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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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