Debito Arudou Born David Christopher Schofill
January 13, 1965
Residence Sapporo, Japan Nationality Japanese Known for Human Rights Activism Home town Geneva, New York Spouse Ayako Sugawara (divorced) Website http://www.debito.org
Arudou was born David Christopher Schofill in California in 1965. He grew up in rural upstate New York in a 140-year-old 10-room cobblestone house on over 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land. In the 1970s he became David Christopher Aldwinckle when adopted by his stepfather. Aldwinckle attended Cornell University, first visiting Japan as a tourist on invitation from Ayako Sugawara (菅原文子 Sugawara Ayako ), his pen pal and future wife, for several weeks in 1986. Following this experience, he dedicated his senior year as an undergraduate to studying Japanese, graduating in 1987. Aldwinckle moved to Japan and taught English in Sapporo, Hokkaidō, for one year, then decided to return to university in the United States to study. He entered the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), but deferred from the program in order to return to Japan and spent one year at the Japan Management Academy in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture. Aldwinckle married Ayako Sugawara in 1989. In 1990, he returned to California to complete his Masters of Pacific International Affairs (MPIA), and received the degree in 1991.
Aldwinckle then joined a small Japanese trading company in Sapporo. He contends that in this job, he was the object of racial harassment. Aldwinckle quit the company and in 1993 joined the faculty of Business Administration and Information Science at the Hokkaido Information University, a private university in Ebetsu, Hokkaidō, teaching courses in business English and debate. He was an associate professor.
Aldwinckle became a permanent resident of Japan in 1996. He obtained Japanese citizenship in 2000, whereupon he changed his name to Debito Arudou (有道出人 Arudō Debito ), whose kanji he says have the figurative meaning of "a person who has a road and is going out on it." To allow his wife and children to retain their Japanese family name, he adopted the legal name Arudoudebito Sugawara (菅原有道出人 Sugawara Arudōdebito ) — a combination of his wife’s Japanese name and his new transliterated full name. As reasons for naturalization, he cited the right to vote, other rights, and increased ability to stand on his rights; he renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2002. Japanese law does not allow holding two citizenships simultaneously.
Family and divorce
Debito Arudou and Ayako Sugawara have two daughters. Arudou has described them as one being "viewed as Japanese because of her looks" and the other as "relegated to gaijin [foreigner] status, same as I" because of physical appearances. According to Arudou, when he took his family to the Yunohana Onsen, the establishment stated that they would allow one girl to enter the onsen but would have to refuse the other on the basis of their appearances.
Arudou petitioned the Japanese Family Court for a divorce in the spring of 2004, which was granted through court mediation in September 2006.
Arudou v. Earth Cure
Arudou, a "self-styled human rights activist", objected to the policies of several bathhouses in Hokkaidō, Japan, in the late 1990s that had posted "No Foreigners" or "Japanese Only" signs on their doors. He ultimately was one of three plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit against the Yunohana Onsen (Earth Cure) in Otaru, Hokkaidō. Earth Cure maintained a policy to exclude non-Japanese patrons; the business stated that it implemented the policy after Russian sailors scared away patrons from one of its other facilities. After reading an e-mail posted to a mailing list digest complaining of Earth Cure's policy in 1999, Arudou led a multinational group of 17 people of various nationalities (United States, Chinese, German, Japanese) to enter the bathhouse.
These "walk-ins" were attempted twice. Arudou assumed that when he returned in 2000 as a naturalized Japanese citizen, he would not be refused. The manager accepted that Arudou was a Japanese national but refused entry on the grounds that his foreign appearance could cause existing Japanese customers to assume the onsen was admitting foreigners, e.g. inebriated Russian sailors said to be causing problems in that locality, and take their business elsewhere. Arudou and two co-plaintiffs, Kenneth Lee Sutherland and Olaf Karthaus, in February 2001 then sued Earth Cure in district court pleading racial discrimination, and the City of Otaru for violation of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty which Japan ratified in 1996. On November 11, 2002, the Sapporo District Court ordered Earth Cure to pay the plaintiffs ¥1 million each (about US$25,000 in total) in damages. The court stated that "categorically refusing all foreigners constitutes irrational discrimination, exceeds social norms, and amounts to an illegal act." The Sapporo High Court dismissed Arudou's claim against the city of Otaru for not create an anti-discrimination ordinance. It stated that "issues such as which measures to take, and how to implement them, are properly left to the discretion of Otaru." The Sapporo High Court upheld these rulings on September 16, 2004, and the Supreme Court of Japan denied review on April 7, 2005.
Secret Files of Foreigners' Crimes
In February 2007, Arudou participated in a protest against an over-the-counter Japanese-language publication titled Kyōgaku no gaijin hanzai ura file - gaijin hanzai hakusho 2007 (Secret Files of Foreigners' Crimes). Published by Eichi Shuppan, Inc. from January 2007 and sold in convenience stores and mainstream bookstores across Japan, the one-off glossy 128-page magazine devoted over 100 photographs, numerous articles, and manga-style comic strips to highlight alleged crimes committed by foreigners in an effort to "broaden the debate" and "take up a contemporary problem", according to the publisher. Arudou argued that the magazine was "ignorant propaganda." He posted a bilingual letter for readers to take to FamilyMart stores protesting against what Arudou considered "discriminatory statements and images about non-Japanese residents of Japan." Upon reviewing the matter, Japan's third-largest convenience-store chain pulled the magazine from its shelves, citing the publication's "inappropriate racial expressions." Eichi Shuppan, Inc. editor Shigeki Saka defended the magazine, arguing that it was not racist. Responding to his critics in Metropolis Magazine, Saka feared for his life, stating that he had been "subject to a campaign of harassment," received emails issuing death threats, and that an "army of bloggers" had "bullied Family Mart convenience stores into removing Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu from their shelves decid[ing] for everyone else that this book is so dangerous that it cannot be read." Responding to Saka's "exceptional and spirited" defense, Arudou further attacked Saka as a "bigot", publicly accused the magazine and publisher of "hate speech," and concluded that "Civil society, in the form of 'Newcomer' activists in Japan, succeeded in taking Gaijin Hanzai off the market."
