Before I begin part 2, if you haven’t already, please check out part 1 here.
We all up to speed? Cool.
OK! Let’s get this out of the way:
Is there racism in Japan? Silly question. You might as well be asking is the sky blue, or is water wet. Yes, Virginia, there is racism in Japan… Of course, there is. And this racism isn’t coming solely from the Japanese, either.
This is not-debatable, at least not here on Loco in Yokohama. Anyone who wants to debate its existence in Japan is barking up the wrong blog. We’re wayyyyy past that in these parts.
And for you readers who are tempted to skip to the comment area and spew some deep insights like they’re homogenous and were isolated for centuries upon centuries and blah blah blah…or tear me a new one for targeting Japan, this is for you:
Racism can exist anywhere, and being a denizen of a formerly isolated homogenous island like Japan doesn’t justify it or excuse it. I target Japan because I just happen to live here and I’m focusing for the moment on the issues that directly impact my day to day life. Loco in Yokohama is a blog primarily about the ups and downs of life for a foreigner living HERE!
And if you still feel an irresistible urge to hand Japan its exemption papers from the rules that the best of the rest of us have happily agreed will make the world a better place for future generations, you should have come to Loco in Yokohama a lonnnnnng time ago when we still entertained those kinds of ideas.
Like I’ve said, we’re way past that now.
OK, so, moving right along…because the question over whether racism exist in Japan is NOT the cause for the Gaijin Clash of ideologies introduced in part 1. It seems to me the main point of contention is over how foreigners here should respond to it, if at all.
Like most NJ (Non-Japanese) living here for a number of years, I’ve encountered the attitudes and behaviors described in Debito’s well-written and thoughtful article in the Japan Times, these so-called “microaggressions.” And, they troubled me right from the start. I didn’t initially interpret them as racist or aggressive, however. I simply thought of the people who held and performed them, depending on its degree, as either annoyingly ignorant, dangerously ignorant, or utterly disengaged — almost dutifully so — and thus a challenge for me to respect. This ignorance often times seemed to be purposeful. Like the people here had undergone some kind of ritualistic indoctrination, taught from childhood that it is a cultural imperative to marginalize, ostracize, criminalize, denigrate, and insult; a standing order to “other-ize.”
But, that’s not the case (I tell myself at least once a day, sometimes even convincingly).
Not to suggest ignorance is unacceptable. If my time in Japan has taught me anything, it has taught me that not only was I, too, the victim of miseducation, the target of disinformation, and a more receptive receptacle for propaganda than I believed was possible for someone as intelligent, open-minded and well read as I’ve always aspired to be, but that I was also ignorant of many things. Not least of which is how traumatized I’d been by racial matters prior to coming to Japan.
Yes, Virginia, ignorance is acceptable.
To an extent…
I mean, if you believe that asking me if I meet your stereotypical notions of people who share my racial designation is a fit cultural icebreaker and augurs well for future communication, then you’re more than a little out of touch, by MY standards. And if you make keeping a minimal safe distance from me whenever possible an imperative, when the only threat I represent is a product of your imagination, and expect me to view this behavior as anything but racially motivated, and indeed to accept it as indicative of Japanese “shyness,” then I am, at least, entitled to question your choices and how you’ve come by them.
Cultural ignorance is almost a given, hell, it’s inevitable. It is the rare person who fully understands a culture outside of their own well enough to rise above the level of ignorant. Of course, if you keep your nose to the grindstone, your eyes wide open, and fully dedicate yourself…you know, through cultural immersion or assimilation, you can possibly ascend to the level of fairly knowledgeable. But, for most of us, we’re limited to stereotypes, propaganda, hearsay, and the touts of people claiming to have risen above ignorant. Generally these turn out to be unreliable sources.
Though I’ve been here almost a decade and have immersed myself and assimilated as much as I (and clearly the natives here) are comfortable with, I do not claim to be an authority or the most reliable source on Japanese anything (except maybe ramen, and even that’s arguable…) Everything you read about life in Japan on this blog is, of course, as it is seen through the eyes of a man who is admittedly a little unbalanced. But, at least I’m aware of it and I endeavor to keep my scales weighted properly. The reason my blog is successful, I believe, is that my readers have come to trust me. As is the case, I’m sure, with Hikosaemon, Debito, and some of the other content creators working the Japan blogosphere.
(Just in case you were wondering where I was going with this, this is where I was headed).
Trust is the key word. It is not only an essential ingredient in any relationship but the lack there of is the cause of many foul and contentious relationships.
By my estimation, both of these gentleman possess the prerequisites to be considered “knowledgable” about life in Japan. They both live here (or have lived here) for considerable lengths of time, they’re both consistent creators of quality content, they both are fluent in Japanese…they’ve both a vested interest in the prosperity of this place (families, children, etc…), and, in their own ways, have left blood on the battlefield, so to speak. Clearly both are at least, I believe, worthy of respect…
But trust is whole other thing, isn’t it?
I happen to trust both of them…but that wasn’t always the case. They both had to earn it.
I’d check out Hikosaemon’s vlogs from time to time, and they’re always informative and entertaining, sometimes even thought-provoking and inspirational. I was particularly impressed with his Japanese ability. Though I’ve long since given up the ghost as far as achieving native fluency in Japanese goes, I still admire not so much the people who do achieve this goal but the work ethic and dedication required to do so. Nevertheless, part of me had initially marginalized him as one of those Happy-Go-Lucky Gaijin running around Japan not so much with blinders on, but with Ray-Ban shades on….only the “Rays” being “banned” weren’t the sun’s rays, it was the rays of racism shining brilliantly everywhere you look.
It’s difficult for me to trust someone like that.
But, then we had a pre-interview chat on SKYPE and I got to know his views a bit more…and if you checked out his interview with me about my book (and you should cause it was great) he basically states that oblivious racism, or unconscious racism, is the kind you’ll run into a lot of in Japan. They’re [Japanese] not maliciously racist. They just inadvertently do things that they don’t realize, and that’s one of the challenges for people coming to live in Japan because we’re used to more blatant or hypocritical racism…
Sounds a lot like that Microagression Debito wrote about in the Japan Times article, doesn’t it?
Sounds a lot like the behavior I covered in my book, as well…
Peep this illuminating video:
Needless to say, trust was established with Hikosaemon that night. I’m not easy, but I try to keep it simple.
With Debito, it was a bit more complicated, though.
As a blogger, new on the scene back in 2008, two names popped up when people described my blog. The first — I guess due to my use of humor from time to time, and the fact that we’re both black — was Gaijin Smash, a blog I admired (and envied) quite a bit and about the funniest blog I’ve ever read about Japan to date. I was flattered to have my newborn blog even mentioned alongside such a well-established and super-popular one.
And the other, I guess due to my occasional rants and discourses on racism and discrimination, was Debito Arudou’s.
Debito, too, was well-established and popular in some circles. But, I’d soon learn that this comparison to Debito was not praise, but damn near a slur. He was despised by many of the bloggers, vloggers and visitors I first encountered when I got into this blogging game. (And still is, as evidenced by his recent vilification.) And, by simply being mentioned in the same sentence as his, my blog became an anathema to many on the Japan blogosphere, even by some who’d never read it. I was quickly labeled just another American Hothead trying to smear his political correctness and racial over-sensitivity over every goddamn thing under the Rising Sun of this lovely land, and in the process defile our albeit complicated, but ultimately complaisant Japanese hosts.
The hate he generated was seething, over the top…and viral.
Now that’s power, I thought! As a writer, a strong reaction, whether positive or negative, usually indicates the writing or writer has a particular quality; one not easily dismissed or ignored.
So, naturally, I visited Debito’s blog and read his work to see what all the hubbub was about and, as a writer, I was impressed. The man is prolific like I’d never been (but always wished I could be). All I could think at first was where the hell does he find the time and energy to do all of this goddamn writing, not to mention the activism! Respect was instantaneous, if for nothing else than the energy and drive involved.
I also understood almost immediately why he was so reviled, and by so many: He brought the noize! He got right in the faces of the Japanese themselves and shouted, “The days of being respected without giving it in return are over! I may not be a native Japanese but you will respect me, goddamn it!” And, he got in the faces of all the Japanophiles and those so-called Authorities on Japanese culture and mindset and said, “you guys need to wake the fuck up! How the hell are we going to exact change in this country if we kiss their asses, let them walk all over us, and call that shit kawaii? Can’t you fools see that Gaijin is a slur? It’s Japanese for Niggers??? Well, I can!”
Yep, somewhere along the line he discovered his writing’s rudder and the engine that keeps it spinning, and he keeps that sucker oiled and fueled.
But, hell, I had an audience to build and “The Black Debito” label wasn’t what I was after. We were fighting on two different fronts, I thought. Somehow I managed to de-stigmatize myself somewhat (it still lingers though in some circles…you know who you are) by finding an identity and voice and rudder of my own.
Then, back in the summer of 2010 , I learned that Debito was going to be teaching a workshop at a Writer’s Conference in Tokyo. He was the main draw for me. As I mentioned in pt.1, he was giving a presentation on Book Publishing in Japan, providing attendees with some of his horror and success stories as a Publishing Insider. I learned quite a bit in that session. For one, I learned we had similar goals and dreams. I saw him as a man on the same ladder I was climbing, a few rungs ahead of me, and showing me the slippery spots and cracks.
Trust was established with Debito that day.
So, where’s the beef, right?
Hold tight. Part 3 to follow soon!
**Update** Click here for Part 3
Who do you trust?
Check out Part 1 here
PS: In the meantime, if you haven’t already, do yourself a big favor check out my critically-acclaimed book, Hi! MyName is Loco and I am a Racist, available here on Amazon. You’ll be glad you did! Seriously! Ask anyone who’s read it.