Japan Times on proposal to convert Itami Airport into “International Campus Freedom City”


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Hi Blog. Young-Turk Osaka Governor Hashimoto has been suggesting some interesting reforms recently, one of them, according to the Japan Times, is to close down Osaka Itami Airport (relocating all flights to KIX), and to use the land for creating an international campus, where international schools and universities would be located and the lingua franca English.

On the surface of it (regardless of the efficacy of essentially creating a Dejima for ideas and culture, nestled right next to Osaka proper), it’s an intriguing idea with great potential, and not one that in principle Debito.org can oppose (what could a move like this hurt if successful, except the natural insular order of things, which does deserve some change).  It’s already incurring a lot of opposition from entrenched interests (read full article at JT site).  What do other Debito.org Readers think?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Airport wars roil Kansai region
Osaka, Hyogo leaders clash over hub plans
The Japan Times Friday, Jan. 15, 2010

By ERIC JOHNSTON Staff writer
(pertinent excerpt)

Under [Osaka Gov] Hashimoto’s plan, Itami [Airport]’s 400 hectares would be turned into what he calls the International Campus Freedom City. Up to 20,000 people, including many foreigners, would live in the area, which would be home to international schools and universities. The common language would be English.

“To turn out talented workers of international stature, all elementary, junior high and high schools in the international free city will be instructed in English,” the plan reads.

“Along with international schools and universities, home-stays with resident foreigners will provide practical education to students and all signs in the city will be in English. Young people from around Japan who want to improve their English will gather, and it will become a tourist spot, with shops and tourist facilities reminding people of overseas,”

The governor envisions an influx of highly skilled foreign workers in certain sectors who would serve as language tutors to interested Japanese students.

“Along with attracting highly skilled foreigners who specialize in biotechnology, new energy and other strategic industries like cutting edge medicine, incentives such as reducing income and residency taxes for foreigners who offer home-stays to Japanese wishing to learn a foreign language in a native linguistic environment could be given,” the plan reads.

Ido also sees an international future for Itami, but one where foreigners arrive and go elsewhere, not live, work or serve as language tutors and tourist attractions…
Full article at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100115f2.html

Sunday Tangent: Economist excerpt on being foreign


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Hi Blog.  In its Xmas Special of December 19, 2009, The Economist (London) had a long and thoughtful essay on what it’s like to be foreign, and how “it is becoming both easier and more difficult to experience the thrill of being an outsider”.

It opens with:

FOR the first time in history, across much of the world, to be foreign is a perfectly normal condition. It is no more distinctive than being tall, fat or left-handed. Nobody raises an eyebrow at a Frenchman in Berlin, a Zimbabwean in London, a Russian in Paris, a Chinese in New York.

The desire of so many people, given the chance, to live in countries other than their own makes nonsense of a long-established consensus in politics and philosophy that the human animal is best off at home. Philosophers, it is true, have rarely flourished in foreign parts: Kant spent his whole life in the city of Königsberg; Descartes went to Sweden and died of cold. But that is no justification for generalising philosophers’ conservatism to the whole of humanity.

Inter alia, it asserted:

The well-off, the artistic, the bored, the adventurous went abroad. (The broad masses went too, as empires, steamships and railways made travel cheaper and easier.) Foreignness was a means of escape—physical, psychological and moral. In another country you could flee easy categorisation by your education, your work, your class, your family, your accent, your politics. You could reinvent yourself, if only in your own mind. You were not caught up in the mundanities of the place you inhabited, any more than you wanted to be. You did not vote for the government, its problems were not your problems. You were irresponsible. Irresponsibility might seem to moralists an unsatisfactory condition for an adult, but in practice it can be a huge relief.

It even devoted more than a paragraph specifically to Japan’s offer of foreignness:

The most generally satisfying experience of foreignness—complete bafflement, but with no sense of rejection—probably comes still from time spent in Japan. To the foreigner Japan appears as a Disneyland-like nation in which everyone has a well-defined role to play, including the foreigner, whose job it is to be foreign. Everything works to facilitate this role-playing, including a towering language barrier. The Japanese believe their language to be so difficult that it counts as something of an impertinence for a foreigner to speak it. Religion and morality appear to be reassuringly far from the Christian, Islamic or Judaic norms. Worries that Japan might Westernise, culturally as well as economically, have been allayed by the growing influence of China. It is going to get more Asian, not less.

Even in Japan, however, foreigners have ceased to function as objects of veneration, study and occasionally consumption…

What do readers think about this model for “foreignness” in Japan.  That everyone has a role and for the NJ it is to be foreign, and we are impertinent to speak it?  etc.

The entire article of course is worth a read. See it at:

Being foreign

The others

Dec 17th 2009
From The Economist print edition

It is becoming both easier and more difficult to experience the thrill of being an outsider


Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Query: What to do about J children being rude towards NJ adults?


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Hi Blog. Got a question from Debito.org Reader Kimberly who wrote this to The Community yahoogroups list yesterday. About kids in Japan who are rude (if not unwittingly racist) towards NJ adults, and they are not cautioned or taught not to be so by surrounding J adults? What do other Readers think or do? Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Kimberly writes:

Hello everyone, I’ve been meaning to ask for some advice on this for awhile… how do you deal with it when you get asked something inappropriate or hear a discriminatory comment from a child too young to have any real malicious intent? As my own kids get older I’m finding more and more situations where a child just has to give a smart-alecky HARO! or ask if we’re going to commute to yochien by airplane… and I’m torn between not wanting to hurt the kid’s feelings when I KNOW a four year old probably isn’t trying to be mean, and wanting to teach them something because I may be the only one who ever tries. If they just imitate what their parents or TV tells them to do, the next generation won’t be any more open-minded than this one. :S

Twice in the past couple of weeks this kind of thing has happened, and I dont think I handled either very well. The first was at my son’s swim class, an older child getting dressed for the class after his “whispered” (loudly enough to be heard across the room) to his mom “Hey mom, that woman looks like an English-person (eigo no hito, not a person from England) but she’s speaking Japanese!” The mom shushed him and gave me an apologetic look… which is better I suppose than encouraging it, but she didn’t come back with “Skin color has nothing to do with what language(s) a person can or can’t speak,” so I kind of wish I’d said something…. but would it have been inappropriate to try to discipline someone else’s kid?

The second was at the community center over winter vacation, a girl probably about 7 or 8 years old asked “Did you come from a foreign country?” And I said “Nope, I came from [town where I live]” Probably a good smart-alecky comment for an older kid or adult who knows better… but I probably could have actually told the kid that that was an inappropriate question instead of just leaving her confused.

With adults I’m so used to ignoring the person completely, or coming back with “If you’re looking for English lessons, there’s an Aeon in Parco” or something…. that’s probably not the best approach with kids, since they’re still young enough to learn to be more colorblind. I don’t know… my son’s about to start yochien so I’m sure there will only be more opportunities, any suggestions on how to be a POSITIVE influence on these kids, not by teaching them English or the history of Halloween, but by giving them an example of a mixed family who’s just… a normal family after all?

Thanks in advice for any suggestions. 🙂 Kimberly

Andrew Smallacombe, fellow Debito.org Reader, replies:

Great question, Kimberly.

My eldest (ethnic Japanese mother, Caucasian father) goes to a regular kindergarten, which means that I occassionally have to go there. Fortunately, she has responded to kids’ questions on my behalf – “Are you a foreigner?”
“No, he’s from Australia.”

I have chewed out little kids on occassion.

I remember back 5 or so years ago when I was still at Nova. A particularly obnoxious kid responded to my instructions with “urusai, gaijin!” (“shut up, foreigner!”). I chewed him out there and then, and followed up with the procedures in place. Nothing was made of it.

A little over a year ago I took a complete stranger to task.
Two young kids, I assume brother and sister, were approaching me as I was returning home. The little boy suddenly burst out repeatedly “Taiheiyo sensotte nani?” (“What’s the Pacific War?”)
I ignored him, and the girl told him to stop because it was rude. He told her that it didn’t matter because I was a gaijin.
I turned around and blasted him for being rude, making racist comments and assuming that I wouldn’t be able to understand him.
I immediately smiled to the girl and told her everything was alright, and she seemed fine.
In hindsight, I would have liked to have handled this better, but I’ve run out of patience for this kind of thing.

I put part of the blame for the trouble we experience now on TV. Have you seen some of the images of foreign nationals on kids TV programming? NHK Educational boasts cartoons featuring big-nosed foreigners who speak in weird accents. A current early-evening show aimed at primary school kids depicts caucasians as lazy slobs. Earlier incarnations (which I have mentioned on this site) have featured Westerners merely as the instruments of punishment for the losing team.

And teaching a class of 7 year-olds was torture when every utterance was greeted with Taka and Toshi’s “Obei ka?”, or a “Mr. James” impression.

Kids have trouble grasping certain concepts. Like that I might actually NOT live at the school or in another country. Or that I have been living here since before they were born. This is not their fault, nor is it inherently bad.

But to think that the respect they are expected to show adults is suddenly vetoed by my ethnicity, well, that’s another matter.

Other responses?

Discussion: KFC Australia’s “racist” CM vs McD Japan’s “Mr James”


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Hi Blog.  This has been bubbling a bit these past couple of days in the Comments Section of a few blog entries, so let’s bring it to the fore and get a discussion going.

KFC (aka Kentucky Fried Chicken) has been accused of racism, according to various media sources, thanks to a recent advertisement it ran in Australia.  Here it is:

The Guardian UK writes:
KFC accused of racism over Australian advertisement
KFC advert showing Australian cricket fan placating West Indies supporters with chicken has caused anger in America
Andrew Clark guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 January 2010 16.32 GMT


The Australian arm of the fast-food chain KFC has been accused of racial insensitivity over a television commercial showing an outnumbered white cricket fan handing out pieces of fried chicken to appease a dancing, drumming and singing group of black West Indian supporters.

Aired as part of a series called “KFC’s cricket survival guide”, the 30-second clip depicts an uncomfortable looking man named Mick wearing a green and yellow Australian cricket shirt, surrounded on all sides in a cricket stand by high spirited Caribbean fans.

“Need a tip when you’re stuck in an awkward situation?” Mick asks. He then passes round a bucket of KFC chicken, the drumming stops and he remarks: “Too easy.”

Although intended only for an Antipodean audience, the clip has quickly found its way around the world on the internet, prompting stinging criticism in the US where fried chicken remains closely associated with age-old racist stereotypes about black people in the once segregated south.

A writer at one US newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, questioned whether the ad was a spoof, remarking: “If it is a genuine KFC advertisement, it could be seen as racially insensitive.”

Another on-line commentator, Jack Shepherd of BuzzFeed, asks: “What’s a white guy to do when he finds himself in a crowd full of black folks? KFC has the answer.”

KFC Australia has come out fighting, saying that the commercial was a “light-hearted reference to the West Indian cricket team” that had been “misinterpreted by a segment of people in the US.”

The company said: “The ad was reproduced online in the US without KFC’s permission, where we are told a culturally-based stereotype exists, leading to the incorrect assertion of racism.

“We unequivocally condemn discrimination of any type and have a proud history as one of the world’s leading employers for diversity.”

In the Australian media, the reaction has been mixed, with some commentators accusing Americans of “insularity”. Brendon O’Connor, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, told 9 Network News that the association between fried chicken and ethnic minorities was a distinctly US issue: “They have a tendency to think that their history is more important than that of other countries.”

The flare-up comes three months after another racial controversy between Australia and the US in which the American singer Harry Connick Jr, appearing as a judge on an Australian television talent show, reacted strongly to a skit in which a group of singers appeared with blacked up faces to emulate the Jackson Five.

On the show, called “Hey, Hey It’s Saturday“, Connick gave the group zero points and demanded an apology from the broadcaster, remarking: “If they turned up looking like that in the United States, it would be like ‘hey, hey, there’s no more show’.”


Then this happens:

KFC advertisement in Australia sparks race row
By Nick Bryant BBC News, Sydney
Friday, 8 January 2010


The Australian arm of the fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken has had to withdraw an advertisement after accusations of racial insensitivity.

It showed a white cricket fan trying to pacify a group of rowdy West Indian fans by handing around fried chicken.

When the advertisement reached America via the internet there were complaints.

It was accused of reinforcing a derogatory racial stereotype linking black people in the American deep south with a love of fried food.

The advertisement from Kentucky Fried Chicken features a white cricket fan dressed in the green and gold of the Australian team surrounded by a group of West Indian supporters, who are dancing and singing to a calypso beat.

He decides to quieten them down by handing around a bucket of fried chicken.
Picked up by the American media, the advertisement immediately stirred controversy, because it was alleged to have perpetuated the racial stereotype that black people eat a lot of fried chicken.

The fast food chain’s head office in America said it was withdrawing the advertisement, and apologised for what it called “any misrepresentation” which might have caused offence.

It is the second time in three months that something broadcast in Australia has caused a racial stir in America.

The last flare-up was over an entertainment show on the Australian network Channel Nine in which a group of singers appeared with blacked-up faces to impersonate the Jackson Five.

COMMENT: Funny thing, this. We get KFC Australia doing a hasty retreat from its controversial commercial days after it goes viral on YouTube, and pulling it pretty quickly.

Now contrast with the ad campaign by another American-origin fast-food multinational, McDonalds. For those who don’t know, between August and November of last year McDonald’s Japan had that White gaijin stereotype “Mr James” speaking katakana and portraying NJ as touristy outsiders who never fit in. More on what I found wrong with that ad campaign here.

Yet the “Mr James” ad campaign never got pulled — and the debate we offered with McDonalds Japan was rebuffed (they refused to answer in Japanese for the Japanese media). In fact, the reaction of some Asians in the US was, “Karma’s a bitch“, as in White people in Japan deserve this sort of treatment because of all the bad treatment they’ve foisted on Asians overseas in the past. Still others argue that we can’t expect Japan to understand the history of other countries, or how they feel about certain sentiments found overseas, and one shouldn’t foist their cultural values onto other cultures (this argument usually pops up when one sees minstrel blackface shows etc in Japan). This argument was also made in comments to this blog as well.

But KFC pulls the ad, in contrast to “Mr James”, where people rushed to defend it in the name of cultural relativism. Why the difference?

I’m not saying I have the answer to this question. So I bring it up for discussion here on Debito.org. What do readers think?

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

The most customized (and presumptuous) “email scam” letter I’ve received yet


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Hi Blog.  Bit of a tangent today, but not really.  I got this morning an email from somebody asking for help.  That’s not unusual (I get at least one a day, two on Sundays), and I do my best to accommodate, within reason, depending on the reasonableness of the request and my depth of knowledge about the problem raised.

But this is the Internet, and things can get kinda odd at times.  The requests I’ve tended to ignore are the ones asking me to abet an illegal activity (some people have friends who are going down for drugs and want me somehow to assist them; sorry, TS), asking for free legal advice (when I’m no lawyer), asking questions they could easily find either with a quick Google search or in our HANDBOOK (such as how long a Japanese visa is or what kinds of visas are out there), asking me how hard is it to naturalize (usually from high schoolers who are entranced by Japanese anime and have never even been to Japan), or even those who want me to write their college term papers for them (most cryptic question:  “Is Japanese a left-leaning or right-leaning language?  Why or why not?”  Huh?)

The ones I’ve regretted helping are those who are nuts (such as this one, who has a case with merit but can’t make his own case sound convincing; and another one whom I won’t mention by name but wasted an afternoon listening to; the latter later became a cellphone stalker when I dropped his case), or those who have anger management problems and go all ungrateful, such as this one.

But then, this morning, I got the most jarring one yet:

I hope you  receive my message? And is very urgent. I could barely think straight at this point. I had a trip here in  United Kingdom  on a mission. I am presently in [XXXXXXXXX] and I am having some difficulties. I misplaced my bag on my way to the hotel where other valuable things were kept along with my passport. I feel so ashamed because i am so stranded and idle.  I will like you to help me with a loan of 1800 Pounds to pay my hotel bills and also return back home. I will refund the money to you as soon as I get back,  I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the matter effectively I currently have limited access to emails for now.

To quote Jon Stewart: “WHAT??!!”

Let’s take inventory.  This guy not only wants my time, he wants money.  He wants me to pay for the privilege of helping him.  I’ve seen all sorts of mass-mailed scams from Nigerian princes and the like, but this is the most customized (and presumptuous) of them all — taking advantage of Debito.org’s charitable use of time to ask a perfect stranger (I’ve never met this person) for a loan.  Sorry Charlie.  Even if I had the time, I definitely do not have the money.  Or that much of a Pollyanna outlook towards people.

I’m glad to help when I can.  But it’s instances like these that make me wonder if I’ve been just a little too generous with my time, to the point where people think they can take this much advantage.  Overly harsh an assessment?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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


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

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


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

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

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


Takasaki, Gunma Pref.


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



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

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

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


Bellevue, Wa.


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


Address withheld


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


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


December 14, 2009
Dear Debito-san,

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

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

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


“Dear Sir, Madam,

Through the blog of Mr. Arudou Debito (www.debito.org), I’ve read part of Mr. Moore’s interview in Japan, in which he reported his fingerprinting experiences at the border (see http://www.debito.org/?p=5347). Though through this web form my message probably gets to the inbox of a webmaster, I hope you may find my response interesting enough to patch through to him. I would like to provide him with some hopefully interesting food for thought about fingerprinting in general, and the J-VIS (Japanese border check) system in particular.

Mr. Moore apparently got the hostile response that if he refused, he would be deported back to the United States on his question why he would have to be fingerprinted. I guess a good introduction to my story would be to point his attention to Article 4 of the Japanese “Act on the Protection of Personal Information Held by Administrative Organs” (see http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?ft=1&re=02&dn=1&x=0&y=0&co=01&ky=personal+data+administrative+organs&page=15, elements in Japanese writing have been deleted but can be seen in the original):

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

I am not a lawyer (disclaimer), but it would seem to me that when Mr. Moore asked “why?”, he made a lawful request under article 4, while the answer that if he wouldn’t, he would be deported, doesn’t appear to me to be in the spirit of this article. Not to mention that the Immigration Bureau, the responsible party in this scheme, states in their FAQ: “we will properly store and protect your data, according to the basic law for the protection of personal data, the Act for the Protection of Personal Information Retained by Administrative Institutions.” (http://www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan64-2-1.pdf, note by the way the spelling differences in the title…). Right……

Privacy laws generally have a common ancestor and a common purpose. In 1980, a workgroup within the OECD (http://www.oecd.org/home/0,2987,en_2649_201185_1_1_1_1_1,00.html) published the “OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data” (http://www.oecd.org/document/18/0,3343,en_2649_34255_1815186_1_1_1_1,00.html), with eight key principles that form the basis of privacy laws worldwide. Contrary to both the statements: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” and “Big Brother is watching you”, these guidelines (roughly said) recognize the general legitimacy of using personal information, provided that such use is safe, sane and sensible.

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

Leaving all kinds of other problems aside, I would like to react to the assumption that fingerprints are impossible to forge first. One can find plenty of proof that fingerprints can be copied. The University of Yokohama (http://www.lfca.net/Fingerprint-System-Security-Issues.pdf) has published it’s groundbreaking article on this now almost 8 years ago, the Chaos Computer Club in Germany (http://dasalte.ccc.de/biometrie/fingerabdruck_kopieren), and the Mythbusters (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAfAVGES-Yc) have spectacularly shown that it is possible. But the proof of the pudding is that in fact at least one person has been caught in Japan after defeating the J-VIS system (among others: http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/jan/02/nation/chi-090102-faked-fingerprint-japanese-airport). Some food for thought, the woman bought her fingerprints, so not only is it possible, but there are people out there making money on it. More food for thought in a few questions: Were the original prints from which the copies were made stolen? Were the copies registered as unreliable? And will the rightful owner get into trouble because someone else stole her/his fingerprints and did something unlawful? The answer is a triplicate: “We don’t know”. What we do know is that someone who is the victim of such identity theft is in for some serious trouble in those places where the assumption is still that it can’t be done…

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

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

Only the FpVTE2003 appears to test the kind of verification that is in use for J-VIS. On this, NEC says: “The FpVTE2003 was an international benchmark test of fingerprint matching, identification, and verification systems, conducted in the United States in 2003 under the control of one of the US’s most respected government authorities, the NIST.” So what does this test say? The Summary of Results (http://fpvte.nist.gov/report/ir_7123_summary.pdf) says:

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

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

At this point, I would like to entertain Mr. Moore with a little side step, to which I get back later. What would a False Accept Rate of 0.01% mean? That’s infinitely small, right? Well, the J-VIS system went into operation on November 20th, 2007. I don’t have day-by-day figures on the number of visitors, but I can tell that in the year from December 1st, 2007 to November 30th, 2008, 8,513,909 visitors were registered in Japan (http://www.tourism.jp/statistics/xls/JTM_inbound20091027eng.xls). I would therefore expect 851 false alarms based on a False Accept Rate of 0.01%. It is not infinitely small.

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

…And right at that point is where the comparison the officials from Japan’s Immigration Bureau made to Mr. Moore ends. One of the officials apparently told him: “But you do this in the United States, when we visit the United States.” True, they do undeniably verify fingerprints. They also undeniably verify and correct false alarms. In the words of Mr. Neil Latta, US-VISIT IDENT Program Manager at the time of writing of the following document (http://fingerprint.nist.gov/standard/archived_workshops/workshop1/presentations/Latta-LessThan10.pdf): “1:many Accuracy For a 2-finger Search Against a 6M Subject Database is 95% With a False Hit Rate of 0.08% (Exceeding US-Visit Requirements)”. And: “0.4% FAR Results in (0.4% x 100K Trxs/Day) = 400 Examiner Verifications”. Again in less technical terms, they verify false alarms, they know how many false alarms there are, and so on. Granted, given the reputation of ‘outstanding customer friendliness’ that Homeland Security has carved out for themselves, this is still likely to be a rather unpleasant experience, and there is almost certainly room for considerable improvement. But at the end of the day, here is the written proof that the Department of Homeland Security is capable of admitting mistakes.

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

And one detail gives more food for thought that is not very reassuring. Remember the 851 false alarms I would expect if there was a false accept rate of 0.01%? On November 29th, 2008, the Japanese Ministry of Justice (of which the Immigration Bureau is a part) made a press release stating that they had deported a total of 846 people based on fingerprint matches in the first year of operation (http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D94NKV182&show_article=1). That is only five off that number… Or differently put, 846 people is 0.00994% of 8,513,909 visitors. The difference with a false accept rate of 0.01% is only 0.00006%… Is this proof that there is a Russian Roulette situation? Certainly not. From the same sources we also have the numbers for South Koreans (297 people deported, total visitors – from both Koreas, admittedly leaving a margin for doubt: 2,483,288, percentage = 0.01196%), Chinese (90 people deported, total visitors 1,000,228, percentage = 0.008998), and Filipino’s (155 people deported, total visitors 82,473, percentage = 0.18%, way off the mark). But some food for thought: Out of four groups of visitors, only the smallest group is way off the mark. The other ones are groups of more than one million visitors. And the larger the group of visitors, the closer we get to the mark of 0.01%. That is a curious set of coincidences…

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

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

Kind Regards, GS”


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


One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei


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Hi Blog.  What follows is a guest essay from a 3-year exchange student on the GOJ dime who has come to Japan to study and found it highly undesirable.  Others who have had similar experiences, please comment.  All names etc have been changed to protect the guilty.  If interested in getting in touch with the author, please contact me at debito@debito.org and I’ll forward your enquiry.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



My name is Laura Petrescu, and I am a Monbukagakusho-MEXT scholarship grantee that has been living in Japan for almost three years. When I came here, I was expecting a high-quality academic environment and an overall positive experience. I was disappointed time and again by irregularities, double standards, absurd situations and blatant displays of racism.

Therefore, I thought I’d share my ryuugaku experience so far. I think that by getting the word out I’m giving prospective foreign students a chance to learn ‘other’ truth about living and studying in Japan. On the surface, things might look good – after all, who would say no to going to college for free? Still, there are many things that can turn an average ryuugaku experience into a complete disappointment and a waste of time.

A little background information:

I came to Japan in spring 2007. I spent my first year in Japan at the former Osaka University of Foreign Studies (currently, the Foreign Languages division of Osaka University). Here, myself and other foreign students studied Japanese and other tangent subjects.

At the beginning of our second year here, each of us was sent to a university (supposedly) of his or her choosing. Things went downhill for a lot of us afterward, and plenty of people have already given up their scholarships and returned home. Those of us who stayed are still dealing with the ups and downs of an inherenty flawed system that seems to care more about pretty numbers on a sheet of paper, and less about the overall well-being of each of us, as a person.

What follows are the ten major reasons that essentially ruined the whole “Study in Japan! Free forever!” thing for me.

#1. Double standards for Asian and non-Asian foreign students at OUFS
At the OUFS foreign students’ dorm, Asian student groups were allowed to get away with pretty much anything, from shooting fireworks indoors and setting a curtain on fire (subsequently leading to foreign students’ parties being banned on campus grounds) to using shower stalls as public restrooms and even cheating on tests. Several students displayed an increasingly reckless behavior and walked away with a mild warning and nothing more.

On a side note, the regular Monbukagakusho newsletter that gets sent to all foreign students mostly features Asians and information for Asians looking for jobs, etc. I think I’ve only seen a non-Asian interviewed once.

Back to OUFS, non-Asian students were harassed and ridiculed by teachers and dorm staff on several occasions. One particular incident comes to mind, where a white girl’s Japanese language abilities were ridiculed in class by none other than her teacher, to the point where she broke down crying. The Asian students in said class (two Koreans and two Singaporeans) watched and laughed. For the record, the girl had passed the JLPT-1 examination and was one of the best Japanese speakers I know.

Half a year later, Asian students had a barbecue. When non-Asians did the same thing one day later, the dorm supervisor called the campus guards and we were forced to “cease and desist” immediately. We asked why there was no problem if Asians did it, but if we did it, we were somehow in the wrong. Mid-conversation, he turned, said something unintelligible in English (even though we’d all been talking to him in Japanese the whole time) and stormed off.

Another time, due to a faulty English translation of a notice, almost all foreign students ended up locked out of their rooms. All rooms were scheduled for a fire alarm maintenance, and al of us were notified. The Japanese notice (which most of us couldn’t read at the time) added, “出かけるときは鍵を持って行ってください”. The English translation was, “Please keep your key.” Guess who got yelled at when gingerly trying to point out the mistake: a native English speaker, who was told by the dorm supervisor something along the lines of, “I studied in the US for 10 years, I know English!” and promptly dismissed. I got yelled at too, when I politely asked the supervisor to please let me in my own room.

#2. Pressure and “mind games” at OUFS
As far as “mind games” go, myself and another student were in dire straits for having missed some classes (although it was never made clear that attendance mattered, and in both our countries attendance does NOT count towards a grade). On a side note, I missed most of those classes due to medical reasons. The program supervisor set up a “trial” with the two of us, himself and another teacher, and spent an hour and a half making us believe that we’d screwed up irrevocably and we’d face grave consequences, possibly even failing the year and being deported straight away.

At the end of the meeting, he gave each of us a paper that said we renounced our scholarship benefits then and there. And all we had to do was to sign on the dotted line and that would be “better for us, right?”. Naturally, we both refused, much to the supervisor’s bafflement. Ironically enough, an Asian student had an even worse attendance record, but they never attempted to pressure him into giving up.

#3. Poor-quality teaching and evaluation at OUFS
Some teachers at OUFS were, in my humble opinion, hardly qualified to teach. One spent most of the class time talking about anything but what he was supposed to teach, and even going so far as to ask inappropriate questions, such as, “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?”. He’d skip from topic to topic, ramble for a bit, then move on to another topic before just as suddenly going back to supposed “teaching”.

Towards the end of the year, the same teacher called me and another student to his office and proceeded to tell us that, due to poor attendance, he would be “forced” to fail us both. He then asked us why we missed so many classes. I answered first. “You weren’t teaching anything”, I said. “And also, your class has nothing to do with my major. It’s boring. And I don’t care.” The other student said nothing… and in the end, we both passed. The bottom line is, nobody failed their first year at OUFS. The program was simply made that way.

Exams were a major pain for hard-working students. Students who couldn’t speak a lick Japanese scored top grades, while people who actually studied everything there was to study scored 80% or less. The reason? Exams always consisted of the simplest possible Japanese language questions, so that everyone would supposedy pass with flying colors. It was easy enough to lose sight of simple Kanji characters when you spent weeks drilling complicated ones into your head. To make things worse, classes moved at a pace too quick for anyone to actually understand everything, and revision time was basically limited to one or two pop quizzes a week, with new stuff to learn following straight after. The bottom line is, students who couldn’t speak a lick of Japanese got into top-level Japanese universities, while fluent speakers / writers had to settle for the “average” ones.
Besides the language itself, we were taught Economy, Culture, History and Politics in Japanese from day one, even though more than half of us had zero Japanese knowledge (our orientation guide specifically stated that no previous knowledge of the language is required – apparently, that changed from 2008). Our textbooks were in intermediate or advanced Japanese with plenty of technical terms. Some of the teachers didn’t even speak English, so they couldn’t help us understand things better, either.

#4. Disregard of personal university choices
Myself and another student with poorer grades than mine both opted for Osaka University as our first university of choice. Inexplicably, he got in, while I was sent to Tokyo ○○ University (third on my list). I had solid reasons to stay in Osaka (Osaka University had the exact course I wanted to major in, while the other one did not; and also my fiance of that time lived in Osaka with his family).

I went through every possible avenue to try and overturn the decision, but what chances would I have against a system that just doesn’t care? I wonder what was the point in making us write our “choice list” (入学希望大学リスト) in the first place, when it was clear that: a- “advanced” students were among the only ones who got into their university of choice, and b- the selection criteria were shady to say the least.

#5. Misinformation by Tokyo ○○ staff at orientation meeting
At a university orientation meeting (大学説明会) at OUFS, I asked the Tokyo ○○ representatives whether I’d be able to obtain a practice license if I completed a bachelor’s degree . The answer was, “Yes, definitely”. This is what made me include Tokyo ○○ on my options list to begin with. I only found out much, much later – after my entrance examination – that this was not the case, and I would need to also complete a masters’ course in order to get my license – maybe.

#6. Injustice at Tokyo ○○ and no intervention by university staff
This one still stings, even though it’s been more than a year and I’ve passed the class (courtesy of a much more understanding teacher) since. In my first year, my Information Technology (情報処理) teacher failed me, even though:

– My highschool major was Information Technology;

– I knew more about computers, operating systems, standard programs, programming languages and the Internet than anyone in that class, including the teacher;

– I had a good attendance record that was not in violation of university rules;

– I completed all my assignments on time, including my end-of-year presentation;

– I’ve been using computers since I was 10, and sitting through half a year of, “This is a computer. To turn it on, you press this button… no, not that one!” was a sheer nightmare.

The teacher came up with an extraordinary set of rules so he could fail me. I wrote to the teacher, then went to the Student Affairs division, then all the way to the head of my faculty — where I was promptly told that it was “his class, his rules”. The IT teacher even made an error while tallying attendance records (and I had proof). That was never even brought into discussion. In the end, I had an uncontrolled burst out (a sarcastic equivalent of “O rly?” in Japanese), for which I naturally had to apologize afterward. Nobody apologized for the “discomfort” this situation had caused me.

#7. Little to no support for “gakubu” foreign students
I’m a foreigner. I was only given one year to master the Japanese language so I could take courses in Japanese. Is that enough? With a complex language such as Japanese, definitely not. Sadly though, most courses were exclusively in Japanese, with tons of references, print-outs and projects in Japanese. Some teachers were very supportive, yes. But other teachers were not.

Some didn’t even allow the use of electronic dictionaries (電子辞書) at end-of-term examinations. While my listening and understanding (聴きとり) are on a fairly good level, academic language has never been my forte. One particular teacher didn’t want to give me the extra time I needed to finish my paper (I write very slowly), and consequently, instead of getting an A, as I should have, I got a D. I knew all the answers. I just didn’t have time to put everything on paper.
To put it bluntly, my grades sucked, and I gave it my all. At least in my first year. By the second year, I’d already earned myself the “honorable” status of being the perpetual “dumb kid”. In my country, I graduated high-school with full marks and was among the top 10 students in my promotion country-wide and with several national and international awards under my belt. Go figure.

#8. Inappropriate (and sometimes racist) student attitude; teachers do nothing
My first-ever group project at Tokyo ○○ was a four-people effort to do some research on a key Buddhist figure. After groups were made, one Japanese student exclaimed, “I can’t work with a ryuugakusei! You’ll just mess things up!”

In my second year, on a different project, I became the resident ghost: I’d speak, and the others would pretend they didn’t hear a thing. Once, I gave a suggestion and was met with silence. A few minutes later, a Japanese made the same suggestion and was granted the standard “Oooooh, you’re so SMART!” response. On the same group, I was told, “You Americans don’t understand how the Japanese think, so your opinion means nothing.” Excuse me? I’m [Eastern European]. And my opinion should weight the same as everyone else’s – if not more, considering I’ve seen the world, whilemost of these kids have lived their whole lives in their own little fairytale bubble.

#9. “If you’re sick, that’s unfortunate, but I don’t care.”
This one nearly had me in tears. I missed a class twice, both times for medical reasons. I let my teacher know and brought proof from the clinic. His response after the second time? “If you miss one more class, you’ll fail the course” – which, by the way, is compulsory. At the time of my second absence, I was a flu suspect and was expressly told to go and get myself tested ASAP, and do NOT, under any circumstances, set foot inside the campus (this was during the swine flu hysteria). Hypothetically speaking, if I had any kind of flu, this could have started an epidemic at school. Guess who would’ve gotten the blame later.

#10. “Me” vs. “them”
I’ve had plenty of cases where I’d try to strike a conversation at university, only to be met with the standard “Wa~i! It talks!” response. Nearly all the conversations I managed to have were the invariable “gaijin”-themed discussions: where I’m from, what things are like “over there”, why I came to Japan, etc., etc., interlaced with the typical “Sugo~i! Your Japanese is SO good!” (and variations). This thing dragged on even with people I’d known for months. It gets tiresome after a while. I was never a part of my class, per say; always left out of conversations, decision-making in projects, “nomikais”, etc. And I tried. I really did. It’s almost like there is an invisible wall between me and the rest of the students in my class.

To sum up…

Some people might say, “You knew what you were getting into when you came to Japan! And if you didn’t, all you had to do was research!”. I got most of my information from the Japanese embassy and from general advice websites by MEXT and JASSO. I had no idea what I was in for. That’s part of the reason I decided to write this open letter.

Yes, throughout these three years, I met some extraordinary people at both universities who genuinely tried to help. As an old [Eastern European] saying goes, “One flower doesn’t bring springtime.” It seems to me that foreign students are little more than pretty numbers on a paper as far as MEXT is concerned. (Oh, on that note, last year they cut down our scholarships in an effort to get even more foreign students into Japan, when our current scholarship was not enough to cover living expenses in certain areas to begin with – especially in Tokyo, where rent alone is sky-high. And they got away with it. Naturally.)

On the outside, I may not seem like a “serious” student as far as the Japanese standards go. The truth is, I’m already starting to give up. I realized that even though I did my best, I would never raise to the expectations of my university – especially where written papers and attendance are concerned. It still puzzles me how Japanese students can drag themselves to class even when they’re  so sick they can barely stand. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Doctor’s orders. (Of course, I have no paper to prove it, because my physician back home is not Japanese).


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


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

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

There was a show on Sho Timothy Yano and his sister Sayuri on November 1. on Fuji TV. The two are child prodigies (http://www.facebook.com/l/aa682;en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sho_Yano) . The story of children of a multi-cultural family being free to achieve their goals in a supportive environment shows the positive side of America.  However, the spin that show put on the story is very indicative about Japan.

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

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

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

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

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


Brief bit on tonight’s Hatoyama-Obama press conference; discussion of Obama’s Japan visit


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 JapansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
Hi Blog.  Just a quick word, having watched the the 8:30-9:05 joint press conference tonight between PM Hatoyama and Pres Obama.

For those who did not see it, they focussed on issues that were of a larger geopolitical nature, including Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, North Korea, global warming, moving Guantanamo trials to the US, and, foremost, the need for maintaining the strength of the Japan-US Alliance and its positive effects on the wealth, security, and stability of East Asia as a region.

They took only one question each from the press corps (so each of them asked lots of questions).  The child abductions, the point most germane to Debito.org at this time, did not come up.

I open this blog entry so that others can discuss what they thought about the press conference, as well as Obama’s Japan visit this time around in general.  Go for it.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Mutantfrog’s Joe Jones’s excellent discussion of rights and wrongs of divorce in Japan; causes stark conclusions for me


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 JapansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  I often stop by an excellent website run by some young-Turk commentators on Japan called Mutantfrog.  Full of insight and well-thought-out essays, one caught my eye a few weeks ago regarding what the Savoie Child Abduction Case has brought to the fore about divorce in Japan.  I won’t quote it in full (let’s give the hits to Mutantfrog), but here’s the link and an excerpt:


Here’s Joe’s conclusion:

I don’t have a wife or kids yet. Debito, who has written extensively about his own divorce and loss of children (a dreadfully sad story, but an excellent overview of how the system works here), chided me in a Facebook comment thread for daring to state my opinions while I lack skin in the game. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I respect Debito, who gave me, Roy and Curzon the privilege of hearing his story in person a good year before he made it public. But where I come from, having no skin in the game is called “objectivity,” and does not by any means disqualify an opinion.

For what it’s worth, I do have some skin in the game, as I am engaged to get married early next year. While I have given up on my farcical plans to transfer my kids to an offshore investment vehicle, I am still very cognizant that the law (even as I think its mechanics should work) may bite me in the rear someday if my marriage ever breaks down.

Sadly, a lot of the discussion surrounding these issues, whether regarding particular cases or the system in general, devolves into parental narcissism, envy and finger-pointing. The whole framework of marriage, divorce and custody is ultimately not about what Mom or Dad wants: it’s about protecting children and giving them a chance to inherit the world as capable individuals. So, as I see it, we have to approach it from that perspective regardless of which side we occupy on the wedding cake.

Of course.  So from a more neutral perspective, I conclude this:



Because if people marry and have kids, one parent will lose them, meaning all legal ties, custody rights, and visitation rights, in the event of a divorce.  This is not good for the children.

Japan has had marriage laws essentially unamended since 1898!  (See Fuess, Divorce in Japan)  Clearly this does not reflect a modern situation, and until this changes people should go Common-Law (also not an option in Japan), and make it clear to their representatives that Japan’s current legal situation is not family-friendly enough for them to tie the knot.

Some reforms necessary:

  1. Abolition of the Koseki Family Registration system (because that is what makes children property of one parent or the other, and puts NJ at a huge disadvantage).
  2. Recognize Visitation Rights (menkai ken) for both parents during separation and after divorce.
  3. Recognize Joint Custody (kyoudou kango ken) after divorce.
  4. Enforce the Hague Convention on Child Abductions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  5. Enforce overseas custody court decisions in Japanese courts.
  6. Recognize “Irreconcilable Differences” (seikaku no fuitchi) as grounds for divorce.  See why here.
  7. Shorten legal separation (bekkyo) times from the current benchmark of around five years to one or two.
  8. Stock the Mediation Councils (choutei) with real professionals and trained marriage counselors (not yuushikisha (“people with awareness”), who are essentially folks off the street with no standardized credentials).
  9. Strengthen Family Court powers to enforce contempt of court for perjury (lying is frequent in divorce proceedings and currently essentially unpunishable), and force police to enforce court orders involving restraining orders and domestic violence (Japanese police are disinclined to get involved in family disputes).

There are plenty more suggestions I’m sure readers could make, but chew on that for awhile, readers.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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


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

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

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

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Original source:


(site is now pay-only)

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


Microsoft Photoshops Out Diversity for Polish Ad, Sparking Race Controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sakanaka Hidenori’s latest paper on assimilation of NJ now translated into English, full text


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Hi Blog. Sakanaka Hidenori, head of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute and author of Nyuukan Senki (his experiences within Japan’s Immigration Bureau), has just had his most recent paper translated into English. Debito.org is proud to feature this paper downloadable in full here, with an excerpt immediately below.

Sakanaka-san has written for Debito.org before, and his 2007 work, “A New Framework for Japan’s Immigration Policies” can be found here. He has taken great efforts to encourage immigration policy within Japan (his prognosis on “Big Japan vs. Small Japan” is worth considering).

Now for his latest, translated by Kalu Obuka. Excerpt, then full download. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Towards a Japanese-style Immigration Nation
Japan Immigration Policy Institute
Executive Director SAKANAKA Hidenori
Translated by Kalu Obuka

1 Policies towards non-Japanese in a shrinking society 9
2 Robots to the rescue? 11
3 Immigrants will save Japan 13
4 Getting revolutionary immigration policies on the political agenda 16
5 Envisioning a Japanese-style immigration policy 20
6 10 million immigrants: A strategy for building a new Japan 24
7 Immigration policies that develop human resources 30
8 Successful policies towards foreign students,
successful policies towards immigration 34
9 Corporate social responsibility 36
10 Revitalising Japanese farmland with 50,000 immigrants 39
11 Multiethnic societies are “spicy” societies 43
12 The demographic crisis: an opportunity to create a multiethnic nation 45
13 The development of social workers for immigrants is essential 49
14 Japanese language education and multiethnic education 51
15 The Japanese can create a multiethnic society 56
16 50 years later: An illustration of an immigrant nation 58

Full 64-page Word file from

As the population crisis deepens Japanese youth, perhaps due to increasing uncertainty about the future, are in a state of malaise. I hear that the number of Japanese who choose to study overseas has fallen. Indeed it certainly seems as though the number of young people with an interest in the world has dropped, while the number of those who choose to shut themselves up within Japan’s borders has risen. I wonder if in the age of population decline Japan is becoming an insular country.

What can be done to tackle the population crisis and offer hope for a bright future? I believe the answer to that question is to open the doors to immigrants, and entrust our younger generations with the dream of a multiethnic society. This ideal society will stir up the passions of young Japanese. Over several years, my desire to provide a national vision that could captivate young people from Japan, and across the world has culminated in this work. What is presented here is a concept for accepting ten million immigrants over the next fifty years, tackling the problems of our low fertility rate, and rapidly aging population by building a new nation with immigrants.

Should this concept be made a reality, we can expect the cooperation of an additional ten million young people, which ought to significantly ease the burden the aging of our population will place on those under thirty. Immigrants will be thought of as comrades by the birth decline generation, who would be forced to drastically adapt to our population crisis. Immigrants will not simply be brought in to rescue us from population crisis however, they are also the driving force that will change us from a country will high levels of homogeneity to a country rich with diversity.

What I most want to emphasise is that we must create a country that can give dreams to immigrants if we are to revive Japan by opening the doors to immigration. My vision has received support from elites in every field who are concerned about the fate of the nation and society. The Japan Immigration Policy Institute was formed as a base from which the work needed to achieve this vision could be carried out.

We are building a new Japan. Working towards a revolution similar to the Meiji Restoration. In order to be successful, this kind of project requires those in their twenties and thirties to rise to action, like Takasugi Shinsaku and Sakamoto Ryoma did during the Bakumatsu period (1853-1868). I am waiting for a Japanese generation X to open up a path to the future.

This book is an immigrant nation manifesto. It will discuss the process of forming Japanese-style immigration policy, and its future prospects, the synthesis of an immigrant nation, the specific mechanisms through which immigrants will be accepted, and a vision of the Japanese immigration nation of the future.

The people I most want to read this book are the immigrants who will work hand in hand with the younger generation to establish a multiethnic society. Should this booklet succeed in acting as a guiding light to a Japanese nation of immigrants, I would be overjoyed.

August 2009.

Sakanaka Hidenori
Executive Director Japan Immigration Policy Institute.


Full 64-page Word file from

Foreign Policy.com on Savoie Case: US Govt advised father Chris to get children to Fukuoka Consulate! Plus lots more media.


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Hi Blog.  I’m through giving opinions on the Savoie Child Abduction Case (see my final word on that here).  However, there is plenty of press coming out related to this, and to the issue of Japan as safe haven for child abductions, that is worth your attention.  We have to be grateful to the Savoie Case for bringing that to light.  Pertinent articles follow (excerpts, then full text):

Particularly this bit from Foreign Policy.com, courtesy of Matt D:

Another significant article on the Savoie case:
The U.S. Japan child-custody spat
Here’s something interesting:

“Even before Savoie traveled to Japan, he contacted the State Department’s Office for Citizen Services to ask for advice on how to get his children out of Japan. State Department officials advised Savoie that because a U.S. court had awarded him sole custody on Aug. 17, he could apply for new passports for the children if he could get them to the Fukuoka consulate.”

Well, that didn’t happen.

If true, this exposes a deeper grain of irresponsibility within the USG — advising its citizens one thing, and then washing their hands of it when they do precisely that.

More on Savoie:

American father mistreated in Japanese jail, attorney says


TOKYO, Japan (CNN) October 13, 2009 — An American father jailed in Tokyo has been harshly treated, his attorney said Monday, while Japanese authorities said he is getting “special” treatment.

