Sakanaka in Japan Times: Japan as we know it is doomed, only immigrants can save it


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Hello Blog. My old friend Sakanaka Hidenori, who has had his writings featured on in the past, has bravely spoken out once again to talk about Japan’s inevitable decline into oblivion if present trends continue. He calls for a revolution through immigration and… well, let me excerpt from the Japan Times article on him that came out yesterday.  Says things that have also been said here for a long, long time.  Arudou Debito


‘Only immigrants can save Japan’
The Japan Times, October 21, 2012
By MICHAEL HOFFMAN, Special to The Japan Times

PHOTO CAPTION: Face of change: Hidenori Sakanaka, the former Justice Ministry bureaucrat and Tokyo Immigration Bureau chief fears the nation is on the brink of collapse, and says “we must welcome 10 million immigrants between now and 2050.”

Japan as we know it is doomed.

Only a revolution can save it.

What kind of revolution?

Japan must become “a nation of immigrants.”

That’s a hard sell in this notoriously closed country. Salesman-in-chief — surprisingly enough — is a retired Justice Ministry bureaucrat named Hidenori Sakanaka, former head of the ministry’s Tokyo Immigration Bureau and current executive director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, a private think tank he founded in 2007.

It’s an unlikely resume for a sower of revolution. Sakanaka clearly sees himself as such. His frequent use of the word “revolution” suggests a clear sense of swimming against the current. Other words he favors — “utopia,” “panacea” — suggest the visionary.

“Japan as we know it” is in trouble on many fronts. The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and the subsequent tsunami and nuclear disasters, struck a nation whose economy had been stagnant for 20 years while politicians fiddled and government floundered. But that’s not Sakanaka’s point. He is focused on demographics. “Japan,” he said in a recent telephone interview, “is on the brink of collapse.” […]

No nation, barring war or plague, has ever shrunk at such a pace, and as for aging, there are no historical precedents of any kind. The nation needs a fountain of youth.

Sakanaka claims to have found one.

Japan, he said, “must welcome 10 million immigrants between now and 2050.” […]

It sounds fantastic, and in fact, Sakanaka acknowledges, would require legislation now lacking — anti-discrimination laws above all.

Full article at

ZakSPA!: “Boo hoo hoo” stories about “Haafu” in Japan, complete with racialized illustration


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Hi Blog. Reader CJ submits the following ZakSPA! page talking about Japan’s genetic internationalization in tabloid style: How “boo hoo hoo” (tohoho) it is to be a “half.”

Reading through the articles (enclosed below), I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, it’s good to have the media acknowledging that there are Japanese kids of diverse roots and experiences out there, with some tone of saying how silly it all is that so many people get treated in stereotypical ways (with a “roundtable of halfs” at the end giving their own views on the situation). On the other hand, the level of discourse gets pretty low (“some foreigner talked to me in Narita Airport in English and it was so frightening I felt like crying”), and an opportunity to actually address a serious issue of how Japan has changed is wasted on parts laughing, parts crybabying, parts confirmation that treating people as “different” because they look “different” is a natural, if not inevitable, part of life in Japan. I’ll let Readers read for themselves and decide whether this important topic is being broached properly.

Definitely not cool, however, is the topic page with the prototypical illustration of a “half”:

We have not only some phenotypical “othering” going on here, but also the trope of “being foreign means you can’t use chopsticks”. One would think that most multiethnic Japanese (not to mention anyone regardless of nationality — it’s a skill) would have few problems with that. But it’s supposed to be funny, in a “microaggressive” sort of way. Har har. Arudou Debito



★[一般人ハーフ]のトホホな日常 ZAK X SPA! 2012.10.09







「『ハーフなのに背が低いよね』ってよく言われます。ベッキーだって158cmで、 私と一緒。背の低い白人ハーフもいることを知ってほしい(笑)」(ロシアとのハーフ女性)



「学生の頃はよく『金髪紹介しろよ』『妹いないの?』『姉さんいないの?』とか言われました(笑)」(ハンガリーとのハーフ男性)って、妹や姉がいたら何する気だ!?さらに「お母さんはキレイか?」とも聞かれたそうだが、いったい何を期待してるのやら。 ハーフにエロな妄想を抱く日本人は男女を問わないようで、「ガイジン顔(白人系)だからか、『エッチ好きなんでしょ』と言う人も。ルーマニアハーフの友達は『このおしり、本物?』と女性に触られたとか」(ドイツとのハーフ女性)とは、同性でもセクハラの域。


































































































■司会 サンドラ・ヘフェリンさん ドイツ育ちの日独ハーフ。日本在住歴15年。著書『浪費が止まるドイツ節約生活の楽しみ』(光文社)、『ハーフが美人なんて妄想ですから!!』(中公新書ラクレ)ほか。HP「ハーフを考えよう」

The first version of my Oct 2012 JT JUST BE CAUSE column (rejected for publication) blogged for your comments, on “sanctioned reality”: Do you “get” it?


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Hi Blog. Before I wrote my monthly Japan Times column on the Senkakus/Takeshima Disputes published on Oct 2 (see it here), I wrote a completely different column that approached the issue from the back door:  How Japan’s enormous focus on “genuine” and “legitimate” leads  to diversity getting subsumed.  And when it leads to diversity in opinion being subsumed, you get a society that is particularly susceptible to top-down control of not only the dominant social discourse, but also the very perception of reality within a society. And that leads us to crazy ideas such as a few far offshore rocks being worth all this fuss.

Heavy stuff. Unfortunately, the people who approve columns at The Japan Times didn’t “get” it, even after two major rewrites and sixteen drafts. (Actually, in all fairness it wasn’t only them — two other friends of mine didn’t “get” it either. But two of my friends in academia did. And we suspect that it was just too “Ivory Tower” for a journalistic audience.) So eight hours before deadline, I rewrote the damn thing entirely, and what you saw published is the result.

But The Japan Times suggested that I blog it and see what others think. So here it is: The column on the Senkakus/Takeshima Disputes that I wanted to run. I think there are plenty of ideas in there that are still worth salvaging. But let me ask you, Readers: Do you “get” it? Arudou Debito


By ARUDOU, Debito
JUST BE CAUSE Column 56 for the Japan Times Community Page
To be published October 2, 2012
DRAFT SIXTEEN – version submitted for edits and rejected for publication

I recently attended an interesting talk. It discussed Japan’s cultural conceit with the “real,” “genuine,” and “legitimate” as governed by the kanji “hon.” For example, genuine articles are “honmono,” the home of a famous product “honke”, one’s genuine feelings, intentions and character include “honki”, “honne,” “honshō” and “hongoshi,” you get the idea.

That made me think: What makes something legitimately “genuine” or “real” in Japan? Public acknowledgment of authenticity, of course. Certification could be an official government document, strong media attention, or even positive word of mouth.

For example, an artist or writer instantly becomes worthy of attention and accolade after becoming a “Living National Treasure” or an Akutagawa Prize winner. (Remember, this is how future Tokyo Governor Ishihara got his start.)

Of course, by definition one needs public support to become popular, and popularity begets more recognition as celebrity.

But Japan takes the “popularity = recognition” concept one step further, to “popularity = more trustworthy.” Unrecognized things tend to be seen as less legitimate in terms of quality or as a source of information.

For example, a restaurant without a write-up in the local tour guidebook can’t be any good. If something’s apparently unpopular, there must be something wrong with it. This is why tourist traps overseas pay big bucks to be featured in the Japanese “Hato Bus” media circuit.

So what is this column’s epiphany? If popularity means something is more “real” and “legitimate,” sole individuals and their opinions will have less influence over reality. This has a profound effect on Japan’s democracy. Seriously.

Start with an everyday interaction: Remember when you asked a group their opinion (particularly in classrooms). What’s the first thing most respondents do? Turn to their neighbors for affirmation.

Few are brave enough to immediately offer their “own opinion” because it might “not be commonly acceptable” (tsūyō shinai). There has to be a “consensus” before anyone declares anything definitive.

One exception, of course, is an opinion about Japanese behavior or culture. Ever notice how answers like, “because we’re an island nation” or “we have a long history of being a closed society” are immediate and standardized? Because they are the “consensus responses” – commonly-held, thus legitimate. This is one reason why Japanese society is so susceptible to talking in stereotypes.

Point is, people here have to “read the air” (kūki o yomu) first to determine reality, which takes time, energy, and guesswork to concoct. Moreover, people who buck the trend with an unpopular opinion merely look like troublemakers. This tedious dynamic forces people to default into silence.

The exception to the silent default is when someone has enough power in the group to be a sempai. Or a bully. Both will if necessary browbeat people into their mode of thinking.

Thus, reality depends on the dominant group hierarchy maintaining the dominant discourse.

One problem with a “certified reality for mass consumption” is that minority views are unacceptable. By definition, if a majority does not support a minority view, then tsūyō shinai. After all, if enough people don’t say or do it, it’s not “The Real Japan.” This majoritarianism acts as a natural brake on Japan’s diversity.

But the bigger problem is the brake on dissent.

If people are more likely to “take seriously” a fact or opinion (and, due to a lack of training in critical thinking, people often have trouble telling the difference) just because they saw that fact or opinion on TV or in a newspaper, then people who control media outlets can create “consensus” by “changing the air.”

This means that Japanese society, whose most trusted and ubiquitous media outlet is government-run, becomes more easily manipulated by officialdom.

Of course, the media manufactures public consensus in all societies. But in Japan’s case, a hierarchical social dynamic enforced at all levels of society makes people particularly susceptible to top-down decision making.

This can be taken too far. We’ve witnessed a decade of “rampant foreign crime” grounded in police media campaigns instead of careful statistical analysis (Zeit Gist Oct. 7, 2003).

But now consider the current claims that a few faraway “islands” are sufficient reason to hate the local ethnic shopkeeper. Volume has shouted down reason.

Now add one more thing to the mix: “koe.” In Japan, disembodied voices are often taken as legitimately as official voices. That’s how Japan’s media justifies rumor through anonymous sources, and how officials justify public policy by saying “koe ga atta” (there has been talk of…). This is further amplified by Japan’s anonymous Internet culture, a bullying and outrage industry in its own right (JBC Feb. 3, 2009).

Eventually any bubble of commonly-held lies and distortions will pop. But when it pops in Japan, there is little denouement. Rarely are the brave individuals who initially offered dissent commended. Most dissenters realize it’s too mendōkusai (bothersome) to pipe up and so in future just pipe down.

In sum, this social dynamic helps the ruling elite keep control of the status quo. And it’s one reason why conservatives have spent their lives dismantling liberalized education (yutori kyōiku) – for heaven forbid that Leftist teachers ever indulge in critical thinking or encourage students to question authority!

There are consequences: Every now and then Japan’s debate arenas fall into an echo-chamber “reality trap,” where circular logic based on bad social science becomes mutually-reinforcing. We’ve seen the logical excesses in public outrages about, say, human rights, gender equality, foreign suffrage, and now Japanese territorial integrity with the Senkakus and Takeshima.

Once mired in this “reality trap,” the most effective way to adjust the prevailing “reality” (aside from total defeat in a war) is by appealing to Japan’s legitimacy overseas.

Since the Meiji Era, Japan has always wanted be taken seriously by the club of powerful countries. Due to the enormous cultural value placed upon hierarchy, Japan has aspired to join the club in a superior, respected position.

Yet most people know Japan as the “fragile superpower,” and Japan’s ruling elites know well that there is much to lose by creating trouble: Not only in terms of hard-won (and paid for) international esteem, but also economic resources if bullies and zealots irritate the neighbors.

Bully celebrities and zealots have gained much ground these past decades, legitimizing jingoistic interpretations of history in mainstream media. But I think the browbeaten public is betting that reason will soon prevail amongst ruling elites.

Why? Because Japan never wants to be seen as the aggressor in any conflict, or the bad guy in any situation.

Consider the dominant discourse in postwar Japan: We didn’t engage in military conquest during WWII – a rapacious military leadership inflicted great suffering on all Japanese. Then we were subjected to horrific atomic bombings. After that, we had decades of miraculous prosperity generated from our own hard work. But then things slowed down even though we did our best. It’s not our fault: Even our current mess was caused by force majeure – our volcanic archipelago, against which we stoically persevere. We are all victims.

What about dissenting opinions to this discourse, including the public’s complicity in rooting out prewar Leftists, the wartime responsibility of the Showa Emperor, the granting of favorable terms of trade for reconstruction, and generations of government-industrial corruption through unaccountable bureaucratic rule? All drowned out under Japan’s majoritarianism, delegitimizing unpopular opinions in favor of perpetual victimhood.

But not this time. It’s pretty difficult to justify Japan’s victim status with the Senkakus and Takeshima. The rocks are just an official distraction from the irradiating food chain and accelerating economic tailspin.

Back to the concepts of “genuine” and “legitimate.” What good is this “islands” dispute if the other rich countries, looking increasingly to China as Asia’s leader, won’t see Japan as a “genuine” victim with a “legitimate” grievance?

Sooner or later the ruling elites, perpetually looking over their shoulder at world opinion, will tell the jingoists to tone it down — for business’ sake. It’s the effect of gaiatsu, or outside pressure.

Gaiatsu is basically the only way that Japan, once it gets into these ideological bully-pulpit spirals, will be calmed down. Because Japan’s general public, structurally defanged by a culture of being unable to say or think anything is “real” or “legitimate” without certified permission, cannot stop itself when domestic bullies get too powerful. It needs somebody else to put the jingoism genie back in the bottle.

Outside world, it’s nigh time to do it again.
1396 WORDS

Discussion: JDG, Harumi Befu et al. on the end of Japan’s internationalization and swing towards remilitarization


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Hi Blog.  There’s a case that can be made nowadays that Japan is not only in decline, it’s falling back on jingoism (beyond the standard nihonjinron and historical revisionism) to support the image of a Japan that was once better when it had fewer foreigners (or none, which was historically never the case).  As my current research (more on this in future) has sought to demonstrate, Japan’s (Postwar, not Prewar, cf. Oguma Eiji) national narrative of “monoculturalism, monoethnicity, and homogeneity” has sponsored an ideological ethnic cleansing of Japan, thanks in part to revolving-door visa regimes and all manner of incentives to make sure that few “visibly foreign” foreigners stay here forever (hence the prioritizing of the Nikkei) for they agitate for more rights as generational residents (consider the visas that can be cancelled or phased out pretty much at government whim; we’ve seen it before with, for example, the Iranians in the late 1990s).  And if you ever thought “the next generation of younger Japanese will be more liberal”, we now have Osaka Gov Hashimoro Touru (younger than I) also supporting historical revisionism (see below) and forming the “Japan Restoration Party” (the poignantly and ominously named Nihon Ishin no Kai) on September 12, 2012.  With the recent saber-rattling (which nation-states indulge in periodically to draw public attention away from larger social problems, in Japan’s case the issues of nuclear power and the irradiating food chain) and the overblown flaps over the Takeshima/Tokdo and Senkaku/Diaoyu ocean specks, we have an emerging vision of Japan as a remilitarized power in Asia, courtesy of Reader JDG.  I thought we’d have a discussion about that here.  Take a look through the resource materials below and consider whether or not you share the apprehension that I (and some major academics overseas, including Ted Bestor and Harumi Befu, at the very bottom) have about Japan’s future.  Arudou Debito


August 23, 2012
Hello Debito, I hope that you are well, and enjoying your sumer break.  I was wondering if I might suggest a JBC topic for you?

The Economist link I sent to you before, combined with the earlier war-crimes denial by the mayor of Nagoya, the ever-irritating blinky [Ishihara Shintaro], and now this:

The Japan Times Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012
No evidence sex slaves were taken by military: Hashimoto
By ERIC JOHNSTON Staff writer (excerpt)
OSAKA — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said there was no evidence that the Imperial Japanese Army forced Korean women and girls into sexual servitude at wartime military brothels.

In response to a question Tuesday about South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s visit to the disputed Takeshima islets, which are called Dokdo in South Korea, which controls them, Hashimoto touched on Lee’s recent demands for Japan to apologize to the forced sex workers — now often described as “sex slaves” by the media — who were euphemistically called “comfort women” by the Japanese.

“There is no evidence that people called comfort women were taken away by violence or threat by the (Japanese) military,” Hashimoto said. “If there is such evidence, South Korea should provide it.”…

In August 1993, after more than 1½ years of government research into the issue, then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a statement saying the Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of “comfort stations” and the transfer of comfort women.

“The government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments,” the statement said.

“It is deeply regrettable that the politician (Hashimoto) made remarks that run counter to the official position of the Japanese government,” said a South Korean government spokesman in an email to The Japan Times. “Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono issued a statement acknowledging the forcible recruitment of the so-called comfort women, sexual slavery victims drafted for the Japanese Imperial Army. As such, we believe the Japanese government has already acknowledged the forced nature of the recruitment of comfort women.”
Full article at

Hashimoto denying J-war crimes is giving me massive pause for thought about the future of Japan. J-politicians have done this since the reverse course, but the fact of Hashimoto doing it proves that even the ‘next’ generation of J-politicians can’t stop the denial, and abandon Imperial era ideology.

Why does this bother me (beyond the obvious)?

Power is (as I am sure you know) based on three ‘legs’ in international relations terms. The first is political power (you can influence countries because they agree with your policies). Post-war Japan has never had any clout in this area. The second form is economic power (you can influence other countries with cash incentives). Until now Japan has been quite adept at quelling ruffled neighbors feathers with large amounts of ODA. But now China and Korea are ‘catching up’ economically, and Japan is falling behind, so this economic power is seen to be escaping from Japan’s grasp.

The third type of power in international relations is military power (when you can’t convince or buy concordance, smack them in the face). Recent comments by J-politicians named above, the continued visits to Yasukuni by the insensitively flippantly named ‘Let’s Visit Yasukuni!’ group of Diet members, the recent changing of the constitution to ‘ensure Japan’s nuclear safety’ (a move that specifically does not exclude the development of nuclear weapons- ‘Self Defense Force’ type word games), are causing me and others, great apprehension about Japan’s future.

Whilst I have no doubt that Japan will not embark on a series of expansionist wars, it seems to me that increasing Japanese insecurity with economic stagnation (read as: ‘Economic failure=losing the post-war peace’), is forcing J-politicians to fall back increasing on the verbosity of the third leg of international relations power. The purpose of this verbosity is to garner domestic support rather than exert any real international influence, and in this sense, it is of great concern for NJ residents in Japan.

Whilst I hope sincerely that a significant majority of the Japanese public would resist such endorsement of Imperial-era Japanese militarism, I am not encouraged. Given that it is unrealistic to suppose that Japan could successfully take military action against it’s powerful neighbors free from the risk of retaliation, my fear is that (as in 1930’s Germany), we are seeing a ‘renaissance’ of Japanese nationalistic ideology, rather than it’s much prolonged demise. An ideology that can only find a vent for it’s frustration on the NJ living in Japan.

The implications of this for NJ is that Japan will certainly not become more open and less discriminatory, but rather the drastic opposite.

At present, it’s all rather in the balance, but the fact that 67 years after the end of WWII the Mayors of Japan’s first, second, and third cities can still deny war crimes whilst calling for a militarily ‘stronger’ Japan should certainly make any NJ think twice about even visiting.

I have had enough, and will be leaving with my family. Japan, I sincerely believe, will get much worse for NJ as the economy fails to right itself. I think that the case can be made that the chance for Japan to become an internationalized country (in the Western sense) passed some 20 years ago, and instead of looking to the future, the Japanese are raging at the passing of glory days gone by.

Sincerely JDG.


September 10, 2012

As a postscript to the mail I sent you before, have you seen this?

The Japan Times, Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2012
Tanigaki out, Ishihara likely in LDP race
Party angling for return to power; Noda kicks off DPJ campaign

Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki gave up his bid Monday to seek re-election in the Sept. 26 LDP leadership race, paving way for his right-hand man, Nobuteru Ishihara, as yet an undeclared candidate, to vie for the helm…

[Current DPJ PM] Noda, 55, vowed to create a nuclear power-free society, without saying when this may be achieved, and pledged 1 percent inflation within a year to overcome deflation.

He also vowed to protect Japanese sovereignty, including over the Senkaku Islands, which Japan controls, and the Takeshima islets, which are held by South Korea. He pledged to pave the way for the return of the Russia-held islands off Hokkaido. Noda also noted the government will buy three of the five Senkaku Islands, which are currently owned by a Saitama businessman.

Full article at

Son of blinky as the next PM, combined with The Economist’s insiders’ take on future LDP policy? Does not bear thinking about for NJ.

I believe that Japan has been stringing the world along all along, just so that we would be happy to buy their cars and VCRs and other crap. In it’s heart Japan has never changed because it doesn’t want to, and now that we aren’t buying enough of their products, they have no reason to pretend to have changed.

I think that the time is coming for a change in strategy. Working from inside to educate the Japanese about the issues is having no real effect, maybe the next phase is just to shove evidence of Japan’s disgraceful behavior into the face of the international community until Japan is shamed into taking action.

After all, what should the headline of the NY Times be on the day that PM Son-of-Blinky shakes hands with the President of the USA?

The Japan Times, Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012
Hashimoto launches party amid workload, universal appeal doubts
By ERIC JOHNSTON Staff writer (excerpt)
OSAKA — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s new national political party, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), was officially launched Wednesday with the aim of fundamentally changing the way the nation is governed…

The event boasted a map of Japan that included not only the four main islands and Okinawa, but also the Japan-controlled Senkaku islets, which are also claimed by China, the Takeshima islets, which are held by South Korea, where they are called Dokdo, and the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that Japan has wanted back since Soviet forces seized them at the end of the war.

Hashimoto’s party platform calls for proactive defense of Japanese sovereignty and territories. It did not specify how it would deal with territory Japan claims but no longer has control over….

There is also concern among Hashimoto’s advisers over how broad, nationally, the new party’s appeal will be. His biggest supporters are socially conservative urban males in their late 20s through late 40s, and media are already dubbing the party a “boy’s club.” Of the 105 local-level politicians in Osaka Ishin no Kai, only nine are women, and there were no female participants in Sunday’s discussion.

Full article at

日本維新の会、結党を宣言 衆院選350人擁立目指す
朝日新聞 2012年9月13日




September 12, 2012 3:45 am
Japan’s not ready to be a reliable ally

The Financial Times (London), Letter to the Editor
From Dr Jean-Pierre Lehmann. Courtesy DH

Sir, Ian Bremmer and David Gordon’s suggestion that “Japan must be the new indispensable ally for the US in Asia” (September 10) is an absolute non-starter; going down that road would be disastrous for the US and for the region.

First, Japan has become more than ever since the end of the second world war, and more than any other major country, an inward looking-nation. There is no Japanese world view. The number of Japanese students in the US has significantly declined, in contrast to the growing numbers from many other Asian countries. Japan scores last but one (North Korea) in TOEFL (tests of English as a foreign language). Since Sadako Ogata served as the UN high commissioner for refugees there has been no prominent Japanese holding an international position. There is no visibility, let alone influence, of Japan at the World Trade Organisation. On this, as in respect to many other issues, no one knows what Japan stands for. At international policy forums, the Japanese, apart from a tiny handful of regulars, tend to be conspicuous by their absence. Japan remains a very closed country to foreigners: there are very, very few foreigners (and especially few non-Japanese Asians) in prominent positions in Japanese companies, Japanese universities, Japanese think-tanks, Japanese non-governmental organisations (of which there are very few internationally inclined), and so on. The picture of Japanese corporate diplomacy they present is a throwback to a vision of the 1980s, which was pretty much a mirage already then.

Second, and far more critical as recent events so sadly demonstrate, Japan, unlike Germany, has still not made peace with its neighbours. Relations are terrible with the Koreans and with China, but they are also bad with many other Asian countries or entities, including Hong Kong and Taiwan. Not only has Japan shown no leadership in Asia, it has been seen to behave in a highly mercantilist fashion and with a stunning lack of conscience of its past atrocities. The Japanese have shown themselves, at best, to be amazingly insensitive.

For the moment, unlike in the 1930s and 1940s, Japan poses no military threat. However, its behaviour vis-à-vis the world in general and its Asian neighbours in particular poses a serious security threat. There can be no peace in the Asia of the 21st century if the peace of the 20th century in Asia has not been restored. By whitewashing the past (as the US did vis-à-vis Japan and Asia in the aftermath of the second world war) and embracing Japan as an indispensable ally in Asia, the US will be seriously exacerbating the already explosive regional condition.

Japan should be encouraged to make peace and open up. Then prospects for a peaceful and prosperous Pacific will be greatly enhanced.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Emeritus Professor at IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland



From: “Bestor, Theodore” XXXXXXX@WJH.HARVARD.EDU
Date: September 3, 2012 6:10:57 PM
Subject: FW: China & Korea relations with Japan 中国〜日本/韓国〜日本
Reply-To: East Asia Anthropologists’ discussion

Dear Colleagues,

With Harumi Befu’s permission, I am forwarding his email of earlier today regarding the crises among various Asian nations over nominal control of tiny rocks in the several oceans and seas around East Asia. I entirely agree with his position that nationalist rhetoric is ramping up in very disturbing ways on all sides.

I send this along in the hope (both Harumi’s and my own) that those of us who study and write about East Asian cultures, societies, polities might help create spaces in which to engage in creative and productive dialogue that could contribute to a diffusing of tensions.

Harumi and I agree that the current heated rhetoric over the various specks in dispute are serious threats to regional peace and stability.

Perhaps EASIANTH could be a forum for discussion on this set of issues.

With best wishes, Ted


From: Harumi
Date: Mon, 3 Sep 2012 19:56:30

Subject: China & Korea relations with Jpan 中国〜日本/韓国〜日本

Dear Colleagues in East Asian Studies:
(Apologies for multiple mailing.)

This communication is being sent to my colleagues who might be concerned as I am with the current developments in the border dispute between Korea and Japan and between China and Japan, created by respective governments’ hardened positions. These disputes are unnecessarily escalated by the support of nationalist sentiments of all sides and are further flared by the media.

I hope at least some of you share my view that the current developments are counterproductive to the lasting peace in East Asia and are dangerously degenerating into belligerent diplomacy, and that it is time and it is the duty of us academics making our living by studying this area to undertake a concerted effort to make our voices heard, trusting that our collective wisdom has the power of persuading the public and the governments of the three countries.

Our academic endeavor is an effort in futility if we cannot exert any influence on the larger society in time of crisis.

I have no preconceived agenda, formula, or program of action. You must have your own take and preferred course of action. Some might like to act alone; others might like to underscore the Durkheimian belief that collective action is more than the arithmetic sum of parts. Whatever you wish to do, time is of essence. Dark clouds are gathering fast. I beseech you to act.

Respectfully submitted by your colleague,
Harumi Befu, Stanford University
p.s. My mailing list is woefully inadequate. I hope you will feel encouraged to utilize your own lists of contact.


Diet session ends, Hague Convention on Int’l Child Abductions endorsement bill not passed


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Hi Blog. After much political gridlock (the likes of which have not been seen, since, oh, the LDP was in power and the DPJ controlled the Upper House — not that long ago), the current Diet session is over, and one bill that matters to did not pass: The one endorsing Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention on International Child Abductions. You know — the treaty that just about everyone else in the club of rich developed nations has signed, and the one that stops you at an international border if you’re traveling single with a child, demanding proof that you’re not abducting your child from the other parent. It’s a good idea, since divorce in Japan due to the Koseki Family Registry System results in one parent (regardless of nationality) losing all legal ties to the child, and leads in many (almost all, it’s estimated) cases to the child growing up with no contact whatsoever (since Japan does not allow joint custody) with the noncustodial parent.  It’s even worse for international marriages, and Japan has gotten a lot of pressure from other countries in recent years to sign.  Now unsuccessfully.

Entire movie at

Well, so Japan will remain a haven for child abductions, both domestic and international. But the interesting thing I’m seeing concrete evidence of these days is overseas Japanese taking advantage of this system, banding together to assist each other in abducting their children to Japan, and the Japanese embassies/consulates cooperating with them as they spirit them into Japan.  (I’ll blog about that someday once I receive permission to make that information public.)

But as I have argued before, I’m not sure it really matters if Japan signs the Hague. The GOJ has signed other treaties before (most notably the Convention for Elimination on Racial Discrimination), and refuses to enforce them under domestic laws with criminal penalties (or in Japan’s case regarding the CERD, now signed 17 years ago, refuses to create any laws at all).  In the Hague’s case, the GOJ was looking for ways to caveat themselves out of enforcing it (by creating laws of their own advantageous to Wajin spiriters of children that would trump the HCICA, or finding loopholes, such as claims of DV (that only NJ inflict upon us gentle, mild, weak, peaceful Wajin), that would allow the children to stay in Japan out of fear.)

Or, true to character, we’ll have people claiming that it’s a matter of “Japanese custom” (shuukan) the last resort for any unjustifiable situation (only this time coming from elected Japanese Dietmember Ido Masae who herself abducted her kids):

It’s pretty messy, by design, so visit the Children’s Rights Network Japan Website to try and untangle it.

So I guess the question I’d like to open up for discussion is:

Is it better for a nation-state to be bold-faced about it and just say, “We can’t enforce this treaty due to our culture, so we’re not going to sign it, and if you don’t like it, don’t marry our citizens”? Or, is it better for a nation-state to sign it, not enforce it, and face the (geopolitically mild) pressure of a broken promise? I know which route the GOJ has taken so far. Arudou Debito


Rocky, extended Diet session over; bills, treaties left in lurch
Hague, vote-value, deficit bond measures fail to clear grudge fest
The Japan Times, September 8, 2012
By MASAMI ITO Staff writer
Excerpt, rest at

The extended 229-day Diet session closes with a whimper Saturday, with piles of important bills and treaties left unaddressed and voters left only with an image of lawmakers engaging in political maneuvering for their own goals — particularly those over the contentious sales tax hike and over the next Lower House election.

And now both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party are focused on one thing — the presidential elections for both parties to be held this month to choose the leaders who will guide their parties in that next general election…

During the current Diet session, which started in January, only 66 percent of newly submitted government-sponsored bills cleared both chambers.

Political squabbling took center stage last month when the nonbinding censure motion against Noda was approved by the Upper House, stopping almost all Diet deliberations.

Thus the government also failed to live up to its promise to the international community to pass a bill to endorse the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to prevent estranged parents from spiriting a couple’s children across borders.

Rest at

Tangent: Newsweek column on “rising ugly nationalism towards foreign residents” in China. Hm, how about an eye on Japan?


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Hi Blog.  As a tangent, here’s an article looking at issues of race and ethnicity in China through a veil of vignettes.  A lot of the issues raised can be (and have been) applied to Japan.  Just not as harshly.   I’ve made the point before about how the Western media seems to give Japan a free pass regarding racism as a “friendly” state.  Yet, as per the Newsweek article below, Western media couches racism more as representative of the spectre of Chinese nationalism and bad treatment of expats.  Compare:  When we had the ultimate example of racism in Japan during the Otaru Onsens Case (1999-2005), the overseas press took it up handily, but we also had oodles of apologists rise up en masse to dismiss or defend it.  Including Western toadies like Gregory Clark (see how clumsily Clark took up this USA Today article of March 8, 2000 by Peter Hadfield on racism in Japan back in the day), who defended it as Japanese cultural uniqueness and exceptionalism to “global standards” (said pundit even went so far as to claim “antiforeigner discrimination is a right for Japanese people” — while in the process getting even the exclusionary onsen’s name wrong).  But I digress.

Again, I’m not sure why Japan is so seductive to the Western media (Dower would perhaps claim it’s part of the GOJ’s media savviness, starting with the Imperial duck hunt charm offensive of SCAP that saved the Imperial system (Embracing Defeat, p. 299-301)), while China keeps getting treated as devious.  The only theory I can come up is geopolitics (and the fear that the future of democracy and economic growth will have Chinese uniparty characteristics).  What say you, Readers?  Arudou Debito


China Grapples With Issues of Race and Ethnicity
Jul 30, 2012 Newsweek Magazine
By Duncan Hewitt
Courtesy of the Daily Beast and CD
SUBTITLE:  As China grapples with rising nationalism and an influx of foreign residents, the country’s long and contradictory relationship with outsiders is coming to the fore—and it’s turning ugly.

Beijing’s Sanlitun Village mall is the very image of cosmopolitan, modern China. Its quirky and colorful glass-fronted modern buildings are filled with top international name-brand stores. In its paved plaza, smart young Chinese shoppers rub shoulders with foreign residents and visitors of every age and nationality. Groups of young foreign students mix with smartly dressed professionals and diplomats. It’s a scene that seems to embody the “inclusiveness” that, according to an official slogan on the street nearby, is now part of the “Beijing spirit.”

But there’s a seamier side to the neighborhood too—on the small street just behind the village, several stores have sprung up with signs proclaiming, in English, the words “Sex Shop.” Pictures of attractive young women try to tempt passersby into nearby nightclubs. And over the years, local residents have complained about noise and drunkenness from the area’s bars and clubs, which attract a sizable proportion of foreigners among their clientele.

In recent months, tensions over the unsavory behavior of some of Beijing’s foreign residents have come to the fore. In May there was a furious public reaction after footage was posted online showing the aftermath of an alleged attempted sexual assault on a young Beijing woman by a drunken British man. The pictures showed angry locals beating up the supposed perpetrator. This was soon followed by film of an incident on a train in which a Russian cellist from the Beijing Symphony Orchestra insulted a Chinese passenger who asked him to take his feet off the back of her chair. The cellist eventually made a public apology, but still had to resign his post.

Amid a mood of public anger, at least in online forums, the Beijing police announced a three-month campaign to crack down on “foreigners illegally staying in the capital”—including those who had jobs but no work permit or who had overstayed their visas. They also set up a hotline and encouraged locals to “report such violations,” according to Chinese media. Several other cities, including Shanghai, also stepped up spot-checks on the documents of foreigners, in the most visible campaign of its type since the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

All this caused some anxiety, notably among foreign residents in Beijing. And tension was stirred up further by a post on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, by Yang Rui, host of one of China Central Television’s main English-language programs. The show Yang fronts is called Dialogue, and its stated aim is to promote intercultural understanding. But that appeared to be the last thing on Yang’s mind when he tweeted, in response to the two incidents, that China should kick out “foreign trash.” He also warned of foreign “spies” shacking up with Chinese women as a cover while they tried to steal state secrets, and he gloated over the expulsion from China in May of Melissa Chan, the Beijing correspondent for Al Jazeera TV’s English channel.

Yang later sought to cool the controversy, emphasizing that he thought there were many good foreigners in China, and arguing that he had not called Chan a bitch, as had been widely reported—but rather, in his own translation, a “shrew.” And he received some criticism online, as well as from China’s official English-language newspaper, Global Times, which said his comments were “too harsh” and had “caused misunderstanding,” though it rejected calls for him to be sacked.

Yet while the paper sought to reassure readers that what it described as “the anti-foreigner campaigns seen in some Western countries will not be staged in China,” a column in another official paper, China Daily, put Yang’s comments in the context of the Opium Wars and past foreign humiliation of China. And with the nation in the midst of a sensitive political transition and anxieties about social stability growing, some observers have suggested that a more nationalistic mood is quite likely over the coming months. Chan’s expulsion (the first of a foreign journalist in more than a decade) and recent threats to other foreign journalists that their visas might be canceled if they report on sensitive subjects were seen as further evidence of a changing mood.

Not everyone thinks that China is witnessing an upsurge of xenophobia: Daniel Bell, a specialist in Chinese philosophy and values at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, says Yang’s “nationalistic” remarks are “unrepresentative” of a society that has, he says, historically welcomed outsiders who accept its values—indeed, he notes, even some of the country’s more hawkish commentators have argued that China’s current economic strength provides a prime opportunity to “compete with the U.S. to hire foreign talent,” citing the example of China’s “golden age” in the Tang dynasty when foreigners are said to have served in official posts.

Hu Xingdou, an outspoken social critic and professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, believes that nationalism has risen in China in recent years, partly in step with the nation’s growing economic strength. Consequently, he says, “if foreigners are seen to be behaving inappropriately, this may prompt some extreme comments.” But he suggests that overall, Chinese people are welcoming to outsiders—the country’s problem, he suggests, is not so much one of “racial prejudice,” but rather of putting too much emphasis on “differentiating people by race.” Since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, he notes, it has made a point of identifying people by their ethnicity—the identity cards carried by all Chinese citizens specify which of the country’s ethnic groups they belong to. In these circumstances, he say, “it’s more likely that people who don’t have so much experience of the world will see an outsider and say, ‘Oh, there’s a foreigner,’ or ‘There’s a black person.’?”

