Wash Post: US teacher in Japan under attack from Internet bullies for lessons on Japan’s history of racial discrimination


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Hi Blog. Here we have a case of cyberbullying by Japan’s nasty Internet denizens who do not wish the inconvenient truth of Japan’s racism (a subset of the stripe found in every country and every society) to be discussed or thought about. It made the Washington Post.  Comments by me follow the article:


American teacher in Japan under fire for lessons on Japan’s history of discrimination

Posted by Max Fisher on February 22, 2013 at 6:00 am

Courtesy http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/02/22/american-teacher-in-japan-under-fire-for-lessons-on-japans-history-of-discrimination/ and Medama Sensei

Miki Dezaki in his Okinawa classroom. He says very few students raised their hands at first. (Screenshot from YouTube by Washington Post)

Miki Dezaki in his Okinawa classroom. He says very few students raised their hands at first. (Screenshot by Washington Post)

Miki Dezaki, who first arrived in Japan on a teacher exchange program in 2007, wanted to learn about the nation that his parents had once called home. He taught English, explored the country and affectionately chronicled his cross-cultural adventures on social media, most recently on YouTube, where he gained a small following for videos like “Hitchhiking Okinawa” and the truly cringe-worthy “What Americans think of Japan.” One of them, on the experience of being gay in Japan, attracted 75,000 views and dozens of thoughtful comments.

Dezaki didn’t think the reaction to his latest video was going to be any different, but he was wrong. “If I should have anticipated something, I should have anticipated the netouyu,” [sic] he told me, referring to the informal army of young, hyper-nationalist Japanese Web users who tend to descend on any article — or person — they perceive as critical of Japan.

But before the netouyu put Dezaki in their crosshairs, sending him death threats and hounding his employers, previous employers and even the local politicians who oversee his employers, there was just a teacher and his students.

Dezaki began his final lesson with a 1970 TV documentary, Eye of the Storm, often taught in American schools for its bracingly honest exploration of how good-hearted people — in this case, young children participating in an experiment — can turn to racism. After the video ended, he asked his students to raise their hands if they thought racism existed in Japan. Almost none did. They all thought of it as a uniquely American problem.

Gently, Dezaki showed his students that, yes, there is also racism in Japan. He carefully avoided the most extreme and controversial cases — for example, Japan’s wartime enslavement of Korean and other Asian women for sex, which the country today doesn’t fully acknowledge — pointing instead to such slang terms as “bakachon camera.” The phrase, which translates as “idiot Korean camera,” is meant to refer to disposable cameras so easy to use that even an idiot or a Korean could do it.

He really got his students’ attention when he talked about discrimination between Japanese groups. People from Okinawa, where Dezaki happened to be teaching, are sometimes looked down upon by other Japanese, he pointed out, and in the past have been treated as second-class citizens. Isn’t that discrimination?

“The reaction was so positive,” he recalled. For many of them, the class was a sort of an a-ha moment. “These kids have heard the stories of their parents being discriminated against by the mainland Japanese. They know this stuff. But the funny thing is that they weren’t making the connection that that was discrimination.” From there, it was easier for the students to accept that other popular Japanese attitudes about race or class might be discriminatory.

The vice principal of the school said he wished more Japanese students could hear the lesson. Dezaki didn’t get a single complaint. No one accused him of being an enemy of Japan.

That changed a week ago. Dezaki had recorded his July classes and, last Thursday, posted a six-minute video in which he narrated an abbreviated version of the lesson. It opens with a disclaimer that would prove both prescient and, for his critics, vastly insufficient. “I know there’s a lot of racism in America, and I’m not saying that America is better than Japan or anything like that,” he says. Here’s the video:

Also on Thursday, Dezaki posted the video, titled “Racism in Japan,” to the popular link-sharing site Reddit under its Japan-focused subsection, where he often comments. By this Saturday, the netouyu had discovered the video.

“I recently made a video about Racism in Japan, and am currently getting bombarded with some pretty harsh, irrational comments from Japanese people who think I am purposefully attacking Japan,” Dezaki wrote in a new post on Reddit’s Japan section, also known as r/Japan. The critics, he wrote, were “flood[ing] the comments section with confusion and spin.” But angry Web comments would turn out to be the least of his problems.

The netouyu make their home at a Web site called ni channeru, otherwise known as ni chan, 2chan or 2ch. Americans familiar with the bottommost depths of the Internet might know 2chan’s English-language spin-off, 4chan, which, like the original, is a message board famous for its crude discussions, graphic images (don’t open either on your work computer) and penchant for mischief that can sometimes cross into illegality.

Some 2chan users, perhaps curious about how their country is perceived abroad, will occasionally translate Reddit’s r/Japan posts into Japanese. When the “Racism in Japan” video made it onto 2chan, outraged users flocked to the comments section on YouTube to attempt to discredit the video. They attacked Dezaki as “anti-Japanese” and fumed at him for warping Japanese schoolchildren with “misinformation.”

Inevitably, at least one death threat appeared. Though it was presumably idle, like most threats made anonymously over the Web, it rattled him. Still, it’s no surprise that the netouyu’s initial campaign, like just about every effort to change a real-life debate by flooding some Web comments sections, went nowhere. So they escalated.

A few of the outraged Japanese found some personal information about Dezaki, starting with his until-then-secret real name and building up to contact information for his Japanese employers. Given Dezaki’s social media trail, it probably wasn’t hard. They proliferated the information using a file-sharing service called SkyDrive, urging fellow netouyu to take their fight off the message boards and into Dezaki’s personal life.

By Monday, superiors at the school in Japan were e-mailing him, saying they were bombarded with complaints. Though the video was based almost entirely on a lecture that they had once praised, they asked him to pull it down.

“Some Japanese guys found out which school I used to work at and now, I am being pressured to take down the ‘Racism in Japan’ video,” Dezaki posted on Reddit. “I’m not really sure what to do at this point. I don’t want to take down the video because I don’t believe I did anything wrong, and I don’t believe in giving into bullies who try to censor every taboo topic in Japan. What do you guys think?”

He decided to keep the video online, but placed a message over the first few sentences that, in English and Japanese, announce his refusal to take it down.

But the outrage continued to mount, both online and in the real world. At one point, Dezaki says he was contacted by an official in Okinawa’s board of education, who warned that a member of Japan’s legislature might raise it on the floor of the National Diet, Japan’s lower house of parliament. Apparently, the netouyu may have succeeded in elevating the issue from a YouTube comments field to regional and perhaps even national Japanese politics.

“I knew there were going to be some Japanese upset with me, but I didn’t expect this magnitude of a problem,” Dezaki said. “I didn’t expect them to call my board of education. That said, I wasn’t surprised, though. You know what I mean? They’re insane people.”

Nationalism is not unique to Japan, but it is strong there, tinged with the insecurity of a once-powerful nation on the decline and with the humiliation of defeat and American occupation at the end of World War II. Japan’s national constitution, which declares the country’s commitment to pacifism and thus implicitly maintains its reliance on the United States, was in some ways pressed on the country by the American military government that ruled it for several years. The Americans, rather than Japan’s own excesses, make an easy culprit for the country’s lowered global status.

That history is still raw in Japan, where nationalism and resentment of perceived American control often go hand-in-hand. Dezaki is an American, and his video seems to have hit on the belief among many nationalists that the Americans still condescend to, and ultimately seek to control, their country.

“I fell in love with Japan; I love Japan,” Dezaki says, explaining why he made the video in the first place. “And I want to see Japan become a better place. Because I do see these potential problems with racism and discrimination.” His students at Okinawa seemed to benefit from the lesson, but a number of others don’t seem ready to hear it.


COMMENT BY DEBITO: Miki Dezaki contacted me last week for some advice about how to deal with this (I watched the abovementioned video on “Racism in Japan” and found it to be a valuable teaching aid, especially since it reconnected me with “Eye of the Storm“, the original of which I saw in grade school four decades ago); the only major problem I have with it is that it neglects to mention current stripes of racism against immigrants and Visible Minorities in Japan), and told him to stand his ground. Now the “Netouyo” (Netto Uyoku, or Internet Right-Wing, misspelled throughout the article above) have stepped up their pressure and attacks on him, and authorities aren’t being courageous enough to stand up to them. Now that his issue has been published in the Washington Post, I can quote this article and let that represent the debate.

