MC on new Minpaku Law and NJ check-ins: Govt. telling AirBnB hostels that “foreign guests” must have passports photocopied etc. Yet not in actual text of the Minpaku Law. Or any law.


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Hi Blog.  It seems the GOJ is up to its old tricks:  Reinterpreting the law to pick on “foreigners” again.  This was seen previously on to encourage racial profiling at hotel check-ins, and now with the new Minpaku Law affecting AirBnB-style private homes opened for public accommodation (minshuku), it’s more of the same.  Read on from Reader MC:


From: MC
Subject: An experience with the new minpaku law that might interest your readers
Date: February 11, 2019

Hi Debito,

This might interest you and your readers. Feel free to post it if you think it might be appropriate. Sorry for the length, but it’s a bit of a complicated story.

I had an experience recently that raises a new aspect of the recurrent hotel registration problems that some people have. I have to admit I’ve rarely had problems at Japanese hotels, and on the few occasions I’ve been asked for ID, my polite refusal (aided by Debito’s very useful legal information -thanks Debito) has always been accepted. However the recent experience was a little different.

I was catching an early flight from Kansai, too early for the trains from home, so I decided to stay the previous night at a minpaku close to the airport, PLUS 9 Station Inn in Izumi Otsu, booked through booking dot com. They emailed information before check-in, among which they said “This is a staff-less guest house. You have to get your key at the accommodation and check in yourself.” No problem. The instructions for getting the key were clear. A later email, though, told me that there was an ipad in reception, and could we please scan and send copies of our passports, or in the case of Japanese people, driving licences (no mention of resident foreigners). Obviously realising that not everyone carries a driving licence, they asked for people without photo ID to photograph themselves on the iPad and upload the photo.

It was close to our departure day, and not having time to argue and possibly be asked to find somewhere else, I decided to simply ignore this. Arriving there, we retrieved the key from the key box, and stay went fine, with no contact from the company to ask why we hadn’t checked in through the iPad.

Afterwards I wrote to them with an explanation of the problematic nature of their system in regards to Non-Japanese customers. I also put a similar comment on their booking dot com page. First, they had no right to ask for photographs of anyone, resident or not, Japanese or not. The idea of requiring guests to upload a scan of a driving licence or passport, or even just a face shot, is just asking for identity theft, and is certainly illegal.

I explained the law on this as follows:  The Japan Hotel Laws are quite clear on this: If the guest is NOT a resident of Japan you DO have the right to ask for a passport number (not a copy of the passport). But if the guest IS a resident of Japan, on the other hand, whatever the nationality, they have no responsibility to provide any kind of copy of an official document or any photograph. It’s a gross invasion of privacy.”

They replied, saying that the new Minpaku Law of 2018 allowed for online check-in, and required photographic ID. The former is true, but I didn’t think the latter was. However, I checked out the wording at the Minpaku system portal on the MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) site, and it looks to me as though there is some cause for worry.

I’m not sure whether these pages quote the actual law, or whether they are simply guidance for owners regarding the effects of the law.  The main MLIT portal site is here:
(The page links to an English translation, but only of part of this section.)

[Ed:  For the record, the MLIT portal page is a reinterpretation of the legal writ in plain language.  For example, one of the main subject headers from MLIT is(1)本人確認の方法, or “Method for Confirming Identity”. Yet nowhere in the actual text of the law did I find the word “本人確認”.  To check for yourself, here’s the actual text of the Minpaku Law in Japanese, word-searchable here online and here as a .txt file.]

Section 4 of the MLIT reinterpreted version deals with the requirement on minpaku owners to keep a register and to be able to provide it to the police on request. There’s no ambiguity in the first paragraph. Owners have to keep a record of the name, address, occupation and dates of stay for all guests. If the guests do not have a Japanese address, the owner also needs to record the nationality and passport number. All good so far.

Part (1) of this section, though, is a bit more worrying. First (A and B) it says that a photograph of the guest’s face or passport should be clearly confirmed to be accurate, and that this photograph should be identifiable as having been taken at or close to the premises. It suggests that a video phone or tablet in the minshuku could be used for this. There’s no mention here of Japan residency. Or of what sort of ID would be suitable for ALL guests (not just foreign guests), since not all guests carry passports.

