Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Won't Miss #541 - gaijin baiting

A long time ago, when print newspapers were still relevant, I subscribed to a paper called "The Daily Yomiuri." This was the English equivalent of the far more popular "Yomiuri Shimbun". I chose this paper not because it was the best, but because it was the cheapest and news in English was hard to come by in the pre-internet days.

One of the things that started happening in this magazine was that they started printing letters and editorials by someone who went by the name "Roy MacGregor Hastings" (or "Hasty" - my memory is a little fuzzy). I'm pretty sure this was a fake name and that the articles and letters were just as fake. Each one was full of nasty, bizarre stereotypes about Americans. One of the more memorable ones talked about how they'd weep into the vegetarian dish cloths while eating their brown rice or some such odd talk. These days, I'm sure that this creature would write about being fat, owning guns, and eating junk food.

At any rate, this was my introduction to something that I saw the English press in Japan do on occasion which irritated me greatly. That's okay because their intention was to piss me and other readers off. I think that some of them intentionally baited the foreign community to get them more engaged with these small circulation publications in an effort to improve sales or, at the very least, inspire enough passion to get more letters. While my most memorable experience with this was with the Daily Yomiuri (and I got so sick of it happening that I canceled my subscription and swapped to "The Asahi Evening News"), I saw it happening in other publications as well.

These days, it tends to happen more online than anywhere else. In fact, it happened to me with one of my former blogs in which a content aggregator (the bottom feeders of the blogging world) pitted something I wrote against a reply someone else wrote. The main problem was that they outright lied and distorted everything I said in my post to ramp up the potential conflict. A plethora of comments put me down while just one person who had actual reading comprehension said, "this is NOT what she said!"

I don't miss this way of baiting the foreign community by planting (almost certainly fake) incendiary stories in order to rile people up. It was and is a cheap way of getting readers and attention and it fractures a community that desperately needs to offer its members more support. 


  1. I also lived in Japan (long) before the internet age. So, I read and heard many comments about 'gaijin.'

    On the one hand, the Japanese tended to idealize foreigners. Ie, they wanted to emulate them in many, many ways. On the other hand, they were often very critical of them as well. These included such things as their lack of manners, their eagerness to make money, etc, etc, etc. It was the classic 'love/hate' relationship: the more one admires and tries to emulate someone the more tendency there is to also belittle them in some ways.

    An individual often does not like feeling inferior to others. So, they often find things to criticize about their idols as well.

    1. I may be misunderstanding the intent of your comment, but it's important to know that it was the foreigners who seemed to do this to each other. I don't think the Japanese played a big hand in it.

    2. I DID misunderstand it to be the Japanese doing it to/about the foreigners. Sorry and thank you!

  2. The Yomiuri media company is right-wing by Japanese standards, and in my opinion could be called right fringe by Western standards, comparable to Fox News or worse. It is definitely part of the ugly undercurrent of Japanese nationalist culture, so it doesn't surprise that they are running dehumanising articles about foreigners in their newspaper.
    The "Japanese culture is superior" narrative can be found in almost all Japanese media - sometimes more subtle, sometimes less so if right-wing media is involved. And unfortunately, there are many foreigners in Japan that sort-of fled their home country with a big chip on their shoulder and therefore are willing to support this negative aspect of Japanese society just to feel accepted.
    It's pretty bad that they make themselves available to support these xenophobic, backwards tendencies that are poisoning Japanese culture and relations with foreign countries. They aren't helping Japan at all.

    1. I have a vague recollection of the people behind the Yomiuri being right-wing, and I'm sure you are correct. I actually found the "Japanese culture is superior" mentality tucked into most corners of Japanese mentality. Some people were pretty subtle about it - saying things like "American food is TOO BIG," or some other such ethnocentric observation from their travels which indicated the Japanese way was "right" and other ways were wrong. My experience was that some were more obvious than others, and that someone who didn't think Japan was best culturally was a rare person indeed. That being said, I did have a student who was more critical of Japan than any other country - but he was a singular individual.

      I agree with you about this being an "ugly undercurrent". The sad part is so many foreigners buy into that mentality as part of their adaptation. I try, and hopefully succeed, to frame things according to what aspects I prefer or am comfortable with. Sometimes, I trip over myself with the language and it may come across as "X is better than Y."

      Honestly, at the moment, I'm constantly battling the ignorance of Americans who criticize American culture. I'm a liberal politically and strongly support a more European-style economic model (higher taxes, greater social support systems, more "free" services). However, when people look down their noses and snort about how America should be more like Europe in this way, I get frustrated because American culture is built on a historical and ideological base which does not, at this time, support such an ideology. It's not "wrong". It's just different.

      I spent so many years in Japan framing things as not "wrong", but "different" in the service of not being smug, superior and ethnocentric (as you are rightly saying many Japanese often appear to be), and now I see it here as well. Every culture is built on a foundation of its history and geography. No person chooses their culture. It's insane to judge "better" and "worse" (though it's okay to separate "destructive" and "constructive" - that's how we improve).

      I guess what I'm saying is that the Japanese sense you speak of comes from ignorance, but I find a similar level of ignorance everywhere. There's so much judging of other cultures and so little insight into what makes them what they are, and, yes, the benefits that go along with some of the less appealing aspects.

      Thank you for your comment... and my apologies for the meandering reply!


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