“Japanese speakers only” Kyoto exclusionary hotel stands by its rules, says it’s doing nothing unlawful


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Hi Blog.  As is my wont, I don’t like to leave exclusionary business practices alone.  Even if that means letter writing and cajoling people to cease a bad habit.  What gets me is when even cajoling doesn’t work, and the cajoled turns uncharacteristically rude towards a paying customer.  Then I get mad.

Background:  Last October, I attended a writers’ conference in Kyoto, and discovered that even in September just about all hotels in Kyoto were booked (it was approaching peak fall color season).  The only one left was a place in Fushimi that advertised online that they refused anyone who could not speak Japanese.  This is, by the way, contrary to the Hotel Management Law (Ryokan Gyouhou, which can only refuse customers if all rooms are taken, or if there is a health or a “public morals” problem).

I tried to vote with my feet and find alternative accommodation, but wound up having no choice, and made the reservation with the Fushimi place.  I did, however, the night before going down, find last-minute alternative accommodations at an unexclusionary hotel (at more than double the price).  Then I paid in cash by post to the Fushimi place the sizeable cancellation fee for the last-minute switch.

But I also enclosed a handwritten letter telling them why I cancelled, expressing my discontent with the rule that people would be refused for a lack of Japanese language ability (what with this tourist town, there are always ways to communicate — including speaking electronic dictionaries; how does one judge sufficient “language abilities”?  and what about deaf or mute Japanese? etc. etc.).  I also asked them to repeal this exclusionary rule, pointing out that it was an unlawful practice.

I got a rude reply back.  Without addressing me by name, I got a terse letter without any of the formal aisatsu or written tone that a customer-client relationship in this society would warrant.  It also included further spurious insinuated logic that since they couldn’t speak any foreign languages, this business open to the public was somehow not bound to provide service to the general public.  They also categorically denied that their rules are unlawful, coupled with the presumptuous claim that since they didn’t refuse me it was odd for me to feel any disfavor with their system.  And more.  In other words, thanks for your money, but we can do as we please, so sod you.

Now I’m mad.  I sent this exchange off yesterday with a handwritten note to the Kyoto City Government Department of Tourism and the Kyoto Tourist Association, advising them to engage in some Administrative Guidance.  The latter organization has already told me that they are a private-sector institution, and that since this hotel is not one of their members they have no influence in this situation.  And if the city does get back to me (I’ve done this sort of thing before; government agencies in Japan have even abetted “Japanese Only” hotels), I’ll be surprised.  But I’m not letting this nasty place slide without at least notifying the authorities.  This is just one more reason why we need a law against racial discrimination.

Here come the letters I sent, scanned, plus the reply.  Click on any image to expand in your browser. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(And a quick word to the Protest Letter Police:  I’m not in the mood to have my grammar corrected, so don’t bother; my letters below have not been proofread by native speakers, but I think they get my points across just fine.  I’m doing the best that I can, and if you think that a letter has to be perfect before it goes out, and I’m somehow “shaming the entire gaijin community” if it’s not, fuck off.  Here are the letters warts and all.)

My letter to the Hotel, Kyou no Yado Fushimi:


My reservation, two pages, with their exclusionary rule based upon language ability:



The hotel’s reply:


My letter to the Kyoto authorities:


UPDATE:  The Kyoto authorities respond, and the hotel rescinds its exclusionary rules.


Mainichi: Chinese trainees file complaint with labor bureau over 350 yen per hour overtime


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
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  Coming on the heels of news two months ago, of GOJ reports of record numbers of labor violations and NJ Trainee deaths from overwork, here we have Nj fighting back regarding overtime.  Unpaid or underpaid, that is.  Which has been happening for decades now, since the “Trainee” and “Researcher” came online almost twenty years ago.  It’s just going to keep happening until the GOJ finally enforces its already weak labor laws, and these workers fight back through unions and courts to claim what’s rightfully theirs — minimum standards for work and pay.  Bonne chance.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Chinese trainees file complaint with labor bureau over 350 yen per hour overtime

(Mainichi Japan) October 27, 2009, Courtesy of JK


Chinese trainees, including the five who filed a complaint with the Shimabara Labor Standards Inspection Office, attend a rally calling for better working conditions. (Mainichi)

Chinese trainees, including the five who filed a complaint with the Shimabara Labor Standards Inspection Office, attend a rally calling for better working conditions. (Mainichi)

SHIMABARA, Nagasaki — Five Chinese trainees at an underwear manufacturer here have filed a complaint with the local labor bureau claiming they were forced to work overtime for just 350-400 yen per hour.

“We came to Japan with hope, but we are not treated like human beings,” the five women stated. “One other trainee complained that our wages were low and was sent back to China. We want to work in Japan for three years under reasonable conditions.”

The complaint, filed on Oct. 21, also claims that the women had their break times deducted for washroom visits, and the Shimabara Labor Standards Inspection Office has launched an investigation into the company for possible violations of the Labor Standards Act.

“The labor bureau is conducting an inquiry, so I cannot comment,” said the 62-year-old company president.

The five women, aged 21 to 27, arrived in Japan between December 2006 and December 2007 under the Industrial Training and Technical Internship Program, administered by the governmental Japan International Training Cooperation Organization.

According to the complaint and other sources, the women each worked as many as 209 overtime hours per month, and about 2,000 hours per year. The 350-400 yen per hour the women claim they were paid for that overtime falls short of Nagasaki Prefecture’s minimum wage of 629 yen per hour, and well below the standard set by the Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay 1.25-1.6 times the regular wage for overtime.

The women claim that during busy periods they each worked from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m., and sometimes did not have a single day off per month. They apparently signed a contract paying them a monthly salary based on the minimum wage, but that excluded provisions for overtime. Working an average of 173 hours per month at the minimum wage would equal a monthly paycheck of about 110,000 yen.

However, the women claim that the company told them their pay was being directly deposited in their bank accounts and did not show them the payment details. Furthermore, the company held both the women’s bankbooks and passports. The company president also apparently checked the clock whenever one of the women went to the washroom and deducted that time from their breaks.

A person who knew of the women’s working conditions reported the company to the Kumamoto Prefecture branch of the Zenroren union, which passed on the report to the Nagasaki branch. The five women enrolled in the Nagasaki branch, and began collective bargaining with the company. That resulted in the return of their bankbooks, but apparently no progress was made on the wage issue.

In response to growing criticism from experts on the rising number of foreign worker exploitation cases, the central government amended the Immigration Control and Refugee Act in July. The changes will go into effect in July 2010, and the government continues to review the system.


中国人研修:時給350円、トイレ分は休憩減 5女性申告
毎日新聞 2009年10月27日











Mainichi: Numerous foreign trainees forced to work under harsh conditions in Japan, even to death


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Numerous foreign trainees forced to work under harsh conditions in Japan
(Mainichi Japan) August 30, 2009, Courtesy of JK


Numerous foreign vocational trainees are being forced to work under harsh conditions in Japan, such as illegally low wages and excessive overtime.

The bereaved family of a Chinese man who died during vocational training in Japan filed for workers’ compensation on Aug. 7, claiming he died from overwork. It was the first case in which the bereaved family of a vocational trainee is seeking work-related accident compensation.

Revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that were passed into law in July call for stepped up protection of foreign trainees. However, organizations supporting foreign trainees are urging that the system be reviewed, claiming that excessive workloads are infringing on their personal rights.

In late January, a support group placed six Chinese women undergoing vocational training at a sewing factory in Yufu, Oita Prefecture, under protection after they complained of harsh working conditions.

They had been forced to work until the predawn hours every day. After the factory operator learned that one of them complained about her working conditions to a relative living in Japan, the boss attempted to force her to go back to China. However, she called the organization for help.

“I’ve worked too much and have a headache,” one of them complained to the organization.

“We’re given only 10 minutes for a meal,” another said.

The organization learned that the company paid each of them only 10,000 to 30,000 yen in overtime per month even though they performed about 270 hours of overtime a month. Moreover, the company kept the trainees’ bankbooks.

Another former Chinese trainee who worked at a sewing factory in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, received only 300 yen per hour for overtime, less then half the legal minimum wage. The former trainee has filed a suit, demanding unpaid wages.

There are also problems with employment agencies in trainees’ home countries.

One agency in China advertised on its Web site for trainees at Japanese companies under illegal working conditions, such as 300 yen per hour of overtime in the first year of training.

Before coming to Japan, many trainees are required to pay employment agencies a deposit and other fees, which are several times their annual income. They typically obtain loans to pay the fees, and are supposed to use the wages they earn in Japan to repay their debts.

“They often have no choice but to accept illegal working conditions for fear that they would be forced to go back to their home countries before repaying their debts,” a member of one of the support groups said.

The Justice Ministry has confirmed that a record 452 companies and other organizations that accepted foreign trainees were involved in illegal practices last year. About 60 percent of them involve violations of labor-related laws, including unpaid wages and overtime allowances.

A survey conducted by the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO) has found that a record 34 trainees died in fiscal 2008. Nearly half, or 16 of them, died of brain and heart diseases that are often caused by long working hours. Experts say that there is a high possibility that they died from overwork.

With the amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, labor related laws, which had applied to foreign trainees from their second year, now apply to those in their first year of training. As a result, it is now guaranteed that foreign trainees can sign proper employment contracts with their employers, just like Japanese workers.

The government is poised to revise its regulations to inspect companies that accept foreign trainees at least once a month to see if their working conditions are legal as well as stiffen penalties for businesses involved in illegal labor practices and strictly examine the terms of contracts between foreign trainees and employment agencies in their home countries.

However, support groups question the effectiveness of these measures, pointing out that many of those in their second year of training are subjected to illegal labor practices.

Lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, who specializes in the issue of foreign trainees, underscores the need to discuss the pros and cons of fully accepting foreign workers rather than changing the working conditions for foreign trainees.

“Legal revisions alone can’t prevent infringements of trainees’ rights and death from overwork. Rather than making superficial changes to the system, we should discuss the pros and cons of accepting foreign laborers,” he said.

Original Japanese story:
外国人研修・実習生:過酷労働に悲鳴 支援団体見直し要望

2009年8月25日 12時53分











Tangent: Microsoft apologizes for photoshopping out black man from its Poland advertising. Contrast with McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. Bit of a tangent but not really. Here’s what happens when another multinational apparently caters to “regional sensibilities” — this time Microsoft photoshopping out an African-American in one of its ads to cater to a Polish audience.

Contrast with “Mr James“. We see none of the cultural relativity that the whole McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” issue got (or even claims of “just-deserts” from certain parties). And Microsoft even apologizes — something McDonald’s Japan has steadfastly refused to do (and still runs the “Mr James” campaign to this day; fortunately it finishes shortly). Any theories behind the difference?

(One that comes to mind is that people are loath to criticize an apparently more esoteric and impenetrable culture, but I can poke holes in that one pretty easily — even the report below claims “Poland is ethnically homogeneous”.)

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Original source:


(site is now pay-only)

Archived at http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/business/2009/aug/Microsoft-Photoshops-Out-Diversity-for-Polish-Ad–Sparking-Race-Controversy.html


Microsoft Photoshops Out Diversity for Polish Ad, Sparking Race Controversy

The Globe and Mail, August 27, 2009 06:00 PM
by Jill Marcellus
Microsoft has apologized for replacing a black man’s head with that of a white man in a promotional photo on its Polish Web site, but concerns linger over diversity in advertising.
Sitting together and smiling over the slogan, “Empower your people with the IT tools they need,” an Asian man, an African-American man and a white woman harmoniously appear in a promotional photo on Microsoft’s U.S. Web site. When that same trio smiled over a translated slogan on the company’s Polish Web site, however, the black man’s head had been digitally exchanged for a younger white man’s face, reported BBC News.
Visual courtesy

The picture’s poor editing made the gaffe more embarrassing for Microsoft, since the white man’s head was simply perched atop the original African American’s body, with his distinctly black hand still intact.

Microsoft has already apologized and removed the offending photo, and a spokeswoman in Poland insisted that, “We are a multiracial company and there isn’t a chance any of us are racist,” according to The Times of London. She claimed that the photo’s editors had already left the company before the uproar arose.

While controversy often crops up when race meets Photoshop, other recent snafus have caught advertisers overplaying, not whitewashing, diversity. Researchers at Augsburg College found, Inside Higher Ed reported last year, that “more than 75 percent of colleges appeared to overrepresent black students in viewbooks,” sometimes with the help of Photoshop. Similarly, the official Toronto Fun Guide made headlines earlier this summer for itsdigitally diversified cover, which replaced a Latino father with a black man in a family picture, according to Allison Hanes of the Canadian paper National Post. Toronto officials insisted that it was an “inclusive” act, obeying a 2008 policy to “show diversity” in city publications.

These incidents fit into a larger movement toward “visual diversity” in advertising. By juxtaposing different racial groups in ads, advertisers hope to appeal to multiple audiences at once, MSNBC explained, while also “conveying a message that corporate America is not just ‘in touch,’ racially speaking, but inclusive.” According to Melanie Shreffler, editor of advertising newsletter Marketing to the Emerging Majorities, America’s shifting demographics dictate this trend. Shreffler told MSNBC that advertisers “aren’t turning out multicultural ads for the good of society,” but rather they “recognize there is money involved” in marketing to America’s rapidly expanding minority groups.

Microsoft’s blunder, rather than contradicting Shreffler’s analysis, may confirm it. Unlike America, where Microsoft displayed the multicultural photo intact, Poland is ethnically homogenous, with almost 97 percent of its people identifying as Polish, according to the C.I.A. World Factbook.

Earlier this month, BMW’s advertiser sparked its own racially-driven controversy when it excluded “urban” radio, traditionally associated with African-American audiences, as a market for its Mini Cooper advertisements, findingDulcinea reported. “No urban dictates,” defined by The Washington Times as a policy “issued by companies who associate urban listeners with a lifestyle that they are trying to avoid,” have been banned by the Federal Communications Commission.

Although the company apologized, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters insisted that the incident “raises the uncomfortable specter of a corporate culture that condones discriminatory practices.”

They are not the only ones to accuse the ad industry of a discriminatory culture, despite industry initiatives to promote diversity. The Madison Avenue Project, a collaboration launched earlier this year between the NAACP and civil rights law firm Mehri & Skalet, found that African Americans earn 20 percent less than whites in advertising, and that the gap between black and white employment in the ad industry is 38 percent greater than in the overall labor market.


McDonald’s “Mr James” in 週刊金曜日:「白人」への偏見を助長 マックCMに抗議の声


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
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  Article in last week’s Shuukan Kinyoubi on McDonald’s “Mr James”, mentions FRANCA.  Enjoy.  It’s the only coverage in the J press this case got, despite a number of inquiries that went nowhere.  Bests, Arudou Debito in Monbetsu, Japan


週刊金曜日 2009年10月2日

日本マクドナルドが八月から展開しているNIPPONALL STARSキャンペーンのキャラクター「Mr. ジェームス」に対し、「偏見と固定観念に満ちたガイジン像」と在日外国人らが抗議している。

白人扮するMr. ジェームスは架空の人物で、「昔訪れた日本の魅力を忘れられず娘の留学についてきたオハイオ生まれの四三歳」との設定。バーガーを味わうために全国を回り、その様子を、カタカナとひらがなの奇妙な日本語で日々ブログにアップしている。


キャンペーンは現在も続行中だが、ネット上でMr. ジェームス反対運動は拡大中だ。

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


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
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

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
Email: hrc.info@sfgov.org

From: ARUDOU Debito
Columnist, The Japan Times newspaper (Tokyo)
[address deleted]
debito@debito.org, www.debito.org

October 8, 2009

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a columnist in the Japan Times (see archive of my columns at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl-ad-all.html), 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“:


General Union: City govt seizes assets of NJ worker whose employer refused to pay for Shakai Hoken (Terrie’s Take and Japan Times articles too)


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
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. Here we have a case of how NJ can be hurt by careless Immigration decisions. The upcoming requirement for all NJ to be enrolled in health insurance (shakai hoken), or else no visa granted, has been created without necessarily requiring negligent employers to pony up themselves. As usual it’s punishing the powerless. As I wrote on Debito.org last August:

Here’s a good article in the Japan Times describing issues of health insurance and pensions, and how recent revisions clarifying that every resident in Japan (including NJ) must be enrolled may expose the graft that employers have been indulging in (”opting out” of paying mandatory social security fees, encouraging NJ not to pay them, or just preying on their ignorance by not telling them at all) to save money. The problem is, instead of granting an amnesty for those employees who unwittingly did not pay into the system, they’re requiring back payments (for however many years) to enroll or else they get no visa renewal! Once again, it’s the NJ employee who gets punished for the vices of the employer.

Now, according to the FGU, we have a case where the GOJ is seizing a NJ’s assets (not the negligent employer’s) for non-back-payments that the employer should have handled. Read on.  A Japan Times article also substantiates this practice of employers fudging working hours to escape paying into NJ health insurance (click here).

A recent Terrie’s Take is also included below for more background information.

And yet another Japan Times Zeit Gist column came out on this only yesterday — describing how half-baked the policy process and probable implementation has been! (click here)

Arudou Debito in Sapporo


City seizes bank account to pay health insurance premiums
General Union.org, Undated, Downloaded early September 2009


An ALT, after having received a letter from city hall demanding two years of back payments forKokumin Kenko Hoken (National Health Insurance), contacted the Fukuoka General Union (FGU).

What was troubling about this case was that until now, the teacher had never had any problems with insurance. His ex-employer, following the law, had enrolled him in Shakai Hoken (Employees Health and Pension Insurance).

The problem started with his new employer, who would not enroll him onto Shakai Hoken. Even though the teacher was required to be at work from 8:30 to 5:00 every day, the company told him that he did not work thirty hours per week and therefore was ineligible for Shakai Hoken. Now the story gets worse.

Not only was the city demanding back payments, but it seized 50,000yen from the teacher’s bank account. Why? Very simple. In Japan, all residents are required to be enrolled in health insurance. Since the employer failed to enroll in Shakai Hoken, the city’s position was that the teacher should be in the city run Kokumin Kenko Hoken system and therefore deducted the money that was owed to them.

The union’s position on payment was different because the union believes that the employer has a duty to enrol in Shakai Hoken. The union officer from FGU told the teacher to make sure that he cleared his bank account immediately after being paid each month. This should have prevented the seizure of more money from the account. But the story’s not over yet.

Finally, the teacher was called into his company’s head office and told that the city would be seizing 130,000yen from his pay. Sorry, the company couldn’t do anything to prevent it; the city has a right to the money. The employer couldn’t see that this could have been prevented if they had honoured the teacher’s right to Shakai Hokenenrolment.

The teacher now still has to pay all his back payments, and for the first time that the union has ever seen, the teacher will not be allowed Kokumin Kenko Hoken coverage until all his back payments are made.

A sign of things to come? Maybe. We wouldn’t recommend that you stick around to see if it’ll happen to you. Talk to your coworkers, join a union, and make sure that you get covered by Shakai Hoken.



More on the issue from Terrie Lloyd:

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

General Edition Sunday, September 20, 2009 Issue No. 534


A revision to the immigration law passed in the Diet earlier this year has caused the Ministry of Justice to instruct the Immigration Bureau to start checking that foreigner residents in Japan are enrolled in one of the nation’s health insurance programs. Although not stated explicitly, the implication is that those without such enrollment may be denied a visa renewal. This will start happening from April 1st, 2010 and has a lot of foreigners concerned.

The reason for this concern is that although all residents of Japan, including foreigners, are supposed to be enrolled in one of the health insurance programs, and indeed, in one of the overall social insurance programs, the reality is that many people are not. Most such people are typically either self-employed, contractors, students, part-timers, unemployed people between jobs, or housewives (i.e., all outside the regular employee situation).

We have been following the various media and chat boards about the topic, and the conversations seem to follow three main threads: that the Japanese insurance program is unwanted and unfair to foreigners, that it is discriminatory vis-a-vis Japanese non-payers, and that come April 1st, what can people do about it?

We try to answer some of these questions below.

Most of us know the health insurance program through a collective social insurance package that most private companies are enrolled in, called Shakai Hoken. This refers to health (kenko hoken), pension (kosei nenkin), unemployment (koyo hoken), and nursing (kaigo hoken — for those over 40) insurances. Effectively for most of us, these insurances function as a 16% tax, and result in us getting that much less in our take-home pay packets every month. Our employers also pay out the same 16% to the government as their contribution.

Thus, for those of us on lower-to-medium salaries (say, JPY300,000 a month), while you may think you’re only paying out 20% or so for your payroll taxes (being 10%-12% average for national tax and 10% or so for your local inhabitance tax), in actual fact the real number is more like 38%. If you’re in the higher tax brackets, then this number goes much higher — into the 45%+ range.

As many readers will know, there are four main social insurance programs of which health insurance is part: the Shakai Hoken program which most private companies are subscribed to, the Kokumin Hoken program, which is for people not in regular employment or who are self-employed, private insurance programs which are run by a few major Japanese conglomerates, and a government employee program. For most of us, getting a visa renewal will mean being enrolled in either the Shakai Hoken or Kokumin Hoken programs.

Come April 1st next year, what can you do if you are not currently a contributor to social insurance? We contacted the Immigration Bureau to ask this question, and from what we can tell, they themselves have not yet settled on a policy of how to handle non-compliant people. They did say that they will only be checking for health insurance certificates, not pension and other insurances. So we suppose that the simplest answer is to go get yourself enrolled now in the Kokumin Kenko Hoken program. However, since there are a number of exemption categories for kenko hoken (working in a company of less than 5 people, for example), we suppose it might be possible to present yourself as being an exempt person, with, we think, some chance of being able to convince the interviewing officer that your visa should be renewed.

But is it really worth all the risk and hassle?

So how is it that people have been allowed to get away with not paying in health and other social welfare taxes until now? There doesn’t seem to be an official reason, however, we believe it is because the government for the longest time held that the social insurance package was NOT a tax but rather a benefit, which is why it has not been administrated by the National Tax Agency. This duality of positioning caused the Social Insurance Agency (SIA) to be run differently, and unlike the Tax Agency, has for many decades decided for itself whether to make people pay or not. As we all know, this has changed over the last 5 years, as it came to light that the SIA not only let people off having to pay, but also themselves lost 50MM or so contributor records.

It seems that the new government position is that the SIA once it has been reorganized into a new agency next year, will function more like the National Tax Agency. Indeed, we think that within 5-10 years, the two will be merged, and then the Japanese public will be faced with the reality that Social Insurance really is a tax, not just a pretend one.

So you’re stuck with having to pay at least something. The good news is that if you’re self-employed, a contractor, or a student, you can pay directly to the government, and the rates are not all that unreasonable — certainly the overall cost of social insurance is significantly cheaper than if you’re a regular salaryperson. As a general guide:

* Kokumin Nenkin (National Pension) — JPY14,660/month currently

* Kokumin Kenko Hoken (National Health Insurance) — roughly about 9%. Actual premium is based on your previous year’s taxable income and number of dependents. Annual premiums range up to JPY530,000/year (JPY44,166/month)

* Kaigo Hoken — only paid by those over 40. Levied as portion of previous year’s taxable income, up to JPY90,000/year

Lastly, is the threat of withholding a foreigner’s visa renewal if they don’t pay their social insurance fair? Our guess is that this point may eventually be taken to court by someone caught by the new rule. It is clear that Social Insurance is NOT a tax yet, and in June this year the Nikkei ran an article saying that the Social Insurance Agency had a contributor compliance rate for Japanese citizens for National Pension of just 62.1% (no word on the health rate) — so obviously there are plenty of Japanese not paying in to the system. Yet, we don’t hear of anyone being punished for that. In fact, just the opposite, the Agency allows people who are on low wages to only pay a portion of their obligations, and so the real non-full compliance rate for social insurance is just 45.6%!

Bad luck if you’re a foreigner… you don’t get to choose.

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Terrie’s Take on Tokyo’s 2016 Olympic bid, decision due Oct 2. Debito.org wa hantai.


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Hi Blog.  Something coming up next week of surprising interest to Debito.org:  Guv Ishihara’s pet project to bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Tokyo.  We’ll hear the decision on October 2.  Here’s where Debito.org stands:

While understandable a sentiment (what booster wouldn’t want to bring such a probable economic boon home?), Debito.org has been unflinching in its criticism both of Ishihara (for his xenophobic rantings over the years, start here) and of the Tokyo Police (keishicho), who will no doubt be given charge of the security at the event.  As history has shown repeatedly (G8 Summits, overt and unapologetic racial profiling — even public scapegoating of NJ, border fingerprinting justified on bigoted grounds, deliberate misconstruing of crime data to whip up public fear, even spoiling one of the last Beatles concerts!), you don’t want to hand over matters of public security to a police force without proper checks and balances — because as even Edward Seidensticker noted, Keishicho will convert Tokyo into a police city if the event is big enough.   The Olympics is just that, and it really complicates things by bringing in foreigners, for the police get particularly carrot-arsed when they feel the outside world is watching.  As I wrote for the Japan Times some months ago:

Point is, international events bring out bad habits in Japan. And now we have Tokyo bidding for the 2016 Olympics? Cue yet another orgiastic official fear and crackdown campaign foisted on the Japanese public, with the thick blue line of the nanny state the biggest profiteer.

Conclusion: I don’t think Japan as a polity is mature enough yet to host these events. Japan must develop suitable administrative checks and balances, not to mention a vetting media, to stop people scaring Japanese society about the rest of the world just because it’s coming for a visit. We need to rein in Japan’s mandarins converting Japan into a Police State, cracking down on its already stunted civil society. (Zeit Gist, SUMMIT WICKED THIS WAY COMES, Japan Times April 22, 2008).

Terrie below (understandably) hopes Tokyo gets the Olympics.  I, for the record, hope it doesn’t.  It’s not because I live in Sapporo (I would have mildly supported Fukuoka’s bid, even despite the NPA, simply because Fukuoka never had the chance — unlike Sapporo — to be an Olympic host).  But the fact remains, as Terrie alludes to below, this is just a vanity project for one mean old man, working through Japan’s elite society to get what he wants, who feels as though he’s got one good deed to redeem all his bad works and ill-will over the years.  Other rich elites in their twilight years, such as Andrew Carnegie, have historically felt the same impetus.  But this Olympic bid certainly seems far more half-baked and far less philanthropic than, say, Carnegie’s legacy attempts.

O IOC, don’t fall for Ishihara’s ego.  Spare Tokyo, its tourists, and its ever-more-policed international residents yet another fear and social-control media blitz.  Give the Olympics to somebody else.  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, September 27, 2009 Issue No. 535


On October 2nd an important overseas decision will be made that will determine the future of Tokyo as a city of international standing. That decision will be made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), whose members will convene in Copenhagen to decide which of Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Tokyo, or Madrid will get to host the 2016 summer Olympic games. All the big wigs involved with trying to get the Games for Tokyo, from Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara on down, flew out to Copenhagen on Saturday (Sep 26th) for their date with fate.

