"'We wanted to take this up as a contemporary problem,' said Shigeki Saka of Tokyo-based publishers Eichi, which also publishes magazines on popular US and South Korean television dramas. 'I think it would be good if this becomes a chance to broaden the debate,' he added.
"One caption in the magazine refers to a black man as 'nigger.'
"'This is not a racist book, because it is based on established fact,' Saka said. 'If we wanted to be racist, we could write it in a much more racist way,' he added, saying that the word 'nigger' was not considered offensive in Japan." (from Reuters, by way of Japan Probe via Shisaku, your friendly East Asia Community Internet vigilante.
Dear Editor (Mr. Saka):
It has come to my attention that the gaijin community has been on your case recently over your most recent publication, Shougeki no Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu 2007 (Shocking Foreigner Crime: The Undercover File). The whole affair disgusts most of those people, but they have been particularly incensed at the use of the n-word. I am writing to you to offer words of understanding, and support.
I know that you meant no disrespect to African-Americans. You see, I know that your most popular, i.e. longest running, regularly published each month, magazine is 411, a men's fashion magazine focused solely on hip-hop. The cover always features a male hip-hop/rap artist (February; NaS), and the only non-African-American face on the cover has been Eminem, so we know you get it, don't we? And we know hip-hop artists use the n-word all time, don't we? And there's no disrespectin' there, right?
But did you ever hear Eminem use the n-word? Vanilla Ice, to the best of my knowledge, didn't either. They don't, because bad things can happen when a white guy …. And Asians aren't supposed to do that, because we're too smart, right?
You see, everything we say has context. To give an example that you, as a hip-hop fan will surely understand, "You my dog" and "she a dog" mean very different things. This context is not merely verbal; it envelops social relationships, and even history. So, a term of endearment between African-Americans can be an insult coming from someone else. In fact, the n-word has even many thoughtful African-Americans ill at ease, as the Michael Richards outburst has reminded the rest of the world.
Besides, the last time I looked, adult-on-consenting-adult ass touching was not a crime in Japan. Trust me, I majored in law. And these days, even Bollywood does kisses, and some of their most popular actors are Moslems. So get with it, okay? You don't want people to think that you knowingly used the n-word in a disrespectful way, do you?
Oh, and one last thing. If you need someone to translate this letter for you, I can do it myself for 30 yen per word. And because you are nice, I will give you a special discount rate of 25 yen. I'm good. Trust me, I'm Japanese.
If somebody wishes to forward my open letter to Eichi Shuppan, please do so by all means.
There are so many ways to take this story and run with it. For example, the Eichi Shuppan website/gaijin crime book can be used to make a statement on:
i) combini culture and literacy;
ii) the "you can look, but you can't touch (as Temple Grandin said to B.F. Skinner when he groped her legs)" cultural assimilation process;
iii) the "they're killing our children and humping our women" mentality so familiar to primatologists; or
iv) all of the above.
I am also curious to know what African-Americans and Asians (particularly Koreans) make of all this. But life is too short. Maybe up and coming cultural anthropologist Gavin Whitelaw can shed some light on all of this, since he's the one did his PhD dissertation on the combini. Gavin, are you reading this?
PS: Is it my imagination, or is much of Japan Probe devoted to talk about picking up Japanese girls? Is the independent movie "Japanese Girls Are Easy" starring Okamoto Aya the next sleeper hit at Sundance? Questions, questions...