click here for pt 1
Yep, I was a hater.
But, the environment I worked in wasn’t very conducive to hatin’. While Nova was a kind of incubator for the “us” versus “WE” mentality, it didn’t nurture envy much. At times it seemed to even be structured in such a way as to kill envy on spot.
I mean, there we were, a bunch of foreigners, mostly Australian, British and Americans, and some Canadians, fresh off the Space Shuttle from the real world, eager to try out the rides in this cultural theme park we’d heard such amazing things about.
Some of us had read or seen ”Shogun” and had visions of becoming Latter-Day Anjin-Sans. (I know I did.) Some of us had even been big fans of martial arts films and anime, or read Manga extensively, and had grandiose ideas about immersing ourselves in Zen Buddhism, Judo, Kendo, Tatami mats, Sake…anything Japanese…just aching to prove our mettle and master this purportedly difficult language and navigate through this infamously closed culture.
And, yes, some of us had heard, read, or watched videos about how supposedly easy and eager Japanese girls are and how much fun a foreigner can have with them, and couldn’t wait to get our paws on some perpetually pre-pubescent-looking poontang.
Optimism, enthusiasm and libido run amok. That was Nova.
To be fair, the opportunities to do much of the above were there. When there’s a will there most certainly is always a way. And, some did, by God.
But, most? yeah, not so much.
Cuz, when you start working for a company like Nova, where the prime directive is NOT to get friendly with essentially the only Japanese people you’re gonna have a chance to get friendly with initially, you start out with a couple of strikes against success. I mean, naturally you’re going to covet first what you see every day, and Nova knew this. But, the risk to the company was too great, I figured. Teachers knocking up students, for example, just doesn’t look good on an Annual Report. So, yes it was a silly rule, thus broken quite a bit. But quite necessary for the company to cover its ass.
On top of that, the cross-section of the Japanese populace that an English conversation school like Nova attracted offered a warped view quite often of what’s really going on out there. Most of the people there were what’s known in Japan as 外専 (がいせん or Gaisen) or foreigner specialist, a very vulgar term for the type of Japanese person who is enamored with foreigners. Especially when said of the girls who chase foreigners around. My girlfriend would refer to these people as Gaijin Freaks. It’s a label most Japanese, I would later learn, avoid with extreme prejudice.
Some of them were just dying to know all about you, questioning you incessantly about topics unrelated to English. Questions of a nature that would have you wondering if they knew that Japan was an island group on Earth and not the second or fourth rock from the sun. Some just wanted to touch your skin or your hair and remark on its differences from their own, or observe your daily rituals- taking careful notes on the differences, or simply to see how it feels to be in a room alone with you. All in all, it made you feel like those glass-walled rooms were cages and your students were patrons of PETA. Or, sometimes, vice-versa.
Some would go too far (as if…), wanting to see how you lived, so they’d stalk you after work, following you home and whatnot. You’d look up on the train to see your student standing there staring at you. Sometimes they’d pretend that it was a coincidence. Sometimes they didn’t bother. Some were actual mental patients whose therapist had recommended that they study English in order to relieve stress (they’d confess to me on occasion. It was rumored that Nova had a relationship with the mental health community, but that’s not confirmed. It wouldn’t have surprised me though because there were always quite a few students that I felt to be certifiable.) I mean, really creepy shit.
You might consider this an upside (and many teachers did) but some students simply wanted to take you to bed. They’d play coy for a while but their intentions would surface sooner than later. Some of the younger girls (HS and College) wanted to be the first on their block to cherry pick a Gaijin from the tree, so to speak (I mean, there was always new blood coming in,) and make a boyfriend out of him. Or just experiment with you. Some women (usually Office Ladies, mid-thirties or so, and thus ignored by a society that worships youth) came there with the expressed purpose (and weren’t so shy about it either) of finding a Gaijin who can’t see them for the Japanese societal road kill they are, bedding and wedding him.
Some of them were pretty cool, though, and wanted to make foreign friends. Some just wanted a pet Gaijin, someone to show-off to their friends, living proof that they were internationally-minded. There’d be many an offer. “Let’s go drinking. Let’s go clubbing. Let’s play pool.” To which you were encouraged by the company to refuse but sometimes you didn’t.
And, yes, some came there to actually learn English. Maybe the ratio was 60 / 40, at best. But, all of them came equipped with the “We”.
So, there you are, a Nova Instructor (which, despite your college education, carries its own stigma, with Japanese and Foreigners alike- you learn soon enough- of being, at worst, a total loser and, at best, a teacher whose only qualification is being raised in an English speaking country) spending 9 hours a day with people who had been reportedly coerced into paying exorbitant fees to be in your company. Studying them as they’re studying you. Learning about this fabled culture from the gaisen of the “We” world. And, little by little, it takes its toll on you. It starts with off-color mockery and illicit jokes- mostly condoned, followed by culturally-based complaints, then it builds to a crescendo where all semblance of respect for the people you’re there to serve (so to speak) is lost.
