Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. and Japan’s Refugees

By Michael Watson

We’re back again with another Toonami History Article where I, Michael Watson, examine the historical and cultural inspirations and ideas that are explored in anime to bring you all the insights on your favorite shows! This time we’re looking at the anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG and, of course, history. If you didn’t get a chance to read my last article about the culture present in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, then be sure to check it out as it was a lot of fun. Before we begin, as always, I must warn you of any spoilers for those who may not have caught up yet. The following article contains major (see what I did there?) and minor spoilers for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG. If you do not wish to read any spoilers on this show, particularly the second season, then do not read any further until after you’ve watched. Go ahead, I’ll wait. No rush. Are you back now? You saw it? Okay, good! Phew! Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get this journey into anime and history started!

Ghost in the Shell has practically become a household name, thanks in part to the recent Hollywood adaptation starring popular actress Scarlett Johansson, which, while not highly regarded among fans, drew in new audiences not familiar with the original source material. Despite that, Ghost in the Shell and its fandom had already been well-established for a long time before the Western live-action film was released, having thrived on a plethora of movies, shows, manga and more. Each brought new elements to the table, while all maintained strong thematic and emotional through lines that connected each iteration together. Some of the themes explored in the Ghost in the Shell franchise included the concept of “cyberbrains, prostheses, and ghost hacking,” among others. In this article, we will discuss the history and events of the second season of the television series, known as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, as it applies to Japan’s real-world problems when it comes to dealing with refugees (Yoshida).

The craze for Ghost in the Shell started back in 1989, when Masamune Shirow, the original creator of the manga which inspired all the other Ghost in the Shell source materials, began creating his first work focusing on the lead character, Major Motoko Kusanagi. Kodansha Comics described the manga as “the definitive cyberpunk manga that inspired the internationally acclaimed animated film. An epic dystopian tale of politics, technology, and metaphysics, The Ghost in the Shell has been hailed worldwide as an unparalleled visionary work of graphic fiction.” It was in this work that the underlying themes, characters and ideas were first explored. The manga ran from 1989 until 1990 and was followed up by a sequel manga titled The Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, which ran from 1991 until 1997 (“The Ghost in the Shell”) (Yoshida).

The manga takes place in the latter half of the twenty-first century when technological development is at an all-time high. Human body parts can be replaced with mechanical implants, leaving some with almost entirely synthetic bodies. In this world where “the line between man and machine has been inexorably blurred,” criminals take advantage of these new technologies to their own gain. Major Motoko Kusanagi of Public Security Section 9 is tasked with hunting down and arresting these cybercriminals, who employ a variety of tactics, including ghost hacking, which exploits weaknesses in the cyberbrain’s interface and allows individuals to be controlled like puppets. Through her investigations, Kusanagi discovered a widespread plot by a master hacker known as the Puppeteer, and was thrust headlong “into a world beyond information and technology where the very nature of consciousness and the human soul are turned upside down” (“The Ghost in the Shell”).

The world was graced with the first anime adaptation of The Ghost in the Shell in the form of the 1995 anime movie Ghost in the Shell. The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii and was widely considered a masterpiece worldwide, having immediately garnered attention and praise upon its release. According to Vulture, the movie “took a subplot from Shirow’s manga and turned it into a meditation on consciousness and the philosophy of the self… The film’s brilliantly creative action sequences inspired Western filmmakers from the Wachowskis to Steven Spielberg to take note.” With a moody soundtrack by Kenji Kawai and a strong sense of style, Ghost in the Shell set the tone for the series going forward, both visually and philosophically (Yoshida).

Seven years after Motoko Kusanagi made her big screen debut, she returned to the franchise in the form of an anime TV series called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex in 2002. The show was directed by Kenji Kamiyama of Patlabor fame, among other anime, and animated by Production I.G. The show ran for fifty-two episodes and was considered by many to be a classic of cyberpunk anime. Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C., as it came to be known, combined “Shirow’s roving, speculative storytelling with Oshii’s more impressionistic, philosophical approach.” The show was set in an alternate timeline from the film, and followed Major Motoko Kusanagi and her fellow Public Security Section 9 agents in a “procedural-serial hybrid” that contained both stand-alone episodes and larger interconnected stories that would play out over the course of each season. The show totaled two seasons in all and had an anime film of its own, titled Solid State Society, with a new third season on the way in 2020 called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2045. Several more spinoffs and remakes have been released as well (Valentine) (Yoshida).

In the second season of the show, titled Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, the large overarching plot involved a refugee uprising potentially stoked by government interference. Throughout the course of the show, tensions rose and came to a boil when a nuclear bomb was obtained by the refugees and used to threaten the government to demand better treatment of the refugees. A tense, political thriller, this second season used sci-fi to convey real issues and ideas relevant to Japan’s history and modern day-to-day life. By looking at the fictional history of the Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. world as well as the events that take place within the show, we can find parallels to our real world and possibly even learn more about what we understand to be true.

Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. takes place in the year 2032, when the world has seen much global conflict that has shaped and reshaped the world many times over. These events directly lead to the refugee situation experienced by Japan in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. To truly understand the situation, we must first discuss the two major cataclysmic events that occurred within the world of GITS: S.A.C. The first of these conflicts was known as World War III, and occurred in the early twenty-first century, however, not much is known regarding what started the hostilities. WWIII “was a limited, but global, nuclear and conventional conflict… [which] primarily involved wealthy and powerful developed countries whose destruction resulted in fundamental changes in the global balance of power…” (“World War III”).

The results of such a limited nuclear war was that “long-established national boundaries and concentrations of population were broken.” Major First World countries, including the United States and China, took the brunt of the devastation, with immense damage experienced around the world. Another result of WWIII was the balkanization, or the splitting, of the world’s countries into smaller nations. In the United States, the country was divided into “smaller, less stable” competing nations while “civil wars and non-state revolutionary movements pose a constant security threat worldwide…” (“World War III”).

In North America, following the aftermath of WWIII, the continent was controlled largely by one group, the American Empire, whose jurisdiction was the largest of any of the competing nations within the North American continent. The American Empire had fought long and hard against Mexico “for land and resources south of the former borders of the United States.” The entire geopolitical landscape was in upheaval and no country went by unscathed. Japan, who had remained neutral and out of conflict during World War III, came out on top after the war politically speaking, and even had a status as a relatively privileged nation. Despite that fact, the capital city of Old Tokyo was hit by a nuclear missile during the war and “Tokyo Prefecture largely sank below sea level” (“World War III”).

Japan emerged from the wreckage of WWIII as the dominant superpower, thanks in large part to the technology developed by Japanese scientists which came to be known as the “Japanese Miracle.” The amazing breakthrough, available only to Japan, used “a swarm of Micromachines capable of removing radiation from the environment” to clean up after nuclear bombs and nuclear power plant accidents. This brought Japan diplomatic power in the postwar world that resulted in a weakening of the American Empire. This put Japan in a unique position on the world’s stage, one which they planned to take full advantage of if possible (“Japanese Miracle”) (“World War III”).

Soon after, beginning in the year 2015 and ending in 2024, another global conflict broke out, which was known as the Non-Nuclear World War IV, also known as the Second Vietnam War, which resulted from the “collapse of many developing [Third World] countries.” This conflict was a conventional war on a vast scale and “centered on the Nemuro Peninsula, which could be referred [to as] both Indochina and Korea, thus the Second Vietnam War reference.” The Nemuro Peninsula was a peninsula which ran along the eastern coast of Hokkaidō, Japan. The end result of this bloody world war was that the major superpowers of Japan and the American Empire dominated the landscape. Except for skirmishes in the North Korean city Sinuiju, Japan again remained out of conflict during WWIV, this time due to a previously established treaty with the American Empire (“World of Ghost in the Shell”) (“World War IV”).

The United Nations became involved in the new postwar era, and foreign nationals took control of the Nemuro Peninsula under a singular unified government. In South America and Mexico, “mercenary groups appeared in the hundreds, populated by remnants of armies once connected to nations that no longer exist.” Independent states, sovereign nations and regions controlled by many rose exponentially in the years during and following WWIII and WWIV. Countries became ever-more divided and split, with various interests vying for power. In some locations in this postwar era, regions existed “where sovereignty falls into question – where no one is really sure who owns or governs what” (“World of Ghost in the Shell”).

The above image depicts Japan in the year 2024, following WWIII and WWIV, there appeared “evidence of nuclear strikes [which can be seen] near Tokyo and Niigata cities.” After WWIII, when the world was split and began dividing and separating into separate nations and city states, it disrupted the global geopolitical climate. One result from this upheaval of the world order was an immense, worldwide, refugee crisis which saw millions displaced from their home countries in Asia. Perhaps because of Japan’s newfound position of political dominance, or possibly out of pure humanitarian concerns, Japan accepted the displaced refugees from Asia into Japan to help rebuild Japan in the postwar era, which had been hit hard by nuclear the nuclear blast during WWIII. Other countries, including China, denied entry completely for all refugees (“Refugee Crisis”) (“World War III”).

