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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

HAVE YOUR SAY

JET teacher outfoxes board, Dr. Savoie's Hague prescription: readers' responses

Some responses to Patrick Budmar's Feb. 28 Light Gist column, "Teacher outfoxes board, exposes bid to fleece JETs":

Sense of deja vu

This story sounds exactly like what happened to me during my final year on JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme), except my BOE (board of education) supervisor told me that I needed to pay ¥400,000 ($5,000) in shiken minzei -two years of residential tax — that I didn't owe. Before paying it, thank God I also fact checked my supervisor's numbers and talked to the teachers and principals at my schools to prevent her from screwing me over.

Just like the guy in the article, my supervisor used the "It's a rule, so you must pay" line, even after it was clear to both of us that the BOE had miscalculated the budget and I didn't owe the money.

The most disgusting part was that the same BOE supervisor that lied to me and tried to make me pay this tax (even though she knew I didn't owe the tax the entire time!) just smiled at me and was transferred to another department as if nothing had ever happened when it was all over.

I had never felt so betrayed in my life, especially after working so hard to get to know the students in my town for the previous three years. If the mayor wasn't such a nice guy and so supportive of my Japanese fiancee and I during my time on JET, I definitely would have taken this to local NHK or to CLAIR (the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, which manages the JET program).

Thanks for posting this.

A FORMER ALT (2008-2011)
Nagasaki

Let 'newbies' find out themselves

It is true that the Japanese are very kind and indulgent, especially of my strange ways and bad Japanese. And, despite myriad and chronic economic, political, educational, demographic and environmental problems, Japan remains a great place to live and work.

No place is perfect, but Japan is clean and orderly. Things work, and on time, too. The transportation infrastructure is incredible. People care for one another. Or, they pretend to anyway, which might be just as good.

Then there is the rich history and culture to entertain us and the admirable countryside to distract us. If readers like myself occasionally pen critical letters to the media about some points that occupy our thoughts, we can easily come across as unwelcome and ungrateful complainers. Mostly we learn to live here through various necessary amendments to our expectations and standards. Sometimes our personalities are completely reborn, but usually we just knuckle under, keep our mouths shut and go with the flow.

For many long-term foreign residents like myself — people who have set roots here, have families, own property, etc. — the kinds of misadventures of young JET teachers like those described in the article "Teacher outfoxes board, exposes bid to fleece JETS" are quite familiar and, in fact, old news. It's always a bit of entertainment, really, to read about the miscommunications and problems of these young "newbies" as they discover what Japan is really like.

Many young and short-term foreign workers here work and then leave without realizing that the whole time they have only been shown the masks that Japanese wear in front of them. They affect surprise if they discover the existence of the masks and the dark things that lie behind them. Old timers like us might actually deter the youngsters' enthusiasm for the JET vocation if we talked too much, so better let them discover for themselves.

GRANT PIPER
Tokyo

Clarification on residential taxes

Please let me say first that it was very inspiring to read that a foreigner was able to successfully stand up to any Japanese system and win. I've lived here for more than a few years, and have had a fair number of failures in this department. I applaud the JET who went through all this effort.

However, in all fairness, your article could have mentioned a few things:

1) The JET teachers are incredibly lucky to have their residential tax paid for. I'm an English teacher, have worked for various reputable eikaiwa (English conversation schools), and have always had to pay the residential tax. I might be mistaken, but it's my understanding that all Japanese also have to pay their own tax — it's not covered in their salary.

2) In other words, the residential tax is a very real thing. As Japan's national income tax is so low (relatively), the main way citizens are taxed is through this residential tax.

3) The residential tax bill comes first around the end of June. For example, this year in June/July, I will get my "tax booklet" and have to pay my first installment for the 2011 tax year.

Having never been a JET, I'm not exactly sure when their contract is up, but I think it's in the middle of the year. So, whether through honest ignorance or deliberate deception, very often JET teachers, as well as many other foreign teachers who also leave in the middle of the year, simply do not pay the very legitimate city taxes they owe from the year before. As these foreigners often never come back to Japan, the city is then out of money that they are legally owed. This is not right.

These points would have been nice to see in the article.

The supervisor in the story was indeed lying and manipulative, but he probably started to act as such as a result of countless JETs leaving in the middle of the year. These departing JETs leave the school stuck with the bill or, more often, the local government just doesn't get the money it is legally due.

All that said, please keep up the good work! It's tough being a foreigner in Japan sometimes, as we automatically get dismissed as "not knowing what we are talking about." The article was great, and I look forward to seeing more.

