|

Unpacking koto: retain, discard and repeat as necessary

by Baye McNeil

Special To The Japan Times

While guest-lecturing on race issues at Waseda University in Tokyo earlier this month, I was asked a question that jarred with a conviction I’d long held about Japanese people.

The students from the political science department had been assigned to read portions of my first book and come prepared to pick my brain on its contents. There were several questions, though, that could have been filed under the heading of “utterly unexpected” because, I must admit, my experience here has led me to think that most Japanese people are either incapable, prohibitively uncomfortable or lack the incentive to engage when it comes to thinking critically about racial issues. The most common remarks on this theme have generally been along the lines of, “There are no race issues in Japan because almost everyone here is Japanese.”

The questions that challenged my perception came from a student who struggled to express his thoughts in English, but whose determination to make himself understood carried him through. In essence, he asked: “How much of what you’re experiencing here in Japan do you think is a result of the ideas and ideals you brought with you? And how much do you think these have hindered your ability to acclimate to the environment here?”

I wanted to applaud his question but I was concerned that it might have come off as sarcasm.


One of the things you learn early on when you’re studying Japanese is the difference between mono and koto — mono being physical, tangible things, and koto being generally things without material form, like ideas and feelings.

Unpacking mono is fairly straightforward: Open suitcase, remove the items inside of it, place them where they belong, move on to the next bag and repeat as necessary.

But that koto is another story entirely, and unpacking it has proven to be the challenge of a lifetime, replete with enough drama and trauma to keep me knee deep in “think pieces” till I keel over. Such was the case with the first of the items brought to my attention. I discovered a secret I’d kept from myself: I loved America.

It wasn’t a love of the image of America, a love I’ve always found disturbingly American, one rooted in the absurd notion that the nation is that “shining city on a hill” Ronald Reagan had the audacity to call it amid the crack epidemic that was decimating black families and communities across the country. No, that kind of love always seemed to me to be ridiculously credulous — evidence of an ignorance that’s downright offensive, damn near criminal.

Rather, I learned that the love I had for America was more complex and grisly. It was a love a parent might have for his bad seed — a criminal-minded and notorious bully of a child, the one the parent habitually abuses and condemns yet would fiercely protect if that abuse came from an outside source: “Yeah, my child is piece of work but he’s mine! Disparage him, in any way, at your own risk!”

This love was a bit of koto that had found its way into a Samsonite suitcase in my soul, and I likely would have never known of its existence if it weren’t for the Japanese tendency to, often and without intending to offend, subtly and casually make denigrating comments about my country. On any given day, and generally in comparison to Japan, I’d hear an off-the-cuff remark about the unhealthy, overweight, generally dangerous and violent, unclean, sexually debauched and wanton nature of America or Americans.

And even if it were true, even if I agreed — even if at the moment an insinuation was made I was in the midst of a grievance with America that made such chiding pale in comparison — I’d have to somehow conceal a rage so intense it would put any jingoistic flag-waving patriot to shame.


On one of my first days in-country, as I was walking through the streets, I couldn’t help but notice that the eyes of most passers-by, whether on foot or in vehicles, were locked on me in various degrees of shock, fear, amazement or amusement. I waved sometimes. Other times I just smiled.

“I am probably the first black person they’ve ever seen in the flesh,” I told myself, unaware that these words would eventually become a sort of mantra absolving this Japanese tendency and most of their other transgressions in advance. I would find this amnesty quite necessary for surviving here with my sanity and tolerance intact.

A car stopped at a light where I stood and the kids in the back seat pointed in my direction and hollered something, but all I could make out was what sounded like “Bob sap.”

Later, I’d see a commercial on TV with a huge black guy clowning around and dancing with some Japanese girls, trying to look cute in an effort to peddle pizza. A friend informed me that this gentleman was Bob Sapp.

I looked nothing like him.

Over the course of my life, mostly from white people back in the States, I’ve been told I look like a number of black people, from Eddie Murphy to Martin Luther King, so I was aware that other races’ perception of my appearance had a tendency to be warped. Often the people making these observations were unaware they were picking at the scabs of festering racial wounds. Nor did they seem aware that their ideas could veer into stereotyping very easily. So, at least for me, this “name-calling” became a sort of indicator of a person’s ignorance or insensitivity level.

As the years wore on, I got less tolerant of these often unintentional digs, and on the increasingly rare occasions — at least in New York — that I came across a person so unsophisticated as to make such a remark, I would make it plain to that person that they should refrain from doing so in the future.

After I’d started my English teaching gig here in Japan, I found myself one day seated opposite a quartet of Japanese students. One student said to another, in Japanese, “Blah blah blah Bob Sapp blah blah blah desu ne.” The other nodded in agreement, both covering their mouths to perhaps conceal their inappropriate amusement.

I kept my customer-service smile open and obvious, per the school’s standing directive — and to conceal my annoyance — but something inside of me had been agitated. It was yet another cache of koto rattling around in a valise labeled “racial sensitivity.”

“Bob Sapp?”

“Yes,” she said. “You look like him!”

The others at the table joined in, giggling in accord. “Kakkooii!” (“Cool!”)

“Do I really look like him? How so?” I asked, through straining facial muscles and with a subtle shift in pitch that even Inspector Clouseau could have detected meant that I found the comparison objectionable.

Obliviously — or perhaps thinking that, having added that they considered Bob Sapp to be cool, all was well — the speaker giggled again and said, “He’s a black guy!”

Another added, “A biiiiiig black guy.”

They all giggled some more. I was finding it increasingly hard to believe that none of them found this conversation or their amusement the least bit troubling. In the days and weeks and years that followed, and as my likeness seemed to morph, in Japan’s eyes, from Bob Sapp to Billy Blanks, Bobby Ologun or whomever happened to be the vernacular media’s darker-hued darling du jour, I learned that this kind of nonsense was the norm.

So, if I intended to stay here, the option was mine: to make the necessary sensibility adjustments or spend way too much energy reproaching Japanese people. Thus, the key to success in Japan, I suspected, was in managing this elusive koto. Locating and recognizing it is an exercise in self-discovery of the “no pain, no gain” variety. But once it’s found and has taken definable shape, the process is almost as straightforward as it is with mono: Unpack it, evaluate whether it’s in your best interest to retain or discard it, inventory it and repeat as necessary.


I didn’t say all of this to that Waseda student, though. I thanked him for his insightful questions and said: “Actually, I think the ideas and ideals I brought here with me have impacted my experience a great deal. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that they have hindered my ability, or even extinguished my desire, to fit in. Nor would it surprise me to learn that I didn’t quite know the value I placed on them till they were put to the test here.

“But, what your question touches on is perhaps the greatest benefit of living outside of your sphere of comfort: You’ll likely be forced to confront what you’re really made of.”

Black Eye, which appears in print on the third Thursday of every month, focuses on the experience of living in Japan from the perspective of people of African descent. Baye McNeil is the author of two books and writes the Loco in Yokohama blog. See www.bayemcneil.com. Comments and ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Pat Smyth

    We ALL come with baggage which can color (or discolor) our view of our surroundings. Being aware of your own baggage can make every experience much more valuable. Hats off to Baye McNeil for exposing some of his – and thus challenging the rest of us to examine our own.

  • http://www.amazeaweek.net Rob Nugen

    I love your thoughtful insights! Thank you for encouraging a very important discussion!

  • ceugb

    Great article, after 25 years living in Japan I can really relate to the writer. A couple of things that really hit home were a) the love for America that without realizing it I seem to have that appears whenever I feel she’s being verbally attacked in my presence. b) being a black man living in Japan I’ve been told I look like or remind someone of every dark skinned person that appears on TV. As mentioned in the article, if you intend to stay here, get use to it, find your own way of keeping your smile and dealing with it as I don’t think it will change anytime soon.
    Like the first article as well as both books, every time I read Baye’s writing I feel like someone has tapped into my own experiences in Japan and is speaking for me. Thanks man, another very good view into a lot of our lives here in Japan.

  • http://rick.cogley.info RickCogley

    This has been my experience too. I think Japanese love to put the unknown or unfamiliar into boxes, and they certainly do it to each other. You see it with the incessant nicknaming of sub-groups like – ikemen, gyaru, bijuarukei and so on.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    “my experience here has led me to think that most Japanese people are either incapable, prohibitively uncomfortable or lack the incentive to engage when it comes to thinking critically about racial issues. ”

    Nihonjinron at its finest. I wonder how Baye even knows what Japanese are actually “thinking critically” about, given that he has admitted he lacks a high level of Japanese, and famously said when asked why he didn’t study:

    “Besides I just lost all motivation to study. Technique wasn’t the issue. Contempt for the speakers of the language was (is?)”

    Amazing.

    “And I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that (the ideas and ideals I brought here with me) have hindered my ability, or even extinguished my desire, to fit in.”

    You shouldn’t be surprised, Baye, because it is patently obvious to anyone who reads your writing that you have refuse to make concessions or try to fit in.

    You shouldn’t be so hard on Bob Sapp, Baye, he may act the clown to sell a product, but so do you – “The Beast” is his schtick, his product, how he makes a living. “Loco in Yokohama”, the writer battling racism in Japan with faux authoritative pronouncements on how things are, is yours, and you are using it right now for a paying gig with the JT. You’re not better than Bob, or Bobby, or Dante – although all three of those have learned the trick to succeeding in Japan, and at least two of those are far more successful at integrating here than you shall ever be.

    • warota

      > “Besides I just lost all motivation to study. Technique wasn’t the issue. Contempt for the speakers of the language was (is?)”

      > Amazing.

      I don’t see how something completely understandable as his reaction was given his circumstances is “amazing” as if this was somehow a rare occurence. Or did you want to say something else by this?

      > “And I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that (the ideas and
      ideals I brought here with me) have hindered my ability, or even
      extinguished my desire, to fit in.”

      > You shouldn’t be surprised, Baye, because it is patently obvious to anyone who reads your writing that you have refuse to make concessions or try to fit in.

      You seem to speak with experience so perhaps you can enlighten Baye and all of us other readers as to these concessions you would make?

