I was reading through my post from a year ago and came across a comment I wrote in response to a reader’s comment. I had written the post in response to a Japanese reader’s advice as to how I should respond to Japanese people who avoid me out of fear of me. My response was about Shame. The shame I would feel pleading for common decency and the shame they should feel for not extending it in the first place.
Thought I’d share it with my readers just in case you missed it.
Here it is:
Living in Japan you come to learn that, in the Japanese world, there are two countries, two cultures, two types of people: Japanese and others. This perspective taints and paints all dialogues with nihonjin. When you arrive here you’ll see what I mean. As far as opening a dialogue with nihonjin is concerned, my WHOLE life is a dialogue with nihonjin. On a daily basis I am interacting with the people and the culture, at home and outdoors. Depending on my relationship with a particular person, like a nihonjin, they may see my hon’ne (real intent) or tatamae (public face). Most people see the latter, the Loco that goes about smiling and ignoring, pretending not to see, responding appropriately to incessant questioning about what Americans think and do and feel and what black people think and do and feel, etc…trust me, I am a model foreign citizen, an Ambassador extraordinaire. The handful that see my hon’ne have either entered my “circle of trust” (LOL- that’s from Meet the Parents) and thus I share my feelings with them, or have provoked me with some unacceptable assault on my good nature.
I wouldn’t give a damn about fueling flames at those times.
And I’m sure that some Japanese person has witnessed my hon’ne and said “Yappari” (just as I thought) and labeled me and anybody that looks even vaguely like me a bad person worthy of dehumanization. Sorry! A huge step back for gaijin / nihonjin relations I guess. But for every mile of good will I pave I might lose a step and to me, considering what I have to deal with, that’s an acceptable ratio.
I honestly don’t feel that people from the East should feel hard-pressed to acknowledge another race’s humanity. I’m not trying to shove “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” up their asses. I’m really not! I’m just saying let’s start the conversation from the foundation that we are both members of races capable of great wonders and great atrocities and everything in-between…you know, EQUALS.
Sora-san’s perspective is not so unique, JahC san. Most every thing most Japanese do is from a Japanese perspective. Most know no other (which is true of most countries.) which is the typical excuse for their behavior. Every other perspective has a…the Japanese call it Iwakan (違和感) Basically it’s a feeling of wrongness, incompatibility, not belonging, etc…This is the reason (I want to say excuse) given for their behavior. If a foreigner is in the vicinity then iwakan ensues like an instinct and they start acting all creepy uncontrollably.
Throughout my blog I have chronicled this behavior and my feelings about it, but I have arrived at a point where I see it for what it is. And it is something that no dialogue can really address. The only cure for Iwakan is probably experience. Japanese people need to talk with or interact with foreigners (and of course emerge unscathed) and maybe next time their iwakan will be diminished a bit.
ALL of my Japanese friends have had such experiences and thus that Iwakan Wall between us has been torn down, as it has with my kids at my job and some of the teachers and I suspect it has with Sora-san, as well.
But with the VAST majority of nihonjin it hasn’t and probably never will. And I think perhaps because of the contrast in colors or because of the image many Japanese have of people of color, that Iwakan is a bit more intense for darker hued people. That’s a fact of life in Japan. Is Iwakan racism? No. Not really but kinda. Is it Xenophobia? No, not really but kinda. Is it prejudice? No, not really, but kinda… I mean, I’m provoked by willfulness…but Iwakan has an air of helplessness. Like how a deer might respond as you approach it in the woods, with or without a gun. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hunter or PETA, that deer is going to flee. Would you say that deer is prejudiced against people? Hell, he wouldn’t run if another deer was approaching, now would he? And, is his response to humans the same as when his nostrils encounter the scent of a lion or a hyena? Anyway, I won’t drag out that metaphor. I’m sure you get where I’m coming from…
Also, the necessity, for most nihonjin, to confront and deal with these feeling does not exist. Most will never come in contact with foreigners, so why be bothered about such things? Understanding this has made my experience here much easier to endure, and my understanding of Japanese people and culture more substantial.
I don’t know if Buddhism or Shintoism are related. Maybe they are. However I don’t believe humility is an exclusively Eastern thing no more than civic-mindedness or consciousness of equality are American or Western. I don’t even think they are second nature to us. These are things that are learned through one’s experience and education. Yes, reading a few books was a gross understatement but my point was that the information is available if you care to learn it. Just as you’re taking the time to study about the Japanese mindset and the language before you come here. Are you saying the desire to understand other cultures is a western thing? Perhaps. But why? Is that connected to Shinto / Buddhism too?
Man, this is turning into a post. Sorry. You caught me on vacation and I have time to kill (so to speak) (-;
I’m not done. This response is sort of scattered, I know. I’ll probably highlight your response in an upcoming post…
Thanks for taking the time, energy and effort to do so!
What do y’all think?