Discussion: As a person with NJ roots, is your future in Japan? An essay making the case for “No”.


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Hi Blog. More woolgathering on the past decade, as the end of the year approaches:

I’m hearing increasing discontent from the NJ Community (assuming quite presumptuously there is one able to speak with a reasonably unified voice) about living in Japan.

Many are saying that they’re on their way outta here.  They’ve had enough of being treated badly by a society that takes their taxes yet does not respect or protect their rights.

To stimulate debate, let me posit with some flourish the negative case for continuing life in Japan, and let others give their own arguments pro and con:


It’s becoming increasingly difficult to expect people to want to immigrate to Japan, given the way they are treated once they get here.

We have racial profiling by the Japanese police, where both law allows and policy sanctions the stopping of people based upon having a “foreign appearance”, such as it is, where probable cause for ID checks anywhere is the mere suspicion of foreigners having expired visas.

We have rampant refusals of NJ by landlords and rental agencies (sanctioned to the point where at least one realtor advertises “Gaijin OK” apartments), with the occasional private enterprise putting up “Japanese Only” signs, and nothing exists to stop these acts that are expressly forbidden by the Japanese Constitution.  Yet now fifteen years after effecting the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination, Japan still has no law against it either on the books or in the pipeline.

With recent events both with the Northern Territories, the Takeshima/Tokdo rocks, and the Senkakus, we have a rising reactionary xenophobic wave justifying itself upon creating a stronger Japan to “protect sovereignty” through anti-foreign sloganeering. This is is very visible in the reaction to the proposed suffrage for Permanent Residents bill, which went down in flames this year and is still inspiring people to ask their local assemblies to pass “ikensho” expressly in opposition (I was sent one yesterday afternoon from a city assembly politician for comment).  Bashing NJ has become sport, especially during election campaigns.

We have people, including elected officials, claiming unapologetically that even naturalized Japanese are “not real Japanese”, with little reprisal and definitely no resignations.

We have had the NPA expressly lying and the media blindly reporting about “foreign crime rises” for years now, even as crime falls.

And we are seeing little future return on our investment: Long-term NJ bribed by the GOJ to return “home” and give up their pensions, and the longest wait to qualify for the pension itself (25 years) in the industrialized world. With the aging society and the climbing age to get it (I have little doubt that by the time I am old enough, currently aged 45, that the age will be around 70 or so), and Japan’s postwar Baby Boomers soon qualifying themselves, looks likely there won’t be much left in the public coffers when it happens.

Yet we still have little acknowledgment by our government of all that NJ and immigrants have done for this society.  Instead, the image of NJ went quite markedly from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “criminal threat to Japan’s safe society” this decade.

Why stay in a society that officially treats its people of diversity with such suspicion, derision and ingratitude?, is a case that can be made.  Especially other NJ are getting the message and leaving — the NJ population dropped in 2009 for the first time since 1961.  As salaries keep dropping in a deflationary economy, even the financial incentives for staying in an erstwhile more hospitable society are evaporating.

That’s the negative case that can be made.  So let me posit a question to Debito.org Readers (I’ll create a blog poll to this effect):

Do you see your future as living in Japan?

  1. Definitely yes.
  2. Probably yes for the foreseeable future, but things might change.
  3. Uncertain, is all I can say.
  4. Leaning towards a probable no.
  5. Definitely no.
  6. Something else.
  7. N / A: I don’t live or will not live in Japan.

Let’s see what people think. I’ll leave this up as the top post until Tuesday or so, depending on how hot the discussion gets. Arudou Debito

58 comments on “Discussion: As a person with NJ roots, is your future in Japan? An essay making the case for “No”.

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  • Edward J. Cunningham says:

    Debito wrote “I’ve looked up “Virginia Dare” and don’t see this historical figure’s relevance.”

    I’m not referring to the historical Virginia Dare who was the first English person born in the New World.
    I was referring to the guy who set up the group VDARE and sometimes will sign posts on the internet as
    “Virginia Dare.” His reference is to a story he wrote about a new Virginia Dare who was the last white woman
    in a future southern California. The guy I was referring to might have been Peter Brimelow, but not necessarily.
    In any case, I believe all members of this group hold similar views and I believe they are big fans of how Japan
    runs things.

    This should give you more information:


  • I came here in April 1977 and I’m leaving in April 2011. That’s a long time. I’m headed
    to California to get my medical card and kick back. Yes, there is some life after Japan.
    Glad to leave. Good luck to those who stay!


  • Russell Watson says:

    I am definitely a 5. Initially, I lived here for 17 years and grew sick of all the usual things that make people want to get out. I returned due to having a dull job back in the UK and being offered what looked like an excellent one back here. The job was a dud, but by then I had bought an apartment and my wife was reluctant to uproot herself yet again. So now we have been here for 6 years this time.

