In a stunning decision, Japan’s Supreme Court overturns Fukuoka High Court, rules that NJ Permanent Residents (etc.) not automatically eligible for social welfare benefits


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Hi Blog. There has already been an enormous outpouring of outrage at Friday’s Supreme Court decision in Japan’s NJ communities, so will echo those sentiments and provide a forum for them to also be expressed here.

In an event sure to make my year-end top ten most important human rights issues of 2014, Japan’s highest court just overturned the Fukuoka High Court’s 2011 decision, ruling that an octogenarian granny who, despite being born in Japan, living her life here as a Zainichi Special Permanent Resident, and contributing to Japan’s social welfare systems, has no right to the benefits of her contributions because she’s foreign (i.e., not “kokumin”).  More comment after the articles:

Foreign residents can’t claim welfare benefits: Supreme Court
Japan Times/KYODO JUL 18, 2014, Courtesy lots of people

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that foreigners with permanent residency status are ineligible for welfare benefits, overturning a decision by the Fukuoka High Court that had acknowledged their eligibility under the public assistance law.

The decision by the top court’s Second Petit Bench concerned a lawsuit filed by an 82-year-old Chinese woman with permanent residency who was born and grew up in Japan.

The woman applied for welfare benefits with the Oita municipal office in Oita Prefecture in December 2008 but was denied the benefits on the grounds she had some savings.

The woman then filed a suit demanding that the city’s decision be repealed. She is now receiving the benefits because the municipality accepted her welfare application in October 2011.

While the recipients of welfare benefits are limited to Japanese nationals by law, the government issued a notice in 1954 saying foreigners should be treated in accordance with the public assistance law.

Since the government limited recipients to Japanese nationals and foreigners with permanent residency in 1990, municipalities have exercised their discretion in doling out the benefits.

In October 2010, the Oita District Court rejected the plaintiff’s suit, saying that denying the public assistance law to foreigners was within the discretion of a municipal government.

In November 2011, however, the Fukuoka High Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, saying that foreigners with permanent residency have been protected under the public assistance law.

NHK 7月18日 17時49分, Courtesy PKU





COMMENT:  The implications of this are pretty obvious:  NJ can be taxed and exploited at will, but if there’s ever a question of the local government not thinking that NJ deserve social welfare benefits, too bad, because they’re not guaranteed.  We’ll just take your money and deprive you of any guarantee that you’ll ever any equal benefit from it.

I’ve written about this case numerous times before.  Excerpts:


Kyodo: Court overrules Oita Pref who tried to deny a 78-year-old NJ welfare benefits

Kyodo: A Japanese court repealed on Thursday a decision by Oita Prefecture in southwestern Japan not to examine a request from a 78-year-old Chinese woman to look into a decision by Oita City that rejected her application for welfare benefits.

A three-judge panel at the Oita District Court acted on a suit filed by the woman, who has obtained permanent residency status in Japan, against the Oita prefectural government decision that turned away the woman’s request, filed in February last year, to examine the Oita municipal government decision not to provide welfare benefits to her.

The prefectural government dismissed the woman’s request without examining it, saying she was not eligible to seek benefits because she does not have Japanese nationality.

In Thursday’s ruling, the district court said the prefectural government must review the municipal government decision in line with the woman’s request, and decide whether she should be given benefits.

Presiding Judge Kenji Kanamitsu brushed aside the prefectural government’s argument that the city’s decision not to provide her with benefits was a ”unilateral administrative action” against a foreigner who has no right to seek welfare benefits, and not an ”administrative decision” as she claimed, whose appropriateness can be reviewed under the administrative appeal law.

Judge Kanamitsu said the woman is ”obviously” eligible to ask the prefectural government to review the municipal government decision.

”An application for welfare benefits has been rejected, and it means the same to the applicants, regardless of their nationalities,” the judge said…


17) Mainichi: “NJ have no right to welfare payments”, rules Oita District Court two weeks later. Gee that was a quick kibosh.

After a half-month interlude of light and reason (as in September 30 to October 18), where it actually looked like a Japanese courtroom was actually going to be nice to somebody and rule against The State, another court has come along and put things back to normal:

Mainichi: The Oita District Court ruled on Oct. 18 that foreigners with the right to permanent residence but without Japanese citizenship are not entitled to welfare benefits, rejecting the claims of a 78-year-old Chinese woman who sued after being denied benefits by the Oita city government…

According to the ruling, the woman has Chinese nationality but was born in Japan and holds the right to permanent residence. In December 2008, the woman applied to the welfare office in Oita city for welfare payments, but was turned down with the reason that she had “a comfortable amount of money” in her savings.

