click here for pt 1
So, what exactly was it about the Japanese I was so envious of anyway, you’re probably wondering.
Envy, simply put, is when one resents that another person has something they perceive themselves as lacking, and wish the other person to be deprived of it, like John Doe did to David in the above clip from a film (I love) called “Seven”. So, (at the risk of overstating the obvious) envy is potentially deadly. Thus it is known throughout the Christian world (as well as other religious worlds) as a Deadly Sin.
I didn’t wish to see Japanese deprived of this thing I coveted, at least not at first. I simply acknowledged and admired it for what it was: something I had come to believe had been lacking, the missing ingredient in the black world I’d grown up in. A very complex thing but, like most complex things, can be reduced to a very simple concept.
Sometimes even to a single word. And though I’m talking about the Japanese, this word is, ironically, an English word.
The word is: WE.
When I first arrived in Japan I used to work for NOVA. During those first months, I’d find myself on a daily basis seated before a quartet of Japanese English students. Sometimes it’d be a housewife, bored out of her wits but with money to burn, there to be entertained more than anything else. Or, a Manga artist / writer studying me (and the other teachers) as much as he was English so that (I believe) he could give the Gaijin characters in his comics more depth. It might be a Salaryman, breath spiked with the compulsory alcohol he’d consumed after-work, studying English in preparation for his pending transfer overseas. Perhaps a hostess from Kabukicho, trying to brush up on her English in order to serve her growing clientele of well-to-do foreigners better.
Four people as different as different can be- as far as appearances, lifestyles and priorities were concerned.
But there was always one thing they all could agree on:
This WE business.
“We are very shy.” “We are so humble.” “We are always polite.” “We eat healthy food.” “We can’t pronounce English words.” “We are not like foreigners.” “Why? Because We are Japanese.” “We don’t do it that way. Foreigners do it that way.WE do it this way!”
A constant barrage of “We” this and “We” that, accompanied by nods of agreement…no coercion required, no opposition, no dissension. They seemed to proclaim, as a unit: WE hold our truths to be self-evident that WE, Japanese, are created equal! United WE stand (or sit as it were) for better or for worse…
I’d never seen a “We” before I came to Japan; at least not a whole nation of “We”.
Sure, the American Constitution talks about a “We, the people” but I’d never felt myself to be a part of that “We”. To me, that “We” always meant a bunch of rich, white, slave-holding hypocrites who decided tax evasion and revolution were preferable to taxation without representation. And, you might say that America had become a “We” of sorts after 9-11, but I think we can agree that that kind of “We” (the “‘We’ will rid the world of Islamic terrorists and anybody that even vaguely resembles them kind of ‘We'”) is an example of a very dark “We” forged by some Trick Babies exploiting a nation’s fear under the guise of patriotism.
The school I had attended as a child also did all it could to instill the concept of “We, the black race” in me, and were successful to a point. But the area they were most successful in was making me feel like an outsider (nice way of saying freak) among my friends who were not similarly indoctrinated, isolated from those who didn’t share the same values I was taught to uphold (which unfortunately meant most people.)
I’d used “We” before but usually as a way of establishing the exclusivity of my club, crew, clique or cult. Rarely did I use it to mean black culture and rarer still for the black race. I always felt strange including people I didn’t know personally in a “We” statement. Mainly because I knew for a fact that many black people didn’t agree with my ideas, didn’t share my values, just as I knew that among white people there were a great many opposing viewpoints. In fact, if I even heard someone speaking of a race referring to it as a “We” or “They”, at the very least I’d be on alert. I’d instinctively think that person was either an idiot, ignorant, joking, race-baiting, or trying to sell a product or idea. If I were asked a question, to which my answer was expected to represent the views of an entire race, culture or nation, I’d look at the questioner as if they’d just arrived from the planet WTF!
I realize now that these initial encounters with the Japanese “We” constituted my first case of not so much culture shock but pure, unadulterated cultural electrocution.
My restless mind, once I could wrap it around this idea of “We”, was fascinated! I tried to imagine what a black “We” would be like, what it could accomplish. I thought about all the leaders throughout African-American history who spent their lives trying to inspire a “We”. (Obama would eventually pull it off with an all-inclusive “Yes We Can” slogan) Some were more successful than others , but all were motivated by a vision revealed to me in those glass cage-like classrooms at NOVA. They’d envisioned a people who drew strength from their commonality, proud of their common denominator, bound by a single-mindedness yet diversified by ability and aspiration. Like a bee hive, only each comb distinguishable from the next, each bee tasked according to its capabilities.
It was a beautiful sight, this “We”.
It was like I’d hopped on board the Starship Enterprise and been taken to one of those planets where humanoids live in a world similar to Earth’s, only with some slight modifications. Like the inhabitants all have green skin, or the women or children hold the power, or they’re devoid of emotion and rely on pure logic.
I imagined I could see the beneficence this Japanese “We” has bestown upon Japan. “We,” (I told myself) was responsible for the low crime rate in Japan. Why would “We” rob “We”? Or intentionally hurt “We”? Or, god forbid, kill “We”? It’s like robbing Peter to pay Peter. Like killing your own flesh and blood. Why would “We” break “Our” own rules? Why would “We” risk the wrath of “We”?
I imagined if I’d studied this “We” I could learn something useful…go back to my home world with renewed optimism, poised to face any challenges that came my way. Maybe even figure out a way to institute this idea of “We” back home in America.
This didn’t last long, though.
My admiration began to fade after a while. Around the same time envy came a-knocking, as a matter of fact (go figure.) Yep, envy showed up wanting to know just who the fuck did these little bastards think they were, pelting me with their “We”s every goddamn opportunity. And, I agreed. Envy made a strong point. I too felt the effrontery of it all.
Like they were telling me (politely, but in no uncertain terms) that you can never be a part of “We” because you lack what “We” Japanese have in abundance: A shared history and shared cultural values, like a love of good health, good food, safety, the family unit, peace, and, of course, all things cute and small like Chihuahuas and Pokemon.
And, it seemed, the more I try to fit in, the more relationships I eked out, the more iimmersed I became in the culture, the more intense the “We” became. It was almost laughable, until Irealized that this “We” thing was hitting me, bluntly, upside the head over and over. It’s so persistent, so matter-of-fact…and pervasive. So much so that Id be tempted to count their fingers and toes to confirm I had the same number as they.
Every time I’d assert a shared quality there’d be a rebuttal or at least surprise in their response. “Oh, you like good food, too? Really? ‘We’ had no idea.” “Oh, you want world peace, too? Unbelievable! But, you’re American!” “‘We’ love onsen. Oh, you like onsen, too? Are there onsen on your home planet?”
Even their ignorance started to take on an almost malicious quality. You start to say to yourself: “Oh, they know what they’re doing! They know this “We” business is aggressive. I can see through that “We” smile and “We” bow of theirs. It’s all a facade, some Japanese bullshit!” And, what happens? Your smile becomes as plastic, as disingenuous, as you perceive theirs to be. Your thoughts become as devoid of inclusion as you perceive theirs to be.
Sooner or later, it starts to really fuck with you, trust me.
And, if you’re like me, (and I know some of you are) you start looking for holes in the “We”; Start to instinctively self-preserve and protect yourself from it. Start looking for ways to ward it off. Get to thinking of how this “We” thing they swear by could be weakening them somehow. You even think of ways to ridicule it…ways to tear “We” a new asshole!
I know I did.
I armed myself to the teeth with enough refutation ammo to launch a one-man blitzkrieg on “We.”
When a student would thrust at me with a “We” blade I would parry with how the lack of individuality and this obsessive-compulsion to group-think every goddamn thing was linked to Japan’s Bubble Burst and economic downturn, in order to exacerbate his increasingly gloomy forecast for the employment opportunities his parents had enjoyed. Or, when some Salaryman in an Izakaya busts a “We” cap at me I’d twist-pull pin and lob an “Un-We” grenade in his lap, saying something like how this “We” thing you guys got going was the same nonsense that got your asses nuked in World War II (in slightly nicer words of course.)
On the rare occasion I’d see a story on the news about a homicide, rape, or robbery, I’d secretly hope it was a Japanese suspect. Ah, sou desu ka! More ammo! When the train lines launched the Women-Only cars as an, albeit, impotent response to the Chikan problem, I smiled as I thought, “Next time one of them tosses a “We, the inhabitants of the safety planet” dynamite stick at me, I’m gonna piss some “you mean ‘We’ the pervs of the Eastern world, don’t you?” right on the fuse!
This was envy talking, though. And, as you can see, my envy of “We” and my detest of having “We” unleashed at me at every conceivable juncture, even when it was apropos of nothing, had made me quite irrational, and not inclined to be respectful of my hosts at all.
Honestly, I was never one for rejoicing at or getting pleasure from the misfortunes of others. In fact, I was more apt to take pleasure at the good fortune of others…
But, envy changed all that.
I had, in effect, become what we refer to back home as a hater.
…To be continued