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Hi Blog. I’ve sat on this for more than a year. Now that the whole debate on “granting foreigners suffrage will mean the end of Japan” has probably died down a bit, it’s time that we look back on what happened then, and on the aftermath wrought by people losing their heads.
After the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009, after decades of mostly unbroken and corrupt Liberal Democratic Party rule, there was hope for some new inclusive paradigms vis-a-vis NJ in Japan, one of their smaller party planks was granting NJ (undecided whether NJ would be Permanent Resident or Zainichi Special Permanent Resident) the right to vote in local elections (like other countries do). This, alas, occasioned much protest and alarmist doomsaying about how Japanese society would be ruined by ever enfranchising potentially disloyal foreigners (“They’d concentrate in parts of Japan and secede to China!”, “Kim Jong-Il will now have influence over Japan!”), and suddenly we had regional governments and prefectures passing petitions (seigan) stating that they formally oppose ever giving suffrage to foreigners.
The Tsukuba City Council was no exception, even though Tsukuba in itself is an exceptional city. It has a major international university, a higher-than-average concentration of NJ researchers and academics, a centrally-planned modern showcase living grid with advanced communication networks, and one of Japan’s two foreign-born naturalized citizens (Jon Heese; the other city is Inuyama’s Anthony Bianchi) elected to its city council. Yet Tsukuba, a city designed to be one of those international communities within Japan, was given in December 2010 a petition of NJ suffrage opposition to consider signing and sending off to the DPJ Cabinet. Here’s the draft:
I was sent a copy of this shortly after it came out, and was asked what counterarguments to it, if any, I would present if I could. Here’s most of what I said:
December 18, 2010
1) Why is it necessary to express our opposition to this? Is there a petition out there expressing our support of this? No, because calmer heads do not see any alarm in giving NJ the vote. Responding in this way is just alarmism (kiyuu in Japanese, use this word in specific — I’ve found it makes people shudder in shame at themselves). Why ride the wave of panic and xenophobia being created by the xenophobic right-wing into passing a petition we will regret later? It looks bad for our international city of Tsukuba, with so many educated NJ residents, contributors, and taxpayers, to do so.
2) “Naturalization” is offered as a solution for the right to vote. But as you and I know as naturalized citizens, naturalization is a difficult procedure, with arbitrary rules, judgments, and treatment of candidates differing by nationality. Other countries have allowed their Permanent Residents to vote in local elections and suffered no ill-effects, including New Zealand, Canada, and parts of the United States. Do not think that this is something you can cite in support of this petition.
3) As for the constitutional issue, the Asahi wrote on July 5 in an editorial:
Some say foreigner suffrage goes “against the Constitution.” However, it is only natural to construe from the Supreme Court ruling of February 1995 that the Constitution neither guarantees nor prohibits foreigner suffrage but rather “allows” it.
The decision on foreign suffrage depends on legislative policy.
In an age when people easily cross national borders, what kind of society does Japan wish to become? How do we determine the qualifications and rights of people who comprise our country and communities? To what extent do we want to open our gates to immigrants? How do we control social diversity and turn it into energy?
Sources for the Asahi and more here:
Other related articles of note, for more inspiration:
In sum, I suggest people appeal to common sense and level-headedness. Why do we need a negative petition like this at all? This is mere alarmism fomented by right-wing xenophobes who do not even consider naturalized citizens to be “real Japanese” (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20100202ad.html). Do we want them to tell our city government to join in the beying anti-foreign chorus, when one of the beneficiaries of your open-minded public was your very election? Can we betray them by passing this? Don’t give in to fear. We don’t need to say something nasty about our foreign residents and taxpayers. We don’t need to say anything about this issue at all. Just don’t pass this petition. Is what I would argue. ENDS
Unfortunately, the petition did pass, and Tsukuba City joined the ranks of the alarmists after being scared by the xenophobes; the suffrage proposal had gone down in flames nationally during 2010 anyway, so this was but a capstone. Sad, really. Despite the opposition to the petition that people like Jon mounted, people fell for the shouting down, and it just demonstrated just how disenfranchised and unable to answer alarmist accusations NJ in Japan are.
Here’s hoping Tsukuba City unpasses this petition. (They can, you know, if Tottori Prefecture is any guide.) Arudou Debito
17 comments on “Tsukuba City’s resolution against NJ suffrage passed in 2010, a retrospective in the wake of alarmism”
I believe that you already captured this well, when you stated:
“what kind of society does Japan wish to become?”
“To what extent do we want to open our gates to immigrants?”
It surely is manifest that Japanese want to be a society essentially free of any significant permanent group of foreigners, and want to discourage severely any such would-be foreign immigrants to Japan.
Absent any reason why Tsukuba should be sharply different than the rest of Japan I think it is clear that xenophobia is too deeply held to tolerate more than a token number of such foreigners, or to authorise such foreigners to have rights in Japan.
I’ve always believed that if you pay taxes in a country, that gives you the right to vote regardless of nationality. I find it extremely tough to swallow that a gov’t can take a portion of your income yet give you absolutely no voice in how it is used.
The notion that only nationals have a vested interest in the country is such a joke.
Too few people seem to realise how Japanese democracy works.
They need someone to sit down with them and s-l-o-w-l-y explain that:
If permanent residents were given voting rights in local elections, they’d be able to vote for a Japanese candidate in a local election. That’s all. They would not be able to vote directly on laws, secede, influence the national government, or somehow have more power than Japanese nationals.
@ Peter: So under a system of suffrage based on tax, a foreign tourist paying VAT could vote in an election taking place at the time of their visit or what about PR unemployed foreigners such as full-time stay at home parents, no tax=no vote?
