Japan Times JBC 114 DIRECTOR’S CUT of “Top Ten for 2018” column, with links to sources

Now that the clicks have died down on my latest Japan Times JBC column of January 28, 2019 (thanks for putting it in the Top Ten trending articles once again), what follows is the first final draft I submitted to the Japan Times for editing on December 29, 2018.  I blog this version because a lot of information is lost (inevitably) as we cut the word count from 2800 to 1600 words. (I generally put everything in the first final draft, then cut it down to fit the page; that way we don’t overlook anything and have to backtrack.)

People have been asking what got cut (and yes, the original version mentions Michael Woodford and Jeff Kingston), so the piece below is quite a bit different from what appeared in the Japan Times here (meaning it shouldn’t draw away any readers from the JT version; in fact, it will probably spur more views from readers wanting to compare). Also, having links to sources matter, so here it all is, including my regular acerbic tone.

FCCJ No.1 Shimbun: “Nothing has changed”, my article on J media blind spots towards NJ residents over the past quarter century

No.1 Shimbun: In the quarter century I have been examining the treatment of foreigners in both the English and vernacular media, I have seen little improvement. In fact, in many ways it’s gotten worse. The foreign element has been increasingly portrayed as the subterfuge that will undermine Japanese society. To crib from a famous book title, Japan has become not only the “system that soured,” but also the “media that soured.”

When I first got here in the mid-1980s, at the start of Japan’s bubble era, non-Japanese (NJ) were seen as quirky “misunderstood outsiders,” treated with bemusement for their inability to understand “Japan’s unique culture.” NJ were here to help Japan learn English and internationalize itself into its hard-earned echelon as a rich country in the international community. After all, Japan had just surpassed the per-capita gross domestic product of its mentor – the United States – so the media was preparing the public for Japan’s new role as oriental ambassador to the West…

The next phase, which has essentially continued to the present day, overtly began on April 9, 2000, when recently elected archconservative Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara made his famous “Sangokujin” speech. He claimed that some NJ were “repeatedly committing heinous crimes,” and called for the Self-Defense Forces to round up NJ in the event of a natural disaster as they would (unprecedentedly) riot. Even in light of the Tohoku disasters, where this has been proven as utterly false, there has been no amendment or retraction. But this speech emboldened Japan’s reactionaries (particularly its police, fortified by its new internal “Policymaking Committee Against Internationalization”) to see rampant NJ bashing as politically viable…

In sum, the “blind spot” of Japanese media is that hardly any of it treats NJ as actual residents, with needs, concerns, and a stake in Japan. Local media do give spots on how NJ community events are faring, with the occasional update on social problems facing stricken foreign families. But that generally happens in areas with “high” concentrations of registered NJ residents (around 10% of total local population, achieved in increasingly fewer places as the NJ population drops). Rarely does NJ community news leak into more national arenas (unless, of course, it concerns foreign crime). Hardly anywhere in the Japanese-language media is a constant “voice” or venue granted to NJ regulars to offer an alternative viewpoint of life in Japan. (Please note, and this is not meant as a criticism, but tarento regulars like Dave Spector are first and foremost entertainers, rarely spokespeople for minorities, and foreign tarento have in fact visibly declined in number compared to their bubble era heyday.) Thus, unabashed bashing of NJ in the Japanese media goes unanswered without check or balance.

Have things improved since March 11?…

Interview with the Berlin Institute for Population and Development

INTERVIEW WITH THE BERLIN INSTITUTE FOR POPULATION AND DEVELOPMENT:

Q: But if Japan decides it does not want or need immigrants – what is wrong with that?

ARUDOU: Because it doesn’t reflect reality. We have had a UN report that stated, at least one Prime Minister who acknowledged, and several important domestic organizations who admitted, that Japan needs immigration. Now. Our society is aging and our tax base is decreasing. We are on the cusp of a demographic nightmare, a future with a society that cannot pay or take care of itself. Either way, people will come here, even if it means they find an enfeebled or empty island to live in. Might as well do it now while we have more energy and choices.

The people who represent us or make decisions for us are not necessarily that receptive to understand that people who appear to be different are not a threat. We cannot expect them to lead us to a world they cannot envision. It’s our country, too…

Reuters: Keidanren business lobby calls for more immigrants

TOKYO, Oct 13 (Reuters) – Japan’s most powerful business lobby will change its long-held policy and call on the nation to accept more immigrants, Mainichi newspaper reported on Monday, as the world’s fastest ageing nation faces serious labour shortages.

The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), whose policy on immigration to date has been to limit foreign labourers to fixed contracts, will announce the change on Tuesday, the Mainichi newspaper said.

Further comment and historical record behind this decision in this blog entry…

“NO BORDER” Nov 18 Meeting: Kokusaika & Keidanren laid bare

Report on Nov 18 2007 meeting with NO BORDER, a group which wishes to promote greater integration of NJ within Japan: A lovely glimpse into Japan’s multicultural future as Japanized NJ children of immigrants reach college age. And an even more informative glimpse into the darkness behind Keidanren’s deliberate visa policies for getting cheap labor with all the trimmings–no labor law protection, and no social safety net. Special non-guest: Tony Laszlo

Kyodo: “300 people per day re-entering Japan breaking COVID self-quarantine”. But NJ report Govt incompetence, which punishes them disproportionately.

Government incompetence is nothing new. There’s not much you can do when the expectation is one-way: The Man demands a promise from you, with punishments if you don’t comply, but if The Man doesn’t keep his promises, too bad, since there’s often no punishment for the Powers That Be. That’s what’s happening under Japan’s new “self-quarantine” rules. Kyodo News reports that “up to 300 people per day are breaking the self-quarantine”. People, regardless of nationality. What is NOT evenly enforced regardless of nationality is the punishment. As Kyodo notes, ‘The health ministry, which has asked for people to honor their pledge, has warned that penalties for noncompliance include publicly revealing names or, in the case of a foreign national, revocation of their status of residence and deportation.”

That’s very different. Especially since people are reporting to Magdalena Osumi of the Japan Times (see below) that there has been no follow-up from the government when it comes to helping people keep their pledge (and some confusion about how the rules are supposed to work). So if the GOJ messes things up and you’re a citizen, uh, your name gets made public. Big whoop. But if you’re NJ, through no fault of your own, you get deported.  Your life in Japan is over. As Debito.org has predicted might happen, this new Covid “Self-Quarantine” regime has become yet another means to ethnically-cleanse Japan of its foreigners. As if revolving-door visas and insecure job statuses aren’t enough. And of course, the Kyodo article neither questions the disproportionality of the punishment or reports on the incompetence of the government.

What follows is the Kyodo article. After that, a request from Magdalena Osumi for information about the government incompetence for an upcoming article. Read on if you have something to share with her.

BBC: “Is Japan embracing diversity?” A Pollyannaish article highlighting a few celebrity examples without data on broad public attitudes or government policy re immigration

BBC: Ahead of the Rugby World Cup held in Japan last year, a Japanese sports magazine, asked the national team’s captain, “Why are there so many foreigners in Japan’s squad?” The 31-year-old captain, Michael Leitch, originally from New Zealand, answered (in Japanese), “Because that’s how Japan is today. The rugby national team reflects the reality of current Japan, and also anticipates the future of Japan. As a team, we can embody and show society just how important diversity is.”
[…]
In Japan, rugby is famous for the phrase “no-side”, meaning once the referee blows the whistle to end the match, there are no more foes, only fellow players. While this phrase is no longer widely used, it has lodged itself firmly in the national consciousness of Japan. Athletes there with foreign roots are still called “players from a foreign country”. But in a country where the concept of wa is considered a fundamental virtue, there is hope that an increasingly visible “other” Japan in a changing society can lead it to being the natural state of things.

COMMENT: Here we have another one of those hopeful “Japan is changing” articles we get from time to time. BBC Reporter Okazaki clearly starts from a tack and then works backwards to find evidence to support it. But as Submitter FB pointed out quite succinctly, the article “highlights a few celebrity examples without any data on broad public attitudes or government policy towards immigration. The fact that 3rd generation ethnic Koreans aren’t citizens is the most telling fact of intransigence towards diversity.” Touche.  

So let’s just draw a line in the sand here with a clear litmus test:  At a bare minimum, until Japan’s historical aberration of “Zainichi” status is finally resolved by the Japanese government, and “generational foreigners” are legally accepted as diverse AND Japanese, Japan can never claim to be truly accepting of diversity.  Full stop.  Do that, and then we’ll start talking about how “Japan is changing” for a news peg.  For one cannot ignore the historical contributions and sacrifices of Japan’s minorities, particularly the Zainichi, no matter what cosmetic overtures one might make in public towards a few token Visible Minorities for the sake of overseas media consumption.

Positive book review of “Embedded Racism” in “Sociology of Race and Ethnicity” journal (American Sociological Association)

Review excerpt: [Embedded Racism] is a brave critique of Japanese society and its failure to look outward in its demographic and economic development. The book will, no doubt, add to a lively discussion already afoot in Japanese studies, critical race studies, and critical mixed race studies of racism in Japan.

[…] The strongest part of the book, in my view, is chapter 5, which illustrates how “Japaneseness” is enforced through legal and extralegal means. The examples of visa regimes and even exclusion from sports and other contests through educational institutions show how everyday racism leaks into larger organizational practices, often without challenge.

[…] The book is clearly written and seems to be aimed primarily at undergraduate students, as it makes an important contribution for those wishing to understand racism in Japan better, and it compiles interesting documentary legal data about the history of cases of discrimination in Japan. The book would easily suit courses that address global conceptions of race and ethnicity and how these are changing in Japan at both the micro and macro levels because of globalization.

Asahi: Japan treats 1 million foreign workers as ‘non-existent’, and shouldn’t. Another recycled hopeful article.

In the wake of my previous blog entry about a new exploitative visa system for the next generation of Nikkei workers, here’s a hand-wringing article from the Asahi about how people don’t (but really should) accept NJ as part of Japanese society.  It seems like these articles are cyclical — I remember them from a good ten years ago (for example here and here and here and here).  Fortunately, the Asahi draws the same conclusions I would. Alas, next serious economic downturn, all this will be out of the window and foreigners will be unaccepted again.  

Asahi: Foreign workers in Japan are increasingly being seen as a valuable resource amid Japan’s declining birthrate and growing elderly population. However, recent headlines in the media express concern about the influx of immigrants. “Should we accept immigrants?” one publication asked. Another worried that, “What will happen if foreigners become our bosses?” The reality is that the number of foreign workers now totals more than 1 million. Japanese are increasingly coming in contact with foreigners in their daily lives, so they are no longer an “invisible presence.” Acceptance is unavoidable

Reuters: Japan’s NJ workers reach record 1 million; but fine print overlooked, e.g., conflating “Trainees” with “Workers”

The resurgence of Japan’s import labor regime has resumed in earnest, reaching a record at least in the Postwar Era. (Remember that during WWII, Japan’s internal colonial population, as in workers imported from its colonies, was very high; people from the Korean peninsula alone in 1945 were more than two million.) Now as of 2016, the NJ worker total has hit 1 million, according to Reuters below.

There is some fine print this article should have noted. This “record one million” is of workers, not registered residents alone (which is in fact more than twice the number, at 2.23 million as of 2015), since they have dependents (i.e., spouses with non-work visas and children). But within this one million are people who are not technically “workers” (roudousha), but “Trainees” (kenkyuusei or jisshuusei), who aren’t officially protected by Japan labor laws and are exposed to all manner of abuses, including slavery.

So calling them all “workers” is misleading both in terms of terminology and legal status. Especially since, as the article does rightly note, they are making up 20% of the total, or around 200,000 unprotected NJ laborers. Now that their numbers have shot up by 25% over one year alone, we can expect that 70% of all their employers will likely expose them to labor abuses.

These are not happy statistics, and for the article to lack this degree of nuance (especially since Reuters itself has done marvelous exposes in the past, even calling “Trainee” employers “sweatshops in disguise”) is at this point an institutional memory problem.

Another problem is the article implying that there is any actual attempt to, quote, “open gates to immigrants”. Immigration (imin) has never been part of Japan’s policy calculations (and I challenge the journalists researching this article to find that exact word in any of the cited policy directives; their citing a construction company manager, in the unlikely event that he actually used the word imin, is still indicative of nothing) — only temporary stopgap laborers who will give their best working lives and then be sent home at the first economic downturn. As has happened before, most cruelly.

As much as the article might be trying to attract eyeballs by putting a superlative “record number of” in the headline (and once again sneaking in an angle of hope of actual “immigration” happening), the only change that has happened here is that more NJ are being processed by an exploitative system — one that has by design remained relatively unchanged for nearly three decades, and moreover has been expanded to exploit even more. So many misdirected angles here.

Pacific Affairs journal book review of “Embedded Racism”: “a timely and important contribution to social and scholarly debates about racial discrimination in Japan”

Opening paragraph: Arudou’s book is a timely and important contribution to social and scholarly debates about racial discrimination in Japan. It comes on the heels of both the Japanese government’s 2014 official claim that an anti-racial discrimination law is not necessary (third combined report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination [CERD]), and recent developments in Japan that have politicized the issues of dual nationality and hate speech, and even the Miss Universe Japan pageant.

Nikkei: Japan begins clearing path for foreign workers. Really? Let’s analyze the proposals.

The Economist (London) recently has had a couple of articles on immigration to and even naturalization into Japan (here and here), so it looks like PM Abe’s alleged pushes to liberalize Japan’s NJ labor market (despite these other countering trends here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) are gaining traction in the overseas media. Let’s take a representative sample of the narrative being spun by the Japanese media (in this case the Nikkei, Japan’s WSJ) for overseas consumption, and see if it holds up to scrutiny. For example:

Nikkei: The government looks to ease residency requirements for guest workers. The Justice Ministry will recognize certified foreign care workers as specialists worthy of the corresponding visa status. Japan currently admits care workers through economic partnership agreements, but those are limited to countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. The number of guest workers is expected to increase by allowing care givers who learn Japanese or professional skill sets at educational institutions to work in Japan.

Necessary legislation is to be enacted during the extraordinary Diet session this fall, with the measures taking effect next fiscal year. The government also seeks quick passage of legislation to add the care worker category to Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program, which provides support to developing nations.

COMMENT: They tried that before. Until the Indonesians and Filipinas realized they were being exploited by a revolving-door visa system that deliberately set the bar too high for passing, and decided to pass on Japan altogether. So Japan’s policymakers are moving on to the next sucker societies: Cambodia and Vietnam. Which, note, are also not kanji-literate societies; if the GOJ really wanted to get people to pass the nurse literacy test, they would get nurses from China or Chinese-diaspora countries. The fact that they won’t speaks volumes about true policy intentions. As does the final sentence, where they admit that it’s just an expansion of the”Trainee” slave-labor program, exempt from Japan’s labor laws protection.

There is nothing in this policy trial-balloon article that constitutes actual immigration, i.e., bringing in people and making them into Japanese citizens with equal protection guaranteed under the law. Until that happens, there is no discussion here worthy of headlining this as a “cleared path” for foreign workers. It’s merely more of the same exploitation of imported laborers in a weakened position by government design.

Japan Times: Japan sanctioning mass ‘slave labor’ by duping foreign trainees, observers say

Japan Times: The [Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program], however, has not been without its critics. Japan’s top ally, the U.S., has even singled it out, with the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report for years slamming the program’s “deceptive recruitment practices.” “The (Japanese) government did not prosecute or convict forced labor perpetrators despite allegations of labor trafficking in the TTIP,” it said this year, using the program’s acronym.

Past allegations include unpaid overtime work, karoshi (death from overwork), and all kinds of harassment, including company managers restricting the use of toilets or demanding sexual services. The government rejects claims the program is abusive, yet acknowledges there have been some upstream problems. “It is true that some involved in the system have exploited it, but the government has acted against that,” an immigration official said. “It is not a system of slave labor.” The official insisted it was not in authorities’ power to control the behavior of middlemen but insisted they were not allowed to charge deposit fees. “It is also banned for employers to take away trainees’ passports,” he added.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has unveiled a plan to expand the program that would allow foreign trainees to stay in Japan for five years instead of three, and says such labor will increasingly be needed, particularly in the construction boom ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Abe is also aware that the nation’s health care sector must increasingly look abroad to fill the shortage of workers. “It has been said that we will need 1 million caregivers for the elderly by 2025, which would be impossible to handle only with the Japanese population,” said Tatsumi Kenmochi, a manager at a care home near Tokyo that employs Indonesian nurses. For Kenmochi, foreign staff are a precious commodity and the sector must do as much as it can to make them feel welcome. “It must be hard to leave home and work overseas,” he said. “We make sure that they don’t get homesick, listening to them and sometimes going out to have a warm bowl of noodles with them.”

