I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Baye McNeil, the man behind the über-popular Japanese website Loco in Yokohama. At least, I think he was sitting down, since we were talking via Skype. Anyway, I was. I’ve got this new couch, and boy is it comfy.
Ken Seeroi: Thanks for joining me. Should I call you Loco, or Mister Yokohama?
Loco in Yokohama: Ha, either is fine!
KS: Great, let’s just go with Mr. Loco. So I understand that you’ve written a new book?
Loco: Yes, Loco in Yokohama. it’s my second book, packed full of humorous and provocative stories of Japan. I want to challenge people’s ideas of what it’s like in Japan.
KS: So what’s it like in Japan?
(At this point I’m thinking he’ll just tell me and then I don’t have to buy the book.)
Loco: Well of course, lots of highs and lows.
KS: Okay, give me your top five things.
Loco: Let’s see . . .
Loco in Yohohama’s Top Five Things about Japan
1. The ramen’s really good
2. The onsen. Being able to go to hot springs at any time is great
3. The girls–at least looking at them, since I’ve got an incredible girlfriend
4. The customer service
5. The safety
KS: Yeah, I’m really into the whole not-getting-shot thing we’ve got going on here. Okay, so how about the lows?
Loco: I thought we weren’t going to talk about them?
KS: I lied. I do that sometimes.
Loco: Well, the public. You know, the stress.
KS: Like how?
Loco: Like when I walk down the street, people jump off the curb to get out of my way. There’s constant objectification and criminalization. At the ramen shop, the cafés, on the trains, wherever, the seat or space near me is always the last to be taken. Half the people who do dare come near you have some agenda.
KS: Yeah, I get that, but probably not as bad, since I’m, as they say, white. Now in your first book, Hi! my Name is Loco and I am a Racist, you talked about your experiences as a black man in Japan.
Loco: Yes, I wrote my first book for the foreigners here. It dealt a lot with race issues, both in the U.S. and Japan.
KS: So what’s that like in Japan?
Being Black in Japan
Loco: It’s like nothing I’ve never experienced before. The daily onslaught of microagressions. I grew up in New York–you know, and it’s as close to a melting pot as America gets–so my upbringing couldn’t prepare me for the daily barrage of fear and aggression. It’s mind-boggling. People here are just unintentionally offensive at all turns and oblivious of this in most cases.
KS: I feel that, but I don’t think they’re that oblivious.
Loco: I’d like to think they are. It makes Japan a livable place. Convincing myself that they are oblivious allows me to forgive them, the way you’re able to forgive children when they act up. I know it’s condescending and I hate condescension, but it’s the most effective coping mechanism I’ve come up with to get through the day here without taking offense. But, from speaking to people here, I know it also has a lot to do with their image of what it means to be “black.”
KS: What’s that image?
Loco: Aggressive, strong, prone to violence . . . all the negative stereotypes. Some not so negative ones too, but the general reaction is fear. But here, you just gotta roll with it.
KS: Now you’ve been in Japan for a long time, right?
Loco: Since 2004. I was living in New York when 9-11 happened, and the whole city was sort of in post-traumatic shock, so I decided to visit a friend in Japan. And of course I loved it, so I moved here and worked at an eikaiwa for 3 years. Then in 2008 I moved to Yokohama. Been here ever since.
Studying Japanese and Living in Japan Long-Term
KS: Do you currently study Japanese?
Loco: I gave up on it. There were no benefits and no incentives.
KS: I can understand that. So do you plan to stay here long-term?
Loco: I’ll probably go back, but not to New York.
KS: What about your girlfriend?
Loco: She’ll go with me. She’s a keeper.
KS: Why not stay in Japan forever?
Loco: Because of the attitudes and behavior of the general public. While I think living amid such hostility has made me stronger in many ways, it’s also done some serious damage. I hope it isn’t irreparable damage though. I often wonder if I’m even fit to live anywhere else at this point.
KS: So tell me about this new book, Loco in Yokohama.
Loco: I’ve written a really good book. I think people who read the first book are gonna dig this one too. It’s much more lighthearted and hilarious. It focuses on my day-to-day experiences much more than the first, but speaks to a greater purpose. This book’s for everyone.
KS: What’s in it?
Twenty-seven chapters about relationships, challenges, teaching and learning, and how loco it is up in the schools here. I think the foreign teachers will identify with what I’m portraying, but also anyone who just wants to be entertained by really great stories. It gives a peek inside the secret window of Japan. But the stories about teaching English are just the subtext.
KS: Sounds great, honestly. Any final words about Japan?
Loco: Nothing I haven’t already said in 10 years of interacting with people and building relationships, 6 years of blogging at Loco in Yokohama, and in my two published works.
KS: Fair enough. Thanks for your time, Mr. Loco.
Loco: And thank you, Mr. Seeroi.
After we hung up, I got off my comfy couch and got a beer, because I never drink when I’m working. Fortunately, I don’t work very much. That really helps. I also found a wedge of smoked cheese in the fridge door, which was a surprise. Like, did I even put that in there? Where does such mystery food come from?
“Hell of a nice guy,” I thought, as I sat back down to watch some Japanese TV. “But why is it that all the best people end up leaving Japan?” Then I drank some beer, ate some mystery cheese, and watched this show where a TV crew was running up to “foreigners” on the street and interviewing them about Japan.
“Nah, probably just my imagination,” I concluded, and changed the channel.
45 Replies to “Loco in Yokohama, an Interview with the Author”
Good to hear you’re still out there blogging Ken!
Sounds like an interview at the end of a difficult day but good questions Ken.
Microaggression vs macroagrresion is its own interesting topic. I prefer non-aggression but haven’t found too many places for that beyond some communes which have some other issues I prefer to avoid.
People are funny and yet kind of amazingly consistent wherever you go.
How are you and the homeless guy getting along?
Like peas in a pod. We’re gonna be roommates, as soon as we find a big enough box.
It’s true that people are amazingly consistent. Aggression (or perhaps aversion) towards people who are different seems to be a common human trait. There are so many surface differences between Japan and America, and yet deep down there are a lot of commonalities as well. Some good; some not so good.
Enjoyed the piece, its definitely sumthin’ different. I’ve visited his blog before, but I didn’t stay. I guess I just don’t like the guy much, but thanks for asking tough questions and shooting straight on this article. I wish him luck!
Now on to more important matters… yes for the 4th straight anime season, they have a pro military series that has girls in it:
First there was one where girls turned into guns, then another one where girls competed with tanks like a sport, then there was a series on competitive air soft where girls channeled ancient Japanese warrior spirits and now they have a series that has cute and Moe girls as the core units of the “FOG” naval vessels that take over the world’s oceans.
The BIG question is whether the JSDF is trying to manipulate young Japanese men into believing there will be women in the military to up enlistment or are they trying to get the women to enlist. Is there an organized effort by the new Abe administration to brainwash the Japanese youth. What a bunch of dummies… if they just offered free beer and saki for their military like in the old days they’d have no problem getting new recruits… hmmmmm!
There actually do seem to be a lot of women in the SDF. I’ve met a number of them. (They’re usually kind of hot, too, if you like chicks with muscles.) But I’m not sure this is an enlistment plot on the part of the SDF or the Abe administration. Seems more like an indulgence for male anime fans, where it blends two things young men are into: macho military stuff and sexy women. Guess that’s not really limited to only young men. Anyway, it seems like less of a recruitment effort and more of a reflection on the current Japanese psyche.
I might agree with you if I hadn’t seen a certain music vid. The opening song for that anime about the “FOG” called “Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova” has an opening song by the hip new singer Nano called “Savior of Song” and she made the music vid at the request of the JSDF. Here’s the youtube link:
They let her use one of their missile destroyers as a prop for her video; that’s not something that happens everyday. She’s a great singer and grew up in the US, then went back to Japan, so she sings perfectly in English and then in Japanese seamlessly from one to the other. This isn’t just some low level effort to make kids warm and fuzzy about the military, this is a sophisticated propaganda campaign done by a Psy-ops team to influence and recruit people (sort of reminds me of the days I used to work as a recruiter for the US Marine Corps).
On a high note there is a fantastic new Japanese Futuristic-Romance Comedy out called “Ando Lloyd” and it is incredibly well written, acted and filmed. The special effects are really awesome too! I think you’ll like it!! Here’s the link:
Tried to post earlier and it didn’t work so if you get multiple posts, please delete the first two and keep this one, Domo arigato.
Hmm, your ideas about the military recruitment are interesting. Kind of subtle, though. Why not just “Join the Navy and see the world”? Or, “We’ll pay for your college education”? Well, either way, from the way it looks to me, Japan’s got a long way to go before it becomes a military player again, starting with the average man who’s more suited for being a hairstylist than crawling through barbed wire.
Thanks for the drama recommendation, as always.
Japan doesn’t need a military crawling in the barb wire…IF they have a great Air Force and Navy. New recruits will have to be good at playing video games and like robots because that’s the way military forces are developing in the new world order; with UAVs and remotely operated robotic devices…. and yes, hair stylists can push buttons too!
