Book review of “Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me” (Pubs Simon and Schuster). Yes, that is the title.


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Hi Blog.  Another holiday tangent.  Enjoy.  Debito in Monbetsu



By Lisa Fineberg Cook.  Published by Simon and Schuster Inc 2009

Reviewed by Arudou Debito

Simon and Schuster sent me this book this month for review, and I know not why.  I am probably the last person to whom you’d send a “Chick Lit” book (defined by some as a genre where the protagonist is a young female trying to make it in the modern world, dealing with issues that women face, whether it be learning how to stand on their own two feet, or just about them being passionate about career, style, personal appearance, shopping…).  But I did sit down and get through it.  I agree with the reviews on — it’s “an easy read”.  That’s not much of a compliment, however:  If the most positive thing you can say about a literary work is that you got through it quickly, that’s damning with faint praise indeed.

So let’s get through this review and make it a quick read too.  Start with the obvious:  J.A.P.  Having a racial epithet cloaked as an ethnic slur (I hail from Cornell University, so am plenty aware of “Jewish American Princesses”) in the very title already puts me off — as very culturally insensitive.  What were you thinking, S&S?

In fact, insensitivity is the recurring theme in this tome:  The first-person narrator is so self-absorbed that there is no space for anyone else.  There are a few friends here and there (or one stellar Japanese student enlightened by the protagonist’s poetic guidance) that slot in at whim, but no particular impression is made on the reader.  In fact, aside of course from our narrator, we know more about her best friend overseas than anyone else who glides in and out of the work.  Even her newlywed husband is an undeveloped glyph who drops in occasionally, offering improbably perfect and concise bon mots designed to confirm or destroy her preconceptions.  But never mind.  The book is all about our J.A.P. girl empowering herself, moreover in a land where women apparently have no power of their own, and it’s her task to enlighten them.  You go girl, for all of us!  Feh.

Reviews are supposed to give a plot synopsis, so let’s get through that quickly too:  California Jewish girl follows her American husband to Nagoya (she even makes a “goy” joke about that) where they both teach English for one year.  She gets her comeuppance in quirky ways, as there is apparently no Starbucks in Nagoya (in 1999?  There is no date given but I place it then, since she mentions the US debut of TV show The Sopranos.), little English spoken, and few of the material or cultural creature comforts that satisfy her spoiled-girl whims.  She starts off, by design, as an unsympathetic character (hence the titled comeuppance).  However, like any newcomer in a predictable Hollywood flick, she not only learns to cope well enough (despite the natives) to stay in Japan and grow, but also to recommend to everyone (in a self-important interview in the back of the book) they try living overseas (I agree, of course, but one year abroad hardly makes one an authority on world travel).

After solipsistic battles with things like a washing machine and public transport, she finally takes us outside for some sightseeing in Japan (Hiroshima and shopping trips in Nagoya are highlights, of a kind).  But in the end the reader gets little impression of Japan beyond the stares, the crowds, some undeveloped allegations of anti-Semitism, and sundry interactions between her and some Westerners that could have taken place anywhere in the world.  Again, this character is so insensitive to anything beyond her sphere (she doesn’t even try to learn the language) that there’s no room left for Japan.  She and hubby leave after one year and return to the US to raise a family.  End of slide show.

In sum, the best I can say about the book is that the one character who counts in this book (guess who) is very well developed (if not overly so), and she has a very clear writing voice.  Hooray.  So why is she writing about Japan?  Because she has to get published by writing about something?  Hokay.  But this book is hardly something that can be advertised as a “memoir”.  Memoirs are generally an autobiography — something that give us some idea of the world people live in.  This barely gives us the world that one this one person briefly dwelled.  Japan is a difficult and time-consuming place to get to know, even when you have an interest in what’s going on around you.  Moreover even when you understand the language.  Neither happens in this book.  One year abroad — and as a functional illiterate at that — does not justify a “memoir” about a country published by one of the world’s largest publishing houses.

Good for Ms. Cook for putting one over on them.  You go, girl!  Now let’s hope S&S give some space to some more serious and knowledgeable writers about Japan.  There are plenty of them over here, trust me.  Ferret us out, Simon and Schuster.  We’ll give you something much more empowering.

Arudou Debito, author, “JAPANESE ONLY, The Otaru Onsens Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan”, and “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants” (Akashi Shoten Inc., editions 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively); columnist, The Japan Times, and Sapporo Source.


Proof positive that some people really do suck: JT responses to proposals for a Japanese immigration policy


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Hi Blog.  It’s times like these when I think human society really has a bottomless capacity for oozing disdain for and wishing ill-will upon others.  Get a load of these letters to the editor (including authors who won’t reveal their names, or don’t live in Japan anyway) responding acidulously to my Japan Times column earlier this month, where I made constructive proposals for making Japan a place more attractive for immigration.  (Many of these proposals were made not just by me, but also by former Immigration bureaucrat Sakanaka Hidenori; so much for their pat claim below of imposing my moral values).

None of these respondents appear to be immigrants, or have any expressed interest in investing in this society, yet they heap scorn upon those who might plan to.  I know paper will never refuse ink, but surely these people have more productive uses of their time then just scribbling poorly-researched and nasty screeds that help no-one.  The self-injuring, snake-eating-its-tail mentality seen in NJ vets of Japan is something worthy of study by psychologists, methinks.  Any takers?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times, Letters to the Editor Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009

Level playing field for immigrants: responses
A selection of readers’ responses to Debito Arudou’s Dec. 1 Just Be Cause article, which proposed policy changes to “make life easier for Japan’s residents, regardless of nationality”:

Get your fill and head off
I’m getting tired of listening to foreigners moaning on Japan. The answer is very simple: You don’t like it, leave it. Why do these people want to live in Japan at all costs if they don’t like the system? The world is big; go somewhere else. I’ve been in Japan for 4 years with my Japanese wife and now we have understood it’s time to move on for our future, and therefore go back to Europe. We all know Japan is a homogeneous country. It will never become a cosmopolitan society like the West. Who are we to change a deep-rooted, xenophobic culture where Japanese have been living for centuries? It’s much easier for Japanese to live in the West than for us to live in Japan. There are big Japanese communities in every Western country. Japan is not an expats’ resort by tradition. Foreigners come here either for marriage or overseas contracts, meaning it can be a beautiful place to live for a few years but not to settle permanently. My suggestion to all those disillusioned gaijin is to make the most of your stay in Japan and return home when you think you’ve had enough.


Takasaki, Gunma Pref.


Unwelcome, no matter what
This article implied that Japan is seeking to welcome foreigners, which is far from the case. I came here (unwillingly) under a Japanese scholarship, graduated here top of my class, work here, did volunteering to help in disaster relief . . . But everyday I wake up, I find myself in the same position: potential thief when I walk in a store; a potential terrorist when I enter a government building, even when I spend my time there volunteering; my neighbor keeping watch on me every day; unable to obtain a bank recommendation when I need it . . . In my case, I gave up on Japan and will (leave) with a bitter taste.



Homogeneity works well
Japan has been often criticized for its immigration policy, which does make it somewhat difficult for a non-Japanese (NJ) to obtain permanent residency or citizenship. I disagree that this policy has worked to Japan’s disadvantage in the global labor market. . . . (Arudou) says Japan needs a new immigration ministry that would decide clear public standards that would give immigrants what they want. It is not an obligation of the government to give immigrants what they want. The (role of the) ministry is to be sure that the immigrants who are allowed into Japan will obey the laws of Japan and not become wards of the state.

Also, I disagree with Arudou’s desire to have citizenship based on birth in Japan. Look at the U.S.: Illegal aliens come into the U.S. and have what is called an “anchor baby.” The baby is automatically a U.S. citizen, and his/her parents then become eligible for permanent residency and then citizenship. And the American taxpayer pays for their health care, housing, food stamps, education and more. They create their enclaves, demand bilingual classes, etcetera, and never learn English.

Japan has been very fortunate to have about 98 percent of its population (form) a homogeneous society, in which the people share a common language and culture. Of course there are local variances, but by and large the people speak one language, which helps to maintain a high level of literacy and an appreciation of a common culture, language and history. . . . Debito Arudou should abide by the laws of immigration of Japan, stop whining or simply find another place to live.


Bellevue, Wa.


Let Japan run its own shop
I am an American who lived in Japan for 4 years and find it pathetic how many people want to force Western ideologies onto Japan. Japan is its own country. Let them do as they please. At least they can control their immigration issues, unlike most European countries and the United States. I bemoan how my country, the United States, can’t tackle or has an unwillingness to tackle the issue. Japan has a right to keep the country as Japan sees fit. Forcing non-Japanese moral values on it to satisfy the short-term aging population issue is not in best interests of Japan.


Address withheld


Bern Mulvey on the odd MEXT university accreditation system (JALT 2009 powerpoint presentation)


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
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Hello Blog.  Dr Bern Mulvey of Iwate University gave a presentation for PALE at the national JALT Conference last November.  Entitled “UNIVERSITY ACCREDITATION IN JAPAN: PROBLEMS AND POSSIBILITIES“, it outlines how Monkasho (the infamous Education Ministry in Japan) certifies universities as teaching institutions, and what measures it takes to ensure quality control. The presentation shows a lot of the tricks and sleights of hands the universities do to keep their status (particularly in regards to FD — as in that buzzword “Faculty Development”, and peer review) without actually changing much.  I asked his permission to reproduce his powerpoint on, so here it is as fifteen slides (jpg format, click to expand in browser).  Or if you prefer to download it in the original .ppt format, click here.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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Kyodo: GOJ responsible for hardship facing Ainu, incl racial profiling by J police on the street!


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Hi Blog.  Here’s a little article about how other minorities have it in Japan — the Ainu indigenous peoples, for one.  According to this, people of Ainu descent are even being racially profiled by police on the street just like NJ!  Anyone still want to argue that the NPA is not training the police to target foreigners (defined as “foreign looking”, hence the Ainu getting snagged)?  Even the police themselves below justify their actions as ferreting out NJ overstayers.  Read on.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Former panel member says state responsible for hardship facing Ainu
Kyodo News/Japan Today Sunday 06th December 2009,
Courtesy SC
A member of a disbanded government panel on policies related to the Ainu said Saturday that the panel wanted to send a message to the government and the public that state policy has imposed hardships on the indigenous people and caused discrimination against them. ‘

‘We wanted to make it clear and tell the people in our report that the state was responsible for the suffering imposed on the Ainu and the disparities (between them and the majority group),’’ Teruki Tsunemoto, head of the Hokkaido University Center for Ainu & Indigenous Studies, told a symposium on Ainu policy in Tokyo.

Tsunemoto was one of the eight members of the panel, which was set up after Japan recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people last year and issued the report in July this year. The panel urged the government in the report to take concrete steps to improve the lives of Ainu people and promote public understanding of them through education.

Stressing the need to take specific measures for the Ainu, Tsunemoto, also a professor in constitutional law, said, ‘‘The Ainu have existed uniquely as an indigenous people and they have become a minority group not because they wanted to be but because the majority group of the Japanese advanced into their native land.’‘

‘‘The Ainu did not agree to become minority, so the state must take responsibility for driving them into their current status,’’ he said. ‘‘The panel did not propose providing ‘benefits’ to the Ainu but enhancing Ainu policies, based on the state’s political responsibility.’‘

A survey has shown that Ainu people still lead underprivileged lives, with their income levels and university advancement rate remaining low, compared with the national averages.

At the symposium, some Ainu people living in Tokyo and its vicinity shared their experiences of discrimination and expressed hope for future policy.

Akemi Shimada said, ‘‘People do not know much about the Ainu. Some people in Tokyo said to me when they saw me wearing traditional Ainu clothes, ‘Do the Ainu still exist?’ and ‘Are you from the Ainu country?’ I responded, ‘Where is the Ainu country?’‘’

Tomoko Yahata said she was stopped and searched in Tokyo nine times over the six months through October. ‘‘Responding to my question as to why they had stopped me, the police officers said it is because there are many overstaying foreigners,’’ she said.

Many Ainu must be facing similar difficulties as they now live nationwide, she suggested.

The Ainu at the meeting said they want sufficient support to improve their livelihoods while seeking their own space where they can pursue cultural activities such as traditional dancing, embroidery and cooking.


GS on Michael Moore’s rights to complain about being fingerprinted at Japanese border


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Hi Blog.  I received this very thoughtful email from GS after Michael Moore’s visit to Japan, where he was perturbed by the border fingerprinting.  According to GS, he has every right to be.  Read on.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


December 14, 2009
Dear Debito-san,

Thank you for the heads-up I got on Mr. Michael Moore’s comments regarding fingerprinting.

As you know from our previous e-mail conversations, I am concerned about some aspects regarding the safety of fingerprint verification in general and J-VIS in particular.

Following-up on your article, I have taken the liberty of writing a long message to the website feedback form on Mr. Moore’s website, summarizing my concerns. Please find below a copy of my writing. I hope you find it useful.


“Dear Sir, Madam,

Through the blog of Mr. Arudou Debito (, I’ve read part of Mr. Moore’s interview in Japan, in which he reported his fingerprinting experiences at the border (see Though through this web form my message probably gets to the inbox of a webmaster, I hope you may find my response interesting enough to patch through to him. I would like to provide him with some hopefully interesting food for thought about fingerprinting in general, and the J-VIS (Japanese border check) system in particular.

Mr. Moore apparently got the hostile response that if he refused, he would be deported back to the United States on his question why he would have to be fingerprinted. I guess a good introduction to my story would be to point his attention to Article 4 of the Japanese “Act on the Protection of Personal Information Held by Administrative Organs” (see, elements in Japanese writing have been deleted but can be seen in the original):

“Article 4 When an Administrative Organ directly acquires Personal Information on an Individual Concerned that is recorded in a document (including a record made by an electronic method, a magnetic method, or any other method not recognizable to human senses [referred to as an “Electromagnetic Record” in Articles 24 and 55]) from the said Individual Concerned, the Administrative Organ shall clearly indicate the Purpose of Use to the Individual Concerned in advance, except in the following cases:
(i) Where the acquisition of Personal Information is urgently required for the protection of the life, body, or property of an individual
(ii) Where clear indication of the Purpose of Use to the Individual Concerned is likely to cause harm to the life, body, property, or other rights or interests of the Individual Concerned or a third party
(iii) Where clear indication of the Purpose of Use to the Individual Concerned is likely to cause impediments to the proper execution of the affairs or business of state organs, Incorporated Administrative Agencies, etc. (which means incorporated administrative agencies prescribed in Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Act on the Protection of Personal Information Held by Incorporated Administrative Agencies, etc. [Act No. 59 of 2003; hereinafter referred to as the “IAA Personal Information Protection Act” ]; the same shall apply hereinafter), local public entities, or Local Incorporated Administrative Agencies (which means local incorporated administrative agencies prescribed in Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Local Incorporated Administrative Agencies Act [Act No. 118 of 2003]; the same shall apply hereinafter)
(iv) Where the Purpose of Use is found to be clear in light of the circumstances of the acquisition”

I am not a lawyer (disclaimer), but it would seem to me that when Mr. Moore asked “why?”, he made a lawful request under article 4, while the answer that if he wouldn’t, he would be deported, doesn’t appear to me to be in the spirit of this article. Not to mention that the Immigration Bureau, the responsible party in this scheme, states in their FAQ: “we will properly store and protect your data, according to the basic law for the protection of personal data, the Act for the Protection of Personal Information Retained by Administrative Institutions.” (, note by the way the spelling differences in the title…). Right……

Privacy laws generally have a common ancestor and a common purpose. In 1980, a workgroup within the OECD (,2987,en_2649_201185_1_1_1_1_1,00.html) published the “OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data” (,3343,en_2649_34255_1815186_1_1_1_1,00.html), with eight key principles that form the basis of privacy laws worldwide. Contrary to both the statements: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” and “Big Brother is watching you”, these guidelines (roughly said) recognize the general legitimacy of using personal information, provided that such use is safe, sane and sensible.

Safe, sane and sensible… One is left to wonder about this when it comes to fingerprinting schemes worldwide… From what I understand, the key reason for implementing such schemes is the assumption that fingerprints provide a ‘silver bullet’ solution to identifying people, being unique, impossible to forge, and impossible to misidentify. However, by now it’s safe to say that fingerprinting schemes are not the ‘silver bullet’ hoped for, and that they are creating problems which might easily lead to grossly unfair treatment to individuals being unfortunate enough to become victims of such a problem.

Leaving all kinds of other problems aside, I would like to react to the assumption that fingerprints are impossible to forge first. One can find plenty of proof that fingerprints can be copied. The University of Yokohama ( has published it’s groundbreaking article on this now almost 8 years ago, the Chaos Computer Club in Germany (, and the Mythbusters ( have spectacularly shown that it is possible. But the proof of the pudding is that in fact at least one person has been caught in Japan after defeating the J-VIS system (among others: Some food for thought, the woman bought her fingerprints, so not only is it possible, but there are people out there making money on it. More food for thought in a few questions: Were the original prints from which the copies were made stolen? Were the copies registered as unreliable? And will the rightful owner get into trouble because someone else stole her/his fingerprints and did something unlawful? The answer is a triplicate: “We don’t know”. What we do know is that someone who is the victim of such identity theft is in for some serious trouble in those places where the assumption is still that it can’t be done…

The assumption that it’s impossible to misidentify people based on fingerprints is also incorrect. In this respect it may be the most interesting to follow the trail of the J-VIS devices.

On at least one of the airports, the devices used are from the company NEC. NEC is not very secretive about the tests proving the quality of it’s devices, they post links to the test results on their own website, with the headline NIST(= (US) National Institute for Standards and Technology)-Proven Accuracy ( But what is this accuracy?

Only the FpVTE2003 appears to test the kind of verification that is in use for J-VIS. On this, NEC says: “The FpVTE2003 was an international benchmark test of fingerprint matching, identification, and verification systems, conducted in the United States in 2003 under the control of one of the US’s most respected government authorities, the NIST.” So what does this test say? The Summary of Results ( says:

“The most accurate fingerprint system tested (NEC MST) using operational quality single fingerprints:
• 99.4% true accept rate @ 0.01% false accept rate
• 99.9% true accept rate @ 1.0% false accept rate”

It is good here to explain the technical language. In the context of US-VISIT or J-VIS, fingerprints are checked against a list of unwelcome people, while NIST uses the standard terms for checking against a list of authorized (= welcome) people. This creates confusing language, but it can be explained fairly easily. A True Accept in the spirit of the US-VISIT or J-VIS system means that an unwelcome person (say, Mr. X) shows up and is recognised because of a fingerprint match. A False Accept means that a welcome person (say, Mr. Michael Moore) shows up, but is incorrectly recognized as Mr. X because of a false fingerprint match.

At this point, I would like to entertain Mr. Moore with a little side step, to which I get back later. What would a False Accept Rate of 0.01% mean? That’s infinitely small, right? Well, the J-VIS system went into operation on November 20th, 2007. I don’t have day-by-day figures on the number of visitors, but I can tell that in the year from December 1st, 2007 to November 30th, 2008, 8,513,909 visitors were registered in Japan ( I would therefore expect 851 false alarms based on a False Accept Rate of 0.01%. It is not infinitely small.

So the question comes up: “Is fingerprint verification a form of Russian Roulette?” The answer is: “Not necessarily”. No system is perfect against theft or mistakes. But if the people running the system are well-trained and thorough, it is likely that they can spot and correct the problem before serious damage is done to the victim of either problem above. But for that to work and the people subjected to such a system to be safe, one principle is vital: Every person in the organization must have the capabilities of being able to take criticism, and also a healthy dose of self-criticism. That is never easy, and the more damage already done, the more difficult it becomes.

…And right at that point is where the comparison the officials from Japan’s Immigration Bureau made to Mr. Moore ends. One of the officials apparently told him: “But you do this in the United States, when we visit the United States.” True, they do undeniably verify fingerprints. They also undeniably verify and correct false alarms. In the words of Mr. Neil Latta, US-VISIT IDENT Program Manager at the time of writing of the following document ( “1:many Accuracy For a 2-finger Search Against a 6M Subject Database is 95% With a False Hit Rate of 0.08% (Exceeding US-Visit Requirements)”. And: “0.4% FAR Results in (0.4% x 100K Trxs/Day) = 400 Examiner Verifications”. Again in less technical terms, they verify false alarms, they know how many false alarms there are, and so on. Granted, given the reputation of ‘outstanding customer friendliness’ that Homeland Security has carved out for themselves, this is still likely to be a rather unpleasant experience, and there is almost certainly room for considerable improvement. But at the end of the day, here is the written proof that the Department of Homeland Security is capable of admitting mistakes.

Is this also the case on the Japanese borders? The answer is again: “We don’t know”. But in itself, this is an answer too. Just some food for thought, there’s nothing in the quoted FAQ, and the incident Mr. Moore had is not exactly the first one where the organization reacts with hostility to something that sounds remotely like criticism. It’s not exactly reassuring to have to depend for your own safety on the ability of an organisation to take (self-) criticism, while on less important details the same organisation shows a distinctive lack of that same ability.

And one detail gives more food for thought that is not very reassuring. Remember the 851 false alarms I would expect if there was a false accept rate of 0.01%? On November 29th, 2008, the Japanese Ministry of Justice (of which the Immigration Bureau is a part) made a press release stating that they had deported a total of 846 people based on fingerprint matches in the first year of operation ( That is only five off that number… Or differently put, 846 people is 0.00994% of 8,513,909 visitors. The difference with a false accept rate of 0.01% is only 0.00006%… Is this proof that there is a Russian Roulette situation? Certainly not. From the same sources we also have the numbers for South Koreans (297 people deported, total visitors – from both Koreas, admittedly leaving a margin for doubt: 2,483,288, percentage = 0.01196%), Chinese (90 people deported, total visitors 1,000,228, percentage = 0.008998), and Filipino’s (155 people deported, total visitors 82,473, percentage = 0.18%, way off the mark). But some food for thought: Out of four groups of visitors, only the smallest group is way off the mark. The other ones are groups of more than one million visitors. And the larger the group of visitors, the closer we get to the mark of 0.01%. That is a curious set of coincidences…

And yet more food for thought. With almost every other identifier and keys, from physical keys to credit cards to drivers’ licenses to passports, the reason we have them is that we can replace them when the legitimate user gets into trouble because something goes wrong. We would find it unacceptable to hear: “Sorry, we found out your car key / credit card / passport has been copied / isn’t accepted as well as it should be / doesn’t fit / …, but you can’t replace it, so you just have to live with the problem.” Why then do we accept that with fingerprints…?

I’m sorry for this long message. I hope it has been worthwhile reading though.

Kind Regards, GS”


And of course the kind regards are for you as well.


Sunday Tangent: Headachingly bad Japan travelogue by Daily Beast’s “new travel columnist” Jolie Hunt. Go to town on it.


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Hi Blog. Sunday Tangent time: I saw one of the worst Star Trek (TOS) shows ever (one that makes you say, “Give me my 50 minutes back!”, and no, it wasn’t “Spock’s Brain” — it was “Catspaw”; enough said).   In the same genre of howlingly bad copy and information, let me send along this little ditty of Japan travelogue by a Ms Jolie Hunt, whose qualifications are, quote:

“Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50 percent of the year. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. Prior to that, she served as global director of corporate and business affairs for IBM Corporation She was the director of PR for the Financial Times. She lives between New York and London.”

Her “Catspaw Article” follows. Go to town on it. And better yet, follow the link back to The Daily Beast and see how fellow commenters go to town on it as well.

Why don’t we Japan-residents ever get any of these sweet gigs? At least they wouldn’t have to pay us intercontinental airfare.  And we’d know what we’re talking about. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Gal With a Suitcase

by Jolie Hunt

The Daily Beast, undated, spotted by AG November 30, 2009

Jolie Hunt
Our new travel columnist visits Tokyo, a place at once colorfully chaotic and contemplatively serene—and more accessible to Westerners than ever before.

Welcome to Tokyo, home of Harajuku, supersonic toilets, and food that can make even the sturdiest stomach reconsider career options. Every traveler wants to visit Tokyo, but making the schlep (and it is a schlep, from virtually anywhere) is an entirely different matter. But believe me, it’s worth it.

I hadn’t been to Tokyo in three years and what struck me on a recent three-day visit was how the city seems vaster, yet more accessible for Westerners, than it did when I was last here. Now nearly everyone, from your cabbie to your masseur, can manage a few words in English. And speaking of cabbies, Tokyo’s are glorious. All wear white gloves, have doily-adorned seats, and accept American Express. And no more renting one of those weird cellphones when you visit; 3G now works here. All these comforts and conveniences have a way of making Japan feel less foreign—almost, I dare say, like any other major city.

This can be a chaotic, rebellious place, where fashionistas in Hello Kitty haute couture strut the streets of Shibuya, and young punks with 10-inch Mohawks screech from makeshift stages in grimy underground clubs.

Thankfully, what remains unchanged are the enchanting Japanese. Many of the clichés remain true: flawless etiquette in every encounter (even if I was occasionally called “mister”), exquisitely prepared food, perfect-in-every-way service, and masterful in the art of the business deal. I like that life here retains a tinge of formality, too. Take, for example, press releases, hand-delivered to all journalists in the Nikkei by a bike-messenger every day—no blast email, no fax.

