Readers' letters: Ian Thorpe, the Yushukan, racism, teaching English, tipping and sunlight

Some emails received in response to recent Community articles:

Thorpe ‘outing’ a blow for privacy

Ian de Stains, executive director of TELL [formerly the Tokyo English Lifeline], says that Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe’s gay outing is important because “he can now serve as one of the very few role models for young gay men in Australia” (“Ian Thorpe’s coming-out: Yes, it matters,” Foreign Agenda, July 16). I cringed when I read that because “he can now serve” can also be read, “he can now be used.”

I’m not a fan of the whole role model thing. I am a fan of privacy — not secrecy, which is altogether different. People need privacy to be fully human, and diminished privacy equates to diminished humanity. Language is the individual’s first protective rampart, as it both conceals and reveals.

Sex and sexuality are among the most private things of all, and what legally consenting adults do in the bedroom is their own business. My privacy principle means that self-respect ought effectively to contain the urge to improperly expose our privacy, not out of fear of offending anyone so much as fear of diminishing our own humanity. So Gay Pride saddens me more than it inspires me because the movement is existentially self-defeating. In their quest for recognition, respect and civil rights, it looks to me like gender minorities actually possess none of the self-respect they pretend. It’s all a pretense, my most hated thing.

Modern culture — Western culture, anyway — dooms my regard for privacy by its confessional and voyeuristic disposition. People think they not only have a need but a right to publicise themselves through exposure and revelation. That’s what passes as individuality. But it looks like bondage to me.

Still, gays out themselves and cite the therapeutic effects of confession. Is it placebo therapy?


Yushukan is an integrity-free zone

In regard to the article “A trip around the Yushukan, Japan’s font of discord” (by Gianni Simone, The Foreign Element, July 28), when you go up the escalator and enter the museum, is the 3-meter-tall statue of the screaming, run-amok, crazed-looking Japanese WWII soldier still prominently on display? The fiendish, enraged and battle-hardened expression on his face says it all.

Yes, Radhabinod Pal was right when he condemned Japan’s wartime conduct as “devilish and fiendish.” Actually, his criticism here was a bit redundant. I would have added a few more pejoratives to describe Japan’s inhumane aggression before and during World War II.

As the world learns more and more about Japan’s war-related brutality, it does seem odd that Pal refused to find any of Japan’s wartime criminals guilty at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Then again, I’ve never lived under British colonial rule. Pal might have admired Japan for being the only Asian nation that “stood up against the West,” but what if the Japanese Imperial Army had invaded India, much as it did Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and (especially) China?

There was an attempt to do just this at the Battle of Imphal (March-July 1944). Japan was decisively defeated by a combined force of British and Indian troops. Over 54,000 Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded, while the British/Indian force suffered about 17,500 killed or wounded. The Indian Embassy in Tokyo might claim that “the two countries (India and Japan) have never been adversaries,” but this is not entirely true. If you don’t believe me, ask those Indian soldiers who fell fighting the Japanese at Imphal in 1944.

The so-called Japan-India connection was always tenuous at best — another of Hideki Tojo’s wartime nationalistic myths, like his faux “co-prosperity” plan for all of Asia with Tokyo as the new capital.

The nationalistic displays at the Yushukan are a pathetic attempt to defend Japan’s wartime dream of Pan-Asian solidarity. Hell, even today many expatriate Indians living in Tokyo find it difficult to rent or buy adequate housing. There are no laws against such discrimination in Japan.

After reading that “all wars Imperial Japan has fought in the modern era were wars of self-defense,” I was wondering if the Japanese kanji for “defense” and “murderous aggression” are synonymous? I’ve been told by various scholars in the field of linguistics that Nihongo is the devil’s very own tongue.

I thought it laughable or absurd when I read that professor Hisahiko Okazaki was asked to modify some of the Yushukan’s more “offensive exhibits” while seeking to enhance the “intellectual integrity” of the museum. There is absolutely no integrity to be found anywhere in the Yushukan. The entire museum is predicated on right-wing lies and nationalistic propaganda (brainwashing). Certainly no self-respecting German tourist would ever set foot inside the Yushukan, nor any Asian tourist for that matter.

I’ve visited the museum on two or three occasions in the past to better understand the nature of Orwellian thinking, or Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” (a very macabre “Wonderland” — wartime Japan gave new meaning to the expression “Off with his head!”). Kafka comes to mind as well. India is complicit in this fraud when it suggests that “since civilizational contacts between India and Japan began 1,400 years ago, the two nations have never been adversaries.” Ah, if only this were true. India has formally stated that “bilateral ties have been singularly free of any kind of dispute,” but should have added, “with the exception of the bloody battle at Imphal.”