Note the increase in spending for defense this year in Japan:
In January 2013, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Defense Ministry said it wants to increase its budget appropriation request for fiscal 2013 by more than 100 billion yen compared to the current fiscal year’s initial budget appropriation of 4.645 trillion yen (about $60 billion). [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 9, 2013]
That’s the first increase to defense spending in Japan for the last 11 years and its a huge one. Japan’s military is the currently the highest paid in the world and their recruitment budget is second only to the US.
BTW, my son attended the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) and majored in Military Strategic Studies; most of those graduates are working with UAVs and robotic devices now. He also heard several lectures on new robotic devices given by both JSDF and Israeli military officers at the Academy, since they are considered the leading edge in research and implementation of that technology.
I would not be surprised if Japan was the first military to field a fully robotic device like a Gundam. Japan’s youth have been raised on Mecha and robotic warriors for decades now; they are bound to have some great ideas for making a Gundam reality for the future!!
Giant armored robots? Man, I am all for that! Let’s just hope we can use this power for good. Or, if not, to at least to blow up some stuff in spectacular fashion.
“KS: Do you currently study Japanese?
Loco: I gave up on it. There were no benefits and no incentives.”
I think that gives an interesting insight into Japan. Though I have to wonder, what point did he give up at? Like on the cusp of obtaining a conversational level, or only after learning some survival phrases?
Yeah, that quote really stood out in the article. I think it’s the tip of an iceberg. I’ve asked Mr. Loco to reply to this himself.
Thanks Ken 🙂
Hi Tanabata, thanks for the question! I gave up after learning some survival phrases initially, but since then, just by virtue of interacting with people and building relationships, I’ve risen to sporadic conversational level.
Perhaps “no benefits” was misstating it a bit. I should say, no benefits for me. Of course others might find it beneficial.
For example, if your ambition is to enter as much into the Japanese society as a foreigner would be allowed, then it is certainly beneficial to speak the native language. However I don’t have that ambition.
If you want to be a translator or interpreter, or a member of the business world here, it’s also beneficial. But those undertakings are not goals of mine either.
There are some rather high level things that you may want to do like buy a house, start a business, etc… where a pretty high proficiency in Japanese will behoove you. I might like to do something like that someday, but heretofore had not considered it.
Some fluent Japanese speaking non-Japanese here (and some Japanese themselves) will shun you, spurn you, and denounce many if not and all observations or criticisms (particularly those that are uncomplimentary) you have about life in Japan as being dubious at best and at worst faulty due to your limited understanding of what’s going on around you linguistically, This will often result in their dismissing your thoughts and ideas about living here as invalid and will paint all of your observations with that same brush. So apparently being fluent in the language gives you some insight into the Japanese psyche that you’ll never achieve through the use of your other senses… That motivates some people to study for, among some, that will validate their observations. Well…while I agree many of the criticisms I hear about Japanese people by non-Japanese (and vice versa) are the result of communication issues that would be alleviated if either party were fluent in the other’s language, and it’s also true that there are a number of idiots / ignorant non-Japanese out there whose complaints about life in Japan lean towards those that would be resolved if Japanese fully embraced the notion (fact?) that English is well on its way to becoming the planetary patois and Japanese persistence in keeping their dying tongue on life support as part of the problem with life here, and some other non-Japanese here complain endlessly because they just can’t understand the subtle nuances of the culture which are incorporated into the language, and thus a comprehensive study of the language will give them a deeper understanding of the culture, nanchara kanchara…
I won’t debate any of this here, for the sake of brevity…all I will say is I believe I GET it and I didn’t need to be fluent in Japanese to achieve this state, and I have had enough people who are fluent and have been here even longer than I have confirm that I get it. And that’s enough “validation” for me.
I will admit though, Sometimes I do think about studying again.
Thanks again for your question (-;
Well put Sir! Bravo!!
I think learning Japanese (or any foreign language) is necessary to gaining insight and knowledge of those people. I can’t imagine it otherwise—in the fullest sense. I got here 25+ years ago speaking not a word and it drove me nuts not to be able to communicate. I liked it here so forced myself to learn a bit each day—not for “business” purposes, but just to be able to converse back and forth about the world around me. I gained a ton of knowledge that way.
Japanese TV is probably a really good example. On the surface the shows are so dim—slapstick if you will. Baby-fying, etc. But if you actually know what is being said and why and to whom, and if you understand how clever the humor/thoughts actually can be, you gain a huge amount of knowledge about this culture and its people. How it thinks, what it values, its commonalities and touch points—both good and bad. I would feel like Tommy (deaf, dumb, and blind) without it.
Yeah, I agree with that. Understanding Japanese really opens up the culture and helps you to understand why people do what they do. The Japanese language isn’t just beneficial for understanding this culture, it’s arguably indispensable.
There are undoubtedly benefits to speaking Japanese. However, there are also benefits to not speaking it. Personally, I never speak English. And that’s good in some ways, because I can be treated as a regular member of society, in so far as a person of my race can be. But when I see someone speaking a lot of English, and how Japanese people react to that person, I think, Wow, I gotta try that. Gotta enroll in an eikaiwa or something.
Reading what Loco wrote, I have to admit something about the Japanese. Their culture has some basic flaws that make it difficult for me to accept their viability as a people and culture. I am all for equality and fairness, yet the whole language and culture of Japan is based on bowing and face planting and saving face centered around the comparative social distinction of Kohai/Senpai and the Honorifics system that’s built into the language. I find that completely distasteful and unacceptable.
Japan is a very hierarchical society. I think it’s easy to forget that. It’s very much like the military. If you’re lower than someone else, you take orders from them, and if you’re higher, you give orders. That’s the way it works. People outside the hierarchy—foreigners—are just worked around.
Meeting a group of Japanese people in a bar is not unlike running into a group of career military personnel, off duty. They’re out of uniform, and they look like everybody else, all joking around and getting drunk. But even off duty, they never forget the hierarchy. They know that Monday morning they’re going to be back in the ranks and have to answer to their superiors. When meeting Japanese people (especially in Japan), I think it’s important to remember that, even though they may look and act casual, they’re actually part of a very rigid hierarchy. All Japanese people know that, and we should keep it in mind as well.
Now, I think it’s good to understand how things work in Japan, but it’s also important to avoid making value judgements. This militaristic and hierarchical way of relating to people has some advantages and disadvantages, but every country’s culture does. Japan as a nation has some things it needs to work through and improve upon. But all nations and people do. Like I should give up potato chips and go running more often. See, even I have something I need to work on. It’s just that they’re so darn delicious. Maybe if I run to the convenience store for chips instead of walking? That solves like two problems at once! Gotta lace on the shoes now.
Oh snap, hey Loco! 🙂
I had a sneaking suspicion that you would understand a decent amount of Japanese. I’m a student of language acquisition, so I know what it’s like to know a lot, yet not know anything at the same time. I guessed that was at least similar to what you meant.
You detail the shunning of Japanese/fluent non-Japanese people to such an extent that it makes me believe you get an incredible amount of criticism. (As it seems like you may be preparing for me to criticize as well, for what it’s worth, my stance is that you’re in Japan, I’m not. You know the score better than I do. And even if I was in Japan, who am I to tell you how to live your life?)
Anyway, this reminds me of doing a college project. You can expend 100% of your energy to get a 90% grade, or you can use 30% of your energy to get a 70% grade. Loco if you’re still there, do you think this this sort of rings true for learning Japanese?
Hey Tanabata, I guess so. I initially gave it 100% and the results were tremendous. Only once i tried to put it to use in the “real” world, I found that the Japanese expectation that you wouldn’t know anything about their language, customs and practices often superseded anything I did or said. My Japanese would be responded to in broken and often rudely spoken English. Sometimes it got to a point where it actually appeared they refused to acknowledge my efforts. I later learned that there is no middle in Japanese speaking, especially in public (with friends you sometimes get some leeway) you either speak Japanese or you don’t. I often found myself tossed in the latter. So 100% effort slowly deteriorated to 30% or less! and only periodically do I look back with regret.
As for anticipated resistance and criticism, yes, as a blogger here for all of 5 years I have heard it all and often comment and post with the arguments of others in the back of my mind. (-; it’s an occupational hazard in this game (-; but I think it has forced me to consider other perspectives and in that way it has enhance my skills aside writer and my process as a thinker. So I’ve learned to welcome it…to an extent
Thanks again yo!
No benefits or incentives to learning Japanese…oh uh okay. Speaks volumes.
I’ve asked Mr. Loco to follow-up on this.
I will say that, living here, I can certainly understand why he’d feel that way. I think many of the “foreigners” here recognize that the Japanese language is not the path to success and popularity. English is. That and being “foreign.” Japanese is useful, certainly, but given the time investment required, there are almost certainly other pursuits that are more beneficial to life here.
Ironically, when it comes to making friends and getting to really know people, speaking Japanese is often more of a barrier than a help. I don’t think that’s obvious (at all) to people living overseas or who haven’t lived in Japan for a long time. Anyway, we’ll see what Mr. Loco has to say on the subject.
