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Strong winds linger from the microaggressions tempest

Readers’ responses to Debito Arudou’s May 1 Just Be Cause column, “Yes, I can use chopsticks: the everyday ‘microaggressions’ that grind us down,” his followup June 5 JBC column, “Guestists, Haters, the Vested: Apologists take many forms,” and Colin P.A. Jones’ counterarticle, “Much ado, but microimportant” (Zeit Gist, June 5):

Ice-breakers aren’t microaggressions

Yes, Japanese will routinely ask foreigners if they can use chopsticks. But has Debito ever listened to any Japanese-Japanese conversations? One would be hard-pressed to find an interaction between casual acquaintances that doesn’t begin with something about the weather.

Is this reliance on the same ice-breaker when confronted with the need to make conversation also “microaggression”? Or is it simply a reflection of the Japanese tendency to use set phrases and forms when convenient?

GIOVANNI FAZIO
Tokyo

Non-white foreigners endure real racism

First and foremost, Debito Arudou seems to gloss over the fact that you can define and quantify microaggressions all you like, but the Japanese will not care. They did not ask us to come; we chose to come. To provide a parallel relevant to most gaijin (I am not offended by the term), Americans generally hate missionaries for going somewhere uninvited and then expecting people to change. While this is not about religion, it is the same concept: uninvited, yet wanting people to change.

That aside, I think the author is fundamentally misinterpreting the underlying reasons behind why the Japanese ask the questions they do.

First, “Wow, you can use chopsticks?!” is in no way driven by subconscious racist tendencies — it is driven by what I consider to be an accurate stereotype. Americans generally DO NOT use chopsticks, and I would bet that over 75 percent of Americans cannot. I know for a fact that my brother and mother cannot, and my dad just pretends he can. It’s a comment out of genuine surprise, because all the information they have been given their whole life is that Americans don’t use chopsticks, which, excluding the upper-middle class that loves sushi, is true.

Gaijin are offended because they’ve been living here for years, but the Japanese person talking to them most likely does not know that, and even if they do, have not thought deeply enough on the subject to recognize it.

Honestly, I hate the question, and I hate having the same conversation about where I am from over and over again, but this is just me being selfish and only thinking about it from my point of view, because I have had the conversation a thousand times. For the Japanese person asking me, it is most likely the first or maybe second time they have had a conversation with a foreigner in their life, so to them they are asking relevant questions to show interest in who we are.

Moreover, when Japanese meet other Japanese people, the first thing they ask is where they are from, and if they say Osaka or Nagoya or Okinawa, they say something equally stereotypical, like “Ohh, okonomiyaki!” or “You must surf.” I personally cannot think of better small-talk questions a Japanese person could ask a foreigner.

As for food, Japanese are extremely proud of their food, and believe it is fundamentally different from all other cuisines. As such, the “can you eat” conversation is a way for them to test their subconscious belief that their food is unique and that foreigners like other food better.

This is a very interesting concept, and I think in the context of a racist America it is extremely relevant, because Americans have lived side-by-side with people of other ethnicities their whole lives. However, Japanese generally have no exposure to gaijin (e.g. white) foreigners, so this may not actually apply.

More importantly, none of the examples outlined really pertain to nonwhite foreigners in Japan, those towards whom Japanese tend to be far more discriminatory (consciously or subconsciously).

Overall, I disagree with the interpretation that the daily interactions we as gaijin have with Japanese are microaggressions, and I hope that foreigners will focus on more accurately understanding the reasons Japanese act they way they do towards gaijin. Moreover, if battling racism is a concern, I encourage others to start with advocating for the nonwhite gaijin living in Japan, as they face far more detrimental racism that being asked if they can use chopsticks.

JOHN REED
Tokyo

For Indians, read ‘curry’

I’ve been living in Japan for almost three years. The first thing the Japanese ask me is, “Do you eat curry every day?” since I am from India and they only know that Indian curry is very famous.

