Following are a selection of readers’ responses to last month’s Just Be Cause column by Debito Arudou, headlined “Meet Mr. James, gaijin clown”:
Stop ranting and raving
Having lived in San Francisco for nearly 46 years and grown up in the shadow of, and played in, Independence Hall in Philadelphia as a child, had I chosen the career of barbering I might have come to Japan and worked trimming the hair of the lunatic fringe.
Debito’s latest rant and rave about the creature at McDonald’s is something I would expect in San Francisco, truly the birthplace of crackpots, dissidents and malcontents.
I have been a visitor to Japan 20-plus times since 1983 and can say that in my visits to people that I knew in San Francisco, I have not witnessed all the imagined ills that Debito claims exist.
Yes, it is true that landlords in Japan don’t want to rent to foreigners. I’ve got news for you, dear readers: The same thing happens in America. As a landlord in San Francisco with over 22 units, I have rejected foreigners just based on the fact that they were foreigners. I just could not deal with them, and it was not language as a barrier but customs and manners.
In my visits to Osaka, I have been an invited guest at a Christian church, and the pastor wanted me to give a small talk to the congregation. I reminded him that my Japanese was limited to menu items and a few other catchy phrases, but he wanted me to speak in English. All paid attention, and afterwards at the luncheon in the church a few people came up to me and tried to say something nice in English. Nobody ridiculed me, and I can assure you as an old East Coast hand who majored in flippancy and minored in sarcasm in college, little can or would be pulled over my eyes in any language in any country.
Many things I see in Japan are childish and immature. I let them pass by. Having a nitwit pushing a product isn’t worth mentioning only for the fact that its something foolish and nobody takes foolish things seriously.
I challenge Debito to stop ranting and raving on every little nonserious matter. I realize that injustices make him miserable, but how else would he be happy?
ANDREW J. BETANCOURT
Yellow Kid was Caucasian
Mr. Arudou should do a bit more research before incorrectly citing supposed ethnic stereotypes. The Richard F. Outcault cartoon “The Yellow Kid” published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was not, as the writer erroneously assumed, an ethnic slur against Asians, but rather a small Caucasian child dressed in a yellow nightshirt.
I imagine Mr. Arudou must also assume that another famous Outcault comic character, Buster Brown, was an ethnic poke at Hispanics.
JOHN E. MARQUARDT
Keep up the good work!
As a non-Japanese living in Japan, I thank you, Debito. The people saying “Suck it up” need to think a bit more.
I’m going to complain to McDonald’s. Keep up the good work!
Racism retards all
I recommend (McDonald’s Japan spokesman) Mr. Junichi Kawaminami and his ilk promote Japanese restaurant chains in the USA with the hideous Asian stereotypes of yore. The howls of protest from a group of people with too much pride to suffer such degradation may awaken this ignorant hubris-ridden fellow to the effects of what may, at a glance, seem innocent and “lighthearted.”
There is no room, nor justification, for what amounts to racism, especially when it is being used to mold the attitudes and prejudices of the young.
The foreign community here may react in whatever way it deems appropriate, but they are not the only people affected — racism retards all.
Japan, as part of the wider world, is damaged by the perpetuation of the “unique island/ignorant, barbaric foreigner” handle. Japanese tourists expressing genuine surprise in Australia at the natives having manners does little to enhance Japan’s image, and the “we Japanese” used to separate the speaker’s “unique” culture from the rest of humanity tends to raise hackles, and the Japanese deserve better than that.
The McDonald’s campaign may be trivial, but it is racist to accept racism not tolerated elsewhere, and the slide into overt racism and discrimination is a gentle slope, and insidiously subtle.
I have enjoyed my 15 years in Japan, and have been treated very well, but find myself preparing to leave in response to a subtle shift towards isolationist practices. Besides, as a 40-year postgraduate, widely read and traveled, deportment- and finishing-school polished, and a Mensa, it’s become a tad tedious excusing being treated as an ignorant, oafish child because of my skin color, no matter how innocent the motive.
Mascot is deeply offensive
I couldn’t agree more with Debito Arudou. I have been living in Japan for over 10 years and I still get the same stereotypical questions every time I venture outside my own home: Where are you from? Can you eat Japanese food? When are you going home?
Having Mr. James as a mascot on prime-time TV just re-enforces the same happy-go-lucky “I am just here for the weekend” negative gaijin image I have been trying to overcome since I came here.
Personally, I take strong offense to this image and the ads as a whole, but then again, since I have lived here so long I have almost come to accept the fact that my rights and opinions are a secondary concern.
RICHARD FROM NORTH AMERICA
So how does it feel?
I must say that it is surprising that with all the vitriol he spews, Debito Arudou is continuously printed in The Japan Times. Every time I read him, it’s always about how gaijin are suffering this, gaijin are suffering that. Does he simply have nothing else to do than to find and point out ways in which Japan isn’t a perfect democracy like the U.S.?
As he disclaims, this isn’t worth protesting. No matter where you go, stereotypes exist. This isn’t the U.S. or Canada. Get over it. No one is asking you to come live here, get naturalized and start paying taxes.
To come to a different country and expect to be treated like an equal, especially in a homogenous country like Japan, simply because you get married and start paying taxes, is something of a covert contract. Gaijin who come here know full well that they are venturing into a different country with a different culture and values, and ones that aren’t necessarily as democratic as back home.
So is the racial discrimination situation back where you live all that much better? Do blacks, Asians and Mexicans really get “equal treatment” in America? I agree with the Asian-Americans cited in the article: “Karma’s a bitch.”
I too don’t find Mr. James offensive. What’s a little fun? We do it too! We still have Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. We still sell Geisha products. Taco Bell did it with the Chihuahua dog and, being a Mexican-American, I was bummed when I heard antiracism groups had it shut down. Speedy Gonzales is my hero. Having endured comments like “wetback” and “beaner” back home even though I was born and raised there, when I hear white people complaining about the word gaijin, all I can do is look back and ask, “How’s it feel?”
“Everything Mr. James says is in katakana.” Well, boo hoo! Whenever I see an American film and there are Mexicans in it, I invariably have to hear them utter things like “see-nyor” and “meester.”
The solution is simple. This isn’t America’s 51st state. If you don’t like it here, you can leave.
Campaign working wonders
I must say that the new ad campaign for McDonald’s is working wonders, especially with its own employees. Of course, coming from a company that is a butt of many “McSame” jokes, what can one really expect?
A recent case in point: I went to a McCafe, the McDonald’s version of Starbucks (without the overpriced, burned coffee) with a Japanese coworker. The coworker ordered first, spoke to me in English, then I ordered in Japanese. As to be expected, the high school girl behind the counter asked my coworker what I was drinking, as if the previous conversation had never occurred, as if I was not even there.
It was probably my mistake for not pointing to the picture on the menu, or not “katakanizing” my Japanese, wearing goofy glasses or slicking down my hair. I wonder what would have happened if I had walked in the store like that? Maybe McDonald’s asked Dave Spector for advice on their ad campaign, since he is the guru on all things gaijin.
NOT IN CLUB JAPAN (AND NOT SEEKING MEMBERSHIP)