Any foreigner who lives in Japan by choice has been there: Oh no, oh no, quick, put up the hoodie! Inch away from that loud foreigner doing something that’s making everyone stare at the ground and cringe. Desperately wish for the ability to telepathically project “I may be a gaijin, but I’m not THAT kind of gaijin.”
So it’s not too surprising that the Twittersphere lit up last week with a hashtag originating in Japan, seeking to ban a guy named Julien Blanc from ever entering the country again. Not only did Blanc trample gleefully through Tokyo tweeting and instagramming truly Neanderthal pick-up advice, he was practicing forms of sexual harassment that were so over the top they’d have been funny if they weren’t so horrible.
Even worse, he was making a hell of a good living running seminars that taught other nimwads that if they were white males, all they had to do to make themselves “sex-worthy” was to grab Japanese women and shove their heads crotch-ward (or, for variety, choke them playfully around the neck.) Lovely. Racist AND sexist. (For the details, and an analysis of his so-called apology on CNN, scamper yourself over to Sorrywatch and read the guest post. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up!)
The thing is, carving out a niche for yourself as a foreigner in Japan ain’t easy. Fresh off the boat, we arrive bearing homemade banana bread for all the neighbors, only to find that the neighbors are hellishly indifferent to banana bread. Or our passion for anime. Or our love of taiko drumming. Or our painful efforts to properly use the honorific form. So we back off and figure out how to read the social cues instead of jumping all over the locals like untrained puppies.
And that’s where Julien Blanc takes a nasty off-road deviation from the straight and narrow. He’s a Bad Foreigner. A Really Really Really Really REALLY Bad Foreigner. He’s so bad, even foreign countries don’t want him. He takes predatory advantage of Japanese women whose nervous smiles and polite refusal to make a spectacle of themselves by slapping the leer off his face in public are clues that would instantly give Japanese men the shout-out they’d stepped over the line. The fact that Blanc not only ignored the message these women were sending, but made money teaching others to do so, is – not to put too fine a point on it – assholery that borders on the criminal.
So, in addition to the mortal sin of advocating abuse of women, he’s committed the misdemeanor of making all foreigners look bad. His grinning five-o’clock-shadowed mug is now projected onto the shoulders of every non-Japanese man walking the streets of Tokyo. And the bad smell he’s left behind is even tainting foreign women, as stereotypes about gaijin being the cause of everything from unpleasant encounters to crime get reinforced, in spades.
So thanks for nothing, Julien Blanc. Hope the door hits you on your way out.
Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!