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  • NZ publisher perpetuates “Tales of Gaijin”; I have to withdraw submission due to rubric I cannot accept

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 14th, 2010

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    [NB:  Original title of this post has been amended]

    Hi Blog.  I was invited a little over a year ago to submit two stories to a NZ publisher, a new place called Fine Line Press, run by a jolly decent fellow I know (former head of the Tokyo Chapter of JALT) named Graham Bathgate.  One story was on the Otaru Onsens Case, the other on the Top Five Things I Like About Japan.  I knew the person, was happy to oblige, and we exchanged some story drafts until satisfaction about the submissions were reached on both sides.

    However, in August I heard that the book would be published under the rubric of “Foreign Tales from Japan” (actually, they were originally punning on the “Tales of Genji” to make “Tales of Gaijin”.  Ick).  Alas, I am not a foreigner in Japan, and I said I did not want my stories to be included either under this rubric or within this concept.  I have, naturally, very strong feelings about being treated as a foreigner in Japan, and I do not like publishers (and former long-termers in Japan, such as Graham) exporting the binary “Japanese vs. Gaijin” mindset to media overseas.  We have enough trouble dealing with it over here without it being propagated in more liberal societies (such as NZ).  Graham, IMHO, should know better, and should publish better.

    So I protested and asked the rubric to be changed or my writing withdrawn.  After several months of silence, I got the final word:  The rubric would stand.  Okay.  Sad to see.

    But I’m not one to let things like this go.  I feel the publisher led me down a garden path, and then wound up pigeonholing me through imported racist paradigms.  Should be known about.  Here’s the main correspondence we had, for the record.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    ///////////////////////////////////////////

    From: graham bathgate
    Date: December 26, 2008 11:54:02 AM JST
    To: debito@debito.org
    Subject: Graham Bathgate here

    Dear Debito, A long time ago we connect re JALT stuff, etc. Actually,
    I interviewed you in a room at Sophia University (Jan. 28 ’01) and produced
    a piece which unfortunately I had no outlet for. That was entitled
    “Onsen in hot water won’t come clean”.

    Now I wonder if you would be interested and have the time
    to craft a story for a book I would like to publish in 2009. It will
    be my second book, the first being a slim volume of memoirs
    by an old student of mine, now 85 – called “Glimpses of Old Tokyo”.
    The second book has the working title of “Tales of Gaijin” and
    will be stories derived from the personal experiences of people
    who have lived or still live in Japan.
    I have taken the liberty of including the brief guidelines straight off
    to you, knowing that you are already a very productive writer – I greatly
    admired your home page and writings. Must be hugely helpful to
    all people, newcomers and old-hands in Japan.
    You’ll see below that there’s a limit of 2000 words on a story, but no-one’s
    going to quibble about 2,500 or a bit more. The deadline for an idea for
    a story is end of January, and for writing something, the end of March ’09…

    Hope to hear from you soon. All the best for 2009. Graham
    ¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶
    Guidelines in acronym form (PILLOTS) for your story about Tokyo/Japan:
    PILLOTS

    P – Personal experience / feelings
    I -  Images – clear and concrete – of Tokyo and/or Japan
    L – Lyrical (The prose should have beauty if not poetic quality)
    L – Light (Story ideally shows a light side of life in Japan with serious  comment on this …… or vice versa
    O – Observation (A clear event described or some thoughts about                                        Tokyo/Japan – contrast/comparison with other places OK)
    T – Tokyo-based atmosphere preferred / Japan fine, too
    S – Short (Not more than 2,000 words, or two or three very short “stories” adding up to that). There can be exceptions but 5,000 words would be a take-over!
    ¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶¶

    ////////////////////////////////////

    We had a few months of drafts bouncing back and forth, arrived at finished product, then I got this update:

    ////////////////////////////////////

    From: graham bathgate
    Subject: Invitation to book launch Tokyo
    Date: August 8, 2009 7:41:28 AM JST

    Dear All, Please have a look at the invitation on the site ….. and tell a friend:

    www.finelinepress.co.nz

    Iit will be “Foreign Tales from Japan” next year.

