Monday, July 25, 2005

"I'm Japanese, not Japanese American!"

Friends of Historical Accuracy regarding the ethnic Japanese Evacuation of 1942

I had one of those awkward moments recently that started innocently enough but then snowballed and concluded with my apologizing for the "misunderstanding".

Japanese love to use the words "misunderstanding" and "understand" when speaking English. I remember on quite a few occasions I'd tell my boss the other guy's not interested in the offer and he'd respond, "you just have to make him understand!" I'd say "boss, he understands and he's not interested!"

Anyway...there's a lot of understanding that needs to be accomplished between Americans and Japanese.

But I digress....

So the awkward moment with my old Japanese friend had to do with AZN T.V. and where did all the Sunday Japanese progamming go? I commented that perhaps the NHK program featuring Hideki Tojo's granddaughter turned off some of the AZN execs or the non-Japanese viewing public.

"How could that be?", I was told. "The program was entirely in Japanese without subtitles."

"Hmm! It seems the Japanese programming has been replaced with East Indian programming", I said. "Are there many more East Indians in America than Japanese?"

"There must be!", I was told.

"I don't think so", I said. "There are a lot more Japanese than East Indians in America."

(This is where the conversation started to get dicey.... )

"Japanese! I'm not talking about Japanese-Americans! Japanese-Americans aren't Japanese, you know!", I was told.

"Oh, I'm referring to Japanese from Japan", I said. "I'm well aware Japanese-Americans aren't Japanese, especially in 2005."

"I don't want to be confused for a Japanese-American! I'm not a Japanese-American!", I was told.

"So how's your dessert?", I said....

Whew...that was close!

Japanese are touchy about some issues and it seems that lately being confused with Japanese-Americans in the states has become one of them. My Japanese-American buddies in Tokyo may have felt the same way. Whenever we'd go to an izakaya, the waitress would always naturally start the conversation with the Japanese-American usually who spoke less Japanese than me.

My Japanese-American buddy stares at the waitress with an "I don't know what you're saying lady" kind of look and she thinks he's nuts and then I start ordering in Japanese and she thinks we're both nuts!

Anyway...the awkward exchange above reminded me of an article by Gil Asakawa from last December. Gil is a bonifide JACL reparations aparachik for the Denver area and our views of the evacuation are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Gil's article refers to the JACL crusade to stamp out "Jap" from every vestige of American society, and like the JACL in general he believes it's acceptable to use "Jap" as a weapon in which to thump white Americans over the head in racial guilt rather than to understand (I love that word) the use of the word in its historical context, ie. "JapTown".

For Gil "Jap" is another tool for the cause...

Here's a link to Gil's article. I'll not copy the entire article here as it is quite long and contains various "Gilisms" I'd rather not repeat....

To summarize, some Japanese company uses the word "Jap" and along comes your typical JACL Japanese-American activist type telling them "Jap" is racist...and well, you get the picture.

Asakawa writes, "I received a distressing e-mail from a JACL member who contacted a Japanese-run Web site for scuba diving news, Cyber Diver News Network, or CDNN (

She saw that the Web site's news headlines used "JAP" as an abbreviation for Japan, and sent an irate e-mail to the editor.

Satoru "Stanford" Suzuki, the editor-in-chief, responded testily back, and then followed up with a quite nasty message:

Don't be stupid. You are not Japanese. You are American. So don't lecture me about what it means to be Japanese and how I should react to the word 'Jap'. Modern Japanese don't care about WWII and do not associate the word with racism and war attrocities (sic) such as the Nanking Massacre, which makes your little historical anecdote about American internment camps sound like a Sunday picnic.

"For we Japanese, it's just a short form of 'Japan' and 'Japanese' equivalent to 'Brit'. If that's a problem for you, if you want to live in the past, if you want to cultivate some kind of a victim complex, if you want to get overly excited about a mere word, regardless of how it's actually used in 2004, we Japanese don't care. The war has been over for 60 years and we Japanese have moved on. "

After giving some examples of other Asian and Filipino Web sites that also us "Jap" in headlines, Suzuki finished up sarcastically:

"For my part, the discussion is closed. I've got better things to do than entertain a dumb retro-Yank on a bad Jap trip.

"Peace and love from a modern Jap journalist in modern Japan."

Satoru Suzuki reminded me of my awkward exchange and admittedly after reviewing the two I had a pretty good chuckle at the expense of the Japanese-American reparations movement. My gut tells me they're an embarrasment to many in the old country, too...


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