Asahi Tensei Jingo (Vox Populi) Mar 20 offers ponderous column with gratuitous alienation of NJ


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Hi Blog. Check out this Asahi Shinbun editorial (Japanese, then English), which offers an assessment of the victimization of Japan by 3/11, and insinuates that NJ in Japan are deserting us in our time of need:


2011年3月20日(日)朝日新聞 天声人語

Official English translation:

VOX POPULI: Japanese survivors have nowhere to flee to
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

This past weekend, there were fewer foreigners than usual to be seen in Tokyo’s typically busy Ginza and Omotesando districts. Not just tourists from abroad scrambled to leave Japan, but also business travelers, students and reportedly even diplomats.

While I am deeply grateful to people around the world for their moral and material support, I understand too well that rebuilding our country is ultimately the task of none but the Japanese.

We haven’t yet got a total picture of the extent of damage wrought by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Elderly people continue to die at evacuation centers and hospitals. At the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, four reactors are taking turns in acting up.

The megaquake occurred 10 days ago, but it is still tormenting its victims, having unleashed twin monsters of a gigantic tsunami and a nuclear crisis.

On March 11, normal life fell apart in many ways, big and small. Rolling power outages have become routine in the Kanto region, where supermarket shelves are noticeably bare. Even in the Kansai region, which suffered no damage, people are reportedly hoarding gasoline and batteries. All over Japan, people are scared.

In towns that have been reduced to rubble, survivors mourn their lost loved ones, hanging on to what they remember of them before the muddy tsunami waves claimed them.

“You want to cry, but you can’t,” said a head nurse at a hospital. A survivor herself, she is risking her own life to save others.

Time is irreversible, and I feel the pain of these people. I will stand by them in spirit as they face further hardship in the days to come.

One week after the earthquake and tsunami, the Tokyo Sky Tree, now under construction in the capital’s Sumida Ward, reached its full height of 634 meters. When it surpassed Tokyo Tower in height a year ago, I noted in this column, “From that height, I would like to see Japan outgrow its introverted mentality and start moving again.”

The starting line will have to be moved back considerably. But just as people experience a sudden surge of superhuman power when their backs are against the wall, the deeper our country is steeped in crisis, the greater our ability will be to rebound.

Let us all believe that, and let us stand by our fellow citizens who survived the catastrophe. We have nowhere to go back to, except this country of ours, which we must rebuild again out of the rubble.

–The Asahi Shimbun, March 20, 2011.  ENDS


COMMENT:  Now, some may excuse this as a strained column created by a tired journalist during a time of great national stress.  But my point is that it’s interesting what stress brings out in influential public forums — in this case, a knee-jerk belief that NJ in particular (with the assumption that Japanese are constrained from fleeing themselves) are fleeing, not helping, and have no investment in this society.  How insulting, especially in light of how many NJ are also pitching in.  Also, the clear and nasty assertion that it’s only the Japanese who can rebuild Japan (made also by PM Kan in his speeches) seems not only callously ethnocentric, but also in error in light all the assistance Japan has been gratefully accepting from the world.

Funny isn’t it?  We want NJ to come here, pay taxes, live under a legal regime that does not guarantee equal protection for extranationals under the law or protect against racial discrimination and hate speech, have them pick our strawberries and shovel our pig sties, and keep our strained labor markets cheap (while insinuating that they’re only here to profit off our rich society).  Yet as soon as disaster strikes — be it a financial crisis or a devastating earthquake — NJ are suspected as poisoners of the well (1923) or involved in criminal gangs (I’ll get to that in a later blog post), even offered tax monies for plane tickets home. Or, now in this case, decried as apparent deserters when they do leave.  Can’t win, can we?  Arudou Debito

35 comments on “Asahi Tensei Jingo (Vox Populi) Mar 20 offers ponderous column with gratuitous alienation of NJ

  • Peter Prem says:

    Hi Debito,
    Hope all is well w you, greetings from Sunny Sweden.

    On this blog post, sorry to say it’s actually quite true that vast numbers of NJ fled. Some left so early (shortly after the quake) I was rather surprised, also with myself on the other hand sitting in Sweden and feeling a strong urge to “be there” and help. 11 years in Japan, most of my adult life, clearly left a lasting bond.

    So while I agree w the assertion not everyone left asap, huge numbers did, easily the majority among the people I know. I also know a guy (NJ) who was flying back to Japan from Singapore the Sunday after the quake, and he was one of SIX passengers on the A380 on the inbound flight (he had all of business to himself!) and the crew said the outbound was completely sold out… anecdotal I know.

    Cheers, p

  • Haneda Airport was full of families sending their wives and children out of Tokyo the Tuesday following the quake (I went through the airport on business), I’m assuming back to their home region. Were these people also abandoning Tokyo in its hour of need?

    — Were these Japanese or NJ?

  • Even if some of the media try to criticize NJ for fleeing, many surviviors of the earthquake and tsunami will know and appreciate all the help they received from non-Japanese.

  • The writer may not agree, but I feel no obligation to Japanese society other than to not break the law and to pay tax.

    I applaud the NJ that are trying to help out up north. Those that do it though, because ‘this will make the Japanese view us in a better light’, are sorely mistaken. Nothing we do will make the natives accept us, and the natives will move the goalposts as they see fit.

  • Maybe it’s just a question of sensitivity, but I don’t think the writer was generalizing about all foreigners or being nasty at all. In fact, there’s a list of who he/she is talking about – tourists, business travelers, students, and diplomats. To me the writer’s maybe a little too generous given how many long or medium-term residents seem to have left in the panic. It’s a simple fact that lots and lots of foreigners did flee for a number of reasons. That is just inescapable.

    Except for some rumors about transient Filipino sailors forming a gang, I have seen little distorted or unwarranted coverage of foreign residents in the wake of the disaster. Quite the contrary, some who have volunteered to help have received praise in the media partly because they stand out more than the many more Japanese who are working on reconstruction. The only way foreigners “can’t win” is if you are willing to conflate criticism of flyjin with a litany of unrelated perceived or real injustices, even if they happened almost a century ago.

    — I’ve seen some distortion and rumormongering online and in the media. I have that up here.

    Meanwhile, we’ve heard plenty about how many NJ have departed. Even some statistics. But I haven’t seen much on how many Japanese have “fled” for comparison’s sake. Especially not in this column. Japanese apparently don’t flee.

    Anyway, it’s a most intemperate column. NJ needn’t have been mentioned at all.

  • here is one i found [on Japan’s donations to the Christchurch Earthquake — sorry John, I edited your unsubstantiated post before finding this. Please rewrite and repost as you please.]
    not the whole list, but clearly shows Japan not even registered in the top 15 list of contributers. Ireland the 15th at $1.2m.

  • I do not want the media criticizing tourists or other short-termers for leaving Japan…however, if the person is a permanent resident or a naturalized Japanese then I think that at least a little of criticism is “OK”. Only because I feel that if you are going to adopt Japan as your country, you should stick to it and help improve the country you have chosen. Your obligations lie within improving upon your adopted country. I would ask the same thing for naturalized citizens near New Orleans after Katrina hit. Also it would increase the good image of foreigners living in Japan (I respectfully disagree with Johnny). Of course, my statement is only my personal opinion.

  • The 9/11 anti-Muslim backlash in a less violent form. I’d say it was inevitable. People bring out the worst when they are tested.

  • I don’t really get the point of all the attention to “flyjin.” If this had happened in another country, let’s say Australia, and the Japanese embassy were urging Japanese residents of Sydney to return home, I’m pretty sure they would leave. And I doubt any Aussies would criticize them for it. Would it even be considered newsworthy outside of Japan? Seriously, what is the point? It seems like its just another nit-picky reason to say, “Japanese are better than foreigners.” Meanwhile, while the author is strolling around Ginza and Omotesando counting foreigners, many of them are definitely up north pitching in (hmm, maybe that’s why not many are in Ginza). Not one day passes that I don’t see Twitter messages from foreigners helping out that warm my heart. One example I’d like to bring to light is Ry Beville, publisher of Japan Beer Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JapanBeerTimes. I literally got tears in my eyes when I saw this Twitpic he submitted a couple weeks back I encourage you to browse through his Twitpics and tweets. He is definitely making a difference. And I realize that US Military don’t really count as foreigners living in Japan but Operation Tomodachi is truly amazing and uplifting. If you haven’t browsed through their Flickr set, please do Finally, if you have 98 blue marbles and 2 red ones, you are going to notice it more quickly and easily when the two red ones are missing. It’s not that Japanese have not fled Tokyo, it’s just that people haven’t noticed.