    My apologies to those of you already received something like this. Cheers, Graham

    ////////////////////////////////////

    I immediately checked things out and sent this reply:

    ////////////////////////////////////

    From: debito@debito.org
    Subject: Re: Invitation to book launch Tokyo — I am deeply disappointed by the publisher’s taglines.
    Date: August 8, 2009 10:04:27 AM JST
    To: Graham Bathgate

    Hi Graham. I’ve had a look. I am gravely disappointed by the publisher’s prospectus:

    http://www.finelinepress.co.nz/foreign_tales_from_japan.html

    =========================================
    A colleague at the school we taught at in Tokyo said that everyone has a good story to tell, possibly very true for travellers to the Far East. Recalling this we decided to ask friends there if they would like to write about an experience in Japan. The contributions were sufficient to start work on the next book. It will be published by the end of 2009, a compilation of forty stories by foreigners who live or have lived in Japan.

    The basic idea in producing this kind of book was to give a chance to people to tell their Japan experience in well-crafted story form, a tale that deserves to be recounted but perhaps wouldn’t otherwise find its way into print. The working title of the book isTales of Gaijin (after “Tale of Genji”).

    It will fascinate anyone interested in how foreigners view Japan and what their unique experiences were. It is hoped that Japanese people will read these stories and reflect on the images and opinions of people who love Japan.

    =========================================

    Debito continues:

    “a compilation of forty stories by foreigners who live or have lived in Japan”, “how foreigners view Japan” etc

    I’m not a foreigner.

    “Tales of Gaijin (after “Tale of Genji”).”

    This had better not be the title of the book.

    If this is how the book is shaping up, I want no part of it. I never knew that this would be sold as a book by “foreigners”, worse yet “gaijin” (a racist term in the very title). Either have your publisher make the proper accommodations for long-term residents and citizens or withdraw my story. I will have no part in perpetuating racist stereotypes overseas.

    Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    (cc publisher, which worse yet looks like it’s you. You wrote this??)

    ////////////////////////////////////

    From: Graham Bathgate
    Subject: Re: Invitation to book launch Tokyo — I am deeply disappointed by the publisher’s taglines.
    Date: August 8, 2009 11:12:34 AM JST
    To: debito@debito.org

    Dear Debito,
    Sorry you feel the book will not shape up and be fair to all, especially to the
    Japanese. All the stories have wonderful unique experiences
    to tell. There are haiku and tanka, too. It is a fine collection. I would be
    sad to lose your story because it gives an edge to the book which is lacking
    somewhat, I feel. However, good experiences in an adopted country have
    a readership, I am sure, not only among non-Japanese but also I hope
    among Japanese.
    The working title was the play on title “Tales of Genji”. Not the final title
    at all.
    What title would you suggest? I am open.
    What else would you like changed? Again open.
    I hope I can keep your story. It’s one of the best.
    Cheers,
    Graham

    ////////////////////////////////////

    From: debito@debito.org
    Subject: Re: Invitation to book launch Tokyo — I am deeply disappointed by the publisher’s taglines.
    Date: August 8, 2009 10:28:32 PM JST
    To: Graham Bathgate

    Graham, I think you missed my point. You are selling this as a book with the perspectives of foreigners. What about me, then? I am not a foreigner. Can you not see the disconnect?

    Titling: “Foreign Tales from Japan”, okay, but again, what about me? Not foreign. If you say it’s foreign perspectives, I’m out.

    Moreover, if you use the word “gaijin” in the title, my essay is off limits. I am not a gaijin, or a gaikokujin, and I will not be associated with any work which imports and uses that binary rubric to view the world. I am a Japanese. Full stop.

    Do you at least see the problem I’m talking about? I’m not talking about “fairness to all, especially to the Japanese”. I’m talking about accuracy. Calling me a foreigner is inaccurate. With me so far? If so, email back and we’ll continue this discussion.

    PS: Again, did you write the book blurb below?

    ////////////////////////////////////

    I received no answer until January 12, as in two days ago.

    ////////////////////////////////////

    From: Graham Bathgate
    Subject: Re: Launch ……. I am deeply disappointed…..
    Date: January 12, 2010 6:47:17 PM JST
    To: debito@debito.org

    Omedetoh,
    Sorry such a late reply, but Xmas or something.
    Many other writers were happy as “gaijin”, so I would like to
    save your “Onsen”, if I may, for another publication.

    I’ll be sure to let you know about the launch of “Forty Stories of Japan”, probably
    beginning of November in Tokyo, but should be out here in March.
    All the best for Tiger,

    Graham
    ============================

    On 14/12/2009, at 7:32 PM, Arudou Debito wrote:

    Hellooooo Graham? What’s happening with my writing, please? Debito

    ============================

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: Arudou Debito
    Date: August 13, 2009 9:55:43 PM JST
    To: Graham Bathgate

    Subject: RESEND: Invitation to book launch Tokyo — I am deeply disappointed by the publisher’s taglines.

    Graham, did you get this? Debito

    ============================

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: Arudou Debito
    Date: August 8, 2009 10:28:32 PM JST
    To: graham bathgate

    Subject: Re: Invitation to book launch Tokyo — I am deeply disappointed by the publisher’s taglines.

    Graham, I think you missed my point. You are selling this as a book with the perspectives of foreigners. What about me, then? I am not a foreigner. Can you not see the disconnect? … [rest of forwarded message deleted]

    ENDS

    15 Responses to “NZ publisher perpetuates “Tales of Gaijin”; I have to withdraw submission due to rubric I cannot accept”

    1. Gilesdesign Says:

      The first email explaining the book says the working title is “Tales of Gaijin”. Did you object to the title/premise before writing the piece?Just from reading these emails I dont quite see how he lead you down the garden path. Maybe during the “few months of drafts bouncing back and forth” there was some discussion about the title or premise of the book that we dont know about?

      – Read the initial proposal more closely. It’s not clear that THIS book I would be submitting for would be under that title. And the rubric is “stories derived from the personal experiences of *people* who have lived or still live in Japan”. Several months later, it’s “foreigners”. Sorry. Count me out.

    2. Gilesdesign Says:

      As far as I read there are only two books in question and it cant be his first book he asked you to write for because thats some memoirs written by someone else.
      He expressly says…
      “Now I wonder if you would be interested and have the time
      to craft a story for a book I would like to publish in 2009. It will
      be my second book”
      “The second book has the working title of “Tales of Gaijin” and
      will be stories derived from the personal experiences of people
      who have lived or still live in Japan.”

      In my opinion, it is clearly the “second book” he asked you to write for and it clearly had the working title”Tales of Gaijin”
      I feel sorry for you having done all that work for nothing and the misunderstanding but I cant help but also feel sorry for the guy being posted up on this site like this. I agree the rubric may have been ambiguous and does not refer to NJ specifically but the title seems to have been Gaijin/Foreign oriented from the start. Even though the rubric only says “people” we can assume these people are NJ since it has the working title “Tales of Gaijin”
      Am I missing something?

      – Looks like I did. I guess I didn’t believe a person like Graham would keep a title like this (ultimately, he didn’t — it became “Foreign Tales from Japan” in his August announcement, although not in his online publisher blurb).

      Either way, the larger picture is, do we want overseas publishers also exporting and promoting the view that anyone not Japanese is a gaijin? Or that a NJ is a racially-based construct? I don’t.

    3. AjiNoTokedai Says:

      Now I wonder if you would be interested and have the time
      to craft a story for a book I would like to publish in 2009. It will
      be my second book, the first being a slim volume of memoirs
      by an old student of mine, now 85 – called “Glimpses of Old Tokyo”.
      The second book has the working title of “Tales of Gaijin” and
      will be stories derived from the personal experiences of people
      who have lived or still live in Japan. At least from how I understood it.

      I think it says pretty clearly that he wanted you to write for the
      second book, which had the working title “Tales of Gaijin.” However,
      I also understand your point that the people/foreigners aspect was not clear.

      – This comment came in while I was responding to the previous. Thanks. See my reply above.

    4. treblekickeresq Says:

      Am I the only one who finds Debito’s practice of publishing private email correspondence a bit distasteful? Or have I completely lost touch with conventions surrounding email and the internets.

      If it’s just me, perhaps I’ve reached the age I can go outside and yell at the kids to get off my lawn.

      – It’s not private. This is official correspondence from a representative of a publishing company in his role as a representative of said publishing company regarding company business.

    5. Gilesdesign Says:

      Oh I do not disagree with your objection about using the term gaijin (as a NJ, I feel less strongly about this word but accept that some NJ find it offensive). I certainly agree that it is inaccurate for Japanese to be called NJ or gaijin. Nobody would dream of referring to a non caucasian or anglo-saxon looking British person as a foreigner in the UK so I totally understand that it is highly offensive to you.

      My concern was that this publisher, regardless of whether we agree or think his terms are inaccurate, deserves not to be misrepresented as leading you on to believe something when in fact his conflicting opinions or mistakes seem to be relatively apparent from the start (maybe you disagree? I do not know the details of you conversations and emails)
      If you agree that you simply missed it as you say “looks like I did” maybe you should consider modifying the title and retracting parts of the post like “I feel the publisher led me down a garden path”.
      I know if someone misrepresented me in a public setting like this I would find it very upsetting.

      – If I had misrepresented him, I would not be providing primary source materials. The editor is representing himself through his correspondence. I reach my conclusions based upon my reading of those primary source materials. So can you, based upon your reading of the same materials, as you have. In any case, it is not a misrepresentation. It is my conclusion. Disagree with it if you like.

      My problem still remains that even after my objections were raised, no action was taken by the publisher (after months of silence) to modify things in a way I feel would be appropriate (and for that matter, not racist — for misrepresentations of race and nationality are the core issue here). As they are a member of the mass media, I think this is irresponsible on their part. When it became clear that that would not happen, I went public.

    6. sendaiben Says:

      Hi Debito

      I was approached to contribute to this, but turned it down when I saw the title (tales of Gaijin) for the same reasons you stated.

      Shame you didn’t pick up on it immediately, you could have saved yourself some trouble!

    7. Gilesdesign Says:

      “If I had misrepresented him, I would not be providing primary source materials”
      ?
      It is precisely because the primary source materials do not support the theory that he lead you on that we are having this debate, I dont think the mere fact that you posted the emails clears you of any misrepresentation in the other content and title of the post. Even if you misunderstood his original email or believed he would change the title to something better, If you admit it was your misunderstanding it means you misrepresent him by leaving this post in its current form even if it was originally by mistake.

      ” I reach my conclusions based upon my reading of those primary source materials. So can you, based upon your reading of the same materials, as you have. In any case, it is not a misrepresentation. It is my conclusion. Disagree with it if you like.”

      Is there another conclusion/interpretation to be drawn form that original email with the working title expressed as “Tales of Gaijin”?. I am not sure what this conclusion is you made that I am supposed to have disagreed with. You only said you missed it which indicates that you now agree with my interpretation?

      Anyway, I just noticed you changed the title and erased some content -Thanks.
      Now we have the upper hand with any case of racist publishing.

    8. sendaiben Says:

      To be honest, I’m also not sure that publishing the emails verbatim is warranted in this case. I would probably class them as private correspondence, and the whole thing kind of boils down to the fact that you didn’t notice the title of the book until you had already put the time into writing your piece, and then weren’t able to get the title changed.

      I don’t like the original title either, but the new one is not offensive unless you happen to be Japanese and are also asked to contribute. That seems more like the person asking you didn’t really do their homework before asking. Again, I would have thought the onus would be on you to pick up on that.

      No huge deal, but I am not sure this is an issue so much as a private disagreement between you and this person. As such, I don’t think it warrants the sledgehammer of public naming and shaming… but that is just my opinion… :)

      – Of course. But again, it’s not private correspondence. It’s official business correspondence about business matters. There were even submission guidelines included (I just added them). Agree to disagree, fine, but I know which side would stand up in court.

      Moreover, it’s not a homework issue. Graham of course knew who I was when he invited me (he wrote above about interviewing me on the Onsens Case back when it first started, remember, and is fully aware, as per the story we approved, that my Japanese status is fundamental to the issue). The fact that he still renders me a foreigner by dint of the title of the book is something I think I should be upset about. That’s the personal-affront side of things.

      Now, let’s progress onto the larger issue: A discussion of whether publishers overseas should be further propagating this sort of gaijin-nihonjin rubric.

    9. Gilesdesign Says:

      Well I agree with Sendaiben . In my opinion the whole argument holds very little weight beyond the faux pas of the initial email which wrongly invites a Japanese guy to contribute to a book documenting stories of NJ. But this Graham guy hardly deserves public shaming for not picking up on the mistake if even Debito the Japanese guy in question did not do so during the ¨few months of drafting back and forth¨.
      If the publishers do not wish to change the title (which is fair seeming as presumably they have other NJ contributors that agreed to the title and premise and have spent time writing content) then it seems logical if unfortunate that Debito had to withdraw his contribution due to a misunderstanding.

      As to the larger issue about representation of NJ in foreign media…
      I doubt that most NJ readers of this book will have much issue with the fact that the writers chose to represent themselves as gaijin (We are not even sure they do as the book title was changed). Does this book propagate harmful or offensive representations of NJ? That depends on the writers content I guess, We cannot tell simply from this post which only documents a misunderstanding between Debito and Graham.

    10. Mark Hunter Says:

      I’m with Debito on this. For whatever reason the misunderstanding took place, it is somewhat surprising to me that a former head of a major JALT chapter would feel using the ‘gaijin’ word is ok to sell books. Now, if Mr. Bathgate was attempting to wrestle ownership of the ‘g’ word away from those who use it to label and ‘other’ people, much in the same way black Americans have come to use the ‘n’ word, then perhaps we could say power to him. However, I doubt this emasculation of the word ‘gaijin’ was the publisher’s intent. English education in Japan is one area in which students can truly be taught the negative aspect of othering an entire group with such labels as ‘gaijin’ and Mr Bathgate must surely be aware,especially with his prior exposure to education in Japan, of how the word ‘gaijin’ is used as a primarily racial, not ethnic label, in daily life in Japan. Of course he appears to no longer be involved in English education so what goes on in Japan may be of little concern to him now – and the books he helps produce are not, as far as we are led to believe, intended to be major sellers in the Japanese language. Nonetheless, even after reiterating to the publisher that he is not a foreigner, Debito received the following reply – “Sorry you feel the book will not shape up and be fair to all, especially to the Japanese”. Mr Bathgate, even after achieving a lofty executive position in JALT (a highly flawed organization in my opinion)and even with all his experience in language education, just doesn’t seem to get that a white guy can be Japanese, and even more depressingly, that a white guy doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘gaijin’. That, to me, seems to be the crux of the problem and Debito is right to have called him on it. Just the way I see it.

    11. Mark Hunter Says:

      Regarding the posting of the emails: Why not? Debito says they are not private. Funny how some of us like our activism to be ‘light’, not too in the face. This is a blog about making Japan and the world better, against a tide of many grave injustices. Even addressing seemingly small issues like the above misrepresentation are part of that process and sometimes an ‘in the face’ approach is necessary. It is sad to think that some of us have become so comfortable and entrenched in our positions that we start to let the smaller issues fall by the wayside.

    12. carl Says:

      It would be a shame for you to withdraw your submission because you have some particularly profound insights about Japan and your experiences could certainly give people some unique advice, but I commend you for standing by your principles. Just hope this little disagreement doesn’t create any bad blood between you and the publisher.

      – One can hope, indeed. If they’re mature enough to see the business interest beyond the stereotyping (and not link them), and know that my intentions are earnest in nature, maybe. We’ll see.

