Racism and Mysterious Americans

Over at game site Insert Credit, Brandon Sheffield has an interesting post that deals with Japan's "charming" racism. Of course, Sheffield is being ironic and drawing attention to some of the stereotypes that populate the Japanese zeitgeist. From his post:

Take a look at [Wii game]Miburi & Teburi, and the first thing you'll notice is a giant white man covered in fake hair. That is what they call a 'Nazo no American,' or a hint-giving American... Scroll down and watch the videos. The top video is the in-game stuff, and it doesn't seem so bad. They have depictions of 'hyper-Japanese' people in there too, it seems. But the lower video is problematic. It "stars" the voices of two "Americans" who say things like "I love Japan, I love Japanese people" in uniquely horribly faked American accents. It's the equivalent of someone saying "I rike fly lice" to describe how a Japanese person might talk. Of course Japan isn't the only culprit... But I think in Japan there's a lack of awareness that this is insulting in the first place, which increases the problem. I honestly think I'd have less of a problem with it if they were truly playing with American conventions and American Japanese fetishism — but they're just unconsciously making fun of a group of people. And I'm not sure anyone will tell Sega this isn't appropriate. It's a fine line, but I think this crosses it.

It is a fine line, indeed. And SEGA isn't alone with playing on these stereotypes — this type of foreigner makes regular appearances on Japanese TV. And with Westerners being a minority, this is all a lot of Japanese know about foreigners. Sure, it's a two-way street: Pull out your copy of Lost in Translation or, even, Kill Bill for recent misses in the cultural sensitivity department. But, Sheffield is dead on about a general lack of awareness. Most Japanese don't have experiences interacting with foreigners — save for trips abroad or maybe in English conversation schools. It's a numbers game — there aren't that many foreigners for them to interact with on an everyday basis. Hence, the pickle.

Here's a story: Late last week, I take my kid to the ear doctor. There's another kid in the waiting room, maybe about ten. When I enter, the kid points and says, "foreigner." I sit down, read a comic book. He comes over, maybe, four or five times and says, "You look like a foreigner." I tell him, four or five times, "Well, that's because I am." And smile. Kid's parents say nothing, just kinda sit there. Now, if, say, every time the kid was in a waiting room or w/e, he spotted a non-Japanese, would he react the same? No, probably not. Or, what about Japanese people who literally freeze or break into a sweat when you approach them, thinking they will be met with a spew of English? Interactions like this are part of living here and certainly not charming. Then again, I think of all the inane questions people in America have asked my wife: Do you eat things besides fish? Do they have cookies in Japan? Don't Japanese people usually wear kimonos? So, you can speak Chinese? That, and other stereotypes Westerns have of the Japanese: The Japanese aren't emotional or don't get pissed off or are very orderly and clean or do things to stand out or are cute, wacky or aren't creative, etc. It's a two-way street and irritating for those traveling between the cultures. For everyone else, bliss is ignorance.

Japan and its "charming" racism [Insert Credit]


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