Over the past two years of writing I’ve described in as much detail as I could many of the more trying Japanese behavior patterns. The ones resulting from the tendency here to ostracize, dehumanize or otherwise “otherize” people that don’t meet the criteria for normal.
I’ve focused primarily on the behaviors, my thoughts and feelings upon encountering them, my hypotheses as to why they occur, as well as some of my imaginative (and not so imaginative) ways to manage them, ranging from ignoring them, to rationalizing them, to retaliation, to finding some way to be entertained by them…I have run the gamut.
I won’t rehash them all here…but you should be familiar with them to fully understand the remainder of this post, so here are just a few of the more poignant ones:
Making the Grade in Yokohama: A self-grading system I developed based on Japanese behavior.
Iiwake: The Game: The objective is to come up with the best excuse.
おーい、日本人のみなさん, See how beautiful I am, and be ashamed!: A Japanese reader just couldn’t grasp my qualm so I had to elaborate a bit.
Joystick:A little fun with a little instant karma thrown in for good measure.
Ignorance isn’t always bliss: Nuff said!
and perhaps the most comprehensive of them: “Playing for keeps” a 3-part series I wrote almost exactly a year ago.
What I haven’t touched on much is how being a target of xenophobia, iwakan, and, yes, racism has modified my own thinking and behavior. And I think I know why: I didn’t want to fully acknowledge and accept what was happening to me. I preferred the delusion, the lie, the drama created by a writer wrestling with corrupting influences yet managing to maintain balance and integrity.
I was afraid to look at the truth squarely in the face. The truth is so much darker. So dark that I have attempted to disguise it, to avoid it, to bury it.
Well, so much for that.
This series is about exhuming it, ripping off the mask, dusting off the mirror and looking at it. Looking at what has become of Loco.
It’s not all bad…thank God. But, it’s not all good, either.
I think the good is conspicuous for I’ve never attempted to hide it. Perhaps it’s the quality of Loco that keeps readers from throwing Loco under a bus. The part of me that, though I often have trouble recognizing it, Aiko could see clearly, and Mrs. Betty could fall in love with. And it allowed me to return their love, without condition, without feeling I’ve made an exception with them. The part of me that hasn’t been utterly corrupted by life here. The part that retains its core values (whatever they may be), and remains moral (at least as moral as I’ve ever been). This reflection informs me that I am NOT what my Japanese hosts project and suggest through their actions. That I AM worthy of love and respect, not an object to be feared and evaded, nor worshiped and idolized.
The part of me I have loved for a long time.
But, there was always something else going on inside of me. Something I’ve kept a lid on. My personal Pandora’s box. I think we all have one. Well, Japanese behavior has been like a hammer and chisel aimed at the lid sealed on my box. And, it wasn’t long before they cracked the seal and out slipped, for better or for worst, the first of the dark creatures that resided inside.
You see, in my heart and mind, only certain types of people can rightfully generate the kind of reactions I do here, and they all have one thing in common:
Yes, upon my arrival, the Japanese simply handed over to me the power to scare the shit outta them. And, not only that, but they also gave me the power of attraction, the power of influence, the power of language, the power to disregard their cultural protocols, the power to illicit attention and even adoration just by being…I mean, it might as well have been royalty, cuz it felt like they’d handed over the keys to the kingdom.
Perhaps if I had deserved this power somehow, or if I knew I was being granted this power for some reason other than because I was different, I would have respected it and them, and I would have been less inclined to abuse it. Perhaps if I had had some semblance of this power on my home world I would have been able to manage it better. But, in most western civilizations we are taught, or we learn from observing the world, that power is something that is rarely if ever given. It’s almost always taken or at least earned! The process of taking or earning power often imbues the recipient with some sense of responsibility. He or she has often coveted this power and has in some way prepared for it, perhaps, ideally, even has a plan to utilize this power for the mutual benefit of themselves and the people over which the power presides.
We also learn the dark side of power, its corrupting nature in the hands of people ill-suited, unprepared or disdainful of it. Or in the hands of people who have been ignored, abused or exploited by it. We’d like to think that once power is in the hands of good people that that power would be used for good. So often we are disappointed when that does not occur, as before our eyes, we watch that power slowly but surely devour the good in people.
When I was child, I was a huge Spider-Man fan. I still am. I loved Peter Parker. See, here is a classic example of a man who didn’t seek power, nor was he prepared for it, but received it nonetheless in a bite from a radioactive spider. And, it didn’t take long before he learned that with great power comes great responsibility. Thus he is an enduring American comic book hero.
But, here in Japan, we have Charisma Man. He is also the recipient of a great power, only his power is derived from the notoriety gained from being a foreigner in Japan. No radioactive Brad Pitt or Denzel Washington bit him. His power resides simply in the Japanese inability to look past his skin color, other physical traits and cultural orientation to see him for who he really is. I think the creators of this comic strip held a deep contempt for this phenomenon and, like myself, tried to address it creatively by illustrating how this Japanese propensity to dispense power in this manner can not help but corrupt all but the most altruistic and pure of heart.
The creators also limited their assessment of Japanese to their reaction to white people which tends to lean towards idolization and adoration. If that comic strip was about the black experience in Japan, and if it were dealing with things honestly and perceptively, it would have been a very different type of comic.
Very different. (And if there are any illustrators out there reading this who’d like to go there with me, I’m totally down!)
One of the most pervasive effects this power has on foreigners here, whether black or white, I’ve observed, is it offers affirmation or confirmation that indeed we come from superior cultures, superior stock, superior races, with superior ideologies and superior values and thus are, well, superior human beings, and the Japanese fear, awe and capitulation is viewed as our just due (the proverbial “paying the cost to be the boss”) and acceptable considering their lowly ignorant state and the inherent weakness of their cute but isolated (thus stagnant) aging (thus dying) culture.
There are a lot of these people here and they used to disgust me more than our hosts.
Not once I realized that I was one of them.
…to be continued