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The elephant in the foreigner’s room now has a name: microaggression

Some positive and negative readers’ reactions to Debito Arudou’s provocative and widely read May 1 Just Be Cause column, “Yes, I can use chopsticks: the everyday ‘microaggressions’ that grind us down“:

POSITIVE

A weight off my shoulders

I just wanted to thank you for writing this article. It is the first time anybody has been able to articulate this phenomenon that has frustrated me for 20 years.

I am bicultural and bilingual. I was born and raised in the U.S. but am half-Japanese. I was home-schooled in Japanese by my mom, attended summer schools in Japan, am a Japanese citizen, visit frequently, etc.

Although I am completely fluent in Japanese language and culture, I look Caucasian, so I encounter this phenomenon with every single Japanese person I meet. Therefore, over the years, I have developed a distaste for Japanese people, and I actively avoid them.

The only Japanese friends that I keep for any significant time are those that have lived abroad, and are open-minded and aware enough to look at Japanese society from an outsider’s perspective. My American friends simply brush my frustration off as hypersensitivity.

In short, reading your article lifted a weight off of my shoulders in a way, because it validated that what I am experiencing is real, and it put into words something that I couldn’t.

SHANNON RADBILL

San Francisco

Drained by 1,000 paper cuts

Kudos to Mr. Arudou for this article. While there are often many things I’ve disagreed with in some of the issues he’s brought up (the McDonald’s campaign he refers to, for example), this piece definitely brings up a number of things worth noting.

Subtle (and not so subtle) caricaturing can be seen by simply turning on the television here, and it is certainly something dealt with every day by nonnatives either in the workplace or the social arena.

While I don’t believe it is potentially more harmful psychologically than overt racism (I’ll take 20 paper cuts over a knife in the stomach any time), it is certainly more pervasive, and a lot more tiring to deal with. One has enough problems to deal with simply getting through the day, and little slights (or a lack thereof) can certainly matter.

WILLIE TAYLOR

Nagoya

Staring at the blonde

Debito, again, fantastic article!

Although I loved Japan very much, these microaggressions ground me down so much I left (along with many other reasons, one of which was Japan’s child custody laws). But not before I had developed a few cheeky responses:

“Where did you come from?” (particularly when asked about your nationality before your name or any other question).

I always answered “Ebisu” (the place where I lived), and never wavered. If they were particularly insistent (or drunk?) I would say, “Guess, but first I have to guess where you are from.” Shoe on the other foot usually deflated the fun for them.

This won me a few firm Japanese friends who liked my pragmatic approach to systemic racism.

For people in the countryside that stared at me (a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner), I would ask, “Which way is it to the foreigner zoo?” or “Is this the foreigner zoo?” (Gaikokujin no dōbutsu-kōen wa? A rough translation but they got the point). Or “Have you never seen a foreigner before? Konnichi wa!” (politely, of course).

And for people that asked if I could use chopsticks, I would ignore the question, then ask them if they could use a knife and fork, and then be really surprised when they said yes. Most get the message.

“Is Japanese difficult?”

“No, its really, really easy. Chinese is difficult.”

“Do you like Japanese men?”

When I was in a bad mood, or the questioner was drunk/annoying I would say, “No, actually I prefer Koreans, they are better-looking”. That usually produces a stony silence.

ADRIENNE PATRICK

Sydney

Dealing with the 99%

I lived in Japan for two years and I must agree with the author of the article that I got bored of the “You can use chopsticks!” exclamation after about three months. Many of the sentiments written hit right home.

I also like that the author pointed out the sticky situation of informing the perpetrator of these exclamations of their crime. What does one do? Ninety-nine percent of the people who said such things to me did not mean to make me feel inferior or “other”. It’s just so ingrained in their society to think of themselves as hosts, or to spew out seemingly inoffensive complements.

I can’t wait for another article, preferably by a social scientist, that gives us some solution. However, I sincerely hope that the social scientist is Japanese or else Japan as a society will not listen.

JENNY MACH

Kearny, New Jersey

Stick it on the buses

This article should be translated and stuck on the sides of buses. Precisely why I prefer to work from home: No daily annoying, dumb questions. If it weren’t for this annoyance, Japan would actually be a pleasant place to live.

No offense if you are Japanese and are reading this, but Japanese people need to be educated on how it feels to be on the receiving end. This is my 12th year here and this microaggression continually worsens year by year.

BELINDA KOBAYASHI

Tokyo

I don’t like what Japan does to me

Mr. Arudou, I just wanted to write in to thank you for writing your column on this topic and drawing it out into the discourse. This behavior, beyond anything else, is the reason I decided to move away from Japan after living there for years, and why I wouldn’t consider returning to live there again long-term, despite my facility with the language and love of the culture more generally.

I don’t like who I become when I’m there; every few months, I would snap at people for asking one of these inane questions, not because they were any different than the hundred people who asked before, so much as one just gets fed up eventually.

If this could change, I would be so much happier there, and so I commend your efforts to move things in that direction.

I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and I wish you all the best.

MOTI LIEBERMAN

Montreal

40 years of chopstick mastery

Your article made me smile, as for the past 40 years I have been congratulated by Japanese friends and family because “Yes, I can use chopsticks.”

I have been married to my Japanese husband for 37 years. I have never lived in Japan but had the chance to visit there many times. I cook Japanese food every day for dinner, which is much easier nowadays than 40 years ago. We live in Paris and Japanese-Korean groceries and/or middle-size department store allow us to buy any item we could want.

But that kind of “joke” is universal, and I know many foreigners or French people of foreign ancestry who have the same story to tell us. Ganbatte!

GENEVIEVE UCHIDA-ERNOUF

Paris

Not a shower of horse manure

I’m an Australian man who has been living in Japan for the past four years, and I just wanted to tell you that I loved your article about the microaggressions we foreigners encounter.

For a while I thought I was being too sensitive and thinking too much, but it’s good to know others feel the same.

One such microaggression that’s really irritates me recently is many Japanese avoiding sitting next to me on the train — like I had a shower in horse manure that morning or something. I didn’t, for the record!

My cousin lives here too but she has only been here for a year and still has the mind-set of “I am a guest in their country,” something that she needs to get over. If she decides she wants to live here for a long period, then you have to call this country home and expect to be treated like you live here, not like a tourist.

SHAUN JOHNSON

Pot, kettle and blackness?

I have to agree with (the writer about) the set questions asked by Japanese.

I tend to be very assertive in most of my discussions with Japanese. This has yielded me some good friends and a lot of people who think I am indeed difficult.

I never answer the chopstick question. I just ask if they can use a knife and fork. Most of the times this makes them think.

Whenever people tell me I have long legs, a small head, tall nose (?) (hana ga takai) or that I’m tall, I mostly counter by saying the same thing about them having short legs, a long body, or being short. This is my coping strategy, and it has made people around me realize that those questions are indeed weird. I also point out to them that it only matters in Japan.

I worked in public elementary schools, and in one school the teachers asked me every week (sometimes multiple times a day) where I was from. I got so tired of it that at the end I explained to them if they could not remember for three hours what country I was from, they are probably not interested in that knowledge, so asking the question was pointless. That made them realize that they were indeed rude. I also started to ask those teachers if they were Korean every time they asked if I was American (I am from Europe).

In daily life I just think that Japan is like the rest of the world. Most people you meet you will have superfluous contact with, not really worth bothering about too much.

I can also say that the Americans I meet also ask the same 10 initial questions and act like they are your best friend from the moment I meet them. It is something that bothers me, but I doubt David (Arudou) will ever find a psychological term for that to condemn that behavior. A bit of pot, kettle and blackness?

NAME WITHHELD UPON REQUEST Kitakyushu, Fukuoka

Parallels exist in South Korea

This piece is neither an idle rant, nor pitifully apologetic. It is a keen observation.

I must have explained my life story (to the same neighbor) more than once already, yet sometimes it devolves into a fish tale or comic snippet, which is emotionally draining.

