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  • Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 58, Dec. 11, 2012: “Do Japan a favor: Don’t stop being a critic”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 12th, 2012

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    Hi Blog.  Just wanted to thank everyone for putting this column in the Top Ten Most Read again this month (as it is every month for years now), and thank the JT Editor for choosing it as an “Editor’s Pick” this month.  Now up for commentary:

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    The Japan Times, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012
    JUST BE CAUSE Column 58
    Do Japan a favor: Don’t stop being a critic
    By ARUDOU Debito
    Courtesy http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20121211ad.html

    Remember grade school, when the most demanding question put to you was something as simple as “What color do you like?” Choose any color, for there is no wrong answer.

    This is the power of “like,” where nobody can dispute your preference. You don’t have to give a reason why you like something. You just do.

    In adult society, however, things are more complicated. When talking about, say, governments, societies or complicated social situations, a simple answer of “I like it” without a reason won’t do.

    Yet simply “liking” Japan is practically compulsory, especially in these troubled times. With Japan’s swing towards the political right these days (to be confirmed with this month’s Lower House election), there is ever more pressure to fall in line and praise Japan.

    “Liking” Japan is now a national campaign, with the 2007 changes to the Basic Education Law (crafted by our probable next prime minister, Shinzo Abe) enforcing “love of country” through Japan’s school curriculum. We must now teach a sanitized version of Japanese history, or young Japanese might just find a reason not to “like” our country.

    But surely this is a case of mountains and molehills, a critic might counter — aren’t “like” and “dislike” harmless and inevitable facets of the human condition? After all, these two emotions inform so much of our lives, including choices of food, lifestyle, leisure, friends, lifetime partners, etc. Is it really that unsavory a thought process?

    Of course not. My point is that reducing public debate to “like or dislike” is too unsophisticated for thoughtful social critique — especially when it is being enforced from above. I will even argue that this rubric fundamentally interferes with the constructive debate an ailing Japan desperately needs.

    Consider this: Have you ever noticed how words not only affect our thoughts, but even limit their scope and expressibility?

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that they do (look up “cognitive linguistics” and its proponents Lera Boroditsky and George Lakoff). Publicly framing what should be a complex intellectual process as a “like or dislike” dichotomy vastly oversimplifies the shades of the emotional spectrum.

    Now add on another layer that stifles dissent yet further in Japan: wa maintenance. Dissent frequently gets silenced to keep things calm and orderly. Remember the oft-cited axiom of “putting a lid on smelly things” (kusai mono ni wa futa o shiro) to explain away censorship and coverup? The more criticism something might invoke, the more likely it is to be suppressed. (How the Olympus and Fukushima fiascoes were handled are but two examples.)

    It also engenders an element of self-censorship. If there is inordinate pressure to “like” things, then you’d better keep the “dislikes” to yourself. After all, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all,” right?

    Non-Japanese (NJ) readers of this column know this dynamic well, because the pressure on NJ to “like” Japan is relentless.

    Ever notice how you are supposed to say “I like Japan” at every opportunity? Mere hours or minutes off the airplane, someone wants to hear how much you like Japan so far. As you begin to study Japanese, set phrases are less “Where is the library?” more “I like sushi, anime and Japan’s unique four seasons” and other pat platitudes.

    Even years or decades later, thanks to the predominance of “guestism,” NJ “guests” are not to be overly critical of their “host” country (even if they are naturalized citizens, as letters protesting this column indicate just about every month). I was even compelled to devote an entire column (JBC, Feb. 6, 2012) to what I like about Japan. Why? Oh, just because.

    And if you dare get critical? You face exclusionism, even from NJ themselves. The common retort to any criticism is, “Well, if you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave?”

    With reasoned argument debased to the level of “love it or leave it,” the “like or dislike” ideological prism effectively becomes an intellectual prison. The reaction towards critics of Japan is clear and immediate: Non-likers become disliked.

    So why are people so quickly labeled han-nichi (anti-Japan), Nihon-girai (Japan-haters) or “Japan-bashers” just because they offer criticism? Because, linguistically, you can stigmatize and shut them up for walking on the wrong side of the dichotomy.

    Thus, “like” leads to an enforcement of “like-mindedness.” It is ultimately an issue of power — a subtle means to disenfranchise any dissenter and empower the status quo. And that suits the Powers That Be just fine, thank you very much.

    This dynamic is being used very effectively on the eve of a historic election. As Japan wilts economically, politically and demographically, ascendant rightwing demagogues are offering simplified slogans dictating how the public can better “like” Japan by “disliking” their leftwing opponents and critics.

    Not to mention “disliking” outsiders — after all, the wolf at the door in many debates is a bullying China. Or anyone who hasn’t fallen in on “Japan’s side.”

    Therein lies the fatal flaw of the “like or dislike” discourse in public debate, which critic-haters are invariably blind towards.

    The act of criticizing a government is not the same as criticizing an individual, or a group of individuals, or even necessarily a society in general. A government is always — but always — fair game for critique. A government is power personified, and power must be constantly challenged. “Liking or disliking” a government is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    I should mention one more significant problem with this oversimplification process: If it is so easy in public discourse to talk about “liking” or “disliking” things without offering a reasoned argument why, it becomes just as easy to apply this to people.

    As in “I like/dislike foreigners,” which one hears all too often in Japan. Healthy societies should not be this unsophisticated towards other human beings. But if normalized public discourse is this unsophisticated, what can you do but choose a side? Better “like” the side with the power, or else. It’s even patriotic.

    That side, alas, will not favor fresh, new ideas put forth by the critics already labelled outsiders and excluded from the debate — and that’s ironic. As Japan’s rightists hark back to an (ahistorical) golden past of Japan’s preeminence and intellectual purity, they ignore the legacies of those outsiders: Pre-industrial Japan sent envoys overseas and imported foreign specialists to investigate how modern nations ran themselves, famously adopting outside models successfully.

    Sadly, rightwing exclusionism is selling well these days because it’s offering, as usual, simple solutions to more complex issues, grounded in how much people love Japan and dislike other people.

    We must get beyond this grade-school-level debate. That means being brave and brazen with critique. Don’t succumb to the pressure to say only “good things” about any society. It beggars meaningful conversation and defangs the debate necessary to make things better.

    Criticism does not signal “dislike”; it indicates critical thinking. If critics didn’t care enough about a place to analyze it deeply, they wouldn’t bother. Critique is their — and your — civic duty.

    So do Japan some good: Offer some fresh ideas. Be a critic. Or else, as things get worse, you will only find more things to be critical of. Silently, of course.

    ——————————-

    Arudou Debito and Akira Higuchi’s bilingual 2nd Edition of “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants,” with updates for 2012’s changes to immigration laws, is now on sale. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send your comments to community@japantimes.co.jp.

    ENDS

    44 Responses to “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 58, Dec. 11, 2012: “Do Japan a favor: Don’t stop being a critic””

    1. debito Says:

      Initial feedback on this article started here shortly before I put up this blog entry:

      http://www.debito.org/?p=10514&cpage=1#comment-373843

    2. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      Debito, I was inspired by your article to do a web search with just the search term 嫌い. While the results were varied, including TV personalities, school, insects etc., the two most common associated terms were (you guessed it) 中国 and 韓国.

      – See how mutable the concept is? If the discourse is so ready to see things in terms of pat “liking” or “disliking” things, then it just as easily gets applied to people, both as individuals and groups. It’s a very unsophisticated ideological trap.

    3. Baudrillard Says:

      Here’s how I obfuscate, maintain face all round while also having a sly dig at Japanese national pride with a China reference, and use ironic postmodern symbols to get out of this one:

      J-fan: Do you like Japan?
      Me: Yes, I like the songs.
      J-fan: The songs?! J Pop?
      Me: I like “Life in Tokyo”
      J-fan (puzzled,thinking I have changed the subject): What do you like about your life in Tokyo?
      Me: I like the (Japanese) synthesizers, also Georgio Morodor’s production, I guess.
      J-fan: (zooming in on the most important word to them, “Japanese) Oh you like Japanese synthesizers!
      Me: Yes, especially in “Visions of China”- one of Japan’s best songs!!!
      J-fan:?????

      Or, when the penny drops and they finally get that I like Japan the BAND, and not Japan the COUNTRY, if they insist on persisting, so will I!

      J-fanatic: No, no. I mean do you like Japan the country?
      Me: Sure- Japan was important in the development of the British band Japan. They sold out Budokan several nights in a row and were one of the foreign bands to top the J-Oricon charts. They later played with Sakamoto, and recruited Masami Tsuchiya as guitarist for their final tour.
      J-fanatic: What about J pop?
      Me: What about it? It is different from “Japan”.

      There~! Faces saved, but also challenged. J nationalism met with the irony that a British band called “Japan” topped the Japanese charts 1979-82. And the point of a British band called Japan releasing songs about China and performing them with a Japanese guitarist is certainly a multi cultural aspect that Japan needs right now.

      N.B. Surprised Debito is not more into this band, as they were a big influence on early Duran Duran.

      – Oh, I know the band Japan. But Duran Duran is what got me at the right place at the right age with the right tunes. It’s not the band Japan’s fault.

    4. john k Says:

      There is a significant difference between dissent and disloyal.
      Yet those that do not wish to hear an opposing view club together disagreement into disloyalty. Once labeled as disloyal…well…any form of vitriolic attack and action is deemed acceptable against the person citing disagreement as being unpatriotic/harmonious/helpful etc etc.

      It is clear the whole purpose of the ‘like’/’dislike’..is to polarise further the position that those in power wish to take without question. Any hindrance or criticism is not welcomed, thus stamp it out before it even starts. Giving a clear mandate without any objections…silent or otherwise.

      I just wish those that hark back to “the good old days” would behave in the manner to that which they aspire…and simply fall on their swords for such failings and disloyal behaviour! Weak and pathetic…they lot of them…

    5. Baudrillard Says:

      Debito, I know you know “Japan”, but why don’t you, ahem, LIKE them? (lol). “Life in Tokyo” was undoubtedly Duran’s favorite record of the time, so much so they preordered their copies before it came out.

      The postmodern appropriation of the name of the country Japan by a British band is a potent verbal weapon.
      I will admit that I never thought about Japan the country until I heard the band Japan!

      And the irony of the lyrics cannot be discounted:
      “Life can be cruel, life in Tokyo. It seems so artificial, why should I care?”

      Now that is dissent. And yet, this foreign band topped the Japanese charts! On more than one occasion. And then they went on to do an album about China….

      Somehow I cannot see it happening now, in these insipid, deferential times. Although I note Morning Musume promoted the resurgence of the Japanese Empire (“Nippon no mirai wa sekai no ichiban, yay yay yay yay”). Sickening.

    6. Jim di Griz Says:

      @baudrillard,

      Oh, and don’t forget that Morning Musume also sang that;
      “Japan’s future is the envy of the world!”
      Ah, that still makes me laugh out loud! Never gets old! Lol!

    7. DeBourca Says:

      “These insipid, deferential times.”

      That pretty much sums it up IMO. Despite its huge problems, the Japan of the fifties, sixties, seventies and part of the eighties had a vibrant counterculture and arts scene in fashion, music, films, literature, design etc. Now we have AKB bloody 48, a cesspit full of “tarento” and cartoons designed to program kids into extracting as much money as possible from their parents. I blame the education system. Quite apart from the economic and social problems one has to put up with in Japan, its modern culture is created by and for idiots.

    8. dude Says:

      #2 Andrew in Saitama – I have met quite a few young Japanese people lately who eagerly admit to hating China & Korea. No reason is offered. When I first encountered this topic in summer of 2012, I asked why. The reason was rather sad: They stink, they steal, they come to Japan and commit crimes… Chinese crime is on the rise….etc. I suspect the real reason is that they are competing with Japan for market share, and winning. Oh, and they are getting rich, and coming to shop in Japan. I think this is the real issue – proud Japanese people cannot stomach lowly Chinese people with more money and power than themselves.

      #6 Jim Di Griz – Most (if not ALL) of Morning Musume’s lyrics are superfluous feel-good crap that carries no weight. Even in the artistically vacuous world of pop, and even among J-pop, they set a new low (high?) for songs about absolutely nothing. With the musical equivalent of cardboard, they still managed to infuse a little bit of “we are a great nation, to be envied…” nationalistic crap inside the other crap. Sum total: lots of crap. Therefore, I do not listen to this type of mind-numbing crap anymore.
      I do not “like” them. There. I said it.

      On a similar topic, Japanese people still generalize when comparing Japan/Japanese people to anything foreign. They do not see or acknowledge diversity in Japan (a lot exists), and they equally lump all foreigners into one homogeneous group. At least in general terms.

    9. Becky Says:

      How to explain the dismal showing of Japan in the latest quality of life index? Japan lags behind Singapore (#6), Hong Kong (#10), Taiwan (#14), and even South Korea (#19).

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2240212/Economist-Intelligence-Unit-Switzerland-best-place-born-2013-U-S-ranks-16.html

      When I asked some Japanese people about this, they insisted that it was “because of that Fukushima thing.”

      Put the word out!

    10. Tatami53 Says:

      I wholly agree with Column 58 regarding criticism. I can remember when Princess Diana first came to Japan. She had hardly gotten off the plane before Japanese reporters were screaming at her, “Princess Diana, do you like Japanese food?” When Sarah Brightman performed live on Japanese television several years ago, singing a stellar version of “Time To Say Goodbye,” the INSTANT she was finished, the commentator RACED over to her and said, “Do you like sushi?” There was no comment on her brilliant performance.

      I do not get why we have to “like” Japan to live here. I do not “like” everything that happens in the U.S., but it doesn’t mean I don’t “like” the U.S. We must take the bitter with the sweet and the good with the bad. We are human beings and we have the right to point out things that do not make sense. In Japan we are often pressured to “like” or to “enjoy” or to “love” anything having to do with Japan, but if we say anything negative we are looked down on, scorned or excommunicated. Debito Arudou can sometimes be harsh and sometimes I do not agree with what he says. But he often puts his finger on exactly what is not right with Japan, and in Column 58, I think he nailed it.

    11. Baudrillard Says:

      @ DeBouca- “no counterculture in Japananymore”- I think I will use this phrase to sum up my decision to leave Japan.

      About Morning Musuko'(sic)’s soft fascist lyrics for Akiba geeks, I still wonder WHY.

