AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

The real cultural imperialism of the West

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, January 17, 2008

WHILE VIEWING THE KOREA TIMES WEBSITE when preparing the previous post, I stumbled across this op-ed called Some Foreigners Bash Korea Unjustly, Unfairly, written by an English teacher there.

Substitute Japan for Korea, and the same article could have been published in any of the English-language dailies in this country. Heck, I could have written it.

It’s curious; I’ve talked to a lot of Asians here, from countries as far away as India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, and I’ve never heard a negative comment about Japan from any of them. Meanwhile, snide Japan sniping, couched in the fashionable irony that passes for wit and repartee in some countries, is as common a conversational topic for many Westerners as the weather.

One has to wonder when the same sort of people are saying the same sorts of things in South Korea.

Some people–again, mostly Westerners–think McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and popular music are symbols of cultural imperialism. That’s silly, of course. Those are just consumer goods purchased freely by people with other choices for spending their disposable income.

The real cultural imperialism is the attitude.

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37 Responses to “The real cultural imperialism of the West”

  1. Bern said

    There are numerous examples of multi national companies barging into countries which has resulted in blood baths. Guatemala is one of those countries which pops into my mind. Where the American coorporation Chiquita Banans owned lots of land and the president of Gautemala wanted to nationalise that land and then he was overthrown in a coup and thus was the start of the civil war. US legitimised the coup because they branded him a “communist”

    In Iran. Mossadeq was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by CIA and MI6. Because at that time he wanted to keep Brittish Petrolium out of the Iranian oil fields. US too labeled Mossadeq a “communist”

    It is ironic that the war in Iraq has many parallels to what happened in Iran in the 1950s. Saddam wasn’tr labeled a “communist” but a “terrorist” How convinient.

    I am sure many people across the world look at Coca Cola as the symbol of imperialism. Especially in countries where anti American sentiments are running high such as in Latin America where a very large number of the population looks at USA as an empire.

  2. Bern said

    But sorry. I guess that was a little off topic to the article you were referring to.

    Speaking of Korea. Having lived there myself as a child and then returning to Korea 6 years ago. I have to say life is what you make of it. All in all I have to say I like Korea.

  3. ampontan said

    Bern: I’ve been to SK twice, enjoyed it both times, enjoy Koreans, and have studied Korean in fits and starts. (I had/made for myself a lot of time when I started Japanese, but had to fit Korean in while working.) If you read the SK-related posts here, you’ll see that the only thing I’m not a fan of is stuff like this.

    Here in Kyushu, people get along real well on a day-to-day level.

  4. Bern said

    I am not disagreeing with your article at all. I think it is human nature to complain about things. Its therapy I guess. I think we all do it. But when people complain because it is different from back home or if they only complain to make them feel better by looking down on others then it means that they are not very happy people to begin with.

    Living abroad can be quite tough for some. Some people can handle it while others cannot.

    Westerners are perhaps more arrogant than others. Speaking of Norwegians I tend to think they are quite arrogant people. They think they are the best and Norway is the best. They are more full of themselves I suppose than for instance Japanese or others but there are ofource many exceptions.

  5. James A said

    Norwegians do have a rather strong sense of nationalism. I think though that is due to the fact they had a rather rocky relation with Sweden up until independence in 1905. Plus a certain guy named Adolf decided to stomp around there in the 40’s. They’re quite protective of their independence, further evidenced by their reluctance to join the EU.

  6. Bern said

    Yes EU is rubbish. And how do you get a Swede from stopping drinking water? You bang the toilet lid on his head…:)

    There is an interesting article here about patriotism.

    Americans Rank No. 1 in Patriotism Survey.

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8IGNV700&show_article=1

    According to this survey people from new world countries tend to be more patriotic than western Europeans and Asians are not all that patriotic.

    Going back to the original article. The reason why westerners complain more than say other Asians might be because they are more patriotic.

  7. bender said

    I don’t know. Koreans might get bashed anonymously, but they bash Japan in the most ridiculous way overtly and outright. And they do this beyond their borders.

  8. Aceface said

    I’m just curious.Now that I know expats do Debito-ing in South Korea too.But do they do that in China?
    There must be some portion of expat community there too.But as I read Danwei and other blogs,they are so seemly.