That the use of such phrases is seen as acceptable in China was highlighted by the fact that even when TV host Yang tried to play down the controversy over his remarks, he appeared quite happy to go on record as calling Chan a “foreign shrew” and did not seek to distance himself from the phrase “foreign trash”—words that in many societies would be considered highly inflammatory.

It’s evidence of what many of China’s foreign residents and visitors know well—that it’s not uncommon to be defined, even to one’s face, by one’s ethnicity: “When I’m taking my child for a walk in the lanes near our house in Beijing, people will often point and say, look, a laowai—a foreigner,” says Bell. It is, he suggests, something one gets used to, and he adds that the best solution is often to make a joke of the situation: “Sometimes I just turn round and look behind me, as if to see where they’re pointing,” he adds, “and then everyone starts laughing.”

Cultural commentator Hung Huang, a prominent writer and editor who lived for many years in the U.S., says that for most Chinese people, the use of phrases such as laowai “carries no intention of discrimination.” China, she says, “is more claustrophobic than xenophobic—many people are still not used to foreigners and just feel awkward around them.” Still, she acknowledges that such comments highlight the fact that China has never had a public debate on how to deal with issues of race and ethnicity. “People are not so aware of ideas like political correctness. It’s not like in the U.S.,” she says. “And in fact they tend to make comments about all aspects of people’s appearance—you’re so fat, you’re not pretty—there are few taboos.”

As a result, it’s not uncommon, for example, to hear commentators on Shanghai television’s coverage of European soccer matches pointing out that a certain player is “black.” Times may have moved on from the late 1980s, when students at a university in Nanjing besieged a group of African students in their dormitory, following tensions over their relationships with local women. But a few years ago, when a Shanghai TV reality show featured a young Chinese woman whose father was black, the girl and her mother received a significant amount of abuse online.

According to Professor Hu, it’s evidence that there is still some lingering “folk prejudice towards black people” in Chinese society. Yiyi Lu, a Beijing-based sociologist, argues, however, that “Chinese people are not so much racist as snobbish—they tend to think of Africans, for example, as coming from poor countries.” Contact with wealthier Africans or African-Americans, she believes, will gradually break down such attitudes.

But not everyone is convinced. Frank Dikötter, Chair Professor of Humanities at Hong Kong University and a specialist in Chinese attitudes to race, argues that China remains “permeated with racial stereotypes—there’s an obsession with skin color and a deep-rooted fixation with blackness,” he said, adding, “When I was a kid, if I stared at someone, I got a slap. In China, staring at foreigners is allowed, sometimes even encouraged.” It is, he suggests, “completely unacceptable in the 21st century—and I’m tired of the double standards people use in their attempts to find excuses for such attitudes in China.”

Indeed, Dikötter argues that Chinese government policy has enshrined the notion of foreigners being separate since its earliest days: in the first decades of communism, he notes, foreigners were either denounced as capitalists, or, if considered friendly and therefore permitted to visit China, they were treated “as a special case and were given guides or mentors when they visited the country—so the whole idea of foreigners was loaded with all sorts of meaning.”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that foreigners have often been seen in China not just as individuals, but also as representatives of their countries—or, indeed, of the entire outside world. Some have argued that this applies particularly if they have done something bad—not least because of the emphasis on the crimes visited upon China by foreigners during and after the Opium Wars of the 19th century, which have formed a major part of China’s “patriotic education” curriculum over the past two decades. Thus the alleged British assailant in Beijing and the Russian cellist on the train were widely depicted not just as individuals doing something wrong, but as symbols of how bad foreigners could be and the threat they could pose.

But sociologist Yiyi says such attitudes work the other way, too—she notes that Chinese media recently also played up incidents where foreigners had rescued Chinese citizens from drowning and from attacks. “Suddenly the media were saying that foreigners were more public-spirited than Chinese people,” she says. “We’re still just too quick to generalize,” she adds, pointing out that “Chinese society as a whole remains quite isolated—we’re just not cosmopolitan enough to know how to interact with foreigners.”

It’s an apparently contradictory attitude summed up in the phrase “beautiful imperialist,” famously used by American academic David Shambaugh to describe China’s view of the U.S. And Hung, the cultural commentator, feels that the radical shifts in official perceptions of foreigners over the past half century have left a legacy of both confusion and some bitterness among the Chinese public. After denouncing them in the Cultural Revolution, she says, China suddenly “elevated foreigners to special-guest status” when economic reforms got underway in the 1980s: “We had hotels and shops that were only open to foreigners back then,” she recalls, “so for a long time Chinese people were artificially made to feel second class.”

As a result, she suggests, there’s still a tendency to treat foreigners as VIPs: if a foreigner commits a traffic violation, for example, she says, “the police are less likely to do anything about it—they think it’s too much trouble.” Yet now, in a nation that has grown wealthier, many people feel they deserve equal status to foreigners, she believes. “So people are very sensitive about this.” Add to this the fact that China’s growing wealth gap has given many ordinary people “a sense of resentment towards all privileged classes,” and the continuing perception that most foreigners in China are well off, and it’s hardly surprising that people have reacted angrily to the recent incidents of foreigners behaving badly, she argues. “The forced hospitality we had to show to foreigners in the past has actually been detrimental to our relations with them,” she says.

The number of foreigners in China is still relatively low, at about 1 million, but they are becoming more common in most of the country’s major cities—and farther afield, too. As numbers grow, and China’s economy attracts more and more such people, its citizens may have to get used to dealing with foreigners of all kinds—not just the “beautiful” and respected VIPs of past decades, but the arrogant or even downright criminal. It’s clearly still a steep learning curve for both sides—with foreigners’ understanding of China’s historical sensitivities often under scrutiny and Chinese attitudes toward race facing new challenges. China does not recognize dual nationality, and many people regard foreign nationals of Chinese ethnicity as basically still “Chinese.” So how will the country cope with the growing number of mixed children being born? In Shanghai alone, there are currently around 27,000 Chinese citizens married to foreign spouses, yet the offspring of such marriages are still referred to by many people as being “mixed blood” (though this also now appears to be seen as increasingly desirable by some—it’s not uncommon to hear people commenting that such children are “more intelligent” or “more beautiful”).

As China’s interaction with the outside world grows, there’s clearly going to be a lot to get used to. Some believe the outlook remains optimistic, however—Professor Hu says relations between Chinese people and foreigners “should get better … We need to look at this with an inclusive attitude,” he adds, “but I think society will become more mature and more welcoming.” Still, he says, an antiracism law would help, too. Or perhaps the authorities could simply start by telling Yang, as the host of one of China’s multibillion-dollar attempts to improve the nation’s global image by expanding its English-language media internationally, that he might try to avoid using phrases such as “foreign trash” in the future.

Duncan Hewitt, a former BBC China correspondent, writes for Newsweek and other publications from Shanghai. His book China: Getting Rich First: A Modern Social History (published in the U.K. as Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China) focuses on social change in the country and its impact on ordinary people’s lives.


Japan Times LIFELINES guest columnist Dr Berger on “Dealing with isolation and exclusion in Japan”. Seems grounded in stereotypes.


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Hi Blog. Reader Giantpanda sent the following as a blog comment, but let me open it up for discussion as a post of its own:

The Lifelines column in the Japan Times today features what could be an extremely interesting question – NJ dealing with isolation and exclusion in Japan. However, the writer [psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Berger of the Meguro Counseling Center] seems to place all the blame on NJ who end up developing depression or other psychological problems as a result of social exclusion on the NJ themselves. General message seems to be: Can’t cope? It’s not any fault of Japanese society. You are just nuts, or not ‘resilient’ enough. Can’t make friends? Hang in there for a few more years and “keep your expectations in check”. Oh, and get yourself a girlfriend. Those are much easier to come by than Japanese friends.

Did anyone else get the sense this was patronising to the extreme, and blames the victims for their own predicament?

COMMENT FROM DEBITO:  I’m afraid I did a bit. There seemed to be too much generalization of interaction based upon stereotypes of Japanese people (and the presumption that the inmates have not in fact taken over the asylum). I think the good Doctor has read too much Reischauer or Jack Seward (he lost me when he brought in the “saving face” cultural chestnut).  I know, I’ve commented at length before on friendships in Japan, but I hope I came off as a bit more sophisticated than Dr. Berger’s analysis.

What do others think?  I’m genuinely curious.  Opening this up for Discussion (meaning I moderate more loosely, remember), Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dealing with isolation and exclusion in Japan

Q: As mental health professionals dealing chiefly with native English-speakers in Tokyo, do you often have to deal with people who feel isolated and excluded in Japan, e.g. long-termers who have failed to “fit in” here, as in they lack Japanese friends, despite knowing the language, culture and so on?

A: Anyone who has been in Japan for a while has met other foreigners who have been in the country a long time. Some of these people do well socially and psychologically over the years and some do not. Some of these individuals may indeed come to our clinic, and while the people we see usually have either had a depression from before coming to Japan or experienced a worsening of their depression while here, there are certainly others who have a general social isolation but are not necessarily depressed. What might separate those who do well from those that do not?

First, we can look at psychiatric illnesses like anxiety or depression. Those with such conditions often have an inability to enjoy things, low energy and concentration, and their sleep and appetite may be disturbed. These problems often run in families. While social success may help mitigate them, they may still affect anyone regardless of their length of stay in Japan, number of friends, or other aspects of social success. People with these conditions require some kind of intensive psychiatric intervention.

Among those who do not have a specific mental illness, some seem to do well generally being alone, while others seem desperate to connect with people. This may relate to attachment needs that everyone has and that are probably innate. We have all seen some toddlers who are happy to explore their environment and others who cry whenever they are separated from their mother. Attachment needs do not completely disappear in adults.

Getting back to being a foreigner in Japan, those people with high attachment needs who see that Japanese readily group together and seem to make close friendships with each other may be disappointed if they then have an expectation that they will also easily form these kinds of social circles, particularly if they do not first understand Japanese social structure and modify their interactions and expectations accordingly. This is because Japanese social structure works on a group-affiliation basis where formality, saving face and etiquette are valued highly, especially with guests. People who grew up together, who went to the same school or entered a corporation at the same time, or who have family ties, etc., have a basis to affiliate easily.

It is extremely difficult for a non-Japanese to fit into this social structure as few non-Japanese have these close affiliations and, by definition, none are in the superset group of being Japanese. It is very common to hear how well someone was treated at a welcome party or on a short trip to Japan and then later hear that they felt excluded. This is because they confused politeness and formality with deep warmth. Deep warmth and close friendship will require the person to engage with their Japanese circles for a long time.

Rest at

Baye McNeil’s “Loco in Yokohama” blog brings up uncomfortable truths in the debate on racism in Japan


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Hi Blog.  Since the debate on “Microaggressions” and racialized treatment of people in Japan went into full swing over the past month, one other blog has been offering a good deal of insight as to how people are ultracentrifuged for special treatment in Japan by race, and how those people being ultracentrifuged likewise treat each other in a racialized manner.  Such are the habits fostered by this dread social disease called racism, and in Japan’s case it’s good to have a different take on it at last.

Baye McNeil, author of the new book “HI, MY NAME IS LOCO AND I AM A RACIST“, has a dynamic blog called “Loco in Yokohama” I think you ought to check out.  He writes about racism in Japan with a fresh brazenness that I think many Readers might find interesting.  His 4-part (so far) series entitled, “Why do Gaijin Clash Over the Issue of Racism in Japan” is what drew me in.

Links and quick summaries of those four parts below, and you should read the posts in order.  If you’re at all interested in how you (and your multiethnic children) are being slotted in the subordinated “gaijin” category in Japan not only by Japanese, but by other NJ, you will want to read these and have a think.

Also interesting is our respective positions in the blogosphere.  As Baye himself points out, I’m White, and he’s Black (or whatever label you want to use:  Caucasian/African-American etc.), and how we get treated by NJ as vehicles of the debate is a facet little covered in discussion (case in point:  the “Tepido” Stalkers are friendly towards him, natch — ‘cos they don’t to be branded as “racists”).  So let’s read some Baye and cue up on that issue before we get into my next Japan Times Just Be Cause Column (out June 5), where I will offer “Microaggressions Part Two”.  Enjoy.  Arudou Debito


Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part One (May 13, 2012)
(where Baye excerpts from his book discussing his motivations for writing about the topic of racism in Japan, since many people seek to dismiss it as figments of the imagination; he also divulges his connection with me (where he attended a speech of mine a writers’ conference) before writing his book, and compares it to his connection afterwards with a full-of-praise Tepido “Hikosaemon”)

Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part Two: Trust Issues (May 15, 2012)
(where Baye makes it clear what sort of debates on racism he’s dealt with on the Loco blog before, his take on “Microaggressions”, and why he doesn’t want to be categorized as “The Black Debito”)

Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part Three: The Dark Side of “When in Rome…” (May 19, 2012)
(his most contentious entry so far, where he gets into the politics of being a denier of racism in Japan, and how apologism leads to reification and replication of that racism amongst NJ themselves)

Why Do Gaijin Clash Over The Issue Of Racism In Japan? Part Four — I can’t make this shit up! (May 27, 2012)
(where Baye argues that fighting the status quo is where people show their true colors — in this case, how Whites aren’t allowed to play the “race card” like Blacks can (e.g., witness the outrage towards Debito for daring to suggest McDonald’s “Mr. James” was racism — even though it was a prime opportunity for Whites “to see the world, however minutely, through the eyes of a marginalized race”))


Discussion: Aly Rustom on “Ways to fix Japan”


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Hi Blog. Reader Aly Rustom has taken the trouble to write this up for critique and debate.  I think it deserves some.  Putting this up with the reminder that this is under the “Discussions” category (where I moderate more loosely), and that I don’t necessarily agree with all or even any of it.  Have a think.  Arudou Debito


March 8, 2012
Ways to fix Japan
By Aly Rustom


It has taken me over a year to write this piece. I have put my heart and soul into making this reading as concise as possible. This is a small essay on the problems of Japan, and my personal opinion on how to fix them.

These days, Japan is suffering from a lot of socioeconomic problems. Whenever I talk to people and ask how can we fix them, no one ever has an answer. Everyone just folds their arms, tilts their head and says “Muzukashii” (Its difficult) Well, I do have a few solutions.
I have written a small piece here on how to solve these problems. I have written this as a foreigner who has lived in Japan for over ten years and has the unique perspective of looking at things from both the inside and the outside.

It is not my intention to try to tell Japan or it’s people what to do. Nor do I have any delusions of grandeur that the Japanese will all of a sudden sit up and take notice of what I have to say. I am only writing this to show that there are concrete steps that can be taken to heal Japan, and that all it takes is a little bit of thinking outside the box to make this happen. I am also hoping that this small piece will at least start up some degree of discourse which will eventually lead to some level of action sometime in the future. I also felt the need to vent, as I see a beautiful country being destroyed since no one wants to take the helm and do what needs to be done.

There are those who will attempt to paint me as a Japan basher. Let me respond to this accusation early:

1. I am married to a Japanese and have lived here for over a decade. Most of my friends are Japanese, and I do speak as well as read and write the language.

2. Criticism is not bad unless it simply takes the form of negative complaining. Constructive criticism is good and it shows that I care enough to write out my thoughts and observations that I have accumulated for over a decade and am willing to share them with everyone.

So without further ado, let’s start:


A. Sales Tax, Health Insurance and Public Education

While everyone doesn’t want to pay higher taxes and the debate about raising the sales tax is a sensitive issue, there would be an easier way to sell the idea. Instead of raising sales tax from 5 to 10% and upsetting everyone, why not raise it to 20% with the promise that health care and education becomes completely free. People would be far less apt to complain if their trips to the doctor and their children’s education becomes free and guaranteed. This will also help the Japanese government compete with the private health insurance companies and most people probably will opt for the public option since they are already paying the taxes for it. Also this will ensure that foreigners will be in the system as well since it is included from the very beginning in our taxes. Also, our public schools have problems with parents who don’t pay for the school lunches or uniforms which forces the schools to shoulder the cost. Raise the taxes and include all these costs into the inescapable tax system, and these problems will be solved.

B. City and Ward Taxes

First, the ward and city taxes should be calculated and taken out from people’s salaries along with the income tax. Second , Increase ward and city taxes on residents and companies based in Tokyo and other large cities, while offering companies and residents tax breaks for moving outside of the cities. Cities like Tokyo and Osaka should have extremely high living taxes in order to encourage more migration to the countryside, and companies should also have to pay hefty taxes for having offices and factories in these major cities.

Taxes should be significantly lower taxes for relocating outside the big cities, and residents and companies alike should be given big tax breaks and benefits for relocating to towns (machi) instead of small cities (shi). The government can invigorate these towns by having more funds be allocated to building train stations and train lines in towns without them and not to fixing roads that don’t need fixing. If the government invests in better and more convenient transportation, companies might be more apt to relocate outside the major cities and spread the population around a bit more, breathing some life in these dying costal towns.

C. Pachinko and Hostess club taxes

The government should more heavily tax the pachinko parlors. Their profit margin is huge, and much of it is sent to North Korea as many of the owners are North Korean. It would be extremely prudent to propose a hefty tax on all parlors, say about 20-25% of all their profits. Let us not forget that recently, tax authorities have stated that about 40 corporate groups running pachinko parlors across Japan have not declared over ¥100 billion in total taxable income with back taxes amounting to several billion yen. Why is this happening? Why doesn’t the government apply more scrutiny to these establishments and not only force them to pay their taxes, but also raise their tax rate?

The hostess clubs are another type of establishment that should also be taxed heavily. That money can then also be used to fund more government social programs that would benefit the public instead of encouraging more vice.

D. Fast Food Tax

Another business sector that should be taxed is the fast food industry. The government needs to tax fast food restaurants more. Fast food should not be this cheap. The problem is that it is encouraging young as well as older people to eat more unhealthy food. As the economy stagnates more and more people flock to cheaper venues. Unfortunately most of the cheapest venues are fast food restaurants which serve unhealthy food. They need to be taxed heavily to become less attractive price wise to people, and to let the family restaurants in Japan enjoy a resurgence in popularity.

Working hours

The working hours MUST be strictly defined and implemented. The nation cannot continue to overwork its people, because fathers are becoming estranged from their families. Why not implement a system similar to France , where when an employee works overtime one week, they get those hours in off time the following week. Somewhere between 35-40 hours a week maximum should be the working norm. Companies should also be heavily fined for overworking their employees. If a company is forcing its employees to work overtime, that usually means that company is suffering from inadequate manpower and therefore should hire more employees. Companies could also get tax breaks for hiring more workers a particular year and pay more tax for laying off workers. One of Japan’s main reasons for its economic decline is the lack of domestic demand and and over reliance on exporting it’s goods and products overseas. Why is there no domestic demand? Because everyone is working all the time, and no one is out spending money to stimulate the economy. Why is that? Oh, because they have no free time. People who work all the time don’t spend money. People who don’t spend money don’t stimulate the environment.

Minimum Wage and the working class

I would strongly urge the government to raise the minimum wage to 1000¥ an hour, and set the basic starting wage to no less than 250,000¥ per month regarding full time workers. This would certainly boost public spending and give people some measure of financial stability. The companies can easily afford to do this. Japan should learn from the US’s mistake and salvage its middle class. If it doesn’t, the nation will collapse financially, as America surely will. If Japan does not find a way to stimulate domestic spending it will be doomed. The only way to secure Japan’s future is to ensure that even people on minimum wage can afford to contribute financially to society which along with less working hours would greatly contribute to the increase of domestic demand.


A. Summer and Winter

Why not have a Winter vacation for two weeks and Summer vacation two weeks so that people can recharge their batteries twice a year?Also people should have the option of combining their two weeks into one month to allow them to a take longer vacation once a year. It’s common knowledge that countries with a high rate of productivity also allow lots of off time for their citizens. Longer vacations would also mean that people would not be so apt to kill themselves every year. Overworked people develop a sense of hopeless, because they see their lives as nothing except work. The meaning of life becomes lost to them, and they become jaded. Walking around the forests near Mt Fuji and trying to stop suicides isn’t going to do it. Changing the system will. Also, lets not forget another important point: people on holiday tend to spend their money which in turn stimulates the economy’s domestic demand.

B. Public Holidays

The first thing that should be done is the following: when a national holiday falls on a Thursday, that Friday should also be a day off. If the public holiday falls on a Tuesday, that Monday should also be a paid holiday, and that should be the case regardless of whether or not the employee is part or full time.


Many of the rules and regulations regarding renting apartments in Japan are bizarre and draconian. Some of these ancient ways of doing business really need to change. One of the things that really needs to change regarding housing is this stupid idea of key money (reikin). This is nothing more than a form of legalized bribery given to a landlord by a prospective tenant, and it should be stopped. This key money issue is causing problems in society. For example, many employees are finding it difficult and expensive to move closer to work, because key money is very expensive . So instead they remain in their previous dwellings and commute up to two hours one way to work. This in turn affects their productivity, makes them more tired, and less happy in life generally . It’s also just simply not good for society and the economy of this country for people to be less mobile and less able to change their living quarters.


Another thing that really needs to be stopped is fees on late payments. The reason for this is very simple: these fees then sink people more deeply into debt and they are less able and less likely to pay off their debts which leads to suicide. There’s no doubt that these late fees are a huge contributing factor to suicide as people list debts as one of the main reasons for their suicides. The government and landlords have a right to demand their taxes and rent, but they have no right to place any additional fees on people who already are struggling to pay. It’s stupid to force people more into debt and then spend lots of money and resources trying to stop them from killing themselves when the government itself is partially to blame.

Hay fever

The hay fever affliction is a problem that is severely overlooked in Japan. It is amazing to see the amount of hype that has been given in the media to the Swine Flu pandemic while complete and utter indifference has been displayed toward a far more widespread pandemic: hay fever. And yet, the remedy is staring everyone right in the face: start cutting down all the various birch trees that cause the different types of hay fever.

A. Suffering population
We have a nation of red eyed, runny nosed sneezers whose productivity is ebbing due to this condition. And every year, the people’s condition gets worse. People are suffering, the nation’s productivity rate is dropping, and the healthcare cost is rising from this condition. In addition to that, a third of all children are afflicted with this condition.

B. Weakened military
Lets also not forget about national security. What happens if the nation finds itself in a situation where it has to defend itself without warning all of a sudden? Imagine a coughing swollen eyed SDF…

C. Creating jobs and income through better use.
Cutting down all these useless trees which make people sick and planting, shall we say, various fruit trees like apple, orange, and banana trees etc. which are healthy for people would get rid of the hay fever problem as well as provide a source of income and nutrition for the nation. In addition to that, if the government subsidizes this endeavor instead of whaling which is causing Japan diplomatic problems it could generate record profits, create more jobs, save money otherwise that would be spent importing fruit, and give Japan some measure of independence. Imagine the number of farming jobs that can be created through an endeavor like that, not mention some degree of national security in being able to grow your own food to feed your population as opposed to spending money importing it.

D. Domestic supply of wood
All these useless trees could be an excellent source of wood for a number of years and temporarily save Japan a lot of money on wood imports, not to mention the number of logger jobs that would be created by that industry.


Anti-smoking laws should be enacted in Japan more vigorously. Currently, North America, Australia and Europe all have strict anti-smoking laws and the Middle East is starting to follow in their footsteps. It is embarrassing that Japan still is so far behind and backward in that respect. Japanese smokers are becoming less and less prevalent in society these days . The Japanese government estimates that less than 20% of the population are smokers. It is imperative for Japan to enact antismoking laws to protect the children and pregnant women from secondhand smoke which is even more dangerous than direct smoking. Add to that the point mentioned beforehand regarding hay fever, and you have a major health hazard that will deeply affect adults and children alike.

A. Public Places
First, a law that prohibits smoking in any public place including restaurants and bars is desperately needed. We need a smoke free public area society.

B. Vending Machines
Second, the nation must do away with the cigarette vending machines. The less convenient it is to buy cigarettes the less people will be apt to smoke. It makes it so much easier for people who are trying to quit smoking to quit when they don’t see these vending machines in their faces every day.

C. Tobacco Tax
Finally, introduce a very hefty tobacco tax to further discourage people from taking up or continuing to smoke. A pack of Marlboros shouldn’t cost less than 1000 yen. In fact, they cost closer to 2000 yen through the increased taxes. It is incredible that in a country as expensive as Japan a pack of cigarettes would only cost 400 yen. And let’s not forget that these are imported cigarettes.


This has always been a sensitive topic in Japan. There are ways to slowly bring the population to a stable count.

A. Born in Japan
First, allow all people born in Japan to have Japanese citizenship. Zainichis and children of LEGAL immigrants should be allowed to become citizens automatically.

B. Parents 0f Japanese nationals
Second, foreign parents of Japanese citizens should also have the right to become citizens. If your own flesh and blood is Japanese, shouldn’t you be recognized as one as well?

C. Investors
Third, people who buy a house or bring a certain amount of money into the country should also be allowed to become citizens. They are, after all, stimulating the economy.

D. Employers of Japanese nationals
Finally, people who start a business and employ Japanese nationals as well people with a lot of money who invest in the country should also be given that right. People who give their money to Japan should be rewarded with its citizenship. All of this would increase the number of Japanese nationals without actually opening up immigration just yet. A slight liberalization of the rules might help soften the Japanese people to the prospect of immigration in the near future.

Government sponsored programs

A. Free or cheap English Day Care centers
One of the reasons the Japanese women are refusing to marry is that many of them fear not being able to go back to work due to the lack of public facilities that can accommodate their children. Well, how about the government funding a new version of the JET program in which foreigners can be brought to Japan to simply be day care center nannies. They would just play with the kids and watch cartoons with them in English and other things like that. The toddlers would learn English naturally through games and come to like it because they wouldn’t be studying, just playing with the language. They would shed their fear of foreigners because they would be exposed to them at an early age. That would also allow the mothers to go out and work or pursue a hobby, which would certainly encourage them to have more babies since the government is finally stepping in and helping them. Why not make all day care centers in Japan English speaking? This would ensure all Japanese children would grow up with very good English speaking skills and give young women encouragement to have more children.

B. Government run Japanese language programs.
It would very prudent of the local governments to hold daily language classes in a public facility that aid foreigners in understanding and learning the Japanese language and culture. This would help foreigners assimilate better in the society which would benefit Japanese people as much as foreigners. The government should also declare that employers of foreign nationals cannot forcibly overwork their foreign employees to the point where they cannot attend these language classes thereby making their integration into Japanese society more difficult and more time consuming. The companies must allow employees to attend these classes.


In a perfect world, this would happen. However, I am not optimistic. I know the Japanese system too well.

The Japanese politicians will never implement such drastic measures to save their country. None of them have ever shown themselves to be mavericks. This is the really sad part. There are ways to fix this country. It’s just that no one will stand up and do it. People just sit and discuss and pretend they are concerned, but no one really is. The Japanese today are a far cry from the Japanese of long ago who would die for their country. Those before thought nothing of committing suicide for their country. However, today’s politicians are not even willing to take a few political risks for a better future for Japan. What future is left for the Japanese people?


Japan Times HAVE YOUR SAY column solely devoted to the May 1 JBC column on “Microaggressions”


Books etc. by ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
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Hi Blog. The Japan Times today devoted its entire community page column section to reader responses regarding my May 1, 2012 Just Be Cause column on “Microaggressions“. (And yes, most listed were actually quite positive.) I think that’s plenty today for a blog entry. Have a read starting from and feel free to comment on them below (if you wish to comment on the article itself on, go here).  And yes, the old column once again got put back in the JT Online Top Ten Most Read Stories! Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone! Arudou Debito

Discussion: Reader Eric C writes in with an argument for “giving up on Japan”. What do you think?


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" 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 Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog. I was going to write on something else today, but I got this letter as a post comment this morning. It’s considered and considerate — usually letters on this topic are nasty flames, criticizing me personally for ever doing what has been doing for (as of next month) fifteen years now. And it’s also a useful exercise to think about why we do the things that we do.

I won’t answer it, for now. I’ll open it up for discussion here on and see how other people think. Thanks for writing in, Eric. Arudou Debito

Eric C
Submitted on 2012/03/18
Thank you on behalf of all NJ who have lived in Japan or are living in Japan. You are doing brilliant work. I agree with almost everything you say and do and I am in awe of your energy, perseverance and spirit.

However, the more I read your site and columns and learn about your story, the more I find myself wondering why you keep trying. I lived in Japan for years and I did what you did, but on a lesser scale: I fought discrimination, xenophobia and racism as hard as I could. I like to think I gave as good as I got, if not better. I caused a fair bit of hell at my local kuyakusho, at immigration, with the police and with various random racist folks. That’s not to say I went around with a chip on my shoulder: I had a lot of Japanese friends, spoke the language well and really tried to fit in. But, finally, I decided to leave Japan and I don’t regret it. Not for a second. Every day I’m out of there, I give thanks that I had the balls and foresight to leave.

My question to you is why do you keep trying? I don’t want to be negative, but I think even you have to admit that Japan and the Japanese are not really going to change. Not in any meaningful way. They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so. The society is feudal, with only the flimsiest veneer of legality. There is no real law – power and connections are all that matter. Japan reached a highpoint of openness and internationalization in the early 90s, and it’s been rapidly closing and going backwards since then. As the country stagnates and gets poorer, it’s going to become less and less welcoming to foreigners. I mean, the mayors of the three main cities in Japan are all nationalists and, most likely, racists.

Frankly, I don’t even think it’s worth trying to change Japan. They’re not worth it. Let them go their own miserable way to stagnation and backwardness. Let the world pass them by. Japan is like a stubborn old geezer in your neighborhood who does something offensive (letting his dog bark all night, for instance). You know that arguing with him is a waste of time. The only sensible thing to do is move away. Fuck him, to be direct about it.

You’ve fought the good fight, Debito, and a lot of gaijin owe you a huge debt of gratitude. But, for your own peace of mind, why not let someone else take up the burden? Or, better yet, wouldn’t it be best for all NJ to simply pack up and leave and let the Japanese do whatever it is they want to do? Let them sing the kimigayo morning, noon and night. Let them teach English so poorly that no one can speak it. Let them lobotomize their kids in the name of educating them. Let them claim that their actions in WWII were one vast charitable mission to spread peace and love throughout the world. Let them sink slowly into the swamp of their own bloody minded ignorance.

It’s not our job to “fix” their society. It’s not our job to educate them about how the world really works. It’s not our job to try to bring them into the modern world.

Sorry, this is a bit of a downer of a post, but anyone who knows Japan as well as you know it must surely realize that the defining characteristic of modern Japan is the inability to change. They’re so stubborn that if you ask them to change, they’ll consciously avoid changing just to spite you. I mean, why do you think they keep whaling and dolphin killing when it requires vast government support to keep doing it? They do it precisely because the world tells them to stop.

I say, leave them to it and live your own life.

UPDATE:  The author has offered more lengthy and elaborate comments below here and here.  You might want to read them first before going on to everyone else’s.

My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column #48: “These are a few of my favorite things about Japan”, Feb. 7, 2012


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  This essay was again in the top five “most read articles” on the Japan Times all day yesterday, thanks everyone!  And according to my editor, I have pioneered the use of the word “turtle-heading” in the JT (aw, shucks!).  Enjoy!  Arudou Debito

The Japan Times Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012
JUST BE CAUSE, Column 48

These are a few of my favorite things about Japan

The excellent illustrations, as always, by Chris Mackenzie.

The Just Be Cause column has been running now for four years (thanks for reading!), and I’ve noticed something peculiar: how commentators are pressured to say “nice” stuff about Japan.

If you don’t, you get criticized for an apparent “lack of balance” — as if one has to pay homage to the gods of cultural relativism (as an outsider) or tribal commonalities (as an insider).

This pressure isn’t found in every society. Britain, for example, has a media tradition (as far back as Jonathan Swift, William Hogarth and George Cruikshank) where critics can be unapologetically critical, even savage, towards authority (check out Private Eye magazine).

But in Japan, where satire is shallow and sarcasm isn’t a means of social analysis, we are compelled to blunt our critique with pat niceties. Our media spends more time reporting nice, safe things (like how to cook and eat) than encouraging critical thinking.

Likewise, Just Be Cause gets comments of the “If Debito hates Japan so much, why does the JT keep publishing him?” ilk — as if nobody ever criticizes Japan out of love (if we critics didn’t care about this place, we wouldn’t bother).

Moreover, why must we say something nice about a place that hasn’t been all that nice to its residents over the past, oh, two stagnant decades (even more so since the Fukushima nuclear disaster)? Japan, like everywhere else, has problems that warrant attention, and this column is trying to address some of them.

Still, as thanks to the readership (and my editor, constantly put off his beer defending me in bars), I’ll succumb and say something nice about Japan for a change. In fact, I’ll give not one, but 10 reasons why I like Japan — enough to have learned the language, married, had children, bought property, taken citizenship and lived here nearly a quarter-century.

Leaving out things like cars, semiconductors, consumer electronics, steel, etc. (which have been written about to death), Japan is peerless at:


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10. Public transport

Overseas, I’ve often found myself saying, “Curses! I can’t get there without a car!” but even in Hokkaido I could find a way (train, bus, taxi if necessary) to get practically anywhere, including the outback, given a reasonable amount of time.

How many cities the size of Tokyo can move millions around daily on infrastructure that is, even if overcrowded at times, relatively clean, safe and cheap? Not many.


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9. Seafood

Japan’s irradiated food chain notwithstanding (sorry, this has to be caveated), dining in Japan is high quality. It’s actually difficult to have a bad meal — even school cafeterias are decent.

World-class cuisine is not unique to Japan (what with Chinese, Italian, Thai, Indian, French, etc.), but Japan does seafood best. No wonder: With a longer history of fishing than of animal husbandry, Japan has discovered how to make even algae delicious! Japanese eat more seafood than anyone else. Justifiably.


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8. Onomatopeia

I am a Japanese kanji nerd, but that’s only the bureaucratic side of our language. Now try gitaigo and giseigo/giongo — Japanese onomatopoeic expressions. We all know gussuri and gakkari. But I have a tin ear for pori pori when scratching the inside of my nose, or rero rerowhen licking something, or gabiin when agape.

Japanese as a language is highly contextualized (say the wrong word and mandarins just sit on their hands) and full of confusing homophones, but the universe of expressiveness found in just a couple of repeated kana is something I doubt I will ever master. My loss.


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7. Packaging

Stores like Mitsukoshi cocoon your purchase in more paper and plastic than necessary. But when you really need that cocoon, such as when transporting stuff, you’re mollycoddled. Japanese post offices offer boxes and tape for cheap or free. Or try the private-sector truckers, like Yamato or Pelican, whom I would even trust with bubble-wrapping and shipping a chandelier (and for a reasonable price, too).

If you don’t know how to pack, leave it to the experts — it’s part of the service. As Mitsukoshi demonstrates, if it’s not packaged properly, it’s not presentable in Japan.


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6. Calligraphic goods

I’m used to crappy Bic ballpoint pens that seize up in the same groove (and inexplicably only in that groove, no matter how many times you retrace), which you then summarily discard like used toothbrushes. But in Japan, writing implements are keepers, combining quality with punctiliousness.

People prowl stationery stores for new models (with special buttons to advance the pencil lead, twirl cartridges for multiple colors, or multicolored ink that comes out like Aquafresh toothpaste) spotted in specialty stationery magazines (seriously!). Maybe this is not so mysterious considering how precisely one has to write kanji — but I know of only two countries that put this fine a point on pens: Germany (whose companies have a huge market here) and Japan.


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5. Group projects

Yes, working in groups can make situations inflexible and slow. But when things work here, they really work, especially when a project calls for an automatic division of labor.

For example, when I was politically active in a small Hokkaido town, we would rent a room for a public meeting. Beforehand, without ever being asked, people would come early to set things up. Afterward, attendees would put everything back before going home.

I’ve done presentations overseas and the attitude is more, “Hey, you take care of the chairs — what are we paying you for?” Sucks.

It’s nice to be here, where pitching in often goes without saying, and everyone has a stake in keeping things clean and orderly.


