Foreign Minister Maehara resigns due to donations from a “foreigner” (a Zainichi, that is)


Hi Blog. is currently on vacation while I am getting my next novel published, but this recent issue is germane enough to this blog that I’ll at least put the issue up and let people comment.


From the Japan Times (excerpt):
Monday, March 7, 2011
Maehara quits Cabinet over donations
Foreign minister leaves Kan in lurch before Group of Eight meet
By Masami Ito

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara announced his resignation Sunday to take responsibility for illegally accepting donations from a foreign national, further damaging the already shaky Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan…

Last Friday, Maehara admitted receiving ¥50,000 in donations from a South Korean permanent resident of Japan who lives in Kyoto. But according to the Liberal Democratic Party, which brought up the issue during a Diet committee last Friday, the donations total ¥200,000 over the past four years.

Maehara said at the press conference that total donations from the person came to at least ¥250,000 over five years.

The Political Funds Control Law stipulates that it is illegal for politicians to accept contributions from non-Japanese residents and foreign companies. If found guilty, the politician could potentially face up to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to ¥500,000, and also have his or her voting rights suspended.

According to Maehara, the donor owns a Korean barbecue restaurant in the neighborhood where he moved to while in junior high school in Yamashina, Kyoto Prefecture.

Full article at
Other articles with new angles and information are welcome. Please enclose entire text in Comments Section for the record.

COMMENT: As we’ve discussed on The Community:

A writes: Does anyone else get the impression from the media coverage of (now ex-) foreign minister Maehara’s dealings that the crime was not accepting money, but accepting money from foreigners?

D writes: Don’t most countries forbid donations from foreigners to politicians and political campaigns? Which, on the surface, seems pretty reasonable, given the danger of having foreign countries influence internal politics. That the woman in question was probably zainichi(?) raises the usual criticisms of why Koreans born in Japan are still considered “foreign”. But that seems like a separate issue this time. Yes, maybe she should be Japanese. Whether she is or isn’t, though, a law forbidding foreign investment into local politics seems pretty bog standard.

M writes: As a comparison, it is *illegal* to do this in America:

J writes: Not sure exactly what point you are trying to make, the page lists all sorts of activities, but specifically states that green card holders are exempt, which seems to be the closest analogue of the current case. FWIW, I think that in order for an individual to make a donation in the UK, they have to be on the electoral roll (which eg would rule me out, though I might also be ineligible due to non-residency).

B writes:  [to Debito] I know you’re busy with your book, but I would love to read your thoughts about the situation with Foreign Minister Maehara and this rule/law about not allowing politicians to receive foreigners (even a Zainichi Korean). For one, it clearly demonstrates that foreigners with special status are STILL considered foreigners regardless, and two should draw attention to the fact that this rule is meant to prevent foreigners living in Japan from gaining political power through an activity like political (and in Maehara’s case possibly even a personal) donations–something that every politician relies on, no matter the country. I hope you’ll put up something on your site.

There you go. Does not Mindan also financially contribute to Japan’s political process?  Arudou Debito

13 comments on “Foreign Minister Maehara resigns due to donations from a “foreigner” (a Zainichi, that is)

  • jjobseeker says:

    Quote from the Korean woman herself says it all:
    “Our relationship is one between two human beings,” the woman said. “He is not one who would try and check whether I was Japanese or zainichi. He would never do something so impudent. That would prompt the question, ‘How long do you intend to discriminate against zainichi?'”

    From this Asahi Shimbun article:
    Korean apologizes to Maehara for ‘causing trouble’

    A Korean woman whose political donations led Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to resign over the weekend tearfully apologized for her action, saying she was unaware her gesture of support would cause such trouble.

    The woman, a South Korean national who operates a Korean barbecue restaurant in Kyoto, received a call to her cellphone from Maehara himself a little before 9 p.m. Sunday.

    “He (Maehara) has to quit because of me,” the woman said, wiping tears from her eyes with a dishcloth. She said Maehara called to let her know he was resigning and repeatedly apologized for causing her trouble.

    “I’m sorry that I have caused you trouble, too,” the woman told Maehara. “Don’t let this get you down.”

    It was the second time the woman had received a call from Maehara in recent days.

    Around 4 p.m. on Friday, Maehara called her soon after the issue was raised during an Upper House Budget Committee session. He told the woman that the scandal would unfortunately “cause trouble” for her.

    “I wasn’t aware that ‘zainichi’ (resident foreigners in Japan) aren’t allowed to donate,” the woman said. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have done so.”

    The donations, totaling 250,000 yen ($3,000) over five years, were made using her Japanese name. Many ethnic Koreans living in Japan assume Japanese aliases.

    The woman said she has known Maehara since the lawmaker was a second-year junior high school student, when he moved into her neighborhood.

    His father had died, and she said that Maehara “was always struggling in poverty. Even after he became a lawmaker, he always befriended me, and I always considered him like a son.”

    “Our relationship is one between two human beings,” the woman said. “He is not one who would try and check whether I was Japanese or zainichi. He would never do something so impudent. That would prompt the question, ‘How long do you intend to discriminate against zainichi?'”

    The woman ruled out the idea that Maehara had approached her to gain information about North Korea-related issues and vowed that she would never again make a political donation.

    Maehara first won a seat in the Kyoto prefectural assembly in 1991 and turned to national politics in 1993.

  • Jeff Korpa says:

    Given this…

    A) 前原外相辞任:政治不全が止まらない=政治部編集委員・古賀攻

    …we have this:

    B) 在日韓国人: 外国人だから献金はだめ。

    Now given this…

    C) 帰化人

    …does this follow:

    D) 日本人だから献金はOK。


    Have any of you naturalized folks made a political contribution lately? If so, can anyone comment on the validity (or invalidity) of statement (D)???


    — I wonder if a Zainichi becoming a member of one of Japan’s political parties (LDP, DPJ) would count.

    (Mainichi Japan) March 7, 2011
    Maehara resignation another sign Japanese politics is badly broken

    The public’s lingering ambivalence regarding Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara’s resignation can be attributed to the utter improbability of the brouhaha making any contributions toward straightening out the tangled mess that Japanese politics has become.

    The scandal erupted when it emerged that Maehara had been receiving 50,000 yen annually from a 72-year-old South Korean resident of Kyoto in violation of the Political Funds Control Law. The benefactor runs a small barbecue restaurant, and has known Maehara since he was in his second year of junior high school.

    What are we to make of the gap in significance between the facts surrounding the donations and the foreign minister’s resignation because of them?

    One former prime minister and a member of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said that it was the fact that the political funds law had not been honored — and not the specific circumstances of the donations — that was the problem.

    “The donation amount is not the issue here,” he said. “That a figure such as the foreign minister had not taken a law banning politicians from accepting donations from foreign nationals seriously is the issue.”

    There is no question that Maehara’s blunder must be criticized. Small donations can amount to a lot if collected from large numbers of people. Considering that the Political Funds Control Law was laid down in the spirit of preventing the will of specific foreign countries from influencing domestic politics, foreign ministers must be careful — perhaps even more than other politicians — to abide by such rules.

    What should not be overlooked, however, is that Maehara’s donation scandal suddenly surfaced at a time of political gridlock, in which forcing a choice between resignation and keeping one’s post seems to be the ultimate mission of the Japanese political world.

    It is obvious that the LDP, which unearthed the latest scandal, has an ulterior motive: to crush Maehara, rumored to be a prospective successor to Kan, before he gains momentum, and to push Prime Minister Kan to dissolve the lower house. Kan will find himself cornered, no matter how determined he may presently be to stay on task, if Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Ritsuo Hosokawa — who recently bumbled over a ministry directive regarding social security — is also driven to resignation, setting off a resignation “domino effect.”

    Meanwhile, it appears that one reason Maehara resigned relatively soon after his violation of the political funds law became public was his judgment that doing so would help him maintain his chances of becoming prime minister more so than would waiting until the drama had played out over an extended period of time. He left much business unfinished, including the upcoming G8 meeting of foreign ministers that is set to begin on March 14, and a meeting of Japanese, Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers scheduled for March 19. Kan lacked any zeal to fight to keep Maehara at his post, betraying a general sense of incompetence within the Kan administration.

    While the ruling and opposition parties carry out their domestic political rivalry, politics continues to lose its original function — namely to govern Japan and serve its people — leaving Japan behind the rest of the globalized world. Prolonged political paralysis only serves to hurt Japan’s national interests and the interests of the Japanese people. (By Ko Koga, Senior Writer, Political News Department)

    毎日新聞 2011年3月7日 東京朝刊











  • Here is what I don’t get: If they have known each other for such a long time, why did he still call her a “foreigner”? This is magnified by the fact that he is a Foreign Minister. I mean, sure, the Zainichi aren’t ethnically 100% Japanese, but that’s like calling a Italian-American a foreigner because of his Italian heritage. Really shocking behavior from a man who should know better.

  • Here´s the Japanese version of the woman´s declarations Jjobseeker mentions. Really sad they single somebody that belongs here like that, just for a nationality difference.

    Chuo Nippo, March 8 2011







  • Kakui Kujira says:

    Allen said this:
    “that’s like calling a Italian-American a foreigner because of his Italian heritage”

    Err, not quite. Italian-Americans have US citizenship. I do get your point, Zainichi DON’T have Japanese citizenship, but they SHOULD.

  • Allen

    Because she is legally a foreigner. She does not have Japanese citizenship.
    Ethnic Koreans who have naturalized are considered to be Japanese under the law. Those that have not are considered foreigners. That is why the number of so-called Koreans in Japan keeps dropping, because their children are marrying Japanese and choosing Japanese nationality over one of a country they have never been to.

    I do think though that this would have been a perfect opportunity to bring up the debate about awarding citizenship automatically upon birth as this is just ridiculous that Japan has this problem after more than 60 years.

  • @Allen. No, it’s nothing like your “Italian-American” example. The Italian-American holds an American passport and is therefore not a foreigner in the US (though they would be as far as I’m concerned, as I’m English). The woman in question doesn’t have a Japanese passport and is therefore a foreigner. Ethnicity doesn’t enter into it.

  • I didn’t realize that Korean residents of Japan could not become naturalized Japanese citizens. Is that correct? But one paper I read said they could become public servants. Is that correct? Are ethnic Koreans treated legally different than other non-Japanese? Could you clear this up please?

    — No, not kanrishoku, and yes.

  • Jay

    They can become naturalized Japanese citizens. They just choose not to for various reasons. One of the reasons being that they originally had Japanese citizenship and the government stripped it from them. Many of them scoff at the notion of them having to apply for something that they once had as a so-called god given right as members of the empire which they were born and raised to support.

    Ethnic koreans born in Japan are treated different legally from other non-japanese. For example, many ethnic Koreans never buy a re-entry pass, and immigration never turns them away. As well they shouldn’t. An ethnic Korean would also probably not get into trouble for not carrying their Gaijin card.

    Most Japanese have trouble coming to terms with ethnic koreans (zainichi) because they are pretty much indistinguishable from Japanese in that they look, talk, and act just like anyone else.

    I can guarantee you that you come across a few zainichi everyday and not even notice it.

  • Kakui Kujira says:

    Unknown said:
    “I can guarantee you that you come across a few zainichi everyday and not even notice it.”

    As a good example of this, my Japanese wife’s ex-husband is a zainichi and she did not know it for a few years into their relationship.

  • So how much money is this? 1 yen for every voter in Maehara’s district more or less? Does the voter really care? Does the LDP really think the voters of Maehara’s district can be bought for this much money?
    The DPJ and Kan need some guts. Maehara has shown he has some.


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