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Hi Blog. My regular monthly Visible Minorities column is out at the Shingetsu News Agency, where I talk about how Japan is reverting to exclusionary type (egged on by an unaccountable ruling elite) when dealing with minorities in pandemic times. People in Japan are generally “live and let live” and “keep calm and carry on” when it comes to treating each other. It’s Japan’s incompetent leaders (notably a self-hating haafu American-Japanese politician named Onoda Kimi) who normalize discrimination in the name of shifting blame, I’m arguing. Here’s the column’s full text, archived for the record:
Pandemic Releases Antibodies toward Non-Japanese
By Debito Arudou
Shingetsu News Agency, Visible Minorities column, April 20, 2020
SNA (Tokyo) — Pandemics can bring out the best in people. Newton came up with theories on calculus, optics, and gravity while in quarantine. Shakespeare wrote some of his best plays, and Edvard Munch created iconic paintings in isolation. Even today, we’re seeing heroes in the health care industry, volunteers sewing and distributing basic personal protective equipment, neighbors checking up on each other, and leaders stepping up their organizational skills. When the daily normal becomes a struggle between life and death, we see what people are really made of.
In Japan, we’re seeing much of the “keep calm and carry on” mettle found in a society girded for frequent natural disasters. But that grit hasn’t trickled upward to Japan’s political elite, which has ruled largely without accountability for generations, and at times like these appears particularly out of touch.
More concerned about the economics of cancelling the Tokyo Olympics than about the safety of the general public, Japan’s policymakers haven’t conducted adequate Covid-19 testing, exercised timely or sufficient social distancing, or even tallied accurate infection statistics.
As happened in prior outbreaks, such as SARS and AIDS, leaders have deflected blame onto foreigners. First China, then outsiders in general, starting with the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship (which, despite a third of its passengers being Japanese citizens, was even excluded from Japan’s coronavirus patient tallies).
But treating outsiders like contagion has consequences: Society develops antibodies, and Japan’s already-normalized discrimination intensifies.
Consider the case of Mio Sugita, a Liberal Democratic Party Lower House Diet Member from Tottori, who tweeted on April 4 that taxpaying Non-Japanese Residents should not receive the same financial support from the Japanese government as citizens. Supporting them should be the responsibility of their respective foreign countries. To her, being a registered resident and taxpayer is not enough to qualify.
Never mind that Japanese living abroad as residents and taxpayers aren’t being similarly treated. And never mind that this violates, for example, the principles behind totalization agreements, ensuring that Japanese and other nationalities can still receive a retirement pension despite straddling countries and tax homes during their working lives.
Of course, Sugita is famous for her stupid comments, including anti-LGBT statements in 2018 against government policies for “unproductive” same-sex couples because they don’t bear children. But the fact that a person like Sugita can be elected and remain in office is indicative of Japan’s pathological attitude towards minorities.
You can see how deep the pathology runs in Kimi Onoda, LDP Upper House Diet Member from Okayama. She similarly insinuated on March 30 that government subsidies should be denied Non-Japanese residents. But this is stunningly ironic because she was born in America to an American father. She even held American nationality until 2016 (when she was ratted out and gave it up), meaning she too was a foreigner in Japan.
That’s how deep Japan’s dehumanizing antibodies run — where even a self-hating haafu would effectively deny equal treatment to her own father! What immense psychological scars from childhood bullying have prompted her to deny any ties to her minority origins, and to pander for the approval of majority whim that Non-Japanese Residents belong on a separate and unequal tier in society?
Now, while sophists like Onoda might point out that there are issues of legal registration that complicate things, it’s not complicated at all. Simply put, Japan’s default mode is exclusion and minority discrimination.
It took 60 years of activist pressure before Japan allowed foreigners to be officially counted as Japan residents and family members (and to this day, foreigners are not included as spouses on family registries). The media still routinely excludes foreigners from national population tallies — as if only REAL Japanese count. And it trickles down into daily practice: Landlords, realtors, and shopkeepers at whim can refuse service to anyone who appears “foreign” with no real blowback. That’s in the best of times.
But these aren’t the best of times. In pandemic conditions, having politicians carelessly say that foreigners don’t deserve equal treatment justifies all sort of dehumanization.
For example, Japan’s inhumane official policy is that Non-Japanese, including Permanent Residents, who leave the country (even if they have to attend a funeral) won’t be let back in. Period. What’s next? Hospitals refusing entry to foreigners (which happens anyway)? Triage by nationality? Reserving ventilators for Japanese only? It all logically follows.
Pandemics can bring out the best in people. But they generally force people to decide who deserves to live. And in Japan, it’s ever clearer that, to many people in power, Non-Japanese don’t count as fellow human beings.
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10 comments on “Debito’s SNA column: “Pandemic Releases Antibodies toward Non-Japanese”, VM9, April 20, 2020 (archived full text)”
“But treating outsiders like contagion has consequences: Society develops antibodies, and Japan’s already-normalized discrimination intensifies.”
Normalized discrimination that intensifies, and not only because of corona, during every crisis that happens. And the ultra-right never misses the opportunity to capitalize on each and every disaster and blame NJ. So entrenched and common that I don’t think it is too far to say that xenophobia is a Japanese local customary.
The intensified xenophobia in Japan does remind me of the time of the 2012 election, where for some bizarre reason the Fukushima nuclear meltdown crisis suddenly became a geopolitical crisis. NJ in Japan are either accused of being potential looters or being “flyjin” when they decide to leave Japan.
Following a bunch of hate rallies that flooded the streets with some nationalists calling for NJ to be exterminated. (i remember posting about this one back then, so it should be archived in this blog somewhere dating back to 2012 I think.)
Speaking of hate rallies, I have a feeling once the pandemic is over, these hate rallies will come out in full force. Knowing the nature of Japanese nationalism and the fact the the virus originated from their arch-nemesis, stage racist protests demanding ethnic Chinese be deported or something. J-nationalism, when it comes to Chinese or Koreans, i find are exceptionally nasty given Japan’s history with its neighbors. The J-nationalists will be loud and they will make sure they are heard.
Xenophobia was so intense that I am willing to bet many Japanese voted the LDP on a the single issue of wanting more security, both internal and external. Despite many Japanese not to pleased with their choices of candidates in the 2012 election, xenophobia alone seems to be enough to rally enough votes behind the LDP and to make Abe the PM. And the only other “opposition” that came close the the LDP in votes was even more extreme right wing parties.
I think many forgot how much more far right Japan has become. You just can’t criticize without being accused of being a chinese/korean shill/spy, or if you are a wajin progressive, you are immediately labeled as a chinese/korean.
Though thankfully, the senkaku island row didn’t turn into a 3rd sino-japanese war, and things seem to have calmed down and with some thinking the fervent nationalism has gone away, but, nope it hasn’t.
With corona crisis and what I saw of Japanese xenophobia, though mostly online, I am thinking “ah it is back to 2012”, interesting times indeed.
And given Japan’s natural xenophobic reflexes, I wouldn’t be surprised if the LDP blame the failure of abenomics on the pandemic and the global recession and the public believing it. Actually, I can see the LDP blaming their failures entirely on China for the virus and America for trump’s incompetence and tanking the economy.
Also, if the xenophobia I am seeing both in real life and online is anything to go by, I get a feeling that the pandemic might make Japanese overall supportive of Abe’s constitutional revision, a new security law for NJ on the next election campaign promise Or anything that makes xenophobes feel safe from NJ. Remember, its Japan, the FEELS matter more than logic.
Japan’s xenophobia is so deep that I think some people will be willing to hold their nose to vote for Abe because they think his xenophobic policies make them feel good.
Given that the coronavirus originated outside of Japan, probably puts the J-Nationalists and the LDP in a better, if not the best position for creating convincing and racist domestic propaganda. Better yet, the LDP can always “remind” the public of the North Korean missile that flew over Japan a few years back along side the corona crisis during election time to give the people a good double scare.
Naturally, the people, who have been indoctrinated for generations to fear NJ, will no doubt fall in line and vote Abe anyway because he will promise that he will be ever more tough on NJ which is what Japanese would love to hear.
From 2012 onward, I have always felt that Japan is on a set path back to the past as Abe puts it “take back Japan”, to the good old meiji era as the J-nationalists deeply opposed the Americans that tried to make Japan a progressive nation after the war and want to change it back.
The coronavirus pandemic, if anything, will make it easier rather than harder for the LDP to achieve their end goals. Nothing is easier to get people to rally behind fascism than fear. With the way things are going, I feel, for the LDP, the delay of the Olympics games will only be a small setback for what the LDP will get in return at the end once Abe is through with Japan. I mean hey, Abe might even get re-elected, constitution revised or even shredded, and as well as the Olympics games to celebrate all of this.
Interesting times await Japan, corona just makes the inevitable come sooner. And intensifying racism is just what Abe’s constitutional revisionism needs.
