Oct 062015

A month or so ago, I wrote an article saying that I disagreed with OneBookShelf’s decision to start refusing to sell “offensive content”. In the discussion of that on my Facebook page, a number of people expressed incredulity at the idea that anyone might have a right to be sold. That comment thread was not a good place to discuss the issue, and I promised to come back to it. It’s taken some time, but this article will address that question, and related issues, in more detail. Three thousand words of more detail, it turns out.

First, I should sketch out my basic position. I start from the foundations of classical liberalism: freedom and equality. That is, everyone should have as much freedom as possible, and everyone’s freedom is equally important. I believe that the state’s role is to ensure that everyone has as wide a range of opportunities for action as possible. This means that people need to be healthy, educated, financially secure, and living in a peaceful, orderly state with a functioning infrastructure, so the state ends up being quite substantial. In addition, I do not think that freedom is purely the concern of the state. I think that ensuring the freedom of others must be an important part of anyone’s personal ethics, and that someone acting in a way that excessively limits the freedom of others is behaving unethically.

On the other hand, material property is not that significant to me. People only have a right to private property because, on the whole, that maximises their freedom and ability to plan their lives, so there is no problem with taxation to ensure that other people also have that freedom. Conversely, there is no reason to seek material equality, although particularly gross inequality may well limit the freedom of many people, particularly the poor. Thus, I am neither a libertarian nor a socialist, although in practice I think I tend to end up closer to the socialists on economic policy, and closer to the libertarians on social policy.

I don’t claim that this position is obviously right and indisputable, and there are many difficult problems to be solved if it is to be put into practice. However, in this article I’m not going to defend it, and I will do my best not to respond to comments querying it. As I mentioned, this is already 3,000 words long, and it would be far longer if I tried to deal with those issues. What I do plan to do is engage, in detail, with one of the difficult problems: should DriveThruRPG sell products like Tournament of Rapists?

The Right to be Sold

Let me start from the point that raised the most incredulity: the claim that there is something like a right to be sold for publishers of RPG material. No-one commenting on my article thought that the authors of Tournament of Rapists should be legally prevented from writing and publishing it. Some people do, but my commenters were mostly authors and publishers, so they can see the clear threat to freedom of speech involved in going that way. What they could not see was why those considerations obliged DriveThruRPG to sell it.

The discussion did allow me to clarify my own position in my own mind. It is not purely about freedom of expression; it is also about freedom of employment.

First, freedom of expression. Recall that I do not think that freedom is purely the concern of the state. If a certain private entity has an effective monopoly, or even a near-monopoly, on important means of expression, then that private entity acquires obligations to protect freedom of expression, even if it strongly disagrees with some of the content. The same applies to an oligopoly, except in that case the obligation is that they collectively protect freedom of expression. For example, if there are only five major newspapers, but they all have similar circulations, and all can easily be purchased, then as long as any opinion can find a publisher in at least one newspaper, the individual newspapers are free to exclude people with whom they disagree. If, however, all of the publishers disagree with, say, Islam, they do have an obligation to publish Muslim pieces, despite their disagreement. If they do not, Muslims are effectively deprived of freedom of expression.

This is, essentially, the idea that society can silence minorities by depriving them of a platform, and the claim that media outlets have a moral obligation to provide such a platform. I would also say that the state is permitted to force the media outlets to provide a platform.

On this basis, DTRPG probably does not need to sell Tournament of Rapists if Paizo or e23 is happy to do so. Paizo and e23 are not as big as DTRPG, by a large margin, but they are probably still big enough to count as providing a reasonable platform for expression. “Selling from your own website”, however, probably does not. (On the other hand, in table-top roleplaying, publishers have no obligation to publish anything they dislike, because “start your own publisher” is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.)

This raises an important point about these rights. The obligations of private entities depend on the scale of their influence. An independent bookshop has no individual obligation to support freedom of speech, because it is clearly possible to sell a book elsewhere. If that independent bookshop develops into a national chain that is the only way to acquire books in most cities, then it acquires obligations to sell anything (through special order, if necessary; they are not obliged to stock everything). Obviously, then, there is an empirical question about just how big and influential an entity is, and this will not always be easy to answer. However, the fact that some moral questions are difficult is not a reason to abandon morality.

Next, freedom of employment. The freedom to choose your own career is guaranteed by the Japanese constitution (Article 22), and it is a fundamental part of any meaningful freedom. It is, however, a difficult freedom to pin down. We cannot sensibly say that I have the right to be a world-famous film star. On the other hand, it does seem reasonable to say that I have the right to try to be a film star, to audition for roles at least. It also seems reasonable to criticise the film industry if it simply never hires, say, black people or women to play leading roles. Black people and women also have the right to aim at being film stars. Saying what this means in detail is very hard, so I’m not going to even try to address the general question here. Instead, I want to consider what it means for table-top roleplaying.

First, it is obvious that no-one has anything approaching a right to make a living wage in table-top roleplaying. In our industry, that dizzy height is reserved for the people who achieve major break-out success. Equally, there is no right to a proper job, with medical insurance and a pension. However, no-one should be excluded from being a freelancer, and for historically excluded groups that means that it is a good thing if publishers actively encourage them. One feature of our industry is that most publishers are micro-companies run in their owners’ spare time, and such publishers can compete with the largest companies we have. This is, I think, a very good thing. If a group of conservative Muslims decide that nothing available in roleplaying reflects their experience or the games they want to play, they can start a publishing company and publish the game.

However, they must be able to offer it for sale to the public. We are talking about the right to employment, not the right to a hobby, so new publishers must be able to offer their product to the market. That is the equivalent, in our industry, of applying for a job. Further, you must be able to offer it to most of the market, because otherwise there is no chance at all of making any money. The market is tiny to start with; restricting access to a small fraction of it is effectively a bar.

For electronic products, I believe this means that you must be able to sell on DTRPG. I don’t think Paizo or e23 is large enough (and the numbers I have heard from people who sell on two or more of those sites backs this up). If someone is to have a genuine chance to apply for the job of RPG publisher, they must be able to sell on DTRPG. This only applies to DTRPG, because of its size and dominance. Paizo can refuse anyone it likes, because it is small and largely irrelevant if you aren’t selling Pathfinder products, and not critical even if you are.

An analogous situation to DTRPG refusing to offer something for sale because of its content would be 1950s Hollywood refusing to hire people because they were, say, Communists. It would, effectively, deprive people of the freedom to even attempt a career in a particular field.

To summarise, then, freedom of expression suggests that DTRPG probably, for ethical reasons, offer Tournament of Rapists for sale, while freedom of employment provides an much stronger argument that it is obliged to.

Safe Spaces

“But what sort of signal does that send to women?” I hear you ask. The signal it ought to send is “Even if you want to write an RPG inspired by 50 Shades of Grey, you will be able to offer it for sale on DTRPG. We respect your freedom to try to work in this industry, not matter what you want to write”. The argument that group A can only be welcomed if group B is excluded is one that is frequently used by powerful groups to exclude and oppress minorities, and it is a bad argument. In a free society, you have to accept that you are living with people with whom you strongly disagree, and that you will see evidence of them doing things you disagree with. This is why conservative Christians have to put up with same-sex marriage, and why feminists have to put up with rape fetishists (but not rapists).

