Discussion: Reader Eric C writes in with an argument for “giving up on Japan”. What do you think?

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Hi Blog. I was going to write on something else today, but I got this letter as a post comment this morning. It’s considered and considerate — usually letters on this topic are nasty flames, criticizing me personally for ever doing what Debito.org has been doing for (as of next month) fifteen years now. And it’s also a useful exercise to think about why we do the things that we do.

I won’t answer it, for now. I’ll open it up for discussion here on Debito.org and see how other people think. Thanks for writing in, Eric. Arudou Debito

//////////////////////////////////
Eric C
Submitted on 2012/03/18
Debito:
Thank you on behalf of all NJ who have lived in Japan or are living in Japan. You are doing brilliant work. I agree with almost everything you say and do and I am in awe of your energy, perseverance and spirit.

However, the more I read your site and columns and learn about your story, the more I find myself wondering why you keep trying. I lived in Japan for years and I did what you did, but on a lesser scale: I fought discrimination, xenophobia and racism as hard as I could. I like to think I gave as good as I got, if not better. I caused a fair bit of hell at my local kuyakusho, at immigration, with the police and with various random racist folks. That’s not to say I went around with a chip on my shoulder: I had a lot of Japanese friends, spoke the language well and really tried to fit in. But, finally, I decided to leave Japan and I don’t regret it. Not for a second. Every day I’m out of there, I give thanks that I had the balls and foresight to leave.

My question to you is why do you keep trying? I don’t want to be negative, but I think even you have to admit that Japan and the Japanese are not really going to change. Not in any meaningful way. They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so. The society is feudal, with only the flimsiest veneer of legality. There is no real law – power and connections are all that matter. Japan reached a highpoint of openness and internationalization in the early 90s, and it’s been rapidly closing and going backwards since then. As the country stagnates and gets poorer, it’s going to become less and less welcoming to foreigners. I mean, the mayors of the three main cities in Japan are all nationalists and, most likely, racists.

Frankly, I don’t even think it’s worth trying to change Japan. They’re not worth it. Let them go their own miserable way to stagnation and backwardness. Let the world pass them by. Japan is like a stubborn old geezer in your neighborhood who does something offensive (letting his dog bark all night, for instance). You know that arguing with him is a waste of time. The only sensible thing to do is move away. Fuck him, to be direct about it.

You’ve fought the good fight, Debito, and a lot of gaijin owe you a huge debt of gratitude. But, for your own peace of mind, why not let someone else take up the burden? Or, better yet, wouldn’t it be best for all NJ to simply pack up and leave and let the Japanese do whatever it is they want to do? Let them sing the kimigayo morning, noon and night. Let them teach English so poorly that no one can speak it. Let them lobotomize their kids in the name of educating them. Let them claim that their actions in WWII were one vast charitable mission to spread peace and love throughout the world. Let them sink slowly into the swamp of their own bloody minded ignorance.

It’s not our job to “fix” their society. It’s not our job to educate them about how the world really works. It’s not our job to try to bring them into the modern world.

Sorry, this is a bit of a downer of a post, but anyone who knows Japan as well as you know it must surely realize that the defining characteristic of modern Japan is the inability to change. They’re so stubborn that if you ask them to change, they’ll consciously avoid changing just to spite you. I mean, why do you think they keep whaling and dolphin killing when it requires vast government support to keep doing it? They do it precisely because the world tells them to stop.

I say, leave them to it and live your own life.
ENDS

UPDATE:  The author has offered more lengthy and elaborate comments below here and here.  You might want to read them first before going on to everyone else’s.

134 comments on “Discussion: Reader Eric C writes in with an argument for “giving up on Japan”. What do you think?

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  • As if more reason to give up on Japan was needed, but here is a sobering report on the future of Japan’s economy:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120419f2.html

    Basically, in every scenario, the average Japanese will be more than twice as poor as the average Korean in just over forty years. This country’s going back to third world status within four decades.

  • with that in mind, and considering a non-japanese’s position on the social totem pole, it makes to be more than a little nervous knowing that as a non-japanese there is almost nobody in power looking out for you. so if the economic forecast turns into a reality a non-japanese should have a personal back-up plan for when the axe comes a knocking on the front door of both the apartment and the company.

    one thing about the article linked above is that it focuses on japan’s graying population as a considerable factor in the forecaster’s predictions but fails to mention that korea is graying at a nearly identical rate.

  • DeBourca

    I agree Japan’s economic situation is not good. The mass production type industries (which were responsible for Japan’s rise during the Showa era) are getting creamed. However there are still small segments (primarily involving precision machinery and goods that require a high level of precision) that are doing well.

    On the other hand, I am not sure where you came up with the statement,

    “the average Japanese will be more than twice as poor as the average Korean in just over forty years.”

    I did not see that in the article nor have I seen it in any other economic study or simulation I have read. That is a very radical claim. Do you have access to further information to substantiate? If you could pass it on I would appreciate…thanks..

    In the end my humble opinion is that Japan is at a tipping point now and the way the leadership reacts over the next 5 years will determine the future of the country. One major issue that will confront the country is energy and its cost as it relates to economic sustenance and growth.

    I also still believe that opportunities for foreigners with the right skills will exist and could potentially even increase in Japan as there are several signs the Japanese Government is actually recognizing the need to increase the foreign labor force, especially those with specific skills.

