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奜恖 In 擔杮丒The Unspoken Contract
The "Unspoken" Contract
"Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions." Albert Einstein
Before I outline my theories about foreigners attempts at assimilating into the Japanese society, a more thorough understanding of the "unspoken contract" is needed.
Throughout my research I came across a fundamental belief that was shared by the majority of the foreign population and the host population [Japanese] alike. I call this belief the "Unspoken Contract." The "unspoken contract" is a set of rules that is placed upon foreigners living in Japan "not" by the Japanese government, but by the Japanese society as well as other immersed foreigners. It is a set of rules that foreigners new to Japan learn rather quickly, either by the host population [Japanese] or other foreigners. The quicker a foreigner learns the "unspoken contract", the easier it becomes for the foreigner to "enhance security" (placate).
The "unspoken contract" consists of a broad range of rules and stereotypes that a foreigner must learn in order to ensure tolerance from the host population [Japanese]. A summarization of the "unspoken contract" is that in order to ensure host tolerance a foreigner must conceed the he/she is part of a powerless minority group which is tolerated but not accepted [an observer but not a participant] into the host population. Furthermore, it is expected that foreigners must conceed (publicly) that it is the very fact that they are "non-Japanese" that they feel discrimination in Japan and are led to believe that the deeper they immerse themselves into the Japanese language and culture, the lessor the feelings of discrimination will become (In other words, the host population [Japanese] believes that discrimination does not exist in Japan, but rather, it is the foreigner's perception of discrimination coupled with the need for a deeper knowledge of Japan, which makes foreigners feel as if discrimination exists in Japan).
It was dicovered that by adhering to the rules of the "unspoken contract" foreigners were able to ensure host tolerance to a certain extent, however adherence to the "unspoken contract" created feelings of anxiety, paranoia, emotional trauma and self-alienation for the majority of the foreign population. It was also obvious that though most foreigners do attempt to adhere to the rules of the unspoken contract, there were many situations in which they [foreigners] could not. Each time an immersed foreigner failed to adhere to the rules of the unspoken contract strengthened the host population's [Japanese] stereotypes and distrust towards foreigners as outsiders that regardless of Japanese language ability and knowledge of Japanese culture can never really be integrated into the Japanese society.
It was further discovered that the belief that "greater immersion equaled lessor feelings of discrimination" was a falsity (opposite to what foreigners had been led to believe). When compared to other countries this situation is unique to Japan (i.e., the better a foreigner speaks English in English speaking countries, the fewer the instances of discrimination). This demonstrates that while a lot of the discrimination against foreigners in other countries can be accredited to the language ability [or lack of language ability] of the foreigner, in Japan discrimination against non-Japanese is more apt to stem from the physical attributes of the foreigner, rather than the Japanese language ability of the foreigner.
[The only other instance I found where this type of situation was present was in Hawaii. The number of short-term Japanese tourist was so great in number during the 1980's and 1990's that it created a situation where long-term Japanese/American residents were grouped into a category as "Japanese tourist" by the host population based solely on their Japanese physical appearance. As a result the number of discrimination cases reported by long-term, immersed Japanese/Americans in Hawaii increased dramatically.]
To acknowledge the former discoveries as a fact however, would require immersed foreigners residing in Japan to concede that immersing themselves into the Japanese language and culture as well as adhering to the rules of the "unspoken contract" has reared them virtually no benefits. It would further require them [immersed foreigners] to acknowledge that their status within the Japanese society is little, if at all, different than foreigners who cannot speak, read or write the Japanese language and who have little or no knowledge of the Japanese culture.
To acknowledge this would be to contradict not only the "unspoken contract", which many foreigners use to rationalize placating, but also the "status" which immersed foreigners tend to assign to other foreigners. I call this inability of immersed foreigners to acknowledge they are still part of the powerless minority regardless of Japanese language ability and knowledge of the culture "gaijin denial", for these immersed foreigners are actually attempting to deny their assignment to the foreign population [by the Japanese] and would like to believe that they have reached some sort of "almost Japanese" status due to their quality of immersion into the Japanese language and culture.
The study found that the only "real" benefits for immersed foreigners were greater abilities to placate the host population [Japanese] than non-immersed foreigners. The only "real" difference in status was among the foreign population themselves, and being a powerless minority, this "self-assigned" status by foreigners to foreigners was purely a "token status", with no real benefit assigned by the host population [Japanese] to the foreigner. The study showed that foreigners in Japan are assigned a position as a powerless minority in which the host population tolerates and sometimes enjoys the company of, but which cannot be accepted as members of the Japanese society, regardless of the foreigner's quality or depth of immersion into the Japanese language and culture.
I theorize that it is specifically the unspoken contract which has created this situation for foreigners in Japan. The unspoken contract has set foreigners [living in Japan] up to fail. The rules of the unspoken contract are so broad that it is virtually impossible for a foreigner to adhere to all of the rules, all of the time and the host population's [Japanese] stereotypes, distrust and inability to accept foreigners into the Japanese society stems from the failure of foreigners to adhere to the rules of the unspoken contract. One of the most difficult rules of the unspoken contract for foreigners to continuously adhere to is that of being an observant, but not a participant. While in normal, everyday life it was easy for foreigners to adhere to this rule, there were certain situations when the upbringing, culture and ethics of the foreigner prevented them from doing so. Such as when a foreigner witnesses a young girl being molested on a train. Most foreigners find it almost impossible not to assist the girl in this situation, however, assisting the girl is breaking the rule of being an observant and not a participant.
This is not to say that there are no foreigners in Japan that have achieved success and status within the society, as there are. These foreigners are the exception, however, and not the rule. Those foreigners who have achieved success and status in Japan contribute to immersed and non-immersed foreigners belief that if they adhere to the rules of the "unspoken contract", they [foreigners] will also achieve success and status within the Japanese society as well as being accepted as a full member of the society. Being accepted as a member of the Japanese society would reward the foreigner tremendously as it would allow the foreigner to rid him/herself of the stigma of being a foreigner.
Members of the host population [Japanese], however, see these successful immersed foreigners as anomalies of the foreign population and therefore the success of these foreigners does little to assist in the de-stigmatization of being a foreigner in Japan. In contrast, the Japanese often use these foreigners [by having them as guests on T.V] to reinforce the stereotypes [and therefore the stigma] of foreigners that members of the host population [Japanese] have.
An excellent example of this is a T.V. program in Japan which aired weekly at the end of the 1990's and had 30 to 40 foreign guests weekly discussing the weird side of living in Japan, paneled by 3 or 4 prominent Japanese. The theme of the program became obvious during its first airing. Most of the immersed foreigners were selected on their basis to make the viewers [Japanese] laugh rather than their quality of immersion into the Japanese language and culture. It quickly became a program that reinforced how "weird" foreigners were instead of actually educating the Japanese population on the difficulties foreigners face living in Japan. This program, due to members of the Japanese population belief that the foreign guests represented the views and opinions of the entire foreign population, reinforced many negative stereotypes regarding foreigners in Japan.
The "unspoken contract" also serves an important purpose for the host population [Japanese]. It allows them [Japanese] the rationalization that their discriminatory behavior [towards foreigners] is not actually discriminatory. The "unspoken contract" can be used whenever a confrontational situation arises between a member of the foreign population and a member of the host population [Japanese]. It [the "unspoken contract"] allows the member of the host population [Japanese] to discount the argument or confrontation of the foreigner as superficial or exaggerated by focusing not on the argument or confrontation, but on the foreignness of the foreigner and referring to the need [of the foreigner] for further immersion into the Japanese language and culture. In this way, they [Japanese] can always rationalize discriminating behavior by adhering to the belief that "if the foreigner understood the Japanese language and culture better, they [foreigners] would see it my [the Japanese] way." I refer to this type of behavior later on as "Rationalized Discrimination."
The unspoken contract further allows members of the Japanese population to expect foreigners to abide by the rules of the Japanese society when beneficial for the member of the Japanese population, yet to disregard the rules of the Japanese society when it is beneficial for the member of the Japanese society. This creates a lose-lose situation for foreigners living in Japan. A prime example follows in the foreigner's comments:
Dean: "I was late once because my daughter was sick and I wanted to make sure she was o.k. before I left the house. My [Japanese] manager really gave me a guilt trip about this. He told me that in Japan, it is unforgivable to be late. He further related to me that it was my wife's duty to look after the kids and advised me to learn about the Japanese way if I wanted to be successful in Japan. A few months later, I asked the same [Japanese] manager if I could reschedule an appointment I had with a foreign company. The appointment was scheduled for a Japanese National holiday and my wife wanted us to go on an out of town trip. He flatly refused. I asked him why I was the only person in the office scheduled to work that day. He related to me that I was not Japanese and had a different contract than the Japanese [full-time] employees. The same was true for X-mas, my children's birthdays and other days where I would have been off in my own country. It was a double edged sword with no benefits."
Interestingly, this type of "rationalized discrimination" was noticed to be present among the foreign population as well. It was reported by many foreign informants that the most confusing and stressful discriminatory situations came "not" from the host population [Japanese] but at the hands of a "fellow" foreigner who usually held a position of authority over the informant. It was in these instances where the most emotional trauma occurred. I would theorize that the ability of the foreigner to rationalize discriminatory behavior lessened when the discriminating figure [person] was part of the foreign population [another foreigner] and not part of the host population [Japanese]. I refer to this type of behavior later on as "Gaijin -vs- Gaijin."
Go on to Chapter 2
Copyright (C)2005 Dan Edward Venz. All rights reserved.