After the reconstruction period was over, the refugees were sequestered into refugee camps across Japan. The largest of these camps was located on an artificial island off the coast of Japan known as Dejima. The name is a reference to a real-life artificial island off the coast of Japan with the same name, which had been “built in the bay of Nagasaki in 1634 to constrain foreign traders such as the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Chinese.” In the show, the refugees are denied basic rights and forced to live impoverished lives, due to Japan’s demographics having changed due to the large “post-war influx of Asian refugees.” The illegal status of such refugees and asylum seekers meant their forced confinement within “ghettoes such as the one on Dejima, [which] leaves them vulnerable to exploitation, encourages identity fraud and other crime, and leads to ethnic tensions” (“Dejima”) (“Refugee Crisis”) (“World of Ghost in the Shell”).

Dejima Island

Despite the poor treatment given to the refugees across Japan, the public’s perception was severely negative. Due to rising civil service costs regarding the wellbeing of the refugees, coupled with “rising unemployment and increased taxes,” many believed that they were being forced by their own government to support the lives of the refugees while they could not get any jobs themselves due to foreigners taking all of the available work. Ultimately, tensions reach a breaking point, at which the refugees are “tired of being marginalized” and asked the Japanese government to allow Dejima to be given autonomous independence and sovereignty. However, when the government denied this request, a charismatic leader by the name of Hideo Kuze, leader of a terrorist organization known as the Individual Eleven, emerged from the shadows. Kuze quickly rose to become the defacto leader of the revolutionary refugees and leads them on a revolt against Japan’s government (“Refugee Crisis”).

Many may wonder why refugees were chosen by the creator and writers of Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. as a major theme for the second season of the show. However, Japan has a history with refugees dating back more than forty years. Just like in the show Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C., Japan really did take in a large influx of fleeing refugees from Asia after a major conflict. In this case, it was the Vietnam War, after which Japan took in more than 10,000 refugees, who became colloquially known as the “Boat people.” These refugees came in droves from three different countries in Indochina: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. In 1981, Japan joined the refugee treaty as an affiliate and in 2010, created the Japan Resettlement Program (Japan Association).

Japan, which had a long history of isolationist policies, made an unprecedented move when they granted so many individuals refugee status after the Vietnam War. While part of this act must have surely been humanitarian in nature, it was also political, as Japan had received much political pressure from foreign nations, particularly the United States, to accept the refugees into the country. Caving to these pressures, Japan let in thousands of refugees into the country in droves. The way that the Japanese government handled refugees and asylum seekers after that mass immigration changed, and a new age of refugee isolationism began (Strausz).

An article in the Chicago Tribune from September 10, 1989, during the time of the mass immigration into Japan of Indochina’s refugees, recounted the hardships of travelling to Japan during that time. Families were forced to cram inside hulking, rickety, wooden boats which transported them from their home countries in Asia to Japan’s shores, often in the pitch dark of night. Truong Bao, a fourteen-year-old boy who traveled on one such boat with thirty-six refugees remarked, “We wanted to come to Japan. We heard Japan was the best place to land.” Bao had left his family behind in Vietnam, his parents and younger brother, in hopes to get a better life. However, when he arrived, he was placed within the “green steel fences of the Omura refugee center 30 miles north of Nagasaki” (Yates).

During that time, when so many were granted refugee status, boats arrived almost weekly bringing new refugees. The Japanese Ministry of Justice stated that within nine months, eighteen boats had arrived in Japan, carrying a total of more than two thousand refugees. The government considered this “an unprecedented influx that has strained the resources of refugee centers, local governments and immigration authorities and has caused Tokyo to rethink its liberal refugee resettlement policies.” It is estimated that not only does Japan deal with thousands of refugees seeking asylum every year, the country is also inundated by illegal immigrants and unskilled foreign workers, ranging in the estimated hundreds of thousands, making the situation ever more difficult (Yates).

The refugees who came to Japan during the Southeast Asian refugee crisis, just like those in the Ghost in the Shell series, found themselves in similar situations. Many of the refugees lacked the ability to provide for their necessities and fell into homelessness. In today’s age, Japan only allows approximately thirty new refugees into the country every year, unlike the mass immigration into Japan following the Vietnam War, which has never occurred on that scale again. Those seeking asylum in Japan who have not been granted refugee status are considered illegal and detained at refugee camps across Japan, including one in Tokyo. The refugee camps in GITS: S.A.C. are directly tied with Japan’s current refugee situation, where camps are run like prisons, including refugees being “housed in a room with iron bars for five or six people and cannot work or go outside. In short, it means ‘take away freedom’” (“What is containment?”) (“Who are refugees?”).

