Book Review: “At Home Abroad” by Adam Komisarof, a survey of assimilation/integration strategies into Japan (interviews include Keene, Richie, Kahl, Pakkun, and Arudou)

Books etc. by ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
“LIKE” US on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/debitoorg
http://www.facebook.com/handbookimmigrants

BOOK REVIEW
At Home Abroad: The Contemporary Western Experience in Japan“, by Adam Komisarof. Reitaku University Press, 2012. 251 pages, ISBN: 978-4-892025-616-1

athomeabroadcover

(Publisher’s note:  On sale in Japan through Amazon Japan, in North America through Kinokuniya USA)
Review exclusive to Debito.org, January 20, 2013
By ARUDOU DEBITO (updated version with errata corrected and Robin Sakamoto’s photo added)

At Home Abroad” is an important, ambitious academic work that offers a survey, both from academics in the field and from people with expertise on living in Japan, of theories on how people can assimilate into foreign culture both on their own terms and through acquisition of local knowledge. Dr. Komisarof, a professor at Reitaku University with a doctorate in public administration from International Christian University in Tokyo, has published extensively in this field before, his previous book being “On the Front Lines of Forging a Global Society: Japanese and American Coworkers in Japan” (Reitaku University Press 2011). However, this book can be read by both the lay reader as well as the academic in order to get some insights on how NJ can integrate and be integrated into Japan.

The book’s goal, according to its Preface, is to “address a pressing question: As the Japanese population dwindles and the number of foreign workers allowed in the country increases to compensate for the existing labor shortage, how can we improve the acceptance of foreign people into Japanese society?” (p. 1) To answer this, Komisarof goes beyond academic theory and devotes two-thirds of the book to fieldwork interviews of eleven people, each with extensive Japan experience and influence, who can offer insights on how Westerners perceive and have been perceived in Japan.

The interviewees are Japan literary scholar Donald Keene, Japan TV comedian Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan, columnist about life in rural Japan Karen Hill Anton, university professor Robin Sakamoto, activist and author Arudou Debito, Japan TV personality Daniel Kahl, corporate managing director of a Tokyo IT company Michael Bondy, Dean of Waseda’s School of International Liberal Studies Paul Snowden, Tokyo University professor and clinical psychologist Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, politico and business executive Glen Fukushima, Keio University professor Tomoko Yoshida, and Japan scholar Donald Richie (photos below).

As Komisarof acknowledges in his section on caveats (pp. 11-2), these people have a “Western cultural heritage” (as nine are from the US) and are mostly Caucasian; he notes that he confines his analysis to “Westerners”, and does not “presume to address the experiences of Korean permanent residents of Japan or people from developing countries,” as “both deserve to have entire books written about their experiences, which are in many ways quantitatively different from non-Japanese who have moved here by their own volition from affluent nations” (ibid). To counter this, Komisarof taps into “other types of diversity among the interviewees in terms of ethnicity, profession, and gender” (ibid) (e.g., Anton is African-American, Murphy-Shigematsu and Fukushima are of Japanese descent, and Yoshida is a Japanese raised abroad; three — Sakamoto, Arudou, and Murphy-Shigematsu — were naturalized Japanese at the time of their interview).

Being self-aware of these caveats salvages the science, but the interviews (despite good questions from Komisarof) are uneven and do not always speak to the point. Donald Keene comes off as patrician and supercilious about his position in Japan (not to mention out of touch with the way that most NJ live in Japan) when he says: 

There is still a hard core of resistance to Japanese culture among foreigners living in, say, Minato-ku. […] All of their friends are non-Japanese — with the exception of a few Japanese friends who speak English fluently. They live in houses that are completely Western in every detail. They read the English newspaper, The Japan Times, and they know who danced with whom the night before. They are still living in a colony. But I think that colony has grown smaller than ever before and has been penetrated by new people who want to learn about Japan. If you read about Yokohama in 1910, it would have been a very strange family that thought it was a good idea to let their son or daughter to go to a Japanese school and learn anything about Japan. They would never think in terms of living here indefinitely. They would think, “When we finish our exile here, we will go to a decent place.” (23)

donaldkeenenhk
Donald Keene, courtesy of NHK

No doubt, this may have been true in Yokohama back in 1910. But that is over a century ago and people thought even interracial marriage was very strange; nowadays it’s not, especially in Japan, and I doubt many NJ residents see Japan as a form of “exile”. Keene remains in character by depicting himself as a Lawrence of Arabia type escaping his colony brethren to get his hands dirty with the natives (somehow unlike all the other people interviewed for this book; I wonder if they all met at a party how Keene would reconcile them with his world view).

pakkunmakkun

Patrick Harlan also comes off as shallow in his interview, mentioning his Harvard credentials more than once (as wearers of the Crimson tend to), and claims that he is sacrificing his putative entertainer career income in America by “several decimal places” for “a good gig here”.  Despite his linguistic fluency to be a stand-up manzai comic, he makes claims in broad strokes such as “Ethnic jokes don’t even exist [in Japan]. People are treated with respect.” (36)  He also talks about using his White privilege in ways that benefit his career in comedy (such as it is; full disclosure: this author does not find Pakkun funny), but makes assertions that are not always insightful re the points of assimilation/integration that this book is trying to address. Clearly, Dave Spector would have been the better interview for this research (although interviewing him might be as difficult as interviewing Johnny Carson, as both have the tendency to deflect personal questions with jokes).

karenhillantonRobinSakamotopaulsnowdenglenfukushima
(L-R) Karen Hill Anton, courtesy of her Linkedin Page; Robin Sakamoto, courtesy of Robin Sakamoto; Paul Snowden, courtesy of the Yomiuri Shinbun;Glen Fukushima, courtesy of discovernikkei.org.

Other interviews are more revealing about the interviewee than about the questions being broached by the book.  Both Karen Hill Anton and Robin Sakamoto, despite some good advice about life in Japan, come off as rather isolated in their rural hamlets, as does a very diplomatic Paul Snowden rather ensconced in his Ivory Tower. Glen Fukushima, although very politically articulate, and highly knowledgable about code-switching communication strategies to his advantage in negotiations, also sounds overly self-serving and self-promoting.

Daniel Kahl’s interview is the worst of the book, as it combines a degree of overgeneralizing shallowness with an acidulous nastiness towards fellow NJ.  For example:

I can read a newspaper and my [TV] scripts… I know about 2000 kanji, so I’m totally functional, and I think that’s a prerequisite for being accepted.  I hate to say it, but there are a lot of foreigners who complain, “I’m not accepted in society!”  That’s because you can’t read the sign that explains how to put out your garbage.  And people get mad at you for mixing cans with bottles.  Simple as it may seem, those are the little things that get the neighbors angry. (206)

danielkahljapanprobe
Poster of Daniel Kahl courtesy of Ministry of Justice Bureau of Human Rights, caption courtesy of Japan Probe back in the day.

