John G. Russell’s June 4 opinion piece “Face the reality of racism in Japan” warrants consideration.

Despite seeming so minimal that legal action to combat racial discrimination in Japan is seen to be unnecessary, the government’s inaction in addressing the issue contradicts the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which it is a signatory.

One need look no further than the army of disposable assistant language teachers (ALTs), virtually all of whom are non-Japanese. This group is treated so unfairly in many instances that concern over their plight is an issue on the national watch list of at least one Japanese legal association.

The government has created a degenerate race of sorts that is deprived of personal integrity. The position of ALT is seen to be temporary. As a result, even the most seasoned non-Japanese veteran educators are referred to in the impersonal, nondescript title “ALT.”

The position offers no opportunity for either upward mobility or salary increase. While the amount of Japanese educators’ bonuses and base pay increases may have tapered off over the years, they still receive them.

This is not so for ALTs, who still receives neither. Most ALT salaries have in fact decreased throughout the years. The fact that an ALT may have contributed to society and paid into the tax system for 20 years is not acknowledged.

That such a long-term resident has incurred the same living costs as his or her same-aged Japanese counterparts is not even recognized. This new race of ALTs the government has created now constitutes a substantial segment of the working poor in Japan. That the government continues to let the treatment of non-Japanese ALTs go unnoticed contradicts its pledge to eliminate all forms of racism.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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