    I guess time will tell. For those with no good economic incentive to stay or for those who do not have strong family ties, yes it may be a good time to leave. For those who can stick it out or have a decent economic incentive to remain in Japan there may be some good opportunities down the road. For “westerners”… either way at this point neither the EU nor the United States look much better.

    There are many unceertainties as to the future of the EU (not only economically) and the U.S. is an economic catastrophe waiting to happen (real unemployment around 22% once those that have given up looking for work are counted) with a rising police state mentality.

    Whatever choice you all make hope it works out well.

    Cheers

  • The statement

    “the average Japanese will be more than twice as poor as the average Korean in just over forty years.”

    seems quite unlikely.

    First, the reunification of the 2 Koreas (which will almost certainly happen within 40 years) is likely to be ruinously expensive, so Koreans will be significantly poorer themselves.

    Secondly, Korea also has significant social problems regarding xenophobia, etc. even in just ROK prior to reunification.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    What does the phrase “twice as poor” mean? Half the income? That’s a very sloppy phrase.

  • For the twice as poor phrase: If South Korea has less than half the population of Japan but both countries have the same wealth, well a Japanese has half the income. Or a Korean has twice the income, or use whatever phrase you like, you know what I mean.

    @Doug,

    I certainly agree that the US/Europe are going through tough times, however, there is more potential for change in these countries than Japan, IMO. I do agree that the next five years and the nuclear power struggle are crucial for Japan, and I really do hope the country gets its act together. My wife is Japanese, my daughter is half Japanese, so I have ties to this country. However, I just don’t see this country is capable of transforming itself over such a short time, considering the people running the country. Look at the hooha over introducing a Fall graduation for universities!

    Remember, that the “best case scenario” in that article is based on Japanese women achieving the same rights as Swedish women. There is related article on the Japan Times website about current poverty levels for women living alone in Japan. Can you imagine women in Japan achieving fifty percent of public representatives? Or getting six to nine months of paid maternity leave?

    Hopefully, time will prove you right and me wrong.

    Perhaps we should continue discussion on the new post created by Debito linking this article and a related Yomiuri piece.

    — Yes, please do. Just click here to jump there.

  • ThoughtIWasALifer says:

    I lived 15 years in Japan, learned the language, established a corporate career in finance, bought a home, married a local, and took PR. I thouht I was a lifer, but when the finance industry tanked in 2008 after Lehmans crashed, I lost my job, which led to a period of unemployment, and the need for a re-think. I could have tried English teaching or something like that temporarily to allow us to stay on longer, and to be honest I always thought I probably would if I ever needed to. (No offence meant to those who do). But when push came to shove, I guess I realised that I wasn’t willing to take that step just to allow me to stay on in Japan. Perhaps I didn’t love the place as much as I suspected, or perhaps it didn’t love me as much as I might have hoped. In any case, with great trepidation (as I had almost reached the stage of involuntary exile) I headed back to my country of birth as a re-emigrant. Well the sky didn’t fall in, I had plenty of job choices available including government work, and things turned out just fine. I’d like to say that I miss good friends in Japan, but most of them were in the finance industry like me, and thus had unfortunately also ended up in all four corners of the globe in order to find semi-decent jobs in a reasonable time frame. I believe the exodus of foreigners from Japan started long before the tsunami / earthquake. In any case I survived my exodus after such a long continuous stint in Japan, and have fallen on my feet just fine. Whilst there are things that I’ll always miss about the place, it is also great to be back in a place that doesn’t ‘other’ people to the degree that Japan did, and is not quite so passive-aggresive. I worry for the economic future of Japan, and I am kind of glad now that I won’t be spending my fifties there. Or worse, my sixties after that. Anyway, life goes on, and is full of interesting experiences. And so will be Japan for those who stay. Alas though, when I see how hard my country is working to attract and retain immigrants, and how much this is positively stimulating the economy, let alone society, I fear that Japan (still struggling to make decisions that should have been made years ago) has missed a boat that they don’t even realise is boarding. While Japanese politicians (and thus wider society) struggle to rationalise whether the can even accept the immigrants they so need, those immigrants get wooed by and ultimately choose from among a range of countries far easier in which to make a new start. Meanwhile so-called developing economies continue to prosper at a rate that makes future immigration largely unecessary. Best of luck to dear old Japan in figuring a solution to those issues before it’s too late.

  • Mari fujisawa says:

    I have been living in Japan for almost thirtynyears now, and to answer an argument related to this post on “giving up on Japan”, sadly to say I have not much choice but to go on as my husband is Japanese, his business is here and we just can’t pack and go as we have to lay mortgage and the business cannot be left until my second son is ready to take over.
    In the meantime, I continue to struggle with life here with positivities surrounding my small circle of few but honest to goodness true friends.
    Everyday is a challenge I tell you. And yes I am convinced that this country will never change, hence politics involved, government rules and schools’ system.
    My new challenge is my daughter-in-law…little did I know it was going to be another great challenge in my part when it comes to our small family tradition that she can’t cope with nor comply being a simple greeting of “happy birthday mama”, or a good simple daughter/mother conversation…minus having to bond with her during lunch or going shopping with her or to the movies…anything simple that life has to give I find impossible for her to deal with when it comes to bonding with me. There are always issues and excuses.
    Whilst she runs to her own mother all the time there is something that hasn’t worked according to her likings.
    So you see, now with a new baby in hand, I can’t even find myself feeling her in my arms, or giving her a kiss as it may not be allowed!
    Any suggestions?

