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Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

  • Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination
  • (Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield HB 2015, PB 2016)

    Click on book cover for reviews, previews, and 30% discount direct from publisher. Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle eBook on

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • Discussion: Reader Eric C writes in with an argument for “giving up on Japan”. What do you think?

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on March 18th, 2012

    IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito


    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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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 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 and see how other people think. Thanks for writing in, Eric. Arudou Debito

    Eric C
    Submitted on 2012/03/18
    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.

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

    1. Jon Says:

      I think one reason Debito keeps trying is that he also sea a lot he likes about Japan. Another big reason is it is the country of his children and he doesn’t want to abandone it, he wants to try and make it a better place for his children. This even though Debito does not currently see his children.

    2. John M. Andresen Says:

      I pretty much agree with Eric although I would not presume to suggest to Debito what he should do. Sumeba Miyako and all that. I was in Japan from ’73 till ’94 mostly. Relocated to the Seattle area and loving it. I have access to the essential Japanese items I crave but dispense with the Shimaguni Konjou. Japan is my addiction. I can’t quit completely but I indulge it from afar.

    3. JimB Says:

      While Eric makes some valid points I think it would be apparent after living in Japan for a few years how things run. A better question might be why an NJ might think Japanese society would view them as anything other than a “gaijin?”

    4. giantpanda Says:

      This article crystallised a lot of ideas for me about the treatment of NJ in Japan. Not everyone gets stopped for ARC checks, not everyone is denied entry to bars, but I’m pretty sure that every NJ has experienced this constant “micro-agression”, the everyday “othering” that is consciously or unconsciously designed to keep you in your place, but at the same time allows the aggressor to completely disclaim that they are racist.

      For me, this is the exhausting stuff. Coming home after 10 years in Japan the first thing I noticed was a feeling of freedom – that I didn’t have to walk around “on-guard” all the time.

      — Good article, thanks. Recommended it on Facebook. But let’s bring this back to the blog post topic of “giving up on Japan”.

    5. John S. Says:

      Who is Eric C. to make all these grandiose charges? So Japanese may be genetically xenophobic? Huh? He seems to be thoroughly guilty of his own charges. With comments like “Let them go their own miserable way to stagnation and backwardness” he seems to have much more than a chip on his shoulder but rather a ton of bricks. I’m surprised you would give such drivel space on your blog.

    6. debito Says:

      Debito here. A friend (while rather intoxicated) posted this to me for reposting if I thought it relevant. I do. Take it with the candor it was intended:

      Why not ask why non-whites don’t leave America. Same answer. Because they have just as much right to be where they want to be as anyone else. I am somewhat offended by the racist tone of the post (ergo, JP are too stupid to change). Ya, so things didn’t work out like you thought. Didn’t live in [city deleted]? Ok, bye. Goddamned entitled dipshit. Signed, Wymarshian.

    7. beneaththewheel Says:

      This attitude really bugs me. (disclaimer: I am enjoying living in Japan)

      Japan is not a unique country. Japan’s not special. Why do so many Westerners refer to Japan as this magical exotic country that they slowly learn to hate? Would a North American do the same with a European country? How about another Asian country: South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan? (If you think Japan’s immigration policy is bad, I hope you never live in South Korea)
      If this reader is having these ideas, why did you come to Japan in the first place? Who are you fighting for? When I look at the fight for immigrants and rights in Japan, it very rarely comes down to Western ex-pats doing specialized work. The fight for immigrants is the fight for unskilled trainees from poor countries, the fight for women on entertainer visas who get exploited, the fight for Nikkei Brazilians losing their jobs and being bribed to go home. Western ex-pats come into the mix as well, and are not excluded, but our problem is (mainly in my opinion) in housing issues and general issues of ignorance. Yes, people have been racist for me on multiple times, but I have never feared for my safety.
      These ignorant issues of racism aren’t unique to Japan. Can the question be rephrased as “Why do you try to stop racism in the country you live in?” Is the only connection to Japan here that we all live (or have lived) in it? I have Asian friends that have went to rural Western Europe villages, and the racism they felt was a lot more open than I feel. This is not to qualify racism, or to try and judge that racism is worse here or there. It’s to say that racism is everywhere, and to give up on racism in Japan is to give up on racism worldwide. It’s to go to a country where YOU personally don’t feel any racism (luckily if you’re white, there’s quite a few of those places!)
      So why not give up on X (X = Japan for most of us)? We like it. We realize there are problems, and attempting to get rid of those problems makes us like it even more. Y (your home country) isn’t a perfect country, has its own share of problems, and those problems from an immigrant perspective are something that we have never experienced, but the point is we are in X now, X is not any more special than anywhere else, it has good points and bad points, and in order to live a healthy life, one should appreciate the good points, and try to make the bad points better.
      I can’t speak for Debito (he’s naturalized, and I have no intention of making such a commitment), but my love of Japan isn’t this absolute super serious thing. I live in Japan now, and try to make the most of it. I can leave at any time. I hope to go to a third country to be honest, so I can get even more perspective on X and Y. Right now everything is being compared between the two as if there’s no third example, when in actuality there’s over one hundred examples out there.
      I guess all I’m trying to say is Japan’s not a unique, exotic place to fall in love with and get burned by. It’s an East Asian country that industrialized quickly and had rapid economic growth in the post-war period. Its policies reflect this, as does the path it will take, and the path it should take, and the path liberal thinkers should want it to take. It won’t be America and it shouldn’t be as much as Germany, Estonia or Bhutan shouldn’t be America.
      Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch some youtube videos of foreigners either praising Japan to be the best place on Earth (perhaps better than heaven!), or a horrible shithole (much worse than hell).

    8. Charuzu Says:

      An interesting work is the book by Apichai Shipper:


      I feel any comment about Debito’s motives to be inappropriate; I do not know him and so cannot comment.

      What I would say is that it is clear that life in Japan has both benefits and a large cost.

      What should be considered by those who wish to reside permanently in Japan is the cost as a result of xenophobia and racism.

      What should be considered by those who choose to have children is that they too will pay a price, due to ethnic and racial chauvinism in Japan.

      Whether the benefits are greater or less than the costs is an individual decision, and depends on what else is being considered as an alternative.

      Moreover, the degree of xenophobia and racism varies as well, with melanistic Africans suffering more than Dutch.

    9. Eric C Says:

      Hi Debito,

      Thank you very much for making my comment a blog post in its own right! I am honored and flattered. In order for you and your readers to understand the reasoning behind my original post, I’d like to post a longer post that I posted on another forum a while back. This summarizes all my reasons for leaving Japan and why I think others should consider it. Yes, this is very self-indulgent, but it might be useful for those thinking in terms of “Should I stay or should I go” (thanks to The Clash for those lyrics). Here goes:

      I hate to rain on your parade, but I have to tell you all the hard truth (and believe me, it took me a long time to come to all these realizations and even longer to act on them). The fact is, Japan is never going to accept foreigners. Foreigners, particularly Western foreigners, should stop trying to be accepted or to change Japan. My advice to Western foreigners, especially those with half-Japanese children, is to leave Japan. Trust me, I am not trying trolling here. I am telling you what I think, what I chose to do, and how it has made my life much better. In order to stick to the theme of this thread, I will keep my explanation centered on what is annoying about Japan.

      First, as MacArthur so famously said: Japan is a nation of children. At first, this might seem almost touching or cute. And, I suspect that the childish innocence displayed by the Japanese is one reason why people love Japan so much when they are fresh off the boat. The fact is, the Japanese, even when they are adults, may be physically mature, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually, they are children. The reasons for this would take a while to explain, but suffice it to say that they are essentially treated like children all through their lives, while at the same time, they are forbidden from the sort of free thinking that goes into creating a meaningful adult identity, and, on top of this, they generally have extremely limited worldly experience.

      If you think honestly about this, you will see what I mean. Consider the infantile reaction that Japanese have to any form of criticism, however constructive. It is taken as an attack on the whole being. And, think about how it feels to interact with most Japanese: after a certain amount of time in Japan, you will know exactly what they are going to say, and even what words they will use to say it. When you talk with them, you feel like you are sort of humoring a slightly precocious child. It might be pleasant. The conversation might be long. But, you will not come away with any insights or have your mind expanded the way it might be when talking to a real adult in other parts of the world. The only exceptions are the very old, who have some real life experience, or returnees from abroad, who were snapped out of the groupthink mindset.

      And, of course, more than the boredom that comes from living among people who are essentially children, it is the tyranny of the groupthink that is truly annoying. It is not that particular thoughts are forbidden in Japan: it is dissent of any kind that is forbidden. The indoctrination into the groupthink starts at a very young age and continues right through their lives. Along with this indoctrination comes the whole package of brainwashing and propaganda: the myth of Japanese uniqueness, the cult of victimization, and the directive to focus on the differences rather than the similarities with other cultures. Needless to say, this lifelong brainwashing and squashing of dissent handily serves the purposes of the powers that be: the useless geezers in Kasumigaseki, the top guys of the various keiretsu, the very wealthy and the various local bosses who divvy up the bounty that flows from the ministries.

      Needless to say, a country with a population of children who have been intellectually neutered, governed by regressive and highly conservative old men is not likely to be a comfortable place for any halfway sensitive Westerner. And, please do not kid yourself that Japan will become more open in the future. The fact is, Japan reached a high point of internationalization and openness sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. Since then, it has been going backwards and morphing into a more conservative and closed place. Textbooks are being purged of even the vaguest mention of wartime atrocities, fewer young people are going abroad to study, attitudes toward immigration are becoming increasingly negative. I mean, the capital city of the country just re-elected a famously racist Ishihara Shintaro. That is the capital city, not some tiny backwater in Tottori! And it was not a tight race. If you think Japan is going to increase immigration and start truly embracing foreigners, frankly, you are out to lunch. If second- and third-generation Korean residents are still treated as outsiders and looked down upon, just why do you expect them to start treating you as an equal?

      Even if one could put up with the mind-numbing boredom of living among children and the affront of being treated as a second-class citizen despite your best efforts at assimilation, there is the environment to consider. Several posters above mentioned the visual horror of endless concrete and power lines. You can spend your life looking and you will find precious few vistas in Japan that are not thoroughly marred by human activity. There are no pastoral or wild vistas like you will find in Europe, North America, New Zealand, Australia etc. Only deep in the heart of the Japan Alps and a few other mountain ranges will you find anything that is not totally disfigured by concrete, clear cutting, industrial sugi farming, power lines, dams, concrete retaining walls and hideous buildings.

      Then, of course, there is the noise. From morning to night, you are assaulted by noise in Japan: politicians, bosozoku, recycling trucks, advertisements and announcements of every sort. If you live in certain parts of Kanto or Kansai, you may have some sort of amplified sound playing in your vicinity all day, every day from 8am to 9pm. And it is all legal. Do you really think the politicians will ever ban this, when it is their favorite means of campaigning? Never going to happen. There just comes a time in your life when you have to ask yourself: Do I want to spend the rest of my life with that as a constant soundtrack?

      Even if you are single or married without children, you should get out. But, if you have got children who are part Japanese, I would say it is downright irresponsible and even cruel to remain in Japan. Sure, you might think to yourself: I am taking them abroad and I am making sure they learn English, they will be fine. But do not fool yourself: your input into their development is way less than you think. Even if they go to international school, they are being socialized in Japan. Just try to think into the future. Imagine them in one of those group hiring sessions for a big company. Imagine them being forced through the awful meat grinder of the Japanese corporate world. But, most importantly, imagine them submitting to the group mind and being denied the ability to think freely and truly enjoy the fruits of an open and well-developed mind. Being denied the joy of true individuality.

      So many posters here have noted some truly annoying things about Japan. I am speaking to you guys now. You know in your heart of hearts that you are kidding yourself. If you find these things annoying, it is because they are. But, you keep telling yourself that this is the only place you can make money and that there is nothing for you to do if you go home now. And you hope like hell that somehow you can keep your kids from becoming like the victims you see emerging from the Japanese educational system. But, deep inside, you know you are sacrificing their future because you are afraid to step out of the easy routine of teaching English in Japan.

      I say, stop trying to make the best of a bad situation. As Japan ages and stagnates, it is only going to get worse. Reactionary and fascist politicians will become more common, not less. Foreigners will get blamed for everything wrong with the country. Your own jobs will start disappearing as the country gets poorer and the student population declines. I suggest you do what I did. Leave Japan. Sure, it might take some time to get established in another country (either your home country or a more open country with a brighter future than Japan), but in the long term you will be glad you left. And, the lives of your children will be so much better. If what I have written above does not convince you, just imagine being an old person in Japan. Imagine waking up on your 70th birthday to the sound of another election truck and knowing that you are too old to go anywhere and that sound is the sound you are going to hear for the rest of your days. Get out now while you still can!

    10. Eric C Says:

      An addendum to the above: The following post covers the same ground, but focuses on the political reasons for why Japan will not change and why, therefore, you should get out:

      What’s Japan’s biggest problem? It’s pretty simple: the country is owned and run by a small group of conservative geezers who speak no language other than Japanese and know nothing about the wider world. The majority of these men can be found in the ministries. They form the unelected government of Japan. Meaning simply this: Japan is not a democracy. The ministries make 90% of the laws in Japan. They send the budget up to the Diet, which rubber stamps it. And keep in mind that the ministers have decades to make dirty backroom deals with industry and that’s exactly what they do.

      If the ministers were judged by their performance, as they would be in any rational society, they all would have been fired years ago. I mean, who are these ministers? They are the clowns who, for instance, sit on the Mombusho and preside over an English education system that produces graduates who place LAST in the world on the TOEFL IBT speaking section. That’s right: last. These are the clowns who brought you Fukushima Dai-ichi, Monju and Tokaimura. These are the clowns who have turned Japan from one of the world’s most beautiful countries into one of its ugliest, through the tools of concrete, dams, retaining walls and tetrapods.

      Japan’s response to 311, in particular, the nuclear accident at Fukushima, is proof that Japan cannot and will not change itself. I used to think that a big enough external shock might force Japan to change (the way the coming of the Westerners did in the mid 19th century and the way the American occupation did starting in 1945), but the fact that Japan has not changed in any substantial way since 311 has proved that Japan simply will not change. The present regressive old men who run the show will sail the ship of state right onto the rocks, and they don’t care how many lives they waste in the process. They might imagine themselves to be patriots, but they are the worst form of traitors: they are thinking only of their wallets and their own personal comfort at the expense of the entire nation of Japan and all the young people who live there.

      We forget that Fukushima was not the first nuclear accident in Japan that was the result of human error and lack of true regulation. Does anyone remember Monju and Tokaimura? It’s only a matter of time before another accident happens. This is madness. Japan has rendered a vast swath of its agricultural heartland radioactive and allowed the capital to be covered with fallout and they still can’t even make the most cosmetic changes to the nuclear industry. And don’t think for a second that the fact that most plants are now offline portends any great change. The nuke industry and their ministry bitches are just biding their time before they ram nuclear power down the throat of the nation.

      The ministers’ partners in crime are the large companies that insist on hiring graduates in mass hiring ceremonies, rather than adopting flexible hiring practices like those of major companies elsewhere in the world. The result is an educational system geared entirely to getting hired straight out of a good school by a large company. For the vast majority of students who fail at this goal, they are ruined by the process. All of their spirit and creativity is beaten out of them (the same, of course, can be said of those who succeed in getting hired by the big companies, but at least they get lifetime employment). The educational system is designed to serve the needs of large companies, not the people of the country. Look at the passive, risk-averse, uncreative graduates of Japan’s educational system. What good will they do the country? What good will they do themselves?

