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THE TOP TENS FOR 2010 AND THE DECADE
ZEIT GIST 54 / JUST BE CAUSE COLUMN 35 FOR THE JAPAN TIMES
The Japan Times, Tuesday, January 4, 2011
DRAFT NINE, VERSION AS SUBMITTED TO EDITOR (Director’s Cut, including text cut out of published article)
WORD COUNT FOR DECADE COLUMN #5-#2: 988 WORDS
WORD COUNT FOR 2010 COLUMN #5-#2: 820 WORDS
Download Top Ten for 2010 at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110104ad.html
Download Top Ten for 2000-2010 at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2011/01/04/general/arudous-alien-almanac-2000-2010/
Download entire newsprint page as PDF with excellent Chris Mackenzie illustrations (recommended) at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/images/community/0104p13.PDF
It’s that time again, when the JUST BE CAUSE column ranks the notable events of last year that affected Non-Japanese (NJ) in Japan. This time it’s a double feature, also ranking the top events of the past decade.
A TOP TEN FOR THE DECADE 2000-2010
5) THE OTARU ONSENS CASE (1999-2005)
This lawsuit followed the landmark Ana Bortz case of 1999, where a Brazilian plaintiff sued and won against a jewelry store in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, that denied her entry for looking foreign. Since Japan has no national law against racial discrimination, the Bortz case found that United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination (CERD), which Japan signed in 1995, has the force of law instead. The Otaru case (Just Be Cause, Jun. 3, 2008) (in which, full disclosure, your correspondent was one plaintiff) attempted to apply penalties not only to an exclusionary bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, but also to the Otaru city government for negligence. Results: Sapporo’s district and high courts both ruled the bathhouse must pay damages to multiple excluded patrons. The city government, however, was exonerated.
WHY THIS MATTERS: Although our government has repeatedly said to the U.N. that “racial discrimination” does not exist in Japan (“discrimination against foreigners” exists, but bureaucrats insist this is not covered by the CERD (JBC, Jun. 2, 2009)), the Otaru case proved it does, establishing a cornerstone for any counterargument. However, the Supreme Court in 2005 ruled the Otaru case was “not a constitutional issue,” thereby exposing the judiciary’s unwillingness to penalize discrimination expressly forbidden by Japan’s Constitution. Regardless, the case built on the Bortz precedent, setting standards for NJ seeking court redress for discrimination (providing you don’t try to sue the government). It also helped stem a tide of “Japanese Only” signs spreading nationwide, put up by people who felt justified by events like:
4) ISHIHARA’S SANGOKUJIN RANT (April 9, 2000)
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara set the tone this decade with a calamitous diatribe to the Nerima Ground Self Defense Forces (ZG, Dec. 18, 2007), claiming that NJ (including “sangokujin,” a derogatory term for former citizens of the Japanese Empire) were in Japan “repeatedly committing heinous crimes.” Ishihara called on the SDF to round foreigners up during natural disasters in case they rioted (something, incidentally, that has never happened).
WHY THIS MATTERS: A leader of a world city pinned a putative crime wave on NJ (even though most criminal activity in Japan, both numerically and proportionately, has been homegrown (ZG, Feb. 20, 2007)) and even offered discretionary policing power to the military, yet he has kept his office to this day. This speech made it undisputedly clear that Ishihara’s governorship would be a bully pulpit, and Tokyo would be his turf to campaign against crime — meaning against foreigners. This event emboldened other Japanese politicians to vilify NJ for votes, and influenced government policy at the highest levels with the mantra “heinous crimes by bad foreigners.” Case in point:
3) THE SECOND KOIZUMI CABINET (2003-2005)
Once re-elected to his second term, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi got right down to business targeting NJ. No fewer than three Cabinet members in their opening policy statements mentioned foreign crime, one stressing that his goal was “making Japan the world’s safest country again” — meaning, again, safe from foreigners (ZG, Oct. 7, 2003).
WHY THIS MATTERS: Despite being one of Japan’s most acclaimed prime ministers, Koizumi’s record toward NJ residents was dismal. Policies promulgated “for the recovery of public safety” explicitly increased the peace for kokumin (Japanese nationals) at the expense of NJ residents. In 2005, the “Action Plan for Pre-Empting Terrorism” (ZG, May 24, 2005) portrayed tero as an international phenomenon (ignoring homegrown examples), officially upgrading NJ from mere criminals to terrorists. Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of this bunker mentality were the police, who found their powers enhanced thusly:
2) THE POLICE CRACKDOWNS ON NJ (1999- present)
After May 1999, when their “Policy Committee Against Internationalization” (sic) was launched, the National Police Agency found ample funding for policies targeting NJ expressly as criminals, terrorists and “carriers of infectious diseases.” From NPA posters depicting NJ as illegal laborers, members of international criminal organizations and violent, heinous crooks, campaigns soon escalated to ID checks for cycling while foreign (ZG, Jun. 20, 2002), public “snitch sites” (where even today anyone can anonymously rat on any NJ for alleged visa violations (ZG, Mar. 30, 2004)), increased racial profiling on the street and on public transportation, security cameras in “hotbeds of foreign crime” and unscientific “foreigner indexes” applied to forensic crime scene evidence (ZG, Jan. 13, 2004).
Not only were crackdowns on visa overstayers (i.e., on crimes Japanese cannot by definition commit) officially linked to rises in overall crime, but also mandates reserved for the Immigration Bureau were privatized: Hotels were told by police to ignore the actual letter of the law (which required only tourists be checked) and review every NJ’s ID at check-in (ZG, Mar. 8, 2005). Employers were required to check their NJ employees’ visa status and declare their wages to government agencies (ZG, Nov. 13, 2007). SDF members with foreign spouses were “removed from sensitive posts” (ZG, Aug. 28, 2007). Muslims and their friends automatically became al-Qaida suspects, spied on and infiltrated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (ZG, Nov. 9).
There were also orgiastic spending frenzies in the name of international security, e.g., World Cup 2002 and the 2008 Toyako G-8 Summit (JBC, Jul. 1, 2008). Meanwhile, NJ fingerprinting, abolished by the government in 1999 as a “violation of human rights,” was reinstated with a vengeance at the border in 2007. Ultimately, however, the NPA found itself falsifying its data to keep its budgets justified — claiming increases even when NJ crime and overstaying went down (ZG, Feb. 20, 2007). Hence, power based upon fear of the foreigner had become an addiction for officialdom, and few Japanese were making a fuss because they thought it didn’t affect them. They were wrong.
WHY THIS MATTERS: The NPA already has strong powers of search, seizure, interrogation and incarceration granted them by established practice. However, denying human rights to a segment of the population has a habit of then affecting everyone else (ZG, Jul. 8, 2008). Japanese too are now being stopped for bicycle ID checks and bag searches under the same justifications proffered to NJ. Police security cameras — once limited to Tokyo “foreigner zones” suchas Kabukicho, Ikebukuro and Roppongi — are proliferating nationwide. Policing powers are growing stronger because human rights protections have been undermined by precedents set by anti-foreigner policies. Next up: Laws preventing NJ from owning certain kinds of properties for “security reasons,” further tracking of international money transfers, and IC-chipped “gaijin cards” readable from a distance (ZG, May 19, 2009).
1) THE DROP IN THE REGISTERED NJ POPULATION IN 2009
For the first time in 48 years, the number of foreigners living in Japan went down. This could be a temporary blip due to the Nikkei repatriation bribe of 2009-2010 (ZG, Apr. 7, 2009), when the government offered goodbye money only to foreigners with Japanese blood. Since 1990, more than a million Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry have come here on special visas to help keep Japan’s industries humming cheaply. Now tens of thousands are pocketing the bribe and going back, giving up their pensions and becoming somebody else’s unemployment statistic.
WHY THIS MATTERS: NJ numbers will eventually rise again, but the fact that they are going down for the first time in generations is disastrous. For this doesn’t just affect NJ – it affects everyone in Japan. A decade ago, both the U.N. and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi stated that Japan needs 600,000 NJ a year net influx just to maintain its taxpayer base and current standard of living. Yet a decade later, things are going in exactly the opposite way.
It should be no surprise: Japan has become markedly unfriendly these past ten years. Rampant and unbalanced NJ-bashing have shifted Japanese society’s image of foreigner from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “social bane and criminal.” Why would anyone want to move here and make a life under these conditions?
Despite this, everyone knows that public debt is rising while the Japanese population is aging and dropping. Japan’s very economic vitality depends on demographics. Yet the only thing that can save Japan – a clear and fair policy towards immigration – is taboo for discussion (JBC, Nov. 3, 2009). Even after two decades of economic doldrums, it is still unclear whether Japan has either the sense or the mettle to pull itself up from its nosedive.
The facts of life: NJ will ultimately come to Japan, even if it means that all they find is an elderly society hanging on by its fingernails, or just an empty island. Let’s hope Japan next decade comes to its senses, figuring out not only how to make life here more attractive for NJ, but also how to make foreigners into Japanese.
Bubbling under for the decade: U.N. Rapporteur Doudou Diene’s 2005 and 2006 visits to Japan, where he called discrimination in Japan “deep and profound” (ZG, Jun. 27, 2006); Japan’s unsuccessful 2006 bid for a U.N. Security Council seat—the only leverage the U.N. has over Japan to follow international treaty; the demise of the racist “Gaijin Hanzai” magazine and its publisher thanks to NJ grassroots protests (ZG, Mar. 20, 2007); the “Hamamatsu Sengen” and other statements by local governments calling for nicer policies towards NJ (ZG, Jun. 3, 2008); the domination of NJ wrestlers in sumo; the withering of fundamental employers of NJ, including Japan’s export factories and the eikaiwa industry (ZG, Dec. 11, 2007).