  • Johnny your spot on, I couldnt of said it better. Many of the Japanese people dont speak/understand English and dont watch CNN. Many are unaware of what the foriengn community is doing for them and contributing. Its the same as 9-11, give it a few months, things will be back to “normal” with Ishihara as gov and perhaps even more gaijin bashing once every thing gets settled.

  • I think what you say is basically correct.

    The author is is stressed, and so he’s falling back on his sentiments, his inclinations that feel most natural. He probably means well — and as you are Japanese — he at least doesn’t necessarily exclude you, right? (Of course, as he didn’t see you in Ginza, perhaps he does …)

    But you are correct. There are many NJ who stayed. I’d guess this is related to an extent to how long they’ve been in Japan, but I did see a nice article via Kyodo news about some English teachers in Tohoku, who hadn’t been here long at all, but were staying to provide moral support. So the author is totally ignoring their contribution — how callous.

    Also, how about all the people who the author would have to recognize as Japanese who fled to Nagoya and Osaka? Hotels were filled to capacity … and a Japan Times article explained they were worried about a shortage of doctors in Osaka because of the huge influx of pregnant women? Are these people traitors to Tokyo?

    In my opinion, sentiments like this stem from a kind of collectivist philosophy that was to a certain extent imposed on Japan during the Meiji era. One suspects they might even have more to do with G.W. Hegel than traditional Japanese institutions. You *must* contribute because you are Japanese. You have no choice. Although it’s rampant, his type of collectivism doesn’t really help anyone. It’s almost as if TEPCO and the relevant bureaucrats and politicians can be forgiven, after all, perhaps Japan sinned collectively?

    Each person’s decision to stay or go should be treated as an individual decision and praised or criticized accordingly.

    — Matt D.

  • Debito

    My post was…albeit mixed up now…pointing out that Japanese in NZ fled, rather quickly too.

    And then looking further afield, at help and rebuilding. Rebuilding being one of the thrusts of the article you posted. The big earthquake/tsunami in Indonesia in 2005, where some 225,000 people died (Just in Indo) and whole parts of the country wiped out…who helped them? Well….many people did….what about Japanese,…er..nope!

    A nation that has suffered itself from earthquake and tsunami’s one would image being more empathetic than others…er..nope!

    At that time Japan the 2nd largest economy in the world, does not even register in the top 15 donations…in fact it way way down the lis (the one i couldn’t find). Ireland, at no.15 gave $1.2m…how much did Japan give to help and rebuild….next to nowt. If it doesnt affect the Japanese, they don’t want to know about it.

    So, they talk of rebuilding and pointing fingers at those leaving..where is their offer of assistance to rebuild Indonesia? Look at the list…(posted above, but cant find orginal). Japan doesnt help anyone…so why does it expect others to help it? …they forget that one should never throw stones in glass houses! Rebuilding..helping…my arse!

  • I, like Peter from Sweden, felt an urge to go back to Japan to help. But, I also have anecdotal evidence of other stories. The British press were reporting, and showing photos, of thousands of Japanese (mostly mothers and children) fleeing west to Kansai and Hiroshima because of fears over Fukushima’s Daiichi power plant.

    A Hungarian friend of mine has spent the year studying in Tokyo, but lives in Saitama. Her Japanese teachers and programme administrators laughed at her when she was worried about nuclear fallout and when she used her vacation time to go to Kyoto. But, when she said she would use the Spring Break as a chance to go home to Hungary they told her not to come back.

    On the other hand a former JET colleague in Osaka, who is now part of National AJET, gathered supplies in the city from other JETs and headed up to Tohoku to help out. I’m sure as Mike and Johnny say, no one but us will know what he’s done for Japan.

