UPDATE JUNE 27, 2007
TOKYO TRIP, SIX SPEECHES IN AS MANY DAYS
Hello Blog. I’ve left you fallow for a week now, my apologies. I’ve just come through what is probably my busiest speaking schedule yet. I gave what amounted to six speeches in as many days, all of them brand new, with Powerpoint presentations in two languages. Phew.
Backing up a bit on the timeline, I have had an incredible June, in the sense that there was no letup. From my mind-blowing trip to the USA and my Cornell 20th Reunion, where I discovered that bullying can become trans-generational (http://www.debito.org/homecoming2007.html), to coming home with jetlag only to be smacked by a car while riding my bicycle to work (http://www.debito.org/?p=453 –finding myself still able to cycle and walk but not climb stairs unassisted for awhile), I’ve had to deal not only with hospitals and insurance companies, but also deadlines that were constantly nipping at my heels. Finish one speech, start preparing another. Every day for about a week.
Early on Tuesday morning June 19, I finally started the paper I would be delivering on Friday and Saturday at Waseda University and the 2007 Asian Studies Conference Japan. Topic? Immigration’s effects on Japan, and how lack of governmental oversight has created Frankenstein’s Monster in the labor market. By Tuesday evening, I had pounded out seventeen pages with footnotes and references, and by Wednesday night I was on my third draft and 19th concluding page. I was still writing it on the plane down to Tokyo the next day, and by Thursday evening the fourth and final draft was finished (see it at http://www.debito.org/ASCJPaper2007.doc). I forwent catching up on any Internet or blogging, getting started on my concomitant Powerpoint presentation right away before any sleep (speeches I do nowadays are never only just reading from a printed document anymore; I find using Powerpoint to create visuals from the computer, instead of the Mind’s Eye or the OHP, to be very effective. Sadly, this means my workload is doubled.) Staying with friends Leisa and Stephen Nagy, I found myself striking a decent (but slightly worried) balance between being social, and wondering if I hadn’t taken outdone myself by saying “yes” to everyone who asked me to speak on this trip.
So Friday morning June 20, I went to Waseda early and used the graduate student facilities to pound out my Powerpoint in four hours (see it here at http://www.debito.org/japansmulticulturalfuture.ppt). I gave my speech to several grad students (even the American Embassy showed, thanks), and found that the presentation (with questions from the audience during) stretched what had to be a 20-minute talk into well over an hour (which earned tuts from timekeeper Stephen). A couple of grad students said I lacked data (naturally, the Powerpoint is a capsule summary; I suggested they download and read my whole paper), and one asked what percentage of Non-Japanese workers have working conditions as bad as I was citing from the newspapers.
I answered that it’s not a matter of degree–what percentage of exploitation and slavery by nationality would be the proper threshold for saying the system needs improvement? 1%? 5%? 20%? And anyway, we’ll never get reliable stats on this topic when many workers, legal or illegal, won’t come forward to bad-mouth their bosses or get deported. It’s like trying to guestimmate the amount of rape or DV in a society. To me it’s a red herring anyway, since horrible work conditions, even child labor and slavery, being inflicted upon even one laborer in Japan is too many. It’s illegal, too, but poorly enforced–both created then left to forge its own cruel realities by our government.
Anyway, yes, I didn’t have that data, and I could sense the glee in the grad students’ eyes. Gosh, they got me, the big bad speaker who for some reason needed to be shown he’s not all that smart or impregnable, without discussing the problems brought up. Such is one weak spot of academia. Not only does the “dispassionate view” that the academic must take suck the humanity out of issues of human rights, but also the trauma inflicted upon the researcher, suffering constant supervisor and peer vetting of theses in the name of “rigor”, creates a pecking order of nitpicking questions and data for data’s sake. After all, in an arena like this, it’s always seen as better to have data than not, right?, even when it’s irrelevant. “I don’t know” (rather than the consideration of “it doesn’t matter”) in a forum like this becomes an unforgivable weakness.
Then, ironies upon ironies, right afterwards I went to a series of lectures at Waseda on “Cool Japan”. There we had people discussing the intricacies of candles on the heads of certain manga characters, and musings on how Pokemon creates a self-actualizing world for children. Culture vulture stuff, nonrigorous hooey, but received with heavy-lidded adulation out of politeness. Lousy Powerpoint too. Left early.
Saturday June 23 was the Asian Studies Conference Japan at Meiji Gakuin University, and quite frankly, I found few papers all that interesting (and even fewer papers available for reading–made me wonder why I tried so hard to get my paper done on time). Some stuff on disaffected youth made me think, but nothing made me blink. And I used some of the time in droning presentations to whittle down my upcoming Powerpoint presentation to its bare essentials. Our roundtable (which had been gratefully preserved by people despite having one of our panelists drop out) had the torture of doing five papers in a two-hour period; each person got 24 minutes including Q&A. Stephen clocked in at 21 minutes with his interesting presentation on the official openness of local governments in different Tokyo Wards towards NJ residents (Adachi-ku sounded pretty progressive, whereas Shinjuku-ku ironically didn’t care–in fact was disinclined to see foreign residents as much more than a potential source of crime). Then I stampeded through my 35 slides and clocked in at 23 minutes just. We had a full house, no questions about data or lack thereof. Probably no time, alas.
Evening was spent catching up with old friends Ken, Garrett, and Alby from Transpacific Radio (http://www.transpacificradio.com –I’ve asked them if they’ll let me read the news sometime), plus newfound friend Aly who surfaced from the Internet to tell me about his woes getting stopped by the police all the time in Saitama (it’s getting worse; the cops apparently target foreigners more than the increasing number of shops with “JAPANESE ONLY” signs…). Stayed out too late and had one beer too many.
Sunday June 24 was even busier, if you can believe it. First thing in the morning (as in 9AM, running all the way to deserted downtown Tokyo), I met an Italian journalist (a lovely former fashionista named Stefania with a lovelier accent) who interviewed me for more than three hours for a 5000-word article on activism in Japan. Then taxied back to the ASCJ Conference, since I had been specially invited to attend a post-lunch talk by Nikkei Americans and Canadians about their feelings returning “home” to Japan.
Humph. With even less “rigor” (but good media), we had talks of what I call the genre of feel-good “baachan essays” (or conversely whiney ponderings about defeated expectations–i.e a “Japan don’t treat me right, despite” sort of thing). A love-in for those genetically-admitted, we received a talk about the narratives of older Japanese Americans and Canadians in the Kansai (which, since there were no narrative samples taken from younger women, or from any men at all “because they would disrupt the flow of information”, essentially became a survey of nattering older housewives shooting fish in a barrel). When I asked about if there were any plans to include the no doubt fascinating narratives of Nikkei Brazilians etc. (their factory schedules and language barriers notwithstanding), the answer was no, since, it was claimed, the study of Nikkei North Americans is far more underresearched. This surprising claim was based upon the fact that the Nikkei North Americans had fought or been betrayed by Japan in WWII, adversely influencing research of them. Aha. When the last speaker even asserted that Nikkei should being a White person to Japanese restaurants to get better service, I said, “It cuts both ways. There’s no science here.”
This confirmed a number of things I have been mulling over about these so-called Nikkei “returnees” (kibei) to Japan: How they seem to forget that their ancestors generally left Japan for perfectly good reasons, often because they didn’t fit in economically or socially. And they expect to come back and fit in now? I think it’s best to come here with no expectations or any trump cards due to genetics and make do as individuals, not Nikkei. But I’m sure they wouldn’t agree. To them it’s somehow some matter of birthright. Ah well. Enjoy the questionable social science from identity navel gazing and defeated expectations. It makes for exclusive ideological love-ins all over again, which happen to be just as exclusive as they feel they are facing in Japanese society.
Then in the late afternoon I carted my monolithic suitcase (full of books and T-shirts, http://www.debito.org/tshirts.html) through the subways (surprisingly unbarrier-free; I really feel sorry for people in wheelchairs), and found my way out to Tokai University, out in Odawara, an hour west of Tokyo. Hosts Charles and Yuki Kowalski had invited me out for two speeches care of their E-J translation ESP Classes in the International Studies Department. I had fortunately pounded out an 8-pager on “What is a Japanese?” shortly before I went to America weeks ago. I couldn’t even remember what I wrote, but as soon as we finished our home-cooked meal and some homeopathic remedy for my aching bike leg (it worked, actually–my leg hasn’t hurt since!), I went off to a deserted stay-over teacher’s dorm (I felt like I was walking the halls of the Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING, expecting to find twins behind every corner), was given two nights in a lovely old corner room with big windows overlooking trees, and got started on my Tokai speech Powerpoint (see it at http://www.debito.org/tokaispeech062507.doc)
Rising early the next morning (5AM), Monday, June 25, I put the finishing touches on a few visuals, was escorted at 9:30AM into a full classroom of perhaps 150 students, and asked to read my speech in English (without the E-J translation department there to help). I looked at the list of keywords carefully prepared by several teachers (who had done a hell of a lot of groundwork for my speeches–with classroom exercises on Japan’s internationalization, their opinions on who qualifies as a Japanese, and Japan’s future), and saw a full small-print page with words that were second-nature to me by now, but challenging to even advanced non-native speakers. Oops. Wound up paraphrasing the hard stuff, throwing in translations for difficult concepts, and finishing my talk early to power the rest of the presentation with Q&A. Anything to keep people from falling asleep. They didn’t. The questions came easily and quickly, and people of all langauge levels seemed to enjoy the conversation about Japan’s future.
