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Saturday
Mar192011

« In Which We Regularly Play Ping-Pong With The Princess Masako »

Sayonara

by LENA DUNHAM

I awake the next morning feeling like I need a blood transfusion. Our guide Shiori arrives at noon, chipper as ever and ready to take us to the airport where we'll board the plane home. She hands me a gift. "From Kazu. To remember last night."

A pleather nurse's cap.

My goodbye with Shiori is bittersweet — we have truly become friends, despite the uncrossable cultural chasm, a chasm evidenced by the fact that she is shocked by frank discussions of sex but was not at all surprised by what we witnessed last night at the S&M bar in the Rappongi district. "I love you," she says, handing me a bag of "bean sweets." I promise to send her the ugg boots she so desperately wants.

"Remember to e-mail Tada," she says. The sleeve of her raincoat is still dotted with red wax from a candle wielded by an obese dominatrix. "The gift he gave you was very expensive. He says you promised to take him to all the clubs of New York."

Did I? I don't remember that. I guess, like so many of my Japanese exchanges, it was lost in translation.

Ground Control To Major Mom

We've come to Japan because my mother is having a small retrospective of her photographs at a gallery in Tokyo.

Traveling with my mother has its challenges. She's adorable, a real gem, but she won't shut up and she generates little bits of trash and she is very nervous about Japanese customs — for instance, her guidebook tells her that the Japanese don't like public nose blowing, which she adores, and that's been a real source of anxiety.

On the 14 hour plane ride she watched Lost In Translation on her in-flight entertainment system. Good movie, but it is now a near-constant point of reference, and likely will be for the entirety of our time in Tokyo. After all, she was quick to note that I am a recent grad with hair vaguely the color of Scar Jo's, traveling with a working photographer. Only my shutterbug partner-in-crime is not Giovanni Ribisi. She gave birth to me.

When we land at Narita Airport twenty tiny men in scrubs and gloves and white rubber rain boots come aboard wearing masks, and announce they're going to take our temperatures as a precaution against the spread of swine flu. They have syringes in their fanny packs and I actually get very scared.

We are greeted in the airport by Shiori, a young representative from the gallery where my mother's work is being shown.

"I will be your guide," she says. Our friend Matthew warned us not to bond with any gallery girls because "you'll never lose them" but I like her. She insists on carrying my suitcase even though she weighs about seventy-three pounds and has hands like paper cranes. The taxicab's seats wear a cloak of white lace. The driver dons matching gloves and takes your Yen (thousands of them!) on a small silver tray.

I once saw a movie in which Toni Collette has hot sex with a Japanese businessman who then dies. She spends the next hour lugging his lifeless body through the Australian outback and crying.

Judging by the medical mod squad and this cab driver's stiff posture, I can't imagine a passionate affair with a native man. A few minutes after we check into the hotel the maid comes into our room to turn down the beds. Panicked, my mom stuffs her dirty underpants into my purse to keep up appearances.

Japanese American Princess

Shiori, helpful gallery girl extraordinaire, has a rival in my new friend, manga artist Miyu. Although thirty-one, Miyu looks approximately fourteen and wears an Anne-of-Green-Gables-inspired hat that only Audrey Hepburn or Audrey Tatou could pull off outside of Japan. She makes beautiful comics about coming of age. She gives me her books, but I cannot read them.

Miyu brings me to 7-11. In the US, 7-11 is just a burial ground for coke slurpeez and microwaveable pizza. Here in Japan, it purveys complex sushi rolls, tempting noodle bowls and delicate pastries with thousands of flaky layers (the label on the yummiest reads "A Taste of The Bread").

Yellowish Fever

I know I said I could never imagine a Japanese affair, but I've changed my mind. Kazu, the art handler hanging my mom's show, is gorgeous like the strong, sexy, dreadlocked Mongol in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (causing my sister to email the instruction: "Yeah, girl. crouch that tiger, hide that dragon. P.S. That's a Chinese movie").

I'm Big In Japan

I get drunk fast on sake. I haven't eaten meat in ten years but this beverage tastes fleshy somehow. I can't stomach much of what is brought to the table at a seven course meal with uber-friend Shiori and Tomio, mom's squat art dealer.

Toshi brings along a well-known Japanese painter who informs me that he comes at his art from a very "passionable" place. I learn that he is also very passionable about Buffalo Springfield, Burt Reynolds ("to most, he is sexiest man") and the Jack Black vehicle Nacho Libre.

He would like a friend in New York, as his only friends are Yo La Tengo and they are always on tour. Poor guy.

After the Party is the After-Party

At 3 a.m. I hear my sleepless mother sighing.

She is sipping chardonnay by the computer. I tell her to take an Ambien and I fall back asleep. Big mistake. Girlfriend takes an Ambien. And she follows it up with a healthy Ambien-inspired nosh session that encompasses two mini-bottles of vino, a tube of Pringles, a box of Ritz Bits, a smattering of mixed nuts. Then there's a mug of sake and a salmon-flecked rice ball. The contents of the mini-bar have been eradicated. When I awake at 9 a.m. she is snoring peacefully, surrounded by wrappers.

To See What There Is To See

We spend the afternoon wandering through the Shibuya neighborhood, which is like if Soho and Times Square had a baby and then moved to the moon to raise it. It is also where many of Lost in Translation's most memorable visuals were captured: filmed, I'm told, from the window of the mega-Starbucks at Shibuya crossing. I'm beginning to resent Sophia Coppola's subtly fascistic dictatorship over our travel experience.

Every linguistic foible, every longing glance out a cab window at dusk — if my mother doesn't say it, then I feel it. We are in someone's else's movie.

There are so many businessmen and business-ladies in Shibuya, all over Tokyo really. A sea of briefcases! Japanese people look so young — fourteen year olds in ill-fitting suits. What kind of business could they all be doing? When they cross the street it looks like a music video, or the cover of Abbey Road. They are so orderly and leave a foot of space between themselves and the next office escapee.

The White Man Cometh

We attend an opening at the Hara museum, all art by hip young collectives, and I develop my second Japanese crush, on a mophead in a t-shirt that says "Hustler: Hardcore since '74."

Being the only Caucasian in a room, you almost feel invisible because you are so visible. When you're in Mexico or someplace, at least they want your paper dollars. But here, we are uncouth, smelly, hairy. We have swine-flu. Our currency is inferior and our history is short. Yet the Japanese also love Sid Vicious, cowboys, birthday cakes, bagels.

It's such a confusing dynamic.

Memoirs of a Geisha

It's a complex process to even get near the hotel pool, one that involves a mandatory shower and a key that you strap to your thigh. But I am immediately thwarted when I see a sign announcing that no tattooed persons may enter the water. My mother is not content to either follow or ignore this rule, so she presents me to the locker room attendant, pointing to my arm and announcing/asking "THIS IS OK!?"

The sweet-faced girl looks vexed, turns a bit red, pulls out a roll of medical tape and proceeds to cover up all my tattoos — even the one my lower back, which she claims to find "kawaii" (cute). I do twenty laps and shed all the tape in the water, mummy-style.

Night On Earth

My mother's opening is considered a smashing success, although attendance is estimated at approximately twenty.

She is interviewed by a Japanese TV crew while I spend a long time talking with a bald Canadian man named Todd who says he is a "thought-leader entrepreneur at the forefront of the meeting between business and education." Todd says it's good to move to Japan because you can get famous more quickly. For instance, he regularly plays ping-pong with the princess Masako, and attends her wine tastings.

At the post-opening dinner, I drink a bit too much sake and have to take a genteel vomit break. When I return from the bathroom, all red and shiny, Shiori is waiting with a knowing grin. She is seated near my crush Kazu, who looks like Heath Ledger and James Iha merged and then put on a ruffled blue blazer. I have been informed that he loves to get high and was waiting for signs of drug use, but it turns out he "doesn't need no drugs, just a trance music." Shiori is looking at him, then back at me, over and over.

"What?" I demand.

"You must go talk to Kazu to learn he is a PUHVERT. I think he's the gay, but he very nice guy. Go sit behind him to learn why he the PUHVERT."

"But I don't speak Japanese, so I don't know what he's saying. Is it about sex?"

"NO, NO!" She blushes. "He very nice guy. Go sit behind him. He the PUHVERT, though. At the clubs he go crazy. You think he's the gay?" I am thoroughly confused and ready to let this whole exchange slide. But outside, after dinner, Kazu motions me over to him.

Quietly, he speaks. "Late this week, we go to the club?"

"Sure" I say. "Are you going out tonight?"

"We cannot," he tells me. "You are wearing wrong shoes. So we will go Thursday together to the club."

"OK. Great." I smile.

Shiori hurries over. "Did he talk to you? Now you see how forward he is!" It is surreal to get into a taxicab with your slightly tipsy mother and look out the window to see fifteen smiling Japanese people in leatherette formalwear waving goodbye joyfully from a street corner. They all bow in unison, over and over, until you are out of view. 

An American Werewolf in Japan

My mother wants to go for a drink with Shiori on the 57th floor of the Park Hyatt hotel, where Lost in Translation was filmed.

I really do like that movie, just as much as the next recently-teenaged girl, and I'm not sure why my mother using it as a constant reference point makes me so crazy. There are several Hyatts near this Hyatt and we spend almost an hour riding up and down the elevator of the wrong one, wandering the darkened halls of its conference center, before we realize our mistake.

When we finally arrive we enjoy an uncharacteristic martini, listening to the smooth sounds of the resident jazz band. "In the movie it's a band called Sausalito and Bill Murray sleeps with the woman. Remember?" mom asks.

That red-haired vixen isn't here tonight. It's a Vanessa Williams look-alike crooning Cole Porter. It's very interesting to hear Shiori discuss concepts such as "honor" "respectability" and "modesty." Her former colleague (a word she pronounces cawl-eee-gew) had an affair with Kazu, art handler crush, and it was a great dishonor, not only for that woman's husband but for everyone who knew either cheater.

Once Shiori was in a club chaperoning a visiting German artist and he kissed a Japanese girl who then fainted. I ask why and Shiori says "because he pulled all the energies from her."

Oodles of Noodles

Manga-artist Miyu giggles constantly, as if any question ("where this street is located?" or "what is that root vegetable called?") is the most embarrassing thing that has ever befallen her. She often knocks on nearby pieces of wood for luck. She has, I hear, published three books, two of which are bestsellers. She lives in a tiny cottage that once belonged to her now-hospitalized grandmother. She dresses like Daisy Buchanan and claims never to have googled herself. She has no idea how many books she has sold. She makes it all look so effortless.

Speaking of effort, I've stopped trying to imitate Japanese manners and now I consume "A Taste Of The Bread" right in the streets, cream on my face, ravenous. Eating in the street is considered very rude here, but I spotted a commuter munching a sandwich in the subway so the jig is up.

Too Much Hospitality

Sometimes, when you've been in Japan for ten days, you start to get a little funny. First, you'll stop noticing the preventive flu masks around you. A businessman will stand out in a crowd because of his Bon Jovi-esque haircut and not because he is wearing a mask over his face.

You will start bowing to people who hold open a door or sell you a honeydew yogurt or inform you that there are fish flakes on some crackers you're not sure you want. You will flash a peace sign and assume a pigeon toed stance whenever someone aims a camera at you.

You have adopted/adapted all these traits, yet you're also low-grade tired all the time. From trying to avoid beef broth. From making sure to remember that L's sound like R's and vice versa. From the outrageously reliable Japanese friends you have made — they are always early and always offering to pick things up for you at the convenience store and always buying you sweet treats that you claim not to want, but that they know you will eat because you're an American with as many stomachs as a cow. It's enough to make you miss the enervated flakes you surround yourself with in New York City.

No One Can Take A Joke

I spend the afternoon with Nanako, a teeny art critic in a deconstructed blazer and Harry Potter glasses. I'm stunned by this culture of hospitality —everyone we meet offers a tour, some tea, a red bean cake — so I jokingly tell Nanako that if my life in the US doesn't deliver I will just move to Tokyo and act on Japanese soap operas. Todd the Canadian thought-leader says everything is easier here. But Nanako is stern. "You'll never get respect that way, or long term satisfaction."

They Might Be Giants

I go to Harajuku Street hoping to spot G. Stefani's muses but am informed that the look is out of fashion. What's cool now is dressing like a secretary — cardigans, pearls, practical pumps. At Uniqlo they don't sell jeans in a size bigger than 27. There's a boutique with a window-full of baby-colored mini-dresses. They'd make nice pillows in the Real World Malibu Barbie house, but they won't suit me. The salesgirl doesn't agree and insists I try on three.

None fit because I am not a Japanese woman and my stomach(s) need some room. I am developing a rash, sweating, can't bear to explain myself so I buy a silver mesh tank top with bells on it. The armholes are far too tight. Returning to the hotel, grumpy and huge, I yell at my mother when she makes the Lost in Translation reference that breaks the camel's back.

Are You There, God? I'm In Tokyo

I'm going to a club with Kazu. What do I wear? How do I dance? If he did kiss me, which he won't (will he!?) then would he want to use tongues? I haven't seen a single dog here, and the streets are so shiny and clean. People have different house slippers designated for every room, so I really can't imagine the use of tongue. Germy. But this is also the country that spawned bukkake, tentacle-rape porn, and Sailor Moon.

I'm starting to understand my resistance to Lost In Translation references. Firstly, it sort of makes me feel like one of those women who visits New York and takes the Sex & The City bus tour. Secondly, as a filmmaker I like to believe that anything I do might be grist for some future movie-mill, but a twenty-something blondish girl wandering Tokyo is someone's private property.

What Happens in Rappongi Stays In Rappongi

We begin my final night at the opening of Tada, a hot commodity in contemporary Japanese ceramics. He's considered sort of an enfant terrible in the ceramics world, and he further cultivates this image by wearing a turban and pounds of silver rings.

"Tada is very sexy, no?" Shiori asks. "A cool kind of big deal artist!" She insists that we stand very near him and just sort of slump and smile.

Afterwards, we are guests at the seated-on-tatami mats dinner to celebrate Tada.

Kazu, is there, wearing a frilly collar that makes him look like a sad clown as re-imagined by Commes Des Garcons. But his body is so long and sinewy, and his ponytail so well done, that I take it in stride. Although neither of us smokes, my mother and I bum cigarettes off a table-mate and someone calls us "naughty women."

Tada and I speak a bit with the aid of a translator (a giggling red-faced Shiori). Outside, it's pouring rain. We are all handed clear plastic umbrellas, and it's beautiful when everyone stands together and chats and there is this sort of anti-rain ceiling covered in droplets and illuminated by Tokyo's myriad neon signs. I tell my mother that if I were to make a film set in Tokyo, I'd want to capture this clear-umbrella phenomenon, but guess who already committed this savvy detail to celluloid? Sofia Coppola, that's who.

Kazu announces it's time to hit the clubs, so I bid mom farewell and wander through the wet streets with Yasu, a disarmingly chatty guy with Buddy Holly glasses and a messy bun. Tada rolls deep with a bad-ass ceramicist dude-crew, and Yasu is the standout. He is wearing a raging bull t-shirt and attended an American University as an exchange student, where he "majored in smoking." He tells me all about his wife, who is at home because she's eight months pregnant.

We arrive at Club UNIT, the pulsing crowd full of Japanese hipsters in suspenders and fedoras. The DJ's are German youth who have clearly moved to Tokyo to be worshipped as gods of fun and style.

Their plan is working. Club-goers bum rush the booth, fighting to get near. The DJs, in turn, take digital photos of their disciples. Kazu and Tada insist on buying me drinks and, more unexpectedly, carrying my purse.

When I protest, they tell Shiori to tell me that "We will show you how a Japanese man is. You are a princess." They think I am a loose girl from the land that birthed reality TV and Cheetos. Shiori says Kazu has a "thing" where he only "has the sex with girls who have never had the sex. He thinks any other way is dirty."

Tada asks my age. I say "23, last week." He's excited. "HOPPY BIRSDAY!"

Suddenly I am faced with a huge bottle of Dom Perignon and a bald man who just keeps pouring it while Tada yells "HOPPY BIRSDAY," again and again. He hands me a pewter mini-vase of his own creation and says "my gift of you." New Order comes on. I let my hair down and dance. Kazu lets his hair down too and tries to waltz. I roll with it. He delivers a long monologue to Shiori, who looks at me and laughs. "What!?" I demand. "He says you are sexy." I'm flattered, considering I'm roughly the size of ninety-one Shioris lined up in a row. S. Coppola really did nail the phenomenon of a Japanese utterance that sounds like an epic and translates into nothing more than a sentence fragment. Recall the scene of Bill Murray being screamed at for minutes by a rockstar director, who has really just asked him to tilt his head slightly.

Now it's time to head to the bar. "A special bar" Shiori says. "A bar for the sadistics." We take a cab to "Fetish Bar." As fetish bars go, this one seems pretty weak. It's about the size of Puffy's Tavern, the bar down the block from me in Manhattan that sees fifteen customers on a good night. Cocktail waitresses wear leather thongs and carry dinky, sub-par whips. One of them is very fat, an oddity in Japan. A sort of big pun den mother, I hear her demand that an ornery client "shut a fuck up." Tada immediately asks that I put on one of the sexy outfits hanging by our banquette. I demur for almost an hour. Shiori sets in. "Why not? This will be the fun. Just a nurse one." I say no. Again and again I say no. I watch Yasu get tied up and "whipped" by our cocktail waitress and I keep saying no.

I allow her to burn my arm with a candle, don't flinch, and I still say no.

"But you are such a sexual person," Yasu informs me. No.

"Can I kiss you?" he asks. "I will not tell my wife because I am my own man of pleasure." No.

"Do you think we're so fucked and inside of ourselves because we are Japanese? We cannot get loose?"

"I don't know," I say. This is making me sad.

So they keep asking about the vinyl nurse's uniform, and I keep drinking. And finally it's just, like, why not? This is the only part of my Tokyo experience Scarlett Johansson can't touch, and anyway, interesting people need to have stories like this.

Shiori and I step into the bathroom, where we stand with a middle-aged salary man wearing only shrunken trousers, his hairless chest covered in red wax. She zips the "dress" on and we emerge. A waitress shouts "KAWAII!" Tada says " LIKE BRITNEY SPEARS!" A random guy in a French maid's apron says, "You so sexy, RENA."

Yasu is awfully wasted and squeezes my butt cheek so hard under the table that I cry out in pain: "NO." For all this talk of honor, there is a surprisingly huge problem with unsolicited ass-grabbing in Tokyo. During rush hour they designate a ladies-only car on the subway.

Yasu goes to another part of the bar and allows the waitress to spread his ass cheeks open and pour hot wax inside.

When his penis comes out, he says "It's not so big — Japanese size! But it can get bigger. Sometime." I am ready to go home. At which point things suddenly get formal.

"It was honor," Tada says, bowing.

"Please you enjoyed Japan," Kazu says.

"Such a nice girl," Yasu slurs.

In the cab back to the hotel, I think that I am starring in a movie about a girl who has just experienced something foreign.

Lena Dunham is a filmmaker from New York City. You can find her website here and she twitters here. Photographs by the author.

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Reader Comments (59)

JYES

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

awesome

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKara

I absolutely loved this article. So cleverly observed and written. I read it in public and I was smiling to myself like an idiot the whole time.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Passionable and revelatory

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTaylor
On a scale of 1-10, how more racist can Lena Dunham be?
August 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterx
Racism unto infinity. Someone who has the privilege to travel to Japan worry free, and to spend her life doing whatever she wants, then spends the entire time shitting on other people's culture and making "jokey" racist observations.
August 31, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdipset
We get it Lena Dunham: your casual racism makes you SO SUBVERSIVE AND EDGY. So edgy it hurts (quite literally.) Must be nice being a carefree white girl.
September 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJane
why should you get to go to japan while there are so many other people out there who would love to go and RESPECT their culture and not be racist
September 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlauren
"On a scale of 1-10, how more racist can Lena Dunham be?" - 100! Lena Dunham is the epitome of white feminism.
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHonnie
You are fucking insufferable.
September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoann
In sum: 'I would totally love to make a film about the ennui of obnoxious privileged Americans featuring Japanese culture as an exotic backdrop, but Sofia Coppola beat me to it!'
September 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhamrove
call the wambulance, someone said japanese culture is weird (as if there's nothing weird about fetishizing animated celebrities or providing used women's underwear in public vending machines).

it's ironic that political correctness has reached the point of nazism.
September 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstalin
White people pointing out weird things about Japan on the Internet is so 2003. This is like a Tim Rogers piece, only without any sense of cultural literacy.
October 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfigblack
I read this and didn't see racism anywhere. Just the experience of a particular person in a foreign country.

But then I think of some (just a few really) US tourists and I get it. A small subset of them are prone to the wrath of the righteous. Zero tolerance to accept anything that deviates from their own political correctness. They see racism everywhere.

Example: we are celebrating Christmas and they anger because there is a white guy impersonating a black guy. We have no idea what the f**ck they are talking about, but apparently *we* should change our ways on *our* country to suit their sensibilities.

Combine this with internet anonymity and you get this thread of comments.
October 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoan
as a japanese woman....yeah this is racist.
(note the lena whitebread mcpotato stans trying valiantly to defend casual racism. that's rich.)
October 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous
Not one of the people offended here tries to reason or explain anything, because they feel, oh so violated, that they see the rest of humankind as a lost case. Still worth the chance to drop by and spread some hate tho. Good job guys, you are such a positive force on this world, much unlike this author of course.
October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGregor Heusser
THIS IS SO RACIST I CAN'T EVEN!!!!!
October 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilla
it's a young woman's first trip to a weird country - what do you expect, other than commentary on the constant weirdness of it, especially when that country is Japan, land of weird?

It's not ground-breaking reportage and it does reinforce stereotypes. You know why those stereotypes exist? Because Japan is actually like that. Could she have maybe gone outside her bubble of foreigner amusement? Sure. Was that necessary for the article? No.

I appreciated her acknowledgement of the difficulty of reckoning with the influence of Coppola's film on her own experience. We've all been to Tokyo even if we've never been there, same with Moscow, or Paris, or New York, and it indexes a crucial problem for our time, which is "how can I have my own experience of something, when I live in a media-saturated world?" the short answer is that you can't, and that your "own" experience is a myth.
October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilhelm
Oh dear. I have tried to cut this Lena person some slack. She is young, she is talented and she is successful. All cool things.

I have read all the criticisms directed at Lena Dunham, particularly with regard to the perceived 'white privilege' in her work, and the nepotism claims. I tried to be fair and supportive of a young writing talent. But this piece is sooo prejudiced and what pains me most is the staunch and comfy position of educated-white-girl, first world, "ha ha - aren't I witty, aren't Asians funny with their funny little ways?" privilege oozing from every paragraph. Some parts are actually distasteful. If that was the intention, well - OK, but if not? Re-write and try again.

I am black, I am English and I have lived in Japan. I am disappointed to see LD 'living down' to all the criticism. But I am hopeful because Lena is young and might develop and mature, which will benefit her work immensely. Or she may not, and may continue to trot out scheisse like this.
October 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkamadafuji
I find this post extremely offensive, ignorant and Orientalist. This whole article resonates prejudice, unfair judgment and lack of cultural understanding. My family used to live in Japan, I have many friends there, and I've been there myself, and throughout this piece, I have not empathised with a single thing you have said or "observed". Your view is placing the Japanese in the position of the 'Other' with no cultural empathise or attempt to even understand the cultural nuances you're bound to encounter when visiting a different country. Instead, you apparently find it adequate to belittle, over-simplify, misinterpret and mis-represent in a way reminiscent of colonial ethnographic diaries depicting the "strange" and "barbaric" "Other". Toss your whiteness aside and realise how ridiculous you sound in this article. I'm actually shocked that people still have to exoticise and mystify what is different to them (which you've thoroughly done in this article). From my experience and own knowledge, this article does not reflect Japan nor Japanese culture in the slightest. It is merely the hideously exoticised fantasy of an ignorant white woman.
December 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnanya
Just had to add my two cents and agree with the well-written responses above that point out, rightly, that constantly expressing "Look how weird they are, with their WEIRD little WAYS!" is dehumanizing and unsympathetic at best. I am white, transgender, and American, and have lived in Japan for five years. I understand you are trying to be artistic in your prose, I understand you are young, but I was 22 when I came here and I knew better. I knew to humble myself, observe respectfully, and not keep pointing out "BUT IN AMERICA WE ____". This isn't America. I'm a minority here with very, very few rights. I am not saying Japan (or any nation) is perfect, but neither do I act like I'm a white naturalist from the 1800s.
December 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimonoeater
Hilarious! Loved it!
January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterD
You are a terrible silly woman that makes every other white person that goes to a foreign country look bad. And the fact that so many ignorant whites go to Japan and treat the culture with so much disrespect and causal racism... While others who don't get the privilege to go to Japan who will actually appreciate and treat the culture with respect and not some novelty. fuck you and don't come back to Japan.
January 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwww
I want to want to like Lena Dunham and her work, I really do.
But speaking a young Japanese American woman and a feminist, it's painful to hear a country and culture I continue to explore trashed in such a common, stereotypical manner for the sake of a few white guffaws.

To aid in understanding and hopefully education, I want to go through some of the examples:

1. Asian stereotyping of gender and sexuality. Asian women and men are consistently stereotyped in some of the following ways: women are exoticized and made as sexual, frail, submissive, and delicate; and men are often stripped of their sexuality, sex appeal, and masculinity. The constant references to men "carrying my purse" puts them in this non-masculine role, even though any observant individual would notice the occurrence of men wearing purse-like objects because trying to navigate Tokyo without something to carry shit in is impossible. The description of the taxi driver without sex appeal speaks for itself.

Referring to Shiori as "giggling" and "red-faced," with "hands like paper cranes" uses cliche Oriental terms to paint her as a delicate child, not a grown woman. Additionally, Ms. Dunham serves to infantilize an entire population with one description of businesswomen and men described as "fourteen-year-olds in ill-fitting suits." Painting the other as an inferior child is yet another common side effect of whiteness.

