Friday, April 24, 2009

Wrong Kind of Conservative

Japan is a country that, for the average non-Japanese-speaking tourist, is fairly easy to navigate. The majority of high school graduates can at least read simple English, say, "Go straight," and in major tourist areas they're accustomed to having bewildered foreigners approach to ask for directions. The subway recordings are in Japanese and English. Restaurants will often have an English menu or plastic food displays in front of the store (pointing and saying please always works). The roman alphabet nears overuse. After my time here I can't imagine being a foreign tourist in the U.S. without speaking English or at least Spanish. There is little patience for accents and less for obvious tourists.

Despite my run-ins with language barriers and culture shock, I feel valued here. Strangers stop to talk to me. The owner of a local cafĂ© gives my foreign friends and me special treatment when we show up, giving us free fruit, crackers, or small discounts on our bills. Insulting to those who can read Japanese or no, it's still incredibly considerate of someone to go find the English menu for obvious foreigners. I have been invited to events to which I would never have gone—cultural fests, language exchange sessions, local music performances—simply because I'm foreign. Sure, sure, there's rudeness and frustration and waitresses who fight over who has to deal with the English-speaking person. But what job could I have found in the states to just come in and be? I was hired because I speak my native language and have the tenacity to survive severe culture shock (and seasonal depression). That's considered skilled labor here. Awesome? Yes, it is.

Of course, Japan isn't all smiles and open arms. The New York Times recently ran an article about how Japan is basically deporting foreign unskilled labor. Most of these workers are Brazilian or Peruvian citizens of Japanese descent and were part of a Japanese recruitment program. Now they're being asked to leave, offered a few thousand dollars to take their families, and forbidden from ever seeking work in Japan again (this also applies to their children).  Check it out:

This development makes me appreciate my native country more and more. There is no such thing as "America for Americans," unless everyone without Native American heritage were to pack up and skeedaddle. Most Oklahomans by now would probably be okay. Thanks, horrible Trail of Tears. My own father was able to become an American citizen with a sound knowledge of American government and history. The vast, vast majority of American citizens are of foreign descent. Of course, there are plenty of instances in which the U.S. has acted in a xenophobic manner (or what's the word for being afraid of natives? That, too). A giant wall, for example, or Elian Gonzales. I've known a few Asian-Americans who have been complimented on their English (really, America? You think there are only two races?), and there are some people who have to be told that "Mexican" is not a racial slur.

Compared to Japan, though, America looks like the bosom of Abraham.* It is nigh impossible for Koreans to become Japanese citizens. There are people whose great-great-great-great grandparents emigrated, who are issued a Korean passports. Though they and their parents and grandparents all speak Japanese and were raised within the Japanese system, these people are not considered Japanese citizens and are given no opportunity to become such. Teachers have told me that as recent as 10 years ago, students of Korean descent would change their names to common Japanese names for fear of bullying.

I respect that for the sake of their own economies countries cannot permit entry, employment and citizenship willy-nilly. I don't respect governments that allow organizations to blast anti-foreigner propaganda over vehicle loudspeakers, or drive through the streets screaming about the cultural Armageddon to which the country is doomed if they don't close their borders. I also lose respect for the people who simply ignore that kind of hatred, or shrug their shoulders and say, "Oh, no one pays attention to that, anyway." No one? Japan's recent actions prove otherwise. 

Final note, because I have to hop in the shower, pack a lunch and catch a train: One of the men interviewed in the article states that he feels Japan should never become a multi-ethnic country. I'm multi-ethnic all by myself, and your government brought me here! I teach your kids English! I'm a RESIDENT, SUCKER!  I WIN! Grassroots internationalization strikes again!

*After a Google search I realize that this isn't the most applicable use of "bosom of Abraham," but it still sounds good. It's maybe a B- usage.


  1. That's terrible! Basically they're saying, "We got what we needed from you, so leave now and never come back." And hooray for "bosom of Abraham" references! I recently ran across that term with a list of similar expressions. If only I knew where that was...

  2. It's interesting how much colour can play a role in 'welcomed gaijin -- ret's enjoying japanezu culture preez"


    "akptbh! you're from brazil and you want to do jobs japanese people won't AND you want to have children to add to our pitiful population? FOR SHAME! OFF YOU GO! SHOO shoooOOOOOO! Samba back to from whence you CAME!"