Hi Blog. I just want to say a brief word of thanks to Donald Richie for a life well lived on the occasion of his passing (thanks AS for the notification) yesterday at age 88. We’ll add articles as they come out in commemoration, but here’s the first brief one from Yahoo News/Asahi Digital:
On Jan. 1, The Japan Times’ lead story was “Summer poll to keep Abe in check.” It made the argument that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party alliance falls short of a majority in the Upper House, so until elections happen this summer he lacks a “full-fledged administration” to carry out a conservative agenda.
I believe this is over-optimistic. The LDP alliance already has 325 seats in Japan’s overwhelmingly powerful Lower House — safely more than the 320 necessary to override Upper House vetoes. Moreover, as Japan’s left was decimated in December’s elections, about three-quarters of the Lower House is in the hands of avowed hard-right conservatives. Thus Abe already has his mandate.
So this column will focus on what Abe, only the second person in postwar Japanese history given another chance at PM, is up to this time.
Now Abe and his minions are back in power with possibly the most right-wing Cabinet in history. Academic journal Japan Focus last week published a translation of an NGO report (japanfocus.org/events/view/170) outlining the ultraconservative interest groups that Abe’s 19 Cabinet members participate in. Three-quarters are members of groups favoring the political re-enfranchisement of “Shinto values” and Yasukuni visits, two-thirds are in groups for remilitarizing Japan and denying wartime atrocities, and half are in groups seeking sanitation of school textbooks, adoption of a new “unimposed” Constitution, and protection of Japan from modernizing reforms (such as separate surnames for married couples) and outside influences (such as local suffrage for foreign permanent residents).
Abe alone is a prominent leader (if not a charter member) of almost all the ultra-rightist groups mentioned. Whenever I read rightwing propaganda, Abe’s face or name invariably pops up as a spokesman or symbol. He’s a big carp in a small swamp, and in a liberal political environment would have been consigned to a radical backwater of fringe ideologues.
But these are dire times for Japan, what with decades of stagnation, insuperable natural and man-made disasters, and the shame of no longer being Asia’s largest economy. The glory of Japan’s regional peerlessness is gone.
That’s why I have little doubt that the LDP saw this perfect storm of 3/11 disasters (which, given how corrupt the unelected bureaucracy has been after Fukushima, would have led to the trouncing of any party in power) as perfect timing to reinstall someone like Abe. Why else, except for Abe’s thoroughbred political pedigree (grandson of a suspected Class-A war criminal turned postwar PM, and son of another big LDP leader whose name is on international fellowships) and sustained leadership of back-room interest groups, would they choose for a second time this jittery little man with a weak stomach?
Why? Because LDP kingpins knew that people were so desperate for change last year they would have elected a lampshade. After all, given the nature of parliamentary systems, people vote more for (or, in this case, against) a party, less for an individual party leader. Moreover, Abe, at first glance, does not seem as extreme as the “restorationists” (Shintaro Ishihara et al) who wish to take Japan back to prewar glories by banging war drums over territorial sea specks. So, the lesser of two evils.
But look at the record more closely and these “liberal democrats” and restorationists are actually birds of a feather. Now more powerful than ever, they’re getting to work on dismantling postwar Japan. Abe announced on Jan. 31 that he will seek to amend Article 96 of the Constitution, which currently requires a two-thirds Diet majority to approve constitutional changes. That’s entirely possible. Then the rest of Japan’s “Peace Constitution” will follow.
So I end this month’s column with a caution to outside observers:
The current Abe administration is in pole position to drive Japan back to a xenophobic, ultra-rightist, militaristic Japan that we thought the world had seen the last of after two world wars. Abe can (and will, if left to his own devices) undo all the liberal reforms that postwar social engineers thought would forever overwrite the imperialist elements of Japanese society. In fact, it is now clear that Japan’s conservative elite were just biding their time all along, waiting for their rehabilitation. It has come.
One of the basic lessons of chess is that if you allow your opponent to accomplish his plans, you will lose. If Abe is not kept in check, Asia will lose: Japan will cease to be a liberal presence in the region. In fact, given its wealth and power in terms of money and technology, Japan could become a surprisingly destabilizing geopolitical force. Vigilance, everyone.
Debito Arudou and Akira Higuchi’s bilingual 2nd Edition of “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants,” with updates for 2012′s changes to immigration laws, is now on sale. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send your comments to email@example.com .
My vision for a Debito.org would be information that NJ in Japan could use for improving their lives in Japan, such as What to do if… a cop stops you for an ID check — filming some Shokumu Shitsumon proceedings as has happened with Japanese citizens here, here, and here (my favorite). As submitter MJ wrote in to me privately (he has taken videos of cops who have backed off from harassing him once they realized they were being filmed):
– I’ve never had to follow through on threat to upload to youtube because they backed off without me showing ID.
– uploading video is relatively straightforward; a youtube/vimeo/etc. account will come with instructions
– edited versions are best, the shorter the better while leaving in the salient action
btw, you could make a youtube Debito channel…
(yes, a dedicated, Debito-supporting, internet-techie volunteer would be a nice thing ;-))
In other words, filming these proceedings in action may act as at least a primary information source, at best a deterrent. The threat of accountability stops many a bureaucratic abuse.
For the record, my level of commitment to this project is lending the Debito.org brand to support pre-screened videos. But I sadly have neither have the time nor the expertise to establish or maintain a Debito.org Channel (maintaining Debito.org by itself is a full load). Sorry. So let me open this blog entry up to comments about interest, expertise, and commitment, and if people wish for me to get them in touch with one another off list, let me know. (If you wish to maintain your privacy, please use a pseudonym when communicating with each other, and please use a dedicated email address for this project.)
Alright, what say everyone? I personally think it’s a great idea and I’ll do what I can to help. Arudou Debito
That’s the background. The news for today’s blog entry is that Chagurin magazine responded to Stephanie this month, who in November had sent in a complaint letter about the article. Their reply acknowledged some errors within, even incorporated answers from Tsutsumi herself (who didn’t budge in her claims). I will translate it below with comments from Stephanie and myself, and enclose the original text (redacted to remove Stephanie’s last name). Any translation errors are mine, and corrections are welcome. As Tsutsumi advocates, put on your critical thinking caps as you read it!
Salutations. We received your letter regarding the “Children within the Poverty Country of America” article in the December 2012 issue of Chagurin. Thank you for your interest in our magazine. We apologize for the delay in our answer.
Chagurin was created as a magazine to report on the importance of farming, food, nature and life, and cultivate the spirit of helping one another. The goal of the article “Children within the Poverty Country of America” was not to criticize America. It was to think along with the children about the social stratifications (kakusa shakai) caused by market fundamentalism (shijou genri shugi) that has gone too far.
Let us now answer the four criticisms that you pointed out, incorporating the answers of author Tsutsumi Mika:
1) Your point that “In any town you might go” you will find parks full of [homeless peoples’] tents being untrue:
Indeed, saying that “In any town you might go there are parks full of tents” might be considered an exaggerated (kochou) way to put it.
Author Tsutsumi writes this:
It is a fact that after the Lehman Shock, with bankruptcies driving people out of their homes, the people living in tents has gone up dramatically (kyuuzou). These are called “tent cities”, and they have been reported in major news media as well as in world media such as the BBC.
That said, tents aren’t only in parks, so the expression “In any town you might go there are parks full of tents” I think is a mistaken way to put it. [sic]
In light of this, in our upcoming March issue of Chagurin we will run the following correction:
“In any town you might go there are parks full of tents” is a mistaken expression, so we amend it to “there are tents in various places”.
2) Your point that “At a dentists. a filling (tsumemono) costs 150,000 yen [approximately 1700 US dollars]” being untrue:
Author Tsutsumi writes this:
A bill for a tooth’s treatment will easily exceed 1000 dollars, especially in the cities.
Even if you are insured, there are cases where the insurance company refuses to pay.
If you are not insured, there are many cases where they take advantage of your weakened position (ashimoto o mirarete) and demand high prices.
[NB: With remarkable serendipity, I have a friend who just had dental work for a root canal for a cracked tooth and a cap on top. The entire root canal came to about 1000 dollars, and the cap about 800 dollars. So total that’s about what Tsutsumi claims is the market price for a filling, in a city like Honolulu. And yes, fortunately, the insurance company paid for most of it. So obviously your mileage may vary from Tsutsumi’s claims.]
In regards to points 1 and 2, the author did extensive on-site research, and this is grounded upon information with sources. Saying it as an “everything and all” absolute beckons overstatement, and for giving rise to misunderstandings we apologize.
Regarding point three, about the the picture of the boy with cavities in fact wearing fake Hallowe’en teeth:
We checked with the photo agency from whom we borrowed this photo, and found out that they are fake teeth. This was a mistake by our editorial department, and we apologize for putting up the wrong photo (ayamatta shashin o keisai shita koto).
In light of this, in our upcoming March issue of Chagurin we will run the following correction:
“Regarding the photo of the image of the boy with bad teeth, these were not cavities, these were false teeth used as a costume, and we apologize and correct this error.”
4) Your point about the column being so negative:
Regarding that, the last page of the article states that it is calling for children to independently (jishuteki) choose data for themselves (jouhou no shusha sentaku), so as a project (kikaku) in itself we think this is a positive thing. Author Tsusumi is of the same opinion.
There are many things in this world that we want children to learn. Unfortunately with the way the world is now, there are many problems, not limited to poverty and social inequality, but also food supply, war, etc. In regards to these problems, we would like to positively take up these issues and include Japan’s problems as well.
Thank you very much for your feedback. We will take them under advisement in our upcoming articles, and not make mistakes like these again by paying attention to fine details. We appreciate your reading our publication very much.
Signed, Chagurin Editors Iwazawa Nobuyuki and Mogi Kumiko
CHAGURIN REPLY SCANS (two pages):
COMMENT FROM DEBITO: While both Stephanie and I appreciate the fact that the magazine admitted to some mistakes (let alone answered her at all; although Tsutsumi clearly didn’t budge from her claims), the fundamental points I raised in my November post on this article and the treatment of the issues remain unaddressed:
– It is testament to our educations that we as readers with critical faculties can see that the points raised [within Tsutsumi’s article] are real social problems [in the United States]. The point of this blog entry, however, is how a) they are presented b) to a young audience without significant training in the critical thought the author is advocating, c) couched as a contrast to how Japan is (or is becoming) as a cautionary tale, and d) in a way unsophisticated enough to present these conditions with the appearance of unmitigated absolutes e) about a foreign society that isn’t going to answer or correct the absolutes. Then we get to the sensationalism (e.g., the allegedly fake teeth in the illustration and the misquoted prices) and the subterfuge (the odd linkage to international trade/TPP as the source of problems, etc.)…
Finally, consider the shoe on the other foot — if an article of this tone and content appeared in an overseas grade-school level newspaper funded by the farming lobby and endorsed by the PTA with the same type of content about Japan, the first people banging on the publisher’s door in protest would be the Japanese embassy. Then the internet denizens will follow with accusations of racism and anti-Japaneseness. The fact that not a single poster on Debito.org has cited anti-Americanism as the author’s motive (in fact, a few comments I did not let through were explicitly anti-American themselves; moreover with no substantiation for claims) is testament again to the sophistication of our audience here: We can acknowledge problems in societies of origin without glossing over them with blind patriotism.
Stephanie herself added (dated January 15):
I received a response from the editor of Chagurin magazine. I sent them a letter in November and when I did not hear back I thought they would not respond. I was surprised when this letter arrived a few days ago. And to admit any kind of mistake or wrong…I think that is a big step. […]
Yes, I thought missing the core issue of this being a propaganda piece aimed at children is what happened in their response (my daughter translated the letter for me). I’ve lived half my life in locations that were not exactly warm to my being caucasian or my being American. With that I have learned the frustrations of not being able to “make” someone see a different viewpoint or a view beyond what they narrowly have allowed themselves. Growing up, “Where are you from?” I never knew quite what to answer, I’m a “third culture kid”. My mom is [a native of one European country] and my dad is [a native of another European country], I have dual citizenship.
Still, that Chagurin admitted anything wrong — was surprising. I’m still hoping that gradually, with people willing to write and speak out that there will be a change and an ability to focus on the true points of concern in these very important issues. And yes, if the shoe were on the other foot it would have been a huge deal!
I did follow the article and discussion after you posted it. I very much enjoyed the discussion and was glad that the majority of those sharing understood the overall concern –not, as you mentioned an anti-American issue. […]
I want to thank you again for the site you maintain that provides awareness and support for so many people — thanks.
Alright, Debito.org Readers: We have been formally encouraged to think independently by Chagurin and Tsutsumi, so let’s use some critical thinking about this publication, the author, the tack, and the points/evidence raised therein. Problem solved with this apology and retraction? Arudou Debito
(Publisher’s note: On sale in Japan through Amazon Japan, in North America through Kinokuniya USA) Review exclusive to Debito.org, January 20, 2013 By ARUDOU DEBITO (updated version with errata corrected and Robin Sakamoto’s photo added)
“At Home Abroad” is an important, ambitious academic work that offers a survey, both from academics in the field and from people with expertise on living in Japan, of theories on how people can assimilate into foreign culture both on their own terms and through acquisition of local knowledge. Dr. Komisarof, a professor at Reitaku University with a doctorate in public administration from International Christian University in Tokyo, has published extensively in this field before, his previous book being “On the Front Lines of Forging a Global Society: Japanese and American Coworkers in Japan” (Reitaku University Press 2011). However, this book can be read by both the lay reader as well as the academic in order to get some insights on how NJ can integrate and be integrated into Japan.
The book’s goal, according to its Preface, is to “address a pressing question: As the Japanese population dwindles and the number of foreign workers allowed in the country increases to compensate for the existing labor shortage, how can we improve the acceptance of foreign people into Japanese society?” (p. 1) To answer this, Komisarof goes beyond academic theory and devotes two-thirds of the book to fieldwork interviews of eleven people, each with extensive Japan experience and influence, who can offer insights on how Westerners perceive and have been perceived in Japan.
The interviewees are Japan literary scholar Donald Keene, Japan TV comedian Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan, columnist about life in rural Japan Karen Hill Anton, university professor Robin Sakamoto, activist and author Arudou Debito, Japan TV personality Daniel Kahl, corporate managing director of a Tokyo IT company Michael Bondy, Dean of Waseda’s School of International Liberal Studies Paul Snowden, Tokyo University professor and clinical psychologist Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, politico and business executive Glen Fukushima, Keio University professor Tomoko Yoshida, and Japan scholar Donald Richie (photos below).
As Komisarof acknowledges in his section on caveats (pp. 11-2), these people have a “Western cultural heritage” (as nine are from the US) and are mostly Caucasian; he notes that he confines his analysis to “Westerners”, and does not “presume to address the experiences of Korean permanent residents of Japan or people from developing countries,” as “both deserve to have entire books written about their experiences, which are in many ways quantitatively different from non-Japanese who have moved here by their own volition from affluent nations” (ibid). To counter this, Komisarof taps into “other types of diversity among the interviewees in terms of ethnicity, profession, and gender” (ibid) (e.g., Anton is African-American, Murphy-Shigematsu and Fukushima are of Japanese descent, and Yoshida is a Japanese raised abroad; three — Sakamoto, Arudou, and Murphy-Shigematsu — were naturalized Japanese at the time of their interview).
Being self-aware of these caveats salvages the science, but the interviews (despite good questions from Komisarof) are uneven and do not always speak to the point. Donald Keene comes off as patrician and supercilious about his position in Japan (not to mention out of touch with the way that most NJ live in Japan) when he says:
There is still a hard core of resistance to Japanese culture among foreigners living in, say, Minato-ku. […] All of their friends are non-Japanese — with the exception of a few Japanese friends who speak English fluently. They live in houses that are completely Western in every detail. They read the English newspaper, The Japan Times, and they know who danced with whom the night before. They are still living in a colony. But I think that colony has grown smaller than ever before and has been penetrated by new people who want to learn about Japan. If you read about Yokohama in 1910, it would have been a very strange family that thought it was a good idea to let their son or daughter to go to a Japanese school and learn anything about Japan. They would never think in terms of living here indefinitely. They would think, “When we finish our exile here, we will go to a decent place.” (23)
Donald Keene, courtesy of NHK
No doubt, this may have been true in Yokohama back in 1910. But that is over a century ago and people thought even interracial marriage was very strange; nowadays it’s not, especially in Japan, and I doubt many NJ residents see Japan as a form of “exile”. Keene remains in character by depicting himself as a Lawrence of Arabia type escaping his colony brethren to get his hands dirty with the natives (somehow unlike all the other people interviewed for this book; I wonder if they all met at a party how Keene would reconcile them with his world view).
Patrick Harlan also comes off as shallow in his interview, mentioning his Harvard credentials more than once (as wearers of the Crimson tend to), and claims that he is sacrificing his putative entertainer career income in America by “several decimal places” for “a good gig here”. Despite his linguistic fluency to be a stand-up manzai comic, he makes claims in broad strokes such as “Ethnic jokes don’t even exist [in Japan]. People are treated with respect.” (36) He also talks about using his White privilege in ways that benefit his career in comedy (such as it is; full disclosure: this author does not find Pakkun funny), but makes assertions that are not always insightful re the points of assimilation/integration that this book is trying to address. Clearly, Dave Spector would have been the better interview for this research (although interviewing him might be as difficult as interviewing Johnny Carson, as both have the tendency to deflect personal questions with jokes).
(L-R) Karen Hill Anton, courtesy of her Linkedin Page; Robin Sakamoto, courtesy of Robin Sakamoto; Paul Snowden, courtesy of the Yomiuri Shinbun;Glen Fukushima, courtesy of discovernikkei.org.
Other interviews are more revealing about the interviewee than about the questions being broached by the book. Both Karen Hill Anton and Robin Sakamoto, despite some good advice about life in Japan, come off as rather isolated in their rural hamlets, as does a very diplomatic Paul Snowden rather ensconced in his Ivory Tower. Glen Fukushima, although very politically articulate, and highly knowledgable about code-switching communication strategies to his advantage in negotiations, also sounds overly self-serving and self-promoting.
Daniel Kahl’s interview is the worst of the book, as it combines a degree of overgeneralizing shallowness with an acidulous nastiness towards fellow NJ. For example:
I can read a newspaper and my [TV] scripts… I know about 2000 kanji, so I’m totally functional, and I think that’s a prerequisite for being accepted. I hate to say it, but there are a lot of foreigners who complain, “I’m not accepted in society!” That’s because you can’t read the sign that explains how to put out your garbage. And people get mad at you for mixing cans with bottles. Simple as it may seem, those are the little things that get the neighbors angry. (206)
I think that a foreigner who comes here and makes the effort can definitely be accepted. If you feel that you are not, then you’ve already got a chip on yours shoulder to begin with. […] For example, do you remember the incident in Hokkaido when the Japanese public bath owners had a “No Foreigners” sign up in front of their buildings? I guess two or three foreign folks got really upset about that, and they sued the place. Why would you sue them? Why don’t you go talk to those people? Tell the, “Look, I’m a foreigner. But I’m not going to tear your place up. Could you take down that sign?” Then the Japanese might have explained that they weren’t doing it to keep out all foreigners, but to keep out the drunk Russian sailors who were causing all the trouble in the first place. I don’t know all of the details, but these foreigners thought that they were making a political and legal statement. It could have been made very effectively, though, without embarrassing that city or the public bath owners. The foreigners were trying to change the law, but it was a pretty confrontational way to do so. I can almost guarantee that those foreigners are going to have a hard time being accepted by the Japanese in general. (100)
(L-R) Michael Bondy courtesy of his Linkedin Page; Tomoko Yoshida courtesy of Keio University; Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu courtesy of Stanford University.
The best interviews come from Bondy (who offers much practical advice about getting along in a Japanese-hybrid workplace), Yoshida and Murphy-Shigematsu (both of whom have some academic rigor behind their views of the world, and express their measured views with balance, deep thought and intuition). But the best of the best comes last with Donald Richie, who shows that old people do not necessarily become as curmudgeonly as Keene. Just selecting one nugget of insight from his excellent interview:
If I could take away the things that I don’t like about Japan, then it wouldn’t be Japan anymore. So I’ve always made an attempt to swallow Japan whole — not to discriminate so much between what I like or don’t. This is not as important as, “Does this work or not?” or “Does this serve a wider purpose or not?” These are more important questions than whether I like them or not. I’ve never paid too much attention to what I don’t like and conversely what I do like about Japan. […] But what I do like is the sense of interconnectiveness. […] When workmen used to try to make a wall and a tree would get in the way, they would make a hole in the wall to accommodate the tree instead of the other way around. This used to be seen on a regular basis. Alas, it is no more. A lot of the things which I like about Japan have disappeared. If this symbiotic relationship was ever here, it is not here anymore. The Japanese have down terrible things physically to their country. That would be something which I do not like about Japan. But if I dice it into likes and dislikes, and I have difficulty doing that, there wmust be a better way to see differences. Indeed, in my wriitng, I try not to rely on like and dislike dichotomies. I rely more on what works and doesn’t work. (172)
Donald Richie still courtesy of his film anthology
That said, Richie does careen into Keene territory when he carelessly compares NJ in Japan with autistic children in a kindergarten:
If an autistic child goes to a kindergarten, he becomes a legal member of that class, but he’s still an autistic child. So he has double citizenship. That is very much me — like any foreigner here. He is put in a special class for autism, but at the same time, he is given all of the honors and securities of belonging to this particular class. He gets a double dose. And if he is smart, then he recognizes this. (224)
This is not a good comparison, as it likens extranationality to a mental handicap. And it also ignores the racialized issues of how somebody “looks” in Japan (as in “looks foreign”) with how somebody is treated (as a “foreigner”), when autism is not a matter of physical appearance. It also assumes that people can never recover from or overcome a birth-based “autism of national origin” (this author’s paraphrase), becoming acculturated enough to “become a Japanese” (whereas autism is, as far as I know, a lifelong handicap). This clearly obviates many of the acculturation strategies this book seeks to promote. Richie may stand by this comparison as his own personal opinion, of course, but this author will not, as it buys into to the notion of surrendering to a racialized class (in both senses of the word) system as being “smart”.
In the last third of the book, Kamisarof takes these interviews and incorporates them into the following questions, answered with balanced input from all participants:
When do Westerners feel most comfortable with Japanese people?
How does Westerners’ treatment in Japan compare to that of immigrants and long-term sojourners in their home countries?
Is there discrimination against Westerners in Japan?
How does discrimination in Japan compare to that in Western countries?
Is it right to play the Gaijin Card?
Are Westerners accepted more by Japanese people if they naturalize to Japan?
Can Westerners be accepted in Japan, and if so, what do they need to do to belong?
Can popular public ideas about who belongs in Japanese society move beyond nationality?
How are Japanese perceptions of Westerners changing?
After this remix of and focus upon individual strategies, Komisarof devotes his final chapter to bringing in academic discussions about general “acculturation strategies”, based upon attitudes and behaviors (both on the part of the immigrant and the native), putting them into a classic four-category strategy rubric of “Integration” (i.e., the “multicultural salad”), “Assimilation” (i.e., the “melting pot”), “Separation” (i.e., segregation into non-mixing self-maintaining communities), and “Marginalization” (i.e., segregation from mainstream society with self-maintenance of the non-mainstream community discouraged). In an attempt to choose the “best” acculturation strategy, Korisamof then builds upon this rubric into a sixteen-category “Interactive Acculturation Model” that may lose most non-academic readers. He concludes, sensibly:
“Merely increasing the non-native population in Japan without improving acculturation strategy fits is insufficient and may cause further problems. Instead, it is critical that a sense of BELONGING and PARTICIPATION, rather than mere coexistence, be shared between Japanese and the foreign-born residents in their midst… ” (237, emphases in original). “The underlying message of this book for all nations wrestling with unprecedented domestic diversity is that the inclusion of everyone is essential, but only through mutual efforts of the cultural majority and minorities can such inclusion become a reality. Creating living spaces where people can feel a sense of belonging and share in the benefits of group membership is an urgent ned worldwide, and it is happening, slowly, but surely, here in Japan. (239)
If one could point to a major flaw in the book, it would not be with the methodology. It would be with the fieldwork: As mentioned above, the interviews do not ask systematically the same questions to each interviewee, and thus the answers do not always speak to the questions about assimilation strategies Komisarof later asks and answers. For example, Arudou’s typically rabble-rousing interview style offers little insight into how he personally deals with the daily challenges of life in Japan. (For the record, that information can be found here.) As is quite typical for people in Japan being asked what Japan is all about and how they “like” it, the interviewees answer in individually-suited ways that show myopic views of Japan, redolent of the fable about the Blind Men and the Elephant. Not one of the respondents (except for, in places, Arudou) talks about the necessity for a sense of community building within NJ groups themselves, i.e., unionizing, creating anti-discrimination or anti-defamation leagues, or fostering the organizational trappings of the cultural self-maintenance that may be essential or is taken as a given within other non-Westerner transplant communities (although disputed by Ishi, 2008). Instead, all we hear about (due to the lines of questioning within the fieldwork) are how atomistic people create their own psychological armor for “dealing with Japan”.
Another important issue remains fundamentally unaddressed by Komisarof: How one must assume “good faith” and “reciprocity” on the part of Japanese society bringing in NJ to work, and how these assimilation strategies being offered must one day bear fruit (as the interviewee proponents claim they will. Harlan: “True acceptance comes when you are contributing to society as fully as anyone else.” (200)). But what if your full contributions to Japan are not being fully recognized, with long-term friendships, promotions, equal access to social welfare, and even senpai status over Japanese? As the links to each of these topics attest, this is not always the case. Under Komisarof’s assimilation strategies, what do you do then? Give, give, and give for many years and then just hope society gives something back? What guarantees should there be for reciprocity? There is only so much a mentally-healthy individual can contribute, sacrifice, and offer to “assimilate” and “integrate” into a society before feeling used and used up.
That said, if you want an insightful, thoughtful book that will introduce you to the global academic debate on transnational migration, assimilation, and integration, moreover tailored to the peculiar milieu of Japan, Komisarof’s “At Home Abroad” is it.
SOURCE: Ishi, Angelo Akimitsu (2008), in David Blake Willis and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Eds., “Transcultural Japan: At the borderlands of race, gender, and identity.” New York: Routledge, pp. 122-5.
Copyright ARUDOU Debito 2013. All rights reserved.
PUBLICATIONS CHAIR WANTED
HELP KEEP JALT PALE FROM POSSIBLE DECOMMISSIONING
Hey everyone. Arudou Debito here. I have been told that one of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT)’s most important SIG groups, PALE (Professionalism, Administration, and Leadership in Education), is in some difficulty at the moment.
The PALE SIG desperately needs a Publications Chair. If it does not have one, then someone on the board will have to pick up the load, which has been the case the past year or so with disappointing results. It is a fact, alas, that PALE is not a popular SIG due to its stands on controversial issues, and it should not be surprising that some would be happy to see it go. It is still odd, since PALE is all about helping people find job stability and better employment conditions through being informed about labor law etc. We are the group that acts as a safety net, one that people keep falling upon to when times get tough in the workplace. Decommissioning the group is an option for JALT. One that we don’t think should happen, for everyone’s sake.
PALE has a long history of activism and assistance. I was the editor of the PALE Journal for several years. An archive of PALE activities and publications is available at https://www.debito.org/PALE
So if you a) are a JALT member (or are willing to become one), and b) are willing to join PALE (it costs a mere 1500 yen per year), and c) are willing to become Publications Chair, then please contact Tom Goetz right away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our latest project is to produce a PALE anthology. But if our SIG is decommissioned at the next JALT EBM on February 2-3, or a later EBM, then access to PALE’s coffers becomes much more difficult and further subject to outside control.
Also, PALE needs new membership anytime, so please also contact Tom if you would like to become a member.
Please help out. Thanks for reading. Arudou Debito
Hi Blog. Thanks everyone for putting this article in the Top Ten Most Read once again for most of New Year’s Day (and to the JT for distinguishing this with another “Editor’s Pick”). Great illustrations as always by Chris Mackenzie. Here’s hoping I have more positive things to say in next year’s roundup… This version with links to sources. Enjoy. And Happy New Year 2013. Arudou Debito
Back by popular demand, here is JBC’s roundup of the top 10 human rights events that most affected non-Japanese (NJ) residents of Japan in 2012, in ascending order.
10. Keene’s naturalization (March 7)
This should have occasioned great celebration in Japan’s era of crisis, but instead, scholar Donald Keene’s anointment as a Japanese citizen became a cautionary tale, for two reasons. One was his very public denigration of other NJ (despite their contributions as full-time Japan residents, taxpayers and family creators) as alleged criminals and “flyjin” deserters (JBC, Apr. 3), demonstrating how Old Japan Hands eat their young. The other was the lengths one apparently must go for acceptance: If you spend the better part of a century promoting Japanese literature to the world, then if you live to, oh, the age of 90, you might be considered “one of us.”
It seems Japan would rather celebrate a pensioner salving a wounded Japan than young multiethnic Japanese workers potentially saving it.
9. Liberty Osaka defunded (June 2)
Liberty Osaka (www.liberty.or.jp), Japan’s only human rights museum archiving the historical grass-roots struggles of disenfranchised minorities, faces probable closure because its government funding is being cut off. Mayor Toru Hashimoto, of hard-right Japan Restoration Party fame (and from a disenfranchised minority himself), explicitly said the divestment is due to the museum’s displays being “limited to discrimination and human rights,” thereby failing to present Japan’s children with a future of “hopes and dreams.”
In a country with the most peace museums in the world, this politically motivated ethnic cleansing of the past augurs ill for cultural heterogeneity under Japan’s right-wing swing (see below).
In a throwback to prewar eugenics, Tokyo District Court ruled constitutional a section of the Nationality Law’s Article 12 stating that a) if a man sires a child with a foreigner b) overseas, and c) does not file for the child’s Japanese citizenship within three months of birth, then citizenship may legally be denied.
Not only did this decision erode the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that granted citizenship to international children born out of wedlock, but it also made clear that having “foreign blood” (in a country where citizenship is blood-based) penalizes Japanese children — because if two Japanese nationals have a child overseas, or if the child is born to a Japanese woman, Article 12 does not apply. The ruling thus reinforced a legal loophole helping Japanese men evade responsibility if they fool around with foreign women.
Japan’s endorsement of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction became a casualty of months of political gridlock, as the opposition Liberal Democratic Party blocked about a third of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s bills.
The treaty outlines protocol for how children of broken marriages can avoid international tugs of war. As the Community Pages have reported umpteen times, Japan, one of the few developed countries that is not a signatory, remains a haven for postdivorce parental alienation and child abductions.
Since joint custody does not legally exist and visitation rights are not guaranteed, after a Japanese divorce one parent (regardless of nationality) is generally expected to disappear from their child’s life. Former Diet member Masae Ido (a parental child abductor herself) glibly called this “a Japanese custom.” If so, it is one of the most psychologically damaging customs possible for a child, and despite years of international pressure on Japan to join the Hague, there is now little hope of that changing.
In one of the few potentially bright spots for NJ in Japan this year, the Yoshihiko Noda Cabinet convened several meetings on how Japan might go about creating a “coexistence society” that could “accept” NJ (JBC, July 3). A well-intentioned start, the talks included leaders of activist groups, local governments and one nikkei academic.
Sadly, it fell into old ideological traps: 1) Participants were mostly older male Japanese bureaucrats; 2) those bureaucrats were more interested in policing NJ than in making them more comfortable and offering them a stake in society; 3) no NJ leader was consulted about what NJ themselves might want; and 4) the Cabinet itself confined its concerns to the welfare of nikkei residents, reflecting the decades-old (but by now obviously erroneous) presumption that only people with “Japanese bloodlines” could “become Japanese.”
In sum, even though the government explicitly stated in its goals that NJ immigration (without using the word, imin) would revitalize our economy, it still has no clue how to make NJ into “New Japanese.”
2012 saw the first time an NJ serving a life sentence in Japan was declared wrongfully convicted, in the case of Govinda Prasad Mainali. The last time that happened (Toshikazu Sugaya in 2009), the victim was released with a very public apology from public prosecutors. Mainali, however, despite 15 years in the clink, was transferred to an immigration cell and deported. At least both are now free men.
On the other hand, the case of Abubakar Awudu Suraj (from last year’s top 10), who died after brutal handling by Japanese immigration officers during his deportation on March 22, 2010, was dropped by public prosecutors who found “no causal relationship” between the treatment and his death.
Thus, given the “hostage justice” (hitojichi shihō) within the Japanese criminal prosecution system, and the closed-circuit investigation system that protects its own, the Japanese police can incarcerate you indefinitely and even get away with murder — particularly if you are an NJ facing Japan’s double standards of jurisprudence (Zeit Gist, Mar. 24, 2009).
Over the past two decades, we have seen Japan’s visa regimes favoring immigration through blood ties — offering limited-term work visas with no labor law rights to Chinese “trainees” while giving quasi-permanent-residency “returnee” visas to nikkei South Americans, for example.
However, after 2007’s economic downturn, blood was judged to be thinner than unemployment statistics, and the government offered the nikkei (and the nikkei only) bribes of free airfares home if they forfeited their visa status (JBC, Apr. 7, 2009). They left in droves, and down went Japan’s registered NJ population for the first time in nearly a half-century — and in 2012 the Brazilian population probably dropped to fourth place behind Filipinos.
But last year was also when the cynical machinations of Japan’s “revolving door” labor market became apparent to the world (JBC, March 6) as applications for Japan’s latest exploitative visa wheeze, “trainee” nurses from Indonesia and the Philippines, declined — and even some of the tiny number of NJ nurses who did pass the arduous qualifying exam left. Naturally, Japan’s media (e.g., Kyodo, June 20; Aug. 4) sought to portray NJ as ungrateful and fickle deserters, but nevertheless doubts remain as to whether the nursing program will continue. The point remains that Japan is increasingly seen as a place to avoid in the world’s unprecedented movement of international labor.
One of the most stupefying things about postwar Japan has been how NJ could not be registered with their Japanese families on the local residency registry system (jūmin kihon daichō) — meaning NJ often went uncounted in local population tallies despite being taxpaying residents! In 2012, this exclusionary system was finally abolished along with the Foreign Registry Law.
Unfortunately, this good news was offset by a) NJ still not being properly registered on family registries (koseki), b) NJ still having to carry gaijin cards at all times (except now with potentially remotely readable computer chips), and c) NJ still being singled out for racial profiling in spot ID checks by Japanese police (even though the remaining applicable law requires probable cause). It seems that old habits die hard, or else just get rejiggered with loopholes.
After the multiple disasters of March 11, 2011, there was wan hope that Japan’s electorate would be energized enough to demand better governance. Nope. And this despite the revelations in December 2011 that the fund for tsunami victims was diverted to whaling “research.” And the confusing and suppressed official reports about radioactive contamination of the ecosystem. And the tsunami victims who still live in temporary housing. And the independent parliamentary report that vaguely blamed “Japanese culture” for the disaster (and, moreover, offered different interpretations for English- and Japanese-reading audiences). And the reports in October that even more rescue money had been “slush-funded” to unrelated projects, including road building in Okinawa, a contact lens factory in central Japan and renovations of Tokyo government offices.
Voters had ample reason for outrage, yet they responded (see below) by reinstating the original architects of this system, the LDP.
For everyone living in Japan (not just NJ), 2012 demonstrated that the Japanese system is beyond repair or reform.
Two columns ago (JBC, Nov. 6), I challenged former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara (whose rabble-rousing bigotry has caused innumerable headaches for disenfranchised people in Japan, particularly NJ) to “bring it on” and show Japan’s true colors to the world in political debates. Well, he did. After a full decade of successfully encouraging Japanese society to see NJ (particularly Chinese) as innately criminal, Ishihara ratcheted things up by threatening to buy three of the privately-owned Senkaku islets (which forced the Noda administration to purchase them instead, fanning international tensions). Then Ishihara resigned his governorship, formed a “restorationist” party and rode the wave of xenophobia caused by the territorial disputes into the Diet’s Lower House (along with 53 other party members) in December’s general election.
Also benefiting from Ishihara’s ruses was the LDP, who with political ally New Komeito swept back into power with 325 seats. As this is more than the 320 necessary to override Upper House vetoes, Japan’s bicameral legislature is now effectively unicameral. I anticipate policy proposals (such as constitutional revisions to allow for a genuine military, fueling an accelerated arms race in Asia) reflecting the same corporatist rot that created the corrupt system we saw malfunctioning after the Fukushima disaster. (Note that if these crises had happened on the LDP’s watch, I bet the DPJ would have enjoyed the crushing victory instead — tough luck.)
In regards to NJ, since Japan’s left is now decimated and three-quarters of the 480-seat Lower House is in the hands of conservatives, I foresee a chauvinistic movement enforcing bloodline-based patriotism (never mind the multiculturalism created by decades of labor influx and international marriage), love of a “beautiful Japan” as defined by the elites, and more officially sanctioned history that downplays, ignores and overwrites the contributions of NJ and minorities to Japanese society.
In sum, if 2011 exposed a Japan in decline, 2012 showed a Japan closing.
Debito Arudou and Akira Higuchi’s bilingual 2nd Edition of “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants,” with updates for 2012’s changes to immigration laws, is now on sale. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send your comments to email@example.com.
December 17, 2012 Re: Advice regarding discrimination at a hospital
Dear Sir, My name is Hilary. I am originally from Canada and I’ve been employed by the Town of Shikaoi in Tokachi, Hokkaido as an Assistant Language Teacher for the past four years.
Today, I was experiencing a problem with my foot; I thought I broke a toe over the weekend. I spoke with a Japanese Teacher of English with whom I work with and she offered to call a clinic in neighbouring Shintoku and accompany me to the clinic after school for treatment. She made the telephone call in Japanese and was advised of their location and hours of business and took down their information. Once we arrived there, she spoke with reception and a man (presumably a doctor) motioned to me, making the “batsu” gesture and said (in Japanese) that the clinic’s system doesn’t allow for the treatment of foreigners because of our inability to understand Japanese. I looked at my colleague for confirmation on what I heard and she looked completely dumbstruck.
She turned to me and asked if I understood what they said. I said yes and repeated what the man said back to her in English. Her mouth just hung open and she said “I’ve never heard of such a policy”. The man leaned into my colleague and asked her if I understood Japanese, to which I replied, yes I do. He then said that he would check with the attending physician but doubted that I could receive treatment.
As he went to talk with the attending physician, a receptionist said to my colleague that she (the receptionist) explained the clinic’s policy to my colleague over the phone. My colleague started to tear up as the man returned and said that I could not receive treatment from this clinic due to the reasons he already stated. At that time, the receptionist told the man that she did explain that to my colleague over the phone. My colleague asked the man what we should do and he gave us the telephone number of another hospital in a different town and advised us to go there. I gripped my colleague by the arm and simply said “let’s go”. As we walked out of the clinic, my colleague was very distraught and she said to me “they never told me that on the phone”. I said to her “of course they didn’t. The receptionist was lying”.
We returned to our hometown and went to our local hospital. I received very good care from an English speaking doctor who told us not to worry about the other hospital. However, I was advised by an independent friend that you would be the best person to contact over such a situation.
If needed, this is the clinic’s information:
Keira Orthopaedic Surgery (Seikei Geka Iin) けいら整形外科医院 13 Jominami 5 Chome Shintoku, Kamikawa District Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan 0156-69-5151
If you could advise me as to what, if anything, I should do, I would appreciate that very much. Best regards, Hilary
COMMENT FROM DEBITO: I called Keira Seikei Geika Iin first thing in the morning JST on December 18, 2012, and talked to a man who did not give his name. He apologetically confirmed that his institution does not take foreigners. The reason given was a language barrier, and that it might cause “inconvenience” (meiwaku). When asked if this did not constitute discrimination, the answer given was a mere repeat of the meiwaku excuse and apology. When asked about having an interpreter along to resolve any alleged language barrier, the answer became a mantra. I thanked him for his time and that was the end of the conversation.
Postscript: Hillary fortunately did not have a broken toe. It was chilblains. Wishing her a speedy recovery. Arudou Debito
Postpostscript: The information site for this clinic has links to a METI-sponsored organization for international medical tourism, through a banner saying, “We support foreign patients who wish to receive medical treatments in Japan.” Click here for more info.
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Hi Blog. Something that came up on one of the mailing lists I’m on (a JALT group called PALE) is an interesting debate on physical education in Japan as part of cultural education in Japan — the new requirement for students to take a martial art in Junior High School as an attempt to “transmit tradition” and develop one’s inherent inner Japanese-ness.
My basic objection with all this education on “what it means to be Japanese” (which reasserted itself with former PM Abe’s reforms of the Basic Law of Education in 2006 to foster “an attitude that loves the nation“) is that, given the binary approach to “being Japanese” (especially when defined as “being unique”, with an added contrast to “being foreign”), it encourages people of NJ roots to be excluded (or else to deny their own diversity as incompatible). But the debate on PALE added a new dimension — an unnecessary degree of danger, given how martial attitudes in Japan often invite physical brinkmanship in unaccountable sports coaches over their young athletes. It’s tangental to the discussion of diversity in Japanese education, but read on as it’s good food for thought. Used with permission. Arudou Debito
October 2, 2012 From RA [PALE] Concerns about compulsory judo in junior high schools
PALErs: Although not directly connected to PALE’s brief, this issue is so important to anyone involved in the Japanese education system that it deserves exposure on this forum.
As most of you will know, traditional martial arts became compulsory in junior high schools this year.
This is a direct result of the new Fundamental Law of Education introduced the last time Abe was prime minister (so nice to see him back at the helm of the LDP!) which called for a return to traditional Japanese values.
In most cases the martial art that has been chosen is judo.
Many parents of young children are very concerned about this.
Since 1983 there have been 108 recorded deaths of children in judo class or school club activities in Japan. With a huge increase in the number of participants it can be assumed that the death rate will increase in the future.
Nobody has been prosecuted for any of these deaths.
As a result, a group of parents and activists have set up the Japan Judo Accidents Victim Association.
I hope that PALE can do its bit to spread awareness of this serious issue.Yours, RA
Thanks RA, For me the most important link was on the left side for the Al-Jazeera program broadcast from Osaka. The older Japanese judoka/MD is opposed to the new system. I’ve forwarded the link to all PE teachers at my place. Yours, MP
I had not heard about this so I appreciate you sharing the information. I do think that an important aspect of your alarm is missing. 108 Children have died in 27 years of judo practice in schools – but there’s no mention of the total # of youth who participated safely in judo (which I’d guess is in the thousands nationwide). So, while the death of 108 children is sad, it’s not the alarmist statistic the website is portraying. How many children are killed walking to school along crowded narrow streets? How many are killed riding bicycles on busy roads? I don’t know but I’d guess it’s no small number either.
The fact that, “Nobody has be prosecuted for any of these deaths.” does not necessarily mean that it’s a conspiracy to hide the facts. Maybe all 108 were deemed to be accidents – something that’s VERY common among youth sports programs worldwide. Let us consider our own childhoods; if a person was injured playing sports, was there a lawsuit or criminal proceedings for all cases? These 108 cases which resulted in death (which the website states were due primarily to brain injury) could have been tragic accidents by kids not paying attention to how they were flipping or being flipped. Without further details of each case, it’s premature to throw up our arms in protest against the implementation of judo in junior high schools.
Sports are dangerous and a measure of risk is involved in simply rising from one’s futon in the morning. Throwing up alarm flags to stop children from learning a traditional Japanese sport which teaches discipline and self-defense–something which I think many would argue is lacking in today’s youth—is not a prudent step in the big scheme of things. You may argue that their goal is not to ban judo, but to “to support victims and find ways to reduce death and serious injury among students” as stated on their website. But the tone of the language implies to me that they desire more than just an “improved safety regime.” If I am misreading this, I apologize.
I agree that an emphasis on safety needs to be made so that we can minimize risk, but banning a sport because somebody might get hurt is like banning bicycles because someone in the past had an accident (a current policy at my daughter’s junior high school). Thank you for allowing me to voice my concerns about the power of PALE’s membership jumping behind this issue without truly looking at the big picture. Have a great week and let the flaming commence.Yours, EF
EF, thank you for your questions.
First of all there are quite a lot of options available between banning a sport and making it compulsory. So, yes you are misreading the site if you think it is calling for a ban. Although you are free to contact the campaign organisers if you want more clarification.
If you want further details of each accident, please go back to the site and click on ‘Download’ and look at the details of the deaths.
There are some heat stroke and heart attack cases but most deaths are due to brain contusions or subdural hematomas. These are directly caused by being thrown. There are also some suffocations caused by choke holds (sometimes by the teacher). This is NOT the same as falling off a bike. You are not supposed to fall of a bike or ride it into a fast moving car. You ARE supposed to throw your opponent in judo. I know almost nothing about judo and how someone is able to protect themselves when they fall. Clearly there are techniques for doing this and equally clearly they are not working for many school children in Japan. Making everyone do judo will only make this problem worse.
I do not agree with your implied notion that there is an acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries for any school sport. Rugby is a sport where serious injury can occur. However, over the years there have been changes in the rules of rugby in order to (successfully) reduce the number of accidents. Maybe this is the way to go with judo in schools.
On the subject of criminal prosecution, take a look at this Japan Times article from 2010:
It describes some tragic cases where the police did try to get prosecutions but public prosecutors threw the case out.
It may be only a matter of time before a prosecution does stick. The only question is how many children will die between now and then.
Someone who knows judo much better than me (and is a fan) told me that judo is the most dangerous legal two-person sport: more dangerous than boxing. Is it a smart idea to make this sport compulsory for 12-year-old boys and girls?
As far as I have been able to find out deaths in judo world-wide are extremely rare – except in Japan.
With the making of judo compulsory it is a statistical certainty that the number of deaths will increase in the future if nothing serious is done to change the way judo is taught in Japan.Yours, RA
PS: You asked us to think of our own childhoods and the accidents that are bound to occur in school games. Well, when I think back I can clearly remember boys coming in to school on Monday morning with injuries sustained over the weekend in various sporting fixtures. I remember broken arms, black eyes, missing teeth etc. usually from rugby games. I knew one boy who lost his front teeth by, as he put it, ‘unwisely trying to catch a cricket ball in my mouth’. I think the closest I ever came to serious injury myself was when I was chased by a wild horse during a cross country run (but I managed to escape up a tree). When I was a teacher in a school near London I had to apply First Aid to a boy whose bare foot had been spiked by another boy’s running shoe. Try as I might I can’t think of any case of a child being killed or put in a coma during a school sporting activity in my school or any nearby schools. And the atmosphere is much more safety conscious in the UK now than it was then. We need to seriously ask if schools in Japan are doing all they can to protect the children in their care, and if they can learn from best practice in other school systems.
“Hai sai” (Okinawa dialect for konnichi wa) from Okinawa, everyone.
I think EF shares some good points (RE: it is always possible to overprotect children by erring too much on the side of safety…in fact, Stephen Pinker in his new book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” posits that one of the unfortunate side effects of the worldwide decline in violence is that kids are coddled and overprotected too much – e.g., being discouraged from playing outside due to kidnapping fears…child kidnapping by strangers is in fact extremely rare in developed nations).
However, 108 judo-related deaths in what are supposedly supervised classrooms still raises some alarms for me…namely, how qualified are the judo teachers, and what, if any, nation-wide mechanisms are in place to ensure adequate qualifications and quality control of said judo instructors? In fact, I think that someone brought up in a similar thread on PALE a number of months ago some stats showing that there are a fair number of unqualified judo instructors in Japanese schools. This wouldn’t surprise me – remember when the MonKaSho rushed English into elementary schools a few years ago without ensuring adequate EFL teacher training for the homeroom instructors who were expected to add English teaching to their already ridiculously busy schedules?
This compulsory judo has similar potential to be problematic (though with more serious consequences than a lack of EFL training of course!) if the new teachers in schools where judo instruction introduced for the 1st time are being rushed into these classrooms without proper training.
My daughter attends a private jr. high school in Okinawa where karate instruction has been mandatory for many years (as a way to promote Okinawan culture – this prefecture is the birthplace of karate). I doubt that karate will be replaced any time soon by judo, given the high pedigree of karate here, which also ensures that all instructors – 3 or 4 black belt teachers per class of 35 students – are well-qualified…I observed one of my daughter’s karate classes and was duly impressed by the teachers…in fact, Sakura-chan seems to think that some of them are “too strict” with regards, for example, to how the kids tie their belts. This is a good sign to me that they are watching kids very closely for safety, etc…indeed, that seemed to be the case during the class I observed.)Cheers, CB
I’ve done martial arts for almost 30 years, my first martial art was judo, when I was in second grade, and my father went with me (he received his black belt in an alternate system to Kodokan judo, Kodenkan in Hawaii, under Seishiro Okazaki) and I have a sandan in judo, so I’m more sympathetic to EF’s points.
As for learning how to fall, one usually first learns ukemi, which is how to take breakfalls. Having taught adults how to take breakfalls, it is much better to teach it to students when they are young. Less mass so less chance of injury, and more youthful flexibility. I do think some things should be done to make it safer. I have been told and I pass it on to my aikido students that learning how to fall is probably a bigger safety factor than thinking how martial arts is going to protect you from being mugged because whenever you don’t see a curb, or miss a step, you may need to fall correctly. I remember when I was a kid and my father got tripped by the dog running just in front of his feet at the top of 6 concrete steps at our house. He went down doing a judo style breakfall and got up afterwards. Later found out that he had cracked two ribs, but that is far better than breaking his neck.
I also think that there should be some compulsory sport in school. While the ideal would be to have several sports that students can choose from, judo has a number of advantages in terms of cost, facilities and participation. Judo also has an advantage in that it permits students of all sizes and builds to adequately participate. Team sports would have problems not only from the nature of the sport (how can you be sure students are getting the exercise they need), but also from the fact that students of particular builds are favored, while I can’t think of any other individual sports that provide exercise over the full range of body movements, with the possible exception of wrestling, though that is problematic for women (especially with male teachers) and has many of the same injury possibilities as judo. Swimming might be the ideal, but that is season dependent and requires specialised facilities.
I do worry that poor teachers, both those with inadequate training and those with behavioral problems are a worry, but I think that is more a problem with the way Japanese schools are staffed and their hierarchical nature. However, I don’t think that should be an indictment of judo.
For high schools, the compulsory sport is either judo or kendo iirc. I’m not sure about numbers, but kendo has the possibility of some particularly horrific injuries, specifically shattered shinai (practice swords made up of 4 bamboo slats) blinding or, in the worse case, killing practitioners when they go thru the eye and enter the brain. Furthermore, the gear makes it difficult to assess student injuries or problems like heatstroke until it is potentially too late.
I do think there are some things that should be done to improve safety as RA suggests. In junior judo in the US, chokes and armbars are not permitted and tsutemi waza (sacrifice techniques) are generally not taught. I realize that Japanese might balk at ‘watering down’ judo, but in the glance over the listed fatalities caused by judo, shime waza (chokes) seems to be a big factor. In addition, many of the other fatalities in the longer list occurred in tournament competitions. This problem arises when a match is fought and the person who is being thrown doesn’t want to lose the match and so refuses to take the ukemi and is thrown so that they hit their head or techniques that are even more risky (in that they don’t permit the uke (the person being thrown) much option in the ukemi) are used. While it is a judo fatality, I see it as the result of competition rather than the inherent nature of judo.
Again, I am biased, but judo is a great sport to learn as a kid, it lets you develop balance and strength without over emphasizing any particular part of the body, it requires very little money and ideally gives you a certain amount of confidence.Yours, JT
I too am biased. I haven’t done it for years but I like judo. My first introduction was in college and I recall that the teacher had us loosening up and only practicing falls for the first classes. (Note: Most universities in Japan do not have mandatory PE classes but the University of Tsukuba does. Some students like this. Some don’t.) Our small university has one campus for the visually impaired. Judo is one of the main sports (the others are sound table tennis, floor volleyball and blind soccer) and this year one of our girls went to the Paralympics in London. Also, some of our students join the U of Tsukuba clubs. It’s a great sport for the blind because they can compete on an equal basis. But having said that, after watching the Al-Jareeza program that was done in Osaka, and listening to the interviewed parents and doctor, and seeing the boy in the hospital bed, and reading the postings on this list, I have some real concerns about the compulsory classes. Yours, MP
First, let me thank JT and MP for their input and insight into the world of judo. I’ve never played judo but my brother did in university and for a bit thereafter (he stopped when he moved to an Indian Reservation due to lack of partners). I agree, Robert, that it’s a very dangerous sport and the causes of death bear witness to this fact (thank you for directing me to the details).
In reviewing the list, there did seem to be about 25 or 30 which were incidental deaths not directly attributable to the sport itself but occurred in proximity to practice or competitions (heat stroke, dehydration, other medical issues, etc.). One pattern which was readily apparent was that the vast majority were due to the judoka’s head striking the mat and them suffering brain injuries / hematomas. I hope that this organization is able to push for the possibility of having the students wear headgear (similar to that worn in wrestling) to protect against such injuries. Doing so would add cost to the sports program (which I’m sure is already underfunded) so the likelihood may be low, but I do think it best to support this move as a group.
Anyway, thanks for raising this discussion and for everyone who added their two cents. I will definitely raise my concerns at the PTA meeting should I hear that my daughter’s school adopts compulsory judo in PE.
The Japan Times, Tuesday, July 17, 2012 LIFELINES: LABOR PAINS Courts back workers’ rock-solid right to strike (excerpt) By HIFUMI OKUNUKI, professor of constitutional and labor law at Daito Bunka University and Jissen Women’s University http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120717lp.html
Over 100 Berlitz Japan teachers struck over 3,000 lessons between December 2007 and November 2008 in order to win a 4.6-percent pay hike and one-off one-month bonus.
The language school claimed the strikes were illegal mainly because the union gave little notice of the impending strikes. While case law stipulates that prior notice must be given for a strike, it does not set a minimum time. Berlitz teachers often gave less than five minutes’ notice. This probably created a headache for management, because they had less time to send replacement teachers to cover the struck classes.
The school also claimed that a union executive, Louis Carlet (full disclosure: Carlet is the current president of Tozen Union), had admitted to wanting to damage the company in a Sept. 30, 2008, Zeit Gist column in The Japan Times (“Berlitz Strike Grows Despite Naysayers“).
Tokyo District Court dismissed the entire case in its Feb. 27, 2012, verdict, reaffirming the powerful guarantee of the right to strike in Japan. The court rejected the company’s contention that the union was striking to destroy the company and agreed with the union’s assertion that the only purpose of the strikes was to realize its demands.
Management appealed the verdict and Tokyo High Court is currently overseeing reconciliation talks between the two sides.
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Hi Blog. Barring any unforeseen events of great import, I am planning to Summer vacation Debito.org for most of August, following the publication of my next Japan Times column on August 7. So as we wind things down a little, here’s something I had in the archives for commentary someday.
How the media portrays minorities and people of differences in any society is very important, because not only does it set the tone for treatment, it normalizes it to the point where attitudes become predominant, hegemonic, and unquestioned. This article in the Japan Times regarding a book that portrays blackness as “dirty” is instructive, in that it shows how people react defensively when predominant attitudes are challenged. The dominant, unaffected majority use the inalienable concepts of culture and identity (particularly in Japan) as blinkers, earplugs, and a shield — to deny any possibility of empathy with the people who may be adversely affected by this issue.
Dear Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirofumi Hirano,
My three beautiful children were all born in Japan and went to Japanese public schools. Their mother is a native Japanese of Japanese ethnic background, and I am a Canadian citizen of African background.
Since my children are light brown, they were often teased by other kids because of the color of their skin. The culprits were cruel, directing various racial slurs. Among others, “black and dirty as burdocks” was one of the terms that often came up.
But, when I once ran across and brought home a picture book, “Ninjin-san ga Akai Wake” (“The Reason the Carrot is Red”) from the local library, my children got quite upset.
Written by renowned Japanese author of children’s literature Miyoko Matsutani, the story unfolds like this: A carrot and a burdock ask a white radish (daikon) out to a bath. The burdock jumps in the water but soon hops out because the water is too hot; it remains black. The carrot stays in the hot water longer and turns red. The daikon cools the bath with some cold water and washes himself thoroughly, which turns him shining white.
At the end, the three stand beside each other to compare their color. The burdock is black and dirty because he did not wash his body properly; the daikon is white and beautiful because he did.
When I was talking about this story during one of my lectures on human rights issues at a PTA meeting in Fukuoka, one of the participants, a Japanese mother of an African-Japanese preschool boy, started crying and saying that her son was taunted, ridiculed and called “burdock” after his pre-school teacher read the aforementioned book to the class.
When the little boy returned home that day, he jumped into the bathtub, started washing his body and crying, “I hate my light brown skin, I hate the burdock, I’m dirty and I want to be like the white radish!” How can this child have a positive image of himself?
We all felt sad after hearing this story, because the book associates the color black with dirt. The story’s underlying message is clear: “You’ll be black and dirty like burdocks if you don’t wash yourself well in the bath.” So children with darker skin will be victimized by the message it conveys.
How can such a book still be in libraries and preschool classrooms in increasingly multiracial contemporary Japan?
I called the publisher, Doshinsha Publishing Co., and demanded the book be recalled, saying it was racist. The publisher disagreed. My demand to meet with Matsutani to discuss revising the portions of the book I considered objectionable was also rejected.
Yoichi Ikeda, the editor of the book published in 1989, told me over the phone that the story was the author’s version of a Japanese folktale.
“Matsutani is not promoting racism, she was just handing down to Japanese children our rich culture,” he said. “And anyway, there are not many black children in Japanese preschools.”
Surprisingly, the book is quite popular and was even selected as one of the Japan School Library Association’s “good picture books.”
In the text of this volume, Edward Seidensticker gives an interpretation of Japan based on more than 13 years of residence in the country, where he won a reputation as a sensitive intepreter of the Japanese people and as an incisive commentator on the contemporary scene. His knowledge of the country dates from 1945, when he served for a time as a Marine officer with the U.S. Occupation Forces. Mr. Seidensticker, who was born in Colorado, returned to Tokyo in 1948 for two years’ service with the Department of State and then did graduate work at the University of Tokyo. A noted translator of Japanese literature, he contibutes to general and scholarly publications in the United States and Europe. He is now a professor of Japanese literature at Stanford University.
Okay, time out. After I read this, I blinked and said, “Only 13 years in Japan and he gets this much credibility? What’s with that?” The Table of Contents offered me little solace (The Crowded Country, The Heritage of a Long Isolation, Storm and Calm in Politics, A Resilient and Growing Economy, Upheavals in Family and Society, Traces of Spirit, Diversions Borrowed and Preserved, The Tolerant Believers, Powerful Molders of Young Minds, and A Nation in the Balance), all broad strokes all in a slim volume of only about 150 pages including voluminous photos.
But let me type in the concluding chapter. Let’s see what you think about Seidensticker’s insights then and consider how much has or has not changed, both on the ground and in overseas discourse on Japan, fifty years later. My comments follow.
Chapter 10, A Nation in the Balance, pp. 145-151 By Edward Seidensticker
There is an imaginary border line skirting the ridges of Tokyo, which thrust eastward towards the bay like fingers. In the days when the city’s predecessor, Edo, was a fishing village, the ridges came down to the water’s edge. The shogunate later filled in the shallow fringes of the bay to provide a mercantile center for the city and a place for the merchants to live. The line between the eastern “downtown'” of the flats and the western “uptown” of the ridges therefore became the line between the easygoing, slangy, pleasure-loving townsmen and the austere members of the warrior class. Today it may be taken to symbolize the political division of the country. East of the line, in the flats, is the world of the Japanese who works hard, does not trouble himself much with transcendental thoughts and loves to have a festival now and then. Although he may not be deliriously happy with things as they are, he generally accepts them. In the hills to the west is the world of the professional and white-collar classes, of commuter trains, drab middle-class housing, the huge Iwanami Publishing Company and the influential and somewhat highbrow newspapers. Suspicious of the West and wishful, if at the moment confused, about the Communist bloc, this is the articulate half of the country, and it can be generally relied on for opposition to suggestions for an expansion of the American alliance. It is not from the poor low-lying districts east of the imaginary line but rather from the hilly white-collar districts to the west that Communists are elected to the Tokyo City Council.
Badly divided, with one half willing to accept fundamental principles that the other half wants only to ignore, Japan as yet finds it difficult to come forward as a nation and answer the question that is put to it: Which side is it on?
The Japanese should not be pushed for an answer, but they may not be ignored. They have accomplished too much during the last century and particularly the last two decades, and their position in the world is too important Until a few years ago, Japan’s economic stability was heavily dependent on the American economy. Today the dependence has been so reduced that some economist think Japan could weather a fairly severe American recession, though not a full-scale depression. If the resourcefulness of the Japanese stays with them, even the rising monster across the China Sea need not be as threatening a competitor as one might think it.
The Japanese economy is one of the half dozen most powerful in the world. Any transfer of such an economy to the other side in the cold war would be an event of tremendous moment. By tipping a delicate balance in Asia, it could, indeed, be the jolt that would send the whole precarious complex of world politics crashing into disaster.
Of all the great industrialized peoples of the world, the Japanese are the least committed, and so perhaps among those most strategically placed for administering that final push. It could be argued that France, with its own kind of polarization and its disaffected intellectuals, in an equally good position; but when the French underwent a crisis in 1958, they turned to help not to a Marxist but to a conservative and a Roman Catholic, General de Gaulle, and so back to the very sources of the western tradition. A shift to the other side would be for them a shattering revolution.
In the middle years of the 1960s, the Japanese, industriously building, and even occasionally hinting that they might like to assist the U.S. foreign-aid program, gave a surface impression of having allowed old uncertainties to recede into the background. Certainly the country leans to the West at present; yet only a relatively few observers would make the definite assertion that it would be impossible for Japan to shift to the other side. A few more years of prosperity, of Red Chinese truculence and of freedom from rankling incidents in relations with the United States might see the old uncertainties buried forever. The future, will tell, and it may be significant that the Left was unable in 1964 to make visits of American nuclear submarines to Japan into the issue that had been made over revising the Security Treaty with the United States in 1960. For the present, the wise ally ought still to be aware of a certain suspicion of U.S. motives on the part of some Japanese.
It is difficult to blame the Japanese for their lack of firmness. They are part of the western alliance not because they are part of its tradition but because they lost a war with its strongest member Material prosperity has not ended a feeling of restlessness. No number of washing machines can really substitute for a sense of mission. When Eisako [sic]Sato became Japan’s 10th postwar prime minister in 1964, almost his first words were: “Japan’s international voice has been too small”. What that voice will say is as yet unclear. Obviously, dreams of empire are gone, but the Japanese government apparently does wish to take a more active role in the free world’s fight for peace. The country is already giving $600 million in aid to underdeveloped nations. It would like a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and there have been proposals in Japan that the country contribute a peace-keeping force to the U.N. But Japan as a whole remains ambivalent about playing a strong international role.
By and large, the Japanese still dread the prospect of rearmament. Many Japanese — in a general way, those from east of the symbolic Tokyo line — are able to sink themselves into their work and so to accept the chiefly negative attractions of the American alliance. Others look to the Chinese or the Russians or waver between them.
United in fear of war and the atom bomb, to which they alone have offered victims, the Japanese are in a difficult position. The observer pities a country that cannot make up its mind to defend itself but cannot really make up its mind to have others defend it; that cannot live with armaments (especially nuclear ones) but cannot live without them. The observer can even understand, so emotion-ridden is the question, why those who resolve the dilemma by dismissing defenses and defenders show a strong tendency to try to eat their cake and have it too.
It is the articulate intelligentsia that does so, and in a way this is a new twist to the venerable Japanese institution of blithely accepting contradictory beliefs. The policy approved by the intelligentsia means, in effect, that a country can have security without paying for it. The policy in question is disarmed neutralism, and it has the support of the second largest party in the country, the Socialist party.
There are two cynical but logical ways of defending such a policy. One is the position of the few who have followed their Marxist assumptions through to a conclusion: that neutralism is a device for preparing to switch sides in the world conflict. The other is the hardheaded position held by such operators as President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt: that the two sides can be played off against each other.
For most of its supporters, however, disarmed neutralism is simply a matter of wishfulness and self-deception. Its advocates assume that an economically powerful country, situated far from the nearest help, would be safe if disarmed, because any invasion or fifth-column subversion would start a major war. In other words, it assumes that the United States, even if it were restricted to its own side of the Pacific, would come to the aid of the Japanese in an attack. Hence a self-deception arises that verges on willful duplicity: the West is simultaneously condemned and looked to for protection.
Yet intolerable though this attitude may seem to an American, it is after all one which might have been anticipated. The stronger party must accept it in good humor and hope that there will one day be an awakening.
The chances of an awakening certainly seem better than they were a few years ago. Although it is still far from victory, the Socialist party creeps a little closer to it with every election. In its eagerness to make the last push, it may turn to wooing the essentially conservative voter east of that imaginary downtown-uptown line. It cannot do so unless it stops talking revolution and tones down its hostility toward the United States, a country which continues to be popular east of the line. So far the talk has been ambiguous, with one clause contradicting the next in the same sentence. The whole argument apparently leads to the conclusion that there will be a revolution, but not quite yet, and a revolution that will not necessarily have to be achieved by forceful means.
However domestic politics alone might have altered its position, the Socialist party has recently been exposed to winds from abroad. The Chinese nuclear test and the belligerent position of Peking on revolution by force, as well as its attack on the nuclear-test treaty concluded between the Soviet Union and the United States early in 1964, have driven the Socialists into the arms of Moscow and to an acceptance of Moscow’s line of peaceful coexistence. By backing the treaty, the Socialists, for the first time since the Occupation, have taken a position in international affairs that is openly at odds with that of the Japanese Communist party. The Russians may move toward the West, and the Japanese Socialists may move with them, but on that possibility one can only speculate.
If the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese themselves can influence this left-wing Japanese pole, possible influence on it from the United States must be listed as a poor fourth. Yes U.S. influence in Japan is not negligible, as witness the fact that the Security Treaty was, after all, accepted in 1960 despite all the fulmination from the the Left, and by the fact that successive postwar governments have affirmed their support for the U.S. alliance. In 1965 Premier Sato, on a visit to the United States, declared that Japan and the U.S. were bound by ties of “mutual interdependence.”
