Ueno Chizuko, fabled feminist Sociology Prof. Emeritus at Tokyo U, argues in newspaper column that Japan will never accept foreigners, and Japanese should just decline into poverty together. Geriatrically rigid rigor.

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Hi Blog.  On Japan’s National Foundation Day, a time where Japan’s patriots often come out and make statements on what it means to be a “Japanese”, fabled feminist Sociology Professor at Tokyo University Ueno Chizuko wrote something for the Chuunichi Shinbun. As the headline proclaims, “Let’s become equally poor together”.

Here’s a bit more about her in an interview with the Japan Times (2006).

As TG, the person who tipped me off to this article writes, “Chizuko Ueno, Japan’s most famous academic feminist, says there is no chance of reversing the decline in the birthrate; that at the same time Japanese society is inherently incapable of inter-cultural understanding; that therefore she opposes any move to liberalize immigration policy; and that the Japanese people should accept that they are going to gradually decline into poverty over the years to come.

“Hmm. I wonder what Hidenori Sakanaka, Arudou Debito and other FB friends think about this. She is a gadfly who likes to provoke, and you could read this as an attempt at satirical pessimism possibly. Or has she just lost the plot?”

Provoke indeed.  It’s caused a stir on Japanese debate fora (it took more time than usual to find where this article appeared — people were too busy debating this on online fora to even disclose that). And on FB, where I was fortunately tagged, we had some interesting comments:

AB: “I read this yesterday and wondered about 平等に貧しくなろう。She also talks about a soft crash landing, if I recall correctly. Resigned pessimism of the wartime 「まだ焼き出されていないのか」type was my interpretation, but I don’t suppose I’m right.”

CD: >こういう「もう経済成長しなくていい」「一緒に衰退していこう」みたいなことを言う似非リベジジババ結構いるんだけど「アンタの人生の終焉に国を巻き込むな」と言いたい。老いて衰退してくのはアンタ自身だ、若い子には「アンタらにはない」可能性がある。世の中の若いヒト全てに対して失礼だ。
“Boom. Couldn’t say it better myself in either language. The myopic narcissistic “L’etat, c’est moi” conflation of self and cultural space in this woman’s train of thought are simply staggering in someone who dares to parade her ideas in the media as a purported “public intellectual”.”

CD(2): “Note that while I am suspicious of her psychological motivations for framing the situation thusly, that does NOT mean that I don’t think it may very well go down the way she lays it out. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people this age and older whose symbolic immortality is so tied up with the idea of “Japan for Japanese only and only the kind of Japan I’ve known” that they would rather “die than switch”, so to speak. Young people had better light a political fire under their butts here, or the whole shebang will slide down in a long, slow geriatric national/cultural kamikaze dive. The event horizon for this is coming up fast.”

EF: “Setting aside the point about having children, many of our students counter her comments regarding the inability of Japanese to gain multi-cultural understandings.”

GH: “I still remember her ‘feminist’ paper given years ago at SOAS, it was premised on two points: western feminism was not a perfect fit to Japan (fair enough, other non-white feminists make similar points), but then everything she said about being a feminist in Japan seemed to contradict her own very existence as a single female academic: it seemed to be about being a better housewife or being happy with different work conditions because of the fragility of the female body (menstrual leave days for example). It only made some sense to me years later, when I saw her speak at a big feminist history conference in Tokyo: her position is against the old hardcore Marxist feminist ideology of the generation just before her (and dating back to before the war). So she’s fighting an ideological battle that pushes her to say the most incredibly bizarre things sometimes: we are not all equal, but equivalent, this was her mantra. Of course equivalences can be very arbitrary…”

And GH is where I came in:

DEBITO: I very much agree with [GH’s] insight, and I think it sheds light into the mentality behind this article. I have often noticed that feminism in Japan is not “equality between the sexes” but “separate but equal” status between the sexes, inherently accepting that inequality is inevitable due to purported physical and emotional differences between men and women. Some things are “women’s work”, for example, and some things are men’s, and you’d better respect that order or else woe betide you for intruding.

Once you accept this kind of natural status quo, it becomes just as easy to accept that there should be “separate for foreigners in Japan” too, however “a foreigner” is defined. The problem is that most people accept without much question the “necessarily separate but unequal” mantra as well, since foreigners are not Japanese, by definition, and Japanese are told on a daily basis (no exaggeration) about the inherent differences between them. And therein lies the slow-drip mindset that over the years will eventually affect even the most intellectually-rigorous, as they get older and fossilized in their beliefs.

You even find it in many very long-term foreigners in Japan, who will even argue that they deserve their own unequal status. Rigor becomes rigid.

So to me, Ueno’s pontificating on the natural order of separation is a natural outcome of living in a society as hierarchical and segregated as Japan’s.  I think with this article, she’d have a more comfortable cup of tea with the likes of Sankei columnist Sono Ayako, who on National Foundation Day exactly two years ago expressly praised South African Apartheid and advocated a similar system for Japan’s foreigners.  –Dr. Debito Arudou

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19 comments on “Ueno Chizuko, fabled feminist Sociology Prof. Emeritus at Tokyo U, argues in newspaper column that Japan will never accept foreigners, and Japanese should just decline into poverty together. Geriatrically rigid rigor.

  • Let’s all get poor together!
    Let’s all share that radioactive debris from Fukushima!
    The Japanese sure are suckers for the lie that they are all ‘in it together’.
    As one of the commentators above stated; this looney is purporting a type of ‘non-feminism’ that legitimizes discrimination against women. This is because she can’t accept Marxist-feminist theories of equality since she is primarily a Japanese right-winger.
    By pretending to be a feminist, all she has accomplished is to disguise her right wing oppression of Japanese women as ‘Japan’s unique culture’- a mainstay of right wing nut jobs.

  • Patrick O'Brien says:

    (In translation), Prof. Ueno wrote: “there is no chance of reversing the decline in the birthrate; that at the same time Japanese society is inherently incapable of inter-cultural understanding; that therefore she opposes any move to liberalize immigration policy; and that the Japanese people should accept that they are going to gradually decline into poverty over the years to come.”

    While not approving of Prof. Ueno’s statements (necessarily), I believe she is quite right about the first three claims.

    Yes, the birthrate is declining — but so what? After about twenty years of living in Japan, I opened my eyes and said, “Whoa! Japan has a huge SURPLUS of labor — and it’s not going away any time soon!” Since that epiphany, I’ve seen endless evidence of this, including ubiquitous make-work projects here. (Hey, does the same tree really need pruning 4-6 times a year? Well, it’s gonna get it, complete with bucket truck, flagmen, etc.)

    I studied Japan’s political economy at Debito’s alma mater and kept up with it for a number of years. Nowhere do I recall the argument that Japan has always had a surplus of labor (in fact, I suspect this applies to all of East Asia, probably going back millennia). Here in Sapporo, I now see college educated men working the counters at McDonald’s, supermarkets, and home convenience stores. If there were a labor shortage, they’d be more gainfully employed.

    Besides, is it likely that in a country as micro-managed as one like Japan, the mandarins would be indifferent to birthrates? Unlikely. Thus, they aren’t doing much to change things because they probably want this trend to happen. (After all, with AI and the rise of robotics, how many tens of millions of Japanese does Japan need?)

    Next, Prof. Ueno claimed that “Japanese society is inherently incapable of inter-cultural understanding.” That sounds about right. And I say this now in a relatively non-judgmental way. I’ve been here over twenty-five years total, know the language quite well, have tried to be part of this society, yet I’m currently doing my darnedest to leave. I’m jaded, cynical and want out.

    And you know what? I no longer blame the Japanese for their views. It’s just how this society is, and barring any cataclysm, they simply can’t change it themselves.

