Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Seeing the light of day

The government is committing daylight robbery. At least that’s the opinion of some residents and officials in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo. They believe that the state is depriving them of longer, brighter evenings by failing to put the clocks forward by an hour for the duration of the summer.

In the Hokkaido capital during summer, dawn breaks at around 4 a.m., while night falls after 7 p.m. Contrast this with Toronto, a city on a similar latitude, where the locals can enjoy the evening light that stretches to at least 9 p.m.

Torontonians adjust their clocks to Eastern Daylight Time between the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November. This practice of daylight saving time (DST) is widely followed in most of North America, Europe and Russia, but has never been, or is no longer used in much of the southern hemisphere, Asia and Africa.

Countries and regions have introduced DST for a variety of reasons, but, in most cases, it has been adopted it to make better use of daylight in the evenings. Its implementation has often been controversial, with studies contradicting one another as to its effects on energy use, local economies, public safety and health.

Japan had a short period of daylight saving time, between 1948 and 1951. The measure was seen by many as a symbol of Allied occupation and criticized for its bungling introduction only three days after being passed into law, leading Japan to drop it after regaining its sovereignty in 1952.

But given Hokkaido’s 15 hours of daylight during the summer months, authorities there see their island as an ideal candidate for DST and have experimented with the concept in recent years. The Sapporo Chamber of Commerce and Industry carried out a “summer time” trial from 2004 through 2006. Although clocks were not actually turned back, working hours in government offices were adjusted so people could start and end their days an hour earlier. Many private firms voluntarily followed suit.

According to the chamber, the trial was aimed at encouraging people to make use of two or three hours of daylight that normally they would sleep through while also making Hokkaido an attractive tourist destination by differentiating it from the rest of Japan. The body calculated that an extra hour of summer evening light would augment the region’s economy by about ¥65 billion a year.

This trial continued on a voluntary basis until last year, but has not been implemented this year. The chamber has no plans to reintroduce it. “In the end, it turned into a flextime system, moving away from our original intention of a legally binding daylight saving time,” explains Hitomi Iwama of the chamber’s planning department. “We decided there was little meaning in adopting it again this year if it wasn’t going to be implemented across the region or whole country.”

Iwama says that Hokkaido citizens were split on the issue. “Many people felt the experiment allowed them to use daylight hours more effectively and that it increased their activity options,” he says. “Others said that if there was [DST] legislation solely for Hokkaido, then it would show off the uniqueness of Hokkaido and raise its profile.” Opponents, he adds, claimed some people became ill at the start and end of the DST period.

The chamber, however, continues to push for the nationwide adoption of DST, and it has an ally in the Japan Productivity Center, a foundation established to promote productivity in Japanese industry and boost living standards.

The center’s Shinji Watanabe believes the government would be prudent to consider DST. “First, it would have the effect of saving energy,” he says. “Calculations show that adopting DST nationwide would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Secondly, an extra hour of light in the evening would enable people to commute from work or school and go shopping for dinner in the light. This would reduce traffic accidents and crimes such as bag snatching.”

There are other benefits, too, according to Watanabe. “Britain, which has had summer time for more than 90 years, is able to hold evening operas outside in the daylight,” he says.

Professor Kenichi Honma of Hokkaido University, a member of the Japanese Society of Sleep Research, however, says that DST can have an adverse medical effect on people. “Summer time causes moderate sleep deprivation, especially around the time the clocks are put back and forward,” he explains. “This fatigue can cause traffic accidents. It can also trigger mild depression. One-third of respondents to a survey about summer time in Hokkaido said that they suffered sleeping problems.”

Despite efforts by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to introduce DST, the idea was rejected and there seems little political will at the moment to return to the debate, which should please Honma, who likes to take advantage of the light mornings to take a stroll before work.

iNTOUCH – July 2010

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The big picture

  Time was that the only people who always carried cameras around with them were dedicated photographers. Since the near-universal incorporation of camera functions in cell phones, all that of course has changed. But with the palm-sized dimensions of today's digital cameras, compact devices are increasingly likely to find a place in a person's pocket.

      The vast majority of digital cameras sold in Japan - and indeed the world - are compact models. According to Chris Chute of American market research-firm International Data Corporation (IDC), almost 10 million compacts were shipped to dealers in Japan in 2009 - compared with about 1 million single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras. But now that the market has become almost saturated, manufacturers are having to dream up unique selling points and ingenious functions to differentiate their products from those of their competitors.
The cutting edge

  Canon believes its new Smart Flash Exposure (FE) function will help it maintain its place as the world's leading compact digital camera maker: the company had a global market share of 43 percent last year. This function improves image quality by automatically controlling flash illumination, shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed. "Smart FE reduces the shadows that can fall on a subject's face when shooting outside in fine weather," notes Canon's Richard Berger. "It brightens strongly backlit subjects, and when shooting at close range it makes possible bright backgrounds without blown-out highlights."

  While face recognition is becoming a standard for compacts, Pentax has addressed this trend for pet owners in Japan. Its new retro SLR-styled Optio I-10 (¥20,000) and rugged Optio W90 (¥30,000) can recognize the faces of up to three registered cats or dogs - the only animals it works for - and automatically takes a snapshot the moment the pet turns to the camera. "It's notoriously difficult to take pictures of pets' faces when they move," comments Pentax's Yusuke Shimizu. "They look straight at the camera only momentarily." The W90 is equipped with a macro mode unique to compact digitals that allows it to work like a microscope. "The function allows users to photograph things such as insects, the veins of leaves and clothing fibers," Shimizu says. "It can be used as a work tool for taking detailed close-ups or by families on excursions."
Dog turns the tables

       Among Nikon's eight new models in its spring 2010 range is the world's first camera with a miniature built-in projector. The Coolpix S1000pj (¥40,000) is all about fun. It enables photographs taken at parties or on vacation to be instantly beamed onto flat surfaces once the lights are dimmed. "We concentrate on the basic performance of a camera as a tool for taking photographs, and that is based on the expertise we've accumulated over many years, says Nikon's Sayaka Suzuki. "Cameras should be able to respond quickly so important moments aren't missed."

  Sony's DSC-TX7 and DSC-HX5V models (both retailing at around ¥45,000) are the only compact digital cameras on the market that can record high-definition video, which they do using Advanced Video Coding High Definition (AVCHD). "The high quality AVCHD recordings can be played back on compatible Blu-ray disc players," notes Sony's Hirofumi Otsuru. Regarding the firm's product range, he adds, "Our models differ from those of our competitors' in terms of their new high-quality shooting features, such as our swing panorama feature." One novel function is seen in the company's Party-shot IPT-DS1, which comes with a dock that allows it to turn and tilt the camera to detect faces, compose the frame and shoot automatically. It is therefore ideal for taking photos at events like parties and festive occasions.

      Ricoh's new GXR model's interchangeable unit system is unprecedented for a digital compact, in that the user can physically switch lenses. With the body retailing for about ¥50,000 and lenses ranging from ¥30,000 to ¥75,000, the GXR requires a greater outlay than other compacts. The company has a distinct fan base, as the company's
 Tomohiro Noguchi explains: "We provide tools for experienced photographers rather than following the whims of fashion. Our high-quality cameras are popular among professionals and serious amateurs who normally use SLRs. They use them as a second camera that they can carry at all times."

        Given the ubiquitous presence of digital camera functions in cell phones, fears had grown among industry observers that this would pose a threat to compact digital sales. But that has certainly not proved to be the case. "The ongoing argument has proven fruitless," says IDC's Chute. "Mobile phone cameras have become a staple of people's lives across the world, yet we still see robust camera sales. Consumers generally value different devices for their capability to do one job really well."

Skyward magazine - July 2010

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

World cup warriors - Interviews with Okada and Troussier

Japan’s soccer bosses went back to the future when they turned to Takeshi Okada to steer the national soccer team into this month’s World Cup.

Despite a relatively smooth qualifying campaign, Okada, who led Japan to its first-ever World Cup in 1998, has come under fire in recent months for a string of lackluster performances. Yet the former Yokohama F Marinos coach can find an unlikely ally, perhaps, in Philippe Troussier, Japan’s outspoken coach at the 2002 World Cup.

Okada, who oversaw three narrow defeats in France 12 years ago, was reappointed in December 2007 after the coach at the time, Ivica Osim, suffered a stroke. For this year’s tournament in South Africa, the 53-year-old announced an ambitious semifinal target, a goal many have dismissed as unrealistic.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult, but not impossible,” says Okada. “All we can do is our utmost to win every game.”

Troussier, meanwhile, does not dismiss Okada’s objective. “If you remember 2002, South Korea got fourth and Turkey got third position. France came 28th. Does this mean that France is worse than South Korea? No. It’s just the result of special circumstances,” he says, “So, [a semifinal] spot is possible. Sixty percent of football is down to the mechanics of the game, but 40 percent is something you cannot imagine, something irrational.”

The only coach to have guided Japan into the knockout stages of the World Cup (Japan failed to win any of its group games four years ago in Germany), Troussier is now the general manager at FC Ryukyu, a third-tier, semiprofessional outfit in Okinawa.

Both coaches agree that Japan have been drawn in an exacting group that includes the Netherlands, a highly fancied team that strolled to a 3-0 victory over Japan last fall, Denmark, a determined and well-drilled outfit, and Cameroon, Africa’s World Cup veterans.

“I see Denmark and Cameroon as tough opponents, but Holland as a class above,” says Okada. “We’re going to have to work very hard to pick up points in this group.”

To progress to the next round, Troussier says that Japan’s opening game against the Indomitable Lions is crucial. “I think Japan can challenge for second position [in the group], but [they] must get points against Cameroon and Denmark,” he says, sitting in FC Ryukyu’s Shibuya office. “Japan will meet Cameroon in [their] opening match. [They have] already played and beaten Cameroon twice before, a psychological advantage. Japan’s World Cup final is the match against Cameroon. It’ll be impossible if they cannot beat Cameroon.”

While the Japanese squad contains several players with World Cup pedigree, including Shunsuke Nakamura (who Troussier believes has one of the best left foots in world soccer), midfielders Yasuhito Endo and Junichi Inamoto and captain Yuji Nakazawa, Okada and Troussier highlight Keisuke Honda as a player to watch in South Africa.

“Honda’s a strong individual who scores goals,” says Okada. Troussier is even more complimentary of the CSKA Moscow midfielder. “He knows what he wants, he knows where he wants to go and he knows what he wants to do,” says the 55-year-old Frenchman. “He could be a new symbol [for Japanese soccer].”

Whereas Troussier concurs with Okada’s assessment that organization and player stamina are Japan’s strengths, he also sounds a warning about the team’s tenacious approach.

“I don’t know if it’s a clever investment,” he says. “[Japan] moves the ball forward quickly and supports the ball with many players. This is fine against teams like Malaysia, against whom they will have 80 percent of possession. In such situations, Japan can destroy anyone, but against teams like Cameroon, Denmark and the Netherlands, I think they will only have 30 or 40 percent possession and may struggle.”

This players’ overzealousness, says Troussier, highlights their naiveté. “Experience is playing every day in a big league, talking another language, learning a different attitude,” he says. “[The players] try to play quickly, but when you play quickly, you automatically make mistakes and miss opportunities. You have to play to your optimum; this doesn’t always mean perspiration. I’m sure the Japanese players wear helmets when they start the match because they think football is war!”

Acknowledging his side’s weaknesses, Okada says that the key to improvement lies abroad. “I hope more players go overseas to play at a higher level and, in turn, help raise the level of Japanese soccer,” he says. “I also think we need to play tough opponents away from home more often.”

So if Japan don’t yet have what it takes to be crowned world champions, who will be lifting the trophy on July 11 in Johannesburg?

Okada fancies five-time winners Brazil. “As well as being physically and technically strong as an attacking force,” he says, “they have really tightened their defense.”

Troussier, however, believes that soccer’s greatest prize will remain in Europe. “Frankly,” he says, “it’s the year of Spain.”

iNTOUCH - June 2010

Disenfranchised - giving foreigners the vote

“The Chinese coming to Japan now were educated during the rule of Jiang Zemin. Their ideology is not welcome in Japan. We want more foreigners like you—Americans and Britons—to come here.”
Atsuyuki Sassa, 79, makes no bones about what type of gaikokujin he’d prefer to see living and working in his native country. The former secretary general of the Security Council of Japan is up in arms about recent moves to allow the nearly 1 million permanent residents here to vote in local elections. In April, he organized a “10,000 People Rally” at the Nippon Budokan to bring together opponents of the plan, with keynote speeches by the likes of People’s New Party leader Shizuka Kamei and Your Party chief Yoshimi Watanabe.
“If Chinese could vote in local elections, they wouldn’t vote for [candidates] who criticize China or North Korea,” he says. “What could happen if this type of person were granted the vote?”
The debate over foreign suffrage has rolled on for decades, but it was reignited last summer when the Democratic Party of Japan—a longtime champion of the issue—ousted the ruling Liberal Democrat Party from power. However, with the DPJ itself split over the subject, is there any hope of permanent residents ever getting the vote—local or otherwise?
Forty-five countries—about one in every four democracies—offer some sort of voting rights for resident aliens, according to David Earnest, author of Old Nations, New Voters, an extensive study of why democracies grant suffrage to noncitizens. These range from first-world powers such as the United States, Canada, the UK and other European Union members, to less preeminent nations like Malawi and Belize.
The type of voting rights differ from country to country: the UK permits resident Commonwealth citizens to vote in national and local elections; New Zealand allows foreigners who have lived there for more than a year to vote in parliamentary polls; Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway grant all foreign residents the vote in local polls, but not in national elections; and Portugal offers a hybrid that lets EU nationals vote only in local elections, but gives full enfranchisement in parliamentary elections to Brazilians.
Earnest explains that the consequences of granting local suffrage to foreigners are not yet entirely clear, seeing as how it is a relatively recent phenomenon. However, he gives four benefits that are typically cited by advocates: it encourages foreign residents to naturalize; it leads to better government; it’s an opportunity for “brain gain” rather than “brain drain”; and it makes for a more just society.
On the other hand, there are two core arguments for refusing to enfranchise alien residents. “By far and away, the most common reason is that governments or courts conclude that, as a constitutional or legal matter, the right to vote is reserved exclusively for citizens,” he says. “Another reason is that governments and citizens alike object to discrimination in voting rights. Canada and Australia once allowed British nationals to vote in parliamentary elections, but have since revoked this right. In both cases, the governments concluded that it was unfair to favor one group over other similar foreign residents.”
Atsuyuki Sassa
According to Earnest, critics argue that extending voting rights to foreigners can devalue the institution of citizenship and discourage naturalization. They also say it can marginalize as much as integrate foreign residents, because governments may use it as a substitute for naturalization, assuring permanent populations of foreigners with no prospect of becoming citizens.
According to the most recent Ministry of Justice figures, 912,361 of the approximately 2.22 million foreigners living in Japan are permanent residents. These eijusha are divided into two categories—a classification that has muddied the waters of the suffrage issue.
Nearly half of them (420,305) are considered tokubetsu eijusha, “special permanent residents” who hail mostly from the Korean Peninsula and have additional privileges in relation to immigration matters. The remaining 492,056 “ordinary” eijusha come from 190 different countries, the largest populations being Chinese (142,469), Brazilian (110,267), Filipino (75,806) and Korean (53,106). The Western country with the most permanent residents in Japan is the United States, with 11,814.
Granting local suffrage to these residents has long been a pet policy of DPJ pooh-bah Ichiro Ozawa, and was supported by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. However, like many of the pledges that the party made prior to its election victory last year, it remains unfulfilled. The government has procrastinated over the issue as it became bogged down by funding scandals and the Futenma base controversy, which spun Hatoyama off the prime-ministerial kaiten-zushi belt and toppled Ozawa from his secretary general perch. New PM Naoto Kan also backs foreign suffrage, but it’s unclear whether he will make it a top priority.
Other parties are divided on the subject. The leftist Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party are joined by New Komeito in their support of foreign suffrage, while the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, People’s New Party (a member of the DPJ-led coalition) and Your Party are opposed.
The liberal-conservative split is also evident in the media. The Asahi Shimbun is in favor, while the Sankei and Yomiuri have slammed the idea, the latter stating in an editorial last October: “It is not unfathomable that permanent foreign residents who are nationals of countries hostile to Japan could disrupt or undermine local governments’ cooperation with the central government by wielding influence through voting in local elections.”
Yet the public seems to approve of opening polling stations to these “lifers.” Surveys conducted by the Asahi in January and the Mainichi last November found that 60 and 59 percent of respondents, respectively, supported foreign suffrage in local elections—turnout for which tends to hover around the 40 percent mark.
This August will mark the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea, an event which understandably has enormous resonance with the Korean diaspora living here today. Zainichi Koreans who were forcibly brought to Japan for work had been able to vote in local elections until they lost this entitlement in December 1945 (which was, ironically, the same month in which women were first given the vote).
Since its establishment in 1946, the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) has repeatedly urged the government to restore local suffrage to zainichi. The pro-Seoul organization (which is distinct from the Pyongyang-affiliated Chongryon) stepped up its campaign in the ’70s through increased activism by second-generation zainichi.
Seo Won Cheol
“We were born in Japan,” says Seo Won Cheol, secretary-general of a Mindan taskforce on foreign suffrage. “All our friends were Japanese, yet we couldn’t become teachers [or] local civil servants, nor could we take out loans or buy homes. We started [campaigning] because of this prejudice based purely on our nationality.”
Mindan has continued to push for enfranchisement of all permanent residents over the years, filing a number of lawsuits—one of which led to a historical ruling. In 1995, the Supreme Court concluded that aliens with permanent residency have the constitutional right to vote in local elections, because local government is closely linked to the daily lives of residents.
Reenergized, the DPJ and Komeito submitted a bill to the Diet advocating foreign suffrage, prior to a visit by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 1998. Similar bills have been presented on several other occasions since, but successive LDP-led governments have bounced them all out of parliament.
The South Korean government’s decision in 2005 to open ballot boxes to permanent residents in local elections gave proponents fresh hope, as did the change of government last summer. But Seo, a second-generation zainichi, frets over the DPJ’s procrastination.
“It’s unlikely [a bill] will be submitted before the upper house election in July, but depending on where it lies on Kan’s list of priorities, it may or may not be put to the Diet during an extraordinary Diet session starting in September,” the 58-year-old says. “The resignations of Ozawa and Hatoyama are a blow, but Kan has long been a supporter and we’ll have to wait and see what develops.”
Opponents often argue that foreigners should become Japanese citizens if they want to vote, but permanent residents can be reluctant to relinquish their nationality for reasons of culture and identity—especially zainichi, many of whom were forced migrants or their descendents. “The Supreme Court’s 1995 ruling showed we were entitled to vote at the local level without naturalizing,” says Seo.
Supporters of foreign suffrage aren’t the only ones who were galvanized by the DPJ’s election victory. There has also been a surge in activity by rightists, one of whom was so incensed that he stormed into the DPJ headquarters brandishing a wooden sword and smashed up a computer in Hatoyama’s empty office last October.
Sassa, who was decorated as a Commander of the British Empire for arranging security for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit here in 1975, takes a more conventional stance.
“I’m not prejudiced against foreigners, but the law states that foreigners must not take part in election campaigns,” he says. “The Constitution states that only Japanese citizens may vote.
“Foreigners should nationalize if they have money and speak the language. I do think, however, that [this process] takes many years and the conditions should be relaxed.”
Sassa has bitter memories of zainichi North Koreans from his days as a top brass in the Metropolitan Police Department. He fears that enfranchising pro-Pyongyang Koreans could lead to a repeat of the violent attacks against his constabulary peers during communist-led demonstrations in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
“If we granted them suffrage, many police officers would have to put their bodies on the line, and so from a security perspective, there is no way that I could agree with the enfranchisement [of North Koreans],” he says. “We’d have to clamp down on some, but grant the vote to people of other nationalities. This is contradictory.”
Sassa also argues that foreign suffrage in local elections could have repercussions at a national level, if residents of prefectures that administer disputed territories were coerced by their respective governments to vote for particular candidates.
Kazuhiro Nagao, a professor of constitutional law at Chuo University, explained how this might work in a March 1 Daily Yomiuri op-ed: “There are about 30,000 eligible voters in Tsushima city, and a candidate can win in the city council election with at least 685 votes. If foreign residents are granted voting rights, those candidates who regard Tsushima Island as a South Korean territory can win in the election.”
While opponents and advocates seem to be interpreting the law to suit their own beliefs, Earnest sees the zainichi situation as unique, and argues that the suffrage issue raises important ethical questions.
“Japan’s special permanent residents did not choose to migrate to Japan,” he says. “No doubt there was some forced migration among the former European colonial powers and their overseas possessions, but Japan’s forced migration is more recent. What obligation does Japan have to permanent foreign residents?
“Japan may offer a case where two wrongs make a right,” he continues. “While one might normally object to discrimination in the granting of voting rights, in this case, one might justify special rights for Japan’s special permanent residents as the country’s commitment to redress an historical injustice.”
While such a solution could appease zainichi, however, the majority of permanent residents would remain disenfranchised. This is unlikely to placate the likes of Shayne Bowden, an Australian teacher and musician who is a permanent resident living in Fukuoka.
“I’ve been here 11 years,” he says. “I should be able to have a say in the politics of my community. We pay our share and contribute to the place we live. This should justify our right to vote.”
Metropolis - June 2010

Peace of the action

August is a month of remembrance for the Japanese. TV stations stream hours of war-related programming, which the public digests as readily as thirst-quenching kakigori. There’s a noticeable split between belligerent nationalists and those of a more dovish nature, as prime ministers visit the war criminal-enshrining Yasukuni Jinja and peaceniks attend conciliatory events to pray for a war-free future.
By September, the country has returned to its daily grind and political apathy, but for a certain band of Japanese people, peace is a year-round vocation. United by a common cause to prevent the mistakes that led the nation to the maelstrom of World War II, these activists—old and young, local and overseas—are using innovative approaches to spread their antiwar message.
Unsurprisingly, it was a nuclear device that proved the catalyst for the nation’s first major antiwar movement. Yet the incident that galvanized Japanese activists wasn’t the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but a US hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll nine years later.
“Japanese fishermen who happened to be near the test site died, and a widespread food scare gripped Japan,” says Mari Yamamoto, author of Grassroots Pacifism in Post-War Japan. “Since then, there’s been a groundswell of suprapartisan antinuclear movements whose influence spreads to many other countries, including groups like the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in Britain and the SANE (Peace Action) in the US.”
Naoko Jin interviews the daughter of a Filipino war survivor
Naoko Jin interviews the daughter of a Filipino war survivor
The Bikini incident spawned a massive petition drive that amassed some 30 million signatures calling for a global ban on nuclear testing. The campaign’s success led activists to press the government to rethink such matters as the creation of the Self-Defense Forces and the stationing of US military personnel in the country, notably in Okinawa.
Leftist political parties and large trade union federations led many of Japan’s peace movements in the postwar years, but these groups tended to reflect the hierarchical structure of more mainstream Japanese organizations. Since the Vietnam War era, activist associations have taken on more of a grassroots nature and a more colorful slant.
“Around the time of the beginning of the war on Afghanistan and then the Iraq War, there were peace walks all over Japan,” says Ronni Alexander, an antiwar activist and professor at Kobe University’s Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies.
“One day in Osaka, at a march of about 10,000 people, I skipped out of line to take a photo from a bridge. The old school had their matching name tags and clothing, fists in the air, chanting… The new school wore colorful clothes and carried an odd assortment of signs and placards, and were mostly singing.”
Underscoring peace efforts in Japan is Article 9 of the nation’s Constitution, which denies the state the right to maintain military forces and forbids belligerency in international affairs. A nationwide Asahi Shimbun poll in May revealed that 64 percent of Japanese citizens oppose changing Article 9, compared to just 26 percent in favor of revision. At first glance, these figures are reassuring to those who want to maintain the constitutional status quo, but one elderly firebrand for peace is not about to take Japan’s pacifism for granted.
Tetsuo Shibano, 73, is a founder of the Article 9 Association and actively involved with K9MP, or the Article 9 Message Project. A Japanese Communist Party member and former journalist for the party’s Akahata (Red Flag) newspaper, Shibano grew up in postwar Kyoto, a hotbed of radical activity. He was 14 at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, an event that led him to campaign to prevent the revision of Article 9. Since then, he’s written award-winning books on issues ranging from poverty to the nuclear industry.
“At the moment, we can’t directly engage in conflict with other nations, but the government keeps on bringing in laws through the back door to enable the dispatch of troops,” Shibano tells Metropolis. “Should bills revising the Constitution be passed, the SDF, as well as going to places such as Somalia and Afghanistan, will have to do as the Americans say and actually start wars.”
Frail and with a wispy beard, Shibano was diagnosed with stomach cancer about ten years ago, and a debilitating muscle disease makes it a struggle for him to walk. Yet “Jiji,” as he’s affectionately known, still drives the length and breadth of the nation on speaking engagements to promote the merits of the pacifist article.
Recently, however, he feels that time is running out—both for himself and efforts to safeguard Article 9. Shibano tells the story of an Iraqi friend whose trust in Japan was shattered after the country lent its support to the US-led coalition waging war there. “When the SDF went over, we instantly lost the trust of the Iraqi people,” he says. “This is why people like [Japanese aid worker] Nahoko Takato were taken hostage.”
Shibano believes that if the government holds a referendum on Article 9, which could be a possibility sometime in the next couple of years, his fellow citizens will have a momentous decision to make.
“The Constitution was originally imposed on us by the Americans, but if we Japanese elect to keep it, that would be historical because the public will decide this for themselves.”
Festival-goers at a PNWJ-sponsored peace session in Yoyogi Park
Festival-goers at a PNWJ-sponsored peace session in Yoyogi Park
While Article 9 was spawned from the ashes of World War II, atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army have led one young woman on a bridge-building exercise between Japan and a former wartime colony.
Naoko Jin’s life changed direction on a monthlong study tour to the Philippines in 2000, when she met a woman whose own life was ruined by the Japanese.
“I met many victims,” Jin says. “One of them said she was meeting a Japanese for the first time and asked me, ‘Why did you come here?’ The Japanese captured her husband in 1942—the year they married—and he never returned. As a Japanese, I wondered if there was anything I could do.”
After returning to Japan, Jin visited a nursing home and listened to the stories of veterans who served in the Philippines. “Many of these men were ordered to commit barbaric acts against the locals and have been suffering tremendously ever since.”
In 2004, Jin established Bridge For Peace, a group that records video testimony of both Japanese war veterans and the Filipinos who suffered at their hands. It holds screenings in both countries to promote mutual understanding and empathy between the former aggressors and victims. Jin visits the Philippines on a regular basis and still actively records the testimony of veterans—about 70 have spoken to the group to date.
Now boasting 12 members, BFP holds regular events, study sessions and cultural exchanges to encourage antiwar sentiment and raise awareness of the pain that lingers on both sides. As part of its fifth anniversary celebrations this year, the group will stage its second textbook project—an exhibition that compares how countries across Asia and the world teach the history of the Pacific War to high school students.
Jin, 31, is an articulate and passionate speaker who is realistic enough to acknowledge that the effect of her activities may be limited, but still sees great worth in them.
“I don’t think what I’m doing is going to change anything, but I hope to increase exchanges between people of different countries and give the elderly men a chance to speak of their feelings before they die,” she says. “I feel the Japanese in my generation are so busy with their lives that they’ve lost the ability to think about what is really important.
“I don’t want people to think Japan is a bad country. It isn’t. I just want people to know what really happened.”
Another Japan-based group uses a more melodious approach to spread its message. Peace Not War Japan is an offshoot of the UK-based organization formed in 2002 to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. The British group began by producing an antiwar CD, and has grown into a collective of students, artists, activists and technicians that pool their musical talent to take their message to a larger audience. The Japanese arm released an album by local artists in 2006, and regularly sets up information booths at gigs and festivals here.
PNWJ’s coordinator, Kimberly Hughes, is an American freelance translator, writer and teacher who has been an activist for many years on both sides of the Pacific.
“I used to be someone who approached peace through demonstrations,” she says. “That’s cool and all, but it gets old and, for me, loses its ability to inspire… I think music has the ability to reach so many people—people who wouldn’t otherwise think themselves political.
The group has succeeded locally thanks in part to its ability to key into local youth culture. “We hooked up with a group called Harukaze, who put on rave parties in Yoyogi Park every Sunday for about ten years. We teamed up with them again this April. They put on the music and we provided the peace speakers. The sakura was in full bloom, we had a blowout, and about 40,000 people came—it was really cool.”
PNWJ is helping plan another hanami event with Harukaze next April and has several live shows coming up, including a showcase called Birth of Peace on August 15 in Shinjuku. The group sells its CD at these events and gives a cut of the proceeds to grassroots peace groups, while at the same time attempting to capture the hearts and minds of raving hedonists.
“We started one peace discussion—there were about four or five of us and no one was listening. They were dancing and drinking, but half an hour later, about 100 people had stopped, were listening intently, and started asking questions.
“I hope peace activism makes a difference,” she adds. “But there is always the feeling of powerlessness. What can you do? How can you make change? How do you get governments to make choices that promote peace, not violence? We combine traditional activism with music in the hope it will inspire more people. If you throw a pebble in the ocean, it will create a ripple effect elsewhere.”
Metropolis - August 2009

On the cards

All foreigners in Japan know him. The 62-year-old isn’t particularly loved—he’s a bit of a square—but we’ve all had to live with him and even take him out with us every day. Like many of his generation, he could keep on working, but he’s recently learned that he may have to settle for his pipe and slippers sooner rather than later.
The Baby Boomer in question is the Certificate of Alien Registration, or gaijin card, a form of ID that non-Japanese residents have been required to carry since the enactment of the Alien Registration Order in May 1947.
It may come as a surprise to learn that, if the government gets its way, the card will be consigned to the bureaucratic scrapheap. The Diet is currently debating bills to replace gaikokujin torokusho with a new residency (zairyu) card, which would shift administration of alien registration from municipal offices to the Immigration Bureau.
So what are the government’s plans? And, more importantly, what are the implications for foreigners?
If enacted, the bills submitted by the Cabinet in March would revise three laws—the Basic Resident Registration Law, the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, and the Special Law on Immigration Control—with the government looking to pass them before the end of the current ordinary Diet session on June 3. Once passed, the revisions would become effective in less than three years.
According to the immigration bureau, the government’s main aims are to simplify the administration of foreigners by having the bureau handle nearly all paperwork related to immigration and residency; reduce the burden on foreigners living legally in Japan by extending visa periods and relaxing re-entry rules; ensure all legal aliens join social insurance and state pension schemes; track the movement of foreigners more closely; and clampdown on illegal aliens such as visa overstayers by denying them the right to carry the new card.
However, opposition parties, legal organizations and migrant activists have slammed the revisions. They claim the changes could impose excessive fines for failure to carry the card, make notification of status changes less convenient, and lead to undue dissemination of personal information and excessive monitoring of foreigners.
One aspect of the revisions few would bemoan is the extension of the three-year visa to five years, and the removal of the need to obtain a re-entry permit for residents who leave the country for less than a year. The revisions would also give foreigners some parity with locals by placing them on the same Basic Residents’ Registration Network, or Jumin Kihon Daicho Netowaku, a system the government created to enable easy exchange of information between municipal offices. There is, however, one significant difference.
The Juki-net cards distributed to Japanese do not have numbers printed on them, and the law strictly protects information on the IC chip imbedded in the cards. But as the revisions stand, numbers would be printed on foreigners’ cards, and a greater amount of data could be kept on the chip. While this would ostensibly enable smoother administration, critics have conjured up an image of a regulatory Big Brother tracking foreigners more rigorously than their Japanese neighbors.
Immigration bureau documents state that, in addition to a photograph, the following information would be printed on the cards: name; date of birth; sex; nationality; address; visa status, type and expiry date; card number, issue; date; expiration date; working restrictions; and other necessary information stipulated in justice ministry ordinances. But with the documentation also stating that some or all of this data may be recorded on the chips, opponents fear what may be held in this “other information.”
Masashi Ichikawa, an attorney involved with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, is concerned about unwarranted access to such personal details.
“The card could be used as identification at places such as banks and libraries, where the chip could be read and the card number recorded,” he tells Metropolis. “I fear that people reading the card would be able to tell how much money is in a person’s account or what books they are borrowing. Authorities such as the police and immigration would be able make inquires to banks and other places to ask for information on a person’s number.”
Ichikawa also sees disparities between the treatment of foreigners and Japanese. “The law on resident registration for Japanese permits only the card number to be recorded on the IC chip—not the card—and does not make available information from private establishments such as banks. We want foreigners to be protected in the same way as Japanese.”
However, Kazuyuki Motohari of the immigration bureau’s general affairs division tells Metropolis that the IC chip has only been put on the cards to make it easier to share information between government ministries, agencies and local authorities. He also fends off fears of an Orwellian nightmare.
“Only the minimum amount of information would be put on the cards,” he says. “We’ll only perform data matching when absolutely necessary, such as to check whether a person works where they say they do—no more. The IC chip has not been put in for other people to read.”
Opponents point out that the revisions contradict the government’s objective of keeping closer tabs on foreigners. Under the current system, undocumented residents, overstayers and asylum seekers can obtain a gaijin card and access to basic education and health services. But the changes would prevent the issue of zairyu cards to such people—effectively rendering these individuals invisible.
It would still be a crime, however, for foreigners to not always carry the new card. The current law, which the immigration bureau says would not change in the revisions, specifies that aliens must present certification (i.e. the gaijin card) to officials such as immigration inspectors and officers, police officers and maritime safety officers, but mentions nothing about having to show the card as identification to private organizations such as cellphone companies and banks.
The maximum fine for failing to carry the new card would remain at ¥200,000. Yet the immigration bureau’s Motohari says he cannot recall a case in which a fine has been levied on a legal card-carrying alien who pops out of his house for a short time without it. Even so, opponents are hammering the government to drop this obligation.
“Making all foreigners carry cards is excessive regulation,” Ichikawa says. “There are bad foreigners and also bad Japanese. We don’t think it’s necessary to oblige foreigners, especially permanent residents, to show their card on request. Even the United Nations says it’s wrong to make people with permanent residency in a country carry such a card.”
Azuma Konno, an upper house Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker, says: “The DPJ is considering amending the revisions so people are cautioned rather than fined for failing to carry the cards.”
Notifying authorities of changes in status, such as when you start a new job or get married, is currently relatively straightforward—you just head down to your local municipal office and do the necessary paperwork. The proposed changes, though, could make things more troublesome, as notifications would have to be made at your local immigration office. That means Tokyoites would have to squeeze onto the No. 99 bus at Shinagawa with the rest of humanity to the dreary office in Konan.
Failing or forgetting to notify authorities of a change in status could also come at a heavy price. It would still be possible to change your address at your municipal office, but you must report it within 14 days, and failure to do so within 90 days could mean annulment of your visa—and deportation. Foreigners on spouse visas would have to report to the immigration bureau within 14 days in cases of divorce, or the death of a spouse. A contentious element is that a visa could be nullified if a person, in cases such as separation or living apart, is not engaged in “marital activities” for three months or more (something many Japanese couples do when one partner is “asked” by his or her company to relocate). The 14-day notification period and 90-day potential cancellation would also apply when foreigners on common visas switch jobs.
The immigration bureau stresses it has considered the plight of foreigners and would take personal circumstances into account when making decisions on visa annulment. “We are considering other more convenient ways to make notifications, such as online or by mail,” Motohari says. “We hope to lessen the burden on foreigners as much as possible.”
The bureau says it has held meetings to gather views from both Japanese and aliens. It also claims it has not widely publicized the content of the revisions because it wants to focus its efforts on getting them passed into law before it provides information to the foreign community.
Opponents, however, insist the government hasn’t really listened to non-Japanese viewpoints and that the insubstantial press coverage has meant few foreigners are aware of the government’s plans, denying them the opportunity to protest.
But with groups such as the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan organizing rallies and hearings in which opposition lawmakers, Korean groups and legal organizations put counterarguements to the government, the revisions could wind up significantly amended.
Moreover, should the government fall and a DPJ-led administration take office—a distinct possibility this year—before the bills are passed, one 60-something gent could find he has to put his retirement plans on hold for a while.
Metropolis - May 2009