Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 39: “Better to be branded a ‘flyjin’ than a man of the ‘sheeple'” (May 3, 2011)


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Better to be branded a ‘flyjin’ than a man of the ‘sheeple’
By ARUDOU Debito

The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Courtesy http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110503ad.html

The past two months have been uncomfortable for Japan, and for the country’s foreign residents. Non-Japanese (NJ) have been bashed in the media, unreservedly and undeservedly, as deserters in the face of disaster.

Consider the birth of the epithet “fly-jin.” A corruption of the racist word gaijin for foreigners, it appeared in English-language media as a label for NJ who apparently flew the coop in Japan’s time of need. The Japanese media soon developed its own variants (e.g., Nihon o saru gaikokujin), and suddenly it was open season for denigrating NJ.

For example, the Wall Street Journal (March 23) announced in English and Japanese articles an apparent “fly-jin exodus,” portraying NJ as fleeing, then sheepishly crawling back to their Japanese workplaces to face hazing. Tokyo Sports Shimbun (April 14) ran the headline “Tokyo Disneyland’s biggest reason for closing: repatriating NJ dancers” (oddly, Disneyland reopened days later).

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=8796

Tabloids reported that “all foreigners have fled Japan” (Nikkan Gendai, April 11), or that a wave of migrating “bad foreigners” would render Tokyo’s Ueno a lawless zone (SPA!, April 12). The NJ-bashing got so bad that the government — unusually — intervened, quashing Internet rumors that foreign gangs were roaming the rubble, raping and pillaging, or that foreign terrorists had caused the earthquakes.

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=8796

More moderate media still reported that escaping NJ labor was hurting Japan’s economy, citing farms and factories employing NJ “trainees,” fast food outlets, convenience stores, the IT sector and language education. Mainichi Shimbun (April 25) shed crocodile tears over the possible death of Japan’s textile industry due to the lack of cheap Chinese workers.

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=8806 and https://www.debito.org/?p=8830

I saw no articles putting things into perspective, comparing numbers of AWOL NJ with AWOL Japanese. Cowardice and desertion were linked with extranationality.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt that many NJ did move due to the Tohoku disasters. But my question is: So what if they did?

I have my doubts that a) it’s any more significant than the fact Japanese did, or that b) it’s worth blaming NJ anyway. Japanese overseas, if advised by their government to leave a trouble spot, would probably do the same. I also doubt overseas media would criticize the departing Japanese so harshly.

So here’s what I don’t get: Why should Japan care if NJ are leaving? Japan hasn’t exactly encouraged them to stay.

Consider some common attitudes towards NJ: Larkers and freeloaders, they’re here just to make money, enjoying our rich, safe society before going “home.” NJ also get accused of threatening our safety and stability, as criminal gang members, terrorists or illegal workers. NJ are such a threat that the National Police Agency created a Policymaking Committee Against Internationalization (sic) in 1999, deputizing the nation’s hotels, employers and general public to join in their racial profiling and help ferret out “bad foreigners committing heinous crimes.”

Sources: https://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html#refusedhotelhttps://www.debito.org/japantimes062904.html, and https://www.debito.org/?p=8324

Moreover, NJ are publicly portrayed as people to be viewed with suspicion, justifying Japan’s first neighborhood surveillance cameras in alleged “hotbeds of foreign crime.” They are even denounced by the likes of Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara (recently re-elected to a fourth term), for infiltrating and subverting Japan’s very democracy (JBC, May 4, 2010).

Sources: https://www.debito.org/?p=3673 and https://www.debito.org/?p=6634

On the other hand, NJ human rights remain unprotected. They are sometimes subjected to “Japanese Only” exclusionary rules and hate speech, neither of which are (or look likely to become) illegal activities in Japan. Meanwhile, local governments asking for kinder national policies for their NJ residents (e.g., 2001’s Hamamatsu Sengen, a set of proposals put forward in Shizuoka Prefecture to help foreign residents integrate) continue to be ignored by the central government. Indicatively, we still have no official policy to support and assimilate immigrants.

Rarely are NJ residents praised for the good they do for Japan, such as increasing our taxpayer base, contributing to the labor force, even sticking around to raise funds and deliver supplies to the Tohoku disaster areas. Instead, we get sentiments like “Japan must be rebuilt by us Japanese only” from the Asahi Shimbun (March 20) and Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s speeches.

All this might change, if NJ were ever given a stake in Japan. But rarely do they get the same opportunities as Japanese.

I speak from personal experience. We were promised, during Japan’s Bubble Era and “internationalization” push in the 1980s, that if we immigrants learned the language, worked hard and waited our turn on the corporate ladder, we would be treated equitably and promoted just like our native Japanese colleagues.

