Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sympathy for Japan goes too far

Actress Sandra Bullock has donated $1 million in relief aid to Japan, the country with the third largest economy in the world (recently overtaken for second place by China), while pop singer Lady Gaga has announced that she is donating a similar amount. Gaga is not just doing this out of altruistic motives or because she apparently has a lot of extra cash that she makes off people who don’t know that there are better things to do with their limited funds, but because she has always been “impressed” with Japanese society. I have read somewhere that Japanese media frequently airs commercials about foreigners praising Japan for its technological know-how and the “kindness” of its people, and no doubt praise like Gaga’s will feed into the conceit. Frankly, it is my impression that this benevolent mythology is more a function of extreme aloofness, and has more in common with a human’s “sympathy” for a wounded animal. I don’t want to be unmerciful to the people who have suffered and who may yet suffer greater calamity if the damaged nuclear reactors become even more unstable; I must observe, however, that despite their supposed superior know-how, civilization and master race mentality, the Japanese have not yet mastered control of the Universe, since unlike genuflecting racists who pretend they are not racists by fawning on the Japanese, Nature knows better. Doubtless Nature is aware of the fact that Japan has no qualms about vacuuming-up the world’s fish and whale populations into extinction, and that it is perfectly happy to allow short-sighted foreign wood product suppliers to clear-cut forests—especially in South American rain forests—while Japan keeps its own forests, which covers up to 70 percent of its land area, pristine and untouched.

I don’t wish to be overly cynical or unpleasant; Japan certainly needs contributions such as those of Bullock and Gaga, especially since it has much bigger economic problems than we do—which I’m sure is the reason why when we have catastrophes, like Hurricane Katrina, other nations do not feel the need to help. Japan’s national debt is twice its GDP, considerably higher than the U.S.’. But maybe Nature is punishing Japan for its racially-chauvinistic past—and present as well, the one tiny little chancre sore in their cultural and social mythology. For example, another of Japan’s long-term problems is that its “native” birth rate is low, thus “native” workers in this rigidly caste-ridden society are in short supply; it needs immigrant labor to maintain its economy, but like in this country—but much more so—discrimination against both foreign workers and “foreign” citizens is rampant. In 2009, the New York Times reported that Japanese officials were paying Latin American guest workers—most of whom are at least part Japanese and have Japanese names, the result of Japanese immigration to countries like Brazil and Peru—to leave the country and never return. A few human rights and immigrant activists in Japan criticized the move as short-sighted and racist. A UN report in 2005 asserted that racism is “deep and profound” in Japan, and Japanese government and civic leaders refuse to “recognize the depth of the problem.” I am only occasionally made aware of the attitudes Japanese have toward certain ethnic and racial groups in this country; in one of my posts I made mention of a Japanese teenage girl who stood behind the driver of a bus I was on for almost an hour despite the fact the bus was half-empty; she repeatedly glanced fearfully at all the “dark” faces in the back. Admittedly this isn’t much different than the white kids being taught to be little Nazis by their parents in this country; I certainly can’t claim to know as much as I could about Japanese culture, since I don’t speak Japanese and wouldn’t understand the slurs directed at me anyways, but the same could be said about Lady Gaga and others who feed into the Japanese self-congratulatory propaganda mill that "justifies" their xenophobia.

I happened upon a website called “facts and details.com/Japan” that does examine the rot behind the fa├žade, gleaned from numerous publications and newspaper articles including the New York Times and Washington Post. The Japanese, for one thing, seem eager to read studies and books about the “positive” attributes of their culture, and what makes them “different”—i.e. “superior”—to everyone else in the world, including Caucasians; by contrast, save for a few liberal intellectuals, the Japanese have very little inclination for self-critique. Although some foreign visitors say they are treated well, others complain about being made to feel uncomfortable by people staring at them like they were aliens from another planet, or making stereotypical observations. “One Japanese-speaking American writer told the New York Times, "’Giggly school girls on the subway will talk about me, thinking I don't speak Japanese, about how pink I am, how hairy.’" Whenever I ride the bus, I can’t help but notice that most Asian riders sit on the aisle side of the seat, as if they don’t want anyone sitting next to them, like an “inferior” race: “There are also stories of Japanese getting out of public baths when a non-Japanese enters, standing up or moving away when a foreigner sits down next to them on the subway, and ignoring foreigners who ask them questions in English.”

Korean, Filipino, Middle East, African and Latin American foreign workers and “foreign” citizens frequently complain of rude and discriminatory behavior by “kind” Japanese. “One foreigner working in Japan wrote in the Daily Yomiuru, “’In Japan, I have been banned from dining establishment, denied service like taxis, snubbed and even physically accosted by strangers. I hear people whispering about me in every city I visit. The public seems to believe that all gaijin (foreign workers) are ignorant of Japanese customs and language; that we are all rude and that we are all guilty of some crime we will inevitably commit.’” A1996 survey of foreign residents found that 36.5 percent said they had been “refused accommodation on the basis of their nationality. About 40 percent of the Korean and Chinese citizens said they had been refused accommodation while 35 percent of the Latin Americans and 29 percent of the North Americans and Europeans said they had.” Immigrant workers not only do the “dirty jobs”—much like in this country—but are much more likely to be living in the slums amidst the poverty that allegedly doesn’t exist in Japan; despite the obvious discrimination against them, the Japanese assume these conditions are “genetic.”

Japanese politicians and commentators frequently target American blacks and Latinos for abuse when it tries to obfuscate American criticism of Japanese trade policies. Karen De Witt wrote in the New York Times that Japanese "’do have stereotypical images of black Americans, gleaned from American television and press accounts. Some of them assume that blacks are either entertainment or sports figures or slow, lazy, strong and destructive.’" On Japanese television, racially-insensitive programming features actors in blackface, and blacks are frequently “suggestively” paired with monkeys and apes. Housing contracts in Japan are likely to contain provisions that refuse accommodation to blacks and animals. It also should be noted that since whites and Asians in the U.S. are supposed to be the “smart” people around here, the fact that this country is in the sorry state it is seems to largely rest on their own limitations.

Not surprisingly, crime and social problems are blamed on foreigners. According to a Los Angeles Times story, when Japanese are shockingly revealed to be the perpetrators, “foreign influences” are typically blamed. According to a Japanese sociologist, “The crime rate among foreigners living in Japan is actually lower than among Japanese...But many Japanese still have a biased image.” Japan recently passed a law requiring all residents of non-Japanese origin to be photographed and finger-printed, supposedly as a guard against terrorism; others say it is discrimination. But the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995—the worst terrorist attack on Japanese soil since WWII—was not committed by “foreigners,” but by Japanese nationals; three of the ten perpetrators are still at large.

This is the society that Lady Gaga (and quite a few others who praise Asians just so they won’t accused of being racists, even as the deride other groups) feels a special affiliation with. With Americans as ignorant of their own history, why should we be surprised that they are as ignorant of that of the Japanese? With the aid of “pacifist” Americans, the Japanese public habitually indulges in self-pity concerning the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, yet refuse to acknowledge and in fact defend their various invasions, enslavement and massacres of peoples in the East, particularly in China and Korea. Much of the worst of these outrages against humanity occurred during the 1930s, a period that exists in the shadows of World War II. The Japanese try to explain their actions as a quest for resources, but their rationale is eerily similar to the Nazi quest for lebensraum (living space); lest we forget, Japan was allied with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as part of the Tripartite Pact (the Japanese even considered themselves superior to the Germans). Furthermore, the fact that Japanese society is rigid, hidebound and intolerant is no reason why we should wish to emulate it. The country’s fascination with robotic toys suggests an automaton mentality that may or may not change with the popularity of hip-hop culture among some youth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will become more enlightened.

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