Debito’s decade 2000-2009 in review


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog.  Today’s a personal entry.  I think it instructive for people to look back periodically and chart a few lifeline arcs.  As we enter 2010, let me give you the top nine influential trends for me personally between 2000 and 2009.  In ascending order:

9) MY BEARD (starting August 2, 2008).  This sounds silly, but bear with me.  I have borne beards on various occasions (starting from college), sometimes letting it go as far as Karl Marx (I could hide pencils in it), or just settling for Abe Lincoln.  But back then I listened too much to the people around me (J-girls aren’t fans of facial hair, and Japanese society, particularly its corporate culture, tends to frown upon young people being hirsute) and wound up eventually giving in and shaving it off.  Now that I’m in my mid-forties (I’ll be 45 on January 13), I’ve finally grown up enough to say, look, I like my hair long (I see enough bald HS classmates on Facebook), and a beard on my chin I think looks good.  So there.  And I finally don’t care what others think as long as I keep things clean and brushed.  That’s the real growing up (and growing out) — where you say I yam what I yam and this beard helps prove it.  And if you look carefully, you’ll notice how even Japanese men, who have finally carved their own niche in Japanese society, grow facial hair if they so choose (especially as they grow old and glean seniority).  They just gotta have the cojones to stare people down and stand by their decision.  And find someone, I guess, who doesn’t mind kissing beards.

8 ) FRANCA (from July 2009).  This established NGO (FRANCA stands for Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association) registered with the government has only just gotten started (on the aftermath of the anger following the GOJ reinstating border fingerprinting of most NJ from November 2007), but it has great potential.  As in, a group now exists that people can join if they have a yen for lobbying and pushing for “Newcomer” immigrant issues in Japan.  Its very existence is symbolic of what people can establish here if they really try.

7) NATURALIZATION (October 10, 2000).  When I got my Japanese citizenship, it set in motion a number of things that would change my life in Japan (of course for the better, unmitigatedly).  First was the Otaru “Japanese Only” Onsen Yunohana visit (and subsequent refusal despite proof of Japanese nationality), proving conclusively that “Japanese Only” signs were racial discrimination, not “foreigner discrimination”, “cultural misunderstandings”, or whatever other relativistic apologism people wanted to dredge up.  Second was my own feeling of belonging and attachment to Japan — people looked at me in a very different way, and almost always without exception positively.  Third was my delight in being able to play with the rhetorical device “We Japanese” — it puts the Rightists and exclusionists on the back foot.  Lastly but not leastly, it also gave hope to a number of people who have told me they also took out their J citizenship because of me — for if even someone like me could get it, they *definitely* could.

6) DEBITO.ORG GOES DAILY (from June 2006). has been reporting on and archiving issues in Japan since 1997, but only as html pages and artery sites for the record.  But after a friend set me up with blogging software nearly four years ago, I have been blogging almost daily (on average more than once a day) since.  It’s a great way to keep issues alive and reported upon, and a good place for commentary (especially since I began exercising anti-trolling protocols).  It changed my life work into a hobby and back again, established the site as a credible voice in the media and the community, and opened channels for podcasts, book and movie tours.  Blogging made a hobby into an institution.

5) MY JAPAN TIMES “JUST BE CAUSE” COLUMN (from March 2008). Believe it or not, I am my harshest critic. I have a lot of trouble proving to myself that I am doing anything of substance or anything that deserves to be taken seriously. But when the Japan Times gave me a column (not the first place to do so — I wrote columns for a college newspaper, and for between 2000 and 2001 until the former management there stopped paying me properly) after writing 42 bimonthly Community Page articles, I felt as if I had landed as a credible writer — where even journalists (if books are movies, then newspapers are daily broadway shows where people perform every day, twice on Sundays; only the most consistent keyboard pounders survive) thought I had the discipline and consistency necessary for a columnist. No matter how down I get on myself, JBC is my internal-debate counterargument to say, look, serious writers think my writing deserves an audience. And I still feel JBC is going strong after nearly two years and another column elsewhere (Sapporo Source). Boy, with the daily blog, books, and columns, I guess I love to write.

