Thanks, but No thanks

Ok, it’s high time I wrote an article on this subject. Japan does in fact, have a problem with racism. Certain shops in Japan exclude foreigners, the media is filled with the likes of Shintaro Ishihara who goes on racist rants, and there are some very outdated ideas in Japan that need to be ejected from the country. I think making Japan more multicultural is a good thing, and increasing understanding of other ways of life among the Japanese is a good thing. However, there are some ways of doing that that are just counterproductive.

I’m talking specifically about Arudou Debito. He is an American born, Japanese citizen, and he is doing more harm to racial minorities in Japan than all the hordes of flag waving nationalist racists. The reason is that Debito is racist himself. Not only that, but he somehow thinks that it is his only goal in life to excoriate the Japanese for any and every perceived slight, whether real or imagined. I’m just going to take his last blog post as an example of what I am talking about:

Hi Blog.  I’m currently researching on the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus, and late last month I found this weird advertisement in the Ka Leo student newspaper (August 20, 2012, the debut issue for the start of the semester for maximum exposure):

“Have you ever wanted to help Japanese people in a way that could make a meaningful difference?  Participating in a clinical trial can be a deeply rewarding way to possibly help advance medical breakthroughs in Japan.

“Volunteers should be:  Healthy, between the ages of 18 and 60, born in Japan, or have both parents or all 4 grandparents born in Japan…

“Think you can volunteer?  Great!  COVANCE, Honolulu, Hawaii”

(Page 66.  Click on the image to expand in your browser.)

Covance is the “Contract Research Organization for Drug Development Services”, according to their website (www.covance.com).  Also, the link they provide in their advertisement above asks three locations (UK, United States (Global), and specifically Honolulu), and has only two languages:  English and Japanese, indicating their strong links to Japan (and no doubt the subcontracting for Japanese-oriented research — tool around the Japanese version for awhile; fascinating reading).

The upshot:  We want healthy “Japanese” for “medical breakthroughs in Japan” (as opposed to breakthroughs in medical science anywhere).  I smell patents, or at least patently racist language of “testing Japanese for Japanese since Japanese bodies are different” that infiltrates Japan’s physical and social sciences.

What I find especially interesting about this ad is the imported racialized conceits about what defines a “Japanese”:

No doubt due to the sensitivities of the English-language audience, there is no mention of “Japanese blood” as a qualifier.  No matter, that’s indirectly stated:  Born in Japan, both parents born in Japan, or all four grandparents (we wouldn’t want a Non-”Japanese” grandparent sullying the mix, after all) for proper thoroughbred status.

I’m a Japanese, but I don’t qualify.  Naturalized.  So wrong blood.  Sorry.  And it still would be wrong, under the paradigms above, even if I had been born in Japan (say, to a family of diplomats or missionaries; they exist).  Imagine Covance making the same stipulations for, oh, I don’t know, sickle-cell anemia research by asking for only “African-Americans” (or bona fide “Africans”) who have been born only to “pure-black” families stretching back three generations?  That would raise some eyebrows.  But not when we transpose it onto Japan-based conceits, where the racism is embedded.

What a pity.  Nothing quite like getting fresh young people to “volunteer” their time and bodies for big pharma’s future profits.  But what a way to do it:  By advertising in a college campus newspaper drawing lines between people under questionable scientific rubric.  I think we need better screening procedures not only within the medical community, but also within the media, so less of this racialized social science leaks into the physical sciences.  Arudou Debito

Dear dear Arudou. NO. Just stop. Just shut the hell up. The Japanese people are in fact a genetic group, with a common gene pool. They’ve kind of been living here a while. You have no idea what they’re studying, it could be mapping the human genome in Japan, or following certain alleles that are common in Japan. Yet you immediately, without proof or reason, accuse them of being racists. Ridiculous. Yes, most likely they would only ask for sickle cell anemia in people of African descent, because you’d be pretty damn hard pressed to find a white person with sickle cell anemia. There are phenotypic differences between different populations, that’s not racism, it’s scientific fact. Every time you open your goddamn mouth, you embarrass yourself. Just stop. You have published racist rants on your blog, you have butchered the English language repeatedly in the Japan Times, you have obfuscated and lied, and it needs to stop. Just stoppit. I am for racial harmony, for equality and respect among all people. I am not for your ignorant idiocy where you malign and slander the people of Japan at every turn. You have nothing but contempt for this country, its people, and its culture.  You think you’re something of a white Jesus, here to save Japan from itself. You fancy yourself and academic, yet you only teach English. You have no experience or training in biology, history, math, science or anthropology. Instead of reaching out to help your country and your people, you attack them with vicious lies and outright absurdities. Just stoppit. And yes, testing is exactly how drug companies are able to make new drugs that improve or even save lives. Nice little conspiracy theory BS there at the end.

If you want to really be accepted as Japanese, then you have to change some things. First, realize this isn’t New York. It’s Japan. You are not going to change the ancient culture of Japan on a whim, and people are just going to hate you if you try. They don’t want your missionary work. Next, you write and speak in English, on your blog, in the Japan Times etc. If your Japanese is that great, start using it. Speak the language, engage in your own country and its language. Get involved in your community, help people out. Do volunteer work, clean up your neighborhood, be a valued member of this society. Actions speak louder than words, so get out there and start putting to work what you supposedly believe in. And for the love of god, shut the fuck up. With every stupid thing you say I cringe, because I’m an expat too, and I think you’re making shit worse for us, not better. Thanks.

 

Subways and Compliments

I had been to Tokyo more than once before. It had always seemed like a strange city to me. Full of people, full of life, impossibly large and sprawling; at the same time it was impossible cramped and claustrophobic, and at times the loneliest place on earth. It always seemed surreal to me.

I remember one time in Shinjuku, Kabukicho, at that time of night where you’re not sure to call it really late or really early. The wee hours, some say. The sky was glowing, the bright lights of the rowdiest part of Tokyo cast up and bounced off the atmosphere overhead. In the square, a raised platform balanced the urban landscape against the tall department stores and karaoke havens that surrounded it. The raised platform in the center was strewn over with too many to count. Some were very obviously homeless. Some were very obviously drunk and passed out, their hands still gripping their suitcases, their ties flopping haphazardly across their shoulders. A surreal scene, it still makes me think of battlefield paintings, the wounded and dead strew by the hand of chaos across the ground.

I live in Tokyo now, and have for a month. I’m still getting used to the sights, sounds and bustle of living in one of the world’s greatest cities. The subway rides in the morning, packed closer to complete strangers than I would like. Many jokes about a certain can packed fish can be heard from time to time. (Hint, not tuna) People on bicycles, oblivious to your existence, missing you by a hair and giving you a mini-heart attack. Vending machines, vending machines everywhere. The smell from the noodle shops as you walk past.

I feel like an old pro now. I’m not a tourist here. I used to live in Japan. I know the customs. I know the culture. I speak the language, decently for a gaijin I suppose. However, moving back after two years in the states means that I feel all out of whack. Caught between cultures, struggling with a language, working two jobs and taking 5 courses at university. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. The city humbles you. You feel small next to the massive towers, amidst the throngs of people shoving their way through life in old Edo.

The key to living in Tokyo is simple. Fall in. Blend in. (As much as you can at least, being a gaijin and all that) I have a metro passmo card. No tickets for me. I know where I’m going and I know where to touch my IC card and flow through the gate to the subway. And sometimes I get on the subway that’s going the opposite direction. Ah, crap. Well, don’t panic. Just calmly get off at the next station, walk with a determined, but slightly bored expression on your face, trip over two people and elbow three until you’ve successfully launched yourself on the metal coffin going the right way. Nothing to it really.

I was in the famous Ginza shopping district last week. I stopped at a bar for a drink. The place had a nice nautical theme. The bartender spoke brilliant English, said that he had gone to university in the US. California to be exact. Then he told me something that surprised me. (This is after talking a while) He said that I seemed Japanese, that I didn’t seem American. He said that when I walked in, he thought that if I didn’t look so not-Japanese he would have thought that I was. I seemed to hold my self like a Japanese person would. I’m not quite sure what this meant exactly, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

Compliments are nice.