      It really doesn’t matter. Nothing can change this. In a short time, Korean, China, Singapore and Hong Kong will eat Japan for lunch and spit out the bones. Japan has created the perfect perpetual motion machine: a system which produces passive slaves who are trained not to rock the boat. It works until it is too old to work, or gets taken over or bought by a more dynamic and healthy culture. That’s all there is too it.

      Why put up with this? Why allow your life to be endangered so you can milk the country for a few more years of easy paychecks? The very best Japan can hope for is a long slow decline into xenophobic stagnation. The more likely trajectory is one of economic collapse punctuated with nationalist uprisings and regular nuclear accidents. Get out while the getting’s good. Sure, most other countries have some form of corruption, but none have the insidious blend of passive population, lapdog media and the complete lack of means for change that curse Japan.


      Finally, I’ll reply to specific posts/responses in a day or so.

    11. Fred Says:

      @giant panda,

      Dude, you expressed it beautifully. It is exhausting stuff and wears on you, but when you get away from it, wow, its like taking off a pack after a 10 mile hump.

    12. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I don’t blame him. There is every reason to be pessimistic about Japan–low birthrate, aging society, centralization of powers, curtailment of free press/censorship, decline of social welfare, bad debts, etc. His pessimism is not a product of typical foreigner who gets her/his hammered down by the system for whatever reason. It’s affecting all Japanese and NJ.
      If you are skeptical, I urge you to read Michael Zielenziger’s “Shutting out the sun”(2007). It was an odd-wired cultural logic that the elitists employed and screwed the country for 20 years. And, they are still not figuring out how to fix the problems because they don’t even have the guts to identify the problems that affect the standard of living for the general public. You don’t have to become Thomas Frank for being comically cynical about national political system, but manifest ineptitude and close-mindedness of J-social system explain pretty well about its pity in general.

    13. Jeff Korpa Says:

      Hi Debito:

      Regarding “Giving up on Japan”, what follows is my two-yen.

      Over a decade ago, I found it essential to create a mental separation between Japan the island chain, and Japan the island nation.

      These isolated states of Japan allowed me to give up on one Japan (Japan the island nation) yet preserve the other (Japan the island chain).

      Japan the island nation was unspoiled by anti-NJ elements (e.g. politics, racial discrimination, xenophobia, etc). I could deal with the human-generated bullshit because at least there was something sacred I could embrace, somewhere I could retreat to (i.e. abundant nature).

      Then the Tokaimura nuclear accidents happened. And now Fukushima.

      That there have been not one, not two, but *3 FUCKING NUCLEAR ACCIDENTS* in the last two decades is so damning of what is wrong with Japan the nation that all NJ-related issues are, for all intents and purposes, moot points by comparison.

      I can only hope that in 40 ~ 50 years, both Japans will emerge as better places.


    14. Hoofin Says:

      I think, as opinion, people might take that one for solid or for slanted. As far as it goes, it seems a little bit cynical. Most people who have had experience with Japan for some length of time see the good and the bad. It is important not to fall into the trap of one thing or the other.

      What has always struck me as useful about the sharing here, is the very strong sense that foreigners get, after a while, that their rights in Japan are “contingent”. You have contingent rights, not real ones. They are rights only if the Japanese you are dealing with chooses to recognize the rights. To me, in the 21st century especially, that is trouble.

      We Westerners are surprised by this, because in most of our home countries, people do not do this anymore without raising some eyebrows. (In America, definitely outside of the Deep South and Appalachia. You can tell from contemporary Republican politics, though, that there is still a segment of America that wants to re-fight the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights / 24th amendment poll tax disputes, even 50 years later . . . )

      This blog has generally tacked more towards the topic of, say, pure discrimination, rather than what I see as the more tangible question of equal protection. I feel what happens is that foreigners in Japan come to understand that they are not be according equal protection. From there, some decide that being so-called “House Gaikokujin” is fine, (or they engage in their own illegalities against other foreigners). Others despair of most of Japan, and write commentary like the post topic.

      The reality of Japan is somewhere in between the two perspectives. I find that the interesting part of Japan is in between those perspectives.

    15. Kimpatsu Says:

      “They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so.”
      Eric evidently doesn’t know much about genetics…

    16. J.J. Says:

      Well, I left America for racist reasons: after being detained for two hours under suspicion for a crime I didn’t commit, on a major street near my university for all to see, I figured Japan was where I’d go. As an African American I still think that (in my experience, mind you)American whites have a great deal more feelings of anger when faced with it here, because many haven’t back home.
      Why keep trying? For the same reason I still vote in America: I pay taxes, teach their kids, and can’t complain if I do nothing. Think instead of how you have started from zero in a xenophobic, blatanly ignorant and racist country, and have SURVIVED!

    17. Johnny Says:

      People give up on things all the time for whatever reasons.

      Re Japan, I am of the view that 2 weeks a year here will be enough once I do leave.

      When I first came here at the start of the millenium, it struck me how complacent so many Japanese actually are. Problems just aren’t being addressed, and things are starting to get tougher for many people on this archipelago. From a business point of view, bureaucratic intransigence is my major beef, but that aside, government debt and demographics mean that Japan’s future is a gloomy one.

      So I’ll come back for my two weeks a year, enjoy the local cuisine, and travel around on a JR pass etc, but that will be it.

    18. Claude Says:


      Sort of off topic but for those who think the grass is greener on the other side or looking a for a third country to get perspective. Here is a interesting post on the gritty little site that can both be pretty informative and sometimes a bit creepy. The post is called, Why I Never Married A Thai. Written by a long term Expat,it goes a much deeper than a heads up before getting married to a Thai. It really takes a good hard critical look at the culture in the tradition of this site. I’ve always felt Asian cultures have a lot more in common than each country would like to admit and you will see similarities in this post between the Thai and Japanese.

    19. Are new voter I.D. laws, like the one in Pennsylvania, an unconstitutional Poll Tax? | Hoofin to You! Says:

      […] I was commenting over at Debito’s about the standards we citizens of the 21st century carry around with us, about Equal Protection of […]

    20. John (Yokohama) Says:

      @Eric C

      Some NJ residents have Japanese family here (myself included). Reason enough for those who choose to.

    21. jim Says:

      Eric I agree with your letter 100%, so we all need to all be honest here and admit that japan just isn’t going to change and get over it and try to live our life the best way we can either in japan or elsewhere

    22. giving up on Japan: the arguments and counter-arguments « the enigma of arrival Says:

      […] Well, well. Just as I was tacking stock and congratulating myself on having made the difficult but necessary decision to leave Japan a year ago, phew, Debito opened up this timely — and heated — discussion on his blog. […]

    23. Charuzu Says:

      I would commend writings by

      Stephen Murphy Shigematsu.

      His website:

      contains many interesting works on mixed ancestry individuals, such as:

      Multiethnic Lives and Monoethnic Myths: American-Japanese Amerasians in Japan, The Sum of Our Parts, 2001

      He says:

      “However, continued belief in the myth of Japanese ethnic purity remains a barrier to the acceptance of multiethnic people.”

      His blog also contains entries relevant to this discussion, such as:

    24. Paul Says:

      I fall in the camp of which Jim seems to be hinting. “admit that japan just isn’t going to change and get over it and try to live our life the best way we can”.

      While I admire those that go out and try to change things for the better, I am not one of those people. I am here in Japan, my life consumed with my work and my family and my hobbies on the side. I’m living my life the best way that I can, and during the course of this I have not felt the necessity nor desire to “change” anyone or anything. Perhaps people will think I’m naive, but I am just the type of person who can be happy just about anywhere. If anything, I still get more angry about the state of the USA and the direction I see it going, which is far more likely to keep me in Japan than ever act as an invitation to return…

      Perhaps I have been lucky. I certainly recognize the experiences of Chris, but I fail to see them as being as insidious and widespread as he personally found them to be.

      It’s not rose colored glasses that I’m wearing either, since I don’t view the Japanese or Japan as particularly good or ‘special’. The more people I meet here (and that includes friends and colleagues and my family), the more I believe that most Japanese are just people doing the same thing I am “try to live our life the best way we can”. There are problems, and bad people to be sure. However the Japanese are not, in my experience, racist automaton Borg enslaved by a some hive mind system.

    25. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Eric, while Ishihara may have been elected by a landslide, these stats:

      …give cause for optimism: Ishihara’s support declines steadily as voters’ ages decrease. The elderly chose him overwhelmingly, but only 34% of voters in their 30s and 28% of those in their 40s voted for him. These people preferred Hideo Higashikokubaru, and also offered more support to Miki Watanabe than their elders did.

      Had voting rights been restricted to those under 40, Higashikokubaru would today be mayor of Tokyo — in fact, if all age groups voted in equal numbers, he’d still win the election if only people under 50 could vote.

      The biggest crisis I see coming for Japan is the demographic one in which the elderly ruthlessly bleed the younger generations dry — or, more accurately, ensconced politicians ruthlessly bleed the younger generations dry to the benefit of elderly voters. We’re already seeing a movement to raise consumption taxes to the heavens so that the massive cohort of Boomers, now beginning to retire, can continue to live in comfort while their children struggle along, doing limited-term-contract haken work with little job security. There was never any essential connection between consumption taxes and old-age pensions, but the politicians have created one.

      You see this all over the world with local politicians who don’t care what happens once they’re out of office, and with US presidents who don’t care how much national debt they offload to the next administration. But with Japan it seems that the whole nation is behaving this way.

      Back to demographics: after about 1972, there are fewer babies born with each passing year. People born in the 15 or so years after that had to watch their elders get rich in the bubble era, only to find themselves facing an employment crisis; this gave that age cohort the nickname “the Employment Ice Age” (就職氷河期). After a short rebound, the ratio of jobs to new graduates has gone back down to where it was then.

      Combine the lack of jobs with the decreasing numbers of births each year, and you get a steady stream of people who, even when employed, will forever have a hard time getting promotions, because there will always be slightly too many employees a few years older than they are.

      Fewer jobs, fewer promotions, less job security, and much higher taxes for the post-1972 crowd. Solid, steady benefits for the big pre-1960 crowd. This is where I see Japan heading for the rocks: a disenfranchised and outnumbered younger half being taken advantage of by an I-got-mine cohort of elderly saying apres nous, le deluge.

      The government could, in addition to the near-meaningless accelerated PR program for rich one-percenters, take in large numbers of intelligent, hard-working immigrants of tax-paying age. Or they could keep the generational ship pointed right at the demographic rocks. I do hope it’s not too late for them to choose the former.

    26. Jim Di Griz Says:

      Eric C succinctly sums up all of the problems. I agree with him in his assessment. He is a brave man to risk internet-stalking for such honesty. As Hoofin says, this is a cynical point of view (Hoofin’s point about contingent rights is valid one), but the truth should not be avoided just because we don’t want it to be true.
      Some posters accuse Eric C of racism. Whilst it is true that he uses many of the expressions used by social anthropologists over the years to explain Japan in racist terms for racist ends, it does not necessarily invalidate the the authenticity of the statement.
      His whole posts should be prefixed with ‘by Western/European standards’ (if ‘modern’ standards is too imperialist for you), especially regarding personal freedoms and rights, education, government and the law. I take his letter not to mean that Japan should be changed, but rather attempting to change it is a waste of time and energy. I agree with that. If you are happy to live in Japan as it is, that’s fine, but I think that the message is that if you expect to enjoy the basic freedoms of your home country, then forget it.
      Japan’s future IS grim, and it really is too late to change that. If you are over 40, married, and have kids, then it’s most likely impossible for you to leave Japan. As long as you aren’t kept awake at night worrying about the quality of life your kids can look forward to, you will most likely spend your old age remembering ‘how good Japan used to be’, and ‘how rich the Japanese used to be’, and recounting fables of ‘salarymen with life-time unemployment’. If however, you aren’t married with kids, or are under 40 with any skills, or are single, then you should consider how much this country has gone down-hill in the last 10 years, and where it will be in 10 more, and make a plan to escape. The Titanic has hit the ice-berg. The band still playing, but this ship is sinking.

    27. bob Says:

      If anyone still has any doubts about which group suffers most from Japanese racism, look new further than the 7-11 Western Union money transfer campaign posters.

      — Send us links to some examples.

    28. flyjin Says:

      @Paul, most social or cultural studies (e.g. Hofstede) conclude that there are 5-10% at one end of the spectrum, e.g. black van driving rightists, 5-10% enlightened people or people interested in other cultures at the other end of said spectrum, and then the 80% who conform to stereotypes and the “Borg Hive mind” as you so eloquently referred to. Percentages and stereotypes are subject to shifting ion one direction or the other.

      I suppose this is best illustrated by the lack of NJ rights here. A small minority are in favor of granting us rights, a noisy minority violently opposed, and the vast, silent majority in the middle dont give a thought to it, as it does not affect them directly.

    29. Danny Says:

      I agree with the letter in theory and have shared a lot of the sentiments that the writer holds.

      That said, maybe it’s just my choice of discipline, but living here and researching Japanese literature I have come across a lot of people that are as intellectually open and intelligent as any of the academics that I studied under and worked with in America. Dissent is strongly encouraged – and it’s the main reason that I’ve chosen to stay. It’s not the majority of voters that chose Ishihara Shintaro that I concern myself with, it’s the people I know who said “I can’t fucking believe that asshole won again” when he got re-elected.

      Of course, the MA and PhD program here in Jps lit is approximately 40% foreign students, so I realize that it’s not a typical Japanese environment, but everything has got to start somewhere.

      That said, I still want to write a book called “you are not at all special or unique: an open letter to the japanese people”

    30. Eric C Says:

      Hi All,

      As promised, I am now going to reply to some of the responses to my post (which Debito kindly made into a full blog post).

      First, I wonder why it was necessary to post the private email from Wymarshian, who wrote,” Why not ask why non-whites don’t leave America. Same answer. Because they have just as much right to be where they want to be as anyone else. I am somewhat offended by the racist tone of the post (ergo, JP are too stupid to change). Ya, so things didn’t work out like you thought. Didn’t live in [city deleted]? Ok, bye. Goddamned entitled dipshit.”

      First off, Wymarshian asks why non-whites shouldn’t leave America. He seems to think that America and Japan are somehow equivalent. I’m surprised that a friend of Debito and a reader of this blog would write such a thing. As Debito constantly points out, NJ do not receive legal protections in Japan and many Japanese don’t even think NJ deserve legal protections. In contrast, the rights of minorities are legally protected in the States, and the topic is something all but the most ignorant Americans are fully aware of. Sure, there is racism in America, but there are very definite legal recourses to fight it. This is not the case in Japan. Next, Wymarshian claims that I call Japanese stupid. Needless to say, I don’t claim any such thing in my post. Nor do I insinuate it. In fact, I consider most Japanese to be very intelligent (although I do feel that their educational system does a lot to render this intelligence useless).

      Next, Wymarshian calls me “an entitled dipshit.” So, anyone who demands basic human rights is “an entitled dipshit”? Well, he’s right as far as the word “entitled” goes. I believe all human beings are entitled to basic human rights. I just wonder why this guy is a friend of Debito. I mean, this whole blog is an outgrowth of Debito demanding human rights for NJ. Does this also make Debito an “entitled dipshit”? Seems like Wymarshian might be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome: he seems to take offense to a NJ demanding basic human rights, just like some uyoku do.

