“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.
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.