Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column Feb 1, 2011: “Naturalized Japanese: foreigners no more”


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Hi Blog.  Now up for commentary before Debito.org vacations for February and March, here we have an article that was the #1-read article on The Japan Times Online all day yesterday.  Thanks everyone for reading!  Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, February 1, 2011


Naturalized Japanese: foreigners no more
Long-termers hit back after trailblazing Diet member Tsurunen utters the F-word

[NB: Not my title; too confrontational.  I was trying to be respectful in tone in this article to my dai-senpai.]
Courtesy http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110201ad.html

In Dec. 28’s Japan Times, Charles Lewis wrote a respectful Zeit Gist column asking three fellow wise men (sumo wrestler Konishiki, musicologist Peter Barakan and Diet member Marutei Tsurunen) about their successful lives as “foreigners” in Japan. Despite their combined century of experience here, the article pointed out how they are still addressed at times like outsiders fresh off the boat.

Their coping strategy? Essentially, accept that you are a foreigner in Japan and work with it.

That is fine advice for some. But not for us all. I talked to three other wise men, with Japanese citizenship and a combined tenure of more than 50 years here, who offered a significantly different take.

Takuma (who asked to be identified by only his first name), a university professor who was granted Japanese citizenship last year, felt “puzzled” by the attitudes — particularly Tsurunen’s quote, “We are foreigners and we can’t change the fact. . . . It’s no problem for me to be a foreigner . . . I always say I am a Finn-born Japanese.”

Takuma: “That’s a bit absurd. It’s as if he’s contradicting himself in the same breath. I would understand if he said something like, ‘I accept that I am often viewed as a foreigner, or that people mistakenly take me as a foreigner.’ It’s sad that he would refer to himself as a ‘foreigner’ — when in fact he isn’t.”

Kento Tanaka (a pseudonym), a corporate manager in Osaka, even felt a degree of indignation.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and lifestyle, and if you wish to see yourself as a foreigner in Japan no matter what, that’s fine. But it’s very strange for a naturalized Diet member to call himself a ‘foreigner,’ he said.

“Mr. Tsurunen in particular knows Japan’s Nationality Law, and has worked on committees dealing with it. It makes no sense for a legal representative of Japan to contradict the laws of the land like this. He made these statements in English, right?”

I confirmed with the author that yes, Mr. Tsurunen’s original quotes were rendered as is from the original English.

Kento: “Then I think he should consider clarifying or retracting. What’s the point of taking out Japanese citizenship if he undermines the status for us naturalized (citizens)? Like it or not, he represents us.”

Kaoru Miki, a technical writer in the video games industry, concurs.

“I agree Mr. Tsurunen should know better. I wouldn’t call myself a foreigner, no. Foreign-born, sure, or even ‘British’ when casually referring to my background. But not foreign. Ever. Just on general principle. Unfortunately, it’s an easy trap to fall into when the author of the JT article makes sweeping statements like: ‘It is still also a fact that no matter how long a foreigner lives in this country they will never shed their outsider status in the eyes of most native-born Japanese.’ “

“I often hear this kind of anecdotal hearsay bandied as fact, but it really doesn’t hold water. Exclusionary establishments exist, sure, but outside of guesting systems like the JET Programme or exchange students, it’s been my experience that people are for the most part accepted as is.

“Being asked for the 1011th time if you can use chopsticks may be tiresome, but it’s a far cry from being treated as an outsider, and to claim otherwise cheapens the experiences of those that face genuine discrimination,” argues Kaoru.

“Back to Mr. Tsurunen. The way I read his comments — and I’m assuming he meant ‘foreign-born,’ not ‘foreign’ — is that you don’t need to pretend to be something you’re not in order to fit in.

“Mr. Tsurunen’s being born and brought up outside of Japan is something that will never change (i.e. in that sense, always a foreigner), and he doesn’t feel he needs to take up kendo, learn to make sushi, and walk around the house in yukata while listening to enka all the time (i.e. pretend to be Japanese) just to be accepted here.

“It’s an extension of the ‘there is no single Japanese way’ concept that Debito has always been a proponent of. Given Mr. Tsurunen’s achievements, I’d be surprised if he hadn’t meant something along these lines,” Kaoru wrote in an e-mail.

That brings us to the point of this column: What might have been meant, and what comes across in the article, are the common misunderstandings that we long-termers should understand and avoid.

