Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tokyo's jolly life as an "Alien"

French Mother and Child, by Yoshitora, Yokohama 1861

Foreigners in Japan are officially registered as "Uchujin"... as Aliens!

Personally I do not have yet an opinion about it. "I'm in transit" my honorable 'sempai' friend Alfred Smoulard told me once on top of the Denki building, after decades of intense life and work in Japan where he had married his wonderful Japanese wife whom we sometimes meet at the press club. But the topics of foreign residency status and their rights go far beyond every day life, it's a way for Japan to apprehend how the nation will project itself in the global society. It also means there is quite a lot of racial prejudice and segregation here. Does it sell under the new Hatoyama democrat administration...?

The first Lady of Japan, Miyuki Hatoyama, wife of Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, a lifestyle guru and ex-dancer from Japan's renown girls-only Takarazuka theatrical troupe, once said she was abducted by aliens while she slept one night 20 years ago, and added she travelled to the planet Venus. She won't be contradicted by current high profile of LDP Ishiba Shigeru, ferocious conservative, military strategist and who told me the other day at a press luncheon I organized that he believes in UFO... Whatever. A lot of expectations are placed by the first lady into her husband Yukio Hatoyama program: "Politics full of love". It could deliver a sudden change vis vis the way foreigners are considered in the archipelago, the first of them would be to give permanent residents the right to vote at local elections. But in Japan, the idea does not flow as fast as one could hope.

Japan has a very low number of foreign population, the native population is over 127,510 millions souls with 22,7 % over 65 years old and as of the end of 2008. 912,400 foreign nationals were registered with the government as permanent residents. I have the figure of 2,217,426 registered foreigners representing 1.74% of the population. The real number is certainly more adding the sweat shop, restaurants, night clubs, and factories of the archipelago, Chinese citizens in particular. Among them, 420,300 were special permanent residents, including Koreans and Taiwanese who lived in Japan before and during the war and were forced to take Japanese nationality, and their descendants. The remainder are general permanent residents.

Embassy of France, Takanawa, by Hiroshige II, 1869

Foreign nationals cannot vote in national or local elections, and changing the law has long been a controversial issue, particularly under the administrations of the LDP, whose conservative ranks, but not all of them, have argued against granting suffrage, insisting that permanent foreign residents must first become naturalized citizens.

In 2008 nevertheless Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers had made an ambitious proposal to raise the ratio of immigrants in Japan to about 10 percent over the next 50 years. "There is no effective cure to save Japan from a population crisis," the proposal said. "In order for Japan to survive, it must open its doors as an international state to the world and shift toward establishing an 'immigrant nation' by accepting immigrants and revitalizing Japan," a bunch of politicians said then headed by ex-LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa, his group of about 80 lawmakers had helped draft a "Japanese-model immigration policy".

Hirohiko Nakamura, then an Upper House lawmaker and secretary general of the LDP group, expressed also the idea that increasing the recognition of refugees is on the LDP reformists ticket agenda -Masuzoe Yoichi-san eventually-. The group proposed accepting up to 1,000 asylum-seekers and other foreigners who need protection for humanitarian reasons. The proposal also said a foreigner who has lived in Japan for 10 years or longer should be given nationality if the person wishes to become a Japanese citizen.

The group also adds citizenship should be given to all permanent residents and that its definition of "immigrant" is the same as that used by the United Nations, and can count individuals who have lived outside their home countries for more than 12 months. This includes asylum-seekers, people on state or corporate training programs, and even exchange students.

But LDP is now in the fog.

In charge are DPJ heavyweights Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and "redoutable" Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, they are advocates of giving foreigners the right to vote at the local level, and the party has been preparing to craft the legislation it has been calling for since the party's launch in 1998. But! The government scrapped a plan to submit the bill during the current Diet session after encountering fierce opposition from the financial services minister joined by conservative intellectuals and key executives from five political parties.

Western Hotel at Tsukiji, by Hiroshige III, 1868

"Lawmakers oppose giving foreign residents right to vote" reports Kyodo news

Quotes: "A group of conservative lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties on Saturday voiced their opposition to proposed legislation to enfranchise permanent foreign residents for local elections. Shizuka Kamei, who leads the People’s New Party, addressed a gathering of people against the proposed legislation in Tokyo, saying, ‘‘The right to vote for foreigners will ruin Japan." Kyodo news wire reports today. These politicians were among the thousands who gathered in Tokyo on Saturday to rally against granting foreign residents voting rights for local elections. Even "Your Party" leader Yoshimi Watanabe whom I received at a press luncheon at the press club to talk about "reform of Japanese politics..." reform, realignment, modernization, internationalization... You know, the full speed formula with atthe end the frustration to see that nothing moved.

"10,257 people attended the convention at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo including representatives of prefectural assemblies writes Japan Times . In an opening speech preceded by the singing of the "Kimigayo" national anthem, Atsuyuki Sassa, former head of the Cabinet Security Affairs Office and chief organizer of the event, expressed his concern about granting foreigners suffrage. "I was infuriated when I heard of plans to submit to the Diet a government-sponsored bill giving foreign residents voting rights. Granting suffrage to those without Japanese nationality is clearly a mistake in national policy." Sassa pointed out that 35 prefectures have adopted statements against granting foreigners suffrage, up from less than half that number in January. "Our local governments clearly do not desire granting suffrage to foreigners," writes the Japan Times.

Dead end for the Tokyo's jolly life as an "Alien" ? The Dejima's spirit is still remaining after all these years as if no international enlightened law had penetrated the shaky pattern of Japan soil, including the Hague Convention on children...? It's up to you Prime Minister and good luck.

Dejima, painting 1820

To end this, now the "Numbers" by courtesy of the Ministry of Justice and the site of At the end of 2008 2,217,426 registered foreigners in Japan, 1.74% of the population.

Chinese 655,337 (29.6%)
Koreans 589,239 (26.6%)
Brazilians 312,582 (14.1%)
Filipinos 210,617 (9.5%)
Peruvians 59,723 (2.7%)
Americans 52,683 (2.4%)
Others 307,205 (15.2%)

And from 2007, other nationalities:

Britons 17,328
Germans 5,915
French 8,780
Italians 2,373
Spaniards 1,755
Russians 7,346
Australians 11,033
NZ 3,603
Canadians 11,459
RSA 592
Indians 20,589
Iranians 5,165
Israelis 749

And for the little ones, this reference

Blog on the subject "I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien…"

Sources:, Japan Times, Japan collection, Ministry of Justice, NHK, Kyodo, 20th Century Fox, Reporter's notes.

Painting by Bakufu, Japanese Garden, 1950

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