Jul 21, 2017

Japan's conspiracy law and expat "thoughtcrime"

Japan's conspiracy law and expat "thoughtcrime" photo

In June the Japanese government passed a law to tackle conspiracies to commit terrorism and similarly serious crimes. The law was described by one member of the opposition as “brutal” but prime minister Abe, in support of the bill, described a need, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, to get it passed as soon as possible in order to ratify a UN treaty on organized crime. Amidst fears and protests that such a law could infringe on civil liberties, a vote on the bill had been delayed a number of times. The eventual passing of the law actually skipped the regular channel of committee style voting in the upper house and was put instead to a direct vote by the full chamber. Now, we won’t pretend to know exactly what this means but it has the sound of something that one might be suspicious of, to say the least.  

Of course, tackling terrorism and organized crime on the surface sounds like the duty a populace expects the state to assume. How they go about this though is alway something requiring of our scrutiny. The new law in this case criminalizes the planning of some “277” serious crimes. This expat in Japan is struggling to think of 277 crimes that might fall under terrorism and other nefarious actions of this nature - cigarette rackets, TVs from the backs of trucks? One supposes it’s all down to how specifically these things can be described but it’s already been reported that some “serious crimes” seem to have little ties to terrorism - copying music or sit-ins to protest construction of apartment buildings are those that have been mentioned by the media. 

More broadly, the looming concern about all of this is how the state might expect to police the planning or plotting to commit a crime. The natural progression here is that such policing will require extended surveillance and all the phone tapping, Internet monitoring that comes with that. Beyond this, it isn’t requiring of a great leap to reach the dictatorial territory of thoughtcrime and some dystopian nightmare.  


Perhaps we could be accused of being naive to have not seen this coming, if indeed we hadn’t. Policing in Japan has long been based on prevention - stopping a crime before it’s even happened. We can see this in the almost saturating levels of police presence in Japan (like teachers in the nation’s public schools where students are rarely left to their own devices). And when something terrible does slip through the guard, we too often see levels of incompetence that bring to mind the Keystone Cops, as in the case of the pursuit of Lindsay Hawker murderer Tatsuya Ichihashi who managed to escape the clutches of team of police officers in his bare feet while carrying a rucksack. Ichihashi avoided the authorities for well over two years despite being just about the most infamous person in Japan at the time.

Even before the above mentioned law was passed, prevention of crime in Japan already gave police extraordinary powers. Enter the “Police Duties Execution Act” of which you can find an unofficial translation at Japanese Law Translation. In Article 2 (1) … 

A police official may stop and question any person who is suspected on reasonable grounds of having committed or being about to commit a crime or who is deemed to possess information on a crime which has already been committed or is about to be committed, judging reasonably on the basis of unusual behavior and/or other surrounding circumstances.

Initially this all sounds reasonable enough but on closer inspection we might be concerned about (or at least questioning of) the terms “unusual behavior” and “surrounding circumstances”. Who’s to be the correct judge of what is “unusual”, and what exactly are these “surrounding circumstances”? It all gets a little more confusing when following clauses state that no person will be “conducted to a police station, police box or residential police box by force, or be coerced to answer questions against his or her will.” So does this mean we can just refuse to cooperate? What happens then?

Of course, the likelihood is that all this will pass or slip into place without the average person really being aware of it, as some of it already has been. Or maybe we’ll just accept it and move on, like Brexit, or Trump or any of the other myriad of policies we may or may not agree with.  

No, where we are going with this is something a little lighter - thoughtcrime on the part of expats in Japan. If we are to live under an ever darkening veil of conspiracy why not let’s add a little humor / irreverence to proceedings by taking a look at some of those things expats often think, in opposition / frustration, about life in Japan but will often be lambasted or given the cold stare for expressing.  

No taxation without representation!

Often peddled by expats in Japan who don’t want to pay their residential / city tax, and equally often sneered upon by those that willingly do so, this “thoughtcrime” is one that is policed by expats themselves. The argument being that an expat in Japan doesn’t benefit as much from their residential tax payments as might a local. Hard to disagree with this sentiment as it must surely be true. Either way, an expat still needs someone to come and collect their bins. There was once a time when a relatively short-term could get away with not paying residential tax without consequence but then the authorities tied the payments into visa renewals, so that ended that.

Ultimately, as with many expat gripes of this nature, the long-term expat has heard it all before and has long since run out of sympathy.

That 29.5 - hour work contract isn’t right, is it?

