Articles on Japan / Global Issues / Social Issues

50 Shades of Japanese

I know, I know, I’m following a terrible trend. There are so many 50 Shades posts right now it’s unbelievable. I think 50 Shades is outdoing The Interview on the controversy level right now. Anyway, if you’re here to read about 50 Shades of Grey, you’re in the wrong place. I’m sure you can find something else to read rather quickly.

Actually, I wanted to talk a little bit about racism in Japan, and as 50 Shades was everywhere I looked, I realized it would be a good pun for this blog post that could be interpreted a few different ways. I’ll let you decide what it means.

Part of this post was written a year or so ago and saved in my drafts. I hadn’t finished it because I felt there was too much to talk about, and I would be doing the topic an injustice.

But this week an article other than one about 50 shades managed to showed up on my Facebook feed, and I felt it was necessary to finish it. What article, you ask? This one: Author Sono calls for racial segregation in op-ed piece After you read it, I know what you’re thinking. She’s an old lady. A lot of old ladies are racist. Big deal. The scary part of it wasn’t her remarks, they’re laughably horrible and silly. The scary quotes of the article to me are:

  1. “Sono, who was appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to an education reform panel in 2013 […]”
  2. “On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Sono was no longer a member of the education reform panel, and had resigned at the end of October 2013. He declined to comment on her remarks.”

I’m sure someone like that being friends with Abe is not a huge surprise to most people following Japanese politics, but it’s still sad that someone that far up in the government gave her the power to reform what kids are taught.

The second quote is also disappointing because he declined to comment. That tells me that either she still has supporters that won’t denounce the atrocious things she said (and therefore agree with her or are at least neutral about her comments), or that she still possess power in the government, and they’re afraid to speak against her.

Now here’s where I awkwardly shift to what I had already written early (hence the “recent” events I refer to are no longer recent).

Yes, racism is a huge issue in America, as we’ve seen so recently with violent reactions on Twitter to an Indian-American woman winning miss America and to a Japanese man winning America’s Got Talent.  But does that mean that Japan’s free of racism, or that because it’s less visible it’s more okay?

Racism in Japan is something I didn’t encounter as much until I began dating a Japanese man.  I had heard whispers of the usual stereotypes – I’d be asked things like if I’d done drugs, asked how often I eat hamburgers, and I was told things like “you’re not how I thought Americans are, you’re quiet!” I got stared at a lot, and sometimes pointed at.  However, most of those I would associate more with ignorance or the unknown.

But when I started dating my boyfriend, things got a bit messier, as I mentioned earlier. I am not exaggerating when I say that over 3/4ths of the Japanese people he told that he was dating an American (stranger, acquaintance, and friend alike), replied to him that without a doubt, I’m cheating on him. Most of the people who said that to him are people that haven’t met me (definitely hurt more to hear from people I knew though). They hear he’s dating an American. And if I’m American, I just can’t help myself.  No way any American can be faithful – haven’t you seen Sex and the City???? You’d think Americans wouldn’t get anything done, what with all the sex.  After I grew so tired of it, I posted on my Facebook in Japanese that “just because someone’s American does not mean they’ll cheat.” Yuuki later asked me to remove it because he didn’t want his friends to know I knew what they had said, and I respected that. It was hard though, because I felt it needed to be addressed.

I do want to note that before I took the status down, I received a message from one of my male Japanese friends that he was a bit shocked and wanted to let me know that not all Japanese people think that way. That gave me some hope.

Yuuki’s parents are also not my biggest fans, to put it lightly.  I won’t go into specifics, but they’ve said some less-than-nice things, most of which either ignore my existence (or at least, status as his girlfriend) or start with “you know, Americans always/never ___.”  They’ve been very generous in other ways, but they’ve also made it quite clear that they think their son should be dating someone Japanese.

I’ve also heard some things said about black people second-hand that make my blood boil.

Quite a few people who’ve lived in Japan longer that I have, say that no matter how long they live in Japan, no matter how well they know Japanese, they are still treated as an outsider.

But still, as a white person, I know that I had it better than a lot of the other “foreigners” in Japan. The Koreans, Chinese, and South Americans are treated for the most part as if they don’t exist or worse, are actively anti-Japanese.  And a lot of that has to do with a lot of people thinking Japan is only comprised of ethnically Japanese people – which is just not true anymore. What Medama Sensei found when he interviewed his classes surprised me. How is it so invisible?

He received threats for this video too!  That’s insane to me.  While you’re at it, watch part 2 as well.  He has some important things to say. I was shocked to find this video of an anti-Korean protest in my beloved Osaka. She calls for another Nanking Massacre of Koreans living in Japan. There is sooooo much wrong with that, I don’t even know where to begin.

I was even more shocked to find out it was in February of THIS YEAR.

Then there’s the Ainu and Okinawans, who have different stories and are different culturally from each other, but have both faced a government who did their best to stamp out their culture in the past.  Historically, they’ve had their language banned in public places, unfair treaties forced on them and their children forced to leave home to go to ‘reform schools.’  The Ainu weren’t even recognized as a people by the government until 2008.  2008!!

Here’s where my draft had ended. Back to the future…

I don’t remember why I stopped writing, but I’m guessing it was because there was so much to talk about and I didn’t know how to condense it, or even where to go to next. I still don’t, to be honest. But after reading that article I wanted to respond.

Another thing I wanted to mention is that I hear half-Japanese kids are bullied much more than “foreign transfer” students. I think this is connected to this idea of “Japanese-ness”, and that “full-blood foreigners” will always be just that – foreign – to most Japanese people. Because if you’re not Japanese, you’re foreign, a gaijin. Yuuki pointed out that even when Japanese people come here for study abroad, they call the Americans around them gaijin. It’s so strange.

Half-Japanese kids threaten the belief that Japan is only Japanese people…especially if they’re born in Japan and speak Japanese. They’re not quite Japanese, not quite gaijin. But again, again, agaaaain, not all Japanese people are like this. I have hope that with each generation it will get better (and hopefully fewer kids like the one in the Osaka video are brainwashed). Unfortunately that change always seems to move at a snail’s pace.

On a bit of a lighter note:

I might have shared this and talked about it before (I know I’ve shared it elsewhere before, but I can’t remember if I did on this blog). So I’m sorry if this is repetitive, but this is not only relevant, but something I’ve come across multiple times. If someone Japanese or Asian speaks Japanese, even if they were born and raised in America by parents that don’t speak Japanese, most Japanese people will not be surprised or shocked that they speak Japanese. If a “foreign-looking” person, for lack of a better word, speaks the same way under the same context, it’s almost like a shock to the system.

Sometimes it’s just a little patronizing: “Wow, you said Konnichiwa! Your Japanese is so fluent!”

Sometimes it’s paralyzing and funny: “写真を撮ってもいいですか。(Is it okay if I take a picture?)” …O_O *grunts and points that it’s okay, with no intelligible words*

Sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating and exactly like the video above, especially when I’m with Yuuki. I order in Japanese without help, and even if my Japanese isn’t perfect, I like to think I can at least order from a menu. Buuuut the server still turns to Yuuki and asks if I want chopsticks. Even though he didn’t even order from that vendor and was standing 5 feet behind me. D’oh!

A lot of Americans need to learn this lesson too, obviously, but at least here a lot of the racists know they’re being racist (even if they still think it’s fact) and that it’s not acceptable in certain company. A lot of my experience and the experience of my friends shows that in Japan, a lot of people think it’s just the way it is. If they are ____, then ____. No exceptions.

So the lesson is this: people are people. There is no, “if they are ___(white, black, Asian)__, then they ___(eat rice, play sports well, are intelligent)___.

With that, I’m going to end this with a little Depeche Mode. Because Depeche Mode.

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13 thoughts on “50 Shades of Japanese

  1. Pingback: Some updates | Cirsova

  2. I have identified myself with your blog in many ways, being a Japanese descendant. Surprisingly, although I look Japanese (or Asian at least) people were surprised when they heard I was not born in Japan and that was my first time there… "日本語は上手!". Otherwise they would just assume I was Japanese and I thought it was definitely okay, myself ignorant to the “only Japanese speak Japanese” kind of mentality. Spent three weeks in Osaka and Wakayama with an exchange course program. I am still 16 years old, so the first week I was really nervous about whether I would be able to understand Japanese or not, being alone in a country on the opposite side of the globe. Good luck on your JLPT! I took N3 two years ago, but I sadly stopped studying the language. Might restart after I enter university. I also dream of N1, but it looks so frightening, right?

    • Sorry it took so long for me to reply! 16 and having passed the N3 is pretty impressive, I think. So is going abroad at that age.

      I didn’t start studying until I was in college (though living in small-town WI without a computer and going to a school that only taught Spanish made it a little harder). The N1 does terrify me but a lot of my friends have already passed both N2 and N1 so it’s a little embarrassing to me that I’ve done neither yet.

      How did you like Osaka and Wakayama? I have a couple sort-of relatives there.

      • Osaka was surprising as any other first-world city would be. That said, it was probably the train station and the huge avenues with people everywhere to be seen.

        But! I spent most of my time in Wakayama, as the exchange course was given by the province (和歌山国際交流センター). I would love to talk with you about a lot more, can you email me? I look forward to hear more of your experiences and share some of mine too, given the different cultural backgrounds and point of views. (And a bit of /false/ nostalgy, as I never had a pen pal. Not even exchanged emails! -as instant messaging was already possible and popular)

  3. Reading these things left me really shocked, I knew Japanese, Korean, and Chinese people have some strong prejudice and convictions when it comes to foreigners in their country, but I didn’t thought that in Japan this issue is this huge. And as you said earlier the biggest problem is that the racism there is “quite”, they all seem so kind and gentle and polite, but you will never know if they don’t detest you from the inside… I really hope that with the years this will cease for the better of all humanity.. Thank you for this post I find it really instructive and eye opening!

    • Thank you for the compliments!! Yeah, it’s all the harder for it to get better in Japan because it’s often brushed under the rug with the ‘shogunai’ attitude for those who disagree, and just accepted as fact by those who agree. Change is happening but at such a slow rate…I hope it moves a little faster in the future!

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I wouldnt have known racism is this bad in Japan even in this day and age (I guess you call it ignorance :P). I couldnt even call it a big issue because people dont talk about it at all, except you and Medama sensei. Racism is bad on one hand but invisible racism is a totally different matter. Just like bullying, you dont know how widespread and common it is until it’s happened in front of you. And you dont know what racism really means until it’s directed toward you. In this case, both parties dont even realize it. Yuuki’s tests clearly show this. To be fair, racism is every where, not only in Japan, US, or China. What matters is how people are vocal about it and how people are educated about it. The first step in fighting racism is awareness and you did great! You touched a lot of critical points and you were always on point. With lots of relevant examples, personal but not too heavy making it easy to follow. Sorry Im kind of all over the places here. Cant wait to hear the other shades of Japan 🙂

    • Thanks for the compliments and taking the time to comment!! I guess I call it ignorance instead of racism when it’s directed towards myself and other (white) Americans because of all the things I’ve read about the label racism and where it applies and where it doesn’t apply…of course when talking about Japan, that kind of changes who is ‘in power,’ so I’m not sure what the correct term is in this case. But, regardless of which label fits the assumptions towards white people more, I definitely think there’s still a lot of racism towards other Asians and towards black people in Japan (and, as you mentioned, of course there is all over the world and in many places, towards Japanese people too). And, there’s a large South American population in Japan that I’m sure goes through similar things.

      And I agree with you! Awareness is key, but it can be so hard to overcome the ‘しょうがない’ (nothin’ I can do) or ‘関係ない’ (got nothin’ to do with me) attitude. Unfortunately it just seems to be one of those things that no one talks about.

  5. Reblogged this on Tri Huynh and commented:
    A very insightful and personal story from Inkling about racism in Japan. Racism, discrimination, stereotyping, whatever you call it, is a rather serious issue but has become invisible in the eyes of travelers and the Japanese themselves. To respond to Inkling’s rhetorical question “…does that mean that Japan’s free of racism, or that because it’s less visible it’s more okay?” No, of course not! In fact, invisible racism is much much worse. I myself never thought of it before reading this article (thanks again for sharing). “Quite a few people who’ve lived in Japan longer that I have, say that no matter how long they live in Japan, no matter how well they know Japanese, they are still treated as an outsider.” I bet some of you understand this feeling, wherever your country of residence. Racism is every where, and need to be dealt with. First step is understand what it is and how you can help combat it (raising awareness). It’s a long post but I encourage you to read on. Inkling has done an amazing job making it educational and entertaining at the same time. Something worth sharing.

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