Debito’s SNA VM column 57: “Overtourism as racism” (July 1, 2024). Most media on too many foreign tourists in Japan ignores how xenophobes are using “overtourism” to bully foreigners. Debito.org even argues it’s producing discriminatory policies worse than “Japanese Only” signs!

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“OVERTOURISM” AS RACISM

Much media has covered the downside of too many foreign tourists in Japan. Less attention has been devoted to how xenophobes use “overtourism” as a means to bully foreigners.

By Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

SNA Visible Minorities column 57, July 1, 2024

Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/07/01/visible-minorities-overtourism-as-racism/

In late May, Joshua Sherlock, an eight-year resident of Kyoto offering local tours, took a group of foreign tourists on an evening visit of Yasaka Shrine.  They were confronted by a local middle-aged woman (Twitter handle @fujino_ojo), accusing them of ringing the shrine’s bell too loudly and disrespecting a religious place.

Fujino took the liberty of filming the occasion, and according to her video, Sherlock’s group apologized multiple times.  But she still chased after them as they left.  Sherlock repeatedly asked her to leave them alone in English and Japanese, to which Fujino accused Sherlock of discrimination because he spoke English to her.  Finally, he answered in Japanese using the same tone she used on him.  Claiming Sherlock had “rudely brushed her off,” Fujino then uploaded her videos to Twitter where they got a million views.

What happened next was devastating.  According to The Times (London), Sherlock’s family reported people telephoning his home to scream insults and demand he leave Japan.  A removal van arrived to collect their belongings.  Strangers began prowling their neighborhood, and somebody threatened to set their apartment on fire.  His wife began having panic attacks and their daughter was taken out of school.  

Sherlock says that he no longer feels safe in Kyoto, and, suspending his tour services, fears that even stepping outside might result in him being “attacked by a lynch mob of extreme right-wing people.”  

The Times’ headline:  Japanese hospitality wears thin as overtourism takes toll”.

“OVERTOURISM” AS A MEANS OF HARASSMENT 

“Overtourism” has become a trendy word to describe Japan attractions (e.g., Shibuya Scramble, Hachiko, Ginza, Kyoto, Senso-ji, Mount Fuji) being overrun by tourists.  But in Japan the word is specifically associated with “foreign tourists,” i.e., mobs blocking traffic, disrupting local businesses and mores by littering and chattering away in their foreign languages.

I don’t dispute that “overtourism” can happen.  Too many people crowding into a place can produce problems of noise, pollution, disruption, and property damage.  

But be careful about associating it with “foreigners.”  As evidenced by the Karen-esque confrontation at Yasaka Shrine, it’s giving license to Japan’s busybodies, bullies, and xenophobes.

This column will argue that “overtourism” is not only becoming the latest incarnation of racialized bullying, it’s also producing reactionary public policies that are actually worse than the “Japanese Only” signs of yore.

WHAT EXACTLY DOES JAPAN WANT FROM ITS TOURISTS?  

Given Japan’s excellent public transportation systems, tourism has long been a source of economic activity.  As Japanese discovered they had more disposable income, depopulating rural areas realized they needed more revenue.  

So local governments launched programs to encourage people to visit.  Even during the privations of the pandemic, there were subsidized traIns, cut rates on hotel and airplane packages, and ad campaigns for local festivals and seasonal sights encouraging people to get out and spend money.

This included foreign tourists.  Hard to believe now, but Japan once whined that there weren’t enough foreigners sightseeing.  An article in the June 6, 2010, Asahi Shinbun grumbled that Chinese consumers were being “stingy,” noting their “tendency to scrimp on accommodations and meals and bypass tourist attractions for the main purpose of their trips—buying electronic appliances and designer brand clothing and accessories.”  

So the national government steered them towards those attractions with slogans about Japan’s special “omotenashi” (hospitality) and splashy “Cool Japan” and “Yokoso Japan” campaigns worldwide.  For good measure, Japan also sponsored major international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, and the Olympics.  

The goal was to make Japan a major world tourism destination.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  

In 2023, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Japan’s tourism sector was forecast to employ about 5.6 million people and represent 6.8% of Japan’s GDP.  With the devalued yen, I expect the numbers will be even better this year.

But there can be too much of a good thing.  Local governments in Kyoto and Mt. Fuji have started restricting entry to certain areas.  A town in Yamanashi famously put up a screen to block a view of Mt Fuji behind a convenience store, blaming this overkill on “bad manners” from foreign tourists.  And as seen in the Yasaka Shrine case, there have been increased confrontations with “culturally disrespectful” tourists.

The flip side is that there are people eager to take offense and capitalize on confrontation.

“CULTURAL DIFFERENCES” USED AS A WEAPON

In 2019, this column wrote about how Halloween in Shibuya was a target of “Xeno-Scapegoating”, where drinking in public was somehow portrayed as an imported problem.  Yes, despite Japan being the origin of “cosplay,” the seasonal festivals and outdoor partying, entertainment sectors in every Japanese city, and the lack of open container laws, Shibuya Mayor Ken Hasebe made that argument with a straight face when he banned all festivities in 2023.

He could because whenever foreigners are proximate to a problem, they tend to get blamed for it.  

Why?  Because of cultural conceits about “unique Japan.”  If Japan is different from everywhere else in the world, foreigners must axiomatically have “different manners” (or they wouldn’t be foreign).  So “cultural differences” are seen as an inevitable source of problems wherever foreigners congregate.

But there are people who take advantage of this dynamic:  bullies.  They exist in every society, but are especially powerful in Japan because of the general avoidance of confrontation.  They get a freer hand to push people around because fewer people push back.

Bullies generally prey on the vulnerable, so they especially like to push foreigners around.  After all, foreigners are supposed to be “guests” (not residents) while Japanese are their “hosts,” so the former occupies a lower rung on the social ladder.  (If you doubt that, consider how it is official policy in Japan’s civil service to not grant administrative jobs to foreigners, expressly because they would have authority over Japanese.  They must remain subordinate.)

This makes foreigners, not to mention Japan’s Visible Minorities (Japanese citizens who do not “look Japanese”), an easy target.  Allow me to illustrate.  

Last month I was lined up waiting for a taxi in front of Tokyo Station, and just as a cab pulled up for me, some pushy middle-aged guy jumped the line and took it.  When I told him in Japanese that I was in fact next, he cursed me out, shouting that I should speak “proper Japanese” (peppered with a few “omae”s to establish dominance).  So I obliged, telling him in “proper Japanese” to get bent and eat shite.  Clearly not used to being challenged by the likes of me, he shut up, took my cab anyway and fumed as the door closed.  I got the next cab and got on with my day.

Now, if any culture-policing Karen at Yasaka Shrine had been filming that, they would have seen people in line apologizing to me.  I also looked over the crowd and saw no hairy eyeballs on me, so clearly they had seen his queue jumping too. 

But the lesson I took from this incident is this:  The bully chose the foreign-looking guy as the spot to jump the queue, thinking he could get away with it.  And he kinda did.  

Now consider what happens when these bullies think they can empower themselves as Culture Police as part of the “overtourism” backlash.

FROM ENFORCEMENT OF THE RULES TO MAKING UP YOUR OWN RULES

Live in Japan long enough and you’ll probably encounter the Culture Police.  They’re essentially the people wanting foreigners to “get off their lawn.”  Of course, all of Japan is their lawn and they consider themselves the arbiter of “the Japanese Way.”  

They’re in parks enforcing arbitrary rules like telling you not to eat in public or talk loudly in foreign languages.  Or they’re gruffly sorting through your garbage bags on Gomi Day assuming foreigners can’t follow the rules.  Or drunkenly giving you a piece of their mind on the street regarding something they’ve taken an instant dislike to, such as your not walking on the correct side of the sidewalk or daring to date a Japanese.  

Some of these weirdos take their policing role quite literally.  There have been cases of people masquerading as uniformed cops to demand foreigners’ ID and get their private details, which is one reason why the government rendered that info invisible on Gaijin Cards.

Usually it’s best to ignore these Karens.  But sometimes you can’t, especially when they swarm online.

Yasaka Shrine is an excellent case in point.  It’s one thing for Fujino to point out somebody’s social faux pas, then accept their apologies in good faith.  It’s a completely different matter to film them and vindictively upload it for millions to see, encouraging doxxing, destroying Sherlock’s livelihood and terrorizing his family.

But the online swarm went even further, calling their shrine visit a “desecration” (fukei), and advocating criminal prosecution under Penal Code Article 188 with 6 months imprisonment and a 100,000 yen fine.  So if they didn’t drive Sherlock out of Japan, they could try to get him arrested.  

All this for ringing a bell too loudly. 

BULLYING CRYSTALIZING INTO BAD GOVERNMENT POLICY

But the overkill doesn’t stop there.  Riding the backlash to “overtourism,” people are already creating nutty policies that target foreigners.

Restaurants are charging higher “foreigner” prices and blaming it on Japan’s cheapening yen.  Local government officials are demanding an entry tax for foreign tourists at attractions.  The Osaka Governor and Himeji Mayor are currently considering a significant Gaijin Surcharge to enter their local castles.  Others have established “foreigner-only” buses and hotels.  

It only promises to get more amateurish.  For example, Remi Kimura, indicatively a “former volunteer guide who currently works in the social media content industry,” somehow got a one-off column published in the Japan Times on June 21 calling for an “arrival tax” on foreigners, to “dissuade some from coming to Japan while funding cultural preservation.”  

What was she basing this on?  She opens with how she went back to her hometown in the Japan Alps, finding a restaurant with “avocado toast” and “cold cuts and bread,” something she claimed “virtually no Japanese person would order.”  To her this was evidence that “tourism has transformed the places of my childhood.”

I’m not sure what she’s trying to preserve beyond her own personal preferences.  I found a charcuterie plate (rendered as such in katakana) at a local craft beer place in Tokyo Jinbocho.  I also found avocado sushi combos in a kaiten sushi restaurant in Engaru, all the way out in the Hokkaido outback.  

Photo:  Avocado on the menu:  Toriton restaurant, Engaru Town, untouristed Hokkaido, June 2024.

Neither place is overtouristed.  So Kimura is essentially blaming foreigners for Japanese tastes evolving when she wasn’t looking.  Get off my lawn!

“OVERTOURISM” COUNTERMEASURES ARE IN FACT WORSE THAN “JAPANESE ONLY” SIGNS

When I put this issue up on Debito.org last month, regular commenters had a lot to say.  One even made the case that Gaijin Surcharges (dual pricing systems, or nijuu kakaku sei) are actually worse than “Japanese Only” signs and rules outright excluding all foreigners.  

First, exclusions cost the company because they lose business.  On the other hand, overcharging foreigners rewards the company with more money.

Second, how will the dual pricing systems be enforced?  Will Foreign Residents have to produce their Gaijin Cards to prove their residency?  Will these ID checks, once unlawfully required by hotels at the behest of the police, now be expanded to regular shops nationwide?  Will Japan’s Visible Minorities also be forced somehow to prove their Japaneseness to get the “local” price?

Third, the pressure to change course disappears.  A “Japanese Only” sign not only invites public shame, it is in fact unconstitutional with lawsuits supporting its removal.  A Gaijin Surcharge is a lot more sustainable and probably harder to challenge in court, especially if the government is behind it.  

So financial incentives are there to make things more expensive for foreigners only nationwide, including those working here and getting paid in Japanese yen like any other Japanese.  The social hierarchies that already force “foreigners” onto a lower social rung are now fostering an economic apartheid.

CONCLUSION:  YOU WANTED THEM HERE.  NOW PROTECT THEM.

The utter irony behind this situation is that, again, Japan wanted tourists to save Japan’s economy.  Now that they’re here doing so, they’re getting punished.  Local governments are succumbing to vocal xenophobes and coming up with discriminatory policies.

Foreign Residents and Visible Minorities are also getting caught in the backlash.  What’s happening to Joshua Sherlock’s family is not just Cultural Karenism.  It’s outright terrorism.   

Japan has for nearly three decades already refused to protect foreigners against racial discrimination despite international treaty promises.  Not protecting them from the “overtourism” bullies is similar negligence.  

What should be done?

First, let’s create an official definition of “overtourism” that doesn’t encourage foreigner bashing and racial profiling.  Have it show some nuance that reflects the fact that plenty of tourists are Japanese citizens and Foreign Residents too.

Second, develop suitable infrastructure to accommodate incoming foreign tourists.  If that means siphoning off numbers to more outlying attractions, make that possible and do the groundwork to prepare locals for any anticipated language and cultural barriers.

Third, bring in qualified tourism experts.  Not the “get off my lawn” Cultural Karens with an aversion to avocado.  From what I’ve witnessed, the “overtouristed” places are already doing a pretty good job.  Get their advice on how to protect our “guests” as good “hosts” should.  

Above all, stop blaming the tourists for doing what you asked them to do—come here and enjoy themselves.  Yes, tourists can be more respectful and mannerly.  But make those rules, norms, and manners clear, and enforce them gently but firmly.

And do it quickly.  Japan’s cultural hypersensitivity is already a source of overseas humor.  Last month The Onion ran a satirical article entitled, “Tourist Immediately Breaks 34 Sacred Local Customs While Deboarding Airplane,” where an American “within 30 seconds of unbuckling his seat belt at the gate, had unknowingly violated countless unwritten rules that inhabitants of Japan had observed for thousands of years.”  

Tourists can always take their money elsewhere. After decades of effort to get them here, don’t let Japan’s Cultural Karens, bullies, and xenophobes spoil things for everyone.

ENDS

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Robert Whiting on “Slaughter in Saitama adds to list of foreigners murdered in Japan, shines light on social issue”, on the Bishop Family Murder Case, an underreported event in 2022 that I consider to be a hate crime

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Hi Blog.  A couple of weeks ago I met up with Robert Whiting, renowned author of books on Japanese baseball, and, most importantly, to me one of the best books on Japan “Tokyo Underworld“.  We had a nice chat.

One of the topics that came up was the Bishop Family Murder Case in Saitama in during Christmas 2022, which didn’t receive enough attention as a hate crime.  Whiting takes it up on his Substack with characteristic thoroughness and historical contextualization, and he has given me permission to reproduce it in full on Debito.org in order to rectify that.  Read on.  Subscribe to his Substack here.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Slaughter in Saitama adds to list of foreigners murdered in Japan, shines light on social issue

 

TOKYO — Tokyo was stunned in late December by the news of the brutal killing of longtime Japan resident William Bishop, a 69-year-old U.S. national, his 68-year-old wife Izumi Morita, and their daughter Sophianna Megumi Morita, 32. All three were found dead outside their residence in Hanno, Saitama, with multiple wounds early Christmas morning.

Later that day, prefectural police arrested the Bishops’ neighbor, a 40-year-old Japanese man named Jun Saito, at his residence around the corner believing he had bludgeoned the Bishop family to death with what was believed to be a hammer. Saito had barricaded himself in an upstairs room, and the police had to force their way in to apprehend him.

The authorities said they had received reports of a man in black clothing carrying what appeared to be a hammer as he left the Bishop home on foot shortly after the murders. They checked video cameras in the area and around the Bishop residence and discovered footage of a man in black clothing attacking a person.

Traces of blood on black clothing was confiscated at the Saito residence. Police also seized multiple potential weapons, including an ax, at the suspect’s residence, according to reports.

Although the three members of the Bishop family were found dead outside the property, blood discovered inside the residence suggested they were initially attacked indoors.

Police believe the victims were struck repeatedly due to multiple injuries found on their bodies which indicated a struggle. William Bishop’s cervical area was severely damaged.

There was a history of conflict involving Saito and the Bishop family, who had reported repeated damage to their car and property on half a dozen occasions, resulting in Saito’s arrest three different times, although Saito was ultimately not prosecuted in any of the cases. According to the Shukan Bunshun of Dec. 30, repair damage to the Bishop family automobile cost ¥1 million, forcing the family to keep their auto under protective cover in a garage behind a locked iron door. There were no reports of trouble with other individuals in the neighborhood.

When police first arrested Saito in January 2022 for damaging the Bishop’s vehicle,  they said that the Bishops told them they did not personally know who Saito was.

The house Saito was living in belonged to his parents, who reportedly moved out because of his violent behavior.

Prosecutors charged him with murder. Saito, in detention, denied the charges.

Although all the facts are not yet in, the suspect appears to be part of a troubled generation suffering from mental disorders, who dropped out of school and work in droves in the ’80s and ’90s, when Japan’s economic bubble burst, Japanese firms retrenched and downsized, and jobs were not readily available. The Japanese government has identified over half a million of these, so-called hikikomori, social recluses, who live at home, passing their time on the Internet — the rise of which has contributed to their continuing isolation, remaining economically dependent on their parents, who, in turn, do not know what they can do to help their offspring find their footing outside of the household and try to hide what they view as an embarrassing situation. Hikikomori have failed to develop necessary social skills and are unable to adjust in a society that is very structured and sensitive to social stigma, one which fails to provide for social resources and professional treatment for mental illness, primarily because parents are too ashamed to seek it for their offspring.

This has become known as the “80-50” problem in recent years as hikikomori children from the post-bubble era are entering their 50’s and their parents are in their 80’s, becoming less and less able to care for them.

 

According to William Bishop’s LinkedIn account, he was a native of Indiana, who first came to Japan in 1974, where he graduated from Sophia University in Tokyo. He then obtained a Master’s Degree from Temple University in Pennsylvania and returned to Japan, whereupon he served as a trade representative for the state of Indiana, worked for Eli-Lily and started his own health care consultancy. He was a member of the Board at Temple University as well as a former chair of the health care committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Fluent in Japanese, Bishop described himself as having a wide range of experience in market access, communications, trade promotion and attracting investment. He was also an author. He wrote novels about the Old West in his spare time.

Bishop’s daughter, who went by Sophianna Bishop, was a resident of Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, who was visiting her parents when the attack occurred. She worked at an advertising agency in Tokyo.

Saito aspired to be a film director, but failed to complete his only film, “The Gift,” a movie directed by Saito about a man with HIV, which he started with funds awarded by a film festival, only to withdraw from the project midway due to “emotional problems.” He then began living a solitary life in the Saitama house. (Bunshun).

Colleagues described Bishop as “dedicated, hard-working and a real leader,” someone who knew more more about Japan’s health policy than anyone else. In Bishop’s Linkedin account tributes flowed in. Abby Pratt, a fellow ACCJ officer, said, “Bill had a great sense of humor and was such a pleasure to work with, one of those people you’ll never forget. I loved how he could seamlessly shift from his rich South Dakota twang to fluent nihongo.”

Simon Farrell, the former editor-in-chief of the ACCJ Journal, added, “Bill was well-travelled, generous, gentlemanly and empathetic, with a deep interest in Japanese culture and language.”

Lance Gatling, head of Nexial, knew Bishop for decades and said, in an interview with Substack, “He was a prim American with a dry wit who was very involved in ACCJ affairs, was VP for years. He was a solid citizen, one who had just bought that house five years ago and retired recently. He was a state rep for some years.”

“Bill was an inoffensive soul, hardly someone you’d consider a bodily threat of any sort. A bit snippy in language at times, so what? A 40-year old hikkikomori living in his parents’ home alone for decades killed Bill, wife and 32-year-old daughter who was visiting. All three, some reports say it was a hatchet.

“I hope they hang him.”


Murder is rare in Japan compared to other countries. Social civility and strict hierarchical codes of conduct are often cited as reasons for the low incidence of violent crimes in Japan.

However, Japanese assaults on foreigners are not new in in the long history of Japan’s relations with the West.

Sonnō jōi was a rallying cry and slogan of a political movement in Japan in the 1850s and 1860s that sought to overthrow the feudal Tokugawa shogunate and restore the Emperor of Japan to the throne. It literally meant “Be Loyal To The Emperor; Expel The Barbarians.” It was a reaction to the treaty signed in 1854 by the Japanese bakufu, or government in place, opening Japan to trade under military threat from U.S. Naval Commodore Matthew Perry and his so-called Black Ships and was vehemently opposed in samurai quarters. It inspired a number of attacks against the Shogunate and attacks against foreigners in Japan by rogue samurai and entire samurai clans.

The most prominent such incident was the murder was of British citizen Charles Lennox Richardson in 1862. Richardson was riding his horse with three other travelers, including a woman, through what is now Tsurumi Ward in Yokohama, when he encountered a retinue of armed samurai escorting the regent of the Satsuma Clan traveling in the opposite direction. Richardson failed to dismount and pay his respects, as required by local custom and law, despite being motioned repeatedly to do so.

“I know how to handle these people” he was quoted as saying to his companions, according to the Japan Herald “Extra” of Sept. 16, 1862.

He was subsequently slashed with a sword and fell from his horse. Several samurai finished the assault, hacking and stabbing at him with swords and lances. Two of Richardson’s male companions were also wounded but escaped. The woman traveling with them was unharmed, a samurai sword barely missing her head, but slicing through her hair and hat, before fleeing in a panic. 

Richardson survived briefly before succumbing in a nearby peasant’s hut.

Richardson’s wounds were described in a recent article by Paul Martin in Japan Forward: “The whole body was one mass of blood; one wound from which the bowels protruded, extended from the abdomen to the back; another on the left shoulder had severed all the bones into the chest; there was a gaping spear wound over the region of the heart; the right wrist was completely divided, and the hand was hanging merely by a strip of flesh; the back of the left hand was nearly cut through; and on moving the head, the neck was found to be entirely cut through on the left side.”  (https://japan-forward.com/the-british-in-bakumatsu-japan-the-namamugi-incident/

 

Mitsubishi later curiously purchased the peasant hut and made it the HQ of the Kirin Brewery. Richardson is buried in a private plot in the Yokohama Foreign Cemetery.

A plaque in front of an apartment building marks the spot of what is known as the ‘Namamugi Incident.’

The incident caused a great deal of alarm in the foreign community based in Yokohama, whose members argued that Westerners were protected under the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty which exempted them from local requirements.

However, protests over the incident from the British Government were ignored so the British navy, in retaliation, bombarded Kagoshima, destroying many houses and sinking three steamships belonging to the Satsuma Clan. In the end, the Japanese Bakufu military government paid a substantial sum as compensation.

Imperial rule was restored in 1868, under the 15-year-old Emperor Meiji, with Japan beginning its transformation from an isolationist feudal state into an industrialized world power.


Another famous incident was inspired more by greed than by anti-foreign sentiment or revenge. That was the murder on April 4, 1899, of Reverend Thomas Alfred Large, the 31-year old Canadian principal of the Toyo Eiwa school for girls in Azabu. Two men broke into his house at night, knocked his wife unconscious, and stabbed Lange with their swords. He fell to the floor gasping and died shortly thereafter.

As recounted in Mark Schreiber’s excellent book, “The Dark Side: Infamous Japanese Crimes and Criminals” (Kodansha International, 2001, p.125-127). “The Japanese government’s overriding concern were the political implications, if any, over the slaying. If the assailants had acted out of anti-foreign, or anti Christian motives, some feared the Western powers might reject Japan’s ongoing efforts to renegotiate unequal treaties. A substantial reward was posted for information leading to the killers’ apprehension … But the killers’ motive was almost certainly apolitical. In those times, burglars had no apprehensions about robbing foreigners. The Japan Weekly Mail of April 26 observed, ‘Without some hypothesis, it appeared difficult to imagine that the onslaught … could have been incidental to a mere burglary. But several Japanese … say it is the habit of sword-carrying burglars in this country to … simply kill or maim the obstructionist, and then proceed with their thieving work …’ ”

“Newspaper reports of the crime itself were sensationalized and full of inaccuracies, but public opinion was uniformly sympathetic toward the Large family. The vernacular Hochi Shimbun editorialized, ‘… the victim was a foreigner who had come here from a distant land, and was engaged in teaching Japanese students. There is something sad about the fate of a man who dies far away from the land of his birth … How much sadder is the lot of one who falls under the weapons of common burglars in a foreign country. Such a fate should move everyone to pity … We trust, however, that the foreign public will not judge Japan by this catastrophe …’ ”

It wasn’t until five years later that police caught the perpetrators, who turned out to be professional robbers, arresting them on other charges. Both had turned to robbery after running up heavy gambling debts. One of the men was sentenced to 14 years in prison where he died, in 1896. The other, sentenced to 13 years, but was released after serving nine years and nine months as part of an imperial amnesty to commemorate the death of the Empress Dowager in 1898. When the latter’s involvement in the crime was revealed, the statute of limitations had expired one month earlier. When questioned, the man, of course blamed his confederate.


On the other side of the ledger, was American seaman Robert Miller, who was convicted of a triple murder in Yokohama in that same 1899, shortly after a new treaty was signed abolishing the principle of extraterritoriality and giving a Japanese court the right to try foreigner. The crime took place at a saloon called “The Rising Sun” in what is now Yokohama’s Chinatown. Miller, in a drunken, jealous rage over the affections of  the saloon’s comely female proprietress named Suye Tonooka, used a straight razor and claw hammer to murder an American named W. Nelson Ward, who habitually occupied the establishment, and a teenage serving girl named Aki Suzuki who was sleeping with Ward … Police found Miller the next morning snoring away in a nearby bar.

He became the first Westerner to be hanged by Japan, congenially smoking a cigar as he stood on the gallows. (Read all about it here in a detailed piece by Eric C. Han https://www.jstor.org/stable/24243133 as well as Mark Schreiber’s account in The Dark Side. )


Still another famous episode, this one well into the postwar period, when U.S.-Japan relations had become critical in the global fight against communism, was the knife attack on then U.S. Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer by a Japanese youth in March 1964 outside the U.S. Embassy. Reischauer was stabbed in the thigh outside the Embassy in what was an apparent assassination attempt. The young man whose name was Shiotani Norikazu, reportedly had a history of mental illness and suffered from a disorder of the inner ear called Meniere’s Disease. He was said to be angry with the U.S. occupation of Japan but apparently did not belong to any political group. Reischauer was taken to the hospital where he received a blood transfusion and recovered.

Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda was moved to apologize twice: Once to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and once to the American public via a live telecast relayed by a communications satellite.

Unfortunately, the blood Reischauer received was tainted with the hepatitis C virus which complicated his recovery and Japan’s Minister of Public Safety was compelled to resign. Reischauer suffered various ailments over the years as a result of the tainted blood and it ultimately contributed to his death 26 years later.


The most famous case of murder in recent years involving a Westerner and a Japanese citizen was that of Lucie Blackman the former British Airways flight attendant who worked as a hostess in a Tokyo night club and was killed by a wealthy patron.  It gained international attention when Tony Blair brought it up to his Japanese counterpart on a visit to Tokyo and the case made the cover of TIME Asia. It was later memorialized in Richard Lloyd Parry’s harrowing account “People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman.”*

It is a phenomenon that causes many Japan observers to ask the question why did it take the disappearance of a white woman at the hands of the Japanese not only to make the cover of TIME, but to cause the authorities to move on behalf of an illegally working migrant. The answer seemed have more to do with economic clout than anything else. Or was it racism?

Complaints by authorities from less-developed countries in Japan, it appeared, were just not worthy of the same attention as those from more developed, Occidental  nations.

Indeed, the March 2007 murder of U.K. English teacher [Lindsay Ann] Hawker at the hands of a Japanese martial artist, who raped and strangled her to death, also received national attention. Her assailant was captured by police after two-and-a-half years on the run and sentenced to life in prison. However, another case involving the 2006 murder of a Japanese pimp by his Thai sex slave who had endured unspeakable abuse, did not. Like so many other cases involving non-western foreigners, in particular, zainichi Koreans, it slipped under the radar.

More on this subject later.

END

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities column 56: Addressing Japan’s Child Abduction Problem (on the recent bill passed to allow joint custody after divorce (May 27, 2024)

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Hi Blog.  Here’s my latest SNA column.  There are mixed feelings from many people hurt by the Koseki System, but I hold the view that the new law allowing for Joint Custody after divorce is a step in the right direction.  Read on and see what you think.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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ADDRESSING JAPAN’S CHILD ABDUCTION PROBLEM
By Debito Arudou, Ph.D., Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 56, May 27, 2024

Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/05/27/visible-minorities-addressing-japans-child-abduction-problem/

It has been one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets.  It has shattered lives and caused enormous international embarrassment to Japan’s reputation as a nation of laws.  It has caused untold misery to countless children and families worldwide.  And amongst all the G7 “developed” nations, it only happens like this in Japan.  

I’m talking about Japan’s issues with child custody and access after divorce.  

Japan has something called the Family Registry (koseki) system.  It serves the important purposes of not only conferring Japanese citizenship, it also prioritizes the family unit over the individual.  A throwback system unamended for more than a century, the Family Registry has a major bug:  If you get divorced, the bureaucracy forces the couple as a registered family unit to cleave back into two unconnected individuals with completely severed family ties. 

The problem is that children are likewise forced into one severed family registry or another,  This means they lose all legal ties with one parent, and that parent (usually the father) has not rights of joint custody or child visitation.  

This means that divorce in Japan completely disappears a “Left Behind Parent’ (LBP) from a child’s life.

This invisibility is enforced by the rest of society too.  For example, if you want to visit your child’s school and find out how they’re getting along, the school will turn you away as a stranger.  Or if you want to say hello to your child at home or on the street, your ex can call the police and have you arrested as a stalker.  Even in extreme cases where the custodial parent dies or abandons the children, grandparents have adopted the kids (since the kids are still legally registered to that family unit) and shut out the LBP all over again!  Despite this, LBP are obligated to pay child support.  So essentially the system is there to punish you for ever getting divorced, since you lose everything and can’t even pay to play.

This cruel system affects everyone in Japan, Japanese citizen or not (as former Prime Minister and LBP Junichiro Koizumi can attest).  But it hits international divorces especially hard.  If you are, say, a foreign resident with a Spouse Visa you void your status to live and work in Japan.  Then on top of that you get specially targeted by two evil narratives.  

One is of course the racial profiling that happens when your ex siccs the police on you, and you get the regular third degree for existing while foreign in Japan.  The other is a conviction that foreigners are naturally violent and prone to spousal or child abuse.  Yes, people actually believe (and are repeatedly told by mass media and even the Japanese government) that despite all the bullying in Japan that goes on at home, school, and the workplace, foreigners are the ones who beat their children because of automatically presumed “cultural differences.”

Your rights are even fewer if you marry a Japanese and live overseas.  Umpteen cases have been recorded of illegal child abductions (e.g., taking a child across an international border without the permission of both parents) by Japanese spouses fleeing to Japan.  Sometimes they are assisted by abduction guidebooks you can find on Amazon Japan.  Sometimes they have been actively abetted by the local Japanese consulate issuing them a new passport, in defiance of overseas court orders granting joint or sole custody to the Non-Japanese parent.  And when the LBP comes to Japan to enforce the court order in Japanese court, they get ruled against because “habitual residence” has already been established here.  She who dares, wins. 

Many a Non-Japanese LBP has been arrested, gone on hunger strike, or even committed suicide due to this nightmarish lack of rights.  And enough international arrest warrants on Japanese spouses have piqued the interest of foreign governments.  Finally, after decades of overseas government pressure (gaiatsu), Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abductions in 2014, only a decade ago.  Unfortunately, Japan just caveated its way out of ever enforcing it.  

People filing claims under the Convention rarely got a Japanese court to side with them.  If the abduction took place many months ago, then “habitual residence” was established and that’s that.  Or there’s the common prejudice that a child naturally belongs more with their mother.  And one verbal claim of “child abuse” or “spousal violence” (which in Japan, according to some spokespeople, could include a raised voice, an angry look, or even a silent stare in an argument) is usually enough to close ranks.  Plus there’s the conceit that Japan’s population is decreasing, so there’s a demographic interest in stopping depopulation through repatriation.  We got our kid back, so that’s that.

This system has even inspired racism.  As I mentioned before, the Japanese mass media and government surveys have long had a white-hot curiosity about finding what causes conflict in any international marriage.  (Japanese men are pretty browned off about losing their women to foreigners—even though the majority of international marriages are Japanese men to foreign women—so there’s a smug satisfaction in knowing that foreign men aren’t perfect either.)  But a Foreign Ministry pamphlet in 2014, issued shortly after Japan signed the Convention, clearly reinforced the narrative that foreigners are violent through illustrations depicting a Caucasian father beating his child.  For good measure, the pamphlet also insinuated that Japanese can’t get a fair deal in a foreign court, and was clearly written working backward from a conclusion that the Convention disadvantaged Japanese.

Likewise, the most creative argument came from far-right propaganda network Sakura TV, which opined in 2018 that Japan’s signing the Hague Convention was just the judiciary trying to appease White people.  The Convention’s main goal was to empower White men playing around with women from “uncivilized” countries, who would then divorce them in favor of White women, and convert their foreign playthings into de facto babysitters of their offspring.  Therefore the Convention exists to ensure White cads still enjoy access to their bastard children!

But let’s return to reality and get to the good news occasioning this column.  First, full disclosure:  I too have been through a divorce in Japan and lost all contact with my children.  So have many of my friends and colleagues, Japanese and foreign.  I have argued before that nobody, Japanese or foreign, should get married under these conditions and have children, as it’s just too risky should the relationship sour.  I stand by that argument even today.  

But finally this May the Japanese Diet passed a law establishing joint custody.  Starting in 2026 and working retroactively, this law means that both parents will now, at least on paper, legally have a say in a child’s upbringing after divorce.  Unless both parents agree to sole custody, joint is presumed under Family Court proceedings.

Naturally, there will be caveats for accusations of domestic violence or child abuse.  But these have to be recognized by a court case-by-case as legitimate concerns.  It is the first change to Japan’s laws concerning parental authority in 77 years, and it will be revisited in five years to assess how well it’s working.

Not surprisingly, the response has been muted from my experienced colleagues.  Some, inured to decades of Japan’s bad-faith negotiations and policing, doubt the law will ever be properly enforced.  Signing the Convention didn’t work, so why should this?  After all, what Japanese court would ever willfully give priority to a foreigner over a Japanese in a dispute?  Or by now the law is too little, too late, as their children are all grown up and the damage is done for a lifetime.  An outcome that makes up for all the past cruelty and denial is simply impossible.  

Nevertheless, my take is that this new law is still good news.  It’s better to have it than not.  It can be pointed to as the law of the land, as opposed to a malleable norm that can be much more easily bent away from any LBP in any convoluted “he-said, she-said” dispute.

In principle, giving power to both parents over the well-being of a child is better than giving all power to one vindictive spouse.  It will at least allow the possibility of a child hearing both sides of a story, which is a valuable skill set for anyone in their formative years.  Moreover it will bring Japan back within international practices.  

It’s been pretty much determined by child psychologists that, on average, children need both parents in their life.  It’s about time the law in Japan reflected that.  The Japanese government has finally taken that step in the right direction.  Now let’s wait and see if it gets enforced in good faith.
ENDS

======================
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After decades of international exposure, embarrassment, broken treaty promises, xenophobic and racist tropes, and deprived children, Japan finally changes its laws to allow joint custody of children after divorce, taking effect in 2026.

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////////////////////////////////

Hi Blog.  Debito.org has been quiet on these developments until they actually came to fruition, and now that they have, it’s time to cheer.  Japan has finally gotten around to fixing one of its worst-kept secrets:  Child Abductions after divorces.  After years of international pressure (and all manner of racist justifications of the status quo, including even the Foreign Ministry accusing foreigners of being naturally violent, and Japan offering safe haven for international child abductions despite signing an international treaty against it), the Diet has just passed legislation allowing for joint custody after divorce.  Meaning both parents now have the ability to have a say in raising a child even if the relationship falls apart.  It comes into effect in 2026 and will be reassessed five years later.

Debito.org has talked about this issue for decades (since I too lost all contact with my children after my divorce, which is in fact the norm in Japan, thanks to the Koseki Family Registry system forcing split couples to sever all legal family ties and thus all rights to any contact).  Not only because NJ are particularly vulnerable to becoming “Left Behind Parents” in intercontinental relationships (since the J spouse can either make off with the child back to Japan or deprive you of a Spouse Visa), but also because this situation affected ALL divorces in Japan, regardless of nationality. It left all children in Japan vulnerable to being used a pawn used to punish one parent out of spite. And that would often carry on into adulthood, with the adult offspring hating the LBP parent without ever hearing both sides of the story or knowing the LBP cares about them.  This is not normal even in peer countries.  As the Mainichi notes below, “Japan had been the only country among the Group of Seven industrialized nation with no joint custody system, according to a Justice Ministry survey of other countries released in 2020.”

Anyway, this is an extremely positive and long overdue development, and it’s another example of Japanese domestic law not changing without international shame and pressure.  It’s just a shame it couldn’t have happened decades ago when it would have made a difference to me and my divorced friends. Let’s hope this brings more reality to future relationships.  Divorces are complicated.  Adding more child abuse into the mix (and by this I mean the child abuse that is inherent in an automatic severance of custodial ties) just made it worse.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

(PS:  I even wrote a novel on this subject, if you’re interested.  Details here.)