A quarter-century later, how’s that going? Pretty piddling. Few NJ have advanced to the top echelons of Japanese corporations in Japan. Few NJ “trainees” can ever hope to graduate beyond temp-worker status, picking strawberries for slave wages. Few NJ have become deans of universities, let alone gotten beyond basic contract work in education. Few NJ graduates of Japanese universities, despite years of corporate promises, have gotten genuine, promotable jobs in Japanese corporations here. And even after two decades of sweetheart visa status, few nikkei South Americans who lost their jobs in the recession were considered re-employable, unlike fellow laid-off Japanese: Only 1 percent of the former were offered any government retraining, with the rest tossed bribes to give up their pensions and “go home.” (ZG April 7, 2009)

And the Wall Street Journal reports that NJ are being questioned about “where their allegiances lie“? Allegiance to what? If they are constantly bashed for staying and now for leaving, is it any wonder that some NJ might not stick around to be potentially irradiated as well as exploited?

Look, Japan decided in the 1970s that it wanted a quick-fix energy source to power its high-speed growth. It neither wanted to pursue available (and potentially safer) sources (such as geothermal), nor rely on foreign oil. So it built one of the world’s highest concentrations of nuclear power plants on some of the world’s most seismically active land. Did people really expect that someday this atomic house of cards would not come crashing down? Come on — it was the classic case of accidents waiting to happen.

Then, when they did happen, and people (regardless of nationality) began to look out for themselves and leave potentially dangerous areas, they got blamed for either overreacting or deserting? That’s rubbing salt in the wounds.

But it’s the NJ who got it particularly bad, since the worst critics were from within their own ranks. The word “fly-jin,” remember, was coined by a foreigner, so this meanness isn’t just a byproduct of systematic exclusion from society. This is sociopathy within the excluded people themselves — eating their own, egging on domestic bullies, somehow proving themselves as “more dedicated than thou” to Japan. What did these self-loathers ultimately succeed in doing? Making NJ, including themselves, look bad.

The point is that Japan made a mistake with its nuclear policy, and will pay for it in land, lives and reputation. Yet the past two months have demonstrated that NJ — ever weaker and disenfranchised — are being scapegoated to draw attention away from those truly responsible for this mess: the inept, cosseted Japanese nuclear industry, perpetually in bed with a bureaucracy that turns a blind eye to safety standards and abets coverups.

So let me counterbalance “fly-jin” by coining a word too: “sheeple.” By this, I mean people who timidly follow the herd even when it hurts them as a whole. They are unwilling to impinge upon their comfortable, convenient middle-class existences, or threaten their upward social mobility, by demanding a safer or more accountable system. Worse, they decry those who do.

If these sheeple had had their way, Japan’s nuclear industry’s standard operating procedure of disinformation and coverup would have continued after Fukushima, as it did after previous nuclear accidents in Tokai and Kashiwazaki. But this time the accident was big enough to potentially irradiate the international community. Ironically, it sometimes falls upon the dread foreigners to save the sheeple from themselves.

But again, the situation is particularly pathetic for NJ (and the opportunistic NJ rents-seekers) because, given their permanent “guest status” in Japanese society, they are expected to act like sheeple without ever being a full member of the herd. They neither have the same opportunity to speak their minds as residents, nor defend themselves from unfair bashing in public.

So bully for the fly-jin, or anyone, for protecting themselves and getting out. Why stay and be a sheep or a scapegoat?


Debito Arudou’s new novel “In Appropriate” is now on sale (see www.debito.org/inappropriate.html) Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to community@japantimes.co.jp
The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 3, 2011

35 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 39: “Better to be branded a ‘flyjin’ than a man of the ‘sheeple'” (May 3, 2011)

  • Thank you Debito! This is a quality I always hated with foreigners in Japan and its about time somebody finally said something. I could never understand why a already marginalized people seem to set out to marginalize one another in this country. Sadly it always seem to come back to jealousy. Its sex, more money or a blog which drives some types crazy because they’re doing do little in life and drives them crazy that the blogger is not apart of the status que. Are they really that content with being entertainers and spending years in bars trying to get laid? Meanwhile the years are flying by and these people get frustrated when they hit the glass ceiling and being a third class citizen so they….Lash out at one another.
    They need to take there cues from maybe, jewish or chinese people. No matter where they go there is a support organization there to help them assimilate. But in Japan when someone like Mr Debito writes a book of starts a blog for this purpose, a Tw#t like Mr Tepito sets up a blog to undermine and marginalize his efforts. Wake up! Your 3rd class citizens, just because you can roll in and get a teachers post and a cute girlfriend doesn’t mean your future’s gold, go ask a 45 year old Berlitz teacher. A permanent resident can’t vote in japan what does that tell you? We’re tolerated, entertainment or just exploited if you have blond hair and great breast.
    If your going to stay in Japan Indefinitely pull your head out of your asses and organize, stop trying undermine one another efforts, its not working for you. Sadly this doesn’t include people of color who are 4th class citizens.

  • Debito may I congratulate you again on an extremely well written, hit-the-nail on the head column.
    Great work sir! And Hank above, great post! What you say is so so true.

  • jonholmes says:

    Fantastic article well written.

    Loyalty to what indeed? I to felt a bit guilty leaving, I had been brainwashed into thinking “if I stay a BIT longer I ll have a stake in society etc”. Thing is, I ve been here 15 years. I m not married to a Japanese. I dont own a home. i m just earning a living. I pay a lot of tax (aha!) and rent…

    Its not really even a stake, its just obligation and more of it. Obligation of the citizen to the state, the landlord, the ward office, any Japanese person who decides to boss you around. I even had a young secretary ordering me around like “a baby foreigner” (her words).

    So Debito is correct in pointing out that the expiry date on earning a stake have passed. Its been promised for 25 years and nothing much has changed.

    Thus I d say the Flyjin are pretty fly! If your boss is ordering you to stay while your Embassy tells you to leave, I say give him two fingers and take your chances in finding a better job elsewhere. Better, I say, to endure the very temporary label of being a flyjin and remove oneself from the whole ridiculous equation. Get a better expat job and send money to help rebuild Sendai from abroad.

    Can it really get any worse than working in Japan now? However if you do want to endure along with the Japanese, for whatever reason, I salute you. Goodbye and good luck.

  • james grey says:

    Wow! Debito! The hits just keep coming! I am so glad to have read your column. I have had a paranoid fear that all of these things were manifestations of my own insecurities and ‘bad attitude’, but when I read your article, it summed up exactly what I was thinking! I am NOT alone!
    With respect to the posters above, my work sent me to China for a year (2008/2009). Whilst I wouldn’t want to spend time in a Chinese hospital, I will say this for the Chinese: They are generally just as racist as the Japanese from cultural point of view, BUT (heres the difference) they are aware of it. However odd that seems, it was totally refreshing and honest.
    eg: Chinese colleague ‘you can’t understand our ancient culture because you’re not one of us’.
    Me: ‘yeah, but we don’t cook in the bathroom in my country, next to a bin of used toilet paper’.
    Chinese colleague: ‘so true, so true. China is a mess. Drink?’

  • I do agree that the “flyjin” don’t owe anyone any loyalty beyond their contractual obligations. After 10y on annual contracts I’d certainly leave the minute I thought it was in my best interests.

    OTOH, I also think that those who fled (from the Tokyo area or further afield) in a panic due to the Fukushima situation were basically ignorant and hysterical. There simply wasn’t a significant risk *and* this fact should have been obvious enough to anyone who was paying attention to the situation.

    The only ones I personally know who have left permanently, were already thinking of leaving, and it just pushed them into it a bit quicker than they were originally planning.

    Jonholmes asks: “Can it really get any worse than working in Japan now?”

    Yes, I’m quite convinced that returning to the UK, or trying to find a job in the USA or elsewhere, would be significantly worse for me than working in Japan now. I’m sure people who were eager to leave are rationalising their decisions though.

  • Steve W. says:

    I`m here for the money and make no bones about it. I`m sure many other non-Japanese might feel the same. We pay our taxes, bills ect and follow the laws and social norms of Japanese society but have no particular allegiance to this country. Persoanlly, I find the whole “flyjin” debate ridiculous.

  • At some point it got to the level, where I felt like anybody from my country X wanting to leave, would need to get an official permission from a Japan council of representatives of my country X.

    Further on, they try to control your inner feelings (“anybody rational should not be afraid of a tiny bit of radiation” – well how about those Japanese who got shit scared?), and your political position on nuclear power (“totally safe and pro-nuclear of course”). Why the heck should I follow the opinion of my Japan-staying countrymen, who previously have not shown much interest in my life or problems, being it trying to find a job during the 2009 recession or just chatting in a get-together-party?

  • I would like to avoid what seems to be a lot of point scoring going on regarding one group versus another.

    I want to address this:

    “I have my doubts that a) it’s any more significant than the fact Japanese did, or that b) it’s worth blaming NJ anyway. Japanese overseas, if advised by their government to leave a trouble spot, would probably do the same. I also doubt overseas media would criticize the departing Japanese so harshly.

    So here’s what I don’t get: Why should Japan care if NJ are leaving? Japan hasn’t exactly encouraged them to stay.”

    Point granted, Japanese overseas would have done the same. I have absolutely no doubt. I’m sure it’s somewhat different from country to country – regarding the propensity to believe whatever their embassy says versus the local authorities, granted. But here’s who I blame:

    The Embassies

    Governments all over the world (who are dedicated allies of Japan) should not have given any advice to evacuate the country, or the northern part of it, or Tokyo, and just kept it to afflicted areas, and if they wanted to be conservative, use the 50 mile zone that the U.S. NRC chairman did.

    Yes, it’s true that we can’t really blame someone for making a bad decision that ends up damaging relationships when that decision was made based on advice from a trusted source. But that doesn’t absolve responsibility for the situation – and I feel that it clearly places that responsibility in the hands of the state departments of governments all over the world. Advice to evacuate Tokyo was crazy, absolutely crazy from the very outset of the disaster and added a dose of panic to what was otherwise a very adult handling of the situation by the entire nation.

  • This is a comment I first made on Debito’s Facebook wall. I’ll reproduce it here, slightly modified:

    The flyjin meme goes a bit like this (at least let me present it in what might be its strongest yet stated version):

    **Foreigners have a hard time in Japan. We’re called gaijin and we’re treated like outsiders. We try to make inroads, but it’s a lot of hard work. Now up and comes this big earthquake, and this fairly minor nuclear accident, then suddenly, a bunch of dumb foreigners are panicking and running out of Japan. Now, we’ll all look bad. Their behavior will reflect on all of us. It will now be all that much harder to gain acceptance in Japanese society. How I hate those stupid flyjin. Not only do they run away like cowards making gaijin look bad, but how about all those who needed help? How about instead of buying a plane ticket, sending that $1000++ to *real* victims of the earthquake? How about showing Japanese we really do care, by trying to go out there and help the people of Japan? We need to show we belong and demonstrate our commitment to this country! Not runaway like cowards in Japan’s time of need.**

    That’s how I read it anyway. That’s the attitude I feel I came across in the blogosphere. I don’t know how prevalent it really has been. I regard it as wrong for two primary reasons. First, each individual should be judged as an individual. Second, you help people to help people, period.

    Now many have made comments that things were actually really safe, and stated that this is a big part of the flyjin issue.

    I would like to remind everyone that had the worst case assessment by the US government proven true, and winds had turned to Tokyo all people would have seen very substantial fallout. The time to leave is before such a situation manifests itself, not after.

    For the most part, our evaluation of risk is fairly subjective. We each have to come up with our own opinion, and then act on it. How often do two people agree on stuff like this? Rarely.

    The best argument for tolerance is human fallibility. We each could be wrong, so we’ve always got to be tolerant of differing opinions. So this idea that actions have to line up in some manner strikes me as misguided. There is room for each of us to respond differently.

    Another point is that we are each individually responsible for ourselves and our loved ones, so we each have to act accordingly, and we should each respect one another’s individual decisions even when we disagree.

    Now in regards to the argument people are just having a little fun by gently giving their coworkers a hard time.

    It’s just a little hazing. C’mon. A little bullying is good for the soul. Right? How many times has this been used to defend what Yoshio Sugimoto calls “friendly authoritarianism?” To the extent that some people practice and preach a kind of collectivist ethic in Japan, this is a defense of it. I’d like to encourage everyone to read Yoshio Sugimoto’s chapter on this in his _An Introduction to Japanese Society_ if you haven’t already. It’s really discouraging to hear people arguing in this manner.

    In any event, I do think it likely that some individuals probably were extremely irresponsible in the manner in which they left their jobs. But matters like this need to be handled by the relevant person’s superiors at the relevant company or school or government institution.

    Finally, while taking the risk of getting off topic, in regard to the issue of Japanese media providing enough or not enough information on what is happening at the troubled nuclear power plants.

    Watch this video:

    Note the pro-nuclear supporter, who was on the program to argue the pro-nuclear stance starts saying things like, “I think the rods are completely melted. TEPCO is messing around with the turbines, that’s a complete joke.” The DPJ politician jumps in and starts saying, we don’t *know* and so it’s irresponsible to speculate. He gets upset at the *pro-nuclear* guy for offering his frank opinion based on his years of experience. If you’d like a partial translation of this video, follow this link.

    It’s not collusion per se, it’s something institutional — but yeah, something is seriously wrong. The other day people were complaining about yellow dust. How did everyone know it was so bad yesterday? Well, on TV everyone saw it, weather maps showed big plumes of yellow dust coming off of China covering Japan.

    Well, when was the last time you saw reports about Fukushima Daiichi fallout on national TV, in particular, during the standard weather reports?

    That’s dysfunctional. I mean forget the yellow dust, how about giving us some fallout projections for once!


    Above is what I posted on Facebook, I would add, I think Debito catches the real problem in the second to last paragraph of his editorial here. People feel like guests in Japan, so they can’t act sensibly, they have to act in a way that ingratiates themselves. Yes, there are a lot of those who stayed for genuinely good reasons. No one should ignore their contributions. They should be praised. But there are some of those who stayed and then subsequently turned around and mocked those who left. I suspect they did this because they actively embrace what Debito aptly calls the guest mentality. The main problem they have with those who left, is they were acting like poor guests.

  • Debito-san, what you write is right. I, however, would like to mention, and hope you will look into too, is that along with few reports focused on the negative impact of the foreigners exodus from Japan, there are many reports(mostly on TV), who praise foreigners who go and help in Tohoku, and these positive reports outnumber the negative “We’ve been betrayed” reports.For example only yesterday I saw on TBS around noon a report about a group of foreigners who went to do help clean the debris in Tohoku, praising them for their hard work.Next, around 6 I saw a report of Chinese students who went to prepare delicious Chinese food for the evacuees (Asahi TV, news Yu+), and finally at 10PM on Hodo Station, again on Asahi, they showed a report of Vietnamese, who came to help by preparing Vietnamese food for the evacuees in Saitama, showing the gratitude of the evacuees. So not everything is flyjin-bashing in the Japanese media right now. I hope you wont ignore this.

    — I never said everything was. I’m saying that bashing exists and it’s unwarranted.

  • I have to disagree with Debito on this one (a rarity). The fly-jin epithet is perfectly accurate and warranted. We so desperately want to be accepted in Japan, yet so many cut-and-ran. Even if you’re within the 80km exclusion zone, taking off and leaving one’s co-workers and neighbours high-and-dry is a great way to make sure one remains on the outside looking in.

    I know of 8 people in Maebashi, Gunma that left in the weeks after the earthquake. It’s 170 miles from Fukushima. People even further south (although fewer in number) also scurried off back home. None of the ones I know personally made the decision based on any solid grounds, just that they were being typical panicky Brits, Canadians and Americans who were getting frantic phone calls from their families back home telling them to flee.

    There’s also something to be said for the Japanese herd mentality. That’s what kept looting and rioting non-existent post-quake, and why power conservation efforts are still going strong almost 2 months after the quake. Look no further than the aftermath of Katrina to see what the “I just gotta be me” attitude gets you (one of the unfortunate failings of libertarianism, sadly).

  • What is also forgotten in the flyjin debate, is that people’s situations are different. Consider these:

    – Working a company job in a Japanese company
    – Working a company job in a foreign company based in Japan
    – Freelancing, meaning having 10 different works scattered here and there, the number of which have gotten smaller after 3/11 (me)
    – having had plans to settle in Japan for a lengthier time vs. having already job-hunted in your home country/a 3rd country for some time prior to 3/11
    – having had plans to visit home country this spring already prior to 3/11
    – Being married to a Japanese citizen vs. being married to a foreign citizen/being single with no significant other in Japan
    – having kids vs. having no kids (I can sure understand those foreigners and Japanese who took their families to the Kansai area once the situation in Fukushima seemed to get real bad)
    – being ordered by your boss to evacuate Tokyo either to your home country or to Kansai, or he/she would terminate your job/internship (I know cases like this)
    – being told by your Japanese language school not to show up for classes, as the rest of the spring will be taught by computer classes online (there is at least one school who did this)
    – being told by your U.S. university to return and end your exchange year earlier
    – and lastly: having enough cash/credit on card to take a few weeks in your home country vs. pinching your meager salary to last ’til the end of the month

    — And also cases of overseas universities telling their exchange students that they cannot come to Japan as they will not be insured under the university program. Potential overreaction or not, these things make the calculus of coming, staying, or going not completely one of individually-assessed risk. In other words, the whole “Fly-jin” phenomenon is worse than just unfair. It encourages discrimination towards NJ and brings out the worst between NJ.

  • Matt D,

    Nothing in your link substantiates “substantial fallout” in the Tokyo area, and nothing substantiates any significant chance of real effects on health. Which is not surprising, because such risk did not exist. The 50 mile zone was already based on the possibility of a worst case scenario (as the article makes clear).

    — I’ll allow this comment, but bear in mind that we are not here merely to debate the nuclear data. We are here to talk about the societal fallout. Please refer to this as well in future postings, thanks.

  • I know this is referring to the nuclear case, but: How were the foreigners supposed to evaluate the info given by Tepco, Edano & co, when not even many Japanese trusted them? I have been told by numerous Japanese that they do not trust what they are being told officially.

    Most of us do not have PhDs in nuclear science, radiology or other matters like that. The Fukushima case evolved very rapidly during the first week, amongst all the train hazzle, rolling blackouts, other extra stuff. People had to make a quick decision after their own embassies told them to leave.

  • jonholmes says:

    @ Al. “We so desperately want to be accepted in Japan, yet so many cut-and-ran.”

    I just have never understood this. Why be so desperate to be accepted by a country where certain segments dont want you here, or want to abuse you? You ve forgotten that in modern Japan (unlike the 80s) you are in fact doing Japan a favor by being here. You re paying tax, you re having children. Why beat yourself up?

    I ve been here on and off since the 80s and seen conditions for NJs get worse, not better. Falling pay rates,rising taxes (about to get worse possibly), more of an emphasis of making foreigners pay into pensions etc but with less rights, higher bar standards (ie must speak Japanese fluently, and even behave completely like the bosses’ idea of what a “good” gaijin should act like, Debito’s old Hokkaido employer springs to mind here) and then little of the promises of being promoted as a reward for all the effort and time we invested in this country actually being kept, as Debito mentions. I speak after 20 years of trying.

    Now I ll be a bit nasty, play the Devil’S Advocate and say that it is only the weak, unsure of themselves, who critize the flyjin. What if the flyjin turned on the “loser gaijin” who are too chicken to try and get a job elsewhere? Yes, I know, you were afraid to leave. I sympathize.”

    What if large foreign corporations turned on the Japanese government and media for creating a panic through a lack of transparency?

    It cuts both ways. The whole “deserting Japan” argument is completely ridiculous. One could equally argue the opposite.

  • Steve W. says:

    I agree 110% with comment #17 and still have a hard time understanding why anyone would be upset with foreigners who decided to get out of dodge fast esp. those with small children. The first time I heard the term “flyjin” I actually thought it was meant as a joke.

  • Nice commentary Debito as always you are a refreshing voice on the subject of Japan, and quite accurate too. I could not believe Japanese news actually blames foreigners for leaving and came up with a nickname for them. WOW! If everything on your website isnt enough evidence of bias then this certainly is. Even in the midst of a crisis when people should be banding together foreigners are looked down on. I even know of some foreigners who chose to come to Japan to help clean up the mess. Why arent those people interviewed?

  • james grey says:

    I am in agreement with #17, 18, and 19. Jonholmes, play the devils advocate: it’s most likely the accurate truth.
    As for NJ bashing ‘flyjin’, my favorite so far has got to be this:

    Japan Probe (a hot-bed of apologists and the kind of people than Jonholmes identifies when playing devils advocate) are taking a pot shot at selfish ‘flyjin’ parents who took their kids home with them, and are now destroying Japans (vital?) child modeling businesses! Shock! Horror! The article says that modeling agencies will have to rely on ‘half’ (a term I detest) or even (God forbid!) Japanese child models! The comments are full of vitriolic attacks on parents for taking their children out of Japan. Personally, I don’t think a lack of catalogue pictures of blond kids is or should be the greatest economic concern right now.

    To Debito, please write something about ‘Ha-fu’. It is a detestful racsist term that implies that there is something wrong with the child. Like I tried to say to my daughters elementary school Principle, ‘Half what? My girls 100% human being’, and the Principal just looked at me like I was a moron with deficient Japanese language skills, smiled gently and said ‘half Japanese’.

    — We’ve discussed the word “haafu” numerous times on Debito.org. Please do a search.

  • I think that in the end, the whole incident has done nothing for the images of foreigners in Japan. On one hand, you DO have the stories of the foreigners who stayed and helped or came from another country to help, but on the other hand, you also have the stories of the “flyjin” which for some are sticking more in their head. In other words, there will be some Japanese who will remember the “nice foreigners” and some who will only remember the “flyjin” thus making it the same as it has always been. There are the racist angry Japanese and there are the nice considerate Japanese. The Japanese will not tip more towards the side of xenophobic and angry nor will they tip towards the side of more accepting.

  • I freely admit this is entirely anecdotal, based from the people I’ve spoken to on this issue and a few things I’ve read (from writers in Japan, not from foreign press). My understanding is those who left have not been derided so much because they didn’t pull hard enough for ‘team Japan’, or were ‘making gaikokujin look bad’ but because they left based on emotional response to the danger rather than facts. In other words, their decision was made in the face of all evidence and recommendations to the contrary, both by Japanese and non-Japanese officials. The discussion I’ve seen hasn’t been about those within the 80km evac. zone the US Embassy recommended, but about those in Tokyo and Yokohama (and in some cases even Kansai) who bowed to stress and pressure and left despite official recommendations. Therefore the behaviour being held against those who left is the perception that they ignored the facts and advice that was in circulation and instead succumbed to panic and conspiracy theory.
    That being said, under no circumstances do I feel it is fair and certainly not necessary to waste time deriding people who made this decision. Passing judgement and derision on a people who already suffer under unequal rights in Japan is counterproductive, whether they are flyjin or sheeple. Furthermore, my relationship with my employer, Japanese friends is not dependent on what other gaikokujin do and if yours is, perhaps it’s time to re-examine those relationships.

  • Debito, this may interest you as a case study that highlights two things:
    1, not all NJs have ‘fled’;
    and 2, some NJs are actually right there with the Japanese to help with relief efforts.

    Recently, a co-worker told me that his brother (who is working in Japan) and a number of his friends, all NJs, have been volunteering in the hardest-hit areas for some time (he couldn’t tell me exactly how long). They’ve been assisting with manual labor mostly (clearing rubble, raising shelters, carrying supplies) but also with comforting the victims. (I saw photos with these guys and Japanese people and there was no animosity towards the ‘infamous foreigners’ there regardless of how the media tends to portray them, i.e. as rapists and looters.) Yet no media representatives have expressed any interest in their story. I’m guessing they’re too busy rapping on the ‘fly-jin’ to care.

    Another story I heard, this time from one of the NJs I used to work with in Tokyo, was likely a result of the media bashing: she said that one of her co-workers called her a ‘disgusting person’ for fleeing to Kansai after the earthquake for fears of radiation. Apparently, this attitude is dominant at her office.