The problem that must be taken seriously here is that of “triggering”. For some people, certain themes or images provoke extremely strong negative reactions, and cause significant distress. The correct response to this is not “Free Speech! Get Over It!”. However, the correct response is not easy to determine.

Let us take food allergies as an analogy. I am very aware of the risk of trivialisation here. Food allergies can kill their sufferers, painfully, in a matter of minutes, and interfere significantly with eating, an activity necessary for life. Psychological distress caused by a hobby game product is not even close to being the same level of problem. However, this does mean that a response that is appropriate to food allergies cannot be an inadequate response to triggering, although it could be an over-reaction. If it turns out that food-allergy-like policies could be implemented without imposing excessive burdens, then that’s fine; when we are talking about the risk of harming people, some degree of over-reaction is good, as long as it does not cause other problems.

These days, I suppose most people know how food allergies are dealt with. Food products are clearly labelled with the common allergens that they contain; in Japan, there appears to be a standard set. This does lead to slightly daft situations, such as packets of mixed nuts with “Warning: Contains Nuts” printed on, but “slightly daft” is much better than “accidentally killed someone”. Further, these steps are taken even in cases where there is some doubt about the existence or prevalence of the allergy. For example, it is somewhat controversial as to whether gluten intolerance is actually a thing (although I think the consensus is that it is), and its prevalence is very controversial. Even so, “gluten” is listed, and gluten-free products are available. Even if it is not really a problem, gluten-containing products are still available for the people who want to consume them, so it is reasonable to issue a warning for people who may, genuinely, need to avoid it.

Moreover, I believe that in many cases it is possible to overcome food allergies, and, obviously, a good idea to do so. Nevertheless, this cannot be done instantly, and we have no right to force people to do so. Thus, the information should be made available, and people with allergies should be able to avoid those foods. Obviously, people with very unusual allergies cannot expect everything to be labelled, so they have to ask about ingredients individually.

Note that labelling a product as containing nuts is in no way a judgement of the culinary worth of the product. It is simply a warning so that people who are allergic to nuts can avoid it.

Can a similar approach be taken to roleplaying products? It seems so. DTRPG already has an “adult” filter, although it is applied very inconsistently. (I find it astounding that the Worlds of Darkness are not behind the filter, for example, given that every book includes an explicit “this is mature content” warning, and most books include nudity.) With a bit of thought and research, themes that seem likely to cause serious distress to a large number of people could be filtered out.

The immediately obvious theme is sexual violence. This is distressing to a large number of people, and should clearly be flagged, and people should be able to hide it from themselves. I think this is a very good idea.

Another theme is “nipples”. Sorry, nudity. This is largely a US hang-up, but it is quite an important one there, so people should be able to exclude such products from their searches.

However, there is another important class that seems to get overlooked: phobias. Arachnophobia is not a rare condition, and such people can be triggered by pictures of spiders. It might not be obvious to someone new to the hobby that “City of the Drow” is likely to contain lots of giant spider pictures, so it should be possible to hide spiders. Snakes and blood are also common problems, as I understand it.

More generally, it should be possible to filter out horror games in general. The whole point of horror games is to take disturbing images and work them into the game, because some people enjoy that. However, it is not always obvious from the title that something is horror, and the blurbs themselves are sometimes disturbing, so filtering them from searches should be an easily available option.

It is also an undeniable fact that a large number of people in the US and the rest of the world claim to be deeply offended and upset by portrayals of same-sex sexual relationships. Now, I think that it would be better for them to get over it, but, as with food allergies, that is unlikely to be instant, and we do not get to tell them that they must change. I think it would be wise to include a “LGBT” filter. It could even be made bivalent, so that you could set DTRPG to only show you LGBT products, something that the LGBT community might find useful. In fact, all the filters could be set up like that, to make it clear that this is not a moral judgement.

The filter topics are not obvious, and would require some research. If we use “internet outrage” as our standard (and this is not a bad standard; avoiding internet outrage is a sensible strategy for a company), then sexual violence, nudity, explicit sexual content, and LGBT content are the current leading issues. If we use “clinical prevalence of people who are triggered”, then I have no idea what the list will be, but it could be very different. Research would be necessary. Indeed, it might be a good idea to cover both: internet hot-button issues mainly for PR reasons, and clinically prevalent reasons primarily to protect vulnerable people.

The elephant in the room, as far as RPGs are concerned, is violence. I am sure some people are triggered by violence, but a filter to hide all violent RPGs would leave you with nothing but Golden Sky Stories. (The “spiders” filter would get it, however.) It is true that violence is ubiquitous in US entertainment, but in most fields it is not quite as all-consuming as it is in tabletop RPGs. Even computer games seem to do better in this respect. Still, this is not DTRPG’s problem, and I am exaggerating (very slightly) for rhetorical effect.

It does, however, bring home the point that, if everything that contains a fairly common trigger were placed behind a filter that was on by default, DTRPG would display no products to the casual browser, and that would almost certainly be very bad for business. As this was another objection that was raised to my position, I’d like to conclude by considering it.

The Duty to Go Bankrupt

It was suggested that, if DTRPG were to sell Tournament of Rapists, the backlash would drive them out of business. Can we really require them to do something that will drive them out of business?

In general, the answer is “yes”. If you can only sell cars by adding software to cheat the emissions tests, then you should be driven out of the business of selling cars. Going back to my fundamental position, no-one has the right to a job that requires excessive restrictions on the freedoms of others. However, the answer in this specific case is not obvious. The fact that, sometimes, going out of business is the only ethical option does not mean that it always is.

The filter problem is a good example of this. DTRPG probably would go out of business if the filters were on by default. That means that it is permissible to have them off by default, as long as casual browsers can easily turn them on, and the user interface for doing so is very easy to find. Requiring someone who is triggered by violence to click on a “trigger filters” link and then select “hide violence” is not an unreasonable restriction of freedom, particularly if the alternative is going out of business.

What about the original question? What if the backlash against a product would drive the company out of business?

The first thing to note is that, if this would actually happen, the group threatening the boycott is not a marginalised group; it is the dominant group in the industry. Furthermore, it is a dominant group trying to drive a marginalised group out completely. (If you think the Black Tokyo line is mainstream, you need to learn a bit more about our hobby.) So, the question is, is it ethically permitted to cave in to a dominant group in its attempts to exclude a minority, if the alternative is going out of business?

This is a hard problem. I think you should err on the side of not caving in, because boycotts are almost never as effective as threatened, and we know from history how easy it is to get caught up in persecuting people. In this case, I do not think that the backlash would drive DTRPG out of business, particularly if they were introducing more consistent trigger filters at the same time.

Three thousand words later, where am I? (I would say “where are we?”, but I doubt anyone has read this far.) I still think that DTRPG is making the wrong decision, and that it should be selling offensive content. I also think that it should be working on better filtering for triggering content, so that people can make the site into a safe browsing environment for themselves, without restricting the freedom of others to aim at a career in table-top roleplaying games.

