Ankuru Tomu

Japan has a weird mixture of foreigners. Unlike the west, where a foreign face is normal. Japan is still pretty homogeneous. In a country of 127million there are only 2.5million immigrants.

There are generally a few types of foreigner,

  • The perpetual gap-yearer who flits around “experiencing the world”
  • The otaku who resides exclusively at home or in the maid cafes of Akihabara,
  • The guy who was ignored back home who has found a fountain of eternal women who are willing to overlook his clammy sweaty hands and back hair because he is “foreign”
  • The integrator, a foreigner who tries their upmost to avoid foreign contract carving out a Christopher Columbus like experience in some remote corner and getting deep on obscure Japanese facts,
  • The forgot-to-leaves, came with nothing in mind and ended up trapped due to the easy life, high pay (for generally doing the work of a department store Santa) and cheap living.
  • The Uncle Tom, NO ONE UNDERSTANDS JAPAN LIKE I DO!

This last category is the one that is most depressing.  This person refuses to acknowledge anything wrong with the country. They hate other gaijin for reminding them of that they are. They are essencialy the apologists. Any critisim that is voiced is shot down with “if you dont like it leave”. In their eyes Japan can do no wrong. Everything about Japan is beautiful and better than anywhere else; “if you cant see it, you just don’t get Japan like I do”.

I’m mainly talking about white men. White men have never had the experience of being a minority or feeling powerless. Since time immemorial the white man has had complete power of every aspect of the world. He has never been discriminated against. This man then comes to Japan and is suddenly not top dog. This being new and terrifying he finds that to survive he has to ingratiate himself within the local population and separate himself from the “gaijin” pack. This is where the idea of the Uncle Tom Gaijin comes in.

Here is an example of the kind of gaijin on gaijin hate that is normal in Japan.

Stop acting like a foreigner. You know. Those kinds. The ones that don’t shut up in the train or the elevator. The ones that don’t remove their shoes before entering someone’s house. The obnoxious frat boys on vacation lurking around the Nishi-Azabu crossing. Simply put, you’re in another’s country, so mind your damn manners.

Do you ever cringe when you see foreigners clustered in a big group, looking around like they don’t know what’s going on? Me too. The only thing that sticks out more than a sore thumb is an entire hand of sore fingers, so whenever you can, take advantage of the fact that in this country—um, Japan, right?—you can actually hang out with Japanese people. You’ll be less noticeable while at the same time improving your Japanese language ability.

 

That quote is taken from the biggest English magazine in Japan, Metropolis.  It basically says is OK to be foreign but you MUST give up everything that makes you who you are and JUST FIT IN!

I have two examples of people who fit this group.

Example A:

He had met his Japanese wife in Australia where he had been a hotel manager. When his wife gave birth they decided to relocate to Japan just outside Tokyo. He was a teacher at the same large English school as me and was bitter. He had been there for around 5 years and thought himself high enough up the food chain to tell us other (younger, newer) teachers what to do and how to act in Japan. He at first refused to speak to us instead going through the school receptionist in his    much superior Japanese (with an Australian accent of course).  It was not until he heard me speaking Japanese on the phone that he started to treat me as an equal. I was invited to a BBQ at his HOUSE that he BOUGHT (his emphasis) where I was told it was fun because there would be no loud gaijin to ruin the fun. I was also chastised for living in Tokyo as I was excluding myself from experiencing the true Japan of the countryside.  This guy felt he was close to management and had the same authority as our supervisor. This all came shattering down when the company went bankrupt and he was sold off like the rest of us.

Example B:

Another man (of course), this one English. He had arrived on a tourist visa and within 6 months had met his Japanese girlfriend and gotten married.  He was very pro-Japan (which is a good thing) but to the point of ridiculousness. Japanese curry was “a lot better than the muck you get in England” (any English man that dismisses the perfect British curry clearly has no taste). Japanese bread (which bizarrely contains milk) was delicious, Japanese beer was fantastic (there he was right) Foreign girls look ridiculous in kimono, Futons are more comfortable than beds, and when I mentioned I hated the tatami (floor mats) in my apartment he looked as if I had shot at the emperor.

Those guys were not bad people they just wanted to fit in and they thought that by denying everything they were was how to do it. There are two big foreign stars in Japan, Thane Camus and Dave Spector.  they have both made their careers on playing the foreigner and being a novelty. The amount of hate and jealousy directed at them on the big Gaijin forums is ridiculous. People seem to be so angry that they have been made mainstream while they have been looked over. The idea of how much gaijin hate other gaijin is a hot topic that gets people very heated. We are a broad bunch of people that all came here for different reasons. The only thing that connects us is the shared experience of Living in Japan.

I’m not suggesting that we make friends with every foreigner we see but it would make our lives a lot better if we didn’t try to undermine and top down any every gaijin we met. Just because someone is having the same experience as you doesn’t make it any less unique or special.

 

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Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have

Shintaro Ishihara is our dear leader.

The bizarre septuagenarian has been the governor of Tokyo since 1999 and so far shows no signs of being voted out (last year he won with a million vote majority).

He is extremely outspoken on the role of foreigners in Japan and how Japan has lost its traditional roots. He wants Japan to turn away from its western imposed society and return to its Asian roots. He also believes homosexuality is a degenerative disease and that the Japanese Diet (government)  has been infiltrated by foreign elements.

Other beautiful gems from the man in charge;

  • “If Japanese hadn’t fought the white people, we would still be slaves of the white people. It would be colonization. We changed that.”
  • In response to China’s first successful launch of a man in space: “The Chinese are ignorant, so they are overjoyed. That spacecraft was an outdated one. If Japan wanted to do it, we could do it in one year.
  • “I hate Mickey Mouse. He has nothing like the unique sensibility that Japan has. The Japanese are inherently skilled at visual expression and detailed work.”
  • “I have to say that it should be no surprise that French is disqualified as an international language because French is a language which cannot count numbers.”
  • “With Sangokujin and foreigners repeating serious crimes, we should prepare ourselves for possible riots that may be instigated by them at the outbreak of an earthquake. As police is not always fit for handling all contingencies, the Self-Defense forces should be ready to respond to threats to public security besides natural disasters.” (Sankokujin means third-country nationals, a seriously derogatory word for those whose parents, grandparents or even great grandparents were Korean, Chinese or Filipino who were brought over to work during the war)
  • “There is a marked increase in the number of cases in which some foreigners who enter Japan on working and other visas remain in the country illegally to commit heinous crimes.”
  • “Roppongi is now virtually a foreign neighborhood. Africans who don’t speak English are there doing who knows what. This is leading to new forms of crime such as car theft. We should be letting in people who are intelligent.”
  •  ”People say that the Japanese made a holocaust but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, but it is a lie.” (on the Rape of Nanking).
  • (To a well-known women’s magazine) “old women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are useless and are committing a sin,”

Micro aggressions

Last month an article was posted on The Japan Times. It was written by Debito Arudou (出人有道、a naturalised Japanese citizen who rallies against the “Japanese only” mentality of Japan). The article dealt with the idea of micro aggressions. These were described as;

“the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities, and denigrating messages sent to (visible minorities) by well-intentioned (members of an ethnic majority in a society) who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated.”

Most first time interactions with Japanese people are the same. “can you use chopsticks?” “can you eat raw fish?” “you speak such good Japanese!” (after all you have said is 2 words). Many non-Japanese (NJ) who have been here for longer than a normal visit will have heard these questions so many times the responses come automatically. First time encounters can be run on autopilot. Finding a real conversation is rare and usually happens with someone who has had experiences outside of Japan.

That is not to say Japan is not welcoming to foreigners. There is not the violent aspect attached to the racism that can be found in other countries, trains, restaurant menus, buses (in Tokyo at least), police stations, museums, and countless other services have English help (and a handful of cases Chinese or Korean).

There is a very strong undercurrent of Us vs. Them, and enjoyment of Japanese institutions such as sake, onsens and sushi is regarded as a cultural phenomenon (what person doesn’t enjoy alcohol, baths and healthy fast food?).

Being asked if you can use chopsticks is a small issue. It gets more depressing and alienating when people would rather stand than take the seat next to you on a crowded train or (a personal experience) seem visibly terrified when sharing the elevator in the building you have lived at for 3 years. Another micro aggression that grates many people is the automatic omission of the suffix -san, foreigners often find themselves relegated to first names only in a country that highly respects social standing, to turn the tables and omit the honorific for a Japanese person would be seen as social faux-pas. If this is ever mentioned or other annoyances over the separate treatment NJ get are voiced, the foreigner is labelled as over-sensitive, or it is remarked “I’ve heard foreigners are difficult to deal with”.

The social commentator and activist Debito has faced harsh criticism on his stance of forcibly entering “Japanese only” establishments (as a holder of a Japanese passport he believes that these signs are not about citizenship but about blood lines) and one time suing an onsen for refusing him service. He calls out for a wider understanding of what it means to be pigeon holed by deep-seated stereotypes. His main critics say that he chose to live in Japan, if you don’t like the status quo, feel free to leave. Debito claims that the fight is not for the NJ who come to Japan but for the growing number of mixed children that are not given the choice of what society they were born into.

Are you going to let Japanese society “microaggress” them into The Other, gaijin category, just because they look more like you than your Japanese spouse?

The underlying problem in Japan is looks. Uniforms and outward appearances are extremely important in every day social interactions. As are black and white judgements that are ingrained into the social fabric.

For a country which only open its doors in 1854 (and only then because it was forced) Japan has come a long way to foster internationalism. It is an extremely easy and comfortable country to live in as a foreigner. I personally have never been refused service anywhere and have only experienced minor confrontations usually with a drunk member of the older generation. Japan’s younger generation is definitely more focused on change than the old establishment. In the summer of 2012 the old seperate system of alien registration will come to an end. For years foreign people who wished to stay in Japan for longer than the tourist allowance of 90 days had to sign up for an alien registration card which was to be carried with you at all times and presented if you were asked without question. This year foreign residents will be offered the standard juminhyo. As big as a change as this is, it has not been unknown for towns and cities to give honorary juminhyo status to animals, characters and statues. In 2002 the Nishi ward of Yokohama gave a bearded seal who has taken residence in the river a juminhyo. This provoked NJ residents to paint whiskers on their faces in protest.