Hi Blog. Arudou Debito here writing you from CW Nicol’s place in Kurohime, Nagano (a fellow naturalized Japanese, he’s the author of the Old Nic’s Notebook column in the Japan Times). A lot has happened this past week, so I’m here taking a little breather–to spend the day writing up what went on. Structure of this post as follows:

and finally…


By Arudou Debito (,
Updates in real time and archives of previous newsletters at
March 3, 2007, Freely Forwardable



I’ve been on the road recently for more than a week now, and it’s been a real trip. Between Monday and Weds this week I was averaging two speeches per day, over half with their own customized powerpoint presentations (adding visuals to speeches is very effective, but it doubles the workload, since I always try to prepare a take-home handout as well). Exhausting, but very satisfying once all is done. Here are some links to what I said and when:

Led a discussion on Feb 27 regarding issues of freedom of speech in the face of 1) Internet libel on 2-Channel BBS (, and 2) hate speech through the GAIJIN HANZAI Magazine. They are two separate issues, especially since the former targets a specific individual (me) with lies provably false in court, while the latter targets a whole social subgroup with facts presented sensationally, maliciously, and with the clear intent to defame and spread hatred and fear. See my handout at:

Gave on Feb 28 what I consider to be one of my top ten speeches ever (a blogger at the event was surprised I could hold the attention of a full house of gaiben lawyers, legal counselors, and various members of the legal community for a full hour and a half; so am I). I made the case that there is a serious problem with how Japan treats, ignores, and generally refuses to help non-Japanese residents enjoy the constitutional protections of this society. And that they as scholars of the law should do their best to help them get along–within the limitations of their profession, of course (foreign lawyers who have not passed the J Bar are not permitted to advise on Japanese law).

See my handout at
And see the powerpoint presentation at

Let’s hope it made an impression. But most importantly:



On Feb 26, I had the distinct honor of being placed side-by-side speaking with one of my personal heroes, the UN Special Rapporteur Doudou Diene, for a Luncheon-cum-Press Conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. On his third fact-finding trip to Japan (see Diene’s previous trips at, he made some assessments on the state of racism in Japan. One friend transcribed the entire press conference (another took a photo), available at

A select quote from Dr Diene:
=============== DIENE QUOTE BEGINS ===================
This point leads me to Japan. As you know, my report was submitted to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly last November. Three points on this report. One, I think there were many interesting developments after my report. The issue of racism is now a key issue here in Japan. It has been for a while. But my report has contributed in a way to help the issue be discussed. Second, my report had a very important consequence, which I’ve been advocating in all countries I visited. This is the mobilization of civil society and human rights organizations on the issue of racism. Japan has been advancing the issue, I must say. Japan’s civil society has organized around my report and created a network of minority communities and human rights organizations, and are acting by helping victims of discrimination, publishing reports, and drawing the attention of the media.

For me, this is central. Combating racism is not the exclusive domain of government. Civil society has to be involved and a key actor. This is happening now in Japan. The last consequence of last November’s report on Japan is that the way my report was received by the Japanese government. As you know, the initial reaction was very negative. Indeed, the Foreign Ministry told me they were not happy.

One key point the Japanese government made to the Human Rights Council in Geneva was to say that I had gone beyond my mandate in touching upon the role of history in racism. I put it as one sample point. Racism does not come from the cosmos. Racism is a historical construction. You can retrace how racism was born and developed, and how it manifests itself. This means that history is a sin for which communities have been demonized and discriminated.
=============== DIENE QUOTE ENDS ====================

You can download my FCCJ powerpoint presentation at

as well as my handout to Dr Diene and the press corps:

But not everyone in Japan seems to hold human rights in terribly high regard. In fact, one of our government’s cabinet members recently stated that it is unhealthy for a society (moreover insinuated it is something foreign in nature):



I’m used to economists talking about the classic trade-off between “guns and butter”. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard a politician compare human rights with a Diet plan. Ingest this recipe for disaster from our Education Minister, Ibuki Bunmei:

“If you eat only butter every day, you develop metabolic syndrome. If Japanese overindulge themselves on human rights, the nation will develop what I’d call “human rights metabolic syndrome.'”

“Any society that goes hog-wild for rights and freedoms is bound to fail eventually. For every right, there is obligation.”

