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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  • It would be nice to hear a comment from Amy herself on Debito.Org on why she chose to write such an article. It has obviously annoyed a lot of people.

    — I’ve done a bit of background research on Amy’s life situation in Japan and overall defensive attitude towards people critical of her writing. Yes, it would be nice. But don’t hold your breath.

  • To her credit – this is the worst article she has ever written.
    I’ve read the others and this one came to me as not offensive but “Oh she must have been tight on a deadline and had to shovel some shit out”.

  • @Matt – Why, it just happens that I HAVE heard of sarcasm. However, it is very hard for sarcasm to come across correctly in a print medium (narrative). As Debito-san himself commented above, it is one of the obnes of contention with the story in the first place.
    If you are being sarcastic, please alert us non-telepaths to said sarcasm. Thanks. The oft cited stereotype of the lumpy fat foreigner or gross NJ lady just gets stuck in my craw. Perpetuated by (mostly) NJ males. Apologies if you are not one of them, but it`s hard to be a NJ girl in Japan.

    Sorry, I won`t take up more of Debito.org space with bickering.

  • I have a few discussions of Ms. Chavez’s egregious pieces on my blog every year. Before you even begin to ponder her viewpoint and whether or not it might be racist and may or may not have been intended you first must take a step back and gag in awe at her uniquely atrocious writing. Is this a cruel thing to say? Hardly. Ms. Chavez and the Japan Times present her as a professional writer, not as the kid down the block working on a piece that they want you to proofread. At the profession she is publicly displaying herself in, Ms. Chavez is strikingly and appallingly god-awful. If she isn’t receptive to criticism then she should duck back onto her island, hug her masters degree in ESL and cry herself out of the writing business.

  • I thought at least in part she was trying to make fun of ‘off the rack’ clothing sizes. Uniqlo stuff fits me like potato sacks usually, and I can tell you, my middle-age carcass is nothing like a gazelle’s.

    The larger issue is perhaps what Japanese themselves think Japanese are or ought to be. I don’t know how many university-age Japanese men can’t find clothes at many stores to fit them. I wonder sometimes how many Japanese men suffer from bad feet because the shoe sizes all too often cut off at 27.5 cm (although often EEE, which indicates to me ‘flat’ feet in many cases).

    At any rate, if you found this article ‘offensive’, then there is very little the author can do about it now. Remember, AC is writing humorous pieces for a mostly ‘foreign’ audience, much of it now people surfing in from other places on the WWW. If she were trying for a Japanese audience, it would have to be in Japanese, not English.

  • How did AC’s article get the green light from the editor? Like others have written above, it could be construed as offensive to Japanese and non-Japanese. A poor showing. She’s written some bizarre pieces before, but this one is inappropriate.

  • Debito-san, I would like to caution you and your readers about taking one article out of context and using it to criticize everything about AC. It is like taking your fingerprint sandpapering story (http://www.debito.org/?p=5538) and mistaking you of supporting legally and morally questionable actions. That would overlook all the social good your writing achieves.
    Besides your blog, AC’s are one of the handful of articles I read on a regular basis. I read them for their fun “Lite”-ness, and for gleaming the occasional bit of wisdom. In particular, her gomi article, http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090822cz.html, woke me up to how Japan’s recycling should be held up as an example to follow, rather than for despising as being anal. (More ruminations on that and Matt, the Eco-minded village chief in Hakuba at http://love-me.cc/blog/yado/kamesei/index.php?ID=1161.)
    Anyone on an anti-AC bent would be bound to overlook her valuable insights and instead focus on the bizarre, just as anyone on an anti-Debito bent would miss the good messages and only see the negative. Perhaps the problem is with the viewer(s), not the viewee?

    — Nah.

  • @Tyler in Nagano

    How is sandpapering your fingerprints either legally or morally questionable? Or am I missing the point of what you’re trying to say?

  • In contrast to Debito, I always take a look at Chavez’s articles – just to see how goddamn awful they are. I rarely make it past the first paragraph. I’m sure she’s a very nice person, but what she is doing in a national newspaper I have no idea. Do the editors even read her submissions?

  • Vance Gould says:

    I just put in a search for “why can’t Japanese walk correctly?” in an attempt to find out more about this cultural phenomena and this is the web page that popped up.

    I am being completely serious here. I am genuinely curious to find out more about why a child’s walking pattern is not monitored and corrected here. Keep in mind, I am not just talking about the cutesy “because of wearing kimono” pigeon-toed girls we can often see clacking around in high heels. I am wondering about men as well.

    I’ve delicately tried to broach this subject (in Japanese), but inevitably the subject is changed for whatever reason.

    That Chavez article was, indeed, plain awful.

  • This was a twisted article. I often find her articles to be racist and wrote a few times to the Japan Times to ask why on earth they keep publishing her. I, as a long-term resident of Japan, have found her to be very offensive and only perpetuate the typical stereotypes of Japanese. She obviously thinks herself everyone else, especially Japanese. Not good when you are living here! If here on a visit, I might perhaps give her sympathy or some credit…….but she’s been here so long, she should definitely know better. Shame on Amy. She was terribly bashed on a group I am a member of……..to the point where the attacks became quite nasty, on her as a person, not her work. Anyway, I hope she just stops with the humor – obviously few find it ‘actually’ funny. instead of japan lite, they should call it japan on weed or something.

  • GiantPanda says:

    Have you read the new one about gaijins sweating and stinking and Japanese not smelling and not sweating?? Obviously we do not ride in the same subway cars.

    — No. Let’s have a link.

  • How can the Japan Times possibly have such high quality articles like yours Debito but also have such rubbish as Amy Chavez writes?? I don’t understand it.

  • Here is the link to Amy’s new article “about gaijins sweating and stinking and Japanese not smelling and not sweating…”


    Excerpt: While the Japanese perspire, they don’t seem to do it to the proud degree that we foreigners do. While I’ve always attributed our sweating and ensuing body odor to the fact that we are the more hirsute of the species, the Japanese say body odor has more to do with food — you smell like what you eat. So, Koreans smell like kimchee and Indians smell like curry. Obviously, this theory can’t be true or we’d all be cannibals. We all know at least one person who just cannot pass up a good kimchee or curry.

    So, what do Westerners smell like? They say we smell different because we eat meat, but stop short of saying we smell like cattle. We are merely kusai — stinky. This stinkiness is no revelation to us. We’re the ones who wear deodorant whereas among the Japanese, only some do. It’s humbling to go to the supermarket and be confronted with several brands of deodorant, all in 30 ml sizes.

    So what do the Japanese smell like? Not much, which is more a reflection of what they don’t eat rather than what they do. It’s a good thing because the last thing this country needs is sweaty fish riding the bullet train. Maybe that’s why Japanese people are so skinny. It’s an anti-odor strategy.

  • While loathe to go down this “stinkier than thou” discussion, the Japanese of course have a word for “unusual budy odor of Japanese”-Kareishu.

    Heres a link to an explanation, note the amusing connection to Japan’s aging issue:


    — I think it just goes to show that Chavez has run dry of topics and is merely mining stereotypes. Particularly those she sees Japanese holding towards NJ. Never mind any basis within the physical or social sciences.


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