Japan from the inside out

A lesson in activism

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.
– Former American baseball player Larry Andersen

ALMOST A YEAR AGO, I wrote this post about the changes made to signs at Yushukan, the museum next to the Yasukuni Shinto shrine in Tokyo. The inscriptions on the first signs charged that President Franklin Roosevelt goaded Japan into attacking the U.S. at Pearl Harbor in 1941, using the subsequent American entry into the greater war as a means to bring the country out of the Depression.

Okazaki Hisahiko, the former Japanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Thailand, was directly responsible for making those changes, but his statements suggest his motivation was a newspaper column written by George Will. Here’s what I said then:

The impetus for some of the changes at Yushukan might have been inspired by American George Will…If that is the case, it should not be lost on observers that the change was spurred by Will’s Japan-friendly, dispassionate presentation that eschews moralizing and blame. Some people fail to realize that the only thing finger-wagging harangues accomplish is to turn people off, but the scolds aren’t paying attention to their audience, anyway. Finger-wagging harangues are just the means to congratulate themselves on their moral superiority–one of their primary enjoyments in life. They’re not delivered with the intent of actually persuading people.

And now, a year later, friendly persuasion has again accomplished the objective when finger-wagging harangues did not.

Someone discovered one restaurant in Tokyo (home to tens of millions of people) with a sign that said “Japanese People Only” at the top in English and a large amount of explanatory Japanese text below.

Another person seized on the sign’s existence as an opportunity to get into a lather, slip into his identity as The Caped Crusader, and fight for truth, justice, and the moral order of the universe. Two other people with common sense and human understanding used a different approach, however. A native Japanese discussed the matter calmly with the owner, and the sign was taken down. Matt at Occidentalism describes what happened in two posts–the first here, and the second here. This is an excerpt from his second post:

…The owner said that different customs led him to write “Japanese people only” on the sign. In addition to the foreign customers not being able to follow the written rules in Japanese, they also brought their own food to the restaurant, brought children to the restaurant but left the children alone in the restaurant while the parents went elsewhere which caused trouble for the staff, and some foreign customers ordering only one dish between 5 people, etc….At the moment there is (now) no sign, but the text of the sign may be changed to make it clear that it is non-discriminatory, unlike the old sign which easily leads non-Japanese speaking foreigners to conclude that the shop owner hates foreigners.

The problem was resolved when a minor and understandable transgression was handled with consideration and tact. It is likely that no hard feelings resulted. Had a more confrontational method been used, it could very well have set back the progress of international interaction in one corner of Japan, rather than promoting it.

Eldridge Cleaver once noted that you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. It is ironic that some people who claim to be part of the solution seem to be more interested in self-congratulation and the masturbatory thrill of controversy–making themselves part of the problem.

I know which method I prefer.

Postscript: Here’s another post I wrote last October describing my views on alleged Japanese exclusionism.

11 Responses to “A lesson in activism”

  1. ponta said

    Great post!

    Someone discovered one restaurant in the Kansai area (home to tens of millions of people) with a sign

    Well it was not kansai, but it was Tsukiji in Tokyo, right at the center of Tsukiji market.

    From you doppelgänger

  2. ampontan said

    Thanks, Ponta, I fixed it. Too many mistakes lately!

    Hey, wait a minute! Why am I thanking myself for fixing my own mistake?

    This could get confusing!

  3. Overthinker said

    Some very interesting comments indeed on that first one. I have long felt Debito’s tactics to be somewhat dodgy, and resented the fact that his type of reporting made me more paranoid than I should be about such things as small restaurants and remote onsen. I have never been refused entry in more than 15 years here, but fear-mongering like this can still make me wonder.

    In a related vein, I have often wondered about that whole “Japanese will never accept you gaijin” thing – I wonder what their criteria for “acceptance” is?

  4. Overthinker said

    Incidentally, unless you’re the former Japanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, I think you need to check the link where you say “I wrote this post about the changes” at the top….

  5. ampontan said

    Thanks Overthinker. One of these days I’ll get it right…

  6. RYO said

    Now only if the anti-whaling activists (and indeed, the entire country of Australia) could take this lesson to heart. (Not that results could be guaranteed if they took a less confrontational approach, but they’re certainly getting nowhere – except perhaps in terms of fund-raising – for their current efforts.)

  7. Overthinker said

    I think the Aussie thing is more for domestic consumption than any expectation that the GOJ will change. Most of these sorts of things (righteous indignation) are.

  8. Rick said

    Is it me or is Debito trying to become the Al Sharpton of Gaijin?

  9. Overthinker said

    No, it’s Debito.

  10. Ampontan, don’t forget your previous post about Debito, “Crusading for rights without understanding them”.

  11. […] A lesson on how deal with the Japanese.-  The sellout of the kidnapped Japanese citizens continues.-  Jesus through Japanese eyes. –  […]

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