EMAIL JOUST WITH A CRITIC OF MY "BULLIES" ESSAY
(posted to friends March 17, 1996)
This is a little debate I had with a rather nasty person who didn't like my essay on THE POWER OF BULLIES IN JAPAN. She flamed me in public on the Dead Fukuzawa Society network. Excerpt of her original public post follows, with my private responses following. Might give you an idea what kind of people live and don't live here in Japan.
EDITH T. IN SINGAPORE WROTE TO DFS, IN PART:
>I could also wish that David Aldwinckle publish some of his contributions as short >stories rather than plaster them across DFS, entertaining in a gruesome way though they might be. I long for the ghost of Somerset Maugham in reading DA; what would he call the collected works, "Under the Gingko Tree"?...
TO WHICH I REPLIED:
Hi. This is just to say sorry personally to you, and to ask what you meant by the reference to Maugham (I've never read him).
I'm sorry if you didn't enjoy my story or if you thought it wasn't pertinent to DFS. I gave fair warning at the beginning of the missive and hoped that I could tie in the point well enough to make it pertinent. Guess not well enough.
I get plenty of people who say they like my postings--that they make a nice change from the dry stuff, they say. I was hoping that Kinmouth was seen as a worse offender than I re letterbox clutter. Guess not, again.
I was just surprised that you singled me out for the category of "silly stuff". It's really that silly?
Apologies, Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo
TO WHICH EDITH REPLIED:
I am sorry to have mentioned you by name in my post; it's not particularly constructive to personalize the issue.
Having lived six years in Japan, five years in Canada, one in China, seven in the Philippines, three in Taiwan and three in Indonesia, (and now Singapore) in other words more than half my life outside the US, I have perhaps more than my fair share of experience with culture shock. To do you justice, you tell your culture shock stories well. You should, however, look for a copy of Somerset Maugham's The Casuarina Tree or one of his other short story collections set in late British colonial Malaya. His characters are frequently people who have gone off the deep end as a result of prolonged isolation and permanent culture shock. That is where I would have to put your account of publicly humiliating and forcing the demotion of a person who was responsible for the almighty crime of messing up your insurance renewal. Based on your account, your behavior was not only immoral but demented. The fact that you describe this as an example of where ijime can get you in Japanese culture trivializes the ethics of the situation beyond belief. Then -- was it you or others -- went on to justify your "attitude" on the basis of some notion of keeping your sense of indignation intact. This, my friend, is straight out of the goddam fakirs, can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar school of late British imperial culture. I am not advising you to be politically correct in your postings, but to develop some sense of self-awareness. Personally, I would say that you have lost your sense of balance and ought to move somewhere else for a while.
TO WHICH I REPLIED:
>I am sorry to have mentioned you by name in my post; it's not particularly >constructive to personalize the issue.
Okay. I guess my posting really touched a nerve, huh?
>person who was responsible for the almighty crime of messing up your >insurance renewal. Based on your account, your behavior was not only immoral >but demented. The fact that you describe this as an example of where ijime >can get you in Japanese culture trivializes the ethics of the situation >beyond belief. Then -- was it you or others -- went on to justify your >"attitude" on the basis of some notion of keeping your sense of indignation >intact.
I don't see your point about ethics. There was a lie told. That is a fact of the case. What about the ethics of giving a customer a runaround like this? This was not a simple mistake. This was damashi--and we were not the only victims of Tanaka's unprofessionality.
Now about the "almighty crime". Insurance fraud is a punishable activity because it could have serious reprocussions in a country where Force Majeure is seen as shiyou ga nai (because of the lack of rescue infrastructure--look at Kobe and Furubira--and a lack of a strong legal system to give the victims any avenues for recourse) and people have to watch themselves because the government is not going to back them up. Moreover, in a society as risk-averse as Japan's where people spend a huge amount of their income to safeguard against things that might not happen (insurance companies are HUGE here), EVERY Japanese I've talked to about this situation is incredulous that this could happen and said I did the right thing by raising a fuss. I took the course I took because I cannot realistically sue. Getting Tanaka's head on a platter was not part of the plan (if that is what indeed happened--I'm not going to check), but that's what happened and I did express regret at that in my narrative.
>This, my friend, is straight out of the goddam fakirs, can't keep >their hands out of the cookie jar school of late British imperial culture. I >am not advising you to be politically correct in your postings, but to >develop some sense of self-awareness.
I don't understand the "fakirs" and "cookie jar" metaphors, but that's probably because I haven't studied the attitudes behind British colonialism. Could you please elaborate?
>Personally, I would say that you have >lost your sense of balance and ought to move somewhere else for a while.
I assume your advice is made on good faith and I thank you for it. I will search for Maugham's book and think carefully about what you've said. But when it comes to having a sense of balance, I think I played by Japanese rules (the rules for Japanese bullies, that is--ijime is NOT the right word here) and won. What I did was over the top, yes, but definitely a possible tactic that other Japanese might employ.
To question my morality and sense of balance, relegating it to the category of "demented", would be to question those of the Japanese who taught me to behave this way. Maybe what this means is that Japanese society as a whole is unbalanced as well. But we all live here and have to muddle through. Escape by moving is the coward's way out.
Cheers, Dave Aldwinckle in Sapporo
TO WHICH EDITH REPLIED:
My private note to you was meant in good faith. I find your tales self-indulgent and yes, demented. They tell me a lot more about you than about the Japanese social and legal system. You seem to have a powerful faculty for self-justification and rationalization, so my comments evidently have rolled off your back. I agree that standing up for your rights is important, up to a point, and sometimes you have to make a fuss. The Tanaka situation went well beyond creating a fuss, however; how do you know he had "lied" to other clients, anyway?
I am NOT sufficiently interested in your life to carry on with this analysis, whether as inquisition or response to your defenses.
TO WHICH I REPLIED FINALLY:
If you're going to make nasty, ad-hominem remarks like this about a person and his post, you ought to read that person's post more carefully in order to criticize properly. How did I know Tanaka had lied to somebody else? Quote from the "self-indulgent" post:
>Suzuki's answer surprised me: "Well, it turns out there had been another >case such as this with Tanaka, so we have dealt with this (shobun) by >demoting him from kakarichou to shunin, and we might make him an >entry-level employee again." They soon scuttled out and that was that.<
In addition, I discussed what you said about my "demented" and "immoral" conduct with my wife--making such a fuss about such an "almighty" crime. She simply laughed at how simple-mindedly you could dismiss the problem.
FACT ONE: We live in a half-house, rented. Somebody else owns this house, and somebody else lives next door.
FACT TWO: If there is a disaster of any sort, we are responsible for covering what happens to not only our belongings, but those of our landlord's and our neighbor's as well, esp if the fire from an earthquake is determined to have originated in our house, etc.
FACT THREE: Covering those costs can run in the millions of dollars US. That means that we would be in debt forever because of a silly man in an insurance company lied to us about our coverage.
FACT FOUR: We do in fact have a family member who screwed up, becoming a guarantor for a fraudulent scheme, and ended up in debt for the rest of his life. He lost his house, his wife, everything that ever mattered to him. Our family wants to avoid that at all costs. Hence my wife's tenacity with Tanaka.
Sounds pretty "almighty" of a crime to me.
Moreover, I do not see your comments as made in good faith. In fact, your superciliousness tells me a lot about you as well--flitting from country to country, never putting your eggs in one basket (I am married to a Japanese, with two children and a steady job, and am about as immersed in the language and culture as a non-native is going to get), sitting in judgment of people because of what they represent to you (knee-jerk white-colonial-power comparisons are tossed around in your posts like frisbees but never elaborated upon) instead of where they stand as members of their society (If I was a Japanese making this post to DFS, would you have called me immoral? Probably not, because a Japanese MUST be moral if he is a Japanese following Japanese rules. But if a white like me follows those Japanese rules, well, that's just ghastly!).
Your silly and nasty comments, made from the standpoint of a been-there- done-that gaijin who either saw Japan with either culture-vulture awe or through respect-the-natives- cos-its-their-country culturally-relativistic eyes, tell me just how much you DON'T know about Japan.
Stay in Singapore. They can have people like you. Japan's for the foreigner with the real strong constitution, not just the transients who stay only until they've had enough of life in their gaijin bubbles and decide it's time to move on. But for those same transients, who left the society before it tied itself to them permanently, to criticize residents who have really gotten to know the place and its language warts-and-all, and then to decry their comments on what they see around them, well, there's the real dementia.
David Aldwinckle in Sapporo
I got no response.