16 September 2012 ~ 53 Comments

黒人が危ないんだね: Should Foreigners Directly Challenge Japanese Opinions?

I got a letter today from a  reader and as soon as I finished it I knew I was going to spend at least a couple of hours writing about it. The letter contained, among other things, the kind of complex question that I think challenges some readers of Loco in Yokohama (based on some of the comments I’ve read), and so I’ve decided to open it up to discussion once I’ve given my take on it.

The letter read as follows:

Hi Loco,

I don’t want to sound like probably all the rest of the commenters you get and so I’ve avoided just outright sending you a typical, wow the book is great type of email, even though I wanted to express that sentiment. I read your book a while ago and it really resonated with me, in some ways helping me to get my own handle on issues of race and racism.

I’ve been learning Japanese for around 7 years now and been to Japan 4 times, for a total of around 6 months in Japan. I’ve never lived there as such, but met many, many Japanese people through conversation exchange etc. I guess I’m asking you if you have any kind of advice for how to deal with a situation such as this:

I’ve just got back from spending the evening with a Japanese girl. We’ve kind of decided to both just be friends/conversation partners, but the thing that I notice and hear a lot goes something along the lines of:

Japanese friend: “I wanted to move to East London, because it seems like a cool area, but I think it’s safer in the West”
Me: “Why do you think it’s dangerous?”
JF: “Last time I was there, there were a few black guys trying to talk to me in a club”
Me: “Oh right…”
JF: “Yeah so it seems like a dangerous area”
Me: “So you think they seemed dangerous?”
JF: “そうだね、黒人が危ないんだね” (Black people are dangerous)
And so on.

I’ve had enough experience with Japanese people to know that you can’t just directly challenge someone’s opinion or
present some information or point of view that is in direct opposition to their world view or something they have just said, for risk of completely alienating yourself from that person. Believe me, I’ve done it enough times, and burned through many potential friendships that way, but I’m just kind of at a loss. Something in your book really resonated with me, along the lines of the kind of soft, gentle, persistent racism, but then also the fact that at some point you started to dehumanize Japanese people as a kind of explanatory/coping mechanism.

I’m really feeling like I’m somewhere near this dehumanizing phase at the moment. The whole “these people can’t be human if they think of other people in those terms”. And I can completely vouch for the fact that as a privileged white guy that the racism is present and direct and completely discriminate. It seems like often Japanese people can feel comfortable telling a white guy that they don’t like Koreans, Chinese, Indians and black people, but would balk at the idea of being considered judgemental or racist. I get tired of hearing that the criminals in Japan are the Koreans, or that the guy I mentioned that I had been arguing in a bar with ‘must have been Zainichi, because われわれ日本人 (most Japanese) don’t do that”

And maybe my problem is that it’s because I’m doing the whole racism thing, by referring to ‘these Japanese people’ or something and maybe it’s just confirmation bias or something, because I’m never mentioning all the times that someone Japanese didn’t say something racist. But then again, the Japanese people do talk about “we Japanese” a lot, so it feels natural to frame it in those terms of ‘they/those Japanese”.

Anyway, maybe my question to you is something along these lines:
If you were to be in my position in one of those conversations, a fly on the wall as it were, what would you want to hear?
How do you think the conversation could be steered in a good direction?
I’m not sure that just pointing out any mistake in someone’s reasoning in a direct way could ever work. And maybe it sounds shitty for me to reach out to you and basically ask you something along the lines of “How do I market black
people to Japanese people?”, and I really don’t mean to be offensive or for you to take it that way, I apologise if it is.

I’m just kind of asking for your opinion as a somewhat experienced well positioned expert on some of the issues that I face, and possibly somewhat vainly hoping that I can at least make some part of the world not quite so painful for someone somewhere. Believe me, I know the empty seat, and can only begin to imagine what that felt like for you all those years. Maybe I can just eliminate one occasion of the empty seat by stating something well in an easy to accept/understand format.

Anyway, if you’re as short on answers as I am, that’s OK. And the book really is so eloquent and expressive, I found it hard to put down.

All the best,

Mark Burns

First off, thanks Mark for checking out my book. Glad it resonated and provided food for thought. Couldn’t ask for more than that.

Now to your question…

If I were in your position…hmmm…

I am of the belief that very few people, if any, can view life from a perspective other than their own. Human attitudes and behavior simply can’t be objectified, at least not problematically. The first major drawback to doing so is that there really isn’t a universal standard to measure these behaviors. Most people will objectify based on criteria from their own cultural norms and/or those adapted from the society which they were most exposed to and influenced by. The odds of people outside your society agreeing with all of the behaviors and attitudes you embrace rise and fall according to multifarious factors, among them geopolitical, ethnic, racial, economical, and even anatomical.  I think many of us foreigners here in Japan are guilty of doing this. As self-aware as I like to think I am of how arrogant, intolerant and inhumane it can be to do so (for African-Americans are, to a large extent, the product of the European effort to engineer humanity and make the world over according to their beliefs, and to be especially tolerant of their positions) even I am guilty of this at times.

As for being “a fly on the wall,” well, after vomiting, and lapping it up as flies do, I would rub my little hands together and wish you NOT to worry about alienating your companion.

Fuck That!

Yes, you have done your homework and you’ve taken your lumps: Communicating directly with Japanese people is a no-no, you’ve ascertained.

My experience has been different, though. I’ve managed to communicate directly with Japanese in my own style and voice. And if I can do it, there’s a good chance others can and do.

That’s not to say that I’ve always been successful. I’ve come to think of it as my weeding out process.

I’m not worried about “burning through friendships.”  This fly on the wall wants to holler in your ear: “Burn, Baby, Burn!”

That’s why, in 8 years on this island, I only have a handful of Japanese friends…but you better believe, each and every one of them knows that Loco ain’t about to sit back and listen to them spew any hate-speak against any other people…unchallenged, that is. Hell, if you hold an opinion strong enough to directly voice it to me, I don’t see why I can’t directly challenge it. I mean if the opinion was conveyed with subtle equivocations and coy evasions I would use them in turn. I adore the fine art of conversation, of innuendoes and such.

But, there’s nothing really indirect about “Black People are dangerous” or “Chinese people are rude,” now, is there?

I might even extend the benefit of the doubt after indubious statements like those. Give the person a chance to retract or re-think their position with a relatively subtle challenge like: “You really think Will Smith is dangerous???” And occasionally that’s all it takes to make the other person aware that they are in the company of someone that will push back. But, most often, particularly here in Japan, such a mild pushback isn’t enough.

So, you better believe they are gonna hear my thoughts.

Politely, but definitely directly!

And, as far as I know, that’s respected. If the Japanese in question wants to withdraw their friendship, at least we’ll go our separate ways without regret.

I mean, I guess it all depends on how seriously you use that word “friend.” Personally, I don’t toss the term around lightly. A friend is someone I respect for who they are and respects me for who I am. A person with whom I’ve made and feel a connection, a bond, not because I’ve managed to adapt to their style of communication and sharing ideas to the point that my natural way of expressing myself is lost and I am basically mimicking their style, but someone who can appreciate that while my style may not be what they are accustomed to, it is as much a part of me as theirs is a part of them. Someone with whom trust can be established, who accepts that while I may appear to be coming on strong it is being done with the best intentions, just as I have to trust that their evasive style is being done similarly.

Trust is the foundation of any relationship with a future, and if there isn’t any what kind of friendship do you have anyway?

Of course, if you prefer they have the upper hand in all correspondence you can go the route of avoiding confrontation, but I don’t. I would have advised you to continue the convo something like this:

JF: そうだね、黒人が危ないんだね Black people are dangerous!

You: Hahahahahahaha!

JF: What’s so funny?

You: (Slowly fade your smile out) That was a joke, wasn’t it?

JF: Eeeeeeto ne…Anoooooo…

You: (flash a little shock, then feigned patience bordering on pity/disappointment) Wait! You don’t really believe that, do you?

JF: Eeeeetoooooo ne. Black guys are dangerous, deshou???

You: You know, many people believe modern Japanese are a great people with an exceptional culture, ultra-polite and refined. That you guys are open minded and for the most part incapable of thinking ill of people based on race.

JF: Sou da ne

You: Some people, though, think Japanese are a race of xenophobic ignorant children living on a little homogenous island where they think they’re sanctioned and safe to be intolerant of other people.

JF: Really?

You: Yeah, really. From roughly half the Japanese people I know I’ve heard nonsense like what you just said. Whether it be about Chinese or Korean, Middle Eastern, blacks or whites. And, you know what? I still refuse to label Japanese people as just plumb ignorant and incapable of recognizing the full humanity and diversity of non-Japanese. You know why?

JF: Eeeee?

You: Yeah, me neither. Wow, look at the time…

If the person contacts you again, with apology or explanation, maybe you have laid the foundation for a real friendship founded on mutual respect. If not, oh well…you win some, you lose some.

I’d call that one a win, though.

Besides, living here, you learn rather quickly that you, as a perpetual and conspicuous outsider, are not expected (I want to say invited) to play by the same rules as Japanese do. From their perspective (based on what I’ve ascertained from their behavior and explanations) we’re handicapped by not being Japanese and thus not quite capable of living by their rules and even fully “getting” them, which I’ve found to sometimes be a blessing. Thanks in part to this condescending charitability of theirs, break certain rules (like the one you mentioned) and you are forgiven if not immediately then beforehand.

So, when I’m establishing friendships, or dealing with people I plan to voluntarily meet again and spend time around, I do something radical: I let them know me. The real me. Not the me that avoids confrontation in order not to offend the offending party. No. I mean, the “me” that, with all due diplomacy of course, tackles worthwhile conflicts head-on.

And I think a handful of real friends who dig YOU is a lot better that a shitload of friends you gotta emasculate yourself and tiptoe around, cultural differences be damned.

And, an ancillary benefit of weeding out the bozos this way is that you are able to keep yourself in touch with Japanese people who’ll help you keep an open mind. Something which is particularly helpful during times like you’re going through now, where you feel yourself slowly dehumanizing them. You’ll have some very human friends to support your equilibrium.

Thanks again, Mark. Hope this was helpful.

Any other thoughts on this, readers, I’d love to hear them: Should foreigners directly challenge Japanese opinions?


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53 Responses to “黒人が危ないんだね: Should Foreigners Directly Challenge Japanese Opinions?”

  1. WH 16 September 2012 at 5:55 pm Permalink

    Good answer, Loco!

    When I hear ignorance like that, I do not have the patience this Mark guy had, I just walk away. What a dumb bitch.

    • Locohama 16 September 2012 at 9:48 pm Permalink

      Hey WH, yeah, I think my patience has run thin too. How many times can one say, “you really think so and so [insert person of any race in question who doesn't fit the dumb bitch's stereotype] is [insert inane offensive generalization]? If I had a ¥100 for every time… Anyway, I do believe that patience is a virtue. But after a while even Jesus wept.
      Thanks for the shout

      • WH 16 September 2012 at 10:53 pm Permalink

        Jesus wept! I have a soft spot for that phrase 🙂

  2. Michael Gillan Peckitt 16 September 2012 at 7:13 pm Permalink

    Dear Loco,

    Yes good answer. Plus its not the issue but East London is a much more interesting place.


    • Locohama 16 September 2012 at 9:59 pm Permalink

      Hey Michael! Thanks for the shout. Yeah, gotta make my way to your fine countryboneof these days and see for myself. Wish I had gone back in the 80s when Saxon International and Papa Levi, Tippa Irie and them was making dance hall reggae history! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVqNaABE7QM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

      Is that the east side or the west? Lol whichever side that would be where I’d be

  3. Mawb 16 September 2012 at 7:32 pm Permalink

    Honestly, I wouldn’t sit and nod happily at these kind of opinions from anyone, regardless of their own ethnicity or what-the-hell-ever. I’m not really sure why the fact that they’re coming from someone Japanese should make any difference. Like you, I have cut people off for this kind of stuff even at home here in the UK. I’d rather keep my own company. And I don’t think that would change if I lived elsewhere.

    • Locohama 16 September 2012 at 10:07 pm Permalink

      Hey Mawb! Thanks for the shout! Yeah, I used to be much less tolerant back in the states, but I have grown quite patient since living here in Asia. Ive made quite a lot of adjustments, lowered the bar so low I have to bite my tongue on a daily basis not to let loose on someone who either verbally or behaviorally flagrantly demonstrated their inteolerance, ignorance or disregard. But I often wonder if I’m doing them an injustice by doing so.

  4. kamo 16 September 2012 at 9:22 pm Permalink

    East London, West London. As long as she stays north of the river she’ll be fine 😉

    I guess it really depends on what you want to get out of the encounter. If you’re looking to form meaningful relationships then Loco’s approach is the way to go. May as well lay all your cards out at the start and avoid any possible grief later.

    It gets trickier if that’s not why you’re talking. You’ve got to ask whether you want to be obviously right or whether you actually want to talk them round to see that. Regardless of culture, I’ve seen a lot of people who are clearly making valid arguments lose the chance of changing someone’s mind because they care more about going in hard from the off and scoring easy points than actually engaging with the person they’re talking to. Start gently picking at why they believe that horseshit and it’ll usually unravel a lot easier than if you get them on the defensive from the word go.

    There’ll probably be a lot of responses similar to WH’s above. That’s a completely valid response, and it’ll save you a ton of grief, but you’re passing up a chance to change her mind for the better. Obviously you’re the only person who can judge if that’s a worthwhile use of your time and effort or not (though if they’re much over 25 then yes, you probably are wasting your time). Loco’s response is a way of dealing with this in Japan, but if you’re speaking to Japanese people who’ve chosen to leave the country then you might have a larger window of opportunity.

    [Shameless link spam warning] I actually asked a similar question a while back – http://fightstart.blogspot.jp/2012/06/question.html
    but the person asking the dumb question was one of my students. The dynamic’s obviously different here, but if you don’t try to change their mind then who will?

    • Locohama 16 September 2012 at 10:41 pm Permalink

      Kano-San, thanks for the shout.
      I feel you! I really do. At the risk of overstating the obvious, you CAN catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
      And, without a doubt, if your mission in life is to change the minds and hearts of the people around you so that the may see the errors of their ways, you would definitely make out a whole lot better if you remain perpetually patient and tolerant of even the most ridiculous and absurd assertions.

      Sometimes I look at, for instance, president Obama, listening to Tea Party members question his capacity to be president, even his citizenship. Most of these questions are motivated by his race. If I were in his shoes I might not be able to stand the barking of people of who claim to love America but clearly have no love for Americans.

      Some people are built to work with children. Equipped with interminable patience and a nurturing spirit tailor made for helping young minds make that transition from dependent to independent in action and thought. And some people have that for all humans regardless of age. That takes incredible, almost superhuman strength. I admire them. I wish I could be more like them sometimes. But, alas, I’m not as strong as I’d like to be.

      I’ll keep at it, though. You never know. Maybe I’ll have a breakthrough one of these days and figure me out, find my power source and tap directly into it like I suspect the above described people are capable of doing. Something that would make me more impervious to the pelting of obscenities the spirit must endure here and elsewhere.

      I remain optimistic but in the mean time I feel this compulsion to protect myself from those who would do me harm for no other reason than because they don’t know any better.

      • kamo 16 September 2012 at 11:05 pm Permalink

        Hey Loco – Absolutely. I think you’ve clearly done more than your fair share of the heavy lifting and think you’re completely justified in your more ‘slash and burn’ approach. People need to do what’s best for themselves and no competent adult is responsible for how any other competent adult chooses to think. Or not, as the case may be.

        It’s just people everywhere tend to shut down if their views are flat out contradicted. You’re one of the rare birds who seem to be able to take criticism on the chin, but much as we all like to think we’re rational and only arguing the point people everywhere get very defensive very quickly when challenged point blank. That’s worse in Japan, but not by all that much, to be honest.

        Plus I’m still a wet lefty idealist at heart, so you’ve got to factor that in as well…

  5. Hikosaemon 16 September 2012 at 10:49 pm Permalink

    I’ve never heard that opinion about black people, but I have heard it come up around me about Chinese and Koreans.

    As much as you want to ridicule the guy, I tend to look at these situations as an opportunity to enlighten someone a little – so I suck up a bit of anger in my stomach, throw my arm over my friend’s shoulder, and do the “son, take a seat” talk.

    This comes back to the advice in the How to Argue With Japanese People vid I did a long way back. If you push them back, they’ll push you back. Nine times out of ten anyway, unless you’ve got a relationship where it’s understood you can really openly call bs on one another without taking it personally, which is rare, among Japanese as it is between gaijins and Japanese.

    So the way I do it is like this. And you probably won’t like this…

    First, you validate the other guy. No matter how outrageously ignorant or offensive it is, so long as it is given sincerely, validate the guy. Because if you don’t, whatever answer you give won’t go in. “I understand how you can end up with a negative view of Koreans or Chinese just looking at the newspapers and the Internet – all they show is bad stuff.” Come think of it, I’ve actually had this conversation with an ex-GF who told me after seeing Koreans celebrating Japan’s 2002 World Cup quarter final defeat that she was done with being open minded about Koreans. Point is, you show you understand internally where they are coming from, even if you disagree.

    Once you get that out, and check they see and understand you validating them, which is what they are looking for, you follow up – I tend to follow up with facts, and a couple of personal experiences:
    – There are over a million foreigners in Japan, and most of them are here legally and are hardworking, no different to me
    – The majority of those foreigners who are zainichi are basically no different to Japanese and are naturalizing wholesale now
    – When I learned Japanese in New Zealand, my class was filled with Chinese and Koreans, most of whom studied harder and got better grades than me, and we all came here to follow our dreams and I got better jobs and opportunities than all of them because I am white, even though they worked harder than me – and that is something I know isn’t fair
    – I respect Chinese and Koreans in Japan because where I have worked with them, they are held to native standards of expected fluency and work proficiency, much harsher standards, and often for less pay, even though they often have gone through much greater hardship and worked harder than I have to get where we are.

    My main comeback is;
    – Whatever freaks you see on the Internet or TV (would YOU want Japan to be judged by 2chan or Right Wing protest vans?), Chinese and Koreans come here because like me, they like/love Japan and are committed to making a life here contributing to the society here. Nearly all the Chinese and Koreans I know in Japan that I’ve met LOVE Japan. You can’t presume the Chinese here are like the ones you see that give you a bad impression.

    Point is, you get their ear and you push it home in a way that you at least hope gives them a new perspective, that can prompt some kind of internal change. You want to flip out and scream at them, but that kind of thing just reinforces those perceptions. It is exhausting and draining, so I don’t try to change everyone I meet, but if someone I consider a friend raises those kind of views, I sit them down and take them through the process. Point is, once the conversation is over, you are both there to have future conversations, and whether you persuade them of anything or not, the line is clear

    Just my 2 cents. Peace

    • Locohama 17 September 2012 at 12:28 am Permalink

      Whoa! Well said, hikosaemon! Now why wouldn’t I like that??? Except for the suggestion that flipping out and screaming at Japanese people is something I endorse (which I don’t…unless you mean figuratively) I think you made some excellent points.

      I’m a reasonable guy…most of the time. At least that’s what I’ve been told. And aside for validating their ignorance I’m fully on board. I’d sooner think of something pseudo-pithy to say to make them scratch their heads, like, “yeah, black men scare the hell outta me, too. That’s why I came to japan! Talk about your ironies…”

      And, Mark, if you’re reading this, Hikosaemon is right. That is a way to go, and definitely better than the advice I gave if your ultimate goal is to keep the parties at the table and talking.

      That said, I am not caucasian and the advice I gave you was, as I stated, coming from a man who is not so capable of stepping into your shoes as hikosaemon is. What he offered is the white man’s guidelines to dealing with Japanese ignorance, and it’s both practical and effective. You will enjoy a measure of success incorporating them into your approach to resolving conflict not only with japanese but with anyone in most any situation.

      It’s much easier to refrain from anger and resentment and keep all channels of communication open as well as your heart and mind when you are the disproportionate beneficiary of positive stereotypes, and reside at the top of the food chain, so to speak, and when the vast majority of the offensive words and deeds you see or merely hear about is actually aimed at others.

      But for those of us “others” on this island (feels like I’m talking about “Lost”) lacking the patience of saints and tolerance of loving nurturing parents, the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, middle easterners, and others of a darker hue in this land, it’s a bit tougher (to put it mildly).

      It’s hard to maintain an even keel with people who would literally flee as soon as have a conversation. When YOU or people who look like you are the denigrated subject, and instead of vouching for another race you constantly find yourself vouching –with a great deal of humiliation–for your own, the conversation takes on a whoooooooole different meaning.

      But, I still somehow manage to fabricate love out of very thin air, pull sunshine out my ass and change minds and hearts…occasionally. (-;

      After a while, the rewards of success start to feel like minimum wages and for every mind you change and heart you reach it often feels like five arrive on the scene to take their place.

      It used to make me wanna holler…now I find myself starting to whisper under my breath “shougannai…”

      Thanks for the shout Hiko San

  6. Mark Burns 16 September 2012 at 11:21 pm Permalink

    Hello all.
    Thanks Loco for my email triggering a blog post and all the insight and opinions of all the commenters.
    I definitely should have qualified the usage of the word ‘friend’. I think maybe it’s a British thing, but it seems more acceptable/easier to go to the pub a couple of times with someone and refer to them from then on as a ‘friend’. There’s always the option of not continuing the friendship. Certainly not a close friend or good mate, or anything like that.
    I think kamo expressed it well in that there may be a way to painfully, but slowly shift someone’s perceptions and help to educate them. And as you’ve expressed, Loco, having some of the patience of someone like Obama can be a massive boon.
    I am also in the slightly more unique position of not living in Japan. If I want to improve my Japanese then to a certain extent I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing all my friends. And yes, even if I did burn those bridges completely and still end up with enough Japanese friends I could surround myself with people who already think like I do, but what does that change?
    I’d rather think of myself as someone who can meet someone who is typically racist through simple ignorance and indoctrination and achieve winning them over and shifting their cultural perspective slightly.
    I’ve done the confrontational stuff before, and it changes nothing most of the time. If anything there’s a chance of it solidifying their position as they are more likely to view foreigners as people incapable of witholding their emotional responses, and further strengthening their mental point of view that Japanese people are in some way superior for their ability to do so.
    I think there’s definitely something to be said for having at least some people who think a little more like you around you so that you’re not permanently having this feeling of tip-toeing around. I’ve never met anyone Japanese yet who thinks anything close to the way I do, but here’s hoping.

    • Locohama 17 September 2012 at 12:14 am Permalink

      You’re very welcome! I’ve got some great readers so you’re sure to get some good feedback. Im filled with ambiguity and like yourself flirting with dehumanizing the whole lot. But many of my readers are not, which is one of the reasons I decided to post your question. They come from diverse backgrounds and have many different experiences here and elsewhere. I learn so much from them about so many things. I’m sure you’ll find something useful.

    • Jenny 17 September 2012 at 2:40 am Permalink


      I’d say most of the comments they make are because they are uneducated about the outside world. I’ve met a lot who made really stupid comments that have nothing to do with race. I’ve never heard of “zebra crossing” so I asked what that was. They acted like I was the dumbest thing on earth. I made them look it up in their dictionary and for the country of origin if it had it. They said British. I said I’m not British, I’m American and we don’t use “zebra crossing.” I educated them real quick that there isn’t a standard English and they need to pick either British or American English if they want to learn it.

      I also gave them a good geography lesson concerning Canada and Mexico, and why I know some French and Spanish.

      Baye has the right idea and have some patience with the Japanese. If they still want to be stupid, then let them be stupid.

  7. Jenny 17 September 2012 at 1:23 am Permalink

    I never really encountered the extremely racial comments but more along the lines of “this student is only half Japanese.” I’ve also taught a black Japanese boy who was always referred to as an “African-American” Japanese. My thought is not all Blacks are Americans so the term seems silly. Since the country of origin was unknown for this boy’s black parent, I figured the more appropriate term would be “black Japanese.” What do you think Baye?

    I’m glad I was nowhere near my breakfast when you said “xenophobic ignorant children” because that’s exactly my thoughts too and started laughing. I’ve gotten so many stupid questions that I started giving it right back to them. I’ve been asked why don’t I know English grammar, why do I know Pikachu, and why do I need to paid for my teaching if I’m a rich, white Christian American. I have no idea where they got the idea that I’m rich and Christian. I spoke French to a student once and she about had a heart attack. All I said was “parlez-vous français?” The child wanted to go to France and be a pastry chef. I will have to admit though that Chinese aren’t too bright concerning the Americas either. Both Japanese and Chinese don’t realize that Canadians do speak French, and Americans do know some Spanish because of Mexico and the increasing number of Hispanics coming into the country.

    As for being direct with them, if they start off a conversation of how I’ll be their English teacher and I’ll help them with this or that concerning their English, I’ll either ignore them or give them my fees. If they continue, I’ll tell them that I’m not looking for English speaking friends.

    Since I’m not in Japan anymore, I will directly confront them if they seem like they can’t act like a normal human being. I’ve done that many times on G+.

    • Locohama 17 September 2012 at 1:41 am Permalink

      Thanks for the shout Jenny! (-;
      “black Japanese” kind of sucks too. He’s probably never left this country and knows nothing but this country, if he’s anything like the mixed heritage children I’ve encountered in my tenure. Why not just call him Japanese I think.
      why do I need to paid for my teaching? Thats ray. I might have to hurt someone if they asked me that lol

      • Rude Boy Abroad 18 September 2012 at 8:59 pm Permalink

        What about “American-Japanese,” or wherever his ancestry stems from? I don’t know about elsewhere but in Canada we have Japanese-Canadians, Indo-Canadians etc, which may mean that they’ve immigrated but may also merely indicate ethnicity, even if they are fully Canadian culturally.

        • Locohama 18 September 2012 at 9:15 pm Permalink

          Only people I know of who can honestly say their ancestry stems from America (including Canada) are the native Americans…unless you’re talking politically

          • Rude Boy Abroad 18 September 2012 at 9:26 pm Permalink

            In that case, doesn’t their ancestry stem from Africa? 😉

            I just meant that if you must call him something, perhaps American-Japanese would be a less loaded way of indicating that he is Japanese but his lineage has a very immediate swerve just above him. I was wondering if you would find “American-Japanese” to be more acceptable/less offensive than “black-Japanese.”

          • Locohama 18 September 2012 at 9:31 pm Permalink

            Africa is not a country! A little offensive discrepancy that most people overlook. Similar to what makes “black” (the way it is used) problematic. There are so many different cultures/races/ethnicities/languages/ etc in Africa you might as well say human.

          • Rude Boy Abroad 18 September 2012 at 9:37 pm Permalink

            …I meant that originally, all of humanity came from Africa.

  8. boulet 17 September 2012 at 2:51 am Permalink

    Just had a similar conversation over on facebook two weeks ago. Guy starts explaining troubles caused by Romanian Gypsies in the block he lives in Paris. Then goes on making big generalized all-encompassing statements about Gypsies. Ensued subdued but somewhat heated argument with several other friends. We were kind of flabbergasted. We couldn’t fit this racist bullshit with the positive smart guy we knew. He’s on watch right now. Them’s fighting words.

    • Locohama 17 September 2012 at 2:53 am Permalink

      Thanks for the shout, Boulet! “them’s fighting words!” Still LMAO

  9. Orchid64 17 September 2012 at 3:57 am Permalink

    I think the best way to deal with this is neither to directly or aggressively confront nor to skirt the issue entirely, but rather to gently reorient perspective with a series of questions that allows the person to reach your viewpoint. When teaching, if a student asserted something, I would start asking questions to help them make the journey from what they believed to another viewpoint. If they started with, “there are lots of black people there, so I think it is a dangerous place,” then I’d ask them if they ever experienced a crime at the hands of a black person. Usually, the answer was “no”, then I’d ask why they believed areas with black people were more dangerous if they never had such an experience. They’d usually say so based on T.V. I’d ask them if they felt that T.V. news tended to show only certain types of stories. For instance, the Akihabara incident was shown all over the world and may make people think shopping there was really dangerous. Did that mean it was a dangerous place usually? I’d carry on until they could see that their perspective was informed by a distorted view based on what was of interest rather than what was real.

    This didn’t always work because some people were unwilling to make the journey mentally, but I figure that if I couldn’t gently lead them there on their own, then I also couldn’t make them understand by shoving it in their faces. So, I think that there is a place between being directly confrontational and simply shrugging your shoulders and saying you can’t change people’s minds so there’s no point in doing or saying anything. It really is about helping people inhabit a different reality than the one they currently reside in. You can lead them along the path, but if they don’t want to get there, you can’t force them. The nicer the journey though, the more likely they’ll stay with you until the destination is reached.

    Incidentally, I experienced this sort of thing a lot with people telling me what Americans were “like” (loud, opinionated, meat-eating, aggressive, etc.) and having students say, “oh, but you’re not like that.” I had to find out what informed their stereotypical impressions and deconstruct it. They were tourists who experienced other tourists/vacationers and Americans who are on holiday operate from a sense of being an entitled consumer and are far more likely to behave poorly (as are Japanese, who tend to be loud, obnoxiously groupist, judgmental, and intrusive when touring as groups). Average people and the people you encounter at vacation spots are quite different and I tried to help them see this as well. We can’t all be exceptions, and that’s a part of what you make them understand. If Baye is black and his students aren’t afraid of him because they know him, it’s important for them to know that he is not an exception to their “rules”, just as I was not an “exception” to their loud, obnoxious American “rule”. We are both parts of a continuum in personality among our respective groups/subgroups/minorities and we need to contextualize how they view people so they stop thinking in stereotypes and extremes. You can’t build context by getting in people’s faces.

    • Locohama 17 September 2012 at 12:04 pm Permalink

      Hey orchid! Thanks for the shout!
      At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I agree with you as well.
      I actually did it / do it that way sometimes. I think the problem is the frequency. If I only had to dig in my “do my part” bag once in a while it would be easy to always do it that way. But when you find yourself doing it over and over and over, then frustration and futility start to set in, and why bother / take care of you become the order of the day. And unless you can convince yourself that doing this is in your best interest and you stand to benefit in some tangible way, your motivation to do so weakens.
      I watched this video by jay smooth who also agrees with you and for a while he had me motivated but even his injection of mojo lost some of its charm after a while.
      Maybe I’m getting depressed. )-:
      Here’s Jay Smooth’s Mojo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbdxeFcQtaU&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    • Jenny 19 September 2012 at 7:39 am Permalink


      I would have said the American military and their spouses out on leave! I unfortunately had to be on a Japanese train with an obnoxious bunch. I’ll have to agree with your comment on Japanese being just as loud and obnoxious because I was on another train with 5 excessively loud 20something girls.

  10. kathryn 17 September 2012 at 10:56 pm Permalink

    I’d have probably laughed at the ‘black guys tried to talk to me’ line. It’d be understandable (but still very narrow minded) if she’d seen a bunch of black dudes having a knife or something and that had scared her. But dudes talking to you at club? Isn’t that what dudes do?

    I don’t try to educate people, I don’t try to change their point of view. I’m not their mother and they are adults. Some people are never going to change.

    • Locohama 18 September 2012 at 2:56 pm Permalink

      Hey Kathryn! Thanks for the shout. Yeah I’m about two seconds from joining your “people are never going to change so why evven bother” camp involuntarily.
      I’ve been watching House a lot lately. Not good. Loving a man whose philosophy is “everybody is full of shit and won’t ever change” can be bad for your mental health. But the more you listen to him and look around you, the more you know he is very friggin on point. Hard not to be apathetic in such an environment.

      • kathryn 18 September 2012 at 7:10 pm Permalink

        Like you said above, there is only so many times you can try to be rational. I don’t believe that the Japanese are all ignorant little kittens in need of training.

        Being apathetic rules… but I also think the way you conduct yourself does more to break down stereotypes than words do. One of my sisters has been quite racist against Indians in the past. She’s just spent over a month in India and had a fantastic time so it’ll be interesting to see how her views have changed!

  11. John Paul Catton 18 September 2012 at 1:12 am Permalink

    The answer to your question is %100 yes. I’ve just finished editing work on a forthcoming book written by a guy called Patrick Fox – it’s on Japan after the 3/11 disaster, with all proceeds going to charity. His argument is that any foreign resident has the right to challenge Japanese society, because of three central points (which are pretty close to the argument you make above);

    1) Nobody here is willing to accept responsibility, which is why the country is in such a f&’*ing mess.

    2) We are the people who should take on that responsibility, and get something done, because we “gaijin” have nothing to lose. We are not part of this society and we will never be accepted as Japanese. That means we don’t have to worry about the poisonous senpai-kohai relationships and just do the things that have to be done.

    3) There is a long tradition of civil disobedience for good causes. If something is legal, but morally wrong, we are perfectly within our rights to refuse to participate in it. I find it highly ironic that Japanese JHS students read long passages on Ghandi for their grammar exams but have NO IDEA of what the man was really saying. Of course, the teachers don’t want them to think about it. That would raise questions, and we can’t have that, can we?

    If anyone’s interested, let me know and I’ll post more info about the book. Thanks as always, Baye.

    • Locohama 18 September 2012 at 2:51 pm Permalink

      Wow John! Bring the noize, bring the funk!
      Sounds like its going to be an interesting book. Looking forward to checking it out! Thanks for the shout and for the real talk!

  12. Billy 18 September 2012 at 1:14 pm Permalink

    My response to that Japanese girl? “How dare you think that as a white dude I’m not dangerous. HOW DARE YOU!!! I AM dangerous!” Then I’d put an extra TWO packets of sugar in my latte, drink it down like a tequila shot and shout to the rest of the patrons of Starbucks, “You rich yuppie pricks deserve the over-roasted coffee you’re getting here!” and storm out…

    • Locohama 18 September 2012 at 2:45 pm Permalink

      You: “I agree they are so dangerous…imagine trying to pick up a pretty girl…in a club, no less. The horror! All those guys think about is sex. Sex sex sex sex sex.”
      JF: “Sou da ne!”
      You: “by the way, not to be too forward but, after this language exchange if you’re not too busy would you like to go back to my humble abode and listen to some Music. I just bought Wayne Newton’s greatest hit(s) and The civilized sounds of Engelbert Humperdinck.”
      JF: That sounds wonderful.why can’t black guys be more like you, Billy San. Youre so cool and respectful…and polite.
      You: Danke schoen, darling. I guess it’s in my jeans…I mean, the genes. Ikou ze!

      • Billy 19 September 2012 at 2:11 am Permalink

        How did you know Humperdinck was my mood music of choice?…

        • Locohama 19 September 2012 at 7:29 am Permalink

          You seem like a Vegas man to me lol

  13. Rude Boy Abroad 18 September 2012 at 9:20 pm Permalink

    My immediate reaction when I saw the post title in my feed was: “No, it’s not worth it.”

    I don’t know if that feeling has anything to do with being white or what, but for me, on a personal level, what I’m going to get out of just isn’t worth the fight. Be too direct in my confrontation and at the end of the argument we’ll both be upset, hurt, and tired – and even if I win, I lose.

    And if I succeed, what? I’ve caused one person, maybe two or three, to slightly modify their way of thinking on one issue? I get that a lot of little changes add up to big change, so maybe it’s a little socially irresponsible but I just have better things to expend my energy on.

    On the other hand, I can totally get behind the subtler approach espoused by some of the earlier comments. That’s partly because it compartmentalizes the effort required, and because it’s going to be much more effective, and because it’s much more Japanese.

    Though contrary to popular belief I have no desire to “be Japanese,” I’ve always tried to live on the same wavelength as them to a greater or lesser degree. That sometimes means scuttling the approach I’d take in my home country and responding in a manner more appropriate to the local landscape, however hard it may go against my grain. I constantly cast as wide a net as possible in order to afford myself the largest possible number of opportunities, and part of that is going to necessitate not alienating the people around me.

    I don’t piss anyone off (as much), they become receptive to something they might have otherwise dismissed, I don’t walk away depressed, maybe the next time something like this comes up they think twice and reign in the unwitting vitriol. Everybody finishes happier.

    • Locohama 18 September 2012 at 9:36 pm Permalink

      Yeah, as I said, when you’re not consistently at the butt end of said obscenities it is much easier to dismiss. But, as you probably know, I think that is a huge part of the problem. I really think every one needs to take this on for it to have the desired impact (the eradication of said offenses). But, as you’ve stated, it is much easier for some to live and let live…and thus they do, and resent others who have elected to make waves.
      Like I said, it’s enough to make you apathetic (sigh) and depressed. But, I’ll keep my head up. Can’t keep a good man down! (so they say…hope it’s true)

    • Rude Boy Abroad 18 September 2012 at 9:46 pm Permalink

      Sorry, I should have made this clear, but I wasn’t thinking of just race issues when I wrote that comment just now. There are a lot of topics you might challenge a Japanese person on that I just have no interest in touching, such as, I don’t know, political corruption or economic policy or whatever. There are all kinds of subjects where ANY attempt at discourse is just going to run you straight into a wall. I just personally weigh the pros of what can realistically be accomplished in any one sitting with the cons of the fallout I might end up suffering for standing out. Hey, never let it be said that I would resent somebody for standing up for themselves. Keep on fighting the good fight!

      • Locohama 18 September 2012 at 9:59 pm Permalink

        It’s all relevant (-;
        I will indeed, but like in any fight where everyone stands to benefit, I think everyone should get in on this. At this risk of understating its seriousness, world peace hangs in the balance. I think the problem is that many people think there’s nothing that can be done or that they are ill-equipped to contribute.
        As far as tangential and unrelated topics are concerned, I have those kinds of discussions too, all the time. (I’m pretty well-rounded) But, I have not had your experience of persistently running into walls. I wonder what we are doing differently. i generally am able to walk away from a discussion on economy or politics having learned or taught something (sometimes even both), with either party holding no regrest and looking forward to the next convo.
        Thanks, by the way, for the thoughtful comments, rude one! Much appreciated!

        • Rude Boy Abroad 18 September 2012 at 11:24 pm Permalink

          True, would that we could all recognize such an opportunity when every time we saw one.

          Yeah, I wonder. Maybe you just have a lighter touch, after all? It just seems that often people have a tendency to get defensive when any kind of criticism of something they call their own is invoked by outsiders. Kind of the same way I can, say, tease my sister, but God help anybody else who so much as thinks it.

          And thank you! I’m glad to have been able to contribute, even a little.

          • Locohama 19 September 2012 at 12:24 am Permalink

            Has that really been your experience? I dunno. As far as people who would consider me personally an “outsider” go, i really don’t get deep. Anyone who hears me get deep is either someone i consider a friend or an associate with potential (or people on the net willing to engage a bit) But With strangers? Nah. So maybe I don’t follow you. You’ve been talking with and expressing strong opinions with strangers and people who consider you an outsider, about politics and the economy and race relations, and you’re running into walls? Or am I misunderstanding something?

          • Rude Boy Abroad 19 September 2012 at 12:58 am Permalink

            I guess “running into walls” is a bit strong, but I certainly find “resistance” to certain subjects easier to encounter than I would expect to in the English-speaking world.

  14. techInJapan 19 September 2012 at 2:09 pm Permalink

    I just read Hikosaemon’s comment and had a smack on the side of my head! That’s what my Japanese wife is doing to me when she disagrees with me 100%! I’ve learned to take her agreeing to everything I say as a sign that this conversation will end in a fight which origin escapes me yet again, and anyway it simply isn’t all that important to win against her. She should just put up a sign “Stop! There be landmines here!” (written with a Scottish accent). She’s really great. When I know she’s against, it won’t end up in a fight.

    I don’t think I could follow Hikosaemon’s advice, though. I agree with his assessment, that really would work. It’s just too much hassle for so little in return. To me, racist comments are a sign of a seriously broken person – too much broken for me to start applying bandage. I just don’t care about people who are high-maintenance like that from the start. Close people like mother-in-law sure, but just somebody? No. I’d rather be just yet another turned back for them.

    • Dochimichi1 26 September 2012 at 11:33 pm Permalink

      Sometimes racist comments are not “a sign of a broken person” – may be sometimes it’s only a sign of someone who haven’t thought of the issue, and has stereotypes and misconceptions to fill that gap. Basically, ignorance! I think it’s always worth it to challenge this at least a little bit and make that person think, even if it’s someone you’ll never meet again. Not necessarily have a big talk or anything, just a little kick start to the thinking process! (- -)V

  15. redlandcannibal 20 September 2012 at 6:35 pm Permalink

    I wonder what my life now would be like if I had stood up to my racist, intolerant, insanely prideful third-generation Japanese-American father. He doesn’t mince words and bother to hide his racist shit with a veil of courtesy, like the OP’s friends. He would just slam me again and again with the most vile, close-minded rank BS that you could imagine, and would be deaf to any logic or rationale I threw his way. He reveled in hate speech and bigotry. The worst part is that I think he honestly believed he was doing me a favor by “educating” me about how dangerous blacks, whites, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, etc were.

    I quickly learned to give up on him, because what’s the point in wasting my life on this guy? Shutting down and writing him off as a hopeless case was necessary to survive in that house. So when my friends would occasionally say racist shit, I turned a deaf ear. I was brought up to think that changing other people was a tremendous waste of time, and even attempting it would lead to anger, confrontation, and occasionally violence. Was it worth all of that just to get my thoughts out there?

    In a weird twist, moving to Japan has made me try to be more open-minded about convincing others to be more open-minded. Instead of immediately shutting down and going into “Yeah yeah, okay, you believe whatever you want,” I’m slowly learning to actually try to care about people enough to make them change for the better. I know I can’t affect everyone, and I know that a lot of my effort is probably being wasted on people who will just politely ignore me. I also agree that it is often exhausting, frustrating work. But I am slowly starting to come around to this idea of helping others broaden their perspectives, and in turn, have them broaden mine.

  16. Schteve McClaren 23 September 2012 at 8:17 pm Permalink

    It’s all about what you want to get out of it. I often pander to people’s ridiculous opinions because they are somehow useful to me, or I forsee them being useful to me in the future. Or maybe because it’s advantageous to nod my head and go along with it so as not to rock the boat and fuck up some good situation I have going on.

    There was a Japanese person with ridiculous opinions that I maintained contact with, purely because I needed someone to practise speaking Japanese with.

    If I wanted to make a FRIEND, then I wouldn’t tolerate the racism, and would break off all contact with them.

    I wouldn’t try and change their viewpoint or beliefs. I guess I don’t care enough about people. If someone wants to hold undefensible opinions, that’s fine, good luck to them, they won’t see me again though.

    • Locohama 23 September 2012 at 10:06 pm Permalink

      Thanks for the shout Schteve!
      I feel you…most of us are motivated by our self-interest, myself included.
      It’s just once it gets to a point where you realize that this is the general consensus, expressed with as much conscientious and thoughtfulness as one might talk about the weather, it gets almost impossible to dismiss without redress, retaliation, or some sort of pushback. At least that’s how it’s been for me. I’d feel like I was indulging something foul…like if he’d stated matter of factly that he liked molesting school kids. Imagine just writing the person off as simply “not friend material.” not likely right? You’d feel a responsibility to at least bring it to the attention of the authorities that’s this perv was onthe loose. If not for your own peace of mind, at least out of guilt that you let this fucker slide so he could go and ruin some child’s life.
      I’m trying not to exaggerate here. But I think the foulness in the mindset in these parts (and in manyother places – i add this for you people dying to compare here with elsewhere) is comparable.

  17. Chester Bogus 21 July 2014 at 11:49 pm Permalink

    So, my wife – she says, “Black people are scary.”

    I say, “Why?”

    “Well, one time, my boys were playing with their friend. Their friend went up to a house, rang the doorbell and ran. A black guy came out and started shouting. My son was so scared!”

    I was really taken aback. “Honey, that black guy was doing the correct thing. A child was acting badly – a Japanese – a Nihonjin child – was being rude, and the black man was responding appropriately.”

    “Yes, but it was scary.”

    The thing is, my wife hasn’t brought that up ever since we had that conversation. I really pushed the fact that, no, the black man was not in the wrong, but that the little, rude, inconsiderate Japanese child was wrong – and the Japanese parents ought to have kept their child in check.

    I don’t recall if I pointed out the obvious: what if the child had been REPEATEDLY harassing the man? What if the child knew full well that a foreigner lived in that house, and that he could go and harass the foreigner, and no one would fault the child – in fact, what if the child knew full well that no matter how rudely he behaved, the blame would always fall on the foreigner for “being scary”?

    You know, the way my actual wife looked at the situation and decided that – when a Japanese child is rude to a black man, the black man is at fault for being upset.

    We have fought about her prejudices before – and she calls me out if she feels I’m being prejudiced towards people – but she hasn’t once brought up the “black people are scary” line with me. I honestly don’t know if she’s just tired of arguing or if, you know, living with a foreigner taught her to sympathize.

    And that’s the thing: actually knowing, living with, spending time with someone will break down so many prejudices. I guess I’m really proud of my wife for having the decency and humanity to take her life with me and think about it, and get over her prejudices.

    Anyway, my answer to the question is: YES. Call Japanese people out. Any time. All the time. As a white guy, I do have some privilege in Japan, and, yes – I TELL them: “That shit is not ok.” And my wife has started calling out her mother.

    Call them out. Japanese people are human beings – they are not children who need to be coddled. Tell them when they cross a line. They will listen.

    • Locohama 21 July 2014 at 11:51 pm Permalink

      Thanks Chester!! Yeah, don’t worrry…I do. But it gets tiring and redundant sometimes…you know?

  18. mike 5 June 2016 at 4:48 pm Permalink

    “I’ve had enough experience with Japanese people to know that you can’t just directly challenge someone’s opinion or
    present some information or point of view that is in direct opposition to their world view or something they have just said, for risk of completely alienating yourself from that person.”

    Thats deep stuff and I admire both you and Orchid for being able to do it. When the conversation goes like this ” what do you like about Japan ” I can spout off the usual “nice weather food people safety” then it comes to ” what do you not like about Japan ”
    Then I always speak directly, but their reaction always changes the mood or atmosphere from pleasant to anger despair or disapproval. The indirect answer is not something Ive ever been able to master as it feels unnatural. I have found that if one does as you suggest, that is the indirect approach, you will will often get a direct response from them, like youve opened a door to get how they really feel. Its tricky, and your right, the direct response doesnt work. What Ive developed is an immunity to their mood changes and dont care about their selfish or angry responses to my direct answer. Occasionally, I do try out the indirect approach and get the consensus all is fair atmosphere that isnt confronting, but I find it fake and just bait to lure you into some trap that you cant get out of.

  19. mike 5 June 2016 at 4:58 pm Permalink

    I had a conversation about the black thing with a Japanese who had lived in LA and had a business. Well, I asked how it was and he said he it was great but the blacks gave him trouble. I imagine he was in one of their hoods and came across as arrogant, since he was now the gaijin they had to shut him down, but I wasnt there, just my imagination. Well Im not black, but I get that sinking shitty feeling when they go “there” because Im a gajin and it just gets into that territory. In those cringe worthy situations, I always change the subject to “have you ever been to Africa? They know how to hustle there. I got lots of friends from Nigeria etc, and its all about the biz with them. Id really like to check it out, Ive heard its cool place” This kind of takes them back because they expect me, as a white person to agree with them.

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