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Hello Blog. Sorry for the delay — latest book revisions taking up a lot of time. I thought we’d go back to the archives today and look at a twenty-year-old article that appeared in Honolulu’s late, great alternative newspaper (which folded only recently), that has as much to say about the present situation of human rights for NJ residents of Japan as it did when it came out about a generation ago. In retrospect, it’s amazing how little has changed. Have a read. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
PRINTS OF DARKNESS
When civil-rights activist/missionary Ronald Fujiyoshi refused to be fingerprinted in compliance with Japan’s Alien Registration Law in 1981, he launched a personal attack on the Japanese government which still hasn’t ended.
February 9, 1994. Honolulu Weekly magazine, by David Flack
For Ronald Fujiyoshi, the Japanese government’s abusive fingerprinting requirement for foreign residents is only part of a vast matrix of institutionalized racial discrimination and totalitarian social control.
PHOTO: Fujiyoshi holds a press conference during his 25-day hunger strike.
Perhaps few people in Hawaii are watching Japan as closely as Ronald Fujiyoshi. His primary interest is the way the new government is officially dealing with racism. On this issue Fujiyoshi is fervently and outspokenly critical of Japan, and he speaks from experience. Living there for 15 years, working as a missionary in Osaka in the Korean-Japanese community, he engaged in an act of civil disobedience when he refused to be fingerprinted — as all foreign residents were then required by the government to do. Compelled to leave Japan in 1988, he is allowed to return only to attend court hearings for his trial, which is still in progress.
Last summer Japan embarked on what may be its most important transition period in recent history. Fed up with the “business as usual” tactics that have led to rampant corruption in Japan’s political circles for the last several years, on July 18 the country’s voters deprived the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of its majority in the Japanese Diet for the first time since World War II. The resulting coalition, a curious collection of opposition parties from both the left and right of the political spectrum, took the helm of the world’s second largest economy with little more than high hopes as its guide. Many experts predict the alliance’s demise before the end of 1994.
Fujiyoshi is keeping his fingers crossed that real change is in the air. After waging his own personal battle against the Japanese government for the greater part of the last two decades, the 53-year-old Hilo resident is hopeful that the recent change in government is a sign that the Japanese people have at last begun to fight back against what he contends is a sinister system which has been unjustly subjugating them for centuries.
Fujiyoshi’s personal beef is Japan’s latent racism, which he maintains is knowingly cultivated by the country’s ruling circles in order to foster an “us vs. them” mentality. Japan’s alien-registration laws are widely known to be among the most rigid and strictly enforced in the world. It has long been a complaint among non-Japanese immigrants in Japan that the laws are also part of a greater government scheme to prevent them from feeling completely at ease in their adopted homeland, withhold full citizenship rights and relegate them to positions of permanent underclass status in the overall economic tapestry of the nation.
Especially onerous to Fujiyoshi was the Japanese government’s longstanding policy of insisting that all foreign residents and criminal suspects in Japan submit fingerprints for identification purposes.
Being grouped with criminals and thus treated as undesirables created acute resentment in the Korean-Japanese community, over 700,000 strong and representing roughly four out of five of Japan’s foreign residents. Many of them have lived in Japan for several generations; their relatives were originally brought there forcibly during World War II as military conscripts or factory workers. They are still treated as outsiders, and their “alien” status frequently denies them jobs, housing and scholarships. Fujiyoshi contends that the fingerprint policy is both unconstitutional by Japan’s own admitted standards and an abhorrent violation of the United Nations International Covenant of Human Rights, to which Japan is a signatory.
Bowing to pressure which Fujiyoshi helped to apply, the Japanese Diet finally dropped the controversial fingerprinting clause for those non-Japanese who were bom and raised in Japan.
Despite being widely recognized as a front man for the grass-roots movement to have the law overturned, Fujiyoshi is hesitant to claim much credit personally for the Diet’s decision to repeal the statute. “You must remember that I was not the only person who refused to be fingerprinted,” he says. “Since 1980 nearly 15,000 people have done it.” Neither was he the first to disobey the law; several Japanese of Korean ancestry preceeded him. Most will agree, however, that among those who did protest, Fujiyoshi was certainly among the most energetic — and, as a result, emerged as a leader and spokesman for the movement.
Fujiyoshi has long been involved with civil rights. Bom in Los Angeles and raised on Kauai, he moved to the Big Island with his family when his father was transferred to Hilo by his chuch. As a young man in his 20s, Fujiyoshi left Hawaii in 1963 to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary, the same institution that Jesse Jackson would join a year later. The two became good friends; Jackson visited him in Japan in 1986. Fujiyoshi spent much of his seminary service in Chicago working in a black ghetto on the city’s west side. “Can you imagine me,” he says, “a local boy fresh off the Big Island, going from here to a Chicago ghetto? That was a real baptism.”
Fujiyoshi first journeyed to Asia in 1968 on a fellowship in Singapore with the World Council of Churches. He remained in Southeast Asia for five years, working as a lay missionary and slowly gaining notoriety for his activist, hands-on approach to organizing and helping groups of industrial workers in economically distressed communities. “The Church was saying all the right things on Sunday mornings,” he says, “but the world was not changing. I became more interested in learning the skills necessary to actually solve some of the problems.”
His reputation for problem solving in the real world grew. In 1973 the Korean Christian Church asked him to relocate to Japan to help improve the living conditions of the sizable Korean population there. He took up residence in Osaka’s Ikuno Ward, home of Japan’s largest Korean community, where he spent the next 15 years living and working, voluntarily subjecting himself to the same long hours and low wages of the people he had come to help. Eventually he was able to earn their trust.
Fujiyoshi’s first open clash with the Japanese government came in 1981. Claiming that it was a violation of his basic human rights, he refused to comply with the fingerprinting requirement of Japan’s Alien Registration Law. He was indicted in 1982 and embarked on a civil-rights campaign within Japan’s court system which soon became a twisted game of cat-and-mouse. Four years after his initial indictment, Fujiyoshi was found guilty by the Kobe District Court but fined a mere $70. He faced another token fine after his appeal was rejected at the Osaka High Court. “It was just a slap on the wrist,” Fujiyoshi says of the fines, which were deliberately set at levels low enough for him to be able to afford. “They wanted to make sure that the decision was ‘guilty’ but also give the impression that the Japanese government is very benevolent.”
This face-saving charade was finally abandoned when the Japanese government refused to grant Fujiyoshi a permit that would have allowed him to re-enter Japan after returning to the U.S. to visit his ailing father-in-law. He responded to this action by embarking on a 25-day hunger strike aimed at publicly embarrassing the intransigent Japanese officials. He has since been given a special visa which allows him to return to Japan — but only to attend his own court hearings. Though he has been back in Hawaii since 1988, it is clear that his thoughts still lie in Japan. “I don’t feel like I ever left,” he says. “As long as my case is still being tried by the Japanese courts, I cannot separate myself from Japan.” Fujiyoshi has appealed his case to the Japanese Supreme Court, where it currently sits in quiet and secret deliberation. The process can take years, and a decision can come unannounced at any time. Feeling certain that his appeal will eventually be rejected by Japan’s highest court, he is already planning his next move. “If I lose this appeal,” he says, “then I will conclude that the Japanese judicial system cannot give me the justice I deserve. It is then my right to appeal the decision to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.” This might prove to be Fujiyoshi’s most powerful weapon. At a time when Japan is struggling with itself and the rest of the globe to find its appropriate niche in the world community, Fujiyoshi’s charges of racism and his refusal to be silenced could be a severe embarrassment to the Japanese government.
Those in power in Japan attempted to render the entire issue moot after the Showa emperor Hirohito’s death. In his honor an Imperial pardon was promulgated which granted amnesty to most of the defendants of fingerprinting cases still in litigation. It was purely a political move, Fujiyoshi asserts, a feeble effort to diffuse the issue before it could gain a measurable amount of publicity outside the country. With Fujiyoshi’s assistance and encouragement, other fingerprint refusers declined the offer and instead called a press conference to denounce the pardon. “The court’s acquittal of the refusers presumes that they are guilty and should be judged,” Fujiyoshi points out, “when it is the government and the emperor’s system that need to be examined.”
Fujiyoshi’s disdain for Japan’s governing institutions extends beyond the fingerprinting issue. The system in place in today’s Japan, he asserts, is the direct descendant of the nationalistic bodies that evolved following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the country emerged from a prolonged period of political chaos with a reinvigorated sense of national identity and a perceived “divine right” to culturally convert other Asians and make them loyal citizens of Japan.
Fujiyoshi characterizes Japan’s approach to its minority peoples as one of “assimilation and control.” He has argued in court that the Alien Registration Law is part of a larger Japanese government policy of controlling other Asian and Pacific peoples by forcibly “Japanizing” them: compelling them both directly and indirectly to conceal their ethnicity. This system of assimilation and control results directly in the exploitation of Asians by relegating them to the lowest echelon of the country’s economic caste system, he contends. He sees it as a continuation of repressive prewar policies which forced colonial subjects to adopt Japanese names, speak Japanese exclusively in public, wear Japanese clothing and worship only at Shinto shrines.
Fujiyoshi lambasts the myth painstakingly cultivated by the government that the Japanese are descendants of a pure race. “The people in authority perpetuate the myth that Japan is a homogeneous society,” he claims. “It provides strong socialcohesiveness, and people can then be more easily controlled. And by keeping the people controlled, the government can also keep control of the economy.”
Therein lies the import of Fujiyoshi’s thesis, that the core issue is not merely a dispute between the central government and its peripheral minorities; the policy affects all of Japan’s citizens in equally disastrous ways. The Japanese nation can be compared to a crowded boat, the theory goes, and if too many more are allowed on board, the boat will capsize and everyone will drown. It stands to reason that the few who are permitted on board will be those whom the Japanese government deems to be of little threat to its fostered image of Japan as a single-race country. “Discrimination against the Korean people is not just a holdover of some misunderstandings of history, and it’s not a part of a modem ideology to control non-Japanese people,” Fujiyoshi warns. “It is an attempt to control the Japanese people themselves.”
