AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

What Japanese exclusionism?

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 19, 2007

YESTERDAY’S POST described how a foreign university professor tried to use a conversation between himself and a local cab driver as a way to expose Japanese insularity and their lack of knowledge of the outside world, but instead unwittingly revealed the academic’s own lack of understanding of Japanese culture.

It reminded me of another story I read some years ago about foreigners in Japan being denied admission to commercial establishments or refused service by taxicab or bus drivers. The story appeared in the early 1990s in the JAT Bulletin, the monthly publication of the Japan Association of Translators, of which I was once a member. I spent a lot of time today digging in my stack of back issues of the Bulletin for the story, but couldn’t find it. (I know it’s in there somewhere!)

The article was written by William Lise, a technical translator who often does patent translations and also has worked as a court interpreter. Mr. Lise has spent all but a handful of the past 40 years living and working in Japan. At the time of the article’s publication, Mr. Lise was an officer of JAT and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.

I got in contact with him by e-mail, and he gave me permission to use the story. Since I can’t find the text version, however, I’ll have to retell it and hope I do justice to the original.

As is the case with most of the resident foreigners of this country, Mr. Lise has frequently heard non-Japanese complain about getting stiffed by the Japanese service industry. One of the most frequent gripes is being ignored by cab drivers with an empty back seat. And of all the complaints about cab drivers, many involve the tendency of cab drivers working in Tokyo’s Roppongi district on weekend nights to ignore foreigners flagging them down for a ride home at the end of the night. (Roppongi is known for its night clubs, eating and drinking establishments, and popularity with foreigners.)

Mr. Lise would be the first to admit that he was something of a bon vivant and frequently visited Roppongi to socialize on weekend nights. He was puzzled by the stories about being ignored by cab drivers, however, because it had never happened to him during his many years in Japan. Cab drivers always picked him up. There was a sharp divergence between the stories other foreigners told him and his own experience. Naturally, he began to wonder why.

He finally grew curious enough to ask the cab drivers that picked him up on weekend nights in Roppongi if they had ever passed up a foreigner hailing them for a ride. Many freely admitted they had done so, and this prompted Mr. Lise to ask them why. Their answers were very revealing.

As Mr. Lise described it, the cab drivers explained their refusal in several different ways, not always lucidly. But he detected a common thread in all the drivers’ answers: they sensed from the body language of the people they chose to avoid a lack of confidence in their ability to communicate in Japanese with the driver.

I’m sure some of you will scoff—how could a cab driver gauge a foreigner’s fluency by a glance on the street? It’s preposterous!

Well, it doesn’t pay to be too cocksure about that, for two reasons. First, there seems to be a consensus among researchers that as much as 80% of all communication between people is non-verbal. People can sense either confidence or its absence, particularly when their livelihoods depend on it. There’s plenty of information about this on the Web, so I don’t think I have to reinvent the wheel here.

The second reason is my own experience in Japan. I studied the Japanese language at the university level for three years before coming here in March 1984. Mr. Lise’s story rings true to me because from the day I arrived here to the present, I have never—never!—been ignored by a cab driver or a bus driver, or refused service in any business establishment.

I do not mean to claim that I was perfectly fluent in Japanese on the day I arrived in the country—I wasn’t. Still, I had spent a lot of time in language labs at school and with homemade kanji cards at the kitchen table, so I knew from jump street that my Japanese ability was functional. If I stood on the corner and caught a cab, I would be able to explain to the driver where I wanted to go. If I walked into any commercial establishment, I knew I would be able to explain to the proprietor or employees what I wanted. If I went looking for some fun at an eating or drinking place, I knew that I would be able to get along after a fashion with the other customers without using a word of English.

The closest I ever came to having a problem was circa 1985. I was living in an apartment with a small bathtub, so I used to go to a nearby public bath instead. I became a regular customer for several reasons. The public bath was bigger and a lot more relaxing than my facilities, it had a sauna, I love baths and hot springs anyway, and it’s easy to have a lot of interesting conversations with guys when you’re all naked and sitting in hot water. Besides, having conversations with Japanese people was exactly why I came to the country in the first place!

One night, two semi-tough young guys came in and saw me sitting on the couch outside the bath. They were upset about my presence there and demanded that the lady at the front desk throw me out. It seems they were concerned about catching AIDS, which the Japanese were just beginning to find out about in those days.

The woman, who ran the bath with her husband and children (it had been in the family for a few generations), just laughed and informed the two men that I could understand everything they said. They told her they would never return to that bath again unless they refused me service. She laughed again as she turned back to the portable TV set on a ledge mounted on the end of the wall dividing the men’s and the women’s baths. The two men left, and I stayed.

I also do not mean to claim that some Japanese have not behaved badly and arbitrarily refused service to foreigners, even some perfectly fluent in Japanese. It’s just that I wouldn’t know about it. It’s never happened to me—and I live in a provincial town of 180,000 people, which one might think would be more likely to shun foreigners than a supposedly more sophisticated metropolis.

I’ve also never been turned down when applying to rent an apartment or get a credit card. In fact, I’m now a homeowner with a mortgage from a Japanese bank, and those arrangements presented no problem either.

It does seem that some people run into problems more frequently than others. I can’t say for certain why that happens, but I do have a few sneaking suspicions. It has been a tenet of esoteric religions of the East (and of the West, for that matter) that people tend to attract their own circumstances. It might be that some people, for whatever psychological reason, expect (or even want) to have those problems—so of course that’s exactly what they get.

Some might also argue that language ability notwithstanding, the Japanese service industry has the obligation to deal with those foreigners, based on their right to receive service. They won’t get any agreement from me. No one in his or her own country has the obligation to speak a foreign language, nor do they have the obligation to deal with people who don’t speak their own language. Nor do foreigners have the right to expect that they can go to a foreign country without knowing the language and interact with people in the same way they would at home. (Obviously I’m not talking about people on short-term business trips staying at major hotels with on-site restaurants.)

I’m sure many will disagree with me (and with Mr. Lise’s observations), and we could all argue about it until we’re blue in the face, with no productive result. Undoubtedly others have had unpleasant experiences, but it is also a fact that in more than 23 years in Japan, I have yet to be denied service even once. I’m also certain that the main reason for this isn’t luck, or a fluke—it’s that I knew I was functionally fluent in the language from my first day in the country, and was somehow subconsciously communicating this to other people without even trying.

And here’s another sneaking suspicion–I was probably communicating that I was willing to accomodate myself to them and their customs and practices instead of demanding that they accomodate themselves to me.

And that brings up one last question–are the esoteric religions right when they say that people attract their own circumstances?

I’m a believer!

UPDATE
Mr. Lise e-mailed me with his comments on this post, and promised more later. Here’s what he had to say:

“There are some things I would like to change and add. One is that it is probably more accurate to say that I am not refused any more than a Japanese would be refused. Taxi drivers refuse people for a number of reasons. Fearing not being able to communicate is one. Another is fearing that they would pass up a long fare for a shorty. Although it is less true than it used to be, this is the reason that some taxi drivers think twice before stopping for women, since they are less likely to be hard pressed to get home to a suburban home 1.5 hours (and 10,000 yen) away as would be a well-dressed 55-year-old bucho type. They can read those signs pretty well also.”

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61 Responses to “What Japanese exclusionism?”

  1. Haafu said

    Excellent. I think Debito needs to read this article. I thought his lawsuit on the Otaru onsen case was legitimate, but sometimes I think he just asks for people to refuse him service just so he can complain about it. Most of the “No Foreigner” establishments are fuuzoku anyway.

  2. kyklops said

    In over nine years here in Miyazaki I have never, not once, been refused service or entry anywhere. And my Japanese is atrocious! An apologetic smile (for not knowing the language) and a clear willingness to accommodate local custom opens more doors than it closes.

  3. Overthinker said

    Good article. I too arrived here with several years of the language under my belt, and have never been refused service, but I have to hedge that by saying that I have only ONCE in 15+ years here ever hailed a taxi (being the cheap bastard I am) and that was from a rank anyway. What DOES annoy me is all those tales from people who have (and we only ever hear their side, so that stuff from the taxi driver was *very* interesting) can make me paranoid about being refused service, about going into a small non-chain restaurant and getting the barred forearms. The fact that it has never happened to me doesn’t prevent me worrying it might. I haven’t needed bank loans or mortgages yet, so can’t say anything there, and my credit card was converted automatically to the shakaijin version after I graduated from university and using the university COOP card with no questions asked. But then scare-mongering sites like Debito and his collection of “No Foreigners” signs (note that an increase in evidence does NOT mean an increase in occurrence – all it means is that more people are sending these things in [and I have yet to see one, but then I avoid places like fuuzoku areas]) can tend to make you wonder if you’re just skating on very thin ice. Bad for the mental health, frankly.

