The last in a series of selections of unpublished letters about Community stories from the previous year.

Tough job arranging study in Japan

Re: “What to expect when applying for college overseas” by Michael Hassett (Learning Curve, July 27, 2016):

I found Michael Hassett’s experience both informative and a useful comparison with my own experience in the reverse situation.

While studying Japanese language, history and culture at the University of Toronto, I realized that I would need to study in Japan to become truly fluent in the language.

When I inquired at my university about programs which would enable me to do this, I learned I was on my own — in finding the right place to apply, all costs, all visas, all living arrangements in Japan, locating a guarantor, etc.

Fortunately I had Japanese friends living in Toronto at the time who offered their assistance. Otherwise it would have been impossible.

I spent two years at Keio University, which made all my efforts definitely worthwhile.

British Columbia

‘Outsiders’ turn to sport

Re: “Celebrating Japan’s Multicultural Olympians” by Naomi Schanen (The Foreign Element, Aug. 27):

Sorry to air my cynical views once again, but Japan’s hāfu or multicultural citizens are only celebrated in sports, pop culture or fashion. I doubt these “outsiders” will ever find much opportunity in corporate boardrooms, political backrooms or major university classrooms. Hāfu in Japan are still very much second-class citizens. I would hazard a guess that many of Japan’s multicultural Olympians have tried to excel in sports simply to win greater acceptance in an otherwise very closed society.

Japan’s gold medal winner judoka Mashu Baker mentioned that he was bullied in school because he was hāfu. All hāfu children in Japan can relate to Baker’s unhappy childhood experiences in school. These racially mixed individuals also try to find acceptance in the music or pop culture, and as smiling models in fashion magazines.

Question: Is Tokyo ready for a “multicultural” mayor? Didn’t think so. Los Angeles elected a Hispanic-American mayor in 2005 and back in the 1970s and 1980s there was the very popular African-American mayor Tom Bradley. Berlin famously elected an openly gay mayor about 15 years ago. He held that office for over 10 years.

Would the University of Tokyo ever appoint a very accomplished academic who happened to be a hāfu as president? Many of the more elite universities in the USA currently have a “multicultural” president or chancellor.

And then of course there’s Barack Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, who was twice elected. Japanese-Americans have tremendous political and social power in Hawaii these days. It’s no coincidence that Obama gained much of his social confidence by being raised in the most multicultural society on Earth, the aloha culture of Hawaii.

It’s safe to say that while the USA celebrates ethnic and cultural diversity, Japan continues to cling to its traditional racial and cultural homogeneity — dare I also mention its false notion of “racial purity”? How could an island nation conduct trade with countries all over the globe and yet remain so isolated and xenophobic? It was only around eight short years ago that Japan’s newly appointed minister of tourism assured reporters that Japanese “do not like or desire foreigners.” He resigned a few days later, the gaffe-prone racist. Hope none of the Japan Olympic Committee members feel the same way.

Once again, Japan’s feudalistic male-dominated establishment does not encourage women, hāfu or gaijin (foreigners) to move up the ladder. They must settle for a seat at the back of the bus. What a waste of human potential just to maintain the status quo and keep insecure, spoiled Japanese males from feeling threatened.

At least Nissan Motor Corp. was willing to take a chance on gaikokujin (foreign national) leadership. French-Lebanese-Brazilian Carlos Ghosn became the CEO of Nissan and changed its corporate fortunes big time. Nissan almost went bankrupt before his timely arrival. To this day he relies on a skilled interpreter/translator to conduct meetings with his corporate subordinates. I became the proud owner of a Nissan “March” when the Ghosn design first appeared in the car showrooms back around 2003.

Pity that all those multicultural health care workers are finding it almost impossible to work in Japan. Why should elderly geriatric patients be concerned about the ethnicity of their care providers?

Tama, Tokyo

Becoming British at a cost

Re: “Japan’s dual citizens get a tacit nod but keep their status in the shadows” by Charles Lewis (The Foreign Element, Sept. 14, 2016):

I am a Japanese female living in the U.K. with my English husband and my hāfu [half-Japanese] son (Japanese/English).