      > You shouldn’t be so hard on Bob Sapp, Baye, he may act the clown to sell a product, but so do you – “The Beast” is his schtick, his product, how he makes a living. “Loco in Yokohama”, the writer battling racism in Japan with faux authoritative pronouncements on how things are, is yours, and you are using it right now for a paying gig with the JT. You’re not better than Bob, or Bobby, or Dante – although all three of those have learned the trick to succeeding in Japan, and at least two of those are far more successful at integrating here than you shall ever be.

      I see, so the trick is to find some sort of shtick that allows people to easily pigeonhole your existence to fit some preconceived notion or stereotype they hold of the racial group you just happen to belong to? Or is there something else?

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        >I don’t see how something completely understandable as his reaction was given his circumstances is “amazing” as if this was somehow a rare occurrence.

        So if a non-English-speaking, non-Caucasian individual decided to live in England, or New Zealand, or Canada, and announced “I refuse to learn English as I have nothing but contempt for the whites who speak that language!” that would be “completely understandable”, would it? And a common occurrence as well? Well, I suppose if one’s goal was to go through life illiterate then such a choice might be “understandable”, but you will have to forgive me if I then completely ignore anything the individual says about his new country of residence – if he cannot even converse at an adult level, and in fact is emotionally opposed to learning to converse at such a level, then I highly doubt he has any clue as to what the grown-ups in the room are discussing.

        >perhaps you can enlighten Baye and all of us other readers as to these concessions you would make?

        A very good start would be to see the Japanese around you as individuals and equals – all of them, not just the one you’re sleeping with.

        >so the trick is to find some sort of shtick that allows people to easily pigeonhole your existence to fit some preconceived notion or stereotype they hold of the racial group you just happen to belong to?

        Compared to most white-majority countries I find the Japanese have remarkably few preconceived stereotypes of blacks. That aside, I hardly see Dante Carver playing to a stereotype. Bob Sapp is a cartoon character, but hardly a “black stereotype”. I have yet to see him pitch Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example. Bobby Ologun plays the fool, granted, and he does sometimes play a stereotypical “silly foreigner” (now less than before), but his schtick has never played to vaudevillian stereotypes.

        Not that Japan is some color-blind paradise – it most certainly is not. However if one really wanted to know what being black in Japan means, one should listen to what Horita Seiki Anthony (better known as just “Anthony”) has to say – he’s lived it, speaks the language and takes it right to his fellow Japanese.

      • saitamarama

        I actually agree with a lot of what you said, but I do think you may have missed a skit Ologun did where he full-on put on gorilla make-up. I’ll be giving a more full reply later.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        I am familiar with that skit. Now, if the Japanese had the “blacks = monkey” stereotype that one sees in some Western countries, I would concede you that point.

        However they do not, and while in Japan it is relatively common, and has been for centuries, to dress monkeys up in human clothes to ridicule someone, the target of said ridicule has always been… Japanese.

        Cultural memes are not universal.

      • warota

        So are you saying that since Japanese don’t have equivalent stereotypes established in Western countries even if they have their own that this is somehow okay for the targets of those stereotypes?

      • Gordon Graham

        I caught the show where Bobby Ologun went back to his hometown in Nigeria and all the local kids were running after, pointing and laughing at the Japanese guy with him…

      • warota

        Was Bobby and the Nigerian kids peppering the Japanese guy with negative Japanese stereotypes? Would they allow something like that on Japanese TV?

      • Gordon Graham

        You’d think laughing and pointing would be enough…That’s the universal language for ” you’re different…that’s funny”

      • warota

        I didn’t see the skit so I can’t tell what context they were all laughing about but I’m glad you said what you just said. So let’s apply that to Baye’s case above where he is actually peppered with negative stereotypes in addition to being laughed at for being different. Are you able to empathize with him now in the reverse situation?

      • saitamarama

        God, why can’t stay away from this bloody thread (by the way, I linked you to the video in the other thread if you wish to continue that discussion).

        I’m gonna step in say that you and Gordon are seeing this from two completely directions.

        As I best understand, Gordon is acknowledging the realities of being different from the majority and part of that entails being singled out every now and again, sometimes in less than flattering ways. In Gordon’s case, his approach is to merely accept it as “part of the package” of life in a foreign country with a different majority population and try to get on with the day and to expect immediate change is a futile venture.

        Your approach, best as I understand it, is that you understand that people may react in less than flattering ways when encountering something different. If I have read your posts correctly, it’s that this is something that is unacceptable from a modern society and should be not be tolerated and reduced if not outright eliminated.

        At this rate, I’m afraid you two are just talking past each other.

        For what it’s worth, my opinion is more on Gordon’s, if only for practical reasons. However, I do agree that, as a foreign resident (or citizen of foreign origin), we have a unique chance, if we so choose to pursue it, to discourage such silliness.

        Although, in practice and from my experience, exposure is what gets the ball rolling. Show up, be around and sooner than later you’re more likely to be “Oh that guy with the funny accent who likes XYZ” and less “The foreigner.”

      • warota

        The thing is, Japanese tend to have a lower tolerance for this sort of stuff if it were to happen to them while I feel we are sometimes bending over backwards to try and comply with limited / no results. The reason? There’s always going to be someone that will take advantage of the isolated foreigner in some way which then snowballs from mob mentality. Almost no one will defend you as they may be ostracized in return or it’s just not worth it for them.

        I can understand why some will try to take the “practical” approach as you’ve described and if it works for them, why harp on others who don’t want to take that path?

        The results on the surface are practically the same. We all take on the abuse because that’s the only practical thing to do in this society. How we respond to it in private is completely different. And why not? This goes the same for Japanese or anyone who experience the same thing in any other country.

      • Gordon Graham

        The Japanese I know continually ridicule each other over any noticeable flaw or desired feature…”Hey Baldy, Yo Fatty, Hey Buckteeth, Yeah Toothpick, shut up Shrimpkdick”…Perhaps you should stop bending over backwards to smell your own ass so much. You might notice the Japanese are just like you…Well maybe a little better in that they can take a joke when all you can take is umbrage.

      • warota

        If they know each other then sure, maybe they do jibe each other. Just like anywhere else. In this case of the article, neither party knows each other well.

        So with that in mind, can you demonstrate for us what you’re advocating for here:

        “Hey Baldy, Yo Fatty, Hey Buckteeth, Yeah Toothpick, shut up Shrimpkdick”

        in a similar context to Baye’s, in Japan, where neither party knows each other well enough to trade jibes without offending each other? I’ll get the popcorn.

      • Gordon Graham

        What was the slight that Baye received again? You look like Bobby Ologon? Yeah, that happens among the Japanese, who’ve never met too…

      • warota

        Let’s not try to change the subject again here. No one here is arguing whether black stereotypes can be applied to Japanese or not. In fact, instead of “baldy, fatty, shrimpdick”, let’s use negative Japanese stereotypes so it’s more similar to Baye’s situation.

        So go to the mall with your family and pick any lone Japanese person there and start snickering amongst each other and pointing. Then, re-enact a badly done Samurai skit (you can play the role of the lord as it seems to suit you well) with your minions bowing furiously and saying “Hai” repeatedly. Then laugh. Then everyone starts making weird “Huh!” sounds while jumping around and doing ninja star flicking motions. Then laugh again. Etc.

        Let us know before you go to prove your theory of jibing so we can see how wrong we are when demonstrated?

      • Gordon Graham

        Oh, did someone pull a “yessum Massa I dun did jussa likes yas dun tells me” mock on him? I thought it was simply that he was said to resemble a celebrity. My wife gets the Yoshinaga Sayuri sokkuri bit all the time

      • warota

        If they knew about that sort of stereotype they probably would have used it. But instead, they went with what they know which means Bob Sapp etc. (hint: they have their own stereotypes)

        So when can you demonstrate how we’re wrong at the mall again?

      • Gordon Graham

        So we’re dealing with ifs and probablies here. Now I’m supposed to pity this guy for what might have happened? Sorry, Baye. I can’t seem to muster up a care.

      • warota

        Alright sorry, I should have just said that they have their own stereotypes without all of that other fluff. I forgot how you can’t follow my grammar sometimes. Sorry about that.

        Your demonstration at the mall would go a long way to prove how Baye is overreacting. Let us know?

      • Gordon Graham

        Get back to me when someone starts singing “Mammy” at him

      • warota

        Thought so. You won’t do the demonstration at the mall and this is how you brush it off. Wouldn’t want to put yourself and your family in danger to try and prove your unprovable point. I’ll have to use this popcorn for movies then.

      • Gordon Graham

        I don’t empathise with the degree of his indignation. Just as I don’t empathise with those who feel hurt by being told they’re good at using chopsticks. I rather like the Lao Tsu quote…

      • warota

        > I don’t empathise with the degree of his indignation. Just as I don’t
        empathise with those who feel hurt by being told they’re good at using
        chopsticks.

        Oh so Baye didn’t show the right amount of indignation that was acceptable to you. You should let him know so he’ll make a note of it for his next article.

        > I rather like the Lao Tsu quote…

        Which doesn’t apply here because Baye is not content which is the whole point of the article. I don’t know how many times you keep ignoring this.

      • Gordon Graham

        The quote is sound advice for Baye…”Be content with yourself young man. You’ve no need of others to prop you up”. And, yes , I don’t think Mr.Baye’s indignation is warranted.

      • warota

        That’s right. Completely ignore what I just said about the quote again. Maybe you really can’t follow my grammar like you said. I’m sorry for overestimating you.

      • warota

        > So if a non-English-speaking, non-Caucasian individual decided to live
        in England, or New Zealand, or Canada, and announced “I refuse to learn
        English as I have nothing but contempt for the whites who speak that
        language!” that would be “completely understandable”, would it? And a
        common occurrence as well?

        So what kind of reasons would lead up to this person feeling the way they did?

        Perhaps they also faced similar treatment by the local populace because of where they’re from? Suppose it was a Japanese person who moved to some area not exactly welcoming of Asians. They become discouraged and feel resentment at the treatment they receive and give up on English in a similar manner.