Attorney Jeremy Morley, in a statement released Monday, said Christopher Savoie — accused of trying to kidnap his children after his ex-wife took them to Japan — is being held without trial, interrogated without an attorney present and denied needed medical treatment for high blood pressure.

Savoie has also been exposed to sleep deprivation, and denied private meetings with attorneys and phone calls to his wife, according to Morley, who said the way his client has been treated amounts to “torture.”…

Actually, it’s pretty much Standard Operating Procedure for Japanese police interrogations (which would be tantamount to torture in many societies; the UN has criticized Japan precisely for this, see here and here), especially when the police have a suspect who needs medicine they can withhold (see the Valentine Case here).

And according to the Associated Press, Savoie has just gotten his second round of ten days’ interrogation for the full 23.   The difference is that unlike the Japanese press (which has a very fickle cycle of news, particularly in regards to human rights), the longer the police hold him, the more the foreign press is going to zero in on his plight and explore how nasty and unaccountable the Japanese incarceration and interrogation system is.  Good for exposure, bad for Christopher Savoie.  He’s apparently considering a hunger strike, according to Nashville TN’s Newschannel 5.

Meanwhile, the Asahi (Oct 9, 2009) reports ex-wife Noriko Savoie complaining to prefectural police that she was “treated like a babysitter” in the US (as opposed to not having any contact whatsoever with your children, perfectly permissible here but generally impermissible there?), and for not getting enough money from her ex-husband in the divorce settlement (hey, three-quarters of a million bucks is far more than what anyone gets after divorces here, even for many celebrities!)

Kyung Lah on CNN continues reporting on the issue, this time on a different case:

U.S. divorcee’s Japanese custody heartache

CNN October 13, 2009


…Spencer has severe cerebral palsy and requires constant, 24-hour medical care.

In Japan, a country that lacks sufficient medical services for disabled children, the only person to care for Spencer is his father. Morrey says his wife left, overwhelmed by the strain of their son’s medical condition.

That would be pain beyond what most parents could imagine. But Spencer’s mother fled while pregnant with Morrey’s daughter, Amelia. In more than a year, Morrey says he has only seen his daughter four times…

Morrey, a native of Chicago and a U.S. citizen, was married to a Japanese woman with Brazilian citizenship. They divorced in a Japanese court.

Under U.S. law, Morrey would likely have joint custody of both children, and Brazil has already recognized him as the joint custodian of the children…

He is afraid that if he heads home for the U.S. with Spencer without that, he could be subject to international child abduction laws, and he also fears such a move could hurt his chances of getting the Japanese family court to give him joint custody of his daughter.

Morrey has been forced to quit work to care for Spencer. The financial strain of living off his credit cards is adding to the stress of caring for a disabled child alone in a foreign country…

This is a much cleaner case, except that somebody could argue that this divorce between an American and a Brazilian of Japanese descent is not a matter concerning Japan and the Hague Treaty.  Even then, the Morrey Case is grinding along in Japan’s Family Court and bankrupting him with the legal limbo.

Man, I’m glad I’m not a divorce lawyer.  Full text of articles excerpted above follows.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The U.S. Japan child-custody spat

Thu, 10/08/2009 – 12:04pm

While most recent news and commentary about Japan has understandably been focused on that country’s dramatic election results, the U.S. government has been quietly working on a parental-custody case that has become an irritant in the budding relationship between the new Japanese and American administrations.

State Department officials in Japan met yesterday with Christopher Savoie, an American citizen whose recent attempt to reassert custody of his children landed him in a Japanese prison under investigation for kidnapping.

The prospects are not good for Savoie. Local prosecutors in Fukuoka, the western Japanese prefecture where Savoie is being held, are nearing a deadline to decide what charges to bring against the Tennessee native, who traveled to Japan to take back the children his Japanese ex-wife Norikoabsconded with in August. He faces deportation at best, five years in a claustrophobic Japanese prison at worst, and the chances that the Japanese legal system will ever grant him rights to see, much less be a parent to, his 8-year-old son Isaac and 6-year-old daughter Rebecca are slim to none.

State Department officials have been intimately involved in the Savoie case, even before Savoie traveled to Japan, but their ability to sway local Japanese officials is negligible. They point to Japan’s cultural and legal aversion to cooperating at all on international child-abduction cases, while expressing very cautious hope that the new Japanese government might relax that country’s famously intransigent stance on such issues.

In interviews with The Cable, three State Department officials detailed the extensive set of interactions between the U.S. government and Savoie and the ongoing efforts to advocate for him and the dozens of other Americans fighting custody battles in Japan.

Savoie’s communication and coordination with State began shortly after Noriko left for Japan with the children on Aug. 13, never to return. A longtime former resident of Japan, he knew what he what was up against and tried to plan a trip to Japan and then return to the United States with the children.

Even before Savoie traveled to Japan, he contacted the State Department’s Office for Citizen Services to ask for advice on how to get his children out of Japan. State Department officials advised Savoie that because a U.S. court had awarded him sole custody on Aug. 17, he could apply for new passports for the children if he could get them to the Fukuoka consulate.

On Sept. 28, Savoie drove alongside his ex-wife and children while they were walking to school, forced the children into his car, and headed for the consulate. By the time he got there, his wife had alerted the local police, who arrested him on the spot and placed him under investigation for “kidnapping minors by force,” according to the officials.

U.S. consular officials met with Savoie the next day, gave him legal advice, and passed some messages back to his family in the States. Since then, State Department officials have brought up the Savoie case “at the highest levels” of their interactions with Japanese officials, including between the embassy in Tokyo and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, officials said, but to no avail.

In addition to working with Savoie’s Japanese and American lawyers, consular officials also approached Savoie’s ex-wife after yesterday’s meeting and asked for permission to visit the children to check on their welfare. She declined. The embassy plans to ask the Tokyo government to compel her to make the children available, officials said.

Multiple units within the State Department have some activity ongoing in the Savoie case, including the Office of Children’s Issues, the section of the Office of Citizen’s Services that overseas Asia cases, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the consulate in Fukuoka, and even the East Asian and Pacific Bureau in Washington.

But since Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which would have given jurisdiction to the American court system, there is little the U.S. government can do.

“Japan stands alone as the only G-7 country that is not a signatory to the convention,” said one official, adding that even if the country had signed it, local laws in Japan would still have to be altered to allow implementation.

There are 82 outstanding child abduction cases in Japan, and U.S. officials are constantly trying to press the Japanese to change their approach. “Every time there is a meeting the issues get raised,” one official said.

U.S. Amb. John Roos told reporters last week, “This is an important disagreement between our two countries.”

But the State Department has said it is not aware of any case where the Japanese courts have returned a child abducted to Japan to the United States. And besides, Japanese cultural and legal norms often result in custody being assigned to one parent only, usually the mother.

But State Department officials point to an interview new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama gave in July, where he said he supports signing the convention and giving fathers visitation rights.

“That issue affects not just foreign national fathers, but Japanese fathers as well. I believe in this change,” Hatoyama said.

Back in Washington, New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith has called onHatoyama to follow through with this promise. Supporters of Savoy staged asmall protest at the Japanese Embassy in Washington on Monday.

The view from Foggy Bottom is one of very guarded optimism.

“We have received communications from the Japanese government through the embassy in Washington that they are seriously looking at it … we are very hopeful,” one official said, adding, “At this point it’s wait and see.”




Christopher Savoie is in jail in Japan after trying to get back his son, Isaac, and daughter, Rebecca.

Christopher Savoie is in jail in Japan after trying to get back his son, Isaac, and daughter, Rebecca.

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) — An American father jailed in Tokyo has been harshly treated in the Japanese prison system, his attorney said Monday

Attorney Jeremy Morley, in a statement released Monday, said Christopher Savoie — accused of trying to kidnap his children after his ex-wife took them to Japan — is being held without trial, interrogated without an attorney present and denied needed medical treatment for high blood pressure.

Savoie has also been exposed to sleep deprivation, and denied private meetings with attorneys and phone calls to his wife, according to Morley, who said the way his client has been treated amounts to “torture.” He acknowledged that some of the claims are based on second-hand information from Savoie’s wife, Amy, saying she has communicated with people familiar with her husband’s case.

Japanese officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Savoie, 38, a Tennessee native and naturalized Japanese citizen, allegedly abducted his two children — 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — as his ex-wife walked them to school on September 28 in a rural town in southern Japan.

With the children, Savoie headed for the nearest U.S. consulate, in the city of Fukuoka, to try to obtain passports for them. Screaming at guards to let him in the compound, Savoie was steps away from the front gate but still standing on Japanese soil when he was arrested.

Savoie and his first wife, Noriko Savoie, were married for 14 years before their bitter divorce in January. The couple, both citizens of the United States and Japan, lived in Japan, but had moved to the United States before the divorce.

Noriko Savoie was given custody of the children and agreed to remain in the United States. Christopher Savoie had visitation rights. During the summer, she fled with the children to Japan, according to court documents. A U.S. court then granted Christopher Savoie sole custody.

Japanese law, however, recognizes Noriko Savoie as the primary custodian, regardless of the U.S. court order. The law there also follows a tradition of sole-custody divorces. When a couple splits, one parent typically makes a complete and life-long break from the children.

Complicating the matter further is the fact that the couple is still considered married in Japan because they never divorced there, police said Wednesday. And, Japanese authorities say, the children are Japanese and have Japanese passports.


By Kyung Lah
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U.S. divorcee’s Japanese custody heartache

OKAZAKI, Japan (CNN) — At Spencer Morrey’s home, there are two constant sounds: His dad, Craig, murmuring, “You’re okay, Spence. You’re okay, buddy,” and the sound of a machine clearing the toddler’s airway.

Both sounds come every few minutes, in between hugs, tears and kisses.

Spencer has severe cerebral palsy and requires constant, 24-hour medical care.

In Japan, a country that lacks sufficient medical services for disabled children, the only person to care for Spencer is his father. Morrey says his wife left, overwhelmed by the strain of their son’s medical condition.

That would be pain beyond what most parents could imagine. But Spencer’s mother fled while pregnant with Morrey’s daughter, Amelia. In more than a year, Morrey says he has only seen his daughter four times.

“She wouldn’t recognize me,” Morrey said, with Spencer propped on his lap. “She wouldn’t call me daddy. She’s just starting to talk now. But she’s not going to know who I am. I think she deserves my love. And I think she deserves to be with Spencer and Spencer deserves to be with her.”

Morrey, a native of Chicago and a U.S. citizen, was married to a Japanese woman with Brazilian citizenship. They divorced in a Japanese court.

Under U.S. law, Morrey would likely have joint custody of both children, and Brazil has already recognized him as the joint custodian of the children. What do you think about Spencer’s case? Have your say

But in Japan, where only one parent gets custody of a child in a divorce, the family courts have left the case in legal limbo for a year because they have not decided which parent legally has custody of the children. Typically, the parent with physical custody of a child retains custody.

Morrey has stayed in Japan the last year, trying to get the courts to recognize that he has joint custody of the children in Brazil (he has not yet applied for such custody under U.S. law).

He is afraid that if he heads home for the U.S. with Spencer without that, he could be subject to international child abduction laws, and he also fears such a move could hurt his chances of getting the Japanese family court to give him joint custody of his daughter.

Morrey has been forced to quit work to care for Spencer. The financial strain of living off his credit cards is adding to the stress of caring for a disabled child alone in a foreign country.

Despite his pleading with court mediators and repeated court filings claiming that joint custody is the law in both the U.S. and Brazil, Japan’s slow and antiquated family courts have let the case languish.

“Kids need both parents,” Morrey said. “Whether the parents are married or not is irrelevant in my mind. The Japanese courts, and I realize you’re going against years and years of cultural differences and everything else, but they don’t care about the welfare of the child.

“In Japan, it’s considered too messy. It’s too complicated. It deals with personal feelings so they don’t want to deal with it. So the best way is to not deal with it.”

CNN contacted Morrey’s ex-wife four times by telephone and once by fax. She declined to discuss the case.

The International Association for Parent and Child Reunion believes there are an estimated 100 American families in situations like Morrey’s in Japan and dozens involving those from Britain, France and Canada.

One of those cases is that of American Christopher Savoie.

Savoie, 38, a Tennessee native and naturalized Japanese citizen, was arrested on September 28 in Yanagawa, Japan, for attempting to abduct his two children, eight-year-old Isaac and six-year-old Rebecca.

Savoie drove his children to the nearest U.S. consulate in the city of Fukuoka to try and obtain passports for them.

Steps away from the front of the consulate, Japanese police arrested him. Savoie is now in jail, awaiting a decision by prosecutors on a possible indictment.

Savoie and his first wife, Noriko Savoie, were married for 14 years before their bitter divorce in January. According to court documents, she fled with the children to Japan in the summer. A U.S. court then gave Christopher Savoie sole custody of the children.

But Japanese law recognizes Noriko Savoie as the sole custodian, despite the U.S. order.

“It’s like a black hole,” Morrey said. “If you go through a divorce, there’s this joke. If you have an international marriage with a Japanese, don’t piss them off because you’ll never see your kids again.”

Not seeing his daughter Amelia again is what is keeping Morrey in Japan. He has been selling off everything he owns, trying to keep himself and Spencer afloat, hoping the Japanese court will bring him some legal connection to his child. He is stuck choosing between caring for his son, who needs the better resources of the U.S., and hoping to be a father to his daughter.

“How do you make that choice? It’s not — once you’re a dad, you’re always a dad.”


Custody extended for US man for snatching own kids

By MARI YAMAGUCHI (AP) – October 10, 2009


TOKYO — Japanese police said Friday that they are keeping an American man in custody for 10 more days before authorities decide whether to press charges against him for snatching his children from his ex-wife.

Christopher Savoie, of Franklin, Tenn., was arrested Sept. 28 after allegedly grabbing his two children, ages 8 and 6, from his Japanese ex-wife as they walked to school. He will remain held in city of Yanagawa where he was arrested, on the southern island of Kyushu, police official Kiyonori Tanaka said.

Savoie’s Japanese lawyer, Tadashi Yoshino, was not immediately available for comment.

“Obviously it’s a huge disappointment,” Savoie’s current wife, Amy Savoie, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “It’s a court system over there unlike what we have here, there’s no due process at all.”

Amy Savoie, who remains in Tennessee, said she considers the extra jail time to be a delay tactic on the part of Japanese authorities.

“They enable the children to reside with the Japanese native as long as possible, so they can say ‘Well, the children are here now and they have adjusted, so it would be disruptive to return them,'” she said. “So this is a delay tactic in order to keep the children in that country.”

The case is among a growing number of international custody disputes in Japan, which allows only one parent to be a custodian — almost always the mother. That leaves many divorced fathers without access to their children until they are grown up.

That stance has begun to raise concern abroad, following a recent spate of incidents involving Japanese mothers bringing their children back to their native land and refusing to let their foreign ex-husbands visit them.

The United States, Canada, Britain and France have urged Japan to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The convention, signed by 80 countries, seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the appropriate courts and that the rights of access of both parents are protected.

Tokyo has argued that signing the convention may not protect Japanese women and their children from abusive foreign husbands, but this week Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said officials were reviewing the matter.

Tanaka said that Savoie’s Japanese ex-wife, Noriko Savoie, is staying with her Japanese parents in Yanagawa with the children, but they have refused to talk to the media.

The family lived in Japan beginning in 2001 and moved to the U.S. in 2008. The couple was divorced in Tennessee in January 2009. In August, Noriko secretly brought the children to Japan.

Savoie could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the crime of kidnapping minors. Tanaka said Savoie has told investigators that he was aware what he did was in violation to Japanese law.

U.S. Consulate spokeswoman Tracy Taylor said Thursday that American officials have visited Savoie regularly since his arrest, and that he appeared “OK physically.”

Amy Savoie said she’s only been able to communicate with her husband through letters and U.S. consular officials, but that she has resisted the urge to go to Japan.

“I’ve thought about going, but I think right now I can do more good here,” she said. “The story is not just about Christopher. There are other families contacting me stating that Japan has treated them horrifically, too.”

Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report from Nashville, Tenn.




朝日新聞 2009年10月9日3時16分







Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE on Savoie Child Abduction Case and Japan’s “Disappeared Dads”


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. Here’s the JT version of my column with links to sources. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
The Japan Times, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009
Savoie case shines spotlight on Japan’s ‘disappeared dads’


Making international (and to a lesser extent, national) news recently has been the Savoie child abduction case. Briefly: After a couple divorced in America, ex-wife Noriko Savoie absconded with their children to Japan. Then ex-husband Christopher, who had been awarded custody in the U.S., came to Japan to take the kids back. On Sept. 28 he tried to get the children into the American Consulate in Fukuoka, but was barred entry and arrested by the Japanese police for kidnapping.

The case is messy (few divorces aren’t), and I haven’t space here to deal with the minutia (e.g. Christopher’s quick remarriage, Noriko’s $800,000 divorce award and ban on international travel, both parents’ dual U.S.-Japan citizenship , etc.). Please read up online.

So let’s go beyond that and focus on how this case highlights why Japan must make fundamental promises and reforms.

In Japan, divorce means that one side (usually the father) can lose all contact with the kids. Thanks to the koseki family registry system, Japan has no joint custody (because you can’t put a child on two people’s koseki). Meanwhile, visitation rights, even if mandated by family court, are unenforceable. This happens in Japan regardless of nationality. (I speak from personal experience: I too am divorced, and have zero contact with my children. I’ve seen one of my daughters only once over the past five years.)

Standard operating procedure is the three Ds: Divorced Daddy Disappears. Add an international dimension to the marriage and it’s stunningly difficult for a non-Japanese parent of either gender to gain child custody (as foreigners, by definition, don’t have a koseki). Add a transnational dimension and the kids are gone: Many left-behind parents overseas receive no communication whatsoever until the children become adults.

There is no recourse. Although Japan has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), it has not signed the Hague Convention on Child Abductions (the only holdout among the G7 developed countries). If brought to trial in Japan, our judges do not honor overseas court orders granting custody to the non-Japanese parent. In fact, according to the documentary “From the Shadows,” an estimated 300 such children are abducted to or within Japan each year, and none has ever been returned by Japanese authorities to a foreign parent.

Until now this issue received scant media attention. However, with the Savoie case, Japan has earned a worldwide reputation as a safe haven for abductions. This is, given the inhuman North Korean kidnappings of Japanese, an ironic position to be in.

Before we get relativistic, be advised there is no comity here. Although few (I know of none) foreigners have ever won repatriation rights or even custody in Japanese courts, the converse is not true in, for example, American courts. The U.S. recognizes the Hague-mandated concept of “habitual residence,” even if that doesn’t mean America. The most famous abduction-then-repatriation case involved Elian Gonzalez from Cuba.

According to court transcripts, Noriko Savoie did have a fair hearing abroad. The judge heard her out, believed her sworn testimony that she would not abduct the kids, and lifted the restraining order against her. She and the kids could travel to Japan briefly to explore their Japanese heritage.

Then Noriko broke her oath. And Christopher boarded a plane.

The point: Regardless of any extenuating circumstances in this messy affair, the lack of a post-divorce legal framework to prevent abductions, secure joint custody and guarantee visitation rights forced Christopher to take the law into his own hands.

Needless to say it’s the children that get hurt the most in this tug of war. If Japan’s policymakers would secure the right of the child to know both their parents and heritages, this nonsense would cease.

But as with all social problems left to fester, things are only getting worse. U.S. Congressman Chris Smith announced Sept. 29 that reported child abductions have increased “60 percent in the last three years.” No doubt contributing to this rise is the grapevine effect among expat Japanese — a quick Web search shows that all a potential abductor needs do is board a plane to Japan and they’re scot-free.

Injustice breeds drastic actions. How long before a vigilante parent takes the law so far that somebody gets injured or killed?

Japan wants to avoid a demographic nightmare as its population drops. International marriage is one solution. But this threat of abduction is now a prime deterrent to marrying any Japanese. One domestic spat with a threat to kidnap the kids and conjugal trust is permanently destroyed.

But just signing the Hague convention won’t fix things. Japan has, after all, inked umpteen international treaties (like the above-mentioned UNCRC), and ignores them by not enacting enforceable domestic laws. I don’t anticipate any exception here: Japan giving more parental rights to non-Japanese through treaties than they would their own citizens? Inconceivable.

What’s necessary is more radical: Abolish the koseki system so that legal ties can extend to both parents regardless of nationality after divorce. In addition, our authorities must create more professional domestic-dispute enforcement and mediation mechanisms (consider the farcical chotei pre-divorce process).

Inevitable problems arise in that complicated institution called marriage. Anyone, including Japanese, must have recourse, remedy and redress. Without it people will take matters into their own hands.

There are plenty of times when adults just won’t act like adults. But their children should not have to suffer for it.

Reforms are necessary not just to prevent future cases like the Savoies’; Japan also needs more secure family laws for its own long-suffering, disappeared Japanese parents.


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

BONUS STATISTICS, Courtesy of RedJoe the Lawyer:

In [Japan] divorces finalized in 2007, fathers got custody 15% of the time, while women got custody 81% of the time. So the system is clearly biased, but men win in a significant (if not fair) number of cases. Interestingly, men used to get custody more often than women. The sexes reached parity in the late 60s and women reached their current ~80% success rate around 2000. Stats are here: http://www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001032162

US Census figures from 2004 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p70-114.pdf):
58.3% of kids live with both married parents
29.5% live with their mother but not their father

4.7% live with their father but not their mother

Granted, a lot of single-mother families in the US are not formed by a divorce, but rather by the father being incarcerated. Still, that doesn’t account for a 25 percentage point difference across the whole population.


SOUR STRAWBERRIES Cinema Debut Oct 10th-30th every day, Cine Nouveau Osaka Kujo


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

Passing on this info.  (日本語のアナウンスメントは英語の下です。)Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are happy to announce that the critically acclaimed documentary “SOUR STRAWBERRIES – Japan’s hidden »guest workers«” will have its premier in a cinema in Japan at Osaka’s Ciné Nouveau in Kujo.

The first screening will be on Saturday, 10th October 2009 at 10:30 am. Director Tilman König will be present and happy to answer questions from 11:30 onwards.

The discussion will be held in Japanese. Questions in English and German will be answered as well.

“SOUR STRAWBERRIES – Japan’s hidden »Guest Workers«”, a movie by Tilman König and Daniel Kremers, G/J 2008, 56 min, color, 16:9. Original in German, Japanese, Chinese, English with English and Japanese Subtitles.

Everyday from October 10th to October 30th 2009

The film was supported by Stiftung “Menschenwürde und Arbeitswelt”, Berlin and CinemAbstruso, Leipzig.

Trailer: http://www.vimeo.com/2276295



“‘Sour Strawberries’ spotlights the plight of non-Japanese ‘trainees'” — Japan Times Online

“A must see!” – Kansai Scene








More media on the Savoie Case (CNN, CBS, Stars&Stripes, AP, BBC, Japan Times, local TV). What a mess.


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

Hi Blog.  As more information comes to light about the Savoie Case, I will admit for the record, in all intellectual honesty, that there are a number of circumstances that, as commenters point out, detract from supporting husband Christopher as a “poster child” for the push to get Japan to sign the Hague Convention.  But unfortunately divorces are messy things.  I’ll probably write an apologia (not an apology, look up the word) tomorrow on the case.  However, I’ve got to write a different article for the Japan Times tonight on Tokyo’s Olympic Bid (depending on which way it goes), so I’ll be diverting my attention from this issue shortly.

Meanwhile, here is more media, courtesy of the Children’s Rights Network Japan (www.crnjapan.net) and lots and lots of friends.  Thank you all very much.  Feel free to add more in the Comments section.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

CNN’s Kyung Lah reports on her fifteen-minute interview with Christopher in jail (or, rather, the police incarceration center during investigation, of course).

Other video links on CNN, all visible from


  1. Kidnapping your own kids? 11:45 CNN.com’s Blogger Bunch discusses the dad who was arrested in Japan for kidnapping his own kids.
  2. Savoie Custody Battle 2:09  An American dad is jailed in Japan for trying to reclaim his children. CNN’s Kyung Lah reports. 2:09
  3. Dad Jailed in Japan.  5:37  Amy Savoie, whose husband is jailed in Japan over a custody dispute, speaks to CNN’s Kiran Chetry.
  4. Dad wants custody, gets jail 1:48 American Christopher Savoie is in jail in Japan because he tried to get his children back. CNN’s Kyung Lah reports.

CBS News weighs in, citing CNN:
October 1, 2009 11:33 AM
Christopher Savoie, Dad Jailed in Japan for Child Rescue, Speaks from Prison



It looks as though Christopher was ready to take a stand on this issue a priori, with a previous interview before he went to Japan and got arrested:

Nashville Tenn TV station NC5 Investigates:

Abducted to Japan, Oct 1, 2009

(excerpt) “If [Japan joins] the Hague Treaty, then it would also be good for Japanese people in this situation because we could come up with an amicable — or even unamicable — arrangement where legally both parents could be guaranteed some time with their kids,” Savoie said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department renewed its calls for Japan to sign the agreement after Savoie found himself locked up in a Japanese jail, accused of snatching his own children and making a run to the nearest U.S. Consulate.

“On this particular issue, the issue of abduction, we have different points of view,” said Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley.

It’s a plight shared by non-Japanese fathers around the globe.

“There are a lot of Japanese fathers who need the same treatment,” Savoie said, adding that it highlights how — in Japan — men in general are cut out of the parenting process in the case of divorce.

“I happen to have been brought up in this country and I can speak English and I can live here, but that’s not an option for all the other Japanese Dads — and they are in the same shoes as me,” he added. “They have no rights in their own country.”

Ironically, Savoie also holds Japanese citizenship — so he spoke as fellow countryman when he asked Japan to join the world in protecting families and signing the Hague Convention.

Plus video interview at http://www.newschannel5.com/Global/story.asp?S=11236448


Hostile article to Christopher reports a friend saying that Noriko felt abused by courts (even though the court transcript indicates to me that the judge acted civilly towards her, and gave her the benefit of the doubt when dissolving the restraining order against her) and financially dependent on Christopher, even though it also reports that she received more than three-quarters of a million dollars from him for the divorce:

AP:  Friend: Japanese woman who took kids felt trapped
By TRAVIS LOLLER and ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press Writers
October 1, 2009

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – A friend says Noriko Savoie felt trapped — she was a Japanese citizen new to the U.S. whose American husband had just served her divorce papers (snip)

Noriko Savoie did not have court permission to bring the children to the country where they had spent most of their lives, and Christopher Savoie says he didn’t do anything wrong when he tried to get them back.

Court records and conversations with a friend, Miiko Crafton, make it clear that Noriko Savoie was hurt and angry from the divorce and chafing at the cultural differences.

She had no income when she moved to the U.S. in June 2008, divorce court filings show, and appears to have been totally dependent on Christopher Savoie, who was still legally her husband but was involved with another woman.

Crafton, a native of Japan who befriended Noriko Savoie during her short time in Tennessee, said her friend tried to get a divorce while the couple still lived in Japan, but her husband had refused and later persuaded her to move to the U.S. with the children.

“Everything was provided so she could begin a new lifestyle, but right after that he gave her divorce papers,” Crafton said. “So basically she was trapped.”

Although financially stable — she was awarded close to $800,000 in cash as well as other support in the divorce — Noriko Savoie was not free to return to Japan. She was given primary custody of the children, but her ex-husband was also awarded time with them.

She felt mistreated by the courts and emotionally abused by her ex-husband, Crafton said…


However: From the U.S State Department note on International Child Abduction-Japan:

… U.S. consular officers are prohibited by law from providing legal advice, taking custody of a child, forcing a child to be returned to the United States, providing assistance or refuge to parents attempting to violate local law…

Full document at:


CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper have each separately done programs on the arrest and the Japan abduction issue. Their videos have apparently not been posted yet (links welcome).

Japan Times article Oct 1, 2009: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20091001a2.html

Stars & Stripes, the US military’s daily newspaper:
notable excerpt:

“[Savoie] took the step that none of us have taken, but one that we’ve all thought about,” Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland said Tuesday from his home in Bethesda, Md.

Toland’s wife absconded with his daughter, Erika, from their home in Yokohama, Japan, in 2003 while he was stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base. She was not charged with child abduction and was able to prevent Toland from even visiting his daughter.

The U.S. and the international community for years have lobbied the Japanese government to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of 1980. The treaty, which includes 81 countries as signatories, prevents parents from fleeing with their children to or within those countries to circumvent standing custody orders or before a court can determine custody.

“The problem has gotten so big that Japan is becoming known as a destination country for international parental kidnapping, even when no one in the family is of Japanese descent,” Smith wrote in a Sept. 24 letter to Hatoyama obtained by Stars and Stripes.

The Savoie case demonstrates not only the desperate measures parents can resort to, but also the hypocrisy of Japanese law, contend Toland and Paul Wong, an American attorney based in Tokyo who continues to fight for access to his daughter, Kaya.

“Japanese law says that parental [child] abduction is not a crime,” said Toland, whose daughter was taken by his in-laws after his Japanese wife died in 2005. “So it’s asinine that he’s being charged because he’s the biological father and his rights have not been terminated by a Japanese court.” (snip)

A spokesman for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said it is aware of the Savoie case and had not been asked by the U.S. to release Savoie.

Embassy officials in Tokyo and Fukuoka would not comment on whether those discussions would take place.

As of August, the State Department had identified 118 Japanese-American children who are living in Japan and cut off from their American parents.

UK’s BBC about Shane Clarke’s abduction case,
which coincides with Christopher’s arrest arrest:

All for now. Updates in real time at

And lots more stories on the Children’s Rights Network Japan website to show you why Savoie’s case is hardly unusual, although the actions leading to his arrest might be deemed to be:



Court Transcripts of Christopher vs. Noriko Savoie re child abduction


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UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  Obviously since yesterday the Savoie Child Abduction Case has gotten a lot more complicated.  So let’s go to the primary source information:  the sworn testimonies of the parties to the case.

Now, divorces are generally nasty messy affairs with both sides at fault and deserving of criticism. But the fact is that wife Noriko Savoie negotiated in bad faith, broke her promises, abducted the children, and committed a criminal offense, and she should not be allowed to get away with it. Or else it just encourages other Japanese to take the kids and run (or threaten to) whenever there’s a domestic dispute. This situation as it stands will also remain a deterrent to people marrying Japanese, and is ultimately defeating of Japan’s intent to stem the demographic juggernaut that is Japan’s falling population.

Courtesy of David in yesterday’s comments (thanks), here are the last seventy pages of testimony in Tennessee court.



There was a restraining order against Noriko Savoie filed due to various threats from Noriko to abduct the children (page 94).

She promised in court under oath that she would not do that.

She obviously lied.

She came to the US willingly, knowing how things would turn out (i.e. divorce, not reconciliation):

(pg 121)
THE COURT: And she clearly understood that when she was
coming to the United States, she wasn’t coming
here to reconcile . And it was clear she came here knowing that
her husband was involved with another woman, and
she came here knowing that he wanted a divorce.

and a social worker testified that she was in fact acclimatizing to the US and would probably stay (pg 109).

Noriko even tried to use the allegation of husband Christopher’s Japanese citizenship (which looks like it may be true, although given the relatively amount of time Christopher was in Japan it was gleaned awfully quickly) against him to say that he had the same rights as a Japanese. Which he technically would (but not positively, when Japanese have so few rights between them regarding child custody and visitation following divorce anyway), but then again probably not (as the court admits, see below).

Court testimony excerpts follow, then further commentary from me:


I don’t have any plans to
return to Japan or move to Japan, I haven’t had
any plans to move to Japan since I entered the
final decree
. (page 80)

(page 88-89)
… you put in writing to him
February 12th that “it is very hard to watch the kids
become American and losing their Japanese identity . I
have tremendous fear for my children and myself . I’m
overwhelmed without a problem . Therefore, please
cooperate with me in order for us to stay here”?

A. Correct.

Q. The only way I can read that is that was a threat
to him ; that if you don’t do what I want you to do, I’m
going to take your children and you will never see them
again . You understand his fear?

A I do understand his fear; however —

Q. Well, what can you do today to alleviate that
fear ; what can you do, what can you say to Judge Martin,
what can you say to their father that assures us that
when you get to Japan —

A. Yes.

Q. — you will not let your parents and your friends
and your — as you said, all the people that came to the
airport, influence you to just stay there ; what
assurance do we have?

A. Yes, actually that’s why I brought this here .
First of all, I have never thought about taking children
away from their father, never . And — but based on
that —

Q. Well, let me ask you this — and I’ll ask the
questions, if you would — do you have plans to take
your children and move to Japan?

A . No, I don’t .

(pg 96-97)
NORIKO: Yes, I actually want to say because if you
talking about based on he has no authority in Japan,
however, he is Japanese citizen ; he is not — Hague
Convention has nothing to do with him, because that is
between American citizen and Japanese citizen .

THE COURT : Ms . Savoie, let me just say that
this kind of discussion concerns the Court . I
really don’t care what his rights are in Japan .
What I care about is ensuring that you don’t take
these children permanently to Japan .


THE COURT : You’ll never convince this Court
that this gentleman has the same rights that you
have in Japan to freely enforce the terms of this
order, because every bit of the law that I’ve
ever seen as mediator — and this case was
presented – and this case, by the way, was
discussed in mediation, so that’s not anything
new either .So for you to try to convince the Court now
that Dr . Savoie has the full ability to enforce a
foreign decree in Japan, is not going to be very
productive . That causes me concern that you
might have some intent to move that you said you
do not have . See what I’m saying?

THE WITNESS : Yes, Sir, I understand .

THE COURT: They’re inconsistent positions .
On the one hand you say, “I’m not moving, I’ve
made no plans to move, I intend to go on vacation
and return here and bring the children back
here”; on the other hand you’re saying, “but he
has full rights to enforce the decree in Japan .”
Well, if you have no intent to move, why do you —

THE WITNESS : Yes, Sir .

THE COURT: — try to convince the Court
that he has the full rights to enforce a foreign
decree in Japan . There’s no reason to try to go
there . You see what I’m saying?

(skip to page 100)

THE WITNESS : Yes . However, he won’t see
them again that — that part is that concern
before me that from a long time ago, like I said
I’ve never split children and father . I know how
important father is for children, and I am not
going to do that . I keep telling him I’m not
going to do that .

(skip to page 119-120)
I think Ms . Savoie understands that if she
elects to go to Japan and not return, she’s going
to lose her alimony, because the Court’s going to
pay it into court ; she’s going to have problems
with her child support ; she’s going to have
problems with her education fund ; she’s going to
be fighting her husband in the courts of Japan ;
and it just — it’s going to be a terrible mess
for her and the children if she pursues that, and
the Court has no reason to believe that she
doesn’t understand that or that she intends to
pursue that .

But on the other hand, obviously Dr . Savoie
is not convinced that his former wife is acting
with him in good faith . Frankly, I don’t know
that he will ever be convinced until time passes
and she’s made trips to Japan and she’s returned
from Japan, and the children seem to be
acclimating to the notion that they have two
cultures that form them ; one is a Japanese
culture and the other is an American culture, and
they’re part Japanese, they’re part American,
they have part Japanese heritage, they have part
American heritage, and they’re entitled to know
both heritages, they’re entitled to know
grandparents from their Japanese heritage .

And what she will do when she gets to Japan
and she’s under the pressure of her family and
friends to stay there and not return, remains to
be seen.

(pg 121)
THE COURT: And she clearly understood that when she was
coming to the United States, she wasn’t coming
here to reconcile . And it was clear she came here knowing that
her husband was involved with another woman, and
she came here knowing that he wanted a divorce .
(snip, pg 122)
And it’s clear to this Court that it’s in
the best interest of these children that these
children–and I’ll say it again–have a
relationship with their father, and that they
also understand their Japanese culture and
heritage, and it’s part of their makeup, and that
they unde, and their American culture and
heritage as part of their makeup .
So based on the limited issue that’s before
me, the Court’s going to dissolve the restraining

COMMENT FROM DEBITO:  So the retraining order gets dissolved and Noriko breaks her sworn promises.  That is the background to the case.  Her current extraterritoriality notwithstanding, she broke the law, and now there’s an arrest warrant out on her.  That’s what occasioned Christopher taking the drastic actions that he did.

Now, speaking as a left-behind parent myself might be coloring my attitude towards this issue. But divorces are nearly always messy and fault can be found with both sides in mediations. And the fact remains that Noriko did what so many Japanese will do in these situations — abduct the children and claim Japan as a safe haven. Then the children are NEVER returned, and usually contact is completely broken off with the left-behind parent for the remainder of the childhood.

This is an untenable situation. And it must stop. For the sake of the children. This in my mind is undisputable. The children must be returned to Dr Savoie in order to discourage this sort of thing happening again. Anything else is just more encouragement for Japanese to abduct their children.

More media up on the case later today.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ordering details at www.debito.org/japaneseonly.html

Original documentation and articles in English and Japanese at www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html

Other bilingual interviews and radio broadcasts/podcasts available at


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


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

LA Times: “Charisma Man: An American geek is reborn in Japan”


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Hi Blog.  One of the most controversial characters I’ve ever seen come out of the NJ (Eikaiwa) community has been the character of “Charisma Man”, as described in the LA Times below.  Compare and contrast him with McDonald’s “Mr James”.  I won’t right now, but readers feel free.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo




Charisma Man: An American geek is reborn in Japan

The anime character is coming back from hiatus to his Calvin and Hobbes-type fantasy world in which he is super. But he has his own version of debilitating kryptonite.

By John M. Glionna September 1, 2009

Reporting from Tokyo

From his window seat in the Roppongi bar district, Neil Garscadden eyes an exotic street parade: the reggae-styled hipsters, the Nigerian nightclub hawkers, the soft-stepping geishas, the secretaries in miniskirts and impossibly heavy eye shadow.

The nuances of the scene, Garscadden insists, would be lost on a mere tourist.

This, he says, is a job for Charisma Man.

With his blue eyes, tousled blond hair and foreign passport, Charisma Man is a sake-sipping man about town, suavely negotiating the intricacies of Japanese culture. Women adore him. Men respect, even fear, him. Life in the East bends to his every whim.

“It’s great to be a Western guy in Asia,” he says. “I’ve got lots of money, chicks dig me — everybody respects me.”

Well, not everybody.

In this land of anime, Charisma Man is a comic strip character created in 1998 by Larry Rodney, a Canadian then teaching English in Nagoya, to lampoon what he saw as the absurd hubris of many Western men in Japan. Capitalizing on their novelty status, they prowled for cheap thrills, an easy paycheck and sex — not necessarily in that order. Many were slackers posing as teachers (a job for which they were underqualified) to continue the charade of their low-wattage celebrity.

Even with Charisma Man’s limited knowledge of Japanese language or culture, he nonetheless sees himself as a self-styled Superman — albeit with a debilitating kryptonite: Western Woman.

“She sees him as the loser he really is,” says Garscadden, who penned the comic strip after Rodney returned to Canada. “When she’s around, he reverts back into an average Joe Blow.”

After an eight-year run in an alternative expat magazine, the black-and-white five-panel monthly strip was discontinued in 2006.

But now Charisma Man is back.

Following their 2002 collection of the first four years of Charisma Man adventures, Rodney and Garscadden are teaming up to publish a book containing both old and new installments. And there’s even talk of a new monthly strip.

(They dismiss Charisma Man comics between 2002 and 2006, saying the writers took the character in an uncharismatic direction after Garscadden also left the picture.)

The reprise comes at a much different time than the 1990s heyday, when fewer Westerners living in Japan meant bigger egos for the ones who were there.

But Charisma Man still reigns supreme, the pair says.

“Part of his success comes from the fact that many Japanese women are frustrated by their choices — Japanese men who often are very conservative, old-fashioned and not very romantic,” says Rodney, 41, who now lives in Vancouver.

“And even after all these years, many still have a romanticized view of what Western men are all about.”

Stereotypical fantasy is a main theme of the comic strip. Charisma Man is like the boy in the Calvin and Hobbes comic whose stuffed tiger comes alive only when he’s alone.

In the presence of Japanese women, Our Hero is a muscular he-man. Readers only see his true loser self when Western Woman shares the frame. Likewise, the Japanese girls in Charisma Man’s arms are all Barbie-like — until someone else shows up. Then they’re often rather plump.

“I guess I spent too much time on trains without much else to think about,” Rodney says of his inspiration for Charisma Man. “Maybe I saw too many of these geeky social misfits living above their station in Japan. Something snapped.”

In the strip, Charisma Man hails from the planet Canada, where he works as a McDonald’s fry cook, scorned by the opposite sex.

In an early strip, he snags a job in Japan over a much more qualified Western Woman, leading his foil to seek revenge.

One favorite strip by Garscadden, a former editor at the now-defunct Alien magazine, which carried the series, features the character as Commander Charisma, a submarine captain who spots an approaching battleship just in time to save his crew.

The final frame shows Charisma Man at a bar with his cronies hiding from “the battleship”: Western Woman, who strides through the joint.

For years, Charisma Man ruled Tokyo, at least among expatriates.

“I found references to Charisma Man in academic journals dissecting cross-cultural aspects of Asian studies,” Rodney says. “Years after I moved back to Canada and forgot all about the character, I mentioned to some guy who used to live in Japan that I invented Charisma Man. He shook my hand like I was Mick Jagger.”

There were some critics. One reader of the 2002 collection complained that the entire strip was one joke repeated.

“I loved that,” Garscadden says, “because that’s exactly what Western Woman would say about Charisma Man.”

Garscadden, 43, from Dayton, Ohio, says he recently called Rodney about reviving the character: “I just said, it would be stupid to let this guy die.” Under the new arrangement, Rodney will write the strip and Garscadden will edit.

“I’m already thinking of new directions,” Rodney says. “There might be a new foil other than Western Woman — a new sexy Western Man who threatens to usurp Charisma Man’s powers.

“That would be his worst nightmare.”



Discussion: What do you think about special discounts for NJ?


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Hi Blog.  The Community yahoogroup has been having an interesting discussion about “positive discrimination”, where NJ actually get special treatment or discounts for being foreign.  What do readers of Debito.org think about that?

Here are some posts from The Community developing the issue.  Comments?  Debito

Just wanted to pass along a very nice thing that happened today —
went out to a cafe here in Fukui with my family for lunch and was
surprised to find a sign in English at the register reading “10%
discount to all foreigners”.  Although the discount is nice, it’s even
nicer to see a shop going out of its way to open itself up to NJs,
especially in a conservative prefecture like Fukui.  It’s the first
time I’ve seen anything of the sort expressly written out as a sort of
store policy, so it was definitely a nice experience.  The food was
good, too.  😉

I doubt any other community members will ever get the chance to go
there, but just to give credit where it’s due, here is a link to the


Although the foreigner-friendly sentiment may be admirable, do people really approve of differential pricing depending on nationality?

That said, someone recently insisted on taking the tax off something I bought in a tourist-oriented shop in Kyoto, even though I was not taking it abroad. I didn’t complain too hard!

If I noticed a shop nearby that was giving discounts to foreigners and they had items I needed, I wouldn’t hesitate to go there.

It does however beg the question of how they define foreign and how
they determine foreignness. Would zainichi Koreans be included here,
and are they asking for ID or are they just basing it off appearances?
How about the likes of Debito and myself, [both naturalized citizens]?

I think your sympathy with the people who try to be foreigner friendly
is as well intentioned as the people who make those efforts.

To try and convey the feeling, instead of just the principle, of what
I’m talking about, I’d like to relate an anecdote.

There used to be a club in Roppongi called “Vanilla”. And they gave out
tickets that said:

“with this ticket, 1.000 yen/2d
Foreigners & Women use only”

As anyone who has gone clubbing in Roppongi, 1000 yen for two drinks and
admission is a pretty sweet deal.

So I showed up with some people, a mixed crowd of some Japanese, some
foreigners, some men, some women. Two of the men were non-Japanese Asians.

At first the women at the front counter would not accept the tickets
from the Asian men. But, as you suggested a person could do, they then
provided their “gaijin cards”.

And the women *still* checked with the managers to make sure it was all

The distinct feeling we got was that the idea of the foreigners discount
was that they had an image of what being a foreigner who goes to a club
is like. They wanted the kind of young and cool black American you might
see in a rap video, or a tragically hip white DJ-type you might see at a
rave in London.

In other words, yes, my friends could prove they were, in fact, foreign
and eligible for the discount.

But they sure didn’t feel great about having to confront the feeling
they got from the club, which could be described as “Oh… when we said
‘foreigners’, we didn’t mean *you*, but, I guess we have to let you in

I understand the sentiment here, but we accept ladies’ day at the cinema and
senior discounts or children’s discounts in a number of places.  I think any
effort to be foreigner-friendly (as opposed to foreigner-suspicious or
foreigner-hostile) should be accepted with the good will with which it was

If you are an Asian foreigner and want the good discount, you could flash
your alien registration card.  If you are a “foreign”-looking Japanese
national you could of course refuse the discount, but aren’t there times
when nice manners and accepting people’s attempts to be friendly trump
politics?  It might even be a funny teachable moment:  “I know I look
foreign, but I’m actually Japanese.  Can I still have the discount?  [LOL].”

