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American teacher’s spin on Japan’s racism riles Net nationalists

by Max Fisher

The Washington Post

Miki Dezaki, who first arrived in Japan on a teacher exchange program in 2007, wanted to learn about the nation that his parents had once called home.

He taught English, explored the country and affectionately chronicled his cross-cultural adventures on social media, most recently on YouTube, where he gained a small following for videos like “Hitchhiking Okinawa” and the truly cringe-worthy “What Americans think of Japan.” One of them, on the experience of being gay in Japan, attracted 75,000 views and dozens of thoughtful comments.

Dezaki didn’t think the reaction to his latest video was going to be any different, but he was wrong. “If I should have anticipated something, I should have anticipated the Net ‘uyoku’ (rightwingers),” he said, referring to the informal army of young, hyper-nationalist Japanese Web users who tend to descend on any article — or person — they perceive as critical of Japan.

But before the Net uyoku put Dezaki in their cross hairs, sending him death threats and hounding his employers, previous employers and even the local politicians who oversee his employers, there was just a teacher and his students.

Dezaki began his final lesson with a 1970 TV documentary, “Eye of the Storm,” often taught in American schools for its bracingly honest exploration of how good-hearted people — in this case, young children participating in an experiment — can turn to racism. After the video ended, he asked his students to raise their hands if they thought racism existed in Japan. Almost none did. They all thought of it as a uniquely American problem.

Gently, Dezaki showed his students that, yes, there is also racism in Japan. He carefully avoided the most extreme and controversial cases — for example, Japan’s wartime enslavement of Korean and other females in Asia for sex, which the country today doesn’t fully acknowledge — pointing instead to such slang terms as “bakachon camera.” The phrase, which translates as “idiot Korean camera,” is meant to refer to disposable cameras so easy to use that even an idiot or a Korean could do it.

He really got his students’ attention when he talked about discrimination between Japanese groups. People from Okinawa, where Dezaki happened to be teaching, are sometimes looked down upon by other Japanese, he pointed out, and in the past have been treated as second-class citizens. Isn’t that discrimination?

“The reaction was so positive,” he recalled. For many of them, the class was a sort of an aha moment. “These kids have heard the stories of their parents being discriminated against by the mainland Japanese. They know this stuff. But the funny thing is that they weren’t making the connection that that was discrimination.” From there, it was easier for the students to accept that other popular Japanese attitudes about race or class might be discriminatory.

The vice principal of the school said he wished more Japanese students could hear the lesson. Dezaki didn’t get a single complaint. No one accused him of being an enemy of Japan.

That changed two weeks ago. Dezaki had recorded his July classes and, on Feb. 14, posted a six-minute video in which he narrated an abbreviated version of the lesson. It opens with a disclaimer that would prove both prescient and, for his critics, vastly insufficient. “I know there’s a lot of racism in America, and I’m not saying that America is better than Japan or anything like that,” he says. Also that day, Dezaki posted the video, titled “Racism in Japan,” to the popular link-sharing site Reddit under its Japan-focused subsection, where he often comments. By Feb. 16, the Net uyoku had found the video.

“I recently made a video about Racism in Japan, and am currently getting bombarded with some pretty harsh, irrational comments from Japanese people who think I am purposefully attacking Japan,” Dezaki wrote in a new post on Reddit’s Japan section, also known as r/Japan. The critics, he wrote, were “flood(ing) the comments section with confusion and spin.” But angry Web comments would turn out to be the least of his problems.

The Net uyoku make their home at a website called ni channeru, otherwise known as ni chan, 2chan or 2ch (2channel). Americans familiar with the bottommost depths of the Internet might know 2chan’s English-language spinoff, 4chan, which, like the original, is a message board famous for its crude discussions, graphic images (don’t open either on your work computer) and penchant for mischief that can sometimes cross into illegality.

Some 2chan users, perhaps curious about how their country is perceived abroad, will occasionally translate Reddit’s r/Japan posts into Japanese. When the “Racism in Japan” video made it onto 2chan, outraged users flocked to the comments section on YouTube to attempt to discredit the video. They attacked Dezaki as “anti-Japanese” and fumed at him for warping Japanese schoolchildren with “misinformation.”

Inevitably, at least one death threat appeared. Though it was presumably idle, like most threats made anonymously over the Web, it rattled him. Still, it’s no surprise that the Net uyoku’s initial campaign, like just about every effort to change a real-life debate by flooding some Web comments sections, went nowhere. So they escalated.

A few of the outraged Japanese found some personal information about Dezaki, starting with his until-then-secret real name and building up to contact information for his Japanese employers. Given Dezaki’s social media trail, it probably wasn’t hard. They proliferated the information using a file-sharing service called SkyDrive, urging fellow Net uyoku to take their fight off the message boards and into Dezaki’s personal life.

By Feb. 18, superiors at the school were emailing him, saying they were bombarded with complaints. Though the video was based almost entirely on a lecture that they had once praised, they asked him to pull it down.

“Some Japanese guys found out which school I used to work at and now, I am being pressured to take down the ‘Racism in Japan’ video,” Dezaki posted on Reddit. “I’m not really sure what to do at this point. I don’t want to take down the video because I don’t believe I did anything wrong, and I don’t believe in giving into bullies who try to censor every taboo topic in Japan. What do you guys think?”

He decided to keep the video online, but placed a message over the first few sentences that, in English and Japanese, announce his refusal to take it down.

But the outrage continued to mount, both online and in the real world. At one point, Dezaki says he was contacted by an official in Okinawa’s board of education who warned that a lawmaker might raise it on the floor of the Lower House. Apparently, the Net uyoku may have succeeded in elevating the issue from a YouTube comments field to regional and perhaps even national politics.

“I knew there were going to be some Japanese upset with me, but I didn’t expect this magnitude of a problem,” Dezaki said. “I didn’t expect them to call my board of education. That said, I wasn’t surprised, though. You know what I mean? They’re insane people.”

Nationalism is not unique to Japan, but it is strong and tinged with the insecurity of a once-powerful nation on the decline and with the humiliation of defeat and Allied Occupation and U.S.-imposed Constitution.

