On fear, and being feared…part 2

Cockroaches, honestly, scare the shit out of me. I am seriously afraid that one may very well cause my death someday. I will be minding my business and walk into a bathroom, turn on the light and there will be one right before me on the wall and, startled by my sudden entrance and lightening of the room, will alight and land squarely on my person or, god forbid, my face or skin, and I will beat myself senseless trying to kill it, or have a heart attack right there in the toilet.

It is, seriously, one of my biggest fears. So much so that every time I enter a room, especially in this old ass house I presently reside in (and by old I mean by Japanese standards which means about 20 or 30 years…the brownstone I lived in back in NY was over a hundred) I enter cautiously with that horrific scenario in the back if not the front of my mind.It’s an irrational fear. That bug can do me no harm. I’m not ignorant of that fact, either. I KNOW it cannot harm me, only cause me to do harm to myself, and yet and still I am terrified.

Best case scenario: This is how many people (including Japanese) feel about black people. A fear and /or hatred that they have no conscious control of…like a rabid dog.

Worst case scenario: The belief that dark is truly evil and light is ultimately good and so the closer one is to white the better one’s humanity and the closer one is to black the more inclined to evil one is, justifying and rationalizing the fear and or hatred.

Yes, it’s beyond ridiculous…

Even among black people this phenomenon of skin color/tone connoting goodness or wickedness exists. Due to some very serious psychological damage (beginning during slavery days no doubt and persisting even to this day) even some black people unconsciously gravitate towards lighter skinned black people (or white people)…and consider darker skinned black folks to be…let’s just say less. Less something. Less cultured, less civilized, less educated…less trustworthy.

And definitely more fearful.

Maybe it’s just some aspect of human psychology, dating back to primitive man, that associates black with night, and night with fright and danger…maybe it’s just that simple.

I don’t know. But it persists like a motherfucker, and it’s maddening. Maddening to see people unable to do the one thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom and compels us to do things that animals would never do to each other. We have this intelligence, and this will power, and this culture and memory and sense of history and historical significance, and we still, many of us, choose to be afraid.

Sometimes when I see a cockroach, I stop myself, and I take a deep breath, and I catch a whiff of the fear-sweat spewing from my pores…and I can hear Frank Herbert’s Litany against Fear in my head…Fear is the mind killer… And then I see those long antennae and those many hairy legs, and the wings that want to spread, and the intelligent way it appears to be scanning the room for danger or food…yes, I imbue it with an intelligence that makes it even more fearful…I create the monster with the power of my mind. I create my nemesis. Meanwhile Herbert is still pissing in my ear, pleading, trying to reach me…I will permit it to pass over me and through me…But, I block it out again because, well, because I hate that cockroach now! I hate it because it has made me so goddamn afraid that I stink with fear funk. I hate it because it has exposed my weakness as a human being. I want to kill it! I feel a blood lust! Does it matter if the blood is red or green or white? No! I want to overcome my fear just enough to utterly destroy it and in doing so I will feel some sense of accomplishment…I will convince myself afterwards that I have overcome my fear of it because instead of taking flight from something that bore me no ill will or in any way could do me harm, I killed it.

And sometimes when I see the Japanese fear of me it reminds me of my fear of the cockroach…in all of it’s irrationality and insanity. And I think of what I did to that roach once I was able to muster up the courage to do so.

I wonder if they are doing the same thing…creating monsters in their minds. Creating a nemesis to challenge them so that they can feel courageous.

And maybe they’ve made me out as that monster. Now that scares me.


24 Responses to “On fear, and being feared…part 2”

  1. May 21, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    I was not quite expecting such a deep post to start from your opening paragraph, but it was really thought-provoking and I enjoyed it. 🙂
    I have to agree with you, though. I hate cockroaches, but it’s mostly their icky-ness that disgusts me and makes me scared of them.

  2. 2 Rune
    May 21, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    bravo Loco. very well written and thoughtful post

  3. 3 XO
    May 21, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    “feel about black people”

    That is true, but there is no reason to limit it to black people. Basically, I have met so many immigrants in Japan, and almost all have similar stories, or, at least the ones who are here long enough to comprehend it. Many whites, south Asians, etc. have told me very similar stories of fear and loathing. I guess white people as the minority victims of racial prejudice is unusual for Americans, but the stories they tell are too similar to my experiences not to be true. And I have also seen it happen…

    Your posts have been great lately, keep it up!

    • May 21, 2009 at 9:17 pm

      XO-san, thanks for the shout! Yeah, you’re right about that. Sometimes I wonder if the increased intensity I perceive from Japanese towards black people is imagined or not. I mean, I look around, and you see quite a bit of Caucasian worship so I can hardly bring myself to believe that the same level of fear exists. In areas like business, fashion, etc clearly Caucasians are clearly the role models…who fears their role model? Of course there are some cliques that hold African Americans as role models as well…the Hip Hop heads and Jazz heads, but not the mainstream…As far as other Asians, yep, they catch it and how. That is if they distinguish themselves somehow. I think, for example on a crowded train, they would have little to no issue, I think…they can most likely fly below the radar.

      Damn, this is a complicated subject!

  4. 5 karadin
    May 21, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks for the great blog! I happen to be Caucasian, but I tend to gravitate (I find appealing) the really black skin. I think the thing that freaks me out most about cockroaches is the way they skitter, and the attenane, creepy! So not so much a color thing, at least for me.

    My friend in Japan has warned me about the cockroaches, Pal in Okinawa once got swarmed by them as a kid and has never gotten over it.

  5. 6 XO
    May 22, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Right, I mean I have seen all the same bullshit done to white men. Many times in fact. And I mean all of it: fear such as clutching bags, the avoidance, the condesencion, refusing to speak Japanese to them, crossing the street so as not to be near them and on and on and on. Most everything you describe, white men will tell you the same, or least they have done so to me. And I have seen it on the streets of Tokyo. Of course, these are people who are in local neighborhoods and this may be less applicable in Odaiba or wherever tourists go.

    Whites are just as foreign, whether or not they are respected in an abstract way. Abstract respect diminishes when they are alone on a back street with a pointy nosed devil. It has really made me re-think racism. The assumption of white privilege does not hold in the backstreet of grimey outer suburbs. When the abstract becomes real, they get it bad. Now whether it is JUST as bad is a whole different question. But they complain about it enough to know they are really getting it.

    • May 22, 2009 at 9:04 am

      Well, that’s news to me! I defintely don’t see it when I’m out and about and the complaints I’ve heard from my caucasian brothers and sisters have been about shit that doesn’t bother me much like the constant staring or condescension. And the commenters to my blog who have announced their race and told me that I need to stop complaining (I love these guys) always say they experience the same thing but manage to ignore it (I guess due to their superior dispositions or something) and then describe something trivial like staring (which i would place under the peeve category more than the obscenity category,) and little else…which often makes me wonder if they’ve even read my blog or not because not once have I given staring a serious nod.
      Any readers out there want to get in on this please feel free too. I’d love to hear some white horror stories…
      And XO I’m currently working on that request of yours…(-:
      Man I love writing

  6. 8 XO
    May 22, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Aiight! I am definitely looking forward to read your thoughts on urban planning etc…Thanks!

  7. 9 dani
    May 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Man, you get the strangest reactions in this country. My hats off to you for staying here despite that. Good luck in Yokohama. Keep up the posts, please.

  8. 10 riki
    May 23, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    You can think of fear as being a weekness, but to some extent fear, plus other reactions like disgust (in relation to food etc), provide an evolutionary advantage. Imagine two of our common ancestors going down to the waterhole, they both hear some russelling in the grass. One has a heightened sense of fear with the capacity to imagine that it might be a predator and runs away more often than necessary. In this case being overly precautions would occasionally pay off.

    The other has little or no fear and just assumes it’s the wind. As a result the second type-o-dude is killed in more instances that necessary. Thus the guy with fear, lives another day and has more chance to breed and pass on his genes.

    Ironically this trait was probably bread into humans before they migrated out of Africa. So blame the black people. Just joking btw 🙂

    • May 23, 2009 at 10:06 pm

      Well. actually, I was referring to irrational fear…of course if you are tramping through the bush you should be on guard. And if you live thereabouts you probably have a good idea of what might be lurking in those bushes and if you don’t that would fall under the category of ignorant, dangerously, suicidally so. Our ancestors, i suspect, were very aware of their environment and though fear might have been a tool for survival, knowledge and preparation were more useful…then and now. Responding to the rustle with fear may very well be the the provocation for that predator to attack…where as standing still may have meant survival, like in the case of some predators who are alerted by movement or excited by the chase as opposed to prey that doesn’t put up a fight.
      Maybe you’ve watched too much Scooby-Doo or Old Tarzan movies – hehehe
      And I’m sure our African ancestors learned how to survive in the various environments the African continent contains and deal with all manner of beast…that is until the Europeans came along with their weaponry, treachery, inhumanity and twisted religious ideas and whatnot hehehe just joking btw

  9. 12 riki
    May 24, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Even if the fear is irrational you end up with the same result “pre-caution” and the brains ability to imagine possible threats. Which only needs to pay off in a small percentage of cases to make a big difference over the kind of time scales we’ve been taking about.

  10. 13 XO
    May 24, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Irrational fear is a disadvantage, because it limits the possibilities for successful cooperation as well. In the Japanese case, it limits the successful integration of immigrants to be contributing fully to society. You are advocating for risk-aversion, but we know from economics that this is a failing strategy. You need to be open to new chances for innovation, and irrational fear reduces the possibility of being open to chances for positive innovation. Cooperation is the key to human evolutionary success (achieved primarily through our linguistic advantages over other animals), and risk aversion decreases cooperation.

  11. May 25, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Sounds almost like something out of a Kafka piece. We can all learn something from a cockroach. They’re one of the longest surviving insects in world, and they never go away no matter how advanced our technology as humans advance. They are far more intelligent than humans in this respect. Also, they never have to change in order to survive, humans do!


    True story: I was sitting in a lounge waiting on my order and this little Japanese kid approached me from the side. He said, from a few tables away,” you look scary scary scary!” I told him “Thanks!” He scurried off like the little coward his father taught him to be. In the South, in Amerikkka, if the little white boy has no fear of you he’ll approach you and call you a nigger to your face, because he knows his father would call you a nigga, too.

    People are less likely to refuse and confront me when they fear me. This is a good thing and a blessing considering the level cowardice and fake people in Japan. I wouldn’t sit down to drink with 90% of them because of this fact. I have refused so many offers to go drinking it’s a shame.

    “I don’t need nor want to be accepted, just pay me!!” are words to live by

    • May 25, 2009 at 8:29 pm

      Wise words in deed, Tony-san!
      I think I’m just trying to find the best words to describe the experience of being black / foreign in Japan so I keep experimenting. I’m glad you were moved to comment.
      Thanks for the shout!

  12. May 26, 2009 at 1:41 am


    I wish you luck in defining what it means to be black in Japan. I’ll tell you, I have been to a dozen or so countries, and being black in Japan is a far better experience than all of the countries I’ve been to, especially when it comes to earnings potential and relationships, and so on – even professional development!

    Trying to define where we stand in Japan as a race is close to impossible since most Japanese haven’t fully yet integrated Amerikkka’s brand of racism and hierarchical system – in terms of race. In Japan, there are only two races, the Japanese and the non-Japanese. Whites,black,asians are all considered the same, some a little more favorable than the other, but all in all Japanese look at all non-Japanese through the same lens of scrutiny.

    Some people may disagree with this, but there are many black people who are successful and who do have their own businesses, and who do rival their white,asian, and latino counter-parts in Japan. There are many black people who do work in large corporations regardless of what the old adage may say. This only proves my theory.

    The very first job interview I had in Japan was by a “haafu” white/japanese who told me to my face that hiring me would be a liability for his company’s image! I have never experienced this type of out right rejection because of the color of my skin, not even by older Japanese people. I’m sure it was his white side talking, and not his Japanese side, whichever, he is garbage to me and so is his whore mother who married a white clown who in turn taught and instilled within this half breed hybrid boy racial disharmony. Not too long ago, and even in some isolated cases, his kind still gets discriminated against!

    These are the future racist of Japan!!! The haafu breed hybrid whites who will eventually become the new face of Japan in twenty years. When the old generation finally dies out this two racial system will be eliminated( Japanese & non-Japanese), only to be replaced by a pyramid pecking order where you’ll have a multi-tiered system of race: whites and haafus at the top, along with asians, then Indians, and then all others at the bottom, us included, along with all of the 100% Japanese neets and freeters. As we speak now Japan is experiencing an unprecedented brain drain of talented Japanese who are seeking a better life elsewhere – not here in Japan. I know this sounds a bit Orwellian, but I think it’s highly plausible that in the next thirty years Japan will have a white/haafu face attached to it’s economic structure.

  13. 19 Jorge
    May 31, 2009 at 12:28 am

    People’s and nations really differ – all sorts of studies have shown Asians to be significantly less extroverted and aggressive, and more timid and cautious, than other parts of the world. The fact is, the disposition to feel fear, timidity, and extreme caution is simply much more highly represented in Asia than nearly anywhere else in the world.

    So much so that I privately think of Asia as the “continent of fear”, because fear, social and otherwise, is one of Asian culture’s most defining charachteristics. It’s all over the continent, not just Japan, although Japan has it harder than many other places.

    It shows up in every area of Japanese life. Even the language, with it’s extreme lack of precision and concreteness and deliberate built in vagueness, to the point where it often hampers efficient functioning and even Japanese people have to guess at each others meanings, is a response to a very strong, pathological, social fear of giving offense. Japanese politeness is merely fear (politeness is a virtue, but becomes pathological and merely fear-motivated when it is so extreme as to utterly suppress individuality and hamper effective functioning).

    Most societies strive to overcome the various human fears we are born with, and consider it a part of the maturation process – most Asian societies instead have opted to accommodate themselves to their innate human fears rather than overcome them and to build their cultures around the fear. This tells you something about just how powerful and deeply felt a part of the Asian psyche fear is.

    Fear of innovation, fear of standing out, fear of the other, fear of saying what you truly mean, fear of giving offense even if you really believe in something – it would be tedious to catalogue all the ways fear plays a huge part in Japanese or Asian life, but I think it’s important to realize that Asians simply feel a far greater disposition to feel fear than nearly any other culture on the planet, and to really grasp this fact when you approach Japanese life and culture.

    It isn’t really their fault, and is something that hurts and diminishes them far more than it does you. It makes their lives smaller and pettier and full of an emotional anguish that others in other parts of the world would find laughable and pointless. And it diminishes them as human beings – we respect and admire those who overcome weaknesses and achieve strength, not those who surrender to weakness. This is one of the reasons why I feel capable of feeling affection, sympathy, and friendliness towards Asians, but rarely respect, much less admiration.

    At the end of the day, there is nothing to be DONE about it. It is what it is and will remain what it is. Expecting the Japanese to suddenly overturn so basic and interwoven an aspect of their being – which is an integral part of their cultural life (you only notice the aspect of it which makes them fear YOU, but it goes much deeper), simply isn’t realistic. For the Japanese to give up xenophobia – assuming that is even possible – would mean to drastically overhaul their entire relationship towards fear and it’s status as a key cultural force in almost every area of Japanese life. It would mean for them to cease being Japanese.

  14. 20 XO
    June 2, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Very few countries have changed as much as Japan has in the last 100 years. Why can’t they change xenophobia also? And note that globalization is forcing them into conflicts that will produce change somehow. The best path is to admit the simple truth that immigrants are not scary, and welcome them as new citizens working to improve Japan. When immigrants finally reach say 10% of Japan in twenty years, is there really any other option? A permanent race-conflict bubbling under the surface is not in anyone’s benefit. So, yes they should change, as they have done so many times before.

    Elite leadership and a strong media campaign saying that xenophobia is wrong would go along way. At least try that before you give up on change.

  15. 21 Fare Adjustment
    September 21, 2009 at 11:19 am

    First time post. Interesting points. I am often surprised by this “fear factor” of me by many Tokyoites.Clean cut and nearly white doesn’t seem to all that matter much. Some people may not pick up on it easily as I do. Being from Chicago,being quick to access changing situations and a variety of types of people is important.

    It gets unerving to be predefined as “dangerous” and get the vibes that go with it here in Japan.
    Logic need not apply. Poem writer,toy maker,butterfly collector,song writer,pimp,TV repairman=Danger!! Friendly=Danger!! Run for your lives!

    It also can get tiring dealing with some Japanese women here.The assumption by some of them that “he is talking to me”=”he only wants sex”! For example: Hello! Are you the new _______? Yes, I am Akiko. I am here at this office this month as a temp. I am married and expecting a baby. Nice to meet you. Yes,err have a nice day… 😦

    Sometimes I comment to friends at a pub, that many Japanese rather pay you ¥ for a predefined English converstion, rather than deal with a undefined attempt at “friendship” with you.A definite start,middle and finish. No grey zone.End of story.

    • September 21, 2009 at 11:39 am

      Thanks Fare-san for the response!
      Yeah, it’s something ain’t it?
      That comment you made to your friends at the pub is spot on but it pays the bills so…(-:

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May 2009

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