Der Spiegel: “Border Controls: Japan’s fear of foreigners”


SPIEGEL ONLINE – 26. November 2007, 16:30

Translated by Ralph, original German at
Border Controls
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.

(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….

Anonymous on NJ Fingerprinting: Pre-registering in Shinagawa a farce.


Hi Blog. Just sent to me by a friend. It’s important enough to deserve its own blog entry. Arudou Debito


Ah, human rights. I have just come from the Shinagawa Immigration office where I went to pre-register my fingerprints and photograph pending my upcoming Christmas trip to the US with my children. Here are my few observations with some venting, I fear, in between. Is the US this bad about this process?

1. Process is disorganized. A makeshift area has been set up at the counter where people apply for re-entry permits. The area is closed off by privacy screens, so it is impossible to find the machine where you are supposed to take a number. Many people, including me, mistakenly took number cards from the machine reserved for re-entry applicants. Eventually they stationed an immigration officer with a fistful of number cards in the vicinity, but they neglected to paste onto his forehead a sign that says “get your numbers here”, so there was confusion whenever someone stepped up to the area to start the process.

2. None of the officers in attendance can speak English, even though many people had questions.

3. The fingerprint machines were not working. Some people had to wait and then redo their fingerprints. They could not read my index fingers with the machines and eventually had to read my middle fingers. One woman standing next to me could not read any of her fingers despite repeated attempts with both hands. I have no idea how she will re-enter the country.

4. There was not an excessive wait.

5. The officers in attendance do not have any idea how the process will work for the exit from Japan or the re-entry. There were maps of the Narita immigration area pasted up on screens, but the attending officers did not seem to know what the maps meant and responded Shirimasen when asked questions in Japanese. And even more helpful, these maps were pasted on the INSIDE of the screens, not on the OUTSIDE where they could be examined by the hordes of gaijins who presumably need to know where to go when they get to Narita.

6. Most important, it seems that if parents residing in Japan wish to use the automated gate process when leaving Japan or when returning, they will have to be separated from their children. Children are not required to give finger prints, but at the same time, at the automated re-entry gates there will be no human beings to inspect the passports of the children. Thus, for re-entering families, it appears that the adults can go through the automated gates but the children, if they have re-entry permits, must stand in the line like we always did for returning Japanese and re-entry permit holders and will enter Japan separately. Except that, obviously, if the child is a baby or not experienced enough to do this alone, then they have to come in through the tourist line with a parent. So at the end of the day, if a family wishes to stay together, or has to stay together because of the age of the child, they must go through the tourist line (Yes, I know, it seems obvious that we need fingerprint taking capability at the re-entry permit line). This question was asked many times by parents who came to immigration to get their re-entry pre-registration, but none of the officers in attendance could answer the question clearly, and there is no information available in English to explain this. They could not even answer when asked in Japanese. I found out because while I was standing in line I asked my secretary to call the Ministry of Justice to find out the procedure. And of course, I let it be known to the gaijins around me what she had learned. Boy, let me tell you, there was a ton of frustration among these parents who had taken time to come all the way out to Shinagawa to pre-register themselves thinking to spare their family and tired children the agony of the tourist line only to find out that it was a complete waste of time.

7. Another confusing point in the process relates to the distinction between passports that are machine readable and those that are not. US, UK and other countries issue machine readable passports. Philippines, Pakistan and many other countries do not. For those countries, the immigration office has to put a bar code sticker onto the passport so that it can be read by the machines. This resulted in the creation of two separate application lines, one for the star belly sneetches and one for those who have none. Unfortunately, there was only one fellow holding a fist full of numbers. So the result was that he would call a number, determine whether the applicant was a star belly sneetch or one who has none, and then would allocate people to separate sub-lines. Then there was the comedy of calling out numbers in apparently random order to deal with the separate lines. Number 30, number 16, number 33, number 17. Very confusing, and they did not explain to people why they were treated differently, until I asked in Japanese and explained to a Philipino in the line, so that the information about the bar codes was thereafter passed down the plain belly sneetch line among the Philippinos and Pakistanis.

So, in conclusion, it appears that the much touted automatic gate line is useful only for returning businessmen, single residents of Japan and families with children over the age of 16. Otherwise, brace yourself.

Enough said? not sure what I will do when I come home from the states. Have a great day.

「人権週間」法務省の強調事項・有道 出人の批評


Hi Blog. Sent this out to my Japanese lists. Debito

「人権週間」法務省の強調事項・有道 出人の批評

 みなさまこんにちは。有道 出人です。いつもお世話になっております。



一日人権擁護委員による街頭啓発 (甲府地方法務局)

「第59回 人権週間」強調事項(抜粋)
○「育てよう 一人一人の 人権意識」
_○「女性の人権を守ろう」 __ 
○「子どもの人権を守ろう」 __
○「高齢者を大切にする心を育てよう」 __ 
○「障害のある人の完全参加と平等を実現しよう」 __ 
○「部落差別をなくそう」 __ 
○「アイヌの人々に対する理解を深めよう」 __ 
○「外国人の人権を尊重しよう」 __
○「HIV感染者やハンセン病患者等に対する偏見をなくそう」 __
○「刑を終えて出所した人に対する偏見をなくそう」 __ 
○「犯罪被害者とその家族の人権に配慮しよう」 __
○「インターネットを悪用した人権侵害は止めよう」 __ 
○「性的指向を理由とする差別をなくそう」 __ 
○「ホームレスに対する偏見をなくそう」 __ 
○「性同一性障害を理由とする差別をなくそう」 __ 
○「北朝鮮当局による人権侵害問題に対する認識を深めよう」 __




有道 出人よりコメント:





宜しくお願い致します。有道 出人
December 5, 2007

GOJ Jinken Shuukan: “Human Rights Week” and its flaws


Hi Blog. If you’ve been watching TV or been out in a few public places, you might have seen two cute-ish big boy and girl mascot dolls named “Ken” (for “kenri”, one’s rights, or “jinken”, human rights), drawing attention to issues of discrimination in Japan. Otherwise you might not know that we are in the middle of Japan’s official week for human rights. “Jinken Shuukan” started on December 3 and ends on December 10, or “Jinken Day”. Sponsored by the notorious Ministry of Justice’s Bureau of Human Rights (Jinken Yougo Bu, or BOHR–“notorious” for doing nothing much otherwise).

The website with this year’s 59th proceedings (thanks Stephanie) lists up these issues of note (my translations):
1) Teaching people one by one about the importance of human rights.
2) Human rights for women.
3) For children.
4) For the elderly.
5) For the disabled.
6) For the Burakumin.
7) For the Ainu.
8) For foreigners.
9) For people with AIDS or Hansen’s Disease (leprosy).
10) For formerly incarcerated criminals who have paid their debt to society.
11) For victims of crime and their families.
12) For the victims of human rights abuses on the Internet.
13) For people discriminated against for their sexual orientation.
14) For the homeless.
15) For those with Gender Identity Disorder.
16) For those who have suffered human rights abuses from the DPRK.


