Japan makes progress in 2009

As we start 2009, let’s recharge the batteries by reviewing last year’s good news. Here is [an abbreviated version of Arudou Debito‘s] list of top human rights advancements for Japan in 2009, in ascending order:

5. Strawberry fields forever
(Feb. 11): Fifteen Chinese trainees sued strawberry farms in Tochigi Prefecture for unpaid wages, unfair dismissal and an attempted repatriation by force. Thanks to [Tokyo Nambu and the Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus allies] Zentoitsu Workers Union, they were awarded ¥2 million each in back pay and overtime, a formal apology, and reinstatement in their jobs.

Why this matters: This is another good precedent, treating non-Japanese (NJ) laborers (who as trainees aren’t covered by labor laws) the same as Japanese workers. It is also the subject of the German documentary “Sour Strawberries“, which premieres in Japan in March.

3. Non-Japanese get ¥12,000
(Dec. 20): The “teigaku kyufukin” first started out as a clear bribe to voters to “yoroshiku” the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Then complaints were raised about the other taxpayers who aren’t citizens, so permanent residents and NJ married to Japanese became eligible. Finally, just before Christmas, all registered NJ were included.

Why this matters: Even if this “stimulus” is ineffective, it’s a wall-smasher: Japan’s public policy is usually worded as applying to “kokumin,” or citizens only. It’s the first time a government cash-back program (a 1999 coupon scheme only included permanent residents) has included all noncitizen taxpayers, and recognized their importance to the Japanese economy.