Japan Is Not Superior

A good friend of mine did a post yesterday on why Japan isn’t as awesome as many anime fans think it is. He also mentioned an acquaintance of ours who is a heavy weeabo, which probably started his rant in the first place. I suppose that all anime fans go through the “Japan is awesome” stage, however while most leave this phase as they become older and thus more cynical and/or aware of the real world, unfortunately many never leave it. Now, I completely agree with Judge Pow3rs that Japan isn’t a land of cupcakes and rainbows (ie, it has major problems like any other country in the world), so I will expand a bit on one or two of his points and add some other stuff as well.

Point 1: Japan’s prison system is fucked up

You know how in most civilised countries you’re innocent till proven guilty? Yeah well Japan isn’t one of them. The Japanese prison system is a lovely place where:

  • you can be held for interrogation for up to 23 days
  • … with no formal charges laid
  • … no bail
  • … no legal representation appointed by the state
  • … and can’t contact anyone for the first 48 hours. Yeah, you just “disappear”.
  • you’re essentially guilty till proven innocent
  • … because confessions are often coerced

Sounds a bit like a small Guantanamo Bay, really. Anyway, here’s one guy’s account of being arrested in Japan, and here’s a more recent article (a few years old at the time of writing) talking about the problem. And for those of you who don’t support the death sentence, guess what? Japan likes to use hangings as a method of execution. The bit I like from that article is the following:

Officials notify death row inmates just hours before the execution, and inform family members only after the execution has taken place.

Nice one there. And it seems such things carry on to this day. Hell, Human Rights Watch has been bitching about it since 1995. Some more info on their justice system.

Point 2: The Japanese are racist (just like everyone else) and xenophobic too

This one shouldn’t surprise people, but it often does, and that confuses me. The Japanese are not some race of mystical sky people, they are human like the rest of us, meaning that the average Japanese person is racist like the average person from [insert any country here]. However, I know that in some countries, racism is more tolerated than in others and Japanese society is one of them, due to their cliquiness and the events leading up to WW2.

Firstly, they have this concept of “uchi-soto”, which is the distinction between in-groups (uchi, “inside”) and out-groups (soto, “outside”) which is so pervasive it even influences their language. In-groups are things like your family, circle of friends, company you work for, etc. Out-groups are basically everyone else, and you get judged and stereotyped by the groups you are and aren’t in.

Secondly, in the 30’s and 40’s you had a surge of extreme nationalism. The Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education (no, really, that was their name) taught that other races “were filthy and impure’ and that the Japanese were of a superior race. From here:

They [the Japanese] had long thought of themselves as a unique and superior people (and believed they had the military, political, and cultural accomplishments as evidence). Their ascendancy to world power between 1860 and 1920 occurred during the heyday of supposedly scientific racism in the West, a pseudo-science the Japanese studied closely because they and other Asians were so often the victims of it. In the 1930s and 1940s, however, the Japanese racism that drove the great war effort was based not on science but on history. The source of Japan’s greatness and ultimate victory, according to novelists, cartoonists, journalists, and government propagandists, was the Emperor, whose origins went back 2,600 years to Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess. No other people could claim such a lineage. Other races “were filthy and impure,” the Orwellian-named Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education declared in 1937. American liberalism and so-called individualism were especially filthy, some leading Japanese publicists preached, because such terms only disguised the rich exploiting the poor, the destruction of community, and the “ugly plutocracy” of the Jews.

Mix the two and you have the largest in-group (Japan) and out-group (everyone else) and thus racism towards foreigners. Note that not everyone is some screaming Japanese equivalent to a white supremacist or whatever, however there is prevalent racism and xenophobia in Japanese society today. Arudou Debito’s blog discusses this topic quite a bit. Up until WW2 they even had separate cemeteries for foreigners. Want to know how much they hate foreigners? They’re trying to get them to leave, despite the fact that the country is slowly going down the tubes.

Point 3: School system is fucked up

Remember the “Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education” that I mentioned above? Guess what, it’s still around in one form or another. All textbooks used in Japanese schools need to be approved by the MEXT (The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). While this does help with homogeny throughout the schools in Japan (and the Japanese are very big on homogeny), it does have a major problem – negative historical revisionism and censorship, especially about the horrific Japanese actions during WW2. To quote George Orwell on censorship:

Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past.

Examples of censorship? Here’s a long list of them.

Remember “uchi-soto”, which I mentioned above? Well, this is at work here as well, especially the part where you are judged and stereotyped by the groups you are and aren’t in. As many companies, especially the larger ones, place a lot of importance on the university that you graduated from (some go so far as to only hire from certain universities), there is naturally a lot of competition to get into the various top high schools and universities. This leads to “examination hell“, which has the knock-on effect of increasing the already-high suicide rate.

Also, it looks like you don’t need to actually attend high school to be able to graduate from it (read the second-last paragraph). I don’t know if this a standard rule or if the school just didn’t give a shit, however if you are able to do that at any school no wonder the universities like their entrance exams so much.

Other issues

There are also lots of issues that I could mention – problems with their health system, their wonky economy, crime issues (yes, they do have crime! My God!), major social issues like their aging society, etc, etc however I shouldn’t need to. If the above points don’t get the fact across that Japan isn’t Shangrila, then I won’t argue with a brick wall. And if you are still wanting to live/work in Japan, good luck. Like any country, it will have its highs and lows, so hope for the best but plan for the worse 🙂

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3 responses to “Japan Is Not Superior

  1. kebab 12 May, 2011 at 12:40 am

    Racism is mentioned a lot when it comes to the subject of Japan. When I actually plucked up the courage to go I found no evidence of it whatsoever. Everyone I met was really friendly and accepting. All you have to do is try to speak a little of their language and make an effort to not be ignorant, that’s all.

    I also saw homeless people lying around under blue tarpaulins in beautiful Ueno park. That was depressing.

    Japan has it’s issue’s. But they pale in comparison to the social/crime issues here in the UK. Japan for me is still wonderful despite it’s problems.

  2. noonehere 21 December, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Very informative. I have a friend back form hs that is sooo like that. I’s annoying and sad sometimes

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