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Hi Blog. As I recently said in an interview with the Shingetsu News Agency, people who live in Japan (including NJ Residents) have to speak up if they feel they are being unfairly treated or depicted in public. And they do, sometimes with success.
Consider the case of RJO below, who writes that he saw a Kyoto Government comic book (ironically, scripted and edited by Kyoto Seika University, in conjunction with the Kyoto International Manga Museum! ) issued to local grade-school children about traffic safety (a concern in Kyoto for commuting kids). Amidst other concerns, the booklet veered off on a tangent to target and alienate “foreigners” (not to mention Visible Minorities) as loud, ill-mannered loiterers and litterers.
That’s the NJ Community’s only appearance in the comic — as guests (not Residents). Of course, according to eyewitness reports (and personal experience), this is in spite of ill-mannered loud littering Japanese around Kyoto as well. (Those kind of manners, you see, are exogenous to Japan. Even an elementary school student knows that. Now!)
The good news is that RJO and a friend took this up on Facebook, then directly with the City Government. Within hours the downloadable link to this booklet disappeared!
Turning the keyboard over to RJO now to tell his story. Good job, you two. Again, if you live here as a Resident, you have to make yourself known as one sometimes. Demand non-differential treatment. And definitely demand not to be alienated in a primary school setting! Debito Arudou Ph.D.
Date: April 26, 2020
Dear Debito, I am a French national living in Kyoto, Japan for 12 years now. I have a Japanese wife and two daughters.
My older daughter is studying at Kyoto International French School (LFIK), but she is allowed to attend classes at our local elementary school, one of the few in Kyoto where the head of school accepts students from international schools during the holidays.
We did not attend the school’s “nyûgakushi” (annual opening ceremonies), but managed to meet the teacher and grab some documents.
I noticed later, at home, that they had given us a booklet about “street safety”. The reason why is because downtown Kyoto is not very safe for children. No sidewalk, narrow streets, “nagara unten” from both cars and cycles, tobacco, etc…
[“Taking Back the Streets: A city where people can enjoy walking” produced by the Kyoto City “Nakagyou-ku Traffic Problems Project Meeting” Issued March 2020. Publisher details follow. Click to expand in browser.]
Scripted and edited by the Kyoto Seika University (Kyoto International Manga Museum Jigyou Sokushin Shitsu)
Anyway, I started reading it, and found a depiction of Non-Japanese tourists, namely how they loiter and throw rubbish around. The young Japanese protagonists of the manga are all distressed, and go “Oh, such bad manners. I wish I could tell them something in English.”
[Right side bottom left quadrant shows racialized people making loud “Wai” noises. The girl below says, “Boy, there are a lot of tourists here!” The grandmother agrees. Then the top left has unintelligible foreigners that are commented on for eating while walking, then throwing their garbage down a drain to the kids’ immense shock. Just before the kids almost get hit by a car, they say, “What awful manners. What would I say to them to caution them?” “Uh… in English!? Uh, I dunno. As you said, in English, where to start?” Translations by Debito. Click to expand in browser. The entire booklet can be read here as a PDF: Toori-no-fukken]
And I’m like, “What!?”
The thing is, “ill-mannered foreign tourists” are often in the news and in public communications. But actually I see lots more “local” people with bad manners everyday, and I tell them directly: “Koko wa tabako dame desu yo”, “Nagara unten yamete kudasai”, etc. I’m brave, I don’t care, and I show my daughter that you have to stand up for yourself.
So the authorities have made a booklet about street safety in Kyoto, a very relevant issue, but the only time Non-Japanese people appear in it, they are depicted as having bad manners.
Again, what’s the booklet about? Street safety.
If they want to bring in Non-Japanese people for some reason, they should show all kind of Non-Japanese people, not just the ill-mannered, loitering people. Or not just focus on the bad manners of “foreigners”. It’s a very bad association.
Plus, remember that this booklet is handed out to elementary school children. So they’ll see that depiction, the frustration of the child protagonist, and how “English-speaking people” don’t respect the rules and stuff.
Mixed-roots children (like my daughter) are part of Japanese society. They go to elementary school like everybody else. Some of them speak English, but not all do.
When my daughter used to go to a Japanese kindergarten (before the French school), I was often greeted by groups of kids shouting “Eigo no hito da!” while pointing their finger at me.
It was unsettling. I let their teachers know that, but they just said, “They’re kids, they don’t know any better.” So I said, “I know, it’s your job to teach them. I’ll be happy if they just say ‘konnichiwa’, like they do with everyone else.” (It worked, in the end.)
The street safety booklet reminded me of that, and I put a few pictures of it up on FB with English and Japanese comments.
A Japanese FB friend with English ancestry named Mariko picked up on it immediately, shared it with others, and called the City Office.
The City Office actually took everything off their website the next day (the booklet was downloadable) and promised to recall the booklet.
[Here’s the original link, and a screen capture of how it appeared on Facebook:]
It had just been published in March. They had just started giving it out and showing it in a few places.
I feel bad for the street safety campaign, but I’m happy with the result. We (Non-Japanese) are not outsiders, strangers, or just “ill-mannered tourists”. We live here. We understand Japanese. We also have to stand up for our kids.
Mariko made a good example of that. She wrote later on FB how her own kids were next to her the whole time she tried to reach the City hall. She said, “They need to see how we can defend ourselves. A phone call can change things.” She’s active against all kind of injustices.
I also believe in action. I sent letters to Combini chains to ask them to remove ashtrays close to my daughter’s kindergarten. I called the City services to urge them to put “no tobacco” signs in public parks where kids go. When I ride my daughter to school, we frequently have troubles with taxi drivers that break the speed limit or ignore the stop signs. I take picture of their plate and contact their company. I also go to the kôban to ask them to patrol the streets where such incidents happen frequently. That kind of thing. It’s not much, but I often get positive results.
I believe that many people, Japanese and Non-Japanese alike, feel the same about all of these issues (from street safety and tobacco control to racial discrimination), but they don’t think they can make a change. I think they can, we can.
Thank you Debito for your advice, and for sharing the story. Sincerely, RJO.
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