Alex Kerr falls into “Guestism” arguments with unresearched comments


Hi Blog. I covered some of this material in a previous post on the blog. However, for the newsletter I did a significant rewrite last night, describing how flippant and unresearched comments from a noteworthy person (Alex Kerr) can cause problems for others (particularly through unscrupulous anonymous editors on places like Wikipedia). I don’t want this new version to be buried in a newsletter, so I repost it separately and delete the older version from the blog. Debito in Sapporo


Some time ago, Alex Kerr, author of DOGS AND DEMONS and LOST JAPAN (and a person I have great respect for), was asked in an interview with the Japan Times (Oct 25, 2005) about he thought about activists (and, er, about me in particular). He responded:

JT: In Dogs and Demons you argue that Japan has failed to internationalize. What do you think about the work of Debito Arudou and others to combat racial discrimination in Japan?

AK: Well, somebody has to do it. I’m glad that there is a whistle-blower out there. But, I am doubtful whether in the long run it really helps. One would hope that he could do it another way. He’s not doing it the Japanese way. He’s being very gaijin in his openly combative attitude, and usually in Japan that approach fails.

I fear that his activities might tend to just confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.

That said, perhaps we who live here are slow to stick our necks out when we sense an injustice, and quick to self-censor in order to get along smoothly in our communities.

To me the most interesting aspect of Arudou Debito is that, in taking on Japanese citizenship, he has brought the dialogue inside Japan. His activities reveal the fact that gaijin and their gaijin ways are now a part of the fabric of Japan’s new society. A very small part of course, but a vocal and real part.

This sticks in my craw for two reasons: One is that Alex, who does incredible amounts of research for his books, seems ill-informed about the ways we have combatted racial discrimination. If he had read my book JAPANESE ONLY (and despite receiving a copy from me nearly two years ago, he wrote me last January that he still hadn’t read it), he might understand that ARE doing it the so-called “Japanese Way”. We took every channel and route available to us WITHIN the Japanese system, as I meticulously detail in the book. In fact, there are plenty of Japanese who do exactly what we do (and more), and don’t get slapped with a “gaijin” label. It is out of character for Alex to comment on something he hasn’t done thorough research on.

The other reason is that this quote has been lifted out of context and selectedly reproduced by the unscrupulous on places like Wikipedia:
Some critics question Arudou’s brand of conflict resolution: the judicial system. Alex Kerr, author of the best-selling Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan (ISBN 0-8090-3943-5), criticize such tactics as “too combative,” is doubtful “whether in the long run it really helps,” noting that “in Japan…[the combative] approach fails.” Acknowledging that “gaijin and their gaijin ways are now part of the fabric of Japan’s new society,” Kerr also notes that Arudou’s activities may “confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.”[24]
The essence and thrust of Alex’s comment, which is in fact about two-thirds positive, is lost.

Anyhow, the reason I bring this up now is because Matt Dioguardi in a recent, thoughtful essay, grounds this phenomenon in historical context, from an angle I hadn’t considered before:

=========== MATT DIOGUARDI WRITES =================
As a foreign national who is making a life for himself in Japan, I’m personally concerned that remarks like his have a negative effect on me (as a so-called “gaijin”). Because regardless of what one may or may not think of Debito, unintentionally Kerr is commenting on all “gaijin”.

Compare this to C. Eric Lincoln’s vivid description of a “smart nigger” in Coming Through the Fire: Surviving Race and Place in America:

The smart nigger was likely to be everything the good nigger was not. Most likely he was educated above the norm considered sufficient for colored folks; whether he got it in school or some bigger fool than he had put it into his head, he had some dangerous notions. In either case, Mr. Martin said that the smart nigger was a pain in his own ass, and everybody else’s too. He wanted too much. He wanted his street paved, and he wanted it paved because he paid taxes rather than because his wife cooked for the judge. His house was painted and well kept and he didn’t waste his money on rattletrap cars. He didn’t “owe money downtown,” or “take up” advances on his pay every Monday morning. More than likely he had “been up North,” and he had a colored newspaper come to his house in the mail. The smart nigger paid his poll taxes, and he was mighty slow, it seemed to Mr. Dubbie Gee, to answer when somebody said “Boy!” He didn’t think that the bad nigger was funny, or that the good nigger could be trusted. Clearly, every smart nigger would bear watching. “They don’t last long,” Mr. Martin said, and he “flat out had no use for them.” He said that if he were colored he’d either kick a smart nigger’s ass down off his shoulders or keep away from him. A smart nigger, he said “is a damn fool hell-bent for trouble. And mark my words, he’s gon’ find it quicker’n a catfish can suck a chicken gut off a bent pin.”

Is Alex Kerr saying Debito is a “smart nigger”?

I’d like to note that Kerr should be more specific in his comments, because is it really the case that there are no non-“gaijin” doing the things that Debito does? Is he saying that when Japanese file lawsuits, this is a natural evolution of culture, but when Debito does it, it’s reinforcing the notion that “gaijin” have an “openly combative attitude”?

Is he saying the teachers who refuse to sing Kimigayo are acting like “gaijin”?

What exactly is the definitive way some one displays an “openly combative attitude”?

Moreover, what is the definitive “Japanese way”? And in what specific way is Debito not doing it?

It’s very disappointing to see some of Alex Kerr’s calibre engaging in Nihonjinron. He should know that there is nothing so destructive to Japan’s traditional local customs as Nihonjinron. Do I need to quote from his own books? Just like the centralization of construction standards begins to make all parks and all buildings look bleakly similar, the centralization of identity around the concept of “Japanese” in an essentialist sense is just as destructive to the development of a full personality.
=========== END MATT DIOGUARDI ==============

More at

The point is, I always find it amazing how easily people can fall right back into the “Guestist”-sounding paradigms of “nicely, nicely, don’t get too uppity, for it’s not ‘The Japanese Way'”. When in fact everything we have ever done has also been done by Japanese. I hope Alex gets around to reading my book ( and will offer more informed comments. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

29 comments on “Alex Kerr falls into “Guestism” arguments with unresearched comments


    April 7, 2007 8:41:47 PM JST
    Dear Debito,

    Alex Kerr here. I see that there has been some discussion in your newsletter about my Japan Times interview of Oct 2005. It goes to show that you can never be too careful about what you say, because it lives on for years, and can even reappear and be enshrined (in distorted form) on Wikipedia.

    Anyway, I wanted to let you know that in the meantime I’ve become quite an admirer of yours — to the extent that I’m a regular reader of your newsletter, and have recommended it to many friends. As you can see from the original Japan Times interview, my take even at that time was basically favorable. Since then I’ve learned more about what you do, and I’m greatly impressed by the thoroughness with which you approach the various gaijin and racism issues in Japan. Among other things, your newsletter is a goldmine of information, which is why I’ve become an avid reader.

    I must admit that I began by feeling not very comfortable with your approach — but this could be due to personal circumstances and preferences. I understand that you are doing things in the Japanese way in the sense that you pursue official legal and social channels. At the same time, your style is undoubtedly combative: confronting people with what they are doing and facing them with the consequences.

    It’s the not way I work personally, and my own experience is that the Japanese have welcomed and accepted the very critical things I say because my style is to speak quietly, from “within”. However, this is appropriate to my work, which is mostly in the field of traditional culture, tourism, city planning, and the environment. Those are fields in which the classic Japanese low-key and sympathetic attitude works.

    But given the field which is your specialty, there is no doubt that a stronger, more direct approach is appropriate. You are bringing these issues into consciousness in the media and among society at large in a way that the traditional quiet approach could never succeed in doing. Otherwise, what you have to say would disappear in the usual muffled silence that surrounds these issues in Japan.

    It’s proof that there is no one way to do things. For me, the old-style Japanese way works. For you, there’s a different way — and I respect that.

    As I understand it, anyone can write in and edit a Wikipedia entry. So I suggest that you, or a friend of yours, amend that Wikipedia article to indicate that I wholly support your activities and your methods. I think I speak for many foreigners resident in Japan when I say that I feel very grateful that you’re out there paying attention.

    Best wishes,

  • I found it good to read Mr Kerr’s response. My comments are not meant to be directed at him, but more in general:

    I find it odd when people say Debito is being ‘too direct’ or not working within the ‘Japanese way of doing things.’ I wonder if these people have ever witnessed demonstrations that go on frequently outside of government ministries in Kasumigaseki. There are a number of groups that rally, march, picket, hand out leaflets, protest and use lawsuits in order to gain attention (and hopefully support) for their causes. Many of these incidents appear in the newspapers, so I’m not sure how they go ignored as part of this dialogue.

    Here I defer to Matt, who has written something I’ve thought about but was never able to put into words: could the same criticism of those Japanese people who engage in activism be applied? And, further, given that Debito is Japanese, so long as he acts within the confines of what is legal, who has a horse high enough to suggest that what he’s doing is somehow detrimental?

  • Debito-san:

    With your permission, I would like to make an amendment to the current Wikipedia subject about you and have it link to Alex Kerr’s comment that he “…wholly support your activities and your methods.” I eagerly await your response.

    San Antonio, TX

    — Hi Damian. You don’t need my permission. 🙂 Please do, and thanks for caring. Debito

  • Ken’s definitely touched on something here that I’ve been struggling to grasp for some time now; I’m not so sure there is a “Japanese way” anymore. Like you said, with protesters and people demonstrating in a true rebel fashion, and with Japanese-ness, so to speak, not limited to Japan-born citizens, it’s hard to know if there is a line to be drawn.

    What is the Japanese way of doing things? What the majority agrees upon? And what if a clear citizen of Japan should break that pattern? Is he then not Japanese in his approach? I don’t think so.

    –I don’t think there is “a Japanese way”. Sure, there are certain styles and methods. But whenever one raises “Japaneseness” in the course of debate, I see it as a rhetorical device to cloak censorship and stifle change.

    The “Japanese rules” that are provided (vague at best if ever expressed) ultimately lead to passivity and doing nothing. The disenfranchised are basically told to wait for the powers that be to deign to throw them a bone.

    Note that the proponents of “The Japanese Way” are generally those who benefit the most from the status quo.

    I’m not saying that any of this is Alex’s intent. I’m just saying that we should not buy into it. It is not a nationality or even a cultural phenomenon. It is intensely a political phenomenon. Make no mistake about it. –Arudou Debito


    Reading all of your Newsletters. Nice to see Alex Kerr reacting positively to your work. The basic difference between his approach and yours, as I see it, is that he was working in a rather ordinary Japanese business-and-negotiating context (where you go by the local etiquette, as the Japanese similarly learn to adapt to American ways in American business-negotiation contexts), as I did when working with Japanese institutions as a cultural official of the U.S. Embassy). You, however, are not only fighting on a sharp Japanese-Others racial/psychological fault line, but are also also bucking unbudging, contumaceous stronger powers, indeed a whole SYSTEM ( as I did with several systems in “Cartels”). That is a dimension in which the Japanese themselves have a long, long, tradition of very open and confrontational protest, not only as in the postwar street demos mentioned by Ken, but going back through the whole Meiji Period, even into Tokugawa.

  • Ira Weisenthal says:

    Ultimately, one cannot help but appreciate how Arudou and Kerr expose the worst abuses of the system, even as such gestures bolster their own booksales. Really, who can fault moral indignation, especially by those adoptees trying to reform their newfound nationality?

    Still, can’t help but feel that the most vocal critics are privileged, white males getting their first sniff of racism. Yes, it is nasty, isn’t it? I thought Kelly Osborne’s ‘Watashi wa nihonjin ni naru’ on Channel 4 was some of the most horrific stereotyping I’d ever scene. Nay a word of complaint. Debito, your comicbook counterattack on ‘Sambo’ was excellent, but almost gleeful in turning the tables. But it made its point, that’s for sure. But like Bono at Earth Day, I’m not sure where the celebrity status ends, and the activism began . . .

    I’m not faulting either of you. On the contrary, you really do put your actions behind your words. It’s ultimate success in terms of method, in the long run, is yet to be seen. We all know, however, that there are social currents at play here well beyond onsen signs and crime magazines. But geez you know I never had a problem for the ten years I was over there. Perhaps owing to my religious identity and culture, I’m used to being a wanderer and outsider. ‘Guestism’ never bothered me that much.

    Here in Canada, we no longer circulate buck tooth, bug eye images of Asians . . . we just hire them as nannies to work long hours changing nappies, and then charge a hefty commission when they want to send their meagre chequebooks home.

    Ira Weisenthal

    — I always find opinions of this genre refreshing — how they make it seem as though victims (or “guests”) of discrimination deserve a fate as perpetual victims, and if we speak out (or, conversely, if we don’t on all occasions — can’t win either way), we are possibly trying to profiteer from others’ misery. Or worse yet, if we happen to speak as “privileged Whites” (I see–so only Non-Whites have expressible opinions?) about something these people never experienced in their arsenal of experiences (therefore, despite all of the primary source evidence, it cannot exist), we’re damned again. Whatever floats their boat in their smug satisfaction of feeling as though they are right no matter what.

    Especially when it turns out they don’t live here anyway. Yet still feel no qualms about sitting in judgment of those who do, permanently, often as permanent residents or even citizens.

    Usually these people don’t have the guts to sign their name. Apparently Mr Wiesenthal does. So i’ll approve this message. Meanwhile, Mr Wiesenthal, if you don’t agree with us (or better yet, think this is merely some attempt at celebrity or book sales), ah well. Won’t be able to change a diehard Guestist’s mind.

    Just stay out of our way — we have lots of work to do. As a “guest”, you have no real stake in this anyway.

  • Hello,

    Having just finished books by Mr. Hall and Mr. Kerr, it was very interesting to watch how this discussion developed.

    I thought I’d point out that while the English version of Debito’s page has been modified to include the above discussion, the Japanese page still quotes only Mr. Kerr’s criticisms of Debito (which were probably just a translation of the pre-edited English version).

    I’d update it myself but I don’t want it to look like it was “cleaned up” by a NJ so I’ll just put it out here in the hopes that someone with better language facilities than myself can do something about it if they choose.

    Here’s the paragraph I’m referring to:

    法的手段に訴えるという有道の戦略を批判するものもいる。『Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan』(ISBN 0-8090-3943-5) の著者である日本研究家アレックス・カーは、彼の戦略を「闘争的に過ぎる」と指摘し、長い目で見た場合、実際には問題の解決に役立たないのではないかと疑問視している。カーはまた、「外人」および「外人の行動様式」が日本の新しい社会の一部になっていることを認めながらも、有道の行動は「外人は扱いにくい」という保守的な日本人が持つイメージを強化しているとする。[3]

    [TinyURL link]


    — Thanks Benjamin. There are remarkable errors on my Wikipedia entries–so many that I don’t trust WP all that much as a source. But it’s not for me to write my own history — that has to be done by others. It’s just a shame that some people out there (they know who they are–and I know who they are too) feel the need to tamper with the record any way they can, for fun, self-satisfaction, or competitive advantage.

    Ah well. That’s the biggest shortcoming of the Internet as a source of information — anonymity. I have faith that the truth will out some day when authors take responsibility for their own writing. And when we get responsible biographers on this issue.

  • Arudou, I wasn’t sure if it was you or someone else… I don’t usually read this blog. Anyhow, I am working on your article.

    Wikipedia has a policy against “original research” and “weasel words” – I found this in the criticism section, so I am removing “weasel”y sentences and making sure that names are attached to criticism.

    I understand that you have no intention of editing; it’s that Wikipedia has some suspicion towards the primary websites operated by the subjects in some cases due to fears of POV.

    Anyhow, I am now examining your article.

  • Someone said: “–Thanks Benjamin. There are remarkable errors on my Wikipedia entries–so many that I don’t trust WP all that much as a source. But it’s not for me to write my own history — that has to be done by others. It’s just a shame that some people out there (they know who they are–and I know who they are too) feel the need to tamper with the record any way they can, for fun, self-satisfaction, or competitive advantage.”

    And what errors are they? Examples? See, it does not help to say “there are errors.” It helps to dive into specifics and point them out so someone can correct them and/or judge that they are not really errors.

    – Vihakowoh

    –I understand. In the past, I have had people notify me of certain claims on the Wikipedia entry and confirming if they were true. When I said that they were not, and the issue was brought up on Wikipedia, their/my counterclaims were dismissed because they were either “not substantiated” (despite being from the primary source) or “not objective” (simply and precisely because they came from me or were archived at

    This is one of the problems with Wikipedia — secondary sources (or sources that are not, say, from, are given priority over what I would consider *the* primary source — me. Look at the proportion of links that are to sources other than in the entry. It’s because a faux “objectivity” takes precedence over information “from the horse’s mouth”; the assumption is: if it comes from me directly, it must be less objective.

    Plus when you can say some reporter or pundit said something about me (the fact that they did say something about me is true — but it doesn’t mean what they said is true — case in point being how Alex Kerr’s comment about me was deliberately misquoted, and still remains so on the Japanese version of my Wikipedia entry — there you go, try and correct that), you can launder rumor into “fact”.

    Facing this kind of editorial policy, I say, why bother anymore. Those who get the claims up there first win anyway, especially when there is an editorial bias towards the original source correcting or deleting them.

    So i just keep on keeping on and try to let my works speak for themselves. Those who do not wish me well are just going to misinterpret them anyway. Arudou Debito

    PS: One more minor case in point: Your quote above begins with “someone said”. Even though I said it. See?

  • Okay, Arudou. Look at the criticism section now.


    >>>Claiming to be the object of racial harassment,[6] Aldwinckle eventually quit the company. In 1993, despite his previous pledge “against ever being a language teacher again,”[1] Aldwinckle joined the faculty of Business Administration and Information Science at the Hokkaido Information University,…

    >>>When Debito Arudou was a non-citizen, his wife briefly became known as Ayako Aldwinckle (アルドウイクル 文子 Arudouinkuru Ayako?) and later changed her name back; as long as she was not formally married to Debito Arudou, she could retain a separate family name.

    >>>Arudou initially maintained dual nationality in violation of Japanese nationality law which requires those who naturalize to renounce their former citizenship.

    >>>Following a divorce[12] from his wife in September 2006, Arudou petitioned the Sapporo Family Court to delete his ex-wife’s Japanese maiden family name from his koseki, or Family Registry, thus officially changing his name to Debito Arudou in November 2006

    >>>Arudou’s claim against the city of Otaru for failing to create an anti-discrimination ordinance was dismissed as without merit.[18] The Sapporo High Court upheld these rulings on September 16, 2004[19] and the Supreme Court of Japan denied review on April 7, 2005.[18]

    >>>Anna Isozaki, one of Arudou’s former colleagues who was initially active in the BENCI (Business Excluding Non-Japanese Customer Issho) project (unconnected to Arudou’s “Community in Japan” project), said that Arudou has an unwillingness to co-operate within a larger organization. Such friction contributed to a split with some of his initial supporters in the BENCI project.[25] Isozaki said that Arudou felt resentment against being told to separate “the apparent center of activity from himself.”

    >>>Some critics object to Arudou’s metaphor comparing the institutionalized racial discrimination historically exhibited in South Africa, and the segregated American south with the alleged examples debated in Japan.

    >>>Authors of some letters to the editor regarding Yuki Allyson Honjo’s review of Japanese Only on do not believe that a collection of bath-houses, “soaplands,” massage parlors, and nightclubs is representative of Japan’s civil rights situation in any meaningful sense.

    All the other criticisms in the criticism section are also problematic in that they are one-sided. The point is, why should the reader even care what these people say? (For example, who the heck is Patrick Rial?) And what about the opinions of proponents? There’s no attempt whatsoever at counterbalance or counterargument.

    Moreover all the Wikiquotes are taken out of context and designed to depict some sort of hypocrisy.

    Thanks for trying, Vihakowoh, but never mind. Wikipedia is not designed to give controversial topics a fair hearing. And even if somebody does get it right, it’s all too likely to be spray-painted over by the next graffiti artist. –- Arudou Debito

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Late to this party, but Kerr got himself a nice little J-gov consultation job IIRC, so he is now a ‘vested interest’, and quite frankly helping himself with his comments, rather than NJ, hence his approach is “to speak quietly, from ‘within.’”.

    Kerr said;
    “gaijin and their gaijin ways are now part of the fabric of Japan’s new society,” Really? With PM Abe saying that he wants NJ to work and ‘go home’?

    “confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.” Well, the ‘conservative Japanese’ are the government now.

    Given how dated Kerr’s comments are, I’d love to see if he’d like to review them in light of Abe’s fear mongering right-wing fascism.

  • Therese Rose says:

    My on going question for Mr. Arudou while reading all of this was and is, “If you prefer your own method to that of Kerr’s “Japanese way”…how is that realistically working for you?” I read defensiveness in Arudou’s remarks. I am a fi believer in listening using critical thinking when confronted with an opposing viewpoint. Just from my short time of living in Fukuoka machi, Toyama Ken…I quickly understood the way to be listened to. As passionate as one might be, there are perimeters in which to convey this, if wanting a truly listening and broad audience. Perhaps Mr. Arudou’s approach is needed in order to open the conversation and will forge the path for those who will have an even deeper impact on the Japanese culture. I see this as a long haul endeavor. Good luck and blessings to him.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Therese Rose,

    ‘I am a firm(sic) believer in listening using critical thinking when confronted with an opposing viewpoint’.

    Well, that’s nice for you, keep it up. Unfortunately the vast majority of Japanese are not; they display exceptionally poor critical thinking skills since they are products in an education system that doesn’t give them the chance to develop such skills due to placing a huge emphasis on tests passed by rote memorization.

    As a result of poor critical thinking skills, and a culture preaches ‘we Japanese’ myths, most Japanese will receive any criticism of any aspect of Japan as a personal attack on all Japanese and all aspects of Japan.

    Therefore, I would suggest to you that it is impossible for Dr. Debito to approach these issues without being perceived by Japanese as making a vicious attack. He should therefore just as well make a vicious attack; he will be counter-attacked either way.

    Kerr’s propagation of some kind of ‘non-confrontational Japanese harmony preserving’ path to resolving NJ human rights issues is in direct contradiction to the rotten and abusive power structures he explains so well in the book that made him famous; Dogs and Demons.

    This would indicate that he doesn’t understand what he is now saying, or that he understands but now has some other reason to change his opinion 180 degrees.

    Since he is now on a J-Gov gravy train, he is a vested interest in parroting what his paymasters ask him too. That would make him a hypocrite, would it not?

    Since he has made money from writing about Japan’s dysfunctional power structures, I think it’s extremely cynical of him to take tax-payers money whilst telling other NJ to essentially ‘shut up and put up’.

    Thanks for nothing Alex.

  • Baudrillard says:

    There is an Australian music company in Tokyo that claims to do things “The Japanese Way”, which means 1. there is no contract. 2. They pay you what they feel like paying you and its very loosely defined as to what you get paid for. 3. If you try to clarify what jobs are paid at what rate and question work you have actually done, they take it as a personal affront (hey, maybe this IS like the “attack on one aspect is attack on Japan mindset after all) and will say you do not understand “The Japanese Way” of doing things here in Japan.
    4. They will then try to turn it around in find fault with you e.g. not being “genki enough” .

    Oh the irony. You couldn’t make this up.

    This coming from Australians, who just cant be bothered to keep accurate accounts. so I most definitely agree with “The Japanese way” being, as Debito says, “a rhetorical device to cloak censorship and stifle change.”

    Its also a technique to shut you up and just take the pay they feel like paying you, whether its short or not.

  • Loverilakkuma says:


    It’s a sad reality for many of us in Japan that “rhetoric” is perceived(and probably it remains little changed in the next four years) as either 1) decoration or empty words from politicians putting rubber stamps; or 2) trickery to cloak “censorship and stifle change.”

    Regarding Alex Kerr, I don’t have any issue with him (who Alex Kerr is today). The only thing stuck in my mind is on Alex Kerr in 2005. I am still having trouble with his meaning of “confrontational/non-confrontational.” Was he referring to speech style that would sound desirable to target audience? Or something else in visions of civil rights in Japan? If he was saying, Debito is willing to take the risk because of his style which sounds “unconventional” to people in non-western society, he may have a point. But that goes far short of what he characterized as “combative” or something commonly seen in hardline environmentalists, supremacists, radical pro/anti-abortion activists.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard,

    Lack of transparency, lack of legally enforceable agreements and conditions, rejection of global business standards for the sake of it; this is the Japanese way.
    Don’t like it? It’s Japan’s ‘unique culture’, so you are a ‘racist’ and bullying you is then rationalized as justified.
    You walk away from the whole thing with a bitter taste and a vow to never bother again.
    They feel that ‘they really showed you’.
    I have said it before, but the Japanese Meiji-era invention of Neo-Confucian vertical hierarchies of responsibilities and relationships means that most modern Japanese cannot accept the concept of ‘win-win’ outcomes. For them, everything *must* be binary ‘win-lose’ outcomes.
    Show them a win-win situation and they will judge your satisfaction with the arrangement as proof that they are being somehow cheated.
    As a result, Japanese society rejects ‘win-win’ and chooses ‘lose-lose’ situations every time (example APA hotel enjoying Chinese tourist boom, but insists on offending Chinese visitors by placing revisionist literate in every room).
    The ‘pride’ of ‘not being cheated’ out of something is more important than seeing the other party benefit.
    Again, we didn’t win WWII because our technology was better, we won because our ideology was better.

