Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sweet Japan Pics #4: Cheerful Racial Oopsie

One of the best parts about living in Japan is that the idea of "race" works differently here than it does in other places. Rather than fracturing into a huge number of subcultures linked to national identity (Korean-American, Chinese-Canadian, etc, etc), the number of foreigners is so small that they can't help but be basically lumped into a single group.

It's funny. I've searched for years for a more enjoyable identifying/insulting word that I can use with my real tight homies... and I finally found one in a different language. While "Cracker" is a pretty decent insult for whities, "Gaijin" (foreigner or "alien") is far superior. Coming from a country where I was in the basic minority, I finally have a rude-ish word that I can use knowingly with other people who are in the same situation. It's great. Still, I can definitly admit that my enjoyment of this "minority" status is pretty close to the computer techs listening to "damn it feels good to be a gangster" in Office Space.

/The polite version, by the way, is "Gaikokujin", which means "person from another country".

In any case, on the note of race.... I hae to say that racism is alive and kicking here in Japan. Despite the fact that most of the population is exceedingly nice, very friendly and super eager to help, a few assholes can certainly make you feel unwelcome every now and again.

Beyond the usual "moving away from you on the train" shenanigans, which I like to call "the Gaijin Bubble", I remember one incident in particular. I was in a mostly empty bar with a few friends, and we were asked by the staff to leave because the restaurant was "full". Interesting. While I was tempted to stay, and help solve the problem by joining one of the three tables that had people at them (and by extension, having at least a 33% chance of picking the table that complained about the foreigners), my friends convinced me that taking our unwanted yen elsewhere was a better solution.

So, anyway... a few bad seeds can certainly fuck things up.

And then, there is the other side of the coin. The fascination side of things, where people come up to you and just start speaking / dancing, etc, because you look "different". This, as I have said, is exceedingly fun at dance bars, where you can have a profound influence on the dance moves of the cheerful nihonjin kids who are so eager for new ways to get down.

And... of course, we have the random references to race that are meant to be positive, but end up being just clueless. Like this one:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Ah, sweet Japan. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

9 comments:

ed said...

It's funny. I've searched for years for a more enjoyable identifying/insulting word that I can use with my real tight homies... and I finally found one in a different language. While "Cracker" is a pretty decent insult for whities, "Gaijin"

Wanna be one of the really cool kids? Spell it 'gaigin'.
(Usenet joke)

Beyond the usual "moving away from you on the train shenanigans..."

Sigh, if only that were true instead of some urban legend passed down thru the ages by tourists. Oh how comfortable i would be spread out in three seats every day.

I was in a mostly empty bar with a few friends, and we were asked by the staff to leave because the restaurant was "full". Interesting.

Heh. You know, this post would be a lot more powerfully anti-bigot if you hadnt posted this picture soon after.

Merry Man In Japan said...

I dunno... maybe the amount of space one gets on the train is proportional to body mass, because I always seem to have a few extra inches when people are actually in physical contact with each other. Of course, I usually bike to work, so my sample size is relatively small.

Truthfully, a few incidents jump out in my mind with regards to train-distancing.

The first one is the standard stereotype that you hear about but never expect to have happen to you. I sat down on a mostly empty train (eg, about 60% of the seats were full), near a salary man. I was the person closest to him, with one space between us. Right after I sat down, he glared at me, sniffed, glared some more, then got up and walked down to the far end of the car and wedged himself into a much smaller space.

It was mid afternoon, I didn't reek of tequila, and I was listening to my cell phone headphones (quietly). Smells funny to me.


I also had a person coincidentally change ENDS OF THE CAR when I boarded a late night train. There were only about six people on the carriage. I sat down diagonally across from someone near the end of the car. About ten seconds after, the fellow gave me a dirty look, then moved to the far end.

Then again, I have also seen commuters on the Yamanote line ignore two empty seats during rush hour because they were immediately to the left of a large (homeless?) man in a dirty coat, a touque and big boots with a few paper bags around him.

So maybe they just avoid people that look diffent. That's ok, right?

...


Ok ok...

Overall, I really think that the racism is a function of a very small number of dickheads - just as it is anywhere else in the world. From the beach riots in Australia to the "morans" with "down with ah-lah" signs down in the southern US, and from the racial profiling by French recruiters to the "Japanese Only" folk up in that Hokkaido onsen, racism is sadly alive everywhere in the world. I feel that here in Japan, like in those other places, the problem stems from the poor attitudes of a few and the lack of responsible reaction by their peers.

In the case of Japan, I suspect (or hope, anyway) that the wide majority are basically willing and open to learn about other cultures. The problem here is that they don't want to admit that SOME people are causing a problem.

Then again, I keep hearing vague rumblings of serious institutional mistreatment of people based on race. University tenure and the reported treatment of Japanese nationals with non-Japanese ancestry pop into my mind, but I'd only be speculating based on hearsay if I tried to comment.

I can only speak from my experience, after all, and my experience is that the vast majority of people are polite, interested and very cheerful. A few dickheads have tried to ruin the whole thing, but they've fortunately been a rare occurance in my Japanese life.

If you want an interesting read... you should check out this massivly racist comic. I'm probably going to post it to the front page some time soon, but call this a sneak peek for your astute commentary - you're at least keeping me honest.


http://www.debito.org/abunaijinkenyougohouan.html

You have probably seen this already, but it's pretty interesting if you haven't.

...

And as for the can-humping...

1)We all incidentally fulfill those caracatures every now and again. I have certainly been the utterly trashed guy on the train a few times in the past ten months. But that doesn't mean I'm ALWAYS drunk on the train.

2) And SERIOUSLY. it wasn't me. I would have used a 500ml can.

Merry Man In Japan said...

Shit. I talk too much.

/type.

ed said...

Sigh. Referencing aldwinkle? Stop now.

That guy is a loon. He goes looking for 'racism' and of course, once you go madcap space-cadet looking for it, you find it.
A bathhouse would rather not serve drunken russian sailors and puts up a 'japanese only' sign. Aldwinkle goes apeshit and becomes a minor celebrity.

Download newsreader software, subscribe to fj.life.in-japan. Post your- "Then again, I keep hearing vague rumblings of serious institutional mistreatment of people based on race. University tenure ... pop into my mind..."

Then sit back and watch longterm expats trash that asshole. Trust me on this, do not base your opinions of Japanese on anything you read at debito.org. That guy is a nut.


If you are interested, you might want to research some of the 'criticism' stuff here-
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arudou_Debito
Sadly, everyone he has ever worked with Aldwinkle in the past, well... thinks he's an ass.

I always seem to have a few extra inches when people are actually in physical contact with each other.

When you sit on the train are you thinking of 'wa'?


2) And SERIOUSLY. it wasn't me. I would have used a 500ml can.

Pussy. Go for the big plastic gallon Suntory whiskey jugs.

ed said...

The first one is the standard stereotype that you hear about but never expect to have happen to you. I sat down on a mostly empty train (eg, about 60% of the seats were full), near a salary man. I was the person closest to him, with one space between us. Right after I sat down, he glared at me, sniffed, glared some more, then got up and walked down to the far end of the car and wedged himself into a much smaller space.


The salarymans life- off to a drudge job, late nights forced drinking, home to a tiny house and a wife who really would rather he didn't come home, his freeter son doesn't know him, his teenage daughter is off having sex with a random english teacher, he looks forward to a lonely retirement as a construction-sight flagman.

Your life- young and carefree, all sorts of potential, fucking his daughter.

ed said...

I also had a person coincidentally change ENDS OF THE CAR when I boarded a late night train. There were only about six people on the carriage. I sat down diagonally across from someone near the end of the car. About ten seconds after, the fellow gave me a dirty look, then moved to the far end.

Cool, anecdotes. I once boarded the last Chou line train late on a Sunday night. Goddam it was crowded. The train lurched and heads smacked like coconuts.

Merry Man In Japan said...

The salarymans life- off to a drudge job, late nights forced drinking, home to a tiny house and a wife who really would rather he didn't come home, his freeter son doesn't know him, his teenage daughter is off having sex with a random english teacher, he looks forward to a lonely retirement as a construction-sight flagman.

Your life- young and carefree, all sorts of potential, fucking his daughter.