  9. ghoti said

    Aceface,

    There are plenty of things to complain about in China, but the following might explain why you don’t see too many whiny expat posts:

    1- Unlike the large English teaching population in Japan and Korea, most expats in China are there to make money, and too busy to sit around complaining. The place is in the middle of a boom, in case you haven’t heard.

    2- The government keeps tabs on the internet, emails and even phone calls. You can visit all the kiddy porn sites you like, but don’t you dare a negative thing about China. If you keep it up, you will be unable to renew your visa, and unable to get rich in China.

    3- Foreigners are not looked down upon in China, as they often are in Japan or Korea. Again, possibly because of all the barely employable English teachers. Also, they are eager to learn from the West.

    4- Japan and Korea are both modern countries, so the differences that do exist seem more glaring. China is just another world from the get-go. Everything is different there, and nothing is expected. The whiny foreigners in Korea and Japan, however, seem to believe that these countries should perfectly emulate the West – and that any inconvenient differences are, by definition, a flaw.

    I had a row with a Brit and a French guy about their complaints of “Americanization.” They said Japan had lost its culture – pretty rich coming from two countries that are rapidly descending into barbarism, Sharia law, and 24 citizen surveillance. Who exactly has lost their culture, I wonder?

    By the way, I am not down on English teachers. But English teaching often provides a comfortable life for people who would not be very productive elsewhere, and attracts a large share of such people. And those are the people who will continuously complain about their lot, wherever they are.

  10. john k said

    Having just returned from a very sad but lovely funereal way way down south, I see the same-old same-old biased reporting, from the –as-it-is:

    “…It’s curious; I’ve talked to a lot of Asians here, from countries as far away as India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, and I’ve never heard a negative comment about Japan from any of them. Meanwhile, snide Japan sniping, couched in the fashionable irony that passes for wit and repartee in some countries, is as common a conversational topic for many Westerners as the weather….”

    Deeerrrrrr!!!

    Wow, what wonderful insight. How many nanoseconds did it take to think that line up?

    So, if someone says something nice to me, gosh, I’m all flushed and feel euphoric, but when someone says something negative towards me, I feel less so??…my my, what wonderful critiquing, maybe this would lead to a new branch of human understanding lets see, what shall we call it……psychology perhaps??, nah…no one would ever read or understand what it is means..!

    “…One has to wonder when the same sort of people are saying the same sorts of things in South Korea….”

    Yes, let’s do wonder…..because that is all you can do, since you are incapable of answering a very simple question with a ‘yes’ ‘no’ answer, so all you can do is that….wonder….

    Separate note:
    Can anyone tell me why the priest rubs a leaf over his head not once but twice during the ritual, as he performs in front of the open coffin?

  11. ponta said

    So, if someone says something nice to me, gosh, I’m all flushed and feel euphoric, but when someone says something negative towards me, I feel less so??…my my, what wonderful critiquing, maybe this would lead to a new branch of human understanding lets see, what shall we call it……psychology perhaps??, nah…no one would ever read or understand what it is means..!

    Isn’t it called opinion formed by experiences in English just as you expressed your opinion as to Australian racism toward the Japanese? Well in your case you didn’t even cite examples, though.

    Yes, let’s do wonder…..because that is all you can do, since you are incapable of answering a very simple question with a ‘yes’ ‘no’ answer, so all you can do is that….wonder….

    So is that all you can do, JohnK?,—to wonder?: there are questions you didn’t answer.

    Come on John, if you disagree, argue, argue with reason. I know you can. For instance,you can say, “I’ve talked to a lot of Asians here too, contrary to Bill’s observation, they only speak ill of Japan. Meanwhile all the westerners I talked have shown understanding on the cultural differences and have shown the respect for the difference….” It’s as simple as that.

  12. ampontan said

    G:

    Foreigners are not looked down upon in China, as they often are in Japan or Korea. Again, possibly because of all the barely employable English teachers. Also, they are eager to learn from the West.

    Do you mean foreigners, or Caucasian foreigners? (g) I know a lot of Japanese who would dispute that first sentence! Then there is their “flower in the center of the world” idea.

