Racism in Japan
If you've seen the Japanese movie called Densha Otoko, or Train Man, you probably remember the one scene where he's walking around on the street, and somebody is advertising for a company that sells something called Men's Water by giving out samples of it to passers-by on the corner. This is a common form of advertisement in Japan. When the main character gets to the corner, the girl giving out the free sample retracts it suddenly. Only later on, after he has gotten an extensive make-over, cut his hair, and purchased an entirely new wardrobe, is he offered the sample. His first rejection is an overly obvious attempt to show his undesirability and ostracization from the rest of Japanese society. It's the most blatant form of rejection, the Train Man is so reprehensible companies don't even want his damn money. This exact thing happens to me every single day. When I told my ex-girlfriend about this (she's Japanese), she was angry. Her immediate response, and this isn't paraphrashing here: "just because you are gaijin (a foreigner) doesn't mean you're not human being. you have a hand to take!"
At a sometimes wavering attempt at academic remove, I face racism on a daily basis here in Japan. It's rare that I will face it in overt forms, such as direct confrontation, but it's something that's on everybodys' lips. Generalizations are waiting to come out, words like, "that's how Americans think." People leaving seats empty on either side of me, in otherwise cramped subway cars. People trying uncomfortably to avoid eye-contact, or, alternatively, staring at me openly as if I was the first white person they've ever seen. Even those things don't bother me too much though, what gets to me is when I pass the workers on the street, trying to advertise their beauty salon or their spa or whatever, and they offer a little packet of napkins or a flyer to every single person passing except me.
Sometimes I don't want to understand it more deeply. I just want to say fuck it, and be mad at people. But that is not a fair response. At least, that's not a mature, and reasonable response. I try to train myself to avoid the knee-jerk response to events in my life. When I hear about terrorists, I don't instantly think they should all be killed, or even think that's possible. I think that the mechanism by which terrorists are being created, the real issues and grievances they have that may have radicalized them and caused them to choose their current path however reprehensible it may be, and, believe me, I in no way attempt to shift guilt for a reprehensible act such as terrorism, regardless of the factors that motivated it, are what need to be investigated, and eliminated, so as to reduce the production of more terrorists. (because let's be honest, saying "let's kill them all," and bombing tiny villages somewhere only produces more hardship, parentless children, and, in short, factors that will make a new generation hate the west even more, turn radical, and seek to destroy it) In the same vein, I seek to resist my urge to respond to racism in kind. That is a shallow and unproductive impulse. Instead, I try to understand what creates this situation, and how I can defuse it somehow. Often, I make the effort to bridge the gap, offering help or smiling, and trying to present an open and approachable image.
The thing about Japan is that it's full of Japanese people. To clarify, ethnic Japanese comprise the vast majority of the population. Further, the sense of Japanese identity in Japan is very strict. There is a very large population of Koreans living in Japan, who were born here and, in some cases, who have parents that were also born in Japan, and yet still possess Korean passports. These are people who couldn't speak a single word of Korean. Japan is the place they know. Japanese is their language. I was having a really great conversation about this with one of my friends.
Some background: my friend grew up entirely in Japan. She went to an international school, which is sort of a segregated school. Full Japanese students can attend, but they face heavy tuition fees, as opposed to the children of international parents. International students are admired, at best, and often end up famous in different ways, my friend notices people she knows when she walks through a clothing store and sees pictures of models. At worst though, you can depend on the fact that international students are at times envied, ridiculed, and made to feel apart from the rest of Japanese society. Unfair attention, either positive or negative, is racism.
What my friend described to me was pretty horrible. She is half Portuguese and half Japanese. Her face looks fairly Japanese, although she has naturally brown hair. When walking around Japan, people assume she can't speak her own language. They are scared of, mistrusting, or reluctant to approach her, assuming that she is a foreigner. In her home country, the people on the street passing out flyers and product samples won't give her anything half the time. When I was talking about it with her, I noticed she ended up using the word "they" often. In response to the generalization she faced, the entire Japanese "in-crowd" became a generalized object to her, one that she was not a participant in.
So what can be done about things? I don't really know. Japan as a society is in the ongoing process of change, playing a role in the global economy and also having to deal with the influx of foreign labor as a result of the low-birth rate. In order to hasten the process, or at least make it somewhat easier, the only thing I can think of is what I personally try to do. Every day, I try to ignore those hardships I face, understand the situation that creates such hardships, and reach out personally to others. If enough people were to think this way, I don't doubt that the majority of the world's problems could be easily solved.