His comment about not being fit to live anywhere else is heartbreaking!
Yes it is, and yet the sentiment is not uncommon among ex-pats. You get used to your adopted country, although you never fit in. Meanwhile, the country you came from seems increasingly foreign. It’s a dilemma.
I’ve heard many Japanese people who live in the U.S. say the same thing. It’s not always that easy to go “home.”
Yeah, it breaks my heart too…
Actually, though, one of the major reasons I might not be fit is because I’ve become accustomed to not experiencing any fear at any time of anyone. I am (at least in the minds of the people here) the biggest threat in my environment. That was NEVER the case back home. and I don’t think I can return to such a state easily. That’s why I think NY might be out of the question. But, let me friends tell it, NY has been so gentrified, and between Giuliani and Bloomberg, they’ve “cleaned” up most of the “element” (geezus we live in scary times…interesting, but scary) NY might just be “suitable” for my Japanized psyche one day soon lol Thanks for your empathy though.
I think we can relate to the micro-aggression/racism/fear/negativity/etc/etc. I can’t imagine being a black dude in Japan–I’m sure it’d make my everyday micro-annoyances absolutely invisible to the naked eye. Like, I actually just bumped into a black guy the other week–only black dude I’ve ever seen in the wilds of Gunma, to be honest–and he full-on bro-hugged me in the middle of the home supply store. Super-nice guy. We were both looking for tents, which was kind of weird actually. My and his (Japanese) girlfriends looked on in shock. Anyway, how isolated do you need to be to hug the first (every?) American you see?
My newest pet-peeve: Point cards. Every god-damned store has a point card, and every god-damned Japanese has every one of them stuffed into their wallet, and nobody is even quite sure of the benefits of the entire scheme. Like, it’s usually something along the lines of “Come 20 times and buy $500 worth of stuff and you get 400 yen off!” and Japanese are like “Fuck yeah I love bonuses!” and stuff 600 friggen’ cards into their wallets.
Anyway, what usually happens is this: The cashier will ask the first six people if they have point cards, and as I’m walking out I’ll also hear the cashier ask the person behind me too. But do I get asked if I have a point card? Maybe one time in five. Now, I happen to own zero point cards because they’re the dumbest fucking thing, but still, no need to needlessly exclude the foreigner from your script. I mean they literally do have a script. This is at least 10% of the reason I study Japanese, purely so I can start schooling these people.
LOL! That was my initial reason as well. But after a while schooling them became a full time job! Mo ii. But i like your spunk…and man do I need a bro hug from time to time!
Yeah, that happens a lot. They’ll ask every person in line the same question until they get to me. I’ll hear, “Is that for here or to go?” fifty times, and then when I get to the counter, silence. Like an Arctic wind. You wonder how the Japanese ever got a reputation for politeness. They’ve got some great PR, I guess.
I agree with you about the point cards, too. Who has a wallet big enough for all of them? I only carry two. Probably ought to get a T-Point card though. Those are pretty widely used.
I have seen this scenario completely reversed many, many times in Seattle. It’s a city experiencing a large influx of people from India, China and other locations. Point cards, “for here or to go” questions all would be adjusted. Sometimes with a snarky comments muttered under the cashiers breathe. So the US option seems to be you’re going to get the offer plus some drama to explain it all to you.
Yeah, that seems to happen everywhere. Good times. I remember my Japanese friends in the U.S. used to hate that stuff. When will people learn that foreigners are here for our amusement? If I ever go back to the States, I’m going to run up to anyone who looks Japanese with a microphone and camera and ask them why they’re in the country, like YOUは何しに日本へ？ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l34yN3p0Y1U. Everyone here loves that show. Ah, foreigners, so entertaining.
Haha your ‘wedge of smoked cheese’ story cracked me up! Totally reminded me of Grandpa Simpsons Onion belt ramble…
We can’t bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell ’em stories that don’t go anywhere – like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. Give me five bees for a quarter, you’d say.
Now where were we? Oh yeah: the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones…
Oh man, that cracked me up! I loved that episode!
Ken or Loco,
Didn’t the Japanese fight a civil war in the Meiji period to overthrow the Shogun and the Samurai oppression and their hierarchical society, which ended in the dissolution of the Samurai class, the clan system and the creation of prefectures? The militarists re-instituted that social hierarchy in the 1920’s, but that was ended by WWII, which led to a new constitution and freedom and equality for women. Then in the 1970-80’s the Japanese conglomerates created the group syndicates once again based on family relations and they re-instituted the corporate hierarchy system, which again collapsed in the 1990’s. I think there might be a pattern there and wonder if the Japanese people really like that hierarchical social system that you mention?
