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“Diversity” and American Dominance in RPGs

The US dominance of both the pen-and-paper RPG industry and the diversity debate is a real problem, one that, I think, is actively hindering attempts to address the problems created by a lack of diversity.

Let’s take an example I’m intimately familiar with: Japan. (For people who don’t know, I’ve lived here for 12 years, my wife is Japanese, and I’m in the process of naturalising.)

The important “racial” minority groups are the Koreans, the Chinese, the Okinawans, the Filipinas, and the Burakumin. All of these groups are “East Asian”. They disappear when “racial diversity” is being considered for an RPG. “Racial diversity” is used to mean “people from lots of different categories that are important in the USA, completely ignoring distinctions that are important elsewhere”. To expand, when was the last time you saw a game being careful to represent both Hutu and Tutsi accurately, or Serb and Croat, or Ukrainian and Russian? Or even Sunni and Shia? These are all groups that have had wars over the distinction in the recent past, or are fighting them right now, so large numbers of people thought the distinction was worth killing for. But all of those distinctions are invisible to “diversity”.

On the other hand, in Japan, in Noh theatre and Kabuki theatre, the female parts are played by men, and both of these are revered national art forms, and UNESCO World Heritage traditions. In Takarazuka theatre, the male parts are played by women, and that has 100 years of history and a large contemporary following (overwhelmingly female). This is mainstream. Emoji were designed in Japan, with same-sex couple icons, to absolutely no outrage at all. The government approach to transgender children is to issue guidance to schools on how to deal with it appropriately, including allowing the child to wear the right uniform, and provide counselling and medical treatment as necessary. This is not an issue; I only know about it because NHK did a special on it a few months ago. Aya Ueto, who is a still a pretty big female star, played a transgender boy in her breakthrough role, and that was about 13 years ago. Manga depicting gay romances between young men and between male high school students is a large genre, overwhelmingly read by women. (It is, as far as I can see, much, much larger than the genre of lesbian romances between schoolgirls.) US assumptions about gender/sexuality diversity and context are just wrong in Japan.

The same, incidentally, is true of assumptions about racial relations, as I wrote here last month.

(Also, the Japanese language is gender neutral by default, and a fairly high proportion of names are gender ambiguous, but women’s rights are a considerable distance behind the west. Thus, I am not optimistic about the effect of “more inclusive language”.)

I am sure that there are similar differences between the USA and other countries with which I am less familiar.

So, if you are trying to increase the diversity of your authors, artists, and editors, your first rule should be “no more Americans”. That will help you break out of the assumption that the American way of dividing up the world is the only appropriate way, and help you introduce some real diversity into your game settings and characters.

Racism in Japan

Actually, the content of this post would be more accurately described as “reflections on the results of a survey of experiences of discrimination on grounds of foreign nationality in the municipality of Kawasaki”, but that isn’t snappy enough for a blog title, and quite a lot of what I say will be directly relevant to consideration of racism in Japan.

First, though, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the survey of foreign residents that the city of Kawasaki conducted has completed its first phase, and the results have been published in Japanese. As promised, I have translated the analysis chapter looking at discrimination, which I wrote, into English, and I am making it available here. You should really read that before reading the rest of this post, because this post is based heavily on those results.

Experiences of Discrimination among Foreign Residents of Kawasaki

The translation is separated from the blog post in this way because the translated chapter was peer reviewed, in the sense that it was looked at by the Japanese academics on the survey committee, all of whom are specialists in this field, and the wording was approved by the city of Kawasaki, in Japanese. This blog post is neither; it is just my opinions. One simple example: the report translation does not use the word “racism” at all, because I was asked to avoid the Japanese equivalent. This blog post will use that word, because it is, for the most part, what we are talking about.

