Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Alex Kerr on Debito Arudou

I found an interesting interview with Alex Kerr in the Japan Times yesterday, and I'd like to highlight his comments on Debito Arudou. I've read Alex Kerr's book "Lost Japan" and enjoyed most of it (the tail end about how he saved Japanese art history rubbed me the wrong way), but I've not looked at "Dogs and Demons", although I think that a Japanese version of Godwin's Law should be formulated to say that people quoting the book have already lost the argument.

In Dogs and Demons you argue that Japan has failed to internationalize. What do you think about the work of Debito Arudou and others to combat racial discrimination in Japan?

Well, somebody has to do it. I'm glad that there is a whistle-blower out there. But, I am doubtful whether in the long run it really helps. One would hope that he could do it another way. He's not doing it the Japanese way. He's being very gaijin in his openly combative attitude, and usually in Japan that approach fails.

I fear that his activities might tend to just confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.

That said, perhaps we who live here are slow to stick our necks out when we sense an injustice, and quick to self-censor in order to get along smoothly in our communities.

To me the most interesting aspect of Arudou Debito is that, in taking on Japanese citizenship, he has brought the dialogue inside Japan. His activities reveal the fact that gaijin and their gaijin ways are now a part of the fabric of Japan's new society. A very small part of course, but a vocal and real part.

I can empathise with Alex Kerr's opinion here - one big thing missing from Debito Arudou's campaigning is that he always seems to be going it alone; first, he seems to have a knack of falling out with people he works with, and second, although he appears to have a lot of political contacts, they don't seem to be allies. He seems very attached to the not-quite-dead-yet SDP, which doesn't help, I don't think.

It'll be interesting to see what buzz is generated from this article. I know that there are a lot of people who seem to worship both Alex Kerr and Debito Arudou as speakers of the truth, so I wonder how they can cope with the cognitive dissonance of one disagreeing with the other!

Post Script: I used Google Blog Search to find who mentions this story, and the two matches (only two? Mr Arudou needs to get with the times and start networking with bloggers!) I got were from Gen Kanai's blog and On Gaien Higashi Dori, both of whom see fit to highlight the mention of Debito Arudou, but neither pass an opinion on any part of the article, bar a non-committal "interesting", even though Kerr and Debito Arudou are two of the best-known and oft-quoted authors of all the Western-born writers on Japan. I find that, umm, interesting.

Thanks for the link and the comment. Here's my take:

Re:Debito, Kerr's right, and you're right.

Debito could get a lot more done if he changed his ways, but he's not going to.

Japan is "racist" only in that it is a by a long margin a monoculture. Thus anything that is different, is by definition "gai" or outside.

Kerr is a vital critic of Japan and while I think he has said all that he wants to about Japan, it's disappointing that his message hasn't gotten farther than it could/should. I believe D&D to be one of the most important books on Japan in the past decade or two.
Likewise, thanks for the comment.

My reaction to Kerr's comments on Debito was surprise. Not only do the two of them have similar MOs (lamenting current problems with Japan and working to change the place), they also seem to use the same tactics (attack, attack, attack, with a fair bit of ego thrown in). Granted, Debito is more hands-on, but their tactics are not really different.

So why the "cognitive dissonance"? Who knows? Something personal, maybe? Or perhaps something to do with Debito being a member of academia in Japan? Kerr clearly has a thing about people working in Japanese academia.

I think they both do great work, regardless.

Debito, whatever his faults or motivations, does things that end up improving my rights in Japan. I've nothing but gratitude for that.

And Kerr may be influential in stopping the concretization of the Japanese countryside. Being someone who spends a lot of his time in the mountains, I've nothing but gratitude to him too.

One doesn't like the other's tactics? I'm surprised, yes. But it hardly matters.
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