Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Anglophones in Japan

The Jesuits have a saying, "Give me the child for the first seven years and I'll give you the man."

And what does one get after a middle-aged woman goes to graduate school?   An older, wiser, humbler women, I would say.

My coursework is finished and it is all in the hands of the examiners now.  There are papers scattered all over my dining room table here in Osaka.  The files on my computer are a mess.  Books are stacked in a huge pile next to my chair.  My head is aching and my hands hurt from all that typing.  It was a full-time job and now I feel as though I've been laid off.  A friend is taking me walking tomorrow.  It will be good to see sunlight.

The very best part of this experience was the fieldwork.  Since I was working toward a degree in International Migration and I just happened to be living part-time in Japan I chose to study native English speakers living in Japan.  I had no idea what I was going to find but 20+ years living outside of my home country gave me a good idea of what questions to ask.  I prepared a survey (Native English Speakers Living in Japan), published it, and over 600 people responded.  From there I was able to do 31 interviews with people from all over Japan.  I am so grateful to all the people who answered the survey and those who gave me an hour or so of their time to talk about their lives in Japan. It was an incredible experience.

The survey results have been sent to the participants who wanted them.  I will not publish them here but I will tell you a few things I learned from the data that I found interesting.

Native English speaker:  When I hear that term, it brings to mind a Canadian or an American or a British.  And, yes, those nationalities were in the top 10.  However, Singapore, France, Germany and Japan also made the top 10.  There were also respondents originally from Zimbabwe, India, and Mexico among many others.  Native English speakers in Japan come from all over the world.

Second citizenships:  The number one second citizenship was the UK, followed closely by the US and Australia.

Naturalized Japanese citizens:  The top 3 former citizenships of naturalized Japanese citizens were:  US, Canada, and the UK.  It's not just Americans renouncing.

Home ownership:  60% of those who answered this question did not own their own home in Japan and 40% do own a home here.  That is the exact opposite of the Japanese:  60% of them do own their own homes in Japan.

Mobility:  61% of those who answered the question about mobility said that yes, they came to Japan, left and then came back.  The top 10 countries they visited, lived in or went back to were:  US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, France, Germany, South Korea, and Thailand.  This a group that travelled and it showed that their move to Japan was not always an aller-simple.

Gender balance:  57.5% were men, 41.6% were women and .8% were transgender/transgay.

Older:  Over half the respondents were over 40 years of age.

Year of arrival:  66% of those who answered this question came to Japan between 1980 and 2000.

Married:  68% of those who answered the question about relationship status were married.  Another 9.2 were not married but were in a long-term relationship.  Less than 20% were single.  And this one really surprised me.

Missionaries:  Religious activities was 7th in the top 10 reasons for initially coming to Japan.   Yes, missionaries still come here.  It was a small percentage compared to the first reason (work) but it's still interesting to me.

There were 26 questions in the survey and these are just highlights from a few of them. Fascinating stuff.  I hope that this information will be of use to the participants - that it will give them a context for understanding their own experiences in Japan.

And it shows how even an old lady like me can learn a lot if she puts her mind to it and listens. Those Jesuits really need to update that saying....

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Survey: Calling All Native English Speakers Residing in Japan

And I have been a very busy woman these past few months.  Graduate school is taking up most of my time.  I wrote and submitted my papers for the first term and not only did I pass but I did very well.

Once that was done I started working on my Masters dissertation.   I am doing my research here in Japan and I have put together a short survey of native English Speakers living in Japan.

If you are a native English speaker who happens to live here in Japan, I'd be very grateful for your participation in my survey.  It's pretty short and most folks can complete it in under 5 minutes.  The survey is completely anonymous and you can skip any questions you don't like.

And, if you participate and send me an email with your email to,  I will share the results of the survey with you once the survey is closed.

Here's the link:

Native English Speakers Residing in Japan

Please feel free to share this link as widely as possible.  I am sure there are forums, blogs and websites out there that those of you who have lived in Japan much longer than I know well. :-)

Take care, everyone, and I hope to get back to posting again real soon.



