Assessing outgoing MP Tsurunen Marutei’s tenure in the Diet: Disappointing


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Hi Blog.  In keeping with the upcoming Upper House Election in Japan in less than one week (July 21), one member whose seat is up for renewal is Tsurunen Marutei, the septagenarian Finland-born naturalized Japanese. He has spent a great proportion of his life in Japan running for elections in local positions (successfully), then nationally (not so successfully, but finally squeaking in on the last rung of Proportional Representation seats by “kuri-age“, when the person who got in instead, Ōhashi Kyosen, gave up his seat in disgust with Japan’s political system).  Tsurunen then won his second six-year term in 2007.  This was significant, since it could be argued that Tsurunen now had a more secure mandate thanks to his works.

However, next week Tsurunen looks likely to lose his Diet seat.  And in’s opinion, so be it.  On the eve of this rather ignominious end to what should have been a noteworthy political career, let’s assess here what Tsurunen accomplished:  As far as is concerned, very little.   As I have written elsewhere:


Normalization of the Gaijin’s permanent “foreigner” status: The self-proclaimed “foreigner” MP Tsurunen Marutei 

 Another naturalized citizen was also undermining Japan’s naturalization regime. Tsurunen Marutei, Japan’s first European-born Caucasian MP, assumed office in Japan’s Upper House in 2002 promising to “speak up for the outsiders”, “promote intercultural tolerance and laws banning discrimination in housing and employment” while cultivating support from the Zainichi Korean minority.[1] However, after distancing himself from “foreigner issues” in a 2002 interview with the author and in a 2006 interview with Metropolis magazine,[2] he was conspicuously absent from a Diet meeting with United Nations Special Rapporteur Doudou Diene in 2006 regarding the latter’s preliminary report on racial discrimination in Japan.[3] Then, in an interview with the Japan Times conducted in English, Tsurunen was quoted as follows:

We are foreigners and we can’t change the fact. But still Japanese accept us into this society as foreigners… I don’t need to try to be Japanese or assimilate too much. I want to be accepted as a foreigner and still contribute to this society. It’s no problem for me to be a foreigner — it’s a fact… I always say I am Finn-born Japanese.[4]

There were many critiques of this statement with some questioning the legal validity of the statement “Japanese foreigner” from a national representative in the Diet sworn to uphold Japan’s laws. As racialized concepts of “Japaneseness” were being established beyond legal parameters by xenophobic public officials (such as Ishihara Shintarō), Tsurunen, the most prominent Visible-Minority naturalized citizen of Japan, instead of protesting was normalizing and justifying the racialization of Japanese citizenship – by calling himself a “foreigner”, and thereby enforcing his Gaijin status upon himself.

Tsurunen responded to the criticism: “I wish to thank everyone for their comments. As people have pointed out, my use of the English word ‘foreigner’ was inappropriate. I was trying to express that I am not a ‘Japan-born Japanese’ and used ‘foreigner,’ but strictly speaking I should have said ‘foreign-born person,’ or, as I said in the article, ‘Finn-born Japanese.’ I regret using expressions that gave rise to misunderstandings, and would like to offer my apologies.”[5]

Notwithstanding this gaffe, Tsurunen, facing re-election in 2013, published this pamphlet (click on image to expand in browser):


(MP Tsurunen’s 2013 support pamphlet with bio and basic policy stances.)

Note the slogan on the right third of the pamphlet: “‘Me’ no iro kaete, ganbarimasu.” (I will change the color of my “eyes” [change my outlook] and do my best). Further rendering the kanji for “eye” in blue to match his eyes, Tsurunen is highlighting his physical attributes as a Visible Minority as part of his public appeal, and thus further “othering” himself in what may be a desperate act to maintain his Diet seat.

[1] “Yugawaramachi Journal: Japan’s New Insider Speaks Up for the Outsiders.” New York Times, March 8, 2002.

[2] Interview, March 4, 2002, archived at; “Foreign-born lawmaker puts Japan’s acceptance of outsiders to the test.” Metropolis Magazine, August 9, 2006.

[3] On May 18, 2006, 2-3PM, at the Shūgi’in Dai-ichi Kaikan, Diene gave a preliminary presentation of his findings to MPs and the general public. I was present, as were several MPs, but Tsurunen was not. In cases where the MP is absent due to schedule conflicts, it is protocol to send a secretary to the event to leave the MP’s business card (meishi) as a show of support. Tsurunen’s office sent no representative and left no card.

[4] See “Mind the gap, get over it: Japan hands.” Japan Times, December 28, 2010.

[5] See Arudou Debito, “Naturalized Japanese: Foreigners no more.” Japan Times, February 1, 2011.


CONCLUSION:  As Tsurunen noted in his interview with back in 2002, his only policy was to hitch himself to the DPJ.  Quote:  “[T]here will be cases, such as international problems, where we in the Upper House will have to put things to a vote. I will have to decide there and there pro or con. At that time, I think I will have to vote along party lines, even if it is at odds with my personal convictions. If asked by the media before or after why I did that, I will have to say that that’s how party politics work. After all, if I don’t follow party discipline, I will be expelled from the party. Then I won’t be able to do my job. I will maintain my ability to say my own opinion, but at important times I will be a party man. That’s how I stand.” That’s not much of a stand.