As far as goes, here is what they say about their goals towards discrimination against “foreigners” (gaikokujin) on a page with a longer writeup: (again, my translation):


Reflecting the era of Japan’s Internationalization in recent years, every year the number of foreigners staying (zairyuu) in our country (sic–waga kuni) has been increasing. According to the Constitution, and by the nature of the rights of man, and leaving out the interpretation that the Constitution only applies to Japanese citizens, foreigners staying in our country also are guaranteed fundamental human rights. However, in practice, our country has had issues originating in history towards the Zainichi North and South Koreans [sic–Chinese/Taiwanese etc. not included]. There are also various incidents of human rights problems with foreigners facing discrimination in the workplace, as well as being refused apartments, entry into eating and drinking establishments, and public baths [thanks]. This is due to differences in language, religion, and lifestyle customs [sic–not also race].

Our country effected the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in January 1996, which demands that we take further action towards the elimination of racial discrimination and discrimination by nationality.

As Japan’s internationalization is anticipated to further proceed from now on, it is desirable that we respect the customs of foreigners, and as a member of the international society we accept diversity.

The Ministry of Justice Bureau of Human Rights as an organization will develop enlightenment activities that will cultivate an awareness of human rights suitable for Japan’s international era, where all citizens (kokumin) here or abroad will deepen their understanding and awarenesss of all human rights problems.

COMMENT: I’m not going to completely douse the fireworks here with acerbic comments (as it’s better that the GOJ is doing this than not, as long as they don’t claim to international bodies that this is enough–which they have a history of doing). But let’s do a quick roundup of the flaws in all the “human rights awareness” so ably called for by the BOHR:

a) Note how the BOHR still couches discrimination in terms of nationality, not as race or national origin. For what about the Japanese children with international roots, who face discrimination because they don’t “look Japanese”? This blind spot ignores one more facet of Japan’s true internationalization–where racial discrimination affects Japanese citizens too.

b) Note how the issue is still couched in terms of “us” and “them”–our citizens and those foreigners with their differences (which is not necessarily true–and this sort of thing is used more often as an excuse and a justification than an explanation). It’s not even clear that foreigners are even residents of Japan–only “staying” (zairyuu) as opposed to “residing” (zaijuu).

c) Still no call from the BOHR for an actual law outlawing racial discrimination–only for the “respect” for people (which, with 300 yen, might get you a cup of coffee; if the restaurant even lets you in).

d) And as I said above, the BOHR is famous for calling for action yet not effecting much (or any) action of its own–after all, as they will tell you at the very beginning of any interview you have with them over a human rights issue, they have no real power to stop a discriminator from discriminating, and (this they won’t tell you) have no legal obligation to call you back or tell you any results of any investigation (if any) they undertake (this is, they say, “for privacy concerns”). See what I mean at

Glad to see that “discrimination against foreigners” is now up to eighth in the ranking. Now if we could get it rendered as “racial discrimination”, it would more reflect reality. And treaty obligation.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo
More Keystone Coppiness regarding GOJ human rights awareness:
“Human rights survey stinks: Government effort riddled with bias, bad science”
By Arudou Debito. The Japan Times, Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Little Black Sambo dolls on sale at Rainforest Cafe, next to Tokyo Disneyland.


Hi Blog. Here’s something from John C, postmarked December 3, 2007. Plus what he did about the issue–successfully. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Hey Debito.

This is the first time I have written something like this to your site.

I went into The Rainforest Cafe in iksepiri Maihama, Chiba (the shopping centre next to Disneyland) today with my son.
Rainforest Cafe (Jungle theme)
Ikspiari, 1-4 Maihama, Urayasu-shi, Chiba-ken (tel: 047-305-5656). Open 11am-11pm daily.
Nearest stn: Maihama

I was utterly disgusted to find these Little Black Sambo dolls…

I spoke to one of the staff and asked her if she knew what it was and what it meant, she said “Yes” they knew and that they had told the manager that there may be problems. I asked to speak to the manager and was told that the Manager was off today but the asst mng was in, he came up and talked to me for a little bit.

I asked him if he knew what the problem was with these dolls, he said yes, but a month ago when they went on sale. A couple of Americans from Head office came over for a business trip, they saw the dolls on the shelf and said nothing about them. He also tried to win me over by saying that he had friends of African decent. I asked him to think of how he would feel if one of those friends called him “Nip” he said he wouldn’t like it much. I asked him how I should explain to my son (who is 1 part Japanese and 1 Part British) why mummy’s country can sell this crap. ( that was hard to put into Japanese!!)

I asked him to take them down and he mumbled something about he would talk to the mng. I told him that I had to leave but that I would be contacting head office in America to talk to them and that I would be sending the pictures to you.

I will be going back today or tomorrow to see what he has down, and with a better camera…

I would also like to say that the Maruzen bookshop in Nihonbashi sells the same book, I have asked them repeatedly to take it down, they always take it off the shelf while I am there but the next time I go in they have it back for sale. (I would like yours/writers permission to show them chibi kiroi nipu and ask if they would sell that.)


Follow-up, full report, from the top:

My 4 year old son and I went into the rainforest cafe at about 2pm today, 3/Dec/2007 and while there found the L.B.S dolls on sale. (as you can see from the picture, “Tracy the Tree” is in the background, quality is low though cause taken on my mobile phone)

I asked the staff why the shop was selling these and if they knew the meaning and racial insult implied. One replied yes She knew and had previously thought and said they may cause problems.

I asked to speak to the manager, she went away to contact the manger, returned and said that it was the mangers day off, but the asst mng was there.

I asked to speak to him. To wit he arrived about 5 minutes later. I asked him what the dolls were and why they were on sale.

He said they had been on sale for over a month and during that time 2 Americans from Head office had come over to Japan and checked the merchandise etc and made no comments.

I told him that they were offensive and that I had many friends who were of African decent and would really hate to see them. He said that he too had friends who were from African decent.

I asked him how I should explain these to my son, who is British and Japanese… no reply…

I asked him how he would feel if one of his friends called him a “Nip” he replied that he would not like it at all. I told him that if someone called one of my kids that I would become extremely unpleasent ( I am not known for my loving personality)

Then I asked him to try calling one of his African decent friends a “nigaa” or “kuronbo” and see what they say.

I then had to take my son to his English class, so said “Please remove them from the shelf, look at this web site (gave Debito’s site) and that I would be back later or the next day to see if they were still on sale.

I went back at about 5:30 pm armed with a better camera, and found that the dolls were all off the shelves and no where to be found. I spoke to the asst mng again, and thanked him very much for taking such prompt action.

He said that the dolls would be returned to the supplier. I thanked him again and said that I would still be calling the US head office, and that I still planned to go in periodically to check. but that I would also be giving a good review of his prompt actions.

I got a call from Landry’s Restaurants America and they are checking on this incident now, they also said they were appalled by this, and that the Man who came over a month ago was African American and that they are sure he would have said something if he had seen them.

I sent them the pictures and said also that they were going to be posted on the net, but that they please commend the asst mng Mr. Yamamoto for his quick action.

I have now recieved a call from the Gentleman who came to Japan, he has heard about this very quickly and taken the time to call me and explain that his company in no way supports this type of thing. He said had already written to the Japanese partner to ask for pictures and an explanation of this product, but that he had not seen the dolls when he was here. ( so one lie was told by the shop…)

He did think that he may have missed this because he does not speak Japanese, but I told him that there is no way they could be missed, there was a box full of “gollywogs” next to “Tracy the Tree” (I hate these words, my arsehole father used stuff like this often when I was young (read: smaller than him))

I thanked him again and told him that I would like them all to commend Mr Yamamoto (asst mng) on his prompt actions.

He also asked me what website the pictures would be posted on, so I told him, and a little about Debito’s site.

I am still a bit wary that the dolls will return to the shelves, but deep down want to believe they won’t.

Manitoban: NJ FP etc. “The Land of the Rising Shun”


Hi Blog. An article in The Manitoban (Canada) using lots of information from, dispersing what’s been going on in Japan vis-a-vis NJ in Japan legally, socially, and logistically over the past 50 years throughout the Canadian steppes. Mottainai. Best to also put it on for a wider audience.

Article courtesy of the author, thanks. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

THE MANITOBAN (Canada), November 14, 2007
By Trevor Bekolay

If you or anyone you know is planning to go to Japan, be advised that beginning Nov. 20, all non-Japanese people will be fingerprinted and photographed upon entering Japan.

Unlike other fingerprinting laws, such as the U.S.’s, Japan requires permanent residents (the equivalent of Green Card holders in the U.S.) to be fingerprinted and photographed every time they re-enter the country. Those fingerprints and photographs are kept on file for 70 years and can be made available to the police and other government agencies.

While one could argue that permanent residents should just apply for Japanese citizenship, obtaining citizenship is a long and arduous process, which requires residents to give up their current citizenship. Unless you are willing to make those sacrifices, you are a foreigner, and you must give up your biometric information every time you cross the Japanese border.

History of the fingerprinting law

This Japanese fingerprinting law is an updated version of a fingerprinting program implemented in 1952, after the American occupation of Japan following the Second World War. The original fingerprinting law met with firm opposition from foreign residents in Japan, especially the Zainichi. The Zainichi are ethnic Korean and Chinese people born and raised in Japan. Despite living most or all of their lives in Japan, and despite 90 per cent of Zainichi adopting Japanese names, the Zainichi must go through the same application process as other foreign residents to obtain citizenship.

The 1952 law was opposed on the grounds that it was an official expression of mistrust for all things foreign. It was an unnecessary humiliation and alienation of residents who had lived their whole lives alongside their Japanese peers — Zainichi children were often not aware that they were of a different ethnic background than their schoolmates until they were contacted at their school to have their fingerprints taken. Further, it associated all non-Japanese people with crime. By law, a Japanese person may only be fingerprinted if officially charged with a crime.

Eventually, people started refusing to submit to fingerprinting; first the Zainichi, then other foreign residents. Since this refusal meant jail for some, the number of legal battles skyrocketed — enough so that overseas media like Time Magazine and the New York Times picked up the story. In 1989, under heavy pressure, the government of Japan granted general amnesty, and by 1998 the law was completely abolished.

After the dust had settled, Immigration Bureau officials said that “the fingerprinting system appears to be ineffective in stopping or reducing the growing number of illegal immigrants and visa overstays in Japan.” The Ministry of Justice noted that “the practice could be construed as a violation of human rights.” Then why is this law being reinstated?

Fears of terrorism and foreign crime

Japan’s Ministry of Justice explains the motivation for reinstating the fingerprinting law: “By collecting personally identifying data, such as fingerprints and facial photos of visitors to Japan, we will be able to identify persons considered to pose security risks, such as terrorists, and persons travelling with passports that are not their own. This will help us prevent terrorist attacks.”

If Japan wishes to fight terrorism, then history tells us that it is the Japanese population that should be policed. The Sarin gas attack that took place on the Tokyo subway in 1995 was perpetrated by members of the Japanese religious group Aum Shinrikyo. In the 1970s, two Japan Airlines flights were hijacked by a terrorist group called the Japanese Red Army. There have been no terrorist attacks in Japan by non-Japanese in recent history.

The public support for the fingerprinting law could also be attributed to a fear of foreign crime among the Japanese. Since 2000, the National Police Agency (NPA) has been releasing updates on foreign crime every six months with detailed press releases. The media has been quick to report on these releases, and further support this with unbalanced reporting of foreign crime compared to Japanese crime. One study found that crimes by foreigners were 4.87 times more likely to be covered than crimes by Japanese. Even more frustrating is the way the NPA twists the statistics.

The semi-annual press releases note increases in foreign crime without a comparison to the state of Japanese crime. The increases in foreign crime do not take into account the increase in the foreign population; while the Japanese population has remained relatively static, the foreign population has been growing steadily over the past decade. Foreign crime is inflated by including visa overstays (a crime that a Japanese person cannot commit) with harder crimes. When proper statistical practices are used, foreign crime is rising in proportion to the rate of population increase, while Japanese crime has doubled within the past 10 years.

It is interesting to note that in 1999, before the first press release detailing foreign crime statistics, the NPA established the “Policy-making Committee Against Internationalization.” Would such a committee receive taxpayer money if foreign crime was on the decline?

If fears of terrorism and foreign crime are unfounded, then what is the main issue that surrounds the fingerprinting debate? It’s the same issue that has been the subject of many recent legal battles: racism and xenophobia.

Racism and xenophobia

By most accounts, since the Second World War, Japan has a good international record as a modern industrialized nation. Japan has the third largest economy in the world, manufacturing and designing goods for a worldwide market. Despite claims of homogeneity, Japan is home to over 2.5 million residents of non-Japanese ethnic backgrounds. Japan is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Yet walking through Tokyo, you can find buildings with “Japanese only” signs posted on the front door. “Japanese only” signs have been found at bathhouses, bars, stores, hotels, restaurants, karaoke parlors, and pachinko parlors. How is this legal?

The unfortunate answer is that Japan has no law against racial discrimination. It is unconstitutional — article 14 of the Japanese Constitution states that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of race. Further, Japan signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1996. So, in theory, racial discrimination should not be tolerated; in practice, the lack of a law forbidding racial discrimination allows discriminatory behaviour, such as the “Japanese only” signs, to continue.

And these signs are unarguably discriminating on the basis of race. Social activist Arudou Debito became a naturalized citizen in 2000, after being denied entrance to a public hot springs in Hokkaido. Upon returning to the establishment a Japanese citizen, he was still refused entry to avoid confusion from the other customers. He sued the owner of the hot springs for racial discrimination and was met with moderate success. While he won some judgments, he lost an important decision when his appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed for “not involving any constitutional issues.” The story of the incident at the hot springs and the ensuing legal battle is chronicled in his book Japanese Only.

Debito is not the only person to take these matters to the courtroom. In 1997, Brazilian Ana Bortz was asked by a jewelry store’s owner to leave his store, which had a strict no-foreigners policy. The store owner accused Bortz of planning a robbery. Bortz sued the store owner for violating her human rights, using the security camera footage as evidence. The judge ruled in Bortz’s favour, sentencing the store owner to pay 1,500,000 yen (approximately C$12,300) in damages and legal fees. The judge cited two articles of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, setting a good legal precedent for future discrimination cases.

Or did it? In 2004, Steven McGowan, a 41-year-old black man residing in Kyoto, was refused entry to an eyeglasses store in Osaka. Steve claims that the store owner said, “Go away. I hate black people.” Steve lost his case in a lower court because the judge did not believe that Steve’s Japanese language ability was good enough to accurately determine what the store owner said. Even after further investigation by McGowan’s Japanese spouse, the judge was not convinced that Steve was discriminated against because of his race, rather than his foreign status (the Japanese words for black person and foreigner are very similar). McGowan appealed to a higher court and was awarded 350,000 yen in damages; yet even at the high court, the judge remarked that the store owner’s remarks were “not enough to be considered racially discriminatory.” These decisions set the dangerous precedent that testimony by non-Japanese cannot be trusted if they are not completely fluent in Japanese. It also demonstrates the power one judge can have in Japan’s juryless court system.

A plea to Japan

In discussing these issues, it may seem that I have some disdain for Japanese culture. This can’t be farther from the truth — it is my fascination with and interest in Japanese culture that compels me to bring these issues to the forefront. It is only through open dialogue that conditions will improve for both Japanese and non-Japanese residents.

If Japan does not change its immigration policies, and birth rates continue at the current rate, Japan’s population will plummet from today’s 127 million to 100 million in 2050. It will become very difficult to maintain economic strength with such a reduced work force. Immigration is the easiest and most sustainable answer to Japan’s population crisis.

With increased immigration, there will have to be widespread changes in media and education. Though this seems prohibitively difficult at the moment, Japan’s rapid industrialization is proof that it is possible. By working together with its new generation of international citizens, I foresee Japan having a modernization of culture that will rival its rise to economic greatness.

Trevor Bekolay studied Japanese language, history and culture at Tokyo’s Kokugakuin University in 2005.

Der Spiegel: GRENZKONTROLLEN: Japans Furcht vor dem Fremden


Hi Blog. It’s not as though I can read German (the author sent this to me), but he says it’s more media favorable to our cause. English translation here. Thanks to Christoph. Debito in Sapporo

SPIEGEL ONLINE – 26. November 2007, 16:30

Japans Furcht vor dem Fremden

Von Christoph Neumann
Ein Japaner braucht noch nicht einmal einen Personalausweis – biometrische Daten von Ausländern jedoch werden für 70 Jahre gespeichert. Bürgerrechtler wittern Terrorhysterie und Rassismus, das Fremdenverkehrsamt fürchtet um das Image des Landes.

“Yokoso!” – Willkommen! In leuchtend roten Lettern auf riesigen Plakaten begrüßt das Japanische Fremdenverkehrsamt ausländische Besucher am Flughafen. Der japanische Zoll empfängt die Einreisenden etwas weniger überschwänglich: Seit vergangener Woche müssen Ausländer nicht nur wie bisher den Pass vorzeigen, sondern wie in den USA auch ihre Fingerabdrücke abgeben, Fotos von sich machen lassen und ein kurzes Verhör durchstehen. Die Regelung gilt nicht nur für Touristen und Geschäftsleute, sondern auch für in Japan wohnhafte Ausländer. Ausgenommen werden nur Diplomaten, Kinder unter 16 Jahren sowie die Familien der im II. Weltkrieg nach Japan verschleppten Koreaner.

Fotostrecke starten: Klicken Sie auf ein Bild (4 Bilder)
Yuki Ogawa vom Fremdenverkehrsamt empfindet die Maßnahmen erst einmal nicht als Widerspruch zum herzlichen Willkommen: “Genau wie wir sind ja auch die Zöllner sind angewiesen, ausländische Gäste warm und offenherzig in Japan zu empfangen. Und es gab eben gewisse Fälle…”

Die “Fälle” illustriert das japanische Justizministerium mit einem Informationsvideo. Zunächst werden Szenen vom einstürzenden World Trade Center und vom zerbombten Madrider Atocha-Bahnhof gezeigt. Danach begründet eine lächelnde Sprecherin die verschärften Einreisebestimmungen explizit mit der “ständig wachsenden Terrorgefahr”. Bei der Feier zur offiziellen Inbetriebnahme des neuen Systems am Tokioter Flughafen Narita hatte Justizminister Kunio Hatoyama versprochen: “Damit werden wir wohl verhindern, dass in Zukunft al-Qaida-Terroristen ins Land kommen.”

“Ich leiste meinen Betrag”

Eine sehr selektive Terrorhysterie treibt bereits seit einigen Jahren seltsame Blüten in Japan. Auf Tokios Megabahnhöfen wie Shinjuku oder Ikebukuro mit über einer Million Passagieren täglich sind nach wie vor keine Sicherheitskräfte zu sehen. Dagegen werden Fahrgäste selbst in Bummelzügen und auf einsamen Landbahnhöfen mit Durchsagen und Plakaten traktiert, unbeaufsichtigtes Gepäck sofort zu melden, “als Maßnahme zur Terrorabwehr”.

Die Mitarbeiterinnen der weit verbreiteten “Kiosk”-Verkaufsbuden trugen im vergangenen Winter eine Zeitlang Anstecker: “Auch ich leiste meinen Beitrag im Kampf gegen den internationalen Terrorismus.” Die Frage, wie sie, eingeklemmt zwischen Tee-Plastikflaschen, Sandwiches und Tageszeitungen, sich denn konkret ihren Beitrag vorstelle, bürstet die resolute Verkäuferin unwirsch ab: “Das müssen wir jetzt alle anstecken, aber ich hab jetzt keine Zeit, darüber nachzudenken, was die damit eigentlich meinen.”

