Discussion: Oguri Saori’s “Darling wa Gaikokujin” manga series: Does it help NJ assimilate?


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog. We’ve recently had a decent discussion come up in my previous blog entry, and it’s good enough to warrant its own entry.

The topic was Oguri Saori’s Daarin Wa Gaikokujin” (My Darling is a Foreigner), a best-selling series of manga depicting the life of a quirky bilingual foreigner by the name of “Tony” who marries a Japanese woman. The manga chronicles the different personalities of the husband and wife as they deal with issues in Japan, create a life and a family together, travel from one place to another, and generally try to get inside “Tony’s mind”. There are several books under Oguri’s authorship (at least one with real-life husband Tony Laszlo’s co-billing — his “Guide to Happiness”), and even a movie earlier this year, not to mention an English translation, subway and train PSAs, and an ANA advertising deal. It’s a very influential economic juggernaut that has spawned imitators (there are other “Darling”-types of books connected with different nationalities), and now with “DWG with baby” on board the epic is anticipated to continue for some years to come.

The question for Debito.org Readers: Is the DWG manga series really working in NJs best interests? As in, as far as Debito.org is concerned, helping NJ to assimilate, be treated as equals and moreover residents of Japan?

I came out in my last blog entry and said I wasn’t sure it is. Let me give my standpoint and open the floor up for discussion:

First a disclaimer: I knew Oguri Saori personally, stayed with Laszlo and Saori for many days during trips to Tokyo, and even helped Saori with some grunt work (as in erasing pencil lines) in earlier non-DWG works. We were quite close. I have immense respect for her as an illustrator (as I too like to draw) and a storyteller. I think she has earned every bit of her success after developing her talent and investing years of hard work in her craft. Bully for her. May she earn millions more.

But the problem I have had with the DWG series (and I’ve come to this conclusion after many years of watching how DWG appeals to people) is that it is selling “foreigner” as “exotic” and “different” all over again. A friend of mine concurs, seeing the appeal of DWG as “making foreigners into things, even accessories, for collection and display”. I won’t go quite that far. But watching what kind of audience the DWG media machine generally seeks to appeal to (young to middle-aged women who might want to date a foreigner — or are dating/married to a foreigner), I see that they are being encouraged to view DWG as a guide to “foreigners’ minds”. This might be an overstatement, but the title itself (“Gaikokujin”) already sets Tony-chan apart as something perpetually different, moreover something to be studied (and there is enough bad social science in Japan treating NJ as cultural representatives, worthy of petri-dish examination). Regardless of how Saori originally intended, the marketing of these books plays right into this. Tony-chan is cute, sure. Eccentric and interesting, sure. Representative of anything? No.

Imagine if we were to publish a book, “My Darling is a Japanese”, and we had this quirky Japanese man who spoke geeky English and studied all sorts of [insert country here] cultural norms and had all sorts of eccentric tics? Then imagine a publisher pushing it as having insight into how Japanese men (or for that matter, any kind of Asian man) behave within this cultural context? We’d have people buying it if it were funny, sure. But I bet there would be a little more care against pushing it as something representative of anything. Even Borat, for example, was sold as performance art, not fodder for the study of Kazakhstan or foreigners in general.

In sum, I initially liked the idea of DWG as an eye-opener and a softener. But subsequent mutations of the phenomenon have turned it into simply more of the same: Quirky foreigner comes here and still is seen as quirky because he is foreign. Not because he is a quirky person. And people lap it up because they think it offers insights. Doubt that? Read this.

I don’t see it furthering the cause of helping NJ assimilate and being treated as equals and residents, not foreigners. DWG has been a wasted opportunity.

Now let’s open up the floor to discussion. I ask respondents to please try to leave Laszlo’s and my personal relationship out of this (because it’s irrelevant, and the DWG books are not Laszlo’s anyway). Please critique the DWG phenomenon on its own merits. I seriously look forward to seeing what people (especially fans) say. Arudou Debito in Radium Hot Springs, BC

40 comments on “Discussion: Oguri Saori’s “Darling wa Gaikokujin” manga series: Does it help NJ assimilate?

  • I myself have pretty much shared the same ideas that you have: that is was nice that this is made, so hopefully foreigners(and even better, foreign marriage) is seen as something that can happen in Japan. However, the title kinda highlights the issue I too have with it: “My darling is a FOREIGNER” as in “How different! Who would imagine, a FORIGNER?! Being a DARLING?!” The fact that Tony is a FOREIGNER should not be something that is tossed around like a carnival show. What if someone in America wrote “My Darling is a Black Woman”? It would just be useless(“ok, you married a black girl, so what?”).

    Good for her for making foreigners look like humans, but she still fails in making them look like normal humans.