Mr. Debito’s piece in some sense finds parallels in the Republic of Korea, but not wholesale. And, though I agree with most points, I do still hesitate to fully commit to (the concept of) “microaggression.” Often, I have found the offensive questions are just small talk — harmless lapses into the idle.

Though there is no real way to escape foreignness, at least an international (person) can build as much as “cultural cachet” as possible by learning and speaking the language, and importantly acquiring the rules.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of international people here never get that far (or have a reason to), leaving in just a few years. So, there is an origin to the stereotype. Such behavior is found in many other countries, not just in East Asia.

Nevertheless, Debito develops an excellent account of both sociological and psychological bases for microaggression. This gives the article lots of traction.

ART M.

South Korea

Bicultural blues

Thank you, Debito Arudou, for your excellent article. Having lived in Japan for over 20 years, I am well aware of the things discussed in your article but was at a loss as how to articulate the discomfort felt.

In fact, I realize years later, growing up a nikkei in Canada, I was often faced with similarly awkward and indeed demeaning questions and comments — “othering”.

I recently started a rock band and our songs are about some of the strange conversations and situations that regularly come up in Japan: titles such as “This Gaijin,” “Hashi Jouzu” and “Big Black Bus.” Your article is able to clearly define the ironies/power plays we have been singing about in our songs.

Reading your article was like a ray of light, validating (hopefully) the stand we make with our music. We try to get listeners to get a better understanding of the imbalances, which exist with virtually all people living in this country. Sometimes we have success.

We will record this year with any luck. Please look for us, “Snack Mama.”

DAVID THOMSON

Toyohashi, Aichi

Not just another foreigner

I found your comments about microaggressions really interesting because I felt the same way when I lived in Japan for eight months in 2008. It’s probably not as long as you might think, but I was aware of these microaggressions and I found myself nodding with every comment you wrote.

Every time I entered a restaurant I was always offered an English menu and a fork or a “Sorry, no English menu,” without even being asked if I understood Japanese first.

Or I found myself in situations where people just wanted to “practice” their English with me regardless of their low English level or the fact that I wasn’t a native English speaker at all. But, you know, every non-Asian foreigner is considered an American in Japan.

Although the stares in the beginning were flattering, they quickly became annoying. And the nonstimulating conversations became routine: “Where you from?” “How long have you been here?” Or, as you mentioned , the “You speak Japanese really well” after only saying “arigatō gozaimasu.”

Now that I find myself close to going back to Japan to continue my studies, I believe that the best way to tackle this microaggression is to deal with it. Instead of replying to the dumb questions, I take the conversations to more interesting topics. Whenever I enter a restaurant, I start asking in Japanese for suggestions or whether or not they have X item on their menu. That somehow proves in a simple way that I’m not just another “stupid gaijin” who has been there a few weeks, and most times I don’t get offered a fork. It could be tiresome to have to keep proving yourself to Japanese society, but at least you don’t get into the gaijin conversation loop.

In the end, no matter what, “you will always be a gaijin” but, as you mentioned, you will only get bad experiences if you react to those microaggressions. Instead of trying to blend in, I believe that I can use that extra attention to my benefit — it’s like being peacocked all the time.

ALBERTO GALLEGOS RAMONET

Guadalajara, Mexico

Japanese must read this article

I very much enjoyed your article “Yes, I can use chopsticks: the everyday ‘microaggressions’ that grind us down.”

It’s great to nail down a word to define this passive suppression.

Next step, how do we go about explaining this phenomenon to the Japanese public (neighbors, coworkers, etc.)?

I thought of translating your article into Japanese; after all, it’s not “us” that needs to read this, it’s “them.” But I don’t think I’d do your article justice.

Therefore, I request you write a similar article in Japanese (maybe not so blunt) to accompany the English so that we may forward it to our Japanese acquaintances and educate the public (or at least those around us).

Honestly, how else will the gaikokujin get his point across if our opinions and feelings are only published in English?

TSUYOSHI MCGIVERN

Akita

Now get the T-shirt

What a great article! Usually I just check out Debito’s blog once every couple of months, because he’s too strident to read more often. (Maybe that is the result of 20-plus years of microaggressions!) But he hit the nail on the head with this column.

These so-called microaggressions are so insidious and so exhausting, but there is no way to explain it to Japanese people without sounding like a whiny, weak person.

I used to joke with my friends in Japan that I should just make a T-shirt with a list of speed-answers to those questions (“Yes, I can use chopsticks,” “Four years,” “Don’t know when I’m returning to the U.S.,” “Can’t eat natto,” etc.). But only the expats understood that joke; my Japanese friends would humor me with smiles but they didn’t really get it.

Like an ill person who after seeing many doctors finally gets a diagnosis, knowing that there’s a word for that feeling of being ground down every day makes me somehow feel better!

Z. K.

New York

Now I can put it all into words

As a former JET English teacher in Niigata Prefecture from 2008-2009, I found your article extremely insightful about the subtle racism I came to feel on a somewhat daily basis while living in Japan.

I was never able to put it into words to my white family exactly why I felt discriminated against in Japan, which frustrated me no end, especially when I first returned to America.

Thank you, because this article has given me the measured vocabulary to describe Japan appropriately to my family within the context of a truly fascinating/amazing culture. Keep up the good work!

JAY SOLEY

Washington

Incredibly refreshing

I have been a resident of Japan for almost 35 years and I found the recent column by Arudou Debito’s incredibly refreshing. It certainly helps to know that there is now a name that can be put to the daily irritating and mundane questions addressed to one by the Japanese as a whole.

JANET UCHIDA

Microaggressions curb happiness

I recently read your article about microaggressions as well as your linked article about the McDonald’s character Mr. James. I just wanted to say, good on ya! I agree that these bits of Japanese life need to be confronted even when some fail to see their offensive nature.

Personally I’ve only been living in Japan for two years, but I am planning on living here for years to come and thinking about issues like these is important to leading a healthy mental life, and it’s a much better way of coping than the denial of the facts. Even my friends who have been in Japan for less than six months can identify these microaggressions.

I feel that my tendency to be positive often counterbalances much of my resentment toward these microaggressions, but even if one enjoys living in Japan to its fullest, they must be acknowledged.

Actually, I believe life in Japan cannot be enjoyed to its fullest unless these microaggressions are acknowledged and dealt with. So thank you for bringing to mind an insightful and important aspect of psychology that isn’t given much attention.

CHARLIE ENGLER

Yokohama

G’day, gaijin

I enjoyed Debito Arudou’s article.

One way of dealing with a microaggression is to pointedly change the subject; another is turn it back on the “aggressor” by asking a correspondingly unimpeachable “personal” question.

In Australia, for example, these subtle aggressions often take the form of saying to a taxi driver, “G’day, mate” (inclusive), “Where are you from?” (exclusive); the wiser taxi drivers will answer, “Australia, mate, and you?”

PETER BRUCE

Tokyo

NEGATIVE

Oh, irony upon irony

We must thank Debito Arudou for introducing us to the theory of microaggression. I now realize that when Japanese friends (JF) compliment my cooking they are not, as I naively imagined, being polite but subtly abusive, intent on asserting their ethnic dominance and hastening my departure from Japan (though I am not sure my cooking justifies quite that degree of disdain).

I, on the other hand, can now bask in the knowledge that when I compliment their offerings, I am being entirely honest, my thoughts and actions unsullied by racist ideologies even though as a white male from the U.K. I would not normally claim such immunity.

Of course, since my (now erstwhile) friends are unaware of the malicious implications of their comments, they might be forgiven, but my new alertness to their microaggressive actions and the consequent impossibility of honest discourse suggests I now spend my time in bars with miserable, moaning foreigners whom I can at least trust.

Logically, the theory should be applicable to communicative interactions between any dominating majority and subject minority. So, being a grumpy old git in an increasingly dominant age cohort, my young students must be mortified whenever I compliment their progress, taking it as only as a vicious putdown to keep them in their place.