The main issues of the trial became whether the woman held the right as a foreigner to receive welfare payments and whether her financial status justified her receiving aid…”

COMMENT: Gee, that was quick by Japanese judicial standards! I guess they know the value of putting the kibosh on something before the floodgates open: Can’t have all the goddamn foreigners expecting to have rights to something like our social welfare benefits, especially at an advanced age.


Then, as the clock continues to run out for this superannuated NJ, we now have another flip, fortunately in the more inclusive direction:


Court rules noncitizens are eligible for welfare

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 17, 2011), courtesy of lots of people

FUKUOKA–The Fukuoka High Court ruled Tuesday that permanent residents in in Japan with foreign nationalities are eligible to receive public welfare assistance, overturning a lower court ruling.

The high court accepted an appeal by a 79-year-old woman who is a permanent resident in Japan with Chinese nationality. She filed the lawsuit, claiming that the Oita city government illegally rejected her request for public welfare assistance.

Presiding Judge Hiroshi Koga said in the ruling, “Foreign citizens with permanent residency [in Japan] are legally guaranteed the same status as Japanese citizens who receive the same treatment.”

The high court overturned the Oita District Court’s ruling and nullified the Oita city government’s decision not to grant the woman public welfare benefits.

According to a lawyer for the plaintiff, it is the nation’s first court ruling to present a legal basis for foreign permanent residents in Japan to receive public welfare benefits.

According to the ruling, the woman applied for the public welfare at the Oita city government in December 2008, but the city government rejected her request.

The point at issue in the lawsuit was whether the Daily Life Protection Law can be applied to noncitizens.

Full blog entry at


And as I wrote in my Japan Times column of January 3, 2012, where I was ranking the Top Ten Human Rights Issues of 2012 for NJ in Japan:


6.  Oita denial of benefits overturned

News photo

In 2008, Oita Prefecture heartlessly rejected a welfare application from a 78-year-old Chinese (a permanent resident born in Japan) because she is somehow still a foreigner. Then, in a shocking ruling on the case two years later, the Oita District Court decreed that NJ are not automatically eligible for social welfare. Finally, in November, this stubborn NJ, in her 80th year, won a reversal at the Fukuoka High Court — on the grounds that international law and treaty created obligations for “refugees (sic) (to be accorded) treatment at least as favorable as that accorded to their nationals.”

What caused the confusion was that in 1981, the Diet decided that revising the public welfare law to eliminate nationality requirements was unnecessary, since practical application already provided NJ with benefits. Three decades later, Oita Prefecture and its district court still hadn’t gotten the memo.

Bravo for this NJ for staying alive long enough to prize her case away from xenophobic local bureaucrats and set congruent legal precedents for all NJ.

Full article at


And now the pendulum has swung again, with a great big Bronx Cheer for all NJ in Japan.

My final thought on this for now is how the online commenters (who consistently blame NJ for anything bad that happens to them) spin this one against the plaintiff?  It’s a challenge:  She’s an 82-year-old granny Zainichi living her entire life in Japan trying to get her tax benefits back, for heaven’s sake.  Still, the reflexes are kicking in.  We’ve already had one person commenting at the Japan Times about how this ruling was a means to deal with “illegal immigrants” somehow (the JT immediately spotted this as trolling and deleted it; wish they would be more proactive with my columns, as trolls keep derailing any meaningful debate).  Any more gems out there, go ahead and quote them in the Comments section below.  A ruling this egregiously anti-NJ becomes an interesting psychological experiment to see how far the self-hating gaijin will go to deny they have any rights to anything whatsoever in Japan.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito



Anger erupts over court denial of welfare to foreign permanent residents of Japan
Japanese Supreme Court rules that a Chinese permanent resident is not entitled to payouts even though she has paid taxes all her life
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST : Monday, 21 July, 2014,
Julian Ryall in Tokyo

Activists, analysts and foreign residents of Japan have reacted with dismay to a decision by the Supreme Court that foreigners with permanent residency are not entitled to welfare benefits.

