Hello all. On the road again (cue music), but so much has happened recently that I’m pregnant with another

FEBRUARY 14, 2007

This Valentine is a special on the media in Japan, and structured thusly:



By Arudou Debito (,
Updates in real time with RSS at


I’ve mentioned this before in a previous newsletter (archived at, but it’s become such a case study of how to effectively campaign in Japan that it warrants a roundup of its own.

A PARAGRAPH OF BACKGROUND for those who need it: On January 31, a middle-tier publisher named Eichi Shuppan in Tokyo (which publishes pop-culture books, see its lineup at released for sale a “magazine book” (or “mook” in Japanese) on foreign crime. Provocatively titled “GAIJIN HANZAI URA FILES”, or “Underground Files of Foreign Crime”, starting from its very cover it offered the image of rabid foreigners who were going to “devastate Japan”, where “everyone would be a target of foreign crime in 2007”. Inside was even worse (see a full synopsis and review at, with profanities, lewdness, racial epithets, compromising photos, illustrated recreations of heinous crimes, and even reports of things that were *not* crimes (such as interracial public displays of affection) wrapped in very high quality paper and priced at a mere 657 yen plus tax.

There were several odd things about the mook. One was that it has no advertising whatsoever. According to a friend of mine formerly in the publishing trade, a book of this quality and distribution would cost somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter million dollars US. The second odd thing was how the mook escaped the underground press–it was available on major bookstore outlets (such as Kinokuniya and Amazon Japan) and in convenience stores (such as FamilyMart) nationwide. Third was how they managed to get so much information (even passport photo mug shots of suspects, typically the domain of the police, no?) without very accessible National Police Agency cooperation). Finally was how the creators really thought that foreign residents would not be able to read this (there is a segment of the population utterly convinced that Japanese is absolutely impenetrable to foreigners), or be willing to make a stink about it. Boy were they wrong.

Within days of distribution, friend Steve had scanned pages and offered bilingual bulletins to internet mailing lists (such as Big Daikon and outlining what exactly was going on. Then the blogosphere got to work. Japan Probe called for a boycott of distributors (particularly FamilyMart and its US subsidiary Familia!), while created a bilingual letter to give to local shopkeeps spelling out what is wrong with the mag and why it should come off the shelves (with the statement that if it did not immediately, the petitioner would no longer shop there). Others made their feelings known by emailing outlets and distributors, even threatening to return all their previous purchases (in the case of Amazon Japan) and demanding a refund.

It worked–better than anticipated. Individuals (including your correspondent) were very successful in getting local store managers to take the mook off the shelves (just showing them the nasty page on interracial PDA was shocking enough). Familia! USA was the first to respond officially, saying that GH would be off the shelves in a week (which angered some even further, as a week is probably when most of the sales are going to happen anyway). The overseas press then got involved (Guardian, Times London, Reuters, South China Morning Post, Japan Today, Metropolis (Tokyo), IPC), and calls were made to the publisher asking for an explanation.

Fanning the flames further was Eichi Shuppan’s Sata Shigeki, who protested ( that he wanted to “expand the debate in Japan”, and that this book was meant for a Japanese audience (which means the foreign-resident voice is not part of the debate?). He also argued that the word “n*gg*r” published within was “not offensive” to a Japanese audience (imagine how the local ethnic anti-defamation leagues and the Japanese Embassy would have pounced if this defense had been made by a publisher abroad regarding something similar about the crimes “Japs” commit). He also insinuated that foreigners were making a fuss about the photos (since gaijin apparently, again, cannot read the Japanese), as if this was all one big understanding. Ultimately, he claimed the book was not racist as it was “based on fact” (even if portrayed sensationalistically in epithet and innuendo, moreover not grounded in any comparison with Japanese crime). Few bought it.

And the books flew off the shelves–back to the publisher. Despite reports of a few copies left behind in some convenience stores, the major distributors (except for, which defends the sales of the mook under pat statutes of freedom of speech, akin to selling Mein Kampf; even though the “customer review” sections under its wares are frequently censored). On February 10, Eichi Shinbun’s website said the book was “sold out”. As of February 12, it is no longer even listed as ever being on offer.