Especially when Kahl says:

I think that a foreigner who comes here and makes the effort can definitely be accepted. If you feel that you are not, then you’ve already got a chip on yours shoulder to begin with. […] For example, do you remember the incident in Hokkaido when the Japanese public bath owners had a “No Foreigners” sign up in front of their buildings? I guess two or three foreign folks got really upset about that, and they sued the place. Why would you sue them? Why don’t you go talk to those people? Tell the, “Look, I’m a foreigner. But I’m not going to tear your place up. Could you take down that sign?” Then the Japanese might have explained that they weren’t doing it to keep out all foreigners, but to keep out the drunk Russian sailors who were causing all the trouble in the first place. I don’t know all of the details, but these foreigners thought that they were making a political and legal statement. It could have been made very effectively, though, without embarrassing that city or the public bath owners. The foreigners were trying to change the law, but it was a pretty confrontational way to do so. I can almost guarantee that those foreigners are going to have a hard time being accepted by the Japanese in general. (100)

 

Kahl is exactly right when he says, “I don’t know all of the details,” since just about everything else he says above about the Otaru Onsens Case is incorrect. For example, it was more than “two or three foreign folk” getting upset (Japanese were also being refused entry, and there was a huge groundswell of support from the local community); one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit mentioned is not foreign. Moreover, as Arudou mentions in his interview, they did “go talk to those people”: they spent more than fifteen months talking one-on-one with all parties to this dispute, until there was no other option but to go to court (which millions of Japanese themselves do every year).  Moreover, at least one of the plaintiffs, Dr. Olaf Karthaus, is very well assimilated into his community, having graduated two children (with a third in junior high) through Japan’s secondary schooling, becoming Director at the Department of Bio- and Material Photonics at the Chitose Institute of Science and Technology, and participating daily in his Sapporo church groups.  In any case, Kahl’s lack of research is inexcusable, since he could have easily read up by now on this case he cites as a cautionary tale:  There are whole books written in English, Japanese, or even free online in two languages as an exhaustive archive available for over a decade as a cure for the ignorant. There’s even, as of 2013, an updated Tenth Anniversary Edition eBook downloadable for Amazon Kindle and Barnes&Noble NOOK, moreover for a very reasonable price of $9.99 or yen equivalent.  One can safely conclude that Kahl chooses to be ignorant in order to preserve his world view.

michaelbondytomokoyoshidastephenmurphyshigematsu
(L-R) Michael Bondy courtesy of his Linkedin Page; Tomoko Yoshida courtesy of Keio University; Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu courtesy of Stanford University.

The best interviews come from Bondy (who offers much practical advice about getting along in a Japanese-hybrid workplace), Yoshida and Murphy-Shigematsu (both of whom have some academic rigor behind their views of the world, and express their measured views with balance, deep thought and intuition). But the best of the best comes last with Donald Richie, who shows that old people do not necessarily become as curmudgeonly as Keene. Just selecting one nugget of insight from his excellent interview:

If I could take away the things that I don’t like about Japan, then it wouldn’t be Japan anymore. So I’ve always made an attempt to swallow Japan whole — not to discriminate so much between what I like or don’t. This is not as important as, “Does this work or not?” or “Does this serve a wider purpose or not?” These are more important questions than whether I like them or not. I’ve never paid too much attention to what I don’t like and conversely what I do like about Japan. […] But what I do like is the sense of interconnectiveness. […] When workmen used to try to make a wall and a tree would get in the way, they would make a hole in the wall to accommodate the tree instead of the other way around. This used to be seen on a regular basis. Alas, it is no more. A lot of the things which I like about Japan have disappeared. If this symbiotic relationship was ever here, it is not here anymore. The Japanese have down terrible things physically to their country. That would be something which I do not like about Japan. But if I dice it into likes and dislikes, and I have difficulty doing that, there wmust be a better way to see differences. Indeed, in my wriitng, I try not to rely on like and dislike dichotomies. I rely more on what works and doesn’t work. (172)

donaldrichie
Donald Richie still courtesy of his film anthology

That said, Richie does careen into Keene territory when he carelessly compares NJ in Japan with autistic children in a kindergarten:

If an autistic child goes to a kindergarten, he becomes a legal member of that class, but he’s still an autistic child.  So he has double citizenship.  That is very much me — like any foreigner here.  He is put in a special class for autism, but at the same time,  he is given all of the honors and securities of belonging to this particular class.  He gets a double dose.  And if he is smart, then he recognizes this. (224)

This is not a good comparison, as it likens extranationality to a mental handicap.  And it also ignores the racialized issues of how somebody “looks” in Japan (as in “looks foreign”) with how somebody is treated (as a “foreigner”), when autism is not a matter of physical appearance.  It also assumes that people can never recover from or overcome a birth-based “autism of national origin” (this author’s paraphrase), becoming acculturated enough to “become a Japanese” (whereas autism is, as far as I know, a lifelong handicap).  This clearly obviates many of the acculturation strategies this book seeks to promote.  Richie may stand by this comparison as his own personal opinion, of course, but this author will not, as it buys into to the notion of surrendering to a racialized class (in both senses of the word) system as being “smart”.

In the last third of the book, Kamisarof takes these interviews and incorporates them into the following questions, answered with balanced input from all participants:

  1. When do Westerners feel most comfortable with Japanese people?
  2. How does Westerners’ treatment in Japan compare to that of immigrants and long-term sojourners in their home countries?
  3. Is there discrimination against Westerners in Japan?
  4. How does discrimination in Japan compare to that in Western countries?
  5. Is it right to play the Gaijin Card?
  6. Are Westerners accepted more by Japanese people if they naturalize to Japan?
  7. Can Westerners be accepted in Japan, and if so, what do they need to do to belong?
  8. Can popular public ideas about who belongs in Japanese society move beyond nationality?
  9. How are Japanese perceptions of Westerners changing?

After this remix of and focus upon individual strategies, Komisarof devotes his final chapter to bringing in academic discussions about general “acculturation strategies”, based upon attitudes and behaviors (both on the part of the immigrant and the native), putting them into a classic four-category strategy rubric of “Integration” (i.e., the “multicultural salad”), “Assimilation” (i.e., the “melting pot”), “Separation” (i.e., segregation into non-mixing self-maintaining communities), and “Marginalization” (i.e., segregation from mainstream society with self-maintenance of the non-mainstream community discouraged). In an attempt to choose the “best” acculturation strategy, Korisamof then builds upon this rubric into a sixteen-category “Interactive Acculturation Model” that may lose most non-academic readers. He concludes, sensibly:

“Merely increasing the non-native population in Japan without improving acculturation strategy fits is insufficient and may cause further problems. Instead, it is critical that a sense of BELONGING and PARTICIPATION, rather than mere coexistence, be shared between Japanese and the foreign-born residents in their midst… ” (237, emphases in original). “The underlying message of this book for all nations wrestling with unprecedented domestic diversity is that the inclusion of everyone is essential, but only through mutual efforts of the cultural majority and minorities can such inclusion become a reality. Creating living spaces where people can feel a sense of belonging and share in the benefits of group membership is an urgent ned worldwide, and it is happening, slowly, but surely, here in Japan. (239)

This has been a perpetual blind spot in GOJ policy hearings on “co-existence” (kyousei) with “foreigners”, and this book needs a translation into Japanese for the mandarins’ edification.