But just when you think you’ve got Japan figured out, it surprises you. This can be a chaotic, rebellious place, where fashionistas in Hello Kitty haute couture strut the streets of Shibuya, and young punks with 10-inch Mohawks screech from makeshift stages in grimy underground clubs.

Before we get to the tips, one little bento box of warning: Tokyo isexpensive. If Sofia Coppola were making her movie in 2009, I’d propose the title Cost in Translation. The only place I’ve been that’s more outrageously pricey is Moscow, and you typically get caviar as part of that experience. If you’re on a budget, don’t come—you haven’t a chance in the world. Instead, arm yourself with the phrase takai neh (“How much?!”) and be prepared to shell out. GWS learned this lesson the hard way when trying to buy a basic hair band that would cost no more than $12 anywhere else, but here was quoted at $79. Suffice to say, I did not leave Japan with a new head accessory.


Park Hyatt remains a fave. It boasts jaw-dropping views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day, and the infamous New York Grill on the 52nd floor, which I tend to give a miss due to the oppressively loud jazz music. There’s a delicious breakfast at Girandole on the 41st floor, and big, heavenly beds in every one of the 178 rooms, including 23 suites. Skip the gauche, ‘70s-styled spa called “Club on the Park,” but do everything else. Service is mwah—superb concierge. Its location in the Shibuya area is a bit of a haul, but nowhere is perfect. Starting at 35,700 yen (about $400.)

3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Few do it better than The Peninsula, a three-minute walk from uber-posh Ginza, across from the Imperial Palace. The neighborhood is gorgeous, and the 24th floor’s restaurant, Peter, is a destination in and of itself. Also a big fat winner is their spa, Espa. 314 rooms and 47 suites, from 60,000 yen (around $685. Ouch.)

1-8-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Claska is, strangely, one of the only designer-boutique options in the city. 12 rooms (nine Western, three traditional tatami style) and a hopping lobby scene, but you must book early. It’s out of the way, but it’s reasonable: rooms from 12,600 yen, or approx $120 for a single.

1-3-18 Chuo-Cho, Meguro-ku, Tokyo


Robataya. You just have to. This Roppongi institution is the ultimate in kitsch dining experiences. Western faces line the small, den-like robatayaki restaurant, where two large Japanese men kneeling over a grill will cook up whatever fresh food you’re in the mood for. It’s utterly delicious. I recommend the Kobe beef skewers, fresh shrimp, and any type of veg. Be prepared for a loud welcome and a wacky host called Suzuki. It’s expensive, naturally, but it’s the best meal I’ve had in Tokyo.

1F, 7-8-4, Roppongi, Minatuo-ku, Tokyo

Make your reservation now at Aronia De Takazawa. This stunning restaurant is impossibly delicious and is fully booked far in advance. With only 10 seats, it has some of the most palate-pleasing fare Tokyo has to offer. Set menu, so your only job is getting in.

2/F Sanyo Building, 3-5-2 Arasaka, Minato-Ku, Tokyo

Their mantra is simplicity and their food lives up to it. Promising an “alluringly comfortable time,” Higashi-Yama’s 10-course tasting menu is a veritable sashimi-gasm. No English menu, so just nod and smile. Closed Sundays.

1-21-23 Higashiyama, Meguro-Ku


Set your alarm for a visit to Tokyo’s infamous Tsukiji Market. It’s worth rising in darkness to spend an hour or two slinking amongst the frenetic commercial activity of this working fish market. The tuna auction takes place from 5 to 6:15 a.m. and must be seen to be believed. Be mindful of mad fishermen on moving vehicles; they do not stop for tourists. And dress accordingly—this place is covered in slime. Wear with old sneakers or boots and be sure your trousers don’t drag. I couldn’t bring myself to eat sushi this early, but if you’re game this is the freshest catch on earth. Closed Wednesdays and Sundays.

5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045

Meiji Shrine and Harajuku. A trip to the Harajuku area is daunting, but if Gwen Stefani can do it, so can you. Elaborately costumed Japanese teenagers converge here every weekend in a bizarre Japanese youth-culture ritual that has no parallel anyplace else on earth. Tucked away on the opposite side of the Harajuku train station is one of the city’s hidden gems, the Meiji Shrine. Set in a serene park oasis in the middle of Tokyo, a visit here gives visitors a real sense of history and traditional Japanese culture. On a weekend you may witness a wedding, or families paying their respects at the temple, or—my favorite—beautifully attired children in kimonos and slippers.

Once you’ve found Zen, venture into the chaotic experience of Takeshita Street. A guidebook I read aptly called it “a conveyer belt of black hair.” If you’re brave enough to shove your way through the crepes-eating teenagers (yes, crepes) you’ll be rewarded with sensory overload in its purest form. Push through to the end and you’ll come out to Omotesando Hills, where top-brand shops abound. If seeking a late lunch, one of the few options past 2 p.m. is Sin.


Not leaving yourself enough time to get to and from the airport. It’s two hours from Narita International into central Tokyo. Cabs cost $300, or there’s the limo bus that stops at the big hotels.

Beware of eating at places without prior recommendation. Oftentimes you’ll be given a set menu, which offers little choice for diversion. GWS spent many nights staring in horror at plates of indistinguishable fried creations, or worse, raw ones. (Is that uncooked chicken?) Your Japanese hosts may be confused by your reticence. My advice? Be gracious, and carry a granola bar.


Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50 percent of the year. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. Prior to that, she served as global director of corporate and business affairs for IBM Corporation She was the director of PR for the Financial Times. She lives between New York and London.

Now read the comments up at the site:


Anti-NJ suffrage protests in Shibuya Nov 28 2009. The invective in flyers and banners: “Japan is in danger!”


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Hi Blog.  One of the more interesting proposals from the new DPJ-run Administration is suffrage for Special Permanent Residents.  The Cabinet is ready to send a bill to the Diet so that Permanent Residents (in American terms, essentially “Green Card holders”) obtain the right to vote in local elections.

Regardless of whether you support or disapprove ( is in support, given how difficult it can be to get PR in Japan, not to mention how arbitrary the naturalization procedures are), what is interesting is the invective in the debate by people who oppose it.  Numerous and very visible demonstrations by right-wing fringe elements (who also seem to get all xenophobic at, say, Hallowe’en being celebrated in Japan) are resorting to daft arguments that defy calm and common sense.  Here are some photos and flyers, received from a witness of one demonstration in Shibuya November 28, 2009, courtesy of ER.  Drink in the alarmism and panic by people who are probably going to lose the debate.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

PHOTOS FROM THE PROTESTS (click to expand in browser)


Lower flyer with PM Hatoyama proclaims with menace that the DPJ is trying to give foreigners the right to vote.  Chinese and Korean flags background text that is illegible.  Upper flyer proclaims opposition to the suffrage measure, declaring it unconstitutional, and throwing in a red herring that American league baseball players Ichiro and Matsui wouldn’t get suffrage in the US.  (Okay.  But Ichiro and Matsui aren’t AFAIK Permanent Residents there, nor at this time clearly immigrants; and would these opponents of suffrage for foreigners here be in opposition if fellow members of Team Japan COULD as foreigners vote in the US?  Somehow I doubt it.)


The sound trucks and picketers in Shibuya depict “JAPAN IS IN DANGER” (nihon ga abunai), and “BLOCK THE DISSOLUTION (kaitai) OF JAPAN”.  If I read correctly the yellow sign on the sound truck on the left, they are even claiming that Okinawa will even be snatched away if suffrage goes through!  Not sure how that follows, but anyhoo…


This shirt lumps together a completely hitherto unestablished linkage between NJ suffrage and the Protection of Human Rights Bill (the jinken yougo houan, which is another item these alarmists get all dry-throated about).  (And for those kanji nerds, the upper kanji are read soumou kukki, which I have looked up and pieced together a translation for; but never mind — it’s pretty esoteric.)


And finally, some more basic “We won’t give the vote to foreigners.”  “Now this is a threat to Japan”, etc.

Freedom of speech allows more interesting arguments to be made in their flyers (click on image to expand in your browser), some of which I daresay would qualify as hate speech under UN Treaty:


This one makes the case that granting NJ suffrage is bad because:

1) It gives voting rights to people that don’t want to naturalize (i.e. don’t want to become Japanese), yet want to participate in the politics of this easy-to-live-in country Japan. (Oh, but you see, it’s so easy to naturalize, after all.  Not.)

2) They have voting rights already in their home country of nationality (yet want to participate… repeated argument)

3) They don’t want to give up their special rights as Zainichi (such as tax breaks (??)) [even though not all PR are Zainichi, i.e. descendants of former colonial citizens of empire, generational foreigners born in Japan yet not citizens, usually Korean or Chinese “Special Permanent Residents”] (yet want to… repeated argument)

4) There are illegal overstayers and illegal entrants amongst these Permanent Residents [wait, that’s contradictory; that’s not how the visa system works], therefore criminals (yet want to… you get the idea).

5) There are some PRs who hold grudges against Japanese and Japan… [oh?]

6) They will vote for Diet candidates who will allow in huge amounts of immigrants from their mother countries. [I bet these people would make the same argument to take away voting rights from anyone they perceive would vote against their interests.  They don’t believe in plurality and majority rule, I guess, even when they are in the majority.]

And more.  The final question, with a poke at the DPJ, “We ask you, as Japanese citizens, ARE YOU [GODDAMN] SERIOUS?” [emphasis added to accommodate for expanded font size and boldface]

Here’s another:


This one’s all about protecting Japan from DPJ Dietmembers who are “selling the country off”, with little thunderbolts stabbing photos and points (particularly against Dietmember Madoka Yoriko, the Dietmember apparently submitting the suffrage proposal).  Labelled as discriminatory against Japanese (!!), we’ve now rolled into this protest the gaikokujin jinken kihon hou (Basic Law for Human Rights for NJ), which has been on the drawing board for over a decade now) but now suddenly in the crosshairs (naturally; it just might come to fruition).  Arguments against it include how it will empower Chinese and North Koreans (the perpetual boogeymen in these debates — it even asserts that the Chinese Embassy is controlling things), and how after only five years they could get the power to vote!  (Methinks they don’t actually know how difficult it is to get PR.)  And more.  Love how the invective changes font sizes for individual kanji to project even more alarmism.


Here’s another target for Zeus’s lightning bolts.  Much the same arguments as above (except now accusing the media in being complicit in stifling the debate; that’s rich), except the focus is on the next “sell-out”, Dietmember Yamaoka Kenji and his treasonous gang promoting NJ suffrage and the dissolution of Japan, by merely giving a few hundred thousand NJ (far less than 1% of the entire Japanese population, and scattered around Japan) the right to vote.  Maa, you get the idea.  Moving on:


Next on the laundry list of grievances against NJ is the claim that the Tsushima Islands (not the Takeshima/Tokdo disputed rocks, but the much larger islands in the channel between South Korea and Kyushu) will be invaded by Korea!  Being wheeled out for speeches is pet former LDP xenophobe Hiranuma Takeo (from Okayama; I watched him get reelected in August with a comfortable margin — see his website and enjoy his depiction in English lamenting about how kids nowadays are ignorant of the date his family mansion was burned down) and pet former Japanese military revisionist Tamogami Toshio (who is clearly more in his element with extreme rightists after being kicked out of the JSDF last year).  Oh, but these events bring out the self-important, don’t they.  Particularly those who predict that any concessions towards foreigners means that Japan gets carved up.


And here’s a petition saying that Yonaguni Island, just off Taiwan, needs a JSDF military base to protect against Chinese invasion of Okinawa.  Just imagine what cases these nutcases would come up with if Japan actually had any international land borders.


And here we have the webs the DPJ weaves (as opposed to the webs that the perpetually incumbent LDP wove during its 50 plus years in power):  Supporters include leftist extremists and labor unions, socialists, revolutionary laborers, the Chuukakuha, Nikkyousou, the Red Army, North Korean group Chousen Souren, South Korean Mindan, the Buraku Liberation League, the Yakuza, the media (controlled by the DPJ regarding what you see and hear; again, that’s rich), and the kitchen sink.  Great fun.



In the same vein of how the DPJ has totalitarian powers, this last flyer declares that PM Hatoyama believes the Japanese Archipelago is not the property of the Japanese.  And the DPJ’s grand plans include Okinawa getting 30 million Chinese (and, oh, giving Okinawa to China), and the abovementioned Human Rights Bill (which will allegedly enable searches without warrants, and has no Nationality Clause within to ensure that people who man the enforcement mechanisms are kept secure from foreigners).  And of course that NJ suffrage thingie.  But of course you’re not hearing about all this because the DPJ controls the media.  Naturally.


Scotchneat on Fuji TV show laying blind biological claims to intellectual Asian kids abroad


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Hi Blog.  Guest writing an essay for is Scotchneat, regarding how some Japanese media editorial policies bring in tribal tendencies no matter how tenuous the link to the tribe.  Read and consider.  Arudou Debito in Shizuoka
Re: Sho Timothy Yano
By Scotchneat

Yano siblings show what’s right with America and what’s wrong with Japan (Comment on Echika no Kagami Kokoro ni Kiku TV aired on Nov. 1, 2009 21:30-22:24エチカの鏡 ココロにキクTV 2009/11/ 1(日) 21:30~22:24)

There was a show on Sho Timothy Yano and his sister Sayuri on November 1. on Fuji TV. The two are child prodigies (; . The story of children of a multi-cultural family being free to achieve their goals in a supportive environment shows the positive side of America.  However, the spin that show put on the story is very indicative about Japan.

The focus of the story was a mother pushing her children to succeed with much detail of the early childhood education and dietary regime of the two children. The show also put great emphasis on the prejudice that the two were subject to in America based on their Asian heritage, although it seems that the “prejudice” amounted to teasing by their fellow students, and it was unclear whether that was due to Asian heritage or the fact of the great age difference with their peers. The show claimed that Japanese and Koreans often face prejudice in the US, although no real examples were given other than a dramatization showing poor Sho being picked on by some big white bullies.

It is always strange that Japanese will point out the prejudice that exists in America while completely ignoring or being ignorant of the situation in their own country. Here we have two children with a Japanese father and Korean mother. One can only the imagine the prejudice that they would face in Japan. Although any form of prejudice is wrong, it is clear that the Yano siblings are not facing institutionalized prejudice in work and educational opportunities that they would face in Japan. Perhaps this why the show tread so lightly on the subject. One is reminded of the classic, “And you are lynching Negroes” response to the criticisms of the old Soviet Union.

Ironically, it seems that the Japanese, based on my impressions from watching the TV show, would like to claim the Yano siblings as their own. They get to be “Japanese”, despite being born, raised and educated in the US and having a Korean mother (normally any of these factors would raise suspicions of not being properly Japanese) and not speaking Japanese (considered mandatory for citizenship).

Moreover, child prodigies in Japan are not allowed to enter university (aside from a few small experiments), ostensibly because they lack “maturity”. Anyone familiar with Japanese university students will find that quite ironic. However, as often is the case, appeals to logic and common sense are useless in the face of entrenched prejudicial thinking. Basically, allowing two children to attend university (even for purposes of auditing) goes against an engrained dislike of breaking with conformity in Japan.

Perhaps, if the Japanese could get past looking at diet and over ambitious teaching regimes for toddlers, they might see the value of respecting diversity and breaking out of insular thinking.


Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column: “Demography vs. Demagoguery”


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Demography vs. demagoguery: when politics, science collide

The Japan Times Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009

Last June, I attended a symposium sponsored by the German Institute of Japanese Studies. Themed “Imploding Populations: Global and Local Challenges of Demographic Change,” I took in presentations about health care, international and domestic migration, and life in a geriatric society.

Nothing surprising. The United Nations and our government acknowledged back in 2000 that Japan was heading for a demographic nightmare: a decreasing population, more old people than we can take care of, not enough young people to pay taxes, and economic decline.

Shocking, however, was the bad science: The presenting Japanese scientists were deliberately ignoring data fundamental to their field.

One panel was particularly odd. Panelists concluded, of course, that Japan must do something to stop this demographic juggernaut. A deputy director general at Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research even extrapolated that Japanese would be extinct by the year 3000! Yet the prospect of Japan’s decimation was no match for the fear of the foreign element.

During the Q-and-A, I asked: “Sir, only briefly in your presentation do you mention letting foreigners into Japan as a possible solution. However, you depict the process not as ‘immigration’ (imin), but as the ‘active use of the foreign working labor population’ (gaikokujin rodoryoku jinko no katsuyo). Why this rhetoric?”

The speaker hedged a bit, suddenly asserting that Japan is now a crowded island society. To paraphrase, “Immigration is not an option for our country. Inflows must be strictly controlled for fear of overpopulation.”

Afterward, one on one, I reconfirmed his intellectual disconnect. He further cited “a lack of national consensus” on the issue. When I asked if this was not a vicious circle (i.e. avoiding public discussion of the issue means no possible consensus), he gave a noncommittal answer. When I asked if “immigration” had become more of a political term than a scientific one, he begged off replying further.

Seems I opened Pandora’s Box. For the rest of the conference, whenever a Japanese presenter discussed every option for Japan’s future but immigration (they all avoided it), they played dodgeball with questions from other scientists. The ignorance was systematic — only one gave a begrudging acknowledgment that foreigners might be necessary for Japan’s future, although he personally couldn’t imagine it.

As a German expert of demographics told me afterward with consternation, “Demographics is the study of population changes: births, deaths, inflows and outflows. How can the Japanese demographers ignore inflows, even the possibility of them, in their assessments and still think they are doing good science?”

The reason is because this science in Japan has become riddled with politics. We know Japan’s population will continue to drop. Yet extinction still seems preferable to letting people in to stay.

Thus “immigration,” like “racial discrimination” (JBC, June 2), has become another taboo topic. One must not mention it by name, especially if you represent a government-funded think tank.

Then, when you have whole branches of government studiously ignoring the issue (even though last June the Health Ministry proposed training for companies to hire more foreigners, the former Aso Cabinet wouldn’t consider immigration as one of its top five priority plans), we can but say that the ostrich is in full burrow mode.

This is why I’m having trouble seeing any public policy — from the Nikkei workers being bribed to go home after two decades of contributions, to the proposed imports of Indonesian and Philippine nurses — as anything more than yet another “active use of the foreign working labor population.” Or, more honestly put, programs exploiting revolving-door employment regimes.

How seriously can we continue to tempt foreigners with the promise of a life in Japan in exchange for the best years of their labor productivity, only to revoke their livelihoods and pension contributions at the first opportunity, blaming globalization’s vicissitudes? How seriously can we make continued employment contingent upon a qualification hurdle (such as a tough nursing exam) that would challenge even native speakers?

This will only hurt us as a society in future. Again, we are on the cusp of a future in a society that can’t pay or take care of itself. It’s already happening in Japan’s depopulated countryside. Demographic science, if practiced properly, leads inevitably to that conclusion.

So here’s my reality check: Either way, people will come to Japan — even if it means they find an enfeebled or empty island to live in. With a new political administration in government, we might as well consider bringing in people now while we have more energy and choices.

Time out. Just like that guy at the think tank, time for me to be hit with a Debito-style question: “Who decides what Japan wants?”

Answer: We residents do, of course. But the people who represent or make decisions for us are not necessarily receptive enough (or all that developed as human beings) to understand one simple thing: People who appear to be different are not a threat. We cannot expect leaders and bureaucrats to guide us to a world they cannot envision.

So I will keep asking the Debito Questions, and argue that people like us are a viable alternative to Japan’s slow but inexorable decline. For Japan’s sake, we must save us from ourselves. I’ll suggest how next month.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month.

Asahi Shinbun EDITORIAL: Child abduction in Japan English Translation


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Hi Blog. Official English translation of the Asahi Editorial on the Child Abduction issue, with Japanese in previous entry today.  There are some tweaks within, to eliminate “culture” as a factor in some places, while other places add it (as in, the lack of a “culture” of joint custody?  Isn’t that a legal issue?).  And how about the literal translation of Japan signing the Hague Convention now could be “as ineffective as grafting a shoot onto a different kind of tree” (I’m glad the original Japanese didn’t use an expression involving breeding dogs or something).  Again, the need to “protect our own from NJ” is still too strong; the argument should be how everyone in Japan benefits regardless of nationality if you safeguard rights of custody and access a la international treaty.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


EDITORIAL: Child abduction in Japan

The Asahi Shinbun October 21, 2009, Courtesy of Matt D

When the United States and European nations say that more than 100 children have been “abducted” to Japan, they are not lying.

Troubles involving children of international divorces being taken from their countries of residence by their Japanese parents and brought back “illegally” to Japan are creating an international stir.

More than 100 such cases have been filed in the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries so far. Some people even accuse Japan of “encouraging child abduction.”

Last month, a U.S. citizen was arrested in Japan for attempting to snatch back his two children from his Japanese ex-wife who had returned to Japan with them in August.

The trouble occurred because of differences in the rules for dealing with children of international divorces in Japan and the United States. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to which 81 nations are signatories, states that, in principle, when a child has been taken from his or her country of residence, the child must be returned to that country. The convention requires the governments of signatory nations to comply.

Among the Group of Eight countries, Japan and Russia are the only non-signatories to the convention. Disputes occur frequently between citizens of signatory and non-signatory nations.

Japan is now coming under increased pressure from abroad to join the convention. John Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan, last Friday joined his European counterparts in urging Justice Minister Keiko Chiba to act.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told a news conference, “We are approaching the matter with an open mind, but we must also take public opinion into account.”

How should disputes related to child custody be resolved between divorced couples whose cultures differ and who are subject to different laws? The argument that everyone should abide by the rules of the Hague Convention carries conviction.

At present, divorced Japanese parents whose children have been taken abroad by their non-Japanese ex-spouses have no legal recourse. The ranks of Japanese citizens marrying non-Japanese are swelling steadily, and the number tops 40,000 a year. It is probably not realistic for Japan to continue avoiding the Hague Convention.

On the other hand, there are other issues that need working out.

The great majority of parental child abduction cases filed in North America and Europe today involve ex-wives who are Japanese. And a number of these women say they have returned to Japan with their children to escape physical abuse by their ex-husbands. How can such women and their children be saved from their predicament abroad? This question cannot be ignored.

There are cultural and legal differences between Japan and the West. In the United States, visitation rights of divorced parents are clearly defined, but they are not spelled out under the Japanese Civil Code. Joint custody is not a recognized custom in Japan, and the overwhelming tendency here is to award custody to the mother.

Furthermore, courts of law are rarely involved in forcing one parent to hand the child over to the other. If Japan were to sign the Hague Convention now, the result could prove as ineffective as grafting a shoot onto a different kind of tree.

We must never lose sight of one fundamental principle–that each child’s welfare must trump everything. How do we respect the right of children to have a relationship with both parents after they split? This is an issue that has not been properly addressed, but it pertains to all divorces, not only international break-ups.

The time has come for Japanese society to seriously debate the welfare of children of divorced parents, in Japan and overseas.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20 (IHT/Asahi: October 21,2009)



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Hi Blog.  The Asahi has this editorial from two days ago, in which it talks about the international attention being brought upon Japan for the child abductions issue.  It gives a surprisingly balanced view (official English translation here).  Although it threatens twice to devolve into issues of “differing customs and laws”, it does say that the Hague Convention should be signed, joint custody would still be an issue even if it was signed, and that abducted children should be returned.  But then it falls into parroting the claim (promoted by crank lawyers like Onuki Kensuke without any statistical evidence) that “not a small number” (sukunakunai) of Japanese wives abducting their children are victims of NJ domestic violence.  It also merely alludes to the fact that child abductions happen in Japan regardless of nationality, and that conditions under the Hague would help Japanese as well.  Again, there’s just a little too much “Japanese as victim” mentality that somehow always manages to sneak back into any domestic-press arguments.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo
















Colin Jones in Japan Times: How J media is portraying J divorcees and child abductors as victims, NJ as perps


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Hi Blog.  Lawyer Colin Jones has hit us with a one-two punch this week in the Japan Times — first by explaining what Christopher Savoie’s arrest and recent release for “kidnapping” his own kids has brought to light, and now about how the domestic media is reacting to it.  Predictably, portraying  Japanese as perpetual victim, NJ as perp and victimizer.  I’ve mentioned the biased NHK report on the subject before (so does Colin below in his article). Now, here’s a deeper roundup and some crystal-balling about how this might affect NJ particularly adversely, as wagons circle and the GOJ protects its own. Excerpt follows. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009
Foreign parents face travel curbs?

…While Japan signing the Hague Convention is certainly a desirable goal, it is probably convenient for everyone on the Japanese government side of the issue for foreigners to be the bad guys. That way they appear to be dealing with a “new” problem, rather than one that they have already ignored for far too long. From there, the easiest way to prevent further abductions is to require foreign residents seeking to exit Japan with their children to show proof that the other parent consents to the travel. This requirement, I believe, will be the most immediate tangible result of Japan signing the Hague Convention (if in fact it ever does).

If such a requirement is imposed, will it apply to Japanese people? Probably not: Japanese citizens have a constitutional right to leave their country. And foreigners? They apparently lack this right — the re-entry permit foreigner residents are required to have is proof that they are not equally free to come and go as they please!

