Viewed through a religious lens, Japan makes more sense


Ever noticed how Japan — and in particular, its ruling elite — keeps getting away with astonishing bigotry?

Recently Ayako Sono, a former adviser of the current Shinzo Abe government, sang the praises of a segregated South Africa, effectively advocating a system where people would live separately by race in Japan (a “Japartheid,” if you will). But that’s just the latest stitch in a rich tapestry of offensive remarks.

Remember former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s claim that “old women who live after losing their reproductive function are useless and committing a sin,” or his attribution of Chinese criminality to “ethnic DNA” (both 2001)? Or former Prime Minister Taro Aso admiring Nazi subterfuge in changing Germany’s prewar constitution (2013), and arguing that Western diplomats cannot solve problems in the Middle East because of their “blue eyes and blond hair” — not to mention advocating policies to attract “rich Jews” to Japan (both 2001)? Or then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone declaring Japan to be “an intelligent society” because it was “monoracial,” without the “blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans” that dragged down America’s average level of education (1986)?

Although their statements invited international and domestic protest, none of these people were drummed out of office or even exiled to the political wilderness. Why? Because people keep passing off such behavior as symptomatic of “weird, quirky Japan,” i.e., “They say these things because they are Japanese — trapped in uniquely insular mentalities after a long self-imposed isolation.”

Such excuses sound lame and belittling when you consider that it’s been 160 years since Japan ended its isolation, during which time it has successfully copied contemporary methods of getting rich, waging war and integrating into the global market.

This treatment also goes beyond the blind-eyeing usually accorded to allies due to geopolitical realpolitik. In the past, analysts have gone so gaga over the country’s putative uniqueness that they have claimed Japan is an exception from worldwide socioeconomic factors including racism, postcolonial critique and (until the bubble era ended) even basic economic theory!

So why does Japan keep getting a free pass? Perhaps it’s time to start looking at “Japaneseness” through a different lens: as a religion. It’s more insightful.

A comprehensive but concise definition of “religion” is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Japaneseness qualifies. A set of beliefs ordering the “Japanese universe” is available at your nearest big bookstore, where shelves groan under the wiki-composite pseudoscience of Nihonjinron (the “Theory of The Japanese”), a lucrative market for navel-gazing about what Japanese allegedly think or do uniquely and collectively.

Japan also has its own creation myth grounded in mystical immortals (the goddess Amaterasu et al), with enough currency that a sitting prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, once publicly claimed Japan was “a nation of deities (kami no kuni) with the Emperor at its center,” in which Japanese have seen “beings above and beyond humankind” (2000). Seen in this way, Japan transcends the mere nation-state to become something akin to a holy land.

Devotional and ritual observances involve not only an imported and adapted foreign religion (Buddhism) hybridized with an established state religion (Shinto), but also elements of animism and ancestor worship whose observances regularly reach down to the level of the neighborhood (o-mikoshi festival portable shrines) and even the household (butsudan shrines).

As for a moral code governing conduct, Japanese media offer plenty of ascriptive programming (e.g., NHK’s popular quiz show “Nihonjin no Shitsumon” or “Questions The Japanese Ask” — as if that’s a discernible genre). They broadcast an unproblematized uniformity of “Japanese” thought, belief and morality generally offset from the remainder of the heterodox world.

Thus this religion-like phenomenon, because of the knock-on effects of vague mysticism and faith, goes beyond regular nationalism.

For one thing, unlike nationalism, religion doesn’t necessarily need another country to contrast and compete with — Japanese are sui generis special because they are a family descended from gods. For another, nationality can be obtained through law, but bloodline descent cannot — and blood is what makes someone a “real” Japanese. Further, how can you ever offer a counter-narrative to a myth? (For a national narrative, you can offer a different historical interpretation of mortals and events; it’s far tougher to argue different gods.)

These dynamics have been covered in much literature elsewhere — in fact, they are depicted positively by the Nihonjinron high priests themselves — but few people consider three other effects of religiosity.

First, there’s religion’s enhanced political power in prescribing and enforcing conformity. If media uncritically establish how “normal Japanese” act, then deviant thoughts and behaviors not only become “unusual” but also “un-Japanese.” It’s not a big leap from the “science” of what people naturally do as Japanese to the science of what to do in order to be Japanese. There is an orthodoxy to be followed, or else.

This dynamic also robs dissidents of the power to use reason to adjust society’s course. Instead of social mores being codified in the rule of law or grounded in terms of concrete “rights, privileges and duties” of a nation-state, they are molded case by case to suit an alleged “consensus feeling” of an abstract group, sending signals through the media or just through “the air” (which people are supposed to “read”: kūki o yomu).

How can one reason with or argue against an amorphous “understanding” of things, or summon enough energy to push against an invisible enfranchised opponent? Easier all around to fall back on the default shikata ga nai (“There’s nothing I can do”) attitude, meaning Japanese will police each other into acceptance of the status quo.

The second effect of this phenomenon is the corruption of social science. The broad-stroke categorization inherent to “groupism” normalizes the pigeonholing of peoples. In Japan, this has reached the point where influential people openly espouse fallacious theories, such as that eye color affects vision quality, blood type affects personality and race/country of origin/gender influence intellectual ability or talent (e.g., “Indians are good programmers,” “Jews are rich,” “Chinese have criminal DNA”).

Although stereotypes exist in every society, in Japan they underpin and blinker most social science. In fact, learning the stereotypes is the science.

The third effect is religion’s enhanced rhetorical power, and this projects influence beyond Japan’s borders.

If Japan’s behavior was merely seen as a matter of nationalism, then things could be explained away in terms of furthering national interests under rational-actor theory. But they’re not. Again, “quirky” Japanese get away with weird stuff like bigotry because they are treated with the deference traditionally accorded to a religion.

Scholar Richard Dawkins put it best: “A widespread assumption . . . is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect.”

Author Douglas Adams expounds on this idea: “Religion . . . has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion you’re not allowed to say anything bad about. You’re just not.’

“If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like. . . . But on the other hand if somebody says, ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday,’ you say, ‘I respect that.’ ”

Likewise, you must respect Japan, and woe betide you if you criticize it. Decry even the most egregious bad behavior, such as the whitewashing of an exploitative empire’s history into an exculpated victimhood, and you will be branded “anti-Japan,” a “Japan-hater” or “Japan-basher” by the reactionary cloud of anonyms that so dominate Japan’s Internet.

This trolling wouldn’t matter if that cloud was ignored for what it is — a bunch of anonymous craven cranks — but otherwise sensible people steeped (or academically trained) in Japan’s mysticism tend to take these disembodied opinions from the air seriously. Instead, the critic loses credibility and, in extreme cases, even their livelihood for not toeing the line. Japan is sensitive, and you’re not allowed to say anything bad about it. You’re just not.

This is one reason why even the most scientifically trained among us is ready, for example, to take seriously the comment of a single native-born Japanese (rather than trust qualified Japan experts who unfortunately lack the mystical bloodline) as some kind of evidence in any discussion on Japan. Every Japanese by blood and dint of being raised in the temple of Japanese society is reflexively accorded the right to represent all Japan. It’s respectful, but it also blunts analysis by keeping discussion of Japan within temple control.

So, whenever Japan makes mystical arguments — about, say, longer intestines, special soil and snow or the country’s unique climate — for political ends (to justify banning imports of beef, construction equipment, skis, rice, etc.), skittish outsiders tend to be deferential to the nonsense because of Japan’s “uniqueness” and respectfully ease off the pressure.

Or when Japan’s rulers coddle war-mongering rightists (who also advocate Japan’s mysticism) and sanction pacifist leftists (who more likely see religion as a mass opiate), relax — that’s just how Japan maintains its unique social order.

And if that social order is ever questioned, especially by any Japanese, that is treated as heresy or apostasy, drawing the threat of reprisal — if not violence — from zealots. After all, you do not question faith — or it would no longer be faith. You just don’t.

In sum, seeing Japaneseness through the prism of religion helps explain better why the world accommodates Japan egregiously excepting and offsetting itself. It may be time to abandon simple political theory (seeing Japan’s polity in terms of rational actors with occasional inexplicable irrationalities) in favor of the sociology of religious cults.

Specifically, this would mean studying Japan’s cult of personalities, i.e., the way a ruling elite is resurrecting mysticism and exploiting the reflexive deference usually reserved for religion to game the system. This is especially important now, as Japan’s rulers indulge in belligerent behavior — historical revisionism, remilitarization and so on — that’s helping destabilize the region.

This column was a seminal attempt to make that case. Discuss, if you dare.

Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears in print on the first Monday of the month. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Steve Jackman

    This is an exceptionally insightful and accurate article about Japan. I have to laugh everytime I hear someone say that the Japanese are not very religious, since living in Japan I find the Japanese to me among the most religious people in the world. Its just that their religion is not recognizable to most as Christianity, Judaism, Islam or even Budhism/Shintoism. The true religion of the Japanese is “Japaneseness” or “Nihonjinron”. Looking at it this way, Japan is an extremely religious country. This is evident to those of us who live in Japan at many levels.

    An example of this is how many Japanese look at the world in quite black-and-white terms. For them, the world is made up of two main groups, the Japanese and the non-Japanese. This is similar to how extreme elements in some other religions think of everyone as either a “believer” or “non-believer”. Unfortunately, this way of thinking inevitably leads to and manifests itself through insularity, xenophobia, racism and racial discrimination – all of which are significant problems in Japan.

    Another example is the way many Japanese are extremely sensitive and defensive when a non-Japanese makes the slighest criticism of anything Japanese. This, again, is similar to how extreme elements in some other religions act by labeling speech of those who they feel are critical of their religion as blasphemy. In Japan, these people are labeled as Japan-haters or Japan-bashers (the worst possible things to be called in Japan) and often threatened verbally or physically for offending Japan, no matter how well-intentioned their criticism may be.

    Furthermore, when something is backed by religious authority, it cannot be questioned. Religion does not have to conform to logic or common sense, as it is based on blind faith. This is why many foreigners aften say that things in Japan don’t always make common sense to them. Since “Japaneseness” or “Nihonjinron” are the defacto religion of Japan, this also ensures that anyone who questions the status-quo does so at their own peril. Using religion is the best guarantee for those in power to hold on to their power, since it is easy to kill dissent under the guise of religion. This is why it is almost impossible for meaningful change to happen in Japan anytime soon.

