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Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003


The spirit of corrupt regimes alive in Japan

It's no secret that Japan discourages asylum-seekers, though officials never admit to it openly. When asked what the government would do about the 10 North Korean refugees who entered the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok on July 31, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that it would be better for them to go to South Korea. "If they came to Japan, they probably couldn't make a living," he said.

In other words, they would be subject to institutional and social discrimination. By that token presumably the only asylum-seekers who could fit in here are those with Japanese blood, like Alberto Fujimori, the disgraced former president of Peru. Though Fujimori is not officially a refugee, the circumstances of his arrival and residence, as well as the position of the government with regard to Lima's request for his extradition to stand trial in Peru, have all the hallmarks of a political asylum case.

If the local media has failed to point this out, it's because they buy the government's claim that Fujimori is a Japanese citizen and thus cannot be extradited to Peru. After arriving in Japan in November 2000, Fujimori resigned as Peru's president, by fax. The Peruvian government rejected the resignation and deposed him, and then set about making a criminal case against him for corruption and human rights violations. In December 2000, Japan's Justice Ministry announced they had "confirmed" that Fujimori is, in fact, a Japanese citizen because his name had been entered into a family register (koseki) in Kumamoto when he was born in Peru in 1938 to Japanese immigrants. Lima contested this sudden decision to grant citizenship. Japan countered that it did not "grant" anything, because owing to the koseki system Fujimori has "always been a Japanese citizen."

Even by Japan's own laws, Fujimori's Japanese nationality is fishy. The Justice Ministry says he's had dual citizenship all along, even though, according to an Imperial Ordinance of 1924, Japanese persons who chose to become citizens of certain nations, including Peru, automatically revoked their Japanese citizenship. A year before Fujimori was born, the Japanese government, in a bid to assure Lima that Japanese immigrants to Peru would not seek dual citizenship, reiterated the ordinance. Realistically, Japan cannot force someone who already has dual citizenship to renounce his or her other nationality, but in spirit it discourages dual citizenship.

The government even claims that Fujimori "chose" Japanese citizenship. In an article in the Mainichi Shimbun last month, a credulous reporter accepted an anonymous government official's statement that Fujimori chose to retain his Japanese citizenship when he turned 22, an odd assertion since there was no reason for Fujimori to "choose" anything. Before 1985, you were a Japanese citizen if your legal father was a Japanese citizen, regardless of where you were born, and you stayed that way until you voluntarily renounced your Japanese birthright. Only since 1985 does a Japanese person with dual citizenship have to choose at the age of 22, though, again, the government cannot force someone who already has dual citizenship to renounce his or her other nationality.

Fujimori may legally be Japanese, as the government says, but he was a member of the Peruvian armed forces and then the country's president for 10 years, positions that would have been impossible had he "chosen" to be Japanese. Until 2000 Fujimori never claimed dual citizenship (he probably didn't even think about it), but in any case no government would allow a foreign national to lead its country.

This absurdity is compounded by Fujimori's announced intention to someday return to his homeland and run for office again. The possibility is taken at face value by the Japanese press. In an editorial last Tuesday, the Asahi Shimbun said that Fujimori should return to Peru to face the music if he wants to run again, ignoring the nationality question and implying that the current Peruvian administration has failed the country and is making a big deal about Fujimori to distract the public's attention from those failures.

Former diplomat Hidetaka Ogura, one of the hostages taken by the Tupac Amaru leftist rebels when they held the Japanese Embassy in Lima for five months in 1996, has blasted this media attitude in various marginal periodicals, saying that Japanese press coverage has concentrated on Fujimori's decisiveness and ignored his alleged human rights violations, including wholesale murder, which is the reason for the extradition request.

Ogura says he saw several Tupac Amaru members alive after Peruvian soldiers, under Fujimori's personal command, stormed the embassy. Fujimori claims that all the hostage-takers were killed during the siege, but there's strong evidence that they were executed on the spot after surrendering.

The Japanese government believes it owes Fujimori for rescuing the hostages, which explains why it's protecting him. But the reasons go deeper. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone praised Fujimori after the hostage crisis for showing that "the spirit of Meiji Japan is alive in Latin America." Fujimori is a close friend of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. For one year he was the house guest of Ayako Sono, the head of the Nippon Foundation. And he has been romantically linked to Satomi Kataoka, a businesswoman who writes gushing books about the beautiful sacrifices made by the Japanese Imperial Army. To them, Fujimori is more Japanese than the spineless men who presently run the country. It's all in the blood.

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