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Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009


Home-seeking headache; Americans' burden

A new low in Tokyo

I appeared in the article by Jenny Uechi headlined "Prejudice among obstacles facing non-Japanese tenants," (Zeit Gist, Nov. 18). I would like to report a recent event that may interest you.

In my quest for a permanent residence, I found a nice, large 1R apartment in Azabu Juban, Tokyo. I really liked the place and filled out a moshikomisho, which reserved it for me while routine screening was made before signing the contract. Since my company was to be guarantor, we all thought there wouldn't be a problem. However, 24 hours later, I got a call from the agent saying that the elderly couple who owned the building did not want a foreigner living there, and refused my application on the spot. The agent screamed at them to please allow at least a live interview with me and my girlfriend (a Japanese businesswoman). Surely if they met me, a permanent resident of Japan fluent in the language and culture, they would allow me in. But they were adamant, and the real estate agent lost a client.

Then, while showing me other places, his staffer slipped up and said, "This place allows pets, so they should allow foreigners." I politely left their office and went to a different agent in the same area who found a nice place for me owned by a landlord with a more open mind.

In my experience, I've been told "no foreigners" before, but never have I set up an appointment, gone to the apartment with three other men, and submitted an application before being denied purely because I'm a white guy. This is a first!


Whiners disprove stereotype

Re: "Half, bi or double? One family's trouble" (Zeit Gist, Jan. 27):

I have recently returned to Japan and am a little sad, but not surprised, to learn about some prevailing views towards America and Americans, many of which are promulgated by Americans themselves. The first is this bizarre notion that America is indeed an arrogant, deplorable country and that its people are cocky bullies. This is a stereotype seemingly held by most non-American countries and heartily endorsed by self-loathing (liberal) Americans, many of whom seem fond of writing to this paper. Yet the very idea is contradicted by the fact that most Americans writing in are whiners, bemoaning their lot in life and how excruciating it is to be labeled an "ugly American."

How can we simultaneously be arrogant and full of self-contempt? Isn't that a contradiction? I would like to suggest that the arrogant American stereotype is a trope trotted out by certain people who need a boogeyman against which to make themselves look enlightened, worldly and sophisticated. It also comes out of pure resentment at America's ascendance as the lone remaining superpower, a status which we neither sought not glorified in, but rather earned through the blood of our soldiers and the treasure of our people.

Talking of stereotypes, why is it permissible to endlessly stereotype Americans anyway? Americans are constantly lectured, and lecture themselves, about the evil of stereotyping others, unless it is positive. We are free to stereotype Muslims as peace-loving, ordinary folk and indigenous peoples as put-upon, victimized, pure souls in the mold of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But if we dare utter that such-and-such aspect of a given culture is strange or unhealthy, we are castigated for being stereotypers and hate-mongers. Yet, all are free to negatively portray Americans, even though in all likelihood it was America that at some point in history saved their collective backsides from some form of external or internal totalitarianism. That's not arrogance; it's a fact.

As for our attitudes, there are just as many oafish Americans as there are Canadians, Australians, Brits, etc. No one country has a monopoly on cool cosmopolitanism or generous tolerance. It's just that when we or one of us makes a mistake, it is noticed and blown out of proportion. After all, the global press wouldn't twitch a muscle if the Kiwi president called North Korea evil. But when ours does, somehow it's considered the height of arrogance and hypocrisy. But then again, telling the truth was never very popular (look what they did to that Jewish preacher about 2,000 years ago when he too told it like it was).


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