  • Ahh, the irony: We appreciate you gaijin around the world, but we Japanese will figure out a way to “outgrow our introverted mentality,” thank you.

  • Debito – “J” wives and kids – never seen so many children at an airport, hence heading back “home” (sorry, forgetting Haneda is now an international airport)

  • Debito: Good to have you back etc. etc. but as an Englishman hoping to gain Japanese citizenship this year I have a request: Please don’t use “we” when you’re talking about foreigners. It creates the impression that even you don’t regard your Japanese citizendhip as “real”, and fuels the flames of the racists out there who see “Japaneseness” aa something you’re born into, rather than as a legal status.

    — I’m not. Good luck on your citizenship!

  • Operation Tomodachi is commendable, although I see little mention of it in the J media. What I found amazing was the mass exodus of US dependants and DOD civilians. I thought they were here for the “mission” When shit hit the fan, they hit the road. Seems to me there needs to be some reorganization of US forces Japan. More SAR teams, joint training with the JSDF, readiness and support capability. Instead we have bases full of entertainment facilities, housing and commissarys. It begs the question, what is all that here for? The Marines are joining up with the J gov I see, but they have always been the grunts during any crisis with most serviing unaccompanied tours. I think the Japanese and NJ tax payer deserves to know what they are paying for.

    — Back on point please.

  • Frederick says:

    #2 – Yamato: I live in Hawaii, and I am currently tending to several families of rich Japanese people fleeing the disaster/radiation/inconvenience to Tokyo. No one is writing disparaging articles about these people.

    #3 – Padraig: Most people outside of the affected areas will never personally go to help the survivors, so all they have to base their opinions on is what they read…Once they read these “foreigners are deserting us” articles, they become true. Not good.

    #4 – Johnny: True.

    Debito: Any data on Japanese fleeing after the earthquake in New Zealand? How about after the tsunami in Indonesia several years ago?

  • @ John K

    “At that time Japan the 2nd largest economy in the world, does not even register in the top 15 donations…in fact it way way down the lis (the one i couldn’t find). Ireland, at no.15 gave $1.2m…how much did Japan give to help and rebuild….next to nowt.”

    Actually, CNN says that Japan was the country that donated the largest amount of money ($500 million) to the countries that suffered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I don’t know how much of that sum was donated to each country, but still Japan was the single largest donor.

    Also, according to the OECD, Japan is one of the world’s major aid donors.,3746,en_2649_34447_47515235_1_1_1_1,00.html

    “In 2010, the largest donors by volume were the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan.”
    “The largest increases in real terms in ODA* between 2009 and 2010 were recorded by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Japan, Korea, Portugal and the United Kingdom.”
    “ODA by Japan was USD 11.0 billion, representing an increase in real terms of +11.8% over 2009. Japan’s ODA as a share of GNI rose from 0.18% in 2009 to 0.20% in 2010. The increase was mainly due to larger bilateral grants to LDCs** as well as a major contribution to the World Bank.”

    *ODA: official development assistance
    **LDCs: least developed countries

  • #4 Johnny and #11 Mike

    I disagree completely. I went to Sendai and Ishinomaki. There was a very large presence of foreigners in Ishinomaki giving out food and supplies. When I was handing out food and various supplied the gratitude was overwhelming. Several people had tears in their eyes and could not believe people, especially foreigners were travelling great distances to provide aid.

    The people that matter most in this situation, those impacted by the quake and tsunami, notice and appreciate what the foreign community in Japan are doing and they will not forget it.

    Regarding the article, it is obvious the author has not himself been into the stricken zones or it would have been very obvious to him that there are as many or more non Japanese helping than have fled Japan.

  • I didn’t get the sense that the author was bashing NJ for leaving. The author implies they left because Japan ultimately isn’t their home, and they have a home country they can go back too. For those who left, I’m sure this is just why many of them left. They may love working and living in Japan, but when it really comes down to it their country and family back home is what really matters in their lives. Nothing wrong with that, right? I understand completely and I think they’re making the right decision for themselves and their families if they feel that way. The author’s point is simply that in contrast to foreigners, Japan is where home and family is for Japanese, no matter what happens. I think this is a statement of fact, so I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    I also rather like the suggestion that Japanese need to come together to save themselves. I think it’s a really positive kind of nationalism (as opposed to the kind forced into textbooks). It just so happens that I’ll be with them too, but they can’t help themselves if they aren’t confident in their own strength.

  • I know these are sensitive times but I think the Unique Japan” factor has allot to do with how the situation is being dealt with and reported. I saw a mention of beigun and JSDF collaboration when looking for bodies, but little mention of the international communities efforts and contribution to the Fukushima crisis. Just a few days ago TEPCO was looking pretty desparate and was throwing in the towel but cheered up once France got involved and suddenly we had a nitrogen solution.

  • In times of stress and disaster, it is quite normal to try to flee to the security and safety of one’s old hometown (if it is in a safer place). In the case of native born Japanese, the furosato is within Japan. For others, perhaps, further away. No real surprise there. I7M not going anywhere, but the reactions of many foreigners and many Japanese is exactly the same, though the destination is different. It isn’t as much about fleeing Japan as it is about going home.

  • Valentina
    If you look at your link its dated jan 3 2005…if you look at the link i posted, i give real actual values of donations given, and is dated sept 30 2009. Japan is not on the list, period. Like so many pledges and nice well rounded words these “words of support” must be followed up.

  • >”The 9/11 anti-Muslim backlash in a less violent form.”

    Although agenda-driven groups like CAIR have claimed otherwise, the truth is that there was no violent anti-Muslim backlash in America after 9/11:

    “FBI hate-crime statistics for the years 2000 to 2008 showed that not only were anti-Muslim bias crimes rare but that they were also far less numerous throughout this supposed period of a backlash than anti-Semitic bias crimes.

  • Chris Dunn says:

    A lovely stroll around Ginza and Omotesando. Nice work if you can get it. Good on everyone being positive and lending a hand. No shame for non Japanese to want to return to “their hometown” either.

  • The American says:

    @John K:

    I think they’re still in the top 5 world-wide as of 2009/2010. That’s total dollars, not as a percentage of GDP, mind you.

    They are not even a member of that donor fund you posted a link to, so how could they even be on the list in the first place? Also, this is rather speculative, but I’d imagine there was some sort of grassroots donation campaign going on in Japan. In addition to stuff like this:


    — Let’s draw this tangent to this blog post to a close soon.

  • @ John K #25
    I made a quick calculation using the figures I found and the ones you provided: if what CNN reported is true, as of January 3, 2005 Japan and the USA alone donated $850 million (Japan $500 million, USA $350 million) to all the tsunami-hit countries, while all the countries listed in your link donated, as of September 30, 2009, $685 million. Much less in a much longer time, from a much larger number of donors. I thought it was quite strange, so I had a quick look at the site you linked and found that
    1- it’s a donor fund for the region of Aceh and the island of Nias (Indonesia) only; all the other afflicted areas are not considered
    2- Japan is not a member of that fund – most countries in the world are not
    I think that you took that chart you linked out of context.

  • Valentine
    I think you’re getting a bit confused.

    1)The CNN link is more than 6 years old, and it provides “pledges”, that is to say who someone shall offer, not what they have actually provided. Anyone can “offer” anything..but to actually provide it, is another matter.

    Just to quote “..his nation would offer $500 million…” It was an offer of $500m, not a an actual donation.

    2) I only ever referred to Indonesia, (as that was hardest hit, double yammy quake and tsunami just like Japan) no other country. Therefore, the rest is your own conjecture.

    Thus, even though i refered to Indonesia only, odd that Japan is not listed as major doners as others are, neh?

    Point being what you say and what you actually do are totally different. Japan, via this article above, is saying NJs etc are leaving Japan and only Japanese are rebuilding, NJs do not contribute to Japan. Ergo given their retoric, one would assume the same in places like Indonesia, for Japan to help, owing to similar events occuring and “pledging help”. Nope.

    What other countries (Japan included) donate/fund annually to the world is not the point and to bring this deviation up shows you’re missing the point entirely.


