English, Pt. III

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The following ad for the Gaba language school asked Japanese people to fill in the blank: “If I could speak English, I would…” Ads with quotes from “real people” in Japan are often written by copywriters, but even if these aren’t actual answers, the responses provide a glimpse into the process of a Japanese company selling English to possible customers. Click on ad to see a larger picture.

gababig

Here is a translation of the first several responses:

I would live in Hawaii with lots of dogs.
I would go by myself to shop in London antique shops.
I would eat all the desserts in the world!
I would go to [my company]’s foreign office and become project leader.
I would buy the materials for aroma therapy and mix them myself.
I would open a shiatsu massage parlor in Hollywood for celebrities.
I would lecture the loud foreigners on the train.
I would raise my children in America: one will be an artist, one a computer programmer.
I would go work in a foreign marketing firm.
I would start a dental office for foreigners.
I would run a surf shop in the Gold Coast.
I would live in a house where I could wake up and dive right into the pool.
I would want to increase my income by 100x.
I would publish a weekly manga magazine in the English language world.
I would look for a job in California that would end in the evening and I could go to in shorts.
I would do a satisfying amount of experiments at an American company that provided research money.
I would become a wife of a foreigner and raise kids in California.
I would become a buyer using my own tastes and fly around to all the world’s fashion shows.
I would challenge myself in New Zealand’s pro rugby league.
I would go across America on my graduation trip.
After I retired, I would go live with my wife in Canada.
I would watch DVDs without subtitles.
I would watch musical after musical on Broadway in NY.
I would become the world’s expert on the JFK mystery.
I would lead global-level M&As and retire in my 30s.
In the future, I would want to not be isolated from my friends in the Space Station.
I would introduce Japanese traditional arts to the world, ceramics and knitting.
I would make all my subordinates Americans and start a hamburger joint with great atmosphere.

Seeing that most of these answers have little to do with English itself, for a certain segment of the population, English language ability appears to become a psychological barrier to dream fulfillment. For example, why can’t you raise your children as artists and computer programmers in Japan? Why can’t you live in a house in Thailand where you dive right into the pool when you wake up? Why can’t the guy yell at the loud foreigners on the train in Japanese? Whether these tasks are impossible in Japan or even possible in America, this ad posits that there are Japanese who feel that a lack of English prevents them from leaving Japan and the expectations/limitations of Japanese society. A far cry from “not wanting to learn English” (so thinks Momus), English ability embodies the realization of impossible dreams for the upwardly mobile. Or in another light, they are blaming their pedestrian lives on their lack of English ability. Regardless, the ad is preying on a Japanese “English complex,” which the company assumes to exist and hopes to exploit.

Towards the end, there’s one more interesting entry:

“I would become a real B-boy.”

The Postmodernists love to claim that Japan is ideal because there is no concept of “authenticity” (an elitist form of subtle discrimination!), but if this is a real quote, perhaps we can extrapolate that the Japanese are aware of the demands for authenticity, but choose to ignore them because they have no other choice. To even begin exploration in hip hop, they must abandon the idea of “keepin’ it real.” For this one (possibly imaginary) hip hop fan, only those with links to the mother tongue can be “real B-boys”: are the Japanese-only types “fake”?

W. David MARX (Marxy)
March 15, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

86 Responses

  1. Momus Says:

    Seeing that most of these answers have little to do with English itself, for a certain segment of the population, English language ability appears to become a psychological barrier to dream fulfillment.

    If I asked you “Tell me some of the things you’d do if you could walk on the ceiling?” you might say something like “I’d breakdance up there and astonish everyone who comes to my live show.” Would that mean that lack of ceiling-walking ability was a psychological barrier to dream fulfillment? Not at all. It would just mean that when someone asks you to speculate on a “What if?” proposition, you enter fantasy mode and tell me some of your dreams.

    As for the “real b-boy” comment, it’s one of the key elements of faking things that we fake authenticity rather than faking fakeness (whatever that might mean). So becoming a “real” b-boy by adding one more element is not inconsistent with still being a fake b-boy, and being quite aware of that fact, and perfectly happy with it.

    In fact, since b-boy is an 80s term, it would be possible to argue that even a black in the Bronx couldn’t be a “real” b-boy today. Authenticity is slippery and relative, a receding horizon, and sometimes the only “guarantors” of authenticity are things completely external to the question of realness itself: my threat to beat you up if you doubt my authenticity, or your habit of thinking of me as “real”, or an unthinking concensus about the “realness” of the thing concerned.

  2. marxy Says:

    In fact, since b-boy is an 80s term, it would be possible to argue that even a black in the Bronx couldn’t be a “real” b-boy today.

    I know that you don’t believe in authenticity, but there are some Philistines out there who still believe it’s a real functioning thing and use it to guard against the barbarians. Whether the B-boys in the Bronx are “real” or not, what if some Japanese still believe they are “real”?

    Would that mean that lack of ceiling-walking ability was a psychological barrier to dream fulfillment? Not at all. It would just mean that when someone asks you to speculate on a “What if?” proposition, you enter fantasy mode and tell me some of your dreams.

    But don’t you find it odd that “speaking English” is something akin to walking on the ceiling – a fantasy-type situation? If you asked a French person what he would do if could speak Japanese, would he/she say, “I would finally be able to raise artistic kids”?

  3. Momus Says:

    You’re talking about advertising. Advertising has a product we don’t have, and tries to make us fantasize about having it. Do I think it odd that a picture of a glass of beer or a pretty girl is a fantasy-type situation when I’m sitting on a train? Not at all. That’s how advertising works. The English language is just another product here. Raising artistic kids is a fairly standard Japanese fantasy scenario. It appeals to women, and according to the semiotics of Japanese advertising can be achieved as easily by buying a new car or foodstuff as learning a language. Indulging children is a Japanese vision of happiness.

  4. marxy Says:

    Yes, but my point again: don’t you think it’s odd that the English language can become such an item of fantasy? Or at least, an item on which fantasies can be plausibly attached?

  5. marxy Says:

    Wouldn’t the equivalent American ad be one for the lottery: if you won a million dollars, you would…?

