UPDATE: The original version of this post contained attacks and inaccurate accusations against Mr. Dezaki himself. I wrote it in a fit of anger, which I should have recognized is not the sort of feeling that is bound to produce good thoughtful essays. In the two days since I wrote it a number of things have happened.
First, I met in person with one of the netuyo rightists who attacked Mr. Dezaki. He is a very loud and rambunctious figure online, popular with Westerners and Japanese alike, but he is very shy and recalcitrant in person. Our meeting was awkward, to me at least, and he seemed embarrassed to be asked about his online activities. I was reminded that Internet mobs, no matter the legitimacy of their beliefs, are frequently unleashing feelings of anger and injustice that they repress entirely in real life, which is unhealthy. I didn’t mean to imply that I endorse this behavior.
Second, I went to an ALT conference, where I met many Westerners who did not participate in the culture of critique and were actually quite fun to be around. This was a breath of fresh air to me.
Finally, I was criticized about the rudeness and hypocrisy of this essay, both by Mr. Dezaki and others whom I was hoping it would convince.
I apologize to Mr. Dezaki for the attacks on him in the original version of this post.
The other day I got word of a storm brewing. An ALT English teacher in another prefecture, a nisei named Norman Mikine Dezaki, had made a video explaining that Japan is a “racist” nation, and encouraging his students in Okinawa to think of themselves as a marginalized class. Japan’s reactionary Internet army, which is full aware of the danger of this way of thinking, mobilized and began calling en masse for him to correct the errors in the video. I asked them for more information, but decided there was little I could do to help them — even as a fellow ALT, I’m just one among many, really.
This morning, though, I woke up to see my ALT colleagues linking to a Washington Post article, which unashamedly takes Dezaki’s side, and explaining how this is part of the proof that Japan can’t handle criticism. I was driven to write this post because my coworkers soaked up the Washington Post article without noticing its failure to interview a single critic of Dezaki. In my opinion, a thinking man cannot read that article without noticing there is something missing. If Japan cannot handle criticism, why not interview those who are handling the criticism? Do they have any points to make, or must they be denounced and analyzed from a pseudo-sociological perspective like the article does? Why is it, indeed, that the narrative of “racism” and culture critique, which has taken America by storm, is not so popular in Japan? Why would anyone dare criticize Dezaki when his message is so wholesome and can help improve Japan?
I have a friend in my village who is a perennial “returnee”. She spent 20 years in Canada and then returned to Japan. When she did, she found it difficult to adapt to Japanese culture. She has been fired from several jobs run by the old men’s league in town, and is constantly bad-mouthing the mayor’s office and the various offices in charge of tourism and promotion. She dislikes many town policies and thinks that Arita’s tourism is being run the wrong way, and I think many of her arguments are valid. I told one of my friends in town that her problem appears to be that she disrespects authority. He responded with something extremely interesting.
“It’s natural for humans to disagree. I do it all the time. But I know how to word my criticism politely and sympathetically, and make the authority agree with my cause. She doesn’t know how to do that.”
I’ve seen this guy, a rather successful and super-friendly businessman who everyone likes to have around, do this in various ways, and he is so well-connected that I feel he must have the most friends of anyone in town.
Indeed, this seems to be a great distinction between how things are done in America today, and how they were done in America in the past as well as Japan today. The tone of disagreement in some long past America was generally polite and positive, agreeing on basic principles, and suggesting to one’s opponent how they might be respected. This is the way things are still run in Japan. But in America, this has increasingly given way to a culture of critique, where negative language predominates and noticing any natural differences between different people is proof of evil in some way or another.
Today, the most exciting thing you can be in America is part of a marginalized class. This means that you can be as negative as you want, you can talk for hours or years about all the bad things happening to you, and people are expected to approve of this as part of a fight for justice. Your enemy becomes all of society, and society is expected to stop distinguishing between your negative, critical attitude and the positive, friendly attitude of someone like my businessman friend. When this final discrimination between the social and the anti-social is eliminated, the result is chaos.
Now, it was once seriously proposed that Japan educate children that some disputes in their country were the result of “marginalized classes”. But it was soon recognized that allowing people to do this would create mafias within the country that could simply manipulate people to do whatever they want by claiming marginalization. Indeed, to the extent that these groups still exist today, they resemble mafias.
If we really take the culture of critique seriously, even violence can be approved, as the Japanese police approved 13 hours of torture at Yoka High School in 1974. Or, indeed, how murder is being approved today.
What is the alternative?
The alternative is to honor a positive principle. Law and order, and families, and a harmonious society are all positive things– which is why those who have fallen head over heels for the culture of critique instinctively cringe and wretch when they hear these words. What is currently being taught in Japan, as a result of those decades of intimidation of violence, is the principle that all people deserve equal opportunity, called 同和教育 dowa kyoiku– you may find endless materials on this at any Japanese school.
I’m aware that there’s more to be said on this matter. But the last line of the Washington Post article reads, “His students at Okinawa seemed to benefit from the lesson, but a number of others don’t seem ready to hear it.” It seems that for the Washington Post, it is not a question of whether his message is right or wrong (and indeed it doesn’t matter that he is factually wrong). Whether he is right or wrong is not even a question. The only question is when Japan will become “ready” to imitate the West in all social issues.
The tone of the Washington Post article implies that Japan has known nothing of this, that their different culture is illegitimate, and that there is no reason anyone would want to disagree with Dezaki’s video. Instead, I think, this needs to be framed as a dialogue, and I hope that Dezaki’s accusations, if reframed as honest questions, will find answers from the Japanese.