Torii of Solidarity Network With Migrants Japan said this is just the kind of attitude Japan needs to learn: “The issue is not whether we accept immigrants or not. They are already here, playing a vital role in our society.”

United Nations demands Tokyo introduce anti-discrimination law to counter hate speech (HRC report CCPR/C/JPN/CO/6 text included in full, citing “Japanese Only” signs, thanks)

Good news. The United Nations has once again reviewed Japan’s human rights record (preliminary report below), and found it wanting. Here’s the bit that has been cited in Japan’s news media (also below):
=======================
Human Rights Committee
Concluding observations (2014) CCPR/C/JPN/CO/6
ADVANCE UNEDITED VERSION
Human Rights Committee
Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Japan (excerpt)

Hate speech and racial discrimination
12. The Committee expresses concern at the widespread racist discourse against members of minority groups, such as Koreans, Chinese or Burakumin, inciting hatred and discrimination against them, and the insufficient protection granted against these acts in the criminal and civil code. The Committee also expresses concern at the high number of extremist demonstrations authorised, the harassment and violence perpetrated against minorities, including against foreign students, as well the open display in private establishments of signs such as “Japanese only” (arts. 2, 19, 20 and 27).

The State should prohibit all propaganda advocating racial superiority or hatred that incites to discrimination, hostility or violence, and should prohibit demonstrations that intended to disseminate such propaganda. The State party should also allocate sufficient resources for awareness-raising campaigns against racism and increase its efforts to ensure that judges, prosecutors and police officials are trained to be able to detect hate and racially motivated crimes. The State party should also take all necessary steps to prevent racist attacks and to ensure that the alleged perpetrators are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions.
=======================

COMMENT: Happy to see the generally-overlooked aftermath of the Otaru Onsens Case and the information on Debito.org’s Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments is still being cited. Keep the pressure on, UN. The media reaction and the UN report in full follows, and there’s lots more important stuff (including issues of “Trainee” NJ slave-wage work, Japan’s historical wartime sexual slavery, abuses of police power, and even Fukushima irradiation!)

My Japan Times JBC column 76: “Humanize the dry debate about immigration”, June 5, 2014, with links to sources

Opening: Japan’s pundits are at it again: debating what to do about the sinking demographic ship. With the low birthrate, aging and shrinking society (we dropped below 127 million this year) and top-heavy social security system, Japan’s structural problems will by many accounts spell national insolvency.

However, we’re hearing the same old sky pies: Proposals to plug the gaps with more Japanese babies, higher retirement ages, more empowered women in the workplace — even tax money thrown at matchmaking services!

And yet they still won’t work. Policymakers are working backwards from conclusions and not addressing the structural problems, e.g., that people are deserting a depopulating countryside for urban opportunities in an overly centralized governmental system, marrying later (if at all) and finding children too expensive or cumbersome for cramped living spaces, having both spouses work just to stay afloat, and feeling perpetual disappointment over a lack of control over their lives. And all thanks to a sequestered ruling political and bureaucratic elite whose basic training is in status-quo maintenance, not problem-solving for people they share nothing in common with.

Of course, proposals have resurfaced about letting in more non-Japanese (NJ) to work….

SAPIO Mag features special on Immigration to Japan: Note odd media narratives microaggressing NJ (particularly the Visible Minorities) into voiceless role

As noted in the Japan Today article cited below, SAPIO debate magazine (June 2014) devoted an issue specifically to the issue of immigration (imin) to Japan (what with the Abe Administration’s renewed plan to import 200,000 NJ per year). Good. But then SAPIO fumbles the issue with narratives that microaggress the NJ immigrant back into a position of being powerless and voiceless. First, let’s start with SAPIO’s cover. Notice anything funny? Look at the sub-headline in yellow talking about having a vigorous debate from “each world” (kyaku kai). Each? Look at the debaters pictured. See any Visible Minorities there? Nope, they’re left out of the debate once again. All we get are the typical powerful pundits (probably all Wajin, with “Papa Bear” Wajin Ishihara second in line). Where is the voice of the immigrant?

And by “immigrant”, I mean people who have immigrated to Japan as NJ and made a life here as long-term resident if not actual Permanent-Resident holder. The people who have indefinite leave to remain. The “Newcomers”, who work in Japan and work for Japan. As depicted in the picture of the labor-union demonstrators in the inset photo in the top right.

Now look at the larger photo. It’s a xenophobic public demonstration about issues between Japan and Korea (and no doubt China). That’s not a debate about immigration. It’s a hate rally airing historical grievances between Japan and it’s neighbors, gussied up as a jerry-rigged issue about “Zainichis having special privileges as NJ”. The point is that the cover does not convey the issue of “immigration in Japan” accurately. Zainichi issues dominate and suck the oxygen out of the arena.

Lastly about this photo, note how all the Wajin demonstrators have their faces blocked out in the photo. Clearly Wajin have privacies to protect. Not so the NJ protesting in the photo inset. Hence NJ once again have fewer rights to privacy in the Japanese media. Just like this photo from the racist Gaijin Hanzai Magazine of yore (remember that?). Comparative powerlessness in visual form. Now let’s look at some arguments within the magazine itself:

Suraj Case: Tokyo District Court finds “illegal” excessive force, orders GOJ restitution to family of NJ killed during deportation (contrast with UK case)

Some moderately good news also came down the pipeline a few days ago, when the Suraj Case of police brutality and death in detention was drawn to a conclusion in Civil Court. The Tokyo District Court faulted the GOJ with “illegal” excessive force, and doled out restitution of a paltry sum of about USD $50,000 for a man’s life. Hokay. For many (unless there is an appeal), that means case closed.

It’s good that somebody was found fault with. Up until now, Japan’s Immigration Bureau got away with a clear case of cold-blooded murder of a NJ being manhandled by overzealous authorities. However, this was a decision that took place in CIVIL Court, not Criminal, meaning no criminal penalty has been applied to Suraj’s killers.

Contrast this with a very similar murder that just came down in the UK: The Mubenga Case. Same time line (an excruciatingly slow four years), same class of human being as far as the developed countries see it (a dark African man from Ghana/Angola), and same killing while in official custody. Except in the UK case, you get arrests, a charge of manslaughter, and killers’ names made public. In other words, the System in the latter case is less likely to protect individuals for their excesses, which is the much better deterrent for them to do this brutal act again. Thus we’re more likely to see Surajs happen than Mubengas, since Japan’s criminal prosecutors decided not to pursue Suraj’s case. And so the Suraj Case remains Japan’s shame, and should be a deterrent for future immigrants to come to Japan: In Japan’s overall criminal system of “hostage justice”, an overstayed visa may become a capital offense.

My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column January 7, 2014: “The empire strikes back: The top issues for NJ in 2013”, with links to sources

Happy New Year to all Debito.org Readers. Thank you as always for reading and commenting. 2014 has a few things looming that will affect life for everyone (not just NJ) in Japan, as I allude to in my Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column of January 7, 2014:

“The empire strikes back: The top issues for NJ in 2013″
By ARUDOU, Debito, Column 71 for the Japan Times Community Pages

Welcome to JBC’s annual countdown of 2013’s top human rights events as they affected non-Japanese (NJ) in Japan. This year was more complex, as issues that once targeted NJ in specific now affect everyone in general. But here are six major events and five “bubble-unders” for your consideration:

6. Fukushima is complicated by xenophobia
5. Japan to adopt Hague treaty
4. Visa regimes get a rethink
3. Hate speech turns murderous
2. LDP holds both Diet chambers
1. The state secrets law

Bubbling under:
11. Marutei Tsurunen, Japan’s first foreign-born Diet member of European descent, loses his seat.
10. Donald Richie, one of the last of the first postwar generation of NJ commentators on Japan, dies aged 88.
9. Beate Sirota Gordon, one of the last living architects of the liberalizing reforms within the postwar Japanese Constitution, dies at 89.
8. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto takes a revisionist stance on Japanese history regarding the wartime sex-slave issue and reveals his camp’s political vulnerability.
7. Tokyo wins the 2020 Olympics, strengthening the mandate of Japan’s ruling class and vested construction interests

My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Col 70, Dec. 4, 2013: “In Japan, no escape from The Eye’s perpetual policing glare”

JT: Hey, all you residents heading abroad for the holidays, here’s a little experiment to try on yourself: When you return to Japan, take note of an interesting phenomenon that starts just as you deplane and plug back into Japanese society.