4) THREE BOOKS (2003, 2004, and 2008, with several interim revisions). Although not on the proflicacy level of Stephen King or JK Rowling, three books in ten years for any author is pretty good.  Coming out with “JAPANESE ONLY–The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan” (Akashi Shoten Inc. pubs) in Japanese first showed that I not only had the discipline to sit down for three months and pound something out in book form, but also could do it in a foreign language.  Then oops I did it again in English a year later.  Then as if to show this wasn’t a fluke, friend Higuchi Akira and I co-authored “HANDBOOK for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants“, giving information that would help anyone living here, not just those interested in racial discrimination issues.  It established me as an author, not just a writer.  I’m currently working on another book — about racial discrimination in Japan — but with an academic focus this time.  Two chapters out of eight done.  I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

3) THE OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT (2001-2005).  This is the case (information site here) that showed how Japan’s judiciary (touted by the GOJ to the UN as offering sufficient redress, therefore no law against racial discrimination is necessary) does NOT offer sufficient redress for racial discrimination.  It took more than four years for courts to decide 1) “Japanese Only” signs are racial discrimination but not as such an illegal activity, 2) Japan’s local government bodies do not have to follow international treaties that Japan has signed, 3) the whole issue of refusing people service by race, although specifically delineated in the constitution as illegal, is not a constitutional issue, according to the Supreme Court when they rejected the case.  But we still won, against the onsen (not against the local governing body Of Otaru City, which turned a blind eye towards signposted exclusionism for close to a decade), so it was worth doing.  If only to show the disingenuousness of the system.

2) MY DIVORCE (September 2006, but proceedings started long before that).  Divorces are something that really undermines one’s sense of self, especially when you’re the one asking for one.  It’s when you have to admit you made a fundamental mistake in your life plan, and you try to make some changes with as little damage as possible (which is, of course, practically impossible).  As I’ve said here before, I don’t believe any man can consider himself a success after he’s been through a divorce (and it’s certainly a deterrent to my ever considering getting married again).  Moreover, divorce definitely put the writing on the wall when it comes to seeing where family and friends’ sympathies and allegiances lie.

But now more than three years later as a single man, one positive thing I can say about it is that I no longer have the “Separation Anxiety” (long-instilled by my parents, who threatened all sorts of irrevocable sanctions with the beatings for even small transgressions; that personality flaw was later exploited by my spouse) that made me get hastily married at age 24.  Now it doesn’t matter:  I’m no longer afraid of being alone, nor of being necessarily disliked by the people around me (that’s an asset in a workplace where I’m very underappreciated and underutilized, more below).  A divorce is the great relief-maker — not only in that it provides relief, but also in that it brings so much INTO relief (as in perspective).  Sure, my relationship with my kids is very much a running sore (too complicated to get into right now, but the ex is trashing the house I built and still own).  But on balance, I’m still a lot happier and more secure as a person for having gone through the breakup.  But again, that’s on balance.  Divorce is rarely ever clean, and not something that ever resolves any problem completely.  And it shows how adult society is very, very complicated, and nobody wears the completely Black or completely White Hat.

1) “THAT SINKING FEELING” (starting from 2006).  I think the consensus is that 2009 was a pretty sucky year for most people (especially in Japan), thanks to the 2008 economic meltdown caused in part by the Republican gamblers and bandits that ran the USG for as long as they could.  But it’s been pretty sucky up north here for quite some time.  Hokkaido is now doing better than places like Aomori, Iwate, and Akita (thanks to the tourist inflow and Niseko bubble).  But it’s merely bad not worst.  I’ve seen my salary drop by nearly a third since 2005, and no appreciable elevation in my living standard despite seniority (my workplace has promoted people over me who are younger than me and have worked there less time), qualifications (I’m a bilingual citizen and have published more than anyone around me, and yet…), and the fact by most measures of talent am deserving of better except for the fact that I’m White in an Asian workplace.   As immigrants go, I should be precisely the type the GOJ would want to come contribute to this society, and yet, there’s that feeling of, to quote Pink Floyd, “hanging on in quiet desperation”.

Enough.  I’m not one to just sit and grumble without doing anything about it (believe me, I am), but as this decade draws to a close, I have the feeling I had when reading Economist articles about the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain around 1987 and 1988, when they kept reporting that things over there were “on the brink”.  I didn’t believe it, but then it brinked:   Overnight the Berlin Wall fell, and within two years Yeltsin took over and the CCCP was no more.  Point is, I’m wondering what will put my situation over the brink.