Sep 042015

On September 1st, OneBookShelf, the company that runs DriveThruRPG, announced an offensive content policy in reaction to the outrage over a product entitled “Tournament of Rapists”. Steve Wieck, the CEO, published a blog post explaining his decision. It is a thoughtful and serious attempt to wrestle with a difficult issue, and one that recognises the complexity of the situation, particularly the fact that OneBookShelf’s marketplace dominance means that its decision to not sell a product is de facto censorship. Nevertheless, I think he came to the wrong decision. There are several reasons, and I will start from the least serious. (If you haven’t read his blog post, it would be a good idea, because the rest of this post will make little sense without it.)

First, I think it will be very hard to implement the reporting policy. It will have to be limited to genuine accounts, so “genuine accounts” will have to be defined, and there will have to be a way to block people who use it frivolously, so there will need to be a definition of “frivolous reporting”. Neither of these will be easy to determine, let alone code. It will almost certainly have to be limited to people who have bought the product in question, but I doubt that OBS will be in a legal or financial situation to offer refunds. A product that has been challenged and passed will have to be removed from the flagging system, which means that OBS will put a badge of approval on fairly offensive books and high profile books that attracted protest flags, but not on uncontroversial books from small publishers. It’s going to be messy.

Second, the new policy is a PR disaster waiting to happen. If Mr Wieck is serious in his intention to err in the side of permitting books, and I believe him, then at some point he is going to refuse to drop a product that someone in the SJW community has challenged. Now, you and I know that there is a big difference between “This is bad, but not bad enough to justify banning it” and “I am a wholehearted supporter of the ideology expressed in this product”, but do you seriously think that the internet mob is going to respect that distinction? Similarly, it is very likely that he is going to have to exclude someone in the SJW community from the flagging system, because they are flagging too many books that don’t merit censorship. At this point, he is not only Steve Wieck, rape advocate, he is also an agent of white male oppression, silencing the voices of queer women of colour.

If the disaster waits for a month after the implementation of the policy, I will be pleasantly surprised.

Third, this was a major change to fundamental policy made as a snap response to a single crisis. By a roleplayer! All GMs know that it is a really bad idea to make general changes to house rules at the table in response to a problem that has just come up in play. You make a spot ruling to fix that problem, then think about a suitable general response, discuss it with the players, and come back in a week or two with the longterm solution. This principle becomes more important as the decision becomes more important. I realise that the internet feels that taking an hour to respond is a clear sign that you are ignoring their concerns, but the internet is wrong. A couple of days is the right timeframe to make a decision about this case; a month, at least, is an appropriate time frame to make decisions about the longterm policy. These snap decisions are almost always bad, and very often illiberal.

Now, those three reasons are quite important for OBS, but not good enough reasons for me to stick my head above the parapet. That’s reserved for the final reason.

I think it is an unethical decision.

No-one will be surprised to learn that this is a free speech issue. I find it a little difficult to make this point, because I actually agree with the SJWs that this particular product was almost certainly harmful and unethical. I haven’t read it, as it has been censored, but it is in the tentacle porn genre, and what I have seen of that genre convinces me that, in general, it valorises hurtful and harmful attitudes to women, sex, and female sexuality, and I am concerned that it might actually promote them as well. I think it is unethical to make and publish such things.

However, freedom of speech applies to unethical, harmful, and hurtful speech. Indeed, this is exactly the speech it has to apply to. No-one tries to ban speech they think is harmless. The people trying to ban RPGs for being Satanic in the 1980s didn’t sit there thinking “What harmless hobby should we try to ban? My DM killed my thief, so let’s try to ban D&D!”. They (at least most of them) genuinely believed that RPGs were harmful. Yes, there were some bandwagon-riders, I’m sure, but I’m equally sure that that’s true of the SJWs. Freedom of speech means protecting people’s right to say things that you believe are wrong, harmful, and pernicious. It also means defending your right to criticise them for being unethical, but you must not silence them, and you must not try to exclude them from the general marketplace, whether of ideas or of products.

Now, that does not mean that you cannot try to create a marketplace or environment where they are not present, but that must be, in an important sense, a marginal environment. Safe spaces are important, but you must not create them by excluding groups from the main space. You can limit certain sorts of behaviour, such as harassment, but speech has to be free. (And yes, I have thought about the distinction, but this is going to be too long anyway, so I’m not going to go into it here.)

I think that preserving this sort of freedom, the freedom to say unethical things, and make hurtful and harmful statements, is an essential part of social justice. That is why I have abbreviated the standard name to “SJW”. The people strongly advocating this censorship are, in this case, fighting against social justice.

Now, there are a lot of points on which I agree with the SJWs, from the judgement that “Tournament of Rapists” is almost certainly harmful and unethical to the need to create societies that are more inclusive of people who are not members of the dominant group. I’m generally in favour of quotas to drive the participation of historically excluded groups, such as women, because waiting for it to happen naturally seems to be far too slow. I would like to work with them on those issues, which is why I have avoided criticising them on the points I don’t agree with in the past. But freedom of speech is too important. If we got everything else and lost freedom of speech, even for rape fetishists, we would not have created a just society. I fear that this will mean I won’t be able to cooperate with them in the future, although I hope I am wrong about that.

I should say that, as ad hominem arguments appear to be de rigueur in this field, that although I am a white, cis, heterosexual man, I live in Japan, so I am not a member of the socially dominant group. I have chaired a meeting attended by several Japanese men (that is, members of the locally dominant group) who had expressed their hostility and intent to confront us online, in advance. The local police thought that their comments made it wise to send a squad of riot police (out of sight) and a couple of plain clothes officers (in the audience) to ensure my safety and that of my colleagues. And I still called on the hostile group to speak, several times, as long as they confined themselves to speaking, even though they were arguing that we, as non-Japanese, should not be allowed to speak out about social issues. When they got a bit too vehement, the police encouraged them to quietly leave the room, and they did. I am fully aware, from personal experience, of what it is like to be a member of a minority and to face hostility from members of the majority, to have members of the majority try to silence you, to face a real risk of violence from them, and to live in a culture in which you are not the norm and do not blend in. I do not take that to be a reason to restrict freedom of speech, no matter how hurtful and harmful the speech, as long as it is restricted to speech.

So, what do I think OBS should do? I think they should rescind the decision. They should say something like “On reflection, we over-reacted to an internet campaign. While we are glad that the publisher chose to withdraw the product in question, and hope that it does not reappear, free speech is an extremely important part of social justice. We will not be implementing any censorship on our sites.”. Yes, this will cause a massive explosion of outrage. As I mentioned earlier, however, I don’t think they can avoid that at this point, and if they take a stand in favour of free speech they can, at least, expect to have allies, and the confidence that comes from knowing you are doing the right thing.

But I know that reasonable people sometimes disagree with me, even about ethical issues, and even about important ethical issues. As I said to start with, I think Mr Wieck has thought seriously about the right problems here, and while I think I should publicly disagree with his decision, I don’t think he is a bad person for making it, nor do I plan to boycott OBS over it. I hope he changes his mind, but I hope he changes his mind because he is convinced, not because he has been threatened.

Edit: I have posted a follow-up going into more detail about my ethical position on this, and the reasons for it.

Jul 252015

Recently, I read a couple of articles that made me think. One was an open letter to Japanese people from a black man, listing a lot of “microaggressions” that black people suffer here, and posted on another blog. Another was the article “The Cultural Theory of Race: Yet Another Look at Du Bois’s “The Conservation of Races””, by Chike Jeffers, in Ethics Vol 123 (pages 403-426, 2013). One of the things they made me think about was the question “are there any black people in Japan?”.