  • Mari, your predicament is not unique to Japan. I’ve heard the same daughter-in-law stories everywhere in the world. Just give her time, she’ll get used to your family traditions eventually. Congratulations on your new grandchild.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Mari #108

    I have been thinking about your post.
    Yes, Japan is in a terrible state, and has systemic racism issues. However, never forget that this is a case of ‘the chrysanthemum and the double edged sword’. The same ‘we Japanese’ BS that serves to ‘other’ you, also liberates you from the shackles that bind Japanese to the company/group/society/(whatever), and prevents most of them from thinking and acting independently on many occasions. It also stacks up the chips on their shoulders when they realize that their life wasn’t lived for them, but for the constant expectations of others, whereas they envy not only the freedom of choice that we NJ have, but also (even though they consider Japan the best place to live in the world) look at NJ in Japan and know that they will never have the skills (or balls) necessary to do what the NJ have done; make a life abroad. They know that they are scared of that idea, and you are not. Therefore massive insecurity complex that sends them running back to J-social conventions every time there is any pressure.

    As far as your daughter-in-law is concerned, she seems to be acting like a child, so perhaps you should treat her as one. Lower your expectations in regard to her. Don’t put any pressure on her. Don’t expect her to relate to you in the way an adult would. Set clearly defined rules and boundaries in the relationship, and apply them without flexibility. This will help her understand how you expect her to relate to you, and whilst not the kind of relationship you may have hoped for, will at least ensure that any failure to maintain a civil air is not because you have been giving her a hard time, but rather that she is testing the limits of what you will accept.

  • Mari fujisawa says:

    Thank you Becky and Jim for a nice feedback.

    Jim, I totally agree to everything you’ve said, your like an angel fallen from heaven…what you said was an eye opener and def lightened my burden. God bless the both of you! mari

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Mari #111

    Thank you for your kind comments Mari. Your situation is different to mine, but I had to find a way of getting on with my in-laws that didn’t drive a wedge between me and Mrs. Di Griz, and it works for me. I am sure that my in-laws all think I am a bit of a grumpy old sod, but they know I do right by my wife and kids, and that I will give them the respect they deserve as my wife’s family. We get on ok, and when they come over, I can sometimes see that they want to make some comment, but are biting their tongues. Since I am NJ, I reckon that however I played it, they would think I was strange anyway, so I think that we have a good compromise.
    You have more time in Japan than I do, so I am sure that you have a lot of experience you can draw on to help in moments when you feel really wound up.

    — While I appreciate that people are trying to be helpful to each other in a difficult situation (which is why your comments were approved), this isn’t really materiel for this blog entry. Sorry, but let’s draw this tangent to a close.

  • Eric’s original post was about ‘giving up on Japan’: I think that family matters matter a lot for that. But as to Debito’s request, I will not touch on this.

    Let me give my other random thoughts:

    1.Today it is 20 years I came to Japan! From time to time I reflect on my being here and consider changes. The bottom was always: I stay.

    2.Being in Japan is like a roller coaster for me, but I feel that the amplitude is decreasing while the wavelength between troughs and hills is getting longer. It means, I converge to an equilibrium situation. And I feel very comfortable with that.
    Why is it that being in Japan has become like a nose-dive ride for so many commentors?
    I don’t know. Is Japan driving hoards of foreigners into depression? I don’t know neither.

    3.I feel a certain sense of fatalism in many posts. Accuse me of wearing pink glasses, but I cannot see how a country like Japan could possibly become a 3rd world country (again). Education is good (despite the worst scenario cases by some posters), society is healthy. There will always be a way to get things going, and moving in a better direction.
    No matter how little I may be in the system, I can do SOMEthing, though not everything.

    4.It is true (in a personal life as well as for a nation), before real change, the things that cause the malady have to be revealed and removed. Personal crisis as well as national crisis has to be lived through to make real change.
    It has to be lived through. Give me an example: The pain after a cancer had been surgically removed is part of the process and can’t be avoided.
    True, some people will rather leave a country than live through painful change, but then again, the victory that comes after having endured hardships will not be theirs neither.

    5.Japan gave me so much (at least 20 years worth of income), so when it comes to giving back, I will not bail out. Call me crazy for staying, but as I wrote in one of my tweets today, I already know where my ashes are going to be laid to rest: The cemetery close to Tenguyama in Otaru (hopefully many years from now).

  • Eric wrote in his original post, and then defended it in #30 that there might well be a genetic component to racism.
    Wow – Debito did not object.
    But I do.
    Why?
    Because I will give you a list of other genetically determined behavior:
    [sarcasm]
    Americans are genetically prone to make a fuss in an onsen
    Canadians can never become truly Japanese. They don’t have the genes for that.
    Your Polish genes make you a thief.
    We have not outlaw intl marriages between Japanese and westerners. They will poison our pure western genes.
    And don’t get me started on those non-aryan and jewish genes!
    [/sarcasm]
    I hope that everybody can see now that this is utmost rubbish.
    Eric’s reconfirmation in #30 shows that this was not a slip of fingers, when we wrote it. Debito? Comment?