    I would however suggest that the small towns are actually more accommodating – once they get to know you – than places like Tokyo which have long had to deal with rowdy gaijin. Someone once said that the Japanese were xenophobic but were not racist, but that would change the more foreigners moved in.

    The bit about Japanese businesses “having to deal” reminds me of those No English No Service signs you hear about in the US. On the whole I agree completely that residents have an obligation to learn the language (and customs), but signs like that can be a hassle for casual tourists only in the country for a week – and who, in the Japanese example mentioned here, may often want to take taxis. So I wonder what sorts of differences there are in attitudes between taxi drivers in foreign-tourist-intensive areas, and others?

  4. KokuRyu said

    Totally agree with the body language article. Once I mastered it, I never ever had any problems in Japan (and I speak Japanese fluently, too). To a Westerner, Japanese people seem shy and innocuous. In a North American context, their body language can be puzzling, but never distracting.

    However, to a Japanese person, a Westerner’s body language is probably a little too in-your-face and unnerving. Too much flailing about with the hands.

  5. Durf said

    Well, you got me to dig through the stack on my shelves, too. Wasted a good hour and a half. Thanks very little. ;-P (I couldn’t find it either . . .)

  6. Durf said

    Also, FWIW there have been several times when my white face wasn’t allowed into Tokyo restaurants (despite my speaking fluent Japanese to the person stopping me from entering) and one time I wasn’t allowed to reserve a room in a Tochigi ryokan (on the phone, based on my katakana name, even though we had this whole conversation in Japanese too). I was cordial about it and took my custom elsewhere. Their loss.

    My apartment searches in Tokyo also managed to find literally dozens of landlords who ended the conversation with my real-estate agent as soon as they heard my name. This last incident was made bearable by the fact that the agent was such a great guy–busting his ass to find me a good place, talking me up as a respectable person who’d been here for years, speaks like a native, you’ll love him, give him a shot. (Who knows, though, he may have just been desperate for his one-month commission.) In the end he called probably 40 landlords and managed to find 5 that would let me come around for a look at the place. And this wasn’t me sending some weird alien body language to the landlords to turn them off; this was a Japanese man on the phone with them. So I don’t think I’ll buy your “racism never happened to me so I think it must just happen to people who deserve it” conclusion there.

  7. vincent said

    Maybe you are right, but I’m not really convinced. I like cheap nomiya and drinking holes. Some foreign friends told me they were refused access to drinking establishments in my neighborhood. I never had such unpleasant experiences. Why? The main reason is that I avoid bars that seem too creepy, unfriendly or run by the yakuza. That’s all. Just observation of the establishment and anticipating what sort of patron I will find behind the door is a much bigger factor than my Japanese proficiency level. It’s just that I avoid certain places.

  8. mac said

    As someone that has been and worked for landlords in the West, I am painfully aware of the difference between your average kid or even young professional gaijin tenant and Japanese tenants. It does not surprise me one iota how Japanese landlords feel and I support them entirely, even though it would and will disadvantage me when I go to Japan. This is especially true if their first experiences have been of irresponsible post-graduates, e.g language teachers. As a far of course, we only used to rent to Japanese in London. Even Koreans came far above Whites but we would not take them by choice.

    Racist? Sorry no … utter pragmatism. It was our property, our loss, our live, our inconvenience and the bottomline was that gaijin as a whole are not housetrained and their self-importance, and volume, far outweighed their social integration and consideration for others.

    I think Debito is an asshole and have been dying to have an opportunity to voice it in public. I would love, as a baka gajin kusai myself to have an chance to square off against him on some Japanese TV show. I have him down for one of those typical type of Americans for whom personal “rights” come before social “responsibilities” and part of a long tradition of the West kicking in doors that Japan or individual Japanese have every right to have or close if they want. Its their business. Ditto the taxi driver that has to cope with the dirt, vomit and loss of fare.

    What I don’t get is why rather than forcing his fist down someone else’s throat who were ultimately the victims (bathouse owners losing business because of Russian sailors pissing in the bath or whatever, Debito did not turn the responsibility onto the potentially negligent or abusive foreigner. e.g. promote the idea of a culture passport that proved that the holder had cultural awareness and new to scrub AND rinse their foreskin BEFORE getting in the bath rather than after? Let’s face it, I do not hear so many stories of gaijin women being refused so is this not a male issue as much as it is a race issue?

    I recently visited the The Kinkaku (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto on a beautiful crisp winter morning only to have my experience spoilt by some meatheated Russian new money tourists and their tarts stinking of aftershave and alcohol, laughing as they stepping over nominal barriers and walked on the moss, creaked leaning on garden that could not support their wait, took inane photos while groping each other and generally carried as if it was a Coney Island boardwalk.

    Frankly, if Toshiro Mifune had appeared out the bushes and sliced them in two, I would have been entirely grateful and shook his hand after. Likewise, I will buy a drink to the first rabid yakuza that serious traumatizes Debito into silence (Remember guys, leave no visible marks as evidence … just mental scars). As far as I am concerned the wimp just chose the Japanese side to pick on because he knew they were much pushovers and would not fight back.

    More later!

  9. Overthinker said

    “I recently visited the The Kinkaku (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto on a beautiful crisp winter morning only to have my experience spoilt by some meatheated Russian new money tourists”

    Just yesterday in a teahouse in a famous garden I saw a European tourist lying model-pose in the tokonoma while her boyfriend took photos. It did not impress the Japanese I was with either, but they didn’t say anything. Maybe more should, so it gets nipped in the bud before more draconian measures are implemented.

    “my white face wasn’t allowed into Tokyo restaurants”
    What sort of places are we talking about here?

  10. Maccy said

    Yep, racism is good I agree with you guys completely. It’s completely justified in cases. After all it’s simply pragmatism. Certain races are just cleaner, kinder, and more civilized than others. Japanese are one of the good races. They would never do anything to offend or hurt another person. Property damage or violent attacks are unheard of. In the west this has not been realized sadly and efforts at integration and “equal” or “fair” treatment of those who don’t deserve it, whose people have never achieved anything or been good for anything has only led to violence and social upheavel. In comparison Japan is a veritable Utopia with no social problems. Japanese tourists are always perfectly aware culturally. They never pose or take photos inappropriately. As a matter of fact, the Japanese only travel when they have a deep understanding and respect for local culture, unlike these western tourists you and I have all seen. If people who deserve it are being excluded based on the acts or non-acts, simply the vile appearance of their brethren, they deserve it and have no right to complain. They should keep their country clean. After all if you’ve seen one or a few people do something, surely it’s a reflection of the rest of their people. Who did they learn from? Japan shouldn’t have to “deal” with these people. Everyone should think like this, and how can you blame the Japanese fr wanting to keep their country clean. In fact, I have a “modest proposal” of my own…

  11. mac said

    Life is never as simple as “racist” or “non-racist”. Life is a much more complex series of negotiations which we all make constantly. I think that real racism is actually very rare and borderline mental illness but, on the other hand, a lot of what passes for cultural intolerance or rejection is based on reasoned, reasonable and entirely justified grounds.

    Frankly, if the worst crime Japanese tourists can get up to is posing for group photos, I will take then 10,000 times over before urinating English beer monsters, behemoth loudmouth Americans. Ditto, when it comes to sharing my home and opening up my business, where it is I who have to pay for others excesses, Japanese win hands down again. I speak from over 30 years of experience. They are a great return on an investment.

    I am not exactly sure what point you are trying to make Maccy except from adopting some puerile moral highground. Could you attempt to wind down the sarcasm and base your argument on some comparables, either of your own personal experience or statistics? Personally, I think the Japanese are entirely in the right to have the society they want and exclude the rest of the world if they so wish. I think the West was entirely wrong in forcing them to open up against their will and not in their own time. I would advise them to heavily guard themselves against the theoretically liberalist “cult of me” theory of the West, where individuals’ rights come 10,000 miles before their social responsibilities. And defend their culture against an unnatural speed of change.

    Either as a business owner or as a member of a business community I have every right to reject the business of any creed, color or race of jerk off that I want to, IF they are going to cost me more than they benefit me, without some theoretically liberal meddler coming in, tell me how to run my business and turning himself into a martyr over it. Its not a matter of which race or class they are from, it is a simple matter of how high an insensitive, destructive, jerk off quotient they have.

    I am with the original author … and if I have to start at less than zero and earn my respect from other, then that is fine too. Why should we expect life on a plate? That is why I say rather than forcing his values down the throats of others, Debito ought to have turned his attention on reducing the jerk off quotient at source … this is what I meant by a “cultural passport” that signifies to every dubious bathhouse owner, temple guardian or ryokan that I know when to scrub first, take my shoes off and not puke on the tatami or lace.

  12. bender said

    Either as a business owner or as a member of a business community I have every right to reject the business of any creed, color or race of jerk off that I want to, IF they are going to cost me more than they benefit me, without some theoretically liberal meddler coming in, tell me how to run my business and turning himself into a martyr over it. Its not a matter of which race or class they are from, it is a simple matter of how high an insensitive, destructive, jerk off quotient they have.

    Well, where I live right now somewhere the US, there’s talk about diversity all the time, and companies have committees for it. I kinda like the idea of diversity, it does have its positive effects, and Japan can at least refrain from sending political refugees back to Burma and the like…if it wants to show itself as a member of “the west” and engage in Jinken-gaiko (“human rights diplomacy”) in order to counter Japan-bashing from China or Korea. Better yet, set some quota to let in skilled workers- US is shutting out skilled workers with its H-1B visa cap, let them come to Japan. That’ll be great. If Japan is really up to it, let non-skilled people in to, with some quota. The population is shrinking anyways.

  13. ampontan said

    MAC: “…gaijin as a whole are not housetrained and their self-importance, and volume, far outweighed their social integration and consideration for others.”

    I wish I had written this!

  14. Overthinker said

    “I think the West was entirely wrong in forcing them to open up against their will”

    Well, this sort of moral judging of history is a slippery slope indeed. We end up condemning every remotely aggressive act, or indeed any act we don’t personally like. It doesn’t do a bit of good though – those things still happened. And since we can’t replay history we can’t tell if things would have turned out ‘better’ anyway. Personally I’m of the opinion that Perry was a Good Thing (to quote “1066 And All That”), as it allowed Japan to catch up with only a few decades of Industrial Revolution to worry about, but the moral value of the entire thing is not something you find discussed in most history books.

    “Either as a business owner or as a member of a business community I have every right to reject the business of any creed, color or race of jerk off that I want to”
    Do you? Are there truly no laws preventing this? Or are you referring to hypothetical moral “rights”?

    “a “cultural passport”” – with all due respect to the ideas in the culture-vs-language post, I think that fluency in the host language is a good enough passport, and certainly preferable to yet another bit of ID that facilities might demand. (“Welcome to the Wagakuni Ryokan: all foreign visitors are required to submit their Cultural Acclimation Card when checking in. Failure to produce the CAC will result in us not being able to honour your reservations.”)
    And what would such a card list? Name, age, date of arrival in the country (but what if you spent ten years in Japan, left, then arrived back two years later?), language fluency (how determined? Everyone forced to sit the JLPT?), and a checklist like a driver’s licence? “Can Use Bath; Can Use J-style Toilet; Can Use Chopsticks; Can Bow Appropriately; Knows Where the Kamiza is; Can Wear His/Her Own Kimono; Et Cetera”?

    “And defend their culture against an unnatural speed of change.”
    Sounds like Lafcadio Hearn a hundred years ago. Who determines “natural” speeds? Modern Japan has one of the fastest-changing cultures on the planet all by itself. And the Japanese seem pretty good at determining their own speed and extent of changes as it is. But they don’t all agree.

  15. bender said

    Are there truly no laws preventing this?

    Actually, the Labor Standards Act of Japan says that employers can’t discriminate because of nationality (Section 3)- which seems to only govern those already employed, but not when the employer is hiring. Kind of different from US laws. But you know that there’s Koreans with special resident status, so it’ll be very nasty for employers to discriminate them in hiring, and I don’t think they do it outright- but maybe they can get away with discriminating “gaijin”. It’ll be a shame for them to do so regardless of the merits of the foreigners, though.

  16. Overthinker said

    I was referring more generally to laws in most ‘average’ countries (since I do not know where Mac is) as I am pretty sure that in the US and most countries like it there would in fact be some pretty definite laws – which is why I wanted to know if he was just making a philosophical point akin to “inalienable human rights” which tend to be alienated very easily. Especially by governments.

  17. mac said

    Without creating an international incident and invoking the power of the United Nations Bill of Human Right, let’s just peel back to where this conversation started.

    Where I live, no taxi driver wants to a) pick up a ride which cross the river because he want get one back and will lose money on it, b) pick up a gang or anyone looking drunken or rowdy and c) MOSTLY a ride that is heading into a black area because collective they had disproportionately too many problems (and, again, they are less likely to a ride back). Have I been refused a ride, yes. Do I blame them? No, life is short and who needs more problems. What they want are easy rides and to get home at night and so if they chose to switch their light off … what am I going to say? It is they that clean the puke out, the insurance and, worst case police and hospital NOT the so-called “liberals” nor the bureaucrats; I say allow them to use their discretion.

    What was the issue with the baths? A few rowdy Russian sailors up north soaping themselves in the bath and upsetting off the regulars? Who was left to clean the water and who loses the income from loss of business? Not the great human rights warrior nor the bureaucrats again.

    How many of you have had to run your own business and cope with the crap instead of being expert in telling other people how to run their’s?

    Practically speaking, if you are a Debito, a Russian seaman and like to bathe, get into cahoots with the Nihon Onsen Association [NOA] and make a little passport card that says, “this bather knows how to bathe and promise to be a good boy when he is in your bath” with a short translated tickbox questionaire that shows the guy knows how to take his shoes off and wash first. Make a small cover charge and then encourage NOA members to adopt it.

    Personally, I have never been refused at an onsen but then I don’t travel around with 4 other drunken Russians at the same time … surly taxi drivers are just a part of any modern metropolitan life. It is really no big deal. Put yourself in the shoes of your host nation and imagine how they feel before laying your trip on them. Personally, I have no problem in being seen as a slightly second class, retardant liability and embarrassment because, in Japan, I actually am … and I am grateful for any hospitality.

    My point is that such reactions as these generally arise from reasonable, albeit unfortunately, practical circumstances … a jerk off experience. I do not think it is unreasonable for business owners to protect their business and established clientele, and where they have had issues in the past. I’d just encourage them to become “private clubs”, with membership forms written all in japanese, and exclude themselves from being told what to do by folks that are not paying for it.

    The whole idea behind “inalienable rights” is that they apply to “humans”, not merely bipeds. I am not sure all bipeds are human yet. In a sense, overthinker, I am running right across your track because I real all about these “inalienable human rights” but not so much about “inalienable human responsibilities”.

  18. Paul said

    Inalienable human responsibilities to tiptoe around Japan’s creepy, cowardly, and antisocial culture?

    Mac, your point of view deserves no sympathy, because Japan has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into just about every good thing it has ever had. Commodore Perry forcing the country to open up is probably one reason why Japan isn’t a protectionist third-world dump now.

    Do you know why so many geeky nerds in the West love Japan so much? It’s because the Japanese are just as awkward and wimpy as they are. Even the Yakuza are pansies. They’re nothing compared to the Russian mob.

    They certainly aren’t going to intimidate Debito or any other foreigner into silence, especially since Debito is twice the size of a typical Japanese man. Hell, I’m 5’8″ and 145 lbs., and when I was in Japan I saw maybe a dozen people who were noticeably bigger than me.

    Non-Japanese may take silly pictures of Japan’s equally silly religious icons, but at least they don’t go to elementary schools and stab children to death.

  19. Overthinker said

    “Personally, I have no problem in being seen as a slightly second class, retardant liability and embarrassment because, in Japan, I actually am”

    That’s the rub: I don’t think I am, as I know pretty well how to behave, certainly better than a lot of teenage Japanese. The problem with Japanese discrimination is that it’s not very selective: your taxi drivers may refuse to pick up gang types or obvious drunks, but in a similar situation a Japanese taxi driver will just not pick up any foreigners after a bad incident or two. I have been refused a rental because of a landlord’s bad experience with a Bangladeshi – never mind that I am in now way remotely Bengal. All foreigners become equally bad in their eyes.

    Also, one of Debito’s actual good points is that for people who genuinely immigrate here – get citizenship, etc – Japan is no longer their “host nation” but their home, permanently. And yet they too will face the same exclusion. The responsibilities point isn’t just a one-way street. When you live in Japan long term, pay taxes etc, you gain the right (by contributing to the state) for more responsibility shown you, and when you naturalise you should gain the full amount of responsibility the Japanese state has to its citizens.

  20. Durf said

    No, Overthinker, I’ve seen the light. Racism is fine since it’s just “pragmatism.” This namby-pamby “Japan should respect the rights laws already on its books” thinking is the kind of shit that forced South Africa to give up its wise Apartheid policies that kept the kaffirs safely away from the pragmatic whites for all those years.

  21. Aceface said

    “In comparison Japan is a veritable Utopia with no social problems. Japanese tourists are always perfectly aware culturally. They never pose or take photos inappropriately.”

    “Non-Japanese may take silly pictures of Japan’s equally silly religious icons, but at least they don’t go to elementary schools and stab children to death.”

    “This namby-pamby “Japan should respect the rights laws already on its books” thinking is the kind of shit that forced South Africa to give up its wise Apartheid policies that kept the kaffirs safely away from the pragmatic whites for all those years.”

    Don’t we all love internet….