If one could point to a major flaw in the book, it would not be with the methodology.  It would be with the fieldwork:  As mentioned above, the interviews do not ask systematically the same questions to each interviewee, and thus the answers do not always speak to the questions about assimilation strategies Komisarof later asks and answers.  For example, Arudou’s typically rabble-rousing interview style offers little insight into how he personally deals with the daily challenges of life in Japan.  (For the record, that information can be found here.)  As is quite typical for people in Japan being asked what Japan is all about and how they “like” it, the interviewees answer in individually-suited ways that show myopic views of Japan, redolent of the fable about the Blind Men and the Elephant.  Not one of the respondents (except for, in places, Arudou) talks about the necessity for a sense of community building within NJ groups themselves, i.e., unionizing, creating anti-discrimination or anti-defamation leagues, or fostering the organizational trappings of the cultural self-maintenance that may be essential or is taken as a given within other non-Westerner transplant communities (although disputed by Ishi, 2008).  Instead, all we hear about (due to the lines of questioning within the fieldwork) are how atomistic people create their own psychological armor for “dealing with Japan”.

Another important issue remains fundamentally unaddressed by Komisarof:  How one must assume “good faith” and “reciprocity” on the part of Japanese society bringing in NJ to work, and how these assimilation strategies being offered must one day bear fruit (as the interviewee proponents claim they will.  Harlan:  “True acceptance comes when you are contributing to society as fully as anyone else.” (200)).  But what if your full contributions to Japan are not being fully recognized, with long-term friendships, promotions, equal access to social welfare, and even senpai status over Japanese?  As the links to each of these topics attest, this is not always the case.  Under Komisarof’s assimilation strategies, what do you do then?  Give, give, and give for many years and then just hope society gives something back?  What guarantees should there be for reciprocity?  There is only so much a mentally-healthy individual can contribute, sacrifice, and offer to “assimilate” and “integrate” into a society before feeling used and used up.

That said, if you want an insightful, thoughtful book that will introduce you to the global academic debate on transnational migration, assimilation, and integration, moreover tailored to the peculiar milieu of Japan, Komisarof’s “At Home Abroad” is it.

=============================

SOURCE:  Ishi, Angelo Akimitsu (2008), in David Blake Willis and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Eds., “Transcultural Japan:  At the borderlands of race, gender, and identity.”  New York:  Routledge, pp. 122-5.

Copyright ARUDOU Debito 2013.  All rights reserved.

82 comments on “Book Review: “At Home Abroad” by Adam Komisarof, a survey of assimilation/integration strategies into Japan (interviews include Keene, Richie, Kahl, Pakkun, and Arudou)

Comment navigation

  • Hi Debito, about you said:

    “– We’re getting off track. If we want to expand on this thread further, please keep relating it back to the topic of this blog entry: assimilation/integration strategies.”

    I want to give you my apologies, you are right I was off topic, and also I want to tell you this is a good post for me, for to understand better japanese culture.

    Thanks for sharing all this interesting information.

  • Baudrillard says:

    I have been off sick too; its a great way to get an outside perspective on life, work, Japan, etc.

    That picture of Daniel Kahl strikes me as ridiculous; a kind of WW2 Aryan “ideal Japanese gaijin” pose, in a Yukata. The postmodern image of a “good gaijin”, which, in actual fact, also amuses Japanese people, even enlightened well educated ones, like my ex who would doubtless have smiled. Others would just laugh. At him, not with him.

    Henna gaijin desu ne….nani sore ano happa?

    Have you seen his (self written?) wikipedia page? “He also helped in combatting the spread of false information regarding the spread of radiation in Fukushima after the nuclear accident there.[1]”

    Oh, yes of course. There WAS no radiation leak in Fukushima. It was all the media (or was it?)

    Now THATS postmodern…..Or just plain old, propaganda. Does the Ministry of Truth pay him, or does he actually do this stuff for free?

  • Baudrillard says:

    Sorry to go on about Daniel, but he is funny in a very postmodern way:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Kahl
    1. his wikipedia page has but ONE source link
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Gki5OvKB1o

    youtube. Now thats not what I call a venerated source a la The Times (or even the JT) but anyway

    2. he really has created a Japanese character for himself, hasnt he? He has all the ojisan mannerisms down to a pat,the self affacement, I want to either award him an Oscar or throw up.

    3. So for Daniel, speaking Japanese means buying into self perceived cliches of cultural behavioir too? Thus the Fukushima denial because that is what an old Japanese person would think (he thinks?)???

    Japan as brand, a commodity fetish to buy into to create a new identity for oneself. Marx, Debord, all vindicated.

    I pity him actually. What happened to him in his previous life that he wanted to ditch his prior identity? It must have hurtful.

    Unlike the masterful, idividualistic, charming and natural Peter Barakan (who appears alongside him on another clip on youtube, you can see it on the right) WHY CAN’T DANIEL KAHL JUST BE HIMSELF WHEN SPEAKING JAPANESE?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqDosNLZAdM

    — Well, the source link is a YouTube of a NHK broadcast, so it counts as a Wikipedia-able source. I found the NHK broadcast enlightening on a number of levels, not just how Kahl wants himself perceived, but also how NHK wants Japan perceived through Kahl’s grandstanding.

  • Bitter Valley says:

    I can’t get a handle on this properly, but I wonder what NHK’s policy is on subtitling.

    Kahl seems to be acting. That can’t really be him. He’s turned himself into a comic
    book stereotype.

    But I notice the subtitling.

    I know NHK typically have foreigners speaking Japanese subtitled. At least it’s not in Katakana!
    That would be the ultimate insult to Kahl, with NHK in effect saying “We know you tried so hard, but you
    are not of the Yamato Race, sorry Daniel-san!”

    But I also wondered if subtitling is not also another type of othering.

    Does anyone know NHK’s policy on subtitling? They really are a desperately awful organization
    that seems to be run out of Jiminto.

    Why some people interviewed are and some aren’t.
    Is it based on a producer’s perception that the person might be difficult to understand by some.
    Or is it sometimes just a question of time or budget?