    A couple of weeks ago, Gordon Chang of Commentary magazine wrote that Chinese tend to think of Japanese as “barbarians”.

    Your third sentence is interesting…conjures up an image of Meiji Japan.

  13. Bruce Smith said

    Ghoti – “They said Japan had lost its culture ”

    I agree with you. Just because someone eats at MacDonalds doesn’t mean they are Americanized.

  14. ampontan said

    And it’s not as if the British or the French have never worn blue jeans, smoked Marlboros, or had a Coke either.

    This is part of what I was talking about in another thread. It’s one of the reasons Europe is having so much trouble assimliating its Muslim population. They think assimilation is not a good idea, because our culture is our culture is our culture and your culture is your culture, and that’s they way they should stay.

  15. bender said

    How about if they started chewing gum at meetings and placed their legs up on chairs when talking?

  16. Bruce Smith said

    Bender said: “How about if they started chewing gum at meetings and placed their legs up on chairs when talking?”

    I would be very surprized no matter what nationality they were and would want to kick them out of the meeting.

  17. john k said

    Ponta

    Just returned from a nice long tennis game…..the real world outside is so much more refreshing 

    You call this post….” Isn’t it called opinion formed by experiences…”

    “….Well in your case you didn’t even cite examples, though…..”

    So you’re saying I should just cite examples and not ask questions…..why is that? I’m just questioning the post above. As I have said repeatedly, I’m just asking questions, I’m simply observing, and if prompted or necessary, I shall give my own personal opinion. (Open to as much abuse and attack as warranted). But before getting there I wish to explore the post and ask questions, to see if the postmaster and the acolytes actually know what they are saying. Otherwise why join a debate if the foundations and basics are not even stood by those attempting to debate it…

    To make this simple: If I were to hear Mr.A and Mr.B in a bar, seated next to me having a heated debated and I suddenly hear, what a Yorker that was, he should’ve been out.

    I enquiry, what is a Yorker…..see this is asking a question! A question that is referring to the debate between Mr.A. and Mr.B….follow me so far?

    But if the reply is, what are you asking for, you don’t even play cricket, and you have yobs invading your footballs pitches, this is nothing to do with you….

    …how does this answer the question, how does this inform me what Yorker is? How does my question bare any relevance to myself and my country or anything else for that matter?

    When the answer should have been….” A Yorker is when the ball and bat strike the ground in the same location when the ball is fully pitched”. Simple!…i could then ask another or go away suitable ‘informed’.

    See one has the question being answered and the other not only doesn’t answer the question but goes down a completely unrelated tack….follow me so far??

    Either Mr.A and Mr.B can think..oh this guys wants to know what a Yorker is, so lets tell him…or, don’t bother me we are having our own debate and no one else is invited, and don’t ask use silly questions.

    So, it is rather difficult when the postmaster et al, cannot answer simple questions to justify the post. So where is the credibility…..thrown out….with the baby and bath water!

    If I am unable to obtain answers, and those listening in do not seem concerned by the deafening silence, why should I offer my own tuppunce penny worth when biased posts are never questioned…or explored objectively and dispassionately?

  18. bender said

    I would be very surprized no matter what nationality they were and would want to kick them out of the meeting.

    Oh, so you’re against proliferation of that kind of culture.

  19. ponta said

    You call this post….” Isn’t it called opinion formed by experiences…”

    “….Well in your case you didn’t even cite examples, though…..”

    So you’re saying I should just cite examples and not ask questions…

    John,I am not saying that. What I am saying is just go with the flow. And you are not asking questions, Johon, you are acussing the way Bill presented in a childish way. Just look at what you wrote.

    Deeerrrrrr!!!…..

    l
    Do you know the story of two zen monks? Two monks were walking together. Finding a woman in trouble in front of the river, one monk helped the woman to go across the river, holding her on his back and separated and kept walking with the other monk. The other monk kept thinking, “to touch a woman is the violation of rule for monks, how could he do that, even if to help her, blalblabla” and finally spoke out, “why did you carry the young woman on the back?” The monk answered, “Oh, are you still carrying that woman”?
    Got it?

  20. john k said

    Ponta

    We can trade proverbs ad infinitum, won’t get us any further down the line…

    “…What I am saying is just go with the flow….”

