Japan now a place to avoid for international labor migration? NHK: Even Burmese refugees refusing GOJ invitations, electing to stay in Thai refugee camp!


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Hi Blog.  In this time of unprecedented migration of labor across borders (click to see some international labor migration stats from the ILO and the OECD), I think increasingly one can make a strong case that Japan is being seen as a place to avoid.  As I will be mentioning in my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column (out January 1, 2013), as part of my annual countdown of the Top Ten most influential human rights issues in 2012 affecting NJ in Japan, Japan’s “revolving-door” visa regimes (which suck the most productive work years out of NJ while giving them fewer (or no) labor law protections, and no stake in Japanese society — see here and here), people who are even guaranteed a slot in Japan’s most difficult visa status — refugees (see also here) — are turning the GOJ down!  They’d rather stay in a Thai refugee camp than emigrate to Japan.  And for reasons that are based upon word-of-mouth.

That’s what I mean — word is getting around, and no amount of faffing about with meetings on “let’s figure out how We Japanese should ‘co-exist’ with foreigners” at the Cabinet level is going to quickly undo that reputation.

Immediately below is the article I’m referring to.  Below that I offer a tangent, as to why Burmese in particular get such a sweetheart deal of guaranteed GOJ refugee slots.  According to media, “From 1982 to 2004, Japan accepted only 313 refugees, less than 10 per cent of those who applied. Even after its rules were slightly liberalized in 2004, it allowed only 46 refugees in the following year. Last year it accepted only 34 of the 954 applicants.  Those numbers are tiny in comparison with Canada, which accepted more than 42,000 refugees last year, despite having a much smaller population than Japan.  But they are also tiny in comparison to European countries such as France and Italy. On a per capita basis, Japan’s rate of accepting refugees is 139th in the world, according to the United Nations.”  This means that Burmese make up between a third to a half of all refugees accepted!  Why?  As a holiday tangent, consider the elite-level intrigue of a wartime connection between the Japanese Imperial Army and SLORC…  Arudou Debito


Japan to receive no Myanmar refugee this year
via NHK
Published on Wednesday, 26 September 2012

All 16 people on a list of Myanmar refugees preparing to enter Japan have dropped out of the program. They have decided to remain in a camp in northwestern Thailand.

The 16, from 3 families, said they were worried about life in Japan. They had already quit studying Japanese language and culture.

The Japanese government started the program 2 years ago to help refugees who escaped from conflicts and persecutions in their home countries.

45 people from 9 families have used the program to move to Japan.

One of those leaving the program this year said he wanted his children to study technology in Japan, but was concerned that he had no support network in the country.

He had planned to move to Japan with his wife and 4 children.

Myanmar’s democratization has convinced some refugees to return home.

The Japanese government says it plans to continue the program next year.


Now for the political intrigue:


JPRI Working Paper No. 60: September 1999
Japan’s “Burma Lovers” and the Military Regime (excerpt)
by Donald M. Seekins

Japanese people often claim that their nation has a “special relationship” with Burma. Most older Japanese think of Michio Takeyama’s novel Biruma no tategoto (translated by Howard Hibbett as Harp of Burma), the story of Private Mizushima, a good-hearted soldier who is separated from his comrades and dons the robes of a Buddhist monk. When his unit is repatriated to Japan after the war, he refuses to go with them, staying behind to take care of the remains of the Japanese war-dead. As many as 190,000 Japanese soldiers died in Burma in 1941-1945, and groups of veterans regularly visit the country to relive old memories and pray at the graves of fallen comrades.[…]

The most important legacy of the Japanese occupation was the establishment of a powerful national army, Tatmadaw in Burmese, which grew out of the BIA and was largely modeled on Japanese rather than British lines. Many of its officers studied at Japanese military academies during the war. Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, a leading member of the military junta that has ruled Burma since September 1988, commented in November 1988, “We shall never forget the important role played by Japan in our struggle for national independence” and “We will remember that our Tatmadaw [army] was born in Japan.”1 Ethnic minorities like the Karens and Shans who have experienced the Tatmadaw’s counterinsurgency campaigns in the border areas claim that its brutal behavior was inspired by the Imperial Japanese Army.[…]

Postwar Economic Ties

Postwar relations between Japan and Burma were primarily economic in nature. Official ties began in 1954, after Tokyo and the U Nu government signed a peace treaty and a war reparations agreement, which brought the struggling young state some US$250 million in Japanese goods and services, supplemented by “quasi-reparations” amounting to US$132 million between 1965 and 1972. Tokyo allocated these additional “quasi-reparations” (jun baisho) on the grounds that the original funds were insufficient compared to those given other Asian countries.

During this period, many Japanese who went to Burma as diplomats or technical advisers fell in love with the country. Back home, they were called biru-kichi (Biruma-kichigai, “crazy about Burma”), a remarkable attitude given the condescension with which most Japanese officials regarded their poor Asian neighbors. Japanese were impressed by the professionalism and honesty of Burma’s civil servants, who used reparation funds conscientiously, in contrast to some other recipient governments.

Many Japanese also identified with the country because of shared Buddhist values, although the schools of Buddhism (Theravada in Burma, Mahayana in Japan) are different. Their social ethics are similar, however, stressing respect for elders and educated people, strong family ties, and a sense of mutual obligation. But while Japan had rapidly modernized and is losing many of these traditional values, Burma seemed to have preserved them uncorrupted by modernity.

According to the well-known business guru Ken’ichi Ohmae, who visited Burma in 1997 with a Japanese business delegation and was a quick convert to the biru-kichi mindset, “Even I, with much contact with many Asian countries, have seen no other country in Asia whose morality is so firmly grounded in Buddhism.”2 Ohmae compares Burma favorably with China where allegedly “they do everything for money.” Burma also evokes his nostalgia for Japan’s rural past: “Seeing the lives of the people in Myanmar [Burma], I remembered Japan in previous years. I was raised in the countryside in Kyushu, where children always walked around barefoot, the lights were not electric, and the bathrooms had no running water. The current Myanmar mirrors these memories of farming villages in Japan.” While biru-kichi is a refreshing alternative to the insular Japan-is-unique worldview, it is not unmixed with other motives, as the title of Ohmae’s November 26, 1997, article in Sapio (magazine) suggests: “Cheap and Hardworking Laborers: This country Will Be Asia’s Best.” […]

Many inside Japan’s business world–and their supporters in academia and the media–seem to share a common goal with the junta: discrediting Aung San’s daughter. Given her central role in the struggle for democracy, it is not an exaggeration to say that if she could be marginalized and lost the support of the international community, big corporations in Japan and elsewhere would find it easy to get their governments to snuggle closer to the junta. Without Suu Kyi, full economic engagement and recognition would surely follow swiftly.

Kazushige Kaneko, director of an obscure Institute of Asian Ethnoforms and Culture in Tokyo, repeats the junta’s racist charges that Aung San Suu Kyi sold out her country by marrying a foreigner, the late Oxford professor Dr. Michael Aris. He writes, “For example, if Makiko Tanaka [the daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and today a member of the Diet] stayed in America for thirty years and returned with a blue-eyed American husband and children, do you think we Japanese would make her our prime minister?” (The Asia 21 Magazine, Fall 1996).

Nor is the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi confined to fringe figures. In an April 1995 article published in Bungei Shunju, Yusuke Fukada claims that Burmese are sending out a “love call” (rabu kooru) to Japan for economic assistance and that Suu Kyi is the only real obstacle to better relations. The reason she is so uncompromising with the military regime, Fukada argues, is her marriage to an Englishman. “If she had married a Japanese, she would have made quite different decisions.” In the June 1996 issue of Shokun, Keio University Professor Atsushi Kusano expresses amazement that Suu Kyi has become a figure of international stature, attributing it to a campaign by the mass media.8 […]

Two factors seem to account for Japan’s ambiguous Burma policy. One is the strength of its business interests, counterbalanced by pressure from Japan’s Western trading partners who take a less indulgent stance toward the junta. Some observers cynically suggest that Western governments, especially Washington, act as Tokyo’s “superego” on human rights, inhibiting it from pursuing its usual economics-first policies. But Liberal Democratic Party cabinets cannot ignore business interests, which have been stepping up pressure for full engagement since 1989, using means both fair and foul. The best of both worlds for policymakers in Japan would be a transition to civilian rule, either involving Aung San Suu Kyi or someone else. This could legitimize more active aid policies as well as greater investment by Japanese companies. But given the political situation, this is unlikely to happen soon.

Second, if Tokyo strongly supported the democracy movement in Burma, this would inevitably reflect on its policies toward other countries such as China and Indonesia, where the stakes for Japan are much higher. Some Americans have criticized their own government’s inconsistency on this matter: the Clinton Administration maintains sanctions on little-known Burma but maintains full economic engagement with the regime in Beijing.