You’ll feel a palpable and intractable pressure — a pressure to conform to The Order, that standardized way of doing things in Japan. You can use it to get what you want, or you can defy it and feel the burn of its stare.

I call this pressure The Eye.

Of course, you can find The Eye in all societies. Also known as the “evil eye” or “hairy eyeball,” it’s a glare you get when you’re doing something the crowd doesn’t like. Humans as a species have an innate sensitivity to the feeling of being watched. Perhaps it’s a primal instinct to keep us in formation and out of trouble.

But The Eye in Japan is so powerful that it doesn’t need a crowd…

Tokyo Metro Govt issues manual for J employers hiring NJ employees: Lose the “Staring Big Brother” stickers, please!

Debito.org Reader JF found this sticker up in Ikebukuro a few weeks ago. Issued by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Youth and Safety Policy Division, it says that the employer of this establishment will not hire illegal foreign workers. The slogan above says, “Office declaring its promotion of the proper employment of foreigners”, complete with The Staring Eyes of Big Brother that probe all souls for criminal intent, sorta thing. Like this one snapped in Tamagawa last September:

JF comments: “I sort of see what they are trying to say with it, but I still think this sticker is bad style and puts all of us in a bad light. Suggesting yet again that many foreigners work illegally, while the actual percentage is probably tiny.”

It is, the number of so-called “illegal foreigners” long since peaking in 1993 and continuing to drop, despite police propaganda notices claiming the contrary (see for example here and here). JF did a bit more searching about the origin of the stickers, and discovered a downloadable manual directed at employers about how to hire foreign workers legally. Here’s the cover. Entitled “Gaikokujin Roudousha Koyou Manyuaru” (Hiring Manual for Foreign Workers), you can download it from Debito.org at http://www.debito.org/TokyotoGaikokujinHiringManual2013.pdf. Synopsis of the Manual follows…

Come back Brazilian Nikkei, all is forgiven!, in a policy U-turn after GOJ Repatriation Bribes of 2009

In an apparent policy U-turn, the GOJ decided last week to lift the ban on certain South Americans of Japanese descent (Nikkei) from re-entering Japan. This after bribing them to leave in 2009 so that they would not become an inconvenient unemployment statistic (not to mention that it was cheaper to pay their airfare than to pay them their social welfare that they had invested in over the decades, or pay them their pensions in future when reaching retirement age).

The reasons for this U-turn are being discussed in a recent Japan Times article, excerpted below. The article speculates that a couple of embarrassing lawsuits and visa-denials might have tipped the GOJ’s hand (I for one doubt it; Japan’s visa regimes, as can be seen for example in its perennial stance towards refugees, are generally impervious to public exposure and international pressure). I believe it was more an issue of the GOJ facing reality (as happened more than one year ago at the highest policymaking levels, where even the GOJ still maintained the stance that if immigration was an inevitability, they had better bring back people with Japanese blood; after all, the only ones in attendance were all Wajin and one token Nikkei).

Debito.org has spoken out quite hot-tonguedly about how ludicrous the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe was, not the least because of its inherently racialized paradigms (because they only applied to Nikkei — people who were also in even more dire financial straits due to the economic downturn, such as the Chinese and Muslim factory workers laboring in conditions of indentured servitude, were left to fend for themselves because they lacked the requisite Japanese blood).

So as a matter of course Debito.org cheers for the lifting of the ban. But the Bribe and the Ban should never have happened in the first place. So the GOJ can also take its lumps even if they are ultimately making the right decision.

Does this mean that the numbers of registered NJ residents of Japan will start to increase again? I will say it could happen. I stress: could, not will happen. But if it did, that statistic, not any asset bubbles and transient stock-market numbers that people keep championing as the putative fruits of “Abenomics”, will be the real indicator of Japan’s recovery. That is to say, if Japan ever regains its sheen as an attractive place to work for international labor, then an increase in Japan’s NJ population will cause and signal a true leavening of Japan’s economic clout and prowess. But I remain skeptical at this juncture — as I’ve said before, the jig is up, and outsiders generally know that Japan has no intention or enforceable laws to treat immigrants as equals, no matter how much of their lives and taxes they invest.

At this time, I believe international migrant labor will continue to vote with their feet and work elsewhere. So good luck with significant numbers coming to Japan even with this ban lifted.

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Col 62, Apr 2, 2013: “Tweak the immigration debate and demand an upgrade to denizen class”

Crucial to any public discussion is defining the terms of debate. However, often those terms must be redefined later because they don’t reflect reality.

One example is Japan’s concept of “foreigner,” because the related terminology is confusing and provides pretenses for exclusionism.

In terms of strict legal status, if you’re not a citizen you’re a “foreigner” (gaikokujin), right? But not all gaikokujin are the same in terms of acculturation or length of stay in Japan. A tourist “fresh off the boat” has little in common with a noncitizen with a Japanese family, property and permanent residency. Yet into the gaikokujin box they all go.

The lack of terms that properly differentiate or allow for upgrades has negative consequences. A long-termer frequently gets depicted in public discourse as a sojourner, not “at home” in Japan.

Granted, there are specialized terms for visa statuses, such as eijuusha (permanent resident) and tokubetsu eijuusha (special permanent resident, for the Zainichi Korean and Chinese generational “foreigners”). But they rarely appear in common parlance, since the public is generally unaware of visa regimes (many people don’t even know foreigners must carry “gaijin cards”!).

Public debate about Japan’s foreign population must take into account their degree of assimilation. So this column will try to popularize a concept introduced in the 1990s that remains mired in migration studies jargon: denizen…

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 59: The year for NJ in 2012: a Top 10

Debito’s Top Ten human rights issues in Japan for NJ residents in 2012:
10. DONALD KEENE’S NATURALIZATION
9. OSAKA CITY DEFUNDS LIBERTY OSAKA
8. COURTS RULE THAT MIXED-BLOOD CHILDREN MAY NOT BE “JAPANESE”
7. DIET DOES NOT PASS HAGUE CONVENTION
6. GOVERNMENT CONVENES MEETINGS ON IMMIGRATION
5. MAINALI CASE VICTORY, SURAJ CASE DEFEAT
4. JAPAN’S VISA REGIMES CLOSE THEIR LOOP
3. NEW NJ REGISTRY SYSTEM
2. POST-FUKUSHIMA JAPAN IS IRREDEEMABLY BROKEN
1. JAPAN’S RIGHTWARD SWING
Links to sources included

Japan now a place to avoid for international labor migration? NHK: Even Burmese refugees refusing GOJ invitations, electing to stay in Thai refugee camp!

In this time of unprecedented migration of labor across borders (click to see some international labor migration stats from the ILO and the OECD), I think increasingly one can make a strong case that Japan is being seen as a place to avoid. As I will be mentioning in my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column (out January 1, 2013), as part of my annual countdown of the Top Ten most influential human rights issues in 2012 affecting NJ in Japan, Japan’s “revolving-door” visa regimes (which suck the most productive work years out of NJ while giving them fewer (or no) labor law protections, and no stake in Japanese society — see here and here), people who are even guaranteed a slot in Japan’s most difficult visa status — refugees (see also here) — are turning the GOJ down! They’d rather stay in a Thai refugee camp than emigrate to Japan. And for reasons that are based upon word-of-mouth.

That’s what I mean — word is getting around, and no amount of faffing about with meetings on “let’s figure out how We Japanese should ‘co-exist’ with foreigners” at the Cabinet level is going to quickly undo that reputation.