They won’t have to wait long.

Ishihara is trying his best to swing things Tokyo’s way, and reportedly has even asked newly elected PM Yukio Hatoyama and Seattle Mariners batter Ichiro Suzuki to attend the Copenhagen vote. However, he may have left his final run for the finish line too late. In its report released earlier this month (September), the IOC Evaluation Commission had some criticisms for Tokyo after their visit in April to examine the city’s facilities and planning. They particularly referred to a February poll that the IOC commissioned itself and which found that Tokyoites who “Support Strongly” the Games was just 25.2% — a surprisingly low number compared to any of the other three contenders. Strong support in Madrid, for example was 57.9%.

Indeed, as a result of the poll, the IOC Evaluation Commission specifically noted that Japan’s bid had the strong support of government but correspondingly lacked support by the public. Put another way, we have a classic case of those in charge of the local bid trying hard to get Japan’s “establishment” on board so as to provide sufficient financial support, which was indeed forthcoming, but they somehow forgot to involve the little people — the general public.

When the results of the February poll became public, we don’t know, but the Bid Committee finally “fixed” their PR problem a few days ago (in September, months too late), when a moving, talking 20-meter Gundam character robot was parked in Odaiba to pull in a reported 400,000 people who came to demonstrate their support for the Games bid. As a result, the public support in Tokyo for the Games is now supposed to be around 70%. The only trouble is that few members of the IOC can actually read Japanese newspapers or watch Japanese TV, and so these last minute efforts are unlikely to have much effect.

Indeed, this lack of reach by Japanese media to a world audience is frequently lost on Japanese politicians and governmental organizations, who think that because they can view the media, everyone can. This, in our opinion, is a good reason why Japan fails so frequently in its international bids for just about anything. A good example of this very domestic thinking can be found in the recent “Yokoso Japan” (Visit Japan) campaign. As far as we understand, almost all of the billions of yen allocated by the government to promote tourism were spent in Japan in the Japanese media.

It’s true that domestic tourism was also part of the agenda but foreign tourism was the main target, as proven by setting a high target for increased foreign visitor numbers. As it happened, luckily a short-lived economic boom in China and Korea in 2005-2007 helped pulled in several extra million Asian tourists, but despite some mutual back-patting this was largely accidental, and was certainly not the result of the almost non-existent overseas PR campaign.

Back to the local Bid Committee. In our view, not only did they forget to get buy-in from the man-in-the-street, but they seem have also bypassed 10% of those people who will be paying extra taxes to pay for the extravaganza (Minato-ku, Shibuya-ku, Chiyoda-ku, etc.). We refer, of course, to the invisible foreign community.

Yes, there is an English-language website, which from the dates of the photos and videos we presume was mainly put together for the benefit of the visiting IOC evaluation committee in April to show how cosmopolitan Tokyo is. But frankly it’s embarrassing to look at. Take the the section that carefully provides one and one-only restaurant (well, OK, there are two French establishments) representing 12 different national cuisines. Why couldn’t they make a proper effort to garner support of those hundreds of English-speaking venues that will actually be called upon to look after tens of thousands of non-Japanese speaking guests if we actually win the games?

You can see the Olympic bid English site at http://www.tokyo2016.or.jp/en/. You can see the IOC Evaluation Commission’s report, which includes the Tokyo bid at: http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_1469.pdf

As a further comment to the Bid Committee’s lack of awareness that the Olympics might actually be an international affair, if you go to the site’s organization chart, you will quickly notice that of the 19 officials named on the site, not one is a non-Japanese, and of the 56 “advisors” not one is a non-Japanese either. So we can only assume that foreigners will be asked to keep a low profile while Japan hosts the Games… and to pay their taxes on time.

OK, enough of the sour grapes. It’s not like Tokyo has no chance of winning, although with the Beijing Olympics only just done here in Asia, and there never having been a Games in South America before, the odds are apparently on Rio taking the honors for 2016. You won’t read that fact in the Japanese press, since they’re all saying Tokyo will win.

But it’s not a shoe-in for Rio. In their review, the IOC evaluation commission was concerned about the fact that Rio’s games facilities are spread out over hilly terrain, and the city will need an overhaul of its public transport systems to get guests around. There was also concern about violent crime.

Chicago also has a strong chance according to observers, but it has the problem of whether or not it can really afford the expense of the Games, given the poor shape the local economy after the meltdown of the U.S. auto industry. Also some of the Chicago venues are apparently a long way out of the city and not currently well serviced by public transport.

The other contender, Madrid, got a reasonably negative response that they may not fully appreciate the complexity of management required to host the Games.

Thinking positively, though, if we do win the right to host the Games, it will give the Tokyo metropolitan government a worthy project to focus on, and will cause them to finally do something with those ugly vacant lots built during the bubble era, that they are stuck with out at Odaiba. The venue plan for Tokyo calls for substantial planting of greenery in the area, as well as making the entire athlete’s village ecologically sound — with the latest solar, waste processing, and transport technologies being employed to give Japan a showcase to the world.

To wrap up, we do in fact hope that by some miracle Tokyo wins the 2016 Olympic Games. It would be a blast to be in the middle of all the buzz that will come with such an event. It will also significantly ramp up the world’s awareness of what a great place Tokyo is to live and visit — doing wonders for tourism.

But, in our heart of hearts, we fear that those handling the city’s bid may not have realized that to play a global game, you need to have a world-class team, not just money and government support. We’re not sure that such a team was brought to bear, and so we’re betting that Rio will probably win the hearts of IOC members — especially since South America is long overdue to host what should be a global event.

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


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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 Debito.org 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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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 (www.debito.org, debito@debito.org)

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 #2: HBC award-winning broadcast Mar 27, 2001 creates contentious dichotomies


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All TV shows in Japanese (no subtitles or dubbing) with amateur editing
By Arudou Debito (www.debito.org, debito@debito.org)


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:  https://www.debito.org/video/HBC032701.mp4. (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

THE OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT, TEN YEARS ON: Article for Japonesia Review


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Hi Blog.  Today is the tenth anniversary of our visit, on September 19, 1999,  to “Japanese Only” Yunohana Onsen et al in Otaru, a life-changing event that to this day has not been fully resolved — mainly because we still don’t have a law against racial discrimination in Japan.  This situation remains more than 13 years after Japan effecting of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, where it promised to take “all measures, including legislation” to effectively eliminate all forms of RD.  And it deserves comment and reflection after years of protests, two books, countless articles, and successful lawsuits against the onsen (albeit not against the negligent City of Otaru).

I wrote this article by invitation for the Japonesia Review last January and submitted it in February.  After more than seven months’ wait, I see no reason not to publish it here in advance on Debito.org on this auspicious occasion.  Written in a simpler style for a non-native audience, there are some anachronisms within (such as regarding FRANCA’s founding).  Enjoy.

My thoughts on this day are bittersweet.  I know we did the right thing (as Olaf noted, when I called him today, people are still talking about the case), and we had a good outcome in court.  But I judge things like this based upon whether or not they could ever happen again.  The answer is, unfortunately, yes.  After all, all Yunohana Onsen has to do is put up another “Japanese Only” sign and we’d have to take them to court all over again just to get it down.  There is no law to stop it, nothing for authorities to enforce.  Ten years later, it feels more overdue now than in 1999.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo




What has and has not changed regarding human rights for Non-Japanese in Japan.



Photo Caption:  The author in front of Yunohana Onsen, Otaru.

(Photo courtesy Shouya Grigg of Kookan.com)

For publication in Japonesia Review 2009, Submitted February 3, 2009 and still not published.



On September 19, 1999, a group of seventeen people went to take a bath at a “super sento” (public bathhouse) named Yunohana Onsen (www.yunohana.org) in Otaru, Hokkaido.  All seventeen were Japanese, except for three Caucasian males (including the author) from America and Germany, and one Chinese woman from Shanghai.  She, like the non-Japanese (NJ) men, was married to a Japanese and came to Yunohana as an international family.  We had heard over the Internet that Yunohana, Otaru’s largest bathhouse, was not only refusing entry to NJ, they were even openly displaying a “JAPANESE ONLY” sign on their front door in three languages (Japanese, English, and Russian).


Caption:  Yunohana Onsen’s exclusionary sign, 1999

As soon as everyone had entered and bought tickets, we were told that the three Caucasian males in our group (your author included) were not allowed inside.

Consulting with the manager on duty, we heard Yunohana’s justification:  Russian sailors (who at the time were frequent visitors to and traders with Otaru) had a history of not following bathhouse rules, therefore were not allowed in because they might cause trouble and inconvenience Japanese customers.  When we made it clear that we were neither Russian sailors nor troublemakers, Yunohana said it did not matter:  “Refusing only Russians would be discrimination.  So we refuse all foreigners equally.”

All foreigners?  All.  “How about our Chinese friend you allowed in?”  As soon as they realized their mistake, management showed her the door.  We asked them further about their criteria for determining who was “Japanese”, since it was clear by this example that it was whether somebody looked “Asian” enough.  So my wife at the time asked about our daughters, both of whom were born and raised in Japan, spoke Japanese as their first language, and have Japanese citizenship.


One looks more Asian, with black hair and brown eyes, while one looks more Western, with brown hair and bluish eyes.  How would they be treated under Yunohana’s rules?

“The Japanese-looking one can come in.  But the younger one who looks like a gaijin will be refused entry.”

This made it clear to everyone, nationwide, that “Japanese Only” signs and rules would affect Japanese citizens too.


If you want to know more about what happened next in the Otaru Case, please read (in English or Japanese) Arudou Debito, “JAPANESE ONLY” — The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan[1] (Akashi Shoten Inc, 2003 and 2004, both books revised 2006).  The books describe the worldwide debate on the issue; the months of extralegal efforts made to get “Japanese Only” signs down at Yunohana, at other onsens, in other business sectors, and in other cities around Japan; and the successful lawsuit filed against Yunohana Onsen and the City of Otaru that went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

September 19, 2009 marks ten years since we visited Yunohana.  Here is a survey of how things have changed, or not changed, in the past decade regarding human rights for NJ in Japan:

1) A spread of “Japanese Only” signs and rules around Japan.[2]

A website devoted to businesses with exclusionary signs and rules called “The Rogues’ Gallery” (www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html), coordinated by the author, has collected photographic evidence on over 150 places, in 29 cities and towns across Japan, with “Japanese Only” signs and rules.  Some places (such as Yuransen bathhouse in Wakkanai, Hokkaido, and bars in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture) directly copied the very substance and style of Otaru’s “Japanese Only” signs.


Bathhouse “Osupa”, Otaru, 2000.   Hands holding up newspaper substantiating the date are the author’s.


Bar “Globe”, Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, 2002.  Note capital “J”, small “o”, font style of “a”, and “y” with a tail.

The language of “Japanese Only” has clearly become established as a “meme” (learned cultural behavior), as a concise and comprehensive way of saying “stay out” to undesirable customers — who just happen to lack (or look like they lack) Japanese citizenship.[AD1]


Hotel “Tsubakuro”, Hyakunincho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 2003.


Internet café “Dragon BOZ”, Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, 2006.


B-Ball billiards hall, Uruma, Okinawa, 2006


Bar “Santa Monica”, Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture 2004.  Manager confirming author’s Japanese passport before telling him to leave the premises, as the bar is “Japanese Only”.

Cause:  Despite signing the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1995 (effected 1996), and despite Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution banning discrimination by “race, creed, sex, social status, or family origin”, Japan still has no law against discrimination by race.  This means that if a “Japanese Only” sign goes up, there is no law in the Civil or Criminal Code for police or authorities to enforce, demanding that signs come down and rules change.  To the present day, as in 1999, there are no legal means, outside of a courtroom, for people who are discriminated against to stop it.

Effect:  If there are no means to stop this kind of discrimination, it spreads, because it is a “quick fix”.  It is convenient for vigilantes (who dislike, fear, or do not want to be bothered with NJ) to put a sign barring them.  A “Japanese Only” sign up in public lends legitimacy to the exclusion, and encourages copycatting.  Numerous interviews carried out by the author of exclusionary establishments have demonstrated a theme of, “We’re not the only ones with the sign up, so why pick on us?”  Like any “tipping point”, enough occurrences can lead to a threshold where isolated instances become legitimized by numbers and precedent, leading to an established practice.  That is how discrimination spreads:  strength in numbers.

2) The rubric of “Japanese Only” is still based upon physical appearance.

The author of this essay is a naturalized Japanese citizen.  However, as the reader can see from his photo at the very beginning, a change of passport has not led to a change from Caucasian to Asian.  In the majority of interviews I have had with exclusionary businesses, they have said that even after seeing proof of my Japanese citizenship (my passport or driver license), I would still be excluded from the premises.  “You don’t look Japanese.  It’ll cause misunderstandings,” was the standard reason.

Cause:  Japan still makes a strong association with face/race and nationality, i.e. Japanese people look “Japanese”.  Indubitably part of the reason is that Japanese society and media have had limited exposure to “non-Asian Japanese”, such as soccer star Ramos Rui, tarento Konda Bobbi (ne Bobby Ologun), and Dietmember Tsurunen Marutei, to name but a few.  There has, however, been copious exposure to international Japanese children Miyazawa Rie, Umemiya Anna, Rebecca Eri RayVaughan (aka “Bekkii”), and also to naturalized citizens with more Asian faces like sumo wrestlers Konishiki and Akebono.  However, it is unclear that the public eye has done a complete connect between “Japanese citizenship through roots” and “Japanese citizenship by legal application”, which would mean that “Japaneseness is a legal status”, not a blood status.  Reinforcing this disconnect are Japan’s nationality laws, currently under consideration for revision, which explicitly say that Japanese status is something inherited.  The laws are jus sanguinis, meaning you must have a Japanese blood relative in order to automatically get Japanese citizenship.

Effect:  Many Japanese citizens who do not “look Japanese” will be treated as NJ — not only this author, but also many hundreds of thousands of children of international marriages.  Japan’s international marriages are currently about 40,000 per year, up substantially from about 30,000 in 2000, and the number of “mixed children” born annually to be about 21,000[3].  Like the “tipping point” mentioned above that encourages the spread of “Japanese Only” signs, I anticipate that there will be a similar “tipping point” where people realize that racial admixtures are still Japanese.  “Conditional Japanese” (as in “half”, “quarter”, “double”, “mix”) have been in the lexicon for quite some time.  I think the qualifiers will fade as the numbers increase.  Accepting naturalized “non-blood Japanese” will take longer.  However, without laws against racial discrimination, one’s face will still not save many “people of mixture” from capricious or ignorant treatment as apparent NJ.

3) “Monocultural, monoethnic Japan” is officially no longer.

Japan’s public policy is also surprisingly exclusionary.  Postwar Japan has had public speech at the highest levels (most famously former Prime Minister Nakasone in 1986) extolling “ethnic homogeneity” and “racial purity” as a strength.  The Japanese government has repeatedly reported to the UN that the CERD treaty was not applicable to Japan.  Japan apparently has no racial minorities (moreover that all people who were in fact racially different were not citizens, therefore also not covered)[4].  This is reinforced in public policymaking.  When one reads white papers and laws, the rubric is that the policy is for the benefit of “citizens” (kokumin)[5], as opposed to “taxpayers” (nouzeisha) or “residents” (juumin).  Thanks to the vagaries of the Residency Certificate (juuminhyou) system[6], NJ are still not officially listed or counted as “juumin“.  Local governments (such as Tokyo Nerima-ku[7]) also do not include NJ in their tally of “residents”.  Nor does the National Census (kokusei chousa) survey residents for ethnicity (minzoku) — only nationality (kokuseki).  Nor does the Ministry of Health always include NJ (or even newly-naturalized citizens) in its tally of population growth or shrinkage:  preferring to use a simple calculation of “births minus deaths”[8].

That said, in June 6, 2008, the Diet for the first time unanimously passed a resolution stating that the Ainu aboriginal people of Hokkaido were a “indigenous people with a distinct language, religion, and culture”.  For the first time, Japan’s government did not ignore an ethnic minority in its public policy, and in fact had set up a government panel to study remedial actions.

Cause:  It was good timing.  As was discussed in this forum (Ota Masakuni, Japonesia Review No. 5, 2008), both the confluence of a UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review on Japan in May, and the Hokkaido G8 Summit (where Hokkaido minority issues were gaining attention and traction) in July that same year, contributed to a push the Fukuda Administration to offer this showcase for human rights.  A multi-partisan “Concerned Diet Members’ Group for the Rights of the Ainu” spearheaded the drive.

Effect:  On September 28, 2008, new Transport Minister Nakayama Nariaki resigned over various gaffes (including calling Nikkyouso schoolteacher union “a cancer”) that reflected older-school thinking:  Speaking on behalf of Japan’s new tourism agency, he mentioned that Japan was “ethnically homogeneous” and in general “Japanese don’t like foreigners”.  He was roundly criticized, notably by Social Democratic Party leader Fukushima Mizuho, who said, “Is he ignorant of a Diet resolution which all the members (of both houses of the Diet) supported?”[9] Thus began an ignominious start to the 2008 Aso Cabinet, which helped set the tone for the rest of his unpopular administration.  This is the first time a resignation has resulted from a “homogeneous” remark, a far cry from the days of Nakasone.

That said, Ota notes that without a supplemental change in historical perspective in the Japanese public, the consequences for Ainu and other (unrecognized) minority rights may be “inconclusive” (the abovementioned government panel, after all, only has one Ainu member).  Similarly, it is probably too early to draw conclusions or show undue pessimism at this time.  Wait and see.

4) Japan’s economics and demographics are making immigration inevitable.

Japan is still the second-largest economy by GDP and by most measures larger than all other Asian economies combined.  The current worldwide economic downturn notwithstanding, Japan has for three decades had a labor shortage.  The government recognized this in 1990 and, at the behest of the industrial lobby, inaugurated a backdoor “Trainee”, “Researcher”, and “Returnee” (teijuusha for overseas Nikkei) working visa program.  This regime brought over millions of cheap Asian and South American laborers, more than doubled the NJ population of 1990 from one million to two, and fundamentally shifted the top three NJ ethnicities from 1) Korea (North and South), 2) China, and 3) The Philippines[10] to 1) China, 2) Korea, and 3) Brazil.  Industrial towns in Shizuoka, Gifu, and Aichi Prefectures showed NJ population percentages in the double digits, and for the first time mayors of these towns were demanding the national government secure equal rights and enhanced access to social services for their NJ residents[11].  NJ were coming to Japan, being welcomed, and put to work.

They were filling a gap.  Thanks to the low birthrate and long life expectancies of the Japanese public, the UN and the Obuchi Administration in 2000 jointly recognized that the Japanese population was aging, and would decrease by the late 2000s if Japan did not import 600,000 NJ per annum[12].  Japan has, on average this decade, imported a net total of 50,000 NJ per annum.  Sure enough, by 2007, Japan’s population was first officially announced as dropping.  If trends continue, by 2050, according to Shuukan Ekonomisuto (January 15, 2008, pg 16), the percentage of Japanese over retirement age (65) is projected to be more than half of the entire population.  Who will man the factories, pay in taxes, and maintain social security pension payments?  NJ keep Japanese society young and the birthrate from falling further.  The government is currently deliberating scrapping the current backdoor-labor visa regime, and establishing an official immigration policy.


The author and two other plaintiffs sued both Yunohana Onsen and the City of Otaru for racial discrimination and negligence under the CERD.  Yunohana lost both in Sapporo District and High Court, and was ordered to pay plaintiffs one million yen each for “unrational discrimination”.  The City of Otaru won in Sapporo District Court, High Court, and the Supreme Court; the District and High Courts grounded their arguments in “separation of powers” arguments (as in, the judiciary cannot force a government body to pass laws against discrimination, and cannot hold one accountable for not doing so).  The Supreme Court ruled that this contravention of Article 14 was “not a Constitutional issue”[13].

Yunohana Onsen took their “Japanese Only” sign down shortly before the lawsuit began, but never apologized for its action.  It took advantage of the publicity from the lawsuit to open new branches.  Yunohana is now a chain with outlets in Otaru Temiya, Otaru Asari, Sapporo Jozankei, and Ebetsu.  Other places and business sectors around Hokkaido and Japan still have their “Japanese Only” signs up.

The Japanese government made it clear to the UN again in March 2008 that it has no intention of creating a law against racial discrimination, reiterating that it has an active judiciary for grievances, therefore no laws are necessary.  It stressed in the indicatively-named “Third, fourth, fifth, and sixth combined periodic report to the UN HRC”[14] that it had taken “every conceivable measure to fight against racial discrimination” (begging the question why passing a law is “inconceivable”).  Several draft bills have been submitted to the Diet and to the Otaru City Government, but all have died in deliberation.

Author and plaintiff Arudou Debito still works as a university educator at Hokkaido Information University in Ebetsu.  Author of two books on the Otaru Onsens Case, Arudou, 44, has recently co-authored another book to help NJ make more secure lives in Japan:  Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan (Akashi Shoten Inc. 2008, English and Japanese).  He also is setting up an NPO called FRANCA[15] to better lobby for rights of NJ in the political sphere.  He sees the Ebetsu branch of Yunohana every day on his drive to work.


2600 WORDS

[1] www.debito.org/japaneseonly.html

[2] More information on this in Japanese in「『外国人』入店禁止という人種差別」(有道 出人 著)、単行本『日本の民族差別 人種差別撤廃条約からみた課題)』p218ー229、岡本雅享先生監修・編著、明石書店(株)2005年6月出版

[3] “Japanese youth help compatriots embrace diversity”, Christian Science Monitor, January 18, 2008, www.debito.org/?p=933

[4] The text of the debate between Japan and the United Nations may be found at www.debito.org/japanvsun.html

[5] See example at “Forensic Science Fiction:  Bad science and racism underpin police policy.”  Japan Times, January 13, 2004, at www.debito.org/japantimes011304.html, particularly sidebar at bottom.

[6] www.debito.org/activistspage.html#juuminhyou

[7] www.debito.org/?p=1972

[8] “Japan sees biggest population fall”, Associated Press, printed in the Manchester Guardian, January 2, 2009, www.debito.org/?p=2117

[9] www.debito.org/index.php/?s=Ainu+resolution+June

[10] www.stat.go.jp/data/chouki/02.htm

[11] See for example the Hamamatsu Sengen at www.debito.org/hamamatsusengen.html

[12] Arudou, Debito, “The Coming Internationalization:  Can Japan assimilate its immigrants”.  Japan Focus, January 12, 2006, www.japanfocus.org/products/details/2078

[13] www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html

[14] www.debito.org/?p=1927

[15] www.francajapan.org

[AD1]To Hikaru:  Play with the layout and put these signs around the article as you like.  More at www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html

Terrie’s Take on recent new rulings on tenants’ rights in Japan


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

Hi Blog.  I think I’ll let Terrie do the talking today.  Important day tomorrow I’m currently preparing for.  You’ll see why it’s important… tomorrow!  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, July 26, 2009 Issue No. 527


The Japan Times has been doing a good job recently of documenting consumer rights law cases and also foreigner- related issues that might be of use to its readers. Last week they reported on a landmark court ruling, whereby the Kyoto District Court said that a landlord’s insistence on contract renewal fees (“koshinryo”) may violate the rights of the tenant. This is the first time such a case has been ruled in favor of the tenant.

In the case, the tenant was apparently told that there would be a contract renewal fee, but not why. Presumably the agent thought that because the renewal fee is a traditional payment, dating back to post-war times when the government didn’t want returnee soldiers relocating en masse to the cities, they didn’t go into it in any detail. In any case, as a result of that oversight, when the plaintiff moved out several months after he’d paid the renewal and the landlord refused to refund the payment, the tenant took offense and took the landlord to court.

The basis for the lawsuit was the 2001 revised consumer protection law, which the court agreed had precedence over the tenancy law. In the ruling the judge apparently commented that, “The reasons for charging contract renewal fees must be clearly explained to tenants and agreed upon between the two sides.”

Now before everyone starts hooting from the roof tops that it’s time for landlords to get some of their own medicine, it’s worth remembering that this is the exact same Kyoto District Court that in January of last year dismissed a very similar lawsuit. In that earlier case, the tenant also based his claim on the 2001 consumer contract law, where he said that renewal fees in the way they are currently notified and imposed, constitute a contract that “Unilaterally causes damage to the interests of consumers.” We daresay that a lot of readers would agree with that statement!

It seems that the point of legal consideration by the two different Kyoto law court judges wasn’t whether the renewal fees are allowed under consumer law or not — they are, so long as the landlord or the agent explains clearly that the fees are part of the contract and that the tenant knowingly and willingly signs the contract. Rather, the consideration was all about whether the fee’s purpose was clearly explained — thus allowing the tenant to claim that he wasn’t fully informed and therefore permitting him to invoke the consumer protection law.

So, the requirement to pay rent renewal fees, as onerous as they are, has not gone away. It’s just now that it’s possible to claim ignorance to the rules, and use that to get your money back. This is not a strong step forward for tenant’s rights, but at least it’s a start…

As most readers would be aware, the renewal fees are not the only sticking point when it comes to renting Japanese apartments. There is also the non-refundable deposit and the “cleaning fees” to be deducted from that deposit when you move out. Most people who have moved apartments more than once have learned that very little of their 2-3 months refundable deposit will actually come back — a good reason, of course, why people don’t move so often.

We’ve heard a variety of opinions about whether tenants can fight the imposition of cleaning fees — especially if you’ve cleaned the apartment thoroughly enough that it doesn’t need much more polishing. Certainly you CANNOT not pay them, since the fees are generally taken out of the deposit paid when you first moved in. The general guideline, apparently is for a cleaning fee of JPY1,000~JPY1,500 per sq. m. of apartment floor area — which for a JPY100K apartment might leave you with the grand total of just JPY50,000 from your original JPY200,000~JPY300,000 of refundable deposit being returned.

Talking to a certain large rental agent for foreigners, we have heard that the situation is quite different in the non-Japanese sector. Largely because expat apartments tend to be bigger and more expensive to keep vacant, and because there is also a dearth of tenants, landlords are being much more flexible and cooperative. They are cutting deals that strictly Japanese-facing landlords would never dream of. The deals include no-deposit contracts, 3-6 months free rent on a two-year lease (just like B- and C-grade offices), and large price cuts of up to 50% discount.

But as we’ve noted, one man’s cloud is another’s silver lining. Word is that there are plenty of local foreigners and Japanese moving into the more fashionable districts in Tokyo right now — because they’re trading up into the gaijin apartments, but not having to pay much difference for all the extra space, appliances, and convenience.


American journo banned from “Japanese Only” Toyota press conference — in America!


