The Strange Story of Debito Arudou a.k.a. David Aldwinckle
Intro: The Internet brings much of use. But it also provides a platform for blowhards trying to promote themselves by abusing and attacking others. These uglyself-aggrandisers have to be answered, using the same platform. Case in point: the subject of this note.
Begins: Back in the early nineties a web forum called the Dead Fukuzawa Society (DFS) saw lively exchanges of opinions among foreigners living in Japan.
Sometime in the mid-nineties we began to see DFS posts from an American teacher of English based in Sapporo, Hokkaido, called Dave Aldwinckle. He used to write much about himself – his teaching activities, his bike rides around the island etc. One day he began to make large fuss about how he had taken Japanese nationality, as if this made him more attuned to Japan than the rest of us. It also meant he could call himself Arudou Debito.
But for me he remains just Dave (if Nkwame Odinga Swahilli takes British citizenship I would still find it hard to call him Bill Smith).
Soon after, we saw a post about how Dave had gone to the port and onsen city of Otaru (near Sapporo) and had met an onsen owner who had suffered 800,000 yen of damage when a drunken Russian sailor punched a hole in his wall and wrecked the onsen heating apparatus. (Then, as now, Otaru was host to dozens of small Russian cargo ships, many bringing in lumber from the Russian Far East and returning with used cars.)
The onsen owner was naturally unhappy about this and told Dave he wanted to ban Russians from his onsen. As I recall it, Dave went on to say how he had told the onsen owner that banning Russian sailors would be racial discrimination, and racial discrimination was a no-no. The lack of humanity and common sense in Dave’s attitude came as a shock.
It was a harbinger of much worse to come. We were to discover Dave and some friends fulminating against an up-market onsen owner in Otaru who also had had trouble with Russian sailors and had put up a sign banning all foreigners. Dave and Co. were going to take legal action. (Dave and his friends can be very litigious where the sins of others are involved.)
I had been to Otaru several times and had made a point of visiting the wharves there. But one look at the rust bucket Russian ships and their rough-neck sailors, many well into their bottles of strong alcohol, suggested they would not be a great asset to any quality onsen trying to create a relaxed, up-market mood for its clients. Talking to them confirmed that opinion, even though I like Russians and speak their language.
Who would educate the Russians about Japanese bath etiquette? And what happens when inflated bladders hit warm waters? Few Japanese clients, luxury or not, would want to stay around after that to find out.
I posted something saying that the onsen owner’s move to ban foreigners was inevitable given the problem of controlling the Russians and of distinguishing between Russians and other Caucasian foreigners. All I got for my efforts was a torrent of abuse from Dave and his gathering band of supporters, accusing me of racism.
The next thing I heard was that Dave and his friends had taken the unfortunate onsen owner to court and had him fined several million yen for racial discrimination. Dave also wrote a book about his brave experience in which, I am told I am now branded in print as a racial discriminator for having criticised those Otaru escapades.
One of his key points was how he had tried to enter the onsen and had been refused as a foreigner even though in fact he had Japanese nationality. How clever of Dave to expose that evil racial discriminator in this way. And how stupid of the onsen owner not to realise that his clients would immediately recognise that Dave, stripped down for the bathtub, was a Japanese, and not a foreigner about to misbehave in some way or another.
That at least was the logic of Dave and his friends as they headed for the court house.
It is time to for a dose of realism.
In our own socieites could anyone hope successfully to run a commercial bathhouse open to all and sundry? Of course not. It would almost certainly be run as a club with resricted entry. Anyone who opened the doors to all comers would soon be out of business.
Japan’s communalistic (some say homogeneous) society is less restrictive. It is assumed everyone knows and accepts the rules of the society and can be allowed entry on that basis. In this sense Japan is rather like an extended club, or as I described it in a book I had published years ago,a ‘tribe.’ And for the most part this very attractive tolerance extends even to us foreigners. But there are times when even the most tolerant of the Japanese cannot accept people who do not know or accept the rules – renting apartments to foreigners bound to cause trouble, for example, in a society whever eviction is difficult. A line has to be drawn. And if occasionally we foreigners find ourselves on the other side of that line we should not complain too loudly. The tolerances we gain more than make up.
