“Deep in Japan” Podcast interviews Debito on Racism in Japan and book “Embedded Racism” (UPDATED: Goes viral in Poland!)

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Hi Blog. Jeff Krueger interviewed me a few days ago, and put up this podcast. He did a lot of research for this podcast, including reading 400-page book “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination” in three sittings, and investigating much of the anti-activist narrative in Japan. I had a listen to it this morning, and think it’s probably the best interview I’ve ever had done. Please have a listen and support his channel, even leave a review up at iTunes.

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Podcast: Deep in Japan, by Jeff Krueger
Title: “Debito: Racism in Japan”
Released: Aug 14, 2016

In this podcast, I interview writer, researcher, activist, Japan Times columnist, naturalized Japanese citizen and, most recently, author of the amazing book, “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination,” Dr. Arudou Debito. If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Debito’s books and articles, visit his award-winning blog at www.debito.org. As always, sounds provided by www.bensound.com/

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/jp/podcast/deep-in-japan/id1121048809?l=en&mt=2
Soundcloud (free subscription via Facebook etc.): https://soundcloud.com/deep-in-japan/debito-racism-in-japan

Deep in Japan homepage at https://soundcloud.com/deep-in-japan

ENDS

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UPDATE AUGUST 18:  Podcast goes viral in… Poland!  (Thanks to this popular vlog.)  Now at 6700 listens on Soundcloud alone!  Thanks!

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15 comments on ““Deep in Japan” Podcast interviews Debito on Racism in Japan and book “Embedded Racism” (UPDATED: Goes viral in Poland!)

  • Absolutely, the best interview so far!

    I couldn’t get the “iTunes” link to play,
    (probably just due to my computer config),
    but the “SoundCloud” link played perfectly.

    The interviewer having lived here 15 years,
    with ability to grok your 25 years research,
    PLUS having actually read your 400 page book,
    produced the sufficient understanding & respect,
    and he wisely gave you the proper freedom to speak.

    And in my humble opinion you spoke very eloquently Dr. D,
    especially when recording live one-take improv freestyle,
    compared to writing in which we can pause and edit words.

    Props to the interviewer Jeff Krueger, for his honesty:
    Jeff honestly admitted he initially was almost deceived,
    by a Wikipedia badly-skewed out-of-context partial-quote.
    Then he read the actual surrounding FULL quote for balance,
    and then he even read the complete follow-up quote entirely,
    posted here by Alex Kerr himself confirming his true opinion:

    “As you can see from the original Japan Times interview, my take even at that time was basically favorable. Since then I’ve learned more about what you do, and I’m greatly impressed by the thoroughness with which you approach the various gaijin and racism issues in Japan. Among other things, your newsletter is a goldmine of information, which is why I’ve become an avid reader.

    …I suggest that you, or a friend of yours, amend that Wikipedia article to indicate that I WHOLLY SUPPORT your activities and your methods. I think I speak for many foreigners resident in Japan when I say that I feel very grateful that you’re out there paying attention. Best wishes – Alex”

    http://www.debito.org/?p=321#comment-13671

    In conclusion, as the interviewer Jeff Krueger expressed in his live impromptu review of your book (from 1:09:57, you can hear his from-the-heart honest feelings when saying this)

    “Reading Embedded Racism was for me an awakening. There’s all this work that you’ve been publishing, much of it is available at your blog, that has all been condensed and crystallized into this amazingly informative single volume work. And being a foreigner in Japan, and someone who has bi-racial kids, this research is incredibly applicitive to me in my life here. And so, yeah, I got into your book and I just couldn’t stop reading it, and I took copious notes, and I’m sure I’ll be referring to this book for years to come: I’m definitely recommending it to any of my friends, who are interested in Japan, or who are interested in racism, or who live here, for sure. I think it’s a great book and I highly recommend it.” 🙂

  • I listened to the entire thing a few days. It was exceptionally well done for an interview, and I think it gave people a much more rational explanation of your motivations than all the hate and BS surrounding you and your work.

    I truly hope you get a chance to do more of these in the future. Very enjoyable listen. Ever done an interview for Japanese media? (I know the absurd walls and threats you’d be facing to even consider doing that, but I wanted to ask anyway)

    — I’ve done plenty of interviews. Not podcasts in Japanese, though.

  • Most of us follow a predictable pattern. You arrive in your 20s, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You get the English treatment from day one and grit your teeth politely, but chalk it up to your own poor Japanese and plod on.

    A few years later, you have married a Japanese woman and found a steady job. Your Japanese continues to improve, but inexplicably, the English treatment presses on. Spoken Japanese is met with awkward pauses and broken English. Written Japanese is also responded to in English. You have your ikkyuu, but consciously or subconsciously, this all must be your fault, so you resolve to overcome this by investing even more time pursuing Japanese. In the meantime, a low level depression kicks in, which you treat with frequent trips to the local izakaya.