“Japan has been historically governed by the Yamato (Japanese) race. Japan is an extremely homogenous country… In its long, multifaceted history, Japan has been governed by the Japanese all the way.”

[That is, except for the Postwar Occupation, but I guess that doesn’t count, or rather counts as an inconvenient truth to be ignored.]
Original and more of the same in Japanese at

The Daily Telegraph got right on top of it with a good summary of the context:

=========== ARTICLE BEGINS =======================
Minister’s human rights rant shocks Japan
By Colin Joyce in Tokyo Daily Telegraph 27/02/2007

Japan’s education minister has stunned the country with a gaffe-strewn speech in which he claimed that too much emphasis has been put on human rights.

Bunmei Ibuki, 69, also said that Western-style individualism is damaging Japan, while he praised Japan’s racial homogeneity and appeared to denigrate minorities.

Japanese newspapers reported yesterday that Mr Ibuki, a veteran politician who worked at the Japanese embassy in London for four years in the 1960s, implied in his speech in Nagasaki that problems with Japan’s education policy stemmed from the fact that it was imposed by the US occupation authorities after the Second World War.

“Japan has stressed the individual point of view too much,” he said. He also argued that a society gorged on human rights was like a person with an obesity-related illness…

The speech raises questions about Tokyo’s commitment to concepts such as human rights and democracy, which Japanese commentators note were brought to Japan by defeat in the war rather than created independently by domestic reforms.

It is unclear whether Mr Ibuki’s choice of the word butter” was intentional or unfortunate, but it echoes an old disparaging Japanese expression for Western ideas: “stinking of butter”. [bataa kusai] The term came about because Westerners traditionally had a far higher dairy content in their diet than Japanese and hence were thought to smell of butter.
=========== ARTICLE ENDS =======================
Rest at

When asked of this, Prime Minister Abe compounded things thusly (remember, Abe is the guy who several years ago forced NHK to reedit a documentary including the Comfort Women Issue):

=========== ARTICLE BEGINS =======================
Abe fine with “homogeneous” remark
The Japan Times Feb 27, 2007

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday downplayed criticism of remarks by his education minister the day before and said there was nothing wrong with Bunmei Ibuki calling Japan an “extremely homogenous” country.

“I think he was referring to the fact that we (the Japanese public) have gotten along with each other fairly well so far,” Abe said. “I don’t see any specific problem with that.”
=========== ARTICLE ENDS =======================

Several friends and media have levelled excellent criticisms:

======== COMMENT FROM KIRK MASDEN =================
I don’t know if Abe will be made to regret it but he should be. Abe’s defense strikes me as more problematic than the original gaffe. Abe is equating homogeneity with getting along well. By this logic, diversity (more foreigners in Japan, etc) leads to acrimony. It also implies that whatever peace and good human relations have characterized Japan thus far have been in spite of minorities such as Ainu, Okinawans, Koreans, etc. This is a very problematic way for Japan’s leader to defend a remark.
======== COMMENT FROM KIRK ENDS =================

======== JAPAN TIMES EDITORIAL EXCERPT MARCH 1 ================
Mr. Ibuki’s comment is ideological. It is known that Japan’s ancient culture, the foundation of Japan’s present culture, was an amalgamation of various roots. No one single race formed Japanese culture. Referring to Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s remark in 1986 that Japan is a nation with a “homogeneous race,” Mr. Ibuki said, “I did not say homogeneous race.”

[NB: Uh, how else is one to interpret the use of “yamato mizoku” in this context, then?]

Even so, his mentioning the homogeneous character of Japan shows he does not altogether accept Japanese society as a composite also of Korean, Chinese and other foreign residents as well as Japanese nationals who do not identify themselves as members of the Yamato race — Ainu people, for example.
======== JAPAN TIMES EDITORIAL ENDS =================

======== ASAHI SHINBUN EDITORIAL EXCERPT FEB 28 ================
The very fact that Ibuki coined the expression “human rights metabolic syndrome” revealed his insensitivity to human rights issues. Is there truly a glut of human rights in Japan today?

In the education world in which Ibuki has the top administrative responsibilities, suicides among bullied children continue because they are unable to cope with the torment. Elderly people are increasingly becoming victims of abuse. There are also endless cases of domestic violence and threats from spouses. Foreigners and people with disabilities continue to face discrimination. Last week, a Kagoshima District Court ruling condemned the persistent police practice of using heavy-handed interrogation tactics to force “confessions” out of crime suspects and making up investigation reports.

