Friday, January 30, 2009

Why Norimitsu Onishi’s Report Japan’s Outcasts Still Wait for Acceptance Is Wrong, and Why It Matters: Interlude

Martin J. Frid pointed me to the Wikipedia entry on Norimitsu Onishi which in turn led me to one of Onishi’s articles entitled “Japan and China: National Character Writ Large”. As you may be able to guess from the title, the article displays his usual aversion to his idea of Japan (I can live with that) and disregard (ignorance?) for facts in preparing his brief (I can’t live with that). However, the piece, written in his second year as Tokyo bureau chief, diminished my anger towards and increased my empathy for the man. But first, a summary of the article, in his own words:
Of all languages in the world, Japanese is the only one that has an entirely different set of written characters to express foreign words and names. Just seeing these characters automatically tells the Japanese that they are dealing with something or someone non-Japanese. What's more, the names of foreign citizens of Japanese ancestry are also written in this set of characters, indicating that while they may have Japanese names, they are not, well, really Japanese.

By contrast, in Chinese, no such distinction is made. There, non-Chinese names are depicted, sometimes with great difficulty, entirely in Chinese characters. Foreigners are, in effect, made Chinese.

At bottom, the differences reflect each country's diverging worldview. In Japan, the rigid division between the inside and outside in the language underscores this country's enduring ambivalence toward the non-Japanese. While today's Japanese travel overseas with an ease and confidence that would have been unimaginable only two generations ago, they remain uneasy about foreign things and people coming here. Safer to label them clearly as foreign.

In the United States, parents' freedom to name their children may be absolute. Here the government and the media set the boundaries of names and the way they are written, thereby also setting the boundaries of Japanese identity.

In the media, the names of George Bush and Saddam Hussein are written in the characters reserved for foreign names. But so are the names of people of Japanese ancestry, like Alberto Fujimori, Peru's deposed president, or Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of ''Remains of the Day,'' who left Japan at the age of 5 and is a British citizen. Their names could be written in kanji, but are instead written in katakana, in an established custom indicating that they are not truly Japanese.

The distinctions are sometimes difficult to draw, as they touch upon the difficult question of who is Japanese, or, rather, when does someone stop being Japanese. The media have no set criteria. Are the criteria citizenship, blood, mastery of the Japanese language or customs? Or, in this island nation where leaving Japan has always meant leaving the village, does one start becoming non-Japanese the minute one steps off Japanese soil? There is a strong argument to be made for that. Children of Japanese business families stationed overseas for a few years invariably encounter problems returning here. Schoolmates often pick on them and call them gaijin, meaning foreigner or outsider.

When Japanese first began writing down their own language, they used Chinese characters whose pronunciation most resembled those of the Japanese words. (Actually, it was somewhat more complicated than that, but let’s leave it at that for the moment.) The characters used to depict the Japanese words in the Manyo era would lose many strokes and flourishes until they evolved into two sets of alphabets: the katakana and the hirakana. The stiff, unbending, “masculine” katakana was the alphabet of official record and academia—almost always as a complement to the vastly more exalted Chinese characters—while the “feminine” hirakana was the preferred means of expression for the womenfolk, the vernacular, and indigenous literature. Thus it must have been that noble names would be registered in official records in Chinese characters only, while those of the common folk would tend to be registered by a mixture of Chinese characters and katakana (but not, if it could be helped, hirakana). Vestiges of this tradition lived on in pre-WW II legislation and regulations that survived defeat and US occupation as a mixture of Chinese characters and katakana. By contrast, Meiji era authors aspiring to high literature (which came to be known as jun-bungaku or “pure literature” as opposed to taishu-bungaku, or “popular literature”, all of which in a turn of events that even I have to admit has a distinctly Japanese flavor spawned the category chukan-bungaku, or “intermediate literature”) used the effeminate hirakana even as they increasingly began to write in a new, evolving vernacular. Throughout all this, Chinese characters continued—continues—in use if nothing else as a visual aid to enable groups of letters to stand out and distinguish themselves as individual words.

It is within this context that foreign words and names were incorporated into Japanese writing. Rendering them in Chinese characters was out of the question, since even Onishi admits that this is done in Chinese “sometimes with great difficulty.” So the choice of katana within the context of a hirakana-based text was all but inevitable. This had nothing to do with any kind of Japanese ethos that Onishi intimates; it was the logical outcome of the ancient legacy where Japan was using three sets of letters when the Black Ships arrived. The katakana served as a surrogate for kanji, nothing more.

Be that as it may, this raises the Onishi question: How should the names of foreigners with Japanese-origin names—not necessarily ethnic Japanese—be written in Japanese? Using the original Chinese characters is not as easy you would imagine; even the most commonly used surname can have several different renderings in Chinese characters and it is not a given that every individual will know which one applies in his case. As for the given name, a second-generation Japanese-foreigner may not have a Japanese rendering of it at all. The simplest, uniform rule then is to treat them as any other foreigner, that is, render them in katakana. And that is what the media and official sources, in principle, have done. This arrangement that has everything to do with the peculiarity of having two alphabets in addition to the Chinese characters (in contrast to Koreans, who have only one alphabet) and little to do with Onishi’s insinuations.

What remains is a small number of borderline cases, i.e. what to do with naturalized Japanese citizens, individuals who have given up Japanese citizenship, and the rare individual who are revealed to have retained Japanese citizenship after becoming a public figure in Japan. The first case is the easiest: upon naturalization, the new Japanese citizen needs to assume a name that can be rendered in one or more of the three character sets. And this is the one moment in a Japanese citizen’s life that he can adopt the name of one’s desires, be it a close approximation of one’s original name, or something altogether different with few legal restrictions. (I don’t see any legal barriers to a newly Japanese male renaming himself Tsuchiya Anna, for instance. Or Hoshino Aki. And did I tell you about the time that I ran into a very pregnant Jun Okumura?) With the second and third cases, my sense is that the media tends to use whatever script that was being used when that person first became a public figure. Thus, the name of a star figure skater who subsequently gives up Japanese citizenship will continue to be rendered in the characters that comprised that person’s original Japanese name (unless that person has adopted a different name), while someone like Alberto Fujimori, whose Japanese citizenship became known only after he sought asylum, will continue to have his name rendered in katakana. By the same token, “Norimitsu Onishi” woujld be rendered in the katakana alphabet. All this has nothing to do with Onishi’s personal angst.

So why has Onishi produced this crapulous piece of not-even-pop linguistics that cops the fig leaf of journalism? The answer appears to lie in the following personal confession hiding behind a set of questions. For it must be his deep sense of alienation as the oddest of gaijin; an individual who looks like a native, talks like a native—I understand that he speaks excellent Japanese—yet finds that the similarities only serve to accentuate the distance between the North American essence that permeates every fiber of his being. One feels that it would have been much easier on his psyche if he had been White. No, Onishi is not a fuckwad, or even a wuckfad. He is in his own way sincere and true to his essence. He is the one who left the village. This does not excuse his journalistic transgressions, in the same way that the character flaws of Nixon’s (or Carter’s for that matter), but it does help in understanding him and humanizing his errors—much in the same way that I hope mine will be understood, if not forgiven, by those who know me well.

There are many other notable errors in Onishi’s report, but there’s only so much pro bono work I can do.

Finally, it is useful to confuse you further by taking note of the fact that the pronunciation of Chinese names are given in hirakana, while those of Korean names are given in katakana.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

For parsimony's sake, I agree that it's best to not go too crazy with the idea than Japanese insider/outsider concepts start within the written language, but I would not dismiss this completely. Maybe they are overreacting, but you should realize that many Nisei and Nikkei types do wonder why they are not "allowed" to use their kanji. Neither of us have that issue, so maybe we should not project on to them. (Hell, I don't even get to use the connection to "Karl Marx" since he's マルクス and I'm more accurately マークス.)

Using the original Chinese characters is not as easy you would imagine; even the most commonly used surname can have several different renderings in Chinese characters and it is not a given that every individual will know which one applies in his case.

Well, sometimes. Kristi Yamaguchi? How in the world would you spell Yamaguchi in Japanese??? Seems pretty cut and dry on that one: 山口. What about Yoko Ono? Did she specifically request katakana?

I think you can strongly assert that there is no xenophobic intent in katakana-izing Nisei names, but does the system render a distancing effect? What would a socio-linguist say?

By the way, at the end of these articles, aren't you supposed to speculate that Onishi is really Japanese-Korean like all other good Japanese language bloggers?

(Sorry for all the ironic and rhetorical questions!)

Marxy

Janne Morén said...

He goes overboard a bit, I agree.

As for names, though, the Japanese system is really too rigid. Like a number of other regulations and systems in Japan (paternity issues come to mind), it's set up for a different, older society and is no longer a decent match with reality.

There is no particular reason why people could not be allowed to choose their own name (and rendering of such) at the time of registration; choose to keep separate surnames when marrying (and give the children either of the parents' names); or limited permission to change one's surname after the fact (change of rendering, for instance, or perhaps even create a new surname to break with one's past). Many other societies do allow such things with no problems.

Oh, and there is one other time a Japanese native may choose their name: when marrying a foreign national the couple may choose to follow Japanese naming customs or that of the foreign country. When marrying, say - just to take a completely random example - a Swedish citizen that effectively means they'd have substantial freedom to pick and choose as they wanted, including both keeping their respective unmarried names.

MTC said...

Okumura-san -

Funny though, the "foreign words rule" did not extend to place names, which WERE rendered into kanji. They could even be, as in this contemporary account of Perry's landing shows:

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1123/377/1600/060128perrycries017.jpg

written in a hiragana.

LB said...

To Janne:
There is no particular reason why people could not be allowed to choose their own name (and rendering of such) at the time of registration;
Actually, folks can choose their own name, and rendering, at the time of registration, and use kanji within the limits of the list of approved kanji for personal names. The list is quite extensive, and has been updated several times over the years, so that now almost 3000 kanji are approved. Since ateji are also OK, it is theoretically possible to maintain a completely foreign-sounding name while using kanji that would never normally be readable as that pronunciation. Or, mix up the readings in a way no native Japanese probably ever would, such as a certain naturalized Hokkaido individual has done.

That said, there are times the system can be too strict. One of the alleged "rubs" of some Koreans and Chinese who want to naturalize is that the kanji they use are not on the list. Personally I think an exception should be made for folks already in possession of kanji names when they naturalize, but those who can change things don't listen to me. ;-)

choose to keep separate surnames when marrying (and give the children either of the parents' names);
As far as I know, this is already permissible under Japanese law. The relevant civil code was changed just a few years ago.

or limited permission to change one's surname after the fact (change of rendering, for instance, or perhaps even create a new surname to break with one's past)
Again, entirely possible, although the process is stricter than it is in the USA, for example. I am not sure the rules regarding changing your name or what names you can give your children are entirely a bad thing. There was a case a few years ago where a city hall refused to register a child as akuma (yes, with the kanji for "satan", not another version). This was probably for the best, although personally I think the city should have taken the child into protective custody right then and there as obviously his parents were idiots. All you have to do is look at the recent case in the US where a mother and father named their son "Adolf Hitler" and their daughter "Aryan Nation". And were allowed to.


Oh, and there is one other time a Japanese native may choose their name: when marrying a foreign national the couple may choose to follow Japanese naming customs or that of the foreign country.

I would have to say I disagree somewhat here, even as the foreign partner in an international marriage in Japan. Family name first - it is the way things are done here, and should be followed. Overseas the Japanese spouse can use his/her given name first, as that is what is expected there. "When in Rome..." and all that.

Anyway, to the original article: Onishi is obviously out of his depth. Yes, in Chinese everyone gets a kanji (OK, hanzi name, but there really isn't any choice, now is there? The Chinese don't have an alphabet, which means anything and everything from outside the Middle Kingdom has to be kanjified. From Wanbaolu (Marlboro) cigarettes to Rentouma (Remy Martin) Brandy to personal names, everything has to be done in the one and only writing system available. Having lived there, I don't for a second buy into the "foreigners are...made Chinese" line of erroneous thinking. We weren't, nor were we readily allowed to keep our own names. Perhaps Presidents and Prime Ministers get a special dispensation, but us common folks pretty much had to meet Chinese expectations of a name, which meant 3 kanji tops, and the meaning of the kanji took precedence over whether it actually sounded at all like your name or not. My Japanese classmates got to keep their names, but the Chinese would often snicker about Japanese having "overly long" names of 4 or 5 kanji.

Onishi's argument about worldview also shows how little he knows about China and Japan. Japanese may have a certain "unease" when dealing with foreign concepts, but overall I find Japanese to be far more accepting of things foreign than the Chinese were. Then again, few Japanese imagine that the Japanese Archipelago is the bright center of the Universe. The Chinese are not about to be disabused of that notion themselves. Onishi touches on this in his article, but yet still thinks China is "in contrast to the inner(sic)-looking... Japan". I wonder if he really understands English when he obviously can't grasp the meaning of "inward-looking".

Onishi writes that children returning from years overseas have problems returning. And that is different, exactly, from China or America or most anywhere else how? It is also hardly a unique phenomenon to children, either. I was born and raised in the States, a Yankee, and all I had to do to experience "problems" was move south of the Mason-Dixon line. After several years in Japan, or even just the one year in China, I found reacclimatizing very difficult.

I find it interesting that Onishi doesn't notice the problem with his description of "Chinese identity". As someone who has been there, allow me to lay it out: In Chinese, a Chinese-American is described as "a Chinese with American citizenship". In other words, a Chinese who just happens to old a blue passport. However in reality, or so the theory goes, they are Chinese as much as someone from Shanghai. This is the opposite of what an American thinks, which is that the individual in question is an American, but one who just happens to have Chinese ethnicity. In other words, one assumes that culture and thought processes go with one's nationality, one assumes they are hardwired into genetic code. I find Japanese thought as concerns nikkei-jin to pretty much match American thought. A nikkei Brazilian is a Brazilian, although one who looks Japanese and perhaps speaks Japanese.

The problem I saw in China was when "real" Chinese met overseas Chinese. Or heck, even just when a mainlander met a Taiwanese. Mainlanders and Taiwanese may both be ethnic Chinese, and share much of the same basic cultural touchstones, and even (more or less) speak the same language, but 50 years of divergent development had left them with about as much in common as Americans and Brits. The only difference was, Americans and Brits expect the other to be different, Chinese expect them to be the same. I also had some Taiwanese classmates, and they had a very rough time of it as they didn't get the "free pass" us roundeyes did for being foreign - even though they were. Now, throw in an overseas Chinese who doesn't even speak or read the language and absolute hilarity ensues.

I really scratched my head with Onishi's last paragraph:
''Chinese people have a strong feeling of comradeship toward overseas Chinese,'' said Naokazu Hiruma, who is in charge of language use at the daily Asahi Shimbun and studied in China. ''Overseas Chinese have a long tradition, and they remain Chinese even after generations have passed. Japanese regard second- or third-generation overseas Japanese, even though they are of Japanese origin, as 'people from that country over there.' ''
It seems to me Hiruma-san is stating what should be patently obvious: second- or third-generation people anywhere, no matter where their ancestors may have hailed from, are not of the country of those ancestors. They are indeed "people from that country over there". That's just common sense. Nothing uniquely Japanese or exclusionary about it. I may call myself "Irish-American", but I am most certainly not Irish.

Jun Okumura said...

I started to write the following (I always write it as a word document; it cuts down on typing errors), went out and finished it, only to find two more comments. I don’t think I have the time to address MTC and LB’s comments now, since I’ll have to go out soon, but I promise to come back to them.

厭ね(kidding, honest), 円失笑(decode):

I see your point, which is why I am relenting on the name-calling—not that I’m ready to excuse the ethical failure.

But what about names like “Saito”, which has multiple renderings because there are three or four ways to write “Sai”, not to mention a totally different alternative rendering? And what if one “Saito” wishes to be referred to by Chinese characters but that person’s children do not? And what about the North American descendants of Chinese and Korean emigrants? Shouldn’t their wishes be respected too? And how are the media and the national and local governments going to collectively confirm and keep track of each and every wish? Individualized attention may work in personal dealings, but the media and official records need rules to work by.

On the other hand, the nisei and sansei coming to Japan could have avoided the anguish by simply handing out business cards with their names written with the Chinese characters of their desire and otherwise using that rendering in their Japanese-language activities that do not require the use of their names of official record. In fact, if they’re serious about it, they should tear up their old business cards, print new, kanji-name meishi and tell everyone that you’ve seen the light. Odds are, the few WTFs aside, the public will go along with it, even if it takes time to make one’s switch widely known.

In fact, many people use alternative names in Japan. (Here, many Korean and some Chinese residents in Japan will be saying, yeah, like that should make us happy. But that’s another issue.) Most entertainers, many writers, some artists, and even a few athletes do so. Many ordinary people change their given names on the advice of fortunetellers. After long-term, consistent use, the courts will allow these people to change the name of official record to that alternative name. True, it’s not easy to change names of official record, but there have been practical reasons beyond the cultural/historical behind the reluctance to allow people to change them at will. In a related but not totally consonant case, not a few married female professionals (and even a few male professionals) continue to use their maiden names. (This reminds me of another issue, about which for the moment I’ll only say that I support the move to allow both spouses to keep their original surnames.)

Finally, if Onishi wants to right real wrongs, shouldn’t he complain about how the Norte Americanos mangle the pronunciation of non-Anglo names? On second thought, nah.

Martin J Frid said...

In other words, people reading the New York Times and the International Whatever Herald get next to no real information about East Asia. Sigh.

It makes me glad we have blogs, like yours.

Jun Okumura said...

You got me there, MTC. Without a Kokugo Shingikai to lay down the rules and a Shinbun Kyokai to police its members, it was a far more complex process than I let on in the original post, one that actually began in the 16th Century and has not completely run its course today.

Most roots of Japanese nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs words can be expressed with the corresponding kanji or clusters thereof. Also, please take it on faith that a man of proper social status was expected to be able to write well, and one of the signs of one’s writing skills was the use of kanji. Thus, proper Japanese writing—here, I am not talking about Japanese-language poetry and fiction—consisted of kanji nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs swimming in a sea of kana postpositions and other more or less inflective bits and pieces.

Given this context in which the massive, literally once-in-a-millennium Meiji onslaught of European/American words occurred, I believe that it was quite natural for the Japanese at the time to look for ways to distinguish these words from the kana medium of not-quite-words in their own right. Since the kana for popular consumption was mainly hiragana, it was no surprise that katakana would be chosen to do the honors.

There were, of course, a couple of ways to use kanji for this purpose, and there is some obvious proof that people gave some thought to these alternatives. First, they could have done what their ancestors had done many hundreds of years before and used the kanji that corresponded to a European word and given it the European pronunciation. There are two problems with this solution though. In the first instance, the kanji was used to express a Japanese word, but in this case would be used to express a foreign language. Moreover, European consisted of at least four major languages; English, French, German and Spanish. There was no way the Japanese public could be expected to learn a myriad of pronunciations in a foreign language, let alone four. Second, they could have done what those same ancestors had done and rendered those European words by their kanji homophones. But why bother when you had a much more convenient alphabet in reserve?

I do no have the scholarship to prove this, but I am quite certain that this is how it came to pass.

The kanji renderings of place names are a different matter altogether. You will note that London will show up in kanji, but Poughkeepsie will not. Cambridge will, but Barnsley not (I think). Now take the kanji for London: 倫敦 and the far less common龍動. The normal pronunciation for the former would be Rin-tou , the latter Ryuu-dou, instead of the ron-don that you would expect. As for Cambridge, 剣橋 would most properly be pronounced Ken-kyou, near-gibberish until you realize that 橋=kyou (or hashi) means “bridge”. So what gives? I think I know why, but I want to give all of you have the fun of guessing for yourself. Hint: the sinophiliac Japan coming to a historical crossroads.

That’s about it for MTC’s comment. I don’t have the stamina to deal with LB’s incredible contribution, but I’ll do it later, hopefully tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks, LB.

Martin’s thanks extend, no doubt, to the thoughtful comments by which this blog is blessed.

Jun Okumura said...

LB:

There is little that I can add to your deep, exhaustive comments. Thanks. Someone remind me to refer to this and the excellent comments in this series (even when they disagree with me) when I finish up, since they are what make blogging worthwhile, to me, and to the people who read it. Having said that, have I ever been able to let it go at that? So here we go again.

Personally I think an exception should be made for folks already in possession of kanji names when they naturalize.

It’s a thought. After all, the media (and presumably the authorities) routinely use not-for-Japanese-names kanji for Chinese and Korea nationals, so it’s not as if they don’t have the fonts. Then there are the many Japanese names where those kanji have been grandfathered in, so it’s not as if they don’t appear in the official records for Japanese citizens. It is only in recent years that off-the-shelf word-processing programs did not carry some frequently-used kanji such as 鄧, but those days appear to be over. And it’s nice gesture to our neighbors, who well into the post-WW II era were strongly “advised” to adopt indigenously Japanese names when they became Japanese citizens. On the other hand, that is something that will happen only as part of an overall lifting of restrictions on the use of kanji, something that would have my wholehearted endorsement.

Onishi writes that children returning from years overseas have problems returning. And that is different, exactly, from China or America or most anywhere else how?

Your comment reminded me of some thoughts that I had while reading Onishi’s article but hadn’t put in my original post. When I returned from Montreal to Osaka as an 11-year-old, I was a curiosity more than anything else and received some mild teasing for my funny accent—so did a kid who moved in a couple of years later with a fawncy Tokyo accent—but little else. (It may have helped that I was fairly big compared to my classmates and could beat up 90% of them if I had to.) The bullying became a social problem much later and I know first-hand and from the media that it had become a social epidemic by no later than the early nineties. These days, maybe the media and I are missing something, but the problem, like all epidemics, appears to be under control. Now Onishi admits this, but uses the issue anyway in support of his case about Japan. Is that disingenuous or what?

Mainlanders and Taiwanese may both be ethnic Chinese, and share much of the same basic cultural touchstones, and even (more or less) speak the same language, but 50 years of divergent development had left them with about as much in common as Americans and Brits.

There is also the linguistic and cultural diversity even among the Han people that rivals that of Europe.

That’s about it for me. Thanks for taking the time to write.

Roy Berman said...

Just for reference, 倫敦 is lundun in Mandarin, and 龍動 is longdong. The first clearly sounds more like London, although the second is still vaguely similar. Incidentally, 倫敦 is how you write London in Chinese today, which is often not the case for the Meiji era Japanese Kanji renderings of European place names.

I actually have an entire excellent book on this very topic you are debating above, but it resides in my New Jersey library and is slightly out of reach.

Jun Okumura said...

That’s a big hint right there, from the Croakster.

Roy Berman said...

"erhaps Presidents and Prime Ministers get a special dispensation, but us common folks pretty much had to meet Chinese expectations of a name, which meant 3 kanji tops, and the meaning of the kanji took precedence over whether it actually sounded at all like your name or not. My Japanese classmates got to keep their names, but the Chinese would often snicker about Japanese having "overly long" names of 4 or 5 kanji."

BTW, this is not nearly as much the case in Taiwan. For one thing, no one would make fun of Japanese names in Taiwan, and for another native Taiwanese aborigines increasingly transliterate their entire name into hanzi instead of adopting a second Chinese name, meaning that there are native Taiwanese citizens with linguistically "foreign" names in Chinese. For example the card of one Aborigine official I met has 8 hanzi in his name-one for each syllable in the original, which is of course written in the Roman alphabet because the native languages had no previous writing system and 羅馬字 is a lot better at phonetic rendering than 漢字.

Jun Okumura said...

Roy’s comment reminds me that minority names in mainland China can also be represented by more than four syllables. I also am curious to know what the small number of Han with two syllable surnames (司馬 and 欧陽 come to mind) are allowed to do with their given names.

Jun Okumura said...

And regarding your earlier comment, Roy, I’d very much like to see that book. May one of the libraries here have it.

As for 倫敦 (and 剣橋), they were also how the Japanese used to render London (and Cambridge) I suspect that they had been in use here before the Meiji era, borrowing them, as with so many other things, from the Chinese (although I will not dismiss the possibility of a Japanese origin in the case of Cambridge). I first encountered 倫敦 and 剣橋 in works by the novelist Soseki Natsume, whose extensive education in Chinese classics was reflected in his reputation as one of the greatest Japanese composers of Chinese poetry of his day. Soseki, who became a top English scholar before he achieved fame as a writer, is a symbol of Japan’s switch of cultural allegiance from 和魂漢才 (Japanese spirit and Chinese talent) to 和魂洋才 (Japanese spirit and Western talent).

Mary Witzl said...

Dear God, how can I leave any kind of comment after such a long and thoughtful series of comments? I'm just glad I've managed to read everything here -- and understand most of it.

I come here to get informed and I never leave dissatisfied.

Jun Okumura said...

Mary: Always good to have you here. Glad you’re having fun. This thread is proof that, as I’ve said before, the comments are often the best part of this blog.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Okumura
I fail to see even one factual mistake in the Onishi article that you point out. Wether the difference of use is based on a japanese tendency to label outsiders (as Onishi argues), or for practical and "historical" purposes (as you argue), is open to interpretation. Based on my experience in Japan, I tend to agree with Onishi. There is really no practical reason to require foreigners/non-chinese with a Japanese name to register their names in katakana rather than kanji, only ideological.

As for the difference in Japanese and Chinese acceptance of foreigners, I agree with Onishi. Having lived in Japan for 8 years (and beeing almost native in Japanese), and much shorter (and more lingusitically challenged) in China, I sense a clear difference. In Japan, you are forever a strange animal who inexplicably and a bit threathningly has mastered Japanese. In China, there is a great pride in foreigners that want to, and have mastered Chinese, and much more is expected of you. This of course comes from a long tradition of being the middle kingdom and accepting different cultures as part of one national identity, as opposed to the Japanese tradition of pointing out the uniqueness of Japanese homogenity. Which is aptly illustrated in the way Mr. Okumura derides Onishi for his foreignness, and thus inabilty to understand Japan.

Jun Okumura said...

I think that the data, facts and opinions that I cite regarding the buraku issue are at least as good as the facts and opinions that Onishi raises in his article. I also think that my version of Nonaka’s political circumstances when he gave up running for LDP President is superior to Onishi’s. I leave it up to you the readers of this blog to decide who has a better case. However, that’s not the real issue at stake here. What I find disturbing is the fact that one of the few reports on Japan in the “newspaper of record” that appears to probe beneath the surface of events turns out to be a collage of anecdotes and opinions that ignores the substantial amount of material that do not support a personal take on Japan that appears to drive the reporter’s work. I have some guesses as to where that personal take—more temperament than ideology—comes from, and I’ve gained a little sympathy for Onishi as I progressed because of this. But that does not provide an excuse; this is a news report, not a short story that we are talking about.

Anonymity allows you to escape all responsibility for your words but it has its downside—the burden of proof will always be on you, since you have no you to stand behind your words. Having said that, anyone with half an open mind will realize that his opinions on China, Japan and Onishi as expressed in the second paragraph of the anonymous commenter have little if anything to do with my post, regardless of the honesty of the anonymous commenter—which I do not question in this case, by the way—or the veracity of the facts, such that there are. It is interesting to note, though, that its initiation into the Chinese experience if you look carefully must have been very similar to LB’s. It is tempting to draw the conclusion from their accounts as well as evidence elsewhere that Japan accommodates, while China assimilates. But that’s a huge theme, difficult to take up without a lot of digging and fact-checking before I can put anything up for my peers.

Anonymous said...

You seem to misunderstand. I made no comment on your take on the buraku piece (altough I feel those posts is at least as biased as Onishis, and essentially vindictive in form), only on your post about foreign names. I don't dispute your facts or history, only that you don't seem to refute any factual mistakes on Onishis side, and the different facts leave the issue open to interpretation. (And maybe more reliably so for someone who has seen it from outside?)Which leads me to conclude that it is his view of Japan (that there is a reluctance to accept foreigners and others outside the group in Japan), and not factual mistakes that you cannot live with.

As for my second paragraph, it is closely related to the argument you make in the post this commentary is linked to (are you getting your posts mixed up?), and the discussion above. I must add that that I am much more assimilated and comfortable in Japan than in China, still, my impression of the general attitudes(that Japan alienates (not accommodates) and China assimilates) remain.

I posted my comment as anonymous because I am no blogger myself, and seldom take part in these kind of exchanges, but I am happy to leave my name. Cheers,
Per Wiggen

Jun Okumura said...

Per: I’m sorry, I did have my posts mixed up as regards my first point. I think I was catching up on several threads over a short period of time. But that’s no excuse. Again, my apologies. Briefly, I am confident that people who are versed in the history of the Japanese language will agree with my broader version of the history of the Japanese language and is more than sufficient to refute Onishi’s claim that “[a]t bottom, the differences reflect each country's diverging worldview. In Japan, the rigid division between the inside and outside in the language underscores this country's enduring ambivalence toward the non-Japanese.” I believe that this renders your speculation about my motives moot. It no longer matters.

As for your second point, note that I lean toward accepting the very cultural differences that you attest to. But I did, do, take issue with your anonymous assertion that I deride Onishi for his foreignness, which is the farthest thing from the truth. If truth be told, I do find his discomfort at his foreignness disconcerting, though I have developed a measure of sympathy for him because of it. But that has nothing to do with the main line of my criticism of my post, which you fail to address, instead taking more interest in my alleged motives. In any case, I will take in on faith that you feel more alienated than accommodated, since you have revealed your identity.

Regarding which, we have met, haven’t we? A couple of times? Does La Boheme ring a bell? If so, I would like to talk about this, or other matters if you like, over lunch. You know where to reach me.

By the way, Per, do Scandinavians sometimes have their directness mistaken for rudeness? Just asking

Anonymous said...

Jun,
While the history of the language certainly explains the why Japan came to have different character systems for different use, it does not explain the rigidness in it's use when it comes to registration of foreigners with Japanese names. Therefore, I don't find that this disproves Onishis statement.

I find that the fact that you have to explain his critisism of Japanese society by "his discomfort at his foreignness" makes my point about your attitude towards him. This attitude, a well as the tone of your posts on him is why I have commented in a way you seem to find rude. And I do find this very much related to the content of the posts.

I did frequent JIC. I would have loved to have lunch, I very much enjoy your posts on Japanese politics, but for for the moment I live in China, and I have no plans to return to Japan for the forseeable future. Tell me if you visit Shanghai.

Per

Roy Berman said...

"While the history of the language certainly explains the why Japan came to have different character systems for different use, it does not explain the rigidness in it's use when it comes to registration of foreigners with Japanese names."

Per, I think you may be mistaken here. As far as I know, the law does not actually require foreigners to use katakana, only that they use Japanese characters. Does it actually say anywhere that I can't make register in Japan using the kanji name I was registered with in as a Taiwan resident?

Jun Okumura said...

Per: While the history of the language certainly explains the why Japan came to have different character systems for different use, it does not explain the rigidness in it's use when it comes to registration of foreigners with Japanese names. Therefore, I don't find that this disproves Onishis statement.

I think that LB’s comment above has already dealt thoroughly with this point. (Take heart, Roy.) And it should be easy for anyone in your position to find out if LB is telling the truth or not.

I find that the fact that you have to explain his critisism of Japanese society by "his discomfort at his foreignness" makes my point about your attitude towards him. This attitude, a well as the tone of your posts on him is why I have commented in a way you seem to find rude. And I do find this very much related to the content of the posts.

Then the burden of proof is on you to explain why a professional journalist consistently chooses to forgo the minimum research that would reveal facts inconvenient to his chosen narrative for his “critisism (sic) of Japanese society”. I’m struggling to explain it myself. Moreover, if you read my posts, you will see that the “alienation” that you describe while taking care to take note of your “assimilation” is very different from the “his discomfort at his foreignness” that I refer to. Buttressed by these omissions of yours, you ascribe to me motives behind my posts and explanations for Onishi’s views that I am not willing, consciously or unconsciously, to admit to, and in the bargain refuse implicitly the out that I had given you for your attitude ascribing it to Scandinavian directness rather than labeling them as generic rudeness. Forgive me for lacking your diplomatic subtlety, but I am sorely tempted to reciprocate and accuse you directly of at best failing to deal head on with facts and data inconvenient to your understanding of the way it is and to ascribe to you unstated motives of which I am unaware and am not sure that I want to know. For we all ignore inconvenient facts to win arguments; it is no way to reach the truth, or what we can agree to as a plausible understanding of the world or range thereof as it is.

I did frequent JIC. I would have loved to have lunch, I very much enjoy your posts on Japanese politics, but for for the moment I live in China, and I have no plans to return to Japan for the forseeable future. Tell me if you visit Shanghai.

Alas, it appears that I will not be visiting China any time soon. But I will be sure to let you know if I’m around.

Anonymous said...

Roy,
No, you cannot register with your Kanji name, unless you are a Japanese or Chinese (and maybe Korean) citizen. I have friend who changed citizenship and also had to change the registration, so I know. I do not know if this is regulated by law, but as you know, practice/administrative regulations is often as important in Japan. I think LB writes about naturalizing Japanese.

Jun, there are no facts in your post that conclusively contradicts Onishis article, so how can you say I ignore the facts. This is a point of interpretation. Onishi is maby taking it a bit to far, but is it totally wrong? This is echoed by the first two posts in this exchange. The same goes for the Buraku article, and while I will not say your interpretation is wrong, neither do I believe you have disproved his. Your information certainly gives the reader a better opportunity to make up his mind, and I applaud that, but I do not agree that Onishis articles are more biased than many others. Why any article pointing out a problem in Japanese society must be explained by a psychological problem in the writer is beyond me, and frankly I find it demeaning.
Per

Roy Berman said...

Per: Actually I was just told that although your official legal name has to match your passport name as close as possible, you are still legally allowed to register a kanji "alias" that is acceptable for all legal purposes other than immigration law, and can register it as your registered hanko (実印). Korean legal names in Japan are generally in kanji although I guess for the minority of Koreans who haven't got kanji for their personal name they have to fall back on katakana.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how this alias can be used except for social situations? (And I wonder if this is known and used in local administrative offices). In my experience in Japan you will seldom be able to use anything but you official legal name (that is on your foreigner ID) for anything important. At least anything related to offial registers will have to be in katakana. As for the official hanko, I have been told it has to be in katakana, but I have no authorative source on this, so I might be wrong. I'm wondering what kind of source you have.
Per

Roy Berman said...

The alias goes on your foreigner registration card, in parenthesis after your proper legal name. I have seen cards like this with my own eyes, owned by Japan-born Koreans whose legal names are Korean but have a secondary legal Japanese name. I don't think that this system is much used by the younger generation though-I've only seen it in middle-aged or older people. Point is, anyone can take advantage of this law, even Westerners living in Japan.

I don't actually know the exact lines of where you can or can not use the alias, but I understand that it can be used in pretty much any public situation (such as contracts, business dealings), although you may have to use your "real" name for government business.

Local administrative offices might not know about the system if they aren't a district that has a significant Korean population, so you might have to find the guidelines yourself to show them, but it is certainly legal.

Anonymous said...

You're sure this is not only for Koreans? My friend that changed citizenship was registered in Minato-ku (quite an international one would think), and they insited that the kanji name could no longer be used.

Roy Berman said...

There are no laws on the books that specifically apply only to Koreans, even if they were passed mainly with them in mind.

Changed citizenship from what to what? What kind of name do you mean? I don't quite understand your friend's situation enough to know.

Anyway, I've got no idea how you actually go about registering this alias or what the rules are, only that the system exists. I'll try and find out eventually.

Jun Okumura said...

Roy, Per: I remember that as early as the 1960s, many South Koreans were using “Japanese” names in every aspect of the Japanese public school system. In fact, I had no idea that some of my classmates were not Japanese citizens until later. This could be used as anecdote for the assimilation of Koreans into Japanese society, and in a sense it is, in contradiction to Onishi’s assertions. Personally, as a frequent ex-pat from my childhood days, I am definitely not happy with that part of Japanese history of the submersion of the Koreans. I am interested, though, in what the current legal practice is with regard to the use of kana and kanji, so I’ll keep looking in.

Per: Since you insist that I must provide evidence that conclusively contradicts a specific contention of fact by Onishi before I can discuss the impropriety of his refusal to take up a much larger body of evidence that would weigh overwhelmingly against his non-factual assertions, I see no point in continuing this discussion. I leave it to the readers of this thread to determine who is making the more reasonable argument, with the following caveat: If you and Onishi are justified in making sweeping claims about the Japanese/my psyche based on one body of facts/claims, then I am surely justified in doing the same about the Japanese/my Western/Onishi/Wiggen counterparts. It would be a most barren exercise, though, which is why I prefer to leave it to our peers to judge.

Roy got it right when he wrote in his Mutant Frog blog (Flog?) that my point that was not that Onishi was necessarily wrong (though in this instance I think he was)—life is too short to rectify all instances of poor judgment and sheer stupidity.

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with your last point, Jun, which is why I think I will revert to my traditional practice of reading, and not getting involved in the petty discussions of the blogosphere.
Per