Accepted as Japanese

Can immigrants to Japan ever be accepted as Japanese? If you read the English-language internet on the topic, you will find a lot of people saying that it is impossible. That’s not what I’ve found.

A few weeks ago, I was at a rare in-office meeting at one of the groups I work with. The office was open-plan, so when I was introduced to a new member of the department at the end, she had been able to hear the entire meeting.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “Your Japanese is very good.”

My colleague broke in.

“We’re well past that point. He is Japanese!”

Other things that people have asked me, or said to me, include:

“Have you naturalised?”

“Were you born here?”

“He looks foreign on the outside, but his heart is Japanese!”

“Your spirit appeared to me in a dream and told me that you are a reincarnation of Chikamatsu Monzaemon.”

…OK, maybe that last one is a bit odd.

So, why is my experience so different? I don’t really know — or, perhaps better, I really don’t know — but I can speculate.

Is it them? That is, do I associate with Japanese who are particularly likely to accept immigrants as Japanese? This is possible. The workplace mentioned in the first story is Jinja Honchō, the largest Shinto organisation, which is generally regarded as extremely conservative, right-wing, and nationalist. This is, of course, a simplification, but it is certainly not groundless. The other encounters all took place in rural Tōhoku, and none of those comments were made by people who know me well. So, do people just need to hang around more rural Japanese and conservative nationalists to get accepted?

That is actually a possibility. I remember reading somewhere that right-wing Japanese tend to see Japanese identity as a matter of legal citizenship, while the left wing are more likely to focus on heritage and culture. This does, of course, seem counter-intuitive from a western (particularly a US) perspective, but racial and immigration issues are one of the areas in which Japan is very different from the west. The lines do not fall in the same places at all.

Is it me? Well, I certainly don’t look “Japanese”, nor do I have any Japanese heritage. It is true that I have Japanese citizenship, speak, read, and write Japanese fluently, and have lived here for nearly twenty years, fully integrated into Japanese society. However, I am hardly the only immigrant who ticks all of those boxes. It is, I suppose, possible that none of the people who complain about never being accepted do have all those characteristics, in which case one or more of them might make the difference, but I have no evidence on that question.

Is it the standard? That is, does Japanese people chiding other Japanese people for complimenting you on your Japanese because you are Japanese not count as accepting you as Japanese? This is definitely a possibility. There’s all that tatemae stuff, after all. However, in that case I’m not sure what would count. I mean, accepting me as Japanese is one thing, but accepting me as a close friend, or as a member of a village community, is another. I think it would be difficult for an immigrant to be accepted as a full member of a village community, but that also applies to immigrants from other parts of Japan — it has nothing to do with whether you are seen as Japanese. I can’t really see how you can fail to accept “introduces them to other Japanese as Japanese” as proof that someone accepts a person as Japanese.

My experience, then, is that the Japanese, in general, are willing to accept immigrants as Japanese at some point, and I am not sure why other people seem to have a different experience. However, people with more complex Japanese identities do have a very wide range of experiences. Greg Lam has produced a very good documentary on this topic, which is now available on YouTube, and if you are interested in a wide range of experiences of being Japanese, I highly recommend it. (Full disclosure: I am one of the interviewees, introduced him to another of the interviewees, and also worked on the subtitles. I have also worked with Greg on a few other videos.)

2019 Survey of Foreigners in Kawasaki

About ten years ago, I applied to join the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. My goal was to get the city to carry out a survey of its foreign residents, to find about the problems they were experiencing, in particular the experience of racism. At that point, there was no good data on experiences of racism in Japan, just a bunch of anecdotes. I found it relatively easy to persuade the other representatives that the survey was a good idea, and after adding other things that they wanted to know about, we proposed it to the city.

The city accepted the proposal, and five years ago carried out a survey. I was on the committees designing and analysing it, and I have already written about the results of that survey on this blog.

However, the proposal was for a survey every five years, which means that another one was due. And, it turns out, the city carried it out, this time with no involvement from me. They have sent me a copy of the report, which can also be downloaded online (in Japanese), and there is a summary available in English. I would just like to reemphasise that I had nothing to do with preparing the survey, or the English summary.
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New Book: An Introduction to Shinto

I have just published An Introduction to Shinto, a book based on the first two years or so of essays for my Mimusubi Patreon. It is available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon, from any of the various national Amazons. (The link is to the US site, because I think most potential readers are in the US, but I think it will automatically give you a link to your local site if that is different; I get one for the Japanese site, for example.)

The book, I hope, does what it says on the cover: it introduces Shinto to an English-speaking audience that knows nothing about the subject to start with. I have focused, as with the essays, on the way Shinto is practised today and its contemporary place in Japanese society, rather than on history, architecture, or myth. All three of those would make suitable topics for future books, and future essays for the Patreon, although looking at what I have written so far, the book of myths is likely to be the next one.

Amazon gets the book to be about 300 pages equivalent, which seems right to me; it is about 100,000 words, so it is a substantial introduction. If you want a very brief introduction, you can read the whole of the first chapter, which is exactly that, for free through the Look Inside feature.

I hope that people find the book interesting and useful.

Mimusubi Patreon Special Offer

Note: The special offer is over now, but this post is still up as a historical record. You can find out what is happening with Mimusubi on the Mimusubi website, or the Mimusbi Patreon.

To celebrate the release of the video about Shinto that I helped Greg Lam of Life Where I’m From to make, I am running a special offer on my Mimusubi Patreon.

Anyone who signs up before this month’s paid post (which will go up at 11:55pm Japan time on the 31st), and whose payment clears, will get one or more bonus essays. What you get depends on the level you sign up to.
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The Empty Seat Revisited

When Baye McNeil writes about the empty seat phenomenon in Japan, the aversion that Japanese people have to sitting next to him on public transport, or, indeed, anywhere, he gets a lot of responses. Many of those responses are from people — white, black, male, female — who have the same experience. Many others, however, are from people — white, black, male, female — who do not have that experience. These people often speculate about why he might experience it, or think he does. In turn, he speculates about why the people who claim not to have that experience say that — maybe they are Fake Newsers, or just determined not to see anything that interferes with their image of Japan.
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Japanese While White

I naturalised as a Japanese citizen almost two years ago, and so when I travel abroad, I travel on a Japanese passport.

This is interesting.

My first overseas trip was to the UK, where, for the first time, I had to join the queue for non-EU people. After a really, really long wait, I got to the desk.

“Oh wow, I didn’t know they gave these out,” says the immigration officer.
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Reflections on Teaching English in Japan

I am David Chart, and I am an English teacher.

I have been teaching English in Japan since early 2004, so for about fourteen years now. Unlike many English teachers here, I have never taught English in an institutional setting. It has always been one-on-one, or possibly one-on-two, and I have always been freelance. Thus, this essay is about my reflections on the way I have done the job, and may not apply to other people who have done it. I also know that at least some of my current students will read this, and now you know that I know.

Let’s start by explaining why I opened the essay the way I did.
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Mimusubi

This blog has been somewhat neglected of late, because most of my online writing has been connected to Mimusubi, and my essays about Shinto. That project has now been running for a year, and I’ve written nine essays. I’m currently working on the next one, which will be about Yasukuni Jinja. If that sounds like something you might be interested in, please check out my Patreon page.

Loco in Japan

A while back, when I wrote an article about racial categories in Japan, I got a response from Baye McNeil, the author of the Loco in Yokohama blog, and the two books that I will be reviewing in this blog post. That response led to me reading his books, which are primarily about his experiences as a teacher of English in Japan. This is a topic about which I also have quite a lot of direct knowledge. In fact, we have been in Japan for very similar lengths of time, and we live close to one another; Yokohama and Kawasaki are adjacent, in the west of the Tokyo sprawl.

I can definitely recommend both books to anyone with an interest in what it is like for someone from overseas to live in Japan long-term. They are engaging, memorable, and thought-provoking. However, I would caution against assuming that this is what it is like for all foreigners who live in Japan. Despite the similarities in our situations, we seem to live in different worlds. How to sum that up?

One of his students invited him to a brothel; one of mine invited me to see the Emperor officially open the Diet.
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Experiences of Racism in Japan

It has recently been reported that the Ministry of Justice is to survey 18,500 foreign residents to ask about their experiences of racism and discrimination. A lot of the reports are describing this as “unprecedented”, but while it is larger scale than the Kawasaki survey, and apparently focused on racism, the Kawasaki survey is a precedent. One benefit of the reports is that they have motivated me to get the discrimination section of the report on the interview survey translated into English, and publish it online. You should read this before the rest of the blog post, or the post will not make sense.

Problems of Discrimination and Human Rights among Foreign Residents of Kawasaki

As for my translation and discussion of the results of the questionnaire survey, I have separated the translation of the report, which was approved by the city, from the rest of this blog post, which is about my reactions to it.
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