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Ol’ blue eyes isn’t back: Tsurunen’s tale offers lessons in microcosm for DPJ

by Debito Arudou

Spare a thought for Marutei Tsurunen, Japan’s first European-born naturalized immigrant parliamentarian. He was voted out in last month’s House of Councilors election.

You might think I’d call it tragic. No. It was a comeuppance.

It needn’t have turned out this way. Squeaking into a seat by default in 2001, Tsurunen was later re-elected in 2007 with a reaffirming mandate of 242,740 proportional representation votes, sixth in his party. Last month, however, he lost badly, coming in 12th with only 82,858.

For a man who could have demonstrated what immigrants (particularly our visible minorities) can do in Japan, it was an ignominious exit — so unremarkable that the Asahi Shimbun didn’t even report it among 63 “noteworthy” campaigns.

However, Tsurunen offers lessons in microcosm for his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and on why Japan’s left wing was so spectacularly trounced in the last two elections.

Tsurunen became an MP partly because, as a Caucasian newcomer, he offered protest voters something different (even visibly) from established expectations. But he wasn’t a sphinx. He said he would speak up for outsiders, promote intercultural tolerance, and support laws banning discrimination in housing and employment (The New York Times, Mar. 8, 2002).

However, mere months later he distanced himself from “foreigner issues.” In a 2002 interview, he told me that his basic policy was to hitch his fortunes to the DPJ.

Quote: “There will be cases, such as international problems, where . . . I will have to vote along party lines, even if it is at odds with my personal convictions. . . . After all, if I don’t follow party discipline, I will be expelled from the party. Then I won’t be able to do my job. I will maintain my ability to say my own opinion, but at important times I will be a party man. That’s how I stand.”

That’s not much of a stand. Yet as the DPJ’s fortunes rose to the point that it began to look like a viable ruling party, Tsurunen became more invisible.

Where was Tsurunen (or his staff) when the United Nations visited the Diet on May 18, 2006, to present their preliminary findings about racial discrimination in Japan?

When the DPJ took power and began presenting significant proposals to enfranchise outsiders, such as suffrage for permanent residents and anti-discrimination laws, where was Tsurunen when opposition debates became racialized and xenophobic?

When bigoted politicians such as Shintaro Ishihara and Takeo Hiranuma began questioning the loyalty of Japanese with “foreign ancestors” (“Last gasps of Japan’s dying demagogues,” JBC, May 4, 2010), why wasn’t Tsurunen standing up for himself? After all, if not him, who? (The most vocal protests were from Mizuho Fukushima, the leader — until very recently — of a different party altogether.)

Not only did Tsurunen fail to influence the debate — he even relinquished control over his own public narrative and identity.

He famously “gaijinized” himself in The Japan Times (“Mind the gap, get over it: Japan Hands,” Zeit Gist, Dec. 28, 2010) by calling himself a “foreigner” and telling people to accept and work with their lot as permanent outsiders.

Despite some public backpedaling and capitulation, Tsurunen’s attitude never changed, and even after 12 years in office he never tried to transcend the novelty factor of being Japan’s First Gaijin MP.

As proof, check out one of his pamphlets shortly before this election, where he even metaphorically offered to “change the color of his (blue) eyes” (“me” no iro kaete, i.e., change his mind). Now that’s what I call racialized pandering!

So in the end, what was Tsurunen’s agenda? That’s unclear, because he let others dictate it.

As did the DPJ. And that’s why they fell from power.

To give them some credit, all newcomers face entrenched difficulties navigating the minefield of Japanese politics. The DPJ inherited a system corrupted by decades of Liberal Democratic Party rule and patronage, firmly nestling Japan in now more than two “lost decades” of economic stagnation. Yet regime change was still so inconceivable that ahead of the 2009 election, the media had to popularize a new phrase in Japanese (seiken kōtai) in anticipation of a new party coming to power.

The DPJ also had the bad luck of the March 11, 2011, disasters happening on their watch. Given how badly Japan’s nuclear industry botched their job (not to mention their refusal to cooperate with the DPJ), this would have spelled doom for any party in power at the time.

Nevertheless, here’s where the DPJ is culpable: During its short time in power, the party made some impressive policy proposals in very clear precedent-setting manifestos; the problem is that in the crucible of public debate, they didn’t stand by them.

The DPJ’s first major sign of fragility came with their policy cave-in to the U.S. government over American military bases in Okinawa (“Futenma is undermining Japanese democracy”, JBC, Jun. 1, 2010).

