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Hi Blog. As part of a continuing series of how the Post-Fukushima Debacles have laid bare just how irredeemably broken Japan’s system is (see related articles here (item #2), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), the NYT has just reported the latest on the Fukushima radiation cleanup effort. Within, we can witness a wonderful fusion of corruption, xenophobia, and unaccountable bureaucratic culture that have been symptomatic of why Japan as a society cannot not fix itself (see items #1-3). And this time, it’s a wonderful capsule summary of why foreign technology and assistance will lose out to featherbedded domestic interests (the Kensetsu Zoku, who are making a right mess of things). And how there’s no hope of it getting better since the corrupt corporatists who facilitated this system in the first place (LDP under Abe and co.) are back in power as of December with a fresh mandate. A choice excerpt from the NYT, very, very germane to the purview of Debito.org, follows:
NYT: Japanese officials said adapting overseas technologies presented a particular challenge.
“Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the environment ministry, who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”
(UPDATE: Original Japanese question and answer, courtesy of Hiroko Tabuchi (thanks!):
環境省福島除染推進チーム次長 西山 英彦：
(Here’s a picture of Nishiyama Hidehiko to burn into your memory cells, courtesy of Reuters:)
This is an incredibly racist insult to all the NJ who were both there and who went up there to help the victims of the disasters at great time, expense, and risk to their health — without scaring people. I have two articles below the NYT from the WSJ which outline what a horrible little fellow this Nishiyama is, and how he keeps bouncing right back into power despite scandal within Japan’s unaccountable bureaucracy.
After that, I have some links to previous comments on this article. I originally put this up yesterday as an addendum to a previous blog entry, but the comments there (see most of them in context here) are worth archiving here because they express the appropriate amount of outrage. About a system that is, in the end, betraying everyone. Kudos to NYT reporter Hiroko Tabuchi for uncovering this. Arudou Debito
In Japan, a Painfully Slow Sweep
The New York Times, January 7, 2013
By HIROKO TABUCHI
See photos at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/business/japans-cleanup-after-a-nuclear-accident-is-denounced.html
NARAHA, Japan — The decontamination crews at a deserted elementary school here are at the forefront of what Japan says is the most ambitious radiological cleanup the world has seen, one that promised to draw on cutting-edge technology from across the globe.
But much of the work at the Naraha-Minami Elementary School, about 12 miles away from the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, tells another story. For eight hours a day, construction workers blast buildings with water, cut grass and shovel dirt and foliage into big black plastic bags — which, with nowhere to go, dot Naraha’s landscape like funeral mounds.
More than a year and a half since the nuclear crisis, much of Japan’s post-Fukushima cleanup remains primitive, slapdash and bereft of the cleanup methods lauded by government scientists as effective in removing harmful radioactive cesium from the environment.
Local businesses that responded to a government call to research and develop decontamination methods have found themselves largely left out. American and other foreign companies with proven expertise in environmental remediation, invited to Japan in June to show off their technologies, have similarly found little scope to participate.
Recent reports in the local media of cleanup crews dumping contaminated soil and leaves into rivers has focused attention on the sloppiness of the cleanup.
“What’s happening on the ground is a disgrace,” said Masafumi Shiga, president of Shiga Toso, a refurbishing company based in Iwaki, Fukushima. The company developed a more effective and safer way to remove cesium from concrete without using water, which could repollute the environment. “We’ve been ready to help for ages, but they say they’ve got their own way of cleaning up,” he said.
Shiga Toso’s technology was tested and identified by government scientists as “fit to deploy immediately,” but it has been used only at two small locations, including a concrete drain at the Naraha-Minami school.
Instead, both the central and local governments have handed over much of the 1 trillion yen decontamination effort to Japan’s largest construction companies. The politically connected companies have little radiological cleanup expertise and critics say they have cut corners to employ primitive — even potentially hazardous — techniques.
The construction companies have the great advantage of available manpower. Here in Naraha, about 1,500 cleanup workers are deployed every day to power-spray buildings, scrape soil off fields, and remove fallen leaves and undergrowth from forests and mountains, according to an official at the Maeda Corporation, which is in charge of the cleanup.
That number, the official said, will soon rise to 2,000, a large deployment rarely seen on even large-sale projects like dams and bridges.
The construction companies suggest new technologies may work, but are not necessarily cost-effective.
“In such a big undertaking, cost-effectiveness becomes very important,” said Takeshi Nishikawa, an executive based in Fukushima for the Kashima Corporation, Japan’s largest construction company. The company is in charge of the cleanup in the city of Tamura, a part of which lies within the 12-mile exclusion zone. “We bring skills and expertise to the project,” Mr. Nishikawa said.
Kashima also built the reactor buildings for all six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, leading some critics to question why control of the cleanup effort has been left to companies with deep ties to the nuclear industry.
Also worrying, industry experts say, are cleanup methods used by the construction companies that create loose contamination that can become airborne or enter the water.
At many sites, contaminated runoff from cleanup projects is not fully recovered and is being released into the environment, multiple people involved in the decontamination work said.
In addition, there are no concrete plans about storing the vast amounts of contaminated soil and foliage the cleanup is generating, which the environment ministry estimates will amount to at least 29 million cubic meters, or more than a billion cubic feet.
The contaminated dirt lies in bags on roadsides, in abandoned fields and on the coastline, where experts say they are at risk from high waves or another tsunami.
“This isn’t decontamination — it’s sweeping up dirt and leaves and absolutely irresponsible,” said Tomoya Yamauchi, an expert in radiation measurement at Kobe University who has been helping Fukushima communities test the effectiveness of various decontamination methods. “Japan has started up its big public works machine, and the cleanup has become an end in itself. It’s a way for the government to appear to be doing something for Fukushima.”
In some of the more heavily contaminated parts of Fukushima, which covers about 100 square miles, the central government aims to reduce radiation exposure levels to below 20 millisieverts a year by 2014, a level the government says is safe for the general public. But experts doubt whether this is achievable, especially with current cleanup methods.
After some recent bad press, the central government has promised to step up checks of the decontamination work. “We will not betray the trust of the local communities,” Shinji Inoue, the environment vice minister, said Monday.
There had been high hopes about the government’s disaster reconstruction plan. It was announced four months after the March 2011 disaster, which declared Japan would draw on the most advanced decontamination know-how possible.
But confusion over who would conduct and pay for the cleanup slowed the government response. It took nine months for the central government to decide that it would take charge of decontamination work in 11 of the heaviest-contaminated towns and cities in Fukushima, leaving the rest for local governments to handle.
In October, the state-backed research organization, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, announced that it was soliciting new decontamination technology from across the country.
By early November, the agency had identified 25 technologies that its own tests showed removed harmful cesium from the environment.
A new system to trap, filter and recycle contaminated runoff, developed by the local machinery maker Fukushima Komatsu Forklift, was one of technologies. But since then, the company has not been called on to participate in the state-led cleanup.
“For the big general contractors, it’s all about the bottom line,” said Masao Sakai, an executive at the company. “New technology is available to prevent harmful runoff, but they stick to the same old methods.”
The Japanese government also made an initial effort to contact foreign companies for decontamination support. It invited 32 companies from the United States that specialize in remediation technologies like strip-painting and waste minimization, to show off their expertise to Japanese government officials, experts and companies involved in the cleanup.
Opinions on the trip’s effectiveness vary among participants, but in the six months since, not a single foreign company has been employed in Japan’s cleanup, according to the trip’s participants and Japan’s Environment Ministry.
“Japan has a rich history in nuclear energy, but as you know, the U.S. has a much more diverse experience in dealing with the cleanup of very complicated nuclear processing facilities. We’ve been cleaning it up since World War II,” said Casey Bunker, a director at RJ Lee, a scientific consulting company based in Pennsylvania that took part in the visit.
“There was a little of, ‘Hey, bring your tools over and show us how it works.’ But they ultimately wanted to do it themselves, to fix things themselves,” Mr. Bunker said. “There didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in a consultative relationship moving forward.”
Japanese officials said adapting overseas technologies presented a particular challenge.
“Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the environment ministry, who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”
Some local residents are losing faith in the decontamination effort.
“I thought Japan was a technologically advanced country. I thought we’d be able to clean up better than this,” said Yoshiko Suganami, a legal worker who was forced to abandon her home and office over two miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “It’s clear the decontamination drive isn’t really about us any more.”
Most of the clients at Ms. Suganami’s new practice in Fukushima city are also nuclear refugees who have lost their jobs and homes and are trying to avert bankruptcy. She said few expect to ever return.
