Reuters: “Who is Kazuo Ishiguro?” Japan asks, but celebrates Nobel author as its own. Very symptomatic of Japan’s ethnostate.

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Hi Blog.  About a month ago, Briton Kazuo Ishiguro, who writes exclusively in English, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Predictably, Japan’s media boasted that a third Japanese writer (with the caveat that he was Japan-born) had won a Nobel.

Well, not really.  Imagine, say, Germany claiming as their own all the Nobel-laureate scientists of the Deutsch diaspora living abroad, even those without actual German citizenship, for however many generations?

In Japan, this highly-questionable social science is hardly problematized.  As noted below by Reuters, a similar claim was laid to Shuji “Slave” Nakamura, inventor of the LED, who due to his foul treatment by Japan’s scientific and academic communities quite actively disavows his connections to Japan (in fact, he urges them to escape for their own good).  Same with Yoichiro Nambu, who got Nobelled as a team in 2008 for Physics, yet had been living in the US since the 1960s, was a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, and had even relinquished Japanese citizenship and taken American.

I suspect these odd claims massage a rather insecure national pride.  Also because they are largely unquestioned under the concept of Japan as an ethnostate, where nationality/citizenship is directly linked to blood ties.  That is to say, anyone who is of Japanese blood can be claimed as a member of the Japanese societal power structure (i.e., a Wajin).  And the converse is indeed true:  Even people who take Japanese citizenship but lack the requisite Wajin blood are treated as foreign:  Just ask Japan’s “naturalized-but-still-foreign” athletes in, say, the sumo wrestling or rugby communities.

It’s a pretty racist state of affairs.  One I discuss in depth in acclaimed book “Embedded Racism” (Lexington Books, 2015).  And, as I argue in its closing chapter, one that will ultimately lead to the downfall of a senescent Japan.  Dr. Debito Arudou

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“Who’s Kazuo Ishiguro?” Japan asks, but celebrates Nobel author as its own
Chang-Ran Kim. Reuters, October 5, 2017, courtesy lots of people
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nobel-prize-literature-japan/whos-kazuo-ishiguro-japan-asks-but-celebrates-nobel-author-as-its-own-idUSKBN1CB0FZ

TOKYO (Reuters) – Minutes after Japanese-born Briton Kazuo Ishiguro was announced as the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Japanese took to Twitter to ask: “Who (the heck) is Kazuo Ishiguro?”

For those who had never heard of the author of “The Remains of the Day” and other award-winning novels, the name that flashed across smartphones and TV screens was puzzling – it was undoubtedly Japanese-sounding, but written in the local script reserved for foreign names and words.

Far from the super-star status that his erstwhile compatriot – and perpetual Nobel favorite – Haruki Murakami enjoys, Ishiguro is not a household name in Japan.

But by Friday morning, the nation was celebrating the 62-year-old British transplant, who writes exclusively in English, as one of its own, seizing on his own declaration of an emotional and cultural connection to Japan, which he left at age five.

“I’ve always said throughout my career that although I’ve grown up in this country (Britain) … that a large part of my way of looking at the world, my artistic approach, is Japanese, because I was brought up by Japanese parents, speaking in Japanese,” Ishiguro said on Thursday.

Japanese newspapers carried his Nobel win as front-page news, describing him as a Nagasaki native who had obtained British citizenship as an adult.

“On behalf of the government, I would like to express our happiness that an ethnic Japanese … has received the Nobel Prize for Literature,” Japan’s chief government spokesman said.

The Sankei daily boasted: “(Ishiguro) follows Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe as the third Japanese-born writer” to win the prize.

The country similarly celebrated with gusto the 2014 Nobel Prize co-winner in physics, American Shuji Nakamura, despite his having abandoned his Japanese nationality years ago. Japan does not recognize dual citizenship for adults.

Many Japanese are familiar with Ishiguro’s 2005 dystopian novel “Never Let Me Go” through its dramatisation in a local TV series last year, though the fact that Ishiguro wrote the work was less known. In the last 16 years, Hayakawa Publishing, which holds exclusive rights to translate Ishiguro’s works into Japanese, sold less than a million of his eight titles.

Japanese may yet yearn for an elusive Nobel for Murakami, but for now, Ishiguro is their man of the hour.

“Since last night, we’ve received orders for 200,000 copies,” Hiroyuki Chida at Hayakawa Publishing said. “That’s unthinkable in this day and age.” ENDS

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12 comments on “Reuters: “Who is Kazuo Ishiguro?” Japan asks, but celebrates Nobel author as its own. Very symptomatic of Japan’s ethnostate.

  • I followed the comments on social media in the wake of this story and noticed that the lion’s share of Japanese were quite comfortable claiming Ishiguro as one of their own, with only a few here and there pointing out how strange it was for the Japanese to commandeer someone who has repeatedly tried to distance himself from Japan and make very clear that he does not identify as a Japanese.

    As I mentioned on a few of these sites, it matters very little how Ishiguro feels for purposes of the Japanese narrative. You are your bloodline as expressed through your race, and for Kazuo Ishiguro, that means he is Japanese first and foremost, regardless of his legal nationality, country of upbringing, native language, etc. This way of thinking doesn’t strike many Japanese as odd because they are socialized to believe this is a natural way of seeing the world.

    The binary of uchi vs. soto is such a core part of the Japanese psyche that it leaves little, if any, room for exceptions. It also quite obviously misses the essence of what it means it means to be Japanese. I know Japanese-Americans who have no ties to Japan, very little interest in Japanese culture and zero Japanese language skills, but under the Japanese racial test for Japanese-ness, these people would score very high, while, at the other end of the spectrum, a caucasian with decades of experience living in Japan, immense dedication to the culture and near-native fluency in the language will almost always be assumed, even in the face of contrary evidence, to be fundamentally unable to understand the Japanese people, culture and Japanese language. The seeds of exclusionary thought are planted in Japanese children at a young age and reinforced at all levels of society constantly as they grow up, ensuring that this same tired and discriminatory system will continue to focus on all of the things that aren’t really core to the concept of Japanese-ness when viewed properly and not as a purely racial construct.

    Anyway, I continue to struggle to understand how best to combat the overwhelming social narrative that disenfranchises countless Japan-loving foreigners and forces to them to the edges of Japanese society. I have been in Japan on and off for over two decades now, and honestly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure, there are surface changes made as window dressing basically for the sake of appearing to care about international criticism over what is going on here in Japan, but none of those changes really seem to impact the basic paradigms that structure Japanese thought on these issues. Until there is a change in individual consciousness concerning issues of race and identity, I am not sure much will change here in Japan.

    Reply
    • @JP, who is a “real Japanese” is just based on what is obvious to the eyes, it is thus really dumb and totally contradicts any “mysterious orient” “deep meaning” or “Japanese as superior culture” type propaganda memes you were sold since the 80s.

      Ishiguro, has a Japanese name and “Looks” Japanese, thus is this unsophisticated, primitive narrative, he is accepted as Japanese.

      The unseen part as you say- the essence of what it means it means to be Japanese. interest in Japanese culture and Japanese language skills- are more like hurdles put up to “foreign looking” applicants for Japanese citizenship.

      Thus I cant see Japanese getting back the Northern Territories; how would they ever accept the Russian people living there as Japanese citizens? Make it difficult for them until they dont like it and leave, perhaps?

      — More likely resettle it with Wajin, wait for the local Non-Wajin to die off, and then rewrite history, as has happened in the Bonin Islands.

      Reply
      • @ Debito, thanks for the link to the Bonin Islands case. Tellingly, it notes the Japanese “had no interest in the westerners” and just neglect or ignore diversity when they live in Japanese territory.
        Unless of course they are rich and famous and live overseas, like Ishiguro. Then it is hailed as victory for Team Japan.

