My big three Japan projects: the status.

I am inspired by a recent commenter to talk a bit about this.

The commenter said something to the effect that the noted people who criticize Japan on the internet are just whiners. I remember when I started blogging in 2003, the criticism out of some (vested interest) circles was, everyone who blogs are just maladjusted whiners. This was before blogging took off. Now, the nature of the media has changed in the national or global conscious, but the insults still are there. Plus ca change.

If that commenter hadn’t noticed, people within the Japan-expat blogging community are focused on particular things. It has nothing to do with negativity, and everything to do with bringing to light these important issues that maybe don’t have the attention that they should. This is what new media does, and I’m sorry the guy (or gal) doesn’t like that. I really don’t know what to tell people like that. I guess it’s great that they believe the lies they tell themselves about what they think the realities of situations are. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to believe that.

Contrary to what this person insinuated, I happen to think that the majority of Japanese are very nice. The problem is with certain people in Japan with power, and with our own sellouts who milk the Japan relationship for what they can. It’s worth talking about the bad things this category of people do, because they aren’t nice people. They’re doing something bad–against the interests of their fellow Americans, their fellow westerners, and ultimately hurtful to the Japanese when it all unwinds.

So here are three bad situations, and you tell me if they’re not worth writing about:

1) Employment Discrimination. If you are an American in Japan, especially if you are working for an American employer, do you think it’s just to be discriminated against? Do you agree that America’s Title VII (anti-discrimination in employment provision) applies to American-controlled operations in Japan? Guess what? There’s a big company that says, through their lawyer, that Title VII does not apply to them in their overseas operations. Yet Congress specifically included overseas operations under the Act, in 1991. You don’t think that’s a problem?

[Sidenote on this: It’s laughable that a corporation would take almost two years to respond to the Equal Employment Office with even a half-assed explanation of what they had done concerning one employee. One of the Black Ships of the Perry Expedition could have gotten the answer stateside much sooner. With the internet, you can get a message from Japan in seconds.

The fact that the response included blather about how the said company “won awards” in the Bush Administration for its diversity initiatives was no excuse not to respect Title VII. The law is Title VII. An award from a bureaucrat is pretty thing. I’m sure it’s shiny and looks nice in the HR chief’s office. But it’s not the same as following the law, as Congress passed it and the other, earlier, President Bush signed it into existence.]

2) Japan ignoring the U.S.-Japan Social Security Totalization Agreement. A young Japanese comes and works in America, they are automatically covered by our social security. They do not have to lobby, negotiate or fight for it. If the employer, for some reason, doesn’t withhold the payments, the IRS has no fewer than two forms and a telephone hotline for the Japanese national to dime the employer.

A young American goes to work in Japan, the employer is going to first try and convince the American that they need not be covered in the Japanese pension. Or it will be an “entrepreneurial” foreigner who sets up a dispatch company, and the entrepreneur’s margin, selling to the Japanese, is made by not paying the required pension premiums. (Japanese with power love to hide behind foreigners, like how the Imperial Army colonels used to hide in the shadows when they commanded the civilian population of Japan to throw their children off cliffs. The more elegant and elaborate the cowardice is, the more impressed the other cowards are. But I digress.)

Our state department negotiated an agreement with Japan, effective October 1, 2005–almost six years ago–and we’re still waiting for it to be fully effective. That’s ridiculous!

[Sidenote on this: the U.S. Treasury, the one that almost defaulted because of the Teabaggers, is on the hook to pay Japanese nationals $6 million dollars this year on totalization claims. Since this is retirement money, another $6 million will go out in each retirement year. As more Japanese who worked and paid in America retire, it will be tens and hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. What are we getting in exchange? It’s like a special gift to them, because we honor our commitments.]

3) Pennsylvania’s Tokyo branch campus. I haven’t forgotten about this one either. Temple University still has not said where the money for the Azabu-Juban campus is coming from. I’ve concluded that it’s an off-income-statement, balance sheet item that’s netted out, so no one knows the number. But I’d like confirmation from Temple that that, in fact, is what they’re doing. No one will say. The University’s Form 990s now required that Temple say what they spend overseas. For Japan, it’s been $5 million one year, and $2 million the next. Seven million dollars that don’t tie to other reports produced by Temple.

Why should Pennsylvania citizens, who continue to write a substantial check from the state treasury to Philadelphia to support Temple, have to support a branch campus in Tokyo? Especially, when other colleges just don’t do it this way. Why do we have to keep giving our tax money away on boondoggles and pet projects at one university? We could be spreading that money around Pennsylvania, supporting many more students who we know will be helping out the local economy. Not a landlord in downtown Tokyo.

If you ever visit the Temple University Japan website, you notice that they have been playing up March 11. It’s as if the tsunami waves had made it up the Sumida River to Minato-ku and no one noticed. They say that the school was forced to close, and that they have all these students who can’t continue their studies because they’re from the Tohoku region (the region that got hit).

I think that’s a lot of embellishment. It’s the same kind of exaggeration that people are shaming the expat businesses about. If the business model is a failure, it’s not because the tsunami came. It’s because you couldn’t make the model work in Japan. Japan is not a very open country, and the deals they do are ones that take from you, and give just what they have to until you’re dry. Then, they move on to the next foreigner.

In Temple Japan’s case, it’s the only foreign school left standing, because all the other ones in the ’80’s and ’90’s got bled, and then they left. Temple stays, because Pennsylvania pays for the space and for the lights to be on. It’s time that the administration there get a lot more honest about that.

I read in the New York Times earlier this year how there was a Pennsylvania resident, Ken Kewley, up in one of the counties nearer to New Jersey, who lost his state health insurance subsidy because Harrisburg didn’t have the money to fund the program. He had a heart operation and has to be really careful. Before, he didn’t have to worry. Now he does, because the state said they didn’t have money to subsidize his insurance. But they have money for Temple Japan?

So, you can call this whining, or tell me it’s like a game show where I should be happy with the consolation prizes, but I happen to think that these are serious trans-Pacific issues. So get used to the harping; it’s going to be going on the next 20 years, if that’s what it takes.

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5 comments

  1. Plats · August 3, 2011

    About No. 2: I agree with Ron Paul when he says Social Security should be optional. Likewise, I’m sure there are many American expats in Japan who would rather have the cash in hand, like I do, than have 15% or whatever it is deducted and invested in a pension beyond our control. Also, I would hardly call it a special gift giving money back to those Japanese workers who paid into the system in good faith.

    • hoofin · August 3, 2011

      American social security is very popular. I don’t know what to say about the Paul family, because both Ron Paul and his son became very wealthy off federal spending (his son is a doctor whose income has come from elderly Medicare patients.)

      A system is in place, and the Americans here are honoring the system. The Japanese aren’t—through their usual Rube Goldberg, convoluted ways.

      When you say about “cash in hand”, what you are missing is the fact that your income would be 15% higher if the Japanese honored their end of the totalization agreement. Since the pension isn’t properly collected in Japan, the employers simply pay everyone 15% less than they would have to otherwise, then tell people that they’re “saving” them from having to pay in.

      If America ended social security, the employers would just drop wages 15%. And then, when you’re elderly, you’re stuck living in a box and eating catfood.

      • hoofin · August 3, 2011

        By the way, people can always save additional pension money in America through IRAs and Section 401. It turns out that many who poo poo the social security tax don’t even use those private alternatives.

  2. L. · August 11, 2011

    Sumida-ku doesn’t flow through Minato-ku — Shibuya-kawa/Furu-kawa does: http://www015.upp.so-net.ne.jp/riverandsongs/sub6littlestoryoftheriverE.html

    Apologies — I’m a bit of a history/geography otaku…

    P.S. [ ]

    • hoofin · August 14, 2011

      I guess you can’t name it Minato-ku if it isn’t on the bay, right?

      P.S. Good luck with [ ].

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