Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ahhhh. Finally something like autumn has arrived. No frost on the pumpkin, but except for Sunday night when I was hunting mosquitoes in the mansion, it has cooled enough and enough leaves have turned to make it seem like October back home.

Luckily for me, autumn brings learning opportunities and I needn't go to school to experience them. Why just yesterday a fellow as telling me about how Japanese enjoyed walking under under the canopy of ginkgo trees. Then he moved on to maples and how Japanese like the red leaves of those trees. I was both happy and confused as since I enjoy those things too, I am apparently turning Japanese. Except that I also enjoyed them before I came to Japan----as do most folks I've ever known. Except my for wife who often responds with something like, "It's just trees." I was worried that I might have confused my friend too, for when he mentioned Japanese liking maple leaves, I thought of the Canadian flag and said, "Oh, Japanese are like Canadians."

Then this morning I read some learned (?) discussion concerning the internationalization (or lack of) of Japan. I discovered that in addition to the many famous entertainers and athletes of non-Japanese background, there are also a lot of restaurants serving foreign cuisine in Japan. Now if that does not show internationalization, I don't know what does.

I was also educated that the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism who wrote the UN report about discrimination in Japan was apparently some sort of lackey for minority interest groups in Japan. These sneaky devils led him around for 9 days or so showing him only what they wanted him to see, and they, unlike some fellow from the government or perhaps even academia, had political interests at heart. Even worse, the Special Rapporteur could not speak Japanese and had to rely on his deceitful escorts. I am not sure if that is unusual, for I doubt that the fellow could speak Swahili if he went there on an investigation, but then again, this is Japan and we must apply different rules and standards here. Always.

I can not be sure what I should think of this until I consult an unbiased, unfettered by personal day-to-day experience person of letters who can explain everything to me in an abstract moonbeam sort of way that seems to have no connection to reality. I certainly cannot trust my own lying eyes as I am a member of a minority group with a vested interest in not being discriminated against.

But best of all, Diane Sawyer took ABC and Hot Stud Reporter David Muir to China investigate just how China is poised to overcome the US in every possible way pretty darn soon if we don't take hints from ABC news. ABC promised to have several of these reports on what China does differently than the US and what we should learn from it to keep from being surpassed in the next few weeks. Wonder if Diane and babe-magnet Dave took a listen to Joseph Nye below (or did any relevant research) before they flew over to China to give us the latest version of the 1980s Japan threat. Doesn't the ABC interview with Thomas Friedman sound almost word-for-word like what was being said about Japan 20-25 years ago?


  1. I had been having a discussion with someone who believes that all foreigners in Japan believe they are discriminated against because other foreigners have told them so (not because they are actually experiencing discrimination - it's all misinterpretation based on the bias we teach each other). He insists that we need "empirical evidence", yet refuses to define what he would accept as such data.

    I think that people who are inclined to act as apologists will find a way to dismiss whatever evidence exists no matter where it comes from or how it is collected, much in the manner that the UN report you link to is dismissed. It doesn't matter how concrete my experiences are (being called an "idiot foreigner" or being told explicitly that foreigners are not welcome in a business), it can be dismissed as "anecdotal" and therefore not actual evidence. It also seems that it doesn't matter how many of us these things happen to either as it can always be ignored as biased, ethnocentric, and irrelevant. No, Japan is not a place where the expression of racism is more overt and present than other countries. We just think it is.

  2. Anonymous3:01 PM

    To be frank, I think the criticisms offered by Scalise of the report are extremely fair. And I am not sure why you think they were suggesting Japan should get some special treatment - the UN's approach to most issues like that in most countries are often similarly ill-conceived! While of course the government's view would sugar coat such issues and try to sweep them under the rug, I am not sure if the antidote is to go completely the other way.

    I thought the subsequent message from Peter Matalante was good and the last paragraph in particular spot on. Certainly it is much more in line with my experience of Japan compared to the other slightly paranoid commentary - well at least much more like how I tend to approach these things perhaps - it isn't like I am immune to discrimination in Japan. But at the end of the day so what if someone ignored you (not you, obviously, since you are not that old!) in Japan in the 1970s! That happens to my wife everyday at our son's Kindergarten in NZ in 2010, where we claim to be ethnically sensitive and open to foreigners, and make a point of pride of it...silly, silly stuff.

    Every country has its myths. Yes, even the US ;-), as I am sure you well know. And the more such myths are attacked the more we want to hold on to them, it would seem to me.

  3. Interesting comments and I will give a more extensive reply later. Right now I have to gather statistical data to prove that I love my mother.

    Myths? The US? Nooooo. The freest country on earth has no myths. Only facts.

  4. Orchid64: I have had run ins with the empirical evidence simpletons myself. A Google or Amazon search or even a visit to a good library should provide plenty of empirical evidence. Interesting that he charges it is based on misinformation between us ignorant nitwits who live here, but offers no empirical evidence to support that. Never wrestle a pig. You'll just get dirty and make the pig happy.

