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Visible Minorities Column 12: A Despotic Bridge Too Far
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, July 20, 2020
SNA (Tokyo) — How bad does it have to get? I’m talking about Japan’s cruelty and meanness towards its Non-Japanese residents. How bad before people think to step in and stop it?
I think we now have an answer to that due to Japan’s recent policy excluding only foreigners from re-entry at its border, even if they’ve lived here for decades, as a by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic. Japanese re-entrants get let in after testing and quarantine; no other G7 country excludes all foreigners only.
Consequently, many Non-Japanese residents found themselves stranded overseas, separated from their Japanese families, lives and livelihoods, watching their investments dry up and visa clocks run out without recourse. Or perhaps found themselves stranded within Japan, as family members abroad died, and the prospect of attending their funeral or taking care of personal matters in person would mean exile.
However, protests against this policy have been unusually mainstream, including institutions who have been for generations largely silent regarding other forms of discrimination towards foreigners in Japan. Consider these examples of how institutionalized and embedded racism is in Japan:
You’re probably aware that Japan has long advertised itself as a “monocultural, homogeneous society,” denying that minorities, racial or ethnic, exist within it. But did you know that Japan still refuses to include Non-Japanese residents as “people” in its official population tallies? Or to list them on official family registries as “spouses” of Japanese? Or that Japan’s constitution expressly reserves equality under the law for Japanese citizens (kokumin) in its Japanese translation? This complicates things for all Non-Japanese residents to this day.
Consider how Japan’s law enforcement system still willfully targets “foreigners” for special treatment and racial profiling, encouraged by a system of registration and random street identity checks that apply to Non-Japanese residents only.
With prosecutorial presumptions of guilt and lack of human rights for foreigners, more have been incarcerated as a percentage of the population than Japanese. That is what you get when a criminal justice system has a separate track for detention, incarceration, interrogation, and jurisprudence against foreigners, one so rigged that even a foreigner as powerful as former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, despite a weak case against him, couldn’t buy, bully, or lawyer his way out of.
Then we get to Japan’s mass media, which still more often portrays “foreigners” at best as quirky outsiders and guests, at worst as terrorists, criminals, and vectors of disease. That’s before we get to the random expressions of racism and “othering” that are rife and largely unproblematized in Japan. Rarely does mainstream media salute Non-Japanese residents for their contributions to Japanese society, even as taxpayers.
Yet Japan still wants people to come work on temporary revolving-door visas, including so-called “trainees” hired without any labor rights. But when Non-Japanese residents stick it out and devote their lives to Japan, they get little encouragement to stay on permanently, naturalize, or otherwise become “Japanese.” The general expectation remains that foreigners are in Japan for a period of time to profiteer before they “go home.”
This happens despite foreigners being consigned to jobs on the margins of society, such as menial workers, entertainers, non-executive bureaucrats, healthcare workers, small-time businesspeople, and non-tenured educators. Where are the Non-Japanese licensed professionals in more influential fields like doctors or lawyers?
A handful of foreigners get promoted with great fanfare, but they remain statistical asterisks, not mainstream influencers. Positions of real power are reserved for Real Japanese, and foreigners are second-class subordinates. If not, suddenly it’s Nippon ja nai mitai (Japan is not the Japan we know). Quite.
So back to the opening question: Even with all this, how bad does it have to get before the mainstream begins to cry discrimination? The answer: Covid-19 bad.
Thanks to the re-entry ban last April, many Non-Japanese residents found themselves stranded overseas, separated from their Japanese families, lives and livelihoods, watching their investments dry up and visa clocks run out without recourse. Or perhaps found themselves stranded within Japan, as family members abroad died, and the prospect of attending their funeral or taking care of personal matters in person would mean exile.
Granted, the US government recently tried something similar when, on July 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement unilaterally decided that all foreign students taking online classes only would have their student visas cancelled.
That lasted about a week. Prominent universities (such as Harvard and MIT), organizations of higher education, corporations, and individual state governments cried foul or filed lawsuits to moot this move. It worked. Even for a Trump administration this bigoted, the policy was dropped on July 14.
So who similarly advocates on behalf of foreigners in Japan, besides the usual activist groups and human rights agencies who get routinely ignored? It’s hard to imagine a Japanese university filing a lawsuit against the government.
This time, however, Japan’s mainstream media did speak up. For example, the Asahi Shinbun on June 8 ran an editorial calling the current policy “unreasonable” and “discriminatory.”
The Japan Association of National Universities, representing Japan’s flagship educational institutions like Tokyo University, also stepped in. It recently petitioned the Ministry of Education to promptly allow both old and new students and researchers to enter their universities after proper quarantines, and to resume issuing visas.
And in a blistering critique, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan issued public statements for Japan to repeal the policy. This is quite a step, since the ACCJ in my experience cares more about unperturbed access to Japanese markets than messy issues of human rights. The ACCJ’s words are worth quoting at length:
Foreign nationals actively and positively contribute to Japan’s economy and society, and do not pose any greater risk than Japanese citizens re-entering Japan. The ACCJ statement expresses concern among our international business community that the prohibition currently in place is detrimental to Japan’s long-term interests… Such individuals, especially those with permanent residency (eijuken) and their accompanying family members or those who are immediate family members of Japanese nationals, and those with long-term working visas and their accompanying family members, need to be allowed to enter Japan under the same conditions as Japanese citizens to continue living and working in this country. Such foreign nationals are actively and positively contributing to Japan’s economy and society, and do not pose any greater risk than Japanese citizens re-entering Japan… At minimum, Japan should adopt the approach of other G7 countries to allow foreigners with established residency status and their immediate family members to depart and enter the country on the same basis as Japanese nationals.
So what was the tipping point? Perhaps it was when the Japanese government broke its own rules by unilaterally revoking the status of its lawful permanent residents; when it showed the world that it cares naught for the people it even grants permanent status to. Even with all the institutionalized discrimination for generations, a move this despotic shows just how much of an outlier Japan is among developed nations.
This might even be a bellwether. In recent years, we’ve seen a move towards authoritarianism in the world’s developed liberal democracies. As I have argued elsewhere, this systemic intolerance has its roots in Japan, which to overseas xenophobes represents a model ethnostate. Ethnic cleansers have in fact been copying many of Japan’s strategies and policies.
But even when an outlier like Japan, with a society so deferential to power and profoundly oblivious towards the treatment of its minorities, is seen to have gone too far, perhaps authoritarianism has finally crested.
We might be seeing the pendulum swinging back towards liberalism at last. It’s just a shame it had to go this far before it did.
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16 comments on ““A Despotic Bridge Too Far”, Debito’s SNA Visible Minorities column 12 on Japan’s racist blanket ban on Foreign Resident re-entry, July 20, 2020”
Did anyone see the press conference with the Minister of Foreign Affairs? Basically this guy doesn‘t care at all that all foreign residents are barred from entering the country. Japan isn‘t even hiding it anymore, they just don‘t give a damn about foreign residents.
Because of that Germany decided to ban Japanese travelers as long as German residents are not allowed in to Japan.
Note how this only applies to travelers, since banning legal non German residents would be illegal according to German law of course.
I‘m usually not a fan of revenge and the „shoe on the other foot“ phenomenon, because I believe that ordinary citizens shouldn‘t be punished for the actions of their government, but this time the Japanese government overdid it massively with their racist policy. Therefore I totally agree with banning Japanese travelers from Germany. Why should Japanese tourists travel to Germany and go back to Japan without any problems while German residents who are living and working in Japan can’t do the same? Good job Germany I say.
Interesting turn of events! Thanks for posting!
Unlike you, I fully endorse punishing electorates that choose bad governments. After all, they are responsible. And making the electorate feel the pain is the only way to teach them to choose better leaders. Something like a cross between electro-shock therapy and Pavlov’s Dog.
The Japanese need to understand on an individual level that when you elect racist old farts like Aso, it reflects directly on YOU!
but Jim, when I told people in what I thought was a positive way, “YOU have the power to choose your elected representatives”. They get all defensive and think I am attacking them.
Why is that? Feel voting is too much pressure? Dont want any responsibiity? (Probably)
How dare you interrupt the ‘dreamy day’ with reality such as responsibly to partake in voting!
Very insightful article as always. Also in line with the point I was trying to make of this outrageous law serving as a particularly equalizing blanket for all non-Japanes. Equally hitting the apologists and those who until now have lived enshrined in their idyllic Japanese bubbles. However I’m not as optimistic to expect any substantial change in the long run. Japan will just elude, ignore and hold their ground as much as allowed, as per their standard modus operandi (they are best at that anyways). And if put under any kind of meaningful pressure then they may just loosen the restrictions to a degree and everything will be forgiven. The country and the pet apologists will revert to business as usual. Japan in their route towards greater insularism and their unconditional servants back to the selfish dreamy day, as soon as the crisis fades out (whehever that is).
The government is finally providing a way for NJ residents who left before the ban. https://www.mofa.go.jp/ca/fna/page4e_001074.html
Yet not ideal, (because of introducing an additional bureaucratic farce that’s not applied to Japanese) it’s better than nothing.
Yes, but it was better before. The same people who left before Emergency could come back without additional hassle like this. Now these same people must go through paperwork incl. PR and Spouses of J Nationals. My wife who is with me in Europe with me doesn’t need any check up. As someone wrote in JT , 90% Japanese is immune to COVID. Right… as always very special nation (or blood type?).
PCR prior departure is fine, but then ask your own citizens too. Besides, why another document residents need to ask J Embassy for permission to re-enter when one has already re-entry sticker? There is already outcry about it by G7 written in Japanese news, not foreign yet.
Meanwhile, Japanese singer who has lived in the UK for 25 years reacts to being told she is ineligible for inclusion in music awards that are part funded by the tax payer by calling it ‘border control around eligibility’.
She conveniently attacks the awards body for disqualifying her for not having a UK passport rather than the Japanese government for not allowing dual citizenship.
No doubt she is Japanese when it suits her marketing, i.e. her USP. Thus she retains her J passport.
Shoe on other foot moment. Never heard of her but who cares? “If you want benefits, naturalize”- where have we heard that before?
BTW, her music sounds really American/hip hop. Different issue, but it doesnt sound “British” at all, nor is it a significant cultural contribution as its very, very generic and derivative, though I digress into the contentious issue of musicology.
So, no sympathy.
And In fact UK arts councils HAVE funded Japanese, e.g Ryoji Ikeda, A LOT. And he most certainly has no British connection.
Good point. And wasn’t Sanada Hiroyuki given an OBE by the Queen?
The bureaucrats that are drafting immigration policies in Japan should read these article published by Mainichi Shinbun on July 31, 2020:
It is extremely common and very sad how young people are attracted to Japan and become just cheap labor.
BEWARE of the “Technical Intern Program” !
Chinese trainees describe harsh realities of Japan’s technical intern program
July 31, 2020 (Mainichi Japan)
KURASHIKI, Okayama — A group of Chinese nationals who worked as technical intern trainees at a restaurant in this western Japan city held a press conference on July 29, claiming that the actual nature of their training differed from what they were told in advance.
A total of five male and female individuals aged in their 20s and 30s held the press conference in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. They and one other person who was not present at the conference had been accepted as technical interns to work in ready-made meal production. The training plan outlined that they would mainly be in charge of cooking boxed lunches for catering services and the like.
However, the trainees were apparently made to actually do tasks such as washing dishes and serving food in the Japanese restaurant. The technical interns claimed that they “have not been able to acquire food processing skills.” Furthermore, they were subject to long work hours including an average of 100 hours of overtime per month, unpaid wages resulting from a discrepancy in the recognition of work hours, and also power harassment from their boss.
In explaining the situation during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, the supervising organization for the intern program said, “We did not think that the training would be carried out exactly according to the plan. We understood that the store would at times be busy and the trainees’ main task of cooking would sometimes be reduced. To raise the trainees’ earnings, overtime hours were increased to the extent that they wouldn’t infringe on regulations. However, we did not get a sense of any particular issues during regular inspections of the store.” The restaurant and an attorney for the supervising organization have refused to respond to interview requests on the grounds that they are in the midst of collective bargaining over the matter.
One of the trainees, a woman in her 30s from Inner Mongolia, expressed feelings of regret, saying, “These two years have gone to waste.” She came to Japan in 2018 while leaving her 13-year-old son in her relative’s care. The trainee also worked in the food processing industry in her home country, and wanted to bring back Japanese knowhow, which is more advanced and healthier, in order to own her own shop in the future. When leaving her country, she was charged around 800,000 yen (about $7,624) by brokers and had borrowed more than 1 million yen (about $9,530) from friends and relatives.
Despite all this, the actual training in Japan was different from what she had expected. The trainees spent the large majority of their time working as floor staff at the eatery, instead of cooking and carrying out food processing tasks that she had initially been informed she would do. She also suffered mentally due to the overbearing attitude of her boss and others, and experienced insomnia and symptoms of dizziness. Two years passed without her being able to improve her food processing skills or Japanese language ability.
The woman occasionally talks with family in video calls, but has not been able to tell them about her current situation as she doesn’t want them to worry. Half of her loans remain unpaid, while one year of training remains in her technical intern program. She has requested to be moved to a different store for her training, while suppressing her feelings of wanting to meet her son as soon as possible. She commented, “I would like to acquire skills in this one year, and return home after paying back my loans.”
The group of technical interns said that they will demand an apology and payment of temporary leave allowances, and aim to resolve the matter while continuing to negotiate with the restaurant and supervising organization. They commented, “We want others to know about the reality so that there won’t be more people deceived like us.”
(Japanese original by Sayuri Toda, Okayama Bureau)
Excerpt of Japanese original:
技能実習、計画と相違 倉敷の料理店、目的外配置など 中国人５人会見「実情を知ってほしい」 ／岡山
Rest at https://mainichi.jp/articles/20200730/ddl/k33/040/413000c
How did I miss this?!?
TBS ‘proves’ that speaking English spreads coronavirus more than speaking Japanese, thereby justifying all manner of racist nihonjinron giron theories and government policy no doubt.
Priceless… Let’s tell that to those who have to endure the rampant “irashaimase” minions robotically yelling their lungs out at every okyakusama’s heartbeat, the frantic mantra-like recitations at morning chourei and similar rituals, the unique levels of hysteric laughing, loud talking and whatever else reckless behavior that most enkai tend to degenerate to, the normalized human carpets of drunks (male and female) also yelling and puking their guts all over the streets on weekends, the vicious screaming and rife bullying at sempai-kouhai interactions, etc.
BTW, my previous comment was in response to JDG’s
All true! B, b, but… FOREIGNERS!
More human rights violations :
Re-entry ban horror stories pile up in Japan’s Indian community
Some worry confusion about border restrictions will ‘leave a scar’ among the nation’s foreign residents