The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Voter rights


Thanks to a timely phone call from my good friend, Uchijin, I was able to catch an important demo in Shibuya tonight. Important because it change the face of Japanese voting demographics forever. Well sort of..

As part of the election manifesto this summer the newly elected Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) promised to “think seriously” about giving voter rights to the million or so foreigners in Japan that have permanent residents visa status. What this means basically is the Japanese people who have Korean and Chinese ancestors, many of who were forcibly relocated to Japan during its brutal empire building in the thirties, will, without quite getting true citizenship and becoming actual naturalized members of the Japanese population, get a say in how their tax yen are spent. It does not mean that that thousands of English teachers will suddenly get to call the shots on working conditions, pay and alcohol licensing hours. Sorry to burst that bubble!!!

Such a move is long over due for these “Japanese” who aren`t quite Japanese enough though why they don`t just give them citizenship I don`t know.

Well I do, it is because to the right wing the Korean and Chinese have never quite stopped being part of the conquered peoples of the Imperial past and to give them the same rights as “pure” Japanese is anathema to your average bigot. Which is why I could find some familiar faces in the crowd tonight from the battles of Yasukuni on August 15th.  The fear, they say, is that the allegiances of these “foreigners” is questionable, that they still love Communist China, Stalinist North Korea and overtly competative South Korea. All of which may in some small degree be true. But if you let people born and raised, and educated and living and contributing to Japan actually be Japanese citizens you might find them loving the country as much as ordinary Japanese do. Or not if they feel that way, after all that`s what democracy is about.

To tell the truth, as a permanent resident myself, I don`t think we should get the vote. True I pay tax and I hate to see it wasted but the Hatoyama government is outwardly intent on making government spending more transparent and perhaps it will get less wasteful from now. I am not Japanese however and have no intention of becoming such so just feel that it is rather arrogant to suggest that I should have a say in the national and even local politics of somewhere I choose to be. When in Rome and all that.

Personally my concerns and quibbles with living here are small and the power we aliens would wield will get easily swamped in the votes cast by native Japanese on any subject. What frightens the right-wingers is that the Korean and Chinese, if organized and passionate about a subject could make a large, politically-relevant voting bloc that could affect national level policy.

But then again they SHOULD BE JAPANESE CITIZENS, not that will make all the problems go away but at least it will actually be Japanese people saying that ethnic minorities, like them, should be treated better and that the endemic racism that still exists at all levels of business and bureaucracy should be eradicated and legislation put in to punish those that act in ways that make multi-culturalism and cosmopolitanism impossible. Then Japan will be a proper developed country at last.

Damon

More images available at Demotix here.

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4 responses

  1. Really nice write up and pics to illustrate your piece as always. I agree that your regular eikawa sensei shouldn’t get the vote, but the 2nd and 3rd generation Chinese and Koreans who were born and raised here should e allowed citizenship and a vote in my book. They have so much pesecution and hardship to go through just to get by, I heard of a 2nd generation Korean man who had to pay a fortune to change his name to a Japanese sounding name just to land a decent job. Even for those who have married someone Japanese, attained citizenship and are contributing to society here should have a vote as well, or at least the choice to decide whether they want to use it or not.

    November 30, 2009 at 7:38 am

  2. Hi Damon ! , just wanted to let you know that Hikari photoblog is back better than ever , finally I have my own hosted site .

    By the way I totally agree with everything you said ..

    December 2, 2009 at 1:13 pm

  3. Yes Will it would be good to have some say in my children`s education and other matters that apply directly to me but it still feels wrong to have the vote if i am not Japanese, was surprised to discover EU residents of the UK can vote on local issues (and that feels wrong too).
    Alex! love the new site, man you are easily one of the most talented photographers i know. I love the self portrait and message on the about page. Hope we can meet up one day. Damon

    December 3, 2009 at 5:08 am

  4. Thanks Damon ! , you´re too kind … hehe . If I go to Tokyo I´ll let you know !

    December 4, 2009 at 4:53 am

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