So many forces shaping the future of Japan are nevertheless out of Japanese hands, and therefore beyond the power of anyone to influence, that no country can afford to be unmindful of them. This can be said of any country, but it is particularly true of a country that remains divided.
For the West, and particularly its most powerful nation, a pair of injunctions would seem to be an apt conclusion to what has been said: Be quiet, and be strong.
Be quiet. If the troubles the United States had with Japan in 1960 taught a lesson, it was that the Japanese must not be pushed to a decision about their responsibilities in the world. They may eventually come to a decision by their own devices, but as things stand today, nothing should be done that might give the impression that the United States is applying pressure.
Proposals which demand of the Japanese more positive cooperation than they are now offering are still more dangerous. It may seem that every nation has an obligation to defend itself, particularly if on occasion its international monetary problems seem of less moment than those of its chief ally. Yet the Japanese are too important to the western world and too vulnerable to be left wandering unprotected, and today there are elements in Japan itself which seem to have reached that conclusion. There are even some important factions in Prime Minister Sato’s own conservative party that not ony recognize the necessity of U.S. nuclear defenses but also see a need for Japan to have nuclear weapons of its own. That is not a widely shared view; any proposal for adequate defenses flies squarely in the face of the American-drafted Japanese Constitution, and any effort to alter the Constitution would provoke violent opposition. So the disagreeable but undeniable fact, not likely to change for a long time, is that the United States must be responsible for the defense of Japan and expect considerable vituperation in return.
And the United States and the West must be strong. There is yet another important element in Japanese neutralism. In addition to being in some measure cynical, in some measure pro-Communist and in some measure wishful, neutralism is based on fear and opportunism, in this case closely intertiwned. There are Japanese who simply want to be on the winning side, and they think they see which side it will be. Hence, whether or not they have any convictions, they say favorable things about China.
It is possible to understand and even to sympathize with such people. The United States is across the Pacific, but the Soviet Union is within sight of the northernmost Japanese island, and across the China Seas lies the newest of the nuclear powers, larger in terms of manpower than all the others put together.
On a practical level, the strength of the American economy is important. Although Japan is not as dependent on the United States as it once was, it is nevertheless more dependent on the United States than on any other country.
A serious recession in America is the thing most certain to disturb the solid voting habits of the Japanese. To remain prosperous is perhaps the best thing the United States and the West can do for Japan. Economic stability may not answer all the questions, but economic disaster would be quite certain to produce all the wrong answers.
COMMENT: Seidensticker attempts what all good scholars try to do with the society they have devoted their lives to: Convince everyone else that they should be paying attention to it as well.
In this case, we have the classic Western assessments of a fragile Japan in balance, at the time teetering between the contemporary poles of Free World and Communist Bloc; an ignorant nudge from the United States just might send it crashing down on the wrong side and throw world politics into “disaster”. (Clearly the USG is the intended audience here, as it reads more like a policy prescription in Foreign Affairs than an exotic travelogue; I am reminded of George Kennan’s “X” Soviet containment article.)
Don’t get “pushy” with this “badly divided” and society mired in its “confused” exoticism? Clearly this is a much better route than getting involved in Japan’s minutia like the US was doing in Vietnam (later soon Cambodia and Laos), if this indeed is how dipolar the choices were seen back then. But if so, is there any wonder why Japan’s intellectuals showed such mistrust of the US?
In sum, this is a thoughtful article, and in 2000 words Seidensticker acquits himself well when it comes to knowledge and sensitivity towards Japan. But it’s clearly dated (not just because of smug hindsight to see how many predictions he got wrong); it’s clearly in the Edwin Reischauer camp of “poor, poor, misunderstood Japan, let’s not be ignorant or mean towards it”, meaning protecting the status quo or else someday Japan will attack us.
Yet now, fifty years later, Japan has essentially gotten everything it wanted from the West in order to develop and prosper. Yet I believe it’s heading back towards insularity today due to structures and habits that were NOT removed from Japan’s postwar bureaucracy and education system. Such as a weak investigative press, an economic system not geared beyond developmental capitalism, a lack of solid oversight systems that encourage rule of law rather than allow bureaucratic extralegal guidelines or political filibustering, a lackluster judiciary that cannot (or refuses to) hold powerful people and bureaucrats responsible, a public undereducated beyond a mythological and anti-scientific “uniqueness” mindset, able to understand equality and fairness towards people who are disenfranchised or who are not members of The Tribe, etc.
These are all essential developments crucial to the development of an equitable society that were stalled or stymied (starting with the Reverse Course of 1947) under the very same name of maintaining the delicate balance of Japan’s anti-communist status quo. Well, the Cold War is long over, folks, yet Japan still seems locked into unhealthy dependency relationships (unless it is able to lord it over poorer countries in cynical and venal attempts to influence world politics in its own petty directions; also unhealthy). Only this time, for the past twenty years and counting, Japan simply isn’t getting rich from it any longer.
Further thoughts, Debito.org Readers? Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. This is an email written by an academic in Japan sent to a public Japan listserv. It is a very indicative accounting of how protests and grassroots activism is systematically stifled and stymied in Japan (in the context of Fukushima), and how even local governments are given the wrong incentives and making weird (and wrong) decisions (e.g., the apparent public shame in decontamination). Plus the terminology (i.e., kegare) that is shifting the blame from the perpetrator of the contamination to the victim. Followed by an excellent conclusion that is worthy of print that the social effects of this disaster (particularly in terms of discrimination) will last a lot longer than anticipated. The bits I found most enlightening I’ve rendered in boldface. Arudou Debito
From: “David H. Slater” Date: 29 November, 2011 To: EASIANTH@LISTSERV.TEMPLE.EDU Subject: Re: [jaws] reports of bullying Fukushima kids, and roaming cows Reply-To: “East Asia Anthropologists’ discussion”
Just to follow up on an old thread–if anyone else has been working on these topics it would be interesting to share what we have…. dhs Levels of contamination: kegare in official designations, in community activism, in young bodies
As the process of decontamination in Tohoku gets going, we see a range of often chilling representations and bad options, pollution and risk everywhere. “Contamination” today goes beyond the early reports of avoidance behavior and school bullying. Fear of this stigmatization is forcing some townships to forgo governmental relief and retarding local protest efforts. These fears and choices are being played out in municipalities, communities and individual images of life course.
In yesterday’s Yomiuri [full text below] there was an article about municipalities that have refused governmental help with the decontamination processes for fear of stigmatization. ‘”If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.” Another official is quoted: “If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears.” This, despite the fact these townships have already received excessive radiation measurements. Usually, the townships are afraid of hurting tourism or exports of agricultural products, but often the cost of decontamination is too high for them to pay themselves. Here is the English version of the article: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T111127003736.htm
In Community Activism
In a set of interviews that I have been doing among Fukushima women anti-nuke activists, one explained that it was very hard to enlist other women from her community for similar reasons. “It is sort of crazy–even though these women are afraid of radiation, and even though they actually know that areas all around [their children’s school] have high radiation, they do not want to say anything…. because they are afraid of the being singled out.” This activist was frustrated with the other mothers, angry because their reluctance to say anything weakened the voice of the community in taking a unified position. She also understood their reluctance, albeit with some impatience. “I know, I know. If you object, then you are also bringing attention to yourself and maybe worse, to your community, as dirty, as full of radiation. I know that story.” But she said, “If we do not say anything, are we really protecting our community or even our families?” Later in a more reflective moment in the interview, when she was acknowledging the ambiguous progress that activism has made, she said “We mothers know that activism might puts these ideas into other people’s heads sometimes, and this might hurt us, mark us, for years. It is a hard situation, knowing what to do.”
In Young Bodies
In my class on oral narrative of disaster, one group of my students at Sophia U. is interviewing another group of college students from Fukushima University, old high school friends now separated by radiation. The result is alarmingly direct, intimate interviews. (Besides being gifted interviewers, they are also of the same age, which seems to be important.) In one interview, a Fukushima college student addressed her own fears in a way that frightened my students. She resents those who call it the “Fukushima” disaster, marking everyone who lives in the prefecture. And yet, she also called herself contaminated, using the work kegare, a Shinto term meaning unclean, impure, defiled. She wondered, seemingly more to herself than to the interviewers, if she would ever marry or have children, knowing that this is how she will be thought of, knowing this is how she thinks about herself. Then she snapped out of it to explain the many active and constructive programs and events that the young people in her college relief and support club were doing, how they were looking ahead (mae muki) to a fresh start to the next year.
Not knowing how far to push this religious connection, my understanding is that usually kegare is the result of natural occurring contamination, unlike tsumi, which is more the result of human transgression. If radiation were considered tsumi would there be some transgressive agent who might be held responsible (Tepco)? In either case, is purification possible? If so, does it coincide with the on-going decontamination procedures? In any case, radiation is not just science nor just ritual pollution, but because now it involves official government designation and the transfer of funds (or not), these labels have consequences beyond the reports of random discrimination that occurred almost as soon as people began to evacuate. By linking contamination to official nomenclature and funding schemes, marks of contamination might last far longer than the excessive levels of radiation.
— David H. Slater, Ph.D. Faculty of Liberal Arts Sophia University, Tokyo
MAEBASHI–Municipalities contaminated with radiation as a result of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are concerned that the central government’s plan to designate municipalities for which it will shoulder the cost of decontamination will stigmatize those communities, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
As early as mid-December, the government plans to begin designating municipalities that will be subject to intensive investigation of their contamination, which is a precondition for the government paying for decontamination in place of the municipalities.
Municipalities with areas found to have a certain level of radiation will be so designated. The aim of the plan is to promote the thorough cleanup of contaminated cities, towns and villages, including those outside Fukushima Prefecture.
However, many local governments are reluctant to seek such designation, fearing it may give the false impression that the entire municipality is contaminated.
Based on an aerial study of radiation conducted by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in mid-September, municipalities in Tokyo and Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba prefectures were candidates for the government designation.
The aerial study examined radiation in the atmosphere one meter above the ground. Municipalities with areas where the study detected at least 0.23 microsieverts of radiation were listed as candidates. About 11,600 square kilometers of land, equivalent to the size of Akita Prefecture, reached that level, the ministry said.
The Yomiuri Shimbun has asked municipalities in the prefectures–excluding Fukushima Prefecture–whether they would seek the government designation as municipalities subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination. Fifty-eight of the cities, towns and villages that responded to the survey said they would seek the designation.
Almost all the municipalities in Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures had areas where radiation in excess of the government standard was detected. However, only 10 municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and 19 in Ibaraki Prefecture said they would seek the designation.
The figures represent only about 30 percent of the municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and about 40 percent of those in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The Maebashi municipal government said it would not request the designation.
In late August, radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s provisional regulatory limit was detected in smelt caught at Lake Onuma, located on the summit of Mt. Akagi in northern Maebashi. The opening of the lake’s fishing season for smelt has been postponed.
Usually, the lake would be crowded with anglers at this time of year, but few people are visiting this season.
However, in most of Maebashi, excluding mountainous regions, the radiation detected in the September study was below the regulatory limit.
“If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.
The Maebashi government wants to prevent the city’s tourism and agriculture from being damaged further, the official added.
Daigomachi in Ibaraki Prefecture, a city adjacent to Fukushima Prefecture, said the city has also refrained from filing for the designation. Usually about 700,000 people visit Fukuroda Falls, the city’s main tourist destination, every year, but the number has dropped to half since the nuclear crisis began, the town said.
“If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears,” an official of the town’s general affairs department said.
In recent months, citizens in the Tokatsu region of northwest Chiba Prefecture have held protests demanding local governments immediately deal with areas where relatively high levels of radiation were detected. All six cities in the region, including Kashiwa, said they would file requests for the government designation. The Kashiwa municipal government said it had already spent about 180 million yen on decontamination.
“People are loudly calling for decontamination. We hope that the designation will eventually lower the cost of decontamination,” an official of the municipal government’s office for measures against radiation said.
Observers have said one of the reasons the six cities decided to request the designation was their low dependence on agriculture and other primary industries that are vulnerable to fears of radiation.
Kobe University Prof. Tomoya Yamauchi, an expert on radiation metrology, said: “It will be a problem if decontamination activities stall due to local governments’ fears of stigmatization. To prevent misunderstanding of radiation, the government needs to do more to disseminate correct information.”
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Hi Blog. This is a very interesting development that has been uncovered and discussed on the H-Japan academic public listserv (which I include in full below to show the context).
The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare Ministry has issued a directive, written by the Education Ministry’s Department of Life Sciences, Bureau for the Promotion of Research, to all related research industries, universities, and tertiary-education associations regarding health surveys and research conducted within the Tohoku disaster area.
Dated May 15, 2011, a little more than two months after the tsunami, the directive (full Japanese text below) essentially tells academic researchers 1) there are “ethical guidelines” (rinri shishin) for epidemiologists to follow, and that research guidelines must be passed by ethics committees and approved by their research institution’s head; 2) these health surveys and research must also sufficiently (juubun) be run by the local governments (jichitai) in the disaster areas beforehand, and afterwards the results of the research (if I’m reading this odd and rather vague sentence right) must “take into due consideration” (hairyo) the disaster victims and the appropriate systems providing them health and welfare (better translations welcome); 3) in order to not to cause any undue stress to the disaster victims, health surveys and research must avoid repetition by “not surveying and researching in more detail than necessary”, and with sufficient understanding of the situation on the ground.
The point is, in the name of “ethics”, the government is inserting veto gates into what might become research independent of the GOJ, and making sure that information tracked before and afterwards stays under central control. Which means, in practice, that if there are research lines or inquiries or results unpalatable to the GOJ, they might not be seen by the public.
My read of this document is that this is primary-source evidence of GOJ central control over the scientific method regarding a politically-sensitive issue. And this will control the information flow out to the world regarding the effects and aftermath of Fukushima. Arudou Debito
From: H-Japan Editor (j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU) Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): Teaching the Crisis: some reflections Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): Teaching the Crisis: some reflections Date Posted: Tue, 10 Oct 2011
H-JAPAN (E) October 9, 2011
From: JFMorris (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dear List Members
I would like to thank David Slater for his open call to bring together people working on the disaster in Tohoku.
However, reading his proposal, I cannot help but feel a certain disquiet about it. I think that this stems most directly from the fact that I cannot find Tohoku involved in this proposal in any but a passive way. If you want to reflect the voices of people from Tohoku, then why not get us involved from the outset? Tohoku University had set up one of the major world class interdiscipinary research projects on natural disasters some years before this current disaster (we all knew that a big one was coming, and were already gearing up for it): outside of Tohoku University, numerous scholars within Tohoku are involved in dealing with it a multitude of ways. One thing that has really bugged me watching reporting on this disaster unfold is that we of Tohoku are there to be talked about, but not to be seriously allowed to go much beyond eyewitness accounts, the more heart-rending the better. If you want to deal with topics such as trying to reframe Tohoku history (this requires you to reframe crucial junctures of “Japanese” history…), interdisciplinary approaches to studying disasters, experiences learnt from this disaster, then there is a wealth of academic experience here. Is the problem that the overwhelming portion of this is available in Japanese? This list was originally set up with the high ideal of bringing Japanese and non-Japanese scholars together in a truly bilingual list, where posting in 2 languages was meant to be the norm… How many years is it since I saw anything on this list written in Japanese, let alone any other language?
While on my high horse, I would like to add a little word of caution about barging in and doing research here. I am as much aware of the need to do this as anyone else. As IKEDA Ken’ichi pointed out in his posting of 3rd October, (1) Japan does have ethical standards to be maintained in conducting research, and (2) the Ministry of Education and Science has put out effectively a blanket ban on doing research unless this is specifically at the request of the local government of the relevant area: there are that many people crawling through this area that this kind of restriction is necessary (well, up to a point…).
I do not want to start a flame; that is furthest from my intention. From his postings to this net, I am seriously impressed with David’s commitment to acting both as a rank and file member of humanity, and as an academic, to reacting in a constructive way to this disaster. However, if you want to start some kind of a summing up, if you leave the major research centres of the region out, then I think that you are going to miss something very important. If I have misconstrued David’s posting, then I apologise in advance.
Faithfully, John Morris Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University
From: H-Japan Editor (j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU) Date: 12 October, 2011 Subject: H-JAPAN (E): Research ban? Reply-To: H-NET/KIAPS List for Japanese History
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin (email@example.com)
H-JAPAN (E) October 12, 2011
From John Morris’ post appearing on October 9th :”(2) the Ministry of Education and Science has put out effectively a blanket ban on doing research unless this is specifically at the request of the local government of the relevant area: there are that many people crawling through this area that this kind of restriction is necessary (well, up to a point…).”
Could you provide more information about the research ban? Is it for certain designated districts or certain research subjects? I was surprised to read of a ban because the government has been encouraging tourism as a means of economic recovery. Recently, I caught a few seconds of an NHK clip showing students taking a boat on coastline tour of a tsunami hit area and snapping away with cameras. From what little I saw, this activity was being presented as an edifying experience. I hope that researchers do not interfere with recovery. However, it seems odd that the government would allow school children to visit an area from which it banned researchers.
From: H-Japan Editor (j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU) Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E/J): Ban on Research? Date Written: Wed, 12 Oct 2011 22 On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin
H-JAPAN (E/J) October 12, 2011
Dear Greg and List Members,
The directive issued jointly by the Ministry of Education and Science and is as follows. Please note that to display the rest of this mail on your screen, you will have to set your “View” settings to display in either Japanese or Universal font. It is not a total ban, but a very limiting one.
From: j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU Date: 13 October, 2011 To: H-JAPAN@H-NET.MSU.EDU Subject: Re H-JAPAN (E/J): Ban on research?
—————————- Original Message —————————-
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin
H-JAPAN (E/J) October 13, 2011
Thanks. So the Health Ministry is restricting research on human subjects,
被災地における被災者を対象とした健康調査・研究 not all research as I mistakenly assumed. The 対象となる被災者 refers to people in the 被災地, but I wonder if the Ministry shouldn’t consider whether people displaced by the disasters and no longer in 被災地 require a clause in this memorandum, however difficult it would be to enforce. Even if the government is incapable of keeping tabs on extra-district research, in the end the scholarly community has to police its own research ethics.
２。。。必要と考えられる被災者には、適切な保健医療福祉サービスが提供される体制を 整備する等配慮すること。 Needless to say, I hope the responsible agencies are also giving those 被災者who do not become research subjects this consideration in sufficient measure!
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Hi Blog. In a continuation of yesterday’s theme of the GOJ greenmailing away Japan’s negative images, here we have a more overt use of public funds to turn a frown upside down over a disaster: The JET Programme calling on ex-JETs to come back and reprise their role as de facto cultural lobbyists overseas. Except this time there’s an update — the clear aim of sexing up Japan’s image abroad in the wake of the March 11 disasters by dangling an all-expenses-paid trip to the stricken areas.
[Courtesy of an alumnus of the JET Programme, sent to JET Alumni Associations (JETAA) worldwide]
The Japan Tourism Agency, MOFA, and other local governments in Japan want to sponsor 20 ex-JETs — who were placed in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima or Sendai — to go back to Japan for one week in order to see the damages in the afflicted areas, so that when they return to their home countries, they can let people know what they experienced there. All expenses are paid (food, travel, insurance, etc.), except personal expenses.
Unfortunately, because the [redacted] Government still restricts [redacted] nationals to travel to the regions within 80km of Fukushima Daiichi, we can’t recommend any ex-JETs who were placed in these cities or towns.
Applications must be mailed to the Consulate General of Japan in [redacted] by July 8th, 2011.
Contact [JETAA] Executive for application forms. [email address redacted]
For more information contact [redacted] at the Consulate.
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In this penultimate post before vacationing Debito.org for the summer, here’s some food for thought. According to this upcoming paper, telling prejudiced people to stop being prejudicial may be less effective than spreading a message of why diversity and equality are important to people being discriminated against. So maybe for all these years I’ve been going about this the wrong way. Arudou Debito
Organizations and programs have been set up all over the globe in the hopes of urging people to end prejudice. According to a research article, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, such programs may actually increase prejudices.
Lisa Legault, Jennifer Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht, from the University of Toronto Scarborough, were interested in exploring how one’s everyday environment influences people’s motivation toward prejudice reduction.
The authors conducted two experiments which looked at the effect of two different types of motivational intervention – a controlled form (telling people what they should do) and a more personal form (explaining why being non-prejudiced is enjoyable and personally valuable).
In experiment one; participants were randomly assigned one of two brochures to read: an autonomy brochure or a controlling brochure. These brochures discussed a new campus initiative to reduce prejudice. A third group was offered no motivational instructions to reduce prejudice. The authors found that, ironically, those who read the controlling brochure later demonstrated more prejudice than those who had not been urged to reduce prejudice. Those who read the brochure designed to support personal motivation showed less prejudice than those in the other two groups.
In experiment two, participants were randomly assigned a questionnaire, designed to stimulate personal or controlling motivation to reduce prejudice. The authors found that those who were exposed to controlling messages regarding prejudice reduction showed significantly more prejudice than those who did not receive any controlling cues.
The authors suggest that when interventions eliminate people’s freedom to value diversity on their own terms, they may actually be creating hostility toward the targets of prejudice.
According to Dr. Legault, “Controlling prejudice reduction practices are tempting because they are quick and easy to implement. They tell people how they should think and behave and stress the negative consequences of failing to think and behave in desirable ways.” Legault continues, “But people need to feel that they are freely choosing to be nonprejudiced, rather than having it forced upon them.”
Legault stresses the need to focus less on the requirement to reduce prejudices and start focusing more on the reasons why diversity and equality are important and beneficial to both majority and minority group members.
### For more information about this study, please contact: Lisa Legault at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Ironic Effects of Anti-Prejudice Messages: How Motivational Interventions Can Reduce (but also increase) Prejudice” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Divya Menon at email@example.com.
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Hi Blog. What follows (and will take us up through the weekend) is an academic paper that changed my world view about Japan earlier this year. Written by friend M.G. “Bucky” Sheftall, and presented at the Association of Asian Studies annual convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, on April 3, 2011, it talks about how Japan’s culture is dysfunctional and, put more metaphysically, unable to fill the need of a people to “deny death“. This will on the surface be difficult to wrap one’s head around, so read on, open the mind wide, and take it all in. Reprinted here with permission of the author and revised specially for Debito.org.
A word of advice to those not used to reading dense academic papers: I suggest readers immediately skip down to the latter half of the paper (I suggest starting from the heading “A personal meditation on the “metaphysical malaise” of desymbolized postwar Japan”), and only go back and read the whole thing after that (even most academics don’t read the whole thing — they just want all ideas grounded in something and read deeper if they need the sources). Read the conclusion, in any case, and then work backwards if your interest is piqued.
Concentrate. It’s like a dense episode of the X-Files. And it will raise fundamental questions in your mind about whether it’s worth one’s lifetime doing service to and learning about a dying system, which is ascriptive and exclusionary in nature, yet essentially serving nobody. I have some comments at the very, very bottom. Arudou Debito
Shattered Gods: The Unresolved Cultural Consequences of Japan’s Post-1945 Desymbolization Crisis
M.G. Sheftall, Shizuoka University
In this paper, I will discuss the state of the “cosmological health” of modern Japanese culture. As I employ the term here, a “cosmology” is the formal symbolic codification of a culture’s core beliefs regarding “the nature of the universe, human society, and the individual’s (proper) relation to them” (Charton [undated website]). Throughout history, cosmologies have tended to be theologically canonized or at least to some extent mythologically framed. In terms of pragmatic function, a cosmology legitimates authority structures within a given culture and, in return, rewards its constituents (i.e., those whose “consent of the governed” legitimizes those authority structures) with existential equanimity in the form of a “transcendent ethos to provide appropriate sense of purpose…(symbolic) anchorages that can provide stable meanings…” (Bell 1976: xcix). For obvious psychological reasons, it will behoove the constituents of any given culture to believe that their cosmology is firmly grounded in ontological authority and metaphysical validity, and to have faith that it affords them access to (if not outright exclusive proprietorship of) ultimate truths about the nature of the universe and their own proper individual and collective place in it. Accordingly, when faith in a cosmology’s authority and validity is compromised, for whatever reason, the affected cultural constituents will experience this development with psychological stress in the form of what theologian Paul Tillich called “spiritual anxiety” (1952) or, to use my preferred term, “existential dread”.
From the late 19th century until Imperial Japan’s defeat in the Second World War in 1945, the native constituents of Japanese culture inhabited a reassuringly secure and intensely Emperor-centric symbolic universe I call “the Meiji cosmology”, after the historical and political circumstances of its origin (i.e., Meiji Era Japan, 1868-1912). Tokyo-based British academic Basil Hall Chamberlain, writing as a contemporary eyewitness to the earliest official mass proselytization of the Meiji cosmology, claimed that the ideological campaign he had observed constituted an “invention of a new religion” created almost entirely from scratch with the two-birds-with-one-stone aim of 1) restoring existential equanimity to the general populace, whose centuries-old traditional native cosmology the Meiji founding fathers had essentially demolished in the zealous modernizing/industrializing/militarizing pursuit of their nation-building project; and 2) legitimating and rallying popular support for Japan’s new centralized Imperial regime (Chamberlain 1912).
Whether or not this cosmology formally qualified as a “religion”, per se, is an issue beyond the scope of our present discussion. Nevertheless, across the roughly six decades during which it was still functioning “as designed” – i.e., providing its constituents with a robust sense of individual and collective purpose in life and a sense of transcendent connection to (some never more than vaguely circumscribed formulation of) the eternal and divine – the Meiji cosmology certainly displayed many of the classic hallmarks of a religion (Fujitani 1996). First of all, it clearly possessed the ability to compel its constituents (its “faithful”) to extremes of devotion and self-sacrifice, largely through the manipulation of mythology, sacred symbols, and Imperial rescripts and edicts handed down “from on high” with all the pious ceremony and heavy portent of Papal bulls (perhaps stone tablets from Mount Sinai are a more apt metaphor). In addition, it held jurisdiction over the rigid circumscription of sacrosanct “off limits” areas of political discourse. It also provided public facilities and employed clergy-like professionals for the administration of cosmology-proselytizing/legitimating rites and devotional ceremonies (e.g. Shinto shrines and their administrators constructed and salaried, respectively, with public funds) (Garon 1997). Lastly, it oversaw the “policing of the ranks” of its cosmological constituency through frequent and very public excoriation of “heretics” and “apostates” (particularly during the early Shōwa Era, e.g., the harsh professional fate and personal trauma suffered by eminent prewar political scientist Minobe Tatsukichi, who had dared to define the Emperor’s political raison d’etre as “an organ of the state” earlier in his career [Bix 2000] ).
At the peak of its metaphysical centrality in the symbolic lifeworld (Habermas et al) of the general populace – arguably, and ironically, during the years of mobilization for, and prosecution of, the “total” war of 1937-1945 that would eventually result in its catastrophic invalidation – the Meiji cosmology possessed a firm enough “claim to definitive truth and unalterable moral certainty” (Lifton 1998: 11) to compel its constituents to great extremes of individual and collective self-sacrifice in its defense. The operant constituent mindset is clearly evident in virtually any sampling of textual artifacts of contemporary Japanese establishment rhetoric, as in this example from an essay by Shintō ultranationalist Kakehi Katsuhiko published in a 1938 issue of Chuō Kōron:
No matter how much of a wrongdoer, no matter how evil, a Japanese subject may have been, when once he has taken his stand on the field of battle, all his past sins are entirely atoned for and they become as nothing. The wars of Japan are carried on in the name of the Emperor and there they are holy wars. All the soldiers who participate in these holy wars are representative(s) of the Emperor; they are his loyal subjects. To put the matter of what kind of person he may be, (he) possesses the inherent capacity of becoming a loyal subject and of being empowered to put that loyalty into operation. The matchless superiority of the Japanese national life lies just here…(quoted in Skya 2009: 205).
Minus the Japan-specific cultural signifiers, the reader would be forgiven for mistaking Kakehi’s words for quotations from modern day Jihadist recruiting copy. The fact that text as metaphysically ambitious as this appeared in a respected organ of national intellectual debate demonstrates just how compelling – even to the point of “magical thinking” – the Meiji cosmology had become by this point in Japan’s modern history. And as that history also shows, this cosmology – in its most fanatic 1930s-1940s militarist-ultranationalist incarnation – was underscored and reified in the Japanese military’s resort to kamikaze attacks and other forms of suicide tactics in the final year of the 1937-1945 war (Sheftall 2008). However, ostensibly unbeknownst to its original crafters – and perhaps only first suspected by its custodians and constituents three generations later as it neared the effective end of its ideological life in 1944-45 – the Meiji cosmology harbored a congenital flaw of extreme sensitivity to falsification by worldly events. In the end, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, the Meiji cosmology turned out to be “a faith which could not survive collision with the truth”.
Theoretical framework of my concept of “cosmology”
According to the (relatively) new socio-psychological field of Terror Management Theory (TMT) (Greenberg et al 1986), from the ultimate reductionist perspective of evolutionary benefit, we human beings need cosmologies to protect ourselves against the potentially pathological existential dread that would otherwise assail us as sentient, intelligent beings conscious of our inevitable mortality and ever aware (on some level of conscious) of the possibility that the ostensibly “heroic” personal strivings and dramas of our lives may be, all things said and done, essentially “inconsequential in the cosmic scheme of things” (Raymo 1998: 110). Accordingly, when people find themselves in a position where they are unable to access a sufficiently robust cosmology – either because of individual mental health and/or philosophical crisis issues or, collectively, because their cosmology itself is for some reason no longer able to function “as designed” to provide its constituents with existential equanimity – the psychological consequences can be dire. As Sigmund Freud once wrote to one of his (many) acolytes, “The moment one inquires about the sense or value of life, one is sick” (quoted in Jones 1957: 465). When a cosmology is working “as designed”, it is supposed to inoculate its constituents against just this “sickness” Freud identifies here, which we are referring to in our present discussion as “existential dread”.
TMT marked the opening of an important new field in social psychology when it first appeared during the 1980s as the brainchild of (then) doctoral candidates Sheldon Solomon, Jeffrey Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. Originally inspired by the work of late cultural anthropologist and philosopher Ernest Becker (1924-1974), and since validated in hundreds of psychology and other social science discipline studies around the world (including Japan, cf. Mukai 2003; Kashima et al 2004; et al), TMT holds that a culture provides its constituents with existential equanimity by means of two mutually-supporting structural elements (which I subsume under the term “cosmology”). One of these is the culture’s “worldview” – a “social construction of ‘reality’” (Berger & Luckmann 1967) which is usefully thought of as providing a “stage” in symbolic space upon which the cosmology’s loyal constituents play out their lives in (what most cultures frame as) a fundamentally just universe where things happen for valid reasons and where virtue is rewarded. The second element in the cosmological dyad is the culture’s “hero-system(s)”, which – sticking to our dramaturgical metaphor – can be thought of as the “script” or “stage directions” for the playing out of those “meaningful” lives on their respective “worldview stages”. If all goes well, all involved in the production, performance and audience participation of this cosmological theater (if you will) will receive social feedback-reinforced self-esteem and thus a form of symbolic immortality as diligent participants in the (its constituents hope) immortal narrative of the grand cultural project itself (cf. Freud 1930, Rank 1932, Becker 1962, 1973, 1975, et al).
Regarding the taxonomic hierarchy of these terms, it is useful for our purposes to envision “hero-systems” as functioning within the context of their venue-providing “worldviews”, with both of these elements, in turn, subsumed (again, in my taxonomy) within a “cosmology”. This taxonomy reflects what I see as the relative affective scale of the respective components, and thus their relative importance to a culture. To wit, I believe that cultures can and do survive frequent “adjustments on the fly” to their respective hero-system(s) and cultural worldviews, as dictated by the constant flow of incoming new environmental information that behooves such adjustments (lest the culture “lose its grip on reality”, so to speak). Moreover, in all but the most rigid and isolated cultures, a cycle of constant hero-system and (in moderation) worldview tweaking and readjustment is the normal state of affairs, as the culture’s mores and standards of value naturally shift to accommodate social, economic, and technological changes emerging from generation to generation (e.g. the turbulent but not necessarily catastrophic effect of the decade of the 1960s on American and European middle class hero-systems and worldviews). Certainly, throughout its history, Japanese culture has repeatedly proven itself to be highly adaptable and flexible in this regard. But as both history and anthropology show us, the delegitimization of a cosmology – the ideological and ontological functions of a culture that gives its constituents’ lives meaning – is an ontological catastrophe that can have the direst consequences for the health of a culture (Wilson 1981, Mitscherlich & Mitscherlich 1975, Schivelbusch 2002). The reason for this is that when a cosmology is threatened, the normally culturally provided illusion of immortality, either symbolic (e.g., fame, glory, lasting achievements, membership in an “immortal” cultural project, etc.) or literal (as in belief in an “afterlife”, etc.) that is the basis of its constituents’ main psychological defense against existential dread is also threatened.
As long ago as Thucydides, students of human conflict have recognized that “human hopes…for immortality tend to overwhelm human fears, even of violent death” (Ahrendorf 2000:579). It is precisely these hopes that a cosmology’s concomitant array of worldview and hero-system(s) function to fulfill (immortality aspirations, after all, merely being mortality fears more heroically and romantically rephrased). Of course, in any era and culture, there will be certain individuals who will have attained the status of “heroes” in the most literal sense, both validating their respective cosmologies (and thus winning the gratitude and adulation of the constituencies of those cosmologies) through their personal glories and achievements and, in so doing, securing a level of symbolic immortality most of us can only dream about. That is all fine and well for such “immortals”, but what, one may ask (perhaps not without some trepidation), are all the rest of us “mere mortals” to do about our own existential equanimity needs? Denied even the Warholian “fifteen minutes of fame” that was supposed to be our birthright in this age of mass communications (YouTube and Facebook notwithstanding), what are we supposed to do about securing our own modest shred of symbolic immortality to leave our mark on this world before departing it forever?
“For the more passive masses of mediocre men”, in Ernest Becker’s rather blunt formulation (1973:6), the only symbolic immortality game left for us to play is diligent loyalty to the respective cosmologies into which we are born. We essentially live out our entire lives in this cultural bubble, utterly unaware that we are essentially ontological prisoners in the closed systems of our native cosmologies, each of which is itself merely one among a myriad of equally cosmologically valid culture-specific ideological modelings of reality enjoying the devoted loyalty of countless other human beings around the world and throughout history. Barring neurotic breakdown and/or catastrophic worldview invalidation by external agency (as per the case under examination in this study), most of us remain blissfully ignorant of our participation in the evolutionarily beneficial cosmological theater of worldviews and hero-systems, confident that our lives have meaning and cosmic significance simply because an accident of birth afforded us automatic congenital constituency in the one, single cosmology that just happens to possess exclusive interpretational rights to absolute truth and the ultimate secrets of meaningful human existence. Simultaneously emboldened and blindered by this illusion, we wake up every morning thanking the heavens for our good luck and pitying (while doing our best to mock, convert, kill, or just ignore) the benighted “infidels” in other cultures who are either too perverse, misguided, or just plain stupid (the poor saps!) to realize, as we do, that they live under bogus cosmologies.
While we are on the topic of effective ways of dealing with rival cosmologies, this is a good place to begin a discussion on the dangers of the mutually-reinforcing triangular relationship of: 1) cosmologies; 2) violence; and 3) the human need to feel significant. Becker terms the human need to feel significant “the problem of heroics”, an issue that is:
the central one of human life…it goes deeper into human nature than anything else because it is based on organismic narcissism and on the child’s need for self-esteem as the condition for his life. Society itself is a codified hero system, which means that society everywhere is a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning (1973:7).
Unfortunately for past and current conditions – and future prospects – of the human species, the fighting of (and vigilant preparation for) war has spectacular utility in terms of addressing this “problem of heroics.” After McLuhan (1964), Gellner (1983) and Hobsbawm (1990), I would add that the traditional centrality of warfare in human cosmologies has attained a new urgency since the development of mass communication technologies and the increased lethality of industrialized armaments production facilitated the advent of new populist constructions of national subjectivity (with ideologically appropriate supportive cosmologies) in Western Europe and North America during the 18th century, followed by East Asia approximately one century later. This understanding of modern societies at war as superlative producers (as well as rabid consumers) of mass-disseminated, martially-valorized hero-systems darkly underscores Becker’s original formulation of “society” as “a symbolic action system, a structure of statuses and roles, customs and rules for behavior, designed to serve as a vehicle for earthly heroism” (1973:4). Now that an ever-increasing number of mutually antipathetic cosmological projects around the world are girding their loins with nuclear weaponry, humanity faces the ultimate irony that what must have seemed a great design solution for the problem of existential dread for our deity-inventing ancient ancestors now poses the ever-present risk of wiping us out. In other words, our cosmologies now pose the very real threat of someday ending up being the death of us all. In the next section, let us examine the background conditions and consequences of modern Japanese culture’s near-miss experience with such a fate.
A brief history of the Meiji cosmology
After many decades of postwar national psychoanalysis of Japan by scholars and public intellectuals both domestic and foreign, (by the way, I concur with historian Harry Harootunian in considering Japan’s “postwar period” to still be an ongoing condition), it is almost an academic truism to observe that Japanese culture has suffered two catastrophic cosmological upheavals in its modern history. The first of these was the Meiji “Restoration” of 1868, which itself had been triggered by the earlier crisis of the “opening” of Japan to the West in the 1850s. Although this development has tended to be glossed as a cultural triumph both in establishment interpretations and in popular consciousness of modern Japanese history, many astute pre-1945 Japanese observers – Meiji contemporary author Soseki Natsume, cultural anthropologist and folklorist Yanagida Kunio, and the thinkers of the pre-war “Kyoto School” of philosophers spring to mind as famous examples – were sensitive to the vast cosmological disruption the willfully-imposed chaos of the Restoration left in its wake, as have many postwar Japanese observers, as well (Kishida 1977, Oketani 1996, et al). The second of these upheavals – and one with a far more complicated (and still very much psychologically raw) presence in both establishment and popular consciousness – is the cosmological collapse Japanese culture experienced as a consequence of Japan’s 1945 defeat in the Second World (Asia-Pacific) War and during seven years of culturally intrusive postwar military occupation by the American-led Allied Powers (Kitahara 1984).
Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, in his frequent writings on Japan, refers to the post-1868 and post-1945 cosmological upheavals as “historical dislocations”, times:
when (cultural) change is too rapid and extreme to be readily absorbed; it then impairs symbol systems having to do with family, religion, social and political authority, sexuality, birth and death, and the overall ordering of the life cycle…There is a loss of a sense of fit between what individuals feel themselves to be and what a society or culture, formally or informally, expects them to be…. At such times, our psychological viability as the cultural animal, or what might be called the “immortalizing animal” (they are virtually the same), is under duress – until new combinations can reanimate our perceived place in the great chain of being (1993: 14-15)
It is ironic to appreciate that the Meiji Restoration of 1867-1868 – the event generally recognized as marking the birth of modern Japan (Maruyama 1963, Reischauer 1970, Gluck 1985, Morris-Suzuki 1998, Buruma 2003, Gordon 2003, et al) – and one that also gave birth to the superlatively compelling (but also immeasurably destructive and fatally falsifiable) Meiji cosmology – was itself a direct consequence of Japanese response to an earlier ontological/cosmological crisis, namely, the forced “opening” of Shogunate Japan by United States warships in 1853-1854. This American intrusion resulted in Japan’s abrupt emergence from two and a half centuries of self-imposed and near-total cultural and diplomatic isolation from the outside world, subjecting Japanese culture to what Lifton (1979) refers to as a crisis of “desymbolization” – that is, a period during which, in my terminology, a culture’s cosmology ceases to function properly and thus cannot provide its constituents with symbolic immortality robust enough to stave off existential anxiety.
The American interventions of 1853-1854 set in motion a fifteen-year-long chain of events that saw the collapse of the 265-year-old Shogunate regime in 1868 and its replacement by a centralized national bureaucracy (later joined by a legislature) that wielded sovereign authority under the tutelary aegis of the young Emperor Meiji (1852–1912). The society the new Imperial regime inherited from its Shogunate predecessors was one that was still, in many senses of the term, medieval. By any measure, Japan was at this point still woefully unprepared – socially, economically, culturally, and militarily – to interact from anything but the most humiliatingly obsequious subaltern position (one certainly not conducive to robust symbolic immortality provision!) with the dominant Western powers (rekkyō) that were so feared yet also so enthusiastically emulated by Japan’s new leadership (LaFeber 1997, Oguma 2002 ).
Accordingly, from the outset of the great Meiji Era nation-building project, the ex-samurai running the new regime saw the correction of this unacceptably weak strategic position as Japan’s most urgent national goal. One major obstacle to this agenda was the fact that the largely uneducated rural proletariat (Gordon 2003) that was the overwhelmingly dominant demographic cohort of this still medieval society inhabited pastoral, animistic, microscopically localized cosmologies that afforded little concept of national subjectivity beyond a catalogue of vague cultural foundation myths passed down through oral tradition by troubadours and local wise men. It is doubtful that many of the Emperor’s new subjects in 1868 even had a clear conception of the institution of the Imperial throne. But long years of huge national investment in educational policy eventually bore fruit. The Emperor’s new national subjects were given an almost entirely new cosmology for their new existence as “Japanese”, replete with a robust, internationally-aware, and pride-inspiring worldview and a network of compelling hero-systems mutually supportive of one another and, most importantly of all, of and for the greater glory of the new Imperial project.
The symbolic lynchpin of the Meiji cosmology – the careful crafting of which was indelibly marked by the influence of arch-conservative Imperial Japanese Army figures such as ex-samurai Field Marshal Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922) (Norman 1943, Smethurst 1974, Humphreys 1995, Yoshida 2002, et al) – was the notion of divinely ordained Japanese cultural infallibility manifest in the august person of the Emperor himself, from whose immortal ancestral bloodline all Japanese were descended, regardless of social station, and to whom all owed as a sacred debt their entire existence, being, loyalty, and destiny, both physical and symbolic. Proselytized with stunning efficacy by Meiji Japan’s national education system (cf. Gluck 1985, Morris-Suzuki 1998, et al) and the army (cf. Smethurst 1974), the Meiji cosmology embraced a hero-system ethos that valorized self-sacrifice for the national/cultural project as the pinnacle of symbolic immortality to which any loyal subject of the Emperor might ever hope to aspire – a somewhat more earthbound and figurative Japanese equivalent to the literal “afterlife” immortality aspired to by believers in the “revealed” faiths of Christianity and Islam. As subsequent overseas military ventures would soon prove, this was a supremely efficient ethos for the mobilization of a society in toto for the era of industrialized total war these Meiji ideologues foresaw – with a certain self-fulfilling prescience – as mankind’s glorious and terrible fate in the upcoming 20th century (Peattie 1975).
Prevented by native religious tradition and cultural pride from access to the ontological safety net (so hated by Nietzsche!) of the “revealed” (and thus unfalsifiable) theologically-based cosmologies (i.e., Christianity) animating the worldviews of Japan’s Western counterparts, the Meiji ideologues instead fashioned a self-reverential “god” out of their new formulation of Japanese national subjectivity itself. This formulation provided the theological mortar for the structure of their new cosmology. And as history would eventually prove (and as we have already observed), the new “god” of an infallible and invincible Japan these ideologues created turned out to be tragically vulnerable to falsification by worldly events – namely abject military defeat and the aforementioned humiliating and immeasurably traumatic experience of a lengthy and culturally intrusive Allied occupation that changed the political, cultural and psychological landscape of the nation forever. This fundamental flaw not only nearly pushed Japan to national extinction in 1944-45 as the culture’s constituents resorted to extreme measures to shore up their faltering cosmology in the face of impending collapse, but moreover, it left the Japanese people unprotected when that collapse finally came. The structure of the Meiji cosmology being what it was, the Japanese people had to absorb the full shock of shattering defeat without the back-up ontological “safety net” of a robust native religious tradition (having had that taken away after 1868) equipped with theological rationalizations for worldly human setbacks. The psychological aftershocks of this cosmological failure still rumble both beneath and above the surface of Japanese national subjectivity today (cf. Etō 1974, Katō 1995, Oketani 1996, Nathan 2004, et al).
Post-Meiji cosmology collapse Japan
The combined shocks of Imperial Japan’s defeat, surrender, and subsequent occupation by Allied forces proved fatal for the continued metaphysical validity of the Meiji cosmology, rendering it unable to provide for the metaphysical/spiritual needs and existential/psychological equanimity of its constituents. Nevertheless, despite (or perhaps, from a more sinister perspective, possibly because of) the Meiji cosmology’s broken condition, the Allied Occupation forces allowed its comatose body to retain a central symbolic position in the political domain of postwar national subjectivity, kept alive on a kind of ideological artificial life support system administered in turn by Occupation authorities, conservative Japanese establishment figures and institutions, and even yakuza right-wing underworld elements (Kodama 1951).
This aspect of Occupation policy was the consequence of a concatenation of several circumstantial exigencies. First was the strategic utility of promising the postwar continuation of the Imperial institution as a way of convincing hard line Japanese military leaders to accede to the Emperor’s decision to surrender to the Allies in August 1945. Another was the political consideration of the Allies appreciating the utility of the Imperial institution as an instrument of Occupation policy (including the prevention of Japan emerging from the ashes of its postwar cosmological collapse reincarnated as a communist state – a scenario which, in the Cold War era context of the times, it was in the interest of both the Imperial institution and the Allies to prevent being realized) (Matsuda 2007). Lastly, apparently, was a cultural and historical misinterpretation on the part of the Allied authorities – in large part a result of input from Japanese establishment figures in the confusion of the initial stages of the Occupation – that the basic structure of the Meiji cosmology was of such ancient and hallowed origins (as opposed to its actual late 19th century origins) that its retention would be central and indispensible to any formulation of national subjectivity that could possibly be psychologically acceptable to the Japanese populace (Dower 1999, Frank 1998, Bix 2000, Matsuda 2007)). That said, this “misinterpretation” may very well have been one of convenience, as these same Allied authorities were determined to see that while the postwar incarnation of the Meiji cosmology would of course be useful in preventing Japan from ever drifting into the Communist orbit, it would also never again be robust enough to inspire its constituents to become warriors against the West capable of the level of fanatic combat ferocity the American military had encountered on battlefields across the Pacific during the war. Appropriate measures were undertaken to ensure that the necessary ideological changes (or, as many postwar Japanese commentators have put it, ideological emasculation [Nonaka 1997]) would take place. Ostensibly, Japanese political authorities were so overcome with relief and gratitude at their country’s new occupiers’ decision to spare the central signifier of the dysfunctional Meiji cosmology – i.e., the Imperial institution – and so desperate to believe that all had not really been lost in defeat, that they failed to foresee the severe cost in terms of the metaphysical validity of Japanese culture (especially in terms of existential equanimity) this decision would end up exacting from both contemporary and later generations of Japanese.
Under pressure from Japan’s Allied occupiers, the effective metaphysical dismantling of the Meiji cosmology was personally acceded to and overseen by its primary custodians, i.e., the Emperor himself and his various relevant advisors and governmental ministries, through: deed (e.g., the infamous photograph of the Emperor visiting Occupation commander General Douglas MacArthur, published in all major national daily newspapers in September 1945) (Watanabe 1977); proclamation (e.g., the Emperor’s ningen sengen official announcement denying Imperial divinity, radio broadcast to the nation on January 1, 1946); policy (changes in national educational curricula, et al); and legislation (the largely American-written 1947 Constitution). Consequently, the Japanese populace as a whole appears to have effectively abandoned the cosmology’s more overt claims to metaphysical validity (Field 1993, et al) – a rejection motivated no doubt by the populace’s overall post-defeat psychological state of ressentiment and cultural disenchantment, but also motivated, it can probably be safely assumed, by a measure of disgust over the facility with which these custodians of the Meiji cosmology had accommodated the policies and wishes of the nation’s culturally alien Occupation Forces (Watanabe 1977).
In the aftermath of this rejection, however, the vast majority of postwar Japanese do not seem to have adopted any new cosmology to replace the dysfunctional Meiji variant they abandoned after their nation’s defeat. Although there are strong arguments (Reischauer 1970, Garon 1997, McVeigh 1997) that the phenomenal postwar popularity of the so-called “new religions” (shin shūkyō) of Sōka Gakkai, Perfect Liberty, etc., constitute just such an adoption of a form of “replacement cosmology” at the populist level, it cannot be claimed that these “new” religions – even in terms of their overall combined influence – come anywhere close to “filling the metaphysical shoes”, if you will, of the discredited Meiji cosmology.
Although most participants in Japanese political discourse from the far right-wing fringes continue to champion the metaphysically empty shell of the Meiji cosmology, it is very telling of its postwar condition of ideological impotence that these right-wing elements almost never make the cosmology’s metaphysical tenets a central element of their propaganda anymore. This is ostensibly because these discursive participants are astute enough to realize that doing so – in today’s Japanese discursive environment – would be both a waste of rhetorical airtime as well as counterproductive to their political agenda. The truth of the matter is that the dysfunctional Meiji cosmology simply is no longer capable of providing the great masses of Japanese culture’s constituents with any metaphysical benefit beyond its recognizability as a cultural signifier and the thin existential consolation of cultural/historical continuity inherent in the longevity of the Imperial institution itself. But even that thin comfort comes at the steep cultural price of successive generations shouldering the burden of various unhappy items of historical baggage associated with the tainted legacy of the Meiji cosmology’s complicity in war responsibility and/or the cultural humiliation of the 1945 defeat.
Nevertheless, the Meiji cosmology’s symbolic position in Japanese political space is still so salient, central, and sacrosanct that it prevents the emergence of any rival new cosmology to, again borrowing Lifton’s wording, “reanimate…a perceived place in the great chain of being” for the modern day constituents of Japanese culture that might serve as the foundation for a more metaphysically robust formulation of postwar Japanese national subjectivity. Moreover, the centrality and sanctity of the Meiji cosmology’s position has been regularly and spectacularly enforced by right-wing violence during Japan’s long postwar (e.g., the assassination of Japan Socialist Party chairman Asanuma Inejiro in 1960, the attempted assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki in 1989, regular violent attacks against staff of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and other liberal rhetors, etc.) to the point where public discourse over the cosmology’s continuing validity (or lack thereof) would appear to have been effectively crushed by the weight of the so-called “chrysanthemum taboo” (Sugimoto 2010). It is my opinion that the resultant “metaphysical lacuna” in postwar Japanese culture has been kept frozen in place by fear, inertia, lack of imagination, sentimentality, and historically misinformed cultural loyalties. It is also my opinion that the resultant cultural condition has had, and is continuing to have, negative repercussions vis-a-vis the ability of modern Japanese culture to provide for the existential equanimity of its constituents over the six-decades-long postwar era, with commensurate negative effects on the ability, again, of postwar Japanese culture to serve as a framework for a more robust formulation of national subjectivity (Nosaka 1997, Kang 2008). Moreover, I believe that the inertia behind this stasis will not be budged as long as the Meiji cosmology maintains its privileged position of ideological political centrality. Any proposal for national revitalization coming from the Japanese establishment that does not take this into account will fail to accomplish anything beyond a rearrangement of the same old ultimately shallow and unconvincing postwar cultural window dressing.
A personal meditation on the “metaphysical malaise” of desymbolized postwar Japan
One afternoon in 2003, approximately one year into an ethnographic study of Japanese survivors of the wartime Kamikaze Corps that eventually became my book Blossoms in the Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze (2005), I was reading a slim but engaging volume on modern day Japanese culture by film critic Donald Richie titled The Image Factory (2003). As is usually the case with Richie’s work, much of the book is comprised of observations of the many absurdities and oddities of Japan today, replete with the expected riffs on hikikomori, kosupure, pachinko, etc., all written with the author’s characteristic “Quirky Old Japan Hand” mixture of acid wit, vast expertise, and sharp eye for capturing the unique pathos of modern day life in our mutual adopted home country. However, toward the end of the book, I came upon a passage that literally took my breath away – not because it revealed something to me I had never thought of before, but rather, because it encapsulated so perfectly something I had been thinking about for a very long time.
In a single paragraph of brutal candor, Richie verbalized a certain metaphysical malaise in the Japanese condition that I had been vaguely aware of since arriving in the country in 1987. Outside of the jeremiads and diatribes of right-wing pundits, this metaphysical malaise (or lacuna, as I have referred to it above) is generally kept politely hidden – like an embarrassing family secret jealously protected – although I had caught many glimpses and snippets of it here and there during my long years in Japan, most often and vividly in the sake-lubricated lamentations of older Japanese men (especially those old enough to remember life when the Meiji cosmology was still vibrant and functional). Moreover, it explained the grievously conflicted belief systems (i.e., torn between lingering loyalty to the Meiji cosmology vs. necessary adjustments to the undeniable realities of the postwar present) I had observed to more or less of a degree among virtually all of the Japanese war veteran subjects of my ethnographic project. My subjects had gradually revealed their lingering emotional turmoil over the collapse of the Meiji cosmology to me over our months and years of acquaintance with displays ranging from self-deprecating humor and passive resignation on some occasions, to painful and unrestrained expressions of profound grief, humiliation, and snarling hinekuri resentment on others. But it was not until I encountered Richie’s passage – which is worth quoting at length here – that I could really grasp the “pathology”, if you will, of this “metaphysical malaise”:
Richie: “In the decades following the war Japan has vastly improved in all ways but one. No substitute has ever been discovered for the certainty that this people enjoyed until the summer of 1945…Japan suffered a trauma that might be compared to that of the individual believer who suddenly finds himself an atheist. Japan lost its god, and the hole left by a vanished deity remains. The loss was not the emperor, a deity suddenly lost through his precipitate humanization. It was, however, everything for which he and his whole ordered, pre-war empire had stood. It was certainty itself that was lost. And this is something that the new post-war world could not replace”(120-121).
Richie’s words haunted me for months (they still do today), becoming a central theme in my book about kamikaze survivors. But even as I was finishing writing the book, I realized that these words had, in the end, really left me with far more questions than answers. What, I wondered, does it mean for a culture to “lose its god”? What would be the psychological effect on someone who had been existentially cradled by a robust (even if eventually proved false) cosmological “certainty” in the early phases of his/her life, then be forced to live the remainder of that life bereft of that certainty? What multigenerational ramifications would be involved for a culture that loses “certainty itself”? How could such a culture provide its constituents with the “necessary illusion” of literal and/or symbolic immortality human beings in any culture need to maintain existential and psychological equanimity (Williams 1983: 221)?
Arriving as I did at the peak of the Bubble Era of the Japanese economy, it seemed to me at the time that the primary modern Japanese cultural solution to the existential issues of its constituents was to bang incessantly on the drum of the gaman/gambaru “nobility of suffering” Japanese cultural trope that psychologist George De Vos has termed “moral masochism” (1973). As far as I could tell, this cultural strategy appeared to function primarily by keeping its constituents so busy and exhausted all the time that they had neither the time nor the mental energy to expend consciously brooding over their postmodern angst. I am sure that this “quick and dirty” method of existential dread suppression will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent any portion of their life in military uniform.
During these days of my earliest first-hand experiences of Japanese culture, I was also aware of a secondary and somewhat more consciously ideological network of existential support. This was to be found lingering amidst the mass-produced, commercial, self-indulgent and even self-reverential immersion in kitschy cultural nostalgia I seemed to see every time I turned on the TV or opened a magazine or newspaper here or walked through a public space. This second, more consciously ideological support network seemed to be based on: 1) what Peter Dale (1986) termed “the myth of Japanese uniqueness” (which Freud would have recognized as a supreme example of his concept of “the narcissism of minor differences”); and 2) the illusion of cultural-historical continuity, homogeneity and connectedness provided by simple celebrations of “Japaneseness” for its own sake. Coming under the latter category would be the daily mass media fare of endless re-hashings of oddly self-Orientalizing cultural nostalgia tropes like samurai dramas, travel shows searching out “unspoiled pockets” of pristine natsukashii rural Japaneseness. More recently, a new trope in this rhetorical genre has been the (at least what I experience as) profoundly forlorn nostalgia boom for postwar Shōwa Era Japan (cf. Harootunian, Yoda et al 2006). Recent Japanese discourse along these lines often seek to evoke comforting Camelot-like nostalgic sentimentality even over the plastic kitsch-fest of the Osaka International Expo of 1970 – an event I actually see instead as iconic of the very postwar desymbolization crisis that is the topic of this paper. Recently, a somewhat bizarre variant of the Shōwa nostalgia genre is the so-called kōjō kengaku (“factory tour”) boom, which is characterized by sentimental waxings over the rusting hulks of 1950s-1970s industrial plant – reassuring iconography, it is assumed, of the last era in living memory when the majority of the residents of this archipelago experienced a (relatively) compelling sense of collective purpose (even as the hero-systems that sustained their existential equilibrium thusly poisoned their bodies with smog and mercury and assaulted their physical senses with some of the ugliest urban and suburban landscapes in the economically developed world).
Another key element of this “commodified cultural nostalgia” omnipresent in Japanese semiotic space today is the conspicuously ironic use of “traditional” and Edo Period (i.e., pre-Meiji desymbolization crisis)-evocative cultural signifiers in print and broadcast visual advertising copy. This very “postmodern”-flavored commercial usage of traditional cultural signifiers tends to vary in stance between unabashed self-reverence and self-parodying kitsch – and is perhaps at its most postmodern and hip when it can express both stances simultaneously.
But are these celebrations of Japaneseness a form of triumphalist cultural exclusivism, as so many critics of the Nihonjinron genre have charged over the years (Dale 1986, Van Wolferen 1989, Befu 2001)? Or are they more akin to camouflage – something to paper over and keep people’s minds off the very postwar “loss of certainty” Richie has identified? Perhaps both of these functions are not mutually exclusive, and might even actually constitute one and the same cultural/psychological defense mechanism.
I have long suspected that the “celebrations of Japaneseness”/”commodified cultural nostalgia” angle must have a particular appeal for older Japanese (either consciously or unconsciously) confronted with two mutually reinforcing negative trains of thought: 1) the specter of the supposedly timeless Japanese cultural project to which they have contributed their whole lives now framed as faltering under the unstoppable forces of globalization – a message which is pounded into their minds by Japanese mass media day in and day out; and 2) the unwelcome reality of their own rapidly approaching individual mortality. It seems a natural enough reaction in such a predicament to desire some conservative cultural champion to appear magically and, in William F. Buckley’s famous phrase, “stand astride history and yell ‘Stop!’” (citation needed). Perhaps one of the secrets of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintarō’s electoral successes over the years is that he is the most visible Japanese today willing to take such a romantic hero-like stance in public, regularly bellowing reactionary opinions about the state of Japan and Japanese culture today that many of the governor’s compatriots apparently harbor in their hearts but are afraid to utter themselves.
Moreover, the “mortality salience” (Greenberg et al 1986) issues both generated by and, in turn, motivating and sustaining such discourse must no doubt be particularly relevant for those Japanese – certainly a substantial majority in today’s Japan – who are unable to avail themselves of the additional existential support of more robust religious faith as part of their psychological arsenal in their double-edged confrontation with the specter of a (possibly) faltering cultural project and (indubitably and inexorably) impending personal mortality. What, after all, are all those “culture centers” and kōminkan full of retirees taking up bonsai, tea ceremony, nagauta singing or buyō dancing if not facilities for the provision of some measure, however modest, of palliative existential reassurance – places where people can gather to be comforted by the idea of their culture surviving their own individual mortality with a reassuring catalogue of recognizable cultural signifiers and identity markers still in place? Such an arrangement might not afford the rock hard existential security – the literal immortality – of a belief in an afterlife in the “Heaven” or “Paradise” of other cultures’ unfalsifiable “revealed” religions, but it can nevertheless provide its patrons with a tepid sort of consolation prize symbolic immortality that is, after all, ostensibly better than having no faith in anything at all as one contemplates one’s own personal mortality.
But what is the broken postwar incarnation of the Meiji cosmology doing for young Japanese people? Can a cosmology bereft of more heroically transcendent claims to cosmic connection and significance – in other words, one bereft of a more compelling formulation of symbolic immortality – be vigorous enough to provide the younger constituents of Japanese culture with a sense of purpose in life and hopes and dreams for the future? From my personal perspective in dealing with Japanese young people (especially males) on a daily basis, it seems that they have precious little access to any cosmology more heroically compelling than video games, manga fantasies, online chat rooms, mindless consumerism, and exam-cramming for a now virtually non-existent job market. Under the circumstances, is there any wonder that so many of them seem to be tuning out, turning off, and dropping out of society, preferring the bleak sanctuary of their broadband-connected bedrooms rather than facing the world beyond their doorsteps? Is there any wonder the national birthrate is plummeting to all time lows? Who can be blamed for not bubbling over with enthusiasm at the prospect of bringing into the world new constituents of a cosmological project whose predominant milieu seemed to be one giant, mass repository for the mothball storage of the cultural signifiers and artifacts of a defunct cosmology – a national milieu that historian Harry Harootunian has recently termed “a vast theme park of bad cultural memory” (2009: 108)? I would like to think that this lack of youth engagement with the ongoing fortunes of the national project constitutes a passive-aggressive rejection of the Meiji cosmology on their part, rather than a complete loss of hope in their culture – or even in life itself. But I cannot say this is so with any confidence.
In recent years, I have been thinking a lot about Freud’s concept of libidinal economy in the context of Japan’s present impoverished cosmological condition. In Freud’s understanding of the self, “libido” – the life force behind not only sexual drive but also our greater natural organismic urge to self-expansiveness under which our reproductive drive is subsumed – is modeled somewhat like the hydraulics and thermodynamics of live steam in a closed network of pipes. When the pressure of the “steam” builds up beyond the ability of the “pipe network” to safely contain it, the “steam” must be “blown off” – action which in the organismic case corresponds to the expenditure of libidinal energy in the service of both reproductive and, in turn, destructive urges. But this “steam energy” is not a constant; it has a half-life, and it can be frittered away or, ultimately, it can just dissipate and die out on its own.
Regarding the condition of Japanese culture today from the standpoint of Freud’s libidinal economy model, it would appear that what we are looking at is a pipe system with decidedly low steam pressure. But the potential energy of this system has not been depleted through expenditure toward any cultural “organismic self-expansiveness”. Rather, it seems more the case that the “steam” has just fizzled, leaked away or recondensed into liquid water through a process of mature, melancholy, almost mellow cultural disenchantment that since 1945 has seen the Japanese cosmology abdicate any claim to ultimate truths about the human condition. Instead, outside of the well-regulated physical routines of their jobs and daily lives, the constituents of postwar Japanese culture seem to have been left to their own devices to carve some sense of transcendent meaning out of their existences (an existential vacuum skillfully exploited by the Japanese mass media and the primary beneficiaries of the Japanese consumer economy). There will be no culturally provided cosmological certainty “from on high” forthcoming as long as the defunct Meiji cosmology remains in place.
A reader familiar with postwar Japanese economic history might at this point be thinking “Well what about the kōdō keizai seichōki (“period of rapid economic growth” from 1955 to 1973) and the rocket sled economy of the Bubble Era? What about all those years when Ezra Vogel was telling us about “Japan as Number One”? What were those, if not great exertions of cultural libinal energy – great cultural manifestations of collective effort that put to shame even the self-expansive prowess of Imperial Era Japan? To such questions, I would answer that these were not “exertions” of cultural energy. Rather, they were evasions and denials; evasions of the culture’s unfinished “grief work” over the effective death of the Meiji cosmology and the subsequent cultural loss of existential certainty after 1945, and denials that Japanese culture and national subjectivity – in their postwar incarnations – needany functioning cosmology at all. But in the end, these evasions and denials have provided no cultural solutions to the existential issues faced by the constituents of Japanese culture today – people in need of existential equanimity just as much as humans anywhere are. The Meiji cosmology is both there and not there, sitting atop Japanese subjectivity today like a bitter old Dowager on her throne long past what should have been her natural lifespan (which should have ended in 1945) – and long past her usefulness (which did end in 1945), no longer able to generate cathexis-levels of loyalty in its constituents (certainly not its younger ones). The continued existence of this essentially libidinally dead cosmology has various implications for both current and future possible formulations of Japanese national subjectivity. For example, what historian David Williams has called Japan’s postwar “evasion of sovereignty” (2006) – an evasion which, as I have already argued, is unavoidable as long as the recognizable symbolic framework of the Meiji cosmology remains in place – will continue for the foreseeable future to severely constrain the range of Japan’s interactional possibilities in the community of other cultures/nations. I believe the ramifications here are particularly salient regarding Japanese national security policy; not even the most optimistic Japanese patriot today – certainly not one involved at present in the planning of national security policy – harbors even in his/her wildest dreams the expectation that the current formulation of Japanese national subjectivity could ever see this country – and this culture – mobilizing for war again, marching its young men off to die with brass bands and banzai cheers. Despite the most earnestly embraced fantasies of right-wing Japanese pundits today, the possibility of the Meiji cosmology ever being revalorized to the point where it could compel its constituents to such levels of devotion and self-sacrifice is effectively zero.
But then, I do not think that we necessarily have to regard this as an entirely negative development. As the constituents of a culture that in its recent history has experienced coming very close to being destroyed by its own cosmology, the Japanese people since August 1945 have perhaps been more painfully aware than anyone else of the existential conundrum posed by our survival as a species hanging on the Damoclean thread of the ability of 1) nuclear weapons and 2) cosmologies which valorize the pursuit of warfare as a means of securing symbolic immortality coexisting on this small planet. Ironically, conservative pundit Fujiwara Masahiko may be right; Japanese culture may just end up saving humanity from itself after all (Fujiwara 2006). Japan’s horrific experiences of August 1945 can sound a warning tocsin for all of us that our species has outgrown the violence-validating traditional formulations of cosmology we have depended on for our existential equanimity in fundamentally unchanged structure and function probably since the dawn of humanity, when our first existentially-challenged hominid ancestor realized that killing someone else can be a very effective way of making oneself feel heroic and immortal when one does not have any more compelling narratives to do the same existential trick. Considering that humanity no longer has the luxury of continuing to indulge such existential naiveté, maybe it would behoove all of us – not just the Japanese – to experience some “desymbolization crisis” of our own and bid farewell to cosmologies capable of compelling us to kill and die over. I believe that our descendents will have a much better chance of seeing the 22nd century if we can follow modern Japanese culture’s lead in making the mature commitment to learning to live with higher levels of existential uncertainty than our species has been accustomed to tolerating until now.
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Williams, D. (2006) “The Japanese evasion of sovereignty: Article 9 and the European canon – Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, Foucault, 42-62 in Kersten, R. & Williams, D. (eds), The Left in the Shaping of Japanese Democracy: Essays in honour of J.A.A. Stockwin. London: Routledge.
Williams, R. (1983) “Freudian psychology”, 219-222 in Richardson, A. & Bowden, J., eds., A New Dictionary of Christian Theology.
Wilson, C.R. (1980). Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Yoda, T. (2006). A roadmap to millennial Japan, 16-53 in Yoda, T. & Harootunian, H. (eds). Japan after Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990s to the Present. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Yoshida, Y. (2002). Nihon no Guntai: Heishitachi no Kindaishi (Japan’s Military: Modern History of Soldiers). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
 Several major cultural cosmologies adjusted to accommodate Marxism–Leninism during the 20th century have been notable exceptions to this.
 Of late, I have increasingly come to think that the incessant nature of this “cultural tocsin-sounding” is actually counterproductive, sowing more dismay and resignation among its audience than it motivates them to vigilant cultural defense.
COMMENTS FROM ARUDOU DEBITO AFTER FIRST READING THIS:
Arudou Debito February 28 at 8:42am Well done, Bucky. Thanks for summarizing what I needed to know about the cosmology of cultures and the denials of death in less than 500 pages. Your paper read like one of those “mythology” episodes of X-Files, where you really had to concentrate to see where this was going, but the payoff was there all along.
1) Not enough time was spent on how the cosmology is not only inclusive and demanding of acolytes, but exclusive as well, demanding those acolytes not only adhere to certain beliefs, but also that they be of a certain blood. The resurgence I am feeling of Japanese be actual wajin in order to expect any benefits of the system (something I recently experienced when I was denied my sabbatical. Again. Despite having more than three times the workplace seniority of the person who did get it, and the added kicker of him lying about his letters of invitation) has always been a particular tenet of the system (from academic apartheid on down). This will doom the system in the end, as the best religions expand and cross borders, and as the Japanese economy and society goes to seed and collapses upon itself.
2) I felt you were trying to be a little too hopeful at the end. The need for cosmology in a society is very well taken. How the lack of one is making Japan act all funny for decades now is also well taken. A society losing its god is a very important point. But I don’t see it as a possibly useful alternative to cavemen hitting each other on the head to feel immortal. I see it, now that I’m really browned off at all the broken promises over the years simply on racial grounds, as an illness, not a template. I don’t think Japan is on the road to finding its way out of this existential uncertainty. I think other societies are doing a far better job shedding the need for a belief in a divinity and finding out, through encouraging individual choice, personal empowerment, and self-actualization, that it is possible for people psychologically, and not necessarily socially psychologically, to discover what they believe is their order and role in the universe without the need for national-goal-manipulated crutches. In sum, Japan is not a template. It is a society that is rotting from the inside out because individuals are being trained, even more so now than even in the Bubble Era, that the system is more important than the individual and nothing can or should change that; for the sake of national identity, knuckle under. The difference is that there is no longer a financial benefit even to back that up. So the system promises nothing except stability — although not mental stability. That is the fundamental promise of a social cosmology. In that sense, Japan’s permutation of existentialism is the biggest broken promise around. We know because we have been outside the fishbowl.
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Hi Blog. I have a real rib-tickler for you today. Here we have an academic employed at UC Berkeley trying to squeeze flawed data into an already flawed paradigm — not just that of “gaijin” [sic], but also of “flyjin” — as she goes around Tokyo counting NJ as if they were rare birds (or, rather, rarer birds, according to her presumptions under the rubric).
I raise this on Debito.org because it’s amazing how stupid concepts from Planet Japan somehow manage to entice apparently educated people elsewhere to follow suit, and… I’ll just stop commenting and let you read the rest. Courtesy of H-Japan’s online archives, accessible to the general public. Arudou Debito
From: H-Japan Editor
List Editor: H-Japan Editor
Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 / empirical evidence on “flyjin”
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 / empirical evidence on “flyjin”
Date Written: Sun, 19 Jun 2011 18:19:01 -0400
Date Posted: Mon, 19 Jun 2011 18:19:01 -0400
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin
June 19, 2011
From: Dana Buntrock
For those of you who have not yet returned to Japan since 3/11, it may be helpful to understand how significant the absence of “gaijin” is in the capital, a point noted more than once on this list.
I am using the term “gaijin” here to refer to racially differentiated (non-Asian) individuals, including those who appear to be from the Indian subcontinent. If mixed-race children were with a non-Asian parent, I counted them. I also counted one woman in a version of the headscarf worn by Moslem women, seen from behind, and her child (in a stroller), because the attire was clearly non-Japanese in nature. That is, I tended to err on the side of counting individuals as being foreign.
I did a casual count Friday, June 17 through Sunday, June 19. The first two days, I went about normal activity, but the last day, I confess, I deliberately went to a tourist spot. I included those seen within my hotel, a nice business hotel that maintains a reservations web site in English and often has foreign guests.
Friday count: 22. (8 a.m.-7:30 p.m.) I went through 9 subway stations:
Akasaka, Meijijungumae, KitaSando, Shinjuku (Oedo at Minami Shinjuku), Aoyama Itchome, Gaienmae, Akasaka-Mitsuke to Nagatacho, and Kojimachi. I walked at least 6 kilometers: from my hotel to the first station (.6 km), from Kita Sando west for 1.2 km, from there to several floors, including the 6th, of the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Minami Shinjuku (1.8 km), from Aoyama Itchome to Gaienmae (.7 km) and from Kojimachi back to the Akasaka area (1.6 if done efficiently, which I did not).
Saturday count: 135. About 15 under 5 years old.
I went through Roppongi twice, Hiro once, and Midtown twice. I went through three crowded shopping areas–Ebisu, Midtown, and Roppongi HIlls, plus the Photography Museum. I went to National Azabu (upstairs) on a Saturday.
I was out 8 and a half hours, and I went through Roppongi Station (10:30 a.m.), Ebisu (subway) Station, and HIro Station. I walked 1.5 km around Ebisu, and from Hiro to Roppongi HIlls (another 1.5 km) to Gallery Ma (another 1.5 km) to Midtown (600 meters) and back to the hotel (1 km). About 6 kilometers.
Sunday count: 60. I counted 13 women; 4 were children.
Out at 9 a.m., walked from Akasaka to near the foot of Tokyo Tower via Ark Hills (1.9 km), continued on to Daimon Station, boarded a monorail to Tenozu Isle (1.5 km), Walked a very short distance from there, then boarded a cab back to Akasaka. Afterward, walked to Kasumigaseki (2 km), continued to the Imperial Palace Gardens (3 km), walked from there to Otemachi Stn (1.5), direct line back to Akasaka, and back to hotel (.5 km) about 6:30 p.m.
21 men and 8 women were seen in the area of the Imperial Palace, including joggers and apparent tourists. (Note: I attended an English-language church service, but did not count the congregants. There were about 45 people in the church, and between half and two-thirds were non-Asian. The church would normally have at least 50% more congregants, and often double.)
Walked about 10.5 km, was in three not-particularly-busy subway stations, but lingered around the Imperial Palace.
_______________________ DANA BUNTROCK
Department of Architecture
University of California, Berkeley
From: H-Japan Editor
List Editor: H-Japan Editor
Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 (2 responses)
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 (2 responses)
Date Written: Mon, 20 Jun 2011 22:18:52 -0400
Date Posted: Tue, 20 Jun 2011 22:18:52 -0400
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin
June 20, 2011
(1) From: Georg Blind
Re: empirical evidence on “flyjin” vs. “fryjin”; ample statistics available
This is both a response to an earlier question on this list, and a comment to Dana Buntrock’s post.
The latest available tables are for March 2011. Total “gaijin” departures were about 1% down from March 2010. In contrast, US citizens were down about 20%; citizens of European countries about 5%.
As soon as available, April data will show the full extent of the exodus if corrected for overall fluctuation (e.g., from a comparison of February to April changes in 2010).
While interesting as an individual observation, Dana Buntrock’s gaijin counts, are methodologically highly questionable. The following – not too serious example – might illustrate this: let’s define “fryjin” as foreigners working in Japanese KFC restaurants. Let’s assume one would count fryjin presence in 10 different locations in Tokyo. Would that yield a reliable picture of the “fryjin” situation? 1. The mere count of “fryjin” would need to be compared to the number of Japanese staff. – How many Japanese did Dana Buntrock count during her survey? 2. How many “fryjin” were there one year ago; i.e., was there a change in the number of “fryjin”? – And putting 1. and 2. together, was there some change in the share of “fryjin”? 3. Are observations at Tokyo KFC restaurants representative for the whole country? In that sense, the church example is by far more telling than the street counts.
Research Fellow and Lecturer
The University of Zurich
Institute of East Asian Studies
(2) From: Cecilia
With respect, I am not sure how constructive it is to be adopting the term “flyjin”. Though the term may appear to be cute and clever, in reality in the Kanto area in particular it is a loaded word that in some circles has become derisive and abusive. The term flyjin trivialises the reality that there is an evacuation zone in place and that there is a serious radiation problem – the extent of which is still not clearly determined. It also fails to consider that people who left were in many cases acting on embassy advice or company instructions. I have been in Tokyo since the earthquake, except for a Golden Week sojourn in Tohoku, with no thought of leaving but have been dismayed at the macho vitriol around who stayed and who left. It’s disappointing to see the term being picked up unproblematised in academic circles.
A spot count of conspicuous foreigners on the streets of Tokyo tells nothing about the numbers of people who have left Tokyo. In particular it ignores a distinction between residents (short and long term) and tourists. It also ignores the fact that most foreigners (both resident and tourists) are Asian. A spot count that has no control, defines foreigners in racial terms (which probably labels Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Singaporeans and many other SE Asians as Japanese) and conflates people that have actively left with people that decided not come, is meaningless. For the dip (plunge) in foreign visitor numbers the Ministry of Justice data is much more useful. http://www.tourism.jp/english/statistics/inbound.php
OKAY, ONE MORE COMMENT FROM DEBITO: Bravo Ms. Fujishima. It’s also disappointing to see the racial term “gaijin” thusly being picked up unproblematized in academic circles, but that’s a long-standing terminology that people just seem to laugh off as grounded in general use. But see how it feeds into a general idiocracy and flawed paradigms vis-a-vis scholarship on Japan? D.
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Hi Blog. Faculty members at the University of Sheffield, a venerable British institution for Japanese studies, have released their third edition of an academic book on Japan’s International Relations with a rather sensationalistic cover. I forward the letter of complaint from friend Amanda Harlow (used with permission):
[This and past editions still available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk]
This cartoon panders to the worst stereotyping of Japanese people and I feel this is a surprising choice for a respected British institution such as the University of Sheffield. If this was a mob of Japan-bashers on the streets of China, or a crazy nationalistic website I would not be surprised. But the School of East Asian Studies? Really?
Is it meant to be ironic? If so, I think this illustration would be better as an inside picture and not used on the cover of a book that is supposedly about international relations.
Here in Japan (I live in Sapporo with my Japanese husband and family) there are endless gaijin-bashing images and Debito Arudou, a friend of mine, is a well known activator on discrimination issues – if he found this image of a non-Japanese on a Japanese book cover we would all shake our heads and groan.
The latest edition of this comprehensive and user-friendly textbook provides a single volume resource for all those studying Japan’s international relations. It offers a clear and concise introduction to the most important aspects of Japan’s role in the globalized economy of the twenty-first century. The book has been fully updated and revised to include comprehensive discussions of contemporary key issues for Japan’s IR, including:
the rise of China
reaction to the global economic and financial crisis since 2008
Japan’s proactive role after 9/11 and the war on terror
responses to events on the Korean Peninsula
relations with the USA and the Obama administration
relations with Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East
changing responses to an expanding and deepening European Union
Extensively illustrated, the text includes statistics, maps, photographs, summaries and suggestions for further reading, making it essential reading for those studying Japanese politics, and the international relations of the Asia Pacific.
Glenn D. Hook is Professor of Japanese Studies in the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield.
Julie Gilson is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Birmingham.
Christopher W. Hughes is Professor of International Politics and Japanese Studies, University of Warwick.
Hugo Dobson is Professor in the International Relations of Japan, University of Sheffield.
ペーパーバック: 560 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 3 edition (2011/8/31)
Language: 英語, 英語, 英語
Release Date: 2011/8/31
COMMENT: Okay, I shake my head and groan. Arudou Debito
English teachers in Japan get a bum rap. Not always taken seriously as professionals, and often denied advancement opportunities in the workplace, they are seen as people over here on a lark. They get accused of taking advantage of Japanese society to earn easy money, canoodle with the locals, then go home. They even get blamed (JBC, Sept. 7, 2010) for the low level of English in Japan.
They are also often derided as “losers,” as evidenced by the comic strip “Charisma Man.”
First featured in a Nagoya newsmagazine and later collated into a book, “Charisma Man” tells the story of a scrawny Caucasian nebbish who escapes his job serving fast food in Canada, comes to Japan, and instantly transforms into a buff, lantern-jawed lothario, able to seduce Japanese women in a single bound.
He can defy all Japanese rules, coming out on top of any situation through charisma alone. His nemesis is Western Woman, who sees through the facade and reduces him back to nebbish status with a single glare.
To be sure, “Charisma Man” is a hilarious series, offering home truths for people frustrated by the lack of professionalism in their colleagues, or by the disparate ways in which men and women are treated in Japanese society.
The problem is, like many comic strips about an employment sector, it stereotypes dangerously: It makes anyone in eikaiwa look like frauds, as if they’re “faking it” as unqualified professionals. Unable to get a job “back home” in anything meaningful, they’re merely marking time in Japan. I know several professional educators who hate the strip, because their students read it and ignorantly point at them as an example.
But there is one aspect of the “Charisma Man” phenomenon that is little talked about: what I will call “Immigrant vs. Identity Police.” Let’s take Charisma Man’s side in this column, and suggest why he too might have been given a bum rap.
Charisma Man is initially a tragic figure. He’s stuck in a dead-end job “back home” and derided for being a dud. His predicament might be his fault (due to a lack of education or motivation) or might not be (due to a lack of economic opportunity in his neighborhood). But either way, he’s depicted as a loser.
So he comes to Japan and is again stuck in a dead-end job. But this time he winds up being a “winner” in some respects. He is finally getting something always denied: a modicum of respect. Earned or not, respect can be transformational in a person’s development. Charisma Man remakes his identity.
However, then come the Identity Police, be it the reader or the (rather offensive stereotype of) Western Woman. They’re trying to force Charisma Man back to the predestination of failure.
That’s unfortunate. One of the problems with the world is the lack of social mobility — the lack of opportunity for people to realize their potential, to decide their own fate, to redesign themselves as they please.
Either by bad luck or poor guidance, many people get slotted from an early age into social roles that are disadvantageous, e.g., “geek,” “loner,” “fat chick,” “spaz,” “slacker,” “weirdo,” “psycho” . . .
This leads to broken dreams and embittered souls. Witness the phenomenon of the hikikomori (social dropouts who can’t even leave their bedrooms), or the Akihabara knifings of 2008 (where the killer was expressly sick of being part of the make-gumi, or loser class). As some people disparagingly say, these people need to go out and get laid.
Well, that’s exactly what Charisma Man did. He got out of his “burger-flipping class” and found himself on the sweeter side of society here.
Point is, why should anyone be stuck somewhere they’re not able to make a better life for themselves?
That is the very essence of the immigrant: Someone who was dealt a bad hand in their birthplace emigrates and gets a fresh cut of the cards. If they move and provide a valued, profitable service to their new society, bully for them.
Now, of course, Charisma Man is not a template. He’s a humorous stereotype about someone who gets what he really doesn’t deserve.
But he must be viewed in the proper perspective — not as an indictment of English teaching or of teachers in general. Charisma Man is a bubble-era social parasite. He will probably not remain in Japan for good, because he has little incentive to learn about the society that is treating him so well.
So what I’m speaking out against here is the Identity Police. Why should they be given carte blanche to force people back into the inferior positions they managed to escape from?
Whenever somebody insinuates “You don’t really belong in Japan” or “You’re really a loser back home,” that person should be told: “Japan is my home and I belong here just fine. I’m not just coasting along on charisma.” A decent job and a secure income is sufficient proof of socially acceptable services rendered.
In other words, tell the Identity Police to go police somebody else’s identity. All you readers out there being derided as Charisma Men — unite. Be proud that you’re making a better way for yourself. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a second chance at life.
Arudou Debito has completed a new novel entitled “In Appropriate,” on child abductions in Japan. On sale in March. Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Hi Blog. Now up for commentary before Debito.org vacations for February and March, here we have an article that was the #1-read article on The Japan Times Online all day yesterday. Thanks everyone for reading! Arudou Debito
Their coping strategy? Essentially, accept that you are a foreigner in Japan and work with it.
That is fine advice for some. But not for us all. I talked to three other wise men, with Japanese citizenship and a combined tenure of more than 50 years here, who offered a significantly different take.
Takuma (who asked to be identified by only his first name), a university professor who was granted Japanese citizenship last year, felt “puzzled” by the attitudes — particularly Tsurunen’s quote, “We are foreigners and we can’t change the fact. . . . It’s no problem for me to be a foreigner . . . I always say I am a Finn-born Japanese.”
Takuma: “That’s a bit absurd. It’s as if he’s contradicting himself in the same breath. I would understand if he said something like, ‘I accept that I am often viewed as a foreigner, or that people mistakenly take me as a foreigner.’ It’s sad that he would refer to himself as a ‘foreigner’ — when in fact he isn’t.”
Kento Tanaka (a pseudonym), a corporate manager in Osaka, even felt a degree of indignation.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and lifestyle, and if you wish to see yourself as a foreigner in Japan no matter what, that’s fine. But it’s very strange for a naturalized Diet member to call himself a ‘foreigner,’ he said.
“Mr. Tsurunen in particular knows Japan’s Nationality Law, and has worked on committees dealing with it. It makes no sense for a legal representative of Japan to contradict the laws of the land like this. He made these statements in English, right?”
I confirmed with the author that yes, Mr. Tsurunen’s original quotes were rendered as is from the original English.
Kento: “Then I think he should consider clarifying or retracting. What’s the point of taking out Japanese citizenship if he undermines the status for us naturalized (citizens)? Like it or not, he represents us.”
Kaoru Miki, a technical writer in the video games industry, concurs.
“I agree Mr. Tsurunen should know better. I wouldn’t call myself a foreigner, no. Foreign-born, sure, or even ‘British’ when casually referring to my background. But not foreign. Ever. Just on general principle. Unfortunately, it’s an easy trap to fall into when the author of the JT article makes sweeping statements like: ‘It is still also a fact that no matter how long a foreigner lives in this country they will never shed their outsider status in the eyes of most native-born Japanese.’ “
“I often hear this kind of anecdotal hearsay bandied as fact, but it really doesn’t hold water. Exclusionary establishments exist, sure, but outside of guesting systems like the JET Programme or exchange students, it’s been my experience that people are for the most part accepted as is.
“Being asked for the 1011th time if you can use chopsticks may be tiresome, but it’s a far cry from being treated as an outsider, and to claim otherwise cheapens the experiences of those that face genuine discrimination,” argues Kaoru.
“Back to Mr. Tsurunen. The way I read his comments — and I’m assuming he meant ‘foreign-born,’ not ‘foreign’ — is that you don’t need to pretend to be something you’re not in order to fit in.
“Mr. Tsurunen’s being born and brought up outside of Japan is something that will never change (i.e. in that sense, always a foreigner), and he doesn’t feel he needs to take up kendo, learn to make sushi, and walk around the house in yukata while listening to enka all the time (i.e. pretend to be Japanese) just to be accepted here.
“It’s an extension of the ‘there is no single Japanese way’ concept that Debito has always been a proponent of. Given Mr. Tsurunen’s achievements, I’d be surprised if he hadn’t meant something along these lines,” Kaoru wrote in an e-mail.
That brings us to the point of this column: What might have been meant, and what comes across in the article, are the common misunderstandings that we long-termers should understand and avoid.
One issue to consider is what trail is being blazed, since Mr. Lewis offered his three wise men up as examples of “foreigners” who have “made it” in Japan.
Congratulations to them. Seriously. However, they are not really templates for others. Given the extraordinary hoops these gents had to jump through, they are the exceptions that prove the rule — that the barriers to success are too high for most non-Japanese to get over.
In fact, if they still feel that they are “foreigners” after a generation of life here and Japanese citizenship, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with the template.
The bigger issue, however, is the image these high-profile long-termers are projecting when they still refer to themselves publicly as “foreigners.” Not only are they avoiding the appropriate status (after a century here, they should be calling themselves “immigrants”), but it also has knock-on effects that go beyond them as individuals.
These attitudes imperil the ethnic identities of Japanese children of international marriages.
Our wise men and many international children are probably here for life. But there is a fundamental difference between them. Long-termer immigrants came over here by choice, and most arrived as fully formed adults — with the choice to keep or subsume their ethnic identity.
Children of international roots are not offered that same choice. Born and raised here, and often left to their own devices within the Japanese educational system, they have an ethnic identity thrust upon them at a more malleable age, often based upon their physical appearance. That’s why we have to be careful when using “foreigner” in a way that conflates nationality (a legal status) with ethnicity (a birth status).
It is accurate for Mr. Tsurunen to say, as he did, that he is a “Finn-born Japanese.” However, as Kento pointed out above, it is inaccurate to say that a naturalized person is still a “foreigner.”
Personal choice of identity, coping strategy, whatever — a high-profile immigrant should be careful never to condone, or miscommunicate that he condones, this conflation. Otherwise, we will have a lot of ethnic Japanese children who call Japan their native land, yet are labeled and treated as “foreigners” — because the famous adult “foreigners” do it.
Instead, we long-termers should be using our status to promote the freedom of choice of identity for international children — helping them learn about retaining their ethnic roots within Japan, and helping other people understand that it is possible to be “Japanese” yet retain non-Japanese ethnic roots.
Mr. Tsurunen declined to comment for this article. In responses to many e-mails about the original article, his office released the following comment in Japanese (my translation):
“I wish to thank everyone for their comments. As people have pointed out, my use of the English word ‘foreigner’ was inappropriate. I was trying to express that I am not a ‘Japan-born Japanese’ and used ‘foreigner,’ but strictly speaking I should have said ‘foreign-born person,’ or, as I said in the article, ‘Finn-born Japanese.’
“I regret using expressions that gave rise to misunderstandings, and would like to offer my apologies.”
Let’s give Takuma the last word on coping strategies for immigrants who are less famous, but also comfortable and successful in Japan:
“Personally, I don’t get angry — or even a little bit upset — when someone refers to me as a ‘foreigner.’ But I do calmly say, ‘Actually, I’m Japanese now,’ and explain if necessary.
“Regardless, I don’t think it’s necessary to fight or argue with everybody over this issue. Just calmly state your case, and leave it at that. There will always be close-minded people — and we have to admit there are a lot of Japanese who have a narrow view on the issue of nationality — but most Japanese are pretty accepting.
“The concept of ‘being accepted as a Japanese’ is very fuzzy and can be interpreted in many ways. I have found that most Japanese — much more so than my foreign colleagues, friends and family — are very accepting of my new nationality. Mostly, though, I just want to be accepted as me — an individual — not as a nationality.”
Words to the wise.
Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to email@example.com
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Hi Blog. As a Weekend Tangent, here is what I see as a glimpse of the future: Robots teaching foreign languages. We already have tape recorders. Why not embody them. Robots are cool enough. Anthropomorphize them and who needs to import foreigners you have to feed, pay, respect, be polite to, or fret about them adversely affecting domestic culture through numbers and immigration? South Korea shows it’s possible. Arudou Debito
Almost 30 robots have started teaching English to youngsters in a South Korean city, education officials said Tuesday, in a pilot project designed to nurture the nascent robot industry.
Engkey, a white, egg-shaped robot developed by the Korea Institute of Science of Technology (KIST), began taking classes Monday at 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu.
The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.
The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines — who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.
Cameras detect the Filipino teachers’ facial expressions and instantly reflect them on the avatar’s face, said Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST.
“Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea,” he told AFP.
Apart from reading books, the robots use pre-programmed software to sing songs and play alphabet games with the children.
“The kids seemed to love it since the robots look, well, cute and interesting. But some adults also expressed interest, saying they may feel less nervous talking to robots than a real person,” said Kim Mi-Young, an official at Daegu city education office.
Kim said some may be sent to remote rural areas of South Korea shunned by foreign English teachers.
She said the robots are still being tested. But officials might consider hiring them full time if scientists upgrade them and make them easier to handle and more affordable.
“Having robots in the classroom makes the students more active in participating, especially shy ones afraid of speaking out to human teachers,” Kim said.
She stressed the experiment was not about replacing human teachers with robots. “We are helping upgrade a key, strategic industry and all the while giving children more interest in what they learn.”
The four-month pilot programme was sponsored by the government, which invested 1.58 billion won (1.37 million dollars).
Scientists have held pilot programmes in schools since 2009 to develop robots to teach English, maths, science and other subjects at different levels with a desired price tag of five to eight million won.
Sagong stressed that the robots, which currently cost 10 million won each, largely back up human teachers but would eventually have a bigger role.
The machines can be an efficient tool to hone language skills for many people who feel nervous about conversing with flesh-and-blood foreigners, he said.
“Plus, they won’t complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan… all you need is a repair and upgrade every once in a while.”
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Hi Blog. Here’s another reason why people ought to think carefully before attending Japanese schools as a student of diversity, and it’s not just because funding to being them over without sufficient institutional support afterwards is being cut. Bullying. Here we have a Japanese university apologizing for the suicide of one of their ethnic students (raised in Japan with Japanese citizenship, no less). It only took them three years. And yet, like the recent Uemura Akiko suicide, the possibility of it being racially-motivated is not dealt with by the authorities. Thanks for the apology, I guess, but this will hardly fix the problem for others. Hence think carefully. Arudou Debito
Japan university sorry for death of bullied Indian student
A Japanese university on Monday apologised to the family of an Indian student who committed suicide in 2007, after leaving a note saying he would kill himself because of bullying at school.
The male student, then aged 20, at Otemon Gakuin University in Osaka prefecture, jumped from a building three years ago, leaving a note saying: “The bullying I keep getting at school … Cannot take it any more.”
The student, who was born to Indian parents and grew up in Japan, had earned Japanese citizenship, a university official said.
Compounding the tragedy, his father, depressed about his son’s suicide, later jumped to his death from the same building, according to local reports.
“I would like to express my heartfelt apology to the bereaved family members,” said university dean Masayuki Ochiai at a press conference.
The university refused to comment on whether the abuse was racially motivated saying the specific nature of the bullying was not known.
Local media said he had been forced to take his trousers down in front of other people and that he had been nicknamed “bin Laden”.
An independent third party panel was created in October to probe the incident after the Sankei newspaper and public broadcaster NHK reported the case.
Japan, a country where more than 30,000 people commit suicide every year, often sees school children kill themselves, with many leaving notes referring to harsh bullying by their peers.
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THE TOP TENS FOR 2010 AND THE DECADE
ZEIT GIST 54 / JUST BE CAUSE COLUMN 35 FOR THE JAPAN TIMES
The Japan Times, Tuesday, January 4, 2011 DRAFT NINE, VERSION AS SUBMITTED TO EDITOR (Director’s Cut, including text cut out of published article)
WORD COUNT FOR DECADE COLUMN #5-#2: 988 WORDS
WORD COUNT FOR 2010 COLUMN #5-#2: 820 WORDS
It’s that time again, when the JUST BE CAUSE column ranks the notable events of last year that affected Non-Japanese (NJ) in Japan. This time it’s a double feature, also ranking the top events of the past decade.
WHY THIS MATTERS: Although our government has repeatedly said to the U.N. that “racial discrimination” does not exist in Japan (“discrimination against foreigners” exists, but bureaucrats insist this is not covered by the CERD (JBC, Jun. 2, 2009)), the Otaru case proved it does, establishing a cornerstone for any counterargument. However, the Supreme Court in 2005 ruled the Otaru case was “not a constitutional issue,” thereby exposing the judiciary’s unwillingness to penalize discrimination expressly forbidden by Japan’s Constitution. Regardless, the case built on the Bortz precedent, setting standards for NJ seeking court redress for discrimination (providing you don’t try to sue the government). It also helped stem a tide of “Japanese Only” signs spreading nationwide, put up by people who felt justified by events like:
4) ISHIHARA’S SANGOKUJIN RANT (April 9, 2000)
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara set the tone this decade with a calamitous diatribe to the Nerima Ground Self Defense Forces (ZG, Dec. 18, 2007), claiming that NJ (including “sangokujin,” a derogatory term for former citizens of the Japanese Empire) were in Japan “repeatedly committing heinous crimes.” Ishihara called on the SDF to round foreigners up during natural disasters in case they rioted (something, incidentally, that has never happened).
WHY THIS MATTERS: A leader of a world city pinned a putative crime wave on NJ (even though most criminal activity in Japan, both numerically and proportionately, has been homegrown (ZG, Feb. 20, 2007)) and even offered discretionary policing power to the military, yet he has kept his office to this day. This speech made it undisputedly clear that Ishihara’s governorship would be a bully pulpit, and Tokyo would be his turf to campaign against crime — meaning against foreigners. This event emboldened other Japanese politicians to vilify NJ for votes, and influenced government policy at the highest levels with the mantra “heinous crimes by bad foreigners.” Case in point:
3) THE SECOND KOIZUMI CABINET (2003-2005)
Once re-elected to his second term, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi got right down to business targeting NJ. No fewer than three Cabinet members in their opening policy statements mentioned foreign crime, one stressing that his goal was “making Japan the world’s safest country again” — meaning, again, safe from foreigners (ZG, Oct. 7, 2003).
WHY THIS MATTERS: Despite being one of Japan’s most acclaimed prime ministers, Koizumi’s record toward NJ residents was dismal. Policies promulgated “for the recovery of public safety” explicitly increased the peace for kokumin (Japanese nationals) at the expense of NJ residents. In 2005, the “Action Plan for Pre-Empting Terrorism” (ZG, May 24, 2005) portrayed tero as an international phenomenon (ignoring homegrown examples), officially upgrading NJ from mere criminals to terrorists. Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of this bunker mentality were the police, who found their powers enhanced thusly:
2) THE POLICE CRACKDOWNS ON NJ (1999- present)
After May 1999, when their “Policy Committee Against Internationalization” (sic) was launched, the National Police Agency found ample funding for policies targeting NJ expressly as criminals, terrorists and “carriers of infectious diseases.” From NPA posters depicting NJ as illegal laborers, members of international criminal organizations and violent, heinous crooks, campaigns soon escalated to ID checks for cycling while foreign (ZG, Jun. 20, 2002), public “snitch sites” (where even today anyone can anonymously rat on any NJ for alleged visa violations (ZG, Mar. 30, 2004)), increased racial profiling on the street and on public transportation, security cameras in “hotbeds of foreign crime” and unscientific “foreigner indexes” applied to forensic crime scene evidence (ZG, Jan. 13, 2004).
Not only were crackdowns on visa overstayers (i.e., on crimes Japanese cannot by definition commit) officially linked to rises in overall crime, but also mandates reserved for the Immigration Bureau were privatized: Hotels were told by police to ignore the actual letter of the law (which required only tourists be checked) and review every NJ’s ID at check-in (ZG, Mar. 8, 2005). Employers were required to check their NJ employees’ visa status and declare their wages to government agencies (ZG, Nov. 13, 2007). SDF members with foreign spouses were “removed from sensitive posts” (ZG, Aug. 28, 2007). Muslims and their friends automatically became al-Qaida suspects, spied on and infiltrated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (ZG, Nov. 9).
WHY THIS MATTERS: The NPA already has strong powers of search, seizure, interrogation and incarceration granted them by established practice. However, denying human rights to a segment of the population has a habit of then affecting everyone else (ZG, Jul. 8, 2008). Japanese too are now being stopped for bicycle ID checks and bag searches under the same justifications proffered to NJ. Police security cameras — once limited to Tokyo “foreigner zones” suchas Kabukicho, Ikebukuro and Roppongi — are proliferating nationwide. Policing powers are growing stronger because human rights protections have been undermined by precedents set by anti-foreigner policies. Next up: Laws preventing NJ from owning certain kinds of properties for “security reasons,” further tracking of international money transfers, and IC-chipped “gaijin cards” readable from a distance (ZG, May 19, 2009).
1) THE DROP IN THE REGISTERED NJ POPULATION IN 2009
For the first time in 48 years, the number of foreigners living in Japan went down. This could be a temporary blip due to the Nikkei repatriation bribe of 2009-2010 (ZG, Apr. 7, 2009), when the government offered goodbye money only to foreigners with Japanese blood. Since 1990, more than a million Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry have come here on special visas to help keep Japan’s industries humming cheaply. Now tens of thousands are pocketing the bribe and going back, giving up their pensions and becoming somebody else’s unemployment statistic.
WHY THIS MATTERS: NJ numbers will eventually rise again, but the fact that they are going down for the first time in generations is disastrous. For this doesn’t just affect NJ – it affects everyone in Japan. A decade ago, both the U.N. and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi stated that Japan needs 600,000 NJ a year net influx just to maintain its taxpayer base and current standard of living. Yet a decade later, things are going in exactly the opposite way.
It should be no surprise: Japan has become markedly unfriendly these past ten years. Rampant and unbalanced NJ-bashing have shifted Japanese society’s image of foreigner from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “social bane and criminal.” Why would anyone want to move here and make a life under these conditions?
Despite this, everyone knows that public debt is rising while the Japanese population is aging and dropping. Japan’s very economic vitality depends on demographics. Yet the only thing that can save Japan – a clear and fair policy towards immigration – is taboo for discussion (JBC, Nov. 3, 2009). Even after two decades of economic doldrums, it is still unclear whether Japan has either the sense or the mettle to pull itself up from its nosedive.
The facts of life: NJ will ultimately come to Japan, even if it means that all they find is an elderly society hanging on by its fingernails, or just an empty island. Let’s hope Japan next decade comes to its senses, figuring out not only how to make life here more attractive for NJ, but also how to make foreigners into Japanese.
Bubbling under for the decade: U.N. Rapporteur Doudou Diene’s 2005 and 2006 visits to Japan, where he called discrimination in Japan “deep and profound” (ZG, Jun. 27, 2006); Japan’s unsuccessful 2006 bid for a U.N. Security Council seat—the only leverage the U.N. has over Japan to follow international treaty; the demise of the racist “Gaijin Hanzai” magazine and its publisher thanks to NJ grassroots protests (ZG, Mar. 20, 2007); the “Hamamatsu Sengen” and other statements by local governments calling for nicer policies towards NJ (ZG, Jun. 3, 2008); the domination of NJ wrestlers in sumo; the withering of fundamental employers of NJ, including Japan’s export factories and the eikaiwa industry (ZG, Dec. 11, 2007).
5) RENHO BECOMES FIRST MULTIETHNIC CABINET MEMBER (June 8 )
Japanese politicians with international roots are few but not unprecedented. But Taiwanese-Japanese Diet member Renho’s ascension to the Cabinet as minister for administrative reforms has been historic. Requiring the bureaucrats to justify their budgets (famously asking last January, “Why must we aim to develop the world’s number one supercomputer? What’s wrong with being number two?”), she has been Japan’s most vocal policy reformer.
WHY THIS MATTERS: Few reformers are brave enough to withstand the national sport of politician-bashing, especially when exceptionally cruel criticism began targeting Renho’s ethnic background. Far-rightist Diet member Takeo Hiranuma questioned her very loyalty by saying, “She’s not originally Japanese.” (Just Be Cause, Feb. 2) Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara expanded the focus by claiming people in the ruling coalition had foreign backgrounds, therefore were selling Japan out as a “duty to their ancestors” (JBC, May 4). Fortunately, it did not matter. In last July’s elections, Renho garnered a record 1.7 million votes in her constituency, and retained her Cabinet post regardless of her beliefs, or roots.
4) P.M. KAN APOLOGIZES TO KOREA FOR 1910 ANNEXATION (August 10)
After all the bad blood between these strikingly similar societies, Japan’s motion to be nice to South Korea was remarkably easy. No exploitable technicalities about the apology being unofficial, or merely the statements of an individual leader (as was seen in Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s apologies for war misdeeds, or Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono’s “statement” about “comfort women” – itself a euphemism for war crimes) — just a prime minister using the opportunity of a centennial to formally apologize for Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, backed up by a good-faith return of war spoils.
WHY THIS MATTERS: At a time when crime, terrorism and other social ills in Japan are hastily pinned on the outside world, these honest and earnest reckonings with history are essential for Japan to move on from a fascist past and strengthen ties with the neighbors. Every country has events in its history to be sorry for. Continuous downplaying — if not outright denial by nationalistic elites — of Japan’s conduct within its former empire will not foster improved relations and economic integration. This applies especially as Asia gets richer and needs Japan less, as witnessed through:
WHY THIS MATTERS: Wealthy Chinese gadding about while Japan faced decreasing salaries caused some bellyaching. Our media (displaying amnesia about Bubble Japan’s behavior) kvetched that Chinese were patronizing Chinese businesses in Japan and keeping the money in-house (Yomiuri, May 25), Chinese weren’t spending enough on tourist destinations (Asahi, Jun. 16), Chinese were buying out Japanese companies and creating “Chapan” (Nikkei Business, Jun. 21), or that Chinese were snapping up land and threatening Japan’s security (The Japan Times, Dec. 18). The tone changed this autumn, however, when regional tensions flared, so along with the jingoism we had Japanese politicians and boosters flying to China to smooth things over and keep the consumers coming.
Let’s face it: Japan was once bigger than all the other Asian economies combined. But that was then — 2010 was also the year China surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. Japan can no longer ignore Asian investment. No nationalistic whining is going to change that. Next up: longer-duration visas for India.
2) NJ PR SUFFRAGE BILL GOES DOWN IN FLAMES (February 27)
WHY THIS MATTERS: The campaign resonated. Months after PR suffrage was moribund, xenophobes were still getting city and prefectural governments to pass resolutions in opposition. Far-rightists used it as a political football in election campaigns to attract votes and portray the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) as inept.
They had a point: How could the DPJ sponsor such a controversial bill and not rally behind it as criticisms arose? Where were the potential supporters and spokespeople for the bill, such as naturalized Diet member Marutei Tsurunen? Why were the xenophobes basically the only voice heard during the debate, setting the agenda and talking points? This policy blunder will be a huge setback for future efforts to promote human rights for and integration of NJ residents.
Bubbling under for the year: Oita High Court rules that NJ have no automatic right to welfare benefits; international pressure builds on Japan to sign the Hague Convention on Child Abduction; Tokyo Metropolitan Police spy on Muslims and fumble their secret files to publishers; America’s geopolitical bullying of Japan over Okinawa’s Futenma military base undermines the Hatoyama administration (JBC, Jun. 1); Ibaraki Detention Center hunger strikers, and the Suraj Case of a person dying during deportation, raise questions about Immigration Bureau procedure and accountability.
…The number of Japanese studying abroad declined by a record level in 2008, while the number of foreign students currently studying in Japan reached a record high as of May, reports by the education ministry and an independent organization showed Wednesday.
The Japan Student Services Organization said in its report that a record-high 141,774 foreigners are studying in Japan, up 9,054 from the year before, while the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said the number of Japanese studying abroad totaled 66,833 in 2008, 8,323 less than the previous year.
The number of Japanese students studying abroad has been on the decline since peaking at 82,945 in 2004, while that of foreigners studying in Japan has been growing. In 2008, the number of foreign students in Japan was 123,829.
Education ministry officials said the current job recruitment process in Japan is apparently discouraging Japanese students from studying abroad for fear of missing out on opportunities to apply for jobs in a given period…
The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan from January to November hit a record high for the 11-month period, but the government’s annual target of attracting 10 million overseas visitors is unlikely to be achieved, a Japan National Tourism Organization survey showed Wednesday.
The number of foreign visitors during the reporting period surged 29.2 percent from the corresponding period last year to 7.963 million, according to the organization.
Achieving the government target of 10 million tourists would require an additional 2 million tourists in December. But considering that the largest number of visitors in a single month this year was the 878,582 recorded in July, it is highly unlikely the target will be met…
Still, it is almost certain the number of foreign visitors this year will surpass the record high 8.35 million marked in 2008.
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Hi Blog. Another article making the case the Japan is withdrawing inwardly these days — with fewer Japanese students going abroad than even Singapore, and a prominent program to bring foreign exchange students to Japan being axed. Arudou Debito
Would Mainichi readers be surprised to learn that Japan is preparing to ax one of the cornerstones of its higher education internationalization strategy?
The government’s cost-cutting panel, which is trying to slash costs in a bid to trim the country’s runaway public debt, voted on Nov. 18 to abolish and “restructure” the Global 30 project.
Launched last year with a budget of 3.2 billion yen, Global 30 envisioned “core” universities “dramatically” boosting the number of international students in Japan and Japanese students studying abroad, said the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
The ministry’s strict selection process, however, meant that just 13 elite universities made the initial grade. Now the project has been terminated.
Can Japan afford this? Fewer than 4 percent of Japan’s university students come from abroad — 133,000, well below China (223,000) and the U.S. (672,000). Just 5 percent of its 353,000 university teachers are foreign, according to Ministry of Education statistics. Most of those are English teachers.
At the opposite end of the education pendulum, students here are increasingly staying at home: Japanese undergraduate enrollments in U.S. universities have plummeted by over half since 2000. Numbers to Europe are also down.
Japan, in the view of many, may be entering another period of educational sakoku — or self-enforced isolation.
South Korea, with about half Japan’s population, sends over twice as many students to the U.S. At some American universities, such as Cornell, Japan is behind not just China and South Korea, but even Thailand and tiny Singapore.
Japan’s share of global research production, meanwhile, fell from 9.45 percent to 6.75 percent over the last decade, according to the latest Global Research Report. While the report noted “areas of excellence” in Japan’s profile, it blamed its faltering performance on a dearth of international collaborations.
Global 30 was supposed to partly remedy those ills, helping Japanese universities reach a government goal of 300,000 foreign students by 2020, while sending the same number of Japanese students abroad.
“We think those universities will set an example for other colleges by leading with good practice,” said Kato Shigeharu, deputy director of Higher Education Bureau at the ministry. “This practice will then diffuse to other colleges around the country.”
That interview came before the government decision.
With the worst public debt in the industrialized world — 900 trillion yen ($10.6 trillion) — Japan has much less fiscal leg-room than its competitors. So budget cutting may be inevitable, but why not intensify the effort to target useless dams or highways rather than education?
The decision has been greeted with dismay. “This government is destroying Japan,” said Yoshida Go, a professor with the Office of International Strategic Planning at Nagoya University — one of the 13 selectees.
“Quite honestly, Japan is late in the game of globalization in higher education. But the government’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is doing.”
David McNeill writes for The Independent and Irish Times newspapers and the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education. He has been in Japan since 2000 and previously spent two years here, from 1993-95 working on a doctoral thesis. He was raised in Ireland.
Japan has one of the most vibrant and pervasive domestic media environments in the world. This media environment can also be significantly manipulated by the Japanese government, mobilizing Japanese public opinion towards national goals even at the expense of domestic minorities — particularly non-citizens. The degree of underrepresentation and disenfranchisement of Non-Japanese residents in Japan is clear when one studies the “foreign crime wave of the 2000s”, promoted by the government in the name of “making Japan the world’s safest country again”, justifying public policy against “foreign terrorism, infectious diseases, and crime”. The domestic media’s complicity in publicizing anti-foreign sentiment without analysis has caused quantifiable social dehumanization; government polls indicate a near-majority of citizens surveyed do not agree that non-citizens should have the same human rights as citizens. This presentation studies how language and media have been used as a means for disseminating propaganda in Japan, fostering social stratification, alienation, and xenophobia.
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Hi Blog. There is a person out there (one of many, no doubt) who takes a dim view of what we do here at Debito.org. To the point of saying things in a published column we did not say. Have a read of this. Comment from me follows.
An “interview” with controversial human rights activist Orudo Debiru
Categories: Amusement/Fiction foreigners in Japan
Today- a Uni-files interview with the controversial activist and newspaper columnist Orudo Debiru
(For those who don’t know, Orudo Debiru is a naturalized Japanese citizen, originally from the U.S. His main claim to fame is his activism for human rights, especially the rights of non-Japanese in Japan. He is also wholly fictional and if he happens to resemble some actual person from say, Hokkaido, that’s because you, dear reader, made an unwarranted connection. Today he joins us with one of his most ardent, and equally fictional, supporters- Jay Newbie).
Uni-files: Debiru, in a recent newspaper article you argued that even non-Japanese living outside Japan, including those who have never set foot in Japan, should have the right to vote in Japanese elections. You also argued that they should be eligible for all the public and social services offered by the Japanese government, including pensions and welfare benefits. This seems to be a bit radical don’t you think?
Debiru: No. Otherwise you’re discriminating between Japanese people and non-residents. Why should only Japanese have access to the benefits of ‘Team Japan’?
Newbie: Japan owes something to the world. It can’t just always be take, take, take. Japan has to give in return.
Debiru: Japan is the only ‘developed’ county that doesn’t provide the vote for it’s non-citizens who live elsewhere.
Uni-files: Really? No country in the EU does that, nor do Canada, U.S., or Australia.
Debiru: What other countries do is irrelevant! What’s right is right! Are you saying that it is right for Japan to be discriminatory?
Uni-files: Debiru, you and your supporters often mention that some attitudes, policies, or states of affairs occur ‘only in Japan’ among developed countries. It seems that you buy into notions of Japanese uniqueness or exclusivity. Do you?
Debiru: Not at all! The notion of Japanese uniqueness is a nationalist myth!
Newbie: Of all developed countries, only the Japanese think of themselves as being unique. It seems to be part of the Japanese mentality. They believe whatever the government tells them. You won’t find this type of belief in Western countries anymore, only in Japan.
Uni-files: Ok. Let’s move on. You’ve also blogged about “how the Japanese authorities plan to incarcerate all foreign residents as a precaution against the foreign criminals”. I haven’t come across any such policy statements. Can you ground this?
Debiru: Well, I was scouring the internet looking for anything that might prove my preconceptions about the ulterior motives of the Japanese authorities when I came across another blogger who talked about how his upholsterer in Inaka Prefecture thought he had overheard a conversation at a vegetable stand about the local district council becoming more vigilant about registering foreigners for social services and helping them with securing housing. And I can substantiate it too- with a link to the blog. Anyway, to me, being told to ‘stay in your house’ in this manner is equivalent to incarceration. And the registration is clearly a way of rounding up the foreigners- just like a crminal [sic] dragnet.
Newbie: In any civilized country this would cause mass rioting in the streets. But because the Japanese are such compliant sheep, not to mention the blatant racism here, no one will stand up for us. The Japanese just pretend that foreigners don’t exist. They stare at us like we’re from another planet.
Uni-files: That must be tough for them to do, both ignoring your existence and staring at you at the same time!
Debiru: This is just the start of the whole racist process. Next thing you know, your pension is declared null and void and your ‘ha-fu’ kids are kicked out of school for not being Japanese enough.
Newbie: Wow, Debiru. That was your best answer yet!
Uni-files: Let me ask about these racism charges a bit. For example, I know that you oppose the fingerprinting of non-Japanese at airports but can this really be called racist? After all, it is based upon citizenship, right? For example, Debiru, you are racially Caucasian but, as a Japanese citizen, you don’t have to be fingerprinted. And someone who is racially ‘Japanese’- although Japanese isn’t even a racial category- but doesn’t hold a Japanese passport still has to be fingerprinted. So while it may be other things, how can you say it is ‘racist’?
Debiru: Don’t feed the troll, Newbie. Don’t feed the troll.
Uni-files: Ok, nect [sic] question. Regarding a specific recent blog entry of yours… You recently criticized the city of Sonzainashi for exploiting non-Japanese. Apparently, the city authorities had developed a ‘Welcome Foreign Guests’ plan in which selected hotels, hot springs, eateries, bars and so on offered English information and services and had started a promotional campaign that actively encouraged non-Japanese to visit. So, what was the thrust of your criticism?
Debiru: When they carry out this facile, deceitful put-on for non-Japanese they’re only doing it because they want their business. “Let’s take the foreigner’s money away from them” is the real motivation. ‘Yohkoso Japan!’- Yeah, right!
Newbie: I consider it a form of robbery; another way of victimizing us, the weakest members of this society.
Uni-files: You guys seem to be very negative about anything to do with Japan, even when Japan scores an apparent success.
Newbie: That’s because Japan places everyone into an us and them paradigm. They do it all the time. They have institutionalized the formula. They use it to justify oppressive policies. We would never do that in the U.S. We have laws that forbid it and an education system that teaches us not to do so.
Uni－files：So, given that Debiru is Japanese, would you put him among that number?
Newbie: Well, I mean, he’s not really a Japanese in the same way they are. (Debiru stares at Newbie). Well I mean, like, he’s not exactly Japanese like them. So to speak. He’s a different Japanese from all the other Japanese. (Debiru continues staring at him). Well, of course he’s just the same as them in that he’s a Japanese citizen. But Debiru is more…ummm… progressive. (Debiru smiles).
Uni-files: OK. Back to the point. Wouldn’t you at least agree that public order and efficiency here is quite excellent?
Debiru: Japanese public order is maintained by coercion and implicit threat. It’s fifty years behind most other countries in this regard.
Uni-files: OK. How about robotics? Or even toilet technology?
Newbie: Robotics here is 36 years behind every other country in the world. And Japan is 23 years behind as far as toilets go.
Uni-files: On what basis can you make such bold claims?
Newbie: Three months ago in the U.S., before I came to Japan, I visited another state for the first time. And their toilets were better than here. Not as xenophobic.
Uni-files: Ok. How about manga and animation? Surely Japan’s ranking in these…
Newbie: You sound like a Japan apologist, acting as if racism never occurs here. Like nothing ever happened in Nanjing!
Debiru: Speaking of which, China has overtaken Japan as the world’s #2 power so Japan can’t possibly be leaders in those fields and therefore must be on the decline in all catgories.[sic] And it is this frustration at being a washed up, has-been society that it causing Japanese to lash out at foreigners.
Uni-files: Really? How so?
Debiru: It happens all the time. Read my blog.
Uni-files: I don’t doubt that there are individual cases but I don’t see it as systemic.
Debiru: If it isn’t systemic, why would I have so many blog posts? That’s all the proof you need! Anyway, just on our way over to this interview the taxi driver spat at us, called us ‘Dirty foreigners’ and told us to ‘Get out!”.
Uni-files: Wow! In twenty years in Japan I have never even come close to experiencing anything remotely like that. Can you elaborate? He spat at you?!
Debiru: Well, he was making disgusting sucking sounds with his teeth so that you could hear the saliva washing around. To me that’s spitting.
Uni-files: I wouldn’t call that spitting…
Debiru: Stay on topic! The point is he would never have done that if the passenger was visibly Japanese.
Uni-files: I see. And he called you a ‘dirty foreigner’?
Debiru: Well he called us “gaikokujin no kata”.
Uni-files: But that’s a very polite way of just saying ‘foreigner’! Where’s the ‘dirty’ part?
Newbie: Well we already know that the Japanese are racist and xenophobic so we can safely assume what he must have been thinking.
Uni-files: And the ‘Get out!’ part?
Newbie: He asked us where we wanted to “get out”. (awkward silence). It’s semantics.
Debiru: Not only that but I am not a foreigner. I’m a Japanese citizen. (starts sniffling) I was… racially profiled!
Newbie: (patting Debiru’s slumping shoulders) There, there. Now you are a racial profiling survivor!
Debiru (brightening up): If Japan had an anti-discrimination law with any teeth he’d have his ass hauled off to jail.
Newbie: Exactly. And you know what, you’ll never see the weak-kneed Japanese media or the history textbooks pick up on stories like this either. They don’t want to hear about these high-octane truths.
Debiru: This is precisely why we need laws against racism, xenophobia, being opposed to immigration, questioning multiculturalism, and other wrong and hateful thoughts.
Uni-files: So you’re in favor of more state authority and policing over what people think?
Debiru: Are you kidding? The police and judiciary here are totally inept and corrupt. They should stay out of people’s lives… ummm…except for the lives of those people who hold unhealthy views.
Uni-files: One more thing about this case. You say that you were racially profiled because the taxi driver believed that you were a foreigner, which by the way, is a mistake that most non-Japanese would probably make as well. But how do you know that the driver was in fact Japanese. Couldn’t he have been ethnically Korean or Chinese? In other words, didn’t you profile him equally?
Debiru: (closes his eyes) Don’t feed the troll, don’t feed the troll.
Uni-files: Ok. Last question. I’m wondering how you chose your Japanese name.
Debiru: It’s the closest phonetic approximation to my previous name. In fact, I asked to have a different, more suitable name first but was refused by the [iyami deleted] Japanese authorities.
Author’s Profile at ELT News Mike Guest is Associate Professor of English in the School of Medicine at the University of Miyazaki. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, he has been living, working, and researching in Japan (not to mention lounging in the professors-jacuzzi and taking lengthy, fully-funded research trips to 5-star beach resorts in Bora-Bora) for almost twenty years.
COMMENT: What a card. Well, for those unfamiliar with Mr Guest, he is a columnist at ELT News and the Daily Yomiuri (I even wrote about one of his DY columns here at Debito.org, favorably). However, what inspired a column of this caliber and tone in the ELT News (under the heading of “a candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher’s perspective”) is a bit beyond me. Its fallacious attributions (these statements are not quotes from me; if Mr Guest had critiqued actual quotes — and lordy knows there are years of my words online he could have referred to — that would have been better, no? Better yet, why not just interview me?), the presumption that people who support or comment at Debito.org must be malinformed Newbies, the general mean-spiritedness of it all, et cetera — are quite unbecoming for a person aiming to be a respected opinionist by taking puerile pot-shots at people on professional educational fora.
Especially in the Comments section where, amongst other obnoxious ripostes, he had this to say:
Alright, since Mr Guest decided to compare academic credentials, I decided to research his. Here’s what I found at his university website, where he has a one-year contract as an English teacher:
This looks okay, until you do some research. Aston University is a distance learning school in Birmingham UK that does indeed offer his degree (probably this one here). Fine.
========================= Subject: RE: Degree
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2010
From: Regent College Admissions
Thanks for your email. Regent College is a completely separate institution from UBC.We have some partnerships/affiliations with UBC, but a degree awarded from Regent College is solely from Regent and unrelated to UBC entirely. [emphasis added]
I hope this helps – please don’t hesitate to ask if you have further questions! If you are interested in receiving information about our MDiv degree, I’d be happy to send you our MDiv materials.
Amy Petroelje, Inquiries and Housing Coordinator
5800 University Blvd Vancouver, BC V6T 2E4 phone 604.224.3245 toll.free 800.663.8664 fax 604.224.3097
So when I asked Mr Guest about his qualifications last week after his presentation at JALT Nagoya, here’s what he claimed:
but as even his alma mater acknowledges, a degree from Regent College is not a degree from UBC. It’s like saying somebody who graduated from Ithaca College, or Cornell College for that matter, graduated from Cornell University. Not an ethical thing for an educational professional to do, especially when he wishes to establish himself as a credible critiquer of educational matters.
So if Mr Guest wants to scrutinize others, I hope he will accept the same public scrutiny. Sadly, I’m not sure he will. The following, written shortly after our first meeting at JALT Nagoya on a site called “Tepido.org” (an interesting choice of venue; it’s a website devoted *solely* to trashing me personally and people who contribute to Debito.org, run by blogger Mr Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson and toy store employee Mr Lance Braman), indicates that Mr Guest’s antagonism, dismissiveness, defensiveness, and blame-shifting continue unabated:
It’s funny that this discussion about credentials should come up here now. Yesterday, Debito attended my presentation at the JALT Conference in Nagoya and confronted me afterwards. I wasn’t really surprised. First, during the Q and A session, he asked what my credentials were. A left-field question to be sure and I knew that he was up to something. Later he came to the front as I was packing up, with a bit of a manic gleam in his eye, a voice recorder in his hand, looking like an intrepid young reporter who’s ‘gonna take yer ass downtown’, and began a prepared spiel, trying very hard to be intimidating (but looking me to me a bit more like a caricature).
He said (among other things) that I was a fraud because I had misrepresented my academic credentials (I imagine this will be up on his site soon if not already). For the record, the crux was this: I have a BA from Simon Fraser Univ. (Canada) in Philosophy, an MSc in Applied Linguistics from Aston U. (U.K.) and a Masters in Theology from the graduate theological seminary on the UBC campus, Regent College. Regent issues its own independent degrees because of its religious affiliation, despite sharing the UBC campus and facilities, some teaching staff, plus several credits and classes (many of which I took for classical languages and linguistics). I also did an ESL teaching certificate course at UBC but whatever….
Anyway, when I mentioned a ‘Master’s from UBC’ in answer to his credentials question, Debito reacted like he had just found a photo of me in a compromising situation with a goat, thererafter harping upon my misrepresenting myself as having graduated from UBC.
Of course, way back when the personnel at my current university wanted to know my academic background I naturally went into detail about the relationship between Regent (the theological seminary) and UBC. Why hide anything? But when some guy asks you this from a crowd at an ESL presentation you’re not going to go into great detail. People don’t know what the theological school at UBC’s name is. It’s like if someone abroad asks where you live in Japan- you live in Chiba but you work in Tokyo. So you say Tokyo. No one expects the interlocutor to start suddenly playing prosecutor.
Debito also added that “we” (who?) had contacted Regent in Canada to find out about its relation to UBC and had also checked out my U of Miyazaki database in advance. So this underscores what I wrote in my parody, about his habit of scouring about in search of ways to find any potential striking point in any perceived adversary and then blowing the results out of proportion as if this credentials quibble constituted a weighty riposte to my earlier criticisms of him.
The upshot of this seems to be that Debito took umbrage at a comment I made here on Tepido about us having the same credentials. My comment had been in response to someone on his site saying that Mike Guest is in an isolated university bubble (or words to that effect), arguing that if someone wants to devalue my opinion based upon the claim of being an out-of-touch egghead, the same must apply to Debito. Instead, Debito seemed to take this as an invitation to an academic pissing match, and when confronting me in Nagoya, duly informed of his Ivy League school pedigree, which apparently trumps all: “So, we don’t have the same credentials do we, Mike?”
Well, I guess that’s true in a sense. For example I have two masters degrees whereas… oh, wait a second. None of this has any bearing on the validity or non-validity of my original criticisms of Debito does it? It’s just a sad attempt at rank pulling- arguing from assumed authority. I don’t know where Regent ranks in terms of thological seminaries, but even if my education was limited to Uncle Peter showing me how to bait a hook, my criticisms of Debito remain. Fishing for quibbles in how I answer an awkward question on-the-spot from the audience at an ESL presentation is rather pathetic But you know he’s going to do stuff like this.
I tried to talk with him after this, seeing if he might pull out of Debito mode but what followed was basically stonewalling on his behalf (plus a few choice words aimed in my direction) and eventually I gave up. I just look at it this way- it’s Debito being Debito. I expected a reaction from him at some point- after all, I took a shot at him and he’s trying to take one back- but the fact is that I just lose interest in these kind of one-dimensional people. I’ve already spent too much time writing about him…
(NB: I might add that Mr Guest suggested I “switch to decaf” during those four allegedly unantagonistic and disinterested attempts to talk with me. Again, what a card.)
Clearly, Mr Guest doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of what he’s done. I have no truck with someone’s right to hold opinions about someone and express them in public. But there are limits, of course — as in, are those opinions accurate? If not, there should be scrutiny to make those inaccuracies clear. However, it’s hard to scrutinize someone hiding behind “parody” to claim somebody said something he never said (it absolves Mr Guest of the responsibility of providing evidence or doing verifiable research). Makes one question the professionality of the ELT editors, who should be offering better safeguards to preserve the integrity of their forum.
However, scrutinizing someone’s alleged professional background is much simpler. You don’t say you graduated from a place you did not graduate from and expect to be treated as an honest professional.
And you don’t pick on people like this (misrepresentation of the record is definitely a pattern in Mr Guest’s world) without expecting some scrutiny yourself. Now face the scrutiny. Like an adult.
That’s why I decided to go ahead with this expose on Debito.org. People can make their own decisions about what kind of future relationship they wish to maintain with Mr Guest as a columnist, scholar, and professional. Arudou Debito
UPDATE NOVEMBER 27
The deceptions continue. Mr Guest writes:
“Regent is a Theology School located on the UBC Endowment Lands. Many facilities are shared. If you want to do a Master’s degree in Theology you go to Regent, because UBC can’t offer Theology courses. Several credits I took as part of this Master’s I took at regular UBC classes (mostly linguistics) since some courses are cross-transferable. I also did an EFL teacher training course at UBC.”
“Regardless, if you want to do a Graduate degree in Theology at UBC you have to attend Regent or Vancouver School of Theology. Both are on the campus but are required to issue their own degrees as religious institutions. At both you can take classes and get cross credits from the standard UBC curricula and have full access to all UBC facilities. I used this to take linguistics courses- which were not offered at Regent. I also did a further ESL certification course at UBC.”
COMMENT: Let’s cut through the fog. Nowhere on your degree from Regent College, the one you cite as part of your academic credentials, does it say “University of British Columbia”. They are not the same institution. Claiming UBC on your employer’s website and at JALT, and insinuating as such online, does not change that.
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It is with great sadness today that I blog about Chalmers Johnson, who died yesterday at age 79. I was one of those students mentioned below that he mentored at the University of California, San Diego. I last saw him at his home for dinner back in 2006. I’m very unhappy to hear that we won’t be able to do that again. Arudou Debito
I have just heard that Chalmers Johnson died a few hours ago, at age 79, at his home near San Diego. He had had a variety of health problems for a long time. (Photo source here.)
Johnson — “Chal” — was a penetrating, original, and influential scholar, plus a very gifted literary and conversational stylist. When I first went to Japan nearly 25 years ago, his MITI and the Japanese Miracle was already part of the canon for understanding Asian economic development. Before that, he had made his name as a China scholar; after that, he became more widely known with his books like Blowback, about the perverse effects and strategic unsustainability of America’s global military commitments. Throughout those years he was a mentor to generations of students at the UC campuses at Berkeley and San Diego.
Johnson and his wife and lifelong intellectual partner Sheila were generous and patient with me, as I was first trying to understand the world they had studied and analyzed. I vividly remember spending an afternoon in the early 1990s on the sunny patio at their house in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, north of the UCSD campus. I’d moved back from Japan, was working on a book about it, and spent hours writing notes as fast as I could as Johnson described Douglas MacArthur’s mistakes and (occasional) successes during the U.S. Occupation of Japan, and why Japan’s economy was unlikely to open itself on the Western model, even if U.S. or British economists kept giving lectures about the importance of deregulation. I have never concentrated harder as I tried to be sure to capture his bons mots.
Johnson would have been about 60 at the time. Even then he suffered from a rheumatoid or gout-like condition that caused him swelling and pain. “It all goes so fast,” I remember him saying. He made good use of his time. Sympathies to Sheila Johnson and their many friends.
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Hello Blog. Forwarding. Arudou Debito
Douglas again, with the National EFL Job Satisfaction Survey links. Please take a look at the post below, check out the surveys, and consider if this is something you’d like to help disseminate. Perhaps you could pair it with a future blog on foreign workers…
M.Sc.Ed. (TESOL) 教育学英語教授法修士（応用言語学)
My name is Douglas Meyer, and I have been an EFL teacher in Japan for about 14 years now. Recently, I have become more and more interested in the wide-ranging working conditions at various schools in Japan, and what other teachers thought about their job. I did some looking, and found that there is very little information on this topic.
So, as a personal research project, I started to work last fall on two surveys which aim to paint a picture of the language teacher, his or her thoughts, opinions, and ideas on a number of language-related issues that we all face. If you have 5-10 minutes, I would greatly appreciate your input via the on-line survey links below. It is 100% anonymous, and I will make the results available to anyone upon request.
Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey. If you don’t mind, would you please forward this message (with links) to 3 or 4 friends? The results will only be useful if several hundred teachers respond. Thank you very much.
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Hi Blog. Currently at JALT, so a quick one for today. In the spirit of education in Japan, here’s an article from Times Higher Education talking about the pull for and push against importing students to fill spaces in Japan’s universities. Funny they should want more NJ academics — they should give them better jobs. But after more than a century of “Academic Apartheid”, not likely. Arudou Debito
Japan’s move to open its doors wider to foreign students and academics has come up against entrenched practices, budget cuts and a general ambivalence towards true “internationalisation”.
Frequently used as an empty slogan in the expansive years of Japan’s economic growth, internationalisation has once more been chosen as a watchword by the government – this time as the foundation for attempts to revive the country’s moribund education system.
With only two of its institutions appearing in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2010-11, Japan’s standing has been adversely affected by a dearth of international students and scholars.
In an attempt to address the issue, the Ministry of Education last year introduced the “Global 30” project, which has set a target for more than 130 undergraduate and graduate courses to be conducted entirely in English by April 2013.
But in the wake of cuts to public spending, the ambitious plan to involve 30 colleges has been whittled down to 13 institutions seen as future “global education hubs”.
As part of the same initiative, Japan has also set a target to increase the number of international students in the country to 300,000 by 2020 from the current figure of 130,000.
From a pot of ¥3.2 billion (£24 million), selected universities will receive ¥200 million to ¥400 million per annum over the next five years to recruit students and lecturers and to help with additional administrative costs.
Participating universities are expected to use these funds to recruit between 3,000 and 8,000 international students.
The scheme also aims to encourage universities to hire more overseas lecturers to teach the new courses. Currently only 3.5 per cent of tutors in Japanese universities are foreigners, and most of these are engaged in teaching English.
Japan is not alone in Asia in its determination to increase the number of foreign students and faculty. China, which has long been one of the world’s largest exporters of students, is pursuing a similar strategy, with its “C9 consortium” of nine research universities tasked with attracting 10 per cent of undergraduate students from other countries.