  5. Sigma1

    As far as for Scalise’s comments on the UN report, I would agree that the report is flawed and has many problems. That does not, of course mean, that it is without merit or basis. Note that the Japan Focus article linked to in that post has others, including Japanese who agree with its findings. The analysis by Dr. Wetherall of seems very well done to me and in spite of his sharp and convincing criticism of the report, does not say that discrimination does not exist here, and he does say that Japan needs some anti-discrimination laws.

    The remarks about Mr. Diene not being able to speak Japanese are nonsense. He does not need to speak the language of any and every country he investigates. Yes, could he speak the language of every country he went to, it would be beneficial and might give him further insights (if that’s possible in 9 days) but it is impractical. We don’t expect him to know Swahili to investigate abuses there, so why should we expect something different for Japan. There are many good, professional interpreters and translators around, and I am sure the UN uses them. This criticism seems to be applied against anyone who criticises Japan, but not against those who sing nothing but praises. (Karl von Wolferern has been attacked for that, although I do not know if he really speaks Japaneses or not.)

    And Dr. Peter Matanle. Just a sec. Gotta count to 10..... No, 100....No, a million....Try again, must chew off a desk corner. No...kick the cat......Still not enough...... Kick the wife......

  6. Well, should not have done the last. She kicks back,

    I have not read any of his books nor had I heard of him until very recently through that forum and what he has written there. But judging only from the posts of his that I have read, I have to say that this is the type of thinking I am talking about when I mention sugar-coaters, apologists, enablers---and may I be so crude----useful idiots. I would not even accuse E.O. Rieshauer in his “The Japanese” book of coming anywhere close to such artificial sweetening.

    He begins his post by explaining away an incident that he was in no way involved with nor within thousands of miles of, as far as we know. The original poster mentioned that his Japanese golf companions in the US often referred to him as “gaijin.” Peter somehow knew that they were just ribbin’ him. How does he know? I have heard many a Japanese refer to Americans while in the US as gaijin and they were not ribbing anyone. They were separating themselves from the mostly white non-Japanese. (They did not use gaijin to mean foreigner in the same sense that the English word does.) Or perhaps I should ask PA for his opinion as to what they really must have meant. Then I will ask him what their names were, and what their facial expressions were like, their tone of voice, and what clothes they wore to see just how far his clairvoyance goes.

  7. Next he responds to a Japanese speaking fellow (whom Mantanle butters up as “an elegant western professor) who lived in Kyoto decades (?) ago, who had posted about something a bureaucrat had said that he---having been there himself---felt was offensive. PA, as far as we know not having been in Kyoto in that office at that time, then tells us what to explain what the bureaucrat may have meant meant. How on earth does he know? Do all Japanese or all Japanese bureaucrats think the same way so that PA, decades later and thousands of miles away, can tell the man who was there that he must have misunderstood and that the bureaucrat was being humble and kind? Could not the bureaucrat have just been an asshole? And would not the fellow who was actually there speaking Japanese with least some grasp of the country from having lived there for a decade be in a better position to judge? Or did he have cultural blinders on which much be removed by an explainer? This is above and beyond sugar-coating, this is.......ok calm down Dave.

    The professor also explains the offensive-to-many term “gaijin” away by comparing it to “Brit,” a term that he does not especially like. Let me think....is there a difference here? Wait! What country is a gaijin from? How ‘bout a Brit? Ohhhhhh....perhaps one of the many things that offends some about “gaijin” is that it takes even your national identity away and leaves you as nothing but some outsider of usually white European descent who, if no other info is available, is probably an American from the US.

    His final paragraph is probably true for those who have not been around many immigrants or minorities in their own country, perhaps someone on the Upper east side of Manhattan or some Ivory Tower in London for example. Since Peter can make statements and draw conclusions about things he has no connection with and no direct knowledge of, I can too and say that Peter has described himself in the final paragraph. May I assume that he, unlike the vast majority of those who live here---Japanese or not---is something like an “elegant western professor.”

    I’d hazard a guess that for many of the less fortunate, perhaps those raised in areas with minorities who saw the discrimination they faced, and who may have even participated in the discrimination (only those born of the fortunate circumstances above can deceive themselves by saying “I don’t have a racist bone in my body...) And when those folks who are of lessor breeding or fortune see and hear the same words, the same actions, the same reactions that they saw practiced---or may practiced/felt/thought at one time themselves--against minorities in their country being done in this one, they just might have enough intelligence to understand the situation without some fellow who ain’t there explaining it away as a misunderstanding on their part. There are racists in every country and we should just ignore them. Oh, how easy for a fellow frolicking around on another trip. However, when you are working with such an asshole, it is tough to ignore them. When you are trying to rent an apartment and encounter such racist assholes, it is tough to ignore them. Does Mantanle understand that? No, not if his final paragraph describes him.

  8. Mantanle’s response was that of an explainer, an enabler, and an apologist with one hell of an ego to assume that he can better understand people and situations that he was in no way involved in. Are the Japanese so special that everything that each and every individual does can be explained away as a type of kindness and a purity of heart? Or is assuming that as---dare I say it---racist/racialist as saying the opposite about Japanese? Director of Asian Studies? Makes me wanna burn my diploma.