    These characteristics are not lost on those who are familiar with Japan, which leads to the Japanese often getting a free-pass from the rest of the world for their transgressions, as pointed out in this article.

    • Terry “Death to Equality” Xu

      Except a belief in ethnic uniqueness is not a religion. So your fanboyism aside, that assertion can be tossed out the window.

      >For them, the world is made up of two main groups, the Japanese and the non-Japanese.”

      >many Japanese are extremely sensitive and defensive when a non-Japanese person makes the slighest criticism of anything Japanese.”

      As should all human beings when it comes to their own tribal identities

      • Steve Jackman

        There is a difference between having pride in your country/culture and crossing the line over to being conceited, vain, narcissistic or egotistical. I have no problem with someone having pride in themselves, but do not care for anyone who crosses this line over to the other side.

        For example, within the context of work, I know of many Japanese people here who absolutely hate the idea of working for a non-Japanese manager, for the sole reason that the person is not Japanese. I have lived and worked in several other countries around the world and have never encountered such narrow-minded attitudes anywhere else. This level of insularity and arrogance smack of religious extremism, where a group believes that they are inherently superior to everyone else, just because they subscribe to a set of religious beliefs (or, their Japaneseness, in the case of the Japanese).

    • KietaZou

      This is a far sillier opinion that DA’s. I don’t simply disagree, but laugh at your pretentions.

      • Steve Jackman

        Actually, this is not just DA’s or my opinion. I was once told by a Japanese person himself that the Japanese view their Japaneseness and Japanese culture the same way as other people around the world view their religions. His point was that Japan was geographically too far away to be affected by the spread of the world’s major religions, so for the Japanese their racial identity and culture serve the same purpose as religion does for other people.

      • KetsuroOu

        I was once told by *two* Japanese people, just now in fact, that Japanese people do not view their culture the same way as other people around the world view their religions.

        How can this be?! Three different Japanese people disagree with each other! What is happening to the hive mind?!

      • R0ninX3ph

        I’m sure you could find Christians who say that they don’t view their religiousness like Jews in Israel, or Muslim extremists too.

      • Steve Jackman

        The tone of your comment is clearly facetious, whereas, I was making a serious point. Big difference.

  • Hendrix

    Brilliant article , well written with good insights… i have always had the sneaking suspicion that Japan is one big cult but couldnt quite put my finger on it, i put it down to shintoism or a mix of social engineering / brainwashing… but this article explains it all .. one big cult of nihonjinron.

    • Tim Groves

      So you’re wise to existence of the cult. Now be smart too. Don’t drink the Kool Aid.

  • Sharad Majumdar

    I’m not sure how useful such a view is in understanding Japan in particular. After all, most nations have their own creation myths, heroic legends, and prescribed “manifest destiny”. The fact that certain comments find more latitude in Japan than in the West reflect the cultural differences between the two. And I’m not even sure if political correctness can be considered either Western or a value. In fact I think the tolerance of such widely diverging (and sometimes offensive) viewpoints is a wonderful example of “western” freedom of expression.

    I believe what irks the author is not the “mystic” nature of Japanese nationalism, but the fact that Japanese viewpoints differ so greatly from his own narrow, inflexible, Western version of “correct” history. He is adamant that Japan be forced to continue to fill the role of the aggressor in the post-World War narrative order. As long as Japan continues to be dragged through the mud and vilified from their crimes, he will remain happy. The fact is, Japan has is exhausted of being continually blamed for actions they have apologized sincerely and profusely for – and stray comments by individual politicians cannot be considered to negate them. Yet no matter how many times Japan apologizes, its neighbors return with further demands for more “earnest” apologies.

    Thus, the author is more interested in upholding the victor’s justice of the Tokyo tribunal than trying to look at both sides of history. While the author professes to subscribe to the theory of maintaining Asian peace, in practice this boils down to keeping Japan artificially weakened. Is it any surprise that in the face of Chinese sabre-rattling the Japanese government is looking to bolster its own security? To call this re-militarization is really blaming the victim.

    Unfortunately, the author has expressed similar viewpoints ad nauseum in other articles, and I can only say that it is his prejudiced viewpoint of his adopted country that borders religious delusion, not the experience of being Japanese.

    • Jay

      Indeed, the author seems to reveal his own obsession with Nihonjinron rather than to say anything new or revealing about it. The fact that so few people vote in this country is a strong indication that a large portion of the population have totally lost faith in its right-wing leadership and in the whole Japan, Inc project. Most Japanese people that I meet accept criticism when it is thoughtful and valid, and many agree with it.

      • J.P. Bunny

        Another indeed. The examples of intestines, unique snow, etc. were all popular back when the economic bubble was in full swing. The Yen was all powerful and people were (somewhat) understandably full of themselves. Nothing new, just dredging up muck from the past.

      • “the author seems to reveal his own obsession with Nihonjinron”

        True. It is not the shelves in my local bookstore that creak under the weight of writings on Nihonjinron, it is the community pages of the Japan Times in general and “Just Be Cause” in specific.

      • Tim Groves

        A couple of the shelves in my own library creak under the weight of writings on Nihonjinron, How to Use a Japanese XXXX, and the YYYY of Japanese ZZZZ by foreign authors that have been dumped on me by departing Western expats over the years. I don’t have the stomach to read them nor the heart to burn them, so I guess it’s about time I donated them to second-hand bookstore.

  • Japanese Bull Fighter

    The idea of Japan or Japaneseness as a religion is neither new nor novel. In 1976 the right-wing author Yamamoto Schihei (1921-1991) published a book with the title Nihon Kyoto 日本教徒 in which he pushed the idea of Nihonkyo 日本教. He followed this later with Nihonkyo no shakaigaku 日本教の社会学. Not that much in English, but a search on Nihonkyo or Nihon-kyo will show that this idea has been kicking around for some decades.

  • Liars N. Fools

    An interesting article…..interesting is an adjective meaning clever and amusing but not conveying admiration necessarily.

    Japan is a particularist country. Perhaps more so than most, this particularism is played out with a huge concentration on specific Japanese attitudes and value systems. But there is also a huge diversity in this particularism ranging from the right wing fanatics to frivolous otaku.

    Is there a temple to Yoshida Shoin? Yes probably, but the number of Shoin followers are mostly specialized. Are there Sakamoto Ryoma followers? A much larger number to be sure, but a goodly number of Ryoma followers are into dress up fun with no great desires to forge another Meiji Restoration.

    The focus on Japanese particularism is by and large healthy. Its manifestations for foreigners are the forced drinking of sencha, the strained listening to the wonders of The Tale of Genji, and not being able to say “no” to Noh.

    But there is no revival of state Shintoism. There is hardly a clerical class that goes beyond textbook revisionism. Let us not judge Japan through the peculiar visions of people who believe the beauty of Japan can be found in imperialism and militarism, as certain leaders do.

    • 99Pcent

      What about China and North Korea?

  • Terry “Death to Equality” Xu

    Unable to understand true East Asian nationalism, Debito resorts to transplanting the boogieman of Western religious conservatism onto a non-Western country. This is problematic.

    First, let us strip away the semblance of authority. By saying “us” when referring to the scientifically trained, Debito implies that social sciences as practiced today is a valid science, rather than a series of academic apologia for equality. His education background is thus not only irrelevant, but speaks against the validity of his opinion on the matter.

    What you call Nihonjinron is not at all unique to Japan, only slightly more pronounced among East Asians because of our emphasis on ethnic nationalism. To say this is religion is to be willfully ignorant. It is an extension of our identities, purposely perpetuated for the sake of othering people who are outside the tribe. This is what makes the Asian race strong and resilient. The lack of which, as seen in modern White nations, is why whites will be blended into nonexistence within the coming centuries. In other words, “groupism” is a positive thing because it leads to conflicts over supremacy.

    That’s not nice! has never been a persuasive argument.

  • Japanese Bull Fighter

    I would also note that the concept of “civil relgion” has long been applied to discussions of American identity and when I was in graduate school, I knew other graduate students who were trying to apply the concept to Japan. In 2007 David Gelernter touched off a substantial debate, especially in conservative journals, with his book Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion. Gelernter, like Yamamoto Shichihei, might well be style “right wing.” I suspect that at least some fraction of the Japanese right would be quite comfortable with the notion of “Japan as religion.”

    • zer0_0zor0


  • KietaZou

    I could replace “Japan” with “America” and write the same essay with only minor tweaks.

    It’s the idiocy, currently much less virulent in Japan than in my holy hellhole of the USA, that presents itself as “conservative values” that is the problem: it shields them from blame and allows the conservative leadership to do whatever it wants – and serves their personal, short-sighted, greedy and petty interests – and claim they are “protecting” and “preserving” what they are destroying.

    Political conservatives are, by their own definition and actions, NEVER wrong, and failures are ALWAYS the fault of 3rd-parties unwilling to serve their interests.

    And, by every possible measure, homo sapiens have been shown to be built to fall for this BS.

    • Lemming

      All he does is describe Japanese Nationalism and then pretend it’s not nationaliam as to make it seem like a Japanese phenomenon.

      You’re totally right, replace Japan with America, and you could write the same drivel.

      We should write for JT if these are their standards; I’m sure either of us could write something that makes more sense than this lazy attempt at exposition.

    • Steve Jackman

      You’re obviously not very familiar with America, since the U.S has a pretty even 50/50 split between the conservatives (Republicans) and liberals (Democrats). And, no America has not been ruled by just one conservative/nationalist party since the end of WWII, as has been the case with the LDP in Japan.

      • No, America has been ruled by a either a Conservative, Christian Nationalist Party or a Conservative, Christian Fundamentalist Nationalist Party for all these years.

        Also apparently you missed the news, but the LDP has been out of power a couple of times since the late 1980s, and has not ruled alone in a very long time either.

      • Steve Jackman

        GMainwaring wrote, “No, America has been ruled by a either a Conservative, Christian Nationalist Party or a Conservative, Christian Fundamentalist Nationalist Party for all these years.” Oh, I forgot, Obama, and Clinton and Carter before him, are all fundamentalist nationalist conservatives. Please, get a grip!

        “Also apparently you missed the news, but the LDP has been out of power a couple of times since the late 1980s, and has not ruled alone in a very long time either.” Are you serious? Do you really think a couple of brief interruptions in more than fifty years of LDP rule count as anything?

      • No, Obama, Clinton and Carter are all Conservative Christian Nationalists. The Republicans are the Fundamentalist Christians (not that there is a great deal of difference…). Democrats, Republicans, it really doesn’t matter, both cite God more often than Islamic Fundamentalists, and the Democrats are only “liberal” by comparison. What most other developed societies, including Japan’s, consider “liberal” would be called “commie/pinko/socialist” in the US. Even the LDP is more liberal and socialist than any mainstream US party.

        “Do you really think a couple of brief interruptions in more than fifty years of LDP rule count as anything?”

        Were you even in Japan the last time the LDP held sole power in the Diet? There may have been a year or two right after the Murayama Cabinet, but as long as I can remember, which is a couple of decades, the LDP has always relied on a coalition partner to run the country.

      • Steve Jackman

        The Komeito Party, which is the LDP’s usual coalition partner is even more conservative than the LDP. So, what does that say?

      • That you have not read Komeito’s platform, nor possess even the most basic grasp of Japanese politics.

        *That* is what your comment says. Congratulations – you have instantly excluded yourself from any discussion on how to shape Japan’s future, as you have demonstrated a complete lack of comprehension concerning where Japan is today. However, please continue to voice your support for Arudou. By doing so you are helping to make certain he is never taken seriously – but you knew that, didn’t you? ;-)

      • Steve Jackman

        I find nothing of substance in any of your comments here, including this one. They are just a bunch of words stringed together, without any meaning. Are you saying that Komeito is not a conservative party, because that would be incredibly ignorant of you.

      • “They are just a bunch of words stringed [sic] together, without any meaning.”

        Strung is the word you were pawing about for.

        If you cannot understand straightforward comments, in what should be your first language, it is no wonder you cannot understand a Japanese political party’s platform (even if it is readily available in English).

      • Steve Jackman

        Are we both talking about the same Komeito Party, aka, The Soka Gakkai Religious Party, whose very base is the 7-8 million members of the Soka Gakkai religion (some even consider Soka Gakkai a cult)?

        BTW, thanks for a good laugh! It’s quite something to be criticized for one’s language skills by someone who writes in what can best be described as high school-level English.

      • Toolonggone

        > Even the LDP is more liberal and socialist than any mainstream US party.

        You wanna know what LDP stands for? It’s Libertarian Dorky Party. Same as a bunch of Wall Street bankrolled politicians(both GOP and Dem) who create follow-the-money, follow-the-order doctrine.

      • Jeffrey

        “No, Obama, Clinton and Carter are all Conservative Christian Nationalists.”

        Clinton rarely attended church while in office and the same has been true of Obama. Carter is committed evangelical Christian, but very much in the guise of Christ – progressive and compassionate and got very much up in the face of the Washington establishment, but was rejected by the “Moral Majority” who threw its support behind Reagan, who never made noises about religion.

      • Chief Presiding Judge

        While it’s true that the US left isn’t very left on the global scale, it’s not true that there’s little difference between it and the US right. The US right is also MORE right than normal on the global scale.

      • KietaZou

        Being American, and a very close follower of American politics, let me
        say that my opinion is surely as informed as yours, and I would be able
        to show it to be much more realistic than yours if it were worth the time -which it isn’t.

        I’m not nearly as smart as I let on to myself, but you certainly are way over your head in just this short comment of yours.

      • Steve Jackman

        KietaZou wrote, “I would be able to show it to be much more realistic than yours if it were worth the time -which it isn’t. I’m not nearly as smart as I let on to myself, but you certainly are way over your head in just this short comment of yours.”

        I truly feel sorry for you, if this is the best you can come up with!

      • KietaZou

        “Thank you very much, madam.”

        The “truly” is so precious! It was worth wasting the time to reply just to see that.

      • Steve Jackman

        Obviously, simple minds are easily amused!

      • Akio Morita

        His real name is William Pesek. He’s a writer at Bloomberg. Do a search. I’ve known this disgusting racist for years. His articles are almost, ALMOST radically motivated and anti-Japanese sentiment in nature and pretty much everything else about Asia in general.

        This sicko live in Tokyo for 15 years now, but he refused to go back to America. Wanna know why? cause he’s afraid to get shot by a cop.

        “Hand Up” and “I Can’t Breathe”

        We will always remember what happened.

      • Jeffrey

        “You’re obviously not very familiar with America, since the U.S has a pretty even 50/50 split between the conservatives (Republicans) and liberals (Democrats).”

        Actually, I’d say it’s you that is unfamiliar with U.S. politics. You can pretty much count the liberals in Congress on one hand. Ever since mid-90s, American politics has drifted to the right. And while the Dems and Rethugs have taken terms controlling the government over the last few decades, both parties are dominated by corporatists.

        That being said, undo the gerrymanders in a number of states and you would see that the American public is many shades more progressive than most state and national governments.

      • kyushuphil

        I love it. “Undo the gerrymanders . . ..”

        Sure. That’s about as easy as reducing the intrusion of standardized tests. Or getting teachers enthusiastic about essays from their students as if their students were human.

        Or reducing advertising. Or ending the subsidies to U.S. Industrial Ag that underprice commodity crops around the world so tens of millions keep being forced off traditional lands, and into “modernity.”

        It’s about as easy as slowing the love affair with the car, or brand name consumerism.

        About as easy as expecting kids to read on their own free will when teachers seldom ever model that inclination themselves.

        As easy as putting admin pay on par with teacher pay.

        So much, my dear Jeffrey, is so easy in this life of ours!

    • KietaZou

      OT, but I’m now 好ましからざる人物 at Japan Today for offering up the same sort of views.

      They could have just stated that nobody can upset anyone else by disagreeing.

      Also, while here and OT – if the Japan Times wishes to shoo me away for months at a time, they simply need to print something with “Grant Piper” attached to it.


  • J.P. Bunny

    The article started out promising listing the bigoted remarks made by those who should know better, but then went off the rails. Those people were not tossed out of office because they were constantly re-elected by the Japanese voters, not because other countries gave them a free pass because of their quirkiness. After that, just a long slog through the usual “toeing the line…..consensus feeling…..orthodoxy to be followed, or else” scribblings, along with a lot of religion and mysticism thrown in.

    As far as the “uniqueness”, just about every country and culture tends to view itself as special. Nothing special about that. Basically, this whole article could have been shortened down to “The Japanese electorate continue to re-elect morons.”

    • Steve Jackman

      You have a special talent for trying to trivialize important issues.

      • J.P. Bunny

        Trivializing that which is trivial is easy to do.

      • Steve Jackman

        Sometimes people trivialize things, not because they are trivial, but because of their own personal inability to grasp the heft of the issue being discussed.

      • Akio Morita

        Is that you Pesekster? Jesus crisis. So this where you’ve been hiding now that Bloomberg doesn’t allow anyone to make comments anymore. It must be something about “Freedom of Speech”.

        You been exchanging emails with Arudou? Something about writing racist and creating a negative image of Japan.

      • Steve Jackman

        Akio Morita wrote, “You been exchanging emails with Arudou? Something about writing racist and creating a negative image of Japan.”

        What do you mean, Akio Morita? Have you and the apologists now starting hacking into personal email accounts of commenters like me here, who you would like to muzzle because you disagree with our opinions? Or, are you some kind of a Japanese government agent spying on personal emails of commenters like me?

    • Jeffrey

      “Those people were not tossed out of office because they were constantly re-elected by the Japanese voters, not because other countries gave them a free pass because of their quirkiness.”

      Actually, it’s a mix. The fact of the matter is other than giving the U.S. it’s largest military toe hold in East Asia, Japan just doesn’t matter much anymore in the mind of America’s politicians, general public or even the business community. I get the impression that most of the countries in the EU feel the same.

      Japan could admit to the Nanjing Massacre, openly discuss Unit 731 and offer to pay the Chinese billions in reparation, but the Chinese powers that be are even more atavistic than their Japanese counterparts and would continue to trot out WWII every time it suited them. Relations with S. Korea would be less of a problem, I believe, if Japan came clean there as well.

      None of this will ever happen, of course, and there have been two generations of Japanese educated with only the most circumspect of information about WWII, so finally getting the textbooks straight might not matter at this point in Japan’s history.

      The Bubble was probably Japan’s last hurrah on the world’s stage as it declines into irrelevancy. This being the case, the whole silliness of nihonjinron just doesn’t figure into American strategic or even economic calculations – Yes, the Japanese are unique. All cultures have aspects of uniqueness. And, for what it’s worth, Japan doesn’t really try to use idiotic justifications for blocking or hindering imports any more, especially from the West, still the source of most consumer goods held in the highest esteem. Hell, nearly half the produced consumed in Japan is foreign grown with the bulk of this being from China. If they are willing to “compromise” their food supply with goods from China, then rabid nationalism is really mostly in the mind of the politicians. But I digress.

      But you are right – the Japanese are worse than Americans with voters returning some of the biggest fools to office at every election. However, David is correct in that public ridicule of even the stupidest of them is not much tolerated, by the official press anyway. The weeklies can and do say pretty much whatever they like, the Sankei Shimbun is a right wing rag and historically the Yomiuri, beyond establishment, rarely criticizes the anything but liberal of democratic LDP.

      Otherwise, I think this is one David’s better essay.

    • Steve Jackman

      Yes, every country tends to view itself as special, but in Japan it crosses the line to overt racism and racial discrimination against anyone who is not considered 100 percent pure Japanese. I suggest you read the article published today on Bloomberg titled, “Beauty Queen Wants Japan to Open Minds and Borders”.

      In this article Ariana Morimoto is quoted as saying, “Japan is always saying it’s globalizing, but I feel it hasn’t yet dealt with basics such as racial discrimination.” Miyamoto also recalls school classmates asking her not to share the same swimming pool with them, because she is biracial.

      The article further describes comments posted about her by the Japanese on a popular website in Japan. One of the higheset rated posting is, “What is a half-Japanese doing representing Japan?”. Other cooments are, “She looks like a foreigner,” and “What a disappointment,”.

      All this goes far beyond having pride in one’s country and smacks of religious extremism, which I think is the correct way of looking at Japanese culture.

      • Racism is unfortunate and something that the we Japanese have to work on, but that doesn’t mean we are religious extremists.

        The US had to reform its stance agains racism half a century ago, and as far as we can see from the outside, racism is still alive and kicking in some regions. Does that mean the US citizens are religious extremists? I think not.

