Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 59: The year for NJ in 2012: a Top 10


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Hi Blog. Thanks everyone for putting this article in the Top Ten Most Read once again for most of New Year’s Day (and to the JT for distinguishing this with another “Editor’s Pick”). Great illustrations as always by Chris Mackenzie.  Here’s hoping I have more positive things to say in next year’s roundup… This version with links to sources. Enjoy. And Happy New Year 2013.  Arudou Debito


The Japan Times: Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013

The year for non-Japanese in ’12: a top 10


Back by popular demand, here is JBC’s roundup of the top 10 human rights events that most affected non-Japanese (NJ) residents of Japan in 2012, in ascending order.

10. Keene’s naturalization (March 7)
News photo

This should have occasioned great celebration in Japan’s era of crisis, but instead, scholar Donald Keene’s anointment as a Japanese citizen became a cautionary tale, for two reasons. One was his very public denigration of other NJ (despite their contributions as full-time Japan residents, taxpayers and family creators) as alleged criminals and “flyjin” deserters (JBC, Apr. 3), demonstrating how Old Japan Hands eat their young. The other was the lengths one apparently must go for acceptance: If you spend the better part of a century promoting Japanese literature to the world, then if you live to, oh, the age of 90, you might be considered “one of us.”

It seems Japan would rather celebrate a pensioner salving a wounded Japan than young multiethnic Japanese workers potentially saving it.

9. Liberty Osaka defunded (June 2)
News photo

Liberty Osaka (www.liberty.or.jp), Japan’s only human rights museum archiving the historical grass-roots struggles of disenfranchised minorities, faces probable closure because its government funding is being cut off. Mayor Toru Hashimoto, of hard-right Japan Restoration Party fame (and from a disenfranchised minority himself), explicitly said the divestment is due to the museum’s displays being “limited to discrimination and human rights,” thereby failing to present Japan’s children with a future of “hopes and dreams.”

In a country with the most peace museums in the world, this politically motivated ethnic cleansing of the past augurs ill for cultural heterogeneity under Japan’s right-wing swing (see below).

Sources:  https://www.debito.org/?p=10619 http://japanfocus.org/-Tessa-Morris_Suzuki/3818

8. Nationality Law ruling (March 23)
News photo

In a throwback to prewar eugenics, Tokyo District Court ruled constitutional a section of the Nationality Law’s Article 12 stating that a) if a man sires a child with a foreigner b) overseas, and c) does not file for the child’s Japanese citizenship within three months of birth, then citizenship may legally be denied.

Not only did this decision erode the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that granted citizenship to international children born out of wedlock, but it also made clear that having “foreign blood” (in a country where citizenship is blood-based) penalizes Japanese children — because if two Japanese nationals have a child overseas, or if the child is born to a Japanese woman, Article 12 does not apply. The ruling thus reinforced a legal loophole helping Japanese men evade responsibility if they fool around with foreign women.

Sources:  https://www.debito.org/?p=10060 https://www.debito.org/?p=1715

7. No Hague signing (September 8)
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Japan’s endorsement of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction became a casualty of months of political gridlock, as the opposition Liberal Democratic Party blocked about a third of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s bills.

The treaty outlines protocol for how children of broken marriages can avoid international tugs of war. As the Community Pages have reported umpteen times, Japan, one of the few developed countries that is not a signatory, remains a haven for postdivorce parental alienation and child abductions.

Since joint custody does not legally exist and visitation rights are not guaranteed, after a Japanese divorce one parent (regardless of nationality) is generally expected to disappear from their child’s life. Former Diet member Masae Ido (a parental child abductor herself) glibly called this “a Japanese custom.” If so, it is one of the most psychologically damaging customs possible for a child, and despite years of international pressure on Japan to join the Hague, there is now little hope of that changing.