Full article at

Letter to San Francisco Human Rights Commission re Japan Times letter to the editor from exclusionary landlord


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Hi Blog.  Busy day today, so let me just throw up this letter I emailed to San Francisco re a Letter to the Editor of the Japan Times.  The author of it openly claims to engage in discriminatory practices in the US.  If he is a real person, at a real company, then let’s hope San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission investigates and writes back.  Worth a try.  Feel free to email the HRC yourself, email address included.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo, on the road this weekend (may be slow in updating comments and blog)


Human Rights Commission
25 Van Ness Avenue, Room 800
San Francisco, CA 94102-6033
Phone: 415-252-2500
TTY/TDD: 800-735-2922
Fax: 415-431-5764

From: ARUDOU Debito
Columnist, The Japan Times newspaper (Tokyo)
[address deleted],

October 8, 2009

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a columnist in the Japan Times (see archive of my columns at, and would like to report a public statement made by a person apparently writing from your jurisdiction publicly admitting to a discriminatory act.

A Mr Andrew J Betancourt, of “Redwood Properties Real Estate” of San Francisco has said, in a letter to the Japan Times dated October 6, 2009, the following:

“As a landlord in San Francisco with over 22 units, I have rejected foreigners just because they were foreigners.”

That letter in the Japan Times here (first letter in the list):

I am sure you will agree that this is a discriminatory practice, and hope you see it within your mandate to investigate and, if necessary, take action against this within the letter of the law.

Thank you very much for your time and for reading this. If possible, please let me know what actions, if any, you take.

Sincerely yours, Arudou Debito, Hokkaido, Japan

Source on Mr Betancourt’s company “Redwood Properties Real Estate, San Francisco“:


Terrie’s Take offers the best piece yet on the Savoie Child Abduction Case


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Hi Blog.  Just received this.  It’s good enough to quote in full.  It’s the best, most thorough, most balanced opinion yet on the case, in my view.  Let’s see if I can do better tomorrow in my Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, October 4, 2009 Issue No. 536


On September 28th this last week, news starting emerging on CNN and several other media about an American dad who was arrested in Fukuoka for trying to abduct his kids back, after his Japanese ex-wife had first abducted them from him in the USA. The Dad, 38-year old Chris Savoie, is now in jail in Fukuoka for some indeterminate period, while the police try to extract a confession from him.

Well… at least we think this is what is going on, because as many readers will know, the police can keep a suspect in detention for months for questioning, with very limited access to a lawyer, until they think the case is ready to send to the courts. This process is partly the reason why Japan has a successful conviction rate (versus a relatively low prosecution rate) in the 99%+ range.

Chris Savoie is not a wet-behind-the-ears foreigner who knows nothing about Japan and its customs. Indeed, he has led a highly successful business career here, and amongst other things built a pharmaceutical business called GNI in Fukuoka that went on to do an IPO on the Mothers market in September 2007. He is a strong Japanese speaker, has a PhD, and according to press reports naturalized as a Japanese national several years ago. So his being in jail is both a surprise and then again it isn’t.

No one other than Savoie himself knows what was going through his mind when he had a friend drive a car along side his ex-wife and two children, aged 6 and 8, while they were walking to school. However, according to reports he jumped out of the vehicle, bundled the kids into the car and raced to the U.S. Consul’s compound in Fukuoka. This was a big mistake, because at the compound he was not allowed entry by the guards, and since his ex-wife had already alerted the police, they soon arrived on the scene and nabbed both him and the kids.

While we don’t know what Savoie was thinking, we do know the facts surrounding his decision to try to get his kids back:

1. His wife is on record in a U.S. divorce court as stating that she would not abduct the kids, despite Savoie’s fears that this might happen.

2. She did abduct the kids and she clearly didn’t expect to return them to the U.S. Indeed, she was taking them to school, meaning that they weren’t just on holiday.

3. As readers will know from our previous commentary on this subject (, there are NO recorded cases of U.S.-Japanese kids abducted from the U.S. being returned to the custodial parent in the U.S. by court action, and only 3 that were mutually resolved between the parties. This among 102 open cases of abduction known to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and possibly several thousand unreported cases which have probably happened over the last ten years.

4. Previous cases we have heard of indicate that it is not a crime for a spouse to take the kids into hiding in Japan. The idea being that the abductor waits until the kids acclimate to them, before resurfacing. If the kids have been with that abducting spouse for more than a year, then typically judges will award that spouse custody on the basis that the kids should have a “stable home life” and better to have them not experience another major change. Until now that’s been the pattern of rulings, anyway.

5. While joint custody may be legally allowed in Japan, there has been no tradition nor legal enforcement of joint custody arrangements. So if a spouse, almost always the Japanese spouse, has possession of the kids and doesn’t want the other parent to see them, then the left-behind spouse can’t.

Given that Savoie has probably been aware of the legal situation, it is not so surprising that he attempted to get his kids back by taking preemptive action. He will have realized that the Family courts in Japan would pay no heed to his U.S. custodial rights (he has sole custody) and that Japan is well known globally as a destination for child abductors, not all of whom are Japanese. If he wanted to see his kids again, kidnapping them back again was about all he really could do. Otherwise he would have joined the ranks of hundreds of other left-behind parents who desperately miss their kids and can’t do anything about it. They are powerless in the face of a 19th century judicial values system.

But what is surprising is that he chose to get his kids back in a way that exposed him to many untested theories. One of these theories has been that it is OK to abduct your kids back. Indeed the police often do turn a blind eye to home disputes and will allow “mini-abductions” to happen. There was a case some years ago where Chinese American Samuel Lui tried, like Savoie, to abduct his child back on the streets of Osaka. Like Savoie, he also had sole custody rights awarded in the USA. Lui failed in his attempt, subsequently turning himself in to the Osaka police, who after questioning him for a day, rapped his knuckles and effectively said, “Don’t do it again.”

But in trying to regain possession of your kids, once trespass and violence or threat of violence are used, that is where a person steps over the line. Savoie must have known that the police here can pretty much arrest people whenever they want. If we’d been him, and were committed to such a drastic action, we would have used our local contacts to hide out for a while and figured out how to get the kids out of the country. As a Japanese, if he’d successfully kept off the police radar for more than 6 months, he might have even been able to apply to the courts for sole custody in Japan and have gotten away with it.

In the last couple of days, details surrounding Savoie’s divorce have emerged that paint him in a less than flattering light. In particular he seems to have been engaged in an affair with a person who has since become his new wife, and that this probably occurred around the same time he brought his ex-wife and kids to the USA. Comments of disgust about his possible manipulation of the ex-wife abound on U.S. comment boards of major news sites carrying stories about the case.

HOWEVER, again, we can only speculate about what really happened, and until the facts are made public, we can probably assume that Savoie was acting logically throughout — in that he was trying to get his soon-to-be ex-wife and kids into a jurisdiction (the U.S.) where the law protects BOTH parents rights and upholds the concept of joint custody. Whether his behavior is cruel or is manipulative is beside the point. Savoie would have known that if his divorce was contested in Japan, he would have been 100% guaranteed to have lost his kids, and would have been at the whim of his wife whether or not he would be able to see them ever again as children.

This situation is caused by the Japanese judiciary’s refusal to accept that divorced parents should have equal access to their children. The view of most judges (based on interviews with judges that we have done in the past) is that kids need to be insulated from the hurt between divorcing parents by giving them just one care-giver. But this is a traditional view and has no basis in fact. Child psychologists outside Japan generally agree that kids need the love and attention of both parents, even if they are divorced. Splitting the kids from one parent naturally causes them to side with the other (Parental Alienation Syndrome: PAS), which causes them to have complexes about the missing parent later in life.

PAS also works in reverse, because as the left-behind parent gets alienated, they simply stop paying child support, causing poverty and depression for the (typically) single-mother family. The fact is that if the Dads are not encouraged to feel a connection to their kids, and given that Japanese family law courts have little or no power to enforce child support judgments, then why would ex-Dads feel like paying for offspring who won’t even acknowledge them as a parent? Yes, the law says they should pay, but given the lack of legal enforcement, building a feeling of responsibility by the Dads is the only other way to get the money flowing again.

This situation is wrong and needs fixing.

Since there appears to be little will by the judiciary to change their ways or values, any change in the status quo needs to be a political one — using outside political pressure (“Gaiatsu”). This is a long-term project unfortunately, but it does give us a possible motive why an otherwise intelligent individual such as Savoie may have been driven to try kidnap his kids when such an undertaking would have such a high possibility for failure.

Finally, our take is that what he did is not right, but under the current legal system, it is understandable. We think similar incidents will happen again until things change.


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Otaru Onsens 10th Anniv #6: How the J media whipped up fear of foreign crime from 2000 and linked it with lawsuit


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  In Part Six of this retrospective on the Otaru Onsens Case a decade on, I talk about how the J media misinterpreted the issues revolving around the “JAPANESE ONLY” signs up at Otaru Onsen Yunohana et al., and how they wound up fanning the fires of exclusionism by spreading fear of foreigners (particularly vis-a-vis foreign crime).

As I chart in book “JAPANESE ONLY“, when we first started this case in September 1999, NJ were seen as “misunderstood outsiders”, impaired by “culture” as their monkey on their back.  But following GOJ policy putsches by politicians like then-PM Koizumi and Tokyo Gov Ishihara (who in April 2000 famously called upon the Nerima SDF to prepare for “foreigner roundups” to prevent riots in the case of a natural disaster), NJ became a public threat to Japan’s safety and internal security (even though NJ crime was always less than J crime both as a proportion and of course in terms of absolute numbers).  Then more doors slammed shut and more signs barring NJ from entry went up — some of them direct copies of the signs in Otaru.  Hey, as those onsens indicated, exclusionary signs are not illegal.

Thus, although we made progress in the first six months of the Otaru Onsens Case, getting signs down in two of Otaru’s three exclusionary onsen, we could not compete with the national government and media saturation, and lost all the ground we gained and then some.  The media’s overfocus on NJ crime to this day affects the debate regarding assimilation.

Embedded videos of how the media could not escape linking NJ rights with foreign crime follow.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo.




By Arudou Debito (,

6) UHB SUPER NEWS Beginning of the new year special on THE YEAR 2001 (Locally broadcast January 3, 2002) (15 minutes).  Discourse on the nature of internationalization.  Also brings in the spectre of foreign crime and terrorism, first brought up from April 2000 with the “Ishihara Sangokujin Speech”, and later used to justify further exclusionism towards foreigners.  Part One of Two 

(Part Two features me trying to explain “kokusaika” in terms of immigration and tolerance; love how the commentators then struggle to square the circles:)

7) NHK CLOSE UP GENDAI on FOREIGN CRIME (Nationally broadcast November 7, 2003) (26 minutes).  The fix is in:  Foreigners and the crimes they bring is now publicly portrayable as fearful, with no comparison whatsoever made to stats of crimes by Japanese (except those connected again with foreigners).  A PSA posing as a news special, to warn Japanese about foreigners and their specific methods of crime.

Part One of Three:


Otaru Onsens 10th Anniv #5: How the debate still rages on, article by TransPacific Radio


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  In their own commemorative-edition article, TransPacific Radio last night came out with a synopsis of how the Otaru Onsens Case is very much alive and well today as an issue, at least in terms of the NJ community and a few NJ pundits in particular (one of whom obsesses over it to the point of distraction and inaccuracy).  Excerpting TPR:

In the ten years since the case, much has changed and debate over Arudou’s goal and tactics continues apace. As with any heated issue (and human rights issues are always heated), the disagreements range from perfectly legitimate concerns to objections that are, to put it nicely, based on misinformation or incorrect assumptions.

It is no secret that Arudou has many critics (in the interest of disclosure, it is worth it to point out that while we here at TPR pull no punches with the man and feel it necessary to play Devil’s Advocate at the least, we do know him sociably and will say that, politics aside, he’s a likable guy – just exercise caution before bringing up the topic of Duran Duran.) It is also no secret that, for a variety of reasons, his most vocal critics are almost entirely non-Japanese.

Among the most high profile of those critics is Gregory Clark, whose column in the Japan Times gives him perhaps a wider audience than most other writers on the topic. On January 15th of this year, Clark wrote a risible and deeply disingenuous column for the paper headlined “Antiforeigner discrimination is a right for Japanese people”.

In the column, Clark tries to paint a picture of a contemptible rabble-rousing jerk that he very clearly hints is Arudou (it’s not. As far as we can tell, there is no such person as the one Clark is writing about.) Wondering at Clark’s vitriol and some of his more outlandish statements, this observer settled on the following paragraph:


TPR article continues here:
Have a read and a comment there if you like.  More TV media from the case blogged on tomorrow.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Otaru Onsens Case 10th Anniv #4: J Media reportage of the Feb 1, 2001 Lawsuit Filing in Sapporo District Court


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  In Part Four of this retrospective on the Otaru Onsens Case a decade on, I talk about how the J media received and reported on our filing of the lawsuit against Otaru Onsen Yunohana on February 1, 2001.  The answer:  Not well.  Comment from me follows embeds:



By Arudou Debito (,

4) HBC NEWS (Locally broadcast March 27, 2001) on the OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT FIRST HEARING (3 minutes).  Otaru City claims impunity from CERD responsibilities due to local govt. status, while Yunohana Onsen tries to claim it was the victim in this case.

5) VARIOUS NEWS AGENCIES (Dosanko Wide, Hokkaido News, STV, and HBC) with various angles on OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT FILING (Locally broadcast February 1, 2001) (15 minutes total).  NB:  HBC contains the only public interview given by Defendant Yunohana Onsen owner Hashimoto Hiromitsu.  This interview was given live (the only way Hashimoto would agree to be interviewed, so that his comments would not be edited, according to reporter sources), where he states that he has never met us (of course; he always refused to meet us; the only time we would ever cross paths would be November 11, 2002, in the courtroom, when the Sapporo District Court came down in Plaintiffs’ favor).

COMMENT:  By parroting the views of racists (such as the owner of Yunohana) and the completely negligent City of Otaru (which claimed on record, as you will see in the broadcasts above, that the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination does not apply to local governments; a complete lie obviated by a cursory reading of the CERD (Article 2 1(c))(*), they wound up perpetuating the dichotomy and convincing some that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate.  Hey, it’s not illegal, is it?

This is one more, less obvious, reason why we need a law against racial discrimination in Japan.  Because if this is not criminal activity, you wind up promoting the racist side as well for the sake of “balance”.  For example, when lynchings were not illegal in the US South, you’d get reporters having to “tell both sides”, as in, “that black man looked at that white woman funny” or “he was getting too uppity, had to make an example”.  And it becomes an example.  However, if it’s illegal, then it’s a crime, and you don’t have to “give the other side” when the other side is already criminalized.  Thus you nip promoting further racism in the bud.  This does not happen in the broadcasts above, alas. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(*) Regarding Otaru City’s assertion of exemption under the CERD, they had a good reason to be confident:  Unbeknownst to us until April 15, 2002, during cross-examination in court, it turns out the City of Otaru had been coached by the Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Human Rights, Sapporo Branch, on November 29, 1999, that they need not take any measures to comply with the CERD.  See original document in JAPANESE ONLY page 347.  Why a GOJ agency entrusted with protecting human rights in Japan would coach a fellow government administration not to bother following the CERD remains one of the more disingenuous things I’ve ever seen in my life.


Otaru Onsens Case 10th Anniv #3: “KokoGaHen” Feb 28 2001 and their critique of us plaintiffs


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito


By Arudou Debito (,

3) TV ASAHI tabloid show “KOKO GA HEN DA YO NIHONJIN”, on exclusionism in Wakkanai, Monbetsu, and Otaru (Nationally broadcast Feb 28, 2001) (16 minutes).  Complete with brickbats for the Plaintiffs for filing suit from the screaming foreign panelists.

If you would like to download and watch this broadcast in mp4 format on your iPod in one part, click here: (NB: if you want it to download as a file, not open up in a different browser: right-click for Windows users, or Control + Click for Macs)

There is also a complete transcript and English translation at
Comment follows video embed (part one):

COMMENT: I remember clearly three things about that evening:

1) That ALL the panelists (the half-baked comment from Terii Itoh notwithstanding) on the Japanese side of the fence were very supportive — in fact, they wished us luck and success in the lawsuit.

2) That ALMOST ALL of the panelists on the NJ side did the same. In fact, it looked in danger of becoming a boring debate because it seemed so cut and dried. It was a tiny minority who stood up to offer brickbats. They were there, at least two of the panelists told me later, because they were chosen precisely because they had strong views antipathetic towards the case. Hence the emphasis, on foreigners who would oppose the lawsuit, as it would make for better television.

3) That Konishiki, sitting next to me, was goddamn HUGE! His chair, custom-made, needed four people to carry it on stage. We had a few words. Nice guy.

Quite honestly, I miss the show. Nowhere else offers opinions from NJ, however raw and ill-conceived, in their own words on a regular basis. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Otaru Onsens Case 10th Anniv #2: HBC award-winning broadcast Mar 27, 2001 creates contentious dichotomies


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

All TV shows in Japanese (no subtitles or dubbing) with amateur editing
By Arudou Debito (,


2) HBC TV award-winning documentary on OTARU ONSENS CASE (Locally broadcast March 27, 2001). Gives the most thorough rundown of the issue and expresses the issue from a more “Japanese point of view” (i.e. the issue less in terms of racism, more in terms of cultural differences).

Starts here, then has a playlist that goes to the next part. Six parts, runs about 50 minutes total.  If you would like to download and watch this broadcast in mp4 format on your iPod in one part, click here: (NB:  if you want it to download as a file, not open up in a different browser:  right-click for Windows users, or Control + Click for Macs)

Comment follows imbedded video:

COMMENT:  We have a decent establishment of the issue in part one, then in subsequent parts we have a whole bunch of pundits claiming this is a “cultural issue” (meaning misunderstandings of our unique J culture make refusals of NJ inevitable to some).  Or somehow that it’s a Hobson’s Choice between “human rights of the NJ” and “the survival rights of the business” (which was always a false dichotomy — borne out in retrospect that none of the onsens have gone bankrupt since taking their signs down; quite the opposite in the case of Defendant Onsen Yunohana).

What happens is that the show becomes a”Japanese vs Non-Japanese” thing, where we get lots of old J men and women etc. saying how much they dislike NJ, vs NJ bleating about their rights despite having allegedly different and disruptive bathing rules.  We even have Tarento Daniel Carr coming off all sycophantic — blaming NJ for their plight and pointing out their foibles.  Teeth begin to itch before long.

Nowhere in the show is there anyone J saying, “Look, all you have to do is kick out those who don’t follow the rules.  It’s not a matter of nationality at all.  Just a matter of ill-mannered people, which is an individual matter, not a cultural matter.”  But no.  That would remove the drama that TV news reports are such suckers for, alas.

Of course, HBC gave this a good, earnest try, the best of all the shows that would come out, but it still winds up convincing the viewer that “East is East” in the end.  I see this pattern constantly in J news reports — most resort to portraying Japanese as somehow victims, while few ever portray NJ as residents with as much right to life here in Japan as anyone else.  And never, but never, is the issue shown as something as simple as stubborn and bigoted people butting heads as individuals regardless of nationality.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

OTARU ONSENS 10th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: Index of online study aids of media on the event


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Good morning Blog, and happy holidays to readers in Japan. This week I will continue a retrospective on the Otaru Onsens Case, with links to media I collected nearly a decade ago, charting the course of the debate, and how it went down a path that in fact ultimately encouraged people to discriminate. The full arc in my book JAPANESE ONLY, but here is a list of primary sources for your viewing pleasure.

If possible (my friend KM is also supposed to be on holiday, but he’s the one who has kindly converted my analog recordings into digital and YouTubed it), I will put up a link to each media every day, the first one this evening. There is also a DVD I can burn for those who wish to use this for educational purposes (contact me at

Here’s an outline of the media I have when I first offered this as a study aid three years ago.  After that, the playlist, courtesy KM, on YouTube.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



All TV shows in Japanese (no subtitles or dubbing) with amateur editing

By Arudou Debito (,

Total time:  2 hours 20 minutes.  Recorded on one VHS tape in 3X format.


1) TV ASAHI NEWS STATION on ANA BORTZ DECISION (Nationally broadcast October 12, 1999) (10 minutes).  National broadcast.  Describes the first court decision regarding racial discrimination in Japan, citing the UN CERD Treaty, and the fact that Japan has no law against racial discrimination.

2) HBC TV award-winning documentary on OTARU ONSENS CASE (Locally broadcast March 27, 2001) (1 hour 2 minutes).  Gives the most thorough rundown of the issue and expresses the issue from a more Japanese point of view (i.e. the issue less in terms of racism, more in terms of cultural differences).

3) TV ASAHI tabloid show “KOKO GA HEN DA YO NIHONJIN”, on exclusionism in Wakkanai, Monbetsu, and Otaru (Nationally broadcast Feb 28, 2001) (16 minutes).  Complete with brickbats for the Plaintiffs for filing suit from the screaming foreign panelists.  NB:  Panelists were apparently chosen depending on whether they had strong views about the case.  A special emphasis, according to media sources, was given foreigners who would oppose the lawsuit, as it would make for better television.

4) HBC NEWS (Locally broadcast March 27, 2001) on the OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT FIRST HEARING (3 minutes).  Otaru City claims impunity from CERD responsibilities due to local govt. status, while Yunohana Onsen tries to claim it was the victim in this case.

5) VARIOUS NEWS AGENCIES (Dosanko Wide, Hokkaido News, STV, and HBC) with various angles on OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT FILING (Locally broadcast February 1, 2001) (15 minutes total).  NB:  HBC contains the only public interview given by Defendant Yunohana Onsen owner Hashimoto Hiromitsu.  This interview was given live (the only way Hashimoto would agree to be interviewed, so that his comments would not be edited, according to reporter sources), where he states that he has never met us (of course; he always refused to meet us; the only time we would ever cross paths would be November 11, 2002, in the courtroom, when the Sapporo District Court came down in Plaintiffs’ favor).

6) UHB SUPER NEWS Beginning of the new year special on THE YEAR 2001 (Locally broadcast January 3, 2002) (15 minutes).  Discourse on the nature of internationalization.  Also brings in the spectre of foreign crime and terrorism, first brought up from April 2000 with the “Ishihara Sangokujin Speech”, and later used to justify further exclusionism towards foreigners.

7) NHK CLOSE UP GENDAI on FOREIGN CRIME (Nationally broadcast November 7, 2003) (26 minutes).  The fix is in:  Foreigners and the crimes they bring is now publicly portrayable as fearful, with no comparison whatsoever made to stats of crimes by Japanese (except those connected again with foreigners).  A PSA posing as a news special, to warn Japanese about foreigners and their specific methods of crime.

Apologies that there is no footage of the actual District Court Decision of November 11, 2002.

All details and transcripts of many of these and other shows are available for students and scholars in books:


●   ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽温泉入浴拒否問題と人種差別(単行本 明石書店2004年改訂版 ISBN: 4-7503-9011-9)

Ordering details at

Original documentation and articles in English and Japanese at

Other bilingual interviews and radio broadcasts/podcasts available at

More Japan Times articles on issues connected with rights of non-Japanese residents at

Thank you for your interest in this case and in this issue!  Arudou Debito in Sapporo, Japan

J population drops, Internal Ministry converts it into rise, excludes NJ from tally.


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 JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  Here’s one way to tip any undesirable downward trend in statistics:  change the paradigms.  In this case, the Internal Ministry considers “Japanese population” not only as births and deaths, but also inflows.  That is, inflows of citizens only.  Once again, inflows (or current residency) of foreigners are not considered part of the “population”, even though they pay taxes and contribute to Japanese society like any other living breathing soul.

Know of any other G8 country which refuses to include its foreign population as part of its total population?  The fact is, given that we get plenty more than 45,914 foreigners per year coming in, the main thing keeping Japan’s population in the black is immigration.  But again, that’s a taboo topic in public.  We can’t act as if Japan actually needs foreigners, after all.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Number of citizens residing in Japan rises for 2nd straight year
Wednesday 12th August, 03:08 AM JST


The number of Japanese citizens residing in the country rose for the second year to over 127 million as of the end of March, partly because more people returned to the country than left after Japanese companies pulled back from overseas operations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said Tuesday.

The total number of citizens residing in Japan now stands at 127,076,183, up 10,005 from a year earlier, when calculated based on the number of citizens listed on basic resident registers nationwide, the ministry’s data showed. Japan saw more deaths than births, translating into a net drop of 45,914, but the decline was offset by factors including an increase in the number of Japanese people returning from overseas.


Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column: “Unlike Humans, Swine Flu is Indiscriminate”


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 JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Unlike humans, swine flu is indiscriminate
The Japan Times: Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009

The biggest news a few months ago, now affecting every prefecture in Japan, has blipped off our radar screens. For the time being.

I’m talking about the H1N1 swine flu virus that originated in Mexico, took wing across oceans and continents, and eventually settled down here despite our government’s panicky measures.

Time to learn some lessons. We need to prevent a public panic from once again causing discrimination against the ill.

H1N1 was first reported last March in Mexico, with an apparently high mortality rate. It was also newsworthy because for the first time we were charting a new virus from patient zero in real time.

But ideas spread faster than viruses. Once the former reached our fine land, Prime Minister Taro Aso, afraid of being seen as a “do-nothing” in the face of looming elections, turned uncharacteristically proactive — as in, taking measures against the outside world.

This is a government, remember, which institutes laws expressly targeting foreigners in the name of, quote, “effective prevention of infectious diseases and terrorism.” So, predictably, we prescribed hypochondriac policies against them.

Almost immediately our shores were scrubbed. Airports instituted (fortunately, pervasive and noninvasive) heat scanners to track cowls of fever. Ground staff donned violet spacesuits that, though not hermetic, were plenty intimidating. Whole countries were suddenly scarlet-lettered into no-go zones just because of a domestic case or two.

Conditions soon deteriorated. The first people diagnosed with H1NI in Japan were incoming foreign tourists. They were quarantined in hotels (not hospitals) with nothing but instant curry rice for company. Arriving international flights were grounded for hours while everyone was screened. The government forced international conferences to cancel because they might attract foreigners. Mainichi and Kyodo reported hospitals turning away feverish Japanese who happened to have foreign friends.

Just when it looked like we were going to go all SARS-scare again (when Japanese hotels in 2003 were refusing all foreigners just because one Taiwanese tourist caught that new variety of pneumonia), Golden Week intervened. Japanese returning from vacation imported contagion. It was no longer a “foreign” virus.

In a sense, good: That pre-empted pseudo-scientists from espousing the ever-resurfacing canards of Japan’s tribal invulnerability. (During SARS, these dunderheads were even theorizing, for example, that Japanese speakers spread less disease because they don’t spit when talking.)

But that didn’t immunize the public against discrimination. Taking advantage of the anonymity offered by the phone and Internet, Japanese patients received bullying messages and phone calls warning them not to spread their pox, as if these Typhoid Marys had become brain-dead zombies ready to bite Japanese society into dystopia.

The media propagated it further. Drafting the assistance of over-cooperative airlines, news broadcasts reported the seating arrangements of infected people. Then panelists wondered if anyone within a two-meter radius (the reputed range of the virus) of these individuals could rejoin our healthy society.

They even filmed airport quarantine rooms, where sweaty-handed bureaucrats tape-measured a two-meter distance between chairs down to the centimeter. Like Aso, everyone was so afraid of being seen to do nothing that they did too much.

Finally, Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe called for reason: Calm down, everyone. It’s just the flu! Not much different than what we get every season.

Good, but this too is symptomatic: It’s usually not until Japanese become the target of discrimination that government agencies try to soothe the hotheads.

Let’s learn our lessons already. This will not be the last pandemic we experience in our lifetimes. The media is predicting a second round of H1N1 within a year. Even if that doesn’t happen, we will undoubtedly track future bugs in real time as they spread and sicken. That’s what bugs do — that’s how they survive. And it seems whipping up public fear is how media networks survive.

But if humankind itself is to survive, with any degree of integrity and protection for the people in weakened circumstances, we must learn not to succumb to what perpetually plagues the human condition: ignorance and panic. If people don’t keep a sense of perspective, they could wreak more damage than the flu did.

So let’s keep our radar screens on how these cycles of discrimination recur.

Beware the poxy mouths of irresponsible media, spreading misleading data from panic-addled pundits and profiting pharmaceutical companies (you think surgical masks actually filter out microscopic viruses?). Also, question the government’s readiness to treat Japan as a hermetically sealable island, walling it off from foreigners.

These are unhealthy trends that authorities rarely reflect upon or forsake. They even officially encourage the wagging tongues and clacking keyboards of anonymous ignorant, petulant bullies. The government might keep the germ out, but they won’t stop infectious ideas breeding and hurting people anyway.

So the lessons to be learned: Let cool heads prevail over feverish rumor; let sensible precautions and accurate information prevail over quick-fix elixirs and snake-oil social science; and for heaven’s sake, stop blaming the victim for being sick!

Above all, let everyone realize that infections, unlike people, are indiscriminate.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments to
The Japan Times: Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009

Naturalized J citizen Jiei stopped by Osaka cops for Gaijin Card check. Shitsukoidom ensues


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 JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. Here’s an important bellwether essay from Jiei, a fellow naturalized Japanese citizen who was singled out for a Gaijin Card Check by Osaka Cops last night. He tells the story of how he stood up for himself despite being explicitly suspected of being drunk or on drugs, and for sitting on a swingset while white when taking a break from jogging in a park. He cites the law back to the cops chapter and verse, but they undeterredly continue the questioning and racial profiling. I won’t give away the ending.

The point is, this is going to happen more and more often as more people naturalize, and more Japanese of international marriages come of age and get hassled for not looking “Japanese” enough to allay cops’ suspicion. This is not legally sanctioned, in any case. Which means people must learn about their rights and assert them, because there are no other checks and balances here.  Read on.

Thanks to Jiei for bringing this up to government-registered human rights group FRANCA.  Join us if you like.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Like Debito, I am a former American naturalized Japanese citizen. While I don’t look Japanese, I also had to jump over many hurdles for my naturalization application to be accepted by the government a year ago, and now I’m proud to call myself a Japanese and be recognized as a fully contributing member of this country.

Living here has had its ups and downs; I’ve been stopped at least 10 times by the police when I was a foreigner (once when I was leaving my apartment in the morning to go shopping because I “just looked suspicious”!), yet I never tried to exercise my full rights as Debito did, partly because of ignorance and partly because of fear.

However, tonight (09/7/25) I just had my first experience being stopped by the police as a Japanese citizen, and the situation was different. This time, I was going jogging around the park near my house in Osaka prefecture around midnight (something I always do since I work late and cannot go jogging during the daytime.) The park is a popular spot for teenagers to hang out at night, so I was not alone that night.

I took a short rest on the swings and then tried to leave the park from the main entrance to continue my run, when two “around 30” police officers on bicycles approached me from behind and suddenly stopped me with a loud “Konbanwa! Doko ikun’ desuka?” I removed my headphones and took a deep breath since I knew exactly where this was heading, and tried to prepare myself for the coming debate.

The two officers “greeted” me again and the proceeded to surround me on both sides as if to stop me from escaping easily. I was looking down at my cell phone the time, so the officer on the left asked if I was drunk or on drugs. Slightly amused, I closed my eyes and touched my nose with my index fingers to show that I wasn’t drunk. The one on the right looked at my face and simply said “Torokusho!” I asked him what he was talking about, and he repeated “Gaikokujin torokusho!” while making a rectangular symbol with his hands.

I stared at him for a moment and replied, “I am a Japanese citizen, I don’t have any alien registration card.” He looked genuinely shocked and asked me again twice if I was indeed Japanese. I simply responded,”I am Japanese.” When asked to show my driver’s license to prove it, I replied, “I refuse!”

The officer on the left then ordered me to empty my pockets and show my identification, so I said “Sure, I have my identification right here!” and pulled a copy of the “Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou Hou” that I always keep in my wallet, and showed the officer on the right the letter of the law concerning voluntary questioning by police officers.

Surprised, he asked, “What is this? Why did you pull something like this out?” I told them it’s the law concerning police activity and asked them if my actions (kyodou) seemed strange (fushin) to them and if they had probable cause (soutou na riyuu) to stop me.

When they both responded with a strong and clear “yes,” I asked if going for a jog is a crime in Japan. They both responded no, and then asked if I lived near the park. I deflected the question and said that it was quite rude of them to approach me and assume I was a foreigner and treat me like this.

The officer on the right laughingly apologized but then continued to ask if I was “haafu” or where I was born. I told them I refuse to answer any questions because police questioning is voluntary. They asked me “Why do you keep a copy of the law in your pocket? Are you trying to hide anything?” I spread my palms out to show I had nothing hidden, and replied that I was studying law and asked them if they were aware of the constitution or the code of criminal procedure.

The officer on the left said, “then you must know that voluntary questioning by police officers is a legally sanctioned activity (keisatsu katsudou.) I replied “That’s true, and it is also voluntary, so I have the legal right to refuse your questioning.” The officer on the right then repeated, “but we have the right to stop and ask you.” I repeated, “I have the right to not answer.”

This was repeated many times and after calmly debating with them for five minutes about what the meaning of “voluntary” (nin’i) is, and after repeated requests to show my license, the officer on the right asked if this was my first time getting stopped by the police, to which I said, “What do you think? With a face like this I’ve been stopped many many times in my life.”

The officer on the left finally changed his attitude and said, “Well then, at least tell us your name, job, family member’s names and where you live!” Naturally, I refused this also and said, “if you want to search me or see my license, you first need to arrest me or have a warrant. I am not on drugs, nor am I a criminal. I have been singled out for looking different many times now and I refuse to put up with it any longer. I know the law, so I honestly want to be arrested and take this to court; I’m sure I’ll win in the end even if I have to take this to the Supreme Court!”

After asking if they had their handcuffs ready and if they were going to arrest me, they both laughed and the officer on the left said, “Who’s talking about arresting you, we just want to see your identification! Don’t you have anything?” I then pulled out my wallet and waved it around. “My identification is in this wallet but I refuse to show it and if you want to see it, arrest me here and now.”

After more repetitive requests to identify myself and prove I am Japanese, they received a police report on their walkie-talkies, and finally sped off on their bicycles without saying anything or even looking back at me.

All in all, they were actually very calm about the whole thing; they seemed half amused to debate the meaning of the law with a “suspicious foreigner looking type” like me. To tell the truth, I was surprised at how easily they gave up without ask me to go to a police station with them, trying to search my pockets, or even actually see my driver’s license.

While it may sound that I was fearless, I was actually quite nervous and my legs and hands were trembling, so I forgot to ask to see their badges and note their information or try to walk away during the questioning.

Yet when I returned home and told my native Japanese friends about this, they were not so supportive of me. They all simply asked why I didn’t show my license first and not go through any hassle. I told them that this was a bigger issue about legal rights. I am definitely not the fighting type, and I basically keep to myself and try not to make any waves. However, I refuse to be treated as a second-class citizen in my own country, and if need be, I am absolutely willing to risk being arrested for standing up for what I believe in.

I’m sure that I will be stopped again in the future many times, along with all other non-Asian looking people in Japan, but I plan to stand up for my rights every time. While confronting the police and asserting your rights so clearly like this is not for everyone, I hope that my experience proves that calmly using the law to assert your rights does work in Japan, and can make a difference!



By the way, concerning the legality of photographing police officers’ badges…unfortunately Japan has no clear law concerning image rights (shozoken) and the leading supreme court decision in the Hayashi Masumi case found that while people generally have the right to not have their images taken and published without reason, image rights still have to be considered specially in each case based on the situation…leaving things still unclear.

However, considering that they were public servants on duty and I needed to confirm their identity since I didn’t have a pen to write it doen, I think that I would have a case if it went to court. However, it would take a clear Supreme Court verdict to give a definitive answer. In any case, as seen from the many shokumu shitsumon videos uploaded on YouTube, the police aren’t actively pursuing fighting this.


IHT/Asahi on Japan’s reticence to sign Hague Treaty on Child Abduction


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatartwitter: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. Follow-up to the biased coverage by NHK two days ago on this issue of international divorces, we have the Japanese media once again quoting crank lawyer Ohnuki, depicting Japanese divorcees as refugees of violent NJ spouses. “Abductions”, of course, gets rendered in tentative “quotes”, and also you see how Japanese spouses have their cake and eat it too, with an example of the British legal system returning a child to the J side. Japan hasn’t signed the Hague Convention on Child Abductions yet, and why should it increase expectations of international cooperation by doing so?

I’ll say it:

The GOJ doesn’t want to cooperate with these international treaties because we have enough trouble getting Japanese to have babies. We don’t want to surrender them to NJ overseas. I have heard that theory off the record from an international lawyer quoting somebody in the ministries.

And I bet that even if Japan signs the Hague, it won’t enforce it (similar in the ways it will not enforce the CCPR or the CERD treaties). Why would the GOJ ever give more power over custody to NJ than it would its own citizens, who can already abduct and shut out one parent after divorce thanks in part to the koseki system? Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Tokyo in bind over treaty on child abduction
Courtesy of Paul Wong

Broken international marriages involving Japanese in which one parent takes offspring overseas without the other’s consent are on the rise, putting the government in a bind about how to deal with such cases.

The question is whether Japan should be a party to an international treaty aimed at settling such parental “abduction” disputes across national borders.

Tokyo is under pressure–from within and from outside–to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of 1980, which now has 81 parties.

The rise in cases involving Japanese parents as “abductors” has led to stepped-up calls from countries in North America and Europe for Tokyo’s accession.

Some divorced parents say their children would not have been taken overseas by their ex-spouses had Japan ratified the treaty; or it would have been much easier to have them returned.

Opponents, however, say Japan’s ratification would make it difficult for victims of domestic violence to flee with children.

There are also cultural and systematic factors to consider, given that under Japanese law only one parent is granted custody of offspring after a divorce.

The convention, which went into force in 1983, requires a child to be promptly returned to the country of their habitual residence.

It also requests contracting parties to take “all appropriate measures” to expedite the return of a child.

Senior officials and diplomats of the United States, Britain, France and Canada held a news conference in Tokyo in May to press Japan to join the treaty.

They said if children of broken marriages are taken to Japan, a non-party nation, there is “little realistic hope” of having them returned.

According to embassies here, there have been 73 child abductions by Japanese parents from the United States, 36 from Britain and 33 each from Canada and France. [NB: Time period not indicated.]

Kurt Campbell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs who is visiting Japan from today, told a Senate committee in June that he would raise this issue in his first meeting with Japanese officials.

As it stands, the Foreign Ministry can only serve as “liaison” when it receives an inquiry from other countries.

The government has said it “is seriously considering” accession as it would help Japanese parents retrieve children from their ex-spouses.

A 40-year-old self-employed Japanese woman who faced difficulty regaining custody of her children said Japan should join. In 2007, her British husband went on a “trip” to Britain with the children, aged 5 and 9, and then told her they would never return. Communications were severed.

It took a month and a British lawyer’s services before she located the children at a school near London.

She finally got them back after a divorce mediation in Britain. She said lawyer fees alone cost 7 million yen to 8 million yen.

“Had Japan been a party to the treaty, their whereabouts would have been known right away,” she said. “It should have been much easier, too, to get them back.”

Another self-employed woman, 51, was cautious, however. She had long been a victim of domestic violence by her American husband.

The family moved from the United States to Chiba Prefecture in 1992, and she fled with two children to Tokyo in 1995.

She is now on an international wanted list on suspicion of abduction because the husband, saying the mother and children’s legal abode is in the United States, brought the matter before U.S. authorities.

The woman, who says “all I could do was flee,” thinks the treaty would make such escape difficult.

Lawyer Kensuke Ohnuki, who handles about 200 divorces among international matches a year, says most child “abductions” by Japanese women are a result of spousal violence.

The treaty does not take a parent’s reason for fleeing into consideration, he said.(IHT/Asahi: July 16,2009)

Japan Times, NHK, Terrie’s Take & Mainichi on Japan’s child abductions from broken marriages, and Hague Treaty developments


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 JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. I received word from Paul Wong yesterday that NHK would be doing a segment this morning on child abductions after divorce, and Japan’s negligence towards signing the Hague Convention on this.






As the Japan Times reports:
Japan’s allies urge government to sign Hague convention on child abduction
Friday, May 22, 2009
Full article at

The United States, Canada, France and the U.K. jointly urged the Japanese government Thursday to sign the Hague Convention on international child abduction, which is aimed at preventing parents from wrongfully keeping or taking their children to their countries before and after they divorce.

“Our joint statement demonstrates that very clearly Japan’s allies are united in their concern regarding this tragic issue of international child abduction,” said Michele Bond, a deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs for overseas citizen services at the U.S. Department of State, at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. “We are acting together at this point to ensure that our concern for the children is heard.”

Diplomats from the U.S., Canadian, French and British embassies attended the press conference.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a multilateral treaty that entered into force between signatory members on Dec. 1, 1983.

The convention states that children who are abducted from their country of residence, or retained in a state that is not their country of normal residence, must be returned promptly to their original country of residence.

More than 80 countries have signed the convention, but Japan is the only nonsignatory state among the Group of Seven nations.

Among abductions involving Japanese whose parents have wrongfully taken or kept their children, Britain has reported 36 cases since 2003, with none of them resolved. There are currently 11 active cases, said David Fitton, deputy head of mission to the British Embassy in Japan. France has had 26 cases, half of which are still active, and the U.S has 73 active cases.
Full article at

I watched the NHK report this morning, and was, frankly, gravely disappointed. After giving some stats on international divorce (around 20,000 cases last year, about double that ten years ago), NHK gave three case studies in brief:

1) One of an an American father in America who had lost his child to his abducting Japanese ex-wife. Point: How he loves his child and would like to be part of her life.

2) One of a Japanese mother with custody of kids trapped in America working waitress jobs because her Japanese passport has been impounded by an American court ruling (which is bullshit, as she can go to any Japanese consulate in the US and get new passports without the permission of both parents; the converse is not true), with bonus time devoted to how much she and her daughters would like to return home, see relatives, and eat Japanese food.

3) One of a Japanese mother from an international divorce who abducted her kids to Japan; she opposes Japan signing the Hague Convention because of her violent American husband (which she somehow blamed on differing cultures), and wouldn’t want to give up custody to him.

Then we had a Hitotsubashi prof who said Japan must sign because child abduction was unjust. And a lawyer named Onuki (who has represented these cases before, and claimed in the international media that somehow 90% of these abductions are due to NJ domestic violence.)

It even concluded with the typical relativities (i.e. how everyone’s doing it, therefore Japanese can too), mentioning in passing alleged cases of how NJ mothers were abducting Japanese kids overseas (meaning that now suddenly Japanese fathers were kawaisou; the bottom line was that Japanese are being kawaisoued). The MOFA was quoted as not being able to comment on whether Japan would be able to sign Hague.

No mention at all was made by NHK that there has not been a single case of children being returned to the NJ parent by Japanese courts (the converse is untrue), that Japanese are committing crimes (and not honoring overseas court custody rulings, such as the Murray Wood Case), or that (and I speak from experience of not seeing my kids for about five years now) the Koseki system will deny all title and access to Japanese parents too after divorce.

NHK tried too hard to be sympathetic to either abducting Japanese mothers, or the position of Japanese in general (not the kids and how they’re affected by not having both parents in their lives). What a crock.

Consider that biased coverage in light of the following articles. If you find the NHK report online, please feel free to send a link to the Comments section.

Other links on
Arudou Debito in Sapporo


* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *

A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
General Edition Sunday, May 24, 2009 Issue No. 518

After the U.S. presidential election, the first foreign trip by his new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was to Japan. This was presumably to send a symbol to the Japanese that the U.S. values their relationship and not to cash in all those U.S. Treasuries that they are holding! Then in a symbolic action within a symbolic trip, Clinton visited with the Japanese families whose children and relatives were abducted by the North Koreans over a 30-year period since the 1970’s.

Clinton told reporters, “On a very personal and, you know, human basis, I don’t know that I’ll be meeting as a secretary of state any more than I will be meeting with them as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister.” This was the right thing to say in response to a situation that has the Japanese public outraged.

But there was one segment of the population in Japan that felt Clinton’s words were more like daggers than bandages. That segment is the foreign parents of children from international marriages, who have had their children kidnapped by the Japanese parent back to Japan, never to see them again. For these people the North Korean abductions of possibly 70 or 80 people pales into insignificance when compared to the hundreds (yes, that’s the number the CRC-Japan people are stating) of kids abducted to Japan.

And while there have been a handful of those North Korean abductees returned to Japan, there has NEVER been a successful return of a mixed nationality child to the foreign parent through diplomacy or court action. Further, U.S. officials say they only know of 3 cases where mutually agreed returns have occurred. And yet many court actions have been brought against Japanese abductors over the years.

This unbelievable state of affairs has started to cause major headaches for both legal and diplomatic agencies of Japan’s allies, and the U.S. in particular appears to be looking for ways to pressure Japan to mend its ways and to institute the necessary legal changes needed so as to support and enforce an eventual signing of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven not to have signed this important treaty.

The pressure ratcheted up several weeks ago when the embassies of the U.S., Canada, Britain, and France, along with various representatives from other nations and foreign parents trying to get their kids back, participated in a joint conference to discuss the issue and taking action that will precipitate change. While similar conferences have happened in previous years without much more than a bout of hand-wringing, this time, the U.S. and the other Japanese allies held a rare press conference to urge Japan to sign the treaty. Furthermore, they provided information on cases where foreign parents have been cut off from their kids.

The U.S. said it has been informed of 73 abduction cases of 104 kids with a U.S. parent but where that parent is not resident in Japan, and another 29 cases where the U.S. parent is here. The other allied nations reported an additional 95 cases. As this writer can testify, these cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Most foreign parents give up after going through the farcical proceedings of the Japanese Family Courts — realizing that there is no justice when there is no law to even enact justice in the first place.

For, above all, we need to remember that Japan has no concept of joint child custody and that abduction by one parent is not a crime. The judiciary in its wisdom still follows the feudal “Iie system” (House system) whereby it believes that the child should belong to one house only. Certainly, having a child undergo emotional surgery by cutting off one of the parents is a lot cleaner than the bickering and fighting that many western parents go through in their shared custody divorces. But for those parents adult enough to share their kids civilly, the law offers only heartbreak and no compromise. Officially, of the 166,000 children involved in divorces in Japan every year, less than 20% of them wind up with the father, and of course in the case of foreign fathers, the number is zero. One particularly poignant case of child abduction does not even include the Japanese parent absconding with the child, but rather her parents — who were able to convince a Japanese judge to give the child to them based on trumped up charges, rather than return her to her foreign father.

The story of Paul Wong is a story that epitomizes the problem — that of the judiciary and their slanted views on untrustworthy foreigners versus nice decent Japanese. Wong was happily married in the U.S. to a Japanese women, Akemi, and after many years of partnership, they finally had a daughter, Kaya. Unfortunately, his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor before the birth in 2004 and this got much worse following the birth. Akemi and daughter Kaya went to stay with the grandparents in Japan one last time before she died in 2005. Akemi on her death bed asked Wong to leave Kaya in Japan with her parents for a while, so that Kaya could learn something about her heritage. Wong kept his promise, and after his wife died he made the decision to settle down in Japan so that Kaya could continue seeing her grandparents. He left Kaya with the grandparents while working his lawyer job in Hong Kong and looking for a transfer to Japan. He commuted back and forth for a year and eventually found a position in Japan.

After returning to Japan, he found that the grandparents wouldn’t let Kaya return to him, and they eventually claimed to the police that Wong had sexually molested Kaya during a visit — something which has since been disproven after a medical exam. Wong took the case to court, and despite evidence that contradicted the grandparents claims, the Judge decided that “The grandparents would have no reason to not make such claims,” so he sided with them and awarded custody to them, despite them being in their 70’s. After they die, Kaya will become a ward of the state.

And thus Wong was arbitrarily banned from access to his own daughter. He knows where she lives and where she goes to school, but thanks to trespass laws, he is unable to visit her. Wong reckons one of the grandparents’ motives for taking Kaya is the monthly government stipend they get for her, given that they are desperately poor themselves — and of course now they have a small piece of their dead daughter, so the emotional ties must be strong as well. So what to do? Wong has since spent millions of yen trying to work with the Japanese legal system, but has been stymied at every step. As other foreign parents quickly find out, there is no pre-trial disclosure of evidence and no cross-examination rights. Further, there is no ability to bring in outside counselors and child psychology experts to testify for either side. In the end, the judge makes their own decision, based on serial presentations, with little apparent interest in whether each side is telling the truth. Indeed, several years ago, this writer interviewed a retired Family Court judge who intimated that he expected both sides in a child custody dispute to be lying, so “evidence” didn’t really mean much.

So there really isn’t much that Wong can do, except hope that the recent pressure for Japan to sign the Hague convention will start a legal review of the current family law system. There are over 15 domestic NPO groups who are hoping for the same changes — since these outmoded laws also affect Japanese parents as much as foreign ones. But we think change will be unlikely. So perhaps Wong should take the advice of an old friend of this writer, who had a single piece of advice to counter the Japanese condition…

“…Get yourself another family, and next time don’t get divorced in Japan!”

For more on this subject, go to

Japan urged to sign treaty against parental child abductions
(Mainichi Japan) June 2, 2009, Courtesy of Jeff K.
Diplomats from the U.S., France, Canada and the U.K. are pressing Japan to sign an international treaty against parental child abductions.

The number of cases of parental child abduction being committed by Japanese is rising sharply. Officials from the four embassies say there have been 168 reported cases to date involving 214 children, and that there could be many more.

As a result, they are urging Japan to sign the Hague Convention, which came into force in 1983 and provides a legal means for returning abducted children. The country’s refusal to sign means that the government is not legally required to release any information in such cases and prevents it from soliciting help in repatriating children to Japan.

“If the well-being of the child is given top priority, he or she should be brought up with links to both parents. For a situation to not be addressed at all is a big problem,” said the officials during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on May 21.

The U.S. Embassy reported one case of a Japanese woman divorcing her American husband, taking their child back to Japan with her and preventing her former husband from seeing the child. In another case, letters sent by a foreign father living abroad were returned, and all contact was effectively severed.

In the U.S., such parental abductions are considered a crime, with suspects placed on international watch lists by the FBI in some cases.

However, critics say that signing the convention will prevent Japan from protecting its citizens fully.

“The attitude of the government is non-involvement in civil affairs,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ International Legal Affairs Bureau.