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JAPAN / Crime & Legal
Japan changes law to allow joint custody after divorce
Legislation that allows the option of joint custody of children after divorce is passed at the Upper House plenary session on Friday.
AFP-Jiji/Japan Times, May 17, 2024
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2024/05/17/japan/crime-legal/japan-revises-law-to-allow-joint-custody/

Japanese lawmakers enacted legislation Friday that allows the option of joint custody of children after divorce.

For decades in Japan, one parent — almost always the mother — has been granted legal custody when a marriage ends, a rule seen by its supporters as a safeguard against domestic violence and child abuse.

But concerns have been raised that it can cause meaningful contact to be cut off between the other parent and their child.

Long-simmering frustrations of noncustodial parents — often fathers — over lack of access to children have helped build pressure for change.

A U.N. committee in 2019 recommended that Japan “allow for shared custody of children when it is in the child’s best interests, including for foreign parents.”

The new bill stipulates that sole custody be maintained if both parents agree it is the best option, or in court-recognized cases of domestic violence or child abuse.

One parent will also be able to make decisions without consulting the other on issues like schooling or health in “emergency circumstances.”

No official tallies exist for the number of minors cut off from a parent in Japan, but even so, campaigns both for and against the changes have been loud.

A 2022 survey carried out by a support group for single mothers found that 80% of single parents in Japan were against or disinclined toward joint custody.

“Even in cases of domestic violence, failure to prove it in court due to insufficient evidence can lead to joint custody being established,” campaigners against the move said in January. ENDS

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Japan passes a revised law allowing joint child custody for divorced parents for the first time
Japan’s parliament has passed a revision to the country’s civil code that will allow divorced parents the option of joint child custody, a change that brings the nation in line with many other countries
By MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press, May 17, 2024
https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/japan-passes-revised-law-allowing-joint-child-custody-110330983

TOKYO — Japan’s parliament on Friday passed a revision to the country’s civil code that will allow divorced parents the option of joint child custody, a change that brings the nation in line with many other countries.

The revision, the first to custody rights in nearly 80 years, is to take effect by 2026. It will allow divorced parents to choose either dual or single custody while requiring them to cooperate in ensuring their children’s rights and wellbeing.

Under the current law, child custody is granted to only one divorced parent, almost always the mother.

The change comes as divorces are increasing in Japan and a growing number of divorced fathers hope to stay in touch with their children. A number of high-profile allegations made by divorced foreign fathers who blamed their former partners for abducting their children and returning to Japan also encouraged the change.

The revision requires the sharing of child rearing costs by the parent who is not the main custodian. Currently, most divorced mothers, who often are part-time workers with low incomes, do not receive financial support from their former husbands.

In cases in which domestic violence or abuse by either parent is suspected, the other person will have sole custody, according to the revision.

Supporters of joint custody say it allows both divorced parents to play a role in child rearing. Opponents, including rights groups and some victims of domestic violence, have raised concern that the new system could make it harder for parents to cut ties with abusive spouses and that they may not be allowed a real say in custody decisions.

The concerns prompted some modifications to the legislation during parliamentary debate to require authorities to make sure the custody decision was not one-sided.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters that the revisions address concerns raised by domestic violence victims and their families. But the improvements don’t go far enough and the risk remains high for vulnerable members in the families, said Kazuko Ito, a lawyer who has campaigned against the revision.

Under the revision, divorced parents who choose joint custody must reach a consensus on their children’s education, long-term medical treatment and other key issues, and will need to seek a family court decision if an agreement cannot be reached.

Either parent can make decisions about their children’s daily activities, such as private lessons and meals, or emergency treatment.

The revision is to be reviewed five years after it takes effect. ENDS

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Japan’s Diet passes bill to allow joint custody after divorce

The House of Councillors passes a bill during a plenary session in parliament in Tokyo on May 17, 2024, to introduce joint custody for divorced couples with children. (Kyodo)

May 17, 2024 (Mainichi Japan)

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20240517/p2g/00m/0na/008000c

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s parliament on Friday passed a bill to introduce joint custody for divorced couples with children, in a landmark change that paves the way for the adoption of a practice widely used in other nations.

In the first law change regarding parental authority in 77 years, Japan’s Civil Code will permit divorced parents to choose either sole custody or joint custody, a shift from the current system that has only allowed custody by one parent — usually the mother.

The change comes as family relationships diversify in Japan amid a rise in couples splitting and eagerness by both parents to play a role in child-rearing. The current system has also posed challenges for foreign citizens seeking to maintain ties with their children if their divorced partners return to Japan with them.

About 160,000 minors in Japan experienced the divorce of their parents in 2022 alone, double the figure in 1950.

The revised law will enter into force within two years of its promulgation and be applied retroactively to those who have already divorced.

Under the revised Civil Code, parents will generally determine between themselves whether to opt for sole or joint custody, but if there is a dispute, a family court will intervene and decide on custody arrangements.

In cases where domestic violence and abuse by one of the parents is suspected, the other parent will have sole custody.

Proponents of the joint custody system say the revision allows both divorced parents to take part in child-rearing, but victims of domestic violence have voiced concern that the new system could hinder them from severing ties with their abusers as it would maintain connections to their former spouses.

Some also fear such victims may not be able to negotiate single custody or joint custody on an equal footing.

To address such concerns, the bill was modified during parliamentary deliberations to add a clause that calls for considering measures to “confirm the true intention” of each parent, but critics argue the government measures to protect domestic violence victims are too vague.

The new system will be reviewed five years after the revision come into force.

Under joint custody, consensus between parents is not required in making decisions on day-to-day matters, such as what to feed children and whether to vaccinate them.

Parents must reach consensus on important matters such as education and long-term medical treatment, but if they cannot do so in time in an urgent situation, one of the parents can decide on their own.

To avoid ambiguity in what would constitute an urgent situation, the government plans to provide clear examples.

The revision also includes measures against unpaid child support that will oblige a parent to provide minimum payments even if no agreement is reached upon divorce.

The new custody system is expected to increase the burden on family courts in Japan as they will play the role of ultimate arbiter for parents in complex situations in terms of child custody, such as judging whether domestic violence is involved.

Critics question whether family courts possess enough manpower to handle additional duties, with the number of cases filed with family courts rising to about 1.14 million in 2022, up nearly 300,000 from 2012, according to judicial statistics.

Prior to the revision, Japan had been the only country among the Group of Seven industrialized nation with no joint custody system, according to a Justice Ministry survey of other countries released in 2020.

Discussion of Japan’s sole custody system emerged partly in response to global criticism over parental abduction cases involving Japanese spouses who took children away from foreign partners after the failure of marriages and made it difficult for the foreign parent to see their children in Japan.

Japan joined in 2014 an international treaty to help settle cross-border child custody disputes. But in 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging Japan to improve its child custody rules, under which European parents in Japan have little recourse in the event of domestic child abduction by a Japanese spouse. ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities col 55: “From Dancing Monkey to Symbol of Hope”: Interview with Ibaraki Prefectural Assemblyman and naturalized Canadian-Japanese Jon Heese (May 2, 2024)

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////////////////////////////////

Hi Blog.  Here’s my latest SNA column, where Jon Heese and I have yet another candid chat (previous ones here, here, and here) about politics in Japan — he as a politician, me as a columnist with a PoliSci background and a more adversarial relationship to power. Enjoy. I did. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

Visible Minorities: From Dancing Monkey to Symbol of Hope
Shingetsu News Agency, May 02, 2024, by Debito Arudou
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/05/02/visible-minorities-from-dancing-monkey-to-symbol-of-hope/

BIOJon Heese is becoming an old hand in Japanese politics, having served 13 years at various levels of government. He is presently one of five councilors representing Tsukuba (60 km NE of Tokyo) in the Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly—similar to a state or provincial legislature. After winning four terms at the city level, Mr. Heese leveled up in December, 2022. He is the first foreign-born politician to ever serve at the regional level.  He sat down for an interview with Debito Arudou for his Visible Minorities column in April 2024.

SNA:  Hi Jon.  Thanks for agreeing to yet another interview with me. 

Heese:  It’s the least I can do for my favorite rabble rouser.

SNA:  Let me open with an argument:  I make the case in one of my recent columns (https://www.debito.org/?p=17392) that we don’t see enough former Non-Japanese running for office because the Japanese government doesn’t want them to.  With no immigration policy, the GOJ doesn’t just encourage NJ to become voters and citizens, they make it hard to graduate up to Permanent Residency and citizenship.  Would you agree with that assessment?

Heese:  No immigration policy? Do you mean “no policy to import labor willy-nilly à la every western country?” The question is already loaded. As for policy to prevent naturalization, thereby enfranchisement, I do not see any active policies intending to keep NJ from getting citizenship. Overall I see their immigration policies as an attempt to ensure that only contributing foreigners are allowed to stay beyond the 90 day tourist visa by obtaining a longer visa. Many countries try to keep out deadbeats. Japan is no different. By deadbeats, I mean people who are only coming to take advantage of our rather generous social services.

SNA:  Hang on.  Point of order.  We’re still falling back on those boilerplate arguments we see in the chauvinistic media that some foreigners are freeloaders.  Not so.  Every person in Japan one way or another pays some form of tax, and we’ve had study after study showing that migrants and immigrants on balance contribute more to every society than they take out.  So let’s not resort to reflexive foreigner bashing “à la every Western Country”.  Now back to your point about naturalization.

Heese: Immigrants are by their nature successful. The poorest and sickest cannot afford the cost of the trip, whether to pay for flights, boats, or other forms of transportation. Migrants demonstrate their motivation just by reaching our borders. Unsurprisingly they work hard to continue in their successful ways or leave for greener pastures. My “à la every Western Country” comment is a reference to how much stricter Japan is to whom they give visas.

SNA:  And that’s kinda the point I’m making in my opening argument. 

Heese:  To continue, it’s been my observation that the highest bar for naturalization is Japan’s demand that new citizens give up their previous citizenship. Though I disagree with the government’s ban on dual citizenship, I believe the government, as representatives of the people, have the right to make the rules. Are their rules shortsighted? In my opinion, yes. Will they change those rules at some point? I believe they will. However, given that it’s actually easier to get citizenship than permanent residency, it’s not the government keeping people from voting, it’s the foreigners themselves that are keeping themselves from voting.

SNA:  Okay, spoken like a true Japanese politician.  Blame the foreigner for the rules that are set by the politicians and bureaucrats. 

Heese:  Would you have the foreigners setting their own rules…?

SNA:  Yes.  I think they should have some input into the process.  They know better what’s best for them.  Especially if they’ve leveled-up out of being foreign.  To circle back to my opening point, the government is trying not to let them level up.

Heese:  It is my understanding that only a few countries out there that allow non-citizens to vote. And those countries that do permit participation limit foreigners to local elections. I understand Japan’s logic but disagree with their fears of potential consequences.

SNA:  Granted, I also make the case that NJ have to take it upon themselves to stop being “guests” and enfranchise themselves.  You’ve advanced a similar argument (even to me when I considered running for office), only much more softly.  Have you encountered much “guestism”

Heese:  I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “guestism,” but I will assume you mean foreigners who see themselves as guests in spite of their very heavy investments in land and life in Japan.

SNA:  Yes, basically.  What of it then?

Heese:  I see guestism all the time. I have also seen quite an uptick in people taking citizenship. Back when you and I naturalized we were still outliers. That is no longer the case. I estimate that the experiences of those who have become Japanese has influenced the thinking of lifers. When I arrived in Japan in ‘91 it was years before I ever met a naturalized person. You may be the first one I ever talked to. Former Upper House Diet Member Tsurunen Marutei would likely have been the first I ever heard of. You can’t be what you can’t see. As more of us appeared, and, with the ability to share our experiences via social media, that we never had any issues getting through immigration, never felt pushback from our surrounding communities, indeed, life was really no different from pre to post naturalization, others took the plunge.

SNA:  Yes, but that was then and this is now.  I say there is a lot more pushback now.  It’s harder to get Permanent Residency because you need a 3-year visa to get it, and there are plenty of incentives—and examples—of people being stuck on perpetual one-year visas.  Then COVID really flipped the script, where even those who had graduated up to Permanent Residents suddenly realized that they were no better than any short-term visa holder.  They were, in the end, just garden-variety foreigners who couldn’t come back if they left.

Heese:  I would argue it’s much easier than when I first came in ’91 to get PR. My first experiences with PR lifers, they needed to have worked 10 (continuous) years or be married to a local to get their PR in 5 years. These days they are offering the same to desired workers after 3 years. Other workers only need 5 years. No Japanese family necessary. I would also point out it’s now easier to get citizenship. Back in our day we needed to have a Japanese spouse to get citizenship. No longer.

SNA:  Just a quick interruption, sorry.  That last bit is not actually true.  I know of a number of single people who managed to naturalize despite being dedicated bachelors or unsavory characters.  Delfo Zorzi or Nicola Zappetti, for example.  And again, back to PR:  Yes, the years are less on paper, but reaching the 3-year visa threshold is harder.  I will agree with you, however, that naturalization is easier than PR nowadays.  As long as you are willing to burn bridges with your country of origin, of course, and that’s no small thing.

Heese:  I was told specifically back then I needed to be married. However, the Japanese bureaucracy does, on occasion, make exceptions. When I make the case these days to lifers, I point to what happened during the COVID pandemic. When the first travel bans were enacted there were no restrictions on the Japanese themselves. Japanese all had the right to come back. Yes, it was shameful, but the mewlings of you and I were not going to influence the Immigration officials.

SNA:  Right.  But again, the rules are not set by the foreigners, so I think mewling is warranted here.  It was a border control policy grounded in racism, not immunological science.

Heese:  No counterargument on my part. As the memory of the pandemic fades I will fall back to my initial argument of, “You have too much invested here for you to have no right to return.” In principle I ask lifers if they honestly believe they’re going back to their “homeland.” If not, then why are they holding on to some privilege they’ll likely never use? In addition, even if they give up their previous citizenship, it’s been my understanding that reacquiring their previous citizenship is pretty easy and straightforward.

SNA:  Really?  Maybe in Canada, but I doubt other countries are so forgiving.  I’ve found that United States officials even view giving up US citizenship as an act of betrayal.

Heese:  I think Canada would be more a world model than the US. Much of Canadian immigration policy would be influenced by the British Commonwealth. Last I saw there were more than 50 countries in the Commonwealth. In any case, I ask what is really being risked by taking citizenship? Importantly, why are they risking their working life’s investment for a “maybe someday” idea?

SNA:  Okay, so to summarize, it’s clear that you’re very much on the side of the philosophy of “shit or get off the pot” when it comes to living in Japan as a Japanese citizen, even finding naturalization preferable to just taking out PR.  Again, COVID made that choice much clearer.  So how hard have you pushed people to naturalize and get elected?  What arguments have you made to them to do so?

Heese:  I would generally recommend PR before naturalization for people from developed countries. Immigrants from less developed societies likely have nothing to go back to so giving up their citizenship is not an issue.

Regarding my efforts to get others to run, there is one poor woman I’ve been hounding to run for city council for a decade already. By now it’s just a personal joke between us. She’ll never run but it wouldn’t surprise me if she naturalizes. I don’t understand why she hasn’t already. Different strokes, I guess.

SNA:  Definitely.  I too came this close to running for Sapporo City Council back in the day.

Heese:  Yes you did. And your decision gave me a lot to ponder on. What I have come to realize is people run for their own reasons. The candidates best suited to run don’t need a dumbass like me to push them. At best I can show them the ropes. Towards that end I’ve written a few blog posts, one with instructions on how to run an election, and another outlining what I actually did as a city councilor. I think I shared those sites already. If not, I’ll pass them along.

There is a link to the second post in the first.

Heese:  This year I’ve started a new project to log all my work activities at the prefecture, including travel times. You may have seen some of them on LinkedIn. As well as activities I try to liven my posts up with personal observations regarding the political system. People think politicians are the government. How naïve! I’m doing my best to show how much work and what the work involves. My job is not at all what people think it is.

SNA:  Well, spill the tea, Marie.  What exactly is your job?  Sell it to us, since you even hound people to run.

Heese:  Rather than just explaining my job, it will be useful to explain government. Understand that even after 15 years my views are still a work in progress.

SNA:  As they should be.  Politics is complicated.  Any official who thinks they have all the answers is self-delusional.  Please go on.

Heese:  The government is actually a symbiosis of elected and unelected officials. I’ll start with the unelected officials, commonly known as civil servants. Their role is to maintain the machine as well as come up with solutions to problems society encounters on our common journey. Maintenance looks automatic but small adjustments still need to be made.

SNA:  So you clearly fall into the camp of government exists in order to solve problems.  For the record, I agree, but remember I came of age during Reagan and Friedman’s “small government” era, where “government is not the solution to the problem; government IS the problem.”  And I’ve spent a lifetime realizing that good public policy is possible.  Japan convinced me of that.  Pity Japan, for its part, is too timid sometimes to solve problems because people fear taking responsibility for making mistakes or causing unintended consequences.  Instead they should better prepare the public in advance for what the potentially positive or negative consequences of a policy might be.  [Sighs]  Yeah, maybe I should have run for office after all…

Heese: Ha! I believe you should have. Serving would have been an eye-opening experience for you. As for public problems, a considerable amount of effort is made creating, distributing, and analyzing questionnaires. Walk-ins also make requests at the various service counters, keeping the civil service well informed of the needs and wants of the people. It is from these questionnaires that new policy is born.

SNA:  So you see policymaking in Japan as more bottom-up rather than top-down.  I think most observers of Japan might think the opposite.

Heese:  Yes, like everywhere the media poorly portrays how the sausage is really made. Generally the populace believe that civil servants are managed by the elected officials, thus the power lies with the politicians. I believe it’s the other way around. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to watch the BBC programs, “Yes, Minister,” and “Yes, Prime Minister,” their depiction of how government actually works is much closer to the truth than the media leads us to believe. If you haven’t watched it, it is MUST WATCH TV for anyone who wants to understand government. In my opinion it is the groups of unassuming civil servants who wield the greatest amount of collective power. Just as the CEO is the one who gets all the credit, it is more than likely the secretary that runs the ship.

SNA:  Then policymaking in Japan actually is top-down, yes?  Then why so many questionnaires?  Are we actually seeing an example of successful Marxist “Democratic Centralism,” where input is collected from below and channeled upwards, but once the decision is made from the top, people below must follow it since they have given their input?  Okay, sorry, I’ll stuff my PoliSci textbook back in my mouth and let you continue.

Heese:  As I said, it’s a symbiosis. My role, as elected representative of the people, is to act as the immune system. My duties in council are generally to shoot down any brick balloons some aspiring group of civil servants might try to float past the house. That bills seldom get shot down is due to a deep understanding by the civil service of what the people want.

SNA:  Okay, let me underscore this.  As a politician, you see yourself as actually protecting the people from the bureaucrats?

Heese:  Absolutely!!!!! One only needs to look at failing countries to see how terrible things can get when the bureaucracy or politicians capture the public purse. If the balance is off, look out!

My secondary job is to act as a mouthpiece for the people. I bring ideas and problems to the civil service they may not yet have been exposed to. However, I am also a teacher, in a sense. I find that I spend about 30% of conversations with citizens explaining how the system works. In addition, I listen to people’s issues and try to solve them by pointing them in the right direction, whether that’s toward the entry point of the government service they are looking for, or the company which will be able to handle their situation.

SNA:  I doubt most people see politicians in Japan, or anywhere for that manner, so positively.  Do you think most of your elected compadres have a similar view of themselves being a dedicated public servant?

Heese:  That is a very good question I’ll need to ask. I’m sure the topic will provide some interesting fodder. Ask me again in 6 months and I’ll spill what I learned.

How I personally approach the public relations part of the job is to engage as many people as I can on any given day. I try to be approachable. I can’t possibly know what people’s needs are beyond Maslow’s basics. And I’ll never know if they don’t tell me.

SNA:  Huh.  Well, that’s a bit strange to me.  In my dealings with Japanese politicians in the past, especially when I was trying to get legislation passed to outlaw racial discrimination and get “Japanese Only” signs down, I rarely saw them giving much more than a popcorn fart about listening to the people.  Perhaps it was the complexity of the issue.  Perhaps it was because people who look like me probably can’t vote so who cares?  But for the most part, if there wasn’t an election at hand, I found Japanese politicians at best noncommittal, at worst actively avoiding any chance to listen to folks like you say you do.  Are you an outlier?

Heese:  Of course I’m an outlier. To be blunt, I take the approach of being constantly in election mode. I don’t have an election machine I can just fire up nor can I assume I’ll get reelected simply because I’m an incumbent. I’ve seen too many cases of incumbents getting their walking papers to believe it can’t happen to me. In my case every vote is won at the individual level so I am required to be out and about.

I am, by nature, very curious. I am always happy to listen to what people do. In “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell mentions three kinds of people: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. I do my best to be a bit of all three but I know I am best suited to be a Connector. I don’t know enough about any given topic to be a Maven and my ideas aren’t well developed enough to be a Salesman. Hence, I spend a lot of time just trying to get to know people and introducing them to others who can help them.

SNA:  I plead guilty to being a Maven.

I can’t speak to your experiences with other politicians except to say that NJ needs are seldom a high priority, not because their needs aren’t important, but because there’s unlikely to be traction within the surrounding community. Your concerns regarding “Japanese Only” signage won’t be showing up in questionnaires either.

On the other hand, here in Tsukuba, where foreigners are plentiful and a vital part of the community, such a sign would only last a day or two before the Mayor’s office would come down like a ton of bricks on any business foolish enough to post one. On a few occasions I’ve been informed, for example, of a policy that a local gym, a chain, has implemented requiring members to be able to communicate in Japanese. Their argument is safety in case of an injury. Pure BS. The problem is invariably a new manager from outside Tsukuba thinks they can run their shop like they do in Butthole-shi. Have staff who speak English ya moron! Or train them in basic English. Easy enough in highly educated Tsukuba. I’ve spoken to the mayor about the issue and he was very attentive, requesting I pass on unresolved instances.

So, to summarize my job, I shoot down bad ideas, promote good ones, and introduce people to others with solutions to their problems. To be blunt, I love my job, but I also recognize that not everyone can do it. One needs a tough skin to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous allegations.

SNA:  I’ll say.  Again, I’m not sure I’d have the patience to put up with what I see you putting up with, just from the standpoint of shrugging off your how you’re treated occasionally as an outsider or an anomaly in the halls of power.  But that’s perhaps a topic for a future interview.  That’s really all the time we have for today.  I want to thank you for agreeing to another interview with me, Jon.  I look forward to slinging some arrows at you again next time. 

======================
Heese:  We all have our roles to play. At times I’m the dancing monkey. On other occasions I am the symbol of hope for newbies straight off the boat. I do my best to play my part well. Thanks for keeping me on my toes. I look forward to our next conversation. ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 54: “Non-Japanese Residents claim political power” (Mar 31, 2024), where I argue the power of the vote matters whether you are a candidate or part of the electorate; the J Govt tries hard to make sure neither happens for Japan’s Immigrants.

mytest

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Hi Blog. My latest SNA column talks about how NJ do have the ability to get some political power in Japan.  It will of course mean some work on their part, but that’s inevitable for all minorities anywhere.  But the biggest obstacle, aside from the willful exclusion of NJ from the electorate, is the will to naturalize and run for office.  You can do it, and I believe it’s likely you’ll get in, since the Japanese electorate is really quite hungry for something different to choose from.  But you’ve gotta stop believing that you’re merely a “guest” in Japan in the first place.  Read on to see some examples of elected former NJ and take note.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Non-Japanese Residents claim political power despite obstacles
Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities column 54, March 31, 2024
Courtesy https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/03/31/visible-minorities-non-japanese-residents-claim-political-power/

I teach Political Science at the university level.  In my first lecture every semester, I try to convince skeptical students why they should bother studying Political Science at all.

I argue that understanding how power flows through political structures will help students enfranchise themselves in a democratic system.  Because if they don’t, other people who understand the system better will use it to their advantage instead.

But this assumes one major fundamental:  that they can participate in the democratic system at all.  Fortunately, most of my students are citizens, so they can vote.  Given how abysmal youth voter turnout generally is, I consider it a major educational outcome if they bother to.  Persuading people that their vote matters is the bare minimum a civics class can accomplish.  

If I have the opportunity in higher-level classes to proselytize further, I encourage them to engage in community building, such as organizing into interest groups and consolidating power into voting blocs.  

My real converts consider running for local office, thereby embedding themselves within the very power structure itself.  Because political power, especially for minorities in any society, is rarely surrendered without a struggle.  We need more diverse views in office as demographics change the makeup of future majorities.  

That’s how democracy is supposed to work.  Unfortunately, this is a lesson that Japan’s Non-Japanese (NJ) Residents and Visible Minorities still have trouble grasping.  As a result, they are letting the Japanese government deprive them of their potential as a political force in Japan.

GETTING BEYOND THE “GUESTISM”

A lot of the issue is that, as I have written before, many of Japan’s minorities believe they really don’t have the ability—or even the right—to shape Japanese society.  They convince themselves that they are merely “guests” in Japan—not taxpayers and residents—and therefore have no say in how they’re treated by public policy.  

After all, they’re in Japan by choice, and if they don’t like the way things are, they should go “home.”  They’ve internalized the narrative that Japan is not “home” and foreigners don’t belong here.

This dehumanizing mantra is well-established and reinforced on a daily basis.  But less considered are the underlying political structures enforcing it.  It’s hard to have a stake in a society when it might be booting you out shortly.  

Official permission to work, i.e., visas, are generally only one to three years in duration, sometimes non-renewable, and often tethered to a specific job sponsor.  This means many NJ can’t change jobs without losing their visa and risking going to jail as overstayers.  Employers, of course, are happy with this situation, leveraging this vulnerability to abuse and exploit NJ workers even further.  Thus all the incentive structures are there to make NJ life in Japan temporary and miserable.

But consider one more disenfranchising mechanism:  The larger scheme to make sure NJ never coalesce into interest groups and voting blocs.  

In other societies, minorities, newcomers and immigrants cluster in like-minded regions where they can create communities.  Harlem.  Chinatowns.  The Navajo Nation.  Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, and Little Saigon.  The Dearborn Muslims.  New York’s Jewish communities.  The Polish Patches.  The Castro District.  The proposed states of Jefferson and Deseret.  And the majority-minority states of Hawaii, California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Maryland, and soon Georgia.  

Once people reach a critical mass in a population, they can foster entire social movements, even elect representatives and become an unignorable political force.

PREVENTING RESIDENTS FROM BECOMING VOTERS

But Japan makes sure NJ never reach a critical mass.  Whenever we hear about, for example, Chinese buying up land in an area, out come the politicians stoking fear about Chinese becoming the local majority and “seceding from Japan.”  Essentially, the logic is that more foreigners means less Japan, and if NJ ever get power over Japanese, Japan is lost.  That’s especially visible when NJ are officially denied administrative roles in any public sector positions.

Then there’s simply getting rid of NJ Residents by not renewing visas en masse.  Clean house and ethnically cleanse.  The lost historical Iranian, Filipina, and Brazilian communities in Japan are testament to that. 

But even without a critical mass, power within a democracy is granted to people who can vote, so Japan makes sure NJ Residents never become part of the electorate.  

Japan still has no official immigration policy to encourage NJ Residents to become Japanese citizens.  Further, whenever Japan announces an expansion to any working visa program, politicians at even the highest levels of government are quick to clarify this does not mean these migrants will become immigrants.  The very word “immigrant” (as in a person) isn’t an established concept in Japanese policymaking circles.  

This situation seems unlikely to change, despite the recent resumed mass migration into Japan.  Japan’s NJ Registered Resident population reached a record high of 3.4 million in 2023, up more than 10% over the previous year.

Yet the government has made it more difficult over the past two decades to go from a one-year visa to a three, not to mention obtain Permanent Residency.

The numbers reflect this.  Although the largest group of NJ Residents are Permanent Residents, their numbers only grew about 3% in 2023.  

Then there’s the issue of actually taking out Japanese citizenship, as this author has.  Yet the number of people who have naturalized on average over the past decade is less than 1000 per year, and on a general downward trend.  

No wonder.  After years languishing in nasty jobs and jumping through so many visa hoops, getting Japanese citizenship is often a very arbitrary process, with applications rejected even for parking tickets and “cultural incongruities.”  There’s also favoritism shown to applicants from countries with richer economies and lighter skins.  Not to mention the identity sacrifice of forcing people to give up their birth nationality.

IMMIGRANT POWER AND POLITICIANS IN JAPAN

Consequently, the only NJ groups in Japan that have accrued any political power are the Zainichi generational “foreigners.”  They’re the Japan-born descents of the former citizens of empire, who have lived in Japan more than a century yet are still “foreigners.”  Also known as the “Oldcomers,” they have formed lobbying groups such as as Mindan, Mintoren, and Soren.  Then there are also historical and indigenous minority groups such as the Burakumin Liberation League and Utari Kyoukai.  They all have managed to move the needle on how minorities are portrayed in the media.  

But in terms of shifting real political power, there is no substitute for getting the vote and a seat at the policymaking table.  And that means overcoming it all to become a citizen and get elected to office.

That happens, even in Japan.  Perhaps the most visible case was Finland-born Tsurunen Marutei, who not only served in his local town council in Kanagawa Prefecture from 1992, he also served two terms in Japan’s national Diet from 2002 to 2013.

Others have since followed.  Decades ago US-born Anthony Bianchi and Canadian-born Jon Heese won back-to-back city council seats in Inuyama and Tsukuba respectively.  Bianchi has since retired, but Heese (whom I have interviewed for this column before) has since graduated up to a prefectural-level elected position.  

We have also seen incumbents such as Bolivian-born Noemi Inoue, elected in 2011 to the Sumida-ku Assembly; Syrian-born former Egyptian Sultan Nour, elected in 2021 to Shonai Town Assembly in Yamagata Prefecture; and Uzbekistan-born Babakhodjaeva Orzugul, elected to a seat in Tokyo’s Setagaya-ku Assembly in 2023. 

Notably, all of them won their seats quite easily, some even getting the highest number of votes of all candidates running, despite the fact that their fellow NJ Residents cannot vote for them.  Bravo.

A reporter recently asked me if this meant change in Japan was afoot.  

My answer was that yes, this is not something we’ve seen before, and Visible Minorities claiming the right (and the structural power) to be Japanese is a positive change.  I think anyone who wants to see the change has to be the change, and they’re doing that.

How did they win so handily?  My theory is that given Japan’s single-party democracy, I think the Japanese electorate are hungry for any hope of change.  Something different.  Newcomer Immigrant Japanese can be precisely that.  So for once, being seen as an outsider in Japan can be an advantage. 

This theory also holds when you consider the opposite example:  When Diet Member Tsurunen didn’t offer his constituents anything new beyond having blue eyes (seriously, that was his slogan), he got voted out.  They realized he was basically running more for himself than them.  So you really have to be the change, not just look it.

Finally, the reporter said, “I think Heese, Orzugul, Inoue, and Sultan offer interesting insights into the shifting demographics of Japan.  But none of them are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino—the four groups who make up the most non-Japanese residents.  Do you think it is easier for certain types of Non-Japanese to gain power and acceptance in the country?”

My answer was this:

“I don’t know.  There is certainly a hierarchy of treatment based upon country of origin and skin color in Japan, especially in naturalization processes.  But certainly people of Chinese and Korean ancestry have been elected in the past.  

“Probably when other ethnic groups aren’t overworked, underpaid, and restricted to unstable visa statuses, we’ll see more of them naturalizing and running for office.”

We’ll talk again with Jon Heese about running for office next column.

ENDS
======================
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Happy 2024: Japan Times: “Japan should aim to maintain population of 80 million by 2100”, says private panel of business interests. 24 years later, no new ideas, since it calls for rises in birthrates, not immigration, yet again.

mytest

 

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Hi Blog. HNY and AkeOme. Last month was a year-end break for the Shingetsu News Agency and my Visible Minorities column, so let me open 2024 with yesterday’s JT article showing just how much things have not changed for the past quarter century. Article first, then my comment:

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Japan should aim to maintain population of 80 million by 2100: panel
The Japan Times. BY KAZUAKI NAGATA, STAFF WRITER, Jan 10, 2024
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2024/01/10/japan/society/population-proposal/

PHOTO CAPTION: Akio Mimura, honorary chairman of Nippon Steel and head of a private panel focused on depopulation, submits the group’s proposal to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Tuesday. | KYODO

(Ed: This actually made a pretty big domestic news splash.  See all the headlines via Google here: 人口戦略会議. You can also see word about this even on the PM’s official website, but in the true spirit of government openness it only offers photo-ops with no way to actually read the proposal or see who’s on the panel.)

Amid concerns over rapid depopulation, a private panel has proposed that Japan should aim to have a stable population of 80 million by 2100 in order to maintain economic growth.

Last April, the government released an estimate that the population would be reduced by half to about 63 million in 2100, with 40% of people expected to be 65 or older.

Japan has wrestled with the issue of a declining birthrate for decades, but the situation is about to “change drastically,” with the country now entering a serious phase of population decline, the panel, headed by Nippon Steel honorary chairman Akio Mimura and consisting of 28 members including prominent academics and business leaders, said Tuesday.

The country’s population in 1930 was about 63 million, but the proportion of those 65 years or older was just 4.8% then, according to the panel, which submitted its proposal to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida the same day.

To avoid such a future, Japan needs to slow down the pace of the decline and eventually stop it, the panel said, adding that government strategy should focus on stabilizing the population at around 80 million by 2100. As of last month, Japan’s population was estimated to be 124 million.

The panel carried out several simulations and argued that if the country raised the total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime — to 1.6 by around 2040, 1.8 by around 2050 and eventually 2.07 by 2060, it could maintain a population of around 80 million by 2100.

In 2022, Japan’s fertility rate fell for the seventh straight year to a record-tying low of 1.26. A rate of 2.07 is considered to be necessary to keep the population stable.

“This is not an easy task, but it is by no means impossible if full-scale efforts are launched to fight the declining birthrate,” the panel said, highlighting that it would take decades for such a strategy to start to bear fruit and that it was inevitable for the population to be smaller than it is today.

Still, if Japan can maintain a population of 80 million and also boost productivity, then the country would be able to see annual economic growth of about 0.9% from 2050 to 2100, according to the panel.

In tackling the issue, the government should establish a new committee of experts directly under the prime minister that would oversee the planning and implementation of the population strategy, the panel suggested.

The panel said one major problem was that the government and the private sector had failed to share sufficient information with the public about the gravity of rapid depopulation and the importance of preventing it.

“It is unfoundedly optimistic to say that ‘The population may be dwindling, but Japanese society will continue as before,’” the panel said.

Measures implemented by the government up until now to combat the declining birthrate may have produced some results, but they have been mostly “one-off and stopgap,” so they have not been enough to turn around the trend, the panel added.

Kishida has made tackling the country’s plummeting birthrate a top policy item and pledged to introduce “unprecedented steps” to head off the severe long-term economic impact. He has said that the government will raise the budget for child care-related policies over the next three years, with an extra ¥3.6 trillion ($24.8 billion) to be spent each year. ENDS

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COMMENT FROM DEBITO: There is nothing new under the sun when you have the same old people retreading the same old shinola to the same perpetually-elected party in power.  Getting all these people together to wish for a skypie solution of increasing birthrates (while somehow also boosting productivity) is silly, as it has already been proposed multiple times over the decades without success.  This is no way to craft public policy that actually solves a problem.

Indicatively, *once again* this report makes no mention of immigration, despite both the UN and then-PM Obuchi agreeing as far back as the *YEAR 2000* (see below) that immigration is inevitable to keep the economy going.  But as we saw afterwards in 2009, xenophobic politics intervened, and even Japan’s demographers are forbidden to mention foreign inflows as part of Japan’s domestic demographic science. (See My JT column on that here.)

A further note:  Whenever you have business interests involved (as if they’re any experts on demographic engineering), the primary concern will be about business interests, i.e., profits and cheap labor.  Now remember what the likes of elite business lobby Keidanren wrought by bringing in foreign labor on exploitative revolving-door visa regimes since 1991 (the “Trainee” slave-labor program, for example).  Allowing the grubby little hands of Japan’s business lobbies any more input into future policy drives only guarantees more inhumanity, because with population drops and an elderly society come labor shortages.  Who will fill them?  Robots; but robots don’t pay taxes into the rickety national pension system.  So foreigners.  Hence business interests will only continue to advocate importing labor without ever letting foreign workers become permanent Japanese residents.

In conclusion, a quarter-century later nothing has been learned.  Just keep on saying the same old shinola and watch as Japan’s demographic juggernaut bankrupts the country.  As long foreseen.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

UPDATE:  Members of the Jinkou Senryaku Kaigi, courtesy of JK.  (Source is here, pg. 14)

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Excerpt from my book “Embedded Racism” (Second Edition 2022) on this subject, Chapter 10, including footnotes:

Figure 10.1 was data from the First Edition, which indicated Japan’s economy had, from the bursting of its economic “bubble” in 1993 through the year 2011, shrunk by nearly half a percent every year on average compared to its developed-country or regional brethren. As of this Second Edition, now incorporating 26 years of data from 1993 to 2019 (before the Covid Pandemic hit), Figure 10.2 shows that Japan is no longer in an average economic contraction, but its GDP per capita has grown on average by less than a percent per year, still easily underperforming most of the same select countries. (I surmise that Japan’s major growth industry, tourism to Japan, has significantly affected these numbers; as noted in Chapter Eight, tourism’s contribution to Japan’s total GDP has expanded from 1.7 to 2 percent since 2010. This underscores Japan’s need to avoid “Japanese Only” signs and rules.)