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 something discussed in Ivan Hall’s seminal CARTELS OF THE MIND and other sources, such as Laurie Freeman’s JPRI article on Japan’s Press Clubs (kisha kurabu, i.e. media cartels).  It hasn’t changed since the publication of these works.  Problem is, the case discussed below isn’t a Japan Press Club.  It’s a Japanese company denying access to local-area journalists IN AMERICA, despite both local ethics and corporate promises to the contrary.  In other words, it’s Japan’s Press Clubs exported.  Read on.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo


Toyota stops American from attending exec’s press conference in America

Former FCCJ President Jim Treece gets the cold shoulder from the PR department of Japan’s automotive giant.
by Jim Treece, courtesy of JCH.
Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan website, Sept 9, 2009

I thought my days of battling kisha clubs were over.

Nope. There I was, arguing that I, an American, should be allowed into a Japanese-only press conference. In Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

I was being excluded not by a kisha club, but by Toyota Motor’s PR staff.

The main speaker at an August automotive conference in Traverse City was Toyota
President Akio Toyoda. He did not meet the media. Instead, after Toyoda’s speech, Toyota Motor Sales USA boss Jim Lentz held a press briefing.

A large number of Japanese reporters showed up in Traverse City. I soon learned that Lentz’ boss, Yoshimi Inaba, would give a separate briefing for the Japanese press. I asked to attend, since I speak Japanese. They said no.

“This stinks,” I e-mailed Toyota USA’s top PR man, Irv Miller.

“I have attended sessions of the kisha club at the Ministry of Infrastructure, Land and Transportation. I have gone on overseas trips with Japanese media from the Jidosha Kisha Club where all events were conducted solely in Japanese. Why am I being kept out of an event in the United States where the only real restriction should be language, not nationality?”

His Blackberry reply: “You are not barred from Mr. Inaba’s press interview you ARE invited to Mr. Lentz’s press interview.”

Well, if I’m not barred, then I might as well walk into the room before it began, I decided. Toyota PR staffers double-teamed me to make sure I didn’t get past the doorway.

“You are not invited. It’s our press conference and we chose to invite only the Japanese media,” lead flack Hashimoto said.

Automotive News attended a media roundtable with Inaba in Detroit a week ago, an American staffer added. Yes, I said, but that was a week ago. There has been news since then. I want to hear what Inaba tells the Japanese media. The Q&A will be different from Lentz’s, I said.

They kept saying they wanted Japanese media only. “Who is ‘they?’” I asked. The Toyota PR department, they replied. Who? Finally, Mr. Hashimoto said, “Me.”

Why, I asked.

“You’re American media and I’m not in charge of American media,” he said. At the Detroit auto show, he argued, you have German media press conferences where the Swedish or Japanese media are not invited.

But those are based on language, I said. I’ve attended Japanese-language press conferences at the Detroit auto show, and at the Tokyo and Bangkok motor shows.

There’s not enough room, he said. They had a dozen chairs and a table in a room easily large enough for 40 people. I suggested they could fit in another chair.

But if you come in, all the American media will want to attend, he said. No, I said, just say it’s going to be done in Japanese with no translation. Only those who can handle that will come.

Hashimoto offered me a deal. He would let me come in, as long as I didn’t tell any other American media that I had attended. That was unacceptable. I would not be able to report anything. Then Miller stepped in.

He repeated the we-can’t-let-everyone-in line, then switched to the offensive. “I take exception to the fact that you do not value your invitation to Mr. Lentz’ press conference,” he said. Trying not to roll my eyes, I said I did value that invitation. I had assigned another reporter to cover that press conference.

He kept me cornered and talking in the hallway. Inaba passed by, and briefly paused and looked at us. I was about to greet him – I had interviewed him one-on-one two or three times in Japan – but Hashimoto hurried him along. With him in the room and the door shut, Miller left me for the room where Lentz would speak. Kicking myself for not just sitting in a chair and daring them to throw me out bodily – hey, it worked at the Prime Minister’s office – I headed back to the media room and wrote up a straightforward account of Toyoda’s speech.

Later, a Japanese reporter came up and asked for clarification about comments Ron Bloom had made. Bloom, head of President Obama’s autos task force, had originally been scheduled to hold a press briefing for a small group of reporters, but as word of the briefing leaked out, it was opened to all reporters at the conference. The Japanese reporters also attended.

Toyota’s PR staffers kept me out because they could not think outside of their organization-chart boxes. Hashimoto was Inaba’s handler, so he would only let in the reporters he deals with. Opening the briefing to all Japanese-speaking media would have required a willingness to rethink the way they worked. Akio Toyoda’s speech had urged the auto industry to do just that.

Too bad his PR staff wasn’t listening. ❶

Eikaiwa NOVA embezzler and former boss Saruhashi gets his: 3.5 years


Hi Blog.  Sorry to be so late in reporting this, but some good news a couple of weeks ago:  Eikaiwa NOVA embezzler and former boss Saruhashi gets his:  sentenced to 3.5 years in the clink.  No word if the employees are going to get their money back, however.

More background details on this case here (plug in the word “sahashi”) into search engine.  More on Debito.org here.

Arudou Debito in Nagoya


Nova boss handed 3 1/2 years
Staff writer
The Japan Times Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009

OSAKA — Former Nova President Nozomu Sahashi was sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 years in prison by the Osaka District Court for his role in skimming off employee funds in 2007, just before the foreign language school giant’s bankruptcy that October.

Presiding Judge Hiroaki Higuchi’s severe sentence took some in the courtroom by surprise. Prosecutors had sought five years for the former president of what was once the country’s largest foreign language school chain and employer of foreign nationals. Sahashi is expected to appeal the sentence.

Sahashi was charged with funneling nearly ¥320 million from employee benefit funds to a bank account belonging to a Nova affiliate in July 2007. He denied embezzling the funds, telling the court he used the money on behalf of his employees.

He tried to portray himself as only one of a group of senior Nova executives responsible for the decision. But the judge said that given the amount of money and his authority, Sahashi bore a heavy responsibility for the crime.

Rest of the article at


Quick letter to McDonald’s USA “Contact us” website re “Mr James” (UPDATED: Compare to Subway Sandwiches’ J-speaking NJ shills)


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.  Just sent this out this evening to McDonald’s USA’s “Contact Us” section on their website (since McDonald’s Japan is certainly giving the “Mr James” issue short shrift).  FYI.  Debito

Hello McDonald’s USA:

You might be interested to read my column in the Japan Times talking about what’s wrong with McDonald’s Japan’s “Mr James” Campaign:

It has received similar attention in the San Francisco Chronicle:

TIME Magazine:

South China Morning Post (Hong Kong):

and McDonald’s Japan CR Director Kawaminami’s rather embarrassing letter defending “Mr James”:

Not to mention Facebook’s “I Hate Mr James” page (now at 223 members): http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=136293508102

Perhaps it’s time to consider pulling the plug on this campaign before it embarrasses your organization any further?

Thanks for your attention.




UPDATE:  Note how Subway Sandwiches handles NJ shills.  Courtesy of and commentary by Erich:

I spotted this the other day when buying lunch!  The two foreign characters in this ad by Subway are treated fairly!

The girl on the left speaks in katakana, but it is a logical necessity since she is just naming food and saying “set”, which is normally written in katakana anyway.  The man on the right speaks in proper japanese, using kanji instead of katakana for the word “vegetable”. I think the McDonald’s advertising agency should see this as an example of the right thing to do…




San Francisco Chronicle on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” campaign, and similar ethnically-insensitive sales campaigns overseas


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 a column to bushwhack your way through.  I’m not sure whether the article is about the “Mr James” campaign or about me, but I appreciate the feedback.  I also stand corrected:  I thought McD’s in America would never try an Asian version character like “Mr James” in the US.  Seems McD’s is a serial stereotyper.  As I wrote on Tuesday in the Japan Times, protest media images if you don’t like them, wherever they occur.  A letter to the company may just kick off a constructive discussion.  Arudou Debito in Muroto, southern Shikoku

McRacism in Japan?
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Wednesday, September 2, 2009


The blogosphere has been aflame over the last month as a group of marginalized and disenfranchised (and mostly Caucasian) individuals have fought back against a juggernaut that has, in their eyes, compromised their personal rights and cast aspersions upon them.

No, I’m not talking about health care reform protestors or tea party organizers. These angry activists are in Japan, not the U.S. — and the monolith they’re fighting against isn’t the federal government, but an entity whose worldwide influence is possibly even more potent: Global burgermeister McDonald’s.

Last month, Mickey D’s began an advertising campaign for four new Japan-only burgers it dubbed the “Nippon All-Stars.” These include the “Tamago Double Mac” (two all-beef patties, bacon, mushrooms, a fried egg and instant cardiac arrest), the “Tsukimi Burger” (a one-story version of the Tamago), the Chicken Tatsuya (battered chicken sandwich, heavy on the mayo) and the Gracoro (a cheesy, saucy deep-fried croquette on a bun).

But it’s not the taste or the health implications of the sandwiches that has led to this backlash — it’s the marketing.

That’s because the national face of the Nippon All-Stars campaign is a happy, dorky, bespectacled white tourist named “Mr. James.” Clad in regulation nerd uniform — red short-sleeved shirt, mismatched tie, rumpled khakis and a permanently stunned expression — Mr. James shouts about the deliciousness of the burgers in broken Japanese on commercials that have saturated TV, the Internet and print publications.

“What’s the matter [with this depiction]? Put the shoe on the other foot,” wrote foreigner-rights advocate Debito Arudou (nee David Ardwinckle) [sic] in a column for The Japan Times. “Imagine McDonald’s, a multinational that has long promoted cultural diversity, launching a McAsia menu in America, featuring a deep-bowing, grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying, ‘Me likee McFlied Lice!’ or, ‘So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?'”

McHatin’ It

Of course, in the past, McDonald’s has essentially done just that. During last year’s Olympics, it unveiled a commercial featuring two Chinese kids engaged in high-flying wire-fu combat in an ancient temple, dueling it out with fists and feet and chopsticks over the last McNugget in the pack.

Seeing that ad brought back memories of McDonald’s limited-edition “Shanghai” Chicken McNuggets, which briefly appeared on menus back in 1986. Served in a red takeout box stamped with cartoon-Chinese lettering, they came with a fortune cookie, chopsticks and three absurdly non-Shanghainese dippings: “duck sauce,” hot mustard and … teriyaki sauce.

Worst of all, to complete the pseudo-Sino experience, the chain’s employees were forced to wear conical McCoolie hats — a bit of irony given their minimum-wage status — while commercials ended with mascot-clown Ronald McDonald throwing a karate chop to faux Asian music.

Lame, ignorant campaigns like this one may seem innocuous. But they give people license to mock and exclude people based on racial or cultural difference, which in turn can lead down a slippery slope to more troubling outcomes.

(My own private Shanghai McNugget trauma came when I found myself pelted with them by a bunch of leering, gibberish-spouting fellow high schoolers while quietly eating a non-oriental menu item. Although I wouldn’t exactly assign the experience hate crime status, the pointier, vaguely Indiana-shaped nuggets could have put an eye out, and had things gone McBad escalation might have led to my getting a Quarter Pounding — or even a full-on Big Mac Attack.)

Given that, two decades later, offensive images of Asians are still common in American media, it’s understandable that some Asian Americans have reacted to the outcry against the Mr. James campaign with “turnabout is fair play” schaudenfreude rather than sympathy.

I’ll admit that my own initial reaction wasn’t far from that of the authors of the blog Disgrasian, whose gleeful post included the line “karma is a b*tch.” But upon further reflection, it’s not clear how the depiction of white stereotypes in Japan is appropriate payback for media abuses against Asians in the U.S.

Besides, asks James S., founder and editor-in-chief of the popular Japan-based blog Japan Probe, “Are we in some kind of race to win last place in the stereotyping Olympics? Foreign residents in Japan shouldn’t be held accountable for bad things other people in their country of origin are doing. Arguing about which countries have worse stereotyping accomplishes nothing.”

Here and There

Even if who-has-it-worse debates are unproductive, as James S. suggests, a comparison of cultural landscapes is an illuminating way of providing context around our own experiences. America’s diversity of race, origin and belief, and the standards that protect us against discrimination via those categories, are unique among nations. They’re at the core of our democracy, and they’re the foundation of our national identity.

Japan, meanwhile, is a largely homogenous society with certain factors that have contributed to a very strong “insider-outsider” sensibility.

“There’s undoubtedly a strong distinction between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan, largely due to Japan’s history of isolation, its island geography, and the population itself, which is largely Japanese,” says Gen Kanai, a veteran blogger who writes about Japanese cultural and technological trends. “These aren’t factors that can or will change quickly, so I believe this distinction will stay with Japan for the foreseeable future.”

The insider-outsider distinction is integrated into Japan’s very language, as Kanai points out. “In Japanese, all non-Japanese words are put into their own writing system, katakana,” he says. “And the adjectives gai — outside — and nai — inside — are often used to indicate whether an idea or product is from Japan, or from elsewhere.”

Or, for that matter, a person: The term “gaijin,” a casual shortening of the more formal “gaikokujin,” is Japan’s default expression for foreigner — to the dismay of activists like Debito Arudou, who has publicly argued that gaijin is as offensive a term for non-Japanese as “n*gger” is for blacks.

Debito’s point is that the term reinforces a dismissive, permanent “alien” status that allows foreigners to be offhandedly discriminated against, by both institutions and individuals.

“Gaijin is not a nice word, and I have not modified my opinion that it is akin to ‘n*gger’ in application,” says Debito. “Is that stance confrontational? That’s a matter of opinion, but people are debating the issues and that’s what matters in the end.”

Debito has spent much of the quarter-century he’s lived in Japan pushing for such reactions. His most famous campaign remains his 2001 lawsuit against a hot spring resort in the small village of Otaru [sic], which displayed a “JAPANESE ONLY” sign at its entrance; the resort’s operators indicated that the policy against non-Japanese guests was due to previous problems with “drunken Russian sailors.” Debito and two co-plaintiffs won their anti-discrimination suit, each receiving $25,000 in damages.

His latest cause has been challenging the “gaijin cards” that foreigners in Japan must keep with them at all times, noting that the IC chips within the cards could be used to track non-Japanese “like the aliens in ‘Aliens 2.'” (He acknowledges that there’s a “tinfoil hat” aspect to his concerns, but as with most of his causes, he believes that doing something is always better than doing nothing.)

These flamboyant initiatives and contentious pronouncements in the pages of The Japan Times have not won him unalloyed support even among his fellow expatriates.

“I can’t really say I agree with the causes Debito chooses or many of the tactics he uses,” says Japan Probe’s James S. “His methods lead to the lumping of all foreign residents together, creating an ‘us versus them’ mentality for the Japanese. I think that any approach to fighting discriminatory practices needs to include the Japanese in the movement.”

As sympathetic as James S. is to Debito’s fight to win open access to hot springs resorts, he points to more serious concerns foreign residents in Japan face, such as housing discrimination. “It is common for landlords to absolutely refuse to rent apartments or houses to foreigners, regardless of employment status, language ability, or type of visa,” he says. “It is not a fun to have a real estate agent tell you that he or she must phone a landlord to ‘check if gaijin are okay’ before you can view an apartment.”

That’s a situation that might shock Americans, who’ve grown up with the expectation that all residents of our country have equal protection under law. And though it’s not always easy, much less automatic, anyone can become an American citizen, and once you’re a citizen, you’re an American, period.

At least, officially. One of the things that’s troubling about the state of political discourse in this country is that Americanness has become less and less absolute. Politicians of both parties, but especially the Right, have taken to reflexively invoking the concept of “real” Americans, with a greater degree of realness ascribed to those upholding their standards of religion (Christianity), residency (rural and smalltown Midwest and South), place of birth (the mainland U.S.), and class (blue-collar and working class). It’s a terrible trend, and its consequences are toxic.

Japan, driven by demographic imperatives, is slowly lowering its “outsider/insider” firewall. As its society ages and fewer children are born — Japan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world — welcoming foreigners in may be critical to maintaining a productive society. And with newly elected Yukio Hatayama poised to become the first Prime Minister from the reformist Democratic Party of Japan, which won a shocking landslide victory this week to break the conservative Liberal Democratic Party’s decades-long stranglehold on power — it’s thought that the new regime might be open to revisiting of Japan’s absurdly restrictive immigration policies.

“I’m hopeful for the future,” says James S. “I think that Japan will gradually become more open and diverse.”

Meanwhile, America seems headed in the opposite direction, with backlashes against immigrants, a return to isolationism and even questions about the legitimacy and birth status of the President becoming surprisingly mainstream. Red-meat issues for some — but for the idea of America, a recipe for disaster.

Jeff Yang forecasts global consumer trends for the market-research company Iconoculture (www.iconoculture.com). He is the author of “Once Upon a Time in China: A Guide to the Cinemas of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China,” co-author of “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” and “Eastern Standard Time,” and editor of the forthcoming “Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology” (www.secretidentities.org). He lives in New York City. Go to http://altreviews.com/cgi-bin/dada/mail.cgi to join INSTANT YANG, Jeff Yang’s biweekly mailing list offering updates on this column and alerts about other breaking Asian / Asian American pop-culture news, or connect with him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1074720260, LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcyang, or Twitter:http://twitter.com/originalspin.



Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Sept 1 2009 on McDonald’s “Mr James” campaign: Why it’s a problem


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

Japan Times Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009
Meet Mr. James, gaijin clown
Not everyone is laughing at McDonald’s Japan’s latest wheeze, a hapless foreigner who’ll never fit in

“Director’s Cut” with links to sources:

If you want to sell stuff, it helps to have a recognizable “mascot” representing your company.  Disney has Mickey Mouse, Sanrio Hello Kitty, Studio Ghibli Totoro.  These imaginary characters grace many a product and ad campaign.

However, McDonald’s Japan dropped a clanger on August 10 with its new burger meister:  “Mr. James”.

Fronting the “Nippon All Stars” campaign (American hamburgers with a Japanese twist) for three months is a bespectacled grinning Caucasian wearing mismatched red shirt and chinos.  Created by ad agency Dentsu, “Mr. James” is touring the burghers of Japan, offering money for photo ops.  His blog effuses perpetual wonderment at all things Japanese.  His obsession is McDonald’s:  he’s a burger nerd.



Not necessarily a problem so far.  But some non-Japanese residents have protested that this (human, not imaginary) character perpetuates Japanese stereotypes about other humans — foreigners.

“Mr. James” (defying standard etiquette of addressing adults with “last name plus -san”, reflecting how Japanese manners aren’t always applied to Caucasians) effuses in fluent katakana only.  Everything is in broken accented Japanese.  “Watakushi nippon daisuki” etc.

What’s the matter?  Put the shoe on the other foot:  Imagine McDonald’s, a multinational long promoting cultural diversity, launching a new “McAsia Menu” in America, featuring a deep-bowing grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying, “Me likee McFlied Lice!”, or “So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?”

This would of course occasion protest from minority groups and the Japanese embassy (as happened in Hungary in 2003, regarding a racist TV show).


And rightly so.  But so far the media reaction towards “Mr. James” has been mixed.  The Japanese press has ignored it.  The Western press has been nonplussed.  Respectable websites have quoted some Asian-Americans’ acidulous Schadenfreude:  “Karma’s a bitch.”  As in, Asians have suffered Western stereotyping long enough, so this is cosmic retribution towards Caucasians.


Others fail to see beyond the weird or exotic (of course; not everyone lives here or understands what straight katakana does to Japanese speech).  Still others think it’s just humor, so let it go:  Get a life, you humorless killjoys.


But this overlooks what activists are trying to do:  Give a point of view that goes against the mainstream — because Japanese media generally stereotypes foreigners in an unbalanced and unfair manner.  Mr. James is but the most recent incarnation, and an offensive one at that.

I personally have three tests for whether stereotyping is offensive or unfair:

1) Does it suit the purposes of humor and satire, or is it just mean-spirited?

2) Has it any redeeming social value?

3) Is there turnabout in fair play?

Regarding 1), yes, I grant that “Mr. James” is disarmingly funny.  However, it still takes mean cheap shots at foreigners for a purported lack of language ability.  Allow me to elaborate from decades of personal experience what this stereotype does:

When asked if the Japanese language is difficult, I say it isn’t.  What’s difficult is talking to Japanese people.  One has to overcome so much ingrained baggage — often instilled from childhood in approved textbooks — that foreigners, particularly the non-Asians, are “guests and outsiders” — illiterate, inscrutable, and incomprehensible.  Thanks to this, I daresay in the majority of random interactions, foreigners who do not “look Japanese” have to prove every day to new listeners that they speak Japanese just fine.


It’s like having to untangle your headphones before you listen to music.  Every.  Single.  Time.  And “Mr. James” just pulls the knots tighter.

Now 2) Redeeming social value.  For example, when we see stereotyped characters on TV show “The Simpsons”, fun is poked.  But eventually the characters become humanized, part of the neighborhood in The Simpsons’ universe.  Is “Mr. James” similarly humanized and included?

Well, “Mr. James” has a backstory, but it’s one of “bedazzled tourist and guest”.  It’s not one of inclusiveness:  no matter how hard he tries (especially since McDonald’s rendered his every utterance in katakana), he’ll never be Japanese.  He is the perpetual “other”.

Nothing new, since “othering foreigners” into a skin of differences is a national pastime.  But it’s not pleasant for Caucasians who actually live here, and now have to deal with the reconfirmed “Mister First-Name-Outsider-speaking-incomprehensibly” stereotype in public as far down as children (one of McDonald’s target customers).  Besides, how many will get the online backstory?  Most will only spot his banners and full-body cutouts and see him as a flat cartoon, not a potential neighbor.

Will McDonald’s ever wink to the audience that it’s “all in fun”, and let on that “Mr. James” is a member of this society after all his hard work fitting in and fawning?  Highly unlikely.  Because by design he doesn’t belong here.

That leads us to 3) “fair play”.  Is everyone “fair game” for stereotyping, and do the stereotyped have the chance to reply and balance views?  I would argue no.  The Japanese media very rarely gives a voice to non-Japanese residents, offering their perspective on life in Japan unadulterated.  In fact, the image most often transmitted is that Japan is that of the hackneyed “unique island society” — and foreigners, however long-established, even married to Japan, have enormous difficulty fitting in and expressing themselves.

To test “fair play”, imagine if roles were reversed, with a Caucasian in Japan unilaterally poking fun at Japanese?  I can, from experience.  Outrage, even cries of racism.  Domestic media isn’t fair, and most non-Japanese who try to balance their praise with critique or criticism get tossed aside as “Japan-haters”.  Only “Japan-lovers”, as “Mr. James” is to the core, need apply as foreign shills.



In sum, the “Mr. James” character is a “gaijin” — the embodiment of an epithet.  Something for Japanese to feel comfortable with, even if non-Japanese bear the brunt.  McDonald’s Japan is pandering to Japanese stereotypes without offering any sense of balance or inclusion.

You are welcome to disagree and see this as not worth protesting.  I’m just making the case for protest and beginning a discussion.  What I don’t quite get is why people, especially those affected by this campaign, snarl:  “I personally don’t find ‘Mr. James’ offensive, so shut up.”

That’s the thing about how one “takes offense”.  It’s not just subjective.  It’s subliminally contextual as well.  Read history.  Any number of media icons once seen as inoffensive now cause cringes:  The Yellow Kid.  Gollywogs.  Minstrel shows.  Jose Jimenez.  Aunt Jemima.  Little Black Sambo.  Stepin Fetchit.  Fu Manchu.  Charlie Chan.  Mr. Moto.  Plenty more.  You watch and wonder what people were thinking back then.






Yet these characters survived for decades as mainstream icons, regardless of how overgeneralizing or degrading they might be to the ethnicities they portrayed.  That’s because those ethnicities did not speak up, or were not heard when they did.  So apparently nobody “took offense”.

Times change.  Minorities assembled into pressure groups and shifted the very parameters of the debate.  Raising public awareness of how stereotyping affects them is precisely what made the stereotypes cringeworthy.  Even when there are lapses, such as Abercrombie and Fitch’s “two Wongs can make it white” Chinese-laundry shirts in 2002, minorities complain and product lines get discontinued.




Protesters want the same thing to happen to “Mr. James” in 2009.  That’s what’s so weird:  Did McDonald’s seriously think there are no Caucasian minorities in Japan who might be affected or bothered?  That a multinational company, with decades of experience selling goods to other societies, can show this degree of insensitivity?  That nobody would cringe at the very sight of “Mr. James”?

Let me quote Ben Shearon, one officer of the newly-registered lobbying group FRANCA (Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association; which, in the interests of full disclosure, your correspondent chairs):

“The people complaining about this ad live in Japan, pay taxes here, and in some cases have naturalized and become Japanese citizens.  We find this campaign reinforces unwelcome stereotypes that affect our lives here.  I have been denied housing, bank loans, and even entry to businesses specifically because of my race/nationality.

“By pandering to the ‘hapless foreigner’ stereotype, McDonald’s is reinforcing the idea that non-Japanese cannot speak Japanese or conduct themselves properly in Japan.  A multinational corporation like McDonald’s should be more careful about the subliminal messages they put out, and we are just trying to bring that to their attention.”

That’s it.  We’ve made our case.  Still think that “Mr. James” is not worth protesting?  That’s your prerogative.  But don’t tell people who feel adversely affected by media campaigns to just suck it up.  That’s not how minorities finally gain recognition and a voice as residents in a society.

McDonald’s Japan should have known better, and it is reacting to the pressure:  A letter in English (responding to FRANCA’s letter sent in Japanese, naturally) has Director of Corporate Relations Junichi Kawaminami claiming, “no offence was meant” (oh, so that’s okay then), but not apologizing or promising any changes.  Meanwhile, certain restaurants in areas with concentrations of non-Japanese don’t seem to be carrying the “Mr James” campaign.


And suddenly “Mr. James’s” blog has hiragana too.  Maybe after enough complaints he’ll be a quick study in kanji.  If he’s not cringed out of commission.  And rightly so.

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 on this issue and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp

Sports drink uses katakana- and KANJI speaking alien: Contrast with McDonald’s “Mr James” katakana-only character


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. Saw something surprising on the road down in southernmost Shikoku today:

At a convenience store (Lawsons), we have a sports drink company which uses an alien character to promote its products.  Visual:

(ad tab borrowed from Lawsons Shimanto City, Kochi-ken, September 1, 2009)

Note that like McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” Character, he too speaks katakana.

But UNlike “Mr James”, even the space alien speaks kanji!

Somebody please explain to me again why space aliens but not Caucasians are allowed to speak in more natural Japanese? We can’t use the “island society” mentality against fellow humans in favor of extraterrestrials, can we?

Is there a backstory where this space alien came here with his daughter many years ago, and enjoyed the space drinks to the degree where he returned to shill?

Or is it just anti-Caucasian “Karma”?

Either way, this helps to show just how alienating this “Mr James” campaign actually is.