While I'm not arguing anything beyond the personal attitudes of this one fellow, ask yourself this: If all things were equal, and a young and carefree Japanese dude who was potentially fucking his daughter sat down, would he have moved?

Regardless of whether his daughter (or his wife) has been bringing home a steady diet of pasty lovers, the point is that he made his snap judgement purely on external appearance. Maybe life is shitty for him right now, but it's not my fault and I hate taking the blame for it purely based on the way I look.

Obligatory simpons -

Bart: Why is Stampy head butting the other elephants?
Zookeeper: Well Bart... animals are like people. Some of them are just jerks. ... Stop that (headbutting) Mr. Simpson!


I fully recognize that this ass is the exception in Japan, rather than the rule, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.



Aldwinkle:
Aldwinkle (or "Aruto?") seemed a bit sketchy, which is why I went with "Vague Rumblings" and not "God's honest truth. I read a few glowing reviews of his book, if by "glowing", you mean "they raked him over hot coals". He seems to really really belive that he's going to be the gaijin Malcom X or something. Despite the fact that the comic was interesting to say the least, I think I'm going to try out your usenet trick and see how quickly the talons come out when I ask about this guy.



do not base your opinions of Japanese on anything you read at debito.org.

I wouldn't and don't. I have and will base my opinions of Japanese folk, or anyone else, on my own experiences. Those experiences have been overwhelmingly positive since I arrived here. People are interested, curious, nice and exceedingly polite. There are certainly a few jerks running around (eg, the bitter salaryman whose daughter my cohorts and I supposedly take turns with), but I'm not going to let them ruin my day.

After all, I didn't title this blog "BitterRaciallyOversensitiveBitchInJapan", now did I?

Honestly, though...I've been reflecting a bit on my attitude towards race recently after hearing my co-worker complain about it... and maybe I should be careful of misinterpreting simple asshattery as being racially based. Still, I definitely feel like I am treated differently here. Most of the time this is very, very positive, but a few times (as above), I've felt that it hasn't worked out in my favour. Let's say I'm still reflecting. : )


When you sit on the train are you thinking of 'wa'?


Yes, actually. I don't sit on the train without at least three empty seats. If anyone sits beside me, I lean forward so I don't I squish them. (I'm a broad shouldered guy, even by Western standards.

ed said...

Regardless of whether his daughter (or his wife) has been bringing home a steady diet of pasty lovers, the point is that he made his snap judgement purely on external appearance. Maybe life is shitty for him right now, but it's not my fault and I hate taking the blame for it purely based on the way I look.

I know, and even if it isn't just a onetime anecdote, is that japanese racism? Foreigner visits for unattached sex, I hate him.

Is that racism or something else? Sexism, perhaps?


Honestly, though...I've been reflecting a bit on my attitude towards race recently after hearing my co-worker complain about it... and maybe I should be careful of misinterpreting simple asshattery as being racially based. Still, I definitely feel like I am treated differently here. Most of the time this is very, very positive, but a few times (as above), I've felt that it hasn't worked out in my favour. Let's say I'm still reflecting. : )


I started reading your blog because i enjoy your sarcasm and outlook on things weird, I started arguing with you because you go a bit overboard.
This culture is totally different from yours, you can't use your 'politically correct rules' to compare.
See this picture in this post, the one you introduced as "And... of course, we have the random references to race that are meant to be positive, but end up being just clueless. Like this one: Black Music and Bourbon"?

You somehow think that is offensive. It isn't.
Black Music and Bourbon.
Here's a test. Climb the stairs and go to that club. Belly up to the tiny bar, order a beer and a shot, tell the proprietor that you are a James Brown fan. While you are enjoying your shot/beer and James Brown, ask him about James Brown's involvement in the Civil Right movement in the late '60s. I'm willing to bet he will know more about it than you.


Japan is a weird homogeneous culture, they stick together. You will never be an insider. Plus or minus for the society, open for argument, but is it 'moving away from you on a train' racism?

Anonymous said...

When you sit on the train are you thinking of 'wa'?

Yes, actually. I don't sit on the train without at least three empty seats. If anyone sits beside me, I lean forward so I don't I squish them. (I'm a broad shouldered guy, even by Western standards.

Pervert.
You just want to sit so you can look at crotch.