In a biological sense, there obviously are. In this sense, black people are people with very dark skin, of African ancestry. There aren’t very many; looking at the statistics from the Ministry of Justice, and making some estimates, it looks like there might be about 25,000, or about 0.02% of the population. That could get up as high as 0.05%, I think, but not much higher than that. (Foreigners as a whole are only 2% of the population, and the great majority are Asian.) By comparison, the Amish are about 0.07% of the US population, if Wikipedia’s statistics are accurate.

However, biologically, “race” has been known to have no solid grounding for decades. Indeed, serious doubts have been cast on the idea that “race” is a biological concept since Du Bois’s “The Conservation of Races”, which was published in 1897. In a fairly recent study of genetic diversity, it was discovered that sub-Saharan Africans have more genetic diversity than everyone else, and, if I recall correctly, that there was no sensible way to draw a line that included all sub-Saharan Africans, but did not include every living human being. This is not unexpected; human beings originated in sub-Saharan Africa, so people outside that region are descended from people who made it across the desert or the ocean, a fairly limited subset. While concepts of “race” do pick up on biological features — skin colour is a biological feature, after all — the issues of how those features are interpreted as “race” are socially constructed, and most people working on these issues accept that some form of social construction is important.

There is a second sense in which there obviously are black people in Japan. This is the cultural sense, in which “black” is a culture which, according to Jeffers, includes not only US blacks, but also black Africans, and black people from other countries. The author of the open letter would not agree with drawing the boundaries so broadly, I think, but if we restrict the culture to “US black culture”, then there are clearly members of that culture in Japan. Again, not many; a lot of the “biologically” black people I estimated above are from Africa, for example.

The last sense is the interesting one for my purposes. Jeffers describes this as the political construction of blackness, and accepts it as an important part of the definition and origin of blackness:

[R]acial divisions as we know them today are the ideological and institutional products of modern European expansion, with its expropriation of non-European lands and subjugation of non-European peoples. On this view, the origin of something called the black race is to be located in the enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans and the colonization of Africa.

It is, in my opinion, undeniable that race, in this sense, has a massive impact on the lives of black people in the USA, and also in the UK. However, are there any black people, in this sense, in Japan?

First, and most obviously, Japan does not have a history of enslaving sub-Saharan Africans or colonising Africa. Black people living in Japan are not living in a culture with that historical background. This does mean that there are things it may be acceptable for a Japanese person to say or do that would not be acceptable for a white person, because the Japanese person has not inherited those legacies. At the very least, it means that that history of the black people cannot be simply assumed to be part of the background in Japan; one would need to argue for it.

To put this most starkly, the Japanese have less historical responsibility for the enslavement of black people than black people do, because some black people were involved in the slave trade, and no Japanese were. The history of the USA is not the history of Japan, and Japan has an entirely different historical legacy to deal with. There is nothing in Japanese history that suggests that “black” would be politically constructed as a racial category here.

Second, there do not seem to be large differences between the black and white experiences in Japan. I wrote a year or so ago about the fact that white people in Japan do not have so-called “White Privilege”. The results of the Kawasaki survey of foreign residents suggest that white people suffer significantly from racism, although the results do not directly apply to those categories. (There aren’t enough black people in Kawasaki to pick them out; a quick estimate based on nationalities suggests that there are probably about 300 to 400 black people in Kawasaki in total, which means we would have needed to send every single one of them a survey, and get a better response rate than we actually did, to have enough for statistical analysis.)

Further, if we go back to the an open letter, I find it extremely easy to believe that this happens, because a lot of these, or their analogues, have happened to me or are notorious for happening to other white people. 1 & 2 happen to white people all the time, as do 6, and 8, and 11, and 12, and 16. There are, obviously, different stereotypes about white people, but “please don’t assume that all white people are American”, “please don’t assume that all white people speak English”, “don’t talk about Europe as if it is a country; it is a continent”. The number of people who, on learning that I am English and from Manchester, assume that I like tea and Manchester United is really astounding. (For the record, I’m not that interested in football in the first place, and when I was a child I eighth-heartedly supported City. And I strongly prefer green tea.) The black experience in Japan sounds very similar to the white one.

Obviously, I do not know what it is like to be black in Japan. I am white, and so only know, from personal experience, what it is like to be white here. On the other hand, black people in Japan do not know what it is like to be white in Japan, because they have not had that experience. For a long time, I thought that the experiences were very different, because that was what everyone said. However, the Kawasaki survey undermined some of those conventional certainties: Chinese and Koreans do not face more racism than westerners. The open letter from the black man undermines it further. The experience he describes sounds a lot like my experience.

This is very different from the USA or Europe. White people in the USA or Europe do have white privilege. I know; I’ve lived in both areas (admittedly only for a few weeks at a time in the US), and I know what it’s like. White people in those countries do not face the sorts of comments and behaviour picked out in the open letter. When I hear black people describe their experiences of life in the USA or Europe, it sounds nothing like my experience of life there. However, as I said, that’s not the case for their experiences in Japan. This is another reason for doubting that “black” is a (politically constructed) racial category in Japan.

Finally, “black person” and “white person” are not terms that get used much in Japan. That is, people do not actually use “black” as a racial category. They exist, certainly (“kokujin” and “hakujin”, respectively), but they are most often used in the context of reporting American news. That is fair. Japanese people know that these are important categories in the USA, and so use them when reporting what is happening there. On the other hand, they do not use them in normal conversation. I recent days, I’ve had a couple of conversations where it would have been most obvious, to me, to talk about “white people”, in one case because the topic was what someone looked like, but the Japanese person never went for “hakujin” as a term. Instead, they used terms for “western European”, or “European”, or “American”, with obvious discomfort because they were clearly aware that not everyone in those areas is white.

That raises the question of the categories that the Japanese do use. The big one is “foreigner” (“gaikokujin”, or “gaijin” when people aren’t being careful about being polite). That, obviously, includes black and white people, and also includes a lot of Asian people. Another one is “westerner” (“ōbeijin”, literally “Europe America People”, but it tends to include Australians and New Zealanders as well). It is true that the default image of a westerner is a white person, but black westerners are still westerners. So, it could be argued that the reason black people and white people have very similar experiences in Japan on this dimension is that, in Japan, they are the same race. Just as Japanese people produce different stereotypes when they learn I’m British (You drink tea! You like beer! You are very polite!), they produce different stereotypes when faced with a black westerner, but they are still stereotypes of westerners. Black Africans probably do face different stereotypes, connected to the “Africa is nothing but war and starving children” stereotype, and may be a separate racial category, but there are so few of them (under 250 Africans in Kawasaki, or less than 0.02% of the population) that there might not actually be a category for them.

A connected point is that one of the important racial categories in Japan is “mixed” (“haafu”, from the Japanese pronunciation of “half”, as in “half-Japanese”). This applies no matter what Japanese is mixed with; one of my daughter’s friends is mixed Chinese-Japanese, so she looks no different from a typical Japanese person, but she is still a “haafu”. It is quite possible for someone, the child of a Japanese person and a black person, to be haafu in Japan, and black in the USA. Of course, my daughter is also haafu in Japan, but she is not black in the USA. Although my daughter is the same race as that person here, she is not the same race in the USA. The categories are different.

