SPIEGEL ONLINE – 26. November 2007, 16:30
Translated by Ralph, original German at
Japan’s fear of foreigners
by Christoph Neumann
No Japanese citizen even needs an Identity Card; yet the biometric data of foreigners will be stored for 70 years. Civil rights campaigners can smell the terrorism hysteria and racism, while the National Tourist Office fears for the country’s image.
“Yokoso!” Welcome! The Japanese National Tourism Office greets visitors to Japan at the airport by displaying giant-sized notice boards with the word Yokoso! in red letters. The Japanese Immigration Department however is somewhat less exuberant in its welcome for arriving foreigners: since last week, foreigners no longer have to just show their passports as previously, but also, as in the USA, have to provide their fingerprints, have their photos taken and survive a short interrogation. This regulation concerns not just tourists and people travelling on business, but also applies to foreigners who are resident in Japan. Excepted are only diplomats, children under 16 years of age and family members of Korean nationals who were forcibly brought to Japan during the Second World War.
JAPAN: PROTESTS AGAINST FINGERPRINTING
(A selection of photographs starts. Click on any one of four.)
Yuki Ogawa from the National Tourist Office does not at first regard the measures as being a contradiction to the heartfelt welcome: ” Just like us, the Immigration Department officials could be relied upon to extend a warm and hearty welcome to Japan to foreign visitors. But there have been some cases….”
These “cases” are highlighted by the Japanese Ministry of Justice in an information video. Scenes from the collapsing World Trade Center and the bomb-destroyed Atocha Railway Station in Madrid appear. The smiling woman speaker then links the increased security measures explicitly with the “ever-growing threat of terrorism”. When the new system was officially inaugurated at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, the Minister of Justice, Kunio Hatoyama, promised that:” Now we will be able to prevent any Al-Qaida terrorists from entering the country”.
“I’m making my contribution”
Over several years the promotion of a very selective terrorism hysteria within Japan has failed to achieve any actual results. On Tokyo’s gigantic railway stations, such as Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, both of which see over one million passengers every day, almost no real security measures are apparent. Instead, passengers even on slow trains and barely used country lines are being bombarded with announcements and posters urging them to immediately report unattended baggage: all of this in the name of “measures to protect against terrorism”.
For a while last winter, women working at the country-wide chain of railway station kiosk shops wore a sticker proclaiming:
“Me too, I’m making my contribution to the battle against international terrorism”. As to how exactly she would do this, when she was squeezed in between plastic bottles of tea, sandwiches and newspapers, the determined woman brusquely brushed off the question: “We all have to wear this, but I don’t have any time to think what they might actually mean by it”.
In fact Japan as a rich Westernised industrial power and an ally of the USA in the Iraq war has reasons to fear a terrorist attack. Actually, not so long ago, Japan was the victim of several terrorist attacks, such as the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground network in March, 1995. However, even such Draconian immigration controls as those they have now would not have prevented a single one of these attacks, because up to now all terrorist attacks on Japanese soil, have been carried out by Japanese citizens.
Protests against ID cards
The Japanese Ministry of Justice does not even have photographs of many of its own citizens, let alone their fingerprints. Japanese commonly identify themselves by means of their Health Insurance card. For many mobile phone providers in trusting Japan, all Japanese need to do to prove their identity is to show their latest electricity bill. A few years ago, when the Government finally got round to proposing the introduction of ID cards for its citizens, something which most of the rest of the world has had for ages- and these were just cards with a photo, but no fingerprint- there arose cries of protest throughout the country. In 2006, the Japanese Constitutional Court even declared that such cards would be unconstitutional.
In comparison however, there is no problem with storing the fingerprints and photographs of all foreigners in Japan for 70 years, and even to share them with the “authorities of other countries” “under certain conditions”. At the National Police Agency, they may well be rubbing their hands in glee, but Japanese civil rights activists are in an uproar. Debito Arudou, the author of a book about racism in Japan, calls the new regulations “a part of a government plot to have all foreigners declared criminals”.
Makoto Teranaka from Amnesty International Japan explained at a protest meeting: “Since 9/11, even in Japan, under the banner of the fight against terrorism, all sorts of human rights have been being cold-bloodedly eliminated. The fact that our government is going after foreigners using these measures is nothing other than racism”.
Meanwhile, the conservative Japanese media are having a field day over the news that since the introduction of the new system, eleven foreigners, who had overstayed their visas and previously been deported, were able to be discovered and refused entry.
Discrimination becomes socially acceptable
Nevertheless, most Japanese are still helpful and friendly to foreigners and curious to know more about them. But the 15-year economic crisis and a visibly increasing foreign population have made many Japanese jittery and open discrimination has become surprisingly socially acceptable.
Many clubs, public bathhouses and even noodle shops have notices at their entrance stating Japanese Only, explicitly forbidding entry to foreigners. The police in Nagano Prefecture had notices displayed at ATMs, in which white-skinned confidence tricksters are to be seen, who are in the process of Japanese of the money, which they have just withdrawn.
Moreover, the popular leading politician, Shintaro Ishihara, the Governor of Tokyo, a man notorious for his racist outbursts, recently became responsible for the promotion of a campaign to bring the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016, something which does not bide well as a symbol of interracial understanding.
And Ms. Ogawa from the Tourism Office fears that worse may still come: ” The Government has asked us to carefully observe tourists’ mood regarding these changes over the coming few weeks. If Japan’s image really does drastically deteriorate, then in our final report, we may have to include the recommendation that that these measures be abandoned.”
Hopefully, all this typing has helped to destroy some of my fingerprints….