I’m all for challenging rude and hostile treatment of foreigners (or
anyone), but I do fail to see what we gain by rejecting on “principle”
people’s attempts to reach out in kindness.

I think the reason senior and student discounts exist is because of the
general societal consensus that those people don’t have as much
disposable income as the working middle class. We respect that students
are working for future contribution, and seniors have given us past
contribution. So we cut them some slack.

With situations such as ladies night at clubs or movies, it’s marketing.
If the women come, the men will follow.

So the question then comes back to us as, do we want to be seen as
disadvantaged (like seniors with fixed incomes) or a marketing tool
(like women getting half price at a bar).

Personally, I think both of those perceptions keep us viewed as
separate. In the short term they are well intentioned and harmless in
any one specific case. But the more situations where foreigners get
privilege for being foreign will keep Japanese seeing us as some kind of

Yes, very well stated. That is really almost precisely the way I felt in reading about this. I’m sort of torn between, on one way, a desire to applaud somebody’s attempt to be kind, but at the same time concerned about the very fact that people of a different nationality are seen as either objects of discrimination or privilege. I understand the sort of “duty free” treatment of tourists, because there it is very much a question of purpose of travel rather than nationality, but when the store also gives special treatment to foreigners who are basically members of the Japanese community (in general, I watch Japanese politics more closely than American politics), then I think it requires some thinking.

TIME Magazine on McDonald’s “Mr James” Campaign


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Hi Blog.  The “Mr James” issue even made TIME Magazine a few days ago.  Starts off fine, then skates into the territory of Straw Men and Silly Arguments (“unclean”?  Even I said this argument was silly when asked about it over the phone).  The last paragraph (“The “cute and unthreatening” American who eagerly returns to Japan with his daughter and is driven by a hunger to eat the same burger he ate in his youth … is as much an affirmation of Japanese food by McDonald’s Japan as it is unbelievable and unrealistic as a narrative. That’s why it’s a commercial campaign.” Really?) I just don’t get, no matter how many times I read it, sorry.  If someone could reinterpret that paragraph for me, I would appreciate it.

Anyway, thanks for covering the issue, Ms Masters.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Not Everyone Is Lovin’ Japan’s New McDonald’s Mascot

TIME Magazine, Monday, Aug. 24, 2009

Mr. James is lovin’ being back in Japan. The exuberantly geeky American mascot of McDonald’s Japan latest ad campaign oohs and aahs over fireworks. His smile beams from his cardboard cutouts outside McDonald’s establishments across the country.

But a growing number of non-Japanese who live in Japan are decidedly not lovin’ Mr. James. In a country known for its small foreign-born population — only 1.5% of 127 million — and restrictive immigration and naturalization policies, the new envoy for McDonald’s Japan is creating a stir among non-Japanese residents.

A doppelganger of Steve Carell’s 40-Year-Old Virgin with glasses, Mr. James is a character invented by Japanese advertising behemoth Dentsu and McDonald’s Japan for its new burger line — the “Nippon All Stars” — campaign. The purpose of the campaign, running Aug. 10 to Nov. 5, is to promote four burgers available only in Japan. On his blog, found on the McDonald’s Japan website, Mr. James describes himself as a 43-year-old Japanophile born in Ohio with a penchant for travel, who, when particularly excited, generously treats people he doesn’t even know. (That seems to be a plug for the $1,000 cash prizes for 1,000 people who submit photos of Mr. James or people imitating Mr. James.)

But elsewhere, Mr. James, dressed in his buttoned-up red polo shirt, tie and khakis, is seen as playing to Japan’s xenophobic tendencies. Annoyed expats have described the character as “white, dorky” and speaking “mangled Japanese.” The chair of The Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens’ Association of Japan, Arudo Debito — a naturalized Japanese citizen born David Aldwinckle — has officially protested the Mr. James campaign with a letter to McDonald’s Corporation headquarters in Illinois. Soon after the ads started to roll out, somebody set up an “I hate Mr. James” Facebook group, which now has 67 members.

Debito considers the characterization of “a clumsy sycophantic ‘nerd'” an embarrassment. “If this were in a different country, and we had a Japanese in a [summer kimono] and [wooden sandals] saying ‘Me like Mcflied lice, please eato,’ we’d have the same sort of anti-defamation league speaking out and saying this is disparaging to Asians or Japanese,” says Debito. He says the campaign’s portrayal of non-Japanese as “unquestioningly supportive and culturally ignorant” will only make life more difficult for foreigners in Japan.

On his blog, Mr. James posts travel plans — to places, such as Kyushu, where he visits McDonald’s restaurants — and ruminates about his favorite burgers. He bungles his attempts at written Japanese, and mispronounces words with a staccato-like butchering of the language. One online video shows him talking to himself while practicing from a phrasebook, proclaiming “horenso” (spinach) with a gesture. Mr. James has appeared in two commercials since the campaign began, in which he also mistakes words, for instance, yelling “tamago” (egg) in Japanese instead of a similar sounding word “tamaya”, which is shouted during fireworks.

McDonalds Japan spokesman Junichi Kawaminami says that there is no official response to criticism of the Mr. James campaign [UPDATE:  READ OFFICIAL RESPONSE HERE]. He does, however, explain the story of the character, which appears in the first commercial. “Mr. James’s daughter was determined to go to Japan and study and so he looked at maps and got excited to go with her,” says Kawaminami. “Once he found out that McDonald’s was offering the Tamago Double Mac, it became the deciding factor.” Why? It was on the McDonald’s Japan menu years ago and became Mr. James’s favorite when he was a student in Japan. That, says Kawaminami, is when Mr. James became a great fan of Japanese culture and food.

Some of the Mr. James criticism, however, seems a little thin. One comment on Facebook says that because Mr. James wears the same clothes everyday in August might suggest that foreigners are “unclean.” If we’re going to look at the clothing choices of fast food icons, it seems fair to point out that Ronald McDonald and Col. Sanders have been wearing their famous uniforms for half a century. There’s no doubt that the spectacle of the foreigner in Japan is an everyday occurrence in media. A foreigner’s response that he or she can use chopsticks or enjoys raw fish is met with smiles and amazement because — in some ways — affirmation of Japanese culture is stronger when it comes from outside, or is a non-Japanese perspective. But there is certainly no shortage of elegant, articulate Japanese-speaking foreigners in local media, from morning television programs to magazine advertisements for Japanese products.

The “cute and unthreatening” American who eagerly returns to Japan with his daughter and is driven by a hunger to eat the same burger he ate in his youth — basically a double Big Mac with an egg on it — is as much an affirmation of Japanese food by McDonald’s Japan as it is unbelievable and unrealistic as a narrative. That’s why it’s a commercial campaign. To protest Mr. James as a stereotype of a minority population in Japan because the Ohio-native fails to speak or write Japanese fluently, dresses like a nerd and blogs about burgers only ends up underscoring the fact that there really aren’t a lot of foreigners who fit the bill running around Japan. For most foreigners in Japan who know no one like that — and who only see a burger mascot — it begs the question: Where’s the beef?


SITYS: Japan Times confirms that 74-year-old tourist WAS indeed incarcerated for 10 days for carrying a pocket knife


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Hi Blog.  After a very nasty discussion on Debito.org last month, regarding the validity of a story by Brian Hedge that a 74-year-old tourist was incarcerated for more than a week just for holding a pocket knife, the Japan Times has come through (The only media to bother — subscribe to the paper, everyone!  Who else you gonna call?) and confirmed that it actually did happen.

It sure would be nice for the anonymous nasties who raked people over the coals to capitulate now.  How ’bout it?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009
Tourist’s 10-day detention rapped
Lawyers say elderly American should never have been jailed for holding small pocketknife
By MINORU MATSUTANI Staff writer (excerpt)


It all started when an American tourist asked a police officer for directions to the Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

The Californian, 74, could never have imagined the officer would reply to his question with: “Do you have a knife?”

He could never have dreamed, either, that his possession of a pocketknife, which he calls a “customary personal item,” would be illegal in Japan and lead to 10 nights in detention, the man told The Japan Times during a recent interview.

“It was unpleasant and disappointing,” he said.

The actions by police, including asking the man if he was carrying a knife, are questionable, lawyers said.

In particular, they say 10 days in detention is problematic — although unfortunately in Japan not uncommon.

“I seriously doubt the man needed to be detained at all,” said lawyer Kazuharu Suga, who has been assigned to defend the American.
“Police should have confiscated the knife and released him after getting answers for why he came to Japan, where and how long he plans to stay in Japan and how he got the knife,” Suga said.

“Unfortunately, in cases like this, 10 days of detention is not unusual,” he said, adding that a foreigner could be held longer if police have linguistic trouble communicating with the suspect…

Rest of the article at:

The Japan Times Community Page ran a series of responses on Tuesday from readers, many outraged, by this treatment. Here they are:

One pocket knife, nine days’ lockup
Following are a selection of readers’ responses to the July 28 Hotline to Nagatacho column headlined “Pocket knife lands tourist, 74, in lockup.”
The Japan Times Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009


“Truly a horror story…”

Rest at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090825hs.html


McDonald’s Japan CR Director Kawaminami Junichi responds to FRANCA


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

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

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

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



Reuters THE GREAT DEBATE column on how this election in Japan just might change everything


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Hi Blog. I was asked by Reuters to write a little something at the end of last month. This popped out in a little more than 45 minutes. Felt good, hope it reads well and rings true. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

06:58 August 25th, 2009

Japan: The election that might change everything
By: Arudou Debito

– Arudou Debito, is a columnist for the Japan Times, activist, blogger at debito.org, and Chair of the NPO Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association. The opinions expressed are his own –

Japan’s famous mantra is that things don’t change much or very quickly. But I have a feeling that this approaching Lower House parliamentary election on August 30 just might prove that wrong.

But first some background. Japan has been ruled essentially by one party since the end of World War II — the Liberal Democrats (LDP). That’s longer than in any other liberal democracy, competing with other countries that have no other parties to choose from.

There are many theories as to why that happened. Some might insist that risk-averse Japanese weren’t ready to tamper with the status quo, when economic growth was running so smoothly between 1950 and 1990, and everyone was feeling prosperous.

But that theory breaks down when you realize that Japan is the only developed economy which actually SHRANK on average over the past twenty years. If prosperity breeds contentment, two decades is enough time to voters make the elected feel their winter of discontent.

I believe there just hasn’t been a viable opposition party until now. The previous #2 party for most of the postwar era, the Socialists, were essentially a one-issue group, holding just enough seats to block any revisions to Japan’s “Peace Constitution”. They succeeded. Our peacetime constitution has never been amended.

But the Socialists imploded in 1995 when their leader made a Faustian bargain to take power briefly from the LDP. Ineptitude and three decades of opposition politics soon tripped them up, and the LDP was back in power within a year.

Arising from the ashes, eventually, was the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which eventually convinced enough voters that it wasn’t going to similarly implode. It’s only taken 15 years and a lot of horse trading (and some years holding the basically powerless Upper House) before it proved itself a viable second party.

It really proved itself earlier this July, when it ambushed the LDP in the Tokyo Government elections. For the first time in 40 years, Japan’s largest city has the opposition in control. This is riding the wave of a shambolic LDP, with three disastrous (and unelected) prime ministers after the famously-charismatic Koizumi. The current PM, Aso, is essentially an oblivious political Brahmin, who has made it clear that his only claim to power is his personal sense of entitlement. Tellingly, he has refused to give up the LDP leadership even after the July ambush, and is driving his party into the ground.

It is now clear how deep the rot runs. A near-majority of people in the LDP hold “inherited seats”, meaning they are sons, daughters, or blood relatives of former Dietmembers — some for several unbroken generations. This degree of cosy entitlement has only encouraged more elitism, rot, and preservation of a status quo that is long run out of excuses for Japan’s relative lack of prosperity. The LDP are the party resisting change, and the only weapon they have left in their arsenal is that you can’t trust the opposition party because it’s never held the reins. But that fear by circular logic isn’t selling this time.

I think, as do most people, that we will have a change of government, with the DPJ taking power in September. Will it change anything, however?

It just might. The DPJ Manifesto (They were the party that started this earlier this decade. How revolutionary! Making your policies clear to the voter!) is already out and it’s saying some pretty ambitious things. Paying families sizable amounts to support their children. Making schools up to junior high free. Making our toll highways free. Breaking the stranglehold the bureaucrats have over our policymaking levers. And quite a bit more that is ambitious if not a bit vague. (But that’s quite normal.) According to my backdoor channels, there’s even the promise of the DPJ facing up to the task of dealing with Japan’s decreasing population by broaching that taboo topic (until after the election) — loosening up the borders to let more immigration happen! That would mean EVERYTHING changes!

Many of these may turn out to be merely political promises, of course. But they’re still better than anything the LDP has come up with, and the DPJ is setting the agenda for this election. Being in control of the debate is a good thing. And it has had the intended effect. Although a month is a long time in politics, I think at this time the attitude is, “Well, why not give the DPJ a try? Can they really do all that worse than the LDP are doing now?”

I am an American-born naturalized citizen of Japan. Have been for nearly a decade now. I’ve voted in several elections. This is the one I’m most looking forward to.

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


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

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


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

2) Justin commented to Debito.org:

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

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

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

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

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

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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


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

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

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

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

From the food tray inserts:


From stickers on every table:


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


Close up of the cutout:


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


As Submitter AP put it:


Subject: mcdonalds ads feature gaijin “MR. JAMES”


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

The Economist Banyan column on the LDP’s terminal decline


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Hi Blog.  The election is approaching, and it looks as though we really will get a change in government, which may change everything.  I’m surprisingly hopeful at this juncture.  To open this discussion, here’s a column from last month’s Economist, a very thought-provoking one on what one-party politics (in that, Japan has effectively had one political party in power longer than some countries with only one political party!) has done to Japan as a society.

The most eyebrow-raising claim within is that Aso isn’t giving up his leadership to somebody else because of a “family honour” thing — between him and another political Brahmin, even if he is in the opposition party:  “The man who will bring the LDP’s rule to an end this summer is Hatoyama’s grandson, Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the DPJ. Family honour is demanding its due: for Shigeru Yoshida’s grandson, it is nobler to fall to Ichiro Hatoyama’s descendant than to succumb to mere LDP hoplites.” Do readers agree?

Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Banyan Column
End of the line for the LDP
Jul 16th 2009
From The Economist print edition


Japan has long been changing faster than its Liberal Democratic Party, which is now in terminal decline

HIS distraught colleagues cannot forgive Taro Aso for calling a general election on August 30th, following a dismal stint as prime minister. They accuse him of setting up the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) for a landslide victory, so bringing the long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to an abrupt and ignominious end.

Yet the question is not why the LDP’s rule looks about to end soon. Rather it is how on earth the party managed to cling on to power for so long. A once-invincible party failed to adapt to wholesale changes in the social and economic model that it was set up to manage. If its 54-year rule really does come to a halt, that fact alone will confront both party and country with wrenching change and unprecedented uncertainty.

Few things more powerfully demonstrate the inbred character of LDP-dominated politics than its family background. Mr Aso’s grandfather, Shigeru Yoshida, was the great statesman of shattered Japan’s post-war reconstruction. Yoshida’s rule came to an end in 1954 when he was unseated as prime minister by his nemesis, Ichiro Hatoyama. The next year the two men joined forces and the Liberal Party merged with the Japan Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated Japan’s politics ever since. The man who will bring the LDP’s rule to an end this summer is Hatoyama’s grandson, Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the DPJ. Family honour is demanding its due: for Shigeru Yoshida’s grandson, it is nobler to fall to Ichiro Hatoyama’s descendant than to succumb to mere LDP hoplites. In any case, Mr Aso knows no one can save his party now.

That is because its history runs so deep. Old Hatoyama and Yoshida formed the LDP as a bulwark against resurgent socialist parties and the political system they devised seems expressly designed to resist change. The American occupiers had anyway pushed Japan in a conservative direction as early as 1948, when the risk of communist revolution in Japan and China—to say nothing of the Soviet threat—had come to be seen as a greater peril than militarism. The Korean war reinforced these priorities, while adding an economic dimension: the United States needed Japan’s economy to be humming again to help the war effort.

Thus developed Japan’s characteristic mix of anti-communist—even anti-civic—politics with state-directed development and policy set by bureaucrats. Yoshida founded the Ministry for International Trade and Industry, MITI, whose bureaucrats were famously powerful. Trust-busting efforts were quickly wound down after the second world war. Oligopolies—in the form of the former zaibatsu conglomerates—were supported, even if they had been implicated in Japanese aggression. A man accused of war crimes became a notable post-war prime minister and Yakuza gang bosses consorted with top politicians and helped put down left-wing protests. The political and bureaucratic system was solidly made and has lasted, like so many things in Japan. But its origins, and its effects on Japan, were ultimately rotten.

In some countries—Italy, say—incestuous politics is resented, mocked or circumvented by the rest of the country. During Japan’s boom years, it seemed to be delivering the goods. Outside the radical left, most Japanese were bought off by a social contract in which politicians, bureaucrats and big business arranged the country’s economic affairs. Businesses won preferential finance and in return offered “salarymen” job guarantees and the dream of a middle-class life. But the contract could be honoured only with high rates of growth, and the oil shocks of the early 1970s put paid to these.

Perhaps this might have been the end of the LDP, but political competition had been so stifled that there was nothing to take the party’s place. Instead, the crisis of the 1970s led to a steep rise in corruption. Factional competition within the party increased. Fund-raising skills came to the fore (in Japan, like America, politicians mostly finance their own campaigns). So did the ability to fund public works in rural areas that were still the LDP’s base. Corruption cemented local baronies and for a good while won votes. Even today the late Kakuei Tanaka, an astonishingly corrupt prime minister, is more often praised than cursed.

The beginning of the end

A 19th-century Russian said that Europe’s democracies were moderated by corruption. Japan had corruption moderated by democracy. During the 1980s, the LDP managed to adapt itself somewhat to new political concerns, such as pollution and the success of issue-driven opposition figures in cities and prefectures. The party even lost power briefly in 1993 and, in 2001-06, a razzle-dazzle prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, seemed to be giving it a new lease on life.

But by the time Mr Koizumi came along, the tension had become intolerable between the change-resisting features of politics on the one hand, and the reality of profound economic and social upheaval on the other. Companies could no longer keep lifetime promises to workers yet the government failed to take over social-welfare obligations. Women wanted better work prospects yet ministers would refer to them as “breeding machines”. The demands of civic groups for more consumer protection were met grudgingly and late.

Now, the LDP has abandoned nearly all pretence at reform. Though the party has plenty of modernisers, many—notably the so-called Koizumi’s children—will be the first to be swept out on August 30th while the old guard may survive better because they have their own sources of funding and support. That the LDP is still so mired in the past shows both why its fall would be such an historic moment and why it would also be only the start of real change. The party was the keystone of a political system that has long been crumbling. To effect change means not just replacing the keystone but painstakingly rebuilding the arch.


On the cannibalistic NJ labor market in Japan: short essay


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Hi Blog. Felt inspired this morning by the pretty unproductive (if not downright nasty) comments Roy received to his post yesterday regarding his allegations of unfair treatment at the hands of a Japanese subsidiary of a US legal firm.


One tendency I’ve noticed in the NJ marketplace of ideas (the one inspired by the marketplace of labor everyone must experience; for without a job, you generally cannot even legally stay in Japan) is that people are not terribly helpful to one another. The responses to Roy’s post yesterday reconfirmed that.

He made the case that he received unfair, discriminatory treatment in the workplace as a NJ. However, respondents’ tone was often, “What did you expect?” They blamed it either on the state of the Japanese job market (where discrimination happens either to NJ in specific or across the board anyway), or blamed Roy himself — for being too trusting (as if it’s his fault for taking people at their word), or even for being too “combative” just because he was trying to pin people to their word.

Think about this dynamic, folks. This is counterproductive in a very serious way. In that, instead of trying to assist a person crying out for help, we’re assigning blame to him for being in that situation in the first place. Kinda like seeing somebody cross the street at a crosswalk, and getting hit by a car that promised to stop at crosswalks, then blaming him for being in the way of the car in the first place. He shouldn’t have left himself open for that. He shouldn’t have been a sucker to believe that a corporation would follow its own rules.

That’s the thing. Japan itself as a system doesn’t even have clear traffic rules. According to NHK about a month ago (I haven’t confirmed this for myself, so I haven’t written about this until now), Japan has not signed a single international labor treaty safeguarding the rights of workers. Laborers in this country are in a singular position in the developed-country labor market in that they have few rights (contracts defy what’s espoused in labor law and courts rule in the contractor’s favor regardless, labor arbitration councils make nonbinding rulings, even the right to equal salary despite gender is not backed up by punitive law). The only right they have is to unionize. And that requires cooperation amidst employees.

But instead of cooperation, we’re seeing (especially in the NJ labor market) the NJ refusing to help each other. They take the attitude of, “Well, it happened to me, I went through it. So should you.” or “It’s not your country anyway, so go home if you get a raw deal here.” or “It’s how the system works, it’s economics, politics, whatever.” Anything but preserving the dignity of the individual and saying, “That’s awful. I’ll spread the word that this place is to be avoided.”

Dignity is a hard concept to define (and most people find it too taxing to enforce, especially since they believe hard knocks is what toughened them up), but without it, humans revert to animalistic — even cannibalistic — tendencies very quickly. We eat our young. Yes, a hard knock or two will wizen people up from naivete. But too many hard knocks will just make them mean.

And this meanness permeates the NJ job market. “If something bad happened to you, it’s probably your fault. You were information poor and shouldn’t have been. You were culturally insensitive and brought it upon yourself. What did you expect? You shouldn’t have come to Japan in the first place.”

Why not try being more supportive and positive? I have tried to do my bit over the decades. The Blacklist of Japanese Universities. The Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants. Debito.org. Lessons I’ve learned to make sure people avoid the pitfalls I fell into, and make a better life here. Anyone can do that. Anyone should. Promote the dignity of the individual rather than the cannibalistic collective. Because whatever you put into the pool of communal experiences, be they supportively informative or negatively discouraging, will eventually come back to affect you and your life here in Japan with interest.

I suggest people go down the first path. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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


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

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


What gets my goat is:

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

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

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

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

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Teigaku Kyuufukin: Have you collected your 12,000 yen tax kickback yet?


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Hi Blog. Friend Olaf suggested to me yesterday that we ask readers of Debito.org how things are going with their collecting the Supplementary Income Payment (teigaku kyuufukin), the Aso Administration’s answer to financial stimulus (where every adult gets 12,000 yen, plus 8000 yen for oldies and dependents). And yes, NJ residents get it too, so if you haven’t yet received word from your local government with forms (see below), get in touch with your local ward office or town hall and get your kickback.

