Saturday, April 27, 2013

Safe Little Home

   This post serves only one purpose - to apprehend the meaning of double standards that are so pervasive in the academic world, be it thorough research or casual critical thinking. 
Problem lies in my own country's scientific and cultural establishment that rarely ventures beyond the boundaries, that doesn't feel the need to "boldly go where no one has gone before".

   This week some of my lovely students held a conference exploring dark sides of Japan, and truthfully speaking, that was the very first such conference held in my country, not to mention city. Japan is a peculiar country, hard to define and hard to crack (although Nippon does the job for us lately, cause the system is breaking) with many shady areas and dark corners. We all know that - Japan should have its own internet, because the country is weird. The country has also great and unique culture. That's fine, but the problems start when people try to show the "different Japan". Not Akihabara bursting with energy and neon lights, not Gion with clapping sounds of maiko's geta. Those are clichés reused to the point of sickening.
Where those "double standards" come to play? They asked Embassy of Japan to be one of the "faces" of the conference, only cultural patronate. Embassy refused saying that although it's admirable and good for promoting Japan to have a conference, the topic is way too controversial and too difficult.

   I wasn't surprised by such stance. Nor was I disappointed. I would if Embassy actually agreed to this. 
Here comes this "double standards" banner. It's OK to have conferences and articles - but you have to write and talk about the nice aspects of the country's culture. If you talk about dark, unpleasant, swept under the carpet issues - that is not seen as proper.
And it was only yesterday I realized the whole situation lately has been warped. With Korea, I realized, we have the situation that is totally opposite (and by "we" I mean our group of people who watch, read and discuss, mostly on Twitter lately). We tend to talk about the most unpleasant and tentative topics, shunning the great moments, aspects and facets of Korean culture. We focus on rapes, murky entertainment, Korean sick standards for beauty, plastic surgery, homophoby, fails of different kinds... One may conclude that Korea - judging from our talks - is the hell on Earth and every country is far better than this one.
One would be very wrong as we discuss only one side - this dark aspect of the country.

   Japan is, in my opinion, the luckiest country on this planet. From the very beginning. And even now it's somehow shunned from the talks about dark sides of society/culture/politics. My students don't like me talking about deep-rooted nationalism in Japan, their xenophobic behavior that is rarely expressed directly, animal cruelty, they don't like to hear about honne/tatemae double standards in itself, the pressure to keep the face, to keep the blood pure etc. They prefer to hear about kimono, anime, shinkansen and geisha.
Japan holds the position of a holy cow in a modern world and somehow everyone believes there is no crime in Japan, people bow one to another and practically it's Eden reinvented. Everyone should read Michael Zielenziger's Shutting Out The Sun. Really, like now.

   I don't mean to bash this country or that. But we need to demitologize some issues, some sides and some countries. If we can read critically texts that were held as sacred and see new things in those, we can criticize countries as well. And we should. Without any exception.
When I was a student, our courses on Japanese history were based on one book written in the 70's and heavily based on Mid-war Japanese "archaeology". We were citizens of 21st century, however we were obliged to read this book and base our knowledge on this one only. Same went for anything else. After I graduated, I swore an oath to never go there, to this boggy fields where no wind travels, where everything is at the same place. Japanese studies abroad are now deconstructing shinto and we what? Still repeating like a dumb mantra that it's an indigenous, archaic, primeval faith of Japanese (have to admit, even during studies this claim was somehow bugging me. Now I know why). I'm working now in an intelectually stimulating environment (which didn't make me any smarter though) where 2 years-old theories are considered outdated. Subconsciously I introduce newest findings in the research that are not in the books. I'm trying to shed a new light on Japan, to show that under that nishiki brocade there is a country full of different parts, nice and ugly as well.

   It's good to promote Japan/Korea/whatever, but in order to have some sponsors and partners - you have to promote only radiant, positive, bubbling sides of it. That's why I appreciate the initatives to show the world is not pink. One wall may be pink in this house, or even the entire room, but there are also basements and hidden lockers.

   Too bad we are still thought of as haters of the country. We don't. We just stopped worshipping it.

Picture from here.