I was just skimming some old journal articles looking for an appropriate citation for the paper I’m writing and ran across a 1929 paper entitled The Philippine Problem: Attitude of American Labor Toward Filipino Immigration and Philippine Independence. (Note that the article can only be read by those with access to a JStor subscription, i.e. people at libraries or university campuses.) It struck me that the following excerpt could be published today with only a few minor details changed, and the significant replacement of “Filipino” with “Mexican.”
The Filipinos are human beings with the normal desire to improve their conditions of living. In their native land they are paid a wage of about 40 cents per day. In Hawaii they receive from $1 to $1.50 per day. On the Pacific coast they can easily command double that amount. Under the circumstances one can hardly hold ill will against the individual Filipino who refuses to be happy in Hawaii and continues to move Eastward until he arrives in the promised land.
The organized workers of the Pacific coast states have become apprehensive of this new uncontrolled flood of cheap Asiatic labor. Filipinos have taken the place of white workers in the culinary trades; they have replaced white bell boys and elevator operators and made it more and more difficult for white hotel maids to find employment. Steamships in the highly protected coastwise trade have been manned with Filipinos while American seamen are vainly walking the docks looking for jobs. The whole situation is extremely puzzling to the average American worker.
On the other hand, there are some elements in the 1929 narrative that, thankfully, have no parallel today, showing that despite the regular cycles of xenophobic panic, progress has been made on a fundamental level.
As to the assimilation of these people, the Attorney-General of the State of California has ruled that they are Mongolians and therefore under the state law cannot marry whites.
You can also see examples of blatant bigotry that reminds one significantly of today’s anti-immigrant ranting, while at the same time maintaining a level of course racism that is no longer considered widely acceptable in the public discourse.
In September, 1927, the annual convention of the California State Federation of Labor, by unanimous vote, adopted a resolution calling up the California Congressional delegation to work for the enactment of a law which would effectively exclude Filipinos. The annual conventions of labor federations in several other Pacific coast states have done likewise. The Washington State Federation of Labor convention declared the Filipinos undesirable on the following counts:
“First, because they represent cheap and irresponsible labor of a type that cannot be assimilated, and as such they threaten American standards of wages and living conditions. Second, because they have given serious offense to communities in which they have congregated because of their moral conduct, with the result that one community in Washington the citizens became so aroused that they organized and forcibly evicted the Filipinos. We feel sure that it is not good for labor nor for American institutions and standards to permit the free and unrestricted influx of these people, and we endorse the position of the California State Federation of Labor in asking for their exclusion, and instruct the officers of this Federation to assist in securing the legislation necessary to accomplish this end.”
Starting toward the end of September, a group of 27 Karen refugees will resettle in Japan.
The refugees currently live in Thailand, part of more than 100,000 Karen people living in refugee camps in Thailand, along with thousands more living among the Thailand general population. The Karen are natives of Burma, where their people have been waging guerrilla warfare against the central government since the end of World War II. In response, the Burmese army has waged a campaign of torching villages and terrorizing people to try and weaken support for the insurgency. Talk about a Long War.
Twenty-seven refugees from five families–all members of minority Karen tribe–will be relocated from the camp to Japan in late September. They will be the first group to arrive under a “third-country” resettlement program adopted by Japan, which has long been criticized as closed to refugees.
The program is designed to help refugees in camps outside their home countries.
“We have no worries as long as we stay here,” [one of the 27] said in Karen, as he sat on his knees. “But I want to see our lives improve. I want my children to have goals and dreams. I will go to Japan to live a new life.”
He said he wanted to farm in Japan. “I believe I will manage if I make the effort.”
Since late July, those accepted under the resettlement program have been taking one-month training courses from the International Organization for Migration, which was commissioned by the Japanese government.
Initially, 32 members of six families were accepted, but a family of five decided not to move because of Japan’s high prices.
A 36-year-old man in a family of seven did not hide his anxieties about living in Japan.
“Away from Myanmar, without knowing the language, how can I possibly find a job soon?” he said. “But there is no future in this camp. I will do my best trying to become a naturalized citizen.”
An 8-year-old girl has also set goals for her life in a new country.
“I want to go to school and make many friends. I want to get in a car, too,” she said.
Japan plans to accept about 90 refugees from Myanmar in three years from this fiscal year.
Best of luck to them. The government apparently plans to train them in Tokyo for a while before finding a suitable place for them. In any case, relocation of refugees is tough. The children will probably have the easiest time assimilating. In Bangkok, Mrs. Adamu used to work with Burmese refugees, including several Karen. They often had only just arrived in Bangkok, and because it was their first big city, a lot surprised them. They’d get scared on elevators, throw up in taxis, never been bowling or seen a movie in a theater before. These folks are in for some serious culture shock, especially the adults. The first winter will probably be a little scary.
