Monday, February 19

Blog-Power Strikes in Japan

When a Japanese publisher distributes to convenience stores nationwide a magazine dedicated single-mindedly to demonizing foreigners, whom it portrays as lawless, heartless, and lewd, what's a foreign-born resident to do?
In the case of Japan's minority Anglophone community, dispersed throughout the archipelago, the answer was clear: blog, organize, resist. The results of these efforts, made over the first few weeks of February, provide a case study in civic resistance to exploitative racism. And since individually maintained blogs were the main vehicle of resistance, lessons can be drawn as well for the progressive power of blogging. This was something of the sort I had never witnessed in the United States, though perhaps readers can cite analogous cases.

I will let the original Web sites and documents bear witness, inviting readers to click into the story themselves as I limit myself to a thematic progression of events as I understand them.

Blogging: On February 1st, the American-born Japanese citizen Arudou Debito, a tireless activist for human rights in Japan, is alerted by an American-born educator friend of the February 29th publication of "Foreigner-Crime File," and posts scanned pages and a gist of the magazine's contents. The popular website Japan Probe echoes Debito's notification and requests information from readers.

Organization: Eventually, Japan Probe goes a step further and calls for a boycott of Family Mart convenience stores (the first of several stores recognized as carrying the magazine). Debito composes a letter of protest in both English and Japanese that he invites others to politely distribute to store managers in stores where the magazine is sold. Through his efforts and other channels, the foreign press is alerted and articles appear in, among other places, the Guardian and the Times (London) Blog.

Resistance: Perhaps a few dozen people participate in the distribution of letters. As a result of this pressure, as well as the full documentation of the issue online, after an initial gesture of resistance, Family Mart sends letters of apologies to those who had contacted it in protest and orders that the magazine be removed from all of its stores as of February 5th. These steps can be followed blow-by-blow as they are recounted at Debito's blog and Japan Probe, the two prime movers against the magazine and its publisher.

Reflection: It is particularly noteworthy that the magazine's editor responds to his critics at Japan Today. Indeed, Shigeki Saka's comments are themselves a case study in right-wing xenophobia and self-blinding racism. The responses to Mr. Saka by both Debito at his blog and James and other commentators at Japan Probe are forceful and in many ways enlightening.

The curious may peruse the entire magazine online.

One estimate put the total cost of the magazine's production and distribution at a quarter of a million dollars. The publisher, who could not find any sponsors to advertise within its vehicle for hate speech, will surely think twice before once again financing a project of shameless racial scapegoating or assuming that the English-speaking community will not notice when foreigners are viciously targeted in a Japanese-language publication.

The incident surely has increased the organization of the progressive English-speaking community in Japan. It remains to be seen if further chapters will be added to this resounding success.