Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
In “Foreigner suffrage opponents rally,” April 18, 2010 former head of the Cabinet Security Affairs Office Atsuyuki Sassa says, “Our Constitution grants those with Japanese nationality voting rights in return for their obligation to pay taxes.” This matter of our obligation, or duty to pay taxes feels like a very Japanese interpretation that exposes a chasm between (conservative) Japanese and foreigners’ perceptions of the matter. For me, the issue of granting voting rights is largely a matter of business because if you tax me then it is you who has an obligation to me. It’s not the other way around. As a tax payer, I am a patron which makes it reasonable for Japanese elected public employees to be responsible to me through the ballot box. Many (Western) foreigners might be quick to cite the Social Compact assumed to exist between government and the governed as the basis for the compliance of the people, whereas it seems that financial services minister Shizuka Kamei and his supporters see only duty, like the stalwart samurai they are. It’s very Japanese. Some foreign residents would question the existence of such a Social Compact between us and Japanese government, which explains our often low regard for the organs of Japanese society. Furthermore, the only thing obvious about Mr. Kamei’s pronouncement that “it was obvious that granting suffrage will destroy Japan” is the mendacity of it.
Realistically, I don’t expect to win the right to vote. I expect the issue to go the way of the proposal to move Japan’s capital city or, at least, some of its ministries out of Tokyo, that was much in the news in the 1990s. Who remembers that debate? Without consensus there will be no suffrage, which is a shame because the 920,000 or so permanent foreign residents represent 920,000 squandered votes. If a time comes in the demography of Japanthat Kamei sees our votes as a resource to be tapped, he will rush to provide for it and make it sound both reasonable and overdue.