Japanese culture and tradition are surely deep, colorful and sophisticated, and yet my 24 years as a foreigner here have always been weighted with an unspeakable cultural resistance. This “unspeakable resistance” was given full weight, imagery and emotion in the Martin Scorsese movie, “Silence.” My own long experience working and relating in Japan has felt the same rejection and lack of contact; “noes” instead of “yeses.” There is palpable frustration in the limitations of working alone in Japan.

The movie “Silence” is a clear depiction of this traditional resistance, of “no” instead of “yes.” Regardless of the Christian metaphor, “Silence” is the story of foreigners bringing what they believed good to Japan. To the bitter end, even though he survived, the Portuguese protagonist lived under rejection and control. In his trying conflicts with the Japanese rulers, he was often pressured to renounce his faith, in order to save himself and the suffering of adherents. Obviously, however, this insistent Japanese pressure was in defiance of eventual progress and international relations.

When faced with the problem today, Japanese often admit to insecurity around foreigners. And this insecurity is apparent on the faces of entertainers, professionals and athletes, both when they interact with foreigners and when they are adopting foreign skills, trends and arts. We see that there is still little equal relationship with foreigners in media or professional employment.

At the end of an invitational speech to Japanese businessmen, I commented how most foreigners come to Japan out of respect and with good intentions, and that the Japanese might then reach out more to them. Ever since the speech I received no calls or visits.

Will this insecure resistance continue into the 21st century, saying “no” to foreign persons, but reveling in the “yes” of foreign interests and benefits?


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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