Sankei column by Okabe Noburu suggesting Japanese language tests for foreign correspondent visas, to weed out their “anti-Japan” biases


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Hi Blog.  Here’s an interesting column by one of our favorite newspapers, the Sankei Shinbun, famous for its anti-foreigner slants.  Their columnist, Okabe Noburu, Senior Reporter for Diplomatic Issues, links a lack of language ability in foreign reporters to their tendency to hold “anti-Japan” biases.  In a meandering column that brings in all sorts of anti-immigration slants itself, Okabe finally reaches the conclusion that maybe Japan might make language tests a condition for visas for foreign correspondents.  That way they’ll have a “correct” view of Japan.  Without any intended irony, it seems that Okabe, who seems to claim competency in English (enough to pick on ethnic accents in English), holds biased views himself despite.  Have a read.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Give Japanese language tests to foreign reporters with “anti-Japan” slants

Okabe Noburu, Sankei Shinbun, December 15, 2015, translation by Debito

It’s a scene I’ve seen before somewhere.  After one day being posted to London, I remembered New York City, where like a “salad bowl” with many colors of vegetables, a variety of races and ethnicities that do not mix (majiri awazu) dot the city.  

At this time 80% of London’s population is made up of people coming from overseas, and according to the national census, it seems that of the entire population only 44.9% are of white people born in England.  

After the war, because English people don’t like manual labor, they brought in immigrants from former colonies, such as Asia, Africa, and the West Indies, but recently there has been a huge influx of people from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, so British society’s multiculturalization and multiethnicification has been proceeding.  The immigrant problem is one of a history of empire.  The English spoken by this variety of races has several “country accents” mixed in, so it’s hard to understand.  Even English has been hybridized.

When I applied for my visa I had to take an English test.  As language ability had not been demanded of me as an exchange student in the 1990s or during my half-year posting in Russia in the 1990s, this struck me as odd.  However, after being dispatched, I came to the painful realization that understanding England meant first acquiring the language.

Before being posted, I was a member of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.  I was pained to see foreign reporters who couldn’t function in Japanese broadcasting their “anti-Japan” slants to the world.  How about Japan making Japanese language ability a condition for foreign correspondents getting a visa?  It might lead to a correct understanding of Japan.

ENDS.  Original article follows:

産経新聞 2015.12.15 07:28






28 comments on “Sankei column by Okabe Noburu suggesting Japanese language tests for foreign correspondent visas, to weed out their “anti-Japan” biases

  • This guy is just intentionally telling lies to his ignorant Japanese readers in order to pander to, and confirm their right-wing racist bias.

    He claims that only about 40% of Londoners are ‘white’ and ‘UK born’ according to a government census, but the UK government doesn’t give those figures anywhere. Seems rather that this idiot is deliberately misrepresenting the Wikipedia article on the UK’s 2011 census, which mentions that whites are over 80% of UK population. Here’s the data;

    Then he lies again by saying that he needed to pass an English test to get a UK visa.
    No, he needed (likely) a certain TOEIC score to gain entry to a UK university, to study classes conducted solely in English. This is a university requirement that varies from university to university. This has nothing to do at all with the way the UK Government gives Japanese people visas.

    Read the whole thing again, substitute ‘London’ for ‘Tokyo’, and ‘English’ for ‘Japanese’, and you can see exactly what this charlatan is doing; his fake UK experience functions as a ‘warning’ to his readers as to how immigration will destroy Japanese language and culture.

  • The foreigners most often accused of anti-Japan bias — such as Fackler, Adelstein, Parry, McCurry — tend to comprehend Japanese better than others. It’s more common that newby writers who don’t understand Japanese, or are studying Nihongo, are in a honeymoon phase and want to believe in Beautiful Nihon.

    The real problem is that almost anybody can join the FCCJ, which is desperate for new blood, or claim they are a “journalist in Japan”. Having a proper journalism degree, bonafide experience overseas, means nothing at FCCJ or in Japan. It actually works against you.