The Chinese government has made funding available to increase the number of courses taught in English to help participating universities achieve this goal.
In Japan, however, progress has so far been limited, according to Paul Snowden, dean of the School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University in Tokyo.
“The effort to attract more foreign students is stepping up faster than the effort to attract more faculty,” said Professor Snowden, a Briton who grew up in Essex and is the first foreign dean at a Japanese university.
“Commensurate attempts to attract foreign faculty are not generally made. Waseda as a whole, with its eyes on rising in the world rankings, recognises the principle, but has not yet put it into sufficient practice.”
There are many factors contributing to the formidable barriers that prevent universities beefing up their roster of foreign staff, Professor Snowden said.
State universities do little to help foreign faculty achieve tenure, and recruitment ads are often posted only in Japanese and on obscure government websites. There is also a general reluctance to hire foreigners, as Japanese universities either prefer very long-term commitments or offer only “guest-style” short contracts.
“Attitudes have long been against foreign recruitment, and that needs to change,” Professor Snowden said.
He said it is common to encounter the view: “We’ll only take foreigners of Nobel prize standard – otherwise why should we deprive Japanese people of jobs?”
So far, the recipients of Global 30 funding have all been elite universities.
However, smaller colleges that see the educational merits of international liberal arts-type courses are also introducing foreign students to their own campuses and encouraging – or even making compulsory – a period of overseas study for their home students.
With initiatives of this kind running in parallel to the government-sponsored project, “even though the figure of 300,000 is unlikely to be reached, at least numbers will rise”, Professor Snowden said.
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Hi Blog. The uproar on the Uemura Akiko Suicide has led to ministerial-level action. Good news, in that something is being done about bullying in Japanese schools. Bad news is that somebody has to die before something is done (and these crackdowns on ijime are periodical things anyway; once the furore dies down, well… let’s just wait for the next victim and we’ll have another cry and outcry).
Of course, the elephant in the room is the racially-motivated nature of the bullying, which does not seem to be being addressed. If you don’t address one of the root causes (a racial background being used as ammunition), you aren’t gonna fix things. Duh. Doesn’t anyone out there in ministry land have a degree in education? Arudou Debito
The Japan Times Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010
Suicide prompts major bullying study
Kyodo News, courtesy of DK
The education ministry will conduct a nationwide survey of bullying in schools following the suicide last month of sixth-grader Akiko Uemura, in Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture.
Uemura’s mother found the 12-year-old hanging by a scarf from a curtain rail in her room Oct. 23. It is believed the girl took her own life due to bullying at school that apparently started sometime last year after her mother, who is from the Philippines, visited the school for an event.
After an initial denial, Niisato Higashi Elementary School admitted Monday she had been a frequent target of abuse by classmates.
The education ministry said Tuesday it has told prefectural boards of education to conduct periodic surveys on bullying.
The ministry also urged schools and local-level authorities to cooperate with families of schoolchildren to deal with the problem.
On Oct. 23, Ms. Akiko Uemura, a sixth-grade girl in Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, died after hanging herself. On Nov. 8, Kiryu’s board of education made public a report saying she had been psychologically bullied. It denied a cause-and-effect relationship between the bullying and her suicide. But on Oct. 25, Mr. Yoichi Kishi, principal of the municipal Niisato Higashi Primary School, said school authorities had known that the girl “was not in good condition as indicated by her isolation at lunch time.” We wonder why the school could not act soon enough to prevent her suicide…
Why does the board of education deny a cause-and-effect relationship between the bullying and her suicide? It appears as if the board and school authorities refused to squarely deal with the tragedy and their responsibility in the case.
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Hi Blog. For the record, here are some of the Mainichi’s articles on a recent suicide of a multiethnic Japanese due to classroom bullying. Uemura Akiko, a Filipina-Japanese grade schooler, was found dead by hanging three weeks ago in an apparent suicide, and evidence suggests that this was after being bullied for her Philippine ethnicity. Given the number of international marriages in Japan, I think we’re going to see quite a few more cases like this unless people start realizing that a multicultural, multiethnic Japan is not just something theoretical, but here and now. We need an official, MEXT and board-of-education approach of zero tolerance towards kids (who are, of course, going to tease each other no matter what) who choose to single people out due to their race or ethnic background.
As submitter JK puts it, “This is why IMO, having a law against racial discrimination on the books is only part of the solution — what is really needed is a mental shift towards creating a culture of racial inclusion. There is no future for a Japan whose modus operandi is 「出る杭は打たれる」.”
Articles follow. Arudou Debito
UPDATE: NHK completely ignores issue of Akiko’s ethnicity as a source of her bullying in multiple reports. See Comments Section below.
MAEBASHI — Two weeks since the suicide of a sixth grader in Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, a picture of a classroom out of control has begun to take shape.
Akiko Uemura, 12, who was found hanged by a scarf in her room on Oct. 23, transferred from an elementary school in Aichi Prefecture when her family moved to Kiryu in October 2008. It was after her Filipino mother visited the school on parents’ visitation day in 2009 that Akiko’s classmates began commenting on her appearance.
After Akiko began sixth grade this past April, classmates started saying that she smelled bad and asked her if she bathed. Akiko appealed to her parents to let her transfer to another school, saying that she was willing to walk to school no matter how far. Her parents sought advice from the school on numerous occasions, and considered moving elsewhere once Akiko finished elementary school.
In late September, Akiko’s classmates began to sit as far away from her as possible at lunchtime despite their homeroom teacher’s admonitions to stay in designated groups. According to Akiko’s mother, Akiko asked a classmate to eat lunch with her in mid-October, only to be refused.
On Oct. 19 and 20, Akiko stayed home from school. Her homeroom teacher called her at home to encourage her to come to school on the next day, as the class was going on a field trip. On Oct. 21, however, some of Akiko’s classmates questioned her about why she only came to school when there was a special event and whether she was otherwise playing hooky, and Akiko came home in tears.
Akiko stayed home from school again on Oct. 22, and when her homeroom teacher visited her home that evening — when her parents happened to be at work — to report on the school’s decision to abolish lunchtime groupings, no one answered the door. On Oct. 23, Akiko woke up around 9 a.m. and had breakfast. When her mother looked into her room around noon, she was hanging from a curtain rail by a scarf that she had been knitting for her mother.
No suicide note has been found, but after her funeral on Oct. 26, manga entitled “Friends Are Great!” that Akiko appears to have drawn before her suicide was found. In a letter addressed to Akiko’s former classmate in Aichi that was found on Oct. 29, Akiko wrote: “I’m going to Osaka for junior high. So we might pass through Aichi. I’ll visit you if I can!”
Meanwhile, the faces of 15 classmates found in a photo taken during an overnight school trip when Akiko was in fifth grade were crossed out with what looked like ballpoint pen, and in response to a question from an autograph book asking what she wanted if she were granted one wish, she had written, “make school disappear.”
At Akiko’s elementary school, located among farms and new residential areas, the sixth grade students were divided into two homerooms. One classmate said, “There was a group of students who bullied Akiko. She looked really sad when they said things like ‘Get of the way’ and ‘Go away.’ No one tried to stop them.”
Another classmate said that other students had no choice but to go along with the bullying. “There were a few people who were at the center of the group, and the other students were too scared to defy them. The class was in chaos.”
KIRYU, Gunma — A man who says his 12-year-old daughter’s suicide was triggered by bullying at school has told the Mainichi that his wife’s Filipino nationality may have been one of the reasons for the bullying.
Ryuji Uemura, 50, made the comment on the possible cause of the bullying of his daughter Akiko, who committed suicide in Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, in an interview with the Mainichi on Oct. 26.
“I think the fact that her mother was a Filipino was also one of the causes of the bullying,” he said.
Uemura said that when his daughter was in the fifth grade in 2009, her 41-year-old mother went to her school for a class observation day for the first time. At the time Akiko’s classmates teased her about her mother’s appearance, and after that she started to be bullied.
The 12-year-old’s memorial service was held at a funeral hall in Gunma Prefecture on Oct. 26, with about 90 people from her school and others in attendance. All 38 students in her class attended the funeral, complying with a request from the school.
“We’re very sad that she suddenly passed away. We hope she will rest in peace,” a boy representing the students said in a speech at the ceremony.
Speaking in a wavering voice, Uemura told participants, “Akiko got lonely and she always said she wanted to make lots of friends. I believe she is being watched over by her classmates today and is happy.”
Last month I attended an international lecture by one of Japanology’s senior scholars. I’ll call him Dr. Frink. Decorated by the Japanese government for his contributions to the field, he talked about Japan as a “unique” state that never really changes, even as it slips to third place behind China’s economy.
One reason he gave for this was that “Japan is still the most homogeneous society in the world.” He defined homogeneity by citing Japan’s tiny percentage of resident foreigners.
That was easily disputed after a quick Google search (the lecture hall had Internet; welcome to the 21st century). I raised my hand afterwards and pointed out that some 60 countries were technically “more homogeneous” than Japan, as they have smaller percentages of foreigners, foreign-born residents and immigrants.
According to the United Nations, as of 2005, Japan’s percentage (listed at 1.6 percent, which means that the zainichi, or Japan-born foreigners, are also included) was still larger than Kenya’s (1 percent), Nigeria’s (0.7 percent), India’s (0.5 percent) and China’s (excluding Hong Kong and Macau, 0.3 percent). Of course, given the boom in international migration this decade, many countries are net exporters of immigrants. But herein lies the flaw in linking monoculturality to an absence of foreigners: Don’t all these allegedly “homogeneous” countries (including Japan) also acknowledge ethnic minorities within their borders?
However, this column will focus on a much deeper problem in Dr. Frink’s school of scholarly discourse: The fixation on Japan’s “uniqueness,” and how a cult of Japanese homogeneity interferes with good social science.
Search academic databases for publications in Japan Studies. Quite a few of them (some with Japanese authors espousing their own uniqueness) toe the line of “Japan behaves this way because it is homogeneous, etc.” Scholar Harumi Befu has written books on how this has crystallized into a pseudoscience called Nihonjinron, affecting debate worldwide.
There is a political dimension to all this: the politics of maintaining the status quo.
The Japanese government funds chairs and departments (especially in Japan) to influence the direction of Japan Studies, and is nowadays attracting students to focus on “soft power,” “cool Japan” cultural exotica.
The point is, ruling elites in Japan are perfectly happy with Japan being portrayed as preternaturally intransigent — due to historical, cultural, geographical or whatever reasons — because they like Japan as it is.
However, for the rest of the people living in Japan, this status quo is sending us down a road of obsolescence.
It is clear that Japan is in a deflationary spiral with a crushing national debt and an aging workforce. Paradigm shifts are necessary, and ideas should also be welcome from knowledgeable people overseas. But some advice, bound or blinded by the cult of uniqueness, becomes muted, veers off-target or is never even offered in the first place.
This doesn’t happen everywhere. Boffins have little reservation in telling, for example, Russia what to do about its economy. Why not Japan? Because of ingrained fears about being insensitive or culturally imperialistic towards this modern-day Galapagos.
It hardly bears saying, but societies of living beings are not preserved in amber. There are constant economic, political and demographic pressures requiring changes in thought and direction. In Japan’s case, the aging society will probably lead to increased immigration and a niche-market economy, where certain things are done well, but no longer on the scale of a world power. People both inside and outside Japan will have to come to terms with that.
Yet some data sets relevant to this transition are not open to scholarship. I mentioned here last year (JBC, Nov. 3, 2009) how Japan’s demographic scientists are not including a fundamental numerator in their equations (i.e., inflows) by refusing to even discuss immigration. I also argued last month (JBC, Oct. 5) that Japan’s census, which only surveys for nationality, not ethnicity, is ignoring the possibility that there might be multiethnic Japanese here already. This is despite all the racial intermarriage, multiethnic Japanese children, naturalized citizens, and the fact there are more permanent-resident foreigners here than ever before.
Scholars should be demanding more official data on this. Instead, we are getting the Dr. Frinks of the world spouting spurious claims based on the false premise that the absence of information indicates homogeneity.
Let’s have more sophistication in the discourse. Japanology now offers the world an excellent opportunity to study how a modern, developed and educated society learns to cope with a fluctuating place in the world. Nihonjinron should be seen and dismissed for what it is: a static ideology, existing for a nostalgic public looking for a comfortable self-identity, a ruling elite unwilling to face a fundamentally different future, or an overseas audience craving exotica over science.
This means we should have a moratorium on superlatives, such as linking the “U-word” with Japan. All societies have their singular aspects, to be sure, but we should never lose sight of the fact that we’re all one big human family with more communalities than differences. To belabor the obvious, no society is “uniquely unique.”
Fixating on Japan’s illusory “uniqueness and homogeneity” takes energies away from studying the very real problems that Japan, like any other country, will be facing this century. Let’s demand better scholarship and help Japan cope with — if not get out of — this mess.
Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to firstname.lastname@example.org ENDS
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Hi Blog. Dovetailing with yesterday’s post on NJ’s treatment at unemployment agency Hello Work, here’s more on how weak NJ’s position can be when they ARE hired, in this case by Eikaiwa company Gaba, who says their NJ staff aren’t covered by Japanese labor laws. Arudou Debito
THE JAPAN TIMES Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010
THE ZEIT GIST
Gaba teachers challenge ‘contractor’ status
Union fears employment model could mark first step on slippery slope for eikaiwa firms
By JAMES McCROSTIE, courtesy of the author
Instructors first formed a union in September 2007 and, according to union members, met with company representatives for talks. However, managers always refused to enter into serious negotiations, arguing the instructors were not employees and, as itaku — independent contractors — weren’t covered by Japanese labor laws.
Determining who qualifies as an employee and who can be classed as an independent contractor isn’t always clear. However, the method in which workers are scheduled and their place of work are important considerations…
In its financial report, the company argues that because it doesn’t designate working time or location and doesn’t give specific instructions for lesson content, it considers its instructors to be independent contractors…
Japan’s Statistics Bureau’s annual Labor Force Survey shows the number of nonregular workers has increased steadily since 1999, after the Japanese government started relaxing regulations to make it easier for companies to hire workers outside their regular employment system. In 1999, 25.6 percent of Japan’s labor force was classified as nonregular. By 2009 the figure had increased to 33.7 percent.
Employing instructors as independent contractors allows Gaba to reduce labor costs… Combs warns that instructors at other schools may also face being shifted to independent contractor status in the future.
“Gaba lowers the bar on the entire industry, and it will tempt other companies to try the same thing,” he says.
Ringin agrees that the stakes are high in the union’s battle with Gaba over the individual contractor issue.
“If Gaba gets away with using the itaku system, Berlitz and the other chains would be crazy not to follow.”
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Hi Blog. One of my hosts at the University of British Columbia turned me on to a website I thought deserved a bit more attention: their “Asia-Pacific Memo”. Although not all about Japan (Japan in overseas academia is losing out big time these days to China, (sadly) understandably), it has a lot of food for thought about how to interpret current events in Asia. Have a look:
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Hi Blog. Here’s an informative page from the Fukuoka General Union on how local boards of education are outsourcing ALTs through dispatch companies in place of actual JETs through the JET Programme. Excerpt follows:
THE ALT SCAM By the Fukuoka General Union Throughout Japan Boards of Education have been moving away from the JET program in favour of outsourcing ALT jobs to dispatch companies. In Fukuoka it has come to the point that most BOEs subcontract out their work.
This page is aimed to shed some light on the current systems that operate to the detriment of ALTs – who are practically all non-Japanese (NJ).
– Why do BOEs outsource ALT teaching jobs.
– The difference between direct employ, sub-contract and dispatch contracts.
– What is illegal about a sub-contract ALT working at a public school.
– The tender bid process.
– How much money do dispatch companies make from ALTs?
– Dispatch company ALT and health insurance.
– How dispatch companies and BOEs get rid of ALTs they don’t like.
– Ministry of Education tells BOEs to directly employ ALTs – BOEs ignore directive.
– Labour Standards Office issue reprimand, BOE has head in the sand.
– How the sub-contracting system damages other teachers in the industry.
– Why the Fukuoka General Union is fighting for direct employment.
– Reference materials
– You Tube news reports on the ALT sub-contracting issue (Helps explain the situation to Japanese teachers)
Why do BOEs outsource ALT teaching jobs. Up until a few years ago most local governments procured their Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) through the JET program. However, with local government budgets tightening, they began looking for ways to cut expenditure. The cost of keeping a JET was about 6 million yen per year, so when they were approached by dispatch companies which offered to do it for less they jumped on the bandwagon. But not only did they save money, they outsourced the management of the ALTs, getting the dispatch company to take on the troublesome chore of getting the ALT accommodation, assimilating them into Japanese society and taking care of any trouble that arises. Like a cancer the number of non-JET ALTs at public schools increased to a point where they make up the bulk of ALTs in Fukuoka (and other) Prefectures. To outsource the ALT teaching jobs, they have determined that it is a “service” (業務 gyomu)…
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Hi Blog. I often get requests from people online who think about moving to Japan and supplementing their Eikaiwa income with “private lessons”, i.e. your own cottage industry of meetings with an individual or groups in an informal setting and at an hourly rate. They inquire how efficacious that plan my be.
I usually caution people against that, since the Bubble-Era fees are long gone (I was pulling down JPY10,000 an hour once upon a time). Moreover, the Post-Bubble “McDonaldization of Eikaiwa” (as I have heard it described on other listservs) by the NOVAs and ECs have driven average rates for English teaching down to hardscrabble levels, meaning people without a full-time job with health insurance and benefits will probably not be able to make a living on private lessons alone.
But that’s just what’ve I heard. I haven’t done many privates for years now (Sapporo’s market rates, if you can get privates at all, appear to be around JPY2000-3500 an hour). I thought I’d ask Debito.org Readers around Japan what they’re getting/can get for private lessons (in English or in any language you teach) in their local area. Let us know. Arudou Debito not in Sapporo
The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, touted as the world’s largest cultural exchange scheme, has brought thousands of non-Japanese into the country to teach at local boards of education. These days, with many government programs being told to justify their existence, a debate is raging over whether JET should be left as is, cut or abolished entirely.
Essentially, the two main camps argue: a) keep JET, because it gives outback schools more contact with “foreign culture” (moreover, it gives Japan a means of projecting “soft power” abroad); versus b) cut or abolish JET — it’s wasteful, bringing over generally untrained and sometimes unprofessional kids, and offers no measurable benefit (see Japan’s bottom-feeding TOEFL test scores in Asia). http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/71943_web.pdf (see page 10)
The debate, however, needs to consider: 1) JET’s misconstrued mandate, and 2) Japan’s psychotic — yes, psychotic — system of language teaching.
First, when critics point to Japan’s bad English, bear in mind that ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction was not JET’s foremost aim. According to JET’s official goals in both English and Japanese:
“The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme aims to promote grass roots internationalisation at the local level by inviting young overseas graduates to assist in international exchange and foreign language education in local governments, boards of education and elementary, junior and senior high schools throughout Japan. It seeks to foster ties between Japanese citizens (mainly youth) and JET participants at the person-to-person level.” http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/goals.html
(Same in Japanese: JETプログラムは主に海外の青年を招致することによって、地方自治体、教育委員会、及び日本全国の小・中・高等学校で、国際交流と外国語教育を支援し、地域レベルでの草の根の国際化を推進することを目的としています。個人レベルでの日本人（主に若者）とJET参加者の国際交流の場を提供しています。http://www.jetprogramme.org/j/introduction/goals.html)
Thus the “E” in JET does not stand for “English”; it stands for “exchange.” So when the goal is more “fostering ties,” we get into squidgy issues of “soft power.” Like “art appreciation” (view an artwork, exclaim “I appreciate it” and you pass the class), just putting people together — regardless of whether there is any measurable outcome (e.g., test scores, pen pals, babies) — is an “exchange.” Seat youths next to each other and watch them stare. Goal accomplished.
Under a mandate this vague, what are JET teachers here to do? Teach a language? The majority of JETs aren’t formally trained to be language teachers, and even if they were, it’s unclear what they should be doing in class because — and I quote JET officials — “every situation is different.” Exchange culture? Uhh . . . where to start?
But the bigger point is that Japan’s low English level is not the JET program’s fault. So whose fault is it? Well, after more than two decades’ experience in the industry, I posit that language teaching in Japan suffers from a severe case of group psychosis.
Start with the typical Japanese eigo classroom environment: Sensei clacks away at the chalkboard teaching English as if it were Latin. You get some pronunciation help, but mostly tutelage is in grammar, grammar, grammar — since that is the aspect most easily measurable through tests.
Now add the back-beat of Japan’s crappy social science: Sensei and textbooks reinforce an image that speaking to foreigners is like a) speaking to a separate breed of human or animal, where “everything is different from us” and “we must study people as things,” or b) attending an international summit, where both sides are cultural emissaries introducing allegedly unique aspects of their societies. This puts enormous pressure on students to represent something and perform as if on a stage (instead of seeing communication as a simple interaction like, say, passing the salt).
Moreover, thanks to the tendency here towards rote-learning perfectionism, mistakes are greeted with ridicule and shame. Yet mistakes are inevitable. It hardly needs saying, but communication is not algebra, with people behaving like numbers generating correct answers. Languages are illogical, have dialects and embellishments, and evolve to the point where grammatical structures that were once incorrect (such as making “gift” and “friend” into verbs) are no longer such. Just when, by George, you think you’ve got it, up pop exceptions — and Charlie Brown gets laughed back to his desk.
Then consider all the pressure on the Japanese teacher, who’s grown from scared student to scarred Sensei. The obvious problem with him teaching English like Latin comes when an actual Roman shows up (in this case thanks to JET) and speaks at variance with Sensei, giving students a snickering revenge as a defensive Sensei flubs his lines. So the incentive becomes “make sure native speakers only work within the qualification (and comfort) level of Sensei” — meaning that instead of teaching content, genki JETs provide comic relief and make the class “fun.” Once the fun is over, however, we wheel the human tape recorder out of the classroom and get back to passing tests.
Ah, well. Sensei went through the eigo boot camp of belittlement and embarrassment. So did his sensei. So that’s what gets used on the next crop of gakusei. Then the system becomes generational.
And pathological. What kind of school subject involves hectoring its students? Obviously one improperly taught. If you teach adults, take a survey of your own class (I do every year) and you’ll find that a majority of students fear, if not loathe, English. Many would be perfectly happy never again dealing with the language — or the people who might speak it. Thus eigo as an educational practice is actually fostering antisocial behavior.
Now bring in the vicious circle: “We Japanese can’t speak English.” Many Japanese do survive eigo boot camp, enjoy English, and get good at it. They pop up occasionally as NHK anchors doing overseas interviews, or as celebrities with overseas experience. Yet where are the mentors, the templates, who can make English proficiency look possible? Stifled. Ever notice how the Japanese media keeps voicing over Japanese when they speak English proficiently, or picking apart their performance for comic value? Because eigo is not supposed to be easy — so throw up some hurdles if there’s any threat of it appearing so.
Conclusion: Better to remain shy and meekly say that learning a foreign language is too difficult, so everyone feels less inadequate. The eikaiwa schools love it, making a mint out of the unconfident who, convinced they’ll never overcome the barriers, settle for being “permanent beginners.”
The point is, JET cannot fix — in fact, was never entrusted with fixing — Japan’s fundamental mindset toward language study: the dysfunctional dynamic that forces people to hate learning a language, then exonerates them by saying nobody can learn it anyway. Untangling that would be a tall order even for trained professionals. But force that upon a JET, who comes here with an unclear mandate, has no control over class, and has a contract of only a few years before experience deepens? TOEFL scores will not budge.
For the record, this columnist (who was never a JET) is still a fan of the program. For all its flaws, JET has indeed done something important: helped Japanese “get used to” foreigners. (This shouldn’t be necessary, but again, given the state of social science in Japan, blatantly fueled by stereotypes, it was probably inevitable.)
Compared to 25 years ago — and I know this because I have lived the duration in backwater Japan — there are significantly fewer stares and fingers pointed at foreigners than before. Good. Get rid of JET, however, and the eigo psychosis will force things back to the way it was, with cries of “Gaijin da!” from behind garden fences.
In sum, keep the JET program, even if it involves some cuts and tweaks. Calling for its abolition is counterproductive. Demanding that it work magic — by making Japanese enjoy learning English — is sadly beyond anyone’s mandate.
Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to email@example.com
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Hi Blog. While doing some research yesterday, I found out this interesting development:
Debito.org (via The Community) originally reported about a decade ago that the Takamado English speech contest, for junior-highschooler English speaking ability name-sponsored by a member of the Japanese royalty, was refusing foreign children enrolled in Japanese schools entry. This might seem reasonable, since native English speakers competing with Japanese L2 students would indeed have an unfair advantage.
However, Takamado’s rules excluded ALL foreigners, including those from countries that are not native English-speaking countries (such as Chinese or Mongolians). Moreover, the rules also excluded ALL Japanese who had foreign blood, as far back as grandparents. Archive:
When the dubious practice of assuming that any foreigner had a linguistic advantage in English was raised with the organizers, they decided to keep the rules as is. So I wrote about it for the Japan Times, dated January 6, 2004:
… A prestigious event, name-sponsored by the late Prince Takamado, its goal is: “To create an internationally rich youth culture, both proficient in English and widely popular (sic), which aims to develop Japanese culture and contribute to international relations.”
Yet its disqualifiers are oddly xenophobic: Rule 3: “If any of your parents or grandparents are foreigners (including naturalized Japanese) in principle you are excluded.” Rule 2a: “If you are born in a foreign country and have stayed abroad past your 5th birthday,” and; 2b: “If after your 5th birthday you have lived in a foreign country for over a total of one year, or if you have lived in a foreign country over a continuous six-month period,” you may not enter the contest.
The organizers seemed to have forgotten that not all foreigners speak English…
So now back to the present. I checked the rules for Takamado yesterday, and here’s how they’ve been revised:
Students recommended by their school principal and attending a Middle School in Japan (excluding International and American Schools).
Students who fall into any of the following categories are not eligible to participate in the contest:
Those who were born and raised in English speaking countries/regions* beyond the age of five.
Those who lived in English speaking countries/regions or studied in International and American Schools beyond the age of five for a total of one year or six months continuously.
Those whose parent or grandparent with nationalities of English Speaking countries or naturalized Japanese, having lived in Japan for less than 30 years.
Those who won 1st to 3rd places in any previous contests.
Those that violate the above clauses and enter the Contest will be disqualified.
*Below are the definitions of the English speaking countries. (Defined by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Republic of Singapore, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Republic of the Philippines, Negara Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Commonwealth of Australia, Republic of Kiribati, Independent State of Samoa, Solomon Island, Tuvalu, Kingdom of Tonga, Republic of Nauru, New Zealand, Republic of Palau , Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Vanuatu, Independent State of Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Fiji Islands, Republic of the Marshall Islands, United States of America, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, Republic of Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, Republic of Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Commonwealth of Dominica, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Republic of Uganda, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Republic of Ghana, Republic of Cameroon, Republic of The Gambia, Republic of Kenya, Republic of Zambia, Republic of Sierra Leone, Republic of Zimbabwe, Republic of the Sudan, Kingdom of Swaziland, Republic of Seychelles, Somalia, United Republic of Tanzania, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Republic of Namibia, Republic of Botswana, Republic of Malawi, Republic of South Africa, Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Liberia, Republic of Rwanda, Kingdom of Lesotho, Republic of Cyprus, Lebanese Republic, Ireland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Republic of Malta, Cook Islands, Niue, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, India, Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Now that’s more like it. Took some time, but it looks like they added some sophistication to deeming who has a linguistic advantage. No longer is it a blanket system of “a foreigner is a foreigner is a foreigner”, and the attitude is less that any foreigner is a blanket tainter of Japanese student blood. Okay, better. Pays to say something. Especially in print. Arudou Debito on holiday
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Hi Blog. Here are two articles talking about inter alia what I brought up yesterday, Japan’s “soft power”, and how the JET Programme is an example of that. First one delves into the history and goals, the other making the case for and against it, with input from former students under JETs’ tutelage.
We’ve talked extensively about JET cuts/possible abolition here already on Debito.org (archives here), and raised doubts about the efficacy of the program as a means to teach Japanese people a foreign language and “get people used to NJ” (which I agree based upon personal experience has been effective, as Anthony says below). I guess the angle to talk about this time, what with all the international networking and alumni associations, is the efficacy of the program as a means of projecting Japan’s “soft power”, if not “cool”, abroad.
PHOTO CAPTION: In this photo taken on Wednesday, July 21, 2010, Steven Horowitz, a JET alumni who is now on the board of the JET alumni association, poses for a picture in New York. The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, known as JET, is now among the biggest international exchange programs in the world. More than 52,000 people, mostly American, have taken part and supporters proclaim it as Japan’s most successful soft power initiative since World War II. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
TOKYO (AP) – Every year for the past two decades, legions of young Americans have descended upon Japan to teach English. This government-sponsored charm offensive was launched to counter anti-Japan sentiment in the United States and has since grown into one of the country’s most successful displays of soft power.
But faced with stagnant growth and a massive public debt, lawmakers are aggressively looking for ways to rein in spending. One of their targets is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET.
Versions of the JET program can be found in other countries. French Embassies around the world help to recruit young people to teach their languages in France for a year. The U.S. Fulbright program, run by the State Department, works in both directions: American graduates are sent abroad to study and teach, and foreigners are brought to the U.S. to do the same.
But JET’s origins and historical context make it unique. Having long pursued policies of isolation – with short bursts of imperialism – Japan was looking for a new way to engage with the world in 1987, at the height of its economic rise.
The country’s newfound wealth was viewed as a threat in the U.S., where anti-Japanese sentiment ran high. At the same time, Tokyo wanted to match its economic power with political clout. JET emerged as one high-profile solution to ease trade friction, teach foreigners about Japan and open the country to the world.
Under the program, young people from English-speaking countries – mostly Americans – work in schools and communities to teach their language and foster cultural exchange. They receive an after-tax salary of about 3.6 million yen ($41,400), roundtrip airfare to Japan and help with living arrangements. More than 90 percent of this year’s incoming class of 4,334 will work as assistant language teachers.
Word about possible cuts began filtering through JET alumni networks several weeks ago, and members of the New York group mobilized quickly, starting an online signature campaign. Former JET – as the alums are known – Steven Horowitz, now living in Brooklyn, is devoting his website jetwit.com to rally support. Another alumnus in Florida launched a Facebook page.
Their message to Tokyo is that Japan’s return on investment in the program is priceless. Japan, they say, cannot afford to lose this key link to the world, especially as its global relevance wanes in the shadow of China. And the program, they argue, not only teaches the world about Japan but also teaches Japan about the world.
“There has been a benefit from the program that you can’t measure,” said New York native Anthony Bianchi. “People used to freak out when they’d see a foreigner. Just the fact that that doesn’t happen anymore is a big benefit.”
Bianchi’s experience shows the power of the program to create cultural ties. After working as a teacher for two years in Aichi prefecture in central Japan, he landed a job with the mayor in Inuyama City, an old castle town in the area. He eventually adopted Japanese citizenship and ran for city council. Now in his second term, the 51-year-old is working to convince Diet members that JET is worth saving.
Bianchi is not alone. Of the more than 52,000 people who have taken part, many are moving into leadership at companies, government offices and non-profits that make decisions affecting Japan, said David McConnell, an anthropology professor at The College of Wooster in Ohio and author of a book about JET.
“The JET Program is, simply put, very smart foreign policy,” he said.
James Gannon, executive director for the nonprofit Japan Center for International Exchange in New York, describes JET as a pillar of the U.S.-Japan relationship and the “best public diplomacy program that any country has run” in recent decades.
But many taxpayers are asking if the program is worth the price – and criticism of JET has become part of a larger political showdown about how much government Japan can afford.
The organization that oversees JET, the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, has drawn the ire of lawmakers as a destination where senior bureaucrats retire to plush jobs. The practice, known as “amakudari,” or “descent from heaven,” is viewed as a source of corruption and waste.
Motoyuki Odachi, head of a budget review panel that examined JET, said taxpayers are getting ripped off.
“There’s a problem with the organization itself,” said Odachi, an upper house member from central Japan. “This program has continued in order to maintain ‘amakudari.'”
JET’s administrators tried to defend themselves at a public hearing in late May and submitted planned reforms, including a 15 percent slimmer budget this fiscal year. The council has allocated about $10 million for the program, which includes airfare, orientation costs and counseling services. Teachers’ salaries are paid by the towns and cities that hire them. Several government ministries cover other JET-related costs, such as overseas recruitment.
Odachi expects his panel’s recommendations will be adopted as formal policy later this year.
“Whether that means zero (money) or half, we don’t know yet,” he said. “But our opinion has been issued, so (JET) will probably shrink.”
Kumiko Torikai, dean of Rikkyo University’s Graduate School of Intercultural Communication and the author of several books on English education in Japan, says JET has outgrown its usefulness and needs an overhaul.
“Bringing thousands of JETs to Japan is not a good investment for the country’s taxpayers in this day and age of an already globalized world,” Torikai said.
Japan Times Tuesday, July 27, 2010
THE ZEIT GIST
Ex-students don’t want JET grounded
Eric Johnston and Kanako Nakamura ask ‘children of JET’ whether the program deserves to be on the chopping block
By Eric Johnston and Kanako Nakamura (excerpt)
The case for JET The JET program is one of — perhaps the only — project carried out by the Japanese government during the bubble-economy years of the late 1980s and early 1990s to promote kokusaika (internationalization) that actually had some success.