    You know, way back in 1993 I wrote an MA thesis at Cornell University, a thesis accepted by three very senior professors. Looking back on it years later, I was often shocked at how bluntly I wrote, but after a few decades more experience here, I realize I deserve a pat on the back for my insight (and honesty). Here is what I wrote in my abstract:

    “Japan’s problem is not just its economic structure. The problem is that Japanese culture and the psychological makeup of many Japanese men foreclose balanced dealings with other nations. No room exists for accommodation or interaction with outsiders. Most Japanese men cannot, by and large, deal with foreigners. The Japanese economic structure then, is either a function of this inability to deal with the outside world, or it is a deliberate attempt to keep the outside world at a safe distance.”

    I’ve since gone on to earn a Ph.D. and realize that in academia such drastic language needs to be softened, perhaps almost to the point of incoherence, but now I am pleased that I wrote it — and that it was accepted. For with some exceptions and qualifications, it’s basically true.

    Look, we know how hierarchical this society is, how much paying of dues younger members of a group endure in order to gradually, painfully work their way up to higher levels. How the hell can foreigners parachute in and possibly be integrated?

    I’ve given this some thought, and to turn it around, it’s like a Western monastery trying to integrate, say, fourteen members of a Nepalese ping-pong team. Where would you even begin?

    Sure, as a gaijin you can go ahead and accept a niche (some of which are of course quite nice) but as a general rule, this integration is just not worth it.

    Thus, Ueno’s next claim about the lack of a need for immigration is supportable. There are going to be more than enough native Japanese well into the future, and the costs of foreign integration negate the benefits. So why burden both Japanese and foreigners in trying to make this painful process somehow work?

    It’s only Ueno’s last point that I take issue with: that the Japanese people are going to gradually decline into poverty.

    Say what? Where does she get this idea? When I came to Japan, ONE family car was far from the norm, and when there was one, it was highly likely that it was Otōsan doing the driving.

    Every year since, car ownership has increased. First, some college sons got used cars. Next, I was very surprised to see an orderly push for women to drive. (Almost all mothers in my area now take their kids to yochien by car.)

    Even old people were brought into car life. And remember back when a black Mercedes meant one of two things? Either a doctor or yakuza? Well, now I routinely see three of four corners at intersections with new European cars waiting. Volvo, BMW, Volkswagen, and lately reams of Audis. Folks, the standard of living here is going up, not down.

    And with ongoing improvements in productivity, coupled with a declining population, there is much room for higher standards of living for the foreseeable future, if that’s what Japanese leaders want. (Hey, elites could skim off far more of the gains if they so desired.)

    I’ll close by saying Japan is getting what it wants — or at least deserves. As part of my plan to leave Japan, I’m looking at teaching jobs in America, and I’m (pleasantly?) surprised to see that Japanese is now almost NEVER offered at independent high schools. Serves Japan right. Why bother making the effort when the odds are so high that you’ll be shunted aside in Japan nonetheless?

    Japan had a shot at a larger role on the world stage, but for a variety of reasons it wasn’t to be. So let’s just try to leave them alone. Good riddance, Japan.

  • Interesting post Patrick, and I agree with a lot of what you wrote.
    I’m by no means an expert in economics, but there are two things I’d take issue with;
    1. Declining birth rate is due to the spiraling costs of parenthood at a time when increasing numbers of workers are denied the financial security of full-time contracts. Since the goal of LDP policy makers is primarily to line their pockets with brown paper envelopes of cash from J-Inc. which wants cheap disposable labor, they have chosen to ignore the causes of the declining birth rate, rather than having caused it to be by design.

    2. Robots can replace workers, but will never get paid, pay tax, buy a house or a car, etc. Robots will make more Japanese unemployed and reduce costs for J-Inc., (goal of LDP) but will only exacerbate Japan’s demographic and economic problems.

    LDP big-wigs and people like this ‘feminist’ don’t really care about this since;
    1. They are rich enough to not have to suffer.
    2. They will be dead of old age by the time the house of cards collapses.

    Hence all the ‘we Japanese’ nationalism

  • “Feministo”-another weasel word “borrowed” from English yet twisted into a different meaning. Arguably an example of the “Intralanguage” of Katakana.

    Like a fellow traveller in e.g. Communist China, where other political parties do in fact exist but not challenge the ruling party, Ueno is in fact championing Abe’s agenda of employing more women (in perhaps underpaid jobs).

