Iida Yumiko on the nation-state, and how it includes people in the national narrative for its own survival (or in Japan’s case, how it doesn’t)


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Hi Blog. As I’ve been hitting the books these days in terms of theories of nation-state formation and concomitant creation of racialized societies, I found something I think readers of Debito.org might be interested in:

This is an excerpt from the late Dr. Iida Yumiko, from her book “Rethinking Identity in Modern Japan” (Routledge, 2002), pages 264-5. Plough through it, as it is written in the (often impenetrable) prose of academics (and don’t get derailed by words like “ontological”, please), and afterwards I’ll rewrite it in simpler language and tell you why it is germane to Debito.org:


Iida: “As a collective human organization, the nation necessitates a common set of functional rules articulated in the form of a narrative. […] Since individuals are born into a socio-cultural system that ontologically precedes them, they are predisposed to certain patterns of meaning and behavior operative in the existing symbolic system; their sensory experiences, emotional attachments, and sense of moral duty, all of which occupy an import an place in the social life of humanity and society, are built upon such cultural bases.

“State hegemonic power, thus, rests on its ability to weave the identity of its subjects into the reigning system of symbolic meanings, which the subjects in their everyday practices then embody. Further, the survival of the nation-state and the well-being of its subjects [sic] are dependent upon, and reinforced by, the existing symbolic system. Naturally, the form and intensity of such connections between the state and the subject varies from place to place; arguably, the linkage is much less significant in the advanced industrial societies of the West, where ‘culture’ appears less of an immediate issue and the state’s power to regenerate ‘hegemonic consensus’ is constituted more by the legal and institutional apparatus.

“The question of degrees not withstanding, however, the fact remains that the hegemonic reproduction of the nation is dependent upon its subject being provided with such socio-cultural foundations for shared memories of the past, as sense of communal moral obligation, a coherent vision of the world, and collectively articulated hopes.

If in the current global context the nation-state is indeed being dismantled [by the effects of multinational corporations, global migration of capital and labor, etc.], then the danger looms nigh that highly disruptive forces contained within the bounds of the nation-state will be unleashed, forces which at present are more or less circumscribed by the established symbolic links constituting, albeit hierarchically, the order and stability between a nation and its subjects.

Since the normal functioning of the nation-state is a necessary condition for the stability of the individual subjects whose everyday lives are integrated into hegemonic political-cultural institutions, contesting hegemony runs a number of risks, for ‘to battle the temporal constructions of power is to battle the self and to damage the readily available means of achieving comfort and assurance’.”  ENDS


Now leaving aside Iida’s problematic use of “subjects” (as opposed to “citizens” or “nationals”), let me rearticulate this passage for readers who aren’t used to academic writing and then comment:

TRANSLATION:  Every country has to convince the people who live within it to accept that a) there is a country that they are members of, and b) that there are rules they have to follow in order to be members (obeying the laws, paying taxes, potentially giving up one’s life to defend it, etc.).  When power becomes this unquestioned, it becomes (to use Gramsci’s word) “hegemonic”, in other words, normal enough to be invisible and generally unquestioned.  Almost all people on this planet, born into a nation-state, accept that they are members of one country of another (by dint of having a passport, a tax home, accountability before the law etc.) and play by the rules because that’s how they were socialized.

But there is a give-and-take here.  The nation-state must give its members four things in order for them to adopt the rules of play and pass them down to the next generation.  These are, according to Iida above:

1) A shared memory of the past (i.e., a national narrative) that links them all,

2) A sense of community, with moral obligations to it,

3) A world view that makes sense,

4) Hope for the future that other people share.

COMMENT:  Fine.  Now, as this relates to Debito.org:  What do NJ in Japan get?

1) A shared memory of the past?  Not really, since what NJ generally hear in the national narrative (and replicated in ignorant overseas media and scholarship) is how foreigners, if any influence at all in Japanese society, are generally exogenous influences (Chinese writing, Perry, MacArthur, the gaijin du jour/baseball star revved up for mass consumption and soon forgotten, etc.).  NJ are not seen as part of Japan’s domestic past or legacies.  Japan takes any foreign influence and makes it “Japanese”, as we keep hearing, and that’s what makes Japan “unique”.  Any attempts to correct that ahistory are generally shouted down as not home-grown (by now by definition) or else ignored as just temporary (again, by definition, since the domestic media won’t appraise it either long-term or as something domestic; for example, look how much trouble I’ve had just getting the Japan Times to be the only media outlet giving simple Obituaries to long-term NJ residents and their legacies).