  22. mac said

    It still raises an interesting question for me of how far does or should the State intervene into personal relationships and private enterprise? I think I see the likes of Debito as part of a greater trend towards intervensionism that has the State meddling in private affairs on a reactionary basis that does not makes for good laws. Whinging encourages a big meddlesome State and then shortly after police and law industry, it overrides natural relationships. And, paradoxically for someone that stood up to defend small business people, its a continuation of the expansion of capitalism over community. “I have money … I want now … Give me … my rights”.

    Yes, well, may be I just don’t feel like cleaning up for you however much you pay or because you wear too much aftershave etc … its not racism.

    This “racism” stuff reminds me of folks that squeal anti-semitism as soon as anyone makes a critical statement about Israel … its a weak defense that depends on other individuals being afraid of the tarnishing the squealers are doling out. The truth is most “racists” I have known, openly racists, actually get on fine with many races or nationalities and the prejudices are almost entirely based directly objectively negative experiences, most enforced by State control or capitalist interests, e.g. poor white working classes having to cope with and act as a buffer to forced or economic immigration that have no interest in but which impacts upon their establish way of life.

    I cant think this is much different in Japan, a highly homogenous people living in a highly polished and developed society, as far as I can see, that they, the people, re-built to a point of relative excellence with their labor after it was bombed and burnt flat due to forces out with their control or democratic involvement. Why should they, the people, who have made several lifetimes of investment into creating that culture, accept indiscriminately the forced interjection of other “memes” into that homogenous culture, e.g. ‘burly Russian seamen’ meme, ‘Kimchee Korean’ meme is going to create ripples, especially when they are not as developed or are dissonant?

    I have abroad experience of a number of nations and living in one of the most densely multi-cultural societies, albeit dominantly white. Personally, I find it a very interesting and humbling experience to be in the reverse situation of being part of a tiny minority.

    But I am not going to cry to Momma State to go beat up the bad boy if I don’t get what I want now for my dollar. Even as a recently naturalized Japanese, one is still taking more than one is giving. Yup, shame about the kids going down the pan. I think this country is going to have real problems in 20 or 30 years time as I am not sure they have the same backbone as their mother and fathers. I blame America for that.

  23. Overthinker said

    “Even as a recently naturalized Japanese, one is still taking more than one is giving.”

    What do you mean here? Is it a statement that even if you become a citizen you should not demand all the rights of citizenship? Or does it say that naturalised citizens do not contribute enough (in what form) to their adopted country?

    Don’t see where you are going with the post-war rebuilding angle. In terms of creating “Japanese culture” it is at best a contributing factor, I would think.

  24. Ret said

    I think it’s a bit of both. Certainly how you ask things can be important. I’ve called places in Japan trying to get basic info and if I forget to dot all my linguistic/cultural T’s in the conversation, I’ll get the run around. I’ve called back to the same place and if I follow all the etiquette of self-introduction, then I’ve gotten the answer I was looking for. Same question, different way of asking it. Knowing the ropes and how to behave is very important.

    On the other hand, my Japanese wife and I were looking for an apartment in Tokyo a couple years back. I’m fluent in Japanese and was gainfully employed. But a full 25% of landlords wouldn’t even consider a foreigner, no matter what the conditions were. One real estate agent told us that if I wasn’t a Westerner that it would be even worse. They might have removed the “gaijin fu-kano” from the listings in the last decade, but it’s still there in reality. I’ve also occasionally had racial insults muttered at me as I walk down the street in Kyoto and Tokyo. I have other stories as well. This isn’t me being a baka gaijin. I fit into Japanese culture and society just fine, without problem.

    Japan has a real problem with xenophobia. It’s not as bad as people like Debito make it out to be, but neither is it just baka gaijin who don’t learn the lay of the land and how to fit into society.

    I’ve also lived in very rural Japan. I’d say the “gaijin da!” factor is higher, but the real discrimination is conversely much lower. That’s especially true if you speak the language and make an effort.

  25. Overthinker said

    “But a full 25% of landlords wouldn’t even consider a foreigner, no matter what the conditions were.”

    I suppose we can be grateful that 75% will, which is better than many tales you hear.

    I’ve never heard racial insults muttered at me, however. What do they say?

    And I agree completely on the rural Japan aspects. In Yamagata prefecture I actually got asked for directions by a random Japanese. (Being just visiting there, I wasn’t able to help though.)

  26. Aceface said

    I remember a Briton back in June 11th 2002 around 1 AM(presumably a soccer fan coming to Japan to see the World cup game) at Shibuya’s Tobu Hotel cursing at the front desk and screaming why he can’t have a free breakfast as he was told so by the British travel agency.An old Japanese hotel clerk was doing his best in broken English to tell him there is some kind of mistakes and the guest has to pay for breakfast.The Brit refused to acknowledge this and started screaming even more loudly.
    I had to intervene and conduct the free translation work for his favor.There were no thank-yous,but instead he told me “Japanese are all lying tard”.The smell of beer was all over him.I retreated back to my room without saying anything for I had to leave for Korea in the morning.

    What made me pissed off the next morning was this article I’ve read on the plane in (I thought)Independent criticizing Japanese authority’s”phobic”to Anglo-hooligans are sign of long thriving xenophobia.I thought that is a normal procedure for any country hosting international soccer game with national Team of England being invited,but not this British journalist.It is racism,nothing-but.
    Now I work for media myself and I do have some hair raising stories relating westerners in this country from my own personal experiences aside from that drunken English hooligan,but would I present that to the public in the form of counter argument of this article?Never.So there you have it.Expat1:Japanese 0.

    One thing disturbs me in recent years is that nearly all of Japan stories in English language takes 100%granted on one sided story from the expat,while the voice of locals were never reflected upon it,for their opinions would never surmount the language barriers,or the writer of the article themselves are expat.And these days,people who side with Japan are insignificant in numbers.So any troubles or emotional confricts are tranlated as Japanese racism and nothing else.And this tendency got worsened because of the mighty internet where everyone can write whatever they want.

    I know the concept of racial relationship that majority should always compromise for the minority if you want to live together in the same society.But are western expats really the powerless and vulnerable people need to be classified as minority as they claim to be? They’ve got full force of English language international media behind them for christ sake!Take a look at Lindsay Hawker murder and all those articles finger pointing Japan,the nation of perverted.While I have all the sympathy for her family,but still let me say that there are more than a dozen Chinese women dissapears in this country every year without trace and there are almost no media coverage as such.For that,I would say expats rights and dignities are fairly well protected in this country or at least there are ways to “get even”with Japan.By stripping all the dignity of the nation in the form of relentless attack through mass media.

    And that is a sort of a power the blacks in pre-apartheid-free South Africa,nor Koreans living in 1930′s Japanese empire could never have imagined themselves possessing.I know some of the commenters here may not be agreeing with me on this though.

  27. Overthinker said

    “While I have all the sympathy for her family,but still let me say that there are more than a dozen Chinese women disappears in this country every year without trace and there are almost no media coverage as such.”

    Does this include Chinese-language media?

  28. James A said

    It really does piss me off how many expats in Japan play the race card to try a compensate for their shitty manners. I have a Canadian friend that I went out with to play tennis with in Kanagawa recently and we wanted to play tennis. We were waiting for another group to finish up playing tennis which kind of left him pissed. We just set up a BBQ later and waited for that group to leave. Another group was playing there but he told me to go over there and ask the group if we could join. I went over there, politely asked the old couple there if we could join them on the court, he kindly agreed.

    When I went back and told him we could play there, he honestly seemed kind of dumfounded. Like I had maybe waved a gun in front of them to persuade them to let us play.

    Then there was this 19-year old lil’ twit hick from Iowa that used to work at the school I’m at. He was a scrawny. ugly lil’ prick who constantly complained about being ‘persecuted’, yet he was getting special favors from some people during his playboy adventures in Shibuya. He even adopted several Japanese fashion trends including that feathered hair to try and pick up Japanese girls. Thank god he left my workplace and gave up Japan like the little weakling he was. I was getting very close to kicking his ass down the flight of stairs leading up to the entrance of our school so I didn’t have to listen to his whiny, raspy Midwestern drawl anymore.

    I really get tired of this imperialistic superiority complex from many gaijin here in Japan. The equation is not that hard folks: Be polite = get treated well. One thing that disturbs me is that it tends to come from people who think they are “progressive” or “liberal”, just as much as it comes from people who consider themselves conservatives. Whenever I see someone bellowing out “Racism!” at a self-percieved injustice, that person is just labeling themself.

    Sorry for the prolonged and disorganized rant. This thread just reminded me of some things that have bugged me living in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.

  29. ampontan said

    “One thing that disturbs me is that it tends to come from people who think they are “progressive” or “liberal”, just as much as it comes from people who consider themselves conservatives.”

    I suspect it comes from the progressives more. It is one of the great ironies.