One issue to consider is what trail is being blazed, since Mr. Lewis offered his three wise men up as examples of “foreigners” who have “made it” in Japan.

Congratulations to them. Seriously. However, they are not really templates for others. Given the extraordinary hoops these gents had to jump through, they are the exceptions that prove the rule — that the barriers to success are too high for most non-Japanese to get over.

In fact, if they still feel that they are “foreigners” after a generation of life here and Japanese citizenship, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with the template.

The bigger issue, however, is the image these high-profile long-termers are projecting when they still refer to themselves publicly as “foreigners.” Not only are they avoiding the appropriate status (after a century here, they should be calling themselves “immigrants”), but it also has knock-on effects that go beyond them as individuals.

These attitudes imperil the ethnic identities of Japanese children of international marriages.

Our wise men and many international children are probably here for life. But there is a fundamental difference between them. Long-termer immigrants came over here by choice, and most arrived as fully formed adults — with the choice to keep or subsume their ethnic identity.

Children of international roots are not offered that same choice. Born and raised here, and often left to their own devices within the Japanese educational system, they have an ethnic identity thrust upon them at a more malleable age, often based upon their physical appearance. That’s why we have to be careful when using “foreigner” in a way that conflates nationality (a legal status) with ethnicity (a birth status).

It is accurate for Mr. Tsurunen to say, as he did, that he is a “Finn-born Japanese.” However, as Kento pointed out above, it is inaccurate to say that a naturalized person is still a “foreigner.”

Personal choice of identity, coping strategy, whatever — a high-profile immigrant should be careful never to condone, or miscommunicate that he condones, this conflation. Otherwise, we will have a lot of ethnic Japanese children who call Japan their native land, yet are labeled and treated as “foreigners” — because the famous adult “foreigners” do it.

Instead, we long-termers should be using our status to promote the freedom of choice of identity for international children — helping them learn about retaining their ethnic roots within Japan, and helping other people understand that it is possible to be “Japanese” yet retain non-Japanese ethnic roots.

Mr. Tsurunen declined to comment for this article. In responses to many e-mails about the original article, his office released the following comment in Japanese (my translation):

“I wish to thank everyone for their comments. As people have pointed out, my use of the English word ‘foreigner’ was inappropriate. I was trying to express that I am not a ‘Japan-born Japanese’ and used ‘foreigner,’ but strictly speaking I should have said ‘foreign-born person,’ or, as I said in the article, ‘Finn-born Japanese.’

“I regret using expressions that gave rise to misunderstandings, and would like to offer my apologies.”

Let’s give Takuma the last word on coping strategies for immigrants who are less famous, but also comfortable and successful in Japan:

“Personally, I don’t get angry — or even a little bit upset — when someone refers to me as a ‘foreigner.’ But I do calmly say, ‘Actually, I’m Japanese now,’ and explain if necessary.

“Regardless, I don’t think it’s necessary to fight or argue with everybody over this issue. Just calmly state your case, and leave it at that. There will always be close-minded people — and we have to admit there are a lot of Japanese who have a narrow view on the issue of nationality — but most Japanese are pretty accepting.

“The concept of ‘being accepted as a Japanese’ is very fuzzy and can be interpreted in many ways. I have found that most Japanese — much more so than my foreign colleagues, friends and family — are very accepting of my new nationality. Mostly, though, I just want to be accepted as me — an individual — not as a nationality.”

Words to the wise.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to community@japantimes.co.jp


22 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column Feb 1, 2011: “Naturalized Japanese: foreigners no more”

  • I feel that you and the people quoted in your article are unfairly attacking Tsurunen for a poor semantic choice of English words. He’s not a native English speaker and I’d wager that being a Finn-born Japanese he’s usually more concerned with semantics in either Japanese or Finnish. He’s already issues an apology and correction, linked on this site even, so why continue to go after him?

    Also, it’s not really clear what outcome you are hoping to achieve with this article. Do you prefer to “immigrant” to “foreigner”? Do you want to be addressed exclusively as “Japanese” and never “immigrant” or “foreigner” after you’ve naturalized?

    I think it’s important to remember that Japan doesn’t having a long history of voluntary immigration and there’s not a lot of social precedent for referring to someone who’s family doesn’t have a long history of being Japanese as anything other than 外国人 or less commonly 在日. The legal distinction between 日本人/国民 and 外国人 is clearly important and if a naturalized citizen was being grouped with non-citizens in some legal context I think that would be cause for concern. But in daily life, no matter how long you’ve been in the country or how long you’ve been naturalized I think you’re going to have trouble convincing people that you are anything other than a 外国人 for at least another generation or two.

    All that said, I look forward to a time when I’m more likely to be asked “When are you planning on naturalizing?” than “When are you going back to your country?”.

  • Quick question on naturalizing (hope this isn’t too off-topic): has anyone successfully naturalized despite a low-level criminal record (multiple traffic offenses)? Or been denied naturalization for the same?

    — One of my Zainichi friends was denied for a speeding (or was it parking? It’s been a while, but it was definitely a traffic offense), and that was umpteen years ago (probably around twenty). Yet I was granted citizenship ten years ago despite having so many points off on my license that I was mentei for a bit. See details on that here: http://debito.org/speeding.html

    The point is, I don’t think it matters anymore. Good. You’ll find out in the preliminary interview before formally applying anyway.

  • It is a funny equation really …

    Can someone who has spent 25 years in Japan, eating Japanese food, speaking Japanese, paying Japanese taxes, even being elected to Japanese government really be “less Japanese” than an 18 or 24 year old “Japanese” person? They have after all spent more time in, and given to, the country. That is more time than 1/3 of the population.

    However, in my experience, “Japaneseness” or “not Japaneseness” is a perameter which is equally set, discussion, defined for and used against Nihonjin, born and brought up here. It is not entirely fixed and is expanding.

    Personally, I look at Japanese friends and think they are “not Japanese” at all. They are just Midi-American Asians really. I often think, and will argue, that I am “more Japanese” than they are.

    Therefore, at the end of the day, it is just another club or village mentality to be melded into whatever tool, weapon or device the users wants it to be to push their agenda.

    I pretty much switch off the moment any friends start a sentence with, “We Japanese …” because 99 times out of 100, they have gone into robot hypnosis mode and are going to repeat something they have been told to think which is obvious wrong or faulted.

    So, personally, I don’t want to be “Japanese” (actually I prefer to refuse any nationalist sobriquet and if I could like a stateless life, I would). I want to be … More Japanese™.

    “No, I am not Japanese … I am More Japanese™! More Japanese than you, you Starbuck quaffing, McDonald chewing, Levi wearing, hip hop dancing, Mall shopping, knife and fork using, right wing voting, Midi-American Asian conformist”.

  • I’m not sure if I follow why prominent immigrants referring to themselves as foreigners necessarily endangers children of international marriages being called foreigners too. Tsurunen (despite a poor choice of words) was emphasizing the fact that where you were born and grew up will always be a part of your identity. By that logic, a child who has lived in Japan since birth is and always has been Japanese. Even if one parent is a foreigner or foreign born Japanese, that doesn’t change the child’s identity as Japanese.

    Granted, some Japanese would take Tsurunen’s comments to mean that skin color makes you always foreign despite all else (nationality, upbringing), but that would be a misinterpretation.

    — Yes, one that both the listener and speaker should try to avoid. My point is the speaker should be aware and help the listener not misinterpret. Mr Tsurunen, a public official speaking in public in his capacity as one, needed to be advised of that before the retraction/correction occurred weeks later.

  • “kendo, learn to make sushi, and walk around the house in yukata while listening to enka all the time (i.e. pretend to be Japanese)”

    …wow I do all the things in this…although none of my friends know I do…I really dont like when people say that this is pretending to be Japanese as if these activities are inherently meritless

    — You’re missing the point.

  • “..There will always be close-minded people — and we have to admit there are a lot of Japanese who have a narrow view on the issue of nationality — but most Japanese are pretty accepting…”

    I hear this ‘type’ of comment a lot too; I beg to differ. The “acceptance” is more of not wishing to cause disharmony. Far better to say..”..oh, that’s nice” ..and sound as if one is in agreement…than actually saying…”oh no you’re not, your eyes are round etc etc..”..with the obvious ensuing argument.

    Japanese are masters at avoiding conflict, no matter where it is from and even if the perception given is otherwise. It is part of their culture.

    So I would never be able to say, hand on heart, when I hear similar comments if the Japanese person saying it to me is genuine or just telling me what I want to hear, for the sake of harmony.

    — Then you’re going to drive yourself insane — seriously — by assuming that people are never telling you the truth. Don’t go down this road.

    I agree with Takuma that most people are pretty accepting. You’ll find out for yourself when you naturalize.

  • KamakuraDoug says:

    from Andrew: “I’m not sure if I follow why prominent immigrants referring to themselves as foreigners necessarily endangers children of international marriages being called foreigners too”

    It’s probably not a big thing by itself, but I think that it’s just one more little thing among many that helps keeps perceptions and stereotypes from changing.

    It seems to me that when most Japanese look at someone who doesn’t appear to be obviously Japanese in appearance (someone who has just one Japanese parent, for instance, or someone of non-Japanese parents who was born and raised in Japan), they automatically, subconsciously assume that 1) there’s no way this person speaks or reads Japanese, and 2) that of course they speak English. I don’t go to McDonald’s often, but it drives me crazy when, almost every time, the person behind the counter sees me coming and flips the menu over to the English side. (That drives my 14-year-old son, who is half, absolutely ballistic.) Is that a McD Japan corporate policy, by the way? Anyone know? But it’s certainly not limited to McDonald’s.

    I’m sure that the McD person thinks that they are being extremely considerate by showing me a menu in what they assume is my native language, but I think that it is very near-sighted and rude. I could understand a 70-year old doing that, and having inflexible stereotypes about people, but if younger people have the same way of thinking about non-Japanese, then I think that we can pretty much give up on attitudes changing in our lifetimes.

    I will never forget an incident 15+ years ago. I had gone to Osaka, and was in a small shop in Shinsaibashi. The person at the counter didn’t look particularly “Japanese” to me, but her Japanese was great. I commented on it (again, assuming that she wasn’t native), and she responded, “Well, I was born here.” Man, I have never been so embarrassed in my life, especially when I realized that she has probably had that said to her SO many times throughout her life. (And probably gets it dozens of times a day working in a busy shop.) I can’t help but assume that most Japanese wouldn’t have had a similar epiphany.

    I have met many Japanese who have lived and worked overseas, becoming fluent in another language, who came back to Japan and picked up where they left off, being surprised when non-Japanese speak/read Japanese. You’d think that their own experience would have changed them.

    Yes, I realize that this bothers me more than it probably should…

  • You bring up a good idea, Steve. Sure, we’ve all been talking about general foreign rights, but it sure would be interesting to see a article focusing on what foreign women in particular have to face(which if I recall has been featured at least once or twice here on Debito.org). Do foreign moms have any issues if their child looks more like their japanese father? What issues arise for foreign women in the business world? What is the most common problem facing foreign women in Japan? Maybe one of us (not necessarily debito) could conduct a survey or a interview? I’m curious to see what would be said.

  • @ Maria
    There was no intent to imply that the activities themselves were meaningless (heck, I do some of them too…), just that them and other traditional or “expected” pursuits are not a requirement of being accepted and fitting in at a societal level. I am reminded of my home visit when I was applying for citizenship though. I had no idea what they were looking for, so I prepared myself to stock the fridge up with natto and other typical Japanese foods, a copy of a Japanese newspaper on the table, Japanese TV on in the background, and generally to hide any Western influence from the house. I thought better of it come morning, did none of those things and was actually eating a sandwich and tomato soup when the guy turned up. Needless to say there wasn’t a problem. Any other day my fridge may have been stocked with natto of course. The point was I didn’t need to feign “Japaneseness” by doing things or associating myself with typically Japanesey things to impress anyone. Just me as is was sufficient.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Andrew, children of international marriages in Japan often experience discrimination simply because they do not match the image of what people are ‘supposed’ to be: ethnically Japanese. In all my years teaching these kids in Japan, I never met one who didn’t claim to have suffered bullying in one form or another. That’s 100% in my experience. These longtermers perpetuate the otherness that feed bullying. Simple. It’s absolutely tragic for those who are on the receiving end of bullying in their formative years.

  • No question children of international marriages suffer discrimination based on their appearance. I just don’t feel that any immigrant should keep their foreign background covered up if they feel that’s an important part of their identity, despite being Japanese. It’s a personal thing that will differ between immigrants- how much their foreign upbringing impacts who they are now. Some may find it irrelevant, others won’t. I don’t think they should have to lie about themselves just so some people (who probably already discriminate based on physical appearance) don’t misinterpret. I think people have a right to define themselves as they wish (including how to spell their name).

