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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Let's play

who's who

There used to be a game that was played, among a certain generation of Jews, that was like an ethnocentric version of "Where's Waldo". I can remember my parent's friends playing it. The rules are simple and the game can be played by only 2 players upwards to a million. Basically, it would involve one player offering up the name of a celebrity or equally famous public person and then identifying that person as Jewish. The other player(s) then express agreement, surprise, admiration, shock or some combination of these feelings. That's it. It was informally known as "Who's the Jew". It was a way for us to reaffirm our influence as an ethnic minority; a way to say "We may be small in number, but we are mighty". Watching this morning's newscast, I was struck by how the Japanese seem to play a similar game.

At least once a week, there's a recap of how various Japanese athletes around the world are fairing. Not just well known baseball players like Hideki Matsui (above) and Ichiro Suzuki, but various soccer players around the globe, as well as others. Interest in these players seems to generate from the fact that they're fairing so well outside the Homeland, away from the Mother ship. That they're passing so well. How they can navigate the world outside Japan as fully international citizens. Similar to how my parent's friends would marvel at how Michael Douglas (that's the dude above next to Matsui...) could move so effortlessly through the world of the goyim, how he could be accepted as America's sweetheart
(for a time, at least.. ah the cruelties of a fickle public, now he's best known as the ex-Mr. Zeta-Jones). The Japanese seem fascinated by the spectacle of one of there own making it out there, like Jap-o-nauts in alien space.

The Japanese seem like Jews in this respect, how ethnic identity, nationality and genotype get all mixed and combined in notions of self-identity. And how, even though both groups are incredibly influential in comparison to their size, still seem to have a chip on their collective shoulders. Jews, now perhaps, less so ( thanks I think in part to the popularity of "Jerry Seinfeld"... Yeah, that's right, the character was clearly a Jew and clearly loved by millions). The Japanese aren't quite there yet and, while it's true that to succeed outside of your birth country generally does require some exceptional ability, the barrier for exit seems higher here. That the world would come to Japan is accepted now (after that whole Perry and the black ships incident), but the notion that a Japanese could make the opposite journey still seems to amaze.