  • I hate the whole idea of this book and am embarrassed when excerpts come on in the train on the little monitors. To me, it is like a huge step backwards to the pre-bubble Japan. No, I’m sorry, I can’t applaud anyone’s success for simply selling to a stereotype and helping to perpetrate it. Good business, sure, a help to others, not at all!

  • I think it just boils down to prejudice. It seems that in DWG world, that if Tony does it, then it’s a “gaikokujin” thing, as opposed to a Tony thing. Is there a chapter of DWG somewhere in which Tony’s gaikokujin friends also express amazement/frustration with his antics, to at least clue in the readers that maybe it’s all just Tony? Or can only Japanese pass judgment on the gaikokujin?

    I’ve only read the first book and seen the movie, but I can assure my Japanese friends that I am not lazy when I wash dishes, leaving behind bits of food or soap scum and saying it’s “good enough”. (Darling wa Lazy) I also know that dry-clean-only clothes should not be tossed in with the wash. (Darling wa Stupid) And no, I do not, while walking alone, skip along and smell flowers (Darling wa Odd)

    Though I suppose all these were included in the movie to make him seem at least “better” than a sterotype of a Japanese male; at least Darling tries to wash dishes, does laundry, and likes flowers (Darling wa Metrosexual?) So, in a way, the subtext shows prejudice regarding Japanese men as well. Illustrating silly things Gaikokujin do implies that Japanese men do not do such things, else they would not need to be pointed out in a comic about gaikokujin.

    Otherwise, why not call it “Darling wa Otoko (a Man)”?

  • Good topic.

    Is the DWG manga series really working in NJs best interests?

    Well, considering there was a time not too long ago where if a NJ were to date a Japanese they risked pissing off the J-parents big-time the manga probably helps in that respect.

  • I suppose you won’t like this comment Debito, but I’ll put it forward anyway. Gaijin are different. I was fat, had a big nose, and spoke poor Japanese when I was a foreigner As I told my Japanese drinking buddies before my naturalization, I was changing from being “henna gaijin” to becoming “henna nihonjin.”

    I am still fat, have a big nose, and my Japanese ability hasn’t changed. I am still different and I always will be. What “Daarin wa Gaikokujin” does for me is to demonstrate that being different is benign. And for me, the acceptance of differences is more important than the elimination of differences. I will never appear to be a native Japanese. And that is okay by me as long as I am treated the same as everybody else here…

  • “I don’t see it furthering the cause of helping NJ assimilate and being treated as equals and residents, not foreigners. DWG has been a wasted opportunity.”
    I can really see that it is a wasted opportunity but so many things are and I don’t think the books can be criticized for being so. It’s like saying a Hollywood blockbuster that uses environmental issues at the theme waste the opportunity to tell us about how we can protect the environment rather than just telling us that this terrifying yet exciting event might take place if we don’t change our ways.
    I’m guessing the purpose of the series is to tell a story and make some money. Mission accomplished.

  • Darling Lover says:

    As I implied in my earlier comment, I think that DWG (and even “Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo”) does more good than harm. Yes, there is a reliance on caricature, but that’s hardly unique to manga about foreigners. What they do accomplish is show Japanese audiences that, yes, non-Japanese people can become fluent in the language, are eager to assimilate into society, and that we should not be so quick to stereotype in the far more important real world.

    While this might be straying from DWG, I feel it relevant to point out in “Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo 2,” there is quite a nice essay where the author talks about a German girl taken in by a (Japanese) doctor and how he insists on using English with her even though the girl is more proficient in Japanese. This is followed by an explanation that much of Japanese medical terminology consists of very direct translations of German and would’ve been easier for her to begin with. (I would’ve imagined Dutch, but that’s beside the point)

    It’s not still not perfect as you say. I too would rather see foreigners written about as “normal” human beings who just happen to speak Japanese – the 1982 anime series “Macross” did a good job of it ages ago, but that was back when immigration was nowhere near a stark reality as it is now. All said, given racial dynamics in Japan as they are now, I’m patient enough with it. Besides, I could less what the media says about me so long as I get talked to like a human being when I pull up a table at the local izakaya.

  • DWG perpetuates the “us” vs. “them” ideology.
    FYI, I’m selling out and writing a book called “My Asian Wife” for the English world. I will include stories from my married life in “The Far East,” e.g., bushido, ninja, samurai, katanas, martial arts, meditation, home electronics and (gasp) hyper-sexual, submissive dragon-wives.

  • All press is good press; sure I could find many things in DWG that I disagree with, but the overall waves created by it are positive. Remember, at it’s base it’s still a story about two people coming together. Isn’t the ultimate goal of any integration?

    Moreover, there are far worse foreigner stereotypes in Japan than any of the ones advanced by DWG. What Japan’s foreign community really needs is a “Darling wa Chugokujin” or “Darling wa Kankokujin” etc. series. That’d be a much more poignant series (as most of the foreigners in Japan aren’t white or Americans or resemble “Tony” in any other way).

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    My wife bought some of the earlier DWG stuff years back. Maybe whe was trying to understand what makes me tick.
    Problem is, DWG is all about Saori and Tony, or rather, how Saori interprets Tony and his responces to the world around them. I am not Tony, and Tony is not me. Reading the manga doesn’t help me understand my wife any better, and she’s the same nationality as Saori (Tony and I share non-nationality)
    Does it hinder assimilation? Probably no.
    Does it aid assimilation? Again, probably no.
    The best we can hope for is for the “baby” installments to remove “haafu” from popular usage.

  • DWG is a media representation of a woman’s husband. What are we asking here, then, for all media representations of people to somehow support groups in some kind of assimilation, and to be treated as social equals? Sorry, I don’t buy it. It’s entertainment.

    South Park, though terrific social satire, isn’t going to improve anyone’s assimilation. “The Jeffersons” had some touching moments, but it hasn’t brought equality to African Americans.

    Are media representations of groups of people capable of influencing public opinion? Absolutely. Should we expect the creators of media to develop their characters so they bring social equality to all people? As an ideal, maybe, but at present the only strategy I have for helping my children grow up in Japan with as little negative impact from degrading portrayals of any social group you name in the mainstream is to shield them from as much media as possible for as long as possible.

    Media is not friendly to positive social reform for the most part, and suggesting that this series of books should be is unfair to the author.

    — Not asking for all media. Just asking for one or a few by now, for a change. There are in fact supportive alternatives, there is balance kept (even in South Park, which is an odd example), and there are checks and balances if things go too far in other media. OTOH, consider the dearth of pro-assimilationist, non-stereotyping media (as you note) regarding NJ in Japan. Given the Laszlo I knew would not let himself be made into the Gaijin Clown, the aim of DWG was originally different. Once it became a cash cow, however, the marketing changed. Is that unfair to the author? Possibly. But serious money changes everything, as evidenced in the subsequent DWG books and media campaigns. In sum, somebody sold out.

  • So how do you feel about this series inspired variations — in particular, ハラショーな日々 {harashō na hibi}: the one with the Kansai wife and the Russian IT husband who is basically the anti-Lazlo: obviously very talented at his work (an IT guy), but portrayed in the comic as a bit of a buffoon and an everyday guy: getting drunk in the evening, always doing things wrong and forgetting things (sort of a ボケ {boke} to the lead character strong Kansai wife.

    You could say that this comic (and I’m sure there are others out there) were inspired by the “Darling…” series.

    For those unfamiliar with the comic, all the panels are available online:


    Disclaimer: yes, I own the book, and my wife prefers this series to “Darling…” Probably because the protagonist is Kansai and my wife is from Ōsaka.

  • I wanted to chip in since I saw the discussion that started in the other thread. First, I’ll say this: let’s think about ‘gaikokujin’ purely from a semantic point of view: ‘foreigner’, ‘coming from outside Japan’, no stereotypes involved. ‘Gaikokujin’ is different from ‘nihonjin’, sure. But in my humble view, one of the major points of DWG is that ‘different’ isn’t necessarily ‘bad’, quite the contrary in fact.

    Now, to touch on one of the points Allen made above: “Good for her for making foreigners look like humans, but she still fails in making them look like normal humans.” Remember, ‘normal’ means different things in Japan and in other parts of the world. For instance, in Japan it’s ‘normal’ to eat with chopsticks, but elsewhere people use a knife and fork. In Japan it’s ‘normal’ to bow when greeting someone, but in Europe, for instance, people kiss each other on the cheek. And so on.

    The two main characters of DWG each come from a different background. They’re willing to accept and even cherish each other’s quirks. That’s something you don’t see with most entertainment programs that feature ‘gaikokujin’ (where their differences are being exploited for cheap laughs – see Bob Sapp). That’s why I think DWG has a commendable message, all things considered.

  • When I was growing up in the seventies UK, we had sit-coms like: Love Thy Neighbour (the comic tribulations of a white family with black neighbours), Mind Your Language (a hapless ESL teacher and his classroom of ever-mispronouncing and misunderstanding students), Mixed Blessings (a young white guy who, gosh, marries a young black woman and hilarity ensues). None of that would fly now. So is Japan just 40 years behind the curve, immigration wise, and this is just a phase we need to go through…?

  • A foreigner foreign to japanese says:

    debito, you have overestimated the mangas. Most japanese mangas are to entertain the readers, and foreigners trying to adapt japanese lifestyle is one major selling point.

  • I know there have been irritating issues that came out of the original books and that the guy it is based on might not be the best ever role model.

    However, I think whether this movie is going to be regarded well among NJ etc… will depend on the nature of devils found in the detail.

    Finally, even though we may end up not liking the whole process and means, if the end result is a more understanding and better educated Japanese audience then the end may justify the means… just about! – I hope!

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    I’m still a fan of Darling wa Gaikokujin and think that its positive points far outweigh the negatives.

