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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

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The top 10 Zeit Gist articles of the past decade, chosen by the readers

1. Battling a broken system, by RICHARD CORY

One day in March, just minutes after my daughter and I returned home from celebrating her graduation from elementary school that morning, her mother, from whom I had filed for divorce in January after 17 years of marriage, lured my daughter out of the house, shoved her into a taxi and took off for the local ward welfare office (fukushi jimusho), where her mother claimed domestic violence.

A social worker met the taxi outside the office and gave the driver directions to a shelter, which was located in Shinjuku Ward within the Yamanote Line. The welfare office then encouraged the mother to unofficially change her and my daughter's first and last names, and the newly christened Michiko Watanabe was then enrolled in a school just steps from the apartment. The mother visited the school and asked the principal to help protect Michiko from her foreign father.

Life at the shelter was comfortable. The accommodations were sizable and modern, and included 20 private Japanese-style rooms. Personal laundry was washed, dried and folded daily. Youngsters were given an hour of Japanese and math study through work sheets each weekday morning, followed by cakes, cookies and the like at around 3 p.m. And all this was provided at taxpayer expense for two weeks.

And life was hunky-dory! Or at least that's the illusion the welfare office attempted to sell . . .

Twenty days after her abduction, after being moved twice, renamed, repeatedly beaten and told never to speak of her mixed heritage, my daughter was rescued by me from this state-created hell, an infernal abyss of a mess in a country that so effusively prides itself on its care for children.

The family court then had to spend the next four months attempting to clean up the welfare office's mess. And in July, Tokyo's family court granted me, an American, physical custody (kangoken) of my 13-year-old daughter exactly 120 days after she was abducted by my Japanese wife, a lifelong public servant employed as a teacher at a state school in Tokyo.

This just may be the first time that Japan's family court has awarded a foreign father custody of a Japanese child after a successful abduction by the child's Japanese mother.

The times they are a-changin'. Or are they?

2. Punishing foreigners, exonerating Japanese, by DEBITO ARUDOU

Examine any justice system and patterns emerge. For example, consider how Japan's policing system treats non-Japanese. Zeit Gist has discussed numerous times how police target and racially profile foreigners under anticrime and antiterrorism campaigns.

But the bias goes beyond cops and into criminal prosecution, with Japanese courts treating suspects differently according to nationality. We've already tackled the subject of how judges discount testimony from foreigners (Zeit Gist, Aug. 14, 2007), but here's the emerging pattern: If you are a Japanese committing a crime toward a non-Japanese, you tend to get off lightly. Vice versa and you "haven't a Chinaman's chance," as it were.

If you're a foreigner facing Japan's criminal justice system, you can be questioned without probable cause on the street by police, apprehended for "voluntary questioning" in a foreign language, incarcerated perpetually while in litigation, and treated differently in jurisprudence than a Japanese.

Feeling paranoid? Don't. Just don't believe the bromide that Japanese are a "peaceful, law-abiding people by nature." They're actually scared stiff of the police and the public prosecutor. So should you be.

For until official government policy changes to make Japan more receptive to immigration, non-Japanese will be treated as a social problem and policed as such.

3. Evidence for Agent Orange on Okinawa by JON MITCHELL

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Carefree: Joe Sipala rides his motorcycle past a barrel of Agent Orange (the third one from the left) while serving in the military on Okinawa. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE SIPALA

In the late 1960s, James Spencer was a United States Navy longshoreman on Okinawa's military docks. "During this time, we handled all kinds of cargo, including these barrels with orange stripes on them. When we unloaded them, they'd leak and the Agent Orange would get all over us. It was as if it were raining."

Records from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs contain hundreds of similar accounts of Agent Orange on Okinawa during the late 1960s and early '70s, a time when the island was under U.S. rule and served as a forward base for the American war in Vietnam.

The testimonies reveal that the dioxin-laden herbicide was not only stored in large quantities on Okinawa before being transported to the war zone, but also that it was routinely used to clear weeds on military installations and tested in the Yanbaru jungle. This protracted, widespread use of Agent Orange on the island has left many of the service members who handled it seriously ill.

4. Women, know your place know your place by KRIS KOSAKA

I propose all Japanese women, at the age of 10, enter matrimonial arts academies. The curriculum will center on how to make life pleasant for men and children, and such courses as "Household Funds" or "How to Raise a Chauvinistic Male" will ensure society regains a clarity and unity of purpose so lacking in today's confused world.

Seminars such as "How to Pour Beer into your Husband's Glass with Minimal Foam" or "Bathing Children While Maintaining a Pristine Bath" will ensure Japanese women learn the skills and develop the talents necessary for their existence. The arts and sports will not be forgotten: Japanese women should also take classes such as "Ten-Second Makeup and Skin Care."

5. Following in our fingerprints by KATHLEEN MORIKAWA

It was a quarter of a century ago on an autumn day in 1982 that I decided to engage in a small act of civil disobedience by refusing to give my fingerprint. Little did I realize I was stepping into a decades-long controversy that would be both an education and a circus.

But my refusal was really born of a simple sentiment: When would enough be enough? Well, it was a long, hard slog but we finally got fingerprinting abolished. I am now of the obaasan generation, and what do you know? My prints are in demand once again and down in Kanto the old, yellow index-finger balloon of the 1980s protests has been resurrected.

6. Is it all over for Nova? by BEN STUBBINGS

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"The dark clouds that have been hanging heavily over us will be cast aside," reads the English translation of Nova Corp. CEO Nozomu Sahashi's memo faxed to staff Friday. "I said previously 'the darkest time is before the dawn,' and finally the first light of dawn can be seen."

Nova is on the rocks, and the rosy forecast from the man at the helm of the Osaka-based eikaiwa behemoth may not be enough to reassure members of the 7,000-strong Nova crew, including some 5,000 foreigners, that the company isn't sinking — particularly as Japan's biggest conversation school chain plans to abandon at least 200 of its 900 branches, according to reports.

Rounding out the top 10:

7. 'The last flies of summer' by Jon Mitchell, Sept. 22, 2009

8. Demise of crime mag historic by Debito Arudou, March 20, 2007

9. Confessions of a foreign correspondent by David McNeill, Sept. 23, 2003

10. Mascots on a mission to explain the mundane by Colin P.A. Jones, Aug. 30, 2011

Results were based on readers' votes cast by filling in a form on the Japan Times Online website

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