A selection of unpublished letters about Community stories from the second half of last year:
War brings out best and worst
Re: “Of guns and cutlery: Memories of the war, from the Netherlands to Japan” by Hans Brinckmann (Foreign Agenda, Aug. 9):
This article was one of the best I’ve read in recent times. It is said that war brings out the best and worst in people. Judging from the photograph of the miserable veterans in Kobe and the indifferent passers-by, it would seem that the same could be said for defeat.
Like the acrylic cutlery in Mr. Brinckmann’s kitchen, these photographs must not be hidden away. They prick at our conscience and deserve a special place in the public consciousness, as a reminder of what makes us human, for better or worse.
My father and the bombs
Thinking way back, I recall that it was the 47th year (1992) since American warplanes had last dropped bombs on Japan during World War II. It must have been my second year in the Aichi Senmon Nisodo, a training monastery for female priests in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition in Nagoya.
One day at the Nisodo, a Civil Defense officer appeared at the door. Aichi Gakuen was constructing a new building for the university right nearby, digging two floors down to make best use of the land. An undetonated U.S. bomb had been found there, and we were all to go next day at 2 p.m. to a nearby bomb shelter while work was to be done to defuse it.
Memories arose in me of my father during WWII. On his desk he had fine tweezers and a magnifying eyepiece that he’d used for years to place small parts into the instrument panels of B-24s or B-29s. The thought came to me: Had that undetonated bomb just down the hill been dropped from a plane which my father had helped to build?
How could I go and enter a bomb shelter if there was an accident, the bomb exploded and hurt people? How could I come out safe when others might be injured? I asked our Abbess to let me be the rusu-ban, the one who stays back. “Dai-En-san, we have orders for all of us to leave,” she said.
Someone suggested, “The movie ‘Gandhi’ is playing. Couldn’t we all go there instead?” Everyone wanted to go. But how could I come back from a movie theatre if someone were hurt at the bomb site? How could I stay on there — but also, how could I leave? I wanted to go down to the site myself, but worried I might be ordered to the bomb shelter.
“Abbess, how can I go anywhere? I can’t. I ask to stay here,” I said.
“Very well, then” was her reply.
All left but one, the senior nun whom our abbess asked to stay downstairs. I stood behind a curtain to the side of a second-floor window, not moving.
The minutes seemed like hours. Thoughts of my father’s work, not his choice, flowed through my mind. Thoughts of my fellow countrymen who had made other parts of the plane, and of the bombs, followed behind in my mind. If there were an accident while trying to detonate the bomb, how could I stay on, safe, to practice at the women’s monastery? What would I do? What could I do? I could come up with no answer when I heard the signal that all was well.
All the nuns returned from the movie.
“Here is a small o-miage for you,” said one nun, handing me a sweet. As always, in the morning, in the evening, we do zazen meditation. That evening, “Everyone is safe. Everyone is safe,” came the unsolicited mantra in my quieted mind.
REV. PATRICIA DAI-EN BENNAGE
Abbess emerita, Mt. Equity Zendo, Jihoji
Re: “Trump or decency? Every American, whether in Japan or elsewhere, must choose a side” by Jesse Glickstein (Foreign Agenda, Aug. 23):
Jesse Glickstein’s plea to choose decency and stand up against hatred strikes a poignant chord with all of us who have been appalled by what took place in Charlottesville. His taking President Donald Trump to task for repeatedly abetting the white nationalists and calling for accountability in condemning racism and intolerance could not be more urgent.
Having said that, if an effort to eradicate hate groups were to be pursued in a constructive manner, one must confront the question of how white nationalism has gained steam in recent years. Many in the media and public may point to the ascent of Donald Trump for a large part of the answer: Trump has undeniably fanned the flame of hate with his overtly racist rhetoric.
Nevertheless, the facile insinuation by some that Trump has single-handedly fomented a climate of racism and hate only diverts the attention from the real source of the problem. In fact, Trump, an unscrupulous opportunist to the core, merely appealed to the base and tribalist tendency that has been nurtured under an increasingly fractious political environment.
America is deeply divided, and one of the primary forces driving the numerous fractures on its edifice is fervent identity politics and its attendant bigotry. In recent years, America has seen alarming growth of toxic, “us vs. them” mentality among its population. For example, members of the Antifa movement and Black Lives Matter seemingly justify vicious treatment of those they deem to be their enemies as part of their stated claim to fight oppression.
