Sometimes it is difficult to know if Japanese really don`t know about something, or they just feel too uncomfortable to talk about it. There are some topics that they just don`t discuss. As well, there are some topics that the government and other institutions have done a masterful job of covering up, hiding the truth or if very successful, changing the truth. The assault on the truth of Japan`s wartime atrocities is a case in point. Some young Japanese were surprised to learn that Japan even participated in World War 2! But I digress.....
Photo: Hadano, Kanagawa Photo by Jonathan DeNardis
My wife is not stupid. She graduated from one of the best universities in Japan. But until I told her about the plight of Burakumin after reading a small book in English that had been produced by a Burakumin society in Japan, she had not idea what I was talking about. It is tragic that some Japanese are pretty naive about their own country, and I allude to not only the plight of the estimated 1.2 million Burakumin of Japan, but things like what really happened during World War 2. There are too many dirty little secrets here.
This exchange with my wife led me to wonder if there was some kind of conspiracy--some kind of coverup.
I later learned that in my wife`s area, there were few Burakumin, and they weren`t discussed much by anyone.
However, one of my students a few years ago, revealed that there were quite a few Burakumin living in Kanagawa. She was a retired teacher, and said that when dealing with Burakumin families, her school principal told her to be careful how she phrased things, and of course to always treat Burakumin with respect. He felt that the Burakumin were very sensitive to any kind of prejudice, imagined or real. So my student was very careful about what she said.
Probably I have met some Burakumin in Japan but of course they have kept it a secret.
At one time I read that there was a black list of Burakumin, that the large companies of Japan kept, so that they would avoid hiring one. I wonder if that is true. Japan is such a dilemna of mysteries, it is hard to unravel the truth for Japanese, and the press here is so locked up with press club system, that it is difficult to publish anything that might be too unpalatable to the government.
I think Burakumin have never enjoyed more freedom from prejudice than now. Yet I am just a smalltown Canadian, and how can I ever really understand what it must be like to grow up in a Buraku, and face a lifetime of stygma.
"Origin of the Discrimination Buraku people or Burakumin (min refers to people) are the largest discriminated-against population in Japan. They are not a racial or a national minority, but a caste-like minority among the ethnic Japanese. They are generally recognized as descendants of outcaste populations in the feudal days. Outcastes were assigned such social functions as slaughtering animals and executing criminals, and the general public perceived these functions as 'polluting acts' under Buddhist and Shintoist beliefs. When the social status system was established in the 17th century (early Edo era) in the form of three classes (warrior, peasant, townsfolk), those outcastes, origin of the present Buraku people, were placed at the bottom of the society as Eta (extreme filth) and Hinin (non-human) classes. In 1871, the Meiji government promulgated the 'Emancipation Edict', declaring the abolition of the lowest social rank. Nevertheless, this has never gone further than a simple statement, without any effective measures..."
---from the Buraku Liberation League
Japanese Funeral Customs: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2060.html
The New Multicultural Japan
by Kevin Burns
"...without non-Japanese, like plain white rice, Japan would not be as interesting a dish."
These days, it seems silly to hear the phrase "...we Japanese..." as if "Japanese," are so unique orout of the ordinary. Many Japanese are either married to a non-Japanese, have a sister that is, orknow someone who is. One percent of the population of Japan is now non-Japanese and growingevery year. One out of twenty-five marriages in Japan last year were between a Japanese and anon-Japanese. Many of these marriages result in children who are Japanese and share anotherculture. The die has been cast, Japan is changing faster than most people realize. At myEnglish school some of my students are studying English because they have a foreign fiance,they dream of marrying a foreigner or their sister has married a foreigner.
Koreans and Chinese account for the bulk of these multicultural numbers, but there are many peoplefrom all over the world here now, and the longer they stay, the more likely they are to marry a Japanese.Moreover, Japanese physically, will fit in nicely in all the other Asian nations. My wife was mistaken forbeing Thai, everywhere we went in Thailand. Many of my friends would fit in nicely in Shanghai, orKuala Lumpur, Singapore or Jakarta. Japanese after all are oriental people like most Asian people.Some Japanese want to fight this it seems, trying to state that they have unique physical characteristics,or pointing out that their clothes look different as if that matters very much. Some Japanese looklike their ancestors came from India, with a very roman nose and very brown skin. Others look likethe Phillipines was the home of their ancient kin, and still others must have a family lineage linking them to Koreaor China. Some of the Indians of South America have been discovered to have very similar DNA to Japanese.What's so unique? Japanese share more with the UK than any other nation. Both share a proud, long,yet tarnished history. Both cling to the concept of being different, with not much evidence to support it.Both are struggling to come to terms with the multicultural new millenium and need to look with aless prejudiced eye towards countries like Canada for guidance. Multiculturalism is the future.It isn't a crime ridden ghetto as many Japanese seem to imagine it. It is exciting and interesting,and will make Japan a different, yet better place.
If you go to Tokyo now, you will see non-Japanese everywhere. They may own and operate the restaurantyou eat in, be your friend's boss--my friend's boss at Johnson in Yokohama is an American. He mustmeet her everyday, and speak English. I think it's great that Japan is having to open up somuch. The foreign population here adds the spice to a very stable society, without foreigners,like white rice, Japan would be a very bland place. Foreigners often act like policemen and womenin Japan, pointing out to the rule breakers, that "...this area is non-smoking." Where mostJapanese will not raise a hand in protest, a foreigner will. Foreigners help to keep theharmony and shame the rule breakers. Foreigners will point out that your dogis making a lot of noise and bothering all the neighbours. They act for the good of alland some Japanese quite frankly need a wakeup call.
I digress, yet even the Yakuza are intimidated by foreigners (to some extent at least).That comes straight from a Yakuza I had the dubious pleasure of talking to once.Very few foreigners are ever bothered by the Yakuza. We are an unknown commodity tothese punch permed bullies. Not being able to function in society on their own, and needingthe safety of an organization like the Yamaguchi Gumi to do their bidding, they feel shame whenseeing foreigners thrive in their own country; when they themselves have not been able to function,without resorting to crime. Many foreigners are big people and walk around by themselves.Whereas the Yakuza and the bosozoku like them, rely on safety in numbers.On their own, they are weaklings and cannot make a living.
You still hear the phrase, "Gaijin ga ippai," (Literally: We are full of foreigners or It is full offoreigners.") occasionally, but this is usually not a negative statement. Sometimes Japaneseare still surprised, having stuck to their stereotype of their own country as being that of:"one people" for too long. While Japan is not America, it has grudginglybecome multicultural. But with that, growing pains are evident. Ultra-racist Tokyo Governor Ishiharais not recognized as such. Most Japanese people, not having experienced racism themselves, cannotunderstand when one of their own is being racist. Even when Ishihara called Chinese by the derogatory name,"sangogujin" this was sluffed off as he being old and out of touch with modern, polite termsfor Chinese people. Bull-tweety I say, the man is a writer, he is the last person to be out of touch with the Japaneselanguage. Ishihara was chastized severely by the Japanese press and for that I am thankful. I am happythat they recognized his dark side, which has no place in the modern, multicultural Japan.Ishihara went so far as to suggest that the military need be brought into Tokyo during a majorquake, as the foreigners might riot and loot the capital. Not wanting to rub salt into old wounds,I would like to mention that it was the Japanese who rioted and looted during the last BIGearthquake in Tokyo--The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. It was the Koreans who were thevictims of this mass uprising. A rumor caused some Japanese to attack Koreans. Hundreds ofKoreans were killed, their homes and businesses ransacked. Many went back to Korea after this massacre.I don't think Japanese would do this again against foreigners--witness the well behaved manner ofJapanese and foreigners in the aftermath of the Hanshin earthquake, yet people like Ishihara needto end their racism, especially when they occupy places of power; the Japanese need to recognize aracist when they hear one, not elect them to office in the first place,and need to know the truth about their own past. "All of this in good time my son."Ishihara is a dinosaur, and we all know what happened to them. I have them in my carand boy do they move me!
I imagine the above massacre in Yokohama will be news to some of our Japanese readers.Which is a shame! If you don't know your own history, what do you know?What we have now is based on the past, if you don't know your own past correctly, how can youjudge anything? How can you know when someone is a racist or not? All of the rules,prejudiced or otherwise were made in the past. You must know thine own history to know yourself.
Yet I am optimistic about Japan's future. Mori is gone! Hurray! Ishihara, as if knowing he must keephis prejudiced ideas to himself to survive is silent, hurray! Tanaka and Koizumi are in power,hurray! Both of them studied abroad and in doing that they are forever changed. The moreJapanese study and live abroad, learn a foreign language and make foreign friends, the furtherwe are from the old, stodgy Japan. The Japanese with foreign living experience are some of themost liberal and modern thinkers in the world. The growing non-Japanese populationincluding people like myself, and the children of bicultural marriages (like my own children),will forever change the face of Japan. One day, one of the completely bicultural childrenof Nippon will be prime minister and then I will know we have really arrived!
Nippon 2050: Invasion of the Beige Babies
by Kevin Burns
It was one of those hot, humidious Japanese July days. The air didn't move and Tokyo became the citymost closely resembling a giant sauna. The Japanese population had peaked at 130 million souls back in 2020;many of the young being of mixed Japanese and foreign blood. The face of Japan had changed due to the highnumber of international marriages in the early part of the 21st century and the continuing prevalence ofmixed marriages. With so many Japanese going abroad to do business and so many foreigners coming toJapan to do the same, romance naturally followed. As Japanese improved their English, communicationwas no longer an issue, and 50 hour a week salarymen were not as attractive to long suffering Japanese womenanymore. Some still went the traditional route and married the boy or girl next door, while others married their partners from Malaysia, Canada, China, France, Brazil and Nigeria to name but a few. Japan had become a country of "beige babies," as they were fondly dubbed by the press, as had much of the world. America and Canada had been moving in thatdirection for sometime and Japan was no longer as isolated as it had been in the days before Admiral Perry's"black ship."
This change wasn't a conscious decision, like so many issues in Japan, the government didn't do anything toact on it. "It just kind of happened," an ailing, 80 year old former Prime Minister Mori had stated in an AsahiShimbun interview. With zero growth in population, and dwindling domestic consumption, Japanesewere forced to send most of their factories abroad to take advantage of cheaper labour and other costs.For the first time, Japan placed in the top ten for clean air in the world. Toyota had led the way with hybrid cars in thelate 20th century and now all cars were either solar, hydrogen or nuclear powered. A safe form of nuclear propulsionhad been invented in 2017, and slowly these cars were coming online. Tokyo was no longer so smoggy.Few could imagine these great changes in the early part of the 21st century, but then again in 1919, who could haveimagined the coming to power of Adolf Hitler? Who could have imagined another world war right after World War 1?Who could have imagined the popularity of SMAP? Often huge changes are difficult to imagine, and makeone uncomfortable to think about.
With the huge increase in foreign born Japanese and children of mixed race, Japan was forced to join much of the world andenact laws preventing racial discrimination. Banning foreigners from bathouses in Otaru and banning Koreans born inJapan from joining golf clubs in Chiba had become a thing of the past. References to late Tokyo Governor Ishihara werereminders of a bureaucratically, racist past. Ishihara was no longer held in such high esteem as he had been in the earlypart of the century. He was now regarded as a political dinosaur and racist ideas like his were shouted down in theJapanese Diet, if they were even heard at all.
It was in this atmosphere that Sylvie Tanaka became Miss World. The mixed race Japanese people were some of themost beautiful in the world and Sylvie was no exception. She was smart, trilingual, and understood Asian and Westernculture. Due to many protests, the Miss World Pageant had become much more dependant upon how one presented oneself.You had to be a good speaker. You had to have something to say. You had to be well educated. Certainly beautyhelped, and Sylvie was gorgeous, but her speech entitled "Beige is Beautiful," was one of the most talked about of the year.The time was ripe for Sylvie's speech.
Finally, many of the tenets of the major religions were consistently being realized. People were mixing more, andwhat was in your heart became more important than the colour of your skin or the country of your ancestors.Religion started to do what it was supposed to do, bring people closer together and help to bring heaven on earth.Much of the latest research pointed to a reality far greater and richer than we had ever imagined. Einstein's theorums,much to his chagrin, pointed towards a much more chaotic and unpredictable world view: one where soul travel, psychicphenomenon, and the belief that we never die, might one day be proven by science. As people grew to realize that wemay never die, the people of the world felt more connected to each other, and Japan was no exception. "It was difficultfor Japanese to feel so unique since they may have been an American in another life."--stated political commentatorFujiko Suzuki in a Japan Times interview. Moreover, karma became a hot topic due to speculation that our soul lived on.People were much more conscious of how they acted towards others. Rudeness on the internet was nearly non-existent.Even Beat Takeshi an early 21st century comic, had stopped bopping people over the head with large felt hammers.
Tomodachi: Making Friends with Japanese
by Kevin Burns
One of the toughest things you can ever do is leave your family and friends back home, to start all over again in a foreign country. It isn`t for the faint of heart! It will test you mentally and physically. You will learn a lot about yourself,your country of origin and the country you go to in the process.In the end it will all be worth it.
Writer Neal Stephenson referred to living in Asia as like stepping into one of the classic comic books, and perhaps that was why so many Westerners ended up settling here. I can relate.
livingelsewhere. Japan is a good place to grow up. I am still working onthat. It is also a great place to live and work. Japan has given meso much. In spite of the complaints I have at times, I have much tobe thankful for. I better stop, Takahashisan has a ball in his hand,I had better defend myself! Ouch!
After arriving in Nagoya, I told my friends I would be on radio or TV within the year. I did this partly to spur myself on to do something about it.
I worked for Nunoike English School and St. Mary`s College in Nagoya. As well I registered with the best talent agency there. I called them everyday, and was told there was no work; everyday. But one day they called me at the college, and said to come to the agency on Friday morning, there was a modelling job that would pay me \15,000. This was a lot of money in 1989! The work took only one hour and then we got paid. It was an ad for a pharmaceuticals company and the work consisted of standing there and smiling. The ad appeared in some magazines in Japan.
In Vancouver, I was laughed at when I suggested that I could be a model. I have a big honkin` nose and at the time, had a baby face that my mother loved! Thanks Mom! I love you! Tissue please!
In Japan though, your big honkin` nose is an asset man! Big Nosers Unite! You are admired in the Land of the Rising Nostrils! My Japanese friends often tell me, "my husband admires your huge nose." They talk about your huge probuscus over dinner! Don`t be ashamed, flaunt that Snoz! Flaunt it!
About a month later I saw an ad for a radio commercial. I went to another talent agency, and auditioned by singing into a tape recorder along with some canned music. I got the job! I showed up at the studio at the appointed time and met my duet partner, a beautiful African lady from South Africa. She had a great voice to complement my hoarse one! I have occasionally been told I am a good singer. My brother who is honest to a fault, has told me I have a pleasant voice. This woman though, was a singer!
In the studio, they can make even Avril Lavigne sound great. I sounded great too once they flipped a few switches and turned a few dials. "FMA Morning Energy Traffic," came my baritone. (I`m actually more of a tenor type dude.) "FMA Morning Energy Weather," wow I sounded great.
Then came the singing. Angels came out of the speakers! I was singing with this great lady, but angels were filling the studio. Anyone who is not tone deaf, can sound like a major star with what they can do! Just ask Avril! (Whom I happen to like, but recognize that she is not the singer live, that she is in the studio. It`s like listening to two different people!)
The agent for this job left early and paid us early, but it wasn`t enough. I had to go to their office and demand the correct payment. This was a hassle, but I got paid the full amount in the end. Some of the agencies are pretty bad. If you plan to get into this kind of work, ask around to find out which agencies pay, and which don`t.
After I had moved to Kanagawa, I decided that I wanted to be on the radio some more. I sent off a demo tape to a radio station (don`t laugh!) called FM Banana. They were on the USEN 440 radio network. This is the cable radio network in Japan, and they have 440 stations! It`s actually very good if you can afford to subscribe.
I didn`t hear anything from the Banana folks so I contacted them to ask why I wasn`t hired and if I could improve somehow. Tomitasan pealed off his best English: "You need more energy." So I made another demo tape, just on a regular tape recorder in my Atsugi apartment and sent that off. It had lots of energy. I was a Kevin version of Wolfman Jack. I was hired the next week!
This caused me joy and extreme terror! I had lied about being a DJ at UBC! I had never Dee Jayed in my life except for having a canned music business where I played songs at weddings, parties, and wakes! I never spoke on my mike though. I just played songs. I wasn`t the greatest DJ but I would learn I told myself. I would learn in front of 800,000 listeners nationwide. Oh God, I gotta go to the toilet again man!!!! OUtta the way!!!!!!!
I called the Mitsubishi Car Plaza FM Banana office and asked if I could be in the studio with some of the other DJs, just to brush up on my skills, as it had been a while since I had Dee Jayed, I lied yet again. They said, "no problem." I trained with a pleasant American woman who was a very good DJ for two days. I asked a lot of questions, while trying not to appear like a total dork. Just a slight dork!
I started work that Monday and I was to be on three days a week from 9-12 noon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The pay was only 1,000 Yen per hour, and Mitsubishi used the station to advertise their cars. We were played in homes that had cable radio, in stores throughout Japan, and at all the Mitsubishi Car Plazas from Kushiro to Kagoshima. My husky voice blared out throughout Nippon, extolling the virtues of Eric Clapton and George Harrison. I learned how to be a DJ, hopefully not annoying too many Japanese mimi (ears) in the process!
I think it was Woody Allen who once said that "80% of success was just showing up." That is definitely true in Japan.
When I performed standup comedy in Tokyo and was active in improv comedy workshops, I met a man who proved the above statement. Not only did he show up, he would give whomever it was, what they wanted. He played the game, whichever game it happened to be at that particular moment.
He told me about an audition for a TV commercial where they wanted a guitarist. He had never played guitar in his life. Yet he auditioned! All of the other musicians were very good guitar players. They played very nice melodies on the guitar to polite approval from the panel of interviewers sitting behind a table. My friend though, he came into the room and went crazy on the guitar. He imagined himself to be a Jimi Hendrix. It sounded terrible but it looked great. He got the job. The producer was going to dub in the music anyway, so what was important was the look. Boy were the other true musicians upset with him! But he laughed all the way to the bank.
There`s another lesson there. The look you give is extremely important here. If you are going to teach English, you must look like an English teacher, and the same goes for every other job, be it guitarist on TV or computer programmer for Sony. If you look suspicious to Japanese eyes, you will be stopped by the police and interrogated. So it swings both ways.
I think it is important to be yourself, but it is important to play the game too. You live in Japan now, so the game has changed. You are now playing Parker Brother`s "Gaijin in Japan Game!" Roll the dice and move around the board. Pay \20,000 to get out of the cockroach infested gaijin house you are living in! Take a Chance Card! Congratulations! You have become a radio DJ in Tokyo! Congratulations! A beautiful girlfriend!
You can harp all you want about how unfair it is to be called a gaijin. You can complain that you got stopped by the police on your bike. You can also say it is unfair that some schmuck from Canada who had never been a DJ, gets to be a DJ just because he can speak English and put together a silly demo tape.
In the end though, maybe it is better to ask yourself, if I get a hair cut, would my life be easier in Japan? If I play the game, would my life be smoother? Sure protest when you need to. Speak up about discrimination in Japan, but play the game too. The dice often roll your way as well. That`s what I`ve found.