The situation in Japan is alarming not because of human rights excesses, but rather because there are too many human rights issues that are being ignored by our society.
======== ASAHI EDITORIAL ENDS ===============================

======== COMMENT FROM MATT DIOGUARDI =================
The idea that there is some kind of trade off between rights and a “good” society is completely misconstrued. A good society is one where people have rights and those rights are protected, period. If we allow that rights can be curbed at the needs of *society* we introduce a random variable that can be interpreted however one wants to interpret it. We *all* have different views on what a *good* society would be. This is why we have democracy.

Moreover, Ibuki doesn’t seem to grasp that freedom in a political sense *only* means freedom from (physical) coercion. The government cannot grant freedom in any other sense of the word. We accept that the government will have to use a limited amount of (physical) coercion to carry out its job, this is why we recognized the fundamental danger inherent in governmental power. Shall we allow more government physical coercion in in order to support the Yamato minzoku? This is absurd. And its coming from the minister of education!

The primary function of government is not to create a utopian society, be it the Yamato minzoku, or some extreme form of Islam or Christianity. The *fundamental* function of government is to *protect* our rights. Through the exercise of those rights, we might be able to help society, physical coercion should not shape those decisions.

I’ll note that at least one politician has a nice comeback to Ibuki. Kiyomi Tsujimoto stated:

“From an international perspective Japan does not have enough of a human rights sense of consciousness. I’d say as far as human rights go, rather than having a human rights Metabolic Syndrome, we’re in fact undernourished.”
======== COMMENT FROM MATT ENDS ====================

I was in meetings and giving speeches at the time, but once I got to the IMADR offices ( (more from them below), I was put to work immediately digging up these comments from the Internet to present to Dr Diene, who was waiting to give a speech. Then I put Diene on the phone to the Japan Times for a great scoop:

U.N. special rapporteur challenges Ibuki’s “homogenous” claim
By ERIC JOHNSTON Staff writer

The U.N. special rapporteur on racism countered Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki’s claim over the weekend that Japan is a homogenous country.

“There is no such thing as pure blooded or a pure race. Where do the Ainu fit in to Japanese society? Or the Chinese and Koreans?” Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The Japan Times.

“I am absolutely shocked at his remark. Here is the education minister, the person who in charge of educating Japan’s children about their history, saying something that is so outdated.”…

The special rapporteur said Japanese, South Korean, and Chinese history scholars should work together through the United Nations to resolve historical issues. By doing this, he said, not only historical tensions but also the deeper racism in East Asia that has led to those tensions can be addressed in an atmosphere free from domestic politics.

Diene said Ibuki’s remarks and Abe’s comments about them will likely be included in the new report he will submit to the U.N. later this year.
======== JAPAN TIMES ARTICLE ENDS ===================

Now, let’s deal with the alleged butterglut of human rights in Japan:



While I am not saying that Japan should carbon-copy what other societies do (although Japan certainly has done an admirable job in the past), universal human rights are something which Japan must learn to respect and enforce. Especially since it promised to do so when signing several international treaties.

However, I am slowly building a case that Japan has a dearth, not a glut, of human rights protections. Witness the following:



The first case study (thanks to Karen for notifying me) is about hate speech in the US, where somebody recently wrote an essay for a prominent media outlet on why he hates black people.

Look at how other media and the anti-defamation leagues (not to mention national politicians) in US civil society immediately pounced on it.

You don’t see that happening often enough in Japan. And when human rights groups and activists like us do react (often successfully), we get accused of “Western moralizing” or “Do-Gooderism” (hi Uncle Gregory,, cultural imperialism, or worst of all censorship or denial of freedom of speech.

Pundits in the US have long progressed beyond that. They don’t necessarily arrest the perpetrator, but in this case, the media and spokespeople came through to debate him down.

Contrast that with Japan. In a recent case — the GAIJIN HANZAI magazine ( — the Japanese press just about completely ignored it. And it was up to us domestic bloggers and activists to tell the distributors to disavow.

Which they did, eventually. But it wouldn’t have happened otherwise, because civil society is not sufficiently developed here (moreover is suppressed and stymied by “press club” media cartels, even more so than in the US) to set things right and make the debate arena a fair fight.