A 宿泊者の顔及び旅券が画像により鮮明に確認できること。
B 当該画像が住宅宿泊事業者や住宅宿泊管理業者の営業所等、届出住宅内又は届出住宅の近傍から発信されていることが確認できること。

Then (Part (1), 2) is where it seems to require, or at least suggest, photographing the passports of non-resident foreigners. (Here it does specifically mention residence.) It even suggests that this photograph can be submitted as an alternative to filling in the guest register columns relating to nationality and passport number. (Part (1), 3) says that in cases where the guest refuses to provide a copy of their passport, they should be told that this is a government requirement, and if they still refuse it is possible that they do not have the passport on them, and therefore the police should be informed. 

1 宿泊者に対し、宿泊者名簿への正確な記載を働きかけること。
2 日本国内に住所を有しない外国人宿泊者に関しては、宿泊者名簿の国籍及び旅券番号欄への記載を徹底し、旅券の呈示を求めるとともに、旅券の写しを宿泊者名簿とともに保存すること。なお、旅券の写しの保存により、当該宿泊者に関する宿泊者名簿の氏名、国籍及び旅券番号の欄への記載を代替することもできます。
3 営業者の求めにも関わらず、当該宿泊者が旅券の呈示を拒否する場合は、当該措置が国の指導によるものであることを説明して呈示を求め、さらに拒否する場合には、当該宿泊者は旅券不携帯の可能性があるものとして、最寄りの警察署に連絡する等適切な対応を行うこと。

[Ed:  Which means that if a NJ resident of Japan (who is not required to carry a passport; that’s why Gaijin Cards exist) shows up without a passport, under these directives he’s likely to have the cops called on him by careless or overzealous clerks.  And as the Carlos Ghosn Case shows quite plainly, you do not want to be detained for questioning by the Japanese police.

[Moreover, after doing a word search of the actual text of the law, I CANNOT find the word 本人確認, or the words passport パスポート/旅券 or even photo/image 写真/画像.  What section of the Minpaku Law (or of any law — the Japanese police have lied about the nonexistent photocopying requirement before) is the MLIT-reinterpreted version referring to?]

MLIT’s official English translation of the law is:

Private lodging business operators need to verify identity according to the following contents:
1. Keep an accurate record of guests on the guest list.
2. For foreign guests who do not have an address in Japan, accurately record the name, nationality and passport number in the appropriate column for each guest, request that each guest present their passport and save copies of each passport together with the guest list. By saving a copy of the passport, you can accurately record the name, nationality and passport number on the guest list.
3. If a foreign guest who does not have an address in Japan refuses to present their passport despite the request of the private lodging business operator, explain that the measures are based on national government regulations. If the guest continues to refuse, and there is the possibility that the guest is not carrying a passport, take the appropriate action such as contacting the nearest police station.

More worryingly, there is a link from this page to a model of a guest register. It’s here:

The model has a list of categories that need to be filled in: name, date etc. The last two are ‘nationality’ and ‘passport number’. Under ‘passport number’, it clearly says “If the nationality is other than Japanese, passport number must be entered.” There’s nothing, though to say a) that Japanese nationality does not need to be recorded, and b) that neither does nationality for foreigners with Japanese addresses.

[Ed:  As MC notes, this is misleading. In the opening part of Section 4 of the MLIT-reinterpreted version, it says, as is proper, that “lodgers that are foreigners without addresses in Japan need to give nationality and passport number”: 宿泊者が国内に住所を有しない外国人であるときは、その国籍及び旅券番号.  So why is this not continuously pointed out in this section?  Again, as before, this encourages racial profiling of all guests who look “foreign”.]

So there are several inconsistencies here. On the one hand the guidance (if that’s what it is) confirms the requirement of the hotel law to date, namely that passport numbers (not copies) are required from non-resident foreigners, and only from them. On the other hand since they clearly want to allow for places to operate without any check-in staff, the distinction between providing a passport number and providing a copy of the passport, and the distinction between resident and non-resident gets blurred, and it’s easy to see how owners trying to keep up with this legislation will not be too conscientious about it.