  • Richard Parker says:

    “Anti-Japan” = Not slavishly reporting the Abe version of events.
    Presumably they would like to turn the FCCJ into a proper Japanese kisha-kurabu, with all the controls over the flow of information that would allow them.

  • @Jim Di Griz #1

    I couldn’t agree any more. The discussion about England’s ethnic composition has absolutely nothing to do with his point about language tests. It’s an irrelevant little diatribe that makes him sound like an English white supremacist, except he’s neither English nor white. Besides, according to the usual illogic of buffoons like he, England is not “his country,” so he has no right to criticize it, right? Blatant pandering to the lowest common denominator of fearing “different” people living together.

  • HJ @ #4

    I absolutely agree with you.
    Yes, he even makes a criticism of another country as a foreigner, something he says foreigners shouldn’t do about Japan (in fact, that’s the whole point of his rant), which makes him a hypocrite in my book (but in his book, he’s Japanese, and a racist, so his ‘rules’ are for the NJ, not for himself).

    And I agree with Richard Parker, that this is a little sulk about how NJ journalists working for NJ news outlets are beyond the system of intimidation and bullying that Abe uses to keep the Japanese domestic media from reporting anything negative about him.

    The whole thing is a straw man argument (based on out right lies) that presents a case for government approved language tests for NJ journalists, as a means of coercing them and controlling the internationally reported ‘message’ about Japan.

    It’s ham-fisted authoritarian fascism knee-jerk reaction to hearing something you don’t like.

    Maybe we should cheer this guy on? If this system was formally introduced, NJ journalists would slam Abe’s fascist government the way they already should have, and then ignore Japan totally. It’ll be difficult to push that ‘cool Japan’ thing when you won’t let NJ in to cover the story…

  • Here’s a very wild idea: hire more foreign journalists in Japan. Treat them better. Then maybe they’ll write nicer things about Japan.

    Reality: massive cutbacks at Asahi, Yomiuri, Mainichi, even Japan Times means that many of the remaining “journalists” are somehow connected with LDP mouthpiece state broadcaster NHK (who can then brainwash or control these leftover gaijin journos by providing them easy money and lazy jobs).

    Japanese human resources managers at Reuters, AP, WSJ/Dow Jones, Bloomberg and others have tended to hire obedient Japanese reporters in the past decade, not free-thinking, truth-seeking, Japan-bashing gaijin who speak and read Japanese. AFP has hired a few gaijin recently, and Reuters, Bloomberg and the others do sometimes report critically about Japan, but it’s nowhere near the amount of scrutiny heaped upon China for example.

    Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek and others either closed Japan bureaus or generally ignore Japan altogether.

    There are basically only 3 English-language freelance foreign correspondents left in Japan, as far as I know.

    Jake Adelstein: LA Times, Daily Beast, Atlantic Wire, Japan Times, sometimes CNN or others

    Justin McCurry: Guardian, Christian Science Monitor (rarely), Global Post (rarely) and France 24

    Julian Ryall: Telegraph, SCMP, DW, maybe others

    Yes, that’s a total of 3 foreign scribes for much of the world.

    Think of the critics who are gone or marginalized:

    –William Pesek, gone from Bloomberg (now Barron’s, who cares).

    –Hiroko Tabuchi, gone from Japan, now in New York City writing obituaries or petty US consumerism stuff or savaging Takata (linked to 10 deaths in violent crashes out of 100,000,000 airbags sold).

    –Alex Kerr (still in Thailand?)

    Whose left then? Kyodo, which evolved out of the WWII Domei News Agency and still toes the line. Nikkei, boring as hell, nobody reads it in English. Japan Today, which merely runs well-controlled, tightly-managed stories from AFP, AP and especially Kyodo. The remaining skeleton of the Japan Times (R.I.P.). Patriotic Japan supremacists such as Yuri Kageyama at AP, who famously told VOA reporter Steve Herman (recently moved to Thailand) that only Japanese should be hired to cover Japan because gaijin will never understand.

    Almost no pro journo wants to move to Japan to look for work that no longer exists. Many chose Hong Kong, Singapore or Thailand instead.

    Speaking of Thailand, the government wants to kick out at least 50 freelancers out of 500 total foreign journos there

    China has also flushed the toilet in recent years to restrict foreign journos there, even kicking out NYT.

    Is Japan moving in same direction? They might not have to turn FCCJ into a government-controlled “kisha club”. There’s hardly anybody left. They’re winning the war by attrition.

  • I forgot to mention another “critic”: former NYT staffer Martin Fackler, who wrote a book in Japanese about journalism in Japan, now enjoying life in California

  • There’s also much self-censorship in Japan gaijin media.

    Mark Devlin, who was critical of Japan, started Metropolis then sold to Terrie Lloyd. Mark moves to Ireland then Florida. For business reasons, Lloyd has policy to avoid politics in Metropolis, thus ensuring restriction of critical thinking about Japan.

    As for The Economist, Kenneth Cukier left Japan after the deluge of 750 comments attacking the Gaijin Gulag article that he managed to smuggle out the barn door. His replacement Dave McNeill works for NHK and instead of writing a long-planned book critical of Japanese culture, he does an ode-to-Japan type book “Strong in the Rain” with fellow NHK propagandist Lucy Birmingham.

    The Japan Times has a couple of free-thinking, truth-seekers but they are marginalized due to dwindling budget and support.

    Thus the only truly “critical” foreign correspondent resident in Japan these days is the mudslinging Jake Adelstein. But almost nobody believes him because of his unethical vendettas and smear campaigns, his use of shady or unnamed sources and his general proclivity to either exaggerate, embellish or fabricate whatever suits his agenda (remember the phony Gang War hoax?) … (remember the yakuza smuggling a dirty bomb out of Fukushima?) … (remember all the “stalker” cases that were never proven in court?) … (remember his campaign against US visitor Julien Blanc?) … (remember when Yamaguchi-gumi had 80,000 yakuza? They only have about 6000 now) ….

    Where can one find thoughtful, critical thinking about Japan? Basically, and nowhere else

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    “English people don’t like manual labour…”
    Pot, meet kettle. Or do you mean all those Iranians, Brazilians, Nigerians and Chinese all magically appeared to dismantle hard-working Japanese society?

  • The sort of baldly anti-intellectual figure that can talk about a monolithic “correct understanding” of country/nation would be laughed off by any population that had a good education in the contemporary humanities.

    It’s particularly telling that this “correct” [i.e. untheorized cryprofascist] understanding dares not speak its name even in euphemism [i.e.”patriotic understanding”] since this would acknowledge the possibility of an alternative hermeneutics, and ultimately alternative forms of social organization.

    In one way it eerily recalls tenko (転向) the wartime process in which communists, socialists, and other dissenters were treated as misbehaving children who must be dealt with harshly until they “voluntarily” recognized the error of their ways.

    Needless to say, minds far greater than those of Fascist Japan’s Little Eichmanns have been unable to refute Marxism or liberalism. So rather than engage in a battle of ideologies that they know they can’t win, they attempt to treat their most educated opponents as foolish toddlers who have mistaken the color called freedom for the color called tyranny.

  • So, wait, Okabe was never a journalist in England? And his having to take an English language test was nothing to do with being a journalist?

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ TJJ #13

    His article is so badly written (for a journalist!) that it’s hard to tell what he was doing.

    Except for this;
    He claims that the UK makes non-English journalists take an English test as a visa requirement, so Japan should do the same.
    Fine (if it wasn’t all lies).
    By his logic then;
    The UK punished by law the killing and eating of whales, and hate-speech, and war crime denial. Japan should do the same?
    No, I thought not.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Its only true that the emphasis in “polite”Japanese language is Obfuscation, the obscuring of intended meaning in communication, leading to, tatemae as a source of misunderstanding (to quote a Japanese guy I knew). And its partly true that when studying Japanese a certain cultural bias is always part of the course about what is the “right” way of expressing something and should not be said directly.

