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Tackling the ’empathy deficit’ toward non-Japanese

by

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

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  • Gordon Graham

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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