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Racism in Japan

Konichiwa :),

Although I may not be Japanese, I am part Chinese, and you might think that that automatically gives me an unprecedented sense of social and cultural awareness of people who are Japanese and do live in Japan. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re wrong. (Ah well)

As much as Icelandic people are different from Americans, Japanese people are very different from the rest of the world including to their close neighbors China, Malaysia, Vietnam and likewise other countries in South-East Asia. Despite being a very technologically advanced country (10 bucks you’re using a Samsung Phone right now), Japan is a very small and relatively detached region physically. It sometimes boggles me when seeing it in relation to the other continents/countries on the map.

Map of the world

And in a way, I think this physical characteristic reflects in the way that it is “socially isolated” as well. No, I’m not insinuating that Japan is a “loner”, but it seems that many people (myself included) know little about the social aspects of Japan, but in particular, racism.

What drove me to write this post was a short video I saw the other day by an American school teacher, in which he highlights to his students many of the civil conflicts apparent in the country today. Why? It seems that the students that he teaches are completely oblivious to any sort of discrimination in Japan. When the classed was asked whether or not they think racism exists in the country, a maximum of 2 students would raise their hands out of 40. (that’s 5% bruh) On the other hand, most of them felt perfectly fine in saying that discrimination is solely an American problem.

However, the teacher illustrates in his video that this is clearly not the case, giving numerous examples that insist on the fact that prejudice and discrimination are very (unexpected, yet) prominent issues in Japan. To highlight a few:

  • “A camera so stupidly easy to use, a Korean could do it”

One of the examples pointed out was that among certain groups in Japan, disposable cameras are commonly called “Baka-Chon (馬鹿 朝鮮) Cameras”. Baka (馬鹿) literally means fool, and Chon is an abbreviation of Chōsen (朝鮮) which is a Japanese term for Korea. Thus, describing a camera with these two terms is essentially saying, “This is so stupid even a Korean could use it”, something that may be considered somewhat “rude” an “unadvised” by some. This also doesn’t apply to cameras alone-one can describe anything with this to be honest. Do you have a really easy to use radio and want to practice your Japanese (and feel racist at the same time)? Go a head and call it a Baka Chon radio! (Seriously, don’t though this is just an example).

  • “Leave these people to work with Death”

Secondly and a lot more shockingly was the example the teacher gave of the “Burakumin”. If you were to go back a few centuries in Japan, (To the Eto era, about 300 years ago) You’d find that a caste system was established in Japan. At the top of this social hierarchy you would of course have the emperors, then the Shōgun, the Samurai and so on. Now at the very bottom of this social hierarchy were the people known as “Burakumin”- people who often worked as butchers and undertakers, and other jobs associated with death. For quite imaginable reasons, these people were likewise heavily discriminated against as well, since 300 years ago and counting. Feel free to watch the actual video where again, the teacher goes into a lot more detail about this particular type of discrimination-you’ll find that a very recent and relevant example occurred not too long ago at all.

Photo Credit: SHINICHI SUZUKI

  • “Damn we ran out of measures to defend ourselves from the opposition-grab the outcasts”

Last but not least were the Okinawans (沖縄/うちなー), Japanese people native to the Okinawan Islands of Japan. These people were harshly discriminated against since the past, quite striking was what occurred during World War 2, in which the Okinawans were used as human shields to protect the “superior” soldiers from enemy attacks they faced in intricate tunnel systems established during the war-don’t forget that this was less than only 70 years ago. Again, you’ll see how this discrimination evidently did not remain in the past according to the original video, and quite peculiarly how discrimination is present WITHIN the Okinawan people as well, between the different settlements on the separate Okinawan Islands-we humans are crazy sometimes. Check that out here:

I hope this post served it’s intention of being somewhat informative, and despite my certainty of you (reading this right now) being a lot smarter and generally aware than I am, I am more than sure that you discovered something in this post which you may have not known a few minutes ago. As a little side note, according to a few sources including the original video, the teacher is actually facing considerable hate and harassment for uploading this video (can’t imagine why). However, we must realize that the message he is sending is nothing for anyone to be offended about but rather an opportunity for us to educate ourselves about the inner workings of other cultures and what we can do to combat issues present in them.

Hey, smarter everyday right?

Till next time, just carry on being awesome 🙂

~Azzam Anwar

Poetry

“Where am I?”

“My eyes are fixed in a cold stare,
marveling at the art that I hold in my hands,
as I slowly immerse myself in the words,
deeper,
and deeper,
until I drown,

The cold air around me becomes no more than a feeling,
as wall and ceiling and floor gradually disappear,
I see nothing except ink on paper,
“What was that? I didn’t hear.”

