Japan Times Amy Chavez comes unglued with weird “Japan Lite” column: “How about a gaijin circus in gazelle land?”


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Hi Blog. One column I’ve always skipped in the Japan Times has been Amy Chavez’s “Japan Lite”. I have never found it interesting, and its attempts at humor are at best cloying if not corn-pone ignorant.   Kinda reminds me of the old “Beetle Bailey” or “Hagar the Horrible” cartoons published in my local newspaper that hadn’t been funny for years; I always wondered why they kept printing them. Force of habit, I guess.

But last week’s Chavez column, submitted by alert Debito.org Reader LW, had both LW and me scratching our heads as to what Chavez was smoking when she wrote it.   As LW wrote, “I know it’s meant to be taken with a grain of salt, but there are a few underlying preconceptions there that just made me feel uncomfortable.”

I too know it’s supposed to be a “Lite” column (more filler, and no taste!), but even leaving aside its repeated use of a racial epithet in the name of childish play, I’m not sure I understand the premise of this meandering column just in terms of logic.  Where gaijin (yes, anyone not Japanese) are descendants of “cavemen” while Japanese come from, er, “gazelles”??  And then we somehow develop that into a metaphor of a “gaijin circus”?  Not kidding. Read on.

Seems like living in Japan has somehow broken Chavez’s brain. Then again, I’ve seen it happen before, many times. Doesn’t mean the Japan Times has to print it, however. Force of habit, I guess. But I reckon they could trim this fat from the paper and it would hardly be missed.  What do others think?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

How about a gaijin circus in gazelle land? (excerpt)
The Japan Times: Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010, Courtesy of LW


The other day, my husband bought a shirt at Uniqlo. “Wow, the sleeves are long enough!” he marveled. Clothes in Japan are getting bigger and even now foreigners can almost wear them. But there was still a problem. The arms of the shirt were too tight. This confirms a suspicion I have long had about the Japanese people — they are descendants of gazelles.

Now, this may be contrary to what you have heard, that the original Japanese people were descended from heaven. Hell no.

Consider that gazelles and the Japanese share some striking similarities: They are both fine boned and graceful and the females have pretty little feet with high heels, making them look like they are tip-toeing along. Now, put a cow next to the gazelle and you have us gaijin.

A crowd of Japanese people looks tidy but a crowd of beefy foreigners looks like a stampede. The Japanese, with their long, elegant limbs and quiet demeanor cannot possibly be descendants of the caveman.

Upon some careful research on the habits of gazelles, I found that mountain gazelles eat easily digestible plants and leaves. It’s no wonder that these are the same things you’ll find at a traditional Japanese restaurant: kuwai (arrowhead buds), ginko nuts, mitsuba leaves, shiso leaves, and even chrysanthemum leaves.

But wait, you protest, gazelles are from Africa! Well, why do you think it’s called the Japanese “race”? Because they raced here from Africa during the Jomon Period to escape the hot, dry conditions of the African continent. Once here, they adapted and became mountain dwellers.

Sometimes it seems that we foreigners, descendants of the caveman, are a species unto ourselves. Living in Japan for us can sometimes feel like a circus, with all the attention and curiosity given to our movements…

Rest at


67 comments on “Japan Times Amy Chavez comes unglued with weird “Japan Lite” column: “How about a gaijin circus in gazelle land?”

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  • What garbage… I couldn`t even finish the artical it was so stupid. I could kind of get her point that Japanese are much more slender than foreigners typically, but past that I failed to see what she was talking about. I am glad I don`t suscribe to the Japan Times if this is the quality of their journalists.

    — I don’t think she’s a journalist.

  • Geeeeeeeeeeez! Thanks a lot Chavez–she was either paid off by the Macdonalds Group or she is out of her freakin mind. Just because she can’t wear the shoes, Holy Cow….give me a break. One more reason to not read Japan Times.

  • Mark in Kanto says:

    Yeah, and Amy Chavez has not been paying attention.