    Why believe my own lying eyes---or even Japanese who, despite the myth can be very direct, open, honest about the flaws, the discrimination, the problems in Japan who bring up similar opinions to me---when I have a man like Peter to telly me and others the way it really is. Maybe Pete can explain Japan to them. I, however, call bullshit. Would we Want him, if he acts and explains in the same way, to be one of the UN’s contacts while investigation racism/racialism/discrimination in Japan?

    By the way, my heart was gladdened by his latest post about his experience in the Sakura Hotel. I do wonder why he did not stay in a regular business hotel to get the full flavor of how the less enlightened must live. Refused service because he was a foreigner? Ohhhhh,the stories I could tell of the things I have witnessed with my blindered eyes.

    Several years ago, I found a wallet with a big stack of ¥10,000 notes inside inside a Starbucks near Tokyo station.. At least ¥70k. I turned it in to the Starbucks staff and am sure that the Japanese fellow to whom it belonged realized how wonderful the society that this gaijin came from is. Or should my heart be gladdened that because I live in Japan that I turned it in instead of stealing it and using it to buy drugs like I probably have done back home.

    OK. Must shut up now. Thanks for the comment and for enabling me to write something in response to Peter, since I had nearly chewed my arms off to stop myself from replying on the forum as participating in forums is a sign of insanity.

    (I am in no way criticising you.)

  9. Sorry, I used "PA" as a marker during drafts in the above. PA refers to Peter Matanle. Apologize for the numerous grammatical and spelling errors. I am not an elegant western professor.

  10. ohhhhh....another error. Our elegant professor is not a Director of Asian Studies, but a mere Lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield. Hmmmmmm. I had considered taking that university's Masters in Advanced Japanese Studies a few years ago, but now for some reason I am now damned glad that I did not.

  11. Sigma1 and I are referring to a topic posted on the NBR forum. (Japan-US discussion forum)

  12. Anonymous6:36 PM

    f$#K. I wrote a very long reply, and I assure you it was an amazing one that would have changed your life. Haha, tough luck for you I guess ;-)

    Anyway in a nutshell it was that I agree with you albeit in a different direction that posting on forums one way or another that it is impossible for a person to "on balance" have a good/bad experience of Japan, and/or "on balance" find that Japanese are curious and openminded/pig-headed and insecure towards outsiders, is indeed insane. So don't do it. My other point was that for every serious person like yourself who knows what they are actually talking about, there are more than a couple of newcomers more than willing to put their difficulty in adjusting to Japan down (solely) to hostile discrimination - something that, unfortunately for those of us who suffer discrimination, Japanese are all too acutely aware of. It is unfair, but lady doth protest too much, sometimes. (Yes, as you know, I was a JET. As you can imagine there were more than a few like this in my circles.)

    I read your blog precisely because I recognize so much of what you write about. But, despite that I find this flawed country (as are all) pretty damn interesting. Possibly you do too. Either that or you are a masochist ;-)

  13. Darn. I needed my life changed too.

    Yes, I find Japan an extremely interesting country, and even agree with Matanle on at least one point---it is a great society. I just don't think it is so out of this world unique and impossible to understand as is sometimes reported.

    To refer to the forums again, I agree with the gist of G. Clark's latest post that we are all messed up.

  14. Anonymous7:31 PM

    "I just don't think it is so out of this world unique and impossible to understand as is sometimes reported."

    Ha, yes indeed. A key challenge for anyone living overseas is giving a people, place or culture the appropriate amount of "credit" for real and genuine differences without obsessively romanticizing it, or delving into equally obsessive dislike for it. Lesson I have learnt is that the locals one way or another (anywhere) are not going to make that a particularly easy accomplishment.

  15. Jeffrey4:18 AM

    "(Karl von Wolferern has been attacked for that, although I do not know if he really speaks Japaneses or not.)"

    I think it's best to put his book in the same category as Ruth Benedict's "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword." Well meaning, but ultimately limited by the writer's circumstances. In von Wolfren's case, he didn't speak or read Japanese well enough to do original research. The book's success lies mostly in capturing and helping mold the zeitgeist of the time. (And also he was there first as an English teacher. You can't trust those SOBs farther than you can throw them. Er, . . . Um, . . . Never mind.)

    In Benedict's case, she was interviewing people who really weren't full-on Japanese any longer. Most had been in Hawaii for years and many had come from Okinawa at a time when the Ryukyus were less a part of mainstream Japan.

    It's been years since I've read either book. Perhaps a re-reading would change this view.

  16. Scalise - would this happen to be a Paul Scalise Jr.?

  17. Jeffrey:

    I doubt re-reading Benedict's book would do much but give you a headache. Don't think anyone considers it relevant any longer. Well...almost anyone as I am sure you can find some who do.

    S. Urista: Paul J. Scalise. Not sure about the Jr, but I assume so.

  18. "...the locals one way or another (anywhere) are not going to make that a particularly easy accomplishment."

    True. If my wife were the passive, obedient thing she is supposed to be, it'd be a lot easier. Refuses to listen though.

  19. Anonymous3:08 AM

    "True. If my wife were the passive, obedient thing she is supposed to be, it'd be a lot easier. Refuses to listen though."