Stigmatization thru “foreign driver stickers”: First Okinawa, now Hokkaido (Mainichi Shinbun)


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Hi Blog.  Check this out:
Hokkaido creates car stickers for foreign rent-a-car drivers
April 16, 2016 (Mainichi Japan), courtesy of JK

A sticker for foreign people using rent-a-cars, created by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government. (Mainichi)

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government has prepared 2,500 stickers for use by foreigners driving rent-a-cars, in order to identify them to other drivers and prepare against on-the-road trouble.

The stickers, which read “A person from a foreign country is driving,” were distributed to rent-a-car companies in Hokkaido. In fiscal 2014, around 24,000 rent-a-cars were used by foreign tourists, around 14,000 more than in fiscal 2012. Accidents and driver arguments are expected, so the stickers were created to warn other drivers, similar to stickers for new drivers.

The magnetic stickers are 14.5 centimeters square and carry Hokkaido’s tourism character “Kyun-chan,” a Japanese pika. A prefectural government official says, “When people see (a car with the sticker), we want them to act kindly.”

Japanese version
レンタカー利用でステッカー 北海道
毎日新聞2016年4月7日 20時01分(最終更新 4月7日 22時35分)





SUBMITTER JK COMMENTS:  Hi Debito.  “Friendly Driving”…um…right…more like 注意:外人の運転手だよ!

I wonder how MOFA would react if, oh I dunno, rent-a-car companies in Hawaii started issuing stickers for Japanese drivers stating “A person from Japan is driving”, in order to “identify them to other drivers and prepare against on-the-road trouble” because after all, “accidents and driver arguments are expected”.

DEBITO COMMENTS:  It would seem that the Japanese reflex of pointing out differences over similarities (a byproduct of the quest to keep Japan “unique” in the world narrative) has created perennial blind spots towards the effects of “stigmatization”.  That is to say, if you keep pointing out how different a group of people is (in this case, “foreign drivers”, even if you say you are doing it “out of kindness”), it still differentiates and “others” people — with the inevitable subordinating presumption that foreign drivers are somehow more prone to accidents, need to be taken notice of, or treated with special care.  Why else would the public be notified (if not warned) that a foreign driver is present?

Shoe on the other foot:  How would people like it if females behind the wheel had to bear a “women driver” sticker?  What if the “foreign driver” (for example, somebody who has been driving in Japan not as a tourist for years, or on the British side of the road the same as Japan?) would rather opt out of all the special attention?  And what of the Japanese tourists from the metropolises who are “paper drivers” and probably have much less road experience than average compared to any motorized society in the world?  Let’s see how a “tourist driver” sticker (slapped on Japanese drivers too) would fare.

This sticker is, to put it bluntly in Japanese, 有り難迷惑 (arigata meiwaku), or “kindness” to the point of being a nuisance.   And it is not even the first “foreign driver” sticker has heard of — last October we reported on similar stickers in Okinawa with the same purpose:


For more on Japan’s poor history of stigmatization of “foreigners” in the name of “kindness”, see Embedded Racism pp. 21-8, 94, and 281-282.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


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21 comments on “Stigmatization thru “foreign driver stickers”: First Okinawa, now Hokkaido (Mainichi Shinbun)

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Typical pompous self-righteous half-informed totally racist and parochial top-down response to a non-existent problem;

    “Ah, we Japanese are so Omotenashi to keep telling gaijin what they want, and what they have to do”.

    Of course, what happens if I leave my ‘marked’ car in a public place, and someone with an anti-NJ chip on their shoulder see’s the ‘gaijin’ sticker and decides to let my tires down, or scratch the paint, causing me more trouble than having been anonymous?

    How long before its rolled out to ALL NJ drivers in Japan, like A STAR OF DAVID FOR YOUR CAR?!

  • As I think I said in the other case, I (like many other people) went to Japanese driving school to get my license. SO Im a product of the Japanese system NOT from where Im from. Do I need a sticker ? cause if they give me one, I will be sticking it in a rather unpleasant place for them.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    It doesn’t look like these stickers are mandatory — and if you’re a resident using a Japanese license to rent the car, they have no way of knowing what your nationality is (now that they don’t put honseki on driving licenses anymore).

    So if these stickers are purely optional, I can see tourists who are unfamiliar with Japanese roads voluntarily choosing them so that drivers around them are a little more cautious. Just as long as they aren’t mandatory.

    • If you are a foreigner renting a car, you don’t have a choice to “choose” the sticker, it is on the car and they don’t give you a choice. The problem is that pointing out that a person is a foreigner instills in the viewers mind, subconsciously, is that the foreigner is a problem and something to avoid. Just like the mother telling her children to avoid the foreigner is dangerous as they walk past you in the mall. Different than telling your children not to talk to strangers.

  • #1, Jim,

    “someone with an anti-NJ chip on their shoulder see’s the ‘gaijin’ sticker and decides to let my tires down”

    isn’t that the same “response to a non-existent problem”???

    Wait and see the outcome…I also think that this sticker is voluntary, isn’t it?

  • I read this article at work today and wanted to bounce it off a co-worker. Fearing the usual “I wouldn’t mind” insincere reaction to the “How would you feel if this was done to you?” question, I employed a little tact and told my co-worker (as JK brought up hypothetically) that this was happening to Japanese in Hawaii, and asked her how she felt about it. She replied that as long as it’s only applied to tourists, she didn’t see a problem with it. So, clearly she was capable of understanding that labelling drivers simply based on their race/nationality etc. was not appropriate. I then turned around and told her I was lying, that it in fact was being done to non-Japanese in Japan in Hokkaidou and Okinawa, without regard to tourist status. She’s from Hokkaidou and was quite quick to proclaim “I’ve never seen it!” I pointed out that it was just rolled out.

    Much to her credit, despite the fact that she’s an absolutely insufferable, miserable human being, she didn’t blow up or start arguing with me about it. (I think part of it was she realized she had fallen into my plan.) On the contrary, she actually took the initiative to go and look it up herself, without me asking her to.

    And here’s where I realized something more distasteful about this article. It didn’t hit me when I first read it, but look at the first and second paragraphs. There’s a small change in verbiage that the writer surreptitiously slips in. The first line starts with “外国人運転の車” (cars driven by foreigners), then moves right into “外国人観光客のレンタカー利用” (foreign tourists’ rental car usage). Did you catch that? Ichijou-san, are we talking about all non-Japanese (including residents), or foreign tourists? You’ve changed up the terms mid-way through the article.

    And, of course, I have a strong feeling that is exactly what Ichijou-san intended in writing this piece. The statistics about foreign tourists’ rental car usage is a red herring of sorts. The data are added in to redirect the reader’s attention to the issue of foreign tourists, but the fact of the matter is that the sticker says “person from a foreign country is driving.” Furthermore, as Ichijou-san himself stated in the first paragraph, the intent is to elicit consideration towards “foreign drivers.” The question of whether or not the driver is a tourist is actually irrelevant.

    Not just that, but Ichijou-san goes on to relate this unnecessary labeling of non-Japanese drivers to that of novice drivers (which presumably applies regardless of nationality). This is a false analogy, though, as “novice” is a condition factually related to driving ability. That nationality is related is a conclusion built on prejudiced assumptions and/or stereotypes. Yes, an extra-national might be a poor driver at first, but if so, it is because he or she falls into the former category (novice), a condition which will improve with time and experience, whether the latter (nationality) ever changes or not.

    What makes this obfuscation on Ichijou-san’s part especially heinous is that, predictably, my aforementioned co-worker was very quick to point out the “外国人観光客” (foreign tourists) line in an effort to construe that the sticker was only being applied to tourists. (Which, to be fair, if it were, would be understandable. Odd, but understandable.) In response to that, I showed her the picture of the sticker, and succinctly said, “もし「観光客」って言ったら、構わないね。でも、これはちょっと違うでしょう。” (If it said, “tourist,” it’d be no problem, right? But this is a little different.)

    I’d love to hear any stories from folks in Hokkaidou or Okinawa, if you’ve tried to rent a car and found yourself having to object to the sticker being put on it.

  • GaijnDriver says:

    A classic case of “othering.” Of course, they are only trying to be “kind” in order to stop trouble with the gaijin, inevitably caused by the gaijin.

