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Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009
HAVE YOUR SAY
What would the locals do? Readers offer their views
Following are readers' responses to Paul de Vries' Feb. 3 Zeit Gist article, "What would the locals do?":
Group discrimination wrong
Paul de Vries seems to have two main messages: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"; and, "If you suffer discrimination, suck it up, because you are actually guilty by association."
I agree with the first assertion, to a reasonable extent. While living in Japan, whether it be for the short or long term, people should try their best to live by Japanese norms.
But de Vries' statements appear to use group accountability to justify group discrimination, and on scales far beyond what is reasonable, or even beyond the scope that Japanese people hold each other to. He mentions two sports teams that faced sanction for the actions of some of their players, saying that they were "willing" to assume shame. But those are groups of 20 or 30 people, also closely linked together.
De Vries seems to say that as a non-Japanese, I am responsible for a group that comprises a subset of the human race, or at least the 2 million or so living in Japan. I certainly don't see Gov. Shintaro Ishihara apologizing for every sensational crime that occurs in Tokyo, even though he and the suspects are part of the same "group" (citizens of Tokyo). Why should a Malaysian factory worker in Hiroshima be denied an apartment for my bad behavior in Shizuoka? Does that make any rational sense?
The writer states that the group, no matter how big or nebulous it is, is responsible for the actions of any of its members. So I suppose ambassadors should be resigning in disgrace if a common national gets arrested; I suppose every company employee should commit suicide over a scandal its executives commit; I suppose all foreigners, no matter how hard they try to follow the rules, deserve whatever discrimination they may experience; and I suppose every Japanese person is guilty for whatever atrocities may or may not have occurred during the war.
After all, they are part of the group.
Fear behind low crime rate
I would like to let you know the reason why the prison population of Japan is so low. This is just one of the reasons, but I really do believe this.
Japanese people are very afraid of being sent to jail or prison since we all know those places are so uncomfortable, with terrible meals and strict discipline. And when you get out you won't be able to find a proper job and will be talked about behind your back for the rest of your life unless you move to a place where nobody knows you. Once you are branded a criminal, it will follow you forever.
That's why we commit less crime than people overseas, where people don't care as much about what others think. Japanese people always worry about how others see them.
Show us the data
That white people have a tendency to party hard is a fact Paul de Vries uses to countenance landlords' refusing to rent to white people.
Show us the data. Where are the studies demonstrating that Caucasians living in Japan make more noise in their flats than their Japanese neighbors? The foreigners that I know living here are serious and conscientious folks, who don't party at all.
Using stereotypes to dismiss an entire group not only punishes perfectly well-behaved members of that group for no fault of theirs, but also creates discord between the groups. Relying on stereotypes is understandable, as de Vries' warm embrace of them shows, but preferring stereotypes to evidence should always be resisted.
TOBIAS I. BASKIN
Fig leaf for attacks on whites
It never takes long for the author to drop the fig leaf of discussing differences between Japanese culture and that of the West to commence attacks on white people, regardless of nationality. Do we look forward to him telling us how blacks should be stereotyped negatively, and cheerfully put up with being treated as inferiors? How about Arabs? Latinos? Indians? Or do we get an explanation of how white people became the villains of the play running through his mind? It is also a curiosity how his "public policy via skin color" viewpoints are never brought to bear on the Japanese or Asians. Some pigments must be more equal than others.
As someone who has yet to visit Japan but hopes to soon, I really do believe that the Japanese people do not hold such ignorant and hateful views based upon skin color. However, Mr. de Vries certainly goes out of his way to portray this as the case. When Seung-Hui Cho — not an American — murdered 32 people in the U.S., no one here would think of treating Asians or Koreans as anything but equal. My hunch is that, even with the life-and-death consequences and depravity of the killing spree, Mr. de Vries would be appalled at such collective guilt and racial prejudice being applied to Asians. Then, given a week, he'd churn out yet another piece about how white people aren't fit to bathe with "proper" Japanese, even if they too are citizens.
It is probably too late for Mr. de Vries to change his racist ways, if he even recognizes them. The questions that remain are whether The Japan Times will continue to publish them as a representative voice of the site, and by inference the people of Japan.
Plenty to learn from Japan
I completely agree with you that the West — and the rest of the world — could learn much from Japanese society as it concerns "getting along with each other."
As a fellow writer, I thank you for your writing these stories and your soon-to-be-published book on this topic, which, if fortune favors me, I will be picking up to read. It is just a shame that most Americans are too ignorant and self-absorbed to care much about what anyone else thinks but them. Regardless, thank you for attempting to get the word out on the near-social perfection that Japanese society has achieved.