Immediately below is the article I’m referring to. Below that I offer a tangent, as to why Burmese in particular get such a sweetheart deal of guaranteed GOJ refugee slots. According to media, “From 1982 to 2004, Japan accepted only 313 refugees, less than 10 per cent of those who applied. Even after its rules were slightly liberalized in 2004, it allowed only 46 refugees in the following year. Last year it accepted only 34 of the 954 applicants. Those numbers are tiny in comparison with Canada, which accepted more than 42,000 refugees last year, despite having a much smaller population than Japan. But they are also tiny in comparison to European countries such as France and Italy. On a per capita basis, Japan’s rate of accepting refugees is 139th in the world, according to the United Nations.” This means that Burmese make up between a third to a half of all refugees accepted! Why? As a holiday tangent, consider the elite-level intrigue of a wartime connection between the Japanese Imperial Army and SLORC…

Discussion: JDG, Harumi Befu et al. on the end of Japan’s internationalization and swing towards remilitarization

There’s a case that can be made nowadays that Japan is not only in decline, it’s falling back on jingoism (beyond the standard nihonjinron and historical revisionism) to support the image of a Japan that was once better when it had fewer foreigners (or none, which was historically never the case). As my current research (more on this in future) has sought to demonstrate, Japan’s (Postwar, not Prewar, cf. Oguma Eiji) national narrative of “monoculturalism, monoethnicity, and homogeneity” has sponsored an ideological ethnic cleansing of Japan, thanks in part to revolving-door visa regimes and all manner of incentives to make sure that few “visibly foreign” foreigners stay here forever (hence the prioritizing of the Nikkei) for they agitate for more rights as generational residents (consider the visas that can be cancelled or phased out pretty much at government whim; we’ve seen it before with, for example, the Iranians in the late 1990s). And if you ever thought “the next generation of younger Japanese will be more liberal”, we now have Osaka Gov Hashimoro Touru (younger than I) also supporting historical revisionism (see below) and forming the “Japan Restoration Party” (the poignantly and ominously named Nihon Ishin no Kai) on September 12, 2012. With the recent saber-rattling (which nation-states indulge in periodically to draw public attention away from larger social problems, in Japan’s case the issues of nuclear power and the irradiating food chain) and the overblown flaps over the Takeshima/Tokdo and Senkaku/Diaoyu ocean specks, we have an emerging vision of Japan as a remilitarized power in Asia, courtesy of Debito.org Reader JDG. I thought we’d have a discussion about that here. Take a look through the resource materials below and consider whether or not you share the apprehension that I (and some major academics overseas, including Ted Bestor and Harumi Befu, at the very bottom) have about Japan’s future.

Kyodo: “Foreign caregiver program faces tightening”: Death knell of program as J media finds ways to blame the gaijin?

Let’s have a look at what’s becoming of Japan’s latest “revolving door” labor visa regime scam (after the “Trainees”, the “Nikkei Returnees”, and the “Points System”): the “foreign caregivers”, which has ground to a halt due to the (otherwise fully-qualified) NJ health professionals themselves realizing that the systematic barriers were creating an exploitative regime. So now according to Kyodo News it looks like it’s being scaled back. But not without kicking someone in the ribs first. As submitter JDG notes:

“The foreign caregiver program was launched because there was a realization that the looming shortage of caregivers to meet Japan’s aging population had already arrived. However, as you have documented, from it’s inception it has been riddled with unrealistic expectations, low pay, harsh conditions, few incentives, and subject to some strange accounting.

“Well, here is the logical conclusion: foreign caregivers are ‘gaijin criminals taking advantage of the system’. Rather than examining what is wrong with the system, the (of course) natural response by officials is to make the program even tougher to live with for caregivers. Only a Kyoto University Prof. seems to have any sense about him. I would say that this development will mark the end (in real terms) of the program. Of course, it’s all the NJ’s fault…”

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 53 July 3, 2012: “In formulating immigration policy, no seat at the table for NJ”

My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 53 dated July 3, 2012, is on the Japanese Government’s renewed policy debate on creating conditions conducive to immigration (without actually portraying it in any way as “immigration” (imin), just more NJ residents). It’s their attempt to address Japan’s demographic and probable economic nosedive despite their assiduous efforts over the decades to a) exploit NJ as temporary workers on a revolving-door labor visa regime, b) blame NJ for all manner of social ills, including foreign crime and desertion, and in the process c) poison the public debate arena for productive discussion about ever treating NJ well enough that they might want to actually stay (since the past three years have seen the NJ population continuously dropping, after 48 years of unbroken rise). The writing’s on the wall, and the GOJ is finally doing something constructive. But (as usual) the bureaucracy is controlling the agenda, and the typical blind spots are coming into play, so as things stand now I think the policy drive will be ineffective. Have a read and a think.

Commemorating the Japan Times Community Page’s 10th Anniversary, a brief column by Arudou Debito, May 8, 2012

As the very popular and quite influential Community Page at the Japan Times celebrated its 10th Anniversary this week, I was asked (along with their former editor and best reporter) to say a few words as their featured columnist (now for four years plus). Here’s what I said. There are links to other celebratory articles below that. Enjoy, and congrats Community Page. You’re doing great things. Thanks for being there for our writings, and for us.

ZG: Having been an infrequent contributor to other publications, I was impressed by the comparative professionalism at The Japan Times: I was never forced to toe any editorial line by the Community Page (unlike, say, the vanity projects that pass for English-language newspapers at the Asahi and Yomiuri, who tend to take criticism of Japan in English by NJ authors as a personal affront). It was also nice that the JT paid its contributors the amount as promised promptly, something relatively rare in this business.

Honesty has served the Community Page well. Over the past decade, we have had hundreds of contributors writing exposes on subjects few other domestic outlets would touch, including unequal hiring practices due to nationality, the merits of unionization, international divorces from the studiously ignored NJ partner’s perspective, the Japanese judiciary’s systematic discrimination against claimants based on race or social origin, the biased treatment of NJ crime by police and the media, public policies and government statements that latently and blatantly disenfranchise whole peoples in Japan, one’s rights under the law and revised visa regimes, and even new takes on the perennial debate over the epithet “gaijin.”

Where else in our domestic media could this motley collection of journalists, scholars, pundits, activists and general malcontents consistently splash their views across a page (now two) every Tuesday — and have their presence permanently recorded in this country’s best online archive of English articles on Japan?

For that matter, where else in Japan’s media does anyone even acknowledge that there is a “community” of NJ in Japan, or offer authoritative information specifically for the benefit of this community? Only here.

Yomiuri: J population falls record 259,000 in 2011 (as does NJ pop.); Keidanren think tank sees ROK surpassing J GDP by 2030

Here are two sobering articles regarding Japan’s unsustainability. The first indicates that Japan’s population decrease is, as predicted, accelerating, dropping by a record quarter-million in 2011 alone. Now, let’s acknowledge the caveats: This may be a blip due to the horrendous year that 2011 was for Japan. However, the death toll from the triple disasters is only estimated (highball) at around 20,000, less than a tenth of the overall fall in Japanese population. Moreover, if people say that this is due to people fleeing the country (meaning they’ll come back when the coast is clear, i.e., the fall is but temporary), okay, but then, I can’t help but point out, it’s clear the preponderance of the “flyjin” phenomenon is, once again, not due to NJ fleeing. So I’m not so sure that “fleeing” is the cause either. I’ll just chalk this development as more evidence of Japan’s unsustainability without immigration.

The second article is, I believe, more alarmist and latently jingoistic — appealing to nationalism to get Japan to pull its socks up. A think tank affiliated with Keidanren (and we know how influential they are in the public policy realm — through them we got our new NJ cheap labor visa regimes from 1990 onwards) is saying that, horrors, Japan will not only drop in the world rankings (which we’ve anticipated for quite a while now due to demographics), THEY’LL FALL BEHIND SOUTH KOREA!! Why South Korea (as opposed to, say, Spain)? Because that would be a blow to national pride — a former colony and perpetual rival that we’ve always felt superior to (and who can apparently only use but the simplest cameras) shaming us in the world economy rankings!

Whether or not these predictions come true is irrelevant (after all, as Debito.org Reader Charuzu has pointed out in comments elsewhere, if and when the ROK and the DPRK reunify the costs will be horrendous) — if you don’t want this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and have the Koreans lord it over us, DO SOMETHING!!, is basically the underlying call. After all, we’ve had warnings for well over a decade now that Japan’s population is going to fall and cause economic stagnation, and that didn’t change public policy all that much. It seems that only appeals to nationalism (and this time, targeting foreigners outside Japan, not within, as the latter strategy merely eliminated NJ labor and immigration as a possible solution), not appeals to logic, will pull Japan out of an economic nosedive.

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 50, April 3, 2012: Donald Keene should engage brain before fueling ‘flyjin,’ foreign crime myths

JBC: The point is, Keene has made his life one of careful, disciplined research, and he should have tapped this wealth of knowledge and reactivated his critical faculties before shooting off his mouth like this.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not to impugn Keene’s life choices — he can live where he likes and take out whatever citizenship he desires. But he should not be denigrating other people’s complex and personal life decisions (many made with careers to consider and families in tow) based upon flawed paradigms about NJ — paradigms fabricated by a sensationalist media and grounded in a discourse of prejudice and hypocrisy.

If he does, he should be called out on it like anyone else. And in that spirit, let’s consider a few inconsistencies:

Keene has said that he wants to live out his remaining years in Japan out of respect to the “resilient spirit of the Japanese people in a traumatic situation.” However, Kyodo reported on March 9 that this move was “partly because travel (between his homes in America and Japan) had become physically demanding.” At his advanced age, that’s understandable. But why so much public self-hugging for naturalizing?

Moreover, what sort of support in “solidarity” for the Tohoku victims will Keene be involved in? The Yomiuri on March 9 notes that this month he’s traveling by ship to India and Africa for vacation. As soon as he gets back, he said, “I’ll continue to work more diligently in a suitably Japanese way. I also want to contribute to areas affected by the disaster.”

Like how? Collecting and driving supplies up to Fukushima? Volunteering to help out at gymnasiums sheltering displaced people? Organizing international fund drives? Moving rubble around, as so many NJ residents who did not “flee Japan” have already done?

Here’s one thing Keene could do: Publicly retract his denigrating statements with apologies, and acknowledge the good that NJ have done for Japan all along — working here for decades, paying taxes, raising families, and living lives that fly in the face of the hegemonic yet unquestioned discourse that “NJ disrupt Japanese society.”

Yomiuri: Language hurdle trips up Indonesian nurses in 4-year-old GOJ EPA program, and they’re leaving. By design, methinks.

Speaking of GOJ visa statuses with high to insurmountable hurdles, here’s how the years-long (started in 2008) bilateral program to bring over nurses from The Philippines and Indonesia to work in Japan’s medical system is doing: As predicted. Precisely due to “language barriers”, NJ are being relegated to lower-skilled labor and then sent home (or else, as you can also see below, going home by themselves after having enough of it all). Again, this is the point of Japan’s visa regimes — make sure migrants never become immigrants, siphon off the best working years of their lives, send them back for whatever excuse or shortcoming you can come up with, then bring in a new batch of dupes filled with false hopes. That way you keep the revolving-door labor market revolving, and never let NJ settle down here and get their due for their tax and pension payments. How nice. But as I’ve written before, it’s been the perpetual SOP for the GOJ.

Yomiuri: More than half of 104 Indonesian nurses who came to Japan in 2008 through a bilateral economic partnership agreement to obtain nursing licenses have returned home, due mainly to difficulties meeting Japanese language requirements, it has been learned.

Through the EPA program, Indonesian nurses have been allowed to work in Japanese hospitals for three years as assistant nurses who take care of inpatients. They are all licensed nurses in Indonesia. The program requires they pass an annual national nursing certification test during their three-year stay.

However, only 15 of the first group of 104 nurses who came to Japan from Indonesia passed the national exam. Among the 89 who failed the exam, 27 were granted special permission to extend their stay if they wished to because they managed to score a certain number of points on the previous exam. These nurses will take the national exam again in February.

The remaining 62 returned to Indonesia by the end of August, though they were still eligible to take the national exam. Only four of them will return to Japan to take the February exam, meaning the remaining 58 have likely given up working in Japan.

My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 47: 2011’s Top 10 Human Rights Issues affecting NJ in Japan

Here’s my fourth annual round-up of the top 10 human rights events that affected Japan’s NJ residents last year. Concluding paragraphs:

Generations under Japan’s control-freak “nanny state” have accustomed people to being told what to do. Yet now the public has been deserted, with neither reliable instructions nor the organization to demand them.

Nothing, short of a major revolution in critical thinking and public action (this time — for the first time — from the bottom up), will change Japan’s destructive system of administration by unaccountable elites.

2011 was the year the world realized Japan has peaked. Its aging and increasingly-conservative public is trapped in a downward spiral of economic stagnation and inept governance. It is further burdened by an ingrained mistrust of the outsider (JBC Oct. 7, 2008) as well as by blind faith in a mythology of uniqueness, powerlessness as a virtue, and perpetual victimhood.

Japan has lost its attractiveness as a place for newcomers to live and settle, since they may be outright blamed for Japan’s troubles if not ostracized for daring to fix them. Now, thanks to the continuous slow-burn disaster of Fukushima, anyone (who bothers to listen anymore) can now hear the doors of Japan’s historically-cyclical insularity slowly creaking shut.

Quoted in Asia Weekly: “Falling birthrate, rising life expectancy afflict Japan”

China Daily/Asia Weekly: An obvious concern is whether fewer tax-paying workers will be able to support more benefit-claiming retirees. Japan’s healthy personal savings may help in that regard. A more human question is, “Who will provide the daily care the elderly require?”…

In 2010, of the 257 Filipinos who took the [qualifying exam to become a healthcare worker in Japan], only one passed. The success rate for Filipinos and Indonesians over the first two years of the program was also less than 1 percent, prompting some to regard the exam as a contrivance designed to restrict foreign professionals’ period of stay.

“Japan has long maintained a tacit revolving-door policy for migrant labor,” says Arudou Debito, a naturalized- Japanese human-rights activist and researcher on internationalization.

“The Japanese government imports cheap young workers during their most productive labor years, but under short-term work visa regimes to ensure they don’t settle here. In that sense, what is happening to the caregivers and nurses is completely within character.”

AP: Japan population shrinks by record numbers in 2010. NYT: Its workers aging, Japan turns away immigrants.

AP: Japan’s population fell by a record amount last year as the number of deaths climbed to an all-time high in the quickly aging country, the government said Saturday.

Japan faces a looming demographic squeeze. Baby boomers are moving toward retirement, with fewer workers and taxpayers to replace them. The Japanese boast among the highest life expectancies in the world but have extremely low birth rates.

Japan logged 1.19 million deaths in 2010 — the biggest number since 1947 when the health ministry’s annual records began. The number of births was nearly flat at 1.07 million.

As a result, Japan contracted by 123,000 people, which was the most ever and represents the fourth consecutive year of population decline. The top causes of death were cancer, heart disease and stroke, the ministry said…

Saturday’s report showed 706,000 marriages registered last year — the fewest since 1954 and a sign that birth rates are unlikely to jump dramatically anytime soon.

NYT: Despite facing an imminent labor shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact, as Ms. Fransiska and many others have discovered, the government is doing the opposite, actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups — in the case of Ms. Fransiska, a local nursing association afraid that an influx of foreign nurses would lower industry salaries.

In 2009, the number of registered foreigners here fell for the first time since the government started to track annual records almost a half-century ago, shrinking 1.4 percent from a year earlier to 2.19 million people — or just 1.71 percent of Japan’s overall population of 127.5 million.

Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan’s two decades of lethargic economic growth. Instead of accepting young workers, however — and along with them, fresh ideas — Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country’s economic growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system…

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Oct 5 2010: “Census blind to Japan’s true diversity”

Japan Times: The official reason I keep getting from the Census Bureau is that this is a privacy issue. Asking people for their ethnic backgrounds is apparently too personal.

So you’re saying other questions on the census, such as household income, are not? Our personal information, according to your flash website, is properly protected anyway, right? If privacy is a concern, why does Japan have such an intrusive, even door-to-door, census at all?

Again, the government says it is for the creation of good policy in Japan. Which means, by extension, that matters of diversity and ethnicity are not part of good policymaking?

Sure, it’s nice to believe that by not making an issue of one’s roots, naturalized and multiethnic Japanese are officially treated the same as any other Japanese. But invisibility and accuracy are two different things. If accuracy is what the census is aiming for, it would be better to acknowledge that people of a wide range of ethnicities hold Japanese nationality.

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column Aug 3 2010: “The victim complex and Kim’s killer con”

It’s fascinating whenever someone cons people out of pots of money — doubly so when someone cons a whole government. Take, for example, Japan’s biggest news story two weeks ago: Kim Hyon Hui’s four-day visit to Japan.

You might recall that in 1987 this North Korean spy, traveling on a fake Japanese passport, blew up a South Korean commercial airliner, killing 115 passengers.

Last July 20, however, this agent of international terrorism was allowed into Japan for a reception worthy of a state guest. Bypassing standard immigration procedures, Kim had her entry visa personally approved by our justice minister, boarded a chartered flight that cost Japan’s taxpayers ¥10 million, and was whisked by helicopter to former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s private dacha to eat with political elites.

Then, flanked by a phalanx of 100 cops (who made sure nobody raised any uncomfortable questions), Kim got to meet the parents of Megumi Yokota, the cause celebre of North Korean kidnappings of innocent Japanese citizens decades ago. Next, at her request, Kim boarded another helicopter (at around ¥800,000 an hour) for an aerial tour of Mount Fuji. As a parting gift, she got an undisclosed amount of “additional remuneration.” Sweet.

And what did Japan get? Kim said she had information for the Yokotas about their missing daughter and other Japanese abductees who trained her to be a multilingual spy — even though, way back when, she said she had never met Megumi. So suddenly Kim has a quarter-century-old brain fart and gets the red carpet?

The Megumi Yokota tragedy has for the past decade been a political football in Japanese politics, a means for Japan as a whole to claim victimhood status…

Japan Times & Kyodo: Foreign “trainees” dying at rate of two to three a month, takes two years for one to be declared “from overwork” (karoushi), more than a quarter from “unknown causes”

Kyodo: Twenty-seven foreign nationals who came to Japan for employment under a government-authorized training program died in fiscal 2009, the second worst figure on record, government officials said Monday. The number was the second largest, following the 35 foreign nationals who died in fiscal 2008. This could trigger moves toward revising the government program, first launched in 1993, as a number of irregular practices have recently been observed, such as having foreign trainees work for long hours with below-minimum wages.

Separate Kyodo: A labor office in Ibaraki Prefecture will acknowledge that a Chinese national working as an intern at a local firm under a government-authorized training program died from overwork in 2008, marking the first foreign trainee “karoshi” death from overwork, sources said Friday….

COMMENTS: Taste the ironies in these articles. First, how in 2009, the death of 27 “Trainees” (i.e. people brought over by the GOJ who as people allegedly “in occupational training” don’t qualify as “workers” (roudousha) entitled to labor law protections) is only the SECOND worst figure on record. Second, how we have close to a third (as in eight NJ) of the total dying of “unknown causes” (as if that’s a sufficient explanation; don’t they have autopsies in Japan to fix that? Oh wait, not always.) Third, how about the stunning ignorance of the sentence, “a number of irregular practices have recently been observed, such as having foreign trainees work for long hours with below-minimum wages”. If the Kyodo reporter had bothered to do research of his media databases, he’d realize it’s hardly “recent” at all. And it’s not being fixed, despite official condemnation in 2006 of the visa regime as “a swindle” and death after death (at a rate two to three per month) racking up. Karoushi was a big media event way back when when Japanese were dying of it. Less so it seems when NJ are croaking from it. Finally, look how it only took about two years for “a labor office” to admit that a NJ “trainee” had been worked to death, given the hours he worked that were a part of the record? Gee whiz, what Sherlocking! How many more people have to die before this exploitative and even deadly system is done away with?

SMJ/NGO combined report for UN CERD Committee regarding Japan’s human rights record

The Government of Japan comes under review this month in Geneva by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I was invited to submit a chapter for a report to the UN by the NGO Solidarity with Migrants Japan (SMJ) on how Japan is doing with enforcing it.

NGO Report Regarding the Rights of Non-Japanese Nationals, Minorities of Foreign Origins, and Refugees in Japan.

Prepared for the 76th United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Session February 2010
Compiled and published by: Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ)

CHAPTER 2 Race and Nationality-based Entrance Refusals at Private and Quasi-Public Establishments By Debito Arudou. Page 7

As I conclude:

“In conclusion, the situation is that in Japan, racial discrimination remains unconstitutional and unlawful under the ICERD, yet not illegal. Japan has had more than a decade since 1996 to pass a criminal law against RD. Its failure to do so can only be interpreted as a clear violation of ICERD Article 2(1): “States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay [emphasis added] a policy of eliminating racial discrimination.” We urge the Committee to make the appropriate advisements to the Japanese government to pass a law against racial discrimination without any further delay.”

Enjoy. Let’s see how the UN and GOJ respond. Here’s how the GOJ responded in 2008 — read and guffaw at their claim that they have taken “every conceivable measure to fight against racial discrimination”.

THE OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT, TEN YEARS ON: Article for Japonesia Review

Today is the tenth anniversary of our visit, on September 19, 1999, to “Japanese Only” Yunohana Onsen et al in Otaru, a life-changing event that to this day has not been fully resolved — mainly because we still don’t have a law against racial discrimination in Japan. This situation remains more than 13 years after Japan effecting of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, where it promised to take “all measures, including legislation” to effectively eliminate all forms of RD. And it deserves comment and reflection after years of protests, two books, countless articles, and successful lawsuits against the onsen (albeit not against the negligent City of Otaru).

My thoughts on this day are bittersweet. I know we did the right thing (as Olaf noted, when I called him today, people are still talking about the case), and we had a good outcome in court. But I judge things like this based upon whether or not they could ever happen again. The answer is, unfortunately, yes. After all, all Yunohana Onsen has to do is put up another “Japanese Only” sign and we’d have to take them to court all over again just to get it down. There is no law to stop it, nothing for authorities to enforce. Ten years later, it feels more overdue now than in 1999.

TITLE: THE OTARU ONSENS LAWSUIT: TEN YEARS ON

What has and has not changed regarding human rights for Non-Japanese in Japan…

San Francisco Chronicle on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” campaign, and similar ethnically-insensitive sales campaigns overseas

SF Chronicle: “What’s the matter [with this depiction]? Put the shoe on the other foot,” wrote foreigner-rights advocate Debito Arudou (nee David Ardwinckle) [sic] in a column for The Japan Times. “Imagine McDonald’s, a multinational that has long promoted cultural diversity, launching a McAsia menu in America, featuring a deep-bowing, grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying, ‘Me likee McFlied Lice!’ or, ‘So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?'”

McHatin’ It

Of course, in the past, McDonald’s has essentially done just that. During last year’s Olympics, it unveiled a commercial featuring two Chinese kids engaged in high-flying wire-fu combat in an ancient temple, dueling it out with fists and feet and chopsticks over the last McNugget in the pack.

Seeing that ad brought back memories of McDonald’s limited-edition “Shanghai” Chicken McNuggets, which briefly appeared on menus back in 1986. Served in a red takeout box stamped with cartoon-Chinese lettering, they came with a fortune cookie, chopsticks and three absurdly non-Shanghainese dippings: “duck sauce,” hot mustard and … teriyaki sauce.

Worst of all, to complete the pseudo-Sino experience, the chain’s employees were forced to wear conical McCoolie hats — a bit of irony given their minimum-wage status — while commercials ended with mascot-clown Ronald McDonald throwing a karate chop to faux Asian music.

Lame, ignorant campaigns like this one may seem innocuous. But they give people license to mock and exclude people based on racial or cultural difference, which in turn can lead down a slippery slope to more troubling outcomes…

Revamped article on the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe

How has a government policy for a developed country disintegrated into something so ludicrous, where even officially sanctioned exclusionism has a hierarchy?…

Put bluntly, the policy is: train one percent (5,000) to stay; bribe the rest to go and become some other country’s problem. In fact, the government stands to save a great deal of money by paying the nikkei a pittance in plane fares and repatriation fees, while keeping their many years of pension contributions (usually about 15% of monthly salary). By using this economic sleight-of hand, offering desperate people short-term cash if they foresake their long-term investments, this anti-assimilation policy becomes profitable for the government, while beggaring foreigners’ retirements…

This is what happens when people are brought into a country by official government policy, yet for unofficial purposes at odds with official pledges. Japan has no immigration policy. It then becomes awkward for the government to make official pronouncements on how the new workforce is contributing to the economy, or why it should be allowed to stay. So the workforce remains in societal limbo. Then when things go wrong — in this case a tectonic macroeconomic shift — and the policy fails, it is the foreigners, not the government, who bear the brunt.

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE: Apr 7 2009: ‘Golden parachutes’ for Nikkei only mark failure of race-based policy

Japan Times: Under an emergency measure drawn up by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party only last month, from April 1 the Japanese government is offering nikkei — i.e. workers of Japanese descent on “long-term resident” visas — a repatriation bribe. Applicants get ¥300,000, plus ¥200,000 for each family dependent, if they “return to their own country,” and bonuses if they go back sooner…

Let this scheme sink in for a minute. We now have close to half a million nikkei living here, some of whom have been here up to 20 years, paying in their taxes and social security. They worked long hours at low wages to keep our factories competitive in the world economy. Although these policies have doubled Japan’s foreign population since 1990, few foreigners have been assimilated. Now that markets have soured, foreigners are the first to be laid off, and their unassimilated status has made them unmarketable in the government’s eyes. So now policy has become, “Train 1 percent (5,000) to stay, bribe the rest to be gone and become some other country’s problem.”

Sound a bit odd? Now consider this: This scheme only applies to nikkei, not to other non-Japanese workers also here at Japan’s invitation. Thus it’s the ultimate failure of a “returnee visa” regime founded upon racist paradigms.

Japan Times ZEIT GIST Mar 24, 2009: “Punishing Foreigners, Exonerating Japanese”

Excerpt: Examine any justice system and patterns emerge. For example, consider how Japan’s policing system treats non-Japanese. ZEIT GIST has discussed numerous times (Jul. 8 2008, Feb. 20 and Nov. 13 2007, May 24 2005, Jan. 13 2004, Oct. 7 2003) how police target and racially profile foreigners under anti-crime and anti-terrorism campaigns.

But the bias goes beyond cops and into criminal prosecution, with Japanese courts treating suspects differently according to nationality. We’ve already discussed how judges discount testimony from foreigners (ZG Aug. 14 2007), but here’s the emerging pattern: If you are a Japanese committing a crime towards a non-Japanese, you tend to get off lightly. Vice versa and you “haven’t a Chinaman’s chance,” as it were…

Documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES Japan Roadshow Feb and March 2009. Contact Debito for a screening.

DOCUMENTARY “SOUR STRAWBERRIES”
“JAPAN’S HIDDEN GUEST WORKERS”
NATIONWIDE ROADSHOW FEBRUARY AND MARCH 2009
MAR 20-31 DEBITO ON TOUR, STOP BY YOUR AREA AND SCREEN?

So far, I will be screening and speaking on the film at the following dates:
==============================================
MON MARCH 23 NUGW SHINBASHI TOKYO
TUES MARCH 24 AMNESTY INT’L AITEN TAKADANOBABA TOKYO
THURS MARCH 26 SHIGA UNIVERSITY
==============================================
If you’d like me to screen in your neighborhood between March 20 and 31, please contact me at debito@debito.org

Terrie’s Take on how NJ workers are the first to go in adverse economic conditions

Terrie’s Take November 3 on how economic downturn is affecting Japanese companies: First to go have been the foreign workers in overseas plants. Two weeks ago, Nissan announced that it would cut its workforce by 1,680 people at its Barcelona assembly plant — one of two major plants the company has in Europe. This is almost 1/3 of all the people working at that facility and represents the halting of one of the 3 production shifts. Sales of vehicles in Spain have plunged 24% in the last 9 months, and when the numbers finally come out at the end of the year, we expect that sales for this current quarter might be almost non-existent. Indeed, Peugot has said that it expects a 17% fall in auto sales in Q4 in Western Europe. We think the final numbers will be worse and Japanese firms will share blood shed.

Certainly Toyota knows this, and so the company is laying off another category of “outsiders” — non-permanent workers at its factories here in Japan. Apparently the company employs 6,800 contract workers, also known as fixed-term workers, a number which is 2,000 down from March and 4,000 down from the peak of 10,800 employed in 2004. Back then, non-permanents accounted for 30% of the company’s total workforce. The thing about these contract workers is that so long as they are employed for less than 36 months, then the company can flexibility lay them off in times of hardship — as will many other companies around the country now that Toyota has set the pace.

In addition, in Q2, June-August this year, Toyota laid off an extra 8,000 temporary workers — for a total of around 10,000 redundancies so far this year. Are you seeing these numbers in the major newspapers? Not really. This is probably because Japan’s number one advertiser is sitting on an estimated JPY4trn (US$40bn) of cash reserves (not including other assets) which make it difficult for the company to defend its actions in the Japanese context of being needed to be seen to be looking after your own. In this respect, the message clearly is that you need to be a full-time employee to be considered “one of the Toyota family”. Otherwise you’re just a squatter…

So, given that there are at least 755,000 foreigners (as of 2006) working here in Japan, and probably another 350,000 or so working illegally, you can bet that this group will be another at-risk segment to lose their jobs. The AP article says that the government HELLO WORK centers used to get about 700 foreigners looking for jobs each month, but in August due to the massive layoffs by auto manufacturers, the numbers of foreign newly jobless people doubled to 1,500 a month. Local officials note that the number of Japanese applicants has not changed appreciably (yet) — so clearly Toyota, Honda, and Yamaha are dumping on their Brazilian-Japanese and Chinese workers first.

Excerpts and critique of the Japanese Govt’s “Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Combined Periodic Report” to UN HRC

I last reported on this issue here last August 30, when the Japan Times covered it. Long-time readers may find the following guffaw-worthy, from it’s very title: “The third, fourth, fifth and sixth combined periodic report” to the United Nations Human Rights Council — indicating just how late the GOJ is filing a report, on what it’s doing towards the promotion of human rights in Japan, that is actually due every two years.

Then get a load of the bunkum the GOJ reports with a straight face. Most glaring lapse of logic: If the GOJ had taken “every conceivable measure” as it claims in its introduction, that would naturally include a law against racial discrimination, wouldn’t it? Like South Korea did in 2007. But no. And look what happens as a result. Excerpts and critique of the GOJ UN report follow. Dig through it, and you’ll find self-evident weaknesses and contradictory claims throughout.

Japan Times 4th JUST BE CAUSE column on “Good Grass Roots” June 3 2008

GOOD NEWS FROM GRASS ROOTS
JUST BE CAUSE COLUMN 4
By Arudou Debito, Japan Times June 3, 2008
Reader Rodney in Vancouver recently emailed: “I’ve often found your articles informative and useful, but they tend to take a tone of complaint. Please tell us about some face-to-face, grassroots efforts that have helped make Japanese more considerate and respectful of those who are different.”

Thanks. Yes, my essays sound like “complaints” because I focus on ongoing issues that need redress. That doesn’t mean I don’t see the good news too. Here are 700 words to prove that…

Japan Times Community Page May 28, 2008 on Permanent Residency: “Bad PR for Japan”

Getting to know Japan is hard work: a complicated language, cultural esoterica, mixed messages about prudent paths to take. People who find their way around and assimilate deserve kudos and respect. And reward. The Japanese government should welcome them by granting Permanent Residency (“eijuken”). But recently people eminently qualified under PR guidelines are being rejected — even Japan’s first Caucasian geisha! Makes one wonder if Japan’s mandarins now feel PRs have reached a “carrying capacity” and have started throwing up more hurdles. Let’s triangulate from three examples this past month…

US State Dept Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2007, Japan

Although the US is certainly no paragon of human rights worldwide (what with torture, renditions, abuses under SOFA, denial of Habeas Corpus to non-citizens, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the largest arms sales worldwide, to name but a few caveats under this administration), here is their annual report on human rights in Japan in full. For what it’s worth. Note how the situation of “Japanese Only” signs nationwide is no longer mentioned, like it was in previous reports. I guess the US State Department considers the situation resolved. I beg to differ.

LA Times and Terrie’s Take on NJ Fingerprinting: “an unmitigated public relations disaster for the GOJ”

The fingerprinting issue just keeps on rolling. LA Times article says everything we’ve been saying, only to a big US Pacific Coast audience with close ties to Japan; Terrie’s Take, with an even more timely article this morning, calls this policy an “unmitigated public relations disaster for the Japanese government… the measures have in fact proven to be disjointed, unorganized, and ultimately unworkable. They have also managed to infuriate pretty much every long-term, tax-paying, foreign resident in Japan.”