Japan Series 5: English in the School System

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Takuan Amaru

For any native-English speaker residing in Japan, it’s easy to make a few bucks teaching the so-called “International Language.” I’ve been doing so on and off for 15 years. A few days ago, I had a very interesting discussion with a junior high school student named Eriko. This occurred as a follow-up to her reading her journal assignment to me. This teenager is somewhat of a novelty in Japan because she lived in the U.K. for three years. There she acquired English, as opposed to studying it, much as a normal Brit does. Although her English is not fluent, she has the ability to “think in English” more than the average Japanese who is studying it as a foreign language. Although Eriko has an advantage when it comes to learning English, there is also a downside for Japanese who have lived overseas; they are designated as Returnees, pronounced in Japanese as “kikoku-shijo (帰国子女).

In all things (including ethnicity), Japanese are very discriminatory; not to be confused with outright racism or bigotry…at least not these days.japanese_beheading_1894 Not so long ago, any Japanese who left Japan and returned was instantly beheaded—no questions asked—upon stepping foot onto Nippon shores. Why you ask? Because Japan has an isolationist mentality so anything from outside Japan has been and still is (if only on the unconscious level) viewed with suspicion, if not outright evil; especially new ideas and religious beliefs. Following Japan’s defeat in WWII, the new government had no choice but to encourage the nation to embrace the U.S., along with its western ideology; so nowadays returnees aren’t discriminated against nearly as much as just a couple decades ago. But it still remains.

What was interesting about Eriko’s journal was how she expressed her views on the English teaching method used at her school. Her English teacher—just like every English teacher in public and private schools—is Japanese. After taking the time to mention how much she liked her teacher’s personality, she expressed confusion about why the lady was teaching English because she was not competent in using the language. “She uses the wrong words many times,” Eriko said before comparing this language learning experience to her school in Britain. “In the U.K., the foreign language teachers were natives from France, Germany, China…even Japan.”

Like Eriko-san, I too was bewildered by this phenomenon when I entered a Japanese high school for the first time. I spent nearly a decade in a few schools and universities but I worked mainly at two different schools; one in Hamamatsu City and the other in Kyoto City. At both schools I encountered English teachers who couldn’t hold an everyday conversation in the language they were supposed to be teaching. As you can imagine, this came as quite a shocking disappointment after hearing all the hub-bub about how great the Japanese education system was supposed to be. Even the few teachers who were able to use English effectively to communicate could never be confused with a teacher. They’re speaking ability more closely resembled a foreman of a crew of illegal-immigrant Mexican laborers. Allow me to explain. Whenever I worked at factories in the U.S. where there were many Mexicans, only one or two could speak English and he would usually be the conduit between management and the workers. However, this guy could never hold a position where he communicated directly to customers because he spoke guttural English, which was okay for basic communication but far from fluent.

So why do Japanese insist on using these inept teachers? Could it be that Japanese are so dull-witted, so obtuse, they don’t realize their teachers cannot pronounce certain letters (r’s, l’s, and v’s), or notice that at times their assistant language teachers, who are natives of the U.S., Canada, or Britain, cannot understand what the Japanese teacher is saying (in English), or vice-versa?

The answer to these questions is a resounding “No.” Always remember there are two sides to every story; so there is a method to the Japanese Education System’s madness.

After Eriko and I spent a few minutes correcting the grammatical errors in her journal, I asked her if she had any questions. She wanted to know my opinion about her critique. So I told her. After assuring her this situation is the norm in Japan, I asked her what she knew about colonialism.

植民地主義 (Colonialism)

If you look at many countries in Africa or Asia, or any melanin-rich area that has been colonized, you’ll find many Caucasians teaching in schools; not to mention being in other positions of leadership. But rarely do you find this happening in Japan. Throughout world history, it has been normal procedure for a conquering nation to assume control of the religion and education after defeating a country. Consequently many of the “old ways” are outlawed along with any meetings or rallies that might encourage returning to the outdated, evil ways—or perhaps even an uprising. Hence the term contraband meetings. Since the Japanese are wholly a communal people, to take away their religions, leadership, and way of life would be akin to mass genocide. The U.S. government, having ascertained this, decided not to exploit Japan’s defeat the same way other European powers have done in other Asian countries. After all Japan, for the most part, is lacking in natural resources plus the U.S. needed a headquarters in the Far-East region.

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Once Eriko came to understand what colonization would mean for Japan, she seemed to accept the lesser of two evils without any more comments or questions.

In the next edition of the Japan Series, we’ll explore the society’s mores and values more deeply. Until then: Jya, mata-ne! (じゃーまたね!)

Takuan Amaru is the author of the trilogy Gaikokujin – The Story

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Culture Class: Brooklyn Terry

Many speculate on the culture of Hip Hop in its original state prior to being discovered by the mainstream. But few were actually privy to be there to not only witness it but also experience it first-hand.

Meet one of the few who was there. NYC’s own Brooklyn Terry.

Place: Hirakata City, Osaka

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Japan Series 4: The Japanese Education System a.k.a. Mind Control 101

 

entrance ceremony

By Takuan Amaru

“Are there any questions?” Then the classroom becomes dead silent as if I asked the students to work out a complex arithmetic problem in their head. This is how I always begin my classes, whether in a classroom environment or in a one-on-one lesson. Asking students if they have any questions is a kind of inside joke. Emphasis on the word “inside” because this joke is only effective inside Japan. Allow me to explain. Unlike students of many countries, Japanese students are not encouraged to think critically about anything. Therefore they are at a loss when it come to knowing “how” to think. But somehow they know “what” to think. Now, of course, it could be argued the western education system is similarly based on mind-control tactics, especially in subjects like history. And you won’t get any argument from me. However, I’m talking about a subconscious programming far beyond what most people can imagine taking place outside of a mental or correctional facility.

Following World War II, there is no doubt that much of the credit for Japan’s incredible industrial success has been due to its well-organized education system. Western experts cannot applaud its merits any louder, claiming how Japanese students consistently score higher on math and reading tests than students of other industrialized nations. This is a flawed comparison as I’ll demonstrate later. Nevertheless, I must admit when I attended my initial Entrance Ceremony at a small high school in Shizuoka Prefecture in the late ’90s, I too was under this illusion.

From a western perspective, one of first impressions of a Japanese school is how uniform everything is. Not only students attending the same school, but also all the schools themselves across the country strive to live up to one Confucian code of uniformity. In fact, this level of sameness is an essential ingredient for the recipe the western world hnihon school uniformails as such a success. During my first two years, I naturally searched for the benefits of everyone striving to be the same. Of course I noticed the brass-buttoned Prussian school uniforms for the boys and the sailor uniforms for the girls. Actually, I liked them at first.
This was probably because I recalled how much pressure I felt as a student in the US during the first week of school. Much of this pressure was around having new, stylish clothing. Put another way, students who wore last year’s apparel—or even worse hand-me-downs from their elder siblings—were razzed to no end. Well, no need to worry about that in Japan because everyone not only wears the same gear, the haircuts must be the same, as well as skirt-lengths for the girls, etc. Now, if I only visited a Japanese school once or twice, it might appear the students were in perfect harmony and all was at peace.

But I worked in Japanese schools for over a decade.

I really began noticing the effects of all this imposed harmony after my third or fourth year. By this time, I was working in the Kansai District. I had the opportunity to work part-time at three universities and a jr/sr high school before settling at a private, Buddhist high school in Kyoto City. Something that caught my attention was how teachers were assigned to patrol the school’s front gates each morning for students who violated the hair or uniform codes. I observed with more than a little curiosity as female teachers took out rulers to measure some of the girls’ skirt lengths from their knees. For those not meeting the stringent standards, they were sent back home10-of-the-most-unusual-japanese-subcultures-10. But it’s impossible to inspect every student, so inadvertently some with long or even dyed hair would slip past the patrols and enter the school. Seeing this skit being played out every day, I realized there was a constant battle being waged by the students against the teachers and this notion of 100% conformity. With this in mind, I approached one of the elder statesman among the teachers. Kinoshita-sensei was a history teacher and also a Buddhist monk. Over the years, we had many interesting conversations; mainly about ancient spirituality and history.

“Ima-wa yoroshi-desuka?” I said one afternoon walking over to where an older gentleman was sitting at his desk sipping tea as he read some documents. Because it was just after lunch the teacher’s room was nearly empty. Kinoshita-sensei, with his grey-flecked mane and circular black reading spectacles, looked up at me and slightly bowed his head. Since he remained silent, I resumed. “In Japan, it’s not the school’s job to teach the students reading, writing, and math because they learn that at the juku, right?” I said, hoping he understood I was continuing a conversation we were having a few days before.

Gakushū Juku (学習塾); or “Juku” are afternoon / evening study lessons. It is often translated as “Cram School.” So after their 8-hour day at school, students then go to 3-4 hour cram school lesson. There they study specifically for passing whatever important examination is coming up next.

“But this is only half of the story. What is the other half?” Kinoshita-sensei inquired in an innocent tone wearing a wry grin. “If what you say is true, then what exactly are we doing here at school?”

“Keeping them busy? Controlling their time?” I probed, half-guessing in a not-so-confident tone.

“Hmm,” is all he said which was his custom whenever my replies didn’t hit the nail on the head. Then an idea popped into my head like a shot in the dark. “I gottit!” As I spoke I reviewed much of what I’d witnessed at various schools over the past few years. “You’re teaching them,” I continued, “how to accept their role in society…how to endure, to ganbare, together as a team.”

“And what can we sum all that up into,” he asked in his native Kansai dialect.

“Umm…I guess it sums up to you’re teaching the students how to be Japanese.”

Hearing this, Kinoshita-sensei stood up and faced me. “Amaru-sensei,” he replied still smiling. “You have become a true Japanese. You now understand the true face of Japan. You’ve learned to see beyond the tatemae (officially stated position), to the honne (true intent).”

This concept of “Tatemae” and “Honne” runs deep in the Japanese psyche. Actually, Kinoshita-sensei illustrated both terms very nicely in our dialogue. His praise of my realization was “honne” but he definitely didn’t see me as a “true Japanese.” I’m not saying he was lying…it was just “tatemae.”

In truth, Japanese schools resemble basic training, boot-camps. For example, students stand (or sit) in formation every day, march with the school’s official colors, and are student formationrequired to train as a cohesive unit with the other students in their homeroom. And unlike American high schools, it’s the teachers not the students who change classes. So the students spend all four years with the same group in the same room. In most schools, they even eat lunch in their homerooms. Although it’s possible to make friends with students outside their homeroom, it’s not a frequent occurrence. The only exception are teammates on a sports team or other club activity. In short, school is about learning to stick together, obey, and accept the role given to them by the “group.” This is tantamount to understand before graduating and entering society. Dr. Miyamoto Masao, formerly a member of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, calls this process “castration.”

In his own words:

Driving through the English countryside, you see many sheep grazing on the hillside, which brings a feeling of peacefulness. This peacefulness is exactly what the bureaucrats want to obtain in Japanese society. But I want to emphasize that they want this peacefulness because their ideal image of the public is one where people are submissive and subservient. With such a group people are easy to control… How do the bureaucrats manage to castrate the Japanese so effectively? The school system is the place where they conduct this process.

And this programming begins in nursery school. After I decided to end my high school teaching career, I moved to Kagoshima Prefecture. This is when I started writing full-time. To make ends meet, I taught English to kids. This included visiting six nursery and pre-schools. Before moving to Kagoshima, I used to wonder how Japanese had been programmed so identically. It seems every Japanese person, no matter what region they’re from, thinks exactly the same way. This phenomenon is magnified when considering some of their commonly held stereotypes about Americans. One example is how they are convinced all Americans celebrate Christmas. I’ve actually had some students try to convince me that I was wrong when I explained I don’t celebrate Christmas. After I introduced them to the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, I had them research it on the internet for homework in Japanese. Only then did they believe me. Another example is how they assume everyone outside of Japan speaks English. You should see the quizzical expressions when I talk about Spanish Harlem or areas in Miami that cater to Spanish speakers. One lady who worked at a printing company where I taught the employees accused me of lying. After we probed for details, she admitted she had never been out of Japan—even for vacation. So why was this lady so convinced about something she herself readily admits she knows absolutely nothing about? The only possible answer is: she’s been programmed. Programmed to think all Americans celebrate Christmas, or speak English…or whatever. “All Americans.” It’s probably in vain but I do my best to explain why this phrase in itself almost certainly determines whatever follows will be an error. This, of course, is due to the wide diversity of race and culture in the US.  “All Americans means exactly who? Blacks? Whites? Latinos? The LGBT community?” Japanese are shocked to find that each community has its own voice and opinion because in Japan, there is only room for one voice and one opinion.

