A Democratic Party of Japan politician, Yukio Hatoyama, has created a storm of xenophobia after he suggested in a live NicoNico Douga broadcast that permanently resident foreigners should have the right to vote in local elections.
Opponents (including, it seems, the entirety of 2ch and Nico) immediately pounced on this as evidence of high treason and an unhealthy sympathy for the non-Japanese wretches who are apparently the source of so many evils in Japan.
His comment runs as follows:
“Permanently resident foreigners pay taxes, lay down roots, and really try to make it here. They should at least get the right to vote (in regional elections) … Japan doesn’t just belong to the Japanese.”
The response to this suggestion, Nico, 2ch and the Japanese Internet in general are aflame with xenophobic comments denouncing him as a traitor and carpetbagger.
Tens of thousands of comments on Nico and 2ch are almost unanimous in castigating him for even considering granting rights to non-Japanese.
In particular, his “Japan doesn’t just belong to the Japanese” remark has attracted particular scorn, with opponents ignoring its presumably intended meaning of “foreigners are part of Japan too”, in favour of a more sensational interpretation of “Japan belongs to the Koreans”.
The Democrats have been arguing for limited suffrage for permanent residents for some time, usually attracting criticism for so doing, so his comments are not unexpected.
The Democratic party is often criticised for being excessively concerned with the affairs of Zainichi Koreans (which is what is basically meant by “permanent residents” in this case, as they make up the majority of such residents and have frequently secured preferential treatment compared to other groups), and political opponents have wasted no time in denouncing them as traitors and a party of Korean sympathisers over this.
Permanent residence in Japan is very difficult to obtain, usually requiring marriage to a Japanese citizen and a decade or more of residence, although it has been granted en masse to Korean residents (who also have the option of fully becoming Japanese citizens in most cases). It carries no political suffrage of any kind.
Citizenship for foreigners is practically unheard of, and the process is extremely difficult and unappealing to most who were not actually born in Japan. Such citizens do receive full suffrage.
Internationally, most developed countries allow foreigners political representation in some manner, especially at a local level.
It may be generally restricted to citizens, but with relatively straightforward naturalisation (as in the US), or allowed at various levels to any “foreign” residents (as is the case reciprocally throughout the entire EU to other EU citizens).
Even neighbouring South Korea now allows permanent residents to vote, although the numbers who qualify are tiny.
The broader context is of course that Japan’s population growth is stagnant and its society aging, and mass immigration is seen as one of the only ways a collapse in the pension system and a substantial reduction in size of the Japanese economy can be avoided.
Plans for as many as ten million immigrants have been touted (by the rightist LDP), but if Japan is to assimilate such numbers it will need a modern system of attainable citizenship, with political representation, rather than one based on blood and birth, which seemingly keeps immigrants only on sufferance.
As evidenced by this response, most Japanese would rather not deal with such an issue.