Japanese elites are not used to and do not like open debate, especially on foreign policy. Some members of the Diet are interested in Burma, both pro- and anti-junta, but the issues are rarely discussed, even the junta’s misuse of debt relief funds for the procurement of weapons. Bureaucrats and LDP bigwigs keep policy initiatives to themselves, which means that their actions often appear incomprehensible or arbitrary to outsiders, including Japanese citizens. The flap over so-called humanitarian aid for Rangoon’s airport is an example of this. In a way, Tokyo’s Burma policy, deeply influenced by the sentimental Orientalism of the business world and its allies, says as much about the limitations of Japanese-style democracy as it does about the lack of democracy in Burma.

Full article at http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp60.html


61 comments on “Japan now a place to avoid for international labor migration? NHK: Even Burmese refugees refusing GOJ invitations, electing to stay in Thai refugee camp!

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  • Norcal_Steve says:

    Very interesting question and interesting jpri paper. One small correction – SLORC is the Junta who took power about 1988 in a coup. These generals graduated from officer training school in the 50’s. Hence “the elite-level intrigue of a wartime connection between the Japanese Imperial Army and SLORC” is a gross misnomer –
    the current army guys who are slorc were in short pants during the war years. There is some institutional connection with the Burmese army (which is still the countries only really solid institution at all) and it would be really interesting to understand what if any interpersonal elite J-B connections going on but it does not sound like you have anything at all solid there, and the full extent of the causes of such close ties or ‘friendliness’.

    I spent some weeks in Burma over multiple visits in the 80’s and found positive nostalgia by some Burmese and Burmo-Indians about the Japanese occupation. They were used to being colonized by the racist Brits and the Japanese having kicked out the Brits helped their independence movement after the war. We received one random act of kindness from an anonymous older guy which *may* have had something to do with the wife being Japanese. We were in local dress in a noodle shop, and after our second bowl went up to pay only to be told ‘the gentleman who just left paid your bill’ (without a word to us!).

    The unique relationship is quite interesting. The whole Burma situation is fascinating for SLORC having voluntarily given up a significant minority slice of it’s repressive monopoly on power after change of the top leader, and also the international business investment flood coming in, other countries displacing China rather surprisingly, Chinese huge hydro-power dam project worth billions being abruptly shelved, etc. I’m just saying that nobody of the SLORC leadership per se was even in high school during the war, just fwiw.

    — Obviously. I’m referring to the daisy chain of history and institutional memory.

  • Norcal_Steve says:

    OK, but that’s not what SLORC means and I think you are looking for quite specific inter-personal connections are you not? If not, never mind. I’m calling on you to be more precise because most readers I doubt will know exactly who and what SLORC refers to and I’m a stickler for precision. I’m up for a bit of intellectual sparring to help keep the tools sharp but certainly will try to avoid ego battles (too easy for most of us to fall into and not constructive).

  • You mean there’s better places to go than Japan, where your kids can actually achieve their potential?? All sarcasm aside, I’m sure it was a hard decision for a Myanmar refugee to turn down Japan, so I give them credit for doing so. They might be able to escape their current situation by coming here, but then what? Be confined to some factory labor, and have their kids be condemned to live on the lowest rung of society regardless of how smart or hard they worked?

    I got news for anybody who thinks they can succeed in Japan: the Yamato super-race is dying, and they’re taking everybody down with them. If they can’t prosper, there’s no way they’re gonna let some refugee prosper here. You know what「足引っ張る」means? It means to prevent someone from succeeding, and it’s a wide-spread cultural practice in Japan. That’s why it’s taboo for a student to be more knowledgeable than his teacher, or a worker to be more competent than his boss. Or a Myanmar refugee to be more successful than a Japanese. Most developed countries are lands of opportunity. Japan is the land of dis-opportunity.

  • Where to start?

    As for the first article, brilliant endorsement of Japan as a modern country; a refugee camp in a developing nation is preferable to Japan! LOL! Maybe I should be looking for a position in the refugee camp!

    As for the Seekins paper, a very good analysis of the relationship between some Japanese and Burma, and he is rightly cynical of it too!
    Seriously, read this again;
    ‘children always walked around barefoot, the lights were not electric, and the bathrooms had no running water.’, says ‘business guru’ Ohmae. Well, relish the nostalgia while you can, because the way you guys are running Japanese business, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to live the experience for real! Honestly, does this fool really think that living in poverty is so great? What happens when there is a draught, or your kids get sick and the nearest hospital with a doctor trained in a G20 country with modern medicines is 100Km away? It’s easy to get nostalgic when you can fly back to Tokyo and your hostess clubs, isn’t it? Maybe he should try asking the remote village population of Burma to change places with him. Maybe they would prefer the refugee camps…

    This is all just another facet of nostalgia for imperial era Japan, when they could throw thier weight around and live like kings in Asia, treating the locals like dogs or worse; and that’s what’s really being pined for in the whole nostalgia narrative; authority and power over others. It’s interesting that the Burmese ‘Junta’ (seriously, since when did anyone start praising Juntas?) prefers the imagined Japanese post-war Japanese colonialism to the remembered British colonialism, since the Japanese lost and were thrown out. Given the way the Japanese behaved in China, and the way they treated POWs, maybe if they had won the war, there wouldn’t even be a Burmese population left to speak of by now.

    Obstacle to Japanese business in Burma is the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi married an Englishman?! Of course, if she had married a nice Japanese man (and why the hell would she? Even Japanese women are choosing to stay single rather than marry a Japanese man), she would have been slapped back into the kitchen and forced to give up her hopes of a career, that would have taught her, I bet!

    As for ‘Harp of Burma’, having read the original Japanese and the UN endorsed English language version side by side, I can tell you that the Japanese version is full of tidbits like ‘we took food from the villagers’, that becomes ‘we received food from the villagers’ in translation, avoiding ambiguity that implies Japanese criminal behavior.

    The Indians had it right, submit to British leadership in the fight against Japanese subjugation, and you will be free. Churchill was as good as his word. The Indians knew that to support the Japanese regime was to replace the British with a by far more brutal overlord. Of course, since the Burmese Junta is in the business of brutal oppression, they wouldn’t be able to see it that way. And since I brought it up, may I also say that it is a disgrace that British Indian Army veterans (including several VC winners) do not even receive an Indian state pension, whilst monuments to the Indian National Army (deserters who fought for the Japanese) have been erected all over India.

  • “足引っ張る」means? It means to prevent someone from succeeding”

    something I always suspected was out there, didnt know there was a word for it 🙂

    “The Indians had it right, submit to British leadership in the fight against Japanese subjugation, and you will be free.”

    Actually Jim,many Indians fought for the Japanese, the INA, after becoming POWs, then cut a deal with the Imperial Army who used them to fight against the British. The INA latter felt betrayed as the Japanese would not treat them as equals. It is my understanding that the INA is what helped form modern India and gain its independance from the British, thus all the monuments in India. I think many independant SE Asian countries now feel that Britian was the lesser of two evils, and Japan was incapable of offering something better than the English. The British couldnt defend Singapore from the “liberators” and while many Singaporeans might look back at that time with nostalgia, I think they felt betrayed by the racism and self interest of the Anglo Saxon masters. Some have suggested that the Japanese were only copying the British, but I disagree. The Japanese. as Lee Quan Yew stated, got the results they wanted by brutal discipline, democracy wasnt part of the deal.

    — Can you give us a source and the exact quote for Lee Kuan Yew on this, please?

  • India has a strong, friendly relationship with Japan. As for Indian immigration to Japan, that is a reality that cannot be denied. In Tokyo, the largest Indian community in Japan exists in Nishi-Kasai. Many of the Indian immigrants are skilled labor, with IT and engineering experience. This differentiates them from say, the Burmese in refugee camps. There are more than a few skilled Burmese residents in Japan. Not all Burmese immigrants come from refugee camps.

    Since Indian independence has been brought up, it is interesting to note that the Indians see the British Indian Army veterans as collaborators with the oppressor. They are similar to the Loyalist Militia in America who fought for the crown against the American Revolution. After the war, of course the collaborators are not seen as being Patriots to their nation. The Indian National Army fought for independence and freedom from British rule, just as the Continental Army rose up to fight against the same foe. Both suffered serious setbacks on the battlefield, but both were instrumental in pushing off the yoke of British imperialism eventually.

    The French aided the Americans in their armed struggle against the British, and the Japanese aided the Indians. Interesting to note that the relationship between Japan and India is far more friendly than the one between France and the USA.

  • @JDG #4

    Interesting comment, especially the last part about the Indian choosing the Brits over the Japanese, and how that was the right choice. I agree with you completely and history has shown that they indeed made the right choice. As millions of Chinese, Malays, Indonesians, Filipinos, Burmese and others found out to their immense regret the “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” was a raw deal for everyone but the Japanese overlords. Now, it seems that immigrants from one country that once formed part of this fabled Co-Prosperity Sphere are making the same choice that the Indians made: Their present situation might not be great, but whatever Japan offers them is surely worse. One must applaud their clarity of judgement, because you can only imagine what future would await those with Burmese faces in Japan, especially as the Japanese economy continues to head south and the country becomes more xenophobic and racist.

