A slight departure from my usual themes, but I found news of a class action lawsuit against the Japanese government regarding the lack of a specific law outlawing racial discrimination in Japan. Naturally, I support the idea of a bill being passed into law that will make such behaviour punishable, but it’s the approach (and the person doing the approach too, I suppose) that grates on me. Arudodebito Sugiwara, seems to represent the constituency of disgruntled English teachers. That’s a gross over-simplification of his position, of course, but it is a criticism that is easy to make.

Reading the statement outlining the proposed lawsuit, the text, on the whole, is commendable, and looking at the description of the planned second wave of more complex cases there is a lot to be said for this portion of the strategy, I think. However, I have issues with the proposed first wave. Putting on my statistical hat, it says:

Although our efforts have not gone ignored, the fact is that overt racial discrimination in Japan, evident in the increase in the number of businesses overtly displaying “No Foreigners Allowed” signs, is getting worse.

I wonder how he has determined that there is an increase in the number of businesses with discriminatory signs? Can we see the survey evidence that show the change in the number of signs over the years? I’m sure his collection of signs has increased over the years, but that may be just as much to do with more people photographing them, of course. (It is also interesting to note that many of the signs pictured on his web site are from places that look like dodgy hostess bars or snacks.) There may have been a spike for the World Cup in 2002, but is there any evidence of this?

Next, the claim that overt discrimination is getting worse. How has that been determined? Is it really increasing, or is it just more people reporting it to Debito (the mailing list he runs with others, for instance, constantly grows in membership), or just more people being over-sensitive and mistaking (or attributing) dislike for someone’s personality for dislike of someone’s origin? I personally have seen friends being bulls in china shops and getting offended when this behaviour has rubbed the locals up the wrong way. In addition, even if it could be demonstrated numerically that overt discrimination is increasing, the absolute number of discriminators could actually be decreasing; for instance, as the population of foreigners increases and more people have encounters with foreigners, they have opportunities to display their racist tendencies, but if at the same time some of these people change their minds, both the number of overt racists and the number of overt non-racists can increase.

Finally, the “Japanese Only” signs have been, in at least one case I know of (what percentage are so, I don’t know), trying to express that the staff only speak Japanese rather than trying to specifically exclude other nationalities.


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