My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column June 5, 2012: Guestists, Haters, the Vested: Apologists take many forms


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Hi Blog. This month saw another side-by-side Community Page with my argument made and a rebuttal, this time from a person I respect mightily: Colin P.A. Jones. It’s worth a read, as always. His point in crux and excerpt:

“Here we come to the reason why I felt compelled to write a response to Debito: Microaggression is disturbingly familiar to what I perceive to be the Japanese government’s strategy (a term that credits it with more thought than is actually involved) of “protecting” human rights by trivializing them. With definitions of harassment, abuse and even violence that are so broad that they can be applied to just about any type of behavior that makes someone unhappy, everyone can be a victim, but everyone is a potential human rights violator too.

“Perhaps the government devoting significant resources to identifying causes of unhappiness is a good thing. At the same time, however, if you have ever worked for a Japanese institution and witnessed the vast number of hours of otherwise productive people’s time that can be diverted to addressing a single person’s baseless claims of persecution, you can’t help but wonder if the life energy of everyone involved wouldn’t be better spent on other endeavors…”

Rest at

Meanwhile, my column this month made the Top Ten Most Read again, thanks, and also because an “Editor’s Pick” (also thanks!) Have a read. Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Guestists, Haters, the Vested: Apologists take many forms
By ARUDOU Debito
Zeit Gist Column 59/Just Be Cause Column 52 for the Japan Times Community Page
To be published June 5, 2012
DIRECTOR’S CUT: Restoring a paragraph deleted from the print article (in parentheses)

Last month’s column on “microaggressions” was my most debated yet. Thanks for reading and commenting.

So this month, let’s explore how the microaggression dynamic works in all societies, and why some people live in denial of it. Brace yourself for a bit of theory …

All societies, when defining themselves, decide who is “us” and who is “them.” So do countries. In the name of sovereignty, nation-states must decide who is a member (i.e., a citizen) and who is not (i.e., a foreigner). (If they didn’t, there’d be no point to citizenship.)

Nation-states also perpetuate themselves by creating a feeling of community for their citizens — national narratives, invented traditions and official shared histories. So the concept of “Who is ‘us’?” gets created, reinforced and generationally encoded through the media, public policy, primary education, etc.

What about encoding “Who is ‘them’?” It is by nature a process of differentiation. Foreigners by definition have different legal, civil and political rights in any society. (They usually cannot vote, for example.)

But differentiation is also codified in everyday interaction. To determine their community’s borders and clarify their identity within it, people tend to contrast themselves with outsiders. This is a process of socially “othering” people.

Eventually the presumptions of “Others” as “different” become normalized into mundane assumptions, such as stereotypes.

Herein come the microaggressions. They keep life simple by enforcing (consciously and unconsciously) the stereotyping. For example, “This person looks Asian; he can use chopsticks.” “This person looks Caucasian; she needs an English menu.” They are not necessarily grounded in hatred — only in presumed difference.

This means that even well-intentioned people, trying to be kind when offering those chopsticks and menus, tend to view the person standing before them not as a unique individual, but as a collection of socially encoded characteristics assigned to that individual’s presumed group. Then they react accordingly.

That’s why microaggressions are so invisible, powerful and difficult to fight. For why would anyone resist someone trying to be kind? But people do — even in Japan, where they grumble about arigata meiwaku (nuisance niceness).

In Japan, however, microaggressions towards non-Japanese (NJ) are especially difficult to counteract for three reasons.

One is that Japan’s encodings are extremely standardized. Japanese basic education and social science (JBC, Sept. 7, 2010) are grounded both in stereotypes and in a cult of Japan’s difference (“uniqueness,” in fact). They inculcate convictions that, say, all non-Asian foreigners cannot use chopsticks or can understand English. Doubt that? Walk by a schoolyard and count the inevitable “harou!”s.

A second reason is that Japan’s encoding for what makes “us” and “them” is so strong that it is insuperable, precluding possible exceptions. Take, for example, the case of a person who naturalizes and becomes a Japanese citizen. Surely such people prove that it’s possible to jump the wall from The Other to become part of The Self?

Legally, yes. But not always socially. As “Japanese Only” signs and rules make plainer, “real” Japanese have to look Japanese. We are far from a “tipping point” where multitudes of multiethnic Japanese demonstrate that language ability and manual dexterity are unrelated to phenotype.

But the third, more insufferable reason is a lack of cohesiveness, especially within Japan’s English-speaking NJ community (JBC, June 7, 2011).

Instead of asserting themselves as unique individuals, many NJ buy into the stereotypes behind microaggressions and enforce them on each other.

Let’s call the accepters, defenders and enforcers of the status quo “Apologists” for short. Why do they do it?

For some, it’s a matter of “guestism,” as in, “Japan is for the Japanese, so I can’t tell them what to do.” However, Guestists also assume anyone who appears to be foreign are also “guests” and should likewise shut up.

To justify their mindset, Guestists not only invoke grandiloquent theories like “cultural imperialism” (i.e., foisting “our” Occidental values on “their” insular, inscrutable Oriental society), but also cook up delusions such as that one person’s protests “spoil” Japan for everyone.

Unfortunately, they too validate the “guilt by association” meme underpinning racialized stereotypes. Not only do they endorse NJ being treated differently as human beings, they also demand NJ disenfranchise themselves.

For other Apologists, it’s a matter of vested interests. They’ve lived here long enough to reach mental equilibrium in their fishbowl. Life’s too short — why cloud their day by going against the flow?

After all, many of the Vested have Japanese spouses, kids in school, a mortgage, and a job they can’t just leave. Their Japanese families rarely empathize with any resistance anyway. So their attitude becomes, “Leave me alone. What can I as one person do to change, oh, a bent bureaucracy, an irradiated food chain, and everyone poking my stomach and saying how fat I’ve gotten? Shikata ga nai.” And they acquiesce.

Still other Apologists are either blind or relativistic towards microaggressions because their mind is closed. They’ll criticize even recognition of the concept of microaggression as “oversensitivity,” “paranoia,” “political correctness,” or “seeing racism everywhere!” One sniped, “Somebody said ‘nice weather’ to me! Microaggressor!”

Well, try opening your mind: Let’s go back to that “English menu for Caucasians” example. A commenter excused this as an act of kindness, for how could a waitress possibly tell what language he could read? Was he to pore through an unintelligible menu just to prove a point?

No. The waitress should assume that any customer gets the same menu, unless advised by the individual customer of a different preference. Deciding his preference for him is arigata meiwaku.

Switch shoes: Let’s say a waitress in a Western country is told to give anyone who “looks Asian” a menu in Chinese.

How would that sit? Not well. Because people know that there are many kinds of “Asians” (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, American, Canadian, etc.). Assuming that any “Asian” is a Chinese is just wrong.

Paragraph deleted by editor:  (And how do we know it is wrong? Because overseas “Asians” grumble aloud about being “microaggressed” like that, over time raising public awareness of the problem.)

So what should have happened? The commenter takes the standard menu from the waitress and, if unable to use it, asks if one exists in a language he can read (in his case, English). Simple.

But that’s the power of microaggressions: so invisible that the aforementioned commenter endorsed the stereotype that all “visibly foreign” people in Asia read English. That’s plain wrong.

Finally, there are the “Hater Apologists” who mysteriously launch into ad hominem attacks fueled by visceral animosity. I think I’ve finally figured them out.

Have you ever noticed that, if they are not the “Team Japan” Japanese defending the nation (even its wartime atrocities) under any circumstances, the Haters are generally white people?

Think about it. Since colonialism and the Enlightenment, whites have been the dominant racial group in the world order. Because whites have historically had “no color” (remember, everyone else is “colored”), they are often oblivious to the processes of racialization.

Brace yourselves for a little more theory: Current postcolonialist/postmodernist analysis of racialization generally holds that people are systematically differentiated, othered, then subordinated. This is how nation-states unified their peoples under national narratives of “Self” and “Other.”

For centuries now, the whites (who created the modern nation-state paradigm replicated around the world) advantageously ranked everyone else below them by race (see “social Darwinism”). Whites have never been a subordinated racial minority on a national scale in any “First World” country.

Except, of course, in Japan. So whites seek to elevate their social standing here by using whiteness to their advantage — as “sensei.” And they use pandering techniques so normalized they are practically invisible.

For example: 1) offering the “honorary white” status that Japan covets in the world order by teaching them English (witness how “real English speakers” are sold in Japanese media as white); 2) feeling lucky or smug that they aren’t lower on Japan’s ethnic pecking order (they aren’t blacks, Koreans, South Americans, etc.); 3) playing Uncle Tom to offset themselves as “good gaijin” (they aren’t low-wage migrant workers, “illegals,” criminals or “flyjin”) and claim extra privileges; or 4) shouting down anyone who threatens to upend the sensei status quo (even though whites, after slotting everyone else in a racial hierarchy for centuries, should not be allowed to claim they are now an exception to it).

Furthermore, consider what kind of whites are generally attracted to Japan: socially awkward, tech-savvy, nerdy dorks. (I know. I’m one too.) 

[Click on the photos for more information.]

With chips on their shoulder after childhoods of being bullied, the Dorks are at last extracting their revenge on the Lucky Beautiful People (e.g., prom queens, football captains, or anyone with a talent — like writing — they were not born with) by tearing them down.

But in Japanese society (itself culturally rife with dorky, techie, socially awkward people), Dorks are further empowered by the Internet (and Japan’s blind eye towards bullying) to attack people anonymously. And they can coast within a well-established narrative of “cultural relativism” to camouflage it.

Don’t like these stereotypes I’m creating? Alright, Apologists, fight them for a change. But you’d miss the bigger irony.

The Apologists, by reflexively denying the existence of microaggressions (substantiated in decades of social science as a fundamental means for policing social identity), are hurting themselves. They are reinforcing their status of The Other in Japan by supporting the stereotypes that subordinate them. And all for maybe a crust of white privilege.

The final thought I want to leave you with this month is, “Why we fight.” Who is all this protest for?

Not for us, actually. For our children in Japan.

Many Apologists point out, “We chose to come to Japan. If you don’t like it, leave!”

Well, how will that sit with your Japanese children, who didn’t choose, and who might want the choice later of what society to live in as adults — and maybe even have some control over their identity within it?

Are you going to let Japanese society “microaggress” them into The Other, “gaijin” category, just because they look more like you than your Japanese spouse?

What kind of future are you helping create for them? One of tolerance?, Or one of constant differentiation, othering and probable subordination?

So think seriously before you disparage the activists trying to make Japan a better place for everyone regardless of how they look.

This is not arigata meiwaku. This is advocating The Other become part of The Self.

1695 WORDS

113 comments on “My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column June 5, 2012: Guestists, Haters, the Vested: Apologists take many forms

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  • Fight Back says:

    Bam! Served indeed!

    It really is time to stand up to these guys, the naming and shaming is working, these guys are basically pointing the finger at each other and trying to abdicate responsibility.

    I’ve made clear to a few acquaintances of my own that apologism will not be tolerated and the friendship will be terminated.

    Look Debito’s done the research, he’s been through all the racist treatment, he’s fought in the trenches for so long now, why do these guys even try to disagree with him, it’s pointless and makes my blood boil.

  • Anonymous says:

    Focusing on Scott’s words now:
    “I question to what extent they will actually be ‘treated differently.'”

    Anyone who has followed Debito’s blog knows that the extent half-whites and half-blacks are treated differently is not a question, it’s a fact. This is a clear case of reality denial.

    Example: Debito’s half-white daughter whose skin looked more like her mother, was deemed “close enough to pass as Japanese” and thus allowed into the Public Bath, Debito’s other daughter whose skin looked more like her father, was deemed “not Japanese, regardless of citizenship or place of birth, NOT JAPANESE” and thus NOT allowed into the Public Bath. See, Japanese is determined by DNA and subsequent appearance, not citizenship, not place of birth, not language, not culture.

