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:
https://www.debito.org/?p=676 and https://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

Thoughtful essay in the Yomiuri on the word “Gaijin” by Mike Guest


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

Hi Blog. Here’s a thoughtful essay on the word “gaijin” by Mike Guest.  It doesn’t go so far as to say what one should actually do (or advocate) regarding the usage of the word.  But that’s probably not his job or intention (as it would be mine).  It does get into the aspect of “othering” as a matter of linguistic redundancy, and that makes it worth a read on a Sunday afternoon.  Thanks Mike.  Glad to have helped spark off a debate on the word. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Indirectly Speaking / ‘Gaijin’ and marked language

I doubt that any one would argue that “gaijin” carries as much historical baggage, has as much power to offend, or displays the same degree of insensitivity that certain other (racially charged) epithets carry. But for proponents of the “gaijin is a bad word” view, this is largely beside the point. The issue for them is that its usage (not its etymology–that is another matter) indicates, creates or perpetuates what we call “othering,” the separation into binary (us/them) units meant to discriminate and possibly, denigrate.

There seem to be two widespread responses to this argument. The first is that some term is needed to distinguish people who are Japanese from those who are not (putting aside for now the issue of whether “Japanese” refers to citizenship, ethnicity or some nebulous combination of the two). And while the more formal “gaikokujin” has been suggested as an alternative, this would not appear to deflect the charge of othering. After all, a classifier is not an epithet. As long as we can find some legitimate basis for classification, we will need terms to express it. It is also worth noting that formal Japanese does not always connote acceptance or friendliness but, in many cases actually expresses distance. More on these points later.

The second response is that proscribing the term gaijin as pejorative would not change that which some actually find to be most objectionable–the underlying insider/outsider value system that the term supposedly represents. In other words, the argument goes, gaijin may denote non-Japanese (and in practice, generally Caucasians) but it connotes something more negative.

But this begs the point of how searching for politically correct euphemisms doesn’t actually allow us to escape from negative connotations. For example, even if we change the accepted term from “handicapped” to “disabled” to “challenged” there will always be a certain unpleasant connotation attached, since the very act of constantly coining euphemisms for the same underlying reality tacitly admits that we view this reality itself as something inherently negative. Now, do we really want to imply that being a gaijin is in itself an inherently unpleasant thing?

Which brings me to today’s central point. Why is it that even the less easily offended among us at certain times find the term “gaijin” (or even “gaikokujin”) awkward or irritating? I would like to offer a few linguistic answers to this question.

Words are never inherently rude or inappropriate in and of themselves but become marked as such through a failure to follow the norms of propriety. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to refer to Prof. Wilson as “Wilson” when simply discussing his theories with a colleague, or even when making a reference to him in a presentation where he is not present. But it would be very insulting to address him personally that way. Likewise, in the case of “gaijin” we should note if it is being used as a form of address or as a reference. One Japanese saying something like, “A lot of gaijin like this restaurant” to another can hardly be said to be pejorative (and in fact many non-Japanese too use “gaijin” in precisely this manner–as it can be a very useful classifier), whereas addressing a non-Japanese as “Gaijin” very much violates the norms of forms of address and therefore marks it as rude or hostile.

We should also consider register. In official and formal situations, Japanese speakers use “gaikokujin” rather than “gaijin” for the same reason that they refer to “a person” not as “hito” but as “kata” and generally avoid using “kare” and “kanojo” (he and she). These words are not inherently impolite or pejorative but they do not meet the standards of distance required by a formal register of language. Using “gaijin” in such a situation would therefore mark it negatively.

Next point: Earlier, I wrote “As long as we can make some legitimate basis for classification…” Why did I say “legitimate”? OK–anecdote time: I was about to board a train recently and a few young people, who were getting on before me, had not noticed that I was boarding behind them. As a result they didn’t enter quickly, leaving me stuck in the doorway, until one turned around, saw me, and said, “Oh I didn’t realize there is a gaijin behind us. Let’s go.” This “Let’s go” was actually intended as an act of courtesy–to move along because I was trying to get on. But why the use of “gaijin” here? It was absolutely superfluous to the situation.

Another true story: I was at an electronic goods shop after experiencing a rather difficult problem with my new computer. After I explained the problem (in Japanese) to a polite staff member, he thought it best that I speak to a specialist and so called for one. When the specialist arrived, the initial salesman said, “Can you help this foreign customer [gaikoku no okyaku-sama] with his problem?” This, unfortunately led the specialist to believe that I couldn’t speak (or hadn’t spoken) Japanese, followed by the awkwardness you’d expect. Why had the first salesman used “foreign customer” in this case? It was superfluous.

Now, I was not offended in either situation. I cannot pretend to be a victim and claim that I was dehumanized. But they did make me curious. After all, when we use redundancies we are usually trying to “mark” the language with what linguists call implicatures.

What are implicatures? Imagine someone introducing a coworker by saying, “This is my black [or white] colleague, Bob.” In such a case, Bob and the person addressed would naturally try to interpret what the speaker meant over and above the words alone because the speaker had marked the language, in this case by using a redundancy. Because of the implicature, Bob would have a linguistically sound reason for reading something suspicious in the speaker’s statement.

A highway bus driver announces that there will be a delay in our arrival time because a “gaisha” (foreign car) has stalled on the road several kilometers ahead, causing a traffic jam. Why does he feel the need to mention that it was a foreign car? The same holds true for phrases like, “Japan’s four seasons” instead of the seasons or “American joke” for any joke told by a foreigner. Marked by redundancy.

So what is the problem with such marked uses of words like “gaijin”? First, it can make an issue out of race or nationality in situations where those should not an issue. It can lead to misunderstandings as in the case of the computer specialist who took the superfluous use of “foreign customer” to mean that I was not communicating in Japanese and therefore assumed that this would be a linguistically troublesome encounter.

Redundant usage of such terms also marks an unnecessary mental classification or separation, which may create a burden when it comes to interacting with non-Japanese. If we try to reduce this core sense of distance felt by our learners, the divisive “othering” mentality that so many culture-learning materials unwittingly foster, we might also begin to reduce negatively marked language and awkward usages that can easily lead to misunderstandings and discomfort not only for (ahem) gaijin, but for Japanese people, too.

Guest is an associate professor of English at Miyazaki University. He can be reached at mikeguest59@yahoo.ca.

(Nov. 4, 2008)

Discussion: Nationality vs. ethnicity. Japan’s media lays claim to naturalized J-American Nobel Prizewinner


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 think we have an interesting opportunity to discuss issues of ethnicity vs. nationality in Japan, with the J media’s treatment of three recent Nobel Prizewinners.