The conclusion to this case for me is that the creators of this rag simply thought gaijin don’t count. They were not intended, as Sata insisted, to be part of the debate. One of the inviolate rights (probably the only inviolate right) a non-Japanese resident has in Japan is where to spend his or her money. Banding together as consumers and threatening a boycott was a very effective strategy (especially given the competitiveness of the convenience store market in Japan), and in less than two weeks, they forced the investors of the GAIJIN HANZAI mook to take a real bath in returned books (i.e. the convenience stores lose nothing–they don’t pay for delivery or for the return of unsold books anyway). The success of this campaign should make bigots like these, whoever they are, think twice before doing something like this again. Well done, everyone.

Let’s hope the Japanese press start digging around and finding out who the patrons of this mook are. Their silence on this issue (I have of course informed my Japanese lists, including hundreds of reporters, about this issue) may be only temporary, given what happened in the third item in this newsletter…

But before we get to that, let’s question the role of the media in all this. The underlying presumption in all this is that foreign crime is rising. Is it? Not if you read media other than the Mainichi:



Here’s a surprise. According to the major media (Kyodo via Japan Times), foreign crime is dropping. Witness the following article (courtesy of Japan Probe,

=============== EXCERPT BEGINS =================
Number of crime cases involving foreign suspects down in ヤ06: NPA
Kyodo News/Japan Times Feb 9, 2007

Police took action in 40,126 criminal cases in which the perpetrator
was believed to have been a foreigner, excluding permanent residents
and members of the U.S. military, down 16.2 percent from the record
high logged the previous year, the National Police Agency said Thursday…
=============== EXCERPT ENDS ==================
Rest at

This is similarly reflected in the English-language version of the Mainichi Daily News:

=============== EXCERPT BEGINS =================
Number of crimes committed by nonpermanent foreigners declines in Tokyo

The number of crimes committed by nonpermanent foreign nationals in 2006 declined in Tokyo, the National Police Agency (NPA) said on Thursday….
=============== EXCERPT ENDS ==================
Rest at
But not if you read the Japanese version of it. Same article, different headline, different focus. Translation mine:

=============== EXCERPT BEGINS =================
(gaikokujin hanzai: Chihou de zouka chuubu wa 15 nen mae no 35 bai ni)
=============== EXCERPT ENDS ==================
Japanese original at

Actually, this is not such a surprise. For this is not the only time the media has sweetened up the reports for gaijin eyes. Witness when Koizumi’s second cabinet came in in September 2003, and their first steps when offering up new proposals was to focus once again on foreign crime. (Full archive and grounding in context, with quotes from other foreign crime-exaggerating or -fabricating GOJ politicians and officials, and how crime stats are being cooked in general, at

On September 22, the Yomiuri offered up two quite different profiles of incoming cabinet members and policy statements. The Japanese version offered up this headline (translation mine):

=============== EXCERPT BEGINS =================
=============== EXCERPT ENDS ==================

while the English version, which eschewed a headline, offered up only this tidbit, buried in the text and made more palatable by blurring the targeting (English original):

=============== EXCERPT BEGINS =================
(Third paragraph): At a press conference Monday, Ono said that she would strive to make Japan the world’s safest nation again, by fighting various crimes–particularly those committed by juveniles and foreign residents.
=============== EXCERPT ENDS ==================

Even though the original Japanese doesn’t even mention “juvenile” or even “various” crimes (“gaikokujin hanzai no taisaku kouka ya shoku no anzen, shoushika taisaku nado ni zenryoku o agetai”). Nice bit of distracting garnish for the gaijin–a bit of “gaijin handling” by the respectable press to make government directives sound less controversial to those being targeted.


Then again, this shirking of media responsibility for accurate reportage does not seem terribly unusual. Especially when it seems to happen not infrequently in Japanese too. According to my friends on some of the Japanese human rights lists I subscribe to (erd-net, ijuuren-net, s-watch), there have been other instances of the Mainichi in particular serving up odd reportage particularly re foreign crime. Pity. I’m a big fan of the Mainichi, and think their human rights’ coverage is the best of the big five national newspapers.

Back to the recent exposure of the Mainichi on Japan Probe. The Chief Editor of the Mainichi Daily News, Ryann Connell, answered the charges thusly:

=============== EDITOR’S COMMENT BEGINS =================
February 12th, 2007 at 8:06 am
A few points:

1) Thanks to all for having so much interest in the Mainichi and for Japan Probe’s regular support of our stories. Please keep it up!

2) The headlines are different because the original Japanese headline has missed the point of the story. The English translation is not a good one, but read the text of the Japanese story and it’s main point is clearly more along the lines of the English headline. Though we work together closely, the Japanese and English versions of the Mainichi are different, with the Mainichi Daily News (English) an independent publication in its own right (even though highly dependant on translations). But discrepencies [sic] between the languages will exist with nearly every story, mainly because news articles are written differently in English and Japanese.

3) The Mainichi abhors any allegation of racism or bias and totally rejects any such claim.

4) I have seen every article of correspondence that has come through official channels to the Mainichi Daily News since April 2005 and we have not received “a lot of flak from human rights group about misleading headlines.” This claim is simply untrue, unfounded and irresponsible.

Ryann Connell
Chief Editor
Mainichi Daily News
=============== EDITOR’S COMMENT ENDS ==================
Originally posted at

I appreciate Mr Connell’s taking his time from his schedule to answer a bunch of bloggers (I know his translations from the Waiwai Page, and am a big fan), but I’m not surprised he hasn’t heard anything from the English-language lists. The discussion has been taking place in Japanese, and any letters of complaint to the Mainichi have probably taken that route. (Sorry. Will forward future discussions to him if he wants if he sends me his email address.) But would hope he knows I have credibility to maintain, and would trust me enough after a decade at to know I would take care before making unsubstantiated or irresponsible claims. In any case, there is still no getting around the fact that the headlines have polar opposite readings.

What’s the incentive behind sexing up headlines? During my recent travels and speeches, I met with a Mainichi reporter who offered up an interesting insider tidbit:

A crime occurred involving a gang of two Japanese and one Chinese. The Mainichi did a story on it. The Mainichi editor deciding the headline rendered it as “Chinese etc. commit crime” (chuugokujin ra ga…). When asked if this might be be a bit inaccurate, as the majority of miscreants were in fact Japanese, the editor apparently said:

“The impact is different.” (inpakuto ga chigau kara).

I agree, the impact IS different. But altering a story thusly to “make an impact” isn’t quite within the mandate of the respectable press. It blurs the line between them and the abovementioned GAIJIN HANZAI magazine.

And this “impact” drives the entire debate haywire. According to a recent article at JAPAN FOCUS (an academic website run out of Cornell University by Professor Mark Selden et al), Thomas Ellis and Hamai Koichi had this to say:

=============== EXCERPT BEGINS =================
Crime and Punishment in Japan: From Re-integrative Shaming to Popular Punitivism
By Thomas Ellis & Koichi HAMAI

…As with most comparable nations, the Japanese public’s fear of crime is not in proportion to the likelihood of being victimized. What is different is the scale of this mismatch. While Japan has one of the lowest victimization rates, the International Crime Victim Surveys (ICVS) indicate that it has among the highest levels of fear of crime. The Japanese moral panic about crime has been extremely durable in the new millennium. Some now claim that the panic perspective has become institutionalized in Japan and that there has been collapse of the pre-existing psychological boundary dividing experience of the ordinary personal world where crime is rare, and another hyper-real world where crime is common…

However, rather than the rise in relatively trivial crimes, the press focused on homicide and violent crime, which are the types of stories with HIGH “NEWS VALUE” in Japan and elsewhere. [emphasis mine]
=============== EXCERPT ENDS ==================
Rest at

So as this article demonstrates, the perception gap between real and imagined crime in Japan is one of the highest in the world, and the media has been helping it along. Meanwhile, the National Police Agency zeroes in on foreign crime, since it is a softer target. The public perception there (cf. GAIJIN HANZAI mag re Fukuoka Chinese murder) is that it is more diabolical (i.e. something Japanese would never do as heinously), more organized and terroristic (cf. Embassy of Japan in Washington DC’s website on this at –also includes mention of infectious diseases, of course exclusive to foreigners…).

And just plain unnecessary from a sociological standpoint. For if Japanese commit crime and the rates go up, the NPA will come under fire for not doing their job. But if foreigners commit it (in their unpredictable ways, so lay off our poor boys in blue), they shouldn’t be coming to Japan in the first place now, should they? Zeroing in on foreign crime is a great way to open the budgetary purse strings while deflecting criticism.

Pity the Japanese media has to play along with it too for the sake of “impact”. (cf As you can see, it reassures nobody and far divorces the debate from reality.

