Japan Times JBC 77 July 3, 2014,”Complexes continue to color Japan’s ambivalent ties to the outside world”, modified version with links to sources


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Published July 3, 2014, amended version from unanticipated edits with links to sources.

Courtesy http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/07/02/issues/complexes-continue-color-japans-ambivalent-ties-outside-world/

Hang around Japan long enough and you’re bound to hear the refrain that the Japanese have an inferiority complex (rettōkan) towards “Westerners” (ōbeijin).

You’ll hear, for example, that Japanese feel a sense of akogare (adoration) towards them, wishing Japanese too had longer legs, deeper noses, lighter and rounder eyes, lighter skin, etc. You’ll see this reflected in Japan’s advertising angles, beauty and whitening products, and cosmetic surgery. [Endnote 1]

This can be quite ingratiating and disarming to the (white) foreigners being flattered, who have doubtless heard complementary refrains in Western media about how the short, humble, stoic Japanese are so shy, self-deprecating and appreciative.

But people don’t seem to realize that inferiority complexes have a dark side: They justify all kinds of crazy beliefs and behavior.

For example, Japan’s pundits have already begun arguing that Japan’s disappointing performance in the World Cup in Brazil was partly down to the fallacy that Japanese bodies are smaller and weaker than those of foreigners. Japan’s sports leagues have long used this belief to justify limiting foreign players on teams — as if it somehow “equalizes” things.

This “equalization” is not limited to the infamous examples of baseball and sumo. The National Sports Festival (kokutai),[2] Japan’s largest amateur athletic meeting, bans almost all foreigners. Japan’s popular Ekiden footrace bans all foreigners from the first leg of the marathon, and from 2007 has capped foreign participants on teams at two (the logic being that the Ekiden would become “dull” (kyōzame) without a Japanese winning).[3]

Who is a “foreigner”? It’s not just a matter of citizenship: The Japan Sumo Association decided to count even naturalized Japanese citizens as “foreign” in 2010, in clear violation of the Nationality Law. (Somebody, please sue!)

These limitations also apply to intellectual contests. Until 2006, Japan’s national Takamado English Speech Contests barred all people (including Japanese) with “foreign ancestry”. This included non-English-speaking countries, the argument being that any foreign blood somehow injects an unfair linguistic advantage. (After 2006, Takamado provided a list of English-speaking countries whose descendants would continue to be ineligible.)

This is atrocious reasoning. But it is so hegemonic because of Japan’s long history of race-based superiority studies.

In 1875, Yukichi Fukuzawa (the man gracing our ¥10,000 note) wrote an influential treatise called “An Outline of a Theory of Civilization.” Borrowing from Western eugenics, he reordered the world to correlate levels of civilization with skin color.[4]

White-hued people were at the top, dark-skinned people at the bottom. Naturally for Fukuzawa, Asians were ranked just below whites. And, naturally, Japanese were the most “civilized” of the Asians.

The West has largely moved on from this dangerous bunkum, thanks to the “master race” excesses of World War II and Nazi Germany’s Final Solution. However, Japan’s social sciences still largely ascribe to century-old social stratification systems that see race as a biological construct, and bloodlines and blood types as determinants of behavior.

So far, so Japanese Society 101. But the point I want to stress here is that inferiority complexes are counterintuitively counterproductive.

I say counterintuitive because they foster feelings not of humility towards people they admire, but of anger. Yes, anger.

Harvard University anthropologist Ayu Majima discusses this in her 2013 essay “Skin Color Melancholy in Modern Japan.” She talks about how the elites of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) (who would set Japan’s nascent national narratives) felt a sense of “distance, inferiority and disjuncture towards the West.”[5]

Distance was a big theme back then. Although Japan is of course geographically Asian, with deep historical connections to China, Fukuzawa and other Meiji Era elites advocated that Japan “quit Asia and enter Europe” (datsu-a nyū-ō).

So that’s what happened. Over several decades, Japan industrialized, militarized, colonized and adopted the fashions and trappings of “Western civilization.” Japan sought recognition and acceptance from the West not as an inferior, but as a fellow world power. Japan wanted the sense of distance to disappear.

But that didn’t happen. Japan’s elites were shocked when the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) refused to include in its 1919 Covenant an anti-racial discrimination clause that Japan (yes!) had demanded. More shocking was when Japan was treated like a “colored,” “uncivilized” nation under America’s Asian Exclusion Act of 1924.[6]

This is where the psychology of inferiority complexes is generally misunderstood. When people try this hard for validation and don’t get it, it doesn’t engender the passive humility and must-try-harder attitudes so often gushed about in the Western media regarding Japan.

Majima argues, “While an inferiority complex is generally regarded as a sense of inferiority towards oneself, it should rather be regarded as a sense of indignity and anger towards the lack of recognition of one’s worth . . . for not being recognized, approved or admitted by the important ‘other.’ “

So instead you get isolation, loneliness, anxiety and scant sense of belonging. (I’m sure you long-termers who feel unrecognized for all your efforts to “fit in to Japan” can relate to this.)

How did Japan react to being rebuffed? Policymakers declared that Japan neither belonged to the East nor the West. It isolated itself.

Worse, according to Majima, “Japan sought to identify itself through the unstable ‘distance’ between self and others as ‘tradition.’ “

Ah, tradition. Lovely thing, that. It turns this angry mindset from a phase in Japan’s history into part of its permanent self-image.

This feeling of isolation gave rise to Japan’s “cult of uniqueness,” and it dominates Japan’s self-image today, constantly vacillating between superiority and inferiority when dealing with foreigners. This “tradition” of ranking oneself in comparison with others, particularly in terms of degrees of civilization, has become ingrained as cultural habit and reflex.

And that’s why inferiority complexes are counterproductive for Japan’s relationship to the outside world: They make it more difficult for “foreigners” to be seen and treated as individuals. Instead, they get thrust into the impossible role of national or cultural representative of a whole society.

They also make it more difficult for Japanese to be neutral towards foreigners. Rather, the default reflex is to see them in terms of comparative national development and civilization.

These complexes also interfere with constructive conversations. For if acceptance, recognition and superlative praise of Japan as a safe, peaceful, developed country are not forthcoming from the outsider, insult and anger almost inevitably ensue. After all, criticism of Japan besmirches its self-image as a civilized society.

This is especially true when it comes to issues of racial discrimination in Japan. Japanese society is loath to admit it ever happens here — because racial discrimination is not what “civilized” societies do. I will discuss this in a future column.

Debito Arudou received his Ph.D. from Meiji Gakuin University in International Studies in April. Twitter: @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Thursday of the month. Your comments: community@japantimes.co.jp


[1] Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity.” Journal of Material Culture 10(1): 73-91.

[2] References includeArudou Debito, “A level playing field? National Sports Festival bars gaijin, and amateur leagues follow suit.” Japan Times, September 30, 2003; “Sumo shutout in Fukushima.” Japan Times, September 30, 2003; “Top court upholds foreigner ban.” Japan Times, June 12, 2004. See also Douglas Shukert’s testimonial about his case at www.debito.org/TheCommunity/kokutaiproject.html. Also, JASA’s information on the Kokutai is at www.japan-sports.or.jp/kokutai/, in English at www.japan-sports.or.jp/english (which makes no mention of nationality requirements for participants).

[3] Sources include “Foreign students can’t start ekiden.” Asahi Shinbun, May 24, 2007; “Let’s be fair, let Japanese win.” Deutsche Press-Agentur, October 4, 2007. The official site for the High School Ekiden is at www.koukouekiden.jp. Restrictions on “foreign exchange students” are at www.koukouekiden.jp/summary/point.html (items 5 and 6), and prior race results are at www39.atwiki.jp/highschoolekiden.

[4] Dilworth, David A. et al. trans. 2009. Yukichi Fukuzawa: An Outline of a Theory of Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press.

[5] Majima, Ayu. 2013. “Skin Color Melancholy in Modern Japan: Male Elites’ Racial Experiences Abroad, 1880s-1950s.” In Kowner, Rotem, and Walter Demel, eds., Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

[6] Cf. Lauren 1988; Kearney 1998; Dikötter 2006.  Even then, as Russell (in Weiner, ed. 2009:  99) notes, “[Japan’s] rhetoric of racial equality left much to be desired, for not only did Japan’s racial equality clause not question the right of League members to possess colonies (at the time Japan was also seeking [a new colony in China]) but its demand for ‘fair and equal treatment’ applied only to ‘civilized nations’ (bunmei koku) and League member states – not to their colonies and subject peoples.  Japan’s ruling elites were less interested in securing equality for non-whites than in ensuring that Japan, as a sovereign nation and member of the League, would be afforded the same privileges as Western nations…”


27 comments on “Japan Times JBC 77 July 3, 2014,”Complexes continue to color Japan’s ambivalent ties to the outside world”, modified version with links to sources

  • as one poster mentioned last week, Ive had more than one encounter with Japanese (inevitably an older male) who after a few pleasantries starts in with the assumptions we (Whitey) call them “Yellow Monkey” etc. behind their backs.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Once again Debito covers the dark corners of Japan we have all experienced but been unable to put into words, or were afraid to (lest we offend our hosts).

