Lotus Pond (part of Shinobazu Pond) in Ueno Park

“There are so many stupid Japanese women around, huh? Many Westerners are coming to our country and the stupid women love stupid white men.”

My husband and I were stunned by this comment thrown at us by a stranger in Ueno Park during our Language-on-the Move tour to Japan. The insult came from a middle-aged Japanese man who was standing near Shinobazu Pond holding a can of beer in his hand with a flat expression on his face.

“Excuse me? What did you say?!” My husband, a white Western man walking with his Japanese wife, was not going to let the insult pass and was getting ready for a fight.

“Not worth it!” I grabbed his arm and quickly dragged him away assuming that the stranger was a drunk or mentally ill. Ueno Park is notorious for the large number of homeless people living there and we had already seen so many of them along the way from the park’s entrance. Homelessness is one of the hidden dark sides of Japan’s declining prosperity as Shiho Fukada so poignantly demonstrates in her photography.

Although I hadn’t wanted a confrontation, the comment upset me. I have explored issues of misogyny and of animosity towards interracial relationships in Japan in my research but this was the first time I personally experienced this kind of harassment in a public space.  I was also intrigued by the fact that the man had insulted us in fluent English. I couldn’t get the incident out of my mind: Where did he learn English so well? Does he stand there all day insulting interracial couples walking by? What else does he do? Why is he doing this? How often have such comments resulted in a fight?

After we had looked at the pond and decided not to take the famous swan-shaped boat, we had to take the same way back passing the man again. I felt weary and he, too, noticed us. He was staring at us but said nothing this time. My curiosity got the better of me:

Kimie: “Excuse me, but may I ask where you learned English so well?”
Stranger: “I didn’t learn English. It’s God’s gift.”

Soon we were having a friendly conversation because it turned out that he didn’t mind Australians as much as Americans! He told us how Asian women were stupid going after White men, and how interracial marriage, which he called stupidity, weakens the nation. In his view, Japan should never have opened its doors to the West in the 19th century. Ever since then, the country had been infected with evil Western influences. In particular he was aggravated by the fact that Japanese women are so into White men. “They say ‘I love you, I love you’ and the women love it. It’s stupid. If love is there, you don’t have to say it.” I asked him if he had a partner. With the same contempt, he said “How can I find a partner when women here watch stupid American romantic movies and expect me to say I love you?”

He also told us that he was a freelance writer and that we were standing right in his publishing office. “I write many things including haiku”, and he took out several hand-made copies of a small booklet. “If you’d like to take one, I’d appreciate a small contribution.” We paid and left. By way of farewell he said “I hope you will enjoy my work.”

When we sat down in a café later, I looked at his collection of twelve haikus. They were beautifully hand-written in English and in a fude brush pen with titles such as ‘Bird’, ‘Northerly wind’ or ‘Journey’.  “How interesting”, I thought to myself in that café in the Ueno Park.

Hideo Asano on the right and Kimie with his haiku collection, September 29, 2010

At that point I did not yet know that we had actually met Hideo Asano, a well-known Tokyo artist, writer and blogger! Attacking Japanese-Western couples seems to be some sort of street performance he engages in as this, rather disrespectful, YouTube video shows.  However, the haikus, poems and short stories on his website are beautiful.

Hideo Asano is a bilingual, English-as-a-second-language writer who could be an inspiration to many learners of English. On his website he writes:

I hope especially my work could encourage students who study English as a second language that anyone could reach to a higher level, striving with persistence, to reach to the point of realizing that the more you know the more you don’t know. English belongs to everyone who cares, a baseball player’s son can’t automatically be a good baseball player.

This must be one of the strongest encouragements to find your own voice in a second language I have seen in a long time! That Asano is left to peddle his art as a homeless person on the streets of Tokyo and to draw attention to himself by insulting others, in a country that is obsessed with English language learning and idolizes native-speaking teachers is a sad and deeply disturbing testament to the power of the intersection of linguistic and racial ideologies.

Author Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江

高橋 君江 is Visiting Associate Professor at International Christian University, Tokyo. Before joining ICU in 2014, she was Lecturer at the Graduate School of English at Assumption University of Thailand (2011 – 2014) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University, Australia (2007 and 2011). Kimie is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Linguistics, and continues to co-supervise several PhD students with Ingrid Piller at Macquarie University.

More posts by Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江
  • I enjoyed Hideo’s work very much! Amazing website. Very poignant!

  • Jean Cho

    As an interracial couple, I and my husband used to joke that in Seoul, we need T-shirts that say “I am not an English teacher and she is not my student” to avoid unwanted attention on the streets 🙂

  • vahid

    Interesting post! I really enjoyed reading it! I am trying to imagine your hubby’s face as he hears the insult!

  • Folake

    A fascinating read. I wonder if Hideo has spoken that way to many others and how those others would have reacted in that situation.

    What an amazing guy though. His website is excellent.

  • Eve

    I find interesting the second approach you had. If the insult would have come on your first move, you would not have had this great discovery, meeting someone creative and inspiring.

    First impression, even if leaves some deep mark, is not always the one we should look up to. As human being, we mostly have profound reason to behave and say things as we do.

    One’s expression in a second language brings the particularity to express ideas in a more limited vocabulary, which turns out to give a second meaning to words and widen in a paradoxal way, the ability to communicate concisely. New language mostly comes from circonstances, experiences, travels, encounters. Words and way of expression are then emotionally charged.
    As this man demonstrates with haikus.

    Thank you for sharing

  • Mahesh Radhakrishnan

    What a fascinating exchange and amazing courage for you to go back and confront the man and have the encounter to follow the confrontation.

    Some very interesting things going on in terms of racial and linguistic ideologies. It is very clear that Hideo embraces many aspects of “western” culture by embracing literature and language. His poetry embodies hybridity- Haikus in English. However, his (sexist and racist) views about racial purity suggest he finds abhorrent biologically the union he embodies creatively and culturally. And the tongue of the evil influences is his very instrument for conveying these ideas (while the presumably non-Japanese interlocutor on the disrespectful youtube seemed to be attempting to respond back in Japanese while he kept on in English). Hopefully Hideo is able to find his way, be embraced and embrace the good in change

    So much scope for misunderstanding and understanding in such encounters even with the shared resources of not just one, but two language

  • Khan

    It is an interesting read!. Hideo Asano presents an interesting case. He is an embodiment of nationalistic philosophy which now looks confused with fast globalizing world affecting every sphere of human lives. In nationalistic ideology, women of a nation should marry men of the same nation as they are the property of that nation. In many cultures, they are a mark of nation’s respect, so if they marry others it is an insult to the ego of men of that nation. It is interesting to see how he expresses his feelings about interracial marriages by calling them ‘stupid’. To me the underlying reasons are his being without a partner or it is just an attention getter. His ideas about learning English are very profound and practical. He seems an interesting person.

    Khan

  • Vera

    Thanks, Kimie for sharing this fascinating story. Arigato gozaimasu!

  • steven

    It is interesting how many Japanese view English as the property of anyone and everyone who makes the effort. On the other hand, many Japanese see their own language as cultural property that can never be understood by non Japanese.

  • Shoko

    In Tokyo I have encounted Japanese men with regained nationalism after learning English language – their criticism often appears on interracial couples, namely Japanese women and western men, as well as on the fact how many western men enjoy good life in Tokyo. I am not sure the case of Asano if he has developed his attitude as a result of exposing himself to English language and American/Americanised Tokyo culture, or he began leaning language as a part of strategy against the enemy America, but his creativity shown in his second language is very encouraging to those who try to write in their second/third language.

  • Mike

    What he seems to be overlooking is that maybe what is more remarkable is not the number of Japanese women who form relationships with Western men (in reality a very small proportion of the total), but that very few Japanese men form relationships with Western women.

    I’ve heard of Western women complaining about a lack of romantic opportunities in Japan. Is this because they don’t consider Japanese men as prospective partners, or because Japanese men aren’t interested in forming relationship with foreign women?

  • yamato

    I think there are some discrimination against women in Japan…its a very good article

  • emi

    what a beautiful encounter you had! I like what he said about Haiku.. that obscurity makes you think. thank you kimie! your openness is a gift!

  • Xiaoxiao Chen

    What a dramatic experience! Thanks, Kimie, for sharing this in a thought-provoking way. Great to get to know such an interesting Japanese man and his website.

  • Hongyan

    Amazing to see a potential confrontation and fight turned out to be a friendly conversation between an amazing guy (it reminded me not to judge people only by their appearance) and a thoughtful academic! Thanks, Kimie!

  • When I started reading the article I would have never thought how it will turn out – that was really unexpected. And also had your husband just beat him up youd never found out who the man was!

    Personally I think that the contradiction his passion for English and his initial attitude towards you as you walked by suggests of a psychological conflict. For a man of his age probably the pace of multicultural worlds development is simply too fast and he cant get to grips with it.

    However, being an intellectual as he seems to be he should know better than to insult passers-by…

  • Hikaru Genji

    Waiting for Moderation!! Oh~ Aren’t we the well trained journalist~

    Let it be pure and post it as it is~.

    • Thank you for your comment, Hikaru! The team at Language-on-the-Move devote a lot of loving care to this site and we keep an eye out for inappropriate comments in the same way that you might keep an eye out for guests behaving inappropriately at a party. I’m sure you’d guide any such person gently but firmly off the premises and that’s what we do by not allowing comments that we consider inappropriate. Having said that, we’re delighted that you’ve come to visit and decided to engage!

  • I’m not Japanese or any nationalist-extremist thanks, but I agree that Japan like China should have been left alone by the West. Japanese men are nowadays no longer very considered by Japanese women for marriage as more and more of them romantically prefer the exoticism of Western men and even the reliability of Chinese men.