Japan had designs on India as long ago as the First World War. After the swift fall of Hong Kong and Singapore, Japan’s wartime generals must have thought that India could be taken just as easily!

Knowing what I do about Japan’s right-wing revisionist view of wartime history, I was not at all surprised that the Yushukan makes absolutely no mention of the thousands upon thousands of Asian and Allied POW forced laborers who died during the construction of the infamous Thai-Burma railroad, the choo-choo train to hell.

As for Hiroo “the mad straggler” Onoda, how many Japanese today are aware that he killed some 30 Filipino civilians after the war ended? He essentially committed cold-blooded murder. Ignorance is no excuse. His personal fanaticism typified the almost psychopathological devotion to Emperor Hirohito that millions of Japanese embraced in the early years of the Great East Asia War. Never has any civilization looked more like a death cult than that of Japan in 1941. How glorious it was to die for the Emperor! What do Japanese in the 21st century know about the battlefield stench of death?

The article stated that “Japanese soldiers ran amok” during Japan’s invasion of Asia and the Pacific. No, “amok” would have been a leisurely stroll in the park compared to the savage, heartless aggression many of these marauding soldiers displayed in towns and cities across Asia during Japan’s grab for empire. Again, check out that statue of the charging into battle, banzai-shouting Japanese soldier glaring out into space as you enter the Yushukan. Imagine that bayonet being thrust into your neck during the Death March in Bataan or on a street in Nanking during the rape of that Chinese city.

Asia and the rest of the world weren’t terribly impressed by Japan’s “national spirit” during the 1930s and early 1940s. The League of Nations was especially fed up with Japan’s “national spirit” in the 1930s. Is there any mention of Japan’s “Three Alls Campaign” in northern China, “Kill all, burn all, loot all”? Didn’t think so.

Masahide Ota and thousands of other Okinawans were brutalized and brainwashed by Tokyo’s racist militarists during the war. How could the Japanese army have otherwise forced so many Okinawan civilians (men, women, and children) to commit suicide in April 1945? Japan’s sophisticated wartime propaganda machine would have put Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to shame. Goebbels would be in complete agreement with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s desire for “textbook reform.”

No mention in the article of the delegation from the American Embassy in Tokyo that visited the Yushukan a few years ago to demand that an exhibit blaming U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the start of the war between Japan and the United States be removed, taken down, tossed into the trash can. The museum staff meekly complied with their request.

Japan’s “font of discord” may one day tear the nation asunder or provoke war with its Asian neighbors. Why are the Germans so “morally superior” to Japan? And I’m really going out on a limb to even pose such a question. At least the Germans don’t delude themselves. They’re far more honest about what happened before and during WWII. Why are the Japanese so cowardly, so craven in this regard?

Otaru, Hokkaido

War museum well worth a visit

I, too, did a tour of the Yushukan early this year, in which I resolved to read each and every word of the displays. To my surprise, it was considerably more informative than I’d imagined.

The museum is essentially a chronological walk through the military history of the past century-and-a-half of Japan. It is broad in historical scope: Around three-quarters of the displays need to be read before the diligent visitor arrives at the Asian War [the wars of the 1930s and ’40s in Asia].

The strength of the museum is the in-depth background it provides for the events of the 1930s and ’40s. In this way, it is representative of Japan’s attitude towards both the Asian War and the concept of history in general. The Japanese view the Asian War within a broad historical context, while the West, in summation of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower, does not extend historical time frames beyond the dates it is attacked. Implications of this mind-set have been so horrific since the most recent reset of Sept. 11, 2001. However, I’d suggest that the Yushukan model has merit. For that reason alone, it is well worth a visit.

Regarding the article itself, there is a particularly peculiar insertion. Writer Gianni Simone quotes a government website of India to the effect that the Indian jurist’s dissenting opinion at the Tokyo Trial can be sourced to his dispassion — in that Japan and India have never had an adversarial relationship. Is it not true, however, that justices are supposed to be dispassionate? Moreover, does this not inversely imply that the condemnation of the judges from nations with whom Japan was at war was not dispassionate? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be happy to learn of Simone’s quote.

Kawaguchi, Saitama

Casinos destroy lives

Re: “Enoshima: Do you think Japan should legalize casino gambling?” by Charles Lewis (Views from the Street, July 30):

If I lived in Japan, I would object to their [idea of changing the law to allow the opening of] casinos. In Australia there are so many people whose lives have been destroyed by this insidious form of entertainment, along with other forms of gambling, like horse racing.

Please consider the consequences of this industry. If people need to gamble they could go to Macau, Hong Kong, Philippines or even Australia.

