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Arudou Debito s Home Page: Issues of Life and Human Rights in Japan
26 Jul
DEBITO: Hokay, let's go over this issue one more time on Debito.org (the previous times from here): the ability of J-cops to racially profile and subject any "foreigner" to arbitrary Gaijin Card ID-checks. I offered advice about what to do about it (print and carry the actual laws around with you and have them enforced). Last time I talked about this (in my Japan Times column last April), I noted how laws had changed with the abolition of the Foreign Registry Law, but the ability for cops to arbitrarily stop NJ has actually continued unabated. In fact, it's expanded to bag searches and frisking, with or without your permission (because, after all, NJ might be carrying knives or drugs, not just expired visas). Well, as if doubting the years of research that went into this article (and affirmed by an Japanese Administrative Solicitor in our book HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS, AND IMMIGRANTS), the JT put up a "featured comment" from some anonymous poster saying that my article was wrong and a source for misinformation: MM333: I'm sorry, but the information in this article and on the website describing the powers of the police to stop foreigners and demand passports or residence cards for any reason 'whenever' is inaccurate. The law does not give the police in Japan arbitrary powers to conduct suspicionless questioning. [...] There is no doubt that in practice police in every country may try to exceed their powers, but it is quite another thing to assert that the police actually have the right to do this. In may interest people to know that the laws imposed on the police in Japan with regards to questioning are actually more restrictive as compared with the US (ie. Stop and Frisk) or the UK (ie. CJPOA Section 60). I would recommend that everyone read the law themselves and consult a Japanese attorney if they have questions about the law. I would also ask the Japan times to have this article reviewed by a Japanese attorney and corrections made where appropriate to avoid misinformation being spread. DEBITO: Eventually the JT DID consult a lawyer and ran the following article -- where it's even worse than I argued: The lawyer is essentially suggesting that you had better cooperate with the police because the laws will not protect you -- especially if you're in a "foreigner zone" of Tokyo like Roppongi. JT LAWYER ISHIZUKA: Legal precedents in these cases have tended to stress the importance of balancing the public’s right to privacy with the necessity and urgency of the specific investigation and the public interest in preventing the crime the individual stopped by the police was suspected of being involved in. [...] Regarding the profiling, considering it was in Roppongi, which has a bit of a reputation for crime involving foreigners, the police officials could probably come up with a number of explanations for why they stopped [a NJ named P], such as a suspicion that he was carrying or selling drugs. It is unlikely that any judge would rule that this was a case of profiling and that the questioning was illegal. As for the frisking, it was legal for the officers to pat P down over his clothes and bag, even without his consent. However, it would be illegal if an officer searched inside P’s pockets or clothing without consent or intentionally touched his genital area, even over his clothes. [...] So, in conclusion, what can you do if you are approached and questioned by police officers? Cooperating may be the smartest option and the fastest way to get the whole ordeal over as quickly as possible, but if you don’t feel like being cooperative, you can try asking the police officers what crime they are investigating and attempt to explain that you are not doing anything illegal, clearly express the will to leave and then do just that. Don’t touch the police officers, don’t run and don’t stop walking — and don’t forget to turn on the recorder on your smartphone in front of the officers, thus making it clear that you have evidence of any untoward behavior. You cannot be forced to turn the recorder off, no matter what the police officers yell at you. Best of luck! DEBITO AGAIN: You know there's something seriously wrong with a system when legally all you have is luck (and a cell phone recorder) to protect you from official arbitrary questioning, search, seizure, and racial profiling by Japanese cops. Even a lawyer says so. So that's definitive, right? Now, then, JT, what misinformation was being spread here by my previous article? How about trusting people who give their actual names, and have legal experience and a verified research record (several times before in past JT articles)? And how about deleting that misinformative "featured comment" to my column? SITYS.
22 Jul
JIJI: Japan came under pressure at a U.N. meeting Tuesday to do more to help stop hate speech that promotes discrimination by race or nationality. “According to information we received, there have been more than 360 cases of racist demonstrations and speeches in 2013, mainly in Korean neighborhoods in Tokyo,” Yuval Shany from Israel, one of the experts at the U.N. Human Rights Committee, said at the meeting in Geneva. Shany asked Japan whether it is considering adopting legislation to address hate and racist speech. Existing laws in Japan do not allow police to intervene to stop hate speech demonstrations, Shany said at the meeting held to review the civil and political rights situation in Japan. “It seems almost nothing has been done by the government to react to Japanese-only signs which have been posted in a number of places,” Shany said. Kyodo: The Osaka High Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that branded as “discriminatory” demonstrations staged near a pro-Pyongyang Korean school by anti-Korean activists who used hate-speech slogans. A three-judge high court panel turned down an appeal by the Zaitokukai group against the Kyoto District Court decision ordering that it pay about ¥12 million in damages to the school operator, Kyoto Chosen Gakuen. The order also banned the group from staging demonstrations near the school in Minami Ward, Kyoto. Johnston: The good news is that, finally, more and more people in Osaka and the Kansai region are fighting back against the haters. Counter-demonstrations against Zaitokukai in particular are increasing. At the same time, there is a feeling among many here that, as Osaka and Korea have a deep ties, things will work themselves out. But that’s the problem. What’s needed now is not “historical perspective,” “understanding” or “respect,” but legislation ensuring protection and punishment. This is precisely because perspective, understanding and respect alone will not stop hate speech — especially that directed at new groups or those who have not traditionally been as ostracized as ethnic minorities. AFP: A far-right Polish MEP outraged lawmakers gathered in the European Parliament on Wednesday by comparing the continent’s unemployed youth to “niggers” in the U.S. South. [...] Comparing job-seeking youth to black laborers in the American South during the 1960s, Korwin-Mikke said: “Four millions humans lost jobs. Well, it was four million niggers. But now we have 20 millions Europeans who are the Negroes of Europe. Grauniad: A former local election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) in France has been sentenced to nine months in prison for comparing the country's justice minister, who is black, to an ape. [...] On Tuesday, a court in Cayenne, French Guiana's capital, sentenced her to nine months in jail, banned her from standing for election for five years, and imposed a €50,000 (£39,500) fine. French Guiana is an overseas département of France and is inside the European Union. It also handed the FN a €30,000 fine, putting an end to a case brought by French Guiana's Walwari political party, founded by Taubira. COMMENT: So there is precedent, example, template, and international embarrassment. Will this result in a law in Japan against hate speech (ken'o hatsugen)? I say again: not in the foreseeable future, sadly. As noted on Debito.org many times, we have had all four of these pressures in Japan for decades now (not to mention an international treaty signed in specific), yet we still can't get a law against racial discrimination (jinshu sabetsu) in Japan.
