Tuesday, October 14, 2008


As I am called it everyday, I found Debito Arudou's recent columns informative.

Updated with further reading:

Arudou responds.

Arudou on rural Japan.

A larger discussion of the issue.

Someone who agrees more with David.

Here is a blog commenting on the article. I hate to be a dick, but most of the people writing comments just seem to be a bit ignorant. I think they would rather react than think about the issue.


WDD said...

Hmmm. Did he think that by becoming a naturalized citizen he would be racially and culturally japanese? Does he want to somehow quit being the product of a profoundly different cultural upbringing and worldview? Does he think japan should be a meltingpot?
Very strange article to me. I suppose that the sometimes-epithet "gringo" is different in that a) no one really knows where it comes from and b) it literally refers to "those people who have invaded our country various times and seized more than half of our territory," but no matter how long I'm here i dont think I'll feel within my rights to call for a moratorium on the use of any words in Spanish. Even words that literally mean Fag Nigger ugly american or foreigner (gabacho). The idea that cutting out the use of a word changes people's attitudes in fundamental ways is problematic. For some it forces a reevaluation, for most it just creates new slang and code phrases that make racism harder to flush out (see recent posts on Republican tactics or newsreels on 'the southern strategy' of the republican party.)
All in all, interesting linguistics lesson, but silly analysis of how language works and a rather insulting comparison to the word nigger: i have to assume this guy became such a fan of Japanese culture that he neglected to learn enough about American culture to realize what an absurd comparison it is to say- "The word white people in the US used to refer to the people they kidnapped and enslaved for hundreds of years and continued and continue to degrade and rob of basic dignity and rights is the exact equivalent of my being called an outsider by a xenophobic culture I want to be part of."

wwc said...

Well, Debito Arudou is always a source of friction. I used to agree more with what you are saying, but now I find my sympathies more with him. If you read his other works, his reason for "becoming Japanese" are more complicated and banal than they would seem here. They had to do with keeping his job with full benefits and getting a loan to build a house. It also allowed him to win a landmark case over who could be admitted to onsens. My agument would be that the word is both inaacurate and a huge impediment to a more "kokusai teki")international) way of thinking. Here is what I say to my students: I have never been to Germany. I don't speak German. I have no German friends. I know little about Germany. I have moderate interest in Germany. I don't pull for their soccer team. I live in Japan. I speak Japanese. My friends are, mostly, Japanese. I am interested in Japan. I know a lot about Japan. If I get on a train with a German person that I don't know, someone will probably say, "Wow, there are a lot of gaijin here!"

Now that seems trifling, but it speaks to an entire system of thought. It is hard to get beyond that system of thought until you change the language regarding it. I always make the point that Arudou makes, that Japan has 2% of the world's population yet is able to divide the world into "us" and "them." How can that make any sense?

If it was just a personal offence, I suppose it would be something to get over, but there are no laws protecting foreigners human rights in Japan. A "gaijin" can be denied housing because they are a gaijin. A gaijin can be denied a job. A gaijin can be denied service in a hotel or restaurant. There is nothing illegal about it. Can "gaijin" be legally defined? Not really.

With Japan's decreasing population and giant economy, it will become essential over the next decade to import more foreign labor. These issues are going to be critical in this society. I have a job now that I am very good at. I can put in as much work as possible. I can try as hard and do as well as I can, but I can never have more than a one year contract. I can never get a raise or a bonus. I can be fired if a parent doesn't like me. Why? I think you know. Because I am a gaijin. And that isn't inferred. That is something that I sense. That is the reality of the situation.

As for his comparison with the word "nigger", I think he was saying that to some people, it doesn't matter who you are or what you do, you will always live inside of their disparaging language. I know that is a loaded word to make a comparison with. True, gaijin were not part of a genocide, but they were boiled and crucified and beheaded if that counts for anything.

I have differences with Arudou sometimes as well. I used to make the argument that you do, about Japan being a different country. I think that his point, however, is not that Japan should be a melting pot, but that it should have human rights for its residents.

wwc said...

Sorry, that should have read; "That isn't something I sense."

WDD said...

I have a longer, even more complicated reply, but will spare you since i doubt we disagree very much when all is said and done. I think most of us know enough about japanese history to find the legacy of racism manifest in wars of conquest and atrocities and about how justified their isolationism has been (for example when the US fleet makes a surprise visit to encourage you to open trade). Do countries have a right to maintain cultural integrity even when those cultures are intolerant and racist? When they open their doors to foreigners do they have a moral responsibility to treat them as equals? I think we can agree on these things. i think that the place where we disagree is about the efficacy of a foreigner-originated proposal that a word be banned from use in public, particularly a word that seems to be on its way to being made neutral anyway. It doesnt seem that this is a solution or even a means of minor progress, but likely the contrary. But then, I don't know or understand japanese culture as well as anyone involved in the conversation, so my points are more about abstract points than life in Japan.
One last point, does any culture in the world, whether they make up 2% or .000002% think in terms other than "us and them"? There might be more graduated categorization of "them" in many cultures, but in order for there to be an "us" everyone else has to be "them".

attempting to silence the voices in my head.