GAIJIN AS GUINEA PIG
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).
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”.
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).
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.
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?).
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.
Meanwhile, new, improved, centralized Gaijin Cards with IC Chips (ZG Nov. 22, 2005) are in the pipeline to keep the policing system evolving.
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.
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).
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.
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.