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Ad Hoc Meeting between Two Stateless Citizens - PART 1


Left: Ms. Chen Tien-shi, alias Lara, answering my questions
Right: Lara on a study tour

It is something I am inclined to call a serendipity that the brilliant author of Mukokuseki - Stateless (Shincho-sha, 2005) turned out to be my neighbor and that a restaurant owned by her family is located just around the corner from my apartment. Despite the differences in age, ethnicity and educational/occupational background between us, we seem to have one thing in common: we are stateless at heart.

Currently Chen Tien-shi, better known to her friends as Lara, spends weekdays in Osaka as Associate Professor at National Museum of Ethnology (MINPAKU) but on weekends she comes home to spend time with her husband, son, parents and siblings who are living in this neighborhood.

On Friday night I visited that restaurant without knowing Lara had already flown back from MINPAKU. I ordered mapo tofu ("stir-fried tofu in hot sauce" as the Beijing Travel Bureau translated the name of the dish in 2008) for my late dinner. But when I was working on my mapo tofu, Lara emerged from the innermost alcove typical of a Chinese restaurant, which I call a "family nook," and spotted me. She looked a little tired from the hard-working week, but was kind enough to say, "Let me answer some of your questions when you are through with your dinner." A couple of days earlier I had sent her six questions together with my take on her book.

The first one was about how specifically she defines statelessness. You don't have to define homelessness or joblessness, but when it comes statelessness, it's not that simple. So I asked her:

"You wrote that according to the statistics compiled by the Justice Ministry, there were 1,846 stateless people in Japan as of the end of 2003. You went on to say that if you include unregistered people and those who are 'unaware' of their real situation, the stateless population must be much bigger. I can't agree more, but could you define these 'unaware' people more specifically?"

Her answer: Obviously the biggest group that falls on this category is found in Zainichi (Koreans living in Japan.) Especially, she added, a good part of their second and third generation belong in this group. Their parents and grandparents were recruited from the Korean Peninsula as forced laborers or "comfort women."

The population of Zainichi peaked at the vicinity of 2 million by 1945. After the war, some of them chose to return to the Peninsula, but those who opted to stay on faced the same difficulty that the Chen family encountered in 1972 when the Republic of Korea came into existence in 1948 because, at the same time, the Korean Empire-turned-Japanese colony ceased to exist. Yet the Japanese Justice Ministry was unjust enough to issue their resident registrations just stating they are "Koreans." Some of them found it unavoidable to become naturalized in Japan - the very country that had inflicted unbearable humiliation on them for 34 years from 1911 to 1945.
Ms. Chen thinks basically the same thing can be said of most refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because countries by these names have been nonexistent at least since 1975 when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Democratic Kampuchea (currently called Kingdon of Cambodia) were founded. To be more precise, there have never been such names. No matter whether they are fully aware that there is no "home country" to return to, they are stateless, literally and figuratively.

Japan has practically closed its door to "political refugees" because of its pathological obsession with homogeneity, and yet there are more than ten thousand such people living here with stateless status.

If you take account of "economic refugees," Lara concluded, these 1,846 people certified by the Justice Ministry as stateless in 2003 must have been the tip of the iceberg. In my interpretation, economic refugees include those the Palermo Protocol of 2000, or United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, termed "willing participants in trafficking in persons," i.e. prostitutes.

Lara told me across the Chinese dining table that the definition of the word statelessness should be given in a multilayered way - legally, factually and from an inner angle.

In relation to my first question, I had also asked her where she classifies herself and other "stateless citizens" including myself. She confirmed that as she wrote in Mukokuseki - Stateless, she remained essentially stateless even after she acquired Japanese citizenship. But she corrected me as to the particular part of my book review where I cited practical consideration as the primary reason she wanted to become a legally established citizen.

She said to the effect that that is only part of the reasons. "Most importantly," she said, "I wanted to find out if my problem could be solved just by legally establishing myself here. In other words, I wanted to know exactly what it would be like for an individual to willfully enter into a 'contract' with a state."


Although she said she has not found the answer yet, it was obvious that she thought this contract deprives her much more than it gives.

We didn't specifically talk about political figures but those who have ruled Taiwan in the last 60 years - from Chiang Kai-shek to Ma Ying-jeou. But I gathered that we share the same views of other national leaders such as Barack Hussein Obama, Hu Jintao and Yukio Hatoyama. They claim to rein over the Pacific Rim and boast that they are there to solve, or at least help solve, our problems.

To us stateless individuals, however, this is a downright delusion because they are the problems. How can the problems solve themselves?

Our unscheduled meeting was held in a family-like atmosphere because Lara's sister, her brother and his wife occasionally came over to our table to take part in our conversation when Lara was talking about her 88-year-old father, who was currently on a business trip to South Korea, and the hardships the Chen family went through in the last 60 years.

My own family has long broken down just like any other Japanese families. So I was all the more impressed to see these folks huddle together that way at least on weekends. I suspected that without this traditional family bond, Lara might not possibly have overcome her identity crisis.

When we were moving on to my question No. 2, two other people showed up at the doorstep of the homey eatery: one was a youngish man and the other a toddler. Lara introduced them to me, saying, "They are my husband and son. The kid's name's Tien-qi. They came here to take me home."
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Ad Hoc Meeting between Two Stateless Citizens - PART 1 | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Stateless Citizens
Authored by: samwidge on Saturday, November 07 2009 @ 08:08 PM JST

This book and your reviews would find large audiences here in the United States. The time is right. That is because of our own difficulties with illegal immigrants. Those folks are pouring in from Latin America and South America. They tend to be ill-equipped to live here and suffer great burdens.

The United States is also suffering great burdens because of them. Without citizenship they are often forced back south but have nowhere to go. It is a difficult paradigm; If they go they suffer and if they stay, we suffer.

It is time to work with your New York agent once again. The book in English would have merit and sell well. Reviews would sell well also.
Stateless Citizens
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Saturday, November 07 2009 @ 08:46 PM JST


Dear samwidge:

Thanks a lot for your comments.

Actually, I asked Lara, "Why don't you have your book translated in English?" She showed a great interest in my suggestion and said, "I think your English writing skills are first-rate. Will you come back to the New Jersey agent with my book? I would pick you as the translator."

I don't know if the literary agent is smart enough to find her book marketable, and even if she does, I am not sure whether my poor health allows me to translate the 250-page book. I have reserved my answer. I'll think it over for a while.

I think I understand your take on the issues with illegal immigrants, but there's no denying that we should bear in mind there is the other side of the coin. You say, "If they go, they suffer but if they stay we suffer." But at the same time, you can also say, "if they go, we (or at least some of us) suffer."

For one thing, if the U.S. Census Bureau refrains, as it actually does, from asking American residents, "Do you have an American citizenship?", Republicans will suffer but Democrats will profit in many ways.

Yu Yamamoto
Stateless Citizens
Authored by: samwidge on Sunday, November 08 2009 @ 08:28 AM JST

I wonder if immigration to the United States from South America and Latin America is different from international population movements in Asia? You presumed above that if aliens failed to come to the United States we would suffer. It is true that we get cheap produce because illegal aliens hire on cheaply to harvest food. My point is that if they stayed home and demanded reform in their own nations, then those places would become better lands to live and raise children. Ultimately everybody would profit.

Already, we get large amounts of produce and meat from Argentina because those people are finally developing their own country. It is not a perfect change but it is superior to Argentines abandoning their land to overcrowd this one. They take fewer risks and live better than before.

There was a time when Argentines suffered more in their own country than they do today. If they were to move here now, they would work at miserable wages. At home they now have some education. Raising children is far more happy.

It is because of these differences and also because of the similarities that I think your friend's book would find large audiences here. The book would allow our people to make intelligent comparisons for the difficult decisions we are making.
Stateless Citizens
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Sunday, November 08 2009 @ 11:06 AM JST


Dear samwidge,

Thanks for further clarifying your points.

I think the situation is fundamentally different from the U.S. to Asia to Europe.

In the U.S., if an influential Republican told an immigrant from Mexico to go home because, for instance, the number of congressional seats assigned to a state is determined based on the census data, then the Mexican would have to go home, though very reluctantly. But I think it's important to note that for better or for worse, he has a home country to return to.

In Japan, a good part of immigrants are law-abiding people, in part because Japan is a thin archiperago surrounded by the sea. Chen Tien-shi's parents, too, migrated from Taiwan legally. Their problem stems from the fact that because of the pressure from the People's Republic of China, our government renounced diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1972. The Chen family have since lost their home country. Hence, if someone told them to go home, that wouldn't make any sense. The situation the 600,000-700,000 "Koreans" are in is even more complicated because their "home country" was a colony of the imperial Japan from 1911 to 1945 and then it was divided into two by the conspiracy between Truman and Stalin.

There is a certain resemblance between Japan and Western Europe; Germany was divided into two and the Soviet Union has been nonexistent since 2 decades ago. But unlike the Japanese, the Europeans are smart enough to come up with a workable solution; the European Union.

These are why I don't think the situation is really comparable between the U.S. and Japan.

For the same reason, I cannot be very optimistic about the marketability of an English version of Chen's book.

BTW: It is presumed that prostitutes account for more than 90% of unlawful immigrants smuggled into Japan by yakuza syndicates.

Yu Yamamoto .
Stateless Citizens
Authored by: samwidge on Sunday, November 08 2009 @ 04:47 PM JST

Obviously you have far more knowledge of this than I.

It does seem reasonable to say that many Latin Americans and South Americans do not have countries to return to. Some situations there are absolutely miserable and they return to death!

Very quietly, large amounts of US money are being spent there to help the people. The problem is that donations do not make a people independent. Donations do not build nations. Donations do not restore anyone's pride and self reliance.

We have no interest in imposing our philosophies on the peoples south of our border. In fact, we do our work for them as quietly as possible, hoping that they can become independent. It would be relatively easy to crush the Castros and Chavezes and never have to think about them again. (Kennedy was too little, too late, too chicken to give Castro his serving of justice. The missile event was a catch-up battle that should never have been needed.) If we flattened the bad guys with our wealth and power, we would have to care for the peoples of their nations in a never ending battle of charity. We are already doing plenty of that in keeping our illegal aliens alive and fed here.

Frankly, I earnestly wish that your friend, Gordon Chang, would weigh in on this. This is his field of expertise, too. He has so very much wisdom to offer!

Like you, I believe that the differences between Asia and South America are immense. I think that it is those differences that would make the study interesting for our people. If everyone were the same, then we could find a one-size-fits-all sort of solution and be done with it. That won't happen but discussion will.

One other thing seems important before I leave for the day: You speak of Republican motivation in all of this. The illegal alien issue affects us all and all of our people have thoughts on the issue. Keeping illegal aliens out, however, is not a Republican thing. Republicans simply find it more easy to state the problem clearly.

In an odd twist of fate, Republicans end up hiring great numbers of aliens and they do it out of sympathy and charity rather than a will to get rich off disadvantaged people. Our illegal aliens are desperate people. When they ask for help, it is very difficult for us to reject them.