Bad social paradigms encouraging bad social science: UC Berkeley prof idiotically counts “flyjin” for H-Japan listserv


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Hi Blog. I have a real rib-tickler for you today. Here we have an academic employed at UC Berkeley trying to squeeze flawed data into an already flawed paradigm — not just that of “gaijin” [sic], but also of “flyjin” — as she goes around Tokyo counting NJ as if they were rare birds (or, rather, rarer birds, according to her presumptions under the rubric).

I raise this on because it’s amazing how stupid concepts from Planet Japan somehow manage to entice apparently educated people elsewhere to follow suit, and… I’ll just stop commenting and let you read the rest. Courtesy of H-Japan’s online archives, accessible to the general public.  Arudou Debito



From: H-Japan Editor
List Editor: H-Japan Editor

Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 / empirical evidence on “flyjin”
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 / empirical evidence on “flyjin”
Date Written: Sun, 19 Jun 2011 18:19:01 -0400
Date Posted: Mon, 19 Jun 2011 18:19:01 -0400
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin

June 19, 2011

From: Dana Buntrock

For those of you who have not yet returned to Japan since 3/11, it may be helpful to understand how significant the absence of “gaijin” is in the capital, a point noted more than once on this list.

I am using the term “gaijin” here to refer to racially differentiated (non-Asian) individuals, including those who appear to be from the Indian subcontinent. If mixed-race children were with a non-Asian parent, I counted them. I also counted one woman in a version of the headscarf worn by Moslem women, seen from behind, and her child (in a stroller), because the attire was clearly non-Japanese in nature. That is, I tended to err on the side of counting individuals as being foreign.

I did a casual count Friday, June 17 through Sunday, June 19. The first two days, I went about normal activity, but the last day, I confess, I deliberately went to a tourist spot. I included those seen within my hotel, a nice business hotel that maintains a reservations web site in English and often has foreign guests.

Friday count: 22. (8 a.m.-7:30 p.m.) I went through 9 subway stations:
Akasaka, Meijijungumae, KitaSando, Shinjuku (Oedo at Minami Shinjuku), Aoyama Itchome, Gaienmae, Akasaka-Mitsuke to Nagatacho, and Kojimachi. I walked at least 6 kilometers: from my hotel to the first station (.6 km), from Kita Sando west for 1.2 km, from there to several floors, including the 6th, of the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Minami Shinjuku (1.8 km), from Aoyama Itchome to Gaienmae (.7 km) and from Kojimachi back to the Akasaka area (1.6 if done efficiently, which I did not).


Saturday count: 135. About 15 under 5 years old.

I went through Roppongi twice, Hiro once, and Midtown twice. I went through three crowded shopping areas–Ebisu, Midtown, and Roppongi HIlls, plus the Photography Museum. I went to National Azabu (upstairs) on a Saturday.

I was out 8 and a half hours, and I went through Roppongi Station (10:30 a.m.), Ebisu (subway) Station, and HIro Station. I walked 1.5 km around Ebisu, and from Hiro to Roppongi HIlls (another 1.5 km) to Gallery Ma (another 1.5 km) to Midtown (600 meters) and back to the hotel (1 km). About 6 kilometers.


Sunday count: 60. I counted 13 women; 4 were children.

Out at 9 a.m., walked from Akasaka to near the foot of Tokyo Tower via Ark Hills (1.9 km), continued on to Daimon Station, boarded a monorail to Tenozu Isle (1.5 km), Walked a very short distance from there, then boarded a cab back to Akasaka. Afterward, walked to Kasumigaseki (2 km), continued to the Imperial Palace Gardens (3 km), walked from there to Otemachi Stn (1.5), direct line back to Akasaka, and back to hotel (.5 km) about 6:30 p.m.

21 men and 8 women were seen in the area of the Imperial Palace, including joggers and apparent tourists. (Note: I attended an English-language church service, but did not count the congregants. There were about 45 people in the church, and between half and two-thirds were non-Asian. The church would normally have at least 50% more congregants, and often double.)

Walked about 10.5 km, was in three not-particularly-busy subway stations, but lingered around the Imperial Palace.

Associate Professor
Department of Architecture
University of California, Berkeley




From: H-Japan Editor
List Editor: H-Japan Editor

Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 (2 responses)
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): The Great Fukushima Panic of 2011 (2 responses)
Date Written: Mon, 20 Jun 2011 22:18:52 -0400
Date Posted: Tue, 20 Jun 2011 22:18:52 -0400
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin

June 20, 2011

(1) From: Georg Blind

Re: empirical evidence on “flyjin” vs. “fryjin”; ample statistics available

This is both a response to an earlier question on this list, and a comment to Dana Buntrock’s post.

Concise entry and departure statistics are available from Ministry of Justice:

The latest available tables are for March 2011. Total “gaijin” departures were about 1% down from March 2010. In contrast, US citizens were down about 20%; citizens of European countries about 5%.

As soon as available, April data will show the full extent of the exodus if corrected for overall fluctuation (e.g., from a comparison of February to April changes in 2010).

While interesting as an individual observation, Dana Buntrock’s gaijin counts, are methodologically highly questionable. The following – not too serious example – might illustrate this: let’s define “fryjin” as foreigners working in Japanese KFC restaurants. Let’s assume one would count fryjin presence in 10 different locations in Tokyo. Would that yield a reliable picture of the “fryjin” situation? 1. The mere count of “fryjin” would need to be compared to the number of Japanese staff. – How many Japanese did Dana Buntrock count during her survey? 2. How many “fryjin” were there one year ago; i.e., was there a change in the number of “fryjin”? – And putting 1. and 2. together, was there some change in the share of “fryjin”? 3. Are observations at Tokyo KFC restaurants representative for the whole country? In that sense, the church example is by far more telling than the street counts.

Best, Georg


Georg Blind
Research Fellow and Lecturer
The University of Zurich
Institute of East Asian Studies
8032 Zurich

(2) From: Cecilia

With respect, I am not sure how constructive it is to be adopting the term “flyjin”. Though the term may appear to be cute and clever, in reality in the Kanto area in particular it is a loaded word that in some circles has become derisive and abusive. The term flyjin trivialises the reality that there is an evacuation zone in place and that there is a serious radiation problem – the extent of which is still not clearly determined. It also fails to consider that people who left were in many cases acting on embassy advice or company instructions. I have been in Tokyo since the earthquake, except for a Golden Week sojourn in Tohoku, with no thought of leaving but have been dismayed at the macho vitriol around who stayed and who left. It’s disappointing to see the term being picked up unproblematised in academic circles.

A spot count of conspicuous foreigners on the streets of Tokyo tells nothing about the numbers of people who have left Tokyo. In particular it ignores a distinction between residents (short and long term) and tourists. It also ignores the fact that most foreigners (both resident and tourists) are Asian. A spot count that has no control, defines foreigners in racial terms (which probably labels Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Singaporeans and many other SE Asians as Japanese) and conflates people that have actively left with people that decided not come, is meaningless. For the dip (plunge) in foreign visitor numbers the Ministry of Justice data is much more useful.

Cecilia Fujishima


OKAY, ONE MORE COMMENT FROM DEBITO:  Bravo Ms. Fujishima.  It’s also disappointing to see the racial term “gaijin” thusly being picked up unproblematized in academic circles, but that’s a long-standing terminology that people just seem to laugh off as grounded in general use.  But see how it feeds into a general idiocracy and flawed paradigms vis-a-vis scholarship on Japan?  D.


10 comments on “Bad social paradigms encouraging bad social science: UC Berkeley prof idiotically counts “flyjin” for H-Japan listserv

  • I can’t figure out why should be doing this, is it her hobby or is this part of some research? If research, how does it relate to Architecture and why go about it in such a dumb way? etc…

  • Folks, till when are you going to use this strange English word “flyjin”?

    I personally have never heard of this word used by Japanese. If you search “フライジン” on the internet, you will find only a few results. Searching “flyjin” would give you a lot more results. What is this? English speakers have coined a word, with which they are offended, calling it a derogatory word. Why not just stop using it?

    — Thank you.

  • “English speakers have coined a word, with which they are offended, calling it a derogatory word. Why not just stop using it?”

    Well, you should consider that “english speakers” is a collective noun, there are some people using it (deliberately) to be derogatory, they are not the ones offended, and have no obvious reason to stop using it. It’s not like we all think and say the same just through osmosis 🙂

    Incidentally, the most bizarrely paranoid and self-destructive behaviour I have seen in relation to Fukushima is in this article about a Japanese family:

    Not to imply they are not also responsible for their behaviour, but the ridiculous media hype has a lot to answer for.

    As for Dana Buntrock: I’m encouraged that people this thick can still hold down academic positions, the job scene must be better than I had imagined!

  • I am looking out my office window onto Waseda Dori in Tokyo. I can only see one red car, which clearly indicates that there is a severe red car shortage in Japan.

  • I see
    has been posted again on this site.

    I dont know why Japan Times chose to feature just this one family and hold them up as an example of J-Flyjin, it seems a bit of an odd example and its a bit similar to Dana`s social science; holding up just one example to prove a point.Hey, ordinary Japanese are leaving too!

