Bugaboos and bogeymen: foreigner crime in Japan

mainichiforeignerwarning.jpegNo, this isn’t one of the signs I see when I take my dog walks, nor did I even take this photo. I lifted it from the Mainichi Daily News website, the English online presence of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shinbun. The MDN is using the photo to accompany their headline story, “Only 30 percent of Japanese feel foreigners suffer discrimination”.

I’m not sure what I found more chilling, the article detailing the recent government report on human rights which looked at Japanese attitudes toward foreigners in Japan, or the sign depicted in this photo. Before I get to the sign, however, here’s the gist of the report:

Of the 3,000 adult Japanese who were surveyed by the Cabinet Office for the report from late January to early February of this year,

* only 30.4% “believe treating foreign residents unfairly because of their nationality is a form of discrimination.” This is down 10 percentage points from the previous survey, conducted in 1997.

* only 54% “feel the need to protect foreign residents’ human rights at the same level as the natives.” Let’s reiterate that from the other angle: 46% of those surveyed believe the rights of foreigners living in Japan don’t need to be protected at the same level that Japanese’ rights are protected. The 54% figure is down from 65% who felt this way in 1997.

* 21.8% “believe foreigners should accept the fact that they do not have equal rights as Japanese.” 18.5% believed the same thing in 1997.

You’d have to be a pretty clueless foreigner not to realize that Japan is not the most hospitable country to its non-native residents, but nevertheless these figures really took me aback. Oh, and why the dramatic drop in Japanese attitudes towards foreigners? That old bugaboo, foreigner crime.

A Cabinet Office spokesman blamed the soaring crime rate for the public’s apparent lack of concern for their foreign guests. “The increase in the number of crimes committed by foreign nationals could be behind these figures,” the spokesman said.

Which leads me to the photo that accompanied the article and which I’ve reproduced here. The sign depicted, from Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, reads in Japanese:

chuui! rainichi furyou gaikokujin ni yoru, hittakuri jiken ga tapatsu

Which translates roughly to:

Be careful! Purse snatchings by foreign delinquents (hooligans) coming to Japan are occurring frequently.

A slightly clearer image of the same sign is available here. I found this link at The Community, an advocacy group “concerned about the treatment of non-Japanese in Japan.” This group was started by the well-known foreigners rights advocate — and now Japanese citizen — Arudou Debito. The Community site has a whole page about various signs put up by the Nakano City Police, and attempts to talk with city leaders about the misleading signs. Debito also has uploaded the text to two separate articles that appeared in the Asahi Shinbun last December about “foreigner crime” in Tokyo and whether or not there is really any substance to this oft-used bogeyman.

It’s funny, M commented on my post about signs for local dog owners that perhaps the Japanese who stare at me while I’m out walking the dog are thinking I stole the dog, and it made me chuckle. Seeing these signs, and reading the depressing results of this Cabinet Office survey, I’m not exactly laughing at the moment.

I wasn’t laughing too a couple of months ago when I was getting my hair cut, and I had to sit quietly and listen while my hairdresser went on and on about how America has so much crime because they allow all those immigrants in, and how Japan now has the same problem. My Japanese wasn’t good enough to refute her skewed perspective, nor give her a piece of my mind (probably a good thing!), but I did manage to tell her that my mother was one of those immigrants to America that she was referring to, which at least got her to shut up. I wonder if Kaika will ever have to invoke his father similarly, years from now.

10 Replies to “Bugaboos and bogeymen: foreigner crime in Japan”

  1. This has a background history that goes back quite a while. “chugokujin wo mitara, hyaku tou ban!” which means if you see any Chinese (from mainland), call 110! Of course lousy language and ignorance made a big hooha and protest from foreigners. They forget to add an adjective before Chinese, “ayashii” (suspicious). And the media love to confuss the public or they don’t study well. That’s why you feel that you’re “under their statistics.” (Not that I don’t feel the same, I am under the figures of course. All the banks I applied for didn’t approve my visa application till now.)

  2. I had hoped to provide a chuckle, not fuel paranoia. (“But he’s not paranoid. Someone really is out to get him.”)

    I don’t think things are much better back here in the US of A. Black parents have to teach their teenage sons how to stay cool when (not if) they are pulled over by the cops just for being black. And the poll results are the same. Whites generally think racial discrimination is a thing of the past. Non-whites just shake their heads in disbelief. And we’re all fellow countrymen.

    As far as I can tell, many (most?) Americans don’t believe that non-citizens should have the same rights as citizens. And apparently many Republicans feel that wealth endows certain “platinum plus citizenship” benefits…such as immunity from prosecution for a range of offenses from underage drinking to securites fraud.

