JUST BE CAUSE Japan Times column May 4, 2010, on “Last gasps of Japan’s dying demagogues “


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
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS now on iTunes, subscribe free

The Japan Times Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Last gasps of Japan’s dying demagogues


Tally ho! The hunt is on for “fake Japanese” in Japanese politics.On March 17, at a meeting of opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) officials, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara not only criticized the ruling coalition for their (now moribund) bill offering permanent resident non-Japanese (NJ) the vote in local elections. He even accused them of having subversive foreign roots!


“How about those Diet members who have naturalized, or are the children of parents who naturalized? Lots of them make up the ruling coalition and are even party heads.”



He argued that their support for NJ suffrage arose from a sense of “duty to their ancestors.”

We then had the standard Ishihara brouhaha: One person who felt targeted by that remark, Social Democratic Party leader and Cabinet member Mizuho Fukushima, denounced it unreservedly as “racial discrimination.” She stressed that she was in fact a real Japanese and demanded a retraction. Ishihara, as usual, refused. Cue coda.


But something’s different this time. Ishihara is not just toeing the “foreigners cannot be trusted” line he’s reeled out ad nauseam over the past decade to justify things like targeting foreigners and cracking down on Tokyo’s alleged “hotbeds of foreign crime.”

He is now saying foreigners will always be foreigners, even if they have been naturalized Japanese for generations.

He also assumes even “former foreigners” will always think along tribal bloodlines, and axiomatically vote against Japanese interests.

Take that in: A leader of a major world city is stating that personal belief is a matter of genetics. The problem isn’t only that this ideology was fashionable about 130 years ago. Look where it ultimately led: putsches, pogroms and the “Final Solution.”


What’s with Ishihara’s foreigner fetish? Author and scholar M. G. Sheftall of Shizuoka University, whose Waseda doctoral thesis was on the psychological consequences of Japan’s defeat in World War II, notes this might not be limited to one demagogue.

Ishihara’s “Showa Hitoketa generation” (1926-1935) was “completely immersed, from birth until late adolescence/early adulthood, in prewar Japanese ideology at its most militantly militaristic, chauvinistic and xenophobic. It is unsurprising many never quite recovered from the trauma they suffered when their ideology was suddenly and catastrophically delegitimized in August 1945.”

Indeed, Ishihara is not alone. Splitting off from the LDP last month was the new Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan), founded by xenophobes including Takeo Hiranuma and Ishihara. Hiranuma, you might recall from my Feb. 2 column, similarly questioned the legitimacy of Japanese lawmaker Renho because [he believes] she naturalized.



But Ishihara’s Japan is dying — or just plain dead. Demographic and economic pressures are making a multicultural Japan inevitable. These psychologically crippled old men are merely raging against the dying of their light. The average age of Sunrise Party founders is around 70; Ishihara himself is 77. Mortality is a blessing, as they won’t be around to see the Japan they can’t envision anyway.


But like I said, it’s different this time, because Ishihara has made a fatal mistake. Before, he picked on foreigners with impunity because of their political disenfranchisement. Now he has expanded his sights to include Japanese citizens.

A lack of focus kills causes. For example, during the 1950s American “Red scare,” a senator named Joseph McCarthy launched an anticommunist crusade to uncover people with undesirable political sympathies. But then he tried to target President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He overdid it, and it was his undoing.


Likewise, Ishihara is trying to unearth foreignness in very enfranchised Japanese people, and his movement is already coming undone. Only the extreme right buys into “racial purity means ideological purity,” and after shouting down the NJ suffrage bill it has lost momentum. All the fading “Sunset” set can do is rehash anti-Chinese and Korean rhetoric while attaching tangents so loopy (e.g., claiming the ruling coalition controls Japan’s entire debate arena) that they just seem paranoid.

Meanwhile, with the departure of immensely popular Diet member Yoichi Masuzoe from the LDP, the only viable opposition party just keeps on sputtering and splintering.


To repeat what I wrote in February: Those calls for NJ to naturalize if they want to be granted suffrage are just red herrings, because for people like Ishihara, Japanese citizenship doesn’t matter. Once a foreigner — or once related to a foreigner — you’ll never be a “real Japanese,” even if you are generations removed.

It’s a Trojan horse of an argument, camouflaging racism as reason. Now that it is also targeting international Japanese, it will fail.

Again, grant NJ the vote, and accelerate the multiculturalization process already under way. Don’t fall for the last gasps of a lunatic fringe grasping for a Japan more than a century behind the times.

Furthermore, those accused of being “foreign” must call Ishihara’s bluff and stop the witch hunt. Reply: “So what if I were to have NJ roots? I am still as Japanese as you. You have a problem with my nationality? Take it up with the Ministry of Justice. They will side with me.”

