(Sent to Fukuzawa, ISSHO, and Friends Mon, 24 Nov 1997)

First of all, I want to thank Fukuzawa, ISSHO, friends, and other concerned parties for the overwhelming feedback to my request for info for my November 20 seminar with Japan's bureaucracy. A number of people have asked me for a report on how it all went. Well, here it is:

(WARNING: as it was a 2.5 hour talk, for accuracy's sake this is pretty long)

(dai 23 kai hokkaidou chiku kakarichou kenshuu)

I was part of a seven-weekday course, running from Nov 13 to Nov 21, with lectures running from 9:30 am to 12 pm, and 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm. The express purpose of this training session, according to the kachou of the National Personnel Authority (Jinjiin) I asked, was to expose stuffy bureaucrats to more ideas from the public, as one can quickly lose sight of the people's wishes with all the day-to-day administration.

I said, "In other words, you're trying to raise administrator awareness--'inkan' yori 'minkan'" ("more attention to 'signs of the times' than just 'signing away the time'"). He liked that image and laughed. It was a good start to a good day.

ATTENDING MY DISCUSSION were 29 men representing various branches of the government, specifically: Customs, Land Survey, two from Public Safety, Public Employment Security, Hokkaido Development Agency, Ikkan Honbu (don't know translation), four educators, District Court, two from Forestry, three medical doctors, two weathermen (no kidding), Justice, Animal Husbandry (also no kidding), two from Agronomy, Defense, Telecommunications, Finance, "Corrections" (kyousei kanku), and most importantly, Immigration (This guy and I even knew each other. See why by clicking here. It's an amusing story about a necktie.) Attendance seemed to have been mandatory, and the only one absent was another finance guy--from doomed Takugin Bank.

The meeting started exactly on time, with everyone standing up ("kiritsu!"), bowing ("rei!") on signal, listening to a Jinjiin-ite read my educational and professional background, and then sitting down ("chakuseki") like they do Japanese college graduation ceremonies or British public grade schools. I could see things were pretty formal and stilted, and so I sought at the beginning to relax things a bit.


I started off by indicating that I am pretty nervous. I am not used to talking to the government. Likewise you are probably not used to listening to a person like me speaking "Japanese"--or should I say "Debito-go". Anyway, this is not a seminar, where I talk and you listen. I'm going to be saying some things that you will probably find contentious, and I want you to share your opinions. I will talk for about an hour, take about fifteen minutes for break, and then have Q&A/discussion afterwards. So if there is something you would like to take issue with, please wait until I finish. But if something is unclear due to a language problem, then let me know immediately and I'll clarify.

When I was invited here, I was told the goal of the presentation was to describe how bureaucracies in other countries streamline and improve themselves. This is an admirable goal, one that is in the Japanese news a lot these days. However, I am not qualified to talk on this; I have never really worked for the US government, and know little about bureaucratic systems overseas.

Still, the point of thse presentations is to suggest how to make administration meet the needs of the public. And one often-overlooked segment of the public is the non-Japanese residents [in my Japanese: nihonjin ja nai juumin]. So I would like to present my view of how to make things more user-friendly for people like us.

Now, please bear in mind that I am not trying to start a fight. These are my opinions and suggestions, and they are not being made because I don't like Japan. Actually, I like being here in Japan very much. But Japan, like all societies, could use some improvement. I would like to show you a few areas that might well be worth considering for improvement.

I have given everyone a copy of my two-page outline of suggestions. I will read from this directly, elaborating upon and clarifying in between each point. However, I will not digress from this outline, so please feel free to take this with you as a concise reference outline of our talk, and show it to others if you feel it is worthy of their time. Let's get started:

(original Japanese text here)

("nihonjin de wa nai mono" to shite watashi no mita nihon no gyousei no kaizenten)


Japan's future lies in internationalization. This is not only to preserve Japan's image as a "normal country" (seijou koku) as it applies for membership in the UN Security Council, but also due to the steady aging (rourei ka) of Japan's society, and the resultant forecast for the drop in Japan's taxable people (nouzeisha). For this reason, it is tremendously important for assimilation for "othernationals" (ta kokumin) to take place. To further promote this, it is indispensible for the politicians and the bureaucrats to push positively equal treatment, and to eliminate discrimination.

I have separated several points for improvement into two categories: SMALL, meaning that I think the bureaucracy is able to take the lead and make the necessary improvements themselves, and LARGE, meaning that I think these points are worth pushing, but they would involve a whole new viewpoint for Japan to take in their creation.


(iikata o ki o tsukete hoshii)

Instead of "Gaijin" and "Gaikokujin", I think words like "Nihon kokuseki de wa nai kata" (Non-Japanese National), "Nihonjin de wa nai kata" (Non-Japanese), "Ta kokumin"/"Ta kokujin" (Othernational), "Nonjapaniizu" (sic in katakana) should be used in speeches and in formal documents. Under current perceptions, even if a "gaijin" were to naturalize, s/he would still not stop being a "gaijin". It is still a qualification for people to have blood ties in order to be seen as a Nihonjin, which makes it become discrimination by race. I would like the bureaucracy to tell the public that "a citizen is a citizen by qualification" (kokumin wa kokuseki), not by "face", "blood", or "outward appearance" (gaiken), and foster in the public the concept of "Japaneseness equals Japanese citizenship" at a government level.

ELABORATION: The reason why I coin words like "TA kokujin"--as opposed to "GAI kokujin"--is because here there is no sense of "inside" or "out", being or not being part of a group. "Ta" (ι) is benign and just shows otherness. Not difference (as "ijin" (ÃôÆl) does) or outsider status. We in Hokkaido should be particularly sensitive to this issue, since we are called "gaichi", not "naichi" (homeland), since we are separate from The Mainland. Fortunately, you are all Japanese, so you still belong. But through words like gaikokujin, we are outside even the nationality grouping.

Many of you in the audience are probably shrugging a bit, thinking that these words are Japanese concepts, long-held under an "island-society spirit" (shimaguni konjou), and are probably too difficult to deal with successfully. I understand that feeling entirely. However, I don't think that just because a situation has long been a certain way that it need continue to be this way. If attempts at change are always impossible, then improvements of any sort likewise become impossible. We have to start somewhere, and since the government is specifically entrusted with the job of trying to improve society, words and concepts like these are a problem which need to be addressed--since they promote the view of people like us being different, and embody the very concept of our non-assimilation.

(sai nyuu koku kyoka) FOR PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Whenever you want to leave and reenter Japan, only people from other countries are forced to pay 3000 yen or 6000 yen for a re-entry permit. The problem is that this is very inconvenient for people who live in towns without an immigration office, and for us permanent residents this is strongly seen as a "gaijin tax".

ELABORATION: I outlined how the system works for those who may not know about it, which by the movement of people's pencils was many. Unless we naturalize, we will forever have to pay for a permit just to travel outside of Japan. 3000 yen for one re-entry, 6000 yen for multiple, valid for a maximum of 1 year (the Korean and Chinese minority get four years). It is mandatory--if we don't do it, we lose our visas upon return and have to start again from zero. Yes, other countries have entry taxes for tourists--even America does. But for permanent residents other countries do not, which makes it an unfair taxation of regular residents, and a further singling out of us as gaijin. It is also an unneccessary daylong trip to Sapporo, at our expense, for residents out in the Boonies. Please do away with this law.

[To make this essay brief, I omit the background information on the juuminhyou system. If you want it, click here.]

Permanent residents pay taxes and reside the same as Japanese Residents, so they deserve to be treated the same way [and get listed on a Juuminhyou]. By the way, under 1967's Seirei 292, an nonJapanese spouse may be listed in the "Remarks Column" of the Japanese's Juuminhyou only as the "Actual Head of Household" (jijitsu jou setai nushi); but this means that only nonJapanese husbands get listed. It is practically impossible for nonJapanese wifes to be seen as Heads of Household, and she will always remain a so-called "Invisible Person" Juuminhyouwise. An "Invisible Wife and Mother" is sexual discrimination, and in case of a disaster or an earthquake this is very dangerous. It is entirely possible that she will become a missing person [because the records are not clear who is where]. In sum, in order to reflect the reality of married people as residents, let's make a system where Residency is unrelated to nationality. My suggestions are:

a) In the case of international marriage, always list the nonJapanese spouse [regardless of who is Head of Household] on the Japanese spouse's Juuminhyou in the Remarks Column.

b) If nonJapanese have Permanent Residency, give them a Juuminhyou of their own.

Also, under current laws, international marriage is treated in the language as a "mixture" (kongou), not a "union" (kyousei). Marriage is marriage regardless of nationality, and let's have that publicly acknowledged.

There are rental offices which say "No pets, no gaijin". There are restaurants which turn people like us away. Some offices partake in "gaijin harassment". If there is a claim of unfair treatment, it would be good to have an office which has staff to do some investigation and follow-up, with links to the mass media. For the improvement of society, let's stop ignoring discrimination by just "covering up smelly things with lids" (kusai mono ni futa o).

ELABORATION: This may sound pretty radical, but if you want us to feel like the government is on our side, helping us to assimilate, we need some official assurances that the government is going to actually make an effort to listen and at least try and stop nasty people from doing nasty things. Something like this would be very reassuring, and it might even have some good results.

6) ACKNOWLEDGING THAT NONJAPANESE ALSO HAVE THE QUALIFICATION TO WORK AS BUREAUCRATS. The government should hire, and promote to administrative posts, qualified nonJapanese the same as Japanese.

ELABORATION: [This not only applies to the Korean and Chinese minority, which has had trouble in most areas being promoted beyond entry-level positions, but also to the rank-and-file nonJapanese who work for the government in, say, the university system.] My point is that if you want us to stay here, pay taxes, and make contributions to Japanese society the same way as everyone else, you have to give us the same job security and hope for the future. If not, we're going to leave, which is wasteful of enormous potential and tax money.

Under this Term Limits for University Faculty Law [I held up a copy of it], it is clear how the short-term contract system should work. But how nonJapanese educators can graduate up to tenure is not at all clear. Making a clear 7-year "Up or Out" system would be better.

ELABORATION: This applies to Japanese educators too under this new law. But the problem is that from 1992, nonJapanese educators in particular have been singled out for contract positions, imperiling their job security. The government has said that tenurizing is now all up to the school, but still hasn't made clear how one can stop being under a contract, particularly if you are not a Japanese citizen. Make that clearer. I then gave an example of a clear system--the American "Up or Out", where you get two 3-year contracts, and in your seventh year either you get tenure (Up) or get kicked out (Out) into the Real World.

Under the current system, applying is a very complicated procedure, getting approved involves several years of waiting, and too many things are arbitrary. For example:

a) In order to fill out a Family Register, there are some forms required that are not easily begotten or don't even exist overseas; other forms are difficult to fill out: "Proof of being the Eldest Son", "Proof of Parental Marriage/Divorce/Remarriage", "Proof of Adoption through Remarriage", "Outline of Overseas Family" (with addresses, down to cousins), "Outline of Your Livelihood", "Proof of Addresses since Birth".

b) Under the "Good Behavior Investigation" (sokou chousa), a passing grade depends on whether the investigator personally feels no "incongruity" (iwakan). The investigator will even come into your house and look at your interior decor, will ask your neighbors "Have you ever thought your neighbor was strange?", and more. The level of difficulty depends on your tester.

c) Investigators have even been known to deny citizenship based on their opinion of how you want your Japanese name. [I cited here as evidence an all-night debate I saw on TV Asahi in early October, where K and C minorities debated, among other things, how possible it was to naturalize. Some said easy, some hard. But one person gave up because they even tried to take her name away.]

d) Denial can happen on the most teensy grounds. If you have two speeding violations, your application may be delayed for years, even eventually denied. I bet that even most Japanese themselves would fail the citizenship test!

My point is that unless a little bit of rule relaxation takes place, this is going to deter plenty of people from naturalizing.


ELABORATION: Up until now, I have talked about things that the bureaucrats could probably ameliorate through internal ordinances (seirei) or "notifications" (tsuutatsu). They possibly don't need to be hammered out in the Diet or receive the blessing of a shingikai. However, the next set of points probably would. Nevertheless, I think they are important topics that not only warrant being thought about, but also some groundwork being done for improvement in several years' time. These are:

In national and public primary education, "discriminatory language" (sabetsu yougo) should be taught and talked about. I think there is a tendency in Japanese to use very clumsy language when talking about people with differences. To avoid that, let's teach the difference between "differentiation" (kubetsu) and "discrimation" (sabetsu) to the very roots of society.

ELABORATION: It is still quite commonplace for little kids to point at me and say "gaijin da", even in this modern society. Now, I understand that people like us being here is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that Japan, especially Hokkaido, is not yet used to dealing with us. However, I still think it is possible for people to be aware that people with differences are not to be pointed out, or made to feel different in uncomfortable ways. Manners should be taught, and the best time for this to happen is when people are young. The reason why I put this in the LARGE category is because in principle this is fine, but much work needs to be done to decide exactly what is "discriminatory language", and what those "manners" ought to be. We need a concrete curriculum before we can proceed, but even before that we need these ideals as goals.

And the main reason we need this is because Japan truly is changing, in that more Japanese with differences live here now. A few years ago, do you know how many marriages registered in Tokyo were international? One in seven. Over ten percent. Now when their children enter Japanese school, they are not going to be seen as Japanese by many people out there. But they must be, because they are. For the sake of their assimilation, the government needs to teach everyone's children that genetic differences don't matter, that people are people, and citizens are Japanese. This is the government's job, and it is truly for the sake of Japan's future. This is the real kokusaika, and it is coming.

[I bet by now some people reading this email are growing nauseous at all the "bumper-sticker homillies". But sentiments like these work in Japanese because they have not been repeated ad nauseam yet.]

I, personally, want to naturalize, but it is terribly difficult for me to throw away my American passport. My children also have dual nationality, but it will be difficult for them to choose only one nationality at age 20. It would be good for Japan to lessen the feeling of "naturalization as identity sacrifice", and also for Japan to show a friendlier, more welcoming face to immigrants. Do that, and you will get more Japanese people.

Third-generation "Koreans" and "Chinese" are still called "Zainichi Kankoku/Chuugoku jin" (Koreans/Chinese Resident in Japan). I think it would be better to call them "Japanese of Korean/Chinese Descent" (Kankokkei/Chuugokkei Nihonjin). They are usually living here for life, no differently than Japanese, so let's treat them the same by classification too.

ELABORATION: I mentioned my meeting with a third-generation Korean-Descent Japanese last July, and expressed her sentiments about life in Japan to the audience. She herself preferred the titles as I stated them. I myself, after naturalizing, would call myself a "Beikokkei Nihonjin" (American-Descent Japanese), which is respectful towards my ancestry, yet keeps me a Japanese. Again, titling and labelling is part and parcel of assimilation.

Linking blood to citizenship causes many problems, mainly that things are delineated by race. If possible, let's at least allow those "double" children [i.e. "children of international marriages"--I hate the word "haafu"] to retain their Japanese citizenship after reaching adulthood by allowing them to keep dual nationality.

ELABORATION: This is probably the touchiest topic I've touched upon, because citizenship by dint of birth would have far-reaching implications on current concepts of nationality--a baby born to two Caucasian visitors here would thus become a Japanese. Not many countries make citizenship so automatic; America does, but it is the outlier. Still, in this case I prefer the American way, for I have seen its benefits. However, this being Japan, if I had to compromise, I would say an easier way to link birth-in-Japan to citizenship would be to allow children of international couples to maintain dual nationality permanently. This would allow for years of national adjustment, and only involve the removal of a restriction, instead of the establishment of a whole new system.

[NB: I know this is basically a reiteration of Large Point # 2 above, but I tried to be subliminal--with the heading making the point I really wanted and the explanation hedging it. Nationality through birthright is, for the next century or so, pie in the sky in Japan. But I thought I should at least throw out a hard-to-swallow bit, then wash it down it by merely requesting a softening of the status quo.]

FINALLY, I said, if the above suggestions were somewhat put into practice, I can see quite a few possible problems coming up. So that administrators [can deal with them by receiving] pertinent information, it would be desirable if A NONJAPANESE CONSULTANT / ADVISOR WERE HIRED. Part-time or full-time is fine, but the bottom line is that "the voice of the minorities" should be heard, and probably that voice can only come from a minority him/herself. If this person were given the role of giving monthly reports and recommendations, there may be some good results.

Above all, nonJapanese are not always "guests" or "temporary residents". The government needs to acknowledge this. [I asked for a show of hands at this point: "How many of you think that I am a 'guest'? No hands. "How about a 'minority'?" Five hands. "Something else?" About twenty hands. The point is that most people there seemed to have an idea what I am not, but not really what I am.] We are becoming large in number, steadily becoming minorities in this society, and we make contributions to Japan through taxes and work. If we are assimilated, there will be good results. Assimilated Nikkeijin overseas are certainly and *happily* making their contributions known (look at Peru's President Fujimori). That is also possible in Japan.

Everyone, all of you administrators out there, if you take the lead and carry out the improvements written above, Japan will become a much easier country to live in.


Back to the Cover Page

"The Community" Page

Go to the "Residents Page"

Go to the "Activists Page"

Copyright 1997-2007, Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan