OK, here we go, once more unto the breach, dear readers…
Before we get started though, please click on and read the following article from the Japan Times:
…then watch the video below.
Negativity, Cultural Adjustment and Microaggression
OK, everybody up to speed on the issue at hand?
I was hesitant to even get into this, believe it or not, for a number of reasons. Prominent among them is that I happen to know and respect two of the gentleman above.
I’ve read Debito Arudou’s blog quite a bit and I admire and respect many of his positions on life here in Kawaiiland. We met once at a Writer’s conference in Tokyo where he was giving an intriguing and ultimately influential workshop on the challenges of self-publishing (I would decide to do so myself not a few weeks afterwards). I don’t agree with everything he opines but he is consistent and clearly a man engaged in the issues that impact a number of non-Japanese who have, for whatever reason, made a home here among the native Japanese.
I’m an admirer of Hikosaemon’s work, as well. I find him to be one of those influential and fluent non-Japanese residents of this land capable of maintaining a balanced perspective while having fun and finding the funny. Clearly he doesn’t avoid serious issues, evidenced by his interviewing myself and endorsing my book (see below) but his work is generally not opinion-heavy on social issues. He focuses more on entertainment (God knows we need it), as well as Japanese language and cultural information.
I was also hesitant to dive in because it felt like one of those murky sensitive issues that I’ve endeavored to avoid lately, the kind where once you’ve sprung from the board and committed yourself you might find that its murky surface has concealed a fairly shallow bottom. Ouch, right? Who needs that?
Readers of Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist know that, though I never refer to it as microaggression, I’ve covered this area pretty thoroughly, and continue to in most promotional appearances and discussions of my book…however, I had intended to give the issue a rest, at least as far as my blog was concerned…
Well, I guess recess is over…
Another reason I needed a recess was that I grew weary of the insinuations by well-intentioned and intelligent folk that what I and many others know to exist and experience regularly here in Japan may well be a figment of my (our) imagination, the result of over-sensitivity or being products of the racialized western world (a world I’d like to think is looking towards a Post-Race era; an era Japan has been exempt from some might say,) etc…
THIS is the issue that prompted the formation of Loco in Yokohama in the first place, as well as my writing of the original blog series: Hi My name is Loco and I am a Racist, and eventually lead to the writing of the book, as I explained in its introduction. It was the attitudes of a good number of (for the most part) “white” people living here in Japan that inspired me to undertake the unpopular and hazardous task of taking Japanese to task.
Before I go any further, and to clarify my position on this issue (for those of you who haven’t been long time readers of Loco in Yokohama) here is an excerpt from the introduction to my book:
“The dream of writing a book about life in Japan— which I would wager is shared by every writer or wannabe writer who has ever lived here — is one I’d put on hold until now. Why was the dream deferred? Well, because the Japan Book, written by an English instructor, whether fiction or non-fiction, is practically a cliché. So I told myself that if I couldn’t find subject matter related to my life in Japan that hadn’t been covered so thoroughly that I could cut and paste it from ten books written the previous year, then I wouldn’t do it.
Fast forward almost a decade.
A decade spent in Asia learning about myself and teaching about my world, tearing down shrines of ignorance and erecting temples of understanding, learning the true measure of love and the true meaning of loss, indulging hate and enduring what really violent thoughts can do to a mind reluctant to act on them, discovering the writer I had the potential to be and uncovering the obstacles that lay in-between living my dreams and having them deferred.
It’s been quite a ride so far. One I wouldn’t trade for anything.
During my time in Japan I’ve paid careful attention to the work of other foreigners living here- mostly the content creators- via the books they’ve written and the blogs they keep. I’ve watched their videos and vlogs, and listened to their radio shows and podcasts. I’ve run into them in person in the streets, and met / tweeted up with them at bars and cafes around Yokohama and Tokyo. They come in various flavors of humanity, different races, cultures and nationalities.
Most of the successful and popular Japan-based creators tend to stick with “positive” stories and light material; shrines and temples, anime and language study tips, food, fashion, festivals and females. Others might delve into the creepy and the kooky, mysterious and spooky (of which there is plenty- some even fascinating), but the woolly mammoth in the room has often gone ignored; or worse, denied. Creative folk, either knowingly or not, seemed to be unwilling or unable to deal with what I felt to be the most glaring of issues here.
It made me feel a little paranoid, to say the least.
I questioned whether what I was seeing was real or a figment of my imagination. Was I suffering from delusions of persecution? They’re not exactly unknown among expats here, that’s for damn sure. Maybe that was the reason I saw the behemoth while many did not, or could not.
