Fukushima, suicide and nihongo fluency: readers' mails

A grab bag of readers’ mail in response to recent Community articles:

Free speech for people, not firms

Hifumi Okunuki’s question in “Union, business concerns put limits on freedom of speech” (Labor Pains, Aug. 20) as to which right is more important, the company’s freedom of speech or the union’s right to solidarity, was very interesting for me.

As someone who supports the right to almost any kind of free speech, including hate speech, I’d argue that the union’s rights are still more important in that the question assumes the corporate personhood of the employer.

I think it’s perfectly all right for a corporate executive to bash a union in his or her private time, but as a representative of the company, he or she should not be allowed to. Free speech is for people, not companies; I’ll believe a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.


Drivel could poison fresh minds

Re: “Triumph of Tokyo Olympic bid sends wrong signal to Japan’s resurgent right” by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Oct. 1): For those of us who have successfully integrated into Japanese society, Arudou’s drivel is of little consequence. The sad thing is that the recently arrived (and therefore naive) will accept Arudou’s carping at face value and that this acceptance will prevent them from enjoying the many attractions of a wonderfully vibrant Japan and its people, culture and, most importantly, abundant opportunities.

Sad also is that The Japan Times, once a great newspaper chock-a-block with useful information for the foreign community in Japan, chooses to provide Arudou with a platform from which to spout his destructively negative nonsense. Surely there is no dearth of constructively positive information of interest to the foreign community?

Really, folks! Arudou is a naturalized Japanese citizen. What sort of ungrateful fool makes a career of bad-mouthing the country and society that chose to provide him refuge?


Arudou is a breath of fresh air

Re: “If you’re jōzu and you know it, hold your ground” by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Sept. 10): Mr. Arudou’s always incisive and insightful articles bring a breath of fresh air amidst mindless puff pieces.

Some readers like myself are weary of a tidal wave of so-called “articles” intended to “assure” the Japanese how special they are, by featuring NJs [non-Japanese] who have had the most superficial contact with the Japanese society and people.

Take, for example the article about a documentary film on a JET [English teacher with the Japan Exchange and Training Programme] who died in the 3/11 tsunami. Granted, it’s tragic that she perished, but what’s the intent of this article? Why is it space-worthy in this newspaper?

All these little gestures made such profound impact on the locals? Really? Let’s put some perspective in our life, as grown-ups weaned from empty/constant assurances/approvals from gaijins. Thank you Arudou-san, for doing just that.


Fear of the fluent foreigner

Sage bit of advice there to any young gaijin arriving in Japan with near native fluency in nihongo: Don’t let the natives condescend and label you a dumb gaijin for simply not knowing every obscure kanji in the universe.

Things haven’t changed very much in Japan since the Meiji era when the celebrated British Japanologist Basil Chamberlain observed that the Japanese were just astounded at his fluency in nihongo, much as they might have been if a pig walked around on two legs or a dog displayed an uncanny aptitude for math.

Ah, “beware the bilingual gaijin” is the thinking of many Japanese. Some feel distrustful of any gaijin who gains “too much” fluency in their divine language.

During the Edo era is was a capital offense to teach a gaijin dog any nihongo, other than perhaps the expression “sayonara.” To this day, Japanese people continue to suffer from a certain sakoku [closed country] linguistic prejudice or insular mentality.

After the Second World War, during the American Occupation of Japan, many Japanese traditionalists were greatly relieved when they discovered that the devil gaijin might have conquered Dai Nippon’s Imperial Army yet displayed little or no interest in mastering the Emperor’s language, which would have been an invasion of another sort. Ironically, Okinawans were severely punished for not speaking nihongo and insisting on speaking their native language prior to and during WWII.

When it comes to language, there’s no making the Japanese happy if you’re NJ. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Reminds me somewhat of the antebellum South in the days of American black slavery. If a slave displayed any mastery of the English language, such as a grasp of proper grammar/syntax and/or polite enunciation, the slave master would feel that this was such an affront to his elevated social position that he’d order the slave’s immediate execution.

Book learnin’ wasn’t permitted in the slave quarters. It might have given “them darkies” ideas about freedom or at least the direction north. Emancipation could never have been achieved simply through a white ruler’s official proclamation; it had to be achieved through learning, through formal education.

Of course, here in Japan, the dumb gaijin is a stereotypical figure of amusement and, truth be told, many Japanese would prefer the stereotype. It’s less threatening.

The dumb gaijin is fairly “tame,” but those who have gained an upper level fluency in nihongo (including reading and writing kanji) must seem like cultural intruders, intellectual home invaders. Cultural and linguistic distance is the preferred relationship most Japanese want with a gaijin and hopefully the gaijin will eventually return home to wherever the hell he comes from.

I wonder sometimes if Lafcadio Hearn hasn’t been held in higher esteem by many Japanese because he was a poor student of nihongo. Basil Chamberlain was the accomplished translator/interpreter and he’s been largely forgotten, though he contributed so much in helping bridge the cultural gap between Japan and the West. His library and collection of papers and documents on Japanology and nihongo studies, located almost on the grounds of the old Fuji Hotel in Hakone, mysteriously burnt to the ground just weeks before Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII.

There are “good” gaijin and “bad” gaijin. Which one is Debito Arudou?

I’m fully aware of the category I fall into. Any gaijin who has lived in Japan longer than a year or two has generally overstayed their welcome.

Otaru, Hokkaido

Tribute made me love Mary more

Re: “A friend to kanji learners worldwide” by Louise George Kittaka (Sept. 10): I was a big fan of Kanji Clinic in The Japan Times when I was a foreign student in Japan from 1998 to 2004. Reading Mary Sisk Noguchi’s column inspired me and it helped me a lot when struggling to master kanji.

Back in Vietnam from 2005, I did not have time to read The Japan Times online anymore. I just happened to learn of the columnist’s real life today after reading the article on Community. It is rather sad but makes me love her more.

I love you, Mary, and I am so grateful to you.


Seeing through the Japan myth

Re: “Fukushima and the right to responsible government” by Colin P.A. Jones (The Foreign Element, Sept. 17): This was a very interesting and insightful analysis of rights and responsibility in Japan and how they pertain to the Fukushima situation. That said, I was much surprised to note that none of that analysis was applied to the Fukushima water leaks.

It seems most evident to me that those “leaks” are ongoing and, hence, obviously intentional. They have all this radioactive water that they don’t know what to do with or have no wish to expend energy and resources on, and they find it convenient to simply dump it into the ocean. Given the “accidental” nature of such leaks, responsibility is further diminished as we go up the fuzzy chain of scapegoats that is Japan.

This process and policy of non-responsibility also allows for a cover-up of the reality of the ongoing disaster that is Fukushima and the inherent insanity of nuclear power.

Japan/Tepco cannot stop the production of radioactive water and also cannot continue to store it indefinitely. This is obvious and leads to the equally obvious conclusion that Fukushima is a nuclear disaster on a much larger scale than anyone anywhere has cared to admit.

I, myself, tend to view Japan not from a legal standpoint so much as a social one. This is a country founded upon greed, avarice and envy. One would wonder how the Japanese populace at large could maintain its posture of disregard for the Fukushima disaster and the loss of territory it represents for a small island nation, and it is equally wondrous to imagine that no one seems to consider that such a loss is likely to come to a nuclear power plant near them someday given the archipelago’s propensity for seismic activity.

The reality of Japan is that no one will care until the power plant around the corner melts down, and they fully accept that at the point that it becomes a concern for them, there will no longer be any point in being concerned about it as they will be dead.

Non-Japanese are incapable of seeing these very simple truths largely because their heads are filled with images of polite, devout Japanese people diligently at work 24 hours a day. Anyone who has lived in Japan for any amount of time and is free of bias (having a national for a spouse, for example) and who is possessed of even a modicum of intelligence, cannot fail to see that these stereotypes are a PR campaign aimed directly at them and are altogether laughable inasmuch as they bear no relationship to reality.

Until the myth of Japan is debunked and they find themselves exposed for what they really are, no progress will be made in stemming the ongoing disaster of Fukushima or in preventing the future disasters represented by the remaining 54 nuclear reactors in Japan. In addition, the world will find itself powerless to stem the tide of dysfunction — the social disease which Japan’s national psyche represents — while it remains hostage to this PR strategy.


Reactor backup procedures crucial

Storing water on the [Fukushima No. 1] site or building better sea walls are not long-term solutions. The stored radioactive water needs to get off the site as it adds additional danger to the site and hinders cleanup of the reactors and fuel pools. Partially filtered water should be piped far offshore and discharged at times when currents would carry it into the deep ocean.

The nuclear accident could have been avoided if what I’ve advocated for 30 years was in place. For both pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors, there should be a backup emergency procedure to depressurize the reactor as quickly as possible (avoiding stress cracking) while keeping the core covered with water and allowing unpressurized boiling by venting from the top of the reactor vessel.

It’s easy and cheap to have a reliable unpressurized or low-pressure water source. This could prevent future meltdowns. The only thing that is really important in a nuclear accident is core integrity.

New York

Easy answers to suicide scourge

Re: “Why are so many Nepalese in Japan taking their own lives?” by Bijay Gyawali (Hotline to Nagatacho, Sept. 24): Well, firstly I am very much proud to see that one of our Nepalese brothers, Mr. Bijay Gyawali, has dared to challenge the ministers of Japan regarding the suicide rate in Japan.

The news that Nepalese are also committing suicide in Japan, especially workers and students, came as a bolt out of the blue. It would appear that cultural differences, language complexity, lack of use of the English language and other reasons are making foreigners choose a peaceful death over a hard life.

I also read somewhere in a article that government has released a counter-suicide strategy “white paper,” investing a huge amount of money to investigate the root causes of suicide. This is a waste of both time and funds, as everybody knows what makes people commit suicide.

Instead, as the article suggests, preventative actions, counseling services, mental health care and other measures should be initiated as soon as possible to prevent more deaths.


Nepalese workers extorted

In addition to Bijay Gyawali’s recommendations published on Sept. 24, I wish to add the need to protect of students against extortion by their fellow countrymen when they are recommended jobs. There is a serious need of a whistle-blower [to expose these scams].

It has been brought to my attention that fees of up to ¥15,000 a month are being extorted from innocent students whose total salary may amount to ¥50,000 or even less. Something must be done very soon by both the Japanese and Nepalese governments to stamp out this practice.


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