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Readers’ views: Do foreigners deserve a fairer shake in Japan?

Some responses to the Nov. 6 Just Be Cause column by Debito Arudou headlined “For the sake of Japan’s future, foreigners deserve a fair shake“:

Favoring ‘the 1 percent’

Debito Arudou’s comments on unfairness toward foreigners in Japan are well taken. However, after living in Japan for more than 20 years and recently retiring to my home country, the United States, I wonder how much more “fair” American society is?

As the Occupy Wall Street protesters tell us, both the economy and the political system favor “the 1 percent,” while the 99 percent (or the middle class) is increasingly shut out of opportunities to work and live a satisfying life.

Should a conservative Republican defeat Barack Obama in next year’s presidential election and enact still more corporate-friendly policies (like more tax cuts for the rich), I very much doubt that Americans should be lecturing Japanese — or anyone else — on “unfairness.”

DONALD M. SEEKINS
Waipahu, Hawaii

Wrong on lecturers, landlords

In his recent regurgitation of Japan’s alleged antiforeigner discriminations, Debito Arudou once again claims Japanese universities very often explicitly deny tenure to foreign academics — a claim he has also used directly against my university.

In fact my university, like most others seeking foreign academics for long-term faculty teaching positions, adheres to the U.S. pattern of a three-year initial contract followed by tenure.

His claims about landlords refusing to rent to foreigners are equally distorted. Some fearing language and rent payment problems refuse (I know several cases where the foreigner has trashed the premises and disappeared owing large back-rent amounts). Some accept foreigners, albeit reluctantly at times because of those problems. Some actually prefer to accept foreigners who they believe are more likely than Japanese tenants to obey contract rules.

GREGORY CLARK
Vice president (emeritus) and trustee, Akita International University

Man of exasperating contradictions

Debito Arudou is a man of exasperating contradictions. He becomes a Japanese citizen, renounces his American citizenship, and then, behaving like the stereotypical American bull in the Japanese china shop, berates his new compatriots by comparing their country with a wildly idealized America.

I heartily agree that the Japanese don’t rattle on about fairness and equality in the way Americans do. And the Japanese language does indeed reflect a greater sense of at least pro-forma hierarchy. But is America in reality a “fairer” society?

Which country has the greater inequality in wealth, Japan or the United States? Which country rigs university admissions to favor some racial groups over others? Which country strip-searches 88-year-old grandmothers because it is somehow politically incorrect to make commonsense judgments about likely terrorists? In which country are vicious killers glorified before and after their long-delayed executions and then given far more lavish funerals than their victims ever received? In which country do “progressive” operatives corrupt the democratic process by rounding up illegal aliens and ex-felons to vote?

If Japanese society is indeed “hard-wired to see shades of superior and subordinate in just about every possible interaction,” what hope is there for “positive social change”? Or is Arudou offering to work as a grand social engineer to tinker with those wires?

He apparently wants to make Japan just like the America he has abandoned, with one angry ethnic and pseudo-ethnic group pitted against another. His absurd idea of giving all English speakers in Japan some politically useful label and turning them into an interest group seems much in the spirit of America’s “La Raza.” Please, spare us!

Arudou writes: “Only an ironclad guarantee of ‘fairness,’ a cornerstone of liberal societies and held in as high regard as ‘Do unto others . . .’ will ensure equal opportunity and essential civil, political and human rights.” What does he mean by “ironclad guarantee”? Who will provide the iron? The nanny state? Commissar Arudou?

At the time Arudou was born, racial discrimination in the United States was still common, with fierce resistance to legislation seeking to forbid it. America has changed, but then so has Japan.

American universities too give priority to U.S. citizens in hiring, and when they hire noncitizens the reason must be that there is no qualified American. So it is obviously easier for Japanese citizens to be hired as language teachers than as physicists.

Japanese universities are hardly models of internationalism, but they have come a long way in recent years. Furthermore, those institutions continue to hire hundreds of foreign language teachers, many of whom never bother to learn Japanese or publish the sort of scholarship that is de rigueur in their own countries.

In Japan, as everywhere else, there is inequality. There are (a) those of modest means who wearily ride crowded trains to and from work and (b) those of extravagant means who inhabit Roppongi and Aoyama and ride about in fancy imported cars. Such is life.

The good news is that this is still a pleasant society and that, thanks to relatively enlightened laws, it is far easier for noncitizens to become citizens than to go from Group A to Group B. Arudou really needs to calm down — and grow up.

ROAN SUDA
Chiba

U.S. comparison not helpful

Whilst I agree with most of what Debito Arudou says in his article, I’m not so sure that it’s always helpful to compare. After all, the “fairness” espoused by most people in the USA is often little more than tatemae, while the honne of American society is that trade unions are banned in many workplaces, and that health care is only for the well-off, while the prisons are full to bursting with a disproportionate number of blacks and other minorities.

To have at least the notion of fairness is an advantage over not even having the notion, but the struggle for human rights is an ongoing global struggle, and that fact should never be forgotten.

That said, I agree that human rights have to apply to all countries, and that the struggle for those rights is important here as it is elsewhere.

JIM MAKIN
Chiba

Why not try Singapore?

Mr. Arudou, I do not know which country you came from, but I strongly support Japan’s stance on protecting their own culture and people first.

You should know what is happening in USA, Europe and the U.K., where mass immigration and lax policies caused the so-called “multiculturalism failed” mantra that can now be heard around the world.

I am from one of those countries, but mine is just a small island city called Singapore, where citizens are treated as third-class in their own land. Citizens are called daft, lazy, etc., by their own government. Priorities — e.g. jobs, schools, property, benefits — are given first to foreigners over citizens.

Maybe you would like to take up Singapore citizenship, where foreigners, permanent residents and new citizens are treated to a VIP red-carpet welcome mat.

NAME WITHHELD
Singapore

Little different than elsewhere

I understand and share Mr. Arudou’s feelings in many ways, growing up a “foreigner” myself in a country where I sometimes felt like a second-class citizen. I would like to provide Mr. Arudou with a more precise perspective on the concept of fairness in the country where his students thought everything was so “fair.”

Being a noncitizen but permanent resident, your legal and civic as well as constitutional rights in the United States are extremely limited, need I remind Mr. Arudou. For people like me, who grew up in France where the state couldn’t even deport illegal aliens that easily, the threat of what French people call “double punishment” — i.e. the possibility of being deported for committing certain classes of misdemeanor — is part of everyday life.

Indeed, one of the fundamental differences I gladly recognize here is that the concept of “human rights” for foreigners is in principle respected. You are just kindly made to exercise them in your own country.

So yes, there is fairness perceived and given in little things in everyday life, but from a legal point of view your constitutional and legal rights are close to nil as a noncitizen. But of course you pay your taxes and abide by the law just like everyone else does.

I guess I am just trying to remind Mr Arudou that as “unfair” as the Japanese system may appear, it is not that different from what is practiced in the place he mentions in contrast.

Coming from the country that gave the Declaration of Human Rights to the world and where unfairness as expressed by Mr Arudou could still be felt in daily matters, I will just say that Mr Arudou is experiencing being a foreigner and that Japan is not that different from many other places in the world, even those proclaiming to be the standards of “fairness.”

LONG NGUYEN
Chicago

Be more discriminating

“That’s not fair!” Mr. Debito Arudou, are you still in the elementary school sandbox complaining to your teacher after being pushed over?

In your Dec. 6 column are complaints about fairness in Japan. They are all true. I have been living in Japan for 18 years and have been through all those problems and more.

But it’s time to grow up and realize it’s not only Japan but everywhere in the world that there is no fairness out there.

Fair is just a word made up by people who believe they have been mistreated. Why are the “99 percent” protests going on around the world? A re-defining of the word fair.

However what’s shocking is your lack of knowledge of Japan and the Japanese. Their whole nation and culture is based on discriminating between foreign things and people, using what they like and discarding what they don’t like.

Go to downtown Tokyo and check out all the “Charisma Men” with beautiful Japanese women and jobs. I don’t hear them complain about what’s “fair.” What I do hear are the single Japanese men complaining about “fairness.” It cuts both ways.

Didn’t your mother tell you that when you are in another’s house you should follow their rules? Start becoming Japanese, help out the police and inform on all the other gaijin.

Stop whining about discrimination you don’t agree with and follow the Japanese style of discrimination.

As for Japan’s future and foreigner immigration, it’s the Japanese people’s country, and they can decide if they want to fade into the future as a pure race. Shō ga nai.

GEORGE LUNDBERG
Tokyo

It’s a joke, son

I must confess that the point of some of Matthew Chozick’s references in his Thanksgiving essay (“Thanksgiving: food, family, but hold the ‘chong chew’ turkey,” Light Gist, Nov. 29) eluded me entirely, such as his somewhat enigmatic comparison between Boston’s Prudential Tower and a 60-something Japanese lady.

What really stumped me, however, was his citing of the Asian-sounding gibberish used by his grandfather and others as being ethnically defamatory, even though all such phrases were presented without any explanatory frame of reference as to why they might be offensive, and to whom, or even what they were actually supposed to mean. A sad lapse of literary logic for a trained translator, in my humble opinion.

The same goes for the list of movies which, in Mr. Chozick’s view, somehow exploited “Asian character stereotypes,” but again minus any explanation whatsoever of the supposed ethnic slurs incorporated in such films.

While I, like many others I would imagine, have never seen any of the productions cited, the terrible reviews given each of them would lead me to think that they were all aimed primarily at either very young and not-too-discerning children or adults whose IQs match their shoe sizes, and as such would not have reached a large enough audience to cause any particular degree of damage to anyone’s ethnic sensibilities.

My main point of disagreement, however, is that today far too many people like Mr. Chozick prefer to eschew any form of humor that might in any way be construed as being politically incorrect. With the possible exception of conservative Republicans and white rural Southerners, these same individuals take the position that fun should never be poked at any group of individuals based on such things as their ethnicity, national origin or religious preference. They would consign to a literary bonfire any number of really amusing collections, such as Dick Berry’s “Disgusting Jokebook,” which dare to portray in a humorous fashion such obvious targets as “Jewish-American Princesses” (aka “JAPs”) who have been, and still are, the ongoing butt of jokes by countless Catskill comics before primarily Jewish audiences.

This also holds true for the endless gags about Asians who cannot differentiate between L and R, no matter how amusing such an actual inability may be, as in Mr. Berry’s joke about the Japanese who was told by an American ophthalmologist that he had a cataract and who replied, “No, I have a Rincoln Continental,” or the actual Tokyo banner once hoisted in support of General Douglas MacArthur’s presidential bid which proudly proclaimed, “We play for your erection.”

To sacrifice all such humor on the current altar of political correctness would truly be to turn comedy into tragedy.

JOHN E. MARQUARDT
Tokyo

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