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Political correctness arrives in Japan

Japan should not be slavishly following Western trends while ignoring its long-lasting plague of suicide

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Political correctness arrives in Japan

People commute on a train in Tokyo on Oct. 7. The Japanese are adopting Western political correctness in a society ill suited to it. (Photo: AFP)

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Do you have kids? Are you married? These are questions that in the near future Japanese people may not be permitted to ask without being frowned upon or even legally sanctioned.

If you think this is an overstatement, think again. In Japan they call it mujikaku na sabetsu or unconscious discrimination. The theoretical premise is the determination to restrain intentional or unintentional negative (or so perceived by the “victim”) attitudes toward groups such as LGBT people, ethnic minorities, foreigners and women.

The most conspicuous result of this “sensitivity change” approach is the new regulation recently adopted by Japan Airlines that decided to ban the phrase "ladies and gentlemen" from its use during take-off and airport announcements. The phrase will be substituted with a less “biased’ or “gender neutral” term like "everyone" and "passengers”. Note that the expression used for such announcements in Japanese already used the neutral minasan (everyone).

Of course, as a general trend when it comes to minorities, linguistics has been refined to fit a new moral standard, especially in the Western world. Japan docilely follows the trail.

Just recently, one expert in unconscious discrimination was interviewed on the popular NHK public radio program Tokushu (Special Topic).

According to Maruichi Shunsuke, there are circumstances in our daily lives that have to be considered unacceptable. If we are in a bank or a clinic with an elderly parent and the staff are not focusing on the old person, this must be deemed involuntary discrimination or micro aggression.

If women in hospital wearing a white gown get mistaken for simple nurses, this is also to be considered discrimination (we guess the same applies for men, but no specific mention was made).

If staff in an izakaya (Japanese pub) hand the bill to a man with a woman, this could be considered involuntary discrimination. But where should the check be placed? In the middle of the table? What if that spot is already occupied by a dish? Should the staff measure the distance between the two parties?

Maruichi stated that this micro aggression can cause great health damage to victims.

According to the above guidelines, foreigners like me cannot even be complimented on their ability to use chopsticks as this could be considered discrimination. Remarks that our Japanese language skills are good could also be offensive by implying that foreigners are by default not able to do these things.

Notwithstanding my history as a white Western man in Japan, I am instantly labeled as a minority group, therefore I am automatically handed the right to be emotionally protected from the social behavioral code.

Let's take a step back and ask ourselves what will happen if we all decide to follow these rules, even putting aside the clear constraints imposed by these new social norms on our free speech.

The inherently introvert Japanese people, whose communication skills are very poor when it comes to choosing a topic of discussion, won’t be able to communicate at all. Too much attention is already put on the feelings of the interlocutor as many subjects, such as religion, politics and personal beliefs, are considered difficult to discuss in Japan.

Any attempt to start a conversation (even by a compliment) on whatsoever topic will turn into an unpleasant social assignment in the hope of eluding the piles of dormant “discrimination traps” waiting to be ignited.

And while media outlets, through their cherished experts, are increasingly worrying about the risk of developing anxiety and depression for things that people should or shouldn’t say — and yes, asking a woman if she has a child is considered micro aggression as it implies non-requested sexual attention — very few experts are consulted to deal with far more critical social issues.

An example? The record number of young female suicides in August, including two beautiful actresses, left the country dumbfounded. August in Japan is usually greeted with cheers as there are long-awaited vacations and the weather allows young people to enjoy the beaches.

Japan should not be chasing the latest politically correct theoretical construct from liberal Western circles which has very little grip on its peculiar social context (LGBT Pride parades here have a very low turnout as Japanese culturally cherish privacy over pride).

It should be looking for a solution to its long-lasting plague of suicide, which is not just stirring people’s feelings but literally exterminating them.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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