    This is the grain of truth this Okabe incorporates in his otherwise bigoted ramble. That there is an accepted way of speaking and a blunt, direct, cliched “western” way of doing it. Olympus and Woodford springs to mind.

    (I used to work in J radio and my NJ predecessor was soon fired as he was quite outspoken about political developments. I was told explicitly not to even say anything negative like “I personally dont like the Beatles much” for fear of upsetting someone who did like them. While I went along with this for a a short while, I soon chafed under the low paid restrictions. My rule of thumb in Japan is either pay me (off) well or I say/do what I want.

    And sadly, so many Japanese employers have an exploitative view of NJs in e.g. the Arts, and unless they make allowances, there will soon be a dearth of meaningful western or NJ participation as CJ notes, above.

    Having said that a lot of Japanese language and other teachers are quite liberal minded by necessity, which is why we see the current anti intellectual attack of Abe on universities and the schools curriculum etc.

    I basically learnt Japanese to push things along in business in Japan (no easy task) and to see through the procrastination, excuses and obfuscation- and in doingso I ruffled a few feathers but I could also learn when I was wasting my time with e.g people who “would like” to set up a business rather than people who really “could” set up a business.

    It cut both ways, as a westerner I was allowed to be pushy, but I certainly broke some taboos and p+ssed a few people off. Usually people who, like this Okabe, who want you to “take one for the team (Team Japan”).

    But take one for the team again and again. With little or no pay or reward other than being part of the team.

    Its an exploitative, elitist hierarchy that uses “membership of the team” and symbols like “wa” as a way to get you working for them, for their greater glory.
    It permeates Japanese society from e.g. Event promoters who get people to perform all night for free for some dubious “honor” (actually serving the ego or business of the manipulator), to the politicians who call on people to sacrifice for the dubious “honor” of being “Japanese”.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ CJ again Spot on-“Almost no pro journo wants to move to Japan to look for work that no longer exists. Many chose Hong Kong, Singapore or Thailand instead.”

    Not just journalism. Just about any liberal arts industry you care to name. I daresay even the better English teachers. Other than spouses of Japanese (who, incidentally, are perceived as being more “stable” by employers), I cant see anyone wanting to stay here longer than 3 years so I suppose Abe’s short sighted, lame “immigration” policy has come to fruition.

    If the pay or the yen is low, then there has to be something attractive to entice good people here. Cherry blossoms, Sushi and Unique/Uniqlo Japanese Culture arent good enough reasons alone.

  • Baudrillard says:

    CJ, ‘The Americans, meanwhile, grappled with the strict rules on wearing only “indoor shoes” inside the school buildings and laughed as they lined up with their Japanese counterparts to bow and say thank you to their teachers at the end of class. (“We expect you to do this when you get back, too,” Fugate quipped.)”

    From that fuzzy, heart warming article written by the Kiwi in the J honeymoon phase.

    Reading between the lines it seems that the current Mantra of “Educating the Gaijin in the correct way of doing things” even permeates this.

    Ever see the South Park episode where the Japanese came to educate the kids in Japanese culture but were really brainwashing them to act as drones in a repeat attack of Pearl Harbor? Of course, that was an exaggeration but still…..

    (“We expect you to do this when you get back, too,” Fugate quipped.)”

    Was he really quipping?

  • Loverilakkuma says:


    This is the typical fallacy argument that many Japanese let it slip out of their hands–or they just don’t get a clue. Improvement of language proficiency cannot make one agree with everything what Japan is doing or what she is doing is right. His idiocy flies in the face of domestic journalists who are addressing the problems of Japanese society on a daily basis. Sankei and like-minded conservative establishment groups love this kind of narcissistic worldview.

  • Of course! Just like every Japanese person I’ve ever met who was fluent in English had NOTHING but good things to say about the USA!
    WOW, Okabe-san, that booze must taste great today!

  • Douglas Meyer says:

    He has a rather interesting assumption, that Japanese proficiency leads to a ‘correct’ view of Japan. What the heck is a ‘correct’ view? I thought journalists are supposed to introduce a variety of views.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Douglas Meyer #20

    Actually, it’s a new twist on an established tenet of Japanese racial superiority theory.

    Max Hastings in Nemesis, and John Dower in Cultures of War point out that the Nihonjinron-giron belief that Japanese language is impenetrable to NJ, since by virtue of not having ‘Japanese blood’, they are incapable of truly understanding the Japanese language on the same level that Japanese do (Nihonjinron-giron puts forth that Japanese DNA is the deciding factor in Japanese language proficiency, leading to a type of understanding between Japanese that can’t even be explained to NJ!), led in the Imperial era to the simple ‘assumption’ that Japanese people have a superior language, and in being able to understand it, they are inherently superior themselves.

    Given all the racial mumbo-jumbo that the Japanese language and Japanese identity is burdened with, even though we know that Okabe’s article and world-view and belief systems are all insanely illogical (and therefore, that we can see directly to the point; he is a racist and a liar), he himself likely thinks that his idea presents a rather ‘neat’ little trap for NJ;

    You can’t as an NJ journalist understand Japan without understanding the Japanese language- attempting to report on Japan without this language proficiency is what’s (in his opinion) leading to all these ‘negative’ impressions that these journalists are giving the world.

    So, he presents a solution; mandatory language testing!

    However, as a Japanese racial supremacist right-winger, what he doesn’t say in the article (although he and his ilk believe as a matter of fact) is that NJ are genetically incapable of actually understanding the Japanese language the way a Japanese person does.

    Therefore, even if his proposed language based visa regulations are introduced, NJ journalists no matter how linguistically proficient will still be accused of having an ‘incorrect understanding’.

    By his own right-wing ideology, he is proposing a system that would set up NJ to ‘fail’, and at the same time reinforce his (unscientific) beliefs about race (handy that, isn’t it?).

    He’s a charlatan and a racist, and as such, his ‘work’ defies analysis, since a central tenet of his beliefs is that we are incapable of understanding him correctly to start with.

    By way of a related example, I recently had coffee with a well travelled and well educated middle-aged Japanese lady. She told me that she had a visitor a couple of weeks ago; a French friend who was born and raised in France, but has a Japanese mother. She was shocked to discover that upon arriving at her house, the French friend asked her where he should put his coat, because she can’t understand why someone who is ‘haafu’ Japanese doesn’t intuitively know where her closet is, or that the coat could be folded and placed on top of his bag!

    Oh, the shock and the horror, the total lack of comprehension that ‘cultural and social norms’ are learnt, and not intrinsically carried in our DNA! ‘But his mother is Japanese!’ she protested (as if this would somehow have informed him where people’s closets are?).

    And if this is the level of illogical understanding of Japanese self-identity of a reasonably moderate person is inflicted with, then you can only wonder at what bizarre lunacy ‘proper’ right-wingers like Okabe believe to be ‘scientific fact’.

  • Critical Review says:

    @CJ The coverage by hacks, especially those out of the FCCJ is problematical in many respects. While I agree with your basic point that most of the professional journalists in bureaus who built up some knowledge and, gasp, basic language skills and understanding of their beat, have disappeared, this has left a pretty appalling situation on the ground here.

    While the whole media circus has become a race to the bottom, signified in Japan a few years back when the FCCJ made a hack tech press release writer incapable of writing a properly sourced story to minimal (these days Bloomberg) standard its president, it’s difficult to regard the few freelancers and stringers (who are given the titles “correspondents” to suit both the outlets and the individuals) left that you mentioned as beholden to the prejudices and foibles of the media market and their hack bosses in cubicles in the newsrooms of the media outlets that pay them peanuts for their wares.

    Case in point would be Julian Ryall, an ex-Nova teacher, who, to his credit, learned to write a bit and became a master of the freelancer game, such as it is. While he does come out with the occasional piece that’s worth reading, his work seems to be dominated by clickbait on North Korea, sometimes his stories so transparently non-researched regurgiated garbage that it has even reached the attention of Private Eye (perhaps the UK’s only worthwhile newspaper) and Al Jazeera (which has its own problems). If it’s not clickbait, then it’s the Japanese are weird and whacky. Then you get to some serious news reporting, which he can occasionally do, to his credit. Not a bad job compared to the work of people like Howard French of the NYT, with all his resources a decade ago, but who only seemed to have three or four stories based around how badly the Japanese economy was doing, and Japanese schoolgirls. He’s now a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where he teaches younger hacks how to be “foreign correspondents.” A good earner for the J-School and probably the worst place for the aspiring hacks, but good for French I guess.

    It’s almost impossible not to feel a bit sorry for the whole situation especially when freelancers like McCurry and Ryall have to write lots of pro-Japan PR or whoever is paying them their silver pennies (whether it be rags like Japan spotlight) or 3rd-rate PR vehicles such as local chamber of commerce trade mags, then turn around and try to fit in some serious news in the national corporate media.


  • Jim di Griz says:

    It’s official!

    Abe actually has an LDP team dedicated to trawling through the Internet for articles they feel ‘misrepresent’ Abe, and has a checklist of journalists they keep tabs on, so that they can harass and harangue, humiliate and attempt to intimidate them by trolling them on social media!

    Your tax ¥ at work!

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Just to be clear about my post at #23, declining standards at Japan Times allow them to print a totally misleading headline that gives the (false) impression that this is one guy out to correct wrongs, but actually reading the article makes clear that he is an LDP politician, a special advisor to Abe, he has a team of LDP staffers working on this for him, and he gives Abe feedback on his trolling.

    Very far from a ‘one man effort’ to correct ‘misunderstandings perpetuated by the foreign press’.

    I think JT has sold out the NJ community- its customers. I don’t need to read a rag that’s a shill for Japan against NJ.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ JIm, its boorish and anooying, but I think Gaijin handlers like this Yamamoto have always existed, from the blowhard ojisan telling you not to talk on trains to the oba san saying speaking English too well would make her the “slave of America.” (she runs an English school).

    “he points out their “mistakes” on Twitter and waits for the journalists to respond. Most do not.”

    Well, thats good. And quite appropriate for the “anti communication” culture in modern Japan (e.g. the woman arrested in Kawaguchi for not speaking to police officers because “they were strangers”)

    Just another impotent blowhard trying to control the narrative.

    Leading to Japan passing at best, and outrage at worst:
    “Japan is ranked 61st out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, down two places from the previous year.

    Larry Repeta, a professor of law at Tokyo’s Meiji University, condemned Yamamoto’s project as “outrageous,” saying he is unaware of similar efforts to monitor foreign journalists in “any democratic country.”


  • Baudrillard says:

    Its “Shut up shut up, why are you laughing?” all over again (Jim’s link):” Repeta said one thing is clear: It will damage Japan’s reputation as a democratic society.

    “The most immediate effect is that all over the world, people are going to be laughing at the Japanese government.” he said.”

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard,

    All good points!
    And in this years press freedom rankings, Japan has dropped to 72nd place!

    Maybe other countries leaders are in fact over-sensitive to negative press and explicitly attempt to manipulate the narrative; I’m thinking China, Russia, Turkey, N. Korea and Zimbabwe, but how well are these nations regarded and respected internationally (and international regard and respect is what Japan’s right-wingers most crave)?

    Maybe the leaders of ‘western democracies’ also attempt the same, but at least they are not so arrogant as to parade the fact of them doing it, in the very face of those they aim to manipulate!

  • Richard Parker says:

    Given the climate of fear in journalism in Japan, it should come as no surprise that NHK appears to have restricted reporting on possible problems with nuclear power stations during the recent earthquake.

    毎日新聞 4月23日(土)2時30分配信







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