Discussion: Reader Eric C writes in with an argument for “giving up on Japan”. What do you think?


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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

Eric C
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?

Comment navigation

  • Most sentences on this post and in comments are gross, racist generalizations about a complex and diverse country of 130 million people with 130 million opinions. To accuse them of group-think, to dismiss them as intellectual children, to say they are genetically racist and xenophobic, to say that they are a sore on the face of the earth that should be left to rot, etc. is pure and simple racism of the type Eric accuses the Japanese of. Put it to the test:

    “Blacks all think the same way. They’re intellectually children and have no way of interacting in civil society without adult supervision. Blacks hate whites, it’s in their DNA. They are a sore on the face of the earth and we should just leave them alone until they rot.”

    That sounds racist to me.

    I don’t think Eric’s rantings add value to the universe. I get that he does not like Japan, had bad experiences, and extrapolated them into a grandiose theory of why Japan is bad and he and others should all leave as it is beyond salvation. That he is here repeating and justifying it makes me question whether he truly believes in it or is merely hoping to find support from others or build a following.

    For those who take Eric seriously and identify with him (“he’s racist, but it’s true!”), counterpoint:
    I and many of you have discussed politics with Japanese people and encountered intelligent perspectives that run the gamut. I and many of you have been accepted by Japanese people as true and deep friends (of any gender) who would, have and do sacrifice for each other. I and many of you have enjoyed the experience of living in a society much like northern Europe with delicious food and culture located conveniently off the coast of Asia. If you let some ramblings that Japanese people are a brainwashed hive-mind blind you or diminish your enjoyment of life in Japan, that’s your loss. If you let a country bumpkin asking if you can use chopsticks diminish your enjoyment of life in Japan instead of understanding his or her limited perspective, that’s your loss.

    This post epitomizes the type of racism toward Japanese that is tolerated even in academia, fetishizing their “unique” and “Asian” nature with their hive mind, lack of individuality, and unique Japanese ways. It’s also total bullshit a la Nihonjinron. Grow up, people. Things are a lot more complicated than you make them out to be; people are people, in Japan and everywhere else. Eric, your attempts to explain your failure to find your place in Japan say a lot more about you than they do about Japan.

  • I understand that people who pride themselves on valuing politeness more than truth hate “generalizations.”

    According to such people, we should no longer be able to state that “ethnic group A exhibits quality X.”

    But we people who value truth more than politeness should still be able to state comparative differences:

    “On average, Ethnically-Japanese are RELATIVELY MORE Homogeneous than Non-Ethnically-Japanese are.”

  • Bob you are taking this personal and are trying to kill the messenger. Eric has several valid points and we should take a look at all the things that he mentioned and not get emotional about it.And some of the thing that Eric mentioned must be true for you to attack Eric the way you did so this is really unproductive.

  • Hi All,

    Thank you for your feedback on my posts.

    It seems that most respondents fell into one of two categories: either my views deeply resonated with theirs, or they took offense to my comments. Needless to say, both are fair. I suspect people’s response to my posts reflect their different experiences in Japan.

    Sadly, as usual, some people tried to personalize the whole thing and tried to pick fights and try to force the thread off topic. Others accused me of racism (for example, Bob). Frankly, I don’t see what I wrote as racist. As I wrote above, Japan’s modern system creates people who are childish. I don’t think this is an inborn characteristic. It is the result of being coddled and controlled for their whole lives. That’s not a racist assertion. I might equally well say that Koreans tend to be entrepreneurial, which, again, is the result of a society which values entrepreneurialism (rather than being inborn). This isn’t a racist assertion – it’s an observation of how a particular system molds its citizens. As for my assertion that there may be a genetic characteristic to the xenophobia of the Japanese, I stand by that. I don’t think it’s racist in the negative sense of the word, any more than saying Masai tend to be tall.

    My guess is that those who took most umbrage to my posts are those who, at some level, understand that what I’m saying is true (the truth hurts, and all of that), but they’ve got so much invested in Japan that rather than accept the shortcomings of the country, they become livid at any criticism of the place. This reminds me of how many Japanese cannot accept any criticism of Japan. Perhaps this is a case of pets starting to resemble their owners. Sorry, that’s mostly in jest, but you know what I mean. It’s hard for a man to criticize that from which he earns his living.

    Other posters pointed out that they had never had a bad experience in Japan (or had only very few), and therefore it can’t be all that bad. This is a valid point, but it reminds me of Americans who aren’t willing to criticize things like the Patriot Act or Gitmo because it’s never had an impact on their lives. This is the principle of “if it doesn’t hurt me, I don’t care about it.” In my case, I never ran afoul of the Japanese legal system and never needed the full legal protection of the law, but I found it repugnant to live in a country that didn’t even afford me and other NJ full legal status and rights. Perhaps I’m too idealistic, but I can say that I am happier to be in a country where one’s basic human rights are protected by law and where the people seem to understand this and care about it.

    Choosing to stay in Japan is, of course, a valid choice. I guess only time will tell if getting out was a good move or if staying put was the right move. Perhaps there will be no clear answer. If you’ve got half-Japanese children and you choose to raise them in Japan, perhaps they’ll be able to articulate an answer at some point. Maybe they’ll be glad you chose to raise them in Japan. Maybe not.

    Anyway, I’ve had my say and I’ll be moving along. If you’re considering leaving and my thoughts were useful, that’s great. If I merely pissed you off by casting your place of residence in a negative light, I’m sorry. That was not my intention. Japan is better than a lot of places to live. You can make a great life there.

    In closing, I’d like to bring this back to the beginning: Debito, if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Do you think Japan can be changed? Are you going to keep trying? Etc. And, once again, thanks for elevating an ordinary post to a full blog post and thanks for always “giving `em hell.”

    — Oh yeah, me. Hokay, later on today then. I’ve got two presentations today and tomorrow and just handed in a paper draft. Thanks everyone for the lively discussion.

  • This post HAS gotten a bit nasty here, but everyone’s ideas are very real and thought provoking.

    I personally would like to hear from two types of thought:

    1. Those who feel the same as Eric, and have examples of how they see Japan as “doomed” from the outside perspective,


    2. Those who are planning to stay, and have seen reasons to do so from an objective standpoint.

    My buddy here for 20 plus years made me laugh today said about this post:

    “The people angry about Japan and want to leave now just learned they had been insulted all these years but didn’t know what it meant!” lol

  • What an excellent discussion! So many great points from different perspectives.
    Since this blog entry is anecdotal, please allow me to give my input.
    I’ve put in close to 17 years so far in an area of Tohoku that is quite full of ‘country bumpkins’ like Bob mentions. It’s a decent sized city, so it should be more progressive than it is.
    My Japanese wife and two children have agreed to move back to Canada this year with me. We felt a big wake up call last year after 3/11 (like many others, I’m sure.) The way the majority of the population reacted to the ridiculous manner in which the government of Japan is handling the tsunami and nuclear crisis was appalling to us.

    I’ve always sensed the population masses in this country were more ‘massed together’ than back in Canada. But the crisis really put the spotlight on how easily large segments of society here can be herded/corralled into the pork project of the day.

    And yet, even that is tolerable — if I had the right to vote. Or even a say in any of it. But such is not the case. I can’t even get the sales guy at the electronic shop to give me a proper listen. And my Japanese isn’t that bad!

    I envy the posters above who live in areas where they feel accepted, or surrounded by open-minded individuals who enjoy a good debate or two. Maybe this area is just a work-town. So very few people around here want anything to do with NJ. We just seem like too much trouble for them in their busy day. And their days have gotten busier with the economy going downhill, lately. More and more people I know are getting more work on their schedule with less pay. The have no time to include the unpredictable NJ in their easy-to-manage social clique.

    This whole situation reminds me of my small hometown in rural Canada during the 70’s when a few Vietnamese immigrants moved in. They were the first Asians we had ever seen. We basically made them feel like they were aliens from another planet, and I think they lasted almost 2 years before they moved on to live in Toronto. I’m really surprised I lasted 17 years.

    I think I’m just burnt out. After running a school for so many years while dealing with racist landlords, real estate agents, neighbourhood leaders, other business owners I’ve reached the overflow point in BS.

    Like Matthew says, this is the way of life for the first wave of immigrants. But Matthew, why are we STILL the first wave? How many more first waves are there to come?

    And to the people who compare Eric’s posts to writing about blacks or Jews, I think you have it backwards. The NJ’s are the blacks, and the Jews. So yeah, try rewording it the other way around, and you’ll find it doesn’t quite sound so harsh:

    “I lived in Nazi Germany for years and I did what you did, but on a lesser scale: I fought Nazism 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 pro-Nazi rallies, with the banks and with various random Nazis. That’s not to say I went around with a chip on my shoulder: I had a lot of German friends, spoke their language well and really tried to fit in. But, finally, I decided to leave Nazi Germany 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.”

    Hmmm. Not bad at all…

  • Oh, I forgot – Samsara, you wrote:

    “Then again, if Japan is good at letting itself sink to the bottom, it can also rise quickly, a la Meiji and post-WWII…”

    If I remember my history classes, didn’t Japan rise to a fascist state during the Meiji period? And didn’t post-WWII Japan have the same pre-war industry leaders still calling the shots, only now with easy access to a new consumer market (the USA?)

    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Hey Bob, there is no Japanese “race” so it can`t be racist. People from other cultures are complaining about the majority culture of another.If you buy into the idea that the Japanese are a distinct race from other Asians, then thats WW2 Imperialist dogma.

    But I was amused by your comment; “If you let a country bumpkin asking if you can use chopsticks diminish your enjoyment of life in Japan instead of understanding his or her limited perspective, that’s your loss.”

    I was never out of greater Tokyo and lots of people asked me if I could use chopsticks. But then again, if we want to go the elitist route, the vast majority of the Tokyo population are from the surrounding countryside and are hardly “Edokko”.

    So country bumpkin? Well that sounds a bit insulting to the majority of the Tokyo population.

    Why, that could even be construed as “racist”.

  • Katherine C says:

    Japan’s problems really aren’t that unique.

    I understand Eric C’s tone is more like “anything but Japan” so arguing about other countries problems isn’t relevant.

    I guess it all boils down to which kind of battle do you choose to fight. Do you want to be fully emotionally committed to certain social discourse and analyze everything on the macro level eg. watch newspapers loaded with bad political news and toss and turn in bed at night. Or do you want to pragmatically fight for what you need to survive – a chance to start a business, get mortgage for a home, and be economically able to minimally sustain?

    If you choose the first kind – you will probably never be satisfied anywhere in the world because policy wise there will always, always be aspects rotten to the core. There will always, always be bigotry and stupidity.

    Where else on earth is worth trying to “change?” Is there a place where exercises in civility (eg. voting) can fully reflect onto actual practice of policies?

    You are probably going to need a place where the culture is readily constructed to fit you and your heart’s content. Not that I’m against it – personally I believe anyone can pursue anywhere they want to live as long as they have what it takes. And certainly it is fine to rather confront some countries’ problems over Japan’s problems.

    I won’t go into my own personal experiences to fully explain why I think Japan is still worthwhile for change – but just because you are not openly invited to make changes, or if the changes you hoped for lost momentum, doesn’t mean change cannot take place.

    In fact, change is only constant for many people, since there are no other choices. This is coming from someone who has pretty much fled East Asia in horror precisely because of the conformity education that deliberately renders people childish and dependent – and later moved to 2 more countries across 2 other continents only to realize the core of many problems still remains the same.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    From reading all of these posts I find it interesting that, yet again, the apologists are willing to accept that any good point that Japan has is a product of ‘uniqueness’ whilst at the same time, any criticisms are not ‘unique’ to Japan…
    I like #56 Curious’s take on it all (‘I stood up to Nazism in my daily life, but in the end Nazism was bigger than me’). It’s a perfect metaphor since Japans problems, and specifically the ‘proper place’ of foreigners is a hang on from imperialist ideology (see Dower; War Without Mercy). I can’t imagine a world where modern Germany would be permitted to treat foreigners as ‘untermensch’ even though Germany was defeated in 1945.

  • I have been blessed with residency in a very tolerant part of the country. Incidents of overt racism are quite rare here. In my opinion, incidents of more subtle types of racism can be dealt with, often using irony and humor.

    If I get complemented on my use of chopsticks, I point out that I have been using them for more than 65 years and improved my skills with 10 years of intense study in the Urasenke school of tea ceremony. If I am asked me where I am from or where I came from, I tell them my address “across the river”. If they ask me if my wife is Japanese, I always answer, “Yes, we both are.” It gives my questioners pause. If they say I am strange, my answer is always, I used to be a strange foreigner, but now I am a strange Japanese.

    Is my behavior going to change the way Japan as a whole behaves? Probably not. But little by little, people are changing.

    Although Western foreigners publishing in Japanese may be a relatively new phenomenon, Yakumo Koizumi (aka Lafcadio Hearn), wrote extensively on Japanese matters, a hundred years earlier.
    If you compare the foreigners life in Japan today with the life of Lafcadio Hearn, you will see a lot of progress. Hearn was abruptly dismissed from his position on the English faculty at Todai just to make room for Natsume Souseki.

    When I look at the recent actions of state and local governments in the United States, I am very proud of my choice to live in Japan and be a part of this peaceful and respectful country. Japan hasn’t initiated any wars for more than 70 years. Compare that to America’s record of invading or attacking Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc.; plus the all out crusade against women.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Steve #61

    I honestly like your coping strategies. They are very intelligent and considered. You are not the first NJ to apply such a method of responding. I have made observations of this type of approach before, and whilst lauded by NJ (myself included) as being clever and amusing, it is an approach that without fail seems to go ‘above the heads’ of the Japanese who fail to see the irony or the humor in it, concluding that the speaker is simply ‘strange’ and confirming the speakers status as an ‘outsider’.

    Regarding Lafcadio Hearn and change since his time, I would most strongly disagree. Hearn said that ‘The charm of Japanese life is the charm of childhood’, and the Japan remains childish in it’s avoidance of responsibility (i.e. making decisions about the economy, the USMC in Okinawa, Tohuku and nuclear power etc), and in it’s international relationships (BBC made joke about Hiroshima! How DARE they!), as well as on an individual basis; hear or see something you don’t like? Just ignore it! It will go away…

  • trustbutverify says:

    @#62 Said: “Japan remains childish…in it’s international relationships (BBC made joke about Hiroshima! How DARE they!)”

    Playing Devil’s Advocate, and referring to today’s topic: http://www.debito.org/?p=10051

    Could one not equally say that the joke about Hiroshima was a microaggression which, though the aggressor (and by descent, yourself in this case) was unaware of the insult, was rooted in subconscious racism? Logically, could it not be argued that if the Japanese response to QI’s humour was a childish reaction, then surely an NJ who feels anger at ohashi wa jouzou desu ne or Nihongo wa pera pera! is being similarly childish?

    — Did you actually watch the QI show and place the “joke” in context?

  • Steve #61.

    As a Dutchman, I find this amusing:

    “Japan hasn’t initiated any wars for more than 70 years.”

    While true, that is really due to its inability.

    One can say that we Dutch should be proud because we too have not initiated any new wars during that period, or engaged in any new colonisation during that period as well, similar to Japan.

    However, we simply no longer have the capacity for such large scale efforts.

    Nor does Japan.

    Japan is not virtuous because it is reined in by US military dominance that would not permit Japanese warmongering.

    Japan would be virtuous if, given the opportunity to act virtuously or not so act, it chose to act virtuously.

    For example, Japan could virtuously choose, as Germany has, to generously fund memorials and research centres concerning its war crimes in both the countries in which it perpetrated such war crimes, and also in its own capital city.

    Japan makes no such choice.

    Or, Japan (like Germany) could make a point of offering citizenship to groups that it subjected to war crime atrocities, in order to ensure that its citizens learn and incorporate the sentiment that Japan will never again commit such crimes.

    Japan offers no such citizenship.

    Or, Japan could pass landmark fundamental legislation ranked amongst the best on the world (like South Africa) that guarantees enforceable legal equality to all of its residents, without regard to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.

    Japan has passed no such law.

    And, when you say regarding the USA:

    “the all out crusade against women” in comparison to the status of women in Japan,

    I am perplexed.

    As this new document, and many others show:


    “Japan is the only OECD country, along with Korea, where the labour force participation rate of women with a university education is roughly the same as for those without an upper secondary education.”

    By any set of measures, gender discrimination against women in Japan is pervasive, strong, and permitted legally to persist.

    Japan does compare well against other similar countries on some measures, but gender equality is clearly not among such measures.

  • Hello All

    Eric, I could not disagree with you more. I did read your article and found it interesting. However I am very troubled by the following quote.

    “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.”

    You make some good points in your article however that one quote alone is one of the most condescending and arrogant things I have read. Who are you to say who is “worth it”? Sorry but you have discredited your post as an emotional rant rather than a logical examination of the issues that people face in Japan (and they do exist).

    I am a Permanent Resident and business owner in Japan and have no intention on giving up on the country. I actually think there could be some tremendous opportunities for those with appropriate skills to offer, willing to think out of the box, and finally willing to accept that Japan does have problems (like very other place on earth) but are willing to look beyond the problems to see the good and the opportunities.

    Finally I wish more of these discussion boards about Japan would have made a speacial post or statement memorializing those that lost their lives on 3/11. Whether you have issues with Japan or not alot of very good people experienced tremedous loss and trauma on that day and are still trying to recover.

    Eric, not trying to “bash” you but you really should take a look at some of the things you wrote, especially when you try to determine who is “worthy” or not. Cheers.

  • Yeah, so lets not change it. Lets ignore Japan. Lets do something that has better results. Capitalize on the things that wont change in Japan. Write books that are critical and analyze Japanese culture. Let other foreigners living in different countries in on the way it works in Japan. It will sell especially since Japan is so secretive and at the same time spread the message. maybe even the Japanese themselves are curious how their country works and use it to their benefit.

    Thats just an example. But my point is if someone builds a wall, or a whole country like Japan builds a wall or a cultural wall that keeps out foreigners or has tons of secrets, soon everyone will want to be on the other side of that wall. Then the wall will serve no purpose.

    So forget trying to make Japan better for Japanese. Start making more people aware, and give them information on whats happening here so there are more opinions! Give people juicey tid bits on the REAL Japan. Like the black ship in yokohama harbor slowly but surely Japan will be forced to open when more people read about Japan and want to see it for themselves.

    I have to say that child abduction piece you wrote about Debito, awesome way to attract more attention to Japan, that tugged on a lot of heart strings on a global scale and made Japan the focus.

  • trustbutverify says:

    “Did you actually watch the QI show and place the “joke” in context?”

    Well yes I did. A big QI fan, I enjoy its humour, including that example. I thought the joke was funnny and harmless. But in the terms of the position put forward, does that not then make me, in addition to QI, guilty of a microaggression, causing racial offence without even being aware of it?

    And if a Japanese person reacted negatively to that perceived microaggression, and is childish because of that reaction, then am I childish for reacting negatively to a microaggression committed by a Japanese person?

    The research seems to imply it is the effect the offended person or group that defines if a microaggression has been committed; it’s not up to the unaware perpetrator, or any balanced, indepdendent observer, to say one act is acceptable while another is not.

    In both cases, something is said that was considered innocuous by the speaker, but caused some level of offence to another. On an individual basis, how can the reaction in one case be childish, and in the other not? It’s not to say that microaggressions are not real and happening daily: it’s to say we don’t get to pick and choose which are “real” and which are “childish over-reactions” depending on what group we occupy.

    — Point well taken.

  • @Chirazu #64

    In fact, Japan has one of the highest defense budgets in the world, funded at about the same level as the U.K., France, or Russia. That it has decided not to deploy these forces in aggressive ways is a conscious decision on the part of the Japanese people and their government.

    The status of women in Japan is deplorable, but it is not rapidly deteriorating. There are no assaults in Japan on a women’s access to birth control or abortion. As far as I know, there are no politicians running campaigns based on depriving women of their health care rights, or demanding any sort of medical rape as a prelude to an abortion.

    Nor are there self righteous religious fundamentalists, in Japan, hell bent on legislating their own moral standards into laws binding binding the behavior of others to their own religious tenets. The new American “Sharia” is another reason that I will never return to the land of my birth.

    Japan certainly is not in the forefront of countries with full equal participation of minorities, women, people of varying nationalities, etc., but it is moving slowly in the right direction. America is moving in the direction of becoming a theocracy determined to impose its beliefs on the rest of the world, using whatever force it has available. Fortunately, it is also in a state of economic decline, which will mitigate its ability to do great harm in the future.

  • @Doug,sure, there were (or are) business opportunities if you are willing to ignore the problems, its just that the problems dont ignore you! My experience of Japan was that everything would be ok for a while and then some disaster, or weird occurence, or odd harrassment or abuse would pop up every 2-3 months or so and get in the way.

    There is also the undeniable fact that some people are “sorry but we are not interested in doing business in gaijin” (quote). Not only does this play havoc with your motivation and self-esteem, it also does narrow the market open to you.

    Then there are the high rents and running costs of a business in Japan.

    In my case, it just got hard to do business when earthquakes had damaged my products, and I couldn`t get enough sleep to concentrate (or even as you are valiantly doing, see past these problems).I also had health issues every March, with the hay fever wearing me down.Some years it gets so bad even people who are not usually affected took time off work with colds.Every time I left Japan, my hay fever would disappear.

    Thus, “its not worth it”.

  • @Charuzu,

    Excellent post. Steve said “Japan hasn’t initiated any wars for more than 70 years”
    Thats some serious Japan apologist stuff your smoking there Steve, you must be sheltered from the extreme nationalism allot of us experience here all the time. The sound trucks arent blasting about peace and the MacArthur consititution, they want that all reversed. No, you missed the mark completely with your post, they are only be held in check by the occupier; the U.S. government and the bases on their soil. They arent happy about it either, if given the chance that would all be gone.

    — We’re starting to veer off track. Let’s bring it back.

  • I have come late to this discussion and feel that most points have been ably covered. My perspective is from someone who lived in Japan for 17 years, then returned to his own country, sick and tired of his increasingly workaholic lifestyle and other aspects of Japan. After two years in a stultifyingly boring admin job, I decided to give Japan a second chance. Seven years later, I am ready to leave again for the last time. I can see both sides of the argument. Those of us who have spent years in this country tend to focus on the negative aspects of Japan and the Japanese, and I am as guilty as the next person in this respect. I just went home to the UK for a brief visit. The contrast between the friendliness of people I ran into and the tight lipped, polite but not really friendly folk I meet in Japan every day could not be more apparent. I had more conversations with strangers in a week than in the last year in Japan. This is not down to lack of language skills either. I remember a friend from the States who live here for a few years. Shortly before he pulled up stakes and left he commented how he had wasted years of his life stydying Japanese only to find that most of the people he met had absolutely nothing interesting to say. He echoed my feelings that you are never really accepted here by most of the people.

    However, it is important to keep in mind the attitude back home. In the UK, immigrants are often ostracised by many English people, and often have very minimal interaction with the locals. It is not so different from what many mid to long-term foreign residents and naturalised Japanese seem to experience on a daily basis. Japan is surely one of the most homogenous countries on Earth along with perhaps Korea, Mongolia etc. Fear of outsiders is to be expected, and won’t change easily or anytime soon. There are many things about Japan such as the relative safety, the unparalleled level of service, the food that are unmatched anywhere on Earth so far as I know.

    And yet, I am about to give up on Japan just as Eric did. For me, it is the fact that I will be fifty soon and am still teaching English and life has become a kind of “Ground Hog Day” existence. I can predict with tedious accuracy precisely what I will be doing from one day to the next. I have stagnated here, and I see that in one of two of the other NJ I know, they stay here from fear of change or because they are locked into certain lifestyle patterns. I tire of the little irritating things; the noise, the commutes, the ill-manners of so many of these “polite” Japanese (More often than not polite only to those they have to be polite to)I don’t even care much to try and “change” them anymore. I respect those on this blog and Debito especially for what they are trying to achieve. I’ve heard it is different outside the capital, perhaps so. I’ve even met Japanese who say life in Tokyo is far worse than in the regions.

    In any case. For me, and it seems for a fair number of NJ residents here, it is time to move on. In my case, it is not with bitterness, more a tinge of sadness that for the second and final time I no longer feel I can endure the stress and isolation of Japan anymore. I know I shall miss the good parts just like before, but as a friend of mine said once “I love the good parts, it’s all the crap that comes in between them that is driving me insane!”

  • At the end of the day, each one of you still in Japan (I’m no longer in that camp) have to make your own decision whether or not you think its worth staying. Some will feel that it’s not worth it anymore and move back home or wherever there is another opportunity and try again, and others who maybe have a more emotional attachment or business relationship with the country will “tough it out” or whatever idiom suits best here.

    I don’t think Eric is trying to be the “be all and end all” authority on Japan, he had his experience in the country, it left a sour taste in his mouth, he left and now he’s writing about it.. even being accused of being racist for his opinions (get a life people!)

    Personally, I spent 5 years in the country, married a national and now have 2 kids with her. In the end, I left because I hated my job (english teaching..we’ve all been there…) and the prospects for further employment in the field I wanted to get into was next to nil for me. I had a much better chance of being employed in something meaningful (at least in my mind) back home in Canada so thats where we are now.

    Will I ever return permanently to Japan? Probably not.. the only reason I stay interested in whats going on in Japan is because of my wife. I find it hard to swallow the feeling of being welcomed in a country that will glady take my tax dollars but give me absolutely no voice in how it is being used. (I know most countries do this but this is Japan we’re talking about… don’t care what’s done in france.) Force me to pay into a pension system that I will probably get screwed out of because I’m not a citizen and by that time it will be drained anyways because of the rapidly aging population… which only means higher taxes on the young workers, or at any point in time I could be the subject of a random police search based on my looks or have immigration officials busting down my door trying to take pictures of my place or make sure my visa is still up to date.. oops, now I’m beginning to rant

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Steve and Charuzu, I cannot let your comments implying that women are discriminated against in Japanese society, or that there is an “all out crusade against” them in the US, go unpposed.

    “By any set of measures, gender discrimination against women in Japan is pervasive, strong, and permitted legally to persist.”

    I can think of three very important areas where it’s men on the receiving end of societally-entrenched discrimination:

    Life expectancy: women live longer than men in total (86.4 years to 79.6) and in every single one of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Even the shortest-lived women (in Aomori) outlive the longest-lived men (in Nagano) by about five years. The last time women lived lives a short as men’s are now was more than 30 years ago.

    Suicide: three-fourths of suicides are male, and Japan’s 30,000 suicides per year are nothing to laugh at.

    Overwork: 97% of those worked to death are men; check out Hiroshi Kawahito’s book 過労死 Karōshi (Iwanami Shoten publishes a low-cost paperback in their ‘shinsho’ series). A similar percentage of people who work in excess of 3000 hours per year — a benchmark for karōshi and karō-jisatsu — are also men.

    Plus an issue much discussed on this blog: even among Japanese couples, left-behind fathers outnumber left-behind mothers.

    I think having a long and healthy life, spent in the company of one’s family and descendants and free of stress and overwork, are some of the best measures of quality of life imaginable.

    And women are the advantaged gender in all of those areas.

    If Japan is in a long-term decline, as described in the original post and the comments that follow, I think one factor behind it is how we ignore the areas where the male half of the population is being discriminated against. I dislike xenophobic and nationalistic behavior as much as anyone, but how about if it’s coming from a middle-aged salaryman who’s forced to work several hours per day at unpaid overtime, or who doesn’t know where his children are because his wife has dumped him and moved away, or has any number of other problems that society chooses to ignore? It has to make you think, doesn’t it?

    — It sure does. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Doug #65

    Really scraping the barrel for things to complain about, aren’t you?
    ‘Finally I wish more of these discussion boards about Japan would have made a speacial post or statement memorializing those that lost their lives on 3/11.’

    Remembrance is a deeply personal act, and individuals should be free to memorialize and commemorate according to their individual grief, and beliefs. It would be facile and shallow for every Japan related web-site to post a memorial on the basis of the Japan connection alone, don’t you think. Anyhow, Debito.org makes far more meaningful contribution towards remembering the Tohoku disasters by highlighting and continuing the debate on the safety of nuclear power, and the J-governments inneffective responses to the crisis.

  • Someone asked for opinions, so here’s my own:

    I’m not trying to be mean-spirited, but Eric does sound pretty whiny here. I’m not sure where he got the idea that he’d ever be One Of Them. It’s kind of one of the first things you have to accept as a foreigner living in Japan, and it’s not a big deal anyway if you’re not best friends with every Japanese you meet.

    I am an American woman from a middle class background. I was a professional in the U.S. and did not come to Japan to teach English (I’ve only done it for a total of about a month before quitting for good because I’m not suited to it). When I came to Japan, I tried to do something related to my profession here, but since it’s a job that operates by way of burning through and burning out of students just out of technical school in this country, I was automatically considered too old to qualify for a position. Disappointing, sure, but now I’m a housewife with a Japanese husband. We are not rich or privileged in any way, and I am content as things are so far. I live in a large city in Kansai.

    I will tell you that I appreciate Japan and its culture for many reasons, which completely outweigh the parts of Japanese culture and society that I become irritated by. The freedom to be able to not have an illegal immigrant threaten me with a hammer in a parking lot at random one day is one thing I appreciate about living here. The freedom to be able to live in and take a walk down the street (even at night) in my inner city neighborhood without being followed and taunted by drunks or having my home broken into or vandalized the second I turn my back is another one I enjoy here that I didn’t back in the States. The fact that I can walk down the street without being called names for being a woman or a foreigner, and not criticized or sneered at when I try my best with my far from perfect Japanese skills (sorry to disappoint – still studying day by day. We can’t all be perfectly fluent after a month living here) is another courtesy that I enjoy.

    I don’t have to be one of them. I am satisfied enough to be treated like a human being deserving of dignity, like all the rest of you. I am not the most social of people, and am kind of a homebody most of the time, but that’s why I still have ties to my friends from back home when I feel lonely. I don’t feel as though I must have the right to belong to Japanese social clubs or groups, or have the entitled notion that Japanese people MUST accept me as their new best friend and equal. We’re different, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Not just for them, but for me, too. I don’t hang out in “gaijin ghettos” either, because I don’t really like hanging around in bars getting drunk and bitching about how much Japan sucks with other ex-pats, and can’t relate to young exchange students, JETS or career English teachers. It’s not that I have something against them, I just realize I have little in common with them, so I don’t seek them out. Now that I’m reminded, probably the most annoying thing I’ve encountered in the time I’ve been in Japan, in fact, is the rude, judgmental, discriminatory behavior of NOT Japanese – but other non-American foreigners when they learn I’m American. Talk about shallow behavior – and it’s from other foreigners!

    The important part is that this stuff doesn’t bother me. Certainly not enough to drive me away crying bitter tears.

    I feel safe here in my neighborhood. I get along with my neighbors and am invited to community events, which is a sight more than I ever experienced in my home country. I realize that they don’t want to be my best friend after I’ve participated in mochitsuki or accompanying the mikoshi with them, but that amount of socializing with my neighbors is perfect for me, and I’m satisfied with it. It’s enough to maintain a good impression, but little enough not to breed contempt, and that’s all that’s needed for all to be well in my neighborhood.

    Perhaps some of you will find my views naive or simplistic. That’s ok, I’m only giving my personal perspective as a foreign woman who lives here, and I’m not speaking for anyone but myself. I don’t feel the need to get into politics and immigration issues because they don’t cause me any trouble. Visa extension visits are a pain in the ass, but I never have a problem with them. I definitely intend to go for permanent residency this time around. The point is that I’m happy here, and I hope to live out my life here. My husband and I are certainly trying for children, and intend to be good, supportive parents to them. My child will not grow up narrow minded or limited as long as I teach him or her well in the home and invite free and open communication and thinking. A strong bond with your child in the home works wonders no matter what kind of society you live in.

    Anyway, I don’t hate my home country, and it’s at least somewhere to go as a last resort if some type of life threatening disaster should hit closer to our city, but I am happy in Japan, and I have no intention of giving up the dignity I am given just as a regular joe walking down the street as long as I’m allowed the – yes – privilege to do so. I value it and am appreciative, and it’s more than enough for me to be happy.

    I hope it’s not a problem, but I won’t be back to read or respond should there be any replies to this comment. I only followed a link here from another site and just wanted to give my opinion as another foreigner who lives in Japan, since it was asked for.

  • Jim

    Scraping the barrel? Give me a break!

    I posted a long post here about the loss of cooling accident and nuclear meltdown and was thrashed here and on other boards (Debito-san is well aware of this). Also went up to Tohoku 3 times.

    No I do not think I am scraping the barrel at all and I do not think kind words (and having other posters post kind words) is at all shallow.

    — Let’s also add to the debate in general when we answer, please.

  • Mark In Yayoi #73,

    I see your point, but the issue of gender discrimination in Japan is far more complex than that, especially if you consider the problematic reasoning and the concepts of “manliness” and “femininity” that underlie many of its forms. Look at, for example, the way in which social welfare discriminates against and penalises Japanese men for not being able to maintain economic self-reliance – often forcing them into homelessness – while at the same time giving more protection to women… because the latter are not expected to be self-reliant, anyway! Tom Gill has recently published an insightful study on the destructive impact of this endemic sexism pervading Japanese welfare ideology – and many other aspects of Japanese society for that matter (http://japanfocus.org/-Tom-Gill/3671).

    Overall, I agree with Gill’s remark that perhaps at the root of all these inquities is the excessive rigidity of Japanese society, which punishes members of either sex when they attempt to step outside their socially approved roles.

  • Late to the party…

    But my two cents:
    The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When I live in Japan, there are things I miss about America. For example, it’s easier to make friends and easier to cooperate with coworkers for me there (as I’m not ethnically Japanese). But in America, I miss the order and safety of Japan, among other things like the train system. And I always get annoyed by whatever daily annoyance is particular to a country while living there but forget it quickly upon moving somewhere else.

    Your environment is what it is. By your actions and perspective, you can either make it into Heaven… or Hell.

    One more comment:
    The racial discrimination I’ve faced as a white man in Japan seems to be less than what my Asian-American friends see in America. The deep South is particularly awful according to one friend who traveled there. Yes, there are more legal protections in the U.S., but there is also more overt hostility to minorities in many regions.

    And another:
    Whoever is saying Japanese are childish should remember that I’ve heard some Japanese call Americans childish too (including a powerful politician and someone at my workplace). And if Europeans think they’re better than both, I’m sure we can come up with insults just as bad. So let’s drop these kinds of statements.

    And remember that the white community in Japanese are the cream of the crop from their home countries- almost all college educated and successful. It distorts expatriates’ feelings of NJ versus Japanese society.

  • Debito here. When I opened up this blog entry for comments, I didn’t think it would take off quite like this (that’s why this falls under “Discussions”, where I moderate a bit more loosely). Thanks to everyone for participating.

    Now to answer Eric C’s original question: “My question to you is why do you keep trying?”

    Well, sorry to keep you waiting on this, and I hope my answer is in the end not an anti-climax. The short answer is: Because it’s what I do.

    I’ve been talking about issues of power and unfairness all my life. Even when I was in grade school, I understood far beyond my age bracket how bullies wielded power over people, and I always chose to a) not lend people who were being unfair to other people my support or assistance, and also b) lend a hand where I could to the people who were on the receiving end of the nasty treatment. It was how I dealt with life back then, and it carried on through my high school, college (where I participated in the anti-apartheid divestment protests, for one; my undergrad degree was in government, giving structure to my seeing life in terms of constant power relationships), and life beyond. I’ve always tended to be a supporter of the underdog (even when I watched sports, I rooted for the team that was trailing in points). My entire life has been one of constant debate, including dealing with a family life where I was also always the underdog (as an only child, with bullying parents basically indifferent to my well-being when they were cooperative at all), and it made me naturally relate better to people who were not getting a fair shake. It’s been a common thread throughout my life.

    Now regarding Japan: I’ve been studying the place for closing in on thirty years now, and I have been living in Japan for a quarter-century. It’s part of me. It’s shaped my life, my mindset, my outlook on existence and social justice. Doing what I do is what gives my life meaning. Debito.org, for one, has become such a huge repository of information that may help people lead better lives that it has become a self-sustaining project. In that, it gives me succor, it gives others a degree of help and experience. And I couldn’t stop doing it if I tried. Seeing that Japan really needs this source, despite itself, as a way to remind the underdogs that they are not crazy for feeling that unfairness is not a natural state of being, and hopefully as a way to nudge people in positions of power to think nice and perhaps remember that NJ are people too, just makes me redouble my efforts to continue.

    It can be a dismal science at times, to be sure, but human rights is rarely a pleasant slog. It is, however, one of the few founts of hope that we can have to say, “Look, here’s what’s wrong. Let’s fix it.” That is the conversation I wish to be a part of. And I shall, health permitting, continue as such. But thanks for asking. Debito

  • @Eric c:

    Congratulations. You eloquently summed up what I have come to see as Japan, and why I am leaving (in two months).

    Like others, when I first came here, I had a great time, basically because I did not have to engage with modern society too much. However, when you have a child, you have to take a long hard look at this place, and, quite frankly, putting them through the “education” system here is doing them a tremendous disservice, especially, if you have male children (check out Mark in Yayoi’s excellent observations on the tribulations of the Japanese salaryman.)

    Basically, as long as you can avoid having to deal with the country and live in a bubble, the place is tolerable, but, as the economy is crashing, it’s becoming increasingly harder to do that.The fact that NJ have virtually NO rights (and not much chance of getting them due to political disenfranchisement) is being exploited by Japanese companies more ruthlessly by the year. I’m under forty and I’m glad to be getting out.

  • Steve #68

    You say:

    “In fact, Japan has one of the highest defense budgets in the world, funded at about the same level as the U.K., France, or Russia.”

    True, but my point remains that warlike aggression by Japan is contained by the USA.

    Japan does not have unlimited freedom to utilise its military.

    “The status of women in Japan is deplorable”

    We agree.

    More generally, I do not understand your regular comparisons between Japan and the USA.

    In the Netherlands we do not have these absurd religious politicians that the USA does either, and we have better conditions for women.

    Mark in Yayoi:

    Regarding “men on the receiving end of societally-entrenched discrimination”

    I think that the issues are more complex.

    Life expectancy rates are different most places between men and women, and biology may be a component, rather than purely a result of discrimination.

    Suicide is tied to many factors, such as the abysmal quality often of psychiatric care in Japan. Suicides are the culmination of many factors: suicidal thinking, etc.

    Overwork — I do not agree that Japanese men are more overworked than Japanese women.

  • I have been here 11 years. I will probably leave in the future since it is harder to get a decent job.
    I am on a limited contract, and I have two more years.
    I don`t have kids so it is easier for me to leave. I have stayed since I don`t know what my Japanese wife will do in the US. She doesn`t want to teach and said she could work in a Japanese restaurant.
    I thought I should just save money so I will be better prepared to return to the US.

    Also, I am sick of Tokyo. If I could live in another part of Japan, I would.
    I think it depends where you come from. I know people from different countries and everyone`s situation is different.

    For example, a man from Spain with a Japanese wife and kid. They lived in New York and he didn`t like it so they live here. The Spanish economy is bad with high unemployment, so he won`t go anywhere although he is stuck teaching English and he would rather do something else.

    Example #2:
    A Peruvian man with Japanese wife. He is good at Japanese, has a good job and seems content. Back in Lima he would make less money.

    Example #3:
    A Brazilian who taught English, but later got depressed living in Tokyo. He moved back to Brazil and is doing fine.

    Example #4:
    A Costa Rican who got divorced and stays here. He is getting better at Japanese.

    Example #5:
    A British man with a kid and spouse from Tokyo. Their daughter didn`t like her school and had a problem with being absent. She could have been bullied. So they left Japan and she goes to an international school.

    Example #6:
    An American with a kid and a Japanese wife. He wants to live in the US, but the wife doesn`t. He thinks the kid should go to school in Japan for at least part of her education.

  • Hi Debito,

    Thank you for answering my question! It was a fully satisfactory answer.

    As I stated in my original post: all NJ owe you a huge debt of gratitude. It’s people like you, wherever they live, who make it easier for people with less guts, passion or integrity to live decent lives.

    I beg you to please keep holding Japan’s feet to the fire. No, not Japan’s feet, but the feet of the present establishment and the odd individual racists wherever you find them. One can only imagine what Japan would be like if it were not for the efforts of people like you and their like-minded Japanese associates. Japan is capable of so much more and so much better, and hopefully, you will help them realize this.

    I know that, in some ways, I took the coward’s way out and I admire you for not having done so. And, on a purely personal note, I love watching you giving the bastards hell. God knows, they deserve it. (Note: When I say “bastards” I mean the establishment, not all Japanese, of course). I’ll keep supporting you from afar and turning people on to your site.

    In closing, I know I came down very harshly on Japan. I want to make it clear that a lot of my anger stems from the frustration at seeing a country with so much potential squander its gifts. My anger is not directed at the Japanese people – the vast majority of whom treated me wonderfully and many of whom were my friends – my anger is directed squarely at the small gang of old geezers in the ministries, the large corporations and in other positions of power who are strangling the nation simply to line their own pockets. These bastards deserve all the grief that you can possible give them, Debito. Keep giving them that grief!

  • Japanesegirl says:

    I agree with what Eric says. I am Japanese. Although I was not good at school, I was smart enough to question about Japanese education system and all, and lucky enough to leave the country for good.

    I went to Australia for a one-month homestay when I was in the second year of high school. It gave me a chance to open the door to the outside world.

    After having lived in a few other countries and made international friends, I realized how childish and how ignorant and how passive Japanese are. I really find it boring to talk to Japanese people who have never lived abroad. They only enjoy talking about TV shows, gossips, all those crappy stuff, but when such as political issues or recent nuclear power plant crisis issues are mentioned, they suddenly lose interest or just nod and say nothing.

    I went to public elementary, junior, and high schools in Japan. That is the most regrettable thing I have ever done in my life. I learnt nothing from school. Japanese kids start to learn things that are only necessary to pass the university entrance examination.
    I have children and I thought leaving Japan and move to another country which is more multicultural and multiracial would be the best gift that I could give them, so I left Japan.

    I love Japan because it is my country. But it doesn’t mean that I want to live in Japan.

  • @Japanese girl,

    I salute you. Its probably even more of an issue for you than it is for us gaijin, because you get it from both sides-travel to Caucasin countries and meet people who faced racism in Japan and want revenge, then get the crap we deal with here. I meet people like you occasionally, and I respect you very much. Your post also flies right in the face of those weird gaijin that apologize for everything Japan does (cough, uh you know the site). Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    This thread has been truly interesting. Given Japan’s record of avoiding voluntary change, unless external forces compel it to do so, I am starting to think that maybe Eric C. has a point. Maybe trying to change Japan by being here, and raising awareness is not the way forward. Maybe the only way that Japan will effect the kind of human rights changes we want to see as NJ, is if NJ who have had enough (to say the least in some cases), leave Japan, and go back into the ‘real’ world with not a good word to say about it. Maybe the negative image will prompt some introspection (rather than Japan identifying itself as the ‘victim’); a kind of ‘gaiatsu’?

  • I would like to share my Japan success story.

    I came here in 2006 as an English teacher. I taught for a few schools, but ultimately was left unsatisfied.

    But, having a worthless degree and my only work experience being as an English Teacher, I knew I was on a one-way train to nowhere.

    I went to a friend of mine, who recommended I get some certifications (in Japan, there are sooo many of these) I got JLPT 1, Kanji Test 1, ITIL, WIndwos 7, and CCNA. I now have a job in a major company working in IT/Translation (kinda complicated) and I have a pretty snazzy CV now, allowing me to work at pretty much any company I want… well not really, but you get the idea.

    I’ll admit, Japan can be a bitch. If you let them, they’ll fuck you over.

    But, because Japanese can do nothing but follow their ‘system’, you have to use it against them. There are a few, very few but still some, former NJ in government positions. This alone means that it is not impossible.

    Japanese Schools are propaganda factories. This is true, but look at US schools or probably any school anywhere. “America! Fuck yeah!”

    But, especailly with schools, just be the ‘monster parent’ and tell the schools to fuck off. Also, if you can’t afford better schools, get a better job, or don’t have kids until you do.

    I had this thought. What if every NJ in Japan right now naturalized into Japanese citizens. If there was a sudden jump in naturalized citizens (especially white, black, and hispanic) then Japanese would be no choice but to take notice.

    We all know that NJ have very few rights, right? Then why not become J?!?!?! Beat them at their own game. If you are in Japan are you know they you can’t or don’t want to go back to your home country, then why stay disenfranchised?

    Think about it. If there were like 3,000,000 NJ who suddenly became J, that would be pretty shocking for them.

    As long as you remain an NJ, there will always be the argument “Well, if you don’t like it, why not go home?”

  • @Japanesegirl

    I am truly amazed by your statement and respect you for your decision!

    I find myself here with a young daughter that will start going to school in about 3 years. Since she was born I have been worrying about the educational system. Not so much for elementary school but for junior high and high school where it looks like a sort of military service.
    I intend to transmit my thoughts to her when she will be older and hopefully I will be able to make her reason about things rather than just obey orders.
    I hope that before she starts junior high I might be able to go back to my native country and hopefully enjoy a more open minded educational institutions.

    I also really liked what you wrote about loving your country, I do to love my country (Italy) but I can see a lot of mistakes being made by the government and leaving abroad really makes you look at things froma different perspective.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts seen from a japanese point of view, I really appreciated that.

  • Japanesegirl Says:
    March 24th, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Your post is very impressive. I enjoyed that. Living in Germany I wonder how many J. are here, even in small towns in which it is really hard to find a job even with excellent abilities in German. Our University department numbers several Japanese researchers, that is comparable with other national communities, like Italians or Chinese. One J. faculty who came to Germany around 2000 year told me that the Japanese community here is growing fast for the last several years. One recent example that impressed the department is a famous J professor who lost his own huge and famous lab in J and got instead only a bare professor post here. But he looks very happy. His family also moved to Germany.
    So, perhaps, the demographic situation in Japan is even worse than thought. Looks like some progressive people are leaving or tending to leave Japan or at least try to send their kids to study abroad. There is no sure that the official statistics of residents in J. properly reflects these immigration waves.

  • @Japanesegirl:

    I too, salute your honest asessment and your courage to do what’s best for your children.


    My child is going into primary school this year. Like you, I worried when she was younger about the Japanese educational system, but i put it off by thinking she would be able for it. However, I had to face the fact that putting her even through primary school would be doing her a long term disservice. So, my advice would be: right now, start preparations for bringing her back to Italy when she reaches school-going age.

    Nursery care is generally good here, as is the health system for small children and mothers, but once she reaches five or six, get her out of here!


  • as an english teacher employed in the private sector, there is reason to ‘give up’ — the industry has nearly collapsed, young japanese people aren’t as motivated to go to the private sector to study english due to passing trends and money-issues of their own. and i don’t want to teach geriatrics who will never improve just to make ends meet. i like what i do here and the industry, it can be a fun and interesting life. but i cannot revitalize the industry in which i am employed.

    the permanent othering is another factor in which i would consider the ‘give up’.
    i do worry about if i do move and take a japanese person with me back to the west then am i not forcing her to accept the “microagression” othering that bothers me to such a large extent in japan?

    it reminds me of what a barman said at closing time once, “the dream’s over, now get the fuck out.”

  • Matty B covered an aspect of “giving up on Japan” that we hadn’t really discussed much up to now. The fact is, for many NJ in Japan, English teaching is our only source of income. Not all of us can become so proficient in the language to use it in business, or for that matter, have the ability or desire to start out own companies. Even if I had entertained hopes of staying here much longer, I would probably have been forced out by financial realities in the not too distant future. As Matty said, the industry in Japan has nearly collapsed; certainly the middle range. This seems to have worsened since last March.

    There is still growth in kids’ teaching, especially pre-school. Either you are a kids’ teacher or you are not, and it is something I cannot endure for any price. Let’s face it, Japanese teachers with reasonable English can do the job just a well and charge less. This is a bit like the situation at the turn of the 20th century when the Japanese government ended the “oyatoigaikokujin” (hired foreign experts) programme as it was no longer needed. They had succeeded in training up sufficient people who could be employed at a far lower cost than continuing to hire foreigners to do the job.

    Lessons for older learners are also a market that is at least stable to some extent. I have a number of “geriatric classes” as he called them. Well, they are mainly older learners aged 60 plus and if we are brutally honest, Matty hit the nail on the head there. This is starting to level off though, and I was finding it harder to attract replacement students to keep the numbers up in some of the groups. One of my former employers mentioned recently that he is finding it increasingly difficult to attract new students. He may also be out of here within a couple of years.

  • I recently left Japan after more than 19 years living there. I grew tired of the racism and hostile attitudes toward foreigners. I was also really shocked and angry that the government and TEPCO allowed such potentially dangerous nuclear reactors to keep running and then reacted so poorly after the tsunami. I realize that there are a lot of good people living in Japan but the bad ones were really starting to grate on me. I was being treated like a slave at my job and had no prospects for anything better.
    In the future I will undoubtedly start to miss a lot of Japanese things but I won’t miss the stress or racism.

  • @ posts #92 and 93

    Re: the state of the English teaching “industry”. I hear you. I mentioned this briefly in a previous post. This was also a factor in my decision to “give up” on Japan. In one way, it makes leaving easier. I was lucky coming here eight years ago. I managed to get a decent job and enough free time to learn what I really wanted to. I couldn’t do that if I came here now.

    The thing is, we all know there is a huge need for English teaching in the country, but the Japanese will not provide stable employment or conditions for most English teachers employed either in schools or the private sector. This was covered for years by the fact that you were able to get a relatively high price for your services, but now the bottom has fallen out of the market, I guess we are starting to find out how other immigrant workers feel about working in Japan.

    So, let them off!

  • BeenJammin says:

    I want to thank everybody taking part in this thread. It is very rare to find reflected opinions that go beyond the usual “it’s simply cultural differences” shallowness. That there are cultural differences between the Western countries and Japan is a given fact which does not explain the difficulties of life as a foreigner in Japan.
    For me, the interesting question rather is – is it recommendable for a Western person to try to get over all those cognitive dissonances between the values of the Japanese society and the Western ones.
    I came to Japan only half a year ago, having visited it only for a couple of days at a time during the previous years. As a Western European who just turned 40, up to now it was interesting for me to see my values and morals – individualism, gender equality, critical thinking, a healthy work/life balance, and personal freedom, among others, being of such low priority and attractiveness to the mainstream Japanese person, that I almost walked into the “Stockholm syndrome” trap that so many new foreigners fall into: Questioning my own values and actually considering if the “Japanese way” may actually be the better way, after all.
    I loved to have all my long-held up beliefs and values questioned by a culture that doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about them. Before coming to Japan, I was quite annoyed by many sociological / cultural developments in my country: The all-pervasive irony that has rendered much of Western contemporary culture irrelevant. The fake and shallow individualism of most young people (“Hipsters”) living in the Western cities. The increasing rudeness and push-and-shove in daily life, to name a few. Japan seemed to be the opposite of almost everything I despised in my home country.
    Now, after half a year (many of you long-time people are probably thinking: “Come on, only half a year and you’re whining? Man up a little!”), I can’t delude myself anymore: I already know I will be happy in Japan, ever. It’s starting to grow on me that I was probably to old coming here to get over my values, no matter how little I thought of them beforehand. With the exception of a refreshing absence of irony, the values held up by the majority of the society here downright scare me. I don’t want them to creep into my thinking. But one thing is for sure – when I go home, I will be able to see my home country, which I grew so disillusioned and bored with, in a new light. I want to thank Japan for this life lesson, and with this wisdom, I will be able to enjoy my stay here and take in as much as I can.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @BeenJammin #95

    I enjoyed your thoughtful post. I agree; ‘cultural differences’ is a phrase that gets bandied about rather too often in regards to Japan, I feel. Its overuse obfuscates proper analysis, and is one of the structures that allows the continuation of Japan excusing itself from international norms (such as signing up with the Hague Treaty on Child Abduction). The sad fact is that NJ buy into it. Every country has ‘cultural differences’, so why are Japan’s deemed worthy of such all smothering deference?

  • Some people are fond of saying that the Japanese are a bunch of 12-year-olds, but that’s wrong. They are not 12, they are 25! According to a somewhat bizarre Canadian study, the Japanese are born wise, and stop acquiring wisdom around the age of 25, whereas Americans continue to accumulate wisdom throughout their lives. (It’s a strange study, I say. What’s “wisdom?” And how do you test for it?)



    I was an idiot at 25. Imagine if I’d never developed emotionally or intellectually after that age. What a horrible thought.

  • Hello, I know I’m really late to the party but I want to add a different perspective to this “Is Japan worth it?, Why bother?, Do you see an end to the tunnel?” kind of discussion. I apologize in advance for my poor English but bear with me.

    I have only been here for about 4 years, I came here when I was 19 years old looking for adventure more than anything else and as many other people. Managed to find a girlfriend quite easily (she is the only thing that can keep me sane right now) and learned Japanese together with a lot of awesome people from all around the world.

    But now I’m in the complete opposite side of the mirror, I’m studying at a 専門学校, which i guess it’s like a superior technical school…but filled with useless people, including me ;). And this place has a really old fashioned rule list when it comes to do things:

    1 We have to bow at the beginning and end of the lesson thanking our teacher for how honored we are that he is teaching us…yeah right.

    2 We are forced to clean the entire classroom at the end of each day, and I mean 30 minutes minimum of cleaning.

    3 We get scolded very badly if we skip any class and are supposed to “report” to our teachers for even the most moronic things you can imagine.

    And well, this would be bearable (although there is more) if the people would get together once in a while and think “Is this necessary?, Is this education or just complete indoctrination?”. But SURPRISE, nobody does, and if a person doesn’t follow the rules for whatever reason he is usually outcasted.

    And in the beginning well, you think “Well, this is how it works, better try to get used to it and try to at least look like I am one of them”. But really, if I didn’t have places like this awesome blog, my GF, and contact with other foreigners every now and then…I would probably go nuts and start screaming “WHY??????” every single day.

    With that said, there are a lot of good things here, like Japanese companies contracting foreign people even if they only know English and Japanese (I know a few cases, I might be the next) because they know that they have to expand their sales abroad ASAP, having people admiring you just for doing what your classmates do (but you are a gaijin, so that means that you are awesome for doing so!), etc.

    Thanks Debito for this awesome place again and keep up the good work!

    But to be honest, I also think a lot about going back home and give up on trying to fit and trying to open the minds of my classmates so they can understand how things work outside and why they should think about changing their passive attitude (and I’m talking about 19-20 years old guys, the people that should go to kasumigaseki and protest once in a while). But again, Japan also has a lot of good things, and there are always worse places to be.

    Lastly let me give you a little bit of hope, just a small tiny ray of it. My school’s principal is a believer that education in Japan, based on the memorization is destroying the country, and because of that he tries to make their students focus on developing their imagination and creativity, thinking outside of the box, yadayadayada. And there are a lot of teachers that support him and give to their students more council than the average teacher here in Japan. But again, I would like for them to understand that creativity and thinking outside the limits should be used on a daily basis and towards making their lives better and more fair, and not only used on making better products, webs, programs or whatever.

  • Woops! One of the lines went between paragraphs sorry.

    Oh, and a comment to Eric. It pains me that you had such an experience that makes you think that there is no solution to things, although I feel complete empathy with you and almost all what you said.

    But think that the economic system going down might be the detonator that makes all the contained wrath and uneasiness of the citizens as it happened in many other countries before. Sooner or later they will have to rebel, and it might take longer than for other societies, but when the need to do so becomes so heavy that most of the population can not go on living…they will begin to rebel.

  • @Symbios:

    “They” (i.e the young people of Japan) will not Rebel as they have been completely brainwashed for twenty years during their education. They have been conditioned to become passive robots. The independent thinkers like Japangirl
    get out of the country ASAP, and society is left to the robots. This suits the ruling elite/yakuza just fine, as they can force their fellow countrymen to endure any hardship while they enrich themselves. And don’t fool yourself that any Japanese company is much different. Look how they treated Woodford at Olympus.

    The only thing that can change things is if they completely change the education system. For starters, they would have to hire double the number of teachers, most of them foreigners, and let them design their own curricula based on systems in their native countries.

    In order to fund this, they would have to take the money off all the loaded old people in this country. This is where the wealth is concentrated.

    Will either of these things happen? Of course not. Look at how the powers that be are dealing with the Fukushima disaster. There was a double meltdown, and they didn’t even tell you about it.

    So. this country is doomed. Its a place for rich parasitic old fogeys to be serviced by an slave underclass of morons. Add to that the radiation and the earthquakes plus plummeting wages.

    Get out and take your girlfriend with you.


Comment navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>