    — What are you smoking? Nobody has said “immigrants should keep their foreign background covered up” or that “they should have to lie about themselves”. Quite the opposite. Are you reading the same article we are?

  • Okay, “covered up” and “lie” are over the top, I apologize. But it seems like you’re telling people how they should define themselves in public. If an immigrant feels that their foreign background is a significant part of their identity, isn’t it really up to them to decide how to define and present themselves, even if it’s not helpful to others?

    — Lay off the weed and learn how to read.

  • Giant Panda says:

    So what is it going to take to expand the concept of “Japaneseness”? We all know that anyone who falls outside this arbitratily ethnically and racially defined category is going to suffer, to some degree, exclusion from the rest of society. Although the proportion of mixed race children and foreign born Japanese citizens is steadily growing, I think it’s going to take way too long if we sit around and wait for the idea to take root in people’s brains that these people are Japanese too. Does anyone have some positive ideas about how to stretch this inflexible concept of “Japaneseness”?

    My first proposal would be a very quiet, under the radar public relations campaign, which would see at least one person who does not fit the accepted mold of Japaneseness in every Japanese drama or TV show that is accepted without question by the cast and surrounding persons as “Japanese” (with no song and dance made about their foreign blood or whatever – it simply is never mentioned). This should be especially encouraged in children’s programming. Much like how “Sesame Street” in the U.S. has always had latino, black and asian cast members, who are all implicitly accepted as “American”.

  • I’ve reread the article a few times, as well as the original article “Mind the gap, get over it: Japan hands,” and I hope I can better articulate my concerns.

    Although one contributor to the article says “..if you wish to see yourself as a foreigner in Japan no matter what, that’s fine.” Debito goes on explain the danger of it:

    “The bigger issue, however, is the image these high-profile long-termers are projecting when they still refer to themselves publicly as “foreigners.” Not only are they avoiding the appropriate status (after a century here, they should be calling themselves “immigrants”), but it also has knock-on effects that go beyond them as individuals.

    These attitudes imperil the ethnic identities of Japanese children of international marriages.”

    Kento Tanaka felt it was ultimately okay for a naturalized Japanese to call himself a foreigner, but Debito provides a reason to disagree. For the sake of the Japanese public’s perception of Japanese children of international marriages, immigrants should not refer to themselves as foreigners.

    Though Debito’s article focuses on Tsurunen, whose misstatements were likely due to his non-native English proficiency, he was not the only Japanese to refer to himself as a foreigner in the original article. Mr. Konishiki says, “One thing about us foreigners is we can become friends overnight…” Us foreigners. Legally, this is a false statement. He is legally Japanese. However, in casual usage “foreigner” is not just a legal status. It is possible that while Konishiki finds Japanese citizenship to be a worthwhile, he nonetheless feels it is ultimately a legal construct which does not alter his basic identity as a foreigner. Many naturalized Japanese citizens feel citizenship is more meaningful than that, but ultimately isn’t it the individual’s right to define themselves?

    Regardless, it is important to consider that the “three wise men” of the original article were not addressing the Japanese public. They were talking to foreigners in Japan in an English newspaper. Aware that both foreigners and naturalized Japanese can face discrimination based on appearance, it is reasonable to think they would not refer to themselves as foreigners in front of a Japanese audience. The Japan Times English newspaper and readership provide an understanding audience.

    This is the long form of my previous posts. I’m sorry I didn’t have the time to fully explain myself, and I hope bringing out specific passages from the articles will remove any question that I didn’t read them properly. Unfortunately I was accused of drug use and stupidity anyway. I remember hearing a podcast of yours where you reminded people to remember that despite the internet, people such as yourself are real people with real feelings. Unfortunately you seemed to forget that today, and I can’t really consider myself, though often critical, a supporter anymore. A little more civility when disagreeing wouldn’t hurt.

    — Yes. But if you hadn’t misconstrued what people had written (twice), even put words in their mouth (twice), you wouldn’t have provoked that kind of reaction — a good scolding. Grow up and develop a thicker skin. It can be a harsh world out there, especially on the internet, and if you can’t take this kind of ribbing, ultimately you’re going to find you can’t support many people at all.

    Now that you’ve bothered to elaborate by actually quoting original text without your misconstuctions, a few answers:

    1) If we’re going to excuse Tsurunen’s statements by claiming a lack of proficiency in English, then we’ll have to do the same if he gaffes in Japanese, too. Therefore the only language we can trust from him is Finnish. I don’t buy that. He spoke in, and was willing to be quoted on the record and in his official capacity in, English. If he wasn’t comfortable with that, he shouldn’t have done it. But he did, and he took responsibility by issuing a clarification and an amendment. After some weeks of prodding from the audience, however. It seems it wasn’t something that dawned on him until then.

    2) If we’re going to excuse the statements by saying the participants were “talking to foreigners in an English newspaper”, that’s just silly. We get this plenty of times from people talking in Japanese and claiming, when they gaffe, that it was “for a domestic audience”, as if that’s an excuse. It’s not. (And plenty of Japanese read the Japan Times too. Given the pervasiveness of subscriptions to Japanese and GOJ agencies, quite possibly more non-natives than native English speakers do. A national newspaper is hardly a gated community forum anyway.)

    A statement is a statement. If there was a mistranslation, that’s one thing. But there wasn’t. Tsurunen and company said they considered themselves to be foreign, two of them despite naturalization. For two of them that’s factually incorrect.

    3) Regarding that, Barakan (who is a foreigner) and Konishiki (who is not) are free to say that they consider themselves to be foreigners in Japan. They are free to decide their identities. Tsurunen, however, is in a special position as an elected representative beholden to the public, and what he says about things will always come under scrutiny (especially in a public forum speaking in an official capacity) — which is why his statements became the focus of the article. We naturalized people who are being represented by this thought this was worthy of critique. So let us critique.

    4) As for your opinions about self-definition — I offered my opinions (as is my job as a columnist) about better ways for long-termers to define themselves — i.e., as an immigrant at least, as a citizen if applicable. It was a suggestion. I am not the voice of Solomon or Stalin, so people are perfectly free to choose how they want to define their own identity, of course. As I have always said. But I chose to suggest an alternative path here due to the possible ramifications of their statements, and hope that people in their position would be convinced. Sorry you’re not. But clearly (given how ignorant you portray yourself to be) you’re not in our position yet as a long-termer.

    Finally, if you are trying to wrap your head around this issue, feel free to elaborate your opinions. But don’t misquote others. Even after being cautioned not to. It makes one doubt your sincerity at that point. If my cautioning you more than once then scolding you for your carelessness means that you’re going to sob and say, “I’m not going to support you anymore, boo hoo”, oh well. I want to address people who are a bit more mature anyway. Grow up a bit and comment again someday.

  • I’d like to answer Andrew’s (February 4th, 2011 at 12:48 pm) ridiculous comment with a quotation from a journal article:

    Strevens (1980/82, p. 71) provides an example of a speech from a Singapore’s Representative to the United Nations: “when one is abroad, in a bus or a train or aeroplane and when one overhears someone speaking, one can immediately say this is someone from Malaysia or Singapore. And I should hope that when I’m speaking abroad my countrymen will have no problem recognizing that I am a Singaporean.” This example illustrates the reason why many people prefer keeping their accent; they want to be recognized as having their own nationality.*

    Note, he didn’t say he wanted to be recognised as a foreigner, but as a Singaporean. What Andrew doesn’t take into account is that there is no such thing as a “foreign identity”. It’s a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. Andrew speaks as though personal choice is first and foremost when it comes to identity. But he’s effectively removing all personal choice, because he doesn’t realise that to be referred to as a “foreigner” is to be stripped of one’s identity, have the name of one’s home country ignored, and to be generalised into an unwelcome “other”.

    *From STREVENS, Peter. Teaching English as an International Language: from Practise to Principle. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980/82 (cited by Liana Bairros de SOUZA in COMMUNICATION ACCOMMODATION THEORY (CAT) AND THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE)

  • @Giant Panda, Oh I just had that same idea walking into work today. Why doesn’t someone do a public service announcement-esque cm with like people doing everyday stuff and then there will be “foreign looking” people doing the same stuff and then they could pause from what they are doing and then look at the camera and say “I am Japanese” (in Japanese I mean)…like man walking to work, woman picking up her kids, person at the store, sumo wrestler, Wentz Eiji (he said he got laughed out of NOVA before when he tried to learn English there T_T), “Nihonjin desu”…it should include people who might otherwise go unnoticed too like former zainichi kankokujin and naturalized nikkei persons…all naturalized persons

    …then it could have a writing over the screen or voice over like “tonari no “gaikokujin” jitu ha nippon/hon jin”

    or like everyone says together “ware ware ha nihon”

  • I suppose that to most Japanese people, “nationality” isnt just what country you have citizenship in. It seems to be understood to be all three of nationality ethnicity and citizenship. I think the term “foreigner” is painted with the same brush as “Japanese”, which in turn causes some problems for naturalized Japanese. I guess it’s the mission of forward thinkers to stop the use of those three words interchangeably.

    Here in Canada it seems we are the “nega-Japan”. Nationality, ethnicity and citizenship are extremely exclusive are one another. Its very common to have someone (like a girl I dated once) of Trinidadian nationality, Indian ethnicity, and Canadian citizenship. In the big cities here it’s almost un-cool to call yourself “Canadian”.

    I get the feeling it will be a long time before the same separation can be seen, let alone accepted in Japan.

  • Dave

    I am pretty sure nationality and citizenship are the same thing. Are you sure you aren’t mixing up just the two with ethnicity?

    Also, I think it is a different discussion for Japan as the concepts themselves, although they can be translated, do not completely match up.

    You can be part of the same ethnicity as someone even if you do not speak the language, but the word 民族 is something that includes language as one of its conditions. It is a common belief in Japan that there is actually DNA that relates to language. People here actually believe that if you have Japanese blood, your are at a better advantage when learning Japanese as a second language.


    No way that is going to happen in our lifetime.
    My guess is that if anything is going to change, it will be in semantics. I think naturalized people have a better chance at being called 日本の人 than 日本人 anytime in the near future. I have had people ask me before if I was 日本の方 but very rarely if I was 日本人 as appearance wise I am obviously not. I think a lot of people are ready to accept us as of the same country, just not of the same ethnicity/history etc. As new history is created that may change.

  • @unknown, the point is that things can change very quickly in Japan if people feel that the status quo has changed. That’s the great thing about a society which places great emphasis on “harmony”. If you can convince them that everyone else in society thinks something, they will adjust their thinking (or at least the outward manfestations of such thoughts) to match. Since the concept of “Japaneseness” is evolving so slowly, Maria and I were tossing around some ideas for how to accelerate this change, so we don’t have to wait a lifetime. Instead of saying “no way that is going to happen”, how about imagining ways in which it COULD happen?

    As I’ve got two small kids I watch a lot of children’s TV, and I’ve been pleased to note that NHK every so often includes foreigners and their “haafu” (abhor that word!) children in the mix, speaking Japanese and doing the same things as Japanese parents and kids. *Almost* makes me want to pay the subscription fee 😉

  • jonholmes says:

    Here’s an article or study from way back which really sums this up quite well:
    “This is not to say that there are no foreigners in Japan that have achieved success and status within the society, as there are. These foreigners are the exception, however, and not the rule. Those foreigners who have achieved success and status in Japan contribute to immersed and non-immersed foreigners belief that if they adhere to the rules of the “unspoken contract”, they [foreigners] will also achieve success and status within the Japanese society as well as being accepted as a full member of the society. Being accepted as a member of the Japanese society would reward the foreigner tremendously as it would allow the foreigner to rid him/herself of the stigma of being a foreigner.

    Members of the host population [Japanese], however, see these successful immersed foreigners as anomalies of the foreign population and therefore the success of these foreigners does little to assist in the de-stigmatization of being a foreigner in Japan. In contrast, the Japanese often use these foreigners [by having them as guests on T.V] to reinforce the stereotypes [and therefore the stigma] of foreigners that members of the host population [Japanese] have. ”


  • I’d call that more an article than a study. The author calls people with views different from his own names, dressed up in social science jargon, such as “gaijin denial”, and writes in a conclusory tone to justify his view that no matter how hard you work you can never be accepted in Japan. I happen to disagree, but I don’t conduct “studies” with research subjects including my own children, adopt a social sciencey tone that implies I am unbiased, and call people with a differing view “gaijin giver-upper” or something of that nature. We all have our own perspectives and experiences, but this method of presentation is not constructive and attempts to discourage young foreigners from actually trying to be a part of Japan. This individual is part of the identity police, labeling those foreigners in Japan working to improve society as hopeless dreamers who just haven’t =yet= accepted the harsh reality that he, in his great wisdom, has discovered.


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