The focus of the debate is this:  a perpetual weak spot regarding bullying in Japanese society.  We have loud invisible complainants cloaked by the Internet, who can espouse hateful sentiments against people and shout down historical and current social problems, and they aren’t simply ignored and seen as the cowards they are: anonymous bullies who lack the strength of their convictions to appear in public and take responsibility for their comments and death threats. People in authority must learn to ignore them, for these gnats only get further emboldened by any attention and success they receive.  The implicit irony in all of this is that they take advantage of the right to “freedom of speech” to try and deny the same rights to those they merely disagree with.  I hope that sense prevails and the debate is allowed to proceed and videos stay up.  Miki has done admirable work making all this information (including translations into Japanese) on uncomfortable truths accessible to a Japanese audience.  Bravo, Miki.  Stand your ground.  Debito.org Readers, please lend your support.  Arudou Debito


34 comments on “Wash Post: US teacher in Japan under attack from Internet bullies for lessons on Japan’s history of racial discrimination

  • The hacker collective Anonymous has in some cases taken steps to protect vulnerable people from internet bullies:


    I wonder if the same tactics could be used to track down these detestable bullies and send samples of their “work” to their own employers. Anonymity is the only thing that gives these faceless cowards the ability to attack others with impunity. Unmask them and watch them cringe.

  • ““I fell in love with Japan; I love Japan,” Dezaki says, explaining why he made the video in the first place.”

    I too love Japan, and I think many people here also love Japan. However, too often, this message almost always ends up of deaf ears.

    It seems almost like Japanese society is structured in such a way that even the most innocent, soft and good-willed criticism is countered with extremism. Its no wonder I don’t hear any Japanese from Japan speaking up, especially when the reactions are so over the top.

    A majority of the open-minded and tolerant Japanese are often born outside of Japan and almost exclusively the ones that actually do point out the faults in Japan’s society. On the internet, the Japanese-American is often “easy-going” and accepts the world the way it is without rose-tinted glasses.

    On the other hand, Japanese-natives on the internet are almost always angry or have some chip on their shoulders. Very often, they try to derail threads and questions into anti-Chinese and anti-Korean rants. Sometimes its really out of the blue too. The politeness you see in person does not exist when it comes to the internet. Every sentence with the word Chinese or Korean is almost always mean-spirited, malicious and with ill intent. This is also unfortunately one of the main habits that apologists seem to have picked up and adapted as their new expat personality.

    Nihonjinron, bullying and racism is so ingrained into Japanese society to the point where it can be technically considered as Japanese customs and etiquette. It is probably why any criticism of it is viewed as an attack on the culture.

    The phrase “I love Japan” seems to have a different meaning in Japan. Sometimes I am under the impression that Japan is doing everything possible to not make friends with NJ.

  • Japan is such a young, naive, inexperienced country.
    It has so much to learn.

    Most Japanese people don’t really know what racism is.
    They think that racism is when they are discriminated against.
    When they discriminate against others, that is not racism. That is natural, to them.

    Japan is currently very tolerant of right wing bullies.
    It is going to be a very hard lesson for them to learn.
    Discrimination is so entrenched in modern Japanese society.

    Miki – In the short time we have on this earth, very few people get a chance to stand up for what they believe in, and perhaps make a difference (make the world a better place?). When an opportunity arises, only a very few people have the moral fiber to do the right thing. Too many people cave in to pressure to ‘go along’.
    If you can stick to your core values, in the face of such adversity and hostility, we will all be better for it.
    Maybe you are the spark this issue has been waiting for?
    Whatever course of action you choose, you have my support and appreciation.
    Thank you.

  • I came to Japan 25 years ago and, I’m sad to say, little has changed in a generation. People can be changed through education, but there’s the problem: education in Japan is inherently incapable of dealing with any issue which shows the negative side of the country. When people ask me, as they regularly do, ‘What do you think of Japan?, I always reply that, like my own country, I think some things are wonderful and some things are terrible. Japan is no better, and no worse, than any other country. This always meets with confusion, disappointment, and even downright hostility. More power to Miki Dazaki!

  • I salute this guy. It appears he is of Japanese lineage, which makes it all the more challenging to stand up to the nonsense we all deal with everyday. To me, everything in Japan works in opposites. When I speak of Japan to other Japanese, I always say positive things, then I get their real feelings about issues. If I start out how I really feel, then I get the extremism, so I always say how fine everything is… then I get the “but dont you feel that…” Nothing is done direct here, so you have to be subtle about it..and it does get to be annoying.

    Mike, we stand with you bro, I salute you!

  • The Japanese excuse for anything and everything in Japan is “This is Japan!!”. A doctor who botches a surgery: “This is Japan!!”. Kill dolphins? “This is Japan!!”. Every long-term resident knows the routine. You can’t criticize the Japanese for anything. Oh, but then what’s this I hear about “internationalization”?? Or how Japan wants to be a major global power, or “Engrish” for that matter.

    They want it all. They play the “This is Japan!!” card when it suits them, and the “let’s Engrish” card when that suits them. I guess before the information age (the internet), Japan really had the world fooled into thinking what a polite, innocent society they were. Now with the internet and free flow of information, the makeup is off and we see what a twisted society they’ve built for themselves.

    As for the authorities doing anything against these right-wing extremists, why would they? They themselves created a culture of hate and intolerance, and these extremists are just an extension of that.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Online right-wingers in Japan are a bunch of stupid cowards. These bullies spew racist and xenophobic sentiments behind the screen instead of appearing in public to make their opinions. By doing so, they try to deprive others(i.e., non-Japanese, ethnic minorities) of free speech just like O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck, and anyone who will follow suit. These are arguably the most disgruntled, sickened, twisted-minded people Japan has ever had today. Kudos to this man for teaching people the real problems Japan is facing today! Keep on rocking in the free world!!

  • China is known for it’s hackers.
    America is known for it’s hackers.
    Japan is known for it’s internet bullies.
    A simple illustration why China and America will continue to progress and Japan will not.
    (I mean the ability to adapt and creativity needed to progress in the 21st century.)

  • TheOtherBill says:

    So much for “Cool Japan.” If Miki Dezaki’s reading this, I’d like to know if there are others ways to support his work, beyond simply commenting here or on YouTube.

  • I’ve been off reading the comments about this on other sites. All the usual;
    ‘go home’
    ‘must be Korean’
    ‘this is all falsified to make Japan look bad’
    ‘there is racism in the USA that is much worse’
    ‘he doesn’t understand Japanese culture’.

    In fact, the over-proud nationalists comments just prove Miki’s point, and make Japan look bad. Well done all round, I think.

  • Maybe this is just me being paranoid, but I’m not sure if I should believe that the anonymous bullies defending Japan on the internet are mostly right-wing extremists. Like after a hard day of driving around their speaker trucks, they would take a bath and log onto the internet to spew hatred on the message boards?
    Isn’t it much more likely that most of those awful comments are made by normal Japanese (your co-workers, your neighbors, etc.), who have finally found a way to let off all the steam they can’t let off due to the unfortunate social conventions of this society?
    It’s not very hard to turn any seemingly mild-mannered Japanese person into an extreme nationalist – just saying one or two critical things about Japan usually does the job. What we see on these message boards aren’t the opinions of some specific right-wing group of lunatics. That’s just another made-up Tatemae tactic meant to conceal how deep the rabbit hole really goes, akin to people saying that “it’s only a couple of old geezers who don’t like Gaijin”.

  • Unfortunately this development is hardly surprising. Japanese tend to be overtly defensive of their “culture”, and unfortunately the “this is Japan” excuse can be used to trump any valid criticism against Japan or its society.

    What is surprising, however, is how they managed to fool the rest of the world into thinking they are this peaceful, enlightened and progressive country.
    Japan is a country in which even educated, relatively wealthy people who have been abroad are capable of spouting long monologues on how foreigners are inferior and how it is a shame Japan lost the war.

    Sad. Just sad. Let’s hope the world finally sees what goes on there.