In Japan Rarity, Nuclear Spokesman Replaced After Affair Allegations
By Yuka Hayashi
Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2011, courtesy of JE
Over the past few months, the world has been rocked by revelations of powerful men caught in sex scandals: Arnold and Anthony Weiner, to name a few. Now Japan has its own version, which this week claimed the scalp of Hidehiko Nishiyama, Tokyo’s former chief nuclear spokesman.
Unlike the U.S., where online flirting costs politicians their jobs, the public in Japan is generally forgiving of powerful men involved in sex scandals. But not this time.
Mr. Nishiyama, a successful career bureaucrat at the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, was abruptly pushed out of his role Wednesday, less than a week after a news magazine reported an alleged affair between him and a younger female staffer at the ministry. While Mr. Nishiyama, 54, denied having a sexual relationship with the woman through a ministry spokesman, the colorful details reported in the article became a source of incessant gossip among the city’s elites.
Extra-marital affairs of politicians and business leaders are often viewed in Japan as they are in France – personal matters that should be left alone as long as they don’t interfere with their work — or dramatically offend people’s sensitivities. Some even consider such scandals as something the men should be proud of, as a sign of their power and personal charm.
Take Prime Minister Naoto Kan. In 1998, a news magazine reported his affair with a newscaster. He was called “You idiot!” by his wife, as he himself admitted, but suffered no lasting damage to his career. Paparazzi captured Goshi Hosono, a rising star of Mr. Kan’s ruling party, in a moment of passion with a TV reporter in 2006, but the 39-year-old married politician quickly put his career back on track; he just got appointed as Japan’s new nuclear minister on Monday.
Until recently, Mr. Nishiyama, who is married with two children, was known as a rising star within the ministry, but that hardly made him a public figure. That changed a few days after the March 11 disaster, when he was tapped to moderate the ministry’s daily briefings on the accident. With his articulate answers and knowledge of the power industry gained through his previous assignments, he became a familiar face on national television.
Mr. Nishiyama will now return to his pre-March 11 job in the ministry’s trade bureau, where his primary responsibility is to move Japan toward participating in a controversial regional trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“I apologize if (the report) gave the impression or invited concerns that I was not fully committed to my job” Mr. Nishiyama said last week. Yukio Edano, chief government spokesman, said Wednesday Mr. Nishiyama was relieved of his responsibility due to “concerns that (the scandal) would interfere with his duties.”
Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2011
By Yoree Koh and Yuka Hayashi
It has been a punishing day for Japan’s nuclear officials.
Environment Minister Goshi Hosono said Friday he would forgo his monthly cabinet salary of Y1.5 million, or roughly $20,000, to take responsibility for an employee of his ministry dumping radioactive soil sent from Fukushima prefecture near his backyard in Tokyo’s suburbs.
As the minister also overseeing the cleanup of the nuclear crisis, Mr. Hosono said the insensitive behavior exhibited by his staff ultimately falls on his shoulders. (He will continue to collect his Y1.3 million monthly income as a member of parliament).
Penalties were also imposed on the environment vice ministers, who will face a 20% pay cut for two months. Others involved have been transferred to other positions and given stern warnings.
The penalties come the day after Mr. Hosono revealed that an environment ministry employee threw soil with trace amounts of radiation away in a vacant lot near his home last week. The soil was sent to the ministry from a Fukushima resident, who had asked the ministry to get rid of the soil. Tests of the soil detected radiation of about 0.18 microsieverts per hour – a low level deemed safe.
Looking ever more haggard since becoming the central government’s captain in charge of the Fukushima Daiichi accident soon after March 11, Mr. Hosono said at a press conference Friday: “What is behind this is the feeling among Fukushima residents that the government has not been implementing its responsibility for handling contaminated soil and should be doing more. I do not think I will be able to gain understanding of people in Fukushima with something like this,” according to state broadcaster NHK.
Separately, the environment ministry has taken in a familiar face to help oversee the soil decontamination effort. Hidehiko Nishiyama, a former government nuclear spokesman disgraced by a sex scandal, has been named deputy chief of a special team for decontamination of Fukushima, set up within the ministry of environment, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Friday.
Mr. Nishiyama, once a rising star at the METI, became a television star soon after the March accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant as a well-spoken, never-tiring spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the ministry’s nuclear regulatory body. But he lost the high-profile job in June after a weekly magazine carried a detailed account of his extramarital affair with a female staffer of the ministry. Mr. Nishiyama apologized at the time for the trouble the allegations had caused. On Sep. 30, the ministry formally suspended the 54-year-old career bureaucrat for one month for having been engaged in “inappropriate” sexual conduct during working hours at the height of the nuclear crisis.
Mr. Nishiyama still remains an employee of the METI but will now be on lease to the environment ministry. The 54-year-old elite bureaucrat joined the ministry in 1980 after graduating from Tokyo University. Mr. Nishiyama wasn’t available for comment.
AB: Like the classic “gaijin skis won’t work on Japanese snow” absurdity van Wolferen (?) wrote about 20 years ago. Unbelievable this crappola is still going on. Only gonna get worse with LDP back in the saddle. To paraphrase de Tocqueville “a people gets the government it deserves”
CD: i wonder the extent to which this statement is a convenient misdirection. it’s much easier to spew out some xenophobic nonsense than to publicly admit that fukushima has been written off. i mean, the place was written off the moment they built the plants. but what japanese politician or bureaucrat is going to admit to that? much easier to say grandma and grandpa might get scared by gaijin.
AB: No one — at least no one IN JAPAN — is EVER going to admit this (even though it’s true). It’s like the same-old same-old — everyone afraid of being tarred with the “Hikokumin brush” and being called “defeatist” or a “dream-destroyer” (yume wo kowasu hito).
Same dynamic that kept everyone with half a brain enough to see what was going on otherwise silent as Imperial Japan lurched toward — then plunged into — a suicidal war in 1941.
EF: This is private life, [Nishiyama] does with his tin-tin whenever he wants. What concerns us is his racist profile and he attacking foreigners this way again after all foreigners have done for the victims in Fukushima because, at the time of the hard cleaning up, many foreigners were there removing the corpses along with the Japanese and no one seemed scared by our presence.
GH: [Nishiyama’s] comments are already noted on his Wikipedia page under 日本人論的・差別的発言.
IJ: Pathological racism. Just like how they couldn’t use the U.S. military’s rescue helicopters in Kobe. The Japanese air is different so the pilots might not have been able to fly in Japanese airspace… and the U.S. and French doctors might have scared the earthquake victims to death. But it was really the swiss search dogs that would have been the biggest problem. Japanese dog food is so different. LOL … What a frigging mess Japan is in. Gladder and gladder I voted with my feet years ago.
KL: So the local victims have to suffer because of the racism of the authorities?! But I guess the little people don’t matter…
MN: I know the real reason foreign companies were not invited to take part. I have a relative who works for a major general contractor (maybe even one mentioned in the article). He tells me that ALL (not some, ALL) of their business is carried out in cash for the single purpose of ensuring bribes go smoothly. Foreign companies are not above this. They just don’t know how to play the game.
JDG: Yet another microcosm for all that is wrong with Japan. If the J-public (especially the victims of the disaster) are going to persist in taking it lying down (and unlubricated!), then I can’t see much hope for the future.
GP: Instead, there are now armies of cheap laborers washing down buildings with water and scraping topsoil off schoolyards and dumping it in local rivers – simply spreading the contamination even further while they toil to line the coffers of companies with the juicy cleanup contracts – companies that just conveniently are linked to the nuclear industry. And this is a first world country?
The final comment from the environment ministry really said it all though. This almost reads like a sarcastic joke referencing the “Japan has different snow” tactics of yester-year, with a fine dash of xenophobia thrown in for good measure. Can’t have any nasty furriners scaring the oldies!! (Let’s conveniently ignore the fact that hundreds of foreigners if not thousands have already given their time, money and labor to cleanup and rebuild in Tohoku, and by all accounts their assistance was warmly welcomed).
JDG: ATTENTION APOLOGISTS!
Since you obsessively check this site, please read Debito’s post #23 and explain to me;
- How this is simply one small isolated case of government and business collusion in corruption, and does by no means indicate that ‘Japan Inc.’ is broken?
- How does this prove that the Fukushima situation is fully safe and under control, and being managed in a transparent fashion?
- How does the following statement;’“Even if a method works overseas, the soil in Japan is different, for example,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director at the environment ministry, who is in charge of the Fukushima cleanup. “And if we have foreigners roaming around Fukushima, they might scare the old grandmas and granddads there.”’, prove that rather than racism being endemic in the heart of the Japanese state, I am simply an over sensitive moaner who can’t understand Japan’s unique culture?
- How does this article prove that all Japan reporting is shoddy in nature, and biased unfairly against Japan?
- How does this statement by a displaced Fukushima resident; ‘“It’s clear the decontamination drive isn’t really about us any more.”’ clearly reek of unfair and scientifically unsound anti-nuclear lobby alarmism?
By all means, please take this opportunity to show us all where we have being getting it so wrong for all these years in our criticism of Japan.
98 comments on “NYT: Xenophobia in Environmental Ministry re exclusionary Fukushima decontam efforts: “Japanese soil is different”, “NJ assistance might scare local grandmas””
I believe you are referring to my comment when you referred to “I”m surprised that Debito even allowed that comment.” as censorship. In context, I was remarking that the comment posted was
a)irrelevant to the topic being discussed
b)a thinly veiled personal attack on some other posters.
In other words, it was derailing the thread.
As per your other comments: I dunno. The country is being irradiated. We’ve all been lied to about the doses recieved. Its patently obvious that the authorities just don’t care enough about the situation to take any meaningful steps to rectify it.look at the cleanup efforts and the amount of money being diverted to dog and pny shows such as the Tokyo Olympic bid.
Nuclear plats are going to continue as before: Contaminated Trash is being shipped accross the country. The head of nuclear science in Kyoto university has broken his silence and admitted that the steel industry recyles metal from nuclear plants for commercial use. The same week that this came out, bridgestone recalled thousands of bicycles as their baskets tested too highly for radiation.
I mean, why are you getting upset at guys pointing this out? And as to the child abuse thing: If you have children (especially girls), the statistics say that they WILL be overworked underpaid, discriminated against and have a very high chance of living in poverty relative to most other developed countries, so putting your kid through that when you have other options IS doing them a disservice. Again, why are you getting upset at people pointing this out?
And notice how my comments reflect general trends and stats (all of my statements can be backed up if you care to search). Perhaps your personal experience is fine, but there will ALWAYS be people who do well in Japan. Some people “at the top”(including some foreigners) had a comfortable life in the country during and post Meiji restoration period too, but that didn’t take away from the fact that the Japan was essentially a feudal slave state with racist policies . The country is reverting to this setting again, it’s a nasty thing to say but that’s not the fault of the commtators here. If you’re OK with living through this that’s up to you, but don’t get upset when this is pointed out to you.
@Joe (#47) it is unfortunate to pick Italy, of all countries, as some kind of proof that one’s negative feelings to a society are not based on rational facts. The post-WWII Italy, especially before the “68 revolts”, was still recovering from fascism and there were plenty of old fascists still around, some of them in power, so of them just nasty old geezers in the street.
I have often thought that Japan and Italy share a lot of negative traits – the most obvious one being the deep embedding of organised crime into all levels of the society, and all the bad things that are acceptable in such “thug cultures” – the chauvinism, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia are exactly as well-accepted as they are in Japan. I think the influence of the so called “Yakuza” in Japan’s elite circles is even greater than that of the Mafia in today’s Italy.
Silvio Berlusconi would blend right in in Japan’s political scene, that’s for sure. Italy, like Japan, is a broken country, and, like Japan, needs a huge shift in public perception of their political class to have any chance to heal itself.
So, your Dad’s buddies were probably not too far off the mark in their complaining.
Thanks for that video link. You’re right: That’s pretty repugnant. That little pr*ck is a classic kiss-up/kick-down type. You can imagine how servile and sniveling he is to his superiors and how he bullies everyone he perceives to be beneath him. Just imagine the way he treats women. As I discussed recently on another thread, Japan is a hierarchical society where the hierarchy is enforced by the threat of violence and bullying. That video is a classic example. Sure, bullies exist in all cultures, but they’re all too common in Japan. Sadly, that man missed out on the five or six sound beatings that would have cured him of his bullying habit. Too bad.
You’re right, by the way, that the governor’s measured response was the mark of a true gentleman and not a little bullying pr*ck like he had faced.
As for which is the most repugnant video, it doesn’t really matter: They both totally repugnant.
Wow. This is interesting, and NYT too.
No, not what you think. The guy gets it on so many levels, and it’s concise and I dare say an even reasonably complete summary of past and present situation. Deserves an article…
— And yet Krugman reaches the wrong conclusion. Overlook everything else about Abe because Abe’s spending money in ways that Krugman agrees with…! Makes me shake my head a bit at how narrow the attention focus is.
@ Debito #54
Quite! Instead of implying that western leaders should follow Sick-notes lead, he neglects to point out that in his 1930’s analogy, Jspan would be Nazi Germany! He’s a fool.
The video is horrible. If you did want to try and make excuses though, you could say that Ms. Matsu’s reputation isn’t the best. She’s a former entertainer who belongs to a religious organization that’s, according to some commentators, worse than Aum Shinrikyo. Kind of after the fact, but the story she told in the video clip was questioned by some Japanese blogs. Apparently it came to light that she eventually acknowledged the story was made up. There was no mother, no child, no teacher and the incident never happened. However, whether or not that acknowledgement is true is hard to confirm.
Anyway, it wouldn’t be hard to say that Mr. Fujimura was laughing at the messenger and not the message. Either way though, the laughing is unnecessary and Mr. Fujimura just comes across as looking like a dick. That’s a given, yeah?
That aside, I was wondering if any of you are politically active here in Japan. I do my part to help out my foreigner friends and acquaintances, but it would be nice to contribute to something a little larger. Although I personally prefer to roll with things, I do like to help. Do any of you belong to organizations that try to help foreigners (preferably organizations not linked to teaching/teachers)?
— We had NGO FRANCA (Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association) for a few years but that’s gone defunct. It can be resuscitated, as the organization is still registered with the GOJ, but we have to start with the anchor website. It’s offline because the domain name of francajapan.org expired and immediately got bought up by some troll (all other domain names related to francajapan, be they .com, .net, .info .biz etc. remain open; very telling). Let me know if you want to resuscitate.
One final quick observation about the foreign Japan apologists. If I could boil down the gist of all their arguments in favor of Japan that I’ve read on this blog, it would be: “Well, I’ve never been a victim of racism, so Japan is just fine with me.” What really amazes me about this sort of thinking is the incredible selfishness it shows and the utter unwillingness (even imperviousness) to understanding the experiences of others. I mean, this site is chock-a-bloc with well-documented examples of outright racism. I mean, look at the article that started this thread. Or read Debito’s “Japanese Only.” And look at all the crimes against gaijin and the complete lack of legal protections for Japan that are documented here. But, the apologists totally ignore these well-documented problems and merely assert again and again, but it didn’t happen to me. Do people not see how shallow and utterly selfish is? This is the equivalent of an American citizen in pre civil-rights America saying, “Well, I’m not a victim of racism, so it’s all good here.”
Furthermore, I wonder why the apologists express such shock and dismay when their self-centered and self-serving defenses of Japan are quite justifiably shot down. I mean, if their main goal is to write something along the lines of “Japan is hunky dory and my head teacher job is just swell and no one’s ever treated my mixed race chid any differently from others” then why are they choosing this forum to say it?! Excuse me, but do these people peruse this blog a bit before chiming in with their facile posts? This blog is concerned with the rights of foreign residents and the abuses thereof. If one merely wants to gush about how swell Japan is, surely there’s a better place to do it. I haven’t actively searched for it, but there must be a site called something like “Japan is Swell dot com” where their comments would be warmly received and they wouldn’t feel ganged up on.
Eric #56, excellent point there, you have spoken what I have had in mind in regards to the apologists. I often thought it was just me who is seeing something wrong about the apologists view of Japan. While not all anime or gamer fans are apologists, those that are apologists are often seeking to go to Japan to “escape” their problems. The more hardline apologists, like the people you find on sites like Sankaku Complex, tend to be ultra-nationalists of their own respective countries. Apologists who happen to be ultra-right in their respective countries will not see anything wrong in Japan and often wish their home countries are run by people like Ishihara and Hashimoto.
Many apologists on Japantoday comments at some point tend to admit their support for far-right parties in their own countries such as BNP, National Front, Vlamms Belaang etc etc. and see Japan as some “ideal model” that everyone should follow. Since some apologists have already grown up with far-right ideologies even before they know of Japan, they will think that Japan is perfectly normal. And more often these apologists(such as the commentors on Japantoday.com or blog sites like Sankaku Complex, are even further right leaning and more extreme then your run of the mill Japanese.
Jim says: “Quite! Instead of implying that western leaders should follow Sick-notes lead, he neglects to point out that in his 1930′s analogy, Jspan would be Nazi Germany! He’s a fool.”
Goodness Jim! He’s saying that Japan and Germany, they were the bad guys in the 1930’s, were out of recession quickly because they did the right things economically even though they were for the wrong reasons. What am I missing and what do you think he said? Here’s the quote:
“It will be a bitter irony if a pretty bad guy [Abe], with all the wrong motives, ends up doing the right thing economically, while all the good guys fail because they’re too determined to be, well, good guys. But that’s what happened in the 1930s, too …”
And remember, here is a blog on sociology and with a limited focus, and that is an econ blog, so over there “the right things” means economically successful (and correctly so).
Debito, you’re wrong, I think, on the conclusion. I see no where that he excuses the other behaviours he points out earlier because of correct economic decisions (please point it out where he does), only that we want to invalidate the result of an experiment because we don’t like the experimenter. And that is bad science.
— No, the bad science you are partaking in is saying I don’t like the experimenter. I have no predispositions whatsoever to Krugman (I think this time is the first time I’ve really read him with any interest.) I’ll answer your email in more detail after a good night’s sleep. Saw Tarantino’s latest tonight and I’m exhausted.
I read his blog above (see the link in #54). I also felt that Krugman seems to overlook the contextual differences in socio-political structures and cultural assumptions between Japan and the US. But, I personally don’t think he deserves blame for taking sides with apologists. He doesn’t, actually, as far as I read his recent book “End Depression Now! (2012)”. He provides the facts and data about Japan too, and most of them give Japan into pretty negative context. His main focus of research is American, British, and European economic system, and he uses Japan’s model as one of the examples to discuss comparatively and advance his arguments in his work. But, the time spent working on Japan’s case is just a drop in the bucket, compared to the enormous amount of work you focus on the west. He is not alone; it happens to a lot of western researchers. The thing is, in the article, he’s trying to seek alternative ideas from Japan’s case to not only exercise the possibility for its recovery—but for a possible solution to fix the problems he’s dealing with. And I think that’s how it leads him to describe Japan’s case in a different way from most critics. But watch out! Krugman sure does give Abe the benefits of doubt, but that does not necessarily mean he gives 100% assurance on Abe’s economic policy. He’s still cautiously optimistic on Japan about economic recovery. Anyway, let’s see how his theory and prediction will play out for Japan.
” I wonder why the apologists express such shock and dismay when their self-centered and self-serving defenses of Japan are quite justifiably shot down.”
Most apologists or Japanophiles-as I was- are looking to escape their invariably western roots for a variety of reasons. It could be an unhappy childhood, being bullied at home for being small/non athletic, or a series of broken love affairs making them swear off western women. They can re invent themselves in Japan.
And thats fine. Everyone deserves a second chance, a fresh start.
They then, at a tender age, buy into the Unique Japanese Dream/brand and refuse to admit that it is not in fact a reality; they would rather live the dream in denial, as it would be too painful to admit that they still have not found what they are looking for, as it may not (shock, horror) exist in one particular geogrpahical location. Or they have made their choice, their move, and will stick by it for better or for worse. A bit like a marriage, a leap of faith.
Rather like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, when odd cracks in this reality emerge and seem to threaten the otherwise idyllic life of our hero, he/she will try to ignore them and cling to the dream.
Pity the tender sensibilities and dreams of the apologists; for I used to be one of them.
— I think this is an excellent, insightful comment. Thanks for it.
In Italy’s defence, it is far, far better than Japan in terms of public accountability. Berlusconi is embroiled in so many trials and allegations it has its own wikipedia page:
In Japan, he would probably have got away with it all, where even lowly low-life Muneo Suzuki seems largely immune.
Thanks for your excellent comment. I’ve been putting this a bit more pithily for a few years now: “The only place they can get laid/hired is in Japan.” Present company excepted, of course!
— Now that’s just mean. One of the things about Japanese society is the “scare tactic” to keep people from leaving Japan by emphasizing the negatives about other places. In terms of the most “emulatable society” (at least during the kokusaika period), America was still the place riddled with crime, guns, social inequality, fatty food etc. — whereas Japan to this day keeps stressing how our society is all middle class, “safe” (until the J police get their hands on you), with healthier food and a language you can speak, etc.). It kept Japanese from emigrating. The same dynamic has long percolated into NJ resident mindsets keeping NJ immobile out of fear — they can’t get a job (or a girlfriend) overseas, only in Japan. That’s bullspit. Don’t fall for it.
@ Flyjin #61
I think that what you are describing is called ‘cognitive dissonance’; when belief system and reality clash in an irreconcilable manner.
There has been a fair amount of research on this phenomena, focused mainly on ‘end of the world’ cults, and how they rationalize the world not ending as predicted. Rather than accepting that their belief system is in error, and accepting reality, they rationalize yet even more bizarre beliefs in order to explain the situation.
This is exactly what we see with the apologists.
Like your good self, we all come to Japan full of the images carefully selected by vested interests (academics with a stake in Japan, companies promoting a certain image of Japanese modernity, the tourist agency promoting the ‘ancient Japan’ myth, or the image that we get from manga, anime, or film; I mean, seriously, why should we believe any of those images any more than we would believe those coming out of Hollywood?) and have to go through the process of realizing that they are all fake to varying degrees (Debord and Baudrillard would argue that they are totally fake).
I agree with you, and sympathize thus far. I went through a similar process. However, this is where differences begin.
Some of us then go through an (often protracted) process of understanding that our ‘imaginary’ Japan, and our first hand experiences do not equate, hence we do not become apologists.
Some people are never able to accept reality, become locked into cognitive dissonance, and denounce things such as Debito.org and it’s posters as being liars, racists, haters, and such, because that is the only way they can accept the information that challenges their ‘hyperreality’ (in a situationalist sense) of Japan; ‘I am respected! I am not discriminated against! It’s Japans special culture to treat me differently because of my skin color/birthplace!’ For them, all of Japans inabilities to accept international norms of law and human rights disappear in light of the need to ‘understand and respect that Japan is different’. Well, nice, but everywhere is ‘different’ from somewhere else.
Lastly, there are the real ‘haters’. Contrary to what the apologists would have you believe, that is not us! (Gasp!).
The real haters are the people who would never even come here. They are the type of people who tweet about Hiroshima when USA plays Japan at soccer, or contaminate gyoza shipments to Japan. The real haters are the ones who would seek to deny anyone not born in (insert name of haters country here) any access or rights at all!
‘Deny access or rights’ to visitors….who does that sound like? Could it be that Japan is a nation of ‘haters’? You decide.
Actually, (if you will indulge me Debito) I have has another thought about apologists.
Let me offer an analogy.
Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens make a logical and scientific argument that ‘God’ does not exist.
Some (N.B. ‘some’!) christians say that they are incorrect.
Dawkins et al invite the christians to provide proof.
Christians reply that there is no proof, only personal belief. In fact, they reply that if Dawkins requires proof, then he is by that fact, incapable of understanding that ‘God’ exists, and further discussion is futile.
Dawkins explains that this logic is flawed. Belief without empirical evidence is delusional.
Aforementioned christians send Dawkins hate mail, and death threats, proving what nice people they are.
We could just as easily say;
Debito and Debito.org posters make a logical and scientific argument that Japan is a discriminatory and corrupt society based on bullying and fear of anything ‘different’.
Some (N.B. ‘some’!) Japanophiles say that they are incorrect.
Debito et al invite the Japanophiles to provide proof.
Japanophiles reply that there is no proof, only personal belief. In fact, they reply that if Debito requires proof, then he is by that fact, incapable of understanding that Japan is ‘special’, and further discussion is futile.
Debito explains that this logic is flawed. Belief without empirical evidence is delusional.
Aforementioned Japanophiles send Debito hate mail, and threats, proving that they are bullies and afraid of anything ‘different’.
Belief without proof is delusional!
That is why the apologists are unable to win the argument against us through persuasion; instead they assert that we are ‘haters’ who are unfairly attempting to force our outsiders ways upon the special (precious?) people of Japan, and in any case, if there are any bad things about Japan, then they happen in other countries too (or first). Japan is ‘unique’ except when it’s bad points are universal to all countries, etc.
@ Eric C #57
I agree. The point of this site is not to act as some kind of Japanophiles ‘love-in’. There are, as you say, plenty of feel good sites. If that’s what someone is looking for, they are in the wrong place. It puzzles me why apologists pay so much attention to Debito.org. I can think of only 3 possibilities (although I am not infallible);
1. They come here because the are masochistic. They actually want to read Debito.org and work themselves up into a sense of outrage.
2. They genuinely believe what they tell themselves, and therefore have a moral obligation to oppose Debito.org (actually, I don’t think any of them believe this, is just what they tell themselves to cover for the truth- see #3 below. It’s a rationalization technique).
3. They are pretty shallow individuals, culturally and socially isolated from other NJ, and marginalized from Japanese culture. They have no peer group by which to identify themselves. In order to define themselves, and to admit that tying themselves to Japan was not a mistake, they have hit upon Debito.org. They never talk about how great their Japan lives are, how fulfilling and meaningful, engaging, and just so damn busy (social lions that they are!). Unlike us, they don’t even originate any discourse. They just spend all their time obsessing alone in front of the PC over Debito.org, and then posting that they do not agree with Debito.org (to put it politely), in order to define themselves in their own consciences. As if ‘I am not ‘person X” could ever be a fulfilling substitute for an identity of your own! This is, ironically, the same process by which the Meiji state defined what it was to be Japanese. It is no wonder, then, that the modern Japanese cannot explain what this much vaunted ‘unique’ Japanese quality is.
Interesting comments. I think you’ve nailed a lot of the apologists. There’s another group that just likes the attention. For certain sad people, any attention is better than none at all. This lies behind a lot of typical trolling behavior. Another common apologist must surely be the type of person who is trying to convince himself that Japan is actually a good place to live. They do it through the medium of a blog like this. They’re not arguing with us as much as they’re arguing with (or trying to convince) themselves.
I should also point out that in addition to the usual justification that apologists cite (“I’ve never been discriminated against, so it’s all good”) there is another one: “All countries have problems. And Japan has problems, too. But it’s no worse than other countries.” This second justification, which we might call the “all equal argument,” is utterly flawed and fatalistic. Anyone who’s traveled a lot and lived in lots of places knows that countries most certainly are not all equal. I’d submit that immigrant-friendly countries with some degree of socialized democracies and Western legal and ethical systems are FAR superior in terms of places to live and raise children. I’m thinking of several European countries now, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Singapore would probably make it onto that list as well.
It’s also worth briefly discussing another group of long-term NJs who don’t fit into the traditional apologist category, but still stick it out and are generally favorable in their opinion of Japan. I know a lot of guys like this (and the odd woman). For most of them, they came to Japan pretty randomly and found that they liked the easy money and the – dare I say it? – easy women. Most of them didn’t intend to stay for years, but then the years slipped by. And, most of them eventually got married. Now, they find themselves in a position where they’re either unable to move or just afraid of moving. Of course, as Debito rightly pointed out above, the common fear that “it’s worse over there and you can’t get jobs over there” is BS and it’s what keeps a lot of guys stuck in Japan.
A lot of these guys will defend Japan because they feel stuck in the place and they have to justify themselves and their choices (although I wouldn’t call their living in Japan a “choice” for most of these guys – it’s more of an accident or the result of simple inertia). One thing I’ve found common among this lot is that they usually don’t speak or read Japanese well. They’re also quite ignorant about how the country really works. This allows them to live in blissful (or tolerable) ignorance.
The language thing is crucial. For these guys, they never even notice when Japanese people would speak to them rudely (ie, not using keigo, not using the correct honorifics, addressing them only by their first name etc etc). In fact, they actually like it when Japanese speak to them in plain form (futsugo) or in simplified kiddie Japanese, because it’s easier for them to understand this. But, I speak and read Japanese on a pretty high level and I could tell exactly when someone was speaking down to me or using forms that they wouldn’t dare use with a Japanese adult of comparable age and position. And it happened all the time and it really got to me. Also, I could hear what people were talking about all around me. I could also understand when o-sans were abusing shop girls and waitresses etc. And I could read the newspaper and understand the news and variety shows. I could also speak directly to my Japanese friends and learn firsthand about what people were thinking etc.
My conclusion is this: Once you really start to understand the language and the culture, it’s extremely difficult not to get exasperated with Japan. Conversely, if you don’t really speak the language and don’t delve too deep into the culture and politics, it can seem perfectly okay, especially for a Western white male. As long as the Y5000/hour English lessons keep coming and the Kirin keeps flowing, there’s no reason to open one’s eyes and move along. It’s the rare bird indeed who speaks fluent Japanese and really knows how the system works who can continue to stay put in Japan and feel good about that decision.
Finally, I should note this: the guys who have the motivation and smarts to really master the language and understand the culture are often smart enough to have work options and the willpower to get themselves out of Japan and into another place. It’s the B-list that hangs on in Japan because they understand – perhaps quite rightly – that their resume of 15 years of eikaiwa teaching experience doesn’t amount to much in their home countries or elsewhere.
What we are basically discussing here is moral relativism and its application to modern Japan. Therefore the notion that what we are seeing happen between the apologists and the critics of Japan is a clash of personal beliefs is true on some level.
There are people who claim (often, obliviously to the terminology) meta-ethical moral relativism must be applied to other cultures and societies (i.e. “anything goes”), and there are those who say there are universal standards that all societies have to be measured against.
I tend to think of the meta-ethical crowd as unworldly, inhumane, and bigoted, because even they would not really be able to survive in a world of complete moral relativism. After all, what the Nazis did, was “right” according to their morals and values. But everybody in their right mind will agree they crossed a line and it was right to judge them by a universal moral standard, stop them, and get rid of them.
The elephant in the room regarding Japan is that the society is ripe with racism, xenophobia, and quasi-totalitarian. Yet, Japan has somehow been allowed to operate “under the line”, so many apologists might feel that they are simply defending the “common sense” view on Japan against us “deluded haters”.
As I said before, what needs to change first is the perpetuating of lies and dangerously benevolent assessment of Japan in the West – the sheep will follow automatically.
“Conversely, if you don’t really speak the language and don’t delve too deep into the culture and politics, it can seem perfectly okay, especially for a Western white male. As long as the Y5000/hour English lessons keep coming and the Kirin keeps flowing, there’s no reason to open one’s eyes and move along.”
Just a little correction:
I think it used to be like that. Where you can live an okay life by being somewhat naive and oblivious and you won’t notice the negativity of Japan. But as of current it seems that Japan has taken a turn for the worse in terms of politics. The nationalists are taking power and want to make sure their xenophobic messages are broadcasted loud and clear so that it even those who are just learning Japan will know that they are not welcome. If you don’t understand Japanese that well, then they will yell at you in english.
The west doesn’t seem as welcome as it used to now that Japanese are using the west as their scapegoat for their recession. I guess the wall street crash seems to have changed how Japan views the west a little.
There was a report on Japantoday a few months back where nationalists are gathering in the streets and making death threats towards NJ. I know that in the west it is a criminal offense to make death threats but it seems in Japan they accept it if it is made towards NJ. If nationalism just keeps increasing at this rate, Japan might just go back to the way it was in 1930s.
Makes me worry how far nationalism will go from here on now that Japanese are resorting to making death threats towards NJ. The Japanese right-wingers are also doing this on 2channel also. I think wikipedia said something like this about 2channel where it is uncommon to find death threats being directed towards NJ. Now, not only do J-nationalists want NJ to leave but they want them dead.
I can’t find it now but I think it exists somewhere if you search google cache for something like “japantoday police say rise in nationalism”.
I sense that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with life amongst many Japanese. Yet they are forbidden to criticize themselves or the GOJ for fear of being branded as a traitor or for not “liking” Japan. So the only venue for Japanese to vent their frustrations is to blame everything under the sun on NJ.
With xenophobia exploding to such proportions in Japan, I don’t think you can really “mind your own business, brush it off and everything will be cool.”.
— We need a source for the Japan Today article or else I’m going to have to delete these allegations of death threats as mere rumors. If you can’t find it now then please don’t make the allegations now. I’ll give 24 hours for substantiation before I hit the delete key.
Debito: “The same dynamic has long percolated into NJ resident mindsets keeping NJ immobile out of fear — they can’t get a job (or a girlfriend) overseas, only in Japan. That’s bullspit. Don’t fall for it.”
I’m not so sure. I think it goes even further. Those kind of people, long before they even moved or lived in Japan, decided to make the move out of hate for self, their homeland, Western women, and so on.
I don’t think Japan has to try much at all to use “scare tactics” on the feeble. In spite of all their denials, I think some of the apologists may actually realize the reality, but well they can’t start all over and move out unless they either have a willing wife (if they want to keep their kids), built up a skill set beyond eikaiwa (useless on a resume), or if they are in IT, kept up to date with tech (outside of Ruby, not much else really going on in Japan to spread one’s wings).
In turn, they have to take out their frustrations of feeling “trapped” on something or someone (debito.org, JT, hoofin, Tabuchi, etc.) for their own shortcomings. All they ever do is nitpick every post and comment from those sources, or when they are out of material, they resort back to their tired MO, the famed “microaggressions” topic always asking what’s the big deal about Japanese complimenting about chopsticks when that was not even the main point of the topic to begin with.
I remember the Article in question too. I will try and find a link.
That is a great post. It clarifies a lot of puzzlement I had over the tepid reaction by a huge section of the NJ community post 3-11/Fukushima. What the ongoing situation in Fukushima has done is reveal the “honne” of the powers that be due to the fact that it is not going as predicted. The cannot devise a Kata with which to deal with the problems (irradited food supplies/national antipathy against nuclear power etc) so they revert to their default setting: Laughing at women making presntations to the parliament/saying how Japanese soil is different from elsewhere etc. But the question I had is: What kind of a bubble to you have to live in to ignore all of this? Many of my colleagues and friends seemed in no rush at all to leave the country, but then I realised, many of them fit pretty well into your description
One more point.
I think many of these people become easily institutionalised. Life as a white english speaker afforded you a more comfortable of discrimination than other NJ groups in the past, but I detected a definate change in the country over the last few years. Basically they are going to really find out whatbeing an underclass is like. IMO
“As I said before, what needs to change first is the perpetuating of lies and dangerously benevolent assessment of Japan in the West – the sheep will follow automatically”
Actually many do know about Japan as they have had exposure to Japanese in exchange programs at universities and with companies abroad. Its just not something they dwell on, after all, Japan isnt the center of the world for them as it is for us. Ive met allot of people abroad who know about Japan and the issues I have dealt with; Japan doesnt have the reputation I thought it did with everyone.
“I sense that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with life amongst many Japanese. Yet they are forbidden to criticize themselves or the GOJ for fear of being branded as a traitor or for not “liking” Japan. So the only venue for Japanese to vent their frustrations is to blame everything under the sun on NJ.”
Hey, thats just like in Communist China! Oh, the irony…
” they can’t get a job (or a girlfriend) overseas, only in Japan.”
I did. There is always China! (^-^)
Hi debito, you said you wanted some sources, so here is what I can find so far.
The article is “expired” on J-today, the comments are still there and I think someone in the comments quoted it. There is no “cache” option on google, if you can find the cache the better.
One of the phrases chanted by the nationalists was was:
“….where people gather to shout slogans calling for immigrant “roaches” to “die.””
Also from wikipedia:
“….Many users expressed the desire to kill Chinese and Koreans, citing ethnic stereotypes such as those about dog meat consumption in South Korea. Users who attacked the premise of the thread were branded Zainichi Koreans or bakachon (バカチョン, “Stupid Korean”).”
There is a foot note you can connect to I think for the wiki.
— Okay, thanks, here’s the article, according to http://www.scoop.it/t/japan-as-i-see-it/p/3643696615/police-see-rise-in-membership-of-extremist-groups. This is why sites like Debito.org archive articles, so that the historical record doesn’t disappear!
Police see rise in membership of extremist groups
From http://www.japantoday.com – December 7, 2012 2:59 PM
Law enforcement officers in Japan say they are seeing a rise in membership of extremist groups, and—more significantly—a change in the kind of people who are joining.
Takuji Norikane, who heads up a division keeping watch on political extremists for the National Police Agency, says the old-style rightists in their quasi-military uniforms and the black vans blaring martial music were easy to spot.
“Nowadays we have these right-wing civil groups that take to the streets wearing normal clothes,” Norikane told AFP.
“Civil groups with right-wing ideologies are active across a wider geographical region of the country, and the number joining their ranks is swelling.”
Norikane said many of these groups clothe “extremely nationalistic and xenophobic ideas” in the language of civil rights.
One group, under the name Zaitokukai, uses the Internet to organize demonstrations where people gather to shout slogans calling for immigrant “roaches” to “die.”
Journalist Koichi Yasuda says with more than 12,000 claimed users, the group’s site is a breeding ground for opinions that would not look out of place among Europe’s fringe right.
“They have a similar nature to the neo-Nazis in Europe,” said Yasuda, author of the prize-winning book “Netto to Aikoku” (Internet and Patriotism).
“The forums they use see a lot of calls for ‘immigrants’ to leave the country,” said Yasuda, noting many members are seemingly ordinary people—businessmen or housewives.
This has been an interesting thread to read, and I mostly agree with assessments by posters. I hesitate, however, to engage in character assassination of apologists. Speculating as to their life situations such as being trapped or being afraid of Western women seems rather smug and unfair. I think that two factors are far more likely:
1) As Eric C. said, they haven’t reached the Japanese level to really understand what is going on.
2) They aren’t very well read in terms of Japanese history and politics, or, they have only read things produced by the chrysanthemum club.
Both of these things seem more likely to me, and suggest ignorance of what’s behind the veil, not realizing that Japanese officialdom perpetuates a policy of training of “Japaneseness” and a xenophobic populace is to their benefit.
Speculating that they are terrible people or are trapped in pathetic lives is just that, speculating, and harsh speculation at that.
‘House gaijin’ like Gregory Clark and Donald Keene are the exception rather than the rule, simply because I think #1 (the language barrier) is the biggest factor in apologism.
“1) As Eric C. said, they haven’t reached the Japanese level to really understand what is going on.
2) They aren’t very well read in terms of Japanese history and politics, or, they have only read things produced by the chrysanthemum club’
I dont agree. Most of the apologist that attack Debito are long termers themselves, and some have “accomplished” if there is such a thing here, careers in Japan- meaning they have excellenct communication skills and are submeresed in the company culture here. They simply, for reasons mentioned by other posters, refuse to acknowledge the reality of life for NJ in Japan. Instead of “complaining” as I often do, they choose other ways to maintain their mental maintenance, such as denial. Really kind of sad, but I dont know which is worse, feeling trapped and not doing anything about it (such as leaving) or being an apologist.
@ Mike above, the ones doing well here can afford (including financially) to live in denial and are often well looked after and sheltered from most of the negative stuff. Expats on a good deal and trophy Caucasian wives are probably having a great time being pampered.
Hence they stay long term, as they have a good deal.
Its the people who do not have this support (and money) that will experience most of the disadvantages of Japan firsthand.
In a way your response doesn’t compute. If they believe they are accomplished and are immersed in their company/career, then it doesn’t sound like they are in a position of trapped denial, it sounds more like they have been successful and haven’t met with the same problems as others. They would be the type to come on and say “Nothing like this has happened to me.” or “I’ve never been stopped by police for ID.” Their argument is weak to be sure, and they have a skewed rosy view of the country and its officialdom, but it doesn’t mean they’re twisted psychologically.
LOL, I realize I sound like I’m being an apologist for apologists, but the truth is I’m a skeptic. I need some sort of evidence to a claim that apologists are most likely sad or cornered individuals.
@Paul 2. I will be your evidence. I WAS a sad and cornered individual who re invented myself in Japan. For a while.
Then I grew up-partly due to my experiences in Japan- and woke up one day and thought “what the hell am I doing here?” And left to enter further education overseas.
I agree with Baudrillard. I know of one local UK citizen who has been here in Kansai with his UK wife and kids for almost 15 years, working for a massive J-company (household name). He lives in a virtual NJ community, with import food shops, international school for his kids, wife’s friends are the other NJ wives, and he can’t speak a word oF Japanese. Yet, he would get very angry if you had anything critical to say about Japan, and accuse you of being a ‘typical bloody English teacher’. Let’s be clear, this is a man who can’t order a beer in Japanese, and begins every work anecdote with, ‘Suzuki san…..’
I mean, seriously, who refers to people that are absent from the conversation, that none of the listeners know, with the suffix ‘san’. Clearly, he is a master of Japanese culture without being literate in Japanese. He is, also, sadly typical of the kind of NJ that Team Japan likes; hasn’t got a clue, and never will. The Japanese are happy to throw money (invest in?) these types of NJ, who will presumably eventually leave and say what a nice place Japan is. But, if like us, you are in on the secret, then the Japanese want you to go away, back to your own country now, and save themselves from the shame they feel because you know the truth. And if you don’t go home? Well then they just hate you for embarrassing them constantly.
