Silly Grins

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

God Unique

Trains, Post-racism, and Shit-kickers


Dear Loco (and anyone else who happens to read this),

I’ve enjoyed reading your first book. It’s a good start. But I am worried. You see, you’ve got me thinking. I'm still a little groggy from my sleep. Not yet wide awake, but getting there.

Yeah... you sure got me thinking. On a trajectory… so to speak.

As it so turns out, I’m one of your readers who has been kind of watching things unfold in terms of what has been going on in the blogosphere. Which is still kind of an odd place. Particularly the English-speaking expat living in Japan’s little portion of it.

Now, before I run the risk of boring you to death with any tedious details about where I am coming from (which is not really important), I would like attempt to address something  one of your readers put forth in his book review (or was it in the comments?). An observation was made that went something like:

“So many people who’ve read and reviewed the book say that Loco’s made them think. But people aren’t saying what...” 
(I’ll clear this up and hopefully add the exact words that were used… under a bit of a crunch right now)


Starting with the cover... one of the first things that was going through my mind was the difference between An Empty Seat on a Crowded Train and The Seat Not Taken. I find myself wondering about John Edgar Wideman’s writing on the subject of his experience on his way to and from The Big Apple. Does any 'New Yorker' outside of Manhattan (and not from Illinois) actually call it that? I think of how Professor Wideman, on his way to teach in Rhode Island, travels “through a region of the country populated by, statistics tell us, a significant segment of its most educated, affluent, sophisticated and enlightened citizens.” Apparently Prof. Wideman puts up/endures/wonders what-the-fuck is up with these people when he experiences this phenomenon of soft bigotry (or whatever it is).

Loco, your story caught me on the train, looking at an empty seat. Got me thinking. You got me thinking, drifting occasionally to various tunes floating through my head. Walls so thin...

So many people living in this house...

As I read your book and saw a little bit of where God Unique is from, presumably a city that never sleeps... I got to thinking. 

Guess it's just a feeling...

Thinking and remembering how all of my trains run north to south. Mainly just freight. Freight... with nothing but a lulling sound as maybe a mile of boxcars are pulled slowly through towns in the middle of almost nowhere. The low rumbling of distant thunder.


Once upon a guest column, a little more than ten years ago now, Holly (a 'white' girl from Spokane - yeah, God's Country), wrote about what she perceived as a lack of cultural diversity while unwittingly perpetuating the myth of homogeneity:
What they did not say is that due to this lack of cultural diversity, many of the islands' people have developed xenophobia -- the fear of foreigners -- with accompanying racist behavior.
She goes on to say a number of things that may appear to be familiar in terms of what you write, Loco. But not quite as happy.
I was hurt the first time a child on a Tokyo train platform screamed and burst into tears upon seeing me. But you can't really blame a 3-year-old. It was when the child's mother actually pointed at me and yelled "gaijin!," or foreigner, that I started getting the message. I was different and different wasn't welcome.
Holly unwittingly helped support the lie. Wonder what she might be up to today?

At least today, some people have manners. Or what might even be a hint of decency. Enough to even make us smile.

And I don't even know their names...

Okay, let's stop the tape, let Annie rest her voice. Give everyone a break for a while.

(Deep breath)

What surprised me most is the fact that this idealized idea of Japan as a homogeneous people really didn’t solidify until post WWII, and mostly in the mid-1960′s. Of course, western Japanologists helped support this lie, too.
Racism in Japan. No, really? One of the most telling books I've read about Japan was written by someone brought up and educated here around the 1960's. Arguably a very good student while be raised as an 'other' in an atmosphere where idealized ideas permeated,  he now appears to shill his work to Str0m-frunt. My first blog post features a telling quotes from J. T4yl0r. Not because I agree with what he now promotes, no, not that at all.

When I read J's book, it was close enough to a time when practically everyone was still infatuated with Japan, Inc. - still a little high from that bubble. Sobering views were a welcome contrast to that 'miracle' most people were all too busy still writing about. There were a lot of pen pushing 'professional' types who happened to be very skilled at putting their mouths where the money was. And a few of them were academic types who were smart enough to perform just long enough to get paid.

Well, JT went ahead and addressed the reality that, yes, in the land of the rising bright-and-shiny-thing in the sky, there are, in fact, shadows. He did this at a time when many people were more than willing to bend over to studying about cultural and economic miracles. Masochistic, trusting and eager-to-please students were lining up to readily assume their prescribed positions with a willingness to tough it out with a smile for even just a drop of what is being peddled as truth. Many people did not seem to care that they might be blinded by the glare before they grasped onto those slick tomes, pumping them for information, all for a taste of what they were told was the real thing. Getting spanked all the way.


As much as I do not agree with T4yl0r's way of thinking, to his credit, he did point at the ever-present shadows. But then, he left. Maybe he'd had enough. Who can blame him?

Still, I can't help thinking there is nothing wrong with sticking around and maybe trying to shine a little light into those shadows.

So, what about the way race is viewed in today's Japan? What about those people who set down roots, are willing to embrace something spiritual, and try not to get crushed? It's no fairy tale. And it may take a lot of hard work, a baptism of sorts.

Victoria's experience might provide a little insight:
"Some of the community even warned that our children would be deformed," she laughs. It was not just a battle about intercultural marriage — it was a war for the future of the temple. Reo is now 13 years old, and with his little brother, Renni, make up what Yoshimura refers to as "the heir and the spare."
And what are people like Shunwa saying? Yeah, Henry, the kid who is interested in digging things up, kind of like the Old School Bad Boy was.

If anyone really wants to talk about race, this is a good place to start. No, Stanford is not Yale, the place where someone apparently got his BA in Philosophy and, ironically enough, him too. But that was a different era... sort of. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy does a fairly good job at breaking things down. Still, I read slow and it took me a few hours to get through it all, bit by bit, making sure I thought I understood what was being explained.

Looking in the mirror, I say to myself:

Race is in your head, even though there are people who will go to the trouble to put it in your face. Yeah, people may put things in your face especially when they've had an upbringing steeped in the bullshit belief of a racialized social hierarchy. God forbid you should do anything to upset the order of things.

That is to say, my take on it is that most of what people look at is superficial and often based on faulty beliefs. However, my understanding or interpretation doesn't mean that I won't have to deal with those folks much in the same way that people like Victoria has had to deal with the local's fear of 'miscegenation':
“His family did their utmost to thwart us" Yoshimura said, "This is an extremely rural area with very narrow thinking, and it was actually suggested that mixing the races would result in a deformed child.
“This area is famous for its beef cattle, so they are obsessed with pedigree and bloodlines”, she explained. “I was told that my foreign blood would sully the Yoshimura blood-line”.
Here's the best part of the interview.... where she says, "I couldn’t just sit there and feel sorry for myself." Never met her, but first heard of her when she was having a tough time. Looks like she's done well. Women can be strong that way. Gotta honor that.

So, how does this relate to Loco in Yokohama?

While my thought trajectory might appear to be spiraling out of control, apparently race is very close to another concept: ethnicity.

Ethnicity... now there's a distinction where people start showing respect, or at least have a chance to.

In your book, you do make the distinction between poser-Canadians, West Indians, Italians, Jews, Latinos... parts of the salad that go along with the melting pot.
I had been taught this myth before I came to Japan and had believed it during my first years in Japan, even though I knew firsthand of the presence of Okinawan, Ainu, Burakumin, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Brazilian, Iranian, Peruvian, African, Russian, Indian, Bangladeshi and Canadian, US, Australian and numerous European peoples, etc. living in Japan. Basically, all nations’ peoples are represented here, although this author argues they are primarily concentrated in the larger cities.

Shit Kickers...

Okay, Loco's way of thinking has got racists down to roughly three types, the staunchest of which is the shit-kicker, followed by the poser, with the oblivious tagging along.

While I do appreciate the way you lay out everything out at the beginning, the mention of a focus on differences is something that doesn't quite filter through my lens. Similarities are what I focus on. Succumbing to the bad habit of pointing out a person or people as 'other' only adds to my feeling of isolation and isn't going to help me learn much. Life is too short and time is limited.

Ironically, one of the deepest things that sticks in your book is when you are with Maggie. You mention a moment where all of the bullshit has been eradicated, along with the syndromes and fevers --- yeah all those barriers gone --- that must have been heaven. But a country girl in the city... I forget what happened there.

Loco, you got me thinking.

I am not Oblivious. Then, what am I or what might I be? You see, I've also put down roots here, become part of where I am. Not necessarily on my own terms, but I'm here. And only willing to go so far. I'm not willing to racialize, though I may be racialized. And, if I see something, I'll say something. Now that I'm starting to wake up, perhaps for the very last time.

Even though I wasn't comfortable with your shit kicker, poser, and oblivious taxonomy, I was willing to cooperate and read through with the intention of understanding where you are coming from.

You got me thinking...

Because I wasn't comfortable, I started looking around, trying to find out what 'those in the know' were saying. And lucky for me, Wenner-Gren is over-the-counter kind of mental medicine. Cleared things right up. Although there may still be no cure for humanity, those people at the table, like Rachel J. Watkins, do give me hope.

And it's good to know that there are places that function much like the Wenner-Gren symposiums by providing environments conducive for discussion. Loco in Yokohama has been a place where people are invited to the table, I'm assuming with the intention of building a space for thinking and talking. Lots of paraphrasing from here (cough).

This post is an attempt to simply communicate some of what I've been thinking through finding similarities and threads. Finding those similarities.

 Back to the train and The Seat Not Taken:
But the very pleasing moment of anticipation casts a shadow, because I can't accept the bounty of an extra seat without remembering why it's empty, without wondering if its emptiness isn't something quite sad. And quite dangerous, also, if left unexamined. Posters in the train, the station, the subway warn: if you see something, say something.

Dear Loco - Thank you. Thank you for providing some space. And thank you for saying something. For making me think.
"And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."


  1. Enjoyed reading this post, even though I haven't read the book. Reading the experiences of others while simultaneously thinking of your own doesn't necessarily help you identify with the author, even if many of the experiences are the same. Ultimately, it's a matter of perception and how much the reader's notions fit in line with those of the author.

    What I do like about reading Loco's blog is that it reminds me sometimes that I shouldn't be so apathetic and I should get righteously pissed off once in awhile...

    1. Glad to hear you made it through the post and enjoyed it, even if you haven't read the book. I wouldn't have been interested if I hadn't read the blog - the first one of a few I have 'followed'.

      Though he and I probably don't see the world through the same set of lenses, Loco points out things in a way that I can follow - for the most part - and has unknowingly helped me to smell the coffee.

      Apathy... yeah, I can relate.

      Your feedback is appreciated.

  2. Well, this is a fair old outpouring. I almost feel guilty interrupting; I just want to stand back and see how it all unfolds.

    I can, at least, help you with a source for that anonymous observation, though I think your phrasing works better here. WRT Billy's comment, interesting to note that in that same post I touch on the benifits (or not) of throwing out to other people's opinions when talking about books. I'm very happy you've got round to contributing yours, mind.

    1. Kamo... thank you. Was a bit hesitant or 'slightly paranoid' about putting your name in this. Not like you've been cursed by gypsies. Any comments from you are appreciated, backhanded or otherwise - it's attention either way you look at it.

      Sat down with Wifey this evening and asked her a few questions. She whipped out her iPad and went straight to Wikipedia-J, looking at the Jomon and Yayoi bit under 'Japanese'... none of it was new to her. To her credit, I can say that she's a little bit too Goonie Goo Goo to fit in with the 'most educated, affluent, sophisticated and enlightened citizens' of this island nation.

      I'm seriously starting to suspect that the western 'Japanologists' may have done the most damage in terms of painting this place as some kind of Zen commune thanks to cun... mystics such as Eugen Herrigel.


      You certainly do not need to hesitate in throwing a match on it after everybody finishes dousing this post with whatever they want. Either way, your darn welcome to stand back n' watch.