As a part of the ‘Japan YouTube community’ (though somewhat reluctantly) I’ve encountered a lot of the videos that people have posted about racism in Japan. I don’t really agree or approve of a lot of these videos, because they are almost always very negative and extremely one-sided. Personally, I haven’t experienced much racism while living in Japan. While many Japanese people do seem to be somewhat shy and nervous around gaijin, I don’t consider this racism. As someone who grew up in the United States of America and in a family that is very interested in different cultures, it is not always easy to try and understand the perspectives of people who have spent their entire lives in one of the most homogeneous countries in the world.
Japan always seems to get a lot of criticism for it’s ‘insular mindset’ and inability or unwillingness to try and relate to foreigners. The JET Program itself was created as an attempt to address these criticisms, criticisms that I often find unfair. Many of the Japanese people that I have had the pleasure of meeting are very open to learning about different cultures and different people. Most of the time, Japanese people consider me strange not because of my own culture, but because I am so interested and invested in learning about Japanese culture.
Of course it is difficult to live in a rural area of Japan around people who do not speak the same language and have not traveled outside of the country. It is also very difficult to be the one person who looks different from everyone else. At least for me, it has been very hard to adapt to being stared at all the time – it makes me feel like I am living my life underneath a microscope. This is not necessarily racism and it is not necessarily a bad thing.
The biggest problem with the information about racism in Japan (written in English) that you find online is that almost all of it is written by foreigners who have traveled or briefly lived in Japan. You don’t see a lot of videos on YouTube or blog entries by Japanese people. So, I asked a Japanese friend of mine if I could post a recent email he sent me about the subject.
As a disclaimer, the author of this email is currently finishing his PhD in Particle Astrophysics and has lived in the USA for ten years. He speaks fluent English and has absolutely no accent, so he can easily pass as a Japanese-American. This is just his personal opinion and not meant to be representative of the Japanese population as a whole. He and I both share an interest in the history of the Pacific War and postwar Japan – the following email contains several references to the 1940s.
After watching The Pacific and talking with you last night, as you know I got trapped in the YouTube infinite loop. There, for some reason, I started watching “racism” videos – racism in the US, racism in Japan, and racism in Europe.
Watching about racism in Japan was very painful. It’s nothing different from racism in other parts of the world, but when I hear foreigners’ opinions about the racism in my country, sometimes it is very difficult to listen to. I felt that part of me was trying to deny what they said, or that I had objections. Racism in Europe, especially Italy, Spain, etc. is also really bad.
Every time I think about racism, I can’t admire enough how far the US has come. Of course it’s never perfect, and the US is often treated as a scapegoat by people around the world. I am a big fan of the US, so I try not to look at it through my filtered eyes, but it is so unfair that people criticize the racism in the US – theirs and ours are much worse – it just doesn’t come above the surface.
It’s the curse side of the US being such a superpower country, and it’s very easy for people to criticize the scapegoat and ignore problems with themselves. The only 2 countries, in my opinion, that can possibly criticize the US are the UK and Germany.
It’s very ironic, but because of the massive slavery in the US, this country is infamous about the racism, but at the same time, because of that people have gone through difficult times and tried to overcome the problem. Of course there are lots of racists in the US, but there are also so many humanely advanced people in the US compared to any other country. It’s all about education.
Same for the women rights. You have to be a woman to really experience and feel the problem. There are many men in Japan who criticize/blame women (usually “feminists”) for men weakening – represented by soushoku-kei. It is amazing to me that the basic logic of those people is exactly the same as that of racism. It’s very difficult to face reality – women are getting equality and the same social power, or foreigners “taking” their job, etc etc. There are so many people who cannot take responsibility and just blame others because it’s easier, and they are lazy.
Because I didn’t have an internet connection earlier this month, I was watching a lot of TV. Very timely, because PBS was showing a documentary of Patsy Mink, the first “colored and female” congresswoman in the US. She’s a Japanese Hawaiian. I’ve never even heard her name, but what she has achieved is just amazing. And at the same time, I was just amazed how the US has the capability of “changing” (of course, it was/is not easy).
And very timely, I was reading the last book of the Pacific War series (9th book!) at a coffee shop today. Now I know what kokutai is and have started to understand many things you tried to explain to me before. For a country like Japan with a strong and unique “kokutai” that’s been established over 1,000 years of history, “change” is very very difficult. And it will never happen because people are lazy to start with – unless there’s a “necessity”. And I think the necessity is about to visit Japan very soon. Having more foreigners in Japan, equal rights to both genders, etc. Can Japan handle it? I do not know. But change has to come from inside Japan – it cannot be forced on Japan by other countries. That is one thing I disagree with the typical US interaction with other countries – although I understand where the US is coming from.
Sorry my stories move back and forth – but I was just shocked that the US and England made a statement to Japan at Yalta and Potsdam telling Japan to stop the “savage invasion of other countries” after the US, England, and all the other white countries conquered all sorts of countries in the world. Of course Japanese did not accept such a bullshit demand, but the sad thing is that those white countries really believed it was OK for them to occupy land, but not the colored countries. Lots of people in the world nowadays would think that was bullshit, but people at that time of course were all dead serious.
Whenever I meet someone who is racist or someone who believes that their country would be better off closing it’s borders to immigration or foreign exchange (this goes for both people in Japan AND the USA), I can’t help but feel a little sorry for them. Personally, I think racism is ultimately a product of poor education. Any well-educated person who has experience living or traveling in foreign countries cannot possibly believe that a nation’s problems are entirely the result of ‘undesirable foreign influences.’ People who want to close a country’s border to immigration, foreign trade, etc. are just hopelessly ignorant. In the modern world that we live in, where technological advances in transportation and communication have made the world so interconnected, it is simply not an option for any country to ignore the importance of international relations. Well, it’s not possible for any country to follow such a narrowly autarkic policy and still be a wealthy or influential nation.
Many countries are struggling to address the issues of immigration and foreign trade – the USA will need to find an acceptable solution to illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America (and Arizona’s new legislation is not an acceptable solution), Germany and the EU will need to figure out what to do with Turkey and Islamic immigration, and Japan, in face of it’s declining birthrate and aging population, will need to start being more open and accepting of foreign workers and immigrants. It will not be easy to find solutions to these problems because these solutions will, in many ways, fly against traditional nationalism. The most important thing for people to understand is that we are all people and that, ultimately, we have more in common with one another than not.