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“Secret File on Foreigner Crime” Publisher Answers his Critics

February 16, 2007

At Japan Today, Eichi publisher Shigeki Saka responds to allegations of racism and xenophobia for his mook 犯罪外人裏ファイル (はんざい がいじん うら ふあいる Secret File on Foreigner Crime). He complains about a number of things in his bid to defend his publication. I will list his complaints and respond to them:

I have been subject to a campaign of harassment. In particular, some emails I’ve received have been quite vicious — and have included threats to my life.

The use of harassment, in particular threats of violence, is an unacceptable means of protest, because it undermines the credibility of the protesters and is just plain wrong. The people who have harassed you do not speak for the majority of foreigners who were offended by your publication. Threats on your life are horrible, and should be reported to the police. The people issuing the threats should be punished to the full extent of the law.

 On the Japanese side, the “foreign criminal” is a beast who lurks everywhere and wants nothing more than to destroy Japanese people and their way of life. Whether it’s a North Korean agent kidnapping our daughters or a Chinese thief invading our homes, many Japanese are convinced that foreigners should be treated with suspicion and fear.

The pervasiveness of this attitude is precisely why people were so offended by your magazine. With its extreme emphasis on foreigner crime (and its inclusion of lurid, completely non-criminal behavior), it perpetuates this unfair attitude. I have read the magazine, and I see virtually nothing attempting to “help begin a frank discussion”. The magazine seems intended to provoke fear of an entire group of people because of the actions of a tiny minority of them.

What these people (who protested against the magazine) are ignoring is a simple truth: there are no lies, distortions or racist sentiments expressed in “Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu.” All the statistics about rising crime rates are accurate, and all the photographs show incidents that actually occurred.

I’ll ignore for a moment that the most recent statistics (perhaps unavailable at the time of the publication of this magazine) show a drop in foreigner crime. Your depiction of increases in foreigner crime in the past is a misrepresentation. Please understand this, because it is by far the worst offense (in my opinion) caused by 犯罪外人裏ファイル。 When you claim that foreigner crime is increasing, and portray it as a fearsome threat to the stability of Japanese society, people equate crime with foreigners.

The part of the statistics you don’t mention in your magazine is that the ratio of criminals in the foreigner community to non-criminals in the foreigner community is extremely small. According to arrest statistics from 2003 (which, despite some increase and a recent drop, have not changed dramatically since then), only 1 out of 1,000 Koreans were arrested, only 4 out of 1,000 Russians, and only 9 out of 1,000 Chinese. For perspective, 3 out of 1,000 Japanese people were arrested.  This means that the average Japanese person was three times as likely to be arrested as the average Korean! (Details here).

For instance, it is true that on June 19, 2003, three Chinese nationals murdered a Japanese family — a mother, father and two children aged 8 and 11 — and dumped their bodies into a canal in Fukushima. It’s true that Brazilians and Chinese account for over half of the crimes committed by foreigners in Japan. It’s true that American guys grope their Japanese girlfriends daily on the streets of Tokyo.

Over the last decade, there has been a long string of vicious, shocking crimes committed by Japanese people, including beheadings by and of children, a mass slaying at an elementary school, the sickest kinds of sex crimes, dismemberments, etc. Turn on the TV almost any evening, and you can find evidence of the threat to the stability of Japanese culture committed by Japanese people. Perhaps we should publish a magazine called 犯罪日本人裏ファイル to help promote a frank discussion about it.  

The problem with your publication is it blames crime on ethnicities, instead of on criminals. 

First, before foreigners rush to accuse me and my staff of racism, or to label our publication a typical example of Japanese xenophobia, I would ask that they consider how quick their own culture is to view the Japanese as subhuman. In World War II you labeled us “monkeys,” and in the bubble economy years, you considered us “economic predators.”

When “my culture” (more correctly, when people in the government of my country, and some of its citizens) does racists things, I call that racist, and I try to persuade racists in my culture to see how wrong they are and were, just like I am doing with you now. Labelling Japanese people as “monkeys” or “economic predators” is every bit as racist and evil as equating foreigners in Japan with criminality. Do you want to be in the same group as the racists in America? Isn’t there a wiser way to approach this?

What we need to understand is that by having a conversation about violent and illegal behavior, we’re really talking about ourselves — not as “Japanese” or “foreigners,” but as human beings.

I agree completely. If you publish something that does this, I will be happy to buy it and recommend it to my friends.

Mr.  Saka, the vast majority of non-Japanese who live in Japan are decent, honest, hard-working, tax-paying people. Many of us struggle to learn Japanese, and respect and admire this great, beautiful country. Generalizing us unfairly as criminals has real, negative consequences on our lives. I could tell you dozens of anecdotes about my day-to-day life that reflect the ever-present climate of public distrust in Japan toward people like me, because of the color of my skin.

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Tiny as their Numbers

February 8, 2007

An invitation for tips on catching foreigners who overstay their visas was published on the Japanese immigration service website a couple of years ago This is old news, but it resonates with the recent publication of the anti-foreigner magazine 犯罪外人裏ファイル (Secret File on Foreigner Crime). This comment from the article pretty much sums up the situation, which is worsening: 

“The overwhelming majority of people who break the law in this country are Japanese, but nobody would dream of asking for tips about suspicious Japanese,” said Shinichiro Nakashima, a member of Kumustaka, a support group for foreign workers in southern Japan.

Nakashima points to a fact rarely mentioned in the same breath as foreign crime: While the total number of crimes reported in Japan has risen to record highs for seven of the last eight years, the foreigners’ share remains as tiny as their numbers.