    Getting back to your point about the war and the nostalgia that guys like Ishihara feel for pre-war and wartime Japan, along with their ill-concealed hatred for the West, it’s worth pointing one thing out: What really lies at the bottom of their hatred for the West (focusing, of course, on the United States), is their deep but unconscious realization that the Japanese, had they prevailed, would have treated everyone in the countries they conquered exactly like they treated the women they forced into prostitution in places like Korea, the men they enslaved to work on the Death Railway in Thailand, or the prisoners they forced to march in places like Bataan and Borneo.

    In fact, what really fans the flames of their hatred is the fact that the Americans DIDN”T treat them that way when they occupied Japan. In a word, the Americans shamed them with their kindness. Sure, there were rapes and other despicable acts, but, these were isolated incidents. And, instead of enslaving the country and extracting all its resources and committing systematic rape, torture and murder, they set up schools, gave out food and engaged in massive land redistribution.

    Guys like Ishihara are old enough to have seen this with their own eyes. And this, more than any crime committed by the Yanks, is what makes him hate them so. Ishihara would have far less trouble with the Americans if they had only behaved like the Japanese would have done if the shoe were on the other foot – for they would have been speaking a language he could understand.

    Nothing is more galling than the realization that your sworn enemy is not only stronger, but far more virtuous than you.

  • FWIW, Japanese martial arts organisations have been sending instructors to train “selected persons” for years. Do a search on the Aikikai (the main organisation for aikido in Japan) and Myanmar. In the words of a senior Aikikai instructor (Hiroshi Isoyama) they train them in “the Japanese spirit”. I wonder what that means?
    check this out:

    As for refugees refusing to come to Japan, well, who can blame them? It makes me wonder about the caliber of people currently coming to Japan, TBH.

  • @ Mike #5

    ‘Actually Jim,many Indians fought for the Japanese’

    What, you mean the massive number of 40,000 who volunteered from the Singapore POW camps to join the INA, of which the Japanese armed only 18,000, who went on to be complicit in Japanese war crimes? Well, I agree that 18,000 may seem like ‘many’ until you realize that at the outbreak of the war, the British Indian Army numbered over 200,000 men, almost half of which lost their lives to protect India from Japanese subjugation, with 30 winning the VC.

    Which is largely irrelevant to the discussion, and such detail as I had hoped to avoid for the sake of brevity, since my point was that having avoided any (in Burma’s case; lengthy) subjugation by the IJA (unlike China and Korea), the post-war Burmese and Indian nationalists have the luxury of demonizing British colonial rule whilst being able to indulge the fantasy that the Japanese were always their ‘asian brothers’ who would have set them free, and lived together with them in peace as respected equals and partners, without mass-murder, rape, forced sexual slavery, chemical and biological weapons testing, forced labor, and vivisection, right? The shame of this fantasy is that it plays right into the hands of Japanese revisionists, and those Japanese that have been denied (and are in denial of) the truth regarding Japans wartime behavior.

    ‘Some have suggested that the Japanese were only copying the British’.
    At the Japanese national university that I graduated from, this was taught as a fact, and I remember one English speaking Japanese student presenting me with this information in the uni canteen without any prelude, to the effect of ‘it’s your fault, you did it first’! How do you come back from that? It’s the mentality of a child, but it is the way in which the Japanese rationalize that they are the victims of trying to defend themselves from us, rather than taking responsibility for what they did. If you are Japanese, it seems that two wrongs do indeed make a right.

  • @ Eric C #7

    Again, your excellent analysis is ahead of the curve.
    Having spent most of ’44 and ’45 projecting their own evils of rape and murder (see anywhere in Japanese occupied asia) onto the advancing US forces, not only must it have been galling to realize that the enemy was more humane, but also the humiliation of knowing that your own people have now seen through your lies! No allied mass murders, rapes, organized forced sexual slavery or manual labor until death etc, in Japan. Conveniently, the revisionists and apologists have been able (with the help of former Kempeitai who went off to form the post-war board of education) to whitewash Japanese atrocities to the point where leading figures can public doubt they even happened without public back-lash, but also, with a veritable dearth of US anti-Japanese atrocities, turned Hiroshima (Nagasaki? barely worth a mention, right?) into Japans ‘Victim Trump Card’, that has the power to silence any non-revisionist voice of history as racist!

  • @#9
    “‘it’s your fault, you did it first’! How do you come back from that? It’s the mentality of a child,”

    Most expatriate Americans should be used to this by now. Practically every debate winds up being “But America…” or “In America…” as if you can rationalize anything away by presenting how America does something/is worse/whatever. This sort of straw man argument, if you could call it that, is way too common here, as if Japan is absolved from any responsibility by showing how America is worse in some manner. I can only imagine how non-Americans (especially Europeans) feel when this is brought up constantly.

  • @ Debito,

    I believe the quote was from “conversations with Lee Quan Yew” by Tom Plate.
    not an exact quote, but basically its what he said. Its difficult to guage how Lee feels about Japan; on one hand it seems he used his experience under their rule to shape his views on nation building, on the other hand it seems he doesnt trust Japan and if given the right situation, they might return to making war.

    As far as the Indian/Japan relationship, if you read about the INA and their latter relationship with Japan, there wasnt much trust in the end between the two. The INA felt betrayed, but felt Japan was an ends to an end to winning indendence. Many of the Indians I have worked with in Japan dont have a favorable image of Japan after working here. I think Eric C is spot on; every country with the exception of perhaps Tawain, felt the greater co prosperity sphere was nothing but a manipulation scheme to benefit Japan at those countries expense.

  • “racist Brits in Burma”- oh the irony. Burma post Aung Sang’s assassination has been marked by racism again Eurasians and other minorities.
    From Wikipedia:
    . The British left protectional clauses in the Constitution and the legislative makeup of independent Burma to take account of the Anglo-Burman people …… Aung San, prior to his death, had addressed the Anglo-Burman Union to press the issue of acceptance and the fears the community had for their presence in independent Burma. His assurances went to help with the decision by most of the community to remain in Burma after British withdrawal.

    However, Aung San and his entire cabinet were assassinated prior to Independence and this sent a ripple effect through the entire country and among all ethnic minority groups, who Aung San had personally addressed to reassure them of their place in the new country.
    In 1962 General Ne Win overthrew U Nu’s government and established strict military rule. It soon became apparent that this new military government had other plans as a socialist, xenophobic and isolationist regime was born. At this time, many more Anglo-Burmans left due to discriminatory measures taken against minority groups, particularly those the military deemed as vestiges of colonial rule, specifically the Anglo-Burmese and the Karen. Anglo-Burmans already in the Armed Forces were dismissed and those who wanted to join were now barred.

    And in 2010, still going on; http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/eap/154380.htm

    Japanese business sectors praising the Junta should be ashamed of themselves. What does this say for Japanese democracy?

    And as for “prof” kaneko’s question “For example, if Makiko Tanaka [the daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and today a member of the Diet] stayed in America for thirty years and returned with a blue-eyed American husband and children, do you think we Japanese would make her our prime minister?” (The Asia 21 Magazine, Fall 1996).

    No I do not think you would. Because you are so racist. If India can accept Sonia Ghandhi, what gives Japan a free pass to be racist?

  • “..I can only imagine how non-Americans (especially Europeans) feel when this is brought up constantly..”

    Fed-up, in a word!

    So I then take great pleasure in making very explicit references to the J person I am talking to as being Chinese. Either “they” get it, or they don’t. Those that do, suddenly feel a bit sheepish and realise the faux pas and attempt to apologise..those that don’t, well..nothing will budge their point of view.

  • JDG: It’s sad indeed what passed for education in Japan. Sadder still is the fact that Japan is now backpedaling fast from the high-point of openness about its history (which was reached sometime in the early 90s) to a condtion of total denial and sanitization. Of course, I use the word “high-point” very loosely here: Japan never came close to accurately teaching its history to its children and most Japanese have absolutely no idea of what Japan did before and during WWII. Mention (in Japanese) such things as the slaughter in Singapore or the propaganda concept of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere and you’ll get blank looks. The extent of the achievement of the Mombusho and their allies is this: Most Japanese honestly feel like they were the victims in WWII. You want a brilliant example of this? Check out the beginning of Miyazaki’s anime “Hotaru no Haka”: It starts with a shot looking down from above the wing of a B-29 bomber about to drop its bombs on a Japanese city. There’s nothing before that. That’s where the movie starts. And the rest of the movie tells the story about a “kawaii so” child who suffers as the result of this horrible act. This perfectly encapsulates how most Japanese see the war and see themselves.

    Of course, one cannot expect anything more in Japan. As Debito pointed out in one of his JT columns, Japan is a place where dishonesty and deception are not merely accepted, but actually considered normal. Add this to an “education” system that focuses more on training than teaching and you get a population which not only accepts what it’s been told, but is quite unable to question it.

    As for why guys like Ishihara hate the Americans precisely because the Americans did not systematically rape, kill and torture the Japanese during the occupation, it’s necessary to consider the psychology behind this: If the Americans had acted like the Japanese did in the lands they conquered, it would not have forced the Japanese into an awkward moment of self-reflection. They would have been able to say, “Look, the Americans did just what we did!” Actually, that’s not what they would have said. They would continued to deny their own crimes and blown the American crimes out of proportion: “Those barbarous savages! Look what they did!” But, most importantly, they would not have had to reflect on their own behavior. It would have comforted to see the enemy acting like they knew they would have.

    But, the Americans did not behave barbarously. In fact, you could argue that the Japanese got a much better deal in the post-war world than did American citizens themselves. I mean, they wound up with a huge middle-class, a socialized medical system, a decent social safety net and a pretty functional meritocracy. Most of all, the Americans treated the Japanese as human beings and allowed them their freedom. This was much too much for guys like Ishihara because it forced on them the realization that the guys they had been calling bestial savages were actually far superior in terms of action and morality than the Japanese. An honest and well-adjusted society might just have been able to face this fact and grow from it – but that was never going to happen in a culture of such immaturity and deceit as Japan. No, the unspeakable realization of the moral superiority of the Americans was quickly sublimated and emerged a few years later as a seething and barely disguised hatred for the Americans and a renewed need to somehow prove the superiority of the Japanese. This finally reached written form in a book like “The Japan That Can Say No,” in which Ishihara boasted about the superiority of Japanese ways and lectured the Americans about their countless failings.

    Unfortunately, there’s no going back now. As far as most Japanese are concerned, Japan was the victim in WWII and the whole incident grew out of the nation’s noble effort to save Asia from Western colonization. The LDP, which just retook power, is the direct descendent of the guys who ran the show in the war. They’ll continue to run the economy into the ground in order to line their own pockets and they’ll be damned if they’ll ever own up to the unpleasant facts of WWII. Rather, they’ll continue to believe what their daddies told them about Japan’s virtuous actions in the war. The results, of course, will be an eventual conflict between Japan and one of the countries which suffered at its hands in WWII, most likely China. At that point, they’ll find themselves in an even more awkward position: they’ll be begging for those barbarous savages, the Americans, to step in and sort out the mess.

    We know what they say about people and nations who do not learn from history, but what do they say about nations that actively deny and sanitize history?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I was reading the Asahi Newspapers this morning. I was in a shock when I saw the story of work harassment practice by big 3 J corporations–i.e., Sharp, NEC, and Sony—on the top and page 2. They set up micro-aggressive scheme to lay off their employees–by sending them to glass-cock depot. Instead of giving out a pink slip, these companies deliberately transfer the employees to cleaning & disposable department– a.k.a. departure gate to leave workplace for good by working on new job searching during the office hours– by using such a phony name like human resource support. According to the survey by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are at least 4.65 million workers who are being hallowed out while still affiliated with their employees. Amazing how the Government of Japan manages to keep its national unemployment rate below 5%– and successfully keeps wily J-corporations from embarrassed with a skeleton in the closet. This means that the rate would be much higher—could be close to the US—if these employee refugees would be included in the study.

    So, yes, I think it is a wise choice for Burmese to move to other countries for their settlement. Creating glass houses, throwing tons of money to incapable, irresponsible, unethical big J-corporations throughout the years show that the Government of Japan and J-Inc are indeed representing themselves as a product of a fallen, sunken Japan Inc. And we will see more people bleed and suffer in 2013.

  • @ Mike

    Lee Qwan Yew narrowly escaped being included in a summary execution/massacre of Singaporeans by the Japanese; he recounted this himself.

    I do not think he likes Japan that much at all, as a result.

    During the occupation, Lee was asked by a Japanese guard to join a group of segregated Chinese men. Sensing that something was amiss, he asked for permission to go back home to collect his clothes first, and the Japanese guard agreed. It turned out that those who were segregated were taken to the beach to be shot as part of the Sook Ching massacre in Singapore.[11][20] wikipedia.

  • @JohnK#14
    That’s a great response! I have been so very fed up with the American thing that I’ve actually walked into a classroom and scrawled on the whiteboard “I am not American. Please don’t ask me about America, and I won’t ask you about China.” I’ve also been berated by many a Japanese for the supposed shortcomings of American foreign policy, as if it’s all my fault, even though I’ve never set foot in the place.

    In some way, I cannot blame them. If students’ experiences are anything to go by, many Japanese people are not aware that Japan is not the centre of the universe, and are quite shocked when they go overseas and discover that their country is regarded as an off-shoot of China (locals calling out “ni hao!”) more than anything else. They are also surprised to be lumped in with Koreans, probably because of the large numbers of groceries and restaurants that cater to both populations.

    It’s not that I have anything against Americans, it’s that I’m tired of the assumption (in Japan) that the only two countries that matter in the world are Japan and the USA.

    And yes, like you, it’s always a great moment for me when I see a friend’ or student’s face and think, “now he’s getting it!”

  • Here’s what I mean by Japan backtracking: http://news.yahoo.com/japan-pm-abe-wants-replace-landmark-war-apology-075321744.html

    So Abe wants to replace Japan’s apology to Asian nations (made in 1995) with an unspecified “forward-looking statement”?! What the heck does “forward-looking” mean? One thing I know is this: It means “ignoring and denying what actually happened in the past.”

    This is truly pathetic and unbelievable. I mean, in what other country would a politician even dream of retracting an apology made in the past? They’d be lynched. Imagine an Australian PM withdrawing, for instance, the apology issued by PM Kevin Rudd to the Aboriginal community of Australia. No, you can’t imagine it, right? Because it’s unthinkable. But, the prime minister of Japan is about to rescind an apology made to Asian nations, in which Japan caused immeasurable suffering. And, the truly mind-boggling thing is that Japan is still treated with deference by the nations and people of the world.

    Apart from the hideousness of this state of denial and the disrespect it implies for the victims of the Imperial Army, this is truly suicidal behavior on the part of Japan. Do they really, really want to get into a military confrontation with China?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Eric C #15

    I agree with you completely.
    I saw an elementary school English textbook 2 years ago (one of the New Crown series, IIRC) that had a chapter about Hiroshima that started along the lines of ‘It was a bright sunny day when the Americans dropped the worlds first atomic bomb on the peaceful city of Hiroshima’, with no context as to why the event had come to be.

    The point is that the Japanese have been so successful in revising the version of history that they teach themselves, that they genuinely believe that they are the victims and the aggrieved party in WW2, and many actually (like Blinky) speak as if they actually deserve to get some revenge on places like Korea and China! It’s absurd.

  • More and more people are voting with their feet when it comes to Japan.

    I suspect that the number of NJ will be down a 4th consecutive year when the figures come out in the next few months.

    Glad to be out.

  • Numbers are down on foreigners in Japan. This is undoubtable. However, if readers of this blog think that this applies to teachers of english in Japan, be warned. I wondered exactly how many native english speakers left Japan over the past few years. I was under the impression that it was a lot. Then I came across this:


    In particular there is this section:

    “With the collapse of large national eikaiwa chains such as Nova and Geos (in 2007 and 2010), the declining number of JETs, and the triple disasters of March 11, 2011, you would be forgiven for thinking there must be significantly less foreigners in Japan and, by extension, in the English teaching business.

    However, the reality is that despite huge shifts in the eikaiwa landscape, the number of English-speaking foreigners in Japan has not fluctuated drastically.

    Thus, English instructors in Japan today are far from being the rare, highly sought-after commodity they seemed to be in the ’80s and ’90s, which has resulted in salaries remaining low and showing no signs of improving.

    “In actuality, only a small number of language teachers have fled Japan,” Carlet says. “The bankruptcies and declining JET numbers have instead only increased the number of teachers needing work.”

    According to figures released by the Ministry of Justice (www.moj.go.jp/content/000094842.pdf), the number of foreign residents in Japan in 2011, excluding short-term tourists, dropped by a not insignificant 2.6 percent from the previous year.

    This compares to a drop of 2.4 percent registered in 2010, following a smaller fall a year earlier, which would seem to indicate that a general downward trend that began in 2009 is continuing and possibly picking up pace in the wake of the March 11, 2011, disasters.

    That said, the biggest proportional decrease in 2011 was not seen among native English-speaking nationals but Brazilians, who accounted for more than a third of the total drop.

    On the other hand, Japanese government statistics (www.stats-japan.com/t/kiji/11634) show that the number of Americans living in Japan has remained almost constant since at least 1991.

    “It seems safe to assume that the figures are comparable for other English-speaking and/or teaching groups,” Horowitz says. “This fairly constant supply, along with the decreased interest in the world outside Japan on the part of younger people and the decline of English’s status, could mean there is little upward pressure on salaries.”

    So, it seems there is no large scale exodus of native English speakers (yet). However virtually everyone else is getting out en masse.

    Of course, Japanese officialdom skewing stats is not unheard of (ahem), so perhaps these can be parsed differently?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ DeBourca #22

    Interesting post.
    I was thinking that the number of native English speakers would continue to drop, and then reach a plateau when all that remains are those with Japanese families (who will tough it out for as long as they can, or apologize), supplemented by those college grads who have a plan from the start to come for a couple of years and then go home. I think that is what we will see. A small body of long-term NJ native English speakers who have attempted to put down roots, and a larger number of revolving door eikaiwa teachers, almost none of which will put down roots or return.

  • #15 Eric C – Put simply, the emperor is the problem. Think about it – No serious discussion about the emperor ever takes place in Japan. It is the elephant in the room that no one talks about. If a discussion about who was to blame for a certain action during WW2 started, it would certainly end when the discussion inevitably led to “did the emperor know…”. Ever since the war, Japan has been like a stuck machine – it runs, but it can’t shift gears, and move forward. Imagine if, in your native country, you knew that talking about the king/queen might get you killed. That would certainly stifle discussion, debate. Japan has been in this funk for over 60 years. It keeps searching for solutions, and the only apparent solution is to make Japan the victim, and re-write textbooks. But the various facts still don’t add up:
    1. If japan attacked every country it could reach, how can it be the victim?
    2. What made the U.S. drop two nukes on Japan? rice-envy?
    3. If Tojo, et al were loyal soldiers, and never disobeyed the emperor, why were so many convicted as war criminals, and hung, while he was not? The emperor denied knowledge of atrocities, so this implies that they acted w/o his participation. But they are honored in Yasukuni shrine as war heroes… and the list goes on… it is enough to make a computer program freeze up, or a nation to become like Japan is today… I know, lets rewrite history books!

    #18 Becky – The only country that matters to Japan IS the USA. Japan’s conqueror, defender, major trade partner… Japan is particularly conflicted – It needs the USA, but it does not respect it. I can see how it would bother a non-American – but most Japanese people [seem to be able to live with the contradiction].

  • @Jim De Griz: I”d be inclined to agree with you. It does seem interesting though that so many English speakers are apparently prepared to tough it out compared to Burmese refugees and pretty much anyone else.
    One other thing about the stats for Americans in Japan. Do these include military personnel? If so, this could account for the consistent numbers staying in Japan.Does anyone know?

    — I do. These numbers only account for registered NJ (gaikokujin tourokusha). US military under SOFA are not registered in Japan as foreigners, so they are not counted.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Dude #24

    I am still laughing at the concept of ‘rice-envy’.

    I think that your theory about the emperor is a good one.
    I would like to suggest taking the theory just one step further, if I may.

    I agree with all the comments in your post #24 about the emperors culpability for Japans wartime bad behavior.

    Let’s ponder this thought though; wouldn’t everything be a lot more simple if the emperor gave a nice, direct, no non-sense apology for the war, and told the uyoku where to get off, and then reminded people like Prime Minister ‘Sick-note’ and Former Mayor of Tokyo ‘Blinky’ where nationalist agitation got the whole country the last time? Japan could certainly make a lot of progress if he did, couldn’t it? What would the uyoku do if the emperor (of all people!!!) told them to stop ruining Japan’s international image by embarassing the country in front of tourists and ruining the peace and quiet of Sunday mornings like a bunch of selfish children? How do you think the people would react if he told Blinky and Sick-Note to shut their gaping cake-holes and get on with real politics?

    It would change the political landscape of Japan. So we have to consider why that hasn’t happened. their are only two possibilities;
    1. The emperor also secretly harbors right-wing nationalist feelings, and is unrepentant for the war. Perhaps the imperial family still clings to the dream of being masters of asia? OR….
    2. The emperor has no control over any of his public actions what-so-ever (my money’s on this). Last year the emperor made a news years speech in which he criticized nuclear power. If you watched live, you could have seen it, but every re-run shown on news after that cut-away back to the studio for the announcers lip-flapping and left the image of the emperor speaking in mute behind him. I strongly suspect that that was an example of the emperor going ‘off-message’ and that the kunaicho (Imperial Household Agency) were very angry with him afterwards.

    I remember reading various articles over the years in which former close friends of Masako sama claimed that the kunaicho denied her access to a land-line, a cell phone, and e-mail. No contact could be made with her directly, and it was procedure to request an appointment via the kunaicho (all of which were turned down by the same). It is not impossible to believe that the emperor is subject to the same level of control, and indeed that the kunaicho control any impulse he may have to speak out against right wingers by exploiting the constitution (which states in part that the emperor shall play no role in politics; I would bet this is one part of the constitution Sick-Note doesn’t care to change).

    Since the imperial family and the various government ministries are effectively dictated to by civil servants, it is clear that it is them that benefit from Sick-Note and Blinky’s ‘Tojo’ routine, and preventing the emperor (should he wish to do so) from intervening.

    It is ironic that the emperor is held in such high esteem that any critical analysis of him is taboo, whilst at the same time he is merely a ‘pet’ of the kunaicho, who clearly do not hold him in any esteem at all, but conversely employ his silence in the face of buffoon politicians as the endorsement of their authority.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ DeBourca #25

    Yes, beats me why so many still want to ‘tough it out’. Maybe if some more of them went back into the world (as I will) and told people how totally uninspiring and facile Japan’s ‘internationalization’ is, there would be fewer of the short-termers too.
    Let’s have some fun making predictions, shall we?
    I never like to make assumptions, but if we take it as read that Sick-Note and Blinky don’t provoke China into blowing Japan all the way to Mars first, what can we expect? (Please feel free to rate the following).
    1. Increased J-police harassment towards NJ (ID card stops, driving whilst NJ, detention).
    2. Increasing exclusion from the protection of J-law for NJ, leading to more cases of verbal and physical aggression by those who know that the NJ cannot defend themselves.
    3. Got kids? Well, how about ‘haafu’ being excluded from the same protection of law as their NJ parents will come to enjoy? Leading to even more discrimination in education and employment opportunities.
    4. Haafu? No vote for you!
    5. Un-scheduled workplace visits by the J-police to make sure that NJ are not on a visa scam. Leading to more employers thinking that employing NJ is ‘meiwaku’, so they become more ‘mendokusai’ towards NJ.
    6. Ghettos. Places where NJ are allowed to live, and places where they are not, in an officially sanctioned and enforced manner.
    7. Curfew for NJ.
    8. Not all NJ are visibly identifiable as NJ, so perhaps some kind of arm band, or even electronic tagging is required.
    9. ‘NJ denied hospitals’, dentists, and perhaps even hairdresserss, as well as segregated restaurants and other businesses.
    10. ‘NJ only’ car on the train.

  • Norcal_Steve says:

    Fine Ronald Dore JT piece on the Japan-China situation. His hope (seems like very wishful thinking) is that Abe has the hawk credentials to back down without getting hounded out of office. I mean he could, but somehow I doubt Abe has any interest in backing down unless instructed to do so by Washington. Could Washington actually telling him behind closed doors that the Sengagku dispute is none of the US’s business? No way.

    He also discusses the US-J relationship in terms of the postwar history, which is a lot more interesting to me than all the focus here on Japanese war crimes and attributing the US-J relationship to deep subconscious reactions to the defeat and US occupation etc. The war crimes are real but it’s going on 70 years now so all that focus seems a bit obsessive. One thing which surprised me about the summary of the Abe cabinet was the number of Harvard grads. Makes me wonder did those guys really got real degrees or were they on a so-called Grad school courtesy junket of some sort with ghost written theses written by real grad students.


    — I hope I live long enough to be allowed to write as ponderously as Dore does in this piece.

  • #27 Jim Di Griz: Japan & China will not go to all-out war. If they did, Japan would lose, and world trade would be all but stopped. Japan will continue to agitate, relying on the U.S. for protection/support.

    Further to your list:
    Like the McCollom memorandum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCollum_memo), I honestly believe the people who run Japan have their own plan in the works already. They want you to leave. But they want you to want to leave – they don’t want to force you. They don’t want to be seen for what they are – racists.

    When a plan like the one I referenced above was being implemented, no one (apparently) knew there was a plan underway – no one saw the bigger picture.

    If someone were to start compiling a list of the recent laws that restrict NJ/haafu, I think we would be able to see what their ultimate intentions are.

    About your #5: Whatever the specific action, I think making life difficult for NJ is at the center of their plan. This is SOP for anyone fighting an undeclared clandestine war – make life difficult for your enemy, make them tired, slow them down, present as many obstacles as possible. Deny them rest… sound familiar?

  • @Debito: Thanks for that. Yet more support (as if it were needed) for blowing the wole flyijin nonsense out of the water.

    @Jim: I was considering predictions for Japan in 2013!

    As per the ghetto thing: That”s up high on my list.They de facto exist already. Most single foreigners I knew lived in “Gai jin” houses where key money, racist neighbours and fudoya san were not obstacles. I will predict another one: “A foreigner exemption” for employers where they don’t have to pay insurance, health or pension fees , effectively keeping their Non Japanese employees as serfs.

  • Very interesting comments regarding the emperor and the number of foreigners in Japan.

