Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The final chapter of an unplanned trilogy

This pic is for all the "apologist" accusers. Bite me.

This month I have written on Japan, three times if you count the Bonkras article (which I do not, since it is not about Japan as much as it is about the human-machine interface). Earlier writings featured an engagement with the some of the dominant ways in which a wide range of foreigners in Japan conceptualise belonging and exclusion in Japan. To summarise: there is a tendency among foreigners from what I refer to the “Anglosphere” when in Japan to make social critique grounded in an overwhelmingly mono-linguistic approach. Their mono-linguistic illiteracy compels them to rely on external “Anglosphere” knowledges and concepts in order to perform their critiques. The problematic of this external knowledge base is compounded by three broad conceptual areas: (1) lingering cultural chauvinism as the result of colonial legacy, (2) local internalisation and replication of these external Anglosphere narratives for non-Japanese consumption (primarily traditional print media such as guide books, locally printed newspapers and cultural/travel brochures) and (3) continually repeated and replicated internet based knowledges combining both (1) and (2) above with blogs, forums and social media. The resulting English language knowledges of Japan exist in an ignorant disjunct to their local Japanese language equivalents. What is especially alarming about these knowledges is that in the current internet era, the speed and frequency with which they can be created and reproduced allows them to attain a truth value impossible in previous informational eras. This knowledge disjunct is where I locate the primary site of self-exclusion and self reduction of the foreigner from gaikokujin (foreigner) to gaijin (outsider). Naturally, there is more to belonging and exclusion than the types of information they consume, however, the effect of knowledge on concept creation and the relationship between it and feeling in and of a place cannot be denied. To position one’s mind as outside a local geography, society and history with the local constantly filtered through an external cognitive framework can only result in a kind of anguished socio-cultural dislocation.

Before moving on to the rest of this article, I believe it is time to define what I have referred to multiple times as the Anglosphere. This is a particularly compressed term used to represent a number of different concepts. On the most basic level, it refers to the countries which were once part of the British Empire and includes: The US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Hong Kong and so on. The purpose is not to fix some kind of “pure” colonial identity, after all, de-colonisation in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong has demonstrated the extent to which Imperial concepts can be ambivalently eclipsed, reproduced and modified for local conditions. Similarly, at this basic level, Anglosphere is used to refer to countries where English has become official first language or is otherwise widely used enough to be considered “integrated” into local cultures. Indeed, what would be of great value and interest is how the English language prism is recalibrated in explicitly multi-lingual, multicultural countries such as India. But I possess neither space, nor knowledge to do so here. To summarise, Anglosphere thus far is used to refer to colonial legacy and linguistic presence within culture. As the British Empire waned and the American century began, informational and knowledge practices of the old empire were carried across the Atlantic and again reconfigured for the purposes of global military, intelligence and economic domination. At the core of Anglosphere thought then is the stubborn concept of colonisation and cultural hegemony, two and more centuries of global domination through military, political and economic force have embedded themselves in English-language thought where universal binaries, victories and linearities are privileged over contextual multiplicities, negotiations and convolutions. The point is that English-language knowledges as they are used across a wide array of economically developed nations descended from the British Empire, have a history of use of domination and chauvinism. This is what I refer to when I use the term Anglosphere. Furthermore, I strongly caution against mono-lingual allegiance to Anglosphere knowledges as the result seems to be all too frequently a one sided, self perpetuating attack rather than nuanced, considered and respectful engagement. It is my opinion that to date, most English language knowledge on Japan falls into this pattern.

I have recently visited and commented on Tepido a number of times in the last few weeks. I was inspired to do so by the presence of “like” minds: people with multi-linguistic capability and with high levels of informational pattern recognition skills. I was relieved to see that there were fellow residents and thinkers in Japan capable of thinking outside of the box. Although on the surface, and accusations have certainly been made from a number of visitors, the site appears to be a shrine to the denigration and stalking of one time Japanese citizen and social activist Arudo Debito, it is more akin to a news satire or fact checking TV program not unlike the Australian Broadcasting Cooperation’s Mediawatch. The reason for its existence is the direct result of Debito’s activism regularly published on his blog, which originally appeared to be concerned with social change but on closer scrutiny is shallow and under-thought at best and arrogant and offensive (and sometimes quite blatantly untrue) at worst. My time on Tepido is about to draw to an end simply because I do not have the fortitude to sustain a conversation in real time when clearly outnumbered by Anglosphere warriors accusing me and others who question their universalism as “apologists” (ooh, such a dirty word). I will continue from time to time to post on Japan and especially incorrect, dubious or offensive depictions of it in the Anglosphere media, but for now, well, I am just about done. I may well pick this up again, somewhere around when and where my abandoned, dusty, outdated and incomplete doctoral degree lies. Until then, sayonara.

That said, I would like to address a few things raised on Debito regarding “Jeff Smith on Yahoo Japan”.

1. The majority of complaints from commentators revolve around the Japanese seller’s refusal to do business with foreigners. The seller’s reason for this is related to communication issues. Many potential buyers not in Japan lack Japanese skills. Therefore if something goes wrong with a transaction it may be very difficult to remedy the problem smoothly and efficiently. The same can be said for non-Japanese and non-Japanese speaking foreigners in Japan. After all, the terms of use that buyers/sellers agree to clearly state that fluent/literate Japanese is required in order to participate in the auction marketplace. If you disagree with those conditions or cannot otherwise meet them, you should contact Yahoo Japan and explain why you should be allowed to use their services, in Japanese!

2. In bidding for an item offered for sale, a bidder (buyer) user uses a handle (screen name) for the purpose of the bidding. The user handle does not have to indicate the user’s real name in anyway whatsoever. Thus if my name is Joe Blow, there is no reason why I cannot just name myself “TwinkleBarbieStar99.” There is no indication at all in this user name of my actual name, whether it be Japanese or non-Japanese. A “real name” is actually not required until a bid is won and shipping/bank account (where relevant) details are exchanged. To be refused at this point is highly unlikely. In my own experience, I have almost been refused as a result of an error on my own part when I edited information on a product I was selling (I was in the wrong, incorrect Japanese). However, on contacting the buyer, who was all but ready to cancel and explaining to him my situation, was able to ensure him of my honesty and integrity as a seller. In Japanese of course. He gave me a perfect reputation score for that transaction. In spite of my earlier language errors.

3. If a seller has any reason/suspicion that a transaction may go badly, s/he has every right to cancel the process. It is her/his goods on the line. Money has yet to change hands. Similarly, cancelled transaction events can be communicated to Yahoo and are reflected in the seller’s profile statistics. Further, a seller has every right to cancel a transaction with a low scored bidder (a bidder who has achieved only a small number of transactions) since a lot of spam bids and fraud are executed with such identities. Many foreigners are in this boat, especially fly-by-night, Johnny-come-lately, green-horns who are here to teach English for a year or two. Again, the solution is simple – learn to communicate in Japanese or learn to do without. Chances are the item you want to bid on is also available locally at Hard Off or another store anyway.

4. People commenting on how a seller cancelling a transaction to a foreigner is racist seriously need to get a grip. Maybe the seller is racist. So what? Some guy on the internet refuses to sell you something that he owns because he does not like your “race”. Do you really think this is about skin colour? Your citizenship? In a cool, calm and collected moment, even if you could win a claim/appeal and go to court, would you really be happy with a court mandated order forcing a racist to sell you goods that he rightfully owned in the first place? Do you think this will make the seller see the error of his ways and appreciate the world’s racial rainbow? Pyrrhic victory much? Here comes another Westerner to the orient telling them how to be. Colonial, much?

5. “Japanese learned nothing from WWII”. Are. You. Fucking. People. Fucking. Serious? Time to get a grip. One potential racist on Yahoo Auction is extrapolated to the entire nation’s people. Sometimes absurdity can only be countered with absurdity. Indulge me. Sung to the tune of Ini Kamoze’s “Here comes the hotstepper”:

Say it!

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,

Blah, blah, blah, blah,

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

Here comes extrapolatah (liar!)

Serial exaggeratah (usotsuki)

National prognosticatah (what?)

Internet masturbatah! (slanderer)

No we don’t buy,

Monolinguist lies,

Anyone test will be censored, banned

Act like you know

We know what you don’t know

Don’t have to stretch, lie or inflate,

Ch ch chang, chang.


Apologies to Mr Kamoze.

6. Can you seriously imagine the day when you live to see a white or black Japanese Prime Minister?”. I can. It will be when Japan has an ethnic/demographic composition similar to the US. Until then… Hedder, hadda, herder…

7. another good way to get the attention of yahoo japan [sic] is to do a public boycott of yahoo japan [sic] until they correct there [sic] internal problems.” Indeed, let all one hundred of us, in a market of millions boycott! And can we get them to save the whales while we’re at it? Next!

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