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  • Quoted in Die Zeit newspaper: “Japan: Old and Xenophobic” (German with machine translation)

    Posted by arudou debito on February 11th, 2013

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    Hi Blog.  Sometimes I wish the Star Trek Universal Translators were already here.  But we’re getting closer.  Here’s a Google Translate version of an article that came out in Die Zeit newspaper a couple of months ago that cites me and others about Japan’s political problems with creating an immigration policy.  Not a lot here that frequent readers of Debito.org don’t already know (except for the give-and-take access to export markets for the bilateral nursing agreements between Indonesia and The Philippines), but here’s a German media take on the issue.  There are some bits that are a bit clumsily translated, so corrections welcome.  Arudou Debito

    ////////////////////////////////////////

    JAPAN
    Old and xenophobic
    Japan on the day of elections: the economy is running out of workers. Immigrants may bridge the gap, but locals reject strangers.
    DIE ZEIT, December 6, 2012, by Felix Lill
    Courtesy of author Felix Lill, OM, and Google Translate (cleaned up a bit, corrections welcome)
    Original German at
    http://www.zeit.de/2012/50/Japan-Wirtschaft-Arbeitskraefte-Einwanderer

    To Ezekiel Ramat would be the Japanese economy actually tear. [??]  The 24 year old geriatric nurse is young, well educated and unmarried. Moreover, the man hails from the Philippines, who for almost two years in Japan, lives for two-thirds of the salary of his Japanese colleagues. But instead of being welcomed with open arms, Ramat needs after-hours cramming. After four years, he must either pass the Japanese nurse exam – or leave the country.

    The contents Ramat knows that from his training at home. But the three Japanese alphabets in which the questions are asked, make it almost impossible for foreigners to pass the test. Only one in ten may remain at the end.

    “I’m learning every day,” says Ramat. “Maybe I have a 50-50 chance.” He says he’s even hopeful about the December 16th Japanese parliamentary elections: A new government , which will most likely represent to current polls business-oriented Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), must be on the future of Japan. “Japan’s economy still needs foreigners working. It would be unwise to kick us again.”  So gives Ramat courage.

    An immigration campaign would be political suicide

    For decades, Japan has been in a shaky position. The once-booming industrial nation barely registered economic growth. The national debt – in terms of economic power – is higher than that of Greece.

    Even today, every fourth Japanese is over 65 years old . The birth rate is so low that the population will decline by 2050 from 127 million today to below 90 million. Several governments have tried to counter by more kindergartens, child care allowance and the like, but little has borne fruit. In 100 years, there might be only 40 million Japanese.

    Now there is a lack of skilled labor, falling tax revenues, and no one knows who is going to pay in the future the growing pension claims. According to calculations by the United Nations, by 2050 only 17 million workers will be found to fund the pensions.

    But there is a solution: Immigrants like Ezekiel Ramat. Japan’s foreign population is currently 1.3 percent, extremely low for a highly developed country: Germany has at about 8.5 percent foreigners. In Japan, the number of immigrants in recent years even went down. But strange: no one in politics seems to care about immigration policy. Neither the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) nor the main opposition parties mention the subject at all in their campaigns. When asked, all assert that they want to promote more immigration. But they make no specific proposals.

    “In Japan, it would be political suicide to run an immigration campaign,” says Arudou Debito. The author of US-Japanese origin has long been involved with Japan’s foreign policy, and has also just written his doctoral thesis. “Most Japanese can not imagine having to share their country with foreigners.” Opinion polls recorded in recent years paint a foreigner-skeptical picture.

    Only half of the Japanese supported the idea of ​​granting foreigners the same fundamental rights as Japanese. A third of the population was against further immigration. Three-quarters think that in ten million immigrants would exceed the limit of what is acceptable.

    “Which party is under such circumstances to make active immigration policy?” Asks Debito. He even a few years ago made headlines when he sued a Japanese hot spring, which had denied his two American-looking daughters entry. [Sic:  it was one of my daughters, not both.]  To date, Japan has no law to protect foreigners against [racial] discrimination.