The J media claimed yesterday that “three Japanese just won a Nobel for Physics”, even though one emigrated to the United States, has lived there for 56 years, and has worked at the University of Chicago for 40. From an American and Japanese standpoint he’s ethnically Japanese, of course (he was born and lived his formative years in Japan).  But he’s certifiably American in terms of nationality (one assumes he gave up his Japanese citizenship, which would be required under normal circumstances as Japan does not allow dual nationality).   That didn’t stop Japan’s media from headlining that “3 Japanese won”. TV program Tokudane just claimed as such minutes ago this morning.  And as the Mainichi reported yesterday:

(Mainichi Japan) October 7, 2008

Japanese trio wins Nobel Prize for physics

Photo shows from left to right: Toshihide Maskawa, Makoto Kobayashi and Yoichiro Nambu.           

Photo shows from left to right: Toshihide Maskawa, Makoto Kobayashi and Yoichiro Nambu.

Three Japanese scientists have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering theory on elementary particles.

The three are Toshihide Maskawa, 68, professor at Kyoto Sangyo University; Makoto Kobayashi, 64, professor emeritus at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization; and, Yoichiro Nambu, 87, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Tuesday.

It is the first time in six years that Japanese have won the Nobel Prize. In 2002, Masatoshi Koshiba and Koichi Tanaka won their prizes in physics and chemistry, respectively. The latest awards have brought the total number of Japanese Nobel laureates to 15, with seven of them winning the accolade in physics.

Nambu won the prize for his discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics, while Kobayashi and Maskawa were commended for their discovery of the origin of CP violation — the breaking of the symmetrical law of physics. The three researchers contributed significantly to the development of theoretical physics as we know it today, leading to the first co-winning of the Nobel Prize by three Japanese.

Nambu introduced his idea on spontaneous broken symmetry into elementary particles theory in the 1960s, providing the basis for the standard theory of particle physics.

Kobayashi and Maskawa predicted the existence in nature of at least three families of quarks, in defiance to the then common knowledge of theoretical physics. Subsequently, their theory was proven right.

Nambu, who moved to the United States after the end of the war, joins an illustrious club of second-generation Japanese researchers in elementary particle theory, following the first-generation researchers in the field — the late Nobel laureates Hideki Yukawa and Shinichiro Tomonaga.

Both Maskawa and Kobayashi studied at Nagoya University under the instruction of the late Shoichi Sakata, who also helped Yukawa with his research.

The award ceremony will be held in Stockholm on Dec. 10. Half of the 10 million kronor (approximately 140 million yen) prize will go to Nambu, while the other half will be shared by Kobayashi and Maskawa.




ノーベル物理学賞の受賞が決まった(左から)京都産業大理学部の益川敏英教授、高エネルギー加速器研究機構(高エネ研)の小林誠名誉教授、南部陽一郎・米シカゴ大名誉教授 毎日新聞 2008年10月7日 19時29分(最終更新 10月8日 0時11分)          










As did the Yomiuri this morning in print on the newsstands.  But they later published English headlines and stories to reflect 2 J and 1 A recipients.

Japanese win Nobel Prize / 2 particle scientists share 2008 prize with Japan-born American

The Yomiuri Shimbun


From left, Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday

Two Japanese particle physicists were awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for discovering the origin of the broken symmetry that predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature. It is the first time Japanese scientists have shared the same prize.

Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa shared the prize with Yoichiro Nambu, an American who discovered the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics…. (snip)


ノーベル物理学賞 日本人3氏

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/stream/m_news/vn081008_1.htm – 2008/10/08 12:00 



http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/science/news/20081008-OYT1T00379.htm – 2008/10/08 12:26

Anyway, the Japan Times took Associated Press reports splitting the nationalities:

Japan Times Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008

Japanese duo, American win Nobel in physics

Theoretical work in fundamental particles honored

STOCKHOLM (AP) Two Japanese and an American have won the 2008Nobel Prize for discoveries in the world of subatomic physics, theRoyal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Tuesday.
News photo News photo News photo Toshihide Masukawa Makoto Kobayashi Yoichiro Nambu     

Japan-born American Yoichiro Nambu of the University of Chicago won half of the prize for discovering the mechanism called spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics.

Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa of Japan shared the other half of the prize for discovering the origin of the broken symmetry that predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature.

In its citation, the academy said this “year’s Nobel laureates in physics have presented theoretical insights that give us a deeper understanding of what happens far inside the tiniest building blocks of matter.”

Turning to Nambu, the academy said his work has been “extremely useful.” It said in its citation that “Nambu’s theories permeate the Standard Model of elementary particle physics. The model unifies the smallest building blocks of all matter and three of nature’s four forces in a single theory.”

The so-called Standard Model is the theory that governs physics at the microscopic scale. It accounts for the behavior of three out of nature’s four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force.

Gravity, the fourth force, has not yet been incorporated into the model.

The prize is “recognizing one of the most basic and fundamental aspects of existence,” said Phil Schewe, a physicist and spokesman for the American Institute of Physics in Maryland. “Nature works in strange ways, and these three physicists helped to explain that strangeness in an ingenious way.”

Nambu moved to the United States in 1952 and is a professor at the University of Chicago, where he has worked for 40 years. He became a U.S. citizen in 1970.

Kobayashi and Masukawa “explained broken symmetry within the framework of the Standard Model but required that the model be extended to three families of quarks.”

“The spontaneous broken symmetries that Nambu studied differ from the broken symmetries described by Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa,” the academy said. “These spontaneous occurrences seem to have existed in nature since the very beginning of the universe and came as a complete surprise when they first appeared in particle experiments in 1964.”


So here’s the topic for discussion:  Can you claim somebody as “ours”, as in “our countryman”, even if he no longer has your country’s nationality (or has clearly emigrated and taken on another nationality)?  Or was it meant as “our ethnicity”?  (which you can obviously never lose — but then I see both America and Poland cheering in the unlikely event that I ever get a Nobel.)  Obviously the J media has made two different claims in J and E.  What do readers think?  What’s appropriate? Arudou Debito in Sapporo
















JK asks what happens to scandalized Japanese politicians


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

Hi Blog.  Good question from cyberspace, if anyone can help answer it:

Hi Debito: Say, I’d like to ask a question — what becomes of ‘radioactive’ (i.e. scandal-ridden) ministers in Japan?

For example, take former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Seiichi Ota and his partner in crime former Administrative Vice Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshiro Shirasu — in a country like Japan, knowingly using tainted rice for consumer products is, in my view, tantamount to deficating in an onsen, and since the tainted rice drama occurred on their watch, these two guys have, ironically enough, been tainted themselves by the whole affair. Unless I am grossly mistaken, they can never hope to hold government office again. In this case where do they go? Do they quit government and open a ramen or udon shop? Since they’re radioactive, I am willing to wager that they can’t (or won’t) find meaningful employment, so do they take menial jobs instead? Do they leave the country when nobody’s looking? Do they retire for life? If so, where? Tokyo? Do they have enough yen to live there, or do they go to the countryside?