For Fujiyoshi, state-sanctioned racism is bad enough, but even more repugnant is the denial of its existence by most Japanese. He maintains that the power structure, for its own purposes, is using its tremendous control over the media (and consequent influence on public opinion) to perpetuate the traditional notion that there are only three major races in the world. “According to this view, all there are are Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid stocks,” says Fujiyoshi, recounting the argument he has heard more times than he cares to remember. This belief is worse than oversimplistic: It makes it possible for the Japanese government to exclude from the category of racial discrimination its dealings with other Asian and Pacific peoples living in the country. Japan can safely perceive itself as a country of only one race and sincerely believe that the racial conflicts plaguing the rest of the world can’t happen there.
According to Fujiyoshi, the primary flaw in this reasoning is that it completely disregards ethnicity: vast differences in culture, language and religion among peoples of the alleged three major racial stocks. And in the process it allows Japan to impose a bureaucratic system for other Asians living within its borders which, practically anywhere else in the world, would be denounced as institutionalized racial discrimination.
The Japanese government is a manipulative entity, Fujiyoshi asserts, which must be forced to confront the falsehoods it has been knowingly (and unknowingly) propagating. Sadly, the problem did not go away with the change in the country’s fingerprint laws. Now that Japan’s resident Koreans have had their burden partially lifted, the recent trend in the country has been to target South Asian peoples whose appearance is more easily discernible from their Japanese hosts. With the current economic slowdown proving to be stubbornly resilient, Fujiyoshi fears that these newer immigrants will become the scapegoats of the recession. “The assimilation and control policy attempts to stamp out the identity of long-term Asians and replace it with Japanese identity,” he says. “Until the Japanese government’s policy is ended, no real solution is in sight. Until their internal economic colony is eliminated, the other Asian and Pacific people in Japan will continue to be exploited because they are considered inferior. Until the national state ideology is exposed for what it is, the Japanese people will continue to be indoctrinated with a hidden racism toward other Asian and Pacific peoples.”
The coalition that assumed control of Japan a few months ago has the potential to effect profound changes rather than mere cosmetic modifications to enhance the government’s image. Fujiyoshi fears that even if his motives are genuine, the newly elected prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, may not be powerful enough to make a real difference. But his early actions show some promise. In an attempt to distance himself from past LDP bungles, Hosokawa has already delivered several sincere apologies for Japan’s controversial actions in World War II. Specifically mentioned were the “comfort women” of Asia who where forcibly conscripted and supplied to Japanese soldiers on the front lines during World War II. “Up until now the Japanese government wouldn’t admit its complicity,” Fujiyoshi says. “With the comfort women, once they admit what they are capable of, an entire can of worms is opened. Any official statement that relates to their attitude toward foreigners is significant. After that their treatment of all foreigners can then be called into question.” Now that the fingerprinting requirement has been abolished for permanent alien residents of Japan, does Fujiyoshi see a fundamental shift in the Japanese government’s way? “If the government was halfway repentant,” he says, “they would have done away with fingerprinting entirely.
If they were truly repentant, they would do away with the entire policy of assimilation.” Fujiyoshi’s brightest hope is the Japanese people. Now that Japan has emerged as one of the world’s most affluent nations, the Japanese are traveling abroad in record numbers. Young people are venturing overseas and experiencing other cultures. Many become exchange students. Fujiyoshi predicts severe conflict in the years ahead as the Japanese people become more accepting of other cultures on the one hand, and the government continues to espouse its hard-line stance on the other. “To be honest, I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out,” Fujiyoshi admits, “but if this new coalition can hold together, it will be very significant.” The leadership of the country, after all, will still be in control of education and the media. “Japanese history books refer to Korea as a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan. Just think how different it would be if Korea was instead viewed as a bridge connecting Japan to the wealth and riches of other Asian cultures.”
Now that he has all but exhausted his options in Japan’s legal system, Fujiyoshi’s passions are turning toward the recently formed United States-Japan Committee for Racial Justice, which assigned to itself as one of its first missions the daunting task of formulating a set of guidelines to help prevent potential future racist confrontations between the two countries from erupting into uncontrollable conflagrations of hate.
Despite these recent changes, Fujiyoshi still remains cautiously pessimistic about long-term prospects for United States-Japan relations. Racism is alive and well in both countries, he declares, evidenced by the lack of sensitivities on both sides of the Pacific during the 50th-anniversary observations of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. America exploited the anniversary as an opportunity to boost patriotism at a time when the U.S. government and economy had both come down with symptoms of terminal gridlock. Japan used the occasion to further alienate itself from America and the rest of Asia by not only refusing to apologize for the attack but even suggesting that Japan may not have been entirely responsible for the war in the Pacific. Fujiyoshi sees the possibility of an alarming increase of similar misunderstandings in the future as the once-solid friendship between the United States and Japan is further taxed by the economic slowdowns currently sapping both countries. “We need to adjust to the changes that are occurring,” he says, “and to join with others in dealing with some of the fundamental contradictions that remain in our societies. Only when people feel proud of what they are can they work well with others.”