The Community Page received a large number of emails in response to Debito Arudou’s June 7 Just Be Cause column, headlined ” ‘English-speaking diaspora’ should unite, not backbite.”
Give us the data
Mr. Arudou’s latest article presents a thought-provoking description of three non-Japanese communities (North and South Korean Zainichi, South American nisei, and Chinese immigrants) and contrasts their interpersonal behavior with that of native English-speakers. It posits an alternate theory to explain the latter’s reason for ineffective organization for the purpose of increasing their rights, benefits and privileges in Japan, as well as their failure to form physical communities in confined geographical spaces.
Unfortunately, however, it is not focused well enough to present a convincing argument that the English-speaking, long-term residents of Japan generally lack identity as permanent immigrants, or that they even qualify as a diaspora. Several much more likely explanations immediately jump to mind, including but not limited to Japanese language ability, population size, intermarriage tendencies, vocation and “class consciousness.” To weave a persuasive argument, reasons must be presented why these at-first-obvious explanations are actually not the main contributing factors. This would then be preferably followed by testing of the posited hypothesis with supporting data.
These steps are simply not done. The author only attempts to refute one (class consciousness), doing so rather weakly. Neither the (perceived?) tendency of English speakers to intermarry (which may serve as an “anticlumping” agent), nor the effect of Japanese fluency (which most certainly contributes to the success of the Zainichi) are discussed. Population size, the defining metric of a minority, is mentioned then subsequently ignored, while vocation, rather than being refuted, is actually acknowledged as a cause.
And where are the data?
Would there be a statistically significant correlation between population size and an assigned numerical ranking of “organizational” success? If so, what percentage of the variability in organizational success can be explained simply by population size? How much more can be explained by attempting to quantify language ability? Are there significant differences in the percentage of children within these groups that are enrolled in public versus international school?
The author is in an excellent position to perform such data-driven analysis, given his years of cataloging issues regarding human rights in Japan. While it is highly unlikely that the author’s alternate theory would survive such quantitative treatment, if it did, then it could potentially form the basis for work publishable in peer-reviewed literature.
As it stands, however, this article thoroughly fails to convince and would be more appropriate pasted into the author’s blog because it lacks sufficient rigor to even warrant publication in his monthly newspaper column.
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A mere demographic blip
Most of the native English speakers living in Japan are short-term residents working as English teachers or people who have been posted by multinationals; neither stays for more than a few years.
Otherwise, the number of long-term expat English-speakers represents but a demographic blip in Japan’s population of 125 million. Comparing them to the Korean-Japanese or Chinese-Japanese communities, both who number in the hundreds of thousands, is ridiculous.
“Little London”? “Dinky Dublin”? Puleeease. Does he think all the lifers would be better off in ghettos operating pubs or sports bars, fast food outlets, tattoo and piercing parlors, boutique investment firms and whatever else they are supposedly “known for”?For many of the English-speaking long-term expats, the whole point is immersing oneself in Japan, not just speaking the language, eating the food or learning to be comfortable with the rudiments of the culture. And they aren’t there for economic reasons, as most could probably make as good as if not a better living at home.
Lake Forest Park, Washington
English negates ‘diaspora effect’
An interesting article. I have noticed the same thing here in Switzerland — though we English-speakers are a bit more organized than those in Japan.
I think that one issue is that, unlike any other language, you can get by with just English. For example, my German is very limited because I never use it. Yup, you read that right: Everything I do, I do in English, including work. Actually, if I couldn’t speak English I wouldn’t have a job. I work for a reinsurer as a technical accountant.
When I occasionally try to practice my German, the Swiss immediately reply in English because they want practice it, even asking me sometimes what the correct pronunciation of a word is, or what something is called in English.
Having said that, I spent two weeks in Japan and, sure enough, again lots of locals were using me to practice their English. My travels around Europe have proven the same thing. English is an easy language to travel with.
However, in the case of Switzerland (with the exception of French and Italian), it is rare to find someone who will speak another language unless their family comes from that culture. Hence you have the Turkish community who band together because the Swiss simply won’t learn that language (same with Japanese, Chinese, Jewish, etc.).
I think language is one of the primary reasons why you get the “diaspora effect” in other cultures and why English-speakers don’t seem to have it. In English we find it easy enough to get by in a foreign land, so we probably don’t feel the need to seek out fellow English speakers for company.
Call for Caucasian unity worrying
Debito Arudou’s June 7 article intrigues me with its coinage of “NJ” (which for me means New Jersey) for “non-Japanese” and its use of “diaspora.” However, its headline call for non-Japanese (but as we see within, not Japanese-descended Latin Americans or Korean- or Chinese-Japanese) unity quite repels me, as an old antiracialist.
But should it? Is there a need and a role for Caucasian “antiracialist” solidarity in Japan? (Or is it non-East Asian? Are, say, Africans or Asian-Americans part of this constituency? How about non-native English speakers?) How does that not become oxymoronic?