    13. Kevin Says:

      I find it interesting that Mr. Bathgate didn`t get the hint. When reading the correspondence I felt that Debito was very straight forward about saying he didn`t want his articles included if those two previously stated conditions were not met. Mr. Bathgate seems very strongly to want to publish them anyways.

      It seemed from the title, Mr. Bathgate wanted to in someway publish/bring to light the racism in Japan. I am guessing, however, this was not the main objective and would most likely have many possitive stories included as well. If the book was about discrimination in Japan, I think the satirical title would be most apt. however, I am quite sure this was/is not Mr. Bathgate`s main objective and I feel that Debito was very much in the right to ask to be removed from the book.

      If Mr. Bathgate had a blerb in Debito`s artical about how he is now a naturalized citizen, but his story was from before his naturalization I think it might somehow be ok. In anycase anytime were you identify between us and them you are creating catagories that easily lead to discrimination/racism. I think the orient and the occidental thinking is still very much alive in Western thinking, hence the whole “Western” bit. Maybe Debito should write the `Tales of Gaijin` in how seperating people into these kind of groups is perpetually creating a divide that keeps us apart rather than together.

    14. Shiro Ishii Says:

      I agree with Kevin that if the book explicitly introduced Debito’s article as being special because it comes from a *former* “foreigner”, i.e., a naturalized Japanese national, then, while Debito might still not wish it to be included, it would not necessarily be misleading or offensive, and might instead broaden and deepen the value of the book (which seems to be Mr. Bathgate’s hope).

      At the same time, I would personally have serious misgivings based on the apparent underlying attitude, which I agree with Debito seems to be a binary ethnic one. Even if Debito’s article got a perfect introductory disclaimer, the blurbs and content of the other articles, and the general presentation, might still render it obscene (i.e., taken as a whole, lacking in redeeming social value).

    15. Tony In Saitama Says:

      On the issue of stereotyping, an interesting tangent;

      http://sankei.jp.msn.com/world/china/100125/chn1001250931000-n1.htm

      女性差別だ、女偏の漢字改めよ! 中国で改革案…でも反対論優勢
      2010.1.25 09:28産經新聞
       【北京=矢板明夫】「『妖』『嫌』『奴』など計16の女偏の漢字は女性差別の意味があり、改めるべきだ」
       中国の弁護士が今月初め、国務院(政府)の国家言語文字委員会に対する提案をインターネット上で発表し、大きな話題となった。賛否両論が寄せられている。
       この弁護士はフェミニストとして知られる葉満天氏で、中国メディアの取材に対し「私たちが今日使っている漢字には、男性優位の封建社会のなごりがあり、マイナスイメージを持つ女偏の漢字が多く、女性の社会的評価を下げている」と説明。一例として「嫉(しつ)妬(と)」を挙げ、「男女共通の感情なのに、女偏をつけるのは女性に対し不公平だ」と指摘した。
       「娯楽」の「娯」も、女性が男性を楽しませるという意味が込められており、学校で子供に教えると、男尊女卑の意識を助長する恐れがあるという。葉氏はこれら女性差別につながる可能性がある16の女偏漢字を、行人偏に改めるよう政府に求めた。 この提案に対しては、一部で支持はあるものの、反対意見が圧倒的に多い。ネットでは「『好』『妙』『嬌』などプラスイメージの女偏の漢字も多く、それなりにバランスがとれており、変える必要はない」といった主張や、「男という字は『田』に『力』と書く。男性だけが田んぼで力仕事をしなければならないということになり、漢字は別に男性優位にはなっていない」といった意見が殺到している。
       北京師範大学の女性教授で漢字学者の王寧氏は「漢字は伝統文化が積み重ねられる中で形成されており、それ自身は差別の意味はなく符号に過ぎない。このように言葉狩りをするなら、現代社会に合わない古代の人々の意識や社会制度を反映する漢字を全部変えなければならないので、きりがない」と中国紙、法制晩報の取材にコメントしている。

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