Posted by debito on August 9th, 2007
Hi Blog. Normally I would shout “congratulations” from the rooftops at the news: The momentous appointment of a non-Japanese to be director of an important Japanese institution.
Particularly when said institution is tasked with keeping the faith on with an important international issue–one the GOJ brings up constantly in its untiring quest for uniqueness in the world stage (“the only country in history ever bombed by nuclear weapons”). As well as for world peace.
But Steven Leeper, the newly-appointed director of the Hiroshima Peace and Culture Foundation, is proving to be a historical curator with an odd attitude not only towards history (see KTO August 2007 and Steve Silver article below), but also towards non-Japanese in Japan (a category he still falls into, of course).
Cited recently in several media, including the International Herald Tribune, the Asahi Shinbun, the Japan Times, and the Kansai Time Out, Leeper rings hollowly at the end of the KTO article (full article scanned at the bottom of this blog entry):
“I’m afraid I don’t see much of a role for foreigners in the Japanese government. It would never have occurred to me to pursue the position that I am in. I did absolutely nothing to pursue it, and I would not recommend that anyone pursue such a path. From what I have seen and experienced, foreigners who make a commitment to Japan and are willing to give what they can over a very long term get utilized in ways their communities need, and they get rewarded more than fairly for what they give.
In general, though, I see Japan as being a place where Japanese people can go about the business of being Japanese. Those of us who are not Japanese but enjoy living in Japan can learn from them and help them to relate to the outside world. But our influence is and should be rather limited. I personally hope the Japanese will remain quite Japanese. In fact, I wish they would get back to being more Japanese than they are today. For those who like diversity, which I also enjoy, we have the U.S. I truly enjoy both cultures, but I want them to stay different.
I see. So whatever “going about the business of being Japanese” means (it’s obviously automatically “different” from what foreigners do, even from what “today’s Japanese” do), it’s clear to Leeper that foreigners (and their Japanese children, one assumes) being in our country somehow sully that and should be constrained. Never mind that some “foreigners” have been here for a “very long term” indeed (generations), and many have not reaped the ultimately forthcoming “fair rewards” he assures us of. And then there’s the hundreds of thousands of others (like guess who) have even naturalized, and still have to fight for an equal shake in this society.
But if these intruders aren’t somehow “Japanese enough” to qualify for GOJ jobs (or aren’t fortunate enough to have one fall into their laps through no fault of their own), they should go someplace more diverse, like America? (which will surely grant them all visas)
How odd. I’m trying really hard to see this as a “you stand where you sit” sort of attitude made by a person bound by his job. But it’s square-pegging a round hole. I understand why Leeper might take a 100% Pacifist line–for example, that nuclear weapons should never be used, moreover eliminated from the face of the earth given the damage they do.
But Leeper is clearly out of bounds when he says that NJ should have no role in the decisionmaking processes of Japan. NJ should merely settle for whatever scraps Japanese society might deign to throw them (as opposed to pushing for more equal treatment)? Why this ironic disposition to pull up the ladder behind him?
If Leeper feels this strongly, why accept this job? Oh, because it was a scrap thrown him due to circumstances beyond his control. Congrats, you won the lottery. But now that you’ve been included, why go out of your way to make exclusivist arguments?
Here’s hoping Leeper wises up a bit, and remembers his own position in society both before and after his appointment. Otherwise he’s going to come off as an Uncle Tom, echoing the more xenophobic and conservative elements of Japan (some of whom led Japan down the road culminating in the extreme acts of war he curates), damaging his own reputation and credibility in the process.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Steven Leeper’s email address:
Excellent article from Steve Silver on other aspects of Leeper’s views:
IHT, ASAHI, AND JAPAN TIMES ARTICLES FOLLOW SEPARATELY IN COMMENTS SECTION