Ishihara and company: Game over. Time for you to resign and get out of our way.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp


26 comments on “JUST BE CAUSE Japan Times column May 4, 2010, on “Last gasps of Japan’s dying demagogues “

  • Not a bad article, Debito.

    But I must ask whether it is indeed the ‘last gasp’. By this I mean, what cause do we have for thinking that there isn’t another, younger, rank of xenophobic politicians ready to step in and take the place of the old leaders? I for one don’t have confidence that the new generation to step up to public office will be much kinder or enlightened regarding foreign issues.

    From what I see of the next generation behind Ishihara (I don’t mean politicians per se, just average citizens) many are not all that different in their outlook and political leanings, especially with regard to so called ‘foreign issues’.

    I have colleagues who, because I am relatively laid back and non-confrontational, often confide in me regarding issues like sufferage for residents. The revelations as to their true feelings always start off with a variant of “You know I’m not talking about foreigners like you…, but [insert random unsubstantiated xenophobic comment]”

  • Nice article. Governor Blinky deserves to be called out for this kind of thing. Hopefully this term is his last, and he gets put out to pasture.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    I think what needs to be done with Ishihara is what is currently being done with Homophobic Politicians in the US and Canada: find proof that they are guilty of doing things that contradict what they say.

    For example: Can anyone find out if anyone within Ishihara’s family, cabinet, circle, etc. is naturalized? Even if it is several generations back? Have his children ever dated a foreigner or something of the like?

    If there sorts of hypocracies come to light, he might find himself without a leg to stand on!

  • Well finally, there’s a courageous lady who has taken exception to the caustic remarks from [Governor] Ishihara. If politicians like him fail to realize that having harmonious relations with all sections of the society is more important than promoting xenophobia, he will come to be seen as an ‘ishiatama’.

  • Considering that people in Tokyo keep re-electing Ishihara, I am not optimistic about the future of this country.
    After a brutal recession, right-wing nationalists will play on the fears of this country.
    I will probably leave next year, and return to the US.

  • @ Brooks

    I’m seriously considering leaving Japan too, after more than 12 years here. I feel I’ve sacrificed so much and been a productive, compliant member of society but have received little in return.

    Particularly galling is the perception that I’m here to make money from the Japanese economy, like some parasite. It couldn’t be further from the truth and I’m sick of it.

  • As above, I m also leaving the sinking ship. I turned down permanent residency in 2005, and got divorced from my J wife before having kids; the idea of raising them here, then losing all custody rights in a divorce was too much of a thought to bear.

    I ve just paid 164 000 yen in (late) city tax from last year. If all goes to plan they wont be getting any more out of me, as I ll be gone.

    The GOJ is the parasite, trying to get taxation from us without giving us real rights or representation.

    My advice to anime fans-the wave of current and future visitors in Japan-is stay here a year then split before they try to make you into a disenfranchised tax payer. […]

  • I’m with Brooks here. It’s not just Ishihara. Other politicians are playing the “blame the immigrants” game also. And the first problem is that there’s hardly any public backlash against them, which leads me to believe that the general public will just passively accept anything people on TV say.

    It’s ironic that Japanese will have to rely on “evil” foreigners for labor more and more. And let’s not forget tourism, which is some more billions for the Japanese economy. I wonder how many other people like me will give up and head to a more welcoming country once they realise what the whole deal with Japan is.

  • Rachel, people are already giving up. Or, quite simply, not coming here. “Japan passing” is a recognized trend. Unless people like anime or have some other “compelling” reason, China tends to now be the popular destination for people interested in Asia though I dont have figures.

    A common “yahoo question” I see more and more on the net though goes something like this, “Hey dudes, I really like anime but I heard the Japanese are really racist, so will I be treated well?” so the mud is sticking, it seems. The answers people give are generally reassuring and saying probably nothing will happen, it’s only noticeable discrimination if you live here, etc, but its significant to see that young people think along these lines.

    Does anyone have figures on tourism in Japan, how much income it generates for the economy? Ishihara is doing a good job in discouraging it. Not much of a poster boy for a major G8 city, is he.

    I m writing from a single westerner perspective, and at least westerners can leave for a more welcoming country. I feel sorry for people from poorer countries who may have less of a choice, or who are married with kids, although I think the recent Filipina nurse fiasco shows that unless the governments of Japan and in that case, the Philippines, actually “conspire” to con workers into being exported, people from the surrounding countries might be thinking Japan isnt so attractive a destination after all.

    A slight tangent but a good friend of mine is a small business owner in Japan, she actually ecaped from oppression in her own country and as a result became “stateless”; she literally just walked through a jungle across a border. She’s been trying to get a Japanese passport but it keeps dragging on and on for few years now, while her costs/taxes rise and her profits fall. Until now she felt like she didnt have a choice but to grin and bear it, but next month she’s going to jack it all in and move to Canada.

