Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This is Not America Pt. 2

(part 1 is here)

How do other foreigners feel about the changes to the way in which Japan will handle it's foreign residents? Well, many of the vocal minority appear to be just peachy keen with it. Some think it's a spiffy idea because they believe it'll help keep those awful illegal immigrants under control. You know those hordes of illegals, don't you? They're the smoke and mirrors politicians whip out to distract you from the real problems your culture is having like a tanking economy, rampant unemployment, a lack of social stability from the growing income gap, and the huge national debt.

At any rate, I don't have any qualms necessarily with the foreigners who support more punitive measures against foreigners if they have a sound rationale. Most of them don't, but that's really beside the point. What I'm really interested in is what causes people to support measures that are meant to make life more difficult for people like themselves. What motivates a foreigner to say, "yes, I'd like to see a measure passed where I'd have to fork over a monumental amount of money ($2,000 USD/200,000 yen) for being absent-minded enough to walk out of my house without my foreign resident's card and provoke the police into asking for my I.D. by willfully (and inappropriately) being non-Japanese looking."

This sort of question interests me because anyone who advocates making their own life harder has some interesting psychological issues at play. I know some people will take issue with this, but, frankly, they're being willfully stupid. If you don't believe me, go out and ask your family, neighbors and friends if they'd like to see their lawmakers institute a policy whereby failing to carry a certain kind of I.D. will result in a $2,000 fine.

And, incidentally, make sure you don't say anything about foreigners. We are talking about people advocating people like themselves being fined, not people unlike themselves. I can tell you that not one Japanese person I've discussed this with thinks that it is fair or a good idea to force foreign folks to pay such a fine (or to carry cards with computer chips in them for remote tracking or scanning, for that matter). It's mainly a certain population of foreigners who are fine with this. It's not the Japanese themselves. In fact, at least a handful of Japanese people I've talked to about this have concerns about the slippery slope. That is, they figure once it applies to us, it'll eventually apply to them.

Getting back to the main point, I have some speculation why I think some foreigners think that the proposed changes are fine and dandy like sour candy. My guess is that one or several of these may apply in motivating their "support" of future punitive and potentially highly invasive and insecure measures:
  1. They want to ingratiate themselves to the Japanese by agreeing with anything they do rather than be seen as "troublemakers".
  2. They are racist at heart and support racist measures in Japan because they'd like to support similar measures in their own culture.
  3. They are frozen in Kohlberg's conventional stage of moral development and believe that lawful people will not be unfairly treated or punished. They see themselves as lawful and therefore immune to any sort of negative consequences to changes in the law.
  4. They are so hopelessly self-centered and their worldview so limited that they believe bad things don't happen to foreigners in Japan because they've never had such experiences. That is, they don't even believe random harassment occurs because they have never been victims of it.
  5. They hate other foreigners being in "their Japan" and would like to see others driven out. They figure making it more uncomfortable or unpleasant to stay here will weed out some of the riff-raff. These people are overlapping with those who find anyone who teaches English in Japan to be a blight on the country.
There are more reasons, I'm sure. However, the bottom line is that the situation for foreigners is dramatically different in Japan than other countries. One of the big reasons for this is that in other countries those in the same boat unite and help one another get better treatment and rights. In Japan, they attack each other and undermine each other's efforts to improve the conditions for foreigners. I'm guessing this is a pretty unique situation and it says a lot about the kind of people who decide to live here, and none of what it says is very good.


Kelly said...

Well I, for one am definitely against making foreigners pay that amount just for forgetting a stupid little card? Why do they do random checks anyway? If they do it to foreigners, they should do it to Japanese? Lets not forget that there were no foreigners in AUM when they gassed the subway. If anything should make them check their own people it would be that.

I think it's wrong to be suspicious of anyone without a good reason. I wouldn't like them to do it to foreigners in any country.

I mean, the Japanese immigration dept. seems pretty strict, how could a a suss foreigner get in in the first place with all that fingerprinting and facial photographs going on?

Is this definitely going to be the law soon or is it just an idea at this stage, orchid?

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Kelly. At this stage, it's a bill that's before the Japanese parliament. So, it's past the idea stage and been drafted into an official document which could be voted into law. Right now, the opposition to the LDP is blocking it from being passed. Word is that after the next election, some sort of immigration reform will be passed, but potentially watered down from the current bill. As it stands, the current bill would put the changes in place as listed, including a huge fine for not having your identification.

The thing is that it's already extreme to take people to the police station for questioning for not having the card. I don't know why the police can't accompany you to your home and have you show the card to them, but they take you to the police station for questioning and make someone else bring it. This, in and of itself, is already extreme.

I once read a blog post by a foreigner who was accosted by two cops in a car when he was riding his bike home from a video rental shop. First, they kept "joking" that he had porn videos in his basket, then they asked for his gaijin card, which he had forgotten at home on the kotatsu. They then asked a bunch of questions and finally agreed to go to his apartment to get the card. They went inside with him and without permission or even asking, they started looking through his apartment and possessions. Essentially, they were searching his apartment for no reason. He gave them the card, they said all was in order, but they had to take him to the station anyway (despite initially saying they didn't have to). They hauled him down to the police station and forced him to answer a bunch of questions about his family in his home country (among other things) for a few hours and only then did they let him go. This type of behavior is inexcusable.

As for why the do random checks, I can't know for sure because they don't accomplish anything except put us out. My guess is that it is because the police suspect foreigners of crimes more than Japanese or they want to look like they're doing something to control crime. Stopping us and making us offer our identification is probably a little like speed traps. It's a way for the police to justify their existence without actually accomplishing anything of merit. I know that sounds cynical, but I really don't know what else explains why they sometimes camp out at major stations and accost foreigners for their gaijin cards or stand on the streets and wait for a gaijin to roll by and stop and ask them if they stole their bikes and to show their gaijin cards.

Sherry said...

And I am sure you have noticed that these "random" stops seem to happen to certain types of people more often than others. White women are usually the least often stopped or harrassed (although I am sure there are plenty who are), while males who look to the police like they might be from the middle east or south-east Asia, seem to be targeted the most. There is a whole system of profiling based not only on the fact that you look different from the Japanese but exactly how different you look from other "acceptable" foreigners.

I mean it is bad enough that they are so racist against foreigners in general, but even their racism is racist, you know?

I thought it has always been the law that we had to have our alien cards with us. Is it just the huge fine that is new? Or was I totally wrong all these years.

Orchid64 said...

It has always been the law that we have had to have the cards, but the proposal to fine us for not having them which is currently before the Diet is new, as is the proposal to embed them with computer chips.

My husband has a beard so I think he may be someone who is seen as more threatening.

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nihonjon said...

Great post. I'm currently debating whether or not to remain in this country or go to Hawaii where it feels less like living in a fascist state. Especially before I invest myself more in my career and can no longer escape this place...

Richard said...

Well I suppose stopping African or Middle-eastern males because they are less 'acceptable' is the same as flagging a man with the name 'Mohammed' down during a huge security check at an airport in the US.

And what point do you draw the line between 'enacting sound security' and 'outright racism'? I personally don’t think you can, because in these situations, the borders are not clear because they merge from one line of state policy to the next.

I agree, it’s a sense of a 'show' for most Japanese, so it looks as if the police are actually doing something to prevent the horrors of 'gaijin-hanzai'. Still, every night I thank myself lucky that I am white, European and a have nice warm and advanced nation to go back to. The same can’t be said for the millions of ethnic 'Asians' who live in Japan as long-term residents. And its these people who should be most fearful of these changes.

To clear up your last paragraph, it's the very fact that most immigrant groups have united together to help each other (especially in the case of Koreans and Nikkeijin) which has undermined their status within Japan both politically and socially. The choice of both assimilation into Japan and retaining one's own ethnic identity is challenging the state's homogeneous lines and political laws. What, you are referring to in your last paragraph are the so called 'champagne campaigners' – who are certainly not Korean, Chinese or Filipino and represent more the supposed 'superior' moral tirade of imposing western Caucasian values upon Japan and who actually care very little about the actual relevancy of these laws on the people that will be most affected by them. Hence, they care very little either way if such measures are brought through or not. Quite frankly it doesn't concern them - and it never will.

Sherry said...

Sorry, Richard, but I think there is a huge difference in stopping someone in an airport at a security check and the police stopping and harrassing someone who is just walking down the street to the local 7-11 to get a snack. Not that stopping someone based simply on their name or how they look is okay at a US airport either, but at least it is in a context related to real security issues. What security issues does stopping somone randomly on the street in Tokyo address? The all foreigners are criminals issue?

And just because these things happen in the US is no excuse for them happening in Japan. I don't believe anyone ever denied that such things happen in the US or that it was acceptable. I think Orchid explained that point rather clearly in the previous post.

emily said...

Here's a story which may not seem like a big deal, but perhaps indicates a level of accepted racism that exists in Japanese society.

One day at Aeon I did a lesson on the theme of refusing politely. Both my students were good English speakers, so I decided to do a role play. Naomi and I were flatmates in London (we were both supposed to be British) and we were interviewing Takeshi as a prospective flatmate. He was saying things like we wouldn't even know he was there as he was very quiet, didn't like loud parties or drinking and simply wanted somewhere to sleep. I was trying to lead Naomi say that we hadn't decided on anyone yet and were still meeting people, so perhaps he might want to look for other places too. You'd think that this would be easy for Japanese people, being masters of the art of indirect language, but Naomi's answer was anything but. "Sorry Takeshi, you seem like a really nice guy. But you're Japanese and we're English - we think there'd be problems with you living with us." "Okay," Takeshi agreed sweetly.

I told Naomi that this would never happen in the UK, even if that's what someone was thinking - you could hang them out to dry for this. And of course there are people who have this attitude - witness the recent success of the British National Party at the local elections over here - but there is the Race Relations Act to contend with.

Naomi's reason and Takeshi's passive acceptance of why he couldn't move in because he was Japanese told me lot about the Japanese attitude to foreigners in similar situations in Japan.

In another class I asked my students if they would mind if their adult children married non-Japanese people. I was very encouraged when all the middle-aged students said that it was up to their children what they did - they felt they'd done their job and now wanted to enjoy their me-time. One man who has two grown-up daughters said that he had been totally against the idea of them marrying westerners, say, but had changed his mind once he and his wife had become host parents. He'd met many lovely young Australian and American men who would make perfectly good husbands for his girls, although he wouldn't want them to leave Japan as he would miss them. I was encouraged and mentioned this to a very liberal Japanese co-worker who spent most of her childhood in NYC. She pointed out that regrettably, the student had probably been thinking about white men - if one of this girls wanted to marry and have a family with a black or South Asian partner it would be a different kettle of fish altogether!

And I'd just like to reiterate that I had no trouble with being stopped by the police in Japan. I was stopped because my bike light wasn't working and they helped me to fix it, but shooed away my offer of looking at my Alien card when I offered. As a white woman in a suit I would imagine that we're less likely than others to be stopped randomly. That doesn't mean to say that non-Japanese people aren't stopped regularly. it's a shame that those who claim "Oh, but it's never happened to me" can't remember the words in the Nirvana song* 'Just because you're paranoid/ Don't mean they're not after you'.

* Territorial Pissings - and yes, for any anoraks out there, Kurt Cobain lifted this quote from an earlier UK source.