Thursday, October 27, 2005

Court split on leprosy rulings

from the Asahi Shimbun:
In conflicting rulings, the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by 117 former leprosy patients from South Korea but upheld a similar lawsuit for compensation by 25 former leprosy patients from Taiwan.

Different judges presided in the cases.

In both cases, the plaintiffs sought government compensation for their suffering as a result of their forced segregation in isolated sanitariums overseas during Japan's colonial rule.

In the case of the Taiwanese plaintiffs, the court said they were entitled to compensation under a 2001 law covering former patients of Hansen's disease. The ruling nullifed a decision by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to withhold compensation.

In the case of the South Korean plaintiffs, the same court said the compensation law does not apply to those who were forcibly hidden from society in sanitariums overseas.

The plaintiffs from Taiwan were segregated at a facility near Taipei, while those from South Korea were held at a national hospital in Sorokto, a tiny island located off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula.

Leprosy patients worked as forced laborers. Some men were forced to submit to vasectomies and some women to abortions. Forerunners of the two facilities in Taiwan and South Korea were set up by Japanese colonial rulers to contain the disease. The plaintiffs still live in those facilities.

They filed the lawsuits last year to revoke the health ministry's decision to refuse them compensation under the 2001 leprosy compensation law.

In the case involving Taiwanese plaintiffs, the court stressed that the compensation law does not distinguish between Japanese and foreign leprosy patients. Thus, it ruled they were eligible for compensation from the government.

The leprosy compensation law was enacted in 2001 following a ruling that year by the Kumamoto District Court that said the government's policy of segregating leprosy patients was unconstitutional.

In the suit by the Taiwanese plaintiffs, Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Kanno said: "The compensation law is a special measures law designed to widely and thoroughly compensate those who were segregated in facilities. It should be the understanding that the law does not place any restrictions with regard to nationality or residence.

"It would be unfair if the law excluded those from compensation simply because the facility was located in Taiwan. The principle of equal treatment must apply."

In the case of the South Korean plaintiffs, Presiding Judge Toshihiko Tsuruoka stated: "Sanitariums overseas, including those in former colonies, are not recognized as being covered (by the leprosy compensation law).

"Those who were segregated in sanitariums in Japan are subject to the compensation law, but the issue of redress measures for those who were held in facilities overseas is something that must be addressed in the future."

Former leprosy patients in Japan have received lump sums of between 8 million yen and 14 million yen in compensation.

The plaintiffs in both cases, arguing that their suffering was no less than those who had been isolated in Japan, said it would be unfair to deny them compensation especially when a law had been enacted to do precisely that.

Health ministry officials argue that only individuals who were segregated in Japan are eligible for compensation because sanitariums in former colonies were not included in the compensation law at the time of its enactment.

The fact that contradictory rulings were handed down by the same court suggests that lawmakers and health ministry officials were caught off-guard by the Kumamoto District Court's decision and hastily drew up the bill on compensation without giving sufficient attention to all aspects of the matter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Korean national barred from serving on arbitration panel

from The Asahi Shimbun:
Amid cries of discrimination, a Supreme Court policy has effectively barred non-Japanese from serving on arbitration committee members of lower courts.

Observers were surprised by the top court's policy that was disclosed recently because no legal revisions explicitly ban foreigners from such positions. However, the Supreme Court asked the Hyogo prefectural bar association to retract its nomination of Yang Young Ja, a South Korean lawyer. The court said only Japanese citizens should be allowed in positions where they exert direct authority over Japanese residents.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Equal Opportunity for Japanese Women -- What Progress?

by Charles Weathers
October 05, 2005
Career opportunities have improved greatly for many Japanese women in recent years. More large companies are willing to hire them as career-track employees, and their share of elite civil servant positions has been growing. Although female students at my institution, Osaka City University, still encounter discrimination during the job hunt, they have actually outperformed men in recent job searches. A survey of the top 74 universities confirms the trend, showing that women had higher job placement rates this spring in most of the 395 departments covered. It appears that some businesses are taking more seriously the mantra that ability trumps gender in today's more globalized, market-oriented economy.