I haven’t yet replied to the minshuku about this. I’d appreciate any advice, or any information anyone has about the new law, that I might have missed or misinterpreted.

Sincerely, MC


COMMENT:  Interestingly enough, and on the plus side, there’s a special section in the Minpaku Law that specifically says that minpaku accommodations must aim for the comfort and convenience of “foreign tourists”.  Clearly, none of these damned refusals of NJ reservations on the grounds of “we only have futons, not Western-style beds” or “we don’t speak any foreign languages” (as has happened to me on various occasions, even when I’m speaking Japanese).


第七条 住宅宿泊事業者は、外国人観光旅客である宿泊者に対し、届出住宅の設備の使用方法に関する外国語を用いた案内、移動のための交通手段に関する外国語を用いた情報提供その他の外国人観光旅客である宿泊者の快適性及び利便性の確保を図るために必要な措置であって国土交通省令で定める者を講じなければならない。

Now, on the MLIT plain-language site, this is reinterpreted more clearly as follows:


Boldface added to item (3) because it includes information from a different clause (such as the one just before it on disaster information):

第六条 住宅宿泊事業者は、届出住宅について、非常用照明器具の設置、避難経路の表示その他の火災その他の災害が発生した場合における宿泊者の安全の確保を図るために必要な措置であって国土交通省令で定めるものを講じなければならない。

which says nothing about rendering it in a foreign language.  Commonsensibly, this would be nice to do.  But portraying translation as something required by law is another stretch.

So this seems to be a freewheeling interpretation of the law being made by MLIT (as keeps happening by Japanese officialdom, particularly the Japanese police, over-interpreting the law for their convenience to target foreigners).  Again, I’m not sure where MLIT is getting the bit about passport numbers (and by extension and hotel interpretation, passport copies and mugshots).

But where is this going?  Towards more rigmarole, policing, and official harassment of NJ-resident customers who just want to get a berth for the night.  And I have been hearing (thanks SC) of other Japan-lifers now finding it harder to check-in while foreign.

Bottom line:  The new Minpaku Law hasn’t fundamentally changed anything in regards to NJ resident customers.  You are still not required to show ID, passport, or photo if you have an address in Japan.  Debito Arudou Ph.D.


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NYT: Hair policing soon to be treated as “racial discrimination” by NYC Commission of Human Rights. Compare with JHS & HS Hair Police in Japan.


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. Related to our recent posts by Senaiho about the unchecked bullying power of the self-appointed “Hair Police” in Japan’s secondary education system, here’s how a progressive system deals with it, particularly when it comes to hairstyles in the professional world. New York City’s Human Rights Commission will soon be enforcing guidelines dealing with racial discrimination when it comes to how people choose to wear their hair professionally. And these penalties have real teeth: The NYC HRC can levy fines on companies of up to a quarter-mil, plus damages in court afterwards!

This is, of course, absolutely unimaginable in Japan, where their state-sponsored “Bureau of Human Rights” (Jinken Yougobu) is but a Potemkin system (with no ability to levy penalties, and arbitrary guidelines for launching investigations) that only exists to deflect criticism from overseas that Japan isn’t respecting treaty obligations towards human rights. Consequently people of diversity are forced into an absolutist narrative where “looking Japanese” is not only quantifiable as a standard (e.g., hair must be straight and black), but also enforceable under normalized racial profiling by the Japanese police (which has detained people for “looking foreign” while Japanese). This is why “Embedded Racism” remains so unchecked in Japan.

Read on for how NYC HRC is doing it, and consider this as a template. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


New York City to Ban Discrimination Based on Hair
New guidelines out this week give legal recourse to individuals who have been harassed, punished or fired because of the style of their hair.
By Stacey Stowe
The New York Times, Feb. 18, 2019

PHOTO CAPTION: The New York City’s human rights commission specifically asserts the right of people to have “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”

Under new guidelines to be released this week by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the targeting of people based on their hair or hairstyle, at work, school or in public spaces, will now be considered racial discrimination.

The change in law applies to anyone in New York City but is aimed at remedying the disparate treatment of black people; the guidelines specifically mention the right of New Yorkers to maintain their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”

In practice, the guidelines give legal recourse to individuals who have been harassed, threatened, punished, demoted or fired because of the texture or style of their hair. The city commission can levy penalties up to $250,000 on defendants that are found in violation of the guidelines and there is no cap on damages. The commission can also force internal policy changes and rehirings at offending institutions.

The move was prompted in part by investigations after complaints from workers at two Bronx businesses — a medical facility in Morris Park and a nonprofit in Morrisania — as well as workers at an Upper East Side hair salon and a restaurant in the Howard Beach section of Queens. (The new guidelines do not interfere with health and safety reasons for wearing hair up or in a net, as long as the rules apply to everyone.)

The guidelines, obtained by The New York Times before their public release, are believed to be the first of their kind in the country. They are based on the argument that hair is inherent to one’s race (and can be closely associated with “racial, ethnic, or cultural identities”) and is therefore protected under the city’s human rights laws, which outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion and other protected classes.

To date, there is no legal precedent in federal court for the protection of hair. Indeed, last spring the United States Supreme Court refused an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund request to review a case in which a black woman, Chastity Jones, had her job offer rescinded in 2010 at an Alabama insurance company after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

But New York City’s human rights commission is one of the most progressive in the nation; it recognizes many more areas of discrimination than federal law, including in employment, housing, pregnancy and marital status. Its legal enforcement bureau can conduct investigations, and has the ability to subpoena witnesses and prosecute violations.

“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” said Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

“They are based on racist standards of appearance,” Ms. Malalis continued, saying that they perpetuate “racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”

In New York, it isn’t difficult to find black women and men who can speak about how their hair has affected their lives in both subtle and substantial ways, ranging from veiled comments from co-workers to ultimatums from bosses to look “more professional” or find another job.

For Avery, 39, who works in Manhattan in court administration and declined to provide her last name for fear of reprisal at work, the answer to how often she fields remarks on her hair in a professional setting is “every day.”

Avery said her supervisor, who is white, encourages her to relax her hair, which she was wearing in shoulder-length chestnut-colored braids. “She’s like, ‘You should do your hair,’ when it is already styled, or she says, ‘straight is better,’” Avery said. She added that the only hair color her supervisor approves of is black.

Georbina DaRosa, who is interning to be a social worker, had her hair in box braids as she ate lunch with a colleague at Shake Shack on East 86th Street on a recent weekend afternoon. Ms. DaRosa said her hair sometimes elicited “microaggressions” from her superiors at work.

“Like, people say, ‘I wouldn’t be able to recognize you because you keep changing your hairstyle,’ that’s typical,” said Ms. DaRosa, 24.

Her lunch partner, Pahola Capellan, who is also black and whose ringlets were bobbed just above her shoulders, said, of her own experience: “It’s very different. There’s no discrimination because my hair is more acceptable.”

A 21-year-old black woman who gave her name only as Enie said she quit her job as a cashier at a Manhattan Wendy’s six months ago when a manager asked her to cut off her 14-inch hair extensions. “I quit because you can’t tell me my hair is too long, but the other females who are other races don’t have to cut their hair,” said Enie, who now works at a hospital.

There has long been a professional toll for those with certain hairstyles. Almost 18 percent of United States soldiers in active duty are black, but it is only in recent years that the military has dropped its prohibitions on hairstyles associated with black culture. The Marines approved braid, twist and “lock” (usually spelled loc) hairstyles in 2015, with some caveats, and the Army lifted its ban on dreadlocks in 2017.

And certain black hairstyles are freighted with history. Wearing an Afro in the 1960s, for instance, was often seen as a political statement instead of a purely aesthetic choice, said Noliwe Rooks, an author and professor at Cornell University whose work explores race and gender. Dr. Rooks said that today, black men who shave designs into their hair as a stylistic choice may be perceived as telegraphing gang membership.

“People read our bodies in ways we don’t always intend,” Dr. Rooks said. “As Zora Neale Hurston said, there is the ‘will to adorn,’ but there is often a backlash against it.”

Chaumtoli Huq, an associate professor of labor and employment law at City University of New York School of Law, said that attitudes will change as black politicians, like Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia, and Ayanna Pressley, who represents Massachusetts in Congress, rise in prominence.

“As more high-profile black women like Abrams and Pressley opt for natural hairstyles, twists, braids, we may see a positive cultural shift that would impact how courts view these guidelines that seek to prevent discrimination based on hair,” Ms. Huq said.

Hair discrimination affects people of all ages. In the past several years, there have been a number of cases of black students sent home or punished for their hairstyles. In New Jersey, the state civil rights division and its interscholastic athletic association started separate investigations in December when Andrew Johnson, a black high school student, was told to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a wrestling match.

Last August, an 11-year-old student in Terrytown, La., was sent home from school for wearing braids, as was a 6-year-old boy in Florida who wore dreadlocks. In 2017, Mya and Deana Cook, twin sisters in Massachusetts, were forced to serve detentions because officials said their braids violated their school’s grooming policy.

Similar instances in New York City could fall under the human rights commission’s expansive mandate, as do instances of retailers that sell and display racist iconography.

In December, the commission issued a cease-and-desist order to Prada, the Italian luxury fashion house, after the window of its SoHo store was adorned with charms and key chains featuring blackface imagery.

The fashion company instituted training in the city’s human rights law for employees, executives, and independent contractors. It also immediately pulled the line of goods from its United States stores.

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UPDATE: Senaiho on the stacked Board of Education committee investigating his Yamanashi jr. high school Hair Police complaint


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. What follows is an update about Senaiho’s case, i.e., overzealous enforcers of school rules in Japan’s compulsory education system acting as what has long called “the Hair Police“. This phenomenon particularly affects NJ and Japanese of diverse backgrounds, who are forced by officials to dye and/or straighten their naturally “Non-Asian” hair just to attend school.

Bullying is rife in Japanese education, but when it’s ignored (or even perpetuated) by officialdom, this feeling of powerlessness will leave children (particularly those NJ children with diverse physical features targeted for “standing out“) and their families scarred for life.  (As discussed at length in book “Embedded Racism“, pg. 154-5.)  As reported on last month, after months of playing by the rules established by the local Board of Education, Senaiho finally lodged a formal criminal complaint against his daughter’s school officials, and it’s smoking out hidden documents.  This blog entry is an update to the case, where he has managed to uncover just how stacked the system is against him, and why he was entirely correct to pursue this issue through criminal, not Board of Education, channels.

This is one of the worst-kept secrets about Japan — its underdeveloped civil society generally leaves the government to do everything, and the cosy relations between government officials means a lack of independent investigation and oversight.  Coverup becomes Standard Operating Procedure.  Hence “kusai mono ni futa o suru” (“put a lid on that which stinks” — instead of actually cleaning it up) isn’t a bellyaching grumble — it’s a PROVERB in Japan.

Your kid having trouble in Japanese school?  Keep an eye on this case and learn a few alternative avenues for recourse.  Debito Arudou Ph.D.


From: Senaiho
Subject: Yamanashi hair police special report
Date: February 10, 2019
To: Debito Arudou <>

Hello Debito,
Things have developed much sooner than I expected. I am including by attachment my report and a picture of the identities of the special third party investigation committee. As I write this we are communicating with several newspapers and news services regarding it. I wanted to get this to you asap. Please use freely as you see fit. Sincerely, Senaiho


UPDATE: Japan Hair Police in Yamanashi

The identities of the Special Third Party Investigation Committee are revealed as stacked against us
Special Report for by Senaiho, February 10, 2019
Original report at

On the evening of 2/9/2019 we received from our Ombudsman the identities of the special investigation committee set up by the Yamanashi city board of education. While we are still looking into the backgrounds of these four people, right off the bat we can make several assumptions. I don’t want to repeat what I have already stated in our previous post here on, but I need to go into a little background to make it easier for the reader to follow.

In January of 2018 with the help of our Ombudsman and several others, we circulated a petition, and on March 27, 2018, we along with our lawyer presented to the Yamanashi board of education our petition, along with 1500 or so signatures, asking them to do an internal investigation into the case of our daughter’s bullying and hair cutting by the teachers which caused her to be so traumatized that she dropped out of school for the next two years. Up to this point we had been hoping and tried to go the most civil route possible in order to minimize relationships within our community and the school. We put good faith in the public servants of the board of education to do what was right for us and our daughter and on behalf of other bullied and truant children in our town. The board of education agreed to do an investigation and make the results of it known to us. We left this meeting feeling satisfied that things may work out for the better, and we put our trust in them. How wrong we were.

Here is the name list of the special third party investigation committee hired and set up by the board of education:

I will go down the list and just refer to them as #1, #2, etc. Their names and job titles are all there in open view. Keep in mind, they could have chosen any four people in the country as an impartial third party investigation committee, but they chose these four people:

#1 is a lawyer. It just so happens that this lawyers office is located DIRECTLY in front of our lawyers office. They can wave to each other from their office windows. They know each other professionally and informally, run into each other in the courthouse all the time. Lawyers in Yamanashi are a close knit group and work hard to not step on each others toes. Do you suppose the board of education chose this lawyer to intimidate our lawyer? No wonder our lawyer became so hesitant to assist us after this committee was formed. We since have hired another lawyer.

#2 is the boss at the counseling center where my daughter has spent many, many hours, receiving counseling and treatment and help in dealing with the trauma of her experiences. He is not her personal counselor, but as this person s boss he would have access to very private and personal information given by our daughter in the course of her treatment. He would also have access to any and all reports made by her counselor regarding her case and he would have been in a position to put pressure on my daughter s counselor to decide treatment in one fashion or another.

#3 is the boss at the Eastern Yamanashi area education office. This just happens to be where my wife and daughter spent many hours discussing personal and private information regarding her experiences at school and how to deal with problems there. They also advised us about how to get her back to school and dealing with all matters related to the school. As with #2 is not the person we dealt with directly but would have access to all private information and reports regarding our case along with being able to bring pressure on the lower level person dealing with us.

#4 is listed as a doctor but to be honest we have not been able to find the connection with us directly except he may have been an instructor of our lawyer during her time in law school. Another effort to pressure our lawyer? A personal friend of someone? He does seem to have qualifications in psychology which would make him somewhat qualified to be on this committee but his specialty is ADHD which is not relevant in our daughters case.

So there you have the “impartial” investigation committee set up and chosen by our “trusted” public servants at the Yamanashi city board of education. No wonder they were so hesitant about revealing the identities of this committee.


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Debito’s first article in Shingetsu News Agency: “The Japan Times Becomes Servant to the Elite” (Feb 2, 2019) (FULL TEXT)


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.  A couple of days ago I commented on an article in the Japan Times by a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat and TV pundit Miyake Kunihiko (or “Kuni”, for gaijin ingratiation) who has a weekly JT space for his musings.  A pedigreed elite trained in international “Gaijin Handling”, Miyake clumsily talks about Japan’s race relations and multiethnic future by critiquing tennis champ Osaka Naomi’s “Japaneseness”.

My JT comment helped draw readers to the article, and I’ve just written my first feature piece for the Shingetsu News Agency (the only independent English-language media left in Japan not toeing a Japanese government line) about what Miyake’s article indicates in terms of the decline in the JT’s analytical abilities, as it swings rightward to knuckle under to revisionist pressure on Japanese media and curry favor with Japan’s elites.  It also cites other research from Reuters and the Asia-Pacific Journal (Japan Focus).  Full text follows for the record.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


The Japan Times Becomes Servant to the Elite
By Debito Arudou

Shingetsu News Agency, February 2, 2019

Courtesy (full text reproduced with permission)

SNA (Honolulu) — On January 28, the Japan Times published an opinion piece titled, “How Japanese is Naomi Osaka?” Author Kunihiko Miyake “felt something odd” about how the multiethnic tennis champ could ever “represent Japan.” Miyake’s article is indicative of how the quality of analysis has slipped under the Japan Times’ new ownership, and suggests how the purposes of the organization have changed…

To start with Miyake and his most recent article, he questions just how “Japanese” Naomi Osaka is: “Yes, she is [the first Japanese to be ranked World No. 1 in tennis]. But not quite so, is she?” He goes on to pick over her Haitian-American-Japanese background, noting that she “calls America home” and plays for Japan because of “more financial support.”

His insinuation is that foreigners such as Osaka are motivated to come to Japan for the money, not because they actually like the place and want to contribute.

Miyake’s column then veers off topic to snipe at “stereotypical comments on Osaka’s victory” made by “expat pundits living in Japan” who “criticize xenophobia and discrimination in Japanese society.” He is suffused with righteous indignation after his own not-entirely-logical detour.

He concludes that discrimination and xenophobia are “quite common everywhere.” He asks: What about discrimination in the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States? The “whataboutism” is indeed strong in this one, as well as the “foreigners can’t criticize Japan” sentiment.

Miyake then declares that “Japan is learning lessons as well,” noting how it is becoming a multiracial and multicultural society—to the point where sometimes “Japanese nationals are minorities.” But he still can’t help adding that tinge of fear of being outnumbered.

Miyake’s heart does seem to be in the right place when he opines that foreigners and biracial Japanese “are not rare anymore” and that Japan will have to learn “how to get along well with foreign newcomers.” But again, he’s implying, even after generations of international marriages and children born here, that Japan’s multiculturality and multiethnicity is a recent development.

The only thing that is new is the fact that one of Japan’s multiethnic citizens has become a world champion. So now it matters.

Miyake returns to Naomi Osaka to graciously pronounce her as “very Japanese,” citing her behavior, such as having the “Japanese characteristics” of “modesty, politeness, honesty, and humility.” (Never mind that her opponent in the champion match, Petra Kvitova, was similarly polite and gracious in defeat. Does it logically follow that Kvitova and anyone else who is polite must be Japanese as well?)

Miyake makes a good point towards the end, where he rightly asserts that, “It’s time for Japan to allow dual citizenship.”

His reasoning, however, is askew. It’s not because dual passports would save Naomi Osaka (and thousands of other multiethnic Japanese children) the emotional pain of sacrificing part of their identity to fit into an artificial binary, but rather because “Japan will lose one of their greatest tennis players.” In other words, it’s for the good of the nation, the kokutai, through which Japanese can feel communal superiority.

The Broader Picture of Japan Times Changes

This half-baked column is indicative of something much larger—a decline in analytical prowess due to the editorial changes at the Japan Times in recent years.

The Japan Times came under new ownership in June 2017 by the media group News2u Holdings, a PR company. In an unexpected editorial shift, last November the Japan Times announced that it would henceforth be rewording the “potentially misleading” (and internationally-recognized) terms “Comfort Women”—which is already a direct translation of the official euphemism of ianfu—as “women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.” Likewise, the term “forced laborers” would now be rendered merely as “wartime laborers,” following the new government policy.

Aside from journalistic concerns about cramming a wordy term into concise articles, it wasn’t hard for media observers to understand this as a response to government pressure, already manifest in Japanese media and world history textbooks, to portray Japan’s past in a more exculpatory light.

Reuters has since reported that the executive editor of the Japan Times, Hiroyasu Mizuno, was recorded at a meeting with staff as saying, “I want to get rid of criticism that Japan Times is anti-Japanese.” Another executive added that this would increase advertising revenues from Japanese companies and institutions.

Reuters added that the Japan Times “had already increased government ad sales and scored an exclusive interview with [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe after dropping a column by Jeff Kingston, director of Asia studies at Temple University Japan, who had been writing weekly on what he saw as the Abe administration’s historical revisionism.”

Symbolizing this shift, Shingetsu News Agency last December drew attention to a photo of News2u Publisher and Chair Minako Kambara Suematsu literally cozying up to Prime Minister Abe at a public event.

