Thursday, September 23, 2010

日本茶党, birthers, and the Oz Lady.

Yes, 茶党, not 茶道*。

And here I thought the Tea Party and the Birthers were some sort of "Only in America" thing. But on the day of PM Kan's victory over Ozawa, I was chatting with my old friend and ex-tutor whom I shall refer to as the Oz Lady as that fits both her name and her interesting ideas.

Claiming to speak no English--which, of course is not exactly true but very close in her case---she only knows what she reads in Japanese---or hears via the rumor mill. She has some strong political opinions, many of which have to do with the threat of foreigners to Japan. She once asked me about non-citizens' ability to vote in the US (the US is only standard that counts) before going into a mini-rant about the DPJs proposal to let non-citizens vote in local elections. (Her teaching experiences have not reduced her fear of foreigners although she does not dislike non-Japanese people---only the abstract idea of resident foreigners plotting to harm Japan). She has expressed concern about the rightwing's claim that the US would not defend Japan in case of attack, but would somehow instantly pull its troops out and abandon the country in the midst of it all. She also wants a strong Japan that can say no to any country without any repercussions. Naturally, China is a huge threat to Japan, as are those hidden "panda-huggers" in the Japanese government who are handing the country to China.

You would never know or suspect her true beliefs if you did not know her quite well. She seems like a somewhat typical mid-30s gal from the hills of Nagano who is not a member of the college educated white collar workforce. This is what makes her interesting---more interesting in a way than many of the folks I speak with. I like to believe her thoughts represent a different group, although they may only represent her.

In a discussion of the Kan/Ozawa contest, she seemed pleased when I told her that Kan had won. Then she asked me about US politics and if a naturalized US citizen could become president. When I said no, she asked about members of Congress. Naively believing she was actually interested in US politics, I went into an overly detailed answer to a question that she cared not a whit about anyway. It turns out that she was only asking about the US so that she could establish where Japan stood in relation to The Gold Standard of the Universe.

She let me in on a secret. Neither Kan nor Ozawa are Japanese! It seems both are naturalized Japanese citizens with Kan being Korean and Ozawa being Chinese (or visa versa, I was so surprised to hear her say this, I forget which is which). Not only did she say that with a straight face, she was obviously angry about it. Either would sell the country to China, she said, without explaining why a Korean would do so.

We soon moved on in our chat, but I must say that I was disappointed after our conversation. Extreme goofiness is neither an Only in America phenomenon nor something uniquely Japanese.

Anyway, I am still trying to absorb the fact that several years ago she looked at me with her "black eyes" and informed me that I have red hair. All my life, people had lied to me and said it was brown. How could a southern barbarian have anything but red hair?

This is meant not to disparage her. She just gets some interesting ideas from somewhere. I grew up with folks like her...

*Humor, or what must pass for it. 茶道 generally means tea ceremony (the way of tea), but 茶党 would mean Tea Party if it were a real word.


  1. I'll give you Birthers, but I think Tea-Partiers get a bad wrap. There are crazies, but most of them just seem to be normal(ish) people who are tired of the establishment parties and excessive government spending.

  2. I agree with that. I know people in the States who sympathize with the Tea Party and it is as you wrote, people tired of the Republicans and Democrats and concerned about what they see as excessive spending and government intrusion. There may be nuts among them, but I doubt if there are more than in the traditional parties.

  3. There's still a near complete distrust of any politician or party in Japan too and all sorts of conspiracy theories go around.

    Anyway, I just had to use "茶党."

  4. I think the woman you spoke to is rare in that she tipped her hand regarding her true sentiments (a little "honne" rather than "tatamae"). I think that fear of foreigners is always fanned when people are in hard times, and Japan keeps losing ground to China and it's going to stir up their sense of inferiority and hence more fear of foreigners taking over. If becoming third to China's second economically weren't bad enough, Japan also now has fewer top universities in worldwide rankings than China.

    Fear and ignorance are not confined to any one country, no matter how much everyone likes to think that America has a monopoly on those things.

    The thing that bothers me more than true ignorance is willful ignorance or absolute distortion that is exercised in order to elevate (usually Japan) or downgrade (usually America) one country over another. No one does this more than non-expat Americans living in Japan (okay, except possibly right-wing nutjobs in Japan), and it's a pretty interesting phenomenon. I've been developing theories about this, but I actually think that some pretty intense unconscious racism lurks behind the impulse. But that's a topic which requires more than a comment. ;-)

    Thanks for sharing this experience. It's all too rare that someone gets this sort of insight because we're so often given a smooth surface response rather than a deeper look at true feelings.

  5. That's one of the things that makes her interesting, she doesn't hesitate all to give a real direct opinion much of the time.

  6. Anonymous9:58 PM

    Wow. Even Ishihara only went as far as insinuating Fukushima Mizuho (a genuine lefty so no one would be surprised) had some "non-Japanese" origin.

    How do you get involved with these caricatures? That said, I do kinda miss the days of listening to some weirdo's 持論....I think the problem with living in a small country is that paranoia doesn't have as many nooks and crannies to breed in. Boring.

  7. I don't think she's the only one who believes such a thing as I recently read a comment on a Yahoo article about the Senkaku dispute (in which many of the commenters seemed to be Chinese with a few Japanese writing in English (and many using names such as Tim, John) where one person claimed PM Kan was of Chinese origin.