By Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle
Published August-October 2001

By Arudou Debito
Column Thirteen for Japan Today

It's nearly been a month since the election, and PM Koizumi has had his mandate confirmed by an expectant electorate. As the summer holidays end and he and I resume our day jobs, I would like to hark back on what happened last July. It was very important to me personally.

Why? As a citizen, I got to vote for the first time in a Japanese election. And I saw how difficult it is for fellow voters to choose.

The problem is not really the number of political parties. For those who don't know, we have a veritable alphabet soup to spoon around: LDP (Liberal Democrats--the ruling party for almost all the postwar years), DPJ (Democrats, or Minshutou), CGP (The Clean-Government, or Koumeitou), JCP (Communists), SDP (Social Dems), NCP (Conservatives), and finally bubbling under are the ruins, demagogues, and special-interests (New Socialists, Liberals, Joseitou), the loony right (Shinpuu), and the et-ceteras (Jiyuu Rengou, Niin Club, Liberty-Hope, Mushozoku).

Blurbs on all of these parties were available as inserts in the daily newspapers, making choices both clear and muddy. Still, people can and do vote for the Ralph Naders out there, making third parties (such as the NCP) part of ruling coalitions and increasing the chances for ideological diversity.

Nor is the problem the process of voting. It's really very easy. A postcard comes in the mail indicating where and when you should present yourself. The polls are conveniently open from 7am until 8pm in my country town, with absentee ballots commonly used by the indisposed.

At the polls, you exchange that postcard for a specially-laminated ballot paper to choose your local Diet representative. You go to a walled booth (privacy is big--even my wife wouldn't tell me whom she voted for), pencil in a name if you want (they are all up in the booth), and walk back over to the center of the room to fold and insert the paper in a lonely locked strongbox.

Next, you go to a second table where a machine spits out a Proportional Representation ballot, head for a different bunch of booths to write in a party (or candidate), and repeat the process at another lonely strongbox.

Then you walk outside, all done, satisfied that in five minutes you've done your democratic duty. It's much clearer than Florida and with no hanging chads.

The problem I had (as did many of my friends) was that we know little about our local candidates. There is practically no debate between them.

For look at the publicity techniques: candidates get outside, shake hands, and demonstrate they want votes enough to spend the two-week campaign period putting their name in people's ears. As you know, the real pros have sound trucks zipping through neighborhoods connecting their name with a litany of "yoroshiku"s and "ganbarimasu"s. (click to see more here http://www.debito.org/japanrapelection.html)

It's apparently very warm-fuzzy to the apolitical, but not decisionmaking material. How to get the true grit? Aside from downtown monologues, there is little soapboxing and no interactive Q&A. Yes, there is organized debate between party leaders on national television, but that still leaves us ignorant of what our local candidates think.

Then there's the problem of the parties themselves. The LDP, armed with its postwar American anti-communist M-Fund and decades of slush-funding, is able to organize its patrons well enough to assign companies vote quotas (our funny uncle in the construction industry called us a few years ago to get us to vote LDP; he was disappointed that I wasn't a citizen yet). Lots of people don't trust it.

But who else? The remnants of the only viable opposition party, the Socialists, sold its soul to create blip PM Murayama in the mid-90's. It subsequently dissolved into fractious NSP, DSP, and DPJ--the last being the only one with a snowball's chance at a governing coalition.

The others? Koumeitou essentially looks after its religious interests, having little time for those outside the Souka Gakkai. The Communists? Japan's oldest political party with a long history of domination by a very nasty Party Secretary, it is still steeped in Marxist organizational dogma ("democratic centralism", anyone?), stifling individual candidates' opinions (see my experience lobbying the major parties here http://www.debito.org/lobbying041601.html). The et-ceteras? Mere slogans, uninspiring or untested platforms, or unconscionable views.

The point is that I was trying to be a rational voter, giving my hard-earned naturalized vote to the party I thought would best represent my interests. You stand where you sit, and I sit as an ethnic minority in Japan.

