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

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“OVERTOURISM” AS RACISM

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

By Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

SNA Visible Minorities column 57, July 1, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OVERTOURISM” AS A MEANS OF HARASSMENT 

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

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

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

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

WHAT EXACTLY DOES JAPAN WANT FROM ITS TOURISTS?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“CULTURAL DIFFERENCES” USED AS A WEAPON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROM ENFORCEMENT OF THE RULES TO MAKING UP YOUR OWN RULES

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this for ringing a bell too loudly. 

BULLYING CRYSTALIZING INTO BAD GOVERNMENT POLICY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:  YOU WANTED THEM HERE.  NOW PROTECT THEM.

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

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

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

What should be done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

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DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JULY 3, 2024

mytest

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JULY 3, 2024

Hello Debito.org Newsletter Readers. Let me open with my most recent SNA column, on the “overtourism” debate going on in Japan. Probably not surprisingly, I argue there is a racialized component to it. Hear me out:

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Debito’s SNA VM column 57: “Overtourism as racism” (July 1, 2024)

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

I don’t dispute that “overtourism” can happen. Too many people crowding into a place can produce problems of noise, pollution, disruption, and property damage. But be careful about associating it with “foreigners.” As evidenced by a Karen-esque confrontation at Yasaka Shrine last May, it’s giving license to Japan’s busybodies, bullies, and xenophobes.

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

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

Anchor site with sources for commentary at:
https://www.debito.org/?p=17482

Now on with the rest of the Newsletter:

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

2) Incidents of confrontationalism toward NJ are on the rise. Debito.org argues that this is standard social bullying of foreigners being disguised as a reaction to alleged “overtourism”. Push back at it.

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

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

5) Reuters: Biden calls ally Japan ‘xenophobic’ along with rivals China and Russia (May 2, 2024). Bravo Biden!

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

7) Debito cited in article, “Japan is becoming more diverse. Will its government?” Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2024. As are several other naturalized and elected Japanese citizens originating from Canada, Uzbekistan, Syria/Egypt, and Bolivia.

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

… and finally…

9) Kyodo: “Record 3.4 million foreign residents in Japan as work visas rise” in 2023. Only a brief reference to foreign crime (i.e., overstaying) this time. Fancy that.
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By Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (debito@debito.org, www.debito.org, Twitter @arudoudebito)
Debito.org Newsletters as always are freely forwardable

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

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

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

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

Murder is rare in Japan compared to other countries. Social civility and strict hierarchical codes of conduct are often cited as reasons for the low incidence of violent crimes in Japan. However, Japanese assaults on foreigners are not new in in the long history of Japan’s relations with the West. […] The most prominent such incident was the murder was of British citizen Charles Lennox Richardson in 1862…

https://www.debito.org/?p=17465
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2) Incidents of confrontationalism toward NJ are on the rise. Debito.org argues that this is standard social bullying of foreigners being disguised as a reaction to alleged “overtourism”. Push back at it.

We’ve had plenty of reports in recent months of people being confrontational towards NJ (Resident and Tourist), or people who look like NJ, accusing them of all manner of cultural slights and faux pas. In recent weeks, we’ve had a confrontation at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, and enough tourism in Kyoto and Mt Fuji to warrant bans on people going to certain places — even the recent overkill of a local government putting up a screen to block a view of Mt Fuji around a convenience store, with predictable accusations that foreigners are spoiling everything. Halloween in Shibuya even became a target, with drinking in the street made out to be a foreign-imported problem (seriously?!).

Some of this is inevitable. For quite some time now we’ve had grumbles about Chinese consumers’ spending habits in places like Ginza. And whenever foreigners are about, they tend to be the first people blamed for any problem due to “cultural differences” that are automatically at odds with Japan’s putative “uniqueness”. They’re a soft target. And “overtourism” is now being used as a means to empower bullies who want to push foreigners around.

It even happened to me yesterday in front of Tokyo Station, when some ojisan decided to jump the line in front of me for taxis and then curse me out for saying something. Mayhem ensued…

https://www.debito.org/?p=17447

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

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

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

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

The problem is that children are likewise forced into one severed family registry or another, This means they lose all legal ties with one parent, and that parent (usually the father) has not rights of joint custody or child visitation. This means that divorce in Japan completely disappears a “Left Behind Parent’ (LBP) from a child’s life. This invisibility is enforced by the rest of society too…

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

Anchor site with sources for commentary at:
https://www.debito.org/?p=17443

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

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

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

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

https://www.debito.org/?p=17432

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5) Reuters: Biden calls ally Japan ‘xenophobic’ along with rivals China and Russia (May 2, 2024). Bravo Biden!

Reuters: U.S. President Joe Biden included ally Japan along with rivals China and Russia in a list of countries he called “xenophobic” on Wednesday, in a speech at a campaign fundraising event in Washington. Biden reiterated remarks he made last month linking China’s economic woes to its unwillingness to accept immigration. […] “You know, one of the reasons our economy is growing is because of you and many others. Why? Because we welcome immigrants,” Biden told Asian American and Pacific Islander donors Wednesday. “The reason — think about it — why is China stalling so bad economically? Why is Japan having trouble? Why is Russia, why is anyone? Because they’re xenophobic, they don’t want immigrants.”

COMMENT: Debito.org says “Bravo Biden!”, for obvious reasons we’ve covered on Debito.org since its beginning back in 1995. For generations now Japan has gotten a free pass on its racial discrimination (about which I’ve written entire books) simply because it’s an ally. It’s about time somebody in leadership chided things in the right direction, Unfortunately, geopolitics and human rights do not mix, and the latter has taken a back seat to the former for too long. The reaction will be predictable and obvious. There will be the handwringing from the diplomats and media, and the knee-jerk reactions from the ethnostatists defending Japan’s putative ethnic purity or sovereignty in various comments sections (although human rights supersede pat claims of sovereignty if you’ve signed the CERD, which Japan did nearly 30 years ago and still has not passed any laws against racial discrimination). Whatever. It’s long overdue to state the fact that Japan as a polity simply will not keep its international promises, and Debito.org agrees with Biden that Japan’s lack of any official immigration policy hurts Japan as a society both economically and demographically.

https://www.debito.org/?p=17409

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

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

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

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

SNA: Hang on. Point of order. We’re still falling back on those boilerplate arguments we see in the chauvinistic media that some foreigners are freeloaders. Not so… [And the conversation gets warmer from there…]

Anchor site with sources for commentary at:
https://www.debito.org/?p=17416

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7) Debito cited in article, “Japan is becoming more diverse. Will its government?” Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2024. As are several other naturalized and elected Japanese citizens originating from Canada, Uzbekistan, Syria/Egypt, and Bolivia.

CSM: A former swimming instructor from Egypt is helping revive the sleepy mountain town of Shonai, Japan. About 200 miles away, a Canadian polyglot is singing the praises of Tsukuba city. And Orzugul Babakhodjaeva is standing onstage at a food festival outside Tokyo, decked in a traditional Uzbek dress, expressing her desire to “create a society where diversity is accepted.”

The first-term city councilor in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward – who does not use her family name, and campaigned simply as “Orzugul” – is one of a small but growing number of foreign-born local government members bringing fresh perspectives to an island nation long known for its homogeneity. These lawmakers are often multilingual and have rich international work experience. Their platforms have resonated with many Japanese voters, as well as with a growing population of non-Japanese residents.

The number of non-Japanese residents jumped 10.9% from 2022 to 2023, reaching a record 3.4 million, as the country struggles to address a chronic labor shortage driven by its aging population. Last year, 8,800 residents were naturalized as citizens, allowing them to vote in elections.

Shifting demographics are challenging Japan’s reputation as a homogeneous society – and creating unprecedented openings for immigrants to participate in local government. Arudou Debito, author of the book “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination,” says the election of immigrants to local government is “very important” for Japan’s democracy.

“Non-Japanese residents’ viewpoints are woefully unseen in Japanese society. They’re treated as ‘guests,’” explains Mr. Arudou, who is a U.S.-born naturalized citizen. “The fact that former non-Japanese residents are getting elected means they aren’t ‘guests,’ meaning Japanese society can trust immigrants with public policymaking power.”

https://www.debito.org/?p=17422

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

Intro: I teach Political Science at the university level. In my first lecture every semester, I try to convince skeptical students why they should bother studying Political Science at all. I argue that understanding how power flows through political structures will help students enfranchise themselves in a democratic system. Because if they don’t, other people who understand the system better will use it to their advantage instead. But this assumes one major fundamental: that they can participate in the democratic system at all. Fortunately, most of my students are citizens, so they can vote. Given how abysmal youth voter turnout generally is, I consider it a major educational outcome if they bother to. Persuading people that their vote matters is the bare minimum a civics class can accomplish.

If I have the opportunity in higher-level classes to proselytize further, I encourage them to engage in community building, such as organizing into interest groups and consolidating power into voting blocs. My real converts consider running for local office, thereby embedding themselves within the very power structure itself. Because political power, especially for minorities in any society, is rarely surrendered without a struggle. We need more diverse views in office as demographics change the makeup of future majorities.

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

https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2024/03/31/visible-minorities-non-japanese-residents-claim-political-power/

Anchor site with sources for commentary at:
https://www.debito.org/?p=17392

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… and finally…

9) Kyodo: “Record 3.4 million foreign residents in Japan as work visas rise” in 2023. Only a brief reference to foreign crime (i.e., overstaying) this time. Fancy that.

Kyodo: “The number of foreign nationals residing in Japan hit a record high of over 3.4 million in 2023, government data has shown, with employment-related visas seeing significant growth amid the country’s efforts to address its acute labor shortage. As of the end of December, 3,410,992 foreign nationals resided in Japan, up 10.9% from the previous year to mark a record high for the second consecutive year, the Immigration Services Agency said Friday.

“The number of specified skilled workers jumped 59.2% to around 208,000, while trainees under Japan’s technical internship program grew 24.5% to around 404,000 to approach the record high level marked in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, the data showed. The specified skilled workers visa, which allows the holder to immediately take on jobs in designated industries without the need for training, was introduced in 2019 in response to Japan’s severe labor shortage resulting from its declining birthrate, with the aim of attracting foreign workers.

“Meanwhile, permanent residents, who made up the largest group by residential status, stood at around 891,000, up 3.2%. Engineers, specialists in humanities and international services, including foreign language teachers, rose 16.2% to around 362,000. By nationality, Chinese accounted for the largest population of foreign residents at around 821,000, followed by Vietnamese at around 565,000 and South Koreans at around 410,000…”

COMMENT: So the foreign labor imports have resumed, and how. Also interesting is that Kyodo doesn’t seem to feel the need to shoehorn in foreign crime statistics this time (just a brief allusion to overstaying at the very end). I’ll be incorporating these stats into my next SNA Visible Minorities column, out shortly, and argue how this influx can translate into political power.

https://www.debito.org/?p=17390

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That’s all for now. I hope the summer is going coolly for those reading in the Northern Hemisphere, and the winter is pleasant for you in the Southern. Thanks for reading!

Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
(debito@debito.org, www.debito.org, Twitter @arudoudebito)
DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JULY 3, 2024 ENDS