        And by common occurence I meant that it seems to be a common occurence for non-Japanese individuals coming to Japan. Something like what you described may be common but may never be very well known by English speakers as such things are likely discussed in their non-English language.

        > Well, I suppose if one’s goal was to go through life illiterate then
        such a choice might be “understandable”, but you will have to forgive me
        if I then completely ignore anything the individual says about his new
        country of residence – if he cannot even converse at an adult level, and
        in fact is emotionally opposed to learning to converse at such a level,
        then I highly doubt he has any clue as to what the grown-ups in the
        room are discussing.

        Do you think your ad hominem of implying that such people are not “grown ups” is being helpful in any way here? Would you apply this same logic to a Japanese person who faces similar treatment in an English speaking country? If you want to ignore them, there’s no one stopping you. But I don’t think Baye or the Japanese person in my example, deserve being ignoring or ad hominem’ing because they reacted they way they did given their circumstances even if refusing to learn the native language may not be rational. They’re still able to express themselves in their own languages and many others seem to resonate with their experiences. That you would find it distasteful and worth ignoring is unfortunate.

        > A very good start would be to see the Japanese around you as individuals
        and equals – all of them, not just the one you’re sleeping with.

        I think most foreigners actually do. But more than a few Japanese do not seem to reciprocate, hence these stories.

        > all of them, not just the one you’re sleeping with.

        I trust that you know that this is poor taste? Much like your implying of other people as children? And that both do not help in discussion of the actual issue other than a chance for you to make cheap shots?

        > Compared to most white-majority countries I find the Japanese have
        remarkably few preconceived stereotypes of blacks. That aside, I hardly
        see Dante Carver playing to a stereotype. Bob Sapp is a cartoon
        character, but hardly a “black stereotype”. I have yet to see him pitch
        Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example. Bobby Ologun plays the fool,
        granted, and he does sometimes play a stereotypical “silly foreigner”
        (now less than before), but his schtick has never played to vaudevillian
        stereotypes.

        These are all according to your personal standards which don’t seem to match the standards of the individuals who are actually affected by them.

        > Not that Japan is some color-blind paradise – it most certainly is not.
        However if one really wanted to know what being black in Japan means,
        one should listen to what Horita Seiki Anthony (better known as just
        “Anthony”) has to say – he’s lived it, speaks the language and takes it
        right to his fellow Japanese.

        So even a person like Anthony who is culturally Japanese still experiences discomfort because of his ethnicity. So what chance does Baye have?

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        If a person moves to a new country and actively refuses to engage with the residents there in their own language then that person is a “child”.

        Retreating into one’s shell, speaking only with people who speak your own language, is not the mark of an adult. When one decides, of their own free will, to move to a new country the onus is on them to learn the language, learn the customs, and adapt. Not the other way around. If whatever baggage one has brought with them is getting in the way of that, one needs to decide to drop that baggage or go back from whence they came.

      • warota

        > If a person moves to a new country and actively refuses to engage with
        the residents there in their own language then that person is a “child”.

        Did you even read my response about how this is ad hominem and not useful to the discussion?

        > Retreating into one’s shell, speaking only with people who speak your
        own language, is not the mark of an adult. When one decides, of their
        own free will, to move to a new country the onus is on them to learn the
        language, learn the customs, and adapt. Not the other way around. If
        whatever baggage one has brought with them is getting in the way of
        that, one needs to decide to drop that baggage or go back from whence
        they came.

        No one is arguing about learning the language and customs of the place one moves to.

        What I asked and you haven’t answered is what are the reasons which people can come to become discouraged in learning the language (as well as a bunch of other questions you haven’t addressed at all).

        Leaving the country without addressing the causes and reasons of the frustration around doing so is not helpful.

        I’d like to think you’re still trying to be reasonable without resorting to ad hominem and unhelpful solutions so please address my questions.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        >What I asked and you haven’t answered is what are the reasons which people can come to become discouraged in learning the language (as well as a bunch of other questions you haven’t addressed at all).

        Leaving the country without addressing the causes and reasons of the frustration around doing so is not helpful.

        I have tried really hard to come up with something that would constitute a good reason to refuse to learn the language of the land and properly interact, on an adult level, with the people around oneself. The only reasons I can come up with are:

        Mental illness
        Severe personality disorder
        Emotional underdevelopment

        I cannot think of a single reason why a healthy adult would refuse to learn to communicate on the grounds that Baye himself has given. You may be right in that, in this instance, leaving Japan would not address the cause of his discomfort, as Japan is not that cause.

      • saitamarama

        I wrote some thoughts below, but to summarize, it’s alienation.

        Very common among ANY foreign population. I was reading a memoir by an English teacher in America where he described the various ethnicities he taught and how they were all still struggling with English because they tended to associate with their own expats as a sort of coping mechanism. Not saying it’s right, but it’s a common phenomena.

      • warota

        > I have tried really hard to come up with something that would constitute a good reason to refuse to learn the language of the land and properly interact, on an adult level, with the people around oneself. The only reasons I can come up with are:

        Did you happen to miss the article above these comments giving a story about how one person became discouraged due to the treatment he received and that has resonated with many others? I wasn’t asking you to strain yourself here.

        There’s also the part where I generalized it to people of all races who may have been subjected to stereotyping:

        “Perhaps they also faced similar treatment by the local populace because of where they’re from? Suppose it was a Japanese person who moved to some area not exactly welcoming of Asians. They become discouraged and feel resentment at the treatment they receive and give up on English in a similar manner.”

        ie. Stereotyping can happen to anyone, anywhere. This makes the targets feel uncomfortable and may cause them to reject things from the people doing the stereotyping (eg. learning their language).

        This follows from Baye’s story which seemed to resonate with other readers having experienced similar treatment.

        Now, with that in mind, do you find the reasons you came up with reasonable?

        > Mental illness
        > Severe personality disorder
        > Emotional underdevelopment

        > I cannot think of a single reason why a healthy adult would refuse to learn to communicate on the grounds that Baye himself has given.

        Read above. It’s not what I would have chosen but I and others here can relate to why he felt about learning the language that he did. Perhaps you can try some empathy?

        > You may be right in that, in this instance, leaving Japan would not address the cause of his discomfort, as Japan is not that cause.

        OK, making some progress…

        OK, so just to make it clear, a certain subset of Japanese stereotyped Baye which made him feel discomfort. That because this does not seem to be a rare occurrence, people tend to generalize this subset of people as “Japan” but what they really meant is this subset of people.

        So to avoid overgeneralization, it is this subset that stereotyped Baye and made him feel uncomfortable. Would you find this aggreable?

        Now to try and ensure you will address my questions I’ll list them again, below (sorry other readers):

        You seem to speak with experience so perhaps you can enlighten Baye and all of us other readers as to these concessions you would make? (any other helpful concessions other than seeing other Japanese as individuals)

        I see, so the trick is to find some sort of shtick that allows people to easily pigeonhole your existence to fit some preconceived notion or stereotype they hold of the racial group you just happen to belong to?
        Or is there something else?

        So even a person like Anthony who is culturally Japanese still experiences discomfort because of his ethnicity. So what chance does Baye have?

        So are you saying that since Japanese don’t have equivalent stereotypes established in Western countries even if they have their own that this is somehow okay for the targets of those stereotypes?

        > all of them, not just the one you’re sleeping with.

        I trust that you know that this is poor taste? Much like your implying of other people as children? And that both do not help in discussion of the actual issue?

        Looking forward to your answers.

        edit: added one more missed question

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        >Did you happen to miss the article above these comments giving a story about how one person became discouraged due to the treatment he received and that has resonated with many others?

        You mean like the “Ramen Shop Incident” he blogged about several months ago? The one that was entirely within his own head?

        Or the “Cigar in the Coffee Shop Incident”, likewise a creation solely of Baye’s fertile imagination?

        I could go on all day with example’s from Baye’s blog and books, but won’t. No point, really – as I said, it’s Baye’s “schtick” – angry black man (he doesn’t seem to have many problems with *that* stereotype) with a huge chip on his shoulder and a serious inferiority complex. Not that his writings are completely without value, though: they serve as a very good cautionary tale about how *not* to build a life in Japan (or anywhere, really).

        >Perhaps you can try some empathy?

        For self-inflicted bad life choices?

        No.

      • warota

        Again, you ignore nearly all of my questions.

        Ad-hominem arguments, no attempt at empathy, no attempt to understand even after multiple chances and trying to keep it as civil as possible.

        Alright, I’ll roll with it. I think the only way you’ll start to understand is if we apply your logic to the reverse situation. So let’s see how this’ll work, shall we?

        A bunch of Japanese who don’t know English come to America. After living here for a while they’re subjected numerous times to negative stereotyping. Some refuse to study English further because of it. They complain about it amongst themselves and Japanese forums.

        saitamarama said this about it:

        > I wrote some thoughts below, but to summarize, it’s alienation.

        > Very common among ANY foreign population. I was reading a memoir by an English teacher in America where he described the various ethnicities he taught and how they were all still struggling with English because they tended to associate with their own expats as a sort of coping mechanism. Not saying it’s right, but it’s a common phenomenon.

        But according to your logic, these people deserve no empathy for their life choices. In fact, they deserve ridicule and any supposed negative stereotyping they might receive are actually icebreakers and small talk.

        For example, when we comment and laugh to ourselves about how tiny or short they are, we’re actually admiring them since so many people in America are fat. I have no idea how they’d take offense at that since being short and tiny is enviable in America. Or, in the case they’re big and fat like most Americans, we can comment on how they’re like sumo wrestlers (even the females becuase we heard that ther are non-pro female sumo wrestlers right? I’m so down with the foreigners’ culture you know even though it looks like such a stupid sport lol), ask what color their “thong” is and maybe do some poorly executed yokozuna dohyou-iri’s just to show how we’re so “familiar” with their culture to them. But in actual fact we are laughing about it amongst ourselves and strengthening our own group’s relations at their expense because nothing brings our people together like a common enemy :) The smiley face is important since we want to convey friendliness on the surface and give us plausible deniability in case we’re “misunderstood”. :)

        Since we’re the dominant culture and it only serves that our stereotyp… I mean icebreakers are valid regardless of what these foreigners think might to be offensive. We can even justify it through arcane pseudo-anthropological whackery (that other foreigners made up for us using terminology from their own language, strangely enough) involving memes and whatnot that we’re all mindful of (even all of our elementary school students) when we’re simply laughing at an isolated foreigner as a dominant group using stereotypes of their race (that they can’t escape from hehe).