A TOP TEN FOR 2010
5) RENHO BECOMES FIRST MULTIETHNIC CABINET MEMBER (June 8 )
Japanese politicians with international roots are few but not unprecedented. But Taiwanese-Japanese Diet member Renho’s ascension to the Cabinet as minister for administrative reforms has been historic. Requiring the bureaucrats to justify their budgets (famously asking last January, “Why must we aim to develop the world’s number one supercomputer? What’s wrong with being number two?”), she has been Japan’s most vocal policy reformer.
WHY THIS MATTERS: Few reformers are brave enough to withstand the national sport of politician-bashing, especially when exceptionally cruel criticism began targeting Renho’s ethnic background. Far-rightist Diet member Takeo Hiranuma questioned her very loyalty by saying, “She’s not originally Japanese.” (Just Be Cause, Feb. 2) Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara expanded the focus by claiming people in the ruling coalition had foreign backgrounds, therefore were selling Japan out as a “duty to their ancestors” (JBC, May 4). Fortunately, it did not matter. In last July’s elections, Renho garnered a record 1.7 million votes in her constituency, and retained her Cabinet post regardless of her beliefs, or roots.
4) P.M. KAN APOLOGIZES TO KOREA FOR 1910 ANNEXATION (August 10)
After all the bad blood between these strikingly similar societies, Japan’s motion to be nice to South Korea was remarkably easy. No exploitable technicalities about the apology being unofficial, or merely the statements of an individual leader (as was seen in Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s apologies for war misdeeds, or Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono’s “statement” about “comfort women” – itself a euphemism for war crimes) — just a prime minister using the opportunity of a centennial to formally apologize for Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, backed up by a good-faith return of war spoils.
WHY THIS MATTERS: At a time when crime, terrorism and other social ills in Japan are hastily pinned on the outside world, these honest and earnest reckonings with history are essential for Japan to move on from a fascist past and strengthen ties with the neighbors. Every country has events in its history to be sorry for. Continuous downplaying — if not outright denial by nationalistic elites — of Japan’s conduct within its former empire will not foster improved relations and economic integration. This applies especially as Asia gets richer and needs Japan less, as witnessed through:
3) TOURIST VISAS EASED FOR CHINA (July 1)
Despite a year of bashing Chinese, the government brought in planeloads of them to revitalize our retail economy. Aiming for 10 million visitors this year, Japan lowered visa thresholds for individual Chinese to the point where they came in record numbers, spending, according to the People’s Daily, 160,000 yen per person in August.
WHY THIS MATTERS: Wealthy Chinese gadding about while Japan faced decreasing salaries caused some bellyaching. Our media (displaying amnesia about Bubble Japan’s behavior) kvetched that Chinese were patronizing Chinese businesses in Japan and keeping the money in-house (Yomiuri, May 25), Chinese weren’t spending enough on tourist destinations (Asahi, Jun. 16), Chinese were buying out Japanese companies and creating “Chapan” (Nikkei Business, Jun. 21), or that Chinese were snapping up land and threatening Japan’s security (The Japan Times, Dec. 18). The tone changed this autumn, however, when regional tensions flared, so along with the jingoism we had Japanese politicians and boosters flying to China to smooth things over and keep the consumers coming.
Let’s face it: Japan was once bigger than all the other Asian economies combined. But that was then — 2010 was also the year China surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. Japan can no longer ignore Asian investment. No nationalistic whining is going to change that. Next up: longer-duration visas for India.
2) NJ PR SUFFRAGE BILL GOES DOWN IN FLAMES (February 27)
The ruling coalition sponsored a bill last year granting suffrage in local elections to NJ with permanent residency (ZG, Feb. 23) — an uncharacteristically xenophilic move for Japan. True to form, however, nationalists came out of the rice paddies to deafen the public with scare tactics (e.g., Japan would be invaded by Chinese, who would migrate to sparsely-populated Japanese islands and vote to secede, etc.). They then linked NJ suffrage with other “fin-de-Japon” pet peeves, such as foreign crime, North Korean abductions of Japanese, dual nationality, separate surnames after marriage, and even sex education.
WHY THIS MATTERS: The campaign resonated. Months after PR suffrage was moribund, xenophobes were still getting city and prefectural governments to pass resolutions in opposition. Far-rightists used it as a political football in election campaigns to attract votes and portray the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) as inept.
They had a point: How could the DPJ sponsor such a controversial bill and not rally behind it as criticisms arose? Where were the potential supporters and spokespeople for the bill, such as naturalized Diet member Marutei Tsurunen? Why were the xenophobes basically the only voice heard during the debate, setting the agenda and talking points? This policy blunder will be a huge setback for future efforts to promote human rights for and integration of NJ residents.
Bubbling under for the year: Oita High Court rules that NJ have no automatic right to welfare benefits; international pressure builds on Japan to sign the Hague Convention on Child Abduction; Tokyo Metropolitan Police spy on Muslims and fumble their secret files to publishers; America’s geopolitical bullying of Japan over Okinawa’s Futenma military base undermines the Hatoyama administration (JBC, Jun. 1); Ibaraki Detention Center hunger strikers, and the Suraj Case of a person dying during deportation, raise questions about Immigration Bureau procedure and accountability.