Curry has become an identity for Indians in Japan.

SANDIP PURANE
Takanezawa, Tochigi

Microaggression right back atcha

Wow, I feel strangely relieved that this nagging emptiness in the pit of my stomach every time I go through the motions of a pointless conversation has a name. I always felt like a puppet with the some racist locals jamming their derisive narrative up my behind so I could be controlled. I’ve now found that the best counter is being “passive microaggressive”:

Irritating Local: Oh, you use chopsticks well!

Me (smiling): I also know how to use a fork and knife. Let me teach you how to use it …

IL: Why, you speak Japanese fluently!

Me: Well, I try. I’m not as good as you — you’ve got a great Japanese accent!

IL: I’M JAPANESE!

Me (mock surprise): Really? Oh.

IL: Why do you foreigners have big eyes?

Me (mumbling): So we can avoid car accidents because of how you drive.

IL: Pardon?

Me (smiling): So we can look for a new wife.

IL: You have big feet.

Me (mumbling): Not as big as the holes in your teeth.

Local: Pardon?

Me: We’ve big feet to step over the holes in the street.

IL (for the 100th time): What country are you from?

Me: Guess.

IL: You’re from — (before they finish the sentence I cut them off)

Me (in my best Adam Sandler impression): Yes, you’re absolutely right! Oh wow, you’re sooooo smart, you remembered! Aren’t you a clever one? Who’s a smartypants? Why, you’re a smartypants! Why, you must have the IQ of one of those delicious whales of yours …

Naturally the above replies are adjusted to how offensive the questions were when first asked. I believe that by mirroring these microaggressive patterns back, people can see it for the ugly venom it really is.

EDWARD TUPOU
Kasukabe, Saitama

Where is the positivity?

Ever since Mr. Arudou posted his original article, I’ve heard nothing but “microaggression this” and “microaggression that” from friends who are currently expats in Japan. I will admit, I’m not currently in Japan, so my last experience with with these microaggressions may be just over a year ago, and on top of that I lived in the countryside of the countryside — Rokkasho-mura, Aomori Prefecture — so even while in Japan I didn’t receive too much exposure.

But what I don’t understand is, why doesn’t anyone think of just looking at them in a positive light? Why can’t you try to see the positive in what is being conveyed rather than the negative?

In the case of the infamous “O-hashi wa jouzu desu ne” (“You’re good at using chopsticks”), most of the time I see people interpreting it as “You hold the dexterity of my 5-year-old!” but in reality the major intent here is, “I appreciate the time and effort you put into learning our style of eating utensils,” aka “our culture.” If anything, the speaker is expressing that they’re proud of your accomplishments. I don’t know about you, but when I got here, using chopsticks wasn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world, but I kept at it and now I use them without thinking about it.

In fact, you could even make them happier by demonstrating some of that humility Japanese culture is so well-known for:

With friends (while picking up rice and eating politely without making a mess): “You kidding me? I’m dropping food all over the place, half the rice is on the floor and not in my mouth. There’s no way I could be that good at it.” That might get a laugh, or possibly: “This nothing but pure guesswork; I don’t really know what I’m doing.”

With people you need to be more polite with: “No, no, I’m still learning. After all, I can’t get it to the point where I don’t waste rice by picking up that last grain.”

With your boss: “No, sir, I can’t possibly be doing all that well, but I am always open to suggestions — and while on the topic, would you mind giving me some pointers?”

Other infamous phrases:

“You speak good Japanese!”

“O-seji wa jouzu desu ne!” (“Well, you’re good at flattery!”) This may sound sarcastic in English, but every time I use this the Japanese person usually runs to their friend and is like “Oh my God, he knows that phrase and can use it right!” Or: “Katakoto shika hanasenai no desu ga, sou itte kurete ureshii desu!” (“I can only speak broken Japanese, but hearing you say that makes me happy!”)

“How long will you be in Japan?”

When talking to foreigner-friendly Japanese: “Depends on when my visa expires, but if I could find a Japanese girlfriend, that would be nice, and maybe I could stay longer.”

Contrary to what a lot of people seem to get from this common question, most Japanese people are pleased to hear that you enjoy living in their country. When they went through Japanese high school, they either experienced or were taught a lot of negative things about their country as a means of reinforcing humility. Hearing you, a person from another country, finding good things within their culture that make you interested in staying longer usually pleases them.

I say “usually” because there is always the xenophobic type. In those awkward, rare experiences of talking to xenophobic Japanese, try: “Well, Japan sure has its tough spots; it surely seems like a country made in Japan by Japanese people. I’ll be sure to leave when I am no longer needed.”

Bear in mind, xenophobic Japanese usually aren’t going to want to hear anything but something along these lines. It is my personal opinion that if you leave them with a positive impression, by mirroring their internal thoughts, you can improve their impression of foreigners. The direct, frank style of activism, on the other hand, is notorious for achieving nothing, and instead instigating problems.

So I hope my point has been made: There are ways you can turn this microaggression into a positive experience for yourself. If we’re lucky enough, people will be impressed by your capabilities and will stop asking these questions.

Finally, take what I’ve stated here with a grain of salt. When I lived in Japan, it was for a mere eight months, and as a high school exchange student through Rotary International. I had my youth and linguistic ability on my side, plus the fact I was in a very rural part of Japan. So of course it may not be as easy as I’m indicating, but give it a shot and you might be pleased with the results.

DEREK FUERSTENBERG
DeForest, Wisconsin

Putting gaijin in their place

To put it simply, in Japanese culture those on top (the senpai) judge those on bottom (the kouhai). When a complement is given in a hierarchical society like Japan, there is ALSO reinforcement being given about WHO IS ON TOP.

In Japan, no matter what wise thing a senpai (senior, higher-ranked person) might say to a kouhai (junior, lower-ranked person), the kouhai DOES NOT complement the senpai; the kouhai merely says “un,” because if the kouhai were to compliment the senpai, it would imply that the kouhai were (gasp) wise enough to be in a position to judge whether or not what the senpai said was wise! If the kouhai were to complement the senpai, the senpai would reply with “namaiki — how rude of you; your complement implies that you are above me.”

I think some NJ (non-Japanese) from more egalitarian cultures may not fully appreciate the true status-confirming meaning of compliments in such hierarchical/feudal societies. In these societies, it is generally the higher-status person who compliments the lower-status person (the reverse of this is very rare). The psychology behind this is the same as an adult complimenting a child, a manager at work complimenting his subordinate, or a master complimenting an apprentice.

These types of compliments may be sincere, but they also inherently establish a hierarchy and pecking order. In Japan, where almost all interactions and relationships are hierarchical, compliments from a Japanese person to a “perpetually newbie” NJ about things that are uniquely Japanese are often a manifestation and cementing of this pecking order.

Remember, we are not talking about a Japanese person complimenting a NJ on completing the Tokyo Marathon here. Instead, we are talking about using chopsticks and speaking basic Japanese — things that adults in Japan may compliment kids on.

So before we NJ let these compliments go to our heads, let’s not forget what skills/accomplishments are being complimented here. The use of these types of compliments to establish a hierarchy/pecking order/rules of the game cannot be overemphasized. They can have strong negative implications by lowering the status and expectations of the person on the receiving end of such compliments.

KEN WILLIAMS
Tokyo

It’s racist but not malicious

Gaijin (or gaikokujin, if you prefer) sometimes forget that in most places in Asia, ethnicity and nationality are often the same, or perceived to be so, and this is especially true in Japan, probably because of the isolationist Edo Period. Even people of Korean descent whose families have lived in Japan for generations are not considered Japanese, and are not full citizens!