The first thing I want to emphasise is that, despite the limitations of the survey, these results are based on responses from around 900 foreign residents of Kawasaki. They are, therefore, better than anyone’s personal experience when it comes to the big picture. These data are flawed, but they are the best we have at the moment, as far as I know. The biggest unknown is how far these results generalise to the rest of Japan. Kawasaki has spent 20 years trying to make the city easier for foreigners to live in, and one would like to think that those efforts have had some results. On the other hand, as part of the Greater Tokyo area, Kawasaki has a lot more recent foreign immigrants than other areas of Japan. More data would be ideal, and I will be giving thought to ways to convince other areas to perform similar surveys.

The biggest and most surprising result of this survey is that Westerners face at least as much racism as anyone else in Japan. This is not the conventional wisdom, and not the result I was expecting to get. It’s not even that the results for Westerners are low, but not low enough for the difference to be statistically significant. On the contrary, in many cases the results for Westerners are high, and occasionally that difference is statistically significant. In particular, the results say that you are more likely to be stopped by the police for “walking while white” in Kawasaki than to be stopped for “walking while Filipino”. That question is also one of the more objective questions on the survey. On the other hand, it also shows that you are much less likely to be stopped for looking foreign in Kawasaki than in Europe, and rather suggests that the reason police harassment of foreigners in Japan is not treated as a major issue is that it is, in fact, not a major issue.

A less surprising, but still interesting, result is that the level of discrimination in Japan is roughly comparable to that in Europe. Japan is certainly not significantly more racist than Europe, and thus is probably significantly less racist than the USA. The fact that a number of white people who have lived in Japan have a different impression can be explained by the previous result: white people suffer at least as much racism as other minorities in Japan, and if you’re used to “none”, this doubtless feels like a lot. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that, in the section for comments on what you think is good about living in Kawasaki, quite a few people, of various ethnicities, mentioned the lack of any experience of racism. There were more comments about the need to get rid of discrimination, but it is possible to live in Japan as a member of an ethnic minority for years and experience no racism. That is my experience, as it happens, but it is now clear that such an experience is far from limited to white people. My impression is that ethnic minorities in the USA do not have that chance.

That brings us to an important analytical point. This survey makes it clear that, when considering racism, Japan is not the USA. “People of colour” is not a useful category for the Japanese situation, as it distinguishes one group that does suffer racism from a group that mixes up the majority who do not with other groups who do. “White privilege” really doesn’t exist here. Further, racism is not an omnipresent part of Japanese society. Far too many foreign residents have encountered it, but a large number have gone for years without noticing it at all. The analytical tools and ideas developed for the US are unhelpful at best and misleading at worst when applied to Japan. I’m not aware of any useful analytical tools for the Japanese situation, but the research is at a very early stage.

I probably won’t be contributing to it much, because I’m on one of the official committees that will advise the city of Kawasaki on how to respond to these results. Thus, I’m likely to be too busy trying to improve the situation to spend much time analysing it. From that perspective, the most important result is the prevalence of racism in housing. It’s one of the very few areas that really looks worse than Europe, and it’s a serious issue. It’s also something concrete that the city can plausibly do something about. I would like to see the city pass an ordinance making it illegal to refuse someone accommodation purely on the basis of their nationality, but that might be a bit difficult to get through. At the very least, however, I think Kawasaki needs to push their existing program to reduce such discrimination with rather more vigour.

The city is going to conduct interview surveys to follow up on the questionnaire, and supplement some of its weaknesses. Indeed, we had the meeting to finalise much of the design of that yesterday. The interviews will cover racism, if the interviewees bring it up as a significant topic, and I hope that it will tell us more about the nature of the racism that people face here. In the meantime, I hope that these results will inform the debate about racism in Japan, and inspire other people to gather more data, in other areas, to build up an accurate picture for the whole country.

Note added November 2016: The results of the interview survey have been published, and I have, once again, translated my section of the report for my blog.

Results of the Kawasaki Survey of Foreign Residents

The results of the questionnaire-based survey of foreign residents of Kawasaki were published yesterday. Most of the results are, of course, published in Japanese, but there is an English summary. (I had nothing to do with the English part of the English summary. I feel the need to make that clear.)