Arudou Debito in Shikoku

Get Japan Times today: JUST BE CAUSE column on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”


Hi Blog.  Take a look at my column today in the Japan Times, where I make the case with historical context that McDonald’s Japan’s “Mr James” campaign is something that should be discontinued.  I’ll have the full text up here for comment here hopefully tomorrow for comment. 


Arudou Debito in southern Shikoku

McDonald’s Japan CR Director Kawaminami Junichi responds to FRANCA


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.  NPO FRANCA received this morning a response from McDonald’s Japan Director of Corporate Relations, a Mr Kawaminami Junichi, regarding our protest letters in English and Japanese on the “Mr James” sales campaign.

I appreciate him taking time to respond, but he toes the line he narrated to various world media stressing the lack of intention to offend, again without discussing any of the possible ill-effects to NJ residents from stereotyping.

He also only answered in English, wish is a bit of a disappointment.  I presume he doesn’t want the discussion to expand to the Japanese debate arenas.  Letter follows below.

Meanwhile, I have devoted my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column to the “Mr James” phenomenon and what it might mean, with a historical context.  Out Tuesday, September 1, get a copy!  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”: Reports of improvements


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 am hearing of improvements in the infamous and controversial katakana-speaking “gaijin” character “Mr James”, advertising McDonald’s hamburgers.  Just wanted to confirm with Debito.org readers:

1) Peach reports the “katakana tray inserts” (meaning these):


are not being used anymore.   Visited a McDonald’s in Tennouji, Osaka today and discovered this.

2) Justin commented to Debito.org:

Submitted on 2009/08/19 at 9:54pm
One interesting note about the “Mr. James” ads: There aren’t any in the McDonalds across from Kamiyacho Station, just down the hill from the Hotel Okura. This is a gaijin-heavy area, with lots of us staying in the hotel or working in the offices nearby. If the “Mr. James” ads are so inoffensive, why is McDonalds Japan keeping them out of its restaurants in foreigner-heavy neighborhoods?

3) As has been reported in the SCMP and other media outlets, the “backstory” of this character has become more sophisticated, depicting him as a tourist from Ohio, not a resident of Japan, burgering his way through Japan’s burghers (dare him to come to Hokkaido!) and blogging his experiences.  Although this doesn’t excuse his being rendered in katakana.  For those wishing to give McD’s the benefit of the doubt (I don’t), one could argue that this man is just a Japan otaku, not the typical gaijin.  But you still got the huge billboards outside the restaurant with Mr James — you don’t even have to go inside the restaurant to get “Jamesed”, let alone take the trouble to visit online and get the backstory.  Collateral effects.

4) Mr James has suddenly become a quick study in Japanese.  His blog posts are no longer exclusively in katakana, although his Japanese remains a bit on the broken side (all the nouns are gaijinized in katakana) with nary a kanji to be seen.

Are others seeing these improvements?  And are there any more adjustments to report?

These are all evidence that McDonald’s Japan is taking complaints about this campaign seriously.  But I still say the campaign must be suspended entirely.  They may be trying to make him a character with more redeeming characteristics.  But he’s still, in my book, a gaijin — an epithet made flesh; that’s how he was designed, and now McDonald’s Japan, for better or worse, is saddled with him.  Get rid of this albatross.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

South China Morning Post on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” Campaign, quotes FRANCA


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.  SCMP reports:

Foreigners fail to see joke over McDonald’s dorky-white-guy ad
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
South China Morning Post, August 21, 2009

http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2c913216495213d5df646910cba0a0a0/?vgnextoid=9dedf41d04833210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&vgnextfmt=teaser&ss=Asia+%26+World&s=News (registration required)

He’s white, dorky and speaks mangled Japanese.

Meet Mr James, McDonald’s Japan’s fictitious white envoy, who has managed to outrage foreigners’ rights groups, which labelled him an offensive racial stereotype.

The chain began its “Nippon All Stars” campaign on August 10, fronted by what the Foreign Residents and Naturalised Citizens’ Association (Franca) said was an “oddball-looking Caucasian” praising a new line of burgers in pitifully broken Japanese.

With trousers worn high, Mr James’ thick-framed glasses and polo-shirt-and-tie combination is unmistakably nerdy. He is travelling around Japan and keeping a blog of the places that he visits. As part of the advertising campaign, people who see him are encouraged to take a photo and send it to McDonald’s, with the best one photo winning a 100,000 yen (HK$8,220) prize.

“The idea behind the campaign is that Mr James used to live in Japan as a student, heard about the new McDonald’s product and wanted to try it again, so he has come back to travel around the country,” spokesman Junichi Kawaminami said.

The actor playing Mr James, whom the company declined to identify or provide contact details for, was until recently in the southern city of Fukuoka.

“McDonald’s has obviously put a lot of money into this campaign as there are full-length posters and banners in every restaurant that I see as well as by the side of roads here, and the company is apparently not concerned that they are offending people and hope we continue to buy their burgers,” Franca chairman Debito Arudou, a naturalised Japanese born in the United States, said.

“This is untenable in a Japan with ethnic minority residents,” he said. “They are being ill-portrayed by this stereotype and their lives may be affected by this careless campaign by one of the world’s most influential multinational companies.”

McDonald’s Japan confirmed that it had received complaints about the campaign and said it was examining the matter. Similar complaints to its US headquarters have been referred back to the Japanese firm.

“What really angers me is that no one involved in the process here thought that anyone would take offence to see a caricature such as this advertising their company,” Mr Arudou said. “Can you imagine the outrage there would be in the US or any other country if a restaurant chain used an image of a Japanese man with big, round glasses, buck teeth, geta sandals and a kimono telling people to `buy flied lice, is velly good! “That’s the sort of thing that gets embassies and global human rights’ groups angry and involved,” he said.

McDonald’s “Mr James” Campaign: FRANCA’s downloadable protest letter in Japanese


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 is the Japanese translation for the FRANCA letter protesting the “Mr James” burger campaign currently underway at McDonald’s Japan.  You can see the original English here.

Please feel free to copy and send this letter to McDonald’s yourself via their feedback inlets on their website.  (try here in particular)  Better yet, take it to your local McDonald’s doing this campaign, ask for the manager, and hand them this letter to express your disgruntlement.  You can download the Word version of it here:


Please also consider not buying food at McDonald’s for the duration of this (three-month) campaign.  Maybe tell the manager that when you submit your letter.

Talked to the media yesterday.  An article on this issue should be appearing in the South China Morning Post tomorrow (Friday).  It’s already appeared on Consumerist.com.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGONPO Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association


会社法人等番号 4300-05-005413  www.francajapan.org

〒163-1339. 本社住所, 東京都新宿区西新宿6-5-1 新宿アイランドタワー
日本マクドナルド株式会社 代表取締役会長 原田 泳幸 様  当店舗担当者 方

拝啓 ますますご繁栄の事をお喜び申し上げます。

突然の失礼をお許し下さい。在日外国人・帰化人のための非政府組織であり人権擁護団体「日本永住帰化移民住民協会」(FRANCA Japan)と申します。FRANCAは、下記の目標を達成するために努めております:1)外国人及び複数の文化背景を持つ日本人に対するマイナスイメージ及びステレオタイプの公の場からの除去に努めること。2)人種・国籍・民族・出身地などによる差別の除去に努めること。3)移民及び文化の多様性の利点に関する理解を広めるのに努めること。FRANCAは長期間にわたる効率的な陳情・情報交換・広報を通じて、日本国民の意識を高めることにより、上記の目標を達成することを目標としております。






もっと分かりやすく例えると、海外のマクドナルドで新しいライスのメニューをキャンペーンしようとしたら、小柄で眼鏡をかけ少し前歯が出ている、アジア人と思われる男性が片言英語で「Ah so solly, prease to eeto honorable McLice!」を言うキャラなら抗議の対象になるでしょう。国内のマイノリティも「差別」と叫んで人権擁護団体もキャンペーンを取り止める要求もきて、不買運動もすることがよくあるパターンです。


平成21年8月20日 有道 出人(あるどう でびと)FRANCA Japan 会長

From the food tray inserts:


From stickers on every table:


At every restaurant, a full-size cutout of “Mr James”:


Close up of the cutout:


Outdoors in Sapporo, so you don’t even have to go into the restaurant itself to see the image perpetuated (photo taken August 15, 2009, Sapporo Nakanosawa Branch):



FRANCA protest letter to McDonald’s USA HQ re “Mr James” Campaign


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.  Please feel free to adapt this letter to your needs and send it to any corporate outlets of McDonald’s you feel are appropriate.  Please continue to express your disgruntlement where it can be heard (there is even the suggestion that people walk in to restaurants with indelible ink pens and wrote “racist” across the face of the “Mr James'” full-size display figure).  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGONPO Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association


[…], Sapporo, Japan

FRANCA is registered with the Japanese government as an NPO.

Registration number 4300-05-005413

McDonald’s Corporation Headquarters

2111 McDonald’s Dr, Oak Brook, IL 60523 USA

Walt Riker
Vice President, Corporate Media Relations
Heidi Barker
Sr. Director, Corporate Media Relations
Louise Marcotte-Jervoe
Director, Corporate Media Relations
Tara Handy
Sr. Manager, Corporate Media Relations
Lisa McComb
Sr. Manager, Corporate Media Relations
Lizzie Roscoe
Supervisor, Corporate Media Relations
Theresa Riley
Administrative Coordinator, Corporate Media Relations
Sue Atzhorn
Administrative Coordinator, Corporate Media Relations

To Whom It May Concern:

We write to you on behalf of FRANCA, a human rights group concerned with the rights of non-Japanese residents in Japan.  Our goals are:  1) To eliminate negative public images and stereotypes of non-Japanese and multi-cultural Japanese; 2) To eliminate discrimination by race, nationality, ethnicity, and national origin; 3) To highlight the benefits of immigration and a multi-cultural society.  FRANCA works to achieve these goals through sustainable and effective lobbying, networking and public relations campaigns aimed at educating the public.  More about us at www.francajapan.org.

We wish to bring to your attention a sales campaign launched this month by McDonald’s Japan that we find extremely problematic.

The “Mr. James” character, representing the “Nippon All Stars” hamburger campaign, features a spectacled Caucasian narrating his love for Japan and Japan’s version of McDonald’s’ hamburgers.  Our association finds the following things problematic:

  • 1) The character speaks broken accented Japanese (using the katakana script, one used for foreign loanwords).  The impression given is that Caucasians cannot speak Japanese properly, which is simply not true for the vast numbers of non-native (and Japanese-native) foreigners in Japan.
  • 2) The character is called “Mr. James” (again, in katakana), promoting the stereotype that foreigners must be called by their first names only (standard Japanese etiquette demands that adults be called “last name plus -san”), undoing progress we have made for equal treatment under Japanese societal rules.
  • 3) The image used, of a clumsy sycophantic “nerd” for this Caucasian customer, is embarrassing to Caucasians who will have to live in Japan under this image.

To illustrate the issue more clearly, would McDonald’s USA (or McDonald’s in any other country, for that matter) choose to promote, for example, a new rice dish with a “ching-chong Chinaman” saying, “Me likee McFlied Lice!”?  Of course not.

Likewise, we do not think these attitudes perpetuating stereotypes of ethnic minorities within their respective societies should be promoted anywhere by a multinational corporation with the influence of McDonald’s.  We ask that McDonald’s Headquarters review McDonald’s Japan’s “Mr James” Campaign and have it discontinued immediately.

We look forward to your favorable reply.

Sincerely yours,

ARUDOU Debito (Mr.)

Chair, FRANCA Japan.  debito@debito.org

Enclosures:  copies of relevant media materials regarding “Mr. James”

From the food tray inserts:


From stickers on every table:


At every restaurant, a full-size cutout of “Mr James”:


Close up of the cutout:


Outdoors in Sapporo, so you don’t even have to go into the restaurant itself to see the image perpetuated (photo taken August 15, 2009, Sapporo Nakanosawa Branch):



McDonalds Japan’s new creepy “Mr James” burger campaign, featuring katakana-speaking gaijin


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 a campaign by one of the world’s largest multinational corporations, McDonald’s, promoting stereotypes in a way quite untoward in this day and age (and no doubt would raise hackles with anti-defamation leagues if McD’s tried it in, say, its country of origin).

The new NIPPON ALL STARS campaign (which seems to have kicked off a few days ago, on August 10, with its Tamago Double Mac), features a bespectacled, somewhat nerdy, gaijin speaking in broken katakana (i.e. accented) Japanese.  “Mr James” is his name (following the convention of forcing all Western foreigners to be called by their first names, as opposed to last name plus -san, proper etiquette).  And boy is he happy with Japan, with life, with the taste of Japanese-variety burgers at McDonalds.  Hell, they’re so good that even this nerdy-looking gaijin (full-body cardboard cutouts available at every McD’s) approves of them through his poor accented broken Japanese.

You even get a “James Tamaran Desu (“it’s so good I can’t stand it!”) Card” and a chance to win from a million dollar pool if you succumb to his sales pitch.  It’s more than a little creepy.

Here are some scans, taken of materials photographed and collected at McDonald’s Yodobashi Camera Sapporo August 13, 2009 (click on image to expand in browser):

From the food tray inserts:


From stickers on every table:


At every restaurant, a full-size cutout of “Mr James”:


Close up of the cutout:


Outdoors in Sapporo, so you don’t even have to go into the restaurant itself to see the image perpetuated (photo taken August 15, 2009)


As Submitter AP put it:


Subject: mcdonalds ads feature gaijin “MR. JAMES”


Hey, Debito, I often read your blog and bought your handguide as well. I really think living in Japan can be trying as a foreigner, and your efforts toward bringing overlooked issues to light and making things easier for all of us don’t go unnoticed!

I wanted to send you a picture I took…
I got hungry while wandering in BicCamera’s Osaka store, fell victim to a craving, and ended up eating at the McDonald’s there. On my tray I found this gem:


They were able to find some sucker to gaijin himself up (who ends up to, of course, be American), and the captions show so well how Japanese people often see foreigners.

First, his Japanese is all katakana, as if he’s not speaking properly. His sentences are all short and simply-constructed. and last, he is practically in love with Japan. Convenient they found such a fellow!

Not sure if you’ve seen this anywhere, as I first noticed it yesterday because I’ve been abroad on holiday until last Friday. On the subway ride home, I saw another small window sticker with the same MR. JAMES caricature. I’m just shocked how the ad group at a giant corporation such as McDonald’s thinks this is okay! What do you make this campaign?

Thanks for your time, and thanks again for the time you put into these kinds of issues, AP


I think a strongly-worded letter from registered NPO FRANCA to McDonald’s USA HQ regarding the issues of stereotyping here would be warranted.  Hell, you think McD USA would start putting up a full-body “ching-chong-chinaman” with funny glasses and protruding teeth, saying “Me likee McFlied Lice”.  You think that would fly over there?  If not, it shouldn’t be allowed over here.  And I think you should make your displeasure known if you are so inclined at every McDonald’s you patronize (or not).

Arudou Debito in Sapporo, wishing this was happening in September so he could enjoy the summer.

BBC: British furniture store puts up “no foreign students” sign (parallels with Otaru Onsens Case)


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.  The parallels with the Otaru Exclusionary Onsens Case are pretty straight, so let’s keep an eye on this one.  Will be interesting to see how the British authorities treat this case.  I have a feeling the government will demand they take the sign down, and if not threaten with criminal procedure.  The article suggests as much.  That is, however, where the parallels end.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Foreign students banned from shop
BBC News Monday, 3 August 2009 20:36 UK, courtesy of MMT


A notice on the door of Perfect Homes bans foreign students from entering
Polite notice
A furniture shop in a south coast town has banned foreign students who it says take their fast food into the store to eat on the sofas and coffee tables.

Chris Moffet, manager of Perfect Homes in Eastbourne, said he put up a sign barring foreign students after his stock was damaged.

Solicitor Paul Gilbert said the store could be leaving itself open to prosecution under race relations laws.

But Mr Moffet said: “I am not prepared to have damage done to my products.”

Rubbish on floor
A “polite notice” on the shop doorway asks foreign students not to enter because of the actions of a small number.

Mr Moffet said students spilt drinks on the tables and left rubbish on the floor.

Eastbourne has 25 language schools, with 25,000 foreign students visiting the town every year and contributing some £12m to its economy.

Students interviewed by BBC South East said they did go into shops to eat, but Jergen Matthes, owner of one of the language schools, said he did not believe students would behave in such a way.

“They will go to sports shops and internet cafes and spend hours and hours there, where they are welcome because they are spending money,” he said.

“But a furniture shop is not an attraction for students anywhere in the world that I know.”

Mr Gilbert said there was no limit on the amount of compensation that could be awarded against the shop by a court if a successful prosecution ever took place.


Japan Times: NJ visas now contingent on enrollment in Japan’s health insurance program starting April 2010


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 a good article describing issues of health insurance and pensions, and how recent revisions clarifying that every resident in Japan (including NJ) must be enrolled may expose the graft that employers have been indulging in (“opting out” of paying mandatory social security fees, encouraging NJ not to pay them, or just preying on their ignorance by not telling them at all) to save money.  The problem is, instead of granting an amnesty for those employees who unwittingly did not pay into the system, they’re requiring back payments (for however many years) to enroll or else they get no visa renewal!  Once again, it’s the NJ employee who gets punished for the vices of the employer.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


New law: no dues, no visa (excerpt)
Enrollment in Japan’s health insurance program tied to visa renewal from 2010
The Japan Times, Tuesday, July 28, 2009



In your wallet or somewhere at home, do you have a blue or pink card showing that you are enrolled in one of Japan’s national health and pension programs? If not, and if you are thinking of extending your stay here, you may want to think about a recent revision to visa requirements for foreign residents. The changes, which the Justice Ministry says were made in order to “smooth out the administrative process,” may have major consequences for foreign residents and their future in Japan.

On a drab, rainy Sunday in June, a group of foreign workers gathered at the office of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu in Shimbashi to discuss an equally drab topic: social insurance. According to a new immigration law passed by the Diet earlier this month, foreign residents will be required to show proof of enrollment in Japan’s health insurance program in order to renew or apply for a visa after April 1, 2010…

The bottom line is that all residents of Japan … have to be enrolled in one or other of the two systems. The revised visa laws, therefore, should pose no threat to anyone’s visa renewal, because every foreigner in Japan should already be enrolled.  However, the reality is that most foreigners in Japan do not have either form of insurance…

Louis Carlet, deputy secretary of Nambu, laid it down for everyone in the room to understand. There are a few basic things that all foreigners in Japan have to know, he explained: first, that everyone over the age of 20 in Japan is required to enroll in an approved Japanese government health insurance scheme and pension fund. If you are under 75 and working at a company that employs more than five people, this most likely means the shakai hoken (social insurance) program; if you are unemployed, self-employed or retired, the equivalent system is thekokumin kenko hoken and kokumin nenkin (national health insurance and pension). The only people exempt are sailors, day laborers, and those working for companies employing less than five people, or for firms without a permanent address (e.g. a film set).

The two systems cover different ground, all of which is explained in detail at www.sia.go.jp/e/ehi.html….

Rest of the article at:

Debito.org reader Brian reports on Shinjuku Police 9-day incarceration of 74-year-old tourist for pocket knife (UPDATED)


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. We have had a lot of discussion this weekend regarding the Japanese police and their powers of search and seizure (particularly regarding naturalized Japanese citizens). A commenter or two asserted that this wasn’t happening to tourists. Well, this poster would respectfully disagree. Yokoso Japan y’all, too bad if you’re in the way when police have crime-stoppage point quotas to fill (https://www.debito.org/?p=3925#comment-180560, comment #11). Name and contact details posted here with permission. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


To: debito@debito.org
From: Brian <brian_hedge@hotmail.com>
Subject: Tourism in Japan is very unsafe!!!
Date: Fri, 10 Jul 2009 22:45:06 +0900

Dear Mr. Debito,

I’m writing this email to all of you because I feel it’s in your best interest to understand how dangerous it is for tourists to visit Japan.

On July 2nd in Shinjuku, a 74-year-old American tourist walked into a koban to ask directions. Inside the koban was an older (senior) police officer and a younger (rookie?) police officer. The American asked where Kinokunia Book Store was and the police officer responded by asking the American if he had a pocket knife. The American being the law abiding citizen that he is said “Yes!” and handed it to the senior police officer. After a quick measurement of the knife, the police officer arrested the 74-year-old man for having a pocket knife 1 centimeter over the legal limit.

The most amazing parts to the story, a new law about pocket knives had just gone into effect one day before this TOURIST was arrested, making this entire situation more ridiculous! Moreover, 2 other American tourists were arrested that same day at the same koban.

Things to consider:

1. How are unsuspecting tourists to know they cannot carry key-chain knifes?

2. What are unsuspecting tourists to do if the airline they fly, America immigration and Japanese immigration officials don’t warn them about these laws?

3. How are unsuspecting tourists supposed to know how incredibly backwards and unintelligent Japanese police officers are if travel agencies don’t warn them?

4. Why should tourists “gaijin” come to a country that targets them as criminals?

5. Why are Japanese not arrested if they break the same law?

This man is not only old and frail, but an incredibly nice person and harmless. He carries his pocket knife everywhere and the knife is very small and practical. Of course we understand a law is a law, and no one wants to purposely break laws in a host country, but the reality is, it is completely and utterly unjust to target tourists who have zero knowledge of the laws here, especially laws that went into effect 1 day earlier.

This American is not my father, but my friend’s father who was visiting Japan for the first time. When I discovered this situation I was completely stunned and very upset, as you would be.

Now, I feel compelled to shine a light on the fact that Japan is a horrible place to visit and extremely unsafe if you are not Japanese. It’s astounding that a tourist in Japan has more to fear from the Japanese government or national police force than the citizenry.

It is 2009, not 1809! It’s about time the Japanese government (people) treat foreigners like human beings not unlike themselves–with respect and humility.

Brian Hedge
Shibuya, Tokyo



> From: debito@debito.org
> To:
> Subject: Re: Tourism in Japan is very unsafe!!!
> Date: Fri, 10 Jul 2009 21:00:38 +0900
> Hi Brian. May I blog this with your name attached as author? And has the US Embassy gotten involved? Thanks very much. Debito
From: Brian <brian_hedge@hotmail.com>
Date: July 10, 2009 9:03:30 PM JST
To: <debito@debito.org>
Subject: RE: Tourism in Japan is very unsafe!!!

Yes. He was released today after nine freak’n days! Unbelievable! I told my friend he should sue them for time lost and his plane ticket here….



UPDATE JULY 28, 2009: A version of this letter was published in the Japan Times today. As you will see below, this blog entry engendered a lot of comments about likelihoods and substantiation. I had no idea the JT would also be publishing it, but I guess in an ideal world Debito.org would be citing the media as the primary source for more credibility.

Moral, I guess: Debito.org should not be scooping the Japan Times, for it would attract less criticism. 🙂


UPDATE AUGUST 25, 2009:  The Japan Times corroborates the story as true.  http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090826a4.html

Now let’s see if the naysaying commenters below actually offer a bit of capitulation.  Would be nice.

Sunday Tangent: James Eriksson on the Greenmailing and Bloat within the Bio-Gas market


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. Turning the keyboard to James Eriksson of Monbetsu (he of the lousy summer this year), who is using his time productively to write an expose of the Bio-Gas market. How the “eco” fad is being used as a means to justify yet more bloat and corruption, with the domestic media (with its lack of ability to do investigative journalism — or even simple mathematics) a willing accomplice in perpetuating the lies being told within the industry. Read on, I dare you, and wonder how people could ever be fooled by all this. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


To the readers of this essay on debito.org. The following news article appeared in the English Language Daily Yomiuri newspaper July 14, 2009. My initial reaction to reading it was to attempt a Letter to the Editor which normally the Yomiuri would not publish because it questions the quality of Yomiuri’s own journalism. Bearing that in mind after Debito saw what I had written — (I ask his opinion once in a while) he offered to post it on his blog. Where someday it will be read by ‘real’ journalists who ask real questions. The article below illustrates several problems mentioned many times on Debito.org:

a. the low quality of normal newspaper journalism that the Japanese reader has available to him.

b. The “public works” boondoggles and dependencies that are far too prevalent in Japan.

c. The inability of Japanese bureaucrats and politicians to see the economic folly of the models of development they sponsor.

d. And finally why both the political class and the bureaucratic class need to develop a real fear of the voter.

After a conversation with Debito I was challenged to offer not only a criticism but an alternative. Here it is. Currently I do not have the time (I am a slow writer) to polish this essay and to correct its obvious flaws.

The Yomiuri article follows with the link where it was gotten. According to my information Yomiuri articles come off the web after very few days.

Then the first draft of my Letter to the Editor, then the general essay.


Biogas attracting attention as new fuel
Kunio Kobinata / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
July 14, 2009


A plant established in Shikaoicho in the Tokachi region of Hokkaido in March 2007 to produce biogas from livestock excreta is now the largest production facility of its kind in the nation.

The Hokkaido government built the plant at a cost of about 1.7 billion yen on about four hectares of land surrounded by wheat fields and ranches located about three kilometers east of the center of the town.

The plant is operated by a union comprising the town government and local dairy farmers.

On an average day, a single milk cow discharges more than 60 kilograms of excreta. Scattering the excreta across fields fertilizes the soil, but the strong smell is unpopular with nearby residents.

If the excreta is left unattended outdoors, it naturally ferments and discharges into the air methane gas, which is said to have greenhouse gas effects about 20 times stronger than those of carbon dioxide.

If methane gas is used as a fuel, energy resources can be saved because other energy sources are not used, despite the fact that burning methane gas releases carbon dioxide.

However, as methane gas is released into the air regardless of whether there is any intervention, there are attempts to produce biogas from livestock excreta and food scraps for use as an energy resource.

About 60 to 70 tons of livestock excreta are brought to the Shikaoicho plant each day. The excreta is fermented for a month in sealed tanks at 38 C to extract methane gas.

Hydrogen sulfide is then removed from the gas and the methane gas is burned to generate electricity with a dynamo.

The plant currently generates about 3,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity each day. As nearly 60 percent of this energy is used by the plant itself, there is a daily surplus of about 1,500 kilowatt-hours.

The plants’ net output is equivalent to the electricity consumption of about 145 ordinary households. The surplus power is sold to Hokkaido Electric Power Co., and the plant records an annual profit of 2 million yen to 3 million yen.

Excreta that has been wholly fermented gives off a much less noxious odor than its untreated counterpart. The liquid leftover after the methane gas has been extracted is used as a fertilizer for farming fields.

Mikio Ando, who supplies the Shikaoicho plant with excreta from his 150 cows, uses the liquid fertilizer on his pasture.

“It’s an attempt at creating a recycling-oriented society,” Ando said proudly.

Motohiro Oi, chief of the town government’s agriculture promotion section, said, “[The methane gas extraction] can help reduce foul smells and prevent global warming.”

There are more than 20 similar facilities in Hokkaido. But building plants of this type requires land and a large initial capital investment.

In Germany and some other countries, the government, as part of its national policy, sets prices relatively high for electricity generated by such plants.

Kunio Nishizaki, a specially appointed professor of Obihiro University of Agriculture & Veterinary Medicine, said, “The use of methane gas made from livestock excreta has great merit in terms of fully and effectively utilizing farming communities.

“The government should assist with the promotion of these energy sources in addition to solar power generation and other approaches,” he said.


Biogas piloted in Koto Ward

Entities including Koto Ward Office and Tokyo Gas Co. started this fiscal year a full-fledged pilot scheme for generating biogas by fermenting combustible garbage.

With more than 200 tons of combustible garbage produced by households in the ward every day, officials see the mountain of garbage as a potentially rich source of energy.

The pilot operation is taking place at a plant installed in the ward’s facility for environmental education. About 300 kilograms of mixed garbage, including food and waste paper from eateries and companies in the ward, are placed in the fermenter each day.

The temperature inside the fermenter is kept at 55 C, and biogas is produced by each day’s garbage after it has been fermented for about two months. Paper, which contains more carbon than other perishable garbage, takes longer to ferment but is better for generating methane gas.

About 63 cubic meters of methane gas can be generated at the facility each day–equivalent to the total energy consumed by about 30 households. The gas produced can be mixed with town gas, the main component of which also is methane, to make it suitable for everyday use.

Kazunari Yamamoto of Tokyo Gas said, “We’d like to raise the percentage of biogas [in the mixed gas] as much as possible.”

Residue remaining after gas has been extracted is expected to be used as fuel. The pilot project is to continue until next fiscal year. Naoki Ito, manager of the ward’s Environmental Affairs Division, said, “We hope to use biogas energy to supply hot water and air conditioning to the athletes village [scheduled to be built] in the ward if Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games in 2016.”

(Jul. 14, 2009)


LETTER TO THE EDITOR (unpublished)
Doing the math. For Shikaoichi’s Biogas Plant
By James Eriksson

Kunio Konibata’s article “Biogas attracting attention as new fuel” leaves this letter writer wondering if Mr. Konibata slept through his Junior High School math class.

Let’s see now 70 tons of manure a day at 60 kg per cow is an equation 70,000kg divided by 60 equals a plant that handles the excreta of 1200 cows. Okay 6 dairy farms. Well, 8 farms of size of Mr. Ando’s above and only 4 farms of those households where I have the pleasure to teach their children.

The plant was built at a cost of 1.7 billion yen and returns a profit of 2-3 million yen. Let’s see ….3,000,000 divided by 1,700,000,000 that’s a rate of return of .17 percent …less than two tenths of 1 percent. Is that before or after the plant makes payments on the monies borrowed to build it? What allowance is made for replacing the plant when it breaks down and wears out? Mr. Konibata didn’t ask or the Yomuiri editors didn’t think it important to tell us! The Hokkaido Government built it …but who financed it? Who okayed it? Where did the money come from?

Did Mr. Konibata think it important to find out what similar plants cost to build and run elsewhere in the world? And what are the reasons for the differences?

Mr. Konibata thinks it important to tell us that in Germany( a pioneer in making biogas) the government mandates the purchase of biogas generated electricity at a premium but not how much a premium compared to Hokkaido’s already high price of electricity. Let’s see making the Hokkaido consumer pay 300% of the current electrical price would raise the rate of return on the investment to what?

In cases like these what is needed is a forensic accountant. Maybe if the entire staff of the Yomiuri Shinbun were forced to invest their pensions in projects like these they would learn to ask the questions that make up responsible journalism. (end of letter draft)

Don’t get me wrong I believe alternative energy is needed, biogas production from manure is an excellent way of reducing greenhouse gases while moving from fossil fuel consumption to a process that creates CO2 from a cycle where the CO would have normally been created in the decaying of grass and manure and removes CO2 from the air when new forage corps are grown. What fuels my anger is that this…this project with its astronomical costs and terrible rate of return is a disgrace; a disgrace to Japan, a disgrace to Hokkaido and a disgrace to the good name of Japanese engineering. There was another project, a wind farm project in Hokkaido that had to declare bankruptcy. A town in Hokkaido financed a dai-san sector project where the rate of return was ‘mistakenly’ calculated by someone missing a decimal point!! These projects are alternative energies biggest enemies….swallowing wasteful amounts of government monies and creating an entire industry whose goal is to maximize “there’s gold in this there green fad” instead of to economically produce green energy. Producing not a bang but a whimper for the taxpayers buck.

Let’s do some more math round down again to 50kg a day of excreta per cow. 70 tons divided by 50 is 1400 cows. The capital cost of the plant was 1,700,000,000 yen divided by 1400cows … so …This plant was built at the per head cost of 1,214,285 yen per cow. Let’s do that in dollars 100yen to the dollar exchange rate. Today’s rate was around 93 yen to the dollar.. Okay $12,142. per head. A capital cost of $12,142 dollars per cow.

The links given below take you to web sites in the US that comment on and analyze methane digesters in America. Wading through them you will notice that capital costs there are between $500 and $2000 per cow! So basically, the ‘wise’ people involved in this Shiraoichi joke have done the equivalent of paying $150,000 each for a fleet of 110 hybrid Priuses. How many jobs could have been created if Shiraoichi town could have built digesters at America’s capital costs? How much greenhouse gas release could have been prevented if 8,000 cows had their shit turned into methane?


http://www.epa.gov/agstar/news/digest/index.html#two $1325

http://www.epa.gov/agstar/pdf/conference04/wichert.pdf page 15


An Assessment of Technologies for Management and Treatment of …

File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
Biogas from anaerobic digesters has been used to produce heat and power for decades …… production and air emissions from a methane digester before and after using the product …… The capital cost per head is estimated at $392.00. …
http://www.arb.ca.gov/ag/caf/dairypnl/dmtfaprprt.pdf – Similar



This writer is left seriously wondering if Mr. Konibata, his editors, and the persons involved in the Shiraoichi project have anything inside their heads besides “shit for brains”. And also wondering if Japan would be better off if they themselves were used for feedstock for Shiraoichi’s biogas plant!

A windfarm is called a windfarm because it sites multiple towers in a single location. Leading to efficient construction and very efficient maintenance, 1 maintenance crew minimizes travel time going from 1 tower to the next.

A single tower located 1 hour a way from the next tower is not green and any amakudari staffed Tokyo office funding them has proven their incompetence. A single tower only makes economic-green sense only if it saves transmission losses and local electric consumers can buy power at a cheaper rate.

Hokkaido really needs jobs, good jobs, fulltime jobs, even construction jobs but when they always happen in permanent money losing gov’t boondoggles that we have come to depend on they do several things.

1 They drive out our entrepreneurial thinkers. In a version of bad money drives out good. Bad unaccountable investment drives out good investment and entrepreneurship.
2 They distort the demand curve for construction services. So real industrial development has to bid against boondoggles.
3 They prevent efficiency, technological creativity and learning in the construction industry. Turn construction firms into beggars that cannot stand up to bureaucracy when bureaucracy insists on counterproductive, inefficient and unnecessary regulation.
4 They create a continuous cycle of public works dependence and lack of accountability.
5 They create in the mindset of the business, political and bureaucratic elite a continuous fantasy world somewhere along the lines of the movie “Field of Dreams”. If you build it they will come…well they aren’t coming and they haven’t come and we not only have gone further into debt to build it, we have to pay for its continuous red ink. While our tax base is not strengthened, by this. We end up becoming Yubari’s. Going into increasing debt building projects that end up being operated at below cost. A film festival, golf course, a camp ground, an onsen costing local yen (begged from Tokyo) but run below cost subsidizing the holidays of the few people who come from elsewhere to enjoy them. When this finally becomes unsustainable it is local services that will be cut to pay for them.
6 They create a labor force that staffs underutilized projects where time hangs on workers hands. Televisions get installed in staffrooms and the workforce learns to expand the time needed to complete a task so they are not bored. Counter people who see 1 customer an hour and then 15 in half an hour.
7 Japan’s green energy industry cannot deliver cost effective green energy projects. They are driven by and have always been driven by the bloated cost, design, thought processes and regulatory inefficiencies of government run or funded projects. Entire industries begin to live in Fantasy worlds.

So what is a workable alternative? That’s really easy but somewhat technical.

The government gives me, well a corporation I set up, not even me. but a totally independent transparent and not connected to any existing entity corporation. The “Inaka Hokkaido Agricultural Electric Development Corp”

1,000,000,000 yen every year for 3 years. Twice as much as the Shiraoichi project cost. We hire from overseas 1 extremely competent biogas engineer fanatic. And 1 extremely competent construction manager. Dynamic cost managers who can demand of a supplier why they can’t deliver a needed input at a competitive cost and with the will and knowledge to search out alternative suppliers. Men or women rude and strong enough to throw ‘red tape bureaucrats, those who waste time, or those who don’t deliver off the place. People who don’t owe favors and never ask for favors. People whose job it is to build digesters not relationships.

**People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices**
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations Vol 1 p412 Methuen 1950

We set up a new construction company that avoids the overhead, tea lady and high cost of doing business of normal Japanese construction companies. It is forbidden by law to solicit political donations from us or us to give political donations.

The government also gives us a hunting license to shoot bureaucrats and Ag-coop officials on sight. We receive 1 building permit and never have to go through the ‘regulatory’ costs, hoops and useless reports when we build biogas plants. Sending blueprints to bureaucrats who can’t understand what they see on them.

A forensic accountant rips through the accounts of the Shiraoichi project, not looking to “punish’ anyone but so we have access to knowing where the bloat is and can learn what suppliers to avoid.

(When my wife and I built our house we were told by persons in the construction industry that our blueprints had to be re-drawn so that the ‘city hall’ would understand them. Every change made to our blueprints ‘weakened’ the structure and in several cases made the actual structure unsafe)

Because of the nature of the Civil Service exams bureaucrats have little or no background knowledge that helps them understand engineering or construction.

We set up a construction team that doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time a biogas plant is built. So we build biogas plants to a common design getting good and efficient at it the way Toyota builds cars. It would be safe to say that most if not all of the 20 or so biogas plants in Hokkaido were separately ‘custom’ designed and engineered. With hundreds of hours of time being wasted drawing blueprints, making permit applications and making reports to people who don’t know how to read them. With the majority of equipment used in them having to be ‘custom’ designed and fabricated.

Our construction team moves directly from 1 project to the next. Our design team only has to make minor changes in moving from 1 project to the next.

Architects and design engineers operate in Japan usually on a percentage of the construction cost. There is a built in ‘incentive’ to over engineer public works projects and to also require unnecessarily items or unnecessarily expensive options. (my favorite examples are top quality solid hardwood flooring going into a municipal funded ski lodge…to be walked on by people in ski-boots so the floor has to be covered in expensive rubber matting….and a mushroom so over engineered it would be like a car with 2 engines)

Using the pre -existent slurry tanks at farms in a municipality we take over excreta management at farms one at a time by lottery as long as 1. the farm has some sort of existing system we can use and 2. it comes close to making sense by scale. Basically we won’t do anything for the 70 year old operator who is milking 30 cows except make it possible to truck to the nearest on- farm digester. We build utilizing as much as possible the current facilities state of the art automated methane digesters. (what are the costs in loading and trucking excreta off farm to Shiraoichi’s plant and trucking the fertilizer back to the farms?) Trucking 70 tons a day (5-8 loads) a very short distance is not an efficient use of a truck and driver.

We would have to pay the farmer a nominal charge for the shit and charge him a nominal charge for spreading the post digested organic fertilizer.

This has to be set up so that it is neutral to the economic balance sheet of the farmer. Any industry wide plus benefit to the farmer is a subsidy while any specific site based rewards would create winners and losers. Because all farms would not get the systems at the same time and could not equally benefit. Imagine the envy and strife that this would cause in a small community.

We set up a full time state of the art honey wagon (slang for liquid manure truck) system…and where possible ‘state of the art’ slurry “towed hose injector” systems that minimize the N nitrogen lost to the air (a further saving of chemical fertilizer that more often than not is made from fossil fuel). A full 50% of travel time from traditional liquid and solid spreading is spent towing an empty spreader while over 80% of towed hose injection is actual spreading.

so as long as it is possible we have drivers and honey wagons in full time operation. Minimizing both labor(waiting for the honey wagons to be filled) and capital spreader costs. The farmer is thus freed from the costs of having to keep and maintain manure spreaders in operation only a few days a year.

Hydrogen sulfide gas is scrubbed from the methane and sent to any fertilizer manufacturer that will use it.

Our electrical generation internal combustion engines are set for automatically timed operation to generate power at the ‘solar’ production peak so Hokuden pays us the mandated “photo-voltaic rate”.

At the end of the first three years when we have constructed as many plants as possible with our seed capital we do the math and return our seed capital slowly 10% a year in the form of 10 or 20 year bonds that pay a reasonable interest rate based on our actual returns. As we get better we can reduce construction costs to that approaching Germany and the USA.

For your information construction wages are higher in both countries it is ‘efficiency’ that keeps US construction costs down. We can then have realistic rates of return on investments that equal and beat similar investments in the USA and Germany.

In return the central government guarantees new bonds we issue that pay for the new plants we continue to build. Using a predictable rate of return we can issue bonds that pay much better than alternative non-risk investments in Japan. Purchase of such bonds is then restricted to the local municipal governments in the towns we build methane plants. We create a computerized 1 day a month bond market where outside financial institutions bid up the price of bonds to where the rate of return equals the lower rates of return elsewhere. First tier bond purchasers (local governments) are then mandated to use all the profits from sales to pay down and off the mountains of debt they have accumulated following Tokyo’s economic development models.

We ourselves don’t get paid very much until our operation is successful.

Within 3 or 4 years our business model can be cloned and set up in other parts of Hokkaido and agricultural Japan. A singular infusion of capital from the National government can thus result in a sustainable self-supporting industry with considerable growth potential. But only if the government and construction tribe stays out!! Only if we get the freedom to slice through any structural and regulatory obstacle that raises our costs or slows us down!!!

I am convinced that once the Aegean Stables of bloat, political kickbacks, inefficiency, over regulation, fraud and outright incompetence are driven out of the system Hokkaido and Japan could have a new industry creating jobs that would all of us could be proud of.

Our expertise can be also channeled into cost effective micro-hydro and small to medium scale wind projects in which we deliver power on to the grid minimizing ‘transmission losses and mandating Hokuden to charge the municipally based consumer exactly what they offer us. (Hokuden still makes a hook up fee and money on the residual power they sell the local consumer)

“Yumi-cho” a fictional name for a real town in Hokkaido builds a windtower on the hill overlooking it’s main population center. The Hokuden gives the town about 14 yen per kwh for the power it buys and turns around and sells it to households within 1000meters at rates between 19 and 29 yen per kwh.

The following synergies suggest themselves:
1 mounting photo-voltaic panels on existing and new roof structures. Including PV generating panels that are incorporated into the building materials.
2 the use of solar thermal ‘hotwater’ panels to generate some of heat that keeps the digesters operating at optimum conditions as well as cleaning, domestic hot water, and milk room needs
3 the use of ‘microwave heating’ ie more efficient that resistance heat again to heat water for the digesters as well as cleaning, dhw and milking room needs.
4 constructing ‘state of the art’ energy efficient greenhouses to utilize the waste heat from the generating engines as well as to enrich the air inside them with CO2 from the combustion gases.

In rural Japan there is the environmental concern, engineering know how, work ethic, and pent –up energies waiting to break out if we ever get a chance to break out/past the failed models of development followed for the last 40 years.

These visions and desires do not generally exist in the civil service whose educational background to pass the civil service test is woefully incomplete. It usually does not exist in the construction tribe who have little experience outside of bloated public works dependencies and resulting political donations. It does not exist in the political elite who can’t read a balance sheet and don’t know the meaning of the term to “stand guard over the public purse”.

It does not exist in the Hokkaido Development Agency who have funded hundreds if not thousands of money losing bloated projects. It does not exist in government officials in Tokyo where sidewalks that no one will walk on are thought to be ‘infrastructure’. Unfortunately the leadership for the first few years will have to come from elsewhere. Japan cannot afford “Potemkin Villages” masquerading as green projects. The world faces an environmental crisis where cost effectiveness and financial sustainability are absolute requirements.

Kyodo: 34 NJ “Trainees” died FY 2008, 16 from suspected overwork, up from 13 FY 2007


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 sad statistic that should be roundly reported. NJ “Trainees” possibly dying from hundreds of hours of underpaid overwork. Different from J “karoushi” in that “Trainees” can’t switch jobs without losing their visas and being booted out of Japan.

Apparently this is a record number. Why didn’t we hear about this earlier, like, last year, when the same thing was happening? Has to be a matter of degree before it makes news? Courtesy of AW. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

34 foreign trainees in Japan died in FY 2008 of suspected overwork
Japan Today.com/Kyodo News
Tuesday 23rd June, 05:23 AM JST


Thirty-four foreign trainees died in Japan in fiscal 2008 through March this year, up 13 from the previous year to hit a record high, a survey by a government-linked body promoting a training program showed Monday.

The leading causes of their deaths were brain and heart diseases, which claimed the lives of 16, while five were killed in accidents at work and four in traffic accidents. Supporters of foreign trainees said they suspect those who died from brain and heart disorders actually died from overwork. As of late 2007, about 177,000 foreigners have been staying in Japan under the government’s industrial training and technical internship program.

Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer supporting foreign trainees and interns, pointed out that many trainees have been forced to work long hours for lower wages and said he suspects they had died from overwork.

Ibusuki and other supporters submitted a written inquiry to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on Monday, asking it to investigate the causes of the trainees’ deaths and to state how the ministry will deal with the issue.

A labor ministry official said it is not clear why those trainees had developed brain and heart diseases, but expressed willingness to examine their working hours and living conditions.

Following the submission of the inquiry, three Chinese trainees complained about their working conditions at a press conference held in Tokyo.

Ding Jianhui, 35, who came to Japan in September 2006 on the training program, said he had to work overtime for 100 to 130 hours a month at his job selling scrap metal and only received 110,000 yen per month after tax.

‘‘I lived in a container that was not equipped with a bathroom and was treated as cheap labor. My back is still numb,’’ said Ding, who claims he was suddenly dismissed from work late last year.

Jiang Xiangyi, 34, said although he had been told he would be engaging in a carpentry job before he came to Japan, his actual work was dismantling and removing asbestos, which can cause lung cancer.

Jiang said he sometimes worked 26 days a month but was only paid 60,000 yen after tax. ‘‘The type of work was different from what I heard and I didn’t know about the danger of asbestos. I was cheated,’’ he said.

Follow-up: NOVA’s Saruhashi admits wrongdoing in court


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.  Second in a series of follow-ups.  Former Eikaiwa boss Saruhashi finally admits he done wrong.  But neglects to mention how all the unpaid teachers left in the lurch will still be left in the lurch.  This was once the largest employer of NJ in Japan?  Saru mo ki kara ochiru, as they say.  But this is a mighty fall by a money skimmer with a money spinner.  And a shady company from start to finish anyway, setting the business model for other eikaiwas out to screw over both their students and their teachers.  Throw the book at this guy, and make him cough up what he owes to his teachers.  So that others don’t do the same and think it’s “just regular business practice”.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times, Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nova chief admits skimming funds

Staff writer
OSAKA — The former president of Nova Corp. admitted Monday he siphoned off employment benefit funds just before the language school giant went bankrupt in 2007 but pleaded not guilty to embezzlement, claiming he used the funds for employees.
Nozomu Sahashi, 57, who once headed one of Japan’s largest and most popular English conversation school chains, is charged with funneling nearly ¥320 million from employment benefit funds in July 2007 by transferring the money to a bank account belonging to an affiliate, which has not been named.  

“I apologize to the students and employees for all of the trouble I caused, but it was not my intention to do wrong,” Sahashi told the Osaka District Court at the opening of his trial. “I don’t think I can judge whether what I did constitutes embezzlement or not.”

Oh yeah?  Rest of the article at:





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.  Debito.org 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 http://www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2009/03/dl/h0331-10a.pdf
[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 https://www.debito.org/bortzdiscrimreport.html

Arudou Debito, Associate Professor at Hokkaido Information University, is a columnist for The Japan Times and the manager of the debito.org 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 debito@debito.org to arrange a screening. You can purchase a copy of the documentary by visiting http://www.cinemabstruso.de/strawberries/main.html

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

“Tokyo Reader” on odd rental contracts for apartments: “lease” vs. “loan for use”? Plus Kyoutaku escrow for disputes


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 “Tokyo Reader”, who tells an interesting tale about how people are playing with contracts regarding residences for NJ, and how rents can be renegotiated if the asking price for new entrants in your building (or area) is lower than the current rent you’re paying. His redacted housing contract at the very bottom. But first, a KTO article from Michael Fox regarding Kyoutaku, the government escrow system which can hold your rent while a dispute with your landlord is in progress. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Rent Adjustment Problems

by Michael Fox, courtesy of the author

Published in Kansai Time Out March 2009

Can anything be done if your rent is increased unfairly? Or what if people moving into your building are paying less? Good news, there is a designated process for alleviating overcharges.

First, you should negotiate face to face with your landlord. Both parties should bargain in good faith. If your rent is reduced sufficiently, then the problem is solved.

If negotiation fails, the next step is to deposit the money into escrow (kyoutaku 供託)with the local government. The papers for such procedure can be obtained from the Legal Affairs Department (Houmukyoku法務局) of your city/town office.

If you start kyoutaku, you may once again negotiate with your landlord face to face. If no conciliation is reached, the next step is civil arbitration (minji-choutei). The arbitrator is an ordinary citizen who listens to both sides and encourgages a conciliation. You need not employ a lawyer, and you may bring a translator to help with language concerns. In the unlikely event that a conciliation is not reached, the issue may be continued in open court.

Depositing rent into escrow is also recommended for the following situations:

1) Several different people request the rent and you cannot decide whom to pay.

2) Your landlord dies, and you do not know whom to pay.

3) You want to pay the rent but it is refused by the party designated to receive it.

It is important to pay your rent every month. As it is extremely difficult to evict tenants in Japan, the rent may be refused because the landlord is looking for a way to boot you out. Even if your building is sold, and the new owner wants it demolished, you are entitled to a consolation payment, which may very well be equivalent to one or more year’s rent.

For more information, contact your local Legal Affairs Bureau. Many locales offer assistance in foreign languages.
Michael H. Fox


Tokyo Reader:

Dear Debito.org. Here is one for the blog community.

For over a year now, I have rented an apartment in Tokyo through a management company I will call “HT”.

The building I rent in has eight different 1K apartments. For many months last year, a number of the rooms remained vacant. This was easy to tell based off things like lighting, the level of refuse in the garbage area, and even electric meters whose dial seldom moved. Plus, it was rare to see or hear anyone enter or leave the building, in which all apartments exit to the outside.

For what I know, these may be rented out on a monthly mansion basis, in the style of a Leopalace 21. This is the method where a tenant pays a lump-sum amount to secure the apartment for a specific time period. There are usually no additional fees, even for utilities. It is an “all-in” pricing, and often with a discount for signing up a larger number of months.

I am fairly confident that at least one other resident has a lease-style arrangement. This would be the standard one in Japan, where an original lease is contracted for a term of many months, where a security deposit is given, and the rent paid on a monthly basis. Sometimes a “key deposit” is involved. The key deposit is said to be additional rent paid at the beginning to help the landlord secure a profitable leasing in the event the tenancy ends early. But it’s not required to make a housing arrangement a lease in Japan.

Utilities appear to be included in the rent. The apartments are furnished.

I am currently in a dialogue with company HT. Over the winter, HT looks to have lowered rents on the 1K apartments. What used to be advertised as 150,000 yen a month is now 135,000 yen. (I say “used to be advertised” because there is some evidence that different parties are paying different rents, having nothing to do with a discount system.)

Since I had been paying the higher rent, I proposed paying the new advertised price. According to the Land & House Lease Law (“LHLL”), Article 32, a tenant can propose a rent reduction when there is evidence that rents in a given neighborhood have declined. The landlord may disagree and then a mandatory arbitration panel is supposed to decide the matter.

Company HT insists that my 1K is somehow special that it requires the higher price (150,000 yen). Funny is that when I moved into the building, there was no such tiered pricing.

Further, Company HT claims that my lease is not covered by the Land & House Lease Law, but rather is a “Loan for use” under Civil Code, Article 593.

I read that LHLL Article 28 stipulates that a lease over a period of time (several months) but less than a year, will be considered a lease with an indefinite period. Additionally, the LHLL requires six-months’ notice for a landlord to end the lease.

Apparently, a rental relationship that fits a “Loan for use” is governed by different terms. My suspicion is that a hotel room would fit this type of contract. And maybe the Leopalace system, since the entire rental arrangement seems to be made to fit.

But I don’t think that any landlord who decides to post a “Monthly Mansions” sign on the side of the building, and gets the occasional tenant, becomes one who can write a standard lease contract and then decide whether or not the Land & House Lease Law applies.

My original lease contract looks like, well, a lease. The initial term was for three months, and there was a one-month security deposit required. There is no mention of “Loan for Use”, Civil Code article 593, or anything else that would suggest that my lease is anything other than a lease. I have simply been paying rent monthly along the way.

There is one term that references a one-day eviction notice, but I think all landlord leases include this type of language regardless of what the actual law says.

And if for some reason Company HT were correct on “Loan for Use”, if I am paying the advertised price I fail to see where I should have to pay more. Is my 1K simply more valuable because I would have to move from it?

Tokyo Reader





Sunday Tangent: Economist on Japan buying LNG from Sakhalin (finally!) and Hokkaido’s missed opportunities


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Hi Blog. I spotted this recent Economist article (I have a paper subscription; call me retro) over lunch last week, and was surprised to see that Japanese industry, after decades of wait (see article below), has finally bought Russian fuel. About time.

Living in Hokkaido for more than twenty years now has given me a number of insights by osmosis regarding our extremely proximate Russian neighbor (in three places — Wakkanai, Nemuro, and Rausu — mere kilometers away), and how that affects business.

First, Japanese and Russians tend not to get along. We still have no peace treaty (merely an armistice) with Russia after the 1945 seizure of the Northern Territories (and the big loss of southern Sakhalin, still called by its prewar name “Karafuto” by not a few Hokkaidoites). We also get occasional articles in the Hokkaido Shinbun reminding the public of pre-surrender Soviet submarine raids off Rumoi, and the impending invasion of northern and eastern Hokkaido before McArthur stepped in. Old people still remember postwar Russian concentration camps and forced repatriations from lands they feel they rightfully settled. And even today, the rough-and-tumble nature of the Russian that Hokkaidoites most frequently come in contact with (the sailor) was at the heart of the exclusionism behind the Otaru Onsens Case. The Japanese military, excuse me, “Self Defense Forces” still have a very strong presence up here (even building our snow sculptures) to ward off possible Soviet invasions, and keep us from getting too friendly with (or receive too many Aeroflot flights from) the Rosuke.

