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Tackling the ‘empathy deficit’ toward non-Japanese

by Debito Arudou

Special To The Japan Times

In 2006, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama gave a speech about people’s “empathy deficit.” He described empathy as “the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us — the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town.”

“When you think like this,” he continued, “when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers — it becomes harder not to act, harder not to help.”

I agree. Enormous social problems arise when people don’t understand (or rather, don’t try to understand) what’s going on in other people’s minds. I was mindful of that during my Ph.D. fieldwork, when I interviewed dozens of “Japanese only” businesses. I always asked for (and got, often in great detail) the reasoning behind their exclusionism. I never agreed with their stopgap solutions (shutting out people they thought were “foreign” because they didn’t look “Japanese” enough), but I gained some sympathy for what they were going through.

But sympathy is not the same as empathy, and that is one reason why discrimination against foreigners and minorities is so hard to combat in Japan. Japanese society is good at sympathy, but empathy? Less so.

Of course, Japanese people have great sympathy for human suffering worldwide. Look through the media (particularly material from human-rights NGOs) and you’ll see plenty of pictures of starving or impoverished people abroad. The government has also been extremely generous with overseas development assistance, and is one of UNICEF’s biggest donors and promoters.

For hundreds of years, “sympathy” has meant a feeling of sorrow or pity for others. That’s very different from the ability to understand and share another’s feelings — empathy, which only evolved into a widely understood concept during the 20th century. That is not to say that empathetic behavior is anything new, of course: Many societies have a long history of axioms and examples (“walk a mile in his shoes,” “do unto others,” Buddha and Christ surrendering their worldly possessions for a higher calling, etc.) encouraging altruistic behavior. In his best-seller “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” Steven Pinker devoted a whole chapter to how empathy has recently fostered human-rights revolutions worldwide.

However, there remains a marked lack of empathy in Japan towards outsiders, especially minorities and foreigners. Why? I would argue it’s because few Japanese ever leave their carefully constructed comfort zones to become minorities or foreigners themselves.

If you think about it, concerns about security, safety and comfort basically dominate all levels of Japanese existence — especially if it involves leaving the Japanese existence entirely. Even though going overseas is the only way Japanese will ever walk in the shoes of a foreigner, many still spend their short jaunts within group buses on package tours, experiencing a foreign land from a controlled environment geared to Japanese comfort levels.

I do sympathize. Why would anyone pay all that money for a quickie trip and suffer the discomfort of unpredictability? Being a member of a rich, developed country with a high expectation of quality, service and social order should have taken care of all that.

Who wants to deal with all those scary foreign languages and potential criminal behaviors lurking beyond the hotel stoop, anyway? It could spoil a stress-free vacation.

But there’s a deeper disconnect going on here. I’ve written before about Japanese society’s overwhelming conceit with social power maintenance, and power plays a part in this discussion too.

You see, sympathy is in fact about power. People worthy of sorrow or pity have to appeal to people in a position to give that sympathy. Sympathizers have the power to decide to be charitable or merciful.

On the other hand, empathizers have to give up their power. They have to live situations like somebody else, feel their discomforts and disadvantages, walk in their shoes.

But we won’t. We’re rich. We’ve earned the right to stay in our own shoes.

So never mind empathy. Sympathy’s simpler, for if anyone needs our help, we’ll send money — if they’re within our ambit of concern. It’ll still have no real impact on our lives — or, more importantly, no real impact on our perceptions of their lives.

Now let’s seal off the attitudinal loop from foreigners in particular: Hey, if you don’t like living in Japan as a disadvantaged foreigner, you shouldn’t have come here in the first place. We don’t go to your country as a guest and tell you what to do in your house, do we?

And now let’s close it further with selective empathy: Ever wondered why many Japanese get so het up when their compatriots get discriminated against overseas? Such as in 1962, when Japan successfully lobbied apartheid South Africa to make Japanese into “honorary whites”? Or in 2010, when the British government threatened to put caps on special visas for Japanese (and other non-EU nationalities), and Japanese firms threatened an investment boycott? Or when even normally stoic Emperor Hirohito in 1946 expressed rare public outrage at racism towards Japanese in California?

Probably not, because one can understand the feelings of fellow Japanese in this situation. Empathy, however, generally doesn’t go outside the tribe: Japan can discriminate against foreigners, but woe betide the foreigners if they do it to Japanese!

Again, I do sympathize, since a lack of empathy is by design. The government has long portrayed foreigners as Japan’s opponents — agents of crime, terrorism, disease and land grabs.

The end result is that even the most well-intentioned people in Japan, who do protest clear examples of racial discrimination (e.g., the “Japanese only” signs at businesses, the racist street demos saying “Kill all Koreans,” the “Japanese only” banner by Urawa Reds soccer fans), use a different subtext.

They denounce racism as “Nihon no haji,” decrying the shame (haji) that xenophobia brings upon Japan on the international stage: It makes Japan, and by extension themselves as Japanese, look bad.

Shame is a very effective message — thank you for it — but the more empathetic tack would be to argue that foreigners are people too; that they live in Japan just like any Japanese; that they deserve to live in Japan as residents, patronize bathhouses and restaurants as customers, attend soccer matches as fans, like anyone else; that foreigners deserve exactly the same human rights and access to public goods as any other Japanese.

But equal treatment is rarely part of the debate. Instead people argue, “If they want to be treated the same, they should naturalize,” as if that fixes everything. Trust me, it doesn’t.

Again, empathy is key. If more people had it, they would advocate for Japanese society to “do unto foreigners,” because they would understand how foreigners feel, as Obama argued, and wouldn’t wish that treatment upon anyone.

Japan, let’s work on that empathy deficit. Less dōjō (sympathy), more kyōkan (empathy). Broaden your ambit beyond the tribe and you just might realize that power is not “zero-sum,” i.e., that giving more power to foreigners in Japan does not mean less power for you. In fact, it makes things better for everyone, as it gives more people more opportunity to fulfill their lifetime potential in society.

Now, who wouldn’t empathize with that?

Debito Arudou, who has just received his Ph.D. in International Studies, is editing his dissertation on racial discrimination in Japan into a book. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • phu

    The beginning and end of this piece — despite quite a bit of incoherence and a lack of cohesion — were a lot less vitriolic than most of this author’s work. Which is a pleasant surprise. There was certainly the typical self-citation and quite a few entirely unsupported statements, but it’s still attempting to be constructive.

    This in particular could have been expanded on to actually make the intended point without so much cruft:

    “Shame is a very effective message — thank you for it — but the more empathetic tack would be to argue that foreigners are people too; that they live in Japan just like any Japanese; that they deserve to live in Japan as residents, patronize bathhouses and restaurants as customers, attend soccer matches as fans, like anyone else; that foreigners deserve exactly the same human rights and access to public goods as any other Japanese.”

    Sympathy vs. empathy could be a fairly compelling point in this context if it were treated more coherently. From that point of view, this is a high point for Arudou; hopefully he keeps moving in this direction.

  • Demosthenes

    Mr. Debito, your insights are very perceptive, as usual. But I think in this article you are a little mistaken. In my experience with living in Japan for a number of years now, I actually think it is the foreigners who need to empthize with Japanese people more so than the reverse as you suggest.

    Japan is a fading power on the world stage. In the 21st Century both Korea and China have stolen a lot of Japan’s dynamic lustre and cool factor appeal. As an economic power, well of course it’s no secret that China has well and truly taken Japan’s thunder for good. Japan will never again be the economic wonder child of the world as it was in the 80s. It’s national debt is over two and a half times its GDP. It is stuck in a death spiral, and there is no way that Abe or anyone else in Japan can bring the country back. To any evaluation based on common sense, we can know things are only going to get worse for Japan – not better.

    Nowadays, people abroad associate Japan more with whaling, failed nuclear reactors, cartoon child pornography, and Ultra-Nationalism. As a people they know themselves to be despised on the world stage. There isn’t anything “great” about Japan any more – it’s become the hero of yesterday. What this means is, the Japanese people of today are like the faithful of a dying religion. A minority in the world who know that the religion that they believe in – the superiority of Japan and the Japanese way – has long been proven a falsehood. But the problem is, they have bought into their faith so strongly over so many generations that there is now no way out, even though continuing to believe the lie means their destruction. The Japanese think they can’t step outside the tribe, because that path leads only an existence alone. Staying with the tribe will lead to certain death, but at least when staying in the tribe you will go out believing in what you stood for. Just as a Christian in ancient Rome took heart from watching his fellows corageously keep their faith, even when the lions descended on them, so to have the Japanese renounced their corporeal body and, come what may, they will all sink together in some beautiful, artistic end – preferably with enka music playing in the background.