Sources:  http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120908a2.html

6. Immigration talks (May 24-August 27)
News photo

In one of the few potentially bright spots for NJ in Japan this year, the Yoshihiko Noda Cabinet convened several meetings on how Japan might go about creating a “coexistence society” that could “accept” NJ (JBC, July 3). A well-intentioned start, the talks included leaders of activist groups, local governments and one nikkei academic.

Sadly, it fell into old ideological traps: 1) Participants were mostly older male Japanese bureaucrats; 2) those bureaucrats were more interested in policing NJ than in making them more comfortable and offering them a stake in society; 3) no NJ leader was consulted about what NJ themselves might want; and 4) the Cabinet itself confined its concerns to the welfare of nikkei residents, reflecting the decades-old (but by now obviously erroneous) presumption that only people with “Japanese bloodlines” could “become Japanese.”

In sum, even though the government explicitly stated in its goals that NJ immigration (without using the word, imin) would revitalize our economy, it still has no clue how to make NJ into “New Japanese.”

Source:  https://www.debito.org/?p=10396

5. Mainali, Suraj cases (June 7, July 3)
News photo

2012 saw the first time an NJ serving a life sentence in Japan was declared wrongfully convicted, in the case of Govinda Prasad Mainali. The last time that happened (Toshikazu Sugaya in 2009), the victim was released with a very public apology from public prosecutors. Mainali, however, despite 15 years in the clink, was transferred to an immigration cell and deported. At least both are now free men.

On the other hand, the case of Abubakar Awudu Suraj (from last year’s top 10), who died after brutal handling by Japanese immigration officers during his deportation on March 22, 2010, was dropped by public prosecutors who found “no causal relationship” between the treatment and his death.

Thus, given the “hostage justice” (hitojichi shihō) within the Japanese criminal prosecution system, and the closed-circuit investigation system that protects its own, the Japanese police can incarcerate you indefinitely and even get away with murder — particularly if you are an NJ facing Japan’s double standards of jurisprudence (Zeit Gist, Mar. 24, 2009).

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=9265
“Hostage justice”: https://www.debito.org/?p=1426

4. Visa regimes close loop (August)
News photo

Over the past two decades, we have seen Japan’s visa regimes favoring immigration through blood ties — offering limited-term work visas with no labor law rights to Chinese “trainees” while giving quasi-permanent-residency “returnee” visas to nikkei South Americans, for example.

However, after 2007’s economic downturn, blood was judged to be thinner than unemployment statistics, and the government offered the nikkei (and the nikkei only) bribes of free airfares home if they forfeited their visa status (JBC, Apr. 7, 2009). They left in droves, and down went Japan’s registered NJ population for the first time in nearly a half-century — and in 2012 the Brazilian population probably dropped to fourth place behind Filipinos.

But last year was also when the cynical machinations of Japan’s “revolving door” labor market became apparent to the world (JBC, March 6) as applications for Japan’s latest exploitative visa wheeze, “trainee” nurses from Indonesia and the Philippines, declined — and even some of the tiny number of NJ nurses who did pass the arduous qualifying exam left. Naturally, Japan’s media (e.g., Kyodo, June 20; Aug. 4) sought to portray NJ as ungrateful and fickle deserters, but nevertheless doubts remain as to whether the nursing program will continue. The point remains that Japan is increasingly seen as a place to avoid in the world’s unprecedented movement of international labor.

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=10010
International labor migration stats http://www.oecd.org/els/internationalmigrationpoliciesanddata/internationalmigrationoutlook2012.htm

3. New NJ registry system (July 5)
News photo

One of the most stupefying things about postwar Japan has been how NJ could not be registered with their Japanese families on the local residency registry system (jūmin kihon daichō) — meaning NJ often went uncounted in local population tallies despite being taxpaying residents! In 2012, this exclusionary system was finally abolished along with the Foreign Registry Law.

Unfortunately, this good news was offset by a) NJ still not being properly registered on family registries (koseki), b) NJ still having to carry gaijin cards at all times (except now with potentially remotely readable computer chips), and c) NJ still being singled out for racial profiling in spot ID checks by Japanese police (even though the remaining applicable law requires probable cause). It seems that old habits die hard, or else just get rejiggered with loopholes.