In 2003, Arudou, along with several other long-term, non-Japanese residents dressed up as seals and formed a protest after Nishi Ward, Yokohama granted Tama-chan (a male Bearded Seal) an honorary jūminhyō (residency registration). The protesters said that if the government can grant jūminhyō to animals and fictional animation characters, as was the case in Niiza and Kasukabe Cities, Saitama Prefecture, then there was no need to deny foreign residents from having jūminhyō. Currently, non-Japanese residents must be registered in a separate alien registration system.
In June 2008, Arudou lodged a complaint with the Hokkaidō Prefectural Police, claiming that its officers were targeting foreigners as part of a security sweep prior to the 34th G8 summit in Tōyako, Hokkaidō. This followed an incident where Arudou asserted his right under the Police Execution of Duties Law to not need to show identification when requested by a police officer at New Chitose Airport. After meeting with police representatives at their headquarters, Arudou held a press conference covered by a local television station.
In August 2009, Arudou—acting as chair of the newly formed FRANCA (the Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association)—began a letter-writing campaign in protest of a promotional advertisement by McDonald’s Japan featuring a bespectacled, mildly geeky, 43-year-old American Japanophile known as “Mr. James”—a burger mascot who proclaims his love for the fast-food outlet in halting, broken Japanese. Writing in The Japan Times, Arudou called the “Mr. James” campaign both “offensive” and cringe-worthy, argued that the campaign perpetuates negative stereotypes about sensitive non-Japanese Caucasian minorities living in Japan, and demanded that McDonald’s Japan withdraw the advertisement. Marketing and advertising reporter for The Globe and Mail, Simon Houpt, criticized Arudou’s organized protests as being “thin-skined” and suggested to Arudou’s FRANCA that “if someone is calling you a geek, writing a letter to complain isn't going to help your image very much,” while Time Magazine’s Coco Masters asked rhetorically “where’s the beef?”, noting that there were “certainly no shortage of elegant, articulate Japanese-speaking foreigners in local media.” Masters criticized Arudou’s letter-writing campaign by concluding:
”To protest Mr. James as a stereotype of a minority population in Japan because the Ohio native fails to speak or write Japanese fluently, dresses like a nerd and blogs about burgers only ends up underscoring the fact that there really aren't a lot of foreigners who fit the bill running around Japan.”
Arudou has been described as the “Outraged Man” by the Washington Post, as a “relentless social pot-stirrer” by the The International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun, as a "troublemaker in a country that values wa, group harmony, above all else" by National Public Radio, and as a “loudmouth with an Internet connection” by himself. His tactics, methods and pronouncements, which sometimes have been labeled in the mainstream media as "brash and abrasive in any language," “flamboyant”, “contentious,” “notorious,” “aggressive,” “controversial,” and “combative,” have provoked public criticisms from Japan residents and Western expatriates alike, including bloggers, columnists, book authors on Japan, and even his former wife.
Alex Kerr, author of the book Dogs and Demons, has criticized Arudou for his "openly combative attitude", an approach that Kerr thinks usually "fails" in Japan and may reinforce the conservative belief "that gaijin (foreigners) are difficult to deal with". Nevertheless, he comments that "perhaps we who live here are slow to stick our necks out...and quick to self-censor...to get along....". He also sees Arudou's decision to naturalize as bringing "the dialogue inside Japan. His activities reveal the fact that gaijin and their gaijin ways are now a part of the fabric of Japan's new society."
Following two EFL textbooks — Can We Do Business: Introduction to Business English (1996, 2000); Speak Your Mind: Introduction to Debate (1996) — Arudou wrote a book about the 1999 Otaru hot springs incident. This was originally published in Japanese; an expanded English version, Japanese Only — The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan (ジャパニーズ・オンリー―小樽温泉入浴拒否問題と人種差別 Japanīzu Onrī - Otaru Onsen Nyūyoku Kyohi Mondai to Jinshu Sabetsu ) (ISBN 4-7503-2005-6), was published in 2004 and revised in 2006. The book is listed in the Japan Policy Research Institute's recommended library on Japan. Jeff Kingston (Temple University Japan), in a review for The Japan Times, described the book as an "excellent account of his struggle against prejudice and racial discrimination."
Arudou's next book was coauthored with Akira Higuchi (樋口 彰 Higuchi Akira ) and titled Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants to Japan (ニューカマー定住ハンドブック). This bilingual book provides information on visas, starting businesses, securing jobs, resolving legal problems, and planning for the future from entry into Japan to death. Donald Richie of The Japan Times said that out of the guides for new residents in Japan, Handbook was the fullest and consequently the best.
In 2011, Arudou self-published via Lulu.com his first novel entitled In Appropriate: a novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan. The novel tells the story of an international marriage, culture shock, and child abduction. Book reviewer Kris Kosaka of The Japan Times panned the novel, stating that “Arudou's underwhelming style insults the seriousness of international child abduction, the literary form itself, and any reader expecting something more than sludge.”
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- ^ Arudou 2004, pp. 14-29.
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- Patrick Rial,"Arudou: Angelic Activist or Devilish Demonstrator?," JapanZine (December 2005)
- Bathroom blues The Economist
- Debito.org- Debito Arudou's website and blog
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