Arudou Debito by Alfie Goodrich
Arudou Debito by Alfie Goodrich. Special thanks to Alfie for taking this photo – for more of his work visit
Earlier today I finally managed to post my interview with Arudou Debito, recorded a week or so ago at the Foreign Correspondents Club Japan. It was a lot of work, but well worth it as I learnt a lot in the process of production.First off was the practical stuff: we had an interview room booked at the FCCJ – but it turned out to be totally inappropriate: poorly lit, and with a ventilator that couldn’t be turned off. It might be good for pen and paper interviews, but for anything else it’s pants as it is. Next time I would check out the interview location myself first, and then make sure I took along any lights etc that I needed (I bought some lights last year for photography projects – although only ever used them once (false nails) – oh, and once to light up the sea of cherry blossom in front of our balcony).

Next: I need to know my equipment better. One of the cameras was leant to me by a kind friend – but having not used it before it was only when it switched itself off whilst Debito was talking that I discovered that it will stop when files reach 1GB. I also need to make sure I have enough tapes – I forgot to take a spare, and was only saved by the fact that had taken a third (digital) camera along with me.

I shouldn’t be mixing the DV tape cameras with the pure-digital cameras – the DV cameras play back at a different speed to the digital recordings – this cost me hours of additional editing time spent trying to sync the recordings. It’s odd though, as I thought DV *was* digital…

The sound worked out fine. It was recorded using iTalk on the iPhone – what I use for much of our non-studio Japan Podshow stuff.

I do need better (semi-pro) equipment. At the moment I only have relatively old household electronics, and although this stuff is only going out on YouTube I believe it does show. Also, working with output from different devices makes editing take forever – I spent the best part of two days editing the Debito interview and outputting it in the various formats.
I also need to figure out what happens when I try to put multiple media files in a single WordPress post. I spent hours today trying to sort the RSS feed out, reposting at least 5 times using different plugins and combinations. I apologise to anyone who was spammed by them.

As an intermission, here’s the full interview. If you’d like to choose which parts to watch, please see the post on Japan Podshow. For more info on Debito, see his website

Japan Podshow Interview: Arudou Debito from japanpodshow on Vimeo.

Personal lessons:

I need to develop my interview technique. The laughter at the beginning of the interview was totally out of place – we’d been laughing before we began. Also, I need to cut back on the amount of feedback I give – I am getting better at this, tending to nod rather than offering vocal feedback (this was a huge problem in a recording I made for episode 2 of the podcast – the recorded was peppered by my ‘un’s and ‘eh’s and ‘I see’s). I also need to stop saying things like ‘no way!’ and ‘awesome!’ – on recordings at least. I also need to be more conscious about cutting down on ‘um’s and inserting spaces after I have made a mistake for easy editing.

I was also too casual in my body language at times.

I’m glad I feel able to learn in this public way. I know that if I were a professional producer (and not me) I would want to pull all this stuff offline straight away due to the amateur nature of it all, but I’m not a pro yet, and I am me. …and the best way to learn is to do, right?I want to document my journey – and these first efforts each mark an important step taken towards reaching my goal.

The comments over on Japan Soc

I find it interesting that (so far) nearly all of the comments made on my video on the Japan Soc entry are criticisms of Debito. It reminds me of Japan Today, a site I rarely visit these days, where you get hundreds of comments missing the main point of the news story altogether and instead focusing on criticising others for no apparent reason other than to make the comment authors feel superior or ‘right’. I wonder why these people feel the need to criticise him for continuing to raise important issues that few others take the time to raise.

It strikes me that these are the kind of people who might claim that non-Japanese in Japan are ‘guests’ and that we have no right to complain! What a load of rubbish! Imagine if all minority groups (such as black people in the US in the early 1950s) had gone along with this twaddle – we’d still have segregated buses!

I even found that one of my friends shared this view the other night – I tried hard not to roll my eyes.

Anyway, I don’t want to make time to get into that debate here – there’s plenty of other places you can go for that.

My train’s just got in to Naka Meguro, time for me to go. `

EDIT: Orchid64 has written a 2-part post on discrimination against foreigners in Japan here – and looks into why some foreigners insist on defending it here.

6 Responses

  1. I thought your interview was fine, though on the casual side. I do see what you mean with the laughing and whatnot, but there were some jokes so it didn’t seem to be out of tone.

    I’m not the least bit surprised that people criticized Debito. There was once an article about advocating for foreigners on Japan Probe (another site which is mainly about stirring up problems and creating as much backbiting and fighting as possible) and the consensus was that they wanted someone to represent them with the Japanese, but not Debito. Of course, not one of them was willing to step up to the plate. What Debito does is a completely thankless task, though I would thank him (and once did in response to one of his Japan Time articles, and I was told my response was forwarded to him).