Second, Hokkaido has for years been unable to take advantage of the goldmine just off their shores. Potential deals with Sakhalin have not only been stymied by foot-dragging government bureaucrats (and the occasional businessman who, according to business contact Simon Jackson of North Point Network KK, cite business deals gone sour with the Soviets around three or four decades ago!). The most ludicrous example was where overseas energy interests were considering opening offices in Sapporo in the early 1990s (for Sapporo’s standard of living was far higher than that of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk). But they took one look at the toolshed that was essentially the Hokkaido International School back then and decided their relocated families needed better educational opportunities. The Hokkaido Government has since rectified that with a much nicer building for HIS, but it remains in the annals of bungled policy and opportunities. Thus Sapporo missed out on all the gobs of riches that oil money provides anywhere (viz. Edmonton or Calgary) as the end of the era of cheap petroleum makes exploration and development economically feasible just about anywhere.

Third, as the article demonstrates below, Tokyo seems to be skipping over Hokkaido again with its first LNG deal. If we had set up the infrastructure when we had the chance, we could be getting some of that value-added. Granted, doing business in Russia (what with the shady elements posing as dealers and administrators) is pretty risky. But it seems in keeping with the historical gormlessness of Hokkaido (what with all the crowding out of entrepreneurial industry through a century of public works), and the maintenance of our island as a resource colony of the mainland. See an essay I wrote on this way back in 1996, and tell me if much has changed.

In fact, it seems the only reason Japan has come round to dealing with Sakhalin at all is because increasingly mighty China is squeezing them out of the market, according to The Economist below.

Enough comment from me. Here’s the article. It reflects none of the background I give above, sadly. Hokkaido’s perpetual non-player status means we’re skipped over again. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Energy in Japan
Raising the stakes

Apr 8th 2009 | TOKYO
From The Economist print edition


Low prices and a strong yen give Japanese firms an opportunity to buy abroad

WHEN Energy Frontier, an enormous tanker, glided into Tokyo Bay on April 6th from Sakhalin Island, she was not just carrying the first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from a problematic Russian venture, under a deal signed 15 years ago. She was also bearing the symbolic weight of Japan’s aspirations to greater energy security. Lacking natural resources, Japan imports more than 95% of its energy. Almost all its oil and a quarter of its LNG come from the Middle East. To reach Japan ships must travel for 20 days, passing near pirate-infested waters. Sakhalin, by contrast, is just three days away.

In 2006 the Japanese government called on industry to increase its ownership of foreign energy projects to cover 40% of Japan’s energy needs, up from 15% at the time. The idea was to make the country less dependent on the spot market in case of trouble by taking stakes in various energy projects around the world. But as prices soared and China became a keen buyer, slow-moving Japanese firms found themselves being shut out of deals.

Today, however, many energy projects are starved of capital because of the credit crunch, energy prices are low and the yen is strong. Since mid-2008 the price of crude oil has fallen by two-thirds and the yen had at one point appreciated by as much as 20% against the dollar. This has given Japanese energy firms a window of opportunity to make foreign acquisitions.

In January Nippon Oil bought rights to oilfields in Papua New Guinea. Inpex, Japan’s largest oil-development company, has acquired rights to oil in South America and Australia. A consortium that includes Nippon Oil and Inpex is vying for rights to a project in southern Iraq. And this month Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, visited Tokyo to sign energy deals.

“We have been very quietly shifting the gravity of our strategy from exploration and ‘greenfield’ projects to acquisitions and exchange deals,” says Tadashi Maeda of the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), a state-backed lender for foreign projects. Deals rather than digging lets Japan obtain resources faster, he says. JBIC can put around $12 billion a year towards energy acquisitions.

The Japanese government’s 40% target is immaterial, Mr Maeda asserts. Instead, JBIC’s aim is to ensure that the market functions smoothly and that the fuel can be transported to Japan if necessary. A stake in an oilfield does not always entitle the owner to a share of its output, rather than a share of the revenue when the oil is sold on the open market. But ownership helps absorb the shock of sudden price increases or tight supply. And some contracts do specify that in the event of a crisis, output is reserved for the owners.

So far the Japanese firms’ deals have been small, raising concerns that they may be missing their chance to buy at a favourable time, says David Hewitt of CLSA, a broker. Yet the hesitation is understandable. Lower energy prices means certain projects are no longer viable. Some firms, including Mitsubishi and Mitsui, are expected to have to write off portions of recent investments, making them wary of new deals. Even when capital is available, taking on debt can jeopardise a firm’s credit rating. And the recession has reduced Japan’s energy use by 10-20%.

Japanese executives also complain that Chinese firms, which have plenty of capital from state-run banks and face less pressure to show profits, are overpaying and driving up prices. JBIC encourages Japanese firms to form consortiums to increase their heft. In February Toshiba, Tokyo Power and JBIC took a joint 20% stake in Uranium One of Canada—a deal that suits everybody’s interests but which no party could have achieved on its own.

The shipment of LNG that arrived in Tokyo this month came from the giant Sakhalin II project, set up in the 1990s by Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch oil giant, in partnership with Mitsubishi, Mitsui and other Western firms. At the time it was the only big energy project in Russia that did not involve a local partner. That changed in late 2006 when Shell and its Japanese partners reluctantly agreed to sell a 50% stake to Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas giant. This highlighted the political risks involved in the pursuit of energy security—and why having the government represented, via a state-backed lender like JBIC, is not a bad idea.

The Sakhalin II project will produce as much as 9.6m tonnes of LNG a year, 60% of which will go to Japan, accounting for about 7% of its LNG imports. For Japan, the project’s proximity is its main appeal. Parts of Sakhalin were Japanese territory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and were ceded after Japan’s defeat in the second world war. Today’s commercial battles are less bloody, but no less intense.


Economist.com blog piles on re Nikkei Repatriation Bribe


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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: Economist.com | 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.


Nisshin Kasai Insurance company allows insurance to NJ customers


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Hi Blog. Just got a call from the insurance company that insures my car, answering my request for information regarding how open-door their policies are towards customers of varied backgrounds.

Nisshin Fire and Marine Insurance Company (Nisshin Kasai Kaijou Hoken 日新火災海上保険) KK allows insurance for NJ regardless of Japanese language ability. If that is lacking, the customer just has to bring along an interpreter.

Of course, this should not be blog-entry-worthy news. The default should be acceptance of customers and their money. But we do hear at Debito.org of companies that refuse NJ flat out because they assume that NJ cannot communicate in Japanese, therefore they cannot get into contractual relationships.

Some examples:

Shounan Shinkin Bank in Chigasaki

Hokkoku Shinbun in Ishikawa Prefecture (yes, a newspaper!)

AXA Direct Insurance (later amended its CNN advertising to accept NJ)

Just wanted to put the word out there that there is a good company to steer your business towards. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Michael Collison Case: “Fired from Interac after death of infant daughter”


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Hi Blog.  Turning the keyboard over to Michael Collison, who tells his tale of an employer, Interac, who apparently would not give him a break even when there was a death in the family.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


April 13, 2009

Dear Debito,

I have worked for Interac for 3 years 2006 04 to 2009 03. Some bumps along the way but usually not my fault. Anyway, my wife became pregnant with our second child in October 2008, great ! I also got a Letter of Recommendation from Interac praising my teaching work and thanking me December 2008 (attached).


About 3 months later on February the 11th 2009, during the night, my wife had some water leak, which isn’t uncommon. There are lots of fluid leaks during pregnancy. She called the hospital and was told to come for her prebooked appointment as scheduled on February 17th 2009. When she went I kept my phone with me during the lesson at Nakahara Junior High School in Hiratsuka, my main school, hoping everything would be fine. I was interviewing first year kids 1 to 1, there were only 3 kids left to interview and it was 15 minutes before the end of my last lesson of the day (each interview took 2 1/2 mins).

The phone rang !!

I’ve never had a phone call during a lesson before, but for my wife and unborn child I’m going to take the call. I did and my wife was heartbroken and in tears. She told me we had lost the baby.

I told her I was in a lesson and that I would come to her. I hung up the phone, apologised to the student telling him it was very important, and then finished his interview. After that I went to the classroom that the Japanese teacher was in and quickly explained that I had to go to the hospital because of my wife and unborn child. I went to the teachers room and explained everything I knew to a very nice third grade English teacher who translated it all into Japanese for the vice principal. They understood my reason for leaving.

So I ran to catch a bus, then a train, then ran to the hospital.

Once there I found out that the baby was still alive but had no water surrounding it. That’s when the hardest 3 weeks of my life started, (and I’ve had some hard times believe me) the baby survived that long.

The doctors wanted us to abort ASAP, that very day.

So that afternoon and night I was fighting a mental battle against doctors and nurses who were all saying that we should abort ASAP because the baby was doomed.

I went home as late as I could and started researching ‘PPROM’ (Premature Prenatal Rupture of Membranes) which is what this problem is called. I found many many cases in which the infant survived, and techniques to try.

Due to the stress of all this I went to work the next day, as my wife wished, and got the days mixed up, thinking it was Wednesday when it was Thursday, thus turning up an hour later than I should have. I missed 1 lesson but did the lesson in my free time. I also interviewed the 3 students I had missed, when I rushed off to the hospital, again in my free time.

That morning February 18th 2009 at aprox 8:30am, I recieved a call from Interac, a Japanese male from the Yokohama branch, speaking in English, asking why I had left school early the day before. I explained that there had been a medical emergency and that my wife was in the hospital and that we could be losing the baby. He told me that if I have any more medical emergencies to call Interac 1 week before the emergency to let them know in advance. He also said he would take a 1/2 day’s paid holiday because I left early.

Later at aprox 9:30am I recieved another call from Interac, a Japanese female from the Yokohama branch, again speaking in English, asking why I was late for work, again I explained the situation to a 2nd person. Interac took another 1/2 day’s paid holiday for being 1 hour late.

I expected someone I knew, the Hiratsuka trainer Joel Northan from Interac to call me and say ‘sorry to hear about your situation, please take some time off’, or at least ‘sorry to hear about your situation’. As he would call me often, sometimes just to chat and see how things were going at the schools, but especially if anything unusual had happened. No one ever called back.

The next 3 weeks were traumatic but I still went to work cheerful, had great lessons, and then spent the rest of my time researching medical procedures, at my wife’s bedside and taking care of our 1 year old son.

On Monday the 2nd of March I had to go to Interac Yokohama ( 神奈川県横浜市中区長者町5丁目85明治安田生命ラジオ日本ビル / 10F, Radio Nihon Building, 5-85, Chojamachi, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa) at around 4:30 pm for a meeting with Joel Northan (Trainer) and Satoko Aoki (Managing Consultant). It seemed to be for contract renewal.

They told me they would not give me another contract for 2009-10.

I asked them why.

Joel Northan said “Well, you left school early one day last week, and then you were late the day after”.

He then put 4 pieces of paper in front of me and I was told to sign them.

I asked if they understood why I left the school early and was late on the day after, and also if that was the only reason for not giving me a contract.

Joel Northan told me that they had a long list of problems with my work.

I asked him “Like what?” and “Did a school or the BOE complain about something?”

I was told it the schools or BOE had not complained. Then he told me that the Manager (presumably Akihiko Omata) had looked at the phone records and seen that I had made a lot of phone calls to the office, so he decided that it was evidence of lots of problems.

(Many times I had been told by Joel Northan and William Smith another trainer) to call the office much more, and to call over the smallest things to keep them up-to-date with details. I still didn’t like to call over trivial things like a school changing the time of 1 lesson, or schools not filling sheets out correctly).

Satoko Aoki told me that the Manager didn’t have confidence in me anymore and that I have to sign the papers so that they could pay me.

I told them that, as my wife was in the hospital at that very moment, I didn’t want to waste anymore time in the meeting and that I would read the papers at home, sign them and send them back.

Satoko Aoki was quite rude at this point and insisted that I sign them now. She told me that I couldn’t leave the room until I had signed them.

I was feeling quite sickened by their behaviour at this point so I picked up the papers, glanced at them and then put them into my folder and then into my bag.

I told them again that I would sign them at home and send them back.

Satoko Aoki was now rather angry, her face was red, slightly contorted and she was showing signs of shaking.

Satoko Aoki again and again said that I was not allowed to leave the room until I had signed.

After listening to this a few times and realising there was nothing more to discuss I stood up and told them I was leaving with the papers. I bidded them good-day and left. (Note see *** below)

I went straight to the hospital and that night my wife and I informed the doctor that we had decided to stop using the medicine which was preventing the onset of labour. The doctor told us that labour should begin around 48 hours later

I went to work as usual on Tuesday the 3rd.

On the evening of March 3rd, at around 6:30pm, I called Interac and asked to speak to a native English speaker (so as not to be misunderstood). I spoke to William Smith. I told him that I probably couldn’t go to work on the 5th as the baby was expected to die and be delivered that day, and that I would have to identify the body, as required by Japanese law. He told me that it was the first time he had heard about my situation and he sounded genuinely concerned. He told me to take the rest of the week off at least. I was thankful but told him I would go to work tomorrow and take Thursday off (expected birth date).

However at 11pm on the same night of the 3rd, my wife called and told me that labour was starting. So I, took my son to his grandparents and then went to the hospital. The baby died in the early hours of the morning. I called Interac as soon as the office opened to tell them that I couldn’t go to work, and to explain the situation. The baby was delivered at 10:48am, Wednesday the 4th of March.

We got to hold her. A little girl.

We had to arrange the funeral for as soon as possible. We could not book for Saturday and so booked for Friday.

I called Interac again and asked for a native speaker, again to avoid possible misunderstandings. I spoke to Joel Northan and told him I couldn’t go to work on Friday because I was going to the funeral. He told me it was fine and also said to apologise to my wife on his behalf as he didn’t know that she had been in the hospital when he informed me about my contract on March the 2nd.


After the funeral I had a chance to look at the papers that Joel Northan and Satoko Aoki tried desperately to get me to sign at that meeting on March the 2nd. Upon checking the 4 papers I found 1 was not for me, it was for Interac staff to fill in, 1 was requesting when I would like my final payment, 1 was requesting the same plus when I would like my penultimate payment.

However 1 paper (attached) stated:

‘THIS NOTICE is hereby made by ___________ (Employee#_____) on this _____ day of _____ , _____, to inform Interac of my resignation for the following reason:’ etc etc

Signature _________________ Date ______________’

So, on top of all the previous, they also tried to get me to sign a paper stating I was resigning without me even knowing it.


Extra notes –

2 months previously I was told that Interac were hoping I would continue my employment with them by Joel Northan.

I found out that Interac had lost the contract with the BOE in Hiratsuka for elementary schools for the 2009-10 year. The trainer involved has left Interac.

No-one ever called to apologise, the trainer and another trainer only apologised when 1 I called to tell them I had to take time off to identify the body, and 2 when I called to tell them about the funeral. Previously, they used to call me up at all hours about the smallest things.

About my teaching –

When I first started at Interac I was given, as my main school, what the BOE and teachers described as the worst school in the city. It probably was. Kids were smoking in the school, climbing out of second floor windows during the lessons and sitting on a 40 cm ledge smoking and talking in groups, sleeping in the class, punching teachers, bullying in the open etc etc.

3 years later the school is one of if not the best schools in the city, judging by the others I taught at. I could ‘reach’ every kid in the school, some for longer than others granted. Now the English level of even the first graders is far better than the 3rd graders from 3 years ago and almost every student in the school enjoys English lessons now. I walked into a bad atmosphere and spent every minute I was there trying to improve it through methods that Interac trainers and managers and many teachers don’t even know exist, like honesty, integrity, confidence, openess, friendliness, actually wanting to teach etc etc.

I’m not going to say I changed everything but I did what I could to improve things. There are some very nice teachers there who I respect, but at the student’s graduation ceremony this year I sat next to other teachers, head teachers, the vice principal etc and was very proud when a high percentage of the kids I’d known since their first year, walked up looking directly at me and bowed before receiving their certificates.

I will also send this to a union and to the Japan Times.

Feel free to contact me if you need anything else or if I have made some mistakes.  michael1 AT mopera DOT net

Thank you for reading,

Michael Collison.


Economist: First mention of Japan’s “two lost decades”: Calls into question efficacy of “Japan Inc” business model


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Hi Blog. A tangent in a sense, but macroeconomics affect us all, and it’s harder to keep our eye on loftier goals like human rights when people’s pocketbooks are emptying. This is the first mention I’ve seen in the press about Japan’s “TWO lost decades”. And I’m afraid I agree that this is not an overstatement. To me, it’s symbolic of the self-damaging “seesawing self-image” Japan tends to have of itself.

That is to say, when times are going well, really well (like say 1960 to 1990), popular sentiment begins to tend towards a superiority complex, in that “We Japanese are harder workers and have an exceptional, unique society that is designed to grow and enrich itself perpetually” (unlike the hybrid mutt multicultural societies, whose factory workers are lazy and less intelligent, according to Japan’s contemporary premier politicians). Then follows the arrogance and self-convincing which justifies staying the course:  After all, it’s “The Japanese Way”, after all.   Of course, there ‘s little mention of other possible root causes for Japan’s phenomenal success, such as a lack of post-WWII war reparations, or preferential trade agreements, or markets overseas opened to nurture export-led countries away from the temptation of warmaking economies. And once Japan had (through hard work and perseverance) matured and reached its due, one might argue it has done quite poorly, compared to fellow mature economies in The Economist’s graphs below. For after all, if there’s no business model except a slavish following of “The Japanese Way”, what’s next for people sitting tight and waiting for the next ideological auto-pilot to take over?

After now nearly two decades of bumbling about (and fortunately losing a lot of that unhealthy superiority complex, except perhaps towards the foreigners who decide to come here that it can pick on), one begins to wonder whether the “Japan Inc.” model of business was actually all that stand-alone successful.  There are plenty of other rich economies that are relatively resource poor (as in, probably most of the Western Europeans’ economies) yet still are outperforming Japan, so let’s not fall back on the shimaguni excuses. I think the evidence is mounting that using the Americans as a economic crutch was the key to Japan’s postwar growth. Fine.  But if Japan wants to stick to the same “crutch economy” to power itself, it had better shut its uyoku up and get friendlier with China, because China is probably going to be the export purchaser of the future. Otherwise, consider the consumer-led economy being proposed by The Economist below.

Sorry, random brain farts after a gloriously sunny week. Omatase:  Here’s the more substantial Economist article, already. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The incredible shrinking economy

Apr 2nd 2009 | TOKYO
From The Economist print edition

Japan is in danger of suffering not one but two lost decades

Illustration by S. Kambayash
Illustration by S. Kambayashi

TO LOSE one decade may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. Japan’s economy stagnated in the 1990s after its stockmarket and property bubbles burst, but its more recent economic performance looks even more troubling. Industrial production plunged by 38% in the year to February, to its lowest level since 1983. Real GDP fell at an annualised rate of 12% in the fourth quarter of 2008, and may have declined even faster in the first three months of this year. The OECD forecasts that Japan’s GDP will shrink by 6.6% in 2009 as a whole, wiping out all the gains from the previous five years of recovery.

If that turns out to be true, Japan’s economy will have grown at an average of 0.6% a year since it first stumbled in 1991 (see top chart). Thanks to deflation as well, the value of GDP in nominal terms in the first quarter of this year probably fell back to where it was in 1993. For 16 years the economy has, in effect, gone nowhere.


Was Japan’s seemingly strong recovery of 2003-07 an illusion? And why has the global crisis hit Japan much harder than other rich economies? Popular wisdom has it that Japan is overly dependent on exports, but the truth is a little more complicated. The share of exports in Japan’s GDP is much smaller than in Germany or China and until recently was on a par with that in America. During the ten years to 2001, net exports contributed nothing to Japan’s GDP growth. Then exports did surge, from 11% of GDP to 17% last year. If exporters’ capital spending is included, net exports accounted for almost half of Japan’s total GDP growth in the five years to 2007.

Exports boomed on the back of a super-cheap yen and America’s consumer binge. Japan did not have housing or credit bubbles, but the undervalued yen encouraged a bubble of a different sort. Japanese exporters expanded capacity in the belief that the yen would stay low and global demand remain strong, resulting in a huge misallocation of resources.

As foreign demand collapsed and the yen soared last year, Japan’s export “bubble” burst. Total exports have fallen by almost half in the past year. Japan’s high-value products, such as cars and consumer electronics, are the first things people stop buying when the economy sours.

Richard Jerram, an economist at Macquarie Securities, argues that the worst may soon be over for industrial production. This year, output and exports have fallen by much more than the drop in demand, because firms have temporarily closed plants in order to slash excess stocks. For instance, Japan’s vehicle production in the first two months of 2009 was 50% lower than a year before, but global car sales fell by only 25%.

Mr Jerram reckons that the inventory rundown is coming to an end, which will lead to a short-term bounce in output as factories reopen. If so, car output in June could be around 50% higher than in March (but still down by 25% on a year earlier). This means that GDP growth might turn positive in the second quarter even if foreign demand remains weak.

Unfortunately, the economy is likely to totter again as the second-round effects of tumbling profits and rising unemployment squeeze investment and consumer spending. According to the latest Tankan survey of the Bank of Japan (BOJ), in March business sentiment among big manufacturing firms was the gloomiest since the poll began in 1974. Manufacturers say they plan to cut investment by 20% this year. They are also trimming jobs and wages. The seemingly modest unemployment rate of 4.4% in February understates the pain. The ratio of job offers to applicants has declined to only 0.59, from around one at the start of 2008, and average hours worked have also fallen sharply. Average wages (including bonuses and overtime pay) went down by 2.7% in the 12 months to February. Household spending fell by 3.5% in real terms over the same period; department store sales plunged by 11.5%.

The weakening domestic economy has prompted the government to man the fiscal pumps. A stimulus of 1.4% of GDP is already in the pipeline for 2009, and a further boost of perhaps 2% of GDP is expected to be unveiled in mid-April. The package is likely to include measures to strengthen the safety net for the unemployed and so ease concerns about job security. There will also be new infrastructure spending. Much of the expenditure on public works in the 1990s is now considered wasteful, so this time the focus is meant to be on projects that boost productivity, such as an expansion of Tokyo’s Haneda airport. Better crafted stimulus measures which raise long-run growth are also less likely to spook bond markets concerned about the government’s vast debt.

So long as the extra measures are not delayed by an early election (which must be called by September), Japan’s total fiscal stimulus in 2009 could be the largest among the G7 economies. But it would not be enough to prevent a sharp widening of the output gap (the difference between actual GDP and what the economy could produce at full capacity). This had already risen to 4% of GDP in the fourth quarter of 2008, and it is likely to approach 10% by the end of 2009, twice as much as in the 1990s downturn (see bottom chart, above).

This gaping economic hole is again putting downward pressure on prices. By late summer consumer prices could be more than 2% lower than a year before—a faster decline than during Japan’s previous bout of deflation. The risk is that deflation will squeeze profits and hence jobs, thereby further depressing demand and prices. The BOJ cut interest rates to 0.1% in December and it has introduced several measures to keep credit flowing, such as buying commercial paper and corporate bonds, as well as shares held by banks, which boosts their capital ratios. In contrast to the 1990s, bank lending is still growing.

The BOJ has also stepped up its purchases of government bonds, but after its experience in 2001-06, the bank remains sceptical that such “quantitative easing” can lift inflationary expectations and spur demand. One big difference is that the previous episode of quantitative easing coincided with stringent budget-tightening under Junichiro Koizumi, the then prime minister. The budget deficit was reduced from 8% of GDP in 2002 to 1.4% in 2006 (which partly explains why domestic demand was weak). The combination of fiscal expansion and government-bond purchases by the BOJ should work better.

The OECD predicts that public-sector debt will approach 200% of GDP in 2010, so the scope for further fiscal stimulus will be limited. Nor can Japan rely on exports for future growth; to the extent that it had enjoyed an export bubble, foreign demand will not return to its previous level. Japan needs to spur domestic spending.

One possible option, which the government is exploring, is to unlock the vast financial assets of the elderly. Japanese households’ stash of savings is equivalent to more than five times their disposable income, the highest of any G7 economy, and three-fifths of it is held by people over 60 years old. Gifts to children are taxed like ordinary income, but if this tax were reduced, increased transfers could boost consumption and housing investment since the young have a much higher propensity to consume. In theory, this could give a much bigger boost to the economy than any likely fiscal stimulus.

Of course, one reason why the elderly are cautious about running down their assets is concern about the mismanaged pension system and future nursing care. Services for the elderly should be among Japan’s fastest growing industries and create lots of new jobs, but they are held back by regulations which restrict competition and supply. Deregulation of services would not only help to improve the living standards of an ageing population, but by helping to unlock savings might also drag the economy out of deep recession.

Japan’s second lost decade holds worrying lessons for other rich economies. Its large fiscal stimulus succeeded in preventing a depression in the 1990s after its bubble burst—and others are surely correct to follow today. But Japan’s failure to spur a strong domestic recovery a decade later suggests that America and Europe may also have a long, hard journey ahead.


Mainichi: Kofu Laundry taken to cleaners over abuses of Chinese “trainees”


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.  Mainichi reports yet another case of “Trainee” labor abuses, and this time the public prosecutor looks to do something about it.  Plus a brief Yomiuri article on how deep the abuses are going, alas with only a brief citation of figures, nothing about the whos, wheres, and what’s to be done about it.  Like siccing the public prosecutor on them.  Debito in Sapporo


Dry-cleaning company boss reported to prosecutors over treatment of Chinese trainees

Mainichi Shinbun April 9, 2009, courtesy of Jeff K.


KOFU — The Kofu Labor Standards Inspection Office has sent documents to public prosecutors accusing a dry-cleaning company president of violating labor and wage laws by making Chinese trainees work for pay below the minimum wage.

The office sent documents to the Kofu District Public Prosecutors Office accusing 60-year-old Masafumi Uchida, the president of a dry-cleaning company in Yamanashi Prefecture, of violating the Minimum Wage Law and Labor Standards Law.

The labor standards inspection office had been conducting an investigation after the Mainichi Shimbun reported on the treatment of the workers on Aug. 27 last year.

Uchida was reported to prosecutors over the alleged failure to pay about 11.15 million yen to six female trainees from China aged in their 20s and 30s, during the period between February 2007 and July 2008.

The office also reported a 37-year-old certified social insurance labor consultant from Chuo, Yamanashi Prefecture, to public prosecutors accusing him of assisting in the violation of both laws by providing assistance to Uchida and other related parties.

