The blame game
Convenience, creativity seen in efforts
to scapegoat Japan's foreign community
The Japan Times: Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007
THE ZEIT GIST
By ARUDOU DEBITO
Special to The Japan Times, Column 38 for the Japan Times Community Page
"Director's Cut", with information included that did not appear in print or online at the Japan Times
We live in interesting times, where Japan's economy and society have been at a crossroads--for nearly two decades.
With the shortage and high cost of domestic labor, the Japanese
government has imported record numbers of cheap foreign workers. Even
though whole industrial sectors now depend on foreign labor, few
publicly accept the symbiosis as permanent. Instead, foreigners are
being blamed for Japan's problems.
A poster released by Ibaraki
Prefectural Police implores citizens to cooperate with efforts to
prevent foreigners from illegally entering and staying in Japan.
IBARAKI PREFECTURAL POLICE PHOTO
Scapegoating the alien happens worldwide, but Japan's version is
particularly amusing. It's not just the garden-variety focus on crime
anymore: Non-Japanese are being blamed for problems in miltary
security, sports, education — even shipping. Less amusing is how
authorities are tackling these "problems" — by thwarting any
chances of assimilation.
Labor and crime
Japan has brought over a million foreigners for "training." However,
these government-sponsored programs have been so badly managed,
creating harsh conditions exempt from Japan's labor laws, that Kyodo (July 2) reported that nearly 10,000 non-Japanese "disappeared" from workplaces between 2002 and 2006.
You'd think we'd get more stories in the media about why non-Japanese
would want to escape this system (even our own Japan Times, July 1,
has called it "a racket"). The broken promises of training in useful
skills? The labor for less than the minimum wage and no social safety
net? Instead, we get the biannual media geyser on criminality.
In past columns (Oct. 7, 2003,
for example), we discussed how the police keep fudging statistics to
exaggerate foreign crime, and how the media offers little analysis,
mitigation, or comparison with the more significant rise in Japanese
crime. A classic example of absurd doublespeak appeared in a Mainichi
article (Feb 8),
headlining a "decrease" in foreign crime in English, yet an "increase"
in Japanese. But now the blame game has spread to other sectors.
I had heard rumors that the Self-Defense Forces frown upon their
soldiers having relations with non-Japanese. The Sankei Shimbun (June 27)
verified them by reporting that Marine SDF officers with foreign
spouses would be "removed from sensitive posts." This came after a
security breach allegedly by an officer with a Chinese wife.
Oddly enough, Japan Today (June 28) said, "the leak may have occurred by accident when the officer was swapping pornography over the Internet."
So never mind that the leaker may have had his hand in his own till.
The crackdown falls on all who consort with the alien by marrying
Imagine the uproar in other international relations organs (such as the
United Nations, the U.S. State Department — even the U.S.
military, where international marriage is not uncommon) if official
policy treated all international spouses as potential spies.
The Asahi Shimbun (May 24)
reported that the All Japan High School Athletic Federation banned
non-Japanese from the first leg of the ekiden running championships.
This would "make races more interesting for fans." Having too many
Africans on a team, their argument ran, was too much of a competitive
According to Keisuke Sawaki, a director of the Japan Association of
Athletics Federations, "The differences in physical capabilities
between Japanese and foreign students are far beyond imagination."
Discrimination, however, is within these limited imaginations. Hark back (Zeit Gist, Jan. 6, 2004, and Sept. 30, 2003,
respectively) to the same "foreign blood advantage" excluding
international kids from the Takamado English Speech Contests
(name-sponsored by the Imperial family) and the Kokutai National Sports
Festival (funded by our taxes).
In a followup, Asahi (June 29)
described how ekiden restrictions then spread to relay marathons,
basketball and table tennis. Limiting foreign students would keep the
events from becoming "dull."
Dull? I would think open competition would incentivize athletes to try
harder in the spirit of fair play. But I don't think these organizers
really understand what "being sporting" is all about. To them sports
are great, as long as Japanese win.
Take a look at sumo, with their more open rules: The June "banzuke" listing shows that a full third of top-ranked wrestlers are not Japanese. Then again, perhaps the organizers have.
Anyway, blame foreigners for being born stronger than us Japanese — self-deprecation justifying exclusion.
July 17's Zeit Gist discussed the
accusation that secondary school "hair police" tamp down on
non-Japanese kids born with the wrong hair color or texture. Now,
according to the Sunday Mainichi (July 8),
foreigners are disrupting the natural ordure as well. Citing an
"education insider" depicting international marriages as moneymaking
unions, foreign mothers allegedly scrimp so much to send money back
home that children lack basic hygiene. Japan's classrooms are
apparently being inflicted with stinky international children.
On that note, I'm surprised somebody hasn't, say, blamed non-Japanese
for Japan's low level of English ability. Oh wait, somebody has:
Kitakyushu University's Shinichiro Noriguchi wrote in the Asahi (Sept. 15, 2006):
"In particular, native speakers who have lived in Japan for more than
10 years tend to have adapted to the system and have become ineffective
as teachers — this is also partly because their English has
become Japanized and is spoken to suit the ears of their Japanese
Familiarity is "usan-kusai" (suspicious), or just plain "kusai" (smelly), I guess.
Here's the most amusing angle of all:
Foreign crew cuts
The Asahi (May 22)
reported that in ocean-going vessels operated by Japanese firms,
non-Japanese account for more than 90 percent of crews. However, to
secure "stable maritime transportation," the Ministry of Transport
announced tax breaks for companies who increase Japanese crews on their
For what if there were natural disasters, political turmoil, or other
emergencies in the foreign crew's home countries? "There would be too
few people to operate (Japan's) ships."
Now there's a novel angle. Usually it's the presence of the alien that stokes fears. This time it's their potential absence.
Seems non-Japanese are damned if they're here, damned if they're not.
Just bring up issues of self-sufficiency and security, and watch the
political pork barrel sail through.
Let's see how the government intends to fix these "problems." At least
four major policymaking entities are currently debating Japan's de
facto guest worker program. The heaviest actor, the Ministry of
Justice, wants an entire revamp; former Justice Minister Jinen Nagase advocated
a system where non-Japanese workers stay up to three years, then begone
for good, regardless of skills or language proficiency acquired.
So forget any "brain drain" into Japan. Make the revolving-door system
clear and keep unskilled foreigners pounding sheet metal and cleaning
pig sties. And pray the quality of worker we underpay and overwork
doesn't stick around or commit any crimes.
How does this system offer any incentive to factories to actually train
their workers? And can policymakers seriously assume that quality
foreign workers will come to Japan just to be a factory cog?
Along with this head-in-the-sand approach comes a renewed manning of
the defenses. Applied, of course, only to "illegals" and "terrorists."
Unfortunately, in practical application, virtually all non-Japanese ultimately fall into that category. Last June, the Osaka Ikuno Police released new flyers
(complete with crescent-moon-faced blond "gaijin") erroneously claiming
rises in crime and overstaying. They asked employers to be on the
lookout not only for illegals, but also for forged passports and fake
marriages. How bosses would become crime watchdogs and marriage
counselors remained unclear.
The Ibaraki Prefectural Police were even more reactive, issuing a flyer
showing seven riot police subduing one foreigner. Headline: "Stop them at the shores!" Nothing rallies the public like the threat of invasion.
As for non-Japanese in higher value-added jobs, you'll get yours come November. According to Immigration, "foreign visitors" re-entering Japan will have fingerprints and other biometric data taken every time.
Exempt is anyone under 16, the Japan-born "Zainichi" foreigners,
diplomats and people on "official government business." This means even
you "foreign visitors" who happen to be long-termers or Permanent
Residents will be separated from your Japanese families to go through
the "alien line." Refusal to comply means rejection at the border
without right of appeal.
Why override the decades of protest that succeeded in getting fingerprinting abolished in 1999? According to Immigration's hilariously hammy video (http://nettv.gov-online.go.jp/prg/prg1203.html),
this antiterrorist measure is for the "safety of foreign visitors,"
even though all terrorist activities here (from the Aum cult gas
attacks on down) have been committed by Japanese. Associating
non-Japanese with terrorism is presumptuous and historically
What about fingerprinting Japanese too in the name of safety? No can
do. The government tried the Juki Net ID system years ago to widespread
protest, with the Japanese judiciary ruling it unconstitutional in 2006.
What is the end result of this blame game? Even the most earnest assimilator gets knocked on the head. Asahi reported (June 29)
that in Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture, a Brazilian of Japanese descent
tried to buy land for his house. Locals then panicked, said his
presence "would invite crime to their neighborhood," and successfully
blocked his bid.
Lovely. Blame foreigners for their alleged crime, then bar them from ever assimilating their way out of it.
We are not amused.
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The Japan Times: Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007
2007, Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan