CULTURAL ISSUE (in "Bullwinkle"-style titles)
NEW ZEALAND THROUGH A "GAIJIN'S" EYES:
THE TRIBULATIONS OF TRAVELLING WITH A JAPANESE TOUR GROUP
HUMILITY AS A WEAPON:
HOW TO FIGHT JAPANESE-STYLE, part 72
(Adapted from a personal email sent to a friend Dec 15, 1996, and sent to Fukuzawa, ISSHO and Friends Tue, 8 Apr 1997)
I love to travel. And whenever I can, I get out of Japan for a spell and look around this side of the Pacific. Of course, one can choose to travel with a group or travel by oneself. But nowadays we always travel solo. I learned the merits of that in 1995, after an eye-opening experience travelling to New Zealand with a Japanese tour group:
THE CAST OF MAJOR CHARACTERS (all except me are pseudonymous):
MR SHIRASAKA, an educator in his mid-sixties, leader of our organization, the "Kokusai United Study Organization" (KUSO). As Dave's friend, longtime language mentor, and mental challenger for nearly a decade, he secured Dave's KUSO membership.
MS AIHARA, a housewife in her mid-thirties, soon-to-be-divorced woman and avid English student
MR FUKUYAMA, an educator in his mid-seventies, leader of our tour expedition to NZ
DAVE ALDWINCKLE, 30, travelling with this group as a fellow tourist, not a hired hand, but occasionally Shanghaied to be the Interpreter and Official Representative Speaker of KUSO
KUSO, an organization like many in Japan, is a group of older men who, nearing retirement, put their surplus time and money into a club. Its goal, typical for these "international" thingies, was to increase "mutual understanding and awareness between Japan and other countries". KUSO was basically the brainchild and hobby of Mr Shirasaka, a fluent speaker of English, without whom things would atrophy. To its credit, KUSO had "chapters" (meaning pockets of friends-cum-members) in Canada and New Zealand, and it utilized them to offer homestays and academic exchanges overseas. But to inflate its importance to the public, any KUSO event, no matter how small, was covered in a semiannual circular, KUSOSPEAK, full of flowery articles and photographs that never really came out. This is where people like I came in. Extra-credit credibility is lent to any Japanese publication if it goes into English, even if nobody reads it. So KUSOSPEAK needed translators. One would do. Hence Shirasaka would find a lucky doe-eyed gaijin learning Japanese, befriend him, and have him translate--gratis--a designated article or two at a moment's notice.
So for a few years I was KUSO's Favorite Gaijin, wheeled out as the cute-Japanese-speaker when it was time to give speeches on the merits of internationalization. I was unusual in my acceptance of my role; other non-Japanese, when they saw how token their role was, distanced themselves from Shirasaka's projects. But I didn't mind because it was good language practice, I was the junior member (and as such was prepared to be the gofer for a while, so gofer I was--chauffeuring Shirasaka's guests, meeting him at midnight to proofread--again gratis--his English essays, and palling along on his drinking escapades), and I anticipated Japanese-style fringe benefits from being in Shirasaka's good books. I put it all down to Japanese-style "give and take".
The point is that I gave a lot more to Shirasaka's projects than I ever took from them. And that would make the betrayal in NZ that much more surprising.
Okay, let's step back for a minute. By now, dear reader, you're probably thinking that Dave Aldwinckle is just writing this as personal steam outlet. Not quite. There is an overall cultural point involved, which is this:
In NZ, I got myself into a situation straddling two societies. By taking the path I felt best about, I alienated myself from the powerful Shirasaka, who decided to use his influence against me. However, in the consequent power struggle, I realized just how much I had in fact learned about Japanese culture. I learned how to fight domineering Japanese elders like a Japanese--by using humility instead of a loud voice (believe it or not!)--and actually won the battle.
