The Digg effect and some additional thoughts on Japan and Racism February 23, 2007Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan, Society.
Thanks to some link love from my friend Matt, whose post hit the Digg’s World News page and the top page of Digg, the post I wrote on the way the same statistics are described by Japanese and English versions of the same newspaper has been getting a ton of hits. I hope at least a few of them stay around or check in once in a while…..
Whilst Matt’s personal story seems to have struck a chord with Digg readers, I wonder how many of the wider population, especially those who questioned the existence of racism in Japan, were aware of the recent incident where an offensively racist magazine was widely sold in mainstream stores in Japan. (I wrote about that here)
Having read the comments on Digg and on Matt’s site, I would like to point out that I don’t think Matt is the paranoid type who sees a racist motive behind every unpleasant act he is subjected to.
Nor is he a boorish, loud, annoying, Roppongi type gaijin – I’ve observed these types of individuals violating Japanese social protocol (or at least the tradional protocol) many a time, acting like they own the place, and could be said to be responsible for the confrontation to a significant degree. When in Rome…..
Matt isn’t a newbie to Tokyo either.
I know that people like Gen caution reading too much into two random events (Was it my physics teacher who told us you should have 4 data points before attempting to speculate about a trend?). Gen is correct when stating that the comments are indeed a trainwreck. But I personally feel that Matt’s unfortunate experiences are a result of a worrying trend.
For the Japan apologists (and there were plenty of them too), I would like to offer my belief that racism is widespread in Japan, but most of the time it isn’t the kind of overt in-your-face racism which is thankfully less visible than in many countries. It is often a more subtle type of racism, and it is indeed difficult to distinguish between plain unease with dealing with a foreigner, and racism. We don’t have many reports of hanging foreigners by their ankles from a tree, or dragging them behind a pick-up truck, or generally lynching them.
The spread of the racist ideology is, I believe, also on the increase. I certainly sense a swing to the right in the general tone of political and media debate, and with Japan having plenty of issues with its neighbours (N Korea, the Chinese red peril jeopardising the Japanese economy, etc), it is just too easy to crank up the nationalist line, scream for a renewed sense of patriotism, and generally point the fingers of blame at outsiders. Japan is facing a difficult future, and not much has been done to prepare for it. Politicians and bureaucrats are getting ready to blame anyone but themselves for when things get rough.
I would not underestimate the level to which the general Japanese population values/believes in the racial and cultural homogeneity of its nation (or the belief that such a phenomenon exists). Such beliefs must inherently be due to a belief system which ascribes superiority to certain races ahead of others, or to racial purity at the very least. Such beliefs are fundamentally racist, therefore it must be concluded that racist beliefs are widespread in Japan. I think this used to be seen as an old fashioned belief, and had hoped that it was consigned to the rubbish bin of history, but it seems to have made a comeback.
Most Japanese are well aware that discussing such beliefs is not PC, and mostly shy away from discussing this topic outside closed circles of intimate friends and family, and only the most combative actually state their position to a foreigner. Many Japanese actively avoid conflict, much more so than Americans or many Europeans in my experience, and those ill at ease with foreigners are statistically less likely to stray into a foreigner’s path, especially if said foreigner hangs out in well known foreigner hangouts. (Such hangouts are signposted in ink which is visible only to the Japanese eye, so that people who don’t like foreigners can avoid) The fact is that a person’s experience can differ widely depending on the kind of lifestyle you choose to lead during your period in Japan, in the same way that a foreigner’s impression of the USA might differ widely depending on where they spent their time.
Of course, there are plenty of people who like the foreign visitors to our country, and treat visitors with equal respect.
Then there are those who seem to have a problem with their own national/racial identity and aspire to be something they are not….
To discriminate against someone (including yourself) based on some characteristic which the subject has no control over seems to be rather pathetic. [But if that discrimination is due to a flawed logic process due to the inherent lack of intellectual capacity in an individual, would I be discriminating against the intellectually challenged? Hmmm….. Perhaps, but I don’t think it requires any significant intellectual powers given that untainted kindergarten children can appreciate the wrongness of discrimination when explained to them at a level they can understand]
Final note: Yes, I’m fully aware that Japan doesn’t have a monopoly on racism, having been subjected to my fair share of unpleasant incidents in various countries around the globe. That doesn’t make racism right, nor this discussion any less valid just because it doesn’t address the situation found elsewhere.