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4. Public toilets

Sure, public conveniences exist overseas, but they are frequently hard to track down (shoppers overseas must have enormous bladders) and when found, they can resemble a war zone.

Japan, however, generally keeps its toilets clean and unstinky. Comfortable, too. Sure, I hate it when I’m turtle-heading and can only find Japan’s squatter types, but I also hate being trapped overseas in a stall where strangers can see my ankles under the door.

Besides, whenever I need a public time-out, I head for the nearest handicapped toilet and bivouac. Ah, a room to myself; it’s a love hotel for my tuchus. And that’s before mentioning the washlets, bidets, warmed toilet seats . . .


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3. Anime

I’ve been reading comic books since I was 2 years old, and have long admired Japanese animation and comic art. I can’t resist anime’s clean lines, sense of space and forcefulness, and storyboard style of narrative.

Once underrated overseas, Japan’s comics are now one of our coolest cultural exports. Resistance is futile — watch the knockoffs on Cartoon Network (love “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Samurai Jack”)!

Consider one knock-on benefit of a society so consumed by comic art: Japan’s average standards for drawing are very high. I came from a society with an enormous standard deviation in artistic talent: You either get stick figures or Pat Oliphants. In Japan, however, contrast with the following example.

I once tested my university students on spatial vocabulary. I drew a room on the answer sheet and said, “Under the table, draw Doraemon.” Amazingly, 98 of 100 students could draw a Doraemon that would infringe copyright — complete with propeller, collar bell, philtrum and whiskers.

Try getting people overseas to draw a recognizable Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat or even just Snoopy and you’ll see how comparatively under-practiced drawing skills tend to be outside Japan.


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2. Silly cute

Nobody combines these two quite like Japan does — simultaneously campy, tacky and kitschy. Some pundits lament how the culture of cute has paved over genuine time-tested Japanese iconography. But if you avoid being a curmudgeon, you’ll wind up giggling despite yourself.

Where else are you going to get Marimokkori (algae balls with superhero capes and inguinal endowments)? Try resisting Hello Kitty when she’s affecting regional dining habits or clothes (I love Pirika Kitty and supertacky Susukino Kitty, both homages to Hokkaido). And all those cellphone mascots! And there’s plenty more crap out there, some finding markets overseas.

What’s the appeal? My theory is that the Occident just can’t do cute or silly without sarcasm seeping in (even Disney resorts to wise-cracking). Shooting for it include France’s Barbapapa (which comes off as “easy to draw,” not cute), Finland’s weird Moomins (with that evil-looking Little My character) and Britain’s even weirder Teletubbies (arguing its cuteness will give you a hernia; watch while stoned). They all could do with a cute J-makeover and a firm J-marketing push.

Look, campy, tacky and kitschy eventually become ironic, cheap and tiresome. But Japan’s brand of straight-faced silly manages to (thanks to that intrinsic lack of sarcasm) remain tirelessly unironic. As long as you keep developing new and unexpected permutations, you never quite get sick of it. Instead you just giggle.

People need that. Silly-cute makes life in Japan and elsewhere more bearable.


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1. Onsens

Of course. If you can get in. Ahem.

Illustrations by Chris Mackenzie. A version of this essay appeared in the now-defunct Sapporo Source magazine in December 2009; an expanded version can be found at Debito Arudou’s latest book is “In Appropriate” ( Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments and story ideas to


End-year Irony #2: Japanese cast as Roman in “Thermae Romae” despite J complaints about Chinese cast as Japanese in “Memoirs of a Geisha”


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  Here’s another bit of irony from Japanland.  It’s quite petty, so I kept it as a year-end frivolous tangent:

Japanese movies can cast Japanese as NJ, but NJ movies apparently cannot cast NJ as Japanese.  Works like this, according to Reader JDG:


December 1, 2011
Hello Debito, Hope you are well.
Saw this on Japan Probe:

in THERMAE ROMAE, and thought that it was a bit rich to cast a Japanese guy as an Italian, considering the outcry in Japan when a Chinese actress starred in the film adaptation of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, the showing of which was even banned by some theaters in Japan on that basis!

It’s a double standard, and the apologists are all over it already. The very fact that the producers can’t find a European looking, Japanese speaking actor for the part (who is well known enough in Japan to pull in a crowd), is a direct result of Japan’s insularity.


COMMENT:  To head those apologists off at the pass:  There is indeed a long history in Hollywood to cast Asians fungibly — Chinese cast as Japanese in WWII propagandistic movies, some quite odd ethnic Japanese cast as “real” Japanese or even other Orientals (e.g., Mako, Gedde Watanabe), etc., etc., and that’s before we get to the outright racial stereotyping done in period-piece embarrassments such as Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunioshi in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Doesn’t take much to dig up the same phenomenon anywhere in world cinema.

But this is becoming unforgivable in this time of greater globalization, migration, immigration, and general ability to research, travel, and understand different people. People in the media should be trying harder. And they certainly are not in the THERMAE example. Nor were they in SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (2010) — the live-adaptation of the manga and anime starring Kimura Takuya, in which the whole human galaxy is exclusively Japanese! (according to the IMDB full cast list)  Even the STAR TREK crew casting did a bit better than that way back in the mid-1960’s!  (Incidentally, I love how again-fungible-Asian Mr. Sulu is translated into “Mr. Katou” for the Japanese audience… But I digress.  Then again, at least the cast is diverse enough to allow for that.)

I’m no doubt opening a can of worms (I can hardly wait until someone brings up the deliberate cultural insensitivities of BORAT…), but let’s end the year on a relatively frivolous note, since 2011 was probably the worst year on record for Japan and its residents in my lifetime. More on that in my upcoming Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, out on Tuesday, January 3, 2012.

Have a happy remainder of the year, everyone, and thanks for reading! Arudou Debito

Merry Xmas to those celebrating: How “religious” treatment of things Japanese allows for Japan to be kid-gloved through international public debate


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  Merry Xmas to those celebrating.  As a special treat, allow me to connect some dots between terms of public discourse:  How Japan gets kid-gloved in international debate because it gets treated, consciously or unconsciously, with religious reverence.

It’s a theory I’ve been developing in my mind for several years now:  How Japan has no religion except “Japaneseness” itself, and how adherence (or irreverence) towards it produces zealots and heretics who influence the shape and scope of Japan-connected debate.

So let me type in two works — one journalistic, the other polemic — and let you connect the dots as I did when I discovered them last November.  I hope you find the juxtaposition as insightful as I did.

I’ll do a couple more of these thinking pieces for the holidays as enters 2012, its fifteenth year of operation.  Thanks for reading, everyone.  Arudou Debito


Excerpted from “Rice, the Essential Harvest”, from NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (USA) Vol. 185, No. 5, May 1994, pp. 66-72.  By Freelancer Robb Kendrick of Austin, Texas.

NB: This section comes after the author takes us on a journey of other rice-centered countries.  Watch the subcontextual treatment:  First photos from 1) India, where its caption portrays rice as a means of avoiding starvation; 2) Japan, whose caption immediately resorts to religious subtext: “Colossal strands of rice straw entwine over an entrance to the Izumo Shinto shrine, one of Japan’s oldest.  Denoting a sacred place, the rice-straw rope, — or shimenawa — is the world’s largest at six metric tons.  Grown in Japan for more than 2000 years [sic], rice is woven through culture, diet, even politics.  Small shimenawa often hang over doorways to ward off evil.  One evil the nation cannot stop:  skimpy harvests, which in 1993 forced Japan to ease its sacrosanct restrictions on rice imports.”; 3) Madagascar, seen as staving off hunger in the face of a dearth of harvesting technology; 4) The Philippines, where rice technology is supported under the International Rice Research Institute; and 5) China, where peasant children eat rice for breakfast in rice-growing Zhejiang Province.

Then we get two paragraphs of text talking about the religious symbolism of rice in Bali.  Then the intercontinental versatility of rice growing and usage (as it’s even used in Budweiser beer), plus the research being done in The Philippines to make it even more so.  Then mentions of low-tech production in The Philippines, with photos of rice being used in a Hindu wedding in India and in religious ceremonies in India and Bali.  Further paragraphs depict how the Balinese meld both ritual and routine in perpetual harvests.  Then we get into the history of rice’s migration from India through to China, and how China has been working on rice hybrids at the Chinese National Rice Research Institute.  Thus the focus of this article has so far been more on the history and ubiquitousness of rice as a staple in many societies.

Then we get to Japan, and the tone of the article shifts perceptibly:


Next stop, Japan.  At the Grand Shrines of Ise, 190 miles southwest of Tokyo, the most revered precinct of Japan’s Shinto religion, white-robed priests cook rice twice daily and present it to the sun goddess, Amaterasu, who, they say, is the ancestor of the imperial family.

“The goddess brought a handful of rice from the heavens,” a senior priest tells me, “so that we may grow it and prosper.”  He adds that in the first ceremony performed by each new emperor, he steps behind a screen to meet the goddess and emerges as the embodiment of Ninigi no Mikoto, the god of the ripened rice plant.  Then every autumn the emperor sends to Ise the first stalks harvested from the rice field he himself has planted on the imperial palace gorunds.  All Japanese, says the priest, owe their kokoro — their spiritual essence, their Japaneseness — to the goddess, “and they maintain it by eating rice, rice grown in Japan.”

Japanese law, in fact, long restricted the importation of rice.  “Rice is a very special case,” explained Koji Futada, then parliamentary vice minister for agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.  “It is our staple food, and so we must have a reliable supply as a matter of national security.  That is why we politicians favor sulf-sufficiency, the domestic growing of all the rice we eat.”

And also because the farmers exert disproportionate influence in elections?

“Yes,” he said, “that is also true.”

And so the government buys the rice from the farmers at about ten times international market prices. It also subsidizes part of the cost to consumers.  Still, Japanese consumers pay about four times as much as they would if they could buy rice in a California supermarket.  All this cost the government about 2.5 billion dollars in 1992.  One result is that land will stay in rice production that might otherwise be available for housing, which is in short supply.  About 5 percent of the city of Tokyo is classified as farmland, worked by 13,000 families.  That would be space enough for tens of thousands of new homes.  Does all this mean that Japanese rice farmers are rolling in money?

Thirty miles north of the capital, in the Kanto Plain, I visit the Kimura family in the town of Kisai — typical of most of Japan’s 3.5 million rice-farming households:  Rice is not a major part of their working life.  Grandfather Shouichi, 83, along with his son Take and Take’s wife, Iwako, both in their 50s, look after a prosperous gardening-supply business; grandson Masao, 25, commutes to an office in central Tokyo.  Three out of four rice-growing families hereabouts have become “Sunday farmers,” relying on income from other sources, mainly jobs in factories that sprang up nearby in the past ten years.

The Kimuras farm two and a half acres — this modest size is typical too — and they tell me the work is not arduous:  Excerpt for planting seeds in boxes in a shed, they do it all with machines — transplanter, tractor — in about ten working days for one person, plus a few hours for spraying fertilizer, insecticide, and herbicide.  “Harvesting is no work at all.  We hire a combine.”  What do the Kimuras get out of it?

“Enough rice for us to eat for a year,” says Shoichi.  “But no profit.  Zero.”  Expenses go up, rice prices don’t.  It’s the same for most farmers around here.  “We do this only because we inherited the land.”

But nature and international politics are forcing a change.  An unusually cold and rainy summer reduced Japan’s 1993 harvest by some 25 percent, so more than two million tons of rice will have to be imported before the end of this year.  And after that, a newly revised global treaty — the General Agreement on  Tariffs and Trade, or GATT — will oblige to allow annual imports of 4 to 8 percent of its rice requirement.  But will the domestic rice price drop?  Hardly.  The government still sets the wholesale price, and that’s likely to stay high.


That’s it.  The rest of the article deals with a) liberalization of the rice markets in Vietnam, b) rice economies in Europe, c) in Africa, d) in the United States, and finally e) the future of rice technology and how production will have to accommodate growing populations.


Here’s my point:  No other country is treated in this National Geographic article with such reverence and deference as Japan.  Look:  A parroted religious introduction citing an obscure deity is channeled into a discourse on national identity, and an alleged political need for self preservation by excluding outside influences (everyplace else mentioned is seen as increasingly cooperative in developing a reliable food supply).  If anything, many other countries are seen as somehow less able to cope with their future because of their technological or economic insularity.  Not Japan.  It gets a free pass on cultural grounds, with a deference being accorded to “Japaneseness” as a religion.  (There is, by the way, one more picture of Japan in the article — that of sumo wrestlers doing “ritual shiko exercise”, with attention paid to the dohyo rice ring in this “honored Japanese sport”.  Cue the banging of gongs and the occasional shakuhachi flute…)

Granted, the article does offer up the hope of Japan’s rice market being liberalized, thanks to the disastrous 1993 rice harvest and pressure from GATT.  But now nearly twenty years later, how are those rice imports coming along?  Not so hot: According to the USDA in 2003, “Japan agreed to a quota on rice imports that now brings 682,000 tons of rice into the country annually. However, most of this rice is not released directly into Japan’s market. Instead, imported rice often remains in government stocks until it is released as food aid to developing countries or sold as an input to food processors.”  Meaning it didn’t work.  See a historical article I wrote on the misplaced propagandistic reverence (and GOJ dirty tricks) regarding rice imports here (and also apple imports, while I’m at it), so you can see how the discourse helps keep things closed.

Why does this keep happening?  My theory is that it is due to the politics of religiosity.  For when you treat Japanese culture as a religion, the terms of debate change, putting rationality, logic, and overall fairness on their back foot.

Consider this excerpt from Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, between pp. 20 and 23:

A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts — the non-religious included — is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other.  Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made in Cambridge shortly before his death, that I never tire of sharing his words:

“Religion… has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever.  What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not.  Why not?  — because you’re not!’  If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it.  If somebody think taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it.  But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that’.

“Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative prty, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows — but to have an opinion about how the Universe… no, that’s holy? … We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it!  Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things.  Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.”…

[Dawkins continues further down:]  If the advocates of apartheid had their wits about them they would claim — for all I know truthfully — that allowing mixed races is against their religion.  A good part of the opposition would respectfully tiptoe away.  And it is no use claiming that this is an unfair parallel because apartheid has no rational justification.  The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification.  The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices.  But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe “religious liberty”.


This is why appeals to “Japaneseness” so many times take on a religious overtone.  Why does the National Geographic feel the need to interview a priest as some sort of source about world rice?  Allegedly, “because Japanese rice is as essential fundamental to the Japanese people as their kokoro“.  Presto!  It’s off the subject table for rational debate.  Because once you criticize Japan’s rice policy, apparently Japanese are hard-wired to take it as a personal affront.  After all, there IS so much pressure to somehow, somewhere, say something “nice” about Japan — especially if you’re being any way critical.  For balance, some might say, but I would say it is because we feel the pressure to treat Japan more kid-glovey than we would, say, China, Russia, or any other nation, really.  Why?  Out of reverence for how somehow “special” Japan is.

I believe Japan is neither exceptional nor special (no more special than any other society), and it should be exposed to the same terms of critique and debate as anyone else.  Yet it gets a free pass, as I saw during the Otaru Onsens Case, where for example many bought into the “foreigners must be excluded” thanks in part in reverence to some arguments being made, in paraphrase, were “Japanese baths are a very special place for Japanese people, and if they want those kept pristine and exclusive only for those who really understand Japanese bathing culture, then so be it.”  No need to treat people equally just because they’re people anymore.  Only those born with the sacerdotal kokoro need apply to bathe in these now holy waters.

This is my Xmas present to Readers:  Look at Japan-related discourse now through the lens of religious discourse.  Watch the kid gloves come on.  It is a very careful and deliberate means to defang political debate and stymie change in this society which badly needs it.

Again, “Japaneseness” as a religion with all the trappings — an analytical thought process in progress on  Arudou Debito

Arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles for registering international marriages in Tokyo Edogawa-ku Ward office. Have things changed?


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  As we start the countdown to the end of the year, let’s turn to feedback from Readers who have written in over the months to talk about the arbitrariness of Japan’s bureaucracy towards NJ.  First off, check this out:


December 5, 2011

Hello! I love your site, first off, as it makes me feel like my frustrations, my concerns, all of it are understood by someone else. Thanks.

My fiance and I went to get married today, and from the second we walked in the door it was: “…oh.” I understand that there have been many occasions of abuse of the system, but my fiance called the offices to ask what we needed to register. We took everything, but the second we walked in the door, it all changed.

My fiance tried to convince me it was HIS fault that the office needed more “proof”. I told him to not give me a load of BS, and eventually he admitted that the staff even told him point blank: “Look, it’s different because you are marrying a foreigner. If she were Japanese you wouldn’t have this problem, but she’s a foreigner.”

We brought every single document that they asked for. He called, made a checklist, and we brought it with us. Now they need everything from all of my “foreign proof and documentation” translated, extra stamps, his parents permission for him to marry me, etc. They told him none of that would be needed when he called, but when it came time to actually “seal the deal”, and we were standing in front of them, that is what we were told. We double checked with my embassy, etc, and we got told the same thing: “You don’t need any of that in your ward, just what you already have”. The items they ask for aren’t even on the ward’s website.

What should I do, as I don’t feel this should be allowed. I looked at your site, but didn’t see it mentioned about what one should do if it is a governmental institution itself.

I’ve dealt with so many sideways looks, been asked not to enter into establishments down south, etc, all because I am not good enough. I am “gaijin”. I’m not sure how you take it. My Japanese professor in college told me he left after 20 years, despite having a fiance, as he couldn’t take it. No matter what he did, he was still always “gaijin”. I understand, finally, what he means.

You are a strong, strong person for having been here so long. My hat is off, permanently, to you. K


I responded:


December 5, 2011

Hello K. What kind of a place was this? A country bumpkin area, a city ward office? It might take an hour or so to register, but no, none of this is required. My belief if that you got bum staff that day who don’t know what they’re doing (problem is, I don’t think the staff will change from day to day). My best suggestion is that you change ward offices (reregister your husband’s honseki at a different address, via a family member; someplace more modern and used to international marriages). Marriage in Japan is supposed to be pretty easy, comparatively.

More advice in our Handbook for Immigrants at

Shall I blog this for more advice from others? I will anonymize your name, of course. Just make it clearer what kind of place this is (even if you don’t give the exact location). Please let me know. Bests, Debito


To which K replied:


December 5, 2011

Hello and thank you for replying so quickly. I know you must be a very busy person. I appreciate it.

Actually, it was in Edogawa-ku, Tokyo. I came home so mad I could spit, and bitter at the country. I was searching the Internet for advice about discrimination in Japan. I’d looked at your blog, but didn’t see information about discrimination by a government service so was checking elsewhere. You are, however, the only good site with good, current information that I could find, so I decided to email.

It is pretty surprising though, right? I’d expect Tokyo, and Edogawa-ku which is a family area, of all places, to have a more liberal view.

Please blog about it, if you’d like, as I’m interested if other Tokyoites have experienced the same. My fiancé said a lot of foreign women like me, but who wanted to become hostesses or some such, have abused the system so he was expecting some hassle. I say: why should it matter where I am from? Why should the system be so vastly different for foreigner and Japanese marriage in the first place?

I think what insulted me the most was the staff saying to him that the reason it was different because he was marrying a foreigner, straight to his face.

By the way, this was a separate office/branch of the city ward that only dealt with marriages and moving/change of residency. Thank you again! K


COMMENT: So, what are experiences of others out there? I certainly didn’t have this rigmarole, but I got married all the way back in 1989. My impression from others has always been that it’s pretty easy to get married in Japan to a Japanese, period. Have things recently changed? Arudou Debito

Have Your Say: Letters to the Editor re my Oct 4 2011 Japan Times JBC column, “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action”


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog. Two positive letters were printed in the Japan Times HAVE YOUR SAY column, regarding my October 4, 2011 column, “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action“:

The Japan Times, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011
Ganbatte and gaman stifle debate, hinder recovery

Nuclear debate discouraged (excerpt)

Re: “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action” by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Oct. 4):

I was wondering when such an article would show up in the newspapers. Thank you for finally commenting on some of the finer workings of how the triple disaster is being dealt with in Japan.

Like any event on this scale, the catastrophe has brought out the best and worst in Japanese culture. While one cannot help but admire the stoicism, calmness and composure in dealing with the events in March, the lack of discussion about the future of nuclear energy, food safety and lessons learnt is shocking.

For non-Japanese it is difficult to follow the social workings in Japan. Concepts such as ganbatte and gaman, which are raised by the author, play an important part in discouraging necessary debate. Also, the Japanese social convention of considering the expectations and feelings of others suppresses discussion….

Rest of the letters at:


GOJ wants seat on the UN Human Rights Council for 2013-2015. Here’s MOFA’s formal pledge of Japan’s commitments to human rights. Note what’s missing.


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog. Here we have Japan wanting a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, to help control the agenda and process of review (like any any applicant, especially the venal ones, which is why the HRC was revamped in 2006 after being occupied by some of the world’s most egregious human rights offenders). Applicant Japan promises to treat countries with mutual respect for their history and traditions (read: “I’m okay, you’re okay, so let’s just all get along and not worry about universal standards of human rights — especially as they would be applied to Japan”; there is a long history behind this attitude in the GOJ, see Peek, J. M. 1991. “Japan and the International Bill of Rights.” Journal of Northeast Asian Studies, Fall 1991 10(3): 3-16; and Peek, J. M. 1992, “Japan, The United Nations, and Human Rights.” Asian Survey 32(3): 217-229, read my writeup on Dr. Peek’s findings here).

Note that the GOJ promises to follow the UN’s recommendations for improving domestic human rights (see some of those most recent recommendations here, and decide for yourself how well the GOJ is doing, then read on here to see the plus ca change.  Also note what’s missing in their promises:  Anything about the Hague Convention on Child Abductions (what with all the abductions after divorce), and of course, anything about passing a law or taking any measures against racial discrimination (despite saying in 2008 that Japan was making “every conceivable measure to fight against racial discrimination“)  But that’s tough, you see:  We don’t have any other races in Japan that would fall under the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination’s protection, remember; that standpoint remains fundamentally unchanged closing in on 20 years after signing the CERD.  Here’s the transcript of how the UN review of Japan’s human rights record went back in February 2010, and what the UN subsequently recommended Japan do back in March 2010 regarding the CERD.  Read on to see how they are being studiously ignored in Japan’s pledges below, as usual.  Arudou Debito



Top > Foreign Policy > Human Rights > Japan’s Human Rights Commitments and Pledges (Candidature for HRC membership 2013-2015)

[Courtesy Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dated September 30, 2011,, thanks to PMP]

Japan’s Human Rights Commitments and Pledges
(Candidature for HRC membership 2013-2015)

I. Japan’s basic human rights policies

  1. Upholding the highest standards of human rights enshrined and guaranteed in the Constitution of 1947, Japan has consolidated its democratic political system and has developed policies for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as universal values.
  2. Japan firmly believes that the promotion and protection of human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community. It is therefore committed to addressing grave violations of human rights. Japan believes that the culture, religion, history and traditions of each country must be taken into account when addressing human rights issues, and will seek to achieve progress through dialogue and cooperation based on an approach which is tailored to meet the specific aspects of the country, region or theme concerned.

II. International commitments and pledges for the promotion and protection of human rights

A. Conclusion and implementation of the international human rights instruments

  1. Japan has concluded the following international human rights instruments and will continue to make utmost efforts to implement its obligations. Japan will duly follow up on the recommendations it has received in order to fulfill its commitments under the treaties and cooperation with the treaty bodies:
    • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1979)
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1979)
    • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1995)
    • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1985)
    • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1994) and its two Optional Protocols (2004 and 2005)
    • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1999)
    • Geneva Conventions of 1949 (1953) and their First and Second Additional Protocols of 1977 (2004)
    • Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1981) and its Optional Protocol (1982)
    • International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2009)
  2. In 2007, Japan signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and is now working towards its early conclusion.
  3. Japan is giving serious consideration to the individual communications procedure.
  4. Japan is working toward the early conclusion of the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction with a view to protecting the best interests of children.

B. Activities of the Human Rights Council (HRC)

  1. Japan will continue to be actively engaged in the HRC’s activities, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), so as to promote the improvement of the human rights situations in various countries and regions. During its continuous membership since the HRC’s establishment until 2011, Japan has taken an active role in the HRC’s discussions and in the adoption of its resolutions.
  2. Japan has promoted international initiatives to eliminate discrimination and support marginalized groups. For example, Japan submitted an HRC resolution on persons with leprosy which was adopted by consensus in September 2010(A/HRC/RES/15/10).
  3. Japan has taken an active role in the HRC Review. Japan remains committed to improving the work and functioning of the Council so as to maximize its efficiency and effectiveness.
  4. Japan sincerely took note of the outcome of its own UPR session of May 2008, and in March 2011 voluntarily published the follow-up status of the recommendations it accepted.

C. Cooperation with the High Commissioner and Special Procedures

  1. Japan will continue its full cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, her Office and Special Procedures. Japan has extended an official Standing Invitation to all thematic mandate-holders, in view of their important roles.

D. Contribution to the work of the General Assembly and to the Security Council

  1. Japan will continue to participate actively in discussions on promoting human rights in the UN General Assembly, including through submitting draft resolutions to the Third Committee. Japan will steadily continue to promote the Security Council’s policy agenda for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, inter alia, the protection and empowerment of women and children.

E. Promoting human rights through bilateral cooperation

  1. As stated above, Japan will continue to attach great importance to “dialogue and cooperation” which is based on mutual understanding and respect. Japan has held regular bilateral dialogues and consultations on human rights with the governments of more than 10 countries. Japan will continue to promote democratization as well as protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in line with its human rights policy concerning Official Development Assistance (ODA). In particular, Japan will focus on providing support to vulnerable groups such as children and persons with disabilities and to protect their human rights. In line with its Initiative on Gender and Development (GAD) announced in 2005, Japan continues to ensure that a gender perspective is incorporated into all sections and every stage of ODA process.

F. Financial assistance

  1. In 2009, Japan’s bilateral ODA disbursements reached US$354.45 million for health and welfare, US$1,870.75 million for gender equality and US$95.94 million for peace-building. In FY 2009, disbursements for measures pertaining to persons with disabilities amounted to US$1,687.46 million.
  2. Japan continues to support human rights activities by UN organizations such as OHCHR, UNICEF and UN Women. In FY 2010, Japan contributed approximately US$ 5 million to UN Women. Japan, as the top Asian donor to the OHCHR, will continue to support its activities including by making voluntary contributions.

III. Promoting human rights in Japan

  1. In line with the obligations stipulated in the international human rights instruments to which Japan is a party, all relevant government agencies continue to promote and protect human rights in various fields within Japan. Japan will follow up on the UPR recommendations which it accepted in 2008 and recommendations it has received from human rights treaty bodies. Japan will continue to enhance its dialogue with civil society, including non-governmental organizations and to implement the policies and measures in the following areas in order to enhance the protection of vulnerable groups:

A. Gender equality

  1. In December 2010, the Cabinet adopted the Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality, toward the realization of a gender-equal society. It is an effective action plan which consists of 15 priority fields and 82 performance objectives. Japan aims to increase the representation of women in leadership positions to at least 30 percent by 2020 through specific “positive actions”.

B. Combating trafficking in persons

  1. Japan continues to implement domestic measures and pursue international cooperation in this area as well. Japan revised its existing action plan and formulated Japan’s 2009 Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons in December 2009.

C. Rights of the child

  1. Japan will continue to implement the Comprehensive Measures to Eliminate Child Pornography, adopted in 2010. Japan has reviewed the existing measures and introduced new laws such as the revised Child Welfare Law (2008) and the revised Civil Code (2011) and will steadily enhance various measures such as those against child abuse.

D. Indigenous people

  1. Japan will continue to promote comprehensive and effective policy measures for Ainu people, taking their views into consideration through various channels, inter alia, the Council for Ainu Policy Promotion with the participation of Ainu representatives.

September 30, 2011


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Discussion: JK on the oversimplistic panacea of slogan “Ganbare Nippon/Tohoku” etc.


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog. Submitter JK also wrote a brief essay on “Ganbare”, and how it seems more than just a bit facile for the times we live in. Food for thought. I’ll put this under “Discussions”, which means I’ll comment less and allow more comments through (as long as they do not go ad hominem and do stick to point, of course). What do Readers think? Arudou Debito


September 17, 2011
From JK

Hi Debito: I wanted to share this with you on a side thread not connected to as it’s been on my mind for a while now.

I’ve been pondering the following question — “If I had to boil down the essence of what it is to be Japanese using a single expression, what would it be?”.

My answer is 「頑張れ」.

And the situation in 釜石市 epitomizes this.

Brief synopsis of 釜石市: it is 90% mountains and 10% flat land — the former is basically a glorified fishing village that was wiped out by the March tsunami.

I did some research, and it turns out that this place has been flattened by tsunami, not once, not twice, but three times prior to 2011 (specifically, 1896, 1933, and 1968).

The city council is floating various reconstruction plans, such as making the sea wall higher, raising the elevation of the land, better evacuation response and improved shelters, a ‘dual-layer’ approach, etc. The plans are either not feasible (project cost is too high and/or schedule cannot be met in time to prevent another tsunami disaster) or cannot guarantee the safety of the citizens and/or their property (people must be evacuated into shelters, not all will make it in time, those who do make it will survive, but their dwelling and belongings will be destroyed).

It appears to me that 釜石市 as a city is untenable unless the national government or fishing industry is going to do something to ensure that this city can last for more than 50 years at a time (e.g. shoulder the cost of a 10-meter high sea wall). If neither entity values the existence 釜石市 enough to make this happen, then in my opinion, the city need not exist.

But I have not seen or heard this point addressed. 「諦め」, it seems, is not an option on the table if certain conditions are not met to ensure the long-term survival of 釜石市. I have, however seen and heard a great deal of 「頑張れ東北!」 and 「頑張れ日本!」.

As you can see, 頑張れ is not always appropriate — it can only take you so far, and then that’s it. The key of course is to know when to 頑張れ and when to 諦め, and I don’t see much critical thinking along these lines taking place at the moment.

On a related note, 「頑張れ日本!」 and 「頑張れ東北!」come across to me as over-simplistic panaceas for Japan’s / Touhoku’s woes, and because of this, I resent the use of these expressions.

Cordial Regards, JK

P.S. Compare and contrast 「頑張れ」 with “La Joie de vivre”, the essence of what it is to be French IMO.


“The Douzo Effect”: One case study of a sexless marriage in Japan, by SexyLass


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog. In line with the current thread on sexuality in Japan, what follows is a testimony by a NJ female, Sexylass, about how she got into (and got out of) a sexless marriage. She also talks about “The Douzo Effect” — the chilling effect that forced sexuality has on a relationship. Have a read. Arudou Debito


The Douzo Effect
By SexyLass
September 7, 2011

I have always had a penchant for the exotic or the different. It is not the ordinary Australian girl that marries a Japanese man. There are a few of us but the most commonly-held scenario is Western men marrying Asian women (even if more Japanese men in fact marry foreign women). I love Asian faces and even though I am separated now from my Japanese husband something inside me still gets very excited when I see a good looking Asian man.

I studied Japanese at university as a mature age student and then I moved to Japan when I was thirty so I could really immerse myself into the Japanese language. I was a very lonely Western woman shagging the local temple’s Japanese monk whenever he could ‘come over and see me’ type of thing.

I met my (future) husband on a Japanese dating website for other lonely types. He spoke to me in Japanese. This was refreshing as the sexy monk who knew English never spoke to me in Japanese. This new man, lets call him Ken, charmed me by speaking to me slowly in Japanese, the way that every person in Japan expected me to speak to them in English so I could surreptitiously teach them English. Instead Ken did this for me in Japanese. Though we could probably have very well conversed in English as he had lived in America for a year of his life.

I stopped shagging the local monk and Ken and I spoke on the phone every night for several months in Japanese. We developed a long distance relationship over the phone. We had a lot of phone sex. I really believed that he was into it and his libido seemed quite similar to mine, that is, that he needed to have sex a lot. I had more long distance phone sex with Ken than I could count. Things looked very promising though we hadn’t yet met.

Ken began sending me gifts. It started with boxes of English versions of Japanese comic books. He sent me the English version of The Parasite and a few others because he wanted me to read what he read. He also sent me an orange wallet and said he had bought two so we could be like a ‘real Japanese couple’ with matching wallets. The gifts got bigger and more extravagant as time went on. There was an ice cream maker, boxes of chocolates and cartons of Lotte and Meiji chocolates, about as much as a convenience store would sell in a week perhaps. He also used to send me lots of chilled packages of meat. There was a lot of lamb, as Ken wanted me to experience the taste of his region. There were also a lot of sausages and beef and potatoes.

After a few weeks Ken convinced me to delete my profile from the dating website where we had met. I wasn’t keen to do it, but I felt obliged to with all the gifts I was getting and accepting from him. The gifts seemed never ending. I deleted my profile from the dating website.

I decided that I didn’t want to live in the same town as the monk anymore and that the only way to really emotionally leave the monk was to also physically leave the town where we both lived. So I got a better job in another prefecture. No longer was I going to be the English Conversation school slave catching trains all over Matsuyama all day from 6 in the morning till 10 at night with classes interspersed throughout train trips each day. I was going to be a different kind of English slave, an 8am to 4pm English slave. I had got a job as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) for a dispatching company. I was happy as I was going to be in Japanese schools hearing Japanese all day and although I was employed to teach English, at least I was going to be immersed in a more Japanese atmosphere. I had not come all the way to Japan to be told I could only speak English all day every day. I had studied Japanese as my university major so I wanted some kind of cultural immersion. I was happy to be going to work as an ALT.

When I arrived in the new town there was one more phone call from the monk but I sent him an angry text saying not to contact me anymore as I could no longer provide him with the emotional support he needed. That is to talk to him on the phone every night when he would call me after he had drunk a bottle of whiskey. The monk had alcohol issues. He had drained me spiritually for too long.

In the new town, the phone relationship and the phone sex continued with Ken. And so did the presents, as Ken sent me presents to settle in. These presents were too extravagant and really should have been a warning bell about Ken’s personality. I should have had them returned but I was poor and lonely and I was in love with him.

So I accepted the brand new fridge, washing machine, TV, couch, bed, vacuum cleaner, and microwave. It was over the top but the presents kept arriving. I emailed my mum and my best friend in Australia and they suggested to me that it was a dubious situation and that I should suspect something was wrong with Ken. Really I should have, someone who I had never even met in person was furnishing my flat with brand new appliances. I had heard lots of outrageous stories of generosity in Japan from other non-Japanese and I thought it was just that, Japanese generosity. I didn’t have much money at the time and I welcomed the gifts.

I enjoyed my new job as an ALT in Nagoya, I was hearing Japanese every day and some teachers in some staff rooms would speak to me in Japanese. Six months went by and Ken came down south to meet me. He was everything I hoped for, tall, dark and handsome and he took me out and he kissed me passionately on the first day. That night we slept together but that should have been a warning sign too. Although we had kissed lots of times that day I had to seduce him to sleep with me. He had got me excited through the day with lots of kissing and I thought he wanted the same thing as I did, wild hot sex. I thought he was really into me like I was into him. Though it seemed I did all the work and it was over within a minute. Oh well I thought, must have been the ‘first time excitement’ for Ken and he will probably take more time as he becomes more relaxed with me.

The next day Ken surprised me with tickets to his hometown. I stayed a week in with him and also met his parents. The meeting with the parents went well. They were kind and accepting of me in the first instance. The rest of the time we drove around his prefecture exploring and staying in various Japanese inns. There was enough sex in that week of our meeting for me to be satisfied. Once per night, and though it was at my initiation it didn’t phase me as he seemed to enjoy it. I was so happy to have met such a lovely man like Ken. I felt I had found true love.

Another thing that really makes sense to me now in hindsight is that I didn’t mind the lack of sex so much then, or lack of initiation by Ken as I had had some Australian boyfriends that wanted it all night every night. At that time I was relieved to have found someone that didn’t need sex three or four times a night. Though at the time Ken was probably wondering about this woman that had him ‘working’ every night. He was probably just being too polite and Japanese to talk about the fact that he didn’t want to do it so much.

It was a gorgeous week spent in his part of Japan and I went back down south with love in my heart for Ken. Six months later I quit my ALT job and moved prefectures to be with Ken.

