Japan Times July 8 2008 45th Zeit Gist Column: Gaijin as Public Policy Guinea Pig


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi All. This came out yesterday in the Japan Times, thought you might find it interesting. Bests, Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Non-Japanese, with fewer rights, are public policy test dummies
By ARUDOU Debito
Column 45 for the Japan Times Zeit Gist Community Page
Draft Seventeen, “Director’s Cut”, with links to sources
Published July 8, 2008, available at

Anywhere in the world, non-citizens have fewer legal rights than citizens. Japan’s Supreme Court would agree: On June 2, in a landmark case granting citizenship to Japanese children of unmarried Filipina mothers, judges ruled that Japanese citizenship is necessary “for the protection of basic human rights”.

A shortage of rights for some humans is evident whenever police partake in racial profiling–for example, stopping you for walking, using public transportation, even cycling while gaijin (Zeit Gist Jul. 27, 2004). Japanese citizens are protected against random questioning by the “Police Execution of Duties Act”; requiring probable cause of a crime. But non-citizens, thanks to the Foreign Registry Law, can be questioned at any time, any place, under penalty of arrest (with some caveats; see SIDEBAR below).
Source: https://www.debito.org/japantimes072704.html

The societal damage caused by this, however, isn’t so easily compartmentalized by nationality. Denying legal rights to some people will eventually affect everyone, especially since non-Japanese (NJ) are being used as a proving ground for embryonic public policy.

Let’s start with the racial profiling. Mark Butler (a pseudonym), a ten-year Caucasian resident of Japan and Tokyo University student, has been stopped by police a lot–117 times, to be exact. He cycles home at sunrise after working in the financial night markets.

Never mind that these cops see Mark every night. Or that the same cop has stopped him several times. Or that they sometimes make a scene chasing him down the street, and interrogate him in the cold and rain like a criminal suspect.

Why do they do this? Cops generally claim a quest for bicycle thieves, never making clear why Mark arouses suspicion. When pressed further they admit: “Sure, we know you’re not a crook, but Chinese gangs are causing trouble, and if we don’t crack down on foreigners, the public thinks we’re not doing our job.”

But at stoppage #67, at a police box that had checked him more than forty times already, a nervous junior cop admitted that this was his “kunren” (training).

“It seemed the older officer there remembered I wasn’t a thief,” said Mark, “and saw an opportunity for some on-the-job training–without the risk of dealing with an actual criminal.”

Mark concluded, “I’d be happy to serve as a paid actor who rides past police stations and cooperates (or not, as directed) with the trainees. But these are officials making use of innocent people–and foreigners at that–for their kunren, with small and large risks forced upon the innocent party.”

No larger risk imaginable was recently forced upon a gaijin gimp by Narita Customs.

On May 26, a Customs official planted 124 grams of cannabis in a NJ tourist’s bag. Why again? To train the sniffer dog.

Unbelievably, the bag got lost. Customs later tracked down the tourist and his bag at a Tokyo hotel, then publicly blamed one bad egg, and one bad dog, for not being up to snuff. Even though Kyodo (June 30) now reports that Narita has laced bags 160 times since last September. The Mainichi in English even called it “common practice”.
Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=1774

Never mind that anyone else Trojan-Horsing dope would be committing a crime. And if the bag got on a connecting flight to, say, Singapore, the unwitting possessor would be put to death.

Japan also has stiff penalties for drug possession, so imagine this being your bag, and the police on the beat snagging you for questioning. Do you think “how’d that get there?” would have sufficed? It didn’t for Nick Baker, arrested shortly before World Cup 2002, and sentenced to fourteen years despite evidence he was an unwitting “mule” (ZG Oct. 28, 2003).
Source: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20031028zg.html

And it didn’t suffice for a Swiss woman, arrested in October 2006 on suspicion of smuggling meth from Malaysia. Despite being found innocent twice in Japanese courts, she still hasn’t been released (because NJ have no right to bail in Japan, either). Thus being arrested under any pretense in Japan will seriously ruin your day–or the rest of your life.
Source: https://www.debito.org/?p=1447

Narita Customs said reprimands would be issued, paychecks docked, but nobody fired. That’ll learn ’em. But still the lack of transparency, such as whether Mr. Bad Egg knew the suitcase owner’s nationality from the bag tag, is indicative. It’s not inconceivable that his bag selection was judicious: If he’d egged a Japanese, think of the lawsuit. Non-tourists have plenty of time to hire a lawyer, and no language barrier.

Mr. Bad Egg, who according to Kyodo had spiked bags 90 times, seems a systematic fellow. Apparently determined not to follow what Customs claims is standard procedure (such as stashing the contraband in a dummy bag; although common-sense precautions, like including a GPS locator or labeling the box “Property of Narita Customs”, apparently are not), it seems logical that he would target a gaijin guinea pig and safely hedge his bets.