    How about an article on the “tyranny of Genki”? I.e. how the gaijin-especially the Caucasian or African American- is expected to be a kind of genki, gesticulating, outgoing, smiling dancing bear? And how this may actually lead to disappointment by J “customers” if she/he isnt?

  • Excellent article Debito! Don’t know how you manage to bring out every time in your articles so succinctly the way things REALLY are here. And yes, I too would love to read something on this all persuasive “Genki” phenomenon.

  • I do agree about a tyranny of genki, since I do feel pressure to act a certain way. I guess that is the conformity and intolerance of different individuals. It is like I have to put on a genki mask at work and then at home I can take it off.

    I was criticized by my wife for being gruff. She can be more cranky than i, but only at home. So I think we have a pressure to act two-faced.

    — There is a public and a private face in every society. Let’s be more sophisticated in our analysis, please.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Dr. Debito!
    Great article. So true.
    The illustration is also excellent. It reminds me of the time a colleague was complaining that it was ‘victors justice’ that the UN Security Council permanent members were the winners of the war, to which I replied that I couldn’t understand Japanese sense of entitlement to a place at the ‘big table’. After all, it’s our table, we made it!

    Anyway, back to the article. Yes, the Japanese love to play the victim, it reminds me of a chapter in Dower’s ‘Ways of Remembering, Ways or Forgetting’, that describes the Japanese national preoccupation with telling themselves that they have a national propensity for being ‘unloved’ by other (read ‘western’) nations. The irony is though, that the reasons why the Japanese believe themselves to be ‘unloved’ are entirely of their own making; whaling, unrepentant revisionism, right-wing outbursts from public figures, misogynism, etc. All the these things are within their power to decide, not NJ’s power.

    And as for blaming the west for forcing it values on Japan, at the expense of Japan’s ‘unique culture’, well, if Japan wants international trade, it has to accept international norms. It’s the same for everyone, it’s not an evil occidental conspiracy against the Japanese in particular!

    Anyhow, if I may return to the proposition that the Japanese see themselves as ‘unloved’ by the rest of the world, it may be explained one of the points you raised in your article; the Japanese in the Meiji era strived to prove that they were ‘modern’ by copying and appropriating western styles, behaviors, and dress in many aspects of their society, to the extent where they sought to deny their place as asians. Rejected by the west, having set themselves apart from asia, what else could they do, but proclaim that being Japanese was in itself special and unique, and from their the cult of ‘Japaneseness’ embarked on a holy war against asia and the west.

    A lingering inability to stamp out forever the ‘religion of Japanese culture’ from the imperial era ideology is still the navel-gazing narcissistic elephant in the room of all Japanese international relations.

    Yes, the Japanese do feel inferiority to westerners, something they didn’t feel when their economy was #2, going on #1, but that era was short lived, and now they feel unloved and spiteful again that they have slipped to #3 (to China no less!). I say spiteful, for how else can we (on a national scale) explain the right-wing swing that goes against the entire postwar international order, and Abe’s domestic activities that are subverting the concept of (hated, western) democracy in Japan?

    The Japanese have a huge sense of entitlement, born out their belief that they are ‘special’ and ‘unique’, and that in itself causes them to feel resentment, and hate. And when the Japanese fail (for example, economically overtaken by China, knocked out of the World Cup), they feel cheated, and search for rationalizations serve only to further increase their feelings of having been cheated out of something that is rightfully theirs, and of having been victimized by the world (naturally, the world victimizes the Japanese because we are jealous of their ‘special uniqueness’, see?).