    A few more years pass, and your Japanese progresses nicely. There is less pushback during conversations, but the English issue still remains. At the same time, many of your Japanese friends seem to have lost interest in you. Obviously need to work harder. Once your Japanese is better, Japanese friends should flock to you.

    But one thing has been nagging at you. Not always, but often, your conversations with Japanese co-workers will be littered with an excessive number of gairaigo. Even the most basic words will be transliterated into katakana, making it hard to focus on meaning. But the Japanese don’t speak to each other that way. They also don’t speak to people with Asian features in that manner.

    Fast forward 10 or 15 years. By this point, you are speaking Japanese with great accuracy and fluidity and using it in your work, in meetings and correspondence. Yet, after all of these years, the English treatment lingers on. You have a few exchanges where it doesn’t, which provide some desperately needed silver lining, but inevitably it will find you again. Here’s the English menu, sir. Oh, you speak Japanese? Sorry.

    Around this time, your trips to the izakaya occupy a fixed space in your daily routine. Whereas you started off very close, you and your wife no longer get along and the relationship is quickly headed for a steep cliff. She says she is tired of hearing you complain about the so-called English treatment. That’s just how it is here. What do you want me to do? Stop complaining.

    You have put years in at your steady job, but none of your co-workers really seem to care. They are much more interested in the FOB intern down the hall. Come to think of it, none of your co-workers have ever asked you out to lunch. Why are the English-speaking foreigners so popular, you wonder, but you already know the answer.

    Meanwhile, the stress you were once able to compartmentalize so neatly seems to be bubbling up more frequently. You have words with patrons at the izakaya when your guard is down after a few beers. Where did that come from?

    And then a few years later, it happens. The dam breaks in a watershed moment that changes your relationship with Japan, Japanese and the Japanese forever. It is hard to pinpoint, but at some point, the constant denial, alienation and rejection completely breaks your will. The energy and interest you once had in Japan has faded and in its place is the Japan that always was – the Japan that you tried so hard to deny. The issue never was your Japanese. You realize, after many years invested, what you instinctively knew initially but stubbornly refused to accept – that you could speak and write Japanese better than Haruki Murakami and that still would not change the result. The issue, of course, all along was your skin color and what that represents to the Japanese. No amount of studying or self-blame will change that fact, which is deeply embedded in the Japanese national discourse and psyche as a matter of course. But still, you have to pick up the pieces and move on. Better to recognize this early, I suppose, while there is still time to move on.

  • I will just add, impressed as I was with the coolness and aplomb with which you handled yourself, I was a little confused somewhere around the middle or later half when you were talking about a Japanese “minority” when I thought it should have been “majority”. Am I wrong?

    — No. You are correct.

  • @JP #5 I totally get it. Same story for me except my wife and I don’t have any issues. After 20 years here we’re leaving. We need another 9 months to get organized but then we’re off!

    @sendaiben I doubt it’s a Tokyo thing. I consider it a Japan thing.

  • @ #7 Sendaiben

    I live in a small town in southern 埼玉 and work in 東京. I absolutely recognize the experience, but not to the degree that JP has elaborated. Obviously everybody’s experience is going to be different, but my (relatively short, only 2 years’) experience is that the degree of “English treatment,” a.k.a. gaijin treatment depends on a few factors:

    1) Your actual Japanese ability;
    2) The environment (gaijin bars or companies where you have been specifically hired because you are a NJ, e.g. 英会話 schools);
    3) The other person’s language ability and confidence in it;
    4) The other person’s position relative to yours (some equals feel an inferiority complex if they don’t speak English at you; in contrast, some superiors love to flex their English muscles to remind you they’re above you);
    5) The length of time you’ve known the person (sometimes you start out with heavy gaijin treatment, then the person wises up and backs off);
    6) All above factors notwithstanding, the person herself/himself; you can be perfectly fluent and talking to someone who has essentially no English ability whom you’ve known for a long time, and they may still give you the gaijin treatment, just because he/she is a racist asshole or completely socially incompetent.

    What I would love to know are any strategies people have found effective in getting the behavior to stop. I’ve tried pretending I can’t understand their English, ignoring them when they speak English, patronizing them through praise the way they do us with the おぉ、日本語お上手ですね BS and whatnot, mercilessly correcting their English in Japanese, very politely asking them to stop, and then very directly and angrily telling them to stop. Unfortunately, despite the commonly touted advice that being direct is not the way to go with Japanese people, it is the only method that has ever produced any results for me. (That is, of course, excluding the people who just naturally take the hint when you continuously speak only Japanese to them.) To be fair, I want to give the “politely asking them to stop” method a few more tries just to be sure, but yeah.