I got mine a couple of weeks ago (the Sapporo City Govt sent everyone’s by registered mail — just try to imagine the costs incurred the taxpayer) and sent it in last week. Still haven’t been paid yet, but how are things going for everyone else? How do you plan to spend your loot?

I still say we could have had more universal stimulus at a lot less administrative cost if we had just given people a holiday, for however long, from the 5% consumption tax. But I’m not a policymaker; what do I know?

Friend Ben sent me his forms from Shibuya-ku. They did a decent job of making things multilingual. But as he wrote to The Community last May, his app was rejected. As he put it:

Got the rejection letter today, my application was rejected for two reasons:

1 – The name on bank account card copy doesn’t match your cash card.
2 – Didn’t supply the required identification

So I decided to visit the ward office, I had to pay 2 tax bills anyhow and it was located in the same building.

Paid the tax bills and ask where I could find the supplement payment office. People in the tax office on the 3rd floor had no idea where it was, they huddled around in a group of 6 people trying to figure out where this office was. One lady said, “oh it’s in the basement on the building, in the far other side of the building”. Three of the 6 people people started saying, oh, I never been there before.

So headed down to the B1 area, and sure enough in the most far corner of the building, there was this 100m2 office with 8 workers and a boss in the far corner in the back left. They had 6 chair type booths to handle inquiries.

Walked in the office and I was the only customer. This lady stands up and says in perfect English, may I help you? I showed her the rejection letter. She walks away to talk to the boss in the corner and them comes back.

The name written down as your bank details is in romaji, however the copy of the cash card you provided is in katakana.

my response – Yes, my legal name is in romaji, however they print katakana on the cash card. I think your cash card is the same situation. For example, your name is in kanji, did the bank print kanji on your cash card? She stops for a second and thinks, no my cash card has katakana. I said, there you go, me too, how strange…

So she runs off to the boss again and explains. Then she comes back, well that’s OK then, however the real problem is with the second issue, you didn’t provide a copy of your alien registration card. I said, I gave you a copy of my drivers license, that should be enough. I have lived 15+ years in Japan and I have never given a copy of my alien registration card.

She runs over to the boss again and now the boss and her are at the booth now. She continues to explain I need to prove if I am legally living in Japan to claim the 12,000 yen. So I offered to show my alien registration card, however they are not permitted to make a copy. The boss and the lady chit-chat away for 30 seconds and agree I can show my alien registration card only and this should clear up the paperwork.

That was it, in and out of that supplement payment office in 5 minutes. Had to do nothing, no corrections to the paperwork, no copy of my alien registration card, etc.

If you don’t want to give out a copy of your alien registration card, you will most likely have to visit your city/ward office. But the bank account thing was crazy, not sure what they were thinking.

How have others fared? Any other bureaucratic SNAFUs?

Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Anonymous re Scott Tucker, killed in a Tokyo bar by a man who got a suspended sentence.


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Hi Blog. I wrote here about Scott Tucker, a man who was killed in a bar by a DJ in 2008 who got off lightly in Japanese court.

Background article here: http://www.debito.org/?p=2060

And my Japan Times article last March about the emerging double standards of justice (a suspended sentence for a murder? Hard to envision happening for many NJ if the situations were reversed):


Here’s some background from the victim from a friend of his. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


About Scott Tucker…
By Anonymous

Debito.org, June 16, 2009

Hello Debito,

I have many friends who are permanent residents of Japan, and I suppose I came very close to being one of them myself, as I have a long and endearing relationship with the country–and like most permanent residents, had an emotional relationship with a Japanese National which was stronger, shall we say, than international bonds… I lived in Japan from infancy until I was six, and returned after college to work for many years in Tokyo. I applaud your site and your efforts, and wish you the very best in your ongoing pursuits.

I am writing about the unfortunate incident involving “Scott” Tucker, the American businessman who was killed in the Azabu club “Bull Ett” (Bullet) last year. I have read the many comments, and the attached links, and somehow I feel compelled to say a bit more on the subject–though certainly I do not claim to be an expert regarding what exactly took place at the club that night. What follows is my “read-between-the-lines” take on what likely happened, with regrets…

Scott Tucker was a multimillionaire. This simple fact doesn’t seem to percolate through the many official accounts of the incident; Scotty is portrayed as some disaffected gaijin who was inebriated and belligerent, wandered into some club, and accidentally received a fatal choke-hold from the concerned and threatened disk-jockey on duty at the time–hence the probationary sentence for murder… A few articles mention that Scotty owned the building next door to the club where the incident took place; they do not mention Tokyo city ordinances regarding noise, or the operation of commercial businesses, or discos, which create noise, after midnight in that particular neighborhood: that club was in Nishi-Azabu, Tokyo, the most expensive real estate, per square meter, in the world. If he had chosen, Scott could have lived on Park Avenue, New York, or along the Champs Elysees, in Paris. He could have lived anywhere he chose, but he chose Tokyo, because of the low crime rate and his affinity for Japan and its culture. His wife was one of the most famous jewelry designers in Japan. He spoke beautifully fluent Japanese–another fact not found in most accounts–and he was a great fan of music, with an exceptional singing voice and rather discerning, and eclectic, musical tastes. He was not some angry foreign English teacher who wandered into a club and got past the security bouncers; he was a property owner who had had enough of the club operating illegally next door to his property. This is a crucial detail: Tokyo city ordinance prohibits loud music and club function in that residential section of Azabu after midnight, as it is a residential neighborhood. The club was functioning “After Hours” in blatant violation of city ordinance–an ordinance which was neither enforced nor cited. Again, Scotty OWNED the building next door; he was not some yahoo foreigner wandering into a club looking for a fight. Take a moment to reflect on that, as most of you do not own anything in Japan, not to mention a building in Azabu; if you are lucky enough to own some crap mansion in Chiba, and the Takoyaki shop beneath you insists on entertaining drunk patrons headed for the first train, you have probably gone downstairs–at your wife’s behest–and said “Hey, fuck! It’s three o’clock in the morning! Close it down and shut up!”

On a classier, more expensive scale, Scotty was doing the same thing…

So, Scott comes home, after a night of Japanese-style drinking with his friends. His building is shaking from the sounds of a club operating illegally after-hours next door to him. He has a history with that club, and with the DJ (per written accounts), having asked, on several occasions, that they keep it down, as city ordinances dictated. So, he goes next door, feeling justified–which, quite frankly, he is (and I don’t suppose you’ll ever read that in any official account). He wants the people out of there, wants the music shut down, and wants some peace and quiet in his own building next door (again, which he OWNS). The DJ, who is on his midnight roll, sees Scott scattering the crowd and insisting people go home, gets pissed (and, by his own admission, having seen a tv program on choke-holds and special forces moves), leaves his Disk Jockey box, comes up behind Scott, kicks him in the groin (there is no clear account of him actually facing off with Scott, meaning it is likely he kicked him in the “Groin” from behind, got him in the chokehold from behind–the choke hold he recently he saw on tv–and accidentally broke Scott’s windpipe, or snapped his neck? (the original account said Scott’s neck was broken). I have been to so many Tokyo clubs it is not worth trying to recount; I am 6’1 and 240 pounds, and fit: I have ejected American marines and military personnel from clubs I like for behaving in a manner I didn’t like, clubs I considered my local favourites, where other foreigners were ruining my good time, or embarrassing me in front of my Japanese friends. I never, ever, in my wildest youthful belligerence, saw the wimpy disk jockey come out of his booth and take a personal stake in the ejection of a patron. Quite the contrary, frankly.

Now, this is why I’m writing this addendum. Clearly, I knew Scott Tucker. I knew him very well. I drank with him, Japanese-style, at least a hundred times. We drank beer, we ate very good sushi and drank sake; we drank expensive whiskey most foreigners couldn’t, or wouldn’t afford–in keep bottles at very nice, exclusive clubs and snacks in central Tokyo. I never, ever, ever, saw Scott Tucker get belligerent. I never saw him get argumentative, even after polishing off a full bottle, with my help, of pricey Japanese whiskey. The implication that somehow, because of his drunkenness, he was threatening enough to pose a danger to a 154-pound disk jockey is so absurd that it leaves me livid. If I were there, and I were tanked up, and the disk jockey decided to come down and take charge of things, it would make sense. I am not a diplomat: when I’m drunk and unhappy and things are waxing ridiculous, I will throw a few people around. But Scotty, no. No, I’m sorry. Whatever the official account, he was a diplomat. Again, I never saw him belligerent, ever, and I knew him for many, many, years. This is what bothers me about the whole “Official” account; it is simply not accurate, and is stilted towards character assassination and implication that is wholly unjustified and clearly driven by agenda. To think that someone can get a probationary sentence for what amounts to ‘sucker-punching’ a neighbor to death just rubs me the wrong way. It doesn’t surprise me–as I say, I spent the better part of my life in Japan, and I never assumed for a moment that justice would err in my favour were I to be caught out for an indiscretion–but I feel compelled to to say something on Scotty’s behalf.

I feel compelled for this reason: were a wealthy Japanese property owner from Azabu, with a famous, elegant wife, to go into a club next door, a club operating in violation of city ordinance, and get into a row with the owners, or the disk jockey, and be killed–and were that disk jockey to be a non-Japanese–the media would have a field day with it. And were the non-Japanese disk jockey–an American, or a Brit, or an African– to claim he had asphyxiated the wealthy Japanese neighbor out of fear or his own life–he would be hung from the highest tree in Japan, on national tv, as a murderer, and a fiend, and a crazed violent foreign interloper. But if it’s just a guy who blindsided Scotty, by all means, give him a suspended probationary sentence. A simple self-defense accident. The whole thing is kawaii-soo. And, in fact, as I sit here in California, thinking about Scott Tucker, my old friend, the whole incident is indeed Kawaii soo.

When you click on a Quicktime video and watch it in Japan, you are clicking on Scott Tucker; he pioneered that app. in Japan. If you have a serious internal medical problem, and must receive surgery for it in Japan, it is possible your life will be saved by Scott Tucker–he developed distance software for medical applications, so that a qualified surgeon–rather than the hereditary fool with lax training who is cutting you open in Saitama–can supervise in real-time from abroad, and oversee the procedure with modern surgical techniques. Please do not forget that a 154-pound disk jockey, with a baddass attitude and a few Chimpira behind him, skirting the local and ineffectual police, put an end to any other innovations my talented and gentle friend, who loved Japan, might ever develop. That is who Scott Tucker was, that is what was lost when Mr. disk jockey got his suspended sentence. Hell, it’s almost a Bob Dylan song, and no one would laugh louder at the absurdity of it all than Richard Scott Tucker. He had a good sense of humor, most of all. And I will miss him.

Zannen na kotodeshita, Scotty San, kawaii soo to omoo… Ma, shoganaii, yo ne? Shoganaii…


Follow-up: More on fingerprinting, tracking people electronically, and RFID technology


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

Hi Blog.  Update Three this week.  I put out an article three weeks ago that sparked some controversy, about the prospects of the new Gaijin Cards with IC Chips within them being used to track people and ferret out the foreigners with more effectiveness than ever before.  I was accused of scaremongering by some, but oh well.

As a followup, here are some responses and links to germane articles from cyberspace, pointing out how my prognostications may in fact be grounded in reality.  Along with a critique at the very bottom from friend Jon Heese, Tsukuba City Assemblyman, of that controversial article.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Hi Debito:

Saw these two articles and thought I’d pass them along so that you’re up to date with what nonsense the DHS is up to these days:

Homeland Security to scan fingerprints of travelers exiting the US

Be sure to read the part about the RFID ‘gaijin’ card.

Cancer patient held at airport for missing fingerprint

Welcome to America, Mr. Tan! Sheesh!  -JK


Japanese university to track attendance with iPhone

As a college student I frequently didn’t go to class when I overslept, when I didn’t feel like it, or heck, when it was Friday. I’m imagining that Japanese students are the same. That’s why Aoyama Gakuin University‘s new plan to keep its students in line is pretty freakin’ clever—possibly even bordering on devious.

Reuters, this June all of the university’s 550 students, and some staff in one unnamed department, will receive a free iPhone 3G. Instead of teachers taking attendance, students are asked to input their ID number into an iPhone app—and to discourage fraud, this app apparently has GPS location data and monitors which Internet router students use.

Of course, knowing the lengths students will go to in order to avoid attending class, it wouldn’t be too surprising to find they’d discovered a way around the system. If only they devoted that much time to their schoolwork.

Further the university apparently is going to also be providing video podcasts of lectures, something American universities have been doing for years. No word yet on if they’re going to be making AGU’s material available on iTunes U.



Debito, feel free to use this in the comments section or just for yourself. As you please. -jon heese

Quoting Debito’s controversial article three weeks ago:

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

It also means that anyone with access to IC chip scanners (they’re going cheap online) could possibly swipe your information. Happy to have your biometric information in the hands of thieves?

God, Debito, you sure do go on. There are plenty of products available to block remote scanning. Googling “rfid protection” got me the link below.


Personally, I’m rather pissed at the lemming-like acceptance of very dodgy tech in a normally tech-savvy country. There is a company in California which makes a RFID card which has a break in the circuit between the chip and the antenna. Pressing a small bubble in the corner of the card completes the circuit but only when you want the info to be read.

Some Canadian provinces have put their implementation of chips on drivers licenses on hold until the privacy issues are properly dealt with. Why are the provinces even trying to force their citizenry to accept RFID’s in their driving licenses? Why goodness, it’s because the US of F-ing A is forcing them to! So if yer gonna clamp on your tinfoil hat, direct your ire towards the source of the problem, not the Japanese who have been cajoled into this by big brother. And BTW, my new drivers license also has a chip. So it’s not just the poor NJ’s who are being put at risk. This is a much bigger issue than a few foreigners getting screwed over.

RFID’s are small potatoes. As far as tracking, though, you are not gripping your hat tight enough. I would point out that your cell phone is actually much better to track you than a chip. An RFID reader is only really useful within 10 feet. Cell phones know where you are at all times. Anyone with the right access can pinpoint you anywhere in the world.

I would also point out that it’s also a great remote listening device. The NSA may have the ability to turn on your microphone without you even knowing it and broadcast anything being said. And turning your phone off may not be enough. Not even taking out the battery! Phones already have built in batteries which normally only provide juice to preserve your data, like the clock and address book, etc. However, there is no reason to not believe that such internal batteries could just as easily power the microphone for short periods. So grab your foil hat tight and wrap your curls in triple layers for extra protection.

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

I’m with you on this one. However when it comes to abuses, Japan is still a tamago. Just listen to a few NPR podcasts to get a feel of what it’s like “out there.” 怖いよ!

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

Though the police have a central control, most cops are of the prefectural variety. Not nearly as ominous as you make out.

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

This is over the top. Shame on you! Besides, it’s not like us Pilsbury dough boys even need stars to be spotted in a crowd.

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

Japan just gets curiouser and curiouser. I am so looking forward to voting in this coming election. But don’t expect the RFID issue to go away. The USA won’t let them.


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


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog.  I’ve been in Tokyo the past couple of days attending a symposium sponsored by the German Institute of Japanese Studies (DIJ), which has, as always, provided much food for thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trans-Pacific Radio’s Live Seijigiri June 4 7:30 PM Shibuya Pink Cow


Hi Blog.  Friends Ken and Garrett are organizing an event that is sure to inform if not entertain.  If you’ve ever listened to their podcasts (I do), you’ll know what I mean.  One week from now.  Come see them live.  I’ll try to attend myself.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Seijigiri live near the Budokan! Thursday June 4th at 7:30pm!
Posted by Ken Worsley at 1:45 pm on Wednesday, May 27, 2009


We are very excited to announce that the first live edition of Seijigiri will take place at the Pink Cow in Shibuya on Thursday, June 4 from about 7:30 p.m. This is part of the Pink Cow’s ongoing Pink Cow Connections, a series of networking events organized by Anthony Blick.

The event will open with a presentation on Trans-Pacific Radio, followed by the live Seijigiri. After that, there will be a special announcement and demonstration of TPR’s most recent project.

The live show itself will involve Garrett, Ken and the audience. The essential concept is that Seijigiri and the audience will have no barrier between them, and the show will be an interactive event.

We hope to see all of our listeners on Thursday June 4 and look forward to doing the show with you!  Bring your friends!

Ken and Garrett
Here’s the link for more info.


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


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Just a few thoughts on tonight’s TV Asahi program “TV Tackle”.

It was, in a word, disappointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Kirk Masden resuscitates debate on TV Asahi show KokoGaHen


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog.  Happy Saturday.  Word from Kirk Masden at The Community, regarding a dead but not forgotten controversial TV show called “Koko Ga Hen Da Yo, Nihonjin”.  Keyboard’s his:


Hi Community!

I posted a critique of Koko ga hen da yo (particularly one of the opening sequences they used) on YouTube:


It’s getting a stronger response than anything I’ve posted to YouTube thus far.  Much of the commentary is negative but the first three ratings it received were five stars.  Since then somebody who hates my  view of the show gave it a low rating so now the average is four  stars.  People seem to either love my critique or hate it — not much middle ground so far.

At any rate, if you’re interested in this show, please have a look —  and feel free to tell others with an interest in media critique about  it. Kirk



Thanks Kirk.  I watched the YouTube entry last night and was very intrigued by it, especially given our own experience being on the show, re the Otaru Onsens Lawsuit:

Transcript of the show at:


and my positive critique of the show in retrospect:

(page down to essay 8 )

I was also impressed with Kirk’s flawless accentless spoken Japanese, as always.  Gnash.



Hi everyone!

In regard to the timing of my post . . .

Actually, I’m posting to YouTube now because I didn’t have the
technical know-how to do so when I first recorded the show and started
showing parts of it in my comparative culture class.  I was
particularly bothered by the opening but lacked the ability to slow it
down appropriately to give people a chance to think about it.  Since
then, I’ve learned a bit more about video editing and so when I was
going through some old VHS tapes and found the Koko ga hen da yo
video, I could resist the temptation to make that kind of critique I
had been meaning to make for years.

What was interesting to me was the immediacy of the response.  There
must be a significant number of people who periodically search for
segments of that show on YouTube because my little video was found
immediately by a significant number of people.  Those who have rated
my critique on the five-star scale have, for the most part, been quite
generous but those who first found it and wrote comments were
decidedly negative.  I guess that had been searching for more videos
of their favorite show and didn’t appreciate negative comments about it.

So, in short, the show has been off the air for a long time but there
still seem to be a lot of people want to watch it on the web.  Kirk


What do others think?  Debito


Calderon Case: Two protesters against right-wing demo arrested, supporters group established


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Here’s a mail I got from The Community. Arudou Debito


This is an email I got through a left mailing list which describes a ‘Foreigner Expulsion’ demonstration that happened in Saitama, which passed right by the elementary school of the Philipino Calderon family whose case has recently come to national attention.

Apparently a ‘kyuuenkai’ (support group) has been set up for two people arrested protesting against the demo.

Here is their blog:


Here’s an example of the debate going on with the rightists.


More on this issue from FG:


—– Original Message —–
To: parkfw-info@yahoogroups.jp
Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 10:56 PM
Subject: [parkfw-info][02797] FW:「外国人追い出しデモ」に抗議した2名が逮捕!]














銀行振込 みずほ銀行 早稲田支店 店番068 普 2223022
タノ シンイチ


Japan Times on the Calderon Noriko Case: “The Battle for Japan’s Future”


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog.  David McNeill of the Japan Times makes an interesting point about the Calderon Noriko Case, where the parents of a Japan-born Philippine adolescent were forcibly repatriated for overstaying, but the adolescent is allowed to remain in Japan without her parents on a tenuous one-year visa.  It’s become an ideological tug-of-war between liberals (who want more humanistic immigration policies) and conservatives (who don’t want to encourage illegal-alien copycatting, and, yes, do resort to “purity of Japan” invective), in an inevitable and very necessary debate about Japan’s future.

The question that hasn’t been asked yet is, would these conservative protesters (see YouTube video of their nasty demonstration here, courtesy of Japan Probe) have the balls to do this to a 13-year-old girl if she were Japanese?  Somehow I doubt it.  I think they’re expecting to get away with their (in my view heartless) invective just because Noriko’s foreign.

Anyway, an excerpt of the JT article follows.  More on this issue from FG:


Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Tuesday, April 14, 2009





‘A battle for Japan’s future’

Calderon case fallout will linger long after parents’ departure, writes David McNeill

Despite being Japan’s most densely populated area, Warabi rarely causes a blip on the national media radar.

News photo
Fiery rhetoric: Makoto Sakurai tells nationalists in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, on Sunday to send Noriko Calderon “back to the Philippines.” DAVID MCNEILL PHOTOS

Set in a rusting corner of Saitama Prefecture, the city has two minor recent claims to fame: a communist mayor and the 13-year-old daughter of illegal Filipino immigrants.

An odd place perhaps for two groups with radically different visions of Japan to take to the streets, but this is where neo-nationalists and liberal opponents could be found slugging it out last weekend.

On one side, a party of nationalists crammed into a small park and listened to ringleader Makoto Sakurai, a rising new-right star who turns out for protests in a three-piece suit and watch chain.

“People in other countries are looking at this case very carefully,” Sakurai told the crowd to cheers of “Send illegal foreigners home!” “They see that we are a soft touch. If we allow this girl to stay, many more will come. It’s totally unacceptable.”…

Walking behind a van blasting out high-decibel venom at the local government, the Hinomaru-waving protesters filed noisily past Noriko’s junior high school. “Shame on Filipinos,” shouted one middle-aged man who held a sign saying: “Kick out the Calderons.” Takehiro Tanaka said they would be back every month until Noriko was put on a plane to Manila. “We can’t allow her to stay or foreigners will exploit our softness. It sends the wrong message to other countries.”…

Last month, the family’s six-month legal battle ended when Justice Minister Eisuke Mori gave Noriko a one-year special residence permit, allowing her to live with her aunt and continue school in this city. Her parents, Arlan and Sarah, who came to Japan in the early 1990s on false passports, were sent back to the Philippines on Monday…

Read the rest of the article at: 


See the protest for yourself on YouTube at:



Friend requests advice on how to approach JHS PTA, regarding repainting rundown school


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. Turning the keyboard over to my friend in the Hokkaido outback, who is asking us for feedback about how to approach his local junior high school and help create a more positive learning environment for his child. Those with experience or advice, please let us know? Arudou Debito in Sapporo, less outback

Dear Debito.org:

I’m looking for advice here. I went to my child’s JHS today for about the 4th time in the last year. Again I was struck and depressed by how dingy it looked. It got me to thinking that the kids don’t take pride in the place and this leads to and has led to a lot of serious problems.

I came home and wrote the following and am wondering if it or I can do any good. Can I translate this and say this, to the School and Principal? to the School Board?, to the Mayor?, publicly to the PTA at their general meeting in 2 weeks? Is it too rude? Could you say it more diplomatically? How? Would you? Could you? Does it have a chance of succeeding?


Please feel free to comment on any one of the paragraphs numbered below.

1. I am sorry to have to mention this and possibly I am sorry to use this sort of strong and possibly rude language. In English it is okay in Japanese I don’t know and most people prefer to keep quiet because they don’t want the reputation of being “noisy”

2. Last year when I heard that some students here did not respect this building and were damaging things my initial reaction was “why is anybody surprised?” In my opinion any damage here will not make this building look any worse than it does.

3. I don’t think you could find a school in the entire country of Canada whose walls and ceilings looked as bad as this school. This place is dingy. The sarcastic comment that most Canadian parents would make in this case would be:

4. Does anybody here in authority know what paint is?…It comes in tins and 20 liter pails…It costs about 500,000yen per ton…It is quickly put on by brush, roller, or spray…It is great for making buildings look fresh and bright and clean. 2 of the buildings I went to school in were over 60 years old. They didn’t look this bad because they were repainted at least every 10 years.

5. In my opinion the walls and ceilings in this school need cleaning, patching and a new paint job! If this happened a great number of students would take more pride in this building. Most of them would treat it with much greater respect. There would be massive group disapproval of any one deliberately or accidentally causing damage. It would pay off in much higher student morale and thus effort towards listening to teachers, paying attention in class, and caring about what is taught and trying to learn.

6. I don’t think this was a problem for any of the parents or teachers in this room when you went to school. You were much closer in time to when coming to school meant sacrifices. Maybe your parents or grandparents couldn’t go to school. Maybe someone in their family skipped meals so they or someone else in their family could go to school.

7. Another thing is that maybe when you went to school the buildings were much newer and looked much better.

I am also quite sure that almost all of your homes look better than this school and that none of you would be happy living in a house that looked like this school without trying very hard to make it look better.

8. It would also pay off in much higher teacher morale. Teachers would find their days less stressful and if student morale improved they would of course be much happier.

9. I think that the PTA should make the effort to start the ball rolling to paint this school. We should try to do this for the teachers who teach here, our children who spend so much time in class and clubs and for the children that come after them when they graduate. We should try even if we have to raise the money for paint, and volunteer a lot to help out in preparing the walls for paint and doing the cleanup. IMO it would show our children and their teachers how much we care about the value of education.


10. Towards this goal here is 20,000 yen.


Audience reactions to documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES roadshow March 21-April 1


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

Hi Blog.  I was asked a few days ago in the Comments Section to give you an update on how the documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES Spring Tour was going.  I’m in Okayama at the moment, fresh out of two screenings (one more to go, in Kumamoto), and a couple of hours in an internet cafe getting mentally prepared for an evening of partying, so here you go.   A quick summary:

First, the executive summary at the very top.  The response to this movie, about Japan’s hidden NJ migrant workers, has been remarkable.  I have never sold so many DVDs and books ever on a tour (we sold out so fast — you can buy your own copies by clicking on the avatars above — that I had to have my stocks replenished twice on the road by post).  Sixty DVDs and 40 books sold later, I think it’s prudent to plan yet another tour.  I’ll be working down at Nagoya University the second week of September, so that takes care of the airfare costs to and from Hokkaido.  For places that missed me this time, how about planning something late August/early September?  If you’d like to schedule an event, please contact me at debito@debito.org

Now for some tour highlights (directors Koenig and Kremers, please feel free to comment or answer questions if you’re reading this):

The first showing was at Second Harvest Japan, a very nice public service provided by Charles McJilton and company to provide homeless people with food that supermarkets decide not to sell.  A capacity crowd (eating, you guessed it, leftover strawberries beyond the supermarket sell-by date) asked poignant questions about why the film covered the Trainees and Nikkei workers so well but didn’t mention those being human trafficked on “Entertainer” visas.  I didn’t have the answer (I’m a promoter, Jim, not a producer or a director), but Patricia Aliperti, a scholar of human trafficking in Japan who serendipitously happened to be in attendance, gave us a firsthand account of how Japan was listed as a Tier-Two Human Trafficker by the US State Dept in 2004, promised to abolish its state-sponsored sexual slavery, reduced the number of NJ visa-ed women in the water trades on this visa by about 75%, then neglected to abolish the visa status completely.   Seems to me within character. 

One attendee of the first screening offered her thoughts here.  http://hinoai.livejournal.com/716510.html

Other screnings were equally well-attended, with Amnesty International at Ben’s Cafe Takadanobaba pulling in at least 50 viewers and the Blarney Stone in Osaka pulling in close to the same.  Smaller screenings in Tsukuba and Shiga had interested commentary from viewers asking about how the directors came to choose this subject, and why it took itinerant Germans to finally produce a movie of outstanding quality about this issue.  The Nagoya University Labor Union screening was so full of Nikkei (as was the Okayama screening) that we decided the lingua franca for the Q&A would be Japanese language, and everyone, however haltingly for some, put their thoughts into Japanese. 

Further sundry thoughts:  Two Nikkei participants in the Okayama screening had lost their jobs at the end of January, were on unemployment, and were thinking they would probably have to return to Brazil when the dole money ran out in three months.  I made sure they got a free copy of the DVD and of the HANDBOOK to show around, if that would help.  Participants were nearly unanimous in both the power and necessity of labor unions to inform and enforce labor rights.   The audience’s outrage was palpable over the GOJ’s negligence at inviting all these people here, neglecting the schooling of both them (the Okayama Nikkei, for example, worked 11 hours a day, six days a week, and had no time to study Japanese) and their children, and telling them to go home now that they “weren’t necessary”.  After all their time spent here paying taxes, living here for years if not decades, and saving Japanese industry from being priced out of the market.

Rumor has it the GOJ has advised Hello Work to consider three Japanese for every non-Japanese applicant.  It’s unconfirmed, but if true, that means nationality once again has become a job qualification, one should think in violation of Labor Standards Law.

Moreover, 2HJ’s Charles also told us that visa overstayers in Japan are actually being issued with Gaijin Cards from local governments (yes, stating that they are overstaying).  That’s why they’re centralizing the Gaijin Card system behind the new Zairyuu Cards, to remove the local government’s discretion in these matters (so much for chihou bunken, then!).  I’ll have more information later on in the blog after some confirmations.

In sum, SOUR STRAWBERRIES may be a testiment to the last days of Japan’s internationalized industrial prowess, as people are being turfed out because no matter how many years and how much contribution, they don’t belong.  Have to wait and see.  But to me it’s clear the GOJ is still not getting beyond seeing NJ as work units as opposed to workers and people.  Especially in these times of economic hardship.  I’m seeing it for myself as the movie tours. 

Call me out for another movie tour by the end of the summer.  I might by then be able to get FROM THE SHADOWS movie about child abductions after divorce as well.  Arudou Debito in Okayama

Weekend tangent: Another blogger comes around, sees beyond “molehills”


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog.  Since weekends are usually times for people to relax (and hits to this blog reflect that; most of the traffic seems to come at the beginnings of weeks, tapering off during Saturdays and Sundays, as people find better things to do than spend their lives behind computer screens), let me devote this Saturday’s entry to a pleasant afterglow I had yesterday morning.

Linking to Debito.org was a blog by a chap named Kelly Yancey.  He’s going through a bit of a bad patch at the moment, it seems, and I hope he snaps out of it.  (Kelly, if you’re reading this, things will get better over time — stick with it; avoid grand conspiracy theories, and do what you can to fill your world with sympathetic people and pleasant things.)

Anyway, the afterglow was from this section:

Since coming to Japan, I have come to appreciate Dave Aldwinckle’s complaints and the hard work he has been doing to try and bring the injustices in Japan into the forefront. Whenever I get worked up enough about something that I want to bitch about it on my own blog, I just need to go hit his debito.org to commiserate.

When I was sitting in the comfort of the U.S.A., Debito’s stories seem farfetched and, frankly, unbelievable. More than once I thought he was making a mountain out of a molehill. However, I now realize that he doesn’t have to go digging to find examples of racismdiscriminationinjustice, and hypocrisy…it turns out there is just a lot of material to pull from here in Japan.

Unfortunately, while brave individuals like Debito are trying to recitify the situation, apologists still abound…


I like hearing that.  There’s just no convincing some people that there are issues that need to be addressed regarding treatment of, and, yes, discrimination towards, people who are NJ or who look NJ.  Especially when many of the dismissive are either unaware (which Debito.org tries to fix with as much reportage and substantiation as possible), or incredulous because they just haven’t experienced the discrimination for themselves.  But when it does happen to them here in the end — and it’s systematic enough that sooner or later it probably will — then people generally react in two ways:  either 1) they refuse to believe it out of spite (plenty of people don’t like to admit they were wrong; this is the wrong approach, for it will just make you bitter and eventually drive you out of Japan), or 2) they capitulate, face up to the issue constructively, and find ways to deal with their feelings that bring things to a resolution.  

Like Kelly has.  Thanks for coming out and saying so.  It makes the years of effort creating and maintaining Debito.org feel that much more worthwhile.  

Now let’s do something about resolving things.  We need everyone’s help, and let’s hope even the diehard apologists come round someday.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Books recently received by Debito.org: “Japan’s Open Future”, et al.


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog.  Some very friendly people out there send me books from time to time for review, or just because they think it might be of interest to Debito.org.  I’m grateful for that, and although time to read whole books is a luxury (I just got a pile of them for my own PhD thesis in two languages, anticipate a lot of bedtime reading), I thought it would be nice to at least acknowledge receipt here and offer a thumb-through review.

Last week I got a book from John Haffner, one author of ambitious book “JAPAN’S OPEN FUTURE:  An Agenda for Global Citizenship” (Anthem Press 2009).  The goal of the book is, in John’s words:

As our aim is ultimately to contribute to the policy debate in Japan, I’d also be grateful if you’d consider mentioning or linking to our book and/or my Huffington piece via your website or newsletter. I took the liberty of linking to debito.org on our (still embryonic) “Change Agents” page on our book website: http://www.japansopenfuture.com/?q=node/22

The Huffington Post article being referred to is here:




In our book Japan’s Open Future: an Agenda for Global Citizenship, my co-authors and I contend that if Japan wishes to escape a future of decline and irrelevance, and if it wants to take meaningful steps towards a more secure, contented and prosperous future, it needs to think big. Japan really has only one sustainable option: to become a more open, dynamic, conscientious, engaged, globally integrated country. In our book we show why this is so, and we offer a set of interconnected policy prescriptions for how Japan could undertake this radical transformation. There are many things Japan could do, but especially by moving beyond a rigid and inflexible conception of its national identity, by opening up to trade and immigration, by learning to communicate more effectively, including with the English language as the global lingua franca, and by undertaking a much more spirited commitment to global development and security, Japan has the potential to make a profound contribution to domestic, regional, and global challenges.

To pursue this path, however, Japan must think beyond isolationism and the US security alliance. Japan must begin to see itself as a global citizen and as an Asian country, and it must walk the walk on both counts.

At a time when multilateralism is imperiled, the United States would also benefit from such a radical shift in Japan’s posture: it would find an expanded, wealthy market for its exports, a more secure Asian region, and a talented civil society capable of constructively contributing to global issues. President Obama understands that multilateralism is the only path forward for the world, and that its importance is even greater in dark economic times. As a grand strategy for Asia, therefore, President Obama should encourage Japan to pursue policies leading to a peaceful and integrated Asian community, one rooted in reasonably harmonious and dynamic relations between those (highly complementary) leading economies, Japan and China.

Now more than ever, the United States needs Asia to prosper, and Japan must play its part.


Thumbing through the book, I feel as though it adds a necessary perspective (if not a reconfirmation of Japan’s importance) to the debate, especially in these times when “Asia Leadership” in overseas policymaking circles increasingly means China.  If not cautioned, the media eye may begin truly overlooking Japan as a participant in the world system (particularly, as far as I’m of course concerned, in terms of human rights).  I don’t want Japan to be let off the hook as some kind of “quaint hamlet backwater of erstwhile importance, so who cares how it behaves towards outsiders?” sort of thing.  How you treat foreigners inside your country is of direct correlation to how you will treat them outside.  I think, on cursory examination, the book provides a reminder that Japan’s economic and political power should not be underestimated just because there are other rising stars in the neighborhood.

(And yes, the book cites Debito.org, regarding the GAIJIN HANZAI Magazine issue two years ago, on page 194.  Thanks.)


Now for two other books I received some months ago.  One is Minoru Morita, “CURING JAPAN’S AMERICA ADDICTION:  How Bush & Koizumi destroyed Japan’s middle class and what we need to do about it” (Chin Music Press 2008).  Rather than give you a thumbed-review, Eric Johnston offers these thoughts in the Japan Times (excerpt):

In “Curing Japan’s America Addiction,” Morita says publicly what a lot of Japanese think and say privately, in sharp contrast to whatever pleasantries they offer at cocktail parties with foreign diplomats and policy wonks, or in speeches they give abroad. For that reason, “Curing Japan’s America Addiction” deserves to be read by anybody tired of the Orwellian doublespeak coming out of Washington and Tokyo and interested in an alternative, very contrarian view on contemporary Japan, a view far more prominent among Japanese than certain policy wonks and academic specialists on Japan-U.S. relations want to admit.


The other is Sumie Kawakami, “GOODBYE MADAME BUTTERFLY:  Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman” (Chin Music Press 2007; I seem to be on their mailing list, thanks), a handsome little tome,which, according to the blurb on the back, “offers a modern twist on the tradition in Japanese literature to revel in tales of sexual exploits.  Kawakami’s nonfiction update on this theme offers strands of hope for women struggling to liberate themselves from joyless, sexless relationships.”

It is that, a page-turner indeed.  In the very introduction (which is as far as I got, sorry; I’m a slow reader, and reading this cover to cover wasn’t a priority), Kawakami says:

“[W]hile the sex industry maintains a high profile in Japan, the nation doesn’t seem to be having much actual sex.  A case in point is the results of the Global Sex Survey by Durex (http://www.durex.com/cm/gss2005results.asp), the world’s largest condom maker.  In its 2005 survey, the company interviewed 317,000 people from forty-one countries and found that Japan ranked forty-first in terms of sexual activity.  The survey found that people had sex an average of 103 times a year, with men (104) having more sex than women (101).  The Japanese, at the very bottom, reported having sex an average of forty-five times a year.  

Japan also ranked second to last, just ahead of China, in terms of sexual contentment…” (pp. vi. – vii).

See what I mean?  The book explores this, with case studies of Japanese women’s sexuality.

Thanks for the books, everyone.  If others want to send their tomes to Debito.org, I’d be honored, but I can’t promise I’ll get to them (I spend eight hours a day reading and mostly writing a day already).  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



I got round to reading one of the books, GOODBYE MADAME BUTTERFLY. I generally write reviews on the back pages if and when I get through a book, something brief that fills the page (or two). Here’s what I scribbled:

Started March 10, 2009, Finished March 13, 2009, Received Gratis from publisher 2007.

REVIEW: A gossipy little book. The best, most scientific part of the book is the introduction, which introduces the point of this book as an exploration of why sex doesn’t seem to happen much in Japan, according to a Durex survey. So one plunges into some very obviously true stores that are well-charted gossip, but not case studies of any scientific caliber. If Iate-night unwinding or beach-blanket reading is what you’re after, this book is for you. If you’re after the promise of why Japanese apparently don’t have much sex, you’ll end up disappointed. The author isn’t brave enough to try and draw any conclusions from the scattering of stories. I wouldn’t have, either. But I felt lured by the promise the foreword. And left the book in the end disappointed.

The best thing about the book is, sadly, the handsome, well-designed print and cover, making the fluff a joy to look at. Just not think about.


Economist.com on jury systems: spreading in Asia, being rolled back in the West


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

Hi Blog.  To kick this week off, here’s an interesting article from The Economist (London) about how the jury system is mutating both East and West.  For all the overdone media osawagi about the upcoming jury system in Japan (I think judges here have up to now had far too much power and unaccountability in their decisions; note how they’re still not relinquishing it by including three non-lay judges in a jury), we’re having similar systems being instituted elsewhere in Asia.

My opinion about juries in Japan is:  Just do it.  You have to have the view of regular people (not just cloistered bookish judges) in these things.  Trust people to know their public duty in a courtroom.  If you can’t do that, there’s a problem with the public education system, not with the courts system.  As I have experienced in four domestic civil lawsuits (here and here), and seen elsewhere here with cracked judges (here and here), leaving all the power in the hands of judges (usually just one of a set of three, by seniority) is a recipe for more noncommonsensical judicial miscarriages than it’s worth.  But that’s my opinion.  Fire away with yours.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Decent Japan Times FYI column here on the issue.

Legal scholar Michael H. Fox’s site, Japan Institute for the Study of Wrongful Arrests and Convictions (JISWAC) here.



The jury is out

Feb 12th 2009 
From The Economist print edition


European countries are restricting jury trials; Asian ones expanding them

MARK TWAIN regarded trial by jury as “the most ingenious and infallible agency for defeating justice that human wisdom could contrive”. He would presumably approve of what is happening in Russia and Britain. At the end of 2008, Russia abolished jury trials for terrorism and treason. Britain, the supposed mother of trial by jury, is seeking to scrap them for serious fraud and to ban juries from some inquests. Yet China, South Korea and Japan are moving in the opposite direction, introducing or extending trial by jury in a bid to increase the impartiality and independence of their legal systems. Perhaps what a British law lord, the late Lord Devlin, called “the lamp that shows that freedom lives” burns brighter in Asia these days.

It is often thought that juries are a peculiarity of common-law countries such as America and Britain. Not so. Twelve-member citizens’ juries are widely used in Islamic-law countries, too. Even in civil-law ones in continental Europe lay jurors sitting alongside professional judges help reach verdicts in serious criminal cases.

Where the jury system is entrenched, it may not be common. In America, where a right to trial by jury is in the constitution, the vast majority of cases result in plea-bargains (so do not go to trial) or concern minor offences, which are normally dealt with by a single judge. In Britain, only 1% of criminal cases end up before juries, which rarely deal with inquests, either.

Britain is seeking to restrict juries even further. In 2003 the government gave itself the power to abolish juries in long and complex fraud trials, arguing that judges sitting alone or accompanied by expert “assessors” would be able to reach speedier, safer and cheaper verdicts. Such was the outcry that it agreed to seek fresh parliamentary approval before using that power. Five years and three bills later, it still hasn’t succeeded. But plans to remove juries from coroners’ courts when the public interest is involved (first proposed in a counter-terrorism bill but defeated) have resurfaced in another bill that is grinding its way through Parliament.

Russia’s bid to do away with most jury trials has little to do with efficiency. Russia reintroduced jury trials in 1993 for several charges including terrorism, hostage-taking and armed insurrection to show its commitment to the rule of law. The commitment did not last. Research showing that Russian juries are nine times more likely to acquit defendants than judges sitting alone led to a decision to revert to non-jury trials for all cases save murder.

Meanwhile, three Asian countries are going the other way. Under a law that came into force in 2005, some 50,000 “people’s assessors” have been appointed in China to serve in trials for all but the most minor criminal offences. Selected on merit and appointed for five years, Chinese assessors resemble English lay magistrates, likewise appointed for several years, rather than common-law jurors, who are usually chosen at random and serve for just one trial. Still, like jurors in civil-law countries, the assessors, sitting alongside judges, are required to reach decisions on law and fact, and sometimes help with sentencing, too.

In Japan, jury trials were once available in theory but little used in practice. Starting in May, though, six lay jurors, chosen at random from among voters, will sit alongside three judges in contested cases punishable by death or life imprisonment.

South Korea has been more tentative. In a bid to modernise an opaque legal system, it introduced juries in 2008, restricted to trials for the most serious crimes. At the moment, they are advisory. Under the constitution, all defendants must be tried by a judge, so giving juries decision-making powers would require a constitutional amendment. As elsewhere, the system has led to more acquittals. It is due to be reviewed by the Supreme Court in 2012.


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


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog.  For your discussion are the full four pages of the SPA! magazine article on how NJ (rendered “monster gaikokujin”, abbreviated to “Monga” to save space) are coming to Japan and doing bad bad things.  Have a read.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Pet peeve: How media casting choices based upon ethnicity contribute to cultural ignorance.


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog. I thought I’d write today about one of my pet peeves: people substituting ethnicity for skills, and adding to the general public’s ignorance about Japan.

What pulled my chain this time: I watched an hourlong Discovery Channel program early last Sunday morning at midnight (a show called “Japan Revealed” in a series entitled “Discovery Atlas”), and on it they had a show full of stereotypes. From where I started watching, we went for a dive amongst some underwater ruins off Yonaguni Island which are purportedly older than the Egyptian Pyramids. Then suddenly we were jerked across the archipelago to attend a series about robots fighting (along with some hooey about how Japanese religion sees souls in everything, therefore Japanese like robots more). Then next we veered into a segment about Ama pearl divers and their dying tradition, and then careened into a bit about some fisherman trying to catch his once-or-twice-a-year big tuna “by tradition” (including “traditional” radar fish tracking, of course; with little time devoted to the majority of thousands of tuna actually brought to Tsukiji by “less traditional methods” — like imports). Then we coasted into a tattoo artist’s parlor for a lowdown on how radical one master artist has become by defying tradition — mixing seasons on his Yakuza body canvasses. At this point, I said, “What’s next? Geisha?” Yup. We skimmed a few stones over a fan dance, and then concluded how Japan’s special appreciation for nature and tradition and modernity makes it a special place (oh, brother).

I wish they’d just stuck with the underwater ruins off Yonaguni (which the show claimed could “rewrite world history”), and stopped retreading the same old hackneyed (and, crucially, unrevealing) images about Japan.

But what really got me revved up were the production values. Every time they had somebody talking in Japanese, the English voiceover came across as Hollywoodesque Ah-so-istic (think Mr Moto, Mr Miyagi, Grasshopper, or a few notches below Tokyo Rose in skill level). Moreover, who was the narrator? Masi Oka, one star of TV show “Heroes“, who showed his inability to speak Japanese reflecting even a rudimentary knowledge of Japan (saying words like “YaKUUza” and “Two-ki-ji”). He was hired not only for star power, but also ethnicity. Only Asians can talk about Asia, I guess.

