Debito Arudou’s May 3 Just Be Cause column, headlined “ Better to be branded a ‘flyjin’ than a man of the ‘sheeple,’” provoked an online skirmish between contributors to the columnist’s blog, Debito.org, and its self-proclaimed “debunker” site. Here are just some of the mails received at The Japan Times in response to the column.
Tempest in a teapot
Debito Arudou has a singular talent of viewing every occurrence in Japan and painfully contorting it into a not-so-subtle slight against foreign residents living in Japan – it is too bad that talent cannot be put to better use.
The modus operandi of his columns is to look at every event, incident, speech or advertisement and to find the ways in which the Japanese populace is insulting those who were born from beyond their shores. Often, this requires remarkable stretches of the imagination, such as his past attempts to speciously (and offensively) equate the contracted word “gaijin” with the N-word in terms of its vulgarity.
That ridiculous stretching of the human imagination is apparent in his most recent article, where Mr. Arudou strangely views the true pain, suffering and devastation from the ongoing disasters in Tohoku not in terms of a vast humanitarian, economic or ecological crisis, but rather in terms of a grossly misconstrued victimization of the non-Japanese community.
As an American who lived and worked in Tohoku, who had been to and had friends in the areas now decimated by the tsunami and the still-unfolding nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Dai-ichi, I am disgusted that Mr. Arudou would trumpet the coining of a word like “flyjin” as a human rights issue for which every Japanese must bear shame.
The disparity between the true enormity of the Tohoku disaster and Mr. Arudou’s tempest-in-a-teapot approach to addressing the flyjin “issue” is striking; Mr. Arudou’s continued focus on merely how non-Japanese are treated in Japan — apparently equating the inability to enter “Japanese Only” shops or having to hear the word “gaijin“ with the worst human rights abuses in the world — represents a nauseating dual attempt at self-victimization and self-importance, even as the country suffers its worst disaster in its postwar history, where thousands upon thousands of lives were destroyed and vast swaths of the country rendered uninhabitable.
If Mr. Arudou wants to champion human rights from his column, then by all means please do so. A lengthy article on true human rights issues, like how Japan is a major hub for human trafficking for sexual exploitation, would be refreshing. But not every ridiculous portrayal of a foreigner by McDonald’s is a human rights abuse (see “Human Rights in Japan: a top 10 for ’09,” Jan. 5, 2010); instead, it just serves as a veiled attempt to levy yet another misguided and overly exaggerated criticism at Japan.
Mr. Arudou’s inability to keep issues in context both hurts his larger argument (where he may have valid points) and greatly disrespects and dishonors the enormity of truly horrific events like the Great Tohoku Earthquake.
On one last point: Mr. Arudou did not just coin the term “sheeple” as he claims; in fact, it has been used in the United States for some time, including a 2006 episode of South Park.
BRYAN M. THOMPSON
Leaving was common sense
A very interesting article. It shows how the “sheeple” made it harder to leave and return back to Japan. As for those writing bad comments and labeling foreigners who left as cowards because of the nuclear disaster, who do they think they are to judge what is good for those people and their families? Are they going to be responsible for them in case something happens to them? I guess the answer is no.
I think it’s OK to call 5,000 people “flyjin,” but calling 531,000 people who left Japan permanently or temporarily (in the month after the quake, according to government figures) as flyjin is incredibly dumb.
I think that this time, leaving was pretty much just common sense to all those 531,000 people.
Showing up an absurd debate
Congratulations to Debito for an on-the-nail analysis. This whole debate, from the coining of the term “flyjin” itself, is frankly ridiculous. The use of loaded words like “flee,” “fly,” and “escape,” mixed in with “foreigner,” paints the whole act of leaving a disaster zone as an act of panic.
Try this quick test: Google “New Zealand earthquake foreigner flee.” See how many stories you pick up. Now change “New Zealand” to “Japan” and compare. In fact, even the first search is likely to pick up stories about Japan.
I understand there are some 20,000 or so Japanese in New Zealand. Can anyone manage to find what they did following the earthquake by Googling? I bet you can’t, because it is simply a nonstory. There is no coverage because there is no phenomenon.
A quick analysis of language used following the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake, in which of course many non-New Zealanders were caught up, reveals that while people’s nationality, or occasionally their foreignness, is sometimes mentioned in news stories, this is simply because they were caught up in events along with New Zealanders.
There is a total absence of analysis of their behavior as foreigners. There is no assumption of their having any “obligation” or “duty” to their Kiwi hosts, and their is not any suggestion of a question of “loyalty.” Nor is the talk of their leaving New Zealand, as many did, peppered with references to “panic” — although, without a doubt, a lot of them left the country very frightened.
Fast forward a few weeks to Japan, where the quake was many, many times stronger, a huge tsunami was involved, power cuts, disruptions to transport, fuel, food and water supply affected tens of millions of people. Oh yes, and I almost forgot that wee Fukushima incident.
All just a little blip on the screen, obviously. Nothing to consider leaving the area for. And naturally we are all gifted with X-ray vision and clairvoyant powers, plus we all have access to transparent, reliable information on everything that’s happening in real time. So naturally, anyone who decided that there was an element of risk staying in the area, by which I mean Kanto, was a namby-pamby, white-feathered, wussy, panic-stricken, irrational child. Oh, and disloyal, irresponsible, ungrateful, letting down Team Japan — or is that Team Gaijin?
Until this absurd debate reared up in March, I was under the distinct impression that we gaijin were unwanted here. Now it turns out that we’re actually an essential part of the fabric of society after all, and Japan needs us for strawberries at ¥400 a punnet, ¥300 gyūdon, 24/7 konbinis, ¥1,500-an-hour English lessons, perpetual trainee health care workers . . .
This doesn’t stop a rump of self-created heroes from crowing about their devotion to duty as they stayed at their posts, and flailing around at other foreigners for supposed desertion.
Living in a parallel hyperverse
There was a time when Debito Arudou and I actually knew one another. In fact we even met in person, years ago. But over the past decade or so, his hyperverse has slowly and steadily detached from the one I inhabit, to the point where it now surprises me just to see that his articles are still making it into print in my hyperverse.
The oddly misshapen Japan that David inhabits (I’ll use the name I knew him by when we were both from the same reality) is one where anyone with a face that doesn’t match the Yamato-brand standard of excellence is invariably and consistently treated as an outcast. It must be a very sad place to live. Thank goodness the Japan where I live is not like that.
The Japan where I live is by no means perfect. Like any country, incidents of racism occur. But in the Japan where I live, the vast majority (and I’m talking about fractions with very large numerators) of people recognise that the state of “being Japanese” stopped being about race some time before the turn of the century.
In the Japan where I live, both the press and the public lauded the exploits of Japanese citizen Tadanari Lee in January, and pointed out quite correctly that articles (mainly ones appearing in nonvernacular sources) suggesting he was somehow “not fully Japanese” were off the mark.
Nowadays “Japanese” includes everything from (baseball’s) Sadaharu Oh and (businessman) Masayoshi Son to Japan under-18 (soccer) star Musashi Suzuki, VVV-Venlo striker Robert Cullen and Ventforet Kofu ace Mike Havenaar. Furthermore, when racism does rear its ugly head — such as when Mike was hazed at a recent Kashiwa Reysol match by people shouting “#$%$”% hakujin” — their own fellow supporters respond with fury, and turn in the culprits to the team so that they may be banned from attending future matches.
In the Japan where I live, almost every Japanese person I have discussed the matter with seems to be both understanding and sympathetic to those who — out of misinformed fear — fled Japan following the quake/tsunami. Most of those people also recognise that it was the non-Japan-based press whose scare stories triggered the exodus in the first place, and are aware — as am I — that the people who are most outspoken in criticizing “flyjin” are other people of non-Yamato ethnic stock who recognize quite accurately how foolish and potentially destructive the actions of those people were — even if fear under such circumstances is understandable.
It must be very depressing to live in a world where everyone is out to slander you or deny you your rights. David certainly seems to be worn down and emotionally fraught after living in such a world for so many years.
Thankfully, the Japan that I inhabit — while it does contain its share of a—holes, like any other country — is filled predominantly with well-meaning people who know that we all have to get along, and that we all deserve respect and equal treatment regardless of appearance.
In this Japan, we can discuss issues such as the flyjin phenomenon without being forced to blame someone, or try to insist that the very existence of the word is evidence of ubiquitous racism throughout the society, and that every Yamato-stock Japanese in the country is somehow an accessory to this racist agenda.
Oh yes, one more thing: In the world where I live, “sheeple” is a well-worn (indeed it is becoming outworn) word employed by people of the U.S. liberal community. Perhaps in David’s version of the world, he was the first to coin it. But I think The Japan Times ought to clarify which universe they inhabit.
I’m pretty sure that the newspaper still occupies a reality where Mr. Arudou’s claims of originality in coinage are facile nonsense, much like the rest of his article.
No justification for column
In most newspapers, the ravings of Debito Arudou would be relegated to the letters page, if indeed they made print at all.
Mr. Arudou seemingly has but one theme — “Japan hates foreigners”- and he does nothing but beat this boring drum over and over, year after year.
Worse, while claiming to champion human rights, he himself too often crosses the line into racism, making it very difficult to take him seriously.
One does pity Debito Arudou. He must feel terribly trapped, having renounced his original citizenship only to discover himself among a people that purportedly hate him.
But pity is not enough to justify regular appearance in such an influential paper as The Japan Times. Neither can justification be found in an editorial desire for color; Mr. Arudou’s theme is simply too repetitive to satisfy this need.
The Times needs to cut his column. It adds nothing to the public debate but a reaffirmation that, yes, foreigners probably should be kept at arm’s length.
NAME WITHHELD UPON REQUEST
Nothing to read between the lines
I was totally disgusted by Mr. Arudou’s so-called “flyjin” article — talk about taking things out of context!
He did a great job finding all those negative articles (and very smart of him to pull a quote from the tabloids!) on fleeing foreigners after the 3/11 quake, and put all the blame on the Japanese, calling us ignorant racists when it’s probably just a small percentage of us who think of flyjin as traitors, if any.
And “Nihon o saru gaikokujin” means nothing more than what it says: foreigners who have left Japan. Don’t try to read between the lines because nothing is there to read; if there is anything, he created it.
But then, I can certainly understand why he writes what he writes on some level. When a person lives somewhere that is not his native country, regardless of his resident status (naturalized or not), he feels isolated and discriminated against; he thinks that he always gets unfair treatment and is denied equal opportunities just because he is gaijin, his skin color is different, and so on.
I often felt that way during my 15 years in the U.S., but you don’t see me writing about it for a major newspaper. If I or any resident alien in the U.S. ever wrote anything like he has, the Americans would tell us to go home. It goes both ways.
Tell him to keep the bitterness to himself, take the good with the bad, and if he still has so much to complain about, go home. No one is putting a gun to his head to stay.
Wonderful time to be a gaijin
This article is painful to read. The person who wrote this seems to have too much emotional baggage — i.e. unresolved emotional issues — regarding Japan, and I would suggest he do himself and everyone else a favor and find himself another place to live.
The past few months have been a wonderful time to be a gaijin (because that is what I am) in Japan. So many people have smiled at me and even thanked me, just for still being here.
I could choose to be unhappy, like your commentator. And I choose not to, because I do not want to.
Please encourage your columnist to go get some counseling.
Discrimination needs addressing
I just want to write in and show my support for Mr. Arudou. I know it might be difficult to hear criticisms of your own country for Japanese people during these trying times, but the important issues of racial discrimination must be addressed worldwide.
His point and perspective is clear and his logic follows from the evidence of constant negative press that foreigners always get in Japan, as they do in almost any country. Although at times he is emotional, it is acceptable as it is in the cause of correcting an injustice.
When foreigners criticize the treatment of foreigners in Japan they are not saying the condition is the worst in the world, but that we would also like to see a fair and more equitable society in Japan, as in every other country, including our home countries.
Being a foreigner in Japan – or in any other country for that matter — is difficult, and there are stresses that one will face even when legally equal. Being a naturalized citizen, Arudou Debito has a strong understanding of the hardships involved in the particular case of Japan, and I greatly appreciate his insight.
Mr. Arudou’s latest diatribe on flyjin prejudice is really just an excuse to lash out at his perceived enemies of his personal blog and his performance as an “activist.”
Did we really need to read through over 1,200 words of debunked tabloid tripe and masqueraded reflections of his perceived exclusion from society to get to that column’s true purpose, which was to call his critics a name?
Similar to his previous coverage of “Charisma Men,” “flyjin” is a faux phenomenon that is only understood by a very small niche subset of social-media-savvy Westerners in Japan. And even if the flyjin backlash was real, is name-calling Japanese and foreign residents “sheeple” anything more than a childish, insulting response?
Really, Japan Times: Find a columnist that is actually truly representative of a “community” where his column is listed.
When I pay for your paper, I expect opinions about Japan and its true communities, both majority and minority. If I really want to read Mr. Arudou’s fringe opinions and attacks on his Internet critics, I can skip paying ¥180 and go directly to his blog and read that for free.
Flyjin stereotyping continues
I just wanted to send a short thank you for publishing the article by Arudou Debito concerning the problem of flyjin-bashing. It is something that has been a recent concern of mine since the nuclear disaster, due to the notable number of times I have been stereotyped in such a manner simply because I am a non-Japanese.
I am currently a student at the University of Tokyo master’s program and have been doing research regarding short-term international programs, so I have frequent contact with Japanese. I’m frequently bunched in with the assumption that I retreated back to my country and turned my back on Japan, when in fact I remained in Japan and have been helping in almost every way possible, along with many of my friends from abroad studying in my department and at other universities.
Even today at the neighborhood gym I’ve seen such stereotyping of foreign visitors who are assumed to be and are stereotyped as flyjin. It is highly detrimental to the recovery effort and fosters a strong feeling of racism and fear in the wake of a disaster in which so many people from around the world have been trying to give as much support to Japan as possible.
Thank you for bringing this problem to light. The publication of this article is deeply appreciated.
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