    A week or so ago, I wrote about being a cab driver. This was in the East Bay area of the San Francisco Bay area, covering Oakland and Berkeley.

    The only problem I ever had with insufferable attitudes of superiority from passengers was with the Berkeley-ites.

  30. bender said

    The only problem I ever had with insufferable attitudes of superiority from passengers was with the Berkeley-ites.

    I think you mean those guys living up at the hills in Rockridge and the like…the Berserkley people I know don’t ride cabs, only airporters at best.

  31. ampontan said

    Bender: I was surprised, there were a lot of people taking cabs near the campus area, not in the hills. There was plenty of business for the company in Berkeley.

    I preferred hanging out near the Kaiser Hospital in Oakland near MacArthur Blvd. Easy to get to fares from all over that way. Most of the business came from phone calls, rather than people flagging you down on the street, which is how it is in SF.

  32. bender said

    Well, back then, I was hanging around with guys short of cash…

  33. bender said

    BTW, I like KOIT. Still listen to it on the web.

  34. Aceface said

    “Does this include Chinese-language media?”

    There are several Chinese-language paper in Japan and they cover the issue sometimes.But some of these women(and men)smuggle into this country,and we only find out their absence(or their presence)when their family lose contact and start searching via their roommates.

    “I suspect it comes from the progressives more. It is one of the great ironies.”

    Can’t say this is all conservative/progressive matter.
    My humble opinion is while the multiculturalism rises in the west,in inverse proportion to that the cultural relativism is declining very rapidly.So expat can be easily judgemental that West is more superior than Japan for the penetration of multiculturalism in the society is shallow in comparison.This comparison usually lacks any indepth analysis in socio-economical difference between Japan and west and historical context of evolution of multiculturalism in their home country.But in spite of the defect,the logic is appealing for it’s versatileness and moral clarity.
    That’s why while we have Debito as the champion of the English teachers with attitude,he is ignored by most of the Japanese public and his message do not reach to other foreigners in the society,such as zainichi Koreans,Burmese political exiles and various Asian illegal workers,who would eventually be part of this society by living here all through their remaining lives.

  35. Overthinker said

    The ETA – English Teachers with Attitude. Nice.
    “Debito here, of the ETA. Move aside, I’m taking over the scene now.”

    I’m not sure expats from the West are more judgemental these days – some of the things they said back in the Meiji period were pretty demeaning. However over the past couple of decades things would have got worse simply as the JET scheme and places like NOVA have brought in a large influx of them – prior to that, you had to have a certain amount of dedication, which I think translates to a certain amount of respect.

  36. Aceface said

    ”some of the things they said back in the Meiji period were pretty demeaning.”
    I agree.But that was the times that cultural relativism was not exactly rooted in the western(or Japanese)minds.Those were the days of the Social Darwinism and I wouldn’t judge these Oyatoi Gaijins from 21st century value standards.

    And one thing,I did say a lot of harsh thing to Ardou.But then again,he is needed to certain extent.What he did for “Foreigner crime file”was perfectly legitimate.In my opinion his tactics are justifiable when dealing with media.
    And the recent ongoing you see with NOVA,as I see the major news coverage on the matter,every single news reports are on the side of teachers and perhaps we may have more intense debate towards better working condition for teachers.

  37. Bruce Smith said

    Debito by his own admission was unable to cope with working for a Japanese company and instead managed to find a job at a university. Why should we take seriously somebody who was incapable of holding down a real job at a Japanese company ? I think Debito has too much time on his hands – he should get a real job.

  38. Overthinker said

    “Why should we take seriously somebody who was incapable of holding down a real job at a Japanese company?”

    I think that’s a bit harsh – even given that we are shown only one side, it’s perfectly possible that there are toxic work environments out there. However he certainly does not seem suited to an academic position (which he is now leaving as his view of “academic freedom” means having the freedom to do what he wants, not what he was hired for, and being prevented from doing what he wants is “racism”).

  39. mac said


    What I meant is that paying tax is like paying rent, not paying for the building. A tenant has limited rights and not those equal to the owners that built the building. Either legally or morally.

    What make a society or a civilisation is much more than a year or two of income tax. I am looking back at least 100s of years and thinking we should be respect for what it took to build the uniqueness of Japanese society. I meant very directly the total rebuild within 60 years since WWII. Personally, I think that it is unimaginable that any other race or nation could have achieve such a feat. In England, they still had old bombed out building in cities until the 1970s.

    I think the story of the football hooligan screaming “turd” above, and the contrary comment about “show respect, get it back” just about sums my point of view up. And, yes, there seems to be an entirely class of individuals that is good at using “rights” politically and ambitiously in, what to me feels like a dishonest fashion.

    And I am equally sick of the one side English language reporting of not just current affairs but also Japanese history even from the most august publications. It is as though they are written by privately educated school boys still living out their comic book version of war history. I think Japan is sorely disadvantaged by its manners here. Note the difference by the way the Japanese and the Turkish responded to the recent unbelievable Congress condemnations.

    Its not that I dont recognise war victims … I just equally recognise that 95% of individuals in Japan today had nothing with WWII, so why beat up them for it? I get really sick of the way the West continually attempts to demean the Japanese either as war criminal or whacky weirdos.

    It strikes me that underneath in the government, media and individuals; there are on one hand some frail egos that find it hard to come to terms with Japanese people outstanding capacity, and on the other a distinct aggressively undertone that wants to keep Japan down and under. Negative public opinion is being constantly being fermented.

    The worst I saw recently was on the Wikipedia from some American Koreans who had absolutely no legitimacy to claim “rights” off the backs of indigenous Koreans and very were adopting postures and gestures from black power movement in the US, e.g.. calling Korean-Japanese names (which were both given and freely adopted during the colonial period) “slave names”.

  40. mac said

    sorry, I got the XHML coding wrong in the above post and lost the quote I was trying to put in.

    I am replying to;

    Overthinker Says:

    “Even as a recently naturalized Japanese, one is still taking more than one is giving.”

    What do you mean here? Is it a statement that even if you become a citizen you should not demand all the rights of citizenship? Or does it say that naturalised citizens do not contribute enough (in what form) to their adopted country?

  41. Overthinker said

    “What I meant is that paying tax is like paying rent, not paying for the building. A tenant has limited rights and not those equal to the owners that built the building. Either legally or morally.”

    So you are saying that no immigrants anywhere should ever have any real rights? That the ‘natives’ should always have greater rights? That merely by having ancestors who worked ‘for’ the country gives you greater rights?
    Perhaps recent immigrants – first and second generation – to the US should have fewer rights that those that were there since 1776?

    Paying taxes is most certainly paying for the building – often literally (eg road tax pays for the building of roads, whereas, to extend the idea, your ‘rental’ fee is just the highway toll). The idea that one’s ancestral labours somehow entitles one to preferential treatment may be shared by the Prince of Wales and Paris Hilton, but not by me.

    Wanting certain rights, especially after naturalising, is far from being the sort of person who shouts “turd” in hotels (and let’s not imagine that Japanese never cause similar hassles in public spaces: this is not a gaijin-only issue). Obviously responsibilities fit in there somewhere – to naturalise, the GOJ has to be pretty sure that anyone they will allow to naturalise has some degree of responsibility. So that can be taken as a given when discussing the rights of naturalised citizens vs born citizens.

    “but also Japanese history even from the most august publications.”
    Do you have any particular publications in mind?

    “Personally, I think that it is unimaginable that any other race or nation could have achieve such a feat.”
    Ampontan has been accused of being a mouth for the Japanese government publicity machine, but this looks like another contender. Especially the use of “race”. A statement like this needs to be presented with a great deal more evidence and carefully analysed. The cheap wooden housing of the shitamachi was easy to burn – and easy to replace. And when did the last of the post-war barracks finally get removed from Tokyo, I wonder?

  42. mac said

    I can promise you I am as far from any Japanese governmental mouthpiece as possible. I am not Japanese.

    Its not possible to go back in time or make comparisons over the century, we only have today and tomorrow to come. Many of the developed, industrialized nations face the same problems, but Japan moreso, of aging populations and pressing neighbours full of families, naturally, wanted to reap financial benefits. What to do?

    Should immigration be managed or should it be as free as capital to trade across borders? Are we to revert to the fistfights or the emperial pasts? What rights should new immigrant have in their host nations and what responsibilities to the nature of the society into which they enter? A nature which may have many differences to their own? Likewise should and can society fix themselves at some point in time and say, “this is us, this is the way we are?”.

    Personally, I have spent most of my life in an boro’ which suffers, and enjoys, a very high level of waves of different recent immigration. It is both a landing point and a dumping zone for voluntary and involuntary migration. The suffering, and enjoyment, goes two ways.

    What do I say, for example, to a frugal local family with two kids that has lived in the area for several hundred years, suffered its history, built and maintained it who cannot afford decent housing when, say, a newly immigrant family of 7 without any connection turns up at the airport and demands to be taken to the “money shop”, as they call it (social benefits) and is then given a free house with protected rent? The two families are made to live side by side, the newly immigrant family being given no induction on life works and required no “social contract”?

