My SNA Visible Minorities 46: “Visible Minorities: Departing Japan at Middle Age” (May 15, 2023)


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Hi Blog. My latest column offers a frank assessment of living your life out in Japan as an immigrant. It of course can be done, but most of you will find that even after decades swimming against the current in terms of legal status and social acceptance, you will get no commensurate reward after all your efforts.  In fact, I found that life opportunities dwindle as you age in Japan, and you get locked into a dreary, impoverished lifestyle like most other elderly here. If you think you can avoid this situation, power to you, but I suggest you make your decision to stay permanently or not by age 40.  Good luck.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


Visible Minorities: Departing Japan at Middle Age

SNA (Tokyo) — As you have probably have heard, SNA President Michael Penn will be moving his operations overseas. He’s leaving Japan. At his age, that’s probably a good idea. I speak from experience.

I came to Japan during the “Bubble Years” of the 1980s, when Japan was ascendant upon the world stage and buying everything in sight. Money orgiastically sloshed around the economy.

Finding work was pretty easy. Lots of Japanese companies were trying to “internationalize” by hiring token foreign staff who were looking for an international experience. Or, if being a corporate drone wasn’t your thing, you could teach English for about US$100 an hour. It was one great big party. I came over, fell in love with the language and a girl, and decided to make a go of it here.

It was a pretty good go. I lived in Japan for 24 years, married and had kids, became tenured faculty at a university, bought land, built a house, and learned the language and culture well enough to write books in Japanese and take out Japanese citizenship. In terms of trying to assimilate into Japan, I don’t think there’s a lot more I could have done. I was an ideal immigrant.

But then, like Michael, I too left Japan. That’s both a pity and, in my case, an inevitability.

Japan should be trying harder to keep people like us. It really doesn’t. The longer you’re in Japan, the more your opportunities dwindle.

Opportunities Denied

Let’s first talk about the natural obstacles to people staying on, starting with how difficult it is to keep a visa.

Unless you marry (and stay married to) a Japanese, it’s quite difficult for foreigners to control their own professional lives in Japan. Becoming a salaryman is one thing, where you can work until you drop, but promotion is tougher for foreigners, and they are the first ones laid off in any economic downturn. Moreover, the types of jobs you can take are mostly “foreigner” jobs in certain industries.

So how about starting your own business in Japan? It can happen, and there are a few successful entrepreneurs. But I’ve seen many, many more failures. Some were dragged down by onerous requirements such as expensive shareholder investment and being forced to hire Japanese staff. Others got tripped up either by mandarin rigmarole that is designed more for the bureaucrats’ convenience than yours, or by pedantic officials who are out to get you, finding any mistake in your paperwork so they can reflexively revert to the “culture of no.”

You’re better off establishing a headquarters overseas and setting up a branch in Japan than registering a company in Japan proper. But if you do that, suspicion is triggered in the Immigration Bureau and you face even more visa rigmarole.

That’s all before we get to how Japan has toughened up its visa requirements over the years.

Compared to when I first arrived, it’s harder to graduate from a three-month visa to a one-year; and so is getting a three-year and Permanent Residency, especially for people of color or from developing countries. The assumption is that people from poor countries are only in Japan for the money, not to positively contribute to Japanese society as a resident and taxpayer like everyone else.

In any case, the mandarins’ overall attitude is that foreigners must prove themselves worthy of the honor of staying in Japan. Japan’s graveyard of defunct visa statuses, discontinued because they had qualifications so ludicrous that few people applied, reflects that.

The clearest indication that Japan really doesn’t want us to stay is the lack of an official immigration policy, an official Ministry of Immigration, or other governmental organs at the national level to help foreigners become Japanese. Politicians have repeatedly said that they want foreigners to come work for awhile but not stay on. Take them at their word.

Nevertheless, You Persisted

But let’s say you have satisfied all these requirements and gained Permanent Residency or even Japanese citizenship. What do you get for after all that effort? Not enough.

You start realizing this when you hit middle age in Japan. Around 40 I could see where I had been and where I was heading, and it looked pretty bleak.

This is because I was seeing how old people actually lived in Japan. Yes, there are great networks for them to be active both physically and mentally, including mountain climbing, gateball, mahjong, or go boardgames. Japan’s medical system is very good, especially compared to, for example, the hellscape that is US healthcare. Of course there’s good food and drink to be had everywhere.