My love and hates and worries dissipate,
as that of others appear in their stead,
“Others” in this world fabricated out of thin air,
and exist nowhere except in my head,

I can’t feel or see or smell them,
and to meet them would blow my mind,
yet I cry when they cry and laugh when they laugh,
could the world be any less kind?

Oblivious am I to my surroundings,
as emotions flood my head,
and swim through my veins and tickle my nerves,
filling me with happiness, or dread,

Which one was up to the holder,
the holder of the pen and the page,
yet I am so oblivious likewise to this,
as I forget my whereabouts for an age,

Then my mind adjusts like one’s eyes in the darkness,
And I’m no longer deaf or blind,
The ink on paper becomes no more than paper and ink,
On which my idle conscious dines,

And suddenly my limbs get lighter,
And the world becomes clear and defined,
And I remember that this story in hand is a fragment of imagination,
And therefore to lose yourself is to never find.”

I wanted to challenge myself by writing a poem about the feeling of losing oneself in a book, and I guess it just evolved into a piece talking about how fictional worlds and characters are really nothing more than that-and isn’t it just weird how we become so occupied with them at times?

Minds are crazy

~Azzam Anwar

Poetry

“O’ My Son”

“There was a time when you would fit in my arms,
And a chair for you were my knees,
What took long to teach you were the simplest of things,
Like how to say thank you and please,

You’d cry when you were hurt and smile when you were glad,
You were so easy to understand,
Making me happy was such an easy task for you,
To see you laugh was just grand,

You grew up in the most wonderful of ways,
Became kinder with every gained inch,
Advice I could give to you with my voice alone,
While other parents had to punch, kick and pinch,

You were great my child-and you are so now,
And I’m sure that won’t change for some time,
Yet be wise with how you use your life,
We often forget that the clock chimes,

Treat others how you want to be treated,
your lips should be fixed in a smile,
never ever forget what’s important,
money won’t bring you a mile,

One day we’ll all be in the ground,
No more than food for the trees,
So what should matter is not what we do now,
But what we are able to leave,

So go out my son, be the best there is,
Because THE WORLD deserves your legacy,
Go and spread joy and love wherever you go,
And be the man I’d hoped..
but never could be.”

~Azzam Anwar

Poetry

“Underwater”

Not unlike a ravenous vulture,
the monster of blue engulfed me,
“It’s no more than a safe adventure”,
I trained my mind to tell me,

It was free-flowing and shapeless and formless,
like the smoke of a thick cigar,
and that smoke continued to force me downwards,
so far,             so far,

It wrapped around me as if in romantic embrace,
causing hairs to brush against skin,
like long grass in a field on a windy day,
elegantly-like a hymn,

It danced up my nose and tasted my hands,
made patterns on the tips of my feet,
a feeling of frightened serenity,
any creature would dream to beat,

Suddenly the monster retreated in a calm withdrawal,
and I tasted it’s form grow thin,
as it gracefully flowed past my body,
stroking top-of-head to chin,

And I returned to the above-surface world, what one would call normal,
where I could see and feel and breathe in,
yet I couldn’t forget that the monster still held half of me,
silently waiting with a grin…

~Azzam Anwar

I imagine that the order of events in this poem may not be too clear, but quite simply it is just a first-person perspective of someone entering the water for the first time, gradually going deeper and eventually resurfacing again to the “world” that he was formerly used to, but which he now finds peculiar.

Poetry

A child’s perspective of day-to-day life in a Palestinian refugee camp

“The sun flirts with my eyelids as they rhythmically flutter open,
the way one falls asleep,
slowly,
then all at once

And in this brief moment do I feel as any other child should,
happy and glad to have seen another day,
yet my condition can evoke none but pathos to an outside viewer,
one that may be described to bring dismay,

I wake not to the smell of eggs and beans,
or bacon piled to the sky,
“Those are dreams” I tell myself,
yet to say they aren’t my desire-no more than a lie,

The putrid scent of decaying flesh felt like velvet,
as it pranced joyfully in the air,
joined by it’s twin evil of low whispers,
mother’s telling children not to despair,

Though of course, to be here is to do little beside it,
as lights of hope grow dim,
the walls are lined with sincere, patient prayers,
yet the times looked no less grim,

I could feel the voices that blanketed the scene,
and the ever sad, sad smiles,
and I ask myself as I do every morning,
Here,
Do I dare open my eyes?”

~ Azzam Anwar