Japan's "exemplary" behavior [1]

Below is a debate I began in the form of an open letter regarding an article by Grant Newsham, a Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Pacific Studies, titled, "Understand Abe & his right wing crew, but focus on Japan. “You’re talking to the wrong people.” Mr. Newsham's article and the debate, in the form of comments, were published on Jake Adelstein's website for Japan Subculture Research Center.

​​Mr. Newsham's article was originally published in "PacNet Newsletter," the online newsletter for CSIS Pacific Forum. CSIS is the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. - regularly rated as the world’s #1 foreign affairs think tank. (The CSIS Pacific Forum is the Pacific branch, based in Honolulu.)

​​I want to thank Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center and Mr. Newsham for their fine work and allowing me to comment on the article.

Though the opinions expressed in the comments below were submitted and posted to the Japan Subculture Research Center website
(japansubculture.com), they are our own (Colin and I) and do not necessarily reflect those of Japan Subculture Research Center.

[1]​​ Sarcasm intended. (The title is my own, not that of Japan Subculture Research Center.)​​

Don MacLaren
28 June 2014
Jiangsu Province, China​​​​

​Don MacLaren says:

March 31, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Dear Mr. Grant Newsham:

In your essay you write of “…Japan’s last 70 years of exemplary behavior…” and tell us, “Ultimately, Japan represents a higher manifestation of civilized, responsible behavior, individual freedom and consensual government than most of its neighbors…”

Though I admire your resume and the scholarship you undertake, I disagree with your assertions.
It is true that Japan has not waged war in the last 69 years, but not surprising – given that there are tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in the country.

Though the U.S. is supposed to be a beacon of democracy and human rights, and hard at work “protecting” Japan, the corruption I’ve seen here in China (a country that does not pretend to be democratic and which the U.S. is not “protecting”) pales to that which I saw – and was victimized by – in Japan.

My employers in Japan (who were also my visa sponsors, and who I was thus totally dependent on for my livelihood in the country), showed through their actions that they cared little about basic human rights when they withheld their employees wages for months at a time and accused me of crimes they had themselves committed. The role Japan’s legal system and press played in these disturbing affairs made me question those “democratic” institutions respect for human rights as well.

At one point, after I’d worked for an employer (and my visa sponsor) in Japan who had not paid us for several months, I wrote a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, asking for help. In the response I received I was told the Embassy would relay the experiences I’d outlined to the office that puts together the U.S. government’s human rights report on Japan. However, I saw no mention of abuses by Japanese employers against Americans or other Westerners in subsequent human rights reports (between 1998 and 2001 – when I left Japan for several years). So, I could only conclude the U.S. government was far more interested in protecting the status quo in Japan than it was in publishing human rights abuses. Perhaps Japan has done an exemplary job of protecting U.S. corporate interests and military bases (though even that’s questionable), but it has failed me and many other individuals in the areas of democracy and human rights.

Because of all this, I am not surprised when Japanese politicians deny atrocities in Japan’s past (and keep getting re-elected).

There are other issues that have been covered in the press over the decades, such as racial discrimination against Americans and other foreigners in Japan, adversarial trade with the U.S., etc. None of these seem the actions of an exemplary ally.

My first contact with Japan began in 1982, when I was in the U.S. Navy. During that short port visit I became fascinated with the country andin 1991 I moved to Japan. Since then I’ve spent 11 years in the country.
I am grateful to the U.S. military and Japan for having given me the opportunity to experience the wonderful things Japan has to offer, and giving me a rich alternative to the life I had in the U.S. Midwest before I joined the Navy. However, both the U.S. and Japanese governments have a lot of work to do to make Japan an exemplary democracy that respects human rights.

For more on my experiences with corruption and the human rights abuse I witnessed and experienced in Japan, please see the following links:

A letter of mine published in The Japan Times, 14 December 1997:

Labor scofflaws often go unpunished

Published essays of my experiences in Japan’s courts (in Wilderness House Literary Review, spring and summer 2010):

My Time in Japan's Courts

Thank you.


Don MacLaren
(Resident of Jiangsu Province, China since August 2010)


Colin says:
​May 1, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Seems like you’re trying to view Japanese cultural norms through an American lens which is resulting in your view of what you’ve deemed human rights abuses in the workplace. This is quite common among foreigners working and living in Japan. The hive mindset of the Japanese nation gives rise to what individualistic societies would call these abuses, but to the Japanese this is business as usual. Self-sacrifice for the collective good is ingrained in every aspect of their life; anything positive is as a result of collective actions while anything bad is a result of weakness within the individual. It’s polar opposite from what many other nations hold to be true and most foreigners never wrap their head around that.

This also helps explain their opinions on any other race, culture, or people. They have no interest in changing or accepting others beyond the assimilation of anything that will benefit their society without changing the establish power structure. They’re as close to a monolithic super state as one could imagine. It’s not that they are particularly racist in a selective fashion it’s just that they honestly believe that their people and ways are inherently superior to those of other nations. And maybe we should first begin by looking at our own society. Do our own nations not have enough of our own problems to fix first? The idea that America (or any country in the world, for that matter) is a free glorious state full of racial equality is one of the greatest lies of our lifetime. In fact it is anything but. The country was founded on the destruction of the indigenous peoples and the exploitation of imported slaves. The current situation on the surface may look that way but it is, in fact, a lie. The freedom and democracy is a façade. The only real difference here is that America hides it while Japan openly admits that there is an elite ruling class that makes the decisions and that the greater mass of people are essentially born into serfdom.

And really, who are you or I to directly oppose that? Nobody forces anyone to stay in Japan and try to integrate into their society. It’s a personal choice made by foreigners to make that attempt. If you go to a restaurant and are upset with the food you don’t keep going back and complain until the cooking changes; instead you find another restaurant. As long as Japan’s actions do not encroach on those of other people then why are we concerned with what they are doing? And even then, look at China, or the much more militaristic Russia. Japan’s biggest deal right now is a small set of completely insignificant islands that nobody outside of Japan or China even really know exist. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to America’s actions in South America and the OPEC nations, or Russia’s attempted annexation of the Ukraine.

As for ACTUAL human rights violations, maybe more focus should be put on things like the fact that the rate of female genital mutilation is near 100% in sub-Saharan African nations like Guinea and Sierra Leone. Not being paid for a while is a bit weak in comparison to the state-sponsored butchering and rape of an entire nation’s female population. See, that’s a real human rights violation worth of international inquiry. And when it comes to past wartime human rights violations things really need to be cleared up. Ever heard of the firebombing of Dresden and how many innocent civilians were slaughtered by the Allies? Such things were common to both sides but we don’t hear anything about it because the Allies won; history is written by the victors. All of these actions (such as the Nanjing massacre) are of course heinous, but every country has done their fair share and denied they were ever committed. Ever read about the Armenian genocide of the early 1900s? Hitler was actually convinced that nobody would care about his eradication of the Jews based on the fact that nobody cared when the Armenians were almost entirely wiped off the face of the earth; and yes, even America knew about it. Political alliances have never been based on these concepts. If it were actually like that there is no way that the WW2 Allies would have ever allowed themselves to ally with Russia under any circumstances after their systematic attempted genocide of the entire Ukrainian people through planned starvation. That must have slipped the American history books final edit; oops.

The whole discussion of what Japan as a nation should and shouldn’t do with regards to its own policies is exactly that; it’s own.


Don MacLaren says:
June 15, 2014 at 1:38 am

Dear Colin[1]:

Thank you for your comment in reply to my own (though I was hoping for a reply from Grant Newsham – as that’s who I addressed my comment to).

Your reply is like many I see in response to criticism of Japan, in that you:

A: change the subject
​B: blame the victim for not “understanding” Japan

You tell me, “The whole discussion of what Japan as a nation should and shouldn’t do with regards to its own policies is exactly that; it’s own.” No, Colin, it isn’t – not if the Japanese government wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, wants to continue trade with the outside world and wants The United States to protect and defend it. (And I believe it does want all of the above.)

As for what you claim I have “deemed human rights abuses in the workplace,” in fact, this is not something I have “deemed.” Please take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[2] for what the United Nations has deemed human rights and human rights abuse. Also, the US Embassy in Tokyo mentioned “human rights” in a letter I received from one of its representatives, in reply to a letter I had sent the Embassy – which outlined some of the events I mentioned in my previous comment (above).

As for what YOU deem “self-sacrifice for the collective good” in Japan,” when I was working for an employer (the American Club, based in Utsunomiya, Tochigi) I was told the president of the company was blowing money he should have been paying us on women in “snack bars” (スナック) while we (Japanese and foreign employees) weren’t being paid – not “for a while” as you wrongly state, but for a total of six months! It seems our “self-sacrifice” was not for the collective good, but solely for the good of the president and the snack bars he frequented.

Colin, it seems you haven’t read the links I noted in my previous comment. If you do, you’ll see I not only wrote about not being paid (for a long time) by one visa sponsor in Japan. I also wrote about being ordered to participate in fraudulent schemes, then being falsely accused of a crime and taken to court by another visa sponsor – a trading company I was working for (USC Limited, of Fuchu, Tokyo) which does business with some of the largest companies in the world, as well as with the Japanese government.[3]

Now, I’ll have to go off on a tangent – but only to address the questions you asked me when you changed the subject (Japan) and went off on tangents in your comment:

You asked if I’d ever heard of the firebombing of Dresden and the Armenian genocide of the early 1900s. I have, Colin, because I took History 101 and read the papers. (Though these horrors are not taught in all history classes, they are taught in many. It is also easy to find material on them in a library or on the Internet.)

I am also aware of genital mutilation in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Though this atrocity is certainly a human rights abuse, the last time I checked the US government didn’t have nearly 50 thousand troops in Guinea and Sierra Leone (as it does in Japan), protecting the status quo of those countries. Nor have I ever read any essays by anyone at the Center for Strategic and International Studies noting those governments’ “exemplary behavior.”

You mention other atrocities that many countries, including the US, have committed in history. Though nothing can make the atrocities of the past less atrocious, I believe evils in history assume an even more hauntingly wicked form when high-level politicians and bureaucrats in Japan deny – again and again – the atrocities their country committed. (I have not witnessed a similar phenomenon in the US.)

Now that that’s taken care of, I am still very curious as to what Grant Newsham considers Japan’s “exemplary behavior” to be. In addition, I’d like to know who it is in Japan that Grant Newsham believes the US should be talking to.

In closing, please accept my apologies for not addressing your comment earlier. I have been quite busy with other matters.

Sincerely yours,

Don MacLaren

[1] I’m wondering if “Colin” is your real name, and if so, what your last name is. It would be nice if you would do as Grant Newsham and I have done: provide a full name, along with website/contact info in your comments. Otherwise, I feel like I’m debating with a ghost.

[2] http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

[3] Here’s one of the links (again), regarding litigation with the American Club and USC Limited, which should suffice:
​Please let me know if you desire further information.

cc: Grant Newsham/Center for Strategic and International Studies
Human Rights Watch, Tokyo branch

​To contact Don MacLaren, please email him at: info@donmaclaren.com