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Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007

THE ZEIT GIST

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Taking liberties? Readers respond

The Community Page received an unprecedented number of responses to the "Taking Liberties" series that ran in this section last month. Following are some examples.

No 'real' rights

Re: " 'Gaijin card' checks spread as police deputize the nation" (Zeit Gist, Nov. 13).

I have been in Japan almost two decades. I have never been able to rent a reputable hotel room without providing ID or passport or both. I have never been able to buy a cell phone, acquire home phone service, get Internet service, rent an apartment or even a video rental without showing several forms of identification. I have never been able to purchase a plane ticket without two or three forms of identification — mandatory. I have watched native Japanese do all of the aforementioned without proof of identification. As far as I am concerned, laws in Japan are merely words on paper with absolutely no bearing or relevance to reality (for "gaijins"). I have tried stating the rules — and found myself without residence, or without a plane ticket. The rules are a joke, because anyone who lives and works in Japan knows that foreigners have no "real" rights, no "real" protection and no "real" say-so, period!

Name withheld

Not just for foreigners

I have some comments to make regarding the article "Watching them watching us." While I understand and agree with the writer's argument (the Japanese government does often infringe upon the "gaijins' " rights and insult them), I think his description of monitoring is too much of an exaggeration, because many of the cameras set up in the stations are not solely for the purpose of scrutinizing the foreigners: They are for watching people, Japanese and non-Japanese, in general.

Also, not only foreigners but also every Japanese person is required to write his/her name, address and phone number when applying for a Suica card or just a regular train pass.

The monitoring the writer describes almost sounds like a scene from a science fiction movie and makes one think all the cameras and name/address etc.-checking systems are solely targeting the foreigners and don't include Japanese citizens. This is wrong.

I too regret the government's decision about the fingerprint issue. But let's not sensationalize the facts.

Ami Arashi

Worse in Britain

Surveillance cameras are far more common in Britain than they are in Japan. At least in Japan you can buy beer without having to show your driver's license.

Earl Kinmonth, Tokyo

Smile for the camera

In response to the Michael Hassett article "Watching them watching us," one thing came to mind reading this Big Brother-toned article: Get over yourself!

During the late to mid-90s in New York City we had similar measures taken to combat or prevent crime (in terms of security cameras). At first, many people (including myself) were up in arms about the supposed impeachment of personal privacy. As the years passed, there has been case after case of these cameras helping in numerous situations, especially pertaining to car accidents.

Why is it every time I read or listen to foreigners in Japan rant on about the change in Japanese security precautions it's all about them? Japan is trying to protect and serve its own citizens.

Another point in Mr. Hassett's article was about the police detaining a Canadian for numerous days. There is a drug problem in Japan now. A large percentage of foreigners proliferate the drug trade, either by being consumers or selling. This is a fact.

As a foreigner living here permanently I welcome these laws. We are lucky to live in this beautiful country. It's not a privilege or a God-given right, so my suggestion to Mr. Hassett is: Look up and smile for the camera!

B. Panagoulias, Kumamoto City

Police harassment

I saw the "Views from the Street" on being "gaijin carded (Nov. 13). What I would like to know is how many times some people have been carded. I have been carded 13 times in the past 2 1/2 years (been in Japan 9 1/2 years), and each time it becomes increasingly harassing, even though some of the checks have been done by the same officer. It's like my status (Permanent Resident) disappeared overnight.

Aaron Chmielowiec, Tokyo

Re-entry visas

Regarding Mark Schreiber's article on his first-hand experience with the new fingerprinting system at Narita (Zeit Gist, Nov. 27), he notes that re-entry permit holders will no longer be able to line up with Japanese citizens for their immigration inspection. In fact, I confirmed with the immigration agent upon my departure from Narita the same day (Nov. 24) that re-entry permit holders now have their own line, separate from both Japanese citizens and visiting foreigners, and he says that, except at peak times, re-entry permit holders have what is probably the shortest wait for processing.

Good news for those worried about the logistics of the new system, as opposed to its fundamental rightness.

Stephen Knight, Yokohama

Japan will lose out

I saw your article regarding the fingerprinting of foreigners entering Japan. I was unaware that this was being enacted and somewhat blindsided by it.

My wife is Japanese and we have two small children. We have been visiting Japan regularly so her parents can see them. And I was planning on going to Japan early next year for an extended stay. Since I am unwilling to be treated as a criminal I will no longer visit Japan or take my family there — I am guessing that causing distress to elderly Japanese who can't see their grandchildren and the forgoing of the several hundred thousand dollars I was planning to spend on real estate in Japan doesn't enter the Japanese lawmakers' thoughts.

I am sure many will view these new procedures as just another example of Japanese insularity and xenophobia but the USA has already enacted similar measures (although without the local police connection) and I refuse to visit the USA for this very reason.

Carlos Kramer

Japanese exempt

Why is this (fingerprinting and photographing) system only for foreigners? Is it that no crimes are committed by Japanese citizens? Applying (the law) to everyone could even help the efficient Japanese police catch the killer of the British girl (Lindsay Hawker) — a killer whom they let go because they are oh-so-professional and concerned about safety and security.

Giko Jayashi, Tokyo

Valid reasons

Japan should be allowed to do what it deems best for its country.

There are pros and cons to this unwelcoming fingerprint policy. Japan's reasons — minimizing crimes and terrorist attacks — are valid reasons and the end results speak for themselves. I have lived in and visited Japan frequently over the last 25 years and continued to enjoy the peace, politeness and high-quality services offered by the Japanese people and enterprises.

There will be occasional mistakes made by law enforcement officers, which should be investigated and measures taken to prevent injustice. However, give me Japan any time over European cities now facing increasing social and criminal cases.

Japan is protective and extremely cautious (quite necessary after the war fiasco of the Bush administration and the globalization of labor) and there are many benefits and wisdom to its policies. Prevention is better than cure. My family will still visit Japan for our next holiday.

Soon Hock, Singapore

Fear-mongering

I am an Australian who has a Japanese wife and two children. They can travel to Japan on a Japanese passport, but even with my RFID-chipped passport I will be fingerprinted. I would like to know how this would help to stop the sarin gas attacks or any other domestic-born terrorist act. Once a fingerprint is scanned it can be copied and transferred to any crime scene. I predict the clean-up rate for crime will go up and amazingly a lot of foreigners will be involved. And the first big case will be foreign terrorists.

This is government fear-mongering and bowing to corporate needs. The smart terrorists will recruit Japanese nationals overseas and totally undermine this Draconian measure.

Keith Wilson, Molendinar, Australia

Tit-for-tat with U.S.

Re: "Does fingerprinting foreign arrivals help Japan in its 'war on terror?' " (Views from the Street, Nov. 20).

This fingerprinting move fans Japan's latent racism. What does being afraid to ride the train have to do with this issue? This is a tit for tat game with the U.S. that other countries are playing as well.

This is exactly what a more open Japan does not need. There go the tourists.

Kenji Chida, Zukomo City, Okayama Pref.

Foreign policy naive

Re: "The 'gaijin' formally known as prints" (Nov. 20).

It is to be hoped, sincerely, that no such views are held by any senior member in the Ministry of "Justice," but one does not know . . .

It is clear from various commentary that the main reason for the controversy around the new fingerprinting law is that there has not been an adequate explanation for the need for such a drastic measure. One's fingerprints and one's photo are private possessions. If authorities require such private data then the onus is on authorities to explain fully why, and what they would do with the information. The simple statement that links such a measure to improved security is as vague as the whole defunct concept of the "war on terror." After all, even countries in the direct firing line of terrorist attacks did not see fit to resort to such extreme measures, and the Japanese authorities surely are not in a position to claim that Japan is next on al-Qaida's list.

In the absence of a full explanation it is easy to come to the conclusion that the measure is a move to exert a heightened level of control over the foreign community in Japan, for reasons that remain unclear, while at the same time politically appeasing the U.S.

Japan's foreign policy in connection with that part of the world most associated with "terror" remains underdeveloped and to some extent quite naive. It would not be surprising to see Japan simply toeing the line behind the U.S. in such regions. But why the Japanese authorities would wish to have even more control over foreign residents is both curious and disturbing.

It is to be hoped, again sincerely, that those responsible for the new measures know the implications in possible impact on the number of foreigners coming to Japan, and that, unlike the high-ranking official of the "Ministry of Injustice," they do worry about such a possibility.

Rob Domloge, Nagoya

Situation bad enough

Source a high-ranking official in the Ministry of INjustice? Does this mean the whole article is a joke? If so, isn't the atmosphere bad enough without you making it worse?

Stewart Dorward, Tokyo

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