(Mainichi Japan) April 9, 2009


Japanese version with sparser details:


労基法違反:中国実習生に最低賃金未満 容疑で山梨の会社を書類送検

毎日新聞 2009年4月9日 東京朝刊





Foreign trainee abuse found at 452 entities

The Justice Ministry says it has found irregularities at a 452 companies and organizations that hosted foreign trainees last year.

The job-training system for foreign trainees from developing countries was introduced to help them acquire technical expertise and skills from Japanese organizations, but it has often been misused by unscrupulous companies and organizations as a means to get unskilled workers from developing countries who will work for extremely low wages.

Officials of the ministry said it had confirmed that the companies and organizations violated labor laws, such as by paying lower-than-minimum wages to foreign trainees. Of the total, 169 cases of entities making trainees work unpaid overtime were found and 155 cases concerned other labor law violations such as payment of illegally low wages.

(Apr. 11, 2009)

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE: Apr 7 2009: ‘Golden parachutes’ for Nikkei only mark failure of race-based policy


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. This month’s JUST BE CAUSE column was a challenge because of the news cycle.  I had originally written this month’s JBC about three weeks ago, before I went on the SOUR STRAWBERRIES movie tour.  Here I was thinking I was Mr. Prepared and all that.  However, I arrived back in Sapporo on April 1 to hear  news of this special GOJ bribe for Nikkei, and realized that story took precedence.  But my first draft of the JBC column was due April 2, so within 24 hours I pounded out something of hopefully passable quality.  It was, and the next three days were spent refining the original 1150-word draft into the 1550-worder you see below.  Not too dusty.  I feel fortunate to be a columnist with time to think, as opposed to a reporter with a much stricter set of news deadlines…  Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Golden parachutes’ mark failure of race-based policy

Japan Times, April 7, 2009

Japan’s employment situation has gotten pretty dire, especially for non-Japanese workers. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reports that between last November and January, more than 9,000 foreigners asked the Hello Work unemployment agency for assistance — 11 times the figure for the same period a year earlier.

The ministry also claims that non-Japanese don’t know Japan’s language and corporate culture, concluding that they’re largely unemployable. So select regions are offering information centers, language training, and some degree of job placement. Good.

But read the small print: Not only does this plan only target 5,000 people, but the government is also trying to physically remove the only people they can from unemployment rosters — the foreigners.

Under an emergency measure drawn up by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party only last month, from April 1 the Japanese government is offering nikkei — i.e. workers of Japanese descent on “long-term resident” visas — a repatriation bribe. Applicants get ¥300,000, plus ¥200,000 for each family dependent, if they “return to their own country,” and bonuses if they go back sooner (see www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2009/03/dl/h0331-10a.pdf ).

History is repeating itself, in a sense. These nikkei beneficiaries are the descendants of beneficiaries of another of Japan’s schemes 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 wheeze to utilize their cheap labor. This time, however, if they take the ticket back “home,” they can’t return — at least not under the same preferential work visa.

Let this scheme sink in for a minute. We now have close to half a million nikkei living here, some of whom have been here up to 20 years, paying in their taxes and social security. They worked long hours at low wages to keep our factories competitive in the world economy. Although these policies have doubled Japan’s foreign population since 1990, few foreigners have been assimilated. Now that markets have soured, foreigners are the first to be laid off, and their unassimilated status has made them unmarketable in the government’s eyes. So now policy has become, “Train 1 percent (5,000) to stay, bribe the rest to be gone and become some other country’s problem.”

Sound a bit odd? Now consider this: This scheme only applies to nikkei, not to other non-Japanese workers also here at Japan’s invitation. Thus it’s the ultimate failure of a “returnee visa” regime founded upon racist paradigms.

How did this all come to pass? Time for a little background.

Japan had a huge labor shortage in its blue-collar industries in the late 1980s, and realized, with the rise in the value of the yen and high minimum wages, that Japan’s exports were being priced out of world markets.

Japan’s solution (like that of other developed countries) was to import cheaper foreign labor. However, as a new documentary entitled “Sour Strawberries: Japan’s Hidden ‘Guest Workers’ ” ( www.cinemabstruso.de/strawberries/main.html ) reveals, Japan’s policy was fundamentally different. Elites worried about debasing Japan’s supposedly “homogeneous” society with foreigners who might stay, so the official stance remained “No immigration” and “No import of unskilled labor.”

But that was all tatemae — a facade. Urged by business lobbies such as the Japan Business Federation (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. More importantly, trainees were getting paid less than half minimum wage (as they were not legally “workers” under labor law) and receiving no social welfare.

Even the offer of competitive wages was tatemae. Although some trainees were reportedly working 10 to 15 hours a day (one media outlet mentioned 22-hour days!), six to seven days a week including holidays, they found themselves receiving sums so paltry they beggared belief — think ¥40,000 a month! A Chinese trainee interviewed in “Sour Strawberries” said he wound up earning the same 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 were harassed and beaten, found their passports confiscated and pay withheld, 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. Many had received travel loans to come here, and if they returned early they would be in default, sued by their banks and ruined. Thus they were locked into abusive jobs they could neither complain about nor quit without losing their visa and livelihoods overseas.

As labor union leader Ippei Torii explains in “Sour Strawberries,” this government-sponsored but largely unregulated trainee program made so many employers turn bad that places without worker abuses were “very rare.”

But trainees weren’t the only ones getting exploited. 1990 was also the year the long-term resident visa was introduced for the nikkei. However, unlike the trainees, they were given labor law protections and unlimited employment opportunities — supposedly to allow them to “explore their heritage” (while being worked 10 to 15 hours a day, six days a week).

Why this “most-favored visa status” for the nikkei? Elites, in their ever-unchallenged wisdom, figured nikkei would present fewer assimilation problems. After all, they have Japanese blood, ergo the prerequisite understanding of Japan’s unique culture and garbage-sorting procedures. So, as LDP and Keidanren policymakers testified in “Sour Strawberries,” it was deemed unnecessary to create any integration policy, or even to make them feel like they “belong” in Japan. It was completely counterproductive and demoralizing for an enthusiastic workforce. A nikkei interviewed in the film mentioned how overseas she felt like a Japanese, yet in Japan she ultimately felt like a foreigner.

So over the past 20 years Japan has invited over a million non-Japanese to come here and work. And work they did, many in virtual indentured servitude. Yet instead of being praised for all their contributions, they became scapegoats. They engendered official opprobrium for alleged rises in crime and overstaying (even though per-capita crime rates were higher among Japanese than foreigners, and the number of visa overstayers has dropped every year since 1993). They were also bashed for not learning the language (when they actually had little time to study, let alone attend Japanese classes offered by a handful of merciful local governments) — nothing but disincentives toward settling in Japan.

The policy was doomed to failure. And fail it did on April Fool’s Day, when the government confirmed that nikkei didn’t actually belong here, and offered them golden parachutes. Of course, it was a race-based benefit, unavailable to wrong-blooded trainees, who have to make it home on their own dime (perhaps with some fines added on for overstaying) to face financial ruin.

It’s epiphany time. Japan’s policymakers haven’t evolved beyond an early Industrial-Revolution mind set, which sees people (well, foreigners, anyway) as mere work units. Come here, work your ass off, then go “home” when we have no more use for you; it’s the way we’ve dealt many times before with foreigners, and the way we’ll probably deal with those Indonesian and Filipino care workers we’re scheming to come take care of our elderly. Someday, potential immigrants will realize that our government is just using people, but the way things are going we eventually won’t be rich enough for them to overlook that.

What should be done instead? Japan must take responsibility. You invited foreigners over here, now treat them like human beings. Give all of them the same labor rights and job training that you’d 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 you can to make them more comfortable and settled. And stop bashing them: Let Japanese society know why foreigners are here and what good they’ve done for our country. You owe them that much for the best part of their lives they’ve given you.

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 race-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. Now deal with it here, in Japan, by helping non-Japanese residents of whatever background make Japan their home.

That’s not a radical proposal. Given our low-birthrate, aging-society demographics, 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’ll 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.

Debito Arudou is organizing nationwide screenings of “Sour Strawberries” in late August and early September; contact him at debito@debito.org to arrange a screening. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp


GOJ bribes Nikkei NJ with Golden Parachutes: Go home and don’t come back


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 the ultimate betrayal:  Hey Gaijin, er, Nikkei!  Here’s a pile of money.  Leave and don’t come back.  So what if it only applies to people with Japanese blood (not, for example, Chinese).  And so what if we’ve invited you over here for up to two decades, taken your taxes and most of your lives over here as work units, and fired you first when the economy went sour.  Just go home.  You’re now a burden on Us Japanese.  You don’t belong here, regardless of how much you’ve invested in our society and saved our factories from being priced out of the market.  You don’t deserve our welfare, job training, or other social benefits that are entitled to real residents and contributors to this country.

Why did I have the feeling this was coming?  Arudou Debito back in Sapporo


(Article courtesy of lots of people, thanks!)

Original Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare proposal in Japanese, courtesy of Silvio:



Japan gives cash to jobless foreigners to go home

(Mainichi Japan and Japan Today) April 1, 2009




TOKYO (AP) — Japan began offering money Wednesday for unemployed foreigners of Japanese ancestry to go home, mostly to Brazil and Peru, to stave off what officials said posed a serious unemployment problem.

Thousands of foreigners of Japanese ancestry, who had been hired on temporary or referral contracts, have lost their jobs recently, mostly at manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and its affiliates, which are struggling to cope with a global downturn.

The number of foreigners seeking government help to find jobs has climbed in recent months to 11 times the previous year at more than 9,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

“The program is to respond to a growing social problem,” said ministry official Hiroshi Yamashita.

Japan has tight immigration laws, and generally allows only skilled foreign workers to enter the country. The new program applies only to Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry who have gotten special visas to do assembly line and other manufacturing labor. It does not apply to other foreigners in Japan, Yamashita said.

The government will give 300,000 yen ($3,000) to an unemployed foreigner of Japanese ancestry who wishes to leave the country, and 200,000 ($2,000) each to family members, the ministry said. But they must forgo returning to Japan. The budget for the aid is still undecided, it said.

The visa program for South Americans of Japanese ancestry was introduced partly in response to a labor shortage in Japan, where the population is shrinking and aging. But the need for such workers has dwindled in recent months after the global financial crisis hit last year. The jobless rate has risen to 4.4 percent, a three-year high.

Tokyo has already allocated 1.08 billion yen ($10.9 million) for training, including Japanese language lessons, for 5,000 foreign workers of Japanese ancestry.

Major companies traditionally offer lifetime employment to their rank and file, and so workers hired on temporary contracts have been the first to lose their jobs in this recession.

(Mainichi Japan) April 1, 2009



Japan government gives cash for jobless foreigners of Japanese ancestry to go home

Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer
Yahoo Finance Wednesday April 1, 2009, 10:34 am EDT

TOKYO (AP) — Japan is offering $3,000 for a plane ticket home to some foreigners who have lost their jobs, a sign of just how bad the economic slump has gotten.

The program, which began Wednesday, applies only to several hundred thousand South Americans of Japanese descent on special visas for factory work. The government’s motivation appears to be three-fold: help the workers get home, ease pressure on the domestic labor market and potentially get thousands of people off the unemployment rolls.

“The program is to respond to a growing social problem,” said Hiroshi Yamashita, an official at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, referring to joblessness, which has climbed to a three-year high of 4.4 percent.

But there may not be too many takers for the 300,000 yen ($3,000) handout, plus 200,000 yen ($2,000) for each family member. The money comes with strings attached: The workers cannot return to Japan on the same kind of visa.

Given Japan’s strict immigration laws, that means most won’t be able to come back to work in Japan, where wages are higher than in Latin America.

“It is not necessarily a totally welcome deal,” said Iwao Nishiyama, of the Association of Nikkei & Japanese Abroad, a government-backed organization that connects people of Japanese ancestry.

The government’s offer — as well as the backdrop of history that has given birth to a vibrant community of South Americans of Japanese ancestry here — highlight this nation’s complex views on foreigners and cultural identity.

Many Japanese consider their culture homogenous, even though there are sizeable minorities of Koreans and Chinese, as well as Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan.

In the early 1990s, Tokyo relaxed its relatively tight immigration laws to allow special entry permits for foreigners of Japanese ancestry in South America to make up for a labor shortage at this nation’s then-booming factories.

They took the so-called “three-K” jobs, standing for “kitsui, kitanai, kiken” — meaning “hard, dirty, dangerous” — jobs Japanese had previously shunned.

Before their arrival, many such jobs had gone to Iranians and Chinese. But the government saw their influx — much of it illegal — as a problem and was eager to find a labor pool it felt would more easily adapt to Japanese society, said Nishiyama of Japanese Abroad association.

So by virtue of their background, these foreigners of Japanese descent — called “Nikkei” in Japanese — were offered special visa status.

“They may speak some Japanese, and have a Japanese way of thinking,” Nishiyama said. “They have Japanese blood, and they work hard.”

The workers are mainly descendants of Japanese who began emigrating to Latin America around the turn of the last century.

Brazil has the biggest population of ethnic Japanese outside Japan, numbering about 1.5 million. Last year marked the 100th year of Japanese immigration to Brazil. Initially many ventured to toil in coffee plantations and other farms.

Brazilians are the most numerous of such foreigners in Japan, totaling about 310,000 overall in 2007, the latest tally available. Peruvians are next at 59,000. Those from other South American nations were fewer at 6,500 Bolivians, 3,800 Argentineans and 2,800 Colombians.

Nearly all work manufacturing jobs, many through job referral agencies. Major companies, like Toyota Motor Corp., have relied on contract employees to keep a flexible plant work force.

Foreign workers in Japan are entitled to the basic unemployment and other benefits that Japanese workers get. Though rates vary, Japan provides about 7,000 yen ($71) a day in unemployment — which would equal about $2,100 per month.

Still, Nikkei are sometimes victims of discrimination in Japan, as they are culturally different and aren’t always fluent in Japanese. As a result, many have had a hard time blending into Japanese society.

Now, as the economy worsens, many find themselves out of jobs.

The government doesn’t track the number of jobless foreigners, but the number of foreigners showing up at government-run centers for job referral has climbed in recent months to 11 times the previous year at more than 9,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Overall, the government estimates that some 192,000 temporary workers who had jobs in October, including Japanese, are expected to be jobless by June. Experts fear such numbers are growing.

In addition to the handout offer the government is also helping Nikkei find jobs in Japan.

“These are like two sides of the same effort to assist people of Japanese ancestry,” said Yamashita of the labor ministry.

Tokyo has already allocated 1.08 billion yen ($10.9 million) for training, including Japanese language lessons, for 5,000 foreign workers.

Fausto Kishinami, 32, manager at a Brazilian restaurant in Oizumimachi, a city with a large Japanese-Brazilian population, said none of his friends are applying for the government money because of the no-return condition.

“I don’t think people should take that money,” he said, adding that he hasn’t gone home in eight years, and is focused on his work in Japan.

Some 20 percent to 30 percent of the South American foreigners of Japanese ancestry are estimated to have already returned home, said Nishiyama. They have paid their own way back and may return, once a recovery brings fresh opportunities, he said.


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

Metropolis Mag on how to get your housing deposit (shikikin) back


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 spotted an excellent article in Tokyo’s METROPOLIS Magazine, on Shikikin (rental deposits), what they cover, how you can get them back, and, very importantly, the Japanese terminology involved in negotiation.  Well done.  For those who cannot get the magazine, here is the text of the article. Arudou Debito in Tokyo



Metropolis Magazine, March 20, 2009



You may feel like you’ve had to wrestle with all kinds of bureaucracy to land that perfect 1DK apartment, but the fun and games don’t end when the contract is stamped. Moving out can present a whole new world of hassle. For many tenants, both foreign and Japanese, the hard-earned shikikin (deposit) they paid when they moved in becomes nothing but a distant memory, as landlords have their way with the cash and return only the change to the renter.

Kazutaka Hayakawa works for the NPO Shinshu Matsumoto Alps Wind, a group that specializes in helping get that deposit back. Here he offers up the basics on renters’ rights.

What is shikikin for?
Shikikin is a form of deposit that was originally meant to cover unpaid rent during or at the end of a contract. Somewhere along the lines, landlords began to use the money for other purposes, known under the umbrella term of genjou kaifuku, or “returning the room to its original condition.”

So what does genjou kaifuku entail?
Genjou kaifuku is the maintenance done on the room to make it suitable for the next tenant. Everything from simple cleaning to re-wallpapering or replacing tatami mats is categorized under this term, and unfortunately, shikikin is often used to pay for the work. While this is not illegal per se, it’s debatable as to why a renter should have to pay for cleaning or renovations for the next tenant. To protect renters’ rights in this gray area, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport released a set of guidelines about ten years ago for the types of maintenance for which shikikin should be used, based on who is responsible for the damages.

While these remain merely guidelines for the rest of the country, Tokyo Prefecture enacted a law in 2004 (the Chintai Juutaku Funsou Boushi Jourei) that was directed at landlords and real estate agents, detailing the responsibilities of landlords and tenants in returning rental property to its original condition, as well as covering maintenance during the contract.

What to do if your shikikin is being used unfairly or unlawfully
While the balance of power between landlord and tenant traditionally doesn’t favor the little guy, times are changing and renters are finding it easier to defend their rights. Hayakawa has the following tips for those who smell something fishy:

• Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with the relevant laws, and never forget that shikikin is legally your money.

• Talk it out: Many landlords are open to discussion, and some don’t even realize they’re doing anything wrong. Show your landlord a copy of the government guidelines and try to work things out face-to-face.

• Recruit some support: Numerous organizations and businesses like Shinshu Matsumoto Alps Wind exist in all parts of the country, and are willing to work as mediators for a nominal fee.

• Last-ditch effort: Small claims courts offer special services for shikikin disputes, and they can work things out in the space of a few hours for a small percentage of the total disputed amount.

Hayakawa stresses that 99 percent of shikikin disputes can be resolved just by talking things through. Take photos of the apartment for evidence, ideally before moving in (though afterwards is fine too). Make sure the landlord provides copies of all receipts for work done using shikikin money. Sometimes real estate agents will also be willing to mediate disputes, but many provide little follow-up service to renters and will disappear from the scene after the contract is signed and they’ve received their cut. Agents who have long-standing relationships with landlords also tend to be a bit biased, so it may be best to recruit the help of a Japanese-speaking friend or special “Shikikin Dispute Mediator” (shikikin henkan dairinin) when entering into negotiations.



Responsible for: marks on flooring and carpets caused by heavy furniture; fading of tatami and flooring due to age and/or sunlight
Procedures: replacing tatami, waxing floors

Walls & Ceiling
Responsible for: nicotine stains; marks on walls left by fridge or TV; pinholes from hanging posters, etc.
Procedures: replacing wallpaper, filling holes

Fittings & Doors
Responsible for: glass broken due to earthquakes; naturally occurring cracks in reinforced glass
Procedures: replacing glass

Responsible for: lighting and other machinery that no longer works due to age
Procedures: replacing locks, disinfecting kitchen and bathroom, replacing water heater, etc.


Responsible for: scratches on flooring caused by moving furniture; stains on carpet, tatami or flooring due to spillage or rain damage
Procedures: replacing tatami, carpets, etc.

Walls & Ceiling
Responsible for: oil stains on walls in kitchen; mold and stains due to accumulated moisture; corrosion of air conditioning unit; holes from nails; ceiling damage caused by lighting fixtures
Procedures: replacing wallpaper, filling holes, patching

Fittings & Doors
Responsible for: damage and stains caused by pets

Responsible for: damage due to lack of care or misuse

From the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport’s “Guidelines for Returning Rental Property to its Original Condition” (Genjou Kaifuku Wo Meguru Toraburu To Gaidorain)


Tangent: Debito.org has citations in 37 books, according to Amazon


 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.  I’m going to be on the road from tomorrow showing documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES across Japan, so indulge me this evening as I talk about something that impressed me today about the power of the Internet.

It started during a search on Amazon.com this evening, when I found an amazing avenue for researching insides of books for excerpts.  Check it out (click “Excerpt”).

I realized I could go through and see just how often Debito.org is being cited as a resource in respectable print publications.  I soon found myself busy:  37 books refer in some way to me by name or things archived here.  I cite them all below from most recent publication on down.

Amazing.  Debito.org as a domain has been going strong since 1997, and it’s taken some time to establish a degree of credibility.  But judging by the concentration of citations in recent years, the cred seems to be compounding.

So tonight I’m realizing the reach of the Internet into print media, and the power of an online archive.  Mukashi mukashi, you young whippersnappers, it was truly time-consuming to find stuff in places like microfiche and Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature.   Now we can find what we need in seconds online.  Likewise, damn those who destroy history by deleting online archives — as you can see in book citations below regarding “Issho Kikaku”).

The following is tonight’s update to part of Debito.org’s PUBLICATIONS PAGE.  Have a look at the other stuff up there if you’re interested.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



  1. Haffner, John; Klett, Tomas Casas i; Lehmann, Jean-Pierre.  “JAPAN’S OPEN FUTURE:  An Agenda for Global Citizenship“. Anthem Press March 2009, pg 194, regarding Gaijin Hanzai Magazine. Also cited in bibliography is Arudou Debito’s Japan Focus article of March 2008 on “Gaijin Hanzai Magazine and Hate Speech in Japan.”  ISBN 978-1-84331-311-3.
  2. Johnson, David T., and Zimring, Franklin E, “Next Frontier: National Development, Political Change, and the Death Penalty in Asia (Studies in Crime and Public Policy)” February 2009.  Bibiography page 456, citing Arudou Debito, “The Myopic State We’re In“, Japan Times December 18, 2007. ISBN 978-0195337402.
  3. Graf, Arndt, “Cities in Asia and Europe (Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia)”, Routledge, January 2009.  Bibliography page 154, citing Otaru Onsens Case Sapporo District Court testimony.  ISBN 978-0710311832.
  4. Minear, Richard H., “THROUGH JAPANESE EYES“, junior high/high school textbook on Japanese society.  Apex Press, Fourth Edition, July 2008.  Pp 285-288 cites a rewrite of Arudou Debito’s Japan Focus article 176.  ISBN: 0-938960-53-9.
  5. Winterdyk, John, and Georgios Antonopoulos, “Racist Victimization“.  Ashgate, July 2008. Citation of Debito.org as “helpful website” on page 183. ISBN 978-0754673200.
  6. Sorensen, André:  “Livable Communities in Japan?”  Japan Focus February 1, 2008.
  7. Chan, Jennifer, “Another Japan Is Possible: New Social Movements and Global Citizenship Education“.  Reference section page 289 (in chapter dealing with nonexistent “NGO” ISSHO Kikaku) and bibliographical references page 368 cite Arudou Debito’s book “‘JAPANESE ONLY‘: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan”.  ISBN 978-0804757829.
  8. Ertl, John, Tierney, R. Kenji, “Multiculturalism in the New Japan: Crossing the Boundaries Within (Asian Anthropologies)”. Berghahn Books, November, 2007.  Introduction page 25 cites Arudou Debito’s book “‘JAPANESE ONLY‘: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan” as reference. ISBN 978-1845452261.
  9. 単行本「グローバル時代の日本社会と国籍」、李洙任と田中宏 著。明石書店2007年5月10日発行、ISBN 978-4-7503-2531-6, pg 45-47.
  10. Willis, David Blake; Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen, Eds., “Transcultural Japan (Asia’s Transformations)”  Routledge, January 2008.  Page 34 bibliography cites Arudou Debito’s Japan Focus article “Japan’s Coming Internationalization: Can Japan Assimilate its Immigrants?” (2006).  ISBN 978-0415368902.
  11. Chapman, David, “Korean Identity and Ethnicity (Routledge Contemporary Japan Series)”.  Routledge, November 2007.  Cites activities of The Community promoting multicultural awareness on page 121. ISBN 978-0415426374.
  12. Pence, Canon, “Japanese Only: Xenophobic Exclusion in Japan’s Private Sphere“. New York International Law Review, Summer, 2007, pages 1-73.
  13. Heyden, Carmen: “Gaijin!  Welcome to Japan…  Japan auf dem Weg in eine mulikulturelle Gesellschaft.” PRAXIS GEOGRAPHIE (German), Preisliste Nr. 30 vom 1. April 2007.  Bildungshaus Schulbuchverlage Westermann Schroedel Diesterweg Schoeningh Winklers GmbH, publishers.
  14. Burgess, Chris:  “Multicultural Japan? Discourse and the ‘Myth’ of Homogeneity“. Japan Focus March 2007.
  15. West, Mark D, “Sex, and Spectacle:  The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States“.  University of Chicago Press, January 2007.  Page 356 footnote 116, citing Arudou Debito book “‘JAPANESE ONLY‘: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan”. ISBN 978-0226894089
  16. 「英語の新しい役割:アジアを結ぶリングア・フランカ」李洙任(Lee, Soo im)著。龍谷大学経済学論集(民際学特集)2007年記載予定。
  17. 第6回移住労働者と連帯する全国のフォーラム・北海道 報告集 第6回北海道実行委員会2007年1月10日発行。42〜48ページ、「分科会報告:外国人の人権基本法、人種差別禁止法を制定しよう」はここでご覧下さい
  18. Caryl, Christian, and Kashiwagi, Akiko:  “This Is the New Japan: Immigrants are Transforming a Once Insular Society“. Japan Focus October 2006.
  19. Zielenziger, Michael, “Shutting Out the Sun:  How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation“. Nan A Talese, September 2006.  Page 316 footnote 16,on Otaru Onsens Case and Debito.org. ISBN 978-0385513036
  20. Talmadge, Eric, “Getting Wet: Adventures in the Japanese Bath“.  Kodansha International, August 2006.  Interview pp 149 – 155, regarding Otaru Onsens Case and racial discrimination in Japan. ISBN 978-4770030207.
  21. Milhaupt, Curtis J.; Ramseyer, J. Mark; and West, Mark D.: “The Japanese Legal System:  Cases, Codes, and Commentary”. Foundation Press, June 2006, ISBN 1-599-41017-6.  Citing Arudou Debito’s book “‘JAPANESE ONLY‘: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan” (Akashi Shoten Inc. 2006).
  22. Gottlieb, Nanett, “Linguistic Stereotyping and Minority Groups in Japan (Contemporary Japan)”.  Routledge, February 2006.  Page 96 talks about Kume Hiroshi Case and his use of the word “gaijin” during a 1996 live broadcast. Back references page 142 cite Debito.org on the Kume Case, and what remains of the deleted ISSHO archives on Debito.org on page 146.  ISBN 978-0415338035.
  23. Sloss, Colin; Kawahara, Toshiaki; Grassi, Richard: “Shift the Focus“, Lesson 4:  “Discrimination, or Being Japanese…?” pp 18-21, on the Otaru Onsens Case. Sanshusha Pubilshing Co., Ltd. February, 2006. ISBN: 4-384-33363-3.
  24. Lee, Soo im; Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen; and Befu, Harumi, eds., “JAPAN’S DIVERSITY DILEMMAS“.  iUniverse Inc. 2006.  ISBN 0-595-36257-5.  Two citations, in Chapter 4 (Murphy-Shigematsu, “Diverse Forms of Minority National Identities in Japan’s Multicultural Society”, pp. 75-99) and Chapter 5 (Lee, “The Cultural Exclusiveness of Ethnocentrism:  Japan’s Treatment of Foreign Residents”, pp. 100-125).
  25. Hayes, Declan, “The Japanese Disease: Sex and Sleaze in Modern Japan“. iUniverse Inc., September 2005.  Page 54, citing the Otaru Onsens Case, and page 311 footnote 14, with thanks for assistance.  ISBN 978-0595370153.
  26. Spiri, John, “Japanese at Work–a look a the working lives of Japanese people”, interview pp. 35-37.  Japan Association for Language Teaching pubs, Special Interest Group for Materials Writers, 2005.  ISBN 4-931424-20-1. More information at http://www.globalstories.net.
  27. Philips, Cathy, Ed. “Time Out Guide to Tokyo“, 4th Edition, Time Out Publishing June 2005.  Page 301, regarding the usefulness of Debito.org. ISBN 978-1904978374.
  28. Anholt, Simon, “Brand New Justice, Second Edition: How Branding Places and Products Can Help the Developing World“.  Butterworth-Heinemann, January 2005.  Citing as footnote 18 on page 167 my very off-topic research paper from 1996,  “New Zealand’s Economic Reforms–Were They Worth It?”,  ISBN 978-0750666008.
  29. Close, Paul, and Askew, David, “Asia Pacific And Human Rights: A Global Political Economy Perspective (The International Political Economy of New Regionalisms)”. Ashgate Publishing, December 2004.  Debito.org cited as reference in bibliography.  ISBN 978-0754636298.
  30. Asakawa, Gil, “Being Japanese American: A JA Sourcebook for Nikkei, Hapa . . . and Their Friends“.  Stone Bridge Press, June 2004. Citing Debito.org as a site of interest in resources, page 134. ISBN 978-1880656853.
  31. 聖学院大学 政治経済学部 政治経済学科 2004年度 推進入学審査 小論文問題として記載:有道 出人著の朝日新聞「私の視点」欄から「『外国人お断り』人種差別撤廃へ法整備を」(SARSによるホテルの恐怖感と一律外国人客お断りの方針)。2003年6月2日朝刊 pg14(聖学院大学の問題用紙はこちらです。引用された記 事へのリンクはこちらです)(学研(株)出版)
  32. Let’s Go Inc., “Let’s Go Japan 1st Ed“.  Let’s Go Publications, December 2003.  Page 690 on favorite restaurant Ebi-Ten, pp 696-697 sidebars, interview with Olaf Karthaus and Arudou Debito on Otaru Onsens Case.  ISBN 978-0312320072.
  33. Belson, Ken, and Bremner, Brian, “Hello Kitty: The Remarkable Story of Sanrio and the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon”  Wiley, November 2003.  Citation page 136 of Kyodo News March 19, 2003 article translation by Arudou Debito, regarding “Tama-Chan” protests.  ISBN 978-0470820940.
  34. Arnould, Eric J; Price, Linda; Zinkhan, George M, “Consumers” McGraw-Hill/Irwin, March 2003.  Page 76 cites Otaru Onsens Case as “Cultural Category Confusion”. ISBN 978-0072537147.
  35. Mclelland, Mark, “Japanese Cybercultures (Asia’s Transformations)”, Routledge, February 2003. Page 171, citing Debito.org as an example of online activism. ISBN 978-0415279185.
  36. Fujimoto, Etsuko, “Japanese-ness, Whiteness, and the ‘Other’ in Japan’s Internationalization”.   Essay from book Transforming Communication About Culture (2002), edited by Mary Jane Collier.  Sage Publications, Inc; 1st edition (December 15, 2001), ISBN-13: 978-0761924883.
  37. Picardi, Richard P, “Skills of Workplace Communication: A Handbook for T&D Specialists and Their Organizations“.  Quorum Books, September 2001. Pp 29-30 cites Otaru Onsens Case and Ana Bortz Case, as part of New York Times November 15, 1999 article, as cases of battles against ethnocentrism in Japan.  ISBN 978-1567203622.
  38. ENDS