But why should citizens care what happens to NJ? Because NJ are crash-test dummies for policy creep.

For example, systemic full-time contract employment (“ninkisei”) first started with the foreigners. In Japan’s universities (and many of its workplaces), if a Japanese was hired full-time, he got lifetime employment–unable to be sacked unless he did something illegal or really stupid (like, um, plant drugs?).
Source: https://www.debito.org/activistspage.html#ninkisei

However, NJ educators and employees were given contracts, often capped at a certain age or number of renewals. And they didn’t get “fired” in legal terms–their contracts were merely “nonrenewed”. There was no legal recourse, because you agreed to the poison pill by signing the contract. Thus nationality and job stability were correlated, in a practice long derided as “Academic Apartheid”. Who cared? NJ were supposed to “go home” someday anyway.

However, in the 1990’s, with the low birthrate and declining student numbers, Japan’s universities found themselves in trouble. So in 1997, a new law was passed enabling full-time Japanese educators to be hired on contracts like foreigners. Hey, it had kept the gaijin disposable for the past century–why not use it to downsize everyone?

Eventually the entire job market recognized how “temping” and “freetering” everyone empowered the bottom line. Now contract employment is now universal–applied, according to Louis Carlet of the National Union of General Workers, to 20% of Japanese men, 50% of Japanese women, and 90% of NJ workers!

Another example: Back in 2003, the government tried “Gaijin Carding” the entire population with the Juki-Net System. However, it faced a huge (and rare) public backlash; an Osaka High Court Judge even ruled it unconstitutional in 2006 as an invasion of privacy. Oddly, the judge died in an apparent suicide four days after his ruling, and the Supreme Court reversed his decision last March 6. Now the decks are legally cleared to track everyone.
Source: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20061204a6.html

Meanwhile, new, improved, centralized Gaijin Cards with IC Chips (ZG Nov. 22, 2005) are in the pipeline to keep the policing system evolving.
Source: https://www.debito.org/?p=1431

Even more examples: 1) Police stopping Japanese and rifling through their backpacks (vernacular articles have even started advising readers that this is in fact still illegal).

2) More public surveillance cameras appearing nationwide, after Japan’s first neighborhood “foreign crime” cameras were installed in Kabukicho in February 2002. According to NHK (July 1), Tokyo is getting 4000 new ones for the Summit; temporarily, we hope.
Source: https://www.debito.org/opportunism.html

And of course, as readers know full well by now, 3) the G8 Summit security overkill, converting parts of Japan into a temporary police state for the sake of catching “terrorists” (foreigners, natch) (ZG Apr 22).
Source: https://www.debito.org/?p=1639

What’s next? How about fingerprinting everyone, and forcing them to carry RFID tracking devices? Hey, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear from extra surveillance, right? Besides, the gaijin have already set the precedent.

The moral here is as below, so above. Our fellow native residents should not think that they won’t be “gaijinized” just because they are citizens. No matter what the Supreme Court writes about the power of citizenship, when it comes to the erosion of civil rights, non-citizens are the canaries in the coal mine.
1320 words

SIDEBAR (180 words)
Checks and balances in ID Checks

According to Mark Butler’s consultations with the police, without probable cause of a crime, police cannot stop and demand ID from citizens (see full article). However, “probable cause” goes grey when, for example, you are on a bicycle (“I need to check it’s not stolen”) or you look foreign (“is your visa valid?”).

That’s why their first question is about your nationality. If not Japanese, they can apply the Foreign Registry Law and demand your Gaijin Card. If Japanese, legally they have to let you go.

But cops are now finding excuses to stop Japanese: Backpackers might be carrying drugs or knives, high schoolers tobacco or alcohol, etc. That’s how they’ve been circumventing the law for Summit security overkill.

Imagine interrogating a non-Asian who turns out to be naturalized or with NJ roots. With no Gaijin Card, and no way to prove he’s Japanese. If there’s no “bike or backpack” excuse, and an audio recording of the proceedings hits the media, this extralegal harassment may be unmasked as racial profiling.

We’re waiting for that test case. Or rather, I am.


6 comments on “Japan Times July 8 2008 45th Zeit Gist Column: Gaijin as Public Policy Guinea Pig

  • This is all really worrisome. I think the sad thing is that, since the overwhelmingly majority of Japanese people are ethnic Japanese, it’s difficult for what happens to noncitizens or non-ethnic citizens to really become an issue.

    I think the key to changing things is letting this kind of stuff get more national attention in the media, etc, instead of using Goebbels-esque propaganda to label everyone who doesn’t look Japanese as a criminal. Unless there is a strong awareness, politicians don’t have to justify anything before elections.

    I’m one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, yet in Tokyo I often realized that Japanese women are afraid of being alone with me in a train-station elevator. Sometimes I went to wait in front of the elevator, and if there was a woman already waiting she’d hesitate then walk away out of fear of being attacked or something. I’m not badly dressed or anything, I’m just white. And that’s a result of years of paranoid government propaganda.