    All I can say to those who elect to stay and “try to make Japan a better place, etc etc” is good luck! I sincerely respect Debito and what he has acheived but I am worn out by working nearly every day by the continual noise and crowds of Tokyo. Most of all, my jaded feelings come from knowing that even though I speak passable Japanese and understand the culture pretty thoroughly, I will never be accepted. I will always be a guest that is no more than grudgingly tolerated. This was the same attitude that saw the Oyatoi Gaigokujin hired to transfer skills to Japan during the Meiji Era but mostly packed off back home as soon as their three years was up. The fact that half the people in Tokyo backed Ishihara for Governor even after knowing what kind of person he was and his vile views regarding foreigners tells me that xenophobic feelings are not confined to just a few nasty old septugenarians in high places.

    Life back in the UK will be hard, I made the mistake before of assuming it would be so much better. It will have its pluses and minuses but on balance it can only be better than the thankless and mirthless grind of life here. I’ll have less money but at least I will be able to walk down the street without my ears being assulted by mindless blaring noise and ill-mannered cyclists and pedestrians treating each other like something to be shoved out of the way. I’ll be able to finish work while it is still light and find something inexpensive to do in my free time. I’ll have to adapt to less cash in hand, but I am already extremely frugal since I am saving up for the time I leave here, hopefully in 2012, just two more years to go.

  • @Jonholms,

    I have the same feeling, that is Japan has changed for the worse when it comes to acceptance of foriegners. Granted this is a dated thread but even with the disaster/crisis these things will resurface. I can remember in the 90s when I came here, there were foriegners everywhere, we used to joke about the thousands of Iranians who met up in the parks, allot like you see all the filipinos meeting in HK in parks. There were foriegner street performers, and gaijin everwhere on the trains. “The Gaijin Zone” was a popular club in roppongi and packed with foriegners. Those were the good days, they are gone. When things are well in Japan, they are tolerant, when they suck, uglyness comes out. It has been difficult for me to not generalize, I admit. You can find a niche or group of friends, and just like in the states, still experience bad things. Its hard to draw a line in Japan however from the constant remarks, gawking, and closed mindedness, it can eat away at you. So, yes, I agree that the 80s, 90s were best. Will this crisis change anything? I havent seen nothing to show otherwise.

  • I was watching some of Debitos documentary videos on You Tube when he had just bought his house, 1st marriage etc, that looks like the 90s, thats when I came here. Japan was a different time then, and actually wasnt so bad, I have good memories. Things are really different now.

  • jonholmes says:

    Responding to the last 2 posts, this is just our feelings so of course we cannot prove it, but for me there were a couple of clearly signposted turning points, or “warning signs” in some cases. 1993, in the wake of the bubble bursting is a provable one. A couple of years after that, cell phones changed social dynamics, ie. people no longer had to go through the family phone-this had pluses and minuses as regards to how “gaijin” were treated, I ll just say my ex’s parents hated gaijin calling up and said so on the phone.

    Still, the 90s were ok, thats when young people tried to follow their dreams, and often this involved an interest in going abroad or doing business with overseas.

    Around 2000 though, we had Koizumi and Ishihara rearing up and shouting nationalist slogans that basically amounted to “Its back to hard times for the sake of the nation (not a real quote, obviously).

    On a personal note, when I came back to tokyo in 2007 I actually experienced 3-4 people saying “why did you come back? I don’t feel like I really need you/your friendship/your business”.

    and that last one is a real quote, sadly.

    I think I outstayed my “welcome”…

    — I think the true turning point came with Ishihara’s Sangokujin Speech in 2000. See my round up of the past decade in human rights from my Japan Times article last January.

  • Just to throw my two yen in, but I have been here since 1990 and I think that it was better for NJ back then, too. People seemed friendlier then.

  • jonholmes says:

    Padraig, I can relate as I moved here in 1990. I d visited at Xmas 1988 and was blown away by Tokyo, so dynamic, so futuristic, so clean and also a lot of fun. It promised much…

    Having said that, I ignored (or chose to ignore, as some people seem to do) a couple of fundamental issues. When I first started meeting Japanese people in Oxford in 1988, they were great friends but occasionally something odd would happen, like they d apologize for their monosyllabic friend or other half by sayings things like “I m sorry, they arent interested in gaijin”, or “that place/hobby etc tends to be for Japanese only”, or “You re interested in Japanese or Okinawan traditional stuff? Henna gaijin, haha”

    I naively put this down to “cultural differences”, but as years went on I realised there was a huge gap between the image of Japan I was being “sold” and the reality I was experiencing. And I was to put up with much.


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