Anthropology of Japan

A place to discuss and share ideas, stories and information related to the anthropological study of Japan.

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Discussion Forum

where to rural Japan 5 Replies

Started by Eric Cunningham. Last reply by Miriam Zanoner Jan 2, 2012.

Do androids dream of mimetic grief? Some comments on Japanese dolls 7 Replies

Started by Philip Swift. Last reply by Philip Swift Jun 24, 2011.

Mono-mania?: a Japanese take on 'thing theory' 24 Replies

Started by Philip Swift. Last reply by John McCreery May 10, 2011.

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Comment by Liam Starkey on December 19, 2014 at 4:31am
My radio documentary about the Northern Soul music scene in Japan: . I would be interested to hear what any anthropologists thought of it (although it's more for entertainment than scholarship). Some images from the club where we did the recording in Kobe.
Comment by John McCreery on September 9, 2010 at 2:20pm
Inter//states. Tokyo by night. Time-lapse photography. Amazing music. An ethnographic moment?
Comment by Jason A. Danely on May 12, 2010 at 7:54pm
Thank you for your lengthy reply.
It seems very likely to me that as someone who appears to be a young Filipina alone in Tokyo, you seem to fit a stereotype of an illegal worker, and therefore it doesn't surprise me that you are frequently stopped by police. This context (the socio-political history of the Filipina in Japan) is not explicit in the movie, but deserves attention. The trafficking of Filipinas in Japan is sadly very real, and something that Japan is being pressured to stop by international allies and the UN.
Perhaps an answer to the question "How long does it take to belong?" would be "As long as Filipinas are being trafficked in Japan"?
I think you may be right about undocumented workers in smaller cities being overlooked, and this would be interesting to bring up if you know any police there.
I'm half Filipino but I "pass" as Caucasian, and have been stopped on my bike before too. I have seen young Japanese people stopped in the same way, and I think this is more due to the huge amount of bike theft than it is to any sort of profiling.
thanks again, and look forward to seeing more of your movies
Comment by Dada Docot on May 12, 2010 at 4:34pm
Hi, John and Jason, and everybody else who has watched the film, and is now reading this thread. I apologize for taking so long to reply. Please find my answers to your questions below.  

I find it very interesting that John has never been approached by the immigration police. Two of my male Caucasian friends (who were also students in Japan) shared with me that it was probably because they were "unshaven" that the police stopped them and inspected their documents. They said that they probably looked like "terrorists" when ungroomed.  
Female friends, meanwhile, especially fellow Filipinas, would jokingly say that they probably look like entertainers. Based on my experience and the stories of my friends - yes, the immigration police might stop you for questioning even if you are in a group (most of the anecdotal evidence I have collected is on groups of foreigners). 

Most of my friends were mostly approached in Tokyo, perhaps one of the cities in Japan where the police actively scan the crowd for "suspicious faces." It is interesting to note that in smaller cities - even those very close to Tokyo, - the Japanese police did not really seem to care about questioning foreigners. In fact, one of my male friends, a former illegal migrant of nearly 20 years living in a city not very far from Tokyo, says he has never been stopped and questioned (though this might have changed now that he is legally staying in the country).  

Is the police more lenient in smaller cities, because they know, whether they like it or not, that foreigners provide much needed labor for the local industry? Is Tokyo police more active because the city is considered an attractive target for terrorist attacks? Is this inspection surge a response by the Japanese government to the post-9/11 reality, and is this kind of surveillance Japan's contribution to the concept of global policing? Or is Tokyo simply already so overpopulated with foreigners, that the city can afford to repatriate in the blink of an eye illegal foreigners, unlike the smaller cities, which would have to think twice because of their reliance on foreign migrant labor to do the kitanai/kiken/kitsui jobs? While these, at the present, are mere questions and assumptions, what would be interesting to me is to study how the police determine who looks suspicious. What are the supposed giveaway signs of an undocumented migrant? How does one imagine what a terrorist looks like? Whatever these standards are, I think that this all boils down to profiling by face, race, and color.  

John also asked if my discomfort has become habitual, and if this somehow attracts the police to come and ask me. Asking a group of Filipinos how they feel about this, some would say that they have gotten used to it, and would just willingly show their alien card to the police. Others are more sensitive and get embarrassed. Yet others have learned tricks -- instead of handing over their alien card, they would show their university IDs. The policemen, upon seeing university IDs, would then repetitively bow and apologize. Some friends who study at prestigious Japanese universities say that they love seeing the embarrassed faces of the policemen when they show them their school IDs. Others have also learned to deploy "nihonjin-poi" clothes and hairstyles in order to deflect suspicion.  

In my short film, I believe I tried my best not to act suspicious (not to mention that I was being followed by a cameraman). Consulting with an artist friend who does performances, he recommended that I could probably "spice up" my performance to ensure the success of my experiment. He suggested that I dress myself up like an entertainer, but I found his idea problematic in many ways. His suggestion was for me to make a spectacle of myself, and while this could work, that was not the point and goal of my performance and film. I wanted to prove that by being yourself, by being natural, and without doing anything extraordinary, you could still be found suspicious, and attract the attention of the police. So on the day of the shoot, I tried to appear how I would dress up/appear during my ordinary days. I should also note that the cameraman was just a few meters away, but was only noticed by the policemen after I took out my purse. The experiment was meant to be done only once. If it had failed, I would not have tried to do it again. I used an 8mm film, because I wanted to be restricted by that single roll of film, which runs for only three minutes.  

These are my answers for now. I will be happy to discuss the film further if more questions arise. Please let me know if you have any comments on what I have just written.
Comment by Jason A. Danely on March 3, 2010 at 7:22pm
The video is very well made- the combination of style, music and editing creating an eerie, disconcerting effect.
While I am not denying that there is a special sort of scrutiny reserved for those who don't appear to "belong," I agree with John that there might be very important differences in the consequences based on gender, ethnicity and location. (I doubt that anyone would mistake John for an illegal mizushobai worker for example. a young woman alone is a different story).
Do you know of any studies of "racial profiling" in Japan that go beyond the often circulated anecdotes?
Comment by John McCreery on March 3, 2010 at 6:36am
Dada, nice job on the video. Since I have been living in Japan for nearly three decades and the things you describe have never happened to me, I wonder...

Could it be where you live? Sheer prejudice, but I'm guessing Ikebukuro instead of Yokohama.

Could it be that you are a young woman by yourself? Would this happen if you were one of a group? Especially if the group included some Japanese?

Are your suspicions making you look suspicious? If your discomfort has become habitual, you may be caught in a feedback loop. You look like you could be up to something -> Police check you out ->You become more uncomfortable -> Police check you out -> (continue loop).
Comment by Dada Docot on March 3, 2010 at 5:25am
Sharing my video work on the surveillance of foreigners in Tokyo:
Comment by John McCreery on October 13, 2009 at 5:42am
If you are in Japan, you may already know about the AJJ meeting this November. If not, please check it out and plan to attend.
Comment by John McCreery on September 23, 2009 at 1:18am
Vanessa, thanks so much for this link. Very useful, indeed.

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