Little boy learning Japanese writing, courtesy Yahoo News
This move by the Japanese government comes after years of pressure from the US, the EU and other nations that participate in refugee relocation programs. Japan accepts a fraction of applications for refugee status made on Japanese soil, but it has previously not taken part in third-party settlement programs. In contrast, the US receives tens of thousands of refugees every year resettling for various reasons, recently in the aftermath of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recent years, upward of 80% of Japan’s refugee applications have been filed by people from Burma because of stepped-up pressure by the junta and pressure on overflowing refugee camps. There are an estimated 10,000 or so Burmese living in Japan, with a particular concentration in the Takadanobaba area of Tokyo (notable for delicious and authentic Burmese restaurants). Near the industrial complexes in greater Kanto, Burmese workers can be found work
The Vietnamese experience in Japan has been mixed. English Wikipedia actually has a fairly detailed article on this, noting that while many of the original refugees had trouble integrating, many of the 2nd generation are completely assimilating, taking Japanese names and perhaps not even mentioning their non-Japanese heritage to people they meet on a daily basis. With their distinctly Southeast Asian features, the Karen may not have that option.
It’s unclear at this point where the new arrivals will live or how exactly they will be taken care of (unclear to me at least; I am sure MOFA has plans), but generally they can be expected to receive some form of government assistance for the foreseeable future. They will also benefit from being first, which will bring extra attention and a greater commitment to get things right. But eventually they and their children will have to form some connection and relationship with Japanese society, along with the hundreds if not thousands more who will follow. Much like the test groups of Indonesian and Filipina nurses, these refugees will be yet another test case for Japan’s immigrant experience.
One of the more entertaining characters I’ve run across in my studies of Taiwan is has been George Psalmanazar, one of the famous hoaxers of all time. Born around 1680, nothing factual is known about his early life, even his country place of birth, although he later claimed it to be somewhere in southern France, which was allegedly corroborated as likely by those who had heard his French dialect, while doubted by those who were familiar with his ability to impersonate such dialects.
Regardless of where he spent his early years, upon completion of his education Psalmanazar began traveling around Europe, attempting to scam his way to Rome by impersonating an Irish pilgrim. Upon realizing that Ireland was neither exotic enough to elicit much interest from potential marks nor far enough to be entirely unfamiliar, he began instead impersonating a rare pilgrim from the distant land of Japan, and later to the even more exotic and lesser-known island of Formosa, which we now usually call Taiwan.
His wild tales of alien customs and bizarre foreign lands were popular, and after a detour through Rotterdam he arrived in London in 1703, where he became a minor celebrity. Banking on his fame, in 1704 he published a book entitledAn Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan. “Originally written in Latin by Psalmanazar, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa was translated into English and quickly went through two editions. A French translation appeared in Amsterdam in 1705 and interest in the book was high enough a decade later to prompt a German version, which was published in Frankfort in 1716. By this time, however, Psalamanazar’s fraud had been revealed in England and he lapsed into relative obscurity.”
This book provided a detailed description of the island of Formosa, including its history, geography, flora and fauna, religious customs, language, and so on. And virtually every single word of it was completely fictional. Psalamanazar knew all of this, he claimed, because he was himself a native of Formosa. Having been named after the great Formosan “Prophet Psalmanaazaar, who delivered the Law to the Formosans” as well as their writing, Psalamanazar was bringing knowledge of his exotic homeland to the credulous and curious people’s of Europe. In fact, not only had he never been to Formosa, or Asia at all, he knew nothing about it.
Although there were a handful of Jesuits who had been to the real Formosa, their denial of Psalamanazar’s fantastic claims were largely ignored due to the anti-Catholicism prevalent in England at that time. While it might seem absurd to us today that people would have believed such outlandish tales, consider how unreliable information on foreign lands was in the days before the photograph, the telegraph, and even regular long-distance trade to many regions. We may find it unbelievable that the English believed that a man with Western European features similar to their own could have been a native of the East Asian land of Formosa, but how many Londoners would have ever seen an Asian face themselves?