I strongly would like Japan to accept dual citizenship. It is very important not only for my son but also for myself. I have been living in the U.K. for eight years now and am qualified to obtain British citizenship if I wish. But since I cannot obtain it without losing my Japanese nationality, I am very hesitant to apply.

We are hoping to live in Japan in the near future, but if we turn out not to be happy there, it is not easy to return to the U.K. at all. (If I leave the U.K. for more than two years, I have to apply for a marriage visa then a permanent visa again. The process and the costs are huge.)

In the U.K., we cannot claim any benefits besides the child benefit, but If I could obtain British citizenship, my husband can claim unemployment benefit if he loses his job, for instance. Having dual citizenship would help me have a secure life in the U.K., too.

Currently, we also do our best to travel to Japan as much as possible so that my 3-year-old son can learn about Japanese culture. We want him to be bicultural and understand both countries like I do, and how on Earth can you choose one country if we raise him this way?

It is now the 21st century, and there are so many hāfu people and so many Japanese living overseas. I strongly believe it is time to seriously consider this issue.

Manchester, England

Benefits of dual citizenship

I am one of those people with dual citizenship (parents are Japanese nationals but I was born and raised in the U.S.). I was told by the consulate that I should make a decision but it was never pushed or pressed, which I appreciate.

Now my children (my wife is an American national) are also dual citizens because of me. I am strongly supportive of the dual citizen program, as I believe it instills a sense of identity. It has nothing to do with whether one or both if your parents are Japanese (in my case, both parents are Japanese but I was born and raised in the U.S.).

I didn’t really embrace my Japanese identity until college, but I was so glad that I was able to, and having a passport and being recognized as a dual citizen helped. Although I have never lived in Japan for an extended period, the ability to do that and work there is an enticing option. If I was forced to renounce my citizenship, I very well could have lost my link to my heritage and family identity.

Finally, it is rewarding to be raised and to now raise my children as citizens of two countries. This past Olympics in Rio was great as both countries did well, and our family got to cheer for Japan and the U.S. If my kids were athletically gifted, they would no doubt go for Japan!

Thanks and keep up the great work!

New York

Japan looks the other way

Here’s an interesting wrinkle: My daughter was born in Japan and had Japanese citizenship from her father and U.S. citizenship from me. She was raised in the U.S. from the age of 7 and lost her Japanese language.

However, when (at age 23) she wanted to work in Japan, the local consulate refused to give her a visa and insisted she apply for a new Japanese passport because, they said, “You are not a foreigner.” When she tried to tell them she would not give up her American citizenship, they brushed it off, saying she could deal with that “later.”

She continues to have both passports. Our assumption is that since she is young, college-educated and of marriageable age, they hoped she would stay permanently in Japan.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of other cases like this, but it does strike me as a very Japanese way of going about things.


Harassed due to my body shape

Re: “Body image and the foreign female in Japan: survey shows frustration with one-size-fits-all thinking” by Louise George Kittaka (The Foreign Element, Sept. 21, 2016):

Thank you for this timely article on female body size, a universal issue. I have lived in Japan for over nine years and was surprised at the first ugly encounter I had involving body size.

I had been in country less than a month when I and three female friends attended a SoftBank Hawks baseball game in Fukuoka. As we were leaving the area, an older Japanese gentleman came up and reached towards me — I instinctively turned away, so he only grabbed my upper arm. He then turned and full-on grabbed my friend’s breasts.

We were all shocked and this incident led to a discussion about body size. We were tall, curvy, large-busted, beautiful women, and our body types were clearly not like that of Japanese women. By the way, we were all in our 40s and 50s at the time of this incident.

Sadly, that was not the last of these incidents. I was at a festival and a Japanese vendor came up behind me and grabbed my buttocks. I spun around and said, “Yamete!” and she then pretended to grab my breasts. It was a very embarrassing public moment.

