May 31, 2012
By Jasmine Torres
Today was an interesting day! We did several things. We got to work on crafts in the morning where we all filled the shoes of Picasso and created our own masterpieces. We then went to a traditional Nagoyan lunch. We also were privileged to go to the Toyota plant and museum where we got to see how automated and advanced the plant was. We saw the assembly line and how people work on all different kinds of cars. Then we went to a baseball game where we saw the Nagoya Dragons play the Buffaloes. This was my first baseball game but I have seen baseball on TV and have a lot of friends who are baseball fanatics. I think it was so interesting to see that although it is baseball in a different country, the atmosphere of the baseball game was very similar. There were still people wearing their jerseys, there were chants, there were people selling snacks and drinks in the stands. I think in this respect, I keep thinking about how things are more similar than they are different. The game ended up in a tie but even still, the atmosphere in the game was not about rivalry or competition; they played for the love of baseball and after their tie, they all shook hands. It is starting to hit me that we are leaving Japan soon. I will miss it.
By Rikiesha Pierce
It has been almost two weeks since I arrived in Japan, and I have found myself struggling with conceptualizing myself as a foreigner to the Asian continent, and more specifically within the Japanese cultural landscape. My dark skin, round eyes, and intrusive disposition (I often sing in public) make me naturally stand out from the native-born Japanese. Initially, I anticipated differential treatment as the consequence of these factors; however my experience has been quite the contrary to this reality. Since arriving to Japan, I have been ushered around by eager local residents, excited to welcome me into their community. Scores of professionals, USC alumni, business executives, and even spiritual community leaders have opened their doors to me, responding to my questions with candor and honesty, and even indulging my colleagues and I with tales of their own life experiences. It seems that my preconceived notion of the Japanese had been all too hastily made!
I assumed that the western stereotypes of my race (as an American black woman) would dominate peoples perceptions, and responses to me. Reading Apichai Shipper’s essay “Controlling Foreigners: Japan’s Foreign Worker Policy” has caused me to rethink the way I have experienced Japan through a more critical lens. Shipper argues that the immigration policies currently serving as the landing strip for immigrants entering Japan reinforce a racialized hierarchy restricting the ability of foreigners to contribute to society politically, economically, and socially. This system, Shipper contends, reflects the Japanese governments perception that “certain races/nationalities are better qualified to engage in certain jobs”. This sentiment of racial difference and differential treatment has been echoed in many of the conversations that I have had with residents in Japan. To name a few examples—one Colombian/Japanese student was denied access to housing on the basis of his status as an international resident (though he has been a resident of Japan for 5 years), another Japanese student’s commented that the Japanese view themselves as the “top Asian” group, investigations of Japanese imperialism in other South Asian countries, the controversies over Korean victims not being included in the Hiroshima Peace Park until the late 1990s.
It seems that much of the racial underpinnings in Japanese society have been masked by the culture itself—people are just not as outspoken, overt, and ‘in your face’ as they are in the United States. The streets are free of trash and prostitution; smart cars and hybrid vehicles fill the streets as opposed to the gas guzzling, CO2 emitting American style trucks and SUVs. People are polite. Yet the subtly of racism merely pushes it to the margins; it is not erased from the ideology, politics, and function of everyday life. In fact, I argue that the mechanisms through which the government and society has institutionalized social inequality in Japan, operates in much of the same way as it in the United States. This begs the question that has been burning inside of me and many of my peers experiencing this trip with me: why haven’t I felt this racism directed towards me? Am I not just as foreign (if not more so) than the immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, China, the Philippines? And two items became very clear to me almost immediately. First, I am but a temporary alien touring the Japanese countryside. As such, I pose no threat to the Japanese economy. Rather, I represent an additional source of revenue to contribute to their growing economy. I am not here to take any jobs, or housing from Japanese people. Secondly, I am traveling under the USC moniker, and have the institutional validation to be viewed as someone with social, economic, and intellectual status as a result. People pull out the red carpet for the USC family, and as much as I benefit from this treatment, I have also realized that without the school backing me, I would be nothing in Japanese society—or better yet, another “African American gospel singer.” I am still working out my ideas and feelings about being foreign in Japan, but my initial conclusions lead me to believe that it’s a nice place to visit as a tourist, but you won’t really understand the culture until you live in it.