I remember the day I arrived in Ken’s town; it was cold, wet, slushy and snowy. There was another warning sign when I turned up at the family noodle shop where Ken worked. I turned up and he didn’t seem too phased, he just kind of said “hi” and gave me the keys to his LDK (one room flat). His dad was in the shop and he wasn’t overly friendly either, though I had met him before. Perhaps Ken hadn’t even told his parents I was moving there. I mean it could be possible they had been quite shocked to see me actually turn up to live with their son.

I got a job as an ALT on the JET Program and life began as a live-in couple. We weren’t even living together a few months and the affection from him began to noticeably diminish. I remember one occasion when he came home after work and took my pants off. Ken went down on me, but only for about a minute, it didn’t last long, and that was the only time Ken ever went down on me in the whole 10 years we stayed together. Just once for a minute. Could you imagine just having intimate oral sex only once in your defacto or married life?

You might wonder why I stayed with him. I loved him and didn’t pay too much attention to the lack of sex at the beginning. Though I thought it was unusual I didn’t realise it was going to be a very serious problem in our marriage. But as he started to refuse my affections it became an enormous source of angst for me. It was a puzzle that I couldn’t solve, something he refused to talk about and something that I just hoped would get better and not worse as time went by. He wanted to be together all the time, just never sexually. I persisted to try and talk to him about the sexlessness but every time I would try to discuss it he refused to talk about it coming back each time with the same answer “nan no hanashi o shiteiru?” (what are you going on about?). We were both in denial that the marriage was not a normal marriage. I even suggested divorce back then but he refused to talk about that too.

Despite the pain of continuous sexual rejection I believed he truly loved me and I loved him and wanted to marry him. He never agreed or proposed though I suggested it. One day he completely surprised me by taking me to his parents’ house and announced that we were going to get married. I was shocked. And his mother must have been too as she burst into tears and hugged me hard for ages. Such a great show of emotion from Ken’s Japanese parents was quite phenomenal. Twelve months later we went to Australia and got married in my hometown.

The night before I flew out to Australia to get married I met a friend downtown for a coffee. I told her I didn’t really want to get married but my mother and his parents had gone to great expense and that I felt I had to go through with it. Really I shouldn’t have been so stupid, and so dishonest. I should have been assertive enough to cancel the wedding and at least pay my mum back for any money she had spent. I should have been a runaway bride but I was delusional. There is no excuse really, obviously I just needed to learn a very hard lesson.

So we were married. After a short honeymoon in Australia we went back to Japan and we never had sex again unless I insisted on it or initiated it. It was demoralising. It was shameful. Even in the first week of marriage I found strange messages on his phone of meeting rendezvous arrangements between him and various people. I thought they were potential girlfriends but in hindsight I think they must have been prostitutes. I confronted him and said I wanted an annulment. I didn’t care anymore and even told his parents about it, his parents screamed at him and he never did it again. Looking back I should have relied on my instinct. If you feel something is wrong in your relationship, well it is. If you think your partner is playing up, they generally are, what you feel is not imaginary.

It was like a prison sentence, not a marriage. I felt like I was in a sexual prison. The life sentence was that I would never have sex again with my husband but not with anyone else either because in the hope that things could get better I chose to be faithful to this man. I would get angry about it, then I would argue with him, then he would do something nice for me, take me out or buy me a present or tell me that he loved me. Each time he convinced me to stay in the marriage with him for love. This pattern continued for years. I would get angry and confront him and he’d convince me to stay, then I would calm down for a while always hoping for the best, thinking that one day our marriage might become slightly sexually normal. By normal I mean possibly we might have sex once a year or once every six months. I know now that if things don’t start out as you’d like they are not going to change into what you would like. I really seem to need to learn the hard way.


After five years I was tired of teaching English in Japan. And there weren’t many employment opportunities for non-Japanese where we lived. I wanted to broaden my employment prospects. Ultimately I planned to return to Australia and I hoped to get a job as a Japanese translator or interpreter. I thought I would try and get into an Australian university that offered the best course in translation and interpreting. I had to pay an invigilator and that person needed to be a lecturer working at a university in Japan. I didn’t know anyone so I took a chance and emailed a fairly well known teacher and writer. I will call him John. I emailed him and asked him to come over to my place and proctor me for a fee. John agreed.

And so John came over and invigilated me. I didn’t pass. My Japanese still wasn’t as good as I had hoped it was. Though John stayed for a cup of tea and a biscuit and we chatted. It was great to get to know John. He was divorced from a Japanese woman and as a matter of course we got talking about our Japanese marriages. I spilled over that I was in a sexless marriage with a great guy. How is that for an oxymoron, sexless marriage but great guy? “He doesn’t satisfy me or give me much affection, but he is a top guy, a good husband.” John identified too that his ex-wife had also given him years of sexless marriage. We made jokes about the ridiculousness of sexless marriages, and shared demoralising stories. Most importantly though I was given some comic relief to laugh at such a sad situation, being in a marriage when clearly one person didn’t want to be intimate with the other anymore. And possibly never had really wanted to.

One of John’s stories really stood out. He coined it the ‘Douzo Effect’. John recalled to me that similarly to me he had hounded his wife a fair bit as to when they would have sex again. To appease him, he told me that one night she got in the shower, dried herself off, then with a towel around her laid on their bed and said ‘douzo’. John was horrified and completely turned off. It was as though she was offering herself, her body but she was not actually interested in any of the sex that would take place. Literally offering herself for him to do with what he wanted to do with her, but she wouldn’t be there emotionally, just physically. As demoralising as it was we still laughed a lot about this story. And so the Douzo Effect was born. I never thought I would experience the Douzo Effect. John said another thing to me that day that really made sense too, “if you don’t like who you yourself are when you are with a person, it is time to get out of the relationship”. I listened and understood those words but didn’t act on them. I just kept hoping things would get better.

So life went on and I continued to check Ken’s phone. There was no sign of anything clandestine and in my denial I convinced myself Ken just wasn’t a sexual person. Ken got a spouse visa and came back to Australia with me and we moved in with my mother for 12 months. Later we moved into my townhouse which I had bought ten years previously. He got various jobs. He became mentally unstable. Countless times I tried to hug him and he would physically push me away. On the few occasions when I did initiate sex and we did it, his forehead would be all tight and frowning when we were in the act. It looked like he was physically repulsed by me. It was always with me on top and him on the bottom. He was too lazy to even make an effort to try any other positions. As long as he didn’t have to do anything and could just lay there he would ‘participate’.

It was a couple of years later when it happened to me. After years of very little sex and fruitless discussions (initiated by me) with Ken about the marriage the Douzo Effect became reality. I had all but given up trying to resolve the problem of our sexless marriage with Ken but I still mentioned it as a joke sometimes. I think I had already forgotten about it by the time he got back from his shower and laid on his bed (as we were sleeping in separate beds by then). I went into his room to say goodnight and he said to me ‘douzo’ as he lay there naked on a towel on his single bed. I couldn’t believe it, years later exactly the same thing that John had shared with me was happening to me. Needless to say I was completely turned off and didn’t take up the offer.

That was the last time I even talked about sex with him again. The Douzo Effect had turned me off so much I stopped even mentioning anything about our sexlessness. I began to completely give up on the marriage. I gave up trying to communicate with him about it and in my mind wondered how I could continue in a marriage with a man that never wanted to have sex with me ever again. I often wondered if I would experience mutual affection or sex again in this lifetime, before I died. I knew that my marriage was not a real marriage. By then I had even talked about my sexless situation with my family. My mother, my brothers and my sister-in-law knew about my sexless marriage. It was all so shameful for me. Before I had met Ken I had never spoken to my family about my sex life, that kind of thing did not feel right. But I had become so desperate and my self image was so distorted I couldn’t help sharing the details of my stupid situation with family and even workmates. In hindsight I think the sharing about it was the beginning of me emotionally leaving the marriage. By verbalising the situation I was beginning to clear a pathway out of the marriage. Though getting out was a long process.

Eventually there was no sex at all and by this point I no longer tried to have sex with him. After years of trying I no longer WANTED to have sex with him. We had not kissed for years. If he held my hand or sat next to me I would push him away, the same way he had physically pushed me off him for years. He had hurt me so much that I would not let him back in. I got fatter and ate more and more.

Despite Ken not wanting to have sex with me he desperately wanted a child and wanted me to go through the IVF process. He wanted an incubator. Thank goodness I was barren. I entertained this stupid thought and to cure my infertility I had an operation to get fibroids removed from my uterus. At the time I thought it would be my last chance at having a child. Funnily enough Ken’s grandmother had had the same operation. Her operation was so successful that she had produced four children after, one being Ken’s father.

After my operation when I was full of stitches and could barely walk Ken became mentally unstable and was in the end committed to a mental hospital for a few weeks. His family rang me and abused me and said that it was my fault that he had had his breakdown. That was interspersed with phone calls asking me to call the mental hospital and to interpret for them. After one too many abusive phone calls, I said to his mother that they would need to come to Australia to get him out and that they would need to do it through the Japanese consulate. They did, I didn’t hear from them much after that. They came and picked up Ken and took him back to Japan for lots of promised therapy.

Ken phoned me and mailed me from Japan as though nothing was wrong. In no uncertain terms I told him to stop calling me and in the emails I said I definitely didn’t want him in my life anymore. Ken was either angry or depressed before he finally broke down. He exhibited behaviours that didn’t correspond with friendship let alone marriage. He needed professional help. I did not like the person I had become in the marriage either. I had to begin to look after myself.

Unannounced, Ken turned up on my doorstep three months later. He said he was sleeping in his car. I felt sorry for him and took him back. He lived with me again for another twelve months. We never had sex again. We continued to sleep in separate rooms for those 12 months. I had become a mother figure to him. He wanted to stay in this mother-son marriage but again I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt that he was just using me for a place to live by then. He was also planning to set up a business despite being mentally unstable and having severe health problems related to his diabetes.

I suggested he find a share-house and so instead of calmly looking for a place online or in the paper he left in a wild rage. I did not throw him out, he chose to leave the way he did.

I heard from my sister-in-law who he had gone to visit and complain about me to, that he was sleeping in his car again. I was worried about him so I checked his mail. I know that is wrong but I was genuinely worried about him. I learnt that he had been sleeping in his car and emailing prostitutes and arranging meetings.

He had emailed a woman and arranged to buy her used knickers for the sum of $60 in a car park at night. Strangely though he had been coming back to my house during the day when I was at work and doing the dishes and putting the rubbish out. Buying used knickers at night and house chores by day.

After I discovered what he was up to, the proof that Ken still had sexual desires just not with me, I sent him a text asking for my key back. I also let him know that he wasn’t welcome in my house anymore. He returned my key and took the last of his things. I didn’t tell him I knew about the prostitutes, knickers or other strange mails. It was not going to resolve anything by this stage.

I have not seen him since and I don’t wish to. I still miss him, but I realise I am probably missing the Ken that I want him to be and not the Ken that he really is. I would rather be single and a bit lonely than to live in that lonely prison of a marriage. A marriage where I couldn’t have sex with my partner but I couldn’t have sex with anyone else either. I plan to have sex again with someone who mutually wants to have sex with me before I die at least. Now I have the freedom I should have granted myself long ago. I should have ended the relationship and not married but hindsight is only valuable if we treat it as a learning experience.

Basically Ken is a good person and despite everything that happened between us I wish him all the best. I hope he is ok but we don’t need to be married anymore, that is for sure. I think we are just two people that were getting older and got married for all the wrong reasons. We certainly aren’t the first and wont be the last.


You might wonder why I stayed for so long, ten years with this man. I took my marriage vows seriously and tried to make the best of the marriage. I continuously hoped for the best, that things would get better. I even convinced myself at times that things could be worse and that I would be able to stay in a sexless marriage. Clearly the truth is that Ken didn’t desire me, he wanted a wife who played his mother. He is still interested in sex, just not with me.

It is really important that a couple agree about sex before they get married. No one is going to change and it is really important that your idea of marriage is the same idea of your partner’s idea of marriage, before you sign up. People get married for the wrong reasons. I did. I was lonely and I was worried about my age and finding someone. I also thought I had met the most wonderful man. He was kind, hardworking, funny, cooked well and always wanted to be with me. I ignorantly thought everything would work out for the best.

Being single now is great. I don’t plan on getting married again. I have a pretty good job and have interesting hobbies. I wouldn’t mind a sex friend or two but that’s all. I don’t want to live with anyone again. I am not holding out for Mr Right or even Mr Fantastic. I am not even searching for anyone. I am enjoying my life, my friends, my work and my hobbies. I like who I am and I will not stay in a relationship again because I think I have to.


Recently I took a risk and asked an acquaintance on a date. I didn’t expect anything to come of it but since I wrote my story I have had sex with this lovely man. He worships my body with his. Sleeping with him in the last few weeks has boosted my self-image and self-esteem more than thousands of dollars worth of therapy ever could. I don’t know where this relationship will go and am not worried either. I am enjoying the intimacy. The new man never directly or indirectly criticises my body. He accepts me and loves me for who I am. I did not realise how much the sexless marriage had damaged my self esteem until I finally had mutually desired sex again. The sex I am having now has done more for me than any therapy would ever do. I cannot emphasise that enough for anyone who is coming out of a sexless marriage. Hallelujah I am a woman again, a desirable beautiful woman.


Peter Tasker in Foreign Policy Magazine: “Japan will rebuild, but not how you think”. Takes opportunity of Japan’s worst postwar disaster to re-advance outmoded Chrysanthemum Club-ism.


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  To take us through the holiday weekend (and shortly before I vacation this blog for the summer), let’s have a discussion about this article by Peter Tasker which achieved a prominent spot in a prominent policymakers’ magazine.

The article offers hope that Japan will rebuild.  But it also cherry-picks economic statistics to show that Japan isn’t as bad economically as all that (he even dismisses the “Lost Decade(s)”; does Mr. Tasker get out of Tokyo much?).  And, more oddly, he takes the opportunity of Japan’s worst postwar disaster to swipe at the “Revisionists” (the contrapose to the “Chrysanthemum Club”), particularly the late Chalmers Johnson.  The C-Club, a group of scholars with great sway in US-Japan Relations for just about the entire Postwar Era, generally tends to explain away most of Japan’s disinclination to follow international rules and norms by citing their own conjured-up sacerdotal cultural oddities and esoterica (or, less charitably, “intellectual chicanery” and “uncritical apolog[ism] for Japan”).  It preys on the fact that it knows more Japanese words and concepts than most Western readers do, and cites them even if they aren’t grounded in much.  And woe betide any competing point of view to come in and spoil the US-Japan Relationship love-in.

True to form, in the best rewarmed Reishauer, Mr. Tasker acclaims the country’s “extraordinary social cohesion and stoicism” in the name of “social stability” and “national self-respect”, thanks to “mutual respect, not victory in competition”, and of course, “gaman” and “shimaguni konjo“.  This overseas school of thought once again portrays poor, poor Japan as perpetually misunderstood by the West, not as a corporatist state that serves its citizenry at times pretty poorly and seeks little consent from its governed.  As Japan’s per capita incomes keep dropping, people (particularly new employment market entrants) find themselves less able to advance or improve their lives, while the flaws of the state have come ever more into stark relief thanks to Fukushima.

For this time, Fukushima’s increasing radiation exposure is not something that can wait like a regular disaster (such as the slow recovery efforts after the Kobe Earthquake of 1995).  Meanwhile, the ineffectual state keeps covering up information, shifting safety standards for radioactivity, and exposing more people and the international food chain to accumulating toxin.  Yet it’s this much-vaunted public “stoicism” (as opposed to feelings of powerlessness and futility) that is precisely what will do people in.  Mr. Tasker’s citing of the alleged common belief that “the janitor in your apartment building is not a representative of ‘the other’. He is you.” may be something the Japanese are being told to tell themselves (although I can’t find any sources for that), but I don’t believe this attitude is going to be a constructive source for recovery this time.  Fukushima will, however, eventually become a source of “grand-mal victimization”, as a substitute for solution and revolution, as the malcontents who might do something will give up and/or just flee.  We will quite possibly see an exodus (if there isn’t an unreported one going on already) of Japanese (which has happened periodically before during the other times Japan’s economic system broke down; hence the immigrant Japanese communities in places like South America, Hawaii, and California) from this system which quite simply cannot fix itself, and the people feel powerless to demand better even as they get slowly poisoned.

The difference this time is that the breakdown in the state is spreading toxins beyond its own borders, unabated four months later, with no end in sight.  I wonder if Mr. Tasker would offer any revisions to his article now.  But I doubt it.  His politics come through pretty clearly below.

Finally, in contrapose to the media’s much vaunted “Japanese earthquake without looting” canard, I enclose at the very bottom two articles for the record substantiating ATM machine and convenience store theft in the earthquake areas.  A friend also noted a Kyodo wire entitled “684 million yen stolen from ATMs in hardest-hit prefectures” that made the July 16 Japan Times but he says can’t be found archived anywhere.  “Stoicism and social cohesion”?  People are people.  Shit happens and people react.  Let’s not obfuscate this with cultural canards aiming at advancing the outdated politics and analytical rubric of the Chrysanthemum Club.  Arudou Debito


The Island Nation
Japan will rebuild, but not how you think. And 20 years of misread history holds the clues.

BY PETER TASKER | Foreign Policy MARCH 24, 2011

“When my mother was 10, she was evacuated to Sendai and saw the whole town get bombed flat. My father experienced the big air-raids on Yokohama. Their generation started out when there was nothing left of Japan but smoking ruins. Don’t worry about us — we’ll definitely recover this time too.”

So read an email I received a few days ago from a family friend, a professor of literature at a prestigious Japanese university. It served as further confirmation that the earthquake that hit Japan on March 11 may have shifted the land mass of the main island by six feet, but the country’s extraordinary social cohesion and stoicism haven’t budged an inch.

In a sense, Japan has been waiting for a crisis just such as this to show its inherent strengths. The foreign media have been hyperventilating over the question of whether Japan can rebuild (and improve upon) its economy. This misconceived idea stems from the frenzy of the 1980s, when foreign writers and academics lauded and feared Japanese industrial might. But when the Japanese economy stagnated, the praise and warnings turned to lectures and self-congratulation, as the West patted itself on the back for having bested the Japanese threat. But this analysis of the rise and fall of Japan’s economy misses the point. In my three decades of residence here, Japan’s underlying reality has changed a lot less than volatile foreign perceptions.

The Japanese economic miracle had nothing to do with competitiveness or the supposed omniscience of Tokyo’s elite bureaucrats; it had everything to do with the resilience of ordinary Japanese people and the country’s deep reservoir of social capital. And when Japan’s economy faltered during the “lost decades,” this likewise had nothing to do with a stodgy growth model or Tokyo’s elite bureaucrats having dug their heads into the sand. Japan was urged to make radical economic reforms by many foreign observers, who were then disappointed by Tokyo’s glacial progress in making them. But economic efficiency was never the end goal, whether Japan’s economy was rising or falling. It was social stability. And this foundation has survived two tough decades and is now a national insurance policy being paid out in the aftermath of the recent disaster.

Japan will rebuild its economy, probably with impressive speed. But don’t expect to see a plethora of Japanese billionaires emerging, along the U.S. or Chinese model, or the adoption of hostile takeovers, Reagan-Thatcher-style supply-side reforms, and the rest of the neoliberal agenda. Instead Japan will dig deep into its own values to forge a 21st-century version of the “rise from the smoking ruins.”

If modern Japan has a common ethic, it’s based on mutual respect, not victory in competition. The most potent symbols of this Japanese sense of social cohesion are the dowdy blue overalls worn by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his ministers at news conferences and other public appearances since the earthquake. The idea is to express solidarity with the workers at the front line and reduce the sense of separation between rulers and ruled. This was a strategy also employed by the legendary business leaders of Japan’s 1960s golden era. Soichiro Honda, for example, attended meetings with bankers in his overalls.

Indeed, the Japanese public looks back on the 1960s not primarily as a time of rapid growth, but as one of shared purpose and real equality. The 1980s, on the other hand, when Japan became a huge player on the world stage, is viewed with ambivalence. Justifiably so, as it led to the inflation of the “bubble economy,” a period of manic speculation that makes America’s subprime housing disaster look tame by comparison. Japan does gaman (endurance) superbly. It copes with the challenges of success less well.

This point was deeply misunderstood in the 1980s, when Japan inspired a mixture of respect and dread on the global stage, particularly in the United States. A group of academics and writers, most prominently the late Chalmers Johnson of the University of California, came up with the idea that the Japanese industrial challenge was so formidable that it required “containment,” just as Soviet communism had.

Almost everything these experts said turned out to be spectacularly wrong. They had misread the causes of Japan’s postwar success. The supposedly farsighted technocrats praised by Johnson in his 1982 book, MITI and the Japanese Miracle, were the same people who tried to stop Honda from getting into the auto market, poured public money into sunset industries, and built nuclear power plants on a tsunami-prone coast at sea level.

The biggest mistake was to overlook the Japanese social consensus that interpreted international economic competitiveness not as an end in itself, but as an indication of national self-respect.

The generation of Japanese brought up amid the postwar devastation was driven by a hunger to reconstruct everything — their lives, their society, their country’s standing in the world. Once Japan was strong enough to be left alone, the target had been achieved.

After the collapse of the bubble economy in 1990, Japan did indeed descend into stagnation and banking crisis. At the time it seemed as if Japan’s policymakers and bankers were uniquely incompetent in their fumbling attempts to tackle the problems. With the hindsight offered by the global financial crisis, it is clear that there are no easy fixes to the damage caused by the implosion of a large-scale bubble. And the United States is not one to judge: Washington has refused to make Wall Street take the harsh medicine it urged on Japan a decade earlier.

By the early years of this century, however, Japan had largely worked through its post-bubble malaise, and its economic performance started to improve. The Japanese corporate sector returned to record margins. The percentage of Japanese exports going to the emerging world soared to much higher levels than those from the United States and Europe. And corporate Japan’s spending on research and development was 50 percent higher (as a percentage of sales) than U.S. and European competitors.

There are two reasons that this went largely unremarked. First, economists usually discuss GDP without reference to currency markets, but this can obscure what’s really going on. Japan’s tight monetary policy has caused the yen to strengthen significantly against the dollar and dollar-linked currencies — which raises the global purchasing power of Japanese households and corporations. In comparison, U.S. growth looks impressive when denominated in dollars, but not so much when taking into account the weak dollar policy followed by Messrs. Greenspan and Bernanke. If denominated in Japanese yen, U.S. GDP has been stagnant for the past 10 years.

Second, Japanese economic output per worker actually ran ahead of U.S. levels in the 2003-2008 period. Sure, U.S. GDP growth has been boosted — but largely by the rising total number of workers, itself a result of population increase, mainly caused by immigration. This obscures what’s really happening to living standards. If the well-being of the mass of citizens is the goal of policy, Japan’s performance this century does not justify the “lost decade” sound bite.

Foreign observers often see mass immigration as a cure-all for Japan’s demographic problem. It hasn’t happened and it isn’t likely to: In the Japanese hierarchy of needs, social cohesion ranks higher than top-line growth. Japanese opinion tends to focus on the potential downsides of large-scale immigration: Inequality would probably rise; the wages of low-earning native workers would likely be deflated by the new competition, while the upper-middle class would benefit from the services of inexpensive cleaners, handymen, and baby sitters. The Japanese also fear a dilution of shimaguni konjo, the “island nation spirit” that has helped them cope with a series of disasters of apocalyptic proportions.

The quiet strength of today’s Japan is that the janitor in your apartment building is not a representative of “the other.” He is you. In fact, there are thousands of janitors in apartment buildings across Japan who cut the same rumpled figure as Kan in his blue overalls. It is this Japanese narrative of a shared suffering and renewal against all odds that will drive Japan’s post-quake development. We may wish the Japanese to become more like us, but that isn’t going to happen. As they set about the task of recovery, they will become more like themselves.

Peter Tasker is a Tokyo-based investor and commentator.


700 M. Yen Stolen from ATMs in 3 Prefs Hardest Hit by March Disaster

Tokyo, July 14 (Jiji Press)–Some 684.4 million yen in total was stolen from automated teller machines between March 11, the day of the major earthquake and tsunami, and the end of June in three prefectures hardest hit by the disaster, Japan’s National Police Agency reported Thursday.

The number of thefts targeting ATMs at financial institutions and convenience stores reached 56, while the number of attempted such thefts stood at seven in the northeastern Japan prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the agency said.

Fukushima Prefecture accounted for 60 pct of the number of cases and the amount stolen, with the impact of the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant being blamed for the high figure.

No similar cases were reported in March-June 2010. ATM thefts rose sharply after the disaster, but the situation in the prefecture is now under control, the police said.

Some 750 police officers are patrolling areas around the nuclear power plant.

No. of crimes in 1st half down for 9th straight year

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The number of criminal cases reported to or detected by police in Japan in the January-June period fell 7.1 percent from a year earlier to 711,837, the ninth straight year of decline for the first half of the year, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The number of crimes for which suspects were questioned totaled 223,662, down 7.2 percent, involving 146,585 suspects, down 5.2 percent. The ratio of the number of crimes in which suspects were questioned remained unchanged at 31.4 percent.

In the wake of the March 11 earthquake-tsunami and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, many thefts and property crimes were reported in the hardest hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, the NPA said.

Some 684 million yen was stolen from March to June at convenience stores and automated teller machines in evacuated areas.

The number of burglaries also increased, jumping 109.1 percent to 481 cases in Fukushima Prefecture alone. Burglaries at empty stores rose 35.7 percent to 19 cases in Iwate, by 75.8 percent to 225 cases in Miyagi, and by 57.4 percent to 107 cases in Fukushima.

However, the overall number of offenses violating the Penal Code in the three prefectures dropped in the March-June period. Overall the number dropped by 16.3 percent to 6,895 in Miyagi, by 15.1 percent to 2,135 in Iwate and by 21.4 percent to 5,058 in Fukushima.

Throughout Japan, a total of 51 cases of fraud and criminal business scams involving donations for the March disaster victims were also registered, with damage amounting to about 12.6 million yen, the police said.

(Mainichi Japan) July 15, 2011


Weekend Tangent: Historical comparison between contemporary social attitudes justifying racial discrimination in Japan and pre-Civil-War slavery in America


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to JapanForeign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Happy Weekend, Blog.  Today I’d like to write about something that came to mind when I was listening to National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” podcast of February 21, 2011, which interviewed author and Columbia University professor Eric Foner for his book “The Fiery Trial:  Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery”. (NPR information site on this show, excerpt from the book, and link to audio recording here.)

It was an excellent interview, shedding insights on just how entrenched unequal treatment towards people was in a system that on paper and in its very declaration of independence proclaimed that all men are created equal.  I found similarities in the attitudes that people have towards foreigners in Japan, based not only on recent confessions by a public prosecutor that criminal jurisprudence training seeks to systematically deny human rights to foreigners, but also consequent twitter comments that justified the status quo of unequal treatment for foreigners.  It shows just how far Japan as a society (not to mention the GOJ’s Bureau of Human Rights, which itself misunderstands the very concept of human rights in its surveys and awareness raising efforts; see my Japan Times article, “Human Rights Survey Stinks:  Government effort riddled with bias, bad science”, of October 23, 2007) has to go before it understands that concepts of human rights are universal, not based upon citizenship.

Now for the disclaimers:  I am aware that apparently linking the treatment of NJ in Japan to slaves in America is not an apt comparison (although Japan’s “Trainee/Researcher” system for importing cheap NJ labor has encouraged widespread labor abuses, child labor, and, yes, even slavery).  I am aware that most NJ are in Japan of their own free will (if one ignores the forced labor of many Zainichi ancestors), whereas slaves were brought to the US by force.  Et cetera.  But the two concepts are related if not co-joined, as racial discrimination and justified unequal treatment is common to them both.  What I want you to think about as you read the interview is how the contemporary debate arena and concepts of fundamental equality were blurred in both Pre-Civil-War USA and are still being blurred in contemporary Japan, tying the hands of even someone as able and firm in his convictions as Abraham Lincoln.

Excerpt of the interview follows, transcribed by me.  Errors mine.  Quick comment from me below.  Arudou Debito



TERRY GROSS:  Did Lincoln always believe that slavery was unjust?

ERIC FONER:  […]  The problem arises when you ask the question, “What do you do about slavery, given that it’s unjust?”  Lincoln, like many many other Americans, took a long time to figure out exactly what steps ought to be taken…

GROSS:  I want you to read a statement that he made in Peoria in 1854, and let’s start with the significance of this speech.

FONER:  1854 is when his great rival, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas forced the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress, which [repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and] opened up a good portion of the Midwest to the possible expansion of slavery… He comes out as a leading proponent against the westward expansion of slavery.  He talks about the evil of slavery in and of itself… Lincoln says,

“This declared indifference, but as I must think covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate.  I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.  I hate it because it deprives our republic of its just influence in the world, enables the enemies of free institutions to a plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites, causes the real allies of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the declaration of independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self interest.”

That little paragraph somehow condenses Lincoln’s thinking about slavery.  “Slavery is a monstrous injustice.”  That’s the language of abolitionists, not politicians… But then he goes on to more practical issues:  It makes the United States look ridiculous in the world.  We claim the American Revolution to be the exemplar of freedom and justice in the world.  And yet, we have this giant slave system.  And it enables the enemies of democracy to say, “These Americans are just hypocrites.  They don’t believe in their own founding principles.

GROSS:  So when hearing this you might think that Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery.  But as you pointed out he wasn’t yet an abolitionist.  And in another paragraph in the same speech he says some things that I think will surprise many Americans.

FONER:  Well, he goes on to say that slavery is wrong, but what should we do about it?  Here he candidly admits that he doesn’t know what to do about it… and Lincoln is thinking through his own position on slavery here.  Lincoln:

“If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution.  My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.  But a moment’s reflection would convince me that however high hope there may be in this, in the long run its sudden execution is impossible.  What then?  Free them all and keep them here among us as underlings?  Is this quite certain that this betters their condition?  Free them and make them politically and socially our equals?  My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would we all know that the great mass of White people will not.  Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question if indeed it is any part of it.  A universal feeling, whether well- or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded.  We cannot, then, make them equals.  It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted, but for their tardiness in this I will not undertake to judge our brethrens of the South.”

Again, here are some remarkable comments by Lincoln which epitomize views until well into the Civil War.  Slavery really ought to be abolished but he doesn’t really know how to do it.  He’s not an abolitionist who criticizes Southerners… for not taking action.  His first impulse is to free them and send them back to Liberia.  At this point Lincoln does not see Black people as an intrinsic part of American society.  They are kind of an alien group who have been uprooted from their own society and unjustly brought across the ocean.  Send them back across the ocean.  This was not an unusual position at the time.

GROSS:  …I wonder how Lincoln interpreted the Declaration of Independence when it said, “All men are created equal”?  Did he think it meant all White men?

FONER:  No, Lincoln always insisted that that phrase meant everybody.  The question is, “What does it mean when you say they are created ‘equal?'”  And during the great Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Douglas is constantly badgering Lincoln, saying, “Lincoln is a believer in Negro equality.”  That was like the nuclear weapon of politics back then.  And Lincoln had to deny it.  And he did deny it.  The statements that most disturb Lincoln’s admirers come out of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, where he explicitly denies believing in Blacks having the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to intermarriage with White people.  What then did “equality” mean?  Lincoln is very specific about it:  Equality means the right to improve your condition in life.  As he had, of course, growing up in very modest circumstances.  Black people, he always insisted, should have the rights to the fruits of their own labor, the right to improve their condition in society.  That’s why slavery is wrong, and on that ground he says that they are equal to everybody.  But these other rights — political rights, civil rights, are conventional rights, which the majority of society has the right to regulate.  Women, for example, do not have the right vote, but that does not mean they should be slaves.  Lincoln makes that distinction.   To us, that sounds like an untenable decision.  How can you improve your condition in life if you lack all the legal rights?… And Lincoln had not yet thought that through.  It isn’t until the middle of the Civil War that Lincoln begins thinking seriously about the future role of Black people in American society.  But on this question of Black equality, he’s walking a tightrope — between his belief in a basic equality for all people, and on the other hand the unwillingness to challenge the racist views of his state [Illinois], which was a deeply racist state…


COMMENT:  Let’s consider the similarities.  Here we have the status quo in pre-Civil War USA interfering with both conscience and practice of promoting universal equality.  We have the status quo in Japan today asserting both in practice and in debates interfering with the promotion of universal equality by nationality (and by extension, race).  For example, if any Japanese politician were to say, more so now than ever, that certain NJ should have the right to vote in local elections, they would most likely lose their seat.  If we have people protesting that criminal prosecution treats NJ less fairly, even denies them fundamental human rights, we have people shouting them down online — with no exceptionalists piping up — with assumptions that NJ have criminal association.

The rest of the developed world has mostly moved on to accept universal human rights (as has Japan, both under its constitution and under the international treaties it has signed).  But public awareness of the issue, as Mark in Yayoi said yesterday, is sorely lacking:

“The Twitter comments that follow [yesterday’s article] are dispiriting — nobody seems to notice the fundamental incongruousness of discussing members of a criminal organization and people who happen to have different nationalities in the same breath. And then there are the other commenters who support the idea of certain people not having human rights. Others claim that foreign embassies should be the ones to guarantee the rights of immigrants. They miss the fundamental meaning of ‘human’ rights: rights are inherent aren’t handed down by the government! The government can restrict certain people’s rights, but the default state is not ‘zero rights’.”

In the United States, it took a war to get rid of institutionalized slavery, and more than 100 years to get equal treatment by race before the law.  I am not sure what it will take for Japanese society to realize that fundamentally unequal treatment towards NJ has to stop. Arudou Debito

Post #2000! Special Discussion: Making “friends” in Japan, successfully?


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to JapanForeign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog. To commemorate today,’s 2000th blog post since 2006 (yes, it’s been almost five years since went daily as a blog), I would like to devote the next day or two to an important discussion regarding assimilation.

I got together with some old friends for beers some time ago (we do this whenever I’m in town), who all together have a combined tenure of more than a century of experiences living in Japan. We’re all English-native Caucasian males, for what it’s worth.

Our conversation suddenly took an interesting turn when one of our group asked a poignant question:

“How many of us have any Japanese friends with whom we can get together like this and talk as much in depth?”

There was a long pause, and we all realized, when it came to Japanese males, the answer was zero. Yes, zero.

We all said we had made Japanese female friends (we are guys, after all), finding J-women more curious and open-minded than their male counterparts (and that included relationships that weren’t all physical).

But not Japanese men.

Several theories abounded. One was that Japanese men in general make their friends in school, and view other males as rivals and competitors from that point on in life, as they climb the social and corporate ladder. Japanese men are thus some of the loneliest people in the world.

Another was that Japanese men just weren’t all that interesting. Not only are they completely work-oriented (as opposed to women, who also had social lives outside of mere drinks after work), they seemed to keep their personalities closely locked up inside, only showing a professional or socially-attuned mask to the public no matter what. So conversations inevitably went boring (notwithstanding the incipient language barriers), basically boiling down to the food and chopsticks questions if not the occasional comparative culture stuff, but nothing that would make for an interesting conversation about life in Japan or in general.

Yet another was that people did initially make male friends, but months or years later, realized that their “friend” was basically out for the “gaijin experience” (kinda like the Jimi Hendrix Experience).  Felt like they had a curious cultural succubus (in male form) voyeuristically leeching off them as a gaijin, instead of a true friend out to share life with them. So they toned it down or broke it off.

Whatever the reason, the fact that ALL six of us despite an extended period felt that we had made NO particularly long-lasting friendships with our Japanese male counterparts was shocking. I thought I’d ask Readers if they have similar or different experiences, and your theories why.  People who also can speak to the female-female side of the experience are of course welcome to comment.

Keep it nice and constructive, please. It’s an essential question when it comes to issues of immigration and assimilation. Arudou Debito

Readers: Critics are dominating the discussion re my last Japan Times column on undeserved “Fly-jin Bashing”. Consider writing to the JT to offer some balance?


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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

UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog. Question for you:

Did you like my most recent Japan Times column on the “Fly-jin” bashing?

If so, please write in to the Japan Times and say so (

Internet bullies are writing in and once again trying to reassert their control over the debate.

Don’t let them anymore. Offer some balance.



