Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mr. James and Foreign Darlings

In light of recent discussions concerning the latest McDonald`s Japan mascot, as well as an upcoming movie about a multicultural marriage, it is time I finally sit down and share my thoughts about racism and equality in Japan. I have avoided writing on this subject matter for a long time due to the attitude taken by many on the web towards anyone who brings up racial equality in Japan. It seems that when the above mentioned subject matter is brought up it is met with a boat load of loathing. It seems that racial equality in Japan is a subject which is delegated to jaded foreigners with a beef against the Japanese. Although simply venting a beef may be true in some cases, I believe that there is something deeper going on.

For the most part, it appears that bias towards non-Japanese is a well ingrained part of Japanese culture. I can see this more clearly than others due to my own unique cultural background. I grew up around a fair amount of racial bias. A vain of racism still runs though the culture in Southern American states. Although, racism is not nearly as overt as it has been in years past; it is something southern people struggle to come to terms with to this day. Yet unlike the Japanese, southern people at least try to overcome our short comings concerning racial understanding.

The latest up roar concerning McDonald`s Japan newest mascot `Mr. James` shows me that, for the large part, Japanese people are more than willing to accept racial stereotypes. I think it makes them feel comfortable as a society. The overt racial bias is a way for them to cope with being a unique homogeneous society. It seems to strike them in their own minds that, `We are all the same and everyone else is so different because we are somehow special and therefore on a higher level.` While the above mentioned thinking may seem to be unique to Japan, it is in fact common among other societies as well.

I refer again to my own experiences growing up in the American South. For the majority of the American South`s history it was homogeneous. The people of the south developed their own unique culture and dialect. They also have experienced geological isolation; in a similar way as the Japanese. It was commonly believed in the south, in much less degree today as compared to the past, that anyone not from the south was somehow too different to understand them. As you can see, cultures which are mostly homogeneous in nature and geologically isolated are more prone to develop strong racial bias. While these factors offer an explanation to the overt racial bias in Japan; it does not offer a solution to the problem.

The American South was so-called `opened up` by means of a social and political movement from all elements of it`s culture. The two main winds of change were the civil rights and New South movements. It took a lot of time and effort, yet today the American South stands as a testament to progress in the area of racial equality. While there are still problems, the south has largely been reformed.

Focusing back on Japan, it is clear that such social and political change has yet to get kick started. It seems as if Japan has never had a true civil rights movement. While there have been movements which led to women being able to live a mostly independent lifestyle, certain social groups gaining the ability to be upwardly mobile, and sexual liberation; Japan still lacks any anti-discrimination laws. It seems that gaijin(outside country person) have been kept in a iron clad box throughout Japan`s long and grand history.

Will Japan ever make a serious effort to become a more rascally equal society? It would take not only a major up raising of minorities but also mass support from Japanese people themselves. A dual effort by both factions of society will be ever bring about serious changes in race attitudes in Japan. Until then, Japan will always have `Mr. James` types characters and films expressing just now `odd` a gaijin husband is.


the mighty war-khan said...

Strange, your normal voice, "Hillbilly Greaser," doesn't exist in this post. This post is cautious and proper, which I suspect means either you have been rewriting it for awhile, or someone else wrote it. Interesting none the less.

I like your take on the the South in comparison to Japan. It's quite interesting and insightful.

I do like the Japanese stereotypes though, especially as a red-blooded womanizing American. I suspect you do too, after all, it is to your advantage knowing the ignorance of others.

Orchid64 said...

The question is never about whether or not racism exists in other cultures besides Japan, as racism is almost certainly something human's have evolved to have as a survival mechanism. Being afraid of or closely scrutinizing those who are different from yourself allows you to judge whether or not the person you are meeting is part of your tribe and likely to be safe or a member of a different tribe who may harm you.

The question is always about what the society does to deal with racism. Do they act to undermine it, endorse it, or stop it? Do they adopt punitive strategies for overt racism? Do they legislate in a manner which makes it impossible to act in an overtly racist manner? Do they empower their minorities?

When this question comes up, it is absolutely irrelevant that racism exists elsewhere. All that matters is the law of the country and how it attempts to bring equality to the situation and to stop discrimination. The real question should be, has Japan done its level best to discourage racist behavior? But a more appropriate one is, has Japan done ANYTHING to discourage overtly racist behavior? The answer is certainly a resounding "no". If anything, they blithely ignore concerns that they continue to encourage it.

TheGhost said...

@the mighty war-khan
My writing voice is a little different in this post. I felt it was needed to clearly express this type of subject matter.

The Japanese will overcome racist overtones in their society when the majority of minorities refuse to accept it. That may start to force their hand and encourage Japanese who want racial equality to speak up.

Orchid64 said...

Part of the problem is that only 2% of the population is foreign and, what is worse, a chunk of them (mostly the Caucasian male portion) are apologists who actively support racist policies for various reasons (chief among them the notion that only the "riff-raff" is affected).

So, it'll be a long slog for equality - certainly not in my lifetime.