Friday’s ruling by the highest court means that even foreign nationals born in Japan, who have spent all their lives in the country and paid their taxes, national insurance premiums and state pension requirements are still not guaranteed to receive financial support when they need it.

The Supreme Court’s decision overturned an earlier ruling by the Fukuoka high court that granted welfare to an 82-year-old Chinese woman who was born and raised in Japan.

The woman had applied for assistance to the municipal office in Oita prefecture in December 2008, but her request was refused because she had savings. The woman launched a legal case demanding that the decision be reversed on the grounds that she had paid taxes to the national and prefectural governments throughout her life.

In the first ruling of its kind, the Supreme Court stated that, from a legal standpoint, permanent foreign residents do not qualify for public assistance because they are not Japanese.

The ruling apparently gives local authorities across Japan the legal right to halt financial assistance to non-Japanese residents. The fact that many municipalities across the country are facing economic hardship may increase the risk of city governments seeking to exercise that right.

“It’s shameful,” said Eric Fior, a French national who owns a language school in Yokohama and who has lived in Japan for more than a decade.

“It’s bad enough that foreign residents do not have the right to vote at any level in Japan, but when you pay your taxes and contribute to the pension scheme, it’s something of an insult to be told that you have no right to get some of that money back when you need it,” he said.

“I imagine that many foreign residents will be asking themselves why they have to pay their taxes.”

The Oita case has been followed closely by Debito Arudou, a naturalised Japanese who was born in the United States and has become a leading rights activist after being refused access to a public bath in Hokkaido because he is “foreign”.

“The implications of this are pretty obvious,” Arudou wrote in his most recent blog posting. “Non-Japanese can be taxed and exploited at will, but if there’s ever a question of the local government thinking that nonJapanese deserve social welfare benefits, too bad because they’re not guaranteed,” he wrote.

“We’ll just take your money and deprive you of any guarantee that you’ll ever get any equal benefit from it.”

The post has generated heated comment. One person wrote: “The sheer pettiness and nastiness of the court’s decision just disgusts me.”

Other posters said the decision would have an impact on the government’s campaign to attract skilled foreign nationals to work in Japan in an effort to combat the dramatically shrinking population.

Conservatives have applauded the court’s decision.

“The state cannot provide benefits to all the poor people who come to Japan,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

“The problem in this particular case is that the woman chose not to take Japanese nationality and chose to remain Chinese,” he said. “If Japan allowed all foreign residents unlimited access to welfare, then the country would go bust.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Foreigners riled over welfare ruling

61 comments on “In a stunning decision, Japan’s Supreme Court overturns Fukuoka High Court, rules that NJ Permanent Residents (etc.) not automatically eligible for social welfare benefits

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  • #48 E

    I can only speak for the UK system. If one pays their national insurance, via taxes, for their entire working life, they are entitled to a state pension. They have ‘earned’ it. However, if the pension, for whatever reason, does not cover the persons living expenses, and they require “more” to live, they can then go to the social welfare office and apply for aid. If said person has a shed load of money in the bank..they would generally be refused, for the reasons already cited above. But, if said person was poor, they would get the financial aid.

    Thus is the lady being refused her pension….as that surely cannot be in question, …or is she being refused general assistance?

    If she is indeed being refused her pension, not financial aid…wow, that is a game changer!

  • D.A.D. 😉

    Lets hope the SCMP article goes viral and brings endless scrutiny from “outsiders”, much to the chagrin of the local J politicians.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “The problem in this particular case is that the woman chose not to take Japanese nationality and chose to remain Chinese,” he said. “If Japan allowed all foreign residents unlimited access to welfare, then the country would go bust.”

  • Anonymous says:

    @#51 To clarify: the Permanent Resident wasn’t denied Pension, she was denied Welfare (free money for proving one is poor.)

    The initial denial was for the right reason: “This applicant is being denied because she isn’t poor, she has big savings.”

    When she appealed for a review of the initial denial, that is when some official claimed, “Denied because not a citizen.” That is the illegal action #1 of those bureaucrats: refusing the review request (which legally all applicants are allowed to receive) with the illegal reasoning of “Only Japanese citizens have a right to Japanese Welfare.”

    Then the illegal action of those bureaucrats was overturned by a good judge, yay, so the review request should have been put through (and then the bureaucrats should have simply restated “We did the official review, and yes, as stated in the initial denial: this applicant is being denied because she isn’t poor, she has big savings.”)

