national

Muted in country of their birth, three women try to find their voice

36 Comments
By Joel Fitzpatrick

As Japan's demographic sands shift, with its graying population, declining regional communities and doors inching slowly further open to immigrant workers, three young Tokyoite women are envisioning a new way forward.

One is Korean, one is Chinese and the other is Japanese, but they all want to make the country they call home a more progressive, inclusive and representative place.

All three look like they could be any other young professional walking the streets of Japan's capital, but when they speak they demonstrate a thoughtfulness that makes it obvious they have different motivations to most.

"I think, even like a few decades ago, it would be impossible for us to be having discussions and dialogue about how we want the future of Japan to be," says Amy Tiffany Loo, 23.

Loo, the Chinese member of the trio, says the difficult history of relations between her ancestral homeland and those of her friends -- Korean Chung Woohi, 25, and Japanese Yuka Hamanaka, 23 -- means any discussion about a collective future in Japan would have been out of the question not so long ago.

"Woohi is 'zainichi' Korean, my family has been through a lot of upheavals through the Sino-Japanese war, and Yuka, she is a Japanese national, so when we engage in conversation we always talk about how we can think and discuss issues in a way that encompasses all three sides of us," said Loo.

"The way we view history, it is very different. Me, coming from a Chinese background whose grandparents fought Japanese forces, it is going to be a very sensitive issue."

Their varying ancestral histories may bring them into contrast, and even conflict sometimes, but their current shared realities in the country of their birth also gives them plenty in common.

As foreigners in their own country, the issue of representation is one that is particularly important to Chung and Loo, and it led them to evaluate the issue of voting rights for non-Japanese nationals ahead of the recent upper house election.

"There is a tendency for others to simplify us or to force us into a corner," said Loo, a graduate of University of California Berkeley and now a consultant at a large multinational professional services company.

"But in our case, we have lived in Japan for over 15 to 20 years...And so, for us, we feel the same things that Japanese people feel. We care about gender inequality, we care about the right of disabled people, we care about children," she said.

But as much as they care, they, like the rest of the more than 2.73 million foreigners living in Japan, have no way to voice their opinion by casting a vote for a candidate or party that represents their best interests.

"In the season of the election many people around me they always say 'I voted' or 'let's go vote,' but my frustration was that I was unable to join that voice," said Chung, an artist, activist and office worker.

Without a voice and with issues of great frustration at the current Japanese leadership's attitude toward some Korea-related issues, Chung came together with her friends to start the #VoteForMe social media campaign.

"This campaign started from my personal frustration, I guess. I felt this kind of frustration because I have no right to vote in Japan even though I was born in Japan and grew up in Japan," said Chung.

"I wanted to make a kind of bridge between the voters and those who don't have the right to vote, so this #VoteForMe campaign is going to be the bridge between them."

The women hoped the social media campaign would raise awareness about Japan's disenfranchised among those who have a vote, making them realize that their vote is both valuable and has even more significance to those without a voice.

Ha Kyung Hee, an assistant professor at Meiji University who specializes in race, ethnicity and immigration, understands the motivations of the trio.

Herself a zainichi Korean, Ha says many foreign residents feel alienated from Japanese political discourse "even though they are impacted by it."

"Election season is a painful moment as it reminds me that we are still excluded from one of the most basic civil rights," said Ha.

"My family has been in Japan for 90 years, my first language is Japanese, and I want to call Japan my home. And yet, I hesitate because we are not treated with equality and fairness as full members of society."

Through the process of naturalization, Japan gives foreign-born residents a chance to take the same rights as a Japanese person. They have to have lived in the country for a prescribed amount of time, and must meet a number of other conditions, but it requires they give up any other nationality and their old passport.

But many foreign passport holders do not believe they should be required to forfeit their nationality in order to have a voice in their home country.

Cognizant that a vote for "me" does not necessarily mean that vote will represent the views to which they prescribe, the three women want to make clear they are not trying to influence anyone to vote one way or another -- they just want to open a dialogue about issues of importance.

"It gives us a chance to engage in a conversation. If I say 'vote for me' and then (someone) asks me what are your issues and they agree with it, then it is their choice," said Loo.

"In engaging in a conversation, (someone) might change their mind, they might go the complete opposite way, but that's their choice...but at least now I can put my picture."

And this was the situation for Hamanaka, who, of course, does have a vote.

She was initially conflicted about being involved as she felt it may have been viewed as inauthentic.

"I wanted to support them, I wanted to do something with them, but I didn't know how I can," said Hamanaka, who is from Tokyo and works alongside Loo at the professional services company.

Even more frustrating for the women is that Japanese people are increasingly taking their opportunity to vote for granted, demonstrated by the poor turnout at the upper house poll in July.

At that election, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner secured a healthy vote, turnout for voting for candidates standing in the electoral constituencies fell to 48.80 percent, the second-lowest on record since 44.52 percent in 1995.

In the proportional representation section, turnout was slightly lower at 48.79 percent, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

For Hamanaka, the indifference of her fellow Japanese is annoying, but understandable.

"I didn't go vote (in the past) because I wanted to prioritize what I wanted to do at that time over going to vote, so I understand it," she said.

"But not going to vote means they support the current system, so I want more people to think about the consequences."

One solution to the lack of representation for foreigners would be for Japan to extend them the vote, as in some circumstances a number of other countries, including Japan's close neighbor South Korea and a range of European nations, do.

Meiji University's Ha says there is no reason for that not to become a reality, as with the numbers alone -- foreigners make up about 2 percent of Japan's population -- the impact the foreign community could have is very limited.

"I absolutely think (foreigners being given a vote) is realistic, particularly for local elections, because we already have many examples from other countries."

"I think it requires discussions as to whether or not foreign residents should have a right to participate in national elections, but currently there is no such discussion because in Japan political rights are thought to be strongly connected with one's nationality."

Similarly, Loo sees the likelihood of her getting a vote being a long way off, but says there is good reason for local governments to want to hear from their entire constituency, Japanese and non.

Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward is a perfect example of somewhere that foreigners need a voice.

The bustling, central Tokyo hub has a total of 43,065 foreign residents as of Aug. 1, according to its ward office, making up 12.3 percent of the total population -- by some way the most of any municipality in Japan.

Therefore, says Loo, the local government should be a reflection of that relatively diverse demographic.

"Let's say it is going to be 20 percent in the future, as the Japanese population shrinks, that means a kind of big chunk of people living in Shinjuku, for example, don't have a say in how they want their community to be, how they want their living area to be."

"So, something has to happen to change that system."

There was a time when Japan gave serious thought to extending the vote to permanent residents.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the now-defunct centrist Democratic Party of Japan in 2010 supported an earlier Supreme Court ruling supporting the constitutionality of granting voting rights to non-Japanese nationals, but when he and then his party were ousted from power by the LDP, the push foundered.

There are examples of where permanent residents are allowed to vote in local referendums, such as in Maibara in Shiga Prefecture which became the first local municipality to allow it in 2002.

Since then, a number of other places have similarly allowed permanent residents a say in referendums on limited local matters, but no more than that.

Ha says much of the current thinking on the subject posits that there are only intangible reasons for major change being little more than a pipe dream.

"I see it as a symbolic refusal to treat foreign residents as equal partners in our society," she said while pointing out that in many other countries, foreigners have a say.

"People in Japan really must start asking themselves what is so wrong about allowing foreign residents to vote instead of giving up on critical thinking and automatically equating voting rights with nationality."

With universal suffrage realistically out of reach, at least for the foreseeable future, the #VoteForMe three have plans to make an impact elsewhere.

They plan to prepare a bigger and better campaign for the next Japanese poll, a general election that has to be held by October 2021, but also to expand their activities to encompass more activism.

Their next target is establishing a program to use performance art to highlight some targets of discrimination that hide in plain sight.

They want to bring attention to a range of issues of importance to them, with the treatment of Japan's so-called burakumin population one such area of concern.

Hamanaka says that by using performance to highlight discrimination, it illuminates the reality faced by those suffering from in an accessible way: so that is the plan.

The meat-packing industry is particularly problematic, she says, because Japan's burakumin, an outcast group traditionally rooted to the bottom of the social strata and restricted to working in jobs widely -- and without any basis -- considered "dirty" such as meat-processing, undertaking or as hide tanners, are a people whose plight should be more widely understood.

"In our daily lives it is very invisible, that process, but they are people who work in it and they are discriminated against in Japanese society, historically," said Hamanaka.

"We are trying to make performance art in the place, and organizing a study tour to make the discrimination visible in a creative way."