In the case of former Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Nariaki Nakayama, his crime was putting his foot in his mouth too many times, so I don’t see suicide in his future — in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day he makes a return to government. But still, where do the likes of him go?

At any rate, to my knowledge, unless ministers commit suicide, the media never follows-up on them once they resign.

Hey, I’ve got an idea — track these guys via a dead pool on debito.org! It’s morbid, but it would sure as hell boost hits to the website! 🙂  Best Regards, -JK


It’s a good question, and I only answered JK a smidge:


Hi JK.   My theory is they just keep a low profile (but stay in govt).  All you have to do to qualify for a former politician’s pension in this country is be re-elected twice (i.e. serve three terms).  Then you’re set for life with a little something.  But you have to wait until 65 before you can collect.  No problem with most in this gerontocracy.  Anyway, for the most part, they lead quiet and ignored lives, but retain political power.  But let’s pose that to the blog. 


I’m thinking people like Fukuoka Dietmember Yamasaki Taku, tainted with sexual harassment charges yet reelected two years later.  Or Hokkaido Dietmember Suzuki Muneo, twice convicted of taking bribes yet still re-elected to the Diet.  Or “Knock” Yokoyama, former dietmember and Governor of Osaka, convicted with a suspended sentence of groping a woman and forced to resign his office (never to return to politics).  Etc.

So, let’s pose it to everyone.  What do you know about the elephant’s, er, politician’s graveyard in Japan?  Try to provide sources if possible.  Thanks.  Debito in Sapporo

The Japan Times Community Page on the JBC “Gaijin Debate”, part two.


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. The JUST BE CAUSE Columns I wrote these past two months on the word “Gaijin” have inspired a lot of debate. Again, good. Thanks everybody. Here’s another salvo from The Community Page yesterday. I’ll have a Part Three on this issue out in The Japan Times on October 7, talking about how the strict “insider-outsider” system here (of which “Gaijin” is but a subset of) also affects Japanese, and hurts Japanese society as a whole. Thanks for reading and commenting. And I love the illustration below.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Readers get last word on ‘gaijin’ tag 

The Japan Times Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008

News photo

The Community Page received another large batch of e-mails in response to Debito Arudou’s followup Sept. 2 (Sept. 3 in some areas) Just Be Cause column on the use of the word “gaijin.” Following is a selection of the responses.

Don’t live in denial like U.S.

Here in America, we hear about the word “gaijin,” but its significance is not clear to us. However, when your writer connects it to the N-word . . . well, that is, as Frank Baum would say, “a horse of a different color” — we get the impact immediately.

Hence, as an African-hyphen-American, and one that has living relatives of three other ethnicities, I say, “Well done.” I hope your Japanese readers will not live in denial like their American counterparts. Slavery has now been dead some 200 years and its cousin, segregation, over 40. But the stench from both of them lingers like unventilated raw sewage.

I am hoping to live and work in Japan one day. I hope to find a land far more tolerant than the one in which I now reside.

A distant but regular reader

Can’t defuse this bombshell

“Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin’ ” definitely raised some eyebrows. That said, I’m going to comment on one particular aspect — the N-word (I’m going to actually spell the word out, so don’t be too shocked when you see it). In full disclosure, I’m a black American.

OK, so the use of “nigger” and “gaijin” to Mr. Debito Arudou seem to be one and the same. I have to disagree. The reality is that “nigger” is a far more loaded word than “gaijin” will ever hope to be, and that is societal fact. Anyone can joke with “gaijin” — Americans, Europeans, Africans, even other Asians. The term can be defused quite easily. Of course we can also infuse the word with hatred and xenophobic overtones. That said, I think it is used largely in the defused sense.

Now, go to east Los Angeles or Southside Chicago and try using “nigger” jokingly — see what kind of response you get. Go to the Deep South, and say the word in whatever crowd — you might become “strange fruit” overnight.

People talk about defusing the word, but it never seems to stick. You simply can’t defuse that kind of bombshell. History has given “nigger” a weight to bear and it must be respected. Hip-hop and rap artists from the United States have talked about “owning” the word, and yet it still causes uproar throughout the community.

The word is heavier than any one person, or group of people, can bear. It takes a certain sensitivity, cultural understanding, and a host of other variables that I can’t even describe before being able to say, “Let’s approach the word.” If you can say that about “gaijin” then I stand corrected. But somehow I doubt it.

The article by Mr. Debito Arudou definitely raises some issues with regards to Japan and how Japanese people deal with foreigners, all of which need to be tackled by Japanese and gaijin alike, but to equate the use of “gaijin” to “nigger” is, as another respondent said, “hyperbolic,” and, I would say, 180 degrees off target.

Wayne Malcolm, Akita City

Both bad, but one’s worse

From the Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary’s “gaijin” entry: “a foreigner in Japan.” From the N-word’s entry: “. . .now ranks as perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English.”

No one alive today who has been called the N-word has ever been beaten as a slave in a state-supported system. No one alive today who has been called the G-word has ever been beaten, nor stolen from their homelands in a state-sponsored system of oppression.

That being said, let’s take a look at the definition of “discriminate”: “recognize or perceive the difference.” Right there is the rub: It denotes a difference between “this kind of people” and “that kind of people.” As such, it has no place in the polite lexicon.

Another important point of the modern discussion of the N- vs. G-words is, in my opinion, the fact that their roots are almost exactly the same. The French word for “black” has been mispronounced by Americans for years, leading to the commonly vulgar “n—er,” or the modern,”embraced” term “n—a.” It is a mispronunciation of a word. Similarly, the shortening of “gaikokujin” could be looked at as a mispronunciation, albeit of a native word. In short, “you people aren’t worth my time” is the subtext; “I’ll just call you all this” is the action.

One word has its roots in slavery (and mispronounced French), the other has its roots in wanting to save time when discriminating against others. One’s worse, but they’re both pretty bad.

As a student of Japanese, I also understand that often words are “shortened,” such as “rajiokase” for “radio/cassette player.” However, each of our languages is rich enough to use positive terms to describe everyone, even if we must point out our differences in these descriptions.

I hope we can move forward to a more positive, kindhearted world by no longer relying on such catch-all terms for “us” and “them.”

Michael Giaimo, El Cerrito, Calif.

You don’t speak for us

With all due respect, Mr. Arudou, your assertion that there is any sort of comparison between the word used to address the slaves and children and grandchildren of your former compatriots and “gaijin” are strained and, at best, ill-informed.

Your stated desired outcome is to have your Japanese status acknowledged. And what would that look like? At a social event, would a recent acquaintance mistakenly call you Taro Arudou instead of Debito? The nation of Japan has issued you your passport, you have your health care card, and you are entitled to all the benefits the nation offers. Clearly the state has given you what you want. What is it you want from me and from the readers of this newspaper, then?