    Finally, the wonderful action of that good judge was cancelled by a bad Supreme Court judge, boo, who repeated the illegal reasoning given by the bureaucrats “Only Japanese citizens have a right to Japanese Welfare.”

    I hope this summary is correct, please correct me anyone if you notice some sentences which need correcting.

    So, currently we have a bad supreme court ruling that basically says, “Bureaucrats don’t have to follow the laws written by Legislators.”

    Let’s remember folks, the laws written by Japanese legislators (like my cousin-in-law), do NOT allow discrimination based on nationality.

    It is the Japanese Bureaucrats and Japanese Police and Japanese Citizens who keep doing all these illegal actions.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Anon #54,

    Yes, you are correct in pointing out that she was refused welfare because they felt she had enough savings, and that this is not related to pensions, BUT…

    Look at how the public debate has been framed by Japanese officials!
    It’s all about preventing Japan from being over-run with imaginary foreigners looking to get some handouts without contributing to the system, which does not accurately describe the details of this case.

    It’s been reduced to the scare tactics of ‘barbarians at the gates’.

    And it’s a debate that’s been framed in a way that seeks to increase public opposition to NJ getting what they’ve been forced to pay for. So yeah, the next attack will be on NJ receiving pensions.

  • JT takes a closer look at the Supreme Court decision on NJ welfare benefits (excerpt):

    A closer look at the Supreme Court’s welfare benefits ruling
    Officially, things will stay as they are, but some are not so sure
    BY TOMOHIRO OSAKI, Japan Times, July 25, 2014

    So how will the ruling affect foreign communities here?

    When contacted by The Japan Times, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said no major policy review is in the works on how to handle claims by foreigners seeking welfare benefits.

    “We understand the ruling merely endorsed our policy of all these years,” said ministry official Hiroki Morishita. “Foreign residents have never been eligible for the benefits. This will continue to be the case and nothing will change.”

    Likewise, local governments in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, Kawasaki and Minokamo in Gifu — all of which have large foreign communities than elsewhere in Japan — said they are not considering subjecting foreign applicants to stricter scrutiny.

    But Hisao Seto, lead defense lawyer for the 82-year-old Chinese woman, is not convinced. He says the government might feel tempted to target foreigners if they pressed with the need to trim budgets amid ever-swelling welfare expenditures.

    Seto said he considers the Supreme Court ruling a virtual “warning” to foreigners in Japan.

    “What it’s trying to say,” he said, “is that as a foreigner you shouldn’t consider working or living in Japan because if you were ever to get injured or sick, chances are you will be denied the welfare payments you need, depending on the mood of local officials you deal with,” he said.

    What part of the foreign community will be hit hardest?

    Topping the list is probably the Koreans who were forcibly brought to Japan before and during World War II after the 1910 annexation of the Korean Peninsula. Some still live without pensions, because by the time Japan removed the nationality clause from its pension system in 1982, they had turned 35 or older, making it impossible to complete the 25 years of pension premiums payments required to before the age of 60, when individuals were then eligible to tap their pension payments.

    “For those people welfare benefits have been the last social safety net they could count on, without having to depend financially on their kids to survive,” said Hiroshi Tanaka, professor emeritus of sociology at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

    Eriko Suzuki, an associate professor of Kokushikan University in Tokyo who specializes in foreign labor issues, points out that migrant “nikkei” workers from Brazil and so-called Indochina refugees from countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia also need the benefits. Consigned to taking low-paid, dangerous or menial jobs, many of them are often injured and find themselves at great risk of becoming unemployed, she said.

    “Accepting foreigners as a labor force and then abandoning them once they’ve become useless will clearly look very bad for Japan in the international community,” Suzuki said.

    Whole article at

  • JT Editorial on the Supreme Court decision on NJ welfare benefits (excerpt):

    Safety net is for all taxpayers
    The Japan Times July 26, 2014

    The Supreme Court ruled July 18 that foreigners living in Japan, even with permanent residency status, are not entitled to receive welfare benefits known as seikatsu hogo, literally livelihood protection. It is the first ruling that considers foreigners ineligible for such benefits. The ruling sends an unfortunate message to foreign workers that while their contributions to Japan’s economy might be welcome, the government, in turn, is not obliged to take care of them when they are in need. […]

    The ruling also means that even foreign nationals who have paid public health insurance premiums and met public pension requirements will not be guaranteed financial support should they need it. The increasing number of foreign nationals who are born in Japan, work and live their lives here have no guarantee, either.