Arudou’s points about class and culture/education and relative mobility seem well-made (but does he consider individualism, especially of the members of this freely and individually chosen “diaspora” — if indeed we can call it that?).
Is he really on about equal rights? Perhaps so, but non-Japanese, non-East Asian, native-English-speaker solidarity worries me. But then, the very call for “unity” with those only accidentally like me — that too worries me. Maybe Arudou has got my number there.
I shuddered when I read this article. My wife and I are English but live in Spain. We left the U.K. because we were sick of being an ethnic minority in our town, surrounded by dozens of ethnic groups doing just what you suggest: ganging together to demand this or that — more often than not Shariah law.
There are English groups here in Spain, and French and Bulgarian and Romanian, which have formed political parties and started making their demands.
We live very quietly. We pay our way completely, cause no trouble, try very hard to obey the law (when we can find out what it is, this being Spain). We never vote in any level of election and never shout in the street that the mayor should go.
We do not belong to anything. We are self-sufficient — just like we were in the U.K.
Politics in Spain are for the Spanish to decide. It’s their country — not ours and it never will be. We love Spain with all our hearts — almost everything about it, especially the people, but not the stupid ever-changing rules and regulations.
Don’t be surprised if the Japanese get fed up with moaning, demanding foreigners. They may blame you.
An insightful article
I just wanted to write and thank you for this insightful article. I have often thought about this topic, and even grappled with my own feelings of hostility towards fellow English-speakers in countries other than Japan.
When discussing this with my Japanese friends, many simply say, “Western people don’t like each other.” Simplistic, sure, but often not too far from the truth.
I often wonder what gives rise to this hostility. Previously, I had come to the conclusion that this was largely based on our inherent generalization of other Westerners (or, English-speakers) as being one of the “loud minority” that is so often seen abroad, and our wish to distance ourselves from that. However, your article has scratched the surface of some deeper issues in our upbringing, society and education which may serve as food for thought in terms of my future pondering of this issue.
A depressingly shallow analysis
Once again Debito Arudou delivers a depressingly shallow analysis, this time of why the native English-speaking non-Japanese (ENJ) have not chosen to “form communities,” i.e. go into ghettos (the classic example of a failure of an immigrant population to properly integrate). To support this, Mr. Arudou uses the examples of the Chinese, Zainichi (Koreans) and Nikkei (South Americans of Japanese descent) to posit that ENJ don’t see themselves as a viable immigrant minority. His thesis is that ENJ don’t clump together to fight for their rights (which are never explicitly stated) because of some ingrained uncooperativeness.
So let’s look at why the Chinese, Zainichi and Nikkei are significantly different to the ENJ. The reasons are economic and social. First let’s look at the economic factors.
Unlike the ENJ the Chinese, Zainichi and Nikkei were brought over to fill the need for an inexpensive labor force, either by force or willingly to improve their lives, and they settled near their jobs.
A much larger proportion of ENJ are skilled labor. Unlike mining or export or manufacturing, there are no centers for English language teaching, for example. It is widely dispersed, with teachers spread throughout the country instead of concentrated near a few industrial centers.
Second, and likely most importantly, are the social forces acting differently on the ENJ and the Chinese/Zainichi/Nikkei.
When the Chinese/Zainichi/Nikkei moved to Japan they did not move alone (even if one family member came first to pave the way for the rest of the family); they brought with them families from their native land. And because those families needed that support structure while integrating, they moved close to each other, forming their own communities.
I would observe that the majority of ENJ did not come to Japan with their families. You very rarely see an ENJ family out shopping or at the park unless you are near a military base (which, by definition, is not an immigrant community).
Most ENJ who immigrate to Japan do so because they have made a family in Japan with a Japanese spouse. They have chosen to set down roots and begun to integrate themselves into the Japanese community at large. They are bonded with Japan, their home, more strongly than with people they do not know and likely have little in common with other than their native language.
As for the “nastiness” Mr. Arudou cites, in this case he is correct. We can do without it. We all, including Mr. Arudou (who is demonstrably not immune from the behavior he condemns), should strive to engage in a more positive fashion.
A poor excuse for a diaspora
At one point in his most recent essay, Debito Arudou asks, “Why are some minorities less able to organize than others?”
He answers his own question. Genuine minorities, like the Zainichi Koreans, can come together because of a shared sense of culture and grievance. The group of English-speaking NJ possesses neither characteristic.
“English-speaking NJ” is an umbrella term for immigrants from many different cultures, including India, England, Ireland, Canada, the U.S. and Australia. Whatever minor similarities of culture immigrants from these countries share, they are not strong enough to bind them into a single force. Furthermore, the default language of most European-descended NJ — whether or not they hail from an English-speaking country — is English, a fact which further waters down any sense of community English-speaking NJ might experience. In short, the label “English-speaking NJ” comprises people of backgrounds too varied to allow for cultural identification.
The reason Chinatowns exist in so many cities is that all the residents of these mini-cities are Chinese and have frequently been forced to live in these places by law or prejudice. In spite of Mr. Arudou’s highly developed sensitivity to oppression, no such conditions have existed in Japan since World War II to force English-speakers into their own ghettos.
The second reason some minority groups find it easy to organize is a feeling of shared grievance. Many Koreans living in Japan, particularly those whose families were in Japan during World War II, share a real sense of victimization — I will not argue whether they are all justified in this sense, but it is nevertheless real and serves to unite them. Again, a group containing English-speakers from, for example, India, Ireland, the U.S. and New Zealand cannot claim to have been victimized by the Japanese people for any characteristic that unites them.
Note that the two elements must go together: a shared culture and the sense that one is a member of a group that has been oppressed. Shared language can’t unite a minority if these two elements are missing.
Finally, let’s stop using the word “diaspora” to describe English-speaking NJ. The implication of that word is that the people to whom it is applied were driven from their land by hardship of one sort or another. We can thus talk about the Jewish Diaspora or the Armenian Diaspora, not the “English-speaking diaspora.”
Language not a binding force
In Mr. Arudou’s article about the “English speaking diaspora,” he brings up several points which I would like to discuss.
Firstly, lack of unity among English-speaking people. This is for several reasons. Among them, a hierarchy of English-speaking people in terms of economics (the English teacher, the native English speaker working in a Japanese company using Japanese, American military personnel, and those expats who live in super-expensive apartments with all sorts of services), in terms of length of stay in Japan (some foreigners who have been in Japan for years don’t want to be lumped with the new, occasionally otaku crowd), and in terms of the country that they are from. They may see themselves as having little in common except for the fact that they all speak English.
Mr. Arudou uses the word “immigrant” but I think most English speakers would like to think of themselves as expats. English-speakers don’t think of themselves as a viable emigrant ethnic minority because they aren’t an ethnicity as such, just a group of people who have the English language in common. There’s no force that brings them together.
Also, Mr. Arudou, there are “little Londons.” Anyone who spends more than a few months in England will likely meet someone who has a house in Spain. Many British people love Spain due to its weather and proximity, and stay in little pockets of it around the Costas (del Sol, del Blanca), forming their own English-speaking community. Pre World War II, several large pockets of English speakers were also found in China, India and other countries.
Ditch Arudou, and the illustrator
I heartily agree with the many readers who argued — on your June 7 Community Page — that The Japan Times should stop lending its space to Debito Arudou’s writings. They are twisted, prejudiced, frequently nonsensical, and not seldom outrageous. This is not a matter of suppressing freedom of thought or expression; it is a matter of maintaining quality and integrity. The very fact that his articles have unleashed this unprecedented avalanche of rejection from greatly varied directions should alert you to the seriousness of the problem.
Just Be Cause Mr. Arudou is evidently suffering from unresolved doubts about his conversion to Japanese nationality is no valid basis for subjecting your readers to his twisted diatribes. And while you are at it, perhaps you could also deny access to some of Chris Mackenzie’s grotesque cartoons? The one featured on the same June 7 page is a case in point. It is no more than a schoolboyish illustration of some NJ (non-Japanese) residents’ apparent failure to adjust to life in Japan and of their sympathy — or lack of it — with Mr. Arudou’s frustrations. An inside joke.
Please, editor, spare us these continual cry-baby wailings, whether in words or in images. The Japan Times should stand above the petty and the parochial and focus on the larger issues. We expect nothing less from Japan’s leading, 114-year-old English-language newspaper.
Some of us prefer to enjoy Japan
For a guy who writes that he does not mean to give “a criticism of how English-speakers live their lives in Japan,” Debito Arudou comes awfully close to doing just that — simply because, by all appearances, most foreigners here choose to forgo pushing a “cause” and instead focus on having the most positive experience possible while in Japan.
Heaven forbid that most English-speaking visitors actually might want to just enjoy their time here, and don’t feel (as Arudou seems to) that their “human rights” are constantly being violated!
Truth be told, most English-speaking foreigners do not plan to stay long-term; even Arudou admits this. Why, then, does he use the victimizing word “diaspora” to describe us? More importantly, why does Arudou seemingly look down his nose at us, simply because we want to spend our time enjoying Japan instead of engaging in a “civil rights struggle” that’s largely unnecessary?
I don’t feel like my “human rights” are repeatedly and blatantly violated here, and I suspect nor do most other foreigners. Nor does my husband, who unlike me doesn’t look the least bit Japanese. (He’s white; I’m Korean.) Thus, Arudou-style social agitation isn’t what we want our experience of Japan, or our lasting memory of it after we leave, to be. There’s too much joy to be had living here, and too many Japanese people who’ve bent over backwards to help us and welcome us, to put that sort of chip on our shoulders.
It seems to me that most English-speakers come here to experience Japanese culture, not a transplanted Western one. Has it occurred to Arudou that this might be why English-speakers don’t “clump together” or “organize” as much as he seems to want?
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