Sunday, March 27, 2016


A week of Unfortunate Events here in Brussels.

I have no words to describe what has happened.  I'm not even sure how I feel about it - as if my feelings mattered on whit here which they most assuredly do not.   Let's just say that I'm still reflecting and leave it at that.

Today we went down to the center of the city - to the shrine (can I call it that?) in front of the Bourse. A rally was scheduled and then cancelled at the request of the authorities but people still showed up today at 2:00.

It was lovely. Very moving.  And a bit tense.

A fascist group tried to crash the event and were sent scurrying by the riot police and their water cannons.  Now THAT was satisfying to see.

A few photos. Enjoy today and your Easter Monday.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The US Overseas Voter - Finally Getting Some Respect?

I've posted a lot recently on the US election and for those of you who could care less I promise to get back to writing about other things soonest.  Yes, all you Clinton/Sanders/Trump supporters, there are other things going on in the world that are just as (if not more) important as one election in one country which is not even the country most of us are living in, right?

But I did want to note that US overseas voters have been in the news recently and there are some good articles out there that explain why the homeland candidates and voters should pay attention to US citizens living in one or more of the other 190+ nation-states around the world.  Because in some very close races, overseas voters have managed to push a candidate over the top which has led to some very unexpected election results.

Exhibit A is the election in 2000 between George Bush and Al Gore. Aside from all the controversy over the validity of certain ballots, overseas ballots handed the victory to George Bush in Florida which meant a Bush presidency.  And for those of you who are under the illusion that overseas voters are almost always Democrats, well, where is the data that confirm that?  If you live in a country like France where Democrats abroad is very active, you might have that impression but go to countries in Asia and the picture looks very different.  How many Democrats versus Republicans are there in Singapore, for example, or Tokyo?  Even the conventional wisdom that says overseas civilians are Democrats and overseas military are Republican is questionable.

Donald Inbody's research (Grand Army of the Republic or Grand Army of the Republicans) on the military vote showed that enlisted military voters (85% of the military) were "as likely as the general American population to identify with the Republican Party" and were  "half as likely as the general American population to identity with the Democratic Party";  but they were "about four times as likely as the general American population to report themselves as independent or as identifying with a party other than the Republican or Democratic party."

All this makes overseas voters something of a crapshoot for either party. No one knows what impact we will have, only that there will probably be an impact.

Here are some recent stories about overseas American voters in the press that were passed along to me via Facebook.  If you have more, let me know and I will add them.

Americans Abroad Walk into a Bar, and Vote (Michael Forsythe, New York Times):
"While most 'Super Tuesday' voters were still sleeping, voting in the presidential primaries was well underway. 
In Hong Kong."
America's Overseas Voters are Not Impressed (Therese Raphael, BloombergView):
"Though it is undersized (and voter turnout generally even lower than domestic turnout), the vote potential of Expat Man no longer draws dismissive sniggers. Delayed overseas ballots helped give the 2000 election to George W. Bush (an event that Democrats Abroad says led to a tripling in registrations). Voting from abroad also arguably affected other close election contests, including a 2009 New York Congressional race that gave a narrow victory to Democrat Scott Murphy and the 2008 Senate race in Minnesota in which a Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman, was defeated by a wafer-slim margin by Democratic challenger Al Franken."
"Anyone who’s sceptical about the impact of expat voters needs only to think back to the 2000 presidential election, when overseas ballots provided the push that finally put George W. Bush in the White House. As we write in our report, had that election been decided on the ballots that arrived by the 26 November deadline, Al Gore would have won the state of Florida, and therefore the presidential election, by 202 votes."
Some of the first to vote on Super Tuesday were U.S. expatriates in 41 foreign countries (Karla Adam, Washington Post)
"Mike Heffron, a spokesman for Democrats Abroad based in Canberra, Australia, said that some expats prefer to vote in the “global primary” as a way to raise attention for issues that aren’t as important to their friends and family back home. 
A key concern for expats are tax laws, he said, which are thought to be a big reason behind the growing number of Americans renouncing their citizenship. Unlike most countries in the world, the United States imposes taxes based on citizenship, not residence."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Donald Trump - A View from Abroad

"But what I do argue is that recognizing them frankly for what they are would instantly and automatically dissipate the indignation caused by their present abominations, and that the disappearance of this indignation would promote the public contentment and happiness. Under my scheme there would be no more false assumptions and no more false hopes, and hence no more painful surprises, no more bitter resentment of fraud, no more despair.