Reuters concluded by pointing out a remarkable coincidence: Late last year, the ultraconservative think tank Japan Institute for National Fundamentals zeroed in on the Japan Times, demanding they refer to plaintiffs in a controversial Korean court ruling on the Comfort Women as “wartime Korean workers,” thereby leaving out the nuance of forced labor or sexual slavery. Two weeks later, the Japan Times changed its wording.

The academic venue Asia-Pacific Journal (Japan Focus) has also published a detailed article by David McNeill and Justin McCurry depicting internal tensions within the Japan Times, with petitions for change, staff being yanked from their beat, editorial refusals to cover certain news stories, and connections to far-right groups decrying the “poor quality of Japan’s English-language media, the gateway through which foreign nationals access information about the country.”

Fear and Favor

In sum, the Japan Times is clearly bowing to the years of pressure from the Abe administration, the longest-lasting and furthest-right political administration in Japan’s postwar era. As a media outlet, the Japan Times has long been seen as means of “communicating Japan to the world” (i.e. not a forum for discussion about Japan’s domestic problems), and those in charge want that message to be favorable.

I myself have been a contributing writer for the Japan Times since 2002, writing as the “Just Be Cause” column since 2008. My specialty is human rights issues towards non-Japanese residents. In other words, I cover domestic problems.

Since 2017 and the arrival of the new team, I have felt a palpable editorial chill come over my submissions, and my column went from a monthly to a “pitch-an-idea-for-us-to-approve” status. Now I’m lucky if I get an article published every few months.

In fairness, the Japan Times did recently publish my annual top ten list of human rights issues, where I put the Japan Times editorial issues as the #3 concern of 2018, but clearly my writing used to be published at this newspaper in a much more hard-hitting fashion.

For example, my column of July 6, 2015, noted how the Fujisankei Communications Group acquisition of news outlet Japan Today had shifted the English-language media landscape rightward politically, with articles becoming more assiduous in pointing out non-Japanese misbehavior, yet muted in its criticism of Japan.

This was after the English-language arms of Japan’s major newspapers, including the Daily Yomiuri (eventually relaunched as The Japan News), the Daily Mainichi, and the Asahi Evening News, had relegated their foreign staff away from investigative journalism into mere translation duties.

The chair of NHK, Katsuto Momii, even went so far as to state publicly in 2016 that his network would not report on contentious subjects until the government has “an official stance” on them—meaning that NHK is willfully acting as a government mouthpiece.

Back then, I had concluded that the Japan Times is “the only sustainable venue left” with investigative non-Japanese and independently-thinking Japanese writers who are “bravely critiquing current government policy without fretting about patriotism or positively promoting Japan’s image abroad.” I’m not confident anymore that this remains the case.

So how does one become a regular Japan Times columnist nowadays? Let’s check back in with Kunihiko Miyake.

Since April 16, 2018, Miyake’s musings have been appearing weekly. No doubt his solid pedigree got his foot in the door. A prominent television pundit, Miyake’s tagline indicates he is “President of the Foreign Policy Institute and Researcher at the Canon Institute for Global Studies.” He is also a former diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a Tokyo University Law graduate.

This fulfills the Japan Times’ apparent need at the current juncture to cozy up to Japan’s elites.

The downside is that Miyake’s column is evidence of the blindness of Japan’s brahmins. He is essentially a person trained in international “gaijin handling” trying to make insightful comments on Japan’s current race relations and multiethnic future. Bring back Jeff Kingston!

The Japan Times is clearly trading quality journalistic insight for elite access, privilege, and funding. By hewing to a government-approved line, its quality as a news and analytical source will therefore continue to decline.



As Michael Penn at SNA notes, “I’m pleased to note that Debito Arudou has contributed his first article to the Shingetsu News Agency. Aside from being a strong article, it’s another step toward getting a wider range of writers taking advantage of our progressive news media platform.”  Other writers and investigators, please feel free to pitch something to SNA as well.  Debito Arudou Ph.D.


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