    And woe betide the NJ who makes a mistake, trips up, and falls (however slightly) in Japan! despite their huge victim complex, Japanese empathy deficit means that they will fall on that NJ like a pack of cackling hyenas. No NJ mistake or failure, however small, is ever forgotten in Japan, because the Japanese victim complex tells them (incorrectly), that the whole outside world, and every individual foreigner is constantly judging them and waiting for them to fail (I for one, am, but I myself do by no means constitute the entire rest of the world, who I honestly believe couldn’t care less if Japan’s economy was #3, not #2, or that Samurai Blue took an early bath. I’ve got an excuse; I’m a Japan specialist).

    As for genki, well, there is a case for linking it back to Dr. Debito’s article on tatemae and honne as codification of lying, in the case of the Japanese. As for genki NJ, I think that there is a discussion to be had about ‘genki’ being used as a trap to control NJ in Japan, and to stifle diversity. The pressure to fall into the ‘genki’ control trap, and to not buck the expectation not only denies NJ part of their humanity (the Japanese don’t see us us human anyway, right? After all, they don’t think we deserve the same human rights as Japanese people), but also forces NJ to into modes of behavior that reinforce Japanese perceptions about themselves- perceptions we know are nothing but myths!

  • The fact is that this kind of inferiority complex served before as a motivation to be better, excel and work harder, you know, out of pride, but in the present, about the younger generations, I cannot see that anymore, in fact I have not seen at all any will of being a hardworking and productive member in society. So the question is what the hell is this “complex” going to turn to as a means of expression of the national identity in front of the rest of the world…I’m afraid is something to worry about taking in consideration the steps taken against article 9 of the constitution. The story is just repeating all the way around, I’m afraid…

  • A Japanese friend of mine works at the embassy of that particular country in Japan. Currently, the embassy has posted a job opening for a regular staff position. Given the fact, that very few people overall speak the official language of that country, the number of applicants is assumed to be very limited. The position involves outside meetings, interpretation at such meetings and etc. Luckily, one citizen of that country has been raised here in Japan in a family of citizens of that country, educated here and has worked here for some years (my memory fails me, but my firend my have mentioned that that person might have been given JP citizenship). That person applied for the position, but my friend told me the embassy rejected his application because while the ambassador does not mind a non-Japanese face interpreting for him, it would have been inconvenient to have non-Japanese face at meetings outside the embassy as an interpreter, official attender (is that the word?) because Japanese could not feel at ease with a non-Japanese translator. So, the position remains unfulfilled, yet worse – no second application has ever been submitted.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Debito asked for a more sophisticated analysis. So while googling “English teacher dancing bear” I did come up with this gem at http://forums.eslcafe.com/job/viewtopic.php?t=106480&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15:
    “Debito posted a story of an American woman who was fired from her uni job because she had been in Japan too long and so was not qualified to teach Foreign Studies!

    She (or they) were teaching at Akita University or Akita International University and a group of them were shown the door for no reason other than to bring in a fresh batch of gaijin EFL teachers and to tweak the contract terms for gaijin instructors.

    There may have been another case in Hokkaido, also, about an American woman who was fired (not-renewed) by her university after several years of service for no reason other than she had lost her gaijin cache after being in Japan for so many years. ”

    I think “gaijin cache”, or “gaijinness” is partly connected to how “genki” she was. Still, its all part and parcel of a “complex which continues to color Japan’s ambivalent ties to the outside world”.

    — I think the word being sought after is “cachet” (cache is a place to store something, although that’s oddly appropriate in this context too). And the case in Hokkaido being referred to is the Gwen Gallagher Case, also cached on Debito.org.

  • Baudrillard says:

    AHA. Same thread/link above, April 2014, so a zeitgeist topic- the Uncle Tom Genki Gaijin (or Mr James?): “I’ve always been interested in this idea of “genki” vs. actual ability. I feel like there have been cases where some students prefer having a genki teacher who is super fun rather than a teacher who can actually teach them to speak English. You can be both obviously, but there is sort of a double standard with foreign teachers always needing to be entertaining while Japanese professors can just teach and not worry about the students smiling and having a good time the whole class.

    It’s like teaching a foreign language (specifically English) always has to be fun, but teaching physics or law can be boring as it wants to be as long as students are getting the material. I’m curious how teachers of Spanish, Korean, Chinese, etc. are expected to teach here? Do they have to be genki the whole time? ”

    I personally think the westerner, especially the American, is expected to be genki because of Disney and Hollywood’s popularity in Japan. Thus the fake images Japanese grow up of smiley happy westerners who are outgoing and can say whatever they want (resulting in the false “English= freedom to say anything paradigm”).

    Its a horribly out of date stereotype in any case (how postmodern…) as it ignores the Seattle grunge slacker American counter revolution of the 90s.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    This superiority/inferiority complex is a historical product of rigid cultural norms in Japanese society. Many Japanese people learn how to race at a school age, by finding classmates as their opponents to compare oneself with other in class, club activities, testing, grades, and school-entrance exam. Those who managed to get out of rigid, pain-staking, excruciating K-12 school system, lack-luster college education, and landed a job at big J-corporation or government ministry are labeled as winners. Those who dropped out of school or withdrew from public appearance since school age due to bullying, sexual harassment, family issue, disabilities, etc, are labeled as losers. Even those who are doing well in school are often to meaningless comparisons based on VAM(i.e., test scores or grades) to determine which one is superior and inferior. For what? To predict who will win a golden ticket to elite schools like Todai/Kyoudai /Waseda/Keio/Sophia– top schools that give you the privileges to receive an advanced academic education in English; hang out with international students on campus; and go to foreign country for advanced learning experience in a well-known university! There is no doubt they have far more time and opportunities to communicate with (English-speaking) foreigners, much less if you or your kids are returnees. Much better than scraping weekly hours for bogus English lessons at a dime a dozen Eikiawa school, huh?

    English fluency and living experience in foreign country often become an issue of superiority/inferiority complex to many Japanese. That is the reason why Japanese with high English proficiency (me, too!?) is often misunderstood as an elite in the making. Japan’s current English education reform ties into superiority/inferiority dichotomy producing the discourse of cultural ambivalence, which I did it in my master’s work.

  • I think that the inferiority complex so prevalent in Japanese culture goes a long way to explain almost everything that we’ve been worrying about, and also the (atrocious) deeds of the early 20th century that Japan has become infamous for throughout the world.
    It’s hard to say what came first (hen and egg problem) – the “pride” of the Japanese, which to outsiders is unfounded, or the inferiority complex. It seems that a the inferiority complex runs even deeper than pride – and that it is the reason for the exaggerated and ignorant pride.

    Much like many obese people will develop a false pride, saying, “I feel great, ain’t nobody tell me what to put into my body”, I fear that at the very foundation of the Japanese pride is the realisation that the Western world (or, “white people”, if you insist) is unassailably ahead of Japan.

    The Japanese gave their all to catch up, and they did a great job in terms of technology and wealth. But as it goes, it has left them tired. This situation worked quite well for two or three decades, when they were living off their reputation as hard-working and pacifist people, but now as the world realizes that the “Enigma of Japanese Power” has not really changed since the fascist times and their old, deemed “inferior” enemies are surpassing Japan on the technological and wealth fronts, it must feel to the Japanese like the end of times.

    A Western society (for example, Germany after WWII) would at this point cut their losses, and change their ways, trying to make amends with their old enemies, and try to replace their unfounded pride with something more healthy.

    But Japan, as of today, seems to not only be unable to let go of their unhealthy narcissism and unfounded pride. They are a prideful, but lonely society, and the society was organised so rigidly (by the “old guard”) that there is no vector for changing their ways.

    The often heard argument that the young Japanese of today are different doesn’t hold much water, imho. Yes, there are more “slackers” in Japan now, and while their status is still that of losers, they might even be more accepted than 20 years ago (if only a little bit). But, and it’s a very big “but”, in my experience, they also share the unfounded pride and narcissism of “ware ware Nihonjin” that drove Japan into catastrophe before.

    Unless the Japanese can get rid of the filter that makes them see the world as nothing but a system of hierarchies and get rid of the urge to rank everybody and everything, they can’t leave the dark path they are still walking on.

  • I’ve seen Japanese salary-men, waiting to be introduced to someone, or waiting to greet someone – smiling. For no reason. Just putting on their ‘genki’ face. It always struck me as fake. Like they were posing for a photo, but holding the fake smile for minutes on end.

    My wife has told me thousands of times to ‘soften’ my harsh, serious look by smiling. Constantly. Apparently, I should be smiling all day. In case someone sees me shopping, or driving, or walking on the sidewalk. or riding in an elevator.

    But she has also told me that when Japanese people (even those far younger than me) call me by my first name, w/o honorific, they are being “friendly”. But if I do the same to them I am being “rude”.

    So I think part of this issue is that they expect this behavior (smiling) among themselves. And they also expect it from NJ. And part of the reason could be Disney, or children’s shows. Or they could feel threatened by Caucasians who don’t smile.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    It’s been only a few days since the article is up, and there are 191 comments on the JT online discussion board. The article invited some newcomers and regulars(on both pro-and anti-Debito), plus some apologist types. One person made a crude attempt to defend his slippery-slope argument on population control of ‘foreigners’ under the name of ‘immigration.’ That is hilarious!


  • Loverilakkuma

    Can you point directly to the poster/post that you’re referring too, as its rather difficult to wade through 191 comments? Especially since the way the threads postings are listed is very difficult to follow. Not a fan of that system.

    I wouldn’t necessarily call them “pro” Debito. The replies from the clearly obvious apologist tend to make the thread a binary one of for or against Debito and his points of view. Sad really as their agenda is clear and they end up taking over the thread with the same regurgitated nonsense regardless what the subject matter at hand is being discussed. These apologist make it a pro-anti debito debate, rather than a debate on the issued raised. They are throwing the baby out with the bath water!

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @John K

    Check out the posts made by Toolonggone and Eido Inue. His response was posted three times as I saw this afternoon–twice under the name Guest(Dr. Who?). I don’t know how it happened, but he apparently seemed to be agitated and made a silly response in rash. It must be so embarrasing to him, regarding that he’s a computer engineer.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Congratulations on this months JBD Dr.!

    Judging by the sheer amount of comments, it is a massive success.

    Interestingly, after trudging through all the comments, I am unpleasantly surprised to see the same old faces slamming you again.
    Even more disappointingly, they are failing totally to engage with the topics you raised, preferring instead to;

    1. Accuse you of being a proponent of Nihonjinron giron (as I have said in the past, why is it seemingly ok for apologists to talk about the Japanese in terms of a single monolithic entity when talking about Japan’s ‘good’ points (‘Japan’s great work ethic’, ‘Japanese honesty’, etc.), but when you mention the bad points, you are accused of being racist? What’s good for the goose, in my opinion. If Japanese want to use nihonjinron giron to show how ‘special’ they are, well, live by the chrysanthemum and the sword, die by the chrysanthemum and the sword.

    2. Accuse you of being a racist American trying to force his ‘white’ (that’s a quote) values on Japan. This argument (although ‘insult’ would be more descriptive) fails totally to understand what you have always tried to say about the nature of legal naturalization and ethnicity- I guess they don’t get that you are Japanese because you are ‘white’- and serves as a clear demonstration of the racism endemic in Japan from not only Japanese but also NJ apologists; You have naturalized, but are still not ‘proper’ Japanese to them.

    3. Accuse you have not having a valid opinion because you may (or may not!) be living in Japan; again, there are many Japanese living overseas, are they all now deemed not ‘proper’ Japanese because they live overseas? I wouldn’t be surprised if they were not, after all, look at the way returnees are treated.

    In short, none of the people who seem to disagree with you are able to engage in the topic (this is crucially important), instead, they resort to attacks of a personal nature, that in them very selves clearly demonstrate that the kind of racism, discrimination, and NJ apologism that you describe, not only exist in Japan, but are alive and (unfortunately) well.

    By my reckoning, you have scored a victory big time.

  • “I do agree about a tyranny of genki, since I do feel pressure to act a certain way. I guess that is the conformity and intolerance of different individuals. It is like I have to put on a genki mask at work and then at home I can take it off.”

    “Apparently, I should be smiling all day. In case someone sees me shopping, or driving, or walking on the sidewalk, or riding in an elevator.”

    Meh. Welcome to the world of womanhood.

    Anyhoo. Debito’s article in the JT seemed to generate a few comments about sports, especially with regards to the footie. I want to tell you about a brief, but extremely telling incident that happened a couple of weeks ago when the Samurai were unceremoniously booted from the WC.

    A student brought in an article that she’d found in the paper, about Japanese fans who had considerately cleaned up after themselves in the stands, taking home their own trash. They were apparently praised by the foreign press for doing so (not that I heard about it anywhere else). She shared the article with the class, and within a matter of minutes the mood had changed from a gloomy one of “We’re a bunch of losers” to a jubilant “We’re winners! We win at cleaning! Every other country thinks so! They love us! We are the champions!”

    I was astonished at how quickly this turnaround in mood happened, almost to the point of being frightened. My students are clever, cultured people, well read and well traveled. But if they believe this guff, then heaven help us all.

  • @Jim (and others) – I think the idea of a Japanese “uniqueness” hasn’t been fully explored by the scholars yet, and that’s why it can be abused by both the apologists and the critics of modern Japan. I would argue that the good and bad aspects of Japan could be found in other places and societies as well – the Koreas and China share many of them – but to me, what is absolutely unique about Japan is the huge gap between the country’s image (including the self-image) and the actual reality experienced living there.

    I don’t believe there is a country that has succeeded to falsify its image, its history, and its intentions to the extent that Japan has. Japan is unique in the aspect of being two-faced. The only country that might come close is modern South Korea, in terms of how little it’s image of an open democracy has to do with reality. Maybe the prior occupation by Japan plays a role in that, too?

    Whenever a Japanese person tells me that Tokyo deserved the 2020 Olympics because it’s so safe and peaceful, I tell them that by their logic, the games should be given to Pyongyang every time. Because – have you ever heard about crime or riots from there? The only country “safer” than Japan is North Korea. Unless people start looking under the carpet.

  • Why are comments on JT closed???
    And why, oh why, do so many people who live in Japan insist on ignoring the obvious institutional racism that limits them and their children?
    And finally, why do discussions of racism in Japan always result in a “its not as bad as the U.S.”?

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Dude @ #21

    why do discussions of racism in Japan always result in a “its not as bad as the U.S.”?

    It’s bad kid behaviour. Pull up any problem kid misbehaving in a classroom and you’ll get “But ___ was doing it too!”, “It’s not just me!”, etc. There is no excuse, no logical means of explaining away the misbehaviour, so an emotional defelection is employed.

  • @dude,

    There are several reasons for it. Some are insulated against what most of us expereince due to their jobs etc. Others have made a commitment to Japan and cant back out of it. They cope with it by ignoring the obvious and adapting the “if you cant beat them, join them” attitude. The majority of NJ I have met in Japan share the same views as many here. The few that dont arent worth wasting your time with.

  • The other day a fellow student of my daughter in elementary school came home with her with the commentary that we foreigners are bad people, aggresive, like chinese and koreans and japanese have always been very peaceful and rightful so I had to tell her of course! don’t you know your history? the chinese and koreans invaded Japan and slaved and slaughtered them and the americans sneak attack Sasebo naval base, starting the war in the pacific, you know, it was ridiculous but she said that everybody knows that…!! What else can you expect when the collective conscious of a whole nation is attuned to the idea that Japan never did or meant anything wrong against other people,…ever…!!

    — Now complete the exercise and tie this into inferiority complexes…

  • Manule,

    Yeah, I get that with my kids. It’s frustrating that I have my own home here (well, I pay the rent), and my sons’ friends will come over and make snide comments like that. And it’s like, “GTFO out of my house!” But that’s what social privilege is – these little children feel completely comfortable walking into your home and badmouthing you like that, because “everyone knows it’s true.”

    That right there is the true face of racism and bigotry – when even the little children feel comfortable waltzing into people’s homes and insulting them to their faces. “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine.”

    How that connects to the inferiority complex? Hard to say. Because that sort of lying is so far removed from reality that it’s hard to tie it to ANY kind of rational thought. It stands, I suppose, as an example of the extreme to which this aspect of Japanese culture can be taken – a denialism so pure that children don’t even have a warped idea of history – they have a completely made up idea of it!

    Anyway, it goes without saying, of course, that having children in Japan quickly – immediately – disabuses you of any notion that Japanese manners are in any way better than any other country’s. They certainly don’t teach children from a young age to exercise good manners, that much is certain.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Dr. Debito, I was reading this;

    ‘And so it is with Japan’s ‘Small Country’ myth. In a way it’s a brilliant piece of expectation management, as any achievement can be touted as a magnificent overcoming of the odds, when frankly it’s exactly what any sensible analysis would lead you to expect should happen. If anything, you’d expect better, but so many people have bought into this inferiority myth that there’s little pressure, little incentive for Japan’s leaders to step up their game.’

    And I thought, you know what, the Japanese actually cultivate their inferiority complex, because it helps them ignore the fact that, as a society, they are not achieving thier full potential.
    It’s the ultimate rationalization.


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