(Sent to Fukuzawa and Friends Thu, 12 Mar 1998)

Subject: MOF SPEECH MOTIVES: Respectful Reply to Hashimori (really!)

Hello Fukuzawa. Mr Hashimori emailed me privately with a query about my motives for giving a speech to the Japanese government. Although he and I have had our differences (read more about them here) , his questions are germane. And as he posted "on behalf of the DFSociety", I will cc DFS in my reply. This is not a flame, mind you, so read on if you are interested in the issue he raises of "tokenism".

(NB: For those who do not watch Japanese TV, Dave Spector is a tarento, known throughout the foreign community as the perennial TV prostitute. He appears near daily on TV--whenever a token gaijin needs to be wheeled out--to offer empty words on topics he often knows nothing about, but in excellent Japanese. His smarminess (not to mention dyed blonde hair and blue contact lenses--to better pander to the gaijin image) makes a lot of people's skin crawl.)

At 8:44 AM 3/12/98 +1000, Hashimori Iwato wrote:

>Dear Mr. Aldwinckle,

>Truly I do not know how to say this in a way which does not come across abrasively, but it needs to be said.

(omission of a riff on foreigner tokenism within American academia)

>Mr. Aldwinckle, you appear to be aware that you are being used by the Japanese government as a token foreigner, and you blatantly admit that your ignorance of economics is extraordinary. Unlike Archie Singham you are not an accomplished scholar, but like him you do appear to fill the role of a non-threatening outsider.

>Because you are obviously fulfilling a token role, I, and many other "takokumin" living in Japan, have a vested interested in just how we are being represented. As such, it seems appropriate to ask you on behalf of the DFSociety to explain just exactly how you perceive your own role in Japanese society -- more specifically, your bureaucratic engagements!

>1) In what way is the Japanese government using you to enhance its own objectives?

>2) In what way do you feel that you are contributing to the welfare of the "takokumin" community in Japan?

>3) What personal benefits are you reaping from your frequent public appearances among members of the Japanese bureaucracy?

>4) In what way is the Japanese community being served by your engagements?

>5) What do believe is the net social outcome of your activity in this regard?

>Truly, if you could address these questions in a frank and direct manner, everyone stands to benefit.

>Hashimori, Iwato
>Saitama University/Tokyo

Fair enough. My answers:

>1) In what way is the Japanese government using you to enhance its own objectives?

That I am not sure about, this time around. Last time around in November, I asked the Jinjiin why the hell they wanted me to speak at all. They said I was part of a pan-ministerial lecture series (ministry representatives' attendance was mandatory), an opportunity for the bureaucracy to have an infusion of ideas from people outside the public payroll. They even wanted a foreigner's perspective on "government things" (which is the typical way these things are framed--with lots of topic topicality and little finesse). I told them I could not speak for every non-Japanese. They said my own opinions were fine. Hence I tried to make my opinions as well-informed as I could by getting my own infusion of ideas (from Fukuzawa, natch) to supplement those I had already come up with.

This time around when I asked the MOFers, they said that they wanted "some new, fresh ideas from somebody with a different perspective on things". Which means...? I pressed the point, saying that I was not an economist and would find difficulty in speaking concretely on issues that MOF would find interesting. The man in charge (not a terribly clear communicator) said they didn't mind--they had just heard from somebody who attended the Jinjiin-sponsored gig that I am an eloquent, informative, and entertaining speaker (thanks), and that would do.

Huh. So, yes, there is the element of entertainment during a boring bureaucratic day, I think, but I believe I am trying not to be just a "gaijin on a stick". Which brings us to:

>2) In what way do you feel that you are contributing to the welfare of the "takokumin" community in Japan?

I'm doing what I can to get some views out, particularly those from non-Japanese. Of course, I cannot claim that I am omniscient enough to represent the full spectrum of "non-Nihinjin-ron". Nobody can, right? And I will not claim that I am a spokesperson on behalf of anyone. But I am running my ideas, however half-baked, past Fukuzawans, as well as ISSHO, a group of about a hundred expat businesspeople, and another "Friends' List" of about 100 people. I am getting great comments that will make me that better-informed speaker, giving a larger sampling of the "takokumin" community.

After all, you know, I needn't bother professing ignorance and asking for input. I could just quietly go to MOF, treat it like a "Culture Center Class", shuck and jive for two hours, leave the audience's guts full of ether, and nobody would be the wiser. But that would only leave me feeling empty inside. I'd feel much better if I was able to tip a few ears in my--and our ("our" because that is how "we" are relegated in this society, so let's work with it constructively) direction. I'm doing what I can as earnestly as I can, with no promises of condition improvement. But it's better, far better, than doing nothing at all, as long as I have a good, well-balanced presentation with concrete proposals.

Did I have that balance last time? I typed up and sent Fukuzawa a report for vetting. From the feedback I got, I think I did a decent job. And it just might help "us takokumin".

>3) What personal benefits are you reaping from your frequent public appearances among members of the Japanese bureaucracy?

I am getting Japanese language practice, public speaking practice, mental workouts on issues, insights into the communication cultures within the mandarinate, and friendly faces to answer queries later on topics that come up in future. I am also getting compensated. For the Jinjiin lecture series, I got 30,000 yen before taxes (They apologized for the piddling amount, but the government has no money, they said. Yeah sure.), and for MOF I will be getting 54,000 yen before taxes (This amount assessed by asking my age and looking at a chart for remuneration scales. A 33-year-old gets that amount, they said. Okay.) I don't mind the compensation--there is a lot of work involved and I have a house loan to feed. If you feel that I am freeloading off your information for my own personal gain, please don't send me any information. But that's the shape of things.

>4) In what way is the Japanese community being served by your engagements?

Up here in Hokkaido there are not too many of us non-Japanese (a few thousand at most--this ain't Yoyogi or Ueno), and even fewer permanent residents. I hear daily how so many Japanese have so little opportunity to come in contact with "foreigners", so I understand there is the cachet of a bit of, as I put it, "Deshima-style Exposure" (meaning bringing your rowboat downwind of that Portuguese/Dutch enclave off Nagasaki and feeling internationalized) for the bureaucrats. The MOFers themselves have indicated this as one of their gains. They might catch something good.

But I want to go several steps beyond this and make this an opportunity for a non-Japanese to give some views to some ears. The agenda has enough of "my terms" in it for me to be satisfied that I am not merely prostituting or "Uncle-Tomming" myself. The word choice and the language will be mine (meaning that I will not be using an interpreter--my thoughts will pass directly from my brain to their ears), the editing of my points is at my discretion, and the topic is important yet vague enough to avoid the "chopsticks and natto" BS. As for audience participation, I intend to leave plenty of time for Q&A so that communication can be confirmed and exchanges made. I don't expect starry-eyes, fireworks, and parades to come from this. But it's better than nothing for Japanese who probably aren't exposed enough new viewpoints, regardless of cultural origin.

>5) What do believe is the net social outcome of your activity in this regard?

I hope I have answered most of that above. The bottom line to me is, if you were in my position, with the skill and the will, would you refuse to speak at this forum? Or would you view it as an opportunity to perhaps do some good, and rise to the challenge by trying to do the best job you could? My choice is clear. Yes, tokenism may be a problem, but conversely denying oneself the opportunity to communicate out of fear of tokenism removes avenues for doing any good at all. Again, I don't claim to be a spokesperson for anyone, but I will speak when invited, and do my best to research and deliver.

Anyway, Mr Hashimori, if you have any comments, please email me privately. But the issues you raised were pertinent enough to warrant what I hope was a thorough enough reply.

Dave Aldwinckle

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Copyright 1998, Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan