Christopher Johnson Under Fire For “Gaijin Gulag” Article
On January 18th, the Economist’s Banyan column copy-pasted Christopher Johnson’s sensational account his detention and deportation from Narita Airport. According to Johnson, immigration authorities may have singled him out unjustly because he was a journalist that wrote articles critical of the Japanese establishment:
“As a freelance journalist in post-meltdown Japan…..I was taking risks more than most foreigners. I wondered if I was being blacklisted due to my critical coverage of TEPCO, Japan Tobacco, Olympus, JAL, the yakuza, fascists, and state neglect of tsunami survivors and nuclear refugees.”
Johnson never specifies his visa status in the article. The Economist states that “his lawyer advised him not to discuss it.” This has made Johnson a target of strong criticism on the internet. Why write such an article and leave out one of the most important pieces of information?
And all this just so happened to occur when he was about to release a novel – which is an “uncompromising look at the inner turmoil behind the stoic face of Japan.” Quite a profitable coincidence.
Several of Japan’s expat blogs have been commenting on the case. One of the best posts is “How Bad is Japanese Immigration?” by Hiko Saemon. I encourage you all to read the full post, but here is a very short excerpt about visas:
I do not believe that Mr. Johnson would have been pulled up and deported from Japan for writing articles critical of Japan. I also don’t believe that he would be deported for no reason. I don’t believe that Mr. Johnson spent a day in detention, speaking to numerous English speaking staff and never understood why he was being deported.
The fact Mr. Johnson is not sharing his visa status also speaks volumes to me. Again, the Economist doesn’t add anything to this, but it seems to me, his visa status was very likely the reason he was not allowed to reenter Japan. That is to say, it was most likely known that he was violating the terms of his visa and his entry was denied. This comes back to my earlier point – IF that is the case, and Mr. Johnson was “trying his luck” at getting in and out of Japan working without a proper visa, he was asking for trouble.
Mulboyne (at the FG forums) has also commented on the importance Johnson’s visa status:
What comes across in his account is a total disbelief that Immigration had any right to deny him entry. If he had a valid status of residence then that would be understandable. Even if he later exaggerates, we would know he’s writing his account from a position of genuine and justified outrage.
If he had no valid status of residence then his account is in a parallel universe. As onlookers, instead of justified outrage, we see an unjustified sense of entitlement. Anger, which should be partly directed towards himself for his predicament, is entirely directed elsewhere. When he blames everyone except himself, his overall credibility is in question.
Johnson has not been friendly towards people who have asked him about his visa status. His display of rude arrogance in a public Twitter conversation with Jake Adelstein and Tokyo Reporter has done little to inspire confidence in his story.
The article has changed considerably since Johnson first posted it online. The latest update has added some information about visa status:
I first had a work visa for Japan in 1989, and my last renewal began in 2008. I have never overstayed, and never broken laws in Japan.
But it is still not specific, and has failed to end speculation about whether Japanese immigration authorities had a valid reason to deny him entry. As some have pointed out, a 3 year work visa issued in 2008 could have expired while Johnson was out of the country.
There are also some highly unlikely and possibly wrong parts of the article. His most shocking claim – that security guards threatened him to sign papers at gunpoint – is extremely unlikely because gun control laws in Japan do not allow private security guards to carry firearms. The article seems full of exaggerations, like his complaint that he was forced “onto a flight to Canada without much winter clothing for minus 40 temperatures in Alberta” ( he had been visiting Seoul, where temperatures were much lower than those in Alberta). Johnson also states that he had a “few beers” on the 9:00AM flight from Seoul to Narita, a trip that typically takes about 90 minutes.
(Update [2/15/2012]: Johnson has announced what many suspected: he had been entering and leaving Japan on 90-day tourist visas. See Flyjin.com and the NBR Forum for good write-ups about the visa issue.)
For the latest information, check out these discussion threads about Johnson’s article:
- Forum thread on F-cked Gaijin.
- Discussion on Tepido.org
- Discussion on Debito.org
- Discussion on Reddit
- Discussion on the Economist website