BEN JOHNSON
Tokyo

Some responses to Amy J. Savoie's Feb. 21 Hotline to Nagatacho column, "Focus on 'exceptions' waters down abduction pact":

Savoie's view is one-sided

I take strong exception to Amy Savoie's Feb. 21 article.

First, the article is grossly one-sided (having been written by the woman Chris Savoie married soon after divorcing Noriko Savoie).

Second, the article is largely a regurgitation of Debito Arudou's arguments, culled from his homepage and at least one recent article ("The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan's culture of deceit," Nov. 1, 2011) that was heavily criticized by JT readers.

Third, the work of anthropologist Ichiro Numazaki, a good friend of mine, has been misused and belittled. Numazaki did not devise his list of domestic violence signs around the time Japan announced a decision on the Hague Convention (on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction), as Amy Savoie states; it appeared as early as 2002 in a book.

The parties who are misusing the list seem to be unaware of the fact that the definition of violence has changed much over the last 20 or 30 years. Whereas in the past, violence may have meant only physical abuse, today we even speak of structural violence that traps people (e.g. slaves or child laborers) in adverse situations from which they are unable to escape — situations that sound similar to the one that Noriko Savoie seems to have faced in Tennessee ("Friend: Fukuoka woman who took kids felt trapped," Oct. 3, 2009).

Furthermore, two vital elements of the story are missing from the article: 1) information about the divorce, and 2) the perspective of the mother. At the very least, Amy Savoie should admit that she was involved with Chris Savoie while he was still legally married to Noriko Savoie, and that Noriko Savoie was granted primary custody of the children in the USA.

This case actually proves the necessity of making exceptions to the Hague Convention before signing it.

DONALD WOOD
Akita

Kids shouldn't be forced to choose

Dr. Savoie correctly states what all parents who are victims of Japanese international child abduction are profoundly anxious about: All efforts in Japan appear to be being made with the aim of undermining the basic principle of the Hague treaty, which is to restore children to the parent in the jurisdiction from which they were kidnapped, and where it is appropriate that legal determination of the family's custodial rights be made.

What the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice appear to seek from lawmakers with the overemphasis on a series of willful, arbitrary judicial exceptions is Japanese legal business as usual: to ratify and protect criminality in the treatment of children and distort accepted international norms, and to prevent kidnapped children from being returned home.

One point I would add emphasis to with respect to Dr. Savoie's excellent editorial is the developmentally inappropriate child politics that Japanese courts and mediators use now and will continue to use unless serious lessons are learned very fast.

Coaching children to reject the parent from whom they have been abducted will occur, but traumatized, abducted children will be predisposed to do so anyway. Injured children, including and especially those injured by abduction, will always try to ward off bad feelings; and when bad feelings do break through, abducted children will most certainly gradually avoid associating their bad feelings with the loss of their missing parent.

Even less than most adults, they will not be able to unearth where their bad feelings of anger, fear and sadness emanate from, and will cling unhealthily to the remaining attached caregiver, even if the care-giving is full of pathological behavior and destructive attitudes. Such children will decide that they don't want to go back to the home country from which they were abducted every single time, because they will want to avoid uncertainty and will fear the risk of returning to the traumatic point of their abduction, losing one parent and now being pushed into a situation where they will without fail feel they are at risk of losing the other.

Children are in development, so there are reasons to listen to them very closely and right ways to think about doing so, but simply asking children who have already been made victims of a horrific crime for a straightforward opinion with so much loaded onto it is to practice purposeful stupidity.

Asking a traumatized child if he wants to revisit the scariest, most traumatic thing that ever happened to him ("Want to do that again?") is not a care-giving way to help children heal from the crime of abduction.

We, the adults who love our young ones, must be wise and adult enough to make this determination and see that children recover their homes and their parent from their abductors. Nothing less.

BRIAN PRAGER
Astoria, New York

(Father of Louis "Rui Terauchi" Prager, 6, abducted to Japan in June 2010)

In no position to judge

That Ms. Amy Savoie is unable to recognize her husband's uprooting his Japanese children's lives and dumping his wife immediately upon arrival in America as a form of abuse eliminates her from a convincing position of moral outrage concerning the "loopholes" being drawn up by the Japanese government pertaining to the Hague Convention.

It seems uneven to consider this case from an American legal perspective. Why didn't Mr. Savoie divorce his wife in Japan and sue for custody in his children's native land? To have had the advantage of an American court decision is very convenient for Mr. Savoie. Indeed, it seems suspiciously calculated.

Let's quickly forget that he duped then dumped his children's mother in a foreign land and culture for a lover, figuring he could have his cake and eat it, too. I think the fact that Mr. Savoie gambled his children against his lover forfeits any right to indignation he or his current wife have in the matter of loopholes or watered-down pacts.

NAME WITHHELD

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