At a flea market, a Japanese couple came up to me while I was engaged in conversation with a vendor. The woman grabbed my upper arm and started to squeeze it, saying, in English, “Nice body,” after which she also grabbed my buttocks, again saying “Nice body.” “Yamete” again, but really, I need to learn how to say: “Stop touching me. You are very rude.”

And finally, at a pottery shop in Yomitan, Okinawa, a group of men started laughing when we (several American women) entered the shop. I overheard the word “debu” (fat), told my friends, and we put down our purchases and left the shop.

Quite honestly, for a country that is known for its politeness, this behavior seems out of character. And really, why would you dare to put your hands on a stranger or anyone without their permission? It borders on assault.

I have had positive body image encounters, too. In Africa, I was told that my family must love me a lot because I was heavy and that meant that they fed me well. In Cambodia, I was told, “Oh, madam, you are narrow up here and then you spread out here. You are beautiful, just like the sitting Buddha.” I spent a lot of time photographing sitting Buddhas on that trip!

While it is sad that Japan has jumped on the “girls/women must be skinny to be attractive/healthy” bandwagon, I only see a grim future for these women. You can already see how osteoporosis has affected the aging Japanese population — just look at all the women bent over the rolling chairs going about their daily chores. I see numerous orthopedic issues in both elderly men and women in Japan. Trying to be abnormally thin will result in more health problems later in life. I won’t even start on the issues that face young girls who are fed propaganda about body size.

I am fully aware of the health issues related to being overweight/obese. However, my size does not give anyone the permission to try to make me feel worthless. I like who I am and have come to terms with the reactions I get here in Japan. I just strut my stuff and keep moving.


Valuable work on Okinawa

Re: “How the U.S. military spies on Okinawans and me“by Jon Mitchell (The Foreign Element, Oct. 19, 2016):

Just writing to say thank you for publishing Jon Mitchell’s article on the U.S. spying on Okinawa and himself.

Hopefully your article is a step toward ending some very dangerous tactics that make the U.S. seem like the bully it is becoming. Hopefully it will help the “We the people” realize they are losing their power and future to the military and now is the time to say “enough!”

Congratulations to you, Mitchell and the Okinawans for having the courage and tenacity to continue to stand up.


Make Matsuri Takahashi’s sacrifice matter

Re: “Time to consign ‘death by overwork’ to Japan’s history” by Hifumi Okunuki (Labor Pains, Oct. 23, 2016):

Matsuri Takahashi — the name of the angel destroyed by the economic drive of modern-day society.

I was brought to tears by the video I saw on your website, something that seldom happens. I have lived in Japan for almost three years and have encountered this kind of hardship may times, mainly expressed by others.

I desire to bring an end to this heavy work-life tendency, to stop the hearts of the young being broken and destroyed. These companies are taking our young minds and breaking them. This must stop.

Let’s make Matsuri’s sacrifice count!


No balance on Fukushima and cancer

Re: “Japan’s government should stay out of U.S. sailors’ lawsuit against Tepco” (Hotline to Nagatacho, Nov. 2, 2016):

I read with interest Brian Victoria’s letter regarding the above topic. Clearly he is not a disinterested party, which might explain the misleading information he gave in that letter.

For example, he fails to give any information regarding the figures for the prevalence of childhood thyroid cancer which would normally be expected in a population the size of Fukushima’s. Without that information — and hence a comparison — a bald reference to figures is completely meaningless.

And the assumption (without any evidence) that these cancers were caused by radiation from the Tepco plant is equally unsupported. Indeed studies have shown that the incidence of childhood thyroid cancer is similar (in some cases even higher) in other parts of Japan, if similarly rigorous testing procedures as those done in Fukushima are undertaken.

This leads me to believe that other information given in his letter may be equally suspect.


Standard screed by Arudou

Re: “Trump’s lesson: You can lie your way to the very top” by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Nov. 16, 2016):

For those hoping to find quality post-election analysis in The Japan Times [print edition] on Nov. 17, disappointment was the likely result. Instead of a rundown of what led to the outcome of the presidential election in the United States, we were treated to what has become a rather pro forma screed by Mr. Arudou.

The irony is thick that Mr. Arudou boasts of an educational career where he taught students about “calling out logical fallacies,” and yet his piece is replete with ad hominem attacks. Donald Trump is reduced to merely a vehicle for misogyny, racism, xenophobia, bullying, fraud, and incitement to violence. By extension Republicans, or those of other parties, who voted for him are just simple dupes, or in the phrasing of his preferred candidate, “the basket of deplorables.”

In a slap-dash euphemistic trick, he conflates the opposition to leftist policy-making with obdurate “obstructionism.” In the United States’ Constitutional Republic form of government, the Congress is the legislative branch, drafting and passing laws, a check upon overreach by any one person in the Executive position. Refusing to pass bad ideas into law is not mere “gridlock,” but as valuable a function as the passage of good legislation.

Per the Bureau of Labor in the United States as of writing, the labor force participation rate is 62.8 percent [it’s now 62.7], the result of a steady falloff since the start of the great recession in 2008, a depth that the country has not seen since March 1978. Simultaneously, President Barack Obama has overseen a doubling of the national debt, on the back of budgets that have seen two-thirds of federal funds going to entitlements and servicing the interest on the aforementioned debt, per government data.

The upshot being that outside of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the federal government in Washington, regular Americans are hurting, and have been for the past eight years. Hillary Clinton was touted as Obama’s third term; deterministically labeling voters choosing against employment stagnation and saddling future generations with massive debt as a form of “hate” is high-handed in the extreme.

I understand, Mr. Arudou’s shtick is finding racism and grievance; and when the only tool in your box is a hammer, the whole world starts to look like a nail. But The Japan Times offering this up as legitimate criticism of the election is a disservice to its readers.

Koshigaya, Saitama

Trump showed the con but won

Sincere thanks for this. During the seemingly endless run-up to the election I wondered that people didn’t hear they were being played. Critical thinking is no longer taught in most schools but surely, I thought, the con was on full display.

The people Trump didn’t pay for work done were surely members of that crowd. No one asked why a man greedy for more money yet who refuses to open his taxes to view should have any commitment to the poorer folks.

I’m appalled at the lies told but also at what could be his truths. His misogyny and racist stand, his ignorance and proud inability to read or listen to complex issues, his insistence on adoration all frighten me.

Some of his claims were mildly humorous such as “I have words — I have the best words.” My reaction was: “Why don’t you use them?” And, of course, those about how high his IQ is were a bit of fun.

But now he is where he is, using his family as aides — even requesting some get special security clearances. This is not a time to feel all will be well.

As I told my doctor, the entire display made me think of a graduate course in psychopathology. He agreed.

Once again, thank you for your article and analysis.

Oakland, California

Out of touch with what’s coming

I just read the comment on Trump’s election by Debito Arudou.

Boy, is this guy clueless! He is typical of the left, and of the modern media in the USA. They just lost a landslide and he/they blame everyone but themselves — and they have had their people in power for the last eight years. But none of the problems in the USA today is their fault, oh no!

Oh, no, the problem wasn’t Obama, it wasn’t that Hillary was a criminal and represented the same policies that have been in place for 30 years. No, the “problem” was that Trump lied! Arudou can’t say about what exactly, but it must have been dishonest, since a “saint” like Hillary “should” have won.

Listen up, editors, Trump won, and won handily. He won for a reason. He is going to put in completely different policies, and if you keep putting whiners who have absolutely no insight into what happened nor the slightest understanding as to why, like Debito Arudou, on your pages, you are going to be increasingly out of touch with your readers and the new world that will develop under Trump’s leadership.

Ditch this guy as soon as you can! Forewarned is forearmed!


Skewed version of reality

Re: “American residents of Japan: dealing with Trump from a distance” by Manon Billing (The Foreign Element, Nov. 30. 2016):

Today I had the displeasure of reading your article regarding the subject listed above. It was truly a tainted version of reality and one that paints American voters living abroad as young, naive and distant from the politics of the United States. This is so far from the truth.

However, this is a reminder to me of the news channels in the USA that got it all wrong and are today shedding tears of “what if” and “how did it happen” or “this was a whitelash” kind of news. You see, your article talked with people that are “educators or teachers,” which reflect the far left, as well as “classmates or students” that listen to those same educators and spread the same propaganda as CNN, MSNBC and the like. Some of them admitted they didn’t even vote, as many of those protesters in America haven’t done as well.

Remember, all of them got it wrong! The people of America have spoken (because they voted) and chose wisely the next President of the United States of America.

Now, allow me the opportunity to say for the record the following facts. I’ve lived in Japan for more than 30 years and hold a permanent resident visa. I’m also a proud U.S. citizen, born in the great state of Hawaii and lived in wonderful states of Kentucky, Texas, California and Mississippi, as well as abroad, in great places like Germany, Singapore, UAE and now Japan.

I have voted in the last eight elections over 32 years, mostly by absentee ballot. None of my previous seven candidates won, except for this vote for Trump. Which by the way I am extremely proud of, and will no doubt have great discussions with “knowledgeable and thought leaders” around the world on this issue.

But let me not digress for now. I have worked in some capacity for the U.S. government for more than 21 years, as a senior consultant in lean management and now own a company in consultancy for 12 years. I travel around the world and spend more than 230 days a year in different countries and cultures. They all share openly their thoughts about this election, many with a “distorted view of reality” because they are just not well informed.

I share this openly because I’ve lived through the Obama ideology and all of its global promises and failures, the Bush eras (both of them) and their global perspective of control and patriotism, the Clinton era that charmed and lied to the world, the Reagan era that inspired opportunity (even had the chance to guard this president, which was an honor), but no matter who became president, our system continued to thrive even during the good and bad times.

Even now, with President Elect Trump, who gained 306 electoral votes, flipping five Democratic states, winning 51 Senate and 240 House seats, plus won 83.9 percent of all the counties in the USA — roughly 2,600 of the 3,100 counties.

Yes, he lost the popular vote by 2 million because of four major cities where many people live. However, if you look at the states like California, Oregon, Washington or even my home state of Hawaii and the counties, the red for Republican speaks volumes. People wanted — correction, demanded — change! This is data that is real and the people that “feel” that things are wrong have benefited from the failures of the past.

It’s time to fix what is wrong with our nation or at least let the man try! People are condemning him for things he has yet to do or influence. They worry on trivial and unreal expectations. These feelings and arguments that people put forth have no merit except to highlight that Trump says the wrong things, as almost every person on this Earth has done 100 times or more — maybe not as vulgar or profound, because of our “status,” but definitely we have done so. Let’s give democracy a chance, as it has prevailed for more than 240 years.

In closing, let’s not focus on feelings or what-ifs anymore, but move onto substance and “real change.” Remember, Obama promised that to us in 2008 and again in 2012, with nothing to show for it, at least in terms of my living standard.

Please, do me and your readers a great favor and try your best to share reality and the different perspectives of true communities, people’s lives and things other than educators. Japan has a wealth of foreign knowledge leaders in business. Some owners, others employed and some even entrepreneurs. Maybe a place to get more insights could be to start with the American Chamber of Commerce or other global businesses and corporations in the Tokyo area such as DHL, Philips, MetLife, etc. Good luck, and I look forward to articles of balance in the future.

Yamaguchi Pref.

Informative on overseas assets

Re: “Japan’s taxman sticks his OAR in, looking for leviable expat assets held abroad” by Louise George Kittaka (Lifelines, Dec. 7, 2016):

This is just a short note to thank you for your recent articles regarding overseas assets. They are well written and have helped me to better understand this subject.

I have substantial overseas assets and will probably leave Japan before five years as I don’t feel the government should have the right to know details of income and assets earned before I moved to Japan.

I understand their need to know my global income, but not why they need to know all of my assets. I assume they are looking to control future inheritance tax issues.


Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.