by Ramone Romero.
Recently a friend I honor and respect pulled the “You’re in Japan” card on me. This is something that a few people have done over the years to imply that I can’t understand how things “really” are in America because I live in Japan.
I haven’t counted the number of times I’ve heard it, but I can remember the context of a few times. I think the first time was when the Bush administration was preparing the country with its propaganda about the need to go to war against Iraq in 2003, and I objected on Facebook and in emails that there was no evidence to support the drive to go to war. Later, other friends (always politically conservative) used the “You’re in Japan” card on me with issues like American healthcare, race relations, the Trump campaign and presidency, and Confederate flags and monuments.
Obviously there’s some significant truth to the fact that, being far away, I can’t get a complete picture of how things are “on the ground” in America. At the same time, there is a lot that can be learned online, from reading comments and articles, etc. I’m not a novice in filtering news and reports, or taking the first thing I hear as the gospel truth of a situation. I think most of my friends realize that I try to discern very carefully, and don’t just re-post or write things without critical thought.
For some, however, they’re often responding to what they’re thinking I’m thinking, instead of actually listening to what I’m sharing and critically examining their own arguments. (I realize it may sound unfair, but you’ll have to take me at my word that I try to critically examine what I write and share as much as I can, and do so because it’s actually a habit learned from growing up always feeling that my own arguments are automatically less valid than another’s arguments.)
All that said, as with the run-up to the Iraq war, I’ve learned that sometimes you can see things a bit clearer outside of the country. I call it being “outside of the fog.” Sometimes inside the fog you can’t see clearly, and while from outside you can’t see the dirt on the ground inside the fog, still you can often see more of the scope and breadth of things.
When I came to Japan, I automatically assumed that I would learn a lot about Japanese culture and thought. And I have. But what has surprised me is that I feel I have learned much, much more about American culture and thought. Much more than I have learned about Japan. It is as if being in a foreign land for so long has put a mirror in front of me, showing me more clearly my own reflection and the way that Americans think and feel.
For example, listening to the arguments of the Japanese “uyoku” (right wing) and the way that they whitewash Japan’s deeds during the war, I couldn’t help but recognize the same in America during the war (and in so many of its wars and military actions). And having lived over here in a society that does not enshrine the right to the violence of war, loose laws for the possession of firearms, and which has socialized healthcare, well, when I hear a lot of the standard defenses of these things in America, I have to admit they are simply absurd. But it’s not something that people can often see very clearly while inside the fog. And here, the “fog” is the culture, teaching, and myths that one grows up with in America and is constantly surrounded by. In that environment, the “illogic” (or “herikutsu” is a better word – literally meaning “fart logic” in Japanese) starts to make sense. But to an outsider…
Well, I remember when people were protesting then-President Obama on the National Mall, carrying signs of his face painted up like the Joker or Adolf Hitler. My wife at the time couldn’t understand, being Japanese and never having been indoctrinated in American myths and sacred beliefs. I could understand their twisted way of thinking, but I couldn’t explain it. A similar thing happened when she and I visited Washington, D.C. many years ago with her sister. Growing up around there I always enjoyed the many monuments and memorials. But just looking at her sister, who grew up in a land of peace and only knowing “war” as a negative thing, suddenly it was as if I could see with fresh eyes that the city I grew up near seemed a lot like ancient Rome. Pillars, columns, and monuments to its legions and imperial conquests everywhere. We revered war. We held it sacred. We worshiped it (although we would never consciously put it that way).
So when I hear things like the logic that says the Confederacy (and symbols of it, and monuments to it) was not about preserving white supremacy, you might assume that I’ve just adopted some liberal talking point and can’t see how things “really” are because I’m way over here in Japan. And for some people, that will be the end of any possibility of validity in what I share. But for others, especially for those who have lived overseas in a vastly different culture and had time to really reflect on their home country, they may understand that I am not just whistling Dixie (pun fully intended). I’ve been in both places, I’ve compared, I’ve learned. Shoot, I used to make the same arguments myself. I read history and original sources. And I’ve observed cultural patterns of American thought in a way that is hard for many to do who live in the fog.
All the same, I realize what I’m saying will likely not convince those making the conservative arguments and those who feel what I share is invalid because of where I live. I realize I can’t change their minds, just like I realize I can’t show anyone a lot of things I’ve learned by living overseas. My perspective is limited, I know it’s very true. But I’ve been stretched in ways I could never have imagined by living over here, and which I think many will never be able to understand until they have a similar experience of living in another culture.
Ramone Romero is an artist based in Osaka, Japan. Follow his prophetic artwork and poetry at Weeping Jeremiahs.