Overseas, human rights protection organs at the local level investigate and make the issue public.

In this case, the New York City Human Rights Commission was notified that a Chinese restaurant was offering two separate menus, where the same items were cheaper for readers of Chinese only.

This made the front page of the NY Daily Post, with a photo of the restaurant and the facts of case in splash headlines.

Again, contrast with Japan, where the similar human rights organ, the Bureau of Human Rights (jinken yougo bu) is all but utterly ineffectual. Sources:

Japan Times July 8, 2003 Community Page column:

Moreover, the press in Japan, if they even reported on it, would probably not even bother to mention the name of the restaurant, in the name of “protecting the business’s privacy”. (For example, in a recent case, the press refused to name ER English School in Kofu, which was hiring people to teach English depending on the color of the applicant’s hair and eyes ( Not quite the same example of discrimination, but a good example of half-assed press coverage nonetheless.)

Thanks to Dave Spector for passing me this information.


Point is, this is what Ibuki (in stark contrast with the condemnation from Nancy Pelosi in the Hate Speech case) would pooh-pooh as “human rights metabolic syndrome”? Phooey. I think it’s time for people to realize that Japan is suffering from too few human rights enforcement mechanisms, not too many. Shouting this stuff down and launching government inquiries is what people should be doing in any society.

Meanwhile, the Japanese police and media work against the butter by making things less amenable for human rights:



My most recent Japan Times Community Page column (Feb 20, 2007) is available (Director’s Cut, with links to sources) at

Excerpt follows:


I understand the media doesn’t much like to criticize itself, especially since all outlets have made the occasional gaffe or sensationalized a hot story. But enough already. For the sake of journalistic integrity, it’s time for some acts to be cleaned up.

As the Ellis and Hamai report notes: “[R]ather 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…”

Particularly when talking about foreign crime, this “news value” changes with the side of the linguistic fence. For example, the Mainichi Shinbun on February 8 headlined in English: “Number of crimes committed by nonpermanent foreigners declines in Tokyo”.

The same article’s headline in Japanese: “Foreign crime rises in the provinces: Chubu Region up 35-fold in 15 years”. Bipolar reportage. Which is the “news”?

Similarly, Koizumi’s second cabinet launch: On September 22, 2003, the Yomiuri Shinbun printed two different profiles of cabinet members and their policy proposals: Japanese: “Olympic Laureate, National Security Agency Commission Chairman Kiyoko Ono desires policy against foreign crime”.

The English version, which eschewed the headline, buried this in the 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.”

Even though the original Japanese doesn’t mention “juvenile”, or even “various” crimes. Is this to sweeten the sound of government directives for those being targeted?

Even the abovementioned Etoh Takami comment, about “a million foreign murderers” was lost without translation. The number reported was “lots” (ippai).

What are the incentives for this muzzled watchdogism?…
Full article at



Meanwhile, innocents get caught up in the grind of indifferent bureaucrats. I have mentioned previously that foreign children in Japan are dropping out of school early to work in factories ( Now they are even being refused entry to those schools. This is not the first time I’ve heard of this happening. But it’s the first time I’ve seen it documented by our press.

POINT OF VIEW/ Daisuke Onuki: Fundamental flaw remains in education law

The people shall all be given equal opportunities of receiving education according to their ability, and they shall not be subject to educational discrimination on account of race, creed, sex, social status, economic position, or family origin. Thus, the Fundamental Law of Education guarantees the equal opportunity of education to all people of Japan.

However, it is necessary to note that the word “people” is the translation of the word “kokumin,” which literally means “nationals.”

Currently, the most important law on education in Japan, as well as the very Constitution, does not guarantee the right to education for children with foreign nationalities.

Our eldest daughter, who has only Brazilian nationality, was once denied entrance to a public junior high school in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, when trying to transfer from a school in Brazil at the age 15 in the ninth grade.

Officials said our daughter was a year older than the proper age for obligatory education. They explained that exceptions cannot be made because the obligatory education system does not apply to a child without Japanese nationality.

Our daughter started primary school at the age of 7 due to her special needs of having to learn both her mother’s and father’s tongues, rather than at 6, which is the usual age for Japanese children. She went to Brazil after attending school for three years in Japan and returned here at the age of 15.