Now, this is not conclusive. It’s based on rather more than just my own impressions, but it isn’t based on any systematic research into how Japanese people tend to categorise others. I would be frankly astounded if it turned out that “foreigner” was not an extremely important category, to the point that I would suspect serious flaws in the research. (That concept is everywhere as an organising category; it’s the nearest equivalent to “person of color” in the USA, but more important. It even gets used for naturalised citizens, who are, in a very important sense, not foreigners at all.) However, I would believe research showing that black people were not normally counted as westerners, although it would surprise me.

This is, in fact, something that it would be useful for Kawasaki to do, as knowing how the Japanese residents think about other residents, including foreigners, would be very helpful in designing policies to solve the problem of the discrimination perceived by foreign residents. As long as we don’t know why the Japanese are doing it, it is hard to propose concrete policies to remove it. I might try to get this survey carried out as well, but the lead time on these things is about five years, so there aren’t going to be any immediate results.

However, what I can say is that there are good reasons to doubt that the politically constructed racial categories of “black” and “white” apply to the Japanese context. It is quite possible that, when it comes to questions of racism and prejudice, there are no black people in Japan.

Jun 212015

The US dominance of both the pen-and-paper RPG industry and the diversity debate is a real problem, one that, I think, is actively hindering attempts to address the problems created by a lack of diversity.

Let’s take an example I’m intimately familiar with: Japan. (For people who don’t know, I’ve lived here for 12 years, my wife is Japanese, and I’m in the process of naturalising.)

The important “racial” minority groups are the Koreans, the Chinese, the Okinawans, the Filipinas, and the Burakumin. All of these groups are “East Asian”. They disappear when “racial diversity” is being considered for an RPG. “Racial diversity” is used to mean “people from lots of different categories that are important in the USA, completely ignoring distinctions that are important elsewhere”. To expand, when was the last time you saw a game being careful to represent both Hutu and Tutsi accurately, or Serb and Croat, or Ukrainian and Russian? Or even Sunni and Shia? These are all groups that have had wars over the distinction in the recent past, or are fighting them right now, so large numbers of people thought the distinction was worth killing for. But all of those distinctions are invisible to “diversity”.

On the other hand, in Japan, in Noh theatre and Kabuki theatre, the female parts are played by men, and both of these are revered national art forms, and UNESCO World Heritage traditions. In Takarazuka theatre, the male parts are played by women, and that has 100 years of history and a large contemporary following (overwhelmingly female). This is mainstream. Emoji were designed in Japan, with same-sex couple icons, to absolutely no outrage at all. The government approach to transgender children is to issue guidance to schools on how to deal with it appropriately, including allowing the child to wear the right uniform, and provide counselling and medical treatment as necessary. This is not an issue; I only know about it because NHK did a special on it a few months ago. Aya Ueto, who is a still a pretty big female star, played a transgender boy in her breakthrough role, and that was about 13 years ago. Manga depicting gay romances between young men and between male high school students is a large genre, overwhelmingly read by women. (It is, as far as I can see, much, much larger than the genre of lesbian romances between schoolgirls.) US assumptions about gender/sexuality diversity and context are just wrong in Japan.

The same, incidentally, is true of assumptions about racial relations, as I wrote here last month.

(Also, the Japanese language is gender neutral by default, and a fairly high proportion of names are gender ambiguous, but women’s rights are a considerable distance behind the west. Thus, I am not optimistic about the effect of “more inclusive language”.)

I am sure that there are similar differences between the USA and other countries with which I am less familiar.

So, if you are trying to increase the diversity of your authors, artists, and editors, your first rule should be “no more Americans”. That will help you break out of the assumption that the American way of dividing up the world is the only appropriate way, and help you introduce some real diversity into your game settings and characters.

May 272015

Actually, the content of this post would be more accurately described as “reflections on the results of a survey of experiences of discrimination on grounds of foreign nationality in the municipality of Kawasaki”, but that isn’t snappy enough for a blog title, and quite a lot of what I say will be directly relevant to consideration of racism in Japan.

First, though, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the survey of foreign residents that the city of Kawasaki conducted has completed its first phase, and the results have been published in Japanese. As promised, I have translated the analysis chapter looking at discrimination, which I wrote, into English, and I am making it available here. You should really read that before reading the rest of this post, because this post is based heavily on those results.

Experiences of Discrimination among Foreign Residents of Kawasaki

The translation is separated from the blog post in this way because the translated chapter was peer reviewed, in the sense that it was looked at by the Japanese academics on the survey committee, all of whom are specialists in this field, and the wording was approved by the city of Kawasaki, in Japanese. This blog post is neither; it is just my opinions. One simple example: the report translation does not use the word “racism” at all, because I was asked to avoid the Japanese equivalent. This blog post will use that word, because it is, for the most part, what we are talking about.

The first thing I want to emphasise is that, despite the limitations of the survey, these results are based on responses from around 900 foreign residents of Kawasaki. They are, therefore, better than anyone’s personal experience when it comes to the big picture. These data are flawed, but they are the best we have at the moment, as far as I know. The biggest unknown is how far these results generalise to the rest of Japan. Kawasaki has spent 20 years trying to make the city easier for foreigners to live in, and one would like to think that those efforts have had some results. On the other hand, as part of the Greater Tokyo area, Kawasaki has a lot more recent foreign immigrants than other areas of Japan. More data would be ideal, and I will be giving thought to ways to convince other areas to perform similar surveys.

The biggest and most surprising result of this survey is that Westerners face at least as much racism as anyone else in Japan. This is not the conventional wisdom, and not the result I was expecting to get. It’s not even that the results for Westerners are low, but not low enough for the difference to be statistically significant. On the contrary, in many cases the results for Westerners are high, and occasionally that difference is statistically significant. In particular, the results say that you are more likely to be stopped by the police for “walking while white” in Kawasaki than to be stopped for “walking while Filipino”. That question is also one of the more objective questions on the survey. On the other hand, it also shows that you are much less likely to be stopped for looking foreign in Kawasaki than in Europe, and rather suggests that the reason police harassment of foreigners in Japan is not treated as a major issue is that it is, in fact, not a major issue.

A less surprising, but still interesting, result is that the level of discrimination in Japan is roughly comparable to that in Europe. Japan is certainly not significantly more racist than Europe, and thus is probably significantly less racist than the USA. The fact that a number of white people who have lived in Japan have a different impression can be explained by the previous result: white people suffer at least as much racism as other minorities in Japan, and if you’re used to “none”, this doubtless feels like a lot. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that, in the section for comments on what you think is good about living in Kawasaki, quite a few people, of various ethnicities, mentioned the lack of any experience of racism. There were more comments about the need to get rid of discrimination, but it is possible to live in Japan as a member of an ethnic minority for years and experience no racism. That is my experience, as it happens, but it is now clear that such an experience is far from limited to white people. My impression is that ethnic minorities in the USA do not have that chance.

