A Critique of JapanReview.net's review, "The Dave And Tony Show", on Arudou Debito's book JAPANESE ONLY and Oguri Saori's manga DAARIN WA GAIKOKUJIN
The Yuki and Paul Show
By Bern Mulvey (click to page down to bio)
(click here to see Arudou Debito's critique of the JapanReview.net review)
Made public April 27, 2005
"God save me from my friends. I can protect myself from my enemies."
"Fame is only good for one thing--they will cash your check in a small town."
Like Honjo, I try to open reviews with quirky, irreverent quotations from famous people. Among other reasons, quoting is an efficient method of simulating an objectivity neither possessed nor aspired to--e.g., "Kissinger, Ebert, Ellickson, Rosenberg, etc. said those nasty things, not I," and all the while, the very personal dagger twists further into the enemy heart.
Certainly, Debito is a public--dare I say infamous?--figure, and hence an easy target for criticism. And yes, some of this criticism is deserved, including a number of Honjo's book-related comments. The narrative method--particularly its over-reliance on newspaper excerpts and e-mailed communications--is both distracting and confusing; the narrow, overly-superficial focus on the author does lead to missed opportunities for deeper revelations; finally, crucial contributions by Benci (among other groups) to his successes are downplayed and/or ignored.
However, Honjo's review--a bizarre mixture of fact, innuendo, lie, and outright personal slander--is never about Debito's book. Yes, the book is mentioned...occasionally. We learn, for instance, that it fails as a comic book--understandably, given that it is not a comic book. (As an aside, one wonders what will be Honjo's next contribution to Japanese scholarship, a review contrasting Azusawa's Zainichi Gaikokujin: Bengou no Genba Kara to Yamashina's hilarious manga series, C Kyuu Sarari-man Kouza? Or, even better, why not compare Yosano Akiko's "Kimishi ni Tamau koto Nakare" to one--or even all--of those irritating Short Letters to... collections put out by the Maruoka-cho Cultural Foundation?)
We also learn: that the onsens named in the original lawsuit had banned foreigners because of ongoing "problems" with "drunken Russians" (not true--one of the three had never admitted foreigners, a second initially referenced, among other things, the threat of "sexual disease transmission" as their major concern); that Debito intentionally traumatizes his kids by "exposing" them to "blatant discrimination" (a singular statement--one wonders if Honjo similarly faults the parents of the first black children sent to all-white schools in the South); that Debito's book has only "passing references" to his "excellent" online website (there are almost 70 references to the darn thing in a 400-page book!); that Debito "offers little except anecdotal evidence" for his assertion that anti-foreigner sentiment is spreading in Japan (a simply amazing comment--the website link he provides documents almost 100 other examples).
We also "learn" things less excusable: that Debito ostensibly "did not take advantage of his training from his Masters course;" that he is "fat;" that he ends his book "alone," "abandoned," and "begging;" that he is neither Roe nor Wade; that his case has no meaning outside the experience of "one man and his family and for one community."
These latter comments, especially, are what prompts this rebuttal. Before I explain, however, a disclosure: I know Debito. I know Tony. Furthermore, like Paul J. Scalise, my name appears in the acknowledgments of Debito's book, though for a different reason. As an original Benci member, I was actually there through most of the often tiresome exchanges of e-mail, the individual mini-dramas, the group's disheartening early failures and later, the inspiring successes--the latter occurring ironically just as the group was being disbanded, riven apart by petty personality issues.
Perhaps my close proximity to the events described color my reaction to the Honjo review. Or, perhaps I am simply angered by all the information she fails to disclose. For instance, Honjo forgets to mention her long-term personal issues with Debito, or that she's Tony's friend and a
member of his "rival" organization, Issho Kikaku. Knowing this information explains a lot--not just the reason for the personal insults, but the real rationale behind this whole "review." Oguri's Da-rin Ha Gaikokujin is certainly a very nice comic book. A nationwide best-seller, it has earned its author well-deserved royalties and praise--not to mention first an engagement, then a marriage to, its "darling" hero, Tony Laszlo. Still, to argue, as Honjo does repeatedly, that it is somehow either a "clever message of tolerance" or an effective "bully pulpit" for articulating deeper anti-discrimination themes is frankly absurd, and indeed but underlines her overall bias.
Debito's legacy will not be his contribution to English (or Japanese) letters. It lies in his and Olaf's initial decision to go to those onsens, not to mention the courage and determination they showed in their long (and expensive) struggle--through the courts, the media, etc.--for change. Gloating over the ultimately equivocal nature of their legal "victory" misses the point. Racism in Japan is now openly discussed. People, both in Japan and overseas, concede that it exists, that it does not just happen to "mean" Chinese or Brazilians, that even Japanese citizens by birth (e.g., Debito's children) are negatively affected. What is more, their efforts both empowered and legitimized the existence of groups like Issho Kikaku--pre-Benci, a small group of foreigners literally scared of its own shadow. (A hilarious detail that Debito forgot to mention in his book: the daily wrestling over what terms to use in our Japanese correspondence to properly convey Issho Kikaku's prior "accomplishments"--talk about a tempest in a teacup!)
Long-term stays in Japan--whether as an expatriate or as his/her Japanese spouse--really should come with a medical warning: beware of inflated ego. The temptations to "inflate" said ego are staggering. Beautiful people suddenly want to date you because of your country of origin. People hire you for choice positions you would have no chance of getting in your home country. Your opinion matters--suddenly, you have moved from dishwashing in the States to discussing the UN CERD and other foreign treaties with a few friends who happen to be experienced lawyers! People stop and stare at you in the streets--heck, they even buy comic books by the millions containing your personal details.
After 10 years, I am no longer in Japan. Indeed, I am now almost completely finished with these kinds of exchanges, the petty infighting and bizarrely personal attacks so often camouflaged in Japan--as Honjo does--with a sprinkling of false objectivity and pseudo scholarship. The bottom line, though, is this: if I were to leave my office today to ask locally in town, or even if I were to fly back to my wife's home town of Sabae and survey the neighbors there, nobody will have heard of Yuki Honjo, Bern Mulvey, Tony Laszlo (well, maybe if I added "Da-rin..."), Paul J. Scalise, Issho Kikaku, JapanReview.Net, etc. Frankly, they probably will not recognize the name "Arudou Debito" either. They will, however, know about the acts of discrimination at the Hokkaido onsens, that such discrimination is wrong, that someone--finally--filed a lawsuit.
Whatever you may think about Debito as a person, this is a legacy, one to be proud of--and one which his book discusses more than adequately.
Dr. Bern Mulvey has written numerous articles, essays,
poems, and reviews in both English and Japanese, with work
appearing in the Asahi Shinbun, The London Times, the
American Language Review, The Language Teacher, Poetry,
Agni, The Missouri Review, Poetry East, etc. The Window
Tribe, his first poetry collection, is scheduled for
publication this year. Currently, he is an assistant
professor of English at Idaho State University.