Hi Blog. An article in The Manitoban (Canada) using lots of information from Debito.org, dispersing what’s been going on in Japan vis-a-vis NJ in Japan legally, socially, and logistically over the past 50 years throughout the Canadian steppes. Mottainai. Best to also put it on Debito.org for a wider audience.
Article courtesy of the author, thanks. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
THE LAND OF THE RISING SHUN
THE MANITOBAN (Canada), November 14, 2007
By Trevor Bekolay
If you or anyone you know is planning to go to Japan, be advised that beginning Nov. 20, all non-Japanese people will be fingerprinted and photographed upon entering Japan.
Unlike other fingerprinting laws, such as the U.S.’s, Japan requires permanent residents (the equivalent of Green Card holders in the U.S.) to be fingerprinted and photographed every time they re-enter the country. Those fingerprints and photographs are kept on file for 70 years and can be made available to the police and other government agencies.
While one could argue that permanent residents should just apply for Japanese citizenship, obtaining citizenship is a long and arduous process, which requires residents to give up their current citizenship. Unless you are willing to make those sacrifices, you are a foreigner, and you must give up your biometric information every time you cross the Japanese border.
History of the fingerprinting law
This Japanese fingerprinting law is an updated version of a fingerprinting program implemented in 1952, after the American occupation of Japan following the Second World War. The original fingerprinting law met with firm opposition from foreign residents in Japan, especially the Zainichi. The Zainichi are ethnic Korean and Chinese people born and raised in Japan. Despite living most or all of their lives in Japan, and despite 90 per cent of Zainichi adopting Japanese names, the Zainichi must go through the same application process as other foreign residents to obtain citizenship.
The 1952 law was opposed on the grounds that it was an official expression of mistrust for all things foreign. It was an unnecessary humiliation and alienation of residents who had lived their whole lives alongside their Japanese peers — Zainichi children were often not aware that they were of a different ethnic background than their schoolmates until they were contacted at their school to have their fingerprints taken. Further, it associated all non-Japanese people with crime. By law, a Japanese person may only be fingerprinted if officially charged with a crime.
Eventually, people started refusing to submit to fingerprinting; first the Zainichi, then other foreign residents. Since this refusal meant jail for some, the number of legal battles skyrocketed — enough so that overseas media like Time Magazine and the New York Times picked up the story. In 1989, under heavy pressure, the government of Japan granted general amnesty, and by 1998 the law was completely abolished.
After the dust had settled, Immigration Bureau officials said that “the fingerprinting system appears to be ineffective in stopping or reducing the growing number of illegal immigrants and visa overstays in Japan.” The Ministry of Justice noted that “the practice could be construed as a violation of human rights.” Then why is this law being reinstated?
Fears of terrorism and foreign crime
Japan’s Ministry of Justice explains the motivation for reinstating the fingerprinting law: “By collecting personally identifying data, such as fingerprints and facial photos of visitors to Japan, we will be able to identify persons considered to pose security risks, such as terrorists, and persons travelling with passports that are not their own. This will help us prevent terrorist attacks.”
If Japan wishes to fight terrorism, then history tells us that it is the Japanese population that should be policed. The Sarin gas attack that took place on the Tokyo subway in 1995 was perpetrated by members of the Japanese religious group Aum Shinrikyo. In the 1970s, two Japan Airlines flights were hijacked by a terrorist group called the Japanese Red Army. There have been no terrorist attacks in Japan by non-Japanese in recent history.
The public support for the fingerprinting law could also be attributed to a fear of foreign crime among the Japanese. Since 2000, the National Police Agency (NPA) has been releasing updates on foreign crime every six months with detailed press releases. The media has been quick to report on these releases, and further support this with unbalanced reporting of foreign crime compared to Japanese crime. One study found that crimes by foreigners were 4.87 times more likely to be covered than crimes by Japanese. Even more frustrating is the way the NPA twists the statistics.
The semi-annual press releases note increases in foreign crime without a comparison to the state of Japanese crime. The increases in foreign crime do not take into account the increase in the foreign population; while the Japanese population has remained relatively static, the foreign population has been growing steadily over the past decade. Foreign crime is inflated by including visa overstays (a crime that a Japanese person cannot commit) with harder crimes. When proper statistical practices are used, foreign crime is rising in proportion to the rate of population increase, while Japanese crime has doubled within the past 10 years.