      We all know the term “drunk dialing.” What’s the term for drunk emailing? I wonder why it was necessary to include input from an obviously drunk emailer who didn’t even take the time to read my post properly.

      Another poster, Kinpatsu, took offense at me claiming that the insularity of the Japanese might actually be genetic. He goes so far as to claim that I know nothing about genetics. This is odd, since I’ve been working in a related field for a long time and am a passionate study of the latest developments in the field. Sure, for a long time, I resisted the notion that there might be a genetic basis to the xenophobia of the Japanese, but lately, I’ve come to consider that a small portion of their xenophobia might have a genetic basis (of course, I admit that most of it is culturally conditioned). This is not the place for a debate about the relative degree to which environment and genetics go into producing the characteristics of people and cultures. But, I would like to point out that a surprising amount of what appears to be culturally conditioned behavior is actually genetically determined. Twin studies have shown how behaviors that one would assume to be caused by nurture are actually genetically based. I’d also point out that different animal species can be either highly territorial or very social and accepting of other species’ presence and this is obviously genetically coded. I will leave this conversation about genetics here.

      So that takes care of the “random swipes” at me.

      As for the more thoughtful responses, first, thank you to everyone who posted them.

      Beneathewheel raises an interesting point and one I’ve heard often, namely, that all countries have their problems, so you might as well just put up with the place where you presently live. This one has never made sense to me. Of course I know that there is no such thing as the perfect country. But, countries exist along a continuum. I mean, would anyone say that Switzerland and Burkina-Faso both have their problems, so you might as well live in either? And, for me, some issues trump all others, and, in Japan, the basic lack of legal and human rights for NJ is a deal breaker. I don’t care how good the soba is. I don’t care how relaxing the onsen are. If my basic rights as a human being are not legally protected, then it’s not a place I want to live in and not a place where I want to raise my kids.

      Other posters state in various ways something along the lines of, “I know Japan has problems, but it works for me and I don’t really want to spend my time fighting against the system.” To these people, I say: more power to you. If it works for you, fine. Enjoy it. I know that Japan can be a very pleasant place to live. Please, though, if you have kids (especially double kids), then do all you can to protect them from the educational system and the propaganda barrage they’ll receive.

      I’d also like to thank Charuzu, for his post on Shigematsu. Just reading Shigematsu’s experiences of being a Eurasian in Japan made me glad, once again, that I left.

      I also can fully related to the feelings of the posters above who said that leaving Japan was like having a weight lifted from their shoulders. That was my experience exactly. One of the things I found most refreshing was being able to speak to people directly and openly, instead of playing all those mind games that go into communication in Japan. It’s such a relief not to be obsessed by the correct degree of keigo, sonkeigo etc. It’s also wonderful not to have to try to guess what a person really means.

      Thanks also to Mark in Yayoi for the heartening information about the voting in the recent Tokyo election. That is a hopeful sign.

      And, to Jim Di Griz, thanks for the comment. However, I would not be so sure that you cannot leave if you are over 40 and have a family. This very much depends on your work and your situation. I left after 40 and it seems to be working so far. After 50, it might start to get pretty difficult. One thing I’d suggest to anyone who’s living in Japan but concerned about human rights issues and aware of the fact that Japan is on a steep downward trajectory in economic and social terms, is this: start to build a bridge out of Japan. Start to make your work portable. Think of what you can do in another country. Get a qualification if necessary. Start spending part of every year outside Japan. My guess is that you will not regret this.

      I want to close by saying that I was only expressing my opinion and explaining why I chose to leave. I can fully understand why someone might want to stay. Japan is a LOT better than most countries in terms of quality of life. If you’ve built a life here and have family here, choosing to stay is a valid decision. To each their own. And, as someone pointed out above: sumeba miyako. All the best to you!

    31. Troy Says:

      I lived in Japan 1992-2000 and came back to the US then, but I’d like to go back, maybe.

      The US, too, is largely a nation of children. The only countries who have their act together economically are Canada, Oz, Germany, and the Nordic states, and several of those have their own simmering problems to deal with.

      At least Japan is a top-5 secularist society, the US is swamped with various religious communities trying to legislate their bigotries.

      While I largely agree with the points raised by Eric C, I found this:

      “As the country stagnates and gets poorer”

      to be worth some more examination. A declining population is not an economic death sentence for Japan, what it means is that by 2050 Japan will again have the population it did ca 1975 — but half the number of young people and ~5X the number of old people.

      I’m not sure how things are going to turn out for Japan, but I’d rather have their row to hoe this century than the US’s.

      With a declining population, economic opportunity will actually increase for more people, especially the horrendously under-employed distaff side. At the national level, less will be invested in creating new infrastructure — it’s cheaper to maintain existing stuff than build new stuff. As the nation gets older, people will be able to live on less consumption — most people over 40 already have all the stuff they need to have to live.

      Basically Japan is heading into a post-consumerist society. This is not a bad thing.

      On the negative side, I do think Japan is in a fragile situation vis-a-vis ROK, Taiwan, and China. They’ve made major inroads into Japan Inc’s manufacturing domination and this will no doubt continue.

      But as an expat in Japan, the best revenge is just being a good gaijin and doing one’s best as a cultural ambassador. You really can’t change things but by very small incrementalist degrees.

      — As an “expat”, a “good gaijin” and “cultural ambassador”? How about the viability if life as a NJ “resident”?, which is the subject of this blog entry. Clearly you bought into guestism at a very different stage than Japan is in now, and your mind might change if you actually lived in Japan now.

    32. John S. Says:

      I am really shocked by the number of people who accept Eric C’s claims. If his point is merely to say ‘it’s better to leave Japan than try to change it’ as one comment notes, sure, I agree too. But there’s so much implicit in his tone that I find troubling, so many broad generalizations, Japanese are this (infantile) and Japanese are that (never gonna accept you). Would you accept the claim that ‘Americans are arrogant?’ Aren’t such attitudes exactly what Debito is fighting against? And tell me about “indoctrination into groupthink!” I grew up having to recite the pledge of allegiance every day at school, a country that sends hundreds of thousands of young men and women overseas to save democracy and fight for freedom . What’s so unique about indoctrination in this country? Do you think (to use the example of a country I know best) Americans are such critical thinkers? Watch some Fox News. I just wonder whether Eric C. can look into a mirror (whether he’s American or not). As another wrote, Japan is not so earthshatteringly different than other countries on earth. It’s fucked up in many ways, but where isn’t? Go to Thailand, a great country in many ways, where you can be imprisoned for dissing the king. A greater truth than ‘get out of Japan’ is every situation is what you make it. You can simmer and point your finger your whole life and remain blind to your own flaws and the flaws of your tribe or you can aim to live life fully fearlessly and with integrity. Leaving Japan worked for you, fine. Perhaps one day you’ll notice some troubling systemic problems in whatever country you’re now living. Living in Japan is another option–not inherently better or worse than living in your country of birth. Get some perspective man!

    33. Michael Smith Says:

      “They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so”

      condemning xenophobia with a blatently racist statement doesnt serve your rantings very well….which makes me think that ,although you do discuss some common complaints among foreigners in Japan, it all comes from somewhere filled with bitterness and anger. You almost sound like the very kind of people you complain about…unfair, irrational and a bit racist…

    34. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I guess Eric’s argumentative discourse invokes an irony of “the rhetoric of the law.” According to James Boyd White, legal language “creates a set of actors and speakers and offers them possibilities for meaningful speech and action that would not otherwise exist; in so doing it establishes and maintain a community.”1 The irony here is that the system skews the collective notion of “we the people” because it exists as an abstract, while “the law entacts a more specific, more limited, people who are to act in accordance with judicially-mediated reality.” 2 My point here is that the possibility of active democracy and citizenship depends on the attitudes of those who interpret framer’s mind on the national constitution. What vision do you see in this mirror– Alienation or integration?

      What makes Japan unique, from my perspective, is that the framers of system seem to politicize culture in a way to preserve its sublime and backwardness simultaneously. No wonder such practice hampers re-invigoration of the people by creating rhetorical binary of hegemony and stupidity, which accounts for the maintenance of “cultural relavism.”

      1 James Boyd White. Justice as Translation: An Essay in Cultural and Legal Criticism(Chicago: University of Chicago, 1990), xiv.

      2Todd F. McDorman. “Challenging Constitutional Authority: African American Responses to Scott v. Sandford.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83(1997):194.

    35. Eric C Says:

      Hi John S,

      Thanks for the reply. First, I wasn’t posting about the United States. Debito’s blog is not about the United States. I agree that there is an astonishing amount of propaganda and groupthink in the United States, but isn’t that better discussed on some other board? Perhaps you are giving away your America-centric bias by feeling the need to compare everything to the USA. The fact is, there are plenty of countries with much less propaganda and groupthink than that which exists in the USA and Japan. If you really want to discuss the United States, why not find a board where that is the theme?

      As for me being able to look in the mirror, I do so every morning and I’m not upset with the guy I find looking back at me. My posts weren’t about me, so don’t try to personalize it.

      As for every country having flaws, I admitted that and discussed it at length in post #30. Did you read that or did you just jump right down and start typing?

      As for having perspective, I can’t be sure, but I’d lay long odds that I’ve travelled in and lived in way more countries than you. I have heaps of perspective.

      My main problem with Japan is essentially the problem that Debito spends his life fighting against: the lack of legal protection and recognition of foreigners and the way most Japanese seem to reflect and/or support this governmental attitude.

      As for your point about Japan not being particularly different from many other countries, I beg to differ: Japan is quite different from most countries. The thing that makes them different is their belief in their own uniqueness (which is both tautological and a self-fulfilling prophecy). I found this almost unbearable.

      But, the main point is this: I assume that most of the participants in this discussion are expats or considering the expat life. There are many countries on earth that are multicultural and where permanent residents and non-citizens are protected with clearly defined laws (and where the people are far less xenophobic than those in Japan). If you think that, Japan and, say, Canada or Australia are pretty much all the same except for the languages they speak, then you should continue your happy life in Japan and disregard my comments. They’re obviously not going to make much impact on you.

    36. John Says:

      Soon to graduate and in my early twenties, I am increasingly aware that my goal to live an work in Japan makes me an oddball. As many are aware, Japan is a poor alternative to countries with a 21st century-handle on human rights, economy, politics, and so on. However, my conviction remains. It remains because I cannot let go of Japan, and I cannot let go because there is only one Japan.

      Maybe years from now I’ll be eating these words; never say never. Nevertheless, I can confidently move foreward knowing that this is the best decision I can make for myself in the here and now. I believe that I can follow my passion and shape it into a life I want to live. I doubt Eric C ever wore these shoes, but I won’t admonish him for that. I am an oddball, after all.

    37. John S. Says:

      Eric C.

      Comments about the U.S. were made to show what I perceive to be the absurdity of your claims. I am not claiming that Americans are arrogant, just juxtaposing that with ‘Japanese are infantile.’ I think such claims are far too broad to have any meaning at all.

      Your discussion is not only about Japan; your point is that we should leave and go to another country because Japan is so horrible. So there is an implicit comparison that other places are better, are more just, are more fair.

      You probably have lived in more countries than I who have only lived in four. But volume of experience is not the issue. I think a farmer in rural Vietnam who has never left his province can have more perspective than you (or me). I wrote that because of what I saw to be blanket condemnations of an entire country and what I perceived to be shockingly insulting commentary.

      Your posts are very much about you and certainly based on your experiences. In your second paragraph alone you use “I” 17 times about how you fought discrimination and had the balls to leave Japan. Even when you later write “I will tell you what is annoying about Japan” it is merely about you, your opinion mostly based on your experience and insights. But you call it the “hard truth.” It’s not. It’s a very limited truth (yours) from a very limited perspective (but no more limited than my perspective mind you!).

      I don’t think countries are the same at all, just that there are unique problems in every country as well as basic problems of the human condition. Person A who has come to believe certain things and expect certain things will naturally judge country B more harshly when those are not fulfilled. Likewise with person B. If a person expects straight talk, for a simple ex., Japan is probably not the best place. But it’s tough to make value judgments. I’ve heard foreigners rail against the practice of paying married people more than single people for the same job, for one example. But such a practice is not necessarily worse or better, but just a different system. I don’t want to go too far about cultural relativism, but just point out the ways our POV can influence our judgments.

      I wish you had written more about troubles with the legal system. I admire Debito’s work too, but the comments that shocked me were one’s such as “They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so.” To me, legitimacy is lost with such statements, and I read several. Perhaps they were just made for dramatic effect. I don’t know.

      Honestly, I’m not sure whether I skipped over your post 30 or whether it wasn’t on my screen as I left the window open a long time. As you surely know, these exchanges can really eat up time. I see now where you cover points made by people who wanted to ‘take a swipe at you.’ Even if our points did not seem fair, I hope you can at least consider the deeper issues we raised.

      I really don’t think in terms of “my life in Japan” but rather “my life.” I would be equally happy in the country of my birth, the United States. I appreciate the time you have taken to explain your views and regret lacking the ability to write my concerns and displeasure more skillfully.

    38. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Eric and others, you may have caught it already, but I made a big typo in my earlier post:

      these stats:

      …give cause for optimism: Ishihara’s support declines steadily as voters’ ages decrease. The elderly chose him overwhelmingly, but only 34% of voters in their 30s and 28% of those in their 40s voted for him.

      That last part should read “28% of those in their 20s voted for him”. Ishihara trailed Higashikokubaru for everybody under 40, and didn’t win by much in the 40-50 group. Only the over-50s (and particularly the over-70s) were really supportive of him.

      I can’t seem to find a more detailed breakdown, but I’m curious as to how people in their 70s voted compared to those in the 80s and even 90s. I’ve found that people over about 75, who have vivid memories of the pre-WWII days, are some of the most open-minded and interesting people you could ever meet. Folks, make friends with these people while they’re still alive and active — your experience will be enriched by having met them!

    39. Eric C Says:

      John S,

      Sadly, it seems that you want to make this about me and you, at the expense of the issues at hand.

      Yes, my posts were full of generalizations. I don’t deny that. John, I’m not writing an academic or scientific article here. This is not a PhD dissertation. Sure, I could have quoted survey after survey to the effect of “80 percent of Japanese are opposed to immigration” etc etc etc. But, that would detract from the force of my argument and render the posts utterly boring. If you demand rigorous academic standards in this sort of forum, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place for your reading matter. Moreover, on a topic like this, it is impossible not to make generalizations. You cannot discuss the issue at hand without making them. If every statement has to be totally valid, without any possible exceptions, what can we say? Think about it, John.

      Next, please don’t try to justify your absurd personalization of the issue. I’m talking about your strangely nasty cheap shot (“I wonder if Eric C can look in the mirror”). What on earth can such a remark possibly add to this discussion? Then, when I called you out on it, you actually went back and counted how many times I used the pronoun “I” in my posts. This reveals a petty, obsessive and troubled character. I’m holding a mirror up to you now, John, please look into it.

      John, you seem to want to focus on the trees and forget the forest. Let’s not make this a pissing contest. It ain’t about you and me. This started because I sent a well-intentioned post to Debito thanking him for his efforts and asking him if he ever wonders if Japan is too far gone to change. If you want to discuss the issues at hand – namely: Can Japan change? Is it worth trying to change it, or should one simply leave? – then let’s do so. But, please keep your ego out of it and try to rise above personal attacks and nit-picking that detracts from the discussion. Engage me on the issues, not on technicalities. This is the last post I’ll address to you personally, unless you care to discuss the issues I’ve raised: Do you think it’s worth trying to change Japan? Should one seek a more open society? Is Debito right in continuing his noble crusade etc?