    In this case, from the discriminator’s POV, the kindness is in trying to resolve the inevitable trouble caused by gaijin because they may not be familiar with peculiar and unique Japanese customs. Since many Japanese drivers unrelentingly
    a) go through red lights, particularly when they think no-one is looking
    b) park on or close to crossings
    c) break the speed limits
    d) taxis cross lanes suddenly swerving left to pick up passengers with reckless abandon
    e) truck drivers drive like maniacs (Ok this is a major problem in Tokyo at night)
    f) bully buses routinely boss other vehicles for right of way

    and cyclists routinely
    a) ignore all traffic rules, specifically
    b) will ignore all traffic lights
    c) swerve suddenly off and on and between the sidewalk and road
    d) ride the wrong way up streets
    e) can legally ride the wrong way up one-way streets
    f) expect cars to give way despite absurd and dangerous behavior because the traffic and insurance laws heavily favor cyclists over motor vehicles

    and Japan seems to tolerate (unofficially) drunks on bicycles, magnifying the the chances of all the above happening and turning such behavior in routine behavior especially in the evenings, exacerbated by drunken weaving cycling…

    …tourist drivers, necessarily driving carefully and sensibly because they are driving on unfamiliar roads in a foreign country where the last thing they want is an accident while on holiday, may cause trouble.

    Clearly those innocent gaijin need protection from the locals, because when an accident happens, and the Japanese involved has to protect his or her ass, they are going to be able to lie and blame the gaijin.

    Speaking cynically after nearly being killed by a Nippon Kotsu taxi driver who shamelessly lied about the circumstances of sending me cartwheeling (I was saved by my helmet) on a crossing a few years back, and having to hire a lawyer to convince the local cops to investigate (and being found to have been totally in the right, after a forensic examination with tape measures and stopwatches after all the timing of the traffic lights and my speed and direction, and his speed and direction, and exonerated, and paid compensation by Nippon Kotsu) I think a more appropriate action might be to label Japanese drivers in certain categories with huge stickers as following in English, Korean, and Chinese

    “Warning: Japanese Driver Liable to go through red lights, break the speed limits, do not emulate”

    “Warning: Japanese Taxi: May swerve or stop suddenly”

    “Warning: Japanese Bus: May bully you out of your lane or sound horn to bully you”

    “Warning: Japanese Truck: Please cope with this driver’s maniac behavior”

    “Warning: Japanese Cyclist: Be vigilent at all times for random, crazy, erratic behavior- may well be intoxicated in the evening.”

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, surely?

  • These reminds me of those student driver stickers I see sometimes in the US. The difference being those people are still learning and NJ drivers presumably have had years of experience. These aren’t some wet behind the ears teen drivers who need special treatment and consideration. This seems like just another way of labeling foreigners to keep them in check.

  • There are a few other stickers as far as I know.
    There is the one for new drivers, which is for the first year after getting a license.
    There is the one “falling leaves” which is for the elderly. (My father in law doesn’t like it so refuses to put it on his car).
    And there is the one for those who are disabled, as well as the “baby on board” one.

    I assume these are optional.
    Singling people out on nationality is just wrong.

    I, too, learned to drive in Japan, and paid an instructor in Yokohama, and no way would I want to have this sticker on a rental car if I went to Hokkaido or Okinawa.

  • this is yet another example of the embedded racism and segregration that happens in japan on a daily basis. and it reminds me of recently when a former Abe adviser in japan had a plan to make a ghetto area only for foreigners because she stated that Japanese should not live together with NJ.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    I am in full agreement with some of the comments above; the roads of Japan have some particular types of driving bullies, willful negligence, and blatant disregard for the law. In light of this, I suspect that hire companies have experience of their NJ customers being on the receiving end of bad Japanese driving, AND THEN subject to Japanese institutionally racist policing siding with the Japanese driver against the NJ, therefore negatively impacting on the hire company’s business (both in terms of dissatisfied NJ customers giving them negative feedback on the Internet, and having to suffer the insurance premium burden that comes with their NJ customers automatically being at fault due to racism).

    The solution? A sign for the benefit of other drivers that warns them; “This car is being driven by a gaijin. Be on your best behavior. Don’t embarrass Japan by having an accident and making a scene that will put even the police on the spot”.

    It’s a kind of ‘TATEMAE ALERT!’

    The hire companies have thus sought a typically Japanese solution of a type that we have seen again and again, that totally fails to address the cause of the problem; Japanese institutional racism.

