I’ll admit it. I read the damn BBC for my news. It is the best out of a lot of bad options, and as long as the Anglocentrism can be factored into the equation when reading, it does a half decent job, at least some of the time. I am done with the partisan ‘Fox or CNN’ tug of war for the hearts, minds and votes of the American people. I can’t be doing with the New York Times, who seem to have lost their editorial way and be languishing on the shores of Wokedom without the intellectual integrity that should attend it, pushed and pulled by waves of casual anti-semitism, a devotion to the Democratic Party over the Truth, and a large helping of shaming anyone who does not agree with their religioso-dogmatic mantra over various hot button issues. Hunter’s fucking laptop was real, even though no one with half a brain and an ounce of kindness in their soul wanted Trump to win the last election. “In war and policy the first casualty is the truth”, or so said Hiram Johnson, and Samuel Johnson (no relation I presume) before him. Politics nowadays is war: it is not about what is best for the country, it is picking a side, picking a team, red or blue, and going at it harder than any gang beef on the mean streets of whatever City you fear most. Politics, my friends, is bad business. It is brutal, it is mean-spirited, and it involves much compromise, and that is just for the voters. Anyone who gets into politics, I fear must be a sociopath, or a severe masochist, that should be kept out of power and policy-making decisions at all costs.
So when an article came up in my recommendations with the pithy headline asserting that ‘Japan was the future, but it’s stuck in the past’, of course I read it, with the usual reservations firmly in the forefront of my mind. This article was written by someone who knew Japan, seems to be saying that they have a Japanese partner and half Japanese children, so the subject is not being delved into by a Japanophile who only knows a wholly fictional Japan that is found in manga, anime and the works of Studio Ghibli. I have to say, I am disappointed to report that the article was an orgy of colonialist thinking, with a large helping of the partly benign kind of racism that exalts certain parts of a culture whilst infantilizing the object of their enquiry. It was the kind of journalism that looks at the ‘foreign’ subject matter through an Anglo-glass darkly.
Japan was never ‘the future’, nor had anyone the right to expect it to be. It is strange to me how some western thinkers and writers mistake a culture that has been closed off and allowed to develop mostly cut off from the rest of the world until July 8, 1853, when American Commodore Matthew Perry led a group of four ships into Tokyo Bay, and forced the Japanese into trading with the USA after 200 years of isolationism. Japan had never been open to foreign interaction and trade. The Europeans came into Japan, tried to force Christianity onto the Japanese unsuccessfully, traded dishonestly and even stole Japanese citizens to sell as slaves. During the Tokugawa shogunate Catholic missionaries were crucified and in 1614 Christianity was outlawed in Japan. Japan has always held onto its own native ideals, culture and religions with total dedication.
Slavery was explicitly banned in Japan in 1590, by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Japan was historically did not import slaves unlike much of the rest of the world, so when the Portuguese who were allowed into Japan to trade with the country in the 1500s started stealing and enslaving large numbers of Japanese people, including Japanese women for the sex trade, the Japanese were horrified. This led to the ban on Christianity, and the isolationism of Japan. They shut the door to save their own people, and defended this closed door policy with their lives. It was an extraordinarily ballsy move. Some Japanese women were even trafficked to San Francisco as sex slaves. They did not go voluntarily, but these facts are blurred by racism against Japan caused by the events of world war two. It is the total humiliation, degradation and humiliation of a defeated enemy by the Anglo-axis society that (thankfully) won the war, but who needs to stop beating on Japan now, 80 years after the fact and faced with a Japan that redeemed itself.
Japan were never the future: they were a society that developed not as part of the outside world, but rather in parallel to it, and were only very reluctantly forced into interaction with the rest of a world they treated as hostile. Japan has its own unique culture as a result, which is now struggling to breathe in the air of total openness post world war two. This is not a history lesson, but how can Japan be understood if not within the context of its past. America refused to treat the Japanese as equals. Japan tried to trade with America, since Japan has no natural resources to speak of, but were rejected and treated as lessers because of their race. Germany swept into the picture and took advantage of a naïve and desperate Japan. It is worth noting that Tojo saved 20,000 Jewish refugees: the god-wars, the ‘kami’ issues of the outside world were not part of Japan’s war. Japan’s war was a fight for land and resources. Unfortunately the wrong side picked them.
The problem is when journalists and historians equate ‘advanced’ with ‘futuristic’. Japan was a highly developed society, that grew up apart from the rest of the world. It was never looking to the ‘future’, but simply forging a continuation of its previous identity, but with the benefit of invention, science and materials. Why should Japan be like the rest of the world? Being more British, or more American is not the same as being ‘advanced’, and this false paradigm being pushed by the BBC is nothing more than colonialism with a bit of lipstick on.
Japan is a safe country. The crime rate is incredibly low, it has a highly developed public transport system, which includes the most punctual and safe train network in the world. Education is to the forefront of parenting, and the school system is brutally harsh, but competent and rigorous. Medicine is partly free, in something like the Canadian system, and not out of reach of the average citizen. Japanese society is monocultural thanks to its isolationism, and the few people from other countries that end up there either leave, or marry and somewhat try to assimilate into the culture. It is a highly complex and beauty society, that was economically successful in the bubble economy years, and has been trying to find its way ever since. The bubble burst, but Japan did not go under, just merely corrected. Property in Japan is worth very little, and outside of Tokyo living costs are reasonable, and even in Tokyo when I was there, an average life for a Japanese family was very good indeed. The BBC journo seemed surprised that Tokyo was not the same as Kowloon. I never ceased to be shocked as how racist some people are towards Asian countries: the infantilize, demonize, and fail to see the differences between Asian peoples and countries and cultures. It makes my cheeks burn with sympathetic embarrassment.
Japan’s efficient manufacturing processes and dedication to the shokunin way of being an excellent craftsman led to Japan being a center for manufacturing excellence. Not surprisingly to me, Japanese companies are nothing like western companies to work for. Japan works on ancient rules: sempai and kohai, a way of dividing society into those who are young and know little, and those who are older and more experienced. Everything gets passed upwards, those who are more experienced run the companies, politics and local government, not delegating much at all. The result is what can seem like a bloated bureaucracy in reality, but one nevertheless that suits Japan just fine. There is no point complaining that Japan does things in a Japanese way. There is no point bitching about Japanese culture that is not built on class like the Brits, nor on financial value like the USA, but instead a gerontocracy built on seniority by age and experience. The main thrust of the BBC article was that Japan needs to not be Japan. I suppose they should start worshipping people who went to fucking Eton and have rounded vowels instead then? More western does not mean better. Japan with its low crime rate, social cohesion and the world’s third biggest economy is seeking to preserve Japanese culture and its quiet life that suits its citizens.
The article descended into a criticism of the cost of Japan’s ornate and beautiful manhole covers, that make an ugly civic necessity into an object of civic pride, declaring it in their nauseatingly provincial way as being wasteful. It is odd how some people can travel with their bodies, but their minds remain resolutely anchored in the culture and tiny orbit of their starting-points. It continued into a complaint that the journo had to go sit through a traffic safety lecture because they had got ‘points on their license’ driving presumably badly, or at least recklessly in Japan and having been caught for doing so. Complaining that Japan insists that transgressors listen to a lecture, and it was not in English is churlish to say the least. The world should not revolve around gaijin in Japan, yet still some people are horrified when it does not.
I wonder why Japan is ‘fearful of the outside world’? Could it be the history of slavery, Christian proselytizing, then two fucking nuclear bombs dropped on civilians and children? Perhaps? Just maybe….A closed-off country does not mean one which is not advanced in its civilization. Japanese culture is rightly wary of the world outside their island, and do not want to be homogenized into the western whole. Let’s face it, we are hardly doing better, and besides, even if we were, we have no right to impose our world upon other cultures, and deeming them ‘inferior’. It is racist, it is colonialist and it is sickeningly wrong.
Japan is doing just fine. Japanese food culture shows the signs of attack from the outside world. Everything is supersized, fried and sugary. I can’t even find non-honied umeboshi any longer. The world finally sold something to Japan which Japanese culture picked up – unhealthy junk food. It breaks my heart. Twenty something years ago when I first went to Japan to work food culture was healthy and mainly Japanese. I remember the first Starbucks opening in Shinjuku, and how I struggled to find a cake or western food when I was first there. When I left eight years ago there were signs of the decay – vast pizzas, multi-pattied burgers and the like. Now, reading the Japanese news it looks as if western culture is trying to kill Japanese people with transfat, obesity and diabetes. Japan does not need to merge with western culture, they need to find their own way, and stay true to their past.
Japan is not weird – it is merely itself, and that is not like the rest of the world. The closed door immigration policy suits Japan, and short of refugees, why should Japan loosen the reins if it does not want to? Complaining about the patriarchy in Japan would not be so laughable if the British journo was not making out like the UK and the USA are not also strongly patriarchal. It is more dehumanizing, more treating Asian counties as places to be invaded, seeded with British/American/Western values, culture and food, and then chastised strongly when they fail to comply. Arguing that Japanese society should be more open is taking away Japanese autonomy. Why should they open up and allow western culture to proliferate? Why is this seen as desirable? Back to the colonialism, the racism and the sense of entitlement which wafts off every sentence in the BBC bitch-piece about Japan.
As the mother of a ‘halfu’ child, I see the usual defensiveness from foreign parents in Japan. They want their children to be wholly accepted. Of course I did too: there is pressure for halfu children to be cool, to be ‘genki’ (pleasant tempered and friendly), and not to fit into the ‘all-pull-together’ collective of Japanese culture. I never expected anything different. It is not easy, but society will get more used to mixed race people over time. I hardly see British and American culture as being any less racist, in fact the opposite.
I had a very tough time in Japan. I went to a country that was not my own, and I was innocent about the lack of support I would receive if I was mistreated, as I was. I didn’t realize divorce would be impossible without my husband’s agreement, and that the police would not care I was being hurt. A Japanese woman would have had her family to intervene. I had nobody. That was wholly my fault – I should not have expected western style legal treatment from Japan.
Every country has a rigid hierarchy, just not based on age. Every country struggles with racism, yet Japan is held up to different standards because….world war 2. The Japanese always elect the LDP, but has a strong and healthy democracy. All this complaining about Japan being Japanese seems so twee and small minded, and yes, colonial. Life in Japan is a quiet and very different one to life in the west. It is one based on harmony, Buddhist principles and Shinto spirituality, and a dedication to Japanese culture. It is not an easy place for a gaijin to live because it is so different, yet it has a charm all of its own.
Japan will not change. It will continue to appease the outside world while it goes on its merry way, selling things which are universally appealing to the rest of the world. It will struggle, like the entire world is struggling after covid, and it will always be subject to hierarchy based on seniority. There are worse ways of doing things. I just hope that Japan shrugs off the rest of the world, as usual, and remains true to its unique and protected culture. Nothing has to change – it is just that the BBC does not seem to be able to understand that not everywhere wants to be British. You would think that the British status quo would have given up on believing that everywhere should be a little England, but no, clearly not. The article says more about the casual racism and belief that British-is-best of the BBC, than it does about Japan, or its place in the bigger-picture future.
In a world lurching towards war, I can see Japan being given back its ability to have a military and use weapons in a war. If Taiwan explodes, then a toothless Japan, forced by an old WW2 treaty to not have a military, is not going to be feasible. Every country commits atrocities in War. Dresden, anybody? Vietnam? But the losers are always held to higher standards, especially if they are not blonde and German. I have had enough of this anti-Japanese racism. Considering I was almost beaten to death in Japan by my Japanese husband I have every excuse to be unreasonable. Considering the police never cared at all, despite injuries and neighbors calling them alarm, I could possibly be forgiven for blaming the country, not my husband. Yet I will always have a immense affection for the country I do not belong to, yet love very much indeed. What is special about Japan is what makes it unique, and to paper over that uniqueness is to destroy the treasure that Japan has to offer. The audacity of a gaijin wading in and demanding change to make them more comfortable and the country to be less Japanese is outrageous, but what is more outrageous is that the BBC published and promoted such insensitive, entitled drivel.