Sources:  https://www.debito.org/?p=10414
Remotely readable computer chips https://www.debito.org/?p=10750

2. Post-Fukushima Japan is bust
News photo

After the multiple disasters of March 11, 2011, there was wan hope that Japan’s electorate would be energized enough to demand better governance. Nope. And this despite the revelations in December 2011 that the fund for tsunami victims was diverted to whaling “research.” And the confusing and suppressed official reports about radioactive contamination of the ecosystem. And the tsunami victims who still live in temporary housing. And the independent parliamentary report that vaguely blamed “Japanese culture” for the disaster (and, moreover, offered different interpretations for English- and Japanese-reading audiences). And the reports in October that even more rescue money had been “slush-funded” to unrelated projects, including road building in Okinawa, a contact lens factory in central Japan and renovations of Tokyo government offices.

Voters had ample reason for outrage, yet they responded (see below) by reinstating the original architects of this system, the LDP.

For everyone living in Japan (not just NJ), 2012 demonstrated that the Japanese system is beyond repair or reform.

Sources:  https://www.debito.org/?p=9745

1. Japan swings right (December)
News photo

Two columns ago (JBC, Nov. 6), I challenged former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara (whose rabble-rousing bigotry has caused innumerable headaches for disenfranchised people in Japan, particularly NJ) to “bring it on” and show Japan’s true colors to the world in political debates. Well, he did. After a full decade of successfully encouraging Japanese society to see NJ (particularly Chinese) as innately criminal, Ishihara ratcheted things up by threatening to buy three of the privately-owned Senkaku islets (which forced the Noda administration to purchase them instead, fanning international tensions). Then Ishihara resigned his governorship, formed a “restorationist” party and rode the wave of xenophobia caused by the territorial disputes into the Diet’s Lower House (along with 53 other party members) in December’s general election.

Also benefiting from Ishihara’s ruses was the LDP, who with political ally New Komeito swept back into power with 325 seats. As this is more than the 320 necessary to override Upper House vetoes, Japan’s bicameral legislature is now effectively unicameral. I anticipate policy proposals (such as constitutional revisions to allow for a genuine military, fueling an accelerated arms race in Asia) reflecting the same corporatist rot that created the corrupt system we saw malfunctioning after the Fukushima disaster. (Note that if these crises had happened on the LDP’s watch, I bet the DPJ would have enjoyed the crushing victory instead — tough luck.)

In regards to NJ, since Japan’s left is now decimated and three-quarters of the 480-seat Lower House is in the hands of conservatives, I foresee a chauvinistic movement enforcing bloodline-based patriotism (never mind the multiculturalism created by decades of labor influx and international marriage), love of a “beautiful Japan” as defined by the elites, and more officially sanctioned history that downplays, ignores and overwrites the contributions of NJ and minorities to Japanese society.

In sum, if 2011 exposed a Japan in decline, 2012 showed a Japan closing.

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=10854
New arms race:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20302604 (Watch the video from minute 5.30:  the Hyuuga, Postwar Japan’s first new aircraft carrier is now in commission, two new big aircraft carriers are in production.)

Bubbling under (in descending order):

• China’s anti-Japan riots (September) and Senkaku-area maneuvers (October to now).

• North Korea’s missile test timed for Japan’s elections (December 12).

• NJ workers’ right to strike reaffirmed in court defeat of Berlitz (February 27).

• NJ on welfare deprived of waiver of public pension payments (August 10), later reinstated after public outcry (October 21).

• Statistics show 2011’s postdisaster exodus of NJ “flyjin” to be a myth (see JBC, Apr. 3).

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=10055

Debito Arudou and Akira Higuchi’s bilingual 2nd Edition of “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants,” with updates for 2012’s changes to immigration laws, is now on sale. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send your comments to community@japantimes.co.jp.
The Japan Times: Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013

12 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 59: The year for NJ in 2012: a Top 10

  • This could be a worthy #11.