The last decade, the Noughties, showed me more than ever that one must take their own initiatives if they’re every going to get their due.  You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate for.  I’ve done plenty of that, but that point of inflection between mediocrity and prosperity still seems just out of reach, somehow. And the thing is, it takes about a decade before you can really see it.  I have the feeling that the Twenty Teens are going to be much better.  Let’s see.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo


13 comments on “Debito’s decade 2000-2009 in review

  • Hi Debito

    Happy New Year! Liked your list. Was good in that it started me thinking too, and that is always a good thing.

    To be honest, I don’t really get why you are still putting up with 1) above. Get a job ‘darn sarf’ already, because:

    1. you should be able to find one where they treat you better
    2. you’d be closer to the action in Tokyo
    3. er, it’s not covered in ice half the year? 😉

    Good luck though mate, you have a lot of people rooting for you.

    — Thanks Ben!

  • Well though it’s not always been a happy one, it is definitely apparent that for you the last decade was a meaningful one. Maybe you’ll look back and see it as the most meaningful one.

    Congratulations on all you’ve achieved in your second decade here, and may the third be even more fruitful.

    Good luck from here onwards.

  • Your life in the nation and your works are inspiring and interesting. Truth be told, I am not in the nation yet. I am a 18-going-on-19 senior in highschool in the U.S, but I’ve been serious about immigration to the nation and learning the real language(not from anime like some of my peers) since I was 15 or so. The issues of today makes me want to help tomorrow and your blog encourages me to keep going. 有難うございます。 此ブログは力強い。

  • A one third drop in your salary? That’s appalling. They sure know how to motivate someone at your university don’t they?. Is there any future in the education field with the rapidly dropping numbers of young people? Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised to see you as an MP before the new decade is out Debito. And a damn fine MP you’ll make too compared to some of the dross that are there now!

    I will be interested to get your new book on racial discrimination when it’s published?? Are we talking about sometime in 2011?

    Anyway, have a good decade!!

    — Thanks. Don’t know yet about the book’s publication. Even when it’s finished, it’s not all up to me…

  • Let me first compliment you on your blog. I think its biggest strengths are that its informative (a good resourse of information impacting NJ living in Japan), plus your readers are fairly objective and seem to focus on facts first before letting emotions take over. In my opinion, you allow various points of view with only minimal censorship, and only then if its absolutely necessary.

    I suppose the same latitude you offer your readers to express their opinions should be afforded to you as well, especially in light of the fact that, after all, this is your blog. However, I can’t help but wonder – given your position – whether sometimes you’re being counterproductive to what you’re trying to achieve. If I understand correctly, the purpose of this blog is to inform people about the condition of human rights, or expose discrimination, in Japan. Along those lines I’m assuming you want people to actively support the causes you believe in. Yet, on occasion, I read comments that may potentially alienate a part of your viewership due to your political beliefs. Case in point: today I read: “…thanks to the 2008 economic meltdown caused in part by the Republican gamblers and bandits that ran the USG for as long as they could.” Don’t you think that might be a tad insulting to those who feel differently, especially those Americans who feel people like Barney Frank and other Democrats were equally, if not more responsible for the economic crisis? In 2008, after Obama was elected President, I read a comment on this blog that went along the lines of…”For the first time in my life, I’m proud of the U.S.” Can you understand how most Americans might consider that statement offensive? Can you imagine saying to a Japanese after Hatoyama became Prime Minister, “If I were you I would be proud to be Japanese for the first time in my life.”? My point is I don’t understand why you ocassionally feel the need to make black and white political comments that 1) Can be considered divisive, and 2) May compel some to question your motives if your goal is to bring people together on improving human rights in Japan. Why inject partisan politics?

    Happy New Year to you.

    — And to you back.

    Hey, activism is necessarily partisan, and no matter what steps you take and what you say, you’re not going to get the agreement of everyone. It’s, quite simply, impossible. So I’m not going to stifle my opinions on my own blog just because somebody might not like them.

