Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I agree with Eric M. Skier (“Fluent Japanese does not compute,” September 6th) that Japanese is less difficult to learn than speaking with Japanese people is. When I arrived in Japan and studied Japanese I quickly learned that the more I understood and could speak the more I realized that Japanese had little to say. Or, maybe I just wasn’t listening properly. Or, maybe they just had little to say to me, even more after they knew that I could understand them. It doesn’t mean that Japanese are not friendly. They are exceptionally friendly, and I admire them for it. I discovered that despite the myth of social harmony and the social custom of sympathetic listening (pretending to accurately guess or anticipate others’feelings, needs and desires), Japanese misunderstand each other as much as anybody. The vagueness of the language, the regard for form over content, and a common inability to properly comprehend their own written language contribute to a camouflaged social disharmony which, when it occasionally erupts, people appropriately pretend to be dismayed about.
Despite my language ability I agree with Alexander Ross (“Show same courtesy to foreigners,” September 6th) in that I never expect Japanese to change their mentality about foreigners, even though some of us are not foreigners at all, but naturalized citizens. It is on this point that Debito Arudou is unbending because he (correctly) sees nationality as solely a matter of citizenship, not of race, and is persistent in his quest for equality. His detractors see him as a professional complainer for his persistence. His detractors accept that unequal and discriminatory treatment are natural and inevitable considering the Japanese mentality, so get used to it, and stop denying that we are different. Arudou is working to push Japanese thinking to a new level. And, if you consider that no change has ever occurred here that was not the result of external pressure then Arudou might be in a good position. Usually Debito Arudou’s writing hits the nail right on the head. He is entertaining, enlightening, and a little frightening.
Printed on Thursday, September 10, 2009 as “A persistent voice for equality.”
I feel just so-so about this letter. It is nit-picky and could get ugly because it deals with racism. I preferred my letter about Japanese values and the expectation of honesty and cooperation from suspects in custody. It was more fun to writer and funnier to read.
No, I am not a fluent Japanese speaker, and neither am I a naturalized Japanese citizen. In my letter I did not say directly that I was, but I implied it to push my point.
If other writers respond to rebut me I wonder if they will criticize from the perspective of my bar for defining foreignness? I use citizenship as the definer of foreignness. If one becomes a naturalized Japanese then one is no longer “foreign.” I think that is clearly my most vulnerable point.
I think we (foreign residents in Japan) all owe Debito Arudou a huge debt for pushing for equality on our behalf. And I would consider calling those who find his “complaining” irritating racists. People from countries like Australia, Canada or America - immigration-driven, multicultural societies who ought to know betters These are the people who are too afraid to rock the boat; who prefer to keep their heads down, even if they are being discriminated against on a daily basis.
With regards the issue of listening, perhaps it is that the Japanese, in their inbred racism, or us-and-themism (which is the same thing in different terms), simply assume that anyone who is not Japanese have nothing valid (not necessarily not interesting) to communicate. If they are not Japanese, what could they possibly have to say that is relevant? We all know that the Japanese are only interested in world news if there are Japanese people in involved. If there is a plane crash somewhere, the first issue is: were there any Japanese abroad? And if not, the news gets short thrift.
Perhaps this, then, is the reason why Japanese people do not listen to us, no matter what our Japanese language ability is. This inability or unwillingness to listen to us is 90% of the reason why I did NOT want to have my knee operation here. Because I KNOW that any doctor I visit will not truly listen to my concerns and make all the decisions as to diagnosis and treatment without reference to anything I had to say. No thank you!
So, I think that this non-listening to the gaiijin, is, perhaps, just another (and yet another) expression of racism.
Of course, this does not explain why they don’t listen to each OTHER!
Perhaps this is due to the fact that they recognize they have nothing INTERESTING to say to each other. I think this is probably true as well!