He not only created fanciful, entirely invented, accounts of Formosa all the while portraying himself as a native of that exotic island, but also invented a Formosan language, in what must have been one of the very, very few pre-Tolkien attempts at such an endeavor. Psalmanazar’s creation of a fictional Formosa was actually very Tolkien-esque, not merely in the way that it included a fictional language, but in the way that the development of the language was linked to the invented history. Although the fantasy island was named after the real island of Formosa, and the title of the book claimed that it was “an Island subject to” the very real island of Japan, the descriptions of the customs, geography, history, and language of these real places was very nearly as invented as that of Rivendell or Gondor. Psalmanazar describes the language of Formosa as follows:
The Language of Formosa is the same with that of Japan, but with this difference that the Japannese do not pronounce some Letters gutturally as the Formosans do: And they pronounce the Auxiliary Verbs without that elevation and depression of the Voice which is used in Formosa. Thus, for instance, the Formosans pronounce the present Tense without any elevation or falling of the Voice, as Jerh Chato, ego amo; and the preterperfect they pronounce by raising the Voice, and the future Tense by falling it; but the preterimperfect, the plusquam perfectum, and patio poft futurum, they pronounce by adding the auxiliary Verb: Thus the Verb Jerh Chato, ego amo, in the preterimperfect Tense is Jervieye chato, Ego eram amass, or according to the Letter, Ego eram amo; in the preterperfect Tense it is Jerh Chato, and the Voice is raised in the pronunciation of the first Syllable, but falls in pronouncing the other two; and in the plusquam perfectum the auxiliary Verb viey is added, and the same elevation and falling of the Voice is obsery’d as in the preterit.
The Japan Language has three Genders; all sorts of Animals are either of the Masculine or Feminine Gender, and all inanimate Creatures are of the Neuter: But the Gender is only known by the Articles, e.g. oi hic, ey hoec, and ay hoc; but in the Plural number all the three Articles are alike.
TheJapannese wrote formerly in a sort of Characters most like those of the Chineses; but since they have held correspondence with the Formosans, they have generally made use of their way of writing, as more easy and more beautiful; insomuch that there are few now in Japan who understand the Chinese Characters.
To get an idea of how famous Psalmanazar actually was in his time, consider that he was referenced very prominently in Jonathan Swift’s famous satirical essay A Modest Proposal, in which Swift uses him (albeit spelled a bit differently, perhaps due to imperfect memory and a lack of handy reference) as part of his case for the encouragement of cannibalism.
But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty’s prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at a play-house and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for; the kingdom would not be the worse.
The fact that must be remembered here is that not only was George Psalmanazar a famous public figure in Swift’s time, but that by the year in which A Modest Proposal was published, 1729, Psalmanazar’s account of Formosa was already been widely known as a fraud, the author having had confessed as much in 1707. While Swift’s essay is still widely read, virtually no modern readers will have any clue to what he is referring in this paragraph, and even fewer will realize that much of the basis for the humor in this section is due to the fact that the essayist is attempting to prove his case by referring to a a source that, at the time of publication, would have been recognized by Swift’s audience as not merely fraudulent, but famously and comically so.
Following the end of his career as a hoaxer, Psalmanazar used his celebrity to start a career as a legitimate writer, producing such works as The general history of printing: from its first invention in the city of Mentz, to its first progress and propagation thro’ the most celebrated cities in Europe. Particularly, its introduction, rise and progress here in England. The character of the most celebrated printers, from the first inventors of the art to the years 1520 and 1550: with an account of their works, and of the most considerable improvements which they made to it during that interval, published in 1732. As a now-respectable man of letters, he became friends with such luminaries as Samuel Johnson.
Although he revealed his fraud as early as 1707, details were not revealed until the year after his death. Naturally, this was in the form of a book, which is wonderfully entitled: MEMOIRS OF ****. Commonly known by the Name of George Psalmanazar; A Reputed Native of Formosa. Written by himself, In order to be published after his Death: Containing An Account of his Education, Travels, Adventures, Connections, Literary Productions, and pretended Conversion from Heathenism to Christianity; which last proved the Occasion of his being brought over into this Kingdom, and passing for a Proselyte, and a member of the Church of England.
The one thing that he never revealed, even in his posthumous memoir, was his real name. As far as I know, no details of his early life have ever been verified.
The table of contents, as well as some all too brief excerpts of Psalmanazar’s first book, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa,can be found here, but until earlier this year it was very difficult to get one’s hands on a copy of the English version of the book, at least outside of certain libraries. Although it was published in Taiwan a couple of years ago, that was a Chinese translation, which even if I could read well would hardly be as entertaining. Original copies are very expensive, with the English first edition going for US$1426 on a rare book site, and the French version selling at an even less accessible $1900! Copies of his memoirgo for a technically more affordable, yet still entirely unaffordable $600 or so.