    So just accept what is written, no matter how ludicrous, outrageous and biased. Go with the current theme, accept it…..neh?

    This is sadly no different to the educational system here in Japan. All very linear. Repeat and copy….repeat and copy..etc etc..

    I was at pains to get the student to engage in my lectures…they all remained motionless. No matter how many times I asked for anyone to ask a question or enquire. Eventually I got 2 students to ask questions…to enquire, to engage with their minds, rather than just accepting what I was telling them to explore concepts and their own understanding….sadly those 2 students were not Japanese. I asked the other Prof’s at the Uni, is this normal, no one asking questions etc…and they said yes…students don’t ask questions, they just get the notes and read them later and at their own pace and leisure. Discipline is given higher priority and hence students are not ‘allowed’ to question…since this implies questioning their teacher’s knowledge.

    So your comments are indeed indicative of Japanese educational system linear, copy and just accept what is given. Linear..

    Sorry, I was always taught to question what is being presented.

    The “deerrrrr” was aimed directly at Ampontan, as he is totally incapable of answering a question to further a debate that he posted. To mean…..”no…really??…wow… would never have guessed it….shocker..!!!!….bugger me with a prize winning leak”…ie stating the most amazingly obvious facts, as if they’re a new revelation.

  21. ponta said

    John k
    Probably your comment is indeed indicative of English educational system.
    Okay.
    What is your point of getting answer to your question from Anpontan?
    Aceface gave it. I gave it. The chance to talk about the topic came,but you didn’t bite, the river is flowing and now new stage has come and yet you still cling to get the answer to your old question from a specic person for some reason . What is your point? Why are you so focused on Bill rather than on your question and argument?
    I didn’t get an answer from you. and you sometimes responded in a evasive way. I thanked. Because that is all I want. Anybody who want to discuss will discuss. Any who don’t want to disuss won’t. My aim is to participate in dissussion to get deeper understanding on the issue we are talking about with people with a different perspective who want to disscuss the issue, not with someone who don’t want to discuss for whatever reason.
    And since my focus is on the arugment or the issue we are talking about, I don’t care who join, who respond as long as he/she speak politely.
    People are talking about what Bill has written on this post, not about Bill, John.

    As for ”derrrr”, look at what you’ve written after that.

    if someone says something nice to me, gosh, I’m all flushed and feel euphoric, but when someone says something negative towards me, I feel less so??…my my, what wonderful critiquing, maybe this would lead to a new branch of human understanding lets see, what shall we call it……psychology perhaps??, nah…no one would ever read or understand what it is means..!

    Okay,is your question “I feel less so?? “If that is the case, I think you know your aswer best. Or is your question “what shall we call it……psychology perhaps??, ” Then English teacher know best what to call it. In either case the question is irrelavant, or maybe it is an ill-formed argument.

  22. Aceface said

    “A couple of weeks ago, Gordon Chang of Commentary magazine wrote that Chinese tend to think of Japanese as “barbarians”.”

    I think that has some relation with what we did there in the 30’s and 40’s and I’m not objecting.And I don’t buy Gordon Chang as China watcher that much,to tell you the truth.

    I guess living in China now is pretty much like living in the wild west.Too much to do.No time to bitch.Somehow the expats don’t complain living in the places where you can live “the year of living dangerously”.

    I don’t always think all the expat’s are “cultural imperialist”,they just want to implant their own schemes of political correctness in the host society.But somehow they just don’t understand those ideas can only be nurtured in a long time and must be contextualized in local social,cultural environment by the hand of local populations.

  23. john k said

    Ponta

    “….What is your point of getting answer to your question from Anpontan?…. What is your point?…”

    “…People are talking about what Bill has written on this post, not about Bill, John…”
    But he did respond, not once but several times.

    I raised several issues, which were being debated, then he pops up, tries to send forth the word according Anpontan….so I questioned him….he didn’t answer, just wnet down a different tack, I questioned again, another tack, he said he answered,…he didn’t, so I questioned him again…still no answer.

    He suddenly wanted to join the debate…so, I asked him a question. I wanted him to answer, and he knew it. Before I went further, I wanted him to reply. Nothing but endless evasion….

