Playing for keeps pt.3

Since, by my own definition, hate is fear squared, and I’m flirting with hate, it begs the question what am I afraid of.

Once again, please bear with me…

I touched on this subject in a previous post but allow me to expand upon it.

I remember when I first came to Japan and I got my first taste of Japanese-style racial insensitivity. I was working for NOVA at the time. I came into work that afternoon and, as was the practice, I checked the schedule on the wall to see what classes and levels I would be teaching that evening, made a note of them and prepared my lessons. One of the Japanese staff people came into the office a little before classes were to begin to change the schedule. This happened occasionally and was always accompanied by profuse apologies. I saw that one of my classes had been switched from a high level class which I liked to a low-level class which I could live without. I asked the staff why was the change made. It seemed arbitrary. The staff person blushed and confessed via a troubled look that it was for a reason that she didn’t exactly feel comfortable telling me. Not much of a poker face. But, in words she told me only that it was a student’s request. Her blush raised a red flag though and I smelled a rat so I didn’t let it drop. She informed a head teacher of my concerns. I watched them discussing it in Japanese which I could not comprehend at all at the time. Occasionally he would glance at me and also look uncomfortable. Finally, he came to me and said, “The student wanted a different teacher…it’s not a reflection on you. She wants to go to England someday so she wants to study with a teacher from England.” There were several British teachers, all white and all busy that period. The teacher that was  to replace me was Australian, also white (with decidedly a different accent than the British). I pointed this out. The Head teacher had screwed up, otherwise I’m sure he would have said the student wanted to go to Aussie not England, to his credit. I wasn’t sore at him. He was just doing his job. I wasn’t sore at the Japanese staff either. She too was just doing her job. I wasn’t even especially sore at the student. She was just expressing a preference based on whatever criteria she had in her head.

I was, however, in due course, sore at NOVA for creating a culture and work environment where this kind of thing was tolerated and/or condoned. I know they are a business (though clearly had other issues besides this one) and お客様神様 (The customer is God) is the rule here in Japan but still… Anyway, I told myself I wasn’t in America and let it go.

…But I hadn’t forgiven nor forgotten. I hadn’t truly let it go. Just stored it away.

It would take several more of these type incidents, and stories from other non-white co-workers of similar occurences, before it got through my benefit-of-the-doubt giving heart that something was amiss; something that was not aimed scatter-shot at “foreigners” but sniper deadly at non-white foreigners.

This actually surprised me. Why? Because, at the time, I half-expected Japanese people to feel we had something in common when I first came to Japan.

Don’t laugh.

I mean, here was a country that was actually nuked by people of European decent, the only country to hold that distinction. So, naturally, I thought that they would feel a certain connection with other people who have seen the dark side of so-called western civilization up-close and personal. After all, modern African-Americans are the survivors of essentially a 400+ year-long European-driven holocaust, and modern Africans are survivors of 400 plus years of European imperialism and genocide.  A couple of nukes are nothing in comparison to that, I know, but I thought Japanese might draw some comparisons and reach out. I was predisposed to think this way. It happened a number of times back in New York. For example, Latinos and Blacks often found themselves drawn together by our commonalities for a cause that affected minorities. Also, when I would make friends of Jewish descent (considered a race unto themselves by most whites), most of them had no problem comparing Jewish history and African-American history. And though I was stubborn and would often get into heated debates over whose history was worse, whose ancestors suffered more or longer, and which race continues to suffer the generational repercussions (stupid debate actually) we could all agree who the inquisitors were in the Inquisition and who was on the other side of those oven doors, who was on the deck of the slave ships and whose hands were on the whips.

But, I was wrong. The culture here appears to be infatuated with Euro-everything (but it could be a facade…). They appear to want to be associated with white. For example, if I had a ¥100 for every time I’ve heard a Japanese person compare Japan and England (we’re both island nations, we’re both polite, we both have a parliament and a royal family, etc…) I’d be a millionaire (yen wise at least.) I can’t really blame them, though. White people (for the most part) hold a great deal of the wealth, power and privilege in the world so it’s quite reasonable (maybe not the best word) to want to be like them. Does it matter that they were the ones that unleashed hell on your country and got medieval on civilians not so long ago? That can be rationalized, too, and I’ve heard many Japanese do it. They tell me that the blame for that was the Japanese imperialist, the unyielding emperor and the blind obedience of his legions going about Asia committing all sorts of atrocities. That Japan deserved to be nuked is the implication.

Crazy, right?

But, somehow Europeans manage to retain a relative positive image here while the image of black people…not so much. And, I’ve intuited the following to be the  Japanese beliefs based on their remarks and behavior: on the upside: Success is white but cool is black, intelligent is white but creative is black, cultural superiority is white but physical superiority is black, mental aptitude is white but spiritual aptitude is black, etc… On the downside: arrogance is white and danger is black, heritage is white and homelessness is black, hatred is white and savagery is black, Globalization spreading is white and disease spreading is black, war-mongering is white and whore-mongering is black, etc… Little by little, I could feel something inside me growing like a malignant resentment towards this thinking.  All of this has combined into an almost oppressive denial of the diversity of me and people who share my racial distinction and the various views we represent. And the humiliation of it grew and grew, while, in my efforts to endure- in the spirit of whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger– my tolerance has steadily approached critical mass.

And that’s what I was afraid of. That enduring life here wasn’t making me stronger.  It was just changing me.

I think the most peculiar side effect of my rationalizing the irrational is that I’ve been developing an argument against any future rationalizations. An argument that I believe will resolve much of what I’ve been discussing here. No more ascribing superficially to causes for Japanese obscenities unrelated to the truth because they seem valid and reasonable. No more inventing plausible explanations for Japanese indiscretions.

A couple of weeks ago I suddenly thought about one of my favorite Kung Fu flicks. A film called Iron Monkey. In it a doctor is poisoned by the deadly Buddha Palm strike of an evil monk and as he is dying he writes a prescription for himself for another doctor to procure in order to save his life. The other doctor reads the prescription. The prescription is a concoction made up of the venom of several poisonous creatures. Poison to remedy poison. Brilliant. Way to think outside the box, doc! Yes, even chemotherapy, basically a poison, can stop the metastasis, send into remission, or even kill cancer cells sometimes.

Then I started thinking about how I could apply that to my life here in Japan.

We are taught in the west that good overcomes evil. That love is the antidote for hate. That it’s always darkest before the dawn…

But I don’t believe in pure evil no more than I believe in pure good. And I’ve seen the most horrendous shit done in the name of love.

And it’s awfully dark.

Life in Japan has tampered with feelings I haven’t tampered with in a long time; my fears about my own self-worth, and my fears about my future. But, this all may yet be for the best.

I’m playing for keeps here…and the stakes are very high.


PS: Should I resume the “On the couch…:” series?


27 Responses to “Playing for keeps pt.3”

  1. 1 Dana
    November 4, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Hi… I just wanted to say I love your blog, and I’m especially enjoying this series. You are a great writer. I really hope that this reaches a wide audience.

    I hope you’re keeping your head above water over there, though by the looks of it you may be writing from the other side, after you have everything or almost everything figured out. I’m rooting for you! And I’m eagerly awaiting your next post.


    • November 5, 2009 at 8:25 am

      Thanks Dana!
      I’m eagerly awaiting inspiration and responses like yours send me some so thanks and please keep reading

  2. 3 TLR
    November 4, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Loco,

    Well after reading the previous article I was going to refrain from posting just to see where you went with this. But now that you have continued I figured I would respond. I am white grew up in Hillsdale, Michigan. Just check out Hillsdale College and you can see how conservative the town I grew up in. Never met a black person until joining the Marine Corps in 1984. He was assigned to the rack below me. He called me sly (I have no idea why) and I called him Sugar (because he reminded me of sugar bear for a reason I don’t remember)He was a gentle giant and failed to graduate. I remember asking him what he signed up for and he said to be a cook because his goal in life was to go back to Toledo and open a restaurant. At the time I thought how strange. But he and I were like two peas in a pod we got along better then some of my closest friends from back home. I was extremely sad the day he dropped out we were so close to graduating. But he just did not have that killer instinct that seemed to be required. I now know that Sugar was way more advanced then me. I was young dumb and full of myself.

    So when I read your blog I think to myself – Hate? What makes someone hate another person, another country another race. I think it comes down to boundaries. We all have them with situations, with people with work with everything. And for anger to occur what boundary was crossed. Because anger leads to hate which leads to violence which can lead to murder/war.

    I just returned from Japan I spent 2 weeks mostly in Sendai with day trips to Tokyo, Matsushima and Yama dera. The main reason for my trip was to get our “official” wedding photo done. My wife in kimono and me in the mon-tsuki hakama out fit. It was fun and for the first time my inlaws actually acknowledged me as a part of the family. I remember asking my wife why she married me the gaijin instead of a japanese and she said that it had nothing to do with my race but my heart. She liked me for me because I had a warm heart.

    So my blogging friend just remember hate begets hate just as evil begets evil and a warm heart can melt the iciest of prejudice over time.

    Not that anything above will change your situation I only ask that you ask yourself one question “How can I experience this hate and be at peace?”

    inner-peace is all any of us really want.



    • November 5, 2009 at 8:24 am

      TLR san,
      Hate begets hate you say…warmth can melt icy prejudice you say…
      I don’t know.
      Don’t be mistaken. If I meet a Japanese person they usually take to me. Nothing but love love.
      It’s the millions that I’ll never meet that I write about. Their behaivior is what makes life here a challenge. Not the people I know.
      I agree, but fear can lead to anger, so I went there. My boudaries are crosses daily by strangers, so in the spirit of peace and love and melting prejudice, I slide the line a little closer to me. I’m open to other options now. Maybe a blow torch or a stick of dynamite or some Napalm would be a better way to melt it (-:

  3. November 4, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    My favorite read as usual. (would love to get on your blogroll) but I’m biding my time and waiting for the right moment to imply it 😉

    On oppression. Having been raised by the coolest of Moms I was never burdened with the teachings that are ignorance and racism.

    “Yes, even chemotherapy, basically a poison, can stop the metastasization, send into remission, or even kill cancer cells sometimes.”

    I wish chemo had “even kill”ed my moms cancer which made me wonder long ago just in who’s financial interest is it in anyway to “cure” cancer? (another topic all together)

    Back on…
    I just went outside to get oil for the heater and 2 kids bolted into a sprint at the site of me. I built a bad reputation with my fists a few years back but they were too young to know so someone must have passed on the stories and I must be some bedtime story for them.You better do______ or we’ll tell the gaijin to come and get you!!!

    It was taught to them by their parents/grandparents. I used to care and it drove me nuts. But then I noticed that the School kept growing and my pocket of course got fatter. I’m a teacher and English is my product and the quality is the best around and sales are boomin so I finally said fuck em’. Fuck the subpar teachers gauging the locals for an over priced low quality product. Fuck the ignorant racist people who judge me based on stories that probably sound more horrific than the truth ever was.
    Fuck the back stabbing foreigners who absorbed the worst parts of tatemae and then use it as an excuse to be less than great as a friend and a person. Fuck everyone and anyone who ever doubted me and yanked support when I needed it the most.

    (2pac Fuck all Ya’ll)
    You can throw ya middle finger if ya feel me loc
    a nigga just got paid and we still was broke
    It took time but finally the cash was mine
    all the rewards of a hustler stuck in the grind
    Look around and all I see is snakes and faces
    like scavengers waitin’ to take a hustler’s pape’s
    and when you stuck where the fuck is all ya friends
    They straight busted and can’t be trusted fuck y’all

    Thank you moms and all the mother fuckers WHO TOLD ME not to sweat the punk ass bitches. For all ya’ll wishin you could tell that person how you feel about their bullshit racism or otherwise…no worries. I got your back long distance. Everytime anyone anywhere does anything I don’t think is fair or respectful I call em’ out. I can move my elbow from the side of my torso to the middle of someones face faster than they can take a breath.
    Life’s a game and so far I’m winning big. Let go of the worry Loc.

    Fuck em’. They don’t know how lucky they are to even be in your presence.

    257 days without the booze but it wasn’t ever the problem. It was ME caring about THEM.



    • November 5, 2009 at 8:18 am

      Chris-san, please forgive my oversight!!!! It has been rectified! You are on the blogroll.
      Thank you for the thoughtful and heartfelt response. I can feel the love.
      Damn, no you didn’t channel Pac! See, that’s that shit. Pac was in a class by himself. I try not to worry. Writing keeps me grounded.
      I don’t booze much. I just write. I’m kind of using them. They give me a reason 2 write (aint that right reason2write?)
      Thanks again

  4. 7 MikeinKorea
    November 4, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    It took me a minute but I can’t even generate enough emotion to hate them anymore.You kinda of old school so be like Slick Rick. back in the day people would come up to him and he would tell them to be gone you piss poor peasants. That’s how I deal with the Koreans. I’m like the moon and the dogs gone bark but that doesn’t mean I have to acknowledge it.

    • November 5, 2009 at 8:11 am

      Mike in Korea, thanks for the shout! “be gone you piss poor peasants.” That gave me a laugh, thanks. Slick is one cool mofo. If I were half as cool as him I’d probably feel the same way

  5. 9 Red Raider
    November 4, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    I think it would be fair to say that we may not occupy the same side of the political spectrum, but I enjoy your posts and see we have some common threads. First, I’m about as white as they come. I don’t even have any of that fun Southern European blood in me, all Northern and boring.

    I’m living in Japan for the second time. The first time was in 2000. At that time I was in Tokyo, and had many occasions where I was slighted because of my race. On the trains for example: I had people get up from their seats and move when I sat next to them, I’ve had the empty seat on the crowded train, I’ve even had an elderly gentlemen come up to me and start yelling. One of my friends (also white) had his daughter of 6 actually assaulted on the trains.

    I’ve tried to get into bars and was turned away because I was gaijin. None of it really bothered me. If you don’t sit next to me on the train: good, more leg room for me. In the back of my mind, I always thought that if I was a Japanese guy, I wouldn’t like gaijin either, it’s too easy for them to pick up our women!

    Anyway, keep up the excellent blogging.


    • November 5, 2009 at 8:09 am

      RR san, thanks for the shout! Yes, leg room is nice.
      I just…well, anyway, you know how I feel.

  6. 11 poopypants
    November 4, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    “Fear leads to anger.
    Anger leads to hate.
    Hatred leads to power.
    Power leads to victory.
    Let your anger flow through you.
    Your hate will make you strong.
    True power is only achieved through
    testing the limits of one’s anger,
    passing through unscathed.
    Rage channeled through anger is unstoppable.
    The dark side of the Force
    offers unimaginable power.
    The dark side is stronger than the light.
    The weak deserve their fate.”

    star wars droppin knowledge.

    • November 5, 2009 at 8:06 am

      The force is with you Poopypants
      The dark side is awfully appealing right about now(-:

  7. 13 T.Holms
    November 5, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Oy Loco!
    I also tend to be sensitive to racial injustices. I actually tend to question the role of defining people by race in modern society. Categorizing somebody specifically based on race is sort of prejudice in itself due to the fact it is grouping together people with similar physical features. But yeah I agree with you that people of African descent suffered greatly by those of European descent and far greater than the Japanese. I am one who thinks at least one of the nukes was justified (the 2nd was america flexing its muscles to Russia) because Japanese were comitting ritualistic suicide if they heard American soldiers were coming to their villages due to how their propoganda demonized us. Many believed that they not only saved American lives but Japanese would have suffered far greater losses in a war in which they were willing to fight to to death. Anyway, a little off tangent there… I don’t believe “Good” and “Evil” exist at all… Everything is just perspective and point of view. It’s just humans attempting to rationalize everything similar to how we differenciate race or social status. Racism and prejudice will never be abolished because frankly we always seek to rationalize our world by categorizing everything… it is just simpler that way. These flawed belief systems will always lead to conflict… it will always be “Us” and “Them”, “black” and “white”, “democrat” and “republican”, “liberal” and “conservative”, and we will fiercely defend our beliefs and refuse to see from other perspectives and other points of view because of our pride. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but it’s human kinds destiny and ignorance to keep crashing into eachother non-stop, doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

    • November 5, 2009 at 10:39 pm

      Well, so much for optimism LOL
      Thanks for the shout T.Holms-san (-;

  8. 15 T.Holms
    November 5, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    lol yeah man I just realized how dark and brooding that was… sorry to double post but I’m actually extremely curious to how Japanese people view themselves, where do they fit in to that Black and White description… what are there stats? lol

  9. November 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Hey, Loco

    I’ll do my best spare you a repeat of the monologue I subjected you to last time. You know most of my thoughts on this anyway.

    I think one of the most difficult things about living as a black person is the pervasive, inescapable discourses that infect almost everything around you. The fact that your identity symbolises dysfunction. That you are by your appearance considered to represent a group that comes dead last in any metric that counts for anything.

    It’s a heavy burden.

  10. November 6, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Hey Rubi.
    thanks again for the shout (-:
    Is that true? I mean what metric are you talking about?
    Does metric include politics, arts, sports, etc? I’m not sure I follow? If politics, I think it’s safe to say we’ve hurdled that hurdle, and in Art we’ve accomplished more than most other groups…and sports, forget it. And there are others of course. I think the people who choose to believe that we’re in dead last in any area are the ones who want to see that. Not anyone with a discerning eye, that’s for damn sure.
    But I’m not sure I understand your point so if I’m off on a tangent forgive me


    • November 6, 2009 at 1:49 am

      I’m basically sort of bouncing off of what you wrote here:

      “Success is white but cool is black, intelligent is white but creative is black, cultural superiority is white but physical superiority is black, mental aptitude is white but spiritual aptitude is black”

      Arts and sports are not I would argue, generally considered to be higher cultural, intellectual pursuits valued in the Japanese context. Of course, the uncritical link to negativity, and these less valued attributes denies the reality of the black experience. What I was getting at was the beliefs, not the reality. The grinding, subtle oppression of those beliefs. What exposure to them can do to your feelings of self worth, your feelings about other people, your feelings about people who look like you.

      It was my extremely clumsy attempt at empathising.

  11. November 6, 2009 at 6:15 am

    And Rubi-san, boy can I feel it now! Thank you for clearing that up. Thanks for the empathy. Don’t get much of that these days. Lots of sympathy and pity which is not the goal at all. Anyway, thanks a lot

  12. November 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    are you checking to see if I read comments too? That is a reason! you are so right – as usual!

  13. 21 MikeinKorea
    November 8, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I remember reading something similar in GQ but it was Goyim and Jewish.

  14. November 8, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Yes, my son, you are drawing closer to the dark side. Give in, give in! Would you rather eat sushi from a Japanese or a non-Japanese chef…apples and oranges.

    • 23 Aka Gaijin
      November 9, 2009 at 9:13 pm

      What a great question! If you learned that the person reacting negatively to you was of another Pacific rim nationality, would that change your own reaction?

      I’ll admit that I’ve started to develop a weak, but still negative impression of the general mindset in this country. Still trying to figure out what it is, but I think it’s somehow tied to the child-like mentality that spawns so much material for American otaku to obsess over. Not saying that everybody is infantile, but there’s something on an impulsive level about many peoples daily actions that reminds me of my little nieces.

      Seeing a trait like that at first can be endearing, but like a girlfriends squealing laugh, can get infuriating over time. Only my Japanese friends who have lived overseas seem to have developed beyond this… whatever it is… and that’s probably why I call them friends.

    • November 10, 2009 at 12:01 am

      Well said AKA…thanks for the shout!
      Yeah it’s something…or a combination of somethings….whatever it is it’s something I could live without; but then I couldn’t live in Japan could I? 🙂

  15. 25 alex
    November 14, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    hello loco,
    just read this post, after coming across your blog last night. was looking for some current on-spot input about japan, after having spent 5 months in school there, 2 years ago already. i wanna go back, applied for a scholarship, but atm i am in fear of all the loneliness and strangeness which came on top of all the good things about japan.

    even though white, i also felt similar resentments, when it was all about that vacant seat next to me in a cramped train. no shit, it happened to me, too. i can only guess and get a hint in my imagination what it must be like with a darker skin color. don’t get me wrong, i did notice there is this difference between white and black (also europe and rest of the world, even though i always was asked about being americanjin, even though from germany). another exchange-student with me in japan is an african-american, and i could see and feel, how some people perceived him just in the way you describe it. this, topped with these awkwardly strange “blackface” occurances in japanese tv made you feel sick to your stomach.

    however, what i was going to say is thank you for this posting. in the beginning i felt a certain resentment towards your attitude in this posting, because as a german i have been hearing similar things about being to blame for countless of deaths all my life (though this would be another topic: not all ppl being the same, and sometimes getting sick of being blamed for everything). i do understand it is hard to find somebody to put a finger on, esp. if history goes back hundreds of years and countless generations. yet, i also started to agree with you, there longer i went along with reading. it is a sad insight, but i do know that even within myself, though trying hard to not see racial differnces, it sometimes happens, that i fall victim to those stereotypes you called up, too. it is sad, and sickening, to find out, that i sometimes, even though i try hard, slip into these ways of thinking. i am thinking in this way about white-people too, though. does that change it? don’t know. strong subject. anyway and hence, thanks for giving me this insight again.

    best, keep on writing, even though your posts are long, they are really good:
    busted choppers in the land of busted choppers. man i was laughing hard after reading this line. 😉

  16. 26 C
    November 18, 2009 at 2:32 am


    I have been a reader for about while but have not posted. Based on this post, what would you say is the perception of African-Americans in the Age of Obama? Do you think he helps to advance the views of black americans (at least) in some way?


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