It is interesting to note that in 1999, before the first press release detailing foreign crime statistics, the NPA established the “Policy-making Committee Against Internationalization.” Would such a committee receive taxpayer money if foreign crime was on the decline?
If fears of terrorism and foreign crime are unfounded, then what is the main issue that surrounds the fingerprinting debate? It’s the same issue that has been the subject of many recent legal battles: racism and xenophobia.
Racism and xenophobia
By most accounts, since the Second World War, Japan has a good international record as a modern industrialized nation. Japan has the third largest economy in the world, manufacturing and designing goods for a worldwide market. Despite claims of homogeneity, Japan is home to over 2.5 million residents of non-Japanese ethnic backgrounds. Japan is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Yet walking through Tokyo, you can find buildings with “Japanese only” signs posted on the front door. “Japanese only” signs have been found at bathhouses, bars, stores, hotels, restaurants, karaoke parlors, and pachinko parlors. How is this legal?
The unfortunate answer is that Japan has no law against racial discrimination. It is unconstitutional — article 14 of the Japanese Constitution states that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of race. Further, Japan signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1996. So, in theory, racial discrimination should not be tolerated; in practice, the lack of a law forbidding racial discrimination allows discriminatory behaviour, such as the “Japanese only” signs, to continue.
And these signs are unarguably discriminating on the basis of race. Social activist Arudou Debito became a naturalized citizen in 2000, after being denied entrance to a public hot springs in Hokkaido. Upon returning to the establishment a Japanese citizen, he was still refused entry to avoid confusion from the other customers. He sued the owner of the hot springs for racial discrimination and was met with moderate success. While he won some judgments, he lost an important decision when his appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed for “not involving any constitutional issues.” The story of the incident at the hot springs and the ensuing legal battle is chronicled in his book Japanese Only.
Debito is not the only person to take these matters to the courtroom. In 1997, Brazilian Ana Bortz was asked by a jewelry store’s owner to leave his store, which had a strict no-foreigners policy. The store owner accused Bortz of planning a robbery. Bortz sued the store owner for violating her human rights, using the security camera footage as evidence. The judge ruled in Bortz’s favour, sentencing the store owner to pay 1,500,000 yen (approximately C$12,300) in damages and legal fees. The judge cited two articles of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, setting a good legal precedent for future discrimination cases.
Or did it? In 2004, Steven McGowan, a 41-year-old black man residing in Kyoto, was refused entry to an eyeglasses store in Osaka. Steve claims that the store owner said, “Go away. I hate black people.” Steve lost his case in a lower court because the judge did not believe that Steve’s Japanese language ability was good enough to accurately determine what the store owner said. Even after further investigation by McGowan’s Japanese spouse, the judge was not convinced that Steve was discriminated against because of his race, rather than his foreign status (the Japanese words for black person and foreigner are very similar). McGowan appealed to a higher court and was awarded 350,000 yen in damages; yet even at the high court, the judge remarked that the store owner’s remarks were “not enough to be considered racially discriminatory.” These decisions set the dangerous precedent that testimony by non-Japanese cannot be trusted if they are not completely fluent in Japanese. It also demonstrates the power one judge can have in Japan’s juryless court system.
A plea to Japan
In discussing these issues, it may seem that I have some disdain for Japanese culture. This can’t be farther from the truth — it is my fascination with and interest in Japanese culture that compels me to bring these issues to the forefront. It is only through open dialogue that conditions will improve for both Japanese and non-Japanese residents.
If Japan does not change its immigration policies, and birth rates continue at the current rate, Japan’s population will plummet from today’s 127 million to 100 million in 2050. It will become very difficult to maintain economic strength with such a reduced work force. Immigration is the easiest and most sustainable answer to Japan’s population crisis.
With increased immigration, there will have to be widespread changes in media and education. Though this seems prohibitively difficult at the moment, Japan’s rapid industrialization is proof that it is possible. By working together with its new generation of international citizens, I foresee Japan having a modernization of culture that will rival its rise to economic greatness.
Trevor Bekolay studied Japanese language, history and culture at Tokyo’s Kokugakuin University in 2005.