But we’re speaking Japanese!

This funny video tackles the issue of how we often struggle when someone’s race doesn’t seem to match our expectations of how the person should act. People who might look Japanese don’t necessarily speak the language, while people who might look like gaijin (ahem, like me) can be quite fluent.

This video really resonates with me, as I just came back from presenting at a conference in Daegu, Korea, on migration in Asia. The conference had speakers from several Korean universities, and representatives from Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. As the representative of Japan, I was the only non-native to represent a country—and the only non-Asian at the conference. And yet no one seemed surprised that the speaker from Japan was a white guy from the United States, who was talking about Peruvians in Japan. A sign of progress, perhaps.

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A Critique of Abenomics

by Robert Moorehead

Political posters are a common site in Japan, and—surprisingly from an American perspective—are rarely defaced with graffiti. In this case, Prime Minister Abe’s policies met with some public disapproval.

 

 

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On Immigrants ‘Semi-Adapting’: Self-Defense, Not Resentment

by Robert Moorehead

In all social processes, you have to have the word ‘inclusion’. … without that word, I’m not going to change the world, and they’re not going to change me, because they’re going to have that culture of defense [from me]. Not resentment, but defense.

Lately I’ve been working on a paper for a conference, and I’ve been fixated on an interview with an immigrant father. Juan (a pseudonym) is a Peruvian of Japanese descent who migrated from Peru to Japan more than 20 years ago. Juan expresses his frustration over what he sees as the lack of inclusion of Peruvians and other migrants from developing countries in Japan, in contrast to the greater openness to foreigners from the United States or Europe.

I don’t have a voice (in Japan), and I never will have it, because they (the Japanese) will never know what I think. But, in this case, if an American or someone who speaks English and who has been to school … they’d say ‘Ah, he’s American,’ but in our case, Japanese descendants, all we have the surname and the face. That’s all I have in this society.

Sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza (2006) notes that we learn our place in society through social interaction, including whether to expect inclusion or exclusion. Based on his interactions, a married Japanese man in Japan may expect that his voice will be listened to, and that his relationship with his romantic partner will be valued. In contrast, a member of a subordinate group, such a racial, ethnic, or sexual minority, may learn instead to expect to be ignored, denigrated, or otherwise marginalized. In Juan’s case, he’s learned to expect to be excluded from decision-making at work, to be asked when he’s leaving the country, to have weak relations with his Japanese neighbors, and to be treated as if all Peruvians were alike.

Precisely what are we Peruvians missing in Japan? (Respect, I reply.) Exactly. Because we don’t have it. … We all have different amounts of education, and other experiences, but the Japanese don’t see us that way. They see us all the same. …

Thus, even as many Peruvians in Juan’s housing complex diligently follow the local housing rules and keep quiet to avoid bothering the neighbors, they still risk being blamed when problems occur. As Karen Tei Yamashita writes in her brilliant novel Circle K Cycles:

A tour of Homi Danchi [housing complex] … gives you a sense of an oppressive quiet—the sound of sleeping people who work the night shift, the sound of a silent majority who want very badly to be accepted, the sound of people trying very hard to be quiet. Even the children seem to play quietly. This is as quiet as Brazilians can possibly be. This is probably as ruly as it gets.

And yet, loud music blaring from an apartment will bring suspicions that the offending party is Peruvian or Brazilian. If the guilty party is found to be a Japanese teen, the prior suspicions will still be justified, as one time,  years earlier, it really was a foreigner.

For example, what I see in the factory, the highest position you could get is leader. Leader of who? The Japanese? No. Leader of the foreigners, foreigners like Brazilians, Paraguayans, and others. But here I can’t achieve more, I’m never going to achieve more. I’m never going to be a permanent [employee]. So that whole situation, it’s not resentment toward the Japanese, because my father and mother were Japanese, if they weren’t I wouldn’t be here. But it’s not a feeling of resentment, it’s more that the Japanese need to be more open toward foreigners ….

In a situation like this, how do subordinates respond? How can they respond? Openly complaining about poor treatment risks further marginalization, including having your complaints seen as proof that foreigners are incapable of integrating into social life in Japan—a logical fallacy that confuses cause and consequence and blames foreigners for their own marginalization.

Subordinates can, and often do, resist in many ways, as James Scott notes in Weapons of the Weak. Juan describes avoiding integrating further into Japanese society, saying “they’re not going to change me” and that he has only “semi-adapted.”

What we do is, we haven’t gotten used to it, we’ve semi-adapted. Semi. … I am more included, semi-included, in Japanese society than others. Why? Because of my physical features and my last name (which are Japanese).

This pattern of only “semi-adapting” means that Juan is done trying to fit in. It’s less a sign of resistance than of self-protection. If Japan includes him as a member of Japanese society, and not as a ‘foreign guest,’ then he’s happy to participate. But “you have to have the word ‘inclusion.'”

Whether the second generation will follow this pattern is unclear. Juan’s children are fluent Japanese speakers and envision their future lives as adults in Japan. As Juan notes, such an approach is essential for their future employment prospects in Japan. However, they may still face the stigma of their foreign ancestry.

Here in Japan, I’ve always thought that if you’re thinking of living here in Japan, in my children’s case, with semi-liberty practically (laughs). But they’re going to live here, so they’re going to have to study more, to be able to compete in whatever profession as foreigners with Japanese, because they’re fighting against one thing, that they’re not Japanese.

I’m hoping to decipher the contours of this pattern of ‘semi-adapting’ in a journal article. In the meantime, these blog posts will hopefully stimulate the analytical process, keeping things moving. What other examples are there of this approach? How can we better understand the experiences of assimilation/integration/incorporation of first-generation immigrants?

References

  1. Golash-Boza, Tanya. 2006. “Dropping the Hyphen? Becoming Latino(a)-American through Racialized Assimilation.” Social Forces 85(1):27-55.
  2. Scott, James C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  3. Yamashita, Karen Tei. 2001. Circle K Cycles. Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press.
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Hurry! Hafu Film Now at Nanagei Cinema in Osaka

Folks in the Kansai region who missed seeing the Hafu film during its run in Kobe are in luck. The film is showing at Osaka’s Nanagei Cinema, within walking distance of Juso station, until February 21. The film plays once a day, at 6:45pm until February 14, and at 8:35pm from February 15 to 21.

This blog has discussed the film and related issues regarding hafu (people of mixed Japanese ancestry) many times, and the fine folks at the Hafu Project have graced our classrooms on several occasions. This film is an important step in a movement toward a more inclusive notion of Japanese identity. Come be a part of the conversation, and see the film in Osaka before it closes on February 21.

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Japanese Broadcast Official: We Didn’t Commit War Crimes, the U.S. Just Made That Up

This past week has seen one shocking comment after another from Abe-appointed members of the board of directors of Japan’s national public broadcasting network, NHK. From stating that the network should serve as a public propaganda tool of the Japanese government (in violation of NHK’s charter), to stating that sexual slavery was routine during World War II, to claiming that historical events never occurred, to praising the suicide of a nationalist—a suicide that caused Japan’s emperor to again become a ‘living god’—one has to wonder what is going on at NHK and in the Abe government. Is Abe’s reality distortion field so strong among supporters that it can withstand this public relations nightmare? Perhaps a new sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be Historical Denial. Countries will compete to deny atrocities, and the ‘athlete’ with the most creative denial will take home the gold.

World

In the clearest signal yet of U.S. unhappiness with the rightward tilt of Japan’s political leadership — and by extension, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — the U.S. embassy in Tokyo has strongly condemned charges by a top official at Japan’s national public broadcaster that Americans fabricated war crimes against Japanese leaders during World War II in order to cover up American atrocities.

“These suggestions are preposterous. We hope that people in positions of responsibility in Japan and elsewhere would seek to avoid comments that inflame tensions in the region,” an embassy spokesman told TIME early on Friday.

The charges were made this week by Naoki Hyakuta, a nationalist writer and close friend of Abe, who was recently appointed to the board of governors of the Japan Broadcasting Corp., commonly known as NHK.

In campaign speeches on behalf of a far-right candidate for the governorship of Tokyo, Hyakuta claimed that the…

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Kyoto International Network (KIN)

by Robert Moorehead

Some Ritsumeikan students have formed the Kyoto International Network to help create a greater sense of connection and community among international and Japanese students in the Kyoto area. Despite the fact that Kyoto is home to multiple universities, each of which has international students, it’s common for non-Japanese students to feel isolated in Kyoto. To remedy that situation, students have formed KIN.

Here’s information from their website (networkin.org):

Are you a student who just arrived in Kyoto and want to do great things?

Are you interested about networking and communication but you feel that your Japanese is not good enough to exchange ideas and opinions with other people?

This event is for people like you and me who are looking for opportunities and chance to show who we really are!

Since Kyoto and the Kansai region are becoming more and more international, creating a social platform for international students is key to facilitating communication among local universities. Through the Kyoto International Network (KIN*), we seek to provide information about important events and opportunities (ex. internships and seminars) for students so that they may get the most out of their time here in Japan. Furthermore, since many of the foreigners who arrive in Japan are not necessarily fluent in Japanese, most of the event proposed by KIN will be conducted in English or bilingual in order to allow ease of communication and promote networking among English speakers. This network is made by students for students and we anticipate that many people will share their events with us.

Meeting new people, exchanging ideas, and networking are the key notions we promote! In this spirit, after one month, we have decided that the KIN community will hold its very first event on the November 30th! The primary purpose of our event is to gather every people in Kyoto (and Kansai) who are interested in networking and creating new projects with foreign students in Japan!

Kyoto International Network has a website, Facebook page, and email account. If you’re in the Kyoto area, come join the conversation and help build a group that can serve students across the Kansai area.

Explorations into being Hafu: Megumi Nishikura at TEDxKyoto 2013

by Robert Moorehead

In September, filmmaker Megumi Nishikura gave a powerful, moving, and extremely personal presentation at TEDxKyoto. Her film, Hafu, is showing in theaters around the world, and offers an insightful look into the experiences of five hafu in Japan. The film opens in Kobe on November 23, and I can’t wait to see it.

On The Stress of Remaining “Neutral” – Reflections By Jeff Kosbie

by Robert Moorehead

I too have been accused … maybe accused isn’t the right word … I’ve had students ask that I be more neutral on the issues we discuss in class. The request is almost always meant in a kind way, since I tend to be rather passionate in my teaching. But I worry that it can also carry with it the idea that we’re reducing talk about science to everyone’s opinions. So, I would need to be open to opinions that are not supported by evidence, even when those opinions contradict decades of research that show a completely opposite pattern.

I try to push students to support their claims, to develop logical arguments that are supported by more than anecdotal evidence. Sociologists disagree with each other all the time, but we don’t (or at least shouldn’t) simply dismiss those with whom we disagree.

Should we be neutral in class? I think a better word is to be diplomatic, to create a classroom environment in which students can freely and respectfully share their ideas and test their understandings. We have to model the behavior we expect from our students, especially when we’re challenging their understandings. When faced with a professor who comes across as dismissive or “biased,” students may become more entrenched in defending their views, as if the classroom were a battle of wills. They also might avoid your classes the next time around. But neutrality in the face of illogical arguments and bad science? What’s the point?

Conditionally Accepted

Jeff KosbieJeff Kosbie, a JD/PhD candidate in sociology, regularly offers a sociological analysis of the law on his blog, Queer(ing) Law.  In particular, he has offered insight and critique of laws that perpetuate the unequal status of LGBT people in the US.  A few weeks ago, he offered a guest blog post on advancing a critical, social justice-informed approach to his scholarship.  Jeff also reflects on his work in the classroom, especially onteachinggender and sexuality

Below, Jeff has written an essay on a stressful matter that many scholars on the margins face in teaching on issues of inequality: remaining “neutral.”

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The Stress Of Remaining “Neutral”

In addition to all the typical challenges of teaching, scholars on the margins face the emotional stress of remaining neutral when teaching material that we find personally offensive. Just like with our research, academia unrealistically expects that we are not emotionally…

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‘You Mean Women Deserve Careers?’ Patriarchal Japan Has Breakthrough Moment

Time’s second of two articles on gender inequality in Japan …

World

Correction appended: Oct. 1, 2013, 11:10 p.m. E.T.

On my last visit to Japan something happened that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before: a man served me tea. Granted, the situation was extenuating. I was on a remote military base on a teeny, tiny island in the middle of the East China Sea. The radar facility wasn’t exactly teeming with women.

The marginalization of women in Japan is so pervasive that after a while you don’t even notice it at all. You go to a meeting and the receptionist who greets you with a bright grin and deep bow is a woman. The important person you’re meeting is a man. The person who serves you tea and cookies is a woman. She may boast superior analytical skills and a degree from an elite university — nearly half of Japan’s college graduates are women. But her menial job is dictated…

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What’s Holding Japanese Women Back

Time magazine gives Japan a one-two punch of critiques of the country’s treatment of women. First up, Sylvia Ann Hewlett …

Ideas

Educated women are a key engine powering “Abenomics,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to revive Japan’s somnolent economy.  In speeches this week at the New York Stock Exchange and the United Nations, Abe has spotlighted women as a major source of potential that has not been fully utilized. “If these women rise up,”  he said, “I believe Japan can achieve strong growth.”

The call for a culture change that would allow women to “lean in” is long overdue. To be sure, Japan has long prioritized equal access to education for women – with a result that Japanese girls score higher in science than boys and constitute nearly half (48%) of university graduates. Yet only 67% of college-educated women are currently employed, and many of them either languish in low-paid, part-time jobs or are shunted into dead-end “office-lady” roles serving tea for male managers and dusting their desks at the end…

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