That might be satisfactory if you’re a Japanese old fart. As a foreign old fart, you’re stuck in treadmill conversations with people who have mostly lived for work and often don’t have many interests beyond it. If they are educated, they’ll often see you as a cultural curiosity to be studied, or as a basis of comparison to sharpen their predispositions informed by the “we Japanese” superiority complexes.

If you can psychologically handle a life where your friends are mostly insular and conservative, enjoy. If not, you’re going to be lonely.

Chances are you’re also going to be poor. The average payout for the Japanese pension, according to Reuters in 2019, is about 150,000 yen per month. That might cover rent and leave enough for a comfortable lifestyle in many of Japan’s dying countryside towns, but not in the major cities.

This should not have come as any surprise. Even during the Bubble Years Japan’s elderly were poor, and were being sent overseas to “silver zone” enclaves so their yen could go farther with the exchange rates.

But now that the value of the yen is dropping, that has all slipped away. Forget traveling much, especially overseas, unless you have additional savings or means of your own. It’s highly likely you’ll find yourself stuck in Japan.

This situation will not improve, because Japan has ignored its demographic issues for decades. All the way back in 2000, both the United Nations and the Japanese government agreed that Japan’s aging society would soon become top-heavy with geriatrics with not enough young taxpayers paying into the pension.

The proposed solution–then, as now–was immigration. Foreigners were going to save Japan. But, again, the Japanese government assiduously declined to take us.

Policymakers clung to homogeneous-society narratives and stopgap measures like the exploitative “trainee” visa system, and watched pension contributions per capita dwindle. What is their solution now that the warnings from nearly a quarter-century ago proved accurate? Raise the retirement age to the late 60s and pay out less pension. We’ll probably see Japan’s retirement age raised to 70 before too long.

By the time you want to retire, you’ll get a pittance, or might not be expected to retire at all.

Twilight Years in Japan

Let’s say you’ve done better future planning than the Japanese government did, and you can live your middle and late age comfortably anywhere you wish. Why not spend your later middle age and twilight years in Japan?

Because, as I said above, the longer you’re in Japan the more your opportunities dwindle.

Let’s start with dealing with the inevitable “midlife crisis.” It’s highly likely your current job has become boring or gone sour. Often the younger workers aren’t happy with having a foreign senpai above them, and won’t treat you with the dignity and respect that was required of you when you were lower on the totem pole. Changing a job in Japan is culturally frowned upon. You’ll lose both salary and seniority. You’ll probably have to take what you can get, like everyone else.

Eventually all that’s left is the “make-work” jobs for seniors. Can you imagine wearing a uniform and flagging people past traffic cones? Sure, it’s nice to supplement your income and get out of the house, but it’s probably going to be boring at best, humiliating and a soft target for bullying at worst. Again, people aren’t going to forget that you’re a foreigner.

The fact is that geriatrics in Japan are expected to be impoverished, housebound, and satisfied with monotonous days full of television, drinking, and gateball. Sure, you might have your “forever home,” but you’re expected to die in it. You won’t get much money if you try to resell your house or other equity and expect to live on the proceeds, as only the land is worth anything. You can’t, for example, buy an RV and live the nomadic life of retirees on pensions in Western societies. You can only live like you’re expected to live.

Personally, I couldn’t take this encroaching monotony. Around the time I turned 45, I realized that the main reason I had loved life in Japan was the adventures–the curious and weird things that happened around me daily. But the more familiar I became with Japan, the adventures largely evaporated.

After more than twenty years in Japan, every day became Groundhog Day. I could sleepwalk through most conversations. I had to find diversions to alleviate the boredom; they no longer found me.

The fact is, unless a brick had fallen from the sky and brained me, I could predict what was going to happen from the morning when I woke up to the moment I went to bed. So I decided to leave.

What Happens If You Leave Japan?

Leaving Japan is also made into something difficult. You’re constantly reminded that if you ever depart for good, you’ll lose everything and have to start from zero, especially professionally.

A very sad discovery is that your Japan experiences don’t count for much in other countries, given that now China is the Asian regional power. Even if Japan had retained its luster, there were always people overseas with Japanese roots competing for your Japan-specialist job, and got it by arguing bald-facedly that foreigners can’t know as much as Japanese with “real Japanese blood.” The Japanese Only attitudes you see in Japan’s hiring practices are exported worldwide.

If you have a family in tow, it’s even tougher to leave. They’re especially scared by the Japanese media constantly rattling on about how dangerous life is overseas. If your kids are still in the Japanese school system, they’ll begrudge being uprooted too. They know that if they ever return to Japan, they’ll never be considered “Japanese” enough because they haven’t passed through the Japanese education system.