    Continuing to focus on Scott’s words now:
    “None of them, in school or in public, have ever suffered any meaningful discrimination because of their physical appearance.”

    ANY discrimination because of their physical appearance is meaningful. Obviously not meaningful to a parent who laughs off SOME race-based-discrimination as “laughably trivial”, but to the born-in-Japan Japanese who is seen and treated like a gaijin (it should be clear to all that I don’t consider people born in Japan to be gaijin, I am making it clear that most people in Japan currently see and treat all people containing white DNA or black DNA as gaijin.)

    Minimizing SOME forms of race-based-discrimination as “unmeaningful” is exactly what the judge did to Debito. The judge didn’t award Debito compensation for the obvious racial discrimination, oh no, the judge wouldn’t even admit that RACIAL discrimination occurred (obviously it did), instead the judge said that it was simply a case of “a too high level of discrimination”, his description of the problem as “a too high level” clearly sent a message to Japan that SOME racial discrimination is OK, some racial discrimination is legal, some racial discrimination is reasonable, you just can’t do TOO MUCH of it. What he should have said is that there is no “OK level” of racial discrimination. And Scott, to the victims (your mixed-race children and my mixed-race children) there is no “meaningless level” of racial discrimination.

    In English, we have the words white, black, and American. You can have white DNA, and be American. You can have black DNA, and be American. You can have any kind of DNA and be American. But in Japan, the reality which I am reminding everyone of, the reality that people don’t want to admit, is that most people in Japan think, feel, and say, that to be Japanese you must have 100% pure Japanese DNA. They let in the Ryuuku, begrudgingly, they let in the Ainu, begrudgingly, but they haven’t yet let in “halfs” or “quarters” or “gaijins”. Don’t get mad at me for delivering this bad news. I don’t like it any more than you do. I hate it.

    What I don’t do is: deny it, or minimize it, or make excuses for it.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Well, now the naming and shaming has been done, it’s time to get back to microaggression. One of the few concrete suggestions I’ve read is for English teachers to incorporate aspects of microaggressive language into their lessons so that a younger generation can be made more aware of what is and isn’t appropriate language to use with the visibly different. It seems to me that this aspect of teaching is as important as the nuts and bolts of correct usage. Any one else have concrete suggestions on how to tackle this issue with the broader public?
    The articles on microaggression have created a lot of response – most recognizing microaggression as a reality. So what do we do about it?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Scott T. Hards #42
    Firstly, please allow me to apologize for my post #9. Upon re-reading it, my post seems to be unfairly nasty. I am sorry.

    I agree with your post #42 that interaction does have to start somewhere. The chopsticks question as an analogy is over-used, but still valid, I think. We should seek to set an example in our interactions with Japanese, as NJ, that such scripted and deeply uninspiring conversation starters do more harm than good. I imagine that most Japanese are oblivious to the irony of being asked ‘can you eat monja?’ in Tokyo, just because they are from Kansai.

    A non-provocative question for you Scott, and other readers too; What would we suggest as a suitable opener for a Japanese with an innocent intention of interacting with an NJ? Someone who has absolutely no desire to other on a subconscious level?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Fightback #41 (and others),

    The ‘gaijin clown’ thing really depresses me. I have never met an NJ who saw another NJ doing ‘the clown’ and didn’t feel repulsed. As an NJ, you wouldn’t act like such a knob back home, so why the lack of inhibition in Japan all of a sudden? Doesn’t that kind of ‘fake persona’ of being ‘the gaijin clown’ count as some kind of deception of the Japanese you do it to? When an NJ ‘acts the gaijin clown’ aren’t they really just lying to the people around them? Being fake? What does that say about the quality of the relationship?

    What is more depressing though, is the (few) times I saw ‘haafu’ children in Japanese state schools, acting like jerks in class while the othere students cheered them on, and the teacher rolled his eyes, shrugged, and said to me ‘haafu desu’, by way of explanation. This was an appalling vision of a self-fulfilling prophesy (the like of which the apologists wish to force on all NJ in Japan) and convinced me to send my kinds to private school.

  • The post by Anonymous is rather defeatist. If those situations are so inevitable, it seems like parents should be primarily concerned with building their children’s strength of character to take such things with grace and not be affected by them.

    I know my own character – I’m a happy-go-lucky optimist type who isn’t easily ruffled. Although I can intellectually appreciate the phenomenon of micro-aggressions, I find myself more inclined to try and impart this “water of a ducks back” attitude to my children than to teach them to fight “micro-injustices”. This is not “ignorance is bliss”, nor is it apologist behavior. Micro-aggressions are arguably an integral part of human nature and they aren’t going to be eliminated anywhere soon, least of all Japan. The only Micro-A question I feel I will push back against actively is the “When will you return to your country”. That’s a level of rudeness I feel leaves the “micro” territory.

    The world has plenty of good and bad things in it. It simply isn’t possible to round all the edges and pad all the corners. I am happy to take the fight for better legal rights for foreigners and equal treatment in the workplace etc, but I’ll be perfectly frank – if I let something like micro-aggressions bother me I’d probably have to leave Japan and flee back to a country where I’m in safety as a member of a majority group. The analogy I would use is this: We’re in a battle here in Japan for equal rights and equal treatment. Letting micro-aggressions wear us down and potentially cast every social interaction in a negative light is like committing a huge fighting force to protect a fortress that is not of immediate strategic importance. It diverts valuable resources (energy) and wears down the reserves (stress) and makes it harder to keep a perspective on the larger campaign.

    I do not deny that micro-aggressions genuinely bother some people. I will not seek to undermine others if they decide to push back against them. I will not expressly condone something that another NJ has found rude either actively or by omission. However, I have to refuse to let micro-aggressions add stress to my daily life and darken every social interaction that I might have. That’s just not who I am.

  • Scott,

    How do you define racism? It looks like you’ve confined it to such actions as beatings, insults, neonazi rallies, etc. In other words, macroaggression. And having started there, you finish there. Racism is macroaggression and therefore, in a nice tight circle, anything outside of macroaggression cannot be racist because it’s…not.

    But if train ticket exchanging man takes one look at me and proceeds to treat me like a different breed of person based on that, it’s so obviously a case of racism I don’t know how to respond. I guess you mean it’s not bad racism? That would be a better argument.

    As for the implication that I’m racist, I explained here how race is fake:

    When I point out that AIJs (people Acculturated In Japan) often say “haro,” for example (assuming you think this is racist), it’s a bit spiteful maybe but has absolutely nothing to do with race, because race, again, is fake. If I’d grown up speaking Japanese and hadn’t had much opportunity to speak English, I’d pronounce it that way too. Most AIJs are racist because their laws, media, and education system, among other things, pass on the narrative that nihonjins are genetically unique.

    To requote the above:
    “Racism extends considerably beyond prejudiced beliefs. The essential feature of racism is not hostility or misperception, but rather the defense of a system from which advantage is derived on the basis of race. The manner in which the defense is articulated – either with hostility or subtlety – is not nearly as important as the fact that it insures the continuation of a privileged relationship. Thus it is necessary to broaden the definition of racism beyond prejudice to include sentiments that in their consequence, if not in their intent, support the racial status quo.”

    Do nihonjins benefit from the false narrative that there’s such a thing as a nihonjin race? Yes, they do. Do “white” Americans benefit from being considered white? Yes, even the very nicest ones.

  • Anonymous says:

    Debito, in my opinion, you hit the nail on the head in September 1995, when you wrote:
    “Attitudes are still ‘a Japanese’ = ‘pure Japanese blood’, not ‘Japanese citizenship’.”

    And, in my opinion, you also hit the nail on the head, when you wrote a few days before that:
    Nope. You are either born it or not, which makes this whole package a caste system. This is where the element of racism floods in. Even if you were born in Japan, BY LAW you are not Japanese unless you have Japanese blood. Untainted, that is, to many–some have even argued that my children are not ‘nihonjin’. And even if you so choose to naturalize, you will still not be a nihonjin (Japanese person). I would have to advertise myself as a nihon kokumin (Japanese national), which is fine by me, but it says a lot about my ability to fit in.”

    I fully understand that you CHANGED your opinion in 1998, I watched you become HOPEFUL, you started hoping that what you wrote in 1995 was incorrect, you started hoping that your naturalization would demonstrate that Japaneseness is a matter of legal citizenship, not race:
    “In sum, it will empower me to contribute and change society for the better, by demonstrating that it is possible for a Nihonjin to exist without having a drop of Japanese blood. That Japaneseness is a matter of legal citizenship, not race.”

    Debito, I submit to you this humble opinion, please allow this vibration of truth to be shared honestly from my heart to yours: your 1995 statements were true, unfortunately, and remain true today, your 1998 hopes were unfounded in reality, because the majority of people in Japan in 2012 STILL consider 日本人 to be determined by race.

    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% Japanese-DNA-holder born in America to be 日本人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% Japanese-DNA-holder with American citizenship to be 日本人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% Japanese-DNA-holder with American culture/language to be 日本人。

    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% White-DNA-holder born in Japan to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% White-DNA-holder with Japanese citizenship to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% White-DNA-holder with Japanese culture/language to be a 外人。

    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% Black-DNA-holder born in Japan to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% Black-DNA-holder with Japanese citizenship to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 100% Black-DNA-holder with Japanese culture/language to be a 外人。

    Most people in Japan today still consider a 50% White-DNA-holder born in Japan to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 50% White-DNA-holder with Japanese citizenship to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 50% White-DNA-holder with Japanese culture/language to be a 外人。

    Most people in Japan today still consider a 50% Black-DNA-holder born in Japan to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 50% Black-DNA-holder with Japanese citizenship to be a 外人。
    Most people in Japan today still consider a 50% Black-DNA-holder with Japanese culture/language to be a 外人。

    Just because I have the clear sight and the honesty to see and admit that unfortunate reality, some people jump to the incorrect conclusion that I am happy about the existence of that racist definition which the majority of people in Japan unfortunately are holding on to. I talk plainly about the existence of racist acts in Japan because I hate all racist acts and I want such actions to be penalized.

    Just because I think that all organisms are unfortunately genetically programmed to selfishly be relatively more altruistic to relatively more similar genes, and less altruistic to relatively less similar genes, some people jump to the incorrect conclusion that I am happy about the existence of this unfortunate selfish racist gene competition programming. I talk plainly about the existence of gene warfare because I hate gene warfare and I want such actions to be penalized.

    Please let me make this perfectly clear, by summarizing my answer to all apologists of racism:

    I am AGAINST this reality we are living in here in Japan in which the definition of 日本人 is limited to the “Japanese DNA blend”.

    I am AGAINST this reality we are living in here in Japan in which the definition of 外人 is enlarged to include anyone “tainted” with a tiny percent of “non-Japanese DNA blend”.

    And thus I am FOR a racial discrimination penalization law in Japan, seriously enforced, with serious penalties, for people in Japan who treat people in Japan differently based on DNA differences.

    The problem with the apologists of racism, is that they refuse to admit that “Yes, we need such a law in Japan.”

    As soon as those people listed above admit, “Yes, we DO need a racial discrimination penalization law in Japan, seriously enforced, with serious penalties, for people in Japan who treat people in Japan differently based on DNA differences” then we can start to move forward in cooperation towards a common goal for the benefit of our children here in Japan.

    I step off the box and pass the mic back to you all, because my stance is clear, there is nothing left for me to say on this topic.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Mark Hunter @ #53
    You’ve raised a very good point, while at the same time reinforcing the one of the issues – why is “international understanding” (国際理解) a subset of English in Japanese junior high schools and not of social studies or moral education (道徳)?
    It further weakens the English content (if that is possible…) by devoting time to “talking about other countries” in Japanese, while reinforcing the concept that a) all NJs speak English, and b) the “foreignness” of international understanding.

    Furthermore, the current MEXT position tends to be on asserting Japanese-ness, so English textbooks are jam-packed full of words like “manga” and “anime”, items on how healthy/popular Japanese food is, asserting the family name – personal name order even in English (with the justification that the Chinese and Koreans do too)

    And the seemingly mandatory Hiroshima story (the new batch of Sunshine doesn’t have one – shock, horror)counts as “international understanding” because it is in English!

    When I previewed some candidate texts for moral education lessons, I specifically looked for the international understanding content, most of which focused on individual Japanese living overseas and doing volunteer work, the export of Japanese cartoons, and other collective back-patting.

    MEXT needs to get real.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim #155, and @ #156. Ah, the Genki Gaijin Clown, fullfilling expectant stereotypes of “Cartoon Americans” that are nurtured, loved and cherished in Japan and that are pursued and perpetuated by Americans and gaijins themselves. It is exactly like the black guy in the UK in the 70s making racist jokes about himself to get a laugh from the majority race.

    Ever taught an English lesson and tried to be just slightly serious about the content or just not juggling balls and gesticulating wildly, and been criticiszed for it? Usually by dour, callow youths who are far from genki themselves (but hey, they re paying for the gaijin show, roll up roll up!) The defunct Lado springs to mind, they were really of the “if the teacher isnt super genki, forget it!” school, with a row of inane grinners portraits on the wall.

    Actually I used to do it too, but by channelling a kind of cheerful insanity – “genki” on my own terms. My nationality often used to change also, to suit customer expectations! I have been an American, a Brit, an Aussie,French, half Japanese and half black, a surfer, a professor, some of which have a grain of truth in but exaggerated, but Hypereality is the reality in postmodern Japan. Along with misleading fake namecards where you reinvent your name, career, and nationality.

    My students overwhelmingly bought and loved it, though a just couple say saw through the fakeness and said I was “acting” and “wasnt serious”.But hey, tough- thats like, 2 out of a thousand. Thats why I do not teach at conversation salons anymore and prefer corporate classes. The former depends too much on selling the personality of the gaijin teacher and customers’ expectations are sometimes disappointed if they do not get that happy go lucky blonde, like they saw in the movies. Very, very tiring for low pay.

    So why the need for “genki” fakeness in Japan, and why do foreigners feel the urge to act in this manner? Other than Hollywood imagery and do not forget the brand power of Disney in Japan (even the Showa Emperor was buried wearing a Mickey Mouse watch)I think it began with AET training videos in the 80s which is the wierdest thing I have ever seen. The Japanese teacher explains something while a blonde, bespeckled, suited American acted out what he was saying with over the top gestures. The kids laughed. I wonder if they remembered a word.This continued in the early 90s with the whole “Happy go Lucky” persona and the “Hey, no problem I can do anything from corporate finance to Kids classes” attitude “Americans” were adapting to pull in work from dispatch companies with disaparate clients.

    Twenty years on,the one that made me really retch was the fluent (in Japanese), bespecled stereotypical geek I saw standing in front of a laughing audience at an avant garde coffee shop and apologizing every 30 seconds with repeated bowing. He acted more “Japanese” than the Japanese, if stereotypes are followed. I bristled. The small Japanese audience smiled and laughed at his mannerisms.

    But they were laughing at him, not with him. And certainly not at the content of his work.

  • Fight Back says:

    I think Anonymous did raise a pertinent point about the children of apologist parents though. By impressing on the children what a wonderful and fair society Japan is it creates an atmosphere where the child is unable to seek support for the racism they face due to fears of upsetting the parent’s ‘bubble’.

    The parent is able to accept the delusion to make themselves happy but it is the child who suffers.
    On another note someone compared the apologists to Stockholm Syndrome sufferers, they have identified with their oppressors to such an extent that they are unable to see any aspect of the truth, thus rendering it impossible to enter into any logical debate with them. That’s one reason I wonder if it’s really worth allowing ‘dissenting opinions’ on this forum, given that they are not really opinions at all but symptoms of a psychological condition.

  • @Andrew In Saitama

    A very good post. I think a lot of what we consider as microaggression is cultural, laziness and taught through the education system. The cultural factors will take a long time to change and the laziness is a personal choice and in a liberal democracy people are free to behave, within the law, in any manner they choose. We in turn are free to choose to interact, or not, in a positive/negative way with individuals who have made such choices.
    The ‘taught through education’ factor you would think would be the easiest and quickest factor to remedy, but MEXT is a strange animal indeed.
    Anyone who does a basic historical study of MEXT will soon discover that after the war and more so after April 1952, the education ministry recruited an abnormally large number of ex-members of the Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu (Thought police)through the ‘buddy system /clientelism’.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim #55, spot on. What we see is an NJ acting the “fake gaijin” persona. The Japanese audience responds with tatemae of acceptance of the “good gaijin” but the gaijin is actually “othered” as a gaijin who knows his place; outside.

    This is so frighteningly the exact outcome that postmodernists like Guy Debord predicted, though I bet they never thought this postmodernist nightmare would happen in Japan, of all places.

    “Debord postulated that Alienation had gained a new relevance through the invasive forces of the ‘spectacle’ – “a social relation between people that is mediated by images” consisting of mass media, advertisement and popular culture. The spectacle is a self-fulfilling control mechanism for society.

    (COMMENT-This is why the ‘capitalism” we have now is so hard to reform.)

    Images, Debord says, have supplanted genuine human interaction.[1]

    Thus, Debord’s fourth thesis is: “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”[11]

    In a consumer society, social life is not about living, but about having; the spectacle uses the image to convey what people need and must have. Consequently, social life moves further, leaving a state of “having” and proceeding into a state of “appearing”; namely the appearance of the image.[12]

    “In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.”[13]”(wikipedia).

  • Baudrillard says:

    And why these images still continue and why it is so hard for this postmodern Japan to change itself, to drag itself from its own tatemae hall of mirrors, even after Fukushima:

    “Debord analyzes the use of knowledge to assuage reality: the spectacle obfuscates the past, imploding it with the future into an undifferentiated mass, a type of never-ending present; in this way the spectacle prevents individuals from realizing that the society of spectacle is only a moment in history, one that can be overturned through revolution.[8][9]”

    — If you’re going to copy paste with footnotes, then at least give a link to the original website so that we can follow their sources too.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Soz, Wikipedia as I said at bottom of #63.

    BTW, what you say here is right on.
    “Current postcolonialist/postmodernist analysis of racialization generally holds that people are systematically differentiated, othered, then subordinated. This is how nation-states unified their peoples under national narratives of “Self” and “Other.”

  • Bitter Valley says:

    I just have a quick question in relation to “Anonymous (58)”: what on earth is Japanese DNA. Do people buy into this fallacy.

    I would have thought it quite basic that one of the fallacies promoted by the education system here is the idea of a Japanese race; people born of the main sets of mixes of genes here are different blend from people born elsewhere.

    Also despite the NHK and MOE –> MEXT’s best efforts to promote the myths of racial and social “homogeneity” along with invented history (some elements of Japan’s educational and legal system seem closer to Edwardian “Great Britain”) you only have to travel around Japan’s rural areas a bit to see enormous variations in faces, bodies, local cultures and so on.

    I just don’t get this “Japanese DNA” thing at all?! It all sounds very creepy and suspect to me.

  • @ Scott T Hards #42


    Frankly, I think you are ignoring a huge problem simply because it suits you to. Sure, Japan works for you. You like it in Japan. You’ve made a life for yourself and you feel it’s better than wherever you came from. But, when you announce that your three mixed race children (I’m guessing Eurasian) have never suffered any meaningful discrimination or racism, then it tells me right there that you are most likely ignoring what’s happening both right in front of your eyes and also when you are not around. I’ve known lots of “haafu” people and they all reported various forms of discrimination, many of which would rise to any reasonable definition of “meaningful.”

    And, you also seem to fail to understand what this thread is about. It’s not about people in white sheets running up and burning crosses on your lawn or being forced to sit in the back of the bus, it’s about subtle forms of differential treatment that send the message that “you are not one of us.” My guess is that your children get this ALL the time. In fact, sadly, it’s very likely that dealing with this has formed and continues to form a large part of their identities. They may withhold the pain this has caused them from you, and you may choose to ignore the unspoken signals that they are troubled by being “othered” all the time, but you can rest assured that your children had to and have to face a lot of treatment that they should not have to face (and which they wouldn’t face in other some other countries).

    Sadly, Anonymous #58 is spot on: As far as the Japanese are concerned, only pure-blooded Yamato Japanese are really Japanese. I’d even go one further than Anonymous and say that only pure-blooded Yamato Japanese who were born and raised in Japan are considered true Japanese. So, Scott, you can ignore the treatment your children (and you) receive if it suits you to do so (and it clearly does). And, fortunately, your children are probably hardy and well-grounded, so they did not allow constant othering to get them down. However, it would be interesting to hear what they say about the experience of growing up mixed race in Japan when they are a bit older.

    As for Japan being one of the best societies on earth in which to live, I can only guess that you don’t have that much to compare it to. I mean, have you been to Australia? New Zealand? France? Canada? Finland? Have you taken a good look at Japan recently? Did you mentally Photoshop out all the dams, concrete, tetrapods, power lines, clear cutting, hideous buildings and neon? Do you actually enjoy the sound of loud voices amplified by speakers in your neighborhood all the time telling you who to vote for or asking you to sell used appliances to them? Have you taken a close look at the educational system and seen the brain-dead passive victims who come out the far end of that particular meat grinder? Have you turned on the TV and witnessed the inane, childish and vomit-inducing crap that passes for entertainment? Have you asked you wife how she feels about living in a country where women are treated like sh*t? Where no man would ever give up his seat to a pregnant woman? I mean, a country which has fewer women in upper management or politics than even some Arab countries?

    The best society in the world? I think you have to narrow that definition a bit. I think you mean: the best country on earth for Scott T Hards to live in.

    — We’re getting into territory where people are comparing “like” and “dislike” again. We’ve got to get beyond that and into how systems everywhere inherently alienate. Scott is basically denying that either they alienate, or that they alienate in any meaningful sense. I suggest you focus on that aspect, and not get into “how Japan in particular is bad, or worse than all the others”, or else you’re not going to convince him (or many other deniers). True, it’ll be hard to do that if he lives in simple denial. I’m just saying that taking this tack just invites Apologists to deny that social conditions in specific are that bad (as well as deny that alienation is that bad), which is the easier thing of the two to quantifiably disprove.

  • @ Scott T Hards #42:


    Sorry, I can’t resist an addition to the above. You honestly believe that Japan is the best society on earth? Your government is trucking radioactive waste all across teh country in order to make a point and in order to irradiate the entire country, to prevent people from avoiding Tohoku (their reasoning: if the whole country is radioactive, then what’s the point in avoiding one particular area). Think I’m making this up? See this article:

    So, you’ve got an insane and sick government actively trying to make you sick, and it’s the best society on earth? You’ve got low standards.

    Anyway, this post is about micro-agressions, so I suggest you actually talk to your children about their experiences, rather than making conclusions for them. Ask them if their peers have ever made them feel different. Ask if they think they are treated just like anyone else.

    As noted above by many posters, the Japanese simply do not accept non-Yamato-blood people as being Japanese. And, this mindset is deeply inculcated from their infancy.

    In my own case, I chose to leave because I found this intolerable. I didn’t want to be a part of a society that actively tried to keep me out.

    I read a poll somewhere that said 60% of Japanese don’t want permanent foreign residents and 40% don’t even want tourists. This was a Japanese poll conducted by a major research organization. Think of it: 40% of respondents don’t ever want to see a foreign face in their midst. That’s the best society on earth?!?!