My point is that there are those of us who hate it here, and make excuese for leaving, but deal with it by being real and speaking up; it becomes theraputic, a kind of venting. The apologist surely experience the same microagressions as we do, but find its perhaps more enjoyable to annoy others by denying or are so ashamed of the choices they have made in life that they must self justify their existance by attacking those who wont “assimilate” or go native. Eric C brought up many generalizations used, like “every country has its problems” used by the apologist. They also feel that we are crybabies who expect white privilage when we complain about injustice. I would agree with you that there are those who are sheltered from the real Japan, mostly base and diplomat personnel, some expat senior management and eigo sensei short termers. The apologist who attack Debito, however, are not of that type.
Some excellent posts with some extremely insightful opinions. I know that this post is just about done with but I just wanted to push a thought I had while reading all the comments. After reading through them I wonder, am I kidding myself every day? Every time I have an enjoyable experience or exchange with a Japanese am I just being foolish and naïve? After reading through the comments of Eric C. and others it certainly seems that way. I have very recently started up my own business in Japan, something I’ve been planning for the last 5 years, and I want some decent reasons to stay here and work at it! I didn’t come here for any other reason than I wanted to travel. I ended up staying because basically I liked the challenge of living in a different country. And now the main reason I want to stay is because I made a plan and I want to stick with it. I didn’t want English teaching to define my role in Japan (Besides, I never really enjoyed the job) so, I worked at getting out of it. No disrespect to anyone who makes a living doing teaching by the way, it just wasn’t for me. But anyway, the question I wanted to ask posters was is it possible to be aware of all racism and corruption here and still have some kind of fulfilling existence? One that doesn’t involve lying to oneself, one that means acknowledging the problems and existing happily despite them? I know Eric C would say it’s not possible but does anyone think that it is?
@ Mike S #82
I dunno. Can you live happily everyday as a victim of any racially motivated insult or aggression without legally protected rights? Why don’t you think the implications of that over, and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
@mike #82 – yes it is possible. Have been doing it for 20 years. Sometimes, some things get me down but speaking up and being myself is what keeps me sane – here or in my birth country.
You might be surprised to find out that I’d be the first one to say that you can indeed live in Japan and be happy and not have to lie to yourself. It it works for you, it works for you. There’s a lot of money to be made in Japan, for one thing. It can be very livable if you find the right place, people and work (or make your own work). There’s great food (some of it may be irradiated, but let’s not dwell on that for the moment). Some beautiful women. Great onsens. Brilliant trains. And on and on. It works for you until it doesn’t. And, I’d say that you simply have to be aware of what’s going on. Don’t expect fair treatment from the police, immigration etc. Be very wary of all doctors, clinics and hospitals and pray to god that you never need emergency medical care, because Japan’s emergency medical system is appallingly bad. And, be ready for a lot of people to simply bore you or annoy you. Oh, and be ready for the place to change on a dime and become dangerously anti-foreigner at any time. But, as I say, it can be very good. I mean, people can be happy in some very challenging places if they have the right attitude and they find the best part of that challenging place.
But, here’s the HUGE CAVEAT: I do not think it responsible to raise children in Japan, particularly if they are part Japanese. I won’t explain my reasons for that statement here. I’ve done so in the past at some length. I will only note that I don’t think there are any exceptions to the rule (for example, sending your kids to international school is not going to save them from a lot of the wrong kind of socialization they will receive in Japan). It’s a rotten place for children. Full stop.
Next, there’s another topic that occurred to me today regarding the language issue we discussed above: I made the point that it seems that those who don’t speak much Japanese are able to be happy for longer than those who do speak good Japanese. Some posters disagreed, but I stand by my point. What I realized today is that it’s not just because those who speak good Japanese understand the culture better. It’s also because the Japanese themselves don’t really like it when gaijin speak good Japanese.
As far as most Japanese are concerned, the ideal gaijin is the happy gaijin clown who speaks terribly broken Japanese with a horrible gaijin accent. This gaijin poses no threat. Furthermore, a gaijin who has severely limited Japanese must, by necessity, remain in a subordinate position. They can’t order food, they can’t ask directions, they certainly can’t argue with anything in their broken Japanese. So they must depend on the kindness of strangers. And this is naturally the way that most Japanese would have it.
But, when a gaijin suddenly starts speaking and reading Japanese on a high level, then the whole picture changes. Then, they can stand on their own two feet. They can question things. And, it becomes clear to the Japanese that they might just understand the whole picture. And this is deeply disturbing. A gaijin speaking fluent Japanese sends the message that, “I am on to you.” And, let’s not forget that a gaijin speaking good Japanese shoots down one of the central myths of Nihonjinron, namely, that 日本語 is an incredibly difficult language that only Japanese can understand (and, conversely, it sort of rubs their noses in the inadequacy of their English skills).
Keep in mind that this is not a theoretical argument I’m making here. I have a few friends in Japan who speak crap Japanese and by default adopt the happy gaijin clown role. And, guess what? They’re pretty happy with Japan and people treat them nicely. Well, they treat them nicely the way you treat a slightly dangerous village idiot nicely. But, you get the point.
Why do you think the common term among Japanese for a gaijin who speaks good Japanese is a “hen na gaijin”?
Ive met/worked for people like you. Some made it big here, after allot of effort, but wanted to leave because of the way their kids were treated. Some got old; still trying to make it work but seemed to regret it. Others dont mind it, they keep busy with work so they arent bothered with the “othering” we all experience. That doesnt mean they escape it, however. If anything, they experience more of it; some are actually run out of Japan by the local competition. Only thing I can say is gambatte and good luck.
Of course it’s possible. One has to deal with a lot of crap anywhere. That’s no justification for the crap, but does help deal with it, in my opinion. There are many, many intelligent, perceptive foreigners who have lived successfully in Japan for decades.
Thanks all of you for the responses, appreciated. I know a lot of people in Japan who live their lives just as Eric.C has described. They get by on minimal Japanese and as such remain on the fringes as some foreign clown who cannot really understand what is going on around them (most of us have been like this at some point I’m guessing). That said, the ones I know are for the most part very decent people who may or may not be aware of their real position in society, but they are happy. And I suppose being happy is pretty important- but then again im thinking of the Matrix here, where the choice is ignorance and happiness or reality and well, something else. I definitely agree that language is the key that can unlock the door behind which there is a whole world of shit. I had a discussion a while back with my Japanese wife regarding foreigners and those who speak decent Japanese. She said almost the same thing Eric C says here. That it’s kind of like you are inviting yourself in to this secret little club that should be exclusively made up of Japanese members. She said it makes Japanese feel uncomfortable to know that everything they say can be understood by a non-Japanese. Of course she rationalized this as being because Japanese are not used to being in such a situation- I’m sure that they aren’t but this is still obviously rooted in racist ideas.
@Mike- The nature of my business means that my customers are generally Japanese but I only have to deal with those who have a particular interest in what I’m doing. Hence, so far, I have had only nice experiences with people who appreciate what I’m trying to do. As for local competition, yea there’s some but I hope that the (love it or hate it) “Gaijin Factor” will keep them coming. We shall see. As for the kids thing my wife and I both agree that, if and when we do have them, bringing them up in my home country is best all round. They will have English as a first language and may have more choices than if it were Japanese. The whole, bringing your kids up in Japan is child abuse thing, well I don’t know. But some atheists would say that to label a child as Muslim, Christian or whatever is abuse. If you take being Japanese as almost being a member of a religion then I suppose you could draw similarities.
@Jim Di Griz. I suppose I can live happily as long as those things don’t stop me from living the life that I want to live. I guess I need to know how much of that shit will have a direct, negative impact on my life and planned future. It has of course affected my life as a foreigner in Japan but it hasn’t stopped me from doing most of the things I have wanted to do so far.
@Betty Boo. @mike #82 – “yes it is possible. Have been doing it for 20 years. Sometimes, some things get me down but speaking up and being myself is what keeps me sane – here or in my birth country”
Yes, you are right. And I suppose to be able to this in the native language is crucial. No point venting if the audience don’t know what you’re on about, right?
As long as you realize that your customers are not your friends then there is a good chance that you can maintain a civil business relationship. Debito wrote a great column on how it is virtually impossible for NJ and Japanese to become close personal friends, at least in the Western sense, you should check it out.
Please beware though, if your customers try to complain they will use your NJ status against you to force compliance with their demands and may even threaten to call immigration and so on. So don’t let your guard down.
As a fluent Japanese speaker I am often sidelined or ignored by Japanese who pretend they don’t understand what I am saying, you may need therefore to communicate in English to prevent this from affecting your business.