  • Markus: That’s actually part of the stereotype of “nettouyo” I believe – people who are too scared to go around in trucks with loudspeakers and are only comfortable spouting their racist nonsense on the internet. The ones who do it in public in real life are uyoku, but the ones who are only “uyoku” on the internet because they are scaredy-pants are “nettouyo”, as I understand it.

  • Looking at things from afar and many years later ,my impression is that Japan is still going through a crisis of contact with the wider world…it is still trying to freeze itself in time,almost not recognizing the concepts of diversity,immersion and dialogue.

    It is like there is an extreme and enduring form of cultural myopia, pervading the society at all levels. Instead of realizing that diversity contributes to the development of society, diversity is rejected, and in it’s place there is “respect for tradition “. ie: conservative continuity.

    Respect for tradition is accptable but it should not be used an an excuse for intractable
    behaviour and Japan becoming a foil for it’s own cultural hysteria

    As Japan is a country of “traditional festivals ” perhaps another traditional festival should be introduced and recognized…”The Festival of Subversive and Progressive Ideas”
    Suggested dates and of course appropriate souveniers ???

  • A couple of commments point out deep truths about the nature of what is “Japan” (other than a band featuring David Sylvian).

    Bruno-What is surprising, however, is how they managed to fool the rest of the world into thinking they are this peaceful, enlightened and progressive country.”

    Not really, such was their re branding, as a “western” country, but since the end of the cold war, deeper conflicts have re emerged.

    But isn’t it interesting that their rebranding was both accomplished through mass media and now exposed for what it is through the new mass media- the internet? these bullies do Japan no favors in their media spin and propaganda campaign; we see them clear for what they are.

    Dude-Japan is such a young, naive, inexperienced country.
    It has so much to learn.”

    Normally this would lead to a backlash along the lines of “Japan (China/Korea) has thousands of years of history, blah blah”

    But in fact they don’t. The Japan we see now is the postwar, postmodern re-branding of a country. A mess of American imposed institutions with post fascist leavings; scattered, without a shared or unifying force, like weeds in a garden, here and there.

    Ditto South Korea (Korea as an independent state has never existed in modern times) and Communist China. All postmodern-and ironically western-constructs pursuing a deeply misguided and non authentic nationalist agenda (Nationalism itself being arguably only a 19th century creation), and all opposing each other. (America wins again).

  • It’s nice to see someone like Miki sticking his neck out and having a decent go at explaining this problem to Japanese. Great stuff. Looking at the comments I personally don’t think it’s worth getting too worked up about the morons that say stuff like “oh he must be Korean” or whatever. Compare this to the kind of crap that’s written under any video on Youtube and its pretty standard. Such comments should be disregarded completely.

    However, some of the people who commented said that Miki perhaps used the wrong word when asking the students if they though there was any racial discrimination (jinshu sabetsu) in Japan. They say that it was because Miki used this word, not “gaikokujin sabetsu” , that only a few students raised their hands. It’s said that if he had asked “is there any gaikokujin sabetsu” then a lot more students, as well as people who saw his video on Youtube, would have said “yes there is”. I think that Japanese people feel that there is a difference between discriminating against people because because they aren’t Japanese and discriminating against people because they are American or Chinese or whatever. And, well I suppose there is. What do people think about this? I guess there is a suggestion that if the discrimination is “gaikokujin sabetsu” then it is somehow not as bad and can be rationalized in various ways e.g. unfamiliarity, don’t speak the language, don’t understand the culture etc. etc. In any case it seems to me they are two different words for two quite similar things. If I’m white British and I say that I dislike anyone who isn’t white British then in I’m a racist. The same applies if I say that I only dislike Asians but Indians are ok, I’m still a racist. Cant see how one is less bad than the other. Anyhow I think this may be a reason why Japanese see a difference between so called “gaikokujin sabetsu” in Japan and racism in other countries. Maybe this is why a Japanese person may often deny the existence of ‘jinshin sabetsu”. Japan doesn’t have that kind of racism, how could it when Japan is a homogenous country etc etc. Anyway my point is that I think this could be why Japanese often appear to totally disagree with any suggestion that their country has a problem with “jinshu sabetsu”. “Gaikokujin sabestsu” is probably more likely to be acknowledged in my opinion. Pretty sure I’m talking about something which has already been discussed here before but I just thought that It was quite relevant to Miki’s video.