  • You know the type. Don’t make waves, I was warned as a part-time teacher. In other words, don’t complain or talk about anything that the teachers know is no good. Just bite your tongue and accept your place at the bottom of the hierarchy. Otherwise you are getting uppity.

    Kerr choose to ‘get along’.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @Jim, “WWII ……, we won because our ideology was better.” You might be onto something there; forget source but a former US serviceman testified that theyd just shot a mass of Japanese soldiers in a trap, and then another lot marched right into the same trap; ie. he alleged that the group mentality and blind obedience to authority was having a lemming like effect.

    As for the anethma of “win-win” heres a classic one: a “friend” and ex client of mine (VIP in her own mind, lawyer) insisted that I come in and serve her on my day off, I made the mistake of saying “sure, I was coming into town that day anyway so its good for me too”, at which point she took offence and cancelled the contract.

    She just wanted to “put one over” me. And from this point I learnt that “Uso mo Houben” and just spout crap like “because you are a VIP” is the easier way of doing things.
    Definitely a twisted version of Confucian master-servant relations as you say, except this was not in Japan but in a nearby Confucian country. But I could give other Japanese examples (like a teacher who said the students (Clients) “would need to work hard” who was fired as this allegedly insinuated they werent working hard enough already) although the fall out from the naive westerners’s win win faux pas are rarely revealed, but we are just left to wonder what it was we did wrong.

    It really makes one not want to bother, or to charge a higher rate for “culture clash” stress damages, but I jest.

  • baudrillard,

    You make an excellent comment on the master/servant relationship and its roots, that is still very much alive in Japan. It took me years to understand this, and I wasted too much time and energy trying to combat the submissiveness that crushed my identity. The end game is that there is no individualism or self realization, n like Maslow describes, the end game is that your crushed for the sake of the group. You can find snippets of controlled happiness in Jaanese TV shows, or a proxy “talento” to do it for you. This cultural rule should be discussed in any handbook for arrivals as it makes up a great percentage of culture shock in Japan. I found that there are about 10 of these rules that should be summarized, and I would be interested in others findings.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Times, its just too negative and hard to explain in guidebooks to bright eyed newbie anime fans as it sounds like raining on their “Dreamy Day” parade, although personally something along the lines of “stay quiet and don’t try to question or change things” is certainly doable, and might save a lot of people from wasting a significant part of their youth trying to “make it” in Japan on their own terms.

    The closest I have seen to this was in a British Embassy primer “Japan is slightly more authoritarian than Britain” which while refreshingly blunt, is also quite a tactless choice of words for an embassy and still begging the response, “like what, for example?”

    There is even a case study where the IT hires from America were selling too well, and it was screwing up the Tokyo office’s system as there wasn’t time to get everyones hanko on the documentation; yet another sad example of the preservation of a Japanese system taking precedence over success in business. The case study interviewee goes on to say “They appreciated what we were doing but…” which is an example of a benevolent master-servant relationship, but in so many other cases it is far less pleasant and more punitive; ie. the teacher being punished or fired for some bizarre cultural faux pas involving doing his job too well.

    Heres an odd example, I lost a student because I guessed her surname “Soya” was from Nagano prefecture. I thought I was showing an interest and going the extra mile, she was freaked out because the NJ knew her culture more than the average Japanese. After that it was just stick to correcting grammar; ah no you cannot do that either as they may get offended too, so all you can do is very indirectly lead the horse to water (at which point many students will just be going, yeah, yeah I know this but not actively applying the structures in conversation, but I digress).

    Ditto the teacher who on his day off took the time to write recommendations of what the students who insisted on using a too high level business text (Pride, HR wishlists, and budgetary constraints all coming into play also) should do……………………

    And was promptly fired for “insulting” their prior efforts.

    It was enlightening for me -the westerner- to just not get this, whereas the two Japanese retiree age people in the room to feel that it was obvious that he had “said too much’. The final irony was the Japanese secretary had mistakenly forwarded these unedited comments to the client.