Thankfully, since the theory is predicated on the deliberate but unconscious maintenance of power relations, I can feel entirely absolved of any responsibility if they start throwing themselves out of windows in desperation at the nice things I say about their work.

I must admit that I am not sure where Debito positions himself in these interactions. As Japanese and an academic, with a regular column in a national newspaper, he has the dominant-group membership, status and power that, he argues, facilitate microaggressive behavior, leading one to wonder whether his own trenchant criticisms of Japan are, paradoxically, unconsciously intended to compliment his beloved chosen country.

How will he, or any of us, know if the effect of what we say is the opposite of conscious intention but realizes a purpose of which we are unaware?

NICK WOOD

Koshigaya, Saitama

Debito’s looking for trouble

I’m 65 years old. I’ve lived in Japan since March 23, 1989. I have never had any problems with microaggressions or any of the other various problems Debito cites with regularity. I also don’t look for trouble and have no preference for controversy.

My wife is Japanese, my family is Japanese, my friends are Japanese, my workplace is Japanese and nobody in my family, my office or even my city has ever shown any hint of discrimination — for or against me — because I am not ethnically Japanese. If some people are curious about me, etc., I’m not offended but happy to be a medium of information.

I moved here from Hawaii, where I, as a Caucasian, was part of a racial/ethnic minority.

My own take on him and his column is that he’s found a niche and a forum and that gives him the attention he would not warrant or get in most other places. Generally speaking, I ignore his column and read around him. Occasionally some bit of virulence he spouts or of which he approves catches my attention — this particular article was one in that vein. I find him and his particular form of racism particularly offensive. The people to whom he panders are even more offensive.

I imagine him as a person who’d get onto an elevator, face the crowd looking at the door and challenge the passengers with “What are you looking at?” hoping for a fight.

His view of Japan as he thinks it should be is not compatible with my view of Japan as a good place to live and work.

DAN WALDHOFF

Tsukuba, Ibaraki

Divisive, hateful rabble-rousing

I am quite tired of the polarizing and (ironically) racially aggressive writing by Mr. Arudou.

I might have agreed to the term “microannoyance,” but “microaggression” is going overboard. Is someone who inadvertently brings nail clippers aboard an airplane a “microterrorist”? Or perhaps a non-Japanese who missed a payment due to a language misunderstanding should be labeled a “microcriminal”?

A quick look at the linked article reveals that Mr. Arudou conveniently changed the original wording of Dr. Sue, who oddly defines microaggressions as “the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people.” The rest of the article unfortunately continues to use that same wording, inadvertently suggesting that only whites are capable of such racism. As an Asian-American myself, I know quite well that it is not only whites who are capable of racism, both overt and otherwise. How ironic that Dr. Sue’s own wording is a so-called microaggression in and of itself and subtracts greatly from his academic credibility.

The inflammatory, polarizing wording of both Dr. Sue and Mr. Arudou make their articles sound more like personal vindictive rants rather than something constructive that would actually help out the community. Why are Mr. Arudou’s only two proposed responses to microaggressions 1) accusing Japanese of racism or 2) becoming a mentally distressed hermit? Why does everything have to be a “fight” or a “battle” (the shamelessly charged words Mr. Arudou uses near the end of his article)? I, for one, have no desire to “fight” the Japanese.

When Japanese compliment my chopstick use, I tell them thank you, and then politely let them know that some non-Japanese might not take it as a compliment. This almost always spawns a fruitful conversation about why non-Japanese would feel that way and about other similar cultural misunderstandings.

Every Japanese person I have talked to has always been very understanding and genuinely appreciative of my input. Not trying to toot my own horn, but I’d say this is much more effective than getting into a self-righteous fit and bitterly complaining about Japanese “prejudice” to other non-Japanese.

In any conflict, there is a lot to be said for being calm, civil and respectful. And in conflicts where one party is completely unaware of what it has done to offend, it is especially useless to be angry and accusative. Such an approach is likely to only make things worse. I sincerely hope that Mr. Arudou learns this lesson, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.

It truly saddens me to see his divisive, hateful rabble-rousing appearing in the Community section of the Japan Times. Editors, if you won’t stop publishing his writing, will you at least put it in a section of its own, preferably at the bottom of the main page so we don’t have to see it?

BEN

Western Japan

The conspiracies are everywhere

Microaggressions? Can’t this Debito guy come up with something more substantial to complain about? Yes, there are people who say things that one may find annoying, but they are not unique to Japan and certainly not part of some dark conspiracy.

Let’s turn his argument around: A person of Asian descent in the U.S. is asked where he is from.

“I was born and raised in New York.”

“Yes, but where are you (your family) originally from?”

A less then sensitive attempt at small talk? A genuine interest in one’s roots? A subtle hint that you are not from here and will never be accepted? I doubt it’s the last one. Why should it be any different here?

Debito really should shut himself off from society, as almost anything he sees or hears seems to be some insidious plot against non-Japanese. Paranoid it the word that springs to mind.

WILLIAM NOLL

Tokyo

Take ‘aggressors’ along a tangent

I had to laugh when I read this article. I had encountered similar attitudes during my study years, and later during my working years (all from the mid-60s to mid-70s) frequently, but I’d never let them get to me.

I remember an incident where a guest sitting at the bar next to me berated me that in 1945, “you Germans capitulated earlier than we Japanese did”. I just smiled and we got engaged in an animated but relaxed discussion about World War II.

One of the uncles of my (first) wife — she was from a fairly prominent family in Japan — from time to time called me jokingly, with a big smile, a ketō, or “hairy barbarian,” and the whole family including myself always had a good laugh at that time. I knew that the remark was not vicious or denigrating, even though it could have been taken as such.

When I went on field research during my study days, children in the little fishing villages I visited ran after me, screaming excitedly, “Gaijin! Gaijin!” I just turned around, smiled and started to talk with them. No problem.

Last November, I went back to Japan for several weeks, after a hiatus of over 30 years. My Japanese was still in good shape, and of course I did encounter the occasional remark: “You speak Japanese very well”. But I took it as an opportunity to start a brief chat, to talk about how I had studied at Tokyo University and traveled all over Japan, and so on. At that, I never encountered anything like rejection but interest and friendly reception.

It’s up to you what you make out of a remark one might find “objective” or “offensive.” Most always, it’s not meant this way, but is just the expression of surprise that an “NJ” has adapted fairly well to Japan — an expression of curiosity.

I believe that people like Debito Arudou have to take such remarks — “Oh, you can handle chopsticks?!?” and “You speak Japanese very well,” etc. — more in their stride. They have to take the chip off their shoulder, deflect gently the perceived “aggression” by engaging the other party in a friendly chat. They may be surprised how well an “NJ” and his/her Japanese counterpart will get along.

Bottom line: In my opinion, no matter what the quoted Dr. Sue wrote in his article (which I believe, though not having perused it in detail, refers to a very much different set of circumstances — the situation of minorities in the U.S., in no way comparable to the situation in Japan), Debito Arudou is completely off the mark. If it’s that grating to him, might he not prefer to go back to his home country?

DIETER F. A. VON JETTMAR

Fort Worth, Texas

Break free of the paradigm

Since my first year in Japan, 1974, I’ve been amused at the foreigner reaction to an uncertain island people’s reaction to us.

Microaggression (what a narrow, awful expression) was identified years ago and given a variety of names or flavored nonsociology-, professor-created names, such as jingoism, postwar trauma, feudalism in the 20th century, national naivete, childlike curiosity, etc.

Aggression requires at least some sense of volition to give the word its particular meaning. Without the user being deliberately aggressive, you need a different word. The different word needs to be different in kind, not a watered-down version of aggression.

The incidents of microaggression described in the article are the same, exactly, as they were 40 years ago, to a tee, which tells me more about the foreigners living in Japan today than it does the locals. In other words the sad, very boring “aggravations” still affect the social intruder and they/we still are witless enough to keep blaming a whole nation for our inability so see beyond what most linguists would call phatic communication — meaningless icebreaking or silence-filling chatter.

I’ve never used this expression before because I hate it, but this might just be the moment: Get over it. Don’t use the latest fallout from an academic’s attempt to find a hook for an academic paper (they live or die by publication) as the hook for a very old story with just as little insight into language, its users and the Japanese response to the outside world.

There’s so much wrong with this preconceived-paradigm approach to looking at anything. The main problem is you never see what’s actually going on because you are too busy jamming every detail, convenient or otherwise, into your paradigm. You become an acolyte not a seeker of the fleeting truths that pass our way.

Has it crossed your mind that the aggressor in this cultural interchange may well be the insecure foreigner minority who seem to get both unconsciously and very consciously furious at Japanese behavior even thought it’s taking place in Japan (their country and culture)? Or that perhaps they are the ones that should be seriously putting themselves out to understand their hosts.

PHILIP PORTER

Sydney

Americans just as predictable

I go to Japan several times a year, and never find such questions annoying, offensive, or bothersome.

What Debito Arudou fails to mention is that this same thing occurs everywhere. I get it in India far, far more than Japan, and I also find it literally in every nation I visit.

Also important is the fact that Americans practice this same thing. When a foreigner hits American soil, each American they meet will parrot the same basic questions ad nauseam.

It’s just human nature, and targeting Japan is unfair, and borders on paranoia. If you find it annoying, grow a thicker skin, and learn to laugh.

JEREMY SILMAN

Los Angeles

Writes too much, reflects too little

” ‘Know how to pick your battles,’ some decry,” writes Arudou Debito, who, though an educated speaker of English, apparently doesn’t quite know what the verb decry means or how it is used. But then Arudou-san is no more a stylist than he is a consistent or even a fair-minded thinker. He writes too much, too often, and reflects too little.

If he had taken even an elementary course in the philosophy of language or semantics, he would have learned (as many people know from common sense) that words and phrases must be understood in context. Some words are so consistently used in a derogatory sense that to use them except in quotation marks is virtually impossible. The N-word is a notorious example. But there are many others where one can only say “it depends”: Jew, Arab, Yankee, Pole . . .

Are those who use the term gaijin right up there with the Nazis, with the Ku Klux Klan, with the “No Japs here!” mobs of yore? Or, hey, with Al Sharpton and his pals? And what about Arudou’s beloved term NJ? Isn’t that at least potentially “racist” itself?

Arudou-san’s suggestion that Japanese sometimes drop “-san” in referring to (some) NJ may be true, but it’s really rather paranoid (or disingenuous) of him to attribute that to disrespect. Japanese who have lived in Arudou-san’s native land are used to being called by their personal names. I myself bristle a bit at the faux-intimacy, but there is a certain practical advantage there, and it carries over into life here, even in the Japanese language.

“Microaggression”? It is so very revealing of Arudou-san’s mentality that he relies on the quackery of politically correct “studies” in the homeland he has abandoned to bolster his claims about the alleged nastiness of the Japanese.

I sometimes wish that he would simply pick up his chopsticks and go back to America. But then I think: Nah, maybe one day he’ll grow up.

ROAN SUDA

Chiba

Vreemdeling, gaijin, but so what?

Yes, in Japan I am a gaijin, just as I had “VREEMDELING” (foreigner) printed in big red letters diagonally across my Belgian ID card, in the country I was born in. But later, in Switzerland, I was not simply Swiss either, but what they call “Auslandschweizer” (foreign country-born), a status underlining one’s incompatibility with the local culture.

Japan, being the fourth country in which I have spent more than 10 years of my life, has turned out to be a very friendly experience. When asked when I am going back to my country, I simply reply that I have no such intention.

So, I am a gaijin, so what? I have been one my whole life, speaking fluently six languages and enjoying every culture linked to them. You could call me a proud European, or maybe a citizen of the world.

ABAFRAN

Naruto, Tokushima

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