Eli Schiff:

It was at this point that the troubling nature of the situation became more clear. It is not simply that it is problematic for whites to use the white emoji, but so too is it racist for them to use the brown shades and the yellow default. In sum, it is racist for whites to use any emoji.

There are two choices going forward: either white users should refrain from using emoji, or an alternative default must be drawn. Perhaps green, blue or purple would be an ideal choice as they don’t have racial connotations.

The problem with using inhuman colors is that unexpected and unwanted correlations might be drawn[1] that are almost as bad as the racial connotations invoked by more natural colors.

From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

Yellow has the benefit of following prior art, which is probably why it remained the default color up to now. Among the earliest implementations of specific graphics rather than repurposed ASCII glyphs, AIM face smilies, also called emoticons[2] were bright yellow.

from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

DoCoMo’s original emoji were bitmapped glyphs, later featuring an expanded set, and didn’t extend to inline images until Deco-mail emoji (デコメ絵文字) specified i-mode compatible image formats. The bitmapped “faces” variously used different shades of blue, purple, red, and green pixels on early mobile color screens to help convey different moods. Negative emotions were generally blue, for example (see: “Disappointed face” or “Dizzy” in the basic set; “Crying”, “Enduring face”, “Tear” in the expanded set) but some had an orange “skin” color (“Ear”, the “Hand” glyphs, and “Foot” in the basic set; “Yumm!”, “He he he”, “Thumbs up” in the expanded set). Deco-mail emoji mostly followed suit.

The people who did the most to promote graphical communication on mobile platforms, the Japanese themselves (aka: “yellow” people) tend not to think of race very much. There are two default settings in Japanese race relations:

  1. Japanese.

  2. Everybody else.

While some individual Japanese do take ethnicity into account, most Japanese treat culture and ethnicity as a package deal, especially in relation to Japan. It’s mostly in the hyper-self-aware West that anyone pays attention to any fine gradations in color.

(See: actual Japanese reactions to Hollywood casting. Many Japanese featured in that video didn’t even consider race to be an issue in casting until it was directly addressed, and the term “whitewashing” even had to be explained.)

While I think it’s generally a good idea to think about making things more inclusive and less discriminatory — I’ve written before about how weird it has been for me to live in a place that is almost entirely mono-ethnic[3] — making the blanket statement that it’s racist to use emoji at all is, frankly, bullshit. It’s like saying that if you are using a language that has grammatical gender you’re being unavoidably sexist.[4]

What happens in reality is that the way people use language has very little to do with its structure. You could take a complete nonsense word or phrase with no antecedent and make it racist or sexist, or create whatever meaning or nuance you desired, depending on context, usage, or the social group using it. We shape language much more than it shapes us; the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is very weakly supported by empiricism. Some of the most sexist and racist cultures on the planet use languages that do not have linguistic gender.[5]

While I obviously disagree with most of what Schiff said, I actually do think that “skin” color in emoji should probably be addressed. I have two proposed solutions:

  1. Make it a non-human color (other than yellow, since that is considered “tainted” now) by default.

  2. Randomly assign a realistic tint.

And then don’t give the user any control whatsoever over it.

I like option 2 because skin color shouldn’t even be an issue any more. “White” people shouldn’t be obsesses about being seen as insensitive, exclusionary, or oooh, being mistaken for the “R” word because they don’t change the default inhuman bright yellow to an anemic rather than jaundiced tint. More understandable, but nearly as petty are the Melanin-Enhanced North-American Residents of Various Ethnic Extractions (MENARoVEE) who might agonize over just the right shade to add to their representative visage.[6]

One of the ways to make the world color-blind is to destroy the distinctions, not ignore them, nor reinforce them.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in a place where everyone looks different from me. I get daily questions about my language, my customs, my clothing, my food, my hair, my skin, my facial features, my size … you get the idea. Racism based on skin color is completely irrelevant when you have actual cultural differences to deal with.

People who are ultra-sensitive about racial and social issues would greatly benefit from living overseas, where agonizing about the color of emoji would be put into perspective as an amazingly petty concern compared to the daily experience of being perpetually different from everyone around them, and being completely powerless to affect changes in society about how people who are “othered” like them are treated.

  1. Unsurprisingly, South Park parodied the hell out of the blue-skinned Na’vi = big-assed Smurf association in their Dances with Smurfs episode.  ↩

  2. Amazingly, the best source of original artwork and the overall history of emoticons I can find is at Know Your Meme, of all sites. Odd source, but it does square with what I remember from actually having used these things from back before the internet was A Thing, back when I was dialing into message boards on a hand-me-down 2400 baud modem … Jesus Christ, I’m old. ↩

  3. Yes, you read that right, that is not a misplaced decimal point. Japan has an estimated native non-ethnic Japanese population of 0.2%, and a (very well) documented foreign resident population of just over 1.2 percent, of which more than half are of East Asian descent, or as some long-term residents — including Asians themselves — call them, “stealth gaijin”.  ↩

  4. Which actually has been asserted unironically.  ↩

  5. Note that there is also a difference between grammatical gender and a sociolect, in which men and women might use language in different ways and may diverge significantly, to the point of becoming a sub-dialect. The linguistic differences reflect the culture, and are almost certainly not the driver of the linguistic separation.  ↩

  6. I have some Native American mixed into my Anglo-American mutt genetic history. The only time it shows is in an odd tint to my skin when I’m actually out in the sun enough to tan significantly. When I was a country kid and ran around nearly naked from when it got warm enough in the spring until early fall when it started to get cold, I used to mix raw sienna and burnt umber with “flesh” crayons to approximate the color.  ↩


One of the most common questions I’m asked by Japanese when I’m meeting them for the first time is「日本に来たとき、どう思いましたか?」or, “What was your first impression of Japan?” I quickly settled on the answer「皆は日本人です。」“Everyone is Japanese.”

This chart from Priceonomics helps explain:

From the Priceonomics Blog post “The Most and Least Diverse Cities in AmericA”

From the Priceonomics Blog post “The Most and Least Diverse Cities in AmericA”

(Via Priceonomics )

I grew up in California. I lived out in the Sierra Nevada foothills as a kid, which are still far less diverse[1] than most of California, but I lived near Sacramento from mid-elementary to a couple of years after graduation. My baseline normal is seeing whites, blacks, hispanics, asians, and an assortment of people of less-easily-categorizable ethnic and national backgrounds around me all the time.

When I walked around my hotel the night I first came to Japan, it struck me: everyone was Japanese. And I do mean everyone. Once you get away from Narita airport, non-Japanese faces become vanishingly rare. Once you get out of the Tokyo area, you might be the foreigner in a town. I had suddenly become a very small minority in a very homogeneous society.

This was an extremely odd feeling for me. While I never lived in a place where whites (and other Anglo-American mutts like me who appear ostensibly white) were an actual minority, there was enough mixing that everyone mostly treated each other like individuals instead of representatives of a racial group. I did have a few minor encounters with racial tensions in school[2], but knowing how teenage males are, I probably would have had similar experiences with analogous assholes even if everyone in the school was racially homogenous.

Being in Japan was my first experience being on the receiving end of openly discriminatory attention. Sometimes, the attention was benign to neutral: curious grandmas following me around commenting to themselves on what I was buying at the supermarket; children running after me, yelling “haro!” eager to try out their English on a real-live foreigner; or gaijin-groupies using me for vicarious contact with the outside world.

Sometimes, the attention was not so nice: police following me for several blocks or going out of their way to “talk” to me (and <ahem> incidentally check my identification); bôsôzoku[3] making overtly threatening gestures at me when they rode by; people saying that they couldn’t understand my English even when I was speaking Japanese (with, I’ve been told, a pretty decent accent); countless nasty remarks, jokes, and incidents of minor violence that I would probably never have had to deal with if I were a Japanese person.

Diversity is going to be a major problem for Japan in the not-so-distant future. The birth rate [4] is still steeply negative, and the elderly proportion of the population is growing as longevity remains one of the highest in the entire developed world. Japan has been dealing with labor shortages for a time scale edging into decades now, and their immigration policies and domestic systems are absolutely not designed to deal with an influx of foreigners.

The last time Japan tried to import labor, they tried offering special work visas preferentially to the descendants of Japanese residing abroad. That didn’t work out as they hoped, since nisei or sansei (first and second generation descendants of Japanese) are culturally no more Japanese than “regular” Brazilians or Peruvians. They actually started offering financial incentives for them to go back to their country of origin. And not come back.

I’ve run into discrimination even as one of the more desirable minorities; Caucasian, educated, employed in an area that competes minimally with Japanese. Japanese society is going to have to adjust drastically to survive with anything approaching the current standard of living intact.

Even notoriously egalitarian Sweden has had riots due to inequality — whether perceived or real — between mainstream Swedes and immigrants. If Japan stops being 98–99% Japanese, I feel pretty comfortable in predicting race riots in less than a generation.

The US has had a long history of dealing with different races and cultures, and still fuck it up constantly. Japan has nearly zero experience with integration and peaceful co-existence. Oh sure, there are Koreans and Chinese in Japan, but being Asian they can usually elect to “pass” as Japanese and even so, integration into Japanese society has not been at all smooth. I do not expect that to change with respect to people who are quite different in appearance and therefore more easily “othered” than ethnic Asians.

  1. At the time, there were more poor to lower-middle income whites than anything else. Now, I’ve heard some old familiar areas referred to as “tweeker hills”, with all of the usual associations you’d have with an area where meth labs are prevalent.  ↩

  2. There were a lot of asian and hispanic gangs in my area, with a few smaller black and white gangs to provide some flavor. Nearly every violent encounter I had in school was with kids who were either in a gang, or wanted to be.  ↩

  3. 暴走族, “violent speed tribe”; members of flashy biker gangs. (“Speed Tribes”, whose title was inspired by bôsôzoku, was a pretty good book, by the way. Captured the zeitgeist of the time.)

    They tended to have right-wing politics and prejudices, i.e.: “throw out all the damn foreigners and take back Japan for Japan”, and cause (mostly) low-level trouble. More ambitious members often ended up in a yakuza family if they “graduated” to grown-up violence. Known membership has fallen significantly in recent years.  ↩

  4. Working link to the referenced paper available here  ↩

Santa Barbara “Shootings”

The first thing to remember about any of these mass killings is: it’s really all about him. Their chosen target group is more or less random, and their victims are seldom actually from the target group. Many of those who are hurt and die have nothing to do with the ostensible obsession of the killer.

These young men — and it is almost always a relatively young man[1] — demonstrate self-loathing, but are at the same time narcissistic. Instead of admitting that they hate themselves, they seek to externalize their pain. They pick a group: blacks, Jews, rich people, poor people, mentally disabled, women — someone they can safely “other”, someone who represents something they fear, or someone who possesses something they covet — and make that group a target for all of their failings, problems (whether real or imagined) and extreme emotions. Then they make grandiose plans.

Mark Sappenfield for the Christian Science Monitor:

… The young men who are overwhelmingly responsible for these shooting sprees fit a very clear portrait: self-obsessed yet marginalized in some way. Their rampages are not fits of senseless rage, but cold, calculating attempts to level the score with society.

In the attempt to become an antihero – to lay bare how they think they have been wronged by others – these men need an audience, and shooting sprees are the ultimate way to get one.

This incident is being framed as a gun control issue, and as a feminist issue, but his first victims were 3 men he stabbed to death. Men, not women. A knife, not a gun.

He attacked those closest to him first; intimates, roommates. This is very common when someone commits violence of any kind. You are most at risk from someone you know well.

According to the timeline of his spree, he was only able to focus himself on his chosen scapegoat group for a very short time, and he was completely unsuccessful in finding a target at the sorority house he visited. He shot three women at random, who just happened to be in the area. He shot another man (who he might have known), and then randomly attacked several more groups of people, both men and women, as he drove around.

Despite the mindshare that mass shootings get in the news, they are a vanishingly small part of the overall landscape of violent crime. Even among firearm murders they comprise “less than one percent of gun murder victims recorded by the FBI in 2010”.[2] Which correlates well with the information in a Pew Research article, “According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics review, homicides that claimed at least three lives accounted for less than 1% of all homicide deaths from 1980 to 2008.”[3]

While #YesAllWomen has shone light on issues that had been ignored or marginalized by too many, and the greater attention paid to those issues is probably a net positive, framing this story as a consequence of misogyny is twisting the facts to fit an ideology. It might be useful for publicity, but it’s not reflective of what actually happened.

The more sad and frightening truth is that women are not in any particular danger from men like Elliot Rodger. Women are most likely to be killed by a current boyfriend or husband, a man who was previously in an intimate relationship with her, or another man she knows well. Serious violence from strangers is relatively uncommon for women.

The reality is that men have the most to fear from men they don’t know well.[4] Women should be most wary of men they have current or prior relationships with.[5]

The violence in Santa Barbara was the product of one disturbed young man’s ideation. It may be reflective of the society itself, but only insomuch as American society glorifies violence in general and dotes on spectacle. Viewed dispassionately, Rodger’s spree has little to do with misogyny; it was a symptom of his pathology, not an underlying cause. His use of a firearm in the commission of some of his crimes may provide an excuse for people to discuss gun control again, but it adds nothing meaningful to the debate. The issues people have chosen to impose on the narrative are mostly spurious.

How do we prevent spree killings? My answer: ignore them. They feed on publicity. But, this hasn’t worked for “celebrity”, so what do I know?

  1. “The average age of the shooters in the incidents identified by CRS was 33.5 years.” Congressional Research Service report, Public Mass Shootings in the United States: Selected Implications for Federal Public Health and Safety Policy
    (PDF)  ↩

  2. Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings (PDF) from the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, pg. 3. (Source via: Journalist’s Resource)  ↩

  3. Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware The downward trend has started to reverse since 2007, but is still generally declining.  ↩

  4. “Males represented 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% of offenders. The victimization rate for males (11.6 per 100,000) was 3 times higher than the rate for females (3.4 per 100,000). The offending rate for males (15.1 per 100,000) was almost 9 times higher than the rate for females (1.7 per 100,000).” And later, “Males were nearly 4 times more likely than females to be murdered in 2008”, which was the most recent year compiled in the report, Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008 (PDF)  ↩

  5. NISVS 2010 Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey  ↩

Oklahoma Considering Throwing out Marriage

It’s being proposed as a bigoted dodge to avoid having to recognize and provide gay marriages, but I think it’s actually an interesting experiment. Ironically, it could end up empirically proving that “marriages” are, in fact, unnecessary if the same goals can be met through other means.

As activist, writer, and fag extraordinaire Dan Savage has often pointed out, the rights of marriage are most necessary at the worst times in your life. Civil partners do not have the same rights as those who are married.

Even with special preparation ahead of time, a civil partner’s asserted legal rights can often be overridden by family, which is not the case in most cases for married spouses. They can be kept from visiting their partner in the hospital. They are not considered next of kin, so cannot make arrangements for a funeral. They do not have automatic and uncontested rights for inheritance, so they can (and have) been kicked out of the home they built with their partner and faced with crushing tax burdens not faced by legally married spouses. They cannot collect social security benefits. And worst of all, their dependent children will be deprived of financial stability at the most stressful time in their lives.

So go ahead, Oklahoma, get rid of marriage. Run an experiment on yourselves. Iron out all the problems in a purely civil system and see how it goes. I honestly and truly hope that it does work, because it will be a precedent for adapting similar measures elsewhere. If civil unions come with the same exact rights as marriage, there will be absolutely no difference between the two except the label. I’ve thought for a long time that there should be a separation between the legal side of marriage and the religious side. This could be the wedge that finally separates the two.

I’m not-so-sorry to say that this trick will probably backfire even if the marriage banning part of the experiment part works out. I really doubt that calling it a civil union, or “breeding couple” or whatever label they come up with will let any system evade the constitutional and legal provisions for equal treatment.

(via @GreatDismal)

I Took off My Hijab

I never questioned that I was being given less respect and love, or that I was not as accepted. I always thought that the type of treatment I was exposed to was just how the world was. I didn’t know people could be nicer…

I pray one day, and soon, that people will be familiar enough with all other cultures and beliefs that they are not afraid or have reservations, and that the thing that stands out to them is not the wrap around my head, but the smile on my face.

If you wear hijab, some people (particularly men) are probably unsure how to interact with you, because they don’t know what the cultural differences are and are afraid of giving offense. Some people may be truly prejudiced and won’t interact with you normally because they don’t like you as a representative of whatever twisted image they have of your culture. Regardless of the reason, by adopting an unusual form of dress, you are choosing to be visibly different, and in virtually every human culture differences draw attention and unequal social treatment.

Wearing hijab, Hasidic hairstyles, bindi, or a cross of ash on your forehead means that you are choosing to send intentionally visible cultural signals. The discrimination faced by those who send such signals is self-created. That doesn’t mean that the discrimination is justified, but it is unquestionably directed toward you due to a choice you have made.

In contrast, someone who has a different appearance often cannot change that. If you are a minority race, have unusual coloring or size, or are in some other way intrinsically different from those around you, you sometimes wish that you could look like everyone else.

I’m an American of mostly European extraction living in Japan. I can’t take off my “hijab”. The difference between me and the people around me is as plain as the (rather prominent) nose on my face. I get treated differently by nearly every single person I come in contact with. I am pointed at, remarked upon, noticed everywhere I go. I have been followed by police who often eye foreigners as potential troublemakers, little old ladies who comment to themselves on what I buy at the supermarket, and groups of little kids who call out, “Hello, gaijin-san!” or “Uwaa, gaijin da!” (Wow, it’s a foreigner!) like I’m a particularly interesting species of animal they’ve only seen at the zoo before. Expats encountering another foreigner also often give some gesture of acknowledgement; a sometimes welcome, sometimes intrusive sign of solidarity.

I don’t complain about these things that often because I know that — in part — I receive such treatment because of a choice I have made: I don’t have to live in Japan. I could, technically, pack up my family and move to the US or another Western country where I wouldn’t be an individual of a tiny 1% expatriate minority in a highly homogenous population. Unfortunately, that is what it would take for me to be treated as everyone else.

I wish Japanese society was much less driven by uchi and soto[1] distinctions, but after more than a decade here, I know I’m not going to change it. All I can do is make personal connections, so that at least some people don’t treat me as a gaijin, but rather as a person who just happens to be non-Japanese.

I wish that the key to being respected, accepted, and treated equally was as simple as choosing not to wear hijab.

  1. 内; uchi inside. 外; soto outside. Uchi carries the added meaning of being part of the group, soto is everyone outside of the group; i.e.: “us” and “them”. A scholarly treatment of the linguistic implications available here  ↩

Racist All Nippon Airlines Commercial

Brian Ashcraft for Kotaku:

In Japan, there is stock imagery for foreigners—nee, gaijin. The imagery consists of blond hair, a large nose, and a comically bad Japanese accent.

The stock imagery described is for “desirable” foreigners: American/European whites. The imagery for blacks and many other ethnicities would probably be called tantamount to hate crimes in many places.

This commercial is as completely tone-deaf as using blackface to promote awareness of Martin Luther King Day would be. The whole point apparently was to show how “international” ANA is. Nice job, guys! Nothing says, “sophisticated and cosmopolitan”, like crude racial stereotyping.

On the other hand, Americans apparently still suck at race relations too, with a recent How I Met Your Mother episode drawing fire for yellowface shenanigans. Oops.

While it’s gotten better in the last few years, Chinese and Koreans were often cast as Japanese with uncomfortable frequency. Compounding the problem is that most Japanese actors and actresses either don’t speak English — or any other languages — well enough to function in non-Japanese films, or have an acting style more suited to native-style melodrama than the more naturalistic performances expected in most of the rest of the world.

Conversely, the handful of Japanese actors and actresses who have been successful abroad often haven’t done particularly well in their home country. Kikuchi Rinko, for example, was nominated for an Academy Award for her outstanding performance in Babel, and has gotten continuing attention internationally since then, but has been virtually ignored in Japan, even after headlining in the kick-ass homage to Japanese monster movies, Pacific Rim (not that many Japanese necessarily recognize the references).


Ryan Surdick for the Japan Times, “There is more to my son than the fact he’s a ‘half’”:

In this context, it’s taken me quite a while to work out what exactly it is about the usage of the word “half” in Japan that bothers me. Though I know people don’t mean any offense by it, there is still a twinge of repulsion when I hear the word. For a long time, I assumed it was just the English connotation influencing my perception of people’s meaning.

However, I’ve come to realize there’s more to it than this. The real problem I have is not with the word itself, but rather what it signifies about the user’s thinking. It’s often one of the first things people say when they meet my son. “Half” immediately becomes the defining characteristic of him to anyone he meets in Japan. And along with this comes a whole host of assumptions.

The problem is that “half” is as far as most Japanese think about it. There are lots of TV-famous “half” tarento, but if you ask what the other half is, most people don’t know. “She’s half Japanese …” and something else.

This is the “other” trap that almost all Japanese fall into simply because they’re not used to dealing with anyone who isn’t Japanese. Where Americans — used to a much more varied population ethnically — would use hyphenated-American, Japanese just leave it at: half-Japanese, half not-from-around-here.

Japanese assumptions toward someone who looks foreign lead them to believe that the person who looks Asian is more capable of speaking Japanese, even after a few exchanges should have made it apparent that the Asian-looking person doesn’t, in fact, understand Japanese at all. I had this exact experience when having dinner with a Chinese-Canadian friend several years ago.

I am asked all the time whether my son speaks Japanese. Of course he’s a native Japanese speaker. He’s growing up in a country where everyone speaks that language exclusively. Because he looks partly foreign, the expectation of most Japanese people is that he doesn’t speak Japanese. This makes no sense if you know even the first thing about languages. I’m actually worried about preserving his English when everyone he encounters outside his home only speaks Japanese. Culture and language are acquired from the people around you, not through inheritance. Unfortunately, many Japanese believe otherwise.

Cultural expectations regarding Japanese ancestry have even affected public policy. The invitation to nisei (二世 second-generation[1]) and sansei (三世, third-generation) Japanese from South American countries — mainly Brazil and Peru which have had strong historical ties to Japan — to come and work in Japan was extended under the assumption that even grandchildren of Japanese would be less disruptive to the wa[2] than bringing in “real” foreigners from Southeast Asia or China. It’s an extension of the same kind of kooky nihonjinron ideas that led to widespread credence in telling personality by blood type, except that usually horoscope reading doesn’t affect something as important as immigration policy (just the President’s schedule) and doesn’t have undertones of racial prejudice.

The belief of the government apparently was that some amount of Japanese blood would make the immigrants more Japanese — even if, in the case of sansei, the closest they had been to Japan was visiting grandparents who had been living abroad for most of their adult lives. Even nisei are culturally less Japanese than I am, since they grew up entirely in another country; at this point, I’ve lived more of my adult life in Japan than in the US.

This policy understandably ended up causing all kinds of problems since, culturally, these people were Brazilian or Peruvian, not Japanese. There were clashes over lifestyle, cultural expectations, and language. Some apartment owners refused to rent to non-Japanese (this kind of discrimination is still a gray area under Japanese law) which led to a certain amount of ghettoization since this limited the places they could live. If anything, the problems were exacerbated by the expectation that nisei “should” act more Japanese because they had Japanese blood.

The Japanese thinking about mixed-ethnicity children bothers me in much the same way it bothers Surdick. Between worries about bullying[3] when my son starts school, and the limiting mindset of the “half” label that will be attached to him his whole life if he grows up here, I’ve given a lot more thought to taking my family back to my native US than I would have if the unconscious discrimination was only directed at me. I can handle it. I’ve been dealing with being a gaijin for a long time, and I started dealing with it as an adult who grew up in a country with a relatively mature attitude towards race-relations. I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to stand up for myself without being a jerk about it, know how to pick my battles, and the maturity not to let the discrimination negatively impact my self-esteem too much.

If we stay in Japan, my son will have to face constant attention and discrimination (both positive and negative) because he looks “different” which will make it much harder for him to be bilingual and bicultural. From what I can see of his personality so far (he’s still only 3) I think that he’s strong enough to adapt, but the more cosmopolitan attitude in the US toward mixed ethnicity would make it almost a non-issue, instead of the overarching facet of his social interactions, the way it would be in Japan.

  1. There’s some ambiguity in English between what constitutes first and second generation immigrants. In Japanese, issei (一世) or “first generation” are always the ethnic Japanese who immigrate to a foreign country, nisei (二世) are the children of issei who are born in that country.  ↩

  2. 和 is one of those nearly untranslatable terms loaded with cultural significance. In a dictionary, you’ll find it translated as “harmony” or “peace”. Ostensibly meaning: being in accordance with your place in the world, it’s also strongly associated with the cultural expectations of group harmony, conformity, and consensus in Japanese society. For far more than you ever wanted to know about wa and other Japanese cultural concepts, read anything by Takie Lebra, who literally wrote the book on many of those subjects and coined terms that are still widely used in Japanese cultural anthropology.  ↩

  3. Ijime is usually translated as “bullying”, but that simple false-equivalence misses the unique flavor of bullying in Japan. Ijime is endemic to all levels in Japanese society. While it has recently become a buzzword in schools and government, I expect the results of any reforms to be about as effective as the reforms to English education, in no small part because of that old adage about fish not realizing that they swim in water. I have personally been witness to so many incidents of physical and verbal abuse perpetrated by Japanese in nearly every level of society that I’ve come in contact with, that I literally can’t remember them all. But I doubt that most Japanese would have counted more than a handful as actual abuse by their standards.  ↩