Dabei hat Japan als reiche westliche Industriemacht und Verbündeter der USA im Irak-Krieg einigen Grund, Terrorattacken zu fürchten. In jüngerer Zeit war Japan auch bereits Opfer mehrerer Terroranschläge, so beim Nervengas-Angriff auf die Tokioter U-Bahn im März 1995. Nur hätte auch eine noch so scharfe Zollkontrolle keinen Einzigen der Anschläge verhindert, denn alle Attentate auf japanischem Boden wurden bisher ausschließlich von Japanern verübt.

Protest gegen Personalausweis

Von vielen der eigenen Bürger aber hat das japanische Justizministerium nicht einmal Fotos, geschweige denn Fingerabdrücke. Japaner weisen sich oft nur mit ihrer Krankenversicherungskarte aus. Manchen Handy-Providern im vertrauensseligen Japan genügt sogar nur die letzte Stromrechnung als Identitätsnachweis. Als die Regierung vor ein paar Jahren endlich, wie sonst auf der Welt längst üblich, einen Personalausweis einführen wollte, nur mit Foto und ohne Fingerabdrücke, rollte ein Aufschrei des Protestes durch das Land. 2006 erklärte das japanische Verfassungsgericht den Ausweis schließlich sogar für verfassungswidrig.

Die Fingerabdrücke und Fotos der Ausländer in Japan dagegen sollen 70 Jahre lang gespeichert und “unter bestimmten Bedingungen” auch mit “Behörden anderer Länder” geteilt werden. Im Bundeskriminalamt reibt man sich vielleicht schon die Hände, aber japanische Bürgerrechtler sind in Aufruhr. Arudou Debito, Autor eines Buches über Rassismus in Japan, nennt die neuen Bestimmungen einen “Teil eines offiziellen Putsches, um alle Ausländer zu Verbrechern zu erklären”.

Makoto Teranaka von Amnesty International Japan erklärte bei einer Protestveranstaltung: “Seit dem 11. September werden auch in Japan unter dem Vorwand der Terrorismusbekämpfung alle möglichen Menschenrechte kaltblütig verletzt. Dass unsere Regierung mit den Maßnahmen jetzt die Ausländer zur Zielscheibe macht, ist nicht anderes als Rassismus.”

Die konservativen japanischen Medien feiern derweil, dass in den wenigen Tagen seit der Einführung des neuen Systems bereits elf Ausländer, die wegen Visavergehens ausgewiesen worden waren, beim Versuch der illegalen Einreise überführt werden konnten.

Diskriminierung wird gesellschaftsfähig

Zwar sind die meisten Japaner Ausländern gegenüber nach wie vor neugierig, freundlich und hilfsbereit. Aber die 15-jährige Wirtschaftskrise und ein sichtbar steigender ausländischer Bevölkerungsanteil haben viele Japaner nervös und offene Diskriminierung erstaunlich gesellschaftsfähig werden lassen.

Viele Clubs, öffentliche Bäder und selbst Nudelküchen verbieten auf Tafeln am Eingang explizit “Ausländern” den Zutritt: “Japanese only”. Die Polizei der Provinz Nagano hängte an den örtlichen Geldautomaten Plakate auf, auf denen Trickbetrüger weißer Hautfarbe zu sehen sind, die Japanern ihr gerade erst abgehobenes Geld rauben. Und der populäre Spitzenpolitiker Shintaro Ishihara, Tokios Gouverneur, ist berüchtigt für seine rassistischen Ausfälle. Dabei hat er sich vor kurzem offiziell mit Tokio für die Ausrichtung der Olympiade 2016 beworben, des Symbols der Völkerverständigung schlechthin.

Und auch Frau Ogawa vom Fremdenverkehrsamt ahnt doch noch Schlimmes: “Wir sind von der Regierung gebeten worden, das Stimmungsbild der Touristen in den nächsten Wochen genau zu beobachten. Wenn sich das Image Japans tatsächlich drastisch verschlechtert, kann es durchaus sein, dass wir in unserem Abschlussbericht eine Aussetzung der Maßnahmen empfehlen.”


Chuugoku Shinbun: Fingerprinting “a new form of discrimination”


Foreign residents oppose fingerprinting as “a new form of discrimination against foreigners”
Chuugoku Shimbun 2007/11/18
Translated by Stephanie Coop
Original Japanese at

Ahead of its implementation on Nov. 20, foreign residents in Japan are protesting the new immigration system requiring foreigners to be fingerprinted and photographed when entering Japan, arguing that “it’s a new form of discrimination.”

“I’m really sad that we will be forced to give our fingerprints even though we have committed no crimes. It’s just one more form of discrimination against foreigners,” a 29-year-old Turkish Kurdish man living in Tokyo said disgustedly. “Japan just meekly went along with what the U.S. wanted and got involved in the war in Iraq. I’d like to ask the government about the real reason for having to be worried about terrorism in the first place.”

“I’ve lived here for 15 years and was thinking of applying for permanent residence, but now I feel for the first time as if I’m being institutionally discriminated against. I feel really sad and angry about this,” said Australian national Stephanie Coop (38), a graduate student at a university in Tokyo. “I think that the previous attitude in Japanese society — being concerned about crime without automatically assuming that everyone is a criminal — is far safer and far more attractive [than the new system].”

Lawyer Chang Hannyon [note: not sure if this is the correct transliteration] (44), a third-generation Korean in Japan who was arrested under the Alien Registration Act in 1985 for refusing to give his fingerprints, is a special permanent resident. “If [the new system] is supposed to be an anti-terrorism measure, it’s strange that they are not also fingerprinting Japanese nationals and special permanent residents,” he said. “Why are only foreigners being treated like terrorists? There’s no rational reason for it, which means it is nothing but discrimination.”



「新たな外国人差別」 指紋採取に在住者反発
中国新聞 2007/11/18
Thanks to Stephanie Coop





NJ FP issue: Newsweek on damage done by model US-VISIT Program


Hi Blog. Only tangentially related to, here is a Newsweek article quantifying the damages done by the US-VISIT Program, upon which Japan’s fingerprinting of NJ residents and tourists is based. As it says below, “The United States is the only major country in the world to which travel has declined in the midst of a global tourism boom.” Well, let’s watch Japan become the second country on that list.

It’s nice that we can have this dissent from a domestic outlet (unlike the completely stifled debate on, say, NHK), pity it took even an effervescent debate media like the US so long to start coming to its senses.

Points of interest in the article underlined. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


America the Unwelcoming
The United States is the only major country in the world to which travel has declined amid a tourist boom.

By Fareed Zakaria
NEWSWEEK Nov 26, 2007 Print Issue
Updated: 1:23 PM ET Nov 17, 2007
Courtesy of Shaney and others

As an immigrant, I’ve always loved Thanksgiving for all the corniest reasons. It’s a distinctly American holiday, secular and inclusive, focused on food, family and gratitude. But the one Thanksgiving tradition I try strenuously to avoid is travel. For those of you who must do it—and that’s 27 million people this year—brace yourselves for massive delays and frayed tempers. President Bush announced a few measures to ease congestion, describing this week as “a season of dread for too many Americans.” I only wish he would keep in mind that for foreigners now traveling to America, the dread is far more acute, and it’s lasted far longer than a few days in November.