It is not clear that even these low growth rates are sustainable, given Japan’s perpetual demographic crisis. According to the most recent GOJ figures as this book went to press (June 30, 2021), Japan’s population continues to decrease, as its birthrate has long been below replacement levels, reaching the lowest on record in 2019 before being further worsened by the 2020 Covid Pandemic.[i] The number of (Japanese citizen—sic) children under age fifteen has dropped to record lows for 40 consecutive years, representing the lowest population percentage amongst major countries with populations of at least 40 million.[ii] Japan’s population has also been shrinking since 2011, and from the current level of 125.3 million (including the rising number of foreign residents), [iii] dropping by close to one million per year; at this rate it is projected to drop below 100 million by 2049.[iv]

Meanwhile, Japan’s working-age population is forecast to fall by nearly half from 81.7 million in 2010 to 44.2 million by 2060.[v] In terms of people above a “reasonable working age” of 65, the projected elderly but not yet infirm (ages 65-74) are projected to be at around 22% of Japan’s population; if you include all elderly and infirm (65 and up), this will comprise nearly 36% of Japan’s total population by 2050.[vi] Thus, with Japan’s demographic pyramid being top-heavy and projected to have one of the world’s highest median ages,[vii] the elderly and pensioners will soon outnumber young pension contributors, putting the solvency of Japan’s social security pension plans into jeopardy.[viii](Note that this is not unexpected: the GOJ and the UN both forecast this happening as early as the year 2000, when the UN advised Japan to immediately start bringing in more than a half million foreign residents per year.)[ix]

[i] “An uphill battle to reverse the falling birthrate.” Japan Times, June 4, 2020; “The COVID-19 Pandemic is Accelerating Japan’s Population Decline: A Statistical Analysis.” Nippon.com, May 25, 2021.

[ii] “Japan’s child population falls to record low 16.17 million.” Japan Times/Jiji Press, May 4, 2015; “Japan’s child population hits record low after 40 years of decline.” Kyodo News, May 4, 2021.

[iii] www.stat.go.jp/english/data/jinsui/tsuki/index.html.

[iv] “The COVID-19 Pandemic is Accelerating Japan’s Population Decline: A Statistical Analysis.” Nippon.com, May 25, 2021.

[v] “Japan Cabinet minister wary of opening ‘Pandora’s Box’ of immigration.” Japan Times, May 13, 2015; “Japan’s Population Falls for Ninth Straight Year.” Nippon.com, April 30, 2020.

[vi]Kōreisha jinkō (65-74, 75 ijō) to sono wariai” [Population and proportion of elderly (65-74, 75+)]. Shūkan Ekonomisuto, January 15, 2008: 16.

[vii] “A declining Japan loses its once-hopeful champions.” Washington Post, October 27, 2012, particularly the graphic “As Japan’s population ages, optimism wanes.” More current statistics show that South Korea may overtake Japan in terms of highest median age by 2050, but Japan will still remain in second place. Seewww.statista.com/statistics/673014/top-ten-countries-with-highest-projected-median-age/ (accessed June 2, 2021).

[viii] One often-touted solution to the demographic crisis is automation, i.e., getting robots into fields that require elderly care, such as hospitals and care centers. See for example GOJ policy trial balloons floated at “Better than people: Why the Japanese want their robots to act more like humans.” Economist (London), December 20, 2005; “Government tackles population decline.” Yomiuri Shinbun, August 26, 2014, archived at www.debito.org/?p=12609; “Aging Japan: Robots may have role in future of elder care.” Reuters, March 27, 2018; et al. However, robots do not pay taxes, so without young people paying into pension plans for the current elderly, I do not see how automation will make up the financial shortfall when the young taxpayers reach retirement.

[ix] Arudou 2006c, which notes, “As far back as 2000, under the Obuchi Administration, ‘The Prime Minister’s Commission on Japan’s Goals in the 21st Century’ (as well as the UN) famously advised Japan to import around 600,000 people per annum. This would maintain Japan’s tax base and ameliorate the effects of record-high longevities and record-low birthrates contributing to an aging population.” [Emphasis added.]

“EMBEDDED RACISM” EXCERPT ENDS

///////////////////////////////////////

Here’s one domestic news article not behind paywall on this:

人口「8000万人」維持を、2100年に向けて戦略会議が提言…「安定的で成長力のある国家」
読売新聞 2024/01/09 17:28
 民間有識者らで作る「人口戦略会議」(議長=三村明夫・日本製鉄名誉会長)は9日、人口減少を食い止めるための提言「人口ビジョン2100」を発表した。2100年の日本の目指すべき姿として、「安定的で、成長力のある8000万人国家」を掲げた。
新成人は過去最少の106万人…2005年生まれ、前年より6万人減
 日本の総人口は08年の1億2808万人をピークに急速な減少傾向にあり、国立社会保障・人口問題研究所の長期推計では、2100年には約6300万人に半減すると予測されている。
 提言では、人口減に歯止めがかからない場合、「どのような重大な事態が起きるか正確に理解することが重要」として、「超高齢化や地方消滅で(社会の)進歩が止まる」と深刻さを強調。2100年の人口を8000万人で安定させる「定常化戦略」と、小さい人口規模でも多様性と成長力を確保する「 強靱きょうじん 化戦略」の一体的な推進を訴えた。
 定常化戦略は、人口が維持できる合計特殊出生率2・07を達成する時期を60年に設定し、具体策に〈1〉若者の雇用改善〈2〉女性の就労促進〈3〉総合的な子育て支援制度の構築――などを挙げた。強靱化戦略では、生産性の低い産業の改革や人への投資の強化が重要だとした。
 これらの戦略を進める体制として、内閣への「人口戦略推進本部(仮称)」設置のほか、勧告権を持つ首相直属の強力な審議会、各界各層に議論を呼びかける国民会議の創設を提起。国会に常設組織を設けて超党派の合意を目指すよう要請した。
 岸田首相は9日、首相官邸で三村氏らから提言を受け取り、「官民で連携して社会の意識改革に取り組んでいきたい」と述べた。三村氏は東京都内で記者会見し、「現役世代には次の世代の未来に対する責任がある」として、社会全体での意識共有を求めた。
 人口戦略会議は昨年7月に発足し、元総務相の増田寛也・日本郵政社長や人口問題担当の山崎史郎・内閣官房参与らが参加している。提言は10日発売の「中央公論」2月号に掲載される。ENDS

======================
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My SNA VM column 51: “Being thankful despite adversity” (Nov 27, 2023), a think piece on how people survive terrible lives because the basic unit of survival is being part of a pair. And if you’re not in one in Japan, life is especially difficult.

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SNA VM 51 BEING THANKFUL DESPITE ADVERSITY
Subtitle:  We all know life can be tough, especially for people in Japan. But practicing being thankful, particularly if you can find someone to thank, isn’t just a matter of good fortune. Psychologically, the basic unit of survival is being part of a pair.

By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities Column 51, Nov 27, 2023
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/11/27/visible-minorities-being-thankful-despite-adversity/

Last week heralded American Thanksgiving, and with it some life lessons.

While I’m wary of transposing an American holiday on SNA’s overseas audience, I think any excuse to be reflective and thankful for what you have — and grateful for avoiding what ill could have befallen you — is a valuable life skill.

As they say, any excuse is a good one for a party, so likewise any excuse is good to be thankful. That means any day can be for thanksgiving. I choose today.

Life is full of big emotions, many of them caused by you, others the product of your being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some are just the cards you were dealt from birth and environment.

We can put that down to bad luck or some godforsaken ordeal. Or we can rationalize about things that don’t kill you making you stronger, adversity building character, etc.

But I don’t believe in ordeals anymore. I’m 58. My character is pretty much built. Moreover I’ve seen, through elders turned bitter in their old age, that too much adversity just makes you mean.

So as I approach my sixties, one of my life projects is understanding the science and practice of happiness. Interim conclusion: I choose to be happy. To me that means being thankful for the people who carry you through the inevitable tribulations of life while you do the same for them.

The life hack is having another person — at least one — who wishes you well, has your best interests in mind, and is there to see what you see, reminding you that you’re not the only one going through all this.

There is some science here. A book called “Escape from Camp 14” describes a survivor’s account of escaping a North Korean concentration camp. It offered the following life lesson:

The protagonist at first accepted his harsh life in North Korea as his lot in society, even as he ended up interned for reasons beyond his control. But he didn’t seriously contemplate escape until a fellow prisoner said he would do it with him. Somebody else confirmed he wasn’t crazy for wanting out.

As “Escape from Camp 14” notes on page 84, “Their relationship echoed, in many ways, the bonds of trust and mutual protection that kept prisoners alive and sane in Nazi concentration camps. In those camps, researchers found, the ‘basic unit of survival’ was the pair, not the individual. (Emphasis mine.)

“‘It was in the pairs that the prisoners kept alive the semblance of humanity,’ concluded Elmer Luchterhand, a sociologist at Yale who interviewed fifty two concentration camp survivors shortly after liberation. Pairs stole food and clothing, exchanged small gifts and planned for the future. If one member of a pair fainted from hunger in front of an SS officer, the other would prop him up. […] Finally, the death of one member of a pair often doomed the other,” noting that Anne Frank, for example, “lost the will to live after the death of her sister.”

This example is obviously extreme, but it is instructive. It’s hard to imagine a greater sense of isolation than an entire state apparatus designed to destroy you.

Or in Japan’s case, consider a society designed to perpetually alienate you, say your thoughts and feelings are deviant or inapplicable, or remind you don’t belong here no matter what you do. Some accept it as their lot as a foreigner. Others leave for more accepting societies. But for those who stay in a polity predicated on finely tuned embedded racism, people do survive. The key is finding somebody to go through with it as a pair.

(You may of course argue that solitude in a secret world will also do. Plenty of Japanese malcontents and dropouts do exactly this. Known as the hikikomori, I don’t think they are a healthy model.)

That’s why I’m thankful for my life partner now. I had one before while in Japan. But Japanese society has a habit of driving couples apart through divisive role play.

The idealized family is where one person spends his waking moments absent from home making the money (the so-called “salary delivery vehicle”, or kyūryō unpansha), while the other devotes her life to running the home and raising a family (ryōsai kenbo). It doesn’t matter that your personality might not be into kids, into being a corporate drone, or into conspicuous consumption as a lifestyle. Even as Japan modernizes and diversifies, these slow-drip pressures over decades are palpable and unyielding.

I’ve been through a divorce in Japan and understand why it happened. When you realize that cultural and media tropes are steadily morphing your erstwhile partner into a stranger, and all the basic values you thought you shared (such as childrearing values, saving and spending habits, personal space and housekeeping, openness to new experiences, leisure activities and holiday celebrations, even physical intimacy into old age) turned out to be faux or fleeting, that’s very isolating.

At first you accept it as your lot. Until you realize just how unhappy you’ve become.

This can of course happen in any society. But given the high separation and divorce rates amongst my long-term friends in Japan (who, given Japan’s lack of psychological counseling for couples, were generally encouraged to seek solace elsewhere), I can’t but help feel that there’s a culturally based pathology at work.

There definitely is one when you want out. That’s when you get into how Japan’s divorce system deliberately forces contestations into acrimonious negotiations, killing parent-child relationships in the process. Your life partner has suddenly become your worst enemy who can legally steal the kids.

Some never escape this prison, stuck in a “separation under the same roof” (kateinai bekkyo) where they live together but never interact. Others succeed in getting out, but I’ve seen many survivors of Japanese divorces languish for years alone wondering what it was all for. They drift off into the mental illness of never trusting partners again: Once bitten, twice shy.

The ones who fully recover find friends — or better yet a new life partner — who tell them they were not nuts. Forged in the furnace of similar adversities, they create a constructive pair of individuals with fully formed characters. They escape from isolation with someone who actively cultivates the relationship: nurtures instead of blames, consults instead of shuns, understands instead of indulges, actively listens instead of merely dismissing as foreign.

If that means you escape an intolerant society together through relocation, so be it. You must prioritize getting into an environment that makes the two of you happy. Otherwise you just might spend your twilight years resentful, bitter and mean.

Not for me. I choose to exercise happiness, thankful for other people’s help — and for my current life partner in specific. May you find yours.

ENDS

======================
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My SNA VM 49: Be Mindful About Cultural Education (Sept 25, 2023), on how teaching people about Japan can backfire if the regular stereotyping found in language education isn’t carefully considered

mytest

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Hi Blog. Here’s my latest column.  Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

CULTURAL EDUCATION MUST BE DONE MINDFULLY
Japan’s internationalization is inevitable. So is teaching Japan’s future generations of diversity. If done wrong, educating about Japanese culture and society could do more harm than good.
By Debito Arudou, Ph.D., SNA Visible Minorities column 49, Sept 25, 2023

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/09/25/japans-internationalization-is-inevitable-so-is-teaching-japans-future-generations-of-diversity-if-done-wrong-educating-about-japanese-culture-and-society-could-do-more-harm-than/

Like it or not, Japan’s internationalization is happening.  There are fewer Japanese and more foreigners than ever.  In 2022, the population of Japanese citizens dropped below the 125 million mark for the first time in Japan’s modern era, while the registered Non-Japanese (NJ) population reached a record high at over 3 million, or 2.4% of the total population.

That can only grow.  Even if the NJ population numerically stayed the same as it is now, its percentage of the total population will still rise due to Japan’s below-replacement birthrates.  But the NJ population will not stay the same — the economics of Japan’s aging labor force is reaching the point where officials see the writing on the wall.  According to a recent Kyodo News survey, a whopping 86% of Japan’s municipalities want more NJ workers to do the jobs and save their senescent cities from extinction. 

All of these figures do not, of course, include all the multicultural and multiethnic children already in Japan with diverse identities and backgrounds — routinely ignored because Japan’s Census does not measure for ethnicity. So if anything, Japan’s internationalization is grossly underestimated.

TEACH THE CHILDREN WELL

The front line of this trend is Japan’s education system, where the children of immigrants make an immediate and urgent impact on society. This is not news. For more than a quarter century, local governments have begged for enhanced services to help their residents with language and acculturation barriers assimilate into their schools and communities. The national government has basically ignored them.

But we are seeing some progress. Multilingual manuals about local customs and rules have long been issued by governments and civil society, including some helpful training videos to help explain elementary school rules and cultural practices in simpler Japanese. A good example was produced by students at Wakayama University and featured in the Mainichi last year.

This is highly laudable. But a point of caution: This isn’t just a matter of telling all Newcomers to “Do as the Romans do.” Without mindful production of teaching materials grounded in solid social science, cultural education could have the opposite effect: Solidifying stereotypes, entrenching prejudice, and making the perceived newcomer feel like a perpetually subordinated outsider.

Consider some bad habits that are the default mode:

One is systemic — the tendency towards stereotyping within language teaching itself. I recall my French language textbooks introducing “French things” (petit pan, grande pan, etc.) as something all French people ate. No mention, say, of couscous, or other ethnic but Francophone cuisines. Or for that matter of other Francophone people. All French people in my textbooks were white, which simply didn’t reflect reality.

To the untrained eye, that meant that whatever doesn’t fit a textbook image of “Frenchness” wasn’t seen as “French.” It put up artificial walls between peoples simply out of habit or convenience. That’s because basic language training necessarily tends to overgeneralize about societies and boil them down to foundational language. But resorting to prototype omits developments in society, such as cultural diversity from international migration.

That’s why we need trained eyes to avoids stereotyping. Let social scientists, not just linguists or untrained do-gooders, also have input into the learning process.

But there are also some bad habits that are intrinsic to Japan, easily seen when even the most educated people teach Japanese culture…

BEWARE “UNIQUE JAPAN”

Consider the narrative focus on “Japanese uniqueness,” as in, “only Japan has this,” for just about anything worthy of portraying as “Japanese.”  For example, I’ve seen educational materials claiming that enjoying four seasons and eating octopus are “uniquely Japanese.”.  Calamari, anyone?

One problem with the “uniqueness trope” is that it prioritizes differences over similarities.  This is the natural outcome of humanities as a field seeing culture as a constellation of contrasts.  Anything not remarkable or dramatic enough to cause “culture shock” doesn’t seem to be all that worthy of study.

Yet no matter what, people are far more similar than they are different (start with the fact that we are carbon-based mammals and work up).  And by portraying even the most mundane things (such as using chopsticks, taking off your shoes at the doorway, or sorting your garbage) as some kind of cultural minefield only serves to make study of other societies unduly formidable and anal-retentive.  

So focus on practical goals.  Give them the right words to accomplish the tasks and things will flow from there.

The other problem with fixating on difference to the point of “uniqueness” is that it encourages ascription and exclusion.  Anything deviating from the portrayed image of “Japaneseness” automatically becomes “foreign.”  

Consider the political outcomes of this.  Let’s say you have a suggestion for how things could be done better, but alas, you’re a foreigner?  Too bad.  It won’t work in Japan because we are unique and not like any other foreign country and we do things differently.  Foreign things must automatically be different or they wouldn’t be foreign.  

But what if a Japanese suggests the same thing?  Well, we can’t accept that either.  Obviously it’s still not the norm, because if it were, you wouldn’t be suggesting a change.  

Either way, the door is slammed on social change.  Eliminating the possibility of any cultural overlap reinforces the “us versus them” mindset and feeds directly into social othering, all of which are counterproductive to societies evolving.

“WE JAPANESE”

Another problem is portraying Japan as a monolith.  Guidebooks on Japan tend to represent it as a one-size-fits-all experience, and that “Japanese behavior” is predictable down to topic sentences without exception:  “We Japanese think or behave this way.”  Switch on the TV (especially NHK World) and you’ll see that narrative reinforced daily.  

That’s just stereotyping all over again, and it ignores all the regional differences that plainly exist once you get to know Japan as individuals, regions, dialects, and local mores.

Whenever I get asked to say something about Japan, especially by people who want to go there and experience it for themselves (which I always heartily encourage), I always add the caveat that, “Your mileage may vary, depending on how you’re perceived.”  If I were shorter, darker-haired or -skinned, female or non-binary, younger or older etc., my experience of interactions with Japanese society would differ.  

Teaching people about life in Japan has to incorporate the inevitability of diversity and exception.  There are just so many Japans out there.

The knock-on ill-effect of portraying all Japanese as being a certain way (including physical appearance) means that those who aren’t are not “real Japanese.”  

This feeds directly into teaching the students and future residents of Japan that in the end they don’t really belong here.  Even if they learn the rules, they never be part of the group that makes the rules.  

Why do you think so few of the Non-Japanese on Caregiver Visas who underwent Japan’s very difficult nursing program stayed on afterwards?  Because they were only trained to work, not belong to the guild that trained them, or ever assimilate and become Japanese.

“YOU FOREIGNERS”

One final problem to be aware of is that teachers and students should not assume the mantle of what I call “Cultural Ambassadors.”  Being told that “Japan is this way” and “How is it in your society?”  As if they as individuals could possibly represent whole societies with any real accuracy.  After all, being an ambassador takes very specific training in social science, including diplomacy, cultural representation, negotiation, and conflict resolution.

The problem with untrained “do-gooders” indulging in cultural education, and “culture vultures” trying to be helpful and “taking foreigners under their wing,” is that they’re generally not mindful of what they’re doing.  They’re often not trying to be a friend on your terms.  They’re often studying you like an animal in a zoo or a protozoan in a Petri dish, treating you like a pet or a means to an end.  

How many failed relationships and marriages have resulted from people glomming onto you because they were “Gaijin Groupies”?  They liked you as in idea more than you as an individual.

Let’s not let cultural education at the compulsory education level fall into these bad habits.

SO WHAT DO DO?

A lot of the tweaks are simple.  Make sure that language generalizing about Japan allows for exceptions.  “Some Japanese… most Japanese… almost all Japanese.”  

But some educational materials must show some awareness of the politics of inclusivity.  Make sure that people of diversity are also included in textbook perceptions of the Self, as a part of Japanese society.  That if they learn the rules and assimilate, that they too can have a role in being part of the process of rule creation.

Also, be aware that there are always politics behind any cultural training.  Make sure that the “How-Tos” don’t overstep their bounds.  Focus on the rules and how to follow them, and avoid going beyond that to demand people give up their power and become obedient “Model Minorities.”  

How to do that?  See them as individuals here for good trying to learn the ropes.  Help them become residents of Japan, if not colleagues and friends.  Don’t treat them something temporary, as if they are a rare bird with remarkable plumage that magically alighted on your windowsill, here only for an instant and gone tomorrow.  

Simply put, show some real empathy.  What would you want to know if you were moving into a new society and trying to fit in?  Treat Newcomers and neophytes as you would like to be treated.  Sounds obvious to say, but all sorts of bad habits get in the way.

ENDS

======================
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Kyodo: “Japanese population falls in all 47 prefectures for first time”. Actually, untrue, even according to the article itself. Once again, Japan’s exclusionary population tallies are only for “Japanese nationals”, not all people living in Japan

mytest

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Hi Blog.  One thing keeping me from commenting more frequently is the pressure I put on myself to write an essay before getting to the news article in question.  I’m going to do less of that in future; just briefly commenting and then getting to the article/issue in question.

The point of this post is to demonstrate some more Embedded Racism that is normalized in Japan’s media and public policy. In its official population tallies, Japan will only count “Japanese nationals” as actual people living in Japan.  Foreigners are mentioned in the Kyodo News article below, yes, but look how things are worded in it.  I’ve underlined the questionable bits.

Again, this is normal in Japan’s population tallies, even after more than 10 years since the local registry reforms began including foreign residents on its juuminhyou Registry Certificates.  It’s a highly questionable practice in terms of accurate demographics and social science, not to mention disrespectful of all the contributions foreign residents make.

Debito.org says that anyone registered as a resident in Japan should get counted as a part of the population of Japan.  No walls or caveats.  Little reforms like these can start now to normalize no distinctions and cost no tax money.  It’s just a matter of considering NJ as fellow human beings living lives in Japan like everyone else.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

///////////////////////////////////////////

Japanese population falls in all 47 prefectures for first time

The population of Japanese nationals fell 801,000 in 2022 from a year earlier to 122,423,038, marking the largest drop since the survey began in 1968, government data showed Wednesday.

Japan Times/Kyodo News, July 26, 2023

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/07/26/national/japan-population-fall/

The population of Japanese nationals fell 801,000 in 2022 from a year earlier to 122,423,038, marking the largest drop since the survey began in 1968, government data showed Wednesday. | BLOOMBERG
KYODO

The population of Japanese nationals fell 801,000 in 2022 from a year earlier to 122,423,038, marking the largest drop and the first time all 47 prefectures have seen a decline since the survey began in 1968, government data showed Wednesday.

As of Jan. 1, 2023, Japan’s population, including foreign residents, stood at 125,416,877, down around 511,000 from a year earlier, according to a demographics survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

The trend indicates an urgent need for Japan to develop measures to address the declining birthrate and improve employment opportunities for youth and women in regional areas. [NB:  Not immigration.]

While Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called for implementing “unprecedented” measures to boost the birthrate in a last-ditch effort to arrest population decline by 2030, doubts persist about whether such initiatives, which are mostly extensions of existing policies, will be effective.

Japanese nationals declined for the 14th consecutive year in 2022, with a record low of 772,000 births in Japan significantly exceeded by a record high 1.57 million deaths.

Nationals working or studying abroad accounted for a decline of around 7,000 of the population.

The number of Japanese nationals in Okinawa, which had been an outlier the previous year, shrank for first time since comparable data was made available in 1973, the data showed.

The foreign population rose for the first time in three years by around 289,000 to 2,993,839 in the reporting year, as the relaxation of strict COVID-19 border controls facilitated the return of international students and technical interns. [NB: Temporary people, not residents.]

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates that foreign nationals will make up 10% of the population by 2070, with some local governments already engaged in efforts to attract professional talent from Asia.

By prefecture, only Tokyo saw an overall population increase due to the high influx of foreigners to the capital, while Akita Prefecture saw the largest population decrease at 1.65%.

[Note original Kyodo headline saying all prefecture populations fell.  Again, foreigners don’t count.]

Among municipalities, 92.4% saw a decrease in the population of Japanese nationals, while 7.6% experienced an increase.

Those age 14 and under accounted for 11.82% of the Japanese population, falling by 0.18 percentage point from the previous year, while people age 65 and over increased by 0.15 point to 29.15%.

The working population, or people between 15 and 64, rose by 0.03 point to 59.03% of the overall population.

ENDS
======================
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My SNA column 41: “Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise” (Dec 27, 2022), about what to do when people say you shouldn’t celebrate regular traditions you hold dear because they’re “not Japanese”

mytest

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Hi Blog.  Let me say it upfront:  If you’re celebrating December customs such as Christmas, then I hope you had a Merry (and unobstructed) Christmas and a Happy New Year.  If your Christmas was in fact obstructed in some way by people who claim that “Christmas is not Japanese” or “Christmas is something you should outgrow” (as happened to a friend of mine recently), my end-year SNA column is for you:

/////////////////////////////////////////////////

Visible Minorities: Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise

SNA (Tokyo) — A long-term Non-Japanese resident friend, married with a Japanese husband and adult kids, recently told me about a new development in their relationship: Christmas was no longer to be celebrated in their household.

Their children were all grown and didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore; so no more presents or any big dinner to celebrate the day. They would allow her only a tree.

Why this sudden change of heart? To her surprise, all this time Christmas had been regarded by the family as a nuisance, a cultural imposition on them. Now it was time to grow out of it.

It raises a fundamental issue that someday comes up within any intercultural relationship: How much culture do you give up for the sake of compromise?  

I argue that Japan’s “unique” culture narrative (and therefore its lack of commonality with anything “foreign”, by definition) can often create sudden, long-term culture shocks.  Because people here can see any accommodation of “foreign” culture as an identity sacrifice, a denial of “Japaneseness”, this can kill relationships, and I offer advice on what to do about it.  

Article at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/12/27/visible-minorities-celebrating-christmas-as-a-compromise/

/////////////////////////////////////////////////

Thanks for reading!  Seasons Greetings to all Debito.org Readers and beyond!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My SNA Column 40: Visible Minorities: “Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events” (Nov 28, 2022), due to all the nasty and racialized attitudes towards our athletes, and the lack of fair play in general

mytest

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Hi Blog.  My latest SNA column was inspired by the World Cup.  Intro:
//////////////////////////////////////////
Visible Minorities: Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, November 28, 2022

SNA (Tokyo) — First off, bravo the Japan team for its upset victory over Germany in their first match of the 2022 World Cup!

It was a game where the Samurai Blue showed world-class skill against a lackluster team, and didn’t let the nerves of playing a former world champion get the better of them. Of course, they did lose their next game against Costa Rica, but their achievement against Germany stands.

I want to devote this column to why it’s difficult for me to root for Japan teams in general. It’s not an issue of nationality (since I have that). It’s a matter of how Japan as a society approaches international sports; given the racialized obstacles towards “foreign” participants, a lack of fair play, the unrelenting pressure on our athletes, and media attitudes that oscillate between racial superiority and victimhood, we take all the fun out of it…

Thanks for reading!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My SNA Column 39: Visible Minorities: “Never Forget Japan’s Racist Covid Policies” (Oct 24, 2022), where I ask you to seriously reconsider devoting your life to a place that could revoke your legal status at any time

mytest

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Visible Minorities: Never Forget Japan’s Racist Covid Policies
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, OCT 24, 2022 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/10/24/visible-minorities-never-forget-japans-racist-covid-policies/

SNA (Tokyo) — This month Japan finally lifted its Covid restrictions and reopened its borders to tourists. Well, whoop-de-doo.

For now, foreigners will no longer suffer entry caps, or go through extra procedures just because they’re foreign, such as being sequestered in foreigner-only floors of hotels with tour-minders so they don’t wander off and contaminate the rest of Japan.

Never mind that Japanese entrants, barely subjected to these strictures put on foreigners, had all this time predictably infected Japan quite freely.

Remember how this whole thing started back in 2020, when cases were found in Yokohama Port aboard a luxury liner called the Diamond Princess? It soon became mired in Japan’s bureaucratic politics, the ship’s patients counted by no country as part of their Covid case total. This was the bellwether for Japan’s future Covid border policies of incompetence and racism…

Rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/10/24/visible-minorities-never-forget-japans-racist-covid-policies/

======================
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Asahi: Okayama public prosecutors drop co-worker violence claim by Vietnamese “Trainee” despite video evidence. No wonder Japan’s violent bully culture thrives! (UPDATE: Out-of-court settlement was reached)

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Hi Blog.  Here’s a handy site I just found on Facebook (GoEMON Global) that offers news and translation of interest to Debito.org.  Something of note (with my comment afterwards):

========================

OKAYAMA PREFECTURAL PUBLIC PROSECUTORS OFFICE DECIDES TO NOT CHARGE FOUR JAPANESE PEOPLE WITH THE ALLEGED ASSAULT OF A VIETNAMESE TRAINEE TWO YEARS AGO

Courtesy TT and GoEMON (https://goemon-jp.com/)

Two years ago, a 41-year-old male Vietnamese technical trainee was abused by his four Japanese coworkers while working. The act was then discreetly recorded by another Vietnamese trainee, causing a buzz within the public at that time. The result of the case was recently disclosed by the Okayama Prefectural Public Prosecutors Office.

The technical trainee filed a case to the Okayama Prefectural Public Prosecutors Office, claiming that he had been assaulted during the past two years working at the company, in which the four coworkers, all in their 30s, were referred to prosecution on suspicion of causing injuries and other charges. The Prosecutor’s Office, however, announced that the four cannot be prosecuted, due to a lack of information.

The indictments were dropped against two for injury, one for injury and violation of the Violent Acts Punishment Law, and one for violation of the Violent Acts Punishment Law.

Original article:

ベトナム人実習生暴行容疑で書類送検の4人、不起訴に 岡山区検

朝日新聞 2022年8月4日

https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASQ8466HSQ84PPZB012.html

Video evidence:


Courtesy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK1HhnvktOc&t=76s

技能実習生のベトナム人男性(41)が実習先の岡山市の建設会社で2年間にわたって暴行を受けたと訴え、岡山県警が同社の元従業員の男性4人(いずれも30代)を傷害などの疑いで書類送検していた事件で、岡山区検は4日、4人全員を不起訴処分とした。理由は明らかにしていない。
不起訴となったのは傷害容疑の2人と、傷害と暴力行為等処罰法違反容疑の1人、暴力行為等処罰法違反容疑の1人。

訴える(うったえる): Prosecute
暴行(ぼうこう): Abuse
不起訴(ふきそ): Cannot be prosecuted
違反容疑(いはんようぎ): Alledged
傷害(しょうがい): Injury
—————————————
GoEMON is a sharing and community connection platform in Japan. We want to build a community to help foreigners have a better life in Japan by sharing the real experiences of foreigners in Japan.
#GoEMON #News

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

COMMENT FROM DEBITO: “A lack of information”!? [Well, in the original Japanese, it just says, “For reasons left unclear.”] Anyway, watch the video above.  Yet another example (see the McGowan Case for another) of how even when you have photographic or audio evidence of abusive behavior, the laws are only as good as the people enforcing them.  If public prosecutors will not do their job and prosecute, the laws specifically against violent acts mean nothing.

Consider this: How many of you out there have been in a situation where the bullying in Japan escalated from verbal to physical?  Personally, I have, many times.  And it’s no wonder why — as evidenced here, there’s nothing official to stop or hold abusers accountable.  This is despite all the public promises of reform of Japan’s already abusive, exploitative, and deadly “Trainee” system.  In a sense, this poor guy is lucky he didn’t end up laid up in the hospital or worse!  Debito Arudou, PhD

=====

PS:  I got out of my bullying situations by fighting back.  But that usually had mixed results — too many times in Japan the victim gets blamed for either “overreacting”, or for disrupting things by reacting at all.  And it’s one reason why Japan remains a society where bullies dominate.  Because who dares, wins.  D.

////////////////////////////////////////

UPDATE AUGUST 19, 2022:  Other media gave more detail that the case was dropped due to a settlement.  Article follows, translation mine:

============================

ベトナム人技能実習生への暴行事件 建設会社の元従業員4人を不起訴に 岡山区検
YahooNews.co.jp, 2022.8.4(木), courtesy of LP
https://news.yahoo.co.jp/articles/faa361ab11a2bc6d7c7c865e7044a2e57d3eb716

岡山市の建設会社で働いていたベトナム人技能実習生に暴行し、けがをさせたとして書類送検されていた元従業員4人を岡山区検察庁は不起訴処分としました。

この事件は2019年秋に来日したベトナム人技能実習生の男性が、職場の岡山市の建設会社で約2年間、日本人従業員から暴行を受け肋骨を折るなどのけがをしたと訴えていたものです。

2022年6月、岡山県警は傷害などの疑いで当時従業員だった4人を書類送検していました。

岡山区検は不起訴処分とした理由について明らかにしていません。

実習生を保護していた労働組合によりますと、建設会社と監理団体から実習生に謝罪がありその後、解決金が支払われ示談が成立したとしています。ENDS
============================

Translation by Debito:

Violence against a Vietnamese Trainee:  Okayama Public Prosecutors decide not to prosecute four former [Japanese] employees at construction company

Yahoo News, August 4, 2022

A case sent to Okayama District Public Prosecutors, where four former [Japanese] employees at an Okayama city construction company were violent towards a Vietnamese Trainee co-worker, causing him injuries, has been dropped from prosecution.

The Vietnamese male Trainee, who had arrived in Japan in the Fall of 2019, reported that over the course of about two years, he had endured violence from Japanese co-workers at an Okayama construction company workplace, including injuries such as broken ribs.

In June 2022, Okayama Police sent the four Japanese workers to prosecutors for injurious damages.  Public Prosecutors did not give a reason why they decided not to prosecute.

According to the labor union protecting the Trainee, there was an apology from the construction company and the administering agency (kanji dantai), with restitution (kessaikin) paid through private settlement.  ENDS

/////////////////////////////////////

FURTHER COMMENT FROM DEBITO:  Well, if the “Trainee” feels that honor has been satisfied through apologies and restitution, so be it.  And according to this article, his abusers seem to have gotten fired.

But let’s consider how this should have proceeded:

  1. The violence shouldn’t have gone on for two years.  There should have been a way to report it to authorities at the first sign of violence, particularly to those authorities who got the “Trainees” here in the first place, and gotten him transferred him out of there immediately.
  2. It shouldn’t have taken the painstaking amount of effort on the part of the victim to make a video and get a labor union involved before authorities sat up and took notice.  Even broken ribs wasn’t enough evidence?  How many months of everyday hell and pain did this poor “Trainee” have to endure?
  3. The workplace should have been screened better as an acceptable workplace, and then monitored afterwards.  This isn’t the first case of foreign “Trainee” or “Researcher” workplace abuse by any stretch.  Abuse, according to the labor unions, is in fact the norm.  According to labor union leader Torii Ippei, companies that are NOT abuse their foreign workers are “very rare” (goku mare).

This case shows just how much, despite calls for reform of the system for decades, things have NOT progressed.  By now, things like this shouldn’t still be happening.  But official negligence is the norm here. Again, good thing the “Trainee” had the video of the savage treatment that resulted in broken ribs and untold mental damage. But he shouldn’t have had to. Debito

/////////////////////////////////////////

Even more detail here (excerpt):

ベトナム人技能実習生への暴行で示談成立 建設会社・監理団体が謝罪
西本秀 朝日新聞 2022年5月7日
https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASQ5675PYQ4XPITB003.html

ベトナム国籍の技能実習生の男性(41)が実習先の岡山市の建設会社で2年間にわたって暴行を受けたとし、動画を公表して訴えていた問題で、男性を保護した労働組合・福山ユニオンたんぽぽ(広島県福山市)は、会社や、実習生を仲介した監理団体との間で示談が成立したことを明らかにした。

ユニオンによると、建設会社シックスクリエイトは、暴行があったとし、監理団体の岡山産業技術協同組合は、保護責任を果たせなかったとしてともに男性側に謝罪し、補償金を支払うという。

シックスクリエイトの代理人弁護士は「取材は受けない」とした。監理団体は「示談により問題が円満解決に至った」としつつ、内容は「関係者のプライバシーに関わり、詳細を明らかにすることを差し控えさせていただきます」とコメントした。

国も問題視 計画認定取り消しに
男性は2019年10月に来… rest at https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASQ5675PYQ4XPITB003.html

======================
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Japan Times on neighborhood sento bathhouse restoration activists: Omits history of how Japan’s already-declining public bath industry hurt itself with “Japanese Only” signs

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Hi Blog. Particularly dear to my heart is the issue of public baths in Japan (onsen and sento), as racist exclusionism is something my friends and I have dealt with for decades (including a successful civil suit in Otaru that went all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court, a couple of books in English and Japanese, and even a doctoral dissertation). Despite all these years of recording their “Japanese Only” signs and activities, already people seem to be trying to forget, or remembering not to remember, how this industry already in decline did itself no favors by being racist.

