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Japan Times 1993: Blacks face an image problem in Japan

by Elliott Samuels

Staff Writer

Thursday, March 17, 1918

Private Tokyo girls’ school in deep ferment

Trouble is brewing among the students of the Girls Domestic Science School, a well-known private institution at Hitotsubashi, Kanda, which enjoys a good reputation in educational circles and has contributed greatly to the advancement of female education, the courses including sewing, embroidery and foreign-style cooking.

The school recently received a monetary donation amounting to ¥13,000 from Mr. Kamesaburo Yamashita, the well-known “narikin” of Kobe, who has amassed a big fortune though the sale of steamers.

Several days ago the girls school referred to had a visit from an aged lady, who was alleged to have been sent by Mr. Yamashita, the patron of the school, on the mission of selecting a prospective bride for the son or nephew of the narikin. The old lady was treated by the school faculty with marked respect, and as though she came with the object of inspection, the true purpose of her visit being hidden as far as possible.

Madame Haruko Hatoyama, the widow of the late Dr. Hatoyama, ex-minister of justice and dean of Waseda who is the superintendent of the teaching staff of the school, ordered the class to stop the lesson and gave the visitor the privilege of leisurely examining the personal beauty of the girl students of the graduating class of a certain course. The dame went from one girl to another, scrutinizing the appearance of each, this lasting for about one hour.

Some of the blue stocking were already engaged while others were married, and when the occurrence became known among the parents and guardians of the students great indignation naturally arose among them and the school faculty was severely blamed for having insulted the honor of the students.

A few days later a rumour spread among the students that a Miss Okuyama of the graduating class who is famed for her charming beauty was the victim of the old lady’s scrutiny and was the nominee for the prospective bride of the son of the narikin. It was also reported that Miss Okuyama, who would ordinarily finish her course next July, will be graduated at the end of this month by special favor of the faculty.

Monday, March 15, 1943

Yokohama factory opens marriage bureau

Earnestly desirous of cooperating with the government’s wartime policy for increasing population by early marriages, the Nippon Kaihatsuki Manufacturing Co., Ichibacho Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama, has lately set up a special marriage bureau.

Its aim is to encourage young staff members and workers of the company over the age of 23 to marry and to give proper guidance and assistance in finding suitable mates and further to give financial support to newly married couples.

When proper arrangements are completed, the bridegroom and bride will be married at a ceremonial hall selected by the company. The company will pay the expenses of the marriage ceremony, and one night’s honeymoon trip and also will be responsible for finding a house for the newly-weds. The company and the board of directors will give the newly married couple some suitable presents, and the co-workers of the bridegroom will be asked to present the groom with a monetary present.

In order to encourage the newly married couple to acquire the habit of saving, they are to be presented a deposit passbook, in which one-twentieth of the groom’s monthly pay will have been entered.

Thursday, March 14, 1968

‘Too lucky’ student becomes unlucky

A college fine arts student was arrested Wednesday and another was placed on the wanted list after they allegedly capitalized on their college-acquired skill to change unlucky numbers into lucky ones on horse race tickets.

The students were identified as Takenori Kusubayashi, 22, and Takeshi Kawaguchi, 22, both juniors at Tama College of Fine Arts. The latter was on the wanted list.

Police said the forgery came to light when Kawaguchi and another man in the ring attempted to draw a prize of ¥55,900 with what appeared to be a ticket with a lucky number at a horse race ticket window in front of Sobu Line’s Kinishicho Station on Saturday. A numeral “1” on the ticket was found to have been retouched into the numeral “2.”

Police said the pair used a razor blade and coloring material to tamper with the ticket. Until the arrest, they were believed to have successfully used about 25 such tampered tickets to obtain about ¥1 million.

Thursday, March 4, 1993

Blacks face an image problem in Japan

The images of blacks here are odious and never very subtle: A night club band performs in blackface and Afro wigs, a popular comic book exaggerates black men’s physical features and sambo dolls stare from shop windows. Black businessmen are often confused with athletes.

“The Japanese have limited access to blacks here, they have not been told anything about blacks and in bookstores here there is nothing about African-American history and almost no African-American literature,” said Michon Jones, 26, a black English teacher from Detroit. “This is why the general population here tends to believe that black people are violent, that we are lazy and that we are thieves.”

Many of the dozens of black professionals interviewed last week said they are still struggling to change the racist perceptions of blacks that shadow them wherever they go in this country.

“When I first moved here, the Japanese wanted to touch my hair and my skin and I told them it wouldn’t rub off,” Jones said.

Several Japan African-American Friendship Association members said the Japanese generally treat blacks as inferiors. Blacks are sometimes served last when sitting at a table with white friends. Store owners and salesmen will almost never hand black people change, they said. But they will always hand change to the Japanese as a sign of courtesy.

“It’s a racist attitude here, but I think it’s a direct relation to the way blacks are treated in the United States,” said Yvonne Lee, 29, a junior high school teacher and a former prosecutor in a New York district attorney’s office. “If we are not respected in the United States, we will not be respected here either.”

Sadao Izawa, a senior manager for Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., said Japan is not racist, because there are not enough black people in Japan to discriminate against.

In this feature, we delve into The Japan Times’ 121-year archive to present a selection of stories from the past. This month’s edition was collated with the assistance of David Cortez.