Last year’s headline-making figure of 40,615 offenses by foreigners amounted to 1.45 percent of the total. Most illegal aliens were arrested for a charge with no impact on public safety: overstaying their visas.

Cockroaches 3

February 6, 2007

A couple more articles from the non-Japanese press:

The Scotsman

Reuters (picked up on Yahoo news, which stuck it in the Asian Business section)

A search for 犯罪外人裏ファイルon Yahoo Japan News showed nothing.

Cockroaches Part 2

February 6, 2007

Updates to the 犯罪外人裏ファイル (Secret File on Foreign Crime)/Family Mart boycott at Japan Probe and 美しい日本。 The story has also started to appear in the  press outside Japan (but not inside, apparently). A repeated theme in the comments section of blogs covering this story is that of “freedom of speech”, that is, that Family Mart has the right to sell whatever it wants and Eichi has the right to publish whatever they want. These companies, of course, possess the freedom to sell and publish whatever they want within the law, just as we, as consumers, have the right not to buy products from stores that sell things we find dangerous or disgusting.   

Cockroaches in the Daylight

February 3, 2007

The appearance of an anti-foreigner magazine has got several English-language Japan-oriented blogs buzzing and has spawned a boycott against Family Mart, a convenience store selling the thing. 外人犯罪うらファイル (Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu–Secret File on Foreigner Crime) features articles blasting a supposed firestorm of crime committed by non-Japanese residents, and includes a “danger rating” for crime, broken down by country of origin (China, Korea and Russia are among the most “dangerous”). The magazine also features photo-spreads and articles fizzing with hate-speech, such as a page showing Japanese women with non-Japanese men, captioned with phrases like “Hey, nigger! Stop touching that Japanese girl’s ass!” Outside the country, the magazine has thus far gained little attention, only a single article, in the Guardian. In the Japanese-language press, I haven’t found any mention of it all. 

A letter-writing campaign, fortified by Debito’s posting of a model letter in Japanese, apparently resulted in the Family Mart company (or one of its outlets?) agreeing to stop stocking the publication within seven days, a frail response, given they could easily remove it one day, and that seven days is probably the normal shelf-life of a thing like this anyway.

This magazine is only a viler symptom of a broader contagion in Japanese society–the equation of criminality with being a non-Japanese person in Japan. This belief is promoted in part by media focus on it (publishing separate criminal statistics for foreigners in newspapers, for example) and in part by people’s forming impressions by confusing correlation with causation.

Some hard numbers (from 2003 crime statistics from the Japanese National Police Agency):

20,007 foreign residents and visitors were arrested in Japan, resulting in about 41,000 criminal cases. Of these 9,211 were for visa violations.

Broken down by nationality, foreigners generally have committed a somewhat higher percentage of crime than Japanese nationals. This, of course, is the thing that sparks fear and hatred among some Japanese people, who tremble at the thought of hordes of lust-crazed, bloodthirsty foreigners destroying the country. This thought, however, is founded on the notion that being foreign means being criminal. Looking at the numbers shows how empty this idea is. For example, in 2003, there were 2,081,000 Korean residents and visitors in Japan, out of which 1,793 were arrested. There are 1,039,000 Chinese people in Japan; 8,996 were arrested. Of the 59,000 Russians living in or visiting this country, 244 were arrested. Out of the Japanese folks themselves, 433,305 of the 127,435,000 were arrested. Translated into percentages:

.086 percent of the Koreans here were arrested, or fewer than one out of every thousand.

.87 percent of the Chinese here were arrested, or fewer than nine out of every thousand.

.4 percent of the Russians here were arrested, or four out of every thousand.*

.3 percent of the Japanese people living in Japan were arrested, or three out of every thousand (three times the percentage of Koreans).

The take-home message here is that even among the “worst” groups of foreign criminals (as vilified regularly in the media and by xenophobic populists like Tokyo governor Ishihara), the numbers are miniscule. Virtually any foreigner you run into on the streets, regardless of race or national origin, is almost certainly NOT a criminal.  

John

*the crime stats site I drew the original numbers from incorrectly calculated the percentage of Russian criminals to be twice as high as they really were.

A Visit from the Hitler Youth League

February 2, 2007

A fascinating and creepy article about visits to Japan by the Hitler Youth League and how impressed people were by these strong, lockstepping, clean-cut Aryan punks. Their stay, which included a trip to Yasukuni Shrine and a climb of Mount Fuji, played a role in the establishment of a similar youth movement in Japan, the Dai-Nippon Seishonen-dan.

 For the health of societies everywhere, wouldn’t it be nice to spend about 30 percent of our school years in classes teaching us to distrust the power of appearances?  

Chinese/Japanese Friendship in Rescuing the Crested Ibis

January 29, 2007

Chinese presidenAsian Friendship Buildert Wen Jiabao is likely to announce the gift of some crested ibises to Japan, in a continuing effort between the two countries to save the endangered bird. It’s a nice gesture. Now how about if the governments of the two countries quit their duelling addictions to historical fabrication, public disinformation, militarism and nationalism, and  make more effort at saving the endangered human?

Dangerous Conspiracies

January 21, 2007

 Or innocent chitchat? Prime Minister Abe is keen on passing the law against evil conspiracies. The law would criminalize the mere discussion of crime (without any crimes actually having been committed–except, of course, the crime of speech). While differences abound, the direction of this effort is similar to the various holes being drilled into previous protections of privacy in the U.S. To perceived threats to social order, some democratic governments are quick to chisel away liberties that are the foundation of the democracies they are supposedly defending. The worst aspect of the Patriot Act/anti-Conspiracy species of laws is that the dangers–from terrorism, crime, whatever, are largely overblown. What do you think?