibility when they overdo things. Well, we can dream.

News article, referential Japan Times piece, and other background follows. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Sankei newspaper ordered to compensate foreigner over Al Qaeda slur
(Mainichi Japan) December 11, 2007

The Sankei newspaper has been ordered by the Tokyo District Court to pay a foreigner 3.3 million yen in compensation for implying he was linked to Al Qaeda and plotting a terrorist attack.

The court found the paper had defamed 37-year-old company president Islam Mohamed Himu of Toda, Saitama Prefecture, and ordered it to compensate him.

“It was inappropriate to publish his name,” Presiding Judge Hitomi Akiyoshi said as she handed down the ruling.

Sankei officials said they were not sure how the company will react to the case.

“We want to take a close look at the ruling before deciding how to respond,” a Sankei spokesman said.

Court records showed that Himu was arrested in 2004 for forgery and fined 300,000 yen. The day after his arrest, the Sankei ran a front page story under the headline “Underground bank produces terror funds, man with links to top terrorists arrested.”

Sankei proceeded to write that Himu had links to high-ranking Al Qaeda members and was suspected of involvement in procuring funds for terrorism.

Alleged al-Qaeda link seeks vindication
Bangladeshi wants apology, claims he was falsely accused by police, press
The Japan Times April 2, 2005

A Bangladeshi businessman who was incorrectly alleged by police and the media last year as being linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network is seeking vindication.

Investigators held Islam Mohamed Himu for 43 days but ultimately found he had no links to al-Qaeda.

Himu said that even since being freed, he has struggled to get his life and business back on track. He has filed a complaint of human rights violations with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

“I want to ask senior officials of the government or police: what was my fault?” Himu said in an interview.

“The Japanese police and media have destroyed my life,” said the 34-year-old, who runs a telecommunications company in Tokyo.

“I want them to apologize and restore my life,” he said, urging the government to help him obtain visas to make business trips to several countries that have barred his entry following the allegations.

Himu came to Japan in 1995 with his Japanese wife, whom he had met in Canada. After establishing a firm in Tokyo that mainly sells prepaid international phone cards, he obtained permanent residency in 2000.

Police arrested him last May 26 and issued a fresh warrant June 16. They alleged he had falsified a corporate registration and illegally hired two employees, including his brother.

While in custody, investigators mostly asked if he had any links to al-Qaeda, noting that a Frenchman suspected of being in al-Qaeda bought prepaid phone cards from him several times, according to Himu.

He said he tried to prove he had no connection with terrorists, telling police the Frenchman was one of several hundred customers and he had no idea the man used an alias.

However, police dismissed his claim, he said, and leaked to major media organizations, including Kyodo, their suspicions that he was involved with al-Qaeda, and all of them reported the allegations.

Himu said he believes police arrested him as a scapegoat even though they knew he had no link with al-Qaeda.

He was nabbed shortly after the media reported that the Frenchman had stayed in Japan in 2002 and 2003.

Prosecutors did not indict him on the first charge, while a court fined him 300,000 yen on the second charge. He was released on July 7.

Himu said the prosecutors’ failure to indict proves he was not an al-Qaeda member, but it did not necessarily constitute a public apology.

All his employees left following the release of the sketchy police information, and he now has 120 million yen in debts due to the disruption of his business, he claimed.

The Japan Times: Saturday, April 2, 2005


Japan Times and Asia Times articles on 2004 police Al-Qaeda witch hunt, Himu Case, and police detentions in Japan.


McGowan Case: Steve wins case on appeal at Osaka High Court


Good news at last. Comment follows at bottom:


African-American wins Y350,000 in damages for being denied entry into Osaka shop
Japan Today, Wednesday, October 18, 2006 at 19:41 EDT
Courtesy Kyodo News

OSAKA — The Osaka High Court ordered an Osaka optical shop owner to pay 350,000 yen in damages to an African-American living in Kyoto Prefecture for denying him entry to the shop in 2004, altering a lower court ruling in January which rejected the plaintiff’s damages claim.

Presiding Judge Sota Tanaka recognized the owner told Steve McGowan, 42, a designer living in the town of Seika, to go away when he was in front of the shop, and acknowledged damages for McGowan’s emotional pain, saying the entry denial “is a one-sided and outrageous act beyond common sense.”

However, the remark “is not enough to be recognized as racially discriminatory,” he said. McGowan had demanded 5.5 million yen.

According to the ruling, the owner told McGowan to go away to the other side of the road in a strong language several times when he was about to enter the shop with an acquaintance in September 2004.

The plaintiff had claimed the owner said, “Go away. I hate black people,” but the ruling dismissed the claim, as the possibility that he misheard the owner cannot be eliminated.
A plaintiff attorney said, “It’s unreasonable that discrimination was not recognized, but the court ordered a relatively large amount of damages payment for just demanding the plaintiff leave the shop. It seems that the court shows some understanding.”

I am very happy Steve McGowan appealed his case, as it shows just how ludicrous the previous District Court ruling was last January.

Full information on the case at

The previous decision disqualified McGowan and his wife as credible witnesses to any discrimination, by ruling:

1) McGowan’s testimony inadmissible, as he apparently does not understand enough Japanese to reliably prove that the store-owner used discriminatory language toward him.

2) McGowan’s wife’s testimony as negatively admissable. In her follow up investigation, McGowan’s wife didn’t confirm whether the store-owner had excluded McGowan because he is black (“kokujin”); she apparently asked him if it was because her husband is *foreign*.

Put another way: A guy gets struck by a motor vehicle. The pedestrian takes him to court, claiming that getting hit by a car hurt him. The judge says, “You weren’t in fact hit by a car. It was a truck. Compensation denied.”

This was a huge step backward. As I argued in a Japan Times column (Feb 7, 2006, see, the McGowan decision thus established the following litmus tests for successfully claiming racial discrimination. You must:

* Avoid being a foreigner.

* Avoid being a non-native speaker of Japanese.

* Have a native-speaker witness with you at all times.

* Record on tape or video every public interaction you have 24 hours a day.

* Hope your defendant admits he dislikes people for their race.

Actually, scratch the last one. The eyeglass shop owner did admit a distaste for black people, yet the judge still let him off.

Now this High Court reversal sets things back on kilter, although it pays McGowan a pittance (35 man yen will not even cover his legal fees!) and will not acknowledge the existence of racial discrimination.

That’s a shame. But it’s better than before, and far better than if he did not appeal. Gotta pray for the small favors.

Thanks to Steve for keeping up the fight! Arudou Debito in Seattle, USA