  6. Momus Says:

    Well, the fact is we’ve been living for several decades in a world system in which the US and the English language have established a hegemony. This hegemony does propose itself as “freedom” and “the dream”. Notice the comment about “I could watch DVDs without subtitles”, as if a DVD were automatically a Hollywood movie. This is simply a response to that hegemonic situation.

    However, despite the illusions offered by these hegemonic dreams, it’s by no means a clear advantage to be a native English-speaker, or a clear disadvantage not to be. English speakers have no incentive to learn about other cultures and learn other languages. They tend to assume that their ways of doing things are “the real way” or “the right way”, that they’re “ahead” of everyone else, that others will “catch up”. This makes them stolid and stupid, with poor understanding of cultural issues and cultural relativism. It can also, when their politics swing right, make them into bullies and imperialists.

    The likes of Alex Kerr keep telling us that, on the one hand, Japan should keep its traditional culture (for internal and external tourism), but that on the other hand, Japan should open up to English as well as to foreign labour and capital. My counter-argument is that Japan’s advanced postmodernism (the very thing Kerr demonises) and its relativism and plasticity (in other words, its freedom from a stupefying sense that it is central, or real, or right) put it in a unique position to pioneer, for the whole world, the thing that comes after postmodernism. Japan is ahead, not behind. It is hegemonic powers like the US which are now behind, completely lacking in cultural understanding, nibleness, and flexibility.

  7. Momus Says:

    nimbleness

  8. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I thought nibleness seemed more intriguing.

    Does Kerr really say that about Kyoto? Most people who have lived for any length of time in Kyoto are weary of tourists and dread the peak days of the main seasons. Seems weird he’d want to encourage more Kyoto. Maybe tourism to other parts of Japan and give Kyoto a bit of a breather, perhaps?

    Even the strong “preservationist” foreigners I know look upon tourism as a threat to traditional culture than as a means of saving it.

    There’s also a difference between what you see as preservation/tradition and the actuality of a living continuous cultural form, which may appear archaic to us as westerners, but read according to its own internal system can be viewed as advanced and high-tech as anything that has been developed in the current dominant global culture. I’m thinking of dramatic forms, crafts, gardening, and architecture etc… And this has little to do with post-modernism. OK it may be dealt with by some post-colonial thinkers, but I really haven’t bothered with these, for most of my adult life I’ve been more of a get-on-a-plane type of cultural experimentalist.

  9. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    And I still think you’d save yourself a lot of breath (hot air?), Momus, if you’d read Kerr’s first book.

    I’m not necessarily saying I agree with his approach of views. And I’ve never read D&D because I object to it on principle. I am saying that you underestimate Kerr’s understanding of Japan.

  10. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Unfortunately (because I like the Japanese Japan and prefer to keep it for me and my friends) Japan has little alternative but to start importing more foreign labour. It has started to happen with caretakers from various parts of SE Asia. The question is how will Japan do this, and what will be the consequences.

  11. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Did someone say the “Japanese are not interested in learning English”.

    My suggestion is to make a serious effort to learn Japanese in Japan. You will soon find out how desperate some people can be for free 英会話。

  12. r. Says:

    the discourse on language and hegemony is as old as language itself. a venerable example of this is of course to be found in plato’s “gorgias” where he is attacking the rhetoric of the emergent class of “professional philosopers”. his reasons for doing this are subtle and complex, but the main thrust of his argument is that rhetoric can sway the passions with ease, even if what is being said bears no locial weight.

    naturally, the rhetoric that being sold door-to-door in athens was being used to catapult a whole generation of political leaders and public officials to the top-tiers of their professions. in plato’s “gorgias”, there is a palpable tenor of the fear and anxiety in voices of these men, since they know that without the mighty linguistic Mjollnr of rhetoric, they would face certain defeat by their rivals.

    fast forward 2000 years. there is in the late 20th century it has become the cause celebre that it has simply because of the new paradox of globalized hegemonies. the importance of this cannot be stressed enough. local hegemonies (of any kind, linguistic or otherwise) can be malgnant, indeed. but if they are virulent(as is the current american form of TOTAL hegemony), they can cause a legion of new and unforseen problems.

    i:ve had occasion to mention this previously, but even the amiable, peace-loving gandhi railed against the effects of the british empire’s (a proto-global hegemony, along with its precursors in spain, france, and portugal) use of english in india in a famous speech from 1916. allow me to quote at lenght:

    “our language is the reflection of ourselves, and if you tell me that our languages are too poor to express the best thought, then i say that the sooner we are wiped out of existence the better for us. is there a man who dreams that english can ever become the national language of india? (cries of ‘never’.) why this handicap on the nation? just consider for one moment what an unequal race our lads have to run with every english lad. i had the privilege of a close conversation with some poona professors. they assured me that every indian youth, because he reached his knowledge through the english language, lost at least six precious years of life. multiply that by the number of students turned out by our schools and colleges, and find out for yourselves how many thousand years have been lost to the nation. [this is something that i hinted at in an earlier email regarding japan and the english ‘business’] the charge agains us is that we have no initiative. how can we have any if we are to to devote the precious years of our life to the mastery of a foreign tongue?…

    the only education we receive is english education. surely we must show something for it. but suppose that we had been receiving during the past fify years education through our vernaculars, what should we have today? we should have today a free india, we should have our educated men, not as if they were foreigners in their own land but speaking to the heart of the nation; they would be working amongst the poorest of the poor, and whatever they would have gained during the past fify years would be a heriage for the nation. (applause…)”

    – mahatma gandhi: ‘there is no salvation for india’

    it is apparent that the situations in india one hundred years ago and the situation in ancient greece where quite different, but the thread of “language = power, but at what cost?” seems to run through both examples.

    even more comparable is the how the sentiments that gandhi were expressing might serve as a novel ‘decoder’ for the present situation in japan. understand that i:m not saying that his words are universally applicable, but indeed they seem to resonate with issues that lie hidden deep at the heart of this uniquely japanese cultural phenomenon.

  13. r. Says:

    wow…this line somehow got totally mangled

    >there is in the late 20th century it has become >the cause celebre that it has simply because of >the new paradox of globalized hegemonies.

    i should have said something with more “nibleness” like…

    “here in the late 20th century, it has become the cause celebre that it IS simply because of the new paradox of globalized hegemonies.”

    not that THIS makes much more sense, but at least you can read it. whew…

  14. marxy Says:

    Did someone say the “Japanese are not interested in learning English”.

    Momus did. That’s his explanation for their lack of English skills.

    Japan has little alternative but to start importing more foreign labour.

    No way, man! They’re building robots before they import Southeast Asians!

    And I’ve never read D&D because I object to it on principle.

    I think the book’s a good catalog of Japan’s problems, but deeper analysis of those problems is up to you. It’s not like Japan isn’t a construction state or doesn’t have too many dams.

    My counter-argument is that Japan’s advanced postmodernism and its relativism and plasticity put it in a unique position to pioneer, for the whole world, the thing that comes after postmodernism.

    In theory, yes, but Japan’s own narcissism keeps it from understanding the world enough to lead it. As much as I can learn from Japan by learning Japanese (which I have), the Japanese should also learn from the rest of the world by learning English. Not because Anglo civilization is the most important, but because you can communicate with Southeast Asians, Eastern Europeans, etc. etc, in English. Also this would allow the average citizen to go around mediated sources of information instead of relying on the Japanese language media for international ideas. How can a nation truly be “international” if it needs all ideas to go through a cultural filter? Did the Dutch Internationalists of the 20s need someone to translate everything into Dutch?

    At the end of the day, Momus, I think we are both attracted to Japan’s postmodernism, but I’m very skeptical that the current socioeconomic conditions will keep Japan the most “advanced” country technologically and socially. (I also am skeptical about the fundamental structures making Japan appear to possess the “postmodern condition,” but let’s save that for another day.) I fear their increased isolation is bad for them and bad for us.

    As for Gandhi, I don’t think anyone’s saying that Japanese needs to be abandoned, but if the rest of the world is learning English on top of their native tongue, nations without English ability will be naturally isolated. As an American, I am lucky to have been born into the English-speaking world, but I have been very happy to study Japanese for the last eight years. Learning another language is never bad, even if it’s the “hegemonic” one.

  15. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    No way, man! They’re building robots before they import Southeast Asians!

    Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahaha!

  16. r. Says:

    i agree with everything that nick said in his paragraph that beings and ends as follows…

    “English speakers have no incentive to learn about other cultures and learn other languages…bullies and imperialists.”

    and that is part of my reason for trying to master japanese. actually i calk about what i:m really trying to do in an essay that i:m currently writing, which is to have the japanese language (notice i did not say the culture or the people, although i DO recognize the total synthesis of these three) master ME, but i don:t have time to go into the nitty-gritty here.

    the practical ‘gains’ of “linguistic slumming” your way down to some of the lower rungs on the ladder of language hierarchy are legion. allow me to both specify with a few (semi-twisted) examples and then formulate with a rule.

    example: because i speak japanese, i can live in a country where, when i go to a place like TSUTAYA (the biggest media rental chain) i can get every movie made here in japan (most of which don:t have english subtitles, not that i would read them anyway) PLUS all the movies made in america, PLUS all the movies made in europe. in all of my travles, i:ve never been to another place like this. contrast this with someplace like BLOCKBUSTER in america, and i:m sure the advantages are clear.

    and here is the rule: the lower down you go (to a point) on the ladder of language hierarchy, the highter the amount of info/data you can see “above” you. if you are a “native” of a lower rung, a phychological pressure also forms to be “responsible” for knowing the upper rungs, and even a few rungs below you, just so that you can have something to view as “quaint”.

    sorry, i:m painting with a big brush here, boys. i hope you:ll help me fill in a few of the strokes with your comments.

  17. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    r. The practical aspects of your post make sense, but I think you are going to have to define what you mean by language hierarchy and then explain exactly why learning a non-Anglo language is described as slumming. BTW can someone tell me what the opposite of “slumming” is?

  18. Momus Says:

    The Tsutaya-Blockbuster example is a good one. I’m torn between two positions on this, though. The “Universal” position and the “Flavour” position. (We could call them the Global position and the Local position too.) Is it better to make a human (or a computer character, or a synthesizer, for that matter) “rounded” or to leave him flat? Do you want your synth to sound like anything in the world, or like a synth? Well, the simple answer is “I want my synth to sound like anything, including a synth.” And the parallel in terms of “global/local” would be “I want to be glocal: I want to come from somewhere, but be able to visit everywhere.” But we have to ask ourselves whether this is possible. Flavour is not just about coming from somewhere, it’s about staying there. It’s very difficult to have freedom and also have flavour. People often doubt that I’m a Scot, and I doubt it myself. Being hybrid is great, sure, but in terms of flavour it’s a bit like being a cocktail. There’s a confusion, a muddiness about it.

    One thing I’ve noticed, thinking about things like the virtue of high density living, is that these things only work when they’re embraced out of necessity. Nobody embraces them when they’re free to live in other, less virtuous, ways. Given a choice, people throw the baby out with the bathwater. My fear is that a Japan in which everyone spoke flawless English would be a Japan in which all sorts of fantastic babies had been thrown out with the “bathwater” of a certain provincialism of the mind.

  19. marxy Says:

    My fear is that a Japan in which everyone spoke flawless English would be a Japan in which all sorts of fantastic babies had been thrown out with the “bathwater” of a certain provincialism of the mind.

    Okay, so you don’t want Japanese people speaking English, and last time I checked, you were essentially against non-Japanese learning Japanese. So, you’re anti-verbal communication.

    I learned Japanese because with Japanese and English I can pretty much navigate most a vast majority of international culture. As Robert said, being able to read/speak Japanese means access to a well-curated cultural world. (Except I tried to watch a Godard movie with Japanese subtitles and my head hurt afterwards for a week.)

    I don’t know why this discussion has to be so extreme: English isn’t just a tool of colonialism. Even these English language companies are not trying to sell the abandoment of Japanese for English; they are trying to sell Japanese-plus-English. Don’t you want Japan also be Glocal instead of just a destination? Why aren’t you against the Chinese learning English?

  20. Momus Says:

    I’m mostly against the Chinese driving cars! But I think the Chinese and the Americans resemble each other. They’re both massively pragmatic and materialistic. In a sense (and this is a bit sweeping, I know) there’s not much to lose if they make a hybrid culture. But the Japanese are very different, and I want them to preserve their difference. They seem to want that too.

  21. marxy Says:

    In a sense (and this is a bit sweeping, I know) there’s not much to lose if they make a hybrid culture. But the Japanese are very different, and I want them to preserve their difference. They seem to want that too.

    Here’s where things get confusing: haven’t we already established that Japanese culture is the ultimate hybrid culture? Isn’t Kyoto just a Japanese adaptation of Chinese culture not “inherently” Japanese?

    And if they love their culture so much, why do they continue to knock down all their tradtional architecture to build Western-looking apartment complexes?

    When all is said in done, those in power want to protect their position more than protect their culture. They love Japanese culture as long as it fits the agenda.

  22. r. Says:

    comments on a few things said by nick and david.

    david said…

    English isn’t just a tool of colonialism. Even these English language companies are not trying to sell the abandoment of Japanese for English; they are trying to sell Japanese-plus-English.

    and i say…

    but david, there is something ELSE that they are selling bundled with the english language as big business (and as the voice of cultural authority), and that is the UNWRITTEN rule that american english is THE correct english as opposed to british english, or canadian english -hi jean- or english from india…which by the way i:ve always found to be the most superb english i:ve ever heard spoken in terms of grammar.

    basically, if you are studying english “seriously” (i.e. paying for it) i think there is some little looped voice in the mind of these kids saying…”america = english, english = cool, cool = me, me = america” and then some shitty gershwin number starts up and the whole thing goes to shit and you get kids who wind up feeling this big pressure to just BE in the states.

    the posterboy for NHK:s english 講座 is george williams (that pink headed little squirt), and we know that it will never be anyone who isn:t american, or can:t at least fake an american accent. i don:t like it, but that is the way it is. i:d say that over 80% of the kids over here, if given a choice, will choose to study what they THINK is american english (really just an accent and shitty punctuation)over any other kind.

    of course that is one group.

    the other group (most of my japanese friends) are into OTHER kind of english, or that is to say, they are into european english or canadian english or whatever. some of them are consciously saying “what i:m doing is slightly alternative” and some of them just want to live in paris cuz they think it is like that Godard movie with Japanese subtitles that made your head hurt…

    but actually japanese people also kind of love this feeling and then you wind up getting people like kahimi and takako minekawa fighting over a shitty part time job at a french govt. dive in tokyo (cool at that time), moving to paris and exploring that city and europe not in french, but in english. this is where things get really strange because they (and tujiko and now mai ueda) will pass nick in mid-air as they are playing a game of musical countries and that is why nobody can really fall in love with anybody else. but at least the heart break makes for some good pop songs.

    but i kind of love this group, since they will have some very alt. experiences and do what nick is suggesting and travel sideways along the language hierarchy instead of up and down. i like sideways better than up and down, don:t you?

    actually, i was very, very interested when my nigga sawako moved to NYC last year at the peak time when you couldn:t have paid me enough money to live in that country. i haven:t talked to her about it yet, but i:d love to pick her brain on what she is going thru over there. but then again, NYC isn:t really america in the first place, it kind of IS better than america, so i:m not sure what the hell i:m saying.

  23. marxy Says:

    1) American English proportionally has more native speakers than British English, no?

    2) Japan is closer geographically and historically to the United States than Britain.

    3) In general, we learn the dominant holder of power’s dialect. We learn Tokyo Japanese not Kansai-ben.

    the posterboy for NHK:s english is george williams (that pink headed little squirt)

    If Japan hated English as much as Momus thinks, they would burn talentless hacks like him at the stake instead of putting them on TV once a day.

  24. Momus Says:

    Don’t you see, Marxy, they’re humiliating the entire racial-linguistic block by exhibiting a clown once a day as its representative?

  25. marxy Says:

    You only bring up The Conspiracy when it agrees with your agenda.

  26. r. Says:

    marxy said,

    1)American English proportionally has more native speakers than British English, no?

    and i say,

    but isn’t it kind of strange that the english voice that we hear the shinkansen, flagship of japanese technology that it is supposed to be, is british, and not american? what is that telling us? i wonder what accent the english voice in the new maglev trains (more advanced than the shinkansen) will have…

  27. trevor Says:

    there was infact.. though i can’t remeber if it was ny or tx, where the ad campain for the lottry was infact. “what would *you* do?”
    before witch they showed some one winning the lottery, and doing all kinds of excessively stupid stuff.

  28. r. Says:

    here are a bunch of random notes based on a re-read i did on the yamanote line of a print out of everything david and nick had penned here up until the time i left my studio:

    nick says: since b-boy is an 80s term, it would be possible to argue that even a black in the Bronx couldn’t be a “real” b-boy today.

    and to this robert says: true. i’d like to add that since the term b-boy was born, like nick says, back in the 80s, a time when all the b-boys were black, the associations with race that caried thru into the late 90s were obviously out-dated, even though they were all-pervasive. in the beginning, everyone that had the ‘sprit’ of b-boyness were black. now this sprit is held by others in all parts of the world. AFRA in osaka is a good example. DOS ONE in america is another. TTC in paris is another. race doesn’t matter at all, if, as cheesy as it sounds, you’ve got what it takes on the inside. that being said, i would like to hear marxy rap in japanese.

    david says: No way, man! They’re building robots before they import Southeast Asians [to solve the labor shortage]!

    and i say: well, actually, it is my theory that they are going to probably go to brazil, where hundreds of thousands of 3rd and 4th generation japanese-speaking (but not reading or writing) japanese-brazilians live. koizumi has been courting the immigrant population of brazil now for several years. (in case some of you out there don’t know, there was a HUGE influx of japanese from japan to brazil from 1907, most of them leaving from the jumping-off point in kobe, from a multi-story building kind of like the ellis island of japan, and has now been reformed into a center for underground arts and music) i think they will opt for a blue colar, menial/memeial semi-fluent, quasi-japanse slave-like labor force from south america much sooner than they would ever dream of asking their fellow asians, most of whom still hold lingering hatred against japan for its wartime colonial horrors. although i think asimov was right on the money, we aren’t “i robot” level yet, and importing human drones is still cheeper. the fact that they are language functional (unlike euro/amerian workers) is a big plus. probably won’t be given any rights though. in fact, there are already growning towns of mostly south american nationals in areas like saitama and guma, employed at the big factories of the major electronics companies to do blue colar jobs at a min. wage w/no benifits.

    david said: Japan’s own narcissism keeps it from understanding the world enough to lead it.

    i hope japan never is aware enough of its own narcissism to lead anyone…other than by example. we have no war here. if you also want to have no war that is ok with us. we promise to be the first country NOT to kill you. that works in a strange way.

    here is a strange aside…let’s imagine that one day in the not-too-distant future, intelligent extra-terrestrial life is discovered. after a few initial friendly contacts, some peace treaties are signed and they aliens can visit us here on earth. the president of earth desides that we need to build a little welcome kiosk somewhere near pluto to welcome our new visitors. also suppose that for some reason, only the little space kiosk can only hold two humans. who should the president choose from a vast panolpy of world-citizens of all the various countries to man (woman) the booth? why of course one japanese…and one american. why? well the japanese will organize all of the data of mankind and culture and history into little modular, benign, non-judgemental, bite-sized, ultra-cute forms, and be there every morning right on time to open up the booth and provide very polite “annai” to all the green aliens. the american counterpart will roll in around noon, slight buzz, and when the japanese goes on lunch break to have space-sushi in a little solar-bento back, and will proceed to call bullshit on everything his co-worker has just said, and tell them everything that wasn’t included in the data base. this would be a pretty good booth, i think.

    david also said: At the end of the day, Momus, I think we are both attracted to Japan’s postmodernism, but I’m very skeptical that the current socioeconomic conditions will keep Japan the most “advanced” country technologically and socially. (I also am skeptical about the fundamental structures making Japan appear to possess the “postmodern condition,” but let’s save that for another day.)

    and robert says: the only people on earth that don’t know that the japanese are post-modern are the japanese themselves, and even THEY are finally beginning to catch on…and THAT is precisely what makes nick squirm!

    sparklinbeatnic wrote: language hierarchy and then explain exactly why learning a non-Anglo language is described as slumming. BTW can someone tell me what the opposite of “slumming” is?

    language hierarchy is exactly what it sounds like…”my language can beat-up your language”…linguistic “slumming” is exactly what it sounds like, just paint yourself a colorful metaphor with sex tourism in places like thailand by fat white guys, and i’m sure you’ll get the jist.

    oh, the opposite of “slumming” is being a linguistic prude. here are two stunning essays that sum up this position:

    staying foreign in japan
    http://www.japantoday.com/e/?content=comment&id=712

    why momus doesn’t speak japanese
    http://www.livejournal.com/users/imomus/32969.html

    i proposed a solution to this situation a while back

    take a walk on the wild side
    http://glitchslaptko.blogspot.com/2005/02/take-walk-on-wild-side.html

  29. r. Says:

    by the way, i do like the word
    wannaB-boys

  30. marxy Says:

    1) AFRA gets a lot of cred because he lived in NYC and speaks English. He’s also the nicest human being ever.

    2) They didn’t actually like importing Japanese-Brazilians either, so they’re betting the whole barn on Asimo.

    3) If Japan is so fundamentally anti-war, why is the ruling party so hungry to get rid of Article 9?

  31. Brad Says:

    I used to live in Hamamatsu, in Shizuoka and it has the world’s largest population of Brazilians outside of Brazil. They all work at the Yamaha, Suzuki, etc. factories at minimum wage and they get no benefits. Let me tell you from firsthand experience, they are not well liked. Pretty much every crime that takes place is reflexively blamed on one of the Brazilians. They are not really invited to join in or integrate into life in the area. They are seen as a necessary evil.

    I agree with marxy. They’ll build vast armies of robot workers to do all the menial tasks before they’ll import workers from South America or SE Asia.

  32. Chris_B Says:

    I hopped on this one rather late, but considering the detours the posts have taken away from the topic its just as well for me.

    marxy: the original post was interesting. As for the followup, I got a chuckle out of the robots comment.

    r: word. the ghandi example was a good one, but I’d counter that a fair ammount of time is “wasted” in the early education years here learning to write. That however is something for another time and I’m very probably looking at it from an Enlightenment Imperialist viewpoint.

    sparkling: give D&D a read, Kerr raises some interesting points.

    momus: I just cant follow your writings on Japan at all. There is no internal consistancy, just blind adoration. Its like you are in love with someone even though they blow the bartender when you take them out for drinks. About other topics you are quite lucid and often interesting. The flavor/authenticity topic needs examination from a variety of perspectives. I’d be interested to hear your take on it.

    Generally: This advertisement uses a tried and true technique of selling product/service based on an implied promise of dream fulfillment. Its a good ad. It works well in the sense that lots of people here really do feel that they could advance their lives if they could speak English. This fact is evidenced by the scale of the various industries geared towards learning English, not just the eikaiwagakko & eikaiwakissa, but also there are entire publishing companies whose output of books and magazines is devoted solely to that topic.

    It doesnt really matter if those responses real or catch copy, as long as they catch some aspect of the potential customers desires. Looks to me like they covered a very broad range.

    Notice also that the ad itself is all in Japanese. Seems to me this implies that the target customer can’t read English to begin with.

  33. Momus Says:

    momus: I just cant follow your writings on Japan at all.

    It’s amusing that you then go on to say:

    Generally: This advertisement uses a tried and true technique of selling product/service based on an implied promise of dream fulfillment.

    Which is exactly what I was saying about the ad in question.

  34. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    sparkling: give D&D a read, Kerr raises some interesting points.

    I’ve either read work by or spent time with many of Kerr’s sources. A quick browse indicated that the book would not tell me anything new.

    My first couple of years in Japan I met all kinds of people (mostly Japanese) involved in NGOs of all kinds, environmentalism, alternative education, rights for discriminated classes, left-wing politicos, alternative urban planning groups, slow lifers (long before slow life hit the press, and I’ve met the founder of the movement). I don’t know how that happened. I’m not really the activist type myself. It’s just the way mid-to-late-90’s Kyoto was. It was like the 60’s here or something. It seems to have calmed down in the last couple of years. But in the process I heard a lot of thoughtful Japanese people and their gripes about Japan. Kerr (and I’ve been at his house too) wouldn’t really tell me much I don’t know.

    What I object too, is that Kerr doesn’t attack a country in much worse shape: his own.

  35. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    r. Sorry but, I think only an American could come up with a statement like “my language can beat up on your language.”

    I do wonder about the meaning of that statement.

  36. marxy Says:

    What I object too, is that Kerr doesn’t attack a country in much worse shape: his own.

    I think Kerr would argue that America has a madman at the helm, whereas Japan is structurally unsound to start with. If Gore had won the election in 2000, would you still be complaining about America? How many times in the last 50 years has the LDP not been in power?

  37. marxy Says:

    Also, wasn’t Dogs and Demons written pre-Iraq invasion?

  38. marxy Says:

    Brad wrote:
    I used to live in Hamamatsu, in Shizuoka and it has the world’s largest population of Brazilians outside of Brazil. …They are not really invited to join in or integrate into life in the area. They are seen as a necessary evil.

    The Japanese government thought that their Japanese blood would mean natural adherence to Japanese culture and norms, but oops, they are South Americans.

    I was talking today with a magazine editor, and he suggested that Japan’s national purpose was nothing other than to preserve the Japanese race. Therefore, they are faced with the following dilemna; how can we save our country if that means destroying our race? There are Americans who view America/white people in the same way and we call them “racists.”

  39. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I think America is in worse shape than Japan because even the well-educated, intelligent, thoughtful people seem to be capable of saying things like “my language can beat up on your language”.

    Bush is just the manifestation of deep-seated problems that are decades old.

  40. Chris_B Says:

    sparklingbeatnic said: What I object too, is that Kerr doesn’t attack a country in much worse shape: his own.

    Why should he? Really? His credentials as an author on the subject of Japan are that he has lived here a long time and has connections here. Seems that would in a way disqualify him to write about the USA, but maybe thats just me and my Enlightenment thinking again.

    Also, why did you use the word “attack”? Are you trying to validate your own feelings about the USA by hoping a published author would compose a missive sympathizing with your opinion?

    Not to speak for r, but are you aware that “my [noun] can beat up your [noun]” is a part of the standard vocabulary of any American playground? It is indeed something that perhaps only an American would come up with.

    r: on second reading that made me chuckle, thanks. Also nice reference to the hammer of Thor.

    marxy questioned: Also, wasn’t Dogs and Demons written pre-Iraq invasion?

    Yes, but what does that have to do with anything? Your observation about the LDP’s long stay in power was valid in context. The “madman” comment just kind of made me laugh.

    trevor: I think I remember those lotto ads from NY. They were funny. They showed things that were obviously outrageous and would not really contribute to advancing the lives of the “winners”.

  41. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    my [noun] can beat up your [noun]” is a part of the standard vocabulary of any American playground?

    As I said, Chris_B, the problems run deep.

  42. Chris_B Says:

    You crack me up! Where are you from anyways? And how is the air up there anyhow?

  43. Momus Says:

    I’m perfectly amazed that Marxy thinks that none of us would complain about America if Gore had won in 2000, and yet that Japan would be a structurally unsound and racist state no matter who was Prime Minister! I’m amazed, above all, that his American patriotism never seems to flag or fail, no matter how appalling the US becomes. What would he be saying about Japan if it had invaded two countries in the last four years and was currently threatening two others? Does he think that the people around the world (and polls show they’re now a majority) who think that the US poses the biggest threat to peace and prosperity are raving lunatics?

  44. Chris_B Says:

    Thats the ticket Momus! Never let logic get in the way of a good rant!

  45. Momus Says:

    This is not a rant, it’s a continuation of sparklig’s point above, and a direct response to Marxy’s response that nobody would complain about the US if Gore had won in 2000, and his continuing, and outrageous, charge that Japan is both racist and structurally unsound. He is as out of touch with world opinion as with Japanese, it seems.

  46. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: At the risk of speaking for marxy, I read that as an illustration of how Japan has had one party in government for half a century and the US has had more than one in government. I could be mis-reading though. I’m not sure how you read him as a knee-jerk flag waver when he calls the President Bush a “madman”, but I have a history of not understanding you very well. I plan to attend a support group to get over that.

  47. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    You crack me up! Where are you from anyways?

    Well I’m from several places, (UK, Can, USA, JPN).
    I hold citizenship in two of those places, permanent residence in a third, and formerly held permanent residence in the fourth (USA).

    I was in LA during the LA riots. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I’ve witnesses with my own eyes entire city in flames with racial groups attacking each other violently.

    My Halloween costume that year was Nero.

    None of the Americans laughed. Some told me off.
    Only one remarked that it was a thoughtful costume.

  48. r. Says:

    s.b. said…

    >r. Sorry but, I think only an American could come up with a statement like “my language can beat up on your language.”

    and r. says…

    my statement was ironic.

  49. Momus Says:

    I’m not sure how you read him as a knee-jerk flag waver when he calls the President Bush a “madman”

    If you read his statement, Marxy doesn’t call Bush a madman, merely thinks that Kerr might:

    I think Kerr would argue that America has a madman at the helm, whereas Japan is structurally unsound to start with.

    But whoever it comes from, the “madman at the helm” argument hardly gets the US off the hook, just as the idea that Japan (and Japan alone, apparently) is “structurally unsound” doesn’t get anyone off the hook of simply misunderstanding the culture. This talk of structural unsoundness sounds worryingly like Tony Blair’s talk of “failed states”. Which, we soon learned, was code for “We don’t like the way they do things there, and we plan to invade.”

  50. marxy Says:

    Why does the world hate America? Because we invaded Iraq.

    Did the world hate Clinton? No.

    Why did we invade Iraq? Because Bush (and only really Bush, not even most mainstream Republicans) wanted to.

    Does at least half of America disagree with Bush? Yes.

    Was that enough for Kerry to win the election? No.

    Can the US change their government? Yes, we do so often.

    Does the US have a population mostly comprised of immigrants from various periods? Yes.

  51. marxy Says:

    For the record, I think Bush is a madman.

  52. Momus Says:

    To say that the US is unique as a place settled by immigrants, economic migrants and political refuseniks is fine. To say that other nations have to do the same is not. And we are living through a time when “the American way” has gone badly wrong. There are clear structural problems with the US, from the way the political system is determined by money, to obesity, skyhigh prison rates, ever-widening inequalities, appalling environmental record and poor willingness to work with other states to solve this… One could make a whole blog about America’s “terminal” structural problems, but as a European I wouldn’t consider that my role.

  53. Chris_B Says:

    momus: thanks for the textual correction.

    marxy: your opinion is hereby noted. I also admire your ability to summarize issues so concisely. Have you considered a career as a neo-con publicist? (kidding)

    r: my daddy’s PhD could beat up your daddy’s PhD

  54. marxy Says:

    This talk of structural unsoundness sounds worryingly like Tony Blair’s talk of “failed states”.

    Just because it sounds similiar doesn’t mean I’m advocating the invasion of Japan. And just because it sounds similiar doesn’t mean that Japan isn’t structurally unsound.

    Momus, do yourself a favor and read Tokyo Underworld or any book outlining the right-wing domination of Japanese politics for the last 50 years. Are you a fan of Nakasone? He loved Reagan and was Kodama Yoshio’s prized pupil. He also said that America was losing its edge because the brown-colored people were lazy and dumb.

  55. Chris_B Says:

    momus wrote: One could make a whole blog about America’s “terminal” structural problems, but as a European I wouldn’t consider that my role.

    Props to you then! I think its been done

  56. marxy Says:

    There are clear structural problems with the US, from the way the political system is determined by money, to obesity, skyhigh prison rates, ever-widening inequalities, appalling environmental record and poor willingness to work with other states to solve this…

    Japan also has ever-widening inequality. It just is starting its descent at a higher level of equality.

    I’m glad you care about obesity seeing that they does not affect you in the least.

    skyhigh prison rates

    In America, you at least have better than a 0.1% chance of not going to jail if arrested. Can a real justice system send 99.9% of defendants to jail like the Japanese system does?

  57. Chris_B Says:

    speaking of Reagan, I have a new song too.

  58. marxy Says:

    This is slowly descending into “Which country is better?” which I would have liked to avoid…

    I think, however, you can be against those in power without being against the country itself. I feel that way about both the current U.S. regime and the Japanese hegemonic LDP system.

  59. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    PhD = permanent head damage

    PhD = permanent hair damage

    trust me.

  60. Momus Says:

    But it’s not “the Japanese hegemonic LDP system” which is responsible for language schools using Jinglish, the shape of the Asahi Beer Hall, the good manners posters on the subway, the bands on Music Station, the rise and fall and rise of Shibuya-kei, Tokyo’s high levels of pollen, a restaurant calling itself The Bushman, or most of the other things you complain about!

  61. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    The difference between Americans and the rest of the world is that the rest of the world knows how to laugh at itself.

  62. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Oops … that should have read “America” not “Americans”.

    I’ve got lots of American friends with a good sense of humour.

  63. Chris_B Says:

    sparkling: were a nation founded by religious maniacs, what do you expect?

  64. Momus Says:

    Also, I think you should really be asking yourself how a lone madman arrived at the top of the world’s most powerful nation, despite having no connection to any of its institutions or being in touch with public opinion in any way, yet managed to wield enough power to fight wars based on his own personal whims. If that scenario doesn’t suggest that America has deep structural problems, I don’t know what does!

  65. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    This is slowly descending into “Which country is better?” which I would have liked to avoid…

    I think it may be unavoidable. Criticism of one country by someone raised and educated in another country, necessarily implies comparison.

    And in my view, having lived in the two countries as a third party, the USA doesn’t come out looking well in comparison to Japan.

  66. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    a lone madman arrived at the top of the world’s most powerful nation, despite having no connection to any of its institutions

    No connections to any of it’s institutions? What does Skull & Bones count as?

  67. marxy Says:

    The difference between Americans and the rest of the world is that the rest of the world knows how to laugh at itself

    What’s the Simpsons then?

  68. marxy Says:

    But it’s not “the Japanese hegemonic LDP system” which is responsible for language schools using Jinglish, the shape of the Asahi Beer Hall, the good manners posters on the subway, the bands on Music Station, the rise and fall and rise of Shibuya-kei, Tokyo’s high levels of pollen, a restaurant calling itself The Bushman, or most of the other things you complain about!

    Well, some of it is:

    1) language schools not teaching real English is supported by the conservative Monbusho bureaucracy.

    2) the shape of the Asahi Beer Hall – who’s complaining? I said it was awesomely kitsch!

    3) the good manners posters on the subway – I can poke fun at how childish and indulgent the posters are, but I have never “complained” about good manners.

    4) the bands on Music Station are an indirect consequence between the organized crime-LDP connection or at least, the general attitude towards exclusionary pro-cabal capitalism.

    5) Tokyo’s high levels of pollen – just sucks. who did i blame?

    6) a restaurant calling itself The Bushman IS ridiculous if it’s a “nankoku cuisine” restaurant. It doesn’t have African food – it has Southeast Asian food. If I called an Indian place “Blackie’s,” would that be okay? Is it okay to use African faces as the generic symbol for “otherness”?

  69. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    What’s the Simpsons then?

    A serious mind fuck for the rest of the world!

  70. Chris_B Says:

    our gift to you

  71. r. Says:

    yes, “my [noun] can beat up your [noun]” IS a part of the standard vocabulary of any American playground…and it manifests itself in american politics.

    that:s why i thought it fitting to parody this in the context of our language hierarchy discussion.

    sorry if my irony was lost on you.

    oh, my daddy doesn:t have a phd. i:m not even sure he finished college. oh, same for my mother. just high school.

    and my hair damage is pretty bad too.

  72. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    and the head damage, robert, what about the head damage …

  73. stanleylieber Says:

    It _is_ fascinating that the criticisms of both countries focus mostly on present ‘results’ (as if history were in stasis). Is Japan’s future not tied somewhat to America’s, in any case? As with much of Europe during the second half of the twentieth century, the objections of the intelligentsia to the policies of the United States haven’t prevented their countries’ administrators from kowtowing to them in order to curry military protection and economic favor. Note the aftermath of the Bush administration’s announcement that they would be pulling military bases out of Germany, and the subsequent quelling of that nation’s open hostility towards Bush’s government. It works the same in France, where just enough resistance is presented to American policies to make the U.N. delegates look like they’re earning their paychecks — in the end, not even they withold crucial votes, or place any real obstacles in our way.

    I would think by now it would be time for countries around the world to begin massive economic boycotts of the United States. How could its military superiority be brought to bear if the supply lines suddenly dropped out? I mean, these countries are serious, right? America’s military is surprisingly reliant on imports.

    What is often ignored about world politics in the rush to quantify and analyze military and cultural pathology is the function of the global economic order, or in short, in the parlance of foreign policy wags, ‘dollar diplomacy.’ While it is true that crucial industries are pegged to the U.S. dollar at the end of the U.S. gun, the whole house of cards is predicated on the Eurasian countries buying into the bluff. As OPEC moves towards the Euro, this bluff is becoming more and more obvious.

    Anyone here read (and marveled at) Brzezinski, etc.? There’s not much that happens on the world stage that isn’t broadcast a couple years in advance in the pages of FOREIGN POLICY or FOREIGN AFFAIRS.

    Arrange your stock portfolio accordingly.

    Sorry, veering off-topic…

  74. r. Says:

    marxy wrote,

    3) the good manners posters on the subway – I can poke fun at how childish and indulgent the posters are, but I have never “complained” about good manners.

    and i say,

    i think the japanese public transportation system is both angelic and demonic at the same time. sure, it is puntucal AND a great place for a woman to get sexually molested/痴漢…how convienient!

  75. blip Says:

    getting back to the ad in question, i used to work in the marketing dept at gaba & was around when the agency brought in that ad. It was of course a 100% fictional creation. Given the company’s niche appeal, the whole fulfill your dreams strategy is really just a conscious way of targetting people who are willing to pay cash large for english. Cause if you think english is just a kind of tea and cakes once a month thing then you’ll be at nova with the cheap suits & dandruff brigade. But if its your burning ambition to be a “real” b-boy, then you better be a b-boy that can drop several million yen for a few months language lessons. Or else you can like, y’know, fuck off back to nova.. Or so the thinking goes..

    that said, the continued success of the company shows that there is in fact a very large slab of society who do think exactly that way. A quick glance through most japanese media would give you a bunch of reasons why. Living in japan without english you are the boy in the bubble. But the difference is you can’t even see out. The media kindly filters out most foreign input (especially when Ishihara starts his Vote-grabbin’ Gaijin-swipin’ engines), leaving you with the weird feeling of being on another planet, where so long as the economy is ok, nothing else really matters.

    When Jun-chan sets up a meeting between Hitomi Soga and Charlie-whathisname in indonesia not one TV media outlet mentions the obvious political stunt with the election less than a week away. Instead we are treated to a breathless blow-by-blow account of their reunion (she’s clomping down the stairs like a horse in heat.. he’s looking like his pacemaker’s running out of batteries)..(and that was NHK) .. be nice for someone to at least mention the obvious – “hey suckers, i’m playing you for a chump but re-elect me anyway”.. so, like tobacco regulation, the LDP doesnt have any real reason to want to change the status quo. If all japanese can tune into foreign news sites & understand them, the LDP’s reign will last about 60 seconds from that moment…

    oh yeah and not that i miss (as an australian) the derryn hinch-style of shit-raking extortionism that passes for 80% of current affairs , but it still feels weird to know that most japanese have never heard of current affairs as a genre of television.. and I’m pretty sure the LDP doesnt miss it either..

  76. j. Says:

    Momus wrote:

    But it’s not “the Japanese hegemonic LDP system” which is responsible for … Tokyo’s high levels of pollen

    Well, actually it is.

    Cedar pollen allergies were first reported in Japan in 1963, after a large number of cedars were planted in postwar afforestation campaigns led by the Forestry Agency.

    Cedar forests cover about 4.5 million hectares of Japan, an area equal to that of Kyushu.

    When cheaper wood imports began to arrive in Japan in the 1960s, the demand and price for domestic timber fell. As a result, many cedar forests are not logged or thinned out and have become major pollen producers.

    There are 20,000 hectares of cedar forest in Tokyo, mostly privately owned. Because lumber prices are too low to make a profit, owners don’t want to cut down the trees, and efforts toward replanting have not made much progress.

    Liberal Democratic Party member Shinya Ono has admiited that a major cause of today’s hay fever epidemic stems from the nation’s postwar lumber pursuit, which emphasized cedar.

  77. marxy Says:

    Blip and J. – vital posts.

    So that Gaba copy is fake! Who woulda guessed it??

  78. Chris_B Says:

    j: I think that was covered in Alex Kerr’s “Dogs & Demons”. Unfortunately it seems some of the regular posters here are too high-minded to read that book, or for that matter to concern themselves with facts. Thanks for dropping the post.

    BTW this topic got boingboing’d. I’m surprised the comments haven’t overflowed by now.

  79. marxy Says:

    I heard rumors about Boing Boinging. Can someone post the link to the link?

  80. Chris_B Says:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2005/03/17/if_i_could_speak_eng.html

  81. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Anyone know who boing-boing’ed it?

    How are the hits on neomarxisme?

  82. marxy Says:

    I got an email from the guy who suggested it to the Boing Boing guys.

    I usually get about 600 unique visitors a day, and yesterday I got 1100.

  83. Jason Says:

    Yes, Japanese B-boys are fake but just because they speak English, doesn’t make them any more real. A real false dream. The worst trend in music now is Japanese dancehall and reggae. It’s weird for these ‘Rastas’ to speak Japanese with a Jamaican accent.

  84. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I usually get about 600 unique visitors a day, and yesterday I got 1100.

    600 different people per day, or the same people coming back to check to see who they’ve managed to flame with their latest comment? ;-)

  85. marxy Says:

    I’m pretty sure 600 “unique visitors” – not page hits or whatever. On my stats, this is the lowest figure.

  86. ex-GABA Says:

    I worked for those GABA fools for 6 months and they are scum real scum. Like used car dealers or something. Funny or not believe NOTHING of what they say.