    Moreover, blaming me for “not bringing people together” just because of a statement or two like the above is pretty facile. If you find political assertions like the above “offensive” or “insulting”, you might want to develop a thicker skin in a debate arena. You’re also assuming the majority of readers at this blog are American, which may also be patently “offensive” and “insulting” right back. So let’s work on developing an open mind and a more international outlook, shall we?

  • Debito-san

    Nice post. I have enjoyed following your blog over the years (I think I might have over the course of 10 years read nearly all of your posted writings). You have done much for the foreign community in Japan and your blog has provided lots of good reading…often with more than a few cold ones. Your openness amazes me as it is something I could never do.

    As for your personal situation I wonder what kind of situation would allow your salary to drop by nearly a 3rd since 2005. I feel for you. That is a bad situation to be in. It is also unfortunate that you are being passed by for promotions. It is unfortunate that in Japan, even as a citizen, some people are unlikely to see your situation as permanent. I guess some friends of mine and I call this the “suketto” syndrome.

    I think you have taken plenty of initiative and something will break through for you. It depends on how you define “success”. I do agree initiative is important but I do not necessarily agree that you get what you negotiate for (maybe in the Corporate or similar institutionalized world).

    You have done very well and you have reached many people. You have many supporters (and detractors). Alot of folks appreciate what you are doing…probably more than you realize.

    Regarding the US situation; I have had the chance to spend alot of time in the US the last 1 1/2 years. I do not think the problems are a Republican or Democrat issue, it is mass corruption on both sides and governance by Goldman Sachs and the like. I never did believe in the “New World Order” but the actions of the the US Government since Bush Sr. (including Obama) leads me to believe we are on the way to a form of world governance and it will not be a good thing. Perhaps Ron Paul in 2012 would be a nice answer. Either way I hope the world is experiencing an awakening now and we stop electing “polished politicians” and start electing some folks with common sense.

    Debito-san I think you will succeed in the 20-teens…as a writer…You should write a book, not only focusing on human rights in Japan, but on your life in general. Would be a very interesting read!

    Happy New Year and thanks for putting your self out there and doing what you do.

  • Happy New Year Debito
    Let’s make some Mathematics :

    A decade is 10 years.
    From 2000 to the end of 2009 is 9 years.

    It will be a decade at the end of 2010.


    — Not if you count from January 1, 2000. Jan 1 2001 is one year later, Jan 1 2010 is ten years later. But anyhoo…

  • I really respect how you share your personal setbacks on your blog, Debito. A lot of people would hide that kind of thing and it takes confidence and honesty to share it with the world.

    I hope you stand up for yourself on some of these personal issues the way you do with government/business issues. For example, if your ex is “trashing” your house, put a stop to it. Hire a lawyer, figure out the system, do what it takes to defend your rights. Or if your employer is treating you like dirt, quit and find a better job. You have amazing bilingual skills that would be in demand somewhere. Same with seeing your kids; why accept the status quo? I know it’s not easy (in fact, maybe it even seems impossible) but if anyone could focus Japanese media attention on this issue of cut-off parents, it would have to be you. You’re a Japanese citizen who lives here.

    Fight for yourself first before you keep on fighting for everyone else. And good luck.

  • —I’ve seen my salary drop by nearly a third since 2005… workplace has promoted people over me who are younger than me and have worked there less time… I’m a bilingual citizen and have published more than anyone around me, and the fact by most measures of talent am deserving of better except for the fact that I’m White in an Asian workplace.—

    Doesn’t sound too promsing but I’m sure you know this as well as anyone.

  • —-Or if your employer is treating you like dirt, quit and find a better job. You have amazing bilingual skills that would be in demand somewhere—-

    I agree and I’m sure many universities back in the States for example would welcome someone with his background.

  • Hi Debito,

    I’d like to respond to what you wrote, if I may.

    You said: Hey, activism is necessarily partisan, and no matter what steps you take and what you say, you’re not going to get the agreement of everyone. It’s, quite simply, impossible. So I’m not going to stifle my opinions on my own blog just because somebody might not like them.

