By Rei Tanotsuka, 30 May 2019
The Land Down Under to The Land of Rising Sun
So I came to Japan on 19th July 2001, from a splintering winter in Australia to mid summer heat in Japan. A whirlwind adventure for me at that time, which saw me packing 60 packets of ‘healthy’ (low fat) Maggi noodles in a suitcase along with all my worldly possessions – clothes…..lots of them. I had bought my plane ticket, secured a job with NOVA, and had $300 in my Australian bank account accessible in Japan.
English Conversation Schools in Japan
NOVA, for those of you who are not familiar with the English conversation school (Eikaiwa) industry, was one of the largest employers of native English speaking nationals at that time.
NOVA hired a motley crew of foreigners from every industry, gave them an apartment, a one week training course and officially told them, ‘Congratulations, you are now qualified to teach!’ It did not matter that they were a mix bag of desperate young and old western men looking for a multitude of hookups with the local women, nor it did matter if they were western culture missionaries with an intent to change the Japanese into Americans. The only qualifications were that you had to have a pulse and be a native English speaker.
I was an accountant in Australia. I worked for a little while in a national bank, then for the Australian Government as an auditor. Those jobs did not fit my personality or temperament at that time, so I skipped the country and opted for something much more lucrative (at that time anyway) and fun…….you will eventually learn that taking the easy route, always ends up being the hardest.
Meaning of Woke
When people use the ‘woke’ expression, a term originating from the African American community, it meant to have ‘taken the red pill’ which enabled you to see the truth. If you follow social media, it has now morphed into minority groups suddenly realising that in fact, the discrimination against them has been valid all along ie. Candace Owen, Kanye West, Dave Rubin and Every Asian American who has a YouTube channel.
I am an Australian with an Asian lineage. I grew up on a steady diet of feminism, western values variegated with eastern principles and an Australian vernacular which allowed me to express my myopic opinions proudly. I was adamantly sure I was right, after all, weren’t Australian values universal?
Trigger 1: Identity. Terminated.
After a brief stint at NOVA, I changed companies and started working as a ‘dispatch or soccer ball teacher’ (constantly bouncing from one place to another for work).Through my company, I was assigned work at a high school in Japan.
The High School
I had to work in a small team comprised of 3 main teachers and half a dozen Japanese co teachers. The decisions however, were to be made by 3 people. The main Japanese teacher who was the English department coordinator, an American teacher, who was stationed full time there, and me, on a part time schedule.
The Japanese teacher did not like me in the least. The saga of that episode in my life I will detail in another blog. I thought the American teacher and I got along famously but alas, that friendship was only construed from my end. A charred experience of misplaced confidence in what a friendship should entail. Back to the trigger…..
So, the American and Japanese teacher decided without me, that all the students needed a western nickname in order for them to feel more ‘comfortable’ with the language. I did not object at that time because I didn’t see any thing wrong with it.
I was very easy going back then and never wanted to rock the boat. Not socially, not professionally. I only expounded my life philosophies at home where I knew, despite how crazy I may actually be, I will always be loved.
So we set the plan in motion and gave every student a choice of western nicknames which they could choose from a names list. Every student was fine with the idea, except for one girl. She would have been, maybe 13 – 14 years old at that time. She did not want a western nickname. I was teaching her along with the Japanese teacher who didn’t like me, when the confrontation occurred.
The Stand Off
After all the other students chose their nick names, the student remained seated. I asked her to come and chose a name, she shook her head. Then the Japanese teacher lost her patience and demanded she take a name. She refused again. I then said to her that it was okay if she didn’t want a nickname but the Japanese teacher said no, she must take one. She then proceeded to shout at the girl til she started crying. I was rendered impotent at the time, I did not know how to behave, I did not know what else to say.
After that debacle, we had a staff meeting and I asked the American and Japanese teacher to maybe make it optional rather than mandatory to have a western name. They both fired back at me and asked what’s the big deal? I was really easy to intimidate back then because I didn’t want to lose my job and the Japanese teacher could ask for me to be replaced. I then asked the American teacher if she ever studied another language, she said yes. She studied Spanish in high school and Japanese in university. I asked her if she ever had to change her identity to learn the languages, she said no.
That was the first time I understood what it meant to be, for lack of a better term, colonised. It means not having any rights to exercise the option of not giving up your identity, you are coerced to by authorities you cannot override.
Imagine, if during adolescence, a time when you are asserting and discovering who you are in your world, to have teachers tell you, you will be who ever they decide you should be. Any notion that you have the power, to one day voice your opinion and have that matter, is quickly aborted.
Foreigners, especially those who carry western values always lament how subservient and indecisive the Japanese are but they are never willing to admit that they had a hand in shaping them.
Click here to see SCAPIN -16 where the Allied Powers censor free speech in Japan after World War 2. The reverberations of this, is still felt in 2019 where there is almost no negative news regarding Western countries, especially American.
I often think about that girl……she would be a young woman now. I meet a lot of adult students and quite a few would openly admit to not liking English. I wonder how big a role we play in forming that opinion with our self perceived superior Western values in conjunction to the actual fact, that learning anything is difficult.
To read trigger 2, please click here . False Idolisation and demonisation.
To read trigger 3, please click here. Unchangeable Human Nature