MY SPEECH TO THE NATIONAL PERSONNEL AGENCY
PART TWO: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FROM THE AUDIENCE
(Sent in tandem with Part One, Mon, 24 Nov 1997)
A PERSON FROM ASAHIKAWA MEDICAL COLLEGE asked the first question: how conditions were for these above items in other countries. Is Japan really so different in these regards?
I narrowed the scope of the question down to the OECD (senshin koku) as a base of comparison, then answered each point in turn, briefly:
In terms of 1) TAKING CARE OF HOW YOU SAY THINGS, I mentioned that there has been a big push to eliminate words with nasty connotations. Nigger, cripple, retard, what have you. I said that sometimes it has gone too far (explaining the PC phenomenon), but still it has had several beneficial effects. The point is that I think watching iikata has gone a long way towards eliminating preconceptions, and promoting ambivalence towards people with differences. Although progress has been imperfect, it has certainly been better than NOT doing it.
2) As for the RE-ENTRY PERMIT SYSTEM, I know of no other OECD country which taxes people with Green Cards this way. Likewise with the 3) RESIDENCY FORMS (juuminhyou), some countries do have these forms (Germany), but I know of nobody who links residency with nationality. And for 4) LISTING NONJAPANESE SPOUSES PROPERLY ON THE KOSEKI, not everyone has a koseki system, but even Germany lists foreign residents as a spouse, not as a remark, on their version.
For the 5) OFFICE FOR DISCRIMINATION-BY-NATIONALITY COMPLAINTS, I mentioned that overseas there are plenty of anti-defamation leagues out there, ombudsmen, sensitivity training courses, and legal and extralegal services that protect and foster respect of minorities. They vary in strength from country to country, but they do exist, and it would be a sign of good faith if the government would help them along here.
For 6) EMPLOYING NONJAPANESE THE SAME AS JAPANESE IN THE GOVERNMENT, and 7) CLARIFYING NINKISEI AND TENURE SYSTEMS, I said other countries do not expressly say that non-nationals may not be promoted, nor has any other country engaged in a campaign to actively give non-nationals only contracted positions in government. As an example, I mentioned my dad, Brit-born, who was hired before he naturalized the same as anyone else at a state-run university; he was eventually given tenure. Kanagawa, Kobe, Kouchi-ken, and even Sapporo are ignoring nationality requirements in their employment practices. It would be nice if that were done at the national level as well.
[Later, one of the Agronomists said that there is "no specific written clause" that states that, say, no Korean may be promoted--it's just an understanding. Moreover, some job positions are sensitive. Anyway, he noted that his department and others at the national level are in fact hiring non-nationals. I smiled and bowed my head in thanks.]
As for 8) MAKING NATURALIZATION EASIER, I noted that not all countries are easy to naturalize into, but Japan is unduly difficult. And it shows. How many people naturalized into Japan last year? About 14,000. How many will naturalize into America this year? According to CNN, about 1.8 million. That means that America takes in Japan's annual quota in little over a week. Now, given that America is an immigration country, this is not really a good base for comparison. But in places where cheap labor has come from overseas, local economies have prospered. Japan is already using cheap labor in the 3K industries (kitanai (dirty), kitsui (difficult), kiken (dangerous)). So why not help Japan's economy and resolve the labor shortage (roudou busoku) by allowing these people to stay forever? It will help Japan in many ways.
Now, the LARGE improvements are wish lists, part of a perfect society, but let's see how many of them are overseas. 1) EDUCATING CHILDREN ABOUT DISCRIMINATION would help raise public sensitivities. I had African-American teachers in fourth and sixth grade, and it taught me a lot about interracial tolerance. Again, this is America, but it was good for my education as a kid.
2) DUAL NATIONALITY is possible in the US, England, and France. Not in Germany. I don't know about other countries.
3) RELABELLING MINORITIES has happened in the US, England, and France. Indians have become "Native Americans", Blacks "African-Americans", et cetera.
And as I said before, 4) CITIZENSHIP AS A BIRTHRIGHT is rare. [France just passed a law permitting it]. But it resolves a lot of questions about nationality.
I finished off by asking the questioner if I had answered his query adequately (I always do that to relax people with the right of reply). He said I had and we moved on.
NEXT QUESTION came from a man from Sapporo Medical College. He asked if I have so many problems with Japan, then why do I want to stay here?
I answered by saying that I do like it here. I will like and dislike things about any place I live. That's inevitable. But these are just a few things that I think Japan should think about. That's all.
Still, I've noticed that this society seems to like a sense of balance in their discussions, so I've prepared a list of things I do like about Japan: 1) Japanese food (I made sure to loosen things up by mentioning that I don't like nattou and giving a few misadventures with chawanmushi), 2) bath culture and furthermore the emphasis on cleanliness (although antibacterial bike handlebars is going a bit far), 3) the Chounaikai System, because you get to know your neighbors better (I mentioned the old American joke about how Person A was asked if he knew Person B, and he snorted, "Of course not! He's my neighbor!"), 4) the "omoiyari no shakai" ("society which thinks of others"--and contrasted it with my experience going back to the US and feeling how dog-eat-dog it gets), 5) the Festivals, where people real hard to "moriagaru" for the kids, 6) the aftercare service system (compared to the American attitude of "buyer beware"), 7) the heavier feeling of responsibility here (too many people don't seem to care about sloppy workmanship in the US).
And last, a paean to the audience--8) Japan's willingness to study. Japan spends a lot of its time absorbing ideas from overseas. Sometimes those ideas get Japanized beyond recognition, but the fact is that people look abroad for input more often than the average society (the Chinese lost centuries of civilization to the barbarians by ignoring them and believing in the superiority of their own culture, the British tend to think that if it wasn't thought up domestically it can't be much good). The fact that I am here today, talking to you, and having you listening to my ideas though they are not "Japanese", is a good thing, and it shows something about Japan's openmindedness. I don't know if anything will come of it, but it is a good start, and I thank you for it.
NEXT QUESTION (a comment, actually), came from a man from the Ministry of Justice. He corrected many of my things I said about naturalization:
a) Not all of the forms and certificates are necessary, but do your best to get them. We want to fill out your koseki as accurately as possible.
I answered that I can understand that concern--we don't want bigamy so we need a certificate of divorce, we don't want liars, crooks or spies so we do want accurate forms and good stock. But I would hope that the system would be a little more flexible.
b) Addresses of relatives only have to go as far as grandparents, not cousins. And addresses since birth can be fudged if memory fails.
I bowed deeply here and apologized to everyone for inadequate research.
c) The reason why dual nationality is not permitted is because if Japan goes to war with the country you have nationality with, then you cannot serve on the armed forces of either side and would be a security risk. I said that this is pretty unlikely, Japan going to war and all that. But even America states explicitly that if you serve on the armed forces of another nation, you lose your US citizenship. But America is not so worried that people will become turncoats that it has to deny everyone the dual nationallity privilege.
He replied that he just wanted to give an official reason for the existing law, and went on:
d) He said that names are not given such a third-degree. My preferred naturalized name (I had written it on the board--Arudou Debito, in kanji 有道 出人) would be fine. Just discuss this beforehand with your wife and ch ildren, because they might not want their surname as I chose it--since married Japanese citizens are not allowed separate surnames (fuufu bessei). [Audience laughter]
I played on that laughter by steepling my fingers in begging-prayer, and asking if it would be okay for me to remember his name, so he can help when I try to Japanize my name. And as for the "Arudou" surname, my wife has already said that she hates it, so there's a problem outside of government help.
I asked him if he had anything more to say, and he did. "Above all, it's not really that difficult to naturalize. We're just being careful about who we let in."
I replied that that is an understandable goal. But there is being careful, and then there is being careful. I don't think that going into a person's house to inspect their wallpaper is really necessary. I just built a house and would love to show it to all of you. But I don't want to be disqualified from becoming a Japanese because I imported my floors and sofa. [Audience laughter] I think it would be better if the rules were relaxed a bit in a few places.
He smiled and seemed to agree.
NEXT QUESTION came from the Agronomist, who, on the subject of creating more internationally-minded schools, asked me which school system I would want my kids to go into--Japanese or nonJapanese.
I replied that I don't really have enough information about the treatment of nonJapanese children in Japanese schools yet. "Ask me in a couple of years after my kids start school. Is that an answer to your question?"
"Not really," he said. "After ten years in Japan, you must have heard about examination hells and bullying and all that. Surely you must have thought about which system you would prefer."
"Oh, yes, as you say, of course I have. I do think that Japan has good schools. An enormous percentage of people graduate from them. Illiteracy is low. People can function in society. And they do learn lots about overseas societies--I think more than more inward-looking America does. But the problem is that Japanese schools, when discussing foreign cultures, stress the "foreign" aspect of them, i.e. stressing that they are different from us. They say less that "we are all people" and more that "we are Japanese and they are not like us". [Most people in the audience were nodding at this point. I was touching upon something good.] I don't think that is a good tendency. This is what I mean about a curriculum update.
"But my point is that I can't exactly say which system I would prefer personally for my kids. I would have liked to put them through the Hokkaido International School, but in our small village we are too far away now. So our plan is to try Japanese schools for a few years and see how the kids like them. Leave it up to the kids."
He nodded in acknowledgement.
NEXT QUESTION came from a rep of the Sapporo District Court, who asked about whether we didn't in fact have it pretty good. Many nonJapanese [it was amazing how most people suddenly took on the un-gaijin lexicon I suggested] say how nice and kind (shinsetsu) Japanese are towards them. Are Japanese really that bad?
I said that Japanese are indeed very kind. They do not try to swindle people in marketplaces, they do try to be helpful, they do treat guests very well. Therein lies the problem. We are always treated like guests. I'm afraid that after a while this becomes a case of "killing us with kindness" (arigata meiwaku), when people do things that are not in our interests in the name of their perception of kindness. It becomes difficult when we realize that there will always be a difference (sa) in how we are treated, negatively or positively. My point is that eventually we would like to be treated as if we were living here the same as everyone else. Kindness is one thing, acceptance is another.
