Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Today I felt as if I was not in Japan, but in the Alabama of the 1950s. I've been made to feel less than human, like an animal

Japanese resident Steve McGowan yesterday, having just lost his case for racial discrimination after a shop-keeper refused him service for being black.
"Today I felt as if I was not in Japan, but in the Alabama of the 1950s. I've been made to feel less than human, like an animal," said McGowan, choking back tears. "This case was not just about me. With this ruling, the judge has given store owners the right to discriminate based on color."
Uniquely among the signatories to the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Japan has no laws prohibiting racial discrimination. The Government argues that such laws are not necessary, because victims can sue for damages in the civil courts. All it takes is a year or more of your life and a potentially bottomless pit of legal fees, and you might recoup your costs. But not, apparently, if the judge can find any loophole to excuse the discriminatory behaviour.

The reason Mr McGowan lost? He had claimed that the shop owner had turned him away for being black (using the term "kokujin" in Japanese, and there is apparently a tape recording in which the shop owner reiterates his views). The judge ruled that he hadn't provided sufficient evidence that the refusal was necessarily due to his being black, it might just have been because he was foreign. So, um, that's OK then.

More details and further similar horror stories can be found here.


Anonymous said...


Can I explain something to you that as an American you may not understand. When we first visited the US, before eventually living there, we were frightned stiff of encountering black Americans. This was at a time when violence, particularly black American violence was at it's highest in the big cities.
I recall at the time that if an Black American crossed our path we would peed ourselves.

My guess is that is what happaned in that essentially single race country.

James Annan said...


As a sovereign nation I guess the Japanese are entitled to endorse or reject racial discrimination as they chose. But if they sign up to documents such as the UN Declaration and make statements such as "We believe the path Japan should take is to provide a good research environment here for scientists from across the world" then they can't continue to endorse such discrimination without appearing hypocritical and dishonest.

Sure, racial equality is a fairly "modern" concept in the West, historically speaking, but is there any reason why Japan shouldn't also be "modern"? With the resident non-Japanese population already over 2 million and increasing rapidly, this is not a problem that can just be wished away.

James Annan said...

And I'll follow that up with a brief conversation I had in the lift this morning with a senior member of staff here:

Senior staff: "So, are you going back home to the UK next year, then?"
Me: "Er, no, I've got no plans to leave"
Senior staff: "Because the budget cut next year is severe, you see..."

Bear in mind that (like 90% of non-Japanese here) I am on a renewable contract with no security of tenure, and you'll see why I consider legally-sanctioned racial discrimination is a problem.