Hidoshi has a lot to say about Japanese racism. The thrust of his argument is that Japanese racism is misrepresented and oversimplified elsewhere, and also that a certain element of hypocrisy may exist in Western depictions of it. Out of respect for the considerable thought and research he has put into the matter – and the fact that jokes in a racism post are a bad idea – I will break from the normal voice of levity employed in The Moritheil Review.
First, Hidoshi tackles WWII, an era where theories of Japanese superiority compelled military conquest. He does this by likening it to the Crusades, as if to remind the Western reader that Europe is not without its history of bloodshed.
In a sense, it was almost as if the Papal Crusaders of the dark ages had been reborn on the Pacific island state.
Yes – though the underlying causes were different. Japan saw itself at the vanguard of pan-Asian change, as opposed to the Crusades, which were largely a misbegotten attempt by the popes to unite society under the Catholic Church and quell feudal boredom in the wake of the Pax Dei. (The nobles, trained from birth for fighting, needed someone to fight.) I don’t think the Crusaders had many illusions that what they were doing was for the betterment of those they called Saracens – they were killing them and kicking them out of the land. This distinction hardly makes a difference to those who died, of course, but politically it can be thought of as very different.
More importantly, consider where this application of similarity takes the argument. It’s true that “we no longer do that” is a concept that the West has towards the excesses of war, and that framework cannot be applied with any coherence to Asia, which developed along its own lines. However, pleading lack of development – asserting that Japan in 1940 is somehow equivalent to Europe in 1240 – is tantamount to saying that Asia has yet to develop the same moral awareness of war that the West has. It is implying that Asia is behind the West. This not only sounds like a horrifying evocation of Kipling, circa 1900, it isn’t even true. Asia has a long tradition of lamenting the horrors of war, and I am sure Hidoshi did not mean to imply otherwise.
It isn’t that much of a stretch to say that poor trade diplomacy on the part of the Americans and British is as much to blame for Korean and Chinese suffering as Japanese nationalism itself.
Well, one can always argue back to earlier causes. I don’t really think that the specific atrocities of war derive directly from economic circumstances, however. Broadly, war was encouraged by this setup, but I cannot see any way to extend this so far that it – and not a Japanese army – caused mass rapes and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.
Of course Hidoshi is right to assert that the present impoverished state of many areas of Asia is partly due to a lot of interference by Western powers. However, if we are to discuss the public relations aspect of Japanese racism, as he has done, the fact of the matter is that economic loss is rarely as sensationalist as immediate human suffering, with tangible faces, photos, and mass graves.
Racism for the Japanese has been about fear, losing integrity, and resentment.
But so too has it been for the KKK in America – though to be fair, in America, losing jobs is probably a more immediate cause for hatred of minorities than losing dignity. Consider the slaying of Vincent Chin – because it occurred in Detroit, an area harboring considerable resentment of Asian products, his murderers got off with relatively light punishment.
Your standard Japanese citizen is no more racist than you and I.
A related, but not identical, concern. Certainly, almost every Japanese person I have personally met has been peaceful, respectful, and dignified. Ultranationalists aside, modern Japan has very little to do with the mindset of the WWII-era Japanese military. The problem is that the system still holds the vestiges of racism. Whether we look at the marginalization of Burakumin or the academic employment situation, it is clear that being non-Japanese is a significant disadvantage. Even those of non-Japanese descent who grew up in Japan are statistically less likely to have higher-level positions.
It is this lack of upward mobility – this economic trouble – that ultimately makes for a situation where race matters. This economic proof makes others deeply suspicious. Can we reconcile the two statements? Sure. The average Japanese may have no intent to be racist, but in perpetuating the present system, still wind up perpetuating a racist result. (This happens in America, where the legal system is skewed towards convictions of poor nonwhites.)
Racism is a construct of the mind. A discussion of international perceptions of Japanese racism cannot avoid examining the context of those perceptions.