    Confessions under duress even when innocent by hapless police bent on a confession.


    “..”The money doesn’t bother me and it’s not even an apology that I want, but I want to change the system which allows the police, prosecutors and judges to put away innocent people and get away with it”…”

    — Unfortunately, not really news (as this has been going on for a long, long time) and not really NJ-related in specific (I covered the ones that were with Mainali and Suraj). But thanks!

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    The thing about the aircraft carriers is that by their nature, they are for power-projection, which really does fall outside the definition of self-defense. It must irritate that Japanese old gits that Thailand built the first post war carrier in Asia. Thailand! Of all people!
    Anyway, I note with interest that the Hyuuga has moved from being a ‘disaster relief ship’ that was not listed on the SDF inventory (despite appearing in recruitment posters), to now being a ‘helicopter carrier’ with public acknowledgement.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I have to be honest, I still really want to know who killed TEPCO employee and part-time prostitute Watanabe Yasuko and why, and who is on her client list. I believe that the wrongful conviction of Mainali was really about that. If they had tried to pin it on a Japanese, the J-police and prosecutors would have been under too much pressure, but they (incorrectly) figured that they could get away with fitting up an NJ for it.
    Let’s hope that 2013 ties that loose end, and that Yasuko’s family can find peace, whilst her killer (killers?) rot.

  • Food for thought RE Rightward Swing:

    More of the same stuff
    Clyde Prestowitz
    Foreign Policy
    Courtesy of IPH

    During the 1980s trade conflicts with Japan, the Reagan administration initiated one series of negotiations under the rubric Market Oriented Sector Specific (MOSS) talks. The idea was to negotiate intensely at a high level to remove all the barriers to market entry in selected industry sectors in which it was believed U.S. exports were very competitive.

    Some of us among the negotiators wondered if MOSS really meant More Of the Same Stuff.

    Now as I read of top U.S. officials and Japan wonks in the think tanks hailing the return to power of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his long dominant Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) as a blessing for the United States, I wonder if they all have Alzheimer’s. I mean it’s so clearly a case of MOSS – More Of the Same Stuff.

    I studied at Keio University in Japan in the 1960s, lived and worked in Tokyo as a business consultant in the 1970s, and served as one of the chief negotiators with Japan in the Reagan administration during the 1980s. With the exception of one roughly two year period, the LDP ruled Japan over that entire time. So I got to know the LDP. Indeed, my consulting office was on the same Nagata-cho block as the LDP headquarters.

    One thing I learned is that the LDP is neither liberal nor particularly democratic nor a party. It is significantly rooted in the nationalist groups that ruled Japan prior to and during World War II. Indeed, the early post-war LDP Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi was at one time classified as a War Criminal. He was also the grandfather of just elected Prime Minister Abe. In his previous term as Prime Minister, Abe, like many of his LDP predecessors, made a practice of regularly visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, a monument to Japanese nationalism whose museum continues to this day to present an erroneous , highly propagandistic version of the background and course of World War II. He has supported those who deny that the Japanese army forced Korean, Filippino, and other young girls into prostitution as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers despite incontrovertible evidence that it did.

    Just recently, Abe’s new government has said it is reviewing, with the possible intent of revising, the twenty year old official Japanese government apology to the Comfort Women. Given that it took nearly fifty years to get the apology in the first place, the mere announcement of a review is, at this point, an incredible manifestation of bad faith that should bring forth an outcry of revulsion from Washington.

    The Party has only survived over the years because of its strong links to the countryside and Japan’s highly protectionist and highly over -represented agricultural interests. Think of the agricultural areas of Japan as the global epi-center of Gerrymandering, with each rural vote worth far more than an urban vote. This is the heart of LDP country.

