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April 23, 2004 7:43 AM   Subscribe

You'd think the return of the Japanese hostages from Iraq would be cause for celebration. Nope. "You got what you deserve!" read one hand-written sign at the airport where they landed. "You are Japan's shame," another wrote on the Web site of one of the former hostages. They had "caused trouble" for everybody.
posted by gottabefunky (29 comments total)

 
Damn, that is harsh!

By the way, you might want to note that your link is to the New York Times and registration is required.

Anyone got another link to the story?
posted by fenriq at 7:59 AM on April 23, 2004


I read this with some amazement this morning...but not too much. It is a major taboo in Japan to inconvenience somebody else. I feel very sad for the hostages/victims, trying to do the right thing and being treated this way upon their return.
posted by vito90 at 8:04 AM on April 23, 2004


At first glance, I thought the consternation had to do with the hostages allowing themselves to be captured, rather than defend themselves and die with honor.

From the Japanese perspective, these people foolishly ignored warnings about heading into a warzone and caused a lot of grief for a lot of people when they were captured.
posted by dr_dank at 8:08 AM on April 23, 2004


It is a major taboo in Japan to inconvenience somebody else.

In this case, it's arguable whether the situation was an 'inconvenience'.
posted by Gyan at 8:12 AM on April 23, 2004


Beheading would have been much better for all involved.
Huh?

I think they raised Japan's profile in the whole coalition with their being captured, allowing the PM to take a defiant stance against negotiating with terrorists, and the US to look at Japan as a partner in the morass.

What pricks the government is to charge them, too.

Why not just exile them for shame and be done with it?
posted by Busithoth at 8:13 AM on April 23, 2004


At first glance, I thought the consternation had to do with the hostages allowing themselves to be captured, rather than defend themselves and die with honor.

That's a little Japan-as-a-Kurosawa-movie, isn't it? I mean, is "dying with honor" still a big part of Japanese culture? I'm asking, I've never been there.
posted by jpoulos at 8:20 AM on April 23, 2004


"It is a major taboo in Japan to inconvenience somebody else."

While it has been taken to the extreme in this case, that's a taboo that is sorely needed in the U.S..
posted by 2sheets at 8:24 AM on April 23, 2004


Speaking as someone who has just caused inconvenience for somebody else by posting the comment below to the wrong thread.....

I was initially going to say, that their treatment seemed crazy and was going to put it down to cultural differences and even ask what Japaneese might see as 'crazy' in western society.

Then I thought those poeple were idiots for going to Iraq as they were told not to and that their being idiots had not reversed but highlighted by their kidnap....idiots all of them..
posted by kenaman at 8:26 AM on April 23, 2004


strange reference in there, The Japanese, like the villagers in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," had to throw stones.

hmmm.

any donation pages up to help them out with the airfare bill?
posted by th3ph17 at 8:50 AM on April 23, 2004


I mean, is "dying with honor" still a big part of Japanese culture? I'm asking, I've never been there.

Honor and "saving face", to my knowledge, is still a big part of the culture. This may be in decline with the younger generation, but I'm sure it's still prevalent with the oldsters.

I've always pegged the honor thing as Roddenberry's inspiration for Star Trek's Klingons. :)
posted by dr_dank at 8:55 AM on April 23, 2004


"Indiscriminate" actions directed against "foreigners" can have some truly profound implications. Really horrific revenge being one of the worst.

While it is never talked about much, and few will admit to it, many cultures embrace revenge killing as not just a necessary evil--due to government ineffectuality--but as something that *must* be done, out of principal. Which sort of makes up for a country not having a death penalty.

There are even rumors that the LA Korean community hired large numbers of Korean organized crime hitmen, to fly to LA and inflict brutality and murder on the rioters and those like them who had attacked their "community." The response of the LAPD? "Continue with your revenge, but keep it discreet, or we will punish you."
How about that for brutal realism?

When Americans were taken hostage in Lebanon, there were endless, fruitless negotiations trying to get them back. The emboldened the hostage takers to kidnap some Russians. Bad idea.

The Russian response was to send four hardened spies to Lebanon, counter-kidnap the Imam of the kidnappers, and mail them (literally) his ears, with the promise to send other body parts soon. The kidnappers were so terrified they not only released the Russians, but they drove them to the Russian embassy.

I hesitate to think of what the Japanese would do if they were every really pissed off. It would, no doubt, be memorable.
posted by kablam at 9:09 AM on April 23, 2004


kablam .... got links? I'm mighty curious...
posted by weston at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2004


I hesitate to think of what the Japanese would do if they were every really pissed off. It would, no doubt, be memorable.

*cough*NankingPearlHarborBataanIwoJima*cough*

That's pretty darn memorable.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:01 AM on April 23, 2004


I admire the Japanese woman who was attempting to help the street children of Iraq. Poor woman-illustrating the saying that no good deed goes unpunished.


Do we have any Japanese Mefites here who could weigh in?
posted by konolia at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2004


I will have to run this story by my samurai girlfriend, who is now home in Tokyo, for her reaction. But there is a Japanese cultural concept called "uchi" or "inside group". The concept of who is "inside" the group as opposed to "outside" is very strong, and conformity with culturally predetermined roles are very strong. I had lots of relationship problems with my girlfriend (jap.: "gurufurendo") before I learned how important the concept of uchi is. When I meet Japanese people I have not been introduced to there is a strong awkwardness until my relationship is explained, and then I can be placed in some sense of uchi. At the core, uchi means a home, a family unit. From there it gets expanded until it can mean the entire Japanese nation.

In this case the entire Japanese nation reacts as one big uchi dealing with non-conformist behavior by a few individuals.

A couple of years ago my girlfriend would have looked at this story and defended the Japanese reaction. After living outside of Japan she has become "infected" with gaijin ideas and would probably condemn it and use it as another explanation for why she lives abroad. (But like all good Nihonjin she has to spend at least a few months back home every year.)
posted by zaelic at 10:41 AM on April 23, 2004


From the Japanese perspective, these people foolishly ignored warnings about heading into a warzone and caused a lot of grief for a lot of people when they were captured.

Precisely. They screwed up, and they knew it (their official statements upon coming home are filled with nothing but apology). I feel terribly for them, as individuals, but as Japanese they stepped over a cultural line, and now they get to pay the price. They went to Iraq knowing the potential consequences - the least we can do is acknowledge that courage, rather than pretending (as the article does) that they were totally naive.

This said, the article is stunningly biased. The Shirley Jackson thing, the old-standby "island nation" crack, the lines that contrast the US government's reaction to the Japanese one... the NYT isn't even trying to analyze this in cultural context. This is yet another "eww, look how weird Japan is!" writeup, one that trivializes both the hostages' ordeal and the Japanese reaction to it.
posted by vorfeed at 11:40 AM on April 23, 2004


girlfriend (jap.: "gurufurendo")

Dude, that's just the word Girlfriend said with a japanese accent! Are you really telling me they had to import the word for "girlfriend"?
posted by thedude256 at 12:29 PM on April 23, 2004


Dude, that's just the word Girlfriend said with a japanese accent! Are you really telling me they had to import the word for "girlfriend"?

Of course not. Japanese has a number of native ways to say this. It's just that one of the most popular ones happens to be an English loanword. English is full of them, too: this morning I went to the restaurant for a cup of java with my amigo...
posted by vorfeed at 12:45 PM on April 23, 2004


As far as the LA riots go, I got the story first hand from a disabled US Army Warrant Officer who spoke Korean very fluently and was hired by the LAPD to be a translator between the LA city government and the Korean community leaders, post-riot. The LAPD then told him what to say to either side *despite* what they actually said.

The LAPD told him that shortly after the riots, no fewer than two dozen hardened Korean killers had arrived from Seoul, and set about breaking arms and legs, and outright killing blacks believed to have been involved in the attack against the Korean community. Some of their violence had become so extreme that it was becoming difficult for the police to keep it under wraps, so they wanted to tell the Koreans to tone it down a bit.

He was to tell the civil authorities that "We in the Korean community are glad to give you the time you need to help in the process of healing."

He was to tell the Koreans that "You may continue with your revenge, but you will keep it discreet or you will be punished."

I think this says a lot about how the LAPD views the civil authorities. However, there is no other documentation.

As far as the Russians in Lebanon, I *think* there was an article in Time Magazine about it, but it was a long time ago. I couldn't find any Internet reference to it at all.
posted by kablam at 3:21 PM on April 23, 2004


I think this says a lot about how the LAPD views the civil authorities.

I think this says a lot about how the LAPD views black people—or would, if it were true. But I don't believe it for a minute. (Hey, I've got a friend who has all kinds of interesting stories about what the authorities are really up to...)
posted by languagehat at 4:57 PM on April 23, 2004


konolia: Do we have any Japanese Mefites here who could weigh in?

Ah, that'd be me I suppose. There is a lot to unpack here.

re: "inconvenience"
Yes, it is more of a social taboo to inconvenience others here in Japan. That said, it's a word/idea that isn't adequately translated by merely "inconvenience." The relationships between people are highly structured in Japan so when those boundaries get disturbed, such as in this case, it really can upset the social fabric.
That Shirley Jackson quote was uncalled for and only confuses the issue, imo.

re: "dying with honor"
This, to me, is almost always misunderstood outside of Japan. It actually is often connected with the problem of inconveniencing others. "Meiwaku wo kakeru."
For instance, a recent example is the poultry farmer in Kyoto who was caught sending avian flu-infected birds to the slaughterhouse. He and his wife committed suicide after that whole mess hit the news. Essentially he was helping to clear his son's name (although I doubt it had the intended effect) and his family may have gotten some inheritance/insurance (strangely they do sometimes pay out here in Japan, even under suicide.)
To me, it was not a death with any honor. In my mind the honorable thing to have done was to deal with the repercussions of the event, (in this case to work with the government to ensure safety of the poultry, etc.) but that is not a common sentiment.
It is relatively common in Japan for people at the center of large societal scandals to take their own lives as a statement to the community. I don't think it is seen as good/bad per se, as much as it is seen as a part of the social compact (in a way that is again, hard to explain.)

re: "uchi" (within) and "soto" (outside)
This is probably the most important comment on this thread so far. Telling that it came from someone who dated a Japanese person. Japan is a monoculture and an island nation. Because of those and many, many other reasons, (such as never having been colonized) there is a strong "us/them" mentality built into the culture.
When these Japanese volunteers left for Iraq, they knew they were going against the majority opinion so it was not just a physical separation from a place. I wrote about this event on my blog a bit an my conclusion, sadly, is that these ex-hostages would be happier, not to mention more effective, if they left Japan than tried to continue their efforts from within Japan. It is a depressing thought.

One other aspect of Japan that is often discussed and usually helps to bring some additional perspective to Japanese social values is the idea of "honne" vs. "tatemae." This is the idea of the real emotions vs. the face that Japanese often have for society. Japanese society values "tatemae", opinions or actions influenced by social norms, because of the highly structured social compacts. "Honne" or, opinions or actions motivated by one’s true emotions, are not often displayed. This is certainly not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, but it is buried deep within the social interrelations and can often help unpack a complex situation.

I often compare the ideas of honne/tatemae to Los Angeles/New York City. I have lived in both cities, and to make additional sweeping generalizations, people in LA are more inclined to be polite while they backstab you whereas in NYC, they don't waste time with the niceties ;)

I believe, with this incident among others, we are seeing a widening rift between a minority of Japanese who are trying to be more global citizens, and the vast majority of Japanese who are hard-wired in ways that are ultimately very Japanese (simply, more interested in Japan than what is beyond Japan.)
For me, what has been interesting about this, is that the "dirty laundry" was hung out on an international scale. Most of this kind of news doesn't leave Japan. So when it does, and you get a peek at the "real Japan," it is often startling and confusing. Japan is not easily explained to those who haven't spent a significant amount of time here. And the mainstream media (whether news or entertainment) often confuses more than it clarifies.

Please note, while I am Japanese, I am also American, and while I have used sweeping generalizations, they are merely one persons' opinions and perspectives. Trying to build a broader bridge between Japan and the world beyond Japan is somewhat inherent in my nature (dual-culture, etc.) so it is something I think about a lot.
posted by gen at 6:18 PM on April 23, 2004


Thank you gen, and zaelic, for your enlightening comments.
posted by David Dark at 6:27 PM on April 23, 2004


Arigatoo, gen-san. Very enlightening.
posted by SPrintF at 6:27 PM on April 23, 2004


Thank you gen, and zaelic, for your enlightening comments.

Ok, I realize that me agreeing with David may signal the coming of the apocalypse...but, agreed. Those were very coherent, comprehensive answers and I thank you both for them. I have a much greater understanding of the situation now than I did when I started.
posted by dejah420 at 7:48 PM on April 23, 2004


One thing that may be worth noting, zaelic, is that the uchi that means home is different than the uchi that means inside. The Japanese readings are the same but the meanings and usage are distinct and different. A further and maybe even less related but more interesting note is that the two kanji when used together, spell Gen's last name, Kanai, although I don't actually know or expect that he uses those kanji for his name.
posted by donkeymon at 9:41 PM on April 23, 2004


languagehat: granted, you don't have to believe anything you don't want to. However, in that this man had been a Warrant Officer, and *did*, most definitely speak Korean very fluently, and had only this one story, other than the military tale of how he was grievously injured by a mortar round in an LP/OP near the DMZ, and yes, I will attest that he was severely crippled, I tend to believe him.

I will grant you, easily, however, that it also does reflect how the LAPD views African-Americans, too. But I don't think that comes as much of a surprise.
posted by kablam at 9:43 PM on April 23, 2004


re: "uchi" (within) and "soto" (outside)
This is probably the most important comment on this thread so far. Telling that it came from someone who dated a Japanese person.


Gen: I was trained as a cultural anthropologist, but I never had any experience with Japanese culture before I started living with a Japanese woman. The lack of a colonial past is definitely influential in the making of Japanese national character, especially as regards the present generation who were raised by parents that lived under the post WWII American occupation. Things in our relationship could be quite rocky the first year before I started to grasp some basic concepts like honne and tatamae. Luckily, I came across a book at Kinokuniya bookstore in NY by Japanese sociologist Takie Sugiyama Lebra, "Japanese Patterns of Behavior." Helped me understand concepts like gaibatsu and naibatsu (outer punishment vs. inner punishment... you'll never think New Yorkers are neurotic again after reading this stuff...)

On the other hand, my Significant Other has a lovely accent when she tries to speak Yiddish...
posted by zaelic at 4:33 AM on April 24, 2004


Rational Japanese
posted by konolia at 10:00 AM on April 24, 2004


donkeymon: the two kanji when used together, spell Gen's last name, Kanai, although I don't actually know or expect that he uses those kanji for his name.

My family name uses the character for "gold" or "metal" with the character for "water well." It is the most common form of "Kanai" in Japanese.

So to answer your question, no, my name is not made by "uchi" and "inside."
posted by gen at 11:58 PM on April 26, 2004


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