    Oddly, the ruling suggests that the government will give such benefits to anyone with Japanese nationality, even if they spent all of their life abroad, or have not contributed to taxes, public health insurance or the state pension program. Under this ruling, a Japanese national who has never worked in their life would receive benefits, while a foreign national who worked all their life in Japan but never took Japanese nationality can be denied.

    The ruling will also have an impact on the large number of Koreans and Chinese whose families have lived in Japan for several generations but have not taken Japanese nationality. The non-Japanese spouses of Japanese and migrant workers from Brazil and other countries may also now be excluded.

    The court’s ruling sends the message that Japanese benefits are for Japanese nationals. That codifies the outdated notion of who is supposed to benefit from Japan’s social benefits — not all those who work here, but only Japanese.

    The Diet needs to act to establish a law guaranteeing benefits on a fair and equitable basis to foreigners who have contributed to public pension and health insurance plans, paid taxes and established a household or significant ties to Japan. The right to benefits that help keep people safe, healthy and out of poverty should be a guaranteed human right, not a decision made at the discretion of local officials.

    Whole article at

  • irezumi_aniki says:

    For those who are/were wondering about pension and/or pension payments since the welfare ruling against foreigners:

    irezumi_aniki 様


    係長 高月徹也
    電話:03-3463-1797 (ダイヤルイン)

  • Anonymous says:

    @JG #55, Yes, I agree with your statement 100%: pension for non-citizens will probably be cut next, since this current Japanese society (in general, on average) is APPROVING (through the Supreme Court and the average citizen reaction) this absolutely illegal situation: non-citizens obliged to pay the same amount as citizens, but the state refusing to give non-citizens the same benefits as citizens.

    You are 100% correct that probably soon it WILL be pension that gets cut. Non-citizens who have paid 25 years into Japan will probably be told, “Sorry, even though ALL residents in Japan are required by law to pay into Pension, the state will no longer give non-citizens their fully-paid-for pension ‘benefits’ upon retirement.”

    The foreign pressure must begin now, on this illegally-acting, law-breaking, racial-discrimination-perpetrating group of humans (who call themselves “descendants of Yamato” and who see all “non-descendants of Yamato” as being not worthy of equal human rights) who are currently the majority in this country called Japan.

    South Africa didn’t stop their state-approved-Apartheid-system until the worldwide community of humans stopped buying South African products.

    Israel (my people) won’t stop their state-approved-Apartheid-system until the worldwide community of humans stops buying Israeli products.

    And Japan won’t stop their state-approved-Apartheid-system until the worldwide community of humans stops buying Japanese products.

    Humans hear our plea! The minorities in Japan are being hurt by the majority in Japan.

    Help us motivate the majority in Japan to ensure human rights for ALL humans living in Japan.

    Say, “We, the worldwide community of humans, will not buy Japanese products, until ALL humans living in Japan receive equal rights.”

    Please help us.

  • “… The ruling sends an unfortunate message to foreign workers that while their contributions to Japan’s economy might be welcome, the government, in turn, is not obliged to take care of them when they are in need….”

    I read a book on the workings of Japan several years ago, unfortunately I cannot remember its name. However it stated that the Govt of Japan looks after the companies, and the companies look after the workers – this is the order of things. Ergo, the Govt of Japan does not directly look after the workers. Which is why much all the laws/civil codes are written around “businesses” and not private individuals. Buying a house, for example, is not covered as it is a private transaction! (I learned to my cost!)

    The above citation appears to confirm this.

  • Quoted from the JT article:

    “Unlike many other programs, the original 1950 law for welfare benefits has received no tweaks and continues to discriminate against foreigners by stating that legitimate recipients must be Japanese citizens.

    Upon signing up for the 1982 refugee treaty, the government at the time insisted there was no need to rid the law of the nationality clause, arguing municipalities were already treating foreign applicants in the same way as Japanese in accordance with its 1954 notice.”

    Haven’t we heard this argument from the J government before? “We don’t need to enact any laws against racism because there is no racism.” To which the counter should be – if there is no racism, then why are you so reluctant to enact anti racism laws?


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