Making headlines worldwide last month was the publication of a magazine entitled “Kyogaku no Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu (“Shocking Foreigner crime: the Underground File”). On sale at major Japanese bookstores and convenience stores nationwide, Gaijin Hanzai (GH) attributed criminality to nationality, and depicted foreigners as “dangerous” and “evil.”

Much ink and many pixels have already described the magazine as an example of “hate speech” (archive at www.debito.org/index.php/?cat=27). So this article will not dwell on its contents. See all of it yourself at www.flickr.com/photos/ultraneo/sets/72157594531953574/

The news: Despite Japan’s lack of laws, or a civil society that can curb hate speech of this sort, activists put GH out of circulation. Despite no help from domestic groups or Japan’s press, “newcomer” residents and immigrants demonstrated their power as consumers for probably the first time in Japan’s history.

On Jan. 31, GH went on sale nationwide. About half of the 30,000 copies produced went to FamilyMart, Japan’s third-largest convenience store chain. The reaction was immediate. A blogger named Steve scanned it and notified mailing lists. Soon dozens of Japan-related Web sites (including Japan Probe, Big Daikon, Mutant Frog, Gaijin Pot, Ikeld, Joi Ito, Ejovi, Fukumimi, Japanjin, Japundit, ESLCafe, and Debito.org) were buzzing.

On Feb. 2, Japan Probe proposed an official boycott of GH stockers. E-mails of protest went to their domestic and overseas offices. Within 24 hours, apologies from distributors were coming in: FamilyMart’s U.S. subsidiary Famima promised to have GH off the shelves “within seven days.” Other convenience stores soon followed suit. I also dropped by two local stores, showed managers GH’s famous “nigger” and “Korean kimchee pudenda” pages, and got it summarily removed with apologies.

On Feb. 3, Debito.org offered a bilingual letter for download that the bearer could bring to stores explaining why they would refuse to shop there unless GH was immediately returned to the publisher. The letter, downloaded at least 1,156 times in February, showed the threat of boycott was real.

Successive days brought a flurry of articles: The Guardian, The Times (London), Reuters, Australia’s ABC News, China’s People’s Daily, Bloomberg, South China Morning Post, IPCJapan (Spain), finally even our own Japan Times. No Japanese press picked up the story.

On Feb. 5, FamilyMart (which had only sold 1,000 copies) returned GH to the publisher. Amazon Japan rebutted with freedom of speech arguments (comparing GH to Mein Kampf), but soon sold out and offered no more for sale.

By Feb. 9, GH had become a collector’s item. Even the publisher, Eichi Shuppan, advertised that Gaijin Hanzai was “out of stock,” and Amazon Japan offered used copies (list price 690 yen) for 20,000 yen (and 40,000 yen on eBay within a week). Shortly thereafter, there would be no record on Eichi’s Web site that they ever sold the book.

Of course, protest is not unprecedented. Non-Japanese residents have often successfully decried actions deemed disparaging, unfair, or even racist, such as the NTT DoCoMo “gaijin deposit” boycott (NTT repealed the tariff); the Mandom “Rastafarian monkey” ad campaign; police “foreign crime” posters; and antidiscrimination lawsuits such as the Ana Bortz, Steve McGowan, and Otaru onsen cases (all discussed at Debito.org).

Crucial has been the Internet, linking advocates worldwide as never before. They network and campaign effectively enough to be noticed by domestic authorities, press and opinion makers through letter campaigns, media exposure, public shame, face-to-face negotiations, demonstrations, even humor. It gives non-Japanese (especially the “newcomer” immigrants) unprecedented influence.

What made the Gaijin Hanzai case special, historic even, is that the campaign was waged and won by the newcomers alone. In a rebuttal letter to rebuttal to GH editor Shigeki Saka, who claimed that a long-overdue debate on foreign crime had been censored by an “army of bloggers,” I wrote that: “Even then, we as demonstrators never asked for the law, such as it is, to get involved. We just notified distributors of the qualms we had with this book, and they agreed that this was inappropriate material for their sales outlets.

“We backed that up by proposing a boycott, which is our inviolable right (probably non-Japanese residents’ only inviolable right) to choose where to spend our money as consumers. We proposed no violence. Only the strength of our argument and conviction.”

Funny thing is, editor Saka assumed foreigners would not be part of this debate. He stated on Feb. 7: “In principle it is a magazine written in Japanese and sold in Japan . . . it’s for Japanese people to read . . . Maybe foreigners can’t read the articles in there and they only see the pictures of the discriminated.”

This blind spot, surprisingly frequent in the Japanese media, assumes that non-Japanese residents simply “don’t count” — that they haven’t any real voice in Japanese society — or that they can’t even read.

Wake up. Other public appeals by literate nonnatives have enlisted the domestic media to change many a policy. However, this time, for the first time, the power of non-Japanese as a consumer bloc was the force to be reckoned with.

One mystery remains: Who produced GH?

According to an industry source, a magazine of this quality and quantity would cost at least $250,000. Given that GH contains no advertising whatsoever, the patron (listed as a “Joey H. Washington”) is clearly quite wealthy.

Some speculation then on “Joey.”

First, the deep pockets: Japan’s police forces, particularly the National Public Safety Commission, have both secretive budgets and a clear mandate to monitor foreigner activity.

Second, police access: At least three articles quote the NPA or ex-cops, and GH’s last 13 pages have excellent summaries of foreign crimes best collated from police databases. Even the editor admitted, “We have spoken with Japanese police in order to write each article. For them this issue is serious and they have provided the data.”

But the biggest indication of police involvement is GH’s photos, which look suspiciously like police camerawork of crime scenes. Some of the shots are “eye in the sky,” at the right angle to be from police surveillance cameras, which just happen to be proliferating in parts of Tokyo with lots of foreigners.

Actually, every GH gaijin crowd scene is shot in Tokyo, coincidentally in places with those spy cameras, even though GH aims to catalog foreign crime throughout Japan (and towns in Shizuoka and Gifu have higher foreign population percentages).

This is not out of character. I have written in the past (Zeit Gist; Feb. 20, 2007) about the NPA targeting foreigners as threats to public safety. Since they apprise the media bi-annually of the rise in foreign crime, the NPA working with a magazine publisher is unsurprising. GH feels like a public service announcement.

In conclusion, many felt Gaijin Hanzai was “hate speech,” as it concertedly and maliciously attempted to encourage fear and loathing of an entire segment of Japan’s population. Yet startlingly few raised their voices against it.

Contrast this with how another society responded in a similar case. On Feb. 23, AsianWeek in San Francisco published “Why I Hate Blacks.” Within were justifications for discrimination: their racist attitudes toward Asians, their slave history, their lack of intelligence, and their Christianity.

Within days, news media, ethnic antidefamation leagues, and even Nancy Pelosi, were demanding apologies and retractions. Civil society kicked into action, debated the issue, and shouted the columnist down.

In Japan, however, the domestic press went quiet. Coincidentally, Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki dismissed the notion of focusing on human rights at all as like “eating too much butter, resulting in ‘Human Rights Metabolic Syndrome.’ ” The statement demonstrated the low regard that even people in policymaking positions have for expanding constitutional protections to Japan’s international residents.

Consequently, publications like GH remain on shelves: Another book (“Joshi Gakusei Daraku Manual”) compares foreign penis sizes, cautioning its intended female audience that foreigners “don’t have money,” “want a lot of sex,” and “are junkies.”

So who fought the good fight this time? Civil society in the form of “newcomer” activists got Gaijin Hanzai off the market. They are learning how to fight for their rights — this time completely by themselves and for the first time in Japanese history. Clearly now even the “gaijin” do “count.”

An academic version of this article is available at Japan Focus (www.japanfocus.org)

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