I appreciate that you play at fighting the good fight, but in this instance, sir, you have seriously offended me. Because, let’s face it, you don’t speak for the “n—ers” living in Japan. When you make such lazy comparisons, you’re not a champion of the rights of the Filipina sex workers that are brutalized here in Okinawa. You’re not the defender of the Chinese or third-generation Koreans that still aren’t Japanese. You’ve simply appropriated a term whose mere presence in this debate serves only to sell advertising space on the (Japan Times) Web site and does not further the prospects of the people you claim to be defending.

You want to champion the rights of newcomers to Japan, but what we need, Mr. Arudou, are not your ham-fisted and ugly similes; we need words that can nourish the imagination of the reader — words that speak to every human being’s basic need to be a part of a community predicated on mutual benefit. In your own, American tradition we can look to the poet Robert Frost for the kinds of words we need. In his poem “The Mending Wall,” we read that good fences make good neighbors. It is in these supposed boundaries — our cultural differences, which at once seem to cut us off from each other — that we find the very source of our mutual strength. That we are different and the inheritors of rich cultural traditions mean that we are better able to meet and surpass the needs of our communities, because within these vast repositories of cultural knowledge we find the stories of those who have been as bridges between cultures and communities.

Paul Boshears, Uruma City, Okinawa

Glad Arudou is out there

Since he is a controversial figure, I imagine Debito Arudou’s latest piece has produced more disagreement than agreement. I want to be onboard as saying that I think his point about differentiating different types of Japanese people with a “hyphenated term” (e.g., “Amerika-kei Nihonjin”) is a well-received one, at least by this reader.

Until a term exists which allows those who do not obviously appear to be Japanese to be referred to as Japanese citizens, a mentality that accepts that you can look “non-Japanese” but still be Japanese will not develop. The language has to be present first in order to give citizens a way in which to express a way of thinking which is currently alien to them. If they start to hear the hyphenated terms on television or read them in newspapers, a new pattern of thinking will develop.

While I don’t always agree with everything Debito Arudou says, I’m very glad that he’s out there saying it. He’s the first bona fide activist for foreigners in Japan and as such he sometimes is extreme because it’s the only way he can shake people’s thinking and wake them up to the problems in Japan. Activists who are attempting to get equal rights have always been criticized for bucking the status quo by people who are sufficiently satisfied that they would rather passively accept inequality and prejudicial treatment than “rock the boat.” They’re also often treated as objects of hate or scorn by the very people they’re laboring to help.

I applaud The Japan Times for giving him a platform from which to speak and hope that it will continue to give him a more public and widely read voice.

Shari Custer, Tokyo

Gaijin, and proud of it

Those of us who are “gaijins” don’t all agree with the opinion of Mr. Arudou. The word “gaijin” is not the same as the English word “n–ger” in meaning, and there is no common effect on diversity.

Gaijin is a Japanese word meaning “foreigner” or “outsider.” The word is composed of “gai” (“outside”) and “jin” (“person”), so the word can be translated literally as “outside (foreign) person.” The word can refer to nationality, race or ethnicity.

The word “gaijin” does not have the same effect as “n–ger,” and nor will it ever. Mr. Arudou may be a Japanese in the legal sense, but neither Mr. Arudou nor I will ever be true Japanese. To be a true Japanese you must be born and raised as a Japanese. Anyone else is just not genuinely Japanese, regardless of what your passport says.

I’m sorry, Mr. Arudou, but you do not think like a Japanese and, judging by your writings, you will never assimilate into the Japanese way of life. You are like so many other Americans, who want everyone to change and accept you instead of you changing and accepting them.

Let’s all agree that “gaijin” is just a word. Making it into a bad word is just wrong. I am a gaijin and damn proud to be one, and the Japanese accept me for what I am, not what I want to be called.

Denny Pollard, San Francisco

Equality of censorship

Thanks for both of these columns, which I fully identify with. I agree that “gaijin” is a painful word, and the fact that the word engages debate proves it.

I have one comment, though. If you write “n–ger,” why not use “g–jin”? Let’s find some “katakana” transcription. If someone could start the trend, this has to be you, Debito! This may bring awareness about the deeply unpleasant undertones.

Michel Vidal-Naquet, Tokyo

No one said Japan was easy

Poor Debito Arudou, arguing the cause of foreigners in Japan about the term “gaijin.” Every generation of long-term residents in Japan has faced the insular nature of “us versus them” living in Japan. I did during my 8 1/2 years in Japan (1985-92).

Some of us choose to feel slighted by the word and make mountains out of mole hills, trying in futility to change Japanese thinking by writing books and verbose essays in English, appealing to those of a similar mind set, while others choose to get on with their lives and recognize that you can’t be accepted by all those in Japanese society. It is far easier to make peace with yourself and the close circle of friends and family that you have than it is to tear apart the psychology of the Japanese group and individual identity.

People who live in Japan for a long period of time do gradually lose sight of the reality in their home countries as well, on how immigrants are often treated at home.

There are some good and negative points to all countries. Some people might be a bit more accepting of immigrants than others when they have taken the time to learn the language. There are a quite a few Westerners who have become legal Japanese citizens, even local politicians. The fact is, if you who have chosen to live in Japan but cannot come to grips with the fact that you are not going to be considered “Japanese” even if you naturalize, then maybe it is better for you to move on before this becomes a psychosis.

No one ever said that living in Japan would be easy. You would probably find the insularity in some other Asian countries like China and Korea even more disconcerting, carrying that chip on your shoulder all the time.

Kerry M. Berger, Bangkok

Chip on your shoulder

Racial and ethnic prejudice is present globally, not just in Japan. My parents were Americans of Japanese ancestry. Dad served in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II in Italy fighting Germans. He couldn’t get a job in America because “japs” weren’t hired. He served in 442nd RCT/100th Battalion, themost decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army.

If you don’t like living in Japan, move. People like you walk around with a chip on your shoulder.

Norman Matsumura, Tucson, Ariz.

‘Sorry, gaijin’

People in the US use the term “foreigner” to describe people not from America in pretty much the same way Japanese use “gaijin” to describe people not from Japan. Some people use that term to hurt others. Some people are hurt by it. But if there are a handful of foreigners in the U.S. who feel offended by its usage, does that mean that it is suddenly a bad word?

About 99 percent of the citizens of Japan would say that Mr. A. does not look like a native of this country. If that is a priority for him, I would recommend moving to the U.S. or Canada. I have immense respect for the fact that Mr. A became a Japanese, but it is silly to think that just by becoming Japanese suddenly 125 million native Japanese citizens will start to think of a white person as a Japanese. How would the average Japanese know that Mr. A. (a) has citizenship here and (b) is of “American descent” and therefore should be addressed as “amerika-kei nihonjin” instead of “gaijin,” which applies to the vast majority of white people here?