OFF TO NEW ZEALAND
The KUSO entourage, displaying the normal mix of thrill and fear people here feel before leaving their language, departed for a week in Kiwiland with about ten members and their families in tow. Included for PR purposes (and to qualify us for a discounted tour package) were another ten ladies from a nearby kimono school. They were charged with putting on a fundraising kimono show for our Kiwi KUSOites. Guess who Shirasaka asked to emcee. Our stopovers, by the way, were Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, and Auckland again. Given how busy I was, I remember very little of any place. But I do remember the Japanese group dynamics, ironically learning more about Japan than NZ. That even though I was part of KUSO's "in-group", members as always saw me as a gaijin, yet expected me to follow Japanese rules overseas. It was a concoction for cross-cultural conflict par excellence.
Allow me to illustrate with two flashpoints--the Kimono Show in Dunedin, and the Auckland Breakaway.
DUNEDIN'S KIMONO SHOW
We stayed our first night down under in Dunedin, where we met the handful of Kiwi KUSO members for a drinkfest at a Welcoming Party. Cameras were out (duly recording things for KUSOSPEAK), smiles were everywhere, and I was trying to squeeze in a few forkfuls of food between sudden requests for interpretation (unnecessary, given Shirasaka's and guide Fukuyama's English abilities). I was also jetlagged and exhausted by the unanticipated amount of emcee responsibility; the kimono show was scheduled to take place in 24 hours, and I was still preparing my speech, coordinating the kimono school's slide-show program with the narration, and finishing a book on kimono to explain the significance of things (such as sleeve length, colors, patterns, family crests, obi tying) accessibly to a Western audience. And the next day would be the same coordination with the hotel stage staff, since I was the only KUSO member who could communicate the necessary procurements.
It was just as well I put so much work into the show. My impression of Dunedin is that it is a pretty sleepy place. A kimono show all the way from Japan received a surprising amount of publicity. Fifteen minutes before the show, the auditorium (the hotel's converted banquet room, actually) was full to capacity, and I was at the podium the whole time taking the show's success way too personally.
Pity. The show was, in a word, a disaster. The stage, which came down like a catwalk into the middle of the audience, was no more than a few wooden palettes of 30 centimeters' height. The kimono models, dazzled by the spotlights, were unable to see where the stage edges were, and kept coming perilously close to falling into the audience like Sumo wrestlers. The comparison is appropriate. The models were, shall we say, a little surreal in Japanese attire. All were girls volunteering from the local polytechnic, mostly Western, with the punky hairstyles and pierced noses of Generation Xers. Plus most of them were far taller and bigger than their Japanese counterparts, so none of them fit into the two-toed tabi kimono socks, let alone the zori-style sandals. So, looking gangly in undersized kimono, many of them clomped onto the stage in their street shoes, which were in a couple of cases--I am not making this up--combat boots. And as they did the arms-spread-eagled pose (to show off the sleeves) and a clumsy square-dance mince (learned only hours beforehand) that befits a kimono modelling, the ladies, forgive me, looked more Harpy than Siren.
This in itself is forgivable, due to local-content restrictions. What really SNAFUed everything was Force Majeure. First, the sound system was uncooperative. My mike was somehow linked to the background music system, which meant that whenever the tunes were on, my mike was on, and my voice would have to compete with the same volume level of music. But once we decided to have a quiet moment of narration, my mike's volume would go down with the dimmed sound. So I would have to step onto the catwalk, notes in hand in dim light, and shout my speech to the back of the room, asking if they could hear me (assuredly they could--Kiwis, unlike Japanese, helpfully answered back yes or no).
Second, the kimono slides came on, and they were amateur, incomplete or superfluous, out of focus, and out of order. I had to keep jumping around my once-coherent talk and try to puzzle out the sigificance of each image (especially since they were sight-unseen, even to me).
What's left? The lighting. And, well, it went into random fade and glare, like the sound. All I could do was stand there, knees shaking, sweat reaching my elbows and belt, and repeat to myself that all of this was not my fault, that this is a classic case of "cut and run" and "shikata ga nai".
No-one was more relieved than I when the kimono ladies and the school matrons came out for a bow, signalling the show was over. I gulped down my podium water (perhaps being the first person in history to actually drink his), sighed, and looked forward to a long toilet break.