Is this social stratification something that they can’t control like an ingrained social belief that re-enforces their sense of security? OR Is it because the language and cultural roots are so infused with these honorific associations that they can’t get away from the stratification of their society? Do you think the feeling that Loco has regarding micro-aggression and your problems with some of the treatment afforded you by some Japanese people might have its roots in this social stratification process? Could that social process be blamed on the honorific system that the Language is based on? Most societies have honorifics, but it seems like the Japanese people carry this to an extreme and by doing so, oppress much open thought and discussion because it closes their minds to those that they deem inferior or lesser in status/rank. Bowing and face planting remind me of slavery and it just goes against my better judgement to say that it has any place in any society.
I was in the military and we certainly had leaders that were overly infatuated with honor, rank and respect. Likewise, when I was at NASA there were also people that took their titles and degrees too seriously and were overly pretentious, but isn’t the Japanese social stratification an ingrained way of speech and life that most Japanese can’t seem to get away from. These conditions that the stratification creates certainly help the people to cope with tragedy and natural disaster with a minimum of violence and disorder, but at what cost? Only time will tell if their current system will change and improve or collapse again. Well, the US is headed for collapse soon anyway, so who am I to talk about that, huh…LOL!
Pass me some potato chips will ya, I’m to old to run!
My sense is that hierarchy is part and parcel of the Japanese culture, and that honorific language is more a reflection of this, rather than the cause. Although it certainly reinforces it. I also asked a Japanese person this chicken-and-egg problem (which came first, the hierarchy or the language), and they said the hierarchy was primary. So there you have it, a sample size of exactly One. You can’t argue with statistics.
I’ll just say that I think that balance is the challenge, both for people and societies. Too rigid, and you’ve got oppression; too permissive and you’ve got, um, whatever the U.S. is. There’s probably a country out there somewhere that balances things a little better, like Sweden or something, but all they’ve got are vodka and reindeer, so I’m not sure that counts.
Hi Bud, while I agree that there is a system in place that has a significant impact on how people behave and perceive what’s happening around them, here and everywhere, I really tend to disregard that most often, for I truly don’t have a firm grasp on it, and I’m resistant to any notion that I should deal with people based on such notions. I take people as they come, see how that system that May or may not be impacting this person actually affects this person’s interaction with me. I approach them as individuals to the best of my ability. I think any inclination to anticipate and make presumptions about what to expect will invariably lead to prejudices, judgments and possibly even some racist notions…just the kinds of things that have made living in America and in japan the trial it can it often be. Not to suggest that this is the best course of action, but it’s mine and it has been utilized successfully, and has allowed me to make some connections I believe I wouldn’t have been able to make if I had commenced with preconceived notions of what this person was likely to say, do, or think.
Really interesting analysis Bud, I think you could turn that little comment up there into a full blown thesis if you want to. It’s a pretty deep subject and it involves a lot of research, but I think the answer that Ken gave hits the nail right on the head. Hierarchy is primary. In fact, I heard that keigo/honorifics has even been toned down in recent years as compared to the samurai and meiji-era. Even now the younger generation has no idea how to use keigo, and they don’t really learn it until they enroll in a ‘training course’ they are required to take when they get hired by a company.
I also dislike the whole prostrating yourself on the ground, bowing without reason habit that the Japanese have, but I don’t see it as unacceptable or ‘wrong’… it’s just what Japan is. It used to drive me insane too, and when I first started Japanese I even promised not to use keigo because it doesn’t do anything other than put up more barriers in a relationship. But after a while, I realized that keigo is a part of their culture, and it really is the ultimate form of respect. After a while you start to get used to it. When a 19 year old Japanese punk speaks to me without using masu form, to be honest, it kind of ticks me off. After a while, it rubs off on you.
Anyway, you should totally watch the drama Hanzawa Naoki 半沢直樹 if you haven’t already. The main character is a hero in Japan and I’m pretty sure 90% of all salary men are living vicariously through him. I think it kind of reflects a change in Japanese society, to stick up for yourself and believe in your own values rather than just do what the authority says. When Hanzawa (the main character) is forced to bow or apologize for something he didn’t even do, instead of get on his hands and knees he holds his head up high and basically tells them FU (without the keigo). It’s so rewarding to watch this show and see a Japanese salaryman put all of his pretentious superiors to shame. It’s gratifying, and it’s the first show of its kind where it tells the Japanese audience: Don’t take sht from your boss.
How do you speak so much with so little, it is both wonderful and confounding, I’m so jealous and appreciative at the same time that I feel like face planting and doing the “I’m not worthy” mantra… all the while laughing my butt off. BTW, Don’t forget Sweden has their famous Bikini team too, FYI.
I agree with you completely that the way you should deal with people is on a person to person basis and that’s my belief system also, but since I likely will never visit Japan and there aren’t any Japanese people here, I only have pre-conceived notions with which to create my opinions and ideas about the Japanese society and culture. The point I was making was purely hypothetical and I realize I am in no way educated or experienced enough to make a really sound judgment or fair evaluation of the Japanese society or culture.
I was just trying to evoke my guess as to how and why the Japanese have created this concept of a Gaijin and whether or not it was a result of the language itself which is the basis for their cultural stratification. I would also say that the Japanese treatment of all things “Gaijin” might be why you and Ken feel that onslaught of micro-aggressions as you alluded to. I would conclude that “Gaijin” is the end result of the Japanese stratification and extreme use of the honorifics system and their xenophobic cultural history. I thank you Loco, Ken, and Shanghai as well as all the others that are blogging about their experiences in Japan as it has greatly expanded my horizons and experiences on this amazing and complex society.
You seem like a really interesting person with a wild heart and a scholar’s curiosity. Thanks for your suggestion; I would like to read such a thesis one day, but I don’t think I could pull it off myself, “fer sure”! I also think my former service in the USMC and the Naval Academy might have conditioned me not to be so understanding of bowing and face planting as an accepted form of respect. Frankly, I would not personally bow to the Queen of England or the President of the United States, but maybe I would to Ken when he cracks me up! I’m going to watch that Drama BTW, and have already finished episode 1, but I do remember another Drama and anime about a Salary-man that puts all of his pretentious superiors to shame, and that series was called “Salaryman Kintarou” and it ran on Japanese TV for 3 years from 1999 to 2002 and they have an anime of the same name that ran in 2001. These series are more comedy than drama though. I am looking forward to “Hanzawa Naoki”. Thanks again for that recommendation and I wish you luck on your incredible travels… Stay Safe!
@Bud “Enjoyed the piece, its definitely sumthin’ different. I’ve visited his blog before, but I didn’t stay. I guess I just don’t like the guy much, but thanks for asking tough questions and shooting straight on this article. I wish him luck!”
“I agree with you completely that the way you should deal with people is on a person to person basis and that’s my belief system also, but since I likely will never visit Japan and there aren’t any Japanese people here, I only have pre-conceived notions with which to create my opinions and ideas about the Japanese society and culture.”
Does this mean you like me now?? (-;
The concept of “gaijin” is not unique to Japan, obviously. And how one responds to being “otherized” (which you will invariably be living here) varies wildly.
Why Ken and I seem to perceive it, or rather address it, more directly than others? I have my theories. For one,
some people accept this otherization because they too (back on their home planets) embraced some of these ideas and were guilty of some of the behaviors that they find themselves on the business end of here in Japan. While, for some, this becomes an epiphany where they finally GET it and realize that the ideas they were raised or taught were legitimate was actually just fear that had evolved into some various doctrines and mindsets (as is the case with the Japanese, for they too have been known to have epiphanies if and when they go abroad for a length of time). But for some it just doesn’t change a thing. They accept the idea that this is how the world works. syouganai jyan
The fact that you’ve presented your views here in a straightforward, honest and intelligent fashion is very admirable, yet I was just stating an honest fact that in the past I had gone to your blog and didn’t go back because it just gave me a bad impression (for whatever reason long since forgotten). But since reading your views and opinions, I certainly do intend to go back and give it another shot.
BTW, I wonder if there is another example of an entire national ethnic culture/society that has an equivalent to Gaijin. I know religions like the Muslims have the term infidel, but that is a religion that spans across many countries and ethnic groups and cannot be compared to the homogeneous national population of Japan.
There are examples of other ethnic groups not liking certain specific people that they have been in conflict with in the past, but I don’t remember any ethnic group that lumps all of the rest of the world into one term and uses something like the concept of Gaijin. I have looked at some books regarding what is “Gaijin”, but none of them do justice to the term with the exception of the Gaijin Guide written by Ben Stevens. Unfortunately he isn’t very comprehensive in his topics and his research (though hilarious) seems rather helter-skelter with no reason or rhyme to his approach.
Sure, Texans. To a Texan, everyone else is a yankee.
Ken that is just a load of poo poo. That image of Texans is just a stereotype, like saying all people from Missouri don’t believe anything you say. You can’t compare the state of Texas to Japan that has a homogeneous ethnic population that has existed for thousands of years. Texans have no ethnicity anyway.
Hey, I lived in Texas for a long time and was probably called a yankee a few hundred times. Well, so maybe my analogy’s not exactly perfect; let me recheck my math and I’ll get back to you. By the way, you’re not from from Missouri, are you? Because then if you didn’t believe me, it’d be pretty ironic.
Thanks Bud! Much obliged. Hope you enjoy it the second time around! You’d definitely want to check out my first book (shameless plug ahead) “Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist”. It’s all the ideas I’ve presented in my blog organized into a cohesive “straight forward, honest and intelligent” whole, or so say many readers. Hope you will. Think you’ll dig it.
As for your query, Hell, America was that in most of our life times, and in many ways still is (Obama is window dressing on an issue that goes unresolved…hell, “people” were calling him Gaijin “Alien” well into his first term.)
I’ve heard from foreign friends living in China, Chinese friends, and from what I’ve read about and hear about Korea, they’re pretty much the same, only less passively / politely.
When I went and stayed in Haiti for a few weeks I was called “Blanc” which is the term Haitians use for outsiders. French / Kreyol for “white” of course, but they use it to mean any outsider presumably under the sway and conditioning of Euro-centric (white) thinking (which I unfortunately am despite all my efforts not to be).
Those are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head.
You’re very welcome Loco, I’m on my way over there to check it out your web-site after I post this hypothesis. After some hasty research, I finally believe I found out what “Gaijin” really is… drum roll please:
It’s an anti-Foreign anti-Christian psy-ops campaign created by the Shogun of Japan Hideyoshi Tokugawa in 1597. He compared Christians to oni that possessed the minds of Japanese youth and that became the term “Ijin” meaning foreign devils to describe Christians and he used it to began his anti-foreign, anti-Christian policies to limit his perceived belief that foreigners were unduly influencing Japan. It is rumored that Hideyoshi blamed the Christians for his failed invasions of Korea and lack of support from his Daimyo and was leery of the Christian Spanish that had conquered the Philippines. That later culminated in the Tokugawa exclusion edicts of 1635 by Iemitsu Tokugawa, which shut Japan off from the rest of the world for over 100 years. The term “Ijin” was later changed to Gaijin, a more generic name and finally to gaikokujin as a more polite way of addressing the foreign demons after Japan was re-opened by Admiral Perry to international trade.
To demonstrate how successful the campaign against Christianity was, one only has to look at the numbers. In 1600, Japan was 6 percent Christian and rising, while in 2012 they are less than 2 percent Christian; as compared to Iraq’s 3 %, North Korea’s 4% and China’s 5%. South Korea and the Philippines have 25%+ and 90%+ Christians in their population as a comparison.
To demonstrate how successful their anti-foreign campaign was, once again turn to the numbers: Japan has the highest homogeneous population for any large country on the planet by Far… 98.5% and North Korea is a distant second to Japan at 88%, while most nations barely reach 50%.
During the militarist era, Christianity and Foreigners were always connected with the term “Gaijin” as the Foreign Christians were said to be opposed to the Emperor, thus resulting in more legitimate state sponsored repression and terrorism. During WWII the militarist constantly drew pictures and pamphlets that showed Churchill and FDR as Christian devils that would feast on the bones of Japanese children.
Somehow, modern Japan has effectively created a hidden social stigma around the term Gaijin (some places even sell Gaijin party masks). How they managed this will take much more research to discover and I’ll leave that for another day. The Emperor must have done it, fer sure!
Almost every nation on earth has a plethora of derogatory terms used for a multitude of reasons, but none are equal in use nor reach the effectiveness as the term Gaijin has been as an anti foreign and anti-christian deterrent for the Japanese people.
Hey Bud, Well, a few words come to mind in response to your conclusions in your last paragraph:
Nigger- people have been killed and continue to be killed for notions associated with this stigmata.
Infidel – wars were fought and whole civilizations were contrived around this word.
Heathen – geez, same here. The Spanish Inquisition comes to mind.
But Loco, none of those terms are used as Gaijin is by the Japanese. Nigger is usually a racist term used to describe anyone of black skin, while “Infidel/Heather/Zionist” are something akin to religious racist wording to describe someone of another religion or no religion.
Gaijin is a term used by all Japanese (ONE SINGLE COUNTRY) to describe people/items/ideas/anything as foreign and NOT-JAPANESE. Quite different from the terms you were comparing it to and none of them compare to the derivative effect that Gaijin has come to represent for the Japanese people and culture.