    ***Then maybe I’m misunderstanding the purpose of this blog. When I receive a pamphlet in the mail from an organization that wants to, say, save the oceans, they typically want to raise awareness about the issue and ask for support, financial or otherwise. They present the problem (pollution), their goals (clean up the pollution), and their ideas for achieving those goals. In nearly every case, what they do NOT do is include political rhetoric such as..”We’d have more funds available to us if the Republicans weren’t in the pockets of the fat cats on Wall Street.”…because on the whole its counterproductive to their objective (garnering support). You are absolutely right. This is your blog, something which I previously noted. Moreover, my point was not about trying to get everyone to agree on some political issue. Nonetheless, I was wondering if this blog is dedicated solely to its goals as they are stated, or is it also intended to be used to voice your own political views even if those views may be unrelated to discrimation here in Japan. Sometimes I feel you make political statements (such as the ones I noted in my earlier post) which don’t add value as far as furthering your objectives in Japan. So I asked myself, what’s the point? Well, I guess the point is because you want to. And your blog is what you want your blog to be. I just think the more you politicize the blog the more divise it becomes. Ultimately, I can’t see how that enhances your chances of achieving some of your broader activist goals. That’s my opinion. I’m sure you disagree, or maybe you don’t care.

    ***Moreover, blaming me for “not bringing people together” just because of a statement or two like the above is pretty facile. If you find political assertions like the above “offensive” or “insulting”, you might want to develop a thicker skin in a debate arena.

    >>>Please let me clearer. In large part I wasn’t blaming you for not bringing people together because in many ways you have. So my apologies if you thought that. Actually, I think you have brought a lot of people together to focus on relevant issues affecting people living in Japan. However, I do feel some of the political rhetoric has the effect of limiting the aggregate interest people have in supporting your causes. From my perspective, there seems to be a disconnect between some of the political comments I’ve read and what your trying to achieve here in Japan (i.e. whether its relevant to human rights issues in Japan). And its been more than just a couple of statements, by the way. I just used those two by way of examples. Furthermore, I would add that at times I’ve been disappointed you haven’t challenged comments from others that seem short on facts but are very much grounded in political ideology. But I’m better understanding the nature of this blog and its intent.

    >>>You’re also assuming the majority of readers at this blog are American, which may also be patently “offensive” and “insulting” right back.

    ***I’m not sure why you would assume that. I think most people know the majority of readers at your blog are not American. If they were, given some of your political comments from the past, that wouldn’t be very astute on your part. Yet, I still believe there is a tradeoff here. If you’re going to make intense, offensive (to some) political statements – especially those unrelated to your activist goals here in Japan – then you increase the risk that people are going to question your objectivity and perhaps take any claims of discrimination within Japan less seriously. That’s just my opinion.

    >>>So let’s work on developing an open mind and a more international outlook, shall we?

    ***I don’t see how objecting to a comment like “For the first time in my life, I’m proud of America.” is not being open-minded. Frankly, I’m surprised that you don’t consider that offensive to most Americans, as if America is defined only by its sitting President. Even Michelle Obama apologized for making that remark. You may think I have thin skin and compared to yourself I think you’re right. Your thick skin is admirable. However, I do feel you’re not being sensitive enough at times (maybe your thick skin has desensitized you a little). There are different ways to slice bread and if you believe making declarative statements such as..”thanks to the 2008 economic meltdown caused in part by the Republican gamblers and bandits that ran the USG for as long as they could”…is indicative of someone who is politically open-minded, well, then I guess we’ll have to disagree on that point too.

    For my purposes I still consider this a great everyday living information resource for people in Japan and I respect your desire to make Japan a better place to live.

    Good luck to you.

    — Thanks for your feedback.

  • Another Left Behind Parent says:

    Debito I have a lot of sympathy for you regarding your divorce. In fact after reading your story I knew my divorce would turn out the same way, since my ex is an unusually emotionally unstable and vindictive woman. I had to get out as my wife never loved me and was just milking me for as much money as possible while heaping me with abuse (credit card fraud, embezzlement, and extortion). We were married 10 months before I left and we have been/are in court/choutei for 20 plus months, unfortunately we had a 5 month old boy. I haven’t seen my son for 16 months now and it isn’t likely I will ever again. In your case it is especially sad since you’ve already had a bond with your daughters and that your own parents are denying you visitations with your own daughter. It’s a sick world.

    Anyway, I hope 2010 brings some good for you and me both.


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