      I can only conclude that little thought goes into their lyrics, but then that means that “little thought” results in J-nationalistic slogans from J pop producers and artists.

      As if the fundamental, subconscious thoughts are base nationalism. That is scary. And suggests American imposed democracy has not taken root.

    12. why should I care? « the enigma of arrival Says:

      [...] The article is now open for critical discussion at http://www.debito.org/?p=10842. [...]

    13. Baudrillard Says:

      Princess Diana loved Japan. She reportedly got her hairstyle from lead singer David Sylvian.

      http://www.davidsylvian.net/releases/articles-interviews/10-online/998-interview-david-sylvian.html

      Japan the band got many people interested in Japan the country. But they were not afraid to offer dissenting opinions even though they were the subject of adulation from the Japanese: “A lot of people there (in Japan) think the same way…”

      Things are much more 2 dimensional now. Visiting celebs will not dare to offer anything that could be perceived as negative, but that is surely because it is all about marketing.

      I still wonder how Styx got away with “Domo Arigatou Mr Roboto” a hit in Japan too. I can only conclude that because its a song, it is allowed. a bit like Morning Musume and their dumb nationalist slogans.

      Its a (postmodern) song so it cannot be offensive.

      – Perhaps. But the Styx song was popular I believe because Japanese at the time were craving recognition (any recognition) and acknowledgment in Western popular culture as something distinct from China (amazingly, few could tell the difference back then!); the band Japan played right into that. Also the pop charts hadn’t found J-Pop yet, so youth music that was sick of Enka was starving for stimulus (for crying out loud, Cheap Trick???). Moreover, “Mr. Roboto” had nothing negative to say about Japan — if anything it was reaffirming Japan’s future as a tech giant.

      However, there are some songs that came out later that took negative takes on Japan (e.g., “Yuko and Hiro” by Blur; “Modern Love is Automatic” by A Flock of Seagulls; lots more I’m sure) that did not make a splash (despite the acknowledgment of “wow, a song about Japan by foreigners!”). I bet you’ll see even fewer, now that J-pop is a viable market alternative (crowding out overseas music), and overseas songs are also very strictly vetted for lyrics by the BBSs out there (somebody more in tune with today’s current music scene — please feel free to correct!). That’s why Sting suddenly shuts his trap about whaling whenever he’s about to embark on another tour of Japan. I’ve even heard people trash The B-52s because they thought the airplane dropped bombs on Japan! (Ahem, the B-52 was built between 1952 and 1962.)

      So I see the pre-J-Pop period as a time of more market openness with ignorance towards sarcasm; nowadays, the pressure to “like” Japan in overseas popular culture is even more strictly policed if it wants a market in Japan. Disagree, people more in the know?

    14. DeBourca Says:

      I don’t have time to go into the music, although it’s a fascinating area for analysis IMO, but one of my heroes is the artists Tetsuya Ishida.This young man cut through the whole “like/dislike” culturally imposed “sei ga tadashii”jacket the way other great artists, from Akira Kurosawa to John Coltrane have done through the ages and across the world:

      http://pinktentacle.com/2010/06/surrealistic-paintings-by-tetsuya-ishida/

    15. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      Dued #8
      Yep. I agree that hating China / South Korea / North Korea is a trend – and we all know how important it is to be trendy.
      A student asked why there was so much TV coverage of North Korea’s TV coverage of their missile launch. My responce: “It gives you another reason to dislike them.”

      Tatami 53 #10
      Yes, I’m sick of that one. I’m waiting for the day someone at Narita is asked the “Do you like Japan?” question and truthfully answers, “I don’t know – it looks like the inside of an airport to me!”

      Debito
      Yes, Japan Inc. still craves attention. Look at all the TV programs out there devoted “Japanese who are world famous” (read “world famous in Japan”), “Japanese who live in countries you’ve never heard of”, etc.
      English textbooks at schools are full of a similar approach, as are the moral education texts. Way too much time telling ourselves how good and clever and important we are to actually do anything good, clever or important.

    16. Blackrat Says:

      “That pretty much sums it up IMO. Despite its huge problems, the Japan of the fifties, sixties, seventies and part of the eighties had a vibrant counterculture and arts scene in fashion, music, films, literature, design etc. Now we have AKB bloody 48, a cesspit full of “tarento” and cartoons designed to program kids into extracting as much money as possible from their parents. I blame the education system. Quite apart from the economic and social problems one has to put up with in Japan, its modern culture is created by and for idiots.”

      Good comment. However, having spent the past five months back in the UK slowly getting reacclimitised to life here, let me say it isn’t really that much better here. There may be counterculture here, but it isn’t very prominent in the pop scene In the UK, things are currently dominated by a manufactured “boy band” called “One Direction” who are widely panned for being a bunch of tools. Indeed, most of the music is conveyer belt pap with the occasional gem shining through (as in Japan). There is no counter culture here as such anymore, just an obsession with becoming famous. Think Japanese TV obsesses about celebrities and their silly lives? Ditto the UK.

      I was the first to castigate Japanese TV for being bland, mindless and the rest. I can only say that having sat through parts of various “talent” contests that feature those who questionably have almost none, and reality TV which recently featured a member of the ruling Tory Party who absconded to be on the programme, making a total fool of herself,there isn’t much in it. I no longer watch TV here either, except for the news, reruns of classic TV shows and the odd documentary (deja vu as that was pretty much what I did back in Japan.)

    17. DeBourca Says:

      @Blackrat: I disagree. There is a healthy counterculture across Europe: For starters, it’s much easier to become politically involved in whatever organisation you wish. There are also many more opportunities for retraining, aqquiring skills and hooking up with like-minded individuals. It is also easier and cheaper to go “off the grid” and become self supporting.There are vibrant music scenes all over the UK. In short, you have options that are not dictated by groupthink. For sure, mainstream culture is pap, but that’s always the case. That being said, have you ever seen anything like BBC radio 4 or The Australian Broadcasting Commision radio schedules in Japan? And sure, you can listen to this stuff in Japan, but who can you discuss it with? TV sucks everywhere. T’was ever thus :)

      – We’re starting to get off track.

    18. Baudrillard Says:

      “In the UK, things are currently dominated by a manufactured “boy band” called “One Direction” who are widely panned for being a bunch of tools.”

      AKB48 are probably NOT widely panned for being a bunch of tools (or toys). They are probably lauded and encouraged as model females for “doing their best”. This is the crucial difference.

      IN fact I have been taken to task by Japanese friends for criticizing J pap because “minna wa gambatteru no de”- i.e.”they deserve credit for trying their best”. And countless books about Japan, e.g. Boye De Mente, have pointed out its not how good or bad you are in Japan, it is that you tried your best. The mediocre is celebrated, its the girl next door, and it is going to be easier for Taro and Yoko to sing along to in Karaoke, than say, Mariah Carey and her riffing up and down the scales in English- Mariah does better in the Philippines. In fact, singing too well in a bar can actually intimidate the other customers and bring out their insecurities.

      I used to work in Japanese radio (Tokyo FM) and I was told to never, ever ever, say I did not LIKE anything. Which brings us back on track on this discussion. It really IS a case of if you cannot saying anything nice in Japan, you are NOT allowed to say anything at all. Which is why a lot of Japanese radio programming is purely information-giving; “That was such and such a song from their album from 1996″- no opinion, no “like or dislike”. We were not paid to offer an opinion.