It was not to be. Shirasaka came on and decided to give a speech, as is customary to round things out, and he asked me to interpret. He then gave an impromptu indictment of Japan's Ministry of Education's requirement that any sponsored Japanese teacher overseas have a PhD in Japanese-language education. Huh? His points a) needed too much background explanation, b) were so removed from any particular context that I couldn't understand the connections, or c) used technical language I wasn't familiar with. And I bombed out translating. (Luckily, I wouldn't have been the only one--turns out other Japanese-language natives in the audience could barely get his points either.)
Shirasaka turned to the audience and said, in English, "He doesn't understand Japanese. Here is my point in English..."
I stood there, my cheeks feeling awfully warm, and kept a public face. Like Nixon did when berated by Kruschchev during the Kitchen Debates. Let it go, let it go, I said.
I managed. The rest of the evening was Shakespearean-style Falling Action, so I won't recap. The only thing I did during the ensuing banquet (where I was asked to interpret again) was drink a lot of milk (to soothe my stomach), drink a lot more beer (to soothe my mind), and ask Kiwis how I did as an emcee (to soothe my conscience). It worked. The kind Kiwis said that I retained good composure during the talk, despite the sky falling down around my ears, and for that they sympathized. They also liked my American accent--it felt like they were watching a live Hollywood movie. A comedy, of course.
And I kept asking myself, how the hell do I keep getting myself in situations like these?
It gets worse.
THE AUCKLAND BREAKAWAY
Up to now, we've only had the playoff between Shirasaka and myself. Let's introduce another character, Ms Aihara.
Ms Aihara struck me as the typical bored housewife in Japan--with lots of education but no status, being female, to make real use if it. So she spent her husband's (a doctor) prodigious salary, brought KUSO kids over from Canada and NZ as homestays, and studied English as a hobby. But she studied much more seriously than average, since she liked to travel and "communicate with foreigners" (an attitude seen as "commendable" (erai) in Japanese society, until you as the designated foreigner understand what's going on).
Her intention to travel to NZ with KUSO, her husband's organization, firmed up when she decided to get a divorce. Her husband's frequent philandering (with patients, no less) had become too much, and she asked for a homestay of her own.
That sent a huge signal to Shirasaka. Hearing of her impending breakup, he began sending books, flowers, gifts, and telephone calls her way. And invitations to see NZ ahead of the group, just the two of them. Ms Aihara's rebuffing just made him redouble his efforts, and by the time we all took off for NZ, the more Shirasaka chased, the more Ms Aihara edged towards the only other man in the group who was close to her age--me.
Okay, lower your eyebrows, dear reader. By "edged" I mean that I started off as her English teacher, then her confidant, and finally, when I had to make a choice, her shield. And here begins a study of Japanese group dynamics, illustrating the power of the rumor as a weapon and means of social sanction.
THE BEAUTY OF CHRISTCHURCH AND AUCKLAND OBSCURED BY SOCIOLOGY
After we left Dunedin for Christchurch, Ms Aihara and I started spending a lot of time together. Fairly soon, when I started asking whether Shirasaka was typical in his demands upon me, she took me into her confidence and told me that something was wrong, very wrong, under the surface of this happy social group. When she told me of Shirasaka's sexual harassment, it truly came as a surprise. Shirasaka, in the decade I'd known him, had always presented himself as a wise, friendly, studious man with a sense of honor, humor, and un-Japanese candor. He was one of the few people with whom I felt safe studying things Japanese. Foibles, yes, but philandering? No, not him!
But every person has a dark side, and Shirasaka's became quite visible the more time I spent with Ms A. On the trip, Shirasaka made repeated attempts to talk to Ms A alone, and she was polite back, but in that special way that only Japanese seem to be able to do towards people they don't like. She just edged into another group. She and I then met with two teenagers, children of another KUSO family along for the ride, formed a deflecting foursome.
And deflect it did. Shirasaka then went on the offensive. According to several sources, he resorted to the oldest Japanese trick in the book--defamation through juicy rumor. He spread gossip about sexual liaisons between Ms A and myself, in the best Iago tradition. It had limited effect; the atmosphere of the tour group didn't get particularly chilly, but it did get a little awkward when people tried to pretend they weren't talking about us. No matter. We Four Musketeers made the best of things, touring Christchurch and Auckland in a group hermetically sealed from Shirasaka. With, I might add, the approval of the teens' parents.
Well, this much detail probably all sounds petty by now, but when you're spending 24 hours a day with a group of Japanese, with word that Ms Aihara's loving the alien in the group, the art of assessing allies becomes paramount in case of battle.
And indeed, the battle came...
Breaking point came on our last free day in Auckland. Since our airplane back to Japan would be leaving in the late evening, everyone had a free day. The only thing scheduled was a bus departure from the hotel to the airport at 7:30 pm, and airplane departure at 10:30 pm.
So we decided to cut loose. Ms A suggested we rent a car. Same-day unlimited mileage was cheap, and we were fed up of being cooped up on bus tours in typical Japanese style, with a series of expat Japanese tour guides who assumed that Japanese people of the 1990's liked to tour as Japanese of the 1960's. I agreed, let's go. Ms A asked the teens to join us, but their mother said it was high time to go shopping as a family, so you two go ahead. Fine. So we got the car and headed as far north as possible. I took the proper precautions to avoid miscommunications--telling our guide that we were going, and writing a long note to Shirasaka explaining exactly where (with hand-drawn map) and what time we would be back (close to dinnertime).
It was a nice drive. Fish and chips for lunch and dinner, came close to 90-Mile Beach, and saw lovely rolling hills and bays. But, as usual when I travel, inevitably problems arise. We lost the road at a stretch, wound up driving on gravel for several miles, and came close to running out of gas. So we stopped at a house atop a hill to ask how close the nearest petrol station was. A near-fierce-looking Maori gentleman, shirtless, arms covered with swirling tattoos, greeted us cheerily in a Kiwi accent, and he and his (Caucasian) wife gave us directions without even acting bothered. Perhaps our Maori pendants, providentially bought like the contrived "talisman that saves your life" in a B-movie, impressed him. No worries. Good thing too--this was the only contact we would have with "just-folks Kiwis" our whole trip, and it made for good first impressions.
We got gas, found a paved road, and were well on our way back to Auckland when two, count them, two thunderstorm fronts came through and drenched us. The road back was single carriageway, with infrequent passing lanes, and we faced a traffic jam the entire 80kms back to Auckland. We called the hotel (I had brought a matchbook with the hotel's number) to tell Shirasaka where we were and how long it would take to arrive there. He said no problem. He would spread the word.
THE LONG AND ROCKY ROAD AHEAD
When we realized that we would not be back in time for the hotel bus departure, I called the hotel again, had them change the car drop-off point from hotel lobby to airport, and got Shirasaka on the line to tell him the same. No problem. We drove directly to the airport, arriving at 8:30 pm. Which was, coincidentally, the same time the KUSO bus arrived.
We received a frosty reception. When we joined back up with fellow KUSOites, they gave us the normal "Japanese angry response"--silence and ignoring our greetings. So there I saw that a speech of general apology was necessary to the group.
This is where our fourth and final character comes in--KUSO's Mr Fukuyama. As organizer of our tour, he was responsible for making sure schedules ran like clockwork--the regular Japanese expectation. Unpredictability is generally frowned upon, and he'd opposed Ms A's and my going off in a rental car precisely because something unanticipated might happen. But he had held his tongue--knowing we were adults and that he could not stop us. But now, buffetted by a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, he himself was ready to cut loose.
Right when I was in the middle of my regrets for causing worry and my explanation for tardiness, Fukuyama screamed at me, in front of everybody, "Shut up! I will hear none of your bullshit!" (damare omae! omae no detarame o kikan!).
I was shocked, and I had to think fast about my response. If I reacted like I would in America, I would have screamed back: "No, YOU shut up and listen! We were back on time--in fact arriving here the same time as you. You have no right to yell at me when I'm trying to apologise--in fact I called twice to tell you I was going to be late, so there was no harm done!" Or I would have just told him that I am not beholden to his concepts of group rules when I am neither Japanese nor in Japan--so lay off and grow up!
But I knew that that tack would lose the battle. One does not fight fire with fire when there is so much seniority involved. Fukuyama was over twice my age. If one acts disrespectfully towards elders in public, no matter how tyrannical they are, one instantly loses his own negotiating position vis-a-vis the audience. And the hardest thing for most Westerners to get used to is that even those people, although disadvantaged by this position, accept it as the way things ought to be. They are not open to discussion of exception. It's a fundamental attitudinal difference.
So the only tack is humility back. It has taken me years to learn how to react the following way:
I approached Fukuyama and bowed deeply. Not just a little nod of the head. I mean, bowing at about 35 degrees or so from upright. And held it for about--no kidding--three minutes. I asked continuously (and loud enough for everyone to hear) his forgiveness (moushiwake arimasen. yurushite kudasai). Rules: You cannot offer excuses. You should not say anything more complicated than a blanket acknowledgement of your wrongdoing. No matter how much in the right you think you are, assume the prone position. And people just might acknowledge the tragedy of your situation. But they definitely will not if you're seen as the subordinate, moreover the escalator of the conflict.
Fukuyama's reaction: he was too angry to forgive. Lips quivering, eyes shifting back and forth in anger, he told me to go away, that I had done a deplorable thing.
I then tried to apologise to Fukuyama's wife, standing nearby. But, predictably, she gave me one of those Japanese smiles and said, "Everyone was so worried, you know", and thus deflected me away.
I then went around and apologised to everyone individually and alone. Not as a gesture of real repentance, mind you. As a means of surveying levels of support. (Ms A, on the other hand, disgusted with Shirasaka's smug look at our denouement, stayed away from everybody.)
The KUSO's reactions to my apologies could merit sociological study. The old, divorced men were critical and not in the mood to deal with me--perhaps because they really thought I had been reckless with scheduling, but also perhaps because they envied my being alone with an available woman.
However, another KUSO big wheel (my drinking buddy) basically told me not to worry about it--no harm done and all that. The teens said the same thing, as did their parents.
But the most interesting response came from Fukuyama's daughter (married with family), who was also on this trek. She actually apologized to me! Furious at her father for blowing up like that in front of everybody (and making me lose so much face), she thought he had clearly overreacted. I tried to take the blame back, but she wouldn't let me. She said Ms A and I are adults, and we did make it to the airport in enough time. And after all, I am a native speaker of English, so what's the problem?
And Shirasaka? His reaction was also noteworthy: he played the mediator, an "I understand gaijin like David so I'll smooth over everything, don't worry," sort of attitude. I apologised to him just the same, as is politic, and he was all smiles, of course. Until his mind alighted on Ms A. His face darkened and he said to me in English:
"You apologised to everybody. That is good, the Japanese way. But Aihara-san is not showing a good attitude. She is not apologising to anyone. She hasn't apologised to ME. You should tell her to apologise to me, like a Japanese. Otherwise, she will be abandoned (sic) by Japanese society."
That out, his smile reappeared, and he switched back to Japanese to say, "Komatta na!" with a hyena laugh.
In fact, it turns out that Shirasaka was the cause of all this. I would find out months later that he had shown our itinerary to several people (mainly the divorced men), pointing out that our expedition north was foolhardy and inconsiderate. He also raised doubts as to what we were doing travelling alone like that, two married people and all. Worst of all, according to Fukuyama himself only last December, Shirasaka never passed on my telephone messages--saying that we could be late--to Fukuyama. No wonder he blew up at the sight of us!
I have rarely seen people as smilingly deceitful as this except in the movies, politics, or business. But I have seen this a lot in Japan, even at the most interpersonal level, and even from people I thought were friends. They were just responding to the exigencies of a situation with both Little Whites and Great Stripey Lies. And many people accept them as understandable recourses. The apparent ease at which people here can lie, and how little effort people make to find out the truth, always jars me. Fukuyama, for example, wasn't even concerned with hearing out my side or the story.