    First, re the emperor: I’m inclined to agree with Jim: I doubt he has much freedom of action and speech. Still, you have to wonder why he doesn’t go off the reservation just once in a highly public event and try to get out the sort of message Jim describes. Frankly, he shows a shocking lack of initiative and responsibility. But, in the land where NO ONE is ever responsible, perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising.

    Next, regarding the surprising number of Americans staying in Japan (while all other nationalities are leaving), I’d say that this says more about America than about Japan. Any honest observer who’s been paying attention to events in the United States since GWB took power by questionable means has to conclude that things are very, very wrong there. Americans living abroad are more aware of the problems in their home country than anyone else, for they do not live in the full propaganda matrix and they can see the changes more easily than those who are immersed in the United States. It’s like visiting a niece or nephew only once a year: you see them growing and changing more clearly because of the long intervals between visits. So, as the American economy continues to collapse and the political system remains stuck in a stalemate while the 1% rape the country, it’s hardly surprising that those who have a choice try to avoid the place. I have seen first-hand how Australians, Kiwis, Europeans etc are bailing out of Japan, while Americans cling with a death grip to the place, alternately trying to ignore the grim situation in Japan (this group includes apologists, rose-colored-glasses wearers etc) and complaining about how bad it is but unable to move.

    My guess is that eventually things in Japan will get so bad that even many Americans will go home. The only ones who will stay are the hardcore apologists, the dim-witted (simply not clever enough to see the writing on the wall), and those who are just too old to go home.

    I’m inclined to agree with most of Jim’s predictions above. I mean, when I read Debito’s year-end summary on a more recent thread, I really had to shake my head. When I got to the bottom of that list, I thought: “Why on earth is any foreigner staying in that place? And, why, why would anyone with a haafu child even consider raising him or her in Japan?!”

  • #18.Becky

    Indeed, to us non-American’s it does become tiresome. But also, when the Japanese are exposed to such dogmatic propaganda, can you blame them?

    I sometimes reply to a question in French, simply to make J’s stop and think. Then comes the “can you speak English” question…penny drops!

    Re: Foreigners in Japan
    If the USA goes the route it appears to be doing, i.e. 1% acting as a dictatorship..and falls over their own fiscal (or should that be faecal, cliff) in 2 months time, then the US won’t be the final destination of their much needed exports. The EU is not in any position to grow rapidly either. Thus even though there is also some doom and gloom re: China, it shall sometime soon, become their main trading partner. But, being hit by a 40% drop in exports to China following the Island despite with the drop in revenues, shows how significant exports to China are for Japan and Japan must tread carefully to survive with the US/EU becoming lesser markets.

    Also, if in the not so distance future the US gets its own act together (can’t see this myself) and starts to produce things again and invests into its own labour force and manufacturing, then China and possibly Japan shall be less important to the US too. Thus squeezing Japan even more to their immediate neighbour, China, to survive economically.

    Thus would the language of choice slowly change from English to Mandarin/Cantonese in the next 5 years or so…..being their only major trading partner left? … 你好 anyone?

  • @Jim #27 I can’t see your predictions from 6 onwards become reality anytime soon, even in the worst possible scenario. Why? Because such drastic measures would draw unwelcome attention to discrimination of NJ in Japan, and this is something I feel the Japanese have tried to and continue to avoid. They like the status quo of being seen as an equal partner in the Western world, without really having to bring in ideas such as enlightenment into their pre-modern society.
    Japan somehow has managed (or has been allowed) to build and maintain the image of a “quasi-Western” society. Why is it that only foreigners who have lived in Japan for a while and have had opportunity to see the “honne” are basically the only (correct me if I’m wrong) people ready to criticise Japan?
    Debito is still basically the only person with clout who is tackling the human rights issues. But where are the articles about the systematic corruption and kickback schemes, the unparalleled shallowness of mainstream culture, the gender in-equivalency, and of course, the wide acceptance of ultra-nationalist, far-right wing ideas and demagogues?
    I personally feel betrayed by my Western education for giving me a completely false image of Japan, which has resulted in me accepting a two year work contract here which turn out to be the longest two years of my life. Of course, it is still an interesting experience to see the truth, but I think there must be an agenda in place in the West to portray Japan as a modern democracy.

  • #33Markus,
    “…I personally feel betrayed by my Western education for giving me a completely false image of Japan..”

    I think that would sum up many people’s view of those that are now in Japan.

    However, the corollary is that the same is true of the US too. Since I could equally argue the same about the image that the US actively portrays to the rest of the world, which buys it lock stock and barrel.

    The American dream: great education, great health, great job prospects, big house, white picket fence, work hard makes lots of money etc etc. Yet once inside the US nothing could be further from the truth. But that’s what is shows on TV and film..surely it can’t be that bad???

    I think the education systems of any country is somewhat limited by its own resources and history, and what “it” wishes to portray about other countries and itself. As is often quoted, history is written by the victors, thus what is written about is always going to have some bias.

    Similarly, “..the articles about the systematic corruption and kickback schemes, the unparalleled shallowness of mainstream culture, the gender in-equivalency, and of course, the wide acceptance of ultra-nationalist, far-right wing ideas and demagogues..”

    How often are these stories written about and published in main stream media today about the UK, US, EU etc?….the corruption at Enron, or Pensions fiasco by Robert Maxwell, or the Bernard Madoff pyramid scandal etc etc. it happens everywhere.

    “We” are happy to have these scandals exposed, in the vein attempt to prevent them occurring again in the future, but greed is still greed, no matter where one lives.

    The principal difference is that there is a frame work, an infrastructure, of legal checks and balances that is in place to ostensibly prevent this in countries like the US,Uk,EU, but in Japan, there is none. That’s the real story rather than the individual cases/stories that eventually see the light of day. The problem then becomes, can one country, say the US publically admonish another for not having such checks and balances in place, especially when a lack of such a “system” is cultural?

    How would the US feel if Japan says the US are uncivilised for not taking their shoes off when walking into a house, or the UK criticising Japan for people with colds/flu sniffing and snorting loudly too in public etc.

    Every country has its pro’s and con’s…the problem with highlighting the differences are often cultural and thus not so easy to make carte blanche statements. If the citizens of the country see nothing wrong with XX or YY, they are not going to criticise it nor tell other countries to beware.

    “..Japan somehow has managed (or has been allowed) to build and maintain the image of a “quasi-Western” society…”

    And sadly, I suspect it is far more to do with trade and economics than anything human rights related. Look at China, hardly the shining light of Human Rights…yet the US and the UK et al, all trade with China.

    Thus I suspect the real why “we” only learnt about how bad Japan treats NJs and how corrupt the society is (in terms of lack of governance and checks and balances) etc, is owing to living here. We have no “trade” with Japan and thus not blinkered or acquiescing to silence in deference for more trade. Media that has no agenda nor reliant upon the “subject” for financial resources will be the key to more exposure…..I’m not holding my breath. But…it is ever so slowly changing…more “western” news coverage of “bad “ things occurring are being published.

  • @JohnK You are right on the mark. At the base of nearly all problems we find in the Japanese society is the absence of checks and balances. The general public seems to be too afraid to ask for them, either for cultural reasons (“Don’t cause a nuisance”), or because they have been brainwashed (“Do you want Japan to end up like the US or UK?”) to think that Japan is the best possible country, not unlike North Koreans, who have been cut off from the world, do.
    This may be my very personal paranoia, but lately I can’t help to think that the way Japanese society is structured is a give away that it is run by organised crime. Organised crime syndicates are kept purposely byzantine, with their ways and processes kept vague in order to cover up responsibility and accountability. Their lower ranking members are kept on boat by instilling fear in them, so they don’t become too curious about the who and why. And most telling of all, organised crime works towards creating a totalitarian system of institutions to control information, business, and politics, in order to protect the people in charge and secure the income.
    Could it be the true “achievement” of post-WWII Japan to have coated their feudal, deeply corrupt, Yakuza-run nation with a veneer of democracy and liberty? It would surely be most astonishing piece of PR work ever, but the longer I live in Japan, the less unlikely this scenario looks to me.

    — The links between organized crime and the LDP have been explored in the canon. Read Tokyo Underworld, for example.

  • Baudrillard says:

    ” I think there must be an agenda in place in the West to portray Japan as a modern democracy.”

    The short answer is yes, as it is a cold war relic, “us” and “them”. Japan, being a US satellite, is one of us for simple thinkers.

    Do not underestimate the West’s capacity to also spread convenient propaganda. The 1944 book “The Soviet Union in Maps” concludes with “The Soviet Union is just as democratic as us western countries” as it suited the geopolitics at the time.

    Finally, postmodernism has distorted reality. Prior to the mass media age, we did not receive fictional images of other countries (in essence, smiley-happy propaganda) beamed direct in to our homes.The Media is the Massage (sic).