“However, with the number of international marriages and divorces rising, the possibility of signing is under consideration.”


毎日新聞 2009年5月31日 22時59分











Sunday Tangent: Stray thoughts on Rbt. McNamara’s timely passing


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Hi Blog. As a tangent this Sunday, I thought I’d say a few words on the timely passing (hell, he was 93, and outlived most of his compatriots of this generation) of former US Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara — one of the most promising boffins of the 20th Century, and the so-called primary architect of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Disclaimers first: I of course did not know McNamara. I am not a scholar of his life, his generation, or his books (although I do have a Bachelor’s in Government from Cornell, where I was once studying to be a Kremlinologist mere months before Gorbachev came along and rendered that science obsolete). I did not grow up in the generation that called the war “McNamara’s War” (after all, born in January 1965 I missed the Baby Boomer Generation by 13 days). I do not have the bred hatred of him or what he stands for carried forth by millions of protesters (I consider Nixon, Kissinger, Haig, Rumsfeld, and Cheney to be far worse people than McNamara).

But I do see McNamara as a person who was too smart for his own good. As one of the “Golden Boys” within the Kennedy Administration Intelligentsia (carried on through to the end of Johnson in 1968), here was a man seen as able to take on all of the world’s problems with a slide rule and a command of statistics. As long has he had enough information, I believe (and so did many others believe) that he thought he could solve anything.

But even he, as his books and interviews revealed, realized that that wasn’t good enough. He put it down to the incredibly complicated calculus (or “Fog”, to use his term) of War that nobody could figure out (even though people far less bright than he could figure it out — Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Patton, Petraeus, Eisenhower –even his successor Clark Clifford to some degree managed to). So he spent the second half of his life disinterring the past, going over and over the data until he arrived at “Eleven Lessons” that he hoped people would listen and take to heart, so that the same mistakes wouldn’t be made yet again.

I laud that sentiment, in the sense that one must learn to avoid repeats. And I’m sure he would make the case that war in the Cold War Era and Nuclear Age offered unprecedented challenges (and I would agree). But the funny thing is, I sense through listening to him speak, give presentations, and answer questions, that he really wasn’t, despite his best efforts, listening to people. I believe that his fatal shortcoming was that he, for all his protestations, believed that nobody else had quite thought about things as deeply as he had, or had been exposed to as much information as he had, or shared the background he had. He was prone to interrupting questions with answers (even though the question was proceeding in a different direction than he was anticipating), and spent so much time anticipating and preempting others that he shut himself off to absolutely new viewpoints (such as the fact that the Vietnamese were simply not going to fight in ways that people, least of all the astoundingly culturally-ignorant American soldiers, were able to anticipate). He locked himself and his perceptions so far into the Bunker Mentality of the Superpower Nuclear and Space Race for years that he was simply unable to extricate himself from that mindset. I believe he brainwashed himself not into infallibility or invulnerability, but into the belief that the Americans were going to get their way, or some semblance of it, one way or another simply because they were so powerful.

This is a textbook definition of hubris. And it was McNamara’s undoing.

The reason why I don’t lump McNamara in with other felons of his generation (again, for example Nixon, Kissinger, Haig, Rumsfeld, and Cheney) because he was trying to go back and take issue with himself. Nixon, as the Frost Interviews demonstrated, still believed he was right, however “sorry” he said he was. Kissinger has written whole books justifying himself, and wants everyone to believe he’s still a credible source and not a war criminal. H, R & C are so self-assured and blindly hubristic they kept seeking office (they wanted to be entrusted with power yet again?!), without much of an urge to explain themselves. And they managed it, too, sadly.

McNamara tried to explain himself, run some self-diagnostics, show some contrition, and admit mistakes. That is very praiseworthy. He also created a written record of the era (the Pentagon Papers) so that others could look at the era more objectively (an impulse the Bush II Admin, full of Nixon and Ford Admin veterans, actively worked against; they learned exactly the opposite lessons from Watergate). We need more impulses like that, so that, again, we can learn from history.

Final word: McNamara still comes off in his interviews as disingenuous, and even a little contradictory at times. He has that hint of Nixon’s attitude of being “sorry, but still right”. Consider this: His concept of apologies, as expressed in a 1995 NPR interview with Terry Gross, when asked about his recently-published book:

MCNAMARA: Some people have used ‘redemption’ and ‘apology’ [regarding my book]. Forget ‘redemption’ and ‘apology’. I’d say that those of us, assuming for a minute that I’m correct — as I say in the preface I believe that it was an error, a tragic error — assume for a minute that my judgment is correct — then I think that we owe an explanation. To future generations. Of what happened, and how to avoid that in the future. That’s the purpose of the book.

TERRY GROSS: To explain.

MCNAMARA: To explain, and more than explain, to draw lessons, and suggest how to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

TERRY GROSS: To you think an apology is appropriate?

MCNAMARA: Well, if you want me to apologize, of course. But that’s not the issue. The issue isn’t apology. You don’t, I’ll call it ‘correct a wrong’ by apologizing. You can correct a wrong only if you understand how it occurred, and take steps to ensure it won’t happen again.

And afterwards I’m here shaking my head at how intelligent, yet how inept, this comes off. Sure, the lessons are what’s important. But when you get down to the basic human impulses of making up for wrongs, it’s not just a matter of learning your lesson. You MUST ALSO APOLOGIZE. From your heart. Because you want to. Not because others want you to — because that sounds worse than disingenuous — it’s insincere, and has exactly the opposite of a healing effect. You are responsible for the deaths of millions. If you are going to show any contrition at all, do it properly.

But a person as dry and trained to be intelligent as McNamara, who has long since been desiccated of the milk of human kindness, will always fall short of actually doing what he intends to do — convince people at the gut level that doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons is still the wrong thing. He will always fall short of his historical potential as a great man offering lessons because of that.

Again, McNamara deserves to go down in history as the man who was too smart for his own good. What a waste. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Japan Times et al: Four people snagged for fingerprints over 7 months. No longer an “anti-terrorism” measure. Of questionable effectiveness anyway.


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Hi Blog. Reader AS makes the following poignant comment:

Hi Debito, You’ve probably seen this already, but just in case here is a link to a JT article on the “effectiveness” of fingerprinting at airports.

Article excerpt:
The Japan Times Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Biometric ID system catches four

NARITA, Chiba Pref. (Kyodo) Immigration authorities have successfully detected four people since January trying to enter Japan illegally by trying to fool the biometric identity system…

The authentication system is designed to detect foreign nationals with a history of deportation from Japan based on fingerprint data…

The biometric identification system was introduced in November 2007 as part of antiterrorism measures under a revised Immigration Control Law.
Full article at

COMMENT FROM AS: Apparently the system has resulted in a grand total of four people getting caught in the last seven months. To me that seems like a massive waste of national resources, especially since there are other ways of detecting illegal re-entrants.

Also, the article drops the pretense that fingerprinting is an anti-terroism measure:

“The authentication system is designed to detect foreign nationals with a history of deportation from Japan based on fingerprint data.”

So now apparently the purpose of the system is cracking down on illegal entry and over-staying.ENDS

Another Reader commented thusly on much the same subject:

Dear Debito-San,

Last Monday, June 29th, Kyodo released a press anouncement from the Immigration Bureau that shows that fingerprint evasion happens on a larger scale than previously assumed (see

According to a friend of mine, an article on page 29 of the Kobe Newspaper (evening edition) had additional information. Note that I could not confirm the contents personally. But I send you the highlights anyway, with added personal comments.

Apparently one of the Immigration Officers was quoted saying that the machines could not be trusted anymore as so many new ways to attempt to evade them show up.

Comment: If this statement was quoted correctly as an official statement, it took the Immigration Bureau long enough considering that the groundbreaking article from Yokohama National University ( on this subject was published more than seven years ago.

For me, two questions follow this anouncement: Did the Immigration Bureau also miss that people can become victims of such identity theft? And did they also miss that the machines can get it wrong even when there is no foul play at all. These two problems form parts of two branches of a fault tree ( where the undesired event of trouble for me as an innocent person is the root. The first step to cutting down this rather unwelcome tree is for the Immigration Bureau to know it’s business…

The article apparently went on to state two measures the Immigration Bureau announced to take against the problem of people trying to fool the system. First of all, they apparently wish to opt for checking the prints visually if the machine gives an error. Second, they apparently wish to install monitors on which the prints can be seen by the officers.

Comments: I will start with the second measure. By default, fingerprint scanners encrypt the captured images on the device itself. This is done as an extra measure of protection, mostly because hacking of computers – even ATM machines.

(,289142,sid185_gci1357926,00.html) – is so widespread these days. To be able to put the prints on a monitor, that encryption must be turned off, or the images decrypted on the computer.

This is important. Identity systems such as this hinge upon the assumption that the rightful owner has the only key. Mind you, this is already so doubtful (see above) that the focus must be on protecting the owner from the bad consequences of other matching keys instead of beating the dead horse of keeping the key unique.

Nevertheless, removing the encryption opens two new branches in the fault tree of duplicate prints, the computer may not be trusted and the user behind the computer may not be trusted. It is against best practices and about the most irresponsible thing the Immigration Bureau could do. The mere fact that trying to go against a certain flow will not work is not an excuse for making the current run faster…

The good part is that it shows such an action is technically possible. Cybercriminals will find that out anyway, but at least the good willing people can know that too now…

The first measure doesn’t really impact me either way, though I would have preferred to hear something about informing the victims of identity theft as it is discovered and similar things… But it also casts doubt on the Immigration Bureau knowing it’s business, which we have established as a condition for acceptable levels of my safety under this program.

Why does this cast doubt? When someone turns up with fake fingerprints and the machine accepts that the pattern it acquires is not on the searchlist, that is in professional terms a negative. One can argue, depending on whether or not the machine should detect them as fakes, if it’s a true negative or a false one. In a true negative, the machine works as designed, it’s just a very smart attacker. But I digress.

When the machine gives an error, this is most likely a failure to acquire. The machine doesn’t get a useful pattern, or it concludes it’s not offered a live finger.

The two may coincide, but they’re not one and the same. After we already got in the situation where one can conclude that the Immigration Bureau missed a few things, it’s not very hopeful news that they send out an announcement suggesting that they can’t keep their errors apart. I would hope I’m never forced to fly with an airline which has just had a crash due to problems with the ailerons and announce that they are going to fix the flaps, at least not without explaining what they’re doing so that people can verify it was the right decision even though it sounds strange…

When I see things schemes like this fingerprinting, my first question will be: “Am I as an innocent person really reasonably safe with this system, given my overall situation?” The answer to that will almost always be yes, unless there’s a very cynical organization involved. My second question follows just as naturally: “Show me”. To me that’s the issue involved, they declined to show me, and when I started looking myself I increasingly find evidence I would have preferred to point to a different conclusion…

Coupled to this comes the use of a Hobson’s choice to extract the information, give or don’t show. Am I to be blamed that I view the combination of these effects as a sign of desiring not to invest the time and money to counter the risks to me precisely because they are that, risks-to-me (instead of them?). Is it strange therefore that I explain my point of view to people who may consider visiting Japan, and also to people with possibly enough influence to advocate my case, in both situations hurting Japan’s public relations? ENDS

What do Readers think? Debito

Japan Times on critics of new IC Chip Gaijin Card bill from the Right: too lenient!


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Hi Blog. The Japan Times is still at it, getting viewpoints regarding new legislation controlling NJ movements and visas and traceability (which looks like it will pass the Diet) from Dietmembers, bureaucrats, and left-wing opponents. Now we have the view of someone who thinks the laws, which will tighten things in directions is not comfortable with, are too lenient! Excerpt follows. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

The Japan Times Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Visa overstayers given too many breaks: rightist
Fourth in a series

Full article at

…Arikado also takes issue with the humanitarian reasons often cited by the justice minister when granting an illegal foreigner special permission to stay in Japan.

“Some foreigners claim to be political refugees. But in many cases, they just want to work,” he said. “Some Japanese died of hunger after they lost their jobs, so is it right to prioritize helping foreigners? Right now, everybody in Japan is losing their spirit as Japanese nationals.”…

Arikado cited the case of the Calderon family as an “obvious example” of the government’s softness.

Justice Minister Eisuke Mori ordered the undocumented Filipino parents, who entered Japan using someone else’s passports, to leave Japan in April. But he allowed their daughter, Noriko, 13, who was born and raised in Japan and speaks only Japanese, to stay.

“Mori established a precedent that children get to stay if illegal foreign parents beg,” he said, criticizing the media for overly sympathetic coverage of the family…

Arikado said he has no problem with giving the justice minister a certain amount of discretion in granting special permission to stay, but he wants the minister to prioritize the welfare of Japanese over foreigners.

Despite the faults he finds with the bills, he still praises them for boosting the government’s ability to wield greater scrutiny over foreigners. Hopefully, punishment for violating the regulations stipulated in the bills will be more strictly imposed than now, said Arikado, whose day job is as a journalist at the Chuo Tsushin news service.
Full article at

Osaka Nishi Yodogawa Police “Beware of Suspicious Foreigners” poster


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Hi Blog. The NPA is once again ramping up its public calls for surveillance of “suspicious foreigners”.

The previous wave of this basically started with Tokyo Gov. Ishihara’s now infamous “Sangokujin Speech” in 2000, when he called on the Nerima Self Defense Forces to round up suspicious foreigners “committing heinous crimes” in the event of a natural disaster. He made no distinction how one would determine “suspicious”, however, or how people would not resort to racial profiling.

They never broke the mold. That wave continued through World Cup 2002 (although it mutated into “hooligans”) onto police nationwide (particularly the Kanto cops) putting up posters warning the public against “suspicious foreigners”, whatever that meant. After protests, some police amended their notices to focus on the crimes, not the nationalities, but still exceptions popped up from time to time in prefectures with beaches (such as Ibaraki), warning people to “protect our shores” (complete with visual invasion motif).

Now, according to Reader JL, who found this notice up in his apartment, the Osaka Police are once again warning people about “suspicious foreigners”, for they might be illegal laborers or overstayers. Here’s the poster, dated June 2009. Osaka Fu Nishi Yodogawa Keisatsusho:
(click on image to see it larger and legible)

Again, how will people distinguish without suspecting anyone who looks foreigner as “suspicious”? Will our boys in blue ever learn some sophistication?

Probably not. It’s been nearly a decade since Ishihara’s speech. And fear campaigns are very helpful with budget approvals. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

NEWS FLASH: Roppongi cops confirm subjecting NJ to urine tests


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Released July 1, 2009, freely forwardable
By Arudou Debito (,, twitter arudoudebito)
Sapporo, Japan. Freely forwardable.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// has received a number of reports that police in Roppongi and Shibuya are rounding up Non-Japanese exiting bars, and bringing them in police wagons for drug testing.

They are demanding urine tests from their detainees.
This is an act of extremely questionable legality.

This was confirmed at 3PM July 1, 2009, when I telephoned the Azabu Police Department ( phone 03-3479-0110 (dai) and talked to an Officer Teshima, who refused to give more details about his official rank in the police department, what sort of methods are being used, their criteria for selecting their detainees, what they do if detainees do not cooperate, and if they have warrants. Our conversation in paraphrase below. Further links to sources also below.

If true, this could be the dawn of new practices and extensions of police power in Japan. This author believes that racial profiliing, already standard operating practice for bicycle checks and ID checks on the street (, is now involving more invasive methods– bodily fluids.

The testimonials of eyewitnesses to these raids in Roppongi and Shibuya are blogged and linked at at

The conversation I had with Mr Teshima today went approximately as follows:

ME: My name is Arudou Debito, calling for Human Rights Group Ippan Shadan Houjin FRANCA (I gave the full official translation of the group (, and I have heard that there are police stopping foreigners exiting bars and asking them for urine tests.

TESHIMA: Who is this and why are you asking?
ME: (repeats name and details about FRANCA).
TESHIMA: We have been doing more policing.
ME: Are you doing urine tests (nyou kensa)?
TESHIMA: Depends on the situation (toki to baai ni yoru).
ME: But are urine tests happening?
TESHIMA: Depends on the situation.
ME: But they are happening.
ME: Are you doing this as part of clamping down on drugs?
ME: Are you targeting foreigners?
TESHIMA: We are testing people. We are not just testing foreigners.
ME: What are your criteria for choosing people for testing?
TESHIMA: I don’t have to answer that. (kotaeru hitsuyou ga nai)
ME: Would you answer me if I asked the question as writer for a newspaper?
TESHIMA: I am under no obligation to answer.
ME: Do you have warrants to ask for urine samples?
TESHIMA: I don’t have to answer that. Depends on the situation.
ME: But you can’t ask for urine samples without a warrant, right?
TESHIMA: We don’t always need a warrant. Depends on the situation.
ME: What situations do you not need a warrant?
TESHIMA: I don’t have to answer that.
ME: But if they give you their permission for a sample, you don’t need a warrant?
TESHIMA: If they cooperate, we don’t need a warrant.
ME: What if they don’t cooperate?
TESHIMA: I’m not going to answer that.
ME: Can they be charged under the Interference of Duties–?
TESHIMA: Look, I’m busy.
ME: Understood. Could you please tell me your position in the police department, Mr Teshima?
TESHIMA: I don’t have to answer that.
ME: Okay, thank you for your time.

Give Mr Teshima a call yourself at 03-3479-0110 (dai) and see if you can get any clearer answers.

In recent months, there has been a lot of scandal about sumo wrestlers (Japanese and Non-Japanese) using cannabis, and media (including Japan Times, see have reported them saying they procured the substance from Roppongi foreigners. There are police raids continuing on Roppongi bars (, most recently last Friday ( Plus stoppages on the street, according to commentators to, and searches of bags and pockets for being of foreign extraction.

This indicates that the Japanese Police seem to be targeting areas with high foreigner concentrations. Foreigners may be being singled out on the street as more likely to be possessing. Given that Japan has no right of habeas corpus (, no clear checks against interrogational abuses (, and few recourses against wrongful arrest, police with this much power using racial paradigms against Non-Japanese and people who look foreign will result in racial profling — with innocents being targeted, detained, and subject to police practices of interrogation under questionable legality. Such as the circumstantial evidence of exiting a bar while looking foreign.

I encourage readers to read, investigate, and report these developments.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo,, twitter arudoudebito
July 1, 2009

Japan Today feature on how media focus on crime negatively impacts upon NJ


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Hi Blog. I talked yesterday how silly programs like NHK’s “Cool Japan” keeps NJ looking perpetually neophyte and ignorant, here’s another feature from Japan Today on how the media keeps NJ looking threatening. has of course talked about this in the past. Check out a few links here, here, and here. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japanese urged to take pride in their safe society
Japan Today, Thursday 25th June, 11:19 AM JST
Courtesy JK, MMT and AW.

When the media report on violent crime, juvenile delinquency and other social problems, it’s common to see such terms as “kyuzo” (rapidly increasing), “kyoaku-ka” (becoming more vicious) and “teinenrei-ka” (occurring from an earlier age) appearing in headlines.

But such assertions don’t coincide with the statistical data, writes Koichi Hamai, a professor of law at Kyoto’s Ryukoku University in the biweekly magazine Sapio (July 8). Hamai’s essay is one of several that take up the theme “Nihonjin de Yokatta” (it’s good to be Japanese).

Hamai is convinced the print and broadcast media are responsible for advancing a growing perception that Japan’s public order is on the decline. As an example he cites a “Yoron Chosa” survey by the Prime Minister’s office taken in 2006, in which 84.3% of the respondents voiced belief that law and order had declined from 10 years earlier.

That high figure, Hamai believes, was inflated by two major incidents in the mid-1990s: the toxic nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by members of the Aum religious cult in March 1995, and the arrest of 14-year-old serial killer “Sakakibara Seito,” who terrorized Kobe in the spring of 1997. The former raised the awareness that anyone might be vulnerable to crimes against the person; the latter persuaded the public that crimes by juveniles were becoming increasingly vicious and occurring from an earlier age.

Nevertheless, Hamai points out using eight graphs and tables, statistical data provide no evidence that Japan’s law and order situation is deteriorating. Take homicides, which in Japan in 2006 had declined to 1.1 per 100,000 people, from 1.2 two years previously. The corresponding rates are 3.2 in France, 3.0 in Germany, 2.6 in the UK and 5.7 in the U.S.

Rates for crimes by juveniles are not increasing as a percentage of overall crimes; nor do they show any tendency to occur from an earlier age.

Hamai also points out that rates for crimes by non-Japanese—most of which involve violations of the immigration laws or misdemeanors—are “extremely low” relative to the total number of crimes, and there’s nothing to suggest they are increasing.

How then, can the public’s view be so out of whack with the official figures? Hamai lays the blame squarely on overdramatization by the mass media. In Hamai’s own research conducted in 2006, 50% of his subjects agreed that “crime has increased nationwide over the previous two years”; but when asked if they felt crime had increased in their own neighborhood, only 4% replied yes.

Rather than confine reporting to the particulars of specific incidents, the media provoke a sense of crisis through shrill remarks about “the decline of morals (among youth)” or how “Japan is being targeted (by foreigners)” —treating specific incidents as symbolic of the overall malaise pervading Japan.

Hamai concludes with a plea for society to devote efforts that better reflect social changes, such as through proactive measures to discourage crimes by the elderly due to poverty and alienation.


NHK’s “Cool Japan” keeps their guest NJ commentators naive and ignorant


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Anyone seen an NHK show called “Cool Japan”? It’s a 45-minute show on late Tuesdays and Saturdays. Here’s the writeup from its website, courtesy of JB:

COOL JAPAN – Discovering what makes Japan cool! COOL JAPAN is a term that describes the growing international interest in Japan. From the worlds of fashion, anime, architecture to cuisine, the cultural aspects of Japanese society that have long been left undiscovered are starting to make a strong impact on global trends. COOL JAPAN is a television show that illustrates the quickly changing Japanese culture and how it is perceived by the international community that have recently made Japan their home.

What gets my goat is:

We are looking for participants who have lived in Japan for less than one year to appear on the television show COOL JAPAN.
(「COOL JAPAN」では出演してくれる来日して1年未満の外国人の方を募集しています。)

And why pray tell is there a limitation on their NJ guests like this? I say they’re getting impressions from people who don’t know their ketsu from a doukutsu yet. Which means their guests about Japan don’t speak much, or any, Japanese. How throughly can you know Japan in less than a year, for crissakes? And their guests are mostly late-teens/early-twenties on top of that — with little to go on to comment about much at all. And they’re acting as cultural emissaries for “their own countries” and giving cross-cultural comparisons running on fumes? Sorry, that’s 3-Blind-Mice Ignorance. And it’s all by design. Through that one-year cap on experiences.

Why not issue a public call for commentators, who actually have some deeper experience living in Japan, to contribute to the debate? Because “cool” is as deep as we want to go. Great social science, NHK. And I believe it adds to the lore within the Japanese viewership (that is who will mostly be watching this program, natch) that our society is impenetrable to the unfortunate hapless foreigners. But that’s still not their fault — they’re starry-eyed newcomers who’ll say something positive about Japan because they still feel like they’re guests. Feel-good broadcast pap TV funded by Japan’s most entrusted TV network.

But then again I’m probably being a bit harsh. What do others who have seen the show think?

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

NPR’s Geoff Nunberg on semantics and their control over public debate


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Hi Blog. Lemme do my weekend tangent a little earlier this week. It does relate to something I’ve discussed recently.

Pursuant to my Japan Times’ JUST BE CAUSE column earlier this month (June 2, “The issue that dares not speak its name“), where I talked about how the domestic media and GOJ deliberately refrain from couching the debate on racial discrimination in those exact terms — “racial discrimination” — and how that affects public awareness in Japan of the issue.

Here’s an excerpt of a June 3, 2009 US National Public Radio “Fresh Air” interview with UC Berkeley linguist Geoff Nunberg (June 4 podcast, from minute seven) which explores exactly the same topic, regarding the American media’s treatment of the debate on “torture”:


TERRY GROSS: I’m sure you’ve been keeping up with not only the debate about torture, but also the debate over what word to use to describe the interrogation techniques that were used. Some people have been using “torture” for a long time. Some publications say you can’t use the word “torture” because there’s a legal definition of “torture”, and that when they were doing it, they had a different definition of it courtesy of John Yoo and others in the Office of Legal Counsel. So, what are you hearing when you hear the debate about whether or when it’s appropriate to use the word “torture”, and if not that word, what word should be used?

GEOFF NUNBERG: Well, what’s interesting is that right after the Abu Ghraib story broke five years ago, all the European papers right away were using the word “torture”. The British, German, French press, left and right — not just The Guardian but Rupert Murdoch’s The Times were calling it “torture”. And the American press then and now have been very reluctant to use that word. And they have this idea that, well, this is a legal category. That’s because the [Bush II] Administration insists that it’s a legal category, and have defined it in a way such that these things won’t count as “torture” in the legal sense. The Administration’s definition obviously doesn’t have any broader legal significance even beyond the Administration, much less on a world scale.

And more to the point, it’s an English word. And the moral judgment that attaches to “torture” doesn’t have to do with its legal status. It has to do with looking at these acts, and describing them as “torture”. So that somehow, if the Administration was talking as if, “If we can keep that word at bay, we can keep at bay the moral disapproval that comes with it.” So you got all these terms like, “alternative sets of procedures”, and “vigorous questioning”, and of course, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, which people are still trying to use. And with that came this word “professionals” that Bush kept using. He said, “These are professionals; we want our ‘professionals’ to know that they can to this in a professional–.” Which suggests that not simply that they know what they are doing, but also that they are not taking any pleasure in it.

So I think this a perfect example of the way in which the words you choose determines whether you think something is alright or not. Not the thing itself, but the way you choose to name it. It’s something you see not just with torture, but with “suicide” for example. If you ask people in a poll, “Is it okay for doctors to help terminally-ill patients end their lives?”, you get a lot more people saying “yes” than if you ask them if it is okay for doctors to help terminally-ill patients “commit suicide”. Again, this is a semantic debate. But the important thing to realize is that this is not merely semantic.

Yes, quite. So if we can keep the word “racial discrimination” (as defined under UN treaty) at bay in Japan — call it “foreigner discrimination”, “discrimination by physical appearance”, or even “cultural differences” and “misunderstandings” — we can keep at bay the moral disapproval that comes with it. We can also keep the plausible deniability in the public arena that something very bad (as opposed to just “bad” or “misunderstood”) is going on, one that requires legislation to prevent it. This sort of thing happens everywhere when people play with words to dull or obfuscate debate.

Be aware of how this works. And be prepared to correct people who wish to shift the terms of debate away from the cold, hard truth. That discrimination against foreigners can be, or is in most cases, the same as discrimination by race. Even UN treaty that Japan signed says so.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

PS: And BTW, if you have any doubts that “torture” actually went on at Abu Ghraib, I recommend my two dinnertime movies this week:

1) “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” (Rory Kennedy, director)
2) “Standard Operating Procedure” (Errol Morris, director)

Both excellent. And both proof positive that Stanley Milgram’s experiments really got to the cold, hard truth.

Tokyo Trip June 2-5 overview, plus report on NJ nurses and caregiver program talks at DIJ


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Hi Blog.  Thought I’d tie up loose ends by writing a bit about the past few days.  

I just got back from Tokyo, where I had a very relaxing time for a change.  Came down to attend an academic conference sponsored by the German Institute for Japanese Studies, on Japan’s demographic crisis, and attended a number of interesting lectures (interesting in the sense for what some didn’t say, as I wrote about in yesterday’s blog entry).  It was also relaxing because I saw a lot of friends (and made new ones), and didn’t have to give any speeches.

Well, I tell a lie.  I gave one shortly after landing in Tokyo on the morning of June 2.  There was a sit-in demonstration against the new proposed IC Chip Gaijin Cards (as there will be every Tuesday morning, contact Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (Ijuuren)’s ( Takaya-san at fmwj AT jca DOT apc DOT org for more information).  Since they said anyone could attend any time between 9:30AM and 12:30 PM, I made it by 12:15.  I was handed a mike.  Anything I’d like to say to Japan’s Dietmembers, whose offices were in front of us with their windows open?

Sure did.  I gave five minutes in slow Japanese (fast doesn’t work on megaphones well) about Japan’s future depending on immigration, how increasing the policing is counterproductive, how Japanese wouldn’t tolerate the same measures being foisted upon them, how cards will only increase the likelihood for Japanese of color such as myself getting racially profiled for not being remotely checkable, and the like.  It was fun and good practice.  And a bit scary as I hadn’t anything prepared (and people had recording devices and even a camera ready).

Never mind.  Speaking is not obligatory, so readers, choose a Tuesday soon to attend.  The Diet has extended it’s deliberation period for this session by nearly two months, and rumor has it that the IC Chip Gaijin Card bill just might pass the Lower House (which means that even if it doesn’t pass the Upper, it will probably become law with the Lower House overruling).  Do what you can about this, people.


Afterwards came the German Institute of Japanese Studies Symposium presentations over the course of three days.  I mentioned the gist of most of them yesterday:  Speeches on the demographics of nations are pretty standardized:  Show the audience what you know in the intro with graphs of population movements, aging over time, and bar charts of births and deaths (that population pyramid that looks like a nematode is so burned into memory it appears in my nightmares).  Then some original research, about health care, about dealing with geriatrics, about the options before us (putting more women and elderly to work, raising the pension qualifying and retirement age, a bit about robotics, and even less about immigration or even migration), etc.  

The best presentations were about the depopulation of the Japanese countryside and public policy to try to bring people back, with case studies of three towns and how their methods didn’t seem too effectual (and Mr Takahashi in yesterday’s blog entry worries about overcrowding??).  I confirmed during the Q&A that they still haven’t come up with the idea of the Welcome Wagon, to make newcomers (of any nationality) feel welcome for moving out to the countryside (how to overcome the “gaijin” syndrome’s application to Japanese too, since any outsider has to wait ten years or so before they have a voice in rural communities…)

The other ones were by a Dr Vogt and a Dr Kingma who talked about migration trends in general.  International migration has produced 195 million migrants.  They now number as a proportion of population 1 in 10 in industrialized countries, and 1 in 35 of the world labor force.  There are now 195 million migrants, 50% of them now women.  When it comes to the proposed import of nurses and caregivers from Indonesia and the Philippines, as per bilateral agreements with Japan under “Economic Partnership Agreements”, the goal is, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, of 1.5 million NJ caregivers in Japan by 2040.  But the program has gotten off to an inauspicious start.  

Only in its second year, the EPAs have had goals of only 1000 total NJ health care workers imported.  They would be trained in Japanese for six months (at the hiring company’s expense, of around 600,000 yen, then work the remaining four and a half years in the health sector getting their skills and standards up to speed.  The course is harsh, as it is a “tenure system”, as in “up or out”.  If they don’t pass the same caregiver and nurse tests that Japanese natives pass within five years, they lose their visas and get sent back home.  This test, by the way, has a 50% fail rate for native Japanese.  And salaries are not all that great for anyone working the severe hours required in this business sector (which may account for why there is a shortage of nurses and caregivers in Japan in the first place).

The number of applicants reflect the harshness of the program.  In 2008, only 300 NJ applied for the 1000 available slots.  And not all employers stepped up to the plate as planned to hire them.  Dr Vogt showed us a segment from NHK contrasting an Indonesian health care worker (who was not interviewed) with a laid-off Japanese salaryman (who, interviewed, said he was grateful to get the work), with the point that we really don’t need NJ to take the place of Japanese when domestic labor can fill the demand. 

Great.  Yet another bloody mess of a GOJ program.


Back to the personal stuff.  The evenings were just as special, meeting old friends such as Isabelle, Hippie Chris and Naoko, Dave G, and making new ones such as Joseph T, Alfie, Dave P, Dave S, Honor, and others in passing who stopped by to share some thoughts on what’s bugging them either about what’s going on or what I’ve written recently.  Particularly pleasant was an event at the Pink Cow in Shibuya (where owner Tracy has the nicest greetings), where Ken Worsley and Garrett DiOrio gave an open-mic live “Seijigiri” political commentary for their organization, Trans-Pacific Radio (  TPR has some great podcasts on current events, business, and even baseball trends.  Well worth subscribing to, especially since their content is not only informed, their banter is very college-roommate style, where they bounce ideas off each other with verve and humor.  And it was even better live with a good Pink Cow meal.  Look for their podcast this weekend.  I break the ice with a question about Aso’s economic stimulus packages….

This was probably the most relaxing trip to Tokyo ever.  And I’ll be there next Sunday (June 14) for a speech and a movie showing of SOUR STRAWBERRIES at Tokyo University all over again.  Details to follow.  Mark your calendars for now.

Arudou Debito back in Sapporo


DIJ Tokyo Symposium 2009: Japan’s Demographic Science overtaken by anti-immigration politics


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Hi Blog.  I’ve been in Tokyo the past couple of days attending a symposium sponsored by the German Institute of Japanese Studies (DIJ), which has, as always, provided much food for thought.

This year’s theme is “Imploding Populations:  Global and Local Challenges of Demographic Change“, and I’ve seen presentations on health care, migration (both internal and external), geriatric treatment in the media, retirement options, and the like.  Good stuff, if a little tangental to what I research.

How it dovetails with is how the conclusions shared by all — that Japan needs to do something now about its demography — are studiously being ignored by the Japanese scientific representatives in attendance.

June 2’s series of talks by Japanese researchers was particularly enlightening.  Everyone concluded that Japan is facing a demographic juggernaut, given its aging society with low birthrate, depopulating countryside, and ever more populating cities.  Japan is not only greying, but also losing its economic prowess.

Yet these conclusions suddenly become null once you bring in the topic of immigration.

One speaker, a Mr Takahashi Shigesato, rendered in the program as “deputy director general at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research” (kokuritsu shakai hoshou – jinkou mondai kenkyuujo fuku shochou — a big cheese), so glibly skipped over the issue that I just had to raise my hand at the end for a question.

Sez I:  “Thanks for your presentation.  You mention the entry of foreigners into Japan as an option only briefly in your presentation.  You also use the term ‘gaikokujin roudouryoku jinkou no katsuyou‘ (active use of the foreign working labor population) without any mention of the word ‘immigration’ (imin).  Why this rhetoric?”

Mr Takahashi gave a noncommittal answer, citing that Japan is (now suddenly) a crowded place, that immigration was not an option for our country, and that inflows must be strictly controlled for fear of overpopulation.  A follow-up with him one-on-one got him claiming there is “no national consensus” (he used the word in English) on the issue.  When I asked him whether or not this was a vicious circle (as in, no discussion of the issue means no possible consensus), he dodged.  When I asked him if this term was a loaded one, one political instead of scientific regarding demography, he begged off replying further.

This dodging also happened with every other Japanese speaker on the issue (one other person in the audience raised the same question with a second speaker, and he gave a begrudging acknowledgement that foreigners might be necessary for Japan’s future — although he himself couldn’t envision it).

This does not give me hope for the future.  There is a definite “deer in the headlights” attitude happening here, where we know that Japan’s population will drop no matter what (Mr Takahashi even extrapolated in his powerpoint that Japanese would go extinct by the year 3000).  Yet extinction is still preferable to letting in people to stay.  This is why I’m having trouble seeing any public policy (from the health-care givers from Indonesia and the Philippines on down) as anything more than a revolving-door labor exploitation effort:  offering the promise of a life in Japan in exchange for intensive labor, revocable after a few years either due to the vicissitudes of world economics, or if you don’t pass some kind of arbitrary and difficult test that even natives would find challenging.

It also does not give me hope for this branch of Japanese science.  As a doctor of demographics (a fiery researcher  to whom I could really relate) stated in a later conversation with me that day:

“Demographics is the study of population changes:  births, deaths, inflows and outflows.  How can the Japanese demographers ignore inflows, even the possibility of them, in their assessments?”

Because once again, science is being riddled with politics.  Immigration is another one of those issues which one must not mention by name.  Especially if you want to be a member of a national government thinktank.


Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column Jun 2 2009: “The issue that dares not speak its name”


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Hi Blog.  Here’s my latest.  Enjoy!  Debito in Tokyo

The issue that dares not speak its name

The Japan Times: Tuesday, June 2, 2009

By ARUDOU Debito

A few columns ago (“Toadies, Vultures, and Zombie Debates,” March 3), I discussed how foreign apologists resuscitate dead-end discussions on racial discrimination. Promoting cultural relativity for their own ends, they peddle bigoted and obsolescent ideologies now impossible to justify in their societies of birth.

This would be impossible in Japan too, if racial discrimination was illegal. And it would be nice if people who most need a law passed would unite and demand one.

But that’s not why getting that law is tough. It’s more because the domestic debate on racial discrimination has been dulled and avoided due to rhetorical tricks of the Japanese media and government. After all, if you can’t discuss a problem properly, you can’t fix it.

How it works: In Japanese, “racial discrimination” is jinshu sabetsu. That is the established term used in official translations of international treaties (such as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, or CERD) that Japan has signed up to.

However, the Japanese media won’t couch the discussion in these terms. This was visible during the nationwide debate generated by the Otaru onsen case (1999-2005), where public bathhouses refused entry to customers because they didn’t “look Japanese.” If you read the oodles of non-tabloid articles on this case (archived at ), you’ll see the debate was conducted in milder, misleading language.

For example, it was rendered in terms of gaikokujin sabetsu (discrimination against foreigners). But that’s not the same thing. The people being discriminated against were not all foreign (ahem).

Or else it was depicted as gaiken sabetsu (discrimination by physical appearance). But that’s not “race,” either. Nor is “physical appearance” specifically covered by the CERD.

This term particularly derails the debate. It actually generates sympathy for people afraid of how others look.

Think about it. If, say, some old fart is standoffish towards people who are tall, big, dark, scary-looking, foreign-looking, etc., oh well, shikata ga nai — it can’t be helped. We Japanese are shy, remember.

Fortunately, there are limits: “Looks,” sure, but few Japanese would ever admit to disliking people specifically by race, even though one is a factor of the other.

That’s because racial discrimination, according to the Japanese education system, happens in other countries — like America under segregation or South Africa under apartheid. Not in Japan.

Then things get really wet: Remember, We Japanese admire certain types of foreigners, so we’re obviously not prejudiced. And We Japanese have been discriminated against in the past for our race, like, for instance, those American World War II internment camps. And how about the time we got ripped off for being naive, trusting Japanese last time we ventured overseas? So it works both ways, y’see?

Welcome to the Never-Never Land of Self-Justification and Victimization. If We Japanese are doing something discriminatory, so what? Everybody else is doing it. So we’ll keep on keeping on, thank you very much. There the debate dies a death of a thousand relativities.

Back to the media, which stifles more intelligent debate through its rhetoric of avoidance. They rattle on about minshuteki sabetsu (discrimination by ethnicity), even though it wasn’t until last year that Japan even admitted it had any minorities.

Or else it’s not portrayed as a form of discrimination at all: It’s a matter of cultural misunderstandings, language barriers, microwaves and sun spots, whatever — anything but calling a spade a spade. That’s why only one article out of the 100 or so on the Otaru onsen case actually deemed it — flat out, without quoting some radical-sounding activist — jinshu sabetsu. Not a misprint. One. And that was a Hokkaido Shimbun editorial at the very end of the case.

Pity it only took five years of debate for them to get it, and more pity that the media has since mostly gone back to claiming discrimination by nationality, looks, ethnicity, culture etc. all over again.

The Japanese government’s fingerprints are also all over this rhetorical legerdemain. When the U.N. CERD Committee first accused Japan of not doing enough to eliminate racial discrimination back in 2000 ( ), double-talk was in fine form.

First, the government argued back that Japan has no ethnic minorities, and therefore anyone who was a citizen was a member of the Japanese race. Thus citizens were not covered by the CERD because any discrimination against them couldn’t be by race.

Then they admitted that foreigners in Japan might indeed be victims of discrimination. But that’s too bad. They’re foreigners. They don’t have the same rights as citizens, such as the right to vote or run for office. Even the CERD acknowledges that. Oh well. If foreigners want the same rights, they should naturalize.

Never mind those half-million or so former foreigners who have naturalized, such as this writer, who don’t all fall into this neat dichotomy. Somehow they don’t count.

Essentially, the government is arguing that the CERD covers nobody in Japan.

That’s why domestic debate on racial discrimination is so carefully worded. If somebody gets denied something ostensibly because they’re a foreigner, or foreign-looking, it’s not a matter of race. It might be discrimination by nationality, or by face, or by culture, or not even discrimination at all.

Just don’t dare call it jinshu sabetsu, the scourge that dares not speak its name. If we pretend it doesn’t exist, you can’t legislate against it.

Debito Arudou is coauthor of the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants.” Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments

The Japan Times: Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Japan Times May 20, 2009: “IC you: Bugging the Alien” article on new Gaijin Cards


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Hi Blog.  Here’s the JT version of my article yesterday, with links to sources. Enjoy!  Debito in Sapporo

IC you: bugging the alien

New gaijin cards could allow police to remotely track foreigners

When the Japanese government first issued alien registration cards (aka gaijin cards) in 1952, it had one basic aim in mind: to track “foreigners” (at that time, mostly Korean and Taiwanese stripped of Japanese colonial citizenship) who decided to stay in postwar Japan.

Gaijin cards put foreigners in their place: Registry is from age 16, so from a young age they were psychologically alienated from the rest of Japanese society. So what if they were born and acculturated here over many generations? Still foreigners, full stop.

Even today, when emigrant non-Japanese far outnumber the native-born, the government tends to see them all less as residents, more as something untrustworthy to police and control. Noncitizens are not properly listed on residency registries. Moreover, only foreigners must carry personal information (name and address, personal particulars, duration of visa status, photo, and — for a time — fingerprints) at all times. Gaijin cards must also be available for public inspection under threat of arrest, one year in jail and ¥200,000 in fines.

However, the Diet is considering a bill abolishing those gaijin cards.

Sounds great at first: Under the proposed revisions, non-Japanese would be registered properly with residency certificates (juuminhyou). Maximum visa durations would increase from three years to five. ID cards would be revamped. Drafters claim this will “protect” (hogo) foreigners, making their access to social services more “convenient.”

However, read the fine print. The government is in fact creating a system to police foreigners more tightly than ever.

Years ago, this column (“The IC You Card,” Nov. 22, 2005) examined this policy in its larval stage. Its express aims have always been to target non-Japanese in the name of forestalling crime, terrorism, infectious diseases and the scourge of illegal aliens. Foreigners, again, are trouble.

But now the policy has gone pupal. You might consider helping chloroform the bug before it hatches. Here’s why:

The “new gaijin cards,” or zairyuu kaado (ZRK), are fundamentally unchanged: The usual suspects of biometric data (name, address, date of birth, visa status, name and address of workplace, photograph etc. — i.e. everything on the cover of your card) will be stored digitally on an embedded computer chip. Still extant is the 24/7 carrying requirement, backed by the same severe criminal punishments.

What has changed is that punishments will now be even swifter and stricter. If you change any status recorded on your chip and don’t report it to the authorities within 14 calendar days, you face a new ¥200,000 fine. If you don’t comply within three months, you risk losing your visa entirely.

Reasonable parameters? Not after you consider some scenarios:

• Graduate high school and enroll in college? Congratulations. Now tell the government or else.

• Change your job or residence? Report it, even if your visa (say, permanent residency or spouse visa) allows you to work without restrictions anywhere.

• Get a divorce, or your spouse dies? Condolences. Dry your eyes, declare the death or marital mess right away, and give up your spouse visa.

• Suffering from domestic violence, so you flee to a shelter? Cue the violins: A Japanese husband can now rat on his battered foreign wife, say she’s no longer at his address, and have her deported if she doesn’t return to his clutches.

Foreigners are in a weaker position than ever.

Now add on another, Orwellian layer: bureaucratic central control (ichigen kanri). Alien registration is currently delegated to your local ward office. Under the new system, the Ministry of Justice will handle everything. You must visit your friendly Immigration Bureau (there are only 65 regional offices — not even two per prefecture) to stand in line, report your changes and be issued with your card.

Try to get there within what works out to be a maximum of 10 weekdays, especially if you live in a remote area of Japan (like, say, Hokkaido or an Okinawan island). Then try to explain away a lost workday in this corporate culture.

Now consider refugees. They don’t even get an ID card anymore. They won’t be able to open a bank account, register to attend schools, enter hospital, or qualify for social insurance anymore. No matter; our country accepts fewer than a few dozen refugees every year; they shouldn’t have come here anyway, thinking they could impose upon our peaceful, developed country.

That’s still not the worst of it. I mentioned that embedded computer chip. The ZRK is a “smart card.” Most places worldwide issue smart cards for innocuous things like transportation and direct debit, and you have to swipe the card on a terminal to activate it. Carrying one is, at least, optional.

Not in Japan. Although the 2005 proposal suggested foreign “swiping stations” in public buildings, the technology already exists to read IC cards remotely. With Japan’s love of cutting-edge gadgets, data processing will probably not stop at the swipe. The authorities will be able to remotely scan crowds for foreigners.

In other words, the IC chip is a transponder — a bug.

Now imagine these scenarios: Not only can police scan and detect illegal aliens, but they can also uncover aliens of any stripe. It also means that anyone with access to IC chip scanners (they’re going cheap online) could possibly swipe your information. Happy to have your biometric information in the hands of thieves?

Moreover, this system will further encourage racial profiling. If police see somebody who looks alien yet doesn’t show up on their scanner (such as your naturalized author, or Japan’s thousands of international children), they will more likely target you for questioning — as in: “Hey, you! Stop! Why aren’t you detectable?”

I called the Immigration Bureau last week to talk about these issues. Their resident experts on ZRK security said that data would be protected by PIN numbers. The bureau could not, however, answer questions about how police would enforce their next-generation gaijin card checkpoints. Those police are a different agency, they said, and there are no concrete guidelines yet.

Come again? Pass the law, and then we’ll decide law enforcement procedures? This blind faith is precisely what leads to human rights abuses.

One question lingers: Why would the government scrap the current alien policing system? For nearly six decades, it effectively kept foreigners officially invisible as residents, yet open to interrogation and arrest due to a wallet-size card. What’s broke?

Local government. It’s too sympathetic to the needs of its non-Japanese residents.

Remember Noriko Calderon, whose recently deported parents came to Japan on false passports? Did you ever wonder how she could attend Japanese schools and receive social services while her parents were on expired visas?

Because local governments currently issue the gaijin cards. At their own discretion, they can even issue ID to visa overstayers. Rendered as zairyu shikaku nashi (no status of residence), the card can be used to access social services. They can live relatively normal lives, as long as they avoid police gaijin-card checkpoints.

Why are local governments so sweet? With high concentrations of non-Japanese residents, many see foreigners as human beings needing assistance. After all, they keep local factories humming, pay taxes and add life to local infrastructure. Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture and Yokkaichi, in Mie, have long petitioned the national government for improvements, such as facilitating foreign access to public services and education, and easing registry and visa applications.

After years of deaf ears, the central government took action. Under the rhetoric of “smoking out illegal aliens,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2005 pledged to “make Japan the world’s safest country again” by halving the number of visa overstayers by 2010.

Never mind that the overall trend in Japan is toward devolving power to the provinces (chiho bunken); Japan now wants to rein in local governments because they poke holes in their dike. It’s still a shame the proposed plugs make life impossible for refugees, and harder for any law-abiding non-Japanese resident with a busy life.

Still, did you expect the leopard to change its spots? Put immigration policy in the hands of the police and they will do just that — police, under a far-removed centralized regime trained to see people as potential criminals.

This is counterproductive. As we’ve said in this column many times before, an aging Japan needs immigration. These new gaijin cards will make already perpetually targeted foreigners (and foreign-looking Japanese) even less comfortable, less integrated members of society.

Why stop at bugging the gaijin? Why not just sew gold stars on their lapels and be done with it?

Fortunately, a policy this egregious has fomented its own protest, even within a general public that usually cares little about the livelihoods of foreigners. Major newspapers are covering the issue, for a change. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan wants the bill watered down, vowing to block it until after the next general election.

The coalition group NGO Committee against Resident Alien Card System ( has as its banner “Less policing, more genuine immigration policy that promotes multiethnic co-existence.”

On Sunday afternoon, there will be a demonstration in Tokyo against the new gaijin cards. Do attend if so inclined.


A public assembly against the new IC-chip gaijin cards will take place Sunday, May 24, 2-5 p.m. at the Koutsu Building, Shimbashi 5-15-5, Tokyo. For further information,see or contact Amnesty International Japan via or by mail at Send comments to

GOJ shuts down NJ academic conference at Josai University due to Swine Flu


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar

Hi Blog.  Turning the keyboard over to a friend who wishes to remain anonymous.  Debito

Dear Debito,

I’m an avid reader of your blog — thanks for all your hard work! I thought I’d pass this information along to you in the event you are hearing about similar cases.

A friend of mine was supposed to come to Tokyo from the U.S. for an academic conference next week. There would be around 800 mostly North American participants — good business for hotels and lots of tourism money in general in these tough economic times. Last week, the GOJ started pressuring the host university to cancel the conference. The host, Josai University, managed to negotiate the following conditions to have the conference:

1. Detailed location/contact info for participants during conference and 10 days after
2. Temperature taken every day of the conference; those with 100.4 F given additional test and possibly quarantined
3. Fill out health declaration every day
4. Wear masks every day
5. Participants are required to pay all quarantine and medical costs

Needless to say, many did not want to attend under these strict conditions, and the conference ended up being canceled:

So the GOJ in the end got its desired result.

Anyway, while I think that of course diligence is required in containing the flu epidemic, I find it a little disconcerting that the GOJ is coming down so strictly on NJs, especially in academic activities. I’m not even sure how legal it is for the GOJ to dictate terms and conditions of their private conference.

Perhaps this one case isn’t worth mentioning, (or perhaps I’m just upset because now I don’t get to see my friend!!) but if many things like this start to happen, it might be worth examining.




Dear Colleagues:

It is with a very great regret that we are announcing the cancellation of the SCMS conference in Tokyo scheduled for May 21-24, 2009.

Late last week we learned that the Government of Japan and the Chiyoda District Government had requested that Josai International University cancel the conference due to concerns about containing the H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) virus.  That request, and the conditions that were subsequently imposed under which the conference might occur, resulted in daily discussions among the officers of SCMS, members of the Board of Directors, the Society’s legal counsel, and representatives of Josai.

We have determined that proceeding with the conference under the conditions ordered by the government presents too many risks for our members and the Society.  These include the personal risks to individual members (including possible quarantine, additional expense, and considerable stress), potential liability to SCMS, as well as pressures on the Society’s small infrastructure.  Moreover, the survey conducted yesterday (564 of 748 registrants replied) indicated that almost one-third of those responding chose to withdraw from the conference.  Many of those who said that they would still attend indicated that they would do so out of a sense of obligation or said that they would spend minimal time at the conference.  It was also clear that some registrants who did not respond to the survey, but who communicated in other ways, were waiting for more information before making a decision.

We are extremely grateful for the efforts of JIU, on behalf of SCMS, for negotiating with the national and local governments to create conditions under which the conference could move forward.  But it is clear that members felt that those conditions would not be conducive to a satisfactory conference experience.  The high cancellation rate – with more likely – presented us with a depleted program rather than the robust intellectual and social experience our members have come to expect of the SCMS conference.

  1.     You are urged to cancel your hotel reservations and flights immediately, unless you plan to travel to Japan for pleasure.  You should contact your airline to arrange for credit on your airfare.  We will be working with Japan Travel Bureau to reduce or eliminate hotel cancellation penalties.

  2.     Conference fees will be refunded, or individuals may request that their registration fee be used for the 2010 conference in Los Angeles.  More details will follow.

  3.     We are working on plans to retain as much of the Tokyo conference as possible as a part of our Los Angeles conference.  We will provide more information as soon as possible.   

  4.     We will be creating a forum on the SCMS website for individuals to register their comments.

  5.     If you have already arrived in Japan and need assistance, please contact the SCMS office staff as soon as possible.  Others can expect their e-mail messages and phone calls to be answered in the order that are received as soon as the staff can respond.

This has been a severe trial for the SCMS leadership, and we realize that the uncertainty caused by this global health situation has created great confusion and anxiety among our members.

We are extremely disappointed that we have had to make this decision, especially in light of the tremendous amount of planning and work that our members, the SCMS staff, and our exhibitors committed to this conference.  Again, we offer our heartfelt gratitude to the Chancellor of Josai and Josai International Universities, MIZUTA Noriko, Dean EN Fukuyuki, SHINOZAKI Kayo and the rest of the staff at JIU who generously offered his or her services above and beyond any duties, responsibilities, or obligations and on top of their already considerable responsibilities at JIU.

We are saddened that we will not be able to meet in Tokyo, but when the dust settles, we look forward to a combined Tokyo/Los Angeles conference to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, which will represent the very best of who we are and what we do.


Patrice Petro, President

Anne Friedberg, President-Elect

Stephen Prince, Past-President

Eric Schaefer, Secretary

Paula Massood, Treasurer

Scott Curtis, Member of the Board

F. Hollis Griffin, Graduate Student Representative

Michele Hilmes, Member of the Board

Priya Jaikumar, Member of the Board

Victoria Johnson, Member of the Board

Charles Wolfe, Member of the Board

Michael Zryd, Member of the Board


Thoughts on tonight’s TV Asahi TV Tackle on NJ issues


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Just a few thoughts on tonight’s TV Asahi program “TV Tackle”.

It was, in a word, disappointing.

Maybe that’s par for the course in a 55-minute (minus commercials) show edited for content, and it did try to take on some serious issues.

Eight commentators participated: three academics — a Korean, a Brazilian, and a Chinese — plus two media pundits and three politicians — LDP’s Kouno Taro, plus Koumeito, and DPJ. All people of Asian background (save an overlong and as incomprehensible as ever commentary from Koko Ga Hen TV show bomb-thrower Zomahoun Rufin), all reasonably informed, but all clipped for airtime before much of substance came out.

The show had four segments: 1) the new Gaijin Cards with IC Chips, 2) The historical issue of the Zainichis and other Permanent Residents and their right to vote in local elections, 3) the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe, and 4) the new Tourism Agency and the new tightening of Immigration controls (fingerprinting etc.)

The show gave good backgrounds on the issues (lots of data, historical facts), but what the panelists did with the show was what disappointed.

1) The IC Gaijin Cards was far too short, and fumbled the issue when talking about why NJ have to carry cards 24/7 or face arrest and criminal charges. Nikkei Brazilian Angelo Ishi showed his card for the cameras (thanks; surprisingly few Japanese know NJ have to carry them, or even have them), but there was not enough reportage on why these cards are so controversial (heavy fines and jail time, for example), and why the new cards are even more so (potential remote tracking of IC Chips and and heavier penalties for delayed reporting of changes of status). Even the DPJ rep there admitted he had no problems with the Cards, despite the official party line of opposing them. So much for the debate. Where’s Tanaka Hiroshi when we need him?

There was a decent bit on the Calderon Noriko Case, fortunately, but the hardliners held sway: If her parents hadn’t come in on someone else’s passport, then maybe they could have stayed here together as a family. End of debate.

2) We then got bogged down in the historical issues of the Zainichi Koreans, and how historically they’ve been here for generations yet have no right to vote. Kouno Taro disappointed by saying that if you want the right to vote, naturalize. Even though, as we’ve said time and time again (and I have to him directly), the process is not all that easy and is quite arbitrary. It is not a kirifuda. This segment wound up a waste of time with the Korean academic getting hot under the collar and appearing to talk too much.

3) The best bit was on the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe, where just about everyone there agreed that bribing workers to go home was a national disgrace. Kouno again took a hard line and said that we shouldn’t have imported people because they were Nikkei, but rather because they speak Japanese well (as if people working this hard in factories could have done much about it; you want perfection before entry?). Angelo Ishi got in good points that Japanese companies actually went overseas to RECRUIT Nikkei, with all sorts of false promises about income and conditions, and others pointed out that Japan’s special ties with Nikkei overseas actually did choose people based upon blood and little else. It was portrayed rightfully as a failed policy, but hands were wrung about how to keep the NJ here, sigh.

4) Last bit was on tourism and the fingerprinting issue. Much fearmongering about the Koreans in particular and their ability to come over without visas, and one case of falsified fingerprints was portrayed as the evils of Koreans, not as flaws in the system. No mention at all was made of how it’s NOT MERELY TOURISTS being fingerprinted, but EVERY NJ WHO IS NOT A ZAINICHI.  And that includes Regular Permanent Residents, who too have to suffer the humiliation of being treated like tourists and suspected terrorists.

Therein was the great flaw in the program. Nobody was there who could represent the “Newcomers”. No naturalized Japanese. No non-Asian Permanent Residents. Nobody who could give a perspective (except Angelo, and he did well, but he’s halfway in The Club anyway) of somebody that has been a pure outsider both by race and by face, and show the cameras that Japan is in fact changing with these new kinds of people who are here to stay as immigrants.

Pity. The show meant well. But it fell back into old hackneyed paradigms with few eyes opened.

This synopsis has been written over the 20 minutes since the show ended, all from memory. If people find segments of this show on YouTube, please send this blog entry a link. Keeps me honest. Thanks.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Revamped article on the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar

Hi Blog.  A few weeks ago I was invited to retool my recent Japan Times article on the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe for an academic website.  After doing so (and integrating a point I had neglected about the bribe being one way to save on pension monies), they decided that I had enough outlets (what with this blog and the JT) and thought it wasn’t quite original enough.  Ah well.  I like how it turned out anyway, so I’ll post it here as the outlet.  Thanks for reading it.  Debito in Sapporo



By Arudou Debito. May 8, 2009

One cannot read the news without hearing how bad the world economy has become, and Japan is no exception. Daily headlines proclaim what was once considered inconceivable in a land of lifetime employment: tens of thousands of people fired from Japan’s world-class factories. The Economist in April referred to Japan’s “two lost decades”, suggesting that modest economic gains over the past five years will be completely wiped out, according to OECD forecasts for 2009.

Cutbacks have bitten especially deeply into the labor market for non-Japanese workers. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reports that in the two months up to January 2009, more than 9,000 foreigners asked “Hello Work” unemployment agencies for assistance — eleven times the figure for the same period a year earlier. The Mainichi Shinbun reported (April 7, 2009) that 1,007 foreign “trainees”, working in Japanese factories, were made redundant between October 2008 and January 2009 alone.

In the same report [1], the labor ministry asserts that non-Japanese are unfamiliar with Japan’s language and corporate culture, concluding that (despite years of factory work) they are “extremely unre-employable” (saishuushoku ga kiwamete muzukashii).[2] So select regions are offering information centers, language training, and some degree of job placement. Under an emergency measure drawn up by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in March, the Japanese government began from April 1 offering workers of Japanese descent (nikkei) working here on “long-term resident” visas — a repatriation package. Applicants get 300,000 yen, plus 200,000 yen for each family dependent, if they return to their own country. If they take up the offer before their unemployment benefit runs out, they get 100,000 yen added to each sum for each month outstanding.

This sounds good. After all, why keep people here who cannot find a job? But read the small print of the proposal: The retraining measures only target 5,000 people, a tiny fraction of the 420,000-plus nikkei already in Japan. Of course, the offer extends to none of the 102,018 “trainees” (mostly Chinese) that Japan’s factories received in 2007 alone. Hundreds of thousands of people are on their own.

From this, it is clear the government is engaging in damage control by physically removing a small number of people from Japan’s unemployment rosters – the nikkei – and doing a dramatic U-turn in imported-labor policies. A twenty-year-old visa regime, based on economic and political contradictions, official and unofficial cross-purposes, unregulated corrupt programs, and a mindset of treating people as mere work units, is coming to a close. This is an enormous policy miscalculation by the Japanese government thanks to a blind spot of using racially based paradigms to create a new domestic workforce.

First, let’s return to the “repatriation offer” and consider its implications. Although the sum of 300,000 yen may appear magnanimous, it comes with two built-in ironies. One is the sense that history is repeating itself. These nikkei beneficiaries are the descendents of beneficiaries of an earlier scheme by the Japanese government to export its unemployed. A century ago, Japan sent farmers to Brazil, America, Canada, Peru and other South American countries. Over the past two decades, however, Japan has brought nikkei back under yet another scheme to utilize their cheap labor. This time, however, if the nikkei take the ticket back “home,” they can’t return — at least not under the same preferential work visa. The welcome mat has been retracted.

The other irony is the clear policy failure. Close to half a million nikkei are living in Japan, some for up to twenty years, paying taxes, social security, and nenkin retirement pensions. They have worked long hours at low wages to keep Japan’s factories competitive in the world economy. Although the nikkei have doubled Japan’s foreign population since 1990, minimal seniority and entrenchment has taken a heavy toll on these long-termers; books have been written on how few foreigners, including the Nikkei, have been assimilated.[3] Now that markets have soured, foreigners are the first to be laid off, and their unassimilated status, even in the eyes of the labor ministry, has made many of them unmarketable.

Put bluntly, the policy is: train one percent (5,000) to stay; bribe the rest to go and become some other country’s problem. In fact, the government stands to save a great deal of money by paying the nikkei a pittance in plane fares and repatriation fees, while keeping their many years of pension contributions (usually about 15% of monthly salary). By using this economic sleight-of hand, offering desperate people short-term cash if they foresake their long-term investments, this anti-assimilation policy becomes profitable for the government, while beggaring foreigners’ retirements.

Now consider another layer: This scheme only applies to nikkei, not to other non-Japanese workers such as the large number of Chinese “trainees” also here at Japan’s invitation. How has a government policy for a developed country disintegrated into something so ludicrous, where even officially sanctioned exclusionism has a hierarchy?

The background, in brief, is this: Japan faced a huge blue-collar labor shortage in the late 1980s, and realized with the rise in the value of the yen and high minimum wages, that its exports were being priced out of world markets.

Japan’s solution, like that of many other developed countries, was to import cheaper foreign labor. Of course, other countries with a significant influx of migrant labor, also had problems with equitable working conditions and assimilation.[4] However, as a new documentary, Sour Strawberries: Japan’s hidden “guest workers” vividly portrays, what made Japan’s policy fundamentally different was a view of foreign labor through a racial prism. Policymaking elites, worried about debasing Japan’s allegedly homogeneous society with foreigners who might stay, maintained an official stance of “no immigration” and “no import of unskilled labor”.

However, that was tatemae — a façade. Urged by business lobbies such as Nippon Keidanren, Japan created a visa regime from 1990 to import foreign laborers (mostly Chinese) as “trainees”, ostensibly to learn a skill, but basically to put them in factories and farms doing unskilled “dirty, difficult, and dangerous” labor eschewed by Japanese. The trainees were paid less than half the minimum wage (as they were not legally workers under Japanese labor law) and received no social welfare.

Although some trainees were reportedly working 10, 15 and in one case even 22-hour days, six to seven days a week including holidays, they received wages so paltry they beggared belief — in some cases 40,000 yen a month. A Chinese “trainee” interviewed in Sour Strawberries said he wound up earning the same here as he would in China. Others received even less, being charged by employers for rent, utilities, and food on top of that.

Abuses proliferated. Trainees found their passports confiscated and pay withheld, were denied basic human rights such as freedom of association or religious practice, were harassed and beaten, and were even fired without compensation if they were injured on the job. One employer hired thugs to force his Chinese staff to board a plane home. But trainees couldn’t just give up and go back. Due to visa restrictions, requiring significant deposits before coming to Japan (to put a damper on emigration), Chinese took out travel loans of between 700,000 to one million yen. If they returned before their visas were up, they would be in default, sued by their banks or brokers and ruined. Thus they were locked into abusive jobs they couldn’t complain about or quit without losing their visa and livelihoods overseas.

As Zentoitsu Worker’s Union leader Torii Ippei said in the documentary, this government-sponsored but largely unregulated program made so many employers turn bad, that places without worker abuses were “very rare”. The Yomiuri Shinbun (April 11, 2009) reported a recent Justice Ministry finding of “irregularities” at 452 companies and organizations involving trainees in 2008 alone, including hundreds of cases of unpaid overtime and illegal wages. Cases have been remanded to public prosecutors resulting in the occasional court victory, such as the 2008 landmark decision against the Tochigi strawberry farm that became the sobriquet for the documentary, have resulted in hefty (by Japanese standards) punitive judgments.

But these “trainees” were not the only ones getting exploited. 1990 was also the year the “long term resident” visa was introduced for the nikkei. Unlike the trainees, they were given significantly higher wages, labor law protections and unlimited employment opportunities — supposedly to allow them to “explore their heritage” — while being worked, in many cases 10 to 15 hours a day, six days a week.

Why this most-favored visa status for the nikkei? The reason was racially based. As LDP and Keidanren representatives testified in Sour Strawberries, policymakers figured that nikkei would present fewer assimilation problems. After all, they have Japanese blood, ergo the prerequisite cultural understanding of Japan’s unique culture and garbage-sorting procedures. It was deemed unnecessary to create any integration policy. However, as neighborhood problems arose, visible in the “No Foreigner” shop signs around nikkei areas and the Ana Bortz vs. Seibido Jewelry Store (1998-9) lawsuit, the atmosphere was counterproductive and demoralizing for an enthusiastic workforce.[5] A nikkei interviewed in the documentary described how overseas she felt like a Japanese, yet in Japan she ultimately felt like a foreigner.

Under these visa regimes, Japan invited over a million non-Japanese to come to Japan to work — and work they did, many in virtual indentured servitude. Yet instead of being praised for their contributions, they became scapegoats. Neighborhoods not only turned against them, but also police campaigns offered years of opprobrium for alleged rises in crime and overstaying (even though foreign crime rates were actually lower than domestic, and the number of visa overstayers dropped every year since 1993). Non-Japanese workers were also bashed for not learning the language (when they actually had little time to study, let alone attend Japanese classes offered by a mere handful of merciful local governments) — all disincentives for settling in Japan.

This is what happens when people are brought into a country by official government policy, yet for unofficial purposes at odds with official pledges. Japan has no immigration policy. It then becomes awkward for the government to make official pronouncements on how the new workforce is contributing to the economy, or why it should be allowed to stay. So the workforce remains in societal limbo. Then when things go wrong — in this case a tectonic macroeconomic shift — and the policy fails, it is the foreigners, not the government, who bear the brunt.

And fail the policy did on April Fools’ Day 2009, when the government confirmed that nikkei didn’t actually belong in Japan by offering them golden parachutes. Of course, race was again a factor, as the repatriation package was unavailable to wrong-blooded “trainees,” who must return on their own dime (perhaps, in some cases, with fines added on for overstaying) to face financial ruin.

What to do instead? In my view, the Japanese government must take responsibility. Having invited foreigners over here, it is necessary to treat them like human beings. Give them the same labor rights and job training that you would give every worker in Japan, and free nationwide Japanese lessons to bring them up to speed. Reward them for their investment in our society and their taxes paid. Do what can be done to make them more comfortable and settled. Above all, stop bashing them: Let Japanese society know why foreigners are here and what they have contributed to the country.

Don’t treat foreigners like toxic waste, sending them overseas for somebody else to deal with, and don’t detoxify our society under the same racially-based paradigms that got us into this situation in the first place. You brought this upon yourselves through a labor policy that ignored immigration and assimilation. Deal with it in Japan, by helping non-Japanese residents of whatever background make Japan their home.

This is not a radical proposal. Given the low-birthrate of Japan’s aging society, experts have been urging you to do this for a decade now. This labor downturn won’t last forever, and when things pick up again you will have a younger, more acculturated, more acclimatized, even grateful workforce to help pick up the pieces. Just sending people back, where they will tell others about their dreadful years in Japan being exploited and excluded, is on so many levels the wrong thing to do.

[1] Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labour report at
[2] Original Japanese reads in the above report 「日本語能力の不足や我が国の雇用慣行の不案内に加え、職務経験も十分ではないため、いったん離職した場合には、再就職が極めて厳しい状況にあります。]
[3] See Takeyuki Tsuda, Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland.[add source information]
[4] For examples of issues of migrant labor and assimilation in Spain, South Korea, and Italy as well as Japan, see Takeyuki Tsuda, ed. Local Citizenship in Recent Countries of Immigration: Japan in Comparative Perspective. Other examples, such as the Turks in West Germany, Poles in the British Isles, Algerians and Moroccans in France, and Africans throughout Western Europe, have warranted significant media attention over the decades, but the labor mobility created by EU passports have arguably made the counterarguments against migration less “homogeneous-society” and “racially-based” in origin than in the Japanese example. [recheck and revise last sentence]
[5] For a description of the Ana Bortz and other cases of Nikkei exclusionism, see

Arudou Debito, Associate Professor at Hokkaido Information University, is a columnist for The Japan Times and the manager of the daily blog. The co-author of Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan, and author of Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan (Akashi Shoten, Inc.), Arudou is organizing nationwide showings of Sour Strawberries around Japan late August-early September; contact him at to arrange a screening. You can purchase a copy of the documentary by visiting

A briefer version of this article was published in The Japan Times on April 7, 2009

Wash Post on GOJ border controls of Swine Flu, Mainichi/Kyodo on hospitals turning away J with fevers or NJ friends


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Sooner or later we’re going to have to discuss the issue of Swine Flu (which looks ultimately to be rated as a Pandemic), as it feeds into the (universal, but particularly strong in Japan) mentality of keeping the country safe at the border.

A reporter from the Washington post, on a return flight from DC to Narita, gives us a thorough eye-witness account. If I had been on that flight, I would probably have filed a grumpy report too. But my critique of this might seem out of character. I’ll put that below the article.

And after my critique, just when I thought I could say something nice, the Mainichi and Kyodo report that hospitals, of all places, are overreacting; again, with a foreign dimension involved.


Japan Inspecting Airliners for Flu Victims
Gowned, Goggled Officials Hold Passengers Aboard Flight From Dulles for 70 Minutes
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Videotaping of the proceedings by the reporter on the scene (worth watching) at:

TOKYO, May 4 — Armed with thermographic guns, Japanese health inspectors in surgical gowns, goggles and masks boarded United Flight 803 from Washington Dulles. They prowled the aisles, pointing their fever-seeking machines at jet-lagged faces.

The nonstop flight had taken 13 1/2 hours. Toddlers were crying. Adults were wilting. Everyone was under strict orders to stay in his or her seat.

Exhausted-looking flight attendants handed out surgical masks, gifts from the government of Japan, which has yet to find a single confirmed case of swine flu but is diligently seeking feverish suspects.

Passengers could not leave the aircraft until they had filled out a form the government had hurriedly printed. “The Questionnaire of Heath [sic] Status” asked if travelers had been to Mexico lately, if they had a runny nose, if they were taking medication to mask a fever.

As long as the threat of a flu pandemic persists, anyone who flies into this country from North America with flulike ailments will not be allowed to walk off an airplane and infect the country. Last week, inspectors began boarding every flight from Mexico, Canada and the United States. They take the temperature of about 6,000 passengers a day. Near Tokyo’s Narita airport, 500 rooms have been secured by the Health Ministry to quarantine infected passengers.

Asia was stung in 2003 by an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which killed about 800 people and caused temporary harm to the economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia. As a result, governments and health bureaucracies across the region are ready and willing to move aggressively against swine flu.

China suspended flights from Mexico on Saturday, after the first confirmed case of the virus was found in Hong Kong. At the Hong Kong hotel where the swine flu victim stayed, about 200 guests and 100 workers were confined to the premises for a week. In South Korea, which has two probable cases of swine flu, all passengers pass in front of thermographic cameras. Those found to be feverish are held for testing that takes about six hours.

Even though it has yet to find one confirmed case of swine flu, Japan has opened 684 “fever clinics” across the country. Officials installed thermographic imaging devices at the world table tennis championships in Yokohama after a local high school student was admitted to a hospital with what turned out to be a seasonal strain of the flu. On Monday, a woman who had just returned from the United States tested positive for influenza A and was experiencing symptoms, news agencies reported, but more tests were needed to determine whether she was in fact the island nation’s first swine flu victim.

“It’s not a short-term fight, and we need to brace ourselves for what will likely take a considerable time,” Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters Friday.

For jumbo jets arriving from North America, a shortage of health inspectors has meant that considerable time is being spent by passengers in parked airplanes. Thousands of travelers have waited for hours in their seats before inspectors could clear them to pass through immigration.

“We’re just about managing to handle the situation with a limited number of inspectors,” a government official told the Yomiuri newspaper. “But I wonder what will happen if more outbreaks occur in other countries.”

Inspectors boarded United Flight 803 a few minutes after it landed at Narita. They completed their work in 1 hour and 10 minutes. Although everyone was sick of sitting in the airplane, no was found to be feverish.

COMMENT FROM DEBITO: Actually, I think Japan has improved on its techniques since the last outbreak scare. Again, remember SARS back in 2003? I do. I was being refused entry into some hotels just because I had foreign roots (I hadn’t even left Japan in many years, let alone visit a SARS-infected country). SARS back then merely exacerbated the same government-promoted fear phenomenon that wound up painting foreigners in general as potential criminals and social destabilizers. And the MHLW has specifically said that border controls were specifically for “effective prevention of infectious diseases and terrorism.”

That so far hasn’t really happened this time. Instead, we have everyone being tested regardless of nationality. Contrast this with the differing treatment found in one confirmed case a few years ago, from a 2005 Japan Times article I wrote:

I see. Then it naturally follows that on May 8, 2005, after a Caucasian passenger became ill on a Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok to Fukuoka via Hong Kong and Taipei, all Caucasians, according to a passenger, were given yellow quarantine forms at Fukuoka Airport. Japanese, she alleges, were not. When called on this, Fukuoka Quarantine Station did acknowledge on May 18 that not all passengers were given the yellow forms–just to those originating in Thailand (even though some recipients boarded at Hong Kong). The question remains: Why weren’t all passengers, after so much time in a contained environment, screened for contagious diseases?

Compared to this, the latest Washington Post article shows that the GOJ is learning something from past procedures. Japan is using relatively unobtrusive procedures for screening (skin-surface scanners for body temperatures) and scanning everyone, which of course I support. I’m not vouching for the effectiveness of these procedures (I really have doubts whether goggles and masks actually stop viruses effectively), but I understand the need to do something. Doing nothing means the LDP will definitely fall in the looming elections. I’m just glad the politics here so far aren’t being enforced by nationality, when disease knows no citizenship.

Pity some hospitals don’t know that:


Paranoid hospitals turning away those with fever, or with a foreign friend

(Mainichi Japan) May 5, 2009, Courtesy of M-J

As hospitals step up their precautions against swine flu, those in the Tokyo area are starting to refuse examinations to those suffering from fever and other potential influenza symptoms, or even those with a foreign friend, it’s been learned.

Between Saturday morning and Monday morning, 63 people were turned away, according to the metropolitan government. All have no recent history of visiting countries where infections have been confirmed, and the new closed door policy could constitute a violation of the Medical Practitioners Law.

Patients are now being referred to public health centers for preliminary diagnoses, and a worker at Narita International Airport was refused on the spot. One patient was denied an examination for mentioning that they had a foreign friend.

Local governments are asking patients suffering from fever and who have recently traveled to Mexico, the U.S. or other high-risk countries to immediately contact their local Fever Consultation Center, rather than their local hospital.

“If the number of hospitals refusing examinations increases, there’s the danger of people believing it’s better to report false symptoms,” said the metropolitan government’s Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health.