This eventually cost us our first DPJ prime minister, and gave glass jaws to future policy proposals sent into public policy brawls.

Increased welfare services? Bogged down. Historical reconciliation with neighbors? Lame. Renewable energy? Nixed. Any issues other than border disputes? Weak.

Eventually, the DPJ could neither control their party narrative nor set the public agenda. By the time PM Yoshihiko Noda took charge in 2011, the electorate and the media were somehow convinced that a gridlocked Diet (due to the LDP’s machinations) was the DPJ’s fault!

Allowing the LDP to set the agenda is particularly ill-advised in a society that fixates on brands (and the LDP is the default political brand of postwar Japan) and generally roots for winners rather than underdogs. (After all, if the media is constantly telling you that the DPJ is going to lose, why would you waste your vote on them?)

Contrast this with how clear the LDP has been about their intentions over the past year, even if it includes erasing postwar democratic liberalism.

This column argued last November (“If bully Ishihara wants one last stand, bring it on,” Nov. 6) that Japan’s rightists should show their true colors, so the electorate could decide if they wanted a Diet of historical revisionists, bigots and xenophobes. The debate was indeed conducted in technicolor. And last December, with the DPJ’s resounding electoral defeat, voters decided that xenophobia was OK with them.

Then this column argued in February (“Keep Abe’s hawks in check or Japan will suffer,” Feb. 4) that if both Diet houses went to the LDP in July, this would bring about radical constitutional revisions affecting civil liberties. Last month, voters apparently decided that was OK too. Thus, a perfect storm of politics has completely routed Japan’s left.

But many leftists deserved to lose their seats in the Diet regardless, because they were too timid or disorganized to carve a space for themselves in Japan’s political narrative. We knew more about who they were not (the LDP) than who they were.

Similarly, Tsurunen will be remembered as a person with insufficient self-awareness of his role in Japanese politics. He called himself an “outsider,” then refused to fight for issues that concerned outsiders. Like Tsurunen, the DPJ ultimately resigned themselves to their fate as permanent outsiders.

So, barring an unlikely no-confidence vote, we have around three more years of LDP coalition rule. During this time in the political wilderness, Japan’s left had better learn the power of controlling their own narrative, and grasp the fact that the party in power should set the terms of debate on public policy. If they ever want to be insiders again, they must seize the agenda accordingly.

Debito Arudou’s updated “Guidebook for Relocation and Assimilation into Japan” is now available as a downloadable e-book on Amazon. See www.debito.org/handbook.html. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community pages of the month. Send your comments on these issues and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp .

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    ““There will be cases, such as international problems, where . . . I will have to vote along party lines, even if it is at odds with my personal convictions. . . . After all, if I don’t follow party discipline, I will be expelled from the party. Then I won’t be able to do my job. I will maintain my ability to say my own opinion, but at important times I will be a party man. That’s how I stand.” That’s not much of a stand.”

    That is how parliamentary democracy works, Mr. Arudou – hard to grasp for Colonials, I know, but there you have it.

    Tsurunen may not have achieved much, granted, but he achieved a lot more than a curmudgeon with a blog and a monthly “column” in, as a real writer put it recently, “the page that gives JT a bad name”.

    • Dudley

      “That is how parliamentary democracy works.”

      Or not.

      As this column points out, both he and his party got voted out.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        That (the election results) are not really the point of Arudou’s hatchet job, now are they? In a parliamentary system, one votes for the party more than the individual MP. Tsurunen’s “stand”, to toe the party line, is a necessity of survival. This is as opposed to the US system where a state party headquarters will endorse the candidate who identifies with them and is most likely to win, not the candidate who toes the party line best. As a result US political parties in Congress sometimes have situations, as happened several years ago, where an election produces a crop of first-time legislators who feel that they were elected for certain stances, and the senior party leadership in Congress is not only unable to rein them in but at times is forced to concede. Or senior Democratic legislators overwhelmingly “vote Republican”, and not only are not penalized but get re-elected on a Democratic ticket time and again. Such a situation is unthinkable in a Parliamentary system, particularly Japan’s. There is certainly room for debate on which system is better, but that is not within the scope of this article, and Mr. Arudou’s criticism merely shows that he never understood how the system works in the first place and so directs his ire, yet again, at someone who had the misfortune to be able to understand the system, integrate themselves into it, and succeed where Mr. Arudou so spectacularly failed.