  • “However, the corollary is that the same is true of the US too. Since I could equally argue the same about the image that the US actively portrays to the rest of the world, which buys it lock stock and barrel. ”

    Not true anymore. With activist like Micheal Moore and the collaspe of the financial system with 24/7 coverage by CNN and BBC, the U.S. dream image has long disappeared. The differene between Japan and the U.S. is transparency. Reports from Japan show 4 – 5 % unemployment but we all know that isnt true. America is for the most part a progressive country- we see every nationality and gender in Congress. Homosexual Congressmen Barney Frank, a ni kei Japanese congresswoman from Hawaii replaces Inoue, African American mayors, a mixed race president. Your comparing apples and oranges. You see the whitewashed image of America in Japan allot, but thats only to prop up their own disney land fantasy world of how life should be.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Markus #33

    I remember hearing about 7 years ago that JICCA (Japan International something or other) claimed that the single biggest employer of UK graduates was the JET program. I don’t know if that is a reliable fact. It could be. But it would suggest that the reason you were lied to (me too) is that to many academics have no intention of teaching the truth because if they put students off studying Japan, they would be out of a job.

    — If you really want your noodle cooked, follow the GOJ funding behind all the endowed chairs in Japanese Studies at the university level.

  • Jim Di Griz says:


    You’re absolutely on the money with that one!
    If Japan is as great as my university teachers said it was, why aren’t they teaching at Japanese universities?
    They are a part of the Team Japan propaganda machine. The fact that they know the truth, but keep their mouths shut and take the money makes them worse than apologists. From a human rights for NJ perspective, they are traitors.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    RE:” I think there must be an agenda in place in the West to portray Japan as a modern democracy.”

    Yes, of course there is.

    The USA having failed in Korea and Vietnam can only hold Japan up to the rest of the world as an example where the US defeated a countries regime and replaced it with a modern, functioning democracy. We know this is a lie, but it’s the official truth. For the better part of the last 10 years, Japan was being given as the template for post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan;

    This theory fitted US political objectives and ‘reverse-course’ narrative, and academics who were in fear of losing out due to growing academic interest in China were happy to jump on the band-wagon.

    This is a theory that has rather suddenly disappeared over the last couple of years…I wonder why? (That is a rhetorical question. Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t turn into modern democracies like Japan, because even Japan isn’t a modern democracy. The model was based on lies and therefore flawed).

  • Baudrillard says:

    Its amusing how potted histories of Japan tend to be very glib after WW2, as if Japan was magically, overnight, transformed into a fully functioning western democracy “like England”, i.e. a parlimentary democracy.

    I recall an ex of mine who for some reason when drunk insisted on telling me out of the blue how much she loved Japan. After that I said well, I expected Japan to be more traditional, there is too much American influence on TV etc, she got upset and said,somewhat churlishly,

    “We Japanese can choose (what aspects of western culture we accept)”.

    I think this is very telling. Forget post WW2, go back to the Meiji restoration and, a la Deng Xiaping in China, they wanted the Prussian model, not the French/British liberal model.

    They wanted perestroika without glasnost, just like Deng.

    And that is why Japan lacks transparency and TEPCO cannot ever be trusted with nukes.

  • #38 JDG

    “….But it would suggest that the reason you were lied to (me too) is that to many academics have no intention of teaching the truth because if they put students off studying Japan, they would be out of a job….”

    I was asked by my old Prof at Uni last year, would I assist an undergraduate with his interest in Japan. Apparently he liked what he had read about Japan and the research they were doing here, in our field of expertise. So…would I communicate with him and give him “the low down”, as the resident Japan ‘expert’.

    I asked him what he wants from coming to Japan. The usual stuff, mixed in with the research aspect. So I didn’t pull my punches and told him the cold hard facts….not the glossy sales brochure, which perhaps you were given too!

    It was a jaw dropping moment and he thus changed his mind.

  • This discussion is getting interesting.

    First, @33/Markus: Your point about there being a Western agenda in Japan is interesting. I agree that it feels this way. I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s useful for the United States to have the citizens of Japan believe they live in a real democracy. It’s also very useful to the powers that be in Japan to have the citizens believe they live in a real democracy. Of course, if you look closely at the situation in Japan, it’s blindingly obvious that Japan doesn’t have anything like a real democracy. As I’ve pointed out several times on this site, the real powers in Japan are unelected: the bureaucrats who populate the ministries and the business fat cats who are represented by the Keidanren. However, it’s also worth pointing out that some commentators believe that even these guys don’t really run the show. In a recent blog post, Karel van Wolferen (author of “The Enigma of Japanese Power”) argued that the United States has actively tried to prevent Japan from forming a coherent and meaningful government. He argues that it suited the Americans’ purposes to have Japan politically immature and even impotent, so that they could use Japan as a tool in their wider Pacific policy. Here’s that post for reference: http://www.karelvanwolferen.com/the-disabling-pacific-alliance/

    Next, @34/John K and others: Yes, of course the world receives a distorted image of Japan in the media. Alex Kerr discusses the reasons for this at some length in “Dogs and Demons.” Kerr correctly identifies the source of much of this distorted reporting: Japan is filled with what we might call “house gaijin” (my words, not his). These are the equivalent of what used to be known as “house n***ers” in the slave owning south of the United States. These slaves were well-behaved enough to be allowed to work in the master’s house. Similarly, house gaijin are the various journalists and other media workers who live in Japan and earn a living by reporting on Japan. These guys quickly learn that Japan will spit them out if they deviate from the party line, which is, of course, “Japan is a wonderful place with an ancient and fascinating culture.” Full stop. Nothing more. And, as Debito pointed out above, the guys teaching Japanese studies around the world are also house gaijin employed abroad.

    Finally, @35/Markus: Your suspicion that Japan is actually run by the yakuza is probably not far from the truth. At the very least, they are major stakeholders in the Japanese power game. Or, to put it another way, to the extent that anyone rules Japan, it’s probably the yakuza. When you look at the incredibly passive attitude of the Japanese, it’s clear that they are scared sh*tless of some power. The facile conclusion is that this is a holdover from the Edo period and earlier, when commoners could get their heads lopped off for speaking out. However, this is too easy. It’s clear to me that the Japanese are scared of a power that is still out there. And, it doesn’t take much observation to realize that this is the yakuza, working together with the uyoku (right wing). We know that politicians have been shot for speaking out and other people harassed to death by the yakuza or right wing. This is no secret to the Japanese people. My guess is that even the top ministers, the heads of the keiretsu and most politicians are either too scared of these guys to oppose them, or, much more likely, they are in cahoots with them.

    I was once told by a very savvy Japanese guy who came from a political family that a lot of the high-profile deaths in Japan that are attributed to suicide are actually murders. That is, the people were pushed, they didn’t jump.

    I once read that Japan is “a dictatorship without an obvious dictator.” Well, the closer you look, the more obvious it is that this hidden dictator is actually a coalition of the yakuza, the uyoku and the politicians and ministers who are deep in their pockets. As someone pointed out, the situation in Japan has parallels with that of the United States (I mean, it’s quite likely that the guys who pulled the trigger on Kennedy were mob guys acting on orders from elements of the American security state). But, as was also pointed out above, the situation in America is also quite different from that in Japan. In America, the average person does not fear opening his/her mouth to the extent that the average Japanese person does. The average Japanese person is like a mouse quivering under a sky filled with hawks, while the average American is like a deer in a place where wolves are only occasionally seen.

  • Irezumi_Aniki says:

    @43/Eric C and some others

    “Japan is filled with what we might call “house gaijin” (my words, not his). These are the equivalent of what used to be known as “house n***ers” in the slave owning south of the United States. These slaves were well-behaved enough to be allowed to work in the master’s house.”

    I’m probably taking this all out of context, but let me see if I got this straight.

    If …

    *I’m relatively successful based off my own definition of the word
    *I get along with the Japanese people around me (neighbors, co-workers, clients, police, friends, etc)
    *I enjoy my life here
    *I sincerely believe that I’m not discriminated against for the most part because I’m not
    *I roll with things when the times are bad

    Then …

    *I’m an apologist
    *I’m the equivalent of a ‘house nigger’

    Again, probably taking this all out of context, but wow. Seriously? Yeah I get that Eric was singling out foreigners working in Japan’s media industry, but it seems like what he wrote could be used to label any foreigner here who is ‘well-behaved’.

    I started reading this blog a few weeks back and resisted the urge to submit comments, but yeah. The general vibe I get from this blog is more-or-lessed summed up by what Eric wrote. I know we are all molded by our own experiences, and that leaves me wondering what type of experiences molded you (collective ‘you’). Maybe my bubble here in Tokyo isn’t big enough and it shields me from the horrors you had/have to endure.

    — No, you are welcome to feel about Japan as you want to feel, based upon your experiences. I think what others are objecting to is the judgmentalism they face from others (both peers and natives) just because they had negative experiences and wish to react against/take action against them. The reasons that are given/forced upon them to not take action (along the genres of “guestism”, “cultural relativism”, “cultural imperialism”, etc.) are usually what they might call “apologism”. That is to say, the mere expression of one’s positive experiences as a contrast to actioners’ negative experiences are not the source of actioners’ qualms. The source of qualm is the expression of positive experiences as a means to DENY or INVALIDATE actioners’ negative experiences, and force them into inaction.