What was I looking for? Japan's more pressing economic problems notwithstanding, I wanted someone who would support measures for human rights, particularly legislate against racial discrimination. Partywise, that could only be the DPJ, since its Hokkaido branch was sponsoring both anti-discrimination fora and local ordinances (click here http://www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html#minshutou). It was not part of its national party platform (how many people are there out there like me to appeal to?), but that's where my vote went.

The results of the July election you already know--a noteworthy victory for the LDP at the expense of all the other political parties (save DPJ, which in fact increased the total number of its seats). My local candidate, however, who nominally supported our anti-discrimination initiatives, lost her seat.

Thus I used my right to vote. To an uncertain outcome. That's politics. I guess it's just time for Koizumi and me to get back to work.

Arudou Debito
August 20, 2001

By Arudou Debito
Column Fourteen for Japan Today

Last night, four passenger planes in the United States were allegedly hijacked by elements yet unknown. Two of them were flown into each tower of NYC's World Trade Center, ultimately resulting in the total destruction of both buildings.

The other two were also sent on collision courses, one into the Pennsylvania countryside, the other into the side of The Pentagon in Washington DC.

As skies were clear with inconceivable margin for pilot error, the official word is that terrorism is involved, though no group has as yet claimed responsibility.

I would like to use this column to consider the aftermath of such an insane act.

First, regarding international media coverage:

I followed the conflagration live on CNN and BBC, and watched as the towers collapsed like melting candles in fast motion.

American and British coverage was as expected. Repetition of facts and burning images, spiced with unconfirmed rumors, and punctuated with phoned-in comments from eyewitnesses, office staffers, military intelligence, administrative officials, and even Tom Clancy, writer of geopolitical thrillers which now seem all too true.

I switched to Japanese coverage (which finally let the typhoons alone and devoted all late-night channels to developments) to see the difference in filler.

After relying on CNN for secondhand news, all the major networks soon had their own cameras on the scene, broadcasting, with higher resolution than American TV, more repulsive images: closeups of the second plane striking the South Tower; the implosion of the buildings seen from mere blocks away; bloodied victims emerging from the blizzard of debris.

Then came the inevitable focus: How many Japanese citizens were in the buildings, what Japanese companies had been unable to reach their employees, and impressions from Japanese officials, academics, and tourists.

This made me think about the wheels now set in motion.

If this turns out to be an act of terrorism, the perpetrators have truly made a grave error.

Terrorism against the US is nothing new. Various bombings and hostage situations overseas have singled out Americans both in building and in person. However, isolated incidents in faraway lands make for sad but ultimately handwringing situations.

But this time the shock is implacable. Not only did this happen on American soil, in the hearts of two major cities, it was timed for maximum carnage: first thing in the morning, when the buildings were full, with a lag in between strikes for better media coverage. The modus was not even car bombs. Passenger jets were converted into fuel-laden torpedoes filled with innocents.

Now consider what happens when a country like the US gets shocked: Mass mobilization behind often hasty policies. Prohibition. The Little Lindbergh Law. Containment and McCarthyism. Total War after Pearl Harbor.

What now? Anti-aircraft missiles on every prominent building? An American version of Britain's draconian Anti-Terrorist Act? Rumors of war? With a president who has been unpredictable since his election, I can only imagine the fortress mentalities resulting from this insane act.

Moreover, this time the rebound has much more potential. Japanese coverage made me realize that attacking a center of international trade, this one containing 50,000 office workers plus 150,000 daily visitors, will make the need for retribution span borders.

All the terrorists have done is rally international opinion against world terrorism, and given carte blanche the US to become an even tougher world policeman.

My point: I hope that the terrorists are found and made to pay for their actions, to be sure. But I also hope that the recoil will not lead to policy overgeneralization and proactive policing.

May a sense of justice, as well as sense in general, prevail.

My prayers to the victims and their loved ones.

Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan
September 12, 2001

By Arudou Debito
Column Fifteen for Japan Today

After the terrorism in the US comes the dragnet, and overnight the search for the perps has shaped international policy. Understandibly--but unfortunately--the human talent for finding patterns in everything has led to racial profiling, and to the persecution of innocents through skin deep circumstantial evidence.

