Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Conservative objections to granting the right to vote in local elections to permanent foreign residents is mostly excitement over the idea of it, because in practice the ‘foreign vote’ will have negligible effect since we are so few. Of course, opponents to the move don’t want to wait and find that out for themselves based on experience that their fears are groundless. They are just worked up into hysterics by the idea of it, waving the effigy of the dangerous foreigner impinging on Japanese sovereignty through the polls as a kind of bogeyman. But even if we were of sufficient numbers to have a measurable effect in the polls, what of it? That’s what voting is supposed to accomplish - a measurable effect. The claim by conservatives that if we want to vote we ought to become naturalized citizens sounds reasonable until one realizes that granting of citizenship - like granting of permanent resident status - is a largely whimsical decision by bureaucrats and as such amounts to a barely concealed delaying tactic. And if there is one thing Japanese adore it is to procrastinate.
Financial services minister Shizuka Kamei is worried that if permanent foreign residents are granted the right to vote in local elections that “elections could heat up” (“Foreigner suffrage can fuel nationalism: Kamei,” February 4). All I can say is, let’s hope so. Japanese election campaigns are in dire need of some spicing up, and granting local suffrage to permanent residents could affect that by forcing candidates to actually debate issues and think democratically for a change. But debating issues is confrontational, which explains why Japanese culture is averse to political campaigns fueled by ideas rather than factions. The unfortunate result is that the greatest discussion and debate of important social issues here takes place among foreigners and comes to light in venues like this Readers in Council page. But politicians do not read the letters-to-the-editor page, and if they did they wouldn’t understand it. I swear we get better, deeper and more intelligent discussion of relevant issues here than we get from the mouths of all the Nagatacho ‘experts.’
Published on Thursday, February 11, 2010 as “Fear and loathing of foreign votes.”
There was a little editing here that I didn’t mind much. I do regret that the words “and think democratically for a change” after “forcing candidates to actually debate the issues” were deleted because it speaks to the matter of the level and depth of democratization in Japan needing to be challenged. Foreigners often do challenge it, criticize it, joke about it when talking among themselves, because Japan too often appears not to be very democratic at all. I think it is a valid criticism, considering. I regret that I wrote that the decisions to grant permanent resident status and naturalized citizenship are largely“whimsical decisions by bureaucrats.” I should have written “arbitrary decisions by bureaucrats.” But I didn’t think of it until a few days after I send the letter.
It’s important to say that I know I make mistakes in my letter writing. I make factual mistakes (rarely), and in hindsight I might change some of the vocabulary and grammar. There are three grammar mistakes in this letter. First, I split an infinitive by writing “...by forcing candidates to actually debate issues...” rather than “...by forcing candidates actually to debate the issues....” But even though it is a mistake I think it still comes off well. Second, at the very start I wrote that “conservative objections...is mostly excitement over the idea of it” rather than “are mostly excitement over the idea of it.” Now that really annoys me. It didn’t catch it until I re-read the printed version of the letter several times. Third, I wrote “The unfortunate result is that the greatest discussion and debate of important social issues takes place among foreigners and comes to light in venues like this Readers in Council page” instead of “... the greatest discussion and debate of important social issues take place ...” If I refrained from sending letters until I am satisfied that they are perfect, I might never send letters at all. At some point a person has to decide that their work is done, even if it’s not done perfectly. The important thing is to decide if the work meets a certain threshold or not.
Finally, it is important that I wrote that it is among foreigners where we see “the greatest discussion and debate of important social issues” (the “here” was deleted), because I do not want to be accused of saying that Japanese do not engage in discussion and debate of important social issues. They do. But I don’t think they are very good at it.