    I’ll let others speak for themselves, but I think the issues with what might be termed “apologism” is not as you put it above but rather as a counter-action to the action, in order to delegitimize/disempower others. Thus it is not an attempt to be helpful to others; it is more an attempt by apologists/deniers to help oneself by denying the standpoint of others. This can cut both ways, of course, but true “apologism” in my view is all about being reactionary instead of actionary. IMHO. Read more of my thoughts about apologists and power relationships in my Japan Times column from last June.

  • @Eric (#43): I also think that the admittedly unique social climate in modern Japan (what canon describes as “politeness and vagueness”) is a dead giveaway to the underlying social and hierarchical structure which in essence has not been changed since the Edo days. The caution and indirectness in voicing ones’ opinion, the constant apologising (the hundreds of “sumimasen” uttered by the average Japanese every single day) for the slightest inconveniencing of others, or even just the possibility of it, hint at nothing else but fear. Like you said, it wasn’t that long ago that a commoner in Japan could have his head lopped off for even just glancing at someone perceived as superior, and even today, it seems that the society is too afraid to shed this hierarchical thinking. Better to be overly respectful once too often than suffering dire consequences. That’s why most Japanese are so rude to shop clerks (who seem to be in a way, the modern Burakumin) – seeing the interaction between a customer and a clerk at a convenience store shocked me, and I had a Japanese person explain to me that it’s supposed to be that way because shop clerks are seen as “below”.
    I’d like to correct myself, because saying “Japan is run by the Yakuza” doesn’t grasp the full extent, as it suggests that all high-level crime and antisocial behaviour in Japan can be traced back to a well-defined group of tattooed men. The Yakuza is just one of the many institutions created by those thugs. The problem runs much deeper – I think saying “Japan has always been, and still is, run by thugs” does a better job, because it elegantly explains most of the problems we find in modern Japan. Japan is like you’d expect life to be inside a criminal syndicate – the chauvinistic view on women, foreigners, and counter-cultures, the adulation of money and status symbols, the garish, brain-dead nature and mafia-like organisation of the whole entertainment sector, the mind-boggling extent of cronyism and lobbyism (re: Japan Tobacco) to the detriment of the health and well-being of the populace, all hint to a society shaped towards the needs and wants of power-hungry men.
    Michael Woodford said in an interview that Japan needs a change on par with the French revolution. Personally, I find it hard to respect the Japanese people as long as they not only ignore the problems of Japan, but are even cocky enough to boast about Japan’s alleged superiority over the “broken Western system”. The bubble they live in is the Elephant in the room, the reason it is almost impossible to become really close with Japanese people who have never lived abroad.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Irezumi_Aniki #44

    ‘I sincerely believe that I’m not discriminated against for the most part because I’m not.’

    For the most part?
    Meaning that in some part you understand that you are subject to discrimination, yes?
    In that case, it should not be a great mental leap to understand that there are others who are subjected to rather a great deal more discrimination than that which you admit experiencing yourself. And by extension, wouldn’t you agree that it is unfair to attempt to deny them the right to, at the very least, stand up and say something, rather than ‘roll with things’?

    You appear to have been fortunate to avoid significant discrimination. Please do not blame the victims of greater discrimination for speaking out, even if you do not wish to support them. The attempt to silence and devalue the experiences of those that speak out is apologism, isn’t it?

  • @44/Irezumi:

    I’m not going to dignify your post with a proper response. You didn’t even understand what I wrote. The fact that you can confuse my comments and Kerr’s comments about media professionals who “sell” Japan to the world and all gaijin who feel positively about Japan shows that A) you are not capable of reading and understanding what you read and B) you don’t have the sort of caliber of intellect that I feel merits actively engaging with.


  • @45/Markus:

    You’re definitely onto something. Actually, if we want to distill matters, I think we can say that Japan is run by very conservative (regressive) old men whose power is protected and shared by thugs, many of whom are yakuza and uyoku.

    It’s worth noting that old men share a disproportionate amount of power in many countries on this earth, and their power is usually backed up by thugs of some sort, whether they be cops, soldiers, mercenaries or gang members. However, I think Japan is unique in that the power of these old men is largely unquestioned. This is because, as you mention Markus, Japan strictly hierarchical. I mean, the language itself is a kind of verbal caste system. Any one of us who’s had even the tiniest glimpse inside the Japanese machine, say, at a meeting of a major organization or company, will have seen how this works: the old geezer is charge is NEVER questioned by someone beneath him. You will never find a place less conducive to the free flow of ideas. Add to this the fact that the old geezers in charge almost never speak English and you will see why Japan is failing so miserably and is utterly incapable of absorbing “best practices” from the rest of the world.

    Having observed the above in action, I find it almost impossible not to burst out laughing when someone trots out that old chestnut about the importance of “consensus building” in Japan. This myth, which the Japanese people are fed to sweeten the bitter pill of fascism, is such utter hogwash it boggles the mind. Think about it: Consensus is the essence of democracy. It implies that all participants share power. But how can this be in a strictly hierarchical society? The answer is: It can’t. A society is either consensus-based or hierarchical. Not both. And, Japan is rigidly hierarchical. Sempai and kohai are the essential divisions of Japanese life. You cannot refer to yourself or another without making a statement about who is above and below ( 私/俺、貴方/お前 ). You cannot give a person an item or perform an action for someone without making a statement about who is above and who is below (あげる/くれる、してあげる/してくれる etc).

    The way decisions are made in Japan is this: the old geezer in charge makes the decision, usually based on what’s best for his wallet and for the wallets of his cronies. The much ballyhooed “consensus building period” is nothing more than the time the underlings are given to figure out what the old man wants and then get on board with it. Full stop.

    This is the case whenever more than a few Japanese are gathered into any organization whatsoever (and if you’ve ever seen Japanese mothers at a preschool meeting or having tea afterward, you know that they’re just as ruthless about the pecking order – the only difference is that you’ve got some battle axe in charge instead of an old geezer).

    On the national level, the powers that be find it useful to hide behind various facades, but you’d better believe that there’s no such thing as consensus building and the powers that be are old geezers who make all the decisions, inevitably for their own advantage.

    As Markus pointed out: The absurd fear that marks almost all Japanese actions, and their dread of standing out or having any opinion, means that they all understand this on a gut level. And, of course, I’ve seen Japanese people, particularly men, totally abuse shop clerks and waitresses. This is typical of how people act in a strictly hierarchical society. They are constantly being trodden on by those above them, so they take it out on those who are “below” them.

    Needless to say, having observed this all very closely with my own eyes, and had my conclusions confirmed by several famous writers on the topic, as well as many Japanese friends, I made the choice to leave the place. I might have been able to bear the place a few years longer if I were single. But there was no way I was going to raise my children in that poisonous atmosphere.

  • @Irezumi_Aniki, #44. I do see where you are coming from. It is absolutely possible to have a successful, interesting life as a foreigner in Japan. But it comes at a price. Some people, I guess you’d call them positive thinkers, are either not able to, or wilfully ignore the bad aspects, even if they overwhelm the good aspects.
    I perfectly understand that there are personality types out there who read Debito’s blog and the comments and think “what the hell are these people talking about? The food is delicious, the Japanese are polite, the women are beautiful and my colleagues are really fun to drink with at the Izakaya”. I am sure that to be able to enjoy Japan past the honeymoon phase, one has to have no problems with wilfully becoming shallow and unpolitical.
    On the other hand, if you are a personality type who isn’t able to roll with things (especially when “things” mean that you suddenly understand you’re now living in a quasi-totalitarian society ripe with ultra-nationalists, racists, and criminals in the highest positions), then it is impossible to delude yourself to think you could ever acclimate in Japan – regardless of any personally experienced discrimination.

  • Irezumi_Aniki says:


    Interesting read. It made me think a little bit more about some of the people I’ve come across here in Japan.

    @46/Jim Di Griz

    Yes I have experienced and yes I am subject to discrimination from time-to-time, but mostly because of my ink. I find that I’m treated relatively worse now than I was before getting tattooed. However, that’s something that I roll with because getting inked was my choice.

    I know what real discrimination is though. I know what out right racism is as well. Some of my friends from junior high and high school liked to think of themselves as Arian Brotherhood members. They would try to beat the living hell out of all colored folk they came across. So, I don’t need to leap anything to understand that some people have it bad because of their color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

    I was by no means trying to police people and tell them what they can/can’t post about. Further, I have no interest in blaming victims or devaluing their experiences. I am (still) wondering what type of experiences lead people to say what they do on this blog and in this thread. For example, Al wrote, “I got news for anybody who thinks they can succeed in Japan: the Yamato super-race is dying, and they’re taking everybody down with them. If they can’t prosper, there’s no way they’re gonna let some refugee prosper here.You know what「足引っ張る」means? It means to prevent someone from succeeding, and it’s a wide-spread cultural practice in Japan. ” Why? I really am interested in knowing . . . and knowing helps make supporting people/causes a little bit easier.


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