Luckily, not only has an affordable reprint edition of both his Description of Formosaand his Memoirs(as well as some others) are available for purchase online. However, even better, just the other day I managed to locate a scanned electronic edition of both books, freely available in an archive of the British Library. As the online version only seems to be accessible from licensed institutions, such as libraries and universities, I am providing both of them for download as PDFs. Since their PDF creator can only generate files up to 250 pages in length, both of them have been split into two files. Scans of 300 year old books, these files are as public domain as they get. Feel free to spread them far and wide.
Update [August 5]: I regret that I forgot one very important detail from this when I first published it yesterday. While Jonathan Swift may be the most significant literary reference to Psalmanazar’s imaginary Formosa, it is not the only one. Many readers may be familiar with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s wonderful comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and hopefully not the abysmal film based on it), in which they spin a version of our world in which every fantastic story, character, and geography is integrated into a single tapestry. While the story proper is mainly told in the form of comic book panels, Volume Two (for sale here, and highly recommended) contains, in the form of a lengthy appendix, a sort of gazetteer of this fantastic geography, which contains the following text.
We passed east of Zipang, or of Japan as it is these days called, and went south by way of Formosa, which possesses of its coast another smaller island of the same name, where the women and the men go naked save for plaques of gold and silver.
Zipang is in fact one spelling of the Shanghaiese reading of “Japan,” formerly used by some Europeans and thought to be the origin for the modern spelling. Moore here is obviously referencing Psalmanazar’s Formosa, as we can see from page 225 of the Description (first page of PDF Part II). By describing this Formosa as “another smaller island of the same name”, Moore is cleverly leaving room on the map for both the real and fantasy Formosa.
The great difference between the Japannese and Formosans, consists in this, that the Jappanese wear 2 or 3 Coats, which they tye about with a Girdle; but the Formosans have only one Coat, and use no Girlde. They walk with the Breast open, and cover their Privy parts with a Plate tied about them made of Brass, Gold, or Silver.
Incidentally, Moore’s reference to Formosa is located just above a large illustration of Laputa – which readers may remember from either the eponymous Miyazaki Hayao film, or its original source: Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. When one considers that Swift was clearly a fan of Psalmanazar’s imaginary geography, it actually seems quite reasonable to wonder if perhaps the Description of Formosa was an influence on Gulliver’s Travels, which as a chronicle of fantastic geography has some undeniable similarities.
I realize I am somewhat late to this, but there’s been a flare-up of interest in “saving the JET Program” ever since the new government’s budget review panel apparently requested the internal affairs ministry to reform the program.
It’s been hard for me to figure out exactly what is going on, but judging from reading through the review results (PDF) and conclusions of the panel (helpfully posted by a commenter on the jetprogramme.org forum), my understanding is this:
As part of the review of the nationally subsidized “internationalization” operations of local governments, some argued for the JET Program to be eliminated. In the end, the panel concluded that the program deserves closer scrutiny in terms of how much of the costs local governments are responsible for, the status of overseas offices with questionable usefulness, and whether the 23-year-old program is meeting the needs of Japanese people today. The “conclusions” take the form of a formal request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. Interestingly, I didn’t know that some revenue from the Japanese national lottery goes to fund the JET Program, which was also something at least one panel member objected to.
Ultimately, I would agree with Washington-based Sankei senior writer Yoshihisa Komori who sees the JET Program as necessary to spread understanding and good will toward Japan, even while admitting the need for some reforms and re-focusing of its mission. He cites the example of his acquaintance Irwin, an African-American who as a JET learned the way of bushido through judo lessons on the side.
Why Japan really needs the JET Program
As Komori emphasized, JET alumni are some of the best friends overseas Japan could hope for. They often go to work in government and industry, and their familiarity with Japan produces both good will and a smooth working relationship in many cases. That’s a point I noted when JET turned 20 back in 2006.
But I would add a perhaps more important reason for continuing JET – a reliable supply of Japanese-speaking native English speakers. While JET has proven successful in some ways, it has failed miserably in one crucial other – by and large, Japanese people still can’t speak English! Obviously, this isn’t JET’s fault. Intentionally or not, Japan’s education system produces people with a large English vocabulary that they cannot put to practical use, creating a “Berlin Wall” separating the majority of Japanese from meaningful contact with the English-speaking world.
The JET Program has brought tens of thousands of native English speakers to Japan. Some of them get very good at Japanese. These people can then make careers for themselves as translators, interpreters, or “gaijin gophers” wherever they work, filling the gaps created by a paucity of English ability among the general workforce. I am not sure what Japan was like 20 years ago, but this need remains vital today.
There is a large population of private-sector ESL teachers as well. However, the advantages of the JET Program include a rigorous admissions process and a generous compensation package, which help guarantee a positive experience and make the program look better on resumes. Private-sector English jobs have turned out to be potentially very unstable, so keeping this “public option” might be a good idea.