MEDIA GAIJIN HANDLING (i.e. significantly different headlines and reportage depending on which side of the linguistic fence you report to) DURING KOIZUMI’S 2003 FOREIGN CRIME PUTSCH
JAPAN TIMES MAY 24, 2005 ON THE “ANTI-TERRORIST” CRIME BILL (which did get passed)


Finally, what happens when stories finally taken up by the media really catch fire:


I reported all the way back in mid-November about the Eikaiwa English-language school in Kofu, Yamanashi-ken, which posted a want ad for “blonde hair blue or green eyes and brightly [sic] character” at the government-sponsored Yamanashi International Center (issue archived at I contacted the school, the YIC, and the local Bureau of Human Rights. The BOHR typically ignored the letter I sent, the YIC in December sent a letter of apology (thanks, see, and the ER English school manager Mr Sata (no relation to the Eichi Shuppan person of the same name, no doubt) essentially justified the practice of choosing staff by racial characteristics as part of Japanese culture and customer demand. (Our conversation fully archived at the above link.)

I thought the case was closed, but in late January, a reporter at Kyodo News decided to have a look into it and uncovered a lot. The very day he called the local Bureau of Human Rights, they suddenly decided to investigate the matter for themselves. Suddenly the boss of ER English, a Mr Iwashita, was calling me more than two months after my initial phone call to wonder if I hadn’t misunderstood anything.

“I don’t think I’m misunderstanding anything, Mr Iwashita. You didn’t pay any attention to this issue. Until you got a call from a reporter and the BOHR,” was amongst my replies.

The news hit the Kyodo Wire services on Sunday night, February 11. On February 12, I found out during my speeches in Okayama (when I started getting calls from other news agencies, including Fuji Terebi and TBS) that they had or had plans to broadcast the issue and wanted a quote. And Mr Iwashita made a number of calls to me as well to try to get me to remove their name and phone number from the job advertisement that had stayed up in the YIC as public information between May and November 2006 without comment. “This will have an impact on our business,” he said.

I said it was time for his company finally to take responsibility for their actions, consider their role as educators in this society, and not create social damage by promoting stereotypes. Especially when they refuse to release the name of the company (a local kindergarten) that asked them to do the headhunting for a prototypical gaijin “in order to get their children used to gaijin” as English speakers, said Mr Sata during our November phone conversation. The enchou of that Kindergarten (called “Shirayuri”, a little bird told me), should have to answer for their actions as well.

Anyhow, here’s how the issue came out in the media:

=============== ARTICLE BEGINS =================
English school condemned for limiting teachers to blond hair, blue eyes
Monday, February 12, 2007 at 07:16 EST Courtesy Kyodo News

KOFU An English-language school in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, had publicly posted a recruitment poster limiting instructors to those with “blond hair, blue or green eyes,” leading activists to file complaints, people involved said Sunday.

The poster for recruiting instructors the school sends to kindergartens was posted at the Yamanashi International Center for six months until November, when the center removed it after receiving the complaints and apologizing for its “lack of consideration.”

“Linking appearance and qualifications of English educators is questionable. It encourages discrimination on appearance and race,” according to the complaints filed with the center by the activists, including American-born Japanese citizen Debito Arudou.

Arudou, associate professor at Hokkaido Information University, who is working on human rights for foreign residents in Japan, also filed written requests with the school, kindergartens and the Kofu Regional Legal Affairs to promote human rights.

According to people related to the school, several kindergartens in Kofu have asked it to send English instructors so their children can get accustomed to “foreigners,” attaching such conditions as “blond hair” and “blue eyes.”

The school “was aware that it was an old discriminatory idea, but couldn’t resist customers’ needs,” one related person said, noting that the school now regrets it.
=============== ARTICLE ENDS ==================

It also appeared on several TV networks, including JNN, Fuji, and TBS. For example:
Video link to broadcast segment for windows media:
Kyodo article in Japanese here:



Finally, your moment of Zen: When I kept on giving my audience updates about this issue in real time during my speech for JALT Okayama, some of them shrugged their shoulders.

“This sort of thing goes on all the time. Glad that they took this up, but why hasn’t the media paid any attention before?” was the feeling. Touche.

Then again, maybe we ARE being listened to more nowadays than before by the Japanese media. Good. About time.

Arudou Debito
Miyazaki, Kyushu
February 14, 2007

4 comments on “DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER FEBRUARY 14, 2007

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