Given Japan’s historically strong anti-Chinese sentiments, and the fact that the coronavirus originated in China, I have a feeling that the searing hatred that is prevailing in the minds of the Japanese will give Abe’s scandals a pass and will back his “get tough on China” polices in order to get some feel good retribution of some sort. Although how the Japanese will react also worrying too given how during the last crisis in 2012 nearly got the two countries into a hot war.
What is going to be worse now than compared to 2012 is that the coronavirus has disrupted the “dreamy day” scenario. And I don’t think people will take it too well with their dreamy day suddenly gone. Between raging nationalists and angry people being pulled from their dreamy day, I don’t think the future bolds well, especially if you are NJ. And the formerly dreamy day folks will be looking for scapegoats.
” In Japan’s general “culture of saying no,” exclusion is the default setting.”
I have been saying this for years, nothing is negotiable. Thus, Ishihara’s “The Japan that can Say No” is not groundbreaking at all. Its just descriptive of the default.
You should quickly disabuse yourself of the notion that Japanese xenophobia has anything to do with being “left” or “right” politically. I can assure you that there are plenty of Japanese on the “left” side of the aisle that are just as or more xenophobic than those on the “right” side. The notion of the Japanese as a unique race supercedes all of these notions of political ideology.
—- Who argued it was a matter of left or right?
Good point Doc. I remember when Ishihara incited the Senkaku spat a friend left a copy of the Japanese Communist Party’s news letter on the table at work. Headline? Senkaku Iskands are Japanese!
The cult of ‘Japaneseness’ Uber alles.
—- Who argued it was a matter of left or right?
Go back and re-read bayfield’s message, where he makes various references to the political “right” – obviously in an attempt to map popular understandings of the political “right” in western countries to Japan (a big mistake).
My whole point is that those references are useless when discussing issues of othering in Japan. Othering in Japan is independent of political ideologies – it is a way of life in Japan informed by education and socialization regarding the way Japanese are inherently different than non-Japanese.
—- Ah, sorry. Didn’t see it was a reply to Bayfield. Doesn’t come up on my computer as such.
No worries, Debito. I thought you knew I was replying to bayfield. Thanks.
I have noticed that some halfu go hard at being Japanese, like the more weeping and attempts at acceptance makes them appear to be gambatte iru. Is it self hatred or just wanting to belong, who knows. I have met others who are very candid about their halfu experience. I am not Japanese or never want to be, but have also tied myself up in circles trying to be accepted, to the point of acting Japanese and being miserable. What this woman is doing, to me anyways, is just an act. She is 1/2 foreigner, (that elephant in the room) so should embrace it instead of useless self hating tactics.
It is a kind of Stockholm syndrome situation. If all your formative years you are having to justify and defend your Japaneseness, you will become ‘more Japanese’ than even a naturally born Japanese. You will observe all Japanese customs and rituals, know more kanji, BE more Japanese in your dealings than anyone else. Onoda is just parroting the anti-gaijin talk, like a good little parrot.
Interestingly, despite all the hoops that the masses have to jump through to qualify for a Covid-19 test, LDP members family seem to be able to get them on demand, even if displaying no symptoms (whilst ordinary citizens are required to endure 4 days of a fever).
In addition, Japan’s police state, ever overpaid, overstuffed and underworked (as I have explained here before), is now whining about a 5 fold increase in infection rates amongst its ranks in 2 weeks!
As a result, ‘ Authorities are now concerned that the nation may face a looming shortage of officers, which would pose a treat to public safety. ’, and demanding that all police have access to covid testing. Seems a little unfair when the masses still forced to pack themselves into rush hour trains to get paid, but I guess if the administration’s ONLY reaction to the pandemic is to take three weeks to start sending out dirty masks to pregnant women at huge public expense, then a strong domestic paramilitary force is likely essential…
Right-wingers in all countries never fail to impress upon me that they are utter morons. In fact, the degree to which their idiocy extends leaves me wondering how any of them are able to survive the regular hazards of daily life.
Case in point;
Japanese right winger writes graffiti in public toilet.
Graffiti exhorts the extermination of all Wuhan residents.
Toilet is located at right wing Yasukuni shrine.
Shrine has a museum that denies all Japanese war crimes.
So, let me get this straight (and not for the first time), it’s Japanese right wingers who deny all Japan’s war crimes as ‘anti-Japanese lies’, calling for….ethnic cleansing.
It’s exactly the same ‘not logic’ that was at work a couple of years ago when the Japanese schoolgirl was standing on the street screaming down a megaphone calling for the ‘extermination of Korean cockroaches’ because they were spreading ‘lies’ about war crimes and making Japan ‘look bad’.