Hopefully, the budget reviewers and the internal affairs ministry will understand this message. Komori-san, head back to Tokyo and make your case!
There are two inspirations for this post. The first is a recent blog post by James Fallows (who is exactly the person I would have become if I became a “real” journalist) at The Atlantic: Essay Question: Is AZ More Like China — or Like France? Amid discussion of the new illegal-immigrant-weeding laws in Arizona, specifically the fact that Americans don’t generally have to carry ID around with them, one Fallows reader in France chimes in:
The French must always have their National ID card on them – for the police can demand to see it at any and all times.
Foreigners, in principle, must always have a piece of ID on them – like a passport. I never carry this with me – in 14 years of living here, I’ve never had my passport on me except when I’ve been on my way to the airport and going abroad. But I’m white and look (sometimes sound) French of Gaullish stock. The police, in the vast majority of cases, stop and demand ID papers from youngish (under 40) males of African or Arab descent, be they French nationals or no.
It is not a well-looked upon practice of the police, but the French aren’t adamant enough against it to seek its abolition. As far as I understand, such identity checks have been a long staple of police work in France going back to the Revolutionary/Napoleonic era wherein the State underwent a reinforcement of its prerogatives over the citizenry.
Japan falls in between the American and French models: Japanese citizens are not required to carry ID, but foreigners in Japan have to carry a passport or alien registration card at all times, and the police have a habit of carding visible foreigners at random. Until last month, this had only happened to me a couple of times when I was bicycling around Tokyo, and one of those times I was able to shake off the cop by simply saying I was in a hurry.
Inspiration number two. Last month, six of my family members flew in from the US for the wedding. I took the train out to Narita to meet them on arrival. Their flight arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule, so I started hustling quickly out of the station to get upstairs to the arrivals hall. A few seconds out of the station gates, a cop with his partner called out to me in English:
COP: Excuse me–(points at watch) Do you have a minute?
ME: (without stopping or slowing down) Nope, sorry. I have to meet someone upstairs.
COP: Oh, OK!
Fast forward a few days, and my family were headed back home, so again I went to the airport to see them off. They checked in before I arrived at the airport, so I met them in the ticketing hall at Terminal 2, and we sat down to relax for a while together before they left.
Two cops appeared from around the corner and made a beeline for the group of seven white people, saying “Excuse me? Passport check?”
My family all had their passports out already, and haven’t read Debito’s website, so they handed the passports over and the police started copying down their names and passport numbers with pencil and paper. I was about to pop, but tried to keep cool.
ME: Can I ask you guys something? There is no way to get into this airport without showing your ID to someone. Why do you have to check it again?
COP: It’s for security reasons.
ME: So you don’t trust the people checking our ID when we get off the train?
COP: Um, do you know what shokumu shitsumon (“official questioning”) is?
ME: I’ve heard of it.
COP: We just ask these questions. Your cooperation is completely voluntary.
ME: Really? You didn’t make that clear at all to my family.
COP: Errrr…. well, we don’t know how to say that in English.
ME: You work in an international airport and you can’t speak English? OK, whatever. I’m not traveling, I’m just seeing my family off.
COP: OK. Sorry to take up your time.
They didn’t check my passport, so it was a lukewarm victory. The police then hit up a couple of South Asians behind us, and disappeared around another corner without questioning anyone else. My father and sister both laughed and said “I think we were just racially profiled” — a bilingual Japanese lady they were talking to apologetically remarked “I don’t know what their problem is.”
About five minutes passed and another pair of police appeared demanding our passports. At this point I popped.
ME: You dumbf—s just asked them for their passports! Don’t you have anything better to do?!
COP: Oh. Sorry!
Strangely, there was no questioning when my wife and I came back the next day for our flight to Europe, or when we came back a few weeks later — though we passed a couple of white backpackers getting carded before going through the train station gates at the airport. I can only surmise that under Japanese law, an East Asian companion may implicitly substitute for a passport or alien registration card. That said, I would not try any similar stunt with European cops, who all seem to have submachine guns, military experience and serious attitudes, unlike their hapless Japanese counterparts.
NYT has an article noting that a sizable number of people every year give up their US citizenship for tax reasons. It seems like they are focused on Americans living in Europe, but I have met a few people in Japan who have at least considered this option. It does seem odd that the US is one of the few countries that tries to tax income earned abroad.
Fully one-quarter of the space on this year’s [U.S. Census] form is taken up with questions of race and ethnicity, which are clearly illegitimate and none of the government’s business (despite the New York Times’ assurances to the contrary on today’s editorial page). So until we succeed in building the needed wall of separation between race and state, I have a proposal.