  • That second video clip just reminded me (yet again) of why I got out of Japan. Barakan tones it down a bit I suppose, and I’ll take posters’ words for it on his integrity, but really: The best source for international news is the Herald Tribune??? Have they not heard of (for example) Al Jazeera? Learn English by listening to pop lyrics??? Oh, that’s how the interviewer learned the language, so that explains all the penetrating questions she asked the two of them.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Marcus, #47 (and those who are interested in talking about Japanese uniqueness)

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that Japan has unique cultural characteristics–at least on the surface. They have three forms of characters for communication: worship ancestors: embrace old tradition and sustain it for centuries: preserve variations of dialects (i.e., osaka, tohoku, kyu-shu, etc.) which I sometimes have trouble understanding; and establish western-style bureaucracy going down from central government to prefecture, city and ward level. When it comes to the political culture or the state of democracy, however, I don’t see any more uniqueness within Japan that makes itself different from other democratic society. The reason? They basically choose to follow the western model of democracy since Day 1. Their nation-state itself is a (re-)production of democratic model designed by western-leaders in SCAP. They followed the west —primarily the US during the Cold War period, and witnessed conflicts, antagonism, and variety of social movements—i.e., anti-US-Japan Peace and National Security Treaty, Minamata-disease in the 60s and 70s. They developed crony capitalism under the government and Bank of Japan during the Bubble Era and the 90s to the detriment of common interests for the general public. People call the 90s ‘the Lost Decade’—because it has enticed Japan into the state of anomie as Japanese public witnessed the sequence of national incidents creating the image of violence and shock value. And we are seeing rapid changes within Japanese society—hyper-consumption of public culture, aging society, population decrease, state/local division, disengaging society, etc. Still seeing people who say “these things are negligible because our society is unique”? Well, just leave them there in fantasy. It is nation’s choice to follow the world trend that has brought this kind of mess within its distinctive society, rendering people in a chronic cultural paralysis.

    One thing I find very unique about Japan is within its national history. It is always Japanese government who was given a sole custody of national control—rather than citizens since the Meiji Era. I don’t know where I can see the moment Japanese citizens were described as romantic heroes in any part of history, I mean within national narratives (anyone?). If there’s a difference from the US and Europe, I think that’s it. There’s not much opportunity given to ordinary citizens to lead the nation—even so, it only lasted temporarily. I think that gives Japanese people an assumption that they don’t usually speak out in dissent; or protest in anger to confront the state—unless there’s any grieving circumstance for a catastrophic loss or a sense of crisis.

  • I think Daniel could use some deprogramming himself 🙂 I was here during the Tsunami/TEPCO disaster and witnessed first hand the media in Japan manipulating data. Do you remember the media telling us to wash the vegetables and the radiation would be removed? Those were scary days. He surely doest represent for me. The world needs to know what really goes on here, and less of the Daniels. There are many Japanese who treat Dan as they do me and other gaijin; they would rather us not be here and I would like to see his reaction to this instead of all this “Nihon Daisuki” crap. I suspect he lives in some sort of sheltered bubble to offset the ridicule he gets here in Japan

  • @ Jim Di Griz #43

    Thanks for the recommended reading, I should have it soon.

    Yours is an interesting take. My educators never shied away from the foreign influences, but didn’t think it so controversial that something foreign could naturalize, much as people do. I’ve never met anyone that would claim any Gendai Budo to be a centuries old tradition; more than anything, they seem to take pride in their modernity. I’ve only heard secondhand that in the 70s, Shorinji Kempo claimed it was the last true lineally related Shaolin art; apparently they produced some of the best fighters in the world then, and it was only when Wang Shu Chin was cajoled into dropping by that they got put in their place.

    If Ishihara et al are championing Gendai arts in a similar way, that’s awful but understandable; are all such claimants politicians? I’d be hard pressed to imagine that anyone bothered enough to train could compartmentalize such an ideology, but I guess anything’s possible.

  • @ 54 Bitter Valley:

    I’ve always wondered about the use of subtitles here. Firstly, I really hate the fact that variety shows use katakana when foreigners are speaking – this is plain annoying and belittling. How would people feel if a western show used subtitles with those typical Asian chop-suey fonts when a Japanese is attempting to speak English? Secondly, I don’t understand why NHK would be using subtitles when that guy (whose way of speaking I found over the top and more Japanese than the typical Japanese oyaji) speaks, whereas there were no subtitles for the woman. I’m not good at Japanese, but even I understood most of what he said. Why?

    One thing I have constantly noticed (especially on NHK) is that when there are Japanese and non-Japanese speaking to each other in English, many a times Japanese subtitles would appear when the Japanese is speaking and then the non-Japanese would have his or her voice dubbed into Japanese – it’s as if the Japanese are not interested in what the foreigners really have to say, or they don’t feel comfortable listening to foreign voices, or perhaps the producers want to show how well the Japanese can speak English. I personally don’t care – I just prefer consistency. I’ve seen this happen on Close up Gendai, the news and the programmes hosted by Michael Sandel. Sandel’s programme often features American, Japanese and Chinese students and I come away feeling that the producers want to tell us that they’re not interested in what Americans have to say, that Japanese can speak great English and that we mustn’t know the Chinese speak even better English.

    I really would be interested in what others think of this or whether anyone else has actually noticed this.

  • @Loverilakkuma (#56) I would agree with your description of Japanese-style democracy if I’d strictly look at what it is modelled after and how it likes to present itself. Or rather is being presented by the political class. That’s the map – but the territory couldn’t be more different.
    The Japanese system has some traits of a Western-style democracy, especially where those are easy to implement and low maintenance. The problem I see is that the ruling classes have constructed some kind of “Democracy theatre” to both meet the expectations of their allies and business partners, and the Japanese who are interested in politics and modern nationhood. Japan has elections, a parliament, freedom of speech (not really a free press, though), but the actual power is in the hands of the unelected bureaucrats, who in turn have well-researched ties and “business relations” with the underworld, lobbyists, and therefore all kinds of non-accounted motivations.
    It seems like the Japanese, at least the political class does think that democracy is “nice to have” for Japan, but only as long as the sailing is smooth. As soon as trouble arises, be it a economic crisis, a nuclear accident, or a diplomatic problem, democracy is put on hold and the old totalitarian ways are walked to find a decision. Nothing is accountable, public information can’t be trusted, and nobody seems to have a problem with it.
    For example, Look at how Abe treats the BOJ – an institute that would be completely independent in a true democracy. He factually put Taro Aso in place to “oversee” it.
    What Japan claims its political system to be, is wishful thinking at best. I tend to believe that the post-war constitution has always been an affront for the ruling classes such as Abe’s war criminal grandfather, Yoshio Kodama, and the other highly undemocratic and questionable people who built the LDP.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ John R #58

    Hi,
    The Hosbawm is hefty tome, and heavy to read also, but seminal on the issue of traditions. It deals with the invention of UK traditions (the Scottish tarten and kilt, the image of the British royalty, but also Soccer, and cricket in India). It lays out all of the conceptual framework for understanding what the functions and purposes are of traditions, and who has the power to create them and why. Having read that, the Vlastos book excellently examines several Japanese traditions (which, if you read bearing in mind the lessons of Hobsbawm, casts an entirely new light on things). Vlastos is very easy to read.

    I have to be honest, judo was a small part of my research, mainly to test out that my theories were not unique to kendo. I am certain that you have read much more than I about judo, and most likely budo in general. And I think that here is an important point. It is quite likely that you are more knowledgeable about judo than 90% of the Japanese public. Part of ‘nihonjinron giron’ is the idea that Japanese people are born with a better inherent understanding of Japanese culture than a Non-Japanese could ever have! As an example, when I was doing my research on Kendo, I was verbally attacked by a Tokyo University student who told me that I could never understand kendo the way he did, because I was not japanese. Whilst I only held first dan at that time, he admitted that he had never even tried kendo, but that didn’t detract from his belief! This is the same mentality that allows Ishihara (hereafter called ‘Blinky’) to insult Brazilian judoka by claiming that their judo lacks the correct spirit, even though he has no judo experience that we know of.

    That is to say, that Blinky, like most of the Japanese public, are unaware of how little they know about Japanese ‘traditions’. Do not underestimate their level of arrogance. It is quite plausible that Blinky holds the belief that the judo he saw at the Olympics is exactly the same ‘judo’ that samurai did in the Warring States period, and would accuse you of western imperialism if you tried to educate him.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @ Jim Di Griz, #62

    I just read the article. There’s no exaggeration in the tone of McCormack’s argument or his historical analysis. Abe showed us that he is far more militant than Koizumi, Aso or Hashimoto(Ryutaro) in his previous term. His militant and misogynistic characters are indeed the trait from his notorious grandfather–indicted war criminal Nobusuke Kishi. I think he portrays today’s China as nation’s utmost enemy–modern day Soviet-Union-, and created the rhetorical situation in the context of national crisis, in a similar way to John F. Kennedy in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis or the Star Wars-Evil Empire in Reagan’s era. It seems like he wants to create his own legacy to dedicate to his grand-daddy by setting up culture wars against his enemies in his Risk game board and playing it until he wins. I can hear his grand-daddy saying to him: “Oo! Shin bo-ya, yoku-yatta-na. erai-zo! yoshi-yoshi.”

    It’s a great shame that people have no power to elect a national leader based upon their will. I just don’t want to have Richard Nixon-like flawed leader in the office, again.

  • Interesting insight, #62 and #63, especially the article that is referred. The biggest irony of all this is that, the more Japan tries to antagonize, differentiate and distance itself from its neighbors, the more Japan becomes like them.

    Unfortunately many apologists don’t even flinch, especially those who live in Japan and eye-witnessing Japan’s rapid and blatantly obvious radicalization. One of the biggest concerns with Japan’s unopposed swing to the right is how much Japan will try to imitate its neighbors.

    My predictions is that (if all of article’s predictions come true) the LDP may, like China or North Korea, try to enforce by law that all citizens, visitors and residents must love Japan unconditionally. The GOJ will probably start banning media, any media like movies, music, games, etc. that may put Japan’s society in a critical light. Due to tensions with China, the GOJ may even ban all media that puts China in a positive light.

    If Abe and is cabinet really is as extreme as their grandfathers in Tojo’s regime, then there could be a possibility that people can be jailed/tried for treason for speaking up. This may sound far-fetched, but after seeing Debito’s previous articles where foreign home buyers are portrayed as “criminals”, “flyjin-borrowers” and “enemy invaders” and that the LDP is making a bill to “accommodate” this “threat”, Then, It would not be to far-fetched for lets say for the LDP to create a bill to arrest an activist or whistle-blower in Japan for “espionage” or “treason” or something along the lines and accuse them of undermining the integrity of the GOJ and “aiding the enemy”.

    I am really surprised that apologists have been able to put up with Japan’s radicalization up until now and barely flinching. In fact, judging from the tone of apologists from sites like japanprobe and japantoday, they seem to have evolved to or devolved to becoming radical as Ishihara and his Ukyou flunkies. Their love of Japan as a hobby seems to have manifested into fear and an absolute hate of Japan’s neighbors, which is kind of sad in a way. Until Japan radicalizes to the point of crushing protests with military, and hunting down dissidents with secret police (like what is happening in China), kicking NJ out and blacklisting them for speaking out. The apologists will remain the way they are.

    Hopefully Japan won’t radicalize this far and that Japanese should start speaking up while they still have the right to.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Bayfield #64

    ‘judging from the tone of apologists from sites like japanprobe and japantoday, they seem to have evolved to or devolved to becoming radical as Ishihara and his Ukyou flunkies. Their love of Japan as a hobby seems to have manifested into fear and an absolute hate of Japan’s neighbors, which is kind of sad in a way.’

    I think that most of the comments on those sites are made by anime loving, twelve year-old wannabe’s in the US (or such like), judging by the amount of anti-China hyper-ventilating that they do. Everything they know about Japan seems to come from the sites they comment on.

    ‘Hopefully Japan won’t radicalize this far and that Japanese should start speaking up while they still have the right to.’
    It would be nice if they did, but I don’t think that they will.

    Take this for an example;

    Sick-note wanted to introduce compulsory ‘patriotic education’ when he was PM the first time, seems he still hasn’t given up on the idea;
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/01/25/national/abe-brings-back-education-reform-panel-from-2006/#.UQK3AhwSGkM

    Teachers are against the proposed changes (side note, if McCormack can find the evidence of Sick-notes evil objectives, why can’t the J-media find it, and report it?), but parents are overwhelmingly in favor of the changes!
    http://www.japantoday.com/category/lifestyle/view/japan-considers-6-day-school-week-teachers-not-enthusiastic

    I would argue that Sick-notes plan is in progress. I would argue that one of two explanations for the support that he enjoys is possible;
    1. The Japanese public, thanks largely to the J-media, have no idea what his real objectives are, or…
    2. The Japanese public (such as those that care), are fully aware of what Sick-notes vision for Japan is, and they are in agreement (after all, they did elect him).

    We must take care to to assume that the average J-citizen values our concept of democracy as much as we do (after all, repeated surveys show that the Japanese public do not value human rights for foreigners the way we do). I would make the case that since Japan has never had true democracy, that arose from the struggle of the workers against exploitation by the rich, the understanding of what constitutes ‘democracy’ here is likely to amount to little more than a lifestyle accessory of katakana buzz words, and vaguely defined and understood images of the west.

    I strongly suspect that most Japanese would welcome a return to fascist rule with open arms (after all, put any o-yaji in a uniform with a flashing wand, and people will obey his word as if it was law), and rather than seeing it as a deterioration of social liberties (that they are reluctant to enjoy; day off sick, anyone?), would engage fully with any attempt to assist a ‘victim japan’ to ‘ganbare nippon!’ against the evil outside (Chinese) influences trying to ‘keep them down unfairly’. I truly doubt that many would stand up against it, and if they did, they wouldn’t get any coverage by the media (look at the anti-nuclear rallies in Tokyo).

    The Japanese have a cultural penchant for avoiding and deferring responsibility, and have done so many times in the past (for example, Ikeda’s income doubling scheme), so I have no doubt that in times of economic crisis, external threats (China/Algeria), and general gloominess about japans future, most of the J-public would quite happily welcome a government that said ‘Don’t worry about all of that, just leave it up to us, and do as we say’.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Jim Di Griz, #65

    “1. The Japanese public, thanks largely to the J-media, have no idea what his real objectives are, or…

    “2. The Japanese public (such as those that care), are fully aware of what Sick-notes vision for Japan is, and they are in agreement (after all, they did elect him).”

