UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
Hi Blog. I was going to write on something else today, but I got this letter as a post comment this morning. It’s considered and considerate — usually letters on this topic are nasty flames, criticizing me personally for ever doing what Debito.org has been doing for (as of next month) fifteen years now. And it’s also a useful exercise to think about why we do the things that we do.
I won’t answer it, for now. I’ll open it up for discussion here on Debito.org and see how other people think. Thanks for writing in, Eric. Arudou Debito
Submitted on 2012/03/18
Thank you on behalf of all NJ who have lived in Japan or are living in Japan. You are doing brilliant work. I agree with almost everything you say and do and I am in awe of your energy, perseverance and spirit.
However, the more I read your site and columns and learn about your story, the more I find myself wondering why you keep trying. I lived in Japan for years and I did what you did, but on a lesser scale: I fought discrimination, xenophobia and racism as hard as I could. I like to think I gave as good as I got, if not better. I caused a fair bit of hell at my local kuyakusho, at immigration, with the police and with various random racist folks. That’s not to say I went around with a chip on my shoulder: I had a lot of Japanese friends, spoke the language well and really tried to fit in. But, finally, I decided to leave Japan and I don’t regret it. Not for a second. Every day I’m out of there, I give thanks that I had the balls and foresight to leave.
My question to you is why do you keep trying? I don’t want to be negative, but I think even you have to admit that Japan and the Japanese are not really going to change. Not in any meaningful way. They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so. The society is feudal, with only the flimsiest veneer of legality. There is no real law – power and connections are all that matter. Japan reached a highpoint of openness and internationalization in the early 90s, and it’s been rapidly closing and going backwards since then. As the country stagnates and gets poorer, it’s going to become less and less welcoming to foreigners. I mean, the mayors of the three main cities in Japan are all nationalists and, most likely, racists.
Frankly, I don’t even think it’s worth trying to change Japan. They’re not worth it. Let them go their own miserable way to stagnation and backwardness. Let the world pass them by. Japan is like a stubborn old geezer in your neighborhood who does something offensive (letting his dog bark all night, for instance). You know that arguing with him is a waste of time. The only sensible thing to do is move away. Fuck him, to be direct about it.
You’ve fought the good fight, Debito, and a lot of gaijin owe you a huge debt of gratitude. But, for your own peace of mind, why not let someone else take up the burden? Or, better yet, wouldn’t it be best for all NJ to simply pack up and leave and let the Japanese do whatever it is they want to do? Let them sing the kimigayo morning, noon and night. Let them teach English so poorly that no one can speak it. Let them lobotomize their kids in the name of educating them. Let them claim that their actions in WWII were one vast charitable mission to spread peace and love throughout the world. Let them sink slowly into the swamp of their own bloody minded ignorance.
It’s not our job to “fix” their society. It’s not our job to educate them about how the world really works. It’s not our job to try to bring them into the modern world.
Sorry, this is a bit of a downer of a post, but anyone who knows Japan as well as you know it must surely realize that the defining characteristic of modern Japan is the inability to change. They’re so stubborn that if you ask them to change, they’ll consciously avoid changing just to spite you. I mean, why do you think they keep whaling and dolphin killing when it requires vast government support to keep doing it? They do it precisely because the world tells them to stop.
I say, leave them to it and live your own life.
UPDATE: The author has offered more lengthy and elaborate comments below here and here. You might want to read them first before going on to everyone else’s.
134 comments on “Discussion: Reader Eric C writes in with an argument for “giving up on Japan”. What do you think?”
I think one reason Debito keeps trying is that he also sea a lot he likes about Japan. Another big reason is it is the country of his children and he doesn’t want to abandone it, he wants to try and make it a better place for his children. This even though Debito does not currently see his children.
I pretty much agree with Eric although I would not presume to suggest to Debito what he should do. Sumeba Miyako and all that. I was in Japan from ’73 till ’94 mostly. Relocated to the Seattle area and loving it. I have access to the essential Japanese items I crave but dispense with the Shimaguni Konjou. Japan is my addiction. I can’t quit completely but I indulge it from afar.
While Eric makes some valid points I think it would be apparent after living in Japan for a few years how things run. A better question might be why an NJ might think Japanese society would view them as anything other than a “gaijin?”
This article crystallised a lot of ideas for me about the treatment of NJ in Japan. Not everyone gets stopped for ARC checks, not everyone is denied entry to bars, but I’m pretty sure that every NJ has experienced this constant “micro-agression”, the everyday “othering” that is consciously or unconsciously designed to keep you in your place, but at the same time allows the aggressor to completely disclaim that they are racist.
For me, this is the exhausting stuff. Coming home after 10 years in Japan the first thing I noticed was a feeling of freedom – that I didn’t have to walk around “on-guard” all the time.
— Good article, thanks. Recommended it on Facebook. But let’s bring this back to the blog post topic of “giving up on Japan”.
Who is Eric C. to make all these grandiose charges? So Japanese may be genetically xenophobic? Huh? He seems to be thoroughly guilty of his own charges. With comments like “Let them go their own miserable way to stagnation and backwardness” he seems to have much more than a chip on his shoulder but rather a ton of bricks. I’m surprised you would give such drivel space on your blog.
Debito here. A friend (while rather intoxicated) posted this to me for reposting if I thought it relevant. I do. Take it with the candor it was intended:
Why not ask why non-whites don’t leave America. Same answer. Because they have just as much right to be where they want to be as anyone else. I am somewhat offended by the racist tone of the post (ergo, JP are too stupid to change). Ya, so things didn’t work out like you thought. Didn’t live in [city deleted]? Ok, bye. Goddamned entitled dipshit. Signed, Wymarshian.
This attitude really bugs me. (disclaimer: I am enjoying living in Japan)
Japan is not a unique country. Japan’s not special. Why do so many Westerners refer to Japan as this magical exotic country that they slowly learn to hate? Would a North American do the same with a European country? How about another Asian country: South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan? (If you think Japan’s immigration policy is bad, I hope you never live in South Korea)
If this reader is having these ideas, why did you come to Japan in the first place? Who are you fighting for? When I look at the fight for immigrants and rights in Japan, it very rarely comes down to Western ex-pats doing specialized work. The fight for immigrants is the fight for unskilled trainees from poor countries, the fight for women on entertainer visas who get exploited, the fight for Nikkei Brazilians losing their jobs and being bribed to go home. Western ex-pats come into the mix as well, and are not excluded, but our problem is (mainly in my opinion) in housing issues and general issues of ignorance. Yes, people have been racist for me on multiple times, but I have never feared for my safety.
These ignorant issues of racism aren’t unique to Japan. Can the question be rephrased as “Why do you try to stop racism in the country you live in?” Is the only connection to Japan here that we all live (or have lived) in it? I have Asian friends that have went to rural Western Europe villages, and the racism they felt was a lot more open than I feel. This is not to qualify racism, or to try and judge that racism is worse here or there. It’s to say that racism is everywhere, and to give up on racism in Japan is to give up on racism worldwide. It’s to go to a country where YOU personally don’t feel any racism (luckily if you’re white, there’s quite a few of those places!)
So why not give up on X (X = Japan for most of us)? We like it. We realize there are problems, and attempting to get rid of those problems makes us like it even more. Y (your home country) isn’t a perfect country, has its own share of problems, and those problems from an immigrant perspective are something that we have never experienced, but the point is we are in X now, X is not any more special than anywhere else, it has good points and bad points, and in order to live a healthy life, one should appreciate the good points, and try to make the bad points better.
I can’t speak for Debito (he’s naturalized, and I have no intention of making such a commitment), but my love of Japan isn’t this absolute super serious thing. I live in Japan now, and try to make the most of it. I can leave at any time. I hope to go to a third country to be honest, so I can get even more perspective on X and Y. Right now everything is being compared between the two as if there’s no third example, when in actuality there’s over one hundred examples out there.
I guess all I’m trying to say is Japan’s not a unique, exotic place to fall in love with and get burned by. It’s an East Asian country that industrialized quickly and had rapid economic growth in the post-war period. Its policies reflect this, as does the path it will take, and the path it should take, and the path liberal thinkers should want it to take. It won’t be America and it shouldn’t be as much as Germany, Estonia or Bhutan shouldn’t be America.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch some youtube videos of foreigners either praising Japan to be the best place on Earth (perhaps better than heaven!), or a horrible shithole (much worse than hell).
An interesting work is the book by Apichai Shipper:
I feel any comment about Debito’s motives to be inappropriate; I do not know him and so cannot comment.
What I would say is that it is clear that life in Japan has both benefits and a large cost.
What should be considered by those who wish to reside permanently in Japan is the cost as a result of xenophobia and racism.
What should be considered by those who choose to have children is that they too will pay a price, due to ethnic and racial chauvinism in Japan.
Whether the benefits are greater or less than the costs is an individual decision, and depends on what else is being considered as an alternative.
Moreover, the degree of xenophobia and racism varies as well, with melanistic Africans suffering more than Dutch.
Thank you very much for making my comment a blog post in its own right! I am honored and flattered. In order for you and your readers to understand the reasoning behind my original post, I’d like to post a longer post that I posted on another forum a while back. This summarizes all my reasons for leaving Japan and why I think others should consider it. Yes, this is very self-indulgent, but it might be useful for those thinking in terms of “Should I stay or should I go” (thanks to The Clash for those lyrics). Here goes:
I hate to rain on your parade, but I have to tell you all the hard truth (and believe me, it took me a long time to come to all these realizations and even longer to act on them). The fact is, Japan is never going to accept foreigners. Foreigners, particularly Western foreigners, should stop trying to be accepted or to change Japan. My advice to Western foreigners, especially those with half-Japanese children, is to leave Japan. Trust me, I am not trying trolling here. I am telling you what I think, what I chose to do, and how it has made my life much better. In order to stick to the theme of this thread, I will keep my explanation centered on what is annoying about Japan.
First, as MacArthur so famously said: Japan is a nation of children. At first, this might seem almost touching or cute. And, I suspect that the childish innocence displayed by the Japanese is one reason why people love Japan so much when they are fresh off the boat. The fact is, the Japanese, even when they are adults, may be physically mature, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually, they are children. The reasons for this would take a while to explain, but suffice it to say that they are essentially treated like children all through their lives, while at the same time, they are forbidden from the sort of free thinking that goes into creating a meaningful adult identity, and, on top of this, they generally have extremely limited worldly experience.
If you think honestly about this, you will see what I mean. Consider the infantile reaction that Japanese have to any form of criticism, however constructive. It is taken as an attack on the whole being. And, think about how it feels to interact with most Japanese: after a certain amount of time in Japan, you will know exactly what they are going to say, and even what words they will use to say it. When you talk with them, you feel like you are sort of humoring a slightly precocious child. It might be pleasant. The conversation might be long. But, you will not come away with any insights or have your mind expanded the way it might be when talking to a real adult in other parts of the world. The only exceptions are the very old, who have some real life experience, or returnees from abroad, who were snapped out of the groupthink mindset.
And, of course, more than the boredom that comes from living among people who are essentially children, it is the tyranny of the groupthink that is truly annoying. It is not that particular thoughts are forbidden in Japan: it is dissent of any kind that is forbidden. The indoctrination into the groupthink starts at a very young age and continues right through their lives. Along with this indoctrination comes the whole package of brainwashing and propaganda: the myth of Japanese uniqueness, the cult of victimization, and the directive to focus on the differences rather than the similarities with other cultures. Needless to say, this lifelong brainwashing and squashing of dissent handily serves the purposes of the powers that be: the useless geezers in Kasumigaseki, the top guys of the various keiretsu, the very wealthy and the various local bosses who divvy up the bounty that flows from the ministries.
Needless to say, a country with a population of children who have been intellectually neutered, governed by regressive and highly conservative old men is not likely to be a comfortable place for any halfway sensitive Westerner. And, please do not kid yourself that Japan will become more open in the future. The fact is, Japan reached a high point of internationalization and openness sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. Since then, it has been going backwards and morphing into a more conservative and closed place. Textbooks are being purged of even the vaguest mention of wartime atrocities, fewer young people are going abroad to study, attitudes toward immigration are becoming increasingly negative. I mean, the capital city of the country just re-elected a famously racist Ishihara Shintaro. That is the capital city, not some tiny backwater in Tottori! And it was not a tight race. If you think Japan is going to increase immigration and start truly embracing foreigners, frankly, you are out to lunch. If second- and third-generation Korean residents are still treated as outsiders and looked down upon, just why do you expect them to start treating you as an equal?
Even if one could put up with the mind-numbing boredom of living among children and the affront of being treated as a second-class citizen despite your best efforts at assimilation, there is the environment to consider. Several posters above mentioned the visual horror of endless concrete and power lines. You can spend your life looking and you will find precious few vistas in Japan that are not thoroughly marred by human activity. There are no pastoral or wild vistas like you will find in Europe, North America, New Zealand, Australia etc. Only deep in the heart of the Japan Alps and a few other mountain ranges will you find anything that is not totally disfigured by concrete, clear cutting, industrial sugi farming, power lines, dams, concrete retaining walls and hideous buildings.
Then, of course, there is the noise. From morning to night, you are assaulted by noise in Japan: politicians, bosozoku, recycling trucks, advertisements and announcements of every sort. If you live in certain parts of Kanto or Kansai, you may have some sort of amplified sound playing in your vicinity all day, every day from 8am to 9pm. And it is all legal. Do you really think the politicians will ever ban this, when it is their favorite means of campaigning? Never going to happen. There just comes a time in your life when you have to ask yourself: Do I want to spend the rest of my life with that as a constant soundtrack?
Even if you are single or married without children, you should get out. But, if you have got children who are part Japanese, I would say it is downright irresponsible and even cruel to remain in Japan. Sure, you might think to yourself: I am taking them abroad and I am making sure they learn English, they will be fine. But do not fool yourself: your input into their development is way less than you think. Even if they go to international school, they are being socialized in Japan. Just try to think into the future. Imagine them in one of those group hiring sessions for a big company. Imagine them being forced through the awful meat grinder of the Japanese corporate world. But, most importantly, imagine them submitting to the group mind and being denied the ability to think freely and truly enjoy the fruits of an open and well-developed mind. Being denied the joy of true individuality.
So many posters here have noted some truly annoying things about Japan. I am speaking to you guys now. You know in your heart of hearts that you are kidding yourself. If you find these things annoying, it is because they are. But, you keep telling yourself that this is the only place you can make money and that there is nothing for you to do if you go home now. And you hope like hell that somehow you can keep your kids from becoming like the victims you see emerging from the Japanese educational system. But, deep inside, you know you are sacrificing their future because you are afraid to step out of the easy routine of teaching English in Japan.
I say, stop trying to make the best of a bad situation. As Japan ages and stagnates, it is only going to get worse. Reactionary and fascist politicians will become more common, not less. Foreigners will get blamed for everything wrong with the country. Your own jobs will start disappearing as the country gets poorer and the student population declines. I suggest you do what I did. Leave Japan. Sure, it might take some time to get established in another country (either your home country or a more open country with a brighter future than Japan), but in the long term you will be glad you left. And, the lives of your children will be so much better. If what I have written above does not convince you, just imagine being an old person in Japan. Imagine waking up on your 70th birthday to the sound of another election truck and knowing that you are too old to go anywhere and that sound is the sound you are going to hear for the rest of your days. Get out now while you still can!
An addendum to the above: The following post covers the same ground, but focuses on the political reasons for why Japan will not change and why, therefore, you should get out:
What’s Japan’s biggest problem? It’s pretty simple: the country is owned and run by a small group of conservative geezers who speak no language other than Japanese and know nothing about the wider world. The majority of these men can be found in the ministries. They form the unelected government of Japan. Meaning simply this: Japan is not a democracy. The ministries make 90% of the laws in Japan. They send the budget up to the Diet, which rubber stamps it. And keep in mind that the ministers have decades to make dirty backroom deals with industry and that’s exactly what they do.
If the ministers were judged by their performance, as they would be in any rational society, they all would have been fired years ago. I mean, who are these ministers? They are the clowns who, for instance, sit on the Mombusho and preside over an English education system that produces graduates who place LAST in the world on the TOEFL IBT speaking section. That’s right: last. These are the clowns who brought you Fukushima Dai-ichi, Monju and Tokaimura. These are the clowns who have turned Japan from one of the world’s most beautiful countries into one of its ugliest, through the tools of concrete, dams, retaining walls and tetrapods.
Japan’s response to 311, in particular, the nuclear accident at Fukushima, is proof that Japan cannot and will not change itself. I used to think that a big enough external shock might force Japan to change (the way the coming of the Westerners did in the mid 19th century and the way the American occupation did starting in 1945), but the fact that Japan has not changed in any substantial way since 311 has proved that Japan simply will not change. The present regressive old men who run the show will sail the ship of state right onto the rocks, and they don’t care how many lives they waste in the process. They might imagine themselves to be patriots, but they are the worst form of traitors: they are thinking only of their wallets and their own personal comfort at the expense of the entire nation of Japan and all the young people who live there.
We forget that Fukushima was not the first nuclear accident in Japan that was the result of human error and lack of true regulation. Does anyone remember Monju and Tokaimura? It’s only a matter of time before another accident happens. This is madness. Japan has rendered a vast swath of its agricultural heartland radioactive and allowed the capital to be covered with fallout and they still can’t even make the most cosmetic changes to the nuclear industry. And don’t think for a second that the fact that most plants are now offline portends any great change. The nuke industry and their ministry bitches are just biding their time before they ram nuclear power down the throat of the nation.
The ministers’ partners in crime are the large companies that insist on hiring graduates in mass hiring ceremonies, rather than adopting flexible hiring practices like those of major companies elsewhere in the world. The result is an educational system geared entirely to getting hired straight out of a good school by a large company. For the vast majority of students who fail at this goal, they are ruined by the process. All of their spirit and creativity is beaten out of them (the same, of course, can be said of those who succeed in getting hired by the big companies, but at least they get lifetime employment). The educational system is designed to serve the needs of large companies, not the people of the country. Look at the passive, risk-averse, uncreative graduates of Japan’s educational system. What good will they do the country? What good will they do themselves?
It really doesn’t matter. Nothing can change this. In a short time, Korean, China, Singapore and Hong Kong will eat Japan for lunch and spit out the bones. Japan has created the perfect perpetual motion machine: a system which produces passive slaves who are trained not to rock the boat. It works until it is too old to work, or gets taken over or bought by a more dynamic and healthy culture. That’s all there is too it.
Why put up with this? Why allow your life to be endangered so you can milk the country for a few more years of easy paychecks? The very best Japan can hope for is a long slow decline into xenophobic stagnation. The more likely trajectory is one of economic collapse punctuated with nationalist uprisings and regular nuclear accidents. Get out while the getting’s good. Sure, most other countries have some form of corruption, but none have the insidious blend of passive population, lapdog media and the complete lack of means for change that curse Japan.
Finally, I’ll reply to specific posts/responses in a day or so.
Dude, you expressed it beautifully. It is exhausting stuff and wears on you, but when you get away from it, wow, its like taking off a pack after a 10 mile hump.
I don’t blame him. There is every reason to be pessimistic about Japan–low birthrate, aging society, centralization of powers, curtailment of free press/censorship, decline of social welfare, bad debts, etc. His pessimism is not a product of typical foreigner who gets her/his hammered down by the system for whatever reason. It’s affecting all Japanese and NJ.
If you are skeptical, I urge you to read Michael Zielenziger’s “Shutting out the sun”(2007). It was an odd-wired cultural logic that the elitists employed and screwed the country for 20 years. And, they are still not figuring out how to fix the problems because they don’t even have the guts to identify the problems that affect the standard of living for the general public. You don’t have to become Thomas Frank for being comically cynical about national political system, but manifest ineptitude and close-mindedness of J-social system explain pretty well about its pity in general.
Regarding “Giving up on Japan”, what follows is my two-yen.
Over a decade ago, I found it essential to create a mental separation between Japan the island chain, and Japan the island nation.
These isolated states of Japan allowed me to give up on one Japan (Japan the island nation) yet preserve the other (Japan the island chain).
Japan the island nation was unspoiled by anti-NJ elements (e.g. politics, racial discrimination, xenophobia, etc). I could deal with the human-generated bullshit because at least there was something sacred I could embrace, somewhere I could retreat to (i.e. abundant nature).
Then the Tokaimura nuclear accidents happened. And now Fukushima.
That there have been not one, not two, but *3 FUCKING NUCLEAR ACCIDENTS* in the last two decades is so damning of what is wrong with Japan the nation that all NJ-related issues are, for all intents and purposes, moot points by comparison.
I can only hope that in 40 ~ 50 years, both Japans will emerge as better places.
I think, as opinion, people might take that one for solid or for slanted. As far as it goes, it seems a little bit cynical. Most people who have had experience with Japan for some length of time see the good and the bad. It is important not to fall into the trap of one thing or the other.
What has always struck me as useful about the sharing here, is the very strong sense that foreigners get, after a while, that their rights in Japan are “contingent”. You have contingent rights, not real ones. They are rights only if the Japanese you are dealing with chooses to recognize the rights. To me, in the 21st century especially, that is trouble.
We Westerners are surprised by this, because in most of our home countries, people do not do this anymore without raising some eyebrows. (In America, definitely outside of the Deep South and Appalachia. You can tell from contemporary Republican politics, though, that there is still a segment of America that wants to re-fight the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights / 24th amendment poll tax disputes, even 50 years later . . . )
This blog has generally tacked more towards the topic of, say, pure discrimination, rather than what I see as the more tangible question of equal protection. I feel what happens is that foreigners in Japan come to understand that they are not be according equal protection. From there, some decide that being so-called “House Gaikokujin” is fine, (or they engage in their own illegalities against other foreigners). Others despair of most of Japan, and write commentary like the post topic.
The reality of Japan is somewhere in between the two perspectives. I find that the interesting part of Japan is in between those perspectives.
“They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so.”
Eric evidently doesn’t know much about genetics…
Well, I left America for racist reasons: after being detained for two hours under suspicion for a crime I didn’t commit, on a major street near my university for all to see, I figured Japan was where I’d go. As an African American I still think that (in my experience, mind you)American whites have a great deal more feelings of anger when faced with it here, because many haven’t back home.
Why keep trying? For the same reason I still vote in America: I pay taxes, teach their kids, and can’t complain if I do nothing. Think instead of how you have started from zero in a xenophobic, blatanly ignorant and racist country, and have SURVIVED!
People give up on things all the time for whatever reasons.
Re Japan, I am of the view that 2 weeks a year here will be enough once I do leave.
When I first came here at the start of the millenium, it struck me how complacent so many Japanese actually are. Problems just aren’t being addressed, and things are starting to get tougher for many people on this archipelago. From a business point of view, bureaucratic intransigence is my major beef, but that aside, government debt and demographics mean that Japan’s future is a gloomy one.
So I’ll come back for my two weeks a year, enjoy the local cuisine, and travel around on a JR pass etc, but that will be it.
Sort of off topic but for those who think the grass is greener on the other side or looking a for a third country to get perspective. Here is a interesting post on the gritty little site that can both be pretty informative and sometimes a bit creepy. The post is called, Why I Never Married A Thai. Written by a long term Expat,it goes a much deeper than a heads up before getting married to a Thai. It really takes a good hard critical look at the culture in the tradition of this site. I’ve always felt Asian cultures have a lot more in common than each country would like to admit and you will see similarities in this post between the Thai and Japanese.
Some NJ residents have Japanese family here (myself included). Reason enough for those who choose to.
Eric I agree with your letter 100%, so we all need to all be honest here and admit that japan just isn’t going to change and get over it and try to live our life the best way we can either in japan or elsewhere
I would commend writings by
Stephen Murphy Shigematsu.
contains many interesting works on mixed ancestry individuals, such as:
Multiethnic Lives and Monoethnic Myths: American-Japanese Amerasians in Japan, The Sum of Our Parts, 2001
“However, continued belief in the myth of Japanese ethnic purity remains a barrier to the acceptance of multiethnic people.”
His blog also contains entries relevant to this discussion, such as:
I fall in the camp of which Jim seems to be hinting. “admit that japan just isn’t going to change and get over it and try to live our life the best way we can”.
While I admire those that go out and try to change things for the better, I am not one of those people. I am here in Japan, my life consumed with my work and my family and my hobbies on the side. I’m living my life the best way that I can, and during the course of this I have not felt the necessity nor desire to “change” anyone or anything. Perhaps people will think I’m naive, but I am just the type of person who can be happy just about anywhere. If anything, I still get more angry about the state of the USA and the direction I see it going, which is far more likely to keep me in Japan than ever act as an invitation to return…
Perhaps I have been lucky. I certainly recognize the experiences of Chris, but I fail to see them as being as insidious and widespread as he personally found them to be.
It’s not rose colored glasses that I’m wearing either, since I don’t view the Japanese or Japan as particularly good or ‘special’. The more people I meet here (and that includes friends and colleagues and my family), the more I believe that most Japanese are just people doing the same thing I am “try to live our life the best way we can”. There are problems, and bad people to be sure. However the Japanese are not, in my experience, racist automaton Borg enslaved by a some hive mind system.
Eric, while Ishihara may have been elected by a landslide, these stats:
…give cause for optimism: Ishihara’s support declines steadily as voters’ ages decrease. The elderly chose him overwhelmingly, but only 34% of voters in their 30s and 28% of those in their 40s voted for him. These people preferred Hideo Higashikokubaru, and also offered more support to Miki Watanabe than their elders did.
Had voting rights been restricted to those under 40, Higashikokubaru would today be mayor of Tokyo — in fact, if all age groups voted in equal numbers, he’d still win the election if only people under 50 could vote.
The biggest crisis I see coming for Japan is the demographic one in which the elderly ruthlessly bleed the younger generations dry — or, more accurately, ensconced politicians ruthlessly bleed the younger generations dry to the benefit of elderly voters. We’re already seeing a movement to raise consumption taxes to the heavens so that the massive cohort of Boomers, now beginning to retire, can continue to live in comfort while their children struggle along, doing limited-term-contract haken work with little job security. There was never any essential connection between consumption taxes and old-age pensions, but the politicians have created one.
You see this all over the world with local politicians who don’t care what happens once they’re out of office, and with US presidents who don’t care how much national debt they offload to the next administration. But with Japan it seems that the whole nation is behaving this way.
Back to demographics: after about 1972, there are fewer babies born with each passing year. People born in the 15 or so years after that had to watch their elders get rich in the bubble era, only to find themselves facing an employment crisis; this gave that age cohort the nickname “the Employment Ice Age” (就職氷河期). After a short rebound, the ratio of jobs to new graduates has gone back down to where it was then.
Combine the lack of jobs with the decreasing numbers of births each year, and you get a steady stream of people who, even when employed, will forever have a hard time getting promotions, because there will always be slightly too many employees a few years older than they are.
Fewer jobs, fewer promotions, less job security, and much higher taxes for the post-1972 crowd. Solid, steady benefits for the big pre-1960 crowd. This is where I see Japan heading for the rocks: a disenfranchised and outnumbered younger half being taken advantage of by an I-got-mine cohort of elderly saying apres nous, le deluge.
The government could, in addition to the near-meaningless accelerated PR program for rich one-percenters, take in large numbers of intelligent, hard-working immigrants of tax-paying age. Or they could keep the generational ship pointed right at the demographic rocks. I do hope it’s not too late for them to choose the former.
Eric C succinctly sums up all of the problems. I agree with him in his assessment. He is a brave man to risk internet-stalking for such honesty. As Hoofin says, this is a cynical point of view (Hoofin’s point about contingent rights is valid one), but the truth should not be avoided just because we don’t want it to be true.
Some posters accuse Eric C of racism. Whilst it is true that he uses many of the expressions used by social anthropologists over the years to explain Japan in racist terms for racist ends, it does not necessarily invalidate the the authenticity of the statement.
His whole posts should be prefixed with ‘by Western/European standards’ (if ‘modern’ standards is too imperialist for you), especially regarding personal freedoms and rights, education, government and the law. I take his letter not to mean that Japan should be changed, but rather attempting to change it is a waste of time and energy. I agree with that. If you are happy to live in Japan as it is, that’s fine, but I think that the message is that if you expect to enjoy the basic freedoms of your home country, then forget it.
Japan’s future IS grim, and it really is too late to change that. If you are over 40, married, and have kids, then it’s most likely impossible for you to leave Japan. As long as you aren’t kept awake at night worrying about the quality of life your kids can look forward to, you will most likely spend your old age remembering ‘how good Japan used to be’, and ‘how rich the Japanese used to be’, and recounting fables of ‘salarymen with life-time unemployment’. If however, you aren’t married with kids, or are under 40 with any skills, or are single, then you should consider how much this country has gone down-hill in the last 10 years, and where it will be in 10 more, and make a plan to escape. The Titanic has hit the ice-berg. The band still playing, but this ship is sinking.
If anyone still has any doubts about which group suffers most from Japanese racism, look new further than the 7-11 Western Union money transfer campaign posters.
— Send us links to some examples.
@Paul, most social or cultural studies (e.g. Hofstede) conclude that there are 5-10% at one end of the spectrum, e.g. black van driving rightists, 5-10% enlightened people or people interested in other cultures at the other end of said spectrum, and then the 80% who conform to stereotypes and the “Borg Hive mind” as you so eloquently referred to. Percentages and stereotypes are subject to shifting ion one direction or the other.
I suppose this is best illustrated by the lack of NJ rights here. A small minority are in favor of granting us rights, a noisy minority violently opposed, and the vast, silent majority in the middle dont give a thought to it, as it does not affect them directly.
I agree with the letter in theory and have shared a lot of the sentiments that the writer holds.
That said, maybe it’s just my choice of discipline, but living here and researching Japanese literature I have come across a lot of people that are as intellectually open and intelligent as any of the academics that I studied under and worked with in America. Dissent is strongly encouraged – and it’s the main reason that I’ve chosen to stay. It’s not the majority of voters that chose Ishihara Shintaro that I concern myself with, it’s the people I know who said “I can’t fucking believe that asshole won again” when he got re-elected.
Of course, the MA and PhD program here in Jps lit is approximately 40% foreign students, so I realize that it’s not a typical Japanese environment, but everything has got to start somewhere.
That said, I still want to write a book called “you are not at all special or unique: an open letter to the japanese people”
As promised, I am now going to reply to some of the responses to my post (which Debito kindly made into a full blog post).
First, I wonder why it was necessary to post the private email from Wymarshian, who wrote,” Why not ask why non-whites don’t leave America. Same answer. Because they have just as much right to be where they want to be as anyone else. I am somewhat offended by the racist tone of the post (ergo, JP are too stupid to change). Ya, so things didn’t work out like you thought. Didn’t live in [city deleted]? Ok, bye. Goddamned entitled dipshit.”
First off, Wymarshian asks why non-whites shouldn’t leave America. He seems to think that America and Japan are somehow equivalent. I’m surprised that a friend of Debito and a reader of this blog would write such a thing. As Debito constantly points out, NJ do not receive legal protections in Japan and many Japanese don’t even think NJ deserve legal protections. In contrast, the rights of minorities are legally protected in the States, and the topic is something all but the most ignorant Americans are fully aware of. Sure, there is racism in America, but there are very definite legal recourses to fight it. This is not the case in Japan. Next, Wymarshian claims that I call Japanese stupid. Needless to say, I don’t claim any such thing in my post. Nor do I insinuate it. In fact, I consider most Japanese to be very intelligent (although I do feel that their educational system does a lot to render this intelligence useless).
Next, Wymarshian calls me “an entitled dipshit.” So, anyone who demands basic human rights is “an entitled dipshit”? Well, he’s right as far as the word “entitled” goes. I believe all human beings are entitled to basic human rights. I just wonder why this guy is a friend of Debito. I mean, this whole blog is an outgrowth of Debito demanding human rights for NJ. Does this also make Debito an “entitled dipshit”? Seems like Wymarshian might be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome: he seems to take offense to a NJ demanding basic human rights, just like some uyoku do.
We all know the term “drunk dialing.” What’s the term for drunk emailing? I wonder why it was necessary to include input from an obviously drunk emailer who didn’t even take the time to read my post properly.
Another poster, Kinpatsu, took offense at me claiming that the insularity of the Japanese might actually be genetic. He goes so far as to claim that I know nothing about genetics. This is odd, since I’ve been working in a related field for a long time and am a passionate study of the latest developments in the field. Sure, for a long time, I resisted the notion that there might be a genetic basis to the xenophobia of the Japanese, but lately, I’ve come to consider that a small portion of their xenophobia might have a genetic basis (of course, I admit that most of it is culturally conditioned). This is not the place for a debate about the relative degree to which environment and genetics go into producing the characteristics of people and cultures. But, I would like to point out that a surprising amount of what appears to be culturally conditioned behavior is actually genetically determined. Twin studies have shown how behaviors that one would assume to be caused by nurture are actually genetically based. I’d also point out that different animal species can be either highly territorial or very social and accepting of other species’ presence and this is obviously genetically coded. I will leave this conversation about genetics here.
So that takes care of the “random swipes” at me.
As for the more thoughtful responses, first, thank you to everyone who posted them.
Beneathewheel raises an interesting point and one I’ve heard often, namely, that all countries have their problems, so you might as well just put up with the place where you presently live. This one has never made sense to me. Of course I know that there is no such thing as the perfect country. But, countries exist along a continuum. I mean, would anyone say that Switzerland and Burkina-Faso both have their problems, so you might as well live in either? And, for me, some issues trump all others, and, in Japan, the basic lack of legal and human rights for NJ is a deal breaker. I don’t care how good the soba is. I don’t care how relaxing the onsen are. If my basic rights as a human being are not legally protected, then it’s not a place I want to live in and not a place where I want to raise my kids.
Other posters state in various ways something along the lines of, “I know Japan has problems, but it works for me and I don’t really want to spend my time fighting against the system.” To these people, I say: more power to you. If it works for you, fine. Enjoy it. I know that Japan can be a very pleasant place to live. Please, though, if you have kids (especially double kids), then do all you can to protect them from the educational system and the propaganda barrage they’ll receive.
I’d also like to thank Charuzu, for his post on Shigematsu. Just reading Shigematsu’s experiences of being a Eurasian in Japan made me glad, once again, that I left.
I also can fully related to the feelings of the posters above who said that leaving Japan was like having a weight lifted from their shoulders. That was my experience exactly. One of the things I found most refreshing was being able to speak to people directly and openly, instead of playing all those mind games that go into communication in Japan. It’s such a relief not to be obsessed by the correct degree of keigo, sonkeigo etc. It’s also wonderful not to have to try to guess what a person really means.
Thanks also to Mark in Yayoi for the heartening information about the voting in the recent Tokyo election. That is a hopeful sign.
And, to Jim Di Griz, thanks for the comment. However, I would not be so sure that you cannot leave if you are over 40 and have a family. This very much depends on your work and your situation. I left after 40 and it seems to be working so far. After 50, it might start to get pretty difficult. One thing I’d suggest to anyone who’s living in Japan but concerned about human rights issues and aware of the fact that Japan is on a steep downward trajectory in economic and social terms, is this: start to build a bridge out of Japan. Start to make your work portable. Think of what you can do in another country. Get a qualification if necessary. Start spending part of every year outside Japan. My guess is that you will not regret this.
I want to close by saying that I was only expressing my opinion and explaining why I chose to leave. I can fully understand why someone might want to stay. Japan is a LOT better than most countries in terms of quality of life. If you’ve built a life here and have family here, choosing to stay is a valid decision. To each their own. And, as someone pointed out above: sumeba miyako. All the best to you!
I lived in Japan 1992-2000 and came back to the US then, but I’d like to go back, maybe.
The US, too, is largely a nation of children. The only countries who have their act together economically are Canada, Oz, Germany, and the Nordic states, and several of those have their own simmering problems to deal with.
At least Japan is a top-5 secularist society, the US is swamped with various religious communities trying to legislate their bigotries.
While I largely agree with the points raised by Eric C, I found this:
“As the country stagnates and gets poorer”
to be worth some more examination. A declining population is not an economic death sentence for Japan, what it means is that by 2050 Japan will again have the population it did ca 1975 — but half the number of young people and ~5X the number of old people.
I’m not sure how things are going to turn out for Japan, but I’d rather have their row to hoe this century than the US’s.
With a declining population, economic opportunity will actually increase for more people, especially the horrendously under-employed distaff side. At the national level, less will be invested in creating new infrastructure — it’s cheaper to maintain existing stuff than build new stuff. As the nation gets older, people will be able to live on less consumption — most people over 40 already have all the stuff they need to have to live.
Basically Japan is heading into a post-consumerist society. This is not a bad thing.
On the negative side, I do think Japan is in a fragile situation vis-a-vis ROK, Taiwan, and China. They’ve made major inroads into Japan Inc’s manufacturing domination and this will no doubt continue.
But as an expat in Japan, the best revenge is just being a good gaijin and doing one’s best as a cultural ambassador. You really can’t change things but by very small incrementalist degrees.
— As an “expat”, a “good gaijin” and “cultural ambassador”? How about the viability if life as a NJ “resident”?, which is the subject of this blog entry. Clearly you bought into guestism at a very different stage than Japan is in now, and your mind might change if you actually lived in Japan now.
I am really shocked by the number of people who accept Eric C’s claims. If his point is merely to say ‘it’s better to leave Japan than try to change it’ as one comment notes, sure, I agree too. But there’s so much implicit in his tone that I find troubling, so many broad generalizations, Japanese are this (infantile) and Japanese are that (never gonna accept you). Would you accept the claim that ‘Americans are arrogant?’ Aren’t such attitudes exactly what Debito is fighting against? And tell me about “indoctrination into groupthink!” I grew up having to recite the pledge of allegiance every day at school, a country that sends hundreds of thousands of young men and women overseas to save democracy and fight for freedom . What’s so unique about indoctrination in this country? Do you think (to use the example of a country I know best) Americans are such critical thinkers? Watch some Fox News. I just wonder whether Eric C. can look into a mirror (whether he’s American or not). As another wrote, Japan is not so earthshatteringly different than other countries on earth. It’s fucked up in many ways, but where isn’t? Go to Thailand, a great country in many ways, where you can be imprisoned for dissing the king. A greater truth than ‘get out of Japan’ is every situation is what you make it. You can simmer and point your finger your whole life and remain blind to your own flaws and the flaws of your tribe or you can aim to live life fully fearlessly and with integrity. Leaving Japan worked for you, fine. Perhaps one day you’ll notice some troubling systemic problems in whatever country you’re now living. Living in Japan is another option–not inherently better or worse than living in your country of birth. Get some perspective man!
“They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so”
condemning xenophobia with a blatently racist statement doesnt serve your rantings very well….which makes me think that ,although you do discuss some common complaints among foreigners in Japan, it all comes from somewhere filled with bitterness and anger. You almost sound like the very kind of people you complain about…unfair, irrational and a bit racist…
I guess Eric’s argumentative discourse invokes an irony of “the rhetoric of the law.” According to James Boyd White, legal language “creates a set of actors and speakers and offers them possibilities for meaningful speech and action that would not otherwise exist; in so doing it establishes and maintain a community.”1 The irony here is that the system skews the collective notion of “we the people” because it exists as an abstract, while “the law entacts a more specific, more limited, people who are to act in accordance with judicially-mediated reality.” 2 My point here is that the possibility of active democracy and citizenship depends on the attitudes of those who interpret framer’s mind on the national constitution. What vision do you see in this mirror– Alienation or integration?
What makes Japan unique, from my perspective, is that the framers of system seem to politicize culture in a way to preserve its sublime and backwardness simultaneously. No wonder such practice hampers re-invigoration of the people by creating rhetorical binary of hegemony and stupidity, which accounts for the maintenance of “cultural relavism.”
1 James Boyd White. Justice as Translation: An Essay in Cultural and Legal Criticism(Chicago: University of Chicago, 1990), xiv.
2Todd F. McDorman. “Challenging Constitutional Authority: African American Responses to Scott v. Sandford.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83(1997):194.
Hi John S,
Thanks for the reply. First, I wasn’t posting about the United States. Debito’s blog is not about the United States. I agree that there is an astonishing amount of propaganda and groupthink in the United States, but isn’t that better discussed on some other board? Perhaps you are giving away your America-centric bias by feeling the need to compare everything to the USA. The fact is, there are plenty of countries with much less propaganda and groupthink than that which exists in the USA and Japan. If you really want to discuss the United States, why not find a board where that is the theme?
As for me being able to look in the mirror, I do so every morning and I’m not upset with the guy I find looking back at me. My posts weren’t about me, so don’t try to personalize it.
As for every country having flaws, I admitted that and discussed it at length in post #30. Did you read that or did you just jump right down and start typing?
As for having perspective, I can’t be sure, but I’d lay long odds that I’ve travelled in and lived in way more countries than you. I have heaps of perspective.
My main problem with Japan is essentially the problem that Debito spends his life fighting against: the lack of legal protection and recognition of foreigners and the way most Japanese seem to reflect and/or support this governmental attitude.
As for your point about Japan not being particularly different from many other countries, I beg to differ: Japan is quite different from most countries. The thing that makes them different is their belief in their own uniqueness (which is both tautological and a self-fulfilling prophecy). I found this almost unbearable.
But, the main point is this: I assume that most of the participants in this discussion are expats or considering the expat life. There are many countries on earth that are multicultural and where permanent residents and non-citizens are protected with clearly defined laws (and where the people are far less xenophobic than those in Japan). If you think that, Japan and, say, Canada or Australia are pretty much all the same except for the languages they speak, then you should continue your happy life in Japan and disregard my comments. They’re obviously not going to make much impact on you.
Soon to graduate and in my early twenties, I am increasingly aware that my goal to live an work in Japan makes me an oddball. As many are aware, Japan is a poor alternative to countries with a 21st century-handle on human rights, economy, politics, and so on. However, my conviction remains. It remains because I cannot let go of Japan, and I cannot let go because there is only one Japan.
Maybe years from now I’ll be eating these words; never say never. Nevertheless, I can confidently move foreward knowing that this is the best decision I can make for myself in the here and now. I believe that I can follow my passion and shape it into a life I want to live. I doubt Eric C ever wore these shoes, but I won’t admonish him for that. I am an oddball, after all.
Comments about the U.S. were made to show what I perceive to be the absurdity of your claims. I am not claiming that Americans are arrogant, just juxtaposing that with ‘Japanese are infantile.’ I think such claims are far too broad to have any meaning at all.
Your discussion is not only about Japan; your point is that we should leave and go to another country because Japan is so horrible. So there is an implicit comparison that other places are better, are more just, are more fair.
You probably have lived in more countries than I who have only lived in four. But volume of experience is not the issue. I think a farmer in rural Vietnam who has never left his province can have more perspective than you (or me). I wrote that because of what I saw to be blanket condemnations of an entire country and what I perceived to be shockingly insulting commentary.
Your posts are very much about you and certainly based on your experiences. In your second paragraph alone you use “I” 17 times about how you fought discrimination and had the balls to leave Japan. Even when you later write “I will tell you what is annoying about Japan” it is merely about you, your opinion mostly based on your experience and insights. But you call it the “hard truth.” It’s not. It’s a very limited truth (yours) from a very limited perspective (but no more limited than my perspective mind you!).
I don’t think countries are the same at all, just that there are unique problems in every country as well as basic problems of the human condition. Person A who has come to believe certain things and expect certain things will naturally judge country B more harshly when those are not fulfilled. Likewise with person B. If a person expects straight talk, for a simple ex., Japan is probably not the best place. But it’s tough to make value judgments. I’ve heard foreigners rail against the practice of paying married people more than single people for the same job, for one example. But such a practice is not necessarily worse or better, but just a different system. I don’t want to go too far about cultural relativism, but just point out the ways our POV can influence our judgments.
I wish you had written more about troubles with the legal system. I admire Debito’s work too, but the comments that shocked me were one’s such as “They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so.” To me, legitimacy is lost with such statements, and I read several. Perhaps they were just made for dramatic effect. I don’t know.
Honestly, I’m not sure whether I skipped over your post 30 or whether it wasn’t on my screen as I left the window open a long time. As you surely know, these exchanges can really eat up time. I see now where you cover points made by people who wanted to ‘take a swipe at you.’ Even if our points did not seem fair, I hope you can at least consider the deeper issues we raised.
I really don’t think in terms of “my life in Japan” but rather “my life.” I would be equally happy in the country of my birth, the United States. I appreciate the time you have taken to explain your views and regret lacking the ability to write my concerns and displeasure more skillfully.
Eric and others, you may have caught it already, but I made a big typo in my earlier post:
…give cause for optimism: Ishihara’s support declines steadily as voters’ ages decrease. The elderly chose him overwhelmingly, but only 34% of voters in their 30s and 28% of those in their 40s voted for him.
That last part should read “28% of those in their 20s voted for him”. Ishihara trailed Higashikokubaru for everybody under 40, and didn’t win by much in the 40-50 group. Only the over-50s (and particularly the over-70s) were really supportive of him.
I can’t seem to find a more detailed breakdown, but I’m curious as to how people in their 70s voted compared to those in the 80s and even 90s. I’ve found that people over about 75, who have vivid memories of the pre-WWII days, are some of the most open-minded and interesting people you could ever meet. Folks, make friends with these people while they’re still alive and active — your experience will be enriched by having met them!
Sadly, it seems that you want to make this about me and you, at the expense of the issues at hand.
Yes, my posts were full of generalizations. I don’t deny that. John, I’m not writing an academic or scientific article here. This is not a PhD dissertation. Sure, I could have quoted survey after survey to the effect of “80 percent of Japanese are opposed to immigration” etc etc etc. But, that would detract from the force of my argument and render the posts utterly boring. If you demand rigorous academic standards in this sort of forum, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place for your reading matter. Moreover, on a topic like this, it is impossible not to make generalizations. You cannot discuss the issue at hand without making them. If every statement has to be totally valid, without any possible exceptions, what can we say? Think about it, John.
Next, please don’t try to justify your absurd personalization of the issue. I’m talking about your strangely nasty cheap shot (“I wonder if Eric C can look in the mirror”). What on earth can such a remark possibly add to this discussion? Then, when I called you out on it, you actually went back and counted how many times I used the pronoun “I” in my posts. This reveals a petty, obsessive and troubled character. I’m holding a mirror up to you now, John, please look into it.
John, you seem to want to focus on the trees and forget the forest. Let’s not make this a pissing contest. It ain’t about you and me. This started because I sent a well-intentioned post to Debito thanking him for his efforts and asking him if he ever wonders if Japan is too far gone to change. If you want to discuss the issues at hand – namely: Can Japan change? Is it worth trying to change it, or should one simply leave? – then let’s do so. But, please keep your ego out of it and try to rise above personal attacks and nit-picking that detracts from the discussion. Engage me on the issues, not on technicalities. This is the last post I’ll address to you personally, unless you care to discuss the issues I’ve raised: Do you think it’s worth trying to change Japan? Should one seek a more open society? Is Debito right in continuing his noble crusade etc?
I cannot believe that in the early 21st century I am reading ideas about genetics determining personality and intellect. I thought these 19th century ideas were thoroughly discredited in the early 20th? And people are agreeing with Eric C, and even Debito says this is a “considered and considerate” post? Excuse me? Would you say this about my people? Is this acceptable?
“Thank you on behalf of all loyal citizens of the Reich who have lived in Israel or are living in Israel. You are doing brilliant work. I agree with almost everything you say and do and I am in awe of your energy, perseverance and spirit.
However, the more I read your site and columns and learn about your story, the more I find myself wondering why you keep trying. I lived in Israel for years and I did what you did, but on a lesser scale: I fought Zionism as hard as I could. I like to think I gave as good as I got, if not better. I caused a fair bit of hell at my local beer hall, at synagogues, with the banks and with various random Jews. That’s not to say I went around with a chip on my shoulder: I had a lot of Jewish friends, spoke their language well and really tried to fit in. But, finally, I decided to leave Israel and I don’t regret it. Not for a second. Every day I’m out of there, I give thanks that I had the balls and foresight to leave.
My question to you is why do you keep trying? I don’t want to be negative, but I think even you have to admit that Israel and the Jews are not really going to change. Not in any meaningful way. They are xenophobic to the core, perhaps even genetically so. The society is feudal, with only the flimsiest veneer of legality. There is no real law – power and connections are all that matter. Israel reached a highpoint of openness and internationalization in the early 90s, and it’s been rapidly closing and going backwards since then. As the country stagnates and gets poorer, it’s going to become less and less welcoming to foreigners. I mean, the mayors of the three main cities in Israel are all Zionists and, most likely, racists.
Frankly, I don’t even think it’s worth trying to change the Jews. They’re not worth it. Let them go their own miserable way to stagnation and backwardness. Let the world pass them by. A Jew is like a stubborn old geezer in your neighborhood who does something offensive (letting his dog bark all night, for instance). You know that arguing with a Jew is a waste of time. The only sensible thing to do is move away. Fuck the Jews, to be direct about it.
You’ve fought the good fight, Debito, and a lot of loyal citizens of the Reich owe you a huge debt of gratitude. But, for your own peace of mind, why not let someone else take up the burden? Or, better yet, wouldn’t it be best for all Germans to simply pack up and leave and let the Jews do whatever it is they want to do? Let them talk about their “Holocaust” morning, noon and night. Let them lobotomize their kids in the name of educating them. Let them claim that their actions in Palestine were one vast charitable mission to spread peace and love throughout the world. Let them sink slowly into the swamp of their own bloody minded ignorance.
It’s not our job to “fix” Jewish society. It’s not our job to educate the Jews about how the world really works. It’s not our job to try to bring them into the modern world.
Sorry, this is a bit of a downer of a post, but anyone who knows the Jews as well as you know it must surely realize that the defining characteristic of a modern Jew is the inability to change. The Jew is so stubborn that if you ask them to change, they’ll consciously avoid changing just to spite you. I mean, why do you think they keep killing totally innocent Palestinians when it requires vast government support to keep doing it? They do it precisely because the world tells them to stop.
I say, leave the Jews to it and live your own life.”
You folks are scary as hell.
I have to ask, sincerely, how does Blinky keep getting re-elected? Is it because of the crazy stuff he says or despite it? I’ve been listening to the crap that he and some other politicians have been saying about Nanking recently and frankly, it scares the hell out of me. Your comment about fascist politicians coming to power really hit home and it’s the only thing that really makes me think I better get out of here soon. Also, since people are talking about the collapse of Japan, what event will be (or was) the “canary in the coal mine”? Thank you very much.
This is my first post to debito.org, a site I’ve been reading – I will admit, every day – for about the past year.
First, a little about me. I’m an Australian who lives now in Japan on the JET program in Miyagi as an English teacher. I came to Tohoku after the earthquake.
I too can broadly agree with Eric, that leaving a country you’re not happy with is commendable if you can do it. Eric wrote that “The fact is, Japan is never going to accept foreigners.” This is true, though it’s perhaps true of all countries. I always though Australia was open, but hearing some of the things foreigners tell me makes me wonder if maybe I just happen to be open and assuming everyone else is. In any case, living abroad is always good to help a person expand their viewpoint, so if you want to make a go of it in another country, more power to you.
“The only exceptions are the very old, who have some real life experience, or returnees from abroad, who were snapped out of the groupthink mindset.”
Though it’s maybe universal, certainly in Japan those who don’t fit in stand out particularly strongly. I know in my office I quickly realised that the people I felt most camaraderie with were all outsiders in some regard or other – because you were from tokyo; because you left the inaka; because you were old; because you went abroad (and sometimes a combination of all these things!)
“Textbooks are being purged of even the vaguest mention of wartime atrocities,
I don’t know about other schools, but at my school I remember seeing a social studies comprehension sheet given to a grade six class that was about Manchuria and Nanking. Our school’s textbook also notes these events. As far as I know Japan’s public schools are fairly uniform, so why I work at a school that does not fit the image of an education ‘purged’ of even the ‘vaguest’ mention of (I assume you are referring to, though I may be wrong of course) WWII, I’ll leave for you to decide.
“fewer young people are going abroad to study, attitudes toward immigration are becoming increasingly negative.”
This is true. Part of the reason I came through JET is that it’s very hard to come on uni exchange because there are less students leaving Japan on exchange. And I will agree that, although I don’t know about increasing, it’s a pity that, coming from a country like Australia, where effort at least is made to create a congenial environment for immigration, that there has not been a wider acceptance of the concept that Japan could be an immigrant nation (especially since Australia too used to follow the White Australia policy of homogeneity)
“Several posters above mentioned the visual horror of endless concrete and power lines.
Funnily enough, that was the last post on my blog http://japanwatch2020.wordpress.com. Actually, Troy mentioned that Japan is headed for a post-consumerist society. I think that this is where the world generally is heading, but the sort of construction Japan still carries out is concerning precisely because it suggests a lack of desire to move past that kind of building/consuming society and into things like technology and clean energy etc etc. So, as others have said, ultimately the most concerning things for Japan are demographics and the lost chances to capitalise on new technologies, certainly.
As for Eric’s conclusion, “In a short time, Korean, China, Singapore and Hong Kong will eat Japan for lunch and spit out the bones. Japan has created the perfect perpetual motion machine: a system which produces passive slaves who are trained not to rock the boat. It works until it is too old to work, or gets taken over or bought by a more dynamic and healthy culture.” Keep in mind that these societies share elements of that system Japan has, something roughly like “rule of the people by a benevolent leading class”. But in purely economic terms, sure, that will quite possibly come to pass. Then again, if Japan is good at letting itself sink to the bottom, it can also rise quickly, a la Meiji and post-WWII, so although I agree with the broad message of your posts – that people be thoughtful about their position in life and change whatever they can – let’s also remember that, every if Japan shut down completely tomorrow, there’s no telling what it could become the day after that.
But I think I’ll leave the last word to Ribi Hideo. Ribi Hideo was and is the Western foreigner I most admire in Japan. He writes beautfiully – I know few other authors who write as well. Just read essays like manchuria express and tianamen and you’ll see what I mean. He was the first Westerner to publish as an author in Japanese, during the (you guessed it) late 80s/early 90s, and still writing today, (although there are a few others these days, he is probably still the best). Yet even Hideo, the man I’d long looked up to as being almost the only Western foreigner to really stand out prominently in Japan’s literature, has over the past ten years begun to move more toward china in his writing, citing a dimming interest in Japan.
But hey, that’s just personal, and good on him for writing in Japanese about subjects outside Japan. It’s the great benefit many foreign and migrant authors bring to their adopted cultures.
The excerpt below is from his award-winning debut novel, seijoki ga kikoenai heya (a room where the star spangled banner cannot be heard):
“The low-pitched chorus hurled at the consulate every few seconds echoed off the walls of the darkened parlor:
The words literally got lost in translation: kuni ni kaere (go back to your country), ie ni kaere (go back to your house), kokyo ni kaere ( go back to your hometown). As he looked across Yamashita Park Avenue, Ben understood how this simple slogan, which he had heard in countless port towns across Asia, as perhaps the cruelest joke they could play on Americans in Asia.
The Europeans, who occasionally came to dinner parties at the consulate, were immune to such mockery. The French and Italians would shrug it off with a laugh: “Oh, we’ll go home soon enough. Ciao, au revoir, sayonara.” The Americans, however, had abandoned their homes or been driven from them. That’s what made them Americans. For them, especially those who sought refuge in towns across Asia after they had found America too much to bear, to “go home” meant retracing the path of their escape. It meant retracing every step of the way by which they had run off in the night, clutching the family heirlooms. For the four individuals bearing the surname Issac huddled here at the window of the consulate, the taunts of “go home” stung. Where on earth was home? Brooklyn? Shanghai? Or some distant, dreamy Jerusalem?”
— Just a point of order: Ribi as being “almost the only Western foreigner to really stand out prominently in Japan’s literature”. Well, what about David Zoppetti, winner of the Subarusho for Ichigensan back in the ’90s? Here’s his pedigree in English and Japanese (http://homepage1.nifty.com/naokiaward/akutagawa/kogun/kogun116DZ.htm), and a list of his books on Amazon. Okay, back on topic.
I lived in Japan for a number of years and loved it, I never experienced racism or felt out of place there. I stayed true to myself and was accepted by those around me. I found most japanese to be interested in me and very helpfull towards me. The kids I taught were open minded about other countries and most hoped to experience other cultures in the future. Most of the people I worked with where well travelled and were happy and willing to see things another way. I left japan due to family reasons but would happily go back and plan to in the future.
I want to applaud your comments #9 and #10!
I think that whilst cynical (?) you are correct and show remarkable insight. I am not trying to be flippant. I too (like John, #36) came to Japan and loved it. Then I went home and spent four years studying it, during which time I realized that Japan has massive ‘issues’. Undaunted, with my new found hat as ‘Japan expert’, I did my research Phd. into some of those issues as a student at (dare I say?) an allegedly prestigious Japanese university. My research convinced me that Japan won’t change because it doesn’t want to. Since then I have stayed in Japan, still doing research, publishing, acting as a consultant to various organizations. My message? If you are thinking about Japan, forget it. Japan is like an industrialized zombie of a nation.
I still live in Japan, and have children. My wife has known from the very first what I am all about, and we have always had an ‘escape’ plan. Now I feel that I am watching Japan’s social and economic ‘car crash’ in slow motion, happening right before my eager eyes, and I record and collect as much information as I can. As a Japanologist I am looking forward to being an eyewitness to the collapse (I always, somewhat wistfully, liken this to being present at the moment when the shocked citizens of Pompei woke up to find Vesuvius destroying the city). Then my family and I will escape.
Thank you for your honest posts above. I think that it would be interesting to actually know you in real life. Good luck to you!
I think that the two issues:
Can Japan change? Is it worth trying to change it, or should one simply leave?
are really rather different.
Can Japan change is a form of analysis of Japan, and its future trends.
In contrast, whether it is worth trying to change Japan is really very subjective and dependent on what the alternatives are.
For me as a Dutchman the question is rather different than for one from a much poorer and more troubled country, such as Central African Republic.
Were I from Bangui, I would infinitely prefer life in disease-free Japan where starvation and violence is comparatively rare.
Regarding the first question, I think that there exists information to support the notion that culturally, politically and sociologically Japan now is temporarily rather stable, and so unlikely to change absent a very large series of events.
I say temporarily, because I believe that the enormous demographic problem of Japan will eventually collide with Japanese current strong preferences, and force some type of change. That change may not occur for several decades, but such change is inevitable.
Regarding the second, well, who am I to judge Debito or his choices or those of others?
I would say that for those who examine the second issue, a key question is whether there may be children involved.
I believe that if both parents of a mixed ancestry child are Japanese citizens, a question arises as to whether any such children may be able to easily make a different choice, given the levels of xenophobia.
I would be chary of abandoning citizenship that might be useful to a child, even if such citizenship no longer holds meaning for myself.
Regarding the questions:
Should one seek a more open society? Is Debito right in continuing his noble crusade etc?
I think that the answer is of course ‘yes’ for those who uphold European Enlightenment ideals.
The question really, I believe, is with what level of effort.
I do not know how taxing to Debito his efforts are, of course.
So, the goals of openness and equal rights for all are indeed good goals and worthy of support.
Should one pursue them at great personal cost is an individual decision.
“I agree that there is an astonishing amount of propaganda and groupthink in the United States, but isn’t that better discussed on some other board?”
No, because if you jump from Japan to the US to avoid cultural and economic BS you may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
I honestly don’t know which society is more screwed up, the Japanese or the US. The US has got a $900B/yr dollar military welfare establishment and a $1.2T/yr fiscal deficit to pay for it, and a $600B/yr trade deficit with the rest of the world.
The US is a country cruising for a very big bruising. Someone somewhere said Japan’s economic situation is “a bug in search of a windshield” but Japan’s current account deficit in January was 1/10th that of the USs, and it is the American government who owe the Japanese $1.1T now, not the other way around.
“the lack of legal protection and recognition of foreigners and the way most Japanese seem to reflect and/or support this governmental attitude”
This is just normal. Foreigners are foreigners. You want social credit, you’re going to have to personally earn it.
“The thing that makes them different is their belief in their own uniqueness”
This is also normal. Everybody chauvinistically thinks they’re exceptional. The US, Australia, NZ, and Canada are slightly different in this department because our national experience of being nations of immigrants, but ab-original cultures like the Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Germans, Russians, Swedes, English etc etc are naturally bigoted and closed-minded.
“There are many countries on earth that are multicultural and where permanent residents and non-citizens are protected with clearly defined laws (and where the people are far less xenophobic than those in Japan)”
Sure, Norway, Sweden, and Germany are great places to immigrate to.
Canada and Oz even have the advantage of being native English-speaking, more or less.
In my 8 years in Tokyo I only encountered one overt instance of “xenophobia”, a stamp on an apartment listing that said “外国人や水商売禁”.
I have no complaints about my time in the capital. Whether that extends to the breadth of the archipelago is debatable of course.
@Debito: you’re right. And not just Zoppetti, but Arthur Binard, too. I can’t really think of many others after that, so I guess that’s why I said “almost”. If you include non-fiction you get a lot more, and of course if you include foreign authors generally. To be really precise, I should perhaps have just left it at “(although there are a few others these days, he is probably still the best).” Though I’ve read Ichigensan and thought it was great, so it’s good that .
Another interesting slant on Eric C’s suggestions is to ask what those who leave Japan but want to keep up their interest in the country can do. If you don’t want to make your future in Japan but are happy to live abroad and maybe read some Japanese books and eat sushi, you can still (thankfully!) do that in many places. But Japan’s dimming influence is not just an internal affair, though sadly that’s the place where it will hurt most, with the internal demographic issue. The point is, externally there are also effects: less migrants from Japan, due to an aging population and less-interested younger, means less influence for Japan in the world generally, too. Let’s say you left Japan in 95, convinced it was all going to hell. You might have found alot of Japanese who agreed with you, given that at that time, from what I make of it, there was a lot of worry about the country’s future. But back then you could still leave and get, say, a job as a Japanese teacher overseas, or translation, or a Japanese company. There are more problems nowadays though in maintaining one’s connection to Japan overseas with the rise of the country’s neighbours – how many areas in your neighbourhood overseas do you know that were maybe once were filled with Japanese restaurants, but have now changed almost overnight into Korean ones. There goes jobs for someone who might have wanted to work in a Japanese kitchen (not that your co-workers would necessarily have been Japanese!) Or what if you want to teach Japanese? Many positions have had to make space for Chinese and Korean. And so on and so forth for many other industries.
So, another point to consider is this: if you feel Japan is beyond change, then keep in mind that your mindset may also mean allowing Japan’s presence overseas to dim. One may still be able to find soba or a Japanese newspaper now, but that’s not guaranteed. In my neighbourhood for example, almost the only place I can find soba is a chinese supermarket – and if that supermarket decides there aren’t enough businessmen and exchange students coming over to buy soba, well…so Japan’s presence in Asia also has effects on Japan’s presence is whatever “western” part of the world one might be thinking of returning to, or otherwise if that’s the case.
18 years in the Chugoku and Kyushu areas. No complaints from here.
As for the OP and the argument for giving up Japan—In all my many years I have seen remarkable changes in this country. Stares and pointing have literally disappeared. People at banks and post offices and the city office don’t even bat an eye at me. (15 years ago even purchasing stamps brought at least three people into the process) The level of English across the spectrum of ages has improved. The ability for people with permanet residency to open businesses, get loans, buy houses, and build a real life has greatly improved. But these are just my observations and anecdotes from a small corner of the country. I do agree with Debito that Japan needs an anti-discrimnation law with teeth and I advocate for it to any and all when the topic comes up.
People who I know well and even in passing, who carry with them an immigrant mentality–that is moving to a new county to build a life, seem to do well here. Granted it is not easy, but the life of a first wave immigrant never is.
Perhaps i am just a glass half full person.
Eric C. asks, “Do you think it’s worth trying to change Japan?”
First, I’d say that’s the wrong question. I think it’s often worth speaking out against injustice, wherever it is. A certain amount of personalization is necessary: who are you? where are you? what’s happening to you? what do you see that needs to change? Your question implies that the writer/foreigner knows best and has a burden/responsibility to enlighten Japanese people (‘changing Japan’ has to boil down to changing Japanese people). ‘Do you think it’s worthwhile for Japanese to try to change foreigners?’ is likewise an offensive question, esp. if the context is foreigners are backwards, feudal, infantile, xenophobic, stubborn, nationalist, ignorant and, like a noisy dog, not worth arguing with. Bizarre that the writer of this would be so offended by a rhetorical request to ‘look in the mirror’!
You now say your point was simply ‘Should one simply leave (given its problems)?’ I would say there is no general answer. Advice that all foreigners should leave is nonsensical and implies that things are truly horrible here and better elsewhere. They’re not. As Troy says regarding the US and Japan ‘I don’t know which society is more screwed up.’ The decision to stay or leave depends on every individual and his or her situation (i.e. our personal circumstances). But your original post, far from being that question, was black and white: Japan is horrible, get out. The answer, in the end, has to be personal. There are no statistics that would generate an answer, no set of facts that could finally clarify in which country a person should reside.
I cant believe in 2012 we are still talking about basic human rights and equal protection under the law, this is proof that Japan isn’t and doesn’t want to change and Eric is 100% correct in his assessment and I applaud him for speaking his opinion and not trying to beat around the bush about it.