While I find all that Mr. Arudou said to be generally true in my experience, Japanese racism (and it certainly is racism), which derives from this association of ethnicity with nationality, is entirely inclusive, and I do not find it malicious. To the Japanese, you are either Japanese — or you are not.

CLAIRE YOUMANS
Joshua Tree, California

The U.S. is microaggressive too

I always enjoy these cultural articles, even though it’s been six years since we retired and moved back to the U.S.

These ritual questions are simply easy formulas for Japanese to follow to break the ice with foreign residents, not an attempt to put us in our place.

Living in Ibaraki Prefecture, we quickly found that the nattou question was aimed at humor, as many of my coworkers were less enthusiastic about it than my wife was. People soon learned that I followed judo and sumo and had done my ritual climb of Fuji.

Likewise, my wife was into shell painting and calligraphy in local community centers. These deeply Japanese interests obviated the need to pursue further “othering” questions early in our stay — probably out of concern that I’d want to show photos from our latest local excursion.

Japanese “othering” is not more extreme that ours. We have plenty of regional stereotypes and put-downs in the U.S., and we always suspect that new immigrants are not fully American. Later we come to accept new people on an individual basis. Japanese are no more “microaggressive” than anyone else.

By the way, do you like nattou?

JOHN OLSEN
Whidbey Island, Washington

Nothing compared to Austria

Sorry, but I am a bit sick of this.

If you come from Europe, especially — like me — from Austria, you will be very happy here for the lack of racism in Japan (at least if your skin colour is white).

In Austria, everybody staying for more than eight years is obliged to take a language test in order to get his visa, there is open racism in the streets, on TV, in Parliament — everywhere. The antiforeigner and neo-Nazi party now accounts for 30 percent of the vote and probably will soon be the strongest political force. It is widely acknowledged there that foreigners are beings of a lower class. And so on and so forth.

Looking at what is happening in Europe, I can only wonder what you are complaining about. Being different than the mainstream masses is not so bad, after all. I enjoy those microaggressions, as they prove that I am different.

And if “decades” of experience as a foreigner haven’t succeeded in teaching you a way how to deal with those microaggressions, something is wrong — possibly with you.

I think readers would be better served if they were told strategies of how to counter those microaggressions successfully, instead of reading over and over again the stories of the oh-so-poor Caucasian gaijins in Japan.

A stranger with a bit of experience in dealing with Japanese persons should be able to make the “aggressor” laugh about himself, instead of getting angry and spewing his anger into a newspaper column.

ANDREAS WALLNER
Tokyo

Same script in Seoul

Reading your articles was quite interesting. Being a six-year resident of South Korea with a Korean wife and 1-year-old daughter, I have suffered a lot of these situations: the chopsticks, the taxi drivers, the eternal feedback loop of “How long have you been in Korea? What are you doing here? Do you like Korean women? How many have you had sex with? Oh, you’re so handsome. Oh, you speak Korean so well…” And so it goes on.

The worst of it these days, though, is walking around with my daughter. Everyone wants to touch her, tells us how cute she is, and when I’m not there everyone tells my wife she doesn’t look Korean, to which my wife replies, “Her father is American.” That, apparently, is a bit of a conversation stopper.

Anyway, long story short, I wanted to let you know that first, it isn’t just Japan, and second, it’s nice to know that a word has been thought of and that people are noticing just how infuriating it can be to have those around you pointing out how different you are several times a day, every day, for years on end.

G
Seoul

Expat responses conditioned by West

I read with interest the column “Guestists, Haters, the Vested: Apologists take many forms.” Although what you said seems to apply very much only to Japan, what you ARGUE applies around the world, and to certain Western nations in which there seems to be a larger movement to shout down anyone who upsets the status quo.

It reminded me of the current climate in Canada, where if you protest about lower tuition, environmental issues, or nearly anything else that “threatens” the economic status quo, you are discredited. If your movement gets large enough, the mainstream press does nearly everything it can to discredit you.

Although this is a huge oversimplification, I believe it is because after decades of existing in a consumerist-capitalist society, people truly value their financial stability above all else and will fight even against social or economic reform that would benefit them in the long term because they have been conditioned to think about short-term financial gratification.

I believe you could fit the “Apologists,” as you call them, into this category, as they clearly are afraid of being hammered down and suffering any repercussions along with it (loss of reputation leading to loss of job, clients or students).

For me, the interesting thing to consider is: Did Japan make them into Apologists who seek to maintain the status quo so that they may pursue their dream of financial stability, or was it Western culture? I agree with you that most Apologists tend to be white — and white American males at that — so I think it is clear that the West primed them for this behavior, and Japan triggered it.

RICK HULBERT
Edmonton, Alberta

Arudou’s analysis is spot-on

Kudos to Mr. Arudou for his strikingly accurate portrait of not only the microaggressive racialization techniques of well-intentioned Japanese, but also the equally well-intentioned but underthought reactions of non-Japanese who don’t want to “rock the boat.”

As someone who has performed primary research, including ethnographic fieldwork, on issues of cultural identity in Japan, I can say that Mr. Arudou is spot-on in his analysis.

Keep on fighting for the next generation, Mr. Arudou.

CRAIG WHITE
Sakado, Saitama

Perfect example of microaggression

A Japanese lady in her 60s complained to me the other day that somebody in the train had offered her a seat, and she wasn’t amused at all because this had been happening more often lately. According to Mr. Arudou, this fits his definition of “microaggression.” Somebody judged the lady by her appearance — “This person looks old she must need a seat” —and assumed that she was too frail to stand, very much to the annoyance of the woman concerned.

I am using this example to show that this kind of “inappropriate” behavior is not limited to interaction between Japanese and foreigners. Furthermore, to use a single catchword for a complex phenomenon is a very sloppy approach, to say the least. But we are already used to Arudou’s sloppiness, such as when he translated “uso mo houben” as “a lie is a means to an end,” for example, and used it to categorize Japanese culture.

In his latest article (on June 6), Mr. Arudou claims that he is fighting for a better world for his children, a phrase that is supposed to show his altruism and thus enable him to claim the moral high ground and silence any opposition. But I wonder why he preaches to the already converted in an English newspaper. According to my own experience, the Japanese people are very open to listening to foreigners’ opinions. I have been invited on many occasions to talk about topics such as ecology, human rights and life in Japan in general.

In the second half of his latest treatise, Arudou finally reveals himself as a true crusader. As if he wanted to give a perfect example of true microaggression himself, he categorizes other foreigners as socially awkward, tech-savvy, nerdy dorks, apologists, haters, guestists. He reminds me more of another American who used the slogan “You are either with me or against me.”

Maybe he has to realize that he may have switched his nationality formally, but that his internalized American value system might not exist in other parts of the world. Basically, between black and white there are many shades of grey.

There are many fine columnists who write in The Japan Times about Japan, often critically but still in a balanced and substantiated way. Mr. Arudou is not among them.

PETER LINK
Kyoto

Address sickness, not symptom

In his June 5 column, Mr. Arudou doubles down on last month’s polemic against microaggression. Instead of actually addressing the points others have made, he simply calls them names such as “apologists,” “haters” and “guestists.” This doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t further the conversation in any meaningful way whatsoever.

Instead, he keeps comparing Japan to the U.S. and “Western” countries, as if Japan should have to live up to everything that the U.S. supposedly is. The U.S. is full of microaggression, but we are also used to it. Most of us from the U.S. grew up in relatively multicultural societies, not a nearly homogeneous one like Japan.

Not only does he engage in ridiculous ethnocentrism; he accuses anyone who questions the importance of this focus on small annoyances as furthering white privilege.

If he really wants to change Japan for the better, I have some suggestions. Foreigners who live in Japan should work to change attitudes about foreigners and reduce discrimination, but they should do so by engaging their Japanese neighbors. Volunteer for your community, work in politics if you can, talk to Japanese people about it. Microaggression is the symptom of a problem — focus on changing that problem by making yourself an asset to your country and your community.

Attitudes don’t change overnight, but if you work hard at engaging people, you might change a few minds. Cure the sickness, not the symptom.

TIMOTHY BEDWELL
Seattle

Ugly words, ugly article

Uncle Tom. Apologist. Hater. Ugly words from an ugly article. I can understand the editors’ notion of how commentary that brings eyes to the page is a good thing, but I cannot understand how publishing a column that labels anyone who disagrees with the author’s “theory” (very badly misused word there; it was not one) with labels best left to the dustbin is a good editorial choice.

The author fails to actually support his point of view that somehow Japan is worse than other nations in microaggressions, and instead takes anyone who disagrees with his opinion to task and labels them. For someone who a paragraph or two before was claiming that Japan does not view us as unique individuals, the hypocritical move of stating the reasoning behind anyone who doesn’t buy into his preaching is rather ironic.

The author apparently wants us to believe that he’s doing this “for the children” as opposed for his own ego, and dismisses any criticism of his actions or views as “haters gonna hate.” I prefer another saying: pot, kettle, black.

As for the editorial choice of publishing such remarks, that is of course up to the editors of The Japan Times. It might indeed bring eyes to the page, but not mine any more. I’ll be skipping the Community section, as being told I’m somehow a gaijin version of an “oreo” for disagreeing with an author’s opinion isn’t exactly a great way of building community or addressing the very real issues with discrimination in Japan.

JASON SMITH
Matsumoto, Nagano

Microaggression is a real word

(In his June 5 Zeit Gist column) Colin Jones talks about his annoyance at the reframing of words and he wonders why terms like “microcharity,” “microhelp” and “microkindness” are not used while “microaggression” is.

He suspects the reason is because the term “microaggression” can be used “to describe something that happens to me, me, me.” I suspect the reason is because “microaggression” is a real word.

Mr. Jones says he is “all for gently letting people know when their questions are out of line,” but where is his line? The “immaculate conception”? Tom Cruise knew what he was getting himself into when he made “Top Gun” — long before any “tediously repetitive micro-assaults.” My kids, however, haven’t chosen to be celebrities, yet. Personally, if I see someone famous, I leave them alone.

I don’t think I am “the center of the universe” ? I just want a better universe.

He admits that “numerous small slights could accumulate into a significant problem,” before accusing victims of what he calls “baseless claims of persecution” — of wasting “otherwise productive” time!

He seems to be saying, “If you don’t like it here then don’t rock my boat — just go home!”

WILLIAM O’SULLIVAN
Sapporo

Jones missing the point

Regarding the so much-discussed microaggressions aftermath articles, I have a few opinions for Colin P.A. Jones and Arudou Debito.

I don’t know why this article caused so much indignation among some groups of people. Maybe it is because it was labelled as “microAGGRESSIONS” and ironically these people felt attacked by this term, or just because this group of people live in eternal denial of the status quo in Japan and feel that it is their duty to live like the “eternal guest” no matter what (as pointed out by Debito in his last article).

Colin P.A. Jones mentioned how much he admires Debito’s efforts but how uncomfortable it is for him to frame “Japanese interactions with foreigners” as microaggressions. For him, it’s pointless and counterproductive to even mention the existence of such microaggressions. According to Mr. Jones, the term is wrong and too “ambiguous” because it can be easily taken to mean every first interaction with a native japanese.

I do not feel that the term is incorrect or out of frame. People who are aware of the implications of the term “microaggressions” are not talking about those irritating and repetitive conversations. Do not lose the point here. We are talking about the assumptions that makes foreign people feel attacked AND alien in Japan.

Being asked how tall you are 50 times per day is irritating but not a microaggression. To receive an English menu without being asked first, or being asked if you know how to use chopsticks are aggressions because they are based on the assumption that you are an “alien” that does not belong in Japan, and therefore know nothing about Japanese society and do not have the right to be part of it. Ever. This is just as wrong as assuming in America that most Afro-Americans are criminals. Conscious or not, these acts are just racist and wrong.

Colin P.A. Jones asks what the goal of pointing out microaggressions is. The point is to create awareness to act — not the big activism acts, but the small ones.

For example, “Japanese Only” signs are a big no for me, as they remind me of those “No Jews allowed” signs in Nazi Germany. They simply give me the creeps. We live in a global world and there is no place for that kind of treatment.

I believe that Debito’s passive acts (most of them) are real proof of how to act against these microaggressions. Microaggressions should be tackled with tolerance and dialogue. Those who prefer not to acknowledge this problem should just step aside or at least do not get lost in discussion about whether or not the term “microaggression” is correct. That simply does not matter. The problem is real and I believe that most NJ people who have lived in Japan are aware of it.

I don’t see how publishing articles against Debito’s points of view is of any help. I’d be happy to hear about any solutions to this problem rather than that “microaggressions are just another work of fiction by the extremist paranoid Arudou Debito.” Paranoid or not, I believe he is making good points that many of us can relate to, not works of fiction.

I guess that NJ living in Japan should now practice their tolerance on two fronts: first against microaggressions, and secondly against “apologists.”

ALBERTO GALLEGOS RAMONET
Guadalajara, Mexico

Assumptions of inferiority

It’s an interesting article, and Jones makes a lot of valid (if stab-like) arguments. I think for me the term “microaggression” is an important one because it’s illustrative of the closed-off state of Japanese society. I’m not arguing it’s a cause of any huge problem that needs to be addressed, even if Arudou is. I’m saying it’s an indicator of how backward Japanese approaches to foreigners are, and that is a result of a number of factors that Jones doesn’t take into account.

If you look at the common Japanese foreigner baits, they all start from a viewpoint that the object of the observations is sub-par, inferior. “Oh, you’re good with chopsticks”; “Oh, you can speak Japanese”; “Oh, you can eat squid.” These observations start from an assumption that a) Japanese society is highly unique and foreigners have little to no exposure to many of its key elements, and b) that, coming from outside Japan, they are normally unable to assimilate in various ways, thus making assimilation worthy of comment.

I think Jones fails to address the problematic origins of these seemingly harmless gestures. No one in America would express surprise that a Russian could eat gumbo. No one in Germany would be surprised that a Brazilian could drink Jaegermeister, even if they might be surprised that the Brazilian actually likes it.

It’s weird, not a normal part of equal Japanese conversational strategies, and comes consciously or unconsciously from a standpoint of superiority, like an American starting a conversation with a foreigner by saying, “So, Iran, huh? You guys haven’t heard of democracy yet, right?”

It’s not the microaggressions that are the problem; it’s the assumptions about the relationship between Japan and foreign countries from which they come.

If Japan is to move ahead as a nation among nations it needs to realize it’s a culture among cultures, and these microaggressions are signs that it isn’t managing that yet. Jones’ approach to the issue is based only on the context of microaggressions in Japanese society. They need to be viewed in a global light, because Japan is a global player and, like it or not, heavily reliant on other countries in many ways.

SEAN MONTGOMERY
Matsuyama, Ehime

Japanese care about others

A well-written response by Colin Jones regarding the so-called “microaggressions” of Japanese trying to make small talk with foreigners.

I had the privilege of living there for years and returned in April after seven years for a vacation. The way people care for each other, whether out of obligation, duty, habit or sincerity, is striking compared to in the United States. The Japanese care about other people. Mr. Jones is absolutely correct that if Debito were to go ignored, he would write a column complaining of this instead.

Mr. Jones’ accusations of solipsism in Debito’s views are apt. If Japanese wish to engage me in asking silly questions that

lead to broader conversations, I welcome it. Thank you, Japan, for your kindness.

RYAN MEIER
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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