    Re 1: Yup, the J-media is typical corporate media creating manufacturing consent and hyper active cultural consumption to their audience. They may be lesser evil in some sense: not being as agressive as mainstream media in the US or UK hungry for government-granted corporate and cable monopoly. But their tactics to deflect the tensions away from the reality are just as nasty as big power-hungry media corporations elsewhere. Too bad we just can’t see Japanese version of PBS, BBC or Democracy Now! NHK is not up to them.

    Re 2: Yup. Like a whole picture in Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent”(1989). In 2006, Japanese people believed they elected Abe because he was calling for tough policy on North Korea, while they voted for his party–not himself. People claiming the power through the associations with political party–rather than the person s/he chose as a leader in the election. People who feel that they are participating in democracy through voting–rather than initiating the referendums, responding to the government decisions, calling for re-call of bad mayor/governor, etc. As described in Dr. Mercieca’s “Founding Fictions (2010)”, “tragic” and “ironic partisanships.” No heroes whatsoever. These are two majors characteristics Japanese citizenship has embraced from the past to present.

  • silver buckle says:

    @ Jim #65

    Hi Jim,

    I was wondering if you could answer a quick question regarding your comment about anime loving, twelve year-old wannabes. I’m a fan of anime myself and what I usually come away with from watching anime is that Japanese culture is definitely different from what is being discussed at this blog. How is it that Japanese society as a whole is so different from what its media portrays? There are stories of comradeship, camaraderie, accepting people for what they are, etc. I even saw an anime about building a country and relaxing long held traditions. At the very least, I would have expected a country’s media to be a small reflection of its society. I was under the impression that a country with that sort of entertainment wouldn’t be that obsessed with priding themselves up to the detriment of NJ.

    Byron

    — Just like Hollywood movies offer “a small reflection” of an America riddled with guns and vigilantes… Bit silly, this. Anyway, this is unrelated to the topic of this blog entry, but JDG made the statement, and Byron called him on it, so no more than a response or two on each side of this tangent.

  • @SilverBuckle, I have never read a Manga or watched Anime, so I have to take your descriptions at face value. I guess what is portrayed in them is “Tatemae” – wishful thinking about how they’d like the world and the Japanese to be, rather than describing reality. Like Alex Kerr wrote in Dogs & Demons, (not a direct citation): “In Japan, the ideal is more real than reality itself.”
    The Japanese don’t think they would ever be able to change their country for the better, so they create this abundance of surreal media where they are free to do whatever.

  • Baudrillard says:

    How is it that Japanese society as a whole is so different from what its media portrays?

    Because Japan is the ultimate, postmodern fake that believes its own propaganda and media myths (e.g. a democracy, overwhelmingly middle class, no homeless people despite there being a village of homeless in plain sight in cardboard boxes in Shinjuju station, but hey, the media didnt mention them).

  • Just on this point:

    “Teachers are against the proposed changes (side note, if McCormack can find the evidence of Sick-notes evil objectives, why can’t the J-media find it, and report it?), but parents are overwhelmingly in favor of the changes!….

    I would argue that Sick-notes plan is in progress. I would argue that one of two explanations for the support that he enjoys is possible;
    1. The Japanese public, thanks largely to the J-media, have no idea what his real objectives are, or…
    2. The Japanese public (such as those that care), are fully aware of what Sick-notes vision for Japan is, and they are in agreement (after all, they did elect him)….”

    I would submit that the majority of parents would be in favour of a six day week because the family unit in Japan has completely broken down across large swathes of society. Parents simply don’t want responsibiility for helping their kids with homework or studies because they are either out working all the time, or are selfishly pursuing their own personal happiness (as they saw their own parents doing). So, parents are quite happily farming out child rearing duties to the state.

    I have said before that the only realistic hope of achieving meaningful change in Japan is by radically overhauling the education system: unless you can free a generation of Japanese out of being brainwashed into “loving” the state/company at the expense of their fellow humans (as pointed out by Baudrillard), things will radically worsen as time goes on.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Silver Buckle #67

    Hi.
    It’s a quick question, but unfortunately, not a quick answer.

    I will make this one reply (thank you Debito), with the aim of giving you everything you need to find all your answers, but will then desist as per Debito’s wishes. All apologies in that regard, in advance.

    Now then, the answer!

    As Debito correctly pointed out, Hollywood depicts an America riddled with guns and vigilantes. Is this a true portrayal of America? No. So why portray it thus?
    Film, and by extension anime, serve a cultural and social purpose. You can study film for a degree in university, and it’s themes and issues are deep and complex, and it is possibly one of our best recorded cultural aspects.
    On the simplest of levels, films are stories. They speak to us as individuals, and as a society. They speak to us not of who we are, nor of the cultural and social values that we believe in, but rather who we wish to be seen to be, and what values we wish our culture and society to be seen to hold. That makes us feel good about ourselves (it is part of what Baudrillard calls ‘the spectacle’).

    For example, let’s look at just one (of many!) themes in western cinema; the hero cop.

    Whether it’s Dirty Harry, ‘Lethal Weapon’ Briggs, or McCain in Die Hard, or Jack Bauer, the theme is one good man, alone, against evil, violent enemies who show no morals or remorse, trying to destroy his city/country, whilst his superiors fail to understand the gravity of the situation and attempt to tie his hands with bureaucracy, so the cop must break all the rules to do ‘the right thing’, against all the odds. Wow! What a guy! We all walk away from seeing that wishing that in the same circumstances not that we would do the same, but rather that other people would believe that we would do the same (after all, maybe the guy next to you in the cinema really does have a job torturing informers on behalf of the CIA for information that will save countless American lives, but he’s not going to print that on a T-shirt and wear it. It’s you! The one whose friends all know you don’t do stuff like that, who wants your friends to think that you could be that ‘cool’).

    Still with me?

    The same applies to anime. It shows the viewer (do not forget, it is aimed at Japanese viewers) the way they wished other people saw them, not the way they see themselves. This is an effect of something Baudrillard calls ‘hyperreality’, and he wrote a whole book about how this is played out symbolically in the film ‘The Matrix’.

    Anyway, back to the answer to you question.

    Movie themes are open to subversion. Take the hero cop theme. It’s antithesis is Harvey Keitel in ‘Bad Lieutenant’. Keitel is a scumbag cop who makes all the decisions that we would be petrified of doing lest anyone find out and be revolted by us, and as a viewer, we find him suitably revolting. For an anime example, look at Neon Genesis Evangelion. This is excellent subversion of a theme. The theme is a typical one of ‘mecha’ anime; school boy becomes pilot of giant robo, and saves the world. However, in Evangelion, this theme is subverted. Whilst viewing schoolboys pine for the chance to become a real life gundam pilot, Ikari Shinji is terrified of being an Eva pilot, and refuses to pilot Unit 1 on several occasions, and ultimately is even unable to save the world (or is he?). This is not the ‘hero’ behaviour that the viewer expects to receive for his self-identification by proxy. Evangelion is full of genre theme subversions, maybe I will write about it one day. THAT is why Evangelion stands out from the endless years of gundam and such nonsense.