    Again, is all this preposterous chain of errors worth bothering with? At least in Korea everyone knows that the boss of the Hagwon (language school) feels he is the master, the king, and you are the resource he feels he can use as he wants. In Japan, it is rarely as clear cut, or it is a feudal hierarchy with the mere trappings and buzzwords of a western democracy.

    The “job” of English teacher in Japan now is an underpaid, stressful cultural minefield where one walks a tightrope between flattery and education, trying to somehow find out what each student really wants, in a desperate attempt to avoid causing offence from the hypersensitive “customers”.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    “Again, we didn’t win WWII because our technology was better, we won because our ideology was better.”

    I don’t disagree with the statement, but I would say technology and ideology are not mutually exclusive. The US manufactured tens of thousands of warplanes and battleships every yer to be shipped to Europe and Pacific Ocean even before they officially declared war in 1941. They were spending millions of dollars in military industries to get out of the jaw of the Great Depression for years. It wasn’t until after the end of WWII they finally put the depression to a halt. Technology did matter to the strength of their military might. It boosted mass production, patriotism to the nation in the wake of sudden attack, and a strong determination to persevere the long drawn out war. Technology played a key role in outnumbering and dominating opponents. They chose to have a different ideology from the enemies to prove the righteousness of their hard work, dedication, and investment. And, there you have it. Technology helped proponents to prove their ideology was right.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @JDG, Baudrillard

    “Win-win” situation sounds like a concept that came in the mid-to-late 80s. Japan agreed to make concessions on their business interests with the US by opening up their closed market to the world. During that period, there were plenty of American business entrepreneurs who applauded Japanese counterparts for their prominence in the west advocating “Japanese way.” Wonder how many US(or UK)-funded businesses are calling “Japanese way” as a role model in 2017? It’s like counting fingers on both of my hands and toes, you know.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Loverilakkuma,

    Without launching into a huge digression, I can say only this;
    If the Japanese had been in possession of an ideology that regarded Chinese as equals instead of killing millions of them, the Allies would have failed.
    Luckily for us (and, incidentally every living Japanese today!) the Shinto-emperor worshipping genocidal death-cult was not geared to recruiting believers!

  • Loverilakkuma says:


    That’s an interesting point. Still I find it questionable if their ideology would last long enough to maintain a fragile relationship between the two. They would likely end up falling out in disarray, since their tensions became increasingly hostile after Manchuria. They have a long, drawn-out ethnic tension that lasted for over a thousand year. They just simply missed any opportunity to defuse it before it’s getting too late, you know. My bottom line is Japan had a strong military institution and superb technology. But they screwed up so bad because of their misguided ideology and hubris to look down on their neighbors that could become their potential allies in wartime.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “how many US(or UK)-funded businesses are calling “Japanese way” as a role model in 2017?” I do wonder if political correctness in some way dovetails with aspects of the Japanese Way, i.e. silence favored over expression of opinions for fear that it might offend someone.

    This seems to be the prevalent atmosphere, in ,e.g. UK local government offices based on my relatives’ recent experience, and I d love to hear if decision making is now paralyzed Japanese style if there is just one dissenting ojisan sulking in the corner and they dont want to upset him, so choose not to change anything?

    I d love to research the extent to which (if any) Japanese/Asian non confrontational attitudes have subtley influenced western behavior since the 80s but its hard to find anything. Surely the diaspora in the US have brought in a rising consciousness of these ideas of behaving?

  • Baudrillard says:

    Related to my previous post, Debito’s encounter in a Canadian bank with an (Asian) teller who doubted/ridiculed his nationality based on his appearance got me thinking about a certain mindset that may or may not exist; Asians can immigrate to western countries, but westerners cannot assimilate into Asian ones (?). Isnt this an aspect of “the Japanese way?”, ie. exclusionism?

    Now I ll court controversy and say this dovetails with the agenda of Social Justice Warriors and how in their ideology the lower in the white dominated hierarchy one is determines how racist you can be. Those disadvantaged minorities cannot be racist but a white man can, because he has “privilege”.

    Thus Debito is racist but Asians cannot be. Thus the bank teller, the Otaru onsen etc, were, in the SJW narrative, incapable of racism.

    To what extent is the western SJW leftist ideology influenced by or has bought into Asian national myths like Korean purity of the “Japanese Way” Nihonjinron? Arent they apologists for Asian racism? I am just asking.


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