        They don’t understand English, refuse to learn it and therefore don’t understand the culture of the English world to make any sort of informed judgement on it. And then they dare to complain about it in their own language broadcasting our misunderstood icebreakers and small talk to the entire world. Why would these foreigners externalize their own problems when they dont know English or understand our culture? The only reasons I can come up with are:

        Mental illness
        Severe personality disorder
        Emotional underdevelopment

        With these sorts of handicaps it’s no wonder they fail at life here. Other foreigners who let us laugh at them and play out our stereotypes for us seem to have no problem (good enough for us). So if they don’t like it well, they can go back from whence they came.

        Did I get that right, GMainwaring? Or was that a little too subtle?

      • Sasori

        Dude, my experience is that Japanese people ‘learn’ English kicking and screaming, even when they want to.
        That goes for many living in California, as well

    • qwerty

      “it is patently obvious to anyone who reads your writing that you have” made tons of concessions to try to fit in.

      each to their own, I guess

      “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
      ― Lao Tzu

      • warota

        I pity him. It’s caused him to lash out on others who are down.

      • Gordon Graham

        Did Lao Tzu really say “him or her”?

      • warota

        If he didn’t, would it render the rest of his quote invalid?

        Doing a search on the quote would show qwerty copy pasted it out of one of any number of sites with this English translation.

      • Gordon Graham

        My point is that he (or the translators) superimposed his politically correct viewpoint onto Lao Tzu’s words…That is he Westernized it for Western consumption. Seeing as this thread is about misrepresentation then I think there is some irony worth pointing out in the quote.

      • warota

        Alright, leave out “Lao Tzu” then.

        Is the content of the quote still valid then?

      • Gordon Graham

        I think it applies quite well as an answer to the author of the article’s frustrations.

      • warota

        First you try to discredit the quote and now you try and apply it to the original article?

        OK.

        It doesn’t apply because the author is not content and he’s voicing it such which is the whole point of the article.

      • Gordon Graham

        Discredit? No…It’s a lovely sentiment. I hope the author comes across it.

      • warota

        I don’t know why you chose to completely ignore what you and I wrote so I’ll repost your full comments here so you don’t miss them again (regarding the validity of the Lao Tzu quote):

        > Did Lao Tzu really say “him or her”?

        > My point is that he (or the translators) superimposed his politically correct viewpoint onto Lao Tzu’s words…That is he Westernized it for Western consumption. Seeing as this thread is about misrepresentation then I think there is some irony worth pointing out in the quote.

        > Discredit? No…It’s a lovely sentiment. I hope the author comes across it.

        Ironic misrepresentation indeed. Now that you’ve decided how the quote is all well and fine again (addressing the “I hope the author comes across it” part):

        > I think it applies quite well as an answer to the author of the article’s frustrations.

        Which then I say:

        > It doesn’t apply because the author is not content and he’s voicing it such which is the whole point of the article.

        So how would this lead to:

        > I hope the author comes across it.

        If it were not ignored?

      • Gordon Graham

        I believe the quote was directed at GMainwaring for having the audacity to question Mr.Baye’s indignation. My response to the quote was a retort meant to draw attention to the irony of someone defending the discontented Mr.Baye with a chide regarding contentment.

      • warota

        > I believe the quote was directed at GMainwaring for having the audacity to question Mr.Baye’s indignation.

        OK so far…

        > My response to the quote was a retort meant to draw attention to the
        irony of someone defending the discontented Mr.Baye with a chide
        regarding contentment.

        How? Where? Nothing you said refers to qwerty? And even if you did, following this logic how is anyone supposed to post this quote without automatically being hypocritical? Not even the Lao Tzu or whoever the original quote author could write it down without being hypocritical. And this is after you try to shoot it down then backtrack afterwards? Can you get anymore ridiculous?

      • Gordon Graham

        I’m certainly not above being as ridiculous as the petty grievances made in the article, but I’m OK with that. On the other hand it seems that Mr.Baye is in for a bit of a struggle.

      • warota

        Let me know if you simply don’t want to / can’t answer my questions directly like GMainwaring so I don’t have to keep copying and pasting them to try and get you to answer without you going off beating up strawmen?

      • Gordon Graham

        Sorry, guy, I don’t know what “strawman” means. Are you referring to Darryl Strawberry? qwerty posted a quote that was meant to belittle GMainwaring for challenging the indignation of Mr.Baye (I’m too bored to check, but I think you popped in with a “I pity him” chirp)…I felt his quote to be ironic seeing as it is Mr Baye who is uncomfortable with how he appears to others and Mr.Wainwaring seems quite at home in Japan or any other where in the world. Is there anymore I need to say on this?

      • warota

        Strawman means: yourlogicalfallacyis dot com slash strawman

        As in you take a jab about petty grievances in the article when I didn’t say anything about it.

        Instead of repeating something I’ve already replied to about how you think the quote is ironic how about explaining what your logic is in trying to discredit the quote but then backtrack after I successfully defend its content?

        Also, I’m wondering how you still think it applies to the author of the original article even though I already show it isn’t?

        And then afterwards you suddenly say it applies to qwerty. Well how? Where?

        If you claim that qwerty is hypocritical for using the quote, then following this logic, how is anyone supposed to post it without automatically being hypocritical? Not even the Lao Tzu or whoever the original quote author could write it down without being hypocritical.

        I’m all ears.

      • Gordon Graham

        I’m sorry, but I can’t follow your grammar.

      • warota

        If you can write something like this:

        > I believe the quote was directed at GMainwaring for having the audacity
        to question Mr.Baye’s indignation. My response to the quote was a
        retort meant to draw attention to the irony of someone defending the
        discontented Mr.Baye with a chide regarding contentment.

        you should have no problem understanding my questions. So answer them.

      • Gordon Graham

        Punctuation is underrated. Try unwrapping that run-on monstrosity of a sentence. I think there’s a question in there, but I’m not sure. I got bored and stopped reading half way through it. Also, try dropping all the logic 101 jargon. I’m a high school drop-out. I don’t speak Latin nor was I on the debating team in grade 9.

      • warota

        So this is how you avoid questions you can’t answer without admitting to the fallacy in your arguments.

        “Punctuation! Run-on sentence! I got bored!”

        Good tips. I’ll pass them onto my 8 year old cousin who’s taken an interest in debating on what not to do.

      • Gordon Graham

        Just brush up on your English so you can communicate your ideas more clearly.

      • qwerty

        the point of the quote was that GMainwaring is only so ‘comfortable’ here because of all the ‘concessions’ he has made to ‘fit in’. like I said.
        so, he is not being himself – he has changed himself to ‘fit in’ here – fair enough, for him.
        by the way, “methinks you and he doth protest too much”

      • Gordon Graham

        Has he? I don’t know. As for myself, before coming here I spent most of my life at a hockey rink, or on a lake, since I’ve come here it’s exactly the same. The only concessions I’ve made is that I’ve learned to eat healthier and I can now speak another language. As for Shakespeare, well…I know not seems. Thanks to Japan, Life IS good, sir.

    • Sasori

      Actually, I don’t try to ‘fit in’ because it’s a disservice to my students. The same reason why I don’t plan on mastering the language.

      Anyway, why try to ‘fit in’? We’ll never be accepted as one of ‘them’.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Well if you are trying to set yourself up for failure in life, you’re well on your way.

      • saitamarama

        Speaking as someone who currently doesn’t reside in Japan in a country where I don’t speak the native language beyond a very very basic conversation (My Japanese is around N2, for the record), I can sympathize and agree with this point of view to an extent.

        It depends really – are you a teacher with the intention to reside temporarily and just get by as sort of tourist with a paycheck? Then, I think you may well be making the most of your time – shape up your Direct Method teaching abilities and go forth! Hell, some of the best paid foreign teachers (and other business professionals) don’t speak much because their talents don’t require them to and they’re more comfortable being “on the outside” as it were.

        Conversely, are you planning to reside long-term and not learn to speak beyond rudimentary conversation and then complain at the local gaijin pub for decades to come about why you don’t fit in? Well, you have the right to do so, but you also have to realize that, when you walk through a bookstore with translations and original works of several persuasions critically analyzing all things domestic and foreign and then turning around kvetching that “Japanese have few critical faculties compared to us westerners…They seem so ignorant sometimes” then you need to realize that the ignorance probably isn’t coming from “them.”

        That’s not to say that Japanese, as a whole, are any more or less “enlightened” or that they don’t hold prejudices that I personally find straight-up wrong. Ultimately, Japan is another nation with conflicting political, social and economic viewpoints, not a monolithic nihonjinron-run structure with all connected to the hivemind programmed with the flag “IF YAMATO=0 THEN GOTO REJECT”

      • warota

        Good advice but one quibble:

        > “Japanese have few critical faculties compared to us
        westerners…They seem so ignorant sometimes” then you need to realize that the ignorance probably isn’t coming from “them.”

        Extend your empathy a bit more for this case. Feeling stereotyped, the target feels the need to stereotype them back. It’s a natural reaction that is not restricted to foreigners in Japan.

        The target falls back on only what they know. This is also natural and common for any immigrants in any country.

        I would take this frustration and channel it towards learning as much as you can to see why. Read, read, read. Watch lots of TV. The more you know, the better you can handle yourself. Foreigners can still learn the language and culture to a fair degree without giving up their natural and individual identities.

        > Ultimately, Japan is another nation with conflicting political, social and economic viewpoints, not a monolithic nihonjinron-run structure with all connected to the hivemind programmed with the flag “IF YAMATO=0 THEN GOTO REJECT”

        I like to model nihonjinron as a religion, a fairly regional belief system with various sects, followers of all different levels of “faith” including detractors, fundamentalists, casuals and atheists, similar peer pressure tactics, seemingly arbitrary rules and appeal to authority and emotion to force a level of homogeneity in thought and social control.