In addition, the dehumanizing asexuality/perversion dynamic is also reinforced with the juxtaposition of the apparent asexuality of men (who can't possibly like to French kiss), and the grotesque slant via portrayal of Japanese sexuality a la "tentacle rape porn," and fetishism. There's no middle ground in the stereotype, and there's no middle ground in Ms. Dunham's piece.

2. Pan-Asian generalizing. A pan-Asian perspective is a uniquely white perspective when it comes to Asian countries and people. It's an outsider's perspective which equates all Asian cultures and peoples as the same without regard to national, regional, cultural differences. No one seems to know or cares to know unique histories and cultures from this dominating white perspective. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" can apply to Japan even if it's Chinese. "Memoirs of a Geisha" (in which the film version featured all Chinese actors) and geishas (so sexual! so exotic!) are seemingly all white people care to understand about Japan--and the understanding is incredibly limited at that.

This idea is exemplified in Ms. Dunham's telling of her experience covering up her tattoos while bathing, which came off as a privileged complaint without mention of the cultural relevance: tattoos are strongly associated (although the association is waning) with the Yakuza, so it's common for tattooed individuals to cover up, especially when bathing in public spaces.

In this vein, you have your commonplace ignorance and disregard, with no critical lens or quest for nuance or understanding. I consider "yellow fever" an always-offensive term, especially when coming out of the mouth of a white person. Quoting broken English and "mispronunciations" of those who speak English as a second language is offensive at best, and, to me, akin to a white person emulating Ebonics. Many people in Japan are hesitant to speak English because of embarrassment, which seems ridiculous when you think about those English literates who cannot even spell "Roppongi" correctly, much less pronounce the "go-zai-ma-su" that follows arigato.

Othering the culture with the word "foreign" (even though you are the foreigner) and describing "we" (who is "we" exactly?) as "uncouth, smelly, and hairy" to the Japanese is laughably offensive as an individual with global white privilege.

The entertainment value in this piece is non-existent for me, because all it does is recycle the stereotypical norms of a white person in Japan. Humor holds insight, and there can be no insight without a critical perspective that refuses to fall on norms and perspectives informed by white privilege.
January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaya
Maya, I loved your response to this piece. On reading the piece, I felt it to be a very hollow and somewhat manufactured reflection on Dunham's time in Japan; it was like she was expecting Tokyo and its people to be "weird," and thus saw them as "weird," all while expecting her American audience to expect "weirdness," and so she gave them preconceived "weird." Does that even make sense? I thought it was superficial, and that the people introduced to the readers--Shiori, Miyu, Kazu, and Yasu--were not considered to be real people, but rather props to meet her own ends.

I understand that fish-out-of-water feeling you can get in another country with its own set of social norms, but Dunham reacted to these differences like a sullen kid, rather than a) having some manners and being respectful and b) attempting to seek understanding of why those norms are in place. For example, the covering of tattoos interested me (I have tattoos myself), but when I read Maya's explanation, it made much more sense.

The part that really bothered me? That Dunham decides she can't POSSIBLY imagine Japanese men in a sexual way after encountering a team of airport security workers and a taxi driver. Um, what were you expecting, exactly? A band of hunky dudes to greet you? I've encountered many a cab driver and many an airport security worker, and I don't expect them to be sexy for me. They're at work. That whole part was just so...icky. I mean, if someone said that about a group of white female security workers, I have a pretty good idea how Dunham would react.

In all, I think that Dunham just barely broaches some interesting examinations of the differences in Japanese and US culture, but does so in a clumsy, myopic fashion that relies on stereotype ("The Japanese are so orderly but so perverted! OMG!") rather than actually getting to know members of that culture. An examination of the weirdness that is American culture(s) as a parallel would have been welcome, too.

Lena. Please try harder. Please start thinking a bit more. Okay?
January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOwlish
Too bad Lena didn't get molested and fucked up her ass at the club.
January 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterthunkdunk
Thanks, Owlish. I agree with you and like the balance of exercising understanding/sympathy when attempting to illuminate the problematic aspects of the piece & perspective.

Thunkdunk, I think your and others' similar comments are totally inappropriate, offensive, and abusive. I don't support promoting sexual assault and sexism, especially in this context of punishment. Let's stop the culture of hate and abuse and attempt to share our knowledge and perspectives, and build love and understanding between people of all cultures, races, sexes, and walks of life.
January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaya
I've lived in Japan for nearly 20 years and this essay was one of the better pieces I've read by a casual visitor to Tokyo. I've had almost every one of the experiences she describes (or one near enough) many times over. All of you screaming racism don't know what the fuck you are talking about - she's simply describing a real experience she had during a brief trip to a foreign country. And Maya, not everyone who travels to Japan has an Asian Studies degree and you shouldn't expect them to share your obsession with and knowledge of Japan. Thanks for the fucking Japanese lesson, since she obviously should be fluent if she wants to step foot in the country. Christ. Most Japanese people (not Japanese Americans) would be making the same jokes about mis-pronunciation, and I guarantee they wouldn't be offended by the essay AT ALL. You seem incapable of allowing a non-Asian person to have an opinion about Japan unless you approve of it. Grow the fuck up.
January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNobunaga73
Knock it off, Nobunaga73. You're not making any sense at all, which is probably the reason why you're agreeing with this shit-tier piece of turd so-called "article."
January 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbaka_toroi
When I'm reading an article in which the content is travel, I expect the author to write past stereotypes of that culture that have been made by outsiders. Not everyone who travels to Japan should have an Asian Studies degree, Nobunga, but a travel writer should at least come across as if they've read the back of a Lonely Planet. It's really not too much to expect, and it's not too much to expect that the article makes an attempt to move past rundown cultural stereotypes. I question your comment claiming that Japanese people "wouldn't be offended by the essay AT ALL" and I question your comfort in speaking so assuredly for another group of people. Anyone can have an opinion, sure. But that doesn't mean every opinion is weighted the same. And believe me, there are plenty of people who don't have my approval and are still assholes on the internet--isn't that obvious? ;)
January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaya
I do appreciate the reactions of Owlish, Maya, and a few others, which seem to go a bit deeper than broadly condemning the piece as racist. However, I do think that most of the backlash against this piece is based in some assumed premise of what kind of writing this is supposed to be (travel writing, cultural studies, etc.) and its responsibilities as such.

Since I see it as piece of memoir-esque writing, I actually have an expectation that the author will accurately relay (or attempt to create the sense of relaying) the impulses and impressions which formed the most compelling parts of the experience being chronicled, without pausing to self-critique or apologize (unless introspection, itself, contributed significantly to the experience, which--let's be honest--just doesn't seem as exciting to read about in most cases).

I don't see defending the piece on this level to be shirk, or a go ahead to "be as racist as you like, as long as your chosen form of expression has you covered" but more of an acknowledgement that, in most cases, the compelling protagonist in fiction or memoir will have a mixture of preconceptions, some unique to them, and some formed in part by cultural assumptions which may, themselves, be somewhat broad or racist, but that, in most cases, a savvy writer will trust the reader to see which is which.
January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames
"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam James
Now that I’ve got your attention, let me respond to your points. Maya, you're looking far too hard for racism and stereotypes.

1) I would argue that YOU are the one guilty of viewing Lena Dunham's descriptions with your own prejudices preventing you from recognizing how accurate they are. For example. I find her descriptions of the men she encountered extremely familiar and accurate -- but you are insinuating an implied judgment about the descriptions based upon your own assumptions of how white Westerners view Asians. Japanese men often carry purses, they just do. That would be strange in America, here it's not. You claim that this is deliberately 'feminizing' them according to some pernicious white conspiracy to elicit laughter, then claim that purse-carrying is due to some special characteristic of Tokyo that makes it necessary. Have you ever been to the countryside? Men carry little purses there, too. Men also use folding fans in the summer (shit, I do all the time). For a first-time visitor to Japan these both look funny and are worth mentioning in an article about your first trip to Japan and your impressions of the country... Ms. Dunham doesn’t condemn this “feminization”, you bring that yourself.

I’m not even going to get into your ridiculous overreaction to her description of Shiori; and Japanese take it as a point of pride that they look young to Western eyes. Seriously, have you ever lived in Japan for any significant amount of time? You bring a very American-centric view to your understanding of Japan.

Wow. You have a pretty serious axe to grind about white people and here you make a lot of assumptions and generalizations about how white people view Asians. Ironic. You state very early that you’re Japanese American -- why? Why does your ‘race’ matter at all? It’s because you think it gives you some authority to speak about Japan, even though you obviously don’t understand Japan very well at all; yet you assume because you are genetically Japanese your opinion carries more weight. I find your assumptions about Japan and white people’s view of “Pan-Asian generalizing” here every bit as shallow as you accuse Ms. Dunham of being.

Tattoos. Congratulations, you know more about tattoos in Japan than Ms. Dunham.

Interestingly enough, I first heard the term “yellow fever” from a Japanese person. I guess they were racist.

Mispronunciations of English are fodder for Japanese comedians; Japanese tv is full of Japanese people making fun of themselves for bad English. I guess the simple fact that a white person accurately depicts poor English is racist? Again, more revealing about you than Ms. Dunham.

‘Othering the culture with word “foreign”’. Oh god, this paragraph must have been cribbed from your Asian Studies thesis. You could actually write an entire thesis about Japanese people and their concept of “gaijin”, yet here you try to equate global white privilege with a self-deprecating description of “uncouth, smelly, and hairy” foreigners. Again, have you ever spent any significant time in Japan? Are you REALLY this naive?

I speak, read, and write Japanese. I’ve been here almost two decades. Your post is laughably ill-informed about Japan; your assumptions about Japanese people are naive and offensive - just because you are genetically Japanese you have no special ability to understand Japan. You are an American. You are projecting your own American beliefs (from a Japanese American perspective) onto a culture you don’t understand, trying to claim some authority through genetics. Ms. Dunham’s piece was a simple, straightforward depiction of her first trip to Japan without judgment or assumed authority.
January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNobunaga73
Oh, Nobunaga. You’ve always had my attention so long as I can read; you flatter me.

In response to your first two paragraphs under #1, I’d like to assume the best and so say you did not address what I actually argued. One thing I will point out is the use of your phrase “deliberately ‘feminizing'” because my point is that stereotypes work because people reinforce and normalize them—deliberately or not. Such is the use of pointing out stereotypes: so that we can become aware of them and deliberately choose to disrupt them.

Similarly, my point about the description of Shiori was that it fell on stereotypical, orientalist phrases such as “hands like paper cranes” to perpetuate stereotypes of Japanese women as frail and delicate. This “American-centric” perspective to which you ascribe me is an interesting twist on my intention to point out outside (American) stereotypes of Japanese people and culture.

But perhaps the biggest point I’d like to make about your response lies in the phrases you employ. “Ridiculous overreaction,” and “looking too hard for racism and stereotypes” are common tools that serve to deny and degrade not only my personal experience and concerns, but also the experiences and concerns of those from non-dominant groups as a whole. We hear these accusations echoed all the time when people of color express their concerns about racism in the U.S. We hear this when women communicate their experiences as the less-valued gender group. “You’re over-exaggerating,” “things have changed now” and “you’re looking too hard for problems” serve to trivialize and minimize patterns of behavior that are being identified by those being hurt by such behaviors over and over again.

You know, I find it interesting that you say, “Why does your ‘race’ matter at all? It’s because you think it gives you some authority to speak about Japan, even though you obviously don’t understand Japan very well at all; yet you assume because you are genetically Japanese your opinion carries more weight." And yet, Nobunaga, in the next breath you argue: “Interestingly enough, I first heard the term “yellow fever” from a Japanese person. I guess they were racist."

Well, Nobunaga, you can’t have it both ways. But this is how race is used and abused in argument: to neutralize the contentions of the person making the argument by invalidating their racial identity (in this case as inauthentic), and then to justify racist remarks by using a “legitimate” and “authentic” person who “first” used the racist term called into question. Ever notice how a white person will say, “I can use the N-word because I have a lot of black friends who use it”? It’s the same idea, and it comes down to the same tactic: using racial privilege to invalidate claims of racism with no regard to how power operates in racial relations.

So, congratulations, Nobunaga—you can speak and write and have lived in Japan for ~20 years. If this is your claim to authenticity, maybe you can find me someone who’s lived in Japan for 22 years? Because according to your line of reasoning, they’ll be much more authentic than your sorry ass. (And who knows? Maybe they’ll actually address my arguments in a coherent, reasonable way.)

I’m frustrated enough that your post is condescending, arrogant, and full of straw-man arguments and ad hominem attacks. But at the end of the day, what I find most bothersome is your refusal to acknowledge the realities and lived experiences of race and power. Your hand stinks of privilege and oppression when you so callously wave away well-argued contentions and experiences of pain and stereotype. For all the disregard you seem to have for “Asian Studies” (oh, the fact that they’d even have thoughtful inquiry for such things is just so ridiculous!), you sure as hell could benefit for taking a class or two--if you could even stand opening your mind an ears to the voices of those Asians who felt the need to educate people about their experiences.

Please forgive me if I’ve trampled all over your thoughts and objections as you’ve done mine. I’ve done my best to work past the pain and address your poorly-reasoned arguments. So here’s my bottom line: You can’t talk about race without talking about power, and you can’t talk about anything at all without listening to those voices of lived experience, and claiming responsibility for your place in the systems of power.
January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaya
trash. I hope next time you think about what you say
January 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersmh
Maya,

While you put a lot of effort in writing your reply to Nobunaga73, you didn't answer his question; have you actually lived in Japan?
February 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterzero_five
Of course she hasn't lived in Japan. But she's Japanese American so don't even bother questioning her authority on an entire culture she's only ever studied. She had to work too hard to type through her pain to give us her last response. We shouldn't expect more.
February 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNobunaga73
As much as I love to see white men talk about authority to Asian women...
Living in Africa doesn't make you Malcolm X, and holding a purse and folding fan in the sticks doesn't make you Japanese.
February 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternogit
That is an idiotic analogy. You're aware Malcolm X isn't African, right?

Nor have I claimed to "be Japanese" (I'm far, far from it, but I am completely confident I understand Japanese people better than she does), nor do I live in the sticks. But actual knowledge and lived experience should count over what you learn about a culture in a few university courses and some sort of perceived genetic solidarity. I would never criticize Maya for writing about the experience of a Japanese American in America, because she's obviously an authority and it's obviously very personal. But I can't begin to tell you how many young Japanese Americans I've met who've come to live in Japan with the same attitude and lose it after a year. Early during my time in Japan one of my best friends (a Japanese American) put it to me like this (paraphrasing): "You know, after a year of dealing with the bullshit here I finally realized I just think like a regular American - whatever that means. "

The bottom line is - there were no value judgments made in Lena Dunham's article, no generalizations made about an entire culture based upon a few observations during a brief trip. It was just accurate portrayals of Japanese people that actually do exist. I know they exist because I've met people like them hundreds of times, I've had similar experiences. Maya wants to have it both ways -- white people can't be too critical (because that is oppression) or too adulatory (because that's exoticism), instead they have to walk a thin line that doesn't allow them convey any real impressions, only some watered-down description that gets her stamp of approval as acceptable portrayals of a culture she barely understands. Please.
February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNobunaga73
Nobunaga, here are some of your quotes I've found useful to list for this post:

"I am completely confident I understand Japanese people"
"actual knowledge"
"a culture she [Maya] barely understands"
"yet you [Maya] assume because you are genetically Japanese your opinion carries more weight"
"there were no value judgments made in Lena Dunham's article, no generalizations made"
"I speak, read, and write Japanese. I’ve been here almost two decades."
"I've lived in Japan for nearly 20 years"
"All of you screaming racism don't know what the fuck you are talking about"
"Maya, not everyone who travels to Japan has an Asian Studies degree and you shouldn't expect them to share your obsession with and knowledge of Japan."
"Thanks [Maya] for the fucking Japanese lesson"
"I guarantee they [Japanese people] wouldn't be offended by the essay AT ALL."
"It was just accurate portrayals of Japanese people"

I stated my position in society as a Japanese American woman and a feminist because when talking about these topics, I believe it's important to speak for oneself and to identify one's social identity. Interestingly, you make no real acknowledgement much less take any responsibility for your individual perspective--as a white male, I assume--but as I said, of course, you haven't acknowledged or claimed responsibility for your societal position and perspective. (Isn't it funny that white males tend to be the best examples of those who speak for other races without regard/acknowledgement to their own position in society?)

You project an inauthentic authenticity onto me, and then attempt to force me to defend my authenticity (an authenticity I never claimed for myself). You project an authority onto me, and attempt to force me to defend my authority (an authority I never claimed for myself).

As I said, this a common move in discussion regarding race: using racial privilege to invalidate claims of racism with no regard to how power operates in racial relations.

I refuse to have to authenticate myself before (white) judge and jury. And while we're on that subject, even if you lived in Japan for double the decades you've said, it wouldn't matter. My qualm isn't whether or not you're "authentic" enough to be speaking the truth---it's that you think there's a way to be "authentic" at all.

But that does seem to be the point you just don't get. I would never feel comfortable claiming any kind of authority speaking for anyone other than myself, much less a whole group of people or culture--once again, qualms you don't seem to have. (See your above quotes.)

And when I try to point out why this is problematic, you respond exactly the same way. You make no mention of the issues I raised regarding the use of stereotype, racial privilege and power dynamics, listening to those voices of lived experiences by the group you're speaking for, the quest for "authenticity," etc., etc. Your only defense is to attempt to invalidate me as a person, and a person of color, and a person of Japanese heritage. Inconsistently, you criticize me for "expecting [people traveling to Japan] to share your obsession with and knowledge of Japan." Then, you criticize me for commenting on "a culture [Maya] barely understands." You grant me this "knowledge" of Japan but then invalidate it because it doesn't line up with what you think. So who is it that is really needing this "stamp of approval" you speak of? Are you so insecure that anyone offering a challenge to your perspective must be degraded instead of addressed? Or do you truly believe you have the monopoly on Japanese authenticity and can speak for an entire people and culture?

And YES, Nobunaga, it is painful...! That's exactly the point--these things hurt, these things are dangerous. I write posts back to you and everyone else because I hope for a time when my person, my relationships, my safety, my sexuality, my physicality, my emotions, my intellect, my role in this world, and those lives and experiences of my family, friends, and brothers and sisters at large won't be subjected to stereotype, discrimination, and violence.

A mockery of this pain is simply more salt in the wound, and yet another example of the privilege and power you refuse to see or act upon.
February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaya
You're obviously incapable of any serious self-examination, nor of addressing any of my points. Rather, you're fighting desperately to make this all about me oppressing you, me not being allowed to criticise you because I'm supposedly the representation of the white power structure and you're the minority. At least I should be grateful you haven't played the gender card yet.

Selectively quoting me out of context doesn't bolster your argument, it exposes its flimsy foundation. From the beginning I've only challenged the authority you tried to assume about Japan in your first criticism of Lena Dunham's article; from my reading it was obvious that the authority YOU claimed (let's remember you criticised Ms. Dunham for not spelling Roppongi properly, for not understanding the cultural significance of tattoos in Japan, for not being able to pronounce 'gozaimasu' correctly while also complaining that she made fun of English pronunciation) wasn't based upon any real experience living in Japan but apparently from a few classes and because you're Japanese American. It was obvious because if you'd ever spent any significant time here you'd have recognized the accuracy of her descriptions and anecdotes.

I've explained now multiple times what I object to about your criticisms. Your only response? "What about the fact that you're white?" and "The fact that you're white and criticising my assumptions and sweeping generalizations really hurts me."

I'm done. Can't believe I wasted this much time.
February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNobunaga73
Do I look like your baby bird, Mama Nobunaga? Because you seem to keep trying to shove regurgitated crap down my throat.

I laid out the use of stereotypes in Ms. Dunham's article. You proceeded to claim, "It was just accurate portrayals of Japanese people" in so (so) many words; that is, you did not acknowledge any use of stereotype in the piece. In a non-logical fashion (re-read my descriptions of your logical fallacies via straw mans and ad hominem attacks if you need a refresher), you proceeded to attack my authenticity and perceived authority to speak rather than the subject itself and issues I raised. I then addressed the problem of your use of the concept of "authentic," and challenged your use of racial privilege to disregard racism and ignore real claims. I refused to prove my authenticity to you on principle. I questioned your use of authority and authenticity by quoting, in context, your use of such phrases such as, "I am completely confident I understand Japanese people."

What have you taught me? That my experiences aren't real, that my perspective is invalid because I'm not "really" what I've known myself to be, that Asian Studies are a bunch of hoo-hah (damn those Asians and their voiced experiences!), and that my voice doesn't matter because there's someone like you with the eloquence, logic, understanding, and persuasion here to tell me what the world is like, and what I should and should not think. (My gender isn't a "card," by the way. Neither is my religion, age, or race. Rather, it's my life and my lived experience. But of course I'm sure you can tell me all what my life as a woman is really like--much, much better than any way I can conceive of it myself.)

But yes, maybe I should heed your advice. It really looks like I'm the one who needs to do the self-examining, doesn't it.

Thanks for wasting this much of *our* time. If it's any consolation, I appreciate all the valuable knowledge you've bestowed upon my dark-haired, feminine head.
February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaya
^ Yes, gurl, yes. Drag him.

This article is a trite, racist, badly-written piece of shit and Lena Dunham should be fucking ashamed of herself. Maya's pretty much covered my thoughts on the subject (you have a way with words! props!) so that's all I'm gonna say.
February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
I think Maya tries to hard to take on Nobunga's points academically. It's really quite simple. His position is pretty common of White American men (or often simply American) men who have lived in Japan for sometime. They feel it is part of their job to "know" all about Japan and Japanese people, and will prop up the slightest silliness as being the absolute 100% truth about the country and culture. Often they will support their opinion with one of the lamest fallacies that amounts to "one of my best friends is Japanese, he agrees with me, therefore it's okay." It is laughable that they think this one, or five or even ten people can speak for an ENTIRE NATION with regards to one issue.

Note that he never appropriately qualifies his statement. He should at least note that he has a limited circle of friends, his friends are inclined to be at least friendly towards him and are not likely to openly contradict him to his face unless they've known him for some time.

Some need to understand, some White guys often travel to Japan expecting the MacArthur experience, or at least to get laid regularly. That Japanese people don't look on them as favorably as they might have imagined, or worse, are totally indifferent to their existence, they don't take it well, even if they do end up living there for a long time. Of course, not all White guys fit the description.

So I don't doubt that Nobunga finds Dunham's tale familiar. Seems his lens is similarly focused. He and Dunham and Coppola hear English they find indecipherable and think "that sounds funny! lul." I hear the same thing and think, "Shit they don't speak English well and my Japanese is yochen level, how will we communicate?"

It isn't that Dunham's observation is false, it is that the REACTION is solipsistic.

In the end, whether or not JPN nationals would find the piece offensive isn't the point. The point most are making is that WE find the drivel to reflect, at best, an ignorance born of privilege, a desire to satisfy her age cohort's expectations of "weird and wacky Japan." You don't necessarily have to have lived in country for decades or have a graduate degree to make that observation.

And if Nobunga wants to come at me, he should know that being Black in Japan is an entire different experience than the one he's had.
February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark
You're racist, and ugly. Using terms such as "Yellow Feaver" and making assumptions about Japanese men are ALL racist connotations. Ugh go somewhere.
March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAC
Fuck off Lena. Fuck right off.
March 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteranon
Maya, you absolutely owned that argument, and I agree with you completely regarding the incredibly problematic and offensive aspects of this article. White privilege is a hard truth for many white people to accept and directly address (which makes it all the more necessary), and it's unfortunate that many people do not even try to see through their own deep-rooted prejudices.
March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZ
Thank you Maya, for all your insight. You must have the patience of a saint because I would not bother to help someone like Nobunaga, or try to make him understand reason.

I will admit that I have a BA in Asian Studies and that this has in no way affected my ability to treat and view people as human beings while traveling in Japan. So Nobunaga, just FYI, getting a college degree will not help you become less racist. For that, please do some self-reflection, and maybe get some help (not from me, I don't tolerate that shit).

As for Lena Dunham, I'm sorry you had such a terrible time going clubbing with some young artsy hipsters at a fetish bar. It sounds like they got trashed, and did some raunchy things. You are right, that is so completely foreign, I could never imagine that happening anywhere else in the world.
March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAsian Studies Major
I don't understand, your knowledge of Japanese culture is so shallow despite having actually visited the country. The references you make to films such as Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha only serve to emphasize your lack of engagement with the country, its people, and its artistic output. Please attempt to gain a greater understanding of what you write about before you a) make a fool of yourself and b) allow others to believe in your poor summary of this very complex culture.
March 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJW
did Lena Dunham ever stop to consider that possibly, ~POSSIBLY~, not all Japanese people are the same and the bunch she was hanging out (and their hobbies) with weren't necessarily representative of larger trends??? they certainly don't sound much like any of the Japanese people i've ever met... which doesn't make my experience definitive, either, of course, but i'm happy to acknowledge that fact.

on the note of 'weird Japan,' used panty vending machines are unheard of nowadays and have been illegal since 1993. no information that i can garner suggests that they were ever all that common in the first place.

i certainly can't fault Ms. Dunham for simply writing her travel experience and her reflections on it honestly. i do, however, fault her for being shallow and self-absorbed, and then deciding to share it so publicly. there are many, many great ways to experience in Tokyo that would make a much more educational, inspiring, uplifting travel experiences - and a no less honest or authentic one! but it appears that is not what Lena was presented with, nor was it what she looked for. again, she's at least being honest, and i understand there's an element of culture shock and many Japanese things strike Westerners funny (though you could do a bit more to acknowledge that it's not perhaps 'weird' and instead just 'different'), but what a shame to walk away from Tokyo only having gotten this much out of it.
March 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterm

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