    Japan has tried to compensate for an aging society through immigrants. As the dangers of shrinking population became known in the eighties, Japan courted Japanese-born Brazilians for simple tasks. By 2004 this had risen to almost 300,000. But since there was a lack of integration programs, a lot of Brazilians in Japan never felt at home.

    In addition, policy making and media sentiment against the newcomers blamed the increasing proportion of foreigners for a rise in crime. With the start of the financial crisis, it was finally opportune to send back the foreigners out of the country. From 2009, each Brazilian has been offered a one-way ticket to South America, on condition they never seek work in Japan [sic: on the same visa status].

    In June 2008, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced a plan by which within 50 years about ten million immigrants should be admitted. The number of foreign students should rise by 2025 to one million per year. But both Fukuda and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who ruled Japan from 2001 to 2006, saw the acceptance by the Japanese the biggest obstacle. At the end of his administration, Koizumi said, “If the number of foreign workers exceeds a certain level, there will be conflict.  It should be prevented. “

    To not rely on the consent of the electorate, Japanese bureaucrats concluded their last bilateral contracts through the back door. Agreements with the Philippines and Indonesia that were hardly discussed publicly allowed Japanese companies market access and in turn allowed the posting of caregivers for sick and elderly to Japan.

    A sign for a better immigration policy was not there. “The main objective of these agreements was to support our export economy,” says Takahiro Wakabayashi, who is in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of business with Southeast Asia. Wakabayashi does not deny the need for more immigration itself, but on the question of why this insight occasions little action, he gives an answer that is heard again and again: The topic of immigration is controversial. “We should have the economic capacity to take in more people. But the unions fear in such a case falling wages.”

    Young foreigners be exploited – and then sent away

    The author Debito believed that the current provisions for foreign workers are therefore less restrictive, so they do not remain in the country in the long term. “The examination system at the nurses is intended to take advantage of some of the best years of young foreigners and then return them home. The system works: Theoretically, everyone has the chance to make it to a status of unlimited right of residence [sic:  I did not say anything about Permanent Residency], but almost no one gets it. “

    If there are alternatives to more immigration to Japan? One might raise the retirement age, which is 65 years. But that would be very expensive for the company. In Japan, namely, the principle that with increasing seniority and higher salaries are paid. In addition, today many Japanese retirees take new jobs, because their pension is not enough. Women, of which less than two-thirds have a job complain that there was not enough childcare.

    In the eyes of the scientist Naohiro Ogawa, it is a matter of time before Japan’s “demographic time bomb” explodes. “Until Japan is willing to open the door to more immigrants, the countries that would like to send today, workers have long since been in the situation of labor shortage. Worldwide, the population growth back already. ” [??]

    And the patience of Japanese contractors is limited. For example, Clifford Paragua of the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo. He says: “We could do a lot more than the current 600 workers send to Japan. Japan could use a lot more. “In the Middle East 800,000 Filipinos are working in hospitals, their education will also be recognized, and they came through with English mostly. Why,” asks Paragua, should “young Filipinos choose Japan?”

    No matter who wins: Even after the election will probably not change much in the integration policy. Many of the few foreigners who make it to Japan, such as geriatric nurses Ezekiel Ramat, will send half of their income to the family back home – and then leave after a few years the country again.

    “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” says Naohiro Ogawa. Because immigrants would not just do the work and pay the pensions, they would not buy the products of Japanese manufacturers and with their own children compensate the lack of Japanese youth.” Ogawa says that his people would only think about it once properly. “Economic understanding would suffice.”
    ENDS

    26 Responses to “Quoted in Die Zeit newspaper: “Japan: Old and Xenophobic” (German with machine translation)”

    1. Markus Says:

      Debito, the translation is pretty good, but here are some improvements where the meaning of the German original was distorted (sometimes to mean the opposite, even):

      “To Ezekiel Ramat would be the Japanese economy actually tear. [??]”
      Ezekiel Ramat is the type of guy the Japanese economy should be scrambling to employ.

      “…, must be on the future of Japan.”
      …, should care about Japan’s future.