      Conflict would also emerge when we were not paid, as increasingly the J-industry has less money to pay people and they try to get people to do stuff for free because they think you want to be famous or whatever, but often the part-time westerner with less of a stake in the system (of course) would think “well, if you are not paying, I can do what I want”. This was not appreciated by the Japanese “gyokai” (entertainment industry managers)- it goes deeper than just money or terms and conditions, but is deeply engrained in responsibility to the “group” (which really means, paid or unpaid obedience to the one guy-its always a guy- who thinks he is the top dog of the hierarchy of the project or club he has created). I have even been physically attacked for being perceived as not going along with the group enough, although all I did was go off and do something else for a couple of hours when we were not working. But apparently this did not show the expected team spirit.

      At this point, NJ involvement really starts to seem not worth the effort, and Woodford’s case springs to my mind, his boss saying “I knew I should never have hired a gaijin”. So groupthink and this team/hierarchy is linked to the whole “you must like it” syndrome. I think this is why so many Japanese individuals are reticent about offering their opinion.

      The Japanese DJ system- to quote one older generation producer- is “surprisingly backward and a sempai/kohai system”. So indeed, the comment about how there was a counterculture only up to the 80s, rings true.

    19. Eric C Says:

      The like/dislike dichotomy is one of about six reactions that seem to dominate the reaction of most Japanese to every single possible thing they encounter. For girls, things are “kawaii” or “iya” or ” sugoi,” and for boys things are “sugge” or “kirai” or perhaps “omoshiroi.” Anything that doesn’t elicit one of these programmed reactions is most likely “hen.” Listen to any crowd of young Japanese kids and you’ll rarely hear any other reaction to things. Sadly, I don’t think that people’s reactions get much more nuanced as they get older. To be honest, I believe that this is just another result of an education that does more to numb the mind than enrich the mind. Perhaps it also has to do with the overriding necessity in Japan of not dissenting from the group, which means that the safest thing to do is always choose a reaction that is among the popular and accepted ones.

      To be totally honest, I can only call this a form of dire intellectual poverty. In previous posts, I’ve stated that one of the reasons I left Japan is because I simply found it so boring, and the topic at hand amply illustrates one of the things I found so boring about the place: “Suki da! Kirai da! Sugge! Kawaii! Iya da!” Really? I mean, really? Is that the best you can do? Sorry, this is going to piss off the usual apologists (you ready to start typing Joe?), but the whole place often seemed like a giant kindergarten to me.

      I’m not saying this is the nature of the Japanese people. I’m saying this is the way Japanese people who have been educated and socialized in modern Japan appear to me. To be totally frank, there is something almost grotesque about people who are middle aged or elderly who have the same thought patterns and emotional reactions as young teenagers would have elsewhere in the world.

      In a word, I found the whole thing to be “taikutsu” or “kudaranai”. Oh, wait, I meant to say, “好きじゃない.”

    20. Christopher Says:

      My absolute favorite “Do you like Japan?” incident happened when I appeared on national TV during Shougatsu back in the 90’s. A bunch of lucky foreign students were invited for the grand opening of Chef Shu’s new restaurant in Fukuoka, and were offered a free multi course gourmet meal and the opportunity to comment on the food on live television. Of all the students I was the only token “westerner”, unless of course you count a Japanese Brazilian woman. Anyway, the reporter made her way around the big round lazy susan banquet table, politely asking each student which was their favorite dish and why they liked it. She finally got to me and I was ready to give a well-prepared comment about the fish dish (ishi tai I believe it was) but instead… she asked me “Do you like Japanese food?” Mind you, Shu-san only cooks Chinese food! — I was completely stupefied (and horrified because I knew my in-laws and friends were all watching)… I thought that I handled it well though by replying after a short pause to think, that I really like Chinese food. She then made an unhappy and perplexed face with a furrowed brow, complimented me for my use of chopsticks and promptly moved on to the next (Asian) student who was asked of course asked which dish she liked. I really didn’t mean to be rude or snippy at all. I just didn’t know how to offer the canned, required (and true for me) response “washoku daisuki desu” without insulting Shu-san on his own show. Only in Japan!

    21. Brooks Says:

      Interesting. I feel like I am living in the 19th century. It is like something out of a Jane Austen novel, where everyone has to be agreeable. If you act like Mr. Darcy, and speak your mind, you are beyond the pale.

      It is tough because I, like others from the West, was educated in the USA and was trained to think and give my opinion.
      But when I worked at a junior high school, I felt like I was acting in a play and wearing a mask.
      I felt like I had to pretend in order to go along with the herd.

      It is like wearing an intellectual staightjacket.
      The thing is, I find the foreigners who don`t speak their mind get promoted or tenure.
      It seems that being liked is more important than being competent at your job.

    22. Norcal_Steve Says:

      I wasn’t going to comment on this, but I came to this site for something else, and even tho this thread is old, maybe stale and nobody reads it, but allow me to express my dislike of this column. Will that get me immediately branded “an apologist”? How ironic if so over a column praising disagreement!

      Actually I think you very much ‘jumped the shark’ with your follow-up early this year where you brought out the concept that more or less everybody who fails to criticize Japanese culture is an apologist (forgive the broad stroke but I do think that was the gist).

      I completely agree as a foreigner that Japanese culture is stultifying and the socialization system (education system) acts to totally beat the individualism out of everybody and force them to adapt a collectivist attitude to an absurd degree. Almost to the extent that I question in some sense how much of a ‘self’ itself is even left after being socialized here. I left Japan shortly after I married a Japanese largely because I did not mind too much being a NJ here, but did not feel that I should put my kids in that position. Did not end up having any kids, but did not know that in advance.

      All that having been said, I just don’t think that one can make a public case for general criticism of the sort “your culture is broken”. I suspect that there is indeed some yard stick at the deepest level by which I could say that. Certainly my own deep values of individualism and free, objective, thinking scream out to me against mindless collectivism. But I don’t have the tools to make that case in a way that does not boil down to cultural relativism. “It’s obvious”, or any other incidental personal observations are simply not rigorous. Look, I feel all of you here that there is a lot that is ‘seriously wrong’, and I’m back to live for a while because I can get work here, but I have no intention of staying for years. But OTOH US culture actually totally sucks too. Most US citizens think that the US is totally justified in killing people at random around the world ‘just because’ “‘they’ attacked us”. It justifies anything and everything and “we” are “for freedom all around the world” like nobody else is. How freaking crazy is that? You know, some 40% of so in the US don’t believe in evolution.

      One other thing – if you think you face any discrimination here, try being Muslim in the US after 9/11. It ain’t pretty. Being a Muslim in itself is almost enough for you to be convicted of any criminal conspiracy charge brought against you in a US court. Whatever the facts, no problem at all finding a judge and jury to convict you. Ref Glen Greenwald’s columns about this.

      Speaking from my own experience, I taught English in Iran before coming to Japan to teach and let me assure you being NJ here is like heaven compared to being a westerner in Iran. Talk about being excluded, to the devote, many of whom are deeply xenophobic, infidels are unclean in every way. At least here, very few Japanese are xenophobic with a fundamentalist religious fever. But even though some Islamic cultures might be “worse” than Japanese culture, I personally don’t care to even try to make a formal case against either.