    I posted some thoughts on the movie and the impression that it (and the Tony character) gives its viewers back when the film first came out:


    …and basically still feel the same way now.

    Yeah, the title could be a little better. And Saori is selling “exotic and different” to some extent with this portrayal. But it’s a positive, encouraging, respectful portrayal that will go a long way in dispelling the unfair myth that non-Japanese are dangerous, sneaky illiterates with whom communication is impossible and against whom you must always be on your guard. Remember those police posters and newspaper articles? Remember the linguistic incompetence shown by “Mr. James”?

    Manga-and-movie Tony is a stereotype I’ll happily take over all of those.

  • I still think my favorite “gaikokujin” portrayal was in that Tora san film where he finds an American vitamin salesman in his bedroom

    Frankly, I don’t think it has any impact, either positive or negative. I don’t really believe a manga series can change someone’s opinion on sensitive issues like race and national identity. I believe it’s really just a question of someone’s personal exposure and history of social contacts that’s going to make them more or less receptive, not a manga series or tv ads with wigs and plastic noses. It might reinforce existing stereotypes, but I don’t think it can create new ones or change ones that are already in place in someone’s mind

    Just IMO.

    — I think you need to indulge in some media studies. There are whole academic departments predicated on the influence of media on human behavior. More specifically, we’ve shown direct damage to public perceptions (as measured in opinion polls) towards NJ thanks to media campaigns (particularly those by NPA and politicians) numerous times on Debito.org.

  • I have to agree with the group that believes it does more good than harm. Yes, she’s selling Tony as “different” but like others have said, different need not be bad. It’s all a matter of respect. She’s saying, “hey, this bloke’s different from you, but I love him, and you should too”. I think the author tried to say (and I could be wrong) that yes, he’s different, but that should be embraced and respected, not looked down upon. She’s not saying he’s not “Japanese enough”, she’s saying that he’s every bit as good as one, and so should it be for everyone else.

    I agree with Steve’s point. Should I ever go to Japan, I will always be a foreigner, no matter what I do. I can assimilate and naturalise all I want and learn to speak Japanese better than the Emperor himself. The law will call me Japanese, but my face will not transform. I will still be of foreign origin to everyone’s eyes. And so what? The hopeless pursuit of trying to “turn myself Japanese” is not the answer. It’s OK to be a foreigner to everyone so long as I’m *treated* the same as they treat any Japanese.

    Just like Lazslo will never be “Japanese” in appearance or origin, but the book says that that’s OK, he’s still a loving husband, and a good guy. Not an “international criminal” or “difficult gaijin” or whatever.

    The message is, I think, a better one than “Different = Bad, Conformity = Good”. You can never eliminate differences. The world would do better to learn that yes, differences exist, but that they should not be rejected, but embraced. That nobody should have to be ashamed of what they are or from whence they came, but welcomed just as they are. Nobody should have to prove anything.

    That’s my two pence anyway. It’s not likely to be a very popular opinion, and maybe I’m utterly wrong, but it’s what I feel.

    — Well, if you’re willing to accept that a person not born Japanese and/or not blessed with the appearance of “a Japanese” will never be “Japanese”, so they should just lump it and settle for being accepted as something “different” (however positive), then all adds up: DWG is a nice book that deserves support because it’s supporting that POV. But that’s hardly assimilationalist. It’s just a positive spin on the old “gaikokujin” chestnut with all the trimmings of possible exclusion at a moment’s notice. Not the path to take in my view. But let’s keep this excellent discussion going.

  • Re: Debito’s response,

    You make a very good point, and one with which I can agree. Don’t get me wrong, I do fully support assimilationism, and the idea that an immigrant should feel like he/she can personally identify as the nationality they adopt. I do readily concede that the book is not the solution to the problem. If anything, it’s a step in the right direction, though. Once we establish that “gaijin are different, but different is good, thus gaijin are good” mentality, then that can evolve into the Holy Grail “there are no gaijin, just all kinds of Japanese people” mentality you and others are fighting so hard to achieve. An America-esque “Melting Pot” society where there are Americans of all colours, cultures, and origins, but no less American.

    Mind you, perhaps I misphrased it. I don’t believe they should settle, I fully expect Japan to accept naturalised citizens as Japanese before anything else, as you do. In the same sense that, my best mate (who is Pakistani) is readily accepted as an American, and so am I, despite having been born elsewhere. We both know that we came from outside, and can do nothing to change that, but we are treated as Americans, and expect no less.

    I can speak for nobody but myself, and would never intend to dictate how others should feel, but as far as I go, (if the day comes when I can move to Japan) I will readily accept that I am from elsewhere, and that I look different, but as a citizen I will expect that people put that aside and regard me as a Japanese. Perhaps a “new kind” of Japanese, but one nonetheless. That’s the change I think the book *might* help (however slightly) to bring, the idea that there is no longer “Japanese and Gaijin” but “Japanese of all Kinds”.