19 Jul
In an event sure to make my year-end top ten most important human rights issues of 2014, Japan's highest court just overturned the Fukuoka High Court's 2011 decision, ruling that an octogenarian granny who, despite being born in Japan, living her life here as a Zainichi Special Permanent Resident, and contributing to Japan's social welfare systems, has no right to the benefits of her contributions because she's foreign (i.e., not "kokumin"). More comment after the articles: JT: The Supreme Court ruled Friday that foreigners with permanent residency status are ineligible for welfare benefits, overturning a decision by the Fukuoka High Court that had acknowledged their eligibility under the public assistance law. The decision by the top court’s Second Petit Bench concerned a lawsuit filed by an 82-year-old Chinese woman with permanent residency who was born and grew up in Japan. The woman applied for welfare benefits with the Oita municipal office in Oita Prefecture in December 2008 but was denied the benefits on the grounds she had some savings. The woman then filed a suit demanding that the city’s decision be repealed. She is now receiving the benefits because the municipality accepted her welfare application in October 2011. While the recipients of welfare benefits are limited to Japanese nationals by law, the government issued a notice in 1954 saying foreigners should be treated in accordance with the public assistance law. Since the government limited recipients to Japanese nationals and foreigners with permanent residency in 1990, municipalities have exercised their discretion in doling out the benefits. In October 2010, the Oita District Court rejected the plaintiff’s suit, saying that denying the public assistance law to foreigners was within the discretion of a municipal government. In November 2011, however, the Fukuoka High Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, saying that foreigners with permanent residency have been protected under the public assistance law. COMMENT: And now the pendulum has swung again, with a great big Bronx Cheer for all NJ in Japan. More information on what has appeared on Debito.org over the years in this blog entry. My final thought on this for now is how the online commenters (who consistently blame NJ for anything bad that happens to them) spin this one against the plaintiff? It's a challenge: She's an 82-year-old granny Zainichi living her entire life in Japan trying to get her tax benefits back, for heaven's sake. Still, the reflexes are kicking in. We've already had one person commenting at the Japan Times about how this ruling was a means to deal with "illegal immigrants" somehow (the JT immediately spotted this as trolling and deleted it; wish they would be more proactive with my columns as trolls keep derailing any meaningful debate). Any more gems out there, go ahead and quote them in the Comments section below. A ruling this egregiously anti-NJ becomes an interesting psychological experiment to see how far the self-hating gaijin will go to deny they have any rights to anything whatsoever in Japan. UPDATE JULY 25, 2014: This very blog entry gets cited in the South China Morning Post.
17 Jul
AFP: In celebrity-obsessed Japan with its conveyor belt of 15-minute stars, fashion model and “talent” Rola is blazing a meteoric trail at the forefront of a galaxy of mixed-race stars changing the DNA of Japanese pop culture. Turn on the TV and there’s no escaping the bubbly 24-year-old of Bengali, Japanese and Russian descent—she even dominates the commercial breaks. A marketing gold mine, Rola smiles down celestially from giant billboards, her wide eyes and girlie pout grace magazine covers and she even greets you at vending machines. But Rola, who settled in Japan when she was nine, has done it by turning the entertainment industry on its head, her child-like bluntness slicing through the strict convention that governs Japanese society. JPN_GUY: The positive reaction to mixed-race models is certainly better than not wanting them on screen. It's "anti-racist" and to be welcomed. To a certain extent, I guess it does show Japan is becoming more open and tolerant. But like most things, it's not that simple. For one thing, all these women are stunning beautiful. Everyone loves a good-looking girl. We knew that already! But not all mixed race people in Japan could, or even want to be, celebrities. Kids like mine just want normal lives. They might want to be a lawyer, a pilot, a shipbuilding engineer or a dental technician. As I said, the high visibility of mixed-race people in better than being vilified and ignored, for sure. But it's also a sign of fetishism, and a refusal to see mixed race people as just "one of us". Celebrities are "special" by definition. Ironically, that's why visible minorities have less difficulty breaking into this field. DEBITO: Of course, most "tarento" blaze and then fizzle without making any real impact, least of all "changing the DNA Japanese pop culture" as this article and its pundits claim. Rola in particular does not seem to be consciously promoting any increase in social tolerance of "haafu" -- she's just doing her thing, entertaining with a new (or actually, not all that new, but for now fresh-sounding) schtick as an ingenue. Of course. That's her role as an entertainer. This has been the role of so many other entertainers, including the Kents (Kent Derricott made his pile and returned to the US to buy his mansion on the hill in Utah for his family; Kent Gilbert did much the same and lives in Tokyo with a residence in Utah as well), Leah Dizon (remember her?, already divorced from the Japanese guy who made the baby bump the speed bump in her career; she's trying to make a comeback in Japan while based in Las Vegas), Bob Sapp, Chuck Wilson, and many, many more that I'm sure Debito.org readers will recount in comments below. Sadly, none of these people have really made or will make a long-term impact on Japan's mediascape. The best long-seller remains Dave Spector, who is a very, very exceptional person in terms of persistence and media processing (not to mention stellar language ability), but even he makes little pretense about being anything more than an "American entertainer" for hire. Other impactful persons I can think of are Peter Barakan and perhaps these people here. So it's not non-existent. But it's not powerful enough to permit "Doubles" to control their self-image in Japan, either. I wish Rola well. I hope she continues to make the media splash she's making. But the overhype can be fatal for many an entertainer when people eventually tire of her current incarnation. Even if Rola becomes "successful" by revamping her act to become more substantial, she'll just be as subsumed and co-oped as Miyazawa Rie or Becky is. Or as forgotten as Leah Dizon within a few years. Let's hope not, and let's hope that she becomes a long seller. But I doubt it. Because the ingenue trail she is blazing (or rather, is being blazed for her by her agents) of the "sexy-baby-voice tarento" genre has never really allowed for that.
