Tag Archives: Japanese people

ANA’s Ad is Racist, But That’s Not the Problem

I first saw the ad two Saturdays ago when my husband and I were watching TV together. I didn’t think much of commercial until one of the men said, “Let’s change the image of Japan,” and for that brief second, I was excited. “Yes!” I thought. “Let’s do it!” But in the next second, the commercial did a 180. The camera cut to the other man (comedian BakaRhythm), who was now wearing a Cyrano nose and a yellow wig. He’s supposed to look like a hakujin — a white foreigner. My husband laughed. I said nothing.

Some people, like the Japan police of the Internet, think it isn’t racist at all, but I would disagree. The ad is racist; there’s no debating that. What’s debatable is how offensively racist it is, and as for me, it’s not even a blip on the radar. But ANA’s ad is upsetting for other reasons.

Japan sees itself as a unique country (like I talked about in my last blog post). Name your reason–because they were closed off to the world for 200 years, because Japan is supposedly the only country with four seasons–whatever it is, Japan is insistent of its uniqueness. There’s a feeling of “us versus them” within Japan, the Japanese versus the rest of the world, and this feeling is very strong. There are many stories of second-generation foreigners and how, even though they were born here, grew up here, and live here permanently, they are still considered Korean or Chinese or whatever their parents’ nationality was. Either you’re ethnically Japanese or you’re an outsider.

The ad was exciting to me because it speaks about Japan as a global player. There was no “us versus them” …until the yellow wig and big nose appeared, which was like a slap in the face. Changing the image of Japan wasn’t a serious proposal. Instead, it sent the message that Japan is no more international than it ever was. Either ANA thought foreigners wouldn’t see the commercial or they thought people wouldn’t be offended by it, and either is upsetting in its ignorance.

Edit: Hifumi Okunuki has written a great piece on this topic for the Japan Times.

Related: Reactions to the ANA Commercial, White-Face, and Racism in Japan

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Possessive Over Unique Japan

The Japanese keep you an outsider. The other foreigners are competitive and are out to prove they know more than you. The world outside of Japan is looking on with jealousy and amazement because they either worship Japan or thinks it’s batshit crazy.

Here’s a shocker: Japan is no more unique than any other country.

People act like Japan is some mysterious, enigmatic country, usually citing the 200-year period of isolation as the cause, but the fact is different countries have different people and different practices. All nations are the same in their differences. If you think Japan is unique or crazy-weird, that makes me want to question how much of the world you’ve seen.

Once Japan is brought up in conversation, online or in person, people begin to not-so-subtly stake their claim on the country in one way or another. I think the one expats use the most is “So, how long have you been here?” Whoever answers with the larger number is wordlessly deemed superior. And beware: if your answer is one year or less, you will be laughed onto the next plane with the other tourists, students, and JET teachers.

"Oh, you've been to Japan, huh?"

“Oh, you’ve been to Japan, huh?”

The one I hear most from people outside of Japan is “Oh, I’m a big fan of Japan.” I hear it every day, but I have no idea in what way these people are a fan. How can you be a fan of an entire country? Think about it — when was the last time you heard someone say that about another country, outside of referring to sports teams?

When people say they’re a big fan of Japan, I think it’s like saying “I find Japan interesting,” but the difference is it goes a step further. They’re also implying they know a thing or two about Japan, enough to be a fan. But why people need to let others know how knowledgeable of Japan they are, I truly don’t know. Is it to seem unique or interesting to other people? To feel superior over mainstream culture?

"That's one of the main reasons why I love this book, because we got to visit Japan, and I love Japan."

“That’s one of the main reasons why I love this book, because we got to visit Japan, and I love Japan.”

Regardless of the reason, and taking this to a personal level, I’m tired of having to struggle against other foreigners, Japanese people, and the world outside. I don’t want to be Japanese. I don’t want to be a foreigner in Japan. I just want to be with my husband. It just so happens that he’s Japanese and works in Japan and I live with him.

I haven’t been able to find anyone else in a similar situation to mine. I didn’t move to Japan with a Japan-centric goal in mind. Yet, unlike the other wives who followed their husbands here, I’m not completely disconnected from Japan. I got my degree studying Japanese, and I had inklings to have a career here at one time. I don’t want to be here, and yet I do.

I feel like I’m playing three simultaneous games of tug-of-war with no one else on my side helping me pull.

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Is It Just Culture Shock?

Every time I write about my feelings toward Japan, I worry I will start sounding like this guy and people will begin to hate me. Well, here I go.

Last week I wrote about losing interest in Japan. I’ve lived here a year now–two if you include my year in Nagoya in 2009–and it’s been five years since I started studying Japanese and about Japan in general. The easy answer for what I’m experiencing would be culture shock… but is that really what I’m going through?

Loneliness, Part 1: Old friends

When people experience culture shock, many mention feeling lonely because they don’t have the same group of close friends and family that they did back home. When I was still in the US, all but two of my friends lived far away, so we were already used to using the internet as our main way to interact. As for my parents, my relationship with them was and is nearly nonexistent, so nothing has changed in how I interact with friends and family.

In fact, I’m less lonely now than when I was still living in the US. Continue reading

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