Posted by debito on February 3rd, 2008
Hi Blog. Based upon the Japan Times article immediately below, Alex Kerr, author of DOGS AND DEMONS and famous social commentator (who incidentally has written before for Debito.org about his statements on my activism, which had been willfully misinterpreted by the axe-grinders on Wikipedia), has been chosen as a GOJ tourism representative. The Community interest group had a number of questions about what this meant (reproduced below).
Alex was kind enough to answer them, and give his permission for his clarifications to be reproduced on Debito.org. Have a read. Thanks Alex. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
17 tapped as Welcome to Japan envoys
Kyodo News/The Japan Times: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008
The government has appointed fashion designer Junko Koshino and 16 other people as Welcome to Japan ambassadors for their contributions to draw foreign travelers to Japan.
On selecting the 17 Yokoso! Japan Ambassadors, a selection committee of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry took into account two aspects — building infrastructure in the hardware side to accept foreign travelers and transmitting Japan’s attractive features in the software side.
Koshino was selected because she has transmitted fashion that embodies Japanese-style images to the world, the ministry said.
Hotelier Kenichi Kai was picked because he served 10 years as the chairman of a committee in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, to attract foreign travelers to the hot-spring resort area and for his activities such as making hotels capable of exchanging yuan and five other foreign currencies.
American Alex Kerr was selected as he is working on renovating traditional houses in Kyoto and undertaking business to have foreigners experience lodging in Japan.
The ministry will introduce the 17 on its Web site as “role models” and consider holding symposiums, according to the officials.
The Japan Times: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008
QUESTIONS RAISED ON THE COMMUNITY:
Friend Olaf Karthaus (who brought it up) wrote:
Alex Kerr, an American is among them.
What is his stance on fingerprinting?
Especially on fingerprinting PRs, a group he himself belongs to, I assume.
But I doubt that he would have been chosen as an ‘ambassador’ if he
wouldn’t be 100% backing the government’s line in that matter.
Friend Todd wrote:
Is that not the same Alex Kerr who authored Dogs And Demons (for
those unfamiliar, a legendary and scathing critique of Japan)?
Friend Matt wrote:
This reminds me of a quote I saw online recently that was attributed
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly
limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate
within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident
views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going
on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being
reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
To which Todd responded:
Which is *exactly* why it would be so surprising for the authorities
to appoint Alex Kerr to such a position.
SO I ASKED ALEX:
Alex, this is a fundamentally sympathetic crowd (I can vouch for
them), so would you like to make any comment about what your job
entails? I will also blog it if you like, just in case there are
others out there who would like to know what’s going on. In this day
when the GOJ is seen is fundamentally NJ-unfriendly (what with
fingerprinting at the border and all), the question will probably
come up anyway sooner or later. Bests, Debito in Tokyo
AND HERE IS HIS REPLY:
February 3, 2008
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The issue people bring up deserves a serious answer. Unfortunately, I’m so busy on the road right now that I don’t know if I can do it justice. Here are a few words:
I understand why some people might wonder why I’ve accepted designation from the government as a “Yokoso Japan! Ambassador.” There can be indeed a process of co-option whereby foreign critics mute their voices when they get too close to the agencies they write about. As I’ve written in Dogs and Demons, I think many foreign academics suffer from exactly this problem.
I’ve therefore always tried to remain sensitive to this danger. That said, I don’t believe in absolute black-and-white on this issue. I am certainly opposed to numerous government policies, for example finger-printing, which I’ve personally had to undergo. But that doesn’t mean that one should never cooperate with any branch of the government on anything. That would be like saying that because one doesn’t approve of the Iraq war, one shouldn’t work with the US National Park Service.
The “Yokoso Japan! Ambassador” designation was presented by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. I’ve repeatedly criticized this Ministry (in its present guise, as well as its former reincarnation as the Construction Ministry) for its damaging public works projects. Nevertheless, it happens that Japan’s tourist department (to be upgraded to the Tourism Agency by the end of this year) is located inside this Ministry. It’s this department that I’m working with.
I work with them because it’s my strongly held belief that an increase in international tourism can have great benefits for Japan. It makes regional economies less dependent on government construction projects. It brings home to people the financial merits of preserving their cities and countryside as tourist assets. And, not least important, the inflow of foreigners, can act as a powerful aid in “internationalizing” Japan in the true sense of the word. Many of the issues discussed in your blog will hopefully improve once people in Japan have an increased experience of actual foreigners traveling (and spending money) in their communities.
As for being “co-opted,” I’ve no intention of letting the rest of the Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Ministry (or Fishing and Agriculture Ministry, or so many others branches of the government, who go right on sponsoring wasteful and damaging construction projects) off the hook. Anyone who has heard my recent talks or read recent interviews would see that I continue to say (and illustrate with photos) exactly what I’ve been saying for years in Dogs and Demons and elsewhere.
In fact, this year I’m planning to do an illustrated photo-book which shows visually what the damage has been. It will feature ill-considered public works in the form of environmentally-harmful roads, dams, and so-called erosion control, destruction or mis-management of old houses, old towns, and cultural assets, visual pollution in the form of bad signage (including official propaganda signs from police departments and municipalities) and failure to bury electrical lines, tourist developments that are eyesores or adversely impact the environment, absurd public monuments, weird civil engineering projects (large and small scale) that transform rivers, mountains, and sea coasts, etc. I appeal to anyone on this website who’d like to give me a hand with this, since I don’t have time to go around the whole country collecting all the photos that I need.