Some of these content creators would, on occasion, partially acknowledge it with their right hand, but somehow manage to dismiss it with the left. A post of theirs might read something like: “I sat down on the train today and this Japanese guy sitting beside me suddenly stood up and stormed off into the next car. That’s rather odd, I thought. But then my nose informed me what the issue was. I was wearing a new aftershave, and Japanese people are sensitive to foreign fragrances. I was also wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt, and Japanese are very particular about these kinds of things. They prefer a more professional attire, especially when it comes to foreigners, and rightfully so. I’m glad I didn’t jump to conclusions like some other bloggers do. It was all my fault. I felt really bad for having disrupted this guy’s peace of mind. I hope I see him again tomorrow so I can apologize.”
Others, though, were either oblivious or in total denial; like contestants on a wacky game show where they’re made to wear blindfolds and try to guess objects from their feel. Hand one contestant a freshly used condom and, despite the “lubrication” and “ribbing,” they’ll invariably say it’s a balloon, inflate it and make a balloon animal just to prove their point. Hand another contestant a dildo, and they’ll stroke it like a sculptor does clay and say, “I know this shape, especially here at the tip and here around the base. It’s so familiar, Wait! I’ve got it! It’s an o-miyage (souvenir) from a Japanese Penis matsuri. I wrote my doctorate thesis on these fertility festivals. It’s a quirky time-honored tradition that dates back before America and its bloody Black Ships came and tarnished this great country! Am I right?”
It’s that kind of crazy up in here!
Well, in October 2008, I said “enough of this shit!” (I think those were my exact words), started blogging, and proceeded to give that neglected prehistoric pachyderm some overdue attention. Reaction was mixed, but the reception was mostly considerate. Over the course of several months I was fortunate enough to build a readership, practically one reader at a time. It seemed some people here had been aching to talk about the mammoth frankly and were ever on the lookout for a suitable venue. Loco in Yokohama came along and met this need head-on. I’ve been blessed with some of the greatest readers: thoughtful, intelligent, critical and challenging; a burgeoning writer’s wet dream.
Others were not so thrilled that I had the audacity to tell my stories. These Happy-Go-Lucky Guys (I call them) did not take too kindly to my negative words about their beloved Japan. They viewed and treated bitter malcontents (they call me) as a plague on two houses: That of the Japanese, and their own.
To be fair, some of these Happy-Go-Luckies were truly oblivious to the mammoth for, though they might occasionally smell the piles of dung it leaves everywhere, it did not reveal itself to them in its full glory. The Japanese would generally behave differently in their presence, for reasons that became clear the longer I stayed here, got to know people and observed the goings-on. One reason being that the reception Whites receive in Japan is a bit different than the reception some other ethnic groups receive, especially Chinese and those of us of a darker hue. (Invariably, these Happy-Go-Lucky types were Caucasians who think Japanese are colorblind and treat all foreigners equally). Some of these guys and gals will defend this notion by any means necessary.
The comments they’d leave on my posts would run the gamut, ranging from YouTube crude: “You niggers make me sick with your constant whining! Kneel and suck it like the rest of us, and be glad no one’s throwing a rope around your neck.”
To disbelief: “You seem like a nice guy, Loco-sensei, and pretty intelligent, too. So I just can’t understand how you can be so off when it comes to Japanese people. They’re so harmless and polite. Maybe you’re just a little over-sensitive, or misunderstanding them due to the language and cultural differences. Perhaps if you studied Japanese…”
To something approaching solution-oriented: “You apparently have an excess of energy, evidenced by your long, fascinating posts, so why don’t you put it to more productive use and do something about it? The onus is on you to change their minds. Writing blog posts in English just isn’t going to cut it. Get out there and show them that black people aren’t all the same. Some are really good people, smart and kind-hearted, like you. For God’s sake, Loco, be a game changer, not a complainer.”
To dismissively condescending: “Some people come to this magical and mysterious land with unstable minds and a certain amount of dung already encrusted in their nostrils. And, please forgive me for pointing this out but, particularly Negroes…ahem…I mean, people who are descendant from that dark, feral continent. Personally, I believe you people are born with trace amounts of dung in your noses, thus you smell it wherever you go. The further you travel from your own kind, the more pronounced the smell becomes. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a scientific study or two that has proven just that. So, I must conclude then that what you smell is your own stench! Why don’t you go back and live among your own kind, where everything naturally reeks of dung, cause then you’ll be more comfortable, no? And leave the Japanese to the people who understand them, accept them and love them for the adorable, unadulterated child-race that they are.”
With assurance that you’ll find yourself in the minority of a minority, and the target of baffling conjecture and derisive censure from the majority, I began to understand why people avoided talking about the beast. It was easier to just live and let live, and tread the dung-strewn path of least resistance with a clothes pin pinched on your nose.
But, I don’t get down like that.
So, I had a change of heart and, after three years of blogging, I dusted off that publishing dream and got down to business…and Hi My Name is Loco and I am a Racist was the result. Amazon may be bursting at the cyber-seams, and the shelves of your local library may be warped with the weight of books by expats living in Japan, but there’s NOTHING like the one you’re about to read now.
Not even close.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming real soon!
Update! Here’s part 2