      “So gives Ramat courage.”
      …as Ramat encourages himself.

      “According to calculations by the United Nations, by 2050 only 17 million workers will be found to fund the pensions.”
      According to calculations by the United Nations, 17 million jobs must be found to finance the pensions.

      “But strange:”
      “Yet, curiously”

      “and has also just written his doctoral thesis”
      and has also just finished his doctoral thesis about the subject

      “A sign for a better immigration policy was not there.”
      It was no predictor for a better immigration policy.

      “The author Debito believed that the current provisions for foreign workers are therefore less restrictive, so they do not remain in the country in the long term.”
      Writer Debito suspects that the current regulations for foreign workers are kept this restrictive to discourage long-term stayers.

      “The examination system at the nurses”
      The examination system for nurses

      “If there are alternatives to more immigration to Japan?”
      What might be Japan’s alternatives to more immigration?

      “But that would be very expensive for the company.”
      …for companies.

      “In Japan, namely, the principle that with increasing seniority and higher salaries are paid.”
      That’s because im Japan there is a principle of paying higher salaries with increasing seniority.

      “Until Japan is willing to open the door to more immigrants, the countries that would like to send today, workers have long since been in the situation of labor shortage. Worldwide, the population growth back already.”
      Until the day Japan is willing to open its doors to more immigrants, chances are that those countries who today would like to send their workers, will find themselves in a situation of labor shortage. Even now, population growth is slowing down worldwide.”

      “No matter who wins: Even after the election will probably not change much in the integration policy.”
      No matter who wins the election, probably not much will change about integration policies.

      “…, they would not buy the products of Japanese manufacturers and with their own children compensate the lack of Japanese youth.” Ogawa says that his people would only think about it once properly. “Economic understanding would suffice.”
      …, they would also buy products of Japanese manufacturers, and their children would compensate for the lack of Japanese children. Ogawa says that the Japanese (would understand the situation) if they only thought it through once. A grasp of economics would suffice.

      – Thanks very much for the clarifications. Again, we need Starfleet’s technology now.

    2. Jim Di Griz Says:

      “If the number of foreign workers exceeds a certain level, there will be conflict. It should be prevented. “

      Yeah, because those Todai graduates are fighting tooth and nail for that Lawson job…

      The article says that by 2050, total population less than 90 million, total number of working age Japanese 17 million. I guess those 17 million will all have to become care-givers? Even then, they would be too few. And if all the workers are in the care industry, who is out there earning all the money to pay the tax to pay for the health care?
      The tipping point must be a lot earlier than 2050. Roll on!

    3. Bruno Says:

      @Jim Di Griz

      Todai graduate here. Colleagues were always going on about how bad the job market is in Japan, and how people with PhDs ended up working for Lawson or Family Mart for lack of better options.
      Don’t know how much of that is true, but it seems that xenophobia notwithstanding, job prospects in Japan are pretty bad.

      Even so every other store I went to seemed relatively understaffed… go figure.

      By the way, congrats on making German news, Debito. Glad to see people are starting to see the mess that Japan is nowadays.

    4. Jim di Griz Says:

      @ Bruno #3

      Thank you very much! You’ve made my day!

    5. Markus Says:

      It took me a while to find this again – here’s an interesting conversation in English by two expats in Germany about the reporting on Japan in the German media, where “Die Zeit” is also mentioned. I think it relates nicely to this entry: http://www.ichwerdeeinberliner.com/post/18242536630/56-the-meltdown-part-ii-an-idiot-abroad

      Before the Tsunami and Fukushima happened, reporting on Japan in the German media, including “Die Zeit”, which is one of the most respected weekly papers of the country, was mostly fluff, limited to the quirky and strange aspects, e.g. robots, “Hello Kitty”, and washlets. I can’t remember ever reading about xenophobia or racism in Japan up to when the catastrophe happened. Since then, it seems that the quality and quantity of reporting on Japan has improved and this has lead to articles like the one featuring Debito.

    6. Bruno Says:

      @Markus

      That seems to have happened to every serious media outlet in the world. Until 3/11, every report on Japan seemed to have been focused on how funny/weird/safe/progressive/well-educated Japan is.
      After 3/11 that thin façade seems to have fallen, either because Japanese institutions became unable to keep up appearances, or because that was the last straw for many disgruntled expats who went home and started telling the world about everything that goes on behind the scenes in Japan.

      Still, ask anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with news what they think about Japan. The answer will invariably lie among the weird/safe/developed opinions mentioned above.

    7. Welp Says:

      Japan runs an amazing PR campaign, you have to give them credit for that at least.

    8. Bayfield Says:

      Completely agree with #5 and #6. It seems ever since then the GOJ has been doing damage control to repair its image by rampantly increasing nationalism as well as xenophobia.

      Funny thing is, ever since the Senkaku incident, it seems like the media and world wide public has practically forgotten about the Fukushima meltdown. Practically all Japanese news and many major outlets are now practically bashing China 24/7 as of now and fooling the public into thinking that the Senkakus is the only problem Japan is having.

      I have a feeling that had the 3/11 tsunami not happened, the tensions between China and Japan would not have soured this bad. The longer the tensions are drawn out and the closer to the breaking point, people will slowly lose focus on 3/11 and only focus on inciting racism towards everyone of Chinese decent, on top of blaming NJ for Fukushima’s problems of course, as well as blaming the rest of the NJ for their economic woes.

      I feel that once the senkaku dispute is over, the negative news about Japan will be changed back to the way it was before 3/11 back to weird news about anime,Gundams and godzilla. As markus puts it: “was mostly fluff, limited to the quirky and strange aspects, e.g. robots, “Hello Kitty”, and washlets.”

      I also feel that Japan has a higher priority of restoring its “innocent, peaceful, pure and kawaii” image prior to Fukushima than winning those islands. Infact, revisionism, promoting “love” of Japan, and revising apologies seems to be on the top of the list of LDP priority to-do list.

    9. Bruno Says:

      @Bayfield

      I’d say there is not much that can be said about Fukushima anymore. It was a total disaster, the Japanese want no outside help and are determined to make the local population suffer for it. And I doubt they are even letting foreign journalists anywhere near anything related to it.

      Still, the Senkaku issue seems very much like a fabricated crisis to shift the focus from irradiated Japan to “evil” China. If history has taught us anything, is that Japan is surely not above fabricating claims to antagonize China.

      On the other hand, let us not forget that every single year there is the same cycle: Japanese politician says/does something stupid – all of Asia is outraged – insults/apologies are exchanged – everybody forgets about it”. This one just seems to be taking longer than usual.

      About the whole image Japan has (or used to have), I seriously doubt the average Japanese citizen has even an idea about how far Japanese pop/kawaii/weird culture has gone abroad, albeit if even in limited circles. Even the most hardcore Japanese otaku I’ve met were completely oblivious about anything from Japan making it abroad. Nothing is made for NJ audiences, and no effort whatsoever is made to market it as such regardless of how that would positively affect Japan’s image abroad. If I had to bet, I’d put my money on politicians wanting Japan having a strong and imposing image rather than the cutesy fluff most people associate it with.

    10. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Bayfield #7

      I agree. It is a most ‘fortunate’ side-effect (maybe?) of recent rampant nationalism that the Fukushima issue has been side-lined again. I read in the papers a couple of weeks ago that TEPCO had run out of contaminated coolant water storage, and was proposing dumping a load in the ocean. Never saw any follow-up (or even criticism) of that idea.

      Well, at least with all the heat on the Chinese, the zainichi Koreans can take a pause from getting blamed for *everything*.

    11. Gavin Says:

      Getting a job in a typical Japanese company as a foreigner is just the tip of the iceberg. Then, you got to try being taken seriously.

    12. Sara Says:

      Hi!

      Japan has a similar economical and population crisis situation like Europe, also, global population is older everyday, (on Youtube you can find so many documentaries about this matter) and my question is what type of solutions will make goverments (not only Japan, all countries) about this.