    If there is one thing many many Japanese have a complex about, it is that their limbs are too short and stumpy. Call somebody “tansoku” and it has about the same effect as telling an American or European that his… well, I better stop there. As a matter of fact, short legs and the like is the favorite excuse for those who are convinced that if it weren’t sadly all a matter of DNA, Japanese would rule the world in figure skating, gymnastics, basketball, and perhaps sports in general. Which everyone agrees is (along with agriculture) what ought to be the true sign of a nation’s strength.

  • Just finished checking the JT online, and I was just about to email you about this very article.

    TBH, I’ve never liked her articles- they aren’t funny, and make the most stupid generalizations about Japanese and NJ. I don’t know why the JT keeps paying her for this tripe. Can’t you say something to them Debito?

    This one though, has got to be the worst. The caveman/”gaijin” and gazelle/Japanese parallels she concocted are quite offensive, and benefit nobody. Imagine the uproar if you did that back home about white Americans vs non white Americans.

    Maybe should start on online petition to the JT to get rid of this fool…

  • I don’t even see the point where someone might even smirk at this let alone find any humor in it despite it being entirely sarcastic. I’m with you guys on this; what was she smoking? This all derives
    that her husband bought a shirt at uniqlo and we end up reading about a
    gaijin circus…huh?!

  • Stopped reading when she said “Now, put a cow next to the gazelle and you have us gaijin.”
    Dont know wether I am angry or sad at such a statement. But do feel sorry for the poor sap married to such a person.

  • What a load of gazelle poop! No wonder the JT is struggling when the only original content it produces is the kind of stuff swept up off the floor of Amy’s “gaijin circus.”

    She has a point though – I’ve never met a slender [NJ] or a fat Japanese, nor a Japanese who can speak two languages. I also know many [NJ] who have trouble walking in shoes (although alcohol may have a role to play there).

  • Chavez is a hack. I’ve not read an article by her that was worthy of print. I dont to her articles and suggest no one reads them….hopefully she’ll just go back to obscurity.

  • Not funny at all. I usually make a point of never reading this column. No disrespect to Amy, who I am sure is a very nice person and a capable writer, but this schtick is getting really really really old. I would like to see her write some serious commentary on her life on the island, which seems like it is quite interesting.

  • Lately you hear the same thing about sumo as well. There’s a familiar yet different strain of blank slate/genetic determinism (the Japanese are all born the same as each other and different from foreigners) at work here, and hopefully enough obviously NJ people succeeding in this society will disprove it in the minds of the public within the next 20 years or so.

  • James in Nara says:

    I’ve been reading Amy’s columns for years and always love them. This one is no exception. There’s a difference between truly believing something and writing a comedy column, of which this is the latter. I visited Amy when I first came to Japan, and found her to be a wonderful person. If you can’t laugh at the problems in the world, and yourself, then you won’t be able to change anything.

    Bottom line, it’s a comedy column, and like all of the same, it pokes fun at stereotypes to make you think. In this case about a valid point regarding English education, how often do your classes consist of two [NJ] speaking English in front of the students?

    It’s not like it’s any different from the Onion, which is one of the greatest parody comedic newspapers.

  • Perhaps she is writing the entire thing with a MASSIVE amount of sarcasm? Keeping this in mind was the only way I managed to get to the end of her “article” without smashing the ipod I am listening to and shoving the broken shards into my eyes.

    — It’s not all that well-crafted as sarcasm.

  • All I want to know is if the JT actually pays her for this stuff? If so, how much?
    I’d be willing to write something that’s actually funny for half the price, if only to rescue the few unwitting souls who encounter her “humor”.

    I can also be offensive and generate Letters to the Editor if that’s what the JT wants to do to sell a few more papers, but at least offensive in a sensical way.

    But there is one columnist even more maddening than Chavez.

    Until the next time… 😉 (hint)

  • This is one of the most astoundingly racist things I have ever read. I continue to marvel at how saying racist things about non-Japanese is okay while it’s not okay to say anything about the Japanese themselves, even in jest. Imagine if this entire article were reversed and the Japanese were compared to say, short-torsoed, long-armed, chittering monkeys and the foreigners were held up as examples of well-proportioned, long-legged grace and beauty. People would be howling about how unfunny it was.

    I can’t believe the Japan Times editors would print something some incredibly and blatantly racist, even as a “joke”. Humor doesn’t give one a free pass to say anything they like.

  • His Highness King Joe says:

    I agree with James in Nara to the extent that the whole thing is entirely done for “comic” effect. She’s picking up on Japanese stereotypes of us Gaijin and throwing them back. About as amusing as a punch in the nads, as always with Ms. Chavez. But certainly not offensive.
    (I’ve upgraded my user name since some other “Joe” dude has started submitting and given myself a moniker more suited to my station in life).

  • Never having read Ms. Chavez before, it is difficult for me to generalize but the article — beyond being so poorly written — seems like she is trying too hard to be humorous. For some people, humorous speech and writing comes naturally. Ms. Chavez, it would appear, is not among that group of people. Trying to give the benefit of the doubt, if this article is not indicative of her writing, then maybe she took too long a winter vacation and didn’t put enough thought and planning into her column. This certainly doesn’t excuse trying to pass off this sorry example of journalistic effort but let’s hope she finds it a learning lesson in HOW NOT TO do things and acquits herself better the next time out. If she is/was completely aware of the drivel she submitted and remains unrepentant then lets hope the Japan Times uses this as a learning experience in WHO NOT TO employ as a frequent contributor.

  • さむいね、I was cringeing after the first couple of paragraphs, and couldnt finish it either. My eyes glazed over.

    Beefy foreigners? Does she mean like, Chinese foreigners? I think she means stereotypical, body building Schwarzneggers or fatty Caucasians? Or Mongolian sumo wrestlers? What DOES she mean? Of course its Gaikoku vs. Japan.

    Ok, here is my riposte in the same logic. How can Japanese be descended from Gazelles when, models aside, there are so many people with short legs?

    zzzzz, and very さむい。

  • I dont find this particuarly racist, just stupid and nowhere near as funny as the author wanted it to be.
    I am offended only by the fact that an article of this quality has been published in a national newspaper.

  • If there ever was a crime for ignorance, this woman would be incarcerated for life! I had borderline physical pain reading that trash. It’s not worth the ink used to print it, and I really don’t think that the Japan Times has all that much money to waste on that nonsense. Debito: She must have been drunk when she wrote that piece. Seriously…..

  • Maybe not racist but certainly jumping through hoops for stereotypes…
    Amy doesn’t come across as having all that much wit, she does come
    across as something close to a ‘half-wit’ though.
    As much as I like Japan… this shit I don’t need. I don’t think many do…

  • Amy’s column has always been drivel, absolutely bereft of humor and wit, and ones feels faintly embarrassed both for her and for oneself for having read the thing. Yet is stays in JT week after week reeking to high heaven. Who permits this moose drool to continue to plague us ? Give it a rest already, Amy, and drop the humor part and just write it as it comes, shoot from the hip, girl !

  • At the bottom of the Japan Times link, there is a link for comments.
    I suggest we start a letter writing campaign, and get her cancelled.

    FYI – here is what I submitted:

    Is Amy Chavez an idiot? Is she retarded? How about the Japan Times editors?
    I am shocked that JT continues to publish this racist drivel…

    In her English article, she uses “Japanese” & “Foreigner” the way it is used in Japanese – not the way a true native speaker would look at the world. This article is clearly for Japanese reader to improve their understanding of Japanese English!!!

    The term “gaijin” is a 放送禁止言葉 – according to NHK. However, at the Japan Times, it is encouraged???

    1) Please print apology letter immediately.
    2) Please stop promoting the use of words on NHK’s 放送禁止言葉 list.
    3) Please cancel Amy Chavez’s column.

    — You’re not going to get very far with this sort of invective. Write something calmer and more intelligent.

  • To Matt – Poster #8

    “I`ve never met a slender NJ or a fat Japanese”?? How long have you been here? Please don`t group all NJ ladies into one big “fatty” ball, it pisses us off. Almost as much as being compared to a `cow` next to a `gazelle`.
    By the way, the shoes here fit just fine. Ugly as sin, but size wise are A-Ok.

  • “Consider that gazelles and the Japanese share some striking similarities: They are both fine boned and graceful and the females have pretty little feet with high heels, making them look like they are tip-toeing along. Now, put a cow next to the gazelle and you have us gaijin.”

    I laughed so hard at this phrase… There’s nothing graceful about the way most Japanese girls walk. Sadly, they either don’t know or simply can’t walk properly in high-heels. Unless she considers girls walking like this “graceful” or “gazelle-like” 🙂

    Other than that, I cannot for the life of me figure out what point mrs. Chavez is trying to make, if any. The vibe I got was something along the lines of, “Ooh, the Japanese are soooo pretty and cultured, and we (gaijin! gaijin!) are such a sad, sorry mob by comparison, the only place we’d fit with their culture would be in an all-freak circus!” Pointless? Yes. Offensive? Most definitely. It saddens me that JT would allow an article that so casually uses the word “gaijin” (banned from public television if memory serves?), and even pay for it.

    Also, @Matt: I’m slender, and I’m not Japanese.

  • André Oliveira says:

    Even tho I’ve never been to Japan, thus being quite oblivious to the usage of the word ‘Gaijin’, the rest is offensive for any person not from Japan (or those who didn’t descend from two Japanese).

    I’m not only slender, I’m also athletic and elegant.

    — Sez you! 🙂

  • This is horrible. I think she was supposed to be sarcastic? But it comes off sounding either bitter or self-loathing, maybe both? Was she even thinking about the hundreds if not thousands of JAPANESE people who read the Japan Times to improve their English? Many of whom just don’t get sarcasm even when it IS correctly done, and are now going to think that it’s okay to use words like “foreigner” when their English teachers have spent hours and hours trying to break them of the habit… *sigh*

  • Red7 Racing says:

    Hello Debito-san and readers.

    I do not care much for the content of this article. Its intent may be humour, though sadly I personally do not find it funny. It really does nothing to enlighten the readers of the Japan Times, and by certain definitions may be offensive and perhaps even considered racist by some.

    However, this does not mean that the readers of this site should feel it is necessary to make a personal attack on the author. Calling her a half-wit, or accusing her of being on drugs or drunk when she wrote it does not contribute to the cause of raising awareness about discrimination or encouraging her to think more carefully about what she writes. Some of the comments posted here are borderline libel.

    Inclusiveness and acceptance of the of others, whatever colour or nationality they may be or whatever opinions they may have, is the beginning of beating discrimination.

    Let’s debate the issue, not insult the person.

    — And let’s learn the definition and application of “libel”.

  • Pure drivel from Amy Chavez yet again. Over the years she has consistently produced the most cringe-inducing and inane writing to be found in Japan’s English-language publications. But even by her standards this one is especially painful to read. What I really can’t understand is why the JT persists in publishing her column.

    @James in Nara (#12). (“…it pokes fun at stereotypes to make you think. In this case about a valid point regarding English education, how often do your classes consist of two [NJ] speaking English in front of the students?”). Even if she was trying to make the point you mention, she would still be guilty of wrongly assuming that everyone reading is an English teacher.

  • I found that difficult to get through.. incredibly bizarre piece by Chavez. I’m not sure how she intended it, maybe she didn’t either. I shook my head and moved on, I just hope nobody took it seriously (surely nobody did?).

  • I agree, Debito. This is the stupidest thing I have ever read. It’s not only not funny, not interesting, etc. but it makes pointless racist statements against both Non Japanese and Japanese.

    I don’t know Amy Chavez. But her column makes me think she’s a complete idiot. I agree, she has run the “foreigner routine” into the ground.

    People like Amy Chavez make life worse for all non Japanese living here by encouraging stupid not funny racist BS stereotypes. I hope the Japan Times cans her and makes space for something worth reading.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Amy Chavez really has lost it.

    Debito, as a fellow Japan Times columnist, you need to get in touch with her and tell her to raise her game. Imagine telling people you meet for the first time that you write for the Japan Times, and having them say, “What? The same paper Amy Chavez writes her pablum in?”

  • Jesus wept, that was dire. I don’t even know how to comment on it; I can’t work out quite where to start. First of all it’s filled with borderline fetishistic stereotypes about what “Japanese” look like, contrasted with equally grinding stereotypes of “foreigners” (which ones, Amy, you have over 200 countries to choose from) as lumbering apes.
    Then we have the logical leap towards a “gaijin circus” that I appear to have missed while I was sitting here gaping at the surreal turn the article had suddenly taken.
    Then we have the question of how the novelty hasn’t yet worn off for her, to the extent where she still sees Japan as some kind of theme park, and the Japanese not as ordinary human beings like her but with a different language and customs, but as some kind of fascinating animals to be studied…

  • James in Nara says:


    I don’t think she assumed her readers were English teachers. I used the plural “your” for those who are, and as I am included in that, mentioned my own thoughts.

  • You know, I laughed when I read the article, then I read some of the comments, then I went back and reread the article to see if I had missed something (I hadn’t this is a cute humorous sarcastic little editorial). I find the lack of understanding of the humor in the comments and the need to hit some people over the head with a sarcasm sledgehammer along with a big neon sign saying “SARCASM HERE” downright amusing.

  • I have to agree. This article is the bigest load of borderline racist, stereotyped garbage I have read about Japan in a long time. I can not comprehend that the Japan Times would actually print this drivel. The editor must not actually be reading or not comprehending the content of Chavez’s articles. Something should be done.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    I’m honestly at a loss for what to say about this article. While I can understand some of the feelings that she may be experiencing and have heard some of these assumptions before, I also find some of her conclusions completely off-base.

    For one – I’ve never had any trouble finding clothing for myself in this country. The size I wear maybe be different, but I assure you, I am no “Gazelle” as she would call it. The lack of foreigner-sized clothing is simple economics; they used to make larger sizes, but when they didn’t sell, they stopped making them.

    Sometimes I do feel like I am part of a circus; I’m just here on display for people to look at with interest but then not pay attention to. However, by perpetuating that kind of passive-aggressive garbage and settling into that role without trying to break out of it, it only serves to perpetuate the roles in which she is pigeon-holing everyone into.

    From reading the article, I can understand where she is coming from or trying to go with her ideas, but a lot of her conclusions are self-defeating and passive-aggressive in nature. They only serve to keep her in her assigned box. I think it would have been better for her and us a a community as a whole if she would have clearly identified the problems that the ex-pat community is facing, and then make concrete solutions on how to rectify them or perhaps open a discussion on how to.

    I’m not sure who the editor of the Japan Times English Edition is, but I can tell you that compared to the Japanese Edition, the readership is small. Perhaps the Editor didn’t really care what she had to say because most Japanese people wouldn’t read it anyway. It seems to (at least from what I can tell) be that may in many forums.

  • The article is annoying on many levels (and then it gets too weird to even be annoying).
    I think she might need to be reminded that not all “gaijin” come from the same place as her (no idea where she is from, but it’s obvious she is set on the gaijin=English=fat idea)
    She would have done much better had she stuck to her own (and her poor husband’s)experience with Japanese clothes/shoes etc. That had some potential of being funny and getting people to sympathise. Much more than “we are all so damn fat har har”

  • I’m not what was more amusing – implying Japanese are low-intelligence herd animals, or that foreigners should be forced to entertain for their Japanese customers… I think it was just that something so horrible could get published by JT is whats amusing me the most, some sort of desperate last gasp as they sink below the surface.

  • Mito_tourer says:

    You know Debito, the Japan Times really doesn’t seem to care about it’s writers using the word “gaijin” as they please. It seems strange that the paper has that policy despite hosting your columns that argue so vehemently against it.

    I remember getting fairly angry about the following film review by writer Kaori Shoji:
    She recounts a personal experience that she had in Hong Kong where, despite not being in Japan, the two people seated across from her were “a local businessman” and “a gaijin.”

    Opening paragraph:
    In a Hong Kong diner several months before the peninsula was to be handed back to mainland China in 1997, I witnessed a scene between a portly local businessman and a suited gaijin. They were discussing a deal over a plastic table groaning with food — the gaijin had no appetite, but the Hong Kong businessman was shoveling it in, pausing every minute or so to spit out a prawn tail. The gaijin was no match for this businessman, and the conditions of the deal seemed one-sided. Whenever the gaijin protested, the businessman shot out, “No time for nonsense, no time!” and resumed masticating.

    — Yeah, that is pretty egregious. Shame on you, Kaori.

  • Wild Animal says:

    This is a pretty bizarre column. Sort of like some weird dream sequence – so many metaphors and images. So now for some psychobabble. Clearly, our patient has some unresolved issues resulting from her involvement in the English teaching in Japan thingy. The circus theme betrays a sense of being trapped and not being able to live the life one imagines. At various points the patient demonstrates clear discomfort with her own body image. According to dreammoods.com gazelles represent the soul and their appearance indicates that one is taking life too seriously. Everything else in the dream probably relates to sex in some way – not too sure about the flame-thrower though.

  • The idea of Amy being extremely sarcastic was interesting, but it doesn’t fly. If that were the case, the majority of her columns wouldn’t fit the style as they are obviously not sarcastic. And she would have to be consistent to make the sarcasm come across. Either that or if the JT was an incredibly sublime paper that used parody, sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek as a rule to keep on the cutting edge of journalism….
    Realized on second thought, that that too was not possible, considering the JT is already a parody of journalism.

    — Now now, they have some good journalists, and have been good to me.

  • Tony In Saitama says:

    I have not read Amy’s column in a while, as I found the content becoming repetitive, but I did like her surreal, somewhat Daliesque train-of-thought style of writing. Reading the column above I observe she has become considerably less attached to the wall, so to speak, but I think charges of racism are way off. At worst she is guilty of what President Obama recently referred to as “unartful language”.

  • WOW!!!! – this is bizarre – I had to “bite my tongue” to avoid a Saul Alinski style attack on the messenger rather than the message….but best to focus on the words

    I have never taught English in Japan but if I were a teacher I would definitely be a bit pissed at this woman…sure we foreigners can understand some of the between the lines sarcasm but 99.9% of the English speaking Japanese population cannot. I can only imagine how they would see this (maybe will show this to my secretary next week).

    I do not know Amy and thus I cannot comment on her personality, level of intelligence, or anything like that but the piece of writing itself is a piece of gomi.

    I do not read this paper regularly but Debito-san I can see why you skip this column. An article like this has no value and merely takes up space.

    I would much rather see some of the commenters on this blog have space in the paper as I have seen much more intelligent and well thought out comments here than this (journalism?/satire?) about “gazelles”. I read some of Amy’s other articles and they left me a bit underwhelmed.

    In many ways I kind of agree with Redballoon above.

  • While I wholeheartedly agree that this piece was way out in left field (and incredibly weird at that), I don’t think attacking the writer’s intelligence or implying that she should not be writing at all is very fair. In the past couple of days I’ve spoken to colleagues and had an online discussion with another group I belong to about this article (it’s great fodder for discussion, I’ll give it that!). While almost everyone was quite disparaging of the article itself, not one person said that the the writer was an idiot or that she wasn’t fit to write for the Japan Times. Why such harshness and vitriol on the part of the readers over here at Debito.org? The article is rubbish; however I have a sneaking suspicion that the people calling for the head of Amy Chavez (and calling her an idiot) have yet to meet her. Attacking her character and name-calling are not necessary. She most certainly has a following of readers who do enjoy her writing. While I’m not one of them, when I do read her snippets of island life, I keep in mind the title of her column: Japan Lite. She’s not writing for the intelligentsia, folks. But if you do want to tear apart her take on Japan, focus more on her writing and less on her character.

    — Perhaps because people who frequent Debito.org are naturally disinclined towards the attitudes she’s willfully and unskillfully choosing to promote, and are sick and tired of them being featured prominently even in the English-language media in Japan?

  • I too read that article when it was published and thought it was very odd and potentially offensive to both J and NJ.
    The bit about a crowd of Japanese being all skinny like gazelles seemed to be just as unthoughtful and inaccurate a generalization as when NHK portrays us as all having big noses and could be equally as damaging to our arguments against racial discrimination. Anyone who lives here should know that Japanese do come in all shapes and sizes just like NJ. I am glad debito raised the issue here.

  • Laura – re: my comment: ever heard of sarcasm?

    — Make it clearer, please. That’s one of the bones of contention regarding this very blog entry.


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