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    One of the big stories this week is that the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that it was not unconstitutional for the government of Tokyo Metro (an entity equal in status to a prefecture, though I realize I’ve just made it sound like a tram line) to refuse to consider foreign nationals as candidates for management positions. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the same top story at all three English-version Japanese newspapers I read on-line (the Asahi , the Mainichi , and the Yomiuri ), though of course it was in the Nikkei and elsewhere, too.

    Those familiar with Japan will understand the issue here, but for those who are not: we’re not talking about immigrants. The controversy is over ethnic Koreans and Chinese born and brought up in Japan–many of whom have no real ties to Korea or China–who nevertheless do not have Japanese passports and are considered resident aliens. This is from the Yomiuri report:

    The Supreme Court said the metropolitan government’s preventing its foreign workers from taking promotion exams therefore did not violate Article 3 of the Labor Standards Law, which bans discriminating against workers on the ground of nationality, and Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees “equality before the law.”

    Meanwhile, Justices Shigeo Takii and Tokuji Izumi said in their dissenting opinions that the metropolitan government’s refusal to let the second-generation Korean resident sit the promotion examination just because she is not Japanese was “an illegal act of discrimination,” and that rejection of the plaintiff who has special permanent resident status from the first round of promotion exams was “unconstitutional.”

    Japan’s treatment of its resident non-Japanese Asians causes a great deal of strain, especially because of the restrictions on civil service jobs (which can include public health, the field of nursing in which the plaintiff in this case practiced, and public education). For some reason, I can’t seem to find a report on it, but there was a case last year in which the parents of a family of illegal aliens died. They were, I think, Thai and had been living in Japan for years. The government decided to grant the teenaged daughter citizenship and send the younger children back to Thailand. The reasoning was that the girl had never really known any life but that in Japan and was old enough to have formed her personality around her life here, while the younger children still had time to return to their native country and adapt to it without trauma. There’s a case of an orphan like that every few years, and citizenship is, if my memory serves correctly, often granted.

    Second- and third-generation children of intact non-Japanese families are another matter, but it’s worth remembering that pity for them must be carefully qualified. Japan-Korea ill-feeling goes both ways, even if there can be no debate over which side got the short end of the stick over the last century or so. A lot of permanent residents seem to be perfectly happy to retain their special permanent residency while working to expand the rights attached to it. And, well, while the mistreatment of non-Japanese here is real, you can’t ignore the fact that desiring the rights of a Japanese citizen while maintaining one’s identity (and presumably loyalty of some kind?) as a Korean means wanting to have it both ways.

    I have no idea what the plaintiff in this case thinks on the subject. By all accounts, she was encouraged by her superior to take the qualifying exam for promotion; she didn’t go looking for trouble to make a grand point, and she doesn’t seem like a chronic rabble-rouser. The Supreme Court decision, which simply affirms that it’s not unconstitutional for a local government to preserve positions of authority for Japanese citizens, is hard to fault. The court cannot, after all, fix long-standing animosity and divided loyalties.

    Added at 18:00: Man, can I be retarded sometimes. I looked at today’s “Asia by Blog” installment over at Simon’s and didn’t see that he’d linked to anyone’s coverage of this story–as I say, it was big here. It’s sort of odd that I missed it, because it’s the FIRST LINE of the Korea/Japan section. Anyway, his first link was to Joi Ito’s post, which mentions that the nurse in question is, in fact, genetically half-Japanese. I take the point that Japan is bringing many of these problems on itself, though it’s not as if it had a monopoly on xenophobia. I still can’t dismiss the idea of requiring citizenship as a qualification for ranking posts in the government as a trumped-up issue.

    Added on 29 January: Maybe I’m losing my mind. I’m still looking for the story about that Thai girl, but the only one I keep running into is the (far, far more famous case) of the girl who’s applying for permanent residency because her grandmother’s Japanese husband has adopted her. Her parents are dead. But she doesn’t have any siblings, and she didn’t grow up here. I wouldn’t be surprised if I weren’t correctly remembering all the facts of the case I’m thinking of, but I’m usually not quite that much of a space cadet.

    2 Responses to “国籍条項”

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