  • Why is it so shocking that foreigners are helping out? If my town was destroyed and a Somolian helped out I wouldn`t even think to say “Wow! a Somolian is helping.” Very silly.

  • John K’s rantings are so ridiculous it shows the depths to which people will show their anti Japanese bigotry.

    “For others, the unfolding events reminded them of Japan’s outpouring of support after the 2004 tsunami, the food, medical supplies and other assistance delivered to Indonesia by ship, plane and helicopter even after others had scaled back operations.
    “I wish there was something I could do,” said Muhammad Nazri, 42, who lives in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. “I’d like to go there, really, even if it was just to share my feelings of grief.”

    Besides, what difference does a nation’s donation history have to do with other nations helping it? How much has the country of Haiti given to other countries in their time of need? Funny how those who are quick to criticize Japanese for ‘whitewashing’ their history are now doing the very same thing to Japan. Hypocrisy.

  • The original Japanese is not particularly xenophobic. The English translation substitutes “the Japanese” for “we ourselves” expressed in the original Japanese. While we may all wish that media outlets everywhere would use phrases such as “Japanese residents,” “American residents” or “German residents,” in fact, media all over the world appear to address their audiences in ways that assume national citizenship, and, in fact, one of their primary functions is to drive patriotic sentiments. In the US, where I am from, I cannot even think of a single incident of national media using expressions that include non-nationals. Editorials are always aimed at “We Americans.” Given the foreign population in the US, the percentage of population being excluded is much greater. We may be less aware of this in “our” countries, but when we live as “residents,” rather than sentiments, our exclusion from media remarks becomes glaring and irritating. Every day on TV, I watch commercials by Japanese exhorting “we Japanese” not to give up. It is important to build a sense of hope and solidarity. Today’s Asahi News addressed a new earthquake tax, proposed with the idea that all Japanese should share the disaster equally. No where in the article does it mention that we non-Japanese will also be paying the tax. That is the nature of nationalistic media, which functions similarly all around the globe. It really is unfortunate to see it inspire racist reactions from Westerners who blithely assert that the ‘natives’ will never accept us. In their case, I’m sure that such confidence functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am glad, in my case, to report to the contrary that my own use of “we” includes many Japanese people.

    — Err… not sure I get your point.

  • It’s probably just the heat of the moment but what neither the earthquake nor the damaged reactor could do, one afternoon run to the local 7 – 11 to buy milk has probably achieved. The police harrassment has finally gotten too much for me. Its amazing, I have done fund raisers and volunteer work to assist those who have been affected by the earthquake far and above many of the Japanese people I know and yet I am the one treated like some kind of unwanted pest.

    — You’ll have to let us in on what police harassment you’re talking about.

  • Hi, I’m new to this site, I found it after I experienced some uncomfortable and clearly racist situations on my first trip to Tokyo. My husband and I went as tourists, in spite of loud protestations from our family of “but the radiation!!” I must say, after watching JIBtv for a few years, I was rather surprised at the chilly and outright rude reactions I got from people. I would sit down on the train and the person I sat next to would get up, move to the end of the car, and stand. This happened multiple times. I suppose I was stupidly assuming that people would be grateful that I was not afraid to come into their country, that I was happy to spend my hard-earned money on Japanese goods and services while I was there. I went out of my way to correctly pronounce as much Japanese as I could, my husband and I kept quiet on the trains, we got out of people’s way, with much “doozo” and “sumimasen” and “gomen nasai.” A well-dressed (albeit casual) Japanese woman with makeup on and hair done and nice brand-name clothing would warrant no such hostility in the States. Even in the backwards “South” where I’m from! Stares, yes, hostility, no. It makes me wonder if I walked around with a nameplate on my lapel indicating that I am a molecular biologist and a professor if that would have warranted me more respect. It certainly does at home.
    I still love Japan, in spite of that, mostly due to my wonderful pen pals. The GOJ should give these women medals or diplomat status for being cultural ambassadors. I guess it was just naive of me to assume that I would be treated as a welcome guest instead of a contaminated vermin.


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