Review of SOUR STRAWBERRIES in Kansai Scene July 2009


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Good morning Blog. Here’s a nice review of documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES that reader SD advised me of a couple of days ago (I’m too far north to get this publication). From Kansai Scene magazine July 2009. Click on the graphic to expand in your browser.

If you’d like to see the movie for yourself, I’m hosting another tour Aug 30-Sept 13 between Okayama and Tokyo. Schedule here. If you’d like to order a copy for educational purposes etc., click here. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


5 comments on “Review of SOUR STRAWBERRIES in Kansai Scene July 2009

  • W.F. Tyrman says:

    Thank you to you and your reader for highlighting my article. While during my five years in Japan i had a fair inkling over what was going on here the documentary truly opened my eyes. And it is down to Arudou-san and the Japan Times for bringing this to my attention. In an article to (hopefully) be published next month in Kansai Time Out i have expanded upon this review to discuss the general themes. I will let you and your readers know if it makes the August issue.

  • Steve Silver says:

    To begin with, the Kansai Scene article describes Kabuchiko as “one of Japan’s foreigner friendly hotspots”. The glaring omission in this description, of course, is that Kabukicho is a hotspot for sexual exploitation — hostess bars, pornographic video stores, and, of course, brothels. This omission, along with the characterization of Kabukicho as a “hotspot” for foreigners, is troubling.

    I myself purchased the film recently. While overall I thought it was interesting, I found the scene with Debito in Kabukiko problematic on a number of levels. In this scene, Debito is walking in Kabukicho and discovers a sign which prohibits foreigners from entering an establishment. He raises objections to the sign with a staff member, and an argument ensues.

    However, the establishment was most likely a hostess bar, brothel, or some other venue where men sexually exploit women, in an area teaming with similar establishments. As Debito has pointed out, these establishments often hire and exploit foreign women. In fact, the human trafficking of foreign women for sexual exploitation in Japan has been well-documented (see as well as Debito’s recent post on the UN’s criticism of Japan in this regard). In a documentary about the exploitation of foreign workers in Japan, wouldn’t it have made more sense to focus attention on the plight of these women rather than on the men who fuel the demand for the industry which exploits them?

    — Ask the directors about that one. I was there to point out the irony of the sign being up. I would have done that at any establishment.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Hi Steve. I think you missed the point of the Kabukicho encounter completely. It is the same as the black truck scenes – to give some indication of how Japan views the outside, the foreigner, and what that might, albeit indirectly, mean for the view of foreign labor in Japan. I thought the “No Japanese” and the black truck scenes are what made the documentary successful. The overall attitude in Japan is that anyone not ethnically Japanese is not particularly welcome. Tolerated, perhaps, but not welcome. There is a huge difference between these two terms and it lies at the root of the foreign ‘trainee’ problem. Take out the scenes mentioned above and the documentary would have been much weaker. By the way, there are variations on the “No Japanese’ signs that also quite demeaning, from the “No Exchange” signs in supermarkets, to racially charged crime prevention posters, to signs in visa offices warning against crime by foreigners, etc, etc. The day Japan has “Welcome To Japan and Thank-You For Your Contribution to Society” signs in the visa offices, that will be true progress. Won’t happen of course because it’s not politically palatable.

  • Debito and Mark, thank you both for your comments. While I understand your points, I believe that the point I was attempting to make was missed. Yes, it is certainly ironic that there are many establishments which exploit foreign sex workers while at the same time prohibiting foreign-looking men to enter. But from a social justice standpoint, does it really make sense to argue that foreign-born men and Japanese-born men should both have an equal opportunity to exploit women?

    I am not stating that the “No Japanese” signs in Kabukicho shouldn’t have been mentioned. However, Debito’s confrontation was the main focus, and the fact that Kabukicho is full of establishments that exploit foreign women was hardly even mentioned. That is something that I found problematic, particularly for a film whose subtitle is “Japan’s Hidden Guest Workers”.

  • Hi Steve and Mark,

    thank you for your comments. I would like to thank Mark for his comment on the “Japanese Only” and the “Nationalists” scenes in the film, because I myself feel someway uncertain about them. So, hearing it makes the movie stronger is great. I often have to explain, that I cannot view discrimination of foreigners and other minorities at the workplace separated from the acceptance of discrimination in society in general.

    However, Steve is right when he says that you didn’t get his point of critic, which I can fully understand, and which I would like to explain my views on. I do not equate sex work with sexual exploitation. However, this is too often the reality, because heterosexist governments don’t care about the right of sex workers. It is also a fact that foreign girls and women are brought to Japan for sexual exploitation, and that there are civil society organisations and shelters helping the victims of this form of trafficking in persons.
    During the preparation of the film I was in charge of making contact with our interview partners and I actually planned to integrate this subject into the material to be shot in Japan. The same way I got to know Arudo, Kono, Tsurunen and Inoue I encountered a lady that organises a shelter for female victims of sexual exploitation. However, after that she did not respond to our request of having an interview. That is why the issue was not part, of the movie. As well as the zainichi and overstay issue.

    The reasons for that where two fold:
    1. The movie is a complete D.I.Y.-product, with very limited budget and time (3 weeks of shooting) and only two people being involved through all stages. All the footage we got, we got only because activists and experts (like Arudo and Torii) brought us on the scene. If we had someone introduce us to the issue of sexual exploitation of foreign girls and women, we would have included that as well, but unfortunately that was not the case.
    2. After reviewing our footage, we wanted to keep the film under 60 minutes and decided to focus on the labour immigration loop holes for “guest workers” that have been created by the Japanese government, i.e. nikkei-jin and foreign trainees and technical interns.
    a) One might argue that the “entertainer” visa is a loop hole for “guest sex workers”, but I have to admit that I am not too well informed about the discussion here, and what was the logic behind creating this category. For the nikkei-jin and trainee visa, this is quite obvious, however.
    b) We also could have added some background information to the issue of sex work being illegal in Japan and sex workers being exploited but, we didn’t had a witness or footage to that, so it would have looked like a claim without proof, and we only wanted to let the people at the scene do the talking.

    We tried to make the movie as comprehensible, credible and easily viewable as possible, and we are happy and proud to have contributed to a lively debate in Japanese and English speaking media. I want to thank everybody for his or her critical comments (except for that guy who wrote that after watching our trailer and finding out that we are German nationals, his image of obei-jin (Europeans and Americans) dropped by one point. Because now I have to apologize that we have contributed to worsening the image of US-citizens in Japan :D).


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