  • @Mike S. #18

    Defining it as “gaikokujin sabetsu” oversimplifies the problem and in no way makes it more understandable or relatable to the Japanese public. There are minorities in Japan who despite having Japanese citizenship or eijuu are being discriminated against. Those people are a part of the society, and brushing the problem aside by saying that discrimination only happens to “foreigners” falls very in line with the default GOJ position that “there are no minorities in Japan, therefore there is no racial discrimination. Foreigners are not citizens, so they’re not our problem”.

    People in Japan, especially the younger generations, should be made aware that it is wrong to treat people differently just because they’re of a different nationality or ethnic background. It is not a matter of semantics, but human decency.

    But just as a thought exercise, let’s suppose it was exposed to these students as “gaikokujin sabetsu”. My money would be on the general response being either “it’s not discrimination, we are just a shy people and don’t know how to deal with them. It’s a cultural misunderstanding” or “they’re just visitors, they are not supposed to have rights here”.

  • “It is like there is an extreme and enduring form of cultural myopia, pervading the society at all levels. Instead of realizing that diversity contributes to the development of society, diversity is rejected, and in it’s place there is “respect for tradition “. ie: conservative continuity”

    Thats one way of explaining it. Another is the “unique Japan syndrome” or galapagos island effect, as its been explained to me. The isolation has created a unique enviroment. This means Japan takes only what it sees best from the rest of the world, rejects what they think is inferior like multiculturalism. I think this is what is really going on, along with the hiearchy way of doing things. Those at the top are never questioned, so what they decide what is best for Japan and go unchallenged. Everybody just floats in a dream likes its disneyland. For me, this country gets weirder the longer I stay, and its time I get out of here.

  • Galapagos Island effect?
    I think more like the Gulag Achipelago effect.
    Anyway, you often hear about the Japanese taking the best but reject what isn’t. Really?
    The longer I live in Japan the more I don’t see this. What is it exactly they took but rejected? Is there a central committee skimming through the foreign catalogue? Why is this repeated like some unique Japanese virtue? How has what they have done different from the Koreans or Chinese? Isn’t it the Japanese themselves who always complain what is unique about Japanese culture is disappearing under the onslaught of modern society.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    @ Mike Gunn #21

    I hear you! I’m sick of hearing how “we have taken on Western greed and materialism” What, that was something you had to learn? Or was forced upon you? Hell, I wish teaching English was so easy.

    Back to the topic: I was asked to help out in a moral ed. class on discrimination. Funny thing was that almost none of the kids could come up with a definition of “racial discrimination” beyond “It’s like in America, where whites hate blacks”.
    Too many Japanese think that they and their country are automatically immune. Racism doesn’t exist in Japan/ Japanese can not be racist. The frog in the well…

  • I support him and he’s doing the right thing. Having said that, I think he should pay absolutely no attention to anyone claiming they are being “inconvenienced” or “too busy at this time of the year to deal with the additional pressure”.
    I think that’s what the Japanese sickness is – the all-encompassing, de-facto censoring thought of not “inconveniencing” others. That word even makes me sick. There are times when people need to inconvenienced. That’s the only way any kind of change can happen. So, if Japan has a hard time changing bad habits and cultural traits, maybe the people should start by putting up with being a little “inconvenienced” at times.

  • Awesome response to critics!

    One note to Miki, however, if he reads these comments, is that there is no need to back down regarding “bakachon camera.” His original video gets it right.

    The word “bakachon” in “bakachon camera” most definitely does NOT come from “baka”-shon (truncation of “vacation”) or the supposed onomatopoeia “chon” for the photo-taking sound. I have met many Japanese and all have told me that the origin of “bakachon” is “idiot Korean.”

    But the real evidence for this is that the word “bakachon” PREDATES the phrase “bakachon camera”! It was already in use in Japanese as a standalone phrase: ばかでもちょんでも. In other words, the origin of the word “bakachon” is NOT “bakachon camera.” The phrase “bakachon camera” was created simply by taking a well-known existing word in the language, “bakachon,” and appending it to the word “camera.”