That brings us to an important analytical point. This survey makes it clear that, when considering racism, Japan is not the USA. “People of colour” is not a useful category for the Japanese situation, as it distinguishes one group that does suffer racism from a group that mixes up the majority who do not with other groups who do. “White privilege” really doesn’t exist here. Further, racism is not an omnipresent part of Japanese society. Far too many foreign residents have encountered it, but a large number have gone for years without noticing it at all. The analytical tools and ideas developed for the US are unhelpful at best and misleading at worst when applied to Japan. I’m not aware of any useful analytical tools for the Japanese situation, but the research is at a very early stage.

I probably won’t be contributing to it much, because I’m on one of the official committees that will advise the city of Kawasaki on how to respond to these results. Thus, I’m likely to be too busy trying to improve the situation to spend much time analysing it. From that perspective, the most important result is the prevalence of racism in housing. It’s one of the very few areas that really looks worse than Europe, and it’s a serious issue. It’s also something concrete that the city can plausibly do something about. I would like to see the city pass an ordinance making it illegal to refuse someone accommodation purely on the basis of their nationality, but that might be a bit difficult to get through. At the very least, however, I think Kawasaki needs to push their existing program to reduce such discrimination with rather more vigour.

The city is going to conduct interview surveys to follow up on the questionnaire, and supplement some of its weaknesses. Indeed, we had the meeting to finalise much of the design of that yesterday. The interviews will cover racism, if the interviewees bring it up as a significant topic, and I hope that it will tell us more about the nature of the racism that people face here. In the meantime, I hope that these results will inform the debate about racism in Japan, and inspire other people to gather more data, in other areas, to build up an accurate picture for the whole country.

Apr 232015

The results of the questionnaire-based survey of foreign residents of Kawasaki were published yesterday. Most of the results are, of course, published in Japanese, but there is an English summary. (I had nothing to do with the English part of the English summary. I feel the need to make that clear.)

I’ve been working on this survey in one way or another since 2009, and I’m still not finished, because we are currently planning the interview survey that will follow up on the results of the questionnaire.

2009 was when I applied to become a member of the Foreign Residents’ Assembly (FRA). My general purpose was to contribute to the city and my community, but my specific goal was to get the city to carry out a survey like this. I thought, and still think, that having actual data on the situation of foreign residents would be very useful. Fortunately for me, the other representatives agreed, and provided a broader base of opinions on what should go into the survey. We formally requested that the city carry out such a survey in 2012.

The city moved quite quickly, agreeing to investigate the possibility of doing a survey, and setting aside budget for it for the 2013 fiscal year. At the beginning of that fiscal year, a team was established to work on it, mostly composed of Japanese social scientists. I was added to the committee as the token minority member. We spent a year working out the details of the survey, so that we could make a concrete budget proposal to the city.

The city agreed to supply the budget, so the survey was carried out in 2014. The survey was sent out, and the results tabulated, by a contractor, but we, on the team, did the data analysis and wrote the report. I only wrote a small part of the report: the section on experiences of discrimination. In the near future, I plan to translate that section into English and post it here, along with some more commentary. I’m also going to read the whole report, because I only read it bit by bit as it was being written, and I don’t think I’ve read the whole thing yet. I’ve certainly not read the final version of some parts. I expect that there will be other things that I want to say as a result of that.

One interesting fact, that is in the summary, is that half of the children of foreigners in Kawasaki have Japanese citizenship. (That is probably because the other parent is Japanese.) Before we did the survey, we (on the FRA, I think) had asked the city how many children with foreign roots there were, and they had no idea. They knew how many had foreign citizenship, but the children with foreign parents and Japanese citizenship were invisible. We now know that there are as many Japanese children with foreign roots as there are foreign children, which has implications for educational provision.

None of the survey results specify actions that the city should take. That’s not their purpose. They are supposed to inform decision making. I expect that the FRA will make use of the results, as will the Multicultural Coexistence Promotion Policy Assessment Committee (which I am on). That’s the next step.

The publication of the report marks the success of a long project for me, but the real work starts now.

Mar 132015

Today, I formally applied to naturalise in Japan.

I went to the Legal Affairs Office in Kawasaki, and Yuriko met me there (we were both going from work). I arrived a bit early, but my case worker soon came to speak to me. First, she took all my application documents off me, and took them into the Nationality Consultation Room to look through them. That took her about twenty minutes, while I waited. Yuriko arrived just after she had finished checking, and she said that she would speak to me first. (As I mentioned before, they speak to the husband and wife separately, to make sure the marriage is genuine.)

The first thing she asked me was whether I was happy to give up my UK citizenship. I said I’d prefer not to, but that I understood it was necessary, so I would. We also discussed the absence of a certificate of citizenship, but as the UK will no longer issue those, it wasn’t an immediate problem. The Justice Ministry may ask about it later. Next, there was a short list of extra documents she wanted. I need my 2013 tax return as well as the 2014 one, and the proof of Yuriko’s income, and a couple more documents about my family for the family record. When I submit these, I only need to submit one copy, and photocopies are fine for most of them. (The proof of Yuriko’s income needs to be the original.)

Then she started going through the documents. There was a short discussion to confirm the katakana spelling of my parents’ names on my family record, if I am allowed to naturalise, and the way that my previous name will be written. She wanted to confirm the county I was born in, and I got a bit stuck, because it’s Greater Manchester now, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t when I was born. (Wikipedia confirms that I was right; I was born in Cheshire.) She is going to look into that for me, because it needs to be right according to the Japanese government, which may not be exactly the same as what the UK government thinks. Then she asked who was going to be the first name on the family record. That was something I hadn’t realised. Apparently, I can choose to be added to Yuriko’s current family record, or to create a new family record, with me at the top, and have Yuriko and Mayuki added to that. As I didn’t know about this complication, I hadn’t talked about it with Yuriko, so we postponed a decision on that. She wanted to know which school Mayuki was going to, and was a bit surprised that she wasn’t going to an International School, until I told her how high the fees were. She asked what language I spoke to Mayuki in, and I explained that I talk to her in English and she replies in Japanese.

There weren’t many questions about most of the documents, just confirmation that I don’t have a driver’s licence, and a few other minor points. Most of her questions were based on my CV, which is fair enough. She asked me about the background, and for some more details. For example, she wanted to know how I became a member of the Foreign Residents’ Assembly, so I told her that it was openly advertised. (She doesn’t work for the city, so she is allowed to not know about it.) She also asked a bit about my jobs, and, of course, about how and when I met Yuriko, and the process leading up to our marriage, and she wanted to know whether we had had a wedding ceremony, and where. (If you are marrying a Japanese citizen and think you might want to naturalise later, have a ceremony. It helps make the wedding look real.)

My interview took about 45 minutes, and then I came out while Yuriko went in. Her interview took about 20 minutes, and I asked her about it afterwards. She said it was more like a friendly chat, and that, while they did talk about where we met, and our wedding ceremony, and how Yuriko’s parents felt about our marriage, they also talked about Mayuki and I speaking a mix of Japanese and English, and about the choice of characters for my name. Yuriko mentioned that Mayuki was strongly opposed to a kanji surname, and the case officer agreed. She said Mayuki was really cute, and the current balance of her name suited her. My case officer once again wondered why I would want to take Japanese citizenship. I should emphasise that this wasn’t in any way a hostile “Why do you think you can become Japanese?” attitude, but rather “Why would you want to become Japanese?”. I think the Japanese still have a bit of an inferiority complex.

Now, I think that one reason for Yuriko’s relaxed interview was that there is nothing suspicious-looking about our marriage. One of the big documentary things is that we are joint owners of the flat. But I suspect that another reason is that this is actually an effective way to catch false marriages. By picking up on things that were mentioned in passing, it is easy to spot people who haven’t very carefully prepared their stories.

In any case, after Yuriko’s interview, she was ready to accept the application, so I was called back into the room, and I sat down at the table.

I signed my oath to respect the constitution, and signed my application forms. She accepted them.

While she was off getting my acceptance number (which I need to include on all future correspondence), Yuriko and I talked about who would be on top of the family record. We quickly concluded that it probably wouldn’t make any difference to anything practical, so in the end we decided based on how we felt.

Finally, my case worker explained a bit about what will happen next. If she has any questions, or needs any more documents, she will phone me. She will also phone me when she has sorted out my county of birth, to confirm that it is OK. Similarly, if I have any questions, I should phone her. I also need to phone her if I move, get divorced, Yuriko gets pregnant, I change jobs, and so on. Basically, if anything major changes on the application, I need to tell her. I also need to tell her when I leave the country, and when I get back. There is no problem with my leaving (as long as I have a passport), but it is policy not to grant permission while someone is out of the country, so they need to know whether I am. I suspect that there would be a problem if you were barely in Japan during your application, as well. One thing she mentioned was that the authorities take a very dim view of hiding important things from them. This was in the context of saying that, in our case, we didn’t need to tell her if Yuriko changed jobs (because she is in the process of starting a new one), because Yuriko’s employment is not a significant part of the application, so the point is that they want an accurate picture of your life, not one that is completely precise about all the details. I imagine that, if they want details about some thing, they will ask. She said that she would like the remaining documents by the end of April, if at all possible, which suggests to me that she expects to send the the application package to the Ministry of Justice in that sort of time frame. I have no idea how long it will take once it gets to them, of course, and after that I have to wait for my renunciation of UK citizenship to go through. So far, it has taken a little less than four months from my first phone call to the Legal Affairs Office to the formal acceptance of my application.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that I formally applied on Friday 13th. However, today is also Taian, the luckiest day of the Japanese fortune-telling cycle. Today is unlucky for the UK, lucky for Japan…

Feb 252015

Today, I had my second interview about naturalising in Japan at the Legal Affairs Office. I thought I was going to get to submit at least some documents today, but that was a misunderstanding.

As I mentioned before, I ordered all the documents I needed from the UK, and that was fairly straightforward in the end. My first email to the court for my parents’ divorce certificate seems to have just got lost in the end-of-year rush, because my second email, in the New Year, was answered promptly, and that was very straightforward (and only £9, thanks to Dad having the certificate to hand so he could tell me the case number). My parents managed to fill in the form affirming that I was their eldest son, and send it back to me, so I had everything by the end of January.

Then I needed to translate them, because all non-Japanese documents must come with a Japanese translation. That wasn’t too hard, although I spread it over several days. Official documents for universal things, like birth and marriage, tend to be fairly easy to translate, because there are words for all the necessary bits in both languages.

Around the same time, I started drafting my statement of motivation. That went through three drafts before I had a version I was happy with. I tried to keep it relatively short, since you have to write that out by hand.

Then I started collecting the Japanese documents. This was straightforward, apart from the fact that I forgot my seal the first time I went to the national tax office. I needed proof of payment of national tax, total taxable income, and payment of consumption tax from the national tax office, proof of payment of prefectural business tax from the prefectural tax office, a copy of the deeds to my flat from the Legal Affairs Office, proof of payment of local income tax, statement of liability for this year, and statement that Yuriko is not liable from the city tax office (which has branches in the ward office), and copies of our residents’ register entry, Yuriko’s family record (which has Mayuki on), and the notes to Yuriko’s family record. It’s quite a few pieces of paper, but they are all standard things issued by the relevant offices, so they are easy to get if you show up and fill in the forms.

Once I had everything, I filled in the forms I had to write on, and made copies of everything.

That took two whole days.

Copying out my statement of motivation took a while, as did preparing and filling in my CV. They want all your addresses and jobs, and I think it’s basically right. I’m not absolutely sure about the dates from 15 years ago… Fortunately, I have scans of my old Gaijin Cards, which have all my addresses in Japan, with the dates I moved, written on them, so I know that the Japanese addresses are right. Anyway, I prepared it on the computer, let it rest overnight, filled in the other things I had remembered the next morning, and then copied it. The CV also has a page for listing all the times you have been in and out of Japan in the last few years (3 or 5, depending on your situation). The dates for those are, of course, in your passport.

I also needed to fill in forms about my immediate family (my parents, siblings, and children, Yuriko, and her parents). This had a space for whether they support or oppose your naturalisation, or don’t particularly care. Fortunately, all the adults were good enough to support my application. Mayuki strongly asserts that I cannot become Japanese, because people will know I’m a foreigner just by looking. So I left her blank. “No particular opinion” is clearly wrong, but “strong opinion but does not actually understand what it is about” was not an option.

Then there is a form for your income and savings. For that, I needed to submit all the tax documents. I also needed to supply copies of the bank books, although only the cover, first page (with the account details on), and last page, with the current balance, are necessary. Also, you don’t need to submit all your bank accounts, if some only have a bit of money in. As I said to my initial case worker today “This isn’t the tax office, after all.” “Exactly,” he replied. You have to prove that you have enough to live on, not show all your assets. Mind you, I would advise against trying to hide substantial assets. That’s the sort of thing that could make them suspicious.

Because I’m self-employed, I needed to fill in a form giving details of my business. It’s very high-level, though, so it just meant copying some numbers across from my tax return. Normally, you give details of your clients, but because all my clients are individuals I was told to leave it blank for now.

Then there were the maps of the area around where I live, and work, which are the same map in my case. You are allowed to print out online maps these days, which saves a lot of time. The one about your work asks about your superiors or inferiors, which I left blank because I don’t have any, and the one about home asks if there is anyone in the area who knows you particularly well. I put our local jinja, Shirahata Hachiman Daijin, in there, after asking them. It is possible that my next case officer will go round to talk to them, so they need to agree in advance. That form asks whether the people living around you know your nationality. I said yes, and got proof the following day. I went to pick Mayuki up from her after school club, and one of the girls there said “You’re from America, right?”, only for another girl, whom I didn’t recognise, to say “No, he’s from England”. So, random small children in the area know my nationality. (Although, interestingly, both the girls used the Japanese for “born in”, not “citizen of”.)

In addition to all this, I needed copies of my passport, and of the previous passport, which I still have. For this, you need to copy the cover, the photo page, and every internal page with a stamp on. You don’t need to copy the pages that are the same in every passport, because they know what those look like. Also, it would appear that you do not need to translate the ID page. They know what that means, as well. One thing to note, however, is that your passport should still contain the embarkation card for foreigners that you received when you first came to reside in Japan. You will need to copy that page twice, to make sure that you have copies of both sides of the embarkation card, and of anything that is under it when you put it one way or the other. You don’t need to copy pages with nothing on them.