    — My comment is that this post was put here to generate comment (that’s why it’s filed under the tag of “Discussions”, under which, as I’ve said many times before, including within this very blog entry, I have a more lenient policy towards moderation). It certainly succeeded, since we’re more than 100 comments into this. I thought the conversation was ticking along just fine without me. And just because I don’t object doesn’t mean I agree (which I’ve also said many times before; it’s even in Debito.org’s POSTING GUIDELINES). Don’t fall into the trap of fallacious attribution (which the most recent JT Zeit Gist rant, extrapolating upon what I must think based upon what Eric C. wrote, does in spades; great science — not).

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Olaf #113

    If you don’t mind, I am bemused as to how you can make this statement with a straight face;

    ‘I cannot see how a country like Japan could possibly become a 3rd world country (again). Education is good (despite the worst scenario cases by some posters), society is healthy.’

    Just because you cannot see it, does not mean that it is not so. Please take a look at the excellent ‘Spike Japan’ blog to see how Japan is in a state of atrophy. Education is good? Society is healthy? Well, yes, I suppose it is if you overlook things like the demographic and pensions crisis, the national debt, the shortfall in taxation, the radioactive materials being released directly into the environment, and the government that lied about it. Shall I continue?

    ‘Japan gave me so much (at least 20 years worth of income), so when it comes to giving back, I will not bail out.’
    What do you want? Some kind of medal? No-one outside of your daily bubble cares. Come to my neck of the woods on any Sunday and watch the Japanese protect the freedom of speech of the black vans shouting ‘Go home gaijin!’.

    ‘I already know where my ashes are going to be laid to rest: The cemetery close to Tenguyama’
    Stop it please! You sound like Donald Keene! I would love to know how many of the relatives of others whose ashes are interred at that location would be horrified by your unilateral decision to defile the purity of their burial ground with your NJ ashes.

    Wake up Olaf!

  • @Olaf #113 – I ratify your post at #3 and #4.

    @Jim #115 – As you say, just because you cannot see it does not mean that it is not so. Olaf sees the good, you see the bad in this post. In this and many other ways, one’s views of and experiences in Japan say more about oneself often than they do about Japan. Each of us go through ups and downs in life and have different experiences. Olaf offers his – he does not need to “wake up”; he is awake to his reality as you are to yours and I am to mine.

    More topically – I agree that the Zeitgeist is pretty unfair to Debito in making Debito out to be Eric C. However, I stand by my characterization above at 51 – the original post’s views are fundamentally of a racist nature in many respects. Debito, you did give him a forum, and it is somewhat to be expected that someone would attribute the views expressed in the original post to you, although a close reader of this page would of course not.

    Also, don’t know how to comment on JT, but I would like to express my indignation at that writer’s lighthearted treatment of racist characterizations of NJ on Japanese TV. I am personally very offended at such characterizations and if we are honest with ourselves we each experience negative side effects from such characterizations in the form of daily othering and “microaggressions”, including everyday interactions where people assume we cannot communicate in Japanese and otherwise take us lightly.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Bob #116

    The JT editorial should have been a letter to the editor. As a piece of editorial journalism, it is extremely poor in that it not only accuses Eric C of being Debito, but also in the act of discussing the Eric C thread is rather stepping outside of it’s bounds as an ‘editorial’; it should focus on the Just Be Cause article (of which the Eric C thread is not a part). One other major failing of Spiri’s (?) editorial is the frequent (positive) references to Mike Guest, which I find rather misleading and devious. Guest was exposed by Debito for misrepresenting his academic credentials (if I remember correctly). It is to be expected, therefore, that Guest has an ulterior motive (revenge) for criticizing Debito. Spiri also fails to inform the reader that the august Guest is a regular at the ‘stalker site’, who devote every waking moment to bad mouthing Debito. I would not consider Spiri to have made ‘full disclosure’, and as such his very motives must also be in doubt.
    It is a shame that the debate has been dragged down to personalities due to petty jealousy of Debito’s public profile, rather than an honest discussion about any way forward.

    As for this extremely trite piece of amateur psychology;
    ‘one’s views of and experiences in Japan say more about oneself often than they do about Japan’,
    Yes, of course! It’s all just me seeing what I want to see, because I am having a hard time, right? Japan’s economy is fine, Fukushima is a happy fun land, the national debt is no problem, the pensions and birth rate crises are non-existant, yes? Please help yourself. I am sure the average Roman was in denial right up until the end of the empire. Just remember, there’s a lot of ruin in an empire/ Rome wasn’t burned in a day.

    As for my critique of Olaf, (borrowing your psychologists hat, if I may) he has a classic case of post colonial guilt by proxy, hence the desperation to be a lap-dog and join criticism of the ‘others’.

    @Olaf #114

    Why do you insist on attacking Debito for making Eric C’s mail a thread? Debito has opened up a debate. At no point has Debito endorsed the views of Eric C. Why don’t you concentrate on rebutting those who agree with Eric C rather than blaming the forum on which those views were expressed?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I read a recent article on the Zeitgist this morning. Honestly, I am very disappointed in the editor who organizes the forum. I just don’t understand why s/he/they let the author vent off his accusation to Debito over the person singled out on a specific issue. How in the world did the Zeitgist publish that kind of insinuation by breaching their faith in maintaining the quality and ethics of content??? This is indeed a slap in the face.