        Reply
  • Baudrillard says:

    There is also a postmodern “Japan Brand” element to this, dovetailing with insecurity and banal nationalism. Famous names, brands, stereotypes and surface images are what count in Japan. Westerners tend to look for a deep meaning, “the mystery of the orient”, but there really isn’t one.

    Ooh, he has a Japanese name -an outdated “sign” or indicator-so he must be Japanese. Yay, Team Japan, another victory overseas for spreading Japanese culture.

    Reply
  • Baudrillard says:

    By the same token, there might be something to this “Japanese blood” thing, at least in people’s minds, and how they self identify. Consider the Niihau incident, where Japanese Americans quickly decided to aid the Japanese empire against their adopted country;
    ” Historian Gordon Prange notes that it was “the rapidity with which the three resident Japanese went over to the pilot’s cause” which troubled the Hawaiians. “The more pessimistic among them cited the Niʻihau incident as proof that no one could trust any Japanese, even if an American citizen, not to go over to Japan if it appeared expedient.”

    It’s a dangerous belief.

    Reply
    • Very interesting point! That incident was directly cited as evidence for the necessity of the internment of mainland USA Americans of Japanese descent at the time, and yet, Japan as victim narrative conveniently overlooks this fact in its memory of the issue.

      Reply
      • To be fair, China also regards overseas ethnic Han people to be ‘Chinese’ regardless of legal status. There’s a great book (can’t remember the title off hand) about Canadians of Chinese descent. And when you see the discrimination that their grandparents faced back in the day, you can appreciate how those ethnic ties could have been stronger than legal status conferred concepts of nationality. But as Canada became more open, tolerant and inclusive, the grandchildren/great grandchildren of those immigrants felt that their identity was 100% Canadian, making the current wave of Chinese tourists/overseas students in Canada feel dislocated from Canadians of Chinese descent.

        There’s a lesson there for countries like Japan; if you want immigrants to ‘deny’ their loyalty to their ethnic origin, and pledge ‘loyalty’ to your state, then you have to be prepared to make them stakeholders in your society. If you don’t they will always feel like outsiders and will teach their children to be too.

        Reply
  • The archaic Japanese belief of claiming by blood someone is Japanese is ironically what got them interned,to the point that the American authorities shared the belief, especially after Ni’hau
    “Those who were as little as 1/16 Japanese[12] and orphaned infants with “one drop of Japanese blood” were placed in internment camps.[13]” wikipedia.
    The Los Angeles Times noted that an upbringing similar to Ishiguro”s would warrant internment:
    “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched… So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere…notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American… ”

    Thus, Japan-their government no less!- claiming Ishiguro as a Japanese is a dangerous sign that the thinking of pre world war two is very much alive. Par the course of the Abe Zeitgeist I suppose.
    Speaking of which, from the same wikipedia entry :
    “the manifesto contended that Japanese language schools were bastions of racism which advanced doctrines of Japanese racial superiority.[39]”

    This really sounds like Moritomo Gakuen’s ultra nationalism. Seven decades later, it is proven true!

    To conclude, Japan must stop celebrating and claiming people with tenuous links to Japan like Ishiguro with nationalist pride. It proves rightly or wrongly the country is stuck in the imperialist 1930s and hardly inspires trust in modern Japan. It is damaging and dangerous.

    Ditto, the pilot fron the Niihau incident, Nishikaichi is buried in his hometown, Hashihama, Japan. On his grave stone is written, ‘His meritorious deed will live forever.’

    So, what caused the internment of Japanese Americans was a “meritotious”? Way to go, J Rightists! (sarcasm intended).

    Reply
  • I am so curious about whether George Takei (Mr. Sulu) is going to be regarded as Japanese or not, in light of the recent allegations against him. Something tells me not.

    Reply

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