    This really justifies the cop, right? Since they’ve put it in the public psyche that non-ethnics are criminals, why would it be an issue that they are stopped more often? Sad.

  • >I think the key to changing things is letting this kind of stuff get more national attention in the media, etc, instead of using Goebbels-esque propaganda to label everyone who doesn’t look Japanese as a criminal. Unless there is a strong awareness, politicians don’t have to justify anything before elections.<

    MD the problem is that media in japan are controlled by GoJ and they have to report what LDP wants, not what journalist wants, so this explains why there are not much news about it. Though, I think if there were reports it would likely be against us. There would be many reason (fear propaganda) given to Japanese people why do they need to do certain things to us.
    Regarding the situation with women you wrote above. Well, I also sometimes don`t understand this. Do really Japanese majority of people have “brain”? Can`t they see that all crimes reported on JTV everyday from morning are done by Japanese? Newspapers reports crime also committed by Japanese. Very rare happens that foreigner is in the news. So, what`s the problem with some people? Our brains absorb quicker negatives than positives and this is truth. Japanese person seeing crime done by fellow citizen don`t make such impact like crime done by foreigner-outsider. This is always big news adding xenophobic propaganda of GoJ. You know one can get used to news about own people doing such things, but because is almost unheard crime (killing own family etc.) done by foreigner, it makes news. I have a friend whose color skin is black, very good friend of mine. He told me when he is on the way from job late night and woman work in front of him at the same direction he keeps distance and even try to change his way. In this case he avoid Japanese, being aware that he can be in jail for nothing. (if a woman start scream or saying he follows her, he as a black foreigner would be screwed and put behind bars) Because things are not normal in this country we have to avoid each other sometimes. We foreigners often live in fear because we have no rights here. Good example is my friend I wrote about and others we read here.
    Keep smiling and be nice guy. There are many nice Japanese people too, not brain washed yet 🙂

  • MD, I notice thinsg similar to your elevator scenario all the time too. I like to believe that I’m a fairly perceptive person, at least with regard to what’s going on around me, and I notice that most Japanese women are afraid of me on the train. If I’m already on the carriage when they are boarding they make sure they don’t end up near me. There’s a demonstrable female black hole for meters around me. It’s fun (in a masochistic sense)to watch the females who may have been day-dreaming as they get on the train suddenly change their course when realise they are heading for a gaijin. I’m just your average looking non-thretening white guy, the kind that, back in my home country, old grannies would stop to ask directions, or just to chat.

    I hesitate to say that it’s all the media’s fault, although it may be. But as humans we also have a confirmation bias that sometimes operates to re-affirm illogical beliefs. Like, you can see 20 reports of run of the mill Japanese crime, then 1 sensational or unexpected report of foreign crime, and be left with the impression that foreigners are, indeed, dangerous.

  • Guys, that’s nothing. Try waiting for an elevator after a long day of work, then when the door opens, a group of teenage girls sees you (wearing a business suit, hair combed, etc.) and screams. Then when you get on the elevator, they proceed to talk about how scary you are behind your back. Now that’s awkward.

    Personally, I try to go the extra mile (when I’m in a good mood) and smile at these people. Nothing makes a Japanese person change their mind more than showing some courtesy. Offer a seat to an old woman and they’ll often be overtly happy that you did.

    And if you’re feeling upset because people are avoiding you, you can always think of funny reasons why it’s so. I often like to think I’m incredibly handsome, so everyone is staring at me. It feels a lot better than thinking everyone is frightened of me.

    –Quite. Me, I’ve ultimately learned to enjoy the extra space on public transport. 🙂

    I only say something if I sit down and the person actually gets up and moves to another seat (which has fortunately happened only once or twice), or when it’s similarly overtly rude. Treating people with respect and dignity is not an unusual or even untoward thing to expect, and I sometimes let people know that i expect it. But that’s me, of course.

  • MD,

    As a black man, I have faced more racial discrimination and profiling in my home country the USA than in Japan by far. At least in Japan, I am not followed around in a store thinking I am going to shoplift. I think many White people are shocked because everywhere else in the world they get a free ride due to the legacy of Euro-American imperialism, but in Japan they get a little taste of their own medicine and it doesn`t feel good does it guys? Most foreigners in Japan are treated relatively well compared to how immigrants are treated in Europe and America with rise anti-immigrant bashing and Islamophopia becoming almost the norm nowadays. So come on guys have a little humility.


  • @Angelo: I have never really spent a whole of of time in the USA so I don’t know how bad it can be there. That said, I really don’t agree with the argument that “it’s worse in other places than it is here, so just suck it up”.

    Cop: “Did you just punch that little old lady in the face?”
    Suspect: “Sure, but some other people actually kill little old ladies”
    Cop: “Good point. Carry on.”


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