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Illustration by Marco Mancini

After reading his rant regarding so-called language snobs (issue 370), I was left wondering why Brian O'Neill felt the urge to spew such pabulum. The argument that he and other proponents of this "language snob" school put forth is one rooted in nihonjinron (theories of "Japaneseness") and insecurity.

These individuals make their decisions about who is and who is not fit to speak proficient Japanese based solely on outward appearances. Mr O'Neill would not bat an eye if the Japanese-speaking foreigner in question were Chinese or Korean, but if the fluent foreigner does not have what many like to think of as Asian features, suddenly "George" is an arrogant snob. Thus, the "fluent foreigner as language snob" argument is clearly a racist one.

Mr O'Neill's next swipe is at bilingual families. Heaven forbid someone come to Japan and fall in love with one of the natives. Mr O'Neill is incensed to see a parent and his children communicating in two languages. This argument drips with hypocrisy. In the English-speaking western nations people crow about celebrating diversity. In countries like the United States or Canada, a bilingual family would be praised for preserving its cultural heritage. Apparently, such a family is unacceptable this side of the International Date Line.

What would Mr O'Neill have foreign residents of Japan do? Should everyone living in this country who does not hold a Japanese passport, the majority of whom are people who were born here and speak Japanese natively, refuse to speak Japanese? Mr O'Neill's comments are reminiscent of broadcaster Kume Hiroshi's remark, "It's better if gaijin speak broken Japanese."

Mr O'Neill can give no sound argument as to why a non-Japanese who speaks the language deserves reproach; he can only give us regurgitated nihonjinron, "Japanese is for the Japanese only and who do you think you are to speak it well, gaijin?" Speaking the language is an essential part of living in a society. To come to any country and refuse to adopt its language is at least rude. Hats off to those with foreign passports who are proficient in Japanese, whether it be because Japanese is their native tongue or simply due to years of diligent study.

Those who would reproach others because of their advanced Japanese skills expose far more of themselves than those they disdain. The ad hominem vitriol of those who bandy about terms like "language snob" reveal nothing more than the depths of insecurity they have about their own abilities. I hope that one day Mr O'Neill's Japanese proficiency will reach the point where he can go to 7-Eleven by himself.

Many thanks to Kevin Gowen and Mie Matsusaka for this Rant.

Metropolis Online
381: The Crisp Linen Suit Syndrome
Unbearable heat and crisp linen suits
380: Smile
Smile when you see another foreigner
379: What sign are you?
When signs start to complicate life
378: Off with the gloves
Battle of the readers
377: Stop before you shop
Stores that scare away gaijin
376: Home sweet home
Modern housing in Japan?
375: Nihonjinron
Theories of Japaneseness and insecurity
374: Plastic bags
Do we really need them for everything?
373: Doctor knows best?
A scary visit to a Japanese hospital
372: Don't forget the finger wagger
So you've never complained about Japan?
371: A-choob tale
The Sneezing Salaryman
370: The gaijin language snob
Dare to cross his path
369: Nihongo
One man's struggle...
368: Making sense of Roppongi
Why do I keep going back?
367: Hateus Japanus Expatricus
Great bar bores of the world
366: Plants and animals
Darwin's turning in his grave
365: No more groping - for now
Women only train cars
364: Man's best friend
Pets have it rougher
363: In praise of Tokyo taxi drivers
A good ride all around
362: The Big Boot Brigade
Masters of the oversized-shoe
361: The case of the missing garbage cans
Where art thou o garbage can?
360: Ramen for the soul
Japanese chicken soup
359: Revenge of the nerds Part II
Geeky guys with hot girls
358: Little old ladies
Grandmas packing a punch
357: Starbucks sanctuary
Stop the Starbucks insanity
356: Pet name problem
My sweet little... carrot?
355: Unclean Jeans
Jeans McNasty
354: My chosen profession
Lindsay Nelson's the name, English teaching's the game
352/3: Merry Christmas... sort of
Merry and not-so-Merry Christmas in Japan
351: Last temptation of rice crackers
Breaking big bills the hard way
350: Revenge of the nerds
Gaijin girls are just jealous

ISSUES 300-349
ISSUES 250-299
ISSUES 233-249