I’m drifting away from art and history here, and getting a bit more political and personal, but I just wanted to share this story and video, one of a myriad of aspects or perspectives, or should I say experiences, of the recent events in Japan, and to share my responses to other commenters’ responses.
Daniel Nations is a 25 year old man from Texas who arrived in Japan a few days before the earthquake, with no real arrangements for housing (beyond plans made on couchsurfing.com) and no job, but only an intention to seek one teaching English once he got there. Even before leaving the US, before the devastating events of last weekend, he began a video journal, clips of which can be seen in the following video.
Now, I personally would never go somewhere with so much up in the air and totally riding on chance, and I have to a great extent grown out of that idea of Japan as pure adventure, as if nothing “real” or dangerous or terrible could happen there. Some commenters on the video have called him naive and made similar comments, and I can’t really disagree. But that’s more or less besides the point, and I do not wish to be critical of Mr Nations, or to come across as being “against him” or “not on his side” or however one may wish to phrase it.
None of the comments on this article (as of this moment) are anything approaching the racist, trolling kind of comments that we have all, unfortunately, come to expect on any internet forum. Quite the contrary, these are calm, reasoned, logical sorts of arguments which are really quite reasonable, inspiring not knee-jerk reactions of anger, but calm, disciplined, disagreement.
Some commenters write that going to Japan was a poor idea to begin with; some cite Japan’s (pre-disaster) economic situation, which I think is a terribly pessimistic and over-exaggerated view of the economy of a country that’s still by most measures third (or even second) in the world. Others allude to the danger from radiation – I don’t claim to hold the true facts of what’s going on, but I get the distinct impression that foreign media has been blowing it out of proportion and that Americans, as always, have been panicking unnecessarily. Whatever the situation right now, if and when it becomes pertinent to evacuate Tokyo, the authorities will say so. While some countries (white flag France) have advised their nationals to leave Japan entirely, not even the UK or US governments, which have advised a much larger zone of evacuation around Fukushima than the Japanese authorities have, are suggesting that people leave Tokyo.
The embedding seems determined to fail, but you can watch the relevant video, as well as read the article and the comments, at this link:
One commenter, who goes by the handle FarginBastige, writes, “If anything he should leave for the sake of the Japanese people, he can always return, but every bit of what they have should go to their people.” The following is my unnecessarily lengthy and unwieldy response to him or her, and to the general trend of other comments on the page.
Young Mr Nations may seem a bit naive, may be taking this as an adventure, but all in all I don’t think that means he needs to leave. The nuclear situation, as best as I understand it, seems to have been blown out of proportion, to be largely under control, and to pose less of a direct danger to Tokyo than many foreign media sources have been making it out to be. More to the point, I don’t think he should be pressured to leave because of his American (non-Japanese) identity.
I think the key thing here is to consider this not from the point of view of him being an American going on a vacation, a trip, or an adventure, someone who shouldn’t be in a foreign land to begin with and who should go home at the first sign of trouble. Rather, I prefer to see him, and my tens of friends living in Japan right now, as residents of Japan, who have for now made Japan their home, whether only temporarily, or for the foreseeable future, whether they arrived last week or a year or three ago. I see no more problem with them being there in the first place, or staying, than I see any problem with Japanese, or any other foreigners, living in New York, or anywhere else in the world, and staying there through whatever troubles may occur.
I have made this place, Hawaii, my home, for now, just as Daniel Nations has made Japan his home for now, and I believe that he should have just as much right to help, and to be helped, to have the right to say or believe he belongs there, and simply to have people think it’s okay for him to be there, as anyone else.
Ultimately, at its core, this is not about this specific situation, or about emergencies or crises in general. This cuts to the core, I feel, of the issue of who belongs where. Japanese and Chinese (and other) cultures hold strongly to the idea of hometown, and of always being a person from that place and holding connections and obligations to that place, no matter where you go. This is a cultural difference, and I respect that. But, to consider someone like Daniel Nations (or my tens of friends currently living & working in Japan) as a “foreigner” before or moreso than you consider him a “Japan resident,” specifically in terms of identifying him as someone who does not belong to Japan, who has less rights to consider himself connected to Japan, is, I believe, at the very least, unfair. What about Japanese people in the hardest hit parts of Tohoku who may have originally come from other parts of the country? Sure, they may flee back home – I wouldn’t be surprised if a great many do, and I wouldn’t fault them for that – but whether they flee or whether they stay, do people from Kyushu or Western Honshu or Tokyo living in Tohoku deserve less than “native” people originally from hometowns in Tohoku? Is it the case that these Japanese from other parts ought to leave, that they ought not to stay, as if they have some lesser right to stay, as if they have some lesser right to call Tohoku home?
Perhaps it is simply a cultural difference, and a result of the vast difference between Japan as a nation-state (with a population supposedly of a singular cultural & ethnic identity) and the United States as a state, that is, a country, founded on diversity and populated primarily by descendants of immigrants. Yet, at its core, the idea that anyone has less right to stay in New York, to be in New York, to live in New York, simply because they do not hold US citizenship, or because they may have been there less long than someone else, is an absurdity in my mind. Never mind even the terribly inappropriate suggestion that anyone has less right to consider themselves a New Yorker, less right to consider themselves as “belonging” on account of their ethnicity. So, too, do I apply the same logic to residency in Japan, and to a right to make a home there, and consider themselves “belonging” there, for people of any background.
It reminds me of how when people convert to Judaism, one of the questions they are asked, one of the promises they are asked to make, is that they will “throw in their lot with that of the Jewish people.” Now, the situation is not strictly comparable, since Mr Nations, and the vast majority of non-ethnic-Japanese living in Japan have not taken Japanese citizenship. Yet, still, to some extent at least, I feel that choosing to live in Japan means throwing in your lot. A former JET by the name of Canon Purdy, an American who taught English for several years in Minamisanriku, a village all but completely wiped away by the tsunami, when connected to her family back home who had been desperately trying to find out about her safety, said that she felt an obligation to stay and to help. She threw her lot in with the people of Minamisanriku, losing her home, her possessions, and some of her friends or former students I am sure, and surviving in shelters and off of emergency rations right alongside the Japanese people of that area. And so it is, too, in the case of those foreigners in the less hard-hit areas. Whatever their fate, they are sharing that fate with the Japanese people all around them – their coworkers, their friends, their flatmates.
I do not mean to impose my views, my American views and values and attitudes, upon Japan, as if it is a purely black and white issue. But, this goes far beyond Daniel Nations or the specific situation of this disaster, and cuts to the core, I believe, of the question of the status of Japan residents who are not of Japanese ethnicity. Aspects of what it means to be foreign, and to be seen as foreign, are myriad, and there are accordingly a myriad of issues that come along with that, which I will not (cannot) get into here. But, there is the one aspect of the idea that foreign people ought to leave in certain situations, and are seen as less rightfully considering themselves rightful residents, or to put it another way, are seen as some lesser degree or lower class of members of society, and I think this is a problem that goes far beyond the current situation. I do not mean to suggest that it is a problem with a simple or singular obvious solution – no; it’s quite complex and difficult. But it is one that needs to be addressed and considered.