    Oh, and they did a security check on her “because she lives near the SDF facility in Ichigaya”.

    Who needs this hassle?

  • GiantPanda says:

    Brooks, TJJ and Holmes, I may also be joining your number. After 10 years I feel so tired of trying to change things, and my kids deserve something better than this “closed in” society that will consider them outsiders forever, though they were born here and know no other life. The toxic debate over NJ voting rights has really brought a lot of people’s true feelings to the surface and I find it hard to live with such hatred and negativity in the air.

  • If I could get a stable job I could stay, but I get tired of being on term-limited contracts.
    I would like to buy a house, but without tenure, I don`t think I will.
    Having a Japanese spouse makes it hard.
    I don`t know what job my wife would have in the USA.

    But the more I hear people like Ishihara mouthing off, the easier it is for me just to bail.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    It’s funny (and a bit disappointing) to hear that so many people are considering leaving, particularly in Tokyo. In 2011, the mayoral seat is up for election again, and, as a resident of Tokyo, I’m looking forward to finally experiencing a non-Ishihara-governed city for the first time in 12 years. Hopefully his successor will be a bit less bigoted and a bit more appreciative of his taxpayers.

  • I`m on my way out as well.I own prime property here in Shibuya and the only thing keeping me is waiting for a buyer in this market. I take my wallet downstairs when i go to take the trash just so that if i get stopped by the police in front of my building I wont have to go the station.
    60 plus police stops, means I am a second class citizen.
    I really doubt a new governor will change the police situtation here.

  • Not 100% set on a date for leaving these shores, either next year or the year after, but the main reason relates to Japan’s economic future. Japan is screwed.

  • Russell Watson says:

    I only stay here for the sake of my wife, who is Japanese. We tried living back in the UK, but I couldn’t find a decent job so I accepted an offer of one back here. Then that ended, and now I have a lot of part time work scattered all over Tokyo and Saitama. I’ve lived in Japan for over twenty years but I will never feel it is my home. I’ve been refused entry to bars and nightclubs due to my NJ status. It only underlines how isolated I feel here, and the vile commuting every day is starting to do my head in. Every time I hear some of the small-minded drivel that comes out of someone like Ishihara, it just reinforces my sense of homesickness and almost overwhelming desire to leave Japan and never return. My wife is turning into a workaholic as she is so concerned about our financial future. One of the earlier contributors mentioned the sense that we are seen as parasites making money from the Japanese economy. No way! With all the direct and indirect taxation here, we barely make ends meet!

  • Me too, I’m probably going to leave Japan later this year, after 10 long continuous years. I’m coming to the end of my contract and I am tired of these stupid annual contracts and the lack of stability and the uncertainty. I don’t really want to leave (I’ve been with my Japanese partner for 9 years now), but I don’t see much future here.


    >As above, I m also leaving the sinking ship. I turned down permanent residency in 2005

    You mean you applied for PR and when they said yes, you said no thank you? I’ve just applied for PR, just in case I do find a good job in Japan and continue to stay. Do you know what my tax situation will be if I, as a PR, leave Japan? Am I still expected to pay tax after this calendar year? Ever since I was moved to a PT contract, I’ve suddenly had to pay all sorts of taxes, pension payments, health insurance, and I don’t have much money at the end of the day. I’ve been forced to pay for the pension and health insurance by myself (with no more financial contribution from my employers). I really do feel ripped off. I’m being taxed at a rate determined by my salary last year (which was 50% higher).

    One thing I will not miss is all this right-wing crap and the apathy of the people. Japan will never change – not in my lifetime anycase – it’s none of my business because I just don’t care anymore.

  • Well I find Tokyo and Nagoya to be xenophobic so if it wasn`t Ishihara it would be someone else.
    Tokyo is full of people from Kanto, Tohoku, and Hokuriku, and many of these people are not the most open minded of people.
    I have lived in Africa, Europe, Russia and Japan. Here in Japan I get tired of the ignorance I see, especially in the capital of the country.

    But the bottom line is economics. I moved to Kawasaki last year abd housing costs more as does health insurance. If I return to the US I will take a pay cut but will get cheaper housing and a better quality of live. We aren`t saving much money. I have to drive to work now, and gas costs a lot.

    If I could get a decent job in Osaka, I would go. That is where my wife is from. We both are sick of Tokyo, and only live here for the work we can get.

    — Let’s get back on topic, please.

  • Sorry this is off topic but I m just replying to Bill, as he asked. Maybe post this somewhere else or forward to Bill, Debito?

    -You mean you applied for PR and when they said yes, you said no thank you?
    For several years I applied for the one year visa. Immigration started to say I could get PR status if I wanted; I suppose it would be less work for them. I got the form, but then decided to go and do a degree overseas, so didnt complete the process.

    Its been on this forum before but as a PR overseas (or in Japan) you re supposed to declare income from other countries to Japan, and I wasnt sure I wanted to do that at the time.

    This made it clear to me that there wasnt much of an advantage to being a PR, except being more closely monitored and taxed, which seems to be what has happened in your case.

    -I’ve just applied for PR, just in case I do find a good job in Japan and continue to stay. Do you know what my tax situation will be if I, as a PR, leave Japan?

    Again, its been on this forum recently about the city tax and how you owe it to them even if you re not in Japan anymore, and one individual related how he got hit with a huge bill in back taxes on his return to these shores. I personally have been through this; they told me I owed it to them until I came back, even though I wasnt a PR, and might well have not even returned.

    If you ve got a job and a Japanese spouse, why does one need PR status?

    — Because you can lose either (a job or a spouse, I mean). Harder to lose PR (as it has no mind of its own), and it’s more enabling than other visa statuses (as it should be). http://www.debito.org/permres.html

  • sendaiben says:


    You do not become liable to tax with PR status, but rather when you have been living in Japan for a certain amount of time (3 or 5 years, I can’t remember which).

  • Sendaiben @19,

    The rule since 2006 is five of the last ten years’ residence in Japan. No escape clause as to “intention to stay”. Once the five year mark is hit, a NJ resident here (PR or not) is taxed the same as a Japanese. Even if they break it out into two years, then a gap, then three more within a total band of ten years.

    Those (not you) who seek out special treatments on these kind of issues just add to fuel to the bonfire that guys like Ishihara set. The more that NJ are seen as the same as everybody else, the harder it becomes for politicians to score cheap points off us.

  • I have PR status and earn a considerable amount of rental income in the States but elect not to report it in Japan. Right or wrong I am not going to face double-taxation in Japan if I can avoid it.

  • Following this thread I became curious about what happens when PRs move abroad.
    Is it enough to visit Japan every three years to keep the PR?
    If I register my residence at my parents in-law, and keep paying the kokumin nenkin until 60, will I get my retirement paid?
    Is this procedure legal, even if I am working the rest of my life in some other country?

    — Start here: http://www.debito.org/handbook.html

  • Dang, so many quitters. Fine, if you are upset and want to leave, nothing is stopping you. But consider that you are just letting the xenophobes win by leaving(“Aha! We made those foreigners run away!”).

    On topic, it is nice to see these old xenophobes get…..older. They should be out of office soon enough, and hopefully some more open minded japanese(or maybe a naturalized citizen) will be in power soon.

  • By leaving we are withdrawing our tax contributions as taxpayers, and in some cases our businesses, which might make the GOJ think about ways to entice foreigners back in the future.

    The sheer number of people leaving as detractors really hurts Japan/GOJ’s precious little “Japan as victim” image.

    Take the incident with the sumo suits; it will get harder for Japanese abroad to claim they are ever “victims” of racial discrimination, while their government gets an increasingly negative image abroad of doing the same thing, or worse.

    I ve been involved in a similar incident in 1997; the magazine “Future Music” made a cultural faux pas by describing the wave of Japanese DJs as “The Japs”, along with “The Yanks”, “The Brits” etc. They then got a letter of complaint from a Japanese berating them (“Why does a magazine that praises Japanese technology denigrate the Japanese people?”)

    This then led to a number of countering letters, including mine, contrasting this with the lack of rights for foreign residents in Japan, etc. So many so that the magazine had to formally disallow any further comments. For the record, the magazine apologized for the choice of words, but said he was being “over-sensitive”.

    I ll look for an URL or link for this and let you know.

  • Has someone sent these all news about Governor to Olympic Committee? Please do this, before he try to bid for Tokyo 2020
    They should know who this guy is. Hater of foreigners and all what@s foreign, but still wants foreigners to come and spend their money.

  • (株)飛日空 says:

    re: about Governor Ishihara wanting foreigners to spend money in Japan.

    He wants to bring in casinos to Japan to have some of that gambling pie that Macau and Singapore already have in the works.


    I guess the contradiction in his policies of not wanting foreigners to come yet wanting them to come and spend money doesn’t bother him or the people who vote for him (who are they?).

    For all those who are planning to leave Japan, I’d like to say from those who will still remain, that it is understandable why you’ve given up and that we will miss you. I believe though that the gradual opening of Japan is starting and that in the long term, Japan has already lost. China and other internationalized nearby Asian countries will only get stronger and Japan will gradually be unable to support themselves in the long term with locals only. They will then be forced to open up to more and more foreign investment (read: foreign control) in order to survive and then the rules will change. So don’t totally give up on us yet. I hope that you’ll all think of coming back to support us in the future when things have hopefully changed for the better.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>