    40. Concerned Jew Says:

      I cannot believe that in the early 21st century I am reading ideas about genetics determining personality and intellect. I thought these 19th century ideas were thoroughly discredited in the early 20th? And people are agreeing with Eric C, and even Debito says this is a “considered and considerate” post? Excuse me? Would you say this about my people? Is this acceptable?

      “Thank you on behalf of all loyal citizens of the Reich who have lived in Israel or are living in Israel. 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 Israel for years and I did what you did, but on a lesser scale: I fought Zionism 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 beer hall, at synagogues, with the banks and with various random Jews. That’s not to say I went around with a chip on my shoulder: I had a lot of Jewish friends, spoke their language well and really tried to fit in. But, finally, I decided to leave Israel 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 Israel and the Jews 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. Israel 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 Israel are all Zionists and, most likely, racists.
      Frankly, I don’t even think it’s worth trying to change the Jews. They’re not worth it. Let them go their own miserable way to stagnation and backwardness. Let the world pass them by. A Jew 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 a Jew is a waste of time. The only sensible thing to do is move away. Fuck the Jews, to be direct about it.
      You’ve fought the good fight, Debito, and a lot of loyal citizens of the Reich 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 Germans to simply pack up and leave and let the Jews do whatever it is they want to do? Let them talk about their “Holocaust” morning, noon and night. Let them lobotomize their kids in the name of educating them. Let them claim that their actions in Palestine 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” Jewish society. It’s not our job to educate the Jews 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 the Jews as well as you know it must surely realize that the defining characteristic of a modern Jew is the inability to change. The Jew is 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 killing totally innocent Palestinians when it requires vast government support to keep doing it? They do it precisely because the world tells them to stop.
      I say, leave the Jews to it and live your own life.”

      You folks are scary as hell.

    41. Rick Says:

      I have to ask, sincerely, how does Blinky keep getting re-elected? Is it because of the crazy stuff he says or despite it? I’ve been listening to the crap that he and some other politicians have been saying about Nanking recently and frankly, it scares the hell out of me. Your comment about fascist politicians coming to power really hit home and it’s the only thing that really makes me think I better get out of here soon. Also, since people are talking about the collapse of Japan, what event will be (or was) the “canary in the coal mine”? Thank you very much.

    42. samsara Says:

      Hi all,

      This is my first post to, a site I’ve been reading – I will admit, every day – for about the past year.

      First, a little about me. I’m an Australian who lives now in Japan on the JET program in Miyagi as an English teacher. I came to Tohoku after the earthquake.

      I too can broadly agree with Eric, that leaving a country you’re not happy with is commendable if you can do it. Eric wrote that “The fact is, Japan is never going to accept foreigners.” This is true, though it’s perhaps true of all countries. I always though Australia was open, but hearing some of the things foreigners tell me makes me wonder if maybe I just happen to be open and assuming everyone else is. In any case, living abroad is always good to help a person expand their viewpoint, so if you want to make a go of it in another country, more power to you.

      Eric writes,

      “The only exceptions are the very old, who have some real life experience, or returnees from abroad, who were snapped out of the groupthink mindset.”

      Though it’s maybe universal, certainly in Japan those who don’t fit in stand out particularly strongly. I know in my office I quickly realised that the people I felt most camaraderie with were all outsiders in some regard or other – because you were from tokyo; because you left the inaka; because you were old; because you went abroad (and sometimes a combination of all these things!)

      “Textbooks are being purged of even the vaguest mention of wartime atrocities,

      I don’t know about other schools, but at my school I remember seeing a social studies comprehension sheet given to a grade six class that was about Manchuria and Nanking. Our school’s textbook also notes these events. As far as I know Japan’s public schools are fairly uniform, so why I work at a school that does not fit the image of an education ‘purged’ of even the ‘vaguest’ mention of (I assume you are referring to, though I may be wrong of course) WWII, I’ll leave for you to decide.

      “fewer young people are going abroad to study, attitudes toward immigration are becoming increasingly negative.”

      This is true. Part of the reason I came through JET is that it’s very hard to come on uni exchange because there are less students leaving Japan on exchange. And I will agree that, although I don’t know about increasing, it’s a pity that, coming from a country like Australia, where effort at least is made to create a congenial environment for immigration, that there has not been a wider acceptance of the concept that Japan could be an immigrant nation (especially since Australia too used to follow the White Australia policy of homogeneity)

      “Several posters above mentioned the visual horror of endless concrete and power lines.

      Funnily enough, that was the last post on my blog Actually, Troy mentioned that Japan is headed for a post-consumerist society. I think that this is where the world generally is heading, but the sort of construction Japan still carries out is concerning precisely because it suggests a lack of desire to move past that kind of building/consuming society and into things like technology and clean energy etc etc. So, as others have said, ultimately the most concerning things for Japan are demographics and the lost chances to capitalise on new technologies, certainly.

      As for Eric’s conclusion, “In a short time, Korean, China, Singapore and Hong Kong will eat Japan for lunch and spit out the bones. Japan has created the perfect perpetual motion machine: a system which produces passive slaves who are trained not to rock the boat. It works until it is too old to work, or gets taken over or bought by a more dynamic and healthy culture.” Keep in mind that these societies share elements of that system Japan has, something roughly like “rule of the people by a benevolent leading class”. But in purely economic terms, sure, that will quite possibly come to pass. Then again, if Japan is good at letting itself sink to the bottom, it can also rise quickly, a la Meiji and post-WWII, so although I agree with the broad message of your posts – that people be thoughtful about their position in life and change whatever they can – let’s also remember that, every if Japan shut down completely tomorrow, there’s no telling what it could become the day after that.

      But I think I’ll leave the last word to Ribi Hideo. Ribi Hideo was and is the Western foreigner I most admire in Japan. He writes beautfiully – I know few other authors who write as well. Just read essays like manchuria express and tianamen and you’ll see what I mean. He was the first Westerner to publish as an author in Japanese, during the (you guessed it) late 80s/early 90s, and still writing today, (although there are a few others these days, he is probably still the best). Yet even Hideo, the man I’d long looked up to as being almost the only Western foreigner to really stand out prominently in Japan’s literature, has over the past ten years begun to move more toward china in his writing, citing a dimming interest in Japan.

      But hey, that’s just personal, and good on him for writing in Japanese about subjects outside Japan. It’s the great benefit many foreign and migrant authors bring to their adopted cultures.

      The excerpt below is from his award-winning debut novel, seijoki ga kikoenai heya (a room where the star spangled banner cannot be heard):

      “The low-pitched chorus hurled at the consulate every few seconds echoed off the walls of the darkened parlor:

      Go homu.

      The words literally got lost in translation: kuni ni kaere (go back to your country), ie ni kaere (go back to your house), kokyo ni kaere ( go back to your hometown). As he looked across Yamashita Park Avenue, Ben understood how this simple slogan, which he had heard in countless port towns across Asia, as perhaps the cruelest joke they could play on Americans in Asia.

      The Europeans, who occasionally came to dinner parties at the consulate, were immune to such mockery. The French and Italians would shrug it off with a laugh: “Oh, we’ll go home soon enough. Ciao, au revoir, sayonara.” The Americans, however, had abandoned their homes or been driven from them. That’s what made them Americans. For them, especially those who sought refuge in towns across Asia after they had found America too much to bear, to “go home” meant retracing the path of their escape. It meant retracing every step of the way by which they had run off in the night, clutching the family heirlooms. For the four individuals bearing the surname Issac huddled here at the window of the consulate, the taunts of “go home” stung. Where on earth was home? Brooklyn? Shanghai? Or some distant, dreamy Jerusalem?”

      — Just a point of order: Ribi as being “almost the only Western foreigner to really stand out prominently in Japan’s literature”. Well, what about David Zoppetti, winner of the Subarusho for Ichigensan back in the ’90s? Here’s his pedigree in English and Japanese (, and a list of his books on Amazon. Okay, back on topic.

    43. Debbie Says:

      I lived in Japan for a number of years and loved it, I never experienced racism or felt out of place there. I stayed true to myself and was accepted by those around me. I found most japanese to be interested in me and very helpfull towards me. The kids I taught were open minded about other countries and most hoped to experience other cultures in the future. Most of the people I worked with where well travelled and were happy and willing to see things another way. I left japan due to family reasons but would happily go back and plan to in the future.

    44. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Eric C

      I want to applaud your comments #9 and #10!
      I think that whilst cynical (?) you are correct and show remarkable insight. I am not trying to be flippant. I too (like John, #36) came to Japan and loved it. Then I went home and spent four years studying it, during which time I realized that Japan has massive ‘issues’. Undaunted, with my new found hat as ‘Japan expert’, I did my research Phd. into some of those issues as a student at (dare I say?) an allegedly prestigious Japanese university. My research convinced me that Japan won’t change because it doesn’t want to. Since then I have stayed in Japan, still doing research, publishing, acting as a consultant to various organizations. My message? If you are thinking about Japan, forget it. Japan is like an industrialized zombie of a nation.
      I still live in Japan, and have children. My wife has known from the very first what I am all about, and we have always had an ‘escape’ plan. Now I feel that I am watching Japan’s social and economic ‘car crash’ in slow motion, happening right before my eager eyes, and I record and collect as much information as I can. As a Japanologist I am looking forward to being an eyewitness to the collapse (I always, somewhat wistfully, liken this to being present at the moment when the shocked citizens of Pompei woke up to find Vesuvius destroying the city). Then my family and I will escape.
      Thank you for your honest posts above. I think that it would be interesting to actually know you in real life. Good luck to you!

    45. Charuzu Says:

      I think that the two issues:

      Can Japan change? Is it worth trying to change it, or should one simply leave?

      are really rather different.

      Can Japan change is a form of analysis of Japan, and its future trends.

      In contrast, whether it is worth trying to change Japan is really very subjective and dependent on what the alternatives are.

      For me as a Dutchman the question is rather different than for one from a much poorer and more troubled country, such as Central African Republic.

      Were I from Bangui, I would infinitely prefer life in disease-free Japan where starvation and violence is comparatively rare.

      Regarding the first question, I think that there exists information to support the notion that culturally, politically and sociologically Japan now is temporarily rather stable, and so unlikely to change absent a very large series of events.

      I say temporarily, because I believe that the enormous demographic problem of Japan will eventually collide with Japanese current strong preferences, and force some type of change. That change may not occur for several decades, but such change is inevitable.

      Regarding the second, well, who am I to judge Debito or his choices or those of others?

      I would say that for those who examine the second issue, a key question is whether there may be children involved.

      I believe that if both parents of a mixed ancestry child are Japanese citizens, a question arises as to whether any such children may be able to easily make a different choice, given the levels of xenophobia.

      I would be chary of abandoning citizenship that might be useful to a child, even if such citizenship no longer holds meaning for myself.

      Regarding the questions:

      Should one seek a more open society? Is Debito right in continuing his noble crusade etc?

      I think that the answer is of course ‘yes’ for those who uphold European Enlightenment ideals.

      The question really, I believe, is with what level of effort.

      I do not know how taxing to Debito his efforts are, of course.

      So, the goals of openness and equal rights for all are indeed good goals and worthy of support.

      Should one pursue them at great personal cost is an individual decision.

    46. Troy Says:

      “I agree that there is an astonishing amount of propaganda and groupthink in the United States, but isn’t that better discussed on some other board?”

      No, because if you jump from Japan to the US to avoid cultural and economic BS you may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

      I honestly don’t know which society is more screwed up, the Japanese or the US. The US has got a $900B/yr dollar military welfare establishment and a $1.2T/yr fiscal deficit to pay for it, and a $600B/yr trade deficit with the rest of the world.

      The US is a country cruising for a very big bruising. Someone somewhere said Japan’s economic situation is “a bug in search of a windshield” but Japan’s current account deficit in January was 1/10th that of the USs, and it is the American government who owe the Japanese $1.1T now, not the other way around.

      “the lack of legal protection and recognition of foreigners and the way most Japanese seem to reflect and/or support this governmental attitude”

      This is just normal. Foreigners are foreigners. You want social credit, you’re going to have to personally earn it.

      “The thing that makes them different is their belief in their own uniqueness”

      This is also normal. Everybody chauvinistically thinks they’re exceptional. The US, Australia, NZ, and Canada are slightly different in this department because our national experience of being nations of immigrants, but ab-original cultures like the Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Germans, Russians, Swedes, English etc etc are naturally bigoted and closed-minded.

      “There are many countries on earth that are multicultural and where permanent residents and non-citizens are protected with clearly defined laws (and where the people are far less xenophobic than those in Japan)”

      Sure, Norway, Sweden, and Germany are great places to immigrate to.

      Canada and Oz even have the advantage of being native English-speaking, more or less.

      In my 8 years in Tokyo I only encountered one overt instance of “xenophobia”, a stamp on an apartment listing that said “外国人や水商売禁”.

      I have no complaints about my time in the capital. Whether that extends to the breadth of the archipelago is debatable of course.

    47. samsara Says:

      @Debito: you’re right. And not just Zoppetti, but Arthur Binard, too. I can’t really think of many others after that, so I guess that’s why I said “almost”. If you include non-fiction you get a lot more, and of course if you include foreign authors generally. To be really precise, I should perhaps have just left it at “(although there are a few others these days, he is probably still the best).” Though I’ve read Ichigensan and thought it was great, so it’s good that .

      Another interesting slant on Eric C’s suggestions is to ask what those who leave Japan but want to keep up their interest in the country can do. If you don’t want to make your future in Japan but are happy to live abroad and maybe read some Japanese books and eat sushi, you can still (thankfully!) do that in many places. But Japan’s dimming influence is not just an internal affair, though sadly that’s the place where it will hurt most, with the internal demographic issue. The point is, externally there are also effects: less migrants from Japan, due to an aging population and less-interested younger, means less influence for Japan in the world generally, too. Let’s say you left Japan in 95, convinced it was all going to hell. You might have found alot of Japanese who agreed with you, given that at that time, from what I make of it, there was a lot of worry about the country’s future. But back then you could still leave and get, say, a job as a Japanese teacher overseas, or translation, or a Japanese company. There are more problems nowadays though in maintaining one’s connection to Japan overseas with the rise of the country’s neighbours – how many areas in your neighbourhood overseas do you know that were maybe once were filled with Japanese restaurants, but have now changed almost overnight into Korean ones. There goes jobs for someone who might have wanted to work in a Japanese kitchen (not that your co-workers would necessarily have been Japanese!) Or what if you want to teach Japanese? Many positions have had to make space for Chinese and Korean. And so on and so forth for many other industries.

      So, another point to consider is this: if you feel Japan is beyond change, then keep in mind that your mindset may also mean allowing Japan’s presence overseas to dim. One may still be able to find soba or a Japanese newspaper now, but that’s not guaranteed. In my neighbourhood for example, almost the only place I can find soba is a chinese supermarket – and if that supermarket decides there aren’t enough businessmen and exchange students coming over to buy soba, well…so Japan’s presence in Asia also has effects on Japan’s presence is whatever “western” part of the world one might be thinking of returning to, or otherwise if that’s the case.

    48. matthew Says:


      18 years in the Chugoku and Kyushu areas. No complaints from here.

      As for the OP and the argument for giving up Japan—In all my many years I have seen remarkable changes in this country. Stares and pointing have literally disappeared. People at banks and post offices and the city office don’t even bat an eye at me. (15 years ago even purchasing stamps brought at least three people into the process) The level of English across the spectrum of ages has improved. The ability for people with permanet residency to open businesses, get loans, buy houses, and build a real life has greatly improved. But these are just my observations and anecdotes from a small corner of the country. I do agree with Debito that Japan needs an anti-discrimnation law with teeth and I advocate for it to any and all when the topic comes up.

      People who I know well and even in passing, who carry with them an immigrant mentality–that is moving to a new county to build a life, seem to do well here. Granted it is not easy, but the life of a first wave immigrant never is.

      Perhaps i am just a glass half full person.

    49. John S. Says:

      Eric C. asks, “Do you think it’s worth trying to change Japan?”

      First, I’d say that’s the wrong question. I think it’s often worth speaking out against injustice, wherever it is. A certain amount of personalization is necessary: who are you? where are you? what’s happening to you? what do you see that needs to change? Your question implies that the writer/foreigner knows best and has a burden/responsibility to enlighten Japanese people (‘changing Japan’ has to boil down to changing Japanese people). ‘Do you think it’s worthwhile for Japanese to try to change foreigners?’ is likewise an offensive question, esp. if the context is foreigners are backwards, feudal, infantile, xenophobic, stubborn, nationalist, ignorant and, like a noisy dog, not worth arguing with. Bizarre that the writer of this would be so offended by a rhetorical request to ‘look in the mirror’!

      You now say your point was simply ‘Should one simply leave (given its problems)?’ I would say there is no general answer. Advice that all foreigners should leave is nonsensical and implies that things are truly horrible here and better elsewhere. They’re not. As Troy says regarding the US and Japan ‘I don’t know which society is more screwed up.’ The decision to stay or leave depends on every individual and his or her situation (i.e. our personal circumstances). But your original post, far from being that question, was black and white: Japan is horrible, get out. The answer, in the end, has to be personal. There are no statistics that would generate an answer, no set of facts that could finally clarify in which country a person should reside.

    50. jim Says:

      I cant believe in 2012 we are still talking about basic human rights and equal protection under the law, this is proof that Japan isn’t and doesn’t want to change and Eric is 100% correct in his assessment and I applaud him for speaking his opinion and not trying to beat around the bush about it.

    51. Bob Says:

      Most sentences on this post and in comments are gross, racist generalizations about a complex and diverse country of 130 million people with 130 million opinions. To accuse them of group-think, to dismiss them as intellectual children, to say they are genetically racist and xenophobic, to say that they are a sore on the face of the earth that should be left to rot, etc. is pure and simple racism of the type Eric accuses the Japanese of. Put it to the test:

      “Blacks all think the same way. They’re intellectually children and have no way of interacting in civil society without adult supervision. Blacks hate whites, it’s in their DNA. They are a sore on the face of the earth and we should just leave them alone until they rot.”

      That sounds racist to me.

      I don’t think Eric’s rantings add value to the universe. I get that he does not like Japan, had bad experiences, and extrapolated them into a grandiose theory of why Japan is bad and he and others should all leave as it is beyond salvation. That he is here repeating and justifying it makes me question whether he truly believes in it or is merely hoping to find support from others or build a following.

      For those who take Eric seriously and identify with him (“he’s racist, but it’s true!”), counterpoint:
      I and many of you have discussed politics with Japanese people and encountered intelligent perspectives that run the gamut. I and many of you have been accepted by Japanese people as true and deep friends (of any gender) who would, have and do sacrifice for each other. I and many of you have enjoyed the experience of living in a society much like northern Europe with delicious food and culture located conveniently off the coast of Asia. If you let some ramblings that Japanese people are a brainwashed hive-mind blind you or diminish your enjoyment of life in Japan, that’s your loss. If you let a country bumpkin asking if you can use chopsticks diminish your enjoyment of life in Japan instead of understanding his or her limited perspective, that’s your loss.

      This post epitomizes the type of racism toward Japanese that is tolerated even in academia, fetishizing their “unique” and “Asian” nature with their hive mind, lack of individuality, and unique Japanese ways. It’s also total bullshit a la Nihonjinron. Grow up, people. Things are a lot more complicated than you make them out to be; people are people, in Japan and everywhere else. Eric, your attempts to explain your failure to find your place in Japan say a lot more about you than they do about Japan.

    52. Anonymous Says:

      I understand that people who pride themselves on valuing politeness more than truth hate “generalizations.”

      According to such people, we should no longer be able to state that “ethnic group A exhibits quality X.”

      But we people who value truth more than politeness should still be able to state comparative differences:

      “On average, Ethnically-Japanese are RELATIVELY MORE Homogeneous than Non-Ethnically-Japanese are.”

    53. jim Says:

      Bob you are taking this personal and are trying to kill the messenger. Eric has several valid points and we should take a look at all the things that he mentioned and not get emotional about it.And some of the thing that Eric mentioned must be true for you to attack Eric the way you did so this is really unproductive.

    54. Eric C Says:

      Hi All,

      Thank you for your feedback on my posts.

      It seems that most respondents fell into one of two categories: either my views deeply resonated with theirs, or they took offense to my comments. Needless to say, both are fair. I suspect people’s response to my posts reflect their different experiences in Japan.

      Sadly, as usual, some people tried to personalize the whole thing and tried to pick fights and try to force the thread off topic. Others accused me of racism (for example, Bob). Frankly, I don’t see what I wrote as racist. As I wrote above, Japan’s modern system creates people who are childish. I don’t think this is an inborn characteristic. It is the result of being coddled and controlled for their whole lives. That’s not a racist assertion. I might equally well say that Koreans tend to be entrepreneurial, which, again, is the result of a society which values entrepreneurialism (rather than being inborn). This isn’t a racist assertion – it’s an observation of how a particular system molds its citizens. As for my assertion that there may be a genetic characteristic to the xenophobia of the Japanese, I stand by that. I don’t think it’s racist in the negative sense of the word, any more than saying Masai tend to be tall.

      My guess is that those who took most umbrage to my posts are those who, at some level, understand that what I’m saying is true (the truth hurts, and all of that), but they’ve got so much invested in Japan that rather than accept the shortcomings of the country, they become livid at any criticism of the place. This reminds me of how many Japanese cannot accept any criticism of Japan. Perhaps this is a case of pets starting to resemble their owners. Sorry, that’s mostly in jest, but you know what I mean. It’s hard for a man to criticize that from which he earns his living.

      Other posters pointed out that they had never had a bad experience in Japan (or had only very few), and therefore it can’t be all that bad. This is a valid point, but it reminds me of Americans who aren’t willing to criticize things like the Patriot Act or Gitmo because it’s never had an impact on their lives. This is the principle of “if it doesn’t hurt me, I don’t care about it.” In my case, I never ran afoul of the Japanese legal system and never needed the full legal protection of the law, but I found it repugnant to live in a country that didn’t even afford me and other NJ full legal status and rights. Perhaps I’m too idealistic, but I can say that I am happier to be in a country where one’s basic human rights are protected by law and where the people seem to understand this and care about it.

      Choosing to stay in Japan is, of course, a valid choice. I guess only time will tell if getting out was a good move or if staying put was the right move. Perhaps there will be no clear answer. If you’ve got half-Japanese children and you choose to raise them in Japan, perhaps they’ll be able to articulate an answer at some point. Maybe they’ll be glad you chose to raise them in Japan. Maybe not.

      Anyway, I’ve had my say and I’ll be moving along. If you’re considering leaving and my thoughts were useful, that’s great. If I merely pissed you off by casting your place of residence in a negative light, I’m sorry. That was not my intention. Japan is better than a lot of places to live. You can make a great life there.

      In closing, I’d like to bring this back to the beginning: Debito, if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Do you think Japan can be changed? Are you going to keep trying? Etc. And, once again, thanks for elevating an ordinary post to a full blog post and thanks for always “giving `em hell.”

      — Oh yeah, me. Hokay, later on today then. I’ve got two presentations today and tomorrow and just handed in a paper draft. Thanks everyone for the lively discussion.

    55. J.J. Says:

      This post HAS gotten a bit nasty here, but everyone’s ideas are very real and thought provoking.

      I personally would like to hear from two types of thought:

      1. Those who feel the same as Eric, and have examples of how they see Japan as “doomed” from the outside perspective,


      2. Those who are planning to stay, and have seen reasons to do so from an objective standpoint.

      My buddy here for 20 plus years made me laugh today said about this post:

      “The people angry about Japan and want to leave now just learned they had been insulted all these years but didn’t know what it meant!” lol

    56. Curious Says:

      What an excellent discussion! So many great points from different perspectives.
      Since this blog entry is anecdotal, please allow me to give my input.
      I’ve put in close to 17 years so far in an area of Tohoku that is quite full of ‘country bumpkins’ like Bob mentions. It’s a decent sized city, so it should be more progressive than it is.
      My Japanese wife and two children have agreed to move back to Canada this year with me. We felt a big wake up call last year after 3/11 (like many others, I’m sure.) The way the majority of the population reacted to the ridiculous manner in which the government of Japan is handling the tsunami and nuclear crisis was appalling to us.

      I’ve always sensed the population masses in this country were more ‘massed together’ than back in Canada. But the crisis really put the spotlight on how easily large segments of society here can be herded/corralled into the pork project of the day.

      And yet, even that is tolerable — if I had the right to vote. Or even a say in any of it. But such is not the case. I can’t even get the sales guy at the electronic shop to give me a proper listen. And my Japanese isn’t that bad!

      I envy the posters above who live in areas where they feel accepted, or surrounded by open-minded individuals who enjoy a good debate or two. Maybe this area is just a work-town. So very few people around here want anything to do with NJ. We just seem like too much trouble for them in their busy day. And their days have gotten busier with the economy going downhill, lately. More and more people I know are getting more work on their schedule with less pay. The have no time to include the unpredictable NJ in their easy-to-manage social clique.

      This whole situation reminds me of my small hometown in rural Canada during the 70’s when a few Vietnamese immigrants moved in. They were the first Asians we had ever seen. We basically made them feel like they were aliens from another planet, and I think they lasted almost 2 years before they moved on to live in Toronto. I’m really surprised I lasted 17 years.

      I think I’m just burnt out. After running a school for so many years while dealing with racist landlords, real estate agents, neighbourhood leaders, other business owners I’ve reached the overflow point in BS.

      Like Matthew says, this is the way of life for the first wave of immigrants. But Matthew, why are we STILL the first wave? How many more first waves are there to come?

      And to the people who compare Eric’s posts to writing about blacks or Jews, I think you have it backwards. The NJ’s are the blacks, and the Jews. So yeah, try rewording it the other way around, and you’ll find it doesn’t quite sound so harsh:

      “I lived in Nazi Germany for years and I did what you did, but on a lesser scale: I fought Nazism 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 beer hall, at pro-Nazi rallies, with the banks and with various random Nazis. That’s not to say I went around with a chip on my shoulder: I had a lot of German friends, spoke their language well and really tried to fit in. But, finally, I decided to leave Nazi Germany 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.”

      Hmmm. Not bad at all…

    57. Curious Says:

      Oh, I forgot – Samsara, you wrote:

      “Then again, if Japan is good at letting itself sink to the bottom, it can also rise quickly, a la Meiji and post-WWII…”

      If I remember my history classes, didn’t Japan rise to a fascist state during the Meiji period? And didn’t post-WWII Japan have the same pre-war industry leaders still calling the shots, only now with easy access to a new consumer market (the USA?)

      Correct me if I’m wrong.

    58. flyjin Says:

      Hey Bob, there is no Japanese “race” so it can`t be racist. People from other cultures are complaining about the majority culture of another.If you buy into the idea that the Japanese are a distinct race from other Asians, then thats WW2 Imperialist dogma.

      But I was amused by your comment; “If you let a country bumpkin asking if you can use chopsticks diminish your enjoyment of life in Japan instead of understanding his or her limited perspective, that’s your loss.”

      I was never out of greater Tokyo and lots of people asked me if I could use chopsticks. But then again, if we want to go the elitist route, the vast majority of the Tokyo population are from the surrounding countryside and are hardly “Edokko”.

      So country bumpkin? Well that sounds a bit insulting to the majority of the Tokyo population.

      Why, that could even be construed as “racist”.

    59. Katherine C Says:

      Japan’s problems really aren’t that unique.

      I understand Eric C’s tone is more like “anything but Japan” so arguing about other countries problems isn’t relevant.

      I guess it all boils down to which kind of battle do you choose to fight. Do you want to be fully emotionally committed to certain social discourse and analyze everything on the macro level eg. watch newspapers loaded with bad political news and toss and turn in bed at night. Or do you want to pragmatically fight for what you need to survive – a chance to start a business, get mortgage for a home, and be economically able to minimally sustain?

      If you choose the first kind – you will probably never be satisfied anywhere in the world because policy wise there will always, always be aspects rotten to the core. There will always, always be bigotry and stupidity.

      Where else on earth is worth trying to “change?” Is there a place where exercises in civility (eg. voting) can fully reflect onto actual practice of policies?

      You are probably going to need a place where the culture is readily constructed to fit you and your heart’s content. Not that I’m against it – personally I believe anyone can pursue anywhere they want to live as long as they have what it takes. And certainly it is fine to rather confront some countries’ problems over Japan’s problems.

      I won’t go into my own personal experiences to fully explain why I think Japan is still worthwhile for change – but just because you are not openly invited to make changes, or if the changes you hoped for lost momentum, doesn’t mean change cannot take place.

      In fact, change is only constant for many people, since there are no other choices. This is coming from someone who has pretty much fled East Asia in horror precisely because of the conformity education that deliberately renders people childish and dependent – and later moved to 2 more countries across 2 other continents only to realize the core of many problems still remains the same.

    60. Jim Di Griz Says:

      From reading all of these posts I find it interesting that, yet again, the apologists are willing to accept that any good point that Japan has is a product of ‘uniqueness’ whilst at the same time, any criticisms are not ‘unique’ to Japan…
      I like #56 Curious’s take on it all (‘I stood up to Nazism in my daily life, but in the end Nazism was bigger than me’). It’s a perfect metaphor since Japans problems, and specifically the ‘proper place’ of foreigners is a hang on from imperialist ideology (see Dower; War Without Mercy). I can’t imagine a world where modern Germany would be permitted to treat foreigners as ‘untermensch’ even though Germany was defeated in 1945.

    61. Steve Says:

      I have been blessed with residency in a very tolerant part of the country. Incidents of overt racism are quite rare here. In my opinion, incidents of more subtle types of racism can be dealt with, often using irony and humor.

      If I get complemented on my use of chopsticks, I point out that I have been using them for more than 65 years and improved my skills with 10 years of intense study in the Urasenke school of tea ceremony. If I am asked me where I am from or where I came from, I tell them my address “across the river”. If they ask me if my wife is Japanese, I always answer, “Yes, we both are.” It gives my questioners pause. If they say I am strange, my answer is always, I used to be a strange foreigner, but now I am a strange Japanese.

      Is my behavior going to change the way Japan as a whole behaves? Probably not. But little by little, people are changing.

      Although Western foreigners publishing in Japanese may be a relatively new phenomenon, Yakumo Koizumi (aka Lafcadio Hearn), wrote extensively on Japanese matters, a hundred years earlier.
      If you compare the foreigners life in Japan today with the life of Lafcadio Hearn, you will see a lot of progress. Hearn was abruptly dismissed from his position on the English faculty at Todai just to make room for Natsume Souseki.