Even the most liberal-minded societies are not immune to the quick fix of suspicion through phenotype. In Europe, there have been businesses attacked, houses of worship violated, and individuals harassed due to Middle-Eastern features or overtly Islamic practices.

In the US, much vaunted for its tolerance, there have been at least 625 "anti-Muslim incidents", according to CNN. For example, on five domestic flights, pilots stretched their FAA authority to force their Arabesque passengers to deplane.

In a similar flight of utter ignorance, a Sikh, with nothing more in common with Islam than a beard and turban, was murdered in Arizona.

Over here this hasn't happened as such, but Japan doesn't need a crisis to engage in racial profiling. It is often standard operating procedure.

By law, Japanese cops are empowered under any circumstances to demand that foreigners--and only foreigners--produce ID. This has led to random Gaijin Card checks on the street, at rural police boxes, even in the domestic terminals of Haneda Airport. Probable cause? "Foreigners are more likely to commit terrorist acts", I was told (click here http://www.debito.org/activistspage.html#checkpoints).

More user-friendly is a manual, "Characteristics of Foreigner Crime", published last year by the Shizuoka Prefectural Police and distributed to local businesses (click here http://www.debito.org/TheCommunity/communityissues.html#police). On page 21, it even suggests that if two or more foreigners park and enter the premises, the shopkeep take down license plate numbers and contact the authorities.

Last month, the National Police Agency asked for a budget increase to deal with an alleged rise in foreign crime. Ironically, it didn't ask the same for increased criminality by Japanese junior- and senior-high school students.

The clearest case of racial profiling yet has got to be the Otaru Onsens Case (click here http://www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html), where bathhouses overtly refused service to anyone they perceived as "foreign". Ultimately, this meant that Asian-looking Chinese could get in, but mixed-blood or naturalized-Caucasian Japanese could not.

For years, all levels of administrative and legislative branches turned blind eyes. These practices then spread to other cities and business sectors, increasing perceptions that people of ethnicities and cultures cause social instability.

In these times of tragedy, the West is now facing similar impulses. This is why Japan should watch and learn how they deal with differences.

Racial profiling can occur anywhere--even justifiably--when security concerns warrant instant decision making. But overseas there are checks and balances.

Unlike Japan, the rest of the OECD has clear laws against racial discrimination. Profiling that leads to injustice and hate crimes engenders court cases and prosecutions. In Japan, however, what the onsens and police do to foreigners isn't even illegal.

Moreover, for better or worse, the threat of lawsuit in the West also acts as deterrent and motivator. In Japan, the lack of either an emoting jury system or judgment based on legal precedent makes verdicts far too subjective. According to insiders, the judge on the Onsens Case will probably exonerate Otaru City from its treaty obligations to combat discrimination effectively.

Overseas, there have also been very public motions to ameliorate profiling, by delinking Islam and ethnicity from terrorism.

Both Bush and Blair have made visible appeals for unity and sanity, the former saying very sensibly in a Washington DC mosque: "Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind." (click here http://www.cnn.com/2001/US/09/17/gen.bush.muslim.trans/index.html)

Overseas mass media, such as CNN, has also served as a significant forum for ethnic groups raising the issue of overgeneralization. It is difficult to imagine the Japanese media providing similar space.

Instead, airtime is given to alarmists like Tokyo Governor Ishihara, who alleges that foreigners "commit heinous crimes over and over". He even charged the Self Defense Forces to round up foreigners during earthquakes in case they unprecedentedly riot. (click here http://www.annie.ne.jp/~ishn/index_en.html).

It would be nice if someone like PM Koizumi countered this by praising the contributions that people of color or extranationality make to Japan. But that seems unlikely. This is unbecoming of Japan as a society, and singularly unrepresentative of the kindness of Japanese as individuals.

The point: It is all too easy to address national problems by social scapegoating. It is far more difficult to develop the trappings of a conscientious civil society, where self-diagnostics are run and all members of society are ultimately accorded greater protections against unfairness.

The West, after a surprisingly brief interlude of lunacy, seems to be snapping back into that mode. Japan, as it continues to internationalize, should take note how it can be done.

Arudou Debito
October 3, 2001

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Copyright 2001-2002, Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan