No. 5: The Otaru onsen case (’99-2005)
This lawsuit followed the landmark Ana Bortz case of 1999, where a Brazilian plaintiff sued and won against a jewelry store in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, that denied her entry for looking foreign. Since Japan has no national law against racial discrimination, the Bortz case found that United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination (CERD), which Japan signed in 1995, has the force of law instead. The Otaru case (Zeit Gist, June 3, 2008) (in which, full disclosure, your correspondent was one plaintiff) attempted to apply penalties not only to an exclusionary bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, but also to the Otaru city government for negligence. Results: Sapporo’s district and high courts both ruled the bathhouse must pay damages to multiple excluded patrons. The city government, however, was exonerated.
Why this matters: Although our government has repeatedly said to the U.N. that “racial discrimination” does not exist in Japan (“discrimination against foreigners” exists, but bureaucrats insist this is not covered by the CERD, the Otaru case proved it does, establishing a cornerstone for any counterargument. However, the Supreme Court in 2005 ruled the Otaru case was “not a constitutional issue,” thereby exposing the judiciary’s unwillingness to penalize discrimination expressly forbidden by the Constitution.
Regardless, the case built on the Bortz precedent, setting standards for NJ seeking court redress for discrimination (providing you don’t sue the government). It also helped stem a tide of “Japanese only” signs spreading across the country.
No. 4: Ishihara’s sangokujin rant (2000)
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara set the tone this decade with a calamitous diatribe to the Nerima Ground Self Defense Forces (ZG, Dec. 18, 2007), claiming that NJ (including “sangokujin,” a derogatory term for former citizens of the Japanese Empire) were in Japan “repeatedly committing heinous crimes.” Ishihara called on the SDF to round foreigners up during natural disasters in case they rioted (something that has never happened).
Why this matters: A leader of a world city pinned a putative crime wave on NJ (even though most criminal activity in Japan, both numerically and proportionately, has been homegrown ( ZG, Feb. 20, 2007) and even offered discretionary policing power to the military, yet he has kept his office to this day. This speech made it indisputably clear that Ishihara’s governorship would be a bully pulpit, and Tokyo would be his turf to campaign against crime — meaning against foreigners. This event emboldened other politicians to vilify NJ for votes.
No. 3: The 2003-2005 Koizumi Cabinet
Once re-elected to his second term, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi got right down to business targeting NJ. No fewer than three Cabinet members in their opening policy statements mentioned foreign crime, one stressing that his goal was “making Japan the world’s safest country again” — meaning, again, safe from foreigners (ZG, Oct. 7, 2003).
Why this matters: Koizumi’s record toward NJ residents was dismal. Policies promulgated “for the recovery of public safety” explicitly increased the peace for kokumin (Japanese nationals) at the expense of NJ residents. In 2005, the Action Plan for Pre-Empting Terrorism (ZG, May 24, 2005) portrayed tero as an international phenomenon (ignoring homegrown examples), officially upgrading NJ from mere criminals to terrorists.
Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of this bunker mentality were the police, who found their powers enhanced thusly:
No. 2: Police crackdowns (1999-today)
After May 1999, when their Policy Committee Against Internationalization (sic) was launched, the National Police Agency found ample funding for policies targeting NJ as criminals, terrorists and “carriers of infectious diseases.” From NPA posters depicting NJ as illegal laborers, members of international criminal groups and violent, heinous crooks, campaigns soon escalated to ID checks for cycling while foreign, public Internet “snitch sites” (ZG, March 30, 2004), increased racial profiling on the street and on public transport, security cameras in “hotbeds of foreign crime” and unscientific “foreigner indexes” applied to forensic crime scene evidence (ZG, Jan. 13, 2004).
