I’ve been doing a little writing for the Folio, which is a University of Alberta newspaper. This week, they sent me to cover the visit of Princess Takamado of Japan.
She seemed like a nice lady. Very energetic and outgoing, in the way that you wouldn’t expect a Japanese princess to be (more on that later). She was there to demonstrate some new videoconferencing equipment donated by Sony to the Prince Takamado Japan Studies Centre. The equipment wasn’t foolproof; for one, UBC couldn’t figure out to press the “speaker” button on their remote, so we never heard from them.
Her speech was nice and fairly neutral as expected. Bridges and community and shared culture blah blah blah,basically a call for earnest self-expression. Then they let students of Japan Studies ask questions from all four universities participating. Victoria couldn’t come up with any, and U of Calgary only wanted her to “say something in Japanese.” So she said, (and this is a rough translation) “Good morning! Japanese is hard to learn, isn’t it? Go get ‘er! Please!”
But then some doofus at the U of Toronto said, “I have never heard English so well-spoken. Where did you learn English?” WHA?
She’s a princess. And he totally patronized her. If he had read her bio, he would have known that she had spent part of her childhood in America, and then another 12 years in the U.K. I mean, I’ve been told that my English was pretty good for a Japanese person too, but she’s a PRINCESS. She’s RICH. She’s EDUCATED. It’s been her job to travel around the world representing her nation. Of course she speaks English! What a dork.
This just confirms my theory that people who are fanatically attracted to Japanese culture are not, in fact, trying to build bridges or break down barriers or do any of the things that the Princess hopes her money and patronage are going to do at the universities. These are the people who are the ones with the offensive questions, the assumptions. They’re the ones who expect Japanese people to all be nice and quiet and accommodating. The ones who treat foreigners like pets and think they can figure out an entire culture and then get resentful when they go and are made to feel like outsiders. Based on my experience as both Canadian-born AND an immigrant (it’s a long story), well, no duh. People treat you different if you ARE different. Deal.
But yeah, it was really a surprise to witness such blatant prejudice like that. Especially towards Her Imperial Highness, The Princess Takamado of Japan!