    It is not so much about what I say should happen but what I think will happen but I think temporary migration and “social contracts” will become more and more a part of our future, e.g. ‘you can come here, stay for x years then go, for that period these are your rights’ and those rights will be limited in comparison to what the native stakeholders have. any society can only absorb so many new individuals and we live in a world of limited resources.

    People say, “oh, the ‘Japanese’ are bad because they don’t like ‘Koreans’” or “the working class ‘whites’ are bad because they don’t like ‘African-Carbbeans’” but if we strip away the layer of racism in our eyes and see not “the Japanese” or “white trash” but a settled people living closely being unsettled by new smells, noises and social problems they did not have before through no choice of their own. All you need to make a “racist” is a bucket of kimchee kept on the neighboring balcony, or some idiot playing gansta rap at 4 am on a weekday, people that shout offensively versus people that don’t etc. I really don’t think that is racist at all. it is entirely reasonable to resent someone tearing up the fabric of your life.

    Generally, in existing communities, families had rubbed off their sharp edges and bound together with each other. This especially applies to island nations, I think, and even moreso to the rarified atmosphere of Japan. Believe me, I have travelled. What we call “Japan” is very highly developed. Frankly, I think one of the problem the West had with Japan historically was that it posed a challenge to their self-image and imperial ambitions. Look at the hysterical comments above in support of Perry’s actions from some, presumably, who nothing of the Unequal Treaties or the European interventionism of the Edo Period!

    There was nothing benign and altruistic in the one-sided Anglo-America attack that Japan had been subject to for a couple of hundred years (approx), the is nothing benign and altruistic is the constant political and media beatings and there is nothing benign and altruistic in the intentions of economic or sex migrants (English language teachers!). I think if I was a local, after 300 odd years of a pretty much one way trade in abuse, I’d be sick and pissed off too!

    My overwhelming experiencing of Japanese people (home and abroad) is a mix of humble, caring, generous, polite, cool, considerate, hard working, stylish and fun loving for whom I have a great sympathy for and give them credit. Their society is not easy on them. Why should it be easy on foreigners?

    No gain without pain?

  43. Overthinker said

    I think we’re actually talking about different things here. I have not been arguing for the rights of “fresh off the boat” immigrants who demand to be taken to the “money shop” (ha. Try that in Japan). I have been arguing for the rights of people who have been here long enough, who have or will make the commitment to understand and fit in. In your analogy of the poor families, I am arguing on behalf of the immigrant family that arrived in London ten or twenty years ago, worked hard, paid their taxes, saved enough money for a house, and then moved in next door, while learning English and developing an understanding and appreciation of English culture and history. In short, I am not arguing for “greater” rights at all.

    “Their society is not easy on them. Why should it be easy on foreigners?” Their society isn’t that hard either – there are many many many with harsher ones – but that is not a reason to make it harder or easier for foreigners. It is what it is.

    Buckets of kinchee etc – if you hate the person who leaves the bucket there, that is indeed not racism. But if you hate another person simply for being from the same race as the kimchee-bucket person, then that is racism, pure and simple.

    Three hundred years of pretty-much one way trade in abuse? Even without mentioning that the trade imbalance, such as it might have been, was given a good hard shove the other way in the Pacific War and that starting from the very first years of treaty ports it was not uncommon for foreigners to be attacked on sight, Japan has never been a passive victim of circumstance. And 300 years is about twice as long as needed. Japan saw what happened in Qing China and said “not us.” The two greatest bugbears for Japan in the late 19th C were extra-territoriality and the Unequal Treaties, especially the latter. However there were also restrictions on foreigners in Japan, regarding travel and residence – it was far from carte blanche for them. Nor was Japan dragged kicking and screaming into the Industrial Age: they already had a very highly developed economy, even proto-capitalist depending on which historian you talk to. Thus it only took them a few decades to catch up to the West, so that by 1905 they were able to fight Russia to a standstill, and from there on they were treated more seriously. While the Washington Treaty ranked their naval limits below the UK and US, what needs to be remembered is that that’s still World Number Three, a point the historian Hata Ikuhiko makes quite strongly in “Showashi no Ronten” (Debating Points of Showa History). The Japanese were not squished, and their imperial ambitions were initially welcomed by Britain, who saw them as a counter-threat against Russia during the Great Game and its aftermath – 1907 treaty notwithstanding. It was the Americans who were leery of Japanese encroachment on Manchuria, but not for any altruistic reasons – they were keen on getting a trade foothold themselves.

    Now it’s also true that between the Gentlemen’s Agreement limiting Japanese migration to the US (esp the western states) and the refusal of the European Powers to add a clause banning racism on the Treaty of Versailles are not exactly shining examples of how to treat others, and matters were not helped by the increasing Yellow Peril ideas of the Californians and others – the limits on Japanese emigration were a frequent topic of Japanese newspapers in the 1920s.

    Nevertheless it is far from a one-sided “trade in abuse”. The Japanese were not doormats. To take one famous example, when samurai of the Satsuma clan attacked and killed English men in what is now Yokohama, the British proceeded to Kagoshima and pounded the tar out of the place (not without taking some not insignificant damage of their own mind you, including more actual lives lost). But rather than that leading to all-out conflict, the Satsuma leaders were impressed, and bought up British weapons, enlisted British military expertise, and they became allies in the struggle to overthrow the Shogunate. In other words, both sides had losses and both sides had gains, and it was far from a one-sided imperialist aggression. Nor have subsequent relations been a simple “trade in abuse” by any means.

    Benign altruism is seldom a factor in international relations, and in the case of Japan and the Great Powers, neither side was in it for the other’s good. The US sent Perry to allow coaling and resupplying, and a spot of trade – not to colonise the country or overthrow the Tokugawa. People seldom do work from true benign altruism – and in fact recent biological research indicates that “altruism” is a survival factor, a way to demonstrate power and gain loyalty.

    And if you think the atmosphere here is rarefied, come and breath Tokyo smog for a week….

  44. Aceface said

    Ebb and flow of discrimination

    From Japan Times.

    By MIKE DEWOOD
    Nagayo, Nagasaki
    As for which minority groups face the worst discrimination, it depends on where you live. I live in Nagasaki, so a great many Japanese hate Americans. I have had kids throw rocks at me, two seniors spit in my face, and a note left in my mailbox that read “foreigner go home.” Of course, not all Americans are discriminated against, but it is quite prevalent over here.

    WTF?

  45. Aceface said

    And this.

    By ISAAC DLUGACZ
    Tsu, Mie
    Regarding the Oct. 23 Views From the Street question, “Which minority groups face the worst discrimination in Japan?”: I find it interesting that of the three Japanese people questioned, only one mentioned race, whereas all of the foreigners questioned answered to the effect that “Chinese and Koreans are discriminated against.”

    One could simply assume that this has to do with us gaijin in Japan being more sensitive to the plights of other people in our situation. However, after living here and understanding things such as how the Japanese government censures textbooks about wartime Okinawa, I believe there is the possibility that the struggles of non-Japanese residents of Asian descent are being downplayed to keep the general public ignorant.

    Handicapped people will be discriminated against wherever they go, but I have never seen a place in Japan where their treatment has become an open source of grievance as one of the people in the article alleged.

    Yet I have heard more than one Japanese person express at length their dislike of Chinese people and can report similar experiences on the subway. Of course, it would be silly to chalk up my personal experiences to what Japan or Japanese people are really like aside from the individuals that I have observed, but when paired with articles like this one, it is difficult not to pursue the above line of thought.

    “after living here and understanding things such as how the Japanese government censures textbooks about wartime Okinawa”

    Now waaait a minuite,Issac.
    First of all “wartime Okinawa”thing has little or nothing to do with “discrimination”against Korean and Chinese.Secondly,this came up with new confession coming from ex-Ryukyu government offcial,who was in charge of wartime compensation, that he had used Captain Akamatsu,the man who was said to be in charge of mass suicide at Tokashiki island,to gain compensation from the Japanese government of which was impossible if the suicide was conducted by their own self will.Writer Sono Ayako had been reporting about fabrication of this incidents decades ago for Sono is a conservative writer.Now with this ex-Ryukyu government official confession,Sono’s thesis got concrete basis.The recent Okinawan demonstration reported in elsewhere as 110000people(of which the Okinawan prefectual police refusing to adress the number they have recorded it,probably to avoid the political feud)is now believed to be less than 20000 and added with activist from mainland.Sankei and Asahi had been exchanging some heated debate over this issue.
    So Issac’s “I believe there is the possibility that the struggles of non-Japanese residents of Asian descent are being downplayed to keep the general public ignorant”does not stand.Beside anyone who can read Japanese paper would never come to this conclusion.

    I’m getting VERY sinical with JT’s very intention of bringing topic as “Which minority faces worst discriminations?” kind of questions in the first place.Gaijin gets all the commanding height and can snipe at the locals anywhere,anytime?And fighting back at them would risk you being labeled as “Nationalist”and “racist”.It just is not a fair game,is it.
    How about an answer”we,Japanese” here,would that be too provocative?I mean afterall we are a declining ethnic group on this planet….

    The main line of Japan Times should stay as the voice of Japanese people to outside world as it was intended in the first place,But now it is used as a weapon of choice by Debito Ardouesque figures.

    Can you imagine Korea Herald or South China Morning Post would have a piece as such?Never.

    That would tell you how much Japanese editors and writers(or even the owner)are afraid of being morally condemned by foreigners almost like peasnats in the midieval Europe are afraid of being fingerpointed as heresy in Spanish Inquisition.

  46. ampontan said

    The only one ignorant here is poor Isaac. He thinks the government is trying to keep the general public ignorant about Okinawa when it’s common knowledge for anyone who bothers to read a Japanese newspaper. Of course Isaac doesn’t, and probably can’t.

    “Yet I have heard more than one Japanese person express at length their dislike of Chinese people and can report similar experiences on the subway.”

    This sentence doesn’t even make sense.

    Shall I report my experiences? With the young Chinese woman studying at a local junior college working part-time at a supermarket down the street who gets along with everyone? (And has no problem finding part-time jobs to support herself. She works at two.)

    Or the Chinese tourists treating a local Japanese like dirt because the latter, who was semi-fluent in Chinese, wanted to strike up a casual conversation with them in a situation where a casual conversation with bystanders was perfectly natural.

    On the other hand, Aceface, there are some Japanese that encourage this attitude in foreigners. I once sat next to the local Jiji press correspondent at a small party and he wanted my opinions of Japan. He was very disappointed when I had just good things to say. In fact, he interrupted me and said, no no, I want to hear your criticisms.

    I had a similar experience with a college professor who wanted to know what I thought of the Japanese educational system and only wanted to hear bad things. This was before the reform. (Why he asked me, I don’t know. At that time, I had never set foot in a Japanese school.)

  47. Aceface said

    “On the other hand, Aceface, there are some Japanese that encourage this attitude in foreigners. I once sat next to the local Jiji press correspondent at a small party and he wanted my opinions of Japan. He was very disappointed when I had just good things to say. In fact, he interrupted me and said, no no, I want to hear your criticisms.”

    Actually I do something like that myself couple of times in my own job and probably would continue doing that in the future.Because I’m not objecting foreign criticism nor see it as offense to the society.

    Every racial relation is complicated in it’s own way and there are difference in each cases and wide gap between thesis and reality.If there is a case related with any kind of racial friction,I’m most certainly support media to cover the issue and analyze the case from various perspective.That’s why we appreciate foreigner’s opinion on Japanese society.

    But this “Who is the No.1 underdog in the Japanese society contest”is just not it.What I’m pissed off is JT writer here is pretty insensitive here.One of the Japanese commenter was saying that the discrimination toward phisical disable is the worst kind of discrimination in Japan,and she was saying that from her own relatives example.Hers and another Chinese person has only concrete basis in their opinion.And I have no idea how that can be concluded as “I believe there is the possibility that the struggles of non-Japanese residents of Asian descent are being downplayed to keep the general public ignorant.”by Issac here.

    Had he not to think that kind of generalization itself is a racial prejudice?

    Here om this JT article there are no actual case being presented that can make you think in perspective and everyone simply talk about the issue 100%granted on “Japanese are all racist” mindset.All we Japanese can do is just shut up and accept the verdict.I even feel foreigners there are taking advantage of the Japanese open mind and liberalism in a way without even knowingly.

  48. mac said

    To pick up what Overthinker, I think it was, alluded to, can Japanese be racist against Chinese? Are they not from the same race? Ditto Koreans? Is it not something more subtle like a mixture of historio-anthropological sibling rivalry encouraged by contemporary direct negative experiences? Are there no element of class and culture (or the lack thereof) also involved?

    Surely most of the problems were are discussing arise from elements that have no class and little cultural appreciation. It less of racial issue that portrayed because racism is easy and sell media either way. Forced or economic migrants tend to be of a certain sort regardless of nationality.

    I still uphold the landlords position. If a landlord has one, two, three Koreans that stink the place out and are argumentative; or one, two, three Gaijin, that dont take their shoes off and waste the tatami, leave the place a mess or run off owing debts … you are just going to stop taking either. Seriously, that is not racism, that is protecting your business, your other clientele and, ultimately, your own legal right to the quiet enjoyment of your property. I am sorry, but my sympathies are with the locals, why should they pay the price for the difficulties we impose?

    What would be interesting would be to review WHY those landlords do not take foreigners first to see if there is some reasonable cause for it before knee-jerking and accusing our hosts.

  49. Overthinker said

    So are you saying that [self] justified racial discrimination is not racism? I think you are working from the POV that “all racism is unjustified hatred [and bad]” and that if there is a historical reason then it’s not racist. It is: it’s just “justified,” and the step from “all gaijin have met never take their shoes off” to “all gaijin never take their shoes off” is the racist step. It may be protecting your business (though unproven, in that there are gaijin who DO take theirs off, so who knows what you’ll get) and you may be able to justify it economically, but that doesn’t make it not racist.

  50. mac said

    I would say I don’t like Nigerians but I do like people from the French-Caribbean like St Lucia or Dominique. Of Nigerians, I dont like Yuroba but I like Igbo and the Hausa in general. Of the Yuroba, i cant stand the noisy, smelly, feckless, dishonest, 501 scammers but I have met a prince and an admiral who utterly outclass me in every department. I am an immigrant in a foreign country with a foreign partner … am I racist? If the only black I have ever met were those Nigerians … would I be utterly irrational to refuse to let any other black within reach of my wallet, till or possesses? What I am saying is that life is much more complex and for some kid journalist to join the pot stirrers repeating sound-bite boogieman stories about “the Japanese” for personal gain is condemnable.

    There is an entire industry of these people and most of them a) have no balls therefore pick on the well-mannered, long-suffered, Yankee-re-educated Japanese b) latterly are just picking a backride on the example set by the Holocaust Industry in the US a la Iris Chang and her followers.

    I found a funnily rant on topic here, http://weblog.naruhodo.com/japan/index.html?blog=19, that made me laugh.

    If this little cockroach Kai would have the guts to try the same trick in one of the onsens in Budapest , he and his friends would wake up six month later from a coma finding them self not able to service their wife the rest of their life. As for a lawsuit against Budapest city … everybody would just smile.

    Snow queen as responsible editor for what W.C. Japan Times prints should be careful. Publishing garbage like the “Blame game” by a man like cockroach Kai alias Aridou could mean loosing her job. Somebody may sue … not little cockroach Kai, but her!

    I saw we are all ‘racial discriminists’ and practise a whole load of other discrimination FOR OUR OWN SELF INTERESTS daily. I think discrimination is hardcoded into human beings and is both necessary and beneficial. What I am thinking at present, to put an evolutionary spin on it, is that it relate directly to our tribal past. That it works large unconsciously. Rather than “racism”, which has an immediately pejorative value placed upon it by neo-liberals, media-savvy, loudmouths out to benefit THEIR OWN SELF INTERESTS but turning it into a career or a lucrative industry.

    Its something tribal, our tribe and the other. We have a genuine and realist, mutual self-interest in protecting our tribe and we are defensive about other tribes who want to take what we have got. What these parasites are doing in relation to Japan, and I call these activists parasites because they are in a sense living off other people’s suffering, businesses or cultures not even their own, is creating a mythic Japan in a manner that I find very unethical FOR THEIR OWN SELF INTEREST whether it is professional (wannabe journo language student looking to buff up his CV), egotistic (look at me mom, the caped crusader of bathtubs) or political (Korean and Chinese activists).

    Obviously in the case of the latter (Korean and Chinese activists), it is joyful to have a culture that is rich, with weak self-esteem and tolerant as the historical and mythic “Japanese People” to rally against. Likewise America. In Korea, you would just be beaten stupid, in China have you family condemned to some gulag for life and in America … you get the picture.

    I heard that in America they are thinking of changing name of Niphon in children’s atlases to “Eviljapwarcriminalcomfortwomanandsexpervert Land” …

  51. mac said

    Sorry, I have still not got the hang of those edit tag yet … any chance of some howto somewhere?

    The second paragragh “Snow queen …” is also a quote from the article.

  52. Curious said

    At the risk of sounding naive, I have a question to ask. Instead of arguing the merits of social responsiblity over individual rights and vice versa, would it not be more “pragmatic” to encourage a healthy balance between the two? With the proliferation of technology and globalization, believe it or not, the planet will only continue to get smaller and smaller. And since, technologically it will be quite some time before the human population will have the ability to set up camp on another planet(s), I guess we are quite stuck with one another, are we not?

  53. ampontan said

    Mac: Don’t understand what the problem is.

  54. mac said

    Ampontan, how does one make a quotation of previous text, one or two paragraphs, using tags?

    Curious, I think the big problem is we are dealing with an ‘ex post facto’ situation, i.e. a sort of “we have them here … now what the hell do with do with them?” which can all to easily end up in a fist fight.

    Looking to future, where mass immigration is likely to increase and polarise, I think what is need are fairly strict and severe social contracts in *advance* of any situation, e.g. “you can come for 5 years, take your money and go … sorry, if you get married, your wife and kids go with you” … or even “no marriage” clauses. Tightly formated visas which define what is expect and acceptable and protect the indigenous communities first.

    Of course, it would be even nicer if we could apply the like to the multi-national corporations too!

    One of the problems I have seen in countries with broader immigration and refuge influx is that too high a proportion of those individuals enter the host nation and vulnerable communities with deeply unresolved issues that the host communities are unable to protect themselves again as they resolved those issue hundred or more years ago. For example, too many individuals coming in from countries with endemic bureaucratic corruption and ‘big stick’ legal systems (West Africa/Jamaica/Eastern Europe) or war torn zones (Chechnya/South America) just look upon civilisation and civilised (read uneffective) police and legal systems as a soft touch.

    Again, not a racist generalization as my wonder is if too many of the good, innocent folks stay at home and too many of the wild card chancers strike out for easy pickings elsewhere.

    In this, I think; a) Japan has a very real and large problem in that it is so hugely vulnerable and has some very desperate neighbors (China/Korea) and b) Japan, and the “Japanese model”, is of such significant value that it is precious and of interest not just to the Japanese but also the world at large.

  55. ampontan said

    Mac: At the head of the quote, put the word blockquote in brackets, and then at the end of the quote start with the same bracket, then a backslash, then the word blockquote again, and then the other bracket to close.

  56. Durf said

    Mac: I still uphold the landlords position. If a landlord has one, two, three Koreans that stink the place out and are argumentative; or one, two, three Gaijin, that dont take their shoes off and waste the tatami, leave the place a mess or run off owing debts … you are just going to stop taking either.

    The bolded part (my emphasis) doesn’t enter the equation at all, since no landlord will rent to anyone, Japanese or not, who doesn’t have a Japanese person stamping the contract and promising to pay those debts. As hard as it might be to rent a room from a racist landlord, it’s going to be even harder to rent from a friendly guy whose apartment block looks like the UN when you don’t have a guarantor in your corner.

    There was a Kyoto court ruling earlier this month related to some of this discussion.

  57. mac said

    The court ruling is quite depressing but, on one hand it confirms that “Japan” is not racist and actually had strong anti-racist laws; and, on the other hand, will confirm to some landlords “what Koreans are like”. Note quotations.

    Naturally, as it was for a Korean newspaper, it does not go into depth and discuss; a) why the landlord made the decision they did and b) why they were so daft/honest to give the reason they did!

    Its a little off topic but sometimes I wonder what is going on in the rental sector right across SE Asia … you mention local guarantors, friends in Indonesia (Chinese Indonesians) and Chinese-Chinese are regularly made to pay one whole year in advance. Is there a long history of renters burning flats down and doing a runner. Or is renting seen as “not respectable” in general?

    Skipping rent, refusing to pay the last month to avoid having a fight over the deposit with landlords for damages done, running off leaving bills, debts and trashing the place in the last week with parties etc … are all common events in the West. Sort of rites of adulthood almost which the landlord has to pay. Laws were utterly skewed towards the tenants’ benefit post-WWII, many landlords feel too far which is why we prefer the likes of Japanese tenants as they cause less trouble and look after the place.

  58. Overthinker said

    “Looking to future, where mass immigration is likely to increase and polarise, I think what is need are fairly strict and severe social contracts in *advance* of any situation, e.g. “you can come for 5 years, take your money and go … sorry, if you get married, your wife and kids go with you” … or even “no marriage” clauses. Tightly formated visas which define what is expect and acceptable and protect the indigenous communities first.”

    I approve of the concept of demanding more, but greatly disagree about the way to do so. If you want to achieve social harmony, one of the worst ways is bringing in a steady flow of people who know nothing about the place and aren’t encourage to learn, and aren’t encouraged to make it their home. The social contracts should, rather, take the form of social integration – this is why, for example, the Japanese spouse visa is a shortcut to PR: you have shown a commitment and social integration into Japanese society.

    We can’t really look to places like Britain, which have been softened after years of excess PCism and manipulated guilt over colonialism. All sorts of woo-woo gets encourages and permitted these days – you just have to scream discrimination loudly enough to the press to get your way. China/Korea are not as bad as say Senegal or Nigeria in terms of discrepancy with the host country (Japan and the UK respectively), and in fact I’m sure the Koreans would be most upset at the implication.

    “I saw we are all ‘racial discriminists’ and practise a whole load of other discrimination FOR OUR OWN SELF INTERESTS daily. I think discrimination is hardcoded into human beings and is both necessary and beneficial. What I am thinking at present, to put an evolutionary spin on it, is that it relate directly to our tribal past.”

    Okay, fine. Except that we no longer live in tribes. We live in nations instead (and please, no arguments about the Japanese being a “tribe” a la Gregory Clark), and we are generally free to move around the globe. So the same distrust of the unknown that keeps us safe when we hunted mammoths is not necessarily useful in the 21st century. The fact that discrimination may be in the name of your self interest does not it morally right: you must find other ways to prevent (for example) Nigerians from eating kimchi curry all day in your apartments other than banning all Nigerians point-blank. Even if you do ban them point-blank, you must not look as if you are banning them point-blank.

    Indonesia is very suspicious of Chinese. See the Wikipedian article on “Chinese Indonesians” under “Post-independence and New Order Era” for details. When I went there, the customs documentation forbade Chinese medicines and books etc written in Chinese. Don’t know how enforced that is, mind you, and things have been relaxed lately.

    And it seems all your problems in the West with renters can be solved by demanding guarantors, like Japan.

  59. mac said

    “And it seems all your problems in the West with renters can be solved by demanding guarantors, like Japan.”

    I am talking from experience over 3 generations in two families in Japan and in the West. It still leaves the onus on the landlord to pursue a legal case which will take time and energy and not be compensated for … if you can find the individuals. Which is why the Japanese “tribal” system, which generally includes face, shame, being clean and generally being very nice and respectful works much better and makes them much more preferable tenants to have or individuals to in one’s community under any circumstances.

    Now, the Muslim Indonesians treatment of Chinese Indonesians (not Chinese-Chinese) is racism often based on religious bigotry against Buddhists and jealousy (the Han do well in business wherever they go). You may not be aware of how bad it is there; mob killings, gangs rapes, curfews etc. I had one girlfriend who returned from the West and had piercings torn out of her face and hi-lited hair torn out of her head in the street.

    Underpining all of this discussion is an issue of what is “nation statehood” and a presumption that we are all there. We are not. Our genes are not. Our shared consciousnesses are not. The Nation State is a very new and not yet resolved idea of, what, 50 or 80 years old for most peoples in this world?

    I thought for a while that if capital be allowed to move freely (Free Trade) then so ought labor (Open Migration). To deny it was to have one law for the rich and one for the poor. But I realised that the social costs are too high and who pays for them are not the rich, but the poor of the host nations.

    For me, the problems have been accelerated by the demands of uncontrolled capitalism creating our modern lives (mega-cities, centralization, industrialization) to serve its ends in an largely uncontrolled, unaccountable manner far quicker than our genes, minds and communities can cope with … and so frictions are arising.

    “Even if you do ban them point-blank, you must not look as if you are banning them point-blank.”

    Now, that is a very likely to be the evolutionary response to the courtcase above, especially amongst the landlords of Kyoto! Can we count on a similar response amongst Koreans to make smell free Kimchee and become less hotheaded? The answer is, of course, yes. There are decent Koreans.

    It just strikes me that entropy tends towards decay in society and what is good, ought be protected. By that I don’t mean “Japanese”, I mean the qualities or virtues and commonwealths that communities share. I am afraid that Japan has its ambitious lawyers that are looking to the West for examples, picking up on PC-ism as a way to make a reputation or pull in clients … and that Japan is going to go to a new hell as well.

  60. japanqna said

    Great read. I totally agree with you. I’ve never been refused service by Japanese establishments, either. I’ve heard stories from friends and co-workers about being refused credit cards or being banned from shops, but then I know of so many others who live here responsibly and haven’t encountered problems.

  61. [...] I was thinking about this whole Gaijin Treatment thing I remembered that I had read this article from Ampotan a few months ago. It was quite insightful, and it has become a discussion of sorts a couple of [...]

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