      About Star Trek translator technology, it seems it’s done, you can read here http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21569014-simultaneous-translation-computer-getting-closer-conquering-babel and the other hand, so many times I use Google translate, and its translations are literaly translated, it doesn’t translate the real sense of the text, I hope the “startreky” translator will be better, and also, I think beyond 2050 the humans, we will use new technologies that it will change our lives, you can see an example: Youtube the future according to Microsoft http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=di9gDL9kHNE.

    13. Bayfield Says:

      “Well, at least with all the heat on the Chinese, the zainichi Koreans can take a pause from getting blamed for *everything*.”

      Just a little update, Unfortunately for today, it looks like anti-Korean sentiments are suddenly making a comeback:

      http://www.japantoday.com/category/picture-of-the-day/view/a-message-for-north-korea

      http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/japan-s-korea-to-seek-tougher-sanctions-against-n-korea

      Do not be fooled by the second article though, Japan could care less about differentiating between the two Koreas, especially not with Abe who aims to “take back Japan”.

      Abe, saying: “We need a strong resolution. South Korea and Japan need to cooperate”

      Of course Abe would use.. er I mean cooperate, until the next time Dokdo island is mentioned of course, along with his Comfort Women issues and Yasakuni visits.

      Japan’s hatred of Chinese and Koreans is so deeply imbedded into Japan’s culture that even if tensions where to simmer, it wouldn’t take much to re-ignite tensions to dangerously high levels like what is happening in the Senkakus.

      While I find both CCP and DPRK detestable regimes, I don’t like how the political issue is turning into an issue race and eugenics in Japan. Very often then not the Japanese resort to taking their anger on Chinese and Koreans who want nothing to do with politics.

      Judging from the comments on those articles, it is also very sad. Seems like both the apologists and the Japanese are simply internet-rioting against whoever J-Media tells them to for that day. They don’t stop to think, just bash their “nemesis-of-the-day” right off the bat after skimming through the news.

      Also a day or two before the return of anti-Korean sentiments, there was also this:
      http://www.japantoday.com/category/picture-of-the-day/view/we-protest

      Looks like Abe is trying to stress the Japanese fears to a breaking point so that he would have no problem discarding Article 9, along with full scale militarization and bringing back the draft which many of the LDP members are trying to do. Better yet, (i don’t remember if Japan has this but), use the tensions as an excuse to give the GOJ the permission to use “emergency powers” that would give the PM absolute power.

    14. Jim di Griz Says:

      @ Bayfield #13

      Abe wants to change art. 96 of the constitution. That will give him the power to make any other changes anytime he wants. Emergency powers not needed.

    15. Mike Says:

      “Japan runs an amazing PR campaign, you have to give them credit for that at least”

      manipulation & control: these 2 words summarize Japan for me.

    16. Bayfield Says:

      “Abe wants to change art. 96 of the constitution. That will give him the power to make any other changes anytime he wants. Emergency powers not needed.”

      Oh yeah, now I remember, it was article 96. From what I read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_japan, amendments require 2/3 of house support. Unfortunately, the LDP and JRP practically being the only ones in power pretty much eliminates the 2/3 support requirement.

      Just a little update for some of you guys here:
      http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/japan-has-right-to-develop-pre-emptive-strike-capability-defense-chief

      Even though a domestic crisis is imminent:
      http://www.japantoday.com/category/business/view/stocks-close-1-04-lower
      http://www.japantoday.com/category/business/view/japans-recession-hit-economy-shrinks-again
      http://www.japantoday.com/category/business/view/boj-chief-denies-currency-manipulation

      So much drama on those Senkakus, filled with messages of armageddon. The LDP is practically writing a Hollywood script out of it. At least its what it seems like they are doing, over-dramatization of NJ crisis, making every report like right out of a movie.

      And yet…. The latter news about internal problems seems to be met with “dai-jo-bo” and “sho-ga-nai” reactions. Even though the latter posts I made are much more serious problems in Japan. Funny how so few people comment and read the actual problems Japan is having, often brushed off as secondary news of secondary importance on the back page somewhere if you can find it.

      I guess the more serious problems are not as “exciting” as those “evil-NJ” stories the LDP and NHK are broadcasting.

      Also I notice on JapanToday, articles demonizing NJ often stay up for days with people fighting flame wars, often with apologists and Japanese arguing on race and eugenics with random people who disagree with them. The pages about Japan’s actual problems ranging from domestic economy to jobs to society, etc etc, disappear really fast.

      But still with this here and I post again:
      http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/japan-has-right-to-develop-pre-emptive-strike-capability-defense-chief

      It is concerning in a way, because it can also be interpreted as Japan wanting the legal right to pre-emptive strike. Similar to how the Bush started the Gulf war in 2003. Knowing Japanese etiquette is about being vague, that article can be interpreted in more than one way, ranging from upgrading weapons for defense all the way to full militarization and the legal right of pre-emptive strike for the sake of “self-defense”.

      JapanToday articles don’t stay up for long, hopefully someone archives them somewhere.

    17. Markus Says:

      @Welp (#7) “Japan runs an amazing PR campaign, you have to give them credit for that at least”
      As for the PR campaign in the country, targeting Japanese citizens, then I’m okay with the “amazing” moniker. Only North Korea has a similar control over the populace’s opinions and knowledge about the outside world. Japan shows that eliminating critical thought in a society can be done and does work as expected – it’s tantamount to brainwashing. Scary stuff for us poor NJ who came to live here despite the warning signs.
      But, if you mean that Japan runs an amazing PR campaign to create a false image in the world, I don’t see it. We (Western people) only have ourselves to blame for ignoring the reality. What little Japan does (“Yokosou Japan”, “Cool Japan”) seems to only be able to impress adolescent Manga fans, and the extremely bad English and stereotypical spelling errors often found in these government-run campaigns is as embarrassing as telling.

      There is no excuse for the West to be oblivious to the bleak reality of modern Japan – the totalitarian nature of the media (Kisha clubs etc.), the acceptance of racism and xenophobia, the upholding of weird pseudo-science like “blood type links to character” and eugenics, and of course the denial of the extent of atrocities committed in the ex-colonies and during wars.

      Here is a great example for “quality journalism”, represented by the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi showing complete ignorance about modern Japan, and what’s worse to me, unwillingness to question their own beliefs about the country. An interview with Michael Woodford about the Olympus scandal. It’s about 24 minutes long and worth watching in its entirety, but really picks up around the 10:20 mark where Badawi starts to defend her false image of Japan, going so far as to try to paint Woodford as Anti-Japanese.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiCdp0yY-6k

      Most interesting bits are at 10:20 / 15:55 / 18:30 minutes in (but watch the whole thing if you can).

    18. WanderingDave Says:

      This long-time lurker is going to be play lawnchair sociologist for a minute. Do with this what you will.

      Seems kind of banal and cliche to point this out, but I think it bears reminding here that face is pretty important to the Japanese, both individually and collectively. Of course Japanese people from all walks of life are going to try and present the best possible image of their country abroad, no matter what this takes. Of course Japanese people are going to chafe at stories in foreign presses that paint an unflattering picture of their country. Selling NJ people on a positive image of the country and recruiting THEM to save face for Japan, especially people who are vocal and outspoken in the media, is a great strategy for this. Keeping NJ from any situation where they might see the society’s less glamorous sides (the cleanup in Fukushima, mizoshoubai, etc.) is all about grasping at straws to save national face. It’s as much practical and strategic as it is a matter of principle: a skilled poker player keeps a keen eye out for his opponents’ thinly veiled weaknesses, and takes great pains to show none of his own.

      If Westerners take Japanese face-saving statements as literally true at face value, then we may be liked, because we’re playing along and allow the Japanese to save face, but we’re not respected, because in their eyes we’re people-stupid and exploitable. If we call their face-saving gestures out as lies and hypocrisy, then we’re not liked, because we’re not playing along, and breaking their faces. I haven’t tested this, but I’m guessing the best strategy a Westerner could take toward any kind of face-saving words or gestures from a Japanese would be to pretend superficially to understand and accept it, but then behind the scenes act on what they know to be the truth, without any fanfare or announcement. No matter how much the Japanese person or group felt frustrated for not getting their way in such a situation, I think they’d have a lot of respect for the NJ for being both people-smart and willing to let them, their group, and their country, save face. I just don’t think this is something that comes automatically to most people raised in the West, though. Our idea of “purity” has more to do with integrity (which this strategy violates), instead of harmony and loyalty.