Coming to Japan was always a carefully baited hook–if you get past all the obstacles, you’ll find yourself trapped in a society where you’re not allowed to truly belong, yet are constantly expected to try.

Yet some people do leave, sometimes permanently, sometimes not.

People like Japan specialists Alex Kerr and Donald Keene regularly split their time between Japan and overseas. Authors Haruki Murakami lives permanently in Honolulu and Marie “spark joy” Kondo lives in Los Angeles.

Even famed Tale of Genji translator Edward G. Seidensticker departed Japan back in 1962, signing off with, “The Japanese are just like other people. They work hard to support their–but no. They are not like other people. They are infinitely more clannish, insular, parochial, and one owes it to one’s sense of self-respect to retain a feeling of outrage at the insularity. To have this sense of outrage go dull is to lose one’s will to communicate and that, I think, is death. So I am going home.”

Eventually Seidensticker went back on these words, living his life on both sides of the Pacific, dying in Tokyo in 2007 at age 86.

I too spend extended periods in Japan and am much happier (and prosperous) by having a foot in two countries. I can pick and choose the best of both societies when I want, and I think I’ve earned that option.

But I had to make a choice: I wouldn’t have been able to do that with Japan as my home base. Having a “totalization agreement” for both my pension systems helps too. I’m having to catch up with my pension contributions in my new tax home, but fortunately the opportunities are here for me to do so.

So if you’re thinking about staying in Japan permanently, I suggest you make the final decision by age 40. After that, you’ll be stuck in a rut in Japan. Then if you change your mind, you’re probably not going to make an easy transition back to your home country, as your friends and family themselves retire and die off. Fair warning.

Godspeed, Michael Penn. May you and SNA prosper more in another society than Japan would let you. ENDS

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23 comments on “My SNA Visible Minorities 46: “Visible Minorities: Departing Japan at Middle Age” (May 15, 2023)

  • So many mixed feelings about this post. A lot of this is true, but it still comes across as a whine. I can sort of understand why. Debito’s generation of immigrants had it hard. They came to Japan fleeing the aftermath of the the oil shock and Reaganomics. Then they endured Japan’s Lost Decade which extended long beyond a mere ten years. They taught English at first but clawed their way into other fields by outworking their peers. All the while government policies continued to favor large enterprises over entrepreneurs, Japanese over immigrants, and certainly men over women. But is it really that bad? Immigrants are arriving at the highest rate ever. The difference is that they are mostly from India, China, and Vietnam. Japan remains a step up for them and you can see that hungry look in their eyes – they are not going back. If white people leave Japan we may not be missed. There are too many Asians ready and willing to take our places.

    • I am not so sure about this. Chinese and Vietnamese seem to be getting wise to the intern (slave labor) scam and abuses, as there have been many visible legal cases in the media recently.

      I thought that was why Japanese intern employment agencies are now targeting further afield i.e. the slums of Jakarta and the jungles of Myanmar (a very pro Japanese country since WW2 in their endless quest for foreigners who will be grateful for their serf status in Glorious Nippon.

      I would live to know what happened to that Vietnamese 18 year old girl aspiring to be a doctor who was recruited as a care-giver Lu Hong Ngoc. She was “expected to become a doctor in Japan in around a decade” which means about now. Lets see how that panned out. Can’t find any updates.

    • “teach English for about US$100 an hour. It was one great big party.”

      The most I got for side work was ¥5000/hr an airline regional sales manager paid just for drinking with him after work.

  • Interesting article. Highlights the necessity to integrate into your local community as much as possible.

    One question: What does this mean? “They work hard to support there–but no.”

    — It’s Seidensticker cutting himself off mid-sentence before he resorts to relativistic bromides.

  • “foreigners must prove themselves worthy of the honor of staying in Japan”
    – I want to hear others’ insights into this as it is such a bizarre, pathological phenomenon. Especially now, when frankly Japan is just another Asian country with low earning potential. It looks increasingly like a Chinese city with shoddily dressed, miserable looking people. Gone are the days of LV and Armani on every OL and salaryman.

    “teach English for about US$100 an hour. It was one great big party.”
    Debito, I wish I had those classes! Usually it was 4000 yen an hour.

    And now, its 4000 Yen an hour. Except there’s more tax, compulsory nenkin/hoken (now tied to visa renewal) and an increasinly worthless Yen that no one even considers.