Jiong, I think the logic is the other way ’round; the foreign tourist, who can’t vote, shouldn’t have to pay tax. (The tax-free shops and VAT refunds for foreign tourists are in line with this.)
And there’s much to be said in favor of a system in which only taxpayers (or net taxpayers, after government beneifts have been subtracted out) can vote. If there are enough net receivers of government money who can also vote, they can vote themselves ever-increasing benefits at the expense of the taxed minority.
@jiong: I’m not referring to paying consumption tax as a basis for the vote… That would be insane and any tourist who visits could have a say. I think not.
At a minimum, anyone paying income taxes to the government should have the right to have a voice, and that goes for nationals, permanent residents and expats. I believe that this should be the world standard, not just Japan. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of giving all PRs the vote. They generally live and work there and are subject to the state’s laws and forced to pay taxes (in most cases) what more is needed? The argument of “they should just become citizens if they want to vote” is not so cut and dry which I’m sure Debito can attest to.
Plus, let’s remember, in addition to paying income tax, all us non-citizens in Japan are paying (drum-roll please) CITIZEN TAX.
Taxation without representation is bad, but actually forcing non-citizens to pay a tax called “citizen tax” is absolutely crazy.
As far as the argument about paying tax should equal the right to vote, just try asking the Japanese you know if the think NJ even pay tax!
I did a quick survey this week, and found that almost 80% of the people I asked at my workplace (ages 19-55) thought that NJ don’t have to pay any tax! No tax on income, no city tax, and no pension and state health insurance payments. They think that we are getting it all for free!
— That’s just plain dumb. Do they think you’re not paying tax either? After all, the office people handle your paycheck.
Irish and Americans do not have to pay taxes their first two years in Japan, but after that, they do.
Maybe that is what they think.
Shocking, but true. Only people actually involved in the payroll process had a clue. Pretty much everyone else thought I was just like some kind of long-term tourist who gets paid. They also indicated that this supposed ‘lack of paying tax’ was one reason why NJ came to Japan- to enjoy the ‘free’ healthcare. Not a clue mate.
Mark in Yayoi>
I think disenfranchising the already down-trodden (in your example, the poor) is exactly the sort of thing that creates discrimination and inequality in a society.
Do you have a source for that? I’m American and have been paying taxes since the day I got here.
Yes, Jim, I totally agree with your comments about foreigners being perceived as “long-term tourists.” One of my closest Japanese friends was astounded when she learned that I have to show proof of tax payments every time I renew my visa. And she’s one of the smart ones.
Another story: a retired high school principal told me that a lot of the disgruntlement that Japanese staff felt towards the JET/ALTs was caused by their mistaken impression that the JET/ALTs received relatively higher salaries, and didn’t have to bother with paying taxes. Again, many were astounded when they discovered that quite a few foreign teachers are being taxed by two countries!
— And, despite a marginally higher monthly salary for some, NJ in contract positions generally don’t get paid a Bonus, unlike (many of) the non-contracted J full-timers. The whispering disinformation regarding the lives of NJ in Japan, that people who know better never bother to correct, is just so mean.
That’s right, the bonus system. I’d forgotten about that. It’s quite an odd custom, isn’t it? For the record I have never, ever received a bonus in my working life in Japan, and from now on I’m going to make a point of telling people that just to see the looks on their faces! (Although to be fair, I do tend to receive a lot of lovely presents and cash gifts from my students twice a year, usually around July and December. I’ve no complaints. But it’s not right that many Japanese assume that foreign workers in Japan get higher salaries, pay no taxes and still get bonuses.)
When I was an ALT my dispatch company had me participate in a summer training program for elementary school teachers who would soon begin teaching English. On the last day of the seminar, the man from the BOE assigned to my group told them all in Japanese (I guess my NJ appearance made him think I couldn’t understand) that they should work the ALTS as much as possible because they were paying us so well. I thought he was really rude and really wrong. We got low monthly salaries, pay cuts in four months that had fewer working days, no bonuses, and no shakai hoken. The dispatch companies are undoubtedly taking a big chunk out of the money they get from BOEs.
I am no longer surprised when my foreign researcher friends claim they are paying not taxes because their funding comes from the national government. In my opinion, the misunderstanding comes from the inability to read their own pays tubs. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that if they hand out English pay stubs the info does not include things like tax. In any case, the researchers get pretty much the cash they were promised. No one bothered to explain to them the realities.
Concerning US citizens and taxes in Japan: Last time I checked, which was quite a while ago to be honest, US citizens were exempt from paying Japanese income tax for the first two years. They were responsible for paying all other taxes. And I personally wish that my salary for this last year was as wonderful as the official US exchange rate for calculating US income taxes made it seem. Personally I’m praying for the yen/dollar exchange rate to move close to 100.
@ Pearse #14
I looked at a dispatch company proposal that was offered to my workplace some years back. I laughed and told my boss that it was so cheap that I didn’t think the dispatch company could find native English speakers that would take a salary that must be even lower than the fee the company wanted. I nosed around the local NJ community and found out that the company in question was sending out teachers with English as a second language (Italian, Russian, Africans from former French colonies). It is possible that those teachers had an excellent grasp of grammar and pronunciation, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.
My conclusion (after some brief arithmetic) was that the company was virtually only just able to cover it’s costs. Any profit seemed to be so small as to be not worth the bother. But, then again, maybe this is a Japanese business mentality? When J-companies were breaking into the global market place (what, 30, 40 years ago?) with transistor radios, cameras, and color TV’s, (and later cars and video recorders), the philosophy was to price the product as cheap as hell, and grab a massive market share. This forced out the competition, and left an open playing field. I guess time will tell if this business model can be applied to English teaching. They seem to making making a stab at it.
— This tangent on taxation etc. is taking us too far off track. Back on topic please.