    The Japan you are hoping for I do not think can ever exist. Japan is a religion that cannot permit the membership of other people. The Japanese identity is not based on a nation – at least, not a multicultural one. It has always, and always will be, based upon the Japanese “ethnicity.” The system is so tightly entwined like this that it can never be unbound. As they are prepared to stick to this way of doing things – come what may – I don’t see how they can ever implement the ideas you describe.

    Ask yourself this – how long have you been trying to change things in Japan without success? How long has Japan remained xenophobic towards foreigners, in spite of their history to this point? Did the black ships change their attitude? Has the introduction of western philosophy, science and capitalism changed their attitude? Did their defeat after world war two change their attitude? Did their getting wealthy after rebuilding Japan change their attitude?

    Well if none of these things over the past few hundred years ever changed their attitude, then is there any point in hoping that something ever will?

    This all might sound negative, but I am only trying to be factual. If you want to truly like Japan, isn’t it better to just accept these facts and be done with it? If you don’t, just cut your losses and go somewhere else in the world where you will be accepted the way you prefer.
    Japan is a very, very small island in a world filled with people who are much more interesting, and accepting, then the Japanese.

    • Jameika

      Oh, right, poor Japan.

      It’s absurd to take a short period in the history of a group of people and apply it to all of its past and all of its future. You do realize that our definitions of country and ethnicity are entirely created, right? And that they change over time (with each small bit of that history being violently defended as truth)?

      Your perspective (and your love-it-or-leave-it attitude) completely ignores that you’re accepting some invented dichotomy. There is no single brick wall of “Japanese” that is resisting change. Japan has changed drastically over the years. I, for one, am not trying to *change* Japan by being part of society: I *am* Japan. Most of us who are, let’s say, not “Japanese” enough to fit into this supposedly unmoving culture that is being defined in limited black-or-white terms are only trying to be part of it.

      This is my home no matter what I look like. Please don’t tell people to leave their homes because they don’t fit some invented definition of a people. There are outsiders in all societies (divided by race, ethnicity, occupation), but they are not to leave the larger group: outsiders are as much a part of societies as those who ostracize them.

      Societies and cultures are bigger than their definitions. All participants have a place in them.

      • Demosthenes

        Thanks for your comment, Jameika. I think you might have missed my point. I definitely don’t have a love it or leave it attitude. If anything, I would want Japan to change completely. I would advocate change to a fully open, market driven economy with a small government footprint and a country that is free and fair to all ethnicities. If Japan looked like Hong Kong or Singapore, that would be the Japan I would want to live in.

        You are completely right about ethnicity being invented. I put the words “ethnicity” in quotation marks as a tounge in cheek point. This is because Japan’s ethnicity is not as pure as they claim it to be, though many sure love to believe it exists.

        My point is not about loving-it-or-leave-it. It’s, for your own sanity, don’t bother banging your head against the wall any more trying to change things. I was merely stating the facts about how Japan is. It is deaf to pleas of change for foreigners.

        My point about citing historical evidence, is to demonstrate that Japan is unlikely to change in the way foreigners living here want it to – eg. equal rights, etc. It won’t change for very good reason – that is, there is a small, wealthy and powerful conservative elite in charge of Japan, and they are hell bent on ensuring the status quo remains. They are the ones in charge of educational indoctrination in the country, they are in charge of NHK, they write the policies keeping immigration low, they ensure English at school remains an academic curiosity devoid of any communicative competence. People ARE individuals, yes, but you can’t discount the power of social conditioning and the stranglehold it has on people. And the conservatives control that social conditioning. Make no mistakea about it.

        Barring some unthinkable event – like China invading Japan, taking over the country and doing a 21st century cultural revolution on the place – those conservatives will be there today, tomorrow and for the forseable future to come. This is why I say, if you can’t live with Japan the way it is (you seem to be doing okay) you might as well go somewhere better. Not because you should give up trying to change things as a rule, but because – practically speaking – unless you have muscle, money and political influence behind you, you will never effect mass change in Japan.

      • Jameika

        Well I’m glad we agree on the substance. I guess I did miss your aim there. And you’re right about the powerful elite and what they are trying to hold onto (what country doesn’t have a group of people who are doing their best to hold onto an idea that never existed?) and we are most likely helpless to do anything about it in the short term. I don’t accept, though, that societies do not change: societies are constantly changing. I agree with this idea of an empathy deficit, but I don’t think that it’s a losing battle. At some point the definition of ‘Japanese’ will have to change just as it has in the past (and I don’t mean, as many often suggest, that the change will be some sort of Americanization). We may not live to see it, but it will happen and it will be Japanese.

        So for now–while I do agree with you on the practicality–I will continue to insist on my place in my society.

      • Steve Jackman

        What if the change you refer to happens in the wrong direction, i.e., Japan becomes even more nationalist, insular, racist and xenophobic, as all indications suggest is already happening?

      • Gordon Graham

        Well then you find like-minded mewlers, cling together in a quivering embrace of victimhood and console yourselves with consensus.

      • Jameika

        I don’t see how anticipating any outcome should change my position.

      • RedBaronsCuz

        I agree, you missed his point. He argues the negatives perfectly (the same ones that you claim). But you have to deal with the reality of it. Japan will never be “as we would like it to be,” a place where foreigners, and those different from the mainstream are accepted. Since first contact, exclusion has been the norm. Yes, I agree, it is invented, as are most societal beliefs and practices – but as Demosthenes pointed out, they are so deeply ingrained in the psyche of the people and nation that you will never pry the loose. It would be akin to saying, “Americans need to change to become more like the Japanese.” Granted, the melting-pot that is the US would make this impossible, but at its core it remains the same – it is what it is, and we will never change it. We can only hope that it will occur, and that we can all live as equals, but no one who has lived in Japan can realistically claim this to be a possibility. Believe me, I think we all want it, and we all see how puzzling and opposite it is on a humanistic level (Why are you unable to empathize? It’s a common human trait!), but that is how it is. You have to either accept that it is what you will have to live with, or leave.

  • Steve Jackman

    Debito, congratulations on your Ph.D. and I look forward to reading your dissertation and book on racial discrimination in Japan. I agree with all the points you’ve made above. Thank you for a insightful and thought provoking article.

    I, too, have noticed a distinct lack of empathy among many Japanese I have met in my more that ten years of living here in Japan. This lack of empathy is a main reason for the racism, discrimination and xenophobia, which are all too common in Japan. It is also why many foreigners consider Japanese to have poor communication and interpersonal skills, and why they are unable to relate to anyone who is non-Japanese, on the rare occassion when Japanese interact with foreigners.

    Let me present here one difference I have often noted in the thinking and attitudes of many Japanese, as compared to my fellow Americans. Not only do most Americans I know feel that showing one’s empathy towards others is morally and socially the right thing to do, but Americans also have a strong cultural belief that one elevates oneself into a better person by showing that they care for and are empathetic towards others.

    As such, fairness, empathy and compassion are considered to be a core American values. Business and political leaders often go out of their way to demonstrate that they are sincere and care for others by showing their empathetic side. For, example, Bill Clinton excels at this and it is one of the reasons for his popularity. This results in people offering their seats to women and senior citizens on public transportation, and company presidents making it a point to be respectful and courteous to their female executive assistants (still called secrataries in Japan), since it reflects positively on themselves, in addition to being the right thing to do. In American culture, such humility and empathy shows that you are secure in yourself and don’t feel threatened by others, and that you and are a big person. It also demonstrates ones higher moral and societal standing.

    In contrast to the U.S, I do not find this type of thinking to be very common in Japan. Rarely do I see a more powerful Japanese person treat someone who they consider to be lower in stature with much courtesy, empathy or respect. It is as if doing so would somehow diminish the social standing and stature of the more powerful person in the eyes of others. I don’t know if this attitude stems from innate insecurity and small-mindedness, or if it is just a cultural blind spot. In Japan, this is often behind bullying, power harassment, sexual harassment, racism and discrimination in schools, the workplace and society in general. Foreigners and women in Japan are particularly vulnerable to this. Japan cannot consider itself to be a truly advanced nation unless it addresses such outdated attitudes.

    • Gordon Graham

      Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers is a prime example of the sincere empathetic business leader of America. Thanks for the insight Mr.Jackman

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, and he was immediately banned for life from basketball, which will likely result in him selling his team (BTW, this stiff penalty was for racist comments he made to his mistress in private). Japan can learn a lot from this example.

      • Gordon Graham

        For example, what a lot of Americans really think. Also, the Urawa Reds were stiffly penalized for a banner that a racist fan had put up. Not they themselves had put up mind you, but one a racist fan had put up. Judgement was swift and stiff. I don’t think Japan needs to learn much from America.

      • Steve Jackman

        Not true. Urawa Reds security was notified of the “Japanese Only” sign while it was up during the game, but they failed to remove it (as was their responsibility to do).

        Furthermore, do not underestimate the role foreign media and foreign pressure played in the penalty which was ultimately placed on them. I guarantee you, there would have been no penalty against them, had there not been intense foreign pressure.

      • Gordon Graham

        You take it on yourself to guarantee much. How modest

      • Steve Jackman

        I believe it’s called a figure of speech in English.

      • Gordon Graham

        I’ve noticed how intense foreign pressure has stopped visits to Yasukuni Jinja. Westerners flatter themselves endlessly. Where would the Japanese possibly be without the likes of you to show the way?

      • Steve Jackman

        The Sterling incident can hardly be compared to the Urawa Reds incident. In Sterling’s case, he made racist comments in private to his mistress. These comments were not made in public and no acts of discrimination took place.

        On the other hand, the Urawa Reds’ “No Japanese” banner was displayed in full public view at a public sporting event. Furthermore, it went beyond racism and discriminated against non-Japanese spectators by barring their entry into a section of the stadium which they had every right to enter. This would be analagous to if one saw a “Whites Only” banner at a public sporting event held in a stadium in America. This would never happen in the U.S.

        Lastly, everyone in the U.S, including the media have been condemning the Sterling incident non-stop, 24/7, ever since it became public. This is very different from the much more muted reaction to the Urawa Reds incident here in Japan.

      • Gordon Graham

        I believe the issue here is “empathy” and your claim of American Business owners being exemplary in that capacity. Sterling let the cat out of the bag on that one (or should I say his Mistress did…no matter. It’s what he really “feels” that is the point when we are talking about “empathy” now isn’t it). For people’s true feelings on the matter perhaps you had better check out the comments on sports sites such as TSN or even those on Youtube where people tend to voice their true feelings knowing there’ll be no repercussions for stating them. I mean if you’re going to use the racist right-wingers in Japan as a model of Japanese sentiment, then you have to allow for the racist rednecks in America to represent American sentiment. Take a look for yourself at the comments then let’s go look elsewhere for your exemplary model, OK?

      • Steve Jackman

        First, I don’t know that Sterling’s racist statements which he made to his mistress in private necessarily demonstrates his lack of empathy (that’s not to say that he may indeed lack empathy, I just don’t know).

        Second, the question is not whether there are racists in the America. I’ll be the first to admit that racists exist within every society, including the U.S. The real question is how prevelant and widespread is racism in any given country, and how does society there try to tackle and combat it.

        In this respect, I do not believe that Sterling is representative of Americans in general, and this much is clear from the outcry and condemnation he has faced from American society ever since his comments came to light.

        If you want to compare peoples private feelings about race, I think the comments you find by Japanese posters on 2Channel are much worse than anything I have come across in the U.S.

      • Gordon Graham

        Check out the recent barrage of Twitter comments directed toward PK.Subban (a black hockey player for the Montreal Canadiens) for your sample of American empathy.

  • 6810

    While the last paragraph makes sense, hey, Ms Warwick sang it best (via Mr Bacharach of course) – the world does need more love… as usual it seems that Mr Arudo is really stretching it.

    The problem with his perspective is that it has always worked as a universalised logic extrapolated out of his own rather limited experience as a “foreigner” and later as a naturalised citizen. This latest essay reads like something that Edward Said criticised in “Orientalism”… way back in 1978.

    The essentialism and reductionism present in this article is rather more unsettling than his rather un-nuanced perception of “the Japanese” lack of empathy. It is an echo of a model of Asian Studies untouched by decades of innovation via the Birmingham school, cultural studies etc.

    One thing this writing could benefit from is an increased quotient of self-reflexivity – that is a qualification of the author’s position as a member or not in Japanese society. My own perception of Japan and “Japanese empathy” (if such a broad generalisation is indeed possible) is quite different to that of Mr Arudo. Personally, in over twelve years of living here, I have not encountered any of the key markers of discrimination the author refers to – I’ve never seen a “Japanese only” sign, never been prevented from entering a bath house, restaurant or bar. Never been prevented from renting and even buying property. I don’t care about soccer but I’ve been to my fair share of dimly lit, hole in the wall, dingy bars to attend concerts…

    That said, I have encountered prejudiced attitudes. And dealt with them appropriately, in the local language, within the bounds set by the law and with a sensitivity to local customs of communication etc.

    Though, these are certainly not unique to Japan, are they? However, just because I personally have not encountered (systemic or culturall embedded) discrimination in such ways, I do not deny that they exist. Rather my point is that it all is really rather more complex, diverse and fluid – as societies across the world tend to be. We can respond to them from fixed positions of ethical/moral superiority or we can be more mature, reflexive, considered and sensitive. I’d say the very qualities of empathy.

    I feel that Mr Arudo’s work could do with a little more qualitative research, collecting data from a broad range of “foreign residents” in Japan and not only those with experiences that shore up his world view. What’s the point of preaching to the choir? Certainly there is more to be learned (and studied) through inclusivity than there is through unreflexive repetition of a narrow/ultra specific position extrapolated into the universal?

    • Steve Jackman

      The problem with your suggested approach is that it has been tried by foreigners in Japan for many decades, but it has unfortunately been a miserable failure. Many people in Japan are still as insular, racist and xenophobic as ever, and they lack the very human attribute of empathy.

      This is why I am fully behind Debito’s approach of having an honest and frank discussion by not mincing words or beating around the bush. There comes a point where one has to call a spade a spade and call things as one sees them. Enough of this shoganai attitude.

      • 6810

        Is Japan really as “insular, racist and xenophobic” as you say. Long ago, I felt this way. That was when I was basically pre-literate and had very minimal language skills.

        Mr Arudo’s work at it’s best makes some keen critiques of certain aspects of contemporary Japanese society. At it’s worst, it is a repetition of terribly out of date, essentialist, culturally chauvanistic cliches that belong in textbooks from the 1980s.

        Mr Arudo’s work is not necessarily honest in the sense that it speaks true of a whole society. It is however, honest in the sense that it reflects HIS experience and misfortune in Japan.

      • Steve Jackman

        First, the racism, xenophobia and discrimination faced by foreign residents of Japan has very little to do with their Japanese language ability. In fact, in this case I think ignorance may indeed be bliss, since the more Japanese one learns, the more one realizes the breadth and depth of racist feelings harbored by many Japanese.

        Second, after having lived in Japan for over a decade, having worked at several places here, and having met thousands of Japanese and foreigners from all walks of life, I almost always find myself agreeing with Debito. I firmly believe that Debito writes with great honesty and clarity, and that his experiences are very much representative of the experiences of the vast majority of foreigners in Japan.

        I did not live in Japan in the 80s, but I live here now, and can say with confidence that Debito is definitely not stuck in some time warp. His observations and positions on the topics he writes about are definitely very current and contemporary about the realities faced by foreigners in Japan today.

      • Sam Gilman

        Out of interest, (and I’ve been meaning to ask you this) given that your comments on JT are supported by your anecdotes of working as a manager for a variety of corporate employers in Japan, could you explain why you have had to change employers so frequently, and how you managed to be employed at such a high level so immediately upon your arrival in Japan, despite, apparently, having had no previous Japanese experience?

      • Steve Jackman

        There’s no need for your unfounded assumptions about me here. Let’s just stay on topic, shall we?

      • Sam Gilman

        You brought up your experience as a case in point. You made it the topic. You consistently bring up your personal experience as authoritative evidence. I’m making no assumptions but telling back to you what you have told everyone else. It’s relevant whether or your experience is authentic. There are some regulars on Debito’s website who clearly fabricate their backgrounds, and I think the same is going on with you.

        It’s entirely plausible that, say, an English teacher at a language school, whose contact with Japanese can be largely limited to dysfunctional conversations, might make such extraordinarily odd claims that so many Japanese “lack the very human attribute of empathy”. This is the stuff of gaijin barfly conversations. However, it really stretches plausibility for someone who has apparently not once but repeatedly been put in managerial positions by large Japanese companies to reach the same conclusion. They’d seriously struggle to do their job, and they would be increasingly unlikely to have been selected for these positions.

        (Frankly, I’d be astonished at any expat with that supposed history anywhere in the world who came to that conclusion about the entire nationality of their country of prolonged residence. It would betray a striking lack of intercultural awareness and – let’s face it – empathy. One would wonder how the hell they ended up in that position in the first place.)

        So, I’m calling your bluff. I’ve never met anyone who’s made it to corporate management here (or elsewhere) who talks the way you talk.

      • Steve Jackman

        Do you not see the huge obvious contradiction in your own statements above?

        While you have accused me of faking it and making broad generalizations about my experiences in Japan, you yourself have made some pretty egregious and broad generalizations and accusations about me in your comment. It seems rather hypocritical to me.

        In any case, I’m not trying to convince you of anything. Whether or not you choose to believe what I have written in my comments is entirely up to you. I’d rather focus on the points Debito has made in his article, than on myself.

      • Fortyplus

        Ive neve worked as an English Teacher in any school, rather Ive worked in corporate and industrial Japan. Your arguement is completely opposite from what I have experienced. Its the English teacher (no disrespect), diplomat, base worker etc who is shielded from most of the racism in Japan. Those of us who work in corporate or industry must “go native” and take the full brunt of it. Sure, there are good times, but basically the system is in favor of Japanese and your treated as a pet. Anybody who has lived here over 5 years and worked in these places know this. Stop trying to discredit the article with apologist propaganda I

      • Steve Jackman

        Good points. All one has to do is read ex-Olympus boss Michael Woodford’s book “Exposure”, to see that even the very top non-Japanese management at Japanese n companies in Japan is not immune to inappropriate treatment by Japanese colleagues and staff.

        He writes about a meeting he was invited to when he was the CEO at Olympus in Japan. All the executive Japanese management attending the meeting were feasting on expensive sushi, but they had orderd a poor-looking dry sandwich for Michael Woodford and put it in front of where he was supposed to be sitting. This, inspite of the fact they all knew that Michael loved eating sushi.

      • Gordon Graham

        A poor-looking dry sandwich for poor Michael Woodford. How fitting.

      • Gordon Graham

        I work as an ice hockey coach and have never experienced any of the discrimination or favoritism suggested on these pages. In fact, the Japanese are quite reverent of the foreign players and coaches among them and treat them with respect. I guess the sporting world with the rookie-veteran relationship dichotomy, the aspect of knowing your role and taking pride in your responsibility for it no matter how trivial it may seem to others as well as the hierarchy of authority is similar to that of Japanese society and the workplace in general. Which is likely why I don’t notice what others may consider the insult of knowing your place. Perhaps the emphasis on the individual in the West gives some a bias view of Japanese thinking.

    • Ron NJ

      The old “I haven’t experienced it so it doesn’t exist” bit again, really? You don’t come out and directly say it, I’ll grant you that, but let’s not beat around the bush and pretend that we’re all too stupid to see what you really mean. There is plenty of photographic evidence (on the article author’s blog, no less) of many instances of the very type of discrimination and racism that you profess to have somehow never experienced in 12 years of living here, and which not only wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere, but would be actually criminal in many countries. It’s also, important to note, exactly the type of racism that Japanese are quick to get up in arms about when they are subjected to it in other countries, but that’s just as beside the point as your “I didn’t see it so it doesn’t exist” jibe.
      The fact that you haven’t experienced it certainly doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, nor does it lessen the author’s point – all it does is state that you are one of the lucky(?) few to have an incredibly sheltered existence compared to the rest of us who do have to deal with things like being barred entrance to places of business on the basis of race or nationality, denied for loans and credit cards on similar grounds, or told to our faces that our race is incompatible with acquiring housing in certain buildings throughout the country.

      • 6810

        I suggest you re-read what I wrote. In fact, here it is:

        @6810 “However, just
        because I personally have not encountered (systemic or culturall
        embedded) discrimination in such ways, I do not deny that they exist.”

      • 6810

        And just to add – it is interesting what people tend to pick up on. I swear, I am a day or two from giving up on the whole internet given people’s reading skills these days.

        My point is/was – Mr Arudo’s work has always been extremely, narrowly focused and it’s fatal flaw is that it essentialises the other (in this case “the Japanese”) almost as an act of “revenge” as a substitute for justice. The problem with this kind of binary reduction is that as the impeccably long nailed and utterly batty (yet very original) Deleuze once (more or less) said: in any binary all possibilities are already exhausted.

        So if we’re talking despair and “shoganai-ism”, perhaps we should take binary reduction, us vs them, the enlightened world vs “the Japanese” as the very dark heart (man, my meta is on fire today) – after all, if we start from an immovable, unassailable, false and presumptuous position of moral superiority… then, err, “we” win… but what? At what cost?

      • Fortyplus

        Ok thanks for that, but could you, like, make your post more readable? I mean, I had to go back and read it several times, not because of poor reading comprehension, but due to your writing skills. You remember English Comp. 101? all that uneccessary vocab is a real headache and doesnt support your arguement, unless your trying to impress us as being morally superior. So after all that “batty” rant you made, should I conclude that Debito is trying to be morally superior? The article was about empathy vs sympathy. There are many Japanese who feel “morally superior” to others, so what about that? Like many apologist, I cant make sense of your arguement, its like you have become one with racist ideology, but deny your own gaijiness. No, I wont be rereading what you wrote; I found it to be a winding bewilding insight into the mind of an apologist. You can, however, attempt to rewrite it, (show off your composition skills, after all, thats what your really trying to accomplish, isnt it?) and make for an enjoyable read )

      • Gordon Graham

        A critique of language skills coming from a guy who wrote “your trying to impress us”, “your treated like a pet” and “Anyone who has lived here over 5 years and worked in these places know this”. I think you had better revisit your elementary school grammar text before you start throwing stones. Cheers!

      • Fortyplus

        Yeah true, maybe I could take some lessons from a hockey coach in Japan )
        Ive read many papers by Japanese students and after reading that persons post, I felt like I was reading a Japanese person trying to write a report. His/her ideas were not connected, rather it was all over the place.I mean, this is basic composition, something not taught in English in japan, so they can be forgiven, but for such an “intelectual” or whateve it is, Im not impressed. Im sorry, Im not an English teacher, but when I read a composition, I dont expect to need a dictionary for every vocabulary I encounter. His/her attempt at writing was to show their superiority (interestingly, they dissed Dr. Debito for his morale superiority)

      • Gordon Graham

        A hockey coach who is fluent in French, English and Japanese. I’d edit your posts if I had the time.

      • Fortyplus

        Hey you do that ) Prove you are good for something. I would rather read something from you original, like your take on the very real issues us NJ face everyday, instead of the vomit I get to read everytime one of you apologist shows up. Always trying to hijack the topic with grammar corrections, or some other dumb…. Trying to discredit, trying to justify your existence in a land that clearly doesnt want you here I guess your special, and dont experience anything like us “others” Your only fooling yourself dude, and Im done with you, actually I spent too much time on you already. Gambatte nippon!

      • Gordon Graham

        Sorry to spoil your wallowing in victim hood page, Sweetie. Maybe I’ll move on so you can have a big consoling group hug with your frenzies. Don’t worry Sweetykins, nobody’s gonna contradict you or challenge you any wany moresys…K?

      • qwerty

        right on 40+ – japanman and the japandroids aren’t worth it.

        “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

        ― Arthur Schopenhaue

      • Gordon Graham

        There ya go, Fortyplus…The hug you were hoping for

      • C.J. Bunny

        There’s certainly plenty of reports on the internet and photos. Though it could be countered “Just because you have experienced it, doesn’t mean it’s common or widespread”. How many photos are there about of discriminatory signs still in place 50? 100? That’s a pretty tiny proportion of all Japanese businesses. Clearly people that have experienced racism are more likely to make describe their experience than people describe experiences where they haven’t been discriminated against. Amongst western foreigners I know, I can’t say these experiences are common. I don’t think there is any quantitative data on it, just qualitative accounts or interviews, countered with similar weak anecdotes as you say of the type “I hasn’t happened to me, so it isn’t a problem”. Hopefully Dr Arudou (congrats by the way, a great achievement for you), can get some funding to investigate this and if there was some real concrete data showing the scale of the issues facing foreign residents, surely the Government would have to take some notice?

    • Fortyplus

      I think if Debito collected data from a broad range of foriegn residents, or even did an online poll, most would agree with his view. I dont know what zone your in, but many of us habitat the twilight zone known as Japan, where open discrimination is practiced and enforced daily although on the books its clearly prohibited. Perhaps you can “extrapolate” on that, but Im sure I will get the ususal its my fault. Not to be confrontational, but even with Debitos faults, his work is more refreshing than the apologist “I have never once experienced” tiring defense we can always count on.

      • 6810

        Are you sure? I don’t know where you live and in what circles you walk but there is a big ole tru-ism out there. Those who complain do it loudly while everyone else just gets on with life.

        See, the thing is, there are “a lot” (whatever that even means) of “foreigners” (quotation marks because I don’t know whether they’ve naturalised, have PR, are here il/llegally etc) where I live. I’ve spoken to many. My boys go to the same kindergartens/schools…

        And you know, while they have the troubles people often experience as immigrants, their troubles usually have less to do with blown out of proportion click bait on absent activist websites. Again, I speak only of my own context. Just. As. Debito. Does.

        What disturbs me the most is how the Mr Arudo vision/version of contemporary life lived in Japan through fragments of data sent to him by people on the internet which often contain factual error (did you read the wonderful translation failure about Avril Lavigne?) has become unquestionably normalised as the single and only true experience.

    • Meric Kirmizi

      I like what you wrote. As a graduate student, who has been living in Japan for 2 years, I agree with it. I just couldn’t understand your example of Edward Said, because I thought he was doing the opposite thing (he was on your argument’s side).

    • Steve Jackman

      Your statement that you’ve never encountered discrimination in renting or buying real estate in Japan strikes me as a little odd, since even the Japanese themselves recognize that discrimination against foreigners in renting property is a big problem here. Just last month, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government released results of a survey which it conducted in November and December last year (The survey was offered to 3,000 randomly chosen Tokyo residents, with responses gathered from 1,573 people).

      Almost half of the respondents to the survey agreed that discrimination against foreigners in renting apartments or other residences in Japan was an ongoing violation of their human rights.

      In a multiple-answer question on human rights violations against foreigners, “the difficulty of renting apartments or other residences” was the most common answer chosen, with 45.6 percent of respondents selecting it. Next was “receiving disadvantageous treatment at work or during job hunting” at 34.5 percent, followed by “insufficient acceptance in community activities and places of communication” at 21.9 percent and “bullying or harassment at work or school” at 21.1 percent. With the repeated instances of hate speech directed at foreigners going on around the country, 19.9 percent of respondents chose “discriminatory speech and actions.”

  • Fortyplus

    Dr. Debito makes some excellent points. I too believe a little more reasearch/evidence on the background of the “lack of” in Japan would support this article more, but once again, Debito has touched on a taboo subject in Japan.
    @disqus_Zj817qXwJR:disqus,
    You made some good points, but I cannot 100% agree with your fatalistic approach; I guess 80% of me agrees, but 20% believes there is hope. Your right, Japan seems perfectly OK with going down as a whole, as long as its “beautiful customs” are preserved. I too do not see how immigrants could ever be fully assimilated into Japanese society; its too complex with too many unique customs and habits that only Japanese can really appreciate. So, that part of me says “why bother” and as you suggested, go somewhere else, where you dont need waste a majority of your time being uncomfortable and on useless efforts trying to conform into a society who doesnt want you anyway.
    For those, however, like Debito and others, who have naturalized and made Japan their home, this defeatist attitude (shoganai) doesnt work out. In this land of everything that is but it isnt, it makes sense that in order for change to happen, it first needs to be seen, and who is best to lead this effort ? Someone who had dedicated their life to the country. Its not as simple as “if you dont like it, leave it” we often can read Japanese authors who are fed up with Japans educational system, judical system etc., but they rarely offer an outsiders solution to their complaint. They nail the problem down well, but they are unable to offer any solution or outsiders view. The short term gaijin has no stake in the game, as there is a way out.

    • Ron NJ

      Did you really just state that Japan is somehow only comprehensible to people of a specific ethnicity? I mean, I find it hard to read “its too complex with too many unique customs and habits that only Japanese can really appreciate” any other way. There’s nothing that makes Japan intrinsically more unique or special than anywhere else, and the only reason why it seems parts of Japan are difficult to appreciate for foreigners is because we are so often barred from the very participation in society and culture on equal grounds that would allow us to appreciate them – it’s no fault of our own, and certainly not a function of ethnicity.

      • Fortyplus

        I think you misunderstood, or perhaps I did not convey it properly, what I meant. In the Japanese company, for instance, there are many rules and norms unique to Japan, such as mado ijeme, and other unspoken but acceptable behavior. There is the law, then there is harmony. Harmony takes precedence over the law, in many instances.

  • Demosthenes

    I’d say just make the most of your situation.

    Don’t bother going out of your way to fit in with the Japanese way if you feel trying to gets you nowhere.

    Make friends with those who accept you for who you are, and learn to quickly give the cold shoulder to those who don’t.

    Don’t expect radical change, but stand up for yourself when people infringe on your rights – definitely don’t take any rubbish from anyone.

    Forget about job mobility, become an entreprenuer and start your own business.

    Most of all, try to reach out and make friends with other minorities in Japan. Get a language partner and learn Chinese, Portugese, Hindi or something else to enrich your life.

    There are plenty of things you can do to make your life in Japan pleasant. It just takes some thinking outside the box.

  • Fortyplus

    @CA,
    Make as many foriegn associates as possible, dont get caught up in being like Japanese. I know, it is counter intuitive to all your taught, but youll find your stay is much easier. As was pointed out in another post, the more Japanese you understand, the more misreable it can get. I was at an interview once, and I spoke only English. The Japanese oyaji came out to do the interview, with his ranking associates, seating arranged, all that very Japanese style tradition. He would say, “you understand what we are saying in Japanese right? Then why dont you answer in Japanese?” I said because Im comfortable speaking English, its my language as your language is about control and ranking and its unnatural for me. They all laughed! And then they were going to give me the job! They know what I said was true. Once you start acting Japanese, then your a henna gaijin, an outcaste, a loser with no self respect, and your treated as such. Its a balancing act; when to speak it, when to conceal it. I tell you the most enjoyable times in Japan I have ever had were hanging out with other gaijin, Ive never had any Japanese friends, and honestly I dont want.

  • Fortyplus

    Ignoring or ridiculing the locals is a Japanese group trait when they travel. Dont think so? Then join a group tour. I had the misfortune of going on a few of those. An exercise in misery is what it was. A chaperone to explain no brainer talking points about the tour, mumblings about how strange the locals acted, I will never do that again regardless of the price. We didnt interact with anybody, the group moved as a whole through the whole tour, eat together, break time together, all in Japanese. A most miserable experience, but very japanese.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    As I recall, the statement made by a Urawa club representative was exactly empathetic, and said something like, “I wouldn’t want to go to a game outside of Japan and have a banner say “No Japanese”.”

    “…But we won’t (empathize). We’re rich. We’ve earned the right to stay in our own shoes.”

    I don’t think wealth is the excluding factor. It is rather what a person would have to confront in themselves and what it would mean to have to apply that consistently from now on. Wealth might help insulate this worldview, but it doesn’t create it.

  • Gordon Graham

    What was the topic…bashing the xenophobic, racist, arrogant Japanese? I mean all the regular pilers-on are here with their hate in tow.

    • Fortyplus

      I have no hate, just being real. As I said before, you dont know the real Japan. A sensei, (hockey coach) etc will always recieve fake praise et. Its part of Cohfucian culture. I dont know how much Japanese you understand, but there are Japanese talk shows that have complained about all the gaijin in Japanese sports these days. They can come to the U.S.and be welcomed with high salaries, however. Im amazed at your lack of insight on how Japan works, but do enjoy that bubble your in, but be advised thats not the real world that Japanese or foriegners live in Japan. I too, once enjoyed what I thought was sweetness and praise, until I realized what it was. Its clearly what Debito is trying to get across in the article, but I can see it went right over you becasue your still in newbie territory.

      • Gordon Graham

        I came here 20 years ago as a pro hockey player. I stayed on as a coach. I’m married to a Japanese woman and have 2 Japanese kids. I speak and write the Japanese language as fluently as I do English.
        PS. Being over 40 you should know the difference between your and you’re. Also, it’s i before e except after c…

  • gracey

    One guess is because of Buddhism eg Karma. When a neighbor of my husband’s grandma became severely ill, my husband’s grandma commented, “He must have done something terrible in his past life. That’s why he’s suffering now.” If something bad is happening to you now, you must be deserving of it. Why should anyone try to imagine how you feel, that pain you (indirectly) inflicted on yourself?

  • Haime564

    If you’re into day trading I want to let you know that in 2006 I discovered a very profound truth about the entire financial markets, that they were actually under the control of a computer program and didn’t really “trade”. Want to more about it? Google Traders Superstore.

  • Gordon Graham

    Be sure to save a few of those check marks for yourself.

    • anoninjapan

      What has check marks for myself got to do with xenophobia, racism and being insular?

      Or are you just trolling…?

  • http://cogentlanguage.com Dan Clapper

    Empathy deficits and learning based on projects

    In this interesting 5/1/2014 article, “Tackling Japan’s ‘Empathy Deficit’, author Debito Arudou argues that, despite the generosity and sympathy of Japanese society, “there remains a marked lack of empathy in Japan towards outsiders, especially minorities and foreigners.” After defining this problem, he concludes, “Japan, let’s work on that empathy deficit”. The solution idea he offers is “giving foreigners more power in Japan” because it “makes things better for everyone.”

    “Empathy” might be hard to define in a way that all cultures would accept, and so “empathy deficits” may be tough to measure. In any case, the author’s solution idea may not appear practical, whatever your point of view.

    Without attempting a definition of “empathy deficit” here, or taking a stand on whether Japan – or any other society – has one, we would propose that what enhances “empathy”, in young people and in grown ups, is learning. To begin to address an “empathy deficit” most anywhere, the learning that we would propose is project based.

    Projects are precisely about “outsiders” – clients, sponsors, the project team, regulators. It calls all those “others” – “stakeholders”. Project management offers a systems framework, along with processes, tools, and techniques for engaging and getting things done with “outsiders”, despite their not coming from the same place or having the same values.

    Job one of the project manager is understanding key stakeholders, not simply in terms of demographics or business, but in terms of their values. This is understanding, from the stakeholders’ point of view, what is in it (this project) for me – in project management jargon, “WIIFM”.

    In fact, as standards for professional project management develop in the 21st century, they increasingly emphasize and try to inform the “empathy” of project managers. Thus, the current (5th) edition of the PMBoK adds a new knowledge area focusing on stakeholder engagement and continues to expand advice re “Interpersonal skills” (aka “soft skills”). By way of curricula and lesson plans consistent with such frameworks, schools and universities using PBL support their learners with skills they will need in the real world.

    Perhaps most importantly, in school and at work, PBL nurtures empathy via collaboration, the great gate. In order to produce project models, plans, and deliverables effectively, coworkers have got to understand not only the project and their own values, but also the values and capabilities of those “others” involved. Then, together, they and the outsiders need to make something new.

    The new thing created in the project and its value to others is typically a useful measure of the empathy and collaboration that went into the project. If there was an empathy deficit, it will show up in the result. When the result of the project is great, we can be pretty sure that both systems and sentiments of coworkers evolved to make it happen.

    • Gordon Graham

      Guy, I think you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. This isn’t the Business Management 101 page. It’s the bash the Japanese page.

    • Gordon Graham

      Congratulations! You finally found something to do with that Business degree!

  • SC4649

    I think I can add to this discussion as a repatriated Japanese. I’ve lived in the US, UK and Japan. It seems pointless to argue whether or not discrimination is widespread as a practice in Japan. The problem I came to understand as did the author of this article is the total lack of recognition and empathy from Japanese with regards to discrimination against non-Japanese. Japanese simply do not understand that what they are doing or saying constitute racism or discrimination in other developed nations. So regardless of how widespread the practice it won’t go away because there is no awareness or recognition. I’ll say it again. Japanese do not understand discrimination. The concept itself is alien

    • Gordon Graham

      Or it could be another factor such as awareness.

    • timthesocialist

      That is ridiculous. Of course they understand it. They’re not stupid, they’re intelligent human beings.

      • SC4649

        I don’t think this is ridiculous.

        I don’t think a lack of understanding, awareness or recognition has anything to do with intelligence. It’s more to do with upbringing and social norms.

        I’ve had very very intelligent friends while I was in the UK, They had PhDs and their logical thinking and constructive criticism skills were top notch. Yet they were hard line conservatives that voted in favour of UKBA’s tightening of immigration control (something that solely lacks real data and defies logic). They support the tories based either on strong nationalism, or that their family is conservative. These people should know the difference between fact-driven policies and ideology-driven policies. The latter can be very dangerous if very radical idealogues were in power; history has shown this time and again. Yet, it seems that social ideals like nationalism are a powerful blind-fold to logic.

        Back to Japan’s lack of empathy and widespread problem of discrimination. I’ve been to school in Japan and what I can tell you is that, yes, Japanese education is (or used to be) of very high standard, accomplishing a very high rate of literacy within the overall population, and everyone can do maths; we can say that the Japanese are overall pretty intelligent as a society. However, what the Japanese schools do that is more crucial to becoming a “Japanese” than anything taught in their curricula, is to provide a platform for social normalization. A school classroom or playground is a miniature Japanese society, with all of its pros and cons magnified (because kids are straightforward). You learn the hard way (through bullying) that you don’t want to be the awkward one. You do what everyone else does. You read the same manga, you listen to the same songs, you like the same celebrities and you play the same games. You go to after school club activity or your’re a social outcast. Once you choose a club, everything else is secondary and you’re supposed to devoted every ounce of your waking energy on the club activity that you just happened to choose. And then when you go from junior high to senior high, you may change your club activity but then you have to devote yourself to the new activity; as if your passion for your old activity suddenly vanished. So it’s not a real passion, it’s just something you’re supposed to do in school.

        Unity and conformity is of greatest virtue and oddity is a crime (punishable by bullying). You have to fit in and be like everyone else. Peer-pressure is very strong and intense.

        You grow up in this society, and you become oblivious to the fact that some people are inherently different.

        Ethnicity and culture are differences that are difficult to overcome, but physical disability is another very serious disadvantage. So is being pregnant.

        People are simply oblivious to the fact that no matter how hard you try, it is difficult for some people to fit in. You can’t expect a disabled person or pregnant woman to keep up with the crowd in a busy train station, so they are better off staying at home, and let the able-bodied Japanese go about their business without hindrance. But a pregnant woman needs to get somewhere too.

        You mention this to anyone here, and they’ll look blankly at you as if you said something in a different language, or they’ll say something like,

        “Well, it’s for her own good. Pregnant women should stay at home and avoid any activity that may hurt herself” (as if getting somewhere was an unnecessary leisure)

        or

        “Well, there are more foreigners that commit crimes” (as if Japanese don’t commit crimes)

        These are words spoken by very intelligent people, with Masters degrees or PhDs. I kid you not.

        This IS a lack of empathy. And a lack of understanding of what discrimination is.

      • Gordon Graham

        So what you’re saying is lack of empathy is a human trait, not a Japanese one…I mean if we’re to take your British PHD friends for example. Or perhaps it’s just the British and the Japanese…or wait a minute. What about the illegal alien problem in America? What are the American’s views on that? Are they empathetic to the plight of the impoverished Mexican? I mean they’re building walls and shooting them along the boarder aren’t they. But they look the other way when they need them for cheap labour don’t they? But, no, no no…It’s the Japanese alone who lack empathy.

      • SC4649

        I don’t understand why you feel you need to be sarcastically rude; I’m just presenting an opinion based on my observations but you seem to take it personally. I’m completely at a loss what’s going on here. Did I offend you?

        I’m not saying that some British or some Americans don’t lack empathy; like you correctly point out, my British friend was completely oblivious to the fact that his political ideology was in direct conflict with my well being. And all the Americans that are “afraid” of immigrants because they lump them together with “illegal aliens” also lack empathy.

        I’m just postulating that maybe the root of the problems in Japan with regards to discrimination (and not much effort shown to fight it) is a widespread lack of empathy towards people that are in a weaker position than themselves. And this lack of empathy is a deeply seeded cultural and societal thing that kids here grow up immersed in.

      • Gordon Graham

        You offended my family and friends. My family and friends are Japanese and I’ve not discerned a lack of empathy in any of them. So yours and Debito’s sweeping condemnation of “Japanese” as lacking empathy doesn’t resonate with me. That you say lack of empathy is a deep seeded cultural and societal thing that kids grow up in is a very large claim that requires more evidence than a dozen businesses with “no foreigner” signs. What of the million businesses without such signs? You postulate much, ..a widespread lack of empathy. Well, sir…That’s your opinion. Nothing more.

      • SC4649

        well, in that case, I apologize for your pain.

        Having said that, your strong and rude objections to Dr Debito and my “opinion” based on personal experiences offend me.

        These things happened to me and my wife; me being Japanese and my wife being a foreigner (who was also pregnant till recently). My family’s reactions to things my wife and I were going through were abysmally un-empathetic; they’d rather defend Japanese culture than stand up for us. Sure, maybe its just my family, but what makes my family the way they behave is a result of the Japanese culture and society.

        I was looking for a gym for my wife and one blatantly refused her membership because she couldn’t speak Japanese, while another refused membership because she was pregnant. It may be, to you, just two insignificant cases of “no foreigners”, “no pregnant women” signs, but they were huge blows to me and my wife; that was the beginning of the end of our confidence in Japan because things just got progressively worse. How can such businesses be allowed to operate without consequences? How can friends and family “understand” and “sympathize” with these businesses more than our suffering? They think that “foreigners are nothing but trouble” and that “pregnant women should just stay home”. They don’t understand how people in those situations feel. Otherwise, how can they say such horrible things to victims of discrimination? They’d rather defend the disriminators than help the weak. How can we say that that’s not a lack of empathy?

      • Gordon Graham

        Again, your anecdotal evidence doesn’t stack up with my experience. I’ve had 5 different residences in over 20 years here and have been a member of 5 different sports gyms without the slightest hint of trouble. Perhaps the pregnancy issue is one concerning health as lifting weight or strenuous activity has been known to cause miscarriages. Personally, I’d prefer it if a pregnant woman didn’t harm herself in a gym. Does that mark me as lacking empathy?

      • SC4649

        To turn your argument around, your anecdotal evidence doesn’t stack up to mine.

        The point isn’t what people think pregnant women should or shouldn’t do, it’s that a gym should not be allowed to bar membership to her just because she’s pregnant. It is her personal responsibility and her right to take that risk (PLUS, it’s not like she was gonna be doing hours of running or lifting heavy weights). All the mother groups and online resources recommend routine exercise for a healthy delivery. All she wanted to do was use the gym for light exercise, but the gym robbed her of her own decision. That forfeiting her right to choose based on misconception of physical health is discriminatory and that people don’t seem to understand that it’s discriminatory is a lack of recognition and awareness.

        So I see that you have a problem with taking this then to blame a lack of awareness to a lack of empathy, and I can see your point. However, having said that, all I’m saying is that if people could put themselves in others’ shoes, wouldn’t we be able to tackle these problems with a bit more sincerity?

      • Gordon Graham

        You say it’s her right to take a risk. That is her want to exercise in their gym trumps their concern for her health and well being. She doesn’t care what they feel (lack of empathy) or their sense of responsibility. If she starts bleeding and screaming in the middle of the gym, well then that’s her prerogative. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be facetious but I think having guidelines meant to prevent injury is hardly a case for lack of empathy.

      • SC4649

        …fine, I give up…
        You win, congratulations…

      • Gordon Graham

        It’s not about winning. It’s about stamping out blanket statements like “the Japanese lack empathy”

      • SC4649

        “Stamping out” as in silencing opposing views?

        I’m trying to have a civil discussion but you keep “stamping out” my views. Do you want a discussion or do you just want people to shut up?

      • Gordon Graham

        Stamping out as in showing such claims to be erroneously oversimplified, lacking credibility and outright racist. I welcome views that prove this. It helps…Thanks

      • SC4649

        So you’re calling me racist now? Classy.

        All I’m doing is that there is a problem in our society that seriously needs addressing. And unless people can have an active interest in the topic, it will never change.

        I’ll make another general sweeping statement that will upset you. The Japanese have a tendency to sweep thing under the rug to avoid uncomfortable situations. Look at our relationship with China and Korea and how we address our past colonial era “mistakes”. Do we own up to it and make progress? No, we ignore it and hope that it goes away. The Kono or the Murayama statements are not enough (and even these official statements are actively denied), and we as a people need to face our problems, both internal and external, or we will never really own up to our mistakes in WWII and our apologies will sound hollow.

        That’s all I’m saying.

      • Gordon Graham

        I’m calling “the Japanese lack empathy” a racist idea. If you want to own up to such an idea, then, yes, you’re racist. That’s all I’m saying…

      • SC4649

        So by your logic, we can’t address societal problems at all.

        I’m not saying that Japanese as an ethnicity is incapable of having empathy, I’m saying that the Japanese culture (as it stands currently) breeds un-empathetic people. That’s a societal, cultural problem and not an ethnic or racial issue.

        And can I be racist against my own people?

        I’m just sad and frustrated that my culture is quite incapable of accommodating foreigners or other minorities without them feeling marginalized. And it is a cultural problem if such issues cannot be addressed openly.

      • Gordon Graham

        If you want to cure societal woes like the one you cited. There is recourse in this country. You can take said business to court like Debito did in his oft-cited bathouse case (a case which the Japanese court rightly ruled in his favour). If you want to be treated with more respect perhaps such statements as “Japanese culture BREEDS un-empathetic people” are against your best interests. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not a black person saying claiming “all Niggers are lazy” is racist or not.

      • SC4649

        sigh…seriously? Why so pedantic? “Breed” is a perfectly acceptable word, and any “racial” connotation you read is your problem.

  • Steve Jackman

    That’s an interesting point of view, since in my experience I think it’s just the opposite. Foreigners who spend most of their life in a “gaijin English bubble” are less likely to experience racism and discrimination (almost by definition, since they’re living in a “gaijin English bubble). They wouldn’t generally go to Urawa Reds games or the locals tempura restaurant in Akasaka, so would not be subjected to “Japanese Only” signs. If they are on expat packages, they would not have to deal with being rejected for real estate rental properties by local agents, since presumably their expat packages take care of their accomodations while in Japan. They would also likely send their kids to international schools.

    It’s the foreigners who try to live ordinary lives within Japanese society who are subjected to racism and discrimination on a daily basis

  • Steve Jackman

    I meant Asakusa, not Akasaka, for the Tempura restaurant which had the “Japanese Only” sign.

    Also, can you tell me how to get Netflix in Japan, since as far as I know the service is not available in Japan. I’ve been trying to get Netflix here, to no avail, so let me know if there’s a way to fool the Netflix system and receive it here. Thanks.

  • Jeff H

    What must it be like to wake up every morning with a bad taste in one’s mouth? What an embittered life Debito lives. Always looking at the negative side of life.
    I have seen the “Japanese only” signs on the doors of a few establishments, but instead of getting all worked up about it, I walk past them and go to businesses where I am welcomed. Well over 99% of businesses in Japan welcome me.
    Discrimination is not unique to Japan. Welcome to the greater world at large. There will always be people who hate others because of the color of their skin, their religion, gender, etc.
    I can sympathise with the author, but cannot empathise with him.

    • Steve Jackman

      No foreigner I know of came to Japan with a negative impression of the country. They all came here because they had a positive image of Japan. However, along the way many of them encountered widespread and entrenched racism, discrimination and xenophobia. They also witnessed other non-Japanese being treated in an unfair and unjust manner. It could be in housing, employment, school, at a sporting event, restaurant, or any number of other areas. This is what leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of any self-respecting and fair-minded person.

      Faced with such a situation, they could either take the easy way out by ignoring the problem and walking away with their tail between their legs, or do the honorable thing by trying to change things for the better. I applaud Debito for having the courage and fortitude of putting up a noble fight to improve things in Japan. I think he and other similar minded non-Japanese like myself who have been living in Japan a long time are driven by our love for Japan, and not a dislike or hatred of Japan as you have wrongly assumed.

      • Gordon Graham

        And those who haven’t experienced the widespread entrenched racism are dismissed as fawning pets who don’t know any better. That is, their experience must be the same as ours only they’re too naive to understand when they’re being condescended. Well, what I’m saying is you don’t speak to MY experience, Debito. And your sweeping generalizations of the Japanese smacks of racism.

      • Steve Jackman

        Confronting racism does NOT make a person a racist. According to your argument, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi would also be labeled “racists” for their oposition of segregation in the U.S and apartheid in South Africa. While they fought hard to combat racism, they themselves were not racists by any stretch of the imagination.

      • Gordon Graham

        Hey, if you want to equate a guy whining about being complimented on using chopsticks with Gandhi suit yourself, but I’d call that a bit of a stretch.

      • Steve Jackman

        I guess you didn’t get my point. I am not comparing Debito to Gandhi. However, I am comparing the act of exposing and combating racism and discrimination. Great leaders like Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi did not start out as great leaders. Their journeys started out small, by fighting for the right to enter a “Whites Only” restaurant, or sit in the “Whites Only” section of a bus or a train. They too were mocked, belittled and ridiculed, not only by their oppressors, but also by some in their own communities.

      • Gordon Graham

        Oh I see, so accusing a race of people of having no empathy is combating racism in your view. Well now, that’s where we differ.

      • Steve Jackman

        To solve any problem, you first have to recognize, understand and analyze the problem. I believe that is what Debito is trying to do. His article is not criticising Japanese lack of empathy just for the sake of criticism, but as it relates to racism and discrimination against non-Japanese.

      • Gordon Graham

        His article is making a claim that I don’t buy… that the Japanese lack empathy. If you want to swallow that then that’s your prerogative. I’m not so easily swayed. In fact, my experience has proven otherwise,

  • timthesocialist

    More generalizations about all Japanese from Debito. Now we learn that the Japanese don’t have the capacity for empathy. Please Arudou, tell us more about how the Japanese are inhuman. This smacks of racism.

    • Gordon Graham

      Bingo!

  • Steve Jackman

    Another piece of news just released today caught my attention, since I think it goes to the heart of the empathy debate here. At just 12%, Japan has the lowest rate among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries for children in need who are placed into foster families. This compares to 93.5% percent in Australia, 77% in the U.S, 71.7% in the UK and 43.6% in South Korea for the percentage of children in these countries who are accepted into family foster homes. Japan’s low rate leaves tens of thousands of Japanese children to languish in understaffed children’s homes.

    Almost 90% of children taken from their families in Japan end up in institutions rather than foster care (the highest rate among developed nations). I’d say this speaks pretty loudly to the empathy defecit in Japan which Debito has written about.

    • timthesocialist

      Or it’s a cultural difference. That doesn’t mean Japan is anymore lacking in empathy than the US.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, a cultural difference of less empathy. Regardless of whether or not it is cultural, the result is the same, i.e., less empathy among the Japanese as compared to other countries. Just because something is cultural, does not make it less wrong.

      • Gordon Graham

        Interesting take from someone accusing an entire nation of people of having no capacity for empathy. How convenient for your argument to dismiss a myriad of other factors. For instance, I just read in today’s JT that the number of children born in Japan has reached a 33 year low. Anyway take solace in your scorn you have a cacophony of like minded crows kawing at your cleverness.

      • Steve Jackman

        Calm down, coach, this ain’t ice hockey.

      • Gordon Graham

        No Sir. If it were hockey you would most certainly get a punch in the face.

      • Steve Jackman

        As the saying goes, “Violence is the last refuge of….”. I rest my case.

      • Gordon Graham

        It’s called sticking up for your buddy…If you dont get that much its no wonder you’re not part of the team. Next time you’re sulking about not being part of the group go cuddle your lofty ideals for comfort.

      • Steve Jackman

        You really have your identity all wrapped up within Japan. Seems rather unhealthy.

        Exposing accounting and financial fraud at the company where you are the CEO, as Michael Woodford did, is not backstabbing. It is called responsible and ethical leadership.

      • Gordon Graham

        Responsible, ethical leadership parlayed into a best-seller. How noble. Where would leaders of the business world be without the warning of poor dry sandwiches to come?

      • Steve Jackman

        Your comment makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Goodbye!

  • Steve Jackman

    Awesome comment, hats off to you! I don’t know why some posters here think that all foreigners in Japan fit into one of two binary groups, i.e., they are either Western foreigners living in a “gaijin English bubble”, or they are foreigners who came to Japan a long time ago, speak native-level Japanese, and have “gone native”.

    Do these posters not understand that non-Japanese in Japan come in many colors, sizes and flavors? In fact, as you correctly pointed out, the vast majority of non-Japanese in Japan do not have English as their primary language. This just goes to show that these posters are themsleves living in a “gaijin English bubble”

    • Gordon Graham

      Agreed! That’s akin to assuming all Japanese who travel abroad do so sheltered in groups. I mean what kind of idiot would say such a thing? I guess the kind of person who believes Japanese come in only one shape and colour

      • Steve Jackman

        Well, statistically speaking, there is much more variation among foreigners in Japan, as compared to the Japanese living in Japan. This is just a fact.

        Furthermore, nowhere have either Debito or I stated that all Japanese travel abroad in sheltered groups. Those are your words, not ours. And, please, no name calling. We are all civilized here.

      • Gordon Graham

        I think you’d better re-read your mentor’s article there ,Stevie. As for the foreign population of Japan being more diverse than the homogeneous one…No guff!

      • Steve Jackman

        I have re-read the article and I assure you nowhere does it say that ALL Japanese travel abroad in sheltered groups, as you have wrongly asserted. I challenge you to show me otherwise.

        The article is very clear in stating that many Japanese spend their short foreign jaunts in package tours (NOT all). This is not just Debito’s subjective opinion, but is a factually correct statement, as statistics on Japanese travelling abroad can confirm.

        Perhaps you have difficulty with English reading comprehension and cannot tell the difference between “all” and “many”.

      • Gordon Graham

        Good! Now we’re finally getting somewhere. Suppose you tell us exactly how many Japanese are incapable of empathy. Is it all or many or perhaps only the ones who go on sheltered tours?

      • Steve Jackman

        You’re making less and less sense, so goodbye!

      • Gordon Graham

        See ya, Steve. See ya the very next opportunity an article gives you a chance to throw a knife into the Japanese. Happy sharpening!

      • Steve Jackman

        Yeah, happy trolling to you in the meantime.

      • Gordon Graham

        Happy not to hide my true feelings among the people I live and work with. Sleep well Steve…

      • Steve Jackman

        My point of going along with your trolling all along was to demonstrate the irrationality and absurdity of Debito-bashers and the great lengths they go to to discredit him at all costs. I think I’ve made my point.

      • Gordon Graham

        Sorry but imagined traits supported by made up phrases like “micro-aggressions” or “empathy-deficits” are hardly convincing now matter how many letters you stick behind a guy’s name, especially when evidence for such traits is highly subjective, anecdotal and intentionally misleading. If you want to worship at the alter if pseudo academia then you go right ahead Stevie boy. Just don’t get so hurt when people show up to call him on BS.

      • Steve Jackman

        I agree that not everyone can be expected to have the intellectual capacity to understand some of the things Debito alludes to. I suspect, for some it goes right over their heads.

      • Gordon Graham

        More like some are sharp enough to recognize when a conclusion is drawn first and then supporting data is searched out and presented as the norm to uphold that conclusion. Even when their exists overwhelming data that contradicts said argument, such as “I interviewed dozens of businesses with foreign only signs” (of which we’re told the “detailed” response is “they (foreigners) didn’t look Japanese enough”…Well then Bingo! But wait…What about the millions of businesses that don’t have “Japanese only” signs? Well let’s ignore those because they don’t fit my argument…or I should say conclusion, because there is no argument, just a conclusion with random cherry-picked anecdotes and er something or others about Japanese travelling in groups. Where is the supporting data for these claims? Just say it and it’s true. Well, Sir, that may be good enough for you clever chaps with high held heads but down on the ground we can smell what’s really going on…Cheers!

      • Steve Jackman

        I have a suggestion for you, Gordon. If Debito’s articles bother you so much, as they clearly seem to, why don’t you contact The Japan Times and ask them if they’ll give you your own column to express your own views? Let’s test your mettle and see what happens.

        It’s easy to troll and be condescending towards others. It’s far more difficult to contribute constructively, as long as you’re obsessed with tearing down Debito and anyone who supports his point of view. Go ahead, I challenge you to write your own column and let’s see what kind of reaction you get from readers.

      • Gordon Graham

        I’m quite content with coaching ice hockey, thanks. However, writing a letter to the JT for an explanation on how a writer could possibly get paid for writing basically the same article over and over and over again ad nauseam is a good idea.

      • Steve Jackman

        Now, doesn’t that tell you that The Japan Times and its thousands of paying subscribers see something of value in his articles, which you clearly fail to see?

      • Gordon Graham

        Yes I can certainly appreciate the value of a can of gasoline and a box of matches where selling newspapers is concerned.

      • Steve Jackman

        Now, don’t start bashing The Japan Times also. It happens to be a first-rate newspaper and is extremely well respected, not just within Japan, but around the world (as its partnership with the NY Times is a testament to).

        The management and staff at The Japan Times is among the best in the industry and of the highest caliber. They also have very high integrity, as I happen to know from first hand experience of meeting some of them. I am certain the reason they publish Debito’s column is not for the sake of selling more newspapers, as you have mistakenly stated.

      • Gordon Graham

        Now we both know why Arbuckle gets printed. No one wants to read that the Japanese are just like everyone else. The guy is basically a gas can and a box of matches… nothing more.

      • Steve Jackman

        Well, as I suggested, why don’t you ask The Japan Times to let you write your own monthly column in the newspaper? In your column, you can tell everyone your own opinion of how the Japanese are just like everyone else in the world. As it is, you are spending enough time here bashing Debito and his supporters, so why not spend the same time more constructively by writing a column and putting your money where your mouth is. Live and let live!

      • Gordon Graham

        What statistics? Please cite your source.

  • Gordon Graham

    Like Russia

  • Gordon Graham

    Guy, you just can’t redefine a term to suit your argument. Hatred or prejudice of another race equals racism.

  • Gordon Graham

    Semantics, guy…We get it, no need to pat yourself on the back for that clever bit of input. The “racist” epithet works just fine when we are talking about Japanese being racist towards Koreans. Whatever’s convenient for argument’s sake right?
    Well, let’s use your term then…Japanese society. Neither you nor Debito has proven that Japanese society lacks empathy. I’m sorry your personal assessment of your step-son and wife’s emotional capacity doesn’t hold much sway with me. I have a Japanese son, daughter and wife who are empathetic so that’s 3-2…I win

  • Gordon Graham

    Just making an effort to stamp out carte blanche statements that are purported to be true…sadly

  • Gordon Graham

    Chester, if your goal was to make me dizzy with nonsense you’ve succeeded. Ugh indeed, Sir

  • Gordon Graham

    Chester, get back on topic. Lack of empathy…remember?

  • Gordon Graham

    Asians who are on this side > of that mark