14 Jul
We've discussed on Debito.org before the rigmarole of NJ drivers in Japan getting J Driver Licenses, being subjected to extra intrusive procedures that are of questionable legality. Well, a Debito.org Reader decided to do his civic duty and ask for some reasons why. And this is what he found out. Read on and feel free to contribute your own experiences. JDriver: As you might know, residents of foreign citizenship (外国籍の方 in the bureaucratic parlance) are required to show their residence cards or in other way demonstrate their status of residence when getting or renewing their drivers license. Obedient citizen as I am, of course I went along with it and presented it when asked, but I did make clear I would like to be clarified on the legal basis for such a request. I didn't expect that the person doing the registration would know something like this off the top of their head, but I was intended on talking to someone eventually who could point to this and that paragraph of this or that law that governs these circumstances. So after all the procedure was finished and I got my license, I went to the window I was told I'd get my questions answered. The first person could only, after quite a while, produce the Immigration law article 23, which only says that you are in general required to present the passport or the residence card when the police and other authorities ask for it "in the execution of their duties." So I asked for a specific law or ordinance that shows that in this concrete case it is indeed their duty to ask for the card. I got sent to her boss, who again only wasted my time with the same answer (Immigration law) and got irritated and dismissed me, but not before arranging for me to see the final boss of bosses, who should be able to answer my, I thought very simple, question i.e. what is the legal basis for what you're doing? Neither the last guy could legitimize the demand in legal terms, so we agreed that he will research it and call me later to let me know. He did call later the same day, only to tell me that after all, the legal basis would have to be in the Immigration law, because he couldn't find any other! He said it is all done to prevent the "illegal overstayers" from getting drivers license, as if that, or any other goal, would justify working outside of legal framework. I was flabbergasted that apparently no one in the whole Koto drivers center (江東試験場) knew the legal basis of their actions...
11 Jul
On the heels of our prior discussion about the Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.'s "scandal" about having the audacity to put a NJ as CEO of the company (shock horror! Think of how much the company will be compromised!, was the narrative), here's a special issue by left-leaning AERA magazine of July 14, put out by the (left-and-right-leaning, depending on the editor) Asahi News Corp, on Japan's "global companies". Its big headline is that offices that are not multinational in terms of staff "will not succeed". (Somebody tell that to Takeda Pharma's xenophobes!) [scan of magazine banner enclosed] You might think this is a forward-thinking move, but AERA also resorts to the same old media tropes about NJ. For example, it puns on the seminal TV show of more than a decade ago called "Koko Ga Hen Da Yo, Nihonjin" with a bit on "Koko Ga Hen Da Yo, Japanese workplaces". Not to appear dated, it also refers to Koko Ga Hen's current incarnation "YOU Wa Nani Shi Ni NIhon E" (What did YOU [sic] come to Japan to do?), with a poll of twenty (a scientifically-significant sample!! /sarcasm) real-live NJ residents of Japan saying what they find unsatisfactory about Japan. There's also a discussion between two J pundits on immigration (yep; how about polling an immigrant?), a comparison between NJ transplant schools modeled on the Indian, Chinese, and Canadian education systems (why? dunno), and the coup de grace -- the influential Oguri Saori manga "Darling wa Gaikokujin" being riffed on to talk about "Darling wa Damenzu Gaikokujin". This is about J women marrying NJ "Wrong men" (from a manga title, a polyglot word of Dame (J) and Mens (E?)) who are penniless, unfaithful, or violent (and in this case, according to AERA, from less-economically-developed countries, viz. the newly-coined word "kakusa-kon", or economically-tiered marriages), because the NJ get a visa, and the women get the relief (iyashi) of having less to lose (financially or materially) after the breakup. Whaa....? Yep, even when we resort to the hackneyed stereotypical tropes (gotta love the swarthy smitten NJ in the illustration; clearly by the skin tone there's kakusa there), we still have to pander to prejudices by including some nasty ones. There's more up there, so other comments? Mine is that even if J companies take things to heart and hire more NJ employees, I'm worried that 1) like before, it'll only be on a "contingency" basis (to take the NJ out for a test drive, meaning the hiring process is two-tiered and unequal, with less job security for the NJ), and 2) it'll just happen because it's "trendy". NJ have been hired as "pet gaijin" (as was common practice during the "Bubble Years"; I know) to show off how "international" the company has become, without ever allowing NJ employees to play any real part in the company's future. Just plonking NJ in your office doesn't necessarily mean much (until NJ become, for example, managers). And when they do, the Takeda-styled soukaiya mentioned last blog entry will no doubt protest it anyway (if not fire you for doing the right thing about J-boss corruption, a la Olympus). Sorry to rain on what may be a positive trend (I'd much rather have them acknowledge that J companies cannot remain insular than not, of course), but I'm not sure AERA is encouraging real non-insularity. Especially when even they can't keep the discussion serious and refrain from painting NJ with negative stereotypes.
8 Jul
Japan's largest drug maker, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., last month tapped a NJ (a Frenchman by the name of Cristophe Weber) to be its next CEO. This occasioned protests by the founding Takeda family and dissident shareholders, because hiring a NJ to be its leader would allegedly be abhorrent. Relativism first: We've of course had protests and government interventions in other countries when foreigners buy up a strategically-important company. (Let me date myself: I remember the Westland helicopters scandal when I was living in England back in the 1980s!) So business xenophobia is not unique to Japan, of course. But check out the narratives of justification for the exclusionism being proffered with straight faces: A NJ CEO of a Japanese company would be "bad for the morale of Japanese employees". (Why?) A NJ CEO would necessarily result in "technological transfer overseas" (i.e., NJ are untrustworthy). This would mean "finances or research and development would be entrusted to NJ" (Would it? This is an unaccountable dictatorship? This is not an issue of NJ-dom: Remember the corruption of the Olympus case, and they were all Japanese at the helm -- until a NJ became the whistleblower.) A NJ CEO is tantamount to a hostile "takeover by foreign capital" (again, those trust issues). This particular NJ is unknowledgable of Japan's health care industry of the "traditions and corporate culture" of Takeda (i.e., NJ are ignorant about Japan and Japan's permutations of industry). Imagine those arguments being made if a Japanese helmed an overseas company (we already had a Japanese in 2009 placed at the helm of, for example, the Japan Society in New York -- an organization founded in 1907 by powerful Americans to explore Japanese society). Accusations of racism would probably fly. But in Japan, not so much. These knee-jerk exclusionary discourses are that hegemonic. Anyway, the exclusionists (who only hold 1-2% of total shares, so they're basically soukaiya) did not win out, and Weber became CEO. Nyah. Some referential articles about the Takeda Pharma Case follow.
6 Jul
Debito.org Reader: Debito, I could be in error, but it looks like your Google page rank has been reduced from 4 to 0. I would talk to someone who knows about this stuff and ask them what's up. If I am correct, you should regard that as a serious issue. It's a mystery to me: I use a Safari on my mac. There's a plug-in that gives you page rank, so I always see it when I visit a site: http://any-tech.ws/page-rank/ I think yours has always been 4 or 5. Perhaps 5, which is *really* good for a site like yours. I don't recall ever seeing another site's ranking just suddenly disappear. It could just be a glitch. But I doubled checked this — and your page rank is not showing up anywhere: http://checkpagerank.net/index.php (Screen capture of Google Page Rank according to the above link as of July 5, 2014: still zero) My best suggestion would be to check Google's webmasters toolkit. If you don't have an account, I would create one, it's very helpful. Often they will tell you if there is a problem. [NB: I have done this. The Google web masters toolkit has indicated after a scan that there is nothing problematic about this site, and thus offer no avenue for query or appeal to Google.] Your page rank is an important factor in how well your site ranks in search engines. It's not the *only* factor — but it's the one most closely related to your web authority. If this *just* happened — you might not notice an immediate impact, but over time the traffic you receive from Google would begin to decline. If you are the *only* person with a webpage about a particular topic, you'll continue to rank in Google's search engine. If you and 100 other sites are taking on the same topic, you'll fall to the bottom of the list. You have a massive archive, so on many topics, *only* you have a page — you'll get traffic on those pages. But on competitive topics, your traffic will fall off. Does that make sense? Unless this is all a weird glitch. In which case maybe nothing will happen. You could just monitor it for a while ... Sincerely, a Debito.org Reader.
2 Jul
Opening paragraphs: Hang around Japan long enough and you’re bound to hear the refrain that the Japanese have an inferiority complex (rettōkan) towards “Westerners” (ōbeijin). You’ll hear, for example, that Japanese feel a sense of akogare (adoration) towards them, wishing Japanese too had longer legs, deeper noses, lighter and rounder eyes, lighter skin, etc. You’ll see this reflected in Japan’s advertising angles, beauty and whitening products, and cosmetic surgery. This can be quite ingratiating and disarming to the (white) foreigners being flattered, who have doubtless heard complementary refrains in Western media about how the short, humble, stoic Japanese are so shy, self-deprecating and appreciative. But people don’t seem to realize that inferiority complexes have a dark side: They justify all kinds of crazy beliefs and behavior...
27 Jun
Debito.org Reader JK offers the following links and commentary about two important subjects: 1) The unwillingness of Japan's media to count NJ as "residents" in official population tallies (despite NJ inclusion on the juumin kihon daichou Resident Registry since 2012), and 2) the widespread misogyny in Japan's policymaking arenas that has no recourse but to appeal to pressure from the outside world (gaiatsu) for assistance (as NJ minorities clearly also must do). Speaking to the first point in particular: Before we even touch upon the lousy demographic science, how insulting for NJ once again to simply "not count" as part of Japan's population. Some J-articles have minced words by qualifying the ethnically-cleansed statistic as "the population of Japanese people" (nihonjin no jinkou). But others (see the Nikkei below) simply render it as "Japan's population" (nihon no jinkou). When they eventually get around to mentioning that NJ are also here, they render them as "nihon ni taizai suru gaikokujin" (NJ "staying" in Japan, as opposed to zaijuu "residing"). How immensely arrogant and unappreciative of all that NJ residents do for Japan! Yomiuri: Japan’s population on Jan. 1 of this year was down 0.19 percent from a year before at 126,434,964, falling for the fifth straight year, the internal affairs ministry said Wednesday. The figure was calculated based on Japan’s resident registry network system and does not include foreign residents. Mainichi: A Tokyo metropolitan assemblywoman [Shiomura Ayaka], who was subjected to sexist jeers during a recent assembly meeting, stressed that the heckling came from more than one person as she spoke at a news conference for the foreign media. [...] The Tokyo metropolitan assembly voted down on Wednesday a resolution that called for identifying assembly members who heckled an assemblywoman last week with sexist remarks, with disapproval by the Liberal Democratic Party delegation, the biggest group in the assembly. JK comments: The quote I'd like to focus on is this: "The incident has caused deep embarrassment to Japan which is preparing to host the Olympics." Soo.... seeing as how the political option got voted down twice, it looks to me like the only option Shiomura has to effect change in the gikai is via pulling the shame lever in form of a Kisha Club press conference. My take is that this move is intended to generate attention with gaiatsu as a real and possible side effect. Assuming this is case, can your conclusion to the Urawa "Japanese Only" Soccer Banner Case (i.e. Gaiatsu is basically the only way to make progress against racial discrimination in Japan) be generalized to include political misogyny as well?
23 Jun
REUTERS: The most recent government data show there are about 155,000 technical interns in Japan. Nearly 70 percent are from China, where some labor recruiters require payment of bonds worth thousands of dollars to work in Japan. Interns toil in apparel and food factories, on farms and in metal-working shops. In these workplaces, labor abuse is endemic: A 2012 investigation by Japanese labor inspectors found 79 percent of companies that employed interns were violating labor laws. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said it would use strict measures, including prosecution, toward groups that repeatedly violated the laws or failed to follow its guidance in their treatment of technical interns. Critics say foreign interns have become an exploited source of cheap labor in a country where, despite having the world's most rapidly ageing population, discussion of increased immigration is taboo. The U.S. State Department, in its 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, criticized the program's use of "extortionate contracts", restrictions on interns' movements, and the imposition of heavy fees if workers leave. [...] Not long after [Trainees Lu, Qian and Jiang's] arrival, the [Burberry outsourcing] apparel association took the women's passports and passed them to Kameda in violation of Japanese law protecting interns' freedom of movement, according to the lawsuit. An Ishikawa Apparel Association spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, said the group does not conduct inappropriate supervision and training, but declined further comment citing the lawsuit. At the factory, Lu, Qian and Jiang's overtime stretched to more than 100 hours a month, the lawsuit says. A timesheet prepared with data supplied by Kameda to the Japanese labor standards bureau shows Lu logged an average of 208 hours a month doing overtime and "homework" during her second year in Japan. That is equivalent to almost 16 hours a day, six days a week. Japanese labor policy considers 80 hours of overtime a month the "death by overwork" threshold. For this, Lu earned about 400 yen, about $4, an hour at Kameda, the timesheet shows. The local minimum wage at the time was 691 yen an hour, and Japanese law requires a premium of as much as 50 percent of the base wage for overtime. [...] Japan faces a worsening labor shortage, not only in family-run farms and factories such as Kameda but in construction and service industries. It is a major reason that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is planning a further expansion of the trainee program.
19 Jun
Here is my latest publication, expanded this time from one chapter to two: FODOR’S Japan 2014 Travel Guide Two full chapters on tourism in Hokkaido and Tohoku Pp. 707-810. ISBN 978-0-8041-4185-7. Available from Amazon.com (for example) here. Here are some excerpts. Get a copy, or advise your touring friends to get a copy!
17 Jun
While we're on the subject of sports, here's something that I found very positive: A Japanese baseball player for the Toronto Blue Jays named Kawasaki Munenori doing his darnedest to meet the domestic press (video here): I have written in the past about how certain other Japanese athletes overseas do it differently. In fact, my very first newspaper column (in the Asahi Evening News -- remember when it was titled that?) way back in 1997 was a grumble (what else? I'm Debito) on how J-baseball pioneer Nomo Hideo (remember him?) was skiving in terms of trying to connect with his adoptive community (article here). I will admit right now that I'm no expert on sports, but from what I've seen (and I'm welcome to correction/updates), many of Japan's athletes overseas don't bother to publicly learn the language, or connect all that much with their local community. Baseball superstar Ichiro is the immediate example that comes to mind, as AFAIK he assiduously avoids American media; some might justify it by saying he's all business (i.e., focused on the game) or trying to avoid gaffes. But I still think it comes off as pretty snobby, since these sportsmen's lives are being supported by fans, and they should give something back. If I had a hotline into their brain, I would tell them to go further -- exhort them to countermand the dominant discourse that English is too hard for Japanese to learn well. And then I would exhort even further: J sportsmen in the big leagues get treated pretty well (especially salarywise -- that's why they're no longer playing in Japan!), yet you never hear them speaking up about the shoe on the other foot, on behalf of the often lousy and discriminatory treatment many NJ sportsmen get treated in Japan (imagine if the United States put such stringent foreigner limits on their baseball team rosters, for example; contrast it with how many foreign players (more than a quarter of the total in 2012) MLB actually absorbs!) Again, sports isn't quite my field, and if you think I'm being inaccurate or unduly harsh, speak up! People have in the past: Here's an archived discussion we had nearly twenty years ago about Nomo in specific; I daresay that despite all the trailblazing Nomo did, and the wave of Japanese baseball players going overseas to seek fame and fortune, little has changed in terms of giving back. That's why Kawasaki is such a lovely exception, doing his level best to connect. His earnestness is very endearing. Debito.org gives two thumbs up! May more follow his example.
13 Jun
JT: Tokyo police will deploy about 800 officers in the Shibuya area Sunday to control crowds and reduce jams, noise and possible vandalism as Japan faces Cote d’Ivoire in the opening round of soccer’s World Cup. “We expect considerable congestion with soccer fans, shoppers and tourists,” a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department said Wednesday. “We will take necessary security measures to ensure a smooth traffic flow, control the congestion and prevent trouble.” COMMENT: Sooo.... once again we see the bad precedents established by bringing any major international event to Japan. I've written before on the bad precedents set by, for example, the G8 Summits (where foreigners anywhere in Japan, even hundreds of miles away in Hokkaido!, are cause for NPA crackdowns in the capital). And also the same with the 2002 World Cup, where the media was whipped into a frenzy over the possible prospect of "hooligans" laying waste to Japan and siring unwanted babies from rapes. (seriously). This time, in 2014, the games are thousands of miles away in Brazil. But the NPA has still gotta crack down! The paranoia, bunker mentalities, even outright falsification of data in order to justify a more-policed Japan are reaching ever more ludicrous degrees.
10 Jun
Any good organization wanting public approval (or in this case, approval from its geopolitical "friends") does outreach. And this very professional online magazine issued yesterday from the Abe Administration, called "We are Tomodachi", is worth an introduction to Debito.org Readers. It offers fascinating insights into what the PM Abe Administration is thinking (or trying to convince you it is thinking -- something few branches of Japan's governmental organs do in any convincing detail even for its citizens). As The Economist (London) recently noted, Abe is "Japan's most purposeful prime minister for many years", and herein many of Abe's purposes are clearly argued in well-proofed English, albeit in all their stiff transparency. Here's the Table of Contents: [...] Part travel guide, part geopolitical gaijin handling, part cultural screed (cue those shakuhachis!), "We Are Tomodachi" magazine is a great read to deconstruct how the Abe Administration is trying to march the Post-Bubble discourse on Japan back into the first-generation Postwar discourse. Ah, those were the days, when Japan's elites had near-total control over Japan's image in the world, and so few outsiders had any understanding (or or had experienced Japan in great depth) that they would ever be taken seriously by anyone who wasn't a "real Japanese" (moreover, the handful of NJ who did know something could be co-opted as anointed cultural emissaries; they're still trying to do it within this very magazine). No, since then millions of people have since experienced Japan beyond the GOJ boilerplate, have lived and invested their lives in Japan, and have learned the Japanese language. So the dialogue is not so easily controlled by the elites anymore. (PM Abe's Gaijin Handlers: If you're dropping in on Debito.org again, Yokoso and enjoy our Omotenashi!) So, Gaijin Handlers, here's a lesson on what to avoid next time: What irritates people like us who know better is your cultivated mysticism in elite conversations about anything cultural in Japan. Consider this example of bogus social science (depicted as a "secret") from page 72: ============================= "The Japanese have a reputation for being taciturn and hard to communicate with. Probably the most difficult part of Japanese communication for people from other countries is the way people here converse wordlessly. When people are standing silently at some natural attraction, they're using their five senses to feel nature and commune with it. So if you notice some quiet Japanese in such a spot, you might try joining them in their silence, taking in everything around you with all your senses: light, wind, sky, clouds, sounds, smells. Because even when nobody is talking, there is plenty of communication going on in Japan." ============================= This is a juicy claim for deconstruction under a number of genres of social science. The biggest confusion you're going to cause in NJ tourists and newbies will come when they confront the amount of noise at many a tourist trap (especially from those trying to "nigiyaka" the place up with their megaphoned music), and wonder how they're supposed to use all their five senses like the mystical Japanese apparently do. Logically, this also means the purported J-silence around awkward conversations could be due to the inscrutably "shy" Japanese trying to take NJ in with all their five senses too (I wonder what happens when they get to "Smell", "Touch", or "Taste"?). What rubbishy analytical tools. And it's one reason why so many people (Japanese and NJ) go nuts in Japan, because they're constantly told one thing yet experience another.
5 Jun
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….
5 Jun
Table of Contents: POSITIVE STEPS 1) Asahi: ‘Japanese Only’ banner at soccer stadium a microcosm of discrimination in Japan (E&J) 2) Asahi & Kyodo: Japan’s soccer leagues taking anti-discrimination courses, meting out punishments for racism 3) Saitama’s Konsho Gakuen school, “Japanese Only” since 1976, repeals rule only after media pressure, despite prefecture knowing about it since 2012 4) Counterdemos against racist rally by Zaitokukai in Osaka Nanba May 11, 2014: Brief on emerging narratives fighting fire with fire NEGATIVE STEPS 5) Reuters: Abe Admin seeks to expand, not contract, the deadly exploitative NJ “Trainee” program 6) SAPIO Mag features special on Immigration to Japan: Note odd media narratives microaggressing NJ (particularly the Visible Minorities) into voiceless role STEPS OF UNKNOWN VALUE 7) Scholar Majima Ayu on how the racial discrimination inherent in America’s Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924 caused all manner of Japanese craziness 8 ) Economist: China to become world’s largest economy by end-2014. Will USA react to being overtaken similar to Japan? … and finally… 9) My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 75, May 1, 2014: “Tackling Japan’s ‘Empathy Deficit’ Towards Outsiders”
3 Jun
Good news. The Urawa Reds' fans "Japanese Only" banner last March (which, as Debito.org reported, could have been as usual swept under the carpet of cultural relativism) has occasioned much debate (see here and here) and even proactive and remedial measures. Witness this: ASAHI: J.League’s players and team officials will be forced to take mandatory anti-discrimination classes as fallout from a fan’s banner that said “Japanese Only” and was not removed from a stadium during a league game in March. Officials with the Justice Ministry’s legal affairs bureaus and local volunteer human rights advocates commissioned by the agency, in agreement with the league, will visit all 51 teams in the J1, J2 and J3 divisions from June onward to give the classes. [...] The class instructors will expound on what acts constitute discrimination and use specific incidents, such as when a foreigner was denied admission to a “sento” (public bath), to demonstrate discriminatory acts. They will also discuss ways to improve interactions with foreigners, sources said.” Well, good. I'm not going to nit-pick this well-intentioned and positive move. It's long overdue, and Debito.org welcomes it. (Well, okay, one thing: It's funny how the lore on our Otaru Onsens Case (i.e., the "sento" denying entry to "a foreigner") has boiled down to one "foreigner" (which I was not, and it was more people denied than just me) going to just one sento (there were at least three with "Japanese Only" signs up at the time in Otaru). Somehow it's still a case of "discrimination against foreigners", which is the wrong lesson to take from this case, since the discrimination also targeted Japanese people.) Now witness this: KYODO: J3 player handed three-game ban for racist comments...