    So I really don’t get the mentality at all and its increasingly going to lead to conflict as educated people from developed countries at least will call it out for its second rate living standards, lack of spending power, and/or tourists regarding Japan as a “cheap” travel destination.
    “Do you like (visiting) here? “Yes, its cheap”.
    “Do you like (living/working ) here? “No, Kyuuryo wa yasui”

    Sounds like Vietnam or Thailand. Not the look Japan wants. So what damn “honor” or “privilege” are they referring to?

    — They aren’t referring to “honor” or “privilege” in specific. It’s the attitude I’m seeing in bureaucrats and politicians.

  • Boring? Yes it is true. It does get harder the longer you are here.
    Whether the grass is greener in the US, I don’t know, inflation is bad there, but for work I could agree. Rent in the US is rather high.

    The yen is really weak now. More people will leave. But the Chinese tourists keep coming and they like to shop.

    I do prefer health insurance here. In America health care is too expensive. My wife had surgery here for 200,000 yen plus a hospital stay of two weeks or more. For this surgery in the US is 40,000 and then get kicked out of the hospital after 3 days.

  • On the subject of departing Japan at middle age, spare a thought for this middle age woman who, despite being a wajin, was told by the MoJ that “You don’t have a valid status of residence and you’re residing here illegally as a foreigner, so you can’t leave the country.” (Japanese language paywall version here).

    Spoiler alert: she ran afoul of Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the Japanese Nationality Law and tried to fight being a gaijin-wajin in court, but lost. To break out of nationality purgatory, she can reacquire Japanese citizenship on the condition that she renounces her Canadian citizenship. Short of that, if she leaves Japan, she’ll be barred from re-entering for five years.

    >Japan should be trying harder to keep people like us. It really doesn’t. The longer you’re in Japan, the more your opportunities dwindle.

    For this woman, her opportunities dwindled the moment she stepped foot back in Japan after ~20 years!

    Thanks to the Japanese Nationality Law, the GoJ can’t even deal with wajin who naturalize abroad yet alone NJ who naturalize in Japan!

    • “In comments to the Mainichi Shimbun, the professor stated, “This is not an age for a country to choose its citizens. Who is the Nationality Law actually for?””

      Oh yes it is. This law is for the LDP to roll back individual rights in favor of citizens’ obligations to the state. I thought she would have realized this by now, but having been in Canada since the Abe/Ishihara Counter Revolution of 2000, she probably didn’t get that reality check where 90s hip individuals and entrepreneurs were being smeared and decried for not wearing ties and showing the right “respect” to the Erai Gerontocracy.

      “Japan should be trying harder to keep people like us. It really doesn’t. The longer you’re in Japan, the more your opportunities dwindle.”

      As Jim Di Gris used to point out, Japan’s bottom line is keeping the blood, the race, the volk intact. Tokyo Uber Alles (but hey Fukushima, gambatte ne, we wrote a J pop song to cheer you up).
      Pesky individual genius like “Slave” Nakamura rock the boat too much and in fact is that really “Japanese”? According to We Japanese, it should be a team effort for the glory of the Zaibatsu.

      I am shocked instead by the naivity of this woman. The article says “Little did she know”. Why didn’t she just leave every six months? Doesn’t she visit her husband/family in Canada?

      This may be an unpopular view but it just goes to show that
      1. Just because you are Japanese (and in academia), does not mean you get privileged treatment, especially if you “go Gaijin”- that is disloyal in the establishment’s eyes.
      2. Shoe on other foot moment. Now she knows what Japan’s ridiculous immigration laws are like for NJs. Only now is she concerned, because only now it affects HER.
      3. Nativist Nihonjinron irony, twisted around. Why not go back to Canada every few months? Is she “really” a Canadian or was that a cynical move to get research funds? (Spoiler yes it was).

      Sorry, not much sympathy although it does highlight Japan’s old fashioned laws.

      • David Markle says:

        “2. Shoe on other foot moment. Now she knows what Japan’s ridiculous immigration laws are like for NJs. Only now is she concerned, because only now it affects HER.”

        I had a co-worker; Japanese woman tell me that she didn’t think non-Japanese were bullied in Japanese schools because she didn’t experience it or see it herself. Sheesh!