    I would urge Miki to beware of the Japanese uyoku. Reality and facts mean nothing to these people. They believe Japanese history must be presented as spotless and will go to extraordinary lengths to cover up even mundane discriminatory terms like bakachon. When I read about their alternative explanation for “bakachon camera” I laughed out loud but at the same time was awed by their ingenuity. And yes, beware of Wikipedia for anything that relates to the negative side of Japanese history because uneducated uyoku use this as their platform to spread their views and “re-write” history to their liking.

    Btw, the onomatopoeia for taking a picture is “kaccha,” “kassha” or “passha” – not “chon”…

    — It would help your argument if you could provide a source that demonstrates that the epithet predates the camera.

  • Hi Debito – a follow up to my comment.


    So the phrase ばかだのちょんだの (and its equivalents ばかでもちょんでも and ばかちょん)have been around a long time.

    The source 西洋道中膝栗毛 shows that the term “chon” was used in Japanese from at least 1870-1876 (if you put 西洋道中膝栗毛 and ちょん as keywords in Google, a lot comes out. The links are long and messy so haven’t included). Admittedly, it is unclear whether the term originated as an epithet for Koreans (as a contraction of 朝鮮人) or from something else. There seems to be different theories.

    But in any case, given the fairly long history of “bakachon” as a standalone phrase in Japanese, the theory that the phrase “bakachon” was created specifically for compact cameras from “baka”-shon (truncation of “vacation”) and the *supposed* onomatopoeia “chon” for the photo-taking sound is not taken seriously by anyone as far as I have researched on the Internet. Here’s one link although not authoritative.

  • The word chon seems to be an (at least) Edo-era expression for “stupid”. I have no idea when it was associated with Koreans but it’s pretty clearly used as an ethnic slur nowadays (quite easy to find examples in Twitter; 1, 2, 3).

    Given the previous existence of chon and of the idiomatic expression baka demo chon demo, the “vacation” theory feels to me quite obviously folk-etymology (unless it was a deliberate pun on advertising slogans or somesuch). But it’s hard to say if, when bakachon camera became common, the word was already perceived as “stupid Koreans” or just “stupid”.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Its really great to see so many posters here finally reaching the same, inevitable postmodern conclusions:we should form an action group or a school of thought and lobby the UN.

    Mikke :” Those at the top are never questioned, so what they decide what is best for Japan and go unchallenged. Everybody just floats in a dream likes its disneyland.”

    Because nuclear disaster destroys an otherwise dreamy, consumerist day, pursuing that American dream of purchasing goods. You are FREE to buy what you want, you know. Or what you think you want/need. Face must be maintained. Disney is the correct image or symbol of Americanism to court western acceptance, tho it predates the war; Hirohito was a big Disney fan, much to the embarrassment of imperialists in the 30s.
    This is the most enduring postmodern re branding of Japan to stick, because it is sanctioned by the emperor.Japan loves Disney.I used to work for Disney and in fact this got me as much or more respect than serious jobs like doctors, bankers etc. Sad but true.

    Japan was of course a western democracy, as it had a Disneyland in the 80s, and China didnt. Definitely Japan is “one of us”.

    Mike Gunn: “Is there a central committee skimming through the foreign catalogue? Why is this repeated like some unique Japanese virtue? How has what they have done different from the Koreans or Chinese? Isn’t it the Japanese themselves who always complain what is unique about Japanese culture is disappearing under the onslaught of modern society.”

    The Central Committee is the board of Ojisans from the police (ex police chief and his “we want good, wealthy foreigners to come here” comment), and the LDP mindset crowd. Tho it may extend even wider than that, given the LDPs long tenure in power pervading all aspects of society.
    The “we can choose” comment reminds of the ex GF whose parents hated foreigners (having never met me or any of her foreign boyfriends and never would) even know about them) who also took it upon herself to unilaterally declare her love for Japan to me one day. I think there is a solid bedrock of rightist thought amongst ordinary folk in bedtowns such as Kawasaki etc, rich breeding grounds for Uyoku, (who park many of their vans behind Shin Yokohama station, no idea how they get permission), all despite their American goods and romantic dalliances with foreigners on the sly.

    But hey, “we can choose”. A shame this does not apply to choosing sensible leaders or choosing to take part in grassroots democracy.

    The onslaught you mention being the postwar rebranding of Japan into some kind of self hating, fake American and thus Asia hating, fake Japan with “traditions” which invariably were new, western inventions, or leftovers from imperialist dogma but without a unifying dialogue or body, such as the Zaibatsu etc. Perhaps Abe or others see themselves as that unifier, the one who can bring all these isolated weeds in the garden together, but frankly they are all too disparate.

    It amuses me that the Japan the Uyoku defend is filled with false images, often from the countries they hate. Bakachon from vacation? So, an American word is preferred to the real, imperialist source. Postwar rebranding, see?

    The actress Yuki Kudo said it in Time magazine best; “Who trashed our culture? We did!The pre war things were discredited” but then again, surely imperialism deserved to be trashed. Tho I think they were not trashed so much as rebranded, or quietly shelved until a more opportune time, that time being now. It is a shame of identity crisis that Japan’s attempts at “independence” are too often equated with a return to the imperialist agenda.

    Hatoyama and Yohei Kono tried something new, a more pro Asia (including China) approach, and failed. Popular feeling has been hijacked by demagogues.

  • Mike Guest has something to say about this on his column for ELT News:


    — Well, that’s the thing about racism. Everyone has an opinion about it, but very few have actually studied the phenomenon well enough in a structured manner to have an informed opinion about how the racialization process works. In Guest’s current screed he even denies the discriminations that Miki is trying to raise are “racial” in nature (Guest seems to think racial discrimination is merely about genetics; it’s not), so we have a fundamental disagreement about even the terms of debate. Then of course we get to what kind of person he is as an academic (where he can’t even represent the terms of his own credentials accurately), which is another reason why he’s not worth discussing seriously on Debito.org.

  • Anyone who has even done a little bit of reading on this knows full well that ‘馬鹿でもちょnでも」originally has no racist connotation (specifically it emphatically is -not- referring to Koreans in any derogatory sense).

    「ちょん」 essentially means 「半人前、取るに足りない人」. Basically someone of limited intelligence. 広辞苑 lists the following as one of its definitions: 「おろかな者、取るに足りない者としてあざけり言う語」. Meanwhile, the 踊り字の「ゝ」is called 「ちょん」, and the shape of the 踊り字 is not unlike the shape of a ちょん髷 hairstyle popular in Edo times. 踊り字のちょん is ‘not quite a proper kanji’ = 半文字 = 半人前.

    So how do we know that 馬鹿でもちょんでも predates cameras? Because it was already in use in the 1870s; Kanagaki Robun (仮名垣魯文) uses it in his book, 「万国航海 西洋道中膝栗毛」, published in 1870 (明治3年). The actual quote is: 「仮染にも亭主にむかって…ばかだの、ちょんだの、野呂間だのと」.

    I don’t think Fujifilm was selling many cameras in the 1870s.

    This of course doesn’t answer the question of whether it should be used or not given the perception among some that it has become a racist phase despite the innocent origin. But at the very least we should get our facts straight.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Debito #30

    You should read the Guest article. Especially the end where the apologist tells any reading uyoku in English how much he loves Japan.

  • stinkythekid says:

    I too, applaud his videos and his struggle to bring a real modern education to Japanese students. It appears though, at last contact, he’d retired to a Buddhist temple for a years retreat. I was a bit afraid he’d been cowed. Let’s hope he comes back to it.

  • >This of course doesn’t answer the question of whether it should be used or not given the perception among some that it has become a racist phase despite the innocent origin.

    If you’re not a racist, then don’t use the term.

    A few minutes of googling on 2ch and matome blogs will reveal that the term is fact being used with the aim of dehumanizing Koreans, which alone makes me question the judgement of anyone who would want to to use it anyway. The “stupidity” definition is already ableist, and as written it does nothing to enlighten about what racial connotations did or did not exist at the time.

    Needless to say, if rescuing an already discriminatory term from racists is one of your priorities, you’re not fighting the right battle. The best analogy in English is probably a term like “tar baby.” It’s clear who uses the term, and it’s not people who are concerned about respecting others’ humanity.


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