Down by the river

Feeling blue

In summer there are fireworks festivals everywhere throughout Japan. One of the most popular is the one over the Sumida River in Tokyo. Every year about 1 million people show up.  This year it’s taking place on July 31st.  During the second week of July the authorities start to install fences along the river banks.  The fences are to protect the spectators and prevent water accidents. In order to install the fences the people who erect blue tents (homeless poeple) on the terraces or along the paths have to leave and remove their tents. That means that during the festival the homeless people who live in these tents have to move somewhere else temporarily. In March 2010, the authorities said that there are 13,000 homeless people in Japan. That’s a decrease of 12,000 since 2003, when they counted the homeless for the first time. Both Sumida and Taito Wards counted 720 homeless people in their jurisdictions, and about 70 percent of them live along the Sumida River. They have nowhere else to go, but people who live nearby tend to complain.


The column for legitimacy

In Japan, if you are the mother of a newborn baby you have to check a column on the birth report you file with your local government office acknowledging that your baby is “legitimate.” On May 5th, which is Children’s Day in Japan, the justice ministry issued a directive saying that the authorities can now accept birth reports with the “legitimacy” column left blank.

The Koseki (family registration) Law stipulates that a child’s legitimacy must be indicated in writing on the birth report. If the parents refuse to check the column, the report will not be accepted. That means your newborn baby cannot be included in your family registration form (koseki), which in turn means that the newborn baby doesn’t exist legally. The child cannot receive any services from the local government because the child cannot be issued a residence card, which is based on the existence of a koseki; although, depending on the particular local govenment, some babies without kosekis have been issued residence cards in the past under special circumstances so that the child can receive services such as public education or medical insurance.

If the local government offers these services regardless of legitimacy, then as long as the child remains in Japan he or she will have no problem, but if he or she wants to get married or wants to travel overseas, then there is a big problem.  Without a koseki a passport cannot be issued, nor can the person register his or her marriage. In the past few decades several parents and children have appealed to the authorities, including the justice ministry and the foreign ministry, which issues passports, to repeal this rule, but they have not been successful.  The government uses the passport law as a means to assert its authority over the matter of legitimacy, thinking that parents who disapprove of the law will eventually yield and make a koseki for their children. It means that the parents acknowledge that their children are not legitimate persons. Many of the parents who have refused to check the column do so as a kind of protest against Japan’s legal discrimination of “illegtimate” children.  So even though the authorities now no longer have to force them to check the column, discrimination is still built into the law.  More than two decades ago the UN Human Rights Commission asked Japan to abolish this law.


Some people can’t leave home…

The prime minister’s office recently conducted a survey of people in their 20s and 30s who still live with their parents. In Japan it is relatively traditional for offspring to remain living at home after graduating from school, especially if the offspring is an eldest son who is in line to take over the family business. But except for the eldest son, the other children usually leave after they get married. However, in recent years it appears that more and more adult offspring are opting to stay at home indefinitely as a matter of choice. Read More