    The only thing that astonishes me is how many of the above posters don’t come to the logical conclusion here. They stop just shy of it. What’s the logical conclusion? It’s better to leave them to it. It’s better just to leave Japan. It’s better to stop trying to get a leopard to change its spots.

    Some people hold out the hope that the younger generation will be more open minded and liberal, but Debito shot that hope down very convincingly on this very site when he noted that people held out the same hope for the previous generations, but when the young people became “vested” in society, they adopted the conservative values of the institutions. And, seeing as how fewer young people are going abroad to study, I actually see Japan becoming much more close minded and xenophobic.

    It’s only a matter of time before the agression becomes anything but micro.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Eric C

    Firstly, please remember that I am generally positive towards your posts because I can (I think) understand your experiences and point of view.

    I just wanted to say that I think that you (not only you though, I did it too) are maybe being a little hard on Scott. It is possible that Scott is an apologist, in which case he will be unable to see the reason of you argument. Therefore it would be counter-productive to continue to lay into him. Apologists are psychologically pre-disposed to disbelieve any evidence.

    On the other hand, Scott may have had a charmed life in Hokkaido(?) and has genuinely never experienced the level of ‘othering’ that you and I have. Maybe Scott has never spent hours of his free time reading the research and theses related to Japan, and nihonjinron giron, so he is lacking the detailed background knowledge to join the dots (as it were). It is not impossible to believe that some NJ who have never made an academic study of the issues, and who have been fortunate enough to have randomly avoided significant othering, may not believe us. If that is the case, we should provide Scott with facts rather than posing him hypothetical questions of a personal nature if we expect him to see our point of view. Just my opinion.

  • I love Japan and think it’s the best place possible to live or raise a family. I recognize that there are serious issues of racism in Japan, 99.99% of the time of the innocent microaggressive variety. These are two separate issues, as Debito points out. I don’t think anyone in their right mind is going to disagree on whether there is any racism or innocent microaggressive socially conditioned behavior in Japan. What people are disagreeing about is semantics – if we call a behavior that at some point most every Japanese person we know has engaged in “microaggression”, are they suddenly racists in the expletive sense and persons I must choose to be uncomfortable with? Of course that is not an acceptable conclusion, which leads many people to reject the concept. Whether we call it microaggression or typically innocent ignorant curiousity and friendliness seems to be an issue separating a lot of people here, but it’s just semantics people. Nothing to see here.

    What I think you individually and I ought to do when faced with microaggression, or a person acting out of ignorance mixed with curiosity in a way that others oneself:
    Recognize it is typically unconscious and innocent behavior socially conditioned and does not necessarily reflect poorly on the character of the person at issue. Show who you are in fact through behavior and statement as contrasted with engrained stereotype without rhetorically addressing the stereotype itself, and give them an opportunity to question their views. This is how you change minds slowly but steadily.

    Acting in retaliation to such an unconscious behavior, or logically questioning the person’s unconsciously held stereotypes, seems likely to me to only make the other person defensive or recoiled and embarrassed at best. The process of changing views of what it means to be a Japanese person, or a native or long-term resident of Japan, would I think be more advanced by earnest engagement than any combination of sarcasm and logic.

  • Sobering article for those who believe that Japan will eventually accept foreigners:

    The article is about the descendants of American whalers who still remain on the island of Chichi-jima. They’re ancestors arrived on the islands over 140 years ago, and they still aren’t accepted by the Japanese who live on the islands. This is six generations in! And most of them are mostly racially Japanese now due to intermarriage; they often speak only Japanese and they hold Japanese citizenship. Here’s a quote from the article:


    The “Euro-American natives” are presented as little more than squatters who occupied what officials say was already Japanese territory, despite a consensus among modern Japanese and Western historians that Ogasawara never visited the islands.

    “They are not the same as indigenous natives who have been here for hundreds of years,” said Kazuhiko Ishida, the island’s vice mayor. He said that while no efforts are being made to preserve the Westerners’ culture, they are not mistreated, either.

    Westerners agree, but even some of those with close Japanese friends and spouses say feeling marginalized is not much better.

    “They call me foreigner,” said Sutanrii Minami, 64, a tour guide who also goes by Stanley Gilley and who looks Polynesian. “I’m not a foreigner. I was born on this island.”


    Six generations in and they call him “gaijin.” That’s pretty pathetic. So, for all the apologists who think there’s nothing wrong in Japan and hope that by playing the genki gaijin clown they’ll eventually get accepted, I say: look at these people on Chichi-jima. Six generations in and they’re still outsiders. Look at the Zainichi Kankokujin: all but indistinguishable from the Japanese around them, but considered suspect and other.

    The Japan Times today reported that the foreign population of Japan fell by 56,000 people last year. Those were 56,000 people who saw the writing on the wall and decided to get out while the getting’s good. It’s time to stop hoping against hope. It’s time to stop believing that the Japanese will suddenly start acting out of character and become open minded. It’s time to face the fact that, if anything, the Japanese will become more insular and xenophobic as their economy goes into a tailspin.

    If you’re living in Japan with mixed children, do you really want their kid’s kid’s kid’s kid’s kid’s kids to still be facing obscene levels of discrimination? Think about it.

  • I’m not sure why, but Jim’s approach above strikes me as snobbery. The only reason that Scott (and others who see things the same way) could POSSIBLY be the way they are is if they are deficient in their research of the issues.

    I see microagressions as just that, micro. Meaningless in the big picture as anything other than an annoyance. Yes, they p!ss me off too. My normal reaction (sarcasm tinged with what I consider to be humour) simply won’t work. The “chopsticks question” used to inevitably lead to my “cutlery rebuttal” which led to confusion. I didn’t even get the satisfaction of making people uncomfortable…. My experience has taught me that the better approach is to take a couple of seconds and explain to the offender what makes you uncomfortable, why their assumption(s) aren’t accurate, and why perhaps they may want to reconsider their actions. For all the commentary here, I haven’t heard too much in the way of practical advice on how to deal with them.

    Personally, I blame the educational system for a lot of the problem. Kids here have difficulty communicating with each other in their OWN langauge, let alone in a foreign one. I’ve had 2nd year university students ask me if koalas come from Canada, or tell me that ‘America’ doesn’t have four seasons. There are huge gaps in kids’ learning here due to the overemphasis on test passing, to the extent that even simple world history/geography are unknown. Bet they could name all 48 members of AKB though…

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Ds #72

    I’m surprised to see that you think my post was snobbish.
    I was merely pointing out that there is no point in hammering into Scott with hypothetical personal questions. If he is ‘an apologist’, then I think that no argument will change his mind. If he is not ‘an apologist’, but rather has never experienced the kind of ‘othering’ that Eric C has, then it is better to give him facts than to give him a hard time. I think that that is a sensible way forward. I don’t see the point in p*ssing off Scott. Play the issue, not the person, like Debito said.

    Perhaps you find this snobbish;
    ‘Maybe Scott has never spent hours of his free time reading the research and theses related to Japan, and nihonjinron giron, so he is lacking the detailed background knowledge to join the dots (as it were). It is not impossible to believe that some NJ who have never made an academic study of the issues.’

    If you do, may I suggest that is your chip on your shoulder. I have spent my undergrad, post-grad, and teaching/research career as a Japan specialist, and have apent many hours wading through (at times) extremely hard to find and boring academic materials. (Maybe this makes me snobbish), but I do not expect the average NJ who came to Japan to teach English, or parachuted in by their company, to have spent so many years studying Japan and the Japanese. I would not presume to be an expert in your college major.

  • Anonymous says:

    Some people say, incorrectly, that most people in Japan treat “non-racially-Japanese” the same: “Racism doesn’t exist much here!”
    Other people say, incorrectly, that to get equal rights we must claim that humans are all the same: “Races don’t even exist at all!”
    The 2nd opinion is just as incorrect as the first. Both are worthy GOALS that someday, after sufficient race-mixing, will be true.

    There ARE differences between races, visually and genetically, AND all races deserve equal treatment and equal human rights.
    There ARE differences between sexes, visually and genetically, AND all sexes deserve equal treatment and equal human rights.

    A Stanford double-blind proved (99.86%) the DNA chromosomal differences of White, Black, Hispanic, Chinese, and Japanese.
    People migrated to Japan over time from varying areas with varying chromosomal mutations, forming the current “Japanese” blend.
    Due to new DNA injections happening, for example my “half” children, in 100 years the “Japanese” blend will be slightly different.

    Currently, with low immigration, a random sample of 1000 people living in Japan is relatively more homogeneous than in America.
    Someday, with high immigration, a random sample of 1000 people living in Japan will be almost as heterogeneous as in America.
    And eventually, with sufficient race-mixing within America, Japan, and every country on Earth, we will all become ONE blend.

    Currently, people with Asian and Caucasian DNA carry 2.5% “Neanderthal Species” genes, while Sub-Saharan-Africans don’t.
    Currently, people with Aborigine and Melanesian DNA carry 5% “Denisovan Species” genes, while Southeast-Asians carry 1%.
    Eventually, with sufficient race-mixing, everyone will receive a little of the Asian/Caucasian Neanderthal-Species DNA.
    Eventually, with sufficient race-mixing, everyone will receive a little Aborigine/Melanesian Denisovan-Species DNA.
    Eventually, there will be no noticeable racial differences, neither visually nor genetically, but currently, there are.

    People who say, incorrectly, that racial DNA differences don’t exist, are pushing a worthy GOAL, that someday will be true.
    People who say, incorrectly, that racism doesn’t exist much in Japan, are pushing a worthy GOAL, that someday will be true.

    Currently, to either of those 2 groups of idea-pushers, I say “Your description of reality does not match reality now, unfortunately.”
    To a group veering too far off to the right of the road, about to get stuck in a ditch of untruthfulness on the right, I say “Go left!”
    To a group veering too far off to the left of the road, about to get stuck in a ditch of untruthfulness on the left, I say “Go right!”

    We do NOT need to prove that all humans are the same, just to prove that all humans deserve equal treatment and equal rights.
    Don’t make equal rights & equal treatment dependent on the incorrect idea that we’re currently genetically & behaviorally same.
    In general, people with bigger muscles will use that advantage more, people with bigger brains will use that advantage more.
    Stronger thieves will use muscles to steal more, smarter thieves will use brains to steal more, thus crime statistics will vary.
    Claiming Whites/Blacks/Japanese commit same crimes with same percentages, is not how to get equal treatment & equal rights.
    The honest way is: all humans deserve equal treatment and equal rights EVEN THOUGH body/brain/behavioral differences exist.

    Different races: equal treatment, equal rights.
    Different sexes: equal treatment, equal rights.
    Different abilities: equal treatment, equal rights.
    Different strengths: equal treatment, equal rights.
    Different weaknesses: equal treatment, equal rights.
    Different species-hybrids: equal treatment, equal rights.

  • I have to agree with Ds on this one.

    I am not sure about Scott’s case, however I will offer my point of view. I also would imagine neither Scott nor I fall into the category of English teachers or people parachuted in by a company to spent there 3.4 years (or whatever it is these days) in Japan.

    Perhaps Scott, like myself (although we may have studied and read to improve our ability to function in Japan) has never spent hours reading and researching. Maybe we have not spent undergrad/post grad hours researching Japan. Maybe we have never taught and been in “academia”. Maybe we just spent a decade and a half building a business, dealing with banks, clients, companies wanting to pay using a tegata or other issues that business face. Maybe we have employees with vast interpersonal issues (including issues with working for a foreign boss). Maybe we have not “waded” through papers and research but perhaps we lived the experience. Most of us realize there are issues with Japan and find a way to deal with them in our own way.

    Jim, I am not discounting your academic credentials, but it seems to me that it is arrogant to assume because someone is not in academia they cannot understand Japan to the level you can. This is not “having a chip on one’s shoulder”.

    Watching Scott’s video it seems he is culturally adept, fluent in Japanese, and I would imagine has had his share of experiences both good and bad. In Scott’s reply, he calmly dealt with being personally attacked, which speaks volumes about his character. Although in his post he labels himself as an “apologist”, he does not seem to be an “apologist” to me; just a guy who is making a go of it in Japan, with a family, probably doing something he really enjoys, and probably is successful. Maybe he likes it here and does not see things the way you do. There are many others that probably do not see the way things you do with equal “academic credentials”

    It is obvious this is an important issue to you, and it is also obvious you have studied Japan so I am curious (an I am not asking this to be confrontational). What are you doing to change things and has it been successful? If not, why? What do you suggest the rest of us do to change things (assuming we think this issue needs changing)? As I posted above I do not agree completely with the micro agression issue but I am all ears.


  • Fight Back says:

    It’s good to see that the apologists blanket denials are being quickly shot down by people like Anonymous and Eric C. Great work guys, logic trumps blind foolishness every time!

    However, I am also troubled by the attitude of posters like Jim Di Griz, who seem to want us to go easy on the apologists and give them the benefit of the doubt. This is definitely the wrong tack to take, given the seriousness of this issue. As I’ve said before we have a real chance to take this momentum forward and purge the apologists from within our community, a community that has a long way to go to gain acceptance.

    It’s only by standing our ground now that we can make people realize that apologist behavior will not be accepted. I have made it very clear to all my friends that the slightest trace of apologist from any of them will result in non-continuation of our relationship. It’s through these firm but non-violent policies that we can move on unhindered.

  • @ Ds #72, you say micro agressions are “just that, “micro” but they can soon escalate to Macro. I was once having lunch with some co workers on a project and they did not like the fact that I was 1. the only foreigner 2.”smiling” (seemed to one guy that I was not acting seriously enough, ie. po faced even though we were supposed to be on a holiday) 3. The fact I made the sign of the cross for good luck.

    He then reached across the table and attacked me. The entire group “othered” and ignored me as “a selfish gaijin” for basically, acting too happy go lucky and for not hanging with them 24/7 in the same hotel room and taking this abuse (after the attack, I made myself scarce for a few hours, hanging with them after that would have felt like an abused dog sticking with it’s master).

    So, the next time you act as either the happy go lucky gaijin or the ‘clown” and think that is what your Japanese betters want from you, think again, as it may get you into serious trouble.

  • #74


    Of course we are each (including identical twins) genetically different different in that we express different proteins.

    And, of course, Japanese are on the whole more genetically uniform than Americans or Russians.

    However, when you make the statement “Claiming Whites/Blacks/Japanese commit same crimes with same percentages” it implies, I think, that criminality is essentially a byproduct of genetics, like black hair.

    In reality, though, human behaviour is only weakly tied to genetics, and humans do have the ability to transcend a wide variety of genetically predisposed behaviours.

    And, crimes is an exceedingly broad category, and there is no shown or likely genetic predisposition for insurance fraud, or for violations of rules governing the management of nuclear reactors.

    A genetic predisposition for behaviours in humans is merely a factor, unlike species for which it is dispositive.

    Moreover, there is no evidence that non-yamato J have any genetic difference with regard for a genetic predisposition towards psychopathy, or violence.

    As such, I believe that a reference to genetics is unnecessary because while it is manifestly true that J are overall more homogenous than some other groups, the focus of this website is on J behaviours.

    J hair colour, blood types etc. that are dispositively determined by J genetics are really not the focus of discussion.

    And J behaviours are not limited by their genetics.

    J could be a society that embraces human rights, and the genetics of individual J would have no bearing either way on that.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Doug #75

    Doug, I don’t know why it is that people think that having ‘lived in Japan’ makes them an ‘expert’. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on Italy, although I have lived there. I certainly wouldn’t claim to know more about Italy than an academic who has spent many years living in and researching Italy.
    It is peculiar to Japan that NJ seem to believe that the simple fact of being in Japan gives them some kind of knowledge that supersedes that of professionals in the field. The apologists often disparage as ‘haters’ academics whose opinions differ from their own with some kind of ‘ivory tower’ remark. The constant berating of NJ Japan academics on the NJ blogging scene is appalling, and reeks in itself of a kind of working class snobbery, and jealousy.
    I don’t want to derail this thread. I am sure that you must have an excellent grasp of Japan in every respect, and have an understanding that far exceeds that of even Donald Keene, right?
    All I was attempting to do in post #69 was raise the point that Scott may hold his beliefs for reasons other than ‘apologism’. But am I to take it that you believe Scott is as highly knowledgeable about Japan as a Japanese Studies Professor? Well, in that case, he (and you) must be apologists! And by extension, deserve to be ripped to shreds as apologist scum! Right? Is that the response you were trying to provoke?

    That’s it Debito, I’m off. I know what I know.

    — Okay, simmer down. There will always be a tension between those who know Japan from the academic point of view and those who know it from the “street view” of everyday interaction and making a life within the system. I can see the advantages of both, as I’ve done much more of the latter than the former (although I’m getting up to speed on the former now). Academics tend to have a broader, more systematic macro view of things (if they aren’t specialists in some narrow-band “cultural” thingie) but no real skin in the game (due in part to the need for “dispassionate analysis” and often-blinkering theoretical rigor). Street-viewers tend to have a lot of skin in the game and a great sense of self-empowerment (if successful) due to knowing the system well enough to control and profit from it, but they tend to know a lot about more micro issues (due to their business specialization) and have the attitude that academics are “out of touch” (remember, “If you can’t do it, teach it!”). Et cetera.

    Either way, the commonality between you two sides is your time — your tenure of contact with Japan — and language ability (I don’t take anyone seriously as a commentator on Japan who doesn’t read, write, and speak it). Learn from each other. Synergy is possible.

  • Jim

    I do not claim to be an “expert” on Japan and I do not think Scott claimed to be an “expert” either. I know alot about Japan from my life here and my experience. As you did, I also read to try to improve my understanding and effectiveness. I do not know much about Donald Keene except for the fact that he was granted citizenship (a pointless and foolish move by the J-govt. in my opinion that degrades those that actually went through the process following proper procedures).

    I am not berating you, I actually acknowledged your studies in my post and asked for your opinion with some reasonable questions. I was also interested to hear your response, even if I do not agree with you. As Debito-san said in his follow up, “synergy is possible”. I will take it further – I think it is absolutely necessary to learn from each other. It appears you have lived or live in Japan, thus you have the benefit of both academics and time living here.

    I have no idea as to the depth of Scott’s knowledge of Japan (I do not know him and had never heard of him until this thread). However I would wager a bet that there are some Japanese studies professors more knowledgeable than Scott and some that are less knowledgeable….just as there are good engineering professors and bad engineering professors…

    The debate about micro-agressions has been going on a while now. I do not agree with some of the debate, but I conceded above that there are is an “unconscious processes of alienation”.

    With that in mind, instead of attacking those that disagree with you, why not answer my questions? This is where with your academic background, you could probably add alot to the debate (and yes, I am not being sarcastic, I am interested in the answers, because I do not know them). The response I was trying to provoke was an answer to the questions below, even if the answer is there is nothing that can be done about the issue of micro-agressions.

    What have you done and did it work to improve the situation? Why or why not?

    What do you suggest other foreigners do?

    I firmly believe that Japan is changing, albeit slowly. I have seen these changes take place over a decade and a half. On the other hand the social programming that occurs in the educational system, and further molding that occurs during the corporate initiation process is inhibiting change…but I think the wave of change is now bigger and stronger than the foundations holding up the existing system. The conversations I have had, in Japanese, with every day people indicate that trust in the “old guard” system is waning and quickly. I have also found that the Japanese people are alot more open to talking to me about Japan critically than they were 10 years ago.

    That said, my answers to the questions I posted are.

    1. I have not done much about the micro-agression issue except let others know when things bother me and try to explain why. Maybe that is not enough, I do not know. As for being effective…it has been with the individuals involved.

    2. In my opinion the best thing that non Japanese in Japan can do is first and foremost, try to work together rather than attack each other. And when I say work together it means to transcend race, belief systems, nationality, etc. I am sure this would require alot of effort, to get rid of long held grudges and to be willing to hear the opinions of those that disagree with you. Second, try to work within the system to improve the situation. Get involved in politics, housing associations, school boards, etc. to the extent possible. The non Japanese population WILL increase in Japan, that is a given, thus it is probably a good time to establish an organization or group (maybe with a different idea or approach than Franca) to try to work within the system for change and promote the benefits immigrants bring to Japan.

    Jim, I do not come read this blog to berate others who disagree with me, or to make snide remarks about someone’s appearance in a photo or video….just like I do not read books so in the end I can trash the author. I read this blog because it relates to my life and although I do not always agree with Debito-san, or the posters here, I feel like I come away a smarter person (either from the information I read, or the process I go through second guessing my own beliefs). So why not share your knowledge with me?

    Fight back (Post 76) – You really want to “purge” people (as Pol Pot did?) from your community? What is your “community”? Is your “community” only people in Japan that agree with you? Or do you wish to “purge” all expats in Japan who you see as “apologists” If so your behaviour would be more destructive than constructive in my opinion…..sounds pretty dangerous to me.

    You also say “apologist behavior will not be accepted” and you have “made it very clear to all my friends that the slightest trace of apologist from any of them will result in non-continuation of our relationship”? Really? Why not try to engage those “friends” in debate and see if you can find common ground?

    You are kidding (or trolling as they say) right?

    Flyjin (Post 77) – What happens to you sucks! It would have taken every ounce of restraint I have to not drop the dirtbag that did that to you right there (But that would have only enhanced the stereotype). Not to demean your story, but I am sure there are more good experiences than bad on company trips in Japan. Anyway sorry you had that experience…the guy you dealt with is an a##hole, pure and simple and I would guess, probably bullies his other Japanese co-workers, thus the “othering” you describe by the group.

    You go on to state, “So, the next time you act as either the happy go lucky gaijin or the ‘clown” and think that is what your Japanese betters want from you, think again, as it may get you into serious trouble.” I think most people with any significant amount of time living in Japan would probably not act like a “clown” or see Japanese as “betters”.

    Interesting thread…

  • Fight Back says:


    It’s ironic to me how flippant the blanket denials of apologists can be. First you sympathize with Flyjin and then you tell him not to worry as there are ‘more good experiences than bad’. Yeah hey man it’s cool, just ignore the outright racism and assault, we’re in Japan!

    If you had read my previous posts you would have known I’m quite serious about these issues. We all belong to the NJ community in Japan whether you want to or not. Only by working together in a unified manner can we overcome the hurdles we all face. Apologists like yourself are the main reason the community cannot work together as a whole.

    By presenting denial as just another way of seeing things you are denying the daily racist reality that we all face, whether we choose to admit it or not.

  • Doug, I was young and naive, you see. So I put alot down to “cultural differences” (you see. I was an apologist too!) and they exploited this. After being bullied, I started to work out in the gym and it didnt happen after that.

    I think alot of the apologists might be quite young “fans” of Japan who are looking for an alternative to the west. It is sad that Japan is hardly the superior model it was touted to be in the 80s (when I came). Sure, some things are better, but other things are a whole lot worse.

  • @81 – Fight Back – I do not consider any of my post flippant. Also I think I stated in no uncertain terms what happened to Flyjin was not OK. I never told him “not to worry”. Best not to put words in my mouth. Yes, most likely the instigator was racist. However talk to some Japanese that have been bullied at work and you will note that this happens to Japanese people as well. Does this make it OK? Of course not! On the other hand I would wager that there are more good experiences than bad on such trips however neither you nor I could prove we are right.

    So yes, I get it. You are serious about this issue. Thus, I would imagine your comment about purging “apologists” is serious as well. Now that you have “outed” me as an “apologist” (If what I posted makes me one then I am happy to accept the label), how should we proceed? Shall I report to some camp for deportation? Or do you wish to send me to a re-education camp? I have many foreign friends in the Kansai area here that probably think the same way I do so you are going to be a busy man. I also have friends that think the way you do, so perhaps you can engage their assistance. Or, maybe….Debito-san will purge me from his blog (based on the way he has handled himself I do not think he would do such a thing). I would suggest you maintain your friendships with so called “apologists”. It may further reinforce your beliefs or may round out some of the rough edges. Always hanging around people that think the same is boring and you do not learn much.

    @82 – Flyjin – Thanks for clarifying. Unfortunately I am an old “apologist” here … 1/2 century (wow time flies). Interesting you went to the gym and things changed. I never thought of that – I have gone to the gym for years and I am quite tall by Japanese standards. Does that have something to do with my not having some of these experiences? I am not sure. For your information, although “Fight Back” implies I think what happened to you is OK, I don’t.

    Flyjin, you are absolutely right, there are good and bad things about Japan. One of the bad things is the way Japanese and foreigners interact. It is not all due to racism or micro-agressions.

    For example, I am in Kyushu on business today for several meetings. This is a very interesting coincidence considering that I am engaged in this debate at this time. This morning I asked for a taxi in fluent (well very good maybe) Japanese. I was with a Japanese engineer that works for me. The taxi driver tried to listen to me but would not reply. He immediately turned toward the Japanese engineer and they worked out calling another taxi. Did this piss me off? At first, yes it did. Is this a form of micro-aggression? Maybe, maybe not (feel free to use this experience as a point of discussion).

    Do I think the taxi driver is a racist? Based on this single interaction…no way! In the end I found the entire ordeal humorous and I chalk it up to the fact I am in the inaka and the guy was nervous having this big gaikokujin talk to him. Do I think the situation is good? No, of course not! In reality I feel sorry for the taxi driver that he cannot at least try to communicate from someone out of Japan. Does that also make me an apologist? If so, I again accept the label.

    Fight Back, if you will kindly direct me where I am to report to for “purging” I would appreciate it. But before I report, please offer something constructive that you think foreigners should be doing in Japan to deal with these issues.


    — I think we’ve nearly reached the end of this thread. Fight Back, enough inflammatory invective. We’ve got your point.

  • Jim Di Griz says:


    Yes, of course, I’ve got no skin in the game at all, have I? I live in the same world as you. My experiences are no less ‘real’ (whatever that means) nor am I somehow magically cosseted from seeing everyday Japan.
    I don’t commute from Europe to university everyday, I live here.
    All posters thinking that I have ‘gone soft’ on apologists need to try reading my post again. But, whatever, you can be as rude to Scott as you want.

    — I apologize, JDG. I was just setting up two Weberian “ideal types” for the sake of clarity on the ideological spectrum regarding academic vs businessperson. I did not mean to say that you personally are an “ideal type” with absolutely no skin in the game, and if you took it that way, again, apologies.

  • It is interesting how different countries deal with the same issue. I’ve always wondered what it is about Japan that won’t allow them to just make a bilingual menu. Maybe its like keeping each item on your plate separate – that is just the way it is done, and no one ever questions the status quo?

    In Hawaii, with around 1.5 million Japanese tourists per year, most (all?) Chinese and Korean restaurants menus are in 3 languages – English, Japanese, and either Chinese or Japanese.

    In high-end restaurants, they often have an English menu with a separate Japanese menu.

    So why can’t restaurant menus in Japan be bilingual? Is it really that terrible to see 2 languages on the same page? I think if anyone figures this out, they will figure out how Japanese people think, and finally understand the intense need to label everything “naka” and “soto”, Japanese and Gaijin.

    It seems many posts here deal with the age-old debate about which of us knows Japan better. Japan is not a person. It is a country, like many other countries. Each of us will have a different experience depending on where we go in Japan, who we meet, the attitude we bring, etc. No one has cornered the market on “knowing” Japan. How could they? There are over 127 million Japanese people, and I doubt most of them think they “know” it. To much research just makes the issue foggy sometimes.

    When you don’t like the odds, or if the deck is stacked against you, CHANGE THE RULES, or REFUSE TO PLAY. This has worked (when implemented correctly) for centuries, and it will work today in Japan. So, fellow “others” – change the conversation. Instead of asking if you can join their party, and being refused, just make your own party, and invite the Japanese people you like (if you want). Soon enough, influential Japanese people (the same ones who did not want you joining them) will be asking if they can join your party.

    I know, it does not apply to all situations. But if the foreign community (or even a part of it), can work together, just imagine the barriers that could be knocked down…

    One thing is universal: A person with nothing of value has nothing to bargain with. If you have something “they” want, they will be much more receptive to accommodating your requests/demands.

  • Anonymous says:

    Racism in Japan, and the people who deny its existence, is what is being discussed here. #66 claimed Japanese race doesn’t exist.

    Charuzu, it’s very ironic you feel that real Racial-Discrimination should be denied when discussing Racial-Discrimination-Deniers.
    Racial-Discrimination-Deniers deny that many Japanese practice Racial-Discrimination: Race-Deniers deny that race even exists.

    You incorrectly wrote that “there are no biological races, and people who believe there are different biological races are racists.”
    As long as race-deniers like you keep claiming “there are no biological races”, I will have to keep posting the unfortunate truth.
    My children and I are treated differently based on our “half-gaijin” / “gaijin” race daily, and yet you claim “race doesn’t exist.”
    The difference between my racial-blend, my kids’ racial-blend, and the majority racial-blend here, is visually apparent RACE.

    You wrote that “when one says racism, one is referring to NON-biological discrimination based on language and culture.”
    So untrue! When one experiences racism one is experiencing BIOLOGICAL discrimination based on visually apparent RACE.
    Racism that whites/blacks/half-whites/half-blacks experience in Japan is due to race, it is BIOLOGICAL discrimination.

    Charuzu, you conflictingly admit “all non-Africans carry Neanderthal genes, Africans don’t” while claiming “race doesn’t exist.”
    You conflictingly admit “Japanese are on the whole more genetically uniform than Russians” while claiming “race doesn’t exist.”
    You conflictingly admit “Japanese are overall more homogeneous than some other groups” while claiming “race doesn’t exist.”

    The “race doesn’t exist” claim is false: people’s brains can instantly tell the black race from the Japanese race.
    The “race doesn’t exist” claim is false: people’s brains can instantly tell the white race from the Japanese race.
    The “race doesn’t exist” claim is false: geneticists’ DNA tests can instantly tell which race with 98.86% accuracy.

    Some people claim, “Well, 3 races exist (black, white, asian) but there are no genetic markers which tell who are Japanese.”
    Wrong, to your eyes the difference between Japanese and NJ-Asians may be slight, but there are quantifiable DNA differences.

    DNA differences exist between people, because after initial migration and settling, people relatively shun new DNA injections.
    Over thousands of years, a population relatively shunning new DNA injections (“Don’t marry a foreigner”) becomes a blended race.
    Thus, visually different biological-races continue to exist today, because of racist culturally-enforced-avoidance of new-injections.
    Since Japanese have become relatively-homogeneous through long-term-avoidance, it is relatively easy to continue this avoidance.

    The result of thousands of years of relative new-foreigner-shunning and relative-inbreeding is a DNA-testable Japanese race:
    “Y-DNA marker D2 is only found in Japan, and Y-DNA marker C1 is only found in Japan.”
    “mtDNA marker N9b is only found in Japan, and mtDNA marker M7a is only found in Japan.”

    “The Japanese Race (non-Ainu non-Ryūkyū)” actually have 2 internal sub-groups: high Jomon/Yayoi ratio, high Yayoi/Jomon ratio.
    “The Japanese Race (non-Ainu non-Ryūkyū)” see themselves as 1 united race, since the Jomon-Yayoi difference is hard to see.
    “The Japanese Race (non-Ainu non-Ryūkyū)” colonized the Ainu-race and the-Ryūkyū race, and merely gave them J-citizenship.
    “The Japanese Race (non-Ainu non-Ryūkyū)” still don’t consider the Ainu-race or the Ryūkyū-race a part of “The Japanese Race.”

    Step 1 is admitting races exist, Step 2 is admitting racial discrimination exists, Step 3 is penalizing racial discrimination.
    Your heart in is the right place Charuzu, but it is ludicrous to think we can jump to Step 3 while claiming “races don’t exist.”
    If you want to continue claiming racial genetics have no affect on behavior, fine, but don’t claim “races don’t exist.”

    In closing, Charuzu you wrote:
    “J could be a society that embraces human rights, and the genetics of individual J would have no bearing either way on that.”

    Which unconsciously confirms the whole point of #74:
    SOMEDAY, J could be a society that embraces human rights, but CURRENTLY: genetics of individuals alters rights+treatment.
    Currently, most Japanese treat Ainu/Ryūkyū J-citizens, Black/White J-citizens, Half J-citizens: differently based on race.
    Japan needs a law, seriously enforced with serious penalties, to dissuade treating people: differently based on race.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Dude you say “Japan is not a person. It is a country, like many other countries. Each of us will have a different experience depending on where we go in Japan, who we meet, the attitude we bring, etc. No one has cornered the market on “knowing” Japan. How could they? There are over 127 million Japanese people, and I doubt most of them think they “know” it. To much research just makes the issue foggy sometimes.”

    Wrong. Japan is the most predictable, most rationalized, most Macdonaldized country I know. It is often said “Japanese (the language) sometimes feels like following a script” and people are most definitely “moving from one controlled experienced to another” (to quote Ritzer). To quote Weber, Life in Tokyo is all about “a life that holds no surprises”, natural disasters aside. That is how they like it. And no, everyone is NOT different (in any country) there is is the majority, and then a few alienated people at the fringe, say 5-10%.

    Arguably that is why we are all here at this website; we have all had strikingly similar experiences. Japanese people have bought into uniform myths of homogeneity; they tend to parrot cliches or media bytes (a trend rapidly becoming also true in other parts of the world too but I digress). Attempts to deviate from the script in daily transactions are usually met with puzzlement, as if “huh? Why are you talking to me? Thats creepy”. Before you say “Thats the same as in any big city”, errr no, it is not. I have had most off-beat off the cuff conversatons with shop keepers in London, NY, Shanghai, HK, Singapore. Just only very, very, very, rarely and stiltedly in Tokyo (even though that was where I was the longest).

    This attracted me to Japan for a while; I always knew exactly how things would pan out when I came here, how things would go, trains rarely late (though not recently) how much things were etc (uniformly expensive, haha). The other good point is people would not abuse me in the street for some minor thing they did not like, like they might in London, or New York. The bad side is a “life that holds no surprises” gets dull after a while.

  • Fight Back says:


    Your situation with the taxi driver was a clear case of outright microaggression and yet you laughed it off as some kind of zany cultural difference. After a half century in Japan I would expect you to be over the ‘guest’ stage of apologism.

    I have made concrete efforts to change the situation for NJ in my local area. For example at a local drinking spot that caters to NJ I have asked the management to put up a notice in the wall reminding people that these kinds of microaggressions make NJ customers uncomfortable and to please refrain from doing them. Although they seemed interested in the idea, they seemed to think the customers who are non-NJ might not understand the concept so we have reached a stalemate.

    If education is key, how should I proceed?

  • Flyjin(77) wrote;

    ““micro” but they can soon escalate to Macro”

    That has not been my experience in my decade plus here. Actually, I’ve had the opposite experience quite often. “Micros” often turn into opportunities to actually talk to people and hopefully get them thinking. Opportunities to NOT reinforce the stereotypes they may have. It’s easy to stereotype an angry foreigner, but difficult to do so when said foreigner engages you in a quiet and relevant conversation. Not easy to do, as I said. My usual reaction (which I would use back in “the world”) give me temporary satisfaction, but long-term frustration.

