Letter bombs (7): More on Isesaki
Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 24, 2010
READER ACEFACE, employed by a media outlet in Japan, sent in a comment to our previous post that deserves greater attention. The piece in the Guardian about the facial hair ban in Isesaki was more poorly conceived than I thought. Here’s what Aceface has to say:
I stayed for six days in Isesaki, Gunma, in the spring of 2001 for an assignment on one of those “take a short walk in the neighborhood” type of stories.
At the time, nearly 10% of Isesaki’s population were foreign residents, which is not that unusual for Southern Gunma, where many Brazilians and Peruvians live and work. But Isesaki also had residents coming from more than 70 countries. I was surprised to find a man from Equatorial Guinea registered as a resident foreigner there. The percentage and the variety of the residents match only one place in Japan–Minato Ward in Tokyo, ground zero for foreign diplomatic missions.
After I checked the Internet, (Japanese-language link) it seems the number has been reduced a bit to 12,296 people from 63 countries, and the ratio to the entire population is around 5.90%.
The City of Isesaki does hire many foreigners as temporary workers, such as substitute teachers at school and translators in city hall. And while I’ve never run into Sikhs, I’ve met lots of foreigners with facial hair.
Cities along the Tobu Isesaki line are known to have a significant Muslim population. The first shop you see after you get off from Isesaki station is a halal food shop. There were at least three mosques when I was there back in 2001. I was told by one of the Muslim residents I met in the city that one was “a bit fundamentalist”.
I can’t exactly tell how true it was, but one thing for sure is this guy was working in Isesaki and recruiting comrades for his cause from 2002 to 2003. (English-language link)
With that information in mind, the ban on facial hair for public servants in Isesaki has a whole different meaning.
Indeed it does, Aceface. So much for the “lovingly tended full beard” angle of McCurry’s article. A contemporary journalist stumbles across a real story and has neither the wit to understand what he was looking at nor the iniative to do more research. This will come as no surprise to the consumers of the contemporary journalism product.
They don’t want potentially dangerous people with Japanese language ability working as substitute teachers? I don’t blame them a bit.
Here are excerpts translated into English from the Japanese-language link provided by Aceface. They are taken from Isesaki’s website and describe and explain the activities of the International Department.
If you walk the streets of Isesaki today, you’ll see many foreigners. They often participate in local events, including the Isesaki Festival. Many children of non-native parents attend local primary and junior high schools. Restaurants serving cuisine from overseas, shops selling overseas food and clothing, and rental video shops with overseas titles are a common sight in town. There is even a supermarket-type retail outlet consisting of separate shops operated by people from overseas. Entering the facility is like taking a trip outside Japan.
Therefore, the Isesaki International Exchange Association offers services and conducts events for the non-native residents who live among us. These include consultation services, Japanese language classes, and exhibits of the artwork done by foreign students at public schools. There are an increasing number of situations, however, in which we cannot interact as we have in the past with the growing foreign-born population.
We established the International Department in 2004…That department set up a council for foreign-born residents of the city, the first of its kind in Gunma. It has 20 members from 13 countries. The objective is to create a multi-cultural city by incorporating the views of foreign-born residents and to create a consensus of opinion as Isezaki residents, despite their foreign nationality, based on considerations of cultural differences with Japan. As a result, many non-native residents have participated in such projects as the Tone River basin Clean Campaign and the planting of flowerbeds and trees at the public housing projects where many of these residents live. In one year, they offered the following suggestions:
1. Provide Japanese-language documents that are easier to understand by including reading aids for the kanji
2. Create a community center for the interaction of non-native and native residents of the city
3. Have council members actively participate as Isezaki citizens in city government activities with positive results
Within the city government, we have also created the Research Project Team to Promote Internationalization consisting of members of related municipal departments. They have since installed signs at public housing sites in five languages providing easy-to-understand instructions for separating and putting out household refuse. They’ve also created pamphlets in four languages providing explanations of the foreign resident registration system, national health insurance, and tax payments.
In addition to the foreign residents’ association and the project team, associations have also been formed for natives of Brazil and Peru, who have the first- and second-most residents of the city registered as foreigners when classified by country of birth. In the future, we will encourage the creation of organizations that promote internationalization, and plan to make every effort to have those organizations work with the foreign residents’ association and project team.
My last post linked to a Guardian article that tried to depict the Isesakians as throwbacks to an imagined age of absolute conformity in postwar Japan. Soon after the post went up, a curious flurry of similar English-language articles on the same topic popped up on my RSS feed—even though the Guardian published the original article more than a month ago.
Just a coincidence, I’m sure.
Well, now they’ll be able to write a follow-up article with plenty of nuance that provides an accurate picture of life in Isesaki, including the sincere effort of the native residents to interact with their foreign-born population, without having to resort to the tired and inaccurate narrative of the Japanese as xenophobes.
We all know how busy they are wearing out shoe leather on their reportage, so Aceface’s description and my translation should be more than enough to give them a head start and save them some legwork. It shouldn’t take long at all for those follow-up pieces to appear.
Thanks also to reader RMilner for thinking to ask a question that brought an answer few expected.
This entry was posted on Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm and is filed under Foreigners in Japan, Government, Letter bombs, Mass media, Social trends. Tagged: Anti-Nipponism, Gunma, Japan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.