You might be able to justify this kind of casting for comedy or satire, I suppose. Hire a token Asian and you can get away with poking more fun at Asia. But there are limits. People like Gedde Watanabe and Sab Shimono narrated the famous Simpsons’ “Mr Sparkle” episode (where Hokkaido soap factories, natch, were prominently featured 😉 ). Fine. But their Japanese was terrible, and I mean lousy (not even “Kitchen-Japanese” level). At least King of the Hill hired native speaker Matsuda Seiko (albeit to say one word: “Dansu!”) for their controversial (and, I have to admit, very funny) “Returning Japanese” Tokyo Trip episode. And even taboo-humor South Park shows a lot of moxie (and surprising depth: obviously they were coached both in terms of content and vocals by a native, I think Trey Parker’s boyfriend) in their episodes about video games and the marketing of Pokemon (“chinpoko-mon“: Love it).

But the Discovery Channel should be held to higher standards, especially if they’re doing a documentary to help people somehow “discover” a country in an hour. Instead, the program rankled, as though I was watching a condensed version of equally-irritating “Karate Kid” (indicatively retitled “Besuto Kiddo” for the Japanese market), or, put in a different light, (British) Robin Hood being played by (a very American) Kevin Costner (which caused no end of consternation in the UK). Let’s at least have less poetic license in nonfiction, please.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll give one more inside reason why this irks me: In 1991, as I was about to graduate from grad school, I did a lot of job interviews for American companies (particularly the kitchen-sink importers around San Diego, since at the time that was where I wanted to stay, not work in Los Angeles, Chicago, or the East Coast). Since I was trained in doing business in Japan, and spoke Japanese, I was hopeful that I would be on an equal footing with other job candidates. However, the Nikkei Americans in my classes, some of whom spoke no better (or, in some cases, worse) Japanese than I did, were making the case in their interviews and cover letters that their Asian roots were an asset. “Asians don’t like negotiating with foreign faces. Wouldn’t you prefer to hire a person with the right face for the job?” wrote one in paraphrase. The (non-Asian) employers bought into it. And I lost out to the Nikkei. So for the record: Japan has no monopoly on racism; it’s just a shame that the Americans couldn’t see beyond theirs when their “culturally-relativistic” weak spots got manipulated thusly.

I wound up coming back to Japan and getting much better employment in the end, so all’s well in retrospect. But I still dislike seeing casters with high public exposure choosing people not according to skill or knowledge level, instead rather whether or not they “look Asian”. Ethnicity should not be seen as a skill, or viewed as some kind of ideological conveyer belt into “The Ethnic Mind”. It’s not. Especially when those people haven’t even bothered to learn “The Ethnic Language”. That’s a personality quirk I have which comes out every now and again, when I see just how much this dynamic contributes to further stereotyping and ignorance towards Japan, videlicet this deeply-flawed Discovery Channel documentary.

Let’s have better-informed commentary about cultural issues, shall we, by choosing properly-qualified people? End of rant. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

PS: “Japan Revealed”‘s official website at http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/atlas/japan/japan.html

Letters to the Japan Times regarding Otaru Onsens Case article


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\" width=「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog.  The Japan Times Zeit Gist Community Page recently featured an article critical of the plaintiffs (okay, well, of one plaintiff:  me) in the Otaru Onsens Case.  I’ve blogged that article (and comments from readers) here.  Letters to the Editor on it were recently published in the Japan Times.  I’ll blog those below for discussion.  Thanks to everyone for their concern and energies to this issue.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(presented in the order they appeared in the JT, December 7, 2008)


Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008
By LANCE BRAMAN, Sano, Tochigi
See Tepido Lance Braman’s response, which essentially asserts that since we are in Japan (not America or Europe) by our own choice, then it is incumbent upon us to assimilate and follow Japanese rules, at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/rc20081207a4.html

Accountability must be narrowed


Every mountain has more than one slippery slope. While Paul de Vries (”Back to the baths: Otaru revisited”) is concerned with the worrying precedent of Debito Arudou’s onsen lawsuit, de Vries sets an equally worrying precedent by implying that restrictions on “group accountability as a social conditioner” are inherently harmful. Group accountability can be employed fairly when it is narrow and rational.

If the problem is drunken foreigners unaware of bathing rules, the rational solution is to ban drunks and those unable to follow the rules. It is not to ban people associated with the problem group by virtue of some immutable characteristic like ethnicity. Indeed, Arudou has pressed public businesses to change from a “No Foreigners” policy to a “No Troublemakers,” or even “Must Understand Japanese” policy, and many have happily obliged.

Even women-only train carriages — a broad solution to a broad problem — have been limited in number and placed at one end of the train so as to cause minimal inconvenience to most male passengers. A man can simply walk a few meters and board the next carriage. It is hard to compare this to one’s exclusion from a public business that has few convenient alternatives.

The other slippery slope — that of group accountability as an unchecked excuse — has led to some of the greatest atrocities in human history. De Vries and, for that matter, the Japanese government would be well advised to keep this snowball from falling down either slope. Narrow and rational accountability is the only sustainable way to maintain both liberty and security.



A notion dangerous at the core

San Diego, Calif.

Paul de Vries‘ attempt to defend group accountability behavior is rather bleak and ridiculous. Perhaps de Vries did not read The Japan Times enough, as he surely would’ve seen that quite a few men, both foreign and domestic, ridicule the women-only train cars. I also stand against the policy, as it hardly equates to the need for men-women restrooms.

It was because of group accountability that hundreds of thousands of Japanese were ripped from their homes and sent to camps in the United States during World War II. These individuals had done nothing but be Japanese, yet they were punished. Insistence on group accountability, at its core, is largely seen as leading to horrible experiences, but apparently not if the group in question are foreigners in Japan today.

Well, then, why don’t we take things a step further? Since Japan attacked the U.S. on U.S. soil, why don’t we just remove all Japanese currently living in the U.S. and ban Japanese citizens from entering the U.S. — to guard against another possible attack in the future? Rather ridiculous, I’d say, but this is how dangerous the notion of group accountability can be.



Arguments aren’t good enough


I am afraid Paul de Vries has not done his homework; furthermore, he is comparing apples and oranges. For instance, you can’t label women-only cars as a form of acceptable discrimination in an argument about whether xenophobic actions are justified.

Molesting a woman is a crime. Given the number of available police officers and the number of trains and commuters each day, one can see that it is impossible to protect most women from gropers in packed mixed cars. The more vulnerable need to be protected, so roughly half of the commuters need to be slightly inconvenienced. It’s not as if men are being punished by not being allowed to board the trains!

Police are nearby and can always be called if there’s trouble at an onsen. While gropers on trains know that they have committed a crime, unruly bathers simply may not know the customs. They need to be told, not banned.

De Vries’ biggest blunder is to endorse punishing people of a group for what other members did. There is good reason that this is banned by the Geneva Conventions in war situations. Even in the pretense of preventing crime — as with Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s past suggestion that some foreigners be detained after a big earthquake in Tokyo — it is questionable.

Although de Vries may find arguments to support his case, he cannot explain why a Japanese-speaking German university professor like myself, with a Japanese wife and kids, should be grouped together with Russian sailors when we want to use an onsen. We have nothing in common but face color. With that, refusals of entry to an onsen remain as they are: racism.

Finally, my response, not sent to the Japan Times or published anywhere but here.  Blogged last night amidst all the comments during the discussion of the original article.  Reprinting here for the sake of completeness:

Hi Blog. Sorry to keep you waiting. A few opinions in addition to the analysis offered above (thanks to everyone for commenting):

I’ll start with my conclusion. Look, as Ken said above, this article is basically incoherent. We have a flawed academic theory (which somehow groups people into two rigid ideological categories — 2.5 categories if you slice this into “American standards” as well) regarding social sanction and control, and proceeds on faith that this pseudo-dichotomy actually exists. As evidence, we have citations of women-only train carriages and border fingerprinting — both fundamentally dissimilar in content, origin, and enforcement to the onsens case. And presto, the conclusion is we must maintain this dichotomy (and condemn the Japanese judiciary for chipping away at it) for the sake of Japan’s safety and social cohesion.

Get it? Sorry, I don’t. That’s why I’m not going to do a paragraph-by-paragraph commentary on what is essentially ideological nonsense.

But I will mention some glaring errors and omissions in the article:

1) “Pushed to the brink of ruin… by the behavior of Russian sailors”. Not quite. Earth Cure KK’s original sauna did go bankrupt (shortly after it opened Yunohana in 1998), but it’s not as if the Russian sailors descended on the former. The sauna in fact courted Russian business, and according to sources in Otaru offered information to them at portside. The sauna’s location was, quite simply, bad, being on the higher floor of a bar district, and went bankrupt like plenty of other decrepit bathhouses are around Japan. And as other bathhouses around Otaru noted, “Why did Yunohana [which never let in any foreigners and thus never, despite the claims of the article, suffered any damage] feel so special as to need signs up? We didn’t put up signs and still stayed in business.” Because it’s easier to blame the foreigner for one’s own business problems; as was the fashion for some at the time.

Proof in hindsight: Now the signs are down, Yunohana as a franchise has profited enough to open three more branches around this part of Hokkaido, so nuts to the idea the company was ever in any danger of going bankrupt due to rampaging NJ. There are simply some people who do not like foreigners in this world, and some of them just happen to be running businesses. That’s why other developed countries have actual laws to stop them, unlike Japan. It had nothing to do with grandiloquent theories like “group accountability”.

2) This theory assumes the “group” being held accountable has clearly-defined dichotomous borders that are easily enforced. The article neglects to make clear that other members of the “group”, as in Japanese citizens, were also being turned away from places like Yunohana — and I’m not referring only to myself. I’m referring to other Japanese children (and not just one of mine). Hence given the overlap of internationalization, the theory, even if possibly correct, is in practice unenforceable.

3) And it is moot anyway. There is no mention of international treaty (the ICERD) which Japan effected in 1996, where it promised to enforce standard UN-sanctioned international norms and rules to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. These are not “American” standards, as the article claims. These are world standards that the GOJ has acknowledged as the rules of play in this situation. The end.

4) The court decisions (there were in fact two, plus a Supreme Court dismissal) in any case does a) admit there was racial discrimination, but b) that RD was not the illegal activity. It was c) “unrational discrimination” based upon the judges’ interpretation of Japanese Civil Law, not the ICERD per se. Thus the standards being applied are in fact Japanese. Read the court documents. Everything is online. And in book form. In two languages.

There are more errors, but never mind. If the writer were to do a bit more homework about the facts of the case at hand, instead of trying to squash a landmark legal case into his own ideological framework, I think we might have had a more interesting discussion. But working backwards from a conclusion (especially when it’s a dogma) rarely results in good science, alas. Maybe his advertised book will offer something with better analytical power.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japan Times Zeit Gist column on Otaru Onsens Case (not by me) (Now UPDATED with comment)


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog. Here’s an article that came out in the Japan Times this morning about the Otaru Onsens Case, critical of what happened. I’ll refrain from comment (readers, go first), as I’m in transit. What do you think? Arudou Debito, returning from Iwate
(UPDATE: See my commentary in Comment #32 below)

News photo

Back to the baths: Otaru revisited

Paul de Vries sees worrying precedent for Japan in 2002 landmark court ruling

The Japan Times Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008

The story is familiar to regular readers of Zeit Gist. Debito Arudou, a naturalized Japanese citizen, originally from America, was living in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and had heard of the Yunohana public bath’s policy of denying entry to foreigners. In 1999, media in tow, he decided to put that onsen’s policy to the test. Sure enough, entry was denied, with the accompanying explanation that foreigners often “cause trouble” and, as such, the regulars “dislike sharing the facilities with them.”

The origin of this controversy is the behavior of Russian sailors. The Yunohana “onsen” is located in Otaru, the main port between Japan and the Russian Far East. Otaru attracts over a thousand Russian vessels and more than 25,000 sailors a year on stays of varying lengths. In the mid-1990s, Russian sailors were frequently showing up drunk at the city’s various onsen and jumping into the tubs with soap on their bodies, thus rendering the facilities unusable.

Prior to taking on the Yunohana onsen, Earth Cure, the management company against whom Arudou’s court action was taken, was running one of the city’s other onsen facilities. It had been pushed to the brink of ruin after its regular clientele had been driven away by the behavior of Russian sailors. When that problem reappeared at Yunohana, Earth Cure opted for an uncompromising stance: Anyone who did not immediately appear to be Japanese was turned away at the door.

To give Arudou his due, he didn’t rush to the courts. In accordance with the accepted customs of his adopted Japan, he attempted to reach an accord by working with Otaru city officials, and through consultations with the Yunohana onsen and a couple of other like-minded facilities. These efforts were successful with all but Yunohana, and it was that particular onsen against which Arudou and two other plaintiffs made a claim for ¥6 million for the “mental distress” that the self-inflicted ordeal had put them through. The case was won in November 2002 with a judgment awarding the plaintiffs half of what they had sought.

A responsible individual was barred from a facility to which the general public is entitled to enter upon presentation of an entry fee. His rights were upheld by the courts. The facility was forced to back down. So what’s the problem with that? The problem is that the case was fought and won on the issue of racial discrimination when the policy being employed by the Yunohana onsen could more accurately be described as the racial application of “group accountability.”

Group accountability is a process within which all of the members of a group are punished for the indiscretion of one of that group’s members. It is a process that seeks to take the onus of policing away from law enforcement professionals and place it in the hands of society at large. The upside of group accountability is high levels of public safety and the scarcity of rogue individuals. A downside occurs when the innocent are prejudiced or punished for behavior and deeds they did not commit.

There is nothing particularly Japanese about this process. It is commonly used in the West by parents and in schools, and is most notably employed in the battle against soccer hooliganism. In “adult” Western society, however, group accountability is incompatible with the cherished Western ideal of individual rights. Officially, in the West, group accountability is not to be employed. But is it?

In the West, are people prejudged by the actions of others from the same race, color, neighborhood or region? In the West, are preconceptions based on a history of behavior of others from the same sex or religion? The answer to both of these questions is an emphatic “Yes.” The reality for the West is that it gets the worst of both worlds: Individuals are still prejudged on the basis of group association, yet society does not benefit from the restraining force that peer pressure can provide.

While the most controversial applications of group accountability for foreigners within Japan are those that are based on race, it is a mistake to think that group accountability is not applied by the Japanese with an even hand. Consider, for example, the designation of women-only train carriages.

The women-only carriage initiative was first carried out on certain commuter lines during 2002, but was confined to late-night services. The stated rationale was to provide protection against lewd behavior by drunken male passengers — a rationale against which few could object. The ante was upped in 2005 when the service was extended to morning commuter trains, thus effectively conceding for the first time that “chikan” (gropers) and not alcohol was the primary cause of the problem.

In the weeks after the women-only carriages were introduced on morning services, there was a certain amount of guttural male rumbling, yet the measure has been widely accepted. This is clear proof that the Japanese are not above applying group-based discrimination within their own ranks.

It is also quite notable that the foreign male population of Japan does not appear to be particularly upset about being excluded from these train carriages. There has been no mention of any discontent in columns such as Zeit Gist, not a single word from Debito Arudou, and the silence in Readers in Council from non-Japanese has been deafening.

A subject on which the foreign (but most vociferously, Western) population did manage to find its voice was the regimen of photographic registering and fingerprinting that was introduced in November 2007. Under the justification of countering terrorism, the Japanese government decided to require that visitors to its shores be photographed and have their fingerprints scanned at immigration — a policy with both precedent and reasonable justification in that it was also being carried out by the U.S. and was in the process of being set up in Britain. But what a reaction followed! Online petitions, protests, letter after letter to The Japan Times, U.N.-sponsored seminars. It was unbelievable!

Women-only train carriages and fingerprinting/photographing are both applications of group accountability. On both of these issues, a section of society (men and foreigners) is being asked to undergo a measure of inconvenience in order to counter a threat that comes from within their ranks (chikan and al-Qaida). The attitude of the Japanese toward these two issues is consistent. The attitude of the Western population is not. The Western population of Japan clearly draws a distinction between racial and nonracial applications of group accountability. Or perhaps more accurately, between applications that are primarily directed toward Westerners and those that are not.

The use of group accountability as an instrument of social control in Japan has not historically been racial in application.

It became an accepted societal tool during a time when this nation was — for all practical purposes — a mono-racial society. It has therefore been traditionally applied on a basis of criteria other than race.

This contrasts sharply with the history of group-based discrimination in Arudou’s America. “White America” has always been racial to the core, with “the other” always being a member of another race (the same being largely true for Australia, New Zealand, Canada or any of the other landmasses that “whites” succeeded in colonizing). As such, group accountability is a far touchier subject in the West than it is in Japan and much of Asia.

But surely that’s the West’s problem. Why should the social benefits of group accountability be denied to the Japanese simply because of the history of entrenched Western racism, especially given that the Japanese employ it with an even hand? The concept enjoys a broad level of acceptance within Asia as a whole, and the majority of non-Japanese residing on Japanese shores are Asian nationals. It makes little sense for the Western attitude to prevail.

It is more than appropriate that Debito Arudou ultimately got to take his bath at the Yunohana facility, but the ruling that was handed down was misguided. In truth, the case should not have even gone to court. At a pre-trial hearing the judge should have addressed Earth Cure with something like the following:

“Look, I understand your concerns. You have clearly suffered from the behavior of Russian customers, and as you were driven out of business at a former facility, it is not unnatural that you are the final remaining holdout. But enough is enough! Considerable efforts have been made in good faith to resolve this problem at a multitude of levels. It is time for you to give some ground.”

And if that didn’t work, the judge should have either asked Arudou to come to him with something other than a racial discrimination claim, or have issued a judgment that addressed the issue of group accountability directly. But that was not to be. The judgment that was made placed negligible weight on the preamble to the claim, thereby laying the legal groundwork for the demise of group accountability as a social conditioner within Japan.

Debito Arudou has embraced the precedent set in the Yunohana onsen case and sought to make the “right of entry” something of an “inalienable human right.” Precedent in hand, he has spent much of the past few years confronting unwelcoming Japanese “businesses” — the vast majority of which no self-respecting person should want to be seen anywhere near. This crusade is essentially geared toward having Japan conform with American (as distinct from Western) standards.

I am no regular rider on the anti-American bandwagon. America is a truly wonderful country with some particularly obvious virtues, but these do not include its level of safety and social cohesion. While the rights of the individual are certainly more strongly upheld in America than in Japan, the presence of rogue individuals within America is disproportionately high. America is unquestionably a more dangerous place than Japan.

And this brings us to the point that Arudou ignores or simply fails to see. Group accountability is not employed in Japan simply for the sake of pushing people around. It is employed for the purpose of making Japan cohesive and safe. It is a major reason why Japan, unlike the U.S., is a nation in which the fear of random violence is relatively low. If Arudou succeeds in his quest, Japan will become one more nation in which the individual is to be feared. That is an outrageously high price to pay for the occasional racial, national, generational or gender-driven slight.

Paul de Vries is putting the finishing touches to a book about what the world can learn from Japan. Send comments on this issue and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp

One year after Japan reinstitutes fingerprinting for NJ, a quick retrospective


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

Hi Blog.  It’s already been a year since Japan reinstituted fingerprinting for most NJ (after abolishing it in 2000 due to what was deemed back then to be human rights concerns) on November 20, 2007.  

There are still concerns about its application (a friend of mine who lived in Kobe actually LEFT Japan for good after more than a decade here, because he was so browned off about the unfulfilled promise of automatic gates at airports other than Narita; more later), its efficacy (we still don’t know many people were caught through fingerprints per se, as opposed to passport irregularities), the sweetheart GOJ deal to quasi-American company Accenture to make these machines, the long lines at the border due to faulty machines, the lumping in of Permanent Residents with tourists, the official justifications in the name of preventing terrorism, infectious diseases, and foreign crime, you name it.  

The shockwaves and indignations were so palpable that people banded together to form FRANCA (Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association), a lobbying and interest group to represent the interests of the “Newcomer” immigrants to Japan (we are in the process of formally registering as an NPO with the GOJ).

There’s a whole heading on fingerprinting on this blog at
but see special issues of the DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER on the subject here:
http://www.debito.org/?p=676 and http://www.debito.org/?p=788

There’s also a special section on Debito.org for people to add their personal experiences with Immigration upon entering or returning to Japan, with 57 responses as of today:

Anyway, time for a brief retrospective:

Here’s an article from Maclean’s Magazine (Canada) from last March which I think puts it all pretty well.  Courtesy of Jon Dujmovich:

As for how people are being treated now that it’s been open season on NJ in the name of security, here’s an excerpt from a friend about how his wife (a Japanese) is being treated by police just because she doesn’t “look Japanese”:

I would like to relate to you an anecdote related to me by my wife concerning passport checks at Nagoya’s Centrair airport (at least, she didn’t indicate if she’d had the same experience at Kansai international airport or not).  My wife has been an airline employee for quite some time, and started her current position as cabin crew for a major international carrier after a brief period of unemployment once the contract period for her previous position was completed.  Her current working conditions are far from ideal, but she’s going to stick with it for the time being.

You have posted a number of entries on your blog about how NJ are regularly subjected to passport checks in major airports even after passing through immigrations.  Apparently it also happens to my wife quite regularly.

As she works for an international carrier, there are crew members from various countries and regions (Philippines, Hong Kong, the U.S., etc.) in addition to the Japanese crew.  For short stays, they are provided with a shore pass that allows them to enter Japan.  My wife has told me that it is very common for the ever helpful security drones to accost her and demand “Shore pass!” in heavily accented English.  I don’t know if they approach her because they think she doesn’t look “Japanese enough” (much to her perpetual consternation, a large number of people apparently tell her she looks Korean, and she’s not Zainichi), or because they see that her name plate is written in katakana (I am grateful that she took my name when we married, but it has caused some difficulties that I am sure you are familiar with), but they apparently don’t accept her statement that she is Japanese and make her show her passport anyway.

Now, of course, because she IS Japanese, not to mention typically tired after a flight, she is not at all inclined to raise a fuss about this.  It’s certainly despicable, but nothing that I’m about to suggest filing a lawsuit over.  Of course, if I even suggested something as straightforward as writing a letter of complaint to her, she I am sure that she would flat-out reject the idea on the grounds that it would be a bother (面倒くさい) and would cause too much trouble (迷惑をかける).  But this makes it clear to me that it’s not just definitely foreign-looking people who are being targeted, it’s anyone that evinces even the slightest indication of the possibility of being a foreigner.  Unless it’s a new(er? she never mentioned this happening at KIX when she was employed as crew for her previous job) policy to screen all airline employees regardless of the fact that they go through immigration just like everyone else.

Sorry to have taken so much of your time, but if you’ve bothered to read this far, thank you kindly.  Feel free to use this anecdote on your blog and garner comments, although if so I’d appreciate it being scrubbed of any remotely personally identifying information.

As always, keep fighting the good fight, and I am always looking forward to reading the new entries and comments on your blog.

Thanks.  Let’s get some more from Debito.org readers about their experiences and feelings of being fingerprinted.  Comment away.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo