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  • US Senator Daniel Inouye dies, Mazie Hirono Becomes First U.S. Senator Born in Japan; contrast with do-nothing self-gaijinizing Tsurunen

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 8th, 2013

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    Hi Blog.  Second in a series of two of prominent passings is American Senator Daniel Inouye, a notable Congressman who held on to his congressional seat longer than even legacy legislator Ted Kennedy.  As per the local obit excerpt below, he had a quite glorious career in the military as part of the groundbreaking 442nd (some veterans I’ve even met in Hawai’i), then was a pathbreaker for Asian-Americans as a public servant.
    Senator Inouye began his career in public service at the age of 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He served with ‘E’ company of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, a group consisting entirely of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Senator Inouye lost his arm charging a series of machine gun nests on a hill in San Terenzo, Italy on April 21, 1945. His actions during that battle earned him the Medal of Honor.

    But consider how he was able to do this, as pointed out by submitter PKU:
    President Roosevelt announced the formation of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team (the “Go For Broke” regiment), saying, “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” Ultimately, the draft was instated to obtain more Japanese–Americans from the mainland and these made up a large part of the 14,000 men who eventually served in the ranks of the 442nd Regiment.

    Now this is important.  Even as least AS FAR BACK AS FDR (the better part of a century ago), we had the United States at the highest levels of public office attempting to disentangle race/national or social origin from nationality.

    This is something that Japanese society to this day has never accomplished (Japan’s Nationality Law still requires blood for citizenship, and from that derives the entanglement of race and legal status).  Nor is Japan really trying.  I speak from personal experience (not to mention court precedent) when I say that civil and political rights in Japan are grounded upon being “Japanese”, and “Japaneseness” is grounded upon phenotype (i.e., “looking Japanese”).  This MUST be untangled by Japan if it ever hopes to encourage people to come in and settle down as “New Japanese”, not to mention allow people of mixed heritage to breathe as people of color and diversity.  But I neither see it happening soon, nor are progressive steps even being taken towards it (I am in fact arguing that Japan in recent years has been regressing… see herehere and here).

    As further proof of the helpfulness of a society with notions of citizenship disentangled from race/national or social origin, we have another Senator from Hawaii who just got elected, Mazie Hirono — and she wasn’t even born in the United States!  She was born in Japan.

    Now, you might say that, well, Finland-born Caucasian Dietmember Tsurunen Marutei has also been elected to high office in Japan, so big deal.  But Tsurunen has been at his post for more than a decade now, and he’s squandered the opportunity by settling into it like a sinecure — doing just about nothing for the rights of NJ in Japan (such as not even bothering to attend or send a rep to a UN CERD meeting at the Diet on May 18, 2006).  In fact, Tsurunen has even gone so far as marginalize and gaijinize himself!  If one gives him the benefit of the doubt (I don’t, but if), such are the effects of constant pressure of being socially “Othered” in Japan, despite his legal duty to uphold his constitutional status as a Japanese citizen and an elected official.

    In comparison, the hurdles Hirono overcame were significant but not insuperable.  Even though she was nowhere near as articulate or politically thoroughbred as her Republican opponent, former Hawai’i Governor Laura Lingle, Hirono still grossed nearly double the votes (261,025 to 155,565) last November 6 to clinch the seat.  Further, if the legacy of Inouye is any template, I think Hirono will do more than just settle for being a symbolic sphinx in her role as a legislator.  Because she can — in a polity which can elect people for life despite their foreign (or foreign-looking) backgrounds, she has more opportunities in society than Tsurunen ever will — or will make for himself.

    My point is, the disentanglement of race/social origin from nationality (i.e., rendering clearly and politically at the highest levels of government) is something that every state must do if it is to survive as a nation-state in future.  Given its demographics, especially Japan.  Arudou Debito


    November 6, 2012, 10:59 PM JST
    Hirono Becomes First U.S. Senator Born in Japan
    By Yoree Koh

    Associated Press, Courtesy of CC

    UPDATE: U.S. Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono defeated former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle on Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press. Ms. Hirono becomes the Aloha State’s first woman senator as well as the first Japan-born immigrant to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

    As Japan’s politicians jockey over when to hold the next general election, one of Japan’s own is on the cusp of making U.S. election history.

    Recent polls show Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono is favored to win the open Senate seat in Hawaii when voters cast their ballots Tuesday. If successful, Ms. Hirono will usher in a wave of firsts. She will be the first Japanese immigrant to be elected senator. She will also be the first Buddhist and Asian-American woman. She will be the first woman senator to represent the Aloha State, and is already the first foreign-born woman of Asian ancestry to be sworn into Congressional office.

    The 65-year-old congresswoman was born in Fukushima, the northeastern prefecture where the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is located. When she was 8 years old, her mother moved the family to Hawaii. Ms. Hirono once said the immigrant experience and being raised by a single mother in economically difficult circumstances made her a “feisty and focused” lawmaker. She became a naturalized citizen in 1959, the same year Hawaii became a state.

    Regardless who wins, Hawaii will get its first woman senator. Ms. Hirono, currently serving her third term in the House of Representatives, is up against former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican and long-time political rival to whom Ms. Hirono lost the 2002 gubernatorial race. The two women are chasing the seat opened up by Hawaii’s 88-year-old junior senator, Daniel Akaka, a Democrat. After a 36-year career, Mr. Akaka, the Senate’s only Chinese American, announced his retirement last year.

    Scores of Americans of Japanese descent have been elected to public office since World War II. Case in point: If Ms. Hirono wins, both senators from the Aloha State will be of Japanese descent. Senior senator Daniel Inouye, who is also a Democrat, made his own imprint on Asian American history as the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and later, the Senate. The 88-year-old Mr. Inouye has been a senator since 1963, making him the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history.

    There have been only five Asian American senators until now. Four have represented Hawaii and one has represented California.

    But no Japanese-born–or any Asian-born for that matter–has been elected to the Senate. According to the U.S. Senate Historical Office, of 1,931 senators who have been sworn in since 1789, there have been 58 born outside the U.S. Most immigrated from Ireland (16), England (12) and Canada (10). One each came from Cuba, Mexico, Antigua and Sweden. People who have been U.S. citizens for at least nine years are eligible to be senator.

    Ms. Hirono is a familiar face among Hawaii’s Democratic establishment. Since returning from the mainland after earning a law degree from Georgetown University, she served for 14 years in the state legislature, eight years as lieutenant governor and is currently in her fifth year in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her one election failure was her bid to become governor in 2002. But it raised her profile, both at home and in Japan. State broadcaster NHK covered her campaign extensively and had plans to televise the 2002 election live, according to a Chicago Tribune story.

    Ms. Hirono, whose immigrant story seems to resonate with Hawaii’s diverse voting population, has campaigned fully backing President Barack Obama’s platform, casting her opponent as a Republican lackey. The Hawaiian-born president recently recorded a radio ad for Ms. Hirono, noting that she once worked with his late grandmother, Madelyn Dunham.

    “So Mazie isn’t just a reliable partner of mine in Washington; she is part of my ohana at home in Hawaii. Now, I need Mazie’s cooperative style and commitment to middle-class families in the U.S. Senate,” said the president in the ad released Saturday. “Mazie is a nationally recognized leader in early childhood education. A staunch defender of Medicare and Social Security.”

    Ms. Lingle’s campaign challenges Ms. Hirono’s past claims of support for the middle class. “Contrary to her rhetoric and her efforts to portray herself as caring about working people, Mazie Hirono’s actions clearly illustrate either that her words are just talk or that she simply does not understand the impact of her votes,” said Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, Ms. Lingle’s campaign manager, in a statement on Oct. 23.

    In the final days of campaigning, polls indicated Ms. Hirono breaking away from her opponent with as much as a 22-percentage-point lead.


    13 Responses to “US Senator Daniel Inouye dies, Mazie Hirono Becomes First U.S. Senator Born in Japan; contrast with do-nothing self-gaijinizing Tsurunen”

    1. Bob Says:

      I remember Tsurunen being elected all those years ago and the hope of positive change it might bring. Instead we’ve had nothing but deafening silence. Quite frankly, I had no idea he was still involved in politics.

    2. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      To be fair to Tsurunen, it’s not his job to be looking out for the interests of NJ. Especially in a field as fickle as Japanese politics, it probably wouldn’t help his career if he was seen to be campaigning for what the majority of the electorate see as outsiders.
      I’d love to see the man remind Team Japan of their actual ethnic and cultural diversity – but then again, there are 123 million others who should also be doing that.
      Unfortunately, when Team Japan reported Ms. Hirano’s success, it was all about how she was born in Fukushima – well, that explains it all doesn’t it? (Rolls eyes)

      — Well, if Tsurunen won’t, then who will? He’s got to. That’s his place in history as a minority in Japan. He should be aware of that and of his position in society. But obviously (by his own admissions) he’s not, and he deserves criticism for not taking advantage of these opportunities.

    3. Bignose Says:

      “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” FDR.

      So much hypocrisy in all this with segregation extending into the U.S. military, which is a shameful part of American history, I think.
      But I get the point: At least FDR made this key statement, even if the 442 was used as cannon fodder.

      Is there a quote from a major Japanese politician to say that being Japanese is a matter of race and ancestry?
      Or do we just have to look at the Koseki system.

      Yours, the alien appendage in my wife’s family register.

    4. amro Says:

      What exactly do you mean to contrast between Hirono and Tsurunen? You say he has done nothing for NJ, but what has Hirono (or even Inouye) done specifically for Japanese Americans? If Hirono’s accomplishment is getting elected, well, Tsurunen got elected too. In addition, due to Hawaii’s demographics Hirono’s election is not at all exceptional.

      Inouye is celebrated for being American, not for going out of his way to be Japanese American. Tsurunen is doing the same. You want to untangle race and nationality, yet you hold Tsurunen to a different standard because of his race.

      — Disagree on all counts. Especially if you dare argue that Inouye has done nothing for Japanese Americans.

    5. debito Says:

      Exchange we’ve had on Facebook that’s worth repeating here:

      BS: >This MUST be untangled by Japan if it ever hopes to encourage people to come in and settle down as “New Japanese”, not to mention allow people of mixed heritage to breathe as diverse people.

      Debito, after all the years you spent here, does ANYTHING indicate to you that large numbers of Japanese people WANT such accommodations to be facilitated? Sure not seeing it down my way in sunny Shizuoka…

      DEBITO: @BS: When have the designers and the elites within the Japanese nation-state ever considered what the Japanese people want? What they consider is how to socially engineer Japanese society. I am arguing that the GOJ is going to (as usual) have to engineer Japanese society to be more open to new Japanese if it to ensure its survival as a viable nation-state. The GOJ is very good at telling society to do things that are unpleasant but good for society (as the elites see it) as a whole. Being open to immigration now counts as one of those things. And I’m glad you cited your environs of Shizuoka. Even in Hamamatsu, of all places, the local government soon faced reality and took very concrete and progressive steps (including the Hamamatsu Sengen) to try to make NJ more comfortable and assimilated. The government leads and puts out the social goals, the people accept them and follow. That’s the way it’s historically worked in Japan since at least the beginning of Tokugawa. And that’s how Japan is so able to work what the outside world sees as economic and social miracles.

      RM: The Roosevelt quote misrepresents American history. “Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” Really? I could go on and on about how that was most definitely not the case, focusing just on Roosevelt’s own administration. (Concentration camps for Japanese Americans, denying social security benefits for domestic workers, federal institutionalization of redlining in home mortgages, etc, etc.) I get the comparison, but I think it’s a false one. Race has always, always been central to an American identity. Even today.

      Plus, I’m not sure Japan does hope for ‘new Japanese.’ More cosmopolitan folk can wish for a more diverse society, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the definition of who gets to be Japanese would change.

      DEBITO: @RM: The point is not that what Roosevelt said was an accurate representation of reality. What I am saying is that he was stating a goal, an ideal, that over time eventually came to pass. Yes, race (as a socially-constructed concept) has been central to American identity — as it has in ALL societies, using nationality, social origin, biology etc. as a means to decide the enfranchised and disenfranchised and determine the social order. But what Roosevelt was saying that nationality is a legal status, not a biological one — and it was convincing enough to the military that they entrusted Japanese-Americans with guns. For all the imperfections of social enforcement regarding racism in the US, this disentanglement of race and nationality is still something that every society that wishes to make new citizens from outside (and inside in future generations) must realize, explicitly state as a policy goal, and repeat for as long as possible until it becomes normalized in the social order. It has to start somewhere. But Japan is nowhere near that starting point anymore and under these demographics it will ultimately be Japan’s undoing.

      RM: the goal roosevelt stated was, and still is, a fiction. at the time he made the statement, asians (as neither white nor black) remained aliens ineligible for naturalization. roosevelt let the yes-yes boys serve in the 442nd, and at the same time he locked up the no-no boys in strict detention, while white families plundered japanese americans’ homes and businesses and yelled “japs go home.”

      boundary work is key to group membership. that is, for the group to exist, you have to have someone outside the group. whether that line is drawn around race, and whatever race means, varies by context.

      both US and japanese identity have their share of fictions. as anderson said, they’re imagined communities, and they’ve been imagined in ways that have led to genocide, slavery, colonialism, exclusion. just as roosevelt’s comment did little other than to make it easier for white americans to pat themselves on the back as lovers of freedom and opportunity, i think similar statements from politicians in tokyo would be just as empty.

      the openness of an american identity has been fought for from below, not proclaimed from above. japan and the US are different places with different histories, but i still think that long-term change gets pushed from below. tokyo pols have put forth all sorts of statements on tabunka kyousei, but on the ground, in neighborhoods and schools, those statements mean little to nothing. you’re right that the japanese state has done little, especially at the national level. but at a more local level, there’s more activity. to date, that local action has not accomplished change on a larger scale.

    6. amro Says:

      >Disagree on all counts. Especially if you dare argue that Inouye has done nothing for Japanese Americans.

      It was a rhetorical question that you could have just answered anyway, but whatever. The work he did in getting the government to allow Nisei to serve in the military was before he was elected, and I was referring to his time in Congress. While in office, there was the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which he had a role in but was not the sole driving force behind – Congress has seen its fair share of Japanese Americans. He didn’t go out of his way to target Japanese American issues. NJ don’t have the equivalent of Manzanar for Tsurunen to seek reparations for, so I ask again: What is it you wish to contrast between Hirono/Inouye and Tsurunen?

      If you want to criticize Tsurunen, that’s fine, but trying to compare him to Japanese American politicians doesn’t work. Besides, Hirono hasn’t had a chance to do anything yet.

      Other points I was going to mention (internment camps and yes-yes/no-no) were addressed in the facebook comments you posted above, so I’ll not add anything there.

      — Nor will I. I made my points above.

    7. dude Says:

      As always, interesting topic.

      1. The story of Japanese Americans, especially in Hawaii, can be boiled down to two words. 1.Numbers. 2.Unity. During the pre-war plantation era, they were marginalized, and not allowed a seat “at the table”. After many came back from serving their country (the same one that locked up their families while they fought in Europe), they were confident. And organized. And they used their numbers (and the G.I. bill) to go to college, and change things.
      Note: I was at a Mazie Hirono event about 3 years ago (by mistake), where she told the majority local Japanese audience that Japan is special, because they are the only country in the world that has an emperor…. other countries have kings, but that is different. Therefore, Japan is unique (as in superior), with core values that make her, a product of Japan, work extra hard for “her” people… The local Japanese audience ate it up. And she won yet another election, voted in largely by other Japanese Americans (the largest group of people who actually show up and vote in Hawaii).

      2. There is a reason why the third world is still the third world. In Costa Rica, getting license plates for an imported car, or opening a bank account can turn into weeks of paperwork. They (the locals) don’t seem to be in a hurry to streamline their bureaucracy. They could change, but they don’t. If you want to do fast business, you will leave the country.

      Many of the comments above suggest that Japan “has to” do specific things to move forward. I disagree. Most white people in the U.S. did not understand, like, or care about Japanese Americans until after WW2. The military performance (of Japanese Americans) in the war changed a lot of minds. Japan/Japanese people really need to see a reason to share what they already have with “newcomers”. I think they presently do not. If Japan does not modernize, and make living there easier, many NJ will get frustrated and leave. But how does this really affect average Japanese people? Answer: it doesn’t, in any way they can see or feel. Should they change many of the race-based laws? of course. But who cares about morality?

      Ex.: If you starve 1 million North Koreans, Kim Jong Un will still eat 3 times per day. The Army will have the same number of bullets and rockets. If you starve 10 million he will still eat the same, while many die around him.

      Similarly, the people who have no voice in Japan WILL be affected, while the people who run Japan have a large cushion to protect themselves from the adverse results of their decisions. They are small minded, and privileged, and they (mostly) just don’t care about other people, let alone NJ.

      Final note:
      A few nations, mostly in North & South America, are very open to people of different backgrounds. Many are pro-business. They were largely populated by emigrants (non-first sons, who would inherit nothing) looking for opportunity.

      Most are not. Japan is in the latter group. Change may be coming, but it will be an awfully long time (if ever) before Japanese law provides protection to/opportunity for minorities. Yes, this is Japan’s loss. But the majority want it this way. The U.S. became stronger because of the smart, hard working people who saw a reason to make the U.S. a better place. This is not the case in Japan.

      My advice: drink regularly, save as much as possible, always be ready to leave the country on short notice. In that order.

    8. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @#4&6 What is it you wish to contrast between Hirono/Inouye and Tsurunen?

      The degree of commitment to the task s/he is supposed to do for the ends.

      Here’s the quotes made by my late college mentor:

      “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. But you are not free to desist from it.”

      See how this can be reflected on Tsurunen (or if these words can truly fall upon his heart.)

    9. Baudrillard Says:

      @ Dude above.

      Yes, drink regularly. Someone on an earlier thread said he did that before he started a family. It really, really helps in Japan, to be an alcoholic. A drink or two takes the edge of Japan for a few hours, esp. Tokyo, and you start to artificially relax and get philosophical and say, “well, its not all bad. The bars are good!”

      Like I said above, it improves your perception of a particularly bad and hopeless, and helpless, situation that can only be gaman-ed.

      I think this explains the tolerance of alcoholism in Japan and the hostess bar system (plus that is jobs for the girls).

      But as someone wrote here last year “Oblivion beckons in a sake glass”.

      Either personal oblivion thru a poisoned liver, or on the macro level fiddling while Fukushima burns…

    10. Kaerimashita Says:

      Hah @Baudrillard. It’s so sad but frighteningly true. I literally drank myself off to levels where I could no longer get a hangover the one year I was in Japan. There are many reasons why Japan is known to be a “drinking culture”.

      I’m not fond of Hirono’s tactics, but like any US politician she just did what it took (appeasing to those of Japanese decent) to get votes. Tsurunen is a do-nothing muppet. He is the equivalent to a Stepin Fetchit making it in politics, point blank.

    11. debito Says:

      Speaking of Hawai’i elections, here’s a recent Colbert Report on Bill O’Reilly’s racist comments regarding Asians in America (and Rep Coleen Hanabusa). Love it!

    12. trustbutverify Says:

      @11 — Doesn’t work. Hulu only available within the United States, it says. :(

      — Sorry. Try here then:—bill-o-reilly-s-racial-insensitivity

      The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
      Blood in the Water – Bill O’Reilly’s Racial Insensitivity
      Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive
    13. trustbutverify Says:

      Yes, that link worked — thank you! Colbert is a master of irony.

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