Question 9 on the census form asks “What is Person 1’s race?” (and so on, for other members of the household). My initial impulse was simply to misidentify my race so as to throw a monkey wrench into the statistics; I had fun doing this on the personal-information form my college required every semester, where I was a Puerto Rican Muslim one semester, and a Samoan Buddhist the next. But lying in this constitutionally mandated process is wrong. Really — don’t do it.
Instead, we should answer Question 9 by checking the last option — “Some other race” — and writing in “American.” It’s a truthful answer but at the same time is a way for ordinary citizens to express their rejection of unconstitutional racial classification schemes. In fact, “American” was the plurality ancestry selection for respondents to the 2000 census in four states and several hundred counties.
Exhibit 2. The Rapporteur of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to the Japanese government (thanks to Debito for putting the transcript online):
The report and [the government’s] responses contain many statistics including figures disaggregated by citizenship, nationality, but paragraph 4 of the report says that ethnic breakdown for Japan is not readily available, Japan does not conduct population surveys from an ethnic viewpoint.
I must say this has caused the rapporteur some heartache in the sense of trying to get a grip on relevant figures. For example, in relation to Koreans, you say that 600,000 approximately, that’s just round up those numbers, foreigners who are Koreans; 400,000 of which are special permanent residents, but there is also a figure of some 320,000 naturalizations that I have come across, and in recent years up to 2008, so we are actually talking about a million, something roughly around a million Koreans and Korean descent.
The committee often asks for statistics; we understand the difficulties that states may have for various reasons including reasons to do with privacy and anonymity and so on, not wanting to pigeonhole people in certain ethnic categories, but it can be tremendously helpful I think and also in many cases necessary to get a grasp of the situation by understanding its dimensions and if an ethnic question can’t be asked in a direct way in a census, we often encourage states to find creative ways around this, including things like use of languages we recommended to other states from time to time; social surveys, etc., and a number of other methods that are…this is essentially designed not simply to help the committee – that’s not the point – but to help the state, I think to understand the dimensions of a particular question, and enable them to focus their policy more appropriately.
“Race” in terms of black and white is a pretty silly idea, but there is something to be said about monitoring statistics on ethnic origin, as opposed to the Japanese government approach of looking at registered nationality alone (that is, when they choose to count foreign nationals at all). Of course, when the world is full of hot-heads on both sides of the political fence, it’s hard to reach a compromise that anyone will like.
The LA Times has a story on how an activist group in South Korea, sinisterly named the “Anti-English Spectrum” has been following foreign English teachers to ferret out suspected wrong-doing:
The volunteer manager of a controversial group known as the Anti-English Spectrum, Yie investigates complaints by South Korean parents, often teaming up with authorities, and turns over information from his efforts for possible prosecution.
Outraged teachers groups call Yie an instigator and a stalker.
Yie waves off the criticism. “It’s not stalking, it’s following,” he said. “There’s no law against that.”
Since its founding in 2005, critics say, Yie’s group has waged an invective-filled nationalistic campaign against the 20,000 foreign-born English teachers in South Korea.
On their website and through fliers, members have spread rumors of a foreign English teacher crime wave. They have alleged that some teachers are knowingly spreading AIDS, speculation that has been reported in the Korean press.
The debate over foreign English teachers is symbolic of a social shift taking place in a nation that has long prided itself on its racial purity and singular culture, South Korean analysts say.
In less than a decade, the number of foreigners living in South Korea, with a population of nearly 49 million, has doubled to 1.2 million, many of them migrant workers from other Asian nations.
Also included are the foreign English teachers, most from the United States, drawn here by compensation packages that may include as much as $2,500 a month plus free rent and a round-trip ticket to teach a Korean population obsessed with learning from native speakers.
While the idea of vigilantes following English teachers around is definitely unnerving, the effort seems much smaller and more reasonable than I expected from the headline. No reports of violence and just one threatening e-mail. If there are troublemakers in the country I think the citizens have a right to their activism. The “activists” seem more like a community of Internet hobbyists going after a group that’s done nothing to them for no reason other than self-satisfaction, very similar to the incidents of “enjo” flaming campaigns in Japan (or scambaiters, “Anonymous” protests against Scientology, etc. in the English-speaking world). I am tempted to write it off, but given what I am reading here and all the reports on English teachers smuggling drugs and getting into other trouble, the relationship between the foreign English teachers and the local Koreans seems genuinely strained.