Japanese have the most difficult time understanding there are Jewish holidays in the US that only some schools or regions recognize.

celebrate_diversity_There are no private holidays for specific religions or regions in Japan. Every school from Hokkaido to Okinawa starts on the same day, at the exact same time, and celebrates the same holidays (with very few exceptions). The entire society is run in this way. This may be both the strength and weakness of the society.

This leads us back to the fallacy of the Japanese having a superior school system. In Japan, since everything is uniform and everyone must move in unison, there is not much difference between the “good schools” and the “bad schools,” whether public or private. So their mean test average is going to reflect this. Well, in the western nations, if we compare a public school in say, the South-Side of Chicago or East St. Louis with a private school in the lily-white suburbs, we’ll find the difference between night and day. On that note, I’d like to see a comparison of only the private schools’ test scores in each country.

metal detector school            private school

Similar to Dr. Miyamoto, other prominent Japanese have decided to speak out against the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (文部科学省). Here is what former Prime Minister Hashimoto had to say in his 1997 New Year’s address to the nation:

The present education system just crams knowledge into children’s heads. It values memorization too much. The system doesn’t allow children to decide dreams, hopes, and targets by themselves.

Well said.

kill dreams

 

Stay tuned for the next edition of The Japan Series!

Takuan Amaru is the author of the trilogy Gaikokujin – The Story

Japan Series 3: Are you a Gaijin?

racism sign japanBy Takuan Amaru

No. Never was, could be, or would be. For those who live in Japan, what about you? Do you even know? There are a slew of misinformed people (from various countries) who refer to themselves as “Gaijin” but don’t really know what it means. Most of them erroneously believe it just means ‘foreigner.’ But isn’t that word ‘Gaikokujin?’ Yumi Nakata, a journalist who was born in Japan but raised in the United States, defines the two terms.

What’s the difference between Gaijin and Gaikokujin?

外人: The word consists of two Kanji meaning outside (gai) and person (jin)…so it literally means an outsider. 外国人: The word consists of three Kanji meaning outside (gai), country (koku) and person (jin)

As you can see, these are different words. Gaikokujin is much more formal than Gaijin, and many people think Gaijin is a shortened word of Gaikokujin but that is not necessarily the case. Gaijin is used to describe White people, or Westerners, whereas Gaikokujin is for all foreigners, and that includes other Asian nationals.

Notice in her definition for gaijin, no mention is made of any dark-skinned people; she even uses the term “White people.” She also explains it literally means ‘an outsider.’ Hmm, is that correct? Perhaps another interpretation for the Chinese characters ‘Outside’ plus ‘Person’ could be something akin to barbarian or savage? In other words: Outside of humanity. Well, on second thought, I guess that is being an outsider.

LongNoseEuropean

The word “Gaijin” originally referred to the Portuguese. Later, other Europeans followed them to Japan. Comprised of mostly pirates, explorers, missionaries, and merchants, this era is irrevocably linked to the Nanban Trade Period (南蛮貿易時代). The Nanban Trade (南蛮貿易), better known as the “Southern Barbarian Trade”, began with the arrival of the first Europeans to Japan in 1543, and lasted until almost all of them had been killed or evicted in 1614, under the promulgation of the Sakoku Seclusion Edicts.

Nanban (南蛮), meaning “Southern Barbarian”, is a Sino-Japanese word, originally referring to the peoples of South Asia and Southeast Asia. According to Wikipedia, Nanban took on a whole new meaning when it came to designate the Portuguese. First Westerners in Japan, by Hokusai, states: “On August 25, 1543, these foreigners were cast upon the island of Tanegashima, Okuma Province”.JapanBarbarianBook

Why were they “cast upon” an island. What kind of reception is that for visitors? Well, one of the small details which has conveniently been lost is how filthy and nasty these Europeans were. In this day and age, any ideology that does not in some way support white supremacy is seen as evil. That’s the programming. In spite of this, let’s be honest and not be afraid to analyze the elephant in the room. It is a known fact (by Europeans themselves) that Europeans did not bathe in the 16th and 17th century. This was not long after the Bubonic Plague swept through Europe killing millions during the Dark Ages. Imagine all those people dying because they refused to take a bath! They believed bathing to be evil…along with just about everything else.

Try to fathom how nasty a person would be that never took a shower. Fleas, lice, rashes, disease…just stank-ass!

According to Wikipedia, the reasons Japanese viewed Europeans as strange had nothing to do with their lack of hygiene. They claim their inability to use chopsticks, or read Chinese characters was what the Japanese noticed most. While these are indeed noticeable differences, this may be just another attempt to alter the historical facts. Just use your common sense; you be the judge. If you met a person that hadn’t taken a shower for, let’s say, only two weeks, what do you think would be the guy’s most memorable attribute? EnglandDiseaseThe fact he ate sashimi and rice with his hands? I don’t think so! If homeboy didn’t know how to take a shower, I would probably expect him to eat with his hands. We cannot even begin to imagine how nasty a person’s face and breath would be after a couple weeks of not bathing and wearing the same clothes. Why even in the television series of James Clavell’s best-selling novel, Shogun, Hollywood illustrated how flea-bitten and nasty “Anjin-san” and his crew were upon arriving to Nippon.

Anthropologists Roland B. Dixon, Alexander Chamberlain, historians E. Papinot, Runoko Rashidi, James Brunson, (I could go on) have painted a very different landscape for Japan prior to the arrival of Commodore Perry than the one Western academia describes. It almost seems like these great scholars’ (as well as many others) work has been purposely hidden.

The question is why?

Final Note: In Japan, I insist that my coworkers call me Amaru. Both Japanese and westerners alike often look surprised when they realize this is my last name. This is because in Japan foreigners are almost always called by their first names; while Japanese address each other by their last names. Well, my mother is Japanese so it never occurred to me to follow the gaijin custom. While this is true, this does not really address the situation. Actually, the real reason has little to do with any notion of having Japanese blood. Rather it has to do with the adage: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If I decided to go live in, say Russia, it would be natural for me to start learning as many phrases and nuances about the Russian culture as I could before I even get on the plane. In other words, I’d go there with the intention of showing respect to Russian culture and to Russian people. If I went to Sierra Leone, Australia, Puerto Rico, etc., the same goes. This is normal for melanin-rich people; while the opposite is true for a gaijin, or gringo, or whatever your slang is for this type of melanin-deficiency. Only gaijin go to other countries with no intention of respecting the other’s culture.

In response to being questioned by westerners about why I use my last name instead of my first, I usually reply by asking a question. “Are you a gaijin?” I ask in a non-threatening tone. Once they affirm by nodding or replying. I respond: “Did you know in Japan, only gaijin are addressed by their first names? Everyone else uses their family names.” For many of these westerners, this is the first time they realized this and I can see the wheels turning in their head. Although few care to respond beyond this point, most are clearly upset. Can you guess why?

By now, you should be able to see the word “Gaijin” is much deeper than merely meaning foreigner. In fact, it is so deep it’s on the subconscious level. Another article written on the subject by “Hashi” illustrates what Japanese think about this in their collective subconscious. He writes:

“Likewise, part of the reason I hate that word is the cavalier manner it induces when used. For instance, when Japanese people go abroad, they continue to use gaijin to refer to the native population. “There are so many gaijin in America!” No, you are the foreigner in this situation, but the attitude is that “Japanese people can’t be gaijin/foreigners.”

I’ve tested what he calls their “cavalier manner” more times than I care to mention. Whenever Japanese slip-up and call another country’s citizens “Gaijin” while visiting that country, I never miss the opportunity to tell them exactly what Hashi suggests. I’ve even continued the thread with follow-up questions such as, “So, how’d the Canadians feel about you gaijin?” In 100% of the cases, Japanese have silently accepted my critique but clearly are not happy with being labeled as ‘gaijin.’

So, to recap, this does not have anything to do with DNA, or being “Hafu.” No, the reason I’m not a gaijin is because when you check the historical records and the subconscious of Japanese society, this word has always described the most melanin-deficient behaviors, attitudes, customs, and…people. On that note, we return to the question: Are YOU a Gaijin?

finger-pointing

Thanks, and check out the next issue of the Japan Series…peace!

 

Japan Series 2: Blacks in Japan and Melanin Richness

by Takuan Amaru

samuraiarmor

It seems people have concerns over the term “Melanin-Rich.” Let me assure you there is nothing spiteful about AfroAsiatic. Whenever a person speaks truth to power, it inevitably ruffles feathers. Think about it: if the system governing the world is called ‘white supremacy’ (I didn’t name it that), common sense tells you anything which does not hail western society will be looked upon with suspicion. That’s the programming.

Melanin is a magical substance which comes in many colors but its most potent variation is black. Although it’s been a frequently studied subject in laboratories worldwide, it has only come to the attention of the public in the last decade. Dr. Richard King, Dr. Carol Barnes, Dr. Francis Cress Welsing, and Dr. Jewel Pookrum have provided books and lectures illustrating the properties of melanin. However, far beyond the hue of one’s skin, the term “Melanin-Rich” describes a state of consciousness and a level of spirituality. For more on this, please check-out the AfroAsiatic Perspectives blog on the 3 Types of People.

Now onto foreigners in Japan.

I posted a video on my facebook page by a white guy who lives in Saitama City, near Tokyo. He claims most of the white guys in Japan are basically losers in their own countries. He provides a few examples which illustrate his opinion. He goes hard on Caucasians but has fairly nice things to say about blacks in Japan. So allow me to put-in my two-cents from the black side of the conversation. Please keep in mind this is an over-simplified attempt to categorize.

 

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First and foremost, lots of corny cats…a lot! It’s pretty much the same story the white dude said about Caucasians. Some of these guys are good people at heart, but they’re trying to pretend they’re someone they’re not. So if you’re doing the club-trek in Tokyo, Osaka, or Fukuoka you’re bound to meet a plethora of wack Hip Hop emcees and fake music producers and singers. And this ‘Pan-African corniness’ crosses all borders. I’ll never forget the time I entered the restroom at a club called “Harlem” in Tokyo. The only unoccupied urinal was situated between two guys who were conversing while they relieved themselves. Both were black. One guy was telling the other dude he was from New York City in a strong Nigerian accent. Even though I recognized the accent, nothing seemed strange because there are lots of Nigerians in NYC. Most of the girls who used to cornrow my hair were Nigerian.

“Where’re you from?” the guy from NY asked me once I had unzipped.

Although this question usually annoys me, I was happy to talk about the ‘good ol days.’ “I ain’t really from nowhere,” I answered in my usual evasive way but careful to use a friendly tone. “But back in the day, I used to kick-it Uptown…in Manhattan. You said you’re from the City, right?”

coming-to-america

“No, I’m from umm…Queens,” he said suddenly sounding flat.

“Oh word?” I continued, still eager to join the conversation. “I used to date a girl from Corona,” I replied. “What part of Queens you from?”

“I gotta go, man. It was nice talking to you.” With that, the tall Yoruba man zipped-up, flushed, and walked away.

I later found out the guy had never been to the U.S.

 

JapWeave

More than a few of the Japanese girls who frequent the dance club scene only want to date genuine black guys from the States; and of course the big cities (LA, Chicago, NYC) are most in demand. Oh, and Jamaica for the Reggae crowd.Japdred For this reason, there are whole crews of guys from various parts of Africa posing as Jamaicans or Americans. Lots of these dudes are street entrepreneurs and they moonlight as club regulars. So if you’re the ‘Real McCoy’ you might encounter some African hostility being vented your way for apparently no reason. To them not only are you stepping on ‘their corner’ your very presence could have the effect of blowing their cover, so to speak.

The Africans who have legitimate businesses are just like anyone else so it’s not possible to categorize them; but the academic student is easy to finger. Colonized, Christian, and scramble4Africadocile. They see Japan and western society as heaven, and sneer at their own customs, especially African spirituality.  There are exceptions to the rule but the overall consensus is a European mind in an African body. Case in point, one beautiful sister from Kenya broke my heart at a recent function when she suggested Africans were brought into civilization by Europeans. Not only was she speaking in a matter of fact tone, she actually recommended I watch a movie which poked fun at Africa prior to its colonization. In her words, “It takes place before the Europeans arrived…before they civilized us.”

In parts of Japan, there are large populations of Brazilians or Koreans. There are also considerable Peruvians, Chinese, Indians and Arabs. To my knowledge, the only groups large enough to have their own residential districts are Brazilians and Koreans. burakuminOh, and we cannot forget the “Burakumin.” These are the traditional low-caste of Japan. Nippon’s version of the “Untouchables,” in Kansai, this discrimination continues to thrive albeit on subtle levels. In any case, since the castaways are able to blend into the larger society these days, it may just be a matter of time before this situation irons itself out.

As far as whites are concerned, for me, they’re a non-factor. Although white supremacy is in full effect, just like curry and ramen (which also have been imported to Japan through cultural booms), it’s been ‘Japanified.’ Believe it or not, for many Japanese a black guy is the same as a white guy. That pays dividends for blacks in many ways. For example in a job interview. Or, can you imagine not being racially profiled by the cops? Even if you are questioned, if you’re from the US (and not from Brazil, for example), you’ll more-often-than-not be sent on your way following a short, polite conversation…especially if you don’t speak a lot of Japanese! This was the case about ten nights ago when I was stopped for running a red-light. For the record, this was the first and only time I’ve ever been pulled over. And I’ve been driving all over Japan for almost a decade. Now, in most countries, a black man sporting locs dreads this moment. And for good reason because he might get beat up, arrested, or even lose his life! Well not in Nagoya. Three minutes later, I drove away after being issued a friendly warning. No asinine questions about drugs, weapons, or warrants, I can’t emphasize how nice it is to be treated like a human being…which means not being treated like a criminal (i.e. as in the US).

When I started working in Japan, I made a concerted effort to avoid Caucasians. This lasted for about four years. At that time, I blamed individual whites for the ills of society. It took a while but after much study and reflection, I realized the average European was just as naive and uninformed as anyone else. They’re just riding a wave that provides them good opportunities for no other reason than being Caucasian. What would anyone in a similarly favorable situation do? Not take the job?

fatgaijin

Whenever I encounter Europeans at the train station or in the streets, it is amusing to watch them deal with being pointed at and scrutinized. Tuffy Rhodes, a pro baseball player who crushed homers for years with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Yomiuri Giants, clowned a white teammate who tried to convince him that all Japanese were racists. “Now you know how it feels to be black,” Rhodes replied as he walked out the locker room.

The white guy from Saitama City I mentioned earlier illustrates the white baseball player’s sentiment to a tee. In the video, he talks about how Japanese treat him disrespectfully. I know what he’s talking about but if you think about it, it’s just the ego screaming for recognition and respect. Once I stopped taking myself so seriously, I stopped getting the “foreigner treatment.” One thing about Japanese culture and its people: it (they) are very, very consistent in almost every way. Therefore if you master the culturemeaning make it your ownJapanese people have no choice but to treat you as Japanese. I’m suggesting a level of being that may not be attainable by everyone. Whether black, Chinese, Indian, Brazilian or even white, to achieve this the person must be able to tap in. Tap into what you ask? Tap into your melanin-richness. More on this in future episodes of the Japan Series…thank you!

x_japan_black_1600x1200_by_didouneto

Japan Series 1: Internationalization thru English

By Takuan Amaru

2020 Olympics

In the year 2020, the Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo. For those of us who live in Japan, we are swamped in the news everyday with so many updates about the 2020 Games, I actually forgot the Olympics are being held this year in Rio. To prepare for their hosting role, the Japanese government and the media are attempting to “internationalize” its residents. Actually, Japan has been on an internationalization campaign for some time now. In the first edition of Japan Series, we’ll discuss one of the biggest ways that Japan seeks to achieve this: through studying English. But before delving into this topic, please allow me to introduce the Japan Series.

These days, I read lots of information about Japan written by non-Japanese authors. Much of it is accurate, and I learn many things I didn’t know. Some of it, I believe, is a bit off-base or, better put, might be slanted toward western ideals or thinking. Japan Series seeks to leave this worn and beaten path. I, as well as my Osaka-based partner, Sterlyn, have been living in Japan for over a decade. We’re here to give you the scoop on Japan from a melanin-rich perspective. For more on the meaning of Melanin-Rich, please check out the articles on AfroAsiatic Perspectives. To give you the shortened definition, it means we will explain as if we’re talking to conscious, black people. We understand this may confuse some readers and prevent others from comprehending our meaning; but we also know this mode of communication is intrinsic to our message. For those who are unaware, this is the same template the largest musical trend in history, i.e. Hip Hop, arrived to most of you on.5percent In the late 80s – early 90s, a whole lot (I’m tempted to say more than half) of the popular emcees and deejays in NYC were associated with Afrika Bambaataa, or they were Muslims down with either the Nation of Islam (headed by Minister Louis Farrakhan), or the Nations of the Gods & Earths, who were also known as “5-percenters.”My reason for bringing this up is to point-out that whiteboys—who have always been Hip Hop’s biggest consumers—had no idea what the hell the Soul Sonic Force, the Brand Nubians, or Rakim were talking about. They just thought it was cool. And so just like the rappers of yesteryear, we plan to push the envelope by just telling it like it is. Anyone curious about everyday life in Japan should definitely check-out the Japan Series.

Now on to our topic: “English – the International Language.”

I am lucky to have taught English in Japan, on and off, for the better part of 15 years. Even though I know this to be true, I am also  aware of something else: Japanese will never learn English. Saying I’m lucky to be an English teacher in Japan and following it by stating Japanese cannot learn English may appear to be contrasting views. This is not the case. There are numerous reasons why Japanese will never master another language (not only English) but for the sake of brevity, let’s sum it all up into one idea: what I call “the Japanese Complex.” Some folks mistakenly confuse the Japanese Complex with racism or being two-faced. In fact, my mother (who is from Kyoto) used to explain it as such. “Always remember that Japanese are two-faced,” she would say to me before we visited someone Japanese for the first time, “they never tell you what they’re thinking.”

In order to paint the English-teaching landscape in more realistic colors, allow me to say some things that are everyday knowledge in Japan but may be unknown in other countries.gpod18 1. The vast majority of the Japanese people who teach English in public and private schools are incapable of having a normal, everyday conversation in English. 2. Believe it or not, Japanese who have lived overseas and therefore can speak English on a near-native level rarely become teachers. One can only ponder as to the reason for this but it makes me wonder if this is just another symptom of the ‘Sakoku Mindset’ that I explain in the next paragraph. 3. For native-English speakers seeking to work in Japanese society, teaching English is a no-brainer because unlike other ‘developed’ countries where menial jobs are gladly parceled out to foreigners willing to work for low wages, Japan is wholly devoted to doing everything without the assistance of non-Japanese. Right now, many experts are discussing how this will play out in 21st Century Japan, with its shrinking child-birth rate and expanding elderly class.

I had one female co-worker who sat in the desk next to mine in the teacher’s room. She taught 10th grade English to about 100 students. In order to prepare for her English teaching career, she had been sent to a high school in New York for three years. There, she taught Japanese while practicing her English. She confided to me years later that her students never believed she was an English teacher because her English level was so bad.

“What subject do you teach in Japan? Japanese?”

“No…I teach English.”

“No seriously, come on. What subject do you teach?”

I remember Suzuki-sensei saying the conversations usually went something like that.

sakoku

Sakoku(鎖国), which literally means “closed country,” was the official policy of Nippon under the Tokugawa Shogunate from 1633 – 1639. It stated foreigners could not enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. The edict remained in place until the infamous arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and the Black Ships, but in reality the ‘closed country’ mentality never left the Japanese people. It materialized within their minds and continues to produce closed minds today. Most Japanese, having been brought up in the rigidly strict Japanese society have long ago discarded their will to question or go outside the norms of what is expected by their society. And English being considered ‘foreign’ is set in stone. So no matter how much most Japanese take English lessons, because there’s a “Sakoku Program” playing in the background of their mind-operating-system, they have difficulty making any real progress. Think about it: before attempting to master anything a person must first make the new idea or discipline of study their own. In other words, you can never master something which remains ‘foreign’ to you. Speaking of foreign, it’s amazing how much Japanese use this word in everyday language. They’ve been taught there’s only two types of people in the world: Japanese and foreigners. The only possible exceptions are Koreans and Chinese because they are familiar to Japanese people. For this reason, Japanese are convinced that anyone outside of Japan speaks English. And I mean anyone and everyone. You could be the darkest, blackest woman from the bush in the Sudan, or the palest, non-English-speaking Frenchman from the mountains and most Japanese (especially the ones who deem themselves educated) will have the same greeting for you: “Haro!”

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