With impressive young women like Chung, Loo and Hamanaka trying to make their voices heard in Japan, the country is very likely moving in a positive direction.

However, the question remains whether the country's leadership, or wider population, have any interest in listening.

© KYODO

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

36 Comments
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Through the process of naturalization, Japan gives foreign-born residents a chance to take the same rights as a Japanese person. They have to have lived in the country for a prescribed amount of time, and must meet a number of other conditions, but it requires they give up any other nationality and their old passport.

But many foreign passport holders do not believe they should be required to forfeit their nationality in order to have a voice in their home country.

Well there you go. Many of these citizens are non-Japanese citizens by choice, not because of some mysterious xenophobic cabal that strives to deny non-ethnic Japanese citizenship. A crucial distinction clearly misrepresented by many around the world when it comes to Japan (and its Zainichi citizens). One can debate all they want about the fairness or unfairness of it all, but rules are rules, and Japan is hardly unique in only allowing one citizenship. There is no undue or unfair obstacles to become a citizens in that country.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

I felt this kind of frustration because I have no right to vote in Japan*

Jus sanguinis (right of blood) is a principle of nationality law by which citizenship is determined by the nationality of one or both parents; jus soli (right of soil) provides citizenship to any born within the country. Japan offers only the former; America offers both, and also allows for multiple citizenships.

A strange quirk of Japanese law under jus sanguinis is that those like my children, born to a Japanese and American parent, can maintain their dual nationality as long as they don't flaunt it, while those who choose to naturalize must provide proof of renouncing their second nationality - even those (particularly Korean-Japanese) whose families may have lived in Japan for generations.

Trump wants to make the US citizenship system more similar to Japan's. I'd say Japan should make it's system more similar to America's.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

I just feel there's a certain kind of hypocrisy in advocating that long timers with no Jcitizenship be allowed to vote. Allowing them to vote would be giving them a greater chance to continue their native countries' issues against Japan legally. The young people have great ideas but sometimes the real motive is smoke screened.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

If these people are so committed to the country they live in and is planning for long haul, just naturalize. Many people choose to do this. It’s that simple.

2 ( +12 / -10 )

Another quick about jus sanguinis in Japan is the plight of stateless people. If a non-Japanese woman gives birth in Japan but the father is unknown and her country only allows jus soli, the child is stateless.

More info is here: https://www.issj.org/en/statelessness

4 ( +8 / -4 )

The nationality issue is a little more complex than the article reveals, in particular in the case of Zainichi Koreans. During the 35-year colonial rule, Korea was annexed to Japan and its people were made Japanese subjects (nationals, citizens). That means that Koreans living in Japan at that time had a Japanese nationality. However, that status was taken away from them by the Japanese government in 1952. Now, without given any choice as to whether to keep their Japanese nationality or not, these people were suddenly made foreigners. For many, that meant suddenly becoming a foreigner in the country of their birth (Japan) at no fault (and no choice whatsoever) of their own. If your family was made Japanese and then arbitrarily that status was years later stripped away, and now if you want your former Japanese citizenship back, you are forced to apply for it and explain in detail why you want this citizenship, how would feel about it? I think it's personal pity that these people were not even given a choice to keep their Japanese nationality (in 1952 or later, to correct what was done to them singlehandedly).

0 ( +7 / -7 )

If these people are so committed to the country they live in and is planning for long haul, just naturalize. Many people choose to do this. It’s that simple.

I agree 100 percent with NigelBoy. If these women really do love Japan and are committed only to Japan, and want to have any voice, then simply become Japanese. Its not difficult, as Nigel wisely states.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

If these people are so committed to the country they live in and is planning for long haul, just naturalize. Many people choose to do this. It’s that simple.

How many have done this on JT, I have not after more than 25 years and see no reason why I should give up my British citizenship until Japan recognises dual nationality.

No one so far is saying they have naturalised?

"Over the past ten years (1998-2007), 153,103 people became Japanese citizens. That’s a sizeable amount, for if you assume reasonable influx for the previous five decades (1948-1997), we’re looking at at least half a million people here as cloaked NJ-blood citizens. That’s a lot of people no matter how you slice it. (Of course, these older stats are still not available online for confirmation.)"

https://www.debito.org/?p=2466

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

@MiceVice  I read somewhere that the Koreans and Chinese in Japan lost their citizenship during occupation due to MacArthur, who thought Japanese citizenship had  been forced on them.  I'm trying to find a link to a history source, but I can't.  Have you hears anything about this.  This was finalized with the peace treaty in 1952 as you say.

Also, even if you can't vote, you can go visit politicians and let them know your opinions. The US guys at the company are all applying for naturalization.

Invalid CSRF

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Firstly can they get naturalized Yes then get naturalized n vote n if they feel japan as the home y not get naturalized instead of blaming game.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

It doesn't make sense to allow people who aren't citizens to vote. If they want to stay and have the right to vote then they can go through the process to become a citizen. Those not willing to forfeit their citizenship to become a Japanese citizen shouldn't complain.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

After donkey years of waxing lyrical about themselves ( Japanese) being " the stuff" , the "headquarters of the authentic" and the orbit center of the bona- fides in " civilised democracy ", one can't help but see that every time the marginalized minority start catching up the pace, the dominant majority changes the tempo and the cycle begins again.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

I am a stateless voter without any voting rights in my birth country Britain, my adopted country America and my host country Japan.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

nigelboy

I'm not requesting/demanding Japanese voter right?

All Brit expats had their voting rights cancelled if they had lived overseas for more than 15 years. I have a big American family but no personal citizenship and I live in Japan with rights but again no citizenship.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

I'm not requesting/demanding Japanese voter right?

Sorry. I believe that’s with Japanese voting population.

It’s these two women in particular I have issues.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

I'm not requesting/demanding Japanese voter right?

Sorry. I believe that’s fine with Japanese voting population.

It’s these two women in particular I have issues.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

nigelboy

to be clear I am not seeking personal voting rights but if these three women decide that's want they want then they can campaign but it will be a waste of their time and energy.

When I was in Kobe there was discussion within the city government about giving foreigners there with PR the right to vote in local elections but the discussions have not concluded.

I think you are starting to bark up the wrong tree.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

If there were any major changes to voting, such as allowing/enabling residents with PR the right to vote, that would be a matter for the government and Diet and not the "Japanese voting population".

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

f there were any major changes to voting, such as allowing/enabling residents with PR the right to vote, that would be a matter for the government and Diet and not the "Japanese voting population".

Nope. It would be the matter of the voting public since they are the ones who will elect legislators who endorses such legislation

0 ( +5 / -5 )

If there was no possibility for foreign residents to adopt the Japanese nationality then you could not justify giving them no voting rights.

However since foreign residents can adopt the Japanese nationality they need to make the effort to gain citizenship if they want to vote plain and simple.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Nope. It would be the matter of the voting public since they are the ones who will elect legislators who endorses such legislation

Again, the matter would be decided by the Diet and I suppose if the voters didn't agree, then the voters would vote them out in the next election. Unless it involves a change to the constitution, such as Article 9, then voters don't get to decide the laws passed by the Diet.

Where are the voters on the Oct sales tax increases?

There are parties in the Diet, such as the Komeito, which supports giving foreigners with PR the right to vote.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

that would be a matter for the government and Diet and not the "Japanese voting population".

According to me there are two options to justify implementing measures that have a significant impact on Japanese society such as giving foreign residents voting rights and by extension allowing double nationality.

Either political parties make it clear prior to elections that those measures are included in their program so if the Japanese citizens vote for them they have a democratic mandate to implement them or either you hold a referendum.

Implementing these significant measures without the mandate and consent of the Japanese citizens can never be an option.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Again, the matter would be decided by the Diet and I suppose if the voters didn't agree, then the voters would vote them out in the next election. Unless it involves a change to the constitution, such as Article 9, then voters don't get to decide the laws passed by the Diet.

But why would a legislator take that risk without confirming it to his/her constituents?

Where are the voters on the Oct sales tax increases?

This was decided by DPJ era and was also accepted by LDP.

here are parties in the Diet, such as the Komeito, which supports giving foreigners with PR the right to vote.

Yes. Most vocal during the opposition party days. But now?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I am a stateless voter without any voting rights in my birth country Britain, my adopted country America and my host country Japan.