That history is still raw in Japan, where nationalism and resentment of perceived American control often go hand-in-hand. Dezaki is an American, and his video seems to have hit on the belief among many nationalists that the Americans still condescend to, and ultimately seek to control, their country.

“I fell in love with Japan; I love Japan,” Dezaki says, explaining why he made the video in the first place. “And I want to see Japan become a better place. Because I do see these potential problems with racism and discrimination.”

  • ifstone

    Be strong! This discussion is very important. Good article but let’s hope it is also in the Japanese language press.

  • Roan23

    While the attacks on a well-meaning Japanese-American are most regrettable, this article is seriously flawed in at least two respects. Firstly, the term “racism” is tossed about in typical American fashion as an ill-defined and all-purpose label of disapproval. Racism properly understood is an ideology, the belief in “superior” vs. “inferior” peoples, as defined by genetics. If it is used simply to refer to a general preference for one’s own in-group or to regional or class snobbism, then practically everyone is a “racist.” Secondlly, the origin of bakachon has nothing to do with Korea or Koreans. It was only because, long after the term was coined, it was feared that false associations might be made that there was, so to speak, a verbal recall…This article comes from the same Washington Post that falsely reported that Japan purchased the Senkakus from China. The attitude seems to be: Who cares about accuracy, when there’s a chance to dump on Japan?

  • Andrew Engwirda

    Oh wow, yet another exposé! Another gaijin thinking he has stumbled onto the “hidden” truth about Japan. How about he fix his own country first? I don’t blame Japanese people for getting sick and tired of these people (from a foreigner who has somehow learned to live here without being a drama queen)

  • Eloy Gonzales

    In an educated society, at least we should expect tolerance. Anyone can express ideas and opinions. Any threat to anyone is not acceptable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.leonard.72 Richard Leonard

    You keep it up, Miki. Japan is one of the most racist countries on Earth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.david.5623 Greg David

    Looking at a lot of the Japanese comments his video got, you can see mostly emotional, defensive reactions.

    I think the type of responses he’s getting exposes the a lack of “critical thinking” proficiency in general. This has been a common observation by foreign educators working in Japan, that most people don’t make an effort to think too deeply, thoroughly or objectively about issues, particularly world issues.

    Verifying the meaning of “critical thinking”, through Wikipedia (gulp), I found a fair description of its principles & dispositions:

    6.1 Willingness to criticize oneself
    6.2 Reflective thought
    6.3 Competence

    I’d also add that:

    6.4 Thoroughness and focus in examining micro-issues
    6.5 Objectivity
    6.6 An awareness of fallacies or poor critical thinking patterns.

    Thus, I propose to any Japanese who is having a negative reaction to Dezaki’s video to exercise strong critical thinking skills before responding with an emotional defense.

    It’s frightening to think that some people are trying to destroy his reputation, and worse, making death threats all due to the lesson surely meant to stimulate positive discussion.

    I’d like to know if there is a campaign in Japan to promote better “critical thinking” skills. Any ideas?

  • http://www.facebook.com/phil.pidgeon.12 Phil Pidgeon

    I lived in the USA, NJ with my Japanese husband and my ‘double son’. On the official elementary school website for the area in which we lived it stated that there were no Japanese students in the Elementary School System. Racism and discrimination against Japanese people was so overt I felt threatened and feared for my life. As a European this was most unexpected and unpleasant. Racism exists in USA, Japan and everywhere ignorant and stupid people live. One cannot escape from it, the best way to deal with it is to ‘treat othere the way you would want to be treated yourself’. Stay safe and say no to racism.

    • TokyoStory

      You have *got* to be joking, right!? Strong racism in New Jersey against Japanese people?? I went to school in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, in the 1990′s, and we had Japanese and Korean exchange students in our public school. They were treated, if anything, as honored guests. In no way were they discriminated against or thought of badly. As a matter of fact, almost the entire school had a huge interest in the Japanese; a positive interest. Americans certainly do have some black-white issues due to the legacy of slavery, but it is absolutely wrong to think they dislike the Japanese; they generally admire and respect them. Notice how badly Japanese baseball players have been treated??

      Your story sounds extemely suspect to me, and I very seriously doubt any American public school (or perhaps even private) could post discriminatory remarks on their website. They would be sued so fast their heads would spin. NOT buying your story at all.

      • http://twitter.com/_Gentaro Gen

        You wrote:

        “Americans certainly do have some black-white issues due to the legacy of slavery, but it is absolutely wrong to think they dislike the Japanese; they generally admire and respect them.”

        It’s bold to speak on behalf of 300 million people. Your comment reminds me of the Japanese students mentioned in this article who don’t see racism. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the Asians in your school actually were treated well, but please do some research about discrimination against Asian Americans before making such sweeping statements. I have not met a single Japanese American raised on the mainland who has not experienced discrimination in one form or another. And since you mentioned a Korean exchange student, you might consider researching an event known as “The LA Riots.”

      • TaxiOnna

        My Japanese friend was an exchange student in North Carolina this year, and was routinely called “Yellow” and other derogatory Asian words. Although I am glad your experience was not this, it does not mean that other people don’t have different experiences than you. Please try to be respectful of that.

      • TokyoStory

        Okay, fair enough. I agree there must be racism on the street (in every country–Homo Sapiens are tribal by nature), but the point I would really like to make is that the U.S. has anti-racial discrimination laws which are enforced regularly. This makes the European lady’s story about American schools putting discriminatory language on their website quite hard to believe. If it did happen, the school would be sued and shut down quickly I would wager.

