Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The "Gaijin Gulag" at Narita

A bit of a bizarre story has been doing the rounds. Initially on Debito, I assumed it would soon fade, but it was picked up by an Economist-hosted blog, which apparently means it is important and worthy of discussion just about everywhere. What happened is that some "Tokyo-based" freelance Canadian journalist was barred from (re-)entry into Japan late last year - he insinuates it was on the strength of some critical Fukushima-related articles - then bullied and threatened by some shady security forces in the bowels of Narita Airport, and finally forced at gunpoint (his words) into buying an overpriced one-way ticked to Canada, leaving home, girlfriend and pet dog in Tokyo. This was all described in extraordinary hyperbole on his own blog (which incidentally has been repeatedly altered in various materially important ways), then highlighted on Debito, and it went downhill from there.

It all sounded a bit odd, and people started asking of the author...so what was your actual visa status? This was met with volleys of vitriolic abuse and evasion. "I first had a work visa for Japan in 1989, and my last renewal began in 2008", he claimed, "I have never overstayed". But work visas only last three years (at most). Eventually, he wrote on his blog that it was in the process of renewal, but then he deleted that bit again. If (and it seems like a big if at this point) he actually did have a viable renewal application underway (not a trivial matter for a freelance journalist, work visas typically require a Japanese sponsor, and are rather specific as to the nature of the work), and had also been told it would be ok to travel with this status, then he would seem to have a leg to stand on, but his repeated evasion and misleading statements make it hard to take his story at face value. At any rate, his subsequent treatment is the responsibility of the (Korean) airline he flew in on, not Japanese immigration. Not that this would justify the treatment, but it does suggest that it may not be such an imminent threat to those of us who are actually living here with proper visas which authorise us to work in our jobs. That's not to say everything is great in Japanese immigration. It's pretty horrible everywhere, though.

His various blogging and commenting on Twitter, Debito and elsewhere gives the impression that he's a bit of a Walter Mitty fantasist, full of stories of his war experience and name-dropping his more famous "colleagues". He boasted about what a great contribution he made to Japan after the Fukushima accident (er, though it was also apparently this coverage that marked him out for expulsion): "But I didn’t flee Japan like thousands of foreigners after the March 11 disasters. I made personal sacrifices to tell the world about the plight of disaster victims, to generate sympathy for Japan. I earned income from sources outside Japan, and spent it inside Japan."

Google tells a different story, that he bravely filed his first-hand reports from Shizuoka, stoking the foreign media hype that many of us were so critical of at the time:

"I'm one of the last people I know to leave Tokyo," Johnson told CTV's Canada AM. Well, it seems like he has gone for good now.

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