Arama They Didn't

12:35 am - 02/24/2013

2Chan/Nationalists Rage Over Teacher's Lesson on Racism in Japan

Miki Dezaki, who first arrived in Japan on a teacher exchange program in 2007, wanted to learn about the nation that his parents had once called home.

He taught English, explored the country and affectionately chronicled his cross-cultural adventures on social media, most recently on YouTube, where he gained a small following for videos like “Hitchhiking Okinawa” and the truly cringe-worthy “What Americans think of Japan.” One of them, on the experience of being gay in Japan, attracted 75,000 views and dozens of thoughtful comments.

Dezaki didn’t think the reaction to his latest video was going to be any different, but he was wrong. “If I should have anticipated something, I should have anticipated the Net ‘uyoku’ (rightwingers),” he said, referring to the informal army of young, hyper-nationalist Japanese Web users who tend to descend on any article — or person — they perceive as critical of Japan.

But before the Net uyoku put Dezaki in their cross hairs, sending him death threats and hounding his employers, previous employers and even the local politicians who oversee his employers, there was just a teacher and his students.

Dezaki began his final lesson with a 1970 TV documentary, “Eye of the Storm,” often taught in American schools for its bracingly honest exploration of how good-hearted people — in this case, young children participating in an experiment — can turn to racism. After the video ended, he asked his students to raise their hands if they thought racism existed in Japan. Almost none did. They all thought of it as a uniquely American problem.

Gently, Dezaki showed his students that, yes, there is also racism in Japan. He carefully avoided the most extreme and controversial cases — for example, Japan’s wartime enslavement of Korean and other females in Asia for sex, which the country today doesn’t fully acknowledge — pointing instead to such slang terms as “bakachon camera.” The phrase, which translates as “idiot Korean camera,” is meant to refer to disposable cameras so easy to use that even an idiot or a Korean could do it.

He really got his students’ attention when he talked about discrimination between Japanese groups. People from Okinawa, where Dezaki happened to be teaching, are sometimes looked down upon by other Japanese, he pointed out, and in the past have been treated as second-class citizens. Isn’t that discrimination?

“The reaction was so positive,” he recalled. For many of them, the class was a sort of an aha moment. “These kids have heard the stories of their parents being discriminated against by the mainland Japanese. They know this stuff. But the funny thing is that they weren’t making the connection that that was discrimination.” From there, it was easier for the students to accept that other popular Japanese attitudes about race or class might be discriminatory.

The vice principal of the school said he wished more Japanese students could hear the lesson. Dezaki didn’t get a single complaint. No one accused him of being an enemy of Japan.

That changed two weeks ago. Dezaki had recorded his July classes and, on Feb. 14, posted a six-minute video in which he narrated an abbreviated version of the lesson. It opens with a disclaimer that would prove both prescient and, for his critics, vastly insufficient. “I know there’s a lot of racism in America, and I’m not saying that America is better than Japan or anything like that,” he says. Also that day, Dezaki posted the video, titled “Racism in Japan,” to the popular link-sharing site Reddit under its Japan-focused subsection, where he often comments. By Feb. 16, the Net uyoku had found the video.

“I recently made a video about Racism in Japan, and am currently getting bombarded with some pretty harsh, irrational comments from Japanese people who think I am purposefully attacking Japan,” Dezaki wrote in a new post on Reddit’s Japan section, also known as r/Japan. The critics, he wrote, were “flood(ing) the comments section with confusion and spin.” But angry Web comments would turn out to be the least of his problems.

The Net uyoku make their home at a website called ni channeru, otherwise known as ni chan, 2chan or 2ch (2channel). Americans familiar with the bottommost depths of the Internet might know 2chan’s English-language spinoff, 4chan, which, like the original, is a message board famous for its crude discussions, graphic images (don’t open either on your work computer) and penchant for mischief that can sometimes cross into illegality.

Some 2chan users, perhaps curious about how their country is perceived abroad, will occasionally translate Reddit’s r/Japan posts into Japanese. When the “Racism in Japan” video made it onto 2chan, outraged users flocked to the comments section on YouTube to attempt to discredit the video. They attacked Dezaki as “anti-Japanese” and fumed at him for warping Japanese schoolchildren with “misinformation.”

Inevitably, at least one death threat appeared. Though it was presumably idle, like most threats made anonymously over the Web, it rattled him. Still, it’s no surprise that the Net uyoku’s initial campaign, like just about every effort to change a real-life debate by flooding some Web comments sections, went nowhere. So they escalated.

A few of the outraged Japanese found some personal information about Dezaki, starting with his until-then-secret real name and building up to contact information for his Japanese employers. Given Dezaki’s social media trail, it probably wasn’t hard. They proliferated the information using a file-sharing service called SkyDrive, urging fellow Net uyoku to take their fight off the message boards and into Dezaki’s personal life.

By Feb. 18, superiors at the school were emailing him, saying they were bombarded with complaints. Though the video was based almost entirely on a lecture that they had once praised, they asked him to pull it down.

“Some Japanese guys found out which school I used to work at and now, I am being pressured to take down the ‘Racism in Japan’ video,” Dezaki posted on Reddit. “I’m not really sure what to do at this point. I don’t want to take down the video because I don’t believe I did anything wrong, and I don’t believe in giving into bullies who try to censor every taboo topic in Japan. What do you guys think?”

He decided to keep the video online, but placed a message over the first few sentences that, in English and Japanese, announce his refusal to take it down.

But the outrage continued to mount, both online and in the real world. At one point, Dezaki says he was contacted by an official in Okinawa’s board of education who warned that a lawmaker might raise it on the floor of the Lower House. Apparently, the Net uyoku may have succeeded in elevating the issue from a YouTube comments field to regional and perhaps even national politics.

“I knew there were going to be some Japanese upset with me, but I didn’t expect this magnitude of a problem,” Dezaki said. “I didn’t expect them to call my board of education. That said, I wasn’t surprised, though. You know what I mean? They’re insane people.”

Nationalism is not unique to Japan, but it is strong and tinged with the insecurity of a once-powerful nation on the decline and with the humiliation of defeat and Allied Occupation and U.S.-imposed Constitution.

That history is still raw in Japan, where nationalism and resentment of perceived American control often go hand-in-hand. Dezaki is an American, and his video seems to have hit on the belief among many nationalists that the Americans still condescend to, and ultimately seek to control, their country.

“I fell in love with Japan; I love Japan,” Dezaki says, explaining why he made the video in the first place. “And I want to see Japan become a better place. Because I do see these potential problems with racism and discrimination.”

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harukakamiya 24th-Feb-2013 06:12 am (UTC)
I'm glad the guy's not giving in because it's a serious problem but WOW @ these netizens jesus christ people you need a hobby
age_of_green 24th-Feb-2013 06:12 am (UTC)
Good for him for talking about this. But he's fighting an uphill battle, especially as a foreigner.
bea_chan22 24th-Feb-2013 06:21 am (UTC)
Kudos to this guy for fighting such a noble battle.

SMH @ the detractors though.
perfume 24th-Feb-2013 06:29 am (UTC)
SMH at gov officials/higher ups that are actually intimidated by 2channers. Not until there is an angry mob w/pitchforks in the streets, daring to show their ugly faces, should they actually consider the close-minded right-wingers a threat.

Japan needs to be schooled.
umbrellaphone 24th-Feb-2013 07:23 am (UTC)
That's actually what's intimating about 2ch threats though - it's anonymous. They can potentially be neighboring people around this teacher, like students or relatives.

Edited at 2013-02-24 10:25 pm (UTC)
1111_am 24th-Feb-2013 06:42 am (UTC)
Wow this is kind of ironic seeing this video today when last night I was watching a bunch of videos of Jane Elliott's blue eye/brown eye exercises. I really like this guy. I admire anyone who fights discrimination and tries to educate people on issues like these while doing it all in a respectful way.
fukkthedumbshyt 24th-Feb-2013 09:33 am (UTC)
Those Jane Elliott videos give me so much life. She is my hero.
sadizumu 24th-Feb-2013 07:35 am (UTC)
I saw this video a week ago. I really respect this guy for standing up for what he believes in. I just can't believe some of these people have the time to hate on him and even go as far as finding out his information. Why must they waste their time creating a war?!
asaphira_sachi 24th-Feb-2013 07:36 am (UTC)
I hope he has a good supporting system around him and who's willing to speak up on his behalf. It's dangerous when there's opposition all around and targeting him like that.
brazenflight 24th-Feb-2013 08:39 am (UTC)
I think it's amazing what he's doing and I love the fact that he refuses to be intimidated by anyone.

It also doesn't hurt that he is sexy as balls as well.
brazenflight 24th-Feb-2013 09:01 am (UTC)
And not to totally make this about us, but I'm super surprised that even without thinking of intercultural racism, none of the students even considered the way that certain people treat gaijin in general (not even getting into specific groups) was any different.

Also, I saw Eye of the Storm forever ago as a soc. major and loved it, and would love to do it with my students now, but I feel like there would be major problem with that from parents nowadays. It's perfect because I have kindergarteners too. However, I feel like parents nowadays would have HUGE problems with it, and I would never get it passed with my satan-spawn boss. It's funny though because they put such an emphasis on race/self actualization at a young age in my school, making the kids pick out what they think they are based on "multicultural crayons" (which is personally slightly offensive to me) and having differently colored backgrounds for certain students when we do projects involving faces. I guess a guy can dream.
tousan_yamete 24th-Feb-2013 09:02 am (UTC)
he's absolutely going to get fired and deported. mark my words.
love_etcetera 24th-Feb-2013 09:32 am (UTC)
sad but very true.
citrine047 24th-Feb-2013 09:09 am (UTC)
i really hope this guy doesnt lose hope with Japan you know. doing goodwill work for a country whose some of own people attack him underhandedly, that is no joke. it's very ironic.
love_etcetera 24th-Feb-2013 09:34 am (UTC)
Mad respect for the guy
retahdedtim 24th-Feb-2013 09:39 am (UTC)
Wait, what exactly do they mean when they say a lawmaker is going to bring this video to the Lower House? Are they going to try to outlaw teaching about racism to students or making videos about racism in Japan, or what? The only thing lawmakers should be trying to do in response to this fiasco is trying to prosecute the people from 2chan who are harassing this guy. But, lbr, that's probably not what they're going to address.
kyotaku 24th-Feb-2013 11:19 am (UTC)
"Though the video was based almost entirely on a lecture that they had once praised, they [school officials] asked him to pull it down."
I think for me this is the most disappointing part. Should he be supported and backed up by the school he was working at, it would never get to such a ridiculous point.
Also normally it would be good that people have some say over what is happening in the country, but why in case of Japan I only hear about instances when this is used by some bloke heads? School officials, regional politicians being intimidated by some anonymous people over the internet. Japan, this is so wrong.

And on a more bright note, I watched "Eye of the Storm" in Japan at uni, for a class about education in Japan, and that time of course we were talking about racism and discrimination. Lecturer was Japanese.
umbrellaphone 24th-Feb-2013 12:24 pm (UTC)
It's not the school officials per se who want the content down. I think it's more like they receive complaints from other parties and in order to "not give trouble to the students/school", they would rather hush the content. There's often a trend of parents blaming the school for "wrong influence" or whatever, and the school doesn't want liability issues.
inachan89 24th-Feb-2013 12:34 pm (UTC)
Total respect for you,the reactions are crazy.
45s 24th-Feb-2013 01:07 pm (UTC)
Lol, weird...I think this is a buds brother. I had no idea this deteriorated so quickly omg.

He's right and it's really telling that these netizens care more about Japan's image rather than the hurtful discrimination that's a part of the message.
45s 24th-Feb-2013 02:12 pm (UTC)
Yep. It's his brother. Lol here's hoping his family isn't getting affected by this bs as well.
dramaticsurgeon 24th-Feb-2013 01:29 pm (UTC)
While I don't want to paint all Japanese schools with the same brush, there does seem to be a trend of wanting to avoid confrontation and/or negative publicity at any cost, regardless of whether or not the issue is justified. Unfortunately, that just makes the school system weak and ineffectual in the face of serious issues affecting the entire society.

If memory serves, I think the issue of racism not actually being recognized as racism has been discussed on Arama before. But it's a sticky subject, since the hardcore way in which people approach it can often be viewed by Japanese citizens as another attempt by the Western world to impose its values on them. I think this teacher approached it from a rational and even a more "gentle" angle by avoiding any mention of incendiary topics. He doesn't deserve any of the hate he's getting.

Does this story remind anyone of the earlier incident with a storybook that was read to a class of small children about how "brown and dirty" burdocks were bad, but the "white and clean" daikon was good? The story made an African-Japanese child who was already bullied for his skin tone go home and try to scrub his skin "clean". Yet the book's editor defended the story, saying it was celebrating Japanese culture and that "besides, there aren't many black children in Japanese schools." Ah, here's the link: Book is behind bullying of mixed-race children

It's difficult to discuss racism with a culture that a) only recognizes it as a foreign problem, and b) goes out of their way to avoid unpleasant topics. Frankly the backlash at this teacher from right-wing, anonymous netizens is stupid, but not unexpected.
45s 24th-Feb-2013 02:10 pm (UTC)
Agreed. The same approach of "racism without racists" is done in the US and abroad and it's frustrating. You absolutely cannot discuss this topic without pointing out the behavior.
eternityras 24th-Feb-2013 03:13 pm (UTC)
just my personal opinion, but i think the same level of racism exists in every country. in the US it's mainly against other minority group, in asian countries where the population is more homogenous ppl discriminate according to region or other minor differences. maybe it's some innate human desire to segregate people into group so the discriminator can feel like they belong to one group/can look down on another group and feel better about themselves.
wapiko 24th-Feb-2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
Is this the same guy who put out Shit Japanese Girls Say?? I think I saw his Gay in Japan video too. I was really intrigued by his videos.

It's pretty frightening how much a group of anonymous, online bullies can do. Come on, lawmakers/schools. Grow a pair.
__planitbremix Good video,24th-Feb-2013 04:34 pm (UTC)
I commend him for doing this and wish I was able to teach a tolerance lesson in my class,or a world history class.
The closest I got was shutting this kid up, with logic,when he tried to turn the class against me saying he didn't like foreigners and that I was weird. With my limited Japanese I told him "you have a family, I have a family. You have a home, I have a home. You speak Japanese, Im speaking Japanese to you right now. You're learning English, Im teaching you English. My hair maybe different from you and my face looks different too but we're both human" Yup....shut his lil behind up, and he behaved after that.
In other news im not shocked the school started to act like cowards. These are the same schools that allow bullying....

chibi_hime 24th-Feb-2013 04:49 pm (UTC)
I would gladly throw money at him so that he can make a full length movie AND pay for the body guards he would probably need from these crazy netizens.
evershnooks 24th-Feb-2013 04:52 pm (UTC)
I read this, was disappointed, and then said, "Well, that's Japan." I love the country, have been there, studied there, studied the culture, and would love to go back. As Westerners it can be hard to understand the behavior
chibi_hime 24th-Feb-2013 05:20 pm (UTC)
Except this isn't just a Japanese thing, this a world wide problem.
The video pointed out straight up acts of racism, but in other countries the discrimination is harder to see.
monotuned 24th-Feb-2013 05:26 pm (UTC)
After this, my understanding of the reason for internet bullies' "movement": Racism and discrimination does not occur in Japan, and it is normal to discriminate against Koreans and Chinese.

Nobody is looking down on Japan solely because racism and discrimination exist there (like in every other country in the world). Instead of tackling this problem, the higher ups try to sweep it under the rug as usual... one day the rug is going to spill everything out, and it won't be pretty.
hadashi_no_eden 24th-Feb-2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
Good for him. He should not be fired because of a few internet nuts.

I've read comments from some foreign long time residents of Japan and they don't think Japan is racist either just because they've never directly seen it.
ararat010 24th-Feb-2013 09:09 pm (UTC)
I love when people can't even tell the difference between 2ch and 2chan. Or, even more hilariousy, they assume that they're the same place and one name is just a contraction of the other.
It just goes to show that these people have never actually visited either of these websites, nor do they know their way around them. That alone should be enough to make any form of criticism about them pretty much void.

Edited at 2013-02-24 09:18 pm (UTC)
umbrellaphone 24th-Feb-2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
If there were actual anonymous threats, it wouldn't really matter whether they get a website name right or not.
enorcsi 24th-Feb-2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
This video is gold and those netizens are scary. Hope it won't escalate more.
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