      • hilldomain

        not by the school district- kids say stupid things and pick on each other for anything-

      • Guest

        Gen: Perhaps we’re having a misunderstanding regarding terminology here. My comment was a reaction to what the “European” lady above wrote, where she said that the actual website of a school was discriminating against Japanese in particular (mentioning that they didn’t have any in the school), and that “Racism and discrimination against Japanese people was so overt I felt threatened and feared for my life.” I have gone to junior high school, high school, and college in Georgia and New York with (and been friends and roommates with) Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, etc., and not one of them has ever told me of there being any policy in any American institution to somehow discriminate against Asians, much less Japanese. None of them ever complained about having their lives threatened, and the Thai fellow was my best friend in college, so I think he might have

        I agree that racism is present all over the world (and I’m sure that there is anti-Asian racism in the U.S.), but racism on the street is quite different from institutional racism/discrimination, which is what the lady was claiming she experienced from that school. Despite the U.S.’s shortcomings, it does have anti-racial discrimination laws that are enforced regularly, which is exactly why I do not believe any school could get away with a website displaying racial discrimination—they would 100% be sued immediately. BTW, I do actually remember the L.A. Riots, which involved resentments specifically between black Americans and Korean grocers, whom the black Americans saw as taking over their business turf and clashing with their communities. Racism on the street? Sure. Institutional racism and discrimination against Asians by American Institutions and the broad sweep of U.S. society? Don’t think so.

      • Yukirat

        You might have gone to a great school (I hope so and congrats if you did), but many would beg to differ. While Phil’s story seems improbable today, you’d be surprised how many have an opposite experience: most of the Asian students I knew were not so much bullied as they are treated as non-entities.

    • pk@fire

      As an American, I’m appalled at your experience and want corrective action to be done. If you don’t mind, may I know the location of the area you lived in? I believe a call to the local authorities is in order as such things are not just un-American, but unethical and simply immoral.

  • Diane E Johnson

    There is truth in Dezaki’s words. Why does it have to be threatening? If you don’t agree, then try to prove him wrong instead.

  • Far East

    That’s a terrible experience indeed. One note to the author of this article though: discrimination does not mean racism. Xenophobia maybe, but racism certainly does not apply strictly speaking. I think there is xenophobia in Japan just like in any other country, because it is a human trait to distrust foreigners, even among people of the same country.

    • http://twitter.com/Red_Thread Nikki Segarra

      When detectives are hired to investigate whether a soon-to-be husband is Korean before agreeing to be married, and where simply being Korean means you are inferior, and unable to have rights as a citizen… well, yes, that’s racism.

      • Far East

        Yes, I heard those stories a long time ago. I don’t think they are applied anymore, except maybe in some very conservative families.
        But going as far as saying Koreans in Japan are “unable to have rights as citizen”? I’d have to disagree with that unless you can provide me with factual evidence of what you claim.

    • glenngould

      If you think the discrimination against blacks is not worse than against whites, then you are either blind, ignorant, or have not lived in Japan! Yes, there is RACISM.

      • Jordan Thompson

        For the most part I have found people in Japan to be incredibly friendly and even if they did not like me it is in their culture not to say anything.

        Most definitely, there is racism/discrimination in Japan. I am a white American Male currently living in Japan as a teacher and have experienced it. I have to be careful when I go to certain bars because they do not allow people that are not Japanese (Usually there will be a sign on the door), I have been turned away at the door of real estate offices while looking for a new house because I was not Japanese (My Japanese friend went in first and that was cool but when I walked in they gave me the big ole ‘Gaijin No’), I was going out to a club and was randomly insulted on an elevator ‘Baka Gaijin’, I was also told I was not aloud to date a girl because her family did not feel comfortable with me not being Japanese…it exists and proves that it happens here.

        However, with that said by no means does this represent the population as a whole. It would be the same to generalize all people in America and say they are slobs, materialistic, self-centered, loud, and lazy. Of course those people exists, and a lot more than I am proud to admit, but that does not represent everyone. I think that the lesson that was made is so important to share because it creates a sense of awareness with students and will help them grow. In essence this is a perfect lesson and a really great observation. A truly teachable moment. Some people in Japan are very proud and I can see why they do not like the negative attention brought by this video. But, it should not be taken down…if anything it should be commended for raising notice to an important issue.

        Also to clarify, the beginning of my response was quite negative, I have found in my time here that Japanese people are incredibly, sometimes overly, friendly. I can deal with the discrimination of a few people that might pick on me or talk down to me because I am not Japanese (those type of attitudes will exist anywhere you go). Japan is a wonderful place. People are usually extremely respectful and willing to help me out. Most people are shocked when they meet me because I have blonde hair and blue eyes (typical response…’aayyyy segoi’). I love the culture, meaning of family, level of respect, and the idea in Japan that the whole is more important than the individual. It is a great place. As a foreigner here I also have to realize that ‘Yes I am a foreigner and people are going to think about me in a different way’.

        To say that discrimination because of race doesn’t exist. That is just not true.

    • TaxiOnna

      Burakumin are an ethnic group within Japan who are considered by many as a separate race, and are hugely discriminated against. On top of that, Korean, Chinese, and other East Asian nationals who have lived in Japan their entire lives (and are citizens) routinely experience racism and discrimination on many fronts.

  • ww

    People who feel guilty inside tend to attack others vehemently to feel justified.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.d.archer.98 James Douglas Archer

    That is very sad. The ultra-nationalists are showing that Dezaki is correct.

  • Jaycasey

    I applaud Dezaki-san’s principled actions. Foreigners like myself who like Japan and generally love Japanese people are nonetheless frustrated by the lack of self-examination on the part of the Japanese. Their view on racism is an example. They don’t even see their own racism and I’ve never heard a Japanese criticize another Japanese for demonstrating outright racism against foreigners. My Japanese friends need the sort of mirror that Dezaki-san has provided. They should be thanking him.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alex.stopforth Alex Stopforth

      I absolutely agree with you, and I’m glad to see such a thoughtful comment.

    • http://twitter.com/_Gentaro Gen

      I agree with your post though I do think many Japanese are more conscious of racial discrimination than foreigners might perceive. I’ve seen Japanese people criticize each other for using the term “gaijin,” for example. I’ve also seen people chastise each other for, “jinshu sabetsu.” An important point to keep in mind while this is going on (and I’m sure you’re conscious of this) is that Japan is a huge country in terms of population, and people should avoid generalizations in general.

    • pk@fire

      I totally agree with you. As someone who goes on 2ch a lot, I find it ironic that they are demonizing Dezaki-san’s lecture on racism when they have entire sub-forums devoted to attacking other Asian countries in the region.

  • 151E

    Typical of ideological fanatics everywhere, instead of engaging in reasoned civil debate in the open marketplace of ideas, they resort to intimidation and harassment. Sadly, the authorities here often seem unable or unwilling to confront such extremists. It would be nice if the BOE and lawmakers would stand on principle in support of free speech and Mr. Dezaki, but I won’t hold my breath.

  • Devin

    If the discriminatory comments are seen as truth, then no one will see the problem…until the comments are targeted towards their race. It’s the same everywhere, including America.

  • risabear

    WOW! Good for you Dezaki! EVERY culture has areas of needed growth. If a culture never changes it grows stagnant.
    When I was living in Japan, an American friend of mine was on the train. A mother with her elementary-aged school child also got on the train. The child pointed to my friend and said (in Japanese, of course), “Look, Mom! A foreigner!” The mom gently slapped her child on the back of the head and replied, “What do you think you would be if you went to a different country? You’d be a foreigner too!” They didn’t realize that my friend could understand what they were saying.
    I thought that was a great reaction by a mother! Being a “foreigner” in Japanese is often considered an offense of gross magnitude. But, in reality, if you travel abroad you too will be a foreigner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jay.corrao.7 Jay Corrao

    People/Nations always seem to turn a blind eye to truths that they don’t want to admit. I am an American who finds much of what Japanese culture has to offer very enjoyable and beautiful. However to say that racism was not and is not prevalent in Japan is like saying that slavery in the US never occurred or the Holocaust never happened. Unless a nation and its people can look at it’s past with honest, open eyes, substantial change cannot occur. Just like there are many Americans who would like to sweep the uncomfortable parts of our past under the rug. It is obvious the same type of thing occurs in every nation including Japan. To turn a blind eye to the truths of the past only brings shame. The only honorable course is to accept the past and move forward. It saddens me that so many deem misinformation the only recourse to truth and there are those who will go to such extreme lengths to silence the opinions of others.

  • Joe Zoo

    If you ask an average Japanese citizen “Is there any racism in Japan?” A very typical response is “No because there is only one race in Japan – Japanese.” Yeah, try it out, it’s true. This is the way that many Japanese people think. So I fully support Dezaki-sensei and I hope that he does not take his awesome video down. If they force him to an ultimatum like “You take down the video or quit your job now!” I hope that he will sue his employers for wrongful termination. But I doubt that would happen now, as such an incident would go straight up to the front page again.

    • http://twitter.com/_Gentaro Gen

      I think you’re right about the typical Japanese response to that question. I also think the issue gets a different response due simply to lack of exposure to it being framed in North American terms. One thing about your wrongful termination point: I’m not sure if Dezaki is still employed by the JET Program, but if so, he has likely signed an agreement to not engage in political activity. His video should not count as political activity, but if this issue blows up, his refusal to take it down may be interpreted that way. For the moment, I think it’s very important that people express support for his decision to keep the video up.

  • I am from Middle East

    Miki Dezaki should take care of his own business in USA because the situation there is a nightmare for people from Middle East, no matter if you are arab or persian. I still remember those poor Sikhs who got shot few months ago by a white supremacist, and the indian guy who was pushed in New York subway by a woman who said she did not like arabs and people from Middle East.

    I am of arab origin and I can say Japan is a heaven if you compare it to USA. When I was there for 3 years, I felt what real racism is, white supremacists where real threat if you compare them to those japanese black trucks.

    Dezaki does not know what racism means. In USA, people spit on you, cops frisking you all the time…I hated that place and I hated them. Dezaki is just a poor Rosa parks wannabe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nazeer.nora Nazeer Nora

    Yes there is a racism in Japan I personally faced ,my son too since Iam foreigner and my 4 years old son is different body and face so he faced allot of racism in kindergarten and hospital they always telling him you are big your eyes are big your foot is big until he get upset and refuse going kindergarten , it’s really hard for me live in Japan ,even Iam thinking to leave it for any other country where my child can live peacely

    • Sheila Ryan Hara

      Nazeer Nora,

      I am sorry to hear about your struggles. As a long term resident of Japan, I often hear such stories from parents of children who a re seen as different, somehow, and in a conformist society like Japan’s that is rarely a good thing. I hope you can find a support group of foreign parents where you live or online to help you get through this!

    • hilldomain

      yah they call mixed kids half- I dont like that which is why the lady above called hers double

  • http://www.facebook.com/diego.delavega.129 Diego De La Vega

    Dezaki when he says “America” is discriminating against us too, the people who are not from the US but were born in the American CONTINENT. US people are not the only “americans”, and by you perpetuating this lie, you are discriminating on us

    • Honest Question

      I’ve heard some people complain about this, but what would you call people from the USA as an alternative to “American”? No other North or South American country has America in its name; every other country has its own unique name that can be applied (Mexico=Mexicans, Brazil=Brazilians, etc) but people from the US don’t.

  • Eugene

    I think this video does more harm than good dude. There’s racism everywhere, it’s part of human nature. Saying there’s discrimination in Japan is like telling someone who never really thought about the sky much that it’s blue and they’re like “oh yeah, I didn’t realise.” Humans always need an enemy. Somebody who’s different. Once aliens start bombing the shit out of Earth, only then we will all be the same. Just human.

    So in a way, you’re living up to be exactly that stereotypical American who loves to go to other countries and preach what you think is right. Japan’s the safest country I’ve ever been to, in the 8 years that I’ve been here the biggest discrimination was a landlord not willing to rent to me cos “foreigners party too much and don’t separate rubbish”, but dude, foreigners do party too much cos home partying is normal in the west and they don’t usually properly separate their rubbish cos most can’t read Japanese. I hear a lot of people complain in Japan how “Chinese people are rude cos they don’t queue”, but in the same sentence they’d comment how great Chinese food is and how beautiful Shanghai is and how Chinese Wall is amazing. Is that racist? IMO people commenting on my eye colour saying that it’s pretty is not really in the same “racist” league as getting your fucking face kicked in cos of your skin colour. So yes, there’s discrimination here, but you need to rub it in people’s faces and make it worse, nah, not really.

    • hilldomain

      there is racism everywhere but Japanese people aren’t aware of the racism in Japan- thats the difference. I have been refused apartments- there were folders in the real estate office that said pets and foreigners on them- they were for landlords willing to rent to foreigners and people who had pets.This is in Tokyo- I have several other examples like being stopped several times in the streets by police with zero cause- I am not making this up absolutely no cause- I was simply walking down the street. I am 40 years old and white and I look like a business man. Your just wrong- getting told you smell like butter or your eyes are big or kicked in the face or politely harassed is all racism- if you are singled out and made to feel ugly or just wrong thats racism.

  • http://twitter.com/_Gentaro Gen

    This is a great piece, Max. Thanks for spreading the word about Dezaki’s message. One thing, though: I’m not sure the “Comfort Women” issue is appropriately labeled an example of “racism.” Race is surely an important component of the dehumanization that makes enslavement possible, but sex slavery 70 years ago in an age of militarism and imperialism seem like poor teaching tools in an effort to educate children about “racial discrimination.” Neither would we, in the American context, use black slavery as an example of present-day discrimination, though some of the roots of that discrimination lie there and beyond. I write this because it seems to me that few Western journalists can get through a critique of contemporary Japan without making a WW2 reference, and this tendency bothers me greatly. @_gentaro

    • hilldomain

      because the same attitudes continually rear their ugly heads- although maybe not as graphically- the root has never been pulled which is why the city where I live allowed a group of anti- Koreans to march down the street screaming dispersion for Koreans to leave Japan- this was in Tokyo just passing outside my house.

      • http://twitter.com/_Gentaro Gen

        This anti-Korean group’s views are abhorrent, but freedom of speech is freedom of speech. This group would (rightfully) have been allowed to march in Seattle or DC under the protection of the 1st Amendment.

        As for your comment about those old attitudes rearing their ugly heads. I take your point that WW2 as historical context remains relevant in many discussions, but it seems to me that unlike in the case of any other Axis power, Western journalists treat Japan as though it were living in a perpetual “postwar” period – as though that were the last significant event Japan was involved with.

  • http://twitter.com/_Gentaro Gen

    What needs to happen now is pushback by Japanese moderates in support of Dezaki and encouragement of his BOE to withdraw its request for him to take the video down. It’s tragic (if unsurprising) that the BOE would so quickly ask him to remove the video in some attempt to make this go away. @_gentaro

  • Pat

    This phenomenon is more ethnocentric than racist; it exists everywhere, even in Europe and America especially.

    • hilldomain

      its racism period- yes its ethnocentric but who cares why they are discriminating or why they are racist- the fact remains they are being racist. Just take Koreans for example- how can Japan who’s ancestors are Korean not allow them certain jobs or places to live or tell there sons and daughters not to marry Koreans? It is an anthropological fact that the modern day Japanese are of Korean decent but the history books and many people still just won’t accept it. Your delusional if you think Japan doesn’t have racism. Its not even a discussion.

  • Ricardo

    I personally think that Dezaki’s video had very little meaning without a comparative perspective of other countries/societies and as such does very little to really explore racism but he should of course be allowed to express and display his opinions freely without these ugly threats. I lived as a foreigner in both Japan and Germany and believe me, Japan is a heaven for foreigners. There are places foreigners simply do not go to in Germany. There is also a difference between institutional or formal racism and informal/social racism which is much more difficult to root out. In the former kind, Japan is doing much better than most countries in the world. In short, some perspective

    • hilldomain

      I think the formal institutional racism in Japan is quite advanced and history has shown the ugliest side of Japan’s racism but thats history. Japan is extremely polite about their racism and maybe ignorant in many respects but with people like Ishihara in such a high office and knowing there has to be more like him, I cant say Japan is very advanced in routing out racism. They are just not as loud as Americans. They make no apologies for their policing habits of foreigners or that foreigners are discriminated against for employment and housing. If Germany is worse that doesn’t change the fact that students should be educated that it is wrong- its amazing these kids can’t think for themselves and decide what is or isnt racist.

    • kleesrosegarden

      I’ve spent time in both places (Japan and Germany) and found both lovely to visit – but experienced overt discrimination in both places. However both are highly enlightened in comparison to parts of my own country (UK) and the US, where I’ve been in some districts which have felt actively hostile and dangerous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ywan.hamon Ywan Hamon

    Intermarriages between Japanese and Ainu were actively promoted by the Ainu to lessen the chances of discrimination against their offspring. As a result, many Ainu are indistinguishable from their Japanese neighbors, but some Ainu-Japanese are interested in traditional Ainu culture. For example, Oki, born as a child of an Ainu father and a Japanese mother, became a musician who plays the traditional Ainu instrument tonkori. There are many small towns in the southeastern or Hidaka region where full-blooded Ainu may still be seen such as in Nibutani (Ainu: Niputay). Many such children live in Sambutsu especially, on the eastern coast. In 1966 the number of “pure” Ainu was about 300 (Honna, Tajima, and Minamoto, 2000).

  • http://www.facebook.com/tamarah.cohen.9 Tamarah Cohen

    “He carefully avoided the most extreme and controversial cases — for example, Japan’s wartime enslavement of Korean and other females in Asia for sex”…. “Females”??

  • Jordan Thompson

    For the most part I have found people in Japan to be incredibly friendly and even if they did not like me it is in their culture not to say anything.

    Most definitely there is racism/discrimination in Japan. I am a white American Male currently living in Japan as a teacher and have experienced it. I have to be careful when I go to certain bars because they do not allow people that are not Japanese (Usually there will be a sign on the door), I have been turned away at the door of real estate offices while looking for a new house because I was not Japanese (I went with a Japanese friend and that was fine but as soon I came in they gave me the big X and ‘No Gaigen’, I was going out to a club and was randomly insulted on an elevator by some people even though I had not said anything ‘Baka Gaijin’, I was also told I was not aloud to date a girl because her family did not feel comfortable with me not being Japanese…it exists and proves that it happens here.

    However, with that said by no means does this represent the population as a whole. It would be the same to generalize all people in America and say they are slobs, materialistic, self-centered, loud, and lazy. Of course those people exists, and a lot more than I am proud to admit, but that does not represent everyone. I think that the lesson that was made is so important to share because it creates a sense of awareness with students and will help them grow. In essence this is a perfect lesson and a really great observation. A truly teachable moment. Some people in Japan are very proud and I can see why they do not like the negative attention brought by this video. But, it should not be taken down…if anything it should be commended for raising notice to an important issue.

    Also to clarify, the beginning of my response was quite negative, I have found in my time here that Japanese people are incredibly, sometimes overly, friendly. I can deal with the discrimination of a few people that might pick on me or talk down to me because I am not Japanese (those type of attitudes will exist anywhere you go). Japan is a wonderful place. People are usually extremely respectful and willing to help me out. Most people are shocked when they meet me because I have blonde hair and blue eyes (typical response…’aayyyy segoi’). I love the culture, meaning of family, level of respect, and the idea in Japan that the whole is more important than the individual. It is a great place. As a foreigner here I also have to realize that ‘Yes I am a foreigner and people are going to think about me in a different way’.

    To say that discrimination because of race doesn’t exist. That is just not true.

    Great lesson!

  • http://twitter.com/shahg64 sha_g

    ahhh come to any red state in the US and you would really find out what racism is….

    • hilldomain

      you’ve never lived in Japan. If Republican was a race you’d be a racist- now your just a bigot.

  • Ryo Furue

    I too applaud Dezaki-san’s actions. I hate, abhor, and detest those low-intelligence people who do not express their views in rational and fair ways. Not only on the subject of nationalism and racism, but on everything. All they can do is to resort to cowardly verbal violence behind the anonymity of the Internet. And I hope you won’t generalize. They are fortunately minority.

    I’m Japanese, born and raised up in Japan until the age of 36, now living in the US. I intended to say I’m ashamed, but I’m not, because I don’t feel I have anything to do with them.

    Regarding the main subject, of course, there are, and have been, racial and other discriminations in Japan. It’s noble of Dezaki-san to tell it to children; it’s extremely important for everybody to think about it.

    By the way, I’d like to make a minor correction. The “chon” part of the phrase “baka chon” does NOT mean Korean. It’s an onomatopoeia representing (roughly) light touch, and so “baka-chon camera” actually means a camera with which even a baka (stupid person) can take pictures by a light touch (meaning “easily”). The mistake Dezaki-san made is a common one and is an “over-correction” similar to “correcting” “human” to “huperson” to avoid (the non-existent) sexism. (See bakachon in the Japanese Wikipedia.)

  • hilldomain

    The key is that when kids look negatively at other people or discriminate against them because of race its wrong and we need to teach people that. I dont care why racism is a problem in Japan- ie history or ethnocentrism or because they live on an island and were isolated geographically or by language- its wrong and if Japanese people aren’t taught to think critically about their own cultural someone needs to teach them how to do it. Americans are extremely critical about their own culture. Its part of their culture. He was hired not simply as an English teacher but to share culture. Its very obvious that Japan has racism- Who cares why or that other countries also have racism.

    The real issues that are different with Japan is one they don’t take criticism from outsiders well, and two there are oblivious or ignorant (largely) about the problem with racism because there are so few foreigners in Japan. In other words it’s not a problem for Japanese people because they are not affected. In America minorities have a huge voice and that is why there has been drastic change (and there needed to be).

    If the attitudes and beliefs change the behavior will as well. Racism is fear and ignorance personified. In America most will say its wrong and you have a legal course of action and will most likely win(sometimes even if yo were not discriminated against). In Japan you have zero legal recourse.

    For example imagine if mayor Juliani makes a public announcement ” we are now taking precautions for natural disasters. We believe that all Hispanics and blacks will loot stores so please be careful in an emergency” . The mayor of Tokyo has said things like this and he is very popular. In America he would be dead..

    Japan has been reprimanded for their human rights violations.Just read wikipedia.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Japan#Freedom_of_movement

    We all have the view of Japan as such a nice place and the people being s nice and it is and they are unless you do something they disagree with. The discrimination is very calm and civil to a point except once you are detained but it doesn’t make the policies or actions any less racist or discriminatory.

  • hilldomain

    “A controversial Immigration Bureau website launched in February allows informants to report the name, address, or workplace of any suspicious foreigners for such reasons as “causing a nuisance in the neighborhood” and “causing anxiety.” In the face of protests from human rights groups, the site was amended in March to remove the preset reasons, but remained operational at year’s end.” from wikipedia

  • Kend

    Sigh. A common stereotype of the American abroad: a GUEST surviving under the hospitality of the host nation (by his/her own choice), complains about perceived problems with the people/culture…despite the fact that the traveler comes from a place that is awash with the societal ills in question. I suppose the only thing that makes this newsworthy is that the American is using his place of employment (in addition to the obligatory self-important YouTube upload) to give his sermon.

    However, I do not want Mr Dezaki to lose his job, nor do I
    wish him any hardship. He seems like a bright and energetic fellow with a heart for what he is doing, and a person with far more to offer than a litany of complaints and political views. It also seems quite evident that the irony of an American preaching about xenophobia, nationalism and discrimination, especially in a place like Japan (which I’d opine is generally more open-minded and accepting than most places, including the U.S.), is not lost on Mr. Dezaki. He clearly gets it. I think his actions were, at
    worst, more of a product of built-in American paternalism than a conscious
    condescension.

    While I don’t think it was his place to moralize (intentionally or otherwise) in the classroom of his hosts, I do support his right—and the rights of his protestors—to engage in free and legal expression.

    • Jameika

      Your view is blocking your logic. You’re seeing him as a representative of the United States and he is not. Nor is he responsible for what his country of citizenship does. No one is responsible for that.

      He is, very simply, trying to improve the place where he lives. That is all. Adding nationality to this is completely missing the point. Everyone has a right to better where he lives no matter his nationality. Countries are invented and only exist because we believe that they do. There is absolutely no irony here. It doesn’t matter where he is from.

      • Kend

        I don’t think there is anything illogical in my view(s) or post–just stating an opinion like you and Mr. Dezaki have chosen to do. I agree with your statement that Mr. Dezaki should not be burdened with having to represent every American, and I further agree that he should not be held responsible for the actions of other Americans. There is nothing in my post that contradicts the aforementioned. That we be no better than making reaching generalizations about Japan, based on isolated anecdotes and/or personal encounters with certain Japanese people. I did not introduce nationality; Mr. Dezaki did (further framed by this article). There is a susceptibility to human frailty in all peoples, just like there are endearing strengths in mankind. One must decide for one’s own self, where energy is most positively focused.

      • Jameika

        Okay, so you weren’t suggesting that there is irony in an American talking about discrimination? It sure looks like you were when you referred to irony. And with statements like: ” I think his actions were, at worst, more of a product of built-in American paternalism than a conscious condescension” and calling his students “his hosts” sounds to me like you’re belittling Mr Dezaki’s position. They are not “his hosts”. They are not more nor less valuable and neither are their opinions. Their teacher is sharing an experience with them and they are relating to that experience. They are learning and it doesn’t matter that their teacher is American. Your insistence that he is a ‘guest’ is illogical.

        My point was that it seems to me that your view of him as less than other people who also live where he lives is not allowing you to see that there is no irony there. It is only a teacher trying to better the world for his students. And that is where your view is blocking your logic.

        Everyone has their own cultural perspective (that is in NO way limited to country) and personal perspective. Everyone’s view will be different and sharing those experiences and views is part of learning.

      • Kend

        No, I actually was/am suggesting that the situation could be viewed as being ironic, particularly the element of a person leaving his home (where racism is arguably ingrained in the short history of the culture and still relatively widespread), traveling thousands of miles to a place where the nationalism and ethnocentrism he references is, in my opinion, innocuous by comparison to the place he came from. One might argue that if fighting discrimination was a passion of his, he’d have saved the money on airfare and labored to clean up his own household instead. As the aforementioned actions could reasonably be viewed as an outcome of events contrary to what was or might have been expected, I think it is “logical” to think that one may find it somewhat “ironic”…despite the fact that you may personally disagree. I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Dezaki acknowledges this possibility as well, as evidenced by the preface in his youtube video. That being said, I do realize that the situation is a bit more involved than that, and I do give him the benefit of the doubt and take him at his word, regarding his motivation and intentions–I also believe this to be evident in my initial comment.

        Yes I do consider him to be a “guest”, because he is NOT a citizen of the country he was graciously invited to occupy. This is not a pejorative term, nor have I sought to use it as such. I’ve personally had the privilege of being able to travel to numerous countries, and always considered myself to be a guest of the “host” nation I was in, regardless of length of stay. My use of the terms “guest” and “host” were not meant to belittle Mr. Dezaki, nor were they meant to discredit him; I simply used them, and felt it was important to do so, to add context to the discussion…nor more, no less.

        I completely agree with your statement about everyone having their own cultural and personal perspective; I think we both may share that same point (despite having some differences as to how we are applying it to the subject at hand). I think the aforementioned philosophy dictates that people should avoid speaking in absolutes, should judge themselves before judging others and above all, focus on recognizing and promoting the positive attributes in different cultures, as opposed to perceived shortcomings. To do otherwise might be, as you might say, illogical.

      • Jameika

        Fair enough. I think I get what you’re saying.

        What stopped me at your comment was the defining him as ‘other’ and making the assertion that he should bear responsibility for discrimination in the United States (rather than allowing him to draw on the experience in the States to see the racism and bigotry that exist everywhere). This is not how I see things and, in the larger picture, I would argue that it is a dangerous thing (and the same kind of thing that Mr. Dezaki is trying to bring into the conversation) for a society to do.

        I do not know anything of his citizenship nor do I think it is relevant. I will agree with you that when traveling it is fair to act the part of the “guest” and to defer to locals, but I have never felt that I am a guest in a place where I live, nor do I think that anyone should. If a person is willing to live in a place, work, and be part of society, then if he wants to better that place, he should do so. I do not see any reason he should “clean up at home” before trying to better where he lives. I hear what you’re saying, but I do not think that the conditions of where he has lived before are fully his responsibility more than where he lives now. It’s all the same to me, so I see no irony. I will make no claim regarding the innocuousness of Japan’s real or perceived racism in relationship to the conditions in the United States. He saw discrimination and wanted his students to consider it consciously rather than accept it as unchangeable reality. That opportunity to have an open discussion about those issues is afforded to people in the United States as it is part of the national dialogue. As far as I can tell Mr Dezaki, as a teacher, was trying to provide a similar opportunity for his students to experience that discussion.

  • Ryo Furue

    Dezaki-san’s examples may not be the most relevant ones and do contain factual errors and issues whose factuality is debated. BUT, there are racial and other discriminations in Japan, of course, and it’s critically important to make people more aware of that. That is totally different from bashing or hating Japan. Those people attacking Dezaki-san don’t understand the distinction. They aren’t offering valid criticisms but are attacking him irrationally. Probably the best thing to do is just to ignore them. They are (on average) people who do not want to be educated, it appears to me.

  • XeonForge

    It’s a sad reality in Japan now and is only going to get worse as time goes on. With Japan’s shrinking aging population they are only going to get more bitter as time goes on. Japan US relations have always been somewhat difficult to gauge. It doesn’t take much to turn things south which is not a good sign when we have so many other more pressing problems in the region. With Japan’s already negative view of any and all things foreign. Added to it’s extreme xenophobia and tendency towards dangerous nationalism. This is all the more reason not to bring up issues which fans the flames. It creates huge problems for not only foreigners in Japan but also foreign businesses as well as our ability to conduct diplomatic exchanges. It has created major headaches for both countries and has brought into question our alliance many many many times.

    Japanese have even criticized Abe for visiting Washington as they see it conspiring with the enemy. Is that how Japanese really think on us? Are we really that disliked there? Just because we have a government which has certain unpopular military policies. Doesn’t mean every American is a bad person or agrees with those policies. As far as racism goes I generally think it is best to not bring up the topic. I am not sure how we can debate this in a country which never had a civil rights movement though. So how can we really expect them to understand the differences when it presents itself. It’s important we attempt go get past these differences if our alliance is to remain intact. With that said maybe we should look to ways of strengthening our relationship by not calling out sensitive issues which are going to get a negative response, just saying.

  • XeonForge

    Regardless though I think it is important we try to see things from a Japanese point of view. It is no small task granted but I would like to believe that Japan has some objective people. Otherwise we will never have good relations which is not in either of our best interests.

  • Roan23

    I remember the days when Japanese-Americans came to Japan in a romantic quest for their “roots” and basking in ethnic soldarity. (After spending many a decade here, one of them confided in me: “I’ve learned that I’m at heart an American.”) Dezaki-san is to be commended for looking beyond such personal concerns to larger social issues. I just hope he keeps in mind that attitudes toward members of various minorities in this country, while hardly perfect, have vastly improved and continue to improve. Forty years ago, E.O. Reischauer, the Japan-born Harvard Japanologist, one-time U.S. ambassador, and a good friend to this country, wrote in a best-selling book that the Japanese were in some sense more “racist” than Americans and that it was time for them to overcome their sense of being utterly unique and to “join the human race.” But that was then…If anything, the Japanese today tend to be so concerned about politically incorrect words that they overreact. The term chon, meaning dull or silly, long predates Japanese rule of Korea, and the term bakachon-kamera was coined with no reference to Korea or Koreans. But through folk etymology and hypersensitivity, the notion spread that it had discriminatory intent, a misperception perpetuated in this article…A popular dish from Miyazaki Prefecture is chikin-nanban, lit. “chicken-southern-barbarian,” nanban being a premodern term for Europeans. Is that “racist”? I hardly think so…

  • hermes

    Just watching the video, I am appalled at the way Mr. Dezaki is presenting racisim and discrimnation in Japan. I feel as if he’s trying to create more of a shock factor (even the way he’s presenting himself within the video) and takes attention away from the real problem that exists within the society. My belief is that racial discrimination occurs in Japan but in a smaller prevalence compared to the U.S. for a very good reason… because ethnically, 98.5% of the population is Japanese and even the few Zainichi’s are often visually hard to distinguish. Most of the students probably couldn’t identify with it simply because they were never exposed to it.
    However, I believe there is discrimination at a more fundamental level and at a degree far more severe than in the United States. Many cultural anthropologists sees Japan as a prime example of a shame-based society. Discriminations happen daily based on socio-economic levels, education, lifestyle, and looks. Just simply showing “Eye of the Storm”(brown eyes/blue eyes which is almost irrelevant in Japan) or speaking of Burakumin (a problem which is nearly disappearing) makes the topic more dramatic, however, were the students really able to relate it to themselves? Or was it more a feel good curriculum blinding the students away from true nature of discrimination which probably differs a lot from Western cultures.
    My question is if Mr. Dezaki really spent the time and effort to create an effective curriculum catered towards the high school students specifically in Japan. Does he really understand discrimination from a Japanese perspective? I believe he’s intention is noble. However, the video is disappointing. It seems political and personal, a youtube novelty.

  • hermes

    Just watching the video, I am appalled at the way Mr. Dezaki is presenting racisim and discrimnation in Japan. I feel as if he’s trying to create more of a shock factor (even the way he’s presenting himself within the video) and takes attention away from the real problem that exists within the society. My belief is that racial discrimination occurs in Japan but in a smaller prevalence compared to the U.S. for a very good reason… because ethnically, 98.5% of the population is Japanese and even the few Zainichi’s are often visually hard to distinguish. Most of the students probably couldn’t identify with it simply because they were never exposed to it.
    However, I believe there is discrimination at a more fundamental level and at a degree far more severe than in the United States. Many cultural anthropologists sees Japan as a prime example of a shame-based society. Discriminations happen daily based on socio-economic levels, education, lifestyle, and looks. Just simply showing “Eye of the Storm”(brown eyes/blue eyes which is almost irrelevant in Japan) or speaking of Burakumin (a problem which is nearly disappearing) makes the topic more dramatic, however, were the students really able to relate it to themselves? Or was it more a feel good curriculum blinding the students away from true nature of discrimination which probably differs a lot from Western cultures.
    My question is if Mr. Dezaki really spent the time and effort to create an effective curriculum catered towards the high school students specifically in Japan. Does he really understand discrimination from a Japanese perspective? I believe he’s intention is noble. However, the video is disappointing. It seems political and personal, a youtube novelty.

  • EQ

    I used to think that there is no racism in Japan because discriminating against foreigners is such a normal part of life in this country that the Japanese did not even realize that there was racism…But attitudes are changing. The Japanese travel more, have more contact with foreigners than ever before and have access to the internet. It’s a slow process but things are definitely changing for the better. Just like anyone who have no solid argument (and know it), the ultra-nationalists have no choice but to resort to terrorist tactics to get their rhetorics heard.

  • Mike2

    I respect this guy, being of Japanese heritage and speaking up about what really goes on here. The apologist cant say he is a white loser who back in the states couldnt hack it. Racism affects us all in Japan because if your different and not a Japanese, your fair game. Japanese American, Chinese, Caucasin, anything not Japanese, your different and not part of Unique Japan. It gets to be real annoying.

  • Mike2

    @taxionna:
    yes, there is discrimination throughout the South, I grew up there. But guess what? You can move to Seatle, California, Guam, Hawaii, and other places where there are many Japanese. Thats whats great about a multiracial society. Racism is nationwide in Japan, with the eception of some gehttos like Roppongi or Isezakicho or some Brazilian town where they are treated like outcast to be quarantined. Remember, Japan attacked America, but we forgave and forgot, now Hawaii is practically owned by the Japanese- the same state that was attacked. Uhm..I dont think that if Tojo would of been victorious that he would of allowed us Americans to reclaim Guam or the Phillipines. Your comparing racial or regional racism with nationalism, apples and oranges. I dont want to hear the foriegner occupying Japan excuse either. It goes both ways; there are thousands of Japanese companies in the US with Japanese expat management and locally hired staff. How many here? maybe I can count on 1 hand those companies managed and administratively staffed with US personnel in Japan. Actually I dont know of any, only joint ventures, managed by Japanese.Ive heard japanese say they would never work for a foriegner because of “pride: Whats that say about foriegners working for Japanese? We have no pride? Perhaps thats what they think of us? The POWs in WW2 were beheaded because their lack of “pride” There are so many issues in this place that need to be recongnized for what they are so the playing field is level.