    “…My aim is to participate in dissussion to get deeper understanding on the issue we are talking about with people with a different perspective who want to disscuss the issue, not with someone who don’t want to discuss for whatever reason….”

    I could not agree more.

    However, as you have already noted, somewhat difficult when the person doesn’t answer the question. A debate takes 2 people.

    After ..deeeeeerrrr I actually wrote “…Wow, what wonderful insight. How many nanoseconds did it take to think that line up?…” Not what you incorrectly quoted.

    I later defined it for your benefit.

    It is a rhetorical question, since it answers itself and is very clear that this statement of :
    “…It’s curious; I’ve talked to a lot of Asians here, from countries as far away as India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, and I’ve never heard a negative comment about Japan from any of them. Meanwhile, snide Japan sniping, couched in the fashionable irony that passes for wit and repartee in some countries, is as common a conversational topic for many Westerners as the weather…”

    Is exactly as you have written…..”… In either case the question is irrelavant, or maybe it is an ill-formed argument….”

    i.e. Pointless.!

    Yet it seems this has passed everyone by, because it appears everyone is wearing the same myopic “don’t question me” glasses. Just go with the flow…..

    Bit tricky replying when I’m trying to cook..!!

  24. mac said

    I have to say that I really used to enjoy this blog until John K turned up … yup, file under “English School Boy”. God it reminds me why I hate that petty, little, wet and sarcastic nation. The only warm, colorful and interesting things in it are the foreigners and their cultures.

    You are right, Ampontan. The English are uncomfortable with their position as America’s toy poodle these days, never mind having all the colonial chickens come home to roost. And now they have to cope with all those manly Poles and rugged East European taking their jobs and women too! But I think what disgusts the English the most about foreigners in “their” country is that they just all keep ‘breeding’ so much … just like the Black and Irish they so hated before them.

    Have fun folks, I am out of here for while …

  25. john k said

    “…But I think what disgusts the English the most about foreigners in “their” country is that they just all keep ‘breeding’ so much … just like the Black and Irish they so hated before them. …”

    you call this intelligent debating….Same-old same old narcissistic diatribe

  26. Bruce Smith said

    Why are you so angry John K ? Why the hostility ?

  27. john k said

    Bruce

    Any hostility or anger is of your own detection.
    I’m just making a statement. How you interpret it, is of your own volition.

  28. Overthinker said

    Ignoring the bickering, there are a couple of points here that strike me was worthy of further discussion. First, is Coke in Britain truly an example of American cultural imperialism? It’s American, certainly: an iconic image of that country. But to be truly “culturally imperialist” rather than an all-conquering brand-name, shouldn’t it also be very very different to anything British culture had to offer to counter it? British surely had their own carbonated drinks, so Coke is just one more, no?

    (The very very worst form of cultural imperialism is that spread by those damnable missionaries….)

    Ampontan: “It’s one of the reasons Europe is having so much trouble assimilating its Muslim population. They think assimilation is not a good idea, because our culture is our culture is our culture and your culture is your culture, and that’s they way they should stay.”
    –Is this not the failure of the newcomers? Sure, the Europeans may say “this is our culture” but are they also saying “you better stay out of it”?

    Ghoti: “Foreigners are not looked down upon in China, as they often are in Japan or Korea.”
    –Really? I thought that Chinese thought of themselves as the centre of the universe and that foreigners were either barbarians to be fought, or barbarians to be allowed in to pay tribute. That’s the traditional Chinese view of the world anyway.

  29. ghoti said

    Regarding the view towards foreigners in Japan. After I posted, I wondered if I really had written what I meant – but I just let it go.

    There is a lot of love/hate going on about foreigners, but considerably less xenophobia than in Korea or Japan – probably because China is very multi-ethnic already.

    The other thought was that there isn’t this large pool of pseudo-teachers in China just struggling to get by. Give it a few years maybe, but for now, they assume most foreigners come over with a talent or skill, or at least money.

    Maybe one experience typifies this for me. I ran into a Japanese woman who lived in my building in China. Her husband was working for a Japanese trading company. She asked what I did. I told her that I was in the trading business as well (this was all in Japanese). She asked me 2 or 3 times before we parted if I would teach her small children English! No matter what I said, in her mind a Japanese speaking America equals “English teacher.”

