Thursday, August 31, 2006

Effective Propaganda?

the full comic and original picture are at Coal's blog

This morning I ran into my landlord and had a curious discussion. As I posted yesterday, there was concern that I was upset about the cleaning crew that was cleaning the screens and the apartment just above mine. Apparently, the cleaning crew felt that, because I was American, I was unhappy and taking pictures in preparation to take some sort of "legal action." When I reassured the landlord that I would never do such a thing, he said he was relieved.

This conversation was odd not because I think it's inconceivable that a foreign resident might overreact and do such a thing but that my landlord would think I would do such a thing. I've lived in the same apartment for 17 years now. My husband and I have not complained about anything except when about 10 years ago the tenant above us was throwing dirty cleaning water out on her balcony which dripped down onto our laundry hanging on our balcony. We have also never missed our rent payments and pay "gift" money upon every rent contract renewal without complaint. That means we fork over an extra month's rent every two years for the honor of being allowed to continue to pay our regular rent each month for the next two years.

There's a long history of us not getting uptight about things and being decent tenants. So, why, after all this time, would my taking a few pictures result in the absurd conclusion that I was preparing for a lawsuit? And what exactly could I possibly sue about? A little cleaning-related noise? My screens temporarily being removed for cleaning? The guys parking in the street in front of the landlord's house?

After some time passed, I started to wonder if some of the propaganda I read about on Coal's blog is taking root. The full article with translated cartoons is available here but the gist of it is that foreigner's rights, if protected, will result in the Japanese having to tolerate bad behavior. The cartoons essentially say that discrimination is necessary to protect the rights of business owners and landlords from foreign people who will be disruptive and destructive.

I'm not concluding for now that this propaganda directly caused the cleaning crew's suspicion (which then led to my landlord's worries) because there are other possibilities. For instance, exposure to news of some of the more outrageous cases of litigiousness in the U.S. could easily lead the Japanese to believe we're all just looking for any pocket we can legally find a means to pick. I am, however, disappointed that my landlord didn't know better after my husband's and my long and well-behaved tenancy. It points out the sad fact that no matter how we behave, we are, first and foremost viewed as "gaijin" and subject to all the preconceptions and misperceptions that go along with being a foreigner in Japan.


Roy said...

It's unfortunate that your landlord thought this way but I can't really blame him or others that have preconceptions about renting to gaijin. I have so many horror stories about what gaijin (some of them my friends) did to their apartments and all the trouble they caused. Years back some friends rented a house near Ikebukuro and every weekend they had the most rockin' parties. Sometimes close to a hundred people would show up and trash the place. The police would come every time but there wasn't much they could do.

A couple of rotten eggs ruin it for the rest of us no matter how good our behavior is.

Roy said...

I forgot to say that I can't believe you've lived in the same place to 17 years!!!

James said...

I think that Japanese people have the image of Americans as a people who like to sue each other all the time. They just don't know how to work within the Japanese system of gaman'ing everything that sucks, those damn Americans.

Shari said...

Roy: I do see your point. I realize that there are some foreigners who see their time in Japan as a chance to abandon the morality that their local laws bind them to in their home countries. Nonetheless, 17 years is a good amount of time to "prove" myself. And yeah, we've been in the same place for ages. We're not the nomadic types. ;-)

James: You also have a point about "gaman" but I think that's unrelated to what I think they believed I was up to. I think they felt it was about money, not about enduring inconvenience. Honestly though, I wasn't putting up with anything in my estimation. There have been far worse things we've endured like when the landlord's near deaf mother listened to T.V. so loudly we could clearly hear it and when their nasty dog which was behind a fence right in front of our apartment would bite anyone who walked close to it (and it barked like mad). We never complained about those things.

Still, I think we've been really lucky with our situation. I think we have one of the best situations one can have with a landlord in Japan.

Roy said...

I hear so many horror stories about how landlords treat foreigners but I have had only good experiences. And I've had lots of landlords. If anything the only problem I've had with landlords was that they would let some of the other tenants get away with murder and when I complained and asked them to yell at those people they would chicken out.

Anonymous said...

Japanese people of that age were brought up that way. Look, even if you are Korean or Chinese and your ancestors have been living in Japan for 100+ years, they would still never treat you the same as they treat "real" Japanese. Even these Korean and Chinese many do not bother getting "citizenship" because they know the Japanese will always think "you are Japanese by name only; you aren't really Japanese". This attitude is in their culture ... ingrained. That explains partly how they were so readily able to butcher so many non-Japanese Asians during World War 2.

Shari said...

It's time to "de-grain" the Japanese culture. The Japanese benefit greatly from being a part of a global market. In fact, I can easily say that the Japanese economy wouldn't be where it was today if it weren't for the openness of foreign markets to Japan and its culture.

It's time for Japan to return the favor, even if it means upsetting the apple cart of their culturally comfortable prejudices. In other words, they have to start getting over it. They can't expect to be accepted by other countries if they aren't willing to offer similar acceptance to foreigners in their country.

It's not an easy thing, nor is it going to happen quickly but the only way to get the Japanese to start changing is for the foreign community to exert pressure on them when they treat them unfairly. If that pressure never comes, they will remain complacent and their laws will continue to condone racist behavior.