Monday, 19 April 2004

Japan, Gaijin and the Constitution

This week's ramblings have all been in and around the news recently so will be well known to those of you here, but might be new to those of you who are not, so we'll go with them anyway.

As I may have mentioned in the past, the constitution of Japan is a pretty ropey old thing. It was, according to good authority, knocked up by MacArthur and a few others in 1945 during the victory party: written on the back of a beer mat and was only saved by a Corporal going through the bins the following morning, so most of the big things are there - equality, be nice to other people, make sure the trains run on time, that sort of thing. But some of the little things, that can become big things later, were a bit over looked - such as the separation of church and state and the role of the Prime Minister vs the Emperor as the head of state (well, not really that small then...)

Importantly, one thing that MacArthur did was keep the Emperor as the head of state which, in the eyes of your average Japanese (as one theory goes, I hasten add, this is not the definitive word) absolved old Showa of having any responsibility for the conduct of Japan from the pre-war days right through to the end. This has led to the assertion (accusation?) that the Japanese therefore kind of shrugged their shoulders after the war and thought "well, it wasn't the Emperor's fault as he is still there, so I guess we can't have done too much wrong" and so Japan, unlike say Germany, never went through a period of national hand wringing and self criticism before entering the second half of the 20th century.

"So what?" some may query. Well, it means for a start that Japan has never apologised for its conduct in WW2, or for the war itself, which as you can imagine angers most of the other nations in Asia, especially the Chinese and Koreans. Indeed, some of the more unsavoury areas of Japanese military history, the Rape of Nanking for example, are airbrushed Stalin-like out of the history books in Japanese schools. Not a good way to teach history, denying your past.

"Where is this going?" I hear you cry. Well, as MacArthur absolved the Emperor of his guilt/complicity in the war, it also got a lot of the generals off the hook as well. Now earlier in the blog there was a small mention that Koizumi, like most of the post-war Prime Ministers before him, every year troops off to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to pay his respects to the war dead, bit like the Queen at the Cenotaph. But Yasukuni, whilst being home to now long-dead war heroes, is also home to many of the generals who ran WW2 and who were, or are viewed as, war criminals. And as you can imagine this pisses off a lot of people, all of whom are non-Japanese (especially when just over the road from Yasukuni is another shrine that honours the war dead, has no 'war criminals' and contains the Japanese tomb of the unknown soldier but is the path much less travelled).

Now the bit about the constitution is this. Recently there have been some lawsuits crawling through the Japanese courts, non-Japanese suing the govt for Koizumi's action of attending Yasukuni Shrine in his official capacity as PM. They say it is against the constitution as the church and the state are separate and therefore he's not allowed to do it officially. He says, "ok, I'm doing it a private citizen". But last week a court ruled that no, he wasn't doing it as a private citizen but in his official capacity and therefore what he was doing was unconstitutional. The real giveaway, said the court, wasn't that he used an official car but was that he signed the guest book 'Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister'. A pretty dumb thing to do really.

So the court upheld this suit by some Koreans living in Kyushu, but refused to pay them a million yen each for the emotional distress caused. But even better than this was Koizumi's reaction, which was, essentially, "I don't agree with your ruling so I am going to keep doing exactly what I want to do. Yah boo sucks to you too!" (some of that might just have been made up)

So that's right folks, the PM of the 2nd biggest economy and 3rd or 4th biggest armaments buyer is told by his own national court that he can't do something but he doesn't agree so he tells them to bugger off. Bit odd that. But because this is Japan a lot of the newspaper editorials agree with Koizumi and then refuse to print any dissenting voices from, say China or Korea.

Hmm, this one could run and run...


We're a funny old breed, us gaijin. We're happy to call each other gaijin, you know, "wassup my gaijin?" that sort of thing. But catch a Japanese calling you a gaijin and a lot of us start to take umbrage (not me, I hasten to add - what's in a name?), and it's all down to translation. Like most words in most languages, it can be translated in a number of ways. It can be, for example, 'foreigner' or 'outsider'. Now the people who take umbrage are the ones most likely to take offence at this translation of the word.

A letter in the paper recently said that a chap got jolly angy when he heard Japanese using it in this sense, especially when they were outside Japan. He overheard a Japanese lady saying (in Japanese) "my what a lot of gaijin there are here" whilst on holiday in Hawaii. Now personally, knowing how many Japanese there are on holiday in Hawaii, one western face could seem like a lot, but no, she meant there were lost of big nosed white people around. So he went up to her and said (again in Japanese) "no, you are the gaijin here", to which he received a shocked and horrified look from the lady and to which he felt suitably happy and vindicated.

But my point here is that gaijin can also easily be translated as 'non-Japanese person', so the shocked and horrifed look he received may well have been along the lines of "what do you mean I'm not Japanese, foolish American person? Of course I'm Japanese and these people are not."

Maybe it is just one of those things that I can't seem to get too worked up about, but a lot of people do as they attach all this impoprtance to labels that the Japanese really just don't get as, I think, there isn't really anything to get. I mean really, the Japanese people using a Japanese word to describe something that isn't Japanese. How dare they?

And the vote

This is the last one today about gaijin and their whinging. Again in the paper recently there has been a run of letters bemoaning the fact that gaijin with permanent residency status aren't allowed a vote in this country and isn' that jolly unfair. Now I am all for a revision of the laws so that someone born in this country is entitled to a vote, such as all the Koreans dragged here during WW2 who never left but are still counted, as are their children and grandchildren, as foreigners - that's wrong and needs to be addressed.

But for some foreigner from the UK or US to demand the right to vote because they have chosen to live here but not renounce their citizenship of their own country seems utterly crazy in my view. One chap from the US even went so far as to say something like "no taxation without representation is as true today as it ever was". Idiot. Doesn't seem to have crossed his mind that he chose to live here, or that he has a vote back in the US should he choose to exercise it, or that the tax paid in the 1770s all went to foreign coffers. Oh no, he's taxed by the Japanese govt because he works here and that is bad.

If these people want the vote here in Japan they should become Japanese. Seems to me that if you want a say in how the country is run, you should be a citizen of the that country. Now there could be an argument for having a say in local elections as one is a member of the local community and, paying local taxes, one might be granted a say in how things are done, especially if you have children in local schools, for example. But votes for foreigners in national elections? Don't think that would be right somehow, even with Japan's dodgy old constitution.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commenting is encouraged, just so I know that someone reads all this stuff