    To be fair, I generally give total strangers a pass, as from my own experience most Western-looking people can’t really communicate in Japanese. Ethically, I think it’s wrong and unfair to judge people strictly by their appearance, and I teach my students the same thing–don’t assume you know what languages a person does or does not speak based on their looks only, and always speak Japanese first in Japan. However, you also have to consider the reality of peoples’ general experience, plus the heavy bombardment of ignorant stereotyping and propaganda that 文部科学省 and the mass media dumps on the people. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it does help you understand it.

    However, you saying you get no gaijin treatment up in 仙台 is awesome to hear. From your bio, it looks like you have extensive credentials teaching English. Do you generally approach Japanese people in Japanese only, or do you use lots of English too? I’ve noticed some people have more success drawing Japanese out of Japanese people if they speak English primarily (which helps the Japanese person feel more comfortable that you’re still adequately 外人っぽい, because we always have to remember who’s Japanese and who’s not). I’ve heard 関西 has less of the gaijin treatment too, which makes me wonder what the reasons might be for possible regional differences in attitudes towards NJ. Have you lived anywhere else, and if so, what was your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    — Let me just comment on the coping strategies you asked for: See JBC 67, “If you’re jozu and you know it stand your ground“, September 10, 2013, about claiming your hierarchy and avoiding disempowering NJ humility.

  • @Sendaiben (#7)

    Your experience may differ, but I’ve experienced this to varying degrees all over Japan – in large cities and in the country and in professional and non-professional environments.

    Having said that, I am a very “visible minority,” and thus I unfortunately trigger a visceral response in many contact situations. There is rarely a day that I am not forced to “untangle the headphones,” and the whole exercise is a needless yet constant headache.

    Debito outlines and analyzes the issues surrounding “visible minorities” very well in his book (which fills a gaping hole in the scholarship on racism in Japan and is a must-read – my hard copy sits proudly next to Roy Andrew Miller’s “Japan’s Modern Myth” and Ivan P. Hall’s “Cartels of the Mind” on one of my bookshelves), and it is all consistent with my experience and the experience of many of my Japanese speaking visible minority friends. I would be surprised if you haven’t experience at least a degree of what I described above, but I suppose it is possible depending on your own physical characteristics. You may also experience less of this if you work in a small, fixed group of people who are all familiar with you, although inevitably you will have to interact with people outside of the group (at a conbini, dry cleaners, etc.) and it is then that the problem will often reappear. Some of my friends who can pass as Japanese or “double” are able to avoid these pangs, although they experience their own set of issues.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @JP#5, great post. I avoided that fate by not trying so hard to learn Japanese; I d rather be the respectful and respected westerner who speaks business level Japanese, but not perfectly enough to have to incur all the giri and extra responsibility that entails, including a J wife.

    But thats just my (lazy, irresponsible) choice- and its a great pity that hard work to fit in is not rewarded enough in Japan.

  • Hi HJ (#9)

    Thanks for the really positive comment! I’ve only ever lived in Sendai, which is pretty cosmopolitan (we’ve got loads of NJ here through the universities and just because it’s a pleasant place). That is definitely not true of a lot of smaller cities and towns around it.

    Very few service interactions in Sendai, for example, revert to English, and staff generally don’t react differently in convenience stores or restaurants.

    I rarely use English except with native speakers or students. My Japanese ‘sounds’ Japanese so I don’t really stand out on the phone, for instance. I also use my alias a lot (田中勉) outside of work (for bookings and in shops, for instance).

    I’ve mellowed a bit now, but my coping strategy for what language to use is generally:

    1. if it’s a service reaction then we’re going to speak the language I want to speak, which is normally Japanese
    2. if someone wants to speak English, and their English is good enough, I’ll consider speaking English (depends on the context a little)
    3. if they want to speak English and it’s not good enough, I’ll speak Japanese

    I haven’t really had many situations where someone tried to continue speaking English over 1) or 3) above.

    But I think it’s also important to keep things in perspective. I try to think about positive things and forget negative ones. Makes for a happier life.

    Probably also helps that I have sought out a lot of flexibility at work and basically only deal with people I want to interact with now 🙂

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Sendaiben @#12 really nails it there IMHO.

    Since becoming self-employed I don’t have to deal with anyone I don’t want to, a fact that massively reduces stress, discomfort and aggravation.

  • also @ JP,

    a very disturbing but true observation of long term life in Japan
    Ive witnessed this time and time again. If these results are always near the same, I think we can conclude that our life experiment results are not inconclusive, but rather should be documented as factual. Isnt this how scientific observation works?

    Ive since moved on from the observation and experience of the actions, and now more interested in the “whys” and source.

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