Guilt

Somewhere around 25 years ago, in a college somewhere in the American Midwest, I sat on a hideously yellow or orange sofa in the middle of a Performing Arts building. I was approached by an American Indian/Native American/First Nation/Whatever They Call Themselves Now person asking me to donate to some cause for American Indian rights, or some such. He tried to play the guilt card, about how his people have historically been oppressed.

Let me stop right here and say: they have. That’s really not in doubt, and not going to be the point of this post. I’m going somewhere else with this.

I told him, basically, “So what am I supposed to do about it? I didn’t do anything to you!”

He was pretty clearly offended by that, but I didn’t care. Both statements were true. His people have been historically oppressed, and I didn’t do it.

Now, 25 years later, they would probably call that “white privilege” or something else nonsensical and try to make me feel guilty. I’d certainly have been called to task by a “Bias Response Team” and forced to write a “sincere” apology. Which, of course, I wouldn’t do.

But I don’t. I don’t at all feel guilty. I’m not actively oppressing anyone, I have no desire to actively oppress anyone, and I utterly refuse to allow someone to make me feel guilty for something I haven’t done. I understand that some people will say “but you’re an oppressor just for being <insert race/religion/sexual orientation/planetary citizenship here>” – I reject that, and that’s all there is to say about that.

The Japanese people have done some really horrid things in their recent past. You’ve got the conquering of Korea, the Nanjing Massacre, the War of the Pacific, Pearl Harbor, etc. The Imperial army was feared for their cruelty.

And they no longer exist. They haven’t for years. Nearly all of them are dead. Their children have no memory of those days. Anyone who does is at least seventy years old.

Should they feel guilty?

I can’t answer that. I’m not Japanese. But I don’t think I would. After all, I had nothing to do with it, and I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did. At some point you just have to kind of let it go, accept that where things are is where things are, and move forward without either guilt or recrimination. Forgiveness is one thing when it’s directed at someone who did something to you. But it costs little to nothing if it’s directed at someone who didn’t.

Class is over

Last night I tool the final exam for the Japanese class I’ve been taking for three months.  I learned a lot.  I’m pretty sure I passed with an A (or at the very worst a B).  I feel like I have a better foundation than I did when starting the class.

I am not taking Japanese II for the time being.

I have felt uncomfortable in a college setting from the very beginning, and there were many reasons for that.  A relatively large percentage of the students there were teenagers, and as a man in my early 40s I was rather uncomfortable with that – one must be far more careful in that context than one would with people closer to one’s own age.  It was also uncomfortable because I am trying to hold down a full time job and the amount of studying and time commitments required were very difficult to fit into an already busy life.  Trying to go to every class prepared was very stressful.  Also, today’s college settings are very PC and I was not comfortable with the fact that I felt like I had to always be careful what I said, being concerned that someone would take it the wrong way and bring the wrath of the PC gods down on me.  Don’t get me wrong – I actually do think professionalism is important in such a setting, but these days there’s no room for even a slip-up.

All told, it was just too stressful an experience, and I don’t want to do it again for the short term.  Truth be told, if it weren’t for the experience I’d already had with hiragana and katakana I would have been completely sunk.  Even towards the end I kinda stopped studying.  Which didn’t hurt me all that much but it will if I have to keep this up.

But all is not lost.  When I told sensei that I was not going to take the next class and outlined some of the reasons why, she offered to give me semi-private lessons.  They are about twice as expensive as class for the same amount of time, but I think I will be more comfortable in these kinds of lessons.  I don’t have to stress out about attending every single one, and maybe the interactions with adults closer to my own age will be a little less… awkward.

I start those tomorrow.

The background is important.  The fact that college was able to help me to solidify my hiragana and katakana was invaluable to me.  I feel much better prepared to move on in my studies than I was three months ago.  I also feel like I’m going to be better served in a smaller, more focused environment.

Also, in the past few months, my views on Japan have changed some.  I no longer think of Japan as this strange and exotic place full of amazing wonders – though I think there are certainly some aspects of that!  I, instead, have begun to think of Japan as a country that has found its national identity under attack over the past century or so, and are trying to figure out how to square their ancient and proud culture with the modern pressures towards assimilation and integration.  They don’t want to assimilate their culture into the larger world – and in some cases, with good reason! – but they are finding that as their population dwindles and their economy stagnates, that they may not have a choice in the matter.  It is almost as if I am watching an imperfect parallel of my journey out of a cult on a country-wide scale.  Their culture is ancient and proud, and they have a lot to offer the world if we choose to pay attention.  But the world has a lot to offer them as well, and they need to pay attention as well if they hope to survive.

But I feel that we in the west need to also help.  And I think the best way that we can help is to learn about their language and culture, and maybe use that knowledge to explain some things about my language and culture as well.  Perhaps I am a gaijin, or gaikokujin, but at the end of the day we are all people.  I live in Texas.  I see many pickup trucks every day, I see cowboy hats and wide skies and eat BBQ frequently (too frequently).  I don’t share the same language or cultural assumptions.  In some ways I feel that my culture is superior, but not in all ways – in some ways I see much to admire or respect from Japanese culture.

But how will one who only speaks Japanese know if I don’t share that?

I have a dream at some point to start a blog or youtube channel where I talk about my experiences of America, as an American – in Japanese, and to a Japanese audience.  That is a niche that I don’t think has very much content, and I think could be very useful.  I think that is one reason why I continue to learn Japanese.  I want to do that.

So, ikimasu.  On to the next step.