        • Baudrillard says:

          As Japanese don’t do Universalism (Trompenaars). They arent listed here on wiki but countries usually similar to them, S. Korea, USSR, China (oh, the irony!)are

          Trompenaars research found there was high universalism in countries like the United States, Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, and Sweden. Cultures with high particularism see reality as more subjective and place a greater emphasis on relationships. It is important to get to know the people one is doing business with during meetings in a particularist environment. Someone from a universalist culture would be wise not to dismiss personal meanderings as irrelevancies or mere small talk during such business meetings. Countries that have high particularism include Venezuela, Indonesia, China, South Korea, and the former Soviet Union

  • David Markle says:

    It’s not clear from the English, but it seems they found out about her Canadian citizenship when she tried to leave (or actually did leave?), correct? Otherwise, they would not have known she had Canadian citizenship. Also I wonder why she did not apply for PR unless she didn’t know she was not going to be allowed to leave/return.

  • Jeff Smith says:

    I like what everyone has written here; can’t say I’m not a bit disappointed by Debito leaving, but he isn’t wrong for doing so. This month I will have lived here 30 years and in all honesty, it feels as if I may have squandered precious time in some (and I stress some) ways.

    Debito is correct in his assessment of Japanese politics: the same narrative has been sold by bureaucrats again and again to the ignorant, aging Japanese, which is “no immigration,” despite the fact that the economy is in irreversible jeopardy. The only solution this government has formulated is tourism yet again: a volatile industry in a country that is not receptive to foreigners at all.

    As Debito pointed out, I concur that the death-knell for Japan’s global future had manifested itself when PR holders were barred from returning to Japan during the COVID pandemic, yet still being made liable for all legal obligations in Japan such as taxes and rent. It was and is an unforgivable insult, and while it has been superficially rectified, there is a very strong likelihood that this could and will happen again when problems arise: it will always be the gaijin as the problem; never the “we Japanese” Nihonjinron brainwashed who ignore the affronts and merely say “zannen” when it happens.

    I see it being hard for people who came in the 80s to find a reason to stay in Japan: it isn’t going to be raining money here ever again by the looks of it, and as Debito said, it wasn’t like Japan intended for them to do more except teach, sightsee, and one day LEAVE, which is what we are told almost daily, and from Day One arriving here.

    If one stops to think: how many long-term residents have had Japanese people say “nagasugiru (it’s too long)” about the years spent living here? It is ingrained in the Japanese mindset, period. For whites especially, I think the “special status” they thought they enjoyed as predominantly unlicensed yet ingratiated English “teachers” has been revoked and will not return, so why stay? That, along with the first experiences with racism are traumatic, I believe. I think it shows sadly that many see what people of color like myself have been dealing with our whole lives, and as Ta-Nihisi Coates wrote in his classic book Between The World and Me, it only takes ONE bad day to remind or awaken one of the injustices, and Japan has had, since 2011, 12 years of one bad day with inflexible and hostile anti-immigration and foreigner actions.

    Some people have the wherewithal to leave unscathed, have some safety net, and/or able to have roots in two places, but the people I know, including myself, are at a critical juncture; I am from NYC originally and the cost of living is a king’s ransom compared to Osaka: there is no job that can completely 2/3,000 dollars a month rent if I don’t have what is necessary, and roommates at 53 (my age if I went back next year) seems a bit problematic. No, I am here and until a plan can be put into place that won’t change. I thank Debito for all his work and think it shouldn’t be shelved, but understand and wish him luck.

    It’s still up to US how we want to live here.

    — Quite. Thanks for the thoughtful essay. And as I wrote elsewhere, is not being shelved. I just want to write about what interests me and what I’m thinking about now, and Japan isn’t really much of an inspiration anymore. You’ll hear from me in this space when it’s time to say something thoughtful again.

    • Well it was actually a white American woman who told me “You’re still here?!” seven years ago in such a mean way. I do have a Japanese wife, who had had surgery (a lot cheaper here than the US). I have a right to live here.
      I know about high rents in the US, and Japan seems cheaper in some ways. I am thinking about moving to Oregon but there is the issue of the high cost of living there. Pensions in the US would be better but health care is a big concern. My wife will need more medical treatment for a few months, so I may stay here for now.

    • @ Debito “Japan isn’t really much of an inspiration anymore” is an essay in itself. Obviously some people, usually young tourists find it inspiring. There are lots of Youtube shorts interviewing mostly enthusiastic NJs. Caveat: they all tend to be in their 20s.

      But internationally as well, what is Japan doing? Does it have any influence at all, apart from lingering imperialist influence over pariah state Myanmar’s military training (Rohingya genocide= “Burn all, kill all ” much?)

      I suppose anime is still inspiring for kids and teens. Still, a far cry from the 80s.

  • I lived and worked and thrived in Japan for 10 years, from 1991 – 2001. In the end, I realized that Japan is not a place where you go to live, it is a place where you go to die. And death comes much faster in Japan, for many of the reasons Debito mentioned.

    — I assume you mean death metaphorically. Japan has some of the world’s longest life expectancies.

  • realitycheck says:

    I`ve just caught up with Debito Org and these articles, again thank you for all you`ve done. Apart from Aaron`s little slap using the word `whine` and his false optimism regarding the supposed future of Japan resting on asians and south-east asians, the responses are interesting. I had many great experiences in Japan but refused to do the endless excuse-making for Japan that too many foreign residents do.
    It`s always good to say `Yes, it`s Japan but imagine if this behavior and talk was accepted by our societies as just part of our unique identity and how Japanese people would feel in our home countries if they were hedged in by such legal, institutional and social restrictions and macro/micro aggressions.` The myth of exceptionalism does not need to be encouraged by non Japanese.
    Sure, Japan can seem very comfortable to a number of foreigners in terms of the outward appearances of stability, safety, and refusal to give up norms that were normal 50 years ago and more. Before I left I noted that the young North Americans in their 20s and 30s who claimed to be liberals were complacent about the illiberal nature of the Japanese society they flocked to live in.
    This is part of the problem circa 2023 – Japan is being enabled all over again except this time by the young/younger crowd who have flocked to Japan for whatever reason and are prepared to put up with `salaries` of less than 1,500 US per month or less in some cases to live tjhere for the anime and manga or to make themselves feel important by being so-called `influencers and creators`. They will continue to make their excuses for Japan while telling their Japanese students that they don`t live in their home countries because of the problems there including racism.
    Meanwhile Japan will continue to do what it has done for hundreds of years – give the appearance of making changes to get up to date with the contemporary world while in fact intending for these changes to be mostly about facade. No regrets about leaving – and throughout history, significant changes to societies including in science, technology, the arts and human rights have come through upheaval, creative chaos and debate which is the antithesis of Japan.

  • “Japan can seem very comfortable to a number of foreigners in terms of the outward appearances of stability, safety, and refusal to give up norms that were normal 50 years ago”

    I guess that’s why I will leave as a detractor. Japan is not stable., it seems fragile. Even in the early 90s, lost a job because of “the world economic downturn”. Ditto Lehman Shock. Was refused a deal regarding South Korean content “because of ongoing issue with North Korean kidnappings 拉致問題” – that last one was more of an excuse meets chickensht publisher though. The mass gaijin cull of all the Eikawa, leading to teachers working for food. So much for stability!

    Furthermore, there was always something every few months to overturn the apple cart, be it an earthquake/nuke disaster, a local stabbing, a disgruntled Japanese colleague who wanted to vent their frustration out on the office gaijin- even trying to report the NJ with a processing work visa to the local Koban as an illegal, random harassment on the train etc etc. Or just rando weirdos stalking or making you feel you are, by virtual of being foreign, a stalker ie. causing “meiwaku” simply by your presence.

    The early Saturday morning knock on the door of the local Gaijin House from the Kempeitai, sorry I mean the local cops “checking who lives there”. Visible Minorities: Gaijin Card Reader App Obliterates Privacy
    SNA (Tokyo) —
    “My first encounter with this lax attitude towards foreigner privacy was in the early 1990s, when I was standing outside with some foreign friends at a bus stop. Little did we know we were being surreptitiously filmed by a local TV network as a “background image” for a news story about a “foreign-looking” crime suspect on the lam. My wife saw me on TV, asked me what crimes I was up to, and off we stormed to the network demanding restitution. (We got some phone cards. Ah, the good old days before I learned how to file lawsuits.)

    But violations of foreigner privacy are routine. As readers probably are aware, foreigners at any time or place can be stopped for a random “Gaijin Card” check. I’m referring to the card with all sorts of personal information on it that registered foreign residents must carry 24/7 or face arrest, fines, and imprisonment.”

    This system has enabled bored cops since 1947 to racially profile anyone “foreign-looking” (including Visible Minorities who are citizens) with instant ID checks. There have even been cases of police conducting door-to-door searches within known “Gaijin Houses.””

    Very stressful. A case of Gaman indeed.

    Safety for who? Japanese males, I guess. The better chances your dropped wallet will be returned.

    Refusal to give up norms of 50 years ago? Try 150 years ago! Or dem good ole days of Abe’s gramps, when foreign riff-raff were heavily policed and only allowed with an NJ handler.


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