“If the child is a Japanese who had reasons to be enrolled in a grade lower than the appropriate one, obviously he or she needs extra year(s) to finish his or her ‘obligatory education’ and will be granted an exception. However, obligatory education does not apply to you,” they said.

I certainly hope that such an outright denial to school is rare in this country. There are already too many children of foreign nationalities, perhaps numbering in the tens of thousands, who are dropping out or are not attending school.

Legally, the blame for foreign children staying out of school does not fall on any officials or on the parents for that matter. That is because there even does not exist credible statistics concerning the problem.

Both the prime minister and the education minister clarified in the Diet last spring that while the proposed revision of the Fundamental Law of Education does not refer specifically to foreigners, those who wish so will continue to be treated in the same way as Japanese concerning the right to obligatory education.

I understand those words as meaning that when the guardians do not seek education for a child with foreign nationality, it is not the government’s problem and that, when they do seek education for their children, the government will not take the responsibility to treat them according to their special needs.

The Diet approved the revised version of the Fundamental Law of Education on Dec. 15. The use of the word “kokumin” continues in the revised law….

A survey six years ago estimated that 3,000 Brazilian children between 6 and 15 in Japan had never been enrolled in school. More recent estimates indicate that more than 10,000 Brazilian children never entered school or dropped out.

Somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of Brazilian children are currently out of primary education. These figures do not include the 25 percent of children who go to expensive Brazilian schools that are not officially recognized as “schools” by the Japanese government….

Rest at

Don’t people realize that this is fast becoming a crisis, as children come of age without an education, of a foreign underclass in Japan’s (and the world’s) workforce? How can a developed country which brought foreigners over here to save their industries possibly wash their hands of the need to see they get an education?


and finally…


Finally, some sense. Excerpting:

POINT OF VIEW/ Takashi Miyajima: Time to broaden the definition of ‘Japanese’

…The foreign nationals of Japanese ancestry who come to Japan through these backdoor channels tend to have children and stay for the long term. Despite being aware of the situation, the government has been making no serious effort to establish a system to accept immigrants under an official national policy. The decision to ignore these immigrants has been made on the grounds that there is no national consensus on becoming a country of immigration. The government’s inaction is now beginning to produce serious consequences.

The most serious problem is that the children of these foreign workers are not receiving a proper education. About 30 to 40 percent of the children of foreign workers of Japanese descent are not attending Japanese schools due to a number of problems but mainly because of the learning difficulties they face. Our survey shows many of these children give up the idea of going on to high school during the second half of their second year in junior high school. Consequently, they begin to feel unsure about their future.

One factor that is often behind this situation is their parents’ vagueness on how long they are going to stay in Japan. But most of the blame rests on the government’s failure to take specific steps to provide detailed assistance for these children — such as reducing the number of students per class and adjusting school curricula to the new international environment.

Accepting a larger number of foreign workers, including unskilled laborers, would be a realistic way to deal with the problem of labor shortage due to the nation’s aging population. Even if they are allowed to work in Japan only for a limited period of time, however, many of them would develop a desire to settle down in this country as they get used to their workplaces here and establish strong ties with the communities.

It would be better if Japan decides to become an immigration society that accepts foreign workers as new members and starts developing necessary systems to deal with this. For instance, the government should consider granting foreign nationals born and raised in Japan the right to obtain Japanese nationality on the grounds of jus soli, the principle that a person’s citizenship is determined by the place of birth rather than by the citizenship of one’s parents…

One inevitable change is broadening of the concept of “Japanese.”

In the United States, there are various hyphenated terms for citizens of foreign origin, such as Italian-Americans or Chinese-Americans. But there are no corresponding terms in Japan. There are a number of criteria that narrow the generally accepted definition of “Japanese,” from the color of hair and eyes to the ability to speak Japanese without accent or with proper use of honorifics.

People who don’t fulfill these criteria are alienated, classified as “foreigners” even if they have Japanese nationality. As a result, they feel a strong sense of discrimination.

Japan should now create a society where people with various cultural backgrounds are accepted as Japanese, called “Chinese-Japanese,” for instance, without any discriminatory connotations and be treated fairly as equal and important members of society.


All for today. Would like to take this opportunity to welcome a huge glurt of people to my mailing lists, thanks to the hundreds of meishi I received this trip. Thanks to them and to everyone as always for reading!

Arudou Debito
Kurohime, Nagano-ken

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