Even the suggestion that gaijin are stripped of their ancestral identity in the way Africans were when they were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to America is an enormous affront to peoples who lost their ancestral identity in the process, least of all due to language. It is particularly absurd to think that happens to gaijin who freely emigrate to Japan. Quite the contrary. No one seems to forget the ancestry of Korean-Japanese (who often did not freely emigrate), and I am often asked, “Are you German? American?” Japanese are sensitive to these distinctions despite the label. In any event, how is “gaijin” any more culture-erasing than “gaikokujin”?

Regarding the broadcasters, using the more formal “gaikokujin” keeps things nice and diplomatic, and awkward. I would encourage anyone who considers Japanese broadcasters to be the moral standard for this fine country to watch a little late night TV (any night, any station). Is this the moral compass of the Japanese people? Sorry ace, try looking somewhere else.

No matter how much I adapt to Japanese ways, I’ll always be a gaijin here, and the better I understand this the more easily I will be able to live in my adopted country. When I hear a noisy foreigner complaining about how things here should be more like they are back home, all I really can say is, “Sorry, gaijin.”

JG, Zushi, Kanagawa Pref.

When natives are the outsiders

I for one don’t think “gaijin” is as bad a term as people make it out to be. For instance, what about Americans calling their native peoples “Indian?” We are not Indian, and yet we are referred to as such. Why?

Indians are outsiders (from another country) — who does that mean the natives are?

I know Columbus thought he landed in/near India, but that was in the 1400s. I think some people take the term “gaijin” too seriously.

Eledore Massis, Long Branch, N.J.

Like trying to grasp water

As a 31-year resident of Japan, it seems to me that the intonation of the speaker who utters this word matters a great deal, as does the situation in which its use takes place. It still irritates me to hear “gaijin,” but then language is a living thing, so attempts to control it are largely futile — it’s rather like trying to grasp water.

Jeff Jones, Tokyo

Singled out, lumped together

Just wanted to say thanks for a stellar read. I’ve spent the better part of the last six months trying to tie words with emotions on what it’s like to be singled out, then lumped together, all at the hand of one little word.

Would love to see more of this debate continuing in the future.

Zach P, Okayama

Author is discriminating

I like how the author complains of discrimination when his article does the exact same thing back to the Japanese. He makes broad generalizations about how Japanese perceive foreigners, with absolutely no evidence to back his obviously biased observations. In addition,his comparison to term “n–ger” is ludicrous considering all the perks and opportunities foreigners often enjoy in Japan. My heart breaks for poor, suffering foreigners such as Howard Stringer, the CEO of Sony. And by the way, if you don’t have to guts to print the full word, you shouldn’t put it in your article.

My experience living as a foreigner in Japan has always been pleasant, and I have found that Japanese people, while often not very knowledgeable of other cultures, are genuinely interested in hearing about other countries, and the U.S. in particular. So I wonder what the author’s complaint is? Is it the often unfair career advantages foreigners enjoy here or the extra attention and curiosity you receive as someone who looks different? In either case, I can imagine things far worse to complain about.

And I wonder what the author’s position is on the large number of ethnic Koreans who were born in Japan and are virtually indistinguishable from ethnic Japanese? Or how he feels about labeling foreigners as “aliens” in the U.S., and its strict immigration policies.

If anything, an article highlighting the very real problem of prostitution and exploitation of foreign women would have been far more informative and worthy of attention. But I hardly think Debito has much to personally complain about in that regard. Overall, this was a very poorly thought-out article with the same biases and prejudices it complains about. I give it a -1 on a 1-to-10 scale.

Tae Kim, Seattle

Be known as the best gaijin

I always like to read what Debito Arudou has to say. The word “gaijin” may seem strange or misused.

Despite the fact I was born here, I’ve heard it all my life. If you are called by a name all your life it becomes your identity. It would feel strange to change what I’m called mid-stream.

Even a funny name on a good person changes the feeling of the name to a good name for that person. I don’t worry about it at all. Just be known as the best “gaijin” with a Japanese passport around. Enjoy life, know who you are, people who really know you will know you for who you really are. No worries.

Loyd, Kobe

‘Gaijin-san’ proves point

I always try to avoid using the word “gaijin,” but it’s not because I think the word may sound more offensive than “gaikokujin” or other terms that are used to refer to non-Japanese people. I just do so because it would be preferable to call them Americans, Russians, Brazilians, etc, if possible.

Whatever historical study suggests, “gaijin” has no more a negative implication than “gaikokujin.” In fact, some Japanese use the term “gaijin-san” to make it sound polite. This single fact shows that “gaijin” has no discriminatory connotation.

Satoru Yoshikura, Tokyo

Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp

Reader AS voices concerns re Softbank regulations and Japanese Language Proficiency Test


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. Finally got done with my marvelous class (a joy from start to finish, we went several hours overtime just discussing the issues), and been too busy to revise my blog every night revising my powerpoints to reflect the threads of our conversation. So let me forward this germane email and open a discussion about issues regarding Softbank and the JPLT.

Arudou Debito in Nagoya, tomorrow Saitama, then Nagano, Sendai, and Iwate on successive days…


Dear Mr. Debito Arudou,

Hello. My name is AS. Currently, I am living in Gifu Prefecture. I am long time reader of your blog and a great admirer of you and your work for the foreign community in Japan. I have two concerns that I would like to dicuss with you. If you want, you have my consent to publish these comments on your blog for an open discussion.

1) Questioning the request of the Japanese Proficiency Test to show a passport or a gaikokujin card as an ID. When a person applies for the JLPT, they recieve a manual regarding the way of applying for the test, how to take the test, and other various guidelines and rules that may apply to taking the test. One of these guidelines is that you must show either a passport or an alien registration card as a form of I.D. To quote the manual, under the topic of what to bring to the test.

  • 1. Test voucher
  • 2. Writing Instruments
  • 3. Lunch.
  • 4. Identification (passport or alien registration card)

I have no problems with numbers 1 to 3, but with number 4, I have a major problem. Why do they ask only for either a passport or an alien registration card? Why do I have to show either one of these to prove my identification? Isn’t either a Japanese driver’s license or a Japanese insurance card a form of valid I.D.? Also under Japanese law, isn’t illegal for someone to ask you for a alien registration card or a passport that isn’t a police officer or an immigration officer? I am just wondering about these questions because the JPLT is targeted to towards foreigners who want to measure their Japanese comprehension in form of a test. In my mind, it looks the NPA deputized another group of people (first one being hotels and their front desk) to gather information about foreigners. I am wondering what is your take on this and any advice to an individual that is more willing to show their insurance card instead of their passport or their alien registration card to the proctors of the test.

