Why I Turned On Debito.org
Earlier today, I came across a comment thread on Tepido.org, a site devoted to the criticism of blog posts and news articles written by activist Debito Arudou. Apparently there is a bit of an internet flame war going on between Debito.org and Tepido.org, with Debito alleging that his opponents are collecting personal information about people who leave comments on Debito.org.
One of Debito’s readers noted that there were naturalized Japanese citizens leaving comments on Tepido.org. He wondered (1) why there were naturalized Japanese participating in the site, and (2) why they were “attacking one of their own” by criticizing Debito.
In response, a naturalized Japanese citizen wrote a long and well-reasoned comment on why he “turned on” Debito.org. With his permission, I am re-posting it here, so that Japan Probe’s subscribers can read and discuss it.
[ - Note: All of the text beyond this point was written by a user of Tepido.org. - ]
Let me answer the easier second part of your question before getting to the first question, which needs a much longer reply: Not everybody naturalizes for the same reason, thus there’s no guarantee that naturalized English speaking Japanese all have the same opinions and mindset. In fact, out of the fifteen or so naturalized westerners I know — either in person or because they are on the Internet — about half of them seem to be either nuts, angry or unhappy!
I’ve noticed the following pattern: those that naturalized with some sort of angle, like a “means justify the ends” thing they wanted and thought that naturalization would give it to them, often seem to not be happy with their decision, even if they got what they wanted. The people I know who are happy with their naturalization seemed to naturalize for a much simpler reason: they’ve always liked life in Japan (which often includes a Japanese spouse and Japanese child living very domestically), and they are supremely confident they will continue to remain happy, for better or worse, richer or poorer, until death — probably because living in Japan is not the sole reason they’re happy. I’m sure there are exceptions to the pattern, but from my very limited personal observations, that’s what I’ve seen. I’ve also noticed that naturalized Japanese that have a healthy marriage and family tend to happy with their decision. This is not just because they’re always happy. Enjoying life when things are good is easy; anybody can do that. However, the strong marriages usually know how to deal with long term (think years, not months or weeks) adversity that always occurs. Perhaps this social skill is applicable not just to relationships, but also to the workplace and living in a foreign country. Challenges and hard times — short and long — always occur, no matter how good the marriage, the job, or the country.
Anyway, I enjoy spending time with the “well adjusted, happy” naturalized… be it westerners, or more commonly, non-westerners. Debito has never shown his “I hate Japan and almost everything about it except for the food” face to me in person, but it does come out obviously in his Internet persona.
As for the first part of your question:
First let me state this up front very quickly, then I’ll answer your question with a numbered list.
I know Debito. Personally. I attended a FRANCA meeting he had in Roppongi, I’ve bought his books (the Newcomer book was pretty good. The In Appropriate book was not in my opinion. And not just because I didn’t like the protagonist. I think Debito writes better non-fiction. Fiction is a very different writing skill). I’ve given his FRANCA organization money, and I used to be a frequent contributor to debito.org. I invited him to participate on my blog, and he’s featured my opinions both in his printed columns and his online posts. I enjoy spending time with Debito in person. I’ve had drinks with him on more than once in Tokyo, just the two of us and with others.
So why did I “turn on debito.org?” Four reasons, listed in order from least to most important:
- I think he’s led a very tragic life, much of it due to bad life decisions. Regardless of whether his personal life is due to fate or his own choosing, I believe his tragic life has colored his judgement so severely that he is no longer able to be objective regarding anything related to Japan. It seems that every wrong he perceives in Japan he connects personally to himself and the life he lost or wish he had in Japan. This leaves the impression that his pain is too strong; he cannot separate his emotion and nor sense when it prejudices his judgement.
I think he’s good at his career, which is a professor of English (as a Foreign Language) at a university. I obviously have never seen him teach nor read reviews of his performance, but I believe they do not give tenure if they’re bad at their job.
However, I think he’s very bad at his second career he’s trying to develop, which is being an “activist.” I base this opinion on his public record over the years: almost no tangible results that affect our day-to-day life. What few victories he’s had he failed to leverage or lost on appeal. He takes on too much for a single person and can’t scope, making him less effective at everything. He can’t differentiate between human rights and political opinion. He can’t moderate or filter or judge, and can’t distinguish between “instigating debate” and “instigating quality, productive, non-red herring debate.” He has a history of being difficult to work with — you can point fingers at everybody else being at fault, but after the third or fourth or fifth time, you have to start wondering if it’s you who are at fault — which is why he hasn’t been able to leverage the strength of other groups, which cripples his efforts. He lacks the diplomacy, negotiation, and compromise skills that are necessary to get things done in a reasonable amount of time. This prevents him from delegating and leveraging others which is necessary to be truly effective — especially when you have a real career that occupies most of your time.
I now believe that if somebody else besides Debito, who had the above people skills, was the victim at the Otaru Onsen case, the case would’ve probably been solved in weeks, with the hot springs owner changing their policy and learning how to deal with and welcome foreign clientele. Now, Debito claimed he was diplomatic, but if you look at Debito’s recorded history on how he deals with problems, you’ll notice that “tact” has never been a tool in his social skill set.
- I joined FRANCA and participated on debito.org because I’ve had a very good life in Japan and I wanted to give back and help the immigrant community be as happy living in Japan as I am. I originally thought debito.org and FRANCA were tools to help achieve this. I stopped participating on debito.org — FRANCA never really existed — near the end of last year after it became clear that many of the participants had no genuine interest in enjoying life in Japan or having anything positive to say or believe in regarding Japan. That, or they had an attitude of entitlement: Everything is a right. Nothing is a responsibility. I don’t have to change for Japan. Japan must change for me. It became clear that not a small number of debito.org’s contributors never or no longer lived in Japan and they never intended to go or return. For these commenters, debito.org for them serves as a venting outlet. It’s a affirmation vehicle for people looking others to share their similar bitterness. Sites like this on the Internet are everywhere. Debito.org is not unique.
THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT AND WHY I JOINED TEPIDO.ORG AGAINST DEBITO.ORG
3/11 was a defining moment for me regarding my attitudes towards the international press. Even before 3/11, I always knew that the international press:
• never properly hired enough people that have the credentials to properly translate Japanese in volume or in a timely manner
• never properly did investigative journalism in Japan
• rarely spoke or read or wrote proper fluent, native or near-native Japanese, which is required to be an effective reporter for Japan
• rarely properly socialized and developed relevant powerful Japanese connections (political and business), instead preferring to hang out in the “gaijin ghettos” and wait for the Japanese with an angle come to them
• rarely lived in Japan or had lived in Japan within the last five years — keeping their “street knowledge” remained relevant.
… but I never envisioned how bad this unprofessional behavior could become until the Kantō/Tōhoku Disaster really put the international media to the test with a demanding journalistic task.
Prior to 3/11, I thought the international press’ ineptitude was a harmless diversion. You could count on normally respectable papers like NYT to pander to its audience’s desire for the “strange and wacky and perverted” (it pays the bills) with stuff that normally would be embarrassing for even a minor paper to write: Japanese girls eyeing hostess careers (Tabuchi), people dressing up as vending machines (Fackler), and almost everything that CNN’s Kyung Lah writes (I did like that article on orphanages she did though). In many cases, I often find direct evidence where the international press used English blogs rather than Japanese as primary sources: for example, Fackler referenced a photo that existed nowhere except for JapanProbe (the Yamanote Halloween Party train) to make the case that right wingers were threatening innocent western Halloween “revelers” in public. These above examples are from one of the best international sources for Japan coverage! The rest of the international media is usually worse!
After 3/11, the stakes changed. It was no longer about silly ero manga on the trains being read in plain sight. It was about death and destruction and tens of millions of people’s lives hanging in balance and a threat to the macro economic health of the entire nation. During this time Debito.org attempted to gleefully feed the schadenfreude of its core audience and delivered the “kick em when they’re down!” performance that its readers craved, hiding under the guise of responsible, conversative criticism and skepticism.
The international press, having downsized whatever meager Japanese office they had during the recession, pathetically relied almost entirely on 4th or 5th level source English social media, English papers in Japan, and barely-able-to-speak interpreters — as they were caught unprepared to responsibly cover a national disaster affecting one of the most important countries in the world. Fortunately, they didn’t rely on debito.org at the time, because it was discredited during the peak of the crisis until the international mass media lost interest in Japan and moved on (not enough death and destruction anymore. Libya: new fresh death and destruction!)
I don’t think I can shame the press directly because I don’t think they or their foreign readers really care that much about accuracy/ethics vs dirt/sensationalism — especially when it comes to foreign (Japan) news. Besides, there are other good sites that are trying to do that (ex. jpquake.info) that do a better job than I ever could.
I want the international press to start hiring more professionals that will do their own homework, rather than distort information they got from an English blog in Japan, which distorted information about an English newspaper in Japan, which distorted a translation from an Japanese newspaper in Japan, whose editor distorted the notes from a Japanese press conference reporter, which distorted what a PR person said, who distorted the truth in the first place!
The international press is feeding from the wrong end of that chain. Debito.org is one (of many) blogs on the wrong end of that chain. And debito.org is one of the worst, in that it’s (perhaps unintentionally) based on hate and the presumption that everything in Japan is bad, and it has undeserved legitimacy attached to it because the blog author has a monthly column in a relatively minor niche English national paper in Japan — which is given too much weight by the international press because the paper is written in English and the international press can’t read Japanese well.
I believe one fix is to do as much as possible to take away these false crutches at the beginning of the chain-of-distortions — forcing the international press to improve their investigative legwork, follow-up, and verification skills. In other words, by discrediting (or, dare I dream, IMPROVE) the blogs and English-in-Japan sources that the international press uses too often as primary sources, I hope to force the overseas media to do their job better. It’s probably a unrealistic naive dream, but I think it’s more realistic than many other methods, and it’s one that I think benefits the world, including non-Japanese, in the long run.
As I believe a solution is to get rid of or reform the English nth-in-the-chain sources that the international press crib-sheet cheats from when they’re Japanese-challenged, that means debito.org and company must change or go away. If that means debito.org switches to writing in all Japanese, I’d be for that. If it meant debito.org became a legit news organization and its editors and publishers went to journalism school and did all of the things I listed above that the international press does not do, I’d be for that too. Ultimately, it’d be better for the activism, too… as screaming on a blog in English about non-Japanese is as productive as navel-gazing considering that almost all Japanese and foreign residents (Chinese and Korean) do not communicate in English.
If debito.org or “Just Be Cause” doesn’t or can’t be reformed, I’d be satisfied with discrediting them, so that no legit press, international or domestic, would dare attempt to use them as a source, lest they be caught and shamed and laughed at for using such a unreliable information.
Tepido.org helps serve this purpose. It’s not perfect: it’s crude, often immature, and too personal. I often wince when I read both the posts and comments (including my own). But it’s free (as in speech), and it seems to be effective based on how I’ve seen debito.org react to it.
That’s why I read and comment on Tepido.org.
Additionally, I now work with other native Japanese to work on making Japan a little friendlier towards true human rights issues in Japan. I work with them, rather than debito.org, because they’ve demonstrated they have to will and the diplomacy skills (language, judgement, and compromise) to fairly assess and fix (where possible) true unfair discrimination — quickly and effectively.
I hope that answers your question!
To make very clear: my problem is with the opinions expressed within debito.org and the auxiliary vehicles used to promote it. I do not consider criticizing debito.org blog content being the same as criticizing the person. Likewise, I do not consider criticizing his tweets/social media/JT column to be same as criticizing the person as these media tools are not solely being used to represent the individual — rather they’re being used as promotional tools for the content on the debito.org. In the parlance of the industry, they’re mere crude “traffic driver” ads, designed to boost page views and participants of the problematic blog.
When I criticize, I TRY to use the term “debito.org” to refer to the hate blog to make it clear that it’s not about the person. I also try to use the term “Mr. Arudou” to refer to non-Internet activities such as his JT column or his books. However, as I’m often typing on a mobile (or worse, experimental or development) device and have a hard enough time editing simple English on tiny keyboards, I may make a mistake and occasionally slip and break my own rules. Despite this, the appearance of me attacking Debito The Person is not intentional.
However, the man has intertwined his blog, his activist work, and his personal life together so deeply that it’s sometimes difficult to criticize the work without criticizing the man.
[- END OF COMMENT -]