    The true racists generally, as in your experience, head straight for Macro. Those people deserve the beat down/ verbal abuse/ whatever. That particular idiot deserved whatever he got. IMHO, though, running away was probably not the best way to deal with the situation. In retrospect, I’m sure you agree. Seems you may have “othered” yourself.

    Like a lot of you, I have family/children here. I want to leave them a better and more open Japan than the one I first entered back in the 20th century. We need to keep that in mind instead of vilifying each other for having dissimilar views.

  • Fight Back

    First want to clear it up…half century is age not time in Japan. Time in Japan is 15 yrs.

    Regarding the taxi driver, I really do not see it that way. I did not like the situation, I do not think it was right, and I feel sorry for the driver, yes. Looking at it rationally I believe the guy would have worked it out with me without another Japanese person there, however he was trying to take the easier path and he was very nervous…that was obvious. I do not think he had any racist intent. He was about 60, a little more. Yes, so this one I will laugh off. There have been other cases where I have had similar interactions that I did not laugh off, usually involving me and someone that works for me and the Japanese person, knowing my position, obiously not showing respect to the hierarchy (which is ingrained in Japanese society). That I would consider a micro agression or racism.

    I think it is good that you tried to do something. I am not sure if the posters would be effective or not due to the location. If the proprieters of the place you frequent agree with you on this issue and you bring in an example of what you want to do, who knows it might work. On the other hand posters are constantly used in Japan to achieve certain behaviours from the population so maybe they would be ignored…I do not know. I think the best way is personal interactions. If you are in a group somehow bring the topic up passively (without trying to sound negative). Relate a personal experience in a way that you are seeking advice and in the end just say I felt “weird” or uncomfortable and explain why. Get involved with your neighborhood. I think you first have to do the “nemawashi”. This is Japan and I think if you are trying to invoke change in Japan then you have to work within the system.

    If you teach find a way to bring the situations that bother you into the lessons. Again the key is not to do it in a negative light but in a way to just get students to think. They may not agree with you, but at least they will hear what you are saying.

    I agree with Ds on this one. You can take one of these incidents (the one in Kyushu I would not have bothered with) and initiate a conversation. If something bothers you personally try to bring it up in a light hearted manner and then try to put the other person in your shoes.

    Japan has issues dealing with foreigners, whether it is racism or not is a matter of one’s personal opinion, but I think anyone would concede that Japanese in general have a difficult time relating to foreigners (I am not saying this is good or bad…it is the way it is and relates to being an island nation). It would be better for those of us living and functioning in Japan if the situation improved.

    Remember though I am a micro-aggression skeptic. On the other hand Japan needs to and the country knows it, bring in more foreigners to support the system. Every country needs a tax base. Thus the “co-existence with foreigners” panel being proposed by the government. I think it is a step in the right direction, but I also agree with Debito-san that there needs to be foreign representation.

    Several years ago a major city in Japan was trying to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). To them FDI was such an important issue that they brought in foreign business leaders from large companies and entrepeneurs to meet with the mayor and his advisors and staff. I was invited and was able to attend. Those of us that were entrepeneurs focused more on how the Japanese people relate to foreigners (with a positive spin) and how that makes it more difficult dealing in Japan than in other countries (such as Singapore, Thailand, etc.). Alex Kerr used Bangkok as an example in the beginning of Dogs and Demons.

    Much to my surprise about 1/2 of the mayor’s staff recognized this (the difficulty many Japanese have with interacting with foreigners), were genuinely interested, and joined a couple of us for beers after one of the meetings. These were the younger staff members. They eagerly started to pursue setting up some cross cultural training programs but in the end they were shot down….whether it was the “old guard” in the mayor’s office that stopped them I do not know. I hope these younger staff members continue in government and the “old guard” system does not chew them up.

    I think individuals in Japan want to have more positive interactions with foreigners, it is just difficult…many times due to language, many times due to the fact that many Japanese are uncomfortable getting out of the box. Again I have seen this improving over the last decade. I think it is the system that is inhibiting this, not the people.

    You and I still probably disagree on many things, however I am sure we could discuss the issues and in the end whether we agree or not probably learn something from each other.

    — Frankly, Doug, I’m rather surprised that after fifteen years here, you still have these rather diffident “gee whiz” attitudes towards some very clear cases of social “othering” you’ve mentioned so far. Myself, I did too — until around 2007, when my “university” said I didn’t qualify for a sabbatical because I was just an English teacher. When they pulled that one on me again in 2010 and 2011 (instead giving the sabbatical to a “real” Japanese who had worked there less than six years (as opposed to my eighteen)), I quit. Again, I’ll get to talking about this someday.

    Point is, I personally (especially after the 3/11 debacles) am not in a positive frame of mind about the future in Japan, for anyone (except the entitled elites). I hope you can keep the faith. After a quarter century of my life contributing to Japan with little seniority-based return in kind, I’ve lost mine.

  • Doug said “On the other hand Japan needs to and the country knows it, bring in more foreigners to support the system. Every country needs a tax base.”

    Sod that. So Japan just wants foreign money, not our input or the foreigner-ah but they can “co -exist” with you, “mendokusai kedo shoganai ne- we need foreign money” Ok lets be nice to the foreign guests agin like in the 80s, so long as they keep spending money.

    To support the system? The system needs to be changed!

    but you are right, Doug, about how 50% of the people (tend to be younger) recognize the need to do something, Japan as usual is deeply split on these issues, but in the end the Confucian Hierarchy kicks in and their elders pull rank.

  • Fight Back says:

    Exactly Debito, you said it much better than I could!

    Doug, let me clear a few things up for you, I’m not a teacher and I’ve been in Japan for 20 years. Unlike you I don’t whitewash away racist behavior so readily, as Debito has clearly pointed out to you. 

    However the taxi story brings up a pertinent point. How many long- term NJ have become numb to the daily abuse they receive simply because it happens so often?

    In this case the taxi driver simply refused to accept that a foreigner could speak Japanese or was in a position of authority so he spoke only to the Japanese staff member, the highest ranking of the in-group. And we can be sure that was a source of great amusement for your staff when your back was turned, Doug. 

    I believe this relates back to the point Flyjjn made about Japanese  staff seeing themselves as ‘betters’ no matter where the NJ employee is ‘supposed’ to be in the hierarchy. 

    This goes beyond microaggression and into entrenched racist attitudes that are the real battleground for NJ-rights in this country. I think by setting up a strawman arguement that there are differing viewpoints here is erroneous. 

    Debito has proved time and time again that these problems are real and that denying them is not a credible stance to take at any time. This is why I so vehemently oppose dialogue with apologists because there is no dialogue to be had. Of course you may disagree but on this forum at least I think most of us know the reality. And more often than not, we have Debito to thank for that. 

  • Baudrillard says:

    One update on my rationalized “life that holds no surprises” in Tokyo-actually occasionally there would be a surprise, or shock. And it was this cycle which drove me to leave. Every 2-3 months or so something weird and micro agressive would happen- life would be routine, and then I would be kicked on the Yamanote, or abused by a bar hostess for not going into her club, or by an Ojisan Guardman (self appointed, or deputized during the G7 in Hokkaido) for standing in a certain way, or some bizzare thing like that.

    I therefore move that Tokyo is rationalized/Macdonaldized, coupled with micro aggressions against gaijins as and when they are perceived as outside the rationalization process. Gaijins don’t go with the flow. They ask why (well, they have to ask why if they are being treated differently, like e.g. not being allowed to do their tax returns online when everyone else can).

    I really pitied the girl of African American descent who worked in the local Macdonalds in Saitama. She was so friendly, so outgoing, brightened up my day and used to deviate from the script of “do you want fries with that?” She showed a genuine interest in people.

    Ah. Wait, no. Not good. “Here is Japan. Please stick to the script that we at Mcdonalds follow”. Can you not see the irony of this, Mcdonalds as a Japanese thing? It makes perfect sense why Mickey D is so successful in Japan. It guarantees “standard quality”, a concept for which Japanese car makers received a Deeming Award for quality (new style quality) in the 70s. A product and “service” that holds no surprises.

    She was asked to leave. I never saw her again.

    “The Japanese way’ is nothing more than a false and outdated postmodern symbol to cover and legitimize a very western/industrial over rationalization process of people’s daily experiences.

  • I’m still waiting for some solutions to the problems discussed here. Lots of stories, lots of victimization monologue, but little in the way of constructive answers. My (and Doug’s) answer is to deal with microagression on the micro level. Take a minute or two if possible and try to engage in some actual communication. Don’t escalate minor situations into major international incidents. Ignorance isn’t racism.

    — If you see a duty to be a cultural representative (as opposed to just a individual human being who would like the privilege of going through life without living a stereotype), and feel the need to take a minute or two of your day to enlighten a lot (I daresay the majority, given what I’ve experienced after a quarter-century of life in Japan) of daily interactions, you have the patience of a saint.

    But as decades of social science research indicate (is anyone bothering to read it before you slap the “you’re trying to monster every interaction you find negative as racist!” on this debate?), this is psychologically draining for the people being othered. Without some degree of request/demand for not being othered, history demonstrates, this will be a perpetual repeat game.

    No, ignorance is not racism, as you define it. But the social processes of othering ultimately inexorably lead to it, as I argued in careful detail in this column. The fact that people (on both sides of this debate) are bleaching out the subtlety in this discussion for the sake of sloganeering is disappointing. They are not taking on the points as the social scientists are presenting them, but rather how they choose to interpret them based upon their own predispositions to the issue before even reading.

    It’s a crying shame. So much potential for people to consider social interaction from a different angle, and in the end they just lapse back into the old habits that maintain the status quo.

  • Debito-san

    I appreciate and understand the feedback. Yes I still have the faith and I hope I can keep it too. Also as a Japanese citizen I hope you can find a way to regain the faith. There must be a reason why you came to Japan and took up citizenship. There must be some “like” or “love” of the country inspite of the fact there is disillusionment.

    I do see opportunities here, but they are certainly not the same oppurtunities that existed 10 years ago. Also based on my meetings with the mayor’s office in the large city (I would rather not mention the city), I did see the understanding and eagerness of the younger staff members and it was encouraging.

    For me I can easily “gee whiz” the older taxi driver. It was a no brainer for me (after my original knee jerk reaction) based on the situation I was in and relative to the many other experiences I have had (both good and bad). I will have to say we disagree on that or say “you had to be there”.

    The future of this country (as to how Japan relates to foreigners) is in the hands of the younger generations. In my opinion the key will be whether or not the “old guard” (or as rightfully say “the entitled ones”) either get out of the way or are overpowered by a younger generation with a new way of thinking. Someone dear to me once told me that racism and xenophobism are more about the desire for power and the desire to remain in control and I think xenophobic tendencies in Japan are more about that than anything else.

    Perhaps it is just a matter of how one sees a situation. I have always been an entrepeneur and thus I tend to see opportunities in many places and also see things from a more positive light. I am certainly NOT always right and have made some mistakes due to this way of thinking, but it is the way I look at things and I have been lucky that it has led to an interesting life and I can support myself doing something I like. On the other hand I do understand that the system (I think moreso than individual people) has dealt some folks in Japan a bad hand and I could understand the different perceptions. Your situation sucks and yes I can understand how that would cause you to lose faith. I would like to hear about it sometime. I (perhaps naively so) wish everyone could have a positive experience and find happiness in where they choose to call home and what they choose to do.

    For your sake and mine, I truly hope you are wrong (nothing personal)….only time will tell. It has been a good thread and it has definitely made me think. There are times your blog comes off as being negative, however, in spite of what some people think alot of positive things have come out of your blog and there have been alot of good discussions over the years. After all there are negative and positive experiences in Japan and in life in generally and yeah they do need to be discussed and dealt with. I personally hope you keep it up.

    Well I have babbled alot on this thread (something I do not usually do) but for some reason it struck a chord with me.