But still, even in this miniature Japanese society where I am not supposed to fit in but I am, I came out of this battle covered in teflon. Shirasaka had made efforts to stack the cards against me, yet the level of support for my position was surprisingly high. Over half the members were sympathetic. Most tellingly, Fukuyama's daughter, who under any normal circumstances would defend her dad against anybody (let alone a goddamn gaijin), came over to my side. Thus, humility and prostration can be a weapon too, in ways my background has trouble conceiving.
Finally, during the long plane ride back, Shirasaka blew his credibility. He did something which showed the whole KUSO group his guilty conscience.
LET'S GO HOME, ALREADY
Waiting for the plane, Ms A cooled down a bit and went around apologising, as did I a little more, but people treated her more coldly than they did me. So Shirasaka turned up the ostracization gas. He told me I should not approach her, that people were saying that she was callous and unpredictable, and behaving unlike a proper Japanese. After boarding the mostly-empty plane, Shirasaka publicly told her to sit far away from him, so she went round a corner (where the stewardesses bring out food) to a seat that couldn't be seen by KUSO.
A little while after takeoff, I went to Ms Aihara's seat, asked if she was alright. She was not. I offered to sit with her. She accepted. One of the teens also came along, sat beside me, and expressed his moral support to comfort Ms A. All followed established patterns of home-drama conflicts and resolutions.
I told Ms A what Shirasaka had said to me about her lack of Japaneseness, and about his attempts to ostracize her. She let the anger dry up her tears, and asked me for some paper.
Since I collect stationery from all the hotels at which I stay, I went back to my seat, which was aisles away and plainly in view of Shirasaka (who had taken an interest in my behavior since I changed seats). I started looking through my briefcase.
Shirasaka suddenly came up to me and said, in Japanese, "What are you looking for". I simply said, "Some information,", and waited until he sat back down. Then, paper in hand, I went back to Ms A's seat.
Shirasaka then actually went so far as to stand up, follow behind me, and peer around the corner to see what we were doing, ducking back when I felt someone was watching me. There wasn't a shut eye in the whole KUSO contingent.
What was the paper for? A written record, as a means to end the harassment. One of KUSO's big wheels was a lawyer, and both he and his daughter were on the plane (In retrospect, it's pretty amazing that Shirasaka would be so careless about his behavior in front of so many powerful people!). Ms A began writing down everything that Shirasaka had done to her in detail, with times, dates, and events. There had been enough defamation of her character, and she wanted the truth to be told--if not to clear her name, then to threaten Shirasaka enough so he'd stay away.
I asked if she wanted to be left alone, and she said no, please sit here. If you leave, Shirasaka will come over and try to find out what's happening. The teen and I played cards for as long as we could keep our eyes open. Then his mother, who was in fact the lawyer's daughter (gets complicated, I know--but Japanese interpersonal relations is the study of positions as elaborate as any tribal society, in my opinion), then took over for us. All Shirasaka could do was sit there and bite his nails. The forces of social sanction were working against him this time.
More surprises come. According to the lawyer's daughter, who read Ms A's record, this wasn't Shirasaka's first offense. There had actually been other cases of sexual harassment, and KUSO's lawyer, her father, had dealt with them. That was why she had been so permissive of us using her kids as buffers against Shirasaka, and why she respected me for helping a damsel in distress.
The calls and communications from Shirasaka henceforth ceased.
MR FUKUYAMA is still a part-time teacher in a university I used to frequent. He and I had a lot of chats during lunch hour, and now see eye-to-eye on this incident. We remain good, if arms-length, friends.
MS AIHARA and I, after this adventure, lost touch with one another, as so often happens when things revert back to normal and people get on with their lives. She has since remarried and lives the less-bored life of a mature student at a university.
MR SHIRASAKA is still carrying on as normal. He has found another pet gaijin to help with his projects, and has consigned me to his rubbish heap of used people. He has become famous in the gaijin community here as "Mr Take-and-Take", and anyone who has been here long enough steers clear of him.