28 May
Bit of a tangent here, but when we saw Japan drop behind China to become the #3 largest economy, we saw reactions of craziness that still reverberate today (not the least sour grapes, but more heightened security issues). I wonder how the Americans will react to this news. The Economist (London) tells us like it is, with the aplomb of a former world power itself, declaring the American Century over. China will be the world's largest economy years at the end of this year, nearly half a decade ahead of schedule. Myself, I think this is (or should be) inevitable: China has the most people, so it stands to reason that it should have the most capacity to produce and be rich if not richest. After all, the Pax Americana Postwar goal of helping countries become rich and developed is that they'll become more stable economically, thus more likely to suppress warlike urges in favor of the mutual profit motive. Plus the Americans always held out hope that an emerging middle class would agitate for democratic reforms, and shudder at the thought of the Chinese system in its current form becoming the global hegemon. Will it react similar to Japan and see China as a threat, or will it keep Postwar historical goals in perspective and see it as a form of mission accomplished? The Economist: UNTIL 1890 China was the world’s largest economy, before America surpassed it. By the end of 2014 China is on track to reclaim its crown. Comparing economic output is tricky: exchange rates get in the way. Simply converting GDP from renminbi to dollars at market rates may not reflect the true cost of living. Bread and beer may be cheaper in one country than another, for example. To account for these differences, economists make adjustments based on a comparable basket of goods and services across the globe, so-called purchasing-power parity (PPP). New data released on April 30th from the International Comparison Programme, a part of the UN, calculated the cost of living in 199 countries in 2011. On this basis, China’s PPP exchange rate is now higher than economists had previously estimated using data from the previous survey in 2005: a whopping 20% higher. So China, which had been forecast to overtake America in 2019 by the IMF, will be crowned the world's pre-eminent country by the end of this year according to The Economist’s calculations. The American Century ends, and the Pacific Century begins.
24 May
Significant news: In addition to the bars, bathhouses, internet cafes, stores, restaurants, apartment rental agencies, schools, and even hospitals, etc. that have "Japanese Only" policies in Japan, the media has now publicized a longstanding case of a tertiary education institution doing the same. A place called Konsho Gakuen in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, offering instruction in cooking, nutrition, and confections, has since it opened in 1976 never accepted NJ into their student body. This exclusion was even written in their recruitment material as a "policy" (houshin): (scan) People knew about this. A Peruvian student denied entry complained to the authorities in 2012. But after some perfunctory scolding from Saitama Prefecture, everyone realized that nothing could be done about it. Racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan. Nobody could be penalized, and it was unclear if anyone could lose a license as an educational institution. So finally it hits the media. And after some defiance by the school (claiming to NHK below that they don't want to be responsible for NJ getting jobs in Japan; how conscientious), they caved in after about a week and said that the policy would be reversed (suck on the excuses they offered the media for why they had been doing it up to now -- including the standard, "we didn't know it was wrong" and "it's no big deal"). Debito.org would normally cheer for this. But the school is just taking their sign down. Whether they will actually ALLOW foreigners to join their student body is something that remains to be seen (and the J-media is remarkably untenacious when it comes to following up on stories of racial discrimination). When we see enrollments that are beyond token acceptances (or happen at all, actually) over the course of a few years, then we'll cheer.
20 May
For a change (compared to these videos for example here, here, and here), have a look at Japan's xenophobic public rallies from the perspective of anti-racism protesters. This is from May 11, 2014, a counter-rally against Zaitokukai in Osaka Nanba, drowning out Zaitokukai spokesman Sakurai Makoto. Good stuff: (video) A couple of things I've noticed within the emerging narratives of Japan's xenophobic demos: 1) The use of the word "reishisuto" (racist) both in Japanese and English, and the pat use of "sabetsu", to get their point across. This way the narrative doesn't split between the Newcomers and the Oldcomers, as discrimination towards these two groups is very different. But counter-demonstrator DO bear signs that say "jinshu sabetsu", or racial discrimination. Good. Looks like the Urawa Reds fans' "Japanese Only" banner last March finally cracked that rhetorical nut. 2) The use of the word "shame" (haji) once again to express displeasure, but no signs saying how NJ are residents too and such deserve rights. As I've argued before, until we make that connection, there's still a layer of "othering" going on here. 3) The use of the same rough language and simple drowning out of xenophobic messages through noise and chant. Fighting fire with fire. 4) The popularization of the "f*ck you finger" (aka "The Bird", not in common use in Japan in my experience until now). Other videos of demos and counter demos are welcome in the Comments Section. No doubt there will be more. I'm just glad that people are finally and firmly speaking out against these issues.
16 May
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:
12 May
When Debito.org last seriously talked about the issue of Japan's foreign "Trainees" (i.e. NJ brought over by the GOJ who are allegedly "in occupational training", therefore not qualifying as "workers" entitled to labor law protections), it was back in July 2010, when news broke about the death of 27 of them in 2009. The news to me was that it was only the SECOND worst casualty rate on record. Even more scandalous was that about a third of the total dead NJ (as in eight) had died of, quote, "unknown causes" (as if that's a sufficient explanation). Kyodo News back then rather ignorantly observed how problematic the "Trainee" system has been, stating that "a number of irregular practices have recently been observed, such as having foreign trainees work for long hours with below-minimum wages". Hardly "recent" even back then: Despite years of calls to fix or abolish the program entirely, with official condemnations in 2006 of it as "a swindle", and the UN in 2010 essentially calling it slavery (see article below), it was still causing deaths at the rate of two or three NJ a month. (The irony was that karoushi (death from overwork) was a big media event when Japanese were dying of it. Clearly less so when NJ die.) Now sit down for this news: The GOJ is seeking not to reform the "Trainee" system, but rather to EXPAND it. As the article indicates below, we've gotta get more cheap, disposable, and ultimately expendable foreigners to build our Tokyo Olympics in time for 2020. And then we can round them up once their visas expire and deport them (that is, if they're still alive), like we did back in Nagano for the 1998 Olympics. This is precisely the type of exploitative capitalism that creates Marxists. But again, who in Japan empathizes with NJ workers? They're only here to earn money and then go home, right? So they deserve to be exploited, runs the common national narrative. And under that discourse, no matter how bad it gets for them (and so far it really, really has), no amount of domestic or international condemnation will stop it.