      • Sam Gilman

        Actually, GMainwaring is perfectly correct. In parliamentary systems it is standard practice for party members to vote as a bloc. They are openly elected as representatives of these blocs and not just as individuals, and usually save breaking ranks for very serious matters of conscience. There are even official party personnel called “whips” in many countries to ensure party discipline. You may be confusing Japan with the US where at least nationally there has always been rather loose party discipline. The US famously has a separation of powers between legislature and executive; a collapse in party discipline in congress does not lead to the Presidency changing hands. Therefore, the US system can remain stable without strong party discipline (which is both a good and bad thing). However, in a parliamentary democracy where the executive arises from the legislature, if governing party discipline fails, the government is likely to fall. I believe Debito actually has a degree in politics and should be aware of what really is a “Politics 101″ difference between the US and most other major industrial democracies. In that light, this particular criticism against Tsurunen is a very strange one to make against a parliamentarian.

        Regarding your own comment about party discipline “not working”: one of the reasons the DPJ had a disastrous time and lost public confidence was because it was riven internally: it could not maintain discipline, largely through the antics of Ichiro Ozawa who ended up splitting the party in pursuit of his own ambitions. The logic for someone like me who grew up in a parliamentary system goes like this: why vote for a party that can’t keep its own members in order? Having someone like Tsurunen who understands the concept of party loyalty is an asset, not a liability.

  • LukeCorrigan

    Wow. Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down. Anybody might suspect an element of jealousy at work here….

    This is ironic on so many levels.

    Mr. Arudou himself has had huge opportunities to demonstrate “what immigrants can do”, what with his website and his column, yet he’s squandered them at almost every opportunity with his aggressive intolerance toward differing points of view and his determination to find fault in Japanese society at every opportunity.

    I’ve avoided his website these days, given that it’s become a parade of the same five or six posters trotting out the same tired arguments, but I had a look after reading this article. A couple of recent examples (and they’re everywhere) of his problem:

    1) He claimed that the racist Suzuki Nobuyuki’s election posters, which read “Kankoku nyukoku kinshi” meant “Ban Koreans from entering Japan”, a schoolboy error. When this was first pointed out to him, he prevaricated rather than admit his mistake. He’d rather keep up a fight than play fair.

    2) He recently proudly added “yet another” karaoke establishment to his “rogue’s (sic) gallery” list of racist establishments which refuse entrance to foreigners. No mention of the fact that the previous entry dated back to 2008. A fair-minded commentator would surely have pointed this out. But that doesn’t suit the trouble-making agenda.

    So, sorry Mr. Arudou; merely by being elected, doing his job and keeping his mouth shut, Mr. Tsurunen has done more for Japanese-foreign relations than your actively harmful provocations.

    • Dudley

      Dude, how about saying something about the arguments in this column? Why do you make this an issue of the columnist and not of the points raised in the column? Shoot the messenger much?

      • LukeCorrigan

        @Dudley
        I’m not attacking Debito personally, just the way he chooses to wage his campaign, which is exactly what he’s doing to Tsurunen. It happens to be the case that this is the only place where Debito.org can be criticized in a reasonably civilized atmosphere. Try criticizing on the site itself and you’ll either be met with a hail of truly unpleasant sarcasm, or, if you post is a bit too perceptive for Mr. Arudou’s liking, it’ll simply disappear without trace.
        I ask again, is that any way to make the best use of the opportunities for bridge-building and constructive engagement that exist in the form of the blog and the column?

  • Toolonggone

    Aside from author’s sarcasm–and same old mundane tirades and invectives seen here, I think it’s fair to say that this man didn’t make any agendas that drew attention from both Japanese and non-Japanese. I really wonder how many Japanese know that this Finn-born guy was serving as a diet member for the House of Councilors. Take a close look at his profile in the photo above. He never won the election by garnering substantial votes in any of previous elections. It was a sudden resignation of top voter (Kyosen Ohashi) that gave him an entrance to political arena. Arguably, he’s one of the very few westerners who were privileged to serve as national public servant.

    All I learn from his background and the reflection from recent election is that he squandered the opportunity to no avail. Should all we be patient enough to wait for a decade or two to see non-Japanese candidate take the seat—or an exceptionally open-minded Japanese candidate initiate the agendas important to the international community?

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      “Should all we be patient enough to wait for a decade or two to see non-Japanese candidate take the seat”

      Non-Japanese cannot hold elected office, nor vote. So we will never see, nor should we see in my opinion, a non-Japanese Diet member. We will see, as we have up until now, naturalized Japanese Diet members, but they are Japanese and are beholden to their party and constituency. Which is as it should be – I certainly wouldn’t vote for a candidate who ran on a platform of advancing foreign interests.

    • Sam Gilman

      He subsequently won enough votes, as Debito points out. In any case, his entrance at the national level was entirely in accordance with the rules. I really don’t see what your point is.

      • Toolonggone

        Yea, you’re right. Re-election in 2007. I forgot about that. He was privileged because 1) he was an exception to foreigner’s ineligibility for civil servant (note: he’s naturalized); and 2) his rival candidate resigned(This is crucial, indeed).

        One remaining question: should a naturalized politician be morally obligated to behave just like many other Japanese politicians in her/his party? In other words, s/he should remain silent within the party, or refrain from seeking a higher position (i.e., president/vice president of political party) or nomination to important positions such as cabinet ministry (if affiliated party won the national election)?

      • Sam Gilman

        What on Earth are you on about?

        First of all, there’s been no exception made for Tsurunen: he enjoys all the rights of a Japanese citizen.

        Second your point about naturalised Japanese politicians being morally obligated to be like other politicians and silent and not take higher office? I simply can’t make sense of this. Are you saying no Japanese politician takes high office or speaks??

        In any case, we’ve just had a naturalised citizen as a cabinet minister in the last government. Another was vice-minister. I don’t believe their progresshas received much attention from Debito. Have you thought of diversifying your news sources?

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        “In any case, we’ve just had a naturalised citizen as a cabinet minister in the last government. Another was vice-minister.”

        Ah, but they aren’t white English speakers, so they don’t count…

      • Toolonggone

        It’s all about public appearance, conformity, and obedience with political party line that matter most, period.

      • Sam Gilman

        What is “it”? Politics in general? Japanese politics? (Are you that familiar with the Japanese political conversation beyond what you read about in English or from Debito’s site?) Being a foreign-born politician in Japan?

        The worst thing for any democratic system is when people become aimlessly, determinedly cynical about the whole democratic enterprise. Tsurunen, Renho, Haku all expose the myth of an ethnically closed Japanese polity for what it is: lazy thinking by the fashionably disaffected.

      • Toolonggone

        >What is “it”? Politics in general? Japanese politics?

        Conventional norms, assumptions, and expectations applied to the politics in Japan. I am a native speaker of Japanese, living in Japanese for over 25 plus years watching Japanese politicians(both left and right) dancing in the floor of Diet in my life. You obviously have no idea about the character of Japanese polity–predominantly Yamato-oriented and strictly rule-bound to political party, and how it constraints politicians–especially those who don’t have a cultural root of Yamato. Even Renho and Haku are being carefully watched by senior politicians within their party, for their speeches coming out of their mouths. Renho was once reprimanded for her ‘Japan should be happy with #2 in supercomputer,’ and forced to retract her previous comment later.

        >The worst thing for any democratic system is when people become aimlessly, determinedly cynical about the whole democratic enterprise

        So, in your opinion, ordinary people are all for blame for political mess which is created and re-created by Nagatacho and Kasumigaseki?

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        “So, in your opinion, ordinary people are all for blame for political mess which is created and re-created by Nagatacho and Kasumigaseki?”

        Erm, exactly how do you think those silly politicians that created the mess got into the Diet in the first place? They weren’t born there, you know…

      • Toolonggone

        Actually, Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho are the places where “those silly politicians” are taking care of their business.

      • Sam Gilman

        First, being bound to a political party is not a peculiarly Japanese trait. It’s a common feature of parliamentary democracy, as I explained above. You’re apparently only 25, so I’ll forgive you for not having much knowledge of how many other democracies around the world work.

        Renho was not “reprimanded” (ie scolded by her boss) when she challenged the rationale for state funding because of her ethnicity. Hatoyama simply disagreed with her following lobbying from scientists. Saying “we should settle for second best” would be controversial from any politician. The only comment I know of in relation to her question that referenced her ethnicity was made by a right wing politican in the LDP. Well, knock me down with a feather, a right wing party has a few racists in it. Again, not a particularly Japanese trait. You may have noticed a far bigger stink over a certain Mr Obama’s birthplace.

        Finally, no, I didn’t blame “ordinary people” for the mess of Japanese politics. On the other hand, I don’t think determined cynicism of the sort you express either matches the facts, or serves as any kind of platform for change to solve the mess. Broad and inaccurate generalisations about Japanese politics are pretty pointless.

      • Toolonggone

        >Broad and inaccurate generalisations about Japanese politics are pretty pointless.
        Okkkkaaaay, so do you have any idea how it looks like, if you don’t mind asking?

      • Sam Gilman

        Your question illustrates my point: you think it’s possible to give a meaningful description of the mechanics of Japanese politics in a short comment.

        When someone starts to say that culture (norms, expectations, Yamato-values) drives politics, they’re not really saying anything meaningful.

        “Cultural” explanations can’t account for change, they can’t account for differences and variety between parties and between politicians. They explain behaviour by reference to behaviour. It doesn’t get us anywhere.

      • Toolonggone

        Right. And I think you mean “cultural expectations” which are primarily derived from political institutions. In case of Japan, very few politicians and lawmakers have been willing to challenge the status quo, regardless of the positions. They are the ones who get their heads nailed.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        “1) he was an exception to foreigner’s ineligibility for civil servant”

        TSURUNEN MARUTEI IS NOT A FOREIGNER!

        Begging forgiveness from others in the room for yelling, but this is the crucial bit you, and Mr. Arudou, seem to be missing. You sound like you think because Tsurunen is “White Like Me” he is a “foreigner” and “owes” real foreigners something. I find this particularly ironic coming from Mr. Arudou, who was well known for going absolutely ballistic whenever another person, Japanese or foreign, failed to instantly recognize him as a Japanese (as in the poor waitress in that infamous Tkyo Sam video interview). This column was written by a man who publicly demanded over and over (and quite rightly so, I might add) that he be treated the same as any other Japanese citizen (unless of course he wanted to be treated differently, as in his ridiculous demand that Japanese census forms allow him to list his former nationality and call himself “American-Japanese”, or at least “White-Japanese”), and yet here he is yet again complaining about another Japanese selling out and not supporting his fellow non-Japanese.

        Even though they are not his fellows.

        And even though Mr. Arudou correctly called former Gov. Ishihara out for claiming that Japanese Diet members of non-Japanese ancestry were somehow selling Japan out and were beholden to their ancestors and not Japan or their constituency.

        Yet here Mr. Arudou is bemoaning the fact that a Japanese pol of foreign ancestry didn’t do *exactly* what Ishihara claimed such pols were doing or would do. Perhaps the (il)logic is that such pols *must* pander to foreigners, but other Japanese must *never* call them on it, and if they do they are racist xenophobes?

        “should a naturalized politician be morally obligated to behave just like many other Japanese politicians in her/his party?”

        I don’t know if I would say “morally obligated”, but if they want to get ahead they damn well better toe the party line at key times.

        “In other words, s/he should remain silent within the party, or refrain from seeking a higher position (i.e., president/vice president of political party) or nomination to important positions such as cabinet ministry (if affiliated party won the national election)?”

        I don’t think you have any idea how pols work, now do you?

      • Toolonggone

        >TSURUNEN MARUTEI IS NOT A FOREIGNER!

        My answer: 1) he was an exception to foreigner’s ineligibility for civil servant (note: he’s naturalized);

        #READ MY ABOVE SENTENCE CAREFULLY, PLEASE!
        I made it very clear he’s naturalized, which is the very reason why he became eligible for holding public office.

        I certainly don’t think you have any sort of idea how the Japanese society expects its citizens(both native and naturalized) to think, act, and behave in general, either.

        Finally, what is your problem!? Your long rambling on Debito and his followers is simply irrelevant to the issue discussed here. If you keep throwing this kind of non-sense, at me or anyone on the board, forget it. You’re choosing wrong fish on your race bait.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        I do not think that word (exception) means what you think it does. As it now appears that English is not your first language, perhaps I should cut you some slack on this, however:

        Exception – noun – a person or thing that is excluded from a general statement or does not follow a rule

        “foreigners are ineligible for civil service” (not strictly true in Japan, they are only ineligible for *specific kinds* of civil service, but…) This is the general rule you gave.

        “Tsurunen Marutei was an exception to the rule that foreigners are ineligible for civil service” In order for this to be true, Tsurunen Marutei would have to be a foreigner, as he cannot be Japanese and be an exception to a rule concerning foreigners. However we all know that Tsurunen Marutei is indeed a Japanese, therefore he cannot be an exception to a rule that concerns only foreigners.

        By saying he was an exception to the rule you gave, even with the qualifier “note: he’s naturalized”, you are leaving the reader with the unavoidable impression that you still consider him to be a “foreigner” even though he is Japanese.

        Do you understand?

      • Toolonggone

        Nope. the rule is not what I give. The government does. (Yes. The national leaders who allow you to come and stay in Japan.) There’s absolutely no exception tor that.