    And I am also disappointed in Spiri, since he is considered as a renowned scholar and writer in Japan. I am not very familiar with his works, but if this is the way he receives credit to his works until today, I have to say he is a terrible writer. His inability to defend his arguments from hasty generalizations and biases on the issues is quite problematic. What’s more disturbing is that he not only barks up the wrong tree on the issue but also accuses Debito and us of being racist in general. Nowhere in pieces of article has Debito ever said that “Japanese are liar.” Nor does he ever accept this kind of grossly overgeneralized assumption.

    Regarding Eric C, yes, I agree his overall attitude makes people offensive to some extent, even though he has the right to speak out his many bad experiences in Japan. This is the matter of free speech–and Debito gave Eric the right to share his own discourses right here. There is nothing wrong in discussing a controversial issue right here, as long as we maintain the civility of discourse, which is exactly what Debito is in charge of.

    I’m very concerned with the way the Zeitgist passed off this kind of nonsensical BS. I wonder if the editor has ever thought how Spiri’s false accusation on one of the key contributors to the JT seriously affects the quality of professional journalism, in all.

  • DeBourca says:

    @Olaf

    Your problem is that pretty much all the points articulated by Eric C are not simply the fantasies of disgruntled foreigners in Japan. There is a mounting body of data regarding the country’s decline. Have a search regarding projected economic growth, relative poverty levels (relative a country’s average industrial wage), poverty among single women, exploitation of foreign workers etc. Not to mention English test scores and declining numbers studying abroasd. These are all well documented.

    Then, go for a walk around Otaru city, note all the shacks that pass for habitable houses, the tax burden on single working people in order to support the aging population there (over twenty thousand yen per month) plus the dwindling number of children… it’s a microcosm of the country as a whole.

    These are inescapable realities, and they have been ignored by far too many people for far too long, including many of us NJ who insisted on looking at this country through rose tinted glasses. If we had given more attention to the issues raised by people such as Debito, the country might not be in the mess it is in now.

    Anyway, I’m convinced that this is an academic argument. The die has been cast.

    At best, Japan will end up with an two-tier economy somewhere over Indonesia’s in forty years or so.

    At worst (IMO), the populist Osaka mayor Taro Hashimoto will face down the central government on the restarting of nuclear plants in Kansai. Emboldened by this, he will launch a national campaign and get into government in the next five to ten years. He will then establish a personality-centered fascist government a la Mussolini period Italy. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, however, I notice that right-wing groups are becoming vocal about article 9 again.

  • this is getting a bit off topic, and a chat between Jim and me, but let me briefly comment.

    @Jim #117
    I don’t think my request to Debito to comment on the fact that he does not comment on Eric’s ‘xenophobia gene’ is an attack.
    I just found it very curious that Debito on the one hand is very vocal about what constituted ‘Japaneseness’ (it’s NOT genes, but passport that makes a Japanese), and then on the other hand does not object the suggestion of a very Japanese gene (which is the nasty gene of xenophobia). It makes the impression that he is not objective, and cherry picking.

    And, by the way, I find the word ‘lap-dog’ very insulting and an ad hominem attack.
    I request an apology.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @DeBourca #119

    Yes, I noticed that the working group to revise the constitution reported today that it wanted an ‘Army’, and the war time flag and anthem back, and recognition of the Emperor as head of state. Does not instill confidence that 67 years after Japan’s imperialist ideology failed, the issue is still deemed important enough to warrant politicians working time. Shouldn’t they be worrying about Fukushima or the economy instead? Personally, I blame 67 years of an education system that hasn’t taught the Japanese the reality of what they did in the war, and why they lost (to head off critics at the pass, I am talking about how the Japanese were manipulated and brain-washed by war-time elites). I think that it is telling that when Japan’s economy is slipping further down the global ranking (from a time in the 80’s when they dreamed of being #1), fools like Hashimoto, Ishihara, and the Mayor of Nagoya are garnering support. Prof. Glenn Hook wrote in his book ‘Japan’s International Relations’ that there are three kinds of power that the state has at it’s disposal; Political, Economic, and Military (that is to say power based on shared ideology, economic interests, or a punch in the face to ensure co-operation). At a time when the Japanese polity is an ineffective mess, global economic ranking is slipping, it should be no surprise if we see more efforts to (overtly) re-militarize Japan.

    @Olaf #120

    You will be a long time in the waiting for any apology, since there was nothing ‘ad hominem’ about my comment. I was offering a logical explanation for your refusal to accept economic, social, and political facts. I am prepared to accept the possibility that I am incorrectly informed about my country, and willing to modify my stance on Japan’s future if you can provide any information that supports the fantastic claims you made in post #113. Is that not reasonable?
    As for the comment about ‘Japaneseness’ being in the genes, well, it’s a case of the ‘chrysanthemum and the double-edged sword’ again, isn’t it? We Japanese can’t claim that our genes are unique (hence ‘better’), when it suits us, but cry foul when someone suggests that genes are responsible for any negative traits that are perceived. Or perhaps Eric C made the comment to ridicule that part of nihonjinron-giron?

  • Baudrillard says:

    Another post-modern post on the J-Theatre of the Absurd, with reference to Jim’s reference above to the working group that is still living with the illusion, following the outdated “map” from 67 years ago that does no longer describe their reality.

    A classic case of postmodern confusion.

    1. The mistaken belief that Japan is an independent country, not a brand or collection of corporations, and that it has a right to an army.
    2. The mistaken belief that just because America let Japan keep the emperor, that means something.

    America let Japan survive as a state, much as the USSR let Poland survive as an “independent state” after WW2.
    Sure, the control mechanisms are more devious and indirect, but the end result is similar. America is Huxleyian,rewarding correct behavior, the USSR was Orwellian, that is all.

    This working group is pathetic,I feel sorry for them and their plans and dreams that will never reach fruition, and certainly nothing to worry about internationally as nothing will happen that threatens America’s influence over Japan.As Debito pointed out recently; once America has bases in a country, they rarely leave. If even “nice guy” Obama said “no” to Hatanoyama (and perhaps unintentionally undermining Japanese democracy in the bud as a result), Japan will continue to not be able to do anything meaningful by itself militarily.

    The “rebranding” of American occupation as “defending Japan” was masterful, but a postwar and postmodern illusion.Ditto, until very recently, Japanese elections as a means of affecting change. Illusions work well in Japan, surface appearances matter in all asepcts of life from Kabuki to Eikaiwa, and it is better to discuss these grand dreams of “the good old days” rather than rake up the sad reality of Fukushima “ruining an otherwise dreamy day”. Pure nostalgia for an older, simpler Japan (which may not have ever existed, more illusions).

    However, these frustrated nationalists may take out their frustrations on easier targets; the individual and visible foreigners who have the misfortune to live and work in Japan. America does not really care about their quality of life in Japan, so long as its interests remain unthreatened. (Hence we see no Gaiatsu in e.g. opening up the market for health insurance/pensions for foreign residents in Japan as opposed to being coerced to join Japan’s schemes).

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard #122

    Agree with everything you posted above. It will be NJ in Japan who bear the brunt of any attempt at resurrecting popular nationalism in Japan.

    Sir Arthur Harris (see Max Hastings ‘Bomber Command’) once justified fire-bombing non-military targets in Germany in WW2 on the basis that it would ensure that German institutional memory would not allow the Germans to start another war (in the belief that the German civil population had been too far removed from the horrors of WW1 to prevent them from remembering the pain of losing the war, and allowing them to be led by Hitler into another war). With respect to this, it is interesting that ordinary Japanese have a rather sound sense that losing the war was not an enjoyable experience, and have defended their constitution from change for 67 years. On the contrary, the ‘reverse course’ served as a ‘pat on the back’ to wartime J-elites, who have no institutional memory of how painful losing the war was (see Ishihara, Hashimoto, Mayor of Nagoya). They are playing with fire. The Chinese can hold a grudge forever, and hold enough US dollars to push Japan around now, if they are led by popularist and ambitious J-politicians to believe that Japan didn’t learn the lessons of the last war.
    I recently noted with interest that the Chamber of Commerce (Japan) is committed to a rewriting of the constitution, on the basis that it it is ‘out of date’, and ‘written by Americans’. I asked politely if it wasn’t America’s prerogative (having won the war, and not killing every Japanese as Admiral Halsey and others had promised), to be told flatly that ‘no, it was not’. When asked how they would like a new constitution to be different, the only specific that could be named was that ‘Japan should have an army’.
    N.B. Debito, if you want a source for that conversation, I will gladly mail it to you in private.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Olaf #120

    Please accept my most sincere and heart-felt apology for calling you a ‘lap-dog’.

  • i agree with J.J #16 (march 18, 2012). most of the complaining by foreigners in japan seems to be done by the white folks, who are the racial majority in their repective countries. racial majorities never really experience the type of discrimination/racism that non-whites experience in their own country (almost on a daily basis). so when white folks experience it here in japan, where they are a huge minority, they are appauled and greatly offended like they have never been in their life! for non-whites living here in japan, its nothing new for us to experience discrimination and/or racist situations and comments.

  • Hi Debito and readers,

    I’ve decided to reply here to the absurd comments by John Spiri that appeared in the Japan Times’ “Zeit Geist” column on May 1 ( http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120501zg.html ). Frankly, the Japan Times embarrassed itself by giving Mr. Spiri a forum for engaging in a poorly reasoned and unprincipled (not to mention arrogant and condescending) attack on Debito Arudo. Clearly, Mr. Spiri is a good example of the sort of apologists for Japan who have been discussed recently on this site. He is what I call a “Stockholm Syndrome Sufferer.” That is to say, he has been in Japan long enough to display certain characteristics of some Japanese. Most important among these is something I mentioned in some of my posts, namely, the inability to accept any criticism and the tendency to take any criticism as an attack on the whole being.

    Mr. Spiri spent a lot of time denouncing my posts. He starts by making the grave error of writing that Debito condoned and approved of my initial post. He did not. Rather, he thought it interesting enough to make it into a blog post and sought the opinion of his readers on my post. If we were to hold all bloggers and webmasters responsible for the thoughts and comments of their readers, it would indeed have a chilling effect on online discussion. By the same token, should we hold the Japan Times responsible for the comments of all its readers and those who write letters to the editor? Of course not. Debito should not be judged by my comments. In allowing Mr. Spiri to engage in what is – at the end of the day – nothing more than a long stream-of-consciousness ad hominem attack on Debito, the Japan Times has printed nothing more than one long flame. This is well beneath the dignity of a paper that consistently publishes some of the best journalism in Japan and it’s unprofessional to allow such treatment of a valuable and regular contributor like Mr. Arudo.

    As for Mr. Spiri’s comments on my post: sure, some of what I wrote was inflammatory. A lot of it was deliberately so. I wanted to generate discussion. Unfortunately, Mr. Spiri cherry picked only the most inflammatory of my comments and totally avoided and ignored the main thrust of my argument, which was well reasoned and based on long and sometimes difficult experience in Japan. My basic point was this: Japan is a country that resists change, so why try to change it? I still stand by that argument. I also wrote at some length, in posts that I added later, about Japan’s political and educational system, but Mr. Spiri also totally ignored those comments and picked out statements that, taken in isolation, were bound to be controversial.

    Then, Mr. Spiri has the audacity to pontificate about how one ought to work to change Japanese society, when his byline and web searches on his name reveal that Mr. Spiri has done nothing to try to change or positively influence Japan. Rather, he merely enjoys the financial perks of a lucrative academic job in Japan (a fact which, it is not hard to undersand, significantly prejudices his thinking and makes him eager to act as an apologist for the worst aspects of Japanese society). Finally, Mr. Spiri has the audacity to tell Debito that he should stop trying to change Japanese society. Excuse the frank language, but where does this guy get off telling one of the most tireless champions of the rights of non-Japanese to stop his efforts, while all he does is sit in his comfortable post in academia and fire off absurd personal attacks on those who dare to do more than merely criticize others?

    The Japan Times owes Debito an apology. Sure, authors of articles and editorials are fair game for reasonable responses from readers, including those who disagree with them, but no regular contributor should fear that the paper will give extensive page space to those with a personal vendetta against an author. Furthermore, as the voice of the non-Japanese community, the Japan Times should encourage people like Debito, who work on its behalf, rather than giving voice to milquetoast quislings like Mr. Spiri who feel that NJ should be silent, obedient and “go along to get along.”

    To the Japan Times, I say: shame on you.

    To John Spiri, I say: You are merely a well-paid apologist in a cushy position. If you had a fraction of the guts of a man like Debito Arudo, you’d be doing something more than merely sitting in your comfortable office penning petty personal attacks on men whose name you are not even fit to utter.

    — Dunno about that (and I won’t agree on Spiri’s record on positively influencing Japan; he has tried), but I will say thanks for pointing out that Spiri’s piece was a “long stream-of-consciousness ad hominem attack on Debito”. Indeed it was, and I know for a fact that it took my editor several hours to edit his (usually underwhelming) writing for public consumption, as I was contacted regarding numerous factual errors about my record (Spiri was apparently too angry to do more accurate research on his subject’s history, even though that is the first thing incumbent upon a critic). Anyway, it’s good to see Spiri’s true colors in public so I know not to spend any more time on him.

  • The “well documented” decline of Japan. This sounds a little out of proportion with Olaf’s comments in 113 questioning the “fatalism” in this thread. Sure, I’ve got a lot of complaints about things in Japan, but with roughly 200 other countries in the world, Japan isn’t near the bottom and isn’t in or near the “third world,” whatever that is exactly. Perhaps because we live in the midst of it, it feels like life-or-death sometimes, utopia or hell, but I see things very gray here. “Well-documented” does not just speak for itself, it depends on how individuals interact with it. People have frequently mentioned certain groups and individuals outspoken against foreigners and other things, wanting to go back to the good old days, to support this fatalistic view. But although those examples have power and influence, much of the country is apolitical and doesn’t appreciate or cheer on that sort of thing. Give the average Japanese some credit. In a similar way, one can’t assume that just because the American Tea Party is vocal, wealthy, and powerful, that the majority of Americans want what they campaign for or even take them seriously. Or likewise for other countries around the world.

    Also, regarding the opinions that condemn Japan’s future, historically speaking, Japan is capable of drastic change in short time frames when it wants to. Consider the years after Perry’s black ships and those after the end of WWII. Consider smaller things like Fukuoka’s sudden and overwhelming campaign and change of public opinion against drunk driving a few years ago after an accident that pretty much outcasted anyone thinking about having a drink and driving home. That was probably the swiftest dramatic change of public opinion on a serious issue that I have ever seen.

    Major change happens in Japan, but it seems that almost always it is top-down, instituted by the powerful, but with the approval of the public. Although I’m not betting on it, I do think it’s possible that a relatively small number of people could drive a lot of positive social change in the near future. The world is opening up and younger, smarter folks can have a good chance to gain power and influence enough to do a lot of good. The public is generally apolitical because (I believe) they don’t see much in politics they like. But young, charismatic CEOs or otherwise up-and-coming people could quickly rise to power and rally the public behind them, transforming the political scene and instituting change. In other words, maybe the public would like to be political, but just doesn’t have anyone to cheer yet.