8 May
Today's post is a history lesson, about a very different Japan that took racial discrimination very seriously. Especially when Japanese were the victims of it overseas. Let me type in a section from Majima Ayu, "Skin Color Melancholy in Modern Japan", in Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel, Eds., Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2013, pp. 398-401. /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Pathos of the Glorious "Colored" Japan's Racial Equality Clause was denied by the Western powers, and racial discrimination such as the Japanese exclusion in California still remains, which is enough insult to raise the wrath among the Japanese. -- Emperor Showa, 1946. As cited, the Emperor Showa (1901-1989) saw the exclusion Act as "a remote cause of the Pacific War"... In fact, opinions against the Japanese Exclusion Act were an immediate reason for public outcry in Japan. The population had become exasperated by the weak-kneed diplomacy that brought national dishonor amidst the emotional bashing from the mass media. This manifested in extremely emotional and near mass-hysteric situation, such as the suicides near the American Embassy on May 31, the follow-up suicides, the events for consoling the spirits of the deceased, and the countless letters sent to the Naval Department calling for war against the United States... American's racial categorization aggravated Japan's anger, which turned to anxiety as a result of Japan's diminishing sense of belonging in the world; "the world being limited to the Western powers", as Tokutomi cited earlier, even if Japan earned a status equal to that of the Western powers, there would still be a great "distance" between them, namely one of racial and religious differences, and the whole difference between the East and West. The sentiment of being a "solitary wanderer" rejected by the West contradicts the manner in which Japan brought about its own isolation. Tokutomi also asserted that the express "Asian" had no other meaning beyond the geographical, and thus Japan's self-perceptions and identity no longer belonged to Asia. The sense of isolation was actually based on the denial of "Asia", and it came from Japan's own identification built upon the idea of "Quit Asia and Join Europe". It could be said that Japan's contradictory identification came to reveal Japan's inability to identify with either the East or the West, a situation that came about through the emergence of a consciousness of the racial distance, especially from 1919 to 1924. /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// COMMENT: Look at how crazy racial discrimination makes people. Mass hysteria? Suicides? Rumors of war? Feeling rejected by the West after the elites had taken a risk and turned the national narrative away from the East? Thereby laying the groundwork for Postwar Japan's narrative of uniqueness and exceptionalism that fuels much of the irrational and hypocritical behavior one sees in Japan today (especially vis-a-vis racial discrimination towards anyone NOT "Japanese"). Yet during Prewar Japan (when Japan was colonizing), the GOJ denied that it could even ideologically PRACTICE racial discrimination, since it was liberating fellow members of the Asian race (Oguma Eiji 2002: 332-3); and now we get denials that it exists in Japan, or that Japanese even understand the concept of racial discrimination because Japanese society allegedly has no races. After all, racial discrimination is something done to us Japanese by less civilized societies. It couldn't happen in Japan. Yet it does. And when that is pointed out, then the denialism comes roaring back intertwined, as the above passage demonstrates, with the historical baggage of victimization.
3 May
Big news this week I hadn't gotten around to blogging was Monday's front-page story in the Asahi Shinbun, about Japan's "Japanese Only" signs, with a sizable chunk of the article devoted to the research that Debito.org has done on them. It made a huge splash in the media. So much so that TV Asahi will be doing a segment on it on Sunday during their show『報道ステーションSUNDAY』(毎週日曜日10時~11時45分)for being one of the Asahi's most viewed online articles of the week. So switch it on and have a watch. Anyone want to record the segment for replay on Debito.org? Here's the article from the English version of the Asahi (significantly different from how it appeared in Japanese), followed by the original Japanese. Have a read. And thank you, everyone, for reading and supporting Debito.org. ASAHI: A “Japanese Only” banner at a professional soccer game made international headlines and led to unprecedented penalties. But such signs are not new in Japan, and some have even appeared at tourist hotspots. It is true that some signs like these have been put up by people who genuinely dislike citizens of other countries. But many others say they had no intention to be discriminatory, and that their “Japanese Only” displays stem from the language barrier and problems with foreign customers unaware of Japanese rules and customs. Two apparent reasons why these signs keep showing up is a general sense of apathy among the public and a lack of understanding at how offensive the words can be for foreigners in Japan... 朝日新聞: キックオフの2時間前。酒に酔った30代の男たちが、1階通路に集まっていた。3月8日午後2時すぎ、快晴の埼玉スタジアム。Jリーグ浦和レッズのサポーター集団「ウラワボーイズ・スネーク」の3人だ。本拠地開幕戦だった。  縦70センチ、横2・5メートルの白い布と、スプレー缶を持ち込んでいた。コンクリートの床に敷き、黒い文字で、英語を吹き付けた。JAPANESE(ジャパニーズ) ONLY(オンリー)  午後4時前。ゴール裏の観客席は、浦和のユニホームを着た熱心なサポーターで、真っ赤に染まっていた。席の出入り口に、3人はつくったばかりの横断幕を掲げた。隣には、日の丸が掲げられていた。[後略]
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