      When I look at the recent actions of state and local governments in the United States, I am very proud of my choice to live in Japan and be a part of this peaceful and respectful country. Japan hasn’t initiated any wars for more than 70 years. Compare that to America’s record of invading or attacking Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc.; plus the all out crusade against women.

    62. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Steve #61

      I honestly like your coping strategies. They are very intelligent and considered. You are not the first NJ to apply such a method of responding. I have made observations of this type of approach before, and whilst lauded by NJ (myself included) as being clever and amusing, it is an approach that without fail seems to go ‘above the heads’ of the Japanese who fail to see the irony or the humor in it, concluding that the speaker is simply ‘strange’ and confirming the speakers status as an ‘outsider’.

      Regarding Lafcadio Hearn and change since his time, I would most strongly disagree. Hearn said that ‘The charm of Japanese life is the charm of childhood’, and the Japan remains childish in it’s avoidance of responsibility (i.e. making decisions about the economy, the USMC in Okinawa, Tohuku and nuclear power etc), and in it’s international relationships (BBC made joke about Hiroshima! How DARE they!), as well as on an individual basis; hear or see something you don’t like? Just ignore it! It will go away…

    63. trustbutverify Says:

      @#62 Said: “Japan remains childish…in it’s international relationships (BBC made joke about Hiroshima! How DARE they!)”

      Playing Devil’s Advocate, and referring to today’s topic:

      Could one not equally say that the joke about Hiroshima was a microaggression which, though the aggressor (and by descent, yourself in this case) was unaware of the insult, was rooted in subconscious racism? Logically, could it not be argued that if the Japanese response to QI’s humour was a childish reaction, then surely an NJ who feels anger at ohashi wa jouzou desu ne or Nihongo wa pera pera! is being similarly childish?

      — Did you actually watch the QI show and place the “joke” in context?

    64. Charuzu Says:

      Steve #61.

      As a Dutchman, I find this amusing:

      “Japan hasn’t initiated any wars for more than 70 years.”

      While true, that is really due to its inability.

      One can say that we Dutch should be proud because we too have not initiated any new wars during that period, or engaged in any new colonisation during that period as well, similar to Japan.

      However, we simply no longer have the capacity for such large scale efforts.

      Nor does Japan.

      Japan is not virtuous because it is reined in by US military dominance that would not permit Japanese warmongering.

      Japan would be virtuous if, given the opportunity to act virtuously or not so act, it chose to act virtuously.

      For example, Japan could virtuously choose, as Germany has, to generously fund memorials and research centres concerning its war crimes in both the countries in which it perpetrated such war crimes, and also in its own capital city.

      Japan makes no such choice.

      Or, Japan (like Germany) could make a point of offering citizenship to groups that it subjected to war crime atrocities, in order to ensure that its citizens learn and incorporate the sentiment that Japan will never again commit such crimes.

      Japan offers no such citizenship.

      Or, Japan could pass landmark fundamental legislation ranked amongst the best on the world (like South Africa) that guarantees enforceable legal equality to all of its residents, without regard to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.

      Japan has passed no such law.

      And, when you say regarding the USA:

      “the all out crusade against women” in comparison to the status of women in Japan,

      I am perplexed.

      As this new document, and many others show:

      “Japan is the only OECD country, along with Korea, where the labour force participation rate of women with a university education is roughly the same as for those without an upper secondary education.”

      By any set of measures, gender discrimination against women in Japan is pervasive, strong, and permitted legally to persist.

      Japan does compare well against other similar countries on some measures, but gender equality is clearly not among such measures.

    65. Doug Says:

      Hello All

      Eric, I could not disagree with you more. I did read your article and found it interesting. However I am very troubled by the following quote.

      “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.”

      You make some good points in your article however that one quote alone is one of the most condescending and arrogant things I have read. Who are you to say who is “worth it”? Sorry but you have discredited your post as an emotional rant rather than a logical examination of the issues that people face in Japan (and they do exist).

      I am a Permanent Resident and business owner in Japan and have no intention on giving up on the country. I actually think there could be some tremendous opportunities for those with appropriate skills to offer, willing to think out of the box, and finally willing to accept that Japan does have problems (like very other place on earth) but are willing to look beyond the problems to see the good and the opportunities.

      Finally I wish more of these discussion boards about Japan would have made a speacial post or statement memorializing those that lost their lives on 3/11. Whether you have issues with Japan or not alot of very good people experienced tremedous loss and trauma on that day and are still trying to recover.

      Eric, not trying to “bash” you but you really should take a look at some of the things you wrote, especially when you try to determine who is “worthy” or not. Cheers.

    66. Tom r Says:

      Yeah, so lets not change it. Lets ignore Japan. Lets do something that has better results. Capitalize on the things that wont change in Japan. Write books that are critical and analyze Japanese culture. Let other foreigners living in different countries in on the way it works in Japan. It will sell especially since Japan is so secretive and at the same time spread the message. maybe even the Japanese themselves are curious how their country works and use it to their benefit.

      Thats just an example. But my point is if someone builds a wall, or a whole country like Japan builds a wall or a cultural wall that keeps out foreigners or has tons of secrets, soon everyone will want to be on the other side of that wall. Then the wall will serve no purpose.

      So forget trying to make Japan better for Japanese. Start making more people aware, and give them information on whats happening here so there are more opinions! Give people juicey tid bits on the REAL Japan. Like the black ship in yokohama harbor slowly but surely Japan will be forced to open when more people read about Japan and want to see it for themselves.

      I have to say that child abduction piece you wrote about Debito, awesome way to attract more attention to Japan, that tugged on a lot of heart strings on a global scale and made Japan the focus.

    67. trustbutverify Says:

      “Did you actually watch the QI show and place the “joke” in context?”

      Well yes I did. A big QI fan, I enjoy its humour, including that example. I thought the joke was funnny and harmless. But in the terms of the position put forward, does that not then make me, in addition to QI, guilty of a microaggression, causing racial offence without even being aware of it?

      And if a Japanese person reacted negatively to that perceived microaggression, and is childish because of that reaction, then am I childish for reacting negatively to a microaggression committed by a Japanese person?

      The research seems to imply it is the effect the offended person or group that defines if a microaggression has been committed; it’s not up to the unaware perpetrator, or any balanced, indepdendent observer, to say one act is acceptable while another is not.

      In both cases, something is said that was considered innocuous by the speaker, but caused some level of offence to another. On an individual basis, how can the reaction in one case be childish, and in the other not? It’s not to say that microaggressions are not real and happening daily: it’s to say we don’t get to pick and choose which are “real” and which are “childish over-reactions” depending on what group we occupy.

      — Point well taken.

    68. Steve Says:

      @Chirazu #64

      In fact, Japan has one of the highest defense budgets in the world, funded at about the same level as the U.K., France, or Russia. That it has decided not to deploy these forces in aggressive ways is a conscious decision on the part of the Japanese people and their government.

      The status of women in Japan is deplorable, but it is not rapidly deteriorating. There are no assaults in Japan on a women’s access to birth control or abortion. As far as I know, there are no politicians running campaigns based on depriving women of their health care rights, or demanding any sort of medical rape as a prelude to an abortion.

      Nor are there self righteous religious fundamentalists, in Japan, hell bent on legislating their own moral standards into laws binding binding the behavior of others to their own religious tenets. The new American “Sharia” is another reason that I will never return to the land of my birth.

      Japan certainly is not in the forefront of countries with full equal participation of minorities, women, people of varying nationalities, etc., but it is moving slowly in the right direction. America is moving in the direction of becoming a theocracy determined to impose its beliefs on the rest of the world, using whatever force it has available. Fortunately, it is also in a state of economic decline, which will mitigate its ability to do great harm in the future.

    69. flyjin Says:

      @Doug,sure, there were (or are) business opportunities if you are willing to ignore the problems, its just that the problems dont ignore you! My experience of Japan was that everything would be ok for a while and then some disaster, or weird occurence, or odd harrassment or abuse would pop up every 2-3 months or so and get in the way.

      There is also the undeniable fact that some people are “sorry but we are not interested in doing business in gaijin” (quote). Not only does this play havoc with your motivation and self-esteem, it also does narrow the market open to you.

      Then there are the high rents and running costs of a business in Japan.

      In my case, it just got hard to do business when earthquakes had damaged my products, and I couldn`t get enough sleep to concentrate (or even as you are valiantly doing, see past these problems).I also had health issues every March, with the hay fever wearing me down.Some years it gets so bad even people who are not usually affected took time off work with colds.Every time I left Japan, my hay fever would disappear.

      Thus, “its not worth it”.

    70. Fred Says:


      Excellent post. Steve said “Japan hasn’t initiated any wars for more than 70 years”
      Thats some serious Japan apologist stuff your smoking there Steve, you must be sheltered from the extreme nationalism allot of us experience here all the time. The sound trucks arent blasting about peace and the MacArthur consititution, they want that all reversed. No, you missed the mark completely with your post, they are only be held in check by the occupier; the U.S. government and the bases on their soil. They arent happy about it either, if given the chance that would all be gone.

      — We’re starting to veer off track. Let’s bring it back.

    71. Blackrat Says:

      I have come late to this discussion and feel that most points have been ably covered. My perspective is from someone who lived in Japan for 17 years, then returned to his own country, sick and tired of his increasingly workaholic lifestyle and other aspects of Japan. After two years in a stultifyingly boring admin job, I decided to give Japan a second chance. Seven years later, I am ready to leave again for the last time. I can see both sides of the argument. Those of us who have spent years in this country tend to focus on the negative aspects of Japan and the Japanese, and I am as guilty as the next person in this respect. I just went home to the UK for a brief visit. The contrast between the friendliness of people I ran into and the tight lipped, polite but not really friendly folk I meet in Japan every day could not be more apparent. I had more conversations with strangers in a week than in the last year in Japan. This is not down to lack of language skills either. I remember a friend from the States who live here for a few years. Shortly before he pulled up stakes and left he commented how he had wasted years of his life stydying Japanese only to find that most of the people he met had absolutely nothing interesting to say. He echoed my feelings that you are never really accepted here by most of the people.

      However, it is important to keep in mind the attitude back home. In the UK, immigrants are often ostracised by many English people, and often have very minimal interaction with the locals. It is not so different from what many mid to long-term foreign residents and naturalised Japanese seem to experience on a daily basis. Japan is surely one of the most homogenous countries on Earth along with perhaps Korea, Mongolia etc. Fear of outsiders is to be expected, and won’t change easily or anytime soon. There are many things about Japan such as the relative safety, the unparalleled level of service, the food that are unmatched anywhere on Earth so far as I know.

      And yet, I am about to give up on Japan just as Eric did. For me, it is the fact that I will be fifty soon and am still teaching English and life has become a kind of “Ground Hog Day” existence. I can predict with tedious accuracy precisely what I will be doing from one day to the next. I have stagnated here, and I see that in one of two of the other NJ I know, they stay here from fear of change or because they are locked into certain lifestyle patterns. I tire of the little irritating things; the noise, the commutes, the ill-manners of so many of these “polite” Japanese (More often than not polite only to those they have to be polite to)I don’t even care much to try and “change” them anymore. I respect those on this blog and Debito especially for what they are trying to achieve. I’ve heard it is different outside the capital, perhaps so. I’ve even met Japanese who say life in Tokyo is far worse than in the regions.

      In any case. For me, and it seems for a fair number of NJ residents here, it is time to move on. In my case, it is not with bitterness, more a tinge of sadness that for the second and final time I no longer feel I can endure the stress and isolation of Japan anymore. I know I shall miss the good parts just like before, but as a friend of mine said once “I love the good parts, it’s all the crap that comes in between them that is driving me insane!”

    72. Peter Says:

      At the end of the day, each one of you still in Japan (I’m no longer in that camp) have to make your own decision whether or not you think its worth staying. Some will feel that it’s not worth it anymore and move back home or wherever there is another opportunity and try again, and others who maybe have a more emotional attachment or business relationship with the country will “tough it out” or whatever idiom suits best here.

      I don’t think Eric is trying to be the “be all and end all” authority on Japan, he had his experience in the country, it left a sour taste in his mouth, he left and now he’s writing about it.. even being accused of being racist for his opinions (get a life people!)

      Personally, I spent 5 years in the country, married a national and now have 2 kids with her. In the end, I left because I hated my job (english teaching..we’ve all been there…) and the prospects for further employment in the field I wanted to get into was next to nil for me. I had a much better chance of being employed in something meaningful (at least in my mind) back home in Canada so thats where we are now.

      Will I ever return permanently to Japan? Probably not.. the only reason I stay interested in whats going on in Japan is because of my wife. I find it hard to swallow the feeling of being welcomed in a country that will glady take my tax dollars but give me absolutely no voice in how it is being used. (I know most countries do this but this is Japan we’re talking about… don’t care what’s done in france.) Force me to pay into a pension system that I will probably get screwed out of because I’m not a citizen and by that time it will be drained anyways because of the rapidly aging population… which only means higher taxes on the young workers, or at any point in time I could be the subject of a random police search based on my looks or have immigration officials busting down my door trying to take pictures of my place or make sure my visa is still up to date.. oops, now I’m beginning to rant

    73. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Steve and Charuzu, I cannot let your comments implying that women are discriminated against in Japanese society, or that there is an “all out crusade against” them in the US, go unpposed.

      “By any set of measures, gender discrimination against women in Japan is pervasive, strong, and permitted legally to persist.”

      I can think of three very important areas where it’s men on the receiving end of societally-entrenched discrimination:

      Life expectancy: women live longer than men in total (86.4 years to 79.6) and in every single one of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Even the shortest-lived women (in Aomori) outlive the longest-lived men (in Nagano) by about five years. The last time women lived lives a short as men’s are now was more than 30 years ago.

      Suicide: three-fourths of suicides are male, and Japan’s 30,000 suicides per year are nothing to laugh at.

      Overwork: 97% of those worked to death are men; check out Hiroshi Kawahito’s book 過労死 Karōshi (Iwanami Shoten publishes a low-cost paperback in their ‘shinsho’ series). A similar percentage of people who work in excess of 3000 hours per year — a benchmark for karōshi and karō-jisatsu — are also men.

      Plus an issue much discussed on this blog: even among Japanese couples, left-behind fathers outnumber left-behind mothers.

      I think having a long and healthy life, spent in the company of one’s family and descendants and free of stress and overwork, are some of the best measures of quality of life imaginable.

      And women are the advantaged gender in all of those areas.

      If Japan is in a long-term decline, as described in the original post and the comments that follow, I think one factor behind it is how we ignore the areas where the male half of the population is being discriminated against. I dislike xenophobic and nationalistic behavior as much as anyone, but how about if it’s coming from a middle-aged salaryman who’s forced to work several hours per day at unpaid overtime, or who doesn’t know where his children are because his wife has dumped him and moved away, or has any number of other problems that society chooses to ignore? It has to make you think, doesn’t it?

      — It sure does. Thanks for sharing this.

    74. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Doug #65

      Really scraping the barrel for things to complain about, aren’t you?
      ‘Finally I wish more of these discussion boards about Japan would have made a speacial post or statement memorializing those that lost their lives on 3/11.’