The length of a refugee’s detainment is indefinite, meaning that it can continue for an unspecified amount of time. Documented cases of refuges spending five plus years is common, and some have stayed even longer than that, for many years and years. “Mental health problems are rife, with many detainees… falling into depression.” In one case, a refugee was held for more than eight years before being deported. Overcrowding is rampant in Japan’s refugee facilities, with numbers of refugees being housed there being hundreds more than originally intended. A news article from Reuters detailed the story of a refugee who fled to Japan in 1998 from Vietnam. Seeking asylum, at some point he was placed into the refugee detainment system, and in 2017 the man committed suicide at the East Japan Immigration Center near Tokyo. The facility refused to disclose why the man had been detained or for how long. Poor conditions, lack of freedoms and inadequate medical attention are but a few of the challenges faced by these confined refugees (Funakoshi) (Kimiko) (Yates).

That same year, Japan had only allowed in twenty new refugees into the country out of approximately twenty thousand that applied. That meant that any who had already come to Japan and were in the country illegally would be detained at one of these facilities or deported back to the country from which they had just fled. Japan has a policy of “mandatory detention of over-stayers and other unauthorized migrants. Many of the country’s detention practices – including indefinite detention, lack of transparency regarding detention at ports of entry, and the detention of asylum seekers – have been repeatedly criticized by the international community…” These refugees arrived at Japan believing they have fled their dangerous home to find safety, however, all they found was confinement waiting when they arrived. Hiromitsu Masuda from the Provisional Release Association, a rights group dedicated to helping refugees, has stated that the confinement of refugees was “abnormally long” (“Japan Detention Centre Immigrants Start Hunger Strike”) (“Mapping Immigration Detention around the World”).

More recently, in 2018, as many as forty refugees began a hunger strike, possibly quite more than that, following the suicide of one of the refugee’s detained at the facility who had been waiting a long time to receive immigration status. More than one hundred refugees being detained went on hunger strikes the year prior to protest conditions and this year refugees petitioned for long-term detainment to be ended. In Japan, there are more than seventeen refugee detainment facilities, containing around one-thousand seventeen people as of 2017. The refugee’s suicide constituted the fourteenth death within Japan’s immigration facilities since 2006. Even the United Nations had declared that Japan’s refugee policies were draconian in nature. Despite the outcry from activists, organizations and the refugees themselves, Justice Ministry official Kazuyuki Tokui, “who oversees the centers, told Reuters his ministry did not recognize any problem at the facilities” (“Japan Detention Centre Immigrants Start Hunger Strike”).

Chief of the Provisional Release Association, Mitsuru Miyasako, stated, “No one is healthy. They go in young and fit, but after two years, maybe 1% aren’t sick.” Often times, refugees within these immigration detainment centers are cramped five to a one hundred-square-foot locked cell. The doors are usually open for about six hours each day, with forty minutes of exercise. Refugees are allowed minimum amounts of television, using the pay phone and talking to each other to pass the time. Miyasako notes that those convicted of crimes serve their sentences and get released, while refugees who have committed no crimes sit inside detention “indefinitely and arbitrarily. The goal is to bully detainees and wear them down until they give up and self-deport” (Craft).

In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, we’re given a vision of the future where Japan’s immigration and refugee policies continue to become even stricter. In the anime show, as was stated previously, after the events of the Nuclear World War III and the Non-Nuclear World War IV, “a massive shifting of population occurred all over the globe. Hundreds of thousands of non-Japanese citizens found themselves on Japanese soil, either from a failed invasion, or fleeing from their own countries.” While some were granted visas and citizenship to work, especially those with “applicable skills, training and advanced cyberbodies,” hundreds of thousands more were left to be detained in Japan’s detainment facilities, little more than refugee camps, set up after the instatement of the Special Refugee Treatment Act (“Refugee Relief Sectors”).

Unlike in reality, in GITS: S.A.C., the refugees within the camps have full autonomous control over themselves, with the residents within being allowed to live independent lives inside the camps. That being said, the abject squalor and poverty within make life hard for the refugees, who are often used as cheap labor for neighboring cities. With no way to legally enter Japan and no safe country to return to, these refugees were forced to live out their days within the confines of the refugee camps. Those who tried to escape the camps were either deported or killed outright. With no leadership and no one looking out for them, the refugees began to feel that they’d lost hope. It was due to these feelings that led to the refugees’ acceptance of Kuze as a leader. (“Refugee Relief Sectors”) (“Refugee Special Treatment Act”).

Within the camps in GITS: S.A.C. are housed three million refugees, which may seem like an extremely high number now, but with Japan’s strict policies what they are, it may not seems so far-fetched in the near future. The show depicts refugee camps as places where people are treated like second class citizens living in fenced-off ghettos. Like a prison, refugees are confined to within the space of the refugee camp. Some can leave provisionally to work outside the camps, however, even these refugees are treated as “paroled inmates,” with even the slightest mistake grounds to have their outside work privileges revoked (“Refugee Special Treatment Act”).

What the show tries to point out is the real-world issue that the statistics support, which is that Japan is “one of the world’s least-welcoming countries for refugees.” One immigrant from Pakistan, Zahir Amini, stated, “What the government is doing is very much abusive of the human-rights convention. When it comes to the government stance, I think they’ve been excessively obsessed with the preservation of this homogeneous society.” Some argue that this tendency for homogeneity stems from the historical context that surrounded the Edo period, during which Japan was ruled by “isolationist policies that saw foreigners expelled and foreign contact forbidden until 1853.” These rigid policies lasted for more than two hundred years (Chan).

The scope of those who can be detained in such refugee camps might surprise some, as it is not only limited to asylum seekers and those who have applied for refugee status. The detainment policies also cover individuals such as those who’ve entered Japan illegally using forged passports and other documents, those who lie about their reason for going to Japan when applying for a visa, those who have overstayed their visas and even those whose legal residence within Japan gets revoked through “specific activities.” Due to this reason, there are many types of people held within Japan’s detainment facilities (“What is containment?”).

One activist and lawyer, Shinichi Kodama, described the situation in one of these facilities, and detailed the horrid living conditions that the refugees were forced to endure. He stated, “To be able to separate children without any mercy… Although [she] is a single mother, it may be a long-term accommodation.” Kodama referred to an incident twenty years ago when two Iranian children and their parents were put in one of Japan’s detention center’s when the children were in third and sixth grade respectively. Kodama continued, “I was really surprised what it meant to house a child…. Although [it] is no more now, [the refugee camp] was put in a dirty facility called Tokyo Immigration No. 2 Government Office at that time, there was no playground, and it was never exposed to the sun, even though it was housed” (“What is containment?”).

Furthermore, the building had poor ventilation, Kodama recalled, saying, “The blanket is full of long hair, and no pillows are washed. Shower only two or three times a week. The toilet is indoors, not properly partitioned, and there is a Western-style toilet over the screen where only the waist is hidden.” The mother, at the time, had commented that she would possibly be killed if she tried to return to their home country of Iran, however, she could not let her children suffer any more humiliation. The family eventually left and went to Norway where they were able to become resettled properly as refugees. This is but one of many examples that show the poor living conditions that many refugees experience at detainment facilities (“What is containment?”).

Japan’s tough policies are wide-ranging, including the fact that applicants for refugee status must apply in person. For those who arrive in Japan to apply who do not have visas, they will be “detained and barred from seeking refugee status.” Getting a visa in and of itself is an incredibly difficult task for many refugees fleeing bad situations in their own countries. Many times, refugees lack the proper paperwork, identification, fees, forms, etc., that are required by some countries to obtain such a visa. Another hurtle is that Japan does not recognize persecuted groups, only individuals being targeted, meaning that there must have been a clear and present danger to that individual, regardless of whether they exist within a known persecuted group, to be potentially considered for refugee status (Chan).

Alex Easley, an American expatriate who lives in Japan while housing sixteen refugees seeking asylum, remarked, “ I know some people that have been waiting for twenty years and they haven’t been put back inside so they’re just waiting, so long as they can stay in Japan and work. They know there’s no possibility to get [refugee status] – 20,000 people applied last year there’s no chance of getting it, they’re not even thinking about that – they just want to be able to stay and work.” Another man, Saburo Takizawa, chairman of the nonprofit Japan for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), stated, “This asylum-seeker policy is a victim of Japan’s migration policy…. The government says we don’t accept migrants, but we’ll accept them as casual laborers, we’ll accept them as students, we’ll accept them as technical trainees, and the government allows them to work” (Chan).

Many times, refugees that come to Japan do so simply as a stop towards their ultimate destination. They arrive in Japan and attempt to take another flight out of the country, but don’t have visas, and therefore become stuck in Japan, confined to one of the many refugee detainment facilities scattered across the island nation. Takizawa remarked, “The number of refugees who wish to come to Japan is very small. Many of them want to go to Canada, or France, but there are no direct ways there….” Part of this stems from considerations that many refugees make when deciding what country to immigrate to, including “social networks, historical ties between the new country and their home, simple travel, and a common language,” to name a few. Takizawa says that Japan “lacks all of them” (Chan).

Afghani refugee Amini continued her earlier sentiment, having stated, “It’s a homogeneous country. I felt my family and I were treated as different people. But that’s fine. What was very much shocking to me was we had very little means of surviving in Japan. The Japanese government didn’t provide us with some sort of assistance to survive.” For Amini’s family, living in Japan was tough, because while they had refugee status, they could barely keep the family going amidst the high cost of living and low wages that were brought in by her father. Amini recalled late at night, worrying about her father, stating, “I was having a mental breakdown. Seeing my dad working from morning to evening, all day until late at night, but still he wouldn’t be able to meet the expenses we had as a family. It was heartbreaking” (Chan).

The stance of the people of Japan has been split on the issue for a long time, due in no small part to Japan’s homogeneity. There are those in Japan, that a 1989 Chicago Tribune article described as “xenophobic Japanese,” who feel that the boat people are in the same category as “the Pakistani, Bengali and Filipino laborers who sneak into the country in order to earn in one day what would be one month’s salary back home. Japan’s outdated 1951 immigration law forbids any unskilled workers from entering the country. Such illegals, including the Vietnamese, should be deported.” The other outlook that many have, which the article described as a “more enlightened” approach, sees the assistance of refugees from other Asian countries as a responsibility due to the fact that Japan was such a wealthy nation. A third perspective can be seen in the humanitarian efforts by those in Japan to help refugees, both in and out of refugee camps (Yates).

Masanami Nakatsuka, director of the Omura refugee camp, said, “Americans and others criticize Japan as a closed country with a closed-door policy. But there is no country in the world that accepts everyone. Not even America, which sends illegal Mexican immigrants back across the border. Japan is no different.” As Japanese social thinking shifted from “earlier consensual models of homogeneity (which considered refugees, like all foreigners, extrinsic to the social system) …to show much greater concern with status inequality (among war refugees and other marginalized groups).” Ross E. Mouer and Yoshio Sugimoto believe that Japan has left the consensual model of homogeneity behind in favor of a “multi-dimensional model of stratification,” one which contains “a vision of society which attaches importance to social differentiation” (Havens) (Yates).

The above political cartoon, drawn by Iranian artist FKM (Fery), shows what resulted when a group of refugees who had been given provisional refugee status and release from the refugee camps refused to return to the camps when that status was revoked, and were forcibly detained. Just like how the refugees in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime formed an uprising against the Japanese government, the refugees currently living in Japan have had enough and are sick of receiving such poor care and restricting confinement. It begs the question, what might happen if refugee numbers continue to rise within Japan’s detainment facilities, and discontentment were to continue to increase, what would happen if an uprising were to occur? Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG gives us a vision of this future possibility (Yates).

However, despite Japan’s problems with handling the influx of refugees seeking asylum, the country has taken steps in the right direction and some are hopeful that the situation will get better one day. New programs have opened to help refugees gain official refugee status, and a second resettlement program was put in formed in recent years. The government has also focused their search for what they see as legitimate refugees, prioritizing their cases of others. This has seen a drop in applications since January 2018, of fifty percent, which Takizawa believed indicated a general refugee motive to obtain legal work permits. Despite that move, which some may see as restrictive, Japan is considering granting refugee status to more Asian refugees in 2020, hoping to double the number of refugees allowed into Japan each year to sixty (Chan) (Kyodo).

This move towards more accepting refugee policies is still new to Japan, however, the Japanese government believes that this will result in stronger “regional humanitarian needs.” The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, was recently begun as part of the country’s third resettlement program, which focuses on refugee settlement in Tokyo and throughout Japan. One program called the Karen-refugee pilot will see nearly one hundred-fifty Syrian refugees join graduate-degree programs as well as allowing those refugees to resettle in Japan with their families. Takizawa stated, “This is a step in the right direction. The numbers are so small but the government is opening new channels of accepting refugees and I’m seeing this is as a small but important step forward” (Chan) (Kyodo).

Japan has one of the strictest immigration policies in the world. As previously stated, in 2017, Japan had only allowed refugee status to twenty individuals and allowed forty-five to stay due to humanitarian grounds, and this was out of an incredible twenty thousand who applied according to statistics by the Justice Ministry. Dirk Hebecker, head of the UNHCR in Tokyo, stated, “Fixing the asylum system cannot be the only answer because it’s just a painkiller; it doesn’t cure the symptoms.” In light of the large number applying for refugee status, the Japanese government has begun to reconsider many of their policies, including the idea of accepting refugees twice a year, as they now only accept refugees once a year. The Liberal Democratic Party, which is the currently ruling part of Japan, and in particular the Judicial Affairs Division, officially began discussions recently “on a draft government bill to amend the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act” (Chan) (Kyodo).

Despite these strides, there are still many in Japan who view refugees and asylum seekers as bad for the country. Even members of the Liberal Democratic Party warn against amending the draft bill to allow for refugees to gain residence status in fields where there are labor shortages, “such as nursing and construction, as the country struggles with a rapidly graying population and low birth rate.” These members believe that this kind of amendment could lead to a “possible deterioration in public safety resulting from an increase in the number of foreigners in the country” (Kyodo).

Another staunch critic of loosening Japan’s refugee policies is a man named Shigeharu Aoyama, a member of the Upper House in government, who is absolutely opposed to revising the law in such a manner. It is Aoyama’s stance that Japan should not be concerned with bringing in immigrants for work and focus instead on shoring up Japan’s labor shortages by increasing the employment rate of native Japanese workers. Many criticize the proposed amendments as they see it as a way for the Japanese government to bring in cheaper labor using foreign workers from developing nations, which in turn takes jobs away from Japanese citizens. The situation for refugees it already tough, but when public sentiment is not on their side in Japan, then it becomes that much harder for those fighting for refugees’ rights to make change possible (Kyodo).

Whatever, the reasoning behind it, the evidence is clear that the refugees in Japan are facing dire circumstances. Confined or homeless, they flee from their home countries to search for peace, only to find more suffering. Despite the refugee camps and the programs in place, there is no official policy in place in Japan, which has led to an overburdened system that has become inundated by refugee applications. “Strict policies, geography, and history have limited asylum-seekers’ access to Japan, while a general preference for its homogeneous society means citizens have little motivation to push for change.” The hardships faced by the refugees in Japan are mirrored in the show Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, as we see in the anime the inequality in living conditions from those living in Japan as citizens and those living in Japan as refugees, essentially prisoners. With no end in sight for these refugees, many have lost hope entirely of ever resettling in Japan (Chan).

SyFy Wire states that in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C., “Hideo Kuze becomes a kind of messiah for the displaced, offering salvation in the form of escape. He wants to digitize the refugee population and upload them into the internet. The refugees are forced to live in slums and the anime specifically calls out the government’s mishandling of the refugees as the reason for Kuze’s call to revolution.” It is an interesting idea to want to escape the harsh realities of the real world, and for Kuze, this is a mercy for the countless who are suffering. It is easy to see the connections between Japan in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG and the real-world Japan (“Refugee Crisis”) (Villanueva).

“Ghost in the Shell doesn’t exist in a post-racial world because so much of its narrative stem from how people from different ethnic backgrounds are treated. Kuze’s plan to move the refugee population into the net is an act of desperation. The internet is the only place where the disenfranchised can be free.” This concept plays with the idea of what reality can be and whether there is validity in a purely digital world. However, going beyond that, Kuze’s plan showcases just how desperate the situation within these refugee camps had become, as some of the refugees had lost all hope and simply wanted an escape from their harsh reality while other refugees wanted full-on revolution. As for Kuze, he “wanted the refugees to leave the oppression of the physical world behind and migrate onto the net (“Refugee Crisis”) (Villanueva).

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG is an intricate show with many themes and messages running throughout its twenty-six-episode second season run. Tackling such large ideas as Japan’s treatment of refugees who seek help from persecution gives us a sharp look at an issue that Japan still struggles to face. While strides are being made in the right direction, it would seem as if it were not moving fast enough, as so many thousands more refugees seek refuge in Japan, whether by choice or by necessity. Until these people can be properly resettled somewhere safe and sound, then their suffering cannot possibly end.

Refugees are no different than any other person in the world, with a head full of dreams, a heart filled with love and a desire for freedom. In the show Naruto Shippuden, the character Jiraiya said, “Even I can tell that hatred is spreading. I wanted to do something about it… but I don’t know what. I believe…. that someday the day will come when people truly understand one another.” It was this idea that Jiraiya and his disciple Naruto believed would lead the world to peace in the future. Perhaps, if we could all be a little more accepting in our lives, and to help out where we can, that will ultimately be what leads to finding peace for everyone in the world. Just as Jiraiya once said, “…that’s not what makes a shinobi… Let me explain something to you, there is only one thing that matters if you are a shinobi, and it isn’t the number of jutsu you possess. All you do need, is the guts to never give up.”

Citations

  • Chan, Tara Francis. “NO ENTRY: How Japan’s Shockingly Low Refugee Intake Is Shaped by the Paradox of Isolation, a Demographic Time Bomb, and the Fear of North Korea.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 11 Apr. 2018, businessinsider.com/why-japan-accepts-so-few-refugees-2018-4.
  • Craft, Lucy. “Dozens of Immigrant Detainees on Hunger Strike in Japan to Protest Harsh Conditions.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 3 Oct. 2019, www.cbsnews.com/news/japan-dozens-of-immigrant-detainees-on-hunger-strike-protest-harsh-conditions/.
  • “Dejima.” Ghost in the Shell Wiki, ghostintheshell.fandom.com/wiki/Dejima.
  • Funakoshi, Minami. “Vietnamese Killed Himself in Japan Immigration Center, Community Leader Says.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 27 Mar. 2017, reuters.com/article/us-japan-detention-death/vietnamese-killed-himself-in-japan-immigration-center-community-leader-says-idUSKBN16X022.
  • Havens, Thomas R.h. “Japan’s Response to the Indochinese Refugee Crisis.” Asian Journal of Social Science, vol. 18, no. 1, 1990, pp. 166–181., doi:10.1163/080382490×00105.
  • Japan Association. “Refugees Fleeing to Japan.” Refugees in Japan / Japan Association for Refugeesrefugee.or.jp/en/refugee/.
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  • “Japanese Miracle.” Ghost in the Shell Wiki, ghostintheshell.fandom.com/wiki/Japanese_Miracle.
  • Kimiko, Tanaka. “A Call to End Human Rights Abuses at Japanese Immigrant Detention Centers: Twenty-Five Years of Grassroots Advocacy at Ushiku Detention Center: 入管収容施設の人権障害を許さない牛久入管への面会行動を続けて25年.” Translated by Miriam Wattles, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 1 Mar. 2019, apjjf.org/2019/05/Tanaka.html.
  • Kyodo, Jiji. “Japan Considers Doubling Number of Refugees to 60 Starting in 2020.” The Japan Times, 13 Oct. 2018, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/10/23/national/japan-mulls-accepting-asian-refugees-starting-2020/#.XbOeUehKiUm.
  • “Mapping Immigration Detention around the World.” Global Detention Project | Mapping Immigration Detention around the World, www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/asia-pacific/japan.
  • Masamune, Shirow. “The Ghost in the Shell.” Kodansha Comics, kodanshacomics.com/series/ghost-in-the-shell/.
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  • “Refugee Special Treatment Act.” Ghost in the Shell Wiki, ghostintheshell.fandom.com/wiki/Refugee_Special_Treatment_Act.
  • Strausz, Michael. “International Pressure and Domestic Precedent: Japan’s Resettlement of Indochinese Refugees.” Asian Journal of Political Science, vol. 20, no. 3, 2012, pp. 244–266., doi:10.1080/02185377.2012.748966.
  • Valentine, Evan. “Ghost in the Shell SAC 2045 Reveals Release Info.” Comic Book, ComicBook.com, 13 June 2019, comicbook.com/anime/2019/06/13/ghost-in-the-shell-sac-2045-reveals-release-netflix-anime/.
  • Villanueva, Michelle. “What the Live-Action Ghost in the Shell Movie Gets Fundamentally Wrong about Ghost in the Shell.” SYFY WIRE, SYFY WIRE, 26 Apr. 2017, syfy.com/syfywire/ghost-in-the-shell-live-action-vs-anime.
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nubguy

Hi everyone, My name is Michael, and I am a member of the Toonami Squad. I am the team's historian, diving into the past to bring you stories about the anime you love. I'm also the co-founder of Wikid Publishing, a comic/manga publishing/distribution company based out of California. You can follow us on Twitter @wikidpublishing and my personal Twitter @nubguy. Check out our website at https://wikidpublishing.wixsite.com/comics where you can find out more information about all our comics and manga. Some also know me as the host of the Dagashi Kashi Snack Buying Guide on the Funimation forums. I wear many hats. Haha I am excited to be a new member of the Toonami Squad!