    Again, maybe I’m naive or out-of-touch, but that’s my take on it.

  • On influence in quality of life as a foreigner in Japan, DWG gets 1,000,000 points for addressing housing discrimination in a pop comic book. 99.9% of Japanese people are unaware that they or other Japanese might ever discriminate against a foreigner or know what discrimination means. Massive, massive kudos for that. The rest of the book is a mixed bag, but the tone overall – that Tony is different because he’s a weird dude and different from expectations about what a foreigner is – is alright. I don’t like how his characteristics are so often attributed to his foreignness, but in the context of pop manga and the like, this is a great, great influence for stimulating minds.

    On assimilation, I can see how this book both helps and hurts. The attribution of differences to foreignness, or being from a particular place, and talking about other people’s darlings who are different because they are from yet another country, surely doesn’t help the view that they have become Japanese or could. However, the humanization of foreigners and the depiction of them not as monolithic but as coming from numerous places and backgrounds with their own quirks makes foreigners seem more like the way Japanese people see each other as individual humans.

    Some Japanese people have a mental block and can’t imagine a foreigner assimilating and becoming Japanese. Many foreigners have the same mental block, as amply illustrated by comments above. I think this manga can help some Japanese people overcome their mental block a bit. I also see plenty of ways it could have done the job better. In fairness to the manga, though, its purpose is not to assimilate foreigners but to humanize one foreigner and his life in Japan in story format while making tons of dinero, and at that it succeeds in spades.

    — Quick point of order: On the rental discrimination thing, yes, kudos to DWG for bringing it to the fore. But remember, the Japanese female protagonist was also refused rental in DWG for not having a stable enough job (a manga artist). The “discrimination happens to everyone” canard is frequently cited as a justification for not doing anything about the status quo. So IMHO the message got blunted there, sadly.

    Glad the one foreigner got humanized. Now let’s expand the message to all. DWG has since refrained from doing that. For dinero’s sake. Which it’s why it’s a sell-out.

  • An acquaintance of mine lent the DWG books to me because I am a “gaikokujin” and my girlfriend is Japanese. I eventually handed the volumes on to my girlfriend, figuring she might have some interest in the topic matter.

    The biggest gripe I had about the books was, as many people have said, that I felt it needed to be pointed out more often that some of the Tony character’s quirks were not because he is foreign, or American, but because he was Tony. For example, even I would be embarrassed if my friend called up a restaurant and tried to negotiate with them to let us used expired coupons.

    What I did like about the book is that (my memory may be fuzzy here, though) there was never really any overt “we have problems because of ibunka misunderstandings” but just “Tony is quite odd sometimes.” I think if that would have been a bit more clearly spelled out, the book would do more for the image of foreigners in Japan. That is, drawing attention to lack of culture-related issues and to the reality that everyone’s a bit quirky, but we can get along just fine.

    To my girlfriend’s credit, she was able to separate the “Tony is weird” bits away from any sort of cultural misunderstandings between Americans and Japanese. She even commented that a lot of men in general, and some women, don’t know how to wash dishes right.

    When the movie came out a friend from a local magazine wanted to write an article about a “Darling wa Gaikokujin in our town” so I forwarded my girlfriend’s contact information onto my friend (incidentally, the magazine didn’t want to talk to me at all…) Of course they asked my girlfriend what difficulties there were in dating a foreigner. She said something along the lines of there are never really problems related to culture, and that what is most important is just getting used to each other’s personality. She did comment that we have different senses of humor, mentioning I loved oyaji-gags, but never blamed it on my American-ness (as wouldn’t make sense with oyaji-gags anyway.)

    I get the feeling my girlfriend may have already been open-minded about the whole thing from the start (she did agree to date me, after all.) But I’m worried that someone who already thinks everything a foreigner does is based on their foreign-ness will read these books and probably just see Tony as a foreigner and not a person (and see all foreigners, or Americans at least, as Tony.)

    So I guess…the book doesn’t change anything?

  • Does Darling help NJ assimilate?

    Before you can have assimilation, you need tolerance and acceptance. IMHO, “Darling” promotes tolerance and acceptance of NJ. That ultimately leads to assimilation.

    The Jefferson’s and Different Strokes, in a similar way used humour to promote tolerance and acceptance of differences. Did those shows help blacks assimilate in the US? Maybe they did, over time.

    If you want to get scientific, or at least scientific as psychology can get, you ask this question: Would reading Darling cause an average Japanese person to feel more positive or less positive about NJ?

    My guess is more positive.

  • I disagree with your premise, Debito. “if you’re willing to accept that a person not born Japanese and/or not blessed with the appearance of “a Japanese” will never be “Japanese”. I am very well accepted in my community as being Japanese. What I would propose is that people need to be educated to the fact that not all Japanese are exactly the same. I can be fully Japanese without the false pretense of being be just like everyone else. I still think the manga promotes the idea that there are many flavors of people living in Japan and we should accept and welcome them all as fellow human beings, or even as soul mates.

    I am nursing a big shochu hangover this morning after an evening of hashigo bar hopping among “snacks” and “izakaya.” But last night, I scored higher on karaoke than anybody else in the bars, especially with my “enka” renditions. When I am the best at enka, few would question whether I am really Japanese.

    — Good for you. I’ve been out drinking with you (I think I got the drunkest I’ve ever been, IIRC) and am so pleased that the places we went were so accepting. But they are very, very, unusually so, in my experience. Which is why you choose to associate with those circles. Again, good for you. If only it were so easy for everyone else. It’s not. Too many things have to be in alignment for this to happen — not to mention the advanced age of both you and your compatriots. People shouldn’t have to wait quite this long and jump through so many hoops, as you and I have, to get to this stage. I’m not willing to accept us as average or even a template. I want it to be easier for others, thanks.

    Back to DWG, please.

  • Traditionally, assimilation in the United States has been, at least in theory, a two-way street. Witness “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In Japan assimilation is primarily the responsibility of those precious few who have crossed the moat, squeezed through the castle door and wish to be assimilated. There is no welcome mat, and I suspect there never has been. For Japanese society today, embracing assimilation would entail a fundamental rethinking of what it means to be Japanese–including dealing with hard, divisive questions of law, language, race, citizenship, etc. This hardly seems likely to happen. In that connection, DWG indulges the curiosity of a society still mired in its “uniqueness,” still on the outside looking in, and it does so in a non-threatening, non-challenging way. DWG may not be another brick in the wall, but it’s certainly no stepping stone over it.

  • ooops, seems I may have sparked this off with my comments on the previous thread.
    To reiterate, DWG is nothing new, its a cliche of the gaikokujin as “eternal other”, but I think it takes this road because this is how alot of, shall we say, “traditional” Japanese may think. But unlike Mr James or the police posters, it is overwhelmingly positive, and that is a good thing.

    Its a starting point in a transitional period of educating people who already have a certain mindset.

    Also to reiterate, another good thing is that now any of us trying to marry or date a Japanese woman can get cheesy but effective ammunition from DWG-if the J-parents or anyone else raise objections there is now the all-purpose comback, to be repeated ad nauseum: “Darling wa gaikokujin dakara (?)”

    I really could ve used this positive propaganda help in 1991 or 1994, when I was turned down by J parents.The first woman caved in under their pressure. The second one, to escape their pressure completely, decided to relocate to a distant third country. Heartbreaking, and it really prejudiced me against meeting the parents.

    Let’s see how the baby is portrayed. The baby was born in Japan, and other than the race of the father, is Japanese. Maybe poignant lessons could be learnt in a future episode if some ignoramous says “What a cute half-baby” and then Saori jumps in and says “Huh? My baby is a Japanese citizen! Oh…you wondering why the (hair colour/other feature) is slightly different from yours. Why?”

    We can hope, anyway.

  • …Actually, if someone were to write a book supposedly representative of mixed nationality marriages in Japan it should be written by a Japanese male (since those marriages far outnumber the case where the Japanese female has intermarried) who is married to a woman from somewhere in Asia. But that wouldn’t sell nearly so well would it? “My Darling is an Asian woman who actually is not that different from anyone else”. The Japanese public is fixated on how *different* foreigners are, and don’t really want to hear about all the ways in which they are not different. How un-exotic.

  • The danger is in the unfortunate fact that Japanese people in general, tend to take everything they see in the media as truth. As a culture there is really never much questioning in regards to headlines or news reports. Rarely do people stop and process information they have just read or saw and think about it objectivly and if it may be exagerated, skewed for a corporate or political reason or just an outright lie. They soak it in, file it away and move on the the next bit of dubious consumable bite size factoid. Even if they do have a slight sense of something sounding funny, they’ll ignore that as to not upset the “WA”.

    My gut reaction is that this tendency to take everything at face value for absolute truth will lump every male foreign resident of Japan somewhat into a collective borg-like entity of “TONIEZ” I know there are those Japanese who do question what the read and see but those individuals are certianly a minority. I know I’M not Tony and all the other men here posting know they aren’t either. Will the majority of Japanese people be able to tell the difference? Probably if they thought about it but that’s the thing, they probably don’t care to. Once there is an established flavor of the month popular archtype in the media that people can just refer to, then that’s who we become for the majority.

    “into a world of slumber, the dull march on”

  • I have read all of the DWG manga, but haven’t seen the movie (and don’t plan really, it just doesn’t seem interesting or to have anything in common with my life – life of a non-American foreign woman married to a J man for over 10 yrs now).
    I’m afraid I can’t answer your question because I don’t know how Japanese people who have read/seen it interpret this manga series and the movie, but I do know that my husband, who had read the manga years ago, thought it was funny. I also thought it was entertaining, to some extent. But, I’ve always thought of it as just a manga about “Tony, the Foreigner,” not about foreigners in Japan in general (well, of course).
    IMHO, this manga and the movie don’t reflect the reality of mixed marriages in Japan at all. They only describe the married life of Tony & Saori. Unlike Tony, most of non-Japanese in mixed marriages in Japan are not from the U.S. and also most of non-Japanese married to Japanese nationals in_Japan are women. For some reason, the topic of male (White) non-Japanese BFs/husbands is very popular in Japan; again – it can’t be farther from reality.
    Finally, off topic, but — instead of assimilation, I prefer integration. I feel that assimilation destroys cultural diversity, while integration helps people adapt and be a part of a society without necessarily losing their ethno-cultural and linguistic identity.

  • I kind of disagree with Giant Panda-some Japanese are convinced that Chinese and Koreans are completely different from them, never mind alot of culture comes from there-so a book called “Darling wa Chuugokujin” would inevitably focus on the tiny, tiny differences they would encounter in their marriage, food and so on, which is one topic the Japanese public is very interested in!

    It doesnt matter what nationality the gaikokujin is from-they ll always been differences either real or imagined for that sector of the public who buy into the “unique” myth.

    It also depends how the writer wants to present it.

  • I’ve only read bits of the first book… so maybe I’m not the best one to judge. I found that the actual CONTENT of the manga (again, the bits that I read) was more positive than negative. We see that Tony speaks Japanese, that yes he’s quirky but that his wife is equally quirky at times, enforcing the “everyone’s different, and that’s the one thing we all have in common” idea…. I didn’t actually find much inside the book to get upset about.

    But I don’t like the title, and I don’t like the image that the series is putting out there… I cringe when I see a display in Tsutaya. Maybe the manga itself is perfectly non-racist, I haven’t read any more and I can’t really say… but the title itself A) lumps all “gaikokujin” together as like one another and unlike Japanese, and B) makes it sound as though having a gaikokujin for a husband is a strange, funny, quirky situation in and of itself.

    Whether this is a good or a bad thing I don’t know, but it also reinforces the “Japanese woman and English-speaking Caucasian husband” image that is associated with the term “international marriage” here, not that there’s anything wrong with those couples, but it’s very unrepresentative of international marriage as a whole, where there are many more NJ wives than husbands, and most coming from other Asian countries as well.

  • Very interesting debate,

    However I ask : if the book is about Tony – then why not call it Daarin wa Tony.

    Foreigners as marketable commodities in Japan = profit

    Foreigners as integrated equal members of Japanese society = ?

    The way I see it this is an excellent handbook for the 20’s – 40’s single Japanese woman looking for foreign husband! Good luck with that!

  • Steve: “What “Daarin wa Gaikokujin” does for me is to demonstrate that being different is benign.”

    But as Level3 points out, this “Tony” is not shown as a well adjusted average person. Creates a
    new and ugly stereotype. When I first saw it on a JR train I was shocked and angry. Some dumb
    white guy flailing around, flapping his arms and shouting is not what I want people thinking about
    when they see me on the street, in the hallway at my mansion or sitting across the table from me
    trying to get something done.

    Different is… just different, but it wouldn’t be entertaining, so this is what we get. Bad.

  • “..I feel that assimilation destroys cultural diversity, while integration helps people adapt and be a part of a society without necessarily losing their ethno-cultural and linguistic identity…”

    But that is the crux of the problem. Japanese do not know how to differentiate, they are not provided with these “tools” in school when being educated. They are indoctrinated that everything and everyone is the same and must be the same and behave the same. Thus anything which is different is either 1) no opinion, and left alone or 2) to be treated with concept/suspicion etc.

    Manga/Films/TV etc is just scratching the surface of what is an endemic problem. It is ostensibly not the fault of the Japanese citizen per se, but the Govt for indoctrinating their citizens into thinking and behaving this way towards “things that are different”. (Everyone is sold the line that this is “cultural”…well 400 years ago agreed, but not today. Culture is fluid it changes with time, it is not fixed in time and space.) The Govt needs this “social control” otherwise it looses its power over the citizens. Since the Govt knows best and the citizens can’t be trusted to be themselves or do as they please, they need to be told!

    Unless there is a major and significant “revolution” by its subjects/citizens against the Govt and its control and powerbase on all aspects of their lives (like a French style or US M.L.King style etc), Japan shall infinitesimally move forward, at such a pace it is not worth the wait or effort.

    — Back on topic, please.

  • One point about what Debito referred to as “the dearth of pro-assimilationist, non-stereotyping media regarding NJ in Japan” —

    I think there is quite a bit in the form of real non-Japanese people, such as athletes (particularly in sumo and soccer) and the ubiquitous “gaijin tarento.” They are all over the TV airwaves all the time, and have done a lot to wake up the country to the fact that assimilation is not only a possibility, but actually a reality for many people.

    Bobby Ologun is one of my favorite examples. Yes, he acts weird, often shamelessly so, but so do other people in his line of work. And yes, he does not look or sound Japanese at all, but he still shows up on camera alongside Japanese counterparts, communicates completely on their level, and lets the cameras into his own family’s very Japanese way of life. That’s worth a hundred fake TV dramas, in my opinion.

    Fiction writers are lazy, and tend to draw upon their mental stereotypes rather than challenge them. This is as true everywhere else as it is in Japan. Just think about how many non-token, non-white characters show up in fictional Hollywood films these days. It’s still a very small number despite a much greater proportion of positive real-world examples.

    The other aspect worth considering is that the Japanese population is more mobile than ever, and more and more Japanese people are leaving the country to travel on their own or even to live and work. As a result, more are being forced to seriously consider the individuality of people from all over the world, as well as their own individuality within the broader world. The problem is that these individuals have always been on the sidelines of the cumbersome government and corporate institutions that actually run things in Japan. However, I think there is a growing power shift away from those institutions, which can be seen concretely in things like the fall of the LDP and the rise of upstart companies like Softbank and Rakuten. This is probably the biggest reason why I am still “long Japan” despite an apparent majority opinion that the country is doomed.

  • Tony and Saori’s manga was a popular topic in my nihongo classes. The teacher used the situtions from the book as examples and we discussed them. That was generally “fun”, where Saori was always embarrased with her noisy gaijin husband who never understands how things work in Japan, and Tony was always ridiculous but he felt right.
    A couple of years ago there was a weekly TV program on J-TV called foreign wife or somesuch. There they introduced the international married couples where a husband was Japanese and a wife was foreign. Women were from various countries: US, Germany, Kazakhstan, Philipines, Israel, Nigeria, Russia and many others. After watching some programs I told my J-husband: “Many Japanese women, especially singles ones, feel very jealous watching this program. Because in all those families husbands look very relaxed and happy.” The question is why J-media could succeed with clowing a gaijin husband like Tony but they didn’t even try to do that with an image of a foreign wife.

  • Over time any saturation of us barbarians in media would help in taking the edge of what xenophobic tension exists in locals, as we become more a common property.

    As with advertisement and public relations.

    Even negatively slanted we’ll be recognizable and known (even if that “knowledge” is based on more stereotypical assumptions) …and pray tell; one day school kids won’t point and scream “a foreigner!”. At least we would have that.

    That said,
    one funny thing about Saori is when Tony’s parents greets her with a gong when they meet her for the first time. She gets very upset and throws a fit about the gong not being Japanese, and Japanese readers laugh at the mistakes the stupid foreigners make.
    But I wonder if either Saori or her readers ever looked at any of the foreign oriented establishments run by Japanese here in Japan. Don’t get me started on the food 😉

  • Russell Watson says:

    I’ve read through many interesting comments here and there isn’t much I can add. I’ve been living with (and later married to) a Japanese woman for over a decade now. Until they grew up and left home, this included her two daughters from her first failed marriage to a local man (Daarin wa Stepfather desu?) and that alone might make for an entertaining manga if anyone could be bothered. Before anyone asks, no, I am not volunteering to draw it. My own international marriage came close to failure more than once for reasons that are too diverse to list here. It often boiled down to my new family being unable to accept that I was not always going to react in a typically Japanese manner (and judging from what I have heard about the nasty,self-centered creep who preceeded me, it makes me wonder why they were so concerned that I be as similar to him as possible whenever cultural differences reared their heads) Only perserverence worked in the end.

    The problem I have with “Daarin wa” is precisely what many have observed. It is a stereotype that suggests that foreign men who marry Japanese women will either be wierdos or somehow sensitive and caring types, or a bit of both. I just feel sorry for Japanese women who will be expecting so much from a foreign man that simply is rooted in these fantasy images. I know of too many international couples who have failed for being unable to overcome the unrealistic preconceptions they had regarding what being with a person from another culture would entail.

  • Some people brought this up, but not enough:

    What is “assimilation?” Cultural entropy, a.k.a. a melting pot? And why have you presented its goodness as a given (in your title, no less)?

    One person mentioned “integration” as a superior goal, and I have to agree. Differences should be enjoyed.

    And perhaps that is what you meant by “assimilation,” but I honestly am not clear, even after reading quite of few of your articles, about what exactly you imagine an ideal, foreigner-“assimilated” Japan to look like.

    To the issue at hand: If most humans tend to create stereotypes based on media-presented characters, how is that the fault of the medium? Characters are not the same as characterizations, and the manga never claimed to be presenting a paradigm, did it? What if the manga presented Tony in a completely positive light? It would still include the exact same weaknesses, would it not?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>