      Remembrance is a deeply personal act, and individuals should be free to memorialize and commemorate according to their individual grief, and beliefs. It would be facile and shallow for every Japan related web-site to post a memorial on the basis of the Japan connection alone, don’t you think. Anyhow, makes far more meaningful contribution towards remembering the Tohoku disasters by highlighting and continuing the debate on the safety of nuclear power, and the J-governments inneffective responses to the crisis.

    75. Tiles Says:

      Someone asked for opinions, so here’s my own:

      I’m not trying to be mean-spirited, but Eric does sound pretty whiny here. I’m not sure where he got the idea that he’d ever be One Of Them. It’s kind of one of the first things you have to accept as a foreigner living in Japan, and it’s not a big deal anyway if you’re not best friends with every Japanese you meet.

      I am an American woman from a middle class background. I was a professional in the U.S. and did not come to Japan to teach English (I’ve only done it for a total of about a month before quitting for good because I’m not suited to it). When I came to Japan, I tried to do something related to my profession here, but since it’s a job that operates by way of burning through and burning out of students just out of technical school in this country, I was automatically considered too old to qualify for a position. Disappointing, sure, but now I’m a housewife with a Japanese husband. We are not rich or privileged in any way, and I am content as things are so far. I live in a large city in Kansai.

      I will tell you that I appreciate Japan and its culture for many reasons, which completely outweigh the parts of Japanese culture and society that I become irritated by. The freedom to be able to not have an illegal immigrant threaten me with a hammer in a parking lot at random one day is one thing I appreciate about living here. The freedom to be able to live in and take a walk down the street (even at night) in my inner city neighborhood without being followed and taunted by drunks or having my home broken into or vandalized the second I turn my back is another one I enjoy here that I didn’t back in the States. The fact that I can walk down the street without being called names for being a woman or a foreigner, and not criticized or sneered at when I try my best with my far from perfect Japanese skills (sorry to disappoint – still studying day by day. We can’t all be perfectly fluent after a month living here) is another courtesy that I enjoy.

      I don’t have to be one of them. I am satisfied enough to be treated like a human being deserving of dignity, like all the rest of you. I am not the most social of people, and am kind of a homebody most of the time, but that’s why I still have ties to my friends from back home when I feel lonely. I don’t feel as though I must have the right to belong to Japanese social clubs or groups, or have the entitled notion that Japanese people MUST accept me as their new best friend and equal. We’re different, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Not just for them, but for me, too. I don’t hang out in “gaijin ghettos” either, because I don’t really like hanging around in bars getting drunk and bitching about how much Japan sucks with other ex-pats, and can’t relate to young exchange students, JETS or career English teachers. It’s not that I have something against them, I just realize I have little in common with them, so I don’t seek them out. Now that I’m reminded, probably the most annoying thing I’ve encountered in the time I’ve been in Japan, in fact, is the rude, judgmental, discriminatory behavior of NOT Japanese – but other non-American foreigners when they learn I’m American. Talk about shallow behavior – and it’s from other foreigners!

      The important part is that this stuff doesn’t bother me. Certainly not enough to drive me away crying bitter tears.

      I feel safe here in my neighborhood. I get along with my neighbors and am invited to community events, which is a sight more than I ever experienced in my home country. I realize that they don’t want to be my best friend after I’ve participated in mochitsuki or accompanying the mikoshi with them, but that amount of socializing with my neighbors is perfect for me, and I’m satisfied with it. It’s enough to maintain a good impression, but little enough not to breed contempt, and that’s all that’s needed for all to be well in my neighborhood.

      Perhaps some of you will find my views naive or simplistic. That’s ok, I’m only giving my personal perspective as a foreign woman who lives here, and I’m not speaking for anyone but myself. I don’t feel the need to get into politics and immigration issues because they don’t cause me any trouble. Visa extension visits are a pain in the ass, but I never have a problem with them. I definitely intend to go for permanent residency this time around. The point is that I’m happy here, and I hope to live out my life here. My husband and I are certainly trying for children, and intend to be good, supportive parents to them. My child will not grow up narrow minded or limited as long as I teach him or her well in the home and invite free and open communication and thinking. A strong bond with your child in the home works wonders no matter what kind of society you live in.

      Anyway, I don’t hate my home country, and it’s at least somewhere to go as a last resort if some type of life threatening disaster should hit closer to our city, but I am happy in Japan, and I have no intention of giving up the dignity I am given just as a regular joe walking down the street as long as I’m allowed the – yes – privilege to do so. I value it and am appreciative, and it’s more than enough for me to be happy.

      I hope it’s not a problem, but I won’t be back to read or respond should there be any replies to this comment. I only followed a link here from another site and just wanted to give my opinion as another foreigner who lives in Japan, since it was asked for.

    76. Doug Says:


      Scraping the barrel? Give me a break!

      I posted a long post here about the loss of cooling accident and nuclear meltdown and was thrashed here and on other boards (Debito-san is well aware of this). Also went up to Tohoku 3 times.

      No I do not think I am scraping the barrel at all and I do not think kind words (and having other posters post kind words) is at all shallow.

      — Let’s also add to the debate in general when we answer, please.

    77. DK Says:

      Mark In Yayoi #73,

      I see your point, but the issue of gender discrimination in Japan is far more complex than that, especially if you consider the problematic reasoning and the concepts of “manliness” and “femininity” that underlie many of its forms. Look at, for example, the way in which social welfare discriminates against and penalises Japanese men for not being able to maintain economic self-reliance – often forcing them into homelessness – while at the same time giving more protection to women… because the latter are not expected to be self-reliant, anyway! Tom Gill has recently published an insightful study on the destructive impact of this endemic sexism pervading Japanese welfare ideology – and many other aspects of Japanese society for that matter (

      Overall, I agree with Gill’s remark that perhaps at the root of all these inquities is the excessive rigidity of Japanese society, which punishes members of either sex when they attempt to step outside their socially approved roles.

    78. Stephen Says:

      Late to the party…

      But my two cents:
      The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When I live in Japan, there are things I miss about America. For example, it’s easier to make friends and easier to cooperate with coworkers for me there (as I’m not ethnically Japanese). But in America, I miss the order and safety of Japan, among other things like the train system. And I always get annoyed by whatever daily annoyance is particular to a country while living there but forget it quickly upon moving somewhere else.

      Your environment is what it is. By your actions and perspective, you can either make it into Heaven… or Hell.

      One more comment:
      The racial discrimination I’ve faced as a white man in Japan seems to be less than what my Asian-American friends see in America. The deep South is particularly awful according to one friend who traveled there. Yes, there are more legal protections in the U.S., but there is also more overt hostility to minorities in many regions.

      And another:
      Whoever is saying Japanese are childish should remember that I’ve heard some Japanese call Americans childish too (including a powerful politician and someone at my workplace). And if Europeans think they’re better than both, I’m sure we can come up with insults just as bad. So let’s drop these kinds of statements.

      And remember that the white community in Japanese are the cream of the crop from their home countries- almost all college educated and successful. It distorts expatriates’ feelings of NJ versus Japanese society.

    79. debito Says:

      Debito here. When I opened up this blog entry for comments, I didn’t think it would take off quite like this (that’s why this falls under “Discussions”, where I moderate a bit more loosely). Thanks to everyone for participating.

      Now to answer Eric C’s original question: “My question to you is why do you keep trying?”

      Well, sorry to keep you waiting on this, and I hope my answer is in the end not an anti-climax. The short answer is: Because it’s what I do.

      I’ve been talking about issues of power and unfairness all my life. Even when I was in grade school, I understood far beyond my age bracket how bullies wielded power over people, and I always chose to a) not lend people who were being unfair to other people my support or assistance, and also b) lend a hand where I could to the people who were on the receiving end of the nasty treatment. It was how I dealt with life back then, and it carried on through my high school, college (where I participated in the anti-apartheid divestment protests, for one; my undergrad degree was in government, giving structure to my seeing life in terms of constant power relationships), and life beyond. I’ve always tended to be a supporter of the underdog (even when I watched sports, I rooted for the team that was trailing in points). My entire life has been one of constant debate, including dealing with a family life where I was also always the underdog (as an only child, with bullying parents basically indifferent to my well-being when they were cooperative at all), and it made me naturally relate better to people who were not getting a fair shake. It’s been a common thread throughout my life.

      Now regarding Japan: I’ve been studying the place for closing in on thirty years now, and I have been living in Japan for a quarter-century. It’s part of me. It’s shaped my life, my mindset, my outlook on existence and social justice. Doing what I do is what gives my life meaning., for one, has become such a huge repository of information that may help people lead better lives that it has become a self-sustaining project. In that, it gives me succor, it gives others a degree of help and experience. And I couldn’t stop doing it if I tried. Seeing that Japan really needs this source, despite itself, as a way to remind the underdogs that they are not crazy for feeling that unfairness is not a natural state of being, and hopefully as a way to nudge people in positions of power to think nice and perhaps remember that NJ are people too, just makes me redouble my efforts to continue.

      It can be a dismal science at times, to be sure, but human rights is rarely a pleasant slog. It is, however, one of the few founts of hope that we can have to say, “Look, here’s what’s wrong. Let’s fix it.” That is the conversation I wish to be a part of. And I shall, health permitting, continue as such. But thanks for asking. Debito

    80. Debourca Says:

      @Eric c:

      Congratulations. You eloquently summed up what I have come to see as Japan, and why I am leaving (in two months).

      Like others, when I first came here, I had a great time, basically because I did not have to engage with modern society too much. However, when you have a child, you have to take a long hard look at this place, and, quite frankly, putting them through the “education” system here is doing them a tremendous disservice, especially, if you have male children (check out Mark in Yayoi’s excellent observations on the tribulations of the Japanese salaryman.)

      Basically, as long as you can avoid having to deal with the country and live in a bubble, the place is tolerable, but, as the economy is crashing, it’s becoming increasingly harder to do that.The fact that NJ have virtually NO rights (and not much chance of getting them due to political disenfranchisement) is being exploited by Japanese companies more ruthlessly by the year. I’m under forty and I’m glad to be getting out.

    81. Charuzu Says:

      Steve #68

      You say:

      “In fact, Japan has one of the highest defense budgets in the world, funded at about the same level as the U.K., France, or Russia.”

      True, but my point remains that warlike aggression by Japan is contained by the USA.

      Japan does not have unlimited freedom to utilise its military.

      “The status of women in Japan is deplorable”

      We agree.

      More generally, I do not understand your regular comparisons between Japan and the USA.

      In the Netherlands we do not have these absurd religious politicians that the USA does either, and we have better conditions for women.

      Mark in Yayoi:

      Regarding “men on the receiving end of societally-entrenched discrimination”

      I think that the issues are more complex.

      Life expectancy rates are different most places between men and women, and biology may be a component, rather than purely a result of discrimination.

      Suicide is tied to many factors, such as the abysmal quality often of psychiatric care in Japan. Suicides are the culmination of many factors: suicidal thinking, etc.

      Overwork — I do not agree that Japanese men are more overworked than Japanese women.

    82. Brooks Says:

      I have been here 11 years. I will probably leave in the future since it is harder to get a decent job.
      I am on a limited contract, and I have two more years.
      I don`t have kids so it is easier for me to leave. I have stayed since I don`t know what my Japanese wife will do in the US. She doesn`t want to teach and said she could work in a Japanese restaurant.
      I thought I should just save money so I will be better prepared to return to the US.

      Also, I am sick of Tokyo. If I could live in another part of Japan, I would.
      I think it depends where you come from. I know people from different countries and everyone`s situation is different.

      For example, a man from Spain with a Japanese wife and kid. They lived in New York and he didn`t like it so they live here. The Spanish economy is bad with high unemployment, so he won`t go anywhere although he is stuck teaching English and he would rather do something else.

      Example #2:
      A Peruvian man with Japanese wife. He is good at Japanese, has a good job and seems content. Back in Lima he would make less money.

      Example #3:
      A Brazilian who taught English, but later got depressed living in Tokyo. He moved back to Brazil and is doing fine.

      Example #4:
      A Costa Rican who got divorced and stays here. He is getting better at Japanese.

      Example #5:
      A British man with a kid and spouse from Tokyo. Their daughter didn`t like her school and had a problem with being absent. She could have been bullied. So they left Japan and she goes to an international school.

      Example #6:
      An American with a kid and a Japanese wife. He wants to live in the US, but the wife doesn`t. He thinks the kid should go to school in Japan for at least part of her education.

    83. Eric C Says:

      Hi Debito,

      Thank you for answering my question! It was a fully satisfactory answer.

      As I stated in my original post: all NJ owe you a huge debt of gratitude. It’s people like you, wherever they live, who make it easier for people with less guts, passion or integrity to live decent lives.

      I beg you to please keep holding Japan’s feet to the fire. No, not Japan’s feet, but the feet of the present establishment and the odd individual racists wherever you find them. One can only imagine what Japan would be like if it were not for the efforts of people like you and their like-minded Japanese associates. Japan is capable of so much more and so much better, and hopefully, you will help them realize this.

      I know that, in some ways, I took the coward’s way out and I admire you for not having done so. And, on a purely personal note, I love watching you giving the bastards hell. God knows, they deserve it. (Note: When I say “bastards” I mean the establishment, not all Japanese, of course). I’ll keep supporting you from afar and turning people on to your site.

      In closing, I know I came down very harshly on Japan. I want to make it clear that a lot of my anger stems from the frustration at seeing a country with so much potential squander its gifts. My anger is not directed at the Japanese people – the vast majority of whom treated me wonderfully and many of whom were my friends – my anger is directed squarely at the small gang of old geezers in the ministries, the large corporations and in other positions of power who are strangling the nation simply to line their own pockets. These bastards deserve all the grief that you can possible give them, Debito. Keep giving them that grief!

    84. Japanesegirl Says:

      I agree with what Eric says. I am Japanese. Although I was not good at school, I was smart enough to question about Japanese education system and all, and lucky enough to leave the country for good.

      I went to Australia for a one-month homestay when I was in the second year of high school. It gave me a chance to open the door to the outside world.

      After having lived in a few other countries and made international friends, I realized how childish and how ignorant and how passive Japanese are. I really find it boring to talk to Japanese people who have never lived abroad. They only enjoy talking about TV shows, gossips, all those crappy stuff, but when such as political issues or recent nuclear power plant crisis issues are mentioned, they suddenly lose interest or just nod and say nothing.

      I went to public elementary, junior, and high schools in Japan. That is the most regrettable thing I have ever done in my life. I learnt nothing from school. Japanese kids start to learn things that are only necessary to pass the university entrance examination.
      I have children and I thought leaving Japan and move to another country which is more multicultural and multiracial would be the best gift that I could give them, so I left Japan.

      I love Japan because it is my country. But it doesn’t mean that I want to live in Japan.

    85. jim Says:

      @Japanese girl,

      I salute you. Its probably even more of an issue for you than it is for us gaijin, because you get it from both sides-travel to Caucasin countries and meet people who faced racism in Japan and want revenge, then get the crap we deal with here. I meet people like you occasionally, and I respect you very much. Your post also flies right in the face of those weird gaijin that apologize for everything Japan does (cough, uh you know the site). Thanks so much for sharing :)

    86. Jim Di Griz Says:

      This thread has been truly interesting. Given Japan’s record of avoiding voluntary change, unless external forces compel it to do so, I am starting to think that maybe Eric C. has a point. Maybe trying to change Japan by being here, and raising awareness is not the way forward. Maybe the only way that Japan will effect the kind of human rights changes we want to see as NJ, is if NJ who have had enough (to say the least in some cases), leave Japan, and go back into the ‘real’ world with not a good word to say about it. Maybe the negative image will prompt some introspection (rather than Japan identifying itself as the ‘victim’); a kind of ‘gaiatsu’?