But that’s not all. Later on in the afternoon, we were seated in a 500-seat auditorium with our ten translators, all raring to go, dreading the Q&A, but doing just fine on the prepared statements. I had prepared even more Powerpoint visuals in the interim (see the full version at http://www.debito.org/tokai062507.ppt), and we had a grand old time–especially since the hall had actually filled to 600 souls!, containing the crowded tension and interest when jokes come up and the speaker gets a little bombastic with his points.
But the questions were hell for the interpreters. One asked, “What do you think is the definition of ‘country’?” (as in nation–kuni). Another asked if my demand for Japan’s Census to measure for ethnicity was not a form of privacy invasion, even discrimination. Still another asked if I objected to the word “haafu” for international children (going instead for “double”), then how do Nikkei fit in? Having interpreters was lucky for me–their time taken to interpret gave me time to consider my answer, but when my answer go too tough to translate, I wound up giving my full ideas in fast Japanese like SNL’s Subliminal Man–to quite a few laughs. In the end, we had a wonderful time, and an audience, according to the ESP coordinators, more numerous, engaged, and thoughtful about the topic at hand than any other guest speech they had ever hosted.
Much merriment followed that evening over beers with the interpreters (two of them were actually Chinese, with excellent Japanese skills and even higher tolerance for alcohol), so much so I realized I had stayed out too late again and drunk too much. And I hadn’t even started my Powerpoint presentation for my last speech to be given in less than 24 hours. The problem was this time it was entirely in Japanese…
Rising even earlier (4AM) on Tuesday, June 26, I set to work. Major publisher Shogakukan in Jinbochou, Tokyo, had invited me as part of their guest lecturer series for raising the awareness of their writers, inviting minorities and interest groups to give their perspectives on the mass media. They asked me to speak on a dream topic–“Language that Japanese don’t notice is discriminatory”–and believe you me I had a lot I’ve wanted to say.
So much so, however, that my Powerpoint slides kept growing and growing. By 9AM I had finished a first draft of 45 slides. On the train back to Tokyo I started getting more ideas, and by the time I camped out for two hours at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Library, I had put together 51 slides (see them all here at http://www.debito.org/shougakukan062607.ppt), proofreading and checking text animations just once more with 30 minutes to go. Grabbed a sandwich and a cab, sailed into Shogakukan (in my daze I remembered that I had tried to sell them both my novel MS in 1994 (excerpts at http://www.debito.org/publications.html#FICTIONAL), and my children’s comic book two years ago (more on that later sometime)), and with T minus ten I was hooked up and let fly. It was not the first time I’ve finished my Powerpoint presentation less than an hour before I gave it, but it was the first time I’d ever done it without any help from a native speaker. And from what I was told afterwards, the Japanese was just fine.
I won’t get into what I said here, as this essay is long enough, (read the Powerpoint–maybe I’ll get around to translating it some day), but two hours later I was back on the street, having accomplished my goals completely. I headed back to the FCCJ, had a big dinner of comfort food (nachos and fish and chips, washed down with Grolsch), and attended a compelling Book Break by Roland Kelts (http://www.fccj.or.jp/~fccjyod2/node/2272), author of “JAPANAMERICA: How Japanese Pop Culture has invaded the US”, who very articulately spelled out how manga and anime are influencing both American society and international print media. And in passing he described how Pokemon really affects kids, without lapsing into jargon or faffing about with personal impressions. Well done. We exchanged books (or actually, he’ll send me a copy of his later), and someday I might even get around to reviewing it for Debito.org.
Then friend and Amnesty International Group 78 Coordinator Chris Pitts (http://www.aig78.org), gave me a room to crash in in West Tokyo, and we stayed up nursing beverages until the wee hours. I was up this morning at 5AM to beat the morning rush hour and catch my 9:50 flight back to Sapporo. Then I taught a class, writing this up before and after. I’m going to leave the keyboard now and sleep, thank you very much…
Again, I don’t think I’ve been this busy since grad school. Well, okay, once or twice since then. I can see that my daily grind of one paper per day back then was indeed good training. I’ll be down again in Tokyo in late July for yet another speech–if more don’t pop up like dandelions like what happened this trip. Keep you posted.
Returning to my regular blog schedule, I hope. Sorry for the hiatus. Arudou Debito back in Sapporo, Japan
UPDATE JULY 27, 2007 ENDS