    Naturally J women are above gaijin in her mind. Like a labor union opposing NJ nurses, she surely sees them as a threat.

    Ueno represents a pressure group, much like a ministry competing for resources in e.g. post Soviet Russia, in a not so free society, where a certain dominant mantra (Marxist Leninism, Nihonjinron etc) are taken as a given. Ueno is “representing” womens rights within a top down male oriented hierarchy, thus she wants men to “be nice” to women.

    But it is a long stretch from the western meaning of “feminism- Japanese exceptionalism at work once again!!

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    I think we can safely ignore Ueno’s statements. She should by her own arguments, be back in the kitchen, hoping that the slow decline into poverty treats everyone equally (She’s in for a rude shock on that one)

  • Be she looney tunes or not Ueno’s points in this particular article make a lot of sense.

    “there is no chance of reversing the decline in the birthrate” Yes, indeed. It’s not impossible to reverse it but there is no real political will to do so.

    “Japanese society is inherently incapable of inter-cultural understanding.” Agreed. Though I might switch the word “incapable” for “profoundly disinterested”

    “therefore she opposes any move to liberalize immigration policy” At least she admits it.

    “Japanese people should accept that they are going to gradually decline into poverty over the years to come.” Indeed. Years of Abenomic quantitative easing and monster national debt that someones going to have to pay for. The brunt of this will no doubt be shared out among the middle and lower classes.

    @Patrick O’Brian I feel you are a kindred spirit. I’ve been here 20 years and am leaving in June.

  • @ Andrew, we can ignore Ueno’s comments for other reasons, she seems to pss off practically everybody e.g. “”Ueno’s equally biting treatment of her natural allies – left-wing historians and feminist supporters of the “comfort women” – has also made the book highly controversial.” from a review on her book “Nationalism (why do they always bring that up?) and Gender”
    Similarly, she cant get on with Korean feminists either “A Korean feminist, Kim Pu-Ja, responded passionately to the contrary:

    “‘My country’s borders were invaded by soldiers from your country. You should not be so quick to say that we should forget national borders. Stating that feminism has nothing to do with nationalism is surely no different from the ethnocentric thinking of Western feminism.’”¹”
    https://tigermanifesto.wordpress.com/2016/07/25/chizuko-ueno-nationalism-and-gender/

    So neither of them can get on with “ethnocentric thinking western feminists”. but I suspect this is also Korean and Japanese “exceptionalism” at work again.

    That old cliche, you cant possibly understand Japanese or Korean (feminism) because you arent Japanese or Korean.

    That’s really sad and divisive of an international movement. But hopelessly academic and myopic, but then (ivory?) towers tend to stand alone.

    And as the majority of Japanese have no desire to become impoverished, I think her comments will fall on deaf ears.

  • I think this miserable future she predicts is one of four possible outcomes. It may be that:

    1. They figure out how to solve the birthrate problem, and it stabilizes.
    2. They allow the open assimilation of 20 million immigrants, with full respect and a really meaningful deep citizenship.
    3. Some combination of 1 and 2, where the birth rate improves a little and they let 10 million or so immigrants assimilate.
    4. Japan all grows poor together, as she suggests.

    There is no reason that Japan has to choose 4 and a miserable future. It has many of the things that high-skilled immigrants from advanced countries want, such as safety, stability, advanced infrastructure, basic liberties, a secular culture and so on. It could attract enough high-skilled immigrants to fix the problem, if it let them lead meaningful lives with full inclusion. Assimilated immigrants do not require inter-cultural understanding from the Japanese, because they would then be doing Japanese culture. So, they do not need inter-cultural understanding for this to work, they need to promote assimilation.

    I believe that the needlessly long working hours are the key detriment to the birthrate. If most workers in Japan said ただいま at 6pm like most similarly economically advanced nations, they would have the time and energy to have more children. And that is pretty easy to fix by simply enforcing current overtime laws, and maybe passing a few more restrictions that get people home at a reasonable hour to be there for children. This is a fixable problem.

    Because the stakes are so high, and solutions are available, there is no reason to choose the miserable future that she suggests. Whether the elites will actually allow these changes, is different from whether or not there are feasible alternatives. So, I disagree with her that we MUST all grow poor together. We have available solutions to our problems.

  • As i look mostly at Japanese culture through the distorted mirror of their popular fictions, I am probably whistling out of my ass but it sounds to me as if the good professor is doing something quite common for washed-up academics: recycling something they read in low fiction on the train into a pronouncement.

    Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō was quite popular a few years ago .The good professor leaves out the humanoid androids and the climate-change induced sea-level rise but otherwise her scenario is a direct “cover” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yokohama_Kaidashi_Kik%C5%8D

    They do that when they run out of ideas. This is a constant across academia in all cultures. Poaching from “low culture” and assuming they will not get caught while also counting on the resonance of the idea; after all- it has already “worked’ once.

    Ps: my friend explains that the term translated as “shopping trip” was more commonly used in the manner of “foraging expedition” after wwII economic scarcity.

    /M

  • Talking of racists, does everyone remember the story last year about the Kindergarten in Osaka that acts like Japan never lost the war; makes kids bow to a photo of the Emperor and recite wartime Imperial Recsript, has Akie Abe has ‘honorary principal’?
    Well, the actual principal is being taken to court for sending parents a letter that literally said (amongst other racist things) ‘I hate Koreans and Chinese’.

    https://www.japantoday.com/smartphone/view/national/osaka-kindergarten-hands-out-copies-of-statement-slurring-ethnic-koreans-chinese

    And people said this kindergarten was just ‘harmless patriotism’! Racism.

  • I think it’s time for me to stop reading Japan Times for good.
    American expats in Japan protest Trumps racism;
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2017/02/15/issues/trump-shocks-japans-american-expats-action/

    Nice, but don’t they want to protest about them racism in Japan at all? After all, that is the country they are living in. And then there’s this;

    Japanese traumatized by Trumps immigration policy because it reminds them of internment;
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/02/17/national/trump-immigration-policies-deja-vu-descendants-wwii-internees/#.WKcZdYHXeEc

    I kind of sympathize that they have a trauma, but how about the Asian Sex-slaves traumatized by the Abe regimes constant demands and temper tantrums over sex-slave statues? Doesn’t the trauma of those women demand that Japan, its people, society and media hold its politicians to account for the pain they are causing? I guess not…

    And now this;
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/02/17/national/japans-interpreters-hard-pressed-make-clean-sense-trumps-disjointed-offensive-banter/

    Japanese translators whining about how difficult it is to translate Trumps racist sexist comments. Surely, after listening to the offensive misogynistic xenophobic rubbish that so many of Japan’s elected officials have been spouting over the years, all the vocal they need to translate Trump should be second nature by now!

    I’m annoyed that Japan is pulling the “B, b, but in America…!” routine to deflect.
    I’m annoyed that JT is pushing that agenda.
    I’m annoyed that JT even carries so much news about things that don’t happen in Japan.

    The apologists said they wanted to kill off JT to deny Dr. Debito a platform, but if this is really the sorry state of Japan’s only ‘free English language press’, then it’s a sorry exercise in Japanese exceptionalism right wing pandering and deserves to die.

  • Update on Osaka kindergarten story;
    According to ‘Abe Chanerru’ NHK this morning, Abe (who don’t forget is ‘special advisor’ to Nippon Kaigi) denied that he and have wife have any link whatsoever to this kindergarten (run by the head of the Osaka chapter of Nihon Kaigi).
    NHK also reported that neither Abe nor his wife had any knowledge of his wife being made honorary Principal of the school.

    Doesn’t seem plausibly deniable to me, since Japanese news was naming Akie Abe as honorary principal when they reported on this pre-school last year. Reeks of damage control.
    I expect that the Osaka chapter of Nippon Kaigi will shortly be choosing a new president who knows how to disguise his racism as ‘Japan’s unique culture’ rather than blurting out ‘I hate Koreans and Chinese’.

    I also suspect that the sale of city land to the kindergarten for only a tenth of its actual value is more likely to be the emerging scandal of this school, more likely to generate discontent amongst voters, and is likely the real reason why Abe and his wife are choosing now to cut bait.

  • RealityCheck says:

    Thank you so much Debito for this news – and thanks to the person/persons who alerted you to it. Professor Ueno is such a grab-bag of opinions that it would be easy to say she is being satirical.
    However, she clearly lacks the sense of humour and wit to be so.
    From her point of view what she writes is rational ,and her comments about Japanese having to decline into poverty with no real foreigner population intakes to redress the demographic imbalances in Japan is not any real criticism. It’s the fatalism of the ignorant who believe their intellect justifies their prejudices.
    The use of the word ‘inherently’ gives her away. Such thinking in the not so recent past resulted in the murders or other oppression of countless people under various ruling powers whether they were old hierarchies or new ones. It’s a way to justify extreme ideologies and actions that can occur gradually or suddenly.
    There is no Japanese exceptionalism except in matters such as the persistent and deliberate reduction of females to a lower status as shown in certain popular manga and other media (remember the railway company promoting foreign cartoon characters with their underpants showing under their skirts?) as well as the spates of Japanese perverts demanding women and in a few cases children hand over their underpants.
    Maybe Professor Ueno as a self-styled feminist should be researching just why perverts’ interest are also echoed officially in Japan. Exceptionaiism indeed and not of the positive kind.
    Sorry about that Professor Ueno. What we experience in Japan as foreigners is the overriding, overbearing reach of Japanese in positions of influence and power who keep reinforcing the fantasy of ‘only Japan’ is this and that.
    Their dominance serves to marginalise the Japanese people who really can think deeply and are not afraid of debate and open-mindedness.
    What this really does is to turn Japan into a kind of giant ‘ring-fenced in mentality’ society.
    All countries and their indigenous/traditional cultures are unique but many have recognised the need for progression to better meet the needs generated by more complex societies and a world that is not based on retreat but more and more collaboration.
    The too-influential right wing Jiminto politicians and academic hacks like Professor Ueno do their country no favour in seeking a return to 19th century values. It is odd but also slightly entertaining.

  • Osaka Nippon Kaigi kindergarten principal gets told that his racist scribblings are ‘hate speech’, and he shouldn’t do it! That really showed him!
    Who needs a law with teeth, when a finger wagging will suffice?

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/02/20/national/embattled-osaka-kindergarten-chief-apologizes-denigrating-koreans-chinese/

    He apologizes that his comments were ‘misunderstood’.
    Why do Japanese racists always claim to have been misunderstood when they get called out? What am I ‘misunderstanding’ about the phrase “I hate Chinese and Koreans”?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    RE: Osaka Nippon Kaigai dude, Yasunori Kagoike’s Morimoto Gakuen bought out the state-owned land property at a 1/10th of actual price haggled by the Ministry of Finance. The price was not disclosed at the time of transaction. It was Kagoike who made such a request to fool the media and the general public. This guy is the nuts, and a wolf-in-sheep-clothing.

  • 「客観的には、日本は労働開国にかじを切ろうとしたさなかに世界的な排外主義の波にぶつかってしまった。」

    Holy cow! Ueno Chizuko comes from alternate reality where “objectively speaking, just as Japan was going to open the country to [foreign] labor, it crashed into the tide of global xenophobia”.

    Wow, tell us more about how Japan’s efforts to open up were foiled by a chauvinistic world, Ms. Ueno, because in this reality nothing remotely closed happened.

    That’s the only explanation I can think of, because for the rest she’s pretty consistent.
    “Birthrate not going up, no way in hell we’re gonna accept immigrants, we’ll all decline into poverty together.” Much more consistent than Abe’s hocus pocus of empty promises & womenomics, “teaching” foreign “trainees” and making GDP grow while the population declines.

  • In regards to the preschool in Osaka I’m a little surprised Debito hasn’t made this story one of his articles. Usually he’s on top of stuff like this.

    — Yes, quite. Sorry for the delay.

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