    87. pondscum Says:

      I would like to share my Japan success story.

      I came here in 2006 as an English teacher. I taught for a few schools, but ultimately was left unsatisfied.

      But, having a worthless degree and my only work experience being as an English Teacher, I knew I was on a one-way train to nowhere.

      I went to a friend of mine, who recommended I get some certifications (in Japan, there are sooo many of these) I got JLPT 1, Kanji Test 1, ITIL, WIndwos 7, and CCNA. I now have a job in a major company working in IT/Translation (kinda complicated) and I have a pretty snazzy CV now, allowing me to work at pretty much any company I want… well not really, but you get the idea.

      I’ll admit, Japan can be a bitch. If you let them, they’ll fuck you over.

      But, because Japanese can do nothing but follow their ‘system’, you have to use it against them. There are a few, very few but still some, former NJ in government positions. This alone means that it is not impossible.

      Japanese Schools are propaganda factories. This is true, but look at US schools or probably any school anywhere. “America! Fuck yeah!”

      But, especailly with schools, just be the ‘monster parent’ and tell the schools to fuck off. Also, if you can’t afford better schools, get a better job, or don’t have kids until you do.

      I had this thought. What if every NJ in Japan right now naturalized into Japanese citizens. If there was a sudden jump in naturalized citizens (especially white, black, and hispanic) then Japanese would be no choice but to take notice.

      We all know that NJ have very few rights, right? Then why not become J?!?!?! Beat them at their own game. If you are in Japan are you know they you can’t or don’t want to go back to your home country, then why stay disenfranchised?

      Think about it. If there were like 3,000,000 NJ who suddenly became J, that would be pretty shocking for them.

      As long as you remain an NJ, there will always be the argument “Well, if you don’t like it, why not go home?”

    88. Giovanni Says:


      I am truly amazed by your statement and respect you for your decision!

      I find myself here with a young daughter that will start going to school in about 3 years. Since she was born I have been worrying about the educational system. Not so much for elementary school but for junior high and high school where it looks like a sort of military service.
      I intend to transmit my thoughts to her when she will be older and hopefully I will be able to make her reason about things rather than just obey orders.
      I hope that before she starts junior high I might be able to go back to my native country and hopefully enjoy a more open minded educational institutions.

      I also really liked what you wrote about loving your country, I do to love my country (Italy) but I can see a lot of mistakes being made by the government and leaving abroad really makes you look at things froma different perspective.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts seen from a japanese point of view, I really appreciated that.

    89. Moisha Says:

      Japanesegirl Says:
      March 24th, 2012 at 1:55 am

      Your post is very impressive. I enjoyed that. Living in Germany I wonder how many J. are here, even in small towns in which it is really hard to find a job even with excellent abilities in German. Our University department numbers several Japanese researchers, that is comparable with other national communities, like Italians or Chinese. One J. faculty who came to Germany around 2000 year told me that the Japanese community here is growing fast for the last several years. One recent example that impressed the department is a famous J professor who lost his own huge and famous lab in J and got instead only a bare professor post here. But he looks very happy. His family also moved to Germany.
      So, perhaps, the demographic situation in Japan is even worse than thought. Looks like some progressive people are leaving or tending to leave Japan or at least try to send their kids to study abroad. There is no sure that the official statistics of residents in J. properly reflects these immigration waves.

    90. DeBourca Says:


      I too, salute your honest asessment and your courage to do what’s best for your children.


      My child is going into primary school this year. Like you, I worried when she was younger about the Japanese educational system, but i put it off by thinking she would be able for it. However, I had to face the fact that putting her even through primary school would be doing her a long term disservice. So, my advice would be: right now, start preparations for bringing her back to Italy when she reaches school-going age.

      Nursery care is generally good here, as is the health system for small children and mothers, but once she reaches five or six, get her out of here!


    91. matty-b Says:

      as an english teacher employed in the private sector, there is reason to ‘give up’ — the industry has nearly collapsed, young japanese people aren’t as motivated to go to the private sector to study english due to passing trends and money-issues of their own. and i don’t want to teach geriatrics who will never improve just to make ends meet. i like what i do here and the industry, it can be a fun and interesting life. but i cannot revitalize the industry in which i am employed.

      the permanent othering is another factor in which i would consider the ‘give up’.
      i do worry about if i do move and take a japanese person with me back to the west then am i not forcing her to accept the “microagression” othering that bothers me to such a large extent in japan?

      it reminds me of what a barman said at closing time once, “the dream’s over, now get the fuck out.”

    92. Blackrat Says:

      Matty B covered an aspect of “giving up on Japan” that we hadn’t really discussed much up to now. The fact is, for many NJ in Japan, English teaching is our only source of income. Not all of us can become so proficient in the language to use it in business, or for that matter, have the ability or desire to start out own companies. Even if I had entertained hopes of staying here much longer, I would probably have been forced out by financial realities in the not too distant future. As Matty said, the industry in Japan has nearly collapsed; certainly the middle range. This seems to have worsened since last March.

      There is still growth in kids’ teaching, especially pre-school. Either you are a kids’ teacher or you are not, and it is something I cannot endure for any price. Let’s face it, Japanese teachers with reasonable English can do the job just a well and charge less. This is a bit like the situation at the turn of the 20th century when the Japanese government ended the “oyatoigaikokujin” (hired foreign experts) programme as it was no longer needed. They had succeeded in training up sufficient people who could be employed at a far lower cost than continuing to hire foreigners to do the job.

      Lessons for older learners are also a market that is at least stable to some extent. I have a number of “geriatric classes” as he called them. Well, they are mainly older learners aged 60 plus and if we are brutally honest, Matty hit the nail on the head there. This is starting to level off though, and I was finding it harder to attract replacement students to keep the numbers up in some of the groups. One of my former employers mentioned recently that he is finding it increasingly difficult to attract new students. He may also be out of here within a couple of years.

    93. Pearse Says:

      I recently left Japan after more than 19 years living there. I grew tired of the racism and hostile attitudes toward foreigners. I was also really shocked and angry that the government and TEPCO allowed such potentially dangerous nuclear reactors to keep running and then reacted so poorly after the tsunami. I realize that there are a lot of good people living in Japan but the bad ones were really starting to grate on me. I was being treated like a slave at my job and had no prospects for anything better.
      In the future I will undoubtedly start to miss a lot of Japanese things but I won’t miss the stress or racism.

    94. DeBourca Says:

      @ posts #92 and 93

      Re: the state of the English teaching “industry”. I hear you. I mentioned this briefly in a previous post. This was also a factor in my decision to “give up” on Japan. In one way, it makes leaving easier. I was lucky coming here eight years ago. I managed to get a decent job and enough free time to learn what I really wanted to. I couldn’t do that if I came here now.

      The thing is, we all know there is a huge need for English teaching in the country, but the Japanese will not provide stable employment or conditions for most English teachers employed either in schools or the private sector. This was covered for years by the fact that you were able to get a relatively high price for your services, but now the bottom has fallen out of the market, I guess we are starting to find out how other immigrant workers feel about working in Japan.

      So, let them off!

    95. BeenJammin Says:

      I want to thank everybody taking part in this thread. It is very rare to find reflected opinions that go beyond the usual “it’s simply cultural differences” shallowness. That there are cultural differences between the Western countries and Japan is a given fact which does not explain the difficulties of life as a foreigner in Japan.
      For me, the interesting question rather is – is it recommendable for a Western person to try to get over all those cognitive dissonances between the values of the Japanese society and the Western ones.
      I came to Japan only half a year ago, having visited it only for a couple of days at a time during the previous years. As a Western European who just turned 40, up to now it was interesting for me to see my values and morals – individualism, gender equality, critical thinking, a healthy work/life balance, and personal freedom, among others, being of such low priority and attractiveness to the mainstream Japanese person, that I almost walked into the “Stockholm syndrome” trap that so many new foreigners fall into: Questioning my own values and actually considering if the “Japanese way” may actually be the better way, after all.
      I loved to have all my long-held up beliefs and values questioned by a culture that doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about them. Before coming to Japan, I was quite annoyed by many sociological / cultural developments in my country: The all-pervasive irony that has rendered much of Western contemporary culture irrelevant. The fake and shallow individualism of most young people (“Hipsters”) living in the Western cities. The increasing rudeness and push-and-shove in daily life, to name a few. Japan seemed to be the opposite of almost everything I despised in my home country.
      Now, after half a year (many of you long-time people are probably thinking: “Come on, only half a year and you’re whining? Man up a little!”), I can’t delude myself anymore: I already know I will be happy in Japan, ever. It’s starting to grow on me that I was probably to old coming here to get over my values, no matter how little I thought of them beforehand. With the exception of a refreshing absence of irony, the values held up by the majority of the society here downright scare me. I don’t want them to creep into my thinking. But one thing is for sure – when I go home, I will be able to see my home country, which I grew so disillusioned and bored with, in a new light. I want to thank Japan for this life lesson, and with this wisdom, I will be able to enjoy my stay here and take in as much as I can.

    96. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @BeenJammin #95

      I enjoyed your thoughtful post. I agree; ‘cultural differences’ is a phrase that gets bandied about rather too often in regards to Japan, I feel. Its overuse obfuscates proper analysis, and is one of the structures that allows the continuation of Japan excusing itself from international norms (such as signing up with the Hague Treaty on Child Abduction). The sad fact is that NJ buy into it. Every country has ‘cultural differences’, so why are Japan’s deemed worthy of such all smothering deference?

    97. Becky Says:

      Some people are fond of saying that the Japanese are a bunch of 12-year-olds, but that’s wrong. They are not 12, they are 25! According to a somewhat bizarre Canadian study, the Japanese are born wise, and stop acquiring wisdom around the age of 25, whereas Americans continue to accumulate wisdom throughout their lives. (It’s a strange study, I say. What’s “wisdom?” And how do you test for it?)

      I was an idiot at 25. Imagine if I’d never developed emotionally or intellectually after that age. What a horrible thought.

    98. Synbios Says:

      Hello, I know I’m really late to the party but I want to add a different perspective to this “Is Japan worth it?, Why bother?, Do you see an end to the tunnel?” kind of discussion. I apologize in advance for my poor English but bear with me.

      I have only been here for about 4 years, I came here when I was 19 years old looking for adventure more than anything else and as many other people. Managed to find a girlfriend quite easily (she is the only thing that can keep me sane right now) and learned Japanese together with a lot of awesome people from all around the world.

      But now I’m in the complete opposite side of the mirror, I’m studying at a 専門学校, which i guess it’s like a superior technical school…but filled with useless people, including me ;). And this place has a really old fashioned rule list when it comes to do things:

      1 We have to bow at the beginning and end of the lesson thanking our teacher for how honored we are that he is teaching us…yeah right.

      2 We are forced to clean the entire classroom at the end of each day, and I mean 30 minutes minimum of cleaning.

      3 We get scolded very badly if we skip any class and are supposed to “report” to our teachers for even the most moronic things you can imagine.

      And well, this would be bearable (although there is more) if the people would get together once in a while and think “Is this necessary?, Is this education or just complete indoctrination?”. But SURPRISE, nobody does, and if a person doesn’t follow the rules for whatever reason he is usually outcasted.

      And in the beginning well, you think “Well, this is how it works, better try to get used to it and try to at least look like I am one of them”. But really, if I didn’t have places like this awesome blog, my GF, and contact with other foreigners every now and then…I would probably go nuts and start screaming “WHY??????” every single day.

      With that said, there are a lot of good things here, like Japanese companies contracting foreign people even if they only know English and Japanese (I know a few cases, I might be the next) because they know that they have to expand their sales abroad ASAP, having people admiring you just for doing what your classmates do (but you are a gaijin, so that means that you are awesome for doing so!), etc.

      Thanks Debito for this awesome place again and keep up the good work!

      But to be honest, I also think a lot about going back home and give up on trying to fit and trying to open the minds of my classmates so they can understand how things work outside and why they should think about changing their passive attitude (and I’m talking about 19-20 years old guys, the people that should go to kasumigaseki and protest once in a while). But again, Japan also has a lot of good things, and there are always worse places to be.

      Lastly let me give you a little bit of hope, just a small tiny ray of it. My school’s principal is a believer that education in Japan, based on the memorization is destroying the country, and because of that he tries to make their students focus on developing their imagination and creativity, thinking outside of the box, yadayadayada. And there are a lot of teachers that support him and give to their students more council than the average teacher here in Japan. But again, I would like for them to understand that creativity and thinking outside the limits should be used on a daily basis and towards making their lives better and more fair, and not only used on making better products, webs, programs or whatever.

    99. Synbios Says:

      Woops! One of the lines went between paragraphs sorry.

      Oh, and a comment to Eric. It pains me that you had such an experience that makes you think that there is no solution to things, although I feel complete empathy with you and almost all what you said.

      But think that the economic system going down might be the detonator that makes all the contained wrath and uneasiness of the citizens as it happened in many other countries before. Sooner or later they will have to rebel, and it might take longer than for other societies, but when the need to do so becomes so heavy that most of the population can not go on living…they will begin to rebel.

    100. DeBourca Says:


      “They” (i.e the young people of Japan) will not Rebel as they have been completely brainwashed for twenty years during their education. They have been conditioned to become passive robots. The independent thinkers like Japangirl
      get out of the country ASAP, and society is left to the robots. This suits the ruling elite/yakuza just fine, as they can force their fellow countrymen to endure any hardship while they enrich themselves. And don’t fool yourself that any Japanese company is much different. Look how they treated Woodford at Olympus.

      The only thing that can change things is if they completely change the education system. For starters, they would have to hire double the number of teachers, most of them foreigners, and let them design their own curricula based on systems in their native countries.

      In order to fund this, they would have to take the money off all the loaded old people in this country. This is where the wealth is concentrated.

      Will either of these things happen? Of course not. Look at how the powers that be are dealing with the Fukushima disaster. There was a double meltdown, and they didn’t even tell you about it.

      So. this country is doomed. Its a place for rich parasitic old fogeys to be serviced by an slave underclass of morons. Add to that the radiation and the earthquakes plus plummeting wages.

      Get out and take your girlfriend with you.

    101. DeBourca Says:

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

      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.

    102. matty-b Says:

      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.

    103. Doug Says:


      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.


    104. Charuzu Says:

      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.

    105. Mark in Yayoi Says:

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

    106. DeBourca Says:

      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.


      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.

    107. 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.

    108. 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?

    109. Becky Says:

      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.

    110. 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.

    111. 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

    112. 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.

    113. Olaf Says:

      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).

    114. Olaf Says:

      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.
      Because I will give you a list of other genetically determined behavior:
      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!
      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’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).

    115. 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!

    116. Bob Says:

      @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.

    117. 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?

    118. 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.

    119. DeBourca Says:


      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.

    120. Olaf Says:

      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.

    121. 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?

    122. 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).

    123. 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.

    124. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Olaf #120

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

    125. Olaf Says:


    126. cg Says:

      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.

    127. Eric C Says:

      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 ( ). 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.

    128. TS Says:

      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!

    129. jeterfan Says:

      @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. trans. “Yukichi Fukuzawa: An Outline of a Theory of Civilization”. Columbia University Press, 2009.

    130. DeBourca Says:

      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).

    131. 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.

    132. 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.

    133. matty-b Says:

      @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.

    134. Albert Says:

      @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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