Debito Arudou is an American-born naturalized Japanese citizen. He is a human rights activist as well as a columnist for the Japan Times, covering issues that bear relevance to non-Japanese residents. At the beginning of the year, the Japan Times published these two lists by Arudou, which rank notable events that affected non-Japanese residents in the past decade.

Arudou’s Alien Almanac: 2010

No. 5: Renho joins Kan’s Cabinet
Japanese politicians with international roots are few but not unprecedented. But Taiwanese- Japanese Diet member Renho’s ascension to the Cabinet as minister for administrative reforms has been historic. Requiring the bureaucrats to justify their budgets (famously asking last January, “Why must we aim to develop the world’s No. 1 supercomputer? What’s wrong with being No. 2?”), she has been Japan’s most vocal policy reformer.

Why this matters: Few reformers are brave enough to withstand the national sport of politician-bashing, especially when exceptionally cruel criticism began targeting Renho’s ethnic background. Far-rightist Diet member Takeo Hiranuma questioned her very loyalty by saying, “She’s not originally Japanese.” (Just Be Cause, Feb. 2) Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara expanded the focus by claiming people in the ruling coalition had foreign backgrounds, and were therefore selling Japan out as a “duty to their ancestors” (JBC, May 4). Fortunately, it did not matter. In July’s elections, Renho garnered a record 1.7 million votes in her constituency, and retained her Cabinet post, regardless of her beliefs and roots.

To read the full list, click here.

Arudou’s Alien Almanac: 2000-2010

No. 5: The Otaru onsen case (’99-2005)
This lawsuit followed the landmark Ana Bortz case of 1999, where a Brazilian plaintiff sued and won against a jewelry store in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, that denied her entry for looking foreign. Since Japan has no national law against racial discrimination, the Bortz case found that United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination (CERD), which Japan signed in 1995, has the force of law instead. The Otaru case (Zeit Gist, June 3, 2008) (in which, full disclosure, your correspondent was one plaintiff) attempted to apply penalties not only to an exclusionary bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, but also to the Otaru city government for negligence. Results: Sapporo’s district and high courts both ruled the bathhouse must pay damages to multiple excluded patrons. The city government, however, was exonerated.

Why this matters: Although our government has repeatedly said to the U.N. that “racial discrimination” does not exist in Japan (“discrimination against foreigners” exists, but bureaucrats insist this is not covered by the CERD, the Otaru case proved it does, establishing a cornerstone for any counterargument. However, the Supreme Court in 2005 ruled the Otaru case was “not a constitutional issue,” thereby exposing the judiciary’s unwillingness to penalize discrimination expressly forbidden by the Constitution.

Regardless, the case built on the Bortz precedent, setting standards for NJ seeking court redress for discrimination (providing you don’t sue the government). It also helped stem a tide of “Japanese only” signs spreading across the country.

To read the full list, click here.

Click here for a pdf of both lists as published together in the paper edition of the Japan Times on January 4, 2011.