Not only were crackdowns on visa overstayers (i.e., on crimes Japanese cannot by definition commit) officially linked to rises in overall crime, but also mandates reserved for the Immigration Bureau were privatized: Hotels were told by police to ignore the actual letter of the law (which required only tourists be checked) and review every NJ’s ID at check-in (ZG, March 8, 2005). Employers were required to check their NJ employees’ visa status and declare their wages to government agencies (ZG, Nov. 13, 2007). SDF members with foreign spouses were “removed from sensitive posts” (ZG, Aug. 28, 2007). Muslims and their friends automatically became al-Qaida suspects, spied on and infiltrated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (ZG, Nov. 9).
There were also orgiastic spending frenzies in the name of international security, e.g., World Cup 2002 and the 2008 Toyako G8 Summit (JBC, July 1, 2008). Meanwhile, NJ fingerprinting, abolished by the government in 1999 as a “violation of human rights,” was reinstated with a vengeance at the border in 2007. Ultimately, however, the NPA found itself falsifying its data to keep its budgets justified — claiming increases even when NJ crime and overstaying went down (ZG, Feb. 20, 2007). Hence, power based upon fear of the foreigner had become an addiction for officialdom, and few Japanese were making a fuss because they thought it didn’t affect them. They were wrong.
Why this matters: The NPA already has strong powers of search, seizure, interrogation and incarceration granted them by established practice. However, denying human rights to a segment of the population has a habit of then affecting everyone else (ZG, July 8, 2008). Japanese too are now being stopped for bicycle ID checks and bag searches under the same justifications proffered to NJ.
Police security cameras — once limited to Tokyo “foreigner zones” such as Kabukicho and Roppongi — are proliferating nationwide. Policing powers are growing stronger because human rights protections have been undermined by precedents set by antiforeigner policies. Next up: Laws preventing NJ from owning certain properties for “security reasons,” more tracking of overseas money transfers, and IC-chip “gaijin cards” readable from a distance (ZG, May 19, 2009).
No. 1: The ’09 drop in the non-Japanese population
For the first time in 48 years, the number of foreigners living in Japan went down. This could be a temporary blip due to the nikkei repatriation bribe of 2009-2010 (JBC, April 7, 2009), when the government offered goodbye money only to foreigners with Japanese blood. Since 1990, more than a million Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry have come here on special visas to help keep Japan’s industries humming cheaply. Now tens of thousands are pocketing the bribe and going back, giving up their pensions and becoming somebody else’s unemployment statistic.
Why this matters: NJ numbers will eventually rise again, but the fact that they are going down for the first time in generations is disastrous. For this doesn’t just affect NJ — it affects everyone in Japan. A decade ago, both the U.N. and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi stated that Japan needs 600,000 NJ a year net influx just to maintain its taxpayer base and current standard of living. Yet a decade later, things are going in exactly the opposite way.
It should be no surprise: Japan has become markedly unfriendly these past 10 years. Rampant and unbalanced NJ-bashing have shifted Japanese society’s image of foreigner from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “social bane and criminal.” Why would anyone want to move here and make a life under these conditions?
Japan’s economic vitality depends on demographics. Yet the only thing that can save Japan — a clear and fair policy towards immigration — is taboo for discussion (JBC, Nov. 3, 2009J).
Let’s hope Japan next decade comes to its senses, figuring out not only how to make life here more attractive for NJ, but also how to make foreigners into Japanese.
Bubbling under for the decade: U.N. Rapporteur Doudou Diene’s 2005 and 2006 visits to Japan, where he called discrimination here “deep and profound” (ZG, June 27, 2006); Japan’s unsuccessful 2006 bid for a U.N. Security Council seat — the only leverage the U.N. has over Japan to follow international treaties; the demise of the racist Gaijin Hanzai magazine and its publisher thanks to NJ grassroots protests (ZG, March 20, 2007); the Hamamatsu Sengen and other statements by local governments calling for nicer policies towards NJ (JBC, June 3, 2008); the domination of NJ wrestlers in sumo; the withering of fundamental employers of NJ, including Japan’s export factories and the eikaiwa (English conversation school) industry (ZG, Dec. 11, 2007).
Illustration by Chris MacKenzie.
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