    Although I started reading this thread as it came out, and I happened to be in a particularly negative state of mind then, I have always found a way to feel positive again about life here and my life here. That it’s meaningful, worthwhile, and enjoyable. I face roadblocks all the time, but there’s always a way to get around things and eke out a niche for oneself.

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the thread, thanks!

  • @J.J. — Amen to that — as a Caribbean-American woman in Japan, I experienced racism, but nothing the racism at home in the U.S.! Compared to the U.S., Japan was a piece of cake. (Granted I didn’t have kids while I was there.)

    Mostly it was the daily grind — people expressing shock that I could use a computer, white co-workers who spoke zero Japanese being addressed by waitresses/staff repeatedly despite my addressing them in fluent Japanese, etc. I tried once to explain to a white expat friend that there was a “gaijin hierarchy” in Japan and that blonde-haired blue-eyed men were at the top, and dark-skinned women were on the bottom. But he didn’t get it, and even said I was paranoid.

    But as bad as Japan is sometimes, it’s not the worst, “get-out-while-you-still-can” place that you make it out to be. Also it depends on the prefecture & town, too. I would say try moving to a different town before leaving the country altogether.

    — There is an unofficial hierarchy of races and skin tones in Japan. It’s a vestige of Fukuzawa Yukichi’s “An Outline of a Theory of Civilization” (Bunmei-ron no Gairyaku, 1875), which borrowed from current Western eugenics science on racial hierarchies. According to Fukuzawa, societies composed of “persons of white skin” (i.e., the United States and Europe) were at the highest stage of fully-developed “civilization,” then followed Asian countries (“semi-civilized” (hankai), e.g., Turkey, China, and Japan, with Japan ranked highest), and at the bottom (“barbaric” (yaban)) were people of dark skin, such as Africans or Australian aborigines. See Dilworth, David A. et.al. trans. “Yukichi Fukuzawa: An Outline of a Theory of Civilization”. Columbia University Press, 2009.

  • At Jeterfan:

    I was told of this hierarchy of skin color to my face by couple of Japanese students.(I am blue-eyed with fair skin).

    However, just because discrimination is not as bad as it is in other countries doesn’t make it acceptable.

    Also, the “get out while you still can” attitude is as much to do with the dismal prospects for the economy and demographics as discrimination (though these are interrelated).

  • Paul Hackshaw says:

    I am at the stage where I would love to get out. Work has dried up and I have been reduced to doing stuff I would never have contemplated in the past.

    I never see my kids, and my dog is really the only thing keeping me here.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Eric…totally agree with most of your comments. However, I think you give the Japan Times too much credit. It is, like all private news outlets, a business. The first rule of business is to make money and I think it is entirely possible that more people are now interested in the paper by including Spiri’s umm, article. There are very few news organizations that don’t try to manufacture at least some elements of what they portray as news. If this weren’t so, the Kardashians would not be famous – I mean one of them was even invited to and attended the recent press dinner in Washington. Go figure.

  • @Cg 126
    Regarding the complaints of white people about being discriminated against in Japan — it probably is true that most of them come from white-majority countries where they weren’t discriminated against and it’s now shocking, or has been shocking, that these white people face exclusionary behavior on a daily basis.

    It’s also true that a majority of the white people in Japan come from educated backgrounds and in that background they were taught that racism is wrong, no matter the form. A part of me thinks that racist white people don’t tend to move and work for years in a non-white countries. Maybe a bit racist, a bit colonial, but probably not overtly racist. While it could be said that many of the white people in japan come from an educated past where racism was a no no, even if they did micro-aggress in the past, the education against discrimination kicks-in in during present experiences in Japan and they may think, “well, i wouldn’t refuse a black person from coming into my shop if i had one, that’s wrong. so that makes the discrimination against me wrong as well. wtf is that all about?”

    I, being a fair-skinned whitey, know that I’m privileged whether I like it nor not, but that doesn’t by proxy mean that if I talk about being discriminated against in Japan it’s due to the shock-and-horror of not being discriminated against in my home-country.

    In addition, many of the white people complaining/commenting about facing discrimination have been living in Japan or abroad for many years, so it’s no longer shocking. It’s wrong and annoying, and deserves some thought being paid to, and if this is the place to do it, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when white people do complain.

    The argument, “you’re just complaining cause your white” is in itself racist. And offensive. No doubt other minorities have got a worse end of the stick, no argument there. However in response to that I would consider it irresponsible to say “non-white minorities don’t complain about racism as much because they’re just so used to it! hahaha.” If it’s offensive one-way, it’s offensive the other as well.

  • @Matty-B 133

    I think you’re on the right track, but…

    What Cg – 126 is saying is that a person who is a visible minority in their home country may subjectively experience prejudice in Japan much differently than, say, a white North American who arrives here as an adult. Time spent in Japan has not much to do with it.

    For instance, Debito might be bothered by microaggressions, whereas an African American might celebrate that he’s never been intimidated/threatened/assaulted while living in Japan for being black.

    Westerners often assume that Japan is more racist than their home country. It may be true, but only for white people?

    A lot of NJ here seem to have half Japanese children — who will spend their entire lives as visible minorities — so I’m guessing they’ll vicariously experience a different viewpoint on this issue sometime down the road.

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