Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Deaf X-mas in Japan II: The Bad News

Subtitle: Top court rejects appeal by Koreans seeking disability benefits

I have been following this court case since the beginning of my research on deafness in Japan. It has gone all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court, and on x-mas day the court gave this present to my Korean-Japanese Deaf friends in Kyoto: NO BENEFITS!

News of this judgment has been almost non-existent in the Japanese press. It did appear in Japan Today but was quickly removed as it was not a popular discussion article. You can read a short article at the following web site:

Link to Kyodo article on Breitbart

"...[N]ot taking compensation measures is evidently not unconstitutional." What a wonderful quote! These people were born in Japan and use Japanese Sign Language. They pay taxes but are doubly burdened because of their status as Korean-Japanese (click here for more background information on this issue) and an extremely puzzling law that sets up arbitrary age limits to receive social welfare assistance.

Not much is known about this issue. I certainly didn't know about it when I first came to Japan ten years ago. I remember being at a Deaf dinner party and getting frustrated with everyone asking me if I was American. I decided to confront the next person who asked me the question with "Are you Japanese?" The person I ended up confronting was Mr. Kim, who politely signed to me that, no, he was not Japanese but rather a Korean-Japanese. Mr. Kim has been an active fighter of this issue for several years. I interviewed him and the following passage appears in my dissertation:

I have a double burden, one is being a Korean person living in Japanese society and the other is being a disabled person, and because of that I have experienced really upsetting moments. Now Japan's economy is bad and it has been very difficult for me to have a job. Because of that, my younger brother and deaf friends have found me jobs and I have been working doing public works. I told people from the beginning that I can't hear. My boss said he understood but when I made mistakes at work, he said with his voice that it was incorrect and he told me many things. I told him I didn't understand but he scolded me many times saying "it's wrong" so I got angry, too... I got fired. Even when I was working, I was forced to work for a lower wage. One time my salary was unexpectedly small, and when i asked for the reason, I was told, "disabled people get pension [social welfare assistance] so it should be enough." Most people don't know that foreign "disabled people" living in Japan don't get a pension and even when I explain to them why we don't get a pension, people have difficulty understanding. It was such a chagrin and very upsetting, too. People have thought that I have been getting a pension like Japanese people. (Kim quoted in Fedorowicz 2002:102)

Somehow, Kim's boss, thinking Kim was receiving social welfare payments, deducted the same amount from Kim's paycheck. The double burden is a double penalty here. Deaf people because of their so-called "disabled" status earn much less than their hearing counter-parts in Japan. This is bad enough (and so the social welfare payments in theory try to make up for this difference) but what about the plight of the Korean-Japanese Deaf? The Japanese government doesn't seem to understand their plight, or even care about it.

Mr. Kim's fight continues. Why? Merry Christmas indeed...

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