      If somebody from outside the US makes a negative comment about the US, I as an American don’t take it personally. But then again, face is lower down the rank of values for most Americans than it is for most of the peoples of East Asia.

      I’m making descriptive statements here, not normative ones. I’m talking “is”, not “ought”. I’m not saying that Japanese SHOULD value face less and integrity more, or conversely that Westerners SHOULD do the reverse. I do not live in Japan, and my interest these days in Japan is largely academic in a very specific way (I am training to be a geriatic physician). But all I’ll say is this: I personally would not live in Japan and aim for regular meaningful interaction with the locals unless I could bring myself to play their social game their way, my values, principles, and cultural mindset be damned. Could I bring myself to do this (for a research project in gerontology or elder care, for example)? I haven’t decided. It’s no easy choice to make, and when I see the trash-TV-worthy flamewars on websites like Japan Times, the old saying “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” comes to mind.

    19. Bruno Says:

      @WanderingDave #18

      In my humble dumb opinion, it is this habit of “saving face” that makes Japanese so conflicted regarding NJ, and that makes NJ feel so discriminated against and out of place in this society.

      Speaking from personal experience (again), Japanese in general like NJ when they’re dumb and cooperative. All efforts of NJ to integrate, learn the language, history and customs are generally discouraged or frowned upon. Many times I have tried to learn more advanced Japanese or get into some issues in Japanese society and was told it was “none of my concern”, and “there’s no need for you to learn this”. All evidence showing that NJ are capable of understanding the language or the societal issues is met with “iwakan” and distrust.

      That creates the conflicted opinion of “we don’t want them here, but we don’t want them to leave either”. You are welcome for a couple of years, but once you know too much, it’s dangerous to let you go and possibly ruin the image Japan has. You basically get discouraged from leaving, but get no incentives whatsoever to stay.

    20. Bayfield Says:

      “That creates the conflicted opinion of “we don’t want them here, but we don’t want them to leave either”…….You basically get discouraged from leaving, but get no incentives whatsoever to stay.”

      I think this is more the case of some NJ not wanting to leave Japan because their home countries makes unwanted memories return. Japan to some people is viewed as a gateway to a new life and throwing their unwanted past behind. Especially for apologist NJ, going to Japan is metaphorically similar to the idea of being reincarnated from their perspective. So to be fair, the Japanese pulling NJ back is only part of why certain NJ are stuck in Japan.

      Apologists, I think are more than just the “grass is greener on the other side” type. They have this whole psychological issue with their home they want to get away from not matter what the cost. I even recall an apologist who would be willing to leave his lucrative job in the states and move to Japan even if it means working as a store clerk if he could.

      Sometimes I really don’t like how Japan attracts so many “disturbed” people, especially those youtube videos of apologists claiming to be a “reborn-Japanese”.

    21. Fight Back Says:

      I refuse to do ‘service overtime’ at my company. I made it clear that I would be going home at the regular time no matter what. Despite some initial grumbling, it actually and sadly was not such a big problem as they were able to have ‘Japanese only’ style meetings without having to lose face by trying to exclude me.

      I’m sure I do more work than they do averaged over actual hours spent in the office.

    22. Bruno Says:

      @Bayfield #20

      “I think this is more the case of some NJ not wanting to leave Japan because their home countries makes unwanted memories return”.

      While this certainly applies to some NJ, it surely is not the case for all of them. Not all people immigrating (or visiting for an extended time, such as it might be seem) to Japan are apologists or japanophiles. Some immigrate in search of a better life, better opportunities and better education, which also happens in most developed countries. Japan is simply different from Western countries and “unique” enough that people willing to move their lives there would have to be really determined or have a couple of screws loose or missing altogether (my case, don’t stone me for that one). I could say the same for China and Korea, but given how ubiquitous and revered Japanese (pop) culture is in some circles it is hardly surprising that it manages to attract so many apologists to its shores (guilty of that one as well).