In a similar vein, the eagerness with which vilification of those whose opinions diverge from one’s own takes place has been another disturbing trend. Those who have tried to engage in reasonable debate over problems with Islamic theology, differences between men and women, the merit of adopting a multitude of arbitrary gender pronouns, or any other hot-button issues, only to be silenced and branded with unenviable epithets (e.g. “Islamophobic,” “racist,” “male chauvinist”), could attest to this.
The dogmatic antagonism toward those who refuse to toe the party line, as demonstrated by groups such as Black Lives Matter, third-wave feminists, transgender rights activists (and others of the “social justice warrior” ilk) only leads to atomization of society. In this environment ripe for hate and division along racial and ideological lines, it is not entirely surprising that white nationalism has sprouted. In other words, white nationalism and other aforementioned groups are all cut from the same cloth of bigotry and tribalism.
White nationalism may be the most recent and vivid example of hate we have witnessed, but in “rallying against hate,” striving for decency begins with combating rampant divisiveness and intolerance of all forms.
Self-obsessed conquest catalog
Re: “How a love of Japan led me to stop dating its women” by Damian Flanagan (Foreign Agenda, Aug. 27):
I’m a transplant from Tokyo to Chicago, and today came across this article. I think it is gallingly unprofessional of your editorial team to post what was obviously a private journal entry to your news site. Surely, Mr. Flanagan would be deeply embarrassed to have his name publicly associated with such a self-obsessed catalog of his previous romantic conquests, especially one that reduces all of his previous partners to pretty much just their ethnic background.
How would this affect Mr. Flanagan’s life going forward — is it not inevitable that publication of these private ramblings could affect his relationship with his wife, who surely is a more complex individual with nuanced personality traits beyond just being Australian? Would she appreciate being whittled down to just her ethnic background in a public forum like this?
Then again, what would I know, as a half-Japanese, half-American woman who is “adventurous” and therefore has marred her Japaneseness? (Though I suppose I should be thankful that I’m not just “boring.”) Maybe this stuff is supposed to be flattering, and we women — sorry, “girls” — should take it as such, even if it’s blatantly not.
It’s all about the money
A very important essay for those who are or might considering dating Japanese women in Japan.
The culture is indeed much too restrictive for Western tastes, but one would think the bond with its romance would alleviate most of that stress. I guess it depends on the individuals and their situations.
As for Mr. Flanagan, I am of the opinion that he must have had the luxury of making his choices free of financial concerns and other mitigating factors, unlike many of the other Westerners who choose to date Japanese women.
THOMAS A. DIMATTIA
Nationality maketh the man?
This whole thing is so cringy. What is the author, a 13-year-old on LiveJournal?
“I found that the nationality of the girl I was dating greatly affected my mental mood and how I thought about things.”
Reading that sentence without any context is a trip. Does the author have no control over his moods? The nationality of his girlfriend determined his mood?! That is nonsense.
Seriously, this is garbage and an embarrassment.
Pointless narcissistic preening
Sorry, but I thought this entire essay was pointless, just a bit of narcissistic preening, as in “Ain’t I the cat’s meow!”
And why does British expatriate Damian Flanagan assume that Japanese women are only attracted to Western nerds who have all the social graces of a Woody Allen character? Admittedly, Meiji-Era Brit Lafcadio Hearn, with his one near-sighted eye, the other blind, and his diminutive height, might have started the whole “nerd gaijin (foreigners) marry lovely Japanese women” stereotype, but many attractive Western men have taken a Japanese spouse since Hearn’s day. And they often make very attractive couples, as the saying goes. Was John Lennon of Beatles fame a nerd?
I wonder, did Japanese women simply stop dating Flanagan? Did he become too self-important with his newfound powers as a celebrated Japanologist and jetsetter? Perhaps when he was a college student back in England, the more attractive British woman simply found him to be too much the nerd. Was the bookish Flanagan slavishly devoted to his narrow intellectual pursuits and dull as dishwater at any lively gathering?
And what makes Flanagan think that he’s such a “great catch”? I wonder what his Australian wife really thinks of her “Pommy” husband? As for Flanagan finding a future home Down Under, Aussie menfolk aren’t really all that fond of their British cousins, are they? Brits tend to have too high an opinion of themselves — “rule Britannia” and all that rubbish.
What do I know about it? I spent my childhood as an expatriate Yankee in London. Oh, and had an Australian girlfriend years ago in Los Angeles who never cared much for Brits, though she did have an brief affair with the Academy Award-winning actor John Hurt in her younger days.
Is Flanagan a closet racist? Were Asian women simply not good enough for him? He writes about his past girlfriends from places like Korea, Thailand and Nepal as if he was a food critic writing about a slightly disappointing luncheon buffet. Sexism also comes to mind.
During the era of the British Empire, the proper British gentleman always married a proper English lady, one with the right social standing and heritage. If she came from a wealthy family all the better. He’d have a fling with a local girl in India or Singapore but marriage was simply out of the question — what would folks think of him back in Cheeky-on-Roast Beef or Ye Olde Snob Pub and Country Club if he arrived back home with an Asian wife and few “half” kids in tow?
The British Empire was all about the destiny of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Dai Nippon’s empire was bloody and cruel. The British Empire was just boring, like a Sunday morning Anglican sermon at some quaint little church in the farming village of Sheep’s Dung by the Sea in Cornwall.
I wonder if there’s a Japanese academic somewhere in England who once told the London media why he never married a lovely English gal: “I had to exclude British women from my love life so that I could properly focus on British culture and enjoy the lovely Lake District and tea at Windsor”? Oh well, it takes all kinds, doesn’t it? Queer fellow indeed.
Readers deserve an apology
This is the most backward, embarrassingly juvenile, chauvinist, narcissistic, idiotic, disrespectful, biased article — I feel sorry for his wife and for him. But mostly am surprised JT would attach its name to something so full of ignorance. Is there any cultural competency diversity training happening at JT?
As a bicultural, biracial multinational person (yes, believe it or not some people in this day and age do not think it is so relevant to be defined by their gender), I’m offended and glad that my mother was open-minded enough and humble enough to fall in love with the country of Japan because of — and at times in spite of and despite — her love for my Japanese father. You don’t deserve to have Japan love you back, frankly.
I think JT owes the citizens of this country as well as those who choose to be life partners with Japanese nationals, as well as anyone who wasted their time reading such nonsense, an apology. It’s bad enough we have to listen to Donald Trump, but I expect more from The Japan Times.
Beautify Japan: Plant a tree
The issue Sean Michael Wilson addresses in his essay “With every new construction in Japan, fewer trees” (Hotline to Nagatacho, Sept. 20) is sadly not limited to residential neighborhoods or Kumamoto. I believe it is a plague much more widespread.
In the four short years I have lived in Kyoto I have witnessed this kind of destruction time and again. It seems to be an almost weekly occurrence. Urban tree-felling goes hand-in-hand with the demolition of pre-Showa Era houses.
But it is not just developers, construction companies and homeowners who are guilty. City and prefectural governments are also culpable.
In November 2015, the large-scale renovation of Shijo-dori between Karasuma-dori and Kawabata-dori in Kyoto was completed. The sidewalks were widened and new paving stones laid. But not a single tree was planted. When you think of the grand boulevards of major cities around the world — the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the Kurfurstendamm in Berlin, even Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles — what makes them beautiful and charming are the old trees.
In the U.S., property values are always higher on streets with lots of trees. Indeed, it is even a marketing term for real estate agents — “tree-lined street.” Consider Kiya-machi-dori in Kyoto north of Shijo-dori. Without the old sakura (cherry) trees along the canal it would be downright ugly.
Mr. Wilson’s proposal for legislation requiring the preservation or replanting of trees is a good idea. However, I’m afraid aesthetic sensibility and common sense are things that cannot be imposed by governments.
Perhaps a financial incentive might be more effective — plant a tree, get a rebate. In Brooklyn, where I was living before coming to Japan, there is an annual “greenest block” competition organized by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It encourages people to take pride in their neighborhood.
Kyoto, and many other cities big and small all across Japan, seem to be on a slippery slope where the cumulative effect of thoughtless tree destruction is something resembling real urban blight. Without more careful consideration for the beauty of its cities, Japan risks losing not only its charm but its very essence.
Re: “Views from Osaka: Will you vote on Sunday? If so, based on what? If not, why not?” by David Allegretti (Views from the Street, Oct. 18):
Although most if the time I enjoy JT, often there are articles including racial slurs and gender bias. Today is just such a day!
The question brought several interesting responses, but Maka’s comment regarding who controls the world [“people like the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds”] ought not to have been printed.
Shame on JT for continuing the incorrect ideas of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Instead of focusing on which powerful groups run Japan, Maka ignores his own country’s problem power brokers.
Ashiya, Hyogo Pref.
Cambodia Daily must live on
Re: “Defiant Cambodia Daily is down but not out” by David McNeill (The Foreign Element, Oct. 22):
As a reader since its inception in 1993 until the last copy, titled “Descent into outright dictatorship,” I completely support this idea of resurrecting the Cambodia Daily, albeit online or whatever.
CD has a long legacy and held a special place in Cambodian life, especially among intellectuals. It is an irony to see it disappear suddenly like this, and people in general are missing it.
SAM RITHY DUONG HAK
Mr. Kerr, I presume
Re: “Alex Kerr on Japan: From ‘voice in the wind’ to vindication” by J.J. O’Donoghue (Telling Lives, Nov. 1):
I read both “Lost Japan” and “Dogs and Demons” several years ago — having lived in Japan for four years (1989-93) and travelled extensively — enjoyed both of them but also, I had see for myself what Kerr was referring to.
In leaving Japan then (I have been back since), having lived in Tokyo, the main thing I was glad to leave behind was all the concrete. Being from London, where we have lots of parks both large and small, it really got to me in the end. Just everywhere!
Anyway, moral of the story, I was back for a few months in 2010, doing voluntary work in several locations around Japan, but first I decided to do a week’s travel using the JR Rail Pass. I headed to the Iya Valley (in Tokushima Prefecture) and decided to visit Chiiori [his restored house there]. Incredibly enough, who should be there but Mr. Kerr! I went up and said, ‘Wow, Mr. Kerr, I presume.’ Fifteen minutes later and he’d have been heading back to Kyoto.
Very nice and engaging guy, chatted about his books and I said what used to drive me more and more mad was the concrete, all the rivers covered, highways going nowhere. Bought a copy of “Lost Japan” and got it signed for my very good Swedish friend living permanently in Saitama and then he had to leave. But boy,what timing and also, luck.
Thanks for the excellent article.
‘Third culture’ phenomenon
Re: “A son echoes his father’s questions about identity in Japan” by Richard Solomon (the Foreign Element, Nov. 15):
An excellent article. This “third culture” phenomenon, which I also witnessed in Japan, illustrates how you don’t need a classic culture into which you must immerse yourself to be a fully formed human being. By that I mean there is this terrible emphasis on “place” in practically everything, as if nothing is valid unless it is located in a place which is yours, such as your country, culture, suburb, etc. And that one uses “place” as the central form of expressing all things about yourself and the world.
This gives no value to the thought that “no place,” Utopia, provides a better platform for understanding ourselves and our world. One fine example is the idea that all writing needs a narrative, a story which is clearly located and able to be easily followed. No value is given to the extraordinary power of language, words, syntax, lineation, rhyme, rhythm, etc., as the galvanising force behind insight. I could go on, but the article says it pretty clearly.
Insanity of guns in the U.S.
Re: “Views from Americans in Tokyo: Do you agree with the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?” by Kunio Kanamori (Views from the Street, Nov. 19):
I am glad to see that Americans living in Japan are “thinkers” and not just blindly following political dogma of American Republicans — in particular, conservative Republicans. Their “interpretation” of the 2nd Amendment on guns is misguided and has nothing to do with following the U.S. Constitution. The 2nd Amendment was written at a time when early America did not have a standing army and relied on a citizen militia to form any kind of military force.
Conservatives’ interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is politically driven and if one “follows the money,” they will find at the heart is profit. Gun sales and the trading of guns (gun shows, private sales transactions) is a very lucrative business. Hundreds of millions of dollars exchange hands at very high profit margins. And don’t forget the accessories and ammunition sales related to gun ownership.
And all of this profit is at the expense of innocent people who end up being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocent deaths, ruining families and loved ones’ lives. I can’t tell you how many countless tragedies happen in America every day that never make national or world news of people killing other people at parties, family gatherings or gang-related shootings. Then throw in robberies and other violent crime situations, like the recent massacres in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.
America has become a very unsafe country, particularly in the past 15 years since conservatives have gained control of the government and American society. I fear the worst is yet to come for us.
I also want to state, I have nothing against people owning guns for sportsmanship — hunting, sports shooting, professional target shooting, etc. But the proliferation of guns of any type, especially assault guns and high-capacity magazines? Well folks, there is a reason militaries around the world arm and train their soldiers with assault rifles: These are weapons to kill their enemies, as many as fast as possible.
And conservatives’ other argument for the general population to be armed with these types of guns: that in the case of an oppressive government, an armed population would be able to overthrow that oppressive government. Really, a force of civilians, who go to target ranges to practice shooting, or in many cases have little to no training, go up against a trained military? People here are just loco.
There was a recent incident at a church where the preacher talked about guns and the recent church slaying in Texas. He asked if any parishioner had a brought their gun to church. An 81-year-old man proudly raised his hand and pulled his gun out of his pocket. He explained that there was nothing to worry about, it was not loaded, he had the bullets separately. Shortly after, showing the gun to a member of the congregation, he forgot that he had since “chambered” a round, promptly firing a bullet that struck his hand and seriously injured his wife sitting next to him.
This is the insanity of Americans and their guns.
NAME WITHHELD UPON REQUEST
Door-slamming pet peeve
Re: “In Japan, rarefied manners abound but courtesy is less common” by Mark Gottlieb (Foreign Agenda, Dec. 6):
Excellent article about manners vs. courtesy, which brought a smile to my face, but you forgot one issue: slamming the door in your face, even when you are so close behind the person entering in front of you that you are practically tripping over each other. I have seen people so eager to get in the door of a shop or restaurant that they paid no attention to the disabled person or 90-year-old obā-chan right behind them.
Oh well, my pet peeves here (drivers refusing to use headlights in the pouring rain, for starters) are still far fewer than those I harbor back home! Thank you for a most interesting article.
Omuta, Fukuoka Pref.
Driving me mad
Great article! I’ve driven in several countries, but driving in Japan is a real challenge. A seemingly polite people, but the way they drive leaves much to be desired.
The list of incomprehensible driving habits is long. We have to share the road, but I think when Japanese people get behind the wheel, all courtesy and rules of the road are abandoned — or, should I say, are very different.
I could write my own article on my experiences (I’ve been in Japan for 12 years) and the lack of common courtesy on the road. Let’s not forget the pedestrians — they must feel invincible, walking outside of crosswalks or sneaking through traffic or walking behind a car while it is backing up.
I have a theory that bad walking/bicycle habits translate into bad driving habits, but that’s another story. Thank you.
Ashiya, Hyogo Pref.
Obsessed by tourist numbers
Re: “What do Western tourists want from Japan? Try asking one” by Amy Chavez (Japan Lite, Dec. 17):
This was an excellent piece, and one that struck a chord so powerfully with me. I face exactly the same issue regarding so many aspects of tourism here. The Japanese government seems intent only on increasing the total number of arrivals, as if somehow that number is meaningful. They don’t seem to be focusing on length of stay, amount spent, or quality interactions between Japanese and non-Japanese — just the number!
In the field of eco-tourism I find exactly what you have experienced — a failure to grasp what overseas tourists want, or a failure to understand the expectations that are generated in visiting tourists when local authorities use certain photographs in their advertising.
Ah well, it is a very large brick wall for us to continue banging our heads against.
Don’t destroy what we love
Congratulations to Amy Chavez for standing up for Japan and its scenery.
As an Australian who has visited Japan 20 times, I have noted that Japanese do tend to have some weird ideas about what Westerners would like. Quite frequently I have been told, “You would not like that,” only to discover that I did like the experience and have been perplexed as to why anyone would expect that I would feel otherwise.
Personally I would not cross the road to see a rock factory. I am often appalled by the dreadful scars where mountains have been quarried, thus destroying the vista in front of me.
I have been to Shiraishi and a few other islands in the Seto Inland Sea and I like them the way they are. Please don’t destroy the very things we come to see!
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