Even management could barely contain their contempt for the “We” nation…just going through the motions and regurgitating the party line: “These are our clients…they pay the bills, and here in “We” land, the rule is okyaku-sama kami-sama! (The customer is God!”) So kneel and suck on it, change your line of work, or go home!” Many did just that. Got themselves tickets on the first thing smoking (first available flight) out of Asia. But the gluttons for absurdity or perversity, or those with profound patience, alternative missions, or who managed to find a relatively comfortable niche stayed.
So, as you might imagine, the envy I harbored for Japanese didn’t last long. All the above mentioned bizarre behaviors- the side-effects of this “We”- dashed my silly visions of becoming something of an Afro-samurai on the rocks off of Zushi beach.
There was nothing enviable about this side-effect. It was essentially a total disconnect from and disability to exist in the reality outside of “We”. So, what began as benign admiration for Japanese people, culture and customs, had been contaminated and developed into a malignant envy. Then, slowly- once I’d gotten a whiff of the above peculiarities- envy, it seems, no longer able to feed on “We”, began to metastasize, tumors popping up randomly all over my mental well-being, no longer relegated to areas associated with Japanese.
One tumor, unfortunately but predictably (I realize now,) attached itself to the place in my psyche where I kept all those ugly thoughts and feelings about white folks sealed away, the ones my professors at University had inspired me to rid myself of for my own good…these tumors were guided to this weak point in part by the envy I’d unleashed upon the Japanese. I believe it made me susceptible.
You see, while the Japanese had this “We” thing they loved to bombard me with, they also had their own brand of admiration and envy, and this too they loved to heave. Sure, a small segment of Japanese admired not so much me but their image of me (ie my basketball prowess, my dancing skills, my inherent hip-hop acumen, my natural ”coolness” and basically all the popular stereotypes) but the vast majority worshipped white people (or rather the things they associated with white people!)
I mean, ridiculously, eerily so.
It seemed to me that, through Japanese eyes, white was the ideal. I’ve discussed this previously.
I can hardly fault them for this affliction, though. There’s a worldwide perrenial PR campaign that supports this thinking, and no country, no culture, nobody (accept maybe some areas in China, North Korea and other MTV-free zones) is completely immune…
Of course I’d seen this soul-snatching malady afflict many black people back home, as well. Michael Jackson is often held up as the epitome of the damage it can do for his disfiguring attempts at physical metamorphosis. But, with the majority of the sufferers it’s their minds and souls that are disfigured more so than their bodies. For centuries many black people have associated all the good things in life with white people and white culture. Whites were held up as the ultimate social achievement, the consummate aspiration. And, why shouldn’t they? From these people’s perspective, white people held all the power, money and influence. Beauty, business, entertainment, the Arts, almost all facets of modern culture somehow get attributed to whiteness. It almost seemed rational, even natural, to endeavor to be like them, to envy them.
My elementary schoolhad inoculated me as best they could against this, and I’d gotten booster shots with the Five Percent and at various other junctures in my life. But, these inoculations were poisonous themselves. Like treating cancer with chemotherapy. Sure, you’ll kill the cancer, but you’ll kill a lot of healthy cells, too, in the process.
Nevertheless, it’s a condition, I’ve learned, you must be constantly vigilant against. Like a cold or weight gain. Otherwise, it’ll sneak up on you, and gag you when you least expect it. It’s an insidious assailant, this proclivity towards and envy of whiteness.
Call me silly, but I thought I was coming to a country that had received the ultimate booster shot. They’d actually been nuked by whiteness, and relatively recently at that. I thought this would predispose Japanese to abhor all whiteness or at least be wary of it. Not that I thought it would’ve been justified, or that I would be comfortable living amid it, but I figured it would exist.
I should have known better.
I mean, black people have been brutalized, dehumanized and marginalized by whiteness for centuries and many still retain that psychological damage that places whiteness higher on their cultural totem pole than themselves and others, whether they’re aware of it or not.
It’s a virtually inescapable phenomenon.
For three years as a Nova instructor, on a daily basis, I sat and listened to Japanese ”share” their ideas about the world. It was an eye-opening experience…for all involved. To them, it seems, it is almost impossible to overstate how much they too wished to be associated with white…though they often seemed to be unaware of this. To them it was the natural aspiration. The Western World was white, so if you want to be like Westerners than, in effect, you ought to want to be like those that reside at the pinnacle of Western civilization (by all appearances.) Mind you, this was pre-Obama.
Before you come to Japan most foreigners are made aware of the stigma Japan retains of being a xenophobic country. Nova warned us all in the orientation. “Please be tolerant of the Japanese. They are a homogeneous people and thus have certain xenophobic tendencies…” Keep it simple for us new jack instructors seemed to be the order of the day. But it wasn’t as simple as that. Soon enough you realize, especially if you’re not white, that that xenophobia label has degrees. Some foreign people and foreign things are feared and /or hated more than others.
And at the top of that xenophobic food chain (so to speak) resides this image of white people and white culture. It seemed, white people were reaping all the rewards of this esteemed image.
To me that kind of eliminates xenophobia as the name of the game. Doesn’t it?
Anyway, suddenly, I found myself with a new target of envy:
I started hatin’ on white folks in Japan.
…to be continued