The most recent example of historical revisionism was in a Japan Times article about “Sento Samaritans”, where it didn’t even mention that past.  The article is excerpted below. I wrote in their Comments Section in reply:

======================
Debito: I applaud the efforts of these movements to keep neighborhood sento open. However, the writer of this article (and perhaps the activists themselves) neglected to mention an important part of history, where public/private baths have refused entry to foreign and foreign-looking residents and customers. If offering this communal experience is “an important channel of communication between neighbors”, then it’s also important to recognize the fact that sometimes sento and onsen have undermined themselves by putting up “Japanese Only” signs, and not recognized “foreigners” as fellow neighbors. Openness to all members of the community should also be part of their slogans.
======================

The JT article is excerpted below.

Also, The Japan Times in general seems to be forgetful of this discriminatory history as an editorial policy, as their archive on recent articles regarding Sento demonstrates. The JT laments the decline of the industry (for example, here) without getting into how some of their decline is their own fault. That’s particularly galling, considering I wrote for the Japan Times for two decades a regular column, in addition to other stringer articles, on this very subject.

Seems The Japan Times doesn’t prioritize this type of issue anymore. So much for reporting “in the public interest”.  This is how history gets unlearned and eventually repeats itself.  Just wait for the next moral panic blamed on “foreigners”, and communal doors to a public service will shut all over again.  Even if if drives the excluder out of business.  Talking about preservation without including this issue is in fact counterproductive for the industry.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

////////////////////////////////

Sentō Samaritans: The fight to save urban bathhouses
Activists believe bathing for a coin means soaking up culture
The Japan Times, August 6, 2022 (excerpt)
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2022/08/06/general/sento-bathhouse-historians/

Dozens of elderly regulars, families with children and young Tokyoites from all over the city strip, shower off and soak.

This was the scene during a scorching weekend in July at Inari-yu, a rejuvenated sentō (public bathhouse) in Kita Ward’s Takinogawa neighborhood. Together in baths ranging from warm to very hot, bathers admired the bright blues and greens of a recently repainted mural of Mount Fuji over their heads.

Built in 1930, Inari-yu is a rare surviving example of the shrine-like miyazukuri architectural style typical of Tokyo’s prewar bathhouses. The main attraction for visitors, though, was the reopening of the century-old nagaya, a type of Edo Period (1603-1867) rowhouse, adjacent to the sentō. Inari-yu’s staff originally lived in this building, but it had been abandoned for decades — until three years ago, when Sento & Neighborhood, a nonprofit that aims to revive historic bathhouses, started working with Inari-yu’s fifth-generation owners to restore the nagaya.

At the inaugural event, Sento & Neighborhood organized activities such as a lecture by an architectural historian, a community breakfast and a neighborhood walking tour. Next to Inari-yu’s entrance, a market with local food vendors added to the colorful and festive atmosphere.

Unmissable for the attendees, of course, was also a visit to the bathhouse. Stepping out of the heat and into Inari-yu’s cool, soothing interior, bathers shed their clothes and their fatigue in the spacious changing rooms with simple wooden decor overlooking a small, outdoor koi pond.

“Bathhouses are a space where I can ground myself,” says Sam Holden, who first found solace in sentō when he was a graduate student in Tokyo.

Holden, who labels himself an urban activist, is a writer, translator and renovation specialist. He founded Sento & Neighborhood together with four associates in 2020 with the idea of “changing historic bathhouses as little as possible but finding a way for them to become sustainable,” Holden explains, hinting at the financial difficulties that many sentō face…

[History of Sentos redacted]

To Holden, visiting bathhouses means exploring the back alleys that embody a deeper layer of Japan’s urban fabric tucked away from busy and anonymous main streets — and one that has been part of Japanese cities for centuries.

“Across the street from the bathhouse you have the liquor shop where the grandpas gather, the vegetable grocer and tofu shop and all sorts of local eateries,” Holden says. “Preserving a bathhouse means not only preserving that building, but this neighborhood network.”

Read the full article at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2022/08/06/general/sento-bathhouse-historians/

======================
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Migrant Integration Policy Index rates Japan as “Integration Denied”, and “Critically Unfavorable” in terms of Anti-Discrimination measures. And this is for 2019, before Covid shut Japan’s borders.

mytest

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Hi Blog.  Here’s an interesting website called the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX, www.mipex.eu).  Who are they? According to its website (excerpt, full text here),

The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) is a unique tool which measures policies to integrate migrants in countries across six continents, including all EU Member States (including the UK), other European countries (Albania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Moldova, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine), Asian countries (China, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates), North American countries (Canada, Mexico and US), South American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile), South Africa, and Australia and New Zealand in Oceania.

Policy indicators have been developed to create a rich, multi-dimensional picture of migrants’ opportunities to participate in society. In the fifth edition (MIPEX 2020), we created a core set of indicators that have been updated for the period 2014-2019 (see Methodology). MIPEX now covers the period 2007-2019. The index is a useful tool to evaluate and compare what governments are doing to promote the integration of migrants in all the countries analysed.

The project informs and engages key policy actors about how to use indicators to improve integration governance and policy effectiveness…

Thus it offers comparatives for how proactive countries are with their immigration policies.  It released its rankings for Japan covering the year 2019, in which it concludes (underlined emphases by Debito):

////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Conclusions and recommendations

Japan scores 47/100, slightly below the average MIPEX country (49/100) because Japanese policies still refuse to recognise that Japan is a country of immigration. This denial leads to contradictory policies that create as many obstacles as opportunities for foreign nationals. Japan’s approach to integration is categorised as “Immigration without Integration”. While Japan is a leader far ahead of the other countries in this category, its policies still deny basic rights and equal opportunities to newcomers. Foreign nationals can find some ways to settle long-term in Japan. However, Japanese policies only go halfway to guarantee them equal opportunities, (e.g., on health and education), while also denying them several basic rights, most notably protections from discrimination.

Japan needs to invest more on all the three dimensions, especially to guarantee immigrants with the same basic rights as Japanese citizens. The way that governments treat immigrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. Japan’s current policies encourage the public to see immigrants as subordinates and not their neighbours.

Foreign residents in Japan enjoy relatively favourable access to family reunification, permanent residence and the health system. However, foreign nationals and their children still face major obstacles to education, political participation and non-discrimination. Immigrants’ children receive little targeted support in the education system in Japan, similar to the situation of other countries with low number of migrant pupils. Furthermore, potential victims of ethnic, racial, religious or nationality discrimination have little chance to access justice in Japan. Japan is one of the only MIPEX countries still without a dedicated anti-discrimination law and body. Japan is the among bottom three countries for anti-discrimination policies, together with other ‘immigration without integration’ countries.

Japan’s approach is slightly ahead of poorer Central European countries with equally small and new immigrant populations, but far behind other developed countries, including Korea. In comparison to neighbouring Korea, foreign nationals in Japan face weaker integration policies in the labour market, education, political participation, and anti-discrimination. Besides Korea, Japan’s policies are most similar on MIPEX to Israel and stronger than the other MIPEX Asian countries (China, India and Indonesia).

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For those who succumb to TL;dr, MIPEX provides solid visuals (https://www.mipex.eu/japan):

COMMENT: It’s as we’ve been saying here on Debito.org for decades:  This is what happens when you are the only developed country without a national law against racial discrimination.  And remember, this is the report as of 2019.  I look forward to seeing the next report, where it takes into account Japan’s racist policy of closed borders (even to lawful and Permanent Residents, for a time) due to Covid.  I strongly doubt Japan’s numbers will improve.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Tokyo Musashino City fails to get local referenda voting rights for its NJ Residents (Dec 2021). Absorb the arguments of the national-level xenophobic campaign against it.

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Hi Blog.  Sorry to be getting to this issue so late, but here’s yet another example of a local government, a suburb of Tokyo called Musashino, trying to do what’s right for ALL of its residents (including those without Japanese citizenship) by getting their voice heard by voting in local referenda.

To stress:  These are votes on local, repeat, local referenda (they’re not actually *electing representatives*) — and the results are not even legally binding.  Moreover, according to the Takao source below, 73% of the public supported the move (that is, before the xenophobes and alarmists stepped in on a national level to bully and scare the public).

Witness the typical alarmism behind sharing any political power in Japan.  The tactic is simple:  portray the granting of any voice in governance to non-citizens as a security issue.  The assumption then becomes that enfranchised foreigners will inevitably use their power to hurt Japanese citizens.

(See other examples on Debito.org of local governments trying to help their foreign residents — since the national government refuses to — and their successes and failures here and here.)  

Substantiating articles follow.  Trace the arguments pro and con within and see what I mean.  The article from the right-wing rag Japan Forward is of particular notice, reprinting the right-wing Sankei Shinbun’s blatant xenophobic editorial policies; as always it gives us a distillation of intellectualized racism.  An academic article as counterweight to the Sankei follows that.  A quote of note:

Takao:  “This backlash [to the Musashino policy proposal] highlights the LDP’s intention to allow more foreign workers to stay in Japan — to address labour shortages — while also suppressing their rights to maintain the image of a ‘homogeneous’ nation. The Japan International Cooperation Agency has indicated that Japan will need to quadruple the number of foreign workers to over 6 million by 2040 to sustain economic growth.

“But the civic and political participation of foreign residents in Japan is necessary for the sake of smooth social integration. Despite conservative protests, it is local authorities who are forced to step up, fill the vacuum and cope with the increasing pressure of foreign workers’ needs, which are not well addressed by the national government. Prospects for the further protection of foreign residents’ rights in Japan will hinge on effective policy coordination and leadership at the local level.”

For the record.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Musashino’s foreign vote plan squeaks through assembly panel
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, December 14, 2021
https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14501973

A Musashino city assembly committee on Dec. 13 narrowly approved a proposal to allow short-term foreign residents to vote in local referendums, an issue that has divided this western Tokyo suburb.

The six members of the general affairs committee were evenly split on the plan. The committee chair then cast a ‘yes’ vote to break the tie.

The proposal will be sent to the city assembly’s floor for a vote on Dec. 21.

If approved by the assembly, Musashino will become the third municipality to allow foreign residents listed in a city’s registration system for three straight months to vote in local referendums, following Zushi in Kanagawa Prefecture and Toyonaka in Osaka Prefecture.

The 108-seat public gallery at the assembly chamber was nearly full by the time discussions started just after 10:30 a.m. The talks continued until 8:30 p.m., with a rest break included.

Under the proposal, residents, including foreign nationals, who are at least 18 years old and have been listed in the city’s basic resident registration system for three straight months can vote in local referendums.

The main issue of dispute at the committee was the three-month requirement for foreign residents.

Two committee members belonging to a Liberal Democratic Party group of the city assembly strongly opposed the proposal.

“From a commonsense perspective, it is nonsense to treat people who have lived in Japan for a long time and foreigners who have only stayed in Japan for three months at the same level,” said one of the opposing members, Taro Kikuchi.

Kikuchi also pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the opportunities for residents to hear the city’s explanation of the issue.

The proposal “is controversial and has divided the city in half,” he said.

Hidenori Dojo, another opponent, warned that the proposal could give short-term foreign residents a say on national security issues or energy policies in a public referendum.

The city’s public referendum ordinance proposal “is in a broad sense an enfranchisement,” Dojo said.

He explained that his stance is not about “excluding and discriminating against foreigners” but he believes “a distinction is necessary.”

A representative of the city government countered Dojo’s argument.

“It is not appropriate to prohibit a resident’s will to express a certain opinion on a matter even if the city does not have jurisdiction over that matter,” the representative said.

Shori Ochiai, the third opponent of the proposal who belongs to junior coalition partner Komeito, said various opinions were expressed over the issue of granting voting rights to foreigners when the basic autonomy ordinance was established to promote decentralization.

Ochiai said those discussions went nowhere.

He also questioned the timing of Musashino city’s proposal.

He noted that the city started designing institutional arrangements for public referendums after the basic autonomy ordinance took effect in 2020.

“Residents have since struggled in their daily lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, with all this hubbub, many of them are wondering for the first time, ‘What is going on?’”

A city representative acknowledged the need to pass more information about the ordinance to residents.

The three committee members who voted in favor of the proposal included a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and a member of the Japanese Communist Party.

They spent much of their time asking the city questions about how it can ease concerns about possible ramifications from granting voting rights to foreign nationals in referendums.

Taro Yabuhara, the CDP member, asked about the processes that Zushi and Toyonaka went through to establish systems that allowed voting by foreign nationals listed in the basic resident registration system for at least three months.

A Musashino representative said both cities did not face exceptional opposition to their plans from residents or assembly members, and the municipalities also did not see a sudden increase in foreign resident numbers.

Some xenophobic groups have argued that Musashino’s ordinance would result in an influx of special-interest foreign nationals seeking a say in Japanese policies.

But a Musashino official said that such an attempt would be unsuccessful “in a city with a high population density.”

Natsuki Sakurai, an independent politician on the committee, said of such criticism: “Residents of foreign nationalities are shared members of the community. I feel uncomfortable with discussions on whether they are suitable for acceptance in this community or not.”

Sakurai also asked Musashino officials if there are any administrative services that are limited to people with Japanese nationality, a requirement for voting in mayoral and city assembly elections.

“There is no distinction by nationality in terms of services,” a city representative said.

Shigeki Hashimoto, the JCP member, said statements made by city assembly members who oppose the proposal as well as certain media “have misled citizens” by saying that the right to vote in public referendums “is practically a right to vote in local elections.”

A city official agreed with Hashimoto, saying, “Public referendums are close to petitions, defined under Article 16 of the Constitution, and this is different from local election voting rights.”

Ultimately, Tatsuya Fukazawa, a CDP member who chairs the committee, voted for the proposal, making it a 4-to-3 win for the city.

The committee also rejected a petition with 5,277 signatures asking that the proposal be scrapped or tabled for further discussions.

Munenori Kaneko, who heads a group that organized the petition, said about 70 percent of the signatories live in Musashino.

The group has argued that granting foreign residents the right to vote could result in the adoption of opinions that are different from those of the electoral constituencies.

“It can lead to a decline in the functions of the city assembly, whose members are elected by residents with Japanese nationality,” the group said.

(This article was written by Keiichiro Inoue and Atsushi Takahashi.) ENDS

///////////////////////////////////

Tokyo’s Musashino rejects proposal to let foreign residents vote
Kyodo News/Japan Times, Dec 21, 2021
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/12/21/national/politics-diplomacy/tokyo-musashino-rejects-foreign-residents-vote/

The municipal assembly of Musashino in Tokyo on Tuesday rejected a proposed ordinance that would have allowed foreign residents to vote in local referendums.

When first submitted, the proposal divided opinions in the assembly of the suburban city with a population of nearly 150,000. It also drew flak online, with critics saying it could be a step toward granting foreign residents the right to vote in national elections.

The city, which has the popular shopping and residential district of Kichijoji, failed to join two cities that have granted voting rights to foreign nationals in referendums without special conditions — Zushi in Kanagawa Prefecture and Toyonaka in Osaka Prefecture.

The proposal was voted down by 14 to 11.

Following the assembly vote on Tuesday, Musashino Mayor Reiko Matsushita said spreading information about the proposal to residents in the city was insufficient, adding that she will listen to citizens’ voices and consider submitting a revised proposal in the future.

The city assembly’s general affairs committee gave the green light to the controversial proposal last week.

Matsushita submitted the proposal to the assembly in November for holding referendums that would have allowed foreign nationals age 18 or above to vote if they have lived in the city for at least three months — the same conditions that would apply to Japanese residents.

“I am aiming to create a city that accepts diversity,” Matsushita said during the committee’s deliberations last week. “Those who have just come to Japan are also part of the community.”

Assembly members with ties to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan supported the proposal, while members associated with the Liberal Democratic Party opposed it, with one arguing the plan had been hastily decided.

“Explanations to citizens have been insufficient,” the LDP assembly member said.

Other than the cities of Zushi and Toyonaka, about 40 municipalities in Japan allow foreign nationals to vote in referendums, but with some conditions applied such as having the status of permanent residency. ENDS

/////////////////////////////////

Musashino assembly rejects proposal to let foreigners vote
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, December 21, 2021
https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14507138

The Musashino municipal assembly in western Tokyo on Dec. 21 rejected the city’s proposal to allow foreign nationals, including short-term residents, to vote in local referendums.

Fourteen assembly members voted against the proposal while 11 were in favor.

The issue has divided the city.

Proponents said the plan would lead to a more diverse society and gives a voice to more people living in the city.

But critics argued that the required period of stay in the city was far too short for the right to vote. They also said information about the proposal had not been effectively distributed to the public.

The proposal said those eligible to vote in public referendums must be 18 years old or older and listed in the city’s basic resident register network system for at least three straight months.

The plan included foreign students and technical trainees.

“I have seriously taken the result of the vote to heart,” Musashino Mayor Reiko Matsushita said at a news conference after her proposal was rejected.

“I have listened to various opinions from the assembly and residents,” she said. “But I have noted that (such an effort) is not enough, and the issue needs more publicity before we can implement a public referendum system.”

Matsushita also addressed criticism of the three-month-stay requirement and indicated that she will submit another proposal after a review.

“There are voices that say certain conditions are needed, such as the length of stay or a permanent resident status,” she said. “I want to think about that together from now on and find a better way.”

In an earlier vote on Dec. 13, the city assembly’s six-member general affairs committee was evenly split on the proposal. The committee chair tipped the scale by voting “yes,” sending the proposal to a full vote from the assembly.

After the city announced the proposal in November, Diet members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and others voiced opposition. Some argued that such a plan “will grant quasi-voting rights to foreigners without any careful consideration.”

Xenophobic groups have also rallied in the city’s downtown area and around city hall, using a propaganda vehicle to blare out their opposition.

Supporters of the proposal said of such rallies, “Coercive promotions and extortion-like behavior have been prevalent.”

(This article was written by Keiichiro Inoue and Atsushi Takahashi.) ENDS

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EDITORIAL | Musashino City Council Did the Right Thing in Rejecting Foreigner Voting

Under the now-rejected ordinance, non-Japanese living in the city for only three months could have voted, raising fears of foreign influence on local decisions impacting national security.

December 28, 2021 By Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun
https://japan-forward.com/editorial-musashino-city-council-did-the-right-thing-in-rejecting-foreigner-voting/

A draft ordinance that would have allowed voting on local referendums without distinguishing between foreign residents and Japanese nationals was voted down in a plenary session of the Musashino City Council in western Tokyo on December 21, 2021.

The city council has shown good judgment, and we applaud the decision. If the proposed ordinance had been approved, its ripple effect could have spread to other municipalities.

Local referendums have the potential for exerting influence over issues affecting the national interest, such as national security and energy policy. In light of the gravity of the matter, it is only natural that the city council has rejected the draft ordinance. The city government of Musashino, which proposed the ordinance, must take the outcome to heart.

The ordinance would have granted foreign residents, such as students and technical intern trainees, the right to vote in referendums if they have lived in the city for three months or more, and are at least 18 years old. The council’s general affairs committee passed the city government-sponsored ordinance on December 13. Pros and cons of the draft were debated before the proposed ordinance was brought to a vote on December 21, with arguments divided on points such as whether it would “boost diversity” in Musashino, and the “need for certain standards” before voting. The outcome was that the proposed ordinance was rejected by a majority vote.

After the vote, Musashino Mayor Reiko Matsushita stated, “There was a view that the city government had done an inadequate job of informing citizens about the ordinance,” suggesting that she might push for its consideration again. The mayor, however, should abandon any such effort.

Although the mayor insisted that referendums voted on by residents would not be legally binding, the bill explicitly said, “Both the city council and the mayor should respect the result.” If the mayor and council look to the vote for guidance, fears that the referendum could impact the political decision making process would be realized, and non-Japanese would have acquired suffrage.

Fears arose of the city administration and council being swayed by the results of such referendums, impacting political decision making and ending in the foreigners acquiring voting rights.

Seventy-eight municipalities across the country have adopted ordinances on holding local referendums. Of those, 43 have granted voting rights to foreign residents. Unlike Musashino City, however, most have clear stipulations on who can participate in voting, such as limiting eligibility only to non-citizens with permanent resident status.

In its 1995 ruling, the Supreme Court declared that enfranchisement of foreign residents was not permitted under the Constitution. But at the same time the court acknowledged that voting at a local level should be allowed by “those having particularly close relationships with local entities.” The court also set limitations, such as permanent foreign residents of the city.

The Supreme Court decision did not pave the way for voting by foreign nationals, such as students and technical intern trainees who have lived in a city for only three months.

Some pointed out that there have been no particular problems with similar ordinances to the one proposed in Musashino, such as a 2006 ordinance in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture. In another case, however, a 1998 referendum in Okinawa Prefecture on the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement shook national security politics.

Moreover, there can be no guarantee that these ordinances will be non-problematic in the future simply because there have been no major problems so far.

Musashino City should instead place top priority on improving its own efforts to meet the diverse needs of its foreign residents. It could start, for instance, by increasing the number of services which offer access to interpreters. ENDS

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Civic rights for foreign residents sparks backlash in Japan
East Asia Forum, 12 February 2022
By Yasuo Takao, Curtin University
https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2022/02/12/civic-rights-for-foreign-residents-sparks-backlash-in-japan/

The number of foreign residents living in Japan has dramatically increased in the past decade, marking a change for a population traditionally perceived as ‘homogenous’. One local municipality’s debate on civic participation for its foreign residents recently sparked a nation-wide backlash from conservatives and nationalists.

The inflow of foreign residents into Japan increased from 287,100 in 2010 to 592,000 in 2019 — the fourth largest inflow in the OECD. As of October 2021, there were 2.8 million residents of foreign nationality registered in the country.

The debate on how to integrate these new residents into Japanese society is ongoing. By the end of 2021, 42 of Japan’s 1718 municipalities (excluding Tokyo’s Special Wards) had passed public ordinances establishing permanent local referendum systems and granted foreign residents voting rights in them. Zushi in Kanagawa prefecture and Toyonaka in Osaka prefecture even permitted foreign residents to vote without any special ‘period of stay’ conditions.

But in December 2021, the city assembly of Musashino in suburban Tokyo voted against (14 to 11) an ordinance that would have granted foreign residents such voting rights. Progressive Mayor Reiko Matsushita had proposed establishing a permanent local referendum system that would include foreign residents aged 18 or older who had been on the residential register for at least three months. While the referendum results would not be legally binding, the ordinance would require the mayor and the assembly to ‘respect’ them.

In March 2021, Musashino conducted a survey which found 73.2 per cent of respondents agreed that foreign residents should be able to vote in local referendums. Prior to the vote, the city was divided — a backlash from conservative and nationalist politicians and newspapers resulted in street protests against the proposal, while many grassroots community groups were supportive. Voting rights for foreigners had not been an issue in the national lower house election in October 2021, yet Musashino’s proposal gained the attention of the conservative mass media and soon became an issue of national import.

So, how did this whole controversy come about? The issue of non-citizen voting has its roots in the broader policy of local autonomy for Japan’s municipalities.

Ongoing decentralisation in favour of local councils was a key part of public sector reforms in the 1990s, and the Omnibus Law for Local Devolution came into force in 2000. This saw the first local autonomy ordinance (jichi kihon jorei) established in Niseko in 2001, and by 2012 there were 284 such laws — which are known as the ‘constitutions of municipalities’.

The dynamic changed in 2012 when national elections returned the old guard Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power. In 2014 the LDP directed its local branches to ‘respond carefully’ to any initiatives for the enactment of basic local autonomy ordinances. In particular, the LDP Policy Affairs Research Council warned some discretionary power of local authorities went ‘too far’ beyond Japan’s constitutional framework. Consequently, the number of new ordinances dropped from 25 in 2014 to one in 2020.

After a basic local autonomy ordinance came into force, municipalities — including Musashino — regularly started making institutional arrangements for inclusive public referendums. Most proposals for the participation of foreign residents in local referendums were based on these laws.

While some local ordinances followed national guidelines released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, local authorities also drafted many on their own. The LDP tried to break this momentum by arguing ‘jichi kihon jorei represents a denial of the nation’.

In this political climate, Musashino’s proposal was singled out for attack by conservative groups. A group of LDP nationalist politicians, led by Seiichiro Murakami and Shigeharu Aoyama, warned that foreign residents’ rights to vote in referendums could undermine Japan’s national security as the agenda items for referendums are virtually unlimited. In opposing the city’s proposal, Murakami and Aoyama argued it ‘would lead to easily granting foreign nationals rights equivalent to suffrage’. Subsequently, 14 Musashino council members heeded these conservative attacks and voted against the proposal.

This backlash highlights the LDP’s intention to allow more foreign workers to stay in Japan — to address labour shortages — while also suppressing their rights to maintain the image of a ‘homogeneous’ nation. The Japan International Cooperation Agency has indicated that Japan will need to quadruple the number of foreign workers to over 6 million by 2040 to sustain economic growth.

But the civic and political participation of foreign residents in Japan is necessary for the sake of smooth social integration. Despite conservative protests, it is local authorities who are forced to step up, fill the vacuum and cope with the increasing pressure of foreign workers’ needs, which are not well addressed by the national government. Prospects for the further protection of foreign residents’ rights in Japan will hinge on effective policy coordination and leadership at the local level.

Yasuo Takao is Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts, Curtin University, Perth. ENDS

More articles and opinion on the subject at https://www.google.com/search?q=musashino+foreigners+voting

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My SNA VM35: “Visible Minorities: Torture and Murder in Japan Detention Centers” (June 20, 2022) including the Sandamali, Suraj, Fernando, Okafor, Ekei etc. Cases.

mytest

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Visible Minorities: Torture and Murder in Japan Detention Centers
Shingetsu News Agency, June 20, 2022, by Debito Arudou

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/06/20/visible-minorities-torture-and-murder-in-japan-detention-centers/

SNA (Tokyo) — News Headline: “Prosecutors drop case over death of detained Sri Lankan woman.”

In August 2020, a Sri Lanka national named Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali was arrested for overstaying her visa, and detained in a Nagoya Immigration Detention Center. She had arrived in Japan in 2017, but her student visa was cancelled in 2019 because she couldn’t afford tuition fees. While in detention, she opted not to return to Sri Lanka, reportedly due to reduced flights during Covid and an abusive boyfriend back home.

During her seven months in custody, however, Sandamali’s health steadily declined due to a stress-induced stomach condition. According to the Straits Times, Sandamali “was vomiting blood in her final days, and was so weak that she had no control of her arms and legs. The immigration authorities allegedly turned a blind eye to medical expert advice to put her on an intravenous drip or to grant her provisional release to ease her stress. A report by public broadcaster NHK suggested that officials tend to suspect malingering for minor illnesses in their reluctance to grant provisional release.”

That’s a questionable decision, since she had lost 20 kilograms from her small frame over seven months—hard to dismiss as mere “malingering” or “minor illness.” And her decline was not sudden: According to the Asahi Shinbun, she had notified her jailers from mid-January about nausea and lack of appetite. Nineteen days before her death, a urine test indicated she was in a state of starvation. The New York Times noted that in her final days she could ingest little more than water, sugar, or morsels of bread, and could barely make a fist or speak. Yet she was again refused provisional release for hospital treatment.

On March 6, 2021, Sandamali died in her cell, aged 33. An August 2021 postmortem probe by Japan’s Immigration Services Agency ruled that Sandamali had been “mistreated” by the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau, formally reprimanding the bureau’s director and three other supervisors for not reporting her requests for examination and treatment to an outside doctor.

But overlooked was cruelty of her captors. According to Nikkei Asia, “one immigration officer allegedly mocked Wishma when she was unable to swallow her drink,” and the Mainichi Shinbun reported that other Immigration officers misled a doctor about her condition two days before her death, dismissing her illness as merely “psychosomatic.”

By the time Sandamali’s family received her body, “her skin was wrinkled like an old person, and it was stuck firmly to her bones.” In November 2021, Sandamali’s family lodged a criminal complaint against officials at the Nagoya facility, accusing them of murder through willful negligence.

Unfortunately, as noted above, last week the Nagoya District Public Prosecutor’s Office dropped the Sandamali case, citing an inability to establish criminal liability or even a cause of death, blaming it on “multiple factors.”

Multiple factors indeed. Sandamali’s case is not unprecedented. According to CNN, since 1997 at least 27 foreign detainees have died in Japan’s Immigration detention centers (aka “Gaijin Tanks,” because they detain foreigners only).

The main factor here is the cruel and unusual punishment by public officers, expressly forbidden under Article 36 of the Constitution.

Yet nobody has ever been held criminally liable for foreigner deaths in detention. That’s what makes Japan’s Gaijin Tanks so cruel and unusual.

Let’s consider a few more cases, then talk about the system that killed them…

Read the rest at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/06/20/visible-minorities-torture-and-murder-in-japan-detention-centers/

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Asahi: “Prosecutors drop case over death of detained Sri Lankan woman”, predictably ending Criminal Case brought by the family of Wishma Sandamali, and keeping Japan’s deadly “Gaijin Tanks” unaccountable

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Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「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)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Hi Blog. The Wishma Sandamali Criminal Case has sadly reached a predictable end: Japanese prosecutors have dropped their case against the people in charge of the Immigration “Gaijin Tank” Detention Center that killed her through negligence.

We’ve talked about the Sandamali Case here on Debito.org before, as we have the many other cases of death and destruction in Japan’s cruel Detention Centers. One of the reasons they remain so cruel is that they face no accountability, as seen here.  And prosecutors declining to prosecute those who kill foreigners have been discussed at length in my book Embedded Racism, Chapter 6, “A ‘Chinaman’s Chance’ in Japanese Court” (with 2022 updates of more cases, including Sandamali’s, in the Second Edition).

The Civil Case for damages brought by the Sandamali family is ongoing.  But I am not optimistic about justice being done there either.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Prosecutors drop case over death of detained Sri Lankan woman
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, June 17, 2022, courtesy of lots of people.
https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14647083

Public prosecutors will drop their case against senior officials from the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau over the death of a Sri Lankan woman at an immigration detention facility, according to sources.

Wishma Sandamali, 33, died in March 2021 at a facility run by the bureau, in a case that sparked widespread outcry over her mistreatment.

The Nagoya District Public Prosecutors Office launched an investigation into whether the senior officials in charge at the time had committed murder or negligence as a guardian resulting in death, responding to criminal complaints against them from Wishma’s family and others.

Sources said the prosecutors office concluded it cannot establish criminal liability in this case following discussions with another prosecution office that is higher in rank.

The decision is expected to be communicated to those who made the criminal complaints, including Wishma’s family members, on June 17 at the earliest.

This will effectively end the investigation into criminal liability of the senior officials.

According to a report compiled by the Immigration Services Agency in August last year, Wishma came to Japan as a student in June 2017.

She was held at the detention facility after being arrested for overstaying her visa in August 2020.

Her health rapidly deteriorated in the facility and she started to complain about loss of appetite and nausea from mid-January 2021.

Her urine test showed that she was in a state of starvation on Feb. 15, 2021, 19 days before her death.

After that, she became even more ill and died on March 6, 2021.

The report admitted that Wishma died of an illness, but also said that “multiple factors might have caused her death and it is difficult to determine which one was the cause.”

Her family members maintain, however, that she would not have died had she received proper medical treatment, such as with an intravenous drip or hospitalization.

In November 2021, they lodged a criminal complaint with the Nagoya District Public Prosecutors Office against the then chief of the bureau, the person who acted as the chief guard at the detention facility on the day of her death, and other officials.

They argued that the officials committed murder thorough willful negligence and did not care if she died.

Earlier, in June 2021, a member of the teaching staff at a university in Nagoya had lodged a criminal complaint with the same district public prosecutors office against the bureau’s officials, alleging their conduct amounted to death through aggravated abandonment.

Wishma’s family members are also seeking around 156 million yen ($1.17 million) in damages from the state and that court case is still ongoing at the Nagoya District Court. ENDS

======================
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MRI on rude and slipshod treatment from Shizuoka hospitals and health care practitioners

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Hi Blog. For all of the positive things about Japan’s near-universal health coverage system, there’s still no accounting for the rude, if not outright exclusionary, treatment that NJ often get from Japan’s health care practitioners. We’ve covered this many times on Debito.org (see several stories here, for example). Here’s another testimonial from a NJ patient I’ll call MRI. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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From: MRI
Subject: Issues with doctors in Shizuoka City
Date: May 6, 2022
To: debito@debito.org

Hello Dr. Arudou, I am another concerned foreigner living here in Japan.

I have been working and living in Shizuoka City for [close to a decade] now. I have not had any serious illnesses other than a mild case of chronic gastritis but in recent years, I know it has become more serious due to my symptoms becoming more severe regardless of the Takecab that I take daily for it. Due to this health issue becoming more serious, I have been needing to visit various clinics and I have been experiencing what I call indirect refusal.

So, I know that in the past, many foreigners were refused medical care due to not having kokumin kenkou hoken but even though I have a valid card, the doctor will always ignore me while I am trying to explain my symptoms and reason for my visit. Both the doctors and staff of various clinics here in Shizuoka City have almost systematically acted cold, uncaring, unresponsive and even downright rude to me.

After this happened the first couple times, I thought it was just that one particular nurse or doctor that was the problem, but after numerous experiences just like this at a number of other clinics, I realized that this is a big problem that needs to be brought to light.

Every time I am waiting in the lobby of a clinic or hospital here in Japan, I have a constant feeling that I am wasting my time and money. I almost always leave a clinic kicking myself because the doctor did indeed do everything they could to avoid helping me.

There have been times where doctors will “do a test” for a couple minutes and then quickly tell me that “I am healthy” and that “there is nothing wrong with me”. When I explain that my symptoms are sometimes terrible, they just laugh it off and tell me that they can prescribe me some medicine. The ineffective “put a band-aid over a shotgun wound” solution it seems.

These experiences have left me completely jaded with regard to the medical care system for foreigners here in Japan. It almost seems as if they couldn’t care less if we become ill and die because we are just foreigners after all. I guess the Hippocratic oath here in Japan only applies if you are of Japanese decent! I find it ironic that the stress of dealing with these doctors in pursuit of treating my health issue is actually causing my health issue to become worse!

My first experience was at Watanabe Clinic (わたなべクリニック) located in Minami-cho just south of Shizuoka Station. When I went to sit down there was a woman that had her handbag sitting on the chair next to me and after I sat down she clutched her handbag and looked at me as if I were some kind of criminal. I merely stated that she doesn’t need to clutch her handbag because I am not a thief. The doctor must have overheard me say this to the woman because he actually wrote down on the referral paper to another doctor that I am “kind of a strange person”. I did not bother reading the referral written in Japanese at the time because I just assumed he wrote a professional referral stating only the facts and the reason why I needed to have an MRI.

Of course, the hospital staff were unusually cold and uncaring toward me and it was a bit confusing during my visit. It wasn’t until I actually read the referral that I realized what he had written down. I was shocked and so was my Japanese girlfriend. She couldn’t understand how a doctor could get away with writing such unprofessional things about someone and not face any trouble for it.

I just experienced another strange occurrence today at a famous gastroenterology clinic here in Shizuoka City called Takano Surgery and Gastroenterology Clinic (高野外科胃腸科医院). This clinic is headed by director Satoshi Takano. Satoshi Takano performed an endoscopy on me 7 years ago and diagnosed me with chronic gastritis. Since then I moved to a different area and I have been receiving my prescription of Takecab from another clinic, which has not been giving me trouble so far since I only go there to pick up refills of my medicine.

So during today’s visit at Takano Surgery and Gastroenterology Clinic, I was trying to explain my worsening symptoms and mentioned that he diagnosed me with chronic gastritis 7 years ago. He looked at the old photos of my endoscopy and said in an irritated tone that I do not have chronic gastritis. Then I presented him a photograph from the endoscopy where he had written that I have gastritis on the backside. Then he let out a sigh and rechecked the photos again and then said that I do have chronic gastritis and that he just did not check all the images closely enough. He didn’t even apologize!

He still had the nerve to act like I was the one being troublesome. He kept trying to rush me and wouldn’t even let me explain my current symptoms. He seemed impatient with me and he kept asking if I want an endoscopy or what and this was before I could even explain my symptoms and get his feedback.

It was busy at the clinic today, but I have experienced doctors and staff rushing me even on days where the clinic was not busy at all. It is as if their mission is to get the foreigner out of the clinic or hospital as quickly as possible without actually seriously addressing their health issues.

So, today I basically paid 1,200yen to have an argument with a xenophobic doctor who was anything but professional.

Another terrible experience was at a clinic here in Shizuoka City called Ohya Hazama Clinic. After I moved to Oya Town, I came to this clinic for an attempt at an endoscopy. Before the endoscopy, I was given anesthetic that was supposed to put me under while he did the procedure. I guess he must not have given me enough because I did not pass out or fall asleep. I remained awake and the staff seemed annoyed by this. They came back into the room with a pillow and a blanket and turned off the light for about 20 minutes and told me to try to fall asleep. Well, I tried but I was unable to do so. Both the doctor and the nurses almost seemed irritated with me. Ridiculous as it sounds, it seems as though they were blaming me not falling asleep from the anesthesia as my fault! The doctor said to me that I can reschedule another day for an endoscopy and I told him that I will do that and left. I never returned there since.

Another wonderful experience I had was at a clinic called Shizuoka ENT Clinic (静岡ENTクリニック). While waiting to be seen by the doctor at this clinic, I noticed how friendly the staff and nurses were with all of the Japanese patients by making eye contact, smiling, answering their questions, thanking them and telling them to take care of themselves.

When it was my turn to go up to the front desk, I received none of the above. All of the staff immediately stopped smiling, they would look down while speaking with me, they seemed annoyed when I asked a couple questions, they seems cold and almost unwilling to even help me. One of them assumed that I couldn’t even speak Japanese and asked me if I could fill out a form and was explaining where I write my name and basic information. The entire experience only lasted a couple minutes but their ignorance and xenophobia was mind blowing.

When I finally had a chance to see the doctor, I explained all this to her. She couldn’t care less of course and just brushed it off. Although this doctor prescribed me the medicine I needed for my sinus infection, the overall experience was so terrible that I will never return there. I feel the same way about these other clinics. I am almost at the point where I feel like I might die of a serious illness such as cancer because none of these doctors seem willing to even look into what is going on in my body. It is a bit ridiculous that as a tax payer here in Japan, I even need to entertain thoughts about returning to my home country just to receive basic health care and visit a doctor that will provide me with proper medical care.

I apologize for the long-winded email, but I read one of your articles and I felt the need to contact you about some of my worst experiences here in Japan. I have even more horror stories than this, but these are the worst of them.
Best Regards, MRI

======================
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Japan Today expose: How the media failed Japan’s most vulnerable immigrants (Feb 22, 2022)

mytest

(Photo courtesy of Japan Today)

Hi Blog.  Since Japan Today has a history of “expiring” its articles (in addition to some irresponsible journalistic practices) and this one is important enough to warrant public archiving, Debito.org includes its full text below for the record.  As Japan’s xenophobic and extreme border controls continue to treat foreign outsiders like the plague despite some signs of opening (as we have discussed here, here, and here), officialdom treats foreigners it has incarcerated like animals or worse (as we have discussed here).  What follows is some excellent original reporting on yet another death in custody, and the political ramifications that conspired to maintain the deadly status quo.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Opinions
How the media failed Japan’s most vulnerable immigrants
Japan Today, Feb. 22, 2022, By Dreux Richard, courtesy of JDG
https://japantoday.com/category/features/opinions/how-the-media-failed-japans-immigrants?comment-order=popular
TOKYO
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a strange institution. It’s responsible for the way Japan is perceived abroad, and it decides who receives the opportunity to immigrate. But its jurisdiction over the lives of immigrants largely vanishes when they reach Japan. It’s also the most influential agency that does not play a meaningful role in developing the government’s legislative agenda. Senior MoFA officials can only watch in dismay as less prestigious agencies, including some of Japan’s most corrupt, devise legislation that erodes the rights of immigrants and damages Japan’s international reputation.

A proposed overhaul of Japan’s detention system, scuttled in 2021 after the death of detainee Wishma Rathnayake and a resulting wave of protests, was especially unpopular with Japanese diplomats. The Kishida administration has revived it anyway, with parliamentary debate anticipated this summer. Until recently, MoFA relied on the press to guard against legislative aggression toward immigrants, quietly passing sensitive information to reporters who covered the Ministry of Justice, which enforces immigration law.

According to MoFA officials who acted as my sources during the 10 years I covered immigration, their current reluctance to cooperate with journalists is related to the sense, among the agency’s staff, that the media has become “much louder, but much less effective” on issues of immigration.

The officials I spoke with traced this problem to 2019, when a detainee starved to death at a detention center in Nagasaki, following a four-week hunger strike.

The Ministry of Justice cleared the detention center of wrongdoing, issuing a report that contained several defamatory statements about the detainee. He was not, as the ministry’s findings suggested, a hardened criminal or a deadbeat father—not according to court records, not according to his family.

The report went on to claim that it wasn’t possible to return the detainee to Nigeria because he refused to cooperate with the deportation process in January 2019. But the report also documented a meeting in May of 2019 where the detainee begged to be deported. As one MoFA official dryly observed, “May comes after January.”

The death was covered in Japan’s major newspapers, as well as a variety of global outlets. All of them printed the government’s claims without attempting to verify them. Not a single reporter succeeded in confirming the identity of the detainee, a native of southeastern Nigeria who came to Japan 19 years earlier to look for work in the leather tanneries of Hyogo Prefecture. His name was Gerald “Sunny” Okafor.

An important story about the destruction of a family was overlooked. Okafor’s widow, who is deaf, struggled to raise her daughter alone after her husband was detained, pushing her to the brink of psychological collapse. Immigration officials took advantage of her vulnerability, pressuring her to file for divorce and promising—disingenuously—that it would expedite Okafor’s release.

The media also failed to uncover administrative malpractice at the detention center, which led Mr. Okafor to believe that steps were being taken to expedite his return to Nigeria. After learning this wasn’t true, he refused to receive intravenous fluids, precipitating his death. The Nigerian embassy helped the Ministry of Justice cover up these mistakes, leaving a paper trail in Okafor’s immigration file.

The success of this cover-up has undermined the best opportunity to sink the proposed immigration reforms, which were developed in response to Okafor’s death. The reforms are based on the insulting notion that the detention center could have saved Okafor if it had possessed greater powers of coercion—the power to sanction his attorneys, for instance, if they pushed too aggressively for their client’s release.

But the press has helped to turn Okafor’s death into a non-story, by disseminating state propaganda that diminishes the death’s significance, then responding to that propaganda with opinion essays instead of investigations.

“The media approaches the immigration debate as an ideological matter, rather than a test of the integrity of Japan’s institutions,” observed one MoFA official who monitored Mr. Okafor’s case. “That’s not helpful to people in government who are trying to fix the system, because it doesn’t change anybody’s mind. It only inflames existing disagreements.”

If disobeying the instructions of immigration officials becomes a criminal offense, as the government has now proposed, it will be made possible by the collapse of non-partisan relationships between trustworthy elements of Japan’s government and their counterparts in the press.

Mr. Okafor’s body shortly after his death. “Japan never saw what starvation did to that man. It should haunt them,” said Stanley Egbogota, chairman of an Igbo civic association that raised money for Mr. Okafor’s family. Photo: With permission from the family of Gerald Okafor


In an era of journalism where editorial decisions are shaped by web traffic and algorithms, the loss of knowledgeable sources may not strike every media professional as a matter of concern. Reporters didn’t need to speak with anyone who knew Mr. Okafor in order to write about him, or to decide that it was no longer necessary to write about him — even as parliament debated legislation that resulted from his death.

“They got the answers they needed,” Okafor’s widow observed in our most recent correspondence. “And in such a convenient way: from no one, from nowhere.”

=======================

For six years, Dreux Richard covered Japan’s Nigerian community for a daily newspaper in Tokyo. His first book, Every Human Intention: Japan in the New Century, was published by Pantheon in 2021. ENDS

My SNA Visible Minorities col 34: “Henry Scott-Stokes, Sell-Out to Gaijin Handlers, dies.” May 23, 2022, with ruminations on why foreign journalism in Japan has historically been so astray.

mytest

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Hi Blog. Here’s my latest SNA column, discussing in part why journalism on Japan has historically had so many topical, “weird Japan” stories. Part of it is because some commentators on Japan remain willfully ignorant of the Japanese language. Others get duped by the industry of “Gaijin Handlers” designed to steer foreign perceptions of Japan in the “right direction”. And some commentators, like the late Henry Scott-Stokes, former Tokyo Bureau Chief at The Financial Times, Times of London, and New York Times, become willing abettors of the Japanese far-right, selling their reputations to maintain their privilege.

Have a read. It resolves one mystery I always felt when meeting numerous veteran foreign correspondents during the Otaru Onsens Case. They would often arrogantly question my standing to work within the Japanese system as resident, citizen, and activist. Yet they could barely read the menu. Time for me to question their standing too. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Henry Scott-Stokes, Sell-Out to Gaijin Handlers
Shingetsu News Agency, May 23, 2022, by Debito Arudou

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/05/23/visible-minorities-henry-scott-stokes-sell-out-to-gaijin-handlers/

SNA (Tokyo) — Henry Johnstone Morland Scott-Stokes, patrician among Japan’s foreign correspondents since 1964, recently died in Tokyo at the age of 83, but not before he did untold damage by performing as a foreign handmaid to Japan’s fascists.

A man described as “tweedy” and “entertaining and congenial,” Briton Scott-Stokes was nonetheless a man of privilege, lucky enough to land in Japan as Tokyo bureau chief of the Financial Times only three years after graduating from Oxford.

Becoming bureau chief of a major newspaper at the wizened old age of 26 might seem odd today, but back then foreign journalism in Japan had lower standards, and the field was infused with neocolonial attitudes towards the “natives.” Fluency in your assigned country’s language was not required.

Nor was Japanese required at the other “Big Three” English-language newspapers in Japan, as Scott-Stokes later became bureau chief of The Times of London and the New York Times through the 1970s and early 1980s. For a man described as “someone who really understood Japan,” he spent his entire 58 years in Japan as a functional illiterate, unable to fluently read, write, or speak Japanese.

To be fair, this was normal: Scott-Stokes arose from a bygone generation of Japan commentators who were poorly trained in social science methods. That’s actually one reason why newspaper analysis on Japan at the time was so topical. They simply couldn’t do their own deep and rigorous research in the vernacular.

As a result, overseas readers usually got the topical “weird Japan” stories–dismissively called the “Three Es” of economics, exotica, and erotica–that condescendingly promoted the Japanese as “inscrutable” and the Japanese language as “the hardest in the world” for foreigners to learn.

Of course, that had the self-serving effect of absolving their willful ignorance. The problem with doing onsite research dependent on interpreters (in Scott-Stokes’ case, his second wife) is that professionals become blinkered. Not only are you less able to talk to the hoi polloi on their own terms about their daily lives, but in Japan in particular you become vulnerable to the elite, targeted by a particular class of people with an agenda for prominent Western journalists.

Also known as “Gaijin Handlers,” this industry of information spooks is designed to distract attention from politically troubling or shameful stories about Japan, and at best mislead foreign correspondents into parroting government propaganda.

After all, the Japanese government is well-practiced in steering domestic media and influencing public perception for social control–hence Japan’s enormously restrictive “Press Clubs.”

Until the mid-1980s, the Gaijin Handlers succeeded quite well. The image of Japan transmitted to the outside world was kept “harmless and weird,” and Japan got richer and richer on its trade surpluses.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Japan suddenly emerged even wealthier than the United States in terms of per capita GDP. Japanese companies bought up prominent overseas properties while the US taxpayer footed the bill for Japan’s regional defense. Overseas editors started demanding that Japan be studied as an economic powerhouse, if not a rival.

This is when a new generation of Japan scholars came in, where if you weren’t fluent in Japanese you simply weren’t respected.

We did our own research outside of government meddling, using the same vernacular sources the Gaijin Handlers read and tried to obfuscate. We knew their code because we spoke it too. Our analysis wasn’t perfect, but we could better see through the propaganda.

Times change, and most of the old hacks moved on to other countries or settled into a quiet life in Japan, living a harmless twilight existence as cottage consultants in their cups.

Scott-Stokes didn’t. He didn’t just continue to rely on his privileged access to Japan’s elite for his income; he decided to embrace their fascist tendencies.

He first attracted attention from Japan’s far right in 1974 with his signature book, a biography in English of his alleged friend Yukio Mishima. It proved useful to Mishima’s ilk. With the imprimatur of a pedigreed white man whitewashing one of Japan’s far right fanatics into a sympathetic hero, he helped refashion Japan’s fascism for the outside world.

Then, by the 2010s, as journalistic standards rose and money got tighter, Scott-Stokes went all-in with his Gaijin Handlers, selling his reputation for thirty pieces of silver.

His 2013 book Falsehoods in the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist, came out in Japanese only, and it sold an estimated 100,000 copies within a few months.

But Scott-Stokes wound up blindsided by its contents. Despite his name being on the cover and his standing as the titular “British Journalist,” it turns out that he didn’t actually write the book, let alone read it. The Times of London reported that he had essentially dictated it to an interpreter.

Later asked about sections denying “as a historical fact” the Nanjing Massacre of civilians by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937, he initially said he was “shocked and horrified” at having been unable to check that “rogue passage.” Then Scott-Stokes reversed himself and stood by what was written. “If I’ve been taken advantage of, it’s with my complicity.” Books needed to be sold, after all.

Further, he doubled down on minimizing Japan’s “alleged” war crimes with whataboutism, comparing them to the “war crimes” of the atomic bombings, and of the “victor’s justice” of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal–all Japan historical revisionist tropes. He even argued that the United States, not Japan, bears “prime responsibility” for the Pacific War.

Some of his absurd claims are still visible on far right websites, such as, “It is largely as a result of Japanese shedding their blood that we entered a new world where colonies did not exist any more and there is racial equality.”

He concluded, “You should not be misled by anti-Japanese propaganda but rather take pride in Japan as a nation,” noting that Japan was “Asia’s light of hope” which “liberated Asian countries from white domination” (replaced by, the record also demonstrates, Yamato domination; they too were brutal colonizers, after all). All of this effort was to “protect the Japanese soul.”

Fortunately, Scott-Stokes’ former employers took responsibility for their own, acknowledging in their obituaries that his book was “embraced by right-wing apologists for atrocities committed by the Japanese military during World War II” (New York Times), and “Scott-Stokes was certainly sympathetic to Japanese nationalist right-wingers” (The Times of London).

I can find no specific buy-in from Scott-Stokes for other tropes that the far-right takes pride in, such as encouraging thoroughbred Wajin bloodlines free of miscegenation or promoting “pure” Yamato males as the only people entitled to represent and rule Japan.

But his sympathies for those who do, especially those who lament Japan’s postwar disapproval of “traditional Japanese values,” including Meiji Era martial training and the Emperor as the head of state, gave their rhetoric a sense of legitimacy. And it runs directly counter to Japan’s inevitable future, given its low birthrates and aging society, as a multicultural, multiethnic society.

The point is that Scott-Stokes’ lifetime peddling in and profiteering off of Japan’s mysticism has interfered with seeing Japan’s history, and its present-day realities, realistically.

His son, Harry Sugiyama Scott-Stokes, a celebrity broadcaster in Japan and frequent commentator at NHK, has announced that he will be “carrying on in the spirit of my father,” whatever that means.

In the end, what is the measure of a life well spent? In my view, it is to leave the world a better place than you found it. By this measure, Scott-Stokes did quite the opposite.

By passively, then later actively, promoting the aims and ideology that undergird Japan’s fascist xenophobes, he offers no template for Japan’s foreign communities, let alone his professional colleagues. His support of people who would never grant equal rights to minorities, particularly Japan’s Visible Minorities, is especially ironic and counterproductive.

Future residents and interpreters of Japanese society should see Scott-Stokes as a cautionary tale. Here was a man who lived most of his life in a country, even tried to rewrite the narrative on it, yet remained in a bubble of privilege so opaque he could never see the obvious–that he was being used by elites who would never let his type into their club.

Henry Johnstone Morland Scott-Stokes became a “useful idiot” to the Gaijin Handlers, destroying his legacy.

ENDS

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 33: “Why Progressives keep losing” (short answer: because they alienate their own allies), April 18, 2022

mytest

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Hi Blog.  My most recent SNA column is a think-pied about how the Left keeps losing out to the Right. Because working with the Left is like herding cats.  Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Why Progressives Keep Losing

Shingetsu News Agency, April 18, 2022

SNA (Tokyo) — Shingetsu News Agency President Michael Penn wrote about my previous column:

“Debito found a way to provoke them again, and I must say that I don’t understand the way a lot of people think these days. Those who read the article and interacted with what was written tended to say on social media that they largely agreed with it. But there was a more vocal cohort who, not really disagreeing with any specific arguments made, were outraged on the basis that Debito, a white man, had dared to give any advice to Naomi Osaka. Apparently, we are now supposed to live self-contained within our own little tribal identities, and universal humanity is no longer recognized as sufficient grounds to express an opinion, even for a news columnist whose job is to comment on public affairs.”

There’s a lesson here.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder said recently in a television interview, “The Left loses for the right reasons; the Right wins for the wrong reasons.”

One of the reasons why the Left, particularly the Progressives who have not enjoyed much power worldwide for more than a century, keeps losing is because of their fractiousness.

Just as soon as they gain an advantage or start making headway in the policy arena, they lose focus and begin turning on themselves. They alienate natural allies because they are not ideologically pure enough, or worse yet, as seen above, the wrong skin color.

Granted, the Left has always had a tougher time mobilizing people than the Right. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, the Left wants leaders they can fall in love with, while the Right wants leaders they can fall in line with.

Let’s unpack that. Voices from the Left are discordant and diverse, and expectations are high and sometimes uncompromising. It’s also a lot tougher for a Leftist leader to gain and sustain the “love” of their supporters since, no matter what else happens, there will always be winners and losers with every decision they make.

But for Rightists, it’s a lot easier to “fall in line” behind an ideological camp whose basic organizing principle is money (and the shameless acquisition of it). And once they gain enough of it, money in itself not only buys power, but also, oddly enough, credibility. […] Sadly, that’s why the Right understands power better…

But that’s Right vs. Left. Now let’s talk about Left vs. Left, and how they undermine themselves…

Read whole column at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/04/18/visible-minorities-why-progressives-keep-losing/ 

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 31: “Shintaro Ishihara: Good Riddance to an Evil Man”, an honest obituary. Feb 20, 2022

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Visible Minorities 31: Shintaro Ishihara: Good Riddance to an Evil Man
Shingetsu News Agency, February 21, 2022
By Debito Arudou 

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/02/21/visible-minorities-good-riddance-to-an-evil-man/

Former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who died February 1, was an evil man. Any honest obituary would admit as such. Unfortunately, the media’s retrospectives have tended to eulogize him, using weasel words so as to not speak ill of the dead.

But that’s the wrong reflex. Evil should never be whitewashed, especially when it comes to a person as evil as Ishihara, and by doing so they are complicit in historical revisionism. I will try to rectify that with this column by recounting Ishihara’s actual record.

COMPARISON AND CONTEXT

I do not use the term “evil” lightly.  Consider other people in Japan who, when granted power, did wrong:

Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, a rehabilitated war criminal, stunted Japan’s development into a mature sovereign country by perpetually subordinating Japan’s geopolitical interests to the American military under the US-Japan Security Treaty.  

Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who abetted the “Comfort Women” system of wartime sexual slavery, spent his life not only denying its existence, but also reconstituting Japan’s ruthless revisionist far-right.  

And Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, did all he could to restore prewar elitism to the postwar governing system, by destroying any “Western” ideals of individuality, human rights, and pacifism; and (unsuccessfully) trying to “revise” Japan’s postwar Constitution.  

But all of these horrible little men still pale in comparison to a man as irredeemably evil as Shintaro Ishihara.

WHITEWASHING THE RECORD THROUGH WEASEL WORDS

Most obits have used weasel words to describe Ishihara’s life:  “Controversial,“ “brash,” “charismatic,” “unapologetic,” “chauvinistic,” “contentious,” a “firebrand (or fiery) nationalist,” “staunch right-winger,” “outspoken conservative,” even “gaffe-prone,” woefully understating his misdeeds.  

Some went even further, looking for some good in him:  His establishment of the Shinginko Tokyo bank using public monies (which failed, becoming a windfall for the yakuza), involvement with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (and we’ve written here what a nationalist mess that became), restrictions on diesel cars in Tokyo (yes, less air pollution is good, but rarely were his policies green), and an “outspokenness” towards anything he didn’t like (that’s not a virtue; just a guilty pleasure to watch).  

One of the harsher ones, after calling him a “rightist, elitist, racist, misogynist, patriarchal pig,” still fell for his “unmistakable, evocative allure,” and concluded that “Tokyo has lost something” with his death.

What we lost was a legitimizer of hatred.  

Revealingly, one of Ishihara’s elitist co-conspirators described him as “a politician who challenged what became the norms in the postwar era… He was not afraid of criticisms and insisted on what he had to say” (Shinzo Abe).  Translation:  Ishihara’s extreme stances and policies helped our right-wing policy aims seem less extreme.

INSTEAD, MEMORIALIZE ISHIHARA’S HATEFUL DEEDS

So let’s recount Ishihara’s actual record, starting with his peerless sense of entitlement.  

Born into wealth, he got lucky getting a prestigious book award at an early age which catapulted him into celebrity status.  This enabled him to hobnob with elites and attain elected national office for several decades.  After all, electorates in any society are suckers for celebrities.

He eventually found himself in a position of real power, elected multiple times to the governorship of the world’s largest and richest city.  And he used that bully pulpit to further aims explicitly motivated by hate, admitting in 2014, “Until I die, I want to say what I want to say and do what I want to do, and I want to die hated by people.”

Accordingly, Ishihara infused hate and spite into just about any public policy he sponsored.  Remember how mere weeks into his first term as Tokyo Governor he called for the Japanese military to actively round up foreigners (using the racist epithet “Sankokujin”) in the event of a natural disaster?  How were they to do that?  Unclear — probably just arrest anyone who “looks foreign.”  Why?  Because in his words, foreigners are “heinous” and will of course riot and run amok when given the opportunity.  

That claim was put to the test during the Tohoku Tsunami, and surprise, no foreigner riots.  Any retractions from Ishihara?  Of course not.  Men of no conscience or sense of consequence for their actions never apologize unless they’re forced to.

For Ishihara was a man who unapologetically said that he loathed Koreans and Chinese, and went out of his way not only to justify Japan’s occupation of its Asian neighbors, but also deny its colonial and wartime atrocities.  (All while calling the US atomic bombing of Japan racist.)  Ishihara even claimed, in his regular Sankei Shinbun columns, that Chinese were innately criminal due to their “ethnic DNA.” 

A hateful man who poured his hate into concrete policies, Ishihara installed Japan’s first neighborhood surveillance cameras specifically in areas of Tokyo he claimed were “hotbeds of foreign crime,” and went on TV at regular intervals to propagandize that Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Roppongi at night were no longer Japan.

He also said that Japanese politicians who support more civil and human rights for foreign residents must have “foreign ancestors” themselves, and abetted political witch hunts and loyalty tests to root out politicians with international connections.

Essentially, Ishihara was trying to ethnically cleanse Japan, undoing the “internationalization” phase of the 1980s and 1990s of openness and tolerance. 

In its place, he sponsored overt racism and normalized xenophobia.  He fueled Japan’s reflexive self-victimization by scapegoating foreigners, accusing them of crime, terrorism, subversive activities, and a general undermining of all things “Japanese.”  

And it worked. To this day, entire political parties, candidates, and hate groups publicly rally for the expulsion of foreigners and the extermination of Koreans. That’s why current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida can’t easily lift the world’s longest, most draconian and unscientific Covid border policies–because polls say 57% of the fearful Japanese public want them kept.

In his spare time, Ishihara also found ways to hate anyone who wasn’t like him, even blaming his own citizens for their woes.  Such as the time he said the 2011 Tohoku Disasters were “divine punishment for Japanese people’s egoism.”  

Ever the misogynist in his novels and policy statements (one obit called him “the King of Toxic Masculinity”), he called women who survived past menopause “a waste” and “a disease of civilization” (as opposed to men, however senile, who can still “propagate the species until their 80s and 90s”), said that a woman euthanized for having ALS suffered from a “karmic disease due to the sins of a past life,” and averred that gays and lesbians are “genetically subnormal.”  There’s plenty more, but I’ll stop there.

STOP EULOGIZING A HITLER PROTOTYPE

That’s why I find it so jarring that obituarists minced their words.  Stop it, because you are complicit in historical revisionism.  

To find any redeeming qualities in a man like Ishihara is like noting that Hitler liked dogs, built Germany’s autobahns, or created Volkswagen.  But that shouldn’t be the focus of any honest historical accounting of a balance sheet of evil.

And yes, I made a comparison to Hitler.  That’s not Godwin’s Law.  Think about it:  If Ishihara had been given the powers Hitler had, do you think he would have done much different?  

Other people of Ishihara’s ilk (such as Prime Minister Taro Aso) have expressed admiration for Hitler, saying he had the “right motives,” because that enables politicians to achieve results.  Shucks, if only Japanese politicians’ power wasn’t so diluted by Japanese bureaucracy, and the Japanese military freed to project more power wherever it wanted, what could we accomplish?

Well, that was precisely what Ishihara was trying to do whenever he had power.

Remember when Governor Ishihara tried to leverage public and private monies (eventually forcing the national government’s hand to do so) to buy up the Senkakus, some disputed rocks in the East China Sea?  That was, in his words, his attempt to “start a war with China and win.”  To this day, major world media that should know better blithely portray this conflict as merely a “feud,” a “row,” and a “spat.”  

Given that Ishihara was also calling for Japan to develop nuclear weapons, that means, if Ishihara had achieved his results, he would have mass-murdered the people he hated.  

Thus comparisons with Hitler are not hyperbole.  They’re history.  

DEATH BY “KARMIC DISEASE” IS NOT ENOUGH

Ishihara died at age 89 of recurring pancreatic cancer.  I’m told it’s a painful way to go.  Good.  But no amount of pain he would ever feel would make up for the suffering he caused out of purely personal animus and spite.  He was a cruel man who spent his life persecuting people not only because they crossed him, but also simply because they were born a certain way.

So this is my obit:  Shintaro Ishihara was a monster and now he is dead.  May he rot in hell.

ENDS
======================
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Japan Govt’s “Kizuna” magazine: “Beyond Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Leading the Way towards an Inclusive Society”, Winter 2021: Govt propaganda whitewashing history & rewriting exclusionary narratives

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Hi Blog.  Getting to this one a bit late, sorry. (Got two more new classes this semester; just starting to get into a semester groove now.)

Have a look at this Japanese Government article in their “Kizuna” Magazine trying to present the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as a liberalizing force, allowing Japan to embrace “inclusivity”.

Of course, we here at Debito.org are all in favor of inclusivity.  But when even the data it presents below doesn’t substantiate the headline, you know even the Japanese government is indulging in propagandizing clickbait based on incomplete social science.  No surprises there, I guess, but let’s parse.  My comments interspliced within the article:

/////////////////////////////////////////////

PORTRAITS OF JAPAN
BEYOND TOKYO 2020: LEADING THE WAY TOWARD AN INCLUSIVE SOCIETY

Kizuna Magazine, Winter 2021
https://www.japan.go.jp/kizuna/_userdata/pdf/2021/winter2021/beyond_tokyo_2020.pdf

The Tokyo 2020 Games, which reached a safe conclusion even under the difficult circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, made a significant step toward the realization of an inclusive society—one in which everyone respects one another regardless of gender, age, or ability.

(Comment:  So the inclusivity is restricted to gender, age, and ability?  Not nationality, minorities (who were in fact shut out of the Games), or other racialized characteristics for Visible Minorities in Japan?  Granted, those three items are good ones, but it’s a narrower scope for “inclusivity” than should be possible or laudable.)

It was precisely because the world had been facing great difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic that Japan determined to fulfill its responsibility as host country to hold the Tokyo 2020 Games, even without spectators, and to provide the world with a sense of solidarity and to offer hopes and dreams, especially to children, who hold the future in their hands. Firmly intent on making this happen, many people throughout Japan worked in unison, striving to implement measures for safety and security to ensure that Japan bring the Games to a safe conclusion.

(Comment:  Trope check:  We hardworking Japanese should take a bow for “working in unison” (echoing the wartime sentiment of all Japanese hearts beating in unison without exception) making everything safe and secure for providing the world with hopes and dreams and solidarity.  Especially the children.  And according to the first sentence, Japan did this for the world?  I think more for its sponsors, both foreign and particularly domestic.)

The Tokyo 2020 Games not only moved and inspired many people through sports, but also advanced the Games’ core concept of “Unity in Diversity,” serving to promote the further growth of this movement. The percentage of female athletes participating in the Olympic Games was a record 48.8. Moreover, the number of athletes who identified themselves as LGBTQ+ was reportedly over 180—-more than triple that of the Rio 2016 Games—-and they won more than 55 medals among them. In order to promote gender equality, the number of mixed-gender events was doubled to 18. Seeing men and women teaming up to compete for their country was like a breath of fresh air. The Paralympic Games, which was held in Tokyo for the second time, served as an opportunity to convey to the world and cultivate the “barrier-free mindset” that is at the foundation of an inclusive society, in which everyone, with or without impairments, can lead a vibrant life.

(Comment:  Ah yes, the “Unity in Diversity” trope that I critiqued for SNA last August.  I will excerpt that below and show how ironic that trope actually was.  But look at how the article categorizes “diversity”:  Females.  LGBTQ+.  Mixed-gender.  Paraolympics.  Nothing about, for example, Visible Minorities.

But again, this has nothing to do with Japan, and more to do with the Olympic-sponsored events themselves.  Claiming this as something that we Japanese created is like claiming that Japan promoted better chocolate because Japan hosted a chocolate festival that somebody else created and sponsored.  And that that better chocolate somehow created mindsets throughout society to make them more inclusive of chocolate, even for those who hate chocolate.  There’s simply no data to support this assertion that any mindsets changed here, there, or anywhere.  Then we actually get to their dataset for their claims:)

Supporting the success of the Games from behind the scenes were more than 70,000 Games volunteers, who ranged in age from 19 to 91. These volunteers, regardless of age, gender, or disability, played the vital role of actuating the concept of “Unity in Diversity” by providing hospitality and supporting athletes and staff from around the world. MIURA Hisashi, who has a hearing impairment, was one of these volunteers. Wanting to contribute in some way to this historic event, he performed reception and maintenance duties, among others, at the residential buildings and fitness center at the Olympic and Paralympic Village. “As I actively offered my own opinions and shared sign-language skills, my teammates also naturally started to communicate more openly, showing their care for one another using both spoken words and sign language. Ultimately, I felt that we made an excellent team, and were able to fulfill our role. It was also unforgettable to have the chance to communicate with players and staff visiting from all around the world using gestures and body language. I’m glad that I was able to support them, even if only in a small way”, says Miura.

(Comment:  Wow, Miura got a lot of space.  One guy with a hearing impairment who performed “reception and maintenance duties” leads the way with gestures and body language.  A diverse sample size of one proves the point that society’s mindsets are changing.  And that’s basically the meat of the article.)

Respecting and supporting one another regardless of differences is crucial to the realization of an inclusive society. At this year’s Games, this notion was reiterated to many people throughout the world. Miura says, “The Tokyo 2020 Games offered an opportunity to make great progress in terms of ‘Unity in Diversity.’ I am thankful that I was able to make my personal contribution as a volunteer at the Games, and I believe it is important to continue building up such experiences, not just at the Olympics and Paralympics.”

(Comment:  Even more space for Miura.  That’s lazy journalism.  And it repeats that trope that we Japanese unified to somehow welcome more diverse people, whoever they are.

Note there’s not even a mention of the truly diverse people involved, notably tennis champ Osaka Naomi lighting the Olympic Cauldron in the Opening Ceremonies.  I guess that’s not the diversity they’re looking for:  It doesn’t fall into the “gender, age, and ability” point they’re trying to prove, then don’t.)

Each of us embracing diversity will create a vitality that will lead to the realization of a world where everyone can live comfortably. The Tokyo 2020 Games were a sure, significant step in that direction.

ARTICLE ENDS

ARTICLE PHOTOS: Some 11,000 athletes from 205 countries and regions and the Refugee Olympic Team participated in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, giving inspiring performances and setting numerous records. (Photo: Closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, August 8) AFLO SPORTS

Top: MIURA Hisashi (left), who has a hearing impairment, participated in the Games as a volunteer. Through the assistance of the Nippon Foundation Volunteer Support Center, which provides support to volunteers with impairments, he worked on a team together with an individual (right) who was able to offer sign-language interpretation at the venue to support the athletes. THE NIPPON FOUNDATION VOLUNTEER SUPPORT CENTER

Bottom: With the help of volunteers, Slovenian sprinter Anita Horvat exits the venue after the competition. Volunteers offered their assistance to athletes and Games personnel not just at the competition venues, but also at various locations around the country. XINHUA/AFLO

Left: Tom Daley (foreground), an openly gay athlete who won the gold medal for Great Britain in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform, told the press, “I’m incredibly proud to say that I’m a gay man and also an Olympic champion.”
PICTURE ALLIANCE/AFLO

Top: The Japanese duo of MIZUTANI Jun and ITO Mima won the gold in a new event, mixed doubles table tennis. REUTERS/AFLO
ENDS

===============================

As mentioned above, here’s an excerpt of my SNA column of August 16, 2021 critiquing that “Unity in Diversity” trope:

===============================

SNA Visible Minorities;  Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postmortem (excerpt)

By Debito Arudou

…That’s why I had some pretty low expectations for Tokyo’s Opening Ceremonies on July 21. Scandal after scandal had erupted over Japan’s Olympic Committee abysmal leadership choices, including the creative head cracking fat jokes about a female entertainer, the composer of the ceremony bragging about his history of abusing disabled people, the director of the ceremony making wisecracks about the Holocaust, and, of course, Yoshiro Mori, the octogenarian chair, resigning after sexist remarks.

After this, how would Japan introduce itself to the world?

Surprisingly, as a land with some degree of diversity. In prominent positions were people in wheelchairs and Visible Minorities, including hoopster Rui Hachimura as Japan’s flag bearer, Zainichi Taiwanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh on the torch relay, and of course tennis champ Naomi Osaka having the great honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron. This caused much media buzz about how Japan was finally changing, coming to terms with the reality of its own diversity.

Sadly, I disagree. I would say this represents less a contradiction of Japan’s “monoethnic society,” more an affirmation of the power of tokenism.

Remember how Tokyo got these Games in the first place: By wheeling out French-Japanese TV announcer Christel Takigawa to give a fluent gaijin-handling presentation about Japan’s mystical prowess in omotenashi hospitality. Once her purpose as a token of diversity was served, she essentially disappeared from the Games, and the old guard took over and reverted to its scandalous form.

The thing is, tokenism isn’t acceptance. At best it’s a way station to your acceptance as an exceptional individual, successful DESPITE your background, and even that depends on whether you’ve fulfilled your assigned purpose. For the Olympics, if we’re putting you center stage, you’d better do your job and win Gold for the nation.

Unfortunately, the tokens didn’t win. Osaka was defeated in her third tennis match. Hachimura’s basketball team placed eleventh. Despite Japan’s record haul of medals, as far as I can tell only two Visible Minorities (Aaron Wolf in judo and Kanoa Igarashi in surfing) made it to the podium.

And Igarashi, US-born resident of Huntington Beach, CA, indicatively promotes himself on his Olympics website entry in classic Olympic “thoroughbred-ism”: “I have so much support here in the USA and America will always be part of who I am. But I’ve grown up with a lifestyle and in a generation where things can seem a bit borderless. And so representing Japan felt like a solid, comfortable decision. My blood is 100% Japanese. That’s something that you don’t change.”

Good for his bloodline, I guess. But for mongrel non-medalists like Osaka, as the New York Times noted, Japan’s social media pounced, contesting her Japanese language ability, her standing to represent Japan, and even her Japaneseness, all of which mattered much less when she was winning.

The final straw was when The Daily Beast reported August 4 that Yoshiro Mori had lobbied against Osaka lighting the Olympic cauldron in the first place, in favor of a “pure Japanese man.” With her lackluster performance, no doubt many bigots feel Mori has been vindicated.
EXCERPT ENDS

===============================

“Unity in Diversity” indeed.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

The article itself is available as a screen capture here (click to expand):

======================
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My annual “Human Rights Top Ten for 2021” countdown now at Shingetsu News Agency, VM 29 Dec 27, 2021

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Hello and Happy Holidays to all Debito.org Readers! Here’s my annual Top Ten, this year moved to the Shingetsu News Agency because The Japan Times isn’t in the market for articles like these anymore. Excerpt:

//////////////////////////////
Visible Minorities: Human Rights Top Ten for 2021
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, DEC 27, 2021 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN

SNA (Tokyo) — Since 2008, I have always devoted my end-year columns to counting down the Top Ten human rights issues as they pertain to Non-Japanese residents of Japan. This year I’m moving this feature to the Shingetsu News Agency. Let’s get started:

10) Debito.org Turns 25 Years Old…
9) Tourism to Japan Drops 99% Since 2019…
8 ) Vincent Fichot Hunger Strike against Japan Child Abduction…
7) Tokyo Musashino City Approves, Then Defeats, Inclusive Voting Proposal…

Full countdown with write-ups at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/12/27/visible-minorities-human-rights-top-ten-for-2021/

Enjoy!  More to come in 2022!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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My SNA VM28: “Japan’s Fast Breeder Reactor of Racism.” Summarizes book “Embedded Racism” First and Second Editions, Nov 22, 2021

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Hi Blog.  my Second Edition of “Embedded Racism in Japan” (Lexington Books, 2022) has just come out, and I summarize both editions in my latest Shingetsu News Agency “Visible Minorities” column.

Since the First Edition is probably well-known by frequent readers of Debito.org, let me excerpt the new arguments of the Second Edition.  Read the whole SNA column for the full context.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

///////////////////////////////////////////

Visible Minorities: Japan’s Fast Breeder Reactor of Racism
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, NOV 22, 2021 by Debito Arudou
https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/11/22/visible-minorities-japans-fast-breeder-reactor-of-racism/

(Excerpt) In my new Second Edition of Embedded Racism (2022), I’m now arguing that Japan’s long-ignored racial discrimination undermines the rest of the world, especially its liberal democracies, because Japan is in fact a fast-breeder reactor of radioactive racism.

Since the end of World War II, the capitalistic side of the world, particularly the United States, willfully ignored and indulged Japan’s explicit expressions of racial and ethnic superiority. After all, the conservatives of the world would rather Japan be right-of-center and anti-communist. So they funded conservative governments and offered favorable access to international markets, ensuring that Japan got rich and deferential.

For what do the conservatives care if Japan violates its human rights treaties or inflames regional tensions, through historical denialism and the arrogance of racial superiority? As long as Japan keeps hosting the bases, buying the weapons, and acting as America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier in Asia, they have in them a harmless and controllable ally.

Except that it’s not. Here’s where the chickens come home to roost.

One axiom in this field of study is that if you ignore racism, it spreads. Bigots exist in every society, and if they realize they can get away with discriminating against people, they’ll gleefully do it, especially if they have templates to follow.

Japan offers those templates… In short, embedded racism has made Japan into the world’s template “ethnostate.”

That is to say, to numerous white supremacists worldwide, Japan is the model for a society organized along beliefs of its own ethnic purity. As one of the richest and most-respected countries in the world, Japan, unlike other rich countries, has prospered while keeping minorities and migrants to a minimum…

The conclusion is that my second edition of Embedded Racism is a clarion call for liberals and progressives to wake up, and get ready to defend democracy from the ethnocentrists. Fight with all your might the fiction that the way to deal with a race problem is to exclude and cleanse races from your society. That’s the Japan template. Don’t let it be yours.

Again, if you leave discrimination alone, it spreads. Leaving Japan alone to practice its embedded racism has finally reached the point of blowback. It’s time for a new set of templates to fight racial discrimination in the world, including and especially Japan’s.

Overseas policymakers should also be ready to make Japan take responsibility for what it’s wrought upon the world. It’s time to pressure the Japanese government to observe its treaty promise to the United Nations more than 25 years ago—passing a law against racial discrimination—and begin the process of enfranchising its minority voices.

That includes doing more than just scolding or issuing strongly worded letters. I suggest putting pressure where Japan’s elites care—limiting access to overseas markets. Or else Japan will remain a fast breeder reactor of racism irradiating the rest of the democratic world.

EXCERPT ENDS.  Full article at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/11/22/visible-minorities-japans-fast-breeder-reactor-of-racism/

If you are interested in reading the fully revised and updated Second Edition, please download this publisher promo flyer (with discounts), take it to your local library, and have them order a copy. Then you can borrow and read it for free.

http://debito.org/EmbeddedRacism2ndEdFlyer.pdf

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Debito’s SECOND EDITION of “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination” (Lexington Books, 2022), fully revised and updated, now on sale

mytest

Hi Blog. The new SECOND EDITION of “Embedded Racism” (Lexington Books, 2022), completely revised and updated with 100 extra pages of new material, is now on sale.

Information site outlining what’s new, with excerpts and reviews, and how to get your copy at a discount at

https://www.debito.org/embeddedracism.html

(Or you can download a flyer, take it to your library, have them order the book, and then borrow it for free at EmbeddedRacism2ndEdFlyer)

Read a sample of the book on Amazon here.

Front Cover:

Full cover with reviews:

Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

My SNA Visible Minorities 26: “The ‘Inconceivable’ Racial Discrimination Law”: Japan’s human rights reports to the United Nations are a case study in official dishonesty

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Visible Minorities: The “Inconceivable” Racial Discrimination Law
Japan’s human rights reports to the United Nations are a case study in official dishonesty.
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, September 20, 2021

SNA: The signature function of the United Nations is to promote world peace, and one way to do that is to encourage ethical standards of behavior from its member countries. They get people to agree on those norms and standards through signing international treaties.

One of the standards that matters most is human rights practices. After all, countries which want to belong to the respected club of “civilized” countries are expected to sign the treaties covering a whole host of noble issues: the elimination of torture; the protection of women, children, and people with disabilities; and the protections of people in general in terms of economic, political, social, civil, and political rights. Signatories are expected to submit periodical reports (usually about every two years) to UN Committees to demonstrate how they are progressing.

Japan has signed most of those treaties. My favorite one, of course, is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which protects people, especially our Visible Minorities, against discrimination by “race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.” But getting Japan to actually abide by CERD is one of the hobby horses I’ve been riding for decades.

When Japan signed the CERD in 1995, it explicitly agreed to “prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination,” and they were to do it “without delay.” Yet more than a quarter century later, Japan still has no national law against racial discrimination…

So when called upon to justify its record of nasty treatment of its foreign, ethnic, historical, and visible minorities, how does Japan get away with it? By delaying, of course. Let’s take a look at the last time Japan submitted its Periodic Report on the Implementation of the CERD, and reveal its pattern of reporting in bad faith…
///////////////////////////////////

Rest is at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/09/20/visible-minorities-the-inconceivable-racial-discrimination-law/

Read it before it goes behind paywall later this week, or subscribe and support your local progressive journalism for about a dollar a week!

All reports mentioned in this article can be found at

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My SNA Visible Minorities 25: Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postmortem, where I argue the Games failed its goals of “Diversity and Inclusion” predictably and by design

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Visible Minorities: Tokyo 2020 Olympics Postmortem
SHINGETSU NEWS AGENCY, AUG 16, 2021 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN (excerpt)
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/08/16/visible-minorities-tokyo-2020-olympics-postmortem/

SNA (Tokyo) — The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are now past. This is a postmortem.

Last month’s column talked about the “evil” of the Japanese government and International Olympic Committee (IOC) in forcing an unpopular Olympics upon Japan’s residents, all the while as Tokyo’s cases spiked during a global pandemic. But I also argued how host Japan in particular is trained by national narratives to see “outsiders” (including residents who don’t “look Japanese”—our Visible Minorities) specifically as terrorists, hooligans, criminals, and vectors of disease.

These fault lines have predictably exacerbated the endemic social disease of racial discrimination. International events just give people more excuses to create “Japanese Only” signs and rules.

That’s not to say that I boycotted the Olympics. In fact, given my background, I should be a superfan. […] But thanks to my background in political science, I’m trained to view nationalism with a critical eye: How governments convince people to live, fight, and even sacrifice their lives for their country. The Olympics are rooted precisely in these attitudes, and forever filter athleticism through the lens of national representation and superiority.

So despite all their promises to showcase “Diversity and Inclusion,” the Tokyo 2020 Olympics shirked that opportunity — predictably and by design…

//////////////////////////////////

Rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/08/16/visible-minorities-tokyo-2020-olympics-postmortem/. Go read it before it goes behind paywall. Or better yet, support independent progressive journalism and subscribe to SNA for as little as a dollar a week!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Japan’s “Gaijin Tank” Immigration Detention Centers: The Death of Sri Lankan Wishma Sandamali highlights a senseless, inhuman, and extralegal system killing foreigners they’ve trapped.

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Hi Blog. At long last, I can get to this issue.

As I have written elsewhere, Japan’s Immigration Bureau Detention Centers (aka “Gaijin Tanks“) are an extra layer of incarceration that only non-citizens must deal with.

Regular Wajin Japanese, when detained, arrested, and/or incarcerated, go through Japan’s criminal justice and prison system.  However, because non-citizen detainees cannot renew their visas while in detention, any arrest and incarceration by police increases the probability of detention later in separate Immigration detention facilities (specifically reserved for non-citizen visa overstayers and refugees/asylum seekers). Detainees in these Immigration facilities (nyūkoku kanri sentā) face a different system both in terms of criminal procedure and living conditions.

In terms of procedure, inmates convicted of a specific crime and sentenced to a Japanese prison have a legally-defined release date, often with the possibility of parole; visa overstayers being detained in an Immigration detention center, however, have no specific limit to their detention period, resulting in people detained for several years (and for some, still counting).

In terms of living conditions, rights of detainees to adequate food, exercise and living space in Immigration Bureau detention centers are less regulated than in Japanese prisons (which are subject to international oversight regarding standards of favorable treatment). Consequently, inhospitable, unsanitary, and generally unmonitored conditions in these detention centers have occasioned protests both from human rights organizations and from the detainees, in the form of hunger strikes and suicides. Immigration detainees have also suffered and died from their medical conditions being neglected by detention officials, and from the over-prescription of sedatives and painkillers.

In 2021, the senseless death of a Sri Lankan named Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, due to medical negligence in a detention center, brought national attention and protest against the GOJ’s treatment of visa overstayers and asylum applicants—and the withdrawal of a bill before the Diet that would have only strengthened the ability for bureaucrats “to keep any foreign national in custody without the approval of a judge”, thus violating constitutional guarantees of due process.

Those are the headlines. Now for the sources:

  • See for example CCPR/C/79/Add.102, which notes, “[T]he Committee is concerned that there is no independent authority to which complaints of ill-treatment by the police and immigration officials can be addressed for investigation and redress. The Committee recommends that such an independent body or authority be set up by the State party without delay.United Nations, November 19, 1998; “Welcome to Japan?” Amnesty International, 2002, alleging extortion and physical abuse at the Narita Airport detention center, excerpt archived at www.debito.org/?p=9846.
  • “Detention centers lack doctors: Two facilities holding visa violators not offering proper medical care.” Daily Yomiuri, December 22, 2006 (the Japanese version of this article, dated December 21, has the more revealing headline, “Ōmura nyūkan sentā de jōkin-i fuzai 2 nen ni, kakuho no medo tatazu” [The Ōmura Detention Center has had no full-time doctor on call for two years now, and no idea when they will secure one].
  • Interviews, Michael. H. Fox, Director, Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Research Center, 2004-8.
  • Caterpillars and cockroaches: Foreigners lead hunger strike in immigration detention center.” Asahi Shinbun, October 18, 2007.
  • Detainees allege abuse at Kansai holding center.” Japan Times, March 9, 2010.
  • Immigration detainees end hunger strike.” Japan Times, March 22, 2010; “Inmates on hunger strike in Japan immigration center.” AFP, May 20, 2010; “Running to nowhere.” Kansai Time Out, June 2010.
  • “Deportee center hunger strike abates, detentions drag on.” Japan Times, September 1, 2012; “Nigerian dies after hunger strike in Japan detention center.” Reuters/Asahi Shinbun Asia-Japan Watch, June 27, 2019; “Death in Detention: Grim toll mounts in Japanese detention centers as foreigners seek asylum.” Reuters, March 8, 2016, archived at www.debito.org/?p=13885, noting: “The watchdog report drew attention to what it said was the heavy prescription of drugs to detainees. At the time he died, Ghadimi had been prescribed 15 different drugs, including four painkillers, five sedatives—one a Japanese version of the tranquilizer Xanax—and two kinds of sleeping pills, the report said. At one point during his incarceration, he was on a cocktail of 25 different pills.”
  • Ex-immigration boss: detentions too long.” Japan Times, July 14, 2010, former Immigration Bureau chief Sakanaka Hidenori proposed that detentions in Immigration facilities not exceed one year; however, once oversight mechanisms were activated in August 2011, the number of detainees awaiting deportation or asylum permission for more than six months dropped dramatically (indicating how lax oversight had hitherto been).
    See “Foreigners held by immigration sharply down after reviewing rules.” Mainichi Shinbun, February 4, 2012.
  • Nevertheless, abuses, some resulting in fatalities, continue to the present. See for example Asylum-seeker dies after collapsing at detention center while doctor at lunch.” AFP/Japan Today and Japan Times, October 25, 2013; “Immigration detention centers under scrutiny in Japan after fourth death.” Reuters, December 3, 2014; “Immigration detention centers like prisons, U.K. inspectors say.” Japan Times, February 6, 2015; “Immigration detention centers like prisons, U.K. inspectors say.” Japan Times, February 6, 2015—and I make the case that they are worse than prisons at www.debito.org/?p=13056
  • “Progressive News Service: Deaths of unknown persons in the custody of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police: At least 5 in past year.” Debito.org, March 9, 2015, www.debito.org/?p=13136
  • “Sri Lankan woman dies in detention, wrote about her hunger.” Asahi Shinbun, March 15, 2021; “A Sri Lankan’s tragic death in Japan casts a harsh spotlight on controversial refugee system.” Straits Times, April 24, 2021, which notes, “Ms. Wishma was vomiting blood in her final days, and was so weak that she had no control of her arms and legs. The immigration authorities allegedly turned a blind eye to medical expert advice to put her on an intravenous drip or to grant her provisional release to ease her stress. A report by public broadcaster NHK suggested that officials tend to suspect malingering for minor illnesses in their reluctance to grant provisional release.”
  • Finally, “Left in limbo: Japan’s haphazard immigration policies, disrespect for human rights.” Mainichi Shinbun, April 19, 2019, notes,As of the end of July 2018, of the 1,309 detainees nationwide, 54 percent had been detained for six months or longer. According to attorneys and others who provide assistance to foreign workers in Japan, 13 foreign nationals died by suicide or from illness while in detention between 2007 and 2018. Many detainees complain of appalling health conditions at detention centers, saying they are hardly permitted to see physicians. A damages lawsuit brought against the central government at the Mito District Court for the 2014 death of a then 43-year-old Cameroonian man while he was detained at Higashi Nihon Immigration Center in the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Ushiku is ongoing. His mother, who resides in Cameroon, filed the suit.According to the legal complaint that was filed, the man had been confirmed as diabetic after a medical consultation at the immigration center. He began to complain of pain in February 2014, and died at the end of March that year. Security cameras at the center captured him saying in English that he felt like he was dying starting the night before his death, and the footage has been saved as evidence. Even after the man fell from his bed, he was left unattended, and a staff member found him in cardiopulmonary arrest the following morning. He was transported to a hospital where he was confirmed dead. “Immigration officials have a duty to provide emergency medical care,” says the plaintiff’s attorney, Koichi Kodama. “The government should be accountable for revealing who was watching the footage of the man rolling around on the floor, screaming in pain, and whether anyone went directly to his room to check on his condition.”
  • Sri Lankan’s death in spotlight as Japan debates immigration bill.”
    Japan Times/Kyodo News, May 12, 2021; “Immigration reform fails to resolve asylum contradictions.” Japan Times, March 13, 2021; “Withdrawal of immigration bill underscores Suga’s precarious standing.” Japan Times/Kyodo News, May 19, 2021.

There are plenty of other articles out there, since the Wishma Sandamali Case attracted so much attention.  However, it was not soon enough for some, and won’t be for others still being destroyed by this system.  For as Submitter JK notes,

============================

“Relindis Mai Ekei did not die in detention [in January 2021] like Wishma Sandamali. Instead, she died in hospital [of untreated breast cancer] about three hours before receiving her residence card (在留カード):

Was Cameroonian woman’s death hours before she received Japan residency avoidable? (Pt. 1)

Was Cameroonian woman’s death hours before she received Japan residency avoidable? (Pt. 2)

Was Cameroonian woman’s death hours before she received Japan residency avoidable? (Pt. 3)

死の直前「漢字勉強したい」カメルーン出身者は救えなかったのか

From the article:

If Mai’s status of residence had been granted earlier, she would have been able to take better care of herself through welfare and health insurance.

============================

Even more on the Gaijin Tanks issue starting from here: https://www.debito.org/?p=13885#comment-1805327.

There is no defense for this inhumane extralegal detention system that is killing people through willful negligence simply because they are foreigners incarcerated.  We catalog it all here on Debito.org for the record.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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My SNA Visible Minorities column 22: “Interrogating the Discriminatory Covid Self-Quarantine Scandal”, May 17, 2021

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Hi Blog. Hello Debito.org Newsletter Readers. This month’s SNA Visible Minorities column 22 updates us on how Japan’s discriminatory border policies disproportionately punish Non-Japanese residents, even when things that are going wrong are due to government mismanagement. Paraphrased excerpt:

==============================
Visible Minorities: Interrogating the Discriminatory Covid Self-Quarantine Scandal
By Debito Arudou, May 17, 2021 (condensed intro)

SNA (Tokyo) — Sometimes government-designed policies lack sense. Or, in places where the government is as unaccountable as Japan’s, policymakers ignore cautions—-or don’t get cautioned at all because a docile mass media is mobilized behind a national goal. So when things go wrong, very bad things can happen, especially when punishments for noncompliance only go one way and hurt innocent people.

That is what’s in the cards yet again with Japan’s Covid border controls. The current policy is that if you are a resident of Japan returning from overseas, you face a mandatory self-quarantine system. Everyone, regardless of nationality, signs must notify the authorities of their current location each day. If not, authorities will contact them via Skype, WhatsApp video call, or by voice cell phone number.

If you are found to be breaking quarantine as a Japanese, you get your name exposed to the public. However, foreign residents will lose everything—their lives, livelihoods, and anything they ever invested in Japan—by getting deported. So with punishments this disproportionate, the government had better make sure nothing goes wrong. Guess what? Things are going wrong, and it’s the government’s fault…
==============================

Rest is at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/05/17/visible-minorities-interrogating-the-discriminatory-quarantine-scandal/

Links to sources cited in the full article:  Kyodo News May 1, Japan Times May 12, MOFA self-quarantine pledge.

Enjoy! Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
======================
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Lloyd Parry in Times London: “Cancel Tokyo 2020 Olympics”. Yet even this respected reporter sloppily implies Japan’s Covid numbers are contingent on foreigners

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Hi Blog.  Richard Lloyd Parry, a very respected journalist and author, has come out with a sensibly-argued Op-Ed in The Times London in favor of cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (which, for the record, Debito.org was never in favor of Japan getting in the first place).  Full text below.

But even then he words things carelessly when he writes:

“[…] Japan […] compared to the pandemic mess in the rest of the rich world [has] been doing well. With twice the population of Britain, Japan has registered about a tenth the number of coronavirus cases and one twentieth the deaths. This has nothing to do with vaccination, which has hardly begun in Japan — only a few tens of thousands of health workers have been jabbed — but rather good hygiene and an almost complete ban on foreign visitors. Now the government threatens to sacrifice these gains for the sake of money and prestige.”

COMMENT:  Portraying Japan’s apparent success at lower case numbers as due to an almost complete ban on “foreign visitors” is neither helpful nor accurate.

As Mr. Lloyd Parry surely must have known (since the ban affected him too as a Japan resident), this ban included foreign residents, not just visitors.  Not to mention that the British Covid variant was verifiably brought into Japan by Japanese.

Implicitly framing Covid as a “foreign virus” brought in by “foreign visitors” makes Japan seem to be a hermetically-sealed environment until the foreigners came in; and now “the government threatens to sacrifice these gains” from its apparent isolationism.  This rhetoric isn’t that far removed from calling Covid the “Chinese Virus” or the “Kung Flu“.  And we’ve seen the dreadful results of that kind of carelessness. (Including Japan.)

A moment’s reflection (which probably would have happened if Lloyd Parry were talking about minorities in Britain, especially at the editorial stage) would have brought about the realization that these are people we’re talking about, and how issues are couched in the media affects them, particularly if they’re Japan’s disenfranchised minorities.

If it were my article, I would have said “Japan strongly limited international travel“, which doesn’t zero in on foreigners in specific.

I’ll let others comment on the possible comparative issues of “good hygiene” (implying the rest of the rich world has bad hygiene?), and other factors that might lead to Japan undercounting actual virus cases (such as a lack of reliable contact tracing, and not testing the asymptomatic for Covid).

But in my view, keeping the Covid case numbers low was a matter of politics, not science:  to keep the Olympics on track.  Now even despite all that, Lloyd Parry makes a convincing argument for canceling the Games.  Fine.  But let’s be more careful how we point fingers, shall we?  We’ve seen enough of how foreign correspondents succumb to Japan-style racialized narratives just as soon as they talk about “foreigners” and Japan.  (Japan Times column on this implicit racism also here and here.)  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

////////////////////////////////////////

It’s time to cancel this year’s Olympic Games
The risk to the world, not just Japan, of a super-spreading event in Tokyo this summer is too great
Richard Lloyd Parry
Wednesday March 03 2021, 12.01am GMT, The Times London, courtesy of RW
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/its-time-to-cancel-the-2021-olympic-games-3pb6sq9w9

All but the most fanatical music lovers would accept that, this summer at least, Glastonbury had to go. For the second year in a row the 50-year-old festival has been cancelled because of the pandemic. The disappointment is hard to overestimate: for plenty of people, Glastonbury should have been a moment of release after months of demoralising lockdown. But, as Sir Paul McCartney observed, “a hundred thousand people closely packed together with flags and no masks. Talk about super-spreader.”

Similar feelings of frustration, sadness and resignation are being experienced over cultural and sporting experiences around the world, from closed theatres and cinemas to empty football stadiums to the Chelsea Flower Show. It’s not that anyone personally objects to gardening enthusiasts but as a matter of common sense, and for the good of all of us, this is not the time for 157,000 of them to converge.

Consider then another international event, the grandaddy of them all. It will bring together more than 15,000 young participants from more than 200 countries plus several times that number of judges, sponsors, journalists and hangers-on. More than 11 million tickets are to be sold; tourists are supposed to pour in from across the globe.

If far smaller and shorter festivals are to be sacrificed in the interests of global public health, it seems obvious that such a massive event, spread over four weeks in the biggest city in the world, should also be cancelled. And yet officially, at least, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, postponed since last summer, are going ahead.

As Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, said the other week, “I am determined to achieve the games as a proof of human victory against the pandemic, a symbol of global solidarity and to give hope and courage around the world.”

The Olympic custodians like to talk about courage, humanity and other abstract virtues; in reality, they have more hard-headed reasons for pressing ahead regardless. The vast sums of money already spent on the games are only the most obvious, inextricably tangled up with other investments of prestige and power that make the prospect of cancelling them heart-sickening to a lot of very powerful and determined people.

Tokyo’s will be the most expensive Olympic Games ever mounted — even Japan’s government auditors put the cost at £18 billion or more, and the cost of postponement from last year has added £2 billion to that. No one seems to know, or is willing to say, how much has already been spent. But to call it off now would directly hurt some of the world’s biggest companies, including Coca-Cola, Visa and General Electric, and lead to years of legal arguments about who owes what to whom.

It would represent a withering humiliation for the Japanese government. It would be crushing to the young athletes who have spent years training for the world’s most prestigious sporting event. Money, power and glamour say that the Olympics have to go ahead whatever happens; they are the runaway train that cannot be stopped. The question of public health has been officially ruled out as a consideration. As Yoshiro Mori, the former Tokyo Olympic boss, said, “no matter what situation with the coronavirus, we will hold the games.”

This matters to people in Japan because, compared to the pandemic mess in the rest of the rich world, they have been doing well. With twice the population of Britain, Japan has registered about a tenth the number of coronavirus cases and one twentieth the deaths. This has nothing to do with vaccination, which has hardly begun in Japan — only a few tens of thousands of health workers have been jabbed — but rather good hygiene and an almost complete ban on foreign visitors. Now the government threatens to sacrifice these gains for the sake of money and prestige.

The Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee insist that they will do everything possible to Covid-proof the games. Details are far from clear. (More may emerge from a high-level meeting this week, but they are likely to include repeated testing of athletes who will essentially be locked down in their Olympic “village”.) Spectators, it seems, will be allowed, although it is not clear whether these will include foreign visitors.

The effect of all this will be to take the fun out of the Olympics without eliminating the risk that they will serve as a super-spreader event. It might work out, and if any country can pull off such a feat of regulation and enforcement it is Japan. But nobody can be sure. Pandemic trends may improve dramatically between now and July or there may be new surges in emerging variants of the virus that will make the Olympics a crucible of infection that will set the world back weeks or months.

There is one factor that should be decisive in all this: the views of ordinary Japanese people. About this there is no room for argument. Poll after poll has consistently shown that a majority of not only individual Japanese but even businesses oppose the holding of the games this summer.

This is not an expression of sour anti-Olympic sentiment but the reluctant acknowledgment of a grim truth. Whatever precautions the authorities take, people will sicken if the Tokyo Olympics go ahead. Some of them will die. That is not a price that anyone should be asked to pay.
ENDS

======================
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SNA VM 19: “Yoshiro Mori’s Overdue Comeuppance”, Feb 15, 2021, on how the former Japan Olympics Chair melded misogyny with racism — for decades!

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Hi Blog. My latest Shingetsu News Agency column recounts former Prime Minister and professional bigot Mori Yoshiro’s tenure as Japan representative, and the mystery behind Japan’s consistent waste of talent in favor of hopelessly incompetent and elitist old men. Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities 19: Yoshiro Mori’s Overdue Comeuppance
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, February 15, 2021
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/02/15/visible-minorities-yoshiro-moris-overdue-comeuppance/

SNA (Tokyo) — When I started writing this month’s column, Yoshiro Mori, an 83-year-old fossil of Japanese politics, was still president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organising Committee, where he had come under fire for comments claiming that women in leadership positions “talk too much,” cluttering meetings with competitive chatter. He has since resigned, but in the wake has come much media commentary about Japan’s sexism and women’s disenfranchisement.

Photos appeared showing meetings of top-level Japan business organizations (such as Keidanren) that look like old-boy clubs. Pundits noted that Japan has slipped in the World Economic Forum’s gender-empowerment index to 121st place out of 153 countries measured (the lowest amongst the developed countries, behind China, Zimbabwe, Brunei, and Myanmar). And my favorite: Japan idiotically sending a man (Kono Taro) to the world’s first meeting of women foreign ministers in 2018.

All this has occurred despite former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much-touted policy of unlocking the women workforce as the “greatest potential for the growth of the Japanese economy.” He would create “a society in which women can shine.” Mori’s sexist comments make clear that hasn’t happened.

So let’s focus on what Mori himself represented: the worst of Japan’s politics, melding misogyny with racism…
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Rest is at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/02/15/visible-minorities-yoshiro-moris-overdue-comeuppance/

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My SNA Visible Minorities column 18: “Latest visa rules could purge any foreigner” (Jan 18, 2021), on how Covid countermeasures disproportionately target Non-Japanese against all science or logic

mytest

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Hi Blog. My latest SNA column’s point is this: Even after political leadership has finally shed Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government has found new ways to discriminate against foreign residents of Japan. This is no accident, as NJ were in no way protected, considered, or involved in this policymaking that profoundly affects them.  Soon, any foreign resident of Japan may be under threat of immediate deportation. Excerpt follows, full article at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/01/18/visible-minorities-latest-visa-rules-could-purge-any-foreigner/  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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“Latest visa rules could purge any foreigner”

Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities column 18, January 18, 2021

[…] New year, new salvo of foreigner bashing: Last week, the Suga administration unveiled re-entry rules that permit non-Japanese residents to re-enter the same as Japanese, as long as they completed the same paperwork and fourteen-day quarantine.

Good, but here’s the wrinkle: If you are found in violation of any quarantine regulations, you don’t just get in trouble like Japanese by, err, having your name made public. You may lose your visa status and get deported from the country. You read that right.

This policy was in reaction to the discovery of the United Kingdom mutation of Covid within Japan this month. But like most policy created in times of shock, it has hasty assumptions: that a foreign variant meant that foreigners were somehow responsible. In fact, the Patient Zeroes who came back from England and went out partying instead of quarantining were Japanese.

This new policy is ironic. In addition to the past year of Japanese media blaming foreigners for creating “foreign clusters,” it also ignores the lazy government response to Covid. Nobody at the national level wanted to take the responsibility for declaring a blanket state of emergency. But since infections have now reached record numbers, here comes the crackdown—and once again foreigners are being disproportionately targeted.

Granted, the government is now threatening to mete out jail time and fines for Japanese who don’t cooperate with measures to reduce Covid’s spread. This has occasioned the perfunctory hand-wringing about the effectiveness of punishment in curbing infections and “infringing too much on personal freedoms” for Japanese. I see that as part of the healthy give-and-take of political debate, to make sure things don’t go too far. But where is the parallel debate about the “freedoms” of non-Japanese residents who are receiving unequal treatment under the law?

A Japanese getting a fine or a spell in the clink is one thing, but it’s incomparable to a foreigner losing their legal status gleaned after years or decades of residency, followed by deportation and permanent separation from their lives, livelihoods, and families in Japan.

We know that one of the reasons Covid became a pandemic is because of asymptomatic transmission. So what if a person who doesn’t know they’re sick and hasn’t left the country gets linked to a cluster by contact tracing? If that somebody happens to be a foreigner, his or her life in Japan may well be over…

Read the rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2021/01/18/visible-minorities-latest-visa-rules-could-purge-any-foreigner/
======================
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Japan Times: J Govt’s pandemic border policy highlights their taking advantage of insecure legal status of foreign residents

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Hi Blog. In more remarkable reporting, Magdalena Osumi brings out the background thought processes behind Japan’s Covid measures that have constantly targeted foreigners in particular as vectors of infection. I will be talking more about this in my next SNA column out tomorrow, but before that, let’s get some insights into the mindsets of our government, which takes full advantage of the fact that foreigners in Japan have no guaranteed legal, civil, or even human rights under the Constitution in Japan because they don’t have citizenship. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Tokyo’s pandemic border policy highlights insecure status of foreign residents
By Magdalena Osumi, The Japan Times, Dec 30, 2020
Courtesy https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/12/30/national/japan-pandemic-foreign-residents/

Excerpt:
[…] Inequity between the treatment of Japanese and non-Japanese residents, including those with established residency status and decadeslong careers here, brought back to the surface long-standing frustrations over apparent struggles with multiculturalism in the nation, stirring debate on the status of foreign residents here and the extent of Japan’s preparedness for an influx of foreign workers that had been anticipated before the pandemic struck.

As questions linger over the government’s intentions behind the controversial rules, records and reports from behind the scenes of Japan’s fight against the pandemic have begun to emerge.

They highlight the limits of the nation’s immigration strategy, with decisions apparently made ad hoc amid chaos, and reveal the insecure status of foreign nationals in Japan and underlying discriminatory attitudes within society toward immigrants and expatriates.[…]

Japan’s handling of border control in the first months of the year was more chaotic.

That changed on April 3 when Japan introduced a draconian border control policy, banning entry by nearly all foreign residents from 73 countries and regions affected by the spread of the virus.

What prompted some of the most intense criticism of the policy was its failure to distinguish between short-term visitors and long-term residents — a decision that made it the only member of the Group of Seven that refused to allow residents with foreign passports to return to their homes in Japan from overseas.

What turned out to be the decisive factor in Japan’s implementation of the strict entry ban — and its reluctance to ease the restrictions — was a lack of preparedness to control entry procedures, together with poor testing capacity at airports. […]

Reports from government meetings do not show any sign of vigorous debate on the consequences of imposing strict restrictions on non-Japanese residents with legal residency status in the nation, despite concerns about international ties and a long-term impact on Japan’s economic interest. […]

On top of that, the government faced a challenge in implementing further restrictions on Japanese citizens, who are protected by a constitutional right to enter Japan. Foreign nationals, meanwhile, do not have such protection under the Constitution. […]

Throughout the year, health care experts on the government’s coronavirus task force expressed concern that they were unable to gain a comprehensive view of the attitudes held by foreign nationals toward the pandemic.

Officials were worried that language barriers, for example, may hamper access to information on basic anti-infection measures, such as avoiding the so-called Three C’s of closed spaces, crowds and close-contact settings.

But that their remarks suggesting inability among foreign nationals to adhere to health protocols were made alongside words of encouragement regarding the promotion of domestic tourism instilled a false perception that the pandemic in Japan was under control, in contrast to the situation abroad, while contributing to a narrative that foreign nationals may have posed a threat…

Full article at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/12/30/national/japan-pandemic-foreign-residents/
======================
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My Japan Times JBC 119: Top 5 Human Rights Issues of 2020: “A Watershed Year for Japan’s Foreign Residents” (Dec. 31, 2020)

mytest

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======================
Hi Blog.  Happy New Year!  As has happened at the Japan Times for more than a decade, here is my annual countdown of the top human rights issues for the past year in terms of their impact on NJ Residents in Japan.

I usually do a Top Ten, but since I only had 1000 words this year, it became a Top Five with a few “bubble unders” snuck in.  Enjoy!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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justbecauseicon.jpg

2020 was a watershed year for Japan’s foreign residents
By Debito Arudou, The Japan Times, Just Be Cause, Dec 31, 2020

“May you live in interesting times,” goes the famous curse. By that standard, 2020 was captivating. One thing affected everyone worldwide: COVID-19. And in Japan, our international community was hit particularly hard by public policy regarding its containment.

There were many other issues worth mentioning, however. For example, the Education Ministry announced an increased budget for language support in schools for non-Japanese children next year — a promising sign. However, Japan’s continued mistreatment of those kept in immigration detention centers, and an officially acknowledged incident of “hate speech” in Kitakyushu that went unpunished, were also steps backward from the goal of an inclusionary society.

We don’t have space for them all, so below are the top five issues I feel were of greatest impact to Japan’s non-Japanese residents in 2020, in ascending order.

5) Black Lives Matter in Japan…

Read the rest at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2020/12/31/issues/japan-2020-foreign-resident-issues/

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The issues that bubbled under (with links to sources):

======================
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My SNA Visible Minorities 17: NIKE JAPAN Advertisement on Japan’s Visible Minorities does some good (Dec 21, 2020)

mytest

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Hi Blog. As promised in a previous blog entry, I would be giving my opinion on a recent advertisement from Nike Japan that got a lot of attention. We’ve already debated the ad itself on Debito.org here. Thanks for your feedback. Now here’s my take, as part of my latest Shingetsu News Agency column. Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Nike Japan Does Some Good
Shingetsu News Agency, DEC 21, 2020 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/12/21/visible-minorities-nike-japan-does-some-good/

SNA (Tokyo) — Nike’s television advertisement depicting a multiethnic Japan stands out as a bright spot to close out the dreadful year of 2020.

Entitled “We Will Continue Moving: Myself and the Future,” the two-minute ad depicts a series of diverse Asian youths pensive about their lives in Japan.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G02u6sN_sRc

Some are running about and kicking soccer balls while musing about their identity and their abilities. A voiceover has them wondering if they’re “normal,” or living up to expectations. One girl, shown in closeup in a school uniform, is clearly a Japanese with African roots. Another boy, after eating a Korean meal with his family, looks up the Zainichi issue late at night on his cellphone. Tennis champ Naomi Osaka’s photo makes a fleeting appearance, with a question about whether she’s American or Japanese. A girl finds Japan’s culture of cuteness doesn’t resonate with her, and wishes she could just ignore it all. Another girl gets glares for going out in public in her Korean school uniform. After more cuts to kids practicing their sports skills, scenes follow of school crowds staring and group-bullying minorities. One lad, drawn attention to by the teacher in class as a new transfer student, feels pressure to be liked by everyone. Another isolated kid feels pressure to tolerate her ostracisation, and then the African-Japanese girl reappears, trying to ignore the other kids who are making a fuss about her kinky hair in a school bathroom. As the music swells, these kids then seek solace in sports, becoming appreciated by their peers for their talents as star athletes—to the point where one girl tapes “KIM” over her Japanese name on the back of her jersey.

The takeaway message in a final montage of voices is the treatment they’re getting is not something they should have to tolerate. They shouldn’t have to wait for a world where they can live “as is,” without concealing themselves.

Now, before I say why this advertisement is important, let’s acknowledge some caveats. One is that this is from Nike Japan, and like all corporations their motivation is to make money. It is a stunt to attract attention and sell products.

Moreover, Nike taking a high road with social justice issues is a bit ironic, given their history of child labor and sweatshops. Above all, human rights and business do not always mix well, and businesspeople are essentially opportunists. So let’s first not delude ourselves to think Nike is primarily motivated by altruism.

The other point worth mentioning is the attention that the ad got: 11 million views so far on YouTube. Naturally, internet trolls, xenophobes, and haters got triggered. Unfortunately, even responsible media (such as the AFP and BBC) gave them oxygen by reporting their overblown calls for a boycott, then fumbled the issue by getting soundbites from unqualified “experts” with no real training in Japan’s history of civil rights, social movements, or race relations issues. These rubes missed the mark by denouncing Nike Japan as a “foreign brand,” or dismissing these kids as “outside voices.”

This is worse than just lazy journalist hackery. This fumble was a missed opportunity to highlight issues that have long been ignored in Japan’s media—the existence of a growing number of visible minorities. So let’s make up for that in this column by acknowledging that Nike Japan’s ad was a big step in the right direction.

First, let’s recap how big 2020 was for minorities in Japan sports:

Rest of the article at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/12/21/visible-minorities-nike-japan-does-some-good/

Read it before it goes behind a paywall on Friday.

======================
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NIKE JAPAN ads featuring Japan’s Minorities and Visible Minorities taking solace and courage from doing sports

mytest

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Hi Blog. Reader JK sent me this link to the following NIKE JAPAN advertisement for discussion:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G02u6sN_sRc

Entitled “動かしつづける。自分を。未来を。” (Lit: We will continue moving. Myself. And the Future.”, which is a bit different from the official title of “The Future Isn’t Waiting”), the subject is of Japan’s school-age Minorities and Visible Minorities facing social othering in Japan, and finding solace and courage in themselves by becoming good at sports.

It’s dated November 27, 2020, and been viewed nearly 10 million times as of this writing. According to the Japan Times, it’s inspired a “fiery online response”: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/12/02/national/social-issues/japan-nike-ad/

The BBC adds, a bit disingenuously: “Many Japanese do not like to be told by outside voices to change their ways,” said Morley Robertson, a Japanese-American journalist. “But if a foreigner demonstrates a deep understanding of Japanese culture or Japanese rules, then those same Japanese who would otherwise take offence will gush forth with praise.”

[NB:  Morley Robertson is listed in his Japanese-only Wikipedia entry as a “タレント、DJ、ラジオパーソナリティ、ミュージシャン、ジャーナリスト、コメンテーター”. “Journalist” seems a bit of a stretch.]

Steve McGinnes, the author of Surfing the Asian wave: How to survive and thrive in the new world order, believes the advert is an “own goal”. “Endemic racism is going to be a sensitive topic in any culture. But Nike should not think, as a foreign brand, that it is appropriate for them to point it out to their hosts. “They are crudely putting a spotlight onto a subject that many feel should be off-limits to guests. It’s a huge own goal for Nike.”… “In 2020, should America or an American brand be taking the high ground on racism and telling the rest of the world what they are doing wrong?” adds Mr McGinnes. “Clearly, a lot of Japanese people think they shouldn’t.” https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55140846

Despite the pretty flawed English translation in the CC function, I think it’s worth critique by our Readers. JDG has already said: Interesting comment reported by JT:Nowadays, you often see one or two people of different nationalities going to school perfectly peacefully. The one that’s prejudiced is Nike,” wrote one user named “hira1216.” No, ‘hira1216’, those ‘one or two people’ aren’t ‘different nationalities’, they are JAPANESE! I guess hira1216 doesn’t understand what racism is, so they can’t see it, and are responsible for perpetuating it.

I’ll reserve my comment for later.  But I don’t believe this is an “own goal” for Nike.  And how self-assured can these pundits be that these are “outside voices”?  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

======================
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My latest SNA VM column 16: “US Elections Repudiate Trump’s Japan-Style Ethnostate”, suggesting that the US might be taking real steps towards a post-racial society, Nov. 16, 2020

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Visible Minorities 16: US Elections Repudiate Trump’s Japan-Style Ethnostate
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, November 16, 2020

SNA (Tokyo) — The US elections captured the world’s attention. No wonder. Given America’s hegemony as an economic, political, cultural, and military power, the results underpin the future of geopolitics and world order.

But here’s another angle: This election offers the world some insights into how countries painfully evolve into multiethnic, post-racial societies. It even demonstrated how enfranchised people would rather destroy their governing system than relinquish power.

Fortunately, they didn’t win. Let’s recount some important facts.

The contest between incumbent Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was indeed, as depicted in campaign slogans, a battle for the “soul of America.”

At stake was whether Trump’s nepotistic, corrupt administration—one that shamelessly used whatever means they could to perpetuate their power, punish political enemies, and undermine democracy both domestic and worldwide—would get four more years; or whether America’s place as a world leader, for better or worse, would be restored to less capricious leadership, with policymaking sane enough to keep its own citizens alive in a self-inflicted pandemic.

Clearly American voters chose the latter course; Biden won. He got five million more votes in an election where more people voted for a president than ever before, with voting rates on track to be among the highest in modern US history. […]

[There are of course some caveats, and] given the current status of Trump refusing to concede the election, and his lackeys interfering with a transition to the presumptive winner, it’s clear that no matter who wins, Republicans feel they are the only ones entitled to run the country. They view cheating, sabotage, soliciting foreign interference, and spreading unscientific conspiracy theories as fair play. The United States’ 233-year experiment in democracy be damned; 73 million voters in this election agreed with Trump’s authoritarianism. The intractable polarization of American politics is complete.

Still, the fact remains that this election was a repudiation of Trump, and, in retrospect, it’s a textbook example of democracy in action. […]

Ultimately, the history books will remember this about the past four years: Trump was the worst president in American history—the only one who was impeached, served only one term, and lost the popular vote. Twice.

Well, good for the United States. But there are also lessons here for Japan, particularly its minorities: how countries make slow and painful transitions to a post-racial society…

Read the rest on SNA at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/11/16/visible-minorities-us-elections-repudiate-trumps-japan-style-ethnostate/

======================
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Oct 1, 2020’s new govt regulations for NJ Resident Re-Entry: Not much of a change. Racialized barriers still up; instead, “business travelers” and “foreign tourists” may soon be prioritized

mytest

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Hi Blog.  October 1, 2020 was announced to be a new day for Japan’s racist border controls.  From last April until then, all foreigner border crossers were legally treated as if they were a special source of contagion, affected differently by COVID than somehow-immune Japanese, and banned from entry.  Further, unlike any other advanced industrialized country, the Japanese Government banned re-entry even to all Non-Japanese Residents with valid visas.  Naturally, as covered before on Debito.org (see herehere, here, here, and here), this racist policy has separated families and destroyed NJ lives and livelihoods.

People have protested this, and media has questioned the actual science behind this differential treatment.  So on October 1, the government “changed” its policy to allow in “mid- to long-term visa” holders.  But as protest petitioner Sven Kramer points out:

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https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-entry-ban-on-legal-foreign-residents-of-japan/u/27821948

On the reopening of the border for all non-Japanese nationals holding mid- and long-term visas

クラーマー スベン

Japan

OCT 2, 2020 — 

On October 1, 2020, the government of Japan reopened the border for all holders of mid- and long-term visas. Getting a negative PCR test result 72 hours before departing for Japan is a necessary requirement. I strongly welcome this reopening. As I have implied in the other status update one month ago, I personally can accept this overseas test requirement for foreign nationals who want to newly enter Japan. But it should be limited to new entries only. However, the government still is bestowing this requirement on all foreign residents, not distinguishing between new entry and re-entry (only special permanent residents and diplomats are exempt). It is my sincere belief that, at least when it comes to epidemiological issues, the procedure for re-entry should not be different per nationality. This is why I unfortunately have to announce that despite this very welcomed reopening of the border, this petition will stay up until every re-entrant gets treated equally at the quarantine booth.

The new official material by the government of Japan: http://www.moj.go.jp/content/001329914.pdf

 

中長期在留資格を獲得した外国人の新規入国の再開に当たって

令和2年10月1日から日本国政府は、中長期在留資格を新しく獲得した外国人の新規入国を認めるようになりました。日本へ出発する前72時間以内の陰性のPCR検査結果を手に入れるのが条件です。この緩和を強く歓迎します。1か月前の進捗報告で示唆した通り、新規に入国しようとする外国人にこの条件をかけるのを少なくとも私が容認できます。ただあくまで新規に入国する外国人の場合だけです。しかし、この条件はもう日本に住んでいて一時的に出国した外国人にも相変わらずかかっています。言い換えれば、外国人(「特別永住者」、「外交」および「公用」の在留資格保持者を除く)に限って再入国と新規入国を同じに取り扱うわけです。しかし、私の深い信念では、防疫問題において国籍を根拠に再入国の手続きを違うものにすべきではありません。このため、残念ながら本陳情書をまだ閉じることができません。引き続きご賛同をよろしくお願い申し上げます。

法務省よりの資料: http://www.moj.go.jp/content/001327502.pdf

Review and sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-entry-ban-on-legal-foreign-residents-of-japan/u/27821948

////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Ironically, there’s also the issue of the Japanese Government now considering prioritizing “business travelers” and “foreign tourists” for special entry exemptions.  However, as usual, it seems our actual taxpaying NJ Residents (including “Green-Card”-holding regular Permanent Residents) with families and lives in Japan don’t matter as much.

On top of that, there’s an issue with how these PCR tests for clean bills of health have been enforced, from eyewitnesses at the border writing in to Debito.org.  I will get into this in my next blog entry. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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My latest SNA VM column 14: “Visible Minorities: Weaponizing the Japanese Language”, on how Foreign Minister Motegi’s discriminatory treatment of Japan Times reporter Magdalena Osumi is part of a bigger phenomenon, Sept 21, 2020

mytest

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Hi Blog. My latest Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 14 discusses how Japan weaponizes its language to require “perfect Japanese” from non-native speakers only, and when they can’t speak it perfectly, they get discriminated against. Consider this:

===================================
Visible Minorities: Weaponizing the Japanese Language
Shingetsu News Agency, SEP 21, 2020 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN

http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/09/21/visible-minorities-weaponizing-the-japanese-language/

On August 28, Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s foreign minister, was giving an official press conference to reporters in Japanese. A foreign reporter for Japan Times, Magdalena Osumi, asked some questions in Japanese. When Osumi followed up on a point he left unclear, Motegi responded to her in English.

Osumi then retorted in Japanese, “You needn’t treat me like I’m stupid. If we’re talking in Japanese, please answer in Japanese.” Damn right.

How many times has this happened to you? You ask a question in Japanese of a shop keep, clerk, passerby, or somebody on the other end of a telephone, and they flake out because you got some words in the wrong order, had an accent, or just have a foreign face? Many automatically assume that because you’re foreign-looking or -sounding, you must be able to speak English. So they reply in English.

Or how many times, as a budding Japanese language learner, were you told that what you just said “is not Japanese,” not “it’s not correct Japanese”? Just a flat-out denial, as if your attempt is in some alien tongue, like Klingon.

This phenomenon, where it’s either “perfect Japanese” or you get linguistically gaijinized, is odd. It’s also based upon a myth…
===================================

Read the rest at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/09/21/visible-minorities-weaponizing-the-japanese-language/

The video of that Motegi press conference is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdlt9n5FDUU (watch from around minute 2 onwards)

Other sources within the SNA article:

Japan Times: In case you missed it: Trump’s awkward response to a Japanese reporter:
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/11/08/world/politics-diplomacy-world/in-case-you-missed-it-trumps-awkward-response-to-a-japanese-reporter/ 

Mainichi: Minister under fire for questioning foreign journalist’s Japanese at press conf.
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200902/p2a/00m/0na/009000c

======================
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Reuters: Tennis star Osaka Naomi “a Jesse Owens of Japan”. I don’t think the comparison is apt, yet. She should also speak out for Japan’s Visible Minorities.

mytest

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Hi Blog.  A recent article in Reuters portrays Japanese-Haitian-American tennis star Osaka Naomi as “a Jesse Owens of Japan”. Article first, then my comment:

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Osaka ‘a Jesse Owens of Japan’ for racial injustice stand
Reuters, September 12, 2020 By Jack Tarrant

Courtesy https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-race-japan-tennis-osaka-featur-idUSKBN2630F4

TOKYO (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka has been the dominant storyline of the 2020 U.S. Open, both for on-court performances that mean she will be playing in Saturday’s final and for her vocal support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Before each match, Osaka has worn a mask bearing the name of a different Black American in a powerful symbol of her support for the fight against racial injustice in the United States.

Osaka, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father, may represent Japan but she lives in Los Angeles and has joined several BLM protests across the country this year.

Although her focus has been on racial injustice over the last few months, the 23-year-old has long been a symbol for change in Japan.

Osaka is one of the country’s most recognised personalities and has become the face of a changing Japan coming to terms with challenges to its self-image as a racially homogenous society.

Baye McNeil, a prominent Japan-based African-American author and activist, sees Osaka as the next in a line of great Black athlete activists such as boxer Muhammad Ali and sprinter Jesse Owens.

“Muhammad Ali… put his career on the line in order to protest things that he thought were unjust or just wrong. And I think Naomi is on that path,” McNeil told Reuters from Yokohama.

“She is joining a community that has a history, has a legacy, going all the way back beyond Jesse Owens. In fact, what she is doing is very in line with Jesse Owens. Not necessarily for her impact on America but on Japan.

“I kind of think of her as a Jesse Owens of Japan.”

CHANGING THE NARRATIVE

McNeil, who moved to Japan 16 years ago, believes Osaka and other biracial athletes like basketball player Rui Hachimura and Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish can be catalysts for change just by competing.

“It doesn’t even require them to say anything, you just look at them and say ‘Oh my God, this is a Black woman representing Japan,’” he said.

“This is something Japan has never faced before and I am not sure how exactly they are going to resolve this, or how they are going to modify the narrative, but some modification is required.”

Jaime Smith, who helped organise June’s BLM protest in Tokyo, thinks many Japanese people do not see Osaka’s activism as relating to their own country.

“They see it from the viewpoint that she is a Black American woman, even though she’s half Japanese, and she is speaking out about an American problem, so I still think there’s some wilful ignorance there,” Smith told Reuters.

“That’s … the kind of mindset we are trying to change.”

Smith, who moved from the U.S. to Japan three years ago, sees Osaka as the perfect person to push through this change.

“She is at a point where she is huge worldwide and people can’t help but listen to her,” she said.

“I think this is the perfect time to do what she is doing.”

JAPANESE SPONSORS

Following her 2018 U.S. Open triumph, Osaka attracted a large number of sponsors, many of them big Japanese brands, and became the world’s highest paid female athlete, according to Forbes.

These sponsors have not always been supportive of Osaka’s campaigning against racial injustice, however.

A report in Japanese newspaper Mainichi on Friday [see below] cited unnamed sources at one of her sponsors as criticising her BLM stance, saying they would prefer her to concentrate on tennis.

If some in Japan are struggling to come to terms with Osaka’s activism, this was not apparent at Tokyo’s Godai tennis club on Saturday morning.

“With the face masks, I perceive a kind of determination that she is facing her matches with these thoughts,” said Chika Hyodo.

“I think she is trying to fulfil the role she was given as an athlete and I feel awesome about it. I support her.”

Osaka was a hot topic of conversation at the club as the younger members had their weekly lessons and there was no sign that her activism was having any impact on her popularity.

“She is a Japanese, strong female tennis player,” said 10-year-old Ai Uemura.

“I think it’s great that she entertains people.”
ENDS
///////////////////////////////////

COMMENT FROM DEBITO: What a way to end an article: With an interview with a ten-year-old and some unqualified stranger at some tennis club, as somehow representative of “Japan’s reaction”. That’s some lazy research and poor social science there, Reuters.

Now, as far as Osaka’s activism is concerned, I support the fact that she is bringing to light racial injustice, and is willing to take a stand in public to do so.

However, remember that this is a stand against racial injustice in another country. Not in Japan. This is an easier target because a) Japan has long taught about racism in other countries (particularly America’s) as part of a narrative that racism “happens elsewhere, not here”, so this unfortunately plays into Japan’s grander deflection strategy; and b) this protest doesn’t imperil her sponsorship in Japan, where her money is coming from.

Yet racism, as this blog and my research have covered for more than a quarter century, is alive and “practiced undisturbed” (according to the United Nations) in Japan. That’s worth protesting. So is racism in America, of course. But there are plenty of high-profile voices involved in that already. What is sorely needed is someone standing up for the equal and nondiscriminative treatment of, for example, Japan’s Visible Minorities (a group Osaka herself is a member of).

Others have tried, such as VM Japanese beauty queens Miyamoto Ariana and Yoshikawa Priyanka, and their careers in Japan suffered as a result. Osaka Naomi, as Debito.org has argued before, has a stronger immunity card to criticize Japan (as long as she keeps winning) if she so chooses.

It’s still unclear she will ever choose to. The last big opportunity she had, when her sponsor Nissin “whitewashed” her in one of their ads, she declined to make an issue of. (Imagine the reaction, however, if an American advertiser had done something so stupid.) That’s an enormous disappointment, but indicative of her priorities. And a bit ironic in light of how Japanese society treated her multiethnic family.

Finally, comparisons with Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali? I’ll let others who are more qualified to shape that narrative speak more to that. But just consider Jesse Owens’ history: a person who protested the segregation and lack of sponsorship he received in his home country of America (to the point of repeatedly, and poignantly, pointing out that Hitler acknowledged his achievements more than President Roosevelt did).  However, his legacy has been portrayed more in my history books as a counternarrative to White Supremacism in Nazi Germany. That in itself, of course, is very welcome, but it’s not quite the whole story.

As for Muhammad Ali, there’s a lot to unpack there because he did so much, but remember that he was suspended from boxing during the best years of his career for protesting the Vietnam War and refusing to be drafted. Again, protesting racial injustice in his country of sponsorship. That’s real sacrifice and heroism.

My point is that the more one tries to apply their cases to Osaka’s case, the more inapt the comparisons become. Being in a position of “it doesn’t even require them to say anything” is not what happened in either Owens’ or Ali’s case.  Especially when you consider that Owens’ and Ali’s protests were more directed towards their country of sponsorship. That’s not what Osaka is doing here.

Again, I praise Osaka Naomi for taking a public stance against racism in the United States. But let’s keep things in perspective, and not let praise become unqualified gush.

And let me suggest she speak out on behalf of her fellow Visible Minorities in Japan too.  Not just dismiss racism in Japan as an issue of “a few bad apples” (which can be — and has been — applied to any society as an excuse for racist behavior). Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

//////////////////////////////////////

The Mainichi article cited by Reuters above:

Japanese sponsors of tennis star Naomi Osaka not 100% on board with anti-racism actions
September 11, 2020 (Mainichi Japan)
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200911/p2a/00m/0na/023000c

TOKYO — The anti-racism stance taken by tennis player Naomi Osaka on the courts of the U.S. Open has drawn widespread attention from the public and elicited differing responses from her sponsors in Japan and elsewhere.

Starting with her first match, Osaka entered the court wearing a black mask with the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed at the hands of police, on it as a call for an end to racial discrimination.

“I don’t think she needed to do that while she’s fighting her way to the top. If possible, we’d like her to attract more attention with her tennis skills,” said a source linked to a Japanese corporate sponsor of Osaka’s. “She’s taken on a leadership role as a Black person, and what she’s doing is great as a human being, but whether that will help raise the value of a corporate brand is another thing. There hasn’t been any impact in particular, but it’s not something we’re openly happy about.”

Another source linked to a different Japanese corporate sponsor said, “I think it’s wrong to bring the issue of racial discrimination and her trade, tennis, together.”

Meanwhile, one of her other sponsors, an American corporation, has reacted very differently. A person involved with the company said that in the U.S., it’s riskier not to say you take a stand against racial discrimination, because if you don’t say anything, you could be seen as being accepting it. They said that there are a lot of companies that uphold diversity and inclusion and also agree to help stop discrimination as part of their corporate principles.

After Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in late August, NBA teams boycotted games in protest of the incident, and MLB games were postponed due to players refusing to play. Naomi Osaka announced she was withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open semifinals — a qualifier for the U.S. Open — in protest. Soon thereafter, the tournament decided to postpone the match by a day in solidarity with the protesters, and Osaka decided she would play the next day, sending a strong message to the world.

In the NBA, where the majority of players are Black, actions taken to demand an end to racial discrimination are not uncommon. An official from a management company that has a contract with a Black NBA player explained that the top athletes have the strongest awareness that they must take the initiative to act as a representative of the Black community. And Black children, they said, dream of getting into the NBA, watching those top-tier athletes.

There are some compromises that Osaka, who was born to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, and grew up in the U.S. since she was three, is not willing to make.

“If I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction,” she wrote in her now-famous tweet.

Osaka arrived at the U.S. Open with seven masks, one for each round of the tournament, and each emblazoned with the name of a Black person who had been a victim of police violence. She’s worn six now.

What drives Osaka is her hope that people will get to know the victims better, and do what she can to prevent younger people from suffering from racial injustice.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Asatsuma, Sports News Department)

Japanese Version
なおみの人種差別抗議に国内外で温度差 スポンサーの微妙な事情
毎日新聞2020年9月11日 (excerpt)
https://mainichi.jp/articles/20200910/k00/00m/050/300000c
テニスの全米オープン女子シングルスで、人種差別への抗議を続ける大坂なおみ(22)=日清食品=の行動が、大きな反響を呼んでいる。1回戦から黒人差別による被害者の名前が書かれた黒いマスクをつけてコートに入場し、差別撤廃へのメッセージを発信しているが、大坂を支援する国内外のスポンサー企業では受け止め方に温度差がある。その事情とは?【浅妻博之】

「上まで勝ち上がっている時にやらなくてもね。できればテニスのプレーでもっと目立ってほしいんですけど……」。そう話すのは大坂を支援する日本企業の関係者だ。「黒人代表としてリーダーシップをとって、人間的にも素晴らしい行為だとは思うが、それで企業のブランド価値が上がるかといえば別問題。特に影響があるわけではないが、手放しでは喜べない」と複雑な心境を打ち明けた。また別のスポンサー企業関係者からは「人種差別の問題と本業のテニスを一緒にするのは違うのでは」との声も聞こえてきた。

一方でスポンサーの一つである米国系企業の反応は違う。この…
Full article at https://mainichi.jp/articles/20200910/k00/00m/050/300000c

======================
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Former student reports on how “Tokyo International University segregates and exploits its foreign students”

mytest

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Hi Blog. Continuing the summertime mode of posting without much comment from me, here’s another report on life in Japan from a student perspective. This time, how a Japanese university treats its international students. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

/////////////////////////////////////////////

TOKYO INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY SEGREGATES AND EXPLOITS ITS FOREIGN STUDENTS

By “John Doe”, former student
Exclusive to Debito.org, published August 22, 2020

Tokyo International University (TIU), located in Kawagoe, Saitama, was founded in 1965. In 2014, they launched the new English Track (E-Track) program, where major courses would be taught entirely in English. The program catered to foreign students who did not speak Japanese, mostly from developing countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, or Thailand. This allowed them to study a supposedly rigorous curriculum for a cheaper price compared to those in English-speaking countries such as the U.S. or Australia. Foreign students can also apply for a scholarship which reduces their tuition in full or in part, making the program even more attractive to them. On paper, the E-Track program at TIU sounds good, and to me, it seemed so when I applied to it in 2017. But, starting from 2018, things changed suddenly and it is no longer what it used to be now. I will explain:

Before the E-Track program was established, foreign students could still apply to TIU, but they had to take courses entirely in Japanese, with Japanese students. The E-Track program attracted more of them, but foreign students in this program are separated from Japanese students and cannot take classes with them unless the lecturer consents to it. This resembles apartheid already, but there is more. 

When I first came to TIU in late 2017, TIU held a lot of events that encouraged Japanese and foreign students to get together. On one occasion, Japanese and foreign students were taken to an overnight camp near Mount Fuji, where we played team sports and then had BBQ together. Off-campus events, in addition to on-campus ones, were occasional, and open to both Japanese and foreign students. There would be at least one event a month, and a semester there usually lasts around four months. Starting from 2018, however, they cut back on the events, and off-campus trips were no longer on the agenda. As for the on-campus events, there is now only one per semester, and the effort put into organizing them is minimal and half-hearted. This is only the tip of the iceberg, however.

In addition to the events, TIU had two common spaces that encouraged interaction between Japanese and foreign students. One was the English Plaza (E-Plaza), where only English was allowed. Student interns would work as staff on-site, and they would greet visitors at the reception desk, practice English conversation with them, and serve drinks at a bar area inside the Plaza. The E-Plaza also contained a mini-library, with books in English to borrow and read. The content of the books ranged from novels to textbooks and English study materials. This gave students a “homey” and casual atmosphere to relax in. The other was the Japanese Plaza (J-Plaza), which had the same system as the E-Plaza, but in Japanese. Like the E-Plaza, it also contained a reception desk, a bar that served drinks, and a mini-library with books (for studying Japanese). Both Plazas would also hold on-campus events to encourage cross-cultural interaction. I had wanted to improve on my Japanese and make meaningful relationships with Japanese people, so I frequented the J-Plaza. I believe you can also speak from your own experience studying Japanese, but to me, textbook Japanese tended to over-emphasize being polite. Talking to a friend around your age, meanwhile, does not require you to be so polite, and the language you use is a lot more casual. Since I had already been studying polite textbook Japanese in class, I talked to student staff at the J-Plaza to improve on my casual Japanese speech. 

Then, when 2018 came, the J-Plaza suddenly closed down without warning or explanation, and I lost the only place where I could practice my casual Japanese. When they reopened the J-Plaza in November that year, they revamped it with a new atmosphere that is not beginner-friendly at all. The reception desk and the bar were no longer there, and the former was replaced with a wall decorated with traditional Japanese art. The purpose of the wall was, in fact, to serve as cover for what was hidden behind it. The mini-library was removed, and all of its books were put into cardboard boxes and hidden behind that wall. The cardboard boxes had “haiki” written on them, meaning that the books were to be disposed of. Student interns are once again working there, but they are now working under a new system. Under this new system, a foreign student would book a reservation for a 15-minute conversation session with a Japanese student intern, who is now called a Conversation Partner. A maximum number of two sessions could be booked per day. 

Let me go into a few side details. A typical day at TIU has five periods, beginning at 9:10 a.m. every morning, with each period lasting 90 minutes. Between each period is a 10-minute break. After the second period ends at 12:20 p.m., lunch break begins and lasts until 1:10 p.m., when class resumes and goes on until fifth period ends at 6:00 p.m. When I was at TIU, Conversation Partners were available between third and fifth period. Here is where it hits the fan, however. 

Before Fall 2019, new students at TIU were required to take two basic level Japanese courses, which were offered on periods 1 and 2. In Fall 2019, the basic level Japanese courses were moved to periods 4 and 5. And then starting from 2020, only one basic level Japanese course is mandatory. The thing is, most E-Track students come to TIU with virtually no knowledge of Japanese, and the number of students in basic Japanese classes was always significantly higher than in higher-level classes. 

Obviously, this meant that there needed to be an environment that would encourage beginner students to acquire motivation to study Japanese, which is what the J-Plaza used to be. Except now, it seems that TIU changed its ways, and no longer wants E-Track students to study Japanese. 

Maybe the people at TIU want their foreign students to only speak English to Japanese students, since the J-Plaza was obliterated while the E-Plaza remained intact with no changes. They are even seemingly trying to prevent beginner students from improving on their spoken Japanese by moving the timeframe of the beginner Japanese classes. 

Sadly, without knowledge of Japanese, life in Japan will be very hard if not outright impossible. TIU does have a team of student interns who help foreign students adjust to life in Japan by helping them with signing rent contracts or opening bank accounts, but even so, you cannot rely on them all the time. 

Apparently, the real reason why TIU started attracting foreign students aggressively is because it was not getting enough Japanese students, and they just wanted to save themselves from going bankrupt. Once they have recruited foreign students however, they leave them to rot in the dust. Not to mention, there is supposedly a high turnover rate among TIU staff. A lecturer at TIU told me that he knew several administrative staff members for the E-Track program who left TIU during my time there, because the work environment appeared to be too stressful and discriminatory.

TIU offers the following majors to Japanese students: Business, Economics, English Communication, International Relations, and Human Sociology. In 2018, they announced plans to build a new international campus in Ikebukuro and open it in 2023. The E-Track program and the English Communication major for Japanese students will be moved there, while the other Japanese majors will remain in Saitama. This seems to be even more evidence of TIU’s segregation and exploitation of their foreign students as tools to teach English to Japanese people. To further rub salt in the wound, TIU uploaded a video detailing how the eventual Ikebukuro campus would look like. As detailed in the video, the master plan for the campus included an English Plaza, but no Japanese Plaza. Looks like they are denying their foreign students an opportunity to study Japanese just to be able to survive there.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities have banned their students from getting onto campus for fear of cluster infections and moved their classes online. TIU was also one of them. However, it appears that TIU continues to discriminate against its foreign students. The move to online classes means that students are rendered unable to use any facilities on campus. However, E-Track students still have to pay the same amount of tuition that they usually would every semester. Of course, many E-Track students receive a tuition reduction scholarship, but there are also those who do not. Meanwhile, Japanese students affected financially by the pandemic are guaranteed a scholarship that will grant a 50 percent reduction on their tuition for the semester. [Related link] Is this discrimination? Is TIU trying to dig even deeper into the pockets of its foreign students? Does this count as scamming?

For these reasons, I do not recommend TIU as a place for foreign students coming to Japan to learn Japanese skills to study. You will only be used as a means to teach their Japanese students English. Not only that, if you are a foreign student at TIU, then it is possible that you are being scammed out of your hard-earned money. It appears that they are trying to exploit their foreign students not only academically but also financially. Sincerely, John Doe

======================
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SNA Visible Minorities Column 11: Advice to Activists in Japan in general (in the wake of the emergence of the Black Lives Matter Japan Movement), June 22, 2020.

mytest

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Visible Minorities: Advice to Activists in Japan
Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities Column 11, June 22, 2020
By Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/06/22/visible-minorities-advice-to-activists-in-japan/.

SNA (Tokyo) — Sparked by the George Floyd murder by police in America last month, street protests against official violence towards minorities and disenfranchised peoples have sprung up worldwide.

Japan has been no exception. Within recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, a wider range of people are finally decrying, for example, the Japanese police’s racial profiling and violence towards visible minorities.

I’ve talked about these and other issues for years, devoting significant space both on Debito.org and in my book Embedded Racism: Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination. That said, it should be noted that my position in Japan as a white male with naturalized Japanese citizenship has provided me significant privilege; in all humility I am not in the best position to offer advice to people who have the right (nay, obligation) to create their own identities, narratives, and agendas as they see best.

Nevertheless, this column would like to point out some of the pitfalls that activists may face in Japanese society, based upon my experience fighting against racial discrimination here for nearly thirty years. Please read them in the helpful spirit they are intended:

1) Remember that, in Japan, activists are seen as extremists

Japan has a long history of activism and protest. However, the historical narrative generally portrays activists (katsudouka) as radical, destructive elements (kagekiha), most famously the Japanese Red Army; the Revolutionary Communist League, National Committee (Chukakuha); the Japan Revolutionary Communist League, Revolutionary Marxist Faction (Kakumaruha); or even just labor unions like the Japan Teachers’ Union (Nikkyoso). If you’re out there protesting, you’re automatically seen by many Japanese as angry, unapproachable, and unable to be reasoned with.

Furthermore, public demonstrations are treated with undue alarm. They’re not, for example, normalized as a phase college kids go through and grow out of. In fact, youth might become unemployable if they carry on beyond college. That’s why high-profile student group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) disbanded as soon as their leaders approached the job market.

Additionally, the government has a long history of suppressing voices from the left more than the racket from rightwing conservatives and reactionaries, as seen in their regular rounds of unfettered sound trucks. It’s not an even playing field for human-rights advocates. That’s why there arguably isn’t a successful example of leftist protests ever decisively changing the course of government in Japan. (Contrast that with, say, the anti-Vietnam protests of the 1960s, so romanticized in Western media, which even undermined presidents overseas.)

The result is that the average person in Japan, especially your employer, will need to be convinced that what you’re doing is at all necessary, not to mention has a snowball’s chance of succeeding. Be prepared to do that.

2) Keep the debate focused on how discrimination affects everyone in Japan

One problem with protests for equal rights for “foreigners” is an assumption that the problem must be exogenous. It runs deeper than the sentiments of a) “foreigners are only ‘guests’ here, so they shouldn’t be rude to their ‘hosts’ by protesting,” or b) “if only you weren’t here disrupting our homogeneous society, your problem would just go away.” It’s again a problem with narrative.

Discrimination, particularly “racial discrimination” (jinshu sabetsu), is generally taught in Japanese schools as something other countries do towards people with different skin color, notably US Segregation and South African Apartheid. Thanks to the daily mantras about our alleged monocultural, monoethnic “island society” closed off from the world for a zillion years, Japan generally doesn’t see how “race” could be a factor here. The logic is that homogeneous Japan has no races, therefore no “race relations” problems like other countries. The Japanese government has made precisely this argument to the United Nations.

That’s one reason why Japanese media reflexively deflects the issue into terms like “foreigner discrimination” (gaikokujin sabetsu), “ethnic discrimination” (minzoku sabetsu), or merely “cultural differences” (ibunka no chigai). All of these concepts miss the point that racial discrimination is in fact a longstanding domestic issue.

So refocus the issue back on the process of racialization. Reiterate at every opportunity that this is “racial discrimination,” and stress how, thanks to generations of naturalization and international marriage, there are plenty of Japanese citizens with diverse roots. Thus discrimination against “foreigners” also affects hundreds of thousands of Japanese people.

After all, Japanese society gloms onto “racial discrimination” against Japanese citizens abroad with a surprising amount of passion. So point out that it’s happening here too. And you’ll have to do it again and again, because you will have to convince a surprising number of people who refuse to believe that racism even exists in Japan.

3) Be wary of being fetishized

Remember that a certain degree of social resonance you may be feeling in your crowd is likely not the feeling of acceptance you might want; it is not equal footing with Japanese citizens. People often join in since protesting is “cool” because “foreigners are cool” or “pitiable” (kawaisou).

There is plenty of scholarly research (read Marvin D. Sterling’s Babylon East, for example) on how Japanese adopt “foreign cultures” only on a topical level, meaning without much interest in the actual mindset or experience of being a visible minority in Japan.

Collaborate with whoever shows up, of course. Just don’t get your hopes up too far. Some people who seem like supporters might only be fair-weather groupies. So don’t rely on them too much when it comes time for them to commit their names or faces in public.

4) Be ready for the long haul

Success, of course, requires not only widespread support in Japan, but also assistance from fellow Japanese human-rights activists. They are very practiced and determined, having done this sort of thing for decades. But remember: Activist groups in Japan are very cliquey. Often the barriers for entry and being accepted as “one of us” are pretty high.

Even though, at first, being seen as “pitiable” works in your favor, remember that the default attitude towards people seen as “foreigners” is “someone here only for the short-term.”

What I mean is “foreigners” are often treated like exotic birds, as something to study because you alighted on their balcony and have interesting plumage to look at. So they give you their attention for as long as you’re around. But once it seems you’ve flitted off, you’re quickly forgotten as merely a phase or a pastime. Then things reset back to the ingrained narratives of Japan as homogeneous and foreigners as temporary.

The only way you can defy that is by showing how deeply you’ve committed yourself to this issue for as long as possible, as people in those activist groups have. They’ve made this rallying cause a life mission, and they’ll expect you to as well. Otherwise, you’re just a fickle foreign hobbyist and doors slam.

Moreover, be careful of the “get in line” attitude that one (rightly) receives from other minorities in Japan (such as the Zainichi Koreans). They have been here much longer, fought much harder, and sacrificed more simply to exist in Japan. Avoid the one-upmanships over “who’s the bigger victim here?”

Instead, focus on what you all have in common: perpetual disenfranchisement, and how you have to work together to overcome that to make Japan a better place for everyone. Remember that power surrenders nothing without a fight, so dissolving into disagreeing leftist factions is precisely what the powerful want. The status quo wins by default that way.

5) Control your own narrative

Finally, don’t rely on people who aren’t in your position to understand or promote your narrative. Do it yourselves. Organize your own press conferences. Make sure that everything you release to the public and media is also in Japanese, and have some prominent public spokespeople who are minorities. It’s your voice. Don’t let even the best-intentioned interpreters and interlocutors inadvertently dilute it.

For example, last month, the people of diverse roots who spoke out fluently against the Shibuya police roughing up a Kurdish person were excellent examples of how to do it right. They were very effective in getting the message out both to print and broadcast media. More of that, please.

There you go: five pitfalls I might suggest you avoid. I hope you find them useful, even if I have a very limited understanding of what you’re going through. In any case, it’s your time and your social movement. I wish you success, and thanks for reading.  ENDS

For breaking news, follow on Twitter @ShingetsuNews

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Online petition: Oppose Japan’s generic reentry ban on Foreign Residents even after essential travels since April 3, 2020

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Hi Blog.  I mentioned this petition in my previous post, but it was subsumed under the Dejima Award headline.  It deserves its own blog entry, so here it is.  Sign the petition.  I did.  Courtesy of TG.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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From: Sven Kramer 
Date: June 3, 2020 
To: eajs-l@listserv.shuttle.de
Subject: EAJS-L: Online petition against Japan’s generic reentry ban on foreigners living in Japan even after essential travels that is in effect since April 3, 2020

Dear fellow EAJS members,

I hope this finds you well, and that you are getting through the current public health crisis well and healthy. I am Sven Kramer, a scholar of Japanese studies based in Japan. Today, I would like to focus your attention on a private initiative I have started: a Japanese-English bilingual online petition against the de facto complete generic denial of reentry to foreign residents of Japan (including permanent residents and eminent relatives of Japanese citizens). On April 3, 2020, the government of Japan has implemented an almost complete closure of her borders to foreign residents on valid long-term visas (only the “special permanent residents” are exempt), while every Japanese citizen regardless of actual residency is allowed in.

This regulation affects more than 2,000,000 foreign residents of Japan, who cannot reenter Japan for the foreseeable future even after traveling abroad for a very good reason (e.g. the death of a family member in the country of origin), and are thus in danger of using their livelihoods here. I anticipate that among those affected, a significant number should be scholars based at Japanese universities receiving this mailing list. According to my current knowledge, Japan is the only country on Earth with a liberal democratic constitution, that has implemented such a nonsensically discriminatory reentry restriction, which in my opinion cannot be justified even with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a significant difference to the policy of India, which reportedly has implemented an entry ban on all people regardless of citizenship/nationality. Furthermore, we don’t need to get into deflections of about how dictatorial countries currently behave in this crisis.

I have watched the situation silently but with an uneasy feeling for almost two months, but after reading this article by „Tōyō Keizai Online“ that quotes some of the outrageous things going on behind the scenes without leading to any progress, I had enough. As a long-term foreign resident of Japan I could not keep silent any longer, so on May 28 I have started the following online petition at “change.org”: http://chng.it/GN9Wp2Sj

Why an open online petition? Because the Japanese government, and also other officialdom at other levels, just show ignorance when addressed directly.

I sincerely want to ask you for your support of this petition for the reasons stated in the bilingual text of the petition, especially if you are a Japanese citizen or an expat with his/her livelihood in Japan.

This is – as mentioned above – an entirely private initiative on my behalf as a long-term foreign resident of Japan with Japanese family. This is the reason why I did not do any statements referring to my current professional situation, neither in this letter, nor in the petition. Please understand. If you want to know more about my background, please feel free to ask me directly.

Here is a short summary of my request:
– Please sign, if you share my opinion that the government of Japan immediately should allow reentry of returning foreign residents of Japan under the same quarantine regulations that are applied to Japanese citizens.
– Please help me spreading the word, if you agree with me on this.

If a significant number of people sign (ideally at least some tens of thousands) I will try to get the petition to the Government of Japan.

Thank you very much!

Best regards,
Sven Kramer, PhD

P.S.: Further articles in English dealing with this topic:
Japan Times: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/19/national/social-issues/japan-foreign-residents-stranded-abroad-coronavirus/ 
Japan Today: https://japantoday.com/category/quote-of-the-day/the-line-should-be-drawn-between-foreigners-on-short-stay-visas-and-those-who-stay-in-japan-based-on-other-statuses-of-residence.-those-whose-lives-are-based-in-japan-need-to-be-able-to-return

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Debito interviewed by Shingetsu News Agency’s “Speakeasy” forum: “Japan’s Foreign Residents in the Coronavirus”, Apr 27, 2020

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////////////////////////////////

Hi Blog.  In lieu of a longer blog entry, here’s an interview I had with the Shingetsu News Agency, in one of their “Speakeasys” (25 minutes):

I’m making the case that the GOJ could be doing a much worse job taking care of their NJ Residents, but that’s because people have been vigilant about potential human rights abuses. It could very easily revert to racist and exclusionary habits if systems get overloaded or panic hits. Also, I argue that it’s also incumbent upon NJ Residents themselves to step out of their “Guestism” mentalities and claim their due as taxpayers and residents.

(If you haven’t become a supporter of this important (and solitary) venue for independent journalism in Japan, please do. $2 a month gets you access to all articles, including my “Visible Minorities” columns. It’s a worthy venture.)  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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BBC: “Is Japan embracing diversity?” A Pollyannaish article highlighting a few celebrity examples without data on broad public attitudes or government policy re immigration

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Hi Blog.  Here we have another one of those hopefulJapan is changing” articles we get from time to time (and from long ago; for example here and here and here and here).  This time from the BBC, where the reporter takes up a number of issues we’ve been dealing with for decades here on Debito.org.  Reporter Okazaki clearly starts from a tack (e.g., “there is hope that an increasingly visible “other” Japan in a changing society can lead it to being the natural state of things”), and then works backwards to find evidence to support it.

As Submitter FB pointed out quite succinctly, the article “highlights a few celebrity examples without any data on broad public attitudes or government policy towards immigration. The fact that 3rd generation ethnic Koreans aren’t citizens is the most telling fact of intransigence towards diversity.” Touche.

So let’s just draw a line in the sand here with a clear litmus test:  At a bare minimum, until Japan’s historical aberration of “Zainichi” status is finally resolved by the Japanese government, and “generational foreigners” are legally accepted as diverse AND Japanese, Japan can never claim to be truly accepting of diversity.  Full stop.

Do that, and then we’ll start talking about how “Japan is changing” as a news peg.  For one cannot ignore the historical contributions and sacrifices of Japan’s minorities, particularly the Zainichi, no matter what cosmetic overtures one might make in public towards a few token Visible Minorities for the sake of overseas media consumption.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Is Japan embracing diversity?
By Eri Okazaki, BBC, 24th February 2020, courtesy of FB
https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200131-is-japan-embracing-diversity

Ahead of the Rugby World Cup held in Japan last year, a Japanese sports magazine, asked the national team’s captain, “Why are there so many foreigners in Japan’s squad?”

The 31-year-old captain, Michael Leitch, originally from New Zealand, answered (in Japanese), “Because that’s how Japan is today.”

Leitch went on to say, “The rugby national team reflects the reality of current Japan, and also anticipates the future of Japan. As a team, we can embody and show society just how important diversity is.” [Ed:  My, how the worm turns.]

The game wasn’t about the individual players

The home team – made up of players from South Africa, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Korea and of course Japan – whipped up a frenzy of passion throughout the country and across the world by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in the history of Japanese rugby.

PHOTO: Pieter Labuschagne, originally from South Africa, is one of several foreign-born players on Japan’s national rugby team (credit: Newscom/Alamy Live News)

The fervour surrounding the games on Japanese soil, and the success of the Japanese team, was unprecedented. But beyond sport, there was another conversation bubbling underneath the surface. About what it means to “be Japanese” in modern day Japan.

And how does this fit into Japan’s ostensibly homogenous narrative?

Who am I?

Some people in Japan still view their society as a mono-ethnic. Japan’s sense of national identity and what it means to “be Japanese” is deeply engrained.

This comes from layers of historical context; sakoku – an isolationist policy that lasted for over 200 years, which massively limited both migration and imports – as well as assertions from Japanese politicians’ over the years that they are a “homogenous society” and that the distinct nature of the country comes from being “one nation, one civilisation, one language, one culture and one race.”

PHOTO: In March every year, Japanese students attend career seminars and submit job applications as part of shūshoku katsudō (credit: Alamy)

And at first glance, it might seem like that on the surface. Take the traditional job-hunting practice of shūshoku katsudō for instance. In early April every year, thousands of university students dressed in ubiquitous black suits and carrying a briefcase can be seen traipsing the streets in search of jobs at the most reputable firms in the country. You can see why some still accuse Japan of homogeneity.

But that’s not actually the case.

Japan has several minority communities in addition to their foreign residents. The indigenous Ainu who have only been officially recognised by the Japanese government since 2019 as well as the Ryūkyūans or Okinawans. There are also the Burakumin or so-called “hamlet people” once considered the lowest caste in Japan’s now-abolished feudal.

And then there are groups who are considered to be foreigners despite being long-term residents over several generations such as the zainichi. The word simply means “living in Japan” but is most commonly used to refer to ethnic Koreans and their descendants who remained after being brought to Japan during the occupation of Korea from 1910 until the end of World War II in 1945.

PHOTO:  New policies will see Japan welcoming more foreigners (credit: Alamy)

While the majority of these Koreans left Japan when the war ended, some 600,000 remained but over time, lost “imperial citizenship” that original settlers were given. The first generation were long-term residents of Japan without Japanese citizenship. As time went on, some of the next generation did apply and receive naturalisation.

In Japan, citizenship is determined by jus sanguinis or the nationality of your parents as opposed to place of birth. For that reason, Japan-born zainichi are counted as foreign residents in government figures.

With a rapidly ageing population, Japan has opened up its immigration policies to fill an acute labour shortage. In 2018 the government signed a bill to allow for hundreds of thousands of workers to come to Japan to work in specific sectors such as construction, nursing and farming.

But how will Japan deal with the changing face of its population?

Half or whole?

Japanese people of mixed heritage have long been known in Japan as hafu (meaning, half). Coined in the 1970s, some believe it’s a divisive term which on the one hand means multi-ethnicity while on the other means “not whole.” In fact, another term – daburu – meaning double began to be used in the 1990s as a way emphasising what is gained by being mixed race rather than what is missing. But in practice hafu is a more widely used term.

There have been several high-profile Japanese people of mixed race in the spotlight in recent years which has highlighted that there are still issues to be addressed.

Former Miss Japan, Ariana Miyamoto, knows first-hand the struggles of a perceived sense of “being Japanese”.

Miyamoto, 25, represented Japan at the 2015 Miss Universe pageant. She was born in Nagasaki, in southern Japan, to a Japanese mother and an African-American father. As a child growing up in Japan, she says she was bullied because of her dark skin. And when she became the first woman of mixed parentage to be chosen as Miss Japan, she was targeted by online abuse from those who claimed she “isn’t Japanese”, and “isn’t fit to represent Japan”.

PHOTO: Miss Japan Ariana Miyamoto has spoken out about the racial abuse she has received (credit: TORU YAMANAKA/AFP via Getty Images)

But Miyamoto used her new-found fame to become a champion for others like herself, who are of mixed heritage.

And when Priyanka Yoshikawa of Japanese and Indian parents was chosen as Miss Japan for the Miss World pageant the following year, she credited her win to Miyamoto, saying she had helped show “mixed girls the way”.

And Miyamoto says things changed dramatically for her personally when Naomi Osaka won the US Tennis Open and by association, people’s attitude towards her changed completely.

It’s obvious, I’m tan. It’s pretty obvious – Naomi Osaka

Japan’s leading tennis player was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother and brought up in the US. Osaka is now ranked number three in the world but her success and visibility in the public eye has highlighted a perception that to “be Japanese” you must look and talk a certain way. The Japanese media often pointedly asked Osaka in post-game press conferences to “reply in Japanese” even though she is not fluent in the language.

PHOTO: Tennis player Naomi Osaka’s success has helped to change attitudes around multiculturalism in Japan (credit: Getty Images)

Japanese food company, Nissin, was also accused of “whitewashing” after it depicted Osaka with white skin and brown hair in an animated advert. Osaka responded by saying, “It’s obvious, I’m tan. It’s pretty obvious.” The company, a sponsor of the Japanese tennis team apologised, saying it had meant no offence and vowed to “pay more attention to diversity issues in the future.”

It was reported in October 2019 that Osaka has chosen Japanese nationality and gave up her US citizenship. Under Japanese law, those with dual citizenship must choose one before their 22nd birthday.

Osaka, for her part, is bemused by it all saying in an interview: “People start saying I’m American ’cause I live in America or I’m Haitian because my dad is Haitian, I’m Japanese ’cause my mom’s Japanese. I don’t know, I’d rather they just focus on the tennis.”

Living in harmony

Shahran Ishino first travelled from Tehran to Tokyo in 2002 as a student, and now holds Japanese citizenship. He runs a consulting firm that promotes the creation of a working environment conducive to both Japanese and foreign nationals.

Ishino believes Japan’s rugby team actually achieved a state that Japanese society has aspired to for centuries. And it was because of the team’s diversity, not in spite of it.

“The game wasn’t about the individual players,” he says, “it was about the team as a whole. That’s very Japanese. It was the very epitome of the Japanese virtue of wa (harmony).”

PHOTO: Iranian-born Shahran Ishino now works with companies to promote multi-cultural workplaces in Japan (credit: BBC)

The concept of wa could be argued as the very essence of the Japanese character. It denotes a sense that group values are more important the individual and therefore conformity to social norms is needed to achieve this state.

But Ishino takes a more nuanced view: “I believe the Japanese spirit of ‘wa’ is a truly wonderful thing. In the rugby team, the Japanese players accept the foreign players, and the foreign players are eager to do well along with their Japanese teammates. They performed well together as a team, everyone pulling together. Of course, they win or lose as the Japanese team, because that’s what they are.”

In Japan, rugby is famous for the phrase “no-side”, meaning once the referee blows the whistle to end the match, there are no more foes, only fellow players. While this phrase is no longer widely used, it has lodged itself firmly in the national consciousness of Japan.

Athletes there with foreign roots are still called “players from a foreign country”. But in a country where the concept of wa is considered a fundamental virtue, there is hope that an increasingly visible “other” Japan in a changing society can lead it to being the natural state of things.
ENDS
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SNA Visible Minorities Col 6: “Carlos Ghosn’s Escape from Japan Was the Right Move”, Jan 20, 2020 (UPDATED with full text)

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Hi Blog.  Here’s my latest column from the Shingetsu News Agency.  Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Visible Minorities: Carlos Ghosn’s Escape from Japan Was the Right Move

http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/01/20/visible-minorities-carlos-ghosns-escape-from-japan-was-the-right-move/

SNA (Tokyo) — I have to admit more than a twinge of sympathy for Carlos Ghosn’s Great Escape.

Ghosn, the former CEO of Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Renault, was arrested in November 2018 on the initial suspicion of falsifying his compensation levels, and subjected to more than a year of Japan’s “hostage justice.” That is, he was held hostage to a judicial system that detains you until you confess to a crime, and subjects you to days, weeks, months, or conceivably even years of interrogation and tortuous conditions until you crack. Understandably, most do crack, and Japan’s conviction rate after indictment is famously more than 99%.

But as you have probably heard, at the end of December Ghosn suddenly turned up in Lebanon, one of three places he has citizenship. Out on bail in Japan, he made a daring escape that people are still trying to piece together, including man-sized musical instrument cases, an uncharacteristic lack of Japanese border security, and a mysterious visit to Lebanon’s president by Japan’s state minister for foreign affairs mere days before Ghosn jumped bail.

Ghosn is now making good on his threat to expose everything that happened to him while in custody. His multilingual press conference in Beirut two weeks ago was breathtaking to watch, full of documentation, pointed fingers, and hot-tongued accusations of the human rights denied to Japan’s incarcerated.

This has been covered exhaustively worldwide, so what more is there to say? My perspective comes as a person who also tried to change Japanese rules and practices, and found that The System similarly fought back dirty.

I’m talking about the Otaru Hot Springs Case.  In 1999, some friends and I challenged Japan’s lack of a law against racial discrimination, as manifest in signs up on businesses nationwide saying “Japanese Only.” Places with these “no foreigners allowed” rules included public bathhouses, restaurants, shops, bars, public facilities, and even hotels, schools, hospitals, realtors, and other public services essential to life in Japan.  People were (and still are) arbitrarily being refused service because they “look foreign” to proprietors, and that includes allegedly “foreign-looking” Japanese citizens.

We first took several exclusionary cases to the court of public opinion, where we had some initial victories (signs coming down and the rules changed).  But soon Japanese media began putting up resistance (similar to what Ghosn noted in his press conference) to reasoned, informed, and factual public debate.

It’s all described in detail in my book “Japanese Only” (ebook available for a buck on Amazon), but some of the media strategies we faced were similar, including:

  1. Media quoting the proponents of the exclusionary status quo at length, less so the arguments of the critics;
  2. Media portraying the proponents as somehow pitiable, as “keepers of the faith” in “traditional Japan.”  Exclusions by physical appearance were soon construed as essentially normal, regular, or even necessary practices that keep Japanese in business;
  3. Media portraying the critics as “Japan bashers,” “Japan haters”, and generally “anti-Japan.”  Moreover, since foreigners were involved in the issue:
  4. Media portraying the issue of as a matter of “cultural misunderstandings by foreigners who don’t understand Japan” and “outsiders and guests disrespectfully telling poor old Japan what to do.”

After that, public debate almost completely elided the issue of racism.  The consequences were that issues of fair and equal treatment under the law were mooted, which affected the judicial outcome when we eventually took this case to court.

This enabling of exclusionism also empowered the militant “netto-uyo” (internet right-wing trolls) to inject anger, fear and loathing into the debate.  Then came the hate mail and death threats (which I still get to this day) to our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces.  With this came the hairy eyeballs from our neighbors and colleagues, meaning it was now somehow our fault for causing all this trouble.  Thus by standing up for our rights, we had brought all this upon ourselves.

Point is, I think Ghosn and I would have a lot to talk about.

Granted, there are caveats to this comparison.  Ghosn’s is a criminal case and ours was civil.  We were not arrested, fired from our jobs (luckily), or put in jail for months.

But I really get Ghosn.  I understand why he decided to do a runner.  It wasn’t just because he was denied access to his wife for months as a means to break him down psychologically.  It wasn’t just because prosecutors have decisive power over the evidence (even exculpatory evidence) submitted to court.  It wasn’t just because they decided to have separate trials for each charge, and the first trial would probably begin in 2021 and then take years.  And it wasn’t just because there is a separate and unequal jurisprudential track for foreigners than for Japanese (as detailed in my book “Embedded Racism”, Chapter 6).

It was that given this level of legalized bullying over the accused in Japan, Ghosn knew he wouldn’t get a fair trial with the presumption of innocence—neither in the courtroom nor in the court of public opinion.  And he was exactly right.

Even Japan’s Justice Minister demanded Ghosn return and “prove his innocence.”  That was not a gaffe.  That’s exactly the system in Japan.  And he would never be able to prove it when the courts and media follow the same presumption:  you got arrested, so you must have done something wrong to bring The System down upon yourself.  You’ll never get a fair hearing because your side will not be heard.  Not within Japan, anyway.  Especially as a foreigner.

I am aware that Ghosn’s skipping bail like this means foreigners will probably never be granted bail again.  (Then again, almost no foreigners are anyway.)   I am also aware that becoming a fugitive from justice just makes you look guiltier.  Moreover, the fact that Ghosn could actually escape is testament to his level of privilege, unlike the multitudes of suspects, foreign and Japanese, caught in the wringer without the wherewithal and connections to flee.

But there is no other way but Ghosn for Japan’s judicial excesses to finally be brought to light in the international arena.  I care less about one rich man’s escaping justice for possible white-collar crimes than about all the innocent people taken hostage by Japan’s unfettered police and sadistic prosecutors, who are less interested in finding the truth than in losing face by losing a case.

For too long now, Japan has gotten a free pass for its human rights abuses and torture of suspects.  Ghosn is in the best position possible to blow the lid off this system and bring international pressure for reforms.

Ghosn can clear his name for his personal benefit if he likes.  But as long as he winds up improving conditions for others incarcerated in Japan, I say support him in this quest.  Let’s see if he can reform Japan’s vicious criminal justice system when we couldn’t reform Japan’s racist social justice system.

ENDS

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Debito.org’s stance on the Carlos Ghosn Case, at last: A boardroom coup making “thin legal soup” that might shame Japan’s “hostage justice” judicial system into reform

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ED’S NOTE DEC 31, 2019:  UPDATING THIS POST FROM FEB 2019 BECAUSE OF CARLOS GHOSN’S REEMERGENCE IN BEIRUT, HAVING SOMEHOW ESCAPED FROM THE CLUTCHES OF THE JAPANESE JUDICIARY.  THE BEST ARTICLE I’VE FOUND ON THIS EVENT IS ON THE DAILY BEAST HERE.  

DEBITO.ORG HAS COME DOWN DECISIVELY IN FAVOR OF GHOSN’S ESCAPE, AS CH 6 OF BOOK “EMBEDDED RACISM” DEPICTS JAPAN’S JUDICIARY AS DECIDEDLY AGAINST JUSTICE FOR NJ CAUGHT IN THEIR “HOSTAGE JUSTICE” SYSTEM.  FACT IS, GHOSN NEVER STOOD A CHANCE OF A FAIR TRIAL, ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF ALLEGATIONS THAT HAVE SURFACED LATER THAT INDICATE NISSAN’S OWN (JAPANESE) CEO IS JUST AS GUILTY OF SIMILAR “CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR” THAT DID NOT RESULT IN ARRESTS.  

READ ON FOR THE REASON WHY DEBITO.ORG BELIEVES THE GHOSN CASE WAS A FLIMSY ONE FROM THE START.  AND HAPPY NEW YEAR.  — Debito Arudou Ph.D.

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Hi Blog. Debito.org has been holding back on commenting on the Carlos Ghosn arrest.  A former president of Nissan and Mitsubishi, Ghosn was a hero in many circles for saving the formerly struggling Japanese automakers and making them world players again.  (Disclosure:  I’ve owned a number of Nissans, and found their quality improved over the years.)  So imagine everyone’s surprise (not the least his) when he’s returning from an overseas meeting last November and suddenly gets arrested at Haneda Airport (along with a fellow NJ associate), and thrown in the clink without trace for the standard 48 hours without charge, then a couple of ten-day periods before re-arrest and repeat.

The reason Debito.org has been holding back is because, well, actually, what happened to Ghosn after arrest is not all that surprising from a jurisprudential perspective.  This could happen to anyone regardless of nationality (excepting the general denial of bail for NJ).  And I personally have to admit feeling just a shade of schadenfreude for a filthy-rich one-percenter getting taken down a peg.

Truth is, I wanted to see if he’d get the standard treatment afforded most perps in Japan — a few weeks, months, or even more than a year of disappearing while being put under constant duress until you sign a confession (aka “hostage justice“).  Plus the standard treatment given NJ under arrest — an additional presumption of a lack of human rights for foreigners.  More on all that in my book Embedded Racism, Ch. 6, “A Chinaman’s Chance in Japanese Court”. I did comment on Ghosn for The Japan Times in my annual year-end round-up Just Be Cause column (published version here, “Director’s Cut” here).

Well, Ghosn has gotten the treatment.  Except for the fact he’s been able to communicate with the media in high-profile interviews.  More on that below.  So here’s Debito.org’s long-awaited comment about the Ghosn Case (from that “Director’s Cut”):

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DEBITO.ORG COMMENTS:  The former CEO of Nissan and Mitsubishi motors (but remaining as CEO at Renault), Ghosn was arrested last November and indicted in December for inter alia allegedly underreporting his income for tax purposes. As of this writing, he remains in police custody for the 23-day cycles of interrogations and re-arrests, until he confesses to a crime.

This event has been well-reported elsewhere, so let’s focus on the JBC issues: Ghosn’s arrest shows how far you can fall if you’re foreign. Especially if you’re foreign.

One red flag was that the only two people arrested in this fiasco have been foreign: Ghosn and his associate, Greg Kelly. Kelly is now out on bail due to health concerns. But where are the others doing similar malfeasances? According to Reuters, Kobe Steel underreported income in 2008, 2011, and 2013, and committed data fraud for “nearly five decades.” Same with Toray and Ube Industries, Olympus, Takata, Mitsubishi Materials, Nissan, and Subaru.

Who’s been arrested? Nobody but those two foreigners.

And Japan’s judicial system has a separate track for NJ suspects, including harsher jurisprudence for NJs accused of crimes, lax jurisprudence for NJ victims of crimes, uneven language translation services, general denial of bail for NJ, an extra incarceration system for subsequent visa violations while in jail, and incarceration rates for NJs four times that for citizens. (See my book Embedded Racism, Ch. 6.)

Most indicative of separate and unequal treatment is that some of the accusations, which fall under a statute of limitations of seven years under the Companies Act, are still applicable. Prosecutors have argued that statutes do not apply to Ghosn because he spent time overseas. Apparently even the passage of time is different for foreigners, because the clock stops if they ever leave Japan!

It’s Debito.org’s view that this is a boardroom coup. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Ghosn was planning to oust a rival, Hiroto Saikawa, who has since taken Ghosn’s place as CEO. A similar thing happened to at Olympus in 2011, when CEO Michael Woodford broke ranks and came clean on boardroom grift. He was fired for not understanding “Japanese culture,” since that’s the easiest thing to pin on any foreigner.

But in Woodford’s case, he was fired, not arrested and subjected to Japan’s peculiar system of “hostage justice” police detention, where detainees are denied access to basic amenities (including sleep or lawyers) for weeks at a time, and interrogated until they crack and confess, with more than 99% conviction rates.

The good news is that finally overseas media is waking up to what Japan’s Federation of Bar Associations and the UN Committee Against Torture have respectively called “a breeding ground for false charges” and “tantamount to torture.” Funny thing is, if this had happened in China, we’d have had howls much sooner about the gross violations of Ghosn’s human rights.

(Source on “statute of limitations does not apply:” “Japan’s Companies Act has a statute of limitations of seven years. Prosecutors argue this does not apply due to the amount of time Ghosn has spent outside the country.”
https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Nissan-s-Ghosn-crisis/Ghosn-rearrested-for-alleged-aggravated-breach-of-trust
Other irregularities noted in the JT by Glen Fukushima: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/12/20/commentary/japan-commentary/seven-questions-ghosn-nissan/)

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Well, the news is now Ghosn’s case has been picked over by the media (the charges are being called “thin soup” below).  And Ghosn’s high-profile status has enabled him to get a high-profile interview with the Nikkei newspaper below (for fifteen minutes, with a five-minute extension).  Few if any other people incarcerated in this system have this much ability to draw attention and make their case to the public.

Moreover, since Ghosn’s Japanese language abilities are probably not at the level of the language in his interview, it’s reasonable to assume  the interview was in English.  In my direct experience in dealing with other incarcerated foreigners, if they talk with anyone they must do it with a guard present, and they must speak in Japanese at all times so the guard can understand what’s being said.  Ghosn’s ability to get around that rule seems to be another trapping of his privilege.

That’s a bit annoying.  But if it eventually shines light on an abuse of the Japanese judicial system in specific (i.e., uneven enforcement of the law), and shames Japan into reforming its “hostage justice” interrogation system in general, then some good may come of it.

In the end, the Ghosn Case, on top of the the Woodford Case, remain excellent reasons why foreigners shouldn’t hope to become executives in Japanese companies.  One boardroom coup later by the nativists, you could be in jail for being CEO while foreign. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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NISSAN’S GHOSN CRISIS
Exclusive interview: Ghosn says ‘plot and treason’ led to arrest
Ex-Nissan chief claims rivals wanted to ‘get rid’ of him
Nikkei Asian Review, Nikkei staff writers, January 30, 2019
https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Nissan-s-Ghosn-crisis/Exclusive-interview-Ghosn-says-plot-and-treason-led-to-arrest

In his first interview since being detained on Nov.19, ousted Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn claimed that certain people had “distorted reality” for the purpose of “getting rid of him.”

TOKYO — Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn told Nikkei in an exclusive interview Wednesday that he had “no doubt” that the charges against him were the result of “plot and treason” by Nissan executives opposed to his plan for deeper integration between Renault and its two Japanese alliance partners.

Speaking on the 10th floor of the Tokyo Detention House, dressed in a black fleece jacket and gray sweatpants, Ghosn acknowledged that “there was a plan to integrate” Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors. The plans had been discussed with Nissan President Hiroto Saikawa in September, he added.

In his first interview since being detained on Nov. 19, Ghosn claimed that he had wanted to include Mitsubishi Motors CEO Osamu Masuko in the talks, but “Saikawa wanted it one-on-one.”

Once the three automakers were more closely integrated, Ghosn wanted to ensure there would be “autonomy under one holding company,” he said, adding that this plan was in line with how he had operated the alliance in past years.

Allies of Ghosn’s have argued that some Nissan executives feared a further concentration of power under his leadership, prompting them to cooperate with Tokyo prosecutors.

Nikkei had been requesting a one-on-one interview with Ghosn since his arrest last year. The approval was granted this week.

Ghosn was allowed by the Tokyo District Court to speak with Nikkei. Media interviews with prominent business leaders in detention are extremely rare in Japan.

“We don’t have much time. Let’s get started,” Ghosn said at the beginning of the interview from behind the acrylic glass partition. As the end of the allotted 15 minutes approached, he asked the officer for “a little more” time, and was granted a five-minute extension.

The Brazilian-born tycoon has dismissed accusations that his 19-year reign at Nissan was a “dictatorship,” saying this was a narrative created by rivals who wanted to remove him. “People translated strong leadership to dictator, to distort reality” for the “purpose of getting rid of me,” he added.

Ghosn has been held without bail for more than 70 days since Tokyo prosecutors arrested him on allegations of financial misconduct.

He was charged with underreporting his salary over several years, and aggravated breach of trust for allegedly transferring to Nissan personal trading losses from foreign exchange contracts.

The breach-of-trust charges center on $14.7 million in payments to a company run by Saudi businessman Khaled al-Juffali.

He denied the accusations and claimed “the executive in charge of the region signed [the approval].”

The payment was made from Ghosn’s “CEO reserve,” a pot of money that he was free to decide how to spend. He said the “CEO reserve is not a black box” and “four officers signed” for the payment to al-Juffali.

Ghosn is also accused of receiving 7.82 million euros ($8.9 million) in improper payments through Nissan-Mitsubishi B.V., a Netherlands-based joint venture between the two Japanese companies. He said the venture was established for “synergy and not for payment,” adding that the claims of improper payments were a “distortion of reality.”

Ghosn said his purchase of luxury properties in Rio de Janeiro and Beirut — which Nissan alleges were paid for improperly through a subsidiary — were approved by the legal department. Pointing to a former loyalist and long-time executive in the legal department, Ghosn said: “Hari Nada has done all this.”

He justified the houses on the grounds that he “needed a safe place where [he] can work and receive people in both Brazil and Lebanon.”

“[Have I] done [something] inappropriate? I am not a lawyer, I don’t know the interpretation of [such] facts,” Ghosn said, showing his frustration over Nissan’s internal investigation.

“These are known by everybody, why didn’t they tell me?”

Ghosn, whose second bail request was rejected Jan. 22, insisted that he was not a flight risk and he would not destroy evidence.

“I won’t flee, I will defend [myself],” he added. “All the evidence is with Nissan, and Nissan forbids all employees to talk to me.”

When asked about life in the detention center, Ghosn said “there is up and down.” As for his health, he simply said he was “doing fine.”

After his arrest, Ghosn appeared to have envisioned attending a Renault board meeting in Paris, explaining his position, and holding a news conference. But his prolonged detention in a Tokyo jail frustrated those plans.

Nissan dismissed Ghosn from his position as chairman in November. An extraordinary general meeting of shareholders scheduled in mid-April is expected to remove Ghosn as a director.

Ghosn resigned as chairman and CEO of Renault, and former Michelin chief Jean-Dominique Senard was appointed as the chairman.

The three members of the alliance are expected to revisit how it is operated in the absence of Ghosn’s leadership. “I cannot speculate about the future of the alliance,” Ghosn said.

The French government, Renault’s largest shareholder, has previously requested Ghosn make the relationship between the two automakers “irreversible.”

Following Ghosn’s arrest, France also informed Tokyo of an intention to press ahead with integration. Saikawa, in contrast, has insisted there is “no need for now to discuss [it].”

Interviewed by Nikkei commentator Atsushi Nakayama and Nikkei staff writers Akito Tanaka and Yosuke Kurabe.

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OPINION
Ghosn charges are thin soup — case for ex-Nissan boss
Prosecutors fail to make a strong case against car maker’s former chief
By Stephen Givens, Nikkei Asian Review, January 29, 2019
https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/Ghosn-charges-are-thin-soup-case-for-ex-Nissan-boss

Two months after his arrest at Haneda Airport and confinement at Kosuge detention center, we now have a good picture of the criminal case against Carlos Ghosn-and it looks like pretty thin soup.

As reported in the media, the evidence shows not criminal malfeasance, but at most lapses in judgment and corporate protocol that ultimately did not result in any actual harm to Nissan Motor or its shareholders or personal enrichment of Ghosn.

The criminal case turns on a series of technical and subjective judgments about whether the words of the relevant statutes and regulations apply to the transactions in question.

By any objective measure, the misconduct alleged was less serious than the corporate misfeasance that is routinely overlooked in Japan or handled by noncriminal administrative wrist-slapping.

The first, and for many weeks the only, criminal charge brought against Ghosn was that Nissan’s periodic securities filings disclosed just the currently payable portion of his compensation. They failed to report the portion deferred until after his retirement.

Ghosn’s motive for not wanting to report his full compensation currently-that it was embarrassingly large in relation to that of other Japanese CEOs and Ghosn’s Nissan colleagues — does not constitute serious criminal intent.

Further, the evidence indicates that Ghosn tried in good faith to structure the deferred compensation in a way that would permit him legally not to report it currently under the rules, which require current reporting of director-level compensation only to the extent the right to receive it has become “clear.”

Though the documentation has not been made public, it appears that it was structured as some kind of post-retirement consulting arrangement that would, at a minimum, require Ghosn to provide Nissan with services after retirement to collect the compensation.

It is hard to imagine that Nissan would have failed to report Ghosn’s deferred compensation over many years without professional legal advice that it did not need to be currently reported because Ghosn’s right to receive it was conditional.

It is equally hard to understand why Nissan’s Japanese management, having condoned the deferred compensation arrangement and its nonreporting for years, is now using it as the lead card in the criminal case.

Beyond this, criminal liability under the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act for false disclosure is explicitly predicated on the requirement that it be “material”- that is, it would have a significant impact on an investor’s decision to sell or buy Nissan shares.

For investors, the amount of Ghosn’s unreported deferred compensation, about $10 million per year, is clearly very small compared to Nissan’s $90 billion in annual revenues.

Meanwhile, Japan’s weak securities disclosure standards permit Nissan not to reveal information that would be much more relevant to investors, such as the terms of the “alliance” contracts between Renault, Nissan’s major shareholder, and Nissan.

It does not inspire confidence in Japan’s justice system that Ghosn’s guilt or innocence on the this charge will hinge on semantic distinctions over the meanings of “clear” and “material.”

The second criminal charge against Ghosn is for two, related claims of “aggravated breach of trust” under the Companies Act. This vaguely-worded statute imposes criminal liability on directors of a company who for personal gain “commit an act in breach of such person’s duties and causes financial damages” to the company. Typically this statute is applied to cases of embezzlement-executives taking company assets.

The first prong of the breach of trust charge has been loosely characterized in the press as “the shifting of Ghosn’s personal foreign exchange losses to Nissan” but details of the transactions disclosed by Ghosn’s lawyers show it to be less pernicious than advertised.

Ghosn entered into a foreign exchange hedging transaction with Shinsei Bank to protect his yen-denominated Nissan compensation against the risk of depreciation. Like many others he failed to anticipate the financial crisis of 2008, which sent the yen soaring and reduced the value of the Nissan securities he had offered Shinsei Bank as collateral.

Shinsei Bank asked Ghosn for additional security. Ghosn considered offering the value of his uncashed Nissan retirement allowance-but doing so would have required him actually to leave Nissan at a time he was a vital part of the management. Instead, he asked Nissan to guarantee his downside risk on the hedge, but pledged to fully cover the liability.

Critically, Ghosn’s request for help with his unexpected difficulty received formal approval by the Nissan board. Admittedly the Securities Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC), deemed the transaction improper a few months later and ordered Nissan to get rid of the hedging contract.

So, Nissan carried a contingent liability — fully guaranteed by Ghosn — as an accommodation to its CEO for approximately four months. Nissan suffered no actual loss and was never at risk because it was fully covered by Ghosn’s retirement allowance. The transaction was not concealed; it was approved by the Nissan board and reported to the SESC, which saw no reason to request a criminal probe a decade ago.

So, you may ask, where is the crime? According to news reports, it turns out the prosecutors are not satisfied with the drafting of the board resolution. They are quibbling that the board resolution did not mention Ghosn by name and only referred generically to “foreign board members” as beneficiaries of the transaction. Moreover, the prosecutors are claiming the resolution was not specific on how Nissan was to be protected with 100% certainty against possible loss. Ghosn’s criminal liability turns almost entirely on the wording of a board resolution that Ghosn himself surely did not draft.

The second prong of the breach of trust charge relates to the subsequent transfer, in compliance with the SESC’s order, of the Shinsei Bank contract from Nissan to companies controlled by Saudi national Khaled Juffali. Nissan affiliates in the Middle East paid Juffali’s companies $14.7 million over four years for variety of “support activities” in the region. The prosecutors claim that Nissan’s money was paid for Juffali’s guarantee of Ghosn’s personal contingent liability.

It seems unrealistic, however, that anyone would pay $14.7 million of Nissan money for a guarantee of a contingent liability worth at most $16.7 million-a huge overpayment.

This strongly suggests that Juffali’s companies were being paid for doing more than simply backing Ghosn’s Shinsei liability. The more commercially-likely scenario is more innocuous, one in which Ghosn asked a friendly business counterparty to assume an essentially riskless contingent liability as a favor in the context of a long-term business relationship. This represents the kind of mutual exchange between companies with long-term relationships practiced daily by the Japanese corporate establishment.

No question, a more scrupulous and careful executive would have avoided pushing the gray boundaries of the law. But nothing we know that Ghosn allegedly did smells like a serious crime deserving prison. That he remains in confinement while the prosecutors argue semantics to deprive him of his freedom places Japan’s criminal justice system in an awkward light.

Stephen Givens is a corporate lawyer based in Tokyo.

ENDS

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