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By Peter Sidell

Picture this: a Chinese triad ganglord goes to his local Japanese embassy to apply for a visa so that he can come to Tokyo on a month-long crime spree. If I paraphrase a bit, the conversation might go something like this:

Ganglord: I’d like a visa to visit Japan, please.

Embassy staff: Are you applying for an approved tour group?

Ganglord: No, I’m not.

Embassy staff: Can you provide evidence that you’re extremely rich?

Ganglord: No, I can’t.

Embassy staff: I’m sorry, you can’t have a visa. Those are the rules.

Ganglord: Ah well, no trip to Japan for me then.

And the thwarted malefactor slinks home with his tail between his legs, cursing those wily Japanese and their cunning visa regulations.

Now, I’m not a criminal mastermind; if I were, I’d be writing this between cocktails from a tropical island inhabited only by myself and a bevy of dusky nubile maidens, not from a chilly 2DK in Kanagawa. But even I can see that triad ganglords won’t be deterred by visa regulations. They’ll form a tour company and ship over pickpockets by the coachload. They’ll have their accountants cook the books to create an appearance of legitimate wealth. They’ll bribe the embassy staff. They’ll think of something.

Try telling that to the Japanese foreign ministry, though. These politicians inhabit a special fantasy world all of their own, where China is a cauldron of red-hot evil, teeming with criminals who are hell-bent on coming to Japan with nefarious intent but who can be put off by rigorous application of the rules. And that fantasy is reason enough to justify maintaining stringent visa restrictions, which prevent the vast, law-abiding majority of Chinese citizens from coming to Japan.

This is senseless; the benefits to Japan from allowing tourists from China far outweigh the supposed dangers. First, of course, it would bring in large amounts of revenue, with a consequent boost to the economy. But perhaps more importantly, it would help build relations between the two countries in a way that no number of summits and conferences could match. This is because such bonds are forged not by ministers hobnobbing over taxpayer-bought Ferrero Rocher, nor by scholars pontificating together about 14th-century poetry, but by ordinary people meeting at ground level.

Every time I’ve been to China, I’ve met young people with a keen interest in Japan and its culture. If they were allowed to come here, then I’m sure they’d feel the same way about the Japanese, and vice-versa. Word of mouth would spread in both countries that the people across the sea are decent, friendly human beings, and shouldn’t be regarded as implacable enemies. That acquaintance with reality would make Chinese less susceptible to the anti-Japan propaganda from their government, and Japanese people to the Sinophobic ranting of the local media.

The conspiracy theorist in me reckons that this is what the Japanese establishment fears—they have so much invested in perpetuating the image of China as a wellspring of crime and aggression that they don’t want to risk normal people discovering it to be false. I’m sure there would be much less public support for the cherished presence of U.S. military bases, for example, if the government weren’t able to get away with raising the preposterous specter of a Chinese attack on Japan, its largest trading partner.

I hope this isn’t true. But if we are to take Japan’s visa regulations at face value, it’s clear that they’re a product of racism and profound naïveté. The notion that they exist to protect Japan from a Chinese crime tsunami panders to a fear that has no basis in reality, and to the equally groundless idea that such rules would keep the criminals away.

Whatever the rationale, this situation marks a comprehensive triumph of prejudice and pettiness over common sense; by choosing to indulge their xenophobia, politicians and bureaucrats are acting against their nation’s interests, not in them. If the people who run Japan are so resolutely incapable of putting aside their own feelings for the benefit of the country, then the 20-year “lost decade” is certain to continue.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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Did you just move to Japan? While China may not be "a cauldron of red-hot evil," the situation you describe is nothing new. I'd say it's been the status quo for at least twenty years. Ditto for the "Korean" community inexplicably aligned to the dictatorship in the north.

Maybe you should get out of Kanagawa a bit and spend an evening or two in Kabuki-cho. I wouldn't want to bet on the side of legitimacy if you rounded up a few dozen of the "entertainers" and their "managers" you might find there.

That being said, when I was in Tokyo for a couple of days last year December, including time at Disneyland, I saw (heard) lots of Chinese tourists. I suppose some where from Taiwan. But the visitors to Japan from the mainland have skyrocketed in the last couple years.

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For those Chinese people wishing to visit Japan the answer is simple, just go online, make a Japanese friend and get a letter inviting you over to visit, then a lot of the visa regulations are waived or flexible. And honestly this isn't difficult.

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A Chinese triad ganglord would have no problem providing evidence that he's rich.

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Fact-checking, fact-checking....where for art thou, fact-checking?

1) Japan already eased its visa regulations for Chinese tourists. In July. Big news. I'm surprised you missed it. Don't need to be a member of a tour group. Individual Chinese (of means) can and do get visas. The number of Chinese visiting Japan is at a record high (36% increase during the first half of this year).

2) Might also be worth noting that Japanese immigration rules are only half the story. China is one of "those" countries that imposes restrictions on its own citizen's ability to leave. They have to apply permission from their local public security officials, who have a good amount of discretion to reject applications. And I'm guessing this process adds a good deal of cost to the process of leaving.

3) Not to be insensitive, but there are immigration concerns beyond merely keeping out criminals that drive policy. Despite decades of growth, China is still home to about a billion really really poor people, many of whom are desperate for work, legal or otherwise. I don't ascribe to any nationalist anti-immigration political views, but its worth at least acknowledging that this economic fact does create a need for some regulation of entry into Japan.

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The stringent visa regulations apart, the application of nonmsensical, rigid rules that achieve little is a feature of Japanese bureaucracy.

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While China may not be "a cauldron of red-hot evil,"

ohh it is.

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Preposterous that China attacks Japan? Dude, they already did - in the Senkaku Islands. Expect more as China's hunger for resources beyond its borders increases.

China is a cauldron of oppression to its citizens. The only ones that could come here legally are the 2% or so that are elite or connected that have access to money, good jobs, and permission to travel. And, yeah - plenty of illegal immigration already that Japan either can't or won't control.

Don't worry about Chinese inability to visit Japan. Worry about Chinese inability to have a say in their government and daily lives.

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Japan has no need for Chinese tourists. The dangers to society far outweigh any possible benefit.

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"the visitors to Japan from the mainland have skyrocketed in the last couple years" uh? NO! they haven't mainly from Taiwan! & mainly Rich chinese, most of the people are bitter towards Japan. im sure some are triads.

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Now, I’m not a criminal mastermind

Author should have stopped right about here :(

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It is not just triad, all criminal organizations will try to expand their territories. The gang leader can have someone post as an investor and create some company oversea and set up some kind of arrangement with the local gangs (Of course, that could turn ugly is one side decides to have a bigger piece of the pie). Then get their minions to post as workers/managers. Do some local recruiting for the base level henchmen. Sort of like running it like a business but without decent benefits for its workers and paying taxes to the local government.

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the benefits to Japan from allowing tourists from China far outweigh the supposed dangers

Japan has paid a lot of money to China as ODA (Official Development Assistant) since 1979. The total amount turns to be 3 trillion yen. I believe this aid helped Chinese people richer. Stopping this is much far outweight the acceptance Chinese tourists.

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Hi, you must be new to Japan. And while it's true that the majority of Chinese would obey the law, that still leaves millions who wouldn't (out of 1 billion people, that's .1%) and hundreds of millions that would work illegally in Japan on a moment's notice. I'm speaking from personal knowledge and having relatives in China who are trying to sneak into Japan as we speak. It's pretty funny really.

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Point 1: The so-called "vast, law-abiding majority of Chinese citizens" can't afford to come to Japan.

Point 2: For those who can afford, Chinese are second only to Korea in number in illegal overstayers in Japan.

Point 3: Japan currently has visa waiver programs to 61 countries. More than U.S. and Canada.

Point 4: What are the criteria for Chinese getting visa's to travel to other countries?

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Point 3: Japan currently has visa waiver programs to 61 countries. More than U.S. and Canada.

Yes, and it would appear that citizens from about half of that number are hustling on the sidewalk between the Roppongi and Iigura intersections.

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