  3. Ken-
    I have to say that adding an adjective like “suspicious” in front of “Chinese” would hardly have made that sign any better! And in any event, the point should be, can’t they just make the sign read “suspicious people” and leave it at that? It’s not just about singling out unfairly an ethnic group (or all non-Japanese ethnic groups as in the sign I pictured), but the tacit implication that the reason Japanese are excluded from these signs is because they don’t commit any of these crimes!

    Obviously I can be accused of the pot calling the kettle black, that of course the US is no better, and perhaps it could be argued, worse, because discrimination in the US is often accompanied by the threat of violence (those police pullovers you mention, Rodney King and the like, the murder of Vincent Chin, etc.)

    On your point about whites thinking discrimination is a thing of the past… What I took away from the survey — and granted, my “paranoia” might be getting the better of me here — was that of those surveyed (and let’s point out for the record that I’m leery of putting too much emphasis on a survey of 3000 Japanese out of a population of 160 million), a significant percentage live their lives on the premise that foreigners are not the same as Japanese, that they should not have the same rights as Japanese, and (at least for 22%) that they should get used to these “facts of Japanese life”. And 30% don’t see treating foreigners unfairly as discrimination! (I have not seen the Japanese text of the survey so I have to admit I don’t know how this questioned was formed, which would have a lot of bearing on how one interprets the response). So unfortunately, we have a long way to go before we even get to the stage where the Japanese polled think discrimination is over and the foreigners polled think it isn’t! You can’t think something is over if you can’t even acknowledge that treating foreign residents unfairly because of their nationality is a form of discrimination in the first place!

  4. oops, I meant that nearly 70% of those surveyed believe that treating foreigners unfairly isn’t discrimination.

  5. I understood what you meant…that it’s difficult to redress a wrong when people don’t even recognize it as a wrong. (“Yeah. So we treat foreigners differently. Well they’re foreigners. They are different. What’s the big deal?”)

    That’s what “consciousness-raising” was all about in the 1960s and 1970s. To make people aware. And that’s what Arudou Debito is doing…and you, too, in entries like this.

    I’d be interested in knowing the results of any additional research you do into crime statistics. Also, other than the ranting of your barber, what kinds of discrimination have you encountered yourself?

  6. M-
    haven’t had time to really look further at crime statistics (suspect the good stuff is in Japanese anyway!), but on your question about discrimination, that honest truth is that I haven’t experienced very much personally, at least of the sort that I can unqualifyingly say was discrimination. Like Vazdot wrote about (see trackback), there are the subtle signs like folks getting up from their seat after you sit next to them, or no one sitting next to you on a crowded train (this happened to my the other day, quite a crowded train but the seat next to me was conspicuously available. Of course I will never know the reasons for this, but after this happens a few times, I start to come to an unpleasant conclusion.

    In point of fact, I’m priviledged here, being a white American (yeah, sad but true, it comes with “advantages” here too), and being married to a Japanese. This latter fact gives me an “in” that many of my foreigner breathren don’t have. Yet, I have no doubt that were I and Naoko to start looking for an apartment, my being a foreigner would be an issue, and would make it more difficult to find an apartment (having a cat and child I’m sure doesn’t help either!). I wouldn’t want to try that on my own, I’ve heard plenty of stories from co-workers and other foreigners. For example, a Japanese girlfriend or friend calls up a rental agency on behalf of a foreigner. The agency has plenty of apartments. Friend mentions that the apartment is for a foreigner. All the available apartments suddenly become rented on the spot!

  7. Pull your head out of your ass, immigration adds to alot of the crime in America, as it probably does to Japan to. You deny it, but you dont give any answers to back your side up. My side is backed up by fact. Move to Arizona and then tell me foreigners dont contribute to about half the crime in America.

    About being privlidged as a white in Japan being a “sad” thing. Who’s fucking side are you on? Do you want us to become oppressed or something? It’s whites like you that bring shame to us, not the so-called racist, who at least stands his ground. You are a coward, ready to capitulate to the PC brainwashed masses. Every Nation on this planet does business as it pertains to their interests. Why should we let them have their way with our land if they bring nothing but problems to the table, this is not true of Japanese immigrants, who are very productive, but the Japanese immigrant IS NOT the Mexican immigrant. The Mexican immigrant, or see 40% of the crime in America in the year 2000, is a repeat offender. There is only 3 ways to stop the repeat offender: lock him up (pay for his existance), lock him out (deportation), or take him out (Wack him). Since i’m a nice guy, I just say lock them out.

  8. Pingback: tonari no shibafu

Comments are closed.