The 29.5 - hour working contract has reached something of legendary proportions in Japan. It’s typically afforded (inflicted on) English teachers. The “thoughtcrime” here being something along the lines of, “ … but I’m actually working about 40 hours a week so why am I only getting paid for 29.5 of them?” Seems to be a reasonable point of concern. The problem is, no one is really listening, least of all the employer who has chosen to set these hours to avoid crossing over to 30 which would mean them having to pay health insurance / pension contributions.  

To be fair, this really is an outrage, but again, few people are listening. Those that do, again, are often those jaded expats who’ve heard it all before and have accepted the futility of it. Similarly, griping about it to Japanese colleagues might grant you some surface sympathy, but the chances are they are earning less money than you, unless you’re an ALT working in the compulsory education system.

They should make kanji easier, right?

This is a “thoughtcrime” policed by locals. Drowning in an ocean of kanji-based frustration around the time of studying for a JLPT I once tried this out on a Japanese colleague. In fact, I think I went a step further and voiced an opinion something along the lines of, “Kanji will become redundant one day, won’t it?!” I chuckle now about how humourlessly and flatly my remarks were disposed of. Still, as I understand it, the Chinese have proffered a simpler version of their characters (which I believe most of the younger generations use, at least in school exams) so there may be hope yet. What am I saying?! The days of Japan following the lead of China have probably passed.

That whaling business? They ought to stop that, no?

It’s a funny thing perspective - it allows for such a gaping chasm of opinion. For some people there are things that are just unquestionably wrong, but then you go to another country and nobody seems to care. Whaling must surely fall into this category where it’s Japan and Norway unflappable in the face of exasperation, sometimes intimidation, and a bellowing collective of “awwwwws” from the rest of the world. What’s probably most frustrating for the anti-whaling lobby is the lack of engagement in meaningful argument and discussion about this with the Japanese. They just simply don’t see a problem. When I’ve tried to have a go, they often offer up some insipid counterpunch about Europeans eating deer. What would make more sense for them to do is to bring up battery farms and slaughterhouses (recalling the famous quote from Paul McCartney - “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”) from which there seems to be little come back, unless you don’t eat food from such sources. But of course, this is all about scientific research not whale sandwiches. I haven’t done any research into what it is that Japanese whalers are researching, but I suspect, like everyone else, that there isn’t much research being done. However, I could be wrong (but I’m still waiting to see some results).  

Manga should be toned down, and swapped for a book when you hit 30?

Actually, maybe this a very much a personal one. I’m not sure. Well, on the graphic nature and appalling, no really distressing treatment of female characters in some Japanese manga I think I’m not alone. In fact I know I’m not. Back in 2015, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, UN special envoy on child protection said the following at the end of a trip to Japan, “When it comes to particular, extreme child pornographic content, manga should be banned,” Prior to De Boer-Buquicchio’s visit, Japan had banned possession of child sexual abuse imagery (Yes, as late as 2014) but this didn’t extend to manga, anime and video games. It all lead to arguments about freedom of expression but ultimately just goes to show how entrenched manga is in Japanese culture. Still, one supposes that no one is actually getting abused (unless you take it from an artistic level).  

As for adults reading manga (of any variety), I suspect this is just me. I’ve voiced this on a number of occasions to the Japanese partner and a bit like the kanji argument, it hasn’t taken off so I think I’ll keep it to myself from now on, if that isn’t a crime.

What purpose does this post serve (we ask reluctantly)? Well, on reflection we thought it might just give a little insight into expat life in Japan, as is our remit, as well as open up some of the issues above to debate or discussion. On reflection, in regards to the 29.5 hours contracts, the fact that people are no longer listening to complaints or concerns is well, not entirely true. There are avenues that can be pursued in regards to this - talking to unions for one, as well as making use of labor consultation services available at many city offices. Quite how far one will be able to get with these, we can’t say but it is true that unions are battling away for the benefit of many expats in Japan. Whether or not you are considering being in Japan long enough to make this fight worth it, is another matter.  

Obviously we’ve made light of much of the above “thoughtcrimes” but at their heart, they are all things worthy of serious consideration, except perhaps the one about kanji which was really just this expat giving over to frustration. I suppose the one lesson to take from this (at least for me) is that it’s no good just going in all guns blazing and expecting people to really listen. A more considered, planned approach would be much more appropriate. Although quite how much “planning” it is now safe to do under the current laws, we can’t be sure! (That last bit was joke!).

Can you think of any thoughtcrimes that an expat might be guilty of in Japan? Let us know in the comments.

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1 Comment

  • SalarymanJim

    on Jul 24

    You'll probably spark plenty of vitriol for saying that people over 30 shouldn't be reading manga!!! How about extending it to 40 instead?!!!