    Afterwards, I realized I should have asked if her husband could teach my kids Japanese.

  30. bender said

    There is a lot of love/hate going on about foreigners, but considerably less xenophobia than in Korea or Japan – probably because China is very multi-ethnic already.

    I’m sure if you were Japanese, you would feel strong animosity from the Chinese, and of course, the Koreans. I mean generally. It depends on where you come from.

  31. ponta said

    Here is an interesting expat in China who seems to be an different type from the expats we are talking about.
    http://chinabounder.blogspot.com/2006_08_27_archive.html

    She asked me 2 or 3 times before we parted if I would teach her small children English! No matter what I said, in her mind a Japanese speaking America equals “English teacher.”

    Rather in her mind an American who speaks English is kind enough to teach her kids English.

    Afterwards, I realized I should have asked if her husband could teach my kids Japanese.

    She might have said, Yes, or instead she might have offered herself as a ‘Japanese teacher’

  32. Shiai said

    “I’m so much better than those other foreigners who go to Japan to teach English”…wank wank wank…”I actually did something to belong there, yeah!”…wank wank wank…”I did my undergrad in Japanese after all”…wank wank wank…”not like those retarded ape non-teachers”…wank wank wank…

  33. RYO said

    Ampontan: “It’s one of the reasons Europe is having so much trouble assimilating its Muslim population. They think assimilation is not a good idea, because our culture is our culture is our culture and your culture is your culture, and that’s they way they should stay.”
    –Is this not the failure of the newcomers? Sure, the Europeans may say “this is our culture” but are they also saying “you better stay out of it”?

    From what I understand, a lot of the first-generation Turks and others who were brought over to Western Europe a few decades ago were deliberately encouraged to live apart and to have their kids taught primarily in the language of their home country (with funding provided by the state) to enable them to return someday when their labor was no longer needed. Of course, they stayed and the second-generation “immigrants” were largely ill-prepared to actually belong in Western European society. Throw in the emergence of radical imams who were allowed to thrive due to the ever-expanding scope of political correctness and you can see where Europe is now headed.

  34. Aceface said

    “There is a lot of love/hate going on about foreigners, but considerably less xenophobia than in Korea or Japan – probably because China is very multi-ethnic already.”

    Not so sounding from what I heard from Mongolians coming to Japan from Inner mongolia “autonomous”regions.
    Yeah,China is multi-ethnic.But the potion isn’t that high.
    And about xenophobia,when was the last time students and bystanders throw stones in foreign embassy in Japan? Perhaps that’s more to do with the so-called freedom of speech that so many expats use it so freely yet do not pay much respect into it.Expats can literally say what ever they want with the country in Japan Times.Not so in Beijing Review.

    “Japanese speaking America equals “English teacher.””

    At least she didn’t say that killing phrase”You speak Japanese real well”! or did she?

  35. Paul said

    Bern, nationalizing resources IS communism, and Guatemala would’ve been much worse off had that been allowed to go through. There is a difference between democracy and freedom.

  36. bender said

    And about xenophobia,when was the last time students and bystanders throw stones in foreign embassy in Japan?

    Somehow, if it’s anti-Japan in China or Korea, it’s not counted as nationalism because the Japanese deserve being thrown stones at.

  37. gaijinalways said

    I would say that the Japanese often exhibit xenophobia in a much less aggressive fashion (as they do with most other things). Certainly you’re aware that there are landlords who refuse foreign tenants on a regular basis, some who have never had a foreign tenant!That and the habitual, “It’s dangerous when I go outside of Japan, I would never want to live (or live permanently) outside of Japan.” voiced by Japanes ewho have traveled very little outside of group tours or not at all.

    Since violence and vandalism to property are generally exhibted on a lower scale in Japan(discounting the rash of knife stabbings lately, though generally these are domestic or romantic affairs gone bad), then it is very likely that xenophobia exhibited here will not be the aggressive type but rather the ostracizing type in many cases.

    Whether this is better would depend on whether you think violence or dicrimination is a bigger problem (and also depend on your defintion of how wide spread either problem is in the country you’re talking about). Certainly if you have both rampant xenophobia and violence combined that probably is the worst of both worlds. Luckily that is not the case in Japan at the moment.

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