    I’m sorry I have nothing but second-hand accounts to offer, but if anything, this illustrates just how much responsibility the media has in giving accurate statements and preventing situations like the second story from happening. Sadly, they never seem to learn…

  • Paul: aren’t you making now another generalization: “U.S. advised…” Well, not all gaijin are from the U.S., and many countries’ embassies, including mine, did give advice to leave Tokyo, either abroad or to Kansai.

    Also U.S.Armed Forces evacuated all the families from their military bases, which are not in Fukushima, but Yokosuka, Yokota, etc.

    I also wonder why these Japanese underline emotional response to facts, when many of the Japanese I know openly said that they do not trust what Tepco and Jap. gov. tell them. What facts could they be referring to?

  • Ferdinand says:

    What about all of the Japanese who scattered like ants from the disaster areas in Southeast Asia when the earthquake and tsunami hit in 2004? Why didn’t they stay and help rebuild,en masse, rather than fleeing the strickened areas? I suppose that doesn’t count.

  • Many Temporary workers are not even covered by medical insurance or other social security benefits and have to face bleak prospects in the future anyway. The Companies who outsource a vital part of their daily operations to Temporary workers, without taking any responsibility towards their welfare should not be complaining, as they are continuing to enjoy the benefits of exploitative contracts anyway.

  • @Marit, if people were following the recommendations of their embassy, that is certainly fair. I wasn’t trying to be US centric.

    However, it’s your second paragraph which I feel is a perfect example of some of the misinterpretation as well as cherry picking of which announcements to pay attention to during the height of the crisis. First of all, your statement does not make it clear that it was a voluntary evacuation, NOT mandatory. Basically they were officially allowing people who wanted to leave, to leave. Second, the rear-admiral at Yokosuka said in a statement at the town-hall meeting that “Fukushima can’t get big enough to force us to evacuate.”

    It’s all moot anyways, Debito’s main point stands: we shouldn’t be ostracising anyone regardless of circumstances. I was just trying to point out that the source of ostracism wasn’t necessarily the “making gaikokujin look bad” reasoning.

  • james grey says:

    I think you are right, the source of ostracism may not be ‘the “making gaikokujin look bad” reasoning’ at all.
    I think many NJ who stayed are attempting to ostracize ‘flyjin’ because of a misguided ‘one-up manship’; the (false) belief that Japanese will see them as being somehow more worthy than the ‘flyjin’ because they stayed. Those NJ that are ‘flyjin bashing’ often cite JGov advice or TEPCO announcements to back up their claim that to become a ‘flyjin’ was an irrational and emotional response to the situation. They also cite the anecdotal evidence that Japanese did not leave as backing up that assertion.
    But, how can we reconcile a perceived lack of Japanese exodus against all the anecdotal evidence that Japanese no more believe the JGov or TEPCO to tell the truth than the ‘flyjin’ did?
    Debito is part right when he talks of the fatalism of the ‘sheeple’; the idea that even though the Japanese didn’t believe the situation was safe, they carried on as normal because they felt there was nothing else they could do. In addition to Debitos analysis, I would offer the very culture specific explanation of 黙殺 (mokusatsu; to ignore deliberately). Simply put, the Japanese just chose to pretend to carry on as normal rather than face the potential reality of nuclear disaster simply because they didn’t want to have to think about it (nuclear disaster ruins an otherwise dreamy day). If they thought about it, they would have to make a decision, and if they make a decision, they have to take responsibility for the outcome (and the Japanese are big on collective responsibility, NOT individual responsibility or using initiative).
    My wife uses mokusatsu when she sees someone spitting in the street, or a chikan on the train,or when her boss makes her (illegally) do overtime for free.

  • I have encountered at least two cases, when I had to endure discrimination(nad not only me) because of other foreigners’s deeds.One was that famous murder case in Fukuoka, extremely hastily and poorly investigated by the police, when 4 Chinese students allegedly murdered (in very yakuza-like style, interesting why) a family of four, including 2 little children, because “they were very poor and needed money”. The case resulted in this famous restriction for foreign students to work only 28h/week because “foreigne students shouldn’t use their stay in Japan to earn money, but to study”. At that time, noone from the foreign students lashed at the Chinese, on the contrary, we were angry at the government and the media.

    Another time when I encountered discrimination of the type “you’re all the same”was when I was looking for part-time job.Many places (like Tsutaya, for example) told me that they have had troubles with foreign part-timers before so they don’t accept foreigners anymore.Any further negotiation on how this is discriminative or illegal resulted in “sumimasen” and hang up.

    I believe that bashing “fly-jin” by “stay-jin” is partly “hollier than thou” attitude and partly fear of “you’re all the same ” discrimination, fear that something will inevitably reflect on them-and there’s no law to protect them.
    And while in the above two cases it was problem concerning mostly students, this time the problem of “YATS-discrimination” extends to people with families and already established life in Japan, who are afraid that once they lose their jobs, their families will suffer most.

    The only thing that could be done is to shut up the media-right now its inflamatory articles turn the Japanese society against NJ.Petitions, official protests from foreign embassies,floods of protest letters and phone calls-and probably the media will begin thinking twice before publishing some NJ-bashing article.

    — I would love to see the last paragraph happen. But it rarely does. You see the Japanese Embassy being more proactive overseas. Two recent examples:



  • Krazy Kat says:

    I do think that the institutionalized racism in Japan absolutely needs to be addressed, but I also wonder whether it’s rhetorically effective to polarize the debate by calling the racists a different sort of name. They already have a name: racists. If they are “sheeping” the positions of racists, then they are simply racists themselves. That is, I like this article overall, but am not sure “sheeple” is really the right word for those people.

    — Because enforced complacency in the face of potential danger isn’t a matter of race. Japanese are doing it to each other too. The difference is that NJ have more of a choice, and they’re being begrudged that, even though it’s not clear that NJ are enforcing that choice more than J (and as I argue, so what if they are?). An even bigger difference is that NJ are also joining in on the bashing.

    Using racism isn’t that sharp an analytical tool for this phenomenon. “Sheeple” IMHO is.

  • Hey there. Debito here. Got a request.

    Did you like this column on the “Fly-jin” bashing? (Based upon the comments to this blog space, a number of people did.)

    If so, please write in to the Japan Times and say so (community@japantimes.co.jp).

    Internet bullies are writing in and once again trying to reassert their control over the debate.

    Don’t let them anymore. Offer some balance.



    My previous Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column on ‘Fly-jin’ was, as predicted, controversial, and occasioned I’m told more comment than any column I’ve written before. Wow. Thanks for commenting.

    However, I’m also told the comments were overwhelmingly negative towards my standpoint. This is fine too, since it is my job as a columnist to stimulate debate and offer alternate views.

    However, remember what my column was on: How NJ are bullying each other into silence and submission in a society that already disenfranchises NJ.

    If you disagree with my last column’s thesis, that’s fine. It’s your right. And clearly your voice is already being adequately represented.

    However, if you agree with my thesis, and you don’t want the bashers to have the last word on this topic, I suggest you speak up now and send in your opinions to the Japan Times.

    After all, it is generally the case that the critics are more likely to comment than those who agree. It’s tougher to build upon the sentiment of “I completely agree, the end”, than it is “I completely disagree and here’s why”.

    But this time it’s special.

    The whole point of the previous column was that media bullies have been controlling the debate on the status of NJ, and decrying them, unfairly as I argued, as deserters. “Fly-jin”.

    If you don’t want them to continue to control the debate or let them have the final word on the subject, I suggest you send in your thoughts to the Japan Times via community@japantimes.co.jp

    Consider offering some balance, please.

    There has been too much complacency and silent victimization regarding this subject already. Speak up.

    Thanks. Debito

  • There seems to be alot of name calling/chest pounding among foreigners that stayed directed at foreigners that left. I do not think it is very constructive. I wonder how many people pounding their chests actually went up into the disaster zone and helped.

    Most people (foreigners and Japanese) I met during my 2 trips up to Tohoku since March 11 could care less if people stayed or left Japan.

    People need to operate within their comfort zone. If someone was uncomfortable staying in Japan then I think the right call was to leave. A person severely distressed cannot be much help in the recovery process. If they want to come back and do something productive to help the country…by all means come back.

    If someone was comfortable staying if course staying is good, even better do something to help the recovery.

    I have not heard any Japanese make negative comments directed to those that left Japan. I think this is very much in the minority. I believe this is more of a “foreigner against foreigner” thing.

    I do not think Japan needs alot of chest pounding or pissing and moaning among the foreign community. It contributes nothing to a recovery, only divides people and makes the foreign community as a whole look foolish. Japan needs folks to do what they can to help the country get back on its feet.


  • jonholmes says:

    I think this is very much in the minority. I believe this is more of a “foreigner against foreigner” thing.

    In the movie “Gangs of New York” set in the 19th century, there is an Irish character who has joined Bill’s ostensibly anti Irish gang and every time they make an anti Irish comment, he goes and attacks a black person to somehow make himself feel better or at to distract the everyday prejudice away from him onto another minority.

    “Don’t mind him, he used to be an Irishman”, Bill quips.

    Everytime I read or hear about the stayjin attacking the flyjin, I think about this character.

    Don’t mind them, they used to be gaijin? Some people will do anything in an effort to fit in.

  • james grey,

    i would suggest that if your principal is saying your child is only half japanese then you should make a written complaint to the school:to the class teacher and then to the principal.you could also complain to PTA.
    you will get some rubbish bout it being perfectly acceptable and not racist in response,but it will make people think and the principal wont try using it again.

    — We’re getting off track.


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