Commemorating the Japan Times Community Page’s 10th Anniversary, a brief column by Arudou Debito, May 8, 2012


Books etc. by ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「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 on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog. As the very popular and quite influential Community Page at the Japan Times celebrated its 10th Anniversary this week, I was asked (along with their former editor and best reporter) to say a few words as their featured columnist (now for four years plus). Here’s what I said. There are links to other celebratory articles below that. Enjoy, and congrats Community Page. You’re doing great things. Thanks for being there for our writings, and for us. Arudou Debito


The Japan Times Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A decade serving the community

Wednesday marks the 10-year anniversary of the Community pages, which have been providing news, analysis and opinion by, for and about the foreign community in Japan since May 9, 2002.

Here, an editor, columnist and writer who helped make the section what it is today reflect on the first decade of the Community section.

Full article at

The Columnist’s section:

The columnist: ARUDOU, Debito

I remember my first article on the Community Page back in June 2002, after I jumped ship as a columnist at the Japan Today website.

Having been an infrequent contributor to other publications, I was impressed by the comparative professionalism at The Japan Times: I was never forced to toe any editorial line by the Community Page (unlike, say, the vanity projects that pass for English-language newspapers at the Asahi and Yomiuri, who tend to take criticism of Japan in English by NJ authors as a personal affront).

It was also nice that the JT paid its contributors the amount as promised promptly, something relatively rare in this business.

Honesty has served the Community Page well. Over the past decade, we have had hundreds of contributors writing exposes on subjects few other domestic outlets would touch, including unequal hiring practices due to nationality, the merits of unionization, international divorces from the studiously ignored NJ partner’s perspective, the Japanese judiciary’s systematic discrimination against claimants based on race or social origin, the biased treatment of NJ crime by police and the media, public policies and government statements that latently and blatantly disenfranchise whole peoples in Japan, one’s rights under the law and revised visa regimes, and even new takes on the perennial debate over the epithet “gaijin.”

Where else in our domestic media could this motley collection of journalists, scholars, pundits, activists and general malcontents consistently splash their views across a page (now two) every Tuesday — and have their presence permanently recorded in this country’s best online archive of English articles on Japan?

For that matter, where else in Japan’s media does anyone even acknowledge that there is a “community” of NJ in Japan, or offer authoritative information specifically for the benefit of this community? Only here.

I have been honored to not only have had more than a hundred of my articles featured here since 2002, but also to have the ideas debated in a venue that people, including academics and Japanese policymakers, take seriously.

For example, my favorite Community Page memory is the reaction from “Forensic Science Fiction: Bad science and racism underpin police policy” (Jan. 13, 2004), where I critiqued the National Research Institute for Police Science’s highly unscientific “DNA tests for foreigners.”. They claimed that you could examine biotic evidence at crime scenes and tell whether the suspect was foreign or not. They sold this snake oil to us taxpayers for years by claiming that “foreign proteins are different than Japanese.”

When I telephoned NRIPS on different business shortly afterwards, the person on the other end immediately knew me by name, and with no invitation launched into a defense of the policy as “having nothing to do with foreigners.”

I then pulled up the policy and read it back to him. “The very title says, ‘Developing an index using biological materials in order to expose foreign crime.’ In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I can read Japanese. Can you?” I got a gasp and then a delicious silence. Plus, in a country where the police ignore media scrutiny and even get away with murder (ZG, Nov. 1, 2011), the NRIPS still felt obligated a month later to send the JT a flaccid letter of denial. Gotcha.

In sum, I have observed three definite stages in the development of the NJ “community” since I got to Japan. In the 1990s, communities were forming during the influx of foreign labor, with some regions reaching double-digit population percentages of NJ. In the 2000s, NJ communities came under attack by xenophobes and chauvinist politicians who firmly believe the fiction that more foreigners means less Japan. And now, in the 2010s, we’re watching the NJ communities attacking themselves, cleaving into one-upping camps over who is “more dedicated to Japan” in this era of perpetual stagnation, rollover disasters and seemingly endless self-sacrifice.

The Community Page, despite all of that, stands as our outlet, and our legacy. Long may it run.

ARUDOU, Debito is the Just Be Cause columnist for The Japan Times

9 comments on “Commemorating the Japan Times Community Page’s 10th Anniversary, a brief column by Arudou Debito, May 8, 2012

  • I generally agree with the sentiment, but I would amend one point somewhat.

    You say:

    “Where else in Japan’s media does anyone even acknowledge that there is a “community” of NJ in Japan, or offer authoritative information specifically for the benefit of this community?”

    There IS recognition of a Korean NJ community in Japan.

    There is not recognition of non-Korean and non-Chinese NJ communities in Japan.

    — Read my sentence again. “Where else IN JAPAN’S MEDIA…” The Zainichis (and Nikkei Brazilians) have their own newspapers to fill in the gaps in the domestic media.

  • Fight Back says:

    interesting point about the foreign community becoming more fragmented and the rise of one-upmanship to show dedication to Japan. A polite way to refer to the apologists of course!

    I tend to see these people as enemy collaborators in the struggle for NJ rights here in Japan and believe they should be treated as such as they are holding us all back, not just themselves!

    On that note, why not a Rogue’s Gallery for apologists? You could include the obvious ones like Mike Guest, Gregory Clarke, Donald Keene et al but also people who put their face on TV yet never stand up for the plight of NJ.

    A small profile for each person, where they operate, and so on could be invaluable for someone newly arrived in Japan and therefore susceptible to being swayed at first by apologist arguments. A database of sorts would be a map to the minefield, so to speak.

    — No doubt if I did that I’d be accused of “stalking” by the real stalkers. 🙂

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    The JT has been considered as unique English newspapers that serve for the needs of NJ living in Japan. Even before the Community Page (CP) was added in May 2002, the JT is unparalleled in providing good pieces of reading (i.e., Sunday Features, the editorials from foreign media correspondents). But, there’s no doubt in my mind that the CP has created a wide audience of readers–both NJ and J–in Japan and around the world. I know most authors are NJ (some of them naturalized), — and possibly, liberal, but it just doesn’t matter whether they are more like David Brooks or Amy Goodman. As long as they can keep their commandments in FAIR (Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting), they deserve recognition in the CP. The next stage for the CP, 5 to 10 years from now, will be to provide news report & analysis regarding NJ Community online or media post casts.

  • Debito:

    You say (#3):

    ““Where else IN JAPAN’S MEDIA…” The Zainichis (and Nikkei Brazilians) have their own newspapers to fill in the gaps in the domestic media.”

    True, but their own newspapers ARE a part of Japan’s media.

    Their newspapers are not outside of Japan’s media.

    They are written by residents of Japan, printed in Japan, published in Japan, and sold in Japan, to residents of Japan.

    I am perplexed by your response that suggests that their media is not a part of Japan’s media.

    — Come on. How many Japanese do you know read Mindan Shimbun? Or International Press? Or even The Japan Times? I bet a lot less than even read Akahata, methinks. It’s definitely nowhere near the number who read the big dailies (Yomiuri, Asahi, Nikkei, Mainichi, Sankei), wire services (Kyodo, Jiji) or many of the regional papers (Hokkaido Shimbun, Tokyo Shimbun). Therefore, I argue ethnic newspapers are NOT part of Japan’s national media narrative. (How often do you see the big boys cribbing stories from ethnic papers, as they do from each other and capitalizing off each others’ scoops, for example?)

    I would love to stand corrected, so pull up the circulation numbers if you like.

  • Debito:

    I certainly agree with you about the numbers.

    And it is fair to say that the newspapers by ethnic Koreans, etc. are marginalised, ostracised and ignored.

    Yet, I would say that to deny them as being a part of Japan’s media is to succumb to the very mindset that you decry.

    Being a part of Japan is not dependent on acceptance by the majority of Japanese but rather depends on objective criteria.

    — So let’s have that objective criteria. Let’s start with circulation numbers. Then let’s work up to cross citations. We’re measuring media impact, not mere existence, which is the very definition of what media is trying to do: influence society (for what good is a media if hardly anyone reads it — or if most people are essentially told not to read it because what they cover is not newsworthy?).

    I’m talking about influences on national narratives, and you’re making my case too that they are marginalized, ostracized, and ignored. It’s not succumbing. It’s acknowledging and calling for improvement.

  • Debito:

    You say, regarding the purpose of media that the:

    “definition of what media is trying to do: influence society (for what good is a media if hardly anyone reads it”

    I think that in the case of media that represent a despised, marginalised and ostracised group, such as ethnic Koreans, etc. in Japan that influencing society is NOT their goal.

    Much as the bulk of the gay press in Japan is not generally aimed at changing society as a whole, but rather it is talking to its own readers about coping with and handling the stress from being a marginalised group, so too with the press for marginalised ethnic groups in Japan.

    As to the good of that, as you ask, I would offer the the thought that the good is in helping readers to manage such stresses and cope.

    Your goal is to transform and change society through the media.

    For many in Japan’s embattled marginalised groups the goal is simply to endure and survive Japanese society’s treatment of them.

    Your goal is more ambitious, certainly, but I would request that you also acknowledge the value of the humbler goal as well.

    So, as to impact, the impact should be considered in light of the goal — in this case a humbler goal.

    The fact that there are few readers does not demean the impact for those who are readers of such media in Japan.

    — I acknowledge. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>