I'd like to think you're missing a lot, but no. Most of us believe voting itself is a con. Most countries could as well, if they chose to be straight, emulate NK. It's much cheaper, non-polarizing and straight forward. Oops !! Did I just say that !!? I hope some day you can get to determine your choices when voting will really count.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I'm registered to vote in my "home" district - I keep my American residence at my mother's house, where I grew up, though I haven't lived there in 30 years. The local voting board practically shoves the ballot down my throat every two years, but I'm diligent - one reason why Orange County has flipped from red to blue. I don't know what I'll do on her demise - I'll have to find an alternative address.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

As foreigners in their own country...

That is a contradiction in terms.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

One solution to the lack of representation for foreigners

That is a solution is search for a problem. Foreigner by definition are neither citizens nor subjects of a state. Therefore, they have no (right to ) representation.

It's that simple.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@BlackSabbath

Aah, but did you not see that these women were activists? Ipso ergo sum. The activist by nature searches for problems to solve whether they exist or not.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@ Zichi

This is George Carlin (RIP). One of the best stand up comedian that ever passed this way, talking about voting.

https://youtu.be/KVJI3HHsWyg

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@MiceVice

What you present is not exactly true.

The adoption of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which is what you refer to in 1952, brought the end of Zainichi Korean right to Japanese citizenship, since they would have had to abandon Korean citizenship in order to be naturalized as Japanese citizens. 

Most Koreans were not willing to make the necessary break at the time.

They had the choice, they chose not to.

What you are really referring to is their desire to remain Koreans but not go back to Korea. At best holding dual nationality (Japan and South Korea nationality laws do not allow multiple citizenship for adults); at worst wanting to exploit the position for greatest benefit, eg skipping draft, avoiding tax, laundering money, and so on.

It is also really not correct to refer to a singular group of individuals as you had North Korea allied groups and South Korea allied therefore reasons for the choice differ.

What are the North Korea groups in Japan doing, waiting for the regime to fall before returning?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

When a foreigner lives in Japan for decades, having paid taxes, both local and state, then why is some form of representation not allowed?

Putting a piece of paper in a box, with your mark on every four years, in the internet age is woefully inadequate.

To suggest that one should change nationality to have representation is wrong-taxation without representation is!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Japan provides a path to voting for foreign born. Why should they allow the vote to those who do not want to take that path? By not taking that path the person is proving their higher loyalty is to a foreign nation. Letting people vote in federal elections when they have proven their allegiance is not to Japan makes no sense.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

To suggest that one should change nationality to have representation is wrong-taxation without representation is!

If the person chooses to not become a person that can choose their representation, then the person has no place to complain about not being able to choose their representation.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Compare the Oath Statements of Japan and the USA (below). It you cannot even take the former, what rights should you have?

We are talking primarily about the Zainichi Koreans and the idea of them as "discriminated victims" is popular because it fits the stereotypical view of Japan. But the truth about them and the position they have chosen is different.

Try and imagine the USA tolerating schools within the US or teachers who refuse to naturalize and indoctrinating children into Juche.

On the other hand, I suspect many other immigrants would swear the oath and take citizenship but still be insincere in it.

In both cases, ultimately, it is about individuals exploiting a system for self-advantage. Having a cake and eating.

Look at the problem you have in the USA and American politics with dual citizens loyal primarily to Israel, even carrying out serious state esponiage and financial crimes, and then run off beyond the reach of the law.

Now consider who Japan's nearest neighbors are.

The transnational crimes still happen due to Korean presence in the Yakuza (Mindan was controlled by them, with the backing of successive South Korean governments, North Korean Chongryon was involved in the numerous abductions of Japanese citizens,) but at least they are at a low level and do not lead to wars.

Why would you willing give them full citizenship?

Who know what which Chinese are up to what.

Japan

I swear to obey the Constitution of Japan as well as its laws and ordinances, fulfilling the established duties, and become a good citizen.

Fullstop.

U.S.A.

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a foreigner I say.... Don't do it Japan. Stay Japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

MiceViceAug. 25  10:08 am JST

During the 35-year colonial rule, Korea was annexed to Japan and its people were made Japanese subjects (nationals, citizens). That means that Koreans living in Japan at that time had a Japanese nationality. However, that status was taken away from them by the Japanese government in 1952.

It's unfair to blame Japan for that because it was the victorious WWII Allied Powers that chose to strip Korea away from the Japanese Empire. That was made clear as early as 1943 at the Cairo Conference, well before WWII even ended. Defeated Japan really had no say in the matter

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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