Politicians, in so far as they remained necessary, would be kept at work - but not with any insane notion that they were archangels."

H.L. Mencken essay on Being an American

There are these moments in every migration journey when an American expatriate looks at her country of origin from abroad and has this queer feeling that she no longer recognizes the place. Detached from the taken-for-grantedness of the American life and swimming in very different cultural and political waters, many things in the homeland now strike her as bizarre, even frightening.

Bizarre is exactly the word I would use describe the Donald Trump campaign.  In some ways it's pure entertainment.  Trump is genuinely funny and so off the wall that people all around the world are mesmerized by his antics. 

If you don't care much for politicians his humiliation of the Republican establishment (and his potential for pulling the same trick on the Democrat candidate) will make you cackle with glee. About time someone pulled back the veneer of respectability and highmindness and revealed the US presidential race for what it is: a dance of hypocrites and liars.  The tragedy of every election is that people have such hope that this time things will be different and Something Will be Done.  These hopes are almost inevitably dashed when the candidate takes office and goes about the messy business of actually running the country.   

That said, is Trump the Republican candidate good or bad for Americans abroad?  On the balance, putting aside my amusement and looking at it very coldly, I think it's bad for us.  I speak only for myself but the two things I really care about in this election are:  FATCA/CBT and US foreign policy.  Diaspora, not national issues.  My take, for example, on a hot domestic topic like immigration comes from my experience as an American emigrant. Frankly, I don't see what the fuss is about back in the Old Country.  And having to listen for years to the anti-immigrant rhetoric in my host country (France),  these days I really don't have much patience for it anywhere.

Concerning Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and citizenship-based taxation, I do not see a statement by Trump anywhere about where he stands on FATCA repeal or mitigation, or what he thinks about moving to a residence-based tax system.   The Republican party establishment has made efforts to address the concerns of Americans abroad.  There is a lawsuit (FATCA Legal Action) and calls to repeal the law by Republican lawmakers.  All things that I want to hear in 2016.  But Trump as candidate threatens to undo all that good work because he's running against the establishment, the very people who are ostensibly on our side.

As for foreign policy, as an American abroad I remember what it was like to have a US president who was viewed with contempt internationally and considered to be a blustering incompetent fool. American homelanders can dismiss this with a sniff and a refusal to watch or read the international media.  However, when you are living outside the US it is an extremely unpleasant experience that one can't escape so easily - not when these things are being discussed at work, at the local bar, or at home over dinner.  That the nationals in the host country dislike your president is one thing, that they think he is a figure of fun and not to be taken seriously is another.  Trump is already all of those things and he hasn't even been nominated, yet. 

The wonderful thing about Trump is that he reveals the farce that is the US presidential race, and invites us to see it as a comedy.  On some level we are all enjoying the show.  However, the fun ends when one realizes that supporting him is really not in one's best interests.  That is the conclusion I've come to:  I think Trump would be disaster for me and my fellow Americans abroad and it frightens me to think that he might have a chance.  

As for the homelanders, I don't think he's good for them either.  His supporters are making the same mistake that Mencken wrote about in 1922;  they confuse him with an archangel, and they are making false assumptions and raising false hopes. Trump is now a politician which means that one day he will inevitably disappoint even the most ardent of his supporters. 

No, homelanders, Mexico won't pay for the wall, 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Democrats Abroad Town Hall

Late last month Democrats Abroad held a Global Town Hall with former Secretary of State Madelaine Albright speaking for the Hilary Clinton campaign, and Bernie Sanders speaking for himself directly to Americans abroad.  Have a listen and add what they had to say to your reflections on the US presidential race.

I've posted a great deal about the activities of Democrats Abroad recently.  That's because they have put together some very useful and interesting material that is easy to share with others on-line.  I would be more than happy to do the same for the Republican side.  So all you Republican Overseas out there, let me know what you've got and I will include it.

For the record I have a a Menckenesque take on all politicians.  I believe in keeping them employed (and in their place) but I don't trust them very much and if it were up to me I'd like to see every indignity that is inflicted on the American worker applied to them:  cameras in the workplace, access to their email, and regular drug tests.

Enjoy the videos and leave a comment if you feel inspired.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What Software Are You Running Today?

A couple of weekends ago I joined my flatmate and some friends on a guided tour of a neighborhood here in Brussels that has become notorious following the November attacks in Paris:  Molenbeek.

Molenbeek is a densely populated commune on the outskirts of the city that became a working-class neighborhood during the Industrial Revolution and is known in our time as an immigrant ghetto - mostly Turks and Moroccans.  Seven people from this area were arrested in connection with the recent Paris attacks.  The Guardian referred to it as "Europe's jihadi central."

Brukselbinnenstebuiten (Brussels Turned Inside Out) is a Flemish non-profit that organizes guided tours of Brussels with local guides who know the city intimately because it's been their home for many years or their entire lives.  A walk through Molenbeek is one they offer and I sincerely recommend it to you if you happen to be visiting.

Wear your sturdiest walking shoes and bring an umbrella because this tour is over 6 hours and the guide, Eric, will take you through every nook and cranny of this district with a commentary that ranges from the historical - why are there clocks on the buildings at many intersections? - to the sociological: What's going on with identity in this neighborhood?  Who lives here and why do they stay? How do the old working-class residents, the immigrants, and the Trojan Horses, the upwardly mobile middle-class residents responsible for gentrification, all rub along with each other?

I once heard that to criticize without love is to do great violence to a person or a community.  Eric spoke so eloquently about this neighborhood pointing out the things past and present that were beautiful, interesting or inspiring without hiding or glossing over the massive social problems like poverty and unemployment,   This was his place and truly he knew it inside and out.

Erik was a resident of Molenbeek and his personal history said a lot about the neighborhood and about Brussels.  The son of a Flemish native and a Spanish immigrant parent, he was educated in French schools. He speaks all those languages plus English.  What I found most interesting about him was his way of looking at his own identity - how he resolves all the different elements that come together to make him what he is and how he is able to affirm everything and deny nothing.

Software, he said.  I just think of it as software.  Depending on the context, he's able to run whatever programs are appropriate.  That day in Molenbeek he was running his English software.  In another context he might run his French, Flemish or Spanish software.  Occasionally, he admits, some of these things need upgrades.  But they are saved in his brain ready to go and all he has to do is fire them up and run them when he needs them.

That's an interesting way to look at it.  For one thing, he's saying that these things, these multiple, identifiable identities aren't his core identity.  His identity as an individual - the true self - is one thing that sits at the center, and all the other identities are attached to that.  Some of his programs were loaded by others (family and school) and some were ones he chose for himself.

What I loved about this is how it allows for a kind of personal neutrality toward some identities that arouse great passions and become the sources of contention within an individual and within communities.  Forget the language wars or the autochtone versus the migrant and just say, "Today I am running French software because that's what is most useful in the context.  But tomorrow I may load my Spanish or immigrant or native son software because that would be the most appropriate in this or that situation."

However, I think we can all agree that some identities, once loaded, are deadly.  There is, Eric says, jihadi software that has spread like a virus through Molenbeek.   And how exactly are we and this community to deal with that?

If this is software then what is the solution?  An anti-jihadi program?  An "uninstall" button?  And how can anyone prevent deadly upgrades -  the ones that say time to take up arms and passer à l'acte?

I don't know but it seems to me that it is imperative that we try. The merit of the "identity as software" approach is that it might keep us from falling into an equally dangerous frame of mind - one that confuses the people with the program.