Every American who has a friend abroad has heard some story about the absurd hassle and humiliation of entering or exiting the United States. But these pale in comparison to the experience of foreigners who commit minor infractions. A tourist from New Zealand, Rick Giles, mistakenly overstayed his visa in America by a few days and found himself summarily arrested for six weeks earlier this fall. Treaty obligations say his country’s embassy should have been informed of the arrest, but it wasn’t. A German visitor, Valeria Vinnikova, overstayed her visa by a couple of days and tried to remedy the situation—so that she could spend more time with her fiancé, the Dartmouth College squash coach. Instead she was handcuffed and had her feet shackled, then was carted off to be imprisoned. She now faces deportation and a 10-year ban on entering the United States. (Thanks to for drawing attention to these.)

According to the Commerce Department, the United States is the only major country in the world to which travel has declined in the midst of a global tourism boom. And this is not about Arabs or Muslims. The number of Japanese visiting the United States declined from 5 million in 2000 to 3.6 million last year. The numbers have begun to increase, but by 2010 they’re still projected to be 19 percent below 2000 levels. During this same span (2000–2010), global tourism is expected to grow by 44 percent.

The most striking statistic involves tourists from Great Britain. These are people from America’s closest ally, the overwhelming majority of them white Anglos with names like Smith and Jones. For Brits, the United States these days is Filene’s Basement. The pound is worth $2, a 47 percent increase in six years. And yet, between 2000 and 2006, the number of Britons visiting America declined by 11 percent. In that same period British travel to India went up 102 percent, to New Zealand 106 percent, to Turkey 82 percent and to the Caribbean 31 percent. If you’re wondering why, read the polls or any travelogue on a British Web site. They are filled with horror stories about the inconvenience and indignity of traveling to America.

For many, the trials begin even before they arrive. In a world of expedited travel, getting a visa to enter the United States has become a laborious process. It takes, on average, 69 days in Mumbai, 65 days in São Paolo and 44 days in Shanghai simply to process a request. It’s no wonder that quick business trips to America are a thing of the past. Business travel to the United States declined by 10 percent between 2004 and 2005 (the most recent data available), while similar travel to Europe increased by 8 percent. Discover America, a travel-industry-funded organization that tries to boost tourism, estimates that the 17 percent overall decline in tourism since 9/11 has cost America $94 billion in lost tourist spending, 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in tax revenues.

The administration and Congress say the right things, have passed a few measures to improve matters and keep insisting that the problem has been solved. But the data and loads of anecdotal evidence suggest otherwise. The basic problem remains: no bureaucrat wants to be the person who lets in the next terrorist. As a result, when one spots any irregularity—no matter how minor—the reflex is to stop, question, harass, arrest and deport. If tens of thousands of foreigners are upset, so what? But if one day a jihadist manages to slip in, woe to the person who stamped his passport. The incentives are badly skewed.

In his 2003 book “Courage Matters,” Sen. John McCain writes, “Get on the damn elevator! Fly on the damn plane! Calculate the odds of being harmed by a terrorist. It’s still about as likely as being swept out to sea by a tidal wave.” He added what seemed like a sound rule of thumb: “Watch the terrorist alert and when it falls below yellow, go outside again.”

Except that since 9/11, the alert has never dropped below yellow (which means an “elevated” level of risk from a terrorist attack). At airports, we have been almost permanently at orange—”high risk,” or the second highest level of alertness. Yet the Department of Homeland Security admits that “there continues to be no credible information at this time warning of an imminent threat to the homeland.” The department’s “strategic threat perspective … is that we are in a period of increased risk.” What is this “strategic perspective?” Is it the same as the “gut feeling” that Secretary Michael Chertoff cited when he warned, in July, that we were likely to be attacked during the summer? Or is it a bureaucratic mind-set, the technical term for which is CYA? [Cover Your Ass]


Peter Barakan to talk about NJ Fingerprinting etc. on NHK radio Dec 6 5PM


Hi Blog. Got this info from Japanese TV personality, music specialist, and all-around nice guy Peter Barakan. Edited for public consumption. Listen in if you can, even contribute your opinions… Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Hi Dave. It’s been quite a while since I met you at that Amnesty get together. I try to keep up with your posts as far as I can.

I’m writing today to let you know about a radio show on NHK’s AM radio in which I’ll be taking part. It’s “Iki-iki Hotline,” on Thursday Dec. 6th, from 5 to 6 pm, and is the fourth of five shows on topics related to foreigners in Japan.

The details are not yet up on NHK’s website, but the show I’ll be on is entitled:
外国人はどう望む? 日本社会での暮らし (外国人の意見)

and the accompanying blurb goes:

I’ll be the only guest that day, but they take faxes, emails, and in some cases phone calls from listeners during the show, which is live. I met with the director today, and he said he would welcome input from foreign residents, so I immediately thought of [].

I intend to talk about the new immigration fiasco, among other things, but something on human rights, for example, might be interesting. I’ll leave it to you. Please feel free to pass the word on to anyone else who might be interested.

Peter Barakan

Reminder: Documentary on J Child Abduction fundraiser Dec 11 Shibuya, RSVP by Dec 4


Hi Blog. Quick reminder about the “For Taka and Mana” film documentary:

Documentary on Japan Child Abduction after Divorces
Fundraiser Party Dec 11 Shibuya, RSVP by Dec 4 (i.e. tomorrow)

Quick reminder about the “For Taka and Mana” film documentary fundraiser coming up on December 11 at the Pink Cow, Shibuya. See movie poster and map to the venue below, in this blog entry.
RSVPs please by December 4.

This is the issue: Divorce in Japan is extremely problematic. As Japan has neither joint custody nor visitation rights guaranteed by law, after a break-up, generally one parent loses all access to the children. This is especially difficult in the case in an international marriage, where the venue may be intercontinental (and access denied due to visa problems), and where there is NO precedent of a non-Japanese plaintiff being awarded custody of a child in Japanese court (quite the opposite, as the Murray Wood Case, the subject of this documentary, indicates–Japanese courts even overruled a Canadian provincial supreme court awarding custody to Murray shortly before the mother abducted their children to Japan).

Due in part to the vagaries of the Family Registry (koseki) system, which non-citizens do not have in Japan, foreigners essentially have NO family rights in Japan in a Family-Court dispute. It’s complicated, but as simply as possible: NJ are not officially registered as a member of a Japanese family after (or even before) a divorce, and cannot “keep” their children registered under their own Japanese family unit as a single parent.

With the increase of international marriage in Japan (from 30,000 couples to 40,000 couples per year since this century began), this situation warrants attention. This documentary is one way. I have been quite closely associated with this project for more than a year now (I’m interviewed in the film–see a trailer from the link below), and have a personal stake in the subject–since I too have not seen my own children for years following my marital separation and divorce. I encourage you to join us next week for the fundraiser (I’m flying down specially to be there), help out in any way you can, and even perhaps suggest venues we could appear at to get the word out.

An update for the fundraiser from directors Matt Antell and Dave Hearn follows. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


We will have at least one more new clip in addition to the current trailer at our website

We have a wide array of speakers lined up to show the depth of the problem of parental abduction in Japan including the well traveled, Debito Arudou.

Schedule of events in Powerpoint format downloadable from here.

Some of the stories you will hear are just amazing. The food is fantastic and the first two drinks come with the ticket price of 10,000 yen.

There are still some seats left so please e-mail Dave at: or call 0905-313-9702 RSVP by Dec. 4th.

We very much hope to see you there.

Matt Antell and Dave Hearn

REPORT: Racial Profiling at Toyoko Inns; suggest boycott (letter of complaint unanswered)


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


By Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan (,
December 2, 2007, freely forwardable

(UPDATE: As of January 12, 2008, more than a month later, no answer to my official letter of complaint (sent naiyou shoumei) from Toyoko Inn.)

SUMMARY: Toyoko Inn (, a high-profile nationwide chain of hotels in Japan, have a clear policy of racial profiling at their hotels. They illegally demanded a passport from the author on the basis of his race alone on November 30, 2007, reflecting their history of even illegally threatening to refuse accommodation to NJ residents unless they provide Gaijin Cards at check-in. This systematic harassment of NJ clientele is unnecessary and unlawful, especially in the face of hotels increasingly refusing all foreigners accommodation across “Yokoso” Japan. Toyoko Inn’s continuing refusal to abide by the laws, despite advisements from NJ customers in the past, forces this author to conclude that NJ residents and international Japanese citizens, not to mention supporters of human rights in Japan, should take their business to hotels other than Toyoko Inn–until the chain at the national level agrees in writing to improve their services.

I went down to Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture last weekend for a December 1 speech at Hirosaki Gakuin University (sponsored by Professor Todd Jay Leonard) on racial discrimination in Japan (download Powerpoint presentation in Japanese at After a six-hour train ride from Sapporo, I was met by my hosts at 11PM AT Hirosaki Station, who accompanied me to the neighboring Toyoko Inn (#164 O-aza Ekimae 1-1-1, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori-ken, Ph 0172-31-2045) where they had made my reservation.

At the counter, a clerk (a Ms. Ishi-oka) gave me a check-in slip. After filling out my name in Kanji, and just before I was to write out my Japanese address in Japanese, the clerk said, “May I see your passport?”

Todd and his friends looked to each other, sighed, and said to themselves, “Oh boy. Here we go…”



The conversation between the clerk and me proceeded something like this:

ME: Why do you need my passport?

CLERK: It’s required by hotel policy and by Japanese law.

ME: Let me see the laws.

CLERK: (producing a countertop stand with the text of the hotel request for passports in English, Korean, and Chinese) Japanese law requires that all foreigners at check in–
(see the letter of the law yourself–and download it–at

ME: Is there a Japanese version? (She pointed to the Japanese she had been reading from on the back of the stand.) Right, so as you can see here, it requires passports from people “without addresses in Japan”. I have an address in Japan, but you asked me before I even had a chance to write it.

CLERK: We have a policy of asking all foreigners for identification at check-in.

ME: That’s illegal. You can only ask tourists for ID. Or can’t you read the law in Japanese here? Also, how do you even know I am a foreigner?

CLERK: Because you wrote your name in Katakana–

ME: (displaying the check-in slip) I wrote my name in Kanji. Can’t you see?

CLERK: (taking a closer look and uttering a demurrer)

ME: I am a Japanese citizen. I do not have to show you a passport or any other form of ID.

CLERK: Do you have a driver licence to prove that?

ME: Do you require driver licences from other Japanese at check-in?

CLERK: It’s just that we have a policy of asking for identification from foreigners.

ME: Clearly I am not getting through to you. Call your manager.

CLERK: Our manager is not here at the moment.

ME: Then get him or her on the phone. You are racially profiling me. This is racial discrimination and a violation of Japanese laws. Give me your full name, please, and the name of your manager.

CLERK: (running behind a partition) Please wait a minute.


My friends and I then sat down in a connected anteroom for a glass of water and an animated discussion of the proceedings for about five minutes, before the clerk shouted down the hall that she had an answer for me.

CLERK: Our manager is too busy to come to the phone right now.

ME: Okay, then I’m not too busy to contact your headquarters (honsha), to tell them that your manager refused to discuss a serious issue of customer relations with a customer. Your full name please and your manager’s full name, please.

CLERK: (running behind a partition) Please wait a minute.

A few minutes later I was on the phone with a Ms. Obara, the assistant manager of this hotel. She opened with the standard apologies. I said she should hear me out before apologizing. The issues were: 1) deciding whether or not a customer was a foreigner or not solely based on face, therefore race, 2) enforcing a law, which applied only to tourists, upon all people deemed “foreign”, 3) enforcing a nonexistent law requiring proof of Japaneseness even after said customer says that he is Japanese. This was customer harassment on the basis of racial profiling, and done to an egregious and unprecedented degree in my experience at any hotel in Japan.

And given that Toyoko Inns in Sapporo have illegally required passport/Gaijin Card for reservations from NJ residents of Japan (in violation of the Hotel Management Law, Article 5, which does not permit refusals of customers on this basis), this chain’s systematic policy of targeting foreigners or foreign-looking people as suspicious is unnecessary and illegal.

Not to mention the fact, of course, that the clerk personally tried to shirk her duty of connecting a customer to the manager. This was irresponsibility that should not be allowed to pass without complaint.

Ms Obara indicated she understood the issue and apologized for the poor training of her employee. She said she’d like to see me face-to-face the next day for a personal apology. I said I would be out all day the next day, arriving late back from a house party at Todd’s after my speech, but would leave my meishi with keitai number at the counter should she wish to arrange a time for meeting. She said, no matter, she would wait until I got in. Then I went back to the anteroom for another hour of water and jawing with Todd and company over what had just happened.

Said they, “This has never happened to any of us before at a hotel in Japan. Why does this keep happening to you?” they said. “Never mind, we got to see Debito in action…”


Todd gave a lovely house party, with booze galore plus some pretty crappy Iwate wine (which everyone got a least a half-hour’s mileage of jokes out of–especially for naffly putting a squirrel on the label). So lovely I tragically got a migraine at the very end. With head throbbing, I returned to the Toyoko, got my room key, and found the manager there waiting for me, even though it was past midnight. “You needn’t have waited up so long,” said I. “You said you’d be late, and I wanted to meet you and apologize properly,” said she.

And for the next hour, while I blinked my way through the mercury haze of migraine flashes, Ms Obara and I had a very good chat about what happened and why it shouldn’t happen again. Me: “I understand the laws, but until you have confirmed that a customer–any customer regardless of nationality–has no address in Japan, you legally cannot demand identification from them. Just confirm that, ask for ID from those who don’t, and we’ve got no issue here. But I don’t appreciate this interrogation, and demand for proof that I am even a Japanese, from an obstinate clerk late at night at check-in like this. It’s poor service.

Ms Obara was understanding, and tried to make an excuse that Aomori isn’t used to foreigners, but I pointed out that Aomori, with its Nebuta Matsuri, and Hirosaki in particular with its castle and Sakura Matsuri, is a magnet for international clientele. She conceded the point, and the conversation turned to why I was here speaking at Hirosaki Gakuin University. She even bought one of my books, thank you very much. In the end, the conversation went on too long for her to be ingenuine in her apologies (I’ve found that people who just want to apologize pro forma and be done with things exhaust a conversation after ten minutes), and I was satisfied that their hotel branch would do better in future.


I am not, however, so optimistic about the Toyoko Inn chain in general. More than two years ago, as James Eriksson and Olaf Karthaus reported to The Community mailing list, Toyoko Inn Sapporo refused James’s reservation if he did not present his Gaijin Card at check in ( Even today, and after demands for improved service are now years old, the Toyoko Inn chain is still not treating NJ customers with the appropriate respect. Until we get a written guarantee from the chain that they are aware of the laws and will improve NJ customer treatment (and I will still be writing headquarters about this incident), I suggest that NJ customers, and their friends and supporters, take their business elsewhere.

This is part of a surge in activity in Japan these days regarding Japanese hotels–their refusal to even accept any foreign clientele whatsoever. They blame it on language barriers–the fact they can’t speak English!–so Japanese lodgers only. This is illegal. I finally have enough time and information to make a full report on this, so I’ll get to it within the month.

Thanks for reading this brief. Prelude to a much deeper and ever-growing problem of exclusionism in Japan.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
December 2, 2007

(UPDATE: As of January 12, 2007, more than a month later, no answer to my official letter of complaint (sent naiyou shoumei) from Toyoko Inn.)

Reminder: Online Petition against NJ Fingerprinting


Hi Blog. Thanks to the FP issue, we get a huge turnover of posts. This one deserves a reminder:

Online Petition against NJ Fingerprinting. If anyone else is blogging in Japan or anywhere in the world, because the petition is for anyone with an interest in Japan, please do the same. Right now we don’t have enough names to make a difference. Please sign and get your voice heard!

Go sign if you haven’t. Tell your friends to sign if they haven’t. I have. Debito in Hirosaki

James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly on NJ Fingerprinting


Hi Blog. They fingerprinted the wrong guy already… Given how critical Jim Fallows was when he lived in Japan more than a decade ago (famously writing “Containing Japan” for The Atlantic in 1989–something I read in grad school!), this was not long in coming… And as always he produces angles we never thought of–such as how if China instead had instituted this, the Western Media would be talking about “Big Brother in Beijing”. Touche. Arudou Debito in Hirosaki.


Not so thankful for this at Thanksgiving (Japan Big Brother dept)
The Atlantic Magazine online 24 Nov 2007 09:39 am
By James Fallows, courtesy of Yanpa

Flying from Beijing to Tokyo this morning — generally an invigorating experience! Japan looks startlingly neat and organized even if you’re arriving from Switzerland. And when you’re coming not from Switzerland but from China…. Anyhow I arrived excited at the prospect of a few days here.

Unfortunately Japan’s way of ushering in the Thanksgiving holidays has been to institute mandatory fingerprinting and photographing of all foreigners entering the country. Let me put this bluntly: this is an incredibly degrading, offputting, and hostility-generating process. The comment is not anti-Japanese: when the U.S. does this to foreigners, it’s wrong and degrading too (as many people, including me, have pointed out over the years). But Japan has just ushered in this procedure, and they deserve to take some heat for it.

Partly this is a nuisance because of the sheer time drag. Today’s flight time Beijing->Tokyo: 2 hours, 50 minutes. Today’s time spent in the passport clearance line for foreigners at Narita: 1 hour, 30 minutes. But mainly there is no getting around the insult factor of having entry to the country be like getting booked into County Jail.

In specific this means: you have to stick your left and right index fingers simultaneously into a scanner, and press them down until a signal shows that the system has captured both prints. A sign that flashes up in a variety of languages — Korean, English, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, etc — tells people that if “for whatever reason” they are “unable” to offer prints, then they can ask to see the supervisor. I assume that they’re talking about people who have no hands etc. (Or Japanese gangsters, yakuza, who often get fingers cut off as part of their careers? Oh, wait: they’re not foreigners.) I was considering saying that my “whatever reason” is that I objected to the policy. Then I realized how much good that would do, and stuck my fingers into the contraption.

Five seconds after the prints, a camera snaps a picture. As a long time admirer of Nick Nolte, and in a state of mind enhanced by the forced-fingerprinting, I made sure my photo looked very much like this:

Does this requirement make any practical difference to me? No. I’ll only be here a few days, and if I’m going to rob a bank in that time, I’ll put tape over my two index fingers so they’ll never catch me. Presumably most of the several million foreigners who are long-time permanent residents of Japan, and who will be required to go get prints and photos too, will avoid the practical consequences as well.

But it’s worth saying this is a bad policy, because:

– The reasoning is predictably fatuous. A video explains the change as an important anti-terrorist tool. Puh-leeze.

– It’s one thing, and wrong enough, for the U.S. to apply similar measures in the panicky, immediate, “we’re for anything that is called ‘anti-terrorist’ ” mood of the 9/11 aftermath, which is when the U.S. began discussing similar “biometric” measures. It’s even worse to do it six years later, after a chance for cold deliberation about the prices society is and is not willing to pay to keep itself “secure.”

– Fewer tourists are visiting the U.S. because we’ve made it such a nightmare for foreigners to get in. That is just deserts for a misguided policy on America’s side. Japan is repeating the same mistake — with eyes wide open.

– Think how the alarm bells would go off if China tried to impose a scheme like this! The editorials about “Big Brother in Beijing” practically write themselves. But now the two countries that apply the most intrusively big-brotherish surveiliance over those trying to visit are two liberal societies: the United States and Japan.

C’mon Japan, set a good example for America rather than imitating something stupid we do now. The people around me in the passport line — and, in 90 minutes, we had time to talk – were from a dozen different countries and many walks of life. But they were united in one sentiment as they moved toward the fingerprint machine, and it’s not one that Japan’s diplomacy is designed to foster.