    I said this before on my own blog and I still believe it. Anyone who advocates racism is, at heart, a racist. They approve of the way the Japanese treat foreigners because, deep down, that’s the way they’d like to treat them if their home countries’ laws and social constraints didn’t prevent them from doing so. You don’t apologize for people whose actions you don’t approve of.

    After so long here, I have also developed a theory that the most vocal (and possibly the majority, but certainly not all) of foreign males in Japan are insecure and competitive amongst one another. They will do anything to be the most liked by the Japanese. It’s like they were the unpopular kid at school and have poor self-esteem so they come here and want to be liked unconditionally. If selling their souls and chucking ethics and humanity out the window is the price to pay for an ego boost, it’s a price they’re delighted to fork over. The chance to finally be “special” for doing very little is more important than anything. Tolerating a little racism so you can feel extraordinary when you are clearly ordinary doesn’t strike them as being too big a price to pay.

    1. I need to see this Debito interview and read more about it, but from my initial read of “Orchid’s” comments, I have to say he completely hit the nail on the head in the fourth paragraph…very true! I only spent a total of two years in Japan… but being called gaijin never, ever bothered me. I didn’t like getting pointed at and chased by little kids screaming it, but I used “gaijin” to refer to myself and other gaijin. After all, that’s what we are- and anyone who goes to Japan with the notion that they are going to find a community of people that will accept them as one of their own and “forget” the fact that they are, uh, gaijin, is in for a rude awakening! I think if one is happy with oneself and has a strong sense of their own identity, that need to “become Japanese” isn’t there and they’re more than happy and willing to call themselves a gaijin. And, equating it with the “N” word (I can’t even type it) is absurd.

      All that having been said, I do think Orchid’s comments could be a little more diplomatic, but what he’s saying is quite true to a large degree!

  2. The interview was good, man. If you don’t draw attention to shortcomings in your work, no one else with notice them either 笑.

    Bingo, Orchid, especially point 4. Unfortunately, what I find gets you the “most liked by the Japanese” is fulfilling every foreigner stereotype you can think of. Marvel at everything, stumble on the language, and avoid controversy. I like to think I don’t take as much shit as others, and have gotten a little down and dirty with friends, teachers, and my host family, but Debito’s on a whole other level, and I think there are few people with the experience, ability, integrity, and track record to be able to legitimately criticize the guy for anything.

    Also, if you’re convinced that he’s just in this country to be angry and stir shit up, you need to sit down for a beer with him. He’s actually quite a jovial fellow beneath the activist exterior.

  3. Orchid64, JC, David,

    Thanks for your kind comments.

    I’ve been surprised not only by the number of people who’ve criticised Debito for what he does, but also by the childish and personal manner in which they do it.

    I spoke briefly to Debito about the thread of comments over on Japan Soc (which now run to 52) – he was saying how he’s never met any of these people.

    Some appear to be using their online status (acquired by, for example, running successful statistics sites) to bully someone whom for some reason they feel threatened by. As Orchid64 mentioned over there, I bet half of them didn’t even watch the video, but just saw it as an opportunity to criticise him. As David said, Debito’s a pretty jovial fellow, and I would hope that those who took the time to watch the interview got a sense of that.

  4. Just did all my research…watched the interview, read his bio, looked at his website, etc etc. Great interview, BTW, Joseph! Interesting to note that Debito’s first immersion in Japan was the same year as me (88-89).

    Anyway, there are so many layers to this… All I can say, is that there is something so very “American” about this whole thing (and I am American). I truly believe there are human beings that come out of the womb whose mandate in life is to find a cause, any cause, and fight it… Fortunately, this has produced the Martin Luther Kings and Gandhis of the world, fair enough. But I can’t help wonder what Debito would do if he woke up one morning and found that he had been 100% accepted as Japanese- no more discrimination, no more racism, no opposition. Would he be willing (and happy) to lead a quiet, anonymous life? There’s a certain celebrity that comes with all this “fight The Man” activism and I suspect he would feel its absence deeply. Of course this is an issue of human rights, but if you’re at an Onsen where you know you’re not welcome, where you know you’re making everyone uncomfortable, wouldn’t a little voice inside you suggest that maybe you should leave it alone and go somewhere else? It’s Japan, not the American south in the 1950’s! You’re not the descendant of slaves.Impossible to compare the two. Japanese don’t do well with “absolute truths”.

    Nevertheless, we’ve all had our feelings hurt at some point (like Joseph being refused a haircut), and I do feel a sense of vindication watching this guy fight his fight, at the very least in order to bring it into the consciousness of the average Japanese.

    Very interesting debate, and this is why I enjoy reading the Mumble- always provides brain food!

    1. Thanks JC, glad you found it interesting. I doubt Debito has to worry about discrimination being done away with overnight in Japan – I think we may have to wait a very very long time.