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Debito Arudou
Born David Christopher Aldwinckle
January 13, 1965 (1965-01-13) (age 45)
California U.S.
Residence Sapporo, Japan
Nationality Japan
Home town Geneva, New York[1]
Known for Human Rights Activism

Debito Arudou (有道 出人 Arudō Debito ?) (born 13 January 1965) is an American-born Japanese English teacher, author and activist.




Early life

Arudou was born David Christopher Schofill in California in 1965.[2] He grew up in rural upstate New York in a 140-year-old 10-room cobblestone house on over three acres of land.[3] In the 1970s he became David Christopher Aldwinckle when adopted.[2] Aldwinckle attended Cornell University, first visiting Japan as a tourist on invitation from Ayako Sugawara (菅原文子 Sugawara Ayako ?),[4][5][6] 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.[7] 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.[2] 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.[8]

Aldwinckle then joined a small Japanese trading company in Sapporo. It was this experience, he recounts, that started him down the path of the controversial activist that he would later become. "This was a watershed in my life," Arudou writes. "… and it polarized my views about how I should live it. Although working [in Japan] made my Japanese really good — answering phones and talking to nasty, racist, and bloody-minded construction workers from nine to six — there was hell to pay every single day."[2] Arudou contends that he was the object of racial harassment.[2] 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. As of 2007, he is an associate professor.[9]

Japanese naturalization

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 ?)[6] — a combination of his wife’s Japanese name and his new transliterated full name.[10] As reasons for naturalization, he cited the right to vote, other rights, and increased ability to stand on his rights;[2] he renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2002.[11] Japanese law does not allow holding two citizenships simultaneously.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14][15]

Arudo petitioned the Japanese Family Court for a divorce in the spring of 2004, which was granted through court mediation in September 2006.[16]


Otaru onsen lawsuit

The original problematic sign

Arudou was one of three plaintiffs in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Yunohana Onsen in Otaru, Hokkaidō. Yunohana 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 Yunohana's policy in 1999,[17] Arudou visited the hot spring (onsen), along with a small group of Japanese, White, and East Asian friends, in order to confirm that only visibly non-Japanese people were excluded.[18]

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.[19]

Arudou and two co-plaintiffs, Kenneth Lee Sutherland and Olaf Karthaus, in February 2001 then sued Yunohana on the grounds of 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 Yunohana to pay the plaintiffs ¥1 million each (about US$25,000 in total) in damages.[20] The court stated that "refusing all foreigners without exception is 'unrational discrimination' [that] can be said to go beyond permissible societal limits."[21] The Sapporo High Court dismissed Arudou's claim against the city of Otaru for failing to create an anti-discrimination ordinance; the court ruled that the claim did not have merit.[22] The Sapporo High Court upheld these rulings on September 16, 2004[23] and the Supreme Court of Japan denied review on April 7, 2005.[22]

Other protests

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[24]), 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.[25]

In February 2007, Arudou protested against the book Kyōgaku no Gaijin Hanzai Ura File - Gaijin Hanzai Hakusho 2007 (Secret Foreigner Crime Files).[26] Arudou posted a bilingual letter for readers to take to FamilyMart stores protesting against "discriminatory statements and images about non-Japanese residents of Japan."[27]

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.[28] 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.[29]


Arudou maintains an active online presence, including a blog.

Alex Kerr, author of the book Dogs and Demons, has criticised 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 get along....". He also sees Arudou's decision to naturalise 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."[30]


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."[31]

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.[32]

Arudou has also written pieces for the on-line academic website Japan Focus and had his work published by the Japan Policy Research Institute, which later placed his article online when it moved to a web format.[33]

Arudou writes a guest column, "Just Be Cause", for The Japan Times. In August 2008, Arudou drew an analogy between the words "gaijin" and "nigger", arguing that the status of "gaijin" as politically incorrect was well deserved.[34] This prompted a large reader response, with most of the published responses finding the analogy inappropriate.[35] This process was repeated roughly one month later, when Arudou wrote another article standing by his original statement.[36] Again, most published responses were critical of the analogy.[37][38]


  1. ^ Brooke, James (2004-05-12). "LETTER FROM ASIA; Foreigners Try to Melt an Inhospitable Japanese City". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-03.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f Arudou, Debito. "A Bit More Personal Background on Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle," Debito.Org. Retrieved on March 11, 2009.
  3. ^ Arudou, Debito. "BUILDING A HOUSE IN JAPAN--CREDIT AND CHICANERY." Debito.Org. Retrieved on March 11, 2009.
  5. ^ Arudou, Debito. "Wife." Accessed October 28, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "French, Howard W. (2000-11-29). "Nanporo Journal; Turning Japanese: It Takes More Than a Passport". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-03.  
  7. ^ A brief mention of Aldwinckle and his book, Japanese Only, is made in the Cornell Alumni Magazine Online, Mar/Apr 2005 Volume 107 Number 5, available at: <>. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
  8. ^ A brief biographical sketch of Aldwinckle and other 1991 UCSD IR/PS alumni is available at the official university website. See: < Class of 1991>. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
  9. ^ "School of Distance/Satellite Education Syllabus." Hokkaido Information University. November 10, 2007. Retrieved on October 8, 2009.
  10. ^ Arudou, Debito. "What's in my Name? Japanese Naturalization Update," Debito.Org, August 24, 1999. Retrieved on 2006-12-14.
  11. ^ Arudou, Debito. "How to Lose Your American Passport," Debito.Org, January 10, 2003.
  12. ^ "Dual Nationality: The Japanese Perspective." Embassy of the United States in Tokyo. Retrieved on October 8, 2009.
  13. ^ "Dave Aldwinckle - daughters," Dave Aldwinckle's website on
  14. ^ Arudou, Debito. "Japanese Only Presentation in English." Retrieved on October 8, 2009.
  15. ^ Arudou, Debito. "Japanese Only Presentation in Japanese." Retrieved on October 8, 2009.
  16. ^ Arudou, Debito (2 December 2006). "How to Get a Divorce in Japan". Retrieved 2008-10-10.  
  17. ^ Arudou, Debito. Japanese Only — The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan, (Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 2004), pp. 14–29.
  18. ^ Arudou, Debito. "The Trip to 'Gaijin-Okotowari' Onsen," Debito.Org, Sunday September 19, 1999. Retrieved on October 8, 2009.
  19. ^ French, Howard W. "Turning Japanese: It Takes More Than a Passport." The New York Times. November 29, 2000. Retrieved on October 8, 2009.
  20. ^ "THE WORLD; Japanese Court Ruling Favors Foreigners; Bathhouse must pay three men who were denied entry." Los Angeles Times. November 12, 2002.
  21. ^ Arudou, Debito. "The Otaru Lawsuit Decision and its Possible Effects." Debito.Org. Made public on November 12, 2002. Retrieved on October 8, 2009.
  22. ^ a b Newswire, "City Off the Hook for Bathhouse Barring of Foreigners," The Japan Times Online, April 7, 2005. According to the Sapporo High Court ruling, "The convention has only general, abstract provisions recommending appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination, and the Otaru government does not have any obligation to institute ordinances to ban such discrimination." For a look at the original (Japanese) Supreme Court decision, see "Japan Supreme Court Decision on the Otaru Onsen Case," Debito.Org, April 7, 2005.
  23. ^ Arudou, Debito. "Preliminary Report on the Otaru Onsen Lawsuit: Sapporo High Court Decision," Debito.Org, September 16, 2004.
  24. ^ Chapman, David. Zainichi Korean Identity and Ethnicity. Routledge. 2007. 121.
  25. ^ Asahi Shinbun, 22 February 2003
  26. ^ Arudou, Debito (1 February 2007). "Gaijin Hanzai File” pubs spectre of evil foreign crime". Retrieved 2007-02-19.  
  27. ^ Stuart Biggs and Kanoko Matsuyama (7 February 2007). "Japan Store Withdraws `Foreigner Crime File' Magazine". Retrieved 2007-02-19.  
  28. ^ The Japan Times. Police questioning 'discriminatory' , June 26, 2008.
  29. ^ STV News. June 25, 2008.
  30. ^ [1] 'The Japan Times. 'Japan sees beginning of change', 25 October 2005.
  31. ^ "Bathhouse pushes a foreigner into the doghouse." The Japan Times.
  32. ^ Donald Richie. Helping newcomers settle in Japan. The Japan Times, April 20, 2008.
  33. ^ "Debito Arudou/Dave Aldwinckle's Publications," Debito.Org
  34. ^ Debito Arudou. The Japan Times. Editorial. Once a 'gaijin,' always a 'gaijin'. Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008.
  35. ^ Wayne Malcolm. The Japan Times. An exaggeration in any context. August 24, 2008.
  36. ^ Debito Arudou. The Japan Times. Editorial. The Gaijin Debate: Arudou Responds. Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008.
  37. ^ The Japan Times. Readers get last word on 'gaijin' tag. Readers get last word on 'gaijin' tag.. Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008.
  38. ^ "Readers in Council 'Gaijin' to Japanese eyes." The Japan Times. September 4, 2008.

Reference links

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Debito Arudou (有道 出人 Arudō Debito, born 1965), born David Christopher Aldwinckle, is a naturalized Japanese citizen who is a teacher, author and activist.


  • WaiWai was an essential guide to Japanese attitudes and editorial directives.
    • ("Defending the weeklies, as well as Connell and his collaborators, is the unflagging media critic and campaigner for human rights Debito Arudou, who wrote that WaiWai was an essential guide to Japanese attitudes and editorial directives.") Justin Norrie, "Japan rails at Australian's tabloid trash", Brisbane Times (2008-07-05)
  • Too many Japanese believe that they can say whatever they like in Japanese ('that statement was for a domestic audience' is very often an excuse for gaffes), as though Japanese is some secret code."
  • Other people have called me a "human rights" activist. I don't mind the label, but I don't think I'd go so far. It puts me on par with other extraordinary activists. I'm just an average guy with a bigger mouth than average.
  • I guess the clarification I should make here is that Japan is as potentially racist as anywhere else, but for a developed country, the legal and social protections and recourses afforded to people of differences are lacking comparatively. Racial discrimination is still not illegal in Japan, and this is something the Japanese government promised to fix when it signed the UN Convention on it in 1995. In short, Japan is not an outlier in terms of racism, but it is in terms of protections against it.
  • Truth be told, having two passports in Japan is not necessarily a problem. If one lived a quiet life, one could conceivably keep renewing a non-Japanese passport ad infinitum. The USG permits dual citizenship and doesn't go out of its way to tell other governments about the nationalities of their citizens. However, as you know, I don't live a quiet life.
  • [To] me naturalization is just an obvious extension of what somebody in my position would desire anyway — the right to vote and to legally participate in society the same as any other citizen. I am already as entrenched as any other citizen: I have a house and land with a debt of a quarter-million dollars; with a thirty-year loan I really cannot leave Japan… Moreover, naturalization has knock-on benefits that suit a person with my personality. It will enable me to stand on my rights (yes, more than I do now!) with renewed vigor — because I will indeed have more rights, as well as a firmer ground to demand even more (I can except myself from, say, this 'as a foreigner, you are a guest in our country so shut up' bullshit). And — dare I say it? — I would be able to participate in politics as a candidate if I so choose).

External links

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Simple English

Debito Arudou who was originally called David Christopher Aldwinckle was born in New York. He moved to Japan where he still lives. He is a social activist who tries to change the situation of non-Japanese people in Japan. He likes to complain. Opinions about him are mixed.



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