    But what else can they do? The only choice the hire companies have is to speak out against racist policing and racism in Japanese society in general. Even if they can (as an organization) understand that all of the ‘Japan myths’ that they buy into are false, have they got the moral backbone to stand up to the rest of society, and the criticism they will attract for doing so? No.

    So, the sticker situation will either persist, or die out when NJ customers are offended in enough numbers to choose alternatives.

  • Baudrillard says:

    how easy is it to peel off or remove the sticker, if you rent a car with one already on? I can see it; oh, gaikoku no kata, this is YOUR rental car, the one we always hire out to NJs because its got this sticker on it.

    So I m thinking that the sticker might, errr, “fall off” in the rain (like the “gaijin ha fuka” help wanted signs I tore down under cover of rain or darkness in Kawasaki).

    Alternatively, could you not stick another sticker over it, maybe even engage in some disinformation like posting a Japanese flag sticker over it, or one of the “baby on board” ones, as after all, the stickers are optional right?

    Maybe I just like the design of the falling leaves one, so can I stick that one over the other one? The cops surely wouldnt call me out on this would they? (” your sticker says baby on board but you dont have a baby”)

    Or would they?

    • Apparently it’s a magnetic sticker, so you could remove it once you drive past the corner from the rental car garage, but you have to remember to put it back when you turn the car back in.

  • Gaijindriver said e) can legally ride the wrong way up one-way streets

    Actually the law was changed last year, bicycles must ride with the traffic.
    Police in my area did their 1 week publicity tour then disappeared

  • #11 Baudrillard

    “Alternatively, could you not stick another sticker over it,…”

    Yup….have one already printed that says:

    “Beware Japanese drivers at large – they don’t stop at red lights, ignore road signals/signs and no idea what the small orange lights on the side of the car are for..”

    That’ll make them think! 🙂

    — That’s an awful lot of text to fit into that small space!

  • Baudrillard says:

    @John K, so long as this doesnt identify you as an NJ, and it appears to be one of those “Ware Ware Nihonjin” self analysis sessions which one sometimes hears, a kind of handwringing shouganai exercise or more often, an affirmation of street nihonjinron:
    (“We Japanese…” Ans. “So desu ne”)

    I think your sticker might do some good, but stay safe.

  • In Florida, criminals target foreigners/tourists in rental cars. Which has resulted in many deaths, and countless robberies.
    In Hawaii, criminals target tourists because they typically won’t be here to testify at trial.

    It will have the same effect in Japan. Japanese criminals might not kill tourists (like in Florida), but tourists tend to keep more valuables in their car than locals. How long until criminals in Japan use these signs to target their victims?

    Are these stickers/signs free? I’d like to display them on cars I rent (in Hawaii) to Japanese people…

  • I just got back from Hokkaido and rented a car there, and found this sticker on the back hatch. It’s actually magnetic. Not knowing what it was (I don’t read Japanese) I assumed it was from the rental company and didn’t want something identifying my car as a rental (which in the USA attracts break-ins) so I just took it off and threw it in the trunk.

  • the biggest (and absolutely intended) flaw is that the English and the Japanese message are totally divergent – rent-a-car agencies will probably just hand this to foreign tourists or even stick it to the car without asking them, and foreigners who cannot read Japanese, will think, nice cute sticker “heartful”, love Japan, not knowing that they are being stigmatized by the Japanese message.
    I have seen this kind of “linguistic” discrimination before in Japan – Narita airport had “welcome to Japan – please respect the rules” in English, while Japanese just said “お帰りなさい。お疲れ様です” – no mention of rules. and many other observations.

  • @Doitsujin
    re: “welcome to Japan – please respect the rules” in English. Yes this thing of having separate messages for Japanese and for gaijin in the same notice is so common.

    Yes, respect the rules. But I ask, why should a foreign looking person respect the rules when Japanese society doesn’t respect the social rules when dealing with foreign looking people? Yes, we look foreign, but please treat us as you would a Japanese customer, following your own company’s or society’s rules. No? You can’t do that? OK. So why should I respect the rules if you don’t?

  • I mean the rules such as, welcoming me when I walk into a restaurant the same way you would welcome an asian looking person. Instead of just staring at me wordlessly. Follow the company greeting script. Just follow the rules, then maybe I will too.


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