      Sorry for being a bit long winded, but to net it out, it makes a lot of sense which nobody can argue with, to document specifics, discriminatory laws for example, but I don’t see you making any legitimate case against the culture in general, in a way which is not cultural relativism with your more general criticisms. If it actually is not totally relative, make the case, but use some well defined methodology. And the wide, paranoid application of a social-psychological construct like ‘micro-aggravations’ is pretty lame and a thousand miles away from your two recent columns which I praised for demonstrating solid research rather than semi-random spouting. With all due respect, your quality is very mixed.

      FWIW, for a super analysis of social alienation fwiw, there is an excellent seminal text: Goffman, Erving. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Prentice-Hall.

    23. Norcal_Steve Says:

      BTW, I apologize for getting quite a bit ‘in your face’. I did so only after reading quite a few threads and seeing that a fairly robust discussion does seomtimes go on here. Made me think that you might be able to take some pretty direct criticism without reacting emotionally. Tho I admit I am quite aspergers in that I often completely fail to realize the effect my words will have on people, perhaps even your esteemed self, Debito. To be honest I suppose I may have stepped over a certain line of provication in hoping to provoke some discussion. Except for putting things a bit too bluntly at the end, I thought I was offering a fairly well reasoned critique. Sono tsumori deshita. Of course how it’s taken is in the mind of the beholder and not much under my control no matter what I say. Given a deep level of disagreement with Debito I’d be a fool to expect a warm reception, I guess.

      Everybody is very much formed by their own experiences, and Debito certainly has suffered incredible personal loss in Japan, not just the loss of his marriage but I just can’t imagine how painful it was to lose your kids that way, nothing could be more horrible and I don’t expect that is something you can ever get over. It’s as deep as it gets, I am certain. I should not get so personal, perhaps, but I can’t imagine that *not* having a deep effect on your thinking. I judge your work with huge sympathy in the understanding of what you have been through. But intellectually I’m bothered by some of it in the way that I expressed. Some aspects of academia are crazy (fwiw I speak not as an academic myself but as the son of one). But there is a lot to be said imho for a demand for a certain standard of rigor of in argument.

      Best wishes for health and wisdom in the year of the Naga.

    24. Jyun Says:

      @Norcal_Steve #22

      You miss the critical distinction between criticizing a culture and criticizing a society. There is a difference, and for the record Japan doesn’t have only one culture.

      Your remarks on Iranian and U.S. “culture” are irrelevant besides. We could go on for ages listing places in the world with serious social issues. No one replies to global warming activists by saying, “You think Earth is bad? Try living on Mercury.” Each society has its own issues to tackle, and to avoid addressing those because there are worse social issues elsewhere hardly holds water as a logical response.

    25. Norcal_Steve Says:

      @Jyun, I surely don’t understand your distinction between a society and it’s culture. To me they are pretty much one and the same, tho some social scientists may make a distinction and some are ‘sociologists’ and others are ‘cultural anthropologists’ and honestly I can’t say I fully understand the distinction. Feel free to enlighten me if you wish.

      WRT comparing cultures I think you miss my point which is to say that of course one is always looking at a culture through a certain set of assumptions and values. There are methodologies to try to get around that. Some would probably say it’s impossible to be objective but I don’t think that is true, although it’s darn hard for me to understand how to express my most general critiques of Japan in a way that I think could be considered objective.

      It’s one thing to share here what we find annoying and/or dreadful about Japanese society or culture (take your pick), but I feel other standards should apply when writing for a much broader public. Namely that it requires rigor and care to avoid cultural relativism.

      There are certainly tons of facts available to show all the ways in which Japan is exclusionary, laws are insufficient, institutions have encoded racist policies, etc. To me focusing on facts is universal and far more valuable than making points which may be quite rightfully be interpreted as value judgments by those who might generally agree with the sentiments.

      In reading this blog, I seem some commentors who seem to be stuck into knee jerk reaction that says that if you say one good word about Japanese culture or society (I’m still unable to discern which term you’d prefer that I use or why), you are somehow defending a status quo which is rotten down to every atom, every mental wave. Personally I think that is immature and/or emotional thinking. Sorry if I sound condescending, and there certainly is a ton of frustrating and off-pissing stuff to deal with in Japan if you have not been socialized into accepting it all as perfectly normal and that ‘gaman’ is a super high virtue.

      Do you understand what I mean if I talk about the standard of work being peer reviewed?

    26. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Norcal_Steve

      Your posts raise many interesting points. I disagree with some of them. That does not make you an apologist by default. Strong (robust) expression of disagreement is welcome, and a vital part of any discussion that seeks to develop understanding. It is important to both listen, and ‘fight your corner’, and both should be done without resorting to ‘Apologist!’ or ‘Why don’t you go home!’.

      It is a sad indictment on Japanese society that neither robust discussion nor disagreement is permissible, and the expectation is that you will bottle up all your constructive criticism inside and ‘endure’. It is an approach that does not encourage the development of a better society (that is not to say that Japan is the only society with problems, but Japan is the topic of this site), and contributes in no small part to the mental health failings of the 30,000 Japanese who kill themselves every year, not to mention those who just go in for random knife slash attacks, or kill their children (try looking at Japan Today, almost a child murder a day), and those that don’t loose their minds are taking off and leaving Japan (where they have the money to do so).

      It would be far better to accept and participate in the discourse of criticism of both culture and society (and their is always so much to criticize, don’t you think?) and either demonstrate that there is no problem, or develop a better way of doing things. The J-establishments failure to do so, and systemic attacks and intimidation of those who would try, is an indicator of much darker forces at work, and a dishonest agenda towards both NJ, and the J-public, don’t you think?

      PS, Micro-aggression is real for those that feel that they are the victims of it, and we should at least respect that, and analyze what we have done to make them feel that way, shouldn’t we? We don’t have the human right to deny others feelings, but surely conscience dictates that we examine ourselves and our behavior towards them. The fact that so few Japanese are willing to stand back and do so, but rather become aggrieved, and attempt to dictate the narrative away from the victim (unless victim is Japanese) surely just proves micro-aggression theory, doesn’t it? It’s racism at a sub-conscious level, that’s the point.

    27. Norcal_Steve Says:

      @Jim
      “PS, Micro-aggression is real for those that feel that they are the victims of it, and we should at least respect that, and analyze what we have done to make them feel that way, shouldn’t we?”

      I disagree with your framing. I’ll analyze this as much as you want under the name micro-aggravation, in that framing it’s interesting to me – I experience it as much as anybody (well probably much less because I’m more or less a hermit for some years until I go back to working outside my own home next month). I try my best not to be effected by anything I have no control over, and to fight battles only where what is at stake is of great worth relative to what it takes to win, but it’s still an interesting topic for any “living in Japan project”.

      But the conscious and subconscious motivation of the source is extremely important in how we even frame this discussion, and the overwhelming majority of the “can you use chopsticks?” type dialogue is sourced in garden variety or perhaps more remarkable dumbness and terrible communication skills (even in Japanese, outside of the usual all pervasive ritual forms). It’s not being used as a hierarchical marker and it’s not coming from conscious or subconscious aggression, racism nor repression. imo that is a clear fact, which if we had a bit of time or funding I think we could test fairly easily although personally i think that fact is trivially obvious and beyond dispute.

      Taking it as aggression, asserting that it is based on underlying subconscious racism and repression is my most blunt and insensitive way of putting it, ill-tempered irrationality and paranoia. And Debito’s putting it out there as ‘aggression’ (honestly i forget how he actually framed it but I’m pretty sure he described it as aggression – I don’t have time to go back and re-read his article because I have just a second to wrap this post up) is imho a sign of way too loose methodology behind some incredibly broad assertions.

      Jim, I’ve read some of your other posts. eg, #4 on the burma thread had some interesting things to say, but I’m also getting a strong vibe of underlying anger. Am I reading in something that is not really there?

      – For someone who is a self-professed “stickler for precision” (cf. your comment on SLORC), you certainly are imprecise in terminology (“micro-aggravation”?), in rigor (“trivially obvious and beyond dispute”), and in summary (“honestly i forget how he actually framed it… I don’t have time to go back and re-read his article”) of the fundamental terms of debate (you show an incomplete grasp of even the concept of “microaggressions”, let alone the methodology of the scientists in the field who have worked on this). I think you should practice what you preach.

    28. Norcal_Steve Says:

      @Jim,
      “The J-establishments failure to do so, and systemic attacks and intimidation of those who would try, is an indicator of much darker forces at work, and a dishonest agenda towards both NJ, and the J-public, don’t you think?”

      There are certainly always dark forces at work with dishonest agendas in every society (the elites and capital will do anything and everything to increase their own power and accumulation of all the money in one place – these are natural forces which are very very hard to thwart under any system) but my overall impression is that you are very over the top in propounding that the real nastiness spreads deeply or is anything like an organized effort throughout even the elites as a sort of organized effort to suppress Japanese society, nor are most of the Japanese population nasty and exclusionary at heart (at least I think they do admire and really like cultures other than their own, particularly European cultures). The nature of the culture here makes it very conservative and hierarchical, and some characteristics which are also very positive make the people easily subject to deception and manipulation by the unscrupulous, criminal, power hungry etc (which is also true everywhere in differing degrees). I think the only real productive place to attack the whole structure is to attack very specific laws and processes because you can’t get anywhere publicly condemning the whole culture and society, nor can you change attitudes by attacking them in the abstract, imho. I think you can attack specific things that are wrong especially where there is a specific and simple alternative, in a very vigorously way, and perhaps also do some ‘consciousness raising’ as you do so, but saying more general things like “the J-establishment needs to accept and participate in the discourse of criticism of both culture and society” falls flat on its face. Most J people don’t actually want to criticize their culture nor their society and they think their culture is amazing. So you want to tell people, “look, actually your culture and society really sort of sucks and if only you were educated the way I was you know that and want to talk about it and change it”? Good luck with that,I think it’s delusional thinking.

      – As you keep alluding to vibes/undercurrents in other people’s writing, the undercurrent of your writing is “You shouldn’t criticize ‘their culture and society'”, as if it is ‘their’ property and province to criticize only. After decades of life in Japan for some of us (and in my case, Japanese citizenship), I would argue that we are part of the culture and society by now, therefore have not only the experience necessary but also the privilege/right to critique and criticize if we so choose. No?

    29. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Norcal_Steve #28

      ‘There are certainly always dark forces at work with dishonest agendas in every society’.
      Yes, there are, but as I said in my earlier post to you, this is a site about Japan, so the ‘but other countries have issues too’ argument doesn’t really help, and does indeed begin to seem like apologism.

      ‘my overall impression is that you are very over the top in propounding that the real nastiness spreads deeply or is anything like an organized effort throughout even the elites as a sort of organized effort to suppress Japanese society’
      I disagree. The post-war Board of Education was staffed by the thought police (Kempeitai) in order to ensure that racist imperial era discourse did not die, and it has been so successful that the former Mayor of Tokyo, the mayor of Nagoya, and the mayor of Osaka are able to publicly deny war-crimes without even the slightest domestic backlash.

      ‘I think they do admire and really like cultures other than their own, particularly European cultures’.
      I disagree. It’s just a status symbol to seem international, ‘modern’, successful, like owning a BMW or a Benz; the Japanese admire the artifacts of NJ culture without valuing the culture or the people.

      ‘you can’t get anywhere publicly condemning the whole culture and society, nor can you change attitudes by attacking them’.
      I’m not trying to change their attitudes. Why would I? The post-war Japanese have built an oppressive, bullying society based on falsehoods of Japanese uniqueness. It’s failing. Why should I want to save it?

      ‘Most J people don’t actually want to criticize their culture nor their society and they think their culture is amazing.’
      Yes, this is the product of the work of the Kempeitai (see above), and is precisely the reason for Japans problems, none of which would be best served by my trying to help them. I am not responsible for the mess the Japanese have made for themselves, and I have no intention of helping them fix it.

      So in conclusion, I must say to you that your final statement;
      ‘you want to tell people, “look, actually your culture and society really sort of sucks and if only you were educated the way I was you know that and want to talk about it and change it”? Good luck with that,I think it’s delusional thinking.’
      Very far from the mark. As I state above, I have no intention of trying to ‘impose my superior western thinking upon them’, nor would I if I could. I am simply observing and commenting on Japans demise into into an internationally irrelevant 3rd world nation from my ring side seat, until the end of the academic year. They have no-one to blame but themselves, and no-one has any responsibility to help them. Evolve or die (as a society), it’s their choice, and we can’t help them make it.

    30. Fight Back Says:

      Look, it’s more than likely that this is some apologist trolling here for fun. This is the reason I often say we shouldn’t be wasting our time in conversations like this. And if he is not trolling then it is really rather condescending to suggest that we are unable to criticize Japanese society because the Japanese are too proud to accept criticism. That’s really getting into ethnocentrism.

      Opinions are fine but we shouldn’t be telling others how to think and criticize. The apologists already ply a twisted line of logic to try to turn the oppressed into oppressors and we need to avoid this trap.

    31. Baudrillard Says:

      @ Steve Norcal “Jim.. I’m also getting a strong vibe of underlying anger.”

      Hey, no sh*t.

      As Jim should be.

      As the Govt and Nihonjinron tendencies of Japan have made us.

      As the broken promises to NJs who worked hard here have made us.

      It is a valid reaction and the reasons for it need to be discussed.

    32. Loverilakkuma Says:

      This article brings us back to when the critique of distinctive characteristics of culture–a.k.a. honne & tatemae became a talk of the matter last November. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20111101ad.html
      I remember I had a debate with one of the posters on this blog about scrutinizing the agent/agency of cultural product that disseminates institutional/public discourse–or specifically, critiquing the system of hegemonic culture/cultural product that generates numerous problems in Japanese society. As I have argued elsewhere, no culture will be (or should be) exempt from rigorous/trenchant criticism of public discourse. As far as its effect on public common goods is concerned, opportunities for critical/rational deliberation are needed and any people–regardless of Japanese or Non-Japanese– have the right to participate in such conversations. I know we sometimes have trouble telling apologists/trollers from serious dissenters–but I think common sense will help us separate the two: serious dissenters are generally reasonable and less hostile/cynical than those theory Nazis.

    33. Flyjin Says:

      “It’s just a status symbol to seem international, ‘modern’, successful, like owning a BMW or a Benz; the Japanese admire the artifacts of NJ culture without valuing the culture or the people.”

      Reminds me of when my apartment was vandalized and graffitized by jealous teenagers ironically with bleached hair, wearing blue contact lenses and “American style” baggy clownlike clothes in the early 90s.They wrote stuff on the door like “all foreigners have Aids and next time we will kill you” etc. The police were alright about it but coudnt do much. A few weeks later I saw the same gang of kids being arrested for fighting.

      Severe identity crisis and self confidence issues. A bit like Ishihara.

      They just want foreign stuff, not the foreigner.

    34. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Flyjin #33

      That’s a nasty thing to have to deal with. At times like that, anti-hate speech and racial discrimination laws would have been rather useful. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy that without the relevant law by which to convict someone of such a crime, the J-establishment can say with a straight face that no such laws are needed because no such crimes exist it Japan!

      ‘Severe identity crisis and self confidence issues.’
      Ah! And now we get to the nub of the problem! Having become a Disneyfied image of an imagined Japan (or some-such; Baudrillard can phrase it better), the modern Japanese live in a world where they are unable to resolve the cognitive dissonance of desiring and valuing our NJ cultural artifacts (Nike, Benz, Apple), against the consensual hallucination that Japan is the best at everything because it is special! That must really mess with their minds! I have no doubt that the inability to resolve this conflict is a major contributor in anti-NJ aggression.

    35. Norcal_Steve Says:

      #28 @Debito

      Actually I could not agree with you more. Criticism and discussion is great and I am not (or do I think I have been here) one who says NJ have no reason nor ‘right’ to critique and criticize. The more anybody really understands, marshals facts and argues logically, the more convincing they are. If those who are closed minded object, the actual strength of the argument should make it clear who has it right.
      I praised several of your recent columns. I would think it was clear that I have not claimed you can or should not critique. Whether you are J or not has no bearing on the logic and proof of your arguments.

      Again, what I am saying is that (a) there should be different standards of rigor of argumentation and what is assumed to be ‘general knowledge’ depend on the forum. E.g. that would be very different between this blog and JT published content. (b) when writing for a very wide audience, one should assume one is addressing readers of very widely different experiences, views and values. I’m sure you do.
      (c) you may disagree with me, but for a wide audience esp if you assume they are like I did in b, the criterion for being convincing should be something like ‘a person with an open mind with no preconception or prejudice (it’s somewhat theoretically if such a person exists who also understand the background if you are using history, etc and assuming some knowledge of the subject at hand, but assume that is possible) would find the argument convincing’.
      Sorry if I wasn’t clear enough, but if I said ‘you can’t’, I did not mean to imply non-permission, nor ‘you should not (because it makes some readers uncomfortable)’, but rather “can’t you in fact successfully argue to the standard of c (without building the right factual foundation). Sorry if I was not clear enough and left that in doubt.

      I’d be interested to know if you agree with me about c. What I have been arguing about is only related effectiveness – when linked to statements of fact, your arguments have been quite strong, imo. OTOH some of your column have been on the order of what we in engineering call ‘hand waving’, i.e. overly broad statements without much specific data to back them up.

    36. Norcal_Steve Says:

      #27 @Debito
      You are right. Thank you for pointing out my lack of rigor. It was disrespectful. I was being called out (for the 3rd time :) for being late for family dinner and made the bad call to push my post out rather than come back later and reread the article first.
      WRT micro-aggressions, I did not look beyond the Psych Today link you provided. Psych today is not an academic journal. In the words of one of the more favorable reviewers “I would recommend it as something to help you pass the time, but not as a source of information for real learning.” (check the reviews on amazon.com, there are many which say more or less the same thing).
      Furthermore, in the context where the referenced study was done, of minorities in the US, eg. 1 in 15 black men are behind bars. In the context of 40% being imprisoned during their lifetimes (many losing voting rights and of course huge negative affect on income) micro-aggression is certainly the least of their worries. And social-psychology does not necessarily export well. This study means something in the specific social context in which it was done, but it’s dubious to try to apply the findings across such diverse circumstance as race in the US (years of history of integration battles, large scale urban race riots leading finally to an ideology of equality and integration which is very widespread – we have a black president, it’s all in name only of course, but the ideology deeply affects the mentalities of the whites such that they are not ‘allowed’ to show conscious racial bias) and race in Japan. No, I’m definitely not making the ‘look over there discrimination is far more serious’ argument, at all. I’m just saying that Japanese race relations and attitudes are quite different, so a psych study revolving around conscious vs subconscious discrimination needs to be scrutinized very carefully to see how applicable it is to a different culture from where it was carried out.
      The attitudes in Japan are not subtle, they are really blatant. In the US the whites generally (per the PT article) are not conscious of treating blacks/Hispanics differently. In Japan, a big part of the problem is people openly claiming the races should not have any expectation of being treated the same. IMO the exclusion is macro here, not micro. The micro-aggressions are really irritating and I think it’s much more conscious on both sides here. But the isolation and othering caused by microaggression is in my experience trivial compared to the very very gross exclusion caused by cultural barriers.
      I felt unintentionally excluded even in the company of very nice and accepting coworkers who respected me and were open to me. There is still a huge barrier caused by massively different socialization into cultures which are so alien to each other.

      I know your article resonated widely – I imagine most NJ who have been here more than a month are already pissed off and for some it is pretty overwhelming. It does not take long to get tired of even the “nice NJ” treatment. I guess I’m churlish in expecting you to write to a more serious intellectual level, although you may be taking the psych today article far more seriously than I expect any academic reader would, but in all fairness, your audience in much wider than the academic community. All I can really say is that to my taste, you’ve recently written a couple fine articles and you’ve also written some pieces which I considered trivial. Is that fair enough?

    37. Norcal_Steve Says:

      #31 @ Baud
      Sure, discussing things that piss you off can have therapeutic value (maybe – or you can talk just to let off steam anyway), and you can analyze things. To me analysis means to try to understand things coolly and objectively, so you can’t do both of the above at the same time, according to my understanding of what it means to analyze.

    38. Norcal_Steve Says:

      #29
      Aha, Jim now I understand you a lot better. You’ve totally written off Japan and the Japanese and you intend to leave as soon as you can (as I take it from “until the end of the academic year”). Fair enough. Now I know how divergent our viewpoints are. I’m trying to respect the culture and the people while understanding how and why things are screwed up here. As a sanity check on my analysis, I try to think about whether somebody else J and or NJ would consider it to be.
      Your “Japan as a third world country” is pretty darn funny. I will be interested to see what happens to Japan over the rest of my life. It’s hard to imagine how they avoid continuing slow decline but I don’t see their asian neighbors overtaking them. Economically it’s much more interesting to me to speculate on how the up and comers will do.

    39. DeBourca Says:

      Norcal Steve:

      You’re trolling, right? You have just written a number of long posts snidely attacking posters who (in the case of Jim De Griz and Debito, and perhaps some others) have excellent academic credentials for not being rigorous enough, and the rigour in your posts is where exactly? In the cited stats? Nope, none of them.In the analysis of the issues raised in this thread? Nope. Just a load of ad hominem attacks and poorly written attempts to bait some people into a response. I”m surprised that Debito allowed your posts to be published. You need to find something better to do, or else get your act together.

    40. Norcal_Steve Says:

      I’m writing again about the micro-aggression columns. I admit I’m perhaps unreasonably obsessed about this but pls believe me that I’m not just trying to repeatedly beat you up, it’s that I’m trying to peel my own onion, remember all my reactions clearly, and figure out how to articulate why I felt big reservations about the two JBC columns about this. BTW, some of the bloggers here say “I don’t care about changing Japan”. To them I would point out that Debito’s whole project is largely defined as activism to do just that. So my concerns are far more to that point than yours are. I’m not an activist – at least not the way Debito is, not on this issue. Hell I’ve been living in California for almost 20 years why should I be? But I respect his activism and that is why I’m trying to engage and put in my 2 cents.

      Debito’s attitude toward micro-ag is that we who are subjected to it ought not to just let it stand, we should actively try to push it back where ever we find it. But here’s the thing conceptually when it comes to the idea of pushing back on this. The concept and its application comes from the US hence it’s relevant to discuss the relative meaning here vs in the US. This is a not a “it’s not a problem here” denial, it’s about applying a theoretically and practical framework developed in one society to a different society. If we’re talking about push back, the situation is very different here than in the US. In the US, there is a lot of racism, but it’s not acceptable to be blatantly racist. There are laws against it. Even the people in the right wing media have to use ‘dog whistles’ meaning coded words to let people know e.g. when they are talking about black people. That’s quite relevant to microaggression and what to do about it, because again according to the original article, the perps totally deny that they see the victims as other. That’s really key to my gut feeling that this does not apply very well to Japan, because the activist theory that somehow we can use this concept to push back seems to me to have some traction where the perp would easily be shamed if they could not deny the charge. Here I don’t think its possible to shame or wake up the perps. Their othering is under a sort of denial, but it’s not buried under the same (‘civil rights has been battled and already won’ mentality) and the psychology of the perp is very different. It would take way too much to get it through their thick skulls that their behavior is totally inappropriate and why, what the problem is. So Debito, call me defeatist, lazy and part of the problem or an apologist. I’m giving you my honest opinion, that for me the problem is too embedded in the perps views at a fairly conscious level (even tho they may also claim ‘in Japan we treat everybody equally’ but they Japan barely even has a practical ‘equality under the law’) and the general cluelessness is so deep that personally I don’t see the return on the effort to react. And I chose to understand but try to remain mellow. Pardon me but my main goal in life is to find personal happiness not to campaign to change Japan.

      Ironically, discussing it may be of good value to some NJ, to raise their consciousness, to join discussion among NJ. Maybe that is actually a large part of Debito’s intention, which is reasonable tho if I may say so is way off the stated intention of discussing that the perps should be called out. If that is the case I can see it as reasonable, just way too preaching to the choir as far as I personally am concerned. Which is also why what I thought what really went over the line of sanity was the follow-up “apologists” column. That’s part of my agenda concerning those columns. Being an activist is admirable. Berating everybody who does not share your agenda and put themselves on the line for your cause, using tactics that you demand (eg believing that the micro-ags are worth extending mental energy actively reacting to) is is another thing altogether. Not everybody who is trying to find both good and bad in Japan is an apologist in my book. Not everybody who sees a lot wrong here thinks fighting micro-ags is worth the effort. Why the us vs them (‘them’ of the last 2 sentences) attitude about this?

      I think I being consistent and not attacking you unfairly. Thanks for reading and putting up with my sudden barrage here on the blog. I’m not going to be obsessed and stalk the blog, although I love an honest argument and criticizing Japan is deeply interesting to me so I might continue to engage if I find interested and interesting counter-parties here.

    41. Norcal_Steve Says:

      #39

      “a load of ad hominem attacks”

      That’s one charge I can safely deny. I’ve attacked some ideas pretty hard but I’ve stated my respect for Debito as a person and I mean it. If he thinks I being ridiculous or too disrespectful, he’s got the power to respond or to block me anytime he wants. I don’t think I attacked Jim personally either. I asked if he is angry – is that what you call attacking the person? And I echoed his words about not wanting to change Japan and apparently planning to leave at the end of the academic year. If he feels insulted and is kind enough to help me understand why, I’m all ears. Other than that I believe I am following the directive to be “brave and brazen with critique” not in the direction is was intended, but I’m not somebody with no real frustration or complaint about Japan here just trying to jerk you collective chain. Are you only interested in hearing from people who agree with you on everything?

      If I’m just being boring or insulting, then you know what to do. If you call this trolling I think you are being thin skinned. I’m not playing games and I’m being honest about what my intentions are and where I’m coming from. If I’m ignored or comments like yours are the only response I get, then I’m not going to keep posting here. I’m not interested in setting up unresolvable ego battles or just being a nuisance or railing just for the sake of annoying people.

      – We’re degenerating into a two-way conversation here. Please also advance the point of this blog entry while you (plural) discuss motivations for debating.

    42. Jim Di Griz Says:

      I’ve stopped reading Norcal_Steve’s massive repetitive posts.
      Self-censorship and brevity towards the point would be appreciated.

    43. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @Norcal_Steve

      So your bottom line is…, we should stop raising voices against any form of discrimination, harassment, or social injustice affecting us, instead, we suck it all up, learn and speak Japanese for main communication, instead of English –for most of the time, because: 1) “this is not the US or Europe. This is Japan”; and 2) Japan is culturally unique–so social problems occurring in Japan are fundamentally ‘different’ from those in the west–and hence–no relations whatsoever?

      Well, first of all, no one is calling you a loser here on the blog. Japan is inflicted with so many problems that have been affecting its national economy and social capital in the last couple of decades. The central government is getting worse as the current US Congress or a corrupted Italian Cabinet. They are the ones responsible for ostracizing people who are socially, culturally, and economically challenged–i.e., environment refugees, women, youth working as part-timer, contract employees, homeless, handicapped people, NJ, etc–from the general public. I don’t have a problem with people raising voices in this regard because the system is indeed broken, beaten, and scarred. It’s all about the system and the attitude of mainstream society. They are itching for ‘cooking’ social dissent, putting into a pot pan, roasting slowly like a boiled frog, and making people scream out loud in pain. If you disagree with the blogger (and following posters) on specific issue, that’s fine. You don’t like his perspective(s) or the way he describes the problem, fine. But, accusing him and his followers of setting up the forum to create the venues for critical/rhetorical engagement in deliberate democracy—because they (we) are creating more problems for NJ and Japanese for doing so? That’s not cool.

    44. Baudrillard Says:

      Norcal Steve

      its Baudrillard, not Baud, thank you.

      ” I’m not going to be obsessed and stalk the blog, although I love an honest argument and criticizing Japan is deeply interesting to me so I might continue to engage if I find interested and interesting counter-parties here.”

      Oh, I think you are quite obsessed, you wrote so many times, even on January 1st! I am sorry that your Life in Tokyo is so isolated and so cruel, oh oh oh. (sorry, could not resist the Japan song quote again).

      but then, paranoid-obsessives is what life in Tokyo tends to make us. Quite justifiable being a shut-in if out walking while NJ results in tiresome micro aggression.

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