NPA enforcing Hotel Management Law against exclusionary Prince Hotel Tokyo


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.  Interesting precedent here.  A hotel which refused a booking to a major organization (in fact, cancelled their reservation) looks to be taken before the public prosecutor by police.

This is a good precedent.  The police are at last enforcing the Hotel Management Law, which says you can’t refuse people unless there are no rooms, there’s a threat to public health, or a threat to public morals.  But hotels sometimes refuse foreigners, even have signs up to that effect.  They can’t legally do that, but last time I took a case before the local police box in Shinjuku, they told me they wouldn’t enforce the law.

Not in this case.  Read on.  As I said, interesting precedent being set here, what with this criminal case instead of a civil suit.  Pity it took more than a year to enforce, and it took a group this big and organized to kick the NPA’s butt into action.  I’m not sure this is a situation the average NJ will be able to take much advantage of.  But again, a step in the right direction.  Courtesy of HH.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Police move Prince Hotels-teachers union case to next level



Police sent papers to prosecutors Tuesday against the operator of a Tokyo hotel that refused entry to the Japan Teachers Union for its annual convention, fearing protests by right-wing groups.

Police said Prince Hotels Inc., its president, Yukihiro Watanabe, 61, the 52-year-old general manager of three Prince group hotels, and managers of the company’s administration and reception departments are suspected of violating the Hotel Business Law.

They said the parties reneged on their obligation to provide lodging as stipulated by the law.

It is rare for police to establish a case based on the hotel law’s stipulation, according to officials of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

According to police, Prince Hotels and Watanabe in November 2007 rescinded a contract signed with the teachers union to use the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa in Tokyo’s Minato Ward for its 57th National Conference on Educational Research scheduled from Feb. 2, 2008.

They also refused, without a justifiable reason, to let the union reserve 190 rooms at the hotel for conference participants, police said.

As a result, the teachers union was forced to cancel the plenary session of the conference for the first time since 1951.

According to police, Prince Hotel officials said they were aware that their actions were illegal, but they insisted they had no choice because the Japan Teachers Union’s convention could draw “protests by right-wing groups and cause problems for other guests and residents nearby.”

The union has demanded an apology and has sued the hotel for compensation.

The union filed a criminal complaint with police in August last year.

Under the Hotel Business Law, hotel operators are prohibited from denying accommodations to guests except when they pose a clear risk of spreading a communicable disease, engage in illegal activities, or disrupt public moral, or when the hotel has no vacancies.

Violators face a 5,000-yen fine, but under a special measures law on fines, the hotel operator and executives can be fined a maximum 20,000 yen if found guilty.

A lawyer representing the union said the issue with the hotel touches upon basic constitutional rights.

“Freedom of assembly, protected under the Constitution, will be jeopardized” if government and judiciary fail to take strict measures, the lawyer said.

The union made reservations in March 2007 through a travel agency, paid half of the costs in July that year, and signed a formal contract the following month.

The hotel then sent a certified letter to the union saying the contract had been annulled.

The union fought back and won a tentative injunction from the Tokyo District Court to allow it to use the hotel facilities.

The Tokyo High Court upheld the injunction on Jan. 30, 2008. However, the hotel still refused to let the union members in.

Minato Ward, where the hotel is located, reprimanded hotel officials in April 2008. But the ward stopped short of using administrative penalties, such as ordering a suspension of business operations, after receiving a letter from the operator vowing to prevent a recurrence.

Prince Hotels issued a statement Tuesday saying it “considers seriously the sending of papers to prosecutors and will continue to cooperate with the investigation.”

(IHT/Asahi: March 17,2009)


AXA Direct insurance amends its advertising to sound less exclusive to NJ customers


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.  Good news. Chand B, who reported last October that AXA Direct insurance company had some pretty rough (and exclusionary-sounding) English wording in its CNN television advertising, updates his report.  

AXA Direct actually took his request for amendment seriously, and changed their text.  Well done.  Thanks for taking this up and getting things improved, Chand.  Here’s his report.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


March 3, 2009

Dear Debito, sorry for the delay in replying.

A while ago I reported that the insurance company Axa Direct was requiring Japanese Language Proficiency as a requirement for buying their services.

The ad they were running on CNN was subtitled:

‘Being resident in Japan and understanding spoken and written Japanese are the basic requirements for any transaction of this insurance service.’


Well after a few emails they replied that they would in fact accept people without Japanese language ability and I’m pleased to report that they’ve now changed the subtitling on their commercial to the more friendly:

‘Kindly note that all our insurance services in Japan are offered to residents in Japan in the Japanese language.’

It’s nice to see a company take note of criticism and action to correct it, or maybe in the current economic crisis they’re just looking to rake in some NJ cash.

Please find attached a photograph of the new subtitling their email reply, with my basic translation of it.  Chand B


Axa only prepares its product information in Japanese. If you can understand this you can sign.
If you can understand you can sign.
Also if you have an accident we can only deal with it in Japanese.
In that case you would always require a Japanese-speaking friend.
We only sell by phone so please prepare your information in Japanese.
Axa Direct.

[Chand B]様







 アクサダイレクト カスタマーサービスセンター
 E-mail………………… mailto:master@axa-direct.co.jp
URL …………………… http://www.axa-direct.co.jp
フリーコール……… 0120−193−078
受付時間…………月曜−日曜(祝日含む) 9:00 〜 22:00


NJ company “J Hewitt” advertises “Japanese Only” jobs in the Japan Times!


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.  In what came as a shock to me, alert reader Rob sent me scans of yesterday’s (March 9, 2009) Japan Times Classified Ads, with three sections advertising for “Japanese Only” applicants!  See scans:


Sounds a bit like a forklift operator.  But Japanese Only?


“Must be bilingual”.  So then why Japanese Only?


Selling soap and ear piercing products.  Okay, again, why Japanese Only?

Nice company, this J. Hewitt KK (http://www.jhewitt.co.jp/).  Seems to be run by a NJ named Jon Knight.  Feel free to drop the company a line to say how you feel at info@jhewitt.co.jp

Rob also sent a message of complaint to the Japan Times.  (You can too.  Classified Ads Dept at jtad@japantimes.co.jp, and all other departments at  https://form.japantimes.co.jp/info/contact_us.html).

For by their own guidelines:


Advertising jobs that discriminate by nationality may not be “offensive” to some, but they certainly may easily be construed to be illegal.  They violate Japan’s Labor Standards Law Article 3:  “An employer shall not engage in discriminatory treatment with respect to wages, working hours or other working conditions by reason of the nationality, creed or social status of any worker.”  That’s before we even get to the Japanese Constitution Article 14

I shouldn’t have to be barking about this.  I expected more from the Japan Times when it comes to promoting equality in the workplace.  Shame on them, and especially on their client.

JT, screen your advertisements and stop abetting discrimination.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Interior Ministry scolds MOJ for treatment of tourists, also notes member hotels not following GOJ registration rules


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 something interesting, courtesy of alert reader M-J:

Japan’s ministries are bickering with each other over an NJ issue (tourism), demonstrating how MOJ and MLITT are stepping on MOIA’s toes and goals.  (Not to worry, alphabet soup defined below.)

Also exposed is how Japan’s hotels aren’t keeping their legal promises.  They’re snaffling tax breaks for registering with the GOJ to offer international service — without actually offering any.  Two articles (AP and Mainichi, E and J) follow.  Comment from me afterwards:


Ministry seeks faster entry procedures for foreigners at airports
March 2, 2009, Associated Press


TOKYO, March 3 (AP) – (Kyodo)—The internal affairs ministry on Tuesday recommended that the Justice Ministry take measures to shorten the time foreign nationals must wait at airports before being able to enter Japan.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry recommendation is intended to help Japan attain its goal of boosting the number of foreign travelers to the country to 10 million a year by 2010.

The ministry also proposed that the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry implement steps to improve accommodation services in Japan for foreign travelers.

The Justice Ministry has set the goal of reducing the entry-procedure time for foreign nationals to an average 20 minutes at all airports in Japan.

But the percentage of months during which that goal was achieved came to 0 percent at Haneda and Kansai airports in 2008. The rate stood at 17 percent at Narita airport and 25 percent at central Japan airport the same year.

The latest recommendation calls for the Justice Ministry to review the deployment of immigration control officers at airports to shorten the amount of time foreign nationals must wait.

The recommendation to the tourism ministry includes boosting the number of hotels able to provide foreign-language service.

In 2007, 40 percent of 1,560 hotels where foreign travelers stayed provided no foreign-language service, though they were registered as hotels giving such service in line with the international sightseeing hotel law.

No signs written in foreign languages were posted at 41 percent of those hotels.



Ministry says Japan needs to become more tourist-friendly

Mainichi Shinbun March 3, 2009

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has made a string of recommendations to other ministries to make Japan more tourist-friendly, including speeding up the immigration process and promoting foreign languages in hotels.

The recommendations are designed to help meet the government’s target of 10 million inbound tourists by 2010.

The Ministry of Justice has been asked to reduce the waiting time for foreign visitors at immigration centers.

Average waiting time targets are 20 minutes at the maximum, but during 2008 those waiting for processing had to wait an average of 30.4 minutes at Haneda, Narita International, Kansai International and Central Japan International airports.

At Kansai International Airport alone, that figure shot up to an average of 49 minutes in one month.

The figures are largely the result of the new photograph and fingerprint entry system, which Japan introduced in 2007. While supposedly reducing the risk of terrorism and illegal entry, it has also served to severely slow down the immigration process for foreign tourists.

Other measures include improving foreign-language services at hotels. A survey of 1,560 hotels and inns registered under the Law for Improving International Tourism Hotels showed that 40.1 percent couldn’t serve customers in a foreign language, and 22.9 percent said they had no intention of providing such a service in the future.

The law is designed to provide tax breaks to hotels catering to foreign tourists.
ENDS  Original Japanese:

外国人観光:入国審査30分、ホテル対応も不備 改善勧告
2009年3月3日 毎日新聞






COMMENT:  First, love those last paragraphs in both the AP and Mainichi articles, about how hotels aren’t enforcing international standards they’ve agreed to.  

Let’s do the math:  40% of 1560 member hotels is 624 hotels with no foreign-language service, whatever that means.  Moreover, according to the AP, 41% of those 624 hotels couldn’t be bothered to put up even a foreign-language sign (how hard could that be?).  That means 256 hotels are accepting the international registry advertising, along with concomitant breaks on property taxes, but not doing their job.

Weak excuse time:   Some accommodations have claimed they turn away NJ simply because they don’t feel they can provide NJ with professional service, as in service commensurate with their own standards (sources here and here).  As if that’s the customer’s problem?  Oh, but this time there’s no excuse for those shy and self-effacing hoteliers.  They’re clearly beckoning NJ to come stay through the International Sightseeing Hotel Law.

But the rot runs deep.  As Debito.org reported last year, we’ve even had a local government tourism board (Fukushima Prefecture) as recently as 2007 (that is, until Debito.org contacted them) advertising hotels that won’t even ACCEPT foreigners.  (Yes, the tourism board knew what they were doing:  they even offered the option of refusal to those shy hotels!)  You know something is really screwy when even the government acquiesces in and encourages illegal activity . (You can’t turn away guests just because they’re foreign, under the Hotel Management Law.)

And that’s even before we get to the MOJ’s ludicrous and discriminatory fingerprinting system (targeting “terrorists”, “criminals”, and carriers “infectious diseases”, which of course means targeting not only foreign tourists, but also NJ residents).   It has made “Yokoso Japan” visits or returns home worse than cumbersome.  The ministries are tramping on each other’s toes.

Do-nothing bureaucratic default mode time:  Honpo Yoshiaki, chief of the Japan Tourism Agency, in an Autumn 2008 interview with the Japan Times and a Q&A with Nagano hotelier Tyler Lynch, diffidently said that those hotels that don’t want NJ (and an October 2008 poll indicated 27% of hotels nationwide didn’t) will just be “ignored” by the ministry.

Yeah, that’ll fix ’em.  No wonder MOIA is miffed.  Sic ’em.  

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

PS:  MJ offers more comments and links below.  He says it best, I’ll just copy-paste.

Japan Times Zeit Gist on Berlitz’s lawsuit against unions for “strike damage”


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 a landmark case, dismissed by activists as a “frivolous claim”, which will affect unions profoundly in future if the right to strike (a right, as the article notes, which is guaranteed by the Japanese Constitution Article 28 under organization and collective bargaining) is not held sacrosanct by a Japanese court.

Language school Berlitz, shortly after a request was filed with the authorities for an investigation of its employment practices, sued Begunto labor union for damages due to strikes.  Although the article stops short of saying the epiphany-inducing words “union busting activities”, Berlitz below seems to playing for time in court, not even offering their reasons for their lawsuit by the appointed court date.  

Keep an eye on this case, readers. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Next Labor Commission Begunto hearing date Feb 20 in Tokyo.  Directions from the union:

Berlitz Labor Commission Hearing Number 2    Friday, Feb. 20, at 1:30pm at Tokyo Labor Commission
Take Oedo Line to Tochomae Station, exit A3, up two sets of escalators, pass passport office, up stairs, take elevator bank H up to 34th floor and find “roh” (labor) room for Life Communications (company name).

  Let’s show the commission how much support our Berlitz sisters and brothers continue to have in their fight for the right to strike.  Their strike began in Dec. 2007 for a 4.6% base-pay hike and a one-month bonus.  The strike escalated in autumn of 2008 and management rather than yield to the demand decided to cheat — threatening strikers and suing all the executives for 110 million yen each.  Come on out and support Begunto (Berlitz General Union Tokyo).

News photo
Van hailing: Members of the Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto) and the National Union of General Workers (NUGW) Tokyo Nambu make their voices heard atop a sound truck outside the Berlitz school in Yurakucho, Tokyo. COURTESY OF BEGUNTO


Berlitz launches legal blitz against striking instructors


The Japan Times: Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009

It has been 14 months since members of the Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto) first downed chalk and launched rotating strikes against the language school Berlitz Japan.

The strike has grown into the longest and largest sustained strike by language teachers in Japan. While about 500 Nova teachers struck during that firm’s collapse in 2007, the action only lasted a day.

The dispute entered a new phase on Dec. 3 when, after nearly a year of strike action by union members, Berlitz Japan served notice they were suing the five teachers who serve as volunteer Begunto executives, as well as two officials of the National Union of General Workers (NUGW) Tokyo Nambu: President Yujiro Hiraga and Louis Carlet, the deputy general secretary and case officer for Begunto. The suit also names NUGW Tokyo Nambu and its Begunto branch as defendants.

Claiming the strike is illegal and that the union is trying to damage the company, Berlitz Japan is suing for ¥110 million in damages from each defendant.

“I first heard officially about the suit when a subpoena was delivered to my door in early December,” recalls Catherine Campbell, Begunto Vice President. “It was a shock to see myself and the others named individually as defendants.”

“The amount of money is so large that it didn’t seem real to me,” says Campbell. “It’s obvious that no English teacher has ¥110 million lying around, so I find it hard to believe that financial compensation is the real objective of their suit. The real objective is to intimidate and weaken the union.”

For Carlet, the suit also came as a surprise. “We were shocked because we make every effort to follow all Japan’s laws. We also felt frustrated that rather than concede the union’s strength and make meaningful concessions, Berlitz Japan has decided to spend a lot of money to sue us based on a frivolous claim that the strike is illegal.”

The company’s resort to the courts is unusual, explains Takashi Araki, a law professor at the University of Tokyo. “It’s not often that Japanese employers sue striking workers for illegal actions. An employer must bear the burden to prove the illegality of the strike, the amount of damages and causal relationship between the illegal strike and the damages. It’s not easy.”

On precedents for this kind of action, Timothy Langley, an American lawyer working in Tokyo, called the suits “very unusual,” adding, “but once again, it’s a tactic.” Langley predicted that like the vast majority of civil court cases in Japan, the Berlitz dispute would be settled out of court through negotiation.

The Begunto strike began on Dec. 13, 2007. Seeking the first across-the-board pay raise for Berlitz Japan teachers in 16 years, the union had a list of nine demands, including a 4.6-percent raise for all employees (teachers and staff), a one-time bonus equal to a month’s pay, and enrollment in Japan’s health insurance and pension system.

Inequalities between old and new teachers influenced the decision to strike. According to Begunto’s Web site, the number of lessons taught has increased from 30 per week for teachers hired in the early 1990s to 40 lessons a week for teachers hired after 2005, with no corresponding increase in the ¥250,000-a-month starting salary.

“The strike was an inevitable result of the new contracts introduced in 2005,” says Campbell. “Berlitz has had a history of slowly reducing conditions for new hires every once in a while, and up until now the changes have been small enough and incremental enough not to inspire a major backlash. This time they simply went too far, and created a pool of new hires working alongside teachers on older contracts who had obviously better conditions; teachers old and new felt the unfairness of this.”

The financial health of Benesse Corp., Berlitz Japan’s parent company, also influenced the timing of the strike. In their annual report for the financial year ending March 31, 2008, Benesse recorded their highest-ever earnings. Operating income grew 11.4 percent and Berlitz International Inc. achieved its best result since being bought by Benesse. Operating income for Benesse’s language company division rose 36 percent from the year before to ¥6.35 billion, in part due to higher revenues and profits at Berlitz International, which benefited from “an increase in the number of lessons taken worldwide, particularly in Japan and Germany,” according to the report.

Since the start of the strike, more than 100 English, Spanish, and French teachers have participated in spot strikes of almost 3,500 lessons. Carlet explained how the strikes work: “Nambu and Begunto notify management who will strike and from what time to what time. Sometimes they last only one lesson, other times several lessons.” During the strike, 32 of 46 Kanto-area schools have had teachers walk out.

In addition to the traditional Japanese labor-dispute staples, such as sound trucks and leaflet hand-outs, Berlitz’s striking teachers have also been taking advantage of what every hip industrial action requires nowadays: a Web site and YouTube videos.

“Internet technology has given us a chance to go almost head to head with the company, which has far greater financial and public relations resources to construct a positive self-image,” says Carlet. “We have used our site — www.berlitzuniontokyo.org — for general information and YouTube for visuals on our public appeals for support for the strike.”

Early in the strike the union made several concessions, reducing their list of demands down to two: a 4.6 percent base-pay raise for all teachers and staff and a bonus equal to one month’s salary. “If management makes a serious concession we will consider moving on our side even further than we have already,” says Carlet.

Management offered a raise of less than 1 percent at the end of September. Union members rejected that offer and, according to Carlet, “The union escalated their actions in October, including more strikes.” Begunto members also stepped up the number of leafleting sessions outside Berlitz schools and demonstrated in front of Berlitz’s Aoyama headquarters. “We also asked Benesse, Berlitz Japan’s parent company, to meet for talks. Berlitz began sending protests and threats of litigation soon after that.”

When reached by phone, Berlitz Japan representatives declined to comment on either the lawsuit or the strike.

The first court date for Berlitz Japan’s lawsuit on Jan. 26 proved anticlimactic. The more than 30 union members and supporters — as well as a contingent of Berlitz Japan managers — who came to the hearing at the Tokyo District Court didn’t have the chance to hear any legal arguments of substance.

The lawyers for Berlitz Japan failed to submit their written arguments for why the strike was illegal. They informed the judge that it would take until March to prepare because of the time required to translate documents between English and Japanese. Ken Yoshida, one of the lawyers for the teachers, expressed surprise that a language school would offer such an excuse for the delay.

Problems also arose because Berlitz Japan had failed to properly serve three of the defendants with notice of the lawsuit. The 20-minute hearing ended with the second court date scheduled for April 20. Addressing union members and supporters after the hearing, Yoshida said that the Berlitz lawyers were “obviously stalling” and wanted a protracted court fight.

The burden of proof for the case lies with Berlitz Japan, says professor Araki. “Since Japan’s Constitution and Labor Union Act guarantee the workers’ right to go on strike, employers cannot claim damages caused by legal strikes. Thus, generally speaking, it is an employer who must prove the illegality of the strike.”

However, unions must follow rules when striking. According to Hideyuki Morito, an attorney and Professor of Law at Sophia University, “There are four checkpoints as to propriety of the strike.” The striking union must be a qualified union under the Labor Union Act and the strike must be related to working conditions. The means of the strike must also be legal, so striking union members can’t occupy offices or interfere with operations. “In short, all they can do is not work ,” says Morito. Finally, unions must “try to bargain collectively with the employer before deciding to go on a strike and give a notice in advance when they will strike.”

Tadashi Hanami, professor emeritus at Sophia University, outlined what the company must prove to win. “The outcome of the court judgment depends almost entirely on whether the company can provide enough evidence to convince the judge that some of the union activities were maliciously carried out in order to intentionally cause undue damage, by disturbing normal running of day-by-day school business, thus exceeded the scope of legally protected bona fide collective actions as a kind of harassment.”

Begunto and NUGW Nambu launched their own legal challenge to Berlitz Japan, filing an unfair labor practices suit for violations of Trade Union Law on Nov. 17. The suit asked the Tokyo Labor Commission to investigate unfair labor practices by the company.

Union representatives argue that memos posted at all Berlitz Japan language schools in November that declared the strike illegal and letters sent to union members telling them to end the strike are illegal interference. “Since nothing about our strike was the slightest bit illegal, the memos and warning letters themselves are illegal interference in the strike,” says Carlet.

The unions’ suit also asks the Labor Commission to investigate Berlitz Japan’s refusal to meet the union’s pay demands and failure to provide any data on the company’s finances to the union. According to Carlet, “Management has a responsibility to explain to the union why it can’t meet our financial demands. It makes no such effort.”

As the company and the unions gear up for what could be a drawn-out fight, Campbell describes a surreal existence as the sued teachers wait for the lawsuits to wind through the legal system. “Now it just feels strange to be going to work as usual, teaching Berlitz lessons, while at the same time being accused of deliberately damaging the company.”

The next stage in the legal battle will be an open hearing at the Tokyo Labor Commission on Feb. 20 at 1:30 p.m.

Send comments on this issue and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp
The Japan Times: Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009



Berlitz Labor Commission Hearing Number 2    Friday, Feb. 20, at 1:30pm at Tokyo Labor Commission
Take Oedo Line to Tochomae Station, exit A3, up two sets of escalators, pass passport office, up stairs, take elevator bank H up to 34th floor and find “roh” (labor) room for Life Communications (company name).

  Let’s show the commission how much support our Berlitz sisters and brothers continue to have in their fight for the right to strike.  Their strike began in Dec. 2007 for a 4.6% base-pay hike and a one-month bonus.  The strike escalated in autumn of 2008 and management rather than yield to the demand decided to cheat — threatening strikers and suing all the executives for 110 million yen each.  Come on out and support Begunto (Berlitz General Union Tokyo).