Thursday, February 22, 2007

And Sometimes You Encounter Stupidity...

I don't want to waste a post painting Japan with a big brush like some foreigners (or ex-pats) seem to enjoy doing. You know, the "Japan is one screwed up little country!" anger that bubbles over in the Nova teacher's rooms and the Starbucks across the country. But sometimes you get a reminder that you are under some suspicion here.

Foreigner crime makes good copy for sensationalistic magazines. And like people everywhere, people here tend to believe what they read in the papers or see on tv. Received knowledge, usually accepted at face value. Without asking critical questions.

And there are certain right wing elements in Japanese politics (as anywhere) who want to demonize foreigners. I can't make any deep observations about this except I know it exists. It's human nature, really. You fear the other, the alien.

Fortunately, as you'll see if you read the Japan Times story about the anti-foreigner magazine, there are some very responsible journalists here. The story points out at great length that crimes by foreigners have actually decreased. That's some very important information the magazine itself glosses over.

Lately, my old school/universe Nova has been in the news because of drug arrests and the company's refusal to refund students' money. This means a new wave of generalizations will be made and misunderstandings will proliferate. One of my ex-Nova students emailed me with her concerns. She's worried she's mixed up with some shady characters.

Well... during my time in Toyohashi, she was. Not that she was in any danger from them. But by the time I transferred to Hamamatsu, a new group of more pleasant people with positive attitudes had arrived and some of the sketchier individuals had either left the country or else were working at isolated Jusco branches where the harm they did to the company image could be kept to a minimum.

Another issue lately has been the indictment in Brazil of a Brazilian citizen who killed a teenaged girl in a hit-and-run traffic accident, then fled Japan before he could be arrested. There's no extradition treaty between Japan and Brazil, so he'll be tried in his home country.

This happened back in 1999, before I got here. But it happened here in Hamamatsu. See? We're international! Brazilians already have a bad rap here in Hamamatsu, where they make up a relatively large percentage of the foreigner population. Things like this don't help... but in all the discussions I've had with people about this one thing has been overlooked.

The killer driver is of Japanese descent.

However, unlike some foreigners here, I'm not going to blame Japan itself for these attitudes or incidents. I will never understand the rage these people fly into whenever they hear about things like the stupid anti-foreigner mag, or some of the comments people make to them. They seem to think this is something lacking in Japan, in the Japanese people, when actually it's universal. And their own home countries have pretty sorry track records as well. Mine too.

The people I've met here have been kind and honest. When they find out I'm pretty open about things and willing to own up to some of the negatives about America, they tend to be open with me with the problems here in Japan. I've heard some interesting opinions about Japan and also my home country, some of which I've agreed with and some of which I've taken great pains to correct.

As an American abroad, I'm an ambassador. Like it or not, people will judge other Americans by my example. We would do the same at home meeting a Japanese person. I have a tendency to think the Japanese person would actually make a better showing.

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