    Another excellent example of subverted anime is Akira. It’s got all Japan’s allegedly non-existant dark side; drugs, crime, unemployment, civil unrest, military dictatorship, military conducted human medical experimentation, school delinquency and bullying, teen sex, ‘new’ religions, nationalist right-wingers, and (in the original manga) Japan Vs USA war. No wonder that whilst virtually forgotten (my Japanese friends tried to watch the first 5 mins and said it was ‘kimochi warui’, and turned it off), it is possibly the most famous anime in the world. It’s not the Japan that Japanese people want others to image.

    Speaking of gundam, ever noticed how much the characters bang on about ‘peace’ and ‘the value of life’ as they stomp around smashing space colonies and cities? Shall I reconcile that for you? The Japanese want to think that outsiders view them as having abandoned war-time militarism, and as a peaceful people. That’s the reason for all the tortured monologues, to make it clear that the character is only fighting because circumstances beyond his control have forced him into it- he wouldn’t do so given the choice. Sound familiar? It should do, that’s how the Japanese continue to rationalize the Second World War in school textbooks. And the J-viewer is supposed to make that connection and want to be seen by his peers as sharing in those same beliefs and values of the distorted ‘Japan the victim’ version of the history of the war.

    Don’t believe me? Look at Macross. The abandoned Super-Dimensional Fortress (SDF= Self Defense Force), rotting away at the heart of Macross City is a symbolic representation of the Emperor and his palace at the heart of Tokyo city in a post imperial Japan. In Macross the Earth is destroyed by ‘giant aliens’, who can only be beaten by equipping earth forces with giant transforming robot/planes. This is an analogy for the belief amongst Japanese that the Americans won the war because they were physically bigger because they ate more red meat. Please check how much beef consumption rocketed up in Japan post-war.

    You say;
    ‘There are stories of comradeship, camaraderie, accepting people for what they are, etc. I even saw an anime about building a country and relaxing long held traditions. At the very least, I would have expected a country’s media to be a small reflection of its society.’

    Without knowing the specific anime you reference, it is difficult to give an exact answer. However, I would say ‘examine the context!’. These anime are not made for YOU! They are not made for NJ fan boy in the west either. They are made for Japanese viewers. When they speak of ‘comradeship, camaraderie, accepting people for what they are’ you must accept the possibility that what is meant is ‘comradeship (amongst Japanese), camaraderie (amongst Japanese), accepting people for what they are (if they are Japanese)’:- Japan is a country that still likes to define itself strongly by regional differences. Even so, the Japanese constitution talks about the rights of the people, which has been legally applied to mean ‘Japanese people, not foreigners’ in many cases (please search Debito.org for example).

    As another example, go and read the ‘Children in the poverty country of America’ thread. The racist who wrote that is married to a human rights activist, who is a xenophobe! The Japanese are blind to discrimination against NJ, and genuinely believe they don’t do it, therefore Japan has no need for anti-discriminatory law.

    The anime you mention serves a purpose. It serves to tell Japanese viewers how they wish to be seen. They wish to be seen as the opposite of what they are, just like we do. We want to be seen as brave, and strong, and independent, and doing the right thing because it is right. The japanese want to believe that they are seen as peaceful, and innocent, and fair, and modern.

    I would recommend that you read Ian Buruma; A Japanese Mirror, and read about Japan’s ‘in the ruins generation’ genre (to explain all that godzilla stuff).

  • Baudrillard says:

    I dont usually like anime, and The Matrix references Baudrillard, not the other way around;”-In The Matrix, a copy of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation is visible on-screen, and Morpheus quotes its phrase “desert of the real”.[56] The book was required reading for the actors prior to filming.[57] However, Baudrillard commented that The Matrix misunderstands and distorts his work.[56][58]” (wikipedia).

    However, an excellent insightful post from Jim (Didnt take you for an anime fan).

    I only need to add that I believe it was Marshall Mcluhan who pointed out that people only see what they want to see as predetermined by their belief systems, e.g. the TV show Dynasty was popular in some islamic countries, but when a female character left to either divorce or pursue an affair, viewers when surveyed overwhelmingly believed she was “visiting relatives” despite there being no such content in the show to suggest this; they simply inferred this from their own “common sense” belief system.

    Thus while American narratives since “Shane” and Westerns tend to centre on the charismatic loner or outsider,(Eastwood, Willis in Die Hard, etc)I wonder out loud why 1. These are popular in Japan and 2. What aspects of the movie Japanese focus on. Do they focus on the diobedience of superiors? Perhaps this appeals as a fantasy of something they could never do?

    Ever taught some kind of language or business course in Japan and it went well, with the student speaking out more, debating/disagreeing etc only for him/her to tell you at the end, “actually I can never say any of this to my boss”? Sigh.

    People see what they want to see in movies to a large extent. I have had one (leftwing) Japanese tell me that Coppola’s Dracula was “Christian propaganda”, another tell me that “Bridget Jones” was exactly her life”- a claim I find somewhat dubious as she in no way resembled the title character in any way at all (though I am sure she WANTED to be a large breasted blonde) and it is so middle class British, so twee, that even working class Brits might have not felt it representative-but I am digressing into class/culture differences in the UK, the various identities that co exist whereas in Japan “middle class values/illusions” are more homogenous and diversity is less celebrated. “Monty Python” and cricket tended not to appeal to the Bernard Manning/Jimmy Tarbuck social grouping; different classes had different entertainment and I am not sure if there is such a marked Japanese equivalent.

    Because as we often hear, WE Japanese all have similar values- still trapped in a nation building groove with possible (minor) regional quirks (Kansai v Kanto)which are for shared moment of levity and never approach levels of e.g. Welsh, Scottish, Irish identity.

    (“Bridget Jones” was of course the movie where the “Japanese; cruel race” comments by Bridget’s mother where noticeably absent from the Japanese subtitles).

    But the charismatic loner who disobeys his superiors is noticeably absent from Japanese reality. I suppose if it is an a foreign context, then audiences may not relate to it as much as domestic dramas. American movies are pure fantasy from which nothing can be taken seriously? National identity trumps universal values?

    The Medium is indeed the Massage for the Mass Age (sic) “media in terms of how they “massage” the sensorium”.

    “The people get what the people want
    And the people want what the people get”

    — Aaalright, that’ll do it for the proponents of this view. Byron, I’ll let you have the last word if you want, and then we’ll draw this tangent to a close.