I’ve been working on this survey in one way or another since 2009, and I’m still not finished, because we are currently planning the interview survey that will follow up on the results of the questionnaire.

2009 was when I applied to become a member of the Foreign Residents’ Assembly (FRA). My general purpose was to contribute to the city and my community, but my specific goal was to get the city to carry out a survey like this. I thought, and still think, that having actual data on the situation of foreign residents would be very useful. Fortunately for me, the other representatives agreed, and provided a broader base of opinions on what should go into the survey. We formally requested that the city carry out such a survey in 2012.

The city moved quite quickly, agreeing to investigate the possibility of doing a survey, and setting aside budget for it for the 2013 fiscal year. At the beginning of that fiscal year, a team was established to work on it, mostly composed of Japanese social scientists. I was added to the committee as the token minority member. We spent a year working out the details of the survey, so that we could make a concrete budget proposal to the city.

The city agreed to supply the budget, so the survey was carried out in 2014. The survey was sent out, and the results tabulated, by a contractor, but we, on the team, did the data analysis and wrote the report. I only wrote a small part of the report: the section on experiences of discrimination. In the near future, I plan to translate that section into English and post it here, along with some more commentary. I’m also going to read the whole report, because I only read it bit by bit as it was being written, and I don’t think I’ve read the whole thing yet. I’ve certainly not read the final version of some parts. I expect that there will be other things that I want to say as a result of that.

One interesting fact, that is in the summary, is that half of the children of foreigners in Kawasaki have Japanese citizenship. (That is probably because the other parent is Japanese.) Before we did the survey, we (on the FRA, I think) had asked the city how many children with foreign roots there were, and they had no idea. They knew how many had foreign citizenship, but the children with foreign parents and Japanese citizenship were invisible. We now know that there are as many Japanese children with foreign roots as there are foreign children, which has implications for educational provision.

None of the survey results specify actions that the city should take. That’s not their purpose. They are supposed to inform decision making. I expect that the FRA will make use of the results, as will the Multicultural Coexistence Promotion Policy Assessment Committee (which I am on). That’s the next step.

The publication of the report marks the success of a long project for me, but the real work starts now.

Actually Formally Applying to Naturalise

Today, I formally applied to naturalise in Japan.

I went to the Legal Affairs Office in Kawasaki, and Yuriko met me there (we were both going from work). I arrived a bit early, but my case worker soon came to speak to me. First, she took all my application documents off me, and took them into the Nationality Consultation Room to look through them. That took her about twenty minutes, while I waited. Yuriko arrived just after she had finished checking, and she said that she would speak to me first. (As I mentioned before, they speak to the husband and wife separately, to make sure the marriage is genuine.)

The first thing she asked me was whether I was happy to give up my UK citizenship. I said I’d prefer not to, but that I understood it was necessary, so I would. We also discussed the absence of a certificate of citizenship, but as the UK will no longer issue those, it wasn’t an immediate problem. The Justice Ministry may ask about it later. Next, there was a short list of extra documents she wanted. I need my 2013 tax return as well as the 2014 one, and the proof of Yuriko’s income, and a couple more documents about my family for the family record. When I submit these, I only need to submit one copy, and photocopies are fine for most of them. (The proof of Yuriko’s income needs to be the original.)

Then she started going through the documents. There was a short discussion to confirm the katakana spelling of my parents’ names on my family record, if I am allowed to naturalise, and the way that my previous name will be written. She wanted to confirm the county I was born in, and I got a bit stuck, because it’s Greater Manchester now, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t when I was born. (Wikipedia confirms that I was right; I was born in Cheshire.) She is going to look into that for me, because it needs to be right according to the Japanese government, which may not be exactly the same as what the UK government thinks. Then she asked who was going to be the first name on the family record. That was something I hadn’t realised. Apparently, I can choose to be added to Yuriko’s current family record, or to create a new family record, with me at the top, and have Yuriko and Mayuki added to that. As I didn’t know about this complication, I hadn’t talked about it with Yuriko, so we postponed a decision on that. She wanted to know which school Mayuki was going to, and was a bit surprised that she wasn’t going to an International School, until I told her how high the fees were. She asked what language I spoke to Mayuki in, and I explained that I talk to her in English and she replies in Japanese.

There weren’t many questions about most of the documents, just confirmation that I don’t have a driver’s licence, and a few other minor points. Most of her questions were based on my CV, which is fair enough. She asked me about the background, and for some more details. For example, she wanted to know how I became a member of the Foreign Residents’ Assembly, so I told her that it was openly advertised. (She doesn’t work for the city, so she is allowed to not know about it.) She also asked a bit about my jobs, and, of course, about how and when I met Yuriko, and the process leading up to our marriage, and she wanted to know whether we had had a wedding ceremony, and where. (If you are marrying a Japanese citizen and think you might want to naturalise later, have a ceremony. It helps make the wedding look real.)

My interview took about 45 minutes, and then I came out while Yuriko went in. Her interview took about 20 minutes, and I asked her about it afterwards. She said it was more like a friendly chat, and that, while they did talk about where we met, and our wedding ceremony, and how Yuriko’s parents felt about our marriage, they also talked about Mayuki and I speaking a mix of Japanese and English, and about the choice of characters for my name. Yuriko mentioned that Mayuki was strongly opposed to a kanji surname, and the case officer agreed. She said Mayuki was really cute, and the current balance of her name suited her. My case officer once again wondered why I would want to take Japanese citizenship. I should emphasise that this wasn’t in any way a hostile “Why do you think you can become Japanese?” attitude, but rather “Why would you want to become Japanese?”. I think the Japanese still have a bit of an inferiority complex.

Now, I think that one reason for Yuriko’s relaxed interview was that there is nothing suspicious-looking about our marriage. One of the big documentary things is that we are joint owners of the flat. But I suspect that another reason is that this is actually an effective way to catch false marriages. By picking up on things that were mentioned in passing, it is easy to spot people who haven’t very carefully prepared their stories.

In any case, after Yuriko’s interview, she was ready to accept the application, so I was called back into the room, and I sat down at the table.

I signed my oath to respect the constitution, and signed my application forms. She accepted them.

While she was off getting my acceptance number (which I need to include on all future correspondence), Yuriko and I talked about who would be on top of the family record. We quickly concluded that it probably wouldn’t make any difference to anything practical, so in the end we decided based on how we felt.

Finally, my case worker explained a bit about what will happen next. If she has any questions, or needs any more documents, she will phone me. She will also phone me when she has sorted out my county of birth, to confirm that it is OK. Similarly, if I have any questions, I should phone her. I also need to phone her if I move, get divorced, Yuriko gets pregnant, I change jobs, and so on. Basically, if anything major changes on the application, I need to tell her. I also need to tell her when I leave the country, and when I get back. There is no problem with my leaving (as long as I have a passport), but it is policy not to grant permission while someone is out of the country, so they need to know whether I am. I suspect that there would be a problem if you were barely in Japan during your application, as well. One thing she mentioned was that the authorities take a very dim view of hiding important things from them. This was in the context of saying that, in our case, we didn’t need to tell her if Yuriko changed jobs (because she is in the process of starting a new one), because Yuriko’s employment is not a significant part of the application, so the point is that they want an accurate picture of your life, not one that is completely precise about all the details. I imagine that, if they want details about some thing, they will ask. She said that she would like the remaining documents by the end of April, if at all possible, which suggests to me that she expects to send the the application package to the Ministry of Justice in that sort of time frame. I have no idea how long it will take once it gets to them, of course, and after that I have to wait for my renunciation of UK citizenship to go through. So far, it has taken a little less than four months from my first phone call to the Legal Affairs Office to the formal acceptance of my application.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that I formally applied on Friday 13th. However, today is also Taian, the luckiest day of the Japanese fortune-telling cycle. Today is unlucky for the UK, lucky for Japan…