    Except this family arent quite ordinary. But then, I suppose every family has its own private little issues, but this one more tha most.

    Reading through it, Reina seems to get her way doesnt she? “She wont consider any destination except Canada” -and the rest of the family has to follow suit?

    Lots of issues there (e.g. the husband with no savings), I don`t want to read about their private idiosyncrasies although Japan Times seems to have done exactly that. It seems almost counter-productive; are they trying to say all flyjin are a bit “unreasonable”?

    The good thing I got from this article was that I was indeed not alone in being pressured or “forced” into keeping on working by a boss throughout the crisis, after taking just 2 sick days. To that bit, I could relate.(Though I ended up leaving anyway).

    — This blog entry is not about that JT article. Let’s bring this thread to a close.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    I trust that this is just casual talk on a mailing list and not part of any kind of serious survey, because walking around and counting heads like this with zero context is almost laughably meaningless.

    — Over the course of three days, too. For H-Japan.

  • Flyjin was created on Twitter by an Osaka-based expat in casual conversation. It was said jokingly. Then, someone who reports for major media picked up the tweet and put it into their reporting. The major London paper, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal picked up on it, and it became its own thing. Here is the coiner of the term, in his own words, as relayed to me:

    The controversy is, as one of the List Serv commenters points out, within a distinct population. But it is indeed a purely expat thing. Like the radiation, it symbolizes other fears and emotions about contemporary NJ life in Tokyo.

    What is funny is to think that counting people along the sidewalk is going to prove anything. I am following the phenomenon casually, and I knew enough to look at things like job openings.

  • “Are you white? Gaijin. Brown/black? Gaijin. Do you look asian, but your parent does not? Gaijin. Are you a resident? A citizen even? Doesn’t matter, you are a still a gaijin.” seems to be her style of thinking. Not only is her thinking backwards, but it only supports that sort of thinking from the Japanese too, only making things worse. She most likely missed out on seeing many Southeast Asians because she was so busy looking for her prized “gaijin”. What a useless “survey”.

  • She claims to show “how significant the absence of ‘gaijin’ is in the capital” without providing any figures that could serve as basis for comparison. She “errs on the side of counting individuals as being foreign” while using a definition of “foreign” that automatically excludes the majority of NJ (but hey, it’s not like Koreans and Chinese are gaijin, right?). She takes special interest in counting tourists, despite “flyjin” only having any meaning when talking about resident workers who leave Japan. And she confesses to deliberately biasing her data by going to a “touristy” area to try to get the numbers more in line with the story she wanted to tell (not that her original method was anything close to scientific).

    When I was a kid, my parents liked to go on long road trips to visit family. We’d be in the car for the better part of ten hours, and as I’m sure you all can sympathize, entertainment was hard to find. We played the spot-the-out-of-state-license-plate game, the spot-the-dirtiest-car game, and (everyone’s perennial favorite) the spot-the-volkswagen-beetle game (back before they became trendy again!). It was quite surprising how high the tallies could go some trips, and so low on others.

    Of course, I see now where I went wrong – even as a precocious blabbermouth 8-year-old, I kept this information to myself and my family (“Oh my gosh, Grandma! I saw 23 Bugs on the road today!”). Clearly, I should have written an article claiming to contain empirical evidence in an inflammatory headline about America’s declining opinion of German automotive technology.

  • When I complain about people over-using the “foreigner” related terms, often fellow Westerners (and others) rush to the defence of the term. They say “Well, when you are a visitor in Japan/China, that’s exactly what you are!”

    However, one can see from this “academic’s” usage of the word, that it isn’t about nationality at all, but about race. And this is why it’s so offensive (the first reason – 2nd reason see below).

    Recently, a Chinese person saw my rather bald imperative “Don’t call me ‘foreigner!!!” on my lang-8 profile. S/he sent me the following private message:

    Don’t call me “foreigner”!!!
    但在汉语中“外国人”只有一个意思,就是people from other countries的意思。没有什么不好的意思。

    To give you a basic translation:

    You’re simply a foreigner!
    We use this term to refer to unfamiliar people from other countries. It has no evil intent.
    It refers to people from America, Russia, France and so on…
    But we rarely use this term to refer to people from Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia or India. To refer to black people we just say “black foreigner”.

    __end of rough translation.

    So the guy contradicted himself – and the same with our academic. They say it refers to people of other nationalities, but this is not true. They use the term to refer to people of Western appearance.

    Fancy that?! One race, no matter where they are, can always be referred to as “outsiders”. (And they certainly are referred to that way everywhere, because the name sticks in Chinese migrant communities as well. This is the second reason why it’s so offensive.)


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