But not for Dave and his friends. When the very attractive communalism of Japanese society that allows us foreigners such tolerances is shut off – for example when landlords decide not to accept foreigners – Dave and his friends scream racial discrimination. How dare they. Don’t they realise that we in the West invented the concept of human rights, and that we are the final arbiters. It is an offshoot of the same racial arrogance that has allowed us Westerners to stomp over much of Asia for the past few centuries, going back to the Opium War and other atrocities.
Following the Otaru ‘victory’ Dave and Co. went into orbit. Their blogs and websites set out to discover, and punish, any and every shop, bar etc in Japan which for one reason or another (often good) felt it had to exclude foreign clients. I used some editorial or blog space to counter their excesses, trying to point out that given Japan’s unusual culture there would be times when attitudes seemed anti-foreign. But the same culture meant that at other times they would seem to go to excess in their efforts to help and be friendly to the foreigners in their midst. Anyone with maturity would match the two and realise that on balance Japan was one of the more tolerant of the non-Western culture societies. To focus on the negatives and ignore the positives was not just childish. It was racist also.
In those early days Dave, like many other would-be pulpit bashers, had the bad habit of trying to gain fame by launching ad hominen attacks on people better known than themselves. Donald Keene has been one of Dave’s targets. My writings have also been tooth-combed to find some self-deprecating remarks where I played down my record or abilities. Dave would then publicise them to prove Clark’s failings. So I felt I should reciprocate, by going back over the expired DFS website. Only this time Dave was not being self-deprecating. He was actually boasting about his idiocies.
In one of his posts he told us about an orientation lecture he had been invited to give to English teachers brought to Japan by the government to work in Japanese schools. He had told the audience how he had been forced to upbraid a waitress who, thinking he did not speak Japanese, had spoken only to the Japanese person next to him. How dreadful. How humiliating for Dave. How timely that he had been able to warn his audience about Japan’s racist ways. And in Dave’s lingo today, a serious micro-aggression.
When the same thing happened in a sushi shop he managed to have the offending person fired. He concluded that Machiavellian (his word) skills were needed to counter the various tricks and subterfuges by which their Japanese colleagues would try to discriminate against them and undermine their position in Japan.
And the Japanese officialdom that had invited and paid him to deliver this racist spiel? They too were into Machiavellian tricks? Dave, I had to conclude, was a typical white, Anglo-saxon bully – contemptuous of the culture around him and demanding it confirm to his needs and values. And there he was, out there, lecturing and badgering the Japanese on their alleged racial discrimination!
Later, one or two of Dave’s followers came back to me, not so much to apologise but rather to say they had split with Dave because of his domineering, self-promoting and self-aggrandizing nature. One of them even agreed with my proposed solution to the Otaru problem – creating a seamen’s club of the kind found in all major ports where the difficulties in looking after rowdy sailors arriving after weeks at sea are handled appropriately. Or join the many kind-hearted groups that do try to help foreigners in Japan. But that would have undercut the efforts by Dave and his friends to gain even more fame and kudos for their brave actions in ferreting out the ‘racists’ they now saw in every corner of Japan. Besides, they were too busy filing more suits. One of them was against the city of Otaru itself.
Needless to say, their suit did not fault the Otaru city for failing to establish a seamans’s club – the obvious and easy solution to the bath-house problem. It assumed that the city and the bath-houses should set about hiring extra staff and interpreters to instruct rough-hewn Russian sailors, drunks included, in the 2,000 year etiquette of the Japanese bath-house.
Thanks to fame gained from the Otaru escapades, Dave has been able to set up a small cottage industry peddling anti-Japan rumours, bias and half-truths to the large sub-class of foreigners here only too ready to believe their problems are caused by Japan and not by their own laziness or failures. True, there is a market for providing hints to disoriented foreigners trying to adjust to Japan. But why the constant anti-Japan bias? And the constant self-promoting, Rush Limbaugh-style, clattering?
And how can people claiming to want to right Japan’s wrongs against foreigners lack the humanity needed to realise and sympathise with the problems small-scale Japanese businesses might have in dealing with foreigners – shoplifting, for example? Dave and company made a big deal about a shop in Monbetsu, Hokkaido, with shop-lifting problems placing a sign barring Russians. Have they ever visited a shop in Sakhalin? Surly guards demand all bags be put in lockers before entry and check customers when they leave. Is that how the cottage industry people want Japan to become?
Latinos working in Japan can be another problem. They have a fascination for jewelry and given a chance will spend hours googling at displays with no intention of buying. And yes, since I also speak Spanish and I am more willing than most to forgive their foibles. But there are limits.
There is also the problem of foreigner theft gangs using the technique of diverting staff attention while they steal from unattended shelves. Are small jewelry shops in Japan supposed to hire extra staff just to handle these situations?
When a small jewelry store in Hamamatsu suffering these problems tried to keep local Brazilians at bay (and in the process sacrifice considerable income, one assumes), it too was also successfully sued for racial discrimination. The cheers from the Dave crowd went on for decades. I suggest that some of that applause crowd go to Brazil and check out what happens in jewelry shops there! The armed guards at the entrance will give them a hint. Might I also suggest that the seeming lack of experience of other non-European societies, and languages, among the Dave crowd adds much to their racist determination to fail to understand the problems caused by people with attitudes and values different from ourselves.
Japan with its communalistic assumptions of personal honesty happens to be a shop-lifters paradise. The willingness to leave items on open display trusting that people will behave is something we could not find in any other society. Are we to ask Japan to abandon all this and become a pad-locked wasteland simply so Dave and his mates can boost their self-promoting egos even further?
Japan for a time suffered a rash of sophisticated lock-picking by mainly Chinese gangs operating on tourist visas and able easily to exploit Japan’s easily pickable locks (those easy-to-break locks were another by-product from Japan’s attractive assumptions of personal honesty). When the Miwa Lock company advertised strong locks able to foil the foreign gangs they were accused of racism. Is there no end to this childish nonsense? I should add that I also speak Chinese and normally try had to forgive their cultural transgressions. But it is also a fact that certain class of Chinese specialises in, and shows great ability at, the kinds of deceptions that in other societies would not be tolerated.
In their personal attacks Dave and his friends operate on two fronts. One is the ultra- Rightist approach of attacking someone through his/her’s place of employment – in my case the Akita-based university (Kokusai Kyoyo Daigaku) where I served as vice-president (and where I did in fact also suffer ultra-Rightist attacks, as I mention in my website, for pointing out Japan’s racist refusal to recognise its wartime abduction activities in China and Korea – an area where the Dave crowd lack the guts to tread).
To prove his credentials as a fighter for truth and justice, Dave had the Akita-based university placed on his self-promoting ‘blacklist’ of Japanese universities. It was accused of anti-foreigner discrimination, allegedly for refusing tenure to foreigners. In the process more anti-Clark material was included, the implication being that their giving me a job was another of their sins. This I should add was a university which I had helped set up and which followed the established US academic policy of tenure after a period of probation. Since it was a new university most of its staff were still on probation. It also happened to employ a much higher proportion of foreigners, many as full-scale professors, than any other Japanese university. Some discrimination!
If Dave had made these kinds of totally false allegations in a bid to harm the reputation, and ultimately finances, of a US institution he would almost certainly have been sued to the limits of his bank accounts. He was saved by the Japanese non-legalistic approach, and the custom of ignoring anything unpleasant. ‘Putting the lid on things that smell’ is how the Japanese put it. Good advice. But what do you do about people who exploit this tolerance, indefinitely?
The other front was using every Internet opportunity to publicise a defamatory article about myself by a Murdoch journalist, Richard McGregor, and published in The Australian in 1993 (details, including legal action to force corrections, are in the Life Story on my website, Chapter 19a, *) The Australian parent company, Nationwide News, complained to the offending Debito website about its infringement of copyright and failure to note the corrections I had had imposed. But it goes without saying that Dave, the great defender of bathhouse morality, was not greatly worried about these breaches of copyright morality. And once again, he was lucky not to be sued.
There is a limit to which any society can tolerate the self-aggrandising, self-promoting, slanderising Daves of this world. Even in tolerant Japan, David Aldwinckle comes close to that limit.
* Typical defamation: ‘Clark was run out from Australia’s Department of External Affairs for opposing the Vietnam War’ (BTW only a rightwing Murdoch rag would consider opposition to the Vietnam War as a black mark against someone). In fact at age 29 Clark had already been promoted to First Secretary in Moscow and was due to be posted as Australia’s representative to the U.N. Disarmament Commission in New York as replacement for Michael Cook, already on track to become Australia’s top diplomat, when he decided for personal reasons, including opposition of the Vietnam War, to leave the diplomatic service and become involved with Japan.
All this information was available to McGregor. But his regard for truth and facts was on a par with Dave’s. Birds of a feather.