My Japan Times JBC column 117: The annual Top Ten for 2019 of human rights issues as they affected NJ residents in Japan, Jan 6, 2020


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Hi Blog and Happy New Year. Here’s my Annual Top Ten for The Japan Times.  Thanks for putting this column in the Japan Times Top Five for several days running!

Let’s start with some Bubbling Unders/Notable Obits with didn’t make the cut for space concerns, and excerpt the rest. Debito Arudou Ph.D.


‘Low IQ’ kids, parental rights and problematic terminology dogged Japan’s international community in 2019
BY DEBITO ARUDOU, Column 117 for the Japan Times Community Page, January 6, 2020

For over a decade, Just Be Cause has recapped the previous year’s biggest human rights and human rights-related issues that have affected the non-Japanese community in Japan.

With the start of a new decade upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to mix a little of what was going on in 2019 and connect it to the broader topics that came up during the 2010s. Some are victories, some are losses — some are dangerous losses — but all of the entries below (in ascending order) are at the very least highly relevant to all of us.

Bubbling under:
The Ainu Recognition Law passes last February, meaning Japan is officially multiethnic.
Donald Keene, scholar who opened Japanese literature to the world but senselessly portrayed fellow NJ residents as criminals and cowards, dies aged 96.
Sadako Ogata, UN superstar for refugees who did surprisingly little for refugees in Japan, dies aged 92.
Yasuhiro Nakasone, assertive former Prime Minister with a history of claiming Japan’s superior intelligence due to a lack of ethnic minorities, and of operating wartime “comfort women” stations, dies aged 101.
Shinzo Abe becomes Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

10) Otaru onsen, 20 years on

In September 1999, several international couples (including myself) tried to take a public bath at an onsen (hot-spring bath) in Otaru, Hokkaido, but were met with a “Japanese Only” sign rather than friendly customer service. The people who looked insufficiently “Japanese” (including myself and one of my daughters) were refused entry, while those who did (including a Chinese foreign resident) were allowed in.

The same onsen refused me entry again even after I became a Japanese citizen, and a group of us took them to court. The case, which went all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court, found the onsen guilty of “discriminating too much,” while the city of Otaru — which was also sued for not enforcing the United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination that Japan had ratified in 1996 — was found not liable.

Twenty years later, “Japanese Only” signs are still posted in places and Japan is still not living up to its international treaty commitments, with no national law protecting non-Japanese communities from racial discrimination.

9) Diversity in sports…

See if your favorite issue made the Top Ten (yes, Ghosn did, again).  Read the rest at


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18 comments on “My Japan Times JBC column 117: The annual Top Ten for 2019 of human rights issues as they affected NJ residents in Japan, Jan 6, 2020

  • AnonymousOG says:

    Another great article, Debito! 🙂

    I especially liked the final paragraph:

    “These bureaucrats need to step outside and take a look at how diverse Japan is becoming. In February, the country saw legislation passed that recognized the Ainu as an ‘indigenous’ people. Though several activist groups continue to criticize the law for not going far enough, it still means that Japan is now officially a multiethnic country.”

    Maybe next they can recognize the Ryuukyuu as an “indigenous” people as well. I won’t be holding my breath of course, but that should be the next logical step.

    First came the basically Caucasian Russian Ainu from the North, then came the darker Ryuukyuu from the South, and THEN came the Chinese/Koreans arriving to the party late and settling into the middle and calling themselves “Yamato”.

    Meaning, since the legislators finally (begrudgingly) passed legislation recognizing the Ainu as an ‘indigenous’ people, they should do the same with the Ryuukyuu.

    Thus Japan must recognize “The Japanese People” has consisted of THREE races/ethnicities for millennia.

    And then of course, Japan must recognize “The Japanese People” has consisted of FOUR races/ethnicities for the past century: the people whose ancestors arrived here over the past century from Korea, who (regardless of their continued love of their old culture, and their desire to not give up their old nationality) have been living in Japan for 4 generations.

    An ironic point to consider about that FOURTH group: these “century-in-Japan Koreans” are even CLOSER to the “millennia-in-Japan Chinese/Koreans who now call themselves Yamato”.

    The “millennia-in-Japan Chinese/Koreans who now call themselves Yamato” admittedly have grabbed a little bit of the white Ainu DNA and the dark Ryuukyuu DNA, even if just a tiny percent, while the “century-in-Japan Koreans” are comparatively relatively “purer”, haha.

    Hey you silly “Yamatos”, even though you don’t like the culture of these “century-in-Japan Koreans”, you must admit you are genetically CLOSER to them than you are to the Ainu and the Ryuukyuu whom you look down upon. Ha!

    Anyway, back to the list: Japan must recognize “The Japanese People” consists of:

    #1. The Ainu race/ethnicity,
    #2. The Ryuukyuu race/ethnicity,
    #3. The “Yamato” race/ethnicity,
    #4. The century-in-Japan Korean race/ethnicity,
    and last but not least (drum-roll please)

    Yep, “The Japanese People” consists of ALL those races/ethnicities, deal with it Japan. 🙂

  • I live in Kawaguchi and was surprised to see this:
    “A quick internet search found that it is also in use in the cities of: Saitama and Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture; Hiroshima; Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, Yonago, Tottori Prefecture; Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture; the western Tokyo suburb of Hachioji and many more.”
    I googled it but only got 住民 to pop up so I’d like a link to refer to. I’m planning to write to the mayor if the city takes the same view to me/us as Nagoya does.

  • I haven’t gone through it with a fine comb, but the latest version of the document has removed the culprit #3 from the definitions in both the zenpen and honpen PDFs.

    I don’t know if it was deliberate or if the “first” paper established it and was therefore removed???

    Still, I plan to write some kind of letter to have my voice heard.

    • AnonymousOG says:

      So a concerned resident like yourself must have already complained, so Kawaguchi City Hall (and probably other City Halls as well) thus decided based on those complaints to hide their original “Foreigners who became citizens of Japan, and half-breeds who were born citizens of Japan, and quarter-breeds who were born citizens of Japan, are all still forever 外国人住民/市民/区民” definition.

      But still the definition must have existed quite clearly in the minds of the MANY city hall workers (in many cities throughout Japan) who wrote that definition in the first place and allowed it to continue through many rounds of editing and the mayors who gave the final approval before the initial publishing.

      And yes, as you wisely realized, there is the distinct possibility that: since the original version included that definition, perhaps the subsequent versions deleting it WITHOUT writing any change-of-definition in subsequent printings thus allows them to quietly keep in place their original “Citizens of Japan with foreign ethnic roots are 外国人住民” definition, with the added bonus of being able to easily evade future complaints about their no-longer-mentioned (yet actually-unchanged) original definition.

      Anyway, I think it’s interesting to see some of the comments which they published, and wonder how many even worse comments they hid.

      From the “no more definition mentioned” new version in the first link you shared, here are some of the opinions from the “real 日本人住民” which the Kawaguchi City Hall workers and Mayor felt were OK to publish:

      When foreigners increase various negative problems occur, I worry about a city easy for foreigners to live in.

      We Japanese are being too naive about the foreigners.

      I feel suspicion about the promotion of allowing foreigners. The increase of foreigners cannot be dealt with by town councils.

      The truth about the promotion of moving towards multi-cultural-existence must be understood. This questionnaire’s contents are not enough! This same survey needs to be conducted with apartment management associations. Kawaguchi Station area is overflowing with Chinese, I beg you to deal with this with a sense of impending crisis.

      There are too many Chinese. Please get a balance of other countries. Especially the the group of Chinese gathered near West Exit Park, the Chinese people at this apartment are not a good sight.

      It’s impossible for Foreigners to correspond with we Japanese, the Kurds are especially impossible.

      Even if we Japanese migrate to a foreign country, we can teach Japan’s good points to foreign countries, we can especially teach agriculture, thereby producing a relationship of trust, and a friendly national character produces good results. However, since the reality is there is nothing for us Japanese to learn from foreigner residents, it’s impossible for us to get along.

      The reality is foreign countries are strict about allowing people in except for tourists. There are also countries where it’s even hard to get a visa. Japan’s outward appearance is of being strict like that, but the reality is Japan is being too lenient about allowing foreigners in. About allowing foreigners in: think about the future!

      People are waking up to the town council incorporation. Can’t we exclude foreigner residents from the general residents group?

      Wow. And those were all cleaned up during editing by city workers before publication. Who knows what kind of worse replies they received which they hid from any such questionnaire-answer publications, as well as of course the even worse deeply-hidden-本音 opinions which people didn’t openly write down in the first place.

      By the way: Congratulations on having managed to successfully convince city hall to do their job of putting up a Safety Mirror at a deadly 死角blind-corner, fellow caring human. I’ll toot my horn for a moment by bragging about the fact I’ve successfully gotten my local city hall to do the same for 4 死角s in my area, and of course I had to fight tooth and nail each time, with a worker in the deciding Safety section once even admitting in the heat of the debate that he is (illogically) AGAINST any such mirrors being put up at all, since “People being able to see what’s coming on the other side of the blind-corner just makes them drive faster!” Yeah pal, perhaps that’s the kind of crazy driving you and people like you do, but try telling that “mirrors at blind-corners are dangerous” theory to the parents in our city who I consoled at the funeral of their 14-year-old daughter killed due to the lack of a safety mirror at a blind corner (by a truck driver doing the illegal-yet-done-by-everyone-daily-in-Japan selfish act of not stopping behind the stop-sign-line 停止線.) But I digress.

      • „Even if we Japanese migrate to a foreign country, we can teach Japan’s good points to foreign countries, we can especially teach agriculture, thereby producing a relationship of trust, and a friendly national character produces good results. However, since the reality is there is nothing for us Japanese to learn from foreigner residents, it’s impossible for us to get along.“

        Is that guy for real? Did he ever hear about the Meiji era, or how the US rebuild Japan after WW2. Japan wouldn‘t be as economically developed as it is today without the help from these foreign countries and people. And how did he even manage to bring up agriculture? Japan is definitely not famous for that. They are importing more than 60% of their agricultural products, which means that less than 40% are produced in Japan.

        But yeah, it‘s very interesting what kind of comments people manage to post. Sometimes I can‘t believe how dense some people are.

  • 外国人に対し甘すぎる
    We overly dote on foreigners.

    I hear that one all the time. I ask them to point out with specific examples how foreigners have it easy in Japan. The examples given are always something stupid like “people will give you directions on the street” or “signs are in English” or “large dating pool” or something like that.

    But the reality is there are only a few countries in the world where it is considered normal for the police force to stop people because they look foreign and ID check them. Among those countries are China, Japan and the two Koreas. They are also the only countries with full on family registers to record all changes in legal status of individuals. Japan may have a modern veneer but if you scratch the surface you see that their police and legal system is governed by an authoritarian government that wants to control its subjects to the fullest extent and enforce racial narratives to suit its needs. Look at how quickly the corrupt police force bowed down to Nissan and arrested the foreigner before they even had a working idea of what crime they suspected him of. The police force serve the erai-asiajin and if you are NJ then that is not you.

    • Thank you TJJ

      Ive just discovered this site and Im slowly coming to the realization that it is exactly as you say:”Japan may have a modern veneer but if you scratch the surface you see that their police and legal system is governed by an authoritarian government…” In the popular mindset I know me and my friends think of China like that but we had bought into what I now call the “saké flavored Kool-Aid”. Up until a short time ago I did not know this site existed and now that I do Im reading as much as I can. Ive decided that Ghosn is correct about Japan. I think Ill pick somewhere else to study.

  • 外国人住民から教えられる事は無い状況で

    “We have nothing to learn from gaijin…”

    Wow, the hubris. Nothing to learn except:

    – humility
    – your place in the world
    – the fact that you have been brainwashed by government controlled Japanese media since birth.

  • So….every Japanese person knows more about everything than a “foreigner resident” so it is impossible for them to get along…

    I am speechless…

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I’m neither surprised nor speechless. Japan’s got a society brainwashed with etho-nationalist racial superiority myths that teaches no critical thinking. It’s no wonder that this results in a total lack of self-awareness.
    Which in turn leads the Japanese to become offended by suggestions that would improve anything, and double-down on failing and bad ideas instead of trying anything new. The individual imperative is simply not to fall foul of social ‘norms’ that could have a disastrous effect on career and pursuit of the ‘dreamy day’ fantasies required to numb the senses to the shocking reality of an insane culture stumbling down the road to extinction by its own making.
    The worse it gets, the more shrill, butt-hurt, entitled, less tolerant and indignant this society has become. I’ve experienced it happen over twenty years.

  • realitycheck says:

    I am not at all surprised by such attitudes on the part of some Japanese citizens. I keep hearing about how Japan is changing yet in truth its capital city Tokyo seems to me and other foreign residents who have lived in other countries’ cities to be quite unsophisticated with a racist undercurrent of resentment against non Japanese that spills over into public displays of this for those who actually move about in daily life on the transportation, deal personally with ward offices and the system here etc.

    This is despite the official PR and even that of foreign producers of free papers and magazines or the selected token gaijin in the public eye who push the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ but are too firmly situated in their privileged bubbles to see that not many foreigners share their lifestyles

    Japan actually seems to have regressed since many of us first came here. Again it is the resentment we are experiencing and just how deep this runs is shown by the samples of bigoted Japanese citizens who voice such bigotry and also intellectually immature views while at the same time praising themselves for being Japanese.

    The impoverishment of public life and social commentary here in Japan results in attitudes held by too many that seem very odd by comparison to the reality of the 21st century and the fact that Japan is a full and supposedly willing participant in the international community and of course reaped the rewards economically because of this and not because somehow it became an economic power in isolation.

    Without other and freer countries’ technology etc, Japan would still be making the cheap and nasty stuff it used to be infamous for in the 1950s. Inventions and socio-economic and political changes do not come from within structures such as those Japan traditionally had.

    Yet even in 2020 we see a resurgence in sakoku thinking aided and abetted in various ways, subtle and not by the status quo. The bigots who make the kinds of comments quoted are also not aware and or intelligent enough to understand that the 2 million or so non Japanese living and working in Japan are doing so primarily because Japan desperately needs our skills and above all our taxes.

    It’s essentially about an ageing society that deludes itself it is somehow going to keep going without the consequences that eventually befall every society that doesn’t change its thinking. All the lip service paid by Japanese politicians, professionals and every day Japanese to the need for more foreign workers because of an ageing population doesn’t change the fact that guest workers instead of immigrants are uppermost in the majority’s thoughts.

    The underlying hostility to non Japanese is expressed in different ways by all ages among too many Japanese – it’s not just bitter older people who are unhappy with a society that they do nothing to change because collectively Japanese have chosen to make a virtue of the things that limit them, give them one of the highest suicide and now family murder rates in the world and drive their odd isolation from each other while proclaiming they are one blood and one race and hence – as well as us.

    It’s called having your cake and eating it too. Decry a small increase in foreigners by international standards while milking them in the income tax and health and pension systems to support your declining social capital because you feel you are entitled to stay the same while most of the world changes.

  • Max Gonzalez says:

    On the subject of state sponsored Japanese lessons, I got some questions. See, awhile back someone on Facebook shared an article about that (sorry, forget where, I’ll see if I can dig it up), and it left me wondering who’s going to teach it? How serious are they going to be about it? Usually when I’ve gone to city Japanese lessons here in Fukuoka there’s almost always a questionnaire that asks “when will you go home?” and it annoys the hell out of me. I’m thisclose to posting a vulgar response…

  • > The Ainu Recognition Law passes last February, meaning Japan is officially multiethnic.

    Unfortunately the Deputy Prime Minister (and ex-Prime Minister) Tarō Asō seems to be unfamiliar with this official recognition. Just on the 13th he stated that Japan is a “single race”, and has been for been “two thousand years”, speaking “a single language”.

    麻生副総理がまた不適切発言 地元・福岡で「日本は一つの民族」

  • On the face of it, this appears good, right? 75% of Japanese think Japan should become more hospitable to foreign residents;

    But I can’t help wondering what percentage of foreign residents think that Japan should be more hospitable to foreign residents? Why didn’t they try something out-of-the-box? Y’know? Gee, what could they have tried instead?….Oh! Why didn’t they just try asking foreign residents? They know what they need instead of being told what they need by the 75%.


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