“Onsen-Ken Shinfuro Video”: Japan Synchro Swim Team promotes Oita Pref. Onsens — and breaks most bathhouse rules doing so. Historically insensitive.

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Hi Blog.  As a bit of a tangent (but only a bit).  Check this out:

https://youtu.be/20ZWZJgixtw

COMMENT:  This is an excellent video featuring the former Japan synchronized swimming team in various hot springs (onsen) around Oita Prefecture.  I have been to some of these myself, and can attest to the magic of both the location and the waters.

BUT

I hate to pee in the pool here, but there are several things happening here that are absolutely impermissible by Japanese standards (in fact, they were cited as reasons for excluding all “foreigners” entry to the baths during the Otaru Onsens etc. Case of 1993-2005):

  1. Making noise in the bathing area.
  2. Splashing about.
  3. Wearing bathing suits in the pool.
  4. Wearing towels in the pool.
  5. Mixed bathing in a non-rotenburo area.
  6. Not washing off one’s body completely before entering (note that they get in dry after only a cursory splash).

If anyone does any of these things in real life, they will probably get thrown out of the bathhouse.  Worse yet, if anyone who DOESN’T LOOK JAPANESE did anything like this, everyone who doesn’t look Japanese (i.e., a “foreigner”) a priori would be denied entry at the door, merely by dint by phenotypical association.  That’s why I have a hard time enjoying this video knowing the history of Japanese public bathing issues, where stone-headed onsen owners looked for any reason to enforce their bigotry on people they thought couldn’t learn Japanese bathhouse rules.

Instead, without any irony whatsoever, we have the Japan synchro swim team breaking most of them.  To raucous applause.  Good thing they didn’t bring in a NJ synchro team to do this stunt — because then “cultural insensitivity” would creep into the mix.

Granted, there is a lengthy disclaimer at the end to say that swimming and bathing suits are not allowed in Japanese baths, and that rules etc. must be followed.  But I still remain grumpy at the lack of historical sensitivity shown towards the “foreigners” who suffered for being refused entry to Japan’s public baths despite following all decorum and rules.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

11 comments on ““Onsen-Ken Shinfuro Video”: Japan Synchro Swim Team promotes Oita Pref. Onsens — and breaks most bathhouse rules doing so. Historically insensitive.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Dr. Debito, this is just another typical Japan tatemae ‘bait ‘n switch’.
    This tourism advert puts it put there that various bahavior is acceptable at Japanese bath-houses, when in fact, it isn’t. If NJ see the ad, and go to the bath-house, IF they get in, they will be subjected to the full wrath of Japanese cultural snobbery for attempting to do any of the things shown in the video.
    But the behavior seen in the ad is essential, because if they made a ‘honne’ ad of all the bath house rules in play, it would be dreary depressing Japanese real life rule obsessed kill-joy at MAX! No one is gonna enjoy that!
    This essential, untruthful tatemae version also allows the Japanese to perpetuate another of their cultural corner-stones; it’s ok for Japanese to break Japanese rules because it’s ‘for fun!’, but if an NJ did it, they would be accused of being rude, or at worst, racist.
    The ad is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the way Japanese see themselves and everyone else.

  • Baudrillard says:

    If there was one “haafu” on the team, there may have been a watershed moment, as various articles discussed on this site recently- the soccer ref discriminating against a a haaafu player and his team complained, or the various haafu sportspeople toted as paving the way for an internationalized Japan who say “my buddies or team mates would look after me”.

    But there wasnt. Its presumably a Yamato synch swimming team.

    Thus there was no Japanese bigotry versus honorary Japanese on team Japan confrontation.

    I recall Jeffery Wright”s character in the movie “Ride with the Devil”- based on a real person, he was a black man who fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. There is a scene where other black people are being lynched but then his “team” save him by jumping and saying “Hey, thats OUR N**ga, he is on our side”.

    In Japan it is worse bacause they stick for halfs on the team, more than complete gaijins who are by definition, outsiders.

    If you are 100% on NJ on a famous J team, you will be OK if you STAY IN THAT CONTEXT.

    And as long as you have a team of FAMOUS (Japan loves famous names or sportspeople, even foreign onesJ buddies to back you up, you ll be OK.

    But if you are a full blooded NJ on your own its a different story. In this racist logic, you have no connection with Japan, even if you marry a Japanese. So no, you could be not allowed in the bathhouse.

    — But even mudblood children of Japanese-NJ spouses were denied entry into bathhouses during the Otaru Onsens Case.

  • Great post!
    Yes, most cultures allow people they identify with to break the rules, but not people they perceive to be different.
    In Japan, this is especially pronounced.

    Using the onsen as an example: Japanese people assume anyone who is/looks Japanese will know all the rules, etiquette, and conform. They also usually assume all NJ will not. This is just the starting point – it often goes downhill from here.

    I believe strongly that each of these “symptoms” are really evidence of a much larger, largely never discussed “othering” of NJ. When will NJ begin to get at the root of the problem? Debito – are you ready to go deeper than usual?

    Case in point:
    I worked for an older Japanese man. For this example, let’s say my name is “John Doe”.
    He called me “John” – no honorific, no last name.
    As he was my boss, older than me, etc., I went along.
    But I noticed that when he introduced me to younger Japanese people, and they learned that even though they were less than 1/2 my age, they did not need to use any politeness with me (according to J standards), their treatment of me changed drastically. I soon found college aged Japanese thinking they could order me around, and generally treat me like shit.

    As this was a multi-year experiment (it evolved over time), I learned how to push back.
    When they call me “John” – I call them by their first name with no honorific, or “chan” or “kun”, depending on the environment.
    I found that (IMHO) most Japanese treated me much better, once they had to treat me like a human.

    Debito – I can’t help but feel that for the majority of Japanese, this is a major source of “othering” – by not forcing ourselves into the hierarchy, we allow ourselves to remain outside, and are treated accordingly.

    Cheers!

    “Doe”

  • @ Jim, Tatemae/honne is J Speak for postmodern denial. The advertisement is how they fantasize it is. It is a media created reality.

    The disconnect, the cognitive dissonance people are in daily denial about (esp J apologists) is the rule bound, over rationalized, honne kill joy reality.

    That is why, e.g. anime fans tend to be obsessively into their hobby- it is an escape from the other 90% of Japan the y do not like.

    But if one is to complain about e.g. the rules or the kill joy nature of something, one is often labeled “negative” or , ironically, a kill joy yourself.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard #4

    Absolutely, I agree!
    Expose the tatemae as being (essential) a lie that they have all agreed not to openly question, and in fact perpetuate, and they suffer from cognitive dissonance.
    Since the tatemae always revolves around some aspect of ‘Japaneseness’ myths, when cognitive dissonance plays out, and they double-down on the belief system tatemae instead of rejecting it, the next (il)logical step for them is to tell you to ‘go back to your own country’. Because, it’s easier for them if I leave (and leave them unchallenged) than if I stay and they have to consider that everything the know is wrong, and they know it, but are only pretending they don’t! (that is to say, literally the want me to ‘not exist’ so that they don’t have to confront the fact of their mental illness).

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Dude #3

    Interesting post about Japanese honorifics and othering.
    I was talking in Japanese about Shinzo Abe the other day, and one the the Jaoanese kept interrupting me to insist that I called him ‘Prime Minister Abe’ or Mr. Abe.
    I just ignored him and tried to finish what I was saying, using only the term ‘Abe’, but this guy exploded that I should use a title or honorific for Abe because he is the county’s PM and ‘we Japanese’ have respect for ‘our countries leader’.
    I told him that I didn’t care, I’m not Japanese, and Abe isn’t my leader. This guy then turned to the other Japanese and sagely explained to their open mouthed nodding faces that ‘You see. Gaijin have no respect. This is why America hated in the world’.

    There are no words to explain how stupid some people are.

    — I’m afraid I feel that you walked right into that one. If you live in Japan, Abe is your leader. Call him what you like, respectfully or disrespectfully (you can call public officials anything you like under Japan’s rules governing freedom of speech), but I wouldn’t deny his legally-mandated position.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Dr. Debito #6

    With respect, I disagree. Abe can never be my leader, since I am constantly relegated to ‘guest’ status, which is contradictory, don’t you think?

    — I agree with the second clause. But since The System far beyond Abe relegates you to “guest” status, you might as well say that you don’t recognize Japan’s government as legitimate because it doesn’t recognize and protect non-citizens properly as residents and taxpayers. But that argument is not going to get you very far in (I assume) a bar conversation.

  • JDG – an excellent, valid example. Note: While Abe is not “your leader”, he is the legal leader.
    As strongly as the man you mentioned objected with your level of politeness, I believe that how they call NJ is much more ingrained.
    Have you heard about the “henna gaijin”, who tries to fit in?
    Have you seen any westerners do the last name first thing, and pull it off?
    Japan decides who fits into which mold:
    Chinese, Koreans (last name first).
    S. Asians, S. Americans, Africans (cheap labor, below Japanese).
    White Americans (just visiting).

    I still have not seen acceptance of NJ as “the boss”, someone worthy of Japanese style respect.

    It does not matter how open minded you are, what is important is how open minded they are not.

    Back to this topic. If the goal is to be accepted into the greater society, and not constantly singled out, then the apartheid-like “separate and not equal” system of calling us different, showing us less respect, and treating us different needs to go. If the larger society can’t relate to you, or accepts that you are “different” (and therefore it is ok to treat you different), then it is much easier to be “othered” in daily interactions.

    IMHO.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “respect for Abe”- I am with Jim on this one. Why should I respect the grandson of a war criminal who wants to roll back the clock to imperial times?

    Japanese conservatives think respect is an automatic right- part of the problem.

    Other great leaders believe (or at least say) it is earned.

    The best thing to do is ignore Abe. The way to do this in a conversation in Japan is just “other” him by referring only to “the current J government”.

    That way its nothing personal.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    @ JDG #6

    I wonder if these same people feel they should refer to Xi Jiping as “Mr. Xi” or “President Xi”?
    Next time (if there is a next time), ask them to show appropriate respect to other leaders. See how far that argument goes.
    And, no, I’m not holding my breath.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard #9

    Absolutely agree!
    And further more, is it really good for my mental health, and good for the Japanese that we interact with, if we play along with the tatemae/honne lies and repeat the party line broadcast my ‘Abechanneru’ NHK?
    I say ‘No!’.
    I say that when people talk about how wonderful Abenomics is, and how Abe is ‘strong leader’ helping Japan be a ‘responsible member of the international community’ who is doing something to advance the cause of Japanese woman, I shouldn’t (out of politeness? subservience?) reinforce their distorted world view, but call them out on it! We should tell them straight that Abe is an international laughing stock, and a national embarrassment whose every utterance and action lowers Japans status and standing, inducing right-minded NJ to stay away, and encouraging those of us who like Japan enough to make it our home, change our opinion and consider daily, with growing urgency, the attractions of leaving Japan and taking our tax and our children (Japans future) with us!

    Why play along with their lies?
    If the nation of Japan was a drug addict, we’d still be at the stage of not being able to make them accept that they ‘have a problem’.

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