        You’d better stop playing a silly word game because you’re not making sense.

      • Toolonggone

        >TSURUNEN MARUTEI IS NOT A FOREIGNER!

        “1) he was an exception to foreigner’s ineligibility for civil servant”(note: he’s naturalized)

        #READ MY SENTENCE CAREFULLY PLEASE!!! Nowhere did I say he is a foreigner.

        >You sound like you think because Tsurunen is “White Like Me” he is a “foreigner” and “owes” real foreigners something.

        So, in your argument, anyone who challenges the conventional norms and/or assumptions in Japan for the goodwill of people is white. And anyone who agrees with that notion is racist at worst, or bigoted at best. Wow! Sounds like Bill O’Reilly defending white culture, to me.

      • Toolonggone

        Sorry, I’m getting blank. What do these rants have anything to do with me!?

  • Fight Back

    As far as I know this political apologist made no attempt to approach Debito or come to him for advice. He had ample opportunity to try to add to Debito’s legacy and yet did nothing.

    This is why I believe apologists should be named and shamed. I have purged myself of any associates with apologist leanings an urge others to do the same. Only when they are left out in the cold ala Tsuruben Marutei will they realize their mistake.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      ” I have purged myself”

      Well that sounds painful…

      • Fight Back

        The typical response of any apologist. When faced with the bitter and unassailable truth, make light of it, make it a joke.

        Well Debito is not laughing. He’s lived here longer, than most of us, bought a house, had a job, naturalized, and faced blatant discrimination every step of the way.

        He took a stand. He stood up for our rights when the apologists were happy to sign them away for the crumb’s from their oppressors table. I think Debito’s record now speaks for itself. He’s done more for us in this great struggle than Tsuruben ever could. And he’s done it alone. Absolute respect to the man.

        Apologists with your online clatches dedicated to cyber-bullying any of us who dare to speak out are guilty of collaboration in the discrimination of NJ nationwide.

        And that is why I will not foster any contact with any person that derides Debito, either privately or publicly. The stakes, for NJ, are that high.

      • ChrysanthemumSniffer

        Yes, it is definitely love. Will you marry me?

      • Fight Back

        The typical response of any apologist. When faced with the bitter and unassailable truth, make light of it make it a joke.

        Well Debito is not laughing. He’s lived here longer, than most of us, bought a house, had a job, naturalized, and faced blatant discrimination every step of the way.

        He took a stand. He stood up for our rights when the apologists were happy to sign them away for the crumb’s from their oppressors table. I think Debito’s record now speaks for itself. He’s done more for us in this great struggle than Tsuruben ever could. And he’s done it alone. Absolute respect to the man.

        Apologists with your online clatches dedicated to cyber-bullying any of us who dare to speak out are guilty of collaboration in the discrimination of NJ nationwide.

        And that is why I will not foster any contact with any person that derides Debito, either privately or publicly. The stakes, for NJ, are that high.

    • ChrysanthemumSniffer

      Fightback, I think I love you. You’re satire is amazing.

    • http://thehopefulmonster.wordpress.com/ Sublight

      Don Debito: We have known each other many years, but this is the first time you’ve come to me for counsel or for help. I can’t remember the last time you invited me to your house for a cup of tea. But let’s be frank here. You never wanted my friendship. And you feared to be in my debt.

      Tsurunera: I didn’t want to get into trouble.

      Don Debito: I understand. You found paradise in Japan. You had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. So you didn’t need a friend like me. Now you come and say “Don Debito, give me advice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me “Godfather.”

      Tsurunera: I ask you for advice.

      Don Debito: There is no advice to give. Your campaign is over.

      Tsurunera: Let them suffer then, as I suffer.

      Don Debito: Tsurunera, Tsurunera, what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, this scum who ruined your campaign would be suffering this very day. And if by some chance an honest man like yourself made enemies they would become my enemies. And then, they would fear you.

      Tsurunera: Be my friend… Godfather.

      [the Don at first shrugs, but upon hearing the title he lifts his hand, and a humbled Tsuranera kisses the ring on it]

      Don Debito: Good.

      [He places his hand around Tsuranera in a paternal gesture]

      Don Debito: Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this advice a gift.

      With apologies to Mario Puzo

      • http://durf.org/ Peter Durfee

        You need apologize for nothing. NOTHING.

  • Sam Gilman

    This is all rather tawdry. Debito’s criticism of Tsurunen boils down to this: Tsurunen is white and therefore should have spent his political career fighting for the rights of foreign-born residents.

    However, although quite understandably expressing support for the rights of non-ethnic Japanese when asked, Tsurunen’s primary focus has always explicitly been on the environment (he’s managed to get laws passed in the area), with a nod to international cooperation and understanding as part of his pacifism. He’s worked as the head of various committees and groups in the Diet relating to the environment and natural disasters, as well as with Korean Christian groups reflecting his own background as a Lutheran pastor. This all sounds pretty normal, if undramatic, to me. Debito deciding what Tsurunen “should” have been doing based on his ethnicity is pretty unpleasant. Debito dictating to this other naturalised Japanese how he should be describing himself ethnically is simply ridiculous. It’s Tsurunen’s business.

    Debito also trivialises Tsurunen’s achievements in getting into the Diet by insinuating that Tsurunen’s electoral success is down to the novelty value of the colour of his skin and eyes. Tsurunen fought and lost four diet elections in a row, after campaigning hard with street corner speeches, half of the time as an independent. Despite losing, he acquired a notable share of the vote. He may have traded off a rather poor electoral slogan, but it’s not like he waltzed into elected office as Charisma Man. It took a certain amount of character. And, if I may be permitted a slight jab at the author’s own attempts at practical politics, an ability to work with others.

    As it happens, I don’t agree with Tsurunen’s environmental views, but he should be judged as a person, not as an ethnicity. His ethnicity matters when we judge the system: it appears at least on the left, and with the centre-left DPJ in particular (thinking also of Renho and Haku Shinkun) and with the large numbers of people who vote that way, there are not the impenetrable racial barriers to participation that Debito wants us to believe. Tsurunen’s example of normality is heartening. Delighting at Tsurunen’s “comeuppance” is not the behaviour of someone invested in the future of a multi-ethnic Japan.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    To address a couple of claims in the column:

    “This column argued last November … that Japan’s rightists should show their true colors, so the electorate could decide if they wanted a Diet of historical revisionists, bigots and xenophobes. The debate was indeed conducted in technicolor. And last December, with the DPJ’s resounding electoral defeat, voters decided that xenophobia was OK with them.”

    The LDP won 42.7% of the prefectural constituency vote this last election, and 34.7% of the proportional representation vote. Its coalition partner, Komeito, who was publicly expressing caution about the possibility of Constitutional amendment, got 5.1% and 14.2% respectively, for a coalition total of 47.8% and 48.9% respectively.

    Even if one adhered to a blinkered, black-and-white view of Japan that says that everyone who votes for the LDP or a party to the right of the LDP (which IMHO currently would be only the JRP) is a xenophobe, one would still have to ignore the better than 50% of the electorate that voted *against* these parties to reach a conclusion that “(Japanese) voters decided that xenophobia was OK with them”.

    “Then this column argued in February … that if both Diet houses went to the LDP in July, this would bring about radical constitutional revisions affecting civil liberties. Last month, voters apparently decided that was OK too.”

    Yes, this column did argue that, while ignoring the fact that in order to revise the Constitution 2/3 of the Diet first has to agree to any revision (a supermajority the LDP does not enjoy, even if we include Komeito, which we probably shouldn’t) and then a national referendum must be held where 50% plus 1 of the Japanese electorate who participate must vote for the amendment. Everyone who has been paying attention realizes that. The Japanese public realizes that, and the public has consistently shown in polls to be very cautious about the idea of Constitutional amendments. So again, no, voters did *not* decide that radical Constitutional revisions affecting civil liberties were OK too.

    So why did the LDP do so well? Because the only reasonable alternative, the DPJ, showed itself for the first two years of its rule to be stunningly inept in most regards – Noda made a good show of trying to turn things around, but the damage had been done by Hatoyama, Ozawa and Kan. This election was a referendum on DPJ rule and a referendum on the economy. Those were the issues on voters’ minds. But it is a bit harder to get a bile-filled diatribe out of that I guess.

    One last point:

    “a society that … generally roots for winners rather than underdogs.”

    Fascinating analysis. One of the first things I learned about Japanese culture is that the Japanese tend to feel a much greater sense of affinity and sympathy for losers and underdogs, at least as compared to Americans. To give a pop culture example, in a police drama if one policeman is gunned down and then avenged by his partner, most Japanese view the “hero” to be the dead cop, whereas most Americans would view the “hero” to be the one who avenged his partner’s death. Certainly, the surviving cop is admired, but admired for fulfilling his duty – the dead partner is the truly sympathetic character, the one who made it all possible. This is such a prominent trait of Japanese culture that I find it fascinating that someone could live in the country for 2 decades, be married to a Japanese, and even become a Japanese themselves and yet still not be able to see it. However perhaps I should not be surprised after all.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      Addenda to above: since Debito was, in the first quote above, talking about the December 2012 election, it should be noted that in that election the LDP and Komeito did *worse* than they did in the House of Councillors election this summer. 44.5% (combined) for prefectural constituency and 39.7% (combined) for proportional representation.

  • Steve Novosel

    I sure wish Mr Arudou would do more with the unique position he has, too, but sadly he chooses to disappoint as well with his tired shtick. Go look through the comments on his site if you must; you’ll see a uniformly monochromatic (and negative) viewpoint, with any dissent being refused publication and the poster banned.

    We don’t get to vote on him, though, we can just choose to ignore him and his site as most foreigners in Japan already do.

  • robertwgordonesq

    Debito Arudou wote: “…firmly nestling Japan in now more than two “lost decades” of economic stagnation.”

    Actually, there were no “lost decades” nor any “economic stagnation” in Japan.

    See: Fingleton, Eamonn (January 6, 2012). “The Myth of Japan’s Failure”. The New York Times. Found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/opinion/sunday/the-true-story-of-japans-economic-success.html?ref=opinion&pagewanted=all–

    and

    “Video interview on BBC News with Eamonn Fingleton”. BBC News. found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/9677356.stm

    and

    “The Myth of Japan’s Lost Decades’”.The Atlantic. Found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/the-myth-of-japans-lost-decades/71741/

    • Toolonggone

      >Actually, there were no “lost decades” nor any “economic stagnation” in Japan.

      “Lost decades” is not just referred to financial failure. It’s a combination of stagnation, hyper-active consumer culture, and the series of national tragedies crashing the minds of the general public.

      Eamonn is correct in pointing out the durability of national “financial health.” But his analysis is based on macro-economic perspective. He clearly overlooks the impact of sluggish economy on the labor at local/national level.

  • The Apologist

    It is ironic that Debito seems to think that ‘outsiders’ should behave like ‘outsiders’ rather than fully integrate into Japanese society. I’m sure the more virulent Japanese nationalists would agree with him on this– indeed he seems to view Tsurunen as some type of race traitor.
    As far as representing the interests of foreign residents in Japan goes, Debito most certainly doesn’t represent mine nor the vast majority of other foreign residents of Japan, but rather appeals to a tiny constituency of race baiters who seem to think they are still fighting World War 2. The sooner the Japan Times– and a few foreign pundits– realize how out of touch he is with the pulse of Japanese society and the foreign element therein, the better.

  • Smokey Snaps

    “The fact that this disgraceful column appeared on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing”

    Yes, nothing but Hiroshima-related stuff should be printed in the JT on Aug6 every year, particularly the 68th anniversary. How ridiculous.

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    Ben, as the editor of this column and the Community page, you should be a little more careful about naming names like that when you have no proof. Ken uses his real name on JT comments.

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    By the way, Ben, your comment that is attempting to “out” the identity of another commenter is in violation of your newspaper’s commenting policy. I suggest you click the link above and review it.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    1. I am not Mr. Yasumoto-Nicolson, but if deluding yourself into believing that everyone who criticizes this rag, some of the writers within and your editorial decisions are nyms of just one man helps you sleep at night, more power to you.

    2. The original writer had a twinge of remorse (or, more likely, was politically and professionally astute enough to realize this wasn’t a grudge match she would want to be remembered for) and retracted her comment, true. That doesn’t mean that her original comment was not valid or that she was wrong.

    However I will concede you all do produce wonderful entertainment here and as the barely intelligible gaijin talking heads on Sekai Marumie. It is just that, like the mercifully defunct Wai Wai column or the recent “eye-licking epidemic” story, most folks expect a modicum of truthfulness and accuracy in their newspapers and press. Sticking elementary school-level tabloid journalism into what purports to be a serious newspaper only misleads the reader and sullies the image of the brand and editorial staff.

  • Roan Suda

    Who is saying that “nothing but Hiroshima-related stuff should be printed”? Who is being ridiculous? My point (perhaps a bit too subtle for “Smoky Snaps”) is that on the anniversary of that terrible day in 1945 we might turn out thoughts to overcoming inter-ethnic animosity and the violence it induces instead of stirring up a mini-cauldron of resentment for one’s own selfish, spiteful purposes.