The Mainichi Daily News
October 31, 1998
Pros and cons of Japan bashing
To the Editor:
In Peter Hadfield's column on Oct 11 (or Oct 12 in some areas), he suggested that Japanese expatriates in New York who have written the book "Japan Made in USA" don't have a leg to stand on when they criticize the New York Times
for "biased" reporting in which Japanese are supposedly being "laughed at."
Though I agree with Hadfield, like the Japanese expats in New York I also take exception at the way the press covers Japan. My problem, however, is with how Americans and other foreigners in Japan are portrayed in the Japanese media, and the self-censorship practiced by both the Japanese and American press when the issue is the abuse gaijin
suffer at the hands of Japanese employers and this country's legal system.
When Japanese expatriates encounter problems in the United States they seem to get more than their share of press on both sides of the Pacific, but when foreigners in Japan encounter problems we rarely get any. I believe that the American press refrains from reporting on incidents which might put Japan in a bad light because it is afraid of a backlash from the Japanese – who are liable to accuse it of "racism" and "Japan bashing."
Though Japanese seem to be keenly aware of racism and human rights abuses in American society, in my experience they are very poor at addressing these issues in their own country.
The Japanese media is often overtly racist in its portrayal of foreigners. There are numerous times I have seen Japanese actors on television made up in "black-face" or "white-face," and there are at least as many negative images of Latinos, Southeast Asians and other foreigners.
Nevertheless, Japanese will argue that gaijin
– especially Caucasian English teachers – are actually "fashionable" in Japan. However, gaijin
concerns are rarely taken seriiously, and many Japanese seem to think English teachers have an easy time of it here.
When the Japanese employers at an English school I was working for stopped paying us our salaries and we sued in order to get our back wages, I sent a fax to the New York Times' office in Tokyo – thinking the paper might consider this a newsworthy story. I knew it had more news value than other stories the paper had run (on things like high school fashions in Tokyo's Shibuya) because the lawyers we hired seemed to be protecting our employers by refusing to go after the land the school held as assets.
I called the New York Times
office, and after a short conversation in Japanese with the woman who answered the phone, I asked if she had received my fax, but she just laughed. "Oh, you mean an English school (hah, hah, hah)."
I failed to see the humor, and apparently she failed to see the newsworthiness of the story – because the New York Times didn't run one.
I should write a book about how foreign expatriates are laughed at in Japan, but why waste my time? People would accuse me of"Japan Bashing" and it would never get published.