Although this may sound like a siege mentality, it’s simply the reality of doing business as an NJ in Japan today and you should adjust your expectations accordingly. Debito has also written a column on Tatemae and Hone, which can help you understand some of the underhanded side of Japanese nature, it applies to commercial and business situations. I would keep things strictly business myself and not get involved in any potentially damaging social relationships.
“they will use your NJ status against you to force compliance with their demands and may even threaten to call immigration ”
I love this one. Not just your customers either, but sometimes employers, even wannabe girlfriends etc. In the 90s I do not think it would have had much effect, but since the 2000s and the snitch sites, I am not so sure.
Do you really want a customer who makes this kind of threat? Are they paying you extra or something? I would just say, “I do not think I can help you. There is another company who can help you, why don”t you try them? Goodbye.”
@Mike S, also be prepared to pay up to the local “business groups”, i.e. Yakuza. It is unlikely that you will not be on their radar, and your status as a foreigner will not help you for long. If they don’t want money from you, expect smear campaign etc. to discredit you.
75- “house gaijin”!! Made me burst out laughing. What a fantastic term to describe these cringing apologists.
@Flyjin, Fighback and Markus. I have to say that im not too worried about anyone calling immigration about me or my business. Its all legal and i have the right visa and my business is all above board. So not really worried about that- although im guessing that i should be??! As for the Yaks, well they aint been to visit yet- ill deal with that when it happens. I have a very good friend from the UK who lives in Japan. He too runs his own business and ive learnt a lot from him. He speaks close to fluent Japanese (even though he never studied and has only lived here for 4 years- lucky bastard). Anyway, i have to say that he is the absolute exception to the rule, and i cannot help but admire the way he has made Japan work for him. In the town where he lives he is a self employed carpenter. He has befriended all kinds of Japanese from all walks of life- mainly because of his work. Most notably he is very close friends with a big time ex Yak who basically used to hate foreigners and was a high up member of the Uyoku Dantai. This guy has done a total turn around because of my mate. I realise that it shouldnt take some special person with a knack for Japanese and a talent to make Japanese accept them, but at least i have seen that its possible. My friend is by all appearances as close to the people in the town as any Japanese person might be. Anyway, i accept that his situation may be slightly different to most, and he is definitely an exception, however he makes me want to succeed here and try and be positive when ive experienced the shit side of this country.
— Good. Now then, we’ve come a long, long way from the original point of this blog entry. Let’s draw this particular discussion to a close.
Debito wants to draw this thread to a close and we need to respect that. I’d just like to mention in passing that Mike’s friend is most likely being played for a fool, I’ve seen this happen many times before. His friend provides a service the locals need so they play along, humoring him, but never truly accepting him as a Japanese.
As soon as a local begins to offer a similar service, the backstabbing and rumor-mongering will begin and he’ll be inexplicably faced with the ‘cold shoulder’ from the people he considered his friends, thus finding out the reality for NJ the hard way.
So please be wary of those who appear to be ‘successful’ in Japan as the truth is more complex. Again this harks back to Debito’s column on Tatemae and Hone, well worth a read, and underpins the reality that in Japan cordial relations are only a means to an end. Fake smiles abound so don’t be taken in!
“Debito wants to draw this thread to a close and we need to respect that. I’d just like to mention in passing that Mike’s friend is most likely being played for a fool, I’ve seen this happen many times before. His friend provides a service the locals need so they play along, humoring him, but never truly accepting him as a Japanese.
As soon as a local begins to offer a similar service, the backstabbing and rumor-mongering will begin and he’ll be inexplicably faced with the ‘cold shoulder’ from the people he considered his friends, thus finding out the reality for NJ the hard way. ”
This is, quite simply, (and excuse my language), utter racist shit. Replace “local” with “Jew”, Fight Back, and go back to 1930’s Germany. That’s the level you’ve stooped to.
You’re abusing a site dedicated to the abolition of discrimination and racism in order to attack the entire Japanese nation. You and your buddies are poisoning what was once a lively, provocative website with a constant dripping of bile and hate. Nothing ad hominen about this, I’m going entirely on your own words.
— Except that the “local” in this case is the dominant majority in society. Comparison with minority Jews in Nazi Germany is not a good one. Calm down.
I should have made myself clearer. I wasn’t comparing the Japanese to the Jews; I was comparing Fight Back’s language to that employed by the Nazis against the Jews. The idea that the Jews were back-stabbers and concerned only with their own kind, was a common theme in Nazi propaganda. An obvious bit of hate-fuelled nonsense. And we have the same thing here.
Seriously, I have no idea as to Fight Back’s ethnicity, but I’m sure there a supremacist website out there somewhere where anti-Japanese (or anti-‘local’ if we’re being coy about our prejudices) comments would be welcome with open arms. I just find it ironic that nonsense like this appears on a site actively seeking to fight racism.
@ Joe #95, 96
I disagree with every point you make.
You said; ‘You and your buddies are poisoning what was once a lively, provocative website with a constant dripping of bile and hate.’
This is a lively and provocative site! look at the numbers of comments that these threads get! Look at the number of posters involved (rather more than ‘twelve’, wouldn’t you agree?)!
You say ‘bile and hate’; I say that the nature of the discourse has changed. And for the better!
I first stumbled upon Debito.org many years ago and read it occasionally in order to get advice, and updates on NJ issues. Debito.org was, and is, a crucial archive of information that would otherwise never have been collated and saved. Priceless.
On the other hand, by 2009 I had the profound feeling that Japan was becoming a more NJ hostile place to live; it was becoming more socially acceptable to be openly rude and aggressive to NJ. I remember mailing Debito around that time to ask if he had received any other anecdotal evidence from others. My opinion is that the impact of ‘Lehmans Shock’ on Japan found expression in the meme that ‘Our economy won’t recover (and our jobs will suffer) because those gaijin can’t afford to buy our stuff anymore’ (to be colloquial about it). This attitude conveniently side-steps the fact that, by then, Japan had had over 10 years of economic slump, and despite having every opportunity to do so, refused to use that time to re-structure from an export based economic model; hence they were shafted when the west got hit by the credit-crunch and stopped buying Panasonic TV’s.
Then, in 2011 the earthquake happened. When I saw that the J-media would rather run stories about ‘disloyal gaijin fleeing’ Japan (they even forced the closure of Disneyland for christs sake!!!), rather than investigating whether Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano was telling the truth when he stood up on live national TV and said ‘there is no melt-down at Fukushima’ (when in fact three were happening at right that very moment), I realized that something was significantly wrong with this society. That’s around the time that I became a regular reader and poster on Debito.org (as, I suspect, did many others).
The popular response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster (perpetuated by fools like Nishiyama) convinced me that Japan (as a nation state, and as a society) had been playing a game of covert resistance to the basic core principles that it accepted as a modern nation with international responsibility, initially defined by the victory of ‘the humane’ over the racist and discriminatory ideology of Japanese Imperialism, but with no economic incentive to perpetuate covert resistance to global standards and definitions of ‘human rights’, was now overtly expressing that distaste.
The recent political atmosphere of Japan, in which a generation who has never known first hand the evils of either war, or Japanese Imperialist war, has risen to prominence as mayors of the three major megalopolis, and put an unashamed revisionist in control of the country has convinced me fully that not only do these supremacist views represent the mainstream, but that also ‘conventional’ activism has failed.
‘Conventional’ activism has thus far labored under the (false) belief that given the chance, and the correct method of transmitting information, most Japanese would be able to understand why it is unfair to treat NJ the way they do. However, the Japanese have clung even more strongly than before to the Imperial ideology that the Japanese are ‘unique and special’ and by definition, that NJ are not. On that basis, they continue to rationalize that it is natural to treat NJ unfairly.
I suspect that many other posters here at Debito.org have had familiar experiences that have led them to the conclusion that it has now become clear that the Japanese will not deviate from discriminatory practices until forced externally to do so. In that sense, a ‘new’ approach in activism is called for, I would propose. That approach would be that rather than offering the Japanese explanations and increased awareness of human rights, it may be much more productive to shame and embarrass them internationally. International humiliation may be the best way to convince the populace that Sick-note, Blinky, and Hashishita hold a world view that is racist.
Jim di Griz #97: That is quite a journey. You have evolved. I totally agree with the points you make. Trying to point out the unfairness only makes sense if they don’t know they are doing something wrong, or care to change. Since it seams that the majority of Japan wants to live in a racist country, tactics need to adjust accordingly.
There is not much room for understanding in “I hate Chinese people” – which I am hearing far too often from Japanese visitors in Hawaii.