2) A sense of community, with moral obligations?  Not really. I’ve mentioned before (see my last blog post, for example) how NJ communities are not even acknowledged in Japan (Japan as a nation has enough trouble ever acknowledging that even domestic minorities exist).  If anything, NJ are (by default, only — something not actively generated by the nation-state) linked by who they are NOT (i.e., not Japanese), rather than by who they ARE; which, the record shows, is not much of a basis for a community (communities here have to link themselves, as the independent outsider Zainichi and Nikkei media demonstrate).

As for moral obligations, Rick Gundlach has written some very thoughtful posts on how NJ, as they rip at each other in public, do it beyond the regular moral bounds of Japanese society (his most recent: “a lot of what foreigners do in Japan is make up their own rules about what is and is not acceptable, or legal, or socially desirable, in Japan. They seldom rely on what is actually legal, or what the Japanese would themselves like to have the foreign community do“) — in essence, NJ are left out of being held accountable under domestic standards for their actions (as you’ll see when the Japanese police act so lackadaisically towards NJ-on-NJ crime).  That is perhaps the best evidence yet of just how outside the Japanese sense of community NJ are.

3) A world view that makes sense?  I don’t think even many Japanese would assert without reservation that Japan’s world view makes sense, especially after the Fukushima Disasters; it’s just that most Japanese are having trouble seeing any alternative (or seeing one but unsure how to get enough people on board to get it enforced) given how people are socialized towards nation-state power in Japan.

But in regards to NJ, since many CAN see an alternative, the oft-touted national narrative often makes even less sense.  Even before Fukushima, being told constantly, for example, that Japan is #1 at just about everything, that only Japan has the best stuff in the world (be it vegetables to consumer electronics — even crappy housing under generations of recycled mortgages are somehow justified) and has the safest classless most equitable society etc. (except when something that isn’t supposed to happen does happen — like theft, violence, discrimination, or clear class-based elite privilege — it comes as a great shock to many), and you foreigners are damned lucky to be here in our Japan — not contributing to it, of course, but somehow taking advantage of it (i.e., by getting paid for your labor).  Then one begins to wonder if the national narrative is not a form of group psychosis.

4) Hope for the future that other people share.  This was the biggest denouement after Fukushima, when a lot of people, seeing the lies and obfuscations that were coming out of the media essentially to protect the elite and corporatist sides of Japan, lost hope that Japan could ever fix itself.  Again, this loss of hope was not something that only affected the NJ, but when NJ began to be partially and specifically blamed (as “Flyjin“) for Japan’s troubles under the new post-3/11 national narrative, then what hope for the future was there for NJ to live normal lives as regular, untargeted, unaccused members of Japan’s domestic community?

In sum, one of the reasons I believe why NJ have little sense of “belonging” to Japan is not only that they are constantly “othered” and alienated (through the daily processes of “Microaggressions“, which happen in every society), but also that in Japan’s case they are by-and-large egregiously deprived of the four essential requirements that are incumbent upon a nation-state to make people accept that nation-state as something with hegemonic power over their lives.  And that’s why so many NJ in the end feel little affinity and will just pick up and leave.

Even if NJ do make the investment (family, home, loans, language and acculturation, even permanent residency/citizenship), they are generally not included in Japan’s national narrative.  This is a fatal flaw in Japan’s nation-state engineering, and it will not keep people coming to and staying in a depopulating Japan if they will never feel “Japanese”, by design.  Arudou Debito

28 comments on “Iida Yumiko on the nation-state, and how it includes people in the national narrative for its own survival (or in Japan’s case, how it doesn’t)

  • I disagree with her statement:

    “Since the normal functioning of the nation-state is a necessary condition for the stability of the individual subjects whose everyday lives are integrated into hegemonic political-cultural institutions….”

    That is not true for the deeply marginalised individuals within a racist or exclusionary state, in part because such marginalised individuals are NOT integrated into hegemonic political-cultural institutions.

    Thus, for example, the normal functioning of the nation-state Manchukuo was NOT a necessary condition for the stability of the individual subjects of that nation-state.

    In a like manner, the normal functioning of Japan is not a necessary condition for the stability of NJ in Japan.

    She assumes that all individuals are integrated into the nation, but that is clearly not the case in Japan.

    Moreover, it is not true in many other places, but currently and historically.

    Interesting, her assumption seems to be of a state in which all are integrated, which due to Japan’s strong xenophobia, would require the expulsion of all NJ inasmuch as they can never be integrated.

    As such, she implicitly provides for the view that ethnic purity should be a focus of Japanese immigration and naturalisation laws.

    — Yes, quite. I critique her book similarly for its near-complete disregard of NJ as part of the Japanese national narrative.

  • At times I quite enjoy being on the outside knowing that I don’t have to be a “citizen” and am free to act in pretty much any way I feel. There are some very liberating aspects to this. Not only can I not bother about voting for someone who has no intention of enacting the promised laws delivered during speeches on the campaign-trail but I also get to say, “It’s none of my business. It’s a Japanese problem. You guys fix it. Good luck with that. I’ll grab a beer even though it’s 10am.”

    Or another example is that I get to reexamine my own cultural inheritances and decide which ones benefit me as an individual and which facets I can try to eliminate myself from so as to avoid making knee-jerk calculations based on automatic knowledge. If I’m not in my own cultural pool, and am on the side-lines of another cultural pool, then I can take a good long look at what I’ve been taught.

    A culture can take a lot out of an individual and only give back a fictionalized version of history and a skewed modern world-view so with myself being a second-class citizen I acknowledge the freedoms that come along with being on the outside.
    Probably there are a lot of Japanese who would like to abdicate some portions of their forced participation in society. Even if say Japanese do abdicate the right to vote they have to live with that decision but for myself as a second-class citizen I can file it under “it’s not even my problem to begin with”.

    At the same time while I try to benefit from the short-comings of a second-class citizen I know it’s more important for a country to actually include and not marginalize people on all levels of society.

  • A question for Debito. You write: ‘A sense of community, with moral obligations? Not really. I’ve mentioned before (see my last blog post, for example) how NJ communities are not even acknowledged in Japan (Japan as a nation has enough trouble ever acknowledging that even domestic minorities exist).’ If those of foreign descent are to have a sense of ‘belonging’ in Japan, wouldn’t that require their recognition as members of Japanese society in general, as opposed to having their own separate communities acnkowledged?

    As you suggest, the only thing that would connect me with the vast majority of others of foreign background in Japan is what I am not. Indeed, that is not much of a basis for a community, and I do not feel like I belong to such a community, nor would I desire to. Although others may feel or prefer otherwise, I think the only possibility for me to feel like I am a full-fledged citizen here would be through people’s acceptance of me individually as a member of ‘the’ community, as opposed to ‘a’ community, as difficult (or, depending on one’s standards, perhaps impossible) as that may be to attain in this country.

    Of course, this would require a mindset in the general public that people of foreign backgrounds can be Japanese. Perhaps the forming of stable ‘hyphenated’ communities would even only hamper that – although I can see how they would at least be preferable to not being a member of any community at all.

    — “If those of foreign descent are to have a sense of ‘belonging’ in Japan, wouldn’t that require their recognition as members of Japanese society in general, as opposed to having their own separate communities acknowledged?”

    No. It can be both: Members of Japanese society (better yet, citizens and immigrants) but with their differences acknowledged and respected. Societal subsets and hyphens are possible. Plenty of societies do it. Disagree? Your children might not, and they should have the choice to be both.

    Stretch your mind beyond the binary: Becoming Japanese should not have to be zero-sum.

  • @#2 and #3

    This dichotomy changes in a big way when you get married and have children IMO. You don’t have the luxury to accept what you do like and ignore what you don’t. You have to start engaging with society whether you like it or not.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Superb post Debito!
    I especially like your item #3 about world view.
    It is a telling indicator of Japan’s insularity and exclusivity that most Japanese have a vastly distorted world view that sees Japan not only as the best and most important country in a world in which they want an army in order to play a greater international role, but at the same time, a weak and tiny country surrounded by hordes of dangerous enemies.

  • I think you are missing the point of Iida’s writing, Debito – the book is a Marxist discourse on exactly why the rise of the nation-state is wrong, how Japan turned increasingly right-wing in the 20th century, and why all of this is problematic (from the Marxist perspective). That is made pretty clear in the introduction. Page 3:

    “One purpose of this book is to disclose the structural factors underlying such ‘excessive’ nationalist voices. Rather obviously, these voices are not merely expressions of an immediate concern with the Japanese nation or of a love for it, but are, more significantly, articulations of the pain of disfiguration which the increasingly oppressive structuring forces of modernization impose upon the individual and society.”

    — I think you are missing the point of my writing. I wasn’t talking about the point of her book. I was talking about one idea the book brings up.

  • @ Debito’s reply to #4

    Please see my recent comment on the “you can use chopsticks” micro-aggression thread. The fact is, the Japanese are never going to accept foreigners, particularly not “visible minority” Western gaijin, as being Japanese or members of Japanese society. It’s never going to happen. As far as they’re concerned, the only Japanese are Yamato Japanese. It’s a matter of blood, not law. They don’t give a damn if you’ve got permanent residence or citizenship.

    In fact, some Japanese must really wonder at us gaijin who demand our legal rights. They must be like, “You just don’t get it, do you? Your Japanese passport doesn’t mean sh#it to us. Do we have to spell it out for you? You’re not Japanese (meaning of pure Yamato Japanese blood) and you never will be, so we’re never going to accept you as one of us.” I’m sure the bath house owners in Hokkaido felt that way when you showed up with your Japanese passport.

    Like I said in my other comment, it would be unwise to rely on the sparse legal protections that NJ “enjoy” in Japan for safety. When the chips are down, do you think they’re going to care about your citizenship or visa status? No, they take one look at you and they know you’re not one of them. That’s the end of the story.

    So, yes, it would be nice for Japanese to accept NJ as part of their society and also to respect their various ethnic backgrounds at the same time. It would be lovely. But they’re aren’t about to do either.

    Sorry to be so defeatist and negative, but this is the reality. It you are being subtly told this in almost every encounter with the Japanese you meet through micro-aggression and othering, isn’t it time to start listening to the message you’re being sent, rather than pounding your fists against a granite wall and asking leopards to change their spots?

    — You’re getting tedious, Eric C. Your thesis is the Japanese will never change. Okay, we got it. But your saying “that’s the end of the story” is not something people who live in Japan and want to make a life in Japan should accept or abide by. Especially for their kids. We’ve had plenty of historical example of societies which apparently “would never change” and they did. Part of it was due to people who push and push and push, because, like I said I would in the last entry Debito.org devoted exclusively to your defeatism, it’s what people like us do. You’ve made your case, including all the absolutes, and we’ve had the discussion. But some people (myself included) don’t buy it. Enough already. Just repeating it over and over is not helpful, and it is definitely not the message of this blog. Set up your own blog with your defeatist thesis if you want, but no more of it from you unless you have something new to say.

  • Charuzu –
    Japanese society still largely believes the story about the “pure, homogeneous” Japanese race. Racial minorities, including recent arrivals, aka “NJ” do not factor into an analysis of “Japanese” people, or of Japanese people’s integration into the nation state, because they are not “Japanese”…

    Matty-B –
    They put you on the outside, and your answer is to enjoy being there? Anyone who is denied a voice in determining their fate is by definition powerless. J-society has endered NJ powerless in affecting change in their daily lives. I still believe most of Japanese society does not see the hypocricy of their actions. Like the company shacho who mistreats, neglects, abuses, mocks and takes for granted his lower-paid employees – while still demanding and expecting 100% loyalty at all times, I think a lot of Japanese people don’t get it when you say “you exclude me, so it is not my problem.”

    Rudy –
    How many caucasians in Japan get called “gaijin”, while Chinese, Koreans, and people of Japanese descent are not? It is all about race, and how you look. Period. You look different, therefore you are different. You look like you fit in – therefore you do fit in…

    Can’t change the way you look? People don’t accept you as a part of society? Shouganai. Suffer quietly please. “We” don’t care to be bothered with your problems. If you do not love Japan absolutely, go home. Oh, you live here, in Japan? No, youre REAL home – you know, where you came from.

    The bottom line is that change on a National level will be effected by millions of encounters between Japanese citizens and NJ in Japan, as neighbors, coworkers, in-laws, etc. When enough Japanese citizens feel the need, or see the injustice, real, measureable change will occur – until then, why does anyone think anything will change? Being right is not enough. We have to make Japanese citizens care.

    If you analyze how minorities in other nations have become “accepted”, you will see a pattern:

    1. Minorities have to have enough numbers to be noticed.
    Anyone ever heard of the Laotian chamber of commerce? Didn’t think so…

    2. Minorities have to get organized.
    Chinatown, anyone?

    3. Minorities have to stick together, cooperate, and help each other.
    Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce anyone?

    4. Minorities have to control their own publications, media, etc.
    Hawaii Hochi? Nikkan Sun? Aloha Street? All Japanese publications in Hawaii… Radio KZOO? Japanese radio station in Hawaii… NGN?? Japanese cable tv in Hawaii and California… What does the NJ community in Japan have? J-Wave? Japanese. The Japan Times? Japanese. Metropolis? Japanese.

    How did Japanese Americans finally get accepted? Enough American citizens met them, and knew them to be normal people, i.e. Americans (just like “us”) – that descriminatory laws were changed.

    The NJ community in Japan is just not there. Debito is on the right track. But this struggle will take decades.

    Debito – I think you and many of your contributors are more evolved regarding racial tolerance, and acceptance, than the average Japanese person. IMHO, Japanese society, as a whole, is just not ready to accept the 21st Century idea of accepting people who look different. But that’s just my opinion, based on multi-year discussions with various, powerful Japanese people. I could be wrong.

    — Recently what I think is necessary is “interest convergence”. Read a bit of Derrick Bell.

  • Anonymous says:

    I read a bit about Derrick Bell, and found this interesting paper by Mark Levin


    The Wajin’s Whiteness: Law and Race Privilege in Japan (批判的人種理論と日本法―和人の人種的特権について)

    Over the past thirty years, American law scholars have drawn attention to the pervasive role of race in shaping the development of law and legal processes in the United States. Their studies highlighted the relevance of race beyond obvious fields such as civil rights, constitutional, and criminal law, emerging as a coherent doctrine known as Critical Race Theory. This article contends that Critical Race Theory can be applied usefully in the Japanese law context by helping to understand minorities and racial circumstances in Japan. Moving beyond theory, the article explores the practical implications of Critical Race Theory for minority movements in Japan and suggests areas for promising future study.

    The SSRN posting includes the article in English as well as in Japanese translation. The Japanese translation by Prof. Ichiro Ozaki, Hokkaido University Law School, Sapporo, Japan, was published in Horitsu Jiho.

  • Anonymous says:

    Final 7 paragraphs of the paper:

    “In thinking about law reform in Japan, Critical Race Theory authors who consider the genesis and impact of the famous Civil Rights achievements of the 1950s and 1960s provide useful analytical tools. The interest convergence principle, for example, illustrates that beneficial change for racial minorities only arises when the majority’s interests will also be advanced. This derives from Professor Derrick Bell’s hypothesis (later confirmed by legal historian Professor Mary Dudziak) that the results in Brown vs. Board of Education reflected Cold War imperatives for white elites in the US. The late Professor Alan Freeman’s racial homeostasis principle postulates that dominant majorities only advance the requisite amounts of racial change necessary to neutralize political pressure from racial minorities, while leaving fundamental racial hierarchies intact. Accordingly, apparently beneficial changes in fact may represent backward steps if the potential for even greater change is thereby undone.

    Both of these schemes inform us about Japan now and in the future. To the extent that minorities in Japan have made apparently positive gains in recent years (and this may be true with regards to issues such as voting rights and employment rights for foreigners), interest convergence trains us to ask what Wajin interests actually were advanced by such changes. At a minimum, interest convergence fits with the Japan’s often-seen change mechanisms of recourse to international law and so-called “gaiatsu.” These pressure strategies build up reasons why the Wajin majority may find it in its interest to change. The interest convergence principle also offers a strategic methodology for groups presently advocating for change. They may frame their proposals in terms that explicitly highlight Wajin benefits (for example, pointing to the benefits that majority students gain from multi-culturalism or diversity in educational settings).

    Racial homeostasis principles also caution advocates for change. Professor Richard Siddle essentially incorporates this scheme of analysis in his study of the 1997 Ainu Culture Law. In a recent article, Siddle argues that the much-acclaimed progress for Ainu people achieved by the 1997 law falls short of the corresponding losses the law represents, in consideration of the significant weakening of the Ainu people’s political movement that followed the law’s enactment and implementation. Thus, the Ainu Culture Law was one step forward, two steps back, while Wajin elites who participated in or supported the reform could consider themselves progressive racial reformers.

    With regards to Wajin-ness, Japan’s resemblance to U.S. racial elements in terms of domination, privilege, and transparency suggests that Japanese Wajin-ness and U.S. Whiteness are quite similar. The ideology of Wajin supremacy inside Japan, particularly in light of the extraordinary degree of observed transparency, most likely underlies a substantial portion of what needs to be addressed in working towards a racially just society there. Moreover, as Critical White Studies have helped advance racial justice efforts in the U.S., it is time to set a corresponding agenda for Critical Wajin Studies.

    Critical Wajin Studies will not be the same as Japan’s famous Nihonjinron, which looks at how the mythical “Japanese” fit in to an ethnoracial global framework. Japan’s crucial race questions are domestic, including (but not limited to) the questions raised in this paper. Moreover, Wajin studies should be informed by and should include (but not be limited to) non-Wajin voices, hopefully leading the way to better understandings and meaningful social change.

    Professor Charles Lawrence articulates a model of anti-racism praxis based in “transformative politics.” Lawrence’s transformative politics . . . seeks to change the political consciousness of those privileged by systems of subordination. The task is to help the privileged comprehend the profound costs associated with inequality – the public costs of prisons, crime, illiteracy, disease, and the violence of an alienated underclass – as well as the personal costs of loneliness and anomie in a world where no one is responsible for the pain of any other person.

    This paper does not aim to answer all of the questions on race and race privilege in Japan. But I hope this will be a starting point – to launch a new field of Critical Wajin Studies in Japan for Japanese insiders (Wajin and non-Wajin) to explore and develop. This is because efforts for transformative politics are overdue in both the U.S. and Japan, two multi-racial, multi-ethnic nations. Each nation’s successes and failures can teach the other. There is certainly a great deal that still needs to be learned.”


  • Dude #9

    You say:

    Charuzu –
    Japanese society still largely believes the story about the “pure, homogeneous” Japanese race. Racial minorities, including recent arrivals, aka “NJ” do not factor into an analysis of “Japanese” people, or of Japanese people’s integration into the nation state, because they are not “Japanese”…

    I disagree.

    To accede to the view that ethnic minorities “o not factor into an analysis of “Japanese” people” as you say “because they are not “Japanese” is to agree to prejudice.

    I agree with you that most Japanese do not view such people as a part of Japan, but I do not agree that this perception is correct.

    Although Japan is profoundly bigoted, one need not succumb to bigotry, even in a society such as Japan in which bigotry is the norm.

  • Eric C #8,

    I understand your response to be a statement of emotional and intellectual anguish.

    My own view is that a reasonable response to anguish can be to focus on one’s own well-being and disengage from those who seek societal change.

    In other words, suppose you are right and Debito’s quest is foolhardy.

    But his quest does you no harm, and he should be free to pursue his quest for change, just as you should be free to disengage and focus on other issues.

    However, Debito ought not be dissuaded from his quest, because even his chance of success be miniscule, it affords him and those of us who support him pleasure.

  • @Dude no. 9

    While I may be politically powerless in Japan, but that doesn’t make me powerless at all. I choose to stay here, I’m not being forced to. I choose to work here. I’ve managed to pay off my student loans in far less time than it would have taken me back home. By living in Japan I’ve achieved a higher level of financial freedom than I could’ve back home.

    In my final paragraph in post no. 2 I do say “At the same time while I try to benefit from the short-comings of a second-class citizen I know it’s more important for a country to actually include and not marginalize people on all levels of society.”

    But in my post I was pointing out some of the benefits, however small they might be, in being an outcast.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I’m also reading the books regarding the constitution of nation-state and citizenship. Seems like her description of nation-state resonates with Charles Taylor’s “social imaginary,” per se. While I don’t have a problem with author’s general description of Japan’s nation-state, I would add that legal and institutional apparatuses also serve as conduit to disseminate hegemonic discourse of “Japan as one and only” society. So, they can be a part of nation-state, too, in my opinion.

    Personally, I am troubled with the way she frames constitution of community as one of four conditions for political-cultural stability. I am not very convinced with that much since it is more like something that people create and develop as an indigenous culture—rather than the one given by the authority. It should be political opportunity to create such community.

  • Veteran-Gaijin says:

    I love your columns. Thanks for speaking up. I read a comment that some Japanese get sad because of your writting which is something good. Not that I want them to be sad but because it means they care and it is the first step for an improvement which is something positive. I think there are 2 types of Japanese, the ones that have the guts to confront that un-natural idea that everybody has to do and say the same thing and progress at the same time…and the ones that dont. The ones that have the guts are one of the most admirable persons I have met in Japan. Unfortunately they are the minority.. The other type are usually the ones represed or full of complex & mean to gaijins as well as to the Japanese. So I think this is not an agression only to the Gaijins… we all know about the “psycological violence” that takes place at schools and companies and how this translates in to suicides and depresion which is a big problem in Japan. These days Japanese talk a lot about diversity unfortunatelly still at the concept level. I hope they realize soon how important is to apply this and I hope all the Gaijins have enough guts to help them.

  • @ Debito’s reply to #8:


    You’re an interesting fellow. You reacted with something that looks a lot like anger at my suggestion that the Japanese are not going to change. Then, on another thread, you came down like a ton of bricks on Rob H for suggesting that maybe not all of these things which are perceived as micro-aggression are really aggressive acts. So, to summarize: you don’t want to be told that the problem is unsolvable and you don’t want to be told that it’s not a problem. To me, this tells me that somehow you actually want there to be a problem, since the struggle against it is what gives you meaning. I’m not criticizing you for this, Debito. Everyone needs meaning in their life and fighting for one’s rights is a noble struggle, as I pointed out to you in my first post here. This is your choice and, as I said, I admire your passion and balls to fight against what is, at the very least, a very difficult problem to solve.

    @Charuzu #13: I appreciate your calm and positive comment. You sound like a very rational and well-grounded person. I have to say, I don’t think my feelings amount to anguish. Perhaps, while I was living in Japan, they may have come close to that. But, as I’ve indicated, I no longer live there. I posted my comments merely to provide another opinion and to solicit feedback. I also felt that my viewpoint might be useful to those who find themselves in a similar position to where I was a few years ago, namely, trying to decide whether to stick it out in Japan in the face of, well, everything discussed on this forum, or to leave Japan and start again elsewhere. The message is negative and perhaps even defeatist with regard to Japan, but it’s not completely negative or defeatist in general, because I’m saying: There’s life elsewhere and it might be considerably better than that which you are experiencing in Japan. But, that said, again, I thank you for your calm and positive response.

    — Regarding me: Well, yeah, I don’t believe in either pole. I don’t want people to deny there are problems (moreover be accused of something tantamount to cultural intolerance just for saying there is a problem in this case), and I don’t want the problems to be dismissed as unsolvable. This is not to suggest I personally WANT the problems. I want the problems solved. And I’m going to work towards that.

    Don’t believe in “Microaggressions”? Fine. Don’t believe there’s anything we can do about things because the Japanese as a whole monolithic entity will never change? Fine. Then say your piece without getting nasty about it and let people like us decide whether or not we want to continue doing what we’re doing based upon whether we were convinced. I for one wasn’t. So let’s agree to disagree without insinuation of intolerance or lack of well-groundedness, shall we?

  • I hate to sound negative but I have to honestly agree with the comment by Eric C because as long as I have lived in Japan I still haven’t seen any real change that has positively affected the life’s of NJ with regards to laws and protections.In fact it seems like Japan is going backwards not forward!

  • Fight Back says:

    Nonsense. This website is a forum for those who wish to identify and fight to overcome the problems that NJ face in Japan.

    Debito has made many great strides in that regard and you would well do to recognize him for it rather than talk down to him on his own website.

    Not only faced with the difficult struggle for NJ to gain recognition in Japan, Debito has had to deal with stalkers and apologists and now, it seems, the defeatists as well.

    Isn’t this all getting out of hand? How about we all focus on the real problem instead?

    Japan needs to change and it needs people like Debito to show her how to do it.

  • I’m just tossing this out there, but is it possible for the Japanese to expand the concept of what it means to be “Japanese?” It seems to be easier for younger Japanese than older, and also for the city dwellers compared to more rural. That’s a fairly broad generalization, but has anyone noticed it? This happened in the US as it absorbed more immigrants. Irish and southern Europeans weren’t “white” when they first arrived in mass, but now they’re generally accepted as such.

    The country actually really needs to do it because they’re running out of “blood” Japanese. If the country can’t stabilize it’s population it’ll just disappear off in to irrelevance. Although I get the feeling from the Old Boys (that’s what I call the club that runs Japan, guys like Ishihara. I adapted it from the southern US “Good Old Boys”) would prefer it that way. Better to die pure than live tainted. It’s romantic in a very samurai kind of way.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Zeo #20

    ‘It’s romantic in a very samurai kind of way.’

    Do you mean, ‘romantic in the way people like to imagine the samurai were, despite historical fact’? The idea of ‘purity’ as a ‘Japanese’ quality derives from State Shinto as a religion founded at the beggining of the Meiji-jidai in order to undermine the schools of Buddhism that the samurai were adherents to, and patrons of, whilst at the same time creating the myth of the Emperor as head of the ‘national family’ (you should read the Bucky thread for more info). This ‘imagined’ samurai romantic image is entirely a left over from Imperialistic fascism, which is most likely why the old gits still love it.

    I would disagree that young people are any different. Ever since the end of WW2 Japan scholars have said ‘look at the young people, they are different’ and therefore ‘they will become just like the west’ (this is called ‘convergence theory’). The biggest point against this theory is that people have said that young Japanese are different for the last 67 years, but as soon as they get a job, they turn into their parents (this is called ‘maturation effect’; see ‘the Nishinomiya Study’), and Japan doesn’t change.

  • @ Jim Di Griz san:

    I have to disagree: I think that a lot of the younger crowd in their twenties are far more open-minded and wanting changes made as opposed to people in their 40s and up; I believe the people who experienced the bubble are the last of the embarrassingly ignorant. I think that younger folks are realizing being isolated doesn’t work.

    — Let’s hope. But again, I saw the same prediction with the previous generation. And the generation before that. Remember, people not in their 40s and up soon become people in their 40s and up, and there is a perfectly sound socializing system already extant in Japan. That’s why I say, let’s hope.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ J..J. #22

    I understand why you think this;
    ‘a lot of the younger crowd in their twenties are far more open-minded and wanting changes made as opposed to people in their 40s and up’
    But please find a selection of books written about Japan from the 1950’s to the present, and you will see that exactly that opinion has been consistantly repeated over and over again. Like I said, it’s called Convergence Theory, and has largely been discredited.

  • @JDG #22

    Didn’t someone point out on this very site a few weeks or months ago that Japanese youth start out being fairly open minded, then they take on the values of their elders as they enter the system? Perhaps this was stated in regard just to Japanese men. Whatever the case, I believe Debito’s doubt above is well founded. Not only will Japan’s youth be “socialized” into holding the views of their elders, the present generation is even more monolingual and cloistered than the preceding one. And, they’ve had their heads done in by the education system. Please take a good look at the recent graduates from Japanese high schools and universities and tell me that you honestly believe they’re capable of real social change. The fact is, not only are they passive and largely ruined by that “education,” economic realities will dictate that they are far too busy trying to get by to have any time left over for progressive social movements.

    We always hope that the young will save us. But, the young have precious little political power. They gain power by entering into the system as they age, but the process of entering into the system guarantees that they adopt the values of the system.

    Debito is right when he hints that you should not hold your breath in expectation of Japan’s youth making the country a more foreigner-friendly place.

  • @ Debito’s reply to #17

    Thanks for the reply Debito.

    You accuse me of “getting nasty about it.” I apologize if I came off as being nasty or if my comment gave the impression of insinuating things about your personality. Neither of those were my intention. I am certainly willing to agree to disagree about whether or not Japan can be changed. Obviously, you wouldn’t be doing what you do if you felt that Japan could not be changed. As I’ve said, I support you in that and admire your commitment.

  • @Eric C

    Things do change, because change is inevitable.

    Even in a country like the U.S., no one though that it would have a black president. If you’d asked most black Americans themselves even just a year before Obama got elected, most would have said it’s impossible.

    I know Japan is not America, but even in Japan some attitudes have changed in the last twenty years. In many case where they have not, it’s often because people may not even know what they don’t know. The NJ can help change this by shedding some light on these issues.

    Finally, it is the journey, not the destination that is most important. You need to know that you’ve done the right thing, that you’ve done your part. We cannot always control the outcome for everything, but we can certainly try. I would rather have the satisfaction of trying and failing, than live with the regret of never having tried what I believe in.

    All great movements and all great leaders from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. had moments of self-doubt. That did not mean they gave up trying. History is not something we read in history books only, instead what we live through today is tomorrow’s history. Many of the points you and Debito bring up in your posts are not just Japanese issues, they are human issues. Chin up!

  • Charuzu #12 – I am not saying that I agree with this point of view. I am suggesting that the vast majority of Japanese people hold this view. I agree with everything else you say. It is not right to interpret people’s feelings, or loyalties based upon their skin color. But in Japan, that is what I see happening.

    Matty-B #14 – Perhaps I misspoke. I did not mean powerless in the sense of not being in control of your life. I meant politically. In Japan. To live in Japan and contribute in your community, to make it a better place would be ideal, but being marginalized does, in a sense, make you powerless to effect change where you live.


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