      • Steve Jackman

        I think you missed my point. As I wrote in an earlier comment, I was trying to dispel the notion many foreigners have that the Japanese are not very religious, since living in Japan I find the Japanese to be among the most religious people in the world. It’s just that their religion is not recognizable to most as Christianity, Judaism, Islam or even Buddhism are. The true religion of the Japanese is “Japaneseness” or “Nihonjinron”.

        An example of this is how many Japanese look at the world in quite black-or-white terms. For them, the world is made up of two main groups, the Japanese and the non-Japanese. This is similar to how extreme elements in some other religions think of everyone as either a “believer” or “non-believer”. Unfortunately, this way of thinking inevitably leads to and manifests itself through insularity, xenophobia, bigotry, racism and racial discrimination – all of which are significant problems in Japan.

        Another example is the way many Japanese are extremely sensitive and defensive when a non-Japanese person makes the slighest criticism of anything Japanese. This, again, is similar to how extreme elements in some other religions act by labeling speech of those who they feel are critical of their religion as blasphemy. In Japan, these people are labeled as Japan-haters or Japan-bashers (the worst possible things to be called in Japan) and are often threatened verbally or physically for offending Japan, no matter how well-intentioned their criticism may be.

        As yet another example, within the context of work, I know of many Japanese people here who absolutely hate the idea of working for a non-Japanese manager, for the sole reason that the person is not Japanese. I have lived and worked in several other countries around the world and have never encountered such narrow-minded attitudes anywhere else. This level of insularity and arrogance smack of religious extremism, where a group believes that they are inherently superior to everyone else, just because they subscribe to a set of religious beliefs (or, their Japaneseness, in the case of the Japanese).

        Furthermore, when something is backed by religious authority, it cannot be questioned. Religion does not have to conform to logic or common sense, as it is based on blind faith. This is why many foreigners often say that things in Japan don’t always make common sense to them. Since “Japaneseness” or “Nihonjinron” are the defacto religion of Japan, this also ensures that anyone who questions the status-quo does so at their own peril. Using religion is the best guarantee for those in power to hold on to their power, since it is easy to kill dissent under the guise of religion. This is why it is almost impossible for meaningful change to happen in Japan anytime soon.

        Unfortunately, for many Japanese the religion of Nihonjinron leads to a narrow world view, conceit and arrogance, as well as, a certain rigidity and inflexibility of the mind, since unlike other major religions of the world which are based on a set of principles, Nihonjinron is based on racial purity of the Japanese.

      • You give a specific example of unwillingness to work for a non-Japanese manager. I would interpret that attitude very differently.

        You say that this is a result of “arrogance smack of religious extremism, where a group believes that they are inherently superior to everyone else”. I understand that it is possible to interpret it this way. However, let me give you my interpretation.

        My interpretation is that this is a result of fear, lack of understanding, and timidness. Also add the fact that working for a non-Japanese manager is still uncommon in Japan (and you mostly can get away without doing so).

        Many Japanese *do* think we are special and of course we are proud of it. What I think that you miss is that the Japanese do not think we are a superior race because of it. In fact, we self-criticise our insular culture, our lack of courage to venture overseas, and our woefully inadequate English abilities all the time on TV and other media.

        Instead, what leads to your observation is that the Japanese mistakenly think that our culture is impossible for a foreigner to understand. We think that we are so different and beyond comprehension for a non-Japanese. Therefore, when a foreigner criticises our culture, we may often think they are doing it out of ignorance. I would also add that the degree to which direct criticism is socially acceptable is probably different, but I don’t think I should go into this without more knowledge of how you actually brought it up with a Japanese person.

        We do not tend to think that a non-Japanese manager would share our work-ethics and employer-employee relations. We instead think that they are driven more by short-term, dry, cut-throat decision making processes and that they are too eager to fire employees. This is less of an issue now, but historically, during our economic boom, this was certainly true. We think that non-Japanese managers are incapable of understanding how we feel. And our parents’ generation (which still has a say in job choices) feels even more strongly about this.

        We are afraid of them.

        And remember, the Japanese are generally very risk-adverse.

        Please try to see if you can interpret your interactions with us, not as an expression of arrogance, but as a result of timidness. I hope it will give you a different perspective.

      • Steve Jackman

        Naofumi, thank you for your thoughtful response. However, I disagree with much of what you have written, since I have heard the same points you have made by other Japanese in the decade that I’ve been living and working in Japan.

        First, I have often heard the excuse from many Japanese that the reason for their excluding non-Japanese is that the Japanese are too shy and timid. While this may be true in a very few cases, most of the times the excuse of Japanese timidity is just a Trojan horse. While the Japanese may appear timid on the surface, they are anything but and most of them are tough as nails in my experience. Japan did not become the second largest economy in the world (now third largest) by being timid. So, I’m afraid I just don’t buy it.

        Second, as you say, many Japanese think that it is virtually impossible for a non-Japanese to understand their culture. While this is true, this is also one of the definitions of arrogance in my opinion. Furthermore, I have seen many well-intentioned foreigners try very hard to reach out to Japanese and go 90 percent of the way, but the Japanese refuse to go even the remaining 10 percent, let alone try to meet them halfway. I have worked at large foreign companies in Japan where both Japanese and non-Japanese worked. It always amazed me that even at lunch time the Japanese workers in a group would never invite their non-Japanese colleagues to have lunch with them. And, trust me, these Japanese were certainly not the shy or timid type, so that was not their reason for excluding their non-Japanese collegues. So, if the Japanese think that non-Japanese do not understnd them, should they not make an effort to intract more with the non-Japanese. Their not making any effort to do so is a sign or arrogance to me.

        Third, I do not disagree that the Japanese sometimes discuss the weaknesses of their culture among themselves in private. But, talk is cheap. What really matters is action, and that is where the Japanese are severely lacking.

        Lastly, I think it’s conceitful and arrogant for Japanese to think that a foreign worker will not have the same strong work ethic as them. Having worked at large countries in both my home country of America and in Japan, I can honestly say the standards, work ethic and business practices in the U.S are much higher than what I have found in Japan. It is also a fallacy to think that employee relations are better in Japan than in other countries like the U.S. I have seen Japanese companies treat their employees in extremely cruel, unethical and inhumane ways, including sexual and racial abuse, and even using physical violence against them (something I never saw in my many years working in the U.S). You don’t have to take my word for it, as this is clearly demonstrated by the strength of American companies globally, while at the same time Japanese companies are in secular decline.

      • I totally understand what you describe. In fact, I’m truly impressed with your observations. Although I stand by my interpretation that it is not arrogance, I fully understand why you would think so. As for the comparison of work ethic, you are spot on.

        Let me just add one more dimension in the hope that I will be more convincing. That is, Japanese, unlike Westerners, do not consider it bad manners to be inclusive. There are some cultural aspects that I think might be adding fuel to your impression of arrogance.

        For example, if you go to a party and person A comes to you while you are talking with person B, then Westerners will introduce introduce person B to person A and vice versa. My understanding is, not doing so is bad manners. In Japan, not doing so is actually the norm. Even among Japanese, mixing and mingling is not something that we feel is a social responsibility. As a result, cocktail parties are often quite awkward in Japan, as you many have observed.

        Yes, we should work harder to invite non-Japanese colleagues to lunch. However, do we understand that we might be hurting their feelings or making them feel left-out? I don’t think so. I think that many Japanese are simply insensitive to these issues. They don’t always think that people should be mixing, regardless of race.

        I’m truly enjoying this discussion with you. You make me feel bad because the issues that you raise are some that my team had committed, but you make it clear that what I had thought of as only a worst case possibility was actually what might have happened.

      • Steve Jackman

        Thank you for your very well crafted response and for keeping an open mind. I certainly understand what you mean and appreciate your point of view. I know Japan is a complex and nuanced culture with many beautiful aspects to it. I learn new things every day, so thank you for giving me additional food for thought.

      • Sonali Nahata

        Those were some really good arguments and a very mature discussion, I must say!

        I’m neither American nor Japanese (I’m Indian), and I would say the culture in my country, or at least my city, is a mix of openness/flexibility and traditional/conformist to the point of hugely conflicting ideas between people from the same country. But I guess being a multicultural country to begin with, this is not something new. So I can understand and agree with both points of view.

        Simply put, I feel that American and Japanese cultures are too far apart to find a common ground. I also feel that expecting the Japanese to change their ways might actually be contradicting for a person from a more flexible culture, since that would be trying to change another group’s culture to fit their own view on how things should be. And justifying or criticizing the behaviour of the Japanese (as done in this article) might actually be a passive-aggressive move.

        That being said, the Japanese are free to stick to their conformist nature, or rather may not have a choice in this matter since it’s a chain of culture being passed down through generations. Education and upbringing also play a major role in this. So it might require quite a big internal revolution for something to actually change.

        But since Indian culture is very close to Japanese culture (not so much in big cities anymore), I’d say that it doesn’t seem that different or weird. It actually seems common among all or most Asian countries, so it’s not unique to Japan. It’s no wonder then that Japan openly accepted Buddhism from Ancient India :)

        Let me know your thoughts on this. Please excuse my ignorance in any of the points mentioned (and do point them out so that I may learn more!)


      • My personal take, being sometimes on the side that has made the offences that are being accused of us, is that there there is a lack of understanding on both sides of each other’s feeling (not necessarily culture).

        How would a non-Japanese feel if we excluded them from lunch or a meeting? We sometime fail to put ourselves in the other sides shoes. We sometimes expect non-Japanese to understand that they will always be outsiders, just as we never expect ourselves to be fully embraced in a foreign country (even though we actually might). We sometimes don’t realise that full acceptance of foreigners is often the norm in many American and European societies. And we don’t always even try full acceptance among ourselves.

        And without recognising fully how bad non-Japanese might feel, we often cannot build up the courage to break our insularity or maybe risk breaking what we think is part of our culture.

        Is it a cultural issue? I respect the cultural similarities between India and Japan. However, I try not to think of it this way because it implies, as you mention, a rigidity that may be incurable except in the long term. Many Japanese will bring up cultural differences, but I’m always skeptical of the merits of such discussions.

        One way to put it I think, is that despite having very strong expectations of manners, behaviours and customs between members of the same group, the Japanese lack rules on how to treat people from different groups and how to accept them in. I brought up cocktail parties in a previous comment, but if you attend a Japanese one, you will see that we are bad at mingling with people from different groups.

      • scrying

        I didn’t think I’d see the day that a reasonable back and forth, respectful discussion would happen in a comments section here. Cheers to you both, it was quite interesting and enlightening to read.

      • Steve Jackman

        You make some good points and I agree that countries are entitled to have their culture, since outsiders do not have any god-given rights to impose their own culture or values on another country. Having said this, I feel that there are some universal values that people around the world generally agree on. Therefore, countries around the world have a responsibility and obligation to safeguard and uphold these principles and values, especially the more advanced and well educated countries like Japan.

        I personally feel that Japan often fails in this regards and too often it gets a free pass from the rest of the world for its transgressions, as has been pointed out in the article. I’m not just talking about things like racism and racial discrimination on an individual level, but where Japan fails badly is the institutionalized racism and racial discrimination, which are huge problems here and are all too common in its institutions, such as the judicial system, police and bureaucracy.

        For example, the civil judicial system in Japan is extremely racist and corrupt, where it is nearly impossible for a non-Japanese litigant to get fair treatment or due process of law (especially, if the other party is a powerful Japanese entity like a Japanese corporation). Unlike other developed countries around the world, Japanese corporations and judicial system can legally and freely discriminate against non-Japanese residents of Japan, since Japan stands out as being one of the only developed countries which has no laws against racial discrimination. So, yes, it is legal in Japan to discriminate against someone based on their race and there is nothing a victim can do about it. Such legal discrimination can range from a landlord refusing housing to someone, an employer violating Japanese labor laws in the case of its foreign employees, or a business like a restuarant refusing entry to non-Japanese customers.

        Things like this go far beyond preserving a country’s culture and should be of concern to everyone, since it is a breach of international standards of what is expected of countries like Japan. We’re limited by space here, so please wait for an upcoming book which will contain specific cases and evidence to back-up some of these points.

      • I agree with your accusations and your examples are often broadcast by the media so they are no surprise to us Japanese.

        You assessment that we do not yet realise that the western world demands us to “have a responsibility and obligation to safeguard and uphold these principles and values” is probably totally accurate.

        We stand guilty as charged, but what are our intentions? Is it arrogance? Is it risk-adversion? That’s probably what I’m trying to convey.

        Almost everywhere in Japanese hot springs, there is a sign saying that people with tattoos are not allowed. We are basically discriminating based on physical appearance. Not all people with tattoos are Japanese gangsters, but the perceived risk is high enough for us to justify discrimination. I think that this is similar to what comes out as Japanese racism. It’s not just towards non-Japanese. We do it towards ourselves as well.

      • Steve Jackman

        You are absolutely correct. Japanese who are somewhat different can also have it pretty rough in Japan. I remember meeting several Japanese back in the U.S before moving to Japan. They were all extremely smart, but tended to be the more creative and independent-type. I always sensed that they were seeking refuge in the U.S, since the term they used most often to describe their lives in the U.S, as compared to back home in Japan, was the “freedom” they felt living in the U.S. I didn’t understand them then, but I do now. It’s too bad that Japanese like them choose to leave the country, since Japan could really benefit from them.

        Just recently, BBC showed an excellent documentary hosted by Mariko Oi, called “Jumpstarting Japan”. I hope people got a chance to see it. At one point, the documentary states that Japan’s demographic timebomb is not just waiting to go off, it already has gone off. At another point, it states that fully a third of young Japanese women in their working years would prefer to be housewives and not work outside the house, according to surveys. I think these women are not lazy or lacking in ambition, but have decided that the rigid and male dominated workplace is not for them. The documentary ends by saying that the real change needed in Japan is one of attitudes, but that such change could take a generation or more.

      • tisho

        While i agree with a lot of what you say, i don’t think you realize a lot of the things you just said.

        You said, quote:
        ”Many Japanese *do* think we are special and of course we are proud of
        it. What I think that you miss is that the Japanese do not think we are a
        superior race because of it.”

        The word ”special” on itself means ”to be better, greater or otherwise different than the usual”, however ”different” only in terms of ”being better”. The word ”special” is used in a negative way to mean ”worse, bad” only in sarcastic way. There is no usage of the word to mean ”neutral”. Therefore, if one think he/she/they are special, then that means he/she/they think they are ”better” than anybody else, even though often the same individual/s do not realize this. Hence, ”being better” = ”being superior”.

        The key question here is – ”better” in what ? As you said, may Japanese think they are ”special” which means ”better” in a lot of things, regardless of the fact they are completely clueless of the outside world and how things really are.

        You said, quote:

        ”We do not tend to think that a non-Japanese manager would share our
        work-ethics and employer-employee relations. We instead think that they
        are driven more by short-term, dry, cut-throat decision making processes
        and that they are too eager to fire employees.”

        I completely agree with this, and i gotta ask you, do you realize how ignorant and insular this is ? By acknowledging this, does that mean you agree that most Japanese are completely ignorant of other cultures/countries but also of their own ?

        I hardly doubt that there are many Japanese who have any idea of how rubbish and ineffective their corporate culture was back in the 60s, or in fact, up until recently. Would you agree with that ?

        Which leads me to my next point, which is, the majority of Japanese, in my experience, are completely incapable of accepting criticism, and are completely clueless of their own country, what issue their country has and their own country’s history and that of others.

        You said Japanese often discuss their shortcoming, which i agree, but the thing is that what they are discussing is hardly the biggest issues they have or the biggest shortcoming. They are discussing some minor national characteristics, as you said – being risk avert and so on. Tell me, how many Japanese are openly discussing the fact that the majority of Japanese are incapable of accepting criticism ? Extremely hypocritical, the media censorship, the one-party authoritarian regime you have, the insane sexism, the ridiculous medieval social norms, the backward educational system that produces obedient robots incapable of critical thinking, and the list goes on and on ? Are you discussing these kind of issues among each other ? I would argue not, and the reason being is that most people have no idea about any of these issue.

        I can’t even remember how many times i have been told by Japanese, with an extremely confident tone, how Japanese educational system is one of the best out there. I just could not find words to describe how insane and ignorant this is, and how detached from reality some people really are in this country.

        Feel free to express your view on this one too.

      • Just a short comment. I wrote a reply, but for some reason it got sent to the approval queue. Not knowing when it will be approved, this is my short note that I hope will get through immediately.

        I totally agree to what you say. I’ll try to explain my views on the education stuff that you brought up.

      • J.P. Bunny

        “All this goes far beyond having pride in one’s country and smacks of religious extremism, which I think is the correct way of looking at Japanese culture.”

        Comments made by bigoted fools equal religious extremism? Not on this planet.

        How long before the knee-jerk reply?

      • kyushuphil

        What’s the opposite of prejudice, stereotyping, racism?
        In every country on Earth, forever, the opposite of group think and sloppy think — the opposite of ideology, dogmatism, and extremisms of all kinds — is some skill and human decency in seeing others as human.
        This skill, this inclination, never comes with the tap water. It must always be learned. One by one. Hiding behind money and possessions doesn’t teach it. Hiding behind flags and demagogues doesn’t teach it.
        And this remains true for all countries, all times.

    • “orthodoxy to be followed, or else”

      I am struggling to grasp how the author can be so convinced there is a monolithic orthodoxy to be followed, even as he points out in the same article that Japan has both left-wingers and right-wingers. Surely the simultaneous existence of both would prove heterodoxy or even polydoxy?

  • Steve van Dresser

    I have never read a more succinct description of the immunity from criticism experienced by Israel in the perpetration of horrific deeds that would be considered as genocide if perpetrated by any other country. Interesting analysis, but even more appropriate to Israel than Japan.

  • GJM

    Japan Times – please reconsider allowing Debito to write these columns… Do you really want someone writing this sort of thing in your newspaper? Do you really want to be associated with someone known for a Japan-bashing blog? Do you really want to be associated with someone who has such little credibility that they have to spend days on end editing their OWN wikipedia biography (complete with Debito’s own sockpuppets/meatpuppets)?

    • R0ninX3ph

      I sometimes don’t agree with Debito’s articles, but you’re basically saying exactly what he said people would say. He writes something negative about Japan and you come out swinging calling him a “Japan basher”.

      Do you also tell people who have complaints about Japan that they can leave if they don’t like it here?

  • Lemming

    Did Debito just describe Japanese Nationaliam and then call it not nationalism?

    • KietaZou

      Yes, but he’s saying it’s the same as what I think people call “nativist Christianity” in the US, which I think is distracting and not really true, but arguable.

      • Lemming

        lol JT deleted my comment calling this article drivel.

        Very journalistic standards! Such open speak!

        I agree, especially in the sense that it’s not true. It demonstrably is not.

        Christianity (religion) informs some Americans ideas with regards to American nationalism. Religion and nationalism, although similar, are not the same thing.

        This article describes nationalism, and then calls it not nationalism. It’s either disingenuous or genuinely ignorant.

        I totally agree, very distracting.

  • wanderingpippin

    Is the author aware that Nihonjin no Shitsumon went off the air about a dozen years ago?

    • Probably not, he suffers from his own personal “lost decade”. Only in his case, it has lasted longer than the 10 years normally delineating a decade.

    • J.P. Bunny

      Considering that he called NHK to lodge a complaint way back then, I would guess he would have been aware if the show went off the air. No sense in letting reality get in the way of a good rant.

  • KetsuroOu

    Interesting how Arudou denounces the argumentum ad hominem when used against the critic. I seem to read the accusation of “apologist” far more than I ever do “Japan-hater” or “Japan-basher”.

    “Troll” and “trolling” are two other words I encounter frequently. Part of a doctorate is understanding the difference between “troll” and “someone who criticizes what I write”.

    • R0ninX3ph

      I think apologist and hater/basher are bandied around pretty equally on Japan Times.

      Apologist is used by supposed haters, and vice versa.

      • Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson

        There’s a search box up at the top of this and every page, so I tried “japan hater” and “japan basher” (both in quotes) and got half a dozen hits for each, with about half of the hits being article writers preempting being called a “japan basher/hater”, such as Dr Arudou does here.

        I then tried “apologist”, and got ten pages!

      • Steve Jackman

        Ken, while you’re at it, can you also run a search to count all the times an “apologist” has told me to leave the country (or, called me worse things, in the case of your friend, Eido Inoue and some others), since they don’t agree with my comments on Japan? I’m sure you’ll get quite a few pages worth of results!

      • disqus_GmvBCzEwVV

        Steve; Regarding the being told to leave the country. I agree if people have some complaints about Japan no one has any business telling one to leave. I do see your point. In my case I do not tell anyone to leave either (obviously not my place to do so), but I do wonder why people who seem to literally hate Japan stay. I am sure some have extenuating circumstances making it very difficult to leave, but those that have the ability to leave but stay on and have nothing good to say about the country befuddle me. For me it seems it would really be mentally unhealthy to stay in a situation you detest (if you have the ability to leave). For stating that alone I have been called an apologist. Personally I think the terms “hater” and “apologist” are overused and take away from any honest discussion about Japan.

      • Jonathan Fields

        I use the term ‘apologist’ all the time, but only in response to comments that attempt to excuse or justify the poor behavior of Japanese. The thing you need to realize is that having bad things to say about a country does not mean that one hates said country, nor does it make them a ‘basher.’ You can live in a country with problems (both the countries I live in have more than their fair share) and not hate it. It’s natural to want to address the issues you see around you. If you cannot see that condemning poor behavior does not constitute a blanket condemnation of Japan, then you may not be intelligent enough to have a debate.

      • disqus_GmvBCzEwVV


        I am around people who have bad things to say about Japan and sometimes good things as well. I am also around those that CONSTANTLY have nothing good to say about Japan and nothing good to say at all.

        My comment above refers to the latter – if people have nothing at all good to say about Japan and are constantly bashing the country then they should find a way to relocate. For those that have bad things to say about the country’s issues…that seems normal.

        Based on the way you constructed your post you do not seem like the latter type of person at all.

        I will not comment about your personal snipe regarding my intelligence.

      • R0ninX3ph

        I agree with your point, those who cannot find any good reasons why they are still in Japan, and can freely leave without anything holding them back, and find themselves constantly being negative about Japan probably do need a sea change of sorts.

        Those, you are most definitely in the minority of people who tells people to leave Japan then ;-). The majority of comments I see about telling people to leave, are not doing it because the person they are talking to hates everything about Japan, its because they happen to have a negative opinion about (possibly just one) a portion of Japanese culture/Japan itself.

        The fact that person might love everything else about Japan, but hate just one thing, often is enough for certain people to tell that supposed “hater” to leave.

      • Jonathan Fields

        I call it the “if you don’t like it, you can get out” defense. You say something they can’t properly address, and that’s what they come back with.

      • disqus_GmvBCzEwVV

        Dear Ronin; I like Japan, very much actually and enjoy living here. On the other hand there are several things majorly messed up in Japan (as there are in my own country). For me..this is where I choose to live as my specific situation suits me well.
        I know 2 people who stayed too long (they really did hate being here) … one became an alcoholic and the other just plain miserable (no fun to be around). On the other hand I have several friends who complain about things here (as I do as well)…we often disagree on what we complain about but we do not tell each other that we should leave if we do not like it.
        I have been here more than 20 years and I am approaching my mid 50s. What saddens me most is how polarized things have become here among the foreign community (as it seems many other things have…politically, etc.). In my mind the use of the words “apologist” and “hater” reflect just that.
        Perhaps one reason for the polarization is the advent of the internet and the methods now used to discuss issues in Japan. Alot different than when we used to get together for BBQ’s and beer and give each other a bunch of …..

      • Steve Jackman

        “I am also around those that CONSTANTLY have bad things to say about Japan and nothing good to say at all.”

        I’m very surprised to read your comment. You must not spend very much time amongst Japanese people, since they are culturally programmed to almost never say anything bad about Japan. Even the Japanese themselves are aware of this cultural trait.

      • disqus_GmvBCzEwVV

        Hi Steve

        Actually during work I am constantly exposed to Japanese people as there are no other foreigners where I work and my clients are nearly all Japanese. In my off times I have a myriad of friends from most countries.

        Again..in my off times I am around those that CONSTANTLY have bad things to say (yes these people do exist) and again I do not say “If you do not like it leave” however I do say “why do you stay in Japan?/ Why don’t you leave?” – I am not sure why saying such a thing is so divisive or seems to offend people. I would find it hard living in a place where I truly disliked (as opposed to having complaints…and yes I do have complaints about Japan)

        Also (believe it if you wish..or not) I am around a few Japanese who seem disgusted with Japan and would do nearly anything for a chance to get out. When I ask them why they do not do so they really have a hard time answering the question.

      • Steve Jackman

        I guess you just don’t get that someone can disagree with certain aspects of a culture or country without hating it. It just goes to show that some people are not very good at nuanced reasoning and insist on seeing the world in black-or-white terms.

      • disqus_GmvBCzEwVV

        Haha…ok Steve

      • kyushuphil

        One note of caution, Steve.

        You say the Japanese “are culturally programmed to almost never say anything bad about Japan.”

        I’d change the word “culturally” to “institutionally.”
        If we look at Japanese culture, we see many great voices raising their ire at many things “bad” among those who have power in Japan. This has been true for centuries. It’s true now. Haruki Murakami’s speech in Catalonia, June, 2011 — against the silence he also hates seeing, as it permitted the worst of bureaucrats to set in motion policies that led to Fukushima-Dai-ichi. Miyuki Miyabe’s “All She Was Worth” — against Japan’s voracious consumer finance industry. Natsuo Kirino’s “Out” — against nationwide habits that crush women.

        Even as you say “the Japanese themselves are aware of this cultural trait” (never to object, never to question), can’t we at least credit the fine cultural figures among them — long ago, and now — who represent other possibilities?

      • Steve Jackman

        But, aren’t a country’s culture and institutions intertwined?

      • kyushuphil

        Yes, Steve. Truly you speak.

        But so long as those very few Japanese voices speak also, they keep some standards alive higher than the consumerism vulgarities imported (mostly) from America.

        It always amuses me to see Japanese students — and many of their teachers — unaware of, unable to connect to the great voices from Japanese culture past and present. The reason for this is, I think, that those voices speak to the human — as if we all had some humanity in us, as if we could also see and respect that in others.

        People in institutional life operate unequipped to see or deal with the human. They need, rather, metrics, rankings, numbers, repetitive ritual. They need to be safe from the human — not plunge into it as the great cultural figures afford us to do.

        So, yes, a country’s culture and institutions are, as you say, intertwined. But I think its rather more as a truly alive human being may be “intertwined” with the all the dead soul institutional cancers that compete to eat the life out of one.

        Remember the scene near the beginning of the film (1954 version) from Tsuboi Sakae’s “24 Eyes,” when the young teacher expresses her love of the life in the eyes of all her new six-year-olds? And says she never wants to see the light in those eyes go out. And then their history unfolds.

      • KetsuroOu


      • “Japanese people … are culturally programmed to almost never say anything bad about Japan.”

        And you just called yourself a “humanist”. I had no idea “humanist” was a synonym for “racist”. Thank you for setting me straight.

      • Steve Jackman

        How is it racist to say that the Japanese culture frowns upon a Japanese person saying anything which reflects negatively on itself? This is the same for the major religions, where followers are expected to not question its teachings. Please don’t call others racist without any basis.

      • Toolonggone

        Steve, GMainwaring has a history of catcalling. He snarls at anyone whose opinion does not agree with his assumption on ‘homogenous Japanese society ‘(which is NOT). Funny some people like him think that all posters here are non-Japanese, which is NOT true, either.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, completely agree with you! That’s the thing about the internet – anyone can pick any name, so it is impossible to tell a poster’s nationality just by their screen name. I’d be interested to know the percentage of Japanese vs. non-Japanese posters here, but there’s no way to know for sure.

      • Steve Jackman

        You wrote, “In my case I do not tell anyone to leave either (obviously not my place to do so), but I do wonder why people who seem to literally hate Japan stay.”

        Ah, see, that’s where you misunderstand me. Far from hating Japan, I care deeply for the country I live in. My values and principles say that if you care for someting, you try to improve it, not run away, or sweep dirt under the rug. In fact, it baffles my mind that many Japan-apologists here don’t seem to care at all about what’s best for Japan in the long-term, as long as, their selfish needs are being met here in the short-term.

        Besides, I consider myself to be a humanist, so what happens in Japan affects all of us, as long as Japan belongs to this world and is part of humanity. To illustrate my point, would you have told a resident of South Africa to leave South Africa for opposing Appartheid, or a resident of Germany to leave Germany for opposing Nazism, when these countries were going through their dark periods? I don’t think anyone leaving these countries, or sweeping the evils of Apartheid and Nazism under the rug, would have done these countries any favors. The people who cared for these countries stayed on and fought for what is right, not just what is personally expedient.

      • And “Steve Jackman” fights back by Godwinning the discussion. Good job, Steve. Please keep Fighting Back!

      • Steve Jackman

        And, what exactly is your contribution here, GMainwaring?

      • Tim Groves

        Japan belongs to this world as a matter of geography, but what rights non-Japanese citizens have over what happens in Japan are far from clear to me. On the other hand, I’m sure there are a few people reading this who are convinced they know.

      • Steve Jackman

        Well, actually, it’s more than just geography. Japan belongs to the community of nations, is part of the U.N, WTO, and many other international organizations. It is also signatory to their rules, bylaws, agreements, and all the obligations that come with these.

      • Tim Groves

        Thanks for the run down, Steve. Those are international obligations Japan has freely entered into and agreed to honor as a sovereign nation. Japanese citizens have the right under Japanese law to take part in the Japanese political process as candidates and voters. whereas non-Japanese don’t. So your input notwithstanding, I am no the wiser about what rights non-Japanese citizens have over what happens politically in Japan.

        For example, we are permitted to use our freedom of expression and of association to campaign for the country to become a republic, to adopt Swedish as its national language, Sharia as its legal system and Mormonism as its state religion. But I have no idea how far we are legally allowed to proceed, how much noise or nuisance we are allowed to cause, or what obligation the state has to allow us to proceed.

        But more more importantly, I don’t believe we have a moral right to campaign for political change in a country of which we are not citizens since we don’t share the responsibilities of citizens. But even if we do claim the right to campaign, I still don’t see how the Japanese people or the state have any responsibility to respond to those claims or our opinions.

      • Akio Morita

        The reason “WE” tell you to leave the country because you’re a racist. Pure and Simply, nothing wrong with that. You’re a racist, just like Arudou, both of you write comments and articles deemed radically motivated and anti-Japanese. Both of you writes articles in English aim at western readers and hoping for a western response. Both you and Arudou have racist and negative opinions toward Japan and Japanese in general, Japanese in general have the rights to be upset at what you writes and think of them, even if they’re all made up and lies. But he’s a kicker, telling you to get out of Japan is ALSO AN OPINION. Since when is it a crime for Japanese to have an opinion? but it’s okay for you to have opinions right? Don’t tell me you’re using that as a base for your hate monger toward Japan and Japanese. I hope you’re not suggesting it’s perfectly OKAY for a gaijiins to writes racist and anti-Japanese sentiment articles but telling the gaiies to leave Japan is a NO NO.

      • R0ninX3ph

        Try searching also with japan-hater or japan-basher. As I see Japan apologist more often written so, but Japan Hater/Basher are often hyphenated.

        I’m not saying your findings are incorrect, but I see both bandied around pretty willy-nilly, which was my point. I have been called both before, ironically, in the comments section of the same article.

        I just think using the terms, either of them, is pretty silly in general so the prevalence of one or the other means largely nothing, as they are completely meaningless.

      • Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson

        “Japan hater” matches both the hyphenated and unhypenated forms.

      • R0ninX3ph

        You are still missing my point that they are both bandied around ridiculously easily. As I said, I have been called both an apologist and a hater in the comments thread of the same article on JTimes.

        So, to say that apologist gets bandied around more? To me doesn’t really matter as both mean nothing to me. They are both worthless terms now that they both get overused.

      • R0ninX3ph

        I just did a similar search for apologist though, the third result on the first page is referring to “nuclear apologists” not, Japan apologists. The seventh result clearly says “china apologists”, so, yes, while there might be 10 pages of results when you search for just “apologist”, I doubt they are all in relation to Japan.

        If you’re going to do a search being specific for “japan hater” or “japan basher”, it is disingenuous to then search for just “apologist”.

      • Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson

        Well, even if we take your counting, we have still got 8 hits on the first page, more than “japan basher/hater” put together.

      • Toolonggone

        Actually, they are everywhere around the world. They have numerous names for description of their group identity: government-troll, charter promoters, corporate reformist, privatizationist, PARCCers, VAMpire, Voucher Vultures, theory Nazis, and you name it. It’s everywhere.

  • Bucky Sheftall

    Thanks to quirks of evolution, human beings — as far as we know — are the only creatures on the planet neurologically and thus cognitively predisposed to dwell upon the unavoidable fact of their own mortality
    and the emotionally and psychologically (ego-wise) unwelcome intimations of insignificance that foreknowledge entails. The human institution of “culture” evolved as a coping mechanism vis-a-vis that messy stuff whichfunctions by providing us with useful illusions of cosmic significance (“I am a beloved child of God!” or “I’m a loyal member of the best tribe around!” etc etc) and illusions of either (depending on your culture) “literal” (the God/Heaven thing) or “symbolic” (the tribal project to which I have devoted my life’s efforts and loyalties will survive my mortal demise”) immortality. There are many differing cultural ways to skin this existentially-comforting cat — with or without god/heaven mumbo-jumbo. What Debito is describing here, in so many words, is a culture that has come up with a “no god/heaven mumbo-jumbo” solution. Length requirements prompted him to use the word “religion” as a space-saving shortcut. Understandable, given the space limits of the newspaper column format, but as this thread illustrates, the word (which also comes with copious emotional and political baggage) creates more problems than it solves.

    This is a heavy, heavy topic impossible to cover — or even survey — in the depth it deserves in a single column. I’d say it’d take a couple of academic monographs (no one would ever read), minimum, to even scratch the surface of describing the issue and explaining the bare-bones of its functional structure.

    Bottom line: human beings cannot function without SOME useful illusion of immortality and significance. The idea that we are puny, frail creatures on a puny, cosmically insignificant planet pursuing lives and dreams and enduring pain and loss that all, ultimately, amount to nothing is utterly unthinkable for our species. Culture throws us a life-saving rope in that respect. All cultures promise immortality to their loyal human constituents either explicitly (the god/heaven thing) or implicitly (“what you do in life echoes in eternity”). Japan, clearly, is of the “implicit” school in this regard.

  • 99Pcent

    I think the author is talking about the Chinese Communist Party and how it operates.

    • Bucky Sheftall

      In terms of ultimate psychological function (i.e., providing human constituents with useful illusions of immortality and purpose in life)? Same circus, different clowns. This is true of EVERY culture, and it is the primal, instinctive fear behind culture’s existentially-comforting function that provides the emotional fuel for racism, xenophobia and really all forms of intercultural strife.

      • All true, and your two posts are far better than the column they are in response to. Sadly, Debito is unable to see the universality that you point out, to him the Japanese are unique, and I have no doubt he thinks he is “on to something”.

        Unfortunately there are those who encourage him, by signing off on his thesis, thus making him ever more convinced that he actually knows of what he scribbles.

      • Steve Jackman

        What is the point of your comment?

      • Merely how refreshing it was to see an actual intelligent, informed opinion around here, and pointing out how it contrasts with people who are actually getting paid to write for this paper.

  • blackpassenger

    I had arrived at this very conclusion ever since I moved here in 2001 and wrote about it in my 2009 book, ‘black passenger yellow cabs.’

    • jimbo jones

      enough about your book. jog on.

  • David Christopher

    Has there ever been a leader in recorded history that has had millions of followers who would gladly give up all their possessions, go commit suicide, and even make peace with enemies? No other nation or religion on earth wields the power the japanese emperor does.

    • Jim Jones got two out of three, and provided the world with a meme that is repeated even here by people far less intelligent than he was.

  • Steve Jackman

    Yeah, sure, and Obama is a Muslim!

  • Hanten

    Great premise for an article on “the specialness” of Japan with some firm logic and lots good examples. A flaw in the reasoning in fourth paragraph weakens the overall impact but I do love that Arudou seems to have coined a new phrase “the religion of Japan”.

    While I enjoy living here and feel I’ve come to understand a lot about her, I can see the need for caution in trying to sum up Japan in a page. It is too ancient and too complex a country do so. Also I don’t want the nationalists to rain their fiery disapproval down on my head. Not even online. It doesn’t mean I agree with the apologists, either.

    There is so much about Japan to love and I usually focus my attention on those things that please my eye, mind stomach and soul. When, on one of the rare occasions that I encounter something unfair, ugly or wasteful, I would like to be able to talk about it. Without being beaten up.

    Japan is special but it’s no more special than anywhere else. It is particularly special to me but I think it is to Japan’s benefit if she can accept a little criticism from inside and out. A healthy dose of self-esteem is not weakened by an honest eye. Improving Japan is a noble goal for all Japanese people and Japanese lovers.

    • Tim Groves

      You may be interested in this Spectator article from 1938, which employed “the religion of Japan” descriptively rather than metaphorically. I found it fascinating.


      • Hanten

        Well, that was a waste of time. Thanks for that.

      • Tim Groves

        Your quite welcome! And you’ve obviously got plenty of time to waste if you hanging around newspaper comment threads.

      • Hanten

        That’s “you’re” which short for “you are”. You’re welcome, too.

        Back to topic! Do you have anything to add about the cult of nihonjinron?

      • Tim Groves

        Correcting other people’s typos is another exciting way to spend time, with the added bonus that if you keep it up long enough, the Japan Times may offer you a post as a sub-editor. It’s been known to happen.

        Nihonjinron? Basically, it isn’t worthy of the “-ron” suffix. It hardly amounts to a philosophy or school of thought but would be better described as the pseudo-intellectual ravings of a bunch of like-minded people who provide mutual psychological comfort by trying to reassure each other that they are special, different, and better than the rest of humanity.

        If there’s one thing I find even more irksome than the ravings and rantings — I will not dignify them with the description “arguments” — of the practitioners of nihonjinron, it is the “critical” analysis they are subjected to in the Japan Times by Westerners who are unable to separate their irritations with “nihonjinron” from their frustration at the inconveniences they face living in Japan, which operates upon different lines to the the lands where they grew up, and is therefore axiomatically blamed as being the cause of these frustrations.

        I admire Karel Van Wolferen’s The Enigma of Japanese Power because he managed to perform a systematic analysis of “the system” while keeping his own prejudices and lack of clear perspective from totally spoiling the effort. Very few who have followed him have even come close to achieving such a feat and most come across as frustrated English language teachers who wish they had stayed home and who write about “nihonjinron” as a form of catharsis for their condition.

        Apologies, in advance, for any typos or naughty words.

      • Tim Groves

        By the way, I asked my mate Ralph to peruse this thread the other day, and he told me that your comments were the ones he was most in agreement with.

  • Tim Groves

    Yep, the Christians are obviously pulling the strings here. It’s only thanks to the constant infighting between Catholics and Protestants among the elite that they haven’t yet managed to introduce the Japanish Inquisition.

    • “the Japanish Inquisition”

      Well I wasn’t expecting that…

      • KetsuroOu

        No one expects the Japanish Inquisition!

    • Duper

      LOL!!! If you ACTUALLY Beleive that then you have little understanding of what’s currently going on in Washington (DC).

      • Tim Groves

        WTF!!! If you ACTUALLY need a sarc tag in order to recognize that I wasn’t being serious, you are badly in need a sense of humor transplant.

        Personally, I have no idea what’s going on in DC, who’s out, who’s in, who’s up, who’s down, who’s taking bribes from whom, who’s snorting crack or who’s buggering babies. And I care even less.

  • Tim Groves

    Ever noticed how Japan — and in particular, its ruling elite — keeps getting away with astonishing bigotry?

    Can’t say I have. Indeed, I’ve not noticed Japan engaging in any conscious behavior at all. Its chief representative and “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people”, His Imperial Majesty the Present Emperor, appears to be the very quintessence of modesty, propriety, politeness and decorum. We could all learn a lot from Him as a role model of good manners.

    • jimbo jones

      the emperor isn’t ruling anything

      • Tim Groves

        Quite. I don’t believe i said he was, Jimbo. And to be brutally honest, I don’t believe any of the people David mentioned are ruling anything either.

      • jimbo jones


      • de_leuze

        debito = david

      • jimbo jones

        I’m no fancy big city mathematician, but those two words don’t look equal. mind elaborating?

      • jimbo jones

        I haven’t studied his biography as thoroughly as you. how to elaborate a truism? you don’t assume that every one knows lou alcindor is kareem abdul-jabbar. thats a start. bob=frank doesn’t make much sense.

      • de_leuze

        LOL. you asked who is david. i reply it is debito. debito is the romanized kana spelling of david. this is a truism.
        some “dyslectics cannot spell romanized kana”, so they stick to david. this is a pun.
        I try to understand debito’s/david’s column, but there is so much projection. this is serious.

      • R0ninX3ph

        I mean, technically yes, his name was David, before he became a naturalised Japanese citizen and he changed his name to Debito. “David” in romanised Japanese would be “Deibiddo” (or at best… Deibido) not Debito, I believe he chose sounds similar to his name in English, but Debito is not at all how you would normally romanise David.

      • Tim Groves

        Sorry, I’m dyslexic. I can’t spell romanized kana.

      • jimbo jones

        ah, understood. hate katakana. the author was writing about the ruling (political) elites and their ability to remain unscathed by their bigoted comments. the emperor is irrelevant in this context.

      • Tim Groves

        Is Ayako Sono a member of the ruling elite? Seriously? And has she remained unscathed? Everybody on David’s list has been outed as a buffoon and subjected to widespread mass-media ridicule on account of their comments. It’s hardly the fault of the Japanese that they are unable to so so with all the style, sophistication and panache of the UK tabloid press or Bill O’Reilly.

      • jimbo jones

        i said it was the author’s argument and not one that I’m defending. but your use of the emperor as an example to counter the author’s argument is immaterial.

      • Tim Groves

        I wasn’t attempting to to counter his argument so much as to show up its vacuity more clearly after reading that a number of commenters agreed with it.

        If i wanted to counter it, I would attempt to demonstrate (a) that the people he mentions are not de facto members of the Japanese ruling elite but at most front men for the system, (b) that their buffoonery did not go unremarked upon or unpunished in terms of damage to their reputations, but that on the contrary the “wrist-slapping” they received from the media was an appropriate punishment, (c) that it would be easy to cobble together a list of front men for the systems of Anglo-sphere countries such as the US, UK, Australia and Canada who have said similarly un-PC things and had their wrists similarly slapped as a symbolic punishment, and (d) that the individuals David listed are certainly far less representative of Japan than are many other prominent people who have never been reported or recorded as making public remarks of a kind that offends his tender sentiments, and so it would be incorrect to equate these individuals with Japan the nation , the society, the religion or whatever.

        But to go to all the trouble of doing that would be to take the article far more seriously than it deserves.

        David seems to be unhappy because the form of politically correct totalitarianism he espouses — his personal religion if you will — has not yet caught on sufficiently in this country that people who say bad things can be excommunicated. Until everyone who says things he personally thinks are beyond the pale is publicly shamed, drummed out of office, and/or sent to Coventry, he’s going to go on and on ranting about how awful it is year after year ad nauseum. He demonstrates a heroic ability to feel offended and seems to think that gives him the the right to set himself up as an arbiter of what should and shouldn’t be allowed.

        I’m extremely thankful that the present establishment in this country is far more accepting of differences of opinion and of criticism than it would be if it were made up of people as Stalinist in their intolerance of dissent as David appears to be.

  • CJ

    Strikes me that those who haft drinketh of the Green Tea Cool Aide Fountain too longeth… doth protesteth far too strongeth.

  • Toolonggone

    Exploitation of religion for manufacturing myth and deference in political practice brings spectacle but not much substance to democracy. That has nothing to do with genuine faith in God, and everything to do with misguided notion of ancestor worship. No wonder many Japanese people are having an extremely hard time dealing with numerous issues driven from this cultural paralysis in Japanese society today.

  • Sam Gilman

    Hello Japan Times moderators. I had a long comment published; I edited it for a small typo and it’s now back in the “pending” publication queue. Any chance of it being published again?

    • KetsuroOu

      I am upvoting this comment so that it gets noticed. The original comment that Sam Gilman wrote was a very well-reasoned and civil critique of this month’s column. Hopefully, this original comment will reappear soon.

      • Sam Gilman

        It’s back up again – thank you for helping draw attention to it.

      • KetsuroOu

        Thank *you* for taking the time to write it. It was an excellent comment and I was disappointed to see it disappear.

        And sincere kudos to the moderators for pushing it through the pending queue.

    • Steve Jackman

      I tried reading it, but fell asleep halfway through. I don’t think this is the proper forum for writing lengthy Ted Kaczynski-style manifestos containing thousands of words.

      • ” I don’t think this is the proper forum for writing lengthy Ted Kaczynski-style manifestos containing thousands of words.”

        Really? You have just perfectly described Just Be Cause! Or, do you mean lengthy writings are OK as long as they are from your mentor, telling you what you want to hear, and others need not bother lest they disturb your illusions?

      • Steve Jackman

        You obviously cannot tell the difference between an article written by a columnist which is published in The Japan Times (i.e., the above article by Debito), and a personal manifesto written by a poster who calls himself “Sam Gilman”, which he was trying to sneak into the comments section here under the guise of a comment.

      • KetsuroOu

        Speaking of names in quotations, I gave up replying to the “Steve Jackman” account months ago. But I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to set a record straight, so instead I shall address the readers of this thread at large.

        For those of you who missed Sam Gilman’s original comment, it was obviously not a manifesto, it was a critique of this month’s article. From memory, the main points that it made were:

        • Arudou’s conception of “religion”, and by extension the use of this conception as a metaphor for “Japaneseness” is logically flawed

        • Arudou omits (or is unaware of) many examples of Japanese politicians who have been censured for bigoted or racist statements. Similarly, Japan is not getting a “free pass” in the international community

        • If the “ruling elite” is not a single-minded, racist entity, and if “Japaneseness” is not a religion, the entire premise of the article, particularly as summarized in the final two paragraphs, is completely specious

        Rereading these final two paragraphs, I cannot help but notice Arudou’s challenge to, “discuss if you dare”. Perhaps next month he should end with, “discuss, but do not dare disagree”.

      • Sam Gilman

        Thank you very much for a pretty good summary! I may try to repost it if the mods aren’t checking the queues. It honestly looks like a glitch in the system.

        The main thing I would clarify about your summary, as it seems most pertinent, is that not only were all the people he lists here as “getting away with” saying bigoted things censured both domestically and internationally, but also all but one (Ishihara) were induced to apologise/retract. Debito also fails to include the names of several more prominent public figures over the past thirty years who were indeed “drummed out of office” for saying bigoted things, particularly in terms of wartime denials. Whether he didn’t know about them or chose to omit them is unclear. (Toshio Tamogami stood in the Tokyo Governor election only last year and his history – fired as Air SDF chief in 2008 – was frequently repeated.)

        That is, the whole idea that prominent figures in Japan have routinely gotten away with saying bigoted and offensive things is factually inaccurate. I don’t know the editing process at the Japan Times, but it’s a bit worrying that no one overseeing the process spotted this. Opinion pieces still should have to get their facts right.

        I agree with your general policy about this particular poster. His blatantly false description of what I wrote is yet another clear indication that he’s a troll.

      • Yes, “Steve”, I already know you can’t tell the difference between an article and an opinion piece, or “personal manifesto”.

        Oh, have I thanked you recently for supporting Debito? I hope he appreciates all you do for him and his reputation, I know I and others do!

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    One of Debito’s better articles. Not convinced on the religion aspect, but it is an interesting concept that might be better characterized as a cult. Nevertheless, a clear example that when Debito avoids polemics, he writes much better than when he is shrill.

  • sasit93

    An important article to know many things about Japan and Japanese. Thanks.

  • Mateusz82

    Seems like Debito started with an assumption, and tried to build arguments around it. Japaneseness is more an ideology, and better understood as simple nationalism, similar to examples in the past, even comparable to China, which is attempting to create a similar narrative of superiority through homogeneity (harmony, as the government puts it).

    Also… calling Richard Dawkins a “Scholar”, especially in these matters, is being quite generous.

    • Steve Jackman

      “Japaneseness is more an ideology”. So is religion.

  • Foreigner Friendly

    Japan’s a great place to live and work. Always fascinating, it never fails to deliver something baffling and marvelous in every facet of its magnificent culture.

    This business of “nihonjinron” is baffling, ne? As is the casual racism one sees, thankfully rarely but often loudly trumpeted in the Japanese media. The Japanese people and the foreign residents here are generally very well-educated so it should come as no surprise to anyone that there’s nothing in Japanese DNA to distinguish them from any other human being. That means there’s no rational basis for racially discriminating against anybody. Even so-called “positive racism” is completely nonsensical when one realizes that we’re all one. We’re all humans. We may have different passports, different shades to our skin and we may speak different languages but we all think and feel like humans because we’re all the same species.

    Culturally, it’s easy to draw lines between ourselves and others. If we do it to make ourselves feel better about who we are as a people then that’s sad. It’s true, Japan can claim a unique culture that thousands of people come here to enjoy. On the other hand, every country can claim the same level of cultural uniqueness. None of them are superior to any of the others.

    Let’s stop treating Japan as the pauper prince. Let’s stop tolerating this religion of “Japanese-ness” and being show some reasonableness instead. If those that profit from the idea that “nihonjinron” want to join the human race they’re welcome. But please drop the ‘tude at the door.

  • Catherine Dassy

    You are right that “Japan” and “Japaneseness” is not a “religion”. It is closer to being a cult with fundamentalist-religious aspects, similar to North Korea, which may not even be accidental given that North Korea’s system is based on Japanese fascism and Emperor cult, adapted to the Kim family.
    There is a clear tendency to shut out outside influences that question the cult, which goes hand in hand with the inability to see criticism as valuable rather than an insult which must, without fail, be discredited.

    One good example is German Chancellor Merkel’s recent visit to Japan, which was seen in the Western world as a very polite gesture for the Japanese to maybe learn from Germany’s history, but in the Japanese media, save the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun, it was generally seen as a completely insensitive, insulting interference, and some Japanese media even went as far as to claim that Merkel “insulted the Emperor”.

    This inability to see others (Merkel in this case) as equals instead of just aliens who must be looked down upon, has reached cultish levels in Japan.

    • Sam Gilman

      I’m afraid I find your comments about Japan quite bizarre. If you lived here, I rather think you wouldn’t make such profoundly odd claims that Japan has shut itself off from outside influences. I can’t even begin to understand what it would mean for something to challenge whether or not Japanese people were who they were. It’s as if you find the population offensive simply for existing.

      Do you have a link to these news reports that described Merkel as insulting the emperor?

  • Chief Presiding Judge

    Great read Debito. Thank you for this. No 1st world country in a modern interconnected era should get a pass on bigotry.

    Racism is disgusting.

  • JD

    Joining the party late, but this should be reprinted by JT as a formal response to Debito’s article. I hope the people at JT are reading this and seriously questioning whether they should continue to publish Debito’s nonsense.