    Best of Luck to All

  • “The result of thousands of years of relative new-foreigner-shunning and relative-inbreeding is a DNA-testable Japanese race:
    “Y-DNA marker D2 is only found in Japan, and Y-DNA marker C1 is only found in Japan.”
    “mtDNA marker N9b is only found in Japan, and mtDNA marker M7a is only found in Japan.”

    Only found in Japan? Nonsense. They’re found in people of Japanese and Korean (among others) heredity, all over the world.

  • @Doug #94

    You seem to be very positive and rational and you appear to look for the best in any situation. Those are very admirable traits. However, if I were you, I wouldn’t read too much into the enthusiasm shown by some junior staff at some shiyakusho. I’ve been in exactly the same situation. I’ve had those meetings and conversations. Sadly, it doesn’t matter how enthusiastic the junior staff are – there’s almost always some hidebound geezer over their heads who doesn’t care what some foreigner says. In fact, they send the junior staff out to meet guys like you because they don’t want to and they don’t care what you say. And, trust me, the junior staff isn’t even going to properly report what you said to the top geezers. That’s the way Japan works.

    As for the next generation of Japanese being more liberal, cosmopolitan and open-minded, as has been pointed out many times on this site: people have been expecting “the next generation” of Japanese to open up the country for the last 30 years. They thought the present generation would do it and they thought the one before would do it. And they didn’t. As Debito convincingly explained on another thread: once the young people enter the establishment, they take on the values of that establishment. That is to say, they become as hidebound, regressive and xenophobic as the geezers who preceded them.

    And, anyone who hopes that the present generation of young people will somehow be more international than the generation that preceded them is simply not following the news. The number of Japanese studying abroad is plummeting. Their English scores are among the worst in the world. And, poll after poll shows them becoming more conservative, not less.

    Yes, it would be lovely if the present young generation shook up the system and opened Japan to the world. But, they’re not going to do it. They are as passive and unimaginative as the generation that preceded them, and, on top of that, they have less international experience. As I’ve said before on this site, they are likely to get more conservative as Japan becomes poorer and older.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t worry too much about micro-aggression. It’s there and it reveals the deepest feelings of the Japanese (namely, you gaijin are not one of us). I’d pay more attention to the most recent post on this site about how foreigners have been mistreated by the Japanese legal system. I’d also look at the economic and demographic trends in Japan. I’d also look at how the government is sending radioactive waste across the country to be burnt, just to make a point. I’d put all that together and make an honest assessment of Japan. Frankly, in my opinion, anyone who thinks Japan is going to change for the better is whistling past the graveyard.

  • Anonymous says:


    Please, there’s nothing debatable about Haplogroup D2, let’s not waste time here, go read Wikipedia:
    “The Haplogroup D2 Y-chromosomes that are found among the Ainu, Japanese, and Ryukyuans, are particularly distinctive, bearing a complex of at least five individual mutations along an internal branch of the Haplogroup D phylogeny, thus distinguishing them clearly from the non-D2 Haplogroup D chromosomes that are found among the Tibetans and Andaman Islanders and providing evidence that Y-chromosome Haplogroup D2 was the modal haplogroup in the ancestral population that developed the prehistoric Jōmon culture in the Japanese islands.” Then, of course, the Yayois (non-D2 DNA) invaded Japan and added their non-D2 DNA to the mixture, which eventually became blended and known to geneticists as the Japanese race, which is very close to, while still differing from: the Ainu race, and the Ryukyuan race.

    It seems that some folks feel a need to set up a strawman argument that “those geneticists must be claiming that Japanese DNA contains 0% Korean DNA, and, those geneticists must be claiming that Japanese DNA is 100% homogeneous”, but that’s not what geneticists are saying at all, far from it.

    What geneticists have discovered is that “the average modern-day Japanese DNA markers show a distinctive mixture, that makes it quite easy to differentiate when compared to the average modern-day Korean DNA distinctive mixture, and quite easy to differentiate when compared to the average modern-day Chinese DNA distinctive mixture, and, that the average modern-day Japanese DNA markers are relatively more homogeneous when compared to races found in Europe, due to relatively less DNA injections after the Jomon DNA and Yayoi DNA blended together, but of course no race existing on earth is 100% homogeneous.” And, as mentioned above, in addition to the various asian mixtures being distinct from each other, there are some specific mutations which only appear in Japanese DNA such as: Y-DNA marker D2, Y-DNA marker C1, mtDNA marker N9b, and mtDNA marker M7a.
    Notice that the various populations of Asia do contain the exact same Gm genes: but with distinctive ratios.
    So if you want to yell “all Asians have the same genes”, fine, but remember to admit: with distinctive ratios.
    Look, it sure would be lovely if no genetic difference existed between races, but the simple fact is: we are all marked.

    In an effort to obtain equal rights, are you really willing to falsely claim that the Black/White/Asian markers don’t exist?
    In an effort to obtain equal rights, are you willing to falsely claim that the Chinese/Korean/Japanese markers don’t exist?
    In an effort to obtain equal rights, are you willing to falsely claim that sub-saharan-blacks don’t lack Neanderthal-species-DNA?
    In an effort to obtain equal rights, are you willing to falsely claim that caucasians don’t lack Denisovan-species-DNA?

    I want equal rights for all humans, but lying to myself or others in an effort to achieve this goal is not acceptable to me.
    Not only is lying to achieve a worth goal not acceptable, it’s not effective. Races exist: we must punish race-based-exclusion.

    Hopefully that’s the end of all this “races don’t exist” nonsense. Seriously:
    Here we are, experiencing real race-based exclusion everyday, and some people claim “race doesn’t exist, it’s fake.” Stop it.

    — No, you stop it. starts from the fundamental standpoint that “Race” is a social construct, not a biological one, as what counted as a “Race” changes with time and politics (remember, the Irish were once a separate “Race” to the English less than a century ago). Using the science to find natural, inherent differences between people and then grouping them into historically- and politically-influenced “Racial” categories has been a deductive, not inductive process — one starting from theory and working downward to agenda-setting for data collection.

    Spickard (in Root ed., Racially Mixed People in the United States, 1990: 18) argues convincingly that an objective criteria for a biological classification system of race does not exist, citing scholarship comparing official racial classifications in the American, British, South African, and Brazilian nation-states, and illustrating that they are all different in terminology and scope — adjusted because the “sociopolitical landscape [in each country] demanded different divisions”. Thus the stronger argument is that race is more about social science than physical science; as J.C. King (The Biology of Race, 1981), himself a geneticist, aptly notes:

    “Both what constitutes a race and how one recognizes a racial difference are culturally determined. Whether two individuals regard themselves as of the same or of different races depends not on the degree of similarity of their genetic material but on whether history, tradition, and personal training and experiences have brought them to regard themselves as belonging to the same groups or to different groups… there are no objective boundaries to set off one subspecies from another.” (156-7, quoted in Spickard (16))

    Try reading more than just Wikipedia, Anonymous. And kindly be more concise in future postings.

  • Anonymous says:

    If “Race” were a social construct, not a biological one, how did the Onsen exclude based on your biological difference?
    Were they excluding you based on your language, or your culture? No, they were excluding you based on your race.
    How can you claim that you have been excluded based on your biological race, while claiming that race doesn’t exist?
    If biological races doesn’t exist then logically how can we campaign for a law penalizing racial discrimination 人種主義?
    If races aren’t physically different (?) this means we’re fighting “discrimination-which-is-based-on-non-physical-aspects” (?)

    How did Stanford scientists determine in a double-blind with 99.86% accuracy what race people were using DNA markers?
    The deductive theory of “races don’t exist” was a good-hearted egalitarian theory proven untrue by the Human Genome Project.
    Why is it that geneticists can look at your DNA, without even looking at you, and can tell your race with 99.86% accuracy?
    Geneticists aren’t looking at social construct, they are looking at quantifiable differences between DNA mutation markers.
    The Red-Headed-Green-Eyed-Celtic DNA which the Blond-Blue-Eyed-Anglo-Saxon DNA pushed into Ireland remains different DNA.
    Anglo-Saxons, Celts, Italians, these are all different biological DNA races which you can choose to REGARD as one “white” race.

    Correcting J.C.King, “Two individuals can mentally choose to REGARD themselves as being of the same race, if their history, tradition, and personal training and experiences have brought them to regard themselves as belonging to the same race, this good-hearted egalitarian positive-social-construct of unity is totally possible (i.e. the high-Yayoi% Japanese found in Southern Japan and the high-Jomon% Japanese found in Northern Japan currently REGARD themselves as one united race, that’s a positive social-construct existing in Japan right now, and hopefully someday this mentally-united group of Japanese might decide in the future to be kind enough to mentally allow the Ainu race and the Ryuuku race to be socially REGARDED as part of the Japanese race) but the fact remains that UNTIL everyone in Japan starts having sufficient inter-racial marriages and creating sufficient inter-racial children, there remains obvious physical objective genetic markers differentiating the racial groups of Japan.”

    Someday, when Japanese people mix enough with Ainu people and Ryukuan people, eventually geneticists will be able to honestly say “we can no longer find any DNA difference between the populations of Japan.”

    Someday, when Japanese people mix enough with Korean people and Chinese people, eventually geneticists will be able to honestly say “we can no longer find any DNA difference between the populations of Japan/Korea/China.”

    The Onsen used their eyes to find the biological difference you carry, and if that still seems like a social construct to you, if you still think you were excluded for non-biological reasons, that Onsen could now have the Stanford geneticists wearing blind-folds find the biological difference simply by checking your DNA.

    The biological difference between the mutations you inherited from your ancestors are biologically different from the mutations Japanese people inherited from their ancestors.

    Can’t we all just admit that we hate the fact that biological differences currently exist? Claiming they don’t exist is sadly untrue.
    When the Stanford geneticists’ ability to tell race based on a DNA sample becomes lower than random, our dream will be a reality.

    Bottom line: I think Debito, that you are implying that I am somehow REDUCING the chance of realization of our shared dream of “no more biological differentiation existing” by the mere fact that I am honestly stating the obvious truth that “currently, biological differentiation exists.”

    — I will admit (in fact I’ve said all along) that PROCESSES of biological differentiation exist, constructed by people in society based upon their perceptions influenced by history and society. We were refused in Otaru because we were allegedly “different”, and that difference was explained away by a convenient biological marker put down to “Race”.

    My bottom line: “Race” is not an objective hard-science construct and never will be. And the fact that you have the temerity to correct a geneticist (what are your credentials to do so?) with pedantia demonstrates that you’re unwilling to open your mind beyond the ideological prison that is “Race”, and understand historically how we got into this mess in the first place. And how, by not problematizing the very terms of debate, you are perpetuating it. Enough. Agree to disagree.

    And this is the last time I’ll ask for concision. Next time you give us another novella on this issue, I’m not going to approve it.


    “researchers need to understand how today’s racial categories evolved from the negative assumptions made hundreds of years ago to justify slavery. ”

    Race is a social and historical construct.

    While it is obviously true that darker skinned people, as one example, have some genetic information in common (the genes that express proteins that result in dark skin, they have many differences as well.

    Just as we do not socially create a race of people by blood type, we ought not to create race by external (mainly facial) features.

    Yamato Japanese (like any group that discourages exogamy) do have greater genetic similarities than would be true had they randomly mated with anyone in the world over the last several millenia.

    Yet that small degree of greater similarity is not sufficient to create a “race” given that an individual Yamato J may be more genetically close to an individual South Korean.

    By the standards of genetics — — we are all a single African human race.

    And, moreover, the greatest level of genetic variation exists in Africa, which itself has far greater genetic variability amongst humans than do Yamato J.

    Yet no one refers to there being 50+ racial groups in Africa.

    And why?

    Because race is a social and historical construct, and not a biological category.


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