    Economically, the LDP has always at heart tended to be mercantilist and protectionist. It has championed government support of key industries like steel, semiconductors, ship-building, and electronics and has consistently pursued policies of manipulating the yen to keep it undervalued as an indirect subsidy to exports and an indirect tariff on imports. It has fed at the trough of the quasi cartels that control much of Japan’s economy and has fought to defend and protect them. It does not at all resonate to the free market vibes of Adam Smith and David Ricardo in the way that Washington and New York do.

    For years, U.S. officials and analysts have called on Japan to “rebalance” by shifting from an investment and export led economic growth strategy to a domestic consumption led strategy and by halting manipulation of the yen. Indeed, at one point, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone vowed that Japan would become “an importing super-power.”

    It has taken many years and the extraordinary aging and shrinking of Japan’s population, but finally in the past year, Japan has begun to run a trade deficit, although it still accumulates current account surpluses because of the large earnings on its enormous stock of overseas investments.

    So what is Abe proposing by way of stimulating the economy? Yup, you guessed it. He wants to drive up exports and get back to trade surpluses by again manipulating the value of the yen to drive its value down against that of the dollar. This, of course, would increase Japanese exports , especially to America, while holding down Japanese imports.

    He also wants the Bank of Japan to further reduce Japan’s almost zero interest rates as a way of stimulating investment. In all his speeches is not a word about structural adjustment, reform, smart regulation, or measures to mitigate Japan’s inexorably advancing demographic disaster.

    If this doesn’t sound to you like America’s dream new government for Japan, you’re right. It’s not.

    So why are so many American leaders and policy wonks extending open arms, kisses, and hugs to it? For starters, there’s just plain familiarity. We’ve known them for a long time and the devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t know.

    But the key factor is what it has always been — the great game of geo-politics. In the past, it was the Cold War and the U.S. and Japan against the Soviet Union. Now, it’s America and Japan against China. This new Abe gang supports and fosters America’s geo-political priorities and deployments in Asia. It enables and encourages Washington in its “pivoting to Asia” which appears, in fact, to mean containing China largely by means of a bigger American military presence.

    Washington may warn China about currency manipulation but there has been no response to Abe’s calls for manipulation of the yen to foster Japanese exports. As in the past, the United States continues to subordinate its economic interests to its geo-political objectives

    The names may have changed, but it’s as I told you at the beginning — More Of the Same Stuff — MOSS.

  • Outstanding article, and explains much of what goes on here and why Japan is able to run rampant across the distributor networks in the U.S. while the U.S. is blocked in nearly all sectors here. Geopolitics is the keyword here, Prestowitz clearly shows boots on the ground experience here, unlike many diplomats and others in Washington.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Mike #5

    I think a reason that many western diplomats seem so clueless about Japan is much the same as the reason why we see so much lazy coverage of Japan in the western press (‘weird Japan’ stories); Japan isn’t important enough to deserve more serious attention. That said, I did notice an editorial in the Washington Times before Christmas that complained that US asia policy was being driven by the consequences of the outbursts of Japanese nationalists, rather that the best interests of the US. Maybe this is a good sign, like the recent attention given by the BBC and others to Japan’s swing to the right.

  • I must say that it is shocking that the JT agreed to run Column 59, especially on January 1. Shocking because everything stated is strongly negative and paints Japan in the worst possible light. And yet, I cannot disagree with a single thing that Debito has said. I find it all sadly true. The only thing I would say is statements like these: ” and in 2012 the Brazilian population probably dropped to fourth place behind Filipinos” are not appropriate to post. Debito has spent time and effort collecting data on all these strong observations about the harsh realities of Japan, and I do not think that saying “probably dropped” is fair or of value unless he can actually provide numbers. Otherwise, I’m really sad to say, everything else he pointed out is shockingly true. That said, and I really do understand where Debito is coming from, I think it would have SOME value to balance out all this negativity with SOME positive observation, and there simply must be ONE. Although I have experienced my share of insults and plain old rude behavior because I am a “foreigner” in Japan, I have also been treated better than I was ever treated in the United States. Yes, sometimes that treatment is “fake,” but sometimes it is heartfelt and real, and I honestly do not believe that EVERY Japanese person thinks like the inbred group in Kokkai-gijidomae. Anyway, that’s my two-cents, and it’s great that there is someone like Debito who can actually call Japan out on the carpet. Whether he can be successful in shaming Japan as a result remains to be seen.

    — Whellup, I DID talk about the end of the juuminhyou mondai at last, so that’s ONE positive.

    As for my claim about Brazilians probably falling behind Filipinas in 2012, the raw stats are that the population at the end of 2011 (the latest official conclusive figures available for the entire year) for Brazilians was 210,032 (a enormous drop from the peak of 316,967 in 2007), while the Filipinos/nas was 209,373, less than 1000 different. Given that the rate of decline in 2011 was -8.9% for Brazilians while it was a substantially smaller -0.4% for Filipinas/nos, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon (or an irresponsible columnist) to make my prediction of “probably”. Data is courtesy of http://www.moj.go.jp/content/000094842.pdf.

    Sorry, but I don’t make a point of including token positive things just to sweeten the pot. These past four years have been very, very bad on an official level for NJ residents in Japan, and I’m just calling it like I see it.

  • “I have also been treated better than I was ever treated in the United States. Yes, sometimes that treatment is “fake,” but sometimes it is heartfelt and real, and I honestly do not believe that EVERY Japanese person thinks like the inbred group in Kokkai-gijidomae. ”

    Yeah, its a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there, or rather..they wouldn’t want you to live there. Even a member of Debito’s favorite band said “Japan is great, they treat you well, so long as you leave when you are supposed to”. (Juice Magazine, June 2000).

    The bottom line is that there are very very few Japanese-other than some spouses- agitating for NJ rights. I think Ryuhei Kawada takes the biscuit for this, as we have discussed before recently. He is a libertarian activist standing up for human rights but not NJ human rights.

    Xenophobia to NJ residents runs deep, even if on banal, unintentional micro-agressive levels. I was told that as early as 1985 and I did not (want to) believe it. So I came here to see for myself. Sadly it is true.

    — I am impressed when people can give citations for a rock star…

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Tatami #53

    ‘I really do understand where Debito is coming from’, are you sure? I only ask because you are a ‘a “foreigner” in Japan’, whilst Debito is a Japanese citizen.

    ‘I think it would have SOME value to balance out all this negativity with SOME positive observation’. What are you suggesting? I don’t understand. The whole point of the JBC is to continuously highlight issues adversely affecting NJ against the background noise of (until very recently) overwhelming media publication of ‘Japan is great’ or ‘Japan is whacky but great’ articles.

    I would suggest that your energy would be better spent writing to Ishihara, Hashimoto, Kawamura, Abe, or the NPA asking them to say something positive about NJ in Japan, or (even better) actually do something positive for NJ in Japan. In such a case, I am fairly certain that Debito would be happy to mention it in his column.

    It is not Debito’s responsibility to ‘balance out’ reality, however grim that may be.

  • I’d like to comment, belatedly I admit, on the BBC link John K provided:


    If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll find a link to a page with a link to an mp3 of the radio broadcast. Here’s that link:


    I thought about you, Debito, as I listened to this. The reason is that at 18:40 a former interrogator testifies that he was told that yakuza and foreigners had no human rights. This reminded me of government surveys about whether or not foreigners have the same “human rights” as Japanese. Of course, if you define “human rights” as “rights that one has because one is a human being” (and I think this is actually a pretty common way of defining the concept), then the question itself is nonsense.

    I really appreciated this top ten list, Debito! Thanks!

  • Personally I feel that Debito should receive some recongnition, whether it be an award or honorable mention in the press, for his efforts. I hope in time this will come; why that hasnt been realized yet puzzels me. What I have read and learned here has help save my sanity, thus my life, on many occasions. Its therapy to read what others have felt and their reaction to what goes on here in Japan are the same exact feelings/reactions I have had. The isolation/alienation in Japan can be overwhelming, and the apologist and other no nothings in the media only make it worse.


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