Given the relative similarity of the situation in Japan (homogeneous Asian population, fetish over learning English from natives), it struck me how nothing like this has sprung up yet, especially given the industry’s business/hiring practices and the excesses of some of the teachers. There are stirrings of anti-foreigner sentiment here and there, but what strong feelings there are tend to come from fringe rightist groups railing against Koreans.
It’s possible there is a difference of degree in Korea – the Internet is a more integral part of life, there are proportionally more English teachers there, and foreigners in general are a more visible presence. That said, it could offer a glimpse at where Japan might be headed.
Korea remains one of the most connected nations on the planet, and has become famous for flaming campaigns. There was a recent string of celebrity suicides, some apparently a result of internet harassment.
In Japan, these attacks are quite common, though I have yet to hear about any high-profile suicides. Japanese net users have turned their ire on Westerners before, most notably in the “WaiWai incident” when they became outraged over lewd, liberally translated articles on the Mainichi Daily News site. If a foreign English teacher commits a heinous crime (or the police decide to play it up), it’s possible the 2ch crowd could start something a “Spectrum” of its own. If it comes to that, we will all no doubt back our dismissive comments about Debito and beg him for help (I am guessing there is no Debito equivalent in Korea – prominent Korea blogger Marmot has very little sympathy with his wayward fellow Westerners). Even so, I don’t get the impression that average Japanese people feel uneasy about Western English teachers – quite the contrary, they tend to be treated very well. Maybe we can thank the JET program for bringing in more “high quality” talent with its more rigorous selection process.
Next, there are a lot of English teachers in Korea! If the article’s figure of 20,000 is correct, it’s even more than the roughly 14,000 in Japan (and shrinking) even though Korea’s population is just 40% of Japan’s. If Japan had the same proportion of English teachers there’d be 36,000 of them, and businesses would probably have to lower standards even more to fill all the positions.
According to the article, foreigners make up 2.4% of South Korea’s population. In Japan that number is 1.74% and growing. Also, from all accounts the US military presence is felt a lot more in Korea, be it from soldiers on the street or the daily awareness that the country remains in a state of imminent war.
But with the foreign population on the rise in Japan, its greater visibility means there will definitely be some kind of reaction. Some might feel the kind of anger that’s directed at the government’s proposal to give permanent residence the vote. Those protests have yet to produce any violence or anything worth calling an “incident” but it’s a potential rallying point, and the bill hasn’t come up for debate yet.
The article draws a link between the Anti-English Spectrum and the overall issue of dealing with foreigners in “racially pure” South Korea, noting there have been some recent racially motivated attacks. I think there’s a clue in this for people watching Japan. When the net activists start wielding the hammer of anti-foreigner rage, Western English teachers might start to look more and more like a nail.
The DPJ has agreed to submit a bill that would grant foreign permanent residents of Japan (let’s call them PRs) the right to vote and run in local elections. Getting voting rights without having to give up Korean citizenship has long been a goal of zainichi Korean activist groups. But this proposal would apply both to “special” permanent residents that include the population of “zainichi” Koreans and Chinese from Taiwan who remained in the country after WW2, and to any foreigner granted permanent residency.
The bill has stirred up a firestorm of criticism, most loudly from the right wing. However, in support of the bill are some powerful forces, first and foremost DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, whose job it is to ensure a lasting majority for his party. According to at least one critic, the decision to offer suffrage to all PRs may be an attempt to secure a more permanent voting base because the zainichi population has been falling precipitously as the original group dies off and their decendants naturalize.
Personally, although I could potentially benefit from this bill if I one day am granted permanent residency, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Except for unique circumstances, only the citizens of a country should be allowed to vote.
The right wing and their allies in the opposition LDP have mobilized against this bill. Right-leaning Sankei Shimbun has run features pointing out the “big problems” with the bill. Financial services minister and conservative People’s New Party President Shizuka Kamei is against the proposal, noting he would refuse to sign a cabinet decision on the matter. In a statement, he worried that some areas with large foreign populations would see an upheaval of political power. He also suggested the compromise measure of loosening the requirements to naturalize, without being specific.
Protests have been common, and generally have taken a highly xenophobic tone. The crux of the argument is that there is no good reason to give PRs the vote and that almost no nations unilaterally grant foreign citizens the right to vote (some EU countries allow it for other EU citizens, along with some other exceptions made for special groups (PDF)). Some of the criticism veers into the paranoid, however. In addition to the long, long list of furious red herring arguments documented by Debito, here is a video of one activist calmly explaining that this is an attempt by China to take over Japan by populating the country with foreign voters.
Almost non-existent support
It’s obvious enough that these protesters are making ridiculous arguments and have cranked the outrage way out of proportion. But what is the case for giving PRs the vote?
In addition to expected support from zainichi Korean groups, we have some uncharacteristically half-baked support from Debito, the well-known human rights agitator: “Debito.org is in support, given how difficult it can be to get PR in Japan, not to mention how arbitrary the naturalization procedures are.” But just because it’s tough to get the status, that doesn’t mean one should get the right to vote and be elected. I am not accusing foreigners in Japan of being spies or degenerates, but a basic tenet of a country and the Japanese constitution is that it is to be governed by its citizens. That requirement helps assure those who will be involved in politics are committed citizens of the country. Permanent residents are already protected under the law and do not need to renew their visa to stay in the country. I think if they want more than that they should be ready to give up their original passport and become citizens.
In an article in Japan Focus, professor Chris Burgess praises the zainichi suffrage movement as “multiculturalism in practice” but makes no mention of the expanded proposal.
I can understand giving the special permanent residents the vote because they are for all practical purposes citizens of the country. The current DPJ proposal would essentially exclude those who did not explicitly take South Korean citizenship (朝鮮籍維持者), if I understand correctly. But I would not even have a problem with these people getting the vote as it was an tragedy of history that put them in the country in the first place. If Japan would permit dual citizenship that would be one thing, but absent that letting them vote one way to let them participate in society.
But really, what constituency of non-zainichi PRs is actually asking for the right to vote? The only one who really stands to gain is the DPJ itself which would earn itself an expanded and loyal voter base. That’s an irresponsible way to decide election policy in this country, and as much as it pains me to side with rabid right-wingers who may wish me ill will, they are right on this issue. There are more important issues in my opinion (allowing dual citizenship, establishing an immigration policy) that should be given more priority.
I’ve been in Dubai for almost two months now, and despite leaving Japan, everyday involves speaking, reading and writing Japanese in my personal and professional life. Since arriving I’ve probably met more than a hundred Japanese nationals here, such as company employees, government bureaucrats, waitresses and cooks at Japanese restaurants, and the wives and school-aged children that have accompanied many of them. That’s several percentage points of the whole Japanese population here — according to the local Japanese Consulate General, there are approximately 3,000 Japanese nationals living in Dubai.
The reaction to a Japanese-speaking non-Japanese person is overwhelmingly positive, and I have found it very easy to befriend Japanese nationals on that basis. I think one reason for this is the underwhelming penetration of English language proficiency in the Japanese community here, and the consequent loneliness and insular community that arises thereto.
It’s one thing when I meet Americans and Brits living in Japan who never exert even a cursory effort to learn the Japanese language. I’m disappointed by these types of people, but I understand that English is the lingua franca of the world, the lowest common denominator of language, that people can expect to use for communication in most cities of the world. I know people who have lived in Japan for years, knowing only English, and who have still been able to live a full life in Japan and enjoy all the major tourist locations such as Kyoto, Hakone, Nikko, and elsewhere.
Here in Dubai, I witness the same phenomenon — I meet Japanese people who have lived in Dubai for years and who can barely order food from a menu or instruct a cab driver. This is a city that follows the 21st century lingua franca — 90% of the metropolitan population is foreign, and the common language between Lebanese, Indians, Brits, Egyptians, Iranians, Chinese, Kenyans, South Africans, Pakistanis, Greeks, Afghanis, and every other type of person you can imagine is English.
It’s one thing if a 30 year-old Japanese housewife can’t learn basic English communication after a few year in Dubai. That’s disappointing but understandable. But I’m truly shocked when I meet kids of the ages of 7 or 10, who have lived in Dubai for a year or two, and who have the potential to truly learn English like a native, and yet who can barely muster a sentence in English.
The blame lies squarely with the community and the education. The kids live in a Japanese community, attend Japanese schools that follow an ordinary Japanese curriculum, and basically have to study English in their spare time if they want to learn. And the general lack of English ability by many here has created a highly insular community. The Japanese tend to live in or around the Hyatt Regency, which offers serviced apartments for individuals and families, a supermarket with a small Japanese corner, and a genuine Japanese restaurant. Many other people live in the nearby neighborhood, and most of the authentic Japanese restaurants are in that area. With most Japanese socially cut-off from the rest of Dubai’s expat community, the result is a gossip network akin to a small inaka community. I met a bureucrat working at JETRO who had heard of me from his neighbor before we met — which we forensically determined was derivative to at least the fourth degree, with the information genesis beginning in a meeting that happened merely days earlier.
On the one hand, from a selfish perspective, this is great for me and has created all sorts of opportuities. But it’s also tragic that the Japanese, despite being very well educated and comfortably middle class for several generations, are so culturally isolated in a city where people gather from across the world.