Friday, August 24, 2012

The Realm Of The Senseless

It is probably a bad idea for the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan to make available its in-house magazine. Persons such as yours truly can read articles like this one printed therein.

An editor, and you would think the FCCJ would have one, would normally send the piece back to the author on fire with the warning, "Contextualize this stuff, or every woman or Japanese member of the club will be chewing our arses off."

The publication of this set of anecdotes, rather than causing an explosion, as it likely will, would serve better as an introduction to a suppressed discussion of media and knowledge-industry colonialization of postwar Japan -- where what were by local standards insanely well paid Caucasian, mostly American, males, both straight and gay, found in the defeated nation a sexual playground, one that seemed a world away from their crabbed and intolerant hometowns. That ex-pat spouses, for economic but also racial reasons, could be complicit in the dominance relationship ("Our is cuter"? "Ours" - possessive pronoun article?!? "OURS"?) is staggering, seen from the present day.

That much of the foundation of what is known about Japan was laid down by persons enjoying vastly greater incomes and personal freedom, particularly in the sexual realm, than the persons whom they reported on and studied is a fact of life -- but not necessarily a fatal flaw. Anthropology would not exist as a discipline if inequalities in income and freedom were criteria for exclusion of research done.

However, to deny that reporting and writing about Japan is not haunted by the ghosts of sexual inequalities past would be idiotic. That is why seeing the names of so many women -- Yuka Hayashi, Isabel Reynolds, Linda Sieg, Sachiko Sakamaki, Lucy Craft, Anna Kitanaka, Michiyo Nakamoto, Hiroko Tabuchi -- on the front lines of reporting on Japan is such a heartening development.

Because there are still a lot of very confused folks out there.

And yes, I know "colonialization" is not a real word.


Anonymous said...

Michael, as editor of the FCCJ's No.1 Shimbun let me offer my amused thanks for your outrage at the piece on adultery in our August issue. As we're not an airline mag. we don't need to be overly concerned with offending pastors in Tulsa. Our concern is more with authentic voices, but not necessarily those we agree with. Yes, that piece deserves to be be condemned from Unitarian pulpits all the way to Winnetka. For better or mostly for worst, the piece captures the authentic voice of our less-evolved antecedents. Like it or not, if you are a white man married to a Japanese woman today... your relationship is rooted in an era of intercultural exploration that makes us wince today.

MTC said...

Anonymous -

The article contains material that is both sexist and racist, yet takes an jocular, ho-ho-ho view of the matter, equating it with contemporary sexual behavior. Your reference to "less evolved antecedents" is therefore specious, as is your assertion in your comment that kokusai kekkon today are equivalent to liaisons of the 1960s and 1970s (I believe the word you wanted to use was "exploitation" rather than "exploration").

Before demeaning the residents of Tulsa and Winnetka, please email your piece to the Tokyo-based journalists I list in my post, asking them if they believe the piece as written is appropriate for the FCCJ's magazine accessible to all on the FCCJ's front page.

If you are too busy to write a one line email with a URL attached, let me know. I will gladly do it for you.

kamo said...

I'm finally reading Orientalism properly form start to finish, instead of relying on summaries and edited highlights. Seems relevant here, as to the various power relationships and denial of agency to the 'objects' of study (if 'study' is the right word). Plus it gets you off the hook for using colonialization.

And I'd also add that, as a white man married to a Japanese woman today, our relationship is rooted solely in our love and respect for each other. Should I ever have cause to cross paths with Anon I'd be more than happy to explain this to him, on the understanding that it would involve shoving his 'era of intercultural exploration' somewhere that really would make him wince.

MTC said...

kamo -

I read Orientalism fairly soon after its publication (Zing! I am immediately plopped among the old fogies). I found the accumulation of facts interesting. However, my adolescent mind could not quite pin down the limits of Said's critique. There seemed to be nothing that was not tainted, which seemed to suggest that the process of investigation, comparison and redefinition was pointless.

It is possible that if I were reread the book today, I would better understand what Said wanted us to do.

One need not to have read Said, however, to see what was wrong with the adultery article. When a text lacks even a single shred of human empathy, then purports to be a record of human behavior, it is time to call in the barbarian hordes.

kamo said...

That's quite an interesting and useful observation. I'm not yet halfway through, so am reserving judgement, but Said does appear to cast the net extremely wide.

More specifically, he seems to be bludgeoning points to death that appear to be more statements of the bleeding obvious. I wasn't sure if this was because they really were that obvious, or if they're just battles which have been won in the intervening years but were still live at the time (which, for what it was worth, was about the same time as my birth...).

Maybe I'm just having to work so hard that at it I see it everywhere, or maybe it really is because it's defined so broadly. Either way though, that article was a complete car crash, as you rightly point out. And the attempt to justify it was even worse, somehow.