AND I, the fool of this hill, sit here and suck on the lessons of this debacle. My wife still criticizes me for wasting so much money on NZ when I didn't seem to enjoy it. "Why are you such a sucker for women in trouble?" she says. "Leave things alone. You don't have to help everyone. Besides, where did it get you but an enemy in Shirasaka and a bad taste in your mouth?" I sigh and just say that I couldn't conscionably have done nothing. That, in my opinion, would have been the Japanese way of dealing with things. Kusai mono ni futa o.
I have since left KUSO.
In sum, this NZ trip was a live-action David Lynch movie, where a society nice on the surface has a deep, dark underbelly. There are several undercurrents to study--transplant societies in the form of tour groups and their enforced rules; age, gender and status of people and their resultant attitudes to tetchy situations; how Japanese fight and fight back. Most astounding was the fact that our squeaky-clean leader was willing, in a fit of jealousy, to sully his reputation in a group in which he'd invested so much energy. In two countries, no less. Why would he show his dirty laundry to everyone (including Kiwi KUSO members--Ms Aihara told her homestay family all about him) like that? No Western society would tolerate his playing around the same way Japanese society would, and surely Shirasaka knew that. And KUSO's membership everywhere has since dwindled.
So many things linger in my mind and niggle: the opacity of motives in Japanese men, the nasty interventionism of Japanese groups, the unwillingness of Japanese people to try to distinguish between truth and rumor. To be honest, that night in the Auckland airport where I had to prostrate myself, I didn't want to return to Japan again.
But return I did. And from this experience, I rest assured that even non-Japanese can learn how to play the Japanese way. I have the tools and the rules in my head to combat disadvantages that will arise when someone like I gets involved in Japanese group dynamics and power plays.
That confidence, I told my wife, is worth the airplane fare.
POIGNANT COMMENTS FROM CYBERSPACE:
Date: Tue, 8 Apr 1997
From: (A businessperson on the US-J negotiating front lines)
I took the time to read about your New Zealand adventures. Very interesting. I respect you...you had a lot more patience than I would have had...at least in this particular case. I normally am pretty tolerant. I don't care if someone speaks to me in Eigo. Being called gaijin doesn't matter to me etc. But I think I would have handed Shirasaka his balls. You probably handled it right but if you did that with the government or big business in a negotiation they would shit all over you. To them a sign of humility/contrition is a sign of weakness. [snip]
Good story. Best regards.
Date: Tue, 8 Apr 1997
Hi Dave--hisashiburi. I enjoyed your KUSO story. I am probably more cynical than I'd like to be, but it really makes me wonder what you could have possibly been thinking in your initial involvement in this group. I don't have any bones to pick regarding your behavior during this trip (aside from the self-flagellation aspect at the airport--more than a bit of masochism involved here), but I do find it amazing that someone who seems to understand so much about Japanese society could "fall" for such a, well, hokey endeavor in the first place. Surely you are aware that Japan is full of people like Shirasaka who like to latch onto gaijin to inflate their own twisted sense of being "international." You were an empty body with a non-Japanese face, dude, and that's all you were (to him, I mean). He would have acted the same way with any other gaijin (and probably is, right now). There were a number of people like him in Kyoto, a haven for this kind of thing. You can spot them at a hundred paces.
I could see this happening to a well-meaning FOB gaijin who didn't know any better, but it was pretty surprising coming from you. I do enjoy your DFS writings and will continue to read them, but dude--not that you're asking for my advice--I think you'd have a much healthier life if you'd stop seeing every situation as these sociological/cultural petri dishes in which you try to Solve the Puzzle. People like him are sick, my friend, and no matter how much of a window it provides on Japanese Society, the fact is that unless you're a masochist you should be able to size that up immediately after living here so long and stay away. I mean, have *any* "international" groups like KUSO *ever* been worthwhile? Most are well-meaning, as you no doubt were when you became involved, but the members, I would say by definition, tend not to be healthy individuals with whom you can evolve some real understanding.
My unsolicited opinion dake. Take care, GE.
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