And now that the DPJ has gone down in flames, so will he; Tsurunen as the election looms clearly has little he can use to recommend himself for his job except the color of his eyes.  This unremarkable politician, who once said he’d fight for the “outsiders”, in the end did little of that. In fact, it seems Tsurunen fought only for himself, wanting a Diet seat only as a matter of personal ambition and status — to be Japan’s first at something.  Even if it was to occupy what he seems to have made into a sinecure.  Same as any politician, people might argue.  But Tsurunen, with all the visibility and potential of Japan’s first foreign-born and Visible-Minority Japanese MP, squandered a prime opportunity to show what Visible Minorities in Japan can do.

If anything, Tsurunen deserves to be remembered as a person who had no spine, conviction, clear moral compass (despite being a member of Japan’s religious community), or worst of all self-awareness of his minority background in Japan.  He was, for example, no Kayano Shigeru, Japan’s first and only Ainu MP.  And ultimately Tsurunen will be a footnote in history if he remembered at all — a man who called himself a “foreigner” yet refused to fight for the rights or issues that concerned or influenced them.  Mottai nai.  Time to retire into obscurity. Arudou Debito

7 comments on “Assessing outgoing MP Tsurunen Marutei’s tenure in the Diet: Disappointing

  • Bitter Valley says:

    Is there record of how ‘ol Blue eyes voted on specific issues showing if he did not just toe party line at all during his sinecure we paid for through our taxes? I struggled with this as it is the sort of ad hominen attack that should be avoided in favor of discussing issues. But if his record is precisely just toeing the party line, his only achievement is to have gotten elected. That’s not anything much to celebrate if he didn’t actually really push for any of the issues he said he would.

    Is there any specific evidence of him actually taking up any causes involving him on speaking up for the outsiders, promoting intercultural tolerance and laws banning discrimination in housing and employment, for example.

    He’d be a brave man if he spoke up for zainichi in today’s utterly poisoned atmosphere. But what about the other two? Any evidence at all?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Too bad he is no Fredrick Douglass. Even though the National Diet is not equivalent to Lyceum, he certainly was in a position to exercise the privilege that very few foreign-born Japanese were entitled to. He didn’t even give a try. He just flushed it down to the toilet.

  • Kaerimashita says:

    He was one of those expats (and there are quite a few of them) that had his own agenda. Plain and simple.

    The sad part is that I highly doubt we’ll ever see another westerner get a chance like that in our lifetime.

  • Agreed. Foreign born factor aside, his only distinction may be the fact that he managed to get himself elected, thereafter achieving very little, if anything. Whether this is any kind of step forward remains to be seen, it could equally be a step backwards, as people may say “we elected such people once, so we needn’t ever do it again or they were no different, they achieved nothing”. Bottom line is though, politicians are politicians and it’s hard work for them to survive in any country when they stick out too much (thanks to Machiavellianism almost inherent in popular democracies, especially ones with weak media or politically naive electorates, i.e. pretty much all of them.) – even Obama was cowed once in office – it takes someone with incredible backbone to really change things. There are really so few examples in modern history.

    At the very least Tsurunen could have insisted he was Japanese, if you are elected to the Diet and still not considered Japanese, what hope is there for naturalised citizens to become Japanese? I for one do not accept that NJ cannot become Japanese, but to change this perception requires a little effort/imagination from both Japanese born Japanese and naturalised Japanese.

  • Baudrillard says:

    At least he proves that foreign born politicians, if elected, will not immediately call in the Chinese/Korean/Russian/UN armies or secede their constituency from Japan, as the rightists claim would happen during the aborted local votes for foreign residents campaign.

    I think at least this is a small stick to beat them with in debates (not that the Japanese right actually “debates” in any real sense of the word, but it is a convenient short answer to counter them, i.e “Tsurunen didnt call for the dissolution of the Japanese empire/society/way of life etc, so there”).

    He fit in quite well. Perhaps too well, but I guess he had to please (or appear to) the constituents who elected him first and foremost. After all, we NJs don’t get a vote (so we cannot be blamed for electoral outcomes).

  • sendaiben says:

    One of his sound trucks rolled by our house this morning!!!

    Didn’t know it was worth his while campaigning in Sendai 🙂

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    ‘Had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.’ Yep, me too.
    ‘Had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.’ Check that, happens to me everyday.
    ‘Had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.’ Tell me about it, and on the train too!

    Yeah, sure seems to me that Obama understands me feeling of being discriminated against, even though we are not the same color.
    I don’t believe that Tsurunen never had any of those experiences, yet when he had the chance to effect a change, he was lacking in the moral courage to rebel against established norms. Thanks for nothing.

    When it happens to Obama, it’s ‘racism’. When it happens to me, it’s ‘all in my head’, or ‘I’m being paranoid’, or ‘I should stop imposing my values on others’. Sure.


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