The other things I needed were a copy of my PhD certificate, with translation, a copy of both sides of my Residence Card, and a copy of the document certifying that I paid my pension contributions last year. (Note that, despite rumours I have heard, I was not asked to certify that I had no gaps in my pension record; just that I had paid for the most recent year. This is something you might be asked later, but it doesn’t seem to be on the initial list.)

Finally, they need two or three photographs of your daily life. You only need one copy of these, because they are for the person in the Ministry of Justice who makes the final decision, and doesn’t actually meet you.

Four A4 envelopesFor everything else, you need two copies; an original if you can submit it, and one copy. I made a third set of copies, so that I will have a set of all the documents I submitted. When I’ve actually submitted them. With each set in an envelope, and a fourth envelope for the documents I was just going to show them, like my passport and bank books, the documents looked like the photograph. They are quite heavy.

So, today I took all of these documents to the Legal Affairs Office. I arrived 15 minutes early for my appointment, and my case worker saw me within five minutes, so we got off to an early start.

We started by discussing the non-passport proof of citizenship. Apparently, the story that the Legal Affairs Office is getting from the embassy is not quite the same as the story I’m getting, so I need to contact them again to sort it out. If I can get a definitive statement that they do not issue those certificates, the Ministry of Justice will have a think about how to deal with naturalisation applications from the UK. If they do issue them, I’ll have to go and get one.

Then my case worker started going through my documents, pausing occasionally to mutter things like “wow” and “amazing”. Apparently, most people can’t follow instructions. Apart from the proof of citizenship, I was missing two things. Apparently, I do need to certify Yuriko’s income. I also need to certify my income. As I am self-employed, that means that I need to fill in the form and put my own seal on it. Yes, this is a bit silly, and if this had been the only thing missing I could have done it right there. Everything else looked fine.

However, your initial case worker does not check the content of your application. He (or she) checks that you have all the right documents, with translations if necessary. Your second case worker checks the content. So, today we just confirmed that I had (nearly) all the right documents, and that my application was almost ready to go.

We talked a bit about the next appointment, and my case worker said that he would pass me on to the assessor immediately. Apparently, in all the years he’s been doing this, this is the first time he’s been able to do this after the second meeting. (The first meeting is the one where you are told what to gather, so it’s impossible to complete the application there. The documents they ask for vary depending on your situation, so you shouldn’t get things ready before your first interview.) Now, I do get the impression that he is overloaded and trying to get me off his books as quickly as possible; when I called a couple of weeks ago to confirm the details of some documents, he strongly encouraged me to book an appointment for today. However, I’m a bit surprised that no-one has done it before.

This raises another point about the process. There is no charge for the meetings with your case worker, and they last over an hour. In those meetings, she (or he) goes through your application with you, tells you which documents you need, and where to get them, and, presumably, points out problems if you have filled things in incorrectly. (Incidentally, I can confirm that crossing out mistakes, with two lines, is acceptable.) As I understand it, you can keep having meetings until you get it right, within reason. Three or four is normal, from what my case worker said. As I’ve mentioned, you can also phone your case worker in between meetings to ask questions or confirm things that are not clear. This is really a fantastic level of free support. If your Japanese is good, I suspect that you do not need professional help with the application, at least not in Japan. You might need to hire a lawyer in your own country if it is hard to get the necessary documents out of it, I suppose. On the other hand, if your Japanese is only just good enough to naturalise, it might be a good idea to hire a Gyouseishoshi lawyer who speaks fluent English.

My next meeting will be my first meeting with my assessor. This will, apparently, take about three hours. The first hour will be going through the paperwork again. The second will be an interview with my wife. The third will be an interview with me. The reason for this is, apparently, to spot fake marriages. It seems that these are common enough to be a real problem. Fortunately, Yuriko can leave after her interview, to collect Mayuki from school. That meeting will happen in a couple of weeks, and I think that might be the one where I formally apply for citizenship.

After the formal application, it takes another few months, and I might well be asked to produce more documents. My case worker told me that someone, recently, had got sick of it, and refused to produce some documents. The application was denied on the grounds of lack of cooperation with the investigation. He strongly encouraged me to produce whatever I was asked for, and I’m inclined to agree with him. It’s not as if I have a right to naturalise in Japan, so arguing with them about what is necessary for the application does not seem like a good idea.

In any case, I have moved to the next stage, even if I still have all my documents. I suspect that hoping for fast progress on this would be unwise.

Dec 252014

It’s Christmas morning, the sun is shining, and Mt Fuji is visible from the window.

This year, Mayuki woke up at 7am, so she’s obviously growing up. She came running to me with her stocking.

“Look! Santa left me some chocolate! And a Lego Friends set! Oooh, look! Pocket money! A 500 yen coin! All shiny! And a satsuma!”

We took the presents through to the living room, where she looked at her presents under the tree.

“Right, time to do my homework!”

She has holiday homework from school, which she started yesterday (after she got home from school), and she’s planning to do a bit every day. So far, so good. We had breakfast, and then I got out the snacks and chocolates I bought for the family. Remarkably, some were the same as the ones in Mayuki’s stocking. Can’t think why that happened.

“Oh look, those are like the ones Santa gave me. I’ll put mine with them.”

“Well, those are yours, so they don’t have to go in the family bowl.”

“No, that’s OK.”

In a little while, I will make Christmas dinner, and after dinner we will open the presents. I think it’s going to be a good day.

Dec 242014

When I went to the Legal Affairs Bureau to start the process of naturalising, I was given a long list of documents to gather. I decided to start by gathering the UK-issued documents, as I foresaw the most problems with those.

I seem to have been correct.

One of the documents required was a certificate of citizenship, which I was told I could get from the UK Embassy. So, I emailed them to ask, and got a reply saying that the embassy didn’t handle renunciation of citizenship, and I should get in touch with the Home Office. I emailed back saying yes, I know that, but I want to know about a certificate of citizenship.

That got no reply.

Fortunately, I was contacted by someone who had done the process recently, and could tell me what the embassy had issued in their case. Armed with that information, I emailed the embassy again, and this time I got a useful reply.

The embassy used to issue official letters confirming citizenship, but no longer does so. They stopped last year, under instructions from the Foreign Office. The embassy said that such matters were now handled by the Home Office. However, the Home Office only issues certificates if you naturalised. If you were born a UK citizen, there is nothing to issue.

So, this morning I called my case worker at the Legal Affairs Bureau.

“They’ve stopped issuing them? Oh, well, in that case, don’t worry about it for now. If it doesn’t exist, you can’t get it. I’ll ask my superiors what we should do, but it will have to go to the Justice Minister, so don’t delay your application for this. Have you collected everything else?”

“Er, not quite yet…”

“Well, once you have, call again.”

It didn’t even take five minutes. I may be asked to produce something at a later stage, but it’s possible I won’t be. I do, after all, have to submit proof that I have renounced my UK citizenship before they complete the process, and that will prove that I had it earlier.

One thing that struck me was that the problem was resolved really easily because I could just pick up the phone and call the office. If I hadn’t been able to do that, this could have caused significant stress.

Of the five pieces of documentation I need from the UK, I currently have one. Three of the others should be in process. The last one is being a bit problematic, but I suspect that this is a bad time of year to try to hurry things up. Maybe I’ll wait a couple of weeks.