A group fighting to eradicate discrimination in Japan reported on a number of recent cases of discriminatory practices by businesses across the country on Thursday at a gathering in Tokyo and called for legislation to ban such practices.

The meeting was also convened in response to Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s recent comments on the possibility of rioting by illegal foreign residents following a major earthquake.

Speakers at the gathering included Ryukoku University professor Hiroshi Tanaka, a well-known expert on race-based discrimination in Japan, and In Ha Lee, chairman of Kawasaki City’s Foreigners Advisory Council.

Also among the speakers was journalist Ana Bortz, who recently won a compensation suit against a jewelry store in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture. The shop’s owner attempted to throw her out of the store after discovering she was Brazilian.

Roughly 10,000 Brazilians live in Hamamatsu and with the rise in the number of Brazilian residents, local police claim that more Brazilians are involved in crimes.

Clashes like Bortz’s are on the rise since Japan began admitting foreigners as blue collar workers in 1992, he said.

“Ishihara’s job is to address these issues, but instead he has fueled animosity toward foreign residents,” he said, adding that the governor’s comments reveal an attitude that blames those who are discriminated against for not “fitting in.”

Among the cases presented was a recent incident in Otaru, Hokkaido, where “No Foreigner” signs had been put up outside some of the city’s public bath houses.

Speakers also criticized the current situation in which Japanese authorities are unable to prevent such discrimination or punish offending parties, despite the government’s acknowledgment that such practices are in violation of the Japan-ratified International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

However, Tony Laszlo, director of the antidiscrimination group Issho Kikaku and among the speakers, said the response has been promising. Even legislator Diet member Mizuho Fukushima has expressed a desire to take up the issue in parliament.

The group’s next plan is to meet with Gov. Ishihara in order to give foreigners a chance to ask questions regarding his recent remarks, Laszlo said.

“Since Ishihara made those comments, many foreigners have been genuinely concerned,” Laszlo said. “Foreign residents here who have been in contact with Issho (Kikaku) have expressed worries that in the event of an earthquake, they won’t receive the services they should and that members of the Self-Defense Force will think foreigners might riot and point guns at them instead of helping,” he added.

Issho Kikaku issued a statement to appeal to Tokyo voters to denounce the governor’s remarks as discriminatory and only serving to encourage people “to harbor the notion that foreigners or foreign-looking people are inherently dangerous.”

“Ishihara may have said ‘illegal residents,’ ” said Laszlo, “But you can’t tell whether I am legal or illegal just by looking at me. Foreign residents are worried that police and Self-Defense Force members may detain them after an earthquake.”

Meanwhile, more than 450 citizens gathered at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s offices to voice their support for Ishihara’s comments.

Called together by a nonpartisan group of assembly members, the group denounced the media for what they claim is biased reporting.

“It is right of the governor to envision possible scenarios, including rioting by foreigners,” said Hiroshi Tashiro, a doctor and Liberal Democratic Party assembly member. “I want him to also give thought to how to prevent riots from not allowing emergency assistance from reaching the people — Japanese and foreign, legal or illegal.”

Crackdown on illegals

The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau held a forum Thursday in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district, asking for cooperation from managers in the food service industry to help crack down on undocumented workers.

“Undocumented foreigners are threatening the employment opportunities of Japanese workers and are hampering fair economic competition. As a result, friction in the local community, exploitation by brokers and unpaid medical fees are on the rise,” said Mikio Uemura, deputy director of the bureau.

“Moreover, illegals are the cause of a growing number of crimes and have a large effect on our nation’s public safety,” he said.

During the meeting, officials fielded questions from managers and union leaders in the food service industry on revisions to the Immigration Control Law.

Justice Ministry officials decided to hold the seminar, titled “Following the Rules toward Internationalization,” after receiving numerous queries from managers in February — when the revisions went into effect.

Questions included how to tell if a job applicant has overstayed his visa and how to extend work visas.

The seminar was the first organized by the Justice Ministry for a group of companies to address such questions. Participants included managers of pubs, restaurants and food production companies, officials said.

The revised law penalizes those who overstay visas and people who are deported are banned from entering Japan for five years, instead of one.

An earlier revision in 1989 penalizes employers of undocumented workers with a maximum fine of 2 million yen and three years in prison.

According to the Justice Ministry, of the approximately 48,500 foreigners who were deported nationwide through 1998, an estimated 35,000, roughly 70 percent, went through the Tokyo bureau.

The ministry further estimates that there are a total of 250,000 undocumented foreigners in Japan.

“The 250,000 (who overstayed their visas) are those who entered with passports, but there are others who come in groups,” said Uemura. “Because they come under cover, there is no way for us to accurately grasp how many have entered and are staying.”

In response to the charge that illegals are taking Japanese jobs, one participant, at least, objected after the closed meeting.

“I don’t know if my workers have overstayed their visas — they could have,” the 56-year-old owner of a food production firm said, declining to be named. “But I don’t know where I’d find Japanese to work for me.”

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