Despite these signs of progress, however, employment opportunity for the majority of women may actually be getting worse. The main reason is that employers are intent on reducing costs by replacing regular (seiki) employees with lower-paid, disposable non-regular (hiseiki) workers, including part-timers, agency temporaries, and contract workers, who often do the same or similar work. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) estimates that non-regular workers constituted 34.6 percent of the salaried work force in 2003, and the figure continues to rise. The Japanese have assigned the name hiseikika (non-regularization) to the rising ratio of non-regular workers. Some, particularly housewives caring for young children, are content with non-regular and part-time jobs, but the number of "involuntary" non-regulars, those unable to find regular positions, has grown steadily in recent years. Further, even regular female employees are bothered by sexual harassment, discrimination in promotions to management, and refusal of childcare leave.

Twenty years after the passage of the first Equal Employment Opportunity Law, why does Japan's progress toward equal opportunity remain so erratic, or worse?
The full article can be read here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Girls in need of direction get it from the comics

The Japan Times, Oct. 18, 2005
The business of being a wakai musume (young woman) in this country used to have just one subtext: There were no options. If she didn't get married she was less than a whole person; on the other hand, marriage meant abject obedience to her husband's household and an endless round of bone-crunching chores.

Times have changed, in a surreal kind of way. These days, to be a Japanese woman means options galore, plus the endless delights of self-analysis and soul-searching. An updated version of Cindi Lauper's hit song would be about how Japanese girls have more fun than anyone else. Aiding them in this mission is the world of garu komikku (girl comic books) -- a pop-culture phenomenon that has permanently altered the landscape of Japanese literature.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Japanese government bends law to target foreigners

Ministry missive wrecks reception
MHLW asks hotels to enforce nonexistent law

from the Japan Times:
Between Oct. 7-11, the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT), Japan's largest convocation of language educators, held its annual meeting in Shizuoka, a pleasant city between Tokyo and Osaka.

Having hosted JALT before, Shizuoka is quite accustomed to taking in thousands of English-speaking foreigners.

This time around, however, Shizuoka decided to accommodate their guests with another lovely service: ID checks before bedtime.

Monday, October 17, 2005

"Razor Ramon HG (Hard Gay)"

This is a comedian who goes by the name "Razor Ramon HG", HG standing for "hard gay".

Kanako Otsuji, Osaka Prefectural Assemblywoman, and a lesbian, in a Japan Times interview recently responded:
[The way the media treats sexual minorities] makes me angry. This morning I saw [comedian] Razor Ramon for the first time. I never watch TV. I'd only heard about him. He's not homosexual. He just uses gayness for his act, to make people laugh. I'm afraid that people will get the idea that gay people are all like that, yelling and pumping their hips.

Aso calls Japan 'one race' nation

from the Japan Times:
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso has called Japan a "one race" nation, an expression similar to a controversial statement in 1986 by then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, sources close to the minister said Monday.
In a speech during a ceremony at the new Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Saturday, the sources said Aso described Japan as having "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race. There is no other nation (that has such characteristics)."

Two decades ago, Nakasone stirred controversy by publicly calling Japan a "homogenous nation," drawing criticism particularly from the indigenous Ainu people who live mainly in Hokkaido.

Following Aso's remarks, Mitsunori Keira, head of the citizens' group Yaiyukara-no-Mori, which works to preserve Ainu culture, criticized the minister.

"The fact that top government officials have repeatedly made similar remarks shows the government has never sincerely listened to our protest," Keira said.

Assemblywoman puts sex on the agenda

Lesbian politician Kanako Otsuji talks about gender issues in Japan

from the Japan Times:
In April 2003, 28-year-old Kanako Otsuji became the youngest person ever elected to the Osaka prefectural assembly when she won the seat for Sakai City. It was a distinction made more special by the fact that there were only six other women in the 110-member assembly at the time. However, another distinction was not known to most of the people who voted for her.

Otsuji is a lesbian. Though she did not keep her sexual orientation a secret, the supporters who knew talked her out of revealing this information during the campaign. She was even open about her homosexuality to individual local journalists, but none reported it.

After taking office, Otsuji knew that she wanted to come out. She spent two months writing a memoir, titled "Coming Out," which was accepted by Kodansha. She wanted the publication to coincide with the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade 2005 on Aug. 13, where she planned to come out publicly. However, she felt some sort of obligation to her supporters in Sakai City, and on the day before the parade she held a press conference at which she revealed her sexual orientation.

On Aug. 30, Otsuji held her first meeting with supporters since coming out. She explained why she made the announcement, as well as the meaning of the term "sexual minorities" -- comprising lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender individuals -- and why she aimed to support them in her political career.

Following the meeting, Otsuji talked to The Japan Times about being an openly gay politician in Japan.
Read the interview here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Living as a 'half': What it's like to be of mixed race in Japan

from NATALIE OBIKO PEARSON - Associated Press
TOKYO -- "Gaijin da, gaijin da!" my playmates began taunting me one day at the neighborhood park near my home in Kobe, the port city in western Japan where I grew up.

It meant "look foreigner!" and although at age 4 I couldn't grasp the full import of what they were saying, I knew what I was -- and I told them so: "I'm not gaijin. I'm Japanese. I'm also Australian."

We all stared at each other, little brows furrowed. Japanese AND Australian -- how could that be? The other kids went back to the jungle gym, leaving me to figure out a puzzle whose pieces I'm still pulling together at age 28.

Am I really Japanese? Never mind that I was born in Japan, that my first language was Japanese, that I've spent three-quarters of my life here. The problem is I don't look Japanese, and that has always foiled my attempts to pass as one in a country that cloaks itself in an impenetrable veneer of homogeneity.

So in Japan, my native country, I am "haafu," from the word "half." My mother is Japanese and my late father was an Australian of Scottish descent. To most here, I'm simply "haafu gaijin" -- half foreign.

My home was the safe haven where the two sides could freely intersect.
The full article can be found here.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thailand, Japan to step up fight against human trafficking

from Yahoo Asia News
The foreign ministries of Japan and Thailand agreed Thursday to set up a joint task force to combat human trafficking, according to a press release from the Thai side.

The agreement was reached in principle during a high-level annual meeting -- the Japan-Thailand Political Partnership Consultation -- in Bangkok on Thursday.

The half-day talks led by the Thai Foreign Ministry's Permanent Secretary Krit Garnjana-Goonchorn and Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Tsuneo Nishida also concluded they should work on an "appropriate framework" for cooperation on the transfer of offenders, said the press release, which gave no details of the plan.

In July, Japan's National Police Agency revealed that 51 foreign women were trafficked into Japan and forced into the sex industry or other forms of exploitation in the first half of this year, the highest figure on record for the first half of a year.

Justice system flawed by presumed guilt

Rights advocates slam interrogation without counsel, long detentions

from the Japan Times
Japan's criminal justice system lacks a fundamental notion that is manifest in other parts of the democratized world: the presumption of innocence, according to human rights advocates.

Suspects are still forced to make false confessions during interrogations in which legal representation is banned, and custody can last up to 23 days before charges are filed, lawyers and people who claim to have or were determined to have been falsely accused told a recent public meeting in Tokyo held by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Arrested suspects are often detained in a police "daiyo kangoku" substitute prison for up to 23 days before indictment, and release on bail is unlikely as long as they plead innocent or remain silent.

Tottori rights law a first but irks critics

From the Japan Times
The Tottori Prefectural Assembly approved an ordinance Wednesday that the local government claims will protect people from racial discrimination and other human rights violations but critics say will allow authorities to employ rules arbitrarily to protect people in power.

It is the first time a local government has introduced such an ordinance. It may prime the pump for the human rights bill the central government tried to push through the Diet earlier this year but put on hold amid criticism over its potential to restrict media activities, among other flaws.

"Having a regional human rights ordinance will enable us to make meticulous judgments" on human rights issues, Tottori Gov. Yoshihiro Katayama has said in explaining the ordinance.