2) Questioning the policy at Softbank requiring long term foreign residents to pay a lump-sum payment for a cell phone if their period of stay in Japan is less then 27 months. Here is my story: Yesterday I want to a Softbank shop in order to get a new plan and cell phone. I wanted a new plan and cell phone for a while and current 2 year contract was about to expire. I want to shop and was looking at various cell phones. A sales associate came over to help with decide in choosing a new model. I choose a cell phone that I wanted to get and the sales assoicate with very helpful with decribing the current price structure for the phones. If I wanted a new phone, I would have a pay a x amount for over 24 months, the lenght of the contract. I said that was fine with me. She continued to laid out the cost of the phone over the 24 month period and the cost of the monthly phone bill in relation to my new plan with cost of the mobile phone. Up to this point, I was happy and pleased with the service of Softbank. When processing my order, the sales associate asked my lenght of my visa. I was surprised by this because I have been a customer with Softbank for over the lenght of stay in Japan ( a little over 4 years now) and I have never been asked once the length of my visa. So, I told here that my visa is going to expire next July. I have a currently a three year instructor visa that is going to expire next year in July. I am planning on renewing my visa next year and continue to live in Japan. At this point, I was surprised and little bit frustrated and angry at the sales associate. However, this is where things become surprising and frustrating for me. Before when discussing my the cost of my phone and the plan that I was going get, the sales associate informed that my cost cell phone is zero. It will cost me nothing. Howver now with the information of the current lenght of my visa, she informs that I will have to buy my cell phone for 40,000 yen. I was completely shocked and gobsmacked by this. She informed that since my visa is less then the lenght of my contract I will have to provide a lump sum payment of 40,000 payment in order to recieve my phone. I have never paid for my cell phones (currently 2 different models within 4 years and the last change happening about 2 years ago). I was not happy to put down 40,000 yen for a cell phone. It is a lot of money. At the end of the experience, I did not get a new cell phone but I got my plan.

My question to you: What can be done to make Softbank realize that their policies are downright racist and bias against foreigners that do not have a visa of 3 years or more? Of course I am assuming that marriage visas of any length are fine. Many of my friends and acquaintances have a visa of one year. My one friend who has been living in Japan for 3 years but is always getting a one year visa from immigration. What can my friend and I do in a situation in that we have to pay a lump sum payment for a cell phone now but in the past we could get a cell phone with no questions asked or paying for a cell phone? And also, when did Softbank (a company that has large long term foreign residents as customers) entacted a policy of asking the term of one’s visa lenght and requesting a lump sum payment for a cell phone if the customer a lenght of Japan under 27 months. Why 27 months and not 24 months (the lenght of the contract)? Why they have contract lenght of 24 months and not 12 months (the lenght of lot of visas issued by immigration)? What can be done about this?

Thank you for reading this lengthy e-mail.

Sincerely, AS, a 4 year long term foreign resident of Japan


Japan Times readers respond to my “Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin’?” JUST BE CAUSE Column


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

The Japan Times Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008


Zeit Gist Illustration

Readers respond: Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin’? 

The Community Page received a large number of responses to Debito Arudou’s last Just Be Cause column on the use of the word “gaijin.” Following is a selection of readers’ views.

Not an epithet

That Arudou and others dislike the word “gaijin” and would prefer its retirement, I can understand. What I cannot understand (and I doubt Arudou really believes it either) is the insistence that the word is also an “epithet” comparable to “n–ger,” and that Japanese willfully use the term toward (mostly) non-ethnic Japanese in order to berate, abuse or express hostility towards the listener (what “epithet” means).

“N–ger” carries all kinds of baggage and was used to define second-class human beings. I cannot — and I am certain Arudou cannot either — imagine being part of a race who were abducted from their homes, transported like cattle across the Atlantic Ocean, forced to work as slaves for centuries, only then to be “freed” into a country that informed them they could not share the same public facilities, restaurants or schools with “whites.” Decades of institutionalized poverty, discrimination, and abuse followed. To suggest a meaningful comparison between the word “n–ger” and “gaijin” on any level exists strikes me as being in very poor taste. Indeed, it starts to trivialize history.

Postwar dictionaries, both English and Japanese, simply define gaijin as a neutral variation of “gaikokujin.” Even Kojien (which Arudou calls “Japan’s premier dictionary”) informs its readers that the contemporary usage (definition three) is a variation of gaikokujin. These same dictionaries do not label the term as derogatory, unlike other Japanese words.

And what about foreign language words that also mean “outside + person” — words like “Auslander” (German), “straniero” (Italian) and the English “foreigner” itself, which derives from the Latin “foras,” meaning “outside”? Should we to ban these words, too, because they encourage “us vs. them” differences? Of course not.

Poll results
The results of a Japan Times Online poll conducted August 6-12.


Gaijin might have become offensive to some listeners for reasons both real and imagined in recent years, but it is certainly not an epithet. To make automatically negative assumptions about what the speaker must be thinking and feeling when Japanese use the word says more about the listener than it does about the Japanese speaker.

Paul J. Scalise, 
Visiting research fellow, Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies, Temple University

Thanks for the heads-up

I very much appreciated this article. I have lived with Japanese roommates for the past two years, and have thus naturally made a strong circle of Japanese acquaintances. (I can never be sure who is a friend.) This experience has opened my world and now I can read “kana,” some “kanji,” and speak a smattering of basic Japanese that has begun to improve rapidly due to my recent decision to study seriously. This December I will travel to Japan to scout ahead and decide if I will take an offered position in teaching at an elementary school.

It has always been interesting to me that even in my so-called native country (I have also lived in Europe for extended periods) I am referred to as a “gaijin” by these acquaintances, without abandon. I have always been aware of the connotations. I have three friends who were born in Ibaraki Prefecture and have lived there their entire lives, and yet they are still called “gaijin.”

You article helps me to gain some perspective before I venture out to Japan, and I thank you for your wit and clarity.

Bradley J. Collier, 
Oklahoma City

Get over it and move on

Were Mr. Arudou to come to Austria, he would be called “Auslander.” Auslander translates as “foreigner” but it literally means “someone from the outside lands,” in contrast to the “Inlander” (the native population). The German language has no politically correct term like “gaikokujin” (yet give it time and our useless politicians will come up with one).

In my opinion it’s not the terms “gaijin” or “Auslander” that cause the problems; it’s who uses them and how. I’ve been called “gaijin” by friends in Japan, and their families, and I have no problem with that. First of all, they know that I’m not politically correct. For example, I still use the German word “Neger” when referring to black Africans and so-called Afro-Americans (and no, it’s not like the English N-word). I’m with Charlton Heston on this issue: Political correctness is a dictatorship with manners.

Secondly, I like to communicate fast, without holding things up too much (and “gaijin” is undeniably faster than “gaikokujin” — what a mouthful!).

In German you can use “Auslander” in a very bad way. Neo-Nazi groups do that all the time (example: “Deutschland den Deutschen, Auslander raus” — Germany to the Germans, out with the foreigners). That, however, doesn’t prompt anyone to scream for a new term. We simply get over it and move on.