      The component of “inertia” is also present in most cases because let’s face it, uprooting your whole life and taking it to another country (even your native one) requires an amount of determination, effort and finances that most people simply cannot gather, especially if their situation in Japan is not what one would call desirable.

      My main point here is the apparent cultural habit of “wanting you to leave, but not really”. Judging from my experience and that of some close friends in a similar situation, people in Japan usually corner you and cut you off, being in no way confrontational but making your situation as unbearable as possible without directly causing you any harm. These vary from subtle hints, shunning, and in professional or academic settings, even what could be considered outright sabotage. I would even go as far as stating that in Japan no one is ever “fired”. You are simply forced to leave out of your own volition.

      In my own case, when presenting the possibility of me leaving Japan to my superiors I was told that leaving Japan and my position would effectively mean that no one in that field in Japan would ever work with me again, and that all work and progress I had made in Japan in the years up to that moment would be thrown away and forgotten. I was basically told to choose between my life in Japan and my life outside it.

      If NJ are faced with that kind of choice when they think about leaving, I don’t find it strange many decide to stay.

    23. WanderingDave Says:

      Bruno, I don’t think you have to be dumb and cooperative, but you do have to play along for appearances’ sake, 99% of the time. That’s just a rule of the social game in Japan. I think behind the scenes you can have objections in your mind, and have this influence what actual actions you take. But you just do, you don’t talk or show. But you have to play it off cool to everybody’s face, no matter what. If I were to make a guess, I bet most of that minority of NJ who attain and maintain full membership in a Japanese in-group or two have somehow mastered nemawashi and other very subtle and understated (even sometimes manipulative) Japanese arts of interpersonal persuasion. I’ll also bet they’ve always given face to any people they’ve interacted with in Japan.

      But Bruno, I do agree with you that we’ve hit the core of “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. I’ve also found with Chinese and Indian people that the relative importance of looking good has been an obstacle to deep and meaningful human interaction. Not an insurmountable one by any means. But a formidable one.

    24. Bruno Says:

      @WanderingDave #23

      “I bet most of that minority of NJ who attain and maintain full membership in a Japanese in-group or two have somehow mastered nemawashi and other very subtle and understated (even sometimes manipulative) Japanese arts of interpersonal persuasion. I’ll also bet they’ve always given face to any people they’ve interacted with in Japan.”

      I really, really wish it was just that simple: “Do what they do and you’ll be fine”.
      Unfortunately as NJ you will always be at a disadvantage in any social interaction, especially in those in which something compels you to speak up. We all live according to the rules of a non-verbal, unacknowledged contract, and every time we slip up (which can be as grave as a social faux pas, or as innocuous as simply disagreeing with someone) all that work in “giving face” and “playing along” falls like a house of cards and it’s “shosen wa gaijin da” and it’s all the way down to step one with you. I think Dan Edward Venz has more expertly described that situation here: http://www.oocities.org/dreamacademyjapan/GaijinInJapanChapter1.html

      Personally, I don’t think that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”is true and that nothing can be done about it. As I see it, key words in solving this situation are “tolerance” and “flexibility”. As long as the Japanese are unwilling to concede some middle ground and be more flexible as to what they expect of NJ, I believe this problem will go on forever.

    25. WanderingDave Says:

      Bruno, it’s not simple at all. I definitely didn’t mean to imply that.

    26. giantpanda Says:

      @Bruno – That piece by Dan Edward Venz is fascinating, especially his description of how long term NJ arrive at the stage of either challenging the society around them, or placating it, and engaging in “gaijin rejection”. I’ve observed so much of this, and been through it, myself, but he puts it into words quite brilliantly. His descriptions of how J society encourages assimilation (“if you study Japanese, you can understand so much more!” “if you speak good Japanese, you will be involved much more closely”), and then withdraws the promise and rejects those that actually achieve this, are also spot on.

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