Jokes can reinforce stereotypes

Akita

Regarding Jim Makin’s June 14 letter, “Getting accepted as an equal”: I would like to thank Makin for taking my June 14 letter (“Undoing foreign stereotypes“) seriously and for expressing agreement with the letter’s main point — that foreigners in Japan sometimes contribute to the perpetuation of stereotypical ideas about them. However, a misunderstanding has arisen with regard to my examples of natto (fermented bean curd) and language.

I did not mean to suggest that foreigners must learn to eat natto or master Japanese for acceptance. And I don’t believe that accomplishing these things will get a foreign-born resident accepted as an equal in Japan. I only meant that if a member of a group in Japan widely seen as not liking natto jokes about it in a way that does not register with the general populace, this may serve to reinforce the idea that members of that group cannot eat it. I recently spotted a visual joke relating to natto in an English-language newspaper, so I put the two issues together.

As far as I am concerned, individuals are basically free to do as they please. It does not matter to me whether foreigners joke about natto (or eat it) or master Japanese. Ultimately, acknowledging that no one foreign person in Japan can possibly speak for all foreigners, I merely wanted to suggest that if a non-Japanese person feels offended by being stereotyped, maintaining an open mind about causes and thinking creatively about solutions will probably be more effective than jumping to conclusions and getting angry. People are just people, after all; most are quite open to reason.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

donald wood