TheGhost said...

Yes, it will be a long time until the Japanese and gaijin make any head way toward racial equality.

Anonymous said...

Ok I agree with Khan that your voice is certainly different and I agree with Orchid that there are ALOT of apologists here who support and or ignore Japanese racist behavior and tendencies.Whenever I make a posts having to do with race (and I too try my best to word them carefully Ghost-san, so I appreciate your efforts in this regard)invariably someone makes a comment suggesting that Japanese don't know any better or I've done something to provoke them or the worst it's only natural.
Anyway, Ghost-san, while i do agree that the south, as the US has as a whole, taken great strides to change its attitudes towards racial equality, I must disagree with you on a couple of things and please correct me if I'm wrong. When in American history has the South ever been homogeneous??? My mother is from Savannah Georgia And my father from North Florida, and these areas were definitely NOT homogeneous. I mean, I agree if you mean that since black people were not considered entirely human they could not be considered in any "Homo" considerations, but if you're not thinking along those lines then you have excluded an entire race in your thinking...Of course there were areas in the south where slavery or Post-slavery co-habitation with blacks did not occur for the whites in these areas were too poor to own slaves or perhaps for religious reasons found slavery to be exactly what it was: an abomination. I mean, I can't really speak to how prominent slavery was in the mountains of West Virginia but, otherwise...the south was replete with blacks. I mean, during slavery there were times when the slave population almost equaled or eclipsed the white population. maybe you're referring to the post black migration to the North period, but even then I believe a significant number of blacks remained in the Jim Crow south and endured the backlash of emancipation and reconstruction.

But, man, Ghost, i really admire you taking on such a complex topic...kudos!
Keep up the good work!

TheGhost said...

Hello Loco-san!

It has been a while since you have left a comment on my blog. Thank you kindly sir.

The American south, for a long time, was very much homogeneous in respect to social and cultural aspects. Sadly, for a long time blacks were not included in southern society and culture. Even more sad, is the fact that blacks were viewed as a machine rather than human in the Southern region of the United States for a long time. I was never raised to develop a bias against someone based only on the color of their skin. So, I have always viewed such a bias to be rather foolish.

There are a lot more foreigners in Japan than in years past, yet there still seems to be a tendency to exclude the foreign born from many aspects of society.

And I do feel the Japanese DO in fact know better. Like I said, it seems to make them feel comfortable to hold onto to a certain amount of bias and stereotypes.

LB said...

Just two points I would make about your closing paragraph:

"Japan will always have `Mr. James` types characters"

Yes, and so will pretty much anywhere else - people love to laugh at geeks. I do not, and will not, buy into the "Mr. James is a racist stereotype showing how Japanese really regard foreigners as illiterate weirdos", and I'll tell you why. You show me "Mr. James", and I'll show you Tony Laszlo, Sean Camus, Robert Baldwin, Dave Specter (well, OK, he is weird...), Ramos Rui, Patrick Harlan, Lisa Stegmeyer... we could go on and on. Your average Japanese has become well accustomed to the idea that white foreigners can learn the language and adapt quite well to Japan. There is no shortage of well spoken foreigners appearing daily on TVs in people's living rooms. To take this one annoying character and say "this is how Japanese really view us!" makes as much sense as watching Sergeant Shulz and saying "this is how Americans really view Germans!"

"..and films expressing just now `odd` a gaijin husband is."

Afraid you missed the whole point of "Darling is a foreigner". Oguri's point behind the manga was that while her foreign partner has his quirks, so does everyone else, foreigner or not, including herself. Oguri has done a lot with her books to "tear down the wall" and show how we are all human, while also shedding light on some of the discrimination that admittedly does still exist.

TheGhost said...

Sergeant Shulz is how American`s view Nazi.

Yes, there are some non-Japanese who been able to gain fame for themselves in Japan. Yet, there are still plenty of Japanese who have a less-than-nice opinion of non-Japanese. They see examples of non-Japanese speaking the language and adjusting to the culture. Yet, do they accept it?

Anyway, I do not wish to go into this issue very deeply with a person like yourself. Thank you for commenting on my blog.

LB said...

"Anyway, I do not wish to go into this issue very deeply with a person like yourself."

Ah. I see. Fair enough, I will leave you to your echo chamber.

TheGhost said...

LB is one of the many reasons I just love the internet. So many wonderful trolls here in internet land. Because of the internet my life is filled with highly delightful distractions.

billywest said...

I know several well-traveled Japanese people who've embraced the world outside Japan in their hearts and find the hive mentality here to be repulsive. Most do well enough to play the part they're expected to play in normal society, but a few just can't hack it. A person very close to me falls into the latter category.

As long as there is a persistent fear of being labeled different or eccentric in mainstream Japanese society, most people here will always cluster together and keep what's perceived to be too different or just un-Japanese at arms length.

TheGhost said...

Mr. West you make a good point. A lot of Japanese just do not have enough back bone to go against the grain.

As always the rest of the world may have to force the Japanese to `get with the times.`