NEXT QUESTION came from my friend in Immigration, and it was the most important one of the conference. It went:
"I understand many of the problems you are talking about, as I am dealing with foreigners (gaikokujin) on a daily basis. But honestly, I don't see what is wrong with the words as they stand. I don't use gaikokujin or gaijin in a nasty way. I don't feel any ill-will (warugi) towards the people I'm addressing. So what's wrong? Even America uses the word "alien" when talking about its foreigners. Is that too sabetsu yougo?"
This is the type of question I always wait for, since it is a topic I deal with in all of my Debate classes at my university. My presentation of the points has been honed from days and days of speaking all day about this topic to my students. And it goes roughly like this:
"I do understand what you're saying, and I know you don't mean any ill-will. The point boils down to this: where is the burden of interpretation--on the speaker or on the listener? If the speaker means nothing bad by it, is it really bad language?
"I say it is on the listener. The nightly news would agree. When people talk about Kitachousen (North Korea), they always have to add somewhere that it is the "Chousen Minshuushugi Jinmin Kyouwakoku" (The Democratic People's Republic of Korea). Why is that? Because they are talking about people, and people in North Korea have requested that they be addressed properly. It is due to the wishes of the listener.
"Now, given that the listeners' sensitivities have to be taken care of, what is there to be hurt about? Where is the discrimination? As you say, people with differences, say, from different countries, have to have a word to describe them. English itself uses 'foreigner' and 'alien'--it's just a matter of 'kubetsu' (differentiation). When does it become 'sabetsu' (discrimination)?
"The answer to that is when a preconceived idea becomes a policy, used on people. It is all very well to say, 'I like this cup', or 'I don't like this coffee', because these things are not alive; they don't get hurt by your decisions because they don't have feelings. That's just showing preference. But when we use words to express preferences about people, we have to be careful. For example, I might say, 'I like Asians more than blondes.' Fine. I married an Asian. [Audience laughter] But when I decide as a personal policy that I don't like blondes so I will never talk to one again, then that's discrimination. We are not taking into account individuality when deciding things about people, and are making genetics a qualification for acceptance or rejection.
"It's one thing to say that 'our school will only take people who pass a written test with a high score'--because the assumption is that if people study harder, they will qualify. Anyone can pass if they try hard enough.
"But it's another to say that 'we will only hire people with Japanese blood'. Japanese blood is not something that one can get through extra effort. One is either born with it or not. Which is discrimination, not differentiation, because people are categorized by things that they can do nothing about.
"My point is that under the present mindset of the Japanese language, too many words have the assumption that a Japanese is something that you are born, not something you can become. Ill-will or not, words like 'gaijin' are hurtful because they delineate by race. They are different from 'alien' or 'foreigner' because one can become a non-alien or non-foreigner by naturalizing. But under present conditions, I can never become a non-gaijin, and it is pretty difficult to become a non-gaikokujin. Let's be aware of this, push against it, and thereby help us to assimilate."
The man from Immigration nodded and said he had some good news:
"About that Reentry Permit System. About ten years ago, when we were young Turks in the department, we did suggest to our superiors that the Sai Nyuukoku Kyoka was unfair and that we should do away with it. They told us back then to get lost. However, there is talk within Immigration nowadays of doing away with it again, and this time there is more support for your position. I think that it is one of your wishes that will come true in the near future."
I, elated to hear that, applauded and bowed deeply.
CONCLUSIONS AT LAST
There were a two other questions--one banal one about American education, and the other I can't recall. We had gone overtime by about fifteen minutes, and Jinjiin staff started pointing to their watches. At this point I concluded thus:
"I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my views. In my society, it would probably be the case that I, as a minority, would have to demand an audience from the government myself. Here, the request for my views came from you, and you have listened and given me much positive feedback. I hope that what I have said has made some sense, and I hope that in future, publicly or privately, that we will meet again and think of ways to improve lives for all people living in Japan. It would be good for Japanese society. Thank you very much."
All-in-all, I think the speech and discussion was received very well. I kept my voice low and polite, played for laughs whenever possible, and kept a positive demeanor throughout. I got a lot of applause at the end, and the Jinjiin people in attendance were surprised at the amount of audience participation (they also indicated that they had never seen such an interactive discussion format). I think it made a good impression. As I am big on eye contact, I noticed by the end that only two people out of the 29 kept their eyes down throughout, as if to suggest rejection. Everyone else was nodding and apparently taking it all in.
In sum, like Woody Harrelson in WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP, I felt like I was in The Zone throughout the talk. I felt like everything was going to go all right, that every point being given was a set up for the spike, like Al Gore debating NAFTA with Ross Perot. It was a very good day. Whether anything good will come of it, I don't know. But again, it's a good start.
Finally, I want to thank everyone out there in cyberspace once again for all your feedback. You definitely made it a lot easier for me to speak meaningfully and conclusively. May our lives here become easier for it.
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Copyright 1997-2007, Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan