OTARU ONSENS ISSUE
ISSHO KIKAKU BENCI PUBLISHED IN TAIPEI TIMES
IN RESPONSE TO A COLUMN ON THE SUBJECT
REPRINTED FROM JAPAN TIMES
Tama (in Tokyo) University's President Gregory Clark had a column published in
the Japan Times on Dec 25, 1999. In it he rails against "gaijin critics"
(see DFS archives at http://email@example.com/msg10676.html)
in reference to recent pushes by resident non-Japanese for more human rights. The
column was reprinted (with Japanese words translated) in the Taipei Times, Taiwan
(http://www.taipeitimes.com) on January
Issho Kikaku Benci responded a Letter to the Editor, which was published on Feb 3, 2000. Text of the column, then our response follows.
Issho Kikaku Benci Project Sapporo
GREGORY CLARK on
"JAPAN'S PARTICULAR RACISM"
Japan Times, Op-Ed, December 25, 1999, page 18
Reprinted in slightly modified form (the Japanese words translated) in the Taipei Times, Taiwan, January 22, 2000
There is something very one-sided about the way so many outsiders want to see Japan as a den of racist iniquity. The case of a small Hamamatsu jeweler fined for refusing entry to foreigners was played up in responsible Western media. In the internet chat rooms for resident "gaijin", the joy was unconfined.
Yet almost every foreigner here must at some time or other have felt the extraordinary courtesy and honesty the Japanese can show to outsiders. Is that supposed to be part of some racist plot?
Few other nations go to the same trouble to provide materials and services in English for a foreign minority not very interested in learning the local language. Where else in the world would mediocre foreign TV personalities and commentators receive such attention, simply because they are seen as different and "kakko-ii" (superficially attractive).
In areas where many Western nations still discriminate against foreigners--licences, company registrations or land purchases for example--Japan can often be remarkably open and fair. Foreigners are even invited to join government policymaking bodies ("shingikai").
But no doubt the critics will find a way around it all. If Konishiki is not promoted to yokozuna, that proves more anti-gaijin racism. But when Akebono is made yokozuna and Konishiki is promoted to TV stardom, we get deep silence.
If Japan for fairly valid reasons fingerprints foreigners, that too is racism. When US fingerprinting of aliens is pointed out, we get more silence.
Nor is there much interest in the reasons why a Hamamatsu jeweler might want to keep out foreigners--when even the Hamamatsu police are concerned over the problem of petty pilfering by local Brazilian workers. The critics are now focusing on an Otaru bathhouse keeper who sought to keep out visiting Russian seamen. Many of these people are delightful. Even so, the fact remains that people who have just arrived from Sakhalin on unsanitary, rust-bucket boats are bound to cause problems ("meiwaku") in Japanese bathhouses. In Japan's person-oriented value system, causing meiwaku is a major sin.
Landlords who bar foreigners because the fret over the meiwaku that untidy tenants might create are also hit by gaijin critics. But we hear little about the landlords who prefer foreigners over Japanese tenants because they believe the former are more likely to obey contracts.
One of the reasons why Japan works so well as a society, and is therefore attractive to foreigners seeking a comfortably-ordered life, is precisely because of the particularistic, anti-meiwaku fussiness with which shopkeepers, bathhouse owners, landlords, etc. go about their business. To ignore these and the many other details that can make life for gaijin here so easy, while focusing relentlessly on the occasional downside, is devious. It is also immature.
Needless to say, the critics also have nothing to say about the good citizens in Hamamatsu and elsewhere who go out of their way to organize friendship societies in a fairly vain effort to help poorer foreign workers (Latin-Americans especially) and students integrate into Japan.
But the decibels rise if some hypersensitive foreigner feels Japanese avoid sitting next to him on trains, though the chances are that said Japanese are simply afraid that said critic will cause them large meiwaku by asking directions in loud and incomprehensible English.
True, there are times when antiforeign sentiment in Japan can turn ugly. But that is usually just the flip side of the instinctive sensitivities that lead so many other Japanese to be unduly pro-gaijin.
Even at its militaristic worst, the Japanese approach to foreigners was ambiguous. Japanese nationalists would vent cruel hatred on other Asians seen as unfriendly. But they would then turn round and embrace those whom they thought were pro-Japan.
They never developed across-the-board racial hatreds seen in our Western societies--not because of any superior virtue, but simply because they lacked our Western ability to turn particular feelings into universal rationales binding for all times and places.
Even at the height of the Japan-German alliance, Japan, unlike Vichy France and other allegedly civilized nations, never saw any need to cooperate with Nazi anti-Jewish hatreds.
Some blacks in Japan complain about discrimination. But many more say they find Japan more open and friendly than some Western societies, where black people are still stereotyped as undesirable, without regard for individual personalities.
Today Western progressives try to fight these across-the-board prejudices by religiously trying to deny any hint of differences between races. Even legitimate mention of such differences, for example that black people make superior athletes, is banned for fear of reviving the rationales that fueled past racism.
But for the Japanese, it is quite natural to note that there are differences between the races--that some foreign people are kakko-ii or likely to observe contracts, while others are more likely to be untidy, pilfer, leave mud on the floor, etc. These attitudes may trample on the principled sensitivities of progressives, but that's their problem, not Japan's.
Japan's uglier discriminations have usually been closer to home--towards the formerly outcast people ("burakumin") and other domestic minorities. Since the discrimination is so instinctive, with no attempt at rationale (another aspect of Japanese values), they are hard to deal with, and progressive Japanese often try to avoid even discussing them for fear of reviving the ugly instincts.
Gaijin critics see that reticence as another ugly, racist, Japanese coverup.
To demand that Japanese observe our value system, while pouring scorn on theirs, is the worst kind of racism.
Gregory Clark is president of Tama University