My previous Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column on ‘Fly-jin’ was, as predicted, controversial, and occasioned I’m told more comment than any column I’ve written before. Wow. Thanks for commenting.

However, I’m also told the comments were overwhelmingly negative towards my standpoint. This is fine too, since it is my job as a columnist to stimulate debate and offer alternate views.

However, remember what my column was on: How NJ are bullying each other into silence and submission in a society that already disenfranchises NJ.

If you disagree with my last column’s thesis, that’s fine. It’s your right. And clearly your voice is already being adequately represented.

However, if you agree with my thesis, and you don’t want the bashers to have the last word on this topic, I suggest you speak up now and send in your opinions to the Japan Times.

After all, it is generally the case that the critics are more likely to comment than those who agree. It’s tougher to build upon the sentiment of “I completely agree, the end”, than it is “I completely disagree and here’s why”.

But this time it’s special.

The whole point of the previous column was that media bullies have been controlling the debate on the status of NJ, and decrying them, unfairly as I argued, as deserters. “Fly-jin”.

If you don’t want them to continue to control the debate or let them have the final word on the subject, I suggest you send in your thoughts to the Japan Times via

Consider offering some balance, please.

There has been too much complacency and silent victimization regarding this subject already. Speak up.

Thanks. Arudou Debito

UPDATE:  Here’s how the debate went in the Japan Times regarding the “Fly-jin” article. Thanks for commenting.

Discussion: Is Japan in danger of a nuclear disaster or not? What source to trust?


Hi Blog.  I have to admit being thoroughly confused about what’s going on at Fukushima’s nuclear power plant.  Are we in danger of a nuclear meltdown or aren’t we?

I’m hearing from NHK and the connected authorities that there is no cause for concern and everything is under control (as roofs get blown off plant buildings).

I’m also hearing from overseas sources that there is little cause for alarm.  For example, here.

Yet I’m hearing from sources on the ground without an interest in the nuclear power industry making statements like these:

(Source is anonymized, but is a trustworthy on about matters dealing with U.S. military:)


March 14, 2011:  You are absolutely right to have zero trust in Government of Japan (GOJ) or Japanese-controlled press on this.  The Japanese authorities simply won’t confirm the meltdown that is occurring.  Here are some of the facts from the western press:

1.  The USS Ronald Reagan, located 100 miles Northeast, had to relocate due to a radioactive plume cloud heading their way.
2.  17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity.  All helos are being decontaminated as they return to the Reagan.
3.  The Navy has tested positively for airborne radioactivity up to 100 miles away from the plant.
4.  The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods.  This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors.  After that, they are out of options.
5.  Cesium has been detected by the Navy in the air.  The presence of this element in the air is an indication that the rods have actually started melting.
6.  The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels.  This plant is much closer to Tokyo.

Now, let’s remember how the GOJ is treating the casualty numbers.  They are reporting 1600 casualties right now.  That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”.  That is the way the GOJ operates.   They are simply not forthcoming with information.  The US Govt. was extremely frustrated at this way of operating during the Kobe earthquake.  The US Government could not get adequate situational awareness because the GOJ was simply not forthcoming.  This is no different.

Right now, the GOJ “officials have yet to confirm a meltdown because IT IS TOO HOT INSIDE THE TO CHECK.” ( So, do they expect the reactor to cool down so they can check and confirm that the rods are actually melting?  Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Japan’s prime minister, said Sunday the situation was “under control.” (   Under control? You can’t confirm if the rods are melting because it’s too hot to check, but everything is under control?

Stephanie Cooke, editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly for the atomic-energy community, said best summarized the GOJ on this issue by saying “The more they say they’re in control, the more I sense things may be out of control. (”


So which is it?  Again, is disinclined to trust official sources given their record regarding safety and forthcomingness (witness 1999’s nuclear accident at Tokai-mura and the consequent media debacle).  But I wish I knew what to believe.  Suggestions and links from Readers welcome.  Arudou Debito

UPDATE MARCH 16: The thing that I don’t get about recent developments is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues.  Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy?  “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.

Weekend Tangent: BBC show QI gets scolded by J media and embassy for insensitivity re atomic bombings


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Hi Blog.  As a Weekend Tangent (for the record, I have no particular stance on this issue), here’s another bit following yesterday’s blog entry about official GOJ reactions to overseas media:  The BBC One show QI and its segment on the “unluckiest (or luckiest, depending on how you look at it) man in the world”:  a survivor of two atomic bombings who died recently at the age of 93.  It has engendered much criticism from the J media and cyberspace.  Here’s a comment from Reader JS:


Hi, Dunno if you want to cover this, but NHK Newswatch 9 have just done a substantial piece on the coverage of a double A-bomb survivor on a BBC show called QI that involved the anchors lecturing us on the insensitivity, ending with “shame on them”. This is the offending clip:

And the coverage:

Japan protests to BBC over treatment of ‘double A-bomb survivor’
(Mainichi Japan) January 21, 2011

Tokyo (Kyodo) — The Japanese Embassy in London lodged a written protest against the BBC and a TV production agency, arguing that they insulted a deceased Japanese man who survived both the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, embassy and other sources said Thursday.

In a comedy quiz show broadcasted by the BBC on Dec. 17, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, whose international profile has been raised as a double hibakusha and who died at age 93 last January, was introduced as “The Unluckiest Man in the World,” with pictures of his face and atomic clouds presented in the studio.

A producer of the popular quiz show, “QI,” has already apologized to people who sent protest e-mails, noting “we greatly regret it when we cause offence” and “it is apparent to me that I underestimated the potential sensitivity of this issue to Japanese viewers.”

But the producer added the program has often featured the tragic experiences of Americans and Europeans in a similar manner.

On the show in question, the host explained that Yamaguchi was badly burned by the atomic bomb when he was in Hiroshima on business and after returning to Nagasaki, he was atomic-bombed again.

One of the guests asked whether Yamaguchi got on a train to go to Nagasaki. The host said, “Even though the atom bomb fell, the trains were working. So he got on a train to Nagasaki and a bomb fell again,” drawing laughs from the show’s personalities and the audience.

According to the embassy, it sent the BBC and the production agency a letter on Jan. 7, saying it is inappropriate and “insensitive” to pick on Yamaguchi in that way.

In Japan, Toshiko Yamasaki, 62, Yamaguchi’s oldest daughter living in Nagasaki, expressed her anger about the issue, saying on Friday, “I cannot forgive (the quiz show) as it looked down on my father’s experiences when the world is moving toward nuclear disarmament.”

She added her family had laughingly talked about her father being unlucky, but “it is a different story when (my father) was treated in that way in Britain, a nuclear-capable nation.”

Such a problem happens due in part to “a lack of seriousness about nuclear reduction,” she said.

Born in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi suffered the A-bombing in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and another bombing in Nagasaki after returning home three days later.



BBC 被爆者をコメディーに
NHK 1月21日 21時15分




Japan protests to BBC over treatment of ‘double A-bomb survivor’
Kyodo News/Japan Today Friday 21st January, 05:34 PM JST

LONDON —The Japanese Embassy in London lodged a written protest against the BBC and a TV production agency, arguing that they insulted a deceased Japanese man who survived both the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, embassy and other sources said Thursday.

The Japanese Embassy received on Friday a letter of apology from a producer of the popular quiz show, ‘‘QI,’’ dated Monday, after the producer had apologized to people who had sent protest e-mails.

The content of the letter to the embassy was similar to the producer’s e-mail response to the people who protested, and said that ‘‘we greatly regret it when we cause offence’’ and ‘‘it is apparent to me that I underestimated the potential sensitivity of this issue to Japanese viewers.’‘

In a comedy quiz show broadcast by the BBC on Dec 17, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, whose international profile has been raised as a double hibakusha and who died at age 93 last January, was introduced as ‘‘The Unluckiest Man in the World,’’ with pictures of his face and atomic clouds presented in the studio.

But the producer added in his message that “QI” is not the type of program that makes fun of featured subjects and it introduced Yamaguchi’s experience without misrepresenting it.

On the show in question, the host explained that Yamaguchi was badly burned by the atomic bomb when he was in Hiroshima on business and after returning to Nagasaki, he was atomic-bombed again.

One of the guests asked whether Yamaguchi got on a train to go to Nagasaki. The host said, ‘‘Even though the atom bomb fell, the trains were working. So he got on a train to Nagasaki and a bomb fell again,’’ drawing laughs from the show’s personalities and the audience.

The show prompted the Japanese Embassy to send the BBC and the production agency a letter on Jan 7, saying it is ‘‘inappropriate and insensitive’’ to present Yamaguchi in the way that it did, it said.

In Japan, Toshiko Yamasaki, 62, Yamaguchi’s oldest daughter living in Nagasaki, expressed her anger, saying on Friday, ‘‘I cannot forgive (the quiz show) as it looked down on my father’s experiences when the world is moving toward nuclear disarmament.’‘

She said her family had laughingly talked about her father being unlucky, but ‘‘it is a different story when (my father) was treated in that way in Britain, a nuclear-capable nation.’‘

This kind of problem occurs due in part to ‘‘a lack of seriousness about nuclear reduction,’’ she said.

Born in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi suffered the A-bombing of Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945, and the bombing of Nagasaki three days later after returning home.

For the record, QI is a general knowledge quiz show with liberal doses of humour (points are awarded not for being correct, but for being “quite interesting”). They were actually quite complimentary about Yamaguchi and the Japanese resolve in the face of adversity, but apparently it was enough to merit a formal complaint and prime-time news coverage. Oh, and apparently Yamaguchi used to call himself “the unluckiest man in the world”, and he and his family laughed about it. I would say, as a Brit, that they’re laughing at the irony of the situation, not at Yamaguchi personally.

There are lots of warm, understanding comments on YouTube… JS


The most interesting comment so far on Japan Today I think is this one:


Frungy: QI is dark, intelligent and biting, typical English humour. Textbooks in Japan are dark, simple and tragic, typical Japanese stories. There’s a fundamental mismatch between their approach to sensitising an issue. When dealing with something tragic the English will make a joke of it, allowing people to dispel the tension by laughing. When dealing with something serious the Japanese will tell the story simply and tragically, and then cry inside.

Of the two I find the English approach more healthy. It allows them to move on and discuss the difficult issue having approached it head on, removed the sting, and made it possible to deal with without constant pain.

The Japanese on the other hand bottle up the feelings and they simmer inside. That’s why it’s impossible to really discuss the atomic bombings in Japan, the issue simply makes most Japanese people feel too sad and miserable for words. They’ve never really removed the sting.


Conclusion for me: I think there is a strong case that can be made for nontransferability of humor, particularly irony, across cultures.  Arudou Debito

Japan Times publishes reactions to their Dec. 28 article on Old Japan Hands accepting their foreigner status


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Hi Blog. The Japan Times yesterday published letters to the editor regarding Charles Lewis’s December 28 article in the Japan Times, on old Japan hands Konishiki, Peter Barakan, and Tsurunen Marutei, and their coping strategies for living in Japan long-term.

See it at

The letters remind me of the parable of the blind men feeling up the elephant and describing what it looks like: One feels the trunk and thinks an elephant is like a snake or a tree branch, one feels the legs and thinks an elephant is like a pillar, one feels the tail and think it’s like a rope, one feels the ears and thinks it’s like a fan, one feels the tusk and thinks it’s like a pipe, one feels the belly and thinks it’s like a wall, etc. It’s a good metaphor for not getting the big picture.

As for the letters, each author gives the article a feel and offers their take: One talks about the patronizing attitude towards NJ and questions the presumption that they should just accept the bad treatment they receive. One talks about how everyone is a gaijin somewhere (as if we should drink anytime because it’s 5PM somewhere). Three others talk about the advantages of non-assimilation.  One simply agrees with the the sentiment that faint praise is merely small talk.  One talks about how he can never get friendly with Japanese men.   And one gets knotted up in the terminology of “gaijin”.

Agree or disagree, these points are all over the place, and nobody seems to be dealing with the real undercurrent running through the article:   Should a long-termer, immigrant, even naturalized person still consider himself or herself a foreigner, not a Japanese? Even Tsurunen-san, up until two days ago, seemed to have been advocating that.

We’ll see if I can offer up a more sizable chunk of the elephant in the room in my column on February 1.  Arudou Debito

“To De-Sign or Not to De-Sign”: A debate about what to do re exclusionary signs


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Hi Blog. There’s a debate going on between Reader OG Steve and myself that is too good to leave buried in a Comments Section. It was occasioned by a recent blog entry about a sign, up at an outlet of bargain haircutter QB House in Tameike Sannou, Tokyo, requiring Japanese language ability for service. OG Steve made the point that he was happy to see an exclusionary sign up that proclaimed clear and present exclusionism (as opposed to the hedging wording of “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”), which in his view actually made discriminatory policies harder to stamp out. I disagreed, as in my view clear and present exclusionary policies, especially in the form of signs like these, encourages proliferation and copycatting, institutionalizes the discrimination, and further weakens civil society’s ability to take action against exclusionism. OG Steve replied that it makes the evidence and case clearer, and thus strengthens the hand of people who wish to take judicial action. I replied… well, read on. Then we’ll open the floor to discussion. It’s a worthy topic, so let’s have at it, and see if we can get some conclusive arguments from other Readers as well.


2011/01/11 at 5:13 pm

Let’s remember that ironically, American businesses DO often have signs which say “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”. D’oh!“We+reserve+the+right+to+refuse+service+to+anyone”

So when business owners write a sign which gives a reason they are going to refuse service to you (whether it be race, language, whatever) we of course, rightly, get upset about the fact the company is openly announcing their discriminatory practice, but… when business owners write a VAGUE sign which doesn’t give an exact reason they are going to refuse service to you (like “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”) we strangely DON’T complain about these vague signs.

Why don’t we complain about those vague signs? Are we so naive to believe that business owners who put up those vague signs are only going to use their self-proclaimed “right to refuse” strictly in “the appropriate, right, correct” situations?

Of course not, business owners who put up those vague “right to refuse” signs can and do successfully play the ugly game of discrimination like this:

“Yeah, Mr. Lawyer, I hear what you said, you’ve come here to ask me why I kicked your client out of my shop. Well as you can plainly read the sign on the wall says ‘We have the right to refuse service to ANYONE’, it doesn’t specifically say ‘Anyone who does something dangerous’ or ‘Anyone who does something bad’ (which is what you perhaps are naively assuming it to mean) nope, it simply says ‘ANYONE’.

“Now, it seems to me that you are trying to claim that I kicked out your client based on his race, now that’s a serious claim there partner, and furthermore you want me to admit this crime right now to you verbally, so that you can take me to court and easily win a discrimination lawsuit against me.

“Well, my answer is simple: our business never, ever, ever, would do anything illegal, we never have, never do, and never will. Whenever we utilize our god-given supreme-court-upheld Right to Refuse ANYONE from standing on our property and doing business with us, we always refuse for one of the LEGAL reasons, of course, whatever they may happen to be, and finally Mr. Lawyer: we don’t have to answer your questions about the DETAILS of what we we’re thinking during any particular refusal, neither to you nor to a police officer. And even if the police officer, without any admitting testimony from us, were somehow legally able to arrest us on the charge of suspected racial discrimination based on someone’s sob-story, when court time comes around we’ll simply answer “Not guilty”. We don’t have to prove our innocence. This isn’t some country with Napoleonic justice like Japan. This is America. (And worst case, if the judge really wanted to hear a denial, I can claim that the customer’s eyes were darting back and forth suspiciously like someone about to commit a crime or something, and that’s why we kicked him out.) Good luck PROVING that I was thinking racist thoughts, you don’t know what goes on in my mind. That’s why I chose this vague sign. That’s why clubs in America use bouncers who are given secret orders to discriminate about who gets in and who doesn’t get in. See, we have learned how to continue discrimination while simply pretending the discrimination doesn’t exist. You just need a vague sign, or a bouncer who will hide the owners orders about which races are allowed, and which races aren’t.

“Now Mr. Lawyer, you too, it’s your turn to see my utilize my Right to Refusal. Get off my property immediately. And have a nice day!” 🙂

OK, I’ll relate that rant back to the blog post in question by concluding as follows:

At least that branch manager is ADMITTING that he or she discriminates, and that the discrimination is specifically against non-speakers of Japanese.

That’s much more honest than the places in America with those vague refusal signs that DON’T admit the real reason they are going to kick you out, and that’s much more honest than the places who DON’T post the discrimination reality at all: by using Bouncers who refuse entry to certain races using phrases like “club capacity”, “guest list”, and “dress code”.

If the truth of the matter happens to be that that manager of that branch has decided to ban foreigners simply because he doesn’t like them, and the “language” reason on his sign is simply tatemae instead of honne, then forcing him to take down the sign isn’t going to solve the real problem, he’s simply going to throw up the “batsu” sign whenever a “whitey” or “darkey” tries to walk in.

Problem solved for him, he can simply take down the legally dangerous sign while covertly continuing the discriminatory practice. Great. We won, we stopped discrimination! Or will se simply take down the signs and make the discriminators become more covert as in America? 🙂


2011/01/11 at 7:24 pm

— It’s not clear what you are advocating here.

Are you extolling the virtues of having clearly exclusionary signs up because the exclusionary attitudes are clearly more “honest”… therefore more honorable? And a therefore a good thing?


Are you decrying the fundamental “dishonesty” of people who really have to work much harder in other societies (“we reserve the right… to refuse service … to anyone”) in order to discriminate — wording their signs or rules more carefully, so as to avoid the mechanisms of societies where anti-discrimination legislation and enforcement authorities are in place?

It’s not as easy as you make out in the second case (i.e. just put up a vague sign and presto, covert and unfettered discrimination). There are plenty of means to make sure the exclusionism is not for reasons related to race (“no shoes, no shirt, no service” — put those on and there’s no excuse; “not on the guest list” — if you can gather enough evidence to make the case that guests are being selected by race, then you’ve got a case for court or for local anti-discrimination authorities to investigate), not to mention entire societies sensitized to the issue to the degree where other extralegal means of applying pressure (boycotts, pickets, bad press, and anti-defamation leagues) are also present. There are plenty of means to investigate and tamp down on discrimination once alleged, and it’s not as much an uphill battle when society clearly frowns upon exclusionary activity — keeping a beady eye on potential transgressors.

But if you prefer the first case just because it’s somehow more “honest” (and you seem to be advocating that the exclusionary sign should stay up — for forcing it to come down merely drives discrimination underground and makes the rules covert), then all those knock-on anti-discrimination means go out the window, since inaction (or action by a tiny vocal minority) makes any protest seem ineffectual, and clear and present exclusionary signs become “the acceptable thing to do”. As history shows, discrimination left untouched merely grows, mutates, and ultimately assumes a self-justifying dynamic of “everyone else is doing it; hey, it’s so widespread that it’s a cultural thing now; it’s just how we do things, and what keeps our society running smoothly and orderly…”

So let’s be clear. You want exclusionary signs to stay up?


2011/01/12 at 1:12 am

I want the victims to be able to make the discriminators PAY, via successful lawsuits.

When a discriminator puts up a sign announcing that he is discriminating against “all foreigners”, a photo of this sign becomes easily admissible evidence of his discriminatory POLICY.

Of course, unfortunately, one needs to be a naturalized Japanese citizen to successfully sue (because the Japanese constitution translators changed “people” to “citizens”) but the main point is this: AT LEAST, with the signs up, a naturalized Japanese citizen can successfully make the discriminators pay, as you did.

If the bathhouse HADN’T stupidly post that sign stating their company policy, if they simply had quietly refused service one-by-one to “gaikoku-DNA-people” that tried to enter, by throwing up the “batsu” sign with their hands WITHOUT explaining why, it would have been MUCH harder for you to have received that 111 man yen.

WITHOUT the sign, if you took them to court, the company could reply, “No no, it’s not our company policy to discriminate against foreigners, not at all. There are a million and one legal reasons why one of our staff might have refused entry to you. And we don’t have to prove which one it was. Just for conversation, here are 2 examples: It’s company policy to follow fire safety rules, and on that day perhaps we simply might have been at capacity. Who knows. And no, we don’t have to prove that we were. Did you happen to collect any proof that we WEREN’T at capacity on that day? No? Then you don’t have proof of a discriminatory policy, you simply have a sob-story and speculation about our inner thoughts. Case closed. It’s also company policy to protect our staff from anyone who “appears” or “seems” to be possibly dangerous, regardless of race, gender, age, etc., and on that day perhaps one of our staff simply might have made a case-by-case judgment call, which is both his right as an employee, and our right as a company. (As they say in America, “We have the right to reserve service to ANYONE, we don’t have to prove the reason each time, we simply can no longer post those explicit ‘No Coloreds’ signs like we used to.) So, did you collect any proof that the staff member who refused you DIDN’T feel you looked dangerous? Of course not. To re-iterate, our company does NOT discriminate against foreigners, and we don’t have to prove our innocence, the onus is on YOU the PLAINTIFF to prove that we have a racially discriminatory policy, and without any sign on the wall… it’s going to be very hard for you to prove. And worst case, even if you prove that the staff member was racist, even if you recorded a verbal conversation with that staff member telling you to get out because you don’t look Japanese, you STILL can’t prove that it was company policy unless you have a photo of a sign or a company manual, so we’ll just quietly “fire” the isolated racist staff member for his “disobeying” our official company policy of “non-discrimination” (and perhaps we’ll rehire him a few months later, after he has been “counseled” and “reformed”, but the main point is, you lose the lawsuit, because you have no proof of a racially discriminatory COMPANY POLICY.”

Debito brother,

I want the naturalized Japanese citizens to take photos of signs which stupidly admit the policy of discrimination, so that the judges will be more likely to rule that the business with the policy of discrimination has to pay the plaintiff.

After we naturalized Japanese citizens get properly paid for the stress of these businesses with openly posted policies of discrimination (say, 7 successful lawsuits per naturalized Japanese citizen = 777 man yen, ka-ching), THEN those racist loser company owners will take down their stupidly-honest signs and start using the clever-hidden legally-unprovable discrimination-techniques: by putting up signs that say “ANYONE” without ever admitting the reason, or by foregoing the signs all together and simply refusing folks one-by-one, case-by-case, without ever admitting the reason.

PS – As I recall, the Japanese constitution doesn’t even forbid PRIVATE COMPANIES from discriminating against Japanese citizens, it simply forbids GOVERNMENTS from discriminating against Japanese citizens. Oops, thanks a lot for that limiting qualification, American writer of Japanese Constitution.

And as I recall, even the American constitution itself doesn’t forbid PRIVATE COMPANIES from discriminating against customers, there simply are STATUTES that forbid discriminatory HIRING practices, which is why companies throughout America openly post signs that say, “Right to refuse ANYONE.”

Final Re-cap:

If the sign says “We refuse Foreigners”, the racist policy is thus posted, it is easy for naturalized citizen victims to get compensation for feelings hurt due to being refused.

If there is no sign, if the racist policy is thus hidden, it becomes almost impossible for victims to get compensation for feelings hurt due to being refused.

And if the sign cleverly says “Right to refuse Anyone”, the racist policy is thus hidden, it becomes almost impossible for victims to get compensation for feelings hurt due to being refused.

I hope you feel me, I’m not trying to be argumentative at all, I’m simply pointing out some facts are ironic, embarrassing, surprising, unjust, often unnoticed, and painful to admit. 🙂


January 12, 2010, 8AM JST

Thanks for the reply. Some answers:

1) You don’t need to be a naturalized citizen to win against these exclusionary establishments. Ana Bortz (a NJ) won against her exclusionary store without J citizenship. I believe we would have won against Otaru Onsen Yunohana even if I had not naturalized. My being a citizen closed one potential loophole, but it could go either way depending on the judge. And that leads me to my point:

2) Leaving it up to the Japanese judiciary to resolve this situation is extremely risky. We have had at least one other case (Steve McGowan) where we had the manager of a business saying on tape that he doesn’t like black people and he refused Steve because he is black. The judge still refused to rule in Steve’s favor, discovering a technicality he could exploit (which was later fortunately overturned in High Court). Build up enough of these precedents, and you’ll actually arm the defense. I’d prefer not to leave it up to Japanese judges, rather to law enforcement authorities and a clear legal code (hence my need for a law).

3) Leaving it up to naturalized citizens to play “Japanese Only Sign Whack-a-Mole” is untenable, since court cases take years, cost money and great amounts of mental energy, and incur great social opprobrium (given the general distaste for lawsuits in Japanese society). Clear and present evidence is one thing. Advocating that signs stay up as lawsuit bait or legal entrapment is a losing strategy.

4) As I said earlier, exclusionary signs beget more of the same, through copycatting and clear institutionalization of an action. Exclusionary signs must come down, and a legal framework of protections against racial discrimination must be enshrined. That’s asking for a lot at this juncture, so I’ll accept the half-measure having the signs forced down for now, even if that allegedly deprives people of evidence to sue (it doesn’t: you get refused, threaten to sue, the sign comes down and you still sue, you still win, since you were still refused regardless of the present circumstances; the damage is done, as this is what happened in the Otaru Onsens Case).

If you haven’t read book JAPANESE ONLY yet Steve, I really suggest you do. It’ll also ground you in the dynamic of why your suggestions won’t stop the discrimination. Nothing will, short of a law backed up by sanctions. That’s why the UN CERD strongly advises one.

I’ll let the legal scholars out there comment more authoritatively on the “kokumin” aspects of the constitution and law enforcement, but my lawyers have told me repeatedly that Japanese Constitutional protections apply to non-citizens too, despite the wording, if you’d dare to push the issue in official mediating bodies.

Now let’s open the floor up for discussion. Pile on. Arudou Debito

Happy New Year 2011! Japan Times on long-termer coping strategies


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Hi Blog. To kick the year off on an optimistic note, here we have a Zeit Gist column from the Japan Times, asking “three well-known, popular foreigners” (two of whom are, in fact, naturalized Japanese; therein lies the point of the article) how they get along in Japan. They say, in essence, that they still consider themselves foreigners, but they have come to terms with it. Let’s turn the mike over to three dai senpai (I’ve only been here 23 years; short compared to them) and let them tell us what’s what in their world.  Filtered through the lens of the long-termer writer, who also writes with a tone of reconcilement and resignation.  Perhaps that is my future attitude too, but I don’t see it quite yet.  Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
Mind the gap, get over it: Japan hands
Charles Lewis asks three wise men from afar for their take on some of the issues that vex long-term foreign residents

The Japan Times talked to three well-known, popular foreigners who have made it to the top of their fields in Japan about their views on surviving and thriving as a foreigner in Japanese society.

Peter Barakan is a British musicologist and commentator who arrived in 1974. Konishiki is a Hawaiian former sumo great who has spent 27 years in Japan. Tsurunen Marutei is the first foreign-born member of the Diet’s House of Councilors of European descent. Originally from Finland, he has lived here for 42 years.

So how do these three Japan hands — who have racked up over a century in the country between them — stay sane under the barrage of compliments that can push even the greenest, most mild-mannered gaijin over the edge from time to time? What witty retorts do they have in their armory for when they are told they use chopsticks well?

Tsurunen: “I say thank you.”

It seems that while coming up against and confounding stereotypes — e.g. the awkward, Japanese-mangling foreigner — can make some foreigners feel they aren’t being taken seriously, seasoned veterans have learned to blow this off — or even revel in it.

“I feel good,” Konishiki says when asked how he feels about being told he is good at speaking Japanese. It’s a phrase Japanese use when “they don’t know what to say,” he explains. “It’s a compliment. I deal with it every day. I try not to think about it.”

Barakan, considered by many to be the best foreign speaker of Japanese on television and radio, says, ” ‘You speak Japanese well’ comments are a kind of greeting most of the time.” On the other hand, “People saying you are more Japanese than the Japanese is just flattery.”…

Full article at:

Discussion: As a person with NJ roots, is your future in Japan? An essay making the case for “No”.


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Hi Blog. More woolgathering on the past decade, as the end of the year approaches:

I’m hearing increasing discontent from the NJ Community (assuming quite presumptuously there is one able to speak with a reasonably unified voice) about living in Japan.

Many are saying that they’re on their way outta here.  They’ve had enough of being treated badly by a society that takes their taxes yet does not respect or protect their rights.

To stimulate debate, let me posit with some flourish the negative case for continuing life in Japan, and let others give their own arguments pro and con:


It’s becoming increasingly difficult to expect people to want to immigrate to Japan, given the way they are treated once they get here.

We have racial profiling by the Japanese police, where both law allows and policy sanctions the stopping of people based upon having a “foreign appearance”, such as it is, where probable cause for ID checks anywhere is the mere suspicion of foreigners having expired visas.

We have rampant refusals of NJ by landlords and rental agencies (sanctioned to the point where at least one realtor advertises “Gaijin OK” apartments), with the occasional private enterprise putting up “Japanese Only” signs, and nothing exists to stop these acts that are expressly forbidden by the Japanese Constitution.  Yet now fifteen years after effecting the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination, Japan still has no law against it either on the books or in the pipeline.

With recent events both with the Northern Territories, the Takeshima/Tokdo rocks, and the Senkakus, we have a rising reactionary xenophobic wave justifying itself upon creating a stronger Japan to “protect sovereignty” through anti-foreign sloganeering. This is is very visible in the reaction to the proposed suffrage for Permanent Residents bill, which went down in flames this year and is still inspiring people to ask their local assemblies to pass “ikensho” expressly in opposition (I was sent one yesterday afternoon from a city assembly politician for comment).  Bashing NJ has become sport, especially during election campaigns.

We have people, including elected officials, claiming unapologetically that even naturalized Japanese are “not real Japanese”, with little reprisal and definitely no resignations.

We have had the NPA expressly lying and the media blindly reporting about “foreign crime rises” for years now, even as crime falls.

And we are seeing little future return on our investment: Long-term NJ bribed by the GOJ to return “home” and give up their pensions, and the longest wait to qualify for the pension itself (25 years) in the industrialized world. With the aging society and the climbing age to get it (I have little doubt that by the time I am old enough, currently aged 45, that the age will be around 70 or so), and Japan’s postwar Baby Boomers soon qualifying themselves, looks likely there won’t be much left in the public coffers when it happens.

Yet we still have little acknowledgment by our government of all that NJ and immigrants have done for this society.  Instead, the image of NJ went quite markedly from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “criminal threat to Japan’s safe society” this decade.

Why stay in a society that officially treats its people of diversity with such suspicion, derision and ingratitude?, is a case that can be made.  Especially other NJ are getting the message and leaving — the NJ population dropped in 2009 for the first time since 1961.  As salaries keep dropping in a deflationary economy, even the financial incentives for staying in an erstwhile more hospitable society are evaporating.

That’s the negative case that can be made.  So let me posit a question to Readers (I’ll create a blog poll to this effect):

Do you see your future as living in Japan?

  1. Definitely yes.
  2. Probably yes for the foreseeable future, but things might change.
  3. Uncertain, is all I can say.
  4. Leaning towards a probable no.
  5. Definitely no.
  6. Something else.
  7. N / A: I don’t live or will not live in Japan.

Let’s see what people think. I’ll leave this up as the top post until Tuesday or so, depending on how hot the discussion gets. Arudou Debito

Japan Times Community Page on issues of dual citizenship: “Japan loses, rest of the world gains from ‘one citizenship fits all’ policy”


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Hi Blog. Thoughtful letter on a serious issue in the Japan Times Community Page again this week (Tuesday’s paper is always worth the cover price). Speaking of identity and possibilities of a “Rainbow Society” (which has become a discussion on issues of being “haafu” in Japan in the Comments Section of a recent blog post), one essential issue is the acknowledgement of “doubles” in terms of legal status: Dual Nationality. Excerpting from this week’s Hotline to Nagatacho. Arudou Debito


The Japan Times Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010
Japan loses, rest of the world gains from ‘one citizenship fits all’ policy

…What does Japan gain by, in effect, rejecting my children and thousands of other young dual citizens living in Japan and around the world, at the very moment when they come of age and are at last able to become productive members of society?

Best as I can figure, the only virtue of the “one citizenship fits all” rule is simplicity.

What does Japan lose by rejecting dual citizenship?

My daughters, for one thing (and that’s a big loss; I know, I know: oyabaka), along with many other repudiated young people whose capacity and willingness to contribute their talents, creativity, fluency in English and other languages, international experience, energy and human and financial capital to Japan as full-fledged members of society are suppressed, or snuffed out altogether, by continuing a short-sighted, anachronistic policy.

In an era of increasing global competition, a shrinking, aging and insular Japan needs all hands on deck. Japan should be actively recruiting these talented young people to come to Japan and lay down roots, not turning them away.

Some may contend that my daughters and others like them are still free to come to Japan as foreigners, procure visas and remain for as long as they like (or at least as long as they have a visa-qualifying job). But that’s a far cry from “being Japanese.”

It’s not just about avoiding the legal limits on what foreigners may do and how long they may stay in Japan. Citizens are more likely to be motivated to make the sacrifices, and take the risks necessary to improve society, such as through public service and entrepreneurial activity. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has often said, in a different context, that “no one in the history of the world has ever washed a rented car.” The same holds true here. Japan cannot repossess the title to the car — citizenship — from some of its people and fairly expect that those same people will still care enough to do what it takes to keep the car — Japan — in good working order or, better yet, to add some chrome and polish.

It is a well-known secret that the Japanese government does not actively enforce the citizenship selection rule. I was even told once — by a Japanese government official no less — that my kids should simply hold on to their Japanese passports after they reach 22 and renew them when they expire, without ever making an affirmative citizenship selection. Many people do just this. It’s the dual citizenship equivalent of the U.S. armed forces’ fading “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

This is a very Japanese approach, but it’s not a solution. It places all “shadow” dual citizens at risk of losing their Japanese nationality any time the Japanese government decides to change its current policy of benign neglect, or if a dual citizen trips up by presenting the wrong passport to the wrong immigration official at the wrong time. Long-term planning and commitment are impossible under these circumstances.

But, more importantly, this “winks and nods” policy of lax or non-enforcement sends precisely the wrong message. Instead of laying out the welcome mat, these young people are told to sneak in through the back door (and hope it’s not locked). Many won’t even try.

One wonders if the existing policy of denying permanent dual citizenship to people who possessed the status as children is motivated by a concern that altering it would lead to dual citizenship demands by others, such as ethnic Korean residents of Japan or Brazilians of Japanese descent. Rather than risk facing such demands, government officials might have concluded that it is “better to leave well enough alone.” However, allowing people who already have Japanese citizenship to keep it will not inevitably lead to more far-reaching changes to Japan’s Nationality Law.

Given its dire demographic outlook, perhaps Japan should open a dialogue on radical changes to its Nationality Law, such as a U.S.-style “birthright” giving citizenship to all people born on Japanese soil, an Israeli-style “Law of Return” allowing the ingathering of all ethnic Japanese everywhere in their ancestral homeland, or an Irish-style “Grandparent Rule” granting citizenship to anyone who can document having one Japanese grandparent. But even if Japan is not willing to open its door that widely, it should at least stop slamming the door on some of its own citizens shortly after they reach adulthood…

Full article at

UK Guardian compares South Korea’s relatively open-minded future with Japan’s possible “Second Edo Period” of insulation


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Hi Blog.  Here is a thoughtful essay alleging that Japan will lose out to South Korea due to the latter’s relative openness.  If true, that bodes ill for those of us making a life on this side.  I’ll put this article up for discussion for people who know enough about both countries to make a comparison.  Arudou Debito


Japan’s dangerous deglobalised dream
South Korea’s economy has gone from strength to strength, while Japan’s stagnation may turn into a ‘New Edo’ era
Guy Sorman,, Tuesday 9 November 2010, courtesy of TK

In mid-November, all eyes will shift to Seoul when G20 leaders convene for the first time in the South Korean capital. The choice is long overdue, as South Korea is a remarkable success story: in one generation – the South Koreans, formerly pummelled by civil war, under constant threat from their northern communist brethren, long mired in poverty, and ruled by military dictators for 40 years – have built the world’s 13th largest economy and Asia’s most vibrant democracy.

Historically squeezed between its two giant neighbours, China and Japan, South Korea had long been perceived as an underdog with a fuzzy cultural identity. In Asia, however, Japan’s leaders are not waiting for the Seoul summit to take a closer look at South Korea. South Korea was formerly a Japanese colony (1910-1945) and the natives were treated like an inferior race. Today, South Korean’s economy has been growing annually by 5% on average for 10 years, whereas Japan grew by 0.42% per year during the same period.

One could argue that South Korea is not yet a mature economy and is only catching up with a more advanced Japan. This was the case in the 1970s, but no more. Whereas China’s growth is fuelled by low-cost labour as millions of peasants enter the industrial economy, this is not the South Korean recipe for success, which has been driven by private entrepreneurship, innovation and quality products: Samsung and Hyundai, not cheap wages, are South Korea’s growth engines.

Another key to South Korea’s success story is the well-balanced relationship between stable governments and the private sector. This was clearly demonstrated late last year when a South Korean consortium won a contract to build four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates late last year, beating out the French.

The Japanese knew how to co-ordinate state and private-sector goals in the 1970s, but then lost their way. “We should now emulate the South Koreans,” says Eisuke Sakakibara, a leading Japanese economist, who was one of the architects of the Japanese “miracle” of the 1980s. Japanese in search of a miracle now travel to Seoul.

“In Japan, 1990 to 2000 was called the ‘lost decade,'” says the free-market economist Fumio Hayashi. Now Japan is completing its second lost decade. Hayashi and Sakakibara – indeed, most Japanese economists – more or less agree on the fundamental reason for such spectacular stagnation: the Japanese have stopped working hard. Fewer hours worked, longer vacations, and a declining population (since 2005) have, predictably, undermined Japanese growth. To turn this situation around, says Sakakibara, “the Japanese should work more, have more children, and allow immigration.” But the incentives to make any of this happen are just not there.

The Japanese still live comfortably, better by one-third than the South Koreans, thanks to their past investments. Japanese companies abroad remain profitable and Japan is still the global leader in high-tech niches like electronics or carbon fibres. For example, Apple’s iPhone and Boeing’s latest aeroplane rely heavily on Japanese-patented innovations. These comparative advantages may keep Japan above water for a while, but only until China or South Korea catch up.

One would thus expect Japan to be anxiety-ridden, but it is not. True, new forms of poverty and unemployment are rising, but they remain well hidden behind family solidarity or corporate customs. Companies reduce their superfluous employees’ annual bonuses, but do not get rid of them. Young Japanese tend not to work before their 30s, and married women stay at home.

Political parties that rely on an ageing constituency are not tempted to call for change. The sort of shaky short-term political coalitions that rule Japan nowadays prefer to buy time through so-called public stimulus, or to preserve inefficient companies with subsidies. Twenty years of such shortsighted policies, whatever the party in power, have fuelled government debt, hindering private investment.

More strikingly, stagnation has found its promoters in Japan itself. A leading public intellectual Naoki Inose, who is also Tokyo’s vice governor, has declared that “the era of growth is over.” When Japan was threatened by western imperialism, he says, the country had to open up (in 1868) and modernise. This process has been completed. Japan is now ready to reconnect with its own tradition of social harmony and zero growth.

Referring to the 1600-1868 period, Inose calls this future the New Edo era: “A smaller population will enjoy the sufficient wealth that has been accumulated, and, from now on, it will invest its creativity in refining the culture.” The first Edo collapsed when the United States navy opened up the Japanese market with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” in 1853. Will the second Edo be able to resist Chinese ambitions? “The New Edo era needs a strong Japanese army,” admits Inose.

This second Edo era may sound like a poetic utopia, but it has some influence: Sakakibara observes that Japanese students do not study abroad anymore and that “nobody learns English”. At a time when South Koreans are becoming more globalised, learning English, and welcoming a growing number of immigrants, Japan is entering a “deglobalisation process”.

That is a worrying trend, and not only for Japan: South Korea can hardly stand alone as the lone Asian democracy. If the Japanese do not wake up from their Edo dream, Asia might very well become a Chinese empire.

Will this be debated at the G20? Not openly, but certainly in the corridors.

Weekend Tangent: Weird broadside from Japan Helpline’s Ken Joseph Jr. on Facebook


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Hi Blog.  Last Monday morning I got a request for a friending on Facebook by a Ken Joseph Jr.  For those who have heard the name, he’s one of the advice columnists for the Japan Times Lifelines Page, and according to his website (email registry required), “Ken Joseph Jr. is an international columnist and speaker.  He appears regularly on CNN, Foxnews, BBC, ITN and numerous radio outlets worldwide to give commentary on the news of the day from a background of personal experience.  His columns regularly run in newspapers worldwide.”

So imagine my surprise when I get a broadside of this tone from a person of this standing, mere hours after I friend him.

(Screen captures of my Facebook page where he tries to hijack an unrelated thread; printed, names other than Ken’s and mine redacted, and scanned.)


COMMENT:  I’m not sure why KJJ has it in for me.  I met him just once (during the Kobe Earthquake of 1995) when I went down to Kobe from Sapporo on my own dime to volunteer under the auspices of Japan Helpline.  It wasn’t a long encounter, I doubt KJJ remembers me.  But during the Otaru Onsens Lawsuit he hit me with a similar broadside, claiming online that our refusal at Onsen Osupa in Otaru was a lie because he allegedly managed to wangle his way in (this has never been substantiated, although Osupa’s “Japanese Only” signs certainly were, as was Osupa’s refusal of us on September 19, 1999).  He also popped up from time to time on an old yahoogroups discussion list called “Shakai” (half deleted by Tony “Darling Foreigner” Laszlo) under a different name “Kenichi Suzuki” with similar broadsides.  That said, we never corresponded directly like this online until Monday, when he asked to be friended.

Don’t know what’s eating him, but a person who makes himself out to be this important should show more decorum in his comments.  Leaving a record of unprofessional broadsides (of questionable veracity to boot) like this is quite unbecoming.  And unconstructive, given that we should all be working towards the same goals.  Arudou Debito

Eido Inoue on improbable remote tracking of RFID next-generation “Gaijin Cards”; yet “scan-proof” travel pouches now on sale


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Hi Blog.  With the rerelease of an article I wrote last year (I am reading all my old articles in order for the Podcast, so listen here or read it here) is a revisitation of an argument I made about the next-generation “Gaijin Cards” (Zairyuu Kaado), with imbedded IC Chips.  I expressed a fear that these “smart cards” will be remotely scannable, meaning the NPA will be able to zap a crowd and smoke out who’s foreign or not (whereas Japanese citizens have no legal obligation to carry ID 24/7 backed up with criminal punishment) — or will further justify racial profiling of people like me who look foreign but aren’t.

Techie Eido Inoue, a naturalized J citizen himself, writes here on invitation to address this argument.  He was worried that this topic might get a bit geeky (he has in fact made it very readable, thanks), but never mind, this needs to be discussed by people in the know.  However, please do read or page down to the end, where I have some basic counterarguments and a scan of something I saw the other day in a travel shop — a “scan proof” pouch for your valuables on sale!  Read on.



There has been a lot of concern these days about the inclusion use of NFC (near field communications) technology, which is a type of RFID (radio frequency identification), being included in the successor to the Japanese ARC (alien registration card), the 在留カード {zairyū kādo} (non-Japanese residence card). In this comment, I’ve summed up, per Debito’s request, some of the back and forth Q&A that has been occurring on other blogs:

Q: What sort of wireless technology is in these new cards? Is it reliable? Is it proven?
A: The card’s IC chip will use JIS X 6322 type B standards, which is basically the Japanese translation of ISO 14443 type B standards. This is the exact same international standard used for both Japanese and overseas e-passports, as well as Japanese driver’s licenses and the 住基カード {jūki kādo} (Japanese citizen residency card).

Q: What will be inside these chips?
A: The same information that’s printed outside the card:
* full passport/English legal name, date of birth, sex, nationality & domicile/state/locale
* resident address in Japan
* [visa] status, and status length / expiration date
* visa status grant date
* residency card number and expiration/renewal date
* work restrictions, if any
* any permitted activities outside of visa status
* color photograph

Special Permanent Residents, however, will only have the following on their cards:
* full passport/English legal name, date of birth, sex, nationality & domicile/state/locale
* resident address in Japan
* special permanent resident number and renewal date
* color photograph

Technically speaking, the 在留カード {zairyū kādo} (non-Japanese residence card) will be called and labeled as a 特別永住者証明書 {tokubetsu eijūsha shōmeisho} (Special Permanent Resident Identification [Card]) for people with this status.

[ the only thing that will not be on the chip but on the outside of the card will be the Ministry of Justice’s seal. Note that there’s much less information on this card than the ARC: no passport info, head of household, employer, etc. ]

Non-Japanese that have kanji names with their governments will have the kanji on the cards. In the case that the kanji is Chinese Simplified or Traditional and can’t be represented with using Japanese character sets, it will be converted to Japanese form.

[it was not clear from the literature I read what characters were permitted and what were not and what underlying character set encoding, such as JIS X 0208 or Unicode, would be used. It was also unclear to me from reading the literature as to whether non-Japansese without official government registered Kanji names, such as Japanese-Americans or those who just want a Kanji (or kana or hybrid) name, even if it’s 当て字 {ateji}]

Customs/airport officials plan to register / use the alphabet passport form and not the Kanji [even if it’s Japanese] form of the name as inputting / copying the kanji name takes too much time.

Unlike the previous ARC cards, there is no plan to list aliases (either katakana or kanji).

[It does not say how non-Japanese, who have Japanese aliases for anti-discrimination or other purposes, will prove what their registered legal alias is]

Years on the card will be specified in Western (ex. 2010) system, not Japanese (ex. H.22 or 平成22) system. Dates will be in Y M D order, and the fields will be labeled [so you know which is the month and which is the date]. Sex will be specified with a “M” or “F” [as opposed to 「男」, 「女」, 「♂」, or 「♀」].

[This should make the card more comprehensible to non-Japanese officials if you attempt to use it as ID overseas]

If a full name is too long for one line, it will be broken into multiple lines.

[better than the ARC and the Japanese driver’s license, which continued long (ie. Brazilian) names onto the back of the card]

Q: If the information inside the chips is the same as the information written on the outside of the card, what’s the point?
A: Three main points:

1. reduction of data entry errors (no hand copying the info from the card to some other system)
2. speed of processing (depends on the operator, processes, & hardware/software implementation)
3. [primary official reason] preventing the creation of completely bogus identifications using high tech printing, copying and manufacturing technology that is available to even amateurs today.

The info on the chip is digitally “signed” (a certificate validating that no information has been added, changed, or deleted) using PKCS (public-key cryptography standards). So long as the signing key is kept secure by the government, it’s mathematically impossible to recreate a government’s digital signature/certificate associated with a bogus identity. Now, you can clone (that is, copy the certificate along with the entire ID, including the photograph, without adding or removing anything) a digital ID. But that’s not the purpose of the certificate. The signature prevents somebody from creating a bogus ID from scratch. These days, thanks (?) to advances in technology accessibility, most professional and even some amateur forgers can create a phony identity card (“Taro McLovin”), mimicking holograms, blacklight ink, microprint, etc., that is so good it can fool a professional trained inspector.

But even the most powerful governments in the word have yet to break the modern strength digital signature/certificate algorithms — because the best mathematicians, working for the best spook agencies (NIST, NSA) in the world, created the system based on principles of impossible to solve quickly mathematics (ie. using ultra large prime numbers), then publicized all their work to have it checked by the other best mathematicians in the world. Based on what mathematicians have known for literally thousands of years, and taking into account the current state of Moore’s Law, the crypto should theoretically be safe from brute force attack for literally eternity. Where things fail is due to errors in implementing the algorithms, or theft/discovery of the secret keys, not in the algorithms themselves.

Anyway, for IDs with digital signature certificates, the forger is going to have no choice but to clone, in its entirety, somebody’s existing digital ID when they make a fake ID. Which means they’re going to have to look an awful lot like the person whose identity they stole because the picture data is calculated with the certificate’s hash. Plus they’re going to have to hope that the identity theft victim didn’t report the ID as stolen / lost or that the victim unknowingly had their ID scanned in a place that would be logically impossible for a followup scan of the cloned card. For example, a digital ID gets scanned in Hokkaidō, then the exact same digital ID with the same serial number gets scanned by another police officer in Fukuoka 5 minutes later; a computer will pick up on that.

Now, if there’s a fingerprint encoded in the chip (which is not the case for Japanese passports or the 在留カード {zairyū kādo} but is true for new European passports) and digitally signed, then even if the fraudster looks like the victim in the digitally signed photograph, they’re out of luck. They can’t remove or change the fingerprint without invalidating the certificate.

Q: Can a civilian or official read my card from a distance?
A: Extremely doubtful. The way the cards work is that while they have no power source of there own; they are powered by a minute amount of power they induce from their radio frequency for no more than a fraction of a second, and this power gives them the strength to produce a very faint signal that can only be practically read reliably by another device that’s less than four or 5cm away. The chips contain power regulators, so even if you send an extra strong signal to the chip in an effort to give the chip more power to work with, it does not produce a stronger return signal.

This is why you can see a lineup of Suica/Pasmo/Icoca/PiTaPa electronic wicket gates in a train station: the radio waves produced by those gates, which are no more than a meter apart, are so faint that each gate can’t hear and interfere with the radio waves being produced by the gates right next to it.

The maximum field range of a ISO 14443 device is less than 10cm. The maximum range that professionals have managed to get out of a ISO 14443 device in a laboratory (meaning neither the card or the reader can move for a long time, the room’s air is shielded from radio noise, and the lab’s using a very nonstandard reader) is 20cm: the length from the tip of your little finger to the tip of your thumb on an average outstretched hand.

Because the return signal from the chip inside the card is constant no matter how how power you throw at it, the only way you’re going to increase the range is by using a larger antenna. But even then there are limits, as the signal is so weak that it’s literally drowned out by the radio noise that permeates the real world.

Some professionals have speculated that, given a large enough (a very non-portable antenna; it would need to be mounted and not hand held), it is possible to increase the maximum range of ISO 14443, in a laboratory (not real world) setting, to 50cm: the length from your wrist to your elbow.

Anything longer than 20cm is suspect; anything longer than 50cm is science fiction, in my opinion.

Q: Could a crowd of people (assuming they’re in range of a reader), or even a whole bag of cards, be scanned en mass?
A: Even if it was possible to read ISO 14443 cards from a distance, ISO 14443 is designed to only work with one card at a time. It is not possible to have one reader read multiple cards, have many readers read one card, or have many readers read many cards.

It’s a matter of laws of physics (two signals being in the exact same frequency) and the way the devices were designed. Mobile phones, Bluetooth, and WiFi have very sophisticated and complicated protocols to allow them to share and operate and be individually addressed in a range of airspace, jumping and across (sometimes thousands) of frequencies and channels, sometimes using more than one simultaneously, in an elaborate cooperative ballet to prevent two devices from using the exact same airspace at the same time.

ISO 14443, on the other hand, not only doesn’t have these protocols, but in fact was specifically designed to not share airspace with anything else. There are specific fail-safe parts of the protocol that are designed to make the card/reader shut down, back out, and shut up if it detects something else using its airspace for safety/reliability reasons. It also has safety procedures to handle cases where it doesn’t have enough power or a good enough signal to complete a transaction: Everyone knows it’s futile to try to yank away your payment card or try to swipe your card for only a split second in an effort to fool the vending machine into making a transaction without having your balance debited.

If you’ve ever had two Suica Cards and/or a Japanese driver’s license in the same wallet, you know that the readers will refuse to work or will only work with one card. Again, this is not just a limitation of the technology, it is by design.

Q: But what if somehow somebody comes up with way that allows for eavesdropping of a card talking to a reader (from afar or near)? Am I safe?
A: Some people on the Internet have claimed even farther ranges than what we mentioned above: such as detecting the presence of a signal at 20 meters and actually discerning the digital bits at 10 meters. None of these claims have been independently confirmed or verified, and even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and believe for the sake of argument that it’s possible, nobody has shown they can break the cryptography gleaned from real devices in the field in real world situations.

To an eavesdropper, most ISO 14443 cards “sound alike.” This means they all — be it your e-passport or your U.S. Passport Card or your Japanese driver’s license or your FeLiCa based Suica/Pasmo/Icoca/PiTaPa or your PayPass credit card or your Japanese Taspo tobacco age-verification card — talk on the same frequency (13.56 Mhz). Furthermore, the transaction that occurs between the reader and the card is encrypted, so even if a bad person had such a clear signal that they were able to discern the individual digital bits going back-and-forth between the reader and card, it would be useless for determining the payload or even the type of card being used in most cases.

Thus, just because the card, either in your hand or concealed in a wallet, of you or the person next to you is or isn’t “ squawking” and you are or are not doesn’t mean somebody can figure out that “that person is a foreigner and that person is not” due to the presence or absence of a 13.56 Mhz encrypted squawk. That squawk could be anything, from a Japanese passport to a London train commuter Oyster Card.

NOTE: Some security journals have speculated that it may be possible to perform literally a “man-in-the-middle” attack in some cases. This means putting something physically between (the 10cm) space of air between the card and the reader that is big enough to ensure that the reader and card can’t hear each other; the bad spy device acts as a “relay” between the legit card and reader. So when you swipe, you should be absolutely sure you’re swiping the real legit reader and not something placed directly on top of it.

Q: Even if they can’t read the contents of my card, can a civilian or official detect that I’m in possession (or that I’m not in possession) of a 在留カード {zairyū kādo} (non-Japanese residence card) without my knowledge?
A: No. The reason for this in answered both in the previous question and the following question. You could easily fool an eavesdropper into thinking you swiped any arbitrary ISO 14443 Type B card that uses encryption by simply using another, completely different and unrelated ISO 14443 Type B card. You could purchase and carry your own battery powered USB portable [dummy] reader in a purse or bag, for example.

Q: Can a civilian or official read my card without my knowledge if they’re very near or next to me?
A: Japanese [and U.S. and E.U., but not all countries] e-passports, and yes, the new 在留カード {zairyū kādo} (non-Japanese residence card) have BAC (basic access control).

This means you have to know some piece of information that’s either on the card or in your head to read it.

Even if somebody manages to covertly (say, on a crowded train or bus) get a portable skimmer close enough [less than 10cm] to your back pocket, purse, bag, or briefcase to pick up your card, they still need to know some things that are on the card in order to read it.

NOTE: Not all NFC cards and RFID use this extra access control and/or encryption. So you don’t want to carry all your cards unprotected / unshielded in your back pocket. It is possible to obtain special, practical shielded slips for ISO 14443 based technology (tin foil hats sold separately). Some ISO 14443 technology (such as many, including Japanese, passports) already include a shielding envelope or technology integrated into the device. However, the presence of the shielding does not mean that the shielding is the last or only or even best line of defense against skimming; it is merely one component in a suite of many security components for the passport & residency card, already built-in by design, that would have to be compromised. To stay on topic, the NFC cards which are the discussion of the Q&A, such as Japanese passport, driver’s license, and yes, the 在留カード {zairyū kādo} (non-Japanese residence card), do implement and enforce BAC in addition to encrypting their point-to-point sessions with the readers.

Q: Can private enterprises read the IC chip?
A: Yes. The MoJ [Ministry of Justice] plans to publish the specifications for reading information from the card. However, they can’t override BAC (see above) which means a private enterprise would not be able to read your card without your knowledge.

[ This is interesting. The literature I have specifically mentions that society, especially financial institutions and mobile phone companies, needs a reliable domestic photo id for non-Japanese residents. ]

Q: What if the chip isn’t working? What if the private enterprise doesn’t have a reader? Is there an alternative electronic way to verify the card without the chip? Will I be hauled off to the police box if my chip isn’t working?
A: The MoJ [Ministry of Justice] is also going to make a website available for checking cards (which presumably could be accessed by even mobile phone browsers). The website will accept the card’s number and one other piece of information from the card to prevent people from randomly guessing 在留カード {zairyū kādo} (non-Japanese residence card) numbers. The literature suggests that this extra information be the card renewal/expiration date.

Upon submitting the number, the website will simply return 有効 {yūkō} (valid) or 失効 {shikkō} (invalid). To protect private information, no other information (such as name, date of birth, nationality, visa status, etc.) will be returned.



COMMENT FROM ARUDOU DEBITO (donning his tinfoil hat):

One conflict I always notice from my side of the spectrum is the inherent mistrust of scientists — when they claim a new technology, open to all manner of theoretical abuses, is “safe”.  This is the same camp that tends to blame the scientists on the Manhattan Project for opening Pandora’s Box with The Bomb.

Continuing in that vein in an attempt to contrapose aarguments to Eido’s research above, a whole bunch of “what ifs” and “whys” that are not all that unreasonable quickly come to mind:

1) WHAT IF the sacred encryption keys get cracked or leaked somehowCan happen quite easily, if not in part due to government error, see here.  And hackers are forever getting increasingly sophisticated.  It’s hard to imagine the “eternity” scenario in a place when it’s techie vs. techie, and one is but a few steps ahead of the other.  The risk is too great — once the door is open, identity theft becomes possible.

2) WHAT IF the realm of “science fiction” becomes “science fact”? We once thought manned flight (with or without gravity), or portable computers, or even gigabytes of data stored in tiny places were impossible, but technology, again, has a habit of catching up and deleting the “im” prefix.  Encryption notwithstanding, decrypting computers are getting faster and smarter all the time.

3) WHY are foreigners only required to be IDed by private businesses (last two Qs above)?  Actually, I can answer that one.  Because the NPA feels the irrepressible need to track people that could commit crime.  And because they can’t do that to Japanese citizens due to the outrage — witness the flop of the Juuki Netto system.  People just don’t want to be forced to carry ID in this society, much less tracked by it.  It’s just happening to foreigners because they can’t stop it.  And it increases the Japanese police’s power by deputizing the private sector.  This is just common sense — give the police anywhere in the world extra power, and they will feel fully justified in using it to accomplish their goals until they’re told they’ve gone too far (and in Japan, they insufficiently are).

4) WHY is that same private sector now advertising preventative measures against RFID technology? Check this out — a scan-proof pouch for your valuables now on sale in travel shops in Japan (seen because I went and renewed my passport on Tuesday):

Unless this is Snake Oil (and Eido himself points out that non-contact scanning is possible), how do we deal with this?  By saying that the distance is too small or the definition of the signal is too vague to matter?  Again, I will raise the technology argument to say that once the leap is possible, it’s only a matter of degree.  This may be tinfoil-hat-ism, but to me it’s like saying, “Don’t worry about The Bomb; if there is fallout from an unlikely attack, there are anti-radiation pills you can take.”  Sorry, I don’t believe in having to put the Genie back in the Bottle.  Especially since the reasons for this measure are less a technological inevitability than a political necessity (i.e., tightened policing of the only people you can police this way, since society in general wouldn’t dare accept it).  If this is scary enough to the general public for it to be used as a preventative marketing ploy, then the foreigners should also count as members of the general public who are entitled to be scared.  Just fobbing it off on a “it probably won’t happen” “eternity scenario” ignores the political realities behind these moves.

Alright, I’ll stop there.  Let’s have a discussion.  Arudou Debito


Weekend Tangent: Discovering how cheap, yes cheap, parts of Japan are becoming


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Hi Blog.  I just finished a first draft of an update of the Hokkaido chapter in a famous travel guidebook (tell you more later after it hits the press), and thought I’d tell you what I noticed:

Japan is becoming surprisingly attractive for tourism.  One thing I’ve seen when traveling overseas is just how surprisingly expensive things are — like, say, dining out.  Inflation, Euro-currency-inflation, tips and service charges of ten to twenty percent, etc. have made eating in a sit-down restaurant a rather unattractive option (when traveling I usually self-cater, visiting overseas supermarkets where things are far cheaper).

In contrast, Japan’s currency sans inflation, a stable tax regime, and deflationary prices in many sectors have ultimately kept prices the same while they gradually rise overseas. After all these years of hearing about Japan as “the place where you goggle at hundred-dollar department store melons”, it’s finally reached a point where generally speaking, it’s now become cheaper in Japan.  While travel costs seem about the same (if not slightly higher in some cases due to fuel-cost-appreciation), once you get here, you’re able to predict costs, stick to budgets, and pay comparatively less without hidden fees creeping in.

Then look at Hokkaido, which is becoming a bargain destination.  It’s possible to get a relatively cheap flight up here (20,000-30,000 yen RT) if you plan accordingly and time it right.  Then once here (especially if you get a package tour subsidized by the Hokkaido government to include a few nights in a hotel), tourists make out.  As far as this guidebook went, just about every hotel I checked had reduced their rates (compared to the previous edition) substantially — some by half! Making them substantially cheaper than comparable hotels I saw overseas.  Further, dining out is very cheap (in Sapporo Susukino, for example, you can get a 2-hour tabe-nomi-houdai all you can eat and drink for about 3500 yen).  I can see why tourism is booming up here.  Good.  We’re no longer the poorest prefecture, IIRC.

That said, any economy increasingly being powered by tourism suffers from two major flaws:  1) a fickle market, and 2) residents may be enjoying an income, but in general the reason why things are getting cheaper here are because people are making less money themselves.  As they say:  Nice place to visit.  Wouldn’t want to live here.  Because the resident economy and the higher-income tourist economy is by nature fundamentally different in its buying and spending power.

I’m not speaking as an expert in any of these fields.  I just thought I’d comment on something I’ve observed over the past couple of days and open up the blog to discussion.  Anyone else noticing these trends?  Arudou Debito

Sendaiben and MB on Narita Airport again, this time both before and after entry


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Hi Blog. Have just finished giving a presentation and partaking in a PhD workshop at the University of British Columbia (getting ready for those sucked all the time out of blogging, sorry). But we have some updates to some recent posts on how Immigration (and extensions thereof) is treating people crossing borders and afterwards. Sendaiben and MB comment:


September 29, 2010
From Sendaiben:

Just came back through Narita and gave my usual calm and friendly rant to the immigration officer (she wasn’t particularly impressed -got a very curt “if you don’t comply you can’t come in”). Fair enough.

I then had a thought. The re-entry permit holder line anywhere I’ve been has been by far the shortest. I have never had to wait more than a minute or so, unlike the Japanese citizens who often have long lines (and let’s not talk about the tourist lines, which are often pretty bad). I can also take my family through with me (even though they have Japanese passports) and save them time standing in line too.

If you think of the re-entry line as a VIP line that requires additional security (fingerprints), does that not make the whole thing easier to swallow? After all, it’s not such a big deal, is it? It’s not worth getting het up about every single time we come back into the country, is it?

Sadly, that doesn’t work for me, however much I would like it to. I really dislike the policy, which seems pointless and needlessly offensive to me.

I will keep complaining, although I make sure I do so in a calm and friendly manner (the immigration officers on the desks didn’t make the rules, so there is no point being hostile to them). However, as public servants, they should know how the public feels about the policies they carry out: thus it is my right to talk about it in a calm and reasonable way 😉

Ironically it is this more than anything else which is pushing me to naturalize: I don’t need the grief every time I come home. What does everyone else think?


MB adds what happens once within the pale:


July 14, 2010
From MB:

It seems that Narita cops still practice racial profiling even after all the protests lodged at their office in Narita…this is sad because it shows we foreigners count like zero.

I frequently use Narita and to say the truth this was the first time I saw this bad practice at work. Hearsay is one thing, seeing something with your eyes is very different and I have to be honest to say that I got angry.

In the open space just before the Narita Express entrance two policemen
had stopped two people and were asking them various things.

Those two people of course were also showing their passports. They were foreigners. At that point I took one picture. I thought to myself, “Well, they will also stop Japanese….”. So I purposedly waited nearby to see what the two cops would do next.

When I saw that the next people they stopped were foreigners too I began to feel angry. Welcome to Japan.

Then, after these two people the policemen stopped another couple of…. foreigners.

All of this lasted like 30 minutes and they only stopped foreigners (all white, no asians etc.).

I also walked around to see if they stopped me but they didn’t. Maybe I look “mendokusai” ? One of the two cops looked at me after I was staring him for a long time but he didn’t make any move. The pattern I noticed is:

– white only
– two people for two cops
– tourist looking type
– normal looking person (with this I mean
those people they stopped were not really “suspicious” looking !!)

The cops always asked for:
– passports
and, this is interesting, I also noticed that in all three cases they talked to their targets for a while, THEN, when they were about to let them go, they asked again, casually, for some last thing (which I couldn’t hear). I am curious to know what it was…

The pattern was something like: “Thanks, now you may go. (then with a surprised face) Ah…I forgot to ask….”

I really do hope they also start stopping anybody not only practice dummies. This practice doesn’t make me feel safer at all, instead it makes me think of all those people that just pass through Narita without any fear to be stopped by these robo-cops.


“Pinprick Protests”: NJ refusing to comply with GOJ Census?


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Hi Blog.  I got this a couple of days ago, and am hearing that others are now getting their 5-year Japan Census forms (recently discussed on here).

Friend KD writes the following:


September 23 2010

Hi Debito, Today a lady rang my door and kindly asked me to fill out the census papers. As you probably remember from previous censuses, in the spirit of civil disobedience I refuse to participate with the census, in protest of long-term resident NJ’s not having the right to vote in local elections.

I discussed this with the lady who brought the census papers. She clearly understood my position and also brought up some points herself why it was strange that long-term NJ have no voting rights.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I do not intend to be an activist, but I thought that perhaps other people who follow you might be interested in the idea of protesting our lack of voting rights in this way.

In itself it won’t get us voting rights, but it does send a message. Sending that message, whenever we can, and in every way we can, is important.


COMMENT:  I am of two minds about this.  As KD says, one way to make the GOJ take notice of NJ needs is to deny the GOJ something it wants (information from us all).  But then again, I also want the GOJ to record how diverse Japanese society is (even if it won’t do it properly, by providing an optional question to indicate ethnicity; as it stands, it keeps the “pure Japanese society” (as in, no visibly off-color Japanese citizens) discourse secure).

Another person commented back at the previous thread on the Census:


Anton:  According to this:– the census questionnaire must be available in 27 languages. Got mine yesterday, in Japanese of course. And all foreigners I know got it in Japanese. And the only contact phone is Japanese only. So, OK guys, I can’t help you here, you’ll get no data from my family.


What do others think about this?  Yet another discussion.  Arudou Debito in Calgary

Discussion: Oguri Saori’s “Darling wa Gaikokujin” manga series: Does it help NJ assimilate?


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Hi Blog. We’ve recently had a decent discussion come up in my previous blog entry, and it’s good enough to warrant its own entry.

The topic was Oguri Saori’s Daarin Wa Gaikokujin” (My Darling is a Foreigner), a best-selling series of manga depicting the life of a quirky bilingual foreigner by the name of “Tony” who marries a Japanese woman. The manga chronicles the different personalities of the husband and wife as they deal with issues in Japan, create a life and a family together, travel from one place to another, and generally try to get inside “Tony’s mind”. There are several books under Oguri’s authorship (at least one with real-life husband Tony Laszlo’s co-billing — his “Guide to Happiness”), and even a movie earlier this year, not to mention an English translation, subway and train PSAs, and an ANA advertising deal. It’s a very influential economic juggernaut that has spawned imitators (there are other “Darling”-types of books connected with different nationalities), and now with “DWG with baby” on board the epic is anticipated to continue for some years to come.

The question for Readers: Is the DWG manga series really working in NJs best interests? As in, as far as is concerned, helping NJ to assimilate, be treated as equals and moreover residents of Japan?

I came out in my last blog entry and said I wasn’t sure it is. Let me give my standpoint and open the floor up for discussion:

First a disclaimer: I knew Oguri Saori personally, stayed with Laszlo and Saori for many days during trips to Tokyo, and even helped Saori with some grunt work (as in erasing pencil lines) in earlier non-DWG works. We were quite close. I have immense respect for her as an illustrator (as I too like to draw) and a storyteller. I think she has earned every bit of her success after developing her talent and investing years of hard work in her craft. Bully for her. May she earn millions more.

But the problem I have had with the DWG series (and I’ve come to this conclusion after many years of watching how DWG appeals to people) is that it is selling “foreigner” as “exotic” and “different” all over again. A friend of mine concurs, seeing the appeal of DWG as “making foreigners into things, even accessories, for collection and display”. I won’t go quite that far. But watching what kind of audience the DWG media machine generally seeks to appeal to (young to middle-aged women who might want to date a foreigner — or are dating/married to a foreigner), I see that they are being encouraged to view DWG as a guide to “foreigners’ minds”. This might be an overstatement, but the title itself (“Gaikokujin”) already sets Tony-chan apart as something perpetually different, moreover something to be studied (and there is enough bad social science in Japan treating NJ as cultural representatives, worthy of petri-dish examination). Regardless of how Saori originally intended, the marketing of these books plays right into this. Tony-chan is cute, sure. Eccentric and interesting, sure. Representative of anything? No.

Imagine if we were to publish a book, “My Darling is a Japanese”, and we had this quirky Japanese man who spoke geeky English and studied all sorts of [insert country here] cultural norms and had all sorts of eccentric tics? Then imagine a publisher pushing it as having insight into how Japanese men (or for that matter, any kind of Asian man) behave within this cultural context? We’d have people buying it if it were funny, sure. But I bet there would be a little more care against pushing it as something representative of anything. Even Borat, for example, was sold as performance art, not fodder for the study of Kazakhstan or foreigners in general.

In sum, I initially liked the idea of DWG as an eye-opener and a softener. But subsequent mutations of the phenomenon have turned it into simply more of the same: Quirky foreigner comes here and still is seen as quirky because he is foreign. Not because he is a quirky person. And people lap it up because they think it offers insights. Doubt that? Read this.

I don’t see it furthering the cause of helping NJ assimilate and being treated as equals and residents, not foreigners. DWG has been a wasted opportunity.

Now let’s open up the floor to discussion. I ask respondents to please try to leave Laszlo’s and my personal relationship out of this (because it’s irrelevant, and the DWG books are not Laszlo’s anyway). Please critique the DWG phenomenon on its own merits. I seriously look forward to seeing what people (especially fans) say. Arudou Debito in Radium Hot Springs, BC

Transit Tangent: Hell to pay at LAX


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Hi Blog.  Now in Calgary after one day (more than that, actually) flying from Narita to Los Angeles, then transferring to San Francisco and finally here.  Redeeming air miles gets you some pretty circuitous flights.

One of the most frequent questions I get is, “Now that you’ve given up your American citizenship for Japanese, what kind of reaction do you get from US Customs with a Japan passport?”

Well, actually, up to now, not all that bad.  First time I went back was in 2005 (I never left Japan once between 2000 and 2005; boy that’s hard core), and that was Newark on the way back to Japan after getting to Montego Bay via the Peace Boat.  (The Jamaicans, btw, were so amused by my passport that they took it to the back room for a quick guffaw amongst themselves before letting me pass.)  US Customs gave me a look, asked me what I did in Japan, how long I would stay, and that was it.  I thanked him for the painlessness of the procedure, and spent the night drinking with Rutgers law school grads Curzon and friends.

Second time was more interesting.  Went to San Jose with my university students in 2006, and the African-American gentleman manning Customs did do a double take, then talked to me in Japanese about where I was going and how long I was staying.  No altercations, no incidents with my students (who didn’t speak much English and were happy to meet that Customs officer), easy peasy.

Other times also, no real issues.  Taking the train from Vancouver to Seattle in October 2006 (I always wonder why American Customs is allowed to have their border check IN VANCOUVER STATION itself — the Americans certainly wouldn’t allow another nation to plant their Customs flags on US soil), the officer actually talked to me for about ten minutes about potential places to eat and see in Japan (he was going there with his Korean wife in a few weeks); had to break off conversation because the train was about to depart.  Other visits in 2007 and 2008 also passed by without interrogation.

But this time was different.  Landing at LAX yesterday, a buff tattooed officer did more than just a few double takes, and, in addition to the regular questions about how long, birthplace, and what I did for a living, wanted to know why I was coming in on a Japanese passport instead of an American one.  “Japan does not allow dual nationality,” I explained.  “So you have no other nationalities?”  No.  “Wait a minute, I’m going to have to talk to my supervisor.  I can’t let you in on this passport if you still are an American by birth.”  I let him check, but I’m not sure if he’d get the concept of an American actually renouncing.  He came back and gave me a smile (rare for these people, as you know), and said, “Anyway, welcome back.  Enjoy your stay.”

It was a nice welcome after all that, especially given the inauspicious beginning of this trip at Narita.  Let me back up a few hours:  When I first checked in at NRT, the ticket clerk asked, “Have you checked in with ESTA?”  What’s that?  “The Electronic System for Traffic Authorization.  Every non-citizen going to America has to check their passports in with the US Government before departure.”  Oh oh.  Er, no.  But I’m only transiting to Canada.  “Doesn’t matter.  Okay, go to the internet terminals down at the end of the hall and check in online.  Should be pretty quick.  You’ve got three hours.”

So we unpacked my computer, got a day pass for online use, and went to the ESTA site.  It requires name, address, passport, date of departure, airline (hell, there are lot of them, and United was far down the alphabetized list) and flight number, a list of questions you should answer “no” to, the address you will be staying at in the US (no option for people transiting).  And oh, fourteen USD for those who qualify for the visa waiver program.  Credit cards accepted.  Humph.  How convenient, for them.

I typed in all the info with middle finger raised and got a screen which said, “AUTHORIZATION PENDING:  …A determination will be available within 72 hours.  Please return to this web site…”  That’s where I began to get pretty antsy.  My passport still has my previous surname (Sugawara) on it, and four pages later an official amendment indicating that my surname is now Arudou.  But when we tried to use the automatic check in, “Sugawara” came up in the scanner, with a button to press saying “Is this the same as the name on your ticket?”  (It wasn’t.)  The MOFA hadn’t gotten around to updating their records after four years, I guess.  Maybe that was what snagged me with ESTA.

I took my computer screen back to the ticket clerk, where he said, “Hm, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that.  Let me try to see… Oh, look, it’s just come up.  You’re cleared.  Here are your boarding passes.  Enjoy your near-heart-attack.”  Okay, I made that last one up.

So if the ticket clerk was Charon piloting me over the River Styx, the tattooed Customs officer at LAX was Cerebus at the gates of Hell.  And LAX was indeed a reasonable facsimile of it.  Consider this:  We have to get our baggage, of course, but they came to a different carousel than the one announced on the plane (and there was no sineage saying that the emerging bags were from our flight).  Then I saw a sign saying “Connecting Flights”, waited twenty minutes in line, and found out that it was actually lost baggage claims.  “No no, you go dere, dat line”, said the clerk.  “But that’s not what your sign says.”  “You go dere, dat line,” was the automated response.  So I joined everyone else in an enormous line to hand in the tickets that say, “We are not bringing in any fruits or vegetables or whatever into the US”, which required an individual passport check again with only two people on duty (took about another 45 minutes).  Then I followed the signs to Connecting Flights, got into another line, and was told after another fifteen minutes that I just needed to hand my bags to “dat guy over dere”, since they were already tagged through to YYC (then why the hell did I have to collect them myself, then?).

Bags stowed, I followed the CF (no longer “Connecting Flights”; more like “Cluster F*ck”) signs, and felt like I had been Barnumed (“Come see the Egress”), as I found myself out on the street!  Some friendly guy came up and asked if I was looking for CFs and directed me down the street and up the stairs.  Then he asked me for a donation (as an Official Airport Volunteer, with embossed name tag) to his orphanage.  I begged off and got upstairs, only to be told by another TSA officer to get into another 45-minute long line to go through Security scanning again!  Finally through that, I was back in the transit zone.  But the LAX lounges looked in a state of permanent decomposition, and the TSA people acted as if they were defending a fortress, and we would be damn lucky if we were let into their compound.  No thanks for our cooperation, no pleases when requesting.  Just, “We’re protecting you, so be grateful.  Or else.”

And what was the Or Else?  I got a glimpse of it when talking to my Calgarian seat neighbor on the last leg of my flights.  I was noticing how Canadian Customs forms for “Are you bringing any fruits in?” allow for families to write their names on one tag (no individual tags lengthening the line), and don’t even require a passport number!  He said, “Yes, my wife and I have separate surnames, and once we got to the head of the line the US Customs guy said we had to have separate tags.  So he crossed her name off and said, ‘Fill this out and get back at the back of the line.’  I reacted and said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding.’  He didn’t like that.  ‘You sassing me?’, he said.  I tried to take it back, but he called for an officer to escort me to an interrogation room where I sat alone.  I couldn’t go anywhere — he had confiscated my passport!  So after twenty minutes or so he came in and asked me the standard questions again about where and how long, then let me go to find my wife on the other side.  I don’t say anything beyond ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’ to these people anymore.”  Wow, way to put travelers in their place.

Not ten hours out of Japan, and I was already missing it.  Customs people (not to mention Narita Cops and their random racial profiling) there can be pretty surly too, but at least things are signposted, and somebody is making an effort to be clear about where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do.  And the transit lounges, although Spartan, are still clean and reasonably airy.  LAX was, in a word, a shithole.

I’ve seen it before at other decrepit airports in the US (try JFK), but what a great impression to leave upon visitors to the US — one of decay.  Enough people have complained about Japanese airports (particularly Narita), and there have been improvements (Haneda, Chitose, Centrair, and KIX are all decent if not downright nice, and even Narita has have gotten better).  Japan takes very seriously its impression overseas and works on it.  America just doesn’t seem to care — hey, you’re lucky if we let you into our fortress.  I’m sure Ellis Island too was a shithole.  But at least you only had to go through it once — it’s not a major international hub for citizens too.  What kind of place takes more than two hours to allow people just to get on a connecting flight, and charges them for the privilege?  One that doesn’t deserve my ever going there again.  I got to YYC, got my bags, and was outside and all done within fifteen minutes.  Oh Canada!

Other American airport horror stories welcome.  Seems like the American airline industry is on a race to the bottom for standards of customer service.  Some airports have already essentially become bus stations.  I look forward to getting back to Japanese standards.  Arudou Debito in Calgary

Weekend Tangent: “If you could change one thing about a society…”


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Hi Blog.  In one of my nights out here in Tokyo (we have a lot of deep conversations), friend HippieChris brought up an interesting question:

“If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about a society, what would that be?”

I thought I’d pose that to the blog.  Rules are:  What one thing would you change about Japan, and what one thing would you change about your society of origin, if different?  Two places.  (It’s a useful exercise.  It’s actually surprisingly difficult to find something fundamentally changeworthy about your society of origin, since it’s hard for a fish to see the water in the fishbowl until s/he’s been out of it for awhile.)

I’ll start:

The one thing I’d change about Japan would be the lack of “Do Unto Others…”  Not enough people see a problem as something that warrants attention because it doesn’t affect them.  “Hey, that’s your problem, not mine, so why create more bother for myself by considering it or asking for it to stop?”  The lack of a universal, “this hurts people, so stoppit” has created numerous issues for me in my calls for “Japanese Only” signs to come down, for example.  A common attitude:  “Well, it doesn’t affect me”, meaning they’re not going to be stopped by the sign, has let countless apathetics off the hook of caring.  Even if we try to say, “Well, what if you went overseas and it happened to you?” doesn’t always work either:  They just say, “Well, I’m not going overseas.”  For all the trappings of the “Omoi Yari” society, people here are surprisingly diffident about the plights of others, not walking a mile in their shoes.  Magic-wanding that away would take care of a lot of social ills that affect people who aren’t in the majority.

The one thing I’d change about the United States would be the arrogance.  It’s amazing how much ignorance the “We’re Number One” attitude breeds, shutting Americans off to so many cultural influences.  Worse yet, a common assumption that everyone wants to be American, and that every society is eventually going to be (or want to be) like America, makes people blind to alternative ways of life (not a good thing when you’re trying to promote democracy as a system overseas; that ultimately puts more Americans in harm’s way).  A sobering belief that other people might be happy in their “foreign lifestyles”, even might find objectionable the things that Americans take for granted without much reflection (e.g., food as fuel, judging value in terms of money, seeing success as how rich you are, etc.), might open a few doors to a more self-examined life.

These aren’t all that different, actually.  The undercurrent is the need to understand the values and life choices of others, and treat them with the respect they deserve.  But that’s my magic wand.  How about other Readers?  I’d rather people offer their visions rather than take apart mine (participate in the exercise rather than be a critic, please).  Go for it.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo

Economist: Japan as number three, watching China’s economy whizz by


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Hi Blog. Here’s the better of the latest Western-press articles, from The Economist London, showing China overtaking Japan to become the world’s number two economy.

Now, the reason why this is a issue:  The economic malaise that has affected this society for two decades and counting has had two cantilevering effects: 1) The need to bring in cheap labor from overseas to lower labor costs and increase export productivity; and 2) the jealousy and xenophobia that will rise towards those NJ brought here as a natural consequence — of seeing an economic rival usurp the position of Asia’s leader — and how a society seeing itself in decline may in fact become even more insular and closed-minded.

That’s where I’d like to see the discussion head here regarding this topic. Never mind disputing the economics in specific (that can be done elsewhere). Just assume that China will overtake Japan. What do people think that will do to Japan as a society vis-a-vis its treatment of NJ?

NB: I will be on the road for the next week or so, checking my blog only sporadically. So please be patient about having blog comments approved. I will put up a blog poll so people can voice their opinions in macro. Arudou Debito on holiday


Japan as number three
Watching China whizz by
Japan is now the world’s third-largest economy. Can its firms cope?
The Economist London, Aug 19th 2010 | TOKYO

Article plus two interesting charts at

FIVE years ago China’s economy was half as big as Japan’s. This year it will probably be bigger (see chart 1). Quarterly figures announced this week showed that China had overtaken its ancient rival. It had previously done so only in the quarter before Christmas, when Chinese GDP is always seasonally high.

Since China’s population is ten times greater than Japan’s, this moment always seemed destined to arrive. But it is surprising how quickly it came. For Japan, which only two decades ago aspired to be number one, the slip to third place is a gloomy milestone. Yet worse may follow.

Many of the features of Japanese capitalism that contributed to its long malaise still persist: the country is lucky if its economy grows by 1% a year. Although Japan has made substantial reforms in corporate governance, financial openness and deregulation, they are far from enough. Unless dramatic changes take place, Japan may suffer a third lost decade.

Of course, Japan still boasts some of the world’s most innovative firms. Carmakers such as Toyota and electronics firms such as Toshiba are in a class of their own. Japanese firms hold more than a 70% market share in 30 industries worth more than $1 billion in annual sales, from digital cameras to car-navigation devices, according to 2008 data. Whatever the brand on a digital gadget’s case, Japanese wares are stuffed inside or are essential for producing it.

Yet the success of Japan’s best firms masks wider weaknesses. Yoko Ishikura, a business professor at Hitotsubashi University, believes that Japanese bosses are complacent. “They are either too afraid to face the reality of the power shift,” she says, “or [they] want to stick to old, familiar models.” Yet the core problem is that Japan suffers from a gross misallocation of resources, both financial and human.

Japan has long kept the cost of capital low, to boost investment or help stragglers. Since the financial crisis began, bureaucratic organs such as the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan and the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation have been handed $25 billion to revitalise ailing companies. Among the latter agency’s first acts was to assist a dying wireless operator that bet on archaic technology.

Food for zombies

The system almost guarantees that fresh capital goes to the losers of yesteryear. Because struggling companies rarely die, new ones do not form. Japan’s bankruptcy rate is half of America’s; the rate at which it creates new firms is only a third as high. Japanese venture capitalists are few and far between. Japan’s bureaucratic allocation of credit seldom spurs animal spirits. Rather, it nourishes zombies.

Japan has also lost its knack for getting the best out of its human capital. Its people are superbly literate and numerate, but certain cultural traits are holding businesses back. Respect for seniority means that promotions go to the older, not the most able. Young executives with good ideas refrain from speaking up. Retiring presidents are kept on as chairmen or advisers, making it awkward for the new guy to undo his predecessor’s mistakes. A rising executive at a big trading house says he was counselled by his seniors to keep his views hidden if he wanted to get on.

Japanese salarymen, who were once regarded as modern-day samurai, are today known as soshoku-danshi (wussy, unambitious “grass-eating men”). Since 2003, the proportion of young Japanese entering the labour force who want to be entrepreneurs has halved, to 14%, while those who seek lifetime employment has nearly doubled, to 57% (see chart 2). Bosses grouse that the young eschew overseas posts; even a foreign-ministry official confides that Japanese diplomats prefer to stay at home.

The herbivores are markedly less “globalised” than their elders. Since 2000 the number of Chinese and Indians studying in America has doubled, whereas the number of Japanese has dropped by a third, to a fraction of the other Asian countries’ total. And despite years of mandatory English-language classes in secondary school, the Japanese score lowest among rich countries on English tests. This needn’t be a problem, except that as an export-dependent economy, Japan’s lifeblood is its relations with other countries, frets Takatoshi Ito, an economist at the University of Tokyo.

Half the nation’s talent is squandered. Only 8% of managers are female, compared with around 40% in America and about 20% in China. There are more women on corporate boards in Kuwait than Tokyo. Women are paid 60-70% as much as their male counterparts. A manager at one of Japan’s biggest conglomerates says that 70% of qualified job applicants are women, but fewer than 10% of new hires are, since the work may entail visits to factories or mines, where they might perspire in an unladylike way. Kirin, a brewer, seeks to double the number of its female managers by 2015—to a mere 6% of the total.

To get the economy moving, Japan Inc took a page from its industrial-policy playbook of yore. In June the trade ministry released a sweeping new “growth strategy” that identifies a score of vibrant sectors meriting government assistance, from overseas construction to attracting medical tourists. The project calls for hundreds of reforms, big and small. But the bureaucrats most intimately involved were shunted to other jobs in July, so who knows whether any will be implemented. Once again, the practices of old Japan scuttle the new. Richard Katz, editor of the Oriental Economist (no relation to us), believes Japan has trouble tackling its problems because they are all inter-related. “It is hard to fix one without fixing the others,” he says.

The local news media have played down Japan’s slip to third place. Alarmists fear that South Korea—which has a much smaller population—may overtake Japan, too. Is Japan willing to fight to keep its bronze medal for as long as possible?

Supporters say that the country always seems to shuffle its feet but then snaps into action when faced with a crisis. It did so in the 19th century, adopting modern ways to avoid being colonised, and again after the second world war. Japan was the world’s second-largest economy for 40 years. But the traits that made it an economic powerhouse in the 20th century—easy capital, big companies, rote learning, management by mandarins and stable jobs for male breadwinners—are ill-suited to the 21st. Today, Japan’s biggest obstacle is itself. Without dramatic reform, it will slip swiftly to number four, number five and beyond.


“The Cove” Taiji Dolphin protesters cancel local demo due to potential Rightist violence


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Hi Blog. I got the following from the organizers of demonstrations against dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Wakayama (subject of documentary “The Cove”). Comment follows:


Posted By: Fonda Berosini
To: Members in “The Cove” – Save Japan Dolphins
UPDATE: Sept.1 Taiji events cancelled
Received August 20, 2010

For several important reasons, we have decided to cancel our plans in Taiji, Japan for Sept. 1st (the first day of the annual dolphin slaughter.)

Most importantly, we received word that an extreme nationalist group known to be violent is set to confront us in Taiji. Our work in Japan has never been about physical confrontation. Since “The Cove” premiered in theaters earlier this Summer, we believe we are making progress by bringing the truth to the people of Japan about the dolphin slaughter and about mercury-poisoned dolphin meat in markets. We will not play the game that the nationalist groups want us to play – we will not have it become “us versus them.”

“We” are now more than 1.6 million people from 153 countries, including Japan. The militant nationalist groups may gather as they like in Taiji; we will be elsewhere in Japan, talking to the media, explaining the problem, and making sure the public understands that we are not there to fight, but to work together.

I know some will be disappointed, but I really think we can do better elsewhere at this time. Please know that I’m not concerned about my own safety, however many supporters – some from this Cause – are planning to join us, and I won’t risk their well being.

We will not abandon the dolphins in trouble in Taiji and other fishing villages. In fact, moving the event will allow us to show the full scope of the problem. Several other communities along the coast of Japan have dolphin kills, although most have abandoned the drive fishery that was depicted in The Cove. And there is also the broader issue of captivity. We would like to discuss these issues in a neutral, conflict-free environment.

Thanks for your understanding. To follow our next steps in Japan, I invite you to check my blog:

Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute


COMMENT: is following this case with interest because it offers one template for activism in Japan (a society that in my view eschews activism of this sort because historically it has been associated with extremism).  The outcome of this case, with so much time, effort, and publicity invested, will of course affect the efficacy of future grassroots protests in Japan.

The development above has stirred mixed feelings in me because:

1) The decision to cancel and move elsewhere the demonstration is understandable because we don’t want violence to mar the demos (and I think some of the groups will make good on their threat of violence — the Japanese police have a habit of not stopping public violence if it’s inflicted by the Right Wing: examples herehere, here, and within the movie Yasukuni).  Only a violence-free demo will reassure an already tetchy Japanese public that not all demonstrators are extremists.  One would need the non-violence discipline and training of MLK’s followers in places like Birmingham and Selma; when faced with biting police dogs and fire hoses, they managed to keep cool heads and evoke public sympathy.  Thanks to the media, of course, who published photographs showing who the one-sided perpetrators of violence were.  There is no guarantee of that in the Japanese media (no doubt there would be plenty of domestic outlets either trying to create faux balance by finding fault with both sides, or just saying that the intruders were there making trouble).


2) In principle, giving in to bullies only makes them stronger, and if the Rightists are able to deter demos in Taiji by threatening violence, then what’s to stop them from threatening the same elsewhere, especially given the anti-Leftist/anti-intruder police and media sympathies I mentioned above?  Whenever any group is able to successfully hold public safety hostage, violence (or the threat of it) will in fact be more encouraged.  Where the demo lines can be drawn, especially in a society that needs police and community permission to even hold a public rally outdoors, will be perpetually gray.  So why not draw them in Taiji?

This is just an internal debate I have going on inside of me.  What do others think?  It’s been one hot summer this year, let’s hope cooler heads prevail and nobody gets hurt.  Arudou Debito on vacation.

PS:  I’ve put this question up as a blog poll, in the right-hand column of any blog page.  Let us know what you think.

Summer Tangent: on Japan’s generation-long economic stagnation leading to a lost generation of youth


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Hi Blog.  Yet another Summer Tangent linked with yesterday’s post on Amakudari foiling reforms.  Here we have a reporter connecting the dots of Japan’s economic decline with more than just a whiff of Schadenfreude:  Holding up Japan as a laboratory experiment example of a society going down the tubes.  Well, points taken, especially about the sense of “Why bother?” for workers in a deflationary economy, but I’m not sure there are lessons that really apply anywhere else but here (and as a nitpick:  I don’t see “grass-eating men” as people who lack workplace competitiveness:  to me it’s more a fashion statement for men who have been brought up in a society where the ideal of beauty has long been far more feminine than masculine).  But anyway, food for thought.  Comments?  Debito


Japan’s Economic Stagnation Is Creating a Nation of Lost Youths By CHARLES HUGH SMITH
Posted 7:00 AM 08/06/10, Courtesy of CJ

What happens to a generation of young people when:

  • They are told to work hard and go to college, yet after graduating they find few permanent job opportunities?
  • Many of the jobs that are available are part-time, temporary or contract labor?
  • These insecure jobs pay one-third of what their fathers earned?
  • The low pay makes living at home the only viable option?
  • Poor economic conditions persist for 10, 15 and 20 years in a row?

For an answer, turn to Japan. The world’s second-largest economy has stagnated in just this fashion for almost 20 years, and the consequences for the “lost generations” that have come of age in the “lost decades” have been dire. In many ways, Japan’s social conventions are fraying under the relentless pressure of an economy in seemingly permanent decline.

While the world sees Japan as the home of consumer technology juggernauts such as Sony and Toshiba and high-tech “bullet trains” (shinkansen), beneath the bright lights of Tokyo and the evident wealth generated by decades of hard work and Japan Inc.’s massive global export machine lies a different reality: increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity for the nation’s youth.

Suddenly, It’s Haves and Have Nots

The gap between extremes of income at the top and bottom of society — measured by the Gini coefficient — has been growing in Japan for years. To the surprise of many outsiders, once-egalitarian Japan is becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.

The media in Japan have popularized the phrase “kakusa shakai,” literally meaning “gap society.” As the elite slice prospers and younger workers are increasingly marginalized, the media has focused on the shrinking middle class. For example, a best-selling book offers tips on how to get by on an annual income of less than 3 million yen ($34,800). Two million yen ($23,000) has become the de-facto poverty line for millions of Japanese, especially outside high-cost Tokyo.

More than one-third of the workforce is part-time as companies have shed the famed Japanese lifetime employment system, nudged along by government legislation that abolished restrictions on flexible hiring a few years ago. Temp agencies have expanded to fill the need for contract jobs as permanent job opportunities have dwindled.

Many fear that as the generation of salaried baby boomers dies out, the country’s economic slide might accelerate. Japan’s share of the global economy has fallen below 10% from a peak of 18% in 1994. Were this decline to continue, income disparities would widen and threaten to pull this once-stable society apart.

Downsized Expectations, Opting Out

The Japanese term ”freeter” is a hybrid word that originated in the late 1980s, just as Japan’s property and stock market bubbles reached their zenith. It combines the English ”free” and the German ”arbeiter,” or worker, and describes a lifestyle that’s radically different from the buttoned-down rigidity of the permanent-employment economy: freedom to move between jobs. This absence of loyalty to a company is totally alien to previous generations of driven Japanese “salarymen” who were expected to uncomplainingly turn in 70-hour work weeks at the same company for decades, all in exchange for lifetime employment.

Many young people have come to mistrust big corporations, having seen their fathers or uncles eased out of ”lifetime” jobs in the relentless downsizing of the past 20 years. From the point of view of the younger generations, the loyalty their parents unstintingly gave to companies was wasted.

The freeters have also come to see diminishing value in the grueling study and tortuous examinations required to compete for the elite jobs in academia, industry and government. With opportunities fading, long years of study are perceived as pointless. In contrast, the freeter lifestyle is one of hopping between short-term jobs and devoting energy and time to foreign travel, hobbies or other interests.

As long ago as 2001, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimated that 50% of high school graduates and 30% of college graduates quit their jobs within three years of leaving school. The downside is permanently shrunken income and prospects. These trends have led to an ironic moniker for the freeter lifestyle: dame-ren (no good people). The dame-ren get by on odd jobs, low-cost living and drastically diminished expectations.

Changed Men

The decline of permanent employment has also led to the unraveling of social mores and conventions. The young men who reject their fathers’ macho work ethic are derisively called “herbivores” or “grass-eaters” because they’re uncompetitive and uncommitted to work.

Take the bestselling book The Herbivorous Ladylike Men Who Are Changing Japan, by Megumi Ushikubo, president of Infinity, a Tokyo marketing firm. Ushikubo claims that about two-thirds of all Japanese men aged 20-34 are now partial or total “grass-eaters.” “People who grew up in the bubble era [of the 1980s] really feel like they were let down. They worked so hard and it all came to nothing,” says Ushikubo. “So the men who came after them have changed.”

This has spawned a disconnect between genders so pervasive that Japan is experiencing a “social recession” in marriage, births and even sex, all of which are declining.

With a wealth and income divide widening along generational lines, many young Japanese are attaching themselves to their parents. Surveys indicate that roughly two-thirds of freeters live at home. Freeters ”who have no children, no dreams, hope or job skills could become a major burden on society, as they contribute to the decline in the birthrate and in social insurance contributions,” Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor wrote in a magazine essay titled, ”Parasite Singles Feed on Family System.”

Take My Son, Please

“Parasite singles” is yet another harsh term for some Japanese youths. It refers to those who never leave home, sparking an almost tragicomical countertrend of Japanese parents who actively seek mates to marry off their “parasite single” offspring as the only way to get them out of the house.

Even more extreme is hikikomori, or “acute social withdrawal,” a condition in which the young live-at-home person nearly walls himself off from the world by never leaving his room. Though acute social withdrawal in Japan affect both genders, impossibly high expectations for males from middle- and upper-middle-class families has led many sons, typically the eldest, to refuse to leave home. The trigger for this complete withdrawal from social interaction is often one or more traumatic episodes of social or academic failure. That is, the inability to meet standards of conduct and success that can no longer be met in diminished-opportunity Japan.

The unraveling of Japan’s social fabric as a result of eroding economic conditions for young people offers Americans a troubling glimpse of the high costs of long-term economic stagnation.

AP and JT on “Soft Power” of JET Programme, projecting Japan’s influence abroad.


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Hi Blog. Here are two articles talking about inter alia what I brought up yesterday, Japan’s “soft power”, and how the JET Programme is an example of that.  First one delves into the history and goals, the other making the case for and against it, with input from former students under JETs’ tutelage.

We’ve talked extensively about JET cuts/possible abolition here already on (archives here), and raised doubts about the efficacy of the program as a means to teach Japanese people a foreign language and “get people used to NJ” (which I agree based upon personal experience has been effective, as Anthony says below).  I guess the angle to talk about this time, what with all the international networking and alumni associations, is the efficacy of the program as a means of projecting Japan’s “soft power”, if not “cool”, abroad.

I have already said that I am a fan of JET not for the projection of power abroad, but rather because the alternative, no JET, would not be less desirable.  Otherwise, in this discussion, I haven’t any real angle to push (for a change), so let’s have a discussion.  Give us some good arguments on how effective JET is abroad (discuss how effective JET is in Japan at a different blog entry here, please read comments before commenting to avoid retreads)  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Does Japan still need 23-yr-old exchange program?

Associated Press: Jul 28, 2010, courtesy of AR

PHOTO CAPTION: In this photo taken on Wednesday, July 21, 2010, Steven Horowitz, a JET alumni who is now on the board of the JET alumni association, poses for a picture in New York. The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, known as JET, is now among the biggest international exchange programs in the world. More than 52,000 people, mostly American, have taken part and supporters proclaim it as Japan’s most successful soft power initiative since World War II. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

TOKYO (AP) – Every year for the past two decades, legions of young Americans have descended upon Japan to teach English. This government-sponsored charm offensive was launched to counter anti-Japan sentiment in the United States and has since grown into one of the country’s most successful displays of soft power.

But faced with stagnant growth and a massive public debt, lawmakers are aggressively looking for ways to rein in spending. One of their targets is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET.

Versions of the JET program can be found in other countries. French Embassies around the world help to recruit young people to teach their languages in France for a year. The U.S. Fulbright program, run by the State Department, works in both directions: American graduates are sent abroad to study and teach, and foreigners are brought to the U.S. to do the same.

But JET’s origins and historical context make it unique. Having long pursued policies of isolation – with short bursts of imperialism – Japan was looking for a new way to engage with the world in 1987, at the height of its economic rise.

The country’s newfound wealth was viewed as a threat in the U.S., where anti-Japanese sentiment ran high. At the same time, Tokyo wanted to match its economic power with political clout. JET emerged as one high-profile solution to ease trade friction, teach foreigners about Japan and open the country to the world.

Under the program, young people from English-speaking countries – mostly Americans – work in schools and communities to teach their language and foster cultural exchange. They receive an after-tax salary of about 3.6 million yen ($41,400), roundtrip airfare to Japan and help with living arrangements. More than 90 percent of this year’s incoming class of 4,334 will work as assistant language teachers.

Word about possible cuts began filtering through JET alumni networks several weeks ago, and members of the New York group mobilized quickly, starting an online signature campaign. Former JET – as the alums are known – Steven Horowitz, now living in Brooklyn, is devoting his website to rally support. Another alumnus in Florida launched a Facebook page.

Their message to Tokyo is that Japan’s return on investment in the program is priceless. Japan, they say, cannot afford to lose this key link to the world, especially as its global relevance wanes in the shadow of China. And the program, they argue, not only teaches the world about Japan but also teaches Japan about the world.

“There has been a benefit from the program that you can’t measure,” said New York native Anthony Bianchi. “People used to freak out when they’d see a foreigner. Just the fact that that doesn’t happen anymore is a big benefit.”

Bianchi’s experience shows the power of the program to create cultural ties. After working as a teacher for two years in Aichi prefecture in central Japan, he landed a job with the mayor in Inuyama City, an old castle town in the area. He eventually adopted Japanese citizenship and ran for city council. Now in his second term, the 51-year-old is working to convince Diet members that JET is worth saving.

Bianchi is not alone. Of the more than 52,000 people who have taken part, many are moving into leadership at companies, government offices and non-profits that make decisions affecting Japan, said David McConnell, an anthropology professor at The College of Wooster in Ohio and author of a book about JET.

“The JET Program is, simply put, very smart foreign policy,” he said.

James Gannon, executive director for the nonprofit Japan Center for International Exchange in New York, describes JET as a pillar of the U.S.-Japan relationship and the “best public diplomacy program that any country has run” in recent decades.

But many taxpayers are asking if the program is worth the price – and criticism of JET has become part of a larger political showdown about how much government Japan can afford.

The organization that oversees JET, the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, has drawn the ire of lawmakers as a destination where senior bureaucrats retire to plush jobs. The practice, known as “amakudari,” or “descent from heaven,” is viewed as a source of corruption and waste.

Motoyuki Odachi, head of a budget review panel that examined JET, said taxpayers are getting ripped off.

“There’s a problem with the organization itself,” said Odachi, an upper house member from central Japan. “This program has continued in order to maintain ‘amakudari.'”

JET’s administrators tried to defend themselves at a public hearing in late May and submitted planned reforms, including a 15 percent slimmer budget this fiscal year. The council has allocated about $10 million for the program, which includes airfare, orientation costs and counseling services. Teachers’ salaries are paid by the towns and cities that hire them. Several government ministries cover other JET-related costs, such as overseas recruitment.

Odachi expects his panel’s recommendations will be adopted as formal policy later this year.

“Whether that means zero (money) or half, we don’t know yet,” he said. “But our opinion has been issued, so (JET) will probably shrink.”

Kumiko Torikai, dean of Rikkyo University’s Graduate School of Intercultural Communication and the author of several books on English education in Japan, says JET has outgrown its usefulness and needs an overhaul.

“Bringing thousands of JETs to Japan is not a good investment for the country’s taxpayers in this day and age of an already globalized world,” Torikai said.



Japan Times Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Ex-students don’t want JET grounded
Eric Johnston and Kanako Nakamura ask ‘children of JET’ whether the program deserves to be on the chopping block
By Eric Johnston and Kanako Nakamura (excerpt)

The case for JET
The JET program is one of — perhaps the only — project carried out by the Japanese government during the bubble-economy years of the late 1980s and early 1990s to promote kokusaika (internationalization) that actually had some success.

Since its inception, over 50,000 young foreigners have come to Japan to teach English and share their cultures with young Japanese who would otherwise not likely have been able to speak directly with a foreign teacher. These young people have also benefited local education by improving the abilities of Japanese teachers of English.

Upon return to their home countries, they act as unofficial goodwill ambassadors for Japan, and their experience as a JET is looked upon favorably by employers such as the U.S. State Department. For a relatively small investment on the part of taxpayers, the JET program has created huge returns, welcoming generations of non-Japanese who have, and will, go on to promote better relations between Japan and their own country and expose Japanese to the outside world in unprecedented ways.

The case against
The JET program is a relic of the go-go days of the bubble-economy years, when any half-baked idea could get government funding if it had the word “kokusaika” attached to it. Since its inception, over 50,000 young foreigners with few, if any, teaching credentials have come to Japan and partied for a year at taxpayer expense. They have usually enjoyed their stay, but their effectiveness in improving the English language ability of their students was never quantitatively measured and, given Japanese students’ performances on international English tests, is questionable at best.

Because most JET teachers are from North America, Europe or Australasia, the program promotes an “Anglo-Saxon” view of the world that disregards the importance of other cultures.

A JET’s presence in the classroom with Japanese teachers can actually be disruptive to classroom discipline, while the need for their colleagues to assist them with personal matters due to the language barrier places extra burdens on school staff.

Upon return to their countries, they land the same jobs others who were in Japan get, and it’s naive to think most JETs will be goodwill ambassadors.

At a time of fiscal austerity and when thousands of native English-speakers — many with teaching qualifications, Japanese language ability and a much better understanding of Japanese culture — can be hired as contract workers from private firms depending on local needs and at lower cost, why should Japanese taxpayers continue to subsidize the JET program?

The ex-students’ view…

Rest at

Mainichi/Kyodo: J companies will boost hiring of NJ by 50%! Yeah, sure.


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Hi Blog. Since this past week’s theme seems to be on NJ employment issues, here we have an article (which I can’t find in any original Japanese on the Mainichi site, have a look yourself) talking about how some Japanese companies are going to add more NJ to their staff!  By up to 50%!  My my, we’ve heard that before.  Not just recently in the Asahi last April (where respondents who had been through the hiring process recently smelled tripe and onions; as did the Yomiuri April 2009).  We heard this tune back in the Bubble Years too (one of the reasons why people like me came here in the late 1980s).  We were made promises that simply were not kept.  Remains to be seen, then as now.  Just saying it will happen don’t make it so.  Feels to me like somebody’s talking up the Japanese job market.

And even if they do hire as many as they say, will they have the smarts to offer them job conditions that will keep them on board?  Or will they fall back into the hackneyed practice of assuming that job applicants should just feel grateful for the honor to work for a Japanese company?  Hah.  I think people are more informed than that nowadays.

Opinions?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japanese firms to boost hiring of foreigners by up to 50%
(Mainichi Japan) July 6, 2010, courtesy of JK.

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Major Japanese firms are planning to boost hiring of foreign nationals by up to 50 percent of their new recruits in fiscal 2011, officials of the companies said Tuesday.

Fast Retailing Co., the operator of the popular Uniqlo casual clothing chain, major convenience store chain Lawson Inc. and Rakuten Inc., which operates the largest Internet mall in Japan, are planning to recruit foreigners mainly from Asian countries including China, Taiwan and Malaysia, according to the officials.

As they are expanding global operations especially in emerging markets in Asia amid shrinking domestic sales, the three companies are accelerating operations to hire Asian graduates in their home countries and those studying at Japanese universities.

The firms hope to promote them to company executives in the future to lead their operations in the Asian markets, the officials said.

Fast Retailing said it is planning to hire about 300 foreigners, which accounts for about 50 percent of its planned new recruits for the year starting in April next year.

The company hopes to hire people who can work on its plan to open more shops in China and those who can serve as shop managers in Malaysia and Taiwan, where it plans to open its first outlets.

President Tadashi Yanai said it will further increase the hiring rate of foreign employees in fiscal 2012, with a plan for up to two-thirds of 1,000 planned new recruits to be foreigners.

Lawson is boosting recruitment of foreign students graduating from Japanese universities. It will continue hiring about 20-30 percent of its new recruits from such students from Asian countries, it said. It has already hired 66 foreign graduates in three years from fiscal 2008, which account for 20 percent of all the new recruits.

Rakuten said it will hire 150 foreigners among 600 new recruits it plans to employ in fiscal 2011.

It has agreed with China’s top Internet search engine Baidu Inc. to form a joint venture to launch an online mall in China in the second half of this year and hopes to utilize Chinese engineers to come up with services attracting customers in the Chinese market.

Other than the three companies, Panasonic Corp. has also been boosting its employment of foreigners. In fiscal 2011, it plans to increase the number of such employees to 1,100, up by 50 percent from the previous year, the company said, adding that the figure will account for 80 percent of the whole recruitment for the year.


JET Programme on GOJ chopping block: Appeal from JQ Magazine and JETAA in NYC


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Hi Blog. Forwarding with permission.  Comment from me below.


Subject: URGENT: JET Programme in Danger – An Impassioned Request for your Help
Date: July 6, 2010 4:59:39 AM JST

Dear Mr. Arudou:

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Justin Tedaldi, and I am the editor of JQ Magazine New York, a publication of the JET Programme Alumni Association of America’s New York Chapter. I also write about Japanese culture in New York for I lived in Kobe City for about two years, and my first work experience out of school was as a coordinator for international relations with the JET Programme.

I’m a longtime follower of your site (over ten years), and I would like to ask your help on behalf of all the JETs worldwide. As part of Japan’s efforts to grapple with its massive public debt, the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program may be cut. Soon after coming into power, the new government launched a high profile effort to expose and cut wasteful spending. In May 2010, the JET Program and CLAIR came up for review, and during the course of an hourlong hearing, the 11-member panel criticized JET, ruling unanimously that a comprehensive examination should be undertaken to see if it should be pared back or eliminated altogether. The number of JET participants has already been cut back by almost 30 percent from the peak in 2002, but this is the most direct threat that the program has faced in its 23-year history.

We are asking JET Program participants past and present, as well as other friends of the program to speak out and petition the Japanese government to reconsider the cuts. Please sign this petition in support of the grassroots cultural exchange the JET Program has fostered and write directly to the Japanese government explaining the positive impact the Program has made in your life and that of your adopted Japanese community.

Any effort you can make to pass along the petition link below or include as a posting on your site would be most appreciated. I am also open to e-mail interviews for the Examiner if you would like to discuss this further.

Thank you for your attention, and please let me know if you have any other questions.

Best regards,

Justin Tedaldi
JQ Magazine New York


Date: Mon, 5 Jul 2010 12:21:09 -0700
Subject: [uschapters] Save JET and JETAA – Sign the Petition


As you recently were notified, the JET Program and JETAA are on the chopping block. More detail can be found at the link below.

In addition to sending your anecdotes and JET Return On Investment stories/videos to Steven Horowitz at, please sign the petition below to demonstrate your support. This is for anyone to sign, so please forward to your friends and family to demonstrate the hundreds of thousands of people that have been positively impacted by these meaningful programs. Thank you for your support.

Megan Miller Yoo
President, JETAANY



COMMENT: I have of course written about JET in the past:
And here:

In sum, although I have never been a JET myself, I am a fan of the JET Programme. The program has its flaws, but overall its aim, of ameliorating insular tendencies within Japanese society, is an earnest and genuine one. I would be sad to see JET go, as its loss would be a detriment to Japan’s inevitable future as a multicultural society.

Sign the online petition if you want. I have. What are other people’s thoughts and experiences about JET? Is it fat to be cut from the budget, or an indispensable part of Japanese intercultural education? Arudou Debito in Sapporo

UPDATE: I just remembered, I did a paper on JET’s goals way back when. You can read the full text of it here.


By David C. Aldwinckle, Assistant Professor
Faculty of Liberal Arts, Hokkaido Information University
Hokkaido Jouhou Daigaku Kiyou
Vol 11, Issue 1, September, 1999

Keywords: Internationalization, Public Policy in Japanese Education, The JET Programme


Internationalization, or kokusaika, has become a buzzword in Japan through its attempts to become an outward-looking, “normal” country in international circles. To this end, the Japanese government over the past ten years has sponsored the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which offers educational internships of one to three years for young college graduates from English-speaking countries. These teachers, acting as assistants to native Japanese English teachers in Japan’s smaller-town junior and senior high schools, have been expressly charged with increasing Japanese contact with foreign countries at the local level. As the first in a series, this research paper will seek to outline the structure of JET, critique its goals, and briefly focus upon its operations in one locale, Hokkaido, as a means of case study.

Metropolis Mag has thoughtful article regarding the convoluted debate for NJ PR suffrage


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Hi Blog.  Andy Sharp in Metropolis Magazine offers up a very well researched touchstone article on the debate re NJ Permanent Residents getting suffrage, unearthing more arguments and attitudes behind those who support and oppose it.  Love the quote from the former cop (Sassa) who mistrusts NJ, but of course makes an exception (typical) for the NJ interviewer in the room (‘cos he’s White and from a developed country).  I myself don’t see the DPJ expending more political capital on the NJ PR suffrage issue anytime soon.  But let’s see how the upcoming election treats the Kan Cabinet.  I have already heard from a friend in politics that the below-mentioned far-right People’s New Party is awash in enough cash that they’re attracting a few underfunded candidates ready to make Faustian bargains.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japan weighs up whether to give foreign residents the vote
Metropolis Magazine By: Andy Sharp | Jun 17, 2010 | Issue: 847 Courtesy of lots of people.

“The Chinese coming to Japan now were educated during the rule of Jiang Zemin. Their ideology is not welcome in Japan. We want more foreigners like you—Americans and Britons—to come here.”

Atsuyuki Sassa, 79, makes no bones about what type of gaikokujin he’d prefer to see living and working in his native country. The former secretary general of the Security Council of Japan is up in arms about recent moves to allow the nearly 1 million permanent residents here to vote in local elections. In April, he organized a “10,000 People Rally” at the Nippon Budokan to bring together opponents of the plan, with keynote speeches by the likes of People’s New Party leader Shizuka Kamei and Your Party chief Yoshimi Watanabe.

“If Chinese could vote in local elections, they wouldn’t vote for [candidates] who criticize China or North Korea,” he says. “What could happen if this type of person were granted the vote?”

The debate over foreign suffrage has rolled on for decades, but it was reignited last summer when the Democratic Party of Japan—a longtime champion of the issue—ousted the ruling Liberal Democrat Party from power. However, with the DPJ itself split over the subject, is there any hope of permanent residents ever getting the vote—local or otherwise?

Forty-five countries—about one in every four democracies—offer some sort of voting rights for resident aliens, according to David Earnest, author of Old Nations, New Voters, an extensive study of why democracies grant suffrage to noncitizens. These range from first-world powers such as the United States, Canada, the UK and other European Union members, to less preeminent nations like Malawi and Belize.

The type of voting rights differ from country to country: the UK permits resident Commonwealth citizens to vote in national and local elections; New Zealand allows foreigners who have lived there for more than a year to vote in parliamentary polls; Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway grant all foreign residents the vote in local polls, but not in national elections; and Portugal offers a hybrid that lets EU nationals vote only in local elections, but gives full enfranchisement in parliamentary elections to Brazilians.

Earnest explains that the consequences of granting local suffrage to foreigners are not yet entirely clear, seeing as how it is a relatively recent phenomenon. However, he gives four benefits that are typically cited by advocates: it encourages foreign residents to naturalize; it leads to better government; it’s an opportunity for “brain gain” rather than “brain drain”; and it makes for a more just society.

On the other hand, there are two core arguments for refusing to enfranchise alien residents. “By far and away, the most common reason is that governments or courts conclude that, as a constitutional or legal matter, the right to vote is reserved exclusively for citizens,” he says. “Another reason is that governments and citizens alike object to discrimination in voting rights. Canada and Australia once allowed British nationals to vote in parliamentary elections, but have since revoked this right. In both cases, the governments concluded that it was unfair to favor one group over other similar foreign residents.”

According to Earnest, critics argue that extending voting rights to foreigners can devalue the institution of citizenship and discourage naturalization. They also say it can marginalize as much as integrate foreign residents, because governments may use it as a substitute for naturalization, assuring permanent populations of foreigners with no prospect of becoming citizens.

According to the most recent Ministry of Justice figures, 912,361 of the approximately 2.22 million foreigners living in Japan are permanent residents. These eijusha are divided into two categories—a classification that has muddied the waters of the suffrage issue.

Nearly half of them (420,305) are considered tokubetsu eijusha, “special permanent residents” who hail mostly from the Korean Peninsula and have additional privileges in relation to immigration matters. The remaining 492,056 “ordinary” eijusha come from 190 different countries, the largest populations being Chinese (142,469), Brazilian (110,267), Filipino (75,806) and Korean (53,106). The Western country with the most permanent residents in Japan is the United States, with 11,814.

Granting local suffrage to these residents has long been a pet policy of DPJ pooh-bah Ichiro Ozawa, and was supported by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. However, like many of the pledges that the party made prior to its election victory last year, it remains unfulfilled. The government has procrastinated over the issue as it became bogged down by funding scandals and the Futenma base controversy, which spun Hatoyama off the prime-ministerial kaiten-zushi belt and toppled Ozawa from his secretary general perch. New PM Naoto Kan also backs foreign suffrage, but it’s unclear whether he will make it a top priority.

Other parties are divided on the subject. The leftist Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party are joined by New Komeito in their support of foreign suffrage, while the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, People’s New Party (a member of the DPJ-led coalition) and Your Party are opposed.

The liberal-conservative split is also evident in the media. The Asahi Shimbun is in favor, while the Sankei and Yomiuri have slammed the idea, the latter stating in an editorial last October: “It is not unfathomable that permanent foreign residents who are nationals of countries hostile to Japan could disrupt or undermine local governments’ cooperation with the central government by wielding influence through voting in local elections.”

Yet the public seems to approve of opening polling stations to these “lifers.” Surveys conducted by the Asahi in January and the Mainichi last November found that 60 and 59 percent of respondents, respectively, supported foreign suffrage in local elections—turnout for which tends to hover around the 40 percent mark.

This August will mark the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea, an event which understandably has enormous resonance with the Korean diaspora living here today. Zainichi Koreans who were forcibly brought to Japan for work had been able to vote in local elections until they lost this entitlement in December 1945 (which was, ironically, the same month in which women were first given the vote).

Since its establishment in 1946, the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) has repeatedly urged the government to restore local suffrage to zainichi. The pro-Seoul organization (which is distinct from the Pyongyang-affiliated Chongryon) stepped up its campaign in the ’70s through increased activism by second-generation zainichi.

“We were born in Japan,” says Seo Won Cheol, secretary-general of a Mindan taskforce on foreign suffrage. “All our friends were Japanese, yet we couldn’t become teachers [or] local civil servants, nor could we take out loans or buy homes. We started [campaigning] because of this prejudice based purely on our nationality.”

Mindan has continued to push for enfranchisement of all permanent residents over the years, filing a number of lawsuits—one of which led to a historical ruling. In 1995, the Supreme Court concluded that aliens with permanent residency have the constitutional right to vote in local elections, because local government is closely linked to the daily lives of residents.

Reenergized, the DPJ and Komeito submitted a bill to the Diet advocating foreign suffrage, prior to a visit by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 1998. Similar bills have been presented on several other occasions since, but successive LDP-led governments have bounced them all out of parliament.

The South Korean government’s decision in 2005 to open ballot boxes to permanent residents in local elections gave proponents fresh hope, as did the change of government last summer. But Seo, a second-generation zainichi, frets over the DPJ’s procrastination.

“It’s unlikely [a bill] will be submitted before the upper house election in July, but depending on where it lies on Kan’s list of priorities, it may or may not be put to the Diet during an extraordinary Diet session starting in September,” the 58-year-old says. “The resignations of Ozawa and Hatoyama are a blow, but Kan has long been a supporter and we’ll have to wait and see what develops.”

Opponents often argue that foreigners should become Japanese citizens if they want to vote, but permanent residents can be reluctant to relinquish their nationality for reasons of culture and identity—especially zainichi, many of whom were forced migrants or their descendents. “The Supreme Court’s 1995 ruling showed we were entitled to vote at the local level without naturalizing,” says Seo.

Supporters of foreign suffrage aren’t the only ones who were galvanized by the DPJ’s election victory. There has also been a surge in activity by rightists, one of whom was so incensed that he stormed into the DPJ headquarters brandishing a wooden sword and smashed up a computer in Hatoyama’s empty office last October.

Sassa, who was decorated as a Commander of the British Empire for arranging security for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit here in 1975, takes a more conventional stance.

“I’m not prejudiced against foreigners, but the law states that foreigners must not take part in election campaigns,” he says. “The Constitution states that only Japanese citizens may vote.

“Foreigners should nationalize if they have money and speak the language. I do think, however, that [this process] takes many years and the conditions should be relaxed.”

Sassa has bitter memories of zainichi North Koreans from his days as a top brass in the Metropolitan Police Department. He fears that enfranchising pro-Pyongyang Koreans could lead to a repeat of the violent attacks against his constabulary peers during communist-led demonstrations in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

“If we granted them suffrage, many police officers would have to put their bodies on the line, and so from a security perspective, there is no way that I could agree with the enfranchisement [of North Koreans],” he says. “We’d have to clamp down on some, but grant the vote to people of other nationalities. This is contradictory.”

Sassa also argues that foreign suffrage in local elections could have repercussions at a national level, if residents of prefectures that administer disputed territories were coerced by their respective governments to vote for particular candidates.

Kazuhiro Nagao, a professor of constitutional law at Chuo University, explained how this might work in a March 1 Daily Yomiuri op-ed: “There are about 30,000 eligible voters in Tsushima city, and a candidate can win in the city council election with at least 685 votes. If foreign residents are granted voting rights, those candidates who regard Tsushima Island as a South Korean territory can win in the election.”

While opponents and advocates seem to be interpreting the law to suit their own beliefs, Earnest sees the zainichi situation as unique, and argues that the suffrage issue raises important ethical questions.

“Japan’s special permanent residents did not choose to migrate to Japan,” he says. “No doubt there was some forced migration among the former European colonial powers and their overseas possessions, but Japan’s forced migration is more recent. What obligation does Japan have to permanent foreign residents?

“Japan may offer a case where two wrongs make a right,” he continues. “While one might normally object to discrimination in the granting of voting rights, in this case, one might justify special rights for Japan’s special permanent residents as the country’s commitment to redress an historical injustice.”

While such a solution could appease zainichi, however, the majority of permanent residents would remain disenfranchised. This is unlikely to placate the likes of Shayne Bowden, an Australian teacher and musician who is a permanent resident living in Fukuoka.

“I’ve been here 11 years,” he says. “I should be able to have a say in the politics of my community. We pay our share and contribute to the place we live. This should justify our right to vote.”

Reuters: Showings of Oscar-winning documentary The Cove cancelled in Japan due to threat of protest


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Hi Blog.  Here we go again.  Something critical of Japan becomes derided as “anti-Japanese” and is threatened if it gets shown in Japan.  This society has to learn that criticism of Japan is actually good for Japan, and that bully boys who want to suppress healthy debate about an issue should be ignored or criticized themselves as unhealthy and unconstitutional.  Yet protests by The Left go ignored because they probably won’t get violent, while protests by The Right just might, and the police won’t prosecute if they do.  Hence the incentive to become violent is there for the bullies, and they get even more power through intimidation.  Canceling showings of a controversial movie like this just strengthens the bullies and helps them proliferate.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

PS:  Do what another Reader suggested yesterday:  Get a copy of The Cove and show it to your friends and students. has had no problem selling right-wing and racist literature in Japanese, so why not?  (Now, if only they would get around to putting up a version in Japanese.  Here’s information on The Cove in Japanese from the directors.)


Dolphin hunt film screenings cancelled in Tokyo

Scientific American/Reuters June 5, 2010 Courtesy of Ken’ichi

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo screenings of “The Cove,” an Oscar-winning documentary about a grisly annual dolphin hunt have been canceled over planned protests by conservatives who say the film is anti-Japanese, the distributor said on Saturday.

The film, which picked up an Oscar for best documentary feature this year, follows a group of activists who struggle with Japanese police and fishermen to gain access to a secluded cove in Taiji, southern Japan, where dolphins are hunted.

Directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos and featuring Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer from the “Flipper” television series, “The Cove” has prompted activists to threaten street demonstrations.

Planned showings of the film at two cinemas in Tokyo this month have been canceled because of fears the protests might inconvenience movie-goers and others, according to Unplugged, the Japan distributor.

Screenings at one Osaka theater have also been called off, but Unplugged is still in negotiations to show the movie at 23 venues around the country this summer, said a spokeswoman for the company, who asked not to be named.

Unplugged has received threatening phone calls and protesters have gathered outside its offices, she said.

“‘The Cove’ is absolutely not an anti-Japanese film,” Takeshi Kato of Unplugged said in a faxed statement. “I believe a deep and constructive debate is needed about the content of the film.”

O’Barry, who is set to visit Japan from June 8, said Japanese film-goers should be allowed to see the documentary.

“It’s not right that a small minority of extremists could take this right away from them,” he said in a statement. “To do so is a clear threat to democracy.”

The film was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, but has yet to be made widely available to the public.

Japan’s government says the hunting of dolphins and whales is an important cultural tradition.

New Zealander Pete Bethune is currently on trial in Tokyo for boarding a Japanese vessel in an attempt to stop the annual whale hunt in the Antarctic.

(Writing by Isabel Reynolds; editing by Ron Popeski)

Sunday Tangent: Top ten performers who would not be successful if American Idol were the template for success


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Hi Blog.  As a Sunday Tangent (this time a complete and utter digression):

I see America has come up with its next American Idol (I won’t spoil the fun for those who are watching the show in Japan; we’re five weeks behind).  I will admit to being a fan of the show;  I like watching stars bloom, and its fun to watch performers handle several different genres every week, seeing who comes out in the wash over the course of months, and witnessing whose style lacks the versatility to mature and grow over what is admittedly a tough contest.  It has chosen genuine stars (like Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, and my favorite of them all — Adam Lambert), and the occasional underperformer (most famously Taylor Hicks — but I still enjoy his schtick as a lounge singer; I’d buy a ticket to see him in Vegas, as I would Wayne Newton or, yes, Barry Manilow!  Remember, I’m a big fan of Duran Duran, so there’s no accounting for taste.).

But there is something wrong with the runaway success of the American Idol model.  It focuses too much on the person as a vessel of natural singing talent (and occasionally performance), wants vocal fireworks just about every time there’s a chorus, and is (naturally) a sucker for covers instead of originality (forcing people to toe a fine line between “carry-okey” and “fresh contemporary originality”).  And with the upcoming departure of Simon Cowell, we will have only judges that are trying to be too nice and not own up that the occasional bad performer slipped through their filter (as happened this season, one reason I stopped watching at around the Top Ten).  Its success reminds me of the success of something like Star Wars, which made Hollywood feel the need for event movies every year instead of making serious art (whatever that means; but before you call me a snob, remember that MGM’s slogan is still “Ars Gratia Artis”, art for the sake of art), where quality was measured by financial income.  And the only music that sees much distribution these days is something with big-studio production values, a committee of songwriters and stage choreographers behind it, and a rock video.  Hark back to the occasional hiccups in the charts where real oddities were having hits (the Psychedelic era of the Sixties, the Progressive Rock era of the early Seventies (how the hell did Sugarloaf’s “Green-Eyed Lady” get into the Billboard Top Five in 1970?), Punk and then early (stress: early) New Wave, then, however briefly, Grunge?)  I think American Idol has contributed to the hammerlock the studios have over the music business, as they continue to watch and wonder why their music is so uninspiring and, yes, bringing in progressively less and less revenue?  We’re now back to rehashing (“contemporizing”) remakes and passing them off as new material.

As further proof of the flaws in the American Idol model for success, I’ve come up with a personal list of ten performers who I think would never have made it if in their day American Idol were the template for success.  The reason being:  They lack much (or any) natural singing talent.  But their ability to perform, songwrite, read the cultural zeitgeist of the moment, and keep their momentum and staying power over the years, have made them stars in their own right.  And deservedly so.  Think of how much less enriched the musical genres would be without the contributions of these people?  These are not mere singers, they are artists.


10. Simon Le Bon / Duran Duran. Sadly enough (and I’m a HUGE fan of both him and the group), Simon lacks the vocal range necessary for a competition like Idol.  He would pass the regional preliminaries, but would probably not get through to the top fifty or so.  Imagine Simon singing country or blues (the closest you can see is him singing covers of songs of artists that inspired the band on album THANK YOU) and you’ll get what I mean.  His voice is tuned for his band:  Pastel Pink and Magenta, minor notes, and off-kilter songs (try imagining anyone but him singing “Girls on Film” and not looking corny or silly).  He’s a master of his genre (however narrow, and I happen to like it), and his songwriting skills (check out some of the lyrics of “Breath after Breath”, or “Still Breathing” for example) are superb even after all these years.

9. David Bowie.  Yes, he can sing, but like Simon Le Bon he is a very stripey singer, whose voice grew over the years (witness how he sang back in the Sixties; “Space Oddity” or “Good Morning Girl” would not have made Idol), as did his creative talents (from Ziggy Stardust to the Serious Moonlight tours, who would imagine a guy in his fifties putting out “Hallo Spaceboy” or the 1.OUTSIDE album).  Bowie is an artist first, a singer/performer a far second, and a model who attracts and keeps models as wives third.  He keeps surprising us with how much he has inside (Idol would never be so patient to let him grow and “ch-ch-change” over decades).

8. Marilyn Manson.  I only have a few songs by him (not a real fan of his genre) so I won’t comment in depth, but I can recognize his vocal power and creative abilities.  That said, he’s not necessarily a singer, let alone a versatile one.  We did have a person who did a Mansonesque growly voice in auditions a few seasons back; he was laughed off stage.  It’s not a Simon Cowell “sing well” voice.

7. Michael Stipe / R.E.M.  One of the reasons why R.E.M. is a band I can like but not love is because their songs sound samey after awhile (one of the problems I have with The Blues as well; I can see myself enjoying The Blues while playing pool in a bar and getting progressively drunk, but not necessarily sit down and listen to The Blues in concert format).  Michael’s talent is as a poet who writes great lyrics and has a great band behind him, crafting well within their genre.  His tender cover of Lennon’s “#9 Dream” is excellent, but unusually so.  I wouldn’t want him to try lounge-y music, Sinatra Big Band, or show tunes, which are closer to the versatility of what Idol wants.  Yet if Michael was never heard of, we would lose the incredible beauty of “Losing My Religion” from the great world songbook.  That loss would make me cry.

6. Alice Cooper.  Look, admit it:  Alice Cooper just can’t sing.  He has trouble keeping in tune in STUDIO (!!) recordings of “Desperado” and “Halo of Flies”, for example.  But y’know, one doesn’t care.  Because he’s a great stage performer with great dramatic flair, good at making music and presenting a persona your parents will hate (which is all the more reason for disaffected teens to buy it).  He’s also put out great gut-wrenchers and head-bangers like “School’s Out” and “No More Mr Nice Guy”, even sensitive tunes like “Only Women Bleed”, and has enabled entire shock-jock artists to couple (if not substitute) visual talent for musical talent.  That said, he still can’t sing.  No Idol for you!

5. Kurt Cobain / Nirvana. This band is long after my time (I stop listening to charts, except for runaway successes, around 1987; it happens), so again, I won’t comment in depth. But this to me is a garage band who not only made it big, they inspired and legitimized a whole genre (Grunge), and still is making an impact with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters. That said, the vocals on, say, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” do not fit Idol, and if the Idol model controlled everything, they’d still be in their garage. Enormous loss to the Generation X-ers and Y’s who still seem him as a near-holy figure, their very own idol.

4. David Byrne / Talking Heads.  David Byrne is also a voice you can’t imagine ever being successful (witness the vocal calisthenics on “Artists Only”, and all the fat suit antics during the STOP MAKING SENSE juggernaut of the Eighties).  But it fits the very iconoclastic music (best in the Seventies, get MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD, one of my favorite albums of all time), and before it devolved into self-parody, the Talking Heads made nerdy rock by Rhode Island School of Design artists into serious art.  But again, based only on how David looked when first starting out, Simon Cowell would have told him to get off the stage at the first cut.  Huge loss.

3. Peter Gabriel.  Peter, like many of the artists on this list, has a voice that grows on you as you familiarize yourself with the style (I wonder how many labels told early Genesis to get rid of their frontman) and, more importantly, the stage antics (they made albums into whole live-on-stage stories, and to this day the best concerts recorded on video are Gabriel’s:  Get SECRET WORLD LIVE or GROWING UP LIVE if you have any doubt, not to mention the groundbreaking EVE multimedia CD-ROM.  But again, he’s very genre specific (progressive rock), yet an enricher of all that he touches.  Idol would simply not “get” him.

2. Neil Young.  Neil is another one of those performers who should never have gotten on stage to sing (I have the feeling Crosby, Stills, and Nash did their best to keep him away from the mike disrupting their perfect harmonies) — just “shuddup and play yer guitar”.  But Neil nevertheless has the ability to just go up on stage with a guitar and an amp alone and make an evening of it (check out this LIVE RUST concert footage if you doubt that).  And then we get to his songs, with enormous range:  gutty grittiness (“Hey Hey, My My”,”Southern Man”), wonderful craftsmanship (“Cinnamon Girl”, “Heart of Gold”, “Old Man”, “The Loner”, “Down By the River”), as well as exquisite tenderness (“Sugar Mountain”, “I am a Child”, “Inca Queen”, “Lotta Love”).  He can even do blues (“On the Beach”, “Safeway Cart”).  He even puts out the flame at the Vancouver Olympics Closing.  But he can’t sing, except to match his own songs.  Too bad.  He’s a cultural treasure.

1. Bob Dylan.  Even Bowie sang that Dylan has “a voice like sand and glue”.  I never myself “got” Dylan (again, the voice is still too off-putting for me, and he was popular long before my time anyway), except for maybe two songs: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (poetry that is great fun for a change) and  “Lay Lady Lay” (where the catchy vocals are by Johnny Cash anyway).  But he’s still around, still collaborating, still commanding the respect as a performer/songwriter that he deserves.  And once he made the (judicious) jump from Folk to Rock, he was if anything even more influential.  I’m again not a fan, so I won’t dwell.  But Idol would never have let him get near a televised mike, except as a joke, perhaps.  Too bad.  Dylan changed music, in many people’s view, as much as The Beatles.  And he did it without a great deal of vocal talent.

That says a lot for how flexible the rock/pop market is, and how blind American Idol is to other types of influences.  This is why they should not have too much influence on on how the market picks talent.  Alas (and Idol’s waning power notwithstanding), the demands of Reality TV means instant success or no, take it or leave it.  I suspect we’re leaving a lot of good stuff behind and “undiscovered”, as it were.

Readers, feel free to add to the list of Idol-proof successful artists.  My list is obviously dated.  Maybe because so few people are getting through the filters these days.  How many of the artists mentioned in the above Top Ten even have their songs featured on Idol?

Thanks for indulging.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Robert Dujarric in Japan Times: Immigrants can buoy Japan as its regional power gives way to China


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog. Here is a thoughtful article from Temple University’s Robert Dujarric on how immigration might help Japan as its power wanes vis-a-vis China.

I will say, however, that if Japan offers the promise of domestic work, and if (to quote Dujarric) “Many individuals would start to study Japanese, in the hope of one day working in the country.”, then it had better make good on the promise of offering equal opportunity for advancement and assimilation regardless of background, by enacting laws that protect against discrimination.  We were made a similar promise under the purported “kokusaika” of the Bubble Era.  That’s why many of our generation came to Japan in the first place, and decades later feel betrayed by the perpetual second-class status.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times Thursday, May 20, 2010
Immigrants can buoy Japan (excerpt)
By ROBERT DUJARRIC Special to The Japan Times

It is not possible to spend more than a few minutes with a Japanese diplomat or scholar without hearing the “C,” namely China. Most of them are convinced that the People’s Republic is expanding its global influence while Japan’s is shrinking. The entire world, and most worryingly Asia, which used to look toward Japan when Harvard scholar Ezra Vogel crowned it “No. 1” now sees China not only as the country of the future but already as today’s only Asian giant.

There is an element of truth in this concern. China has deepened and expanded its economic, political and cultural reach in the past two decades. Japan, on the other hand, has failed to show the same dynamism. Past and current Japanese administrations have sought to counteract these trends, but their ambitions have generally been thwarted by the unwillingness to spend more (foreign aid, cultural diplomacy, etc.) and the power of the agricultural lobby, which has forced Japan to lag behind China in initializing free-trade agreements (the value of which may be disputed, but they do have a public-relations impact).

There is one area, however, where Japan could engage in a strategy that would simultaneously help its economy and give it an edge over China. This is immigration. Japan is unique among economies that are highly developed and in demographic decline in having so few immigrants. In fact, even European states that are in much better demographic condition also have large numbers of foreigners and recently naturalized citizens in their labor force.

The domestic economic advantages of a more open immigration policy are well documented. What is less understood is how it can be used as a foreign policy instrument. If Japan were home to several million guest workers, the country would become the lifeline of tens of millions of individuals back in their homeland who would benefit from the remittances of their relatives in the archipelago. Its economic role in the lives of some of these countries would become second to none. Many individuals would start to study Japanese, in the hope of one day working in the country. Familiarity with Japan and its culture would also rise dramatically in these nations.

Moreover, Japanese diplomatic power would increase as well…
Rest of the article at


Newsweek and NBER on how immigration helps societies, vs separate Newsweek column doubting it


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog.  We had two articles come out in Newsweek over the past two months on the effects of immigration.  One from last March cites an academic saying how influxes of foreign workers boost economies, raising average incomes (based upon 50 years of data) 0.5% for every percent increase in the workforce that is foreign-born.  The other guest column that came out late April cites other academics suggesting the opposite.

My take:  I feel that we’ve got some posturing going on.  I’m reminded of the movie THE RIGHT STUFF, where we have the character of Werner Von Braun saying that the Americans are going to win the space race against the Soviets because “our German [scientists] are better than their German [scientists]”.  Same here, where the April article brandishes its scientists vigorously, throwing in undeveloped citations like rocks (some aimed at “activists” and “multicuturalists” shrouding the debate in phony “half-truths”), and name-dropping academics with insufficient development of the science involved.

Myself, I’ll trust a half-century of data collated in the March Newsweek article, and believe that countries are enriched by immigration.  Would anyone argue that places like the United States have NOT benefited through labor migration to its shores?  The only issue is of quantifying how much, which the April column in my view hardly accomplishes.

And if proper attraction and assimilation of immigrants is key (which the April article hints at but won’t come out and say plainly), then the argument once again supports those half-truthy “multiculturalists” and their purportedly phony solutions.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Why Immigration Boosts Wages—and Not Just In California
By Tony Dokoupil | NEWSWEEK
Published Mar 12, 2010
From the magazine issue dated Mar 22, 2010, Courtesy of BC

As the white house revives immigration reform—an issue the president is discussing with congressional leaders—it may want to ponder the effects of curbing foreign labor. While immigrants are blamed for dragging down American wages and stealing jobs, University of California, Davis, economist Giovanni Peri comes to a different conclusion. In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Peri trowels through nearly five decades of immigration data and finds that foreign workers have boosted the economy, jacking up average income without crowding out American laborers. For each percentage of the workforce that is foreign-born, he found an almost 0.5 percent bump in average wages. In California, where the percentage of immigrants in the workforce has jumped more than 25 points since 1960, that means an almost 13 percent bonus—roughly $8,000. Immigrants, Peri says, push native-born workers into better-paying positions, expanding the size of the job pie so unskilled Americans aren’t left out.

What’s obvious to an economist, however, is hard to translate into politics. The most popular stances on immigration involve citizenship for illegals already here and border security to shut out everyone else. Less likely to land votes: a guest-worker program that brings in labor to meet demand and keep wages afloat. But without such a program, says Peri, “the U.S. is essentially giving up on gains.”


Link to the actual paper here (fee required)

The official summary of the paper (courtesy

The Effect of Immigration on Productivity: Evidence from US States
A one percent increase in employment in a US state, attributable only to immigration, is associated with a 0.4-0.5 percent increase in income per worker in that state.

Immigration during the 1990s and the 2000s significantly increased the presence of foreign-born workers in the United States, but the increase was very unequal across states. In The Effect of Immigration on Productivity: Evidence from US States (NBER Working Paper No. 15507), NBER Research Associate Giovanni Peri analyzes state-by-state data to determine the impact of immigration on a variety of labor market outcomes, including employment, average hours worked, and average skill intensity, and on productivity and income per worker.

Peri reports a number of distinct findings. First, immigrants do not crowd-out employment of (or hours worked by) natives; they add to total employment and reduce the share of highly educated workers, because of their larger share of islow-skilled relative to native workers. Second, immigrants increase total factor productivity. These productivity gains may arise because of the more efficient allocation of skills to tasks, as immigrants are allocated to manual-intensive jobs, promoting competition and pushing natives to perform communication-intensive tasks more efficiently. Indeed, a measure of task-specialization of native workers induced by immigrants explains half to two thirds of the positive effect on productivity.

Third, Peri finds that inflows of immigrants decrease capital intensity and the skill-bias of production technologies. The decrease in capital intensity comes from an increase in total factor productivity; the capital-to-labor ratio remains unchanged because investment rises coincident with the inflow of immigrants. The reduction in the skill-intensity of production occurs as immigrants influence the choice of production techniques toward those that more efficiently use less educated workers and are less capital intensive.

Finally, Peri finds that for less educated natives, higher immigration has very little effect on wages, while for highly educated natives, the wage effect of higher immigration is positive. In summary, he finds that a one percent increase in employment in a US state, attributable only to immigration, is associated with a 0.4 to 0.5 percent increase in income per worker in that state.

A central challenge in establishing a causal link between immigration and economic outcomes is the fact that immigrants may be disproportionately attracted to states with strong economic performance. Peri recognizes this problem, and uses information on state characteristics, such as the location of a state relative to the Mexican border, the number of ports of entry, as well as the existence of communities of immigrants there before 1960 to predict immigrant inflows. He then studies how these predicted inflows, rather than actual inflows, are related to labor market outcomes. He argues that the state characteristics that underlie his predictions are not likely to be associated with either labor market outcomes or productivity. He also controls for several other determinants of productivity that may vary with geography such as R and D spending, computer adoption, international competition in the form of exports, and sector composition.


Japan’s Phony Solution

The half-truths about immigration.

By Paul J. Scalise | NEWSWEEK
Published Apr 30, 2010
From the magazine issue dated May 10, 2010

Should Japan welcome more immigrants? Diehard multiculturalists insist that migration to Japan is not only inevitable but also enhances “mutual understanding.” Others fear the opposite: the chaos these outsiders, or gaijin, conceivably bring to Japan’s safe streets and largely homogeneous society. Both extremes understand the politics of emotion far better than the economics of immigration, keeping the issue shrouded in half-truths.

The problem is usually described in apocalyptic terms, roughly as follows. According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan’s population has peaked. A downward turn is expected to follow, reaching close to 100 million in 2050 and 45 million in 2105. That means fewer workers paying fewer taxes to support an already expanding army of senior citizens. With social security, pensions, and interest payments on the national debt occupying more than 50 percent of Japan’s national budget in 2009 (up from 19 percent in 1960), the government, sooner or later, will face a decision of crisis proportions. Does it raise taxes sharply? Cut benefits drastically? Go deeper into debt? Or throw open the doors to young foreigners to restore balance between workers and retirees?

What the debate misses, however, is that immigration reform will likely have a muted impact on Japan’s standard of living if productivity continues to sour and Japanese women remain underutilized. Robert Alan Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley Japan, figures that Japan would need between 7.4 million and 11 million immigrants to maintain a comparable standard of living in 2012 alone, depending on the decline in Japan’s local productivity. Should immigrants bring dependent families, Feldman says this “avalanche” would have to be closer to 20 million.

Hardly anyone realizes how unlikely Japan is to open up to an immigration boom of such magnitude without answering some difficult questions: what kind of immigrants does it want and how to attract them? One problem is that bringing in too many low-skilled immigrants too quickly risks increasing competition for low-skilled jobs and reducing the earnings of low-skilled native-born workers, according to immigration economist Barry R. Chiswick. In this view, because of their low earnings, low-skilled immigrants tend to pay less in taxes than they receive in public benefits. So while the presence of low-skilled immigrant workers may raise the profits of their employers, Chiswick notes, “they tend to have a negative effect on the well-being of the low-skilled native-born population, and on the native economy as a whole.”

Highly skilled, high-wage immigrants present their own problems. Feldman’s Japan model assumes that the average immigrant would be less productive than local hires because of different languages, work habits, traditions, and educational needs. And what’s never explained is how to attract the “right” immigrants and assimilate them in the first place. Right now, Japan’s average compensation per employee (adjusted for purchasing-power parity) is 36 percent lower than in the U.S. and 15 percent lower than in the euro area, according to the OECD. Worse, monthly cash earnings have been falling slowly for the past decade. If Japan wants to attract doctors, nurses, and engineers, and keep them, it needs to pay them more. And therein lies the rub. Is it really worth it in the long run?

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates the fiscal cost and benefits of an influx at three different stages of an immigrant’s life. In stage one, when only single youths are admitted, the government gains more in tax payments than it pays in benefits. In stage two (with spouse) and stage three (with spouse and two children), the benefits paid by the local and central governments far exceed the tax revenues. If 500,000 migrants were to enter Japan in stage three, the ministry estimates, the net loss would become a whopping ¥1.1 trillion, or about $12 billion.

No one knows for certain the extent of the blowback if Japan were to be the migrant sponge of East Asia’s and Latin America’s poor. Instead of a cost-benefit analysis, pundits, activists, and the mainstream media focus mainly on the politics, rarely the economics. Either immigrants are depicted as a feel-good panacea to everything that ails Japan, who are kept at bay by a xenophobic Japanese government, or they are deemed devious criminals and a threat to society. Neither is accurate. Both are distracting. It’s time the focus of debate changed.

Scalise is research fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University, Japan Campus.


More on author Paul J. Scalise and his complicated relationship with here.