        Many beautiful cultural works have been produced under the various interpretations of this religion. It has a long and colored tradition. There is the doctrine and its various interpretations, and then there is its implementation as well as the current level of adherence of its followers/detractors. The interpretations of the doctrine are wide and varied as is the level of zeal its members employ when proselytizing them.

        In more than a few interpretations, if one is born of the dominant ethnicity in the religion, they are automatically considered to be a full member. Depending on your actions, you can be deemed to be straying from certain interpretations of the doctrine. The interpretations, while usually retain a core framework, will sometimes remove or adopt concepts from outside of it for various purposes and are usually controlled by those deemed to be the authority or popular within a group. And so on. I’m sure other people can think of similar parallels along these lines.

        Over time, the image of this religion resembles an ever changing Venn-like diagram where the circles represent various denominations, adherents to certain interpretations, etc. and the whole of which is the monolithic “Japan”. As one becomes more familiar with “Japan”, existence of new circles may come into view and old circles may change. Unlike a Venn diagram, individual members may only partially adhere to certain circles rather than being completely member or not a member. The level of adherance may also change over time.

        Thinking from this conceptual framework allows me to more accurately target criticism (to the members of specific circles at a certain point in time) and avoid overgeneralizing and arguing over semantics. It also allows me to target concepts separate from individual followers who may adhere to them (ie. criticize the “circle” and certain aspects of it and not the members).

        Apologies for the wall of text but I thought I would share something I found useful and welcome any criticism.

      • saitamarama

        I find this analysis fascinating to be honest but it just seems a tad overblown. I’m a tad busy to address it in full but while the iron is hot I don’t see how that differs significantly from any other population with a strong national/ethnic identity.

      • warota

        It’s a model and not meant to replace reality. But I still find it helpful to “feel” like I have a handle on things I write about. Certain things don’t fit the model all the time but I feel it’s a better frame of reference to work from than just “Japan”.

        And I never said it couldn’t apply to other countries or any other arbitrary society with similar social forces. Why not? It’s simply another frame of reference one can use to make sense of some society.

      • saitamarama

        Fair enough on all points. Interesting discussion.

      • saitamarama

        And to address the question of “empathy:” part of why I tend to lack it towards western expatriates as opposed to say, third world migrant workers, is that we come from an upper crust. Simply put, settling in Japan is largely a choice we make. Yes, there are some economic factors in which we (I include myself in this) chose liberal arts degrees and find ourselves uncompetitive, or conversely, we are super-qualified and get a mega-lucrative job hobnobbing with the elite of society.

        Whatever. We still make a choice and, so long as we retain our original citizenship, our stay in a foreign country purely a matter of that choice being continued. Narita, Haneda and Kansai Airport are just a train ride away for less the price of a decent dinner.

        Do we have a right to complain? Absolutely. We pay taxes and we contribute to society in however small a way.

        Do other people have an obligation to listen? Ehhhhhh………I’m not so sure. Especially if they have decided to put a full-on cultural/linguistic wall and barricade themselves against all influence of their would-be oppressors. Like I said, I feel for Baye and I think he’s a great guy, but I disagree with this choice even as I can understand the reasoning. It’s counter-productive for anyone unless they, as I said in other posts, decide to be content with being on an island within an island, as it were.

        That IS a valid life choice, as done by many hard-working immigrants in America and other countries including Japan or, less flatteringly, among retirees from all over the world residing in Southeast Asia. Just don’t expect much empathy when they lead to complain from those who have decided to embrace their adopted home fully as can be.

        What does it come across like when we start stereotyping our hosts? In a Japanese context, it merely leads to more marginalization and deaf ears. The blogger Hikosaemon had a great video about the Japanese method of arguing that I think could do the whole Conversation, if you can call it that, some real good.

      • warota

        There are poor un-elite Western expats everywhere including Japan. Surely you’re not trying to say that whether individuals deserve not to be stereotyped should be determined by their financial status or whether they chose to come here or not? I hope not. I wouldn’t wish the same for anyone going into English countries or any other country for that matter.

        Choosing to not learn the language would not be my choice either and I can relate to where Baye is coming from as well. Actually not fully because I’m not black myself and can only guess as to the kind of experiences he’s had because of it. You wrote in another comment in detail on how Baye came to decide what he did and I’m surprised that in spite of that, you don’t feel much empathy for him.

        Actually, no, I can guess why you don’t feel empathy because you struggled with learning the language and with stereotyping etc. along the way and you see someone else in the same boat who gives up, doesn’t put up the same amount of effort as you do so you start to resent them for it. Correct me if I’m wrong.

        So do we use this as an opportunity to increase the hostile atmosphere around stuff like this or decrease it?

        There’s already so much hostility around this subject and since it appears we’ve both experienced what Baye has to a certain degree and can understand why he chose what he did, the last thing someone in that state of mind wants to hear is more hostility. I know I wouldn’t. So why not extend that courtesy?

        It’s not completely the end. Baye may over time begin to pick up the language again later on. Or maybe he’s found out that where he’s at is good enough for him for the niche he’s carved out. And that’s fine with me. No need to pile on more when they’re down especially if you’ve experienced it beforehand.

        Stereotyping the hosts is a natural reaction to their stereotyping of us. We start to imitate the broad generalizations they use on us on them. Some of them do play that way and they ruin it for all. It’s not rare and it’s unfortunate. How I got past this (I think) is seeing people through the religion model I wrote about.

        But I can relate to why other people may do so and consider host stereotyping to be of reaping what they sow with collateral damage. Some use this as an opportunity to add more in order to make themselves feel better for their struggles and unnatural concessions to “fit in” and it seems some places are dominated by this sort of thinking. I’m kind of sad that since we all experience the same struggles that we’re not uniting instead of dividing ourselves since so few of us are here in the first place.

        Why not post a link to that video on Japanese arguing then we can all take a look?

      • Sasori

        First off, I don’t know what ‘N 2′ means. I also don’t need sympathy.
        I am here long-term own a just-built 4br brick house.
        Furthermore, I know several Japanese businessmen living in California who can’t speak a lick of English.
        I pick up the language and have plenty of time to do so.
        When I’ve picked up enough to converse, I still won’t know what ‘N 2′ means.

      • Sasori

        Oh, I am not complaining at all about fitting in; I don’t want or need to. I also don’t go to pubs; foreign or otherwise.

      • saitamarama

        Well then, my comments don’t concern you, as irrelevant as they are. You’ve set up a niche and it works so good on you. I never said that success necessitates mastering a foreign language. I was referring to many people who come, set up shop and then feel alienated without understanding the language.

        Some people move to another country and never learn because they don’t need or want it but they are satisfied where they are in life. That’s fine quite beyond the approval/disapproval of internet randoms.

  • Gianluca G.D.

    I loved the article and hope to read from you soon. Your buddy, J

  • davecolly

    I too being black in Japan had my share of “I look like” random famous black people… Bobby Olugon, Obama, Usain Bolt, Eddie Murphy and the list goes on. I got used to it now. What I can’t seem to get used to is people telling me “you are good at using chop sticks” even after being here 7 years. As if using chop sticks is some sort of rocket science. I used to ignore it but recently I tell them over and over that I’m here 7 years now and that using a chop stick is not difficult.

    • qwerty

      “using a chop stick is not difficult.” Using two is tricky though – especially in one hand. I just use one in each hand – but I still get the ‘compliments’

    • Sasori

      It’s not difficult, but often idiotic

  • Ella

    I thought this was a great piece and had a lot of the ideas that you’ll find if you read the authors books. As a black woman who has lived here for two years I have had to learn how to react to comments and stares similar to that which the author writes about. For me it took time to find that I needed to learn mutual understanding for why they might say I can sing like a gospel singer and why I might react (in my head) negatively to that. They like to put people who are unknown to them in categories and schemas to help them handle the situation. Where I come from that means they stereotype a certain demographic. It means that I am, more often than not offended by what they say, but because of the understanding, I learn to let it go…similarly to how I let it go when my friends say I look like Queen Latifah. Particularly love the last quote: “But, what your question touches on is perhaps the greatest benefit of living outside of your sphere of comfort: You’ll likely be forced to confront what you’re really made of.”
    Thumbs up!

  • Sasori

    Dude, I’m White: I get the exact same thing. Perhaps it’s easier to think that the words ‘inconsiderate’, ‘inappropreate’ and ‘mature’ don’t exist in Japanese.
    It has less to do with you being black; ‘they’ don’t sit next to me on the train either. It’s slightly like I am Griffin.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      >Perhaps it’s easier to think that the words ‘inconsiderate’, ‘inappropreate’ and ‘mature’ don’t exist in Japanese.

      Racist much? And I think you meant “In Appropriate”.

      >’they’ don’t sit next to me on the train either.

      Ah, that old chestnut. I’m white, and I wish people would stop squeezing into the seat next to me – I’d like the space to breathe. Have you ever noticed all the Japanese on the train with open space next to them, and how other Japanese will pass up a chance to sit there? So are these Japanese racist against their fellow Japanese then?

      Try a new cologne or perfume, perhaps that is what is putting people off being close to you.

  • Squidhead

    Some people just never learn to fit in. I think Baye would have been experiencing the same thing in any foreign country he chose to live in.

    • Sasori

      Why is it an imparative to fit in? Why is it unacceptable to you when someone expresses experiences regarding race?

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    I am glad we agree that cultural memes are not universal – however there are others here who appear to think that if X is bad in their culture, it should be bad in Japan as well. Even a supposedly educated individual, a prominent professor at Temple University in Tokyo and who also writes for the Japan Times, weighed in on the e-mobile monkey advertisements a few years ago with “Japan must adjust the image it presents even within Japan in consideration of what other people in the world might find offensive.”

    Rubbish.

    JJL below summed up the “pointing at someone and saying which celebrity they look like” issue quite well. It is neither racist, nor a stereotype, it is “small talk”. Icebreakers, we call them. Now, if you consider such “icebreakers” to be “blindingly racist”, then it is you who have the problem, not the Japanese.

    • saitamarama

      I’ve been told I look like Orlando Bloom on more than one occasion (if he was significantly out of shape, perhaps I could see the resemblance). I agree that that sort of thing is pretty harmless and amusing, even sort of flattering.

      That’s also not what Baye is talking about when he brings up Bobby and the like.

      However, what happens more often to the various black people I know is being inconsiderately shouted at as being whatever celebrity du jour, whether it be on the street or in the school hallways. While we can argue if that is “blindingly racist,” it IS pretty rude, on any scale, especially in Japanese society where one doesn’t typically yell out to random strangers especially when there is no hope of further communication beyond one outburst. If it was restricted to children, I would understand more, but I’ve seen adults engage in similar behavior – It’s just kind of tacky, more than anything.

      While I vehemently disagree with the point of view and, frankly, quite racist view he expresses of Japanese people, I can understand how he arrived to that conclusion. What people don’t realize is that Baye, while not the most fluent speaker of Japanese (Eido, Tony or even Debito) is a fairly competent speaker for daily conversation (Perhaps around N3?). When he says he refuses to study the language further because of contempt, he is referring to just not trying to get beyond the plateau because of what he feels is a lack of the deeper discussion that happens at the lower intermediate levels. When I read it, I feel he is referring to the frustration of being “left out” – something that is quite common, especially in the English teaching world and ESPECIALLY in the ALT world which can be a constant barrage of marginalization.

      I disagree with some points but I understand completely and I laud Baye on being honest with his thoughts to bring them as part of the discussion.

      • warota

        Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you.

      • saitamarama

        Thank you. However, please understand that I’m probably more than the G-man’s side of the debate.

      • warota

        Well the content of what you wrote so far expressed a more honest and empathetic defense then what I usually see so there’s that. I’ll adjust to whatever you write.

    • warota

      Substitute “Japan” in that quote by the professor with any other country. Whether that substituted country values not being offensive to a particular country or not is beside the point. Does it still continue to work?

      Basically, if a country wants to avoid offending another, they must take into consideration the perspective of their target. You might even notice it works even down to an individual level. You may be familiar with a similar thing called “The Golden Rule” (do unto others as they would do unto you). This statement doesn’t need a professor of his/her calibre to make. Or is the application of the Golden Rule in this case forcing Western values on Japanese culture?

      With this in mind, take the situations illustrated in Baye’s article and substitute Baye for a Japanese person and the stereotypers with say, English people. Substitute Bob Sapp et al for “sumo”, “samurai”, “ninja”, “mr. roboto” etc. Can their interactions still be considered “icebreakers” and “small talk”?

      • saitamarama

        Does every country have to keep in the mind the countless stereotypes of another to avoid insulting them? I mean, do we have to pay respects to Kim Jong-Un or the King of Thailand for fear of raising their ire (insulting either is a punishable offense in their respective countries resulting in jail time or worse)?

        As for the icebreakers bit, sure why not? How many of us, in our more ignorant times, bring up anime or Kurosawa or whathaveyou when we were first learning Japanese without intent to offend?

      • warota

        People have been able to interact with each other without stepping on each others toes. And if even if they did, if both sides are acting in good faith, they can both reconcile.

        On the other hand, if you don’t care about whether or not you may be offensive to someone, then one shouldn’t be surprised when you eventually do. Sometimes, there are concrete consequences depending on where and who you are for doing so like with Kim Jong Un and the King of Thailand. There’s also a difference between intentionally offending either if you happen to be where they can enforce it and if you’re somewhere else where they can’t. Again, up to you whether you want to do or not. But if you know from experience or forewarning that it could be perceived as offensive, then why do it in the first place?

        Accidents will happen from not knowing beforehand. Again, if both sides are acting in good faith, they can reconcile and the accidental offender will learn about it. Some people may move goalposts and try to manipulate but then those people are not acting in good faith.

        Does that seem satisfactory?

      • saitamarama

        I don’t know who you are trying to satisfy, but I understand your point of view and agree that one shouldn’t go out of their way to offend. I think Japanese companies and government have done their fair share of nose-bumping (Turkish Baths, the ANA commercial, anyone?) and then, upon being called out, they swiftly and decisively turned around.

        Could Japan afford to be more sensitive? I think so. Are they obligated to be watching every single step they take to ensure precious feelings aren’t hurt? I disagree.

      • warota

        Alright, sorry, that last line could be left out. Basically, it more like “is this argument satisfactory”.

        With regard to the ANA commercial (the one with using two high profile actors with blonde wigs and fake noses), the response was great. What I’m wondering about was why this wasn’t killed or changed at the script review phase. The stereotype used is fairly old.That no problem was found in the script, that it went into production through many layers of authority and into broadcast is curious.

        > Are they obligated to be watching every single step they take to ensure precious feelings aren’t hurt? I disagree.

        I don’t think anyone is asking for that.

        Going back a bit you said:

        > As for the icebreakers bit, sure why not? How many of us, in our more
        ignorant times, bring up anime or Kurosawa or whathaveyou when we were
        first learning Japanese without intent to offend?

        So you’re saying that bringing up Kurosawa and anime is considered offensive when talking to Japanese? I find that hard to believe but let’s suppose this is true and the Japanese person you’re talking to takes offense. Do you value the relationship enough to reconcile? While it may not make sense to you, there must be something you don’t know yet which causes them to be offended. So you apologize for not knowing and maybe ask for the reasons if they want to talk about it. Perhaps with this particular individual, one of his relatives was killed in an accident involving negligence on the set of one of Kurosawa’s movies. Maybe they had a traumatic experience with anime of some sort. Who knows.

        If you don’t value the relationship, then you can use this opportunity to belittle them further. Perhaps ask them sarcastically if their precious feelings are hurt. Or tell them it’s nothing or keep talking about it even if it looks like it’s upsetting them.

        Of course, it can go the other way as well. The target uses this chance to manipulate the accidental offender to apologize or play the victim in order to get something. Both sides have to value the relationship and act in good faith in order for things to work. Nothing is going match the above completely but it’s a basic guideline and you can catch the drift of this.

      • saitamarama

        When I said anime and Kurosawa I just mean using reductionist stereotypes that may not entirely reflective of Japan as it is now.

        My main point does tie in with what you say:

        >”Do you value the relationship enough to reconcile? While it may not make sense to you, there must be something you don’t know yet which causes them to be offended. So you apologize for not knowing and maybe ask for the reasons if they want to talk about it. ”

        As we see in the ANA Commercial. There was a (painful and stupid) stereotype used by a company that resulted in an uproar and promptly being pulled off the air. Eido Inoue wrote a very good summary of the commercial (on Baye’s Facebook wall no less) and the mentality behind it. I wish I had it handy now. Suffice to say, it was an attempt at edgy humor that simply didn’t “translate.” It was stupid a

        However, that doesn’t mean I feel that Japanese companies should carefully screen every single thing they do in the interests of over-done political correctness to appease a tiny minority of foreigners.

        Again – Can we be more sensitive? Yup. Should we always try to err on the side of caution? Nope.

      • warota

        > When I said anime and Kurosawa I just mean using reductionist
        stereotypes that may not entirely reflective of Japan as it is now.

        Sorry, can you give a specific example?

        > As we see in the ANA Commercial. There was a (painful and stupid)
        stereotype used by a company that resulted in an uproar and promptly
        being pulled off the air. Eido Inoue wrote a very good summary of the
        commercial (on Baye’s Facebook wall no less) and the mentality behind
        it. I wish I had it handy now. Suffice to say, it was an attempt at edgy
        humor that simply didn’t “translate.” It was stupid a

        I think you’ve missed some stuff here.

        > However, that doesn’t mean I feel that Japanese companies should
        carefully screen every single thing they do in the interests of
        over-done political correctness to appease a tiny minority of
        foreigners.

        The ANA commercial I think is a special case since it’s well, an international airline, the commercial was done with English audio and Japanese subs and its customer base is global even if the commercial was targeted for the domestic market. So I’m thinking it would likely get more exposure over regular Japanese commericals. With that in mind, there’s the possibility of greater international exposure that I think they could have prepared for especially with the kind of budget risked for producing and broadcasting a commercial like that. This is also why I’m guessing that complaints came not just from Japan but from all over the world. After foreigners in Japan saw it, they shared the Youtube video with friends abroad and boom. Again, I’m not an insider and this is only my pure speculation. I thought there would be major complaints filed when I first saw it but I didn’t think it would get taken down and so fast.

        > However, that doesn’t mean I feel that Japanese companies should carefully screen every single thing they do in the interests of over-done political correctness to appease a tiny minority of foreigners.

        It’s still negative stereotyping and was offensive to enough number of people as to create the response that it did.

        More speculation:

        Potentially all Caucasians all over the world and all others who would identify or relate with Caucasians who took offense would be targetted by this commercial. So from this nontrivial set of people, a certain percentage saw the commercial and another percentage of that actually sent complaints. Potentially big numbers. So maybe it’s not surprising that the people in ANA who decided to pull the commercial did it so fast and that people who didn’t mind it aren’t so numerous as you might think.

        There’s also tons of other subject matter one can put in a commercial. Why risk the budget and reputation damage on “edgy” content?

        Now, when many people think of ANA abroad, they’ll think of that commercial. What kind of lost revenue and reputation from customers abroad from this single commercial do if they kept broadcasting it after complaints?

        > Again – Can we be more sensitive? Yup. Should we always try to err on the side of caution? Nope.

        If you want to risk budget, production time, reputation damage etc. then sure. In fact, they should extend that train of thought to the domestic market as well. We’d be getting some pretty interesting commercials along with all the mayhem that would result. Now I’d watch that.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    >Why do we need to force everyone to speak the same language?

    Dear lord, is a question with such a self-apparent answer really that difficult for you? And it is not “forcing”, it should be common sense that if an individual speaks one language, then decides to immigrate to a country where everyone speaks another, that the immigrant needs to learn the language of that country. Unless, of course, their goal is to be part of a permanent, illiterate underclass.

    There are, of course, countries with multiple official languages. And every single one that I can think of has those because the country, as it exists today, is formed of an area of land which was not totally inhabited by just one people, but rather represents a vestige of an old imperial state or an old colony of one, and was formed from an amalgam of various indigenous ethnic or cultural groups. But then again, there are other cases, such as some African countries, where one single language has been set as an official language to avert the chaos that would result if equal representation was given to most or all of the dozens or hundreds of indigenous languages within the national borders.

    Now, as far as Japan, I can see your point about Okinawan and Ainu languages, but we are not talking about those, and even if we were an Okinawan may be able to get by just fine in life speaking nothing but Ryukyu dialect while in Okinawa, but that won’t fly in the rest of Japan any more than a Welshman would be able to become a successful businessman or graduate from Oxford speaking only Cymraeg. For someone from outside of those regions, and I do believe “Brooklyn” qualifies, the question is entirely moot – English was never a language of any part of the long-dead Japanese Empire, and there is absolutely no good reason for English-speakers who decide to move to Japan to demand that they be allowed to conduct their daily business in English.

  • C.J. Bunny

    >If an American in Japan lives among people who speak English and works with people who speak English, and conducts his business in English, what is it to you? Who does it harm if Japan has enclaves with different cultures and languages?

    Probably the only people harmed are the expats themselves. No real problem for others, but why would anyone listen to their” insights” on the culture around them? And why would anyone choose to listen to them moan about how hard their lot is when so many of their issues are self-inflicted by choosing to handicap themselves? The only people interested in this are those justifying the same poor choices. Plenty of foreigners live happily in Japan with little Japanese language ability, but to externalise problems of your own choosing and generalising without understanding are recipes for a stressful, unhappy experience.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      Thank you – that is the point I was trying to make.

    • warota

      The people who happily live with little Japanese ability don’t understand when they’re being stereotyped because they don’t know the language. Ignorance is bliss?

  • Sasori

    So, if one ‘learns’ the culture, one will also learn not to be offended?
    How has that worked out for your relationship with the KKK?

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    >You’re being purposefully obtuse – this is just simplistic cultural relativism.

    I do not think that word (“cultural relativism”) means what you think it does. Perhaps you meant “moral relativism”, where one holds that all beliefs are equally valid, and so anything is OK?

    If so, rest assured I do not hold that view. When living and interacting in Japan, the only rules and mores that are valid are Japanese ones, just as when living in England (or France or Russia or anyplace else) the only rules and mores that are valid are the ones held by the members of that society.

    >For example, JJL claims that comparing people to celebrities is common ice breaking – odd, since I’ve never once heard anyone in my life do so with each other. Never seen a Japanese person do it to another Japanese person.

    And any number of people have never once seen you post to the Japan Times – and yet, you do.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    Careful there, toolonggone, you are using English just a bit too well here. You are going to blow your cover again, next time, when you revert to broken English and the “I am a native Japanese who can’t write English properly” character.

  • Gordon Graham

    I learned how to use chopsticks in the two seconds it took for someone to show me…I learned to get over being complimented on it just as quickly

  • Gordon Graham

    I’ve never accused anyone on these pages of having mental problems. I come to these pages merely to take my English for a walk as it were. Perhaps you bellyache in English Pubs with likeminded malcontents, I don’t know. How could I not enjoy my life here? I’m treated like a king, which is why I have the impulse to defend my host. I take delight in doing so. Is that so difficult to comprehend? Just as you and “people like you” take delight in criticising the Japanese and wallowing in victimhood. I’m not a Buddhist so being at peace is not really in line with my spirit. I’m a hockey guy…I naturally gravitate to the fray, so when someone wants to drop the gloves it makes me happy. So, thanks…

    • Guest

      I’m guessing your life back home (in the real world) was pretty average – so, you love it here so much, and accept all the BS.

      so you’ve been here 20 or 30 years, have Japanese citizenship, and speak the language beautifully, but your still only a guest.

      just keep smiling and saying thank you. good boy

      • Gordon Graham

        I’m not Japanese. I’m Canadian

    • Guest

      I’m guessing your life back home (in the real world) was pretty average, so, you love it here so much, and accept all the BS.

      you may have been here 20 or 30 years, have Japanese citizenship, and speak the language beautifully, but you’re still only a guest.

      just keep smiling and saying thank you.

      • Gordon Graham

        Actually, I lived a charmed life back in Canada, spending my entire youth at the rink playing hockey in winter and at the cottage fishing and and water skiing in the summer. I adore Canada and I love being Canadian. Before coming to Japan I played Junior hockey in Canada…if you’ve never been to small town Ontario, that means “Rock Star”…average being the least applicable adjective to describe my life between the ages of 16 and 20. When I arrived in Japan to play pro hockey it was more of the same. From the moment I stepped off the plane 28 years ago come August I’ve been treated like a King, so I have no idea about this BS of which you speak.

      • warota

        Have you ever worked at a “regular” job and not just played hockey?

        If not, it’s no wonder you can’t empathize with the rest of us “likeminded malcontents”. Or more like you just choose not to. What use is privilege if you can’t drop your pants and wave it around for everyone to see once in a while, right?

        If you’ve never had the pleasure to work for less than scrupulous Japanese employers in low-end jobs here there’s no convincing you. Oh who am I kidding, that’d would never cross your mind at all. You’ve never been beholden to such employers like all of us Taro Six-Packs are. You’re living in a bubble as a professional athlete and probably get paid in Canadian dollars instead of yen.

        This is why after reading any of your posts, all I can hear is “Let them eat cake!”

        But don’t worry. We won’t come with pitchforks and the guillotine. At least I won’t. Don’t know about the others though.

      • Gordon Graham

        I’ve picked tobacco, dug swimming pools and shovelled chickenshit all before the age of 14…So I know what work is. What do you do exactly? Yes, I live a charmed life but while other kids played around and partied I trained hard 7 days a week with only a slim “maybe” on the horizon. Too bad for you if you didn’t believe in yourself enough to commit to your dream. So you couldn’t make a go of it in America or Australia or Bulgaria or wherever you came from…Good thing there was Japan to rescue you lot from the welfare line or the Mcjobs in your own countries. Too bad you mewlers can’t muster up enough humility to say thanks. It’s really no matter to me nor Japan, I’m sure…You lot are simply a source of amusement with your oh woe is meness, while people are genuinely in dire straits. What is it you do again?

  • Gordon Graham

    Whatever tu quoque means I think she’s onto something close to what I believe…that this pointing out differences is a human trait not a Japanese one, as is getting over oneself enough not to be offended by something that was not meant to be harmful…well for some anyway for others it’s an opportunity to wallow in victimhood (which is also a human trait).

  • warota

    I saw that but I didn’t want it to just end there with a “tu quoque”. I ran with it to bait him into admitting that pointing and laughing was cross-cultural.

    • Gordon Graham

      Which is why I can’t understand his contempt for “the Japanese”. He should just come out with “I hate people”.

  • warota

    In the common parlance of the hypercapitalist modern world, I believe Gordon and others like him here have a benign case of the so-called “F*** you, I’ve got mine” syndrome.

    Benign cases may result in trolling on Internet forums while more extreme cases of this syndrome may result in enacting of public policies which victimize already marginalized or financially disenfranchised groups for personal profit.

    • Gordon Graham

      Says the guy typing on his Apple computer in his air-conditioned Tokyo apartment. Oh the woe!

  • warota

    Gordon’s isn’t white male privilege. It’s “professional sports athlete” privilege, that oh so common occupation that nearly all foreigners in Japan have. Imagine something like foreign baseball players strutting around doing a similar thing to ALTs, JETs, factory workers and Eikawa staff. Sounds ridiculous right? You can basically append “…and let them eat cake!” to every one of their posts and it starts to make sense.

  • warota

    I did reply to this but I guess it got lost or something. It was a fairly long post as well. But I’ll try to reconstruct it.

    I took a look at the video. I felt it was a bit overgeneralizing of both foreigners and Japanese but understand they probably wanted to create a foil for the “Japanese” way of arguing. But what if green foreigners see this and then see multiple counterexamples on TV or at work etc.? If they introduced as a way that some Japanese argue with each other in order to avoid conflict then it’d be more accurate (personal opinion, not necessarily universally applicable).

    So according to the video foreigners can unknowingly offend their hosts when what they consider is simply pointing out the truth (eg. it’s a dog) because that’s not a big deal between some foreigners (eg. “I mean, are you going to get offended just because I told you it’s a dog and not a cat?”) But, if some people feel this way even though we may think it somewhat ridiculous, if we value the relationship with the person we’re talking to then we have to concede and be careful next time. It works both ways. On that point, I found the video to be informative.

    And it’s probably my imagination but I think the announcer at the end of the video was trying to suppress an embarassed laugh. I mean, she’s delivering lines asking “how was it” for a video created entirely by foreigners generalizing her own culture as if it was some sort of anthropological study.

    As for your case in Vietnam, it seems to me you may be projecting your own privileged case to all other Caucasians or foreigners and you feel that since you don’t deserve respect because of your privileged position that these others don’t either. Correct me if I’m wrong. If so, I find that unfortunate.

    Regarding the “having a stake in a country” bit: sorry, I can’t see how this would be related to the receiving of negative stereotypes.

    Perhaps it may be painful for you and others to admit that what they’re doing is “wrong” and try to justify it with these sorts of generalizations. To recognize this means admitting that true closeness as you personally understand to such people is illusory. I’ve went through the same experience myself. The thing is, them wanting to get close to you was never in their minds in the first place although you personally may desire it. Imagine the reverse situation and a foreigner starts fetishizing your culture desperate to fit in. How would most people react to that? In hindsight, I suppose that many people who take to such religious zeal in defending Japan may also be doing it from the point of covering up the feeling of loneliness that would result in admitting the above. It’s a natural feeling to do so and I should be more empathetic in regards to this.

    Ok so now what, right? For me, I trust only to a certain degree and set my expectations low based on past experience. Relating to such people is like a business transaction. Anything on top of that is icing. I won’t start anything. I avoid conflict whenever possible. I try to interact only when the situation is clear and exude friendliness. Perhaps I’m doing it “wrong” but this works for me so far. I like Sasori don’t care to “fit in” but I learn the language anyway. There are a lot of new ideas expressed only in the Japanese language and I feel comfortable separating concept from source when I need to. Japanese seem to be able to adopt so many foreign ideas for themselves without hypocrisy so there’s no reason I can’t do the same in reverse.

    I appreciate all of your posts so far including the ones to other posters. While we may disagree on how to react, we both acknowledge and understand the causes which is more than we can say for other threads.

    Let the net flow with opinions. We can then all see where we really stand. My stance on Debito is that I can also understand where he’s coming from even though he and some his posters take it to certain extremes that I don’t agree with for which some of my posts get deleted. But I don’t think anyone can deny that he and his posters have a unique voice which is fairly underepresented here. I’ve come to know more about activism and legal things from his site so I’m grateful it exists for what it’s worth.

    • saitamarama

      So according to the video foreigners can unknowingly offend their hosts when what they consider is simply pointing out the truth…. because that’s not a big deal between some foreigners…. But, if some people feel this way even though we may think it somewhat ridiculous, if we value the relationship with the person we’re talking to then we have to concede and be careful next time. It works both ways. On that point, I found the video to be informative.

      That’s exactly what I took from the video. It’s a bit of light Youtube infotainment and not meant to be a doctoral dissertation on international decorum.

      Furthermore, I do think you may be reading a little too much into the announcer at the end beyond the obvious – it’s a goofy video, complete with a silly meorwling cat/dog, being done before a public audience and she has to speak in keigo. Having worked on comedy shows, sometimes people can’t avoid laughing on their own jokes.

      As for your case in Vietnam, it seems to me you may be projecting your own privileged case to all other Caucasians or foreigners and you feel that since you don’t deserve respect because of your privileged position that these others don’t either. Correct me if I’m wrong. If so, I find that unfortunate.

      Quite incorrect.

      I think it’s that we see the issue in completely different lights. You seem to be saying that any mention of difference and subsequent riffing of it is an inherent lack of respect and, at least internally, demand it to be given on your terms.

      I’m more of the opinion (now, anyways. Before I was certainly more hot-headed), that it’s not necessarily intended that way (although, it is admittedly incredibly bloody annoying at times). Nonetheless, it’s a fact of life and that one can’t expect the world around you to conform to your ideals all the time. Again, not something I admit happily, being somebody who really does want to see a more “progressive” Japan.

      In short, what I’m saying is that I have come to the belief that nobody is entitled to anything beyond the basic right of survival and tolerance, and that, really, the lot of western foreigners in Asia are typically in a pretty good spot on the food chain and much higher than they may realize. I believe that we SHOULD strive for a more egalitarian society, but we also can’t realistically go around expecting that from every single individual and rejecting them out of hand simply because they may not 100% conform to our ideal.

      In hindsight, I suppose that many people who take to such religious zeal in defending Japan may also be doing it from the point of covering up the feeling of loneliness that would result in admitting the above.

      I have really tried to abstain from the psychological profiling of others based on their postings and stick to the facts – but I can’t help but wonder, coupled with your explanation below, if this isn’t you projecting your own thoughts and feeling onto others. Not to mention, it comes off as a little bit paranoid and cynical. Then again, we all have our little ticks and that’s not a sin.

      Digression aside, If anything, living in Vietnam has made me aware of “illusory closeness” and more distrustful of people than anything I have experienced in Japan. Most of this behavior actually is from experiences with my “fellow” expats, which may betray some grain of insight from your original assessment but I apply it on people, not just Japanese, as a whole.

      Ultimately, it comes back down to what I said about “Choice.” We were born into a country by circumstances beyond our control. However, we are lucky in that we have the means to travel to any one of the nearly 200 other countries out there.

      “If you don’t like it, you CAN always leave.” is not a popular thought because it comes across as defeatist to those who came. Yet, practically speaking, why stick around in a place that you feel doesn’t accept you when you chose to come to in the first place only to sit around complaining about it all day or push back against whatever slights, real or perceived? I’ll admit that this strain of thought, in part, is what motivated me to leave in the first place. It gave me time to reflect and see how much I liked it there and how much whatever issues I had were really more a result of my outlook and less of how I was treated.

      As for Debito, his voice is indeed unique but one that I feel often misrepresents Japan as being another South Africa and his suppression of critical voices is a demerit to his cause. I found his website to be eye-opening and interesting in it’s insights when I first discovered it around my high school-college years. However, nowadays I find that his legal advice is too colored by his own biases and personal baggage to the point of irrelevancy. To that end, I much prefer Eido Inoue’s Becoming Legally Japanese blog. He’s certainly not without his own biases, but I find he doesn’t allow himself to get in the way of his content nearly as often, resulting in a more upbeat and overall more productive push to any notion of a ethnically integrated Japan.

      • warota

        Fair enough on the video.

        > You seem to be saying that any mention of difference and subsequent
        riffing of it is an inherent lack of respect and, at least internally,
        demand it to be given on your terms.

        I didn’t say that. Saying something is different doesn’t mean it’ll automatically offend. It depends purely on the receiver. The receiver will always have a chance to become offended regardless of any other circumstances. Negative stereotyping seems to have a pretty high chance of offending for any receiver unless they happen to know each other well enough (probably).

        Unintentional mistakes will be made. I’ve explained how this is resolved.

        Those terms are also applicable each for party in a completely equal fashion. This all gives the impression that it is all nice and cut and dry but I know this is a theoretical ideal. Real life is messier and usually involve both parties not letting each other know how they really feel for various reasons and the ill will manifesting itself in other places.

        Still, I would feel at a loss without this standard as a personal guide. You can call it a tick if you want.

        You think I come off as cynical and paranoid. This is the culmination of my natural self based on my past experience. If it comes off that way to you, so be it.

        I have my own reasons for staying. It’s not all bad here and not all Japanese are like the ones in the article. But I’m not going to stop myself for calling a spade a spade when it happens regardless of who does it.

        I guess you may not like it but I find complaining (on the net) to be therapeutic. This allows me to not have to do so in real life without having to resort to alcohol or drugs. Plus I get the chance to learn new things.

        I haven’t read Eido’s blog but I’ll have a look. Thanks.

      • qwerty

        You may be in the tiny minority (even here in The Japan Times), but you’re dead right.
        I focus on the positives of living here, but I’m pretty close to packing it in – the elementary schools have been awful.
        Anyway, hang in there (for as long as it’s still worth it)

      • warota

        I’m in a tiny minority am I, that’s comforting, lol.

        > the elementary schools have been awful.

        Pfft, it’s your own fault the schools are awful. It’s you and not the schools. You don’t understand them (but I do since I am so down with them even though you’re not and I can prove it with this theory I made up involving cultural memes that I assume the kids know about. I have a rare, privileged job which allows me to not have to deal with that sort of BS at all or anymore, so really, I just want to hear the sound of my own condescension. Let me pull up these figures from these Japanese articles I’ve read (because I can read Japanese and you can’t) which shows that your problems are imaginary). /sarcasm

        Perhaps I should start up a comic series.

        > Anyway, hang in there (for as long as it’s still worth it)

        You too. Don’t forget to spread the word if you go back.

        I look at it this way: is the stuff on the “good list” worth tolerating the stuff on the “bad list”? I admit I’m in a privileged position now to not have to deal with the kind of BS some of you guys go through as often so there’s one for my “good list”. But I don’t forget where I’ve been.

      • warota

        I don’t think I replied in full to all of your points so let me continue.

        > In short, what I’m saying is that I have come to the belief that nobody is entitled to anything beyond the basic right of survival and tolerance, and that, really, the lot of western foreigners in Asia are typically in a pretty good spot on the food chain and much higher than they may realize.

        Do you believe the same thing for people in the host country as well then?

        > I believe that we SHOULD strive for a more egalitarian society, but we also can’t realistically go around expecting that from every single individual and rejecting them out of hand simply because they may not 100% conform to our ideal.

        I keep stressing that I recognize my ideas are a theoretical ideal. They simply put your wish for an egalitarian society into words and provide a reference point as a theoretical ideal. While my reaction to stereotyping may not reflect what should logically result from those ideas for practical reasons, I can still use it to recognize whether the other person is behaving in good faith or not for any action at that pont in time. They may change over time but I’m not about to ignore what they’ve just done. This goes for anyone and is applied racially blind. There are Japanese that stand up for foreigners’ rights just as there are Caucasians in America who stand up for African American rights.

        > “If you don’t like it, you CAN always leave.” is not a popular thought because it comes across as defeatist to those who came. Yet, practically speaking, why stick around in a place that you feel doesn’t accept you when you chose to come to in the first place only to sit around complaining about it all day or push back against whatever slights, real or perceived? I’ll admit that this strain of thought, in part, is what motivated me to leave in the first place. It gave me time to reflect and see how much I liked it there and how much whatever issues I had were really more a result of my outlook and less of how I was treated.

        Now that you’ve convinced yourself the fault is within yourself, you think others should feel the same way then?

        > As for Debito, his voice is indeed unique but one that I feel often misrepresents Japan as being another South Africa and his suppression of critical voices is a demerit to his cause.

        That’s probably my biggest problem with his site. I wish he would simply let people express their opinions on the site but he takes the approach of having a more tidy and concise site over a fuller discussion which I find unfortunate.

        > I found his website to be eye-opening and interesting in it’s insights when I first discovered it around my high school-college years. However, nowadays I find that his legal advice is too colored by his own biases and personal baggage to the point of irrelevancy.

        He still links the original content of what he writes about. He concentrates more on theoretical ideals than the practical side that’s for sure. His viewpoint is just that. However, some of the stuff he brings up isn’t stuff that’s exactly widely covered in other sources in either Japanese or English so this is why I still find his site to be useful regardless of whatever spin he has on it.

  • Gordon Graham

    I’m offering my perspective which is what my opinion is based on. I’ve read Mr.Baye’s complaint. I don’t see it as being worthy of indignation.

  • Gordon Graham

    Check out another conversation, you’ve joined this one a little late.

  • Boebekar

    Makes me wonder what is wrong if people tell you you look like someone in a positive way. No matter your ethnicity, straining your head over this is a silly thing to do.