Since its inception, over 50,000 young foreigners have come to Japan to teach English and share their cultures with young Japanese who would otherwise not likely have been able to speak directly with a foreign teacher. These young people have also benefited local education by improving the abilities of Japanese teachers of English.
Upon return to their home countries, they act as unofficial goodwill ambassadors for Japan, and their experience as a JET is looked upon favorably by employers such as the U.S. State Department. For a relatively small investment on the part of taxpayers, the JET program has created huge returns, welcoming generations of non-Japanese who have, and will, go on to promote better relations between Japan and their own country and expose Japanese to the outside world in unprecedented ways.
The case against The JET program is a relic of the go-go days of the bubble-economy years, when any half-baked idea could get government funding if it had the word “kokusaika” attached to it. Since its inception, over 50,000 young foreigners with few, if any, teaching credentials have come to Japan and partied for a year at taxpayer expense. They have usually enjoyed their stay, but their effectiveness in improving the English language ability of their students was never quantitatively measured and, given Japanese students’ performances on international English tests, is questionable at best.
Because most JET teachers are from North America, Europe or Australasia, the program promotes an “Anglo-Saxon” view of the world that disregards the importance of other cultures.
A JET’s presence in the classroom with Japanese teachers can actually be disruptive to classroom discipline, while the need for their colleagues to assist them with personal matters due to the language barrier places extra burdens on school staff.
Upon return to their countries, they land the same jobs others who were in Japan get, and it’s naive to think most JETs will be goodwill ambassadors.
At a time of fiscal austerity and when thousands of native English-speakers — many with teaching qualifications, Japanese language ability and a much better understanding of Japanese culture — can be hired as contract workers from private firms depending on local needs and at lower cost, why should Japanese taxpayers continue to subsidize the JET program?
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Hi Blog. Forwarding with permission. Comment from me below.
Subject: URGENT: JET Programme in Danger – An Impassioned Request for your Help
Date: July 6, 2010 4:59:39 AM JST
Dear Mr. Arudou:
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Justin Tedaldi, and I am the editor of JQ Magazine New York, a publication of the JET Programme Alumni Association of America’s New York Chapter. I also write about Japanese culture in New York for Examiner.com. I lived in Kobe City for about two years, and my first work experience out of school was as a coordinator for international relations with the JET Programme.
I’m a longtime follower of your site (over ten years), and I would like to ask your help on behalf of all the JETs worldwide. As part of Japan’s efforts to grapple with its massive public debt, the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program may be cut. Soon after coming into power, the new government launched a high profile effort to expose and cut wasteful spending. In May 2010, the JET Program and CLAIR came up for review, and during the course of an hourlong hearing, the 11-member panel criticized JET, ruling unanimously that a comprehensive examination should be undertaken to see if it should be pared back or eliminated altogether. The number of JET participants has already been cut back by almost 30 percent from the peak in 2002, but this is the most direct threat that the program has faced in its 23-year history.
We are asking JET Program participants past and present, as well as other friends of the program to speak out and petition the Japanese government to reconsider the cuts. Please sign this petition in support of the grassroots cultural exchange the JET Program has fostered and write directly to the Japanese government explaining the positive impact the Program has made in your life and that of your adopted Japanese community.
Any effort you can make to pass along the petition link below or include as a posting on your site would be most appreciated. I am also open to e-mail interviews for the Examiner if you would like to discuss this further.
Thank you for your attention, and please let me know if you have any other questions.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Date: Mon, 5 Jul 2010 12:21:09 -0700
Subject: [uschapters] Save JET and JETAA – Sign the Petition
As you recently were notified, the JET Program and JETAA are on the chopping block. More detail can be found at the link below.
In addition to sending your anecdotes and JET Return On Investment stories/videos to Steven Horowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, please sign the petition below to demonstrate your support. This is for anyone to sign, so please forward to your friends and family to demonstrate the hundreds of thousands of people that have been positively impacted by these meaningful programs. Thank you for your support.
In sum, although I have never been a JET myself, I am a fan of the JET Programme. The program has its flaws, but overall its aim, of ameliorating insular tendencies within Japanese society, is an earnest and genuine one. I would be sad to see JET go, as its loss would be a detriment to Japan’s inevitable future as a multicultural society.
Sign the online petition if you want. I have. What are other people’s thoughts and experiences about JET? Is it fat to be cut from the budget, or an indispensable part of Japanese intercultural education? Arudou Debito in Sapporo
UPDATE: I just remembered, I did a paper on JET’s goals way back when. You can read the full text of it here.
INTERNATIONALIZATION THROUGH TRANSPLANT EDUCATORS:
THE JET PROGRAMME PART ONE
By David C. Aldwinckle, Assistant Professor
Faculty of Liberal Arts, Hokkaido Information University
Hokkaido Jouhou Daigaku Kiyou
Vol 11, Issue 1, September, 1999
Keywords: Internationalization, Public Policy in Japanese Education, The JET Programme
Internationalization, or kokusaika, has become a buzzword in Japan through its attempts to become an outward-looking, “normal” country in international circles. To this end, the Japanese government over the past ten years has sponsored the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which offers educational internships of one to three years for young college graduates from English-speaking countries. These teachers, acting as assistants to native Japanese English teachers in Japan’s smaller-town junior and senior high schools, have been expressly charged with increasing Japanese contact with foreign countries at the local level. As the first in a series, this research paper will seek to outline the structure of JET, critique its goals, and briefly focus upon its operations in one locale, Hokkaido, as a means of case study. https://www.debito.org/JETjohodaikiyo999.html
A cursory look reveals that Okinawa has by far the fewest percentage of students going on to college (the national average is 53.9%), and Tokyo/Kyoto (Kyoto allegedly being the place with the highest number of colleges per capita) the highest. Hokkaido is significantly below average as well (third from the bottom), but it’s still higher than Iwate. See how your prefecture stacks up.
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Hi Blog. Debito.org Reader Kevin submitted this Japan Times article (thanks!) on how The Japan Property Management Association, which covers more than a thousand real estate agencies, is offering information to NJ renters and recourse to fearful landlords. They’re even suggesting hiring NJ to bridge communication gaps! Bravo. If you’re in the market for new digs, check this association out and give them your business.
After all, one of the first nasty things a NJ experiences is the pretty ubiquitous housing discrimination in Japan — where a renter can be refused by the mere whim of a landlord, and tough titties if that landlord has a “thing” about foreigners (due to, say, envisioned phobias about “differing customs”, “communication troubles”, or just plain visceral xenophobia). Sadly, there is no way, outside of a courtroom (which will probably, experience and word-of-mouth dictates, not rule in the NJ’s favor unless the landlord changes his or her mind AFTER a rental contract is signed). ‘Cos, as y’all know so well, there ain’t no law against racial discrimination in this part of the world.
One more thing, and this is a tangent but I’m feeling chatty today: Before we get all Pollyanna and flout any economic theories that “the marketplace will correct all if left to its own devices” (i.e. Japan’s housing glut is forcing the buyer’s market to find ways to be more accommodating to NJ), remember that there is no way economics is going to “fix” illogical or irrational behavior, such as fear and hatred of foreigners or other races that exist in every society. If anything, as seen in the course of the Otaru Onsens Case, bathhouse managers (and apologist bigots like Gregory Clark) have even made economic arguments to justify the status quo (“our customers don’t want to take baths with foreigners, so we have to give them what they demand”; some even created flawed surveys of customers to “prove” it, which got widely reported by an unanalytical Japanese media (page down to “False Summits Dec 1999“). In any case, the market CAN break down (in classic cases like farmers dumping surplus crops in the ocean to keep the market price up), and needs laws to govern it. In this case, laws against the effects of the dread mental disease that is xenophobia.
Anyway, again, bravo Japan Property Management Association. JT article about them follows. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Housing glut opens door to foreign tenants
By MIZUHO AOKI Staff writer
The Japan Times: Saturday, May 15, 2010 (excerpt) http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100515f2.html
As the country’s foreign population keeps growing and the declining birthrate and oversupply of housing result in more and more vacancies, it is time for real estate agents to create a more welcoming environment for foreign customers, according to people who work in the business.
“Housing discrimination against foreigners still remains in Japan today. . . . We have a lot of vacant housing that needs to be filled. And there are many (foreigners) who want to rent housing in the country,” Noriaki Shiomi, vice deputy chairman of the Japan Property Management Association, told a forum in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday. “What we must try now is to gain knowhow to smoothly accept foreign customers.”
Efforts to provide foreigners access to rental housing have become increasingly important amid the surge in vacancies in recent years due to oversupply and the shrinking population, according to the association…
According to a survey conducted by the association in 2003 on 275 landlords nationwide, over 60 percent of landlords said they worried about dealing with foreign customers when there is a problem because of difficulties in communicating. Over 50 percent of landlords also said they were concerned about differences in customs relating to living.
“What landowners want to know is that when something happens, they will have support from real estate agencies,” said Ogino. “In other words, if the owners know that the agencies will deal with foreigners when they have trouble, many are willing to rent out their properties to foreigners.”…
The Japan Property Management Association provides printed guidebooks and DVDs in Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese designed to help foreigners gain basic knowledge of searching for and renting housing. They can be found at the association’s member real estate agents.
The guidebooks explain step-by-step procedures for renting apartments, including tips in visiting real estate agencies, explanations of contracts and the rules of everyday life.
In addition to the booklets and DVDs, the association said another key for the industry to become more accessible for foreign customers is to hire foreigners.
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Hi Blog. Here are a few articles that have sat in my “Drafts” section for months, waiting for the right time to be posted on Debito.org (it happens sometimes, sorry). Their point is that we have plenty of voices saying that the NJ nurses brought under the special visa program ought to be given a bit more of a break when it comes to language training (again, these people are qualified nurses — it’s only a language barrier), and yet the GOJ intransigently says that these people don’t deserve one — they should pass the same exam that only about 50% of native Japanese speakers pass anyway. Can’t you at least simplify the language and add furigana? Noooo, that would be unfair! As if it’s not unfair already.
I understand the argument that in emergency situations, people should be able to be communicated with without error, but surely there’s some grey in there. My belief, as I said yesterday and numerous times before, is that this is just taking advantage of fear to mask the program’s true intention, of keeping NJ on a short-term revolving door visa program so they don’t come here to stay permanently. These articles below are further evidence I believe of the subterfuge. Sorry to have taken so long to get to them. One-two punch for this week. Arudou Debito in Tokyo
About 70 percent of medical and welfare facilities with Indonesian nurse and caregiver trainees believe the national qualification exams should include some special treatment for those lacking fluency in Japanese, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed.
Thirty-seven percent of the hospitals and nursing-care facilities said furigana pronunciations for kanji should be added in the exam questions, the most commonly chosen request, while nearly 33 percent said the trainees should be allowed to take the exams in their native language or in English.
Fifty-nine percent said they were “satisfied” or “relatively satisfied” with the specialized job skills of the trainees, but less than 20 percent of those surveyed believe the trainees would be able to pass the exams.
Those who pass their exams are allowed to stay on in Japan, while those who fail must return to Indonesia when their stays expire.
An official at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare dismissed suggestions that special considerations be made, saying that both Japan and Indonesia agreed that the trainees would “attain the required qualifications in line with Japanese law under the (economic partnership) agreement.
“We have no intention of lowering the standards of the exams,” the official said.
The survey was conducted between late September and early October and involved 47 hospitals and 53 nursing-care facilities. Valid responses were obtained from 86 of them.
The first group of 208 Indonesian trainees came to Japan in summer 2008. After receiving basic training, they have been working as novices at hospitals and nursing-care facilities. Nurse trainees have three chances to take the national exam during their maximum three-year stay in Japan.
Caregiver trainees have only one shot at passing their exam during their four-year stay because they are required to have three years of job experience.
Many of the trainees are either qualified to practice in Indonesia or have undergone training there. The difficulty in learning Japanese has been cited as their biggest obstacle in passing the national exams.
Thirty hospitals and 41 nursing-care facilities sought some kind of change to the exams, including eased language standards.
Fifty-eight percent said they hoped the government would extend the permitted stay period to give trainees more opportunities to take the exam.
The most commonly cited reason for seeking a change concerning Japanese language in the exams was that it was difficult for trainees to understand complicated kanji and technical terms used to describe common symptoms, such as bedsores and a patient’s posture.
Thirteen respondents, including nine hospitals, said they did not think any special treatment should be given to the trainees, citing the need to maintain fairness or prevent accidents.
Regarding Japanese language proficiency, 56 percent of the respondents said they were either “dissatisfied” or “relatively dissatisfied” with the trainees’ abilities, while 45 percent said the trainees lacked ample time to study the language.
They also cited a lack of staff members capable of teaching the Japanese language.(IHT/Asahi: November 3,2009)
Japan will accept up to 500 health care workers from Indonesia in the fiscal year that starts next April 1 under an economic partnership agreement, the health ministry said Tuesday.
The quota breaks down to 200 nurses and 300 nursing aides. The government has informed Indonesia of the decision, officials said.
In 2008 and 2009, Japan set the quota at 1,000 health care workers and accepted 570 from Indonesia — 277 nurses and 293 caregivers.
Japan International Corp. of Welfare Services, an affiliate of the health ministry, will seek out hospitals and nursing care facilities from across Japan willing to accept the Indonesian health care workers, the officials said.
Japan has accepted Filipino nurses and caregivers from the Philippines under a similar agreement.
While working they study for Japanese-language and medical tests to become licensed nurses and care givers.
Four of the Indonesian health care workers who entered Japan last year have returned home because of unexpected working conditions, climate or personal reasons.
First up, some background FYI on the issue from the Japan Times, then an article by the Yomiuri on the language barrier faced by NJ nurses over here on the nursing visa program — once just Filipinos/Filipinas and Indonesians, perhaps being expanded to Thais and Vietnamese. Then a thoughtful essay by Terrie Lloyd on the prospects of overcoming the language barrier in a decent amount of time. And finally, a Japan Times article calling for a serious revision of the program to give people more time to come up to speed in the Japanese language.
Background on the issue from Japan Times FYI Column:
Language sets high hurdle for caregiver candidates
By MIZUHO AOKI Staff writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Why did Japan start accepting nurse and caregiver candidates from Indonesia and the Philippines?
The acceptance is part of bilateral EPAs, one with Indonesia that took effect on July 1, 2008, and another with the Philippines that started on Dec. 11 the same year.
Under the accords, Japan can benefit from the reduction or removal of tariffs on Japanese goods. In return, Japan agreed to accept nurses and caregivers from the two countries as candidates for certification to work here.
Although the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has denied that accepting foreign caregivers is part of efforts to resolve the manpower shortage in health care, about 60 percent of hospitals and about 50 percent of welfare facilities that have accepted Indonesian candidates said they offered them jobs hoping to improve staff levels, according to a survey conducted by the health ministry.
What is required to become a qualified nurse or caregiver in Japan under the EPAs?
Both Indonesians and Filipinos must be qualified nurses in their home countries. Plus, Indonesian nurses must have more than two years of experience. Filipino nurses should have three years of experience.
For caregivers, Indonesians must be graduates of nursing universities or schools that require at least three years of study. Filipinos must be graduates of four-year universities or nursing colleges.
All are required to take six months of Japanese-language training before working for care facilities.
Nurses must pass the annual exam within three years, while caregivers get four years. To be qualified to take the exam, caregiver applicants must have three years of on-the-job training in Japan, which means they have only one shot to pass the exam before they are asked to return to their countries.
Masugi Sato, the director of Sato Hospital in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, was deeply disappointed by the results of this year’s national nurses examination. Two foreign nurses are working at his hospital under a project tied to an economic partnership agreement (EPA), aiming to pass the nurses exam after acquiring work experience in Japan, but both failed the test.
Only three, or 1.2 percent, of the non-Japanese applicants for the latest test were successful.
“I was correct in worrying that the Japanese-language proficiency [of the two foreign nurses] might be insufficient,” Sato said.
The government announced the exam results March 26. It was the second chance to achieve qualification for the first group of foreign nurses who came to Japan under the economic partnership program.
In the first opportunity in 2009, 82 foreign nurses took the exam, and all failed. This year, 254 such nurses applied, and three passed.
The news was a relief for the different parties involved, but there were still 251 unsuccessful applicants. If any of the 98 Indonesian nurses in the first group fail the test next year, they will have to return home.
Japan has agreed to accept nurses and nursing caregivers from Indonesia and the Philippines under its EPAs with those nations. Currently, 840 foreign nurses and caregivers work in Japan under the program.
If they pass the qualifying exam within their designated periods–three years for nurses and four years for nursing caregivers–they can continue to work in Japan beyond those periods. The government is in talks to accept nurses and caregivers from Vietnam and caregivers from Thailand.
Sato Hospital hosts two Indonesians, and it is the hospital’s responsibility to prepare them for the test, although there are no established methods or textbooks translated into Indonesian. It takes the Indonesian staff one week to learn a single page in a textbook written in Japanese, looking up the technical terms in dictionaries as they go.
Indonesia does not have public health insurance or nursing care insurance systems. “The test covers three kinds of insurance programs, including national health insurance,” said Junichi Itaoka, 58, a volunteer who teaches Japanese to the nurses. “I taught them about it, but they don’t seem to grasp the differences.”
One of the two Indonesians, Ida Ayu Made Juliantari, had a good education in Indonesia and four years of work experience at a hospital there before coming to Japan.
But her experience often is not applicable in Japan. “In Indonesia, many patients [I dealt with] had infectious diseases or appendicitis. I rarely saw elderly people with dementia,” she said in Japanese.
Tomomi Yoshino, the chief nurse who is her supervisor, said: “She has only one more chance. We must do our best.”
Burden of education
Morina Melina Ross Tambunan, 23, is a nursing care worker at Arcadia, a health care facility for the elderly in Musashi-Murayama, Tokyo. She continues to help patients eat even when it is time for her break, and is well liked among them.
Chief care worker Manami Komatsu, 31, says: “She’s our role model for polite language. She inspires us.”
Overall, however, medical institutions are seeking far fewer foreign nurses and caregivers this fiscal year. In total, they have requested 139 nurses and 189 caregivers, 60 percent fewer than the previous fiscal year.
The reason is believed to be the educational burden involved in taking on foreign workers. Also, an increasing number of Japanese are seeking jobs in the nursing and caregiver fields amid the ongoing recession.
Morina plans to take the national qualification exam for nursing caregivers two years from now. The pass rate among Japanese applicants is 50 percent.
Morina takes a two-hour Japanese lesson three to four times a week, but is still far from the level needed to pass.
“Under the current exam, all [foreign] applicants may fail, and the program itself may fail,” said facility head Tsuneto Kimura. “Even if they don’t pass the same exam as Japanese applicants, they can work well.”
Numerous experts and observers are calling for the program to be reviewed.
Four hospital groups, including the Japan Hospital Association, submitted a set of proposals to the government last month. The proposals included:
Foreign nurses and caregivers should be provided with sufficient Japanese-language education before coming to Japan.
Candidates should be allowed to stay in Japan for an extended period and given more opportunities to take the exam.
A civic group named Garuda Supporters called for “special measures in consideration of the Japanese-language handicap,” such as extending the time applicants have to complete the exam.
The tests use terms so technical that few native Japanese speakers can read them. For example, “jokuso” is a synonym of “tokozure” (bedsore), and “goen” is a term for aspiration.
“I’ll ask the exam committee [that creates the questions] to consider whether difficult terms can be replaced with easy words,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma has said,
Still, it is unclear whether word changes would boost the number of foreigners passing the exam.
To increase the number of successful applicants under the current framework, the government has begun supporting medical institutions in their efforts to help foreign employees improve their Japanese skills.
Starting this fiscal year, the government is granting subsidies to medical facilities to hire Japanese-language teachers.
The Japan International Corporation of Welfare Services, which acts as an intermediary between foreign nurses and Japanese medical institutions, distributed three kinds of textbooks for the exams.
“Hospitals are having a harder time and are more frustrated than we expected. We want to support them,” an official of the organization said.
(Apr. 13, 2010)
* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
General Edition Sunday, May 09, 2010 Issue No. 564
Back in March (TT559) we reported that out of 257 Filipino nurses brought to Japan to help out with the nation’s nursing shortage, only 3 actually passed their Japanese-language nursing exams. While in 2009, none of the 82 candidates passed. This represents a stunning waste of human resources, money, and dreams, both here in Japan and back in the Philippines.
As we mentioned in the news item at the time, most of the blame on this rather miserable statistic can be placed with the Japanese authorities who conceived the program in the first place. How can someone possibly learn enough Japanese in the first 6 months that over the remaining 2 1/2 years of gruelingly long hours of manual labor they can then acquire the rest of the language needed to actually pass their nursing exams?
Indeed, one of the three to successfully pass recounted how she had to fight to stay awake and study until 01:00am every morning, trying to acquire sufficient kanji to read the exam questions in the first place. Let’s remember that she was already a fully qualified nurse — so this was really just a language issue.
From our experience (both personal and through observation) the quickest that an intelligent person not used to Chinese/Japanese characters can actually learn and be functional in the language, from zero, is about one year. And for those wanting to be productive (versus merely functional) two years is a much better time frame. These periods, by the way, mean FULL TIME study — in a highly structured classroom setting, with lots of quality teaching time, and with the very best language aids that money can buy. Add work responsibilities and long hours, and an immigrant may never master Japanese properly.
The basis for our saying one year is the practical minimum is based on the fact that certain diplomatic courses run here for staff of foreign embassies can turn out Japanese speakers/readers in one year so long as the person can dedicate themselves fully to their studies and doesn’t have to worry about income, job responsibilities, etc. Although the graduates from such courses can indeed read a newspaper after a year, they will quickly tell you that a dictionary and a spare hour per article is also needed to cope. That’s why we say that an extra year of study is worth investing in: it spares you having to carry a dictionary and hours of spare time.
Thus, to expect nurses from a relatively relaxed culture to come in and suddenly become Japanese-fluent, while changing bed pans and turning immobile patients over (remember they’re not registered in Japan as nurses yet, so the work is manual and extremely tiring) is just an exercise in futility.
And it’s not just nurses. There have been many schemes cooked up over the years to bring low-cost foreign workers to Japan and put them to work. One segment where there has been some (limited) success is in software development. In India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, there are numerous Japanese language schools servicing the needs of large corporations there that want to break into the Japanese market.
Typically these foreign employers have their engineers study on their own time initially, to prove that they have the basic interest, commitment, and capability. If the person passes their Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level Four exam, then they are given financial and work support to do a full-time course for at least 3 months to get to Level 3 or higher. If they pass Level 3, then they are placed on an eligibility roster for eventual assignment in Japan.
Now, admittedly, JLPT Level 3 isn’t really that useful in a Japanese work environment, you need to have Level 2 or even Level 1 ability to be a proper contributor. But at least one’s own personal needs and social support can be covered with Level 3. In reality, most of the work a foreign software person is going to perform in Japan anyway is going to be low level and relatively language independent. We say this because one of the most common jobs for foreign software developers is to churn out the mind-numbing code needed for device drivers and electromechanical devices. Recently there is some higher-end systems architecting work available, but this is still rare.
Anyway, we now have a situation where the designers of the nursing program are starting to realize that their charges are actually people and not little flexible-limbed robots, and therefore the idea of extending their language lessons by at least another 3-6 months without the conflict of grueling work schedules, is highly likely. Yes, it’s going to be expensive, but without such steps, they can forget about having 10,000 extra foreign nurses here.
Japan could learn about language learning for foreign immigrants by taking a look at how foreign companies prepare their own employees for overseas assignments, and pick up on best practices. The Nikkei’s erstwhile senior journalist, Waichi Sekiguchi, penned an interesting article several weeks ago about how Samsung prepares its staff for foreign postings, including coming to Japan.
He points out that the firm realizes that employees working abroad have to have strong language skills and so it has a program whereby trainees are sent abroad for a year, to intensively learn English, Chinese, or Japanese.
For the first nine months the employee does nothing but immersive study and for the following three months they are expected to get out into the local community and build a personal network. This last part is a stroke of brilliance because it strongly ties exam achievement with practical application of the newfound skill. Of course the employee receives salary during this entire period. Samsung also has Korea-based language training camps and about 1,100 employees attend these camps annually for 10 weeks of solid instruction. Apparently about 20,000 people, about 10% of the workforce, has gone through such intensive programs — which is very impressive.
Now, this discussion is about inbound workers rather than Japanese employees being sent abroad. So the point of the Samsung model is that here you have a large group of corporate elite, and even for such motivated employees the minimum language training offered is twelve months (if you include the three months dedicated to personal networking). This, in our opinion is the absolute minimum that should be offered to the nurses and engineers who are supposed to help out the nation in the future.
We have no doubt that some would prefer the technological answer. Therefore, one ray of hope may come from a company called Fuetrek, which has announced a software recognition application and accompanying chip set having an outstanding 99% accuracy. This is significantly higher than existing systems which come in at around 85% accuracy. The system uses a centralized network server to store and process a million-word/phrase database from input made on a cell phone or other remote device. The system is yet to be incorporated into any commercial devices, but if it is, perhaps this technology will go some way towards easing language issues for skilled foreign newcomers.
Of course if someone is having a heart attack and you’re out of translator batteries, then we wonder who gets the blame? The hospital, the nurse, or the translation device vendor? 😉
JAPAN TIMES EDITORIAL (excerpt)
EDITORIAL Monday, April 5, 2010
Ease up on the nursing exam
It is clear that the Japanese language is the barrier in the exams. Trainees receive Japanese training for the first six months, but after they start working as trainees, they face increasing difficulty in allocating the time necessary to learn Japanese. Host institutions also have difficulty providing them with sufficient support. The government should work out the standards for acquiring the necessary Japanese-language ability and give the necessary financial and other support to trainees and host institutions to help them achieve the goals.
There is the opinion that sufficient Japanese-language ability is a must because failure to understand medical records containing technical kanji terms could lead to serious accidents. If so, the period of stay for trainees should be lengthened to give them the opportunity to strengthen their Japanese-language ability as well as more chances to take the exams. Trainees should not be sent back home disappointed and feeling that they have failed.
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Hi Blog. The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) SIG group Professionalism, Administration, and Leadership in Education (PALE) has just put out its next semiannual newsletter for the season.
Contents include 2010 average salary scales for university educators in the Kansai region (see how your salary stacks up; I’m about 300 man below average), a report on JALT’s advertising policies for unfair workplaces, a quick look at teaching licenses in Japan, MEXT scholarships and how international students are adversely treated, and how a university educator stopped his contract termination by hiring a lawyer.
I have been a member in good standing with this group for well over a decade, and spent several years editing the newsletter myself. Always worth your time and attention. And if you’re a member of JALT, do join our group. Our table is always the most exciting and I spend more time there every year than anywhere else.
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Hi Blog. I’m sure you’ve heard about the next great pop in the Eikaiwa Bubble in Japan, the bankruptcy of GEOS this month. Looks like there be a similar takeover and people left without jobs or remuneration for past work, so people in the industry, heads up. I was forwarded this morning the following internal email from GEOS, and those in the know might be able to explain better here or elsewhere what this all means. FYI. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
With the absolutely regrettable news of the bankruptcy of Geos Corp, I must tell you that your salaries for the time period between 2010, March 16th to 2010. April 21st Will NOT be paid to you. There isn’t any cash left. We will work on a way for you all to collect some of your money back through the government. We are still unsure of the procedures to do this.
G-Education has offered to take over the Geos Corporate sales Division and resume all corporate class operations from the May 6th 2010. However it will be under the new payroll system as follows:
All previously negotiated hourly/rates between the GCI and part-time teachers will remain in effect.
New Payment period will be as follows: For work done between 5/1 and 5/31+ transportation expenses will be paid on 6/21. For work done between 6/1 and 6/30+ transportation expenses will be paid on 7/20. etc.
Paydays will now be on the 20th of the month or previous business day should the 20th of the month fall on Nat. Holiday or weekend.
At this point the GCI has been completely decimated. Our clients are outraged and my teachers left on stand by. Myself and Terakawa-san have made a gentlemens agreement to try and salvage and rebuild our perfectly-functioning, profitable corporate class system. We are giving ourselves 3 months to do it, or we will eat our hats.
What we need from all of my precious teachers is an agreement that you would like to continue your classes with Myself and Terakawa-san at the helm. Could you please respond to me by email “Yes” or “No” If you respond “No” I hold no hard feelings against you and I would hope to work with you again in the future when other opportunities arise. DEADLINE FOR RESPONSE WILL BE MAY 5TH 2010. And we hope to resume operations immediately after golden week.
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Hi Blog. Good news from the GOJ today. There is a concerted effort to help NJ learn the language so they can live here. About time. Not clear who’s paying for it — the students or the governments. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
TOKYO (Kyodo) — A government subcommittee has drafted guidelines for the first time on teaching Japanese to foreign residents of Japan in order to support them in their daily lives, government officials said Thursday.
The draft guidelines compiled by a Council for Cultural Affairs subcommittee lists examples of words and phrases that foreigners should be encouraged to learn for smooth communication in 10 main types of situations, including health care, travel and activities related to consumption and safety.
The main types are subdivided into 48 categories in which recommended words and phrases are situated in more concrete scenarios such as how to use trains and medicines in Japan.
The number of registered foreign residents in Japan stood at around 2.22 million at the end of 2008, according to the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.
Many government officials concerned with language education believe it would be desirable for at least 1 million of the foreign residents to learn Japanese so that they can live their lives smoothly.
However, there has been no previous attempt to compile government standards on the extent to which foreign residents should learn Japanese.
The draft, due to be submitted shortly to the Japanese language division of the Council for Cultural Affairs, estimates that the total learning period under the proposed guidelines would be around 60 hours.
“(The curriculum) would mean a great deal if it serves to demonstrate the government’s intention to support foreigners living in Japan for a long period,” says Takeshi Yoshitani, a professor who heads Tokyo Gakugei University’s Center for Research in International Education.
Public support will be necessary for foreign residents to secure the 60 hours of learning, he added.
For the record, I believe LBS is a work of history and as such should not be “banned”. It should, however, whenever used always be placed in historical context, and seen as materiel to enlighten people about the prejudices of the day. I have never seen it done so in Japan. In fact, the republisher Zuiunsha — which appears to have just appropriated the book from the previous Japanese publisher and republished it for fun and profit — doesn’t even offer a disclaimer or a foreword in the book explaining why this book has been problematic; existentially, it’s just a book they can get rich off of. Who cares if some people might be adversely affected by it?
Japan Times illustration (tiff file, click on squares if not visible in your browser):
THE ZEIT GIST
‘Sambo’ racism row reignites over kids’ play
The 1899 book still making waves in 21st-century Japan
The Japan Times, April 13, 2010 (excerpt)
By MATTHEW CHOZICK
“Little Black Sambo, Sambo, Sambo/His face and hands are completely black/Even his butt is completely black.”
Word of nursery-schoolers in Saitama Prefecture chanting a “Little Black Sambo” song — “akin to what might be taught by a white supremacist group” — spread online recently, prompting 21st century-style activism: Facebook postings, blogosphere commotion, an online petition, CCed e-mails to Tokorozawa City Hall. In a phone call, a Midori Hoikuen nursery school employee admitted to having read and then re-enacted — with toddlers — the best-selling children’s book “Little Black Sambo” (known here as “Chibikuro Sanbo”). The re-enactment’s song lyrics, as printed above, were allegedly translated by a biracial child’s concerned parent and then uploaded onto Facebook.
Since the first, Victorian-era printing of “Little Black Sambo,” its pejorative title and caricature illustrations — pitch-black faces with bulging red lips, white balloon eyes — have been a perennial bone of contention for civil-rights proponents in the U.S. and, later, Japan. Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes described the text in 1932 as “amusing undoubtedly to the white child, but like an unkind word to one who has known too many hurts to enjoy the additional pain of being laughed at.”…
Activist and Japan Times columnist Debito Arudou uploaded a parody onto his Web site, debito.org, titled “Little Yellow Jap” (“Chibi Kiiro Jappu”). Arudou asks, “What if your race was depicted in the same way as in this book?”
Redolent of Audrey Hepburn’s bucktoothed Japanese neighbor played by Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Arudou’s characters have enormous eyeglasses, exaggeratedly yellow skin and big front incisors. In Arudou’s parody, the original’s tigers become monkeys, butter is miso, one character is garbed in sumo getup and another in a Hello Kitty apron.
Arudou’s artwork succeeds, like the book it lampoons, in being both somewhat offensive and also kind of cute. This conflation is important because cuteness directs feelings of fondness and intimacy toward items of all kinds, not just puppies. Indeed, throughout “Little Black Sambo” there are numerous physical characteristics that humans are biologically programmed to find cute. According to Austrian Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz, these include “predominance of the brain capsule, large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region.”…
Whether or not this book is innocent of bigotry will continue to be debated, but in the meantime it may be a good idea to foster a critical atmosphere in which “Little Black Sambo,” held in the hands of a competent teacher, can educate children while charming their imaginations. If you teach, get a debate rolling. Bring a copy of “Little Black Sambo” to class along with Arudou’s illustrations. Let’s not be hasty in making pre-Amazon.com kindling out of a potentially valuable pedagogic tool…