Midland, Australia

Tackling racism with more than law

It would be foolish, not to mention defending the indefensible, to say that Japan doesn’t need anti-racial or discrimination laws — even if it had no trace of racism in its culture. Of course it does, as does every nation. The ruling party should be tabling laws to be passed.

Whilst I find myself agreeing with much of what Dr. Debito Arudou says in his column “Past victimhood blinds Japan to present-day racial discrimination” (Just Be Cause, Aug. 13), the amount of time devoted to concern over the lack of a law could lead the reader to assume (wrongly, I hope) that for Dr. Arudou, all of our concerns about racism in Japan would end if only Japan had effective anti-racism laws. This is, of course, not a reason not to pass some laws, but one only needs to look at racial hatred and violence in the U.K. or the U.S. to know that simply passing laws, whilst an important and necessary step, is no remedy to cure all ills. It also requires a citizenry will to understand, follow and enforce them.

Suita, Osaka

Judge by character, not color

Great article! Everyone loses when people are judged by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character. It must be harder to realize that in a relatively homogenous society like Japan, in comparison to a heterogeneous society like the U.S. — and look how hard and long it was for Americans.

Newark, New Jersey

Share the good points of Japan

I wish Mr. Arudou also could share with others the highly sophisticated culture of Japan and the Japanese people. The Japanese people live the longest age-wise in comparison to other, because of their diet of delicious and nourishing fish meat, as well as other life choices. I appreciate the civilized approach (excluding WWII) of Japan and how they continually learn from many good Western practices.

The constant stream of hatred from South Korea and China, which serves their domestic audience, hinders political and diplomatic progress. Let them go to Vietnam, or earlier, the Philippines or South America, where the Americans fought wars to subdue the local people. The history of such events is no better than the so-called “comfort women blackmail.”

How about the conquerors of Japan after WWII and their approach to the many women of Japan, after many of the local men had been killed during the war? Why do we not refer to the “comfort women of Japan”? Do not gloss over the black mark on these Westerners. Include the behavior of the Dutch in Indonesia or the British in their colonies around the globe.

I have been in Japan for more than 60 years and never had a policeman asking for my “gaijin card” [residence card for foreigners]. On the contrary, they are often so helpful that they have guided me on my way to some location or other. This can also be said of Japanese locals, who welcomed and helped me many times when I was new to the country. Japanese culture is rich, enlightening and a stark contrast to nearby countries like Korea and China.

In columns to come, I’d like to read about the best of Japan. I will raise my glasses of oolong tea, the beneficial drink of you and the country from which you come.


Discrimination comes from fear

I would like to add a different observations to your write-up on “Past victimhood blinds Japan to present-day racial discrimination.” I agree with your initial analysis that discrimination is very high in Japan, and how it is dismissed as a non-Japanese problem and only believed to exist throughout the rest of the world. However, in order to make non-Japanese lives more sustainable in the future, this problem for Japan must be examined deeper than simply acknowledging racial discrimination.

The victimhood culture is to blame in the first place, and this attitude, in turn, comes from the inferiority complex that Japanese people have with the West. This inferiority complex is wrongly labeled. Under what or who do the Japanese people feel inferior? What makes them believe that the West or mainly white people see them as inferior and why?

The answer is very clear: Japanese want their cultural values, pride and pathos recognized as universal values by the rest of the world. They feel as if they do not need to change the establishment of their own social rules in family, work and society in accordance with international or Western standards.

If, all of a sudden, Tokyo/Kanto was composed of 40 percent or more white people immigrated from Europe, the U.S. and Australia, the first thing to collapse would be Japanese social standards and norms. Japanese male culture, pathos and patriarchal thinking would get a slap in the face. Western common sense and their power of free thinking would obliterate Japanese male chauvinism in a second. Instantly women would have true rights, children would be seen as the future and everyone could live free of chauvinist males dominating family lives and work ethics. Suicide, subordination, rank and hierarchy culture, male chauvinist pathos and childish narrowmindedness would be labeled as anti-values of society. Any Japanese group of people, like families, associations, governments or companies relying on these values would be hurt so profoundly that social unrest and anarchy would occur in Japan. This is the root of racial discrimination in Japan, not pure colour discrimination.

European racial discrimination is based on petty colour discrimination because people have the time, freedom and will to speak out about their grudges. That’s why racial discrimination is identifiable in Europe and can be fought effectively. Japanese discrimination centers around their own people, through feudal family structures, work ethics and male chauvinists, not very different of what we see in the Arabian world — only more soft and hidden.

Color-only discrimination is a pure luxury in mind-controlled Japan, as it would mean that the Japanese can act and think freely, while letting their frustration out on the next individual who looks different.

Japan is like your strange neighbor’s house: Pop runs around angry screaming in his nasty pants, the children are bewildered sitting in front of the television and the wife is quietly accepting the house rules. If they ever had visitors, all their decadence would be exposed to the outside world and shamed.

Konan, Aichi

On English as a lingua franca

I was pleased to see the Learning Curve article titled “Could the lingua franca approach to learning break Japan’s English curse?” written by Kris Kosaka on Aug. 17.

As an applied linguist myself and the director of perhaps the first Japan university language center with “English as a lingua franca” in its name, I would like to make a few comments concerning the content of the article.

First of all, there are several different interpretations of English as a lingua franca (ELF), even among linguists and ELT [English language teaching] professionals. While teaching ELF does not target native-like proficiency as the goal of the article suggests, ELF is not necessarily limited to a common tongue between so-called non-native speakers. Some scholars, including myself, believe that distinction between so-called native speakers and non-native speakers is not necessary.

Second, I am afraid the article gives the readers an impression that the variation of English is mostly geographical. While geographical variation has been one of the most studied areas, there are other variables which change English (or any other language) — for example, occupations. In order to cope with the globalized world, therefore, a priority of ELT should be given not to the achievement of native-like proficiency but to the ability to communicate sufficiently in English in specific domains.

In April 2013, Tamagawa University (the higher education division of Tamagawa Academy mentioned in the article) established the Center for English as a Lingua Franca (CEFL). Since 2011, we have explicitly stated in our position announcements for recruiting teachers that we do not distinguish between native and non-native speakers. We stress that one’s experience in teaching, researching, as well as learning foreign languages, is important. Currently, we have 1,800 students learning English taught by teachers of 10 different nationalities with 12 different first languages.

Machida, Tokyo

No right to sunlight

Re: “New buildings can take the sunshine out of life” by Louise George Kittaka (Lifelines, Aug. 24):

I’m surprised that you didn’t mention zoning in your article.

Japan has zoning that describes the rights and restrictions for the use of property. These rights and restrictions apply to your neighbors just as they apply to you. Just as a neighbor’s sense of personal entitlement shouldn’t restrict what you can do with your property, your sense of entitlement shouldn’t restrict your neighbors’.

I can fully understand the disappointment of losing the sunlight one has enjoyed for decades, but that enjoyment is a happenstance of how the neighbor used his property, and not a “right.” If you want the right to control how land is used, buy it.

I would ask reader Y whether any element of their property (house, trees, etc.) impacts others, such as blocking a view another might have. Of course it does — the house blocks other’s views of whatever is beyond it. Should those neighbors whose view is blocked demand the house be torn down? What if the lot had been empty for decades, and the neighbors had enjoyed the non-house view until their house was built? Should they have been prohibited from building their house?

Folks should have more sense of personal responsibility and less of personal entitlement.


Japan does tipping, of sorts

Re: “Tipping points: Japan, North America and the limits of performance pay” by Hifumi Okunuki, Labor Pains, Aug. 27:

Tipping is an interesting cultural difference. I grew up in Canada, where tipping is “normal.” I would like to make a few points.

First of all, tipping is optional. You are legally required to pay the cost of your food and drink. After that, it is up to you. A tip of 10-15 percent is common, but not mandatory. If your service was poor or there was some problem, no tip or just a penny sends a powerful message. Or perhaps you just don’t have enough cash. Of course, a generous tip is always welcome.

Most Japanese think that service in Japan is very good or higher, and they are smug that there is no tipping. However, upper-class hotels and hotel restaurants and bars have a service charge (10-15 percent), which seems to me a mandatory tip. In addition, at a ryokan [guesthouse] it is the custom to leave kokorozuke. This also seems to me to be a tip, albeit a traditional one. When a kadomatsu [New Year’s pine decorations] was delivered to one of my workplaces, the driver was given go-shūgi [a “congratulatory gift” or tip]. If this is not tipping, then what is it?

It may interest you to know that a no-tipping restaurant in Canada has just reverted back to tipping due to customer preference: They like to be able to judge the quality of the food and service then tip accordingly.


‘Tree-and-sea’ change needed

Excellent article by Amy Chavez (“On this island, depopulation isn’t the problem — inertia is,” Japan Lite, Aug. 27). I have to agree that the communities need to think and work towards a better future themselves.

Since travelling to Japan in 1978, I have noticed the depopulation of rural towns and islands and seen a growing number of empty houses. This is a discussion all of Japan should have — I don’t think total reliance on a government solution will work here. Hopefully a “tree-and-sea” change will embrace younger Japanese and they can really enjoy being part of this beautiful country.

Cannon Hill, Australia

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

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