  • silver buckle says:

    @ Markus #68, Baudrillard #69 & #72, & Jim #71

    Thank you all very much for the replies to my question. I have to admit, your replies make me feel …. disappointed. I would have never suspected that a disconnect existed between Japanese media and reality. And I would have never guessed that entertainment like this would have some sort of wish fulfillment/image reinforcement purpose. (it is true watching John McClane kick ass makes me wish he was real, but I always thought that he in some small way reflected the American individualism and “do the right thing” principle found at the core of Americans, not as a “we wish it was so” sort of reinforcement) And I really would have never guessed that Macross had so much symbolism in it. (and damn did I like the story there)

    I currently live in the US but I grew up in a SouthEast Asian country until I graduated college. I was drawn to the anime medium mostly through the works of Studio Ghibli and some other producers like Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers. I could relate so much to what those works would show (love of nature, the comradeship theme, honest living, etc.) from my life in the country I grew up in that I simply assumed that the stories told were sincere because the characters found in them weren’t full of what I like to call “cynical BS” as found in other entertainment mediums, and that it would reflect the general attitudes of the people it was created by. Frankly, I was hoping that a society that could produce entertainment like this would in some way embody what is shown in said media. I guess I really am silly.

    With regards to Jim’s question about which anime and manga I’m talking about: comradeship stories from generally most shonen anime (special mention to Naruto because I can relate to the title character’s main drive) and the Twelve Kingdoms for its depiction of the problems of state building and elimination of the practice of “kowtowing” in the end. I also liked Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan.

    Thanks to Mr. Debito for posting my question and all the replies. As this comment has stepped away from the topic of this post I’ll refrain from asking any more questions. I don’t suppose there’s any other way of contacting you folks privately if I have any more questions, would there?

    Thanks Jim for the book recommendation. It does sound like an interesting read and I’m considering picking it up from Amazon.

  • You can integrate without assimilating.. And it certainly doesn’t help when Daniel Kahl put down NJ who haven’t mastered the language. I do think that many long term residents in Japan do want to integrate but not completely throw away their own language, heritage and culture. Try finding a little Italy, Greek town, et all like they have in New York, Toronto and I bet you’d be hard pressed. Integration isn’t the word of the day here, it’s assimilate or get out

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Peter, #74

    Right. There’s absolutely no reason to give up your native language and cultural heritage to integrate into Japanese society. Many people say, “you’re not a part of them because you’re still using English for your daily communication. Or, “you’re not Japanese because many Japanese people don’t use English or foreign language for reading, speaking, and writing.” So what? Who made that rule!? Does that mean people can disqualify you, debito, or even mini-me (a native speaker of Japanese) for making cultural transgression? And see some whacky apologists among the accusers? That’s just pathetic as usual.

  • #74 and #75, in regards to assimilation, the catch is that once an NJ assimilates into Japanese society, the Japanese suddenly interprets it as something that is out of this world. Once assimilated, the Japanese suddenly won’t understand what you are saying. For some reason, the Japanese mind suddenly goes into a mode that is metaphorically like a “blue-screen-crash”, when NJ behaves different from what they are taught by school and media.

    I feel that assimilation cannot be fully accomplished unless your assimilation is acknowledged and accepted in a way that you can be seen as “one of them”. But it seems that Japanese does seem to have a hard time accepting NJ as “one of them”. And since “Japanese-Only” places apply to NJ even if they are assimilated/naturalized then it shows a rejection on Japan’s part for not acknowledging the assimilation of NJ. Assimilation in Japan’s terms mean that you must be ethnically Japanese as well as being born in Japan as one of the conditions of assimilation.

    Also, with GOJ trying to restrict where NJ can live and or buy property, NJ in the future may be forced to live in gaijin ghettos, making assimilation even harder. Eventually, NJ will be forced to where “tags” to identify themselves. Judging from how fast the LDP is radicalizing, this won’t seem too out of character.

    On the other hand, I feel that many apologists and Japanese alike prefer that there exists non-assimilated gaijin to be used as scapegoats for political agenda or as a way to feed their ego. The LDP’s election victory, as well as JRP’s somewhat close victory, is likely due to the parties milking Japan’s xenophobia for every penny its worth.

    And with apologists, I somehow sense that from their tone and how they speak, they seem to feel almost threatened by the presence of any NJ in Japan, including assimilated ones and those who have businesses/jobs other than teaching.

  • #76 – You hit it the nail on the head with Japanese Only applying to naturalized citizens as to which Debito can obviously attest to. Shows a horrible lack of understanding if society bases citizenship on strictly appearance.. but that’s what exactly happens in Japan. It sometimes leads me to wonder why a NJ would even consider J-citizenship on the purpose of trying to fit in when it’s pretty obvious that it is doomed to failure – if that’s your only reason to get it

    Debito, any thoughts on Bayfield’s second paragraph in #76? Comments on your own journey from integration to assimilation to naturalization?

    — It’s the very subject of my dissertation. More on that later.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Bayfield, the apologists want to limit the number of newbie gaijin because the more there are, the less special they feel. Keene, as cultural living treasure from the days when gaijin who “understood” the “real” Japan (GIs didnt count)being perhaps the trend setter.

    I read an amusing skit of this,forget which mag but maybe even JT years ago, it goes like this. “Well, I have been here in Japan a long time now…more than a year. Tssk! Look at those FOB gaijins stinking up the place, they do not fit in…this is MY Japan!”

    Its like the NJ who is allowed into the Japanese Only bar if accompanied with the Japanese friend; all power remains in the hands of any Japanese person. To feed their ego, and make them look good/international. Thus, please do not sing too well at Karaoke as it shows them up. Mediocre ganbaru spirit is preferred. But as a Caucasian, we will let you off. If you bow and say sorry.

    This got me thinking about power relations in Japan, and I have been meaning to post in answer to the many people who say that Japan lacks laws to protect NJs from discrimination etc.

    No.

    Japan has laws TO discriminate against NJs.The snitch sites are the prime example, though there exists a whole culture to in fact ensure your average Japanese person can lord it over and push around, sexually harrass with impunity any hapless gaijin.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Here’s an update about Donnie ‘the pony’ Keene from Yomiuri Shinbun. Some of his donated books are gonne be stored at a local public library in Kita Ward, Tokyo. To be honest, I would re-consider my evaluation of him, if he was still young and willing to make his contributions meaningful to social justice or the improvement of public education (i.e., English language education). Too bad he’s in a receding mode, and neither of these will fall on his deaf ears.

    http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T130206003925.htm

    http://youtu.be/TrWc0rts9ww

  • “they leave us alone, and we are not really held responsible for things. We’re like big children. This is a big advantage. I’ve lived a life freer than I ever could have lived in America, the ‘Land of the Free.’”

    I dont know if this applies to all gaikokujin. If your married, and Japanese know this, they tend to treat you differently than a single expat. Also if you understand Japanese, youll also be held accountable or held to a different standard. The more you assimilate here, the more unaccepted you become, least thats been my experience. Its just more comfortable to stay in a bubble like this guy is describing.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me. Kingston’s review is misleading since he didn’t give any piece of comment on the book. Why the heck is it in books/reviews category?

Comment navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>