新型インフルエンザ:感染国に渡航歴ないのに…発熱患者の診察拒否 東京で63件


毎日新聞 2009年5月5日 東京朝刊









Increasing number of patients with fever rejected by Tokyo hospitals

TOKYO —An increasing number of patients with fever have been rejected by hospitals in Tokyo even though their risk of being infected with a new type of influenza is low, given that they have never been to any of the countries affected by the new flu, a Tokyo metropolitan government survey showed Tuesday. The number of cases in which Tokyo hospitals refused medical examinations for such patients totaled 92 from Saturday morning to Tuesday noon, according to the survey.

‘‘We want hospitals to respond calmly even if they fear that patients infected with the new flu may appear or that other patients will get infected,’’ a Tokyo metropolitan government official said. In many cases, patients with fever were told to visit ‘‘fever clinics’’ set up solely to treat people suspected of being infected with the new strain of the H1N1 influenza A virus, according to the survey.

Some patients were rejected by hospitals after telling them, ‘‘I work at Narita airport’’ or ‘‘I have a foreign friend,’’ the survey showed.

In some cases, those who were told by fever clinics to go to general hospitals were then rejected by them.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to conduct a nationwide survey on such rejections by hospitals, ministry officials said.

The Tokyo metropolitan government’s division in charge of infectious diseases said hospitals’ refusal to conduct medical examinations could be a violation of the medical practitioners’ law.

‘‘We will consider some sort of measures against malicious refusals to conduct medical examinations by hospitals,’’ a division official said.



How unprofessional.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo (not panicky — relatively pristine in this crisis — Chitose isn’t even on the media maps as an international airport taking measures) blog piles on re Nikkei Repatriation Bribe


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Here’s a brief from The Economist, also questioning the wisdom of the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe, as similar influential media in yesterday’s blog entry did. Courtesy of Norik. Feel free to comment there as here. (Not sure if I’ll have access to my blog during the weekend, so please be patient with comments, sorry.) Arudou Debito in Sapporo


April 23, 2009
And don’t come back
Posted by: | NEW YORK

Categories: Immigration

PROTECTIONISM is rearing its ugly head again, in unusual ways. Japan is offering money to unemployed low-skill immigrants if they leave the country and do not return. Well, they can come back as tourists, but they give up the right to live and work in Japan again (unless they transform into high-skill professionals).

Low-skilled workers are an odd target for Japan. The country has so few immigrants to begin with; they make up less than 2% of the population. (Most immigrant labourers are ethnic Japanese coming from Latin America.) Given the demographic pressures facing Japan, the government should be begging immigrants to come. Perhaps they have plans to counteract this policy with a programme to encourage Japanese women to have more babies.

Japan’s policy results from a perception that the stock of jobs is fixed, so if you remove the foreign population more jobs go to natives. But low-skill immigrants often do jobs natives will not. Some argue that without immigrants these undesirable jobs would pay more and then natives would take them. But that simply encourages employers to outsource these jobs to another country (which means the wages are spent elsewhere). When it comes to jobs that can physically not be sent abroad, it raises the costs of production which can mean fewer high-skill, well-paid jobs.

Low-skill foreigners also provide cheap services to natives, such as childcare and care for the elderly (something Japan needs). This frees up family members to pursue other work that pays more than what a low-skill immigrant demands, but less than the market wage if only natives did the job.

The Czech Republic and Spain have also bribed foreigners to leave, but at least they will let them come back. Japan is pursuing this policy because its concerned about rising unemployment, but presumably it will need immigrants when the economy improves. Jiro Kawasaki, a former health minister and senior lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party explains:

“Naturally, we don’t want those same people back in Japan after a couple of months,” Mr. Kawasaki said. “Japanese taxpayers would ask, ‘What kind of ridiculous policy is this?’”

It’s a good question.


From the archives: How criminals fool the police: talk like foreigners!


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Friend MS was cleaning out his files and found this. Mainichi Daily News July 19, 2000. This is not the first time I’ve found cases of NJ being blamed for J crime. Check out three cases (Mainichi 2004 and 2006). where 1) biker gangs told their victims to blame foreigners, 2) a murderer and his accomplice tried to say a “blond” guy killed his mother, and 3) an idiot trucker, who overslept late for work, tried to claim that a gang of foreigners kidnapped him!

How many other crimes have been pinned on foreigners in this way, one wonders. Arudou Debito in Sapporo



The definition of “Gaijin” according to Tokyu Hands Nov 17, 2008


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\" width=「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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog.  Writing to you from Nagoya, had a lovely evening with Andrew, Michael, and John eating spicy tebasaki, and a great discussion with all manner of labor union activists at Nagoya University before that.  Next stop, documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES showings tomorrow at Shiga University and Osaka at the Blarney Stone.  Stop by and see this truly excellent movie, and snap up a DVD and a book (never had such a successful selling tour:  Nearly 50 DVDs, nearly 40 books!)

Meanwhile, let me do a quick one for tonight, with the definition of “gaijin” not according to me (a la my Japan Times columns), but rather according to the marketplace.  Here’s a photo sent in by an alert shopper, from Tokyu Hands November 17, 2008:

Very funny.  Note what makes a prototypical “gaijin” by Japanese marketing standards:  blue eyes, big nose, cleft chin, and outgoing manner.  Not to mention English-speaking.  Yep, we’re all like that.

Anyone for buying some bucked-tooth Lennon-glasses to portray Asians in the same manner?  Naw, that would get you in trouble with the anti-defamation leagues overseas.  Seems to me we need leagues like that over here…  Arudou Debito in Nagoya

Ichihashi, suspect in Hawker murder case, officially charged with “abandonment of corpse” on NPA wanted posters


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Hi Blog.  Something interesting I found last week:  An NPA wanted poster for murderers, put up in banks, post offices, and police boxes nationwide, offering tidy rewards for information leading to their arrest.


Snap taken March 3, 2009, by the ATMs of Hokuyou Ginkou Ebetsu Branch.  Sorry it’s a bit hard to see, but all of them are wanted for murder (satsujin).

Actually, sorry, I fib.  One isn’t.  The fourth one from the left.  Closeup.


Recognize the name and that face?  That’s Ichihashi Tatsuya, the suspected murderer of Lindsay Ann Hawker, former NOVA English teacher, found beaten, suffocated, and buried in a tub of sand on his apartment balcony back in 2007.  Police bungled their investigation, and he escaped on foot down a fire escape without even his shoes.  He’s still at large.  Hence the wanted poster.  Sources:

Funnily enough, unlike everyone else on that poster, Ichihashi is not wanted on a charge of “murder”.  It’s rendered as “abandonment of a corpse” (shitai iki).  Even more funnily enough, that’s the same charge levelled at Nozaki Hiroshi (the dismemberer of a Filipina in 2000, who got out after only 3 years to stow more Filipina body parts in a locker in 2008), and at Obara Jouji, convicted serial rapist and dismemberer of Lucie Blackman.  Seems like these crimes, if they involve NJ, are crimes to their dead bodies, not crimes of making them dead.

My next Japan Times article is on this, in part (due out Tuesday, March 24).  So as part of my research, today I called the Chiba Police number provided on the poster above to ask why Ichihashi wasn’t accused of murder. The investigator, a Mr Shibusa, said he couldn’t comment in specific on the case. When I asked how one distinguishes between charges of murder vs. abandonment, he said that it depended on the details of each case, but generally if the suspect admits homicidal intent (satsu-i), it’s murder. However, how the other suspects on the poster were so cooperative as to let the police know their will to kill before escaping remains unclear.  I’m still waiting for an answer to my request for further clarification on why Ichihashi’s charge was rendered differently.

I’ll be making the case in the JT article that Japanese jurisprudence and criminal procedure, both in the prosecution of criminals and as criminals, differs by nationality, with the NJ getting a raw deal.  The wanted poster above is but one piece of evidence.  Stay tuned.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

JT JUST BE CAUSE Column Mar 3 2009 on “Toadies, Vultures, and Zombie Debates”


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. Here’s this month’s JT JBC column. I think it’s my best yet. It gelled a number of things on my mind into concise mindsets. Enjoy. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Column 13 for the Japan Times JBC Column, published March 3, 2009

By Arudou Debito
DRAFT TWENTY THREE, as submitted to the JT

If there’s one thing execrable in the marketplace of ideas, it’s “zombie debates”. As in, discussions long dead, yet exhumed by Dr. Frankensteins posing as serious debaters.

Take the recent one in the Japan Times about racial discrimination (here, here, here, here, and here). When you consider the human-rights advances of the past fifty years, it’s settled, long settled. Yet regurgitated is the same old guff:

“We must separate people by physical appearance and treat them differently, because another solution is inconceivable.” Or, “It’s not discrimination — it’s a matter of cultural misunderstandings, and anyone who objects is a cultural imperialist.” Or, “Discrimination maintains social order or follows human nature.”

Bunkum. We’ve had 165 countries sign an agreement in the United Nations defining what racial discrimination is, and committing themselves to stop it. That includes our country.

We’ve had governments learn from historical example, creating systems for abolition and redress. We’ve even had one apartheid government abolish itself.

In history, these are all fixed stars. There is simply no defense for racial discrimination within civilized countries.

Yet as if in a bell jar, the debate continues in Japan: Japan is somehow unique due to historical circumstance, geographic accident, or purity of race or method. Or bullying foreigners who hate Japan take advantage of peace-loving effete Japanese. Or racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan, so there. (Actually, that last one is true.)

A good liberal arts education should have fixed this. It could be that the most frequent proponents — Internet denizens — have a “fluid morality.” Their attitude towards human rights depends on what kind of reaction they’ll get online, or how well they’ve digested their last meal. But who cares? These mass debaters are not credible sources, brave enough to append their real names and take responsibility for their statements. Easily ignored.

Harder to ignore are some pundits in established media who clearly never bought into the historical training found in all developed (and many developing) multicultural societies: that racial discrimination is simply not an equitable or even workable system. However, in Japan, where history is ill-taught, these scribblers flourish.

The ultimate irony is that it’s often foreigners, who stand to lose the most from discrimination, making the most racist arguments. They wouldn’t dare say the same things in their countries of origin, but by coupling 1) the cultural relativity and tolerance training found in liberal societies with 2) the innate “guestism” of fellow outsiders, they try to reset the human-rights clock to zero.

Why do it? What do they get from apologism? Certainly not more rights.

Well, some apologists are culture vultures, and posturing is what they do. Some claim a “cultural emissary” status, as in: “Only I truly understand how unique Japan is, and how it deserves exemption from the pantheon of human experience.” Then the poseurs seek their own unique status, as an oracle for the less “cultured.”

Then there are the toadies: the disenfranchised cozying up to the empowered and the majority. It’s simple: Tell “the natives” what they want to hear (“You’re special, even unique, and any problems are somebody else’s fault.”) — and lookit! You can enjoy the trappings of The Club (without ever having any real membership in it) while pulling up the ladder behind you.

It’s an easy sell. People are suckers for pinning the blame on others. For some toadies, croaking “It’s the foreigners’ fault!” has become a form of Tourette’s syndrome.

That’s why this debate, continuously looped by a tiny minority, is not only zombified, it’s stale and boring thanks to its repetitiveness and preposterousness. For who can argue with a straight face that some people, by mere dint of birth, deserve an inferior place in a society?

Answer: those with their own agendas, who care not one whit for society’s weakest members. Like comprador bourgeoisie, apologists are so caught up in the game they’ve lost their moral bearing.

These people don’t deserve “equal time” in places like this newspaper. The media doesn’t ask, “for the sake of balance,” a lynch mob to justify why they lynched somebody, because what they did was illegal. Racial discrimination should be illegal too in Japan, under our Constitution. However, because it’s not (yet), apologists take advantage, amorally parroting century-old discredited mind sets to present themselves as “good gaijin.”

Don’t fall for it. Japan is no exception from the world community and its rules. It admitted as such when it signed international treaties.

The debate on racial discrimination is dead. Those who seek to resurrect it should grow up, get an education, or be ignored for their subterfuge.


Debito Arudou is coauthor of the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants.” Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments to

NPA on foreign-infiltrated organized crime: NJ crime down 3rd straight year, but not newsworthy in J-media


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Hi Blog.  Two topics today for the price of one:  The NPA spending our tax monies to target the bad guys (if they’re NJ) again, and how the J media is not reporting crime rates properly, again.

Hang on to your hats. folks. It’s the NPA “Foreign Crime Report” time of year again.  Yes, twice a year, we get appraised of what our boys in blue are doing to stem the hordes and save the country.  (We get little of this NPA assiduity for domestic crime; after all, the sociology of crime means that police get blamed if domestic crime rises, but get encouraged budgetwise if foreign crime rises.)

So this time the biannual deluge is buried within an NPA “soshiki hanzai jousei” general report released this week.  Despite the “general”-sounding title, the dirt on the NJ crooks starts from page eight, and continues throughout the total 47 pages.  

Conspiring foreign crooks are everywhere, it seems.  With so little focus on the pure Yamato yakuza, it looks like organized crime is the most international thing about Japan.  Lots of stories and case studies of NJ evildoers (with a special focus on money laundering from page 13; maybe this is why banks are targeting NJesque accounts and transactions recently).

For example, here an illustration of the web of intrigue that NJ get up to, from the NPA report page 31.  Note how the Japanese criminals (usually not included at all in any police-published visual specs of foreign crime, see page 22) are only involved in two stages of the game.


(Love the NJ kingpin’s 1990’s cellphone.)

But oh oh for the NPA:  For the third straight year, foreign crime is, er, um, down.  However will they justify their budgets for the NPA’s Kokusai Taisaku Iinkai?

Don’t worry.  You’re not going to hear that good news in the Japanese media. At least, not in an unadulterated form.  Because when it comes to foreign crime, good news is no news.  Short AP article, then comments follow:


Number of crimes by foreign visitors down for 3rd year
Associated Press Feb 26 2009, courtesy MJ

TOKYO, Feb. 27 (AP) – (Kyodo)—The number of crimes committed by foreign visitors in Japan fell in 2008 for the third consecutive year to 31,280, down 12.6 percent from the previous year, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The number of foreign criminals, excluding permanent residents, also dropped in 2008 for a third straight year to 13,872, down 12.8 percent, it said.

Both figures peaked in 2005, according to the NPA.

Of the 31,280 cases detected by police, 23,229 involved violations of the criminal code, while 8,051 involved immigration and other violations, the NPA said.

Chinese people accounted for 35 percent of the detected crimes, or 4,856, followed by South Koreans at 1,603 and Filipinos at 1,486.

Meanwhile, 633 foreign suspects fled abroad, the NPA said.



Well, good.  But look what a Google News Search turns up:  No articles in the Japanese media, which in the past fell over themselves to scream alleged foreign crime rises (see examples in the Yomiuri, Sankei, and the Asahi).  Or in the case of the Mainichi, crime rate falls were headlined as falls in English but as rises in Japanese).  Evidence:  Screen capture today, current as of Midnight February 28:


You’d expect that if the overseas media has reported this, the domestic news certainly would have by now.  And it would no doubt would quite assiduously (if the past is any guide) if it had been a crime rate rise.  

So if it bleeds it leads, sure.  But if it bleeds and it’s foreign, it had better be BAD news or else newspapers aren’t going to break their stride, and give society any follow-ups that might paint a rosier picture of Japan’s immigration.  What negligence and public disservice by a free press.

I’ll include below the text of Mainichi article featured in the Google News search above.  It’s also instructive of bent reporting.  Note how the headline does mention the crime rate did drop, but of course tempers the cheers by following up with assiduous reportage on how it’s also rising — in the provinces, as group crime increases.  The body of the text also tempers any fall with a rise, zeroing on Chinese perps (same as the above 47NEWS article), making sure the last thought you’re left with after reading a paragraph is how crime is increasing.


外国人犯罪:3年連続で減少 組織化進み、地方に広がる




毎日新聞 2009年2月27日 10時34分


I wonder how they’ll translate this for an English-reading audience (if they ever do; they haven’t as of this writing).  Hopefully they won’t sweeten it for tender NJ eyes like last time.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

GOJ claims victory in “halving overstayers” campaign, maintains myth that NJ fingerprinting did it


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Hi Blog. The GOJ has patted itself on the back for being about to reach its goal of halving the number of overstaying NJ by the target date of 2010.

Congrats. But piggybacking on this cheer is the lie that fingerprinting NJ at the border helped do it.

Wrong. As we’ve discussed here before, fingerprinting and collecting other biometric data at the border does not result in an instantaneous check. It takes time. In fact, the first day they raised a cheer for snagging NJ at the border, it was for passport issues, not prints. And they have never publicly offered stats separating those caught by documentation and those fingered by biometric data (nor have we stats for how many were netted before the fingerprinting program was launched, to see if there is really any difference). So we let guilt by associated data justify a program that targets NJ regardless of residency status and criminalizes them whenever they cross back into Japan. Bad social science, bad public policy, and now rotten interpretations of the data. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Number of foreigners overstaying visas in Japan nearly halves in 5 yrs

Feb 16 2009, Associated Press. Courtesy of Japan Probe.

(AP) – TOKYO, Feb. 17 (Kyodo)—The number of foreign nationals who stayed in Japan after their visas expired nearly halved to around 113,000 from 219,000 in the five years to Jan. 1, according to a survey by the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau released Tuesday.

The number of those who entered Japan illegally in the same period also fell, to around an estimated 15,000-23,000 from 30,000, the bureau said. The estimates are based on information given by foreign nationals caught by law-enforcement authorities, it said.

In December 2003, the government came up with a plan to halve the number of people staying illegally in Japan in five years. The latest figures suggest the goal has more or less been achieved.

The number of people overstaying their visas began rising sharply in the 1990s, peaking at around 300,000 in 1993. The number has gradually been declining since.

The Immigration Bureau said it has stepped up its efforts, jointly with police, to crack down on those overstaying their visas — especially since 2004, when the government’s plan was put into effect.

The introduction of a biometric system has helped immigration officials stem the re-entry of those who have been deported, the bureau said. In the year since it was introduced in November 2007, 846 people have been refused entry on the basis of biometric verification.

By nationality, South Koreans topped the list of those staying longer than allowed as of Jan. 1 at around 24,000, followed 18,000 Chinese, 17,000 Filipinos, 6,000 Thais and 5,000 Taiwanese, according to the survey.








(2009年2月17日10時43分 読売新聞)


Full four pages of Feb 17 2009 SPA! article on “Monster Gaikokujin” scanned


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.  For your discussion are the full four pages of the SPA! magazine article on how NJ (rendered “monster gaikokujin”, abbreviated to “Monga” to save space) are coming to Japan and doing bad bad things.  Have a read.

A brief synopsis of the article starts (predictably) at Tsukiji, giving the reader a picture of the disruptive behavior of NJ fish-kissers and the like, flitting onwards to onsens (boy, that dead horse never gets tired), then on to “Monga” of monstrous sexual desire, propositioning Maiko as if they were prostitutes (and libidinous Chinese photographing their lap-dancers), drunk black people with video cameras terrifying a chaste Akiba Maid (who wasn’t too shy about posing maidly for the article), Koreans fouling hotel refrigerators with kimchee, etc.  Of course, the nationality or the race is always identified and linked with the behavior (we are, after all, talking about breeds of NJ).

Then you turn the page for more detailed case studies of NJ depravity:  An Australian who assaults a taxi driver (the latter just wants to tell the world that “it’s not only the evil-looking foreigners that are frightening — even the likes of White people who look like they work for world-class companies will do this”).  A Turk who uses his looks and language skills to become a sexual predator.  And a Filipina overstayer who plans to use her feminine wiles to land a life here.  

Two bonus sidebars blame Lonely Planet guidebooks of encouraging NJ “eccentricities” and give you a Binaca Blast of Benjamin Fulford.  Benjamin, safe behind sunglasses, asserts that 1) Caucasians let the natural “effeteness” of the Japanese people go to their head, and that 2) he’s being targeted by the yakuza and how Mossad is involved and… er, dunno what this point is doing here.  Holy cow, the shuukanshi got hijacked for Ben’s personal agenda!  (BTW, not mentioned is how Ben is now a Japanese citizen.  I guess now he feels qualified to pontificate from the other side of the mirror glasses how “Doing as the Romans do” is universal…)

See for yourself.  Here are scans of the pages (click to expand).  Comment from me follows:


QUICK ANALYSIS FROM DEBITO:  This article is far less “brick through the window” than the “GAIJIN HANZAI” magazine a couple of years back.  It acknowledges the need for NJ to be here, and how they’re contributing to the economy (not “laying waste” to Japan as the very cover of GH mag put it).  They even mozaic out the NJ faces.  From the very title, SPA! even mostly avoids the use of the racist word “gaijin” in favor of “gaikokuijn” even as it tries to mint a new epithet.  And it’s trying to get at least some voice of the “foreign community” involved (even if it’s Benjamin Fulford, who can find a conspiracy in a cup of coffee).  It’s an improvement of sorts.

That said, it still tries to sensationalize and decontextualize (where is any real admission that Japanese do these sorts of things too, both domestically and internationally?), and commits, as I keep saying, the unscientific sin of ascribing behavior to nationality, as if nationalities were breeds of dogs with thoroughbred behaviors.  Again, if you’re going to do a story on foreign crime (and it should be crime, not just simple faux pas or possible misunderstandings), talk about the act and the individual actor (yes, by name), and don’t make the action part of a group effort.  Doing so just foments prejudice.  

But I’m sure the editors of SPA! are plenty sophisticated to know that.  They’re just pandering to sell papers.  I’m just glad it’s not worse.  Perhaps after all these years I’m getting jaded.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japan Today on Spa! magazine’s expose of “Monster Gaikokujin” (tourists and residents)


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.  It seems the “NJ blame game” I mentioned earlier this year is still continuing in the Japanese media.  Japan Today reports tabloid magazine Spa! coining a special word to describe “monster gaikokujin” wreaking havoc and laying waste to Japan.  Of course, Japanese tourists are ever so well behaved, and they don’t do things like deface a world heritage site and the like.  And Japanese overseas don’t commit crime.  Never ever.  But imagine the howls of protest in the J media (and the J embassies) should the Italian media decry “mostruoso niapponese“.  Ah well.  More bad social science by media that seems convinced that the Japanese language is some kind of secret code unintelligible to the outside world.  Twits.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


‘Monga’ in our midst

Japan Today, February 11, 2009.  By Magda Lupescu.  Courtesy of SH, MS, and many others.

“They get into jacuzzis at onsens still covered with body soap, punch out taxi drivers and so on. Here we pursue the mode of life of the foreigners who swagger in our faces during Japan’s recession!”

This week’s issue of Spa! (Feb 17) then proceeds with a four-page polemic against foreign tourists and residents titled “Report of Monster Foreigners on the Rampage.”

Spa! employs the word “monga” for this phenomenon, a neologism of created by combining “monsutaa” (monster) and “gaikokujin” (foreigner).

The article’s opening page is topped with a dorsal view of the British tourist who went skinny dipping in the Imperial Palace moat last October, just seconds prior to his arrest. How ironic, the magazine notes, that the same month the gentleman took his swim the Japanese government established a new Tourism Agency under the umbrella of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

The first half of Spa’s article is devoted to mutterings over the misadventures of foreign tourists, whose irritating peccadilloes range from utilizing their flashes (which is prohibited) at Tsukiji’s early morning fish auctions to haggling tenaciously over the prices of optional extras in an erotic massage parlor.

One “maid” employed by a shop at Akihabara relates her own tale of woe: While distributing flyers on the street she was pursued by a group of five or six cackling black males, exclaiming “Meido-san! Meido-san!” as they recorded her image with video cameras.

“I was terrified, fled for my life,” she shudders.

A kaiten-zushi shop owner, meanwhile, is convinced the plastic bottles of water from which South Korean patrons sipped while seated at his counter really contained shochu (grain spirits) that they had “ripped off” from somewhere.

An accompanying sidebar titled “What is the source of the increase in foreigners who wander off the beaten track?” complains that foreign-language guidebooks fail to instill proper decorum and frequently guide readers to places that are irrelevant, while downplaying spots that foreign visitors are likely to enjoy—such as the Mitsuo Aida Museum in Yurakucho and Museum of Swords (Token Hakubutsukan) in Yoyogi, Shibuya Ward. (Neither museums’ websites however, provide maps in English and it appears the latter’s has not been updated for about one year.)

The same sidebar also complains bitterly that in its introduction to Yanaka Cemetery in Nippori, the Michelin guide mentions Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last Tokugawa Shogun, in the same breath with Oden Takahashi, a notorious murderess who was the last woman to be executed by decapitation — while completely overlooking other famous individuals interred therein.

The second half of the article swivels its guns toward foreigners living in Japan, featuring such “monga” as a satyric Turk who reveled in enticing local women to participate in his Roppongi orgies, and Filipinas who have overstayed their entertainer’s visas by a decade or longer.

Vernacular articles focusing on misbehavior by foreigners have regularly appeared in Sapio, a bimonthly magazine with a strong nationalistic slant published by Shogakukan. But Spa!, until fairly recently at least, has been largely indifferent to foreigners here, preferring to cover behavior by the natives. As such, its entry into the fray came as something of a surprise.

Spa!, known as Shukan Sankei until 1989, is published by Fusosha, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fuji TV. The Audit Bureau of Circulation put its weekly sales at 113,397 copies in the first half of 2008.