Andreas Kolb, 

Japanese falls short on slang?

I understand the author’s perspective, but other countries and cultures have similar words in their vocabularies. Don’t the Jews call all non-Jews “gentiles?” Aren’t there plenty of Americans who call Asian people “Orientals?” Perhaps the Japanese just aren’t sophisticated when it comes to slang for other peoples/cultures; all they have is “gaijin.” Lets see what we can come up with in the English language: n–ger, wop, jap, chink, cracker, whitey, spick, etc.

The author may have Japanese citizenship but he isn’t ethnic Japanese so the typical Japanese will never consider him to be Japanese. Though Japan does have more foreign residents than in the past, it isn’t a melting pot like America. There are greater injustices taking place in the world . . . lighten up!

Brad Magick, 
Phoenix, Ariz.

Like watching pro wrestling

I would like to commend you on the article “Once a ‘gaijin,’ always a ‘gaijin.’ ” In spite of its being grammatically and logically obtuse, overly simplistic and naive, and hyperbolic to a fault, it was very enlightening and entertaining. Reading it was comparable to watching professional wrestling on TV. Was it supposed to be serious?

Aside from the mangled, convoluted and inarticulate English that weakens the article, the equating of the plight of the foreigner in Japan to the African-American’s fight for equality and freedom is sad and callous. I am not African-American so I am reluctant to speak for them; however, as one who grew up in the segregated South, I can assure the reader and the author that they are not comparable. The author of the article may have gotten this idea from the movie “Mr. Baseball,” which facetiously alludes to the comparison.

Since I am partly of Italian-American descent, I am used to the pejoratives “dago,” “wop,” “guinea” and “Mafiosa.” If my immigrant Italian grandfather who was spat on every night at his factory job were alive, he would laugh at the writer’s article and remark, “What’s the problem?”

“Gaijin” is not essentially “n–ger.” The more we use “gaijin,” the less effective it will be and it will eventually burn itself out like the pejorative “j-p.”

Tyrone Anthony, 

Language has alternatives

After recently returning to Japan after a 12-year absence, I was wondering if I had missed any debate over the use of the G-word. Glad I can throw my two cents in. Whilst many may be able to shrug it off as one of the lesser annoyances, the word is loaded and it is well within the Japanese language for alternatives to be used.

Yes, “gaikokujin” should complete the appropriate processes to acquire Japanese residence or citizenship, “nyujirandojin” shouldn’t drink as much as they do, and “hakujin” should wear higher SPF sunscreen. Just please don’t call me “gaijin.”

Jeremy Brocherie, 

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


Discussion: Why do NJ have such apparently bipolar views of life in Japan?


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


I think the responses in this thread bring up a very interesting point that probably warrants looking into. It seems to me that the foreign community living in Japan is split right down the middle in terms of outlook on Japan.

I wonder what the factors are for this divide. Is it related to work? Is it related to the location where each person is living? Is it related to political beliefs in the country of origin? Is it based simply on personality, or maybe on language skills? Does the period of residence in Japan have anything to do with it?

There are seemingly infinite numbers of possibilities, but I find it strange that there is no middle ground – i.e. the people that are sort of ambivalent to the whole experience of living here.


I suggested this become an independent blog entry and the notion was seconded. So here we are.

So let me ask: Why do NJ have such apparently bipolar views of life in Japan?

I of course have my own pet theories, but for the purposes of this blog entry, I will try to have no real stake or angle in this discussion (NB: except unless respondents, like an attack blog or two are doing, try to blame me for somehow leading innocent people astray with allegedly biased or mistaken impressions of Japan; in my view, given how certain elements, always sourced, make criticism of Japan so easy, that’s merely shooting the messenger. So I ask people to leave me out of it–I’m not that important a factor.)

I do acknowledge that Debito.org will naturally attract more than its fair share of the disgruntled and disaffected, and that may be biasing the sample thus far of commenters. But let’s try to have a civilized discussion of why people seem to have bipolar views of things over here. It can’t all be, to put things in a very rough bipolar spectrum, “honeymoon-period guestism” vs. “culturally-ignorant whinging”, now, can it?

Fire away. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Discussion: Softbank’s policy towards NJ customers re new iPhone


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.  This issue has been brought up on other blogs (most notably Japan Probe), so I thought I need not duplicate it on Debito.org (I try to limit myself to one blog entry per day).  But recently I received through the FRANCA Japan list a series of thoughtful discussions on the iPhone that are good enough to reprint here.  Anonymized.  And note that Softbank already seems to have reacted to the situation.  Arudou Debito

From: Writer A
Subject: [FRANCA] Yodabashi Akiba Restricts iPhone 3G Sales To Foreigners
Date: July 17, 2008 8:14:32 PM JST
To: francajapan@yahoogroups.com

Where else but Japan would one find a huge electronics retailer, located in a tourist center, that refuses to sell to certain foreigners a phone marketed simultaneously around the world, designed by an American company and distributed by a firm headed by a [naturalized] Zainichi Korean?

Yodabashi Akiba (YA), the largest store of the Yodobashi Camera electronics retailer chain, is located in Akihabara, the tourist center that is Ground Zero for anime nerds (otaku). On any given day, one is likely to find Western and Chinese customers shopping at YA, in addition to Japanese customers. Like any cell phone retailer that wants to remain in business. YA has a huge display for Apple’s 3G iPhone, which went on sale in Japan on July 11 and promptly sold out at YA.

But if a foreigner wished to buy an Apple 3G iPhone at YA, that foreigner would find that YAs policy is to refuse to sell a phone to a person with an authorized stay of less than 90 days, and refuses to allow a sale on the installment plan to foreigners with less than 16 months of authorized stay.

Check the Files section of this Group for a scan of the offending policy document (original Japanese).

Softbank itself does not mention any such restrictions in its iPhone 3G contract terms


and Softbank was the first cell phone provider to take the attitude that if a foreigner is using a credit card, Softbank does not care about the length of stay (because the credit card issuer guarantees payment to Softbank). So, this appears to be a YA policy.

Now, some apologists will offer the following defenses:

1. YA is worried about not being paid by short-stay foreigners: wrong, YA is paid by the credit card company. Softbank already accepts credit cards, and can cut off service if a customer fails to pay. Why is a foreigner with 15 months 29 days of stay a poor credit risk while one with 16 months is not a credit risk?

2. YA is going out of its way help misguided foreigners who might buy a cell phone in Japan only to find it does not work outside of Japan: wrong, the iPhone 3G is designed to work with most 3G systems around the world, and in fact can work as a wireless terminal without any 3G system at all. The phone is multilingual (Japanese-English-Chinese- whatever) out of the box.

3. Apple/Softbank are trying to prevent iPhone 3G units from being taken out of Japan and unlocked (made useable with carriers other than Softbank): Wrong, only YA has this policy, and if anyone is going to buy up hundreds of iPhone 3G units and sell them abroad, it is going to be a yakuza or a snakehead with access to someone who has the proper credentials.

4. The police made them do it: well, the bigotry of Japanese cops is unlimited, but why can a foreigner show a Japanese health insurance card (no photo, certainly no visa info) or a Japanese driver’s license (no visa info) and be exempt from the restrictions on purchase/ installment payment?

One has to wonder about Japan’s future when flagship stores in major tourist areas go out of their way to discriminate against foreign customers, without any business or logical reason.

In the meantime, one can always boycott YA. Bic Camera has much better service, Yamada Denki is cheaper, and Best Denki has better parking !

From: Writer B

Check the Files section of this Group for a scan of the offending policy document (original Japanese).




The document says nothing about restrictions on foreigners. It talks about restrictions on people using a foreigners registration card as their means of identification. Being a foreigner does not mean that your foreigner registration card is your only means of identification. Just show your driver’s license or your health insurance card instead.

BTW, it isn’t Yodobashi specifically; this is very much a Softbank policy. Always has been. The blogosphere has been talking about this for the past week, because of the iPhone, but I remember this from when I first switched to Softbank a couple years ago. I showed my alien registration, it was going to be a problem, so I showed my drivers license instead.


From: Writer C

I would wait a little on this one. They just announced this morning that all the major cellphone companies are going to implement new, tougher rules on registering phones. The police will be involved, and people will have to provide ID (driving licences were mentioned) and possibly have it copied by the companies. People refusing would be denied contracts, and ‘suspicious’ people refusing would be reported to the police.

And this will affect everyone. How they deal with non-Japanese, and non-residents, within this, remains to be seen.


From: Writer A

To the posters on the subject:

True, the YA document I discussed and posted does not say foreigners cannot buy an iPhone 3G. It does say that NJ with a stay of less than 91 days cannot buy an iPhone 3G. These very short-term NJ most likely won’t have a Japanese driver’s license or health insurance card. NJs who do have a Japanese driver’s license or health card, as I pointed out, can show either and get around the permitted stay restriction (one hopes), but many NJs with a 91 day to 15-month stay will not have either alternate document.

No, it is not a Softbank policy. It is not a stated policy and it is not an actual policy. I posted the stated policy (the hyperlink to the contract), and it mentions nothing about period of stay. Neither does any official Softbank literature on the iPhone 3G. It is not an unofficial Softbank policy either: I have used Softbank for many years and have never once been asked for a “gaijin card”. I have been asked for other ID and was able to satisfy the ID requirement by producing an official Japanese document that does not include my visa status. My understanding is that official iPhone 3G registration in every country requires some kind of proof of identity, but Japan is the only instance I have heard of in which proof of visa status is required. Indeed, in most countries phone companies love foreigners with adequate credit because they make long international telephone calls to their foreign homes.

Why do you think the policy appears in tiny letters at the bottom of a photocopied handout at YA? Perhaps because YA knows the policy is offensive and arbitrary. You won’t find a similar document at your local Softbank shop: the white Softbank iPhone 3G brochure has nothing restricting contracts to persons of a certain permitted stay.

Did [Writer B] switch from DoCoMo to Softbank, and is perhaps melding Softbank into the trauma of dealing with DoCoMo? DoCoMo is infamously NJ-unfriendly. It is the spawn of NTT, the phone company that would not hook up NJ to black rotary line telephones in the days when that is what a telephone meant.

Another poster mentioned that the police want to have tougher proof of identity requirements for registering cell phones. Actually, the Japanese police have a multi-year history of trying to tie cell phones more conclusively to individuals. The police are the reason one can no longer anonymously purchase a prepaid cell phone in Japan. The police are trying to make it a crime to sell a SIM (telephone number ID chip) from another phone in Japan. The reason is simple: yakuza use untraceable or stolen cell phones for defrauding people. A recent factoid states that Japan is victim to $1 million per day in telephone fraud (the frauds are quite varied, and change frequently, but many of the frauds are perpetrated against the elderly). The yakuza use the phones for a blitz of fraudulent calls, then throw away the phones– and the police can’t find out who is behind the frauds. By itself, requesting positive ID when one registers a cell phone is, I think, NJ-neutral. However, the police in Japan always end up requesting ID from NJ well beyond what is adequate to establish identity, and always end up backing down on the rigor of ID from Japanese citizens. Many of the forms of ID a Japanese can present to satisfy the policy have no photograph, no counterfeiting security, no standard format and are easy to turn out flawlessly with a good computer printer.

If YA has some legitimate business concern, there are ways to satisfy the concern without discriminating against NJ.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Go blog it, Debito!


 From: Writer B

No, it is not a Softbank policy. It is not a stated policy and it is not an actual policy.




Well, here is Softbank’s actual policy from Softbank’s official web page:


This is what lists the documents required to sign up for 3G service. There are many choices, one choice of which is “foreign registration card plus foreign passport”. If you choose that option, you may sign up for Softbank provided that you are not on a 90-day visa.

Now, there are actually two things at play here: The ability to sign up for 3G service and the ability to buy an iPhone on installments. If you pass the first thing, and you are willing to fork over the unsubsidized cash price for an iPhone 3G (70,000-80,000 yen depending on which model), then you have no problems.

But this is where the 3-15-month period of stay thing comes in:

Oh, hmm, Softbank has deleted the document since I saw it a few days ago:


The link that Japanprobe linked to before gave limitations as to who would purchase a phone on installments rather than upfront. It’s gone now. It was a page on Softbank’s official site, however.

To be perfectly honest, I think that their requirements are fair: To have service, all you have to do is prove that you live in Japan. If you want to buy a phone on installments (ie, take out credit), you should prove that you intend to pay back that loan, either by proving that you’re integrated enough in society that you have a driving license or health insurance, or at least have a visa that is long enough to cover the period of the loan. If you don’t, you don’t have to buy the phone on installments — you can buy it up front if you like.

But whether or not you think that’s fair, the point is you are barking up the wrong tree. It is very definitely Softbank that you are angry at, not Yodobashi. the fact that I (and many others) saw those requirements on Softbank’s website means that, at least as of a week ago, those were Softbank’s policies. I assume that they still are and that Softbank took away the link because people were complaining. But even if not, depending on the timing of when Yodobashi printed up their flyers, it is almost certain that it was because of Softbank’s directions.

Did [Writer B] switch from DoCoMo to Softbank, and is perhaps melding Softbank into the trauma of dealing with DoCoMo?




I did switch from DoCoMo, but your insinuation that I don’t know the difference between phone companies is, quite frankly, insulting.

DoCoMo is infamously NJ-unfriendly.




Maybe.. I never had a problem with them, though I understand that a lot of people have, so I am probably in the minority.