Gaijin in the spotlight

I could have sworn that the “Westerner’s Fear of Neonsigns” blog was written by Marxy on a gaijin-baiting stint, but apparently that’s not the case. Whoever writes it, however, is amazing and I especially love his post “How’s your Japan blog?

1. Japan is unintentionally hilarious – in particular, misuse of English – or Engrish – is so funny that I devote considerable time to documenting and disseminating it. To avoid a similar fate, I will not be blogging in Japanese.
2. Japan is barbaric – it fails to treat sacred Western food with due decorum (bread in a can) and celebrates Christian festivals all wrong (Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve). Check my blog for further examples.
3. Japan is sexually deviant – society operates in the tacit knowledge that Japanese men are paedophiles by default. Look at all the photographic evidence I have amassed to prove it. They just don’t know how to treat a woman properly. That I do is the underlying message I want you to receive from my blog.
4. Japan is a visual paradise (1) – all Japanese have a heightened visual sensibility; they spend their coffee breaks contemplating tiny design modifications to plastic cups and bathe in the juice of fonts come evening. Not actually living in Japan, I can safely say that they never drive ugly white minivans or fill their tatami rooms with tat.
5. Japan is a visual paradise (2) – the thing I love about Japan is how it allows me to me indulge in the objectification of women without guilt or reproach. The pornography here is just fantastic. Oh, of course, this will be known as The Great Unmentioned in my blog.
6. Japan is spineless and work-addicted – people will do any job rather than lose esteem by not working. Look at this old man waving past cars with a pair of red wands – you wouldn’t catch me stooping to do such a demeaning and unnecessary job. Oh, excuse me, I’m late for my English conversation school class.
7. Japan is childish – public announcements are only heeded when they are delivered by curtseying cartoon characters. To prove it, I will photograph them all. Even though the large incidence of such messages is obvious, I will continue to treat each one as a fantastic novelty.
8. I am childish – only in Japan can I indulge my secret love of toys and games while presenting it as sociological research. I never miss an opportunity to make the sweeping observation that Japan is populated by inadequate geeks. I visit Akihabara every weekend in search of corroborating evidence, but it’s purely research you understand.
9. Japan loves me – it’s always saying how tall I am, how handsome I am, how intelligent I am (admit it, I am pretty hot at producing those L/R sounds), how good I am at sports, how amazing it is that I am a man and yet I cook for myself. Nobody said anything in my home country except: “So, are you finally going to get laid in Japan?” Deeper awareness of Japanese social etiquette would have saved me the trouble of believing any of this.
10. Japan is mine – I am the Alpha Gaijin. If Japan can be said to exist at all, it is only because I have brought it to life with my intellectual efforts. Other foreigners intruding on my turf better be able to withstand the fire of my comments. Japan will thank me for everything I have accomplished once it knows who I am. Until then, I have an immersion experience more impressive than yours to attend to.

I feel like I was the opposite of other Japan bloggers, at least by this person’s definition – I was more into blogging about Japan when I wasn’t here. Now that I live here it is all so uninspiring.

This analysis of Japan blogs is as spot-on as it has been curiously absent in unfiltered form. Still, in defense of Japan blogs I will say that it is often a lot of fun to post and discuss the interesting and weird stuff in a foreign land, whether that’s Japan or elsewhere. It is definitely shrill-sounding when people make their experiences out to be more than they are (god, there are thousands of expats just in Asia, you’re not that special), but really the antidote to Japan blog fatigue is to just tune them out.

The truth is I am sad we weren’t even mentioned (though in a separate post he calls translation one of the “brilliant arts” so maybe I don’t get called on my own cultural imperialism. Or maybe I just didn’t get noticed by not posting when the blog launched…)

Speaking of cautionary tales and immersion experiences, I took no less than 4 friends on a wild goose chase the other day to see what was supposedly an exhibit of Nazified kimonos celebrating the tripartite alliance in the WW2 era. This is all we found next to a display of books on wartime Japan:


Meanwhile, today’s Asahi (I read the print edition now, screw the crap online version!) ran a feature on a sweet sounding historical fiction “Tokyo Year Zero” about a double murder in early postwar Japan. The author, David Peace, grew interested in postwar Japan after teaching English here in the early 90s and reading Seidenstecker’s Tokyo Rising. He later returned to his native England and became an award-winning mystery writer on non-Japan related subject matter. His new book is enjoying a simultaneous bilingual release and a major PR push from the Japanese publisher Bungei Shunju.

Just goes to show, if you’re willing to shed a little baggage and be friendly to the like-minded (most of the research for his new book was apparently provided by the in-house Bungei Shunju translator after the two hit it off during negotiations for translation rights to an earlier Peace book), you too can have success and avoid the stench of “slow-burning underachievement” that apparently afflicts the expat population in Japan.

101 thoughts on “Gaijin in the spotlight”

  1. That was hilarious!!! Actually I remember reading “The Westerner’s Fear of the Neonsign” for a while. I must reread it again!

  2. I think #10 is supposed to be me, and of course, I am going to be all like, “Yo, that’s not me at all.” But I dunno, I can’t imagine anyone actually believing about their own blog (!) that “If Japan can be said to exist at all, it is only because I have brought it to life with my intellectual efforts.”

  3. I was more into blogging about Japan when I wasn’t here. Now that I live here it is all so uninspiring.

    I am actually writing a post on this right now. Check out CA in a couple of days.

  4. Cogito, ergo Japan? Anyway, that’s ten excellent reasons why I have no immediate desire to rush out and start a blog – that, and the Cautionary Tale of Mr B. And the fact that I’d prefer to turn the energy to things that might help my career. So I’ll just stick to the occasional annoying and unhelpful comment for the time being….

    Cool yukata.

  5. Oh, forgot to mention this: “Now that I live here it is all so uninspiring.” Well, I wouldn’t have said “uninspiring,” myself, but I would say “all so normal.” I mean, what on earth is wrong with corn on pizza? That’s perfectly normal, as far as I am concerned. (Actually I was back home a few years back and we were ordering out for pizza, and since there was no menu to hand I naively asked if they had a curry pizza, to much disbelief and hilarity from the young lady on the other end….)

  6. While #10 may very well be supposed to be Marxy, I don’t think that it really applies.

    Why don’t we try to think of a few more general ones?

    What about – “Japan is Racist” – Commenting about how racist Japanese are in a way that is so condescending and essentializing that the critique of racism becomes racist itself. Sometimes supported by far out examples and hyperbole – ‘I’ve been spat on in train stations dozens of times.'”

    Am I the only one who thought that the original list looks something like the recorded minutes of an eikawa teacher yakitori outing? Its not just blogs….

  7. Why limit it to bloggers and eikaiwa teachers? You can hear comments inspired by the motives in that list in conversations among foreign journalists, academics, businessmen, artists, diplomats and the military in Japan. You might have fantastic Japanese and an Order of the Rising Sun but its still likely that you’ll have been tickled by an odd use of English sometime in your life. And it’s certainly not eikaiwa teachers who “enjoy the visual paradise” by hanging out in hostess bars and running mistresses on the side. Even contributors to the apparently serious NBR Forums can’t resist the occasional “wacky/perverted/incorrigible Japan” type post.

    It looks like there are Japan blogs which perhaps started as hobbies or scrapbooks but where the content inceasingly has skewed towards the kinds of posts that bring in visitors and, consequently, money from Google Ads, personals and J-List. That tends to mean they end up virtually interchangeable over time with a heavy reliance on WaiWai and Akihabara news. That might explain why the tone of some blogs seems to fit the stereotypes outlined.

    Other problems seem to crop up too. I noted, on another forum, when blogger “Japanmanship” folded his tent. He is a video game developer working in Japan and has written some interesting pieces. This is what he wrote when he decided to give up:

    “As I have exhausted all avenues of useful information to write about and have started leaning heavily on critical and often unfair views of Japanese life…I am also fully and hatefully aware that my recent batch of posts have all covered my solipsist and sweepingly negative views of Japan and the Japanese which, though liberating to write and not entirely without merit and truth, is hardly fair to subject a whole nation to. Of course there is a case to be made for lowering the post frequency, but I always thought if something is worth doing it’s worth doing to glorious excess, or not at all.”

    He has actually just started blogging again but and here’s the refreshingly honest reason for the resurrection:

    “I had no idea I’d so miss satisfying my Thalian muse (or should that be Melpomenean?) on a regular basis that the urge to resurrect Japanmanship would, eventually, be too much to resist.”

    One bloke who has been “blogging” longer than most people and who rarely seems to get many mentions these days on other blogs (Mutant Frog is an honourable exception) is “Captain Japan”. His articles are, like the pieces that Marxy and MF mostly put out, all original content. I’ve met him a few times and he is always a bit bemused by how much traffic a site can get by essentially reposting the Mainichi.

  8. “You might have fantastic Japanese and an Order of the Rising Sun but its still likely that you’ll have been tickled by an odd use of English sometime in your life.”

    I think that there is a big difference between being entertained by something and deciding to write about it twice daily on a blog.

    “Even contributors to the apparently serious NBR Forums can’t resist the occasional “wacky/perverted/incorrigible Japan” type post.”

    And they most often get taken to task for it.

    Your point about advertisements turning cliches into cash is a very interesting one.

  9. First off, I think the warning that must be taken from the cautionary tale is that blogging about Japan can be counterproductive and distracting to the initial goals of such blogging, namely learning about your adopted (perhaps temporary) home and documenting your memories and thoughts. So in that sense, I am less interested in thinking about the “why do google ads corrupt” side of things as I am by WestNeon’s descriptions of the exhaustingly typical foreigner attitudes/gripes/hypocrisy. In response, I would argue:

    “Japan is a learning experience”

    For me, living in Japan/learning to translate/dealing with an international marriage has been a constant challenge in which I am a) Always being called on my shit; b) Surrounded by a vast array of new and interesting information at all times; and c) Only sometimes allowed to be lazy. Whatever other complaints or foibles I might have, I am really proud of my experiences regardless of who thinks they are pathetic. Nevertheless, being called on your shit is usually a blessing, so that’s why I like this guy’s writing so much.

  10. I think that “Japan as a learning experience” is where it’s at. Much more interesting to see people using Japan as a means of personal examination or a way to look critically at certain problems common to (say) post-industrial societies. Just by doing this you avoid most of the stuff on the list. But let’s face it, how many blogs and (especially) discussion forums have this kind of insight on offer?

    Of course there are different reasons for blogging and if someone wants to share personal Japan feelings with their family, etc. that’s a legitimate forum for airing lazy, derivative points of view like the ones on the list. A lot of these “private” blogs are wannabe high traffic sites, however, so they open themselves up to being @#$%listed.

  11. Speaking of money and motives for blogs, “Japan Sugoi” has been going for one year now. This from the most recent post:

    “Considering we get between 5,500-6,000 unique visitors every day, its not bad for a part time hobby…We’ve had 1,050 pages indexed on google and we appear on the first page of google results for many of our topics. Our readership is predominately male and located in the US, Canada, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia…One thing we know is that can be a much better blog than it is now but we don’t have much time to spend on it so we’re interested in partnering with anyone on how to make it better or anyone who is interested in buying or taking over this blog.”

  12. I find reading blogs more interesting than writing them (not that I do). It’s interesting to see what sort of things Westerners are finding blog-worthy (in many cases, the standard of “worthy” is pretty close to “worthless” however).

    M-Bone is right about the difference between a private chuckle over “Japlish” and broadcasting it to the world. I have a few gems I have seen – though the Golden Age is over really, I think, certainly for the major players) but I do also like those blogs in the West (usually run by Chinese) who collect uses of bad kanji (esp on tattoos), creating a sort of countermeasure. I also like those blogs that attempt to go past the western-media stereotypes.

    I do think that anyone newly-arrived in the country and with little knowledge of it is perhaps doing themselves a disservice by reading too many blogs, or even keeping one. I suspect they just end up reinforcing stereotypes rather than allowing people to absorb the differences.

    That last comment, about “buying” a blog, definitely highlights the commercial aspect of lowest-common-denominator crap bringing ad views and stuff.

    That said, sometimes you just *need* to see a stormtrooper dancing in Shibuya….

  13. I was more into blogging about Japan when I wasn’t here. Now that I live here it is all so uninspiring.

    Please go home!

  14. As someone else hinted, “uninspiring” does not necessarily mean I am not inspired here but at least not to write about stuff I missed about here when I was away… plus commuting in Japan can be pretty depressing and life-sucking.

  15. Dude, if your commute sucks you need to buy a bike already. I just clocked it on mapion, you can get from your place to your sexy skyscraped in 60 minutes by bike — or 80 minutes if you bike like my grandma. I commute by bike almost everyday now that Tokyo has cooled down, and it makes my life so much more pleasant. Seriously!!

  16. A while ago I heard a bloke moaning about a Japanese acquaintance who had praised his chopstick skills. He had only been in Japan around three months which seemed a bit early to get bent out of shape about that kind of comment. It then occurred to me that the poor Japanese guy might well have been the first person ever to say that to him. When I asked him later, he said something to the effect that “everybody knows how patronizing that is”. Perhaps one effect of the explosion of blogs and forums is that people get on their high horse a lot sooner about something they experience because they have read about it online first.

    Obviously a lot of the information is helpful and worth sharing. For instance, a girl probably needs to know beforehand that there is a chance someone might try to grope her on a crowded train even if it isn’t likely to happen that often. Perhaps, though, it does affect the way people learn about Japan because it adds a lot more hearsay about the country to your own direct experience. And that hearsay may well determine how you interpret the experience as in the case of the chopstick rageaholic.

  17. very accurate and funny list! but he forgot one kind probably because that’s what his blog is: Japan blogs that are ‘above’ the rest and make fun of english teachers because they’re such an easy target. and nunber 7 and 8 are patricia macias and mathilda alt exactly. yuck. LOL!

  18. The above comments are mostly from the expats view points.Here are mine from native view.

    Reading J-blogs in the past 12 months and one begins to understand that what most of the expat bloggers want with Japan is not exactly a “multicultural”nation that can stand on it’s feet,but a semi-colonial vacation destination plus some job opportunity,a country that is completely defenseless from extrenal threats or criticisms while destined to do everything it can for outside world.
    Needless to say that’s not exactly the way this country is being run,and for that you get all the relentless never ending what’s-wrong-with-Japan-threads and posts.You usually don’t get any counterarguments from ordinary Japanese,and when you do,it’s usually from a troll type whom one can easily dismiss in the discussion or perhaps the presence itself can concrete your argument.


    I don’t mind much about “Whacky”Japanese type or “What-am-I-doing-here”type of blogs from some confused 20 somethings living in the foreign land.And I really am not in the mood to snipe at Eikaiwa teachers under current situation,for they deserve to collect as much sympathy they can get right now.But I start to think that the rise of blogging could be widening the perception gap of anything Japanese between the locals and expats.

    J-blogs=24hour Roppongi Gaijin pubs, is now my perception.

    I’ve wasted huge amount of my own time reading and commenting somebodyelse’s labor of love and I discovered that I talk less with my family and reading less books in my free time.I did enjoyed every moment of my time doing that,ofcourse.

    Blog can gets you addicted.It is a good way to be connected with the foreign land without have yourself settled there.But it certainly won’t help you much in dealing with your real life surrounded by real daily things to do,either that is your career or family life or simple commuting.I totally agree with Adamu on that.

  19. I unapologetically take option #5 for a 100 Alex. I dig the women here! You caught me.

    Actually for me, blogging in Japan has only been partly about Japan-its given me a dandy viewpoint with which to more objectively view the stupidity that goes on in my home country-which is why only a third of my posts at most are about Japan.

    So long as I am in Asia, on the right side of the dateline-I’m happy. And I have not been to Roppongi in over 2 years……………..

    Wanchai on the other hand……..

  20. Re: Japan on the net in general. Sometimes you see something that restores your faith. A certain anime news commentary site just ran an article that asserts that there are just not many anime that deal with politics (while in America we have so much quality political media!). I felt like commenting but regular fans were already tearing him a new one, talking about all of the good, critical themes that pop up in anime and manga.

    In a way, this is pretty shocking. Regular ol’ anime forum types seem to have a better understanding of the diversity and potential critical edge of Japanese popular culture than do most reporters and a good number of specialists….

    Anyway, Ace, why don’t you just limit yourself to one or two civil and interesting blogs (like this one and Neojaponisme)?

  21. “Regular ol’ anime forum types” probably spend more time looking at the sources: content produced by Japanese for consumption by Japanese, and have less interest in “interpreting” it for non-specialist audiences like reporters do.

  22. M-Bone:

    Too true.I limit myself commenting on blogs that are written by people who can read Japanese and chose to comment in various political spectram.From Neojaponisme(left),Mutantfrog(liberal),Coming Anarchy(conservative) and Ampontan(right).Not that I agree with everyone,but all of them has variety of view point that do not exist in English language media’s J-coverage and having myself in the verbal rumble there greatly help me learning English more than the civic chit-chat.

    As Mulboyne had said in the past thread,someone specialized in one field always have some insight that goes beyond the cultural border.I love J-cinema site,Midnight Eye.Probably the best information source of Japanese film industry in both on and off line and in any languages.I was surprised the variety of people in the industry getting interviewed there and considering the sorry-state of Japanese film criticism,it is shame that they don’t have Japanese version of the site for lots of people don’t know it’s existence in Japan.
    For that reason I also read Don Brown ‘s Ryuganji and Jason Gray’s J-movie blog everyday.Don is a translator and Jason is Tokyo correspondent of SCREEN magazine.Needless to say they both read and write in Japanese.

    I have to agree with that Anime forum on lacking of political satire in J-anime.There are anime that deals with somekind of political message,but not satire as The Simpsons or South Park,No?I mean J-anime had pretty loose restriction on both violence and sex but satire and South Park like name calling is a taboo.Perhaps something to do with DENSTSU?
    But that doesn’t explain the fact that we do not have so many good political satire manga on the newspaper and magazine that are critical to the government or big company.

  23. “Regular ol’ anime forum types”
    People engaged with Japan from the perspective of a specific interest (anime, Japanese food, finance, religion (why does no one mention religious foreigners?)) are often very reassuringly level-headed and realistic in their views of the country, particularly compared to people who are living in the country teaching English or who are into the “culture.” That was a long sentence, but basically where there aren’t people like reporters or “pundits” (the people who would proclaim “Japan is mine”) to inform people of the stereotypes, the conclusions people are allowed to draw on their own are quite often not that biased (or unnecessarily broad for that matter).

    But way more often people from US especially come pre-indoctrinated with the idea that they live in an ideal society the likes of which should be replicated worldwide. It’s an attitude that infects reporting on foreign countries to a ridiculous degree. That’s why NHK documentaries (like the amazing “New Silk Road”) are always so eye-opening. They show how people are actually living in different places throughout the world without the “Is this country worth invading?” sort of bullshit that seems to always be necessary in the US

  24. Ace:

    Midnight Eye is an excellent site. However, a better resource off-line would have to be Kinejun’s “best 10” collections. You can read blurbs by a shifting line-up of the top 30-ish Japanese critics on the best 20 or so films to appear each year. Midnight Eye tends to be a bit focused on the Miike/Tsukamoto stream of Japanese cinema (which I love, love, love) but Kinejun can help you to track down the forgotten masterpieces (and overrated piles of crap) from the 30s to present. I also disagree on Japanese film criticism – its mainstream incarnations (TV, weeklies, etc.) have gone downhill but there have been a LOT of good movie books (from guys like Yomota, etc.) lately and when things like Eureka are on, they are really on. I also think that some shows on BS1 have done a good job of presenting director interviews, etc. “Classic” Japanese cinema has definitely gone niche, but the milking of that niche is producing some interesting stuff. There is also something of a renaissance in anime and manga publishing (just look at all of the goodies that have come out about Matsumoto Reiji – critical and interview loaded) lately as well, while in the English-speaking world somebody has apparently decided that half of any director study should be devoted to short blurbs about every character that has appeared in their work….

    The anime point was not about a lack of political satire, but a lack of political content of any type. GUNDAM is dismissed (while even the candy colored Seed series sets about outlining the machinations that result in a neo-fascist party / bunch of racist thugs selling a type of populism and taking over the government of the “good guys”) and apparently the vast body of heavily political Japanese pop – Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell (internment of immigrants is not politicized enough, apparently), Howl’s Moving Castle (fierce political statement), Ginga Eiyu Densetsu, Chinmoku no Kantai, etc. are ignored, not to mention the run of titles that are ABOUT politics – everything from Jotei (insightful look at corruption) to Soridaijin Oda Nobunaga – just don’t count.

    There are also recent things like “Kencho no Hoshi” and “Odoru Daisosasen” that are completely commercial (and rather lame) in their presentation but use a very clear image of government and bureaucracy as ghoulishly corrupt. Do you really think that there is a lack of popular culture in Japan that hates on the system?

  25. “Is this country worth invading?” sort of bullshit that seems to always be necessary in the US”

    You hit the nail on the head right there. What American popular culture needs post 9/11 is what Japanese popular culture has tended to do pretty well – to present other countries as real places where real people live, not just a backdrop for discussion of American world power or a contrast with the “right” style of living that exists in the USA. Of course, this has resulted in an unfortunate tendency in some Japanese works / discussions to define regions based on one or two characteristics (China = flux + people who like money). Even in these cases, however, it can be legit engagement, not just discussing another country’s negative points to distract from American problems (ala Chomsky) or the consideration of another region/culture/people purely through some American angle.

  26. “But way more often people from US especially come pre-indoctrinated with the idea that they live in an ideal society the likes of which should be replicated worldwide.”
    Sad, but often too true. Sometimes the speaker will say “yes, I know we have problems (the homeless, medicare, etc)” but it’s not really these obvious problems, but the sheer lack of acknowledgement that there might be another way to do things (and they might actually be just as good, if not better) seems lacking.

    Japan is not ideal in its presentation of other cultures (some shows are truly cringe-worthy – like when they bring PNG hill tribesmen to Japan) but many are very good. Unfortunately I cannot really compare them with American ones, not being in America. That ‘ururun’ show or whatever it’s called tends to humanize other cultures, though to rather more sentimentality than I like, and even the long-running Shaso no Mado kara is good in its uncritical presentation of global railways.

    Hmmm. I’m not sure that I have a “specific interest” like manga or anime or finance (yawn) or food (unless I’m eating it). Certainly not religion. If it was to be anything, I suppose it would be history, but I’m not sure if that’s sufficiently narrow and not cultural enough. I certainly try not to be a culture vulture. But I like to think I’m a bit more level-headed than an ex-NOVA drone or people who get excited over the ten millionth bit of wacky English. I put it down to not being part of the gaijin community, and thus not exposed to everyone’s biases and fetishes, but it may not be that simple. That’s why I think blogging can reinforce these stereotypes and provide outlets for ignorance that weren’t there when I first came (the ignorance was there, it just wasn’t as public).

    “why does no one mention religious foreigners?”
    Because they’re seriously nuts.

  27. “Is this country worth invading?” sort of bullshit that seems to always be necessary in the US”

    Well that’s not the impression I get from watching PBS/WGBH docs on MiddleEast.And I do see lots of 70’s style political films coming out from both in and out of Hollywood.

    Anyway for NHK programs,I recommend you to see NHK SPECIAL 激流中国 series more than “New Silk Road”.

    “KineJun and decline of the Japanese film criticism”:

    As a guy who start watching films in the heyday of “LUMIERE”magazines/Hasumi Shigehiko, Kinema Junpo is the equivalent of LDP in cinema criticism.
    One thing I adore about Korea is they have more variety of film magazine there like KINO,Cine 21 and FILM 2.0.I even think Chosun Ilbo has better film section than Asahi.

    Midnight Eye has been focusing Miike becuase one of the founder,Tom Mes,had written a book on Miike(of whom not exactly my cup of tea).I regard them higher than Kinejun for two reason.1)They are independent(and Kinejun is all tied up with the industry)2)It’s free and the contributors are all volunteer(Kinejun is not even though they are full of advertisement and promotional articles of those brain damaging block busters from Fuji TV)

    “Do you really think that there is a lack of popular culture in Japan that hates on the system?”

    In a way,yeah.The only equivalent of South Park/The Simpsons kind of social irony and stick-to-the-man-attitude is Kobayashi Yoshinori before his mind got warped out to outer space in the mid 90’s.
    The only funny satire mangas are coming from Ishii Hisaichi and Saibara Rieko.

    BTW,check out this month’s Japan Foundation’s monthly “をちこち”magazine.It’s speical issue on manga spreading in the world and there is a interview of Taro”Rosen”Aso by critic Kure Tomohisa.

  28. Mark D. West in his book last year, “Secrets, Sex and Spectacle”, puts forward the idea that the lack of satirical content in the media is partly down to Japan’s privacy and defamation laws. He suggests that although damages awards are not especially high, Japan often does not allow a “truth defence” for defamation and permits public persons a lot more leeway than, say, America. He recalls Shinzo Abe’s threat to bring a defamation suit against “Mad Amano” in 2004 for mildly parodying the LDP’s campaign slogan. A 1987 Supreme Court ruling protects political criticism but West wonders whether such a hassle around a minor incident deters more serious satire.

    “In place of parody, then, the Japanese mainstream media is often characterized by warnings and self-censorship. Before virtually every fictional television show appears a traditional warning that “this is a work of fiction, and is unrelated to any person, group, or incident,” the talismanic mantra to ward off evil lawsuits. There are no based-on-a-true-story, ripped-from-today’s-headlines movies of the week; those would surely prompt lawsuits by peripheral players. When celebrities speak negatively about absent celebrities on Japanese variety and talk shows, the names of those they badmouth are often bleeped out. Group pictures in which the eyes of most or all of the participants are obscured by black bars of newsprint are common”.

    Like his first book, “Law in Everyday Japan”, West covers territory that the overseas press rarely deals with. Most readers of this blog would probably fin dhis work interesting without necessarily agreeing with his conclusions.

  29. I think that Kinejun has been better historically than it is now. They have, in the past, drawn attention to a variety of anti-establishment films like Nobi, Kiku to Isamu, etc. and they pretty much allowed mavericks like Imamura and Oshima to plant their flags because of critical success. The “Best 10” system also drew attention to odd-ball but great films like “Joshu Sasori” back in the early 1980s. The fruits of this long period of “good” criticism are collected in their “best 10” collections and I think that they represent a nice resource. Midnight Eye is great and all, but they don’t do enough to link up the Japanese cinema mainstream – ie. things like “Always”, with Miike and the others leaving a fundamental gap in context.

    Satire may be lacking in Japan, but plain old political bashing is alive and well. Abe was absolutely raped on TV and in the press. I can remember seeing a slew of funny impersonations of him on TV.

    Mulboyne makes a good point – it is mainly those “fictional” works that have the hard hitting political stuff on TV and in film in Japan. I think that mentioning The Simpsons and South Park is setting the bar pretty high. They are arguably the most notable satires in the past 30 years in the USA and its not like other countries have been successful in producing anything like them. There is also a LOT of material in the Simpsons (especially after season 6) that is supportive of American BS, I think. How else could you explain some of their worst excesses – the Australia and Japan episodes – that seem to revel in ugly cliches rather than tearing them down? The Simpsons is also occasionally very dismissive of Canada, England, France, etc. with little irony evident (unlike the absolutely brilliant treatment of Canada in South Park, for example).

    Also, if we are thinking anti-establishment, we should also consider Japanese period films. The overwhelming bulk of depiction of pre-war and wartime Japan centers on the oppressive state. Can anyone think of an Edo period film without corrupt magistrates? In contrast, the bulk of American period representation has the “civilizer” (ie. order / society) pitted against degenerates or glorifies American militarism. Lots of great exceptions to this but the good “order” in American films is still very important and has produced some vomit inducing flicks (“The Patriot”).

  30. I really,really have a lot say on this topic.But now I’m busy for the moment.

    Ozawa Ichiro had announced resignation from DPJ leader.WTF.

  31. “Ozawa Ichiro had announced resignation from DPJ leader.WTF.”

    Historically, Japanese opposition parties have done everything in their power to screw the pooch just when it looks like they are ready to mount a serious threat to the LDP.

  32. This is going to be one serious blow to the nation.First Abe and now Ozawa.
    I just don’t think this would simply end as a gain for LDP.

    Japan is now in a serious mess.

  33. No wonder they’re so good at screwing the pooch – they’ve had half a century of practice at this, after all….

    I don’t watch it much these days, and it’s not overtly political, but Crayon Shin-chan loved to skewer the pretensions of middle-class Japan. I can’t think of any others on TV, but, like the US, I’d look to animation to find the satire, where it seems freer than live-action by dint of being more ‘unreal’. Personally I’d love to see something like “Spitting Image” in Japan….

  34. Come to think of it, the poking fun at society, adult authority and the nostalgia boom that goes on in the “Otona Teikoku no Gyakushu” Shin-chan movie makes up what is probably as smart a form of satire as anything that has appeared in The Simpsons. Good call.

  35. I too have way more to say but not enough time to say it (and give my thoughts some organization for that matter). I just want to say that this whole idea that Japan blogging is like the online equivalent of clubbing in Roppongi is of course partially accurate (I guess – I’ve never been clubbing in Roppongi) but it seems like an almost natural reaction to the thick language and cultural barrier.

    Even when Japanese people are fluent in English, they are often nowhere near culturally fluent enough to really engage with Westerners on their own terms. So the Westerner in Japan has a few choices: get really good at Japanese, listen really closely to the English that you can hear from Japanese, or (the easiest) just talk with the people who are easy to talk to and write about what you can observe without the aid of the Japanese perspective.

    Anyone remember the “Gaijin Hanzai File” affair? Could there be any better example of how little in common the Westerners here have with the Japanese? The book sparked protests and ended up being taken off the shelves with what appeared to be next to no sympathy or input from the Japanese side whatsoever. It was entirely a tempest in a teapot and ended in a self-satisfying victory for people who endured no harm by it at all.

    And while it’s got to be infuriating to see a group of Westerners hem and haw at Japan as if it’s a big intellectual exercise or plaything, what prospect is there to really improve things? The people who tend to go native really lose much desire to share whatever enlightenment comes from that and a lot of them become really jaded anyway.

    To tie this in with Ozawa’s resignation, he spent the last third of his statement yesterday excoriating the media for hinting that the grand coalition was his idea (which apparently helped seal his fate). His harshest criticism was that the cozy relationship between power and the media remains unchanged from the pre-war era when the newspapers fanned the flames of a war that led to the near total destruction of the country.

    Regardless of whether that’s true (though I think it is), to turn the issue around, are the Westerners’ mindsets all that different from 60 years ago? It still seems so easy for people to dismiss Japan as a primitive country without a sophisticated understanding of human rights or democracy or what have you. The terms of the argument have changed (we’ve gone from “is Japan civilzed” to is Japan a democracy, do they treat women equally, or some other indicator of the fatalistic “development” agenda) but it remains basically the same.

    And while it seems really harmless for the people-once-generalized-as-NOVA-teachers to rant on and on about what a mess Japan is, these arguments aren’t limited to Japan. Now that the movement to invade Iran has gained steam, we’ve seen more articles about women’s rights and even gay rights in Iran, which would normally be none of our business exactly but now are used as a serious justification for war.

    While it’s been hard to write about the same things I used to since coming here, it’s not just because of a lack of inspiration, it’s also because I am overwhelmed by the reality of being here in this vibrant active society that refuses to neatly conform to any argument I want to make. I took a walk through Yoyogi Park for the first time this past Saturday and had my mind completely blown by the gang of white-black-Japanese skateboarders leering at me, the insanely professional double dutch team and hackey sackers, the dozen or so White man-Asian woman couples picnicking, the massive “dog run” surprisingly populated by a lot of upper middle age men with pomeranians mixed in with the usual slightly younger women, the professional juggler practicing on the green who wouldn’t let my friend take his picture (it would violate his constitutionally protected image rights). In this sense I completely understand (and indulge in) the temptation to make sweeping generalizations and compartmentalize in reference to the society I know better. I mean, you have to step back and get on with your life at some point.

  36. I’m off the shift,so I type.It seems the DPJ leadership want Ozawa to stay while the great divorcer himself insist on quiting.

    United you stand,divided you fall.

    Anyway,what Ozawa had intentioned is probably by sharing power with LDP and by doing so,he can always threat Fukuda by mentioning the dissolve of coalition and win compromise.He could also find some ally with in LDP and cultivate some influence,at the same time marginalize the do-nothing ex-socialists in DPJ,the soon-to-be-coming election may give him some more bonus seats that would strengthen him even more power,and you have 1993 all over again.Not bad.But then again it is all dream now.

    The resignation of Abe and Ozawa means one thing.It’s the damn constitution that stands your way when this country’s democracy try to become the true two party democracy.Anybody trying to cut the Gordian knot,you get crucified by everyone.The oppositions,Asahi,Korea,China,FCCJ and Gaijin bloggers will call you a militarist and you career goes to the toilet.

    “Spitting Image”like show existed in the Fuji’s golden time variety show  “とんねるずのみなさんのおかげです”about a decade ago.I remember seeing sinister looking Ozawa puppet and Kinashi Noritake doing some comic.
    But the problem is these political satire doesn’t work effective when the average prime ministership is about 18 months and their political power is so limited to face the problem both in and out of the country,naturally people worry more about the political impotent of the high figures than the possible domination.
    I was once talking with ex-Moscow correspondent about the decline of the Russian anectode after the collapse of the Soviet Union.In his thesis,the anectode thrives in the reign of the strongsman.At that moment of the conversation it was the last days of Boris Yeltzin and I’d imagine the situation is slightly different in Russia,but that backs up my argument a bit.

    Going all the way back to the topic of this thread,why foreign journalists, academics, businessmen, artists, diplomats and the military in Japan tends to have sharper criticism on the country than locals.I think it goes down to the simple fact.
    Japan is not their country.
    My thought was strengthened after reading FCCJ’s internal paper written by David Mcneil.

    I know these guys want to play the games in the line of “true jouranlist from the west”VS “lapdog J-media”.But if we cover the story in same manner,we would simply be labeled as doing “bad reporting”from the readers.Afterall our target audience is our own countryman while these correspondents rarely faces criticism from their readership for their inflammatory Japan report which is in high demand overseas.
    I understand few news desks in editorial room of their home office are interested in latest news from Tokyo nowadays.The eye of the world is more focused to the Middle East or China and the Tokyo correspondents are in need of writing sexed up version of the events to compete them.

    Forums like NBR are occuppyed by disgruntled academics who chose wrong career move by getting a job in Japanese institutions,standard of the “debate”there is unbelievably low for supposed to be”academics”.No wonder you have more Australians ranting there than supposed to be the dialogue partner,the Japanese.

    Gaijin bloggers usually just pick up news from English sources coming from people as such.They are indeed much more easily accessible on internet and if you have no literacy of how credible they are who can blame that.

  37. Adamu – just a quick question: how do you define “harm” as in “people who endured no harm by it at all”?

    I was taken clubbing in Roppongi once (by a Japanese friend) and did not enjoy the experience at all. So I hope that blogs are not like that. At least not the ones I frequent. Anyway, the problem with blogs is that 90% of everything is crud, and in the days before self-publishing on the internet, most of that tide of crud was stopped at the gates. But now it is free to wash over everything…..

  38. “While it’s been hard to write about the same things I used to since coming here, it’s not just because of a lack of inspiration, it’s also because I am overwhelmed by the reality of being here in this vibrant active society that refuses to neatly conform to any argument I want to make.”

    This is what I love about reading and writing about Japan full time. Gives once a chance to enjoy the diversity No need to try to categorize everything. When I find something that I’m really interested in understanding more deeply, I can build an academic project around it. By definition, those don’t require neat categories and generalizations can get your ass canned by reviewers.

    Mutantfrog (the blog and the individual) does a very good job of not trying to pigeonhole things.

    Ace makes a very good point re the demands placed on the Japanese media. Look at just about any current issue and the Japanese media is doing a good job of being critical. Just turn, for example, to some of Debito’s recent writing. This is a “full-time human rights activist” and his recent stuff has been made up largely of quotes from the major Japanese dailies (who are doing a better job than he is of contextualizing problems). What is missing is not a critical edge, it is the irresponsible scare rhetoric that crawls into the pages of some of the major dailies outside of Japan. Is there anyone who seriously thinks that something like unsafe nuke plants, food labeling problems, Hashimoto’s dentist bribery thing, etc. was dealt with better outside of Japan than in?

  39. Aceface wrote: “Gaijin bloggers usually just pick up news from English sources coming from people as such.”

    That’s not too different from the working practices of some foreign correspondents in Japan. In fact, if you read Richard Lloyd Parry’s “Asia Exile” online then you’ll be reminded of a typical gaijin blogger in his efforts to work out whether Fukuda reminds him more of Homer Simpson or British comedian Eric Morecambe.

    A lot of the problems with foreign journalism about Japan really started after the bursting of the bubble. There’s sometimes a tendency to believe that overseas understanding of Japan has deepened over time; that foreigner’s language skills have got better so, inevitably, Japan is less of a mystery. That’s really not the way to look at it. By comparison, I would argue that overseas media coverage of America is at something of a lowpoint these days. There is very little nuance in the descriptions of the country and its people these days and that has little to do with the numbers of foreigners living in the US or the standard of English comprehension.

    Instead, It is better to look at overseas journalism going in cycles which reflect trends in the wider world, the changing demands of the domestic audience and the changing circumstances of the media itself. Moreover, the object of analysis is itself a moving target so the challenges of understanding a nation will be different over time.

    Back to Japan, foreign media outlets reduced their staff quite sharply in the years following the end of the bubble. The Tokyo office, if it wasn’t closed completely, often ended up reporting to the Asia bureau in HK or Singapore. How was a Japan correspondent to get ahead in a journalism career in that environment?

    Some decided to write apocalyptic scenarios with the thesis that the world had never seen a developed society collapse before and you could get a ringside seat in Japan. A lot of today’s negative journalism about the country has its roots here. Annoyingly for this school, Japan just bumbled along without ever bursting into flames and running street battles.

    Others tried the “Japan has turned the corner” angle because a relentless diet of gloom soon turns off your editor if nothing really bad is actually happening. Notable examples popped up during the internet boom. Articles celebrating Ripplewood and Nissan or Koizumi’s “reform” agenda are also in this school.

    The problem with these two strategies is that they never played out as the commentators and journalists hoped so no-one really was able to make a career on either horse. No such problem with the third way to get your byline in the newspaper: the wacky Japan story. Cue an endless series of articles about perverts, panties, toilets and schoolgirls followed by a wave of anime, manga and cosplay features. These stories are ideal if you are running your Japan coverage from HK since you don’t really need to check if they are true. Those crazy Japanese. Combine the doom stories with wacky Japan and you get the recipe for a Japan blog.

    The investment analyst Alexander Kinmont famously wrote a report five years ago entitled “The Irrelevance of Japan”. He later claimed he was talking about the country purely in an investment context although even with that qualifier it was terrible timing. In 2002, however, many journalists knew his pain. With everyone looking at China, rising global asset prices and the threat of terrorism, who cared about Japan? That mood seems to have returned today.

    Some of the blame lies with the journalists themselves. Are their editors really turning down proposals for serious investigative pieces? It seems more likely they don’t make them. Have you noticed that most quotes from average Japanese in an overseas news article seem to be from Japanese girls? It’s almost as if the journalist has asked the office secretary to ring one of her friends for a comment. Or asked for a name to add to a pre-prepared comment. There’s not a great sense that these guys are getting out much in the way they primarily react to news which breaks in the Japanese media. I know some of these reporters and they are mostly decent, intelligent people so I don’t know really where things break down.

  40. Jade Oc: Anyway, the problem with blogs is that 90% of everything is crud

    I think it’s important to step back and repeat this before jumping into some “explanation of the reasons most Japan-focused blogs are annoying.” It’s because most America-focused blogs, music-focused blogs, you-name-it-focused blogs are exactly the same way.

    I personally avoid the whole deal by blogging so infrequently nobody knows I have a site. 😀

  41. Me mentioned in 2ch 海外の反日宣伝に英語で対抗するスレ

    つか内容もアレなことが多いんで、何とももまぁ、な感じしかしないがw ”

    Looks like gaijins are not the only ones getting some spot lights in J-blogsphere….

  42. Ace, it looks like you are being drafted as a representative of the 2ch collective unconscious and criticized all at the same time….

    It’s amazing how people can selectively read your posts and make you into some kind of han-hannichi crusader. You can certainly be critical of Japan (as you were re the lack of developed satire in this thread). Does that mean that you are a han-hannichi-hannichi-nihonjin? 反反日反日日本人You should get that on a t-shirt.

  43. Re: the terrible standard of Japan reporting outside of Japan – another Canadian pedophile predator in Asia was unmasked this week. Apparently he was living and working in Japan while “vacationing” in Southeast Asia. The major Canadian dailies, who have no trouble coming up with articles on the rise of Japanese militarism, couldn’t even scare up a “he seemed like such a nice guy” quote from one of his neighbors, JET drinking buddies, etc. They don’t have the Japan infrastructure for anything but ludicrous hyperbole.

  44. @Aceface Here we are talking about the lack of content of the English language J-blogosphere … LOL! Just goes to show the level of nitpicking that goes on in forums/blogs.

    Oh, and RE: とんねるずのみなさんのおかげです
    MMMmmmm… Watanabe Marina FTW!

  45. Younghusband, was that a jibe at our lack of updates recently? I just took the GRE this past week, and I need to wrap up all my grad school application stuff by the end of the month, so I should be doing more blogging after that. I do have a few neat things to post that I could do without spending much time though.

  46. Can I restart what we’ve been posting?I’ve got to show those 2channelers that I’m still a trustworthy representative of their collective unconscious.Please?

    “I know some of these reporters and they are mostly decent, intelligent people so I don’t know really where things break down.”

    I say blame “the left-wing bias” on English source.

    Show you some example here,It’s from JAPAN FOCUS(sorry M-BONE)

    GM=Gavan McCormack is the professor of The Australian National University,DM=David Mcneil is correspondent for London Independent.Both are coordinator of JF.


    GM: I read last night Kamata Satoshi’s story in the latest Shukan Kin’yobi about a teacher who distributed copies of South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun’s speech from March last year, talking about the Japan-South Korea relationship in a very critical way. She distributed , and she did a few other things as well. She’s just been sacked. First she was sent to a center for discipline, where you’re surrounded by people who shout things at you all day and try to get you to repent. But she didn’t repent. In addition, the mother of one of the students was an American woman, who complained that the education that her daughter was getting was anti-American. So the Sankei shimbun took up the case and attacked her, and she was sacked. She’s now fighting this in the courts.

    DM: What was she sacked for?

    GM: She lacked “appropriateness as a teacher.” As far as I know, this is the first person to be sacked. Her name is Masuda Yuko. This kenshu [“training”] center she was sent to is a terrifying place. She was asked to do what the Christians were asked to do during the Edo period, fumie, to stamp on a Christian image, as proof of having renounced the religion.


    Now reading this would no doubt make you feel that schools of Japan is run by Orwellian style discipline of Monbusho.But JF guys are ignoring lots of things to my right-wingy eyes.

    Firstly,this teacher had been cautioned four times by the educational commitee in the past for circulating copies of personal attacks on a member of Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly or attacking a student’s parents whom she thinks a historical revisionist,(with both their names in print) as”study material”in class.

    Secondly,”a few other things as well”she did was demanding the whole class to write the letters of apology to President Roh for 36years of Japanese colonialization of Korea and posted them to Seoul.

    Now this teacher may have been an avid supporter of the Japan-Korea friendship and has historically conscious mind,questioning her”appropriateness as a teacher” seems reasonable and justifiable measure for any public educational authority to me.
    Imagine what would happen in America,a public high school teacher enforcing the whole class to write a letter to Hugo Chavez,apologize for the century old American policy in the south of Rio Grande and embrace the Bolivarian revolution…..

    The re-education camp for dissident teacher McCormack was reffering is this.
    I don’t see any presense of dungeon nor torture chamber from this website so I must conclude the comparison with Edo-era Christians are rather inappropriate,but then again I could be wrong.

    JAPAN FOCUS is increasingly becoming an important(and easily accessible) Japan information resource in English language.Not that is a bad thing in any ways.But I’m concerned that this viepoint and the tone of Japan watching is uncritically shared by the majority of FCCJ,for we see too much of the reflection in their articles.

  47. Academics, especially in the humanities, tend to be left-wing (though generally of the left-of-centre rather than foaming-at-the-mouth sort) so basing sources on academic opinions is going to be a little left-wing in general. It’s a self-sorting thing really – right-wingers tend to end up in business, nerds and geeks who become academics are generally empathic with the underdog. While I am not a regular reader, JF seems fairly solidly left-wing on many issues, but I think in this case the obvious thing to do is compare the Shukan Shincho article with how GM is spinning it.

    I recall hearing about this writing letters of apology to Korea thing, but I think based on Aceface’s post that the really heinous act was dragging personal information (attacking a student’s parents) into it. That is definitely inappropriate as a teacher.

    Not sure what an American equivalent would be, but there was a recent case in which a teacher was sacked (in Arizona I think) for having a Mexican flag in the classroom and not just an American one….

  48. There are more than one school in Osaka and Hyogo having the flags of Republic of Korea and Democratic Peoplr’s Republic pf Korea along with the rising sun in school,saying there are zainichi kids studying in the class. So far I don’t hear anyone is being sacked for that and nobody is asking for it.

    Writing letters of reconcilliation with Asian countries are sorta usual practice in many schools in Japan,but usually the counterpart is the school children.Like exchanging letters with Korean/Chinese students and then have get together in their country using the occasion of school trip,etc. Schools do that with their sister cities around the world too.But doing that to the head of state is pretty unusual. Anyway what mattered more is as Jade had pointed,the trouble with the parents and name calling. This teacher had become kinda drama queen in Korea.All the known TV stations had interview of her.

    I don’t mind academics being liberal/left-wing.I’ve also been to college and some of my best friend is a university lecturer,so I know what it is.

    But when it comes to Japan some of the paper just goes beyond my mind.My recent WTF article was found on”frog in the well”,this paper written by a Chinese guy living in San Jose claiming himself as sorta pro^democracy activist and he is accusing Japanese Communist Party for taking it’s part in remilitalization of Japan! The reason is JCP is claiming Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands as Japanese territory and criticism from the maoist academic of Kyoto University Inoue Kiyoshi who was expelled from JCP for siding CCP in the internal struggle of the party.

    For some reasons that is beyond me,the Japanese academics and graduate students who are also in the member of these forums tend to maintain their silence.Perhaps they are in a position like Mongolians in the Chinese communist party or Ukrainian in the Soviet Politoburo,Any counterargument by them can be tranlated as a representation of “nationalism” by the fellow non-Japanese member and always in fear of being finger pointed as “the right wing”.

  49. Ace: Part of the “silence” that you describe may be due to the tendency of people who are reasonably familiar with Japan to know that any talk of Japan aggressively rearming and attacking other Asian countries in the near future is pure fantasy. Positions that extreme are difficult / useless to argue against so many people, I’m sure, just don’t bother. Same with assertions that Japan is a totalitarian / fascist state, etc. Most academic types with reasonable opinions / criticisms of Japan will probably bring their stuff to academic journals (where publication has professional advantages) while those with ideas that are a bit out there are more likely to take them to online forums, etc.

    Also, I think that Japan’s successes scare some people. Most current China discourse has the criticism built in (ie. economy is booming, but it can’t be mentioned without pollution, forced relocation, human rights, etc.). Japan interpretation tends to be one or the other extreme. The “Japan as Number One” idea may be far, far in the past but the backlash against positive Japan representation still exists. For example, Japan was basically called dirt because of (corruption-related) bad loans, etc. right up to 2002-2003. America is facing a similar crisis at present (risky housing loans and irresponsible government spending threatening to sink the ship), but the analysis (from nearly all corners) seem to have relatively little to say about widespread arrogance, lack of foresight, structural problems, and yes, endemic corruption. Many sources are going with a “couldn’t be helped” type of filler interpretation that stops people from asking the big questions. I can’t help but think that there are many out there who wanted (want) to see Japan fall because of what is perceived as 1980s hubris and have applied extreme interpretations that would not be considered acceptable elsewhere.

  50. “I can’t help but think that there are many out there who wanted (want) to see Japan fall because of what is perceived as 1980s hubris and have applied extreme interpretations that would not be considered acceptable elsewhere.”

    Definitely. Having been in Japan during the so-called “collapse,” I know that while not without its victims, that the idea that Japan was actually collapsing was just laughable. I kept thinking of an Asimov quote: speaking of the declining Galactic Empire, that “…weakened and decaying though it is, is still incomparably mighty.” Backlash against the sort of Japan portrayed in “Rising Sun,” I do indeed think. (Try the novel: at least you don’t have to put up with Sean Connery trying to speak Japanese: wtf is a betty-koo? {別宅} Ain’t that right, kouhai? It makes me very very o-ko-TA!) And of course the same goes for any potential rearming, though given what happened last time Japan went overtly nationalistic, I can see their point to an extent (and one shared by many Japanese, both academic and not), that anything that suggests a re-emergence is to be watched very carefully indeed. Even if I don’t agree with such a cautious stance myself (give back the Northern Territories! [Come on, like Russia needs the extra space….]).

    Ace – I did a search at Frog in the Well for both Senkaku and Diaoyutai and came up with nothing. Do you have a link/title?

  51. M-Bone wrote “…the analysis (from nearly all corners) seem to have relatively little to say about widespread arrogance, lack of foresight, structural problems, and yes, endemic corruption. Many sources are going with a “couldn’t be helped” type of filler interpretation that stops people from asking the big questions.”

    I think you are in danger of caricaturing the overseas press in the same way as we believe they tend to caricature Japan when you write that. For my own part, I’ve found plenty of intelligent analyses of America’s actions and problems from many different perspectives.

    I don’t think Japan’s successes scare anyone anymore – there would have been heart attacks if Japan had been talking about increasing the reach of “soft power” during the bubble – but you are right that there were many who feared the rise of Japan. Funnily enough, those people don’t spend too much time gloating or belittling Japan because they seem to have moved on to the next bogeyman. Instead, there are quite a few commentators who see the bursting of the bubble as a personal betrayal and have spent the years since raging against the perceived faults of Japan like a cuckolded husband criticizing his wife. It might be unfair to single anyone out but Jean-Pierre Lehmann’s name immediately springs to mind.

  52. I’ve found AP, the NYT, Washington Post, US Today, and a few others to have been soft on the corruption / structural problems behind the bad credit problem facing the USA at present. I’m not a religious reader of any of them so I may have missed something. There has been lots of good stuff on Iraq (much from sources out of the mainstream like “The New Yorker”), but about the debt issue? I was very specific about using the debt issue as an example in my earlier comments. I was not talking about anything else.

    A Japan+bad debt+corruption google search reveals a slew of major articles on the issue. A United States+bad debt+corruption google search didn’t show me anything of interest. In fact, the “Yakuza Recession” thing comes up first on the Japan search and SIXTH on the USA search. A United States+debt crisis search comes up with a host of things about Latin America, student debt, etc. A Japan+debt crisis google search gives us “Japan’s debt crisis hangs over global economy”, “Yakuza a source prolonging Japan’s debt crisis”, “Asia Times: Japan locks into vicious debt spiral” and so on.

    There is a lot of good US stuff coming from alternative press sources like this –

    but try
    New York Times + American debt crisis
    Washington Post + American debt crisis

    There are JAPAN articles coming up near the top of these searches. If the big US outlets are on the ball, they have been doing a very good job of hiding it. Contrast this with the smug proclamations of Japan’s fundamental corruption and structural backwardness when its debt crisis exploded. All I’ve seen for the US situation are pedestrian articles like this one

    By “fear of Japan”, I don’t necessarily mean fear of Japan taking over or becoming a boogeyman, etc. I feel that there is a fear that some things in Japan are done fundamentally better than they are in the United States or other Western democracies so there is a hesitance to compare. For example, there is a real hesitance to have a “wouldn’t it be great if everyone had an Article 9” debate (or at least how we can come close to the ideal that Article 9 represents) or even a “cut back military spending to 1% of GDP” debate (far more realistic than my earlier utopian suggestion). Instead we get “abnormal Japan” debates.

  53. Ace – thanks for the link. I am familiar with Jing Zhao’s work and stance from other things he has written, so I can pretty much guess the contents here….
    yep – the footnote to the *title*, even before the introduction, reads “Until the early 1970s, the English name of the JCP was CPJ (Communist Party of Japan). This change of name, emphasizing Japan, marked a further nationalistic characteristic of the JCP.” It does? And are you going to show us this? And this note: “However, the word kokumin, widely used during the war, excluded non-Japanese citizens as well as those Japanese who refused to bend to the Emperor system.” WTF? Widely used during the war? I can think of a few others that were as well. “Gohan”. “Chizu”. “Ohayo gozaimasu”. And Zhao isn’t talking about the war period or 非国民 at all, but about the JCP referencing “citizens” in its current rhetoric. So why drag in a war tangent if not to make the word seem more sinister than it is (especially the idea that those current Japanese who opposes the Emperor System are not “kokumin”)?

    And while by no means an expert on US issues, I thought that the Enron case was all about what M-Bone is talking about – that is, it was reported as such.

  54. The Enron case (a massive fraud, criminal case) was not an economy-wide problem like Japan’s was and the new US one seems to be. The corruption I refer to when discussing the recent US debt case is (most likely) not criminal / prosecutable (like most of Japan’s bad loans were also not due to criminal / prosecutable dealings).

  55. M-Bone, your search terms might be letting you down. Try “sub prime” instead of “debt”. That’s currently the most common label. Even then, you’ll have to know what to look for because Google rankings are fairly indiscriminate at this early stage. It isn’t a debt crisis yet because the loans that have gone sour are not threatening the solvency of any institutions who extended them. Instead, they have caused losses for those who traded them in the secondary market. Indeed, the whole point about sub prime loans is that a higher proportion ar eexpected to go delinquent compared with better credits.

    There were warnings about the dangers of sub prime loans for some time before the crisis broke. There’s always somebody but, inevitably, they don’t get as much media play as the cheerleaders. I particularly recall an FT commentary on Merrill Lynch pointing out that their late entry to the market meant they were taking on more risk than established competitors and, indeed, their losses have all claimed the handsomely compensated head of their CEO.

    Almost as soon as the first wave hit, there was a lot of coverage of the culpability of the ratings agencies. They may yet be a target for lawsuits just as the accountants were during Enron and Worldcom. Corruption claims are usually the first to be made when things go pear-shaped in financial markets and there will undoubtedly be more of them as the scale of the disruption becomes apparent.The regulators are also coming under fire in a number of countries for failing to differentiate between institutional risk and systemic risk.

    Because this story is still unfolding, it is a bit early for the sweeping “Yakuza Economy” type coverage. Five years after the bubble burst, there weren’t even many people in finance who knew what had happened at the housing loan companies so the corruption stories that did appear initially were very light on detail and still looked back to the tobashi and Recruit scandals. The news cycle is faster in the US but it isn’t clear yet how this will play out.

  56. “your search terms might be letting you down. Try “sub prime” instead of “debt”. That’s currently the most common label.”

    For starters, do you see any problems with the use of the slap in the face rhetoric “debt crisis” or “bad debt” for Japan and the relatively esoteric “sub prime” for the USA? You can almost hear the sound of newspaper readers’ eyes glazing over.

    Back to the issue –

    There are already people outside of the USA and academics talking about how –

    – American organizations fraudulently sold much of this bad debt abroad by hiding it in larger investment packages
    – The US government has refused to take the kinds of counter-measures that it demanded of Asian economies
    – There were “predatory lenders” who went after people knowing that they would be hounded into foreclosure
    – Greenspan is culpable
    – America could be pitched into a recession

    We get “Subprime or Subcrime” from Z-Net

    and a similar cliche (heading what I thought was an insightful article) from the Huffington Post

    but I’m still having trouble finding anything this critical or interesting from the mainstream US press.

  57. Continued….
    I maintain that the trigger was pulled on Japan very quickly (structural problems were a favorite topic of conversation even before the bubble, as was irresponsibility) but that the laundry list of problems that I noted above have certainly not been given a reasonable airing in the mainstream US press / media.

    The US bad debt / bad loan problem is fundamentally different than Japan’s was. There are core similarities – bad choices, irresponsibility, and immorality – however, that really need to be talked about sooner rather than later.

    Bottom line – after Japan’s bubble burst and problems with Japanese banks became evident, the Japanese system was quickly branded “broken”. I feel that the mainstream has produced little of interest about the extent / nature of the American problems, even though some economists like Austan Goolsbee and others at the University of Chicago have been writing about them for years. I hope that you are correct in saying that we will see more good stuff in the months to come. Its cool that you are optimistic about the potential for a serious debate about this stuff. I doubt that the savaging will be nearly as severe as the one that Japan received, however. I think that this lies in a tendency to be savagely frank when the problem is in someone else’s backyard (their entire system is “broken”). It is not like Japanese journalists don’t do it too (see the hyperbole-laden writing about China’s “impending collapse” often distracting from Japan’s own problems).

  58. M-Bone “For starters, do you see any problems with the use of the slap in the face rhetoric “debt crisis” or “bad debt” for Japan and the relatively esoteric “sub prime” for the USA?”

    No I don’t and I didn’t have a problem with “Savings and Loan crisis” either even though I had to learn what they were too. Debt crisis is too generic a label since any financial crisis will involve someone owing money they haven’t got. For instance, it can mean sovereign debt like the big defaults in the 70s, corporate debt like the junk bond collapse, underwriting defaults like the collapse of the LLoyds insurance market or the debts created by margin calls in a run on the stock market. Who knows, if this plays badly for the US then we may look back and call it the dollar crisis. The bursting of the bubble never led to a yen crisis.

    I’m not sure what you are expecting to see. If this crisis deepens – as George Soros and Goldman Sachs both recently stated it will – then we already know the structural faults in the US. At the moment we are wondering whether the problems of a small market can be contained or whether they will be the catalyst to show up those other weaknesses.

    Japan’s recession was accompanies by an extended period of deflation. As we look at the US, commodity prices are rising across the board and the weak dollar makes imports more expensive so this is another feature which may earn America’s problems a different label.

    If you want to see some individuals named and shamed then there’s not enough evidence available yet for any prosecution and libel laws will always keep direct accusations in check but, again, we know where to look. The main divide I see in the coverage is between those who fear the worst and those who believe we will get through this crisis relatively unscathed. Here is a piece from a British commentator who believes American financiers are too optimistic:

    I don’t buy the idea that the US is getting off lightly compared with Japan because we don’t know the scale and breadth of the problems yet.

    The reason the most common terms used in the financial world for Japan’s woes are “banking crisis” or “bad loan crisis” are that they were specifically caused by financial institutions extending loans backed by insufficient collateral. The losses on those loans were of a scale to threaten the solvency of those institutions. MoF and BoJ triggered the end of the bubble by restricting real estate loans and then raising the discount rate on Christmas Day 1989. Were those actions the cause of the recession? The film “Bubble Fiction” believes so, showing Ryoko Hirosue going back in time to stop them from passing those measures and saving Japan as a result. Some do in fact argue that there was a more painless way to let the air out. However, while there are a whole host of theories about why those loans were extended, why the collateral was inadequate and who bears responsibility for them, no-one really disagrees about the basic problem.

  59. As for what I would like to see, I repeated points like – “American organizations fraudulently sold much of this bad debt abroad by hiding it in larger investment packages” earlier. Not seeing that sort of thing from the mainstream. If it is true, have American financial organizations become a completely untrustworthy corner globalization? And if that is true, what are we to make of all of that early 2000s rhetoric about how the coming of Citibank and US majors would save Japan? And better yet, why do we only see these types of questions being asked in academic journals, Noam Chomsky books, and the Huffington Post?

    As for the Japanese Vs. US situations – Japanese banks let out no collateral bad loans worth about a trillion dollars. In the current US situation, mortgage loans backed by big firms given to borrowers with no collateral and no down payments are being estimated in some corners to be in the $700 billion to $1 trillion dollar range. The only difference, I see, is once again the utter glee at which the entire Japanese system was condemned and what seems like a real hesitance to apply the type of critical analysis present in the Zmag and Huffington Post articles that I cited, in the mainstream US press.

    “I don’t buy the idea that the US is getting off lightly compared with Japan because we don’t know the scale and breadth of the problems yet.”

    That may be so, but do you think that the UK sources, Zmag, and Huffington are being irresponsible or alarmist by providing the types of critical stuff that I’m demanding? I think that the alternative is the type of thumb-twiddling journalism that quite frankly left pretty much all of US society in the dark on Iraq.

    Anyway, we’re probably not going to agree on this. I hope that you are right, however. I’m just concerned that the USA is entering a period in its history where the Fourth Estate has the potential to help things get back on track (after, what I assume everyone agrees has been a disastrous 7 years) but is softballing some big issues in the interest of market share.

  60. Fortune provided this handy guide to the culprits:

    It is glib but there was nothing like that in the Nikkei so soon after the bubble burst. Note that the ratings agencies have been called to Capitol Hill and Barack Obama wants an investigation into predatory lending. There were no such calls or testimony in Japan. The tobashi scandal broke later and only came to light because the Tax Agency realized they were missing out on revenue. The links you give are alarmist but they essentially identify the same market breakdown as the Wall Street Journal who instead are hoping for the best. At this stage of the game in 1990, some people also thought the worst was over in Japan. The coverage of both Fortune and CNN lies somewhere in between those two extremes. That seems like reasonable breadth given that we don’t know who will be proved right.

  61. “There were no such calls or testimony in Japan.”

    In Japan, it was the borrowers who were the predators, no?

    At this point, we are talking about different things.

    Talk about a broken system –

    became the who vocabulary for talking about Japan’s troubles and this goes right back to before the bubble.

    Maybe its too soon to go this far for the USA at this point or maybe things that need to be said are not being said.

    But getting down to brass tacks – from about 1987 people were writing about Japan as broken / backward / immoral / bound by hubris, etc. because of a number of things – insane borrowing and spending and speculation was certainly big but it was also being associated with dodgy politics, stodgy business cliques, kisha clubs, etc. The “lost decade” pattern of reporting (Japan as terminally structurally flawed) didn’t spring fully formed from the ground in the early 1990s, the roots were already in place in the years following Plaza. Despite the national debt spiral, the Iraq War, international anti-Americanism, an economy that seems to be teetering on the brink because of the issues that we have been discussing, etc. the current American media narrative is that this will all get fixed, blow over (as soon as we get a new president) – there is nothing “fundamentally wrong” with the way that things are done. When US News and World Report ran an issue devoted to “Things that America can learn from other countries” in January, they packaged it like it was revolutionary. They were partly correct. Comparisons that show America in a negative light are typically controversial (like Moore’s “Sicko” and Canada)and are just not as common in other media environments that I am familiar with (if I see another damn Japanese program or article on Finnish education, I’m going to scream). Really, what I’m looking for from the American press is some discussion of the idea that American-style capitalism may be busted, that it may be a “perfect” system for creating human misery among the working poor, etc. This has been done very well in some forums. I think that the TV show “The Wire” is damn near the best thing ever in representing some of the problems that I’m talking about. However, when I look at US reporting that draws the Japanese system as a broken misery pit and does not, in my opinion, go nearly as far with the American order, I can’t help but see an element of bait and switch.

    Why don’t we give the next US president four years and then revisit this topic and see how the reportage, and the USA have turned out? I really hope that you optimism proves justifed. A USA on the decline spells problems for many other economies and societies, Japan included.

  62. On M-Bone-Mulboyne debate.

    I got a mixed feeling here.American media covering Japanese economic malaise is not only justifiable but also a usual journalistic matter in any standard.Ofcourse I’ve read hundreds of articles”why Japan sucks” in the last 15 years.Even read a Krugman column titled “We are not Japan”.Those sure pissed me off.But then again it was the truth.
    Conventional wisdom createed by MAerican media was MoFA and Bank of Japan are kindergarden compare to the all-mighty Alan Greenspan.With that you have sub-prime fiasco here.So as M-Bone says we just have to see how things would be fixed from now.I also don’t have any Schadenfreude coming to my mind,especially investing most of my savings to American index fund….

    One thing though.It takes different methods and style to be “good” as foreign correspondent than simple “journalist”reporting home affairs.And in a way,foreign correspondent are required to bring “stories”instead of collection of “facts”.There are little or no criticism to foreign reports compare to covering domestic matters where readership have their own opinions and interests and that would make correspindents to overy exaggerate the topic they are writing.Home office editors are involved in this “sexed-up”process.And most in those cases,correspondents compromise to the demand from them.

    Going back to my ranting on GM(even though,nobody is actually want to listen to that anymore)is his extreme political prejudice on Japanese affair is widely accepted among the correpondents because it is so extreme and make your japan story a lot more graphic than they actually are.I mean we are talking about this dude who has been so much hesitant on admitting the existence of Cambodian genocide in the 70’s,justifying North Korea’s nuclear armament against potential Japanese nuclear armament.But when he turns to Tokyo metropolitan teaching personnel n service training center,he starts condemning it as an equivalent of medieval inquisition and no one question his intellectual integrity is a bit unfair.

    As I see here,”JCP charter also denied memebership that does not have Japanese citizenship”is actually the product of the demand from Kim Il Song in 1955,backed up by the CCP,Mostly to have zainichi Koreans under the leadership of Korean Labor Partty.Before that all the communist activate in Japan was encouraged to join JCP membership.Ofcourse Koreans were not satisfied with JCP especially during the military struggle days of the 50’s for Koreans thought they were risking more than Japanese comrades and actually wanted to have Korean party to lead them more independently.(At the time JCP’s No2 was Korean).But blaming JCP for “being nationalistic” is simply bizzarre and it seems Jing Zhao is wronged from A to Z on the matter.
    This page is made bu Miyaji ex-member of JCP who had been summoned by the central commitee by being imprisoned for 21 days and that had become huge scandal.He and his wife is still communist in their heart and minds,but questioning why JCP is lacking democratic leadershio and cannot transform like Italian Communist Party.

  63. M-Bone, there were critics of Japan along the lines you mention but they didn’t hold the floor back in 1987. Arguably, similar criticisms of China today are more mainstream. Apart from the occasional outlier like Jon Woronoff, most foreign writers looked to Japan to explain her success or just to be complimentary.

    The summer of 1986 brought some of the doubters to the fore when a clampdown on speculative eigyo tokkin funds led to a sharp drop in the Nikkei which looked like the end of the world. Journalists such as Brian Reading in the Sunday Times were vocal in describing Japan as a house of cards and investors like John Templeton, who was a very early buyer of Japan, reduced their exposure. In 1987, Soros famously felt that markets were vulnerable and thought the biggest risk was Japan. As it turned out, Japan was the most resilient market after Black Monday and powered ahead in a breathtaking 1988.

    The doubters were left with egg on their face as it was the US and her institutions which were left floundering. The critics remained but they were outnumbered by those shouting mea culpa and rushing to explain why Japan was a new paradigm. International funds found excuses to buy the same Japanese stocks they had previously shunned. This should all sound familiar because it is the same mechanism which worked during the internet boom.

    The critics of Japan came in three flavours as the bubble burst. First were the “I told you so” crowd who had been largely ignored for three years. This group was fairly small. The largest group was comprised of those who had been suckered in at the end of the rally and directed their self-loathing at Japan. The fiercest critics, as I mentioned before, were the former cheerleaders who felt betrayed by the object of their love. Whatever their individual motives, their criticisms were generally right. There was corruption and incompetence at play in Japanese. We might have known or suspected it at the time but we didn’t have the evidence, only anecdotes.

    It may turn out that US ratings agencies were conspired with investment banks. Perhaps credit officers at the lenders knowingly approved bad loans hoping to take away big bonuses before they collapsed. Or maybe they were just incompetent. You can even argue they were doing what they should have been doing and it was the regulators who were asleep because they should have seen that an acceptable level of risk at one institution was not acceptable across all. We don’t know the answers yet and we also don’t know how important those answers will be.

    One reason critics of Japan have had such a free stage is that the recovery took so damn long to start and the Nikkei today is still just over a third of its peak. America has had real disruptions to its system but one of the country’s strengths has been the ability to absorb these shocks. Who wants to read what went wrong in the internet boom when Google is rising to $700 a share? If it takes the US even half as much time as Japan to ride these current problems out then the shelves will be full of End of Empire theories within the first year.

    N.B. I’m not sure how you can be a predatory borrower. You can’t force someone to make a loan even if you actively set out to defraud them. Regardless, the experience during the bubble is that banks and securities companies were pressing companies to raise money they didn’t need rather than borrowers beating the doors down.)

    Ace, I feel your pain. When I read GM, it seems like he has invented a Japan which makes him feel good about himself. Which, I suppose, is what many of us are guilty of at some time or another.

  64. “You can’t force someone to make a loan even if you actively set out to defraud them.”

    Isn’t that the foundation of the “Yakuza recession” idea?

    I’m not saying that criticism of the Japanese system should not be happening in the US press. I just think that equally strong terms should be used to describe an American system that seems to be badly busted on a number of levels (not just lending, debt, etc.).

    Mulboyne – For the 1986-1990 period I think that you are focusing too much on “specific structural problems” and not enough on general proclamations about Japan’s fundamental badness – not only on the level of irresponsibility, but also the idea that Japan was unique in defending (using dodgy methods) its economy at the expense of others and thus immoral. This POV was all over Time and Newsweek, the mainstream of the mainstream. One of Aceface’s points is also good at illustrating what I’m trying to get across – even some of the viewpoints that you think are “positive” or “not overly critical” of the Japanese system are still treating the whole show like it is kindergarten with America (not being subject to the same hard criticism that the US press has reserved for others) as the global standard. In a way, this debate has become too focused on economics. Think about this – the comfort women resolution got a lot of play in the US press, but where was that debate about apologizing to the Iraqi people? In a similar way, slamming the Japanese economy is easy but despite the debt thing, irresponsible government spending, Halliburton, Enron, slowass rebuilding in New Orleans even in a supposed boom time, the US economy is still be written about like it is some kind of city on a hill.

    “Who wants to read what went wrong in the internet boom when Google is rising to $700 a share?”

    That’s a real problem. People didn’t want to hear about Enron when things were smoking a few months ago either.

    “one of the country’s strengths has been the ability to absorb these shocks.”

    Or, it seems, fraudulently sell bad debt abroad (see my earlier Independent link) or bully a country like Japan into disastrous currency adjustment. I think that, if anything, criticism of the US system is FAR MORE crucial because the country is actively pushing other nations to operate more like it does, Greenspan and friends have been held up as the global masters, etc.

  65. “Think about this – the comfort women resolution got a lot of play in the US press, but where was that debate about apologizing to the Iraqi people?”

    Oh,dear.Don’t let me start on this.

    I think more appropriate comparison will be Armenian genocide resolution.WaPO was shit scared when Turks got furious.Morton Abramowitz,the former U.S ambassador to Turkey denounced the resolution as inadequate. However same Morton Abramowitz has been pushing additional apology and historical soul searching for Japan.Foreign Policy’s blog passport says it all.

    “Japan’s Abe threads the needle”
    How much time did the staff of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spend crafting this morning’s remarks to members of the U.S. Congress on the sex slaves brouhaha? They were very carefully done. Abe, who is now hanging out at Camp David with President Bush, is “sorry” about the plight of “comfort women” who were forced—by whom, he doesn’t say—to service the Japanese military during World War II. He supports a 1993 declaration that acknowledged the Japanese military’s active role in sex slavery, but he won’t explicitly repeat it.

    South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports, citing anonymous congressional aides, that this artful dodge was not artful enough to satisfy U.S. lawmakers, who left the meeting “puzzled” by Abe’s stance. That may lend momentum to Congressman Mike Honda’s resolution demanding a formal, unequivocal apology from Japan. Honda issued a short statement today welcoming Abe’s latest comments, but reiterating his call for a formal, unambiguous statement from the Japanese government. ”

    Coming from the same FP on Armenian genocide resolution.
    “Playing Politics with history is a dangerous game.”
    Tying this resolution to the United States’ half-hearted response to the atrocities in Darfur is a stretch. This is not to say that the Turkish government doesn’t need to confront its historical amnesia. The legal proceedings against authors Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak for “insulting Turkishness” and the recent murder of Armenian editor Hrant Dink show that the country has a lot of work to do.

    But the truth is, this resolution is not the way to go about it. It will only strengthen hardline Turkish nationalists and strain already tenuous relations between the United States and one of its most crucial allies in the Middle East, Turkey. If U.S. lawmakers are really adamant about assigning blame for the atrocities committed towards the Armenians in 1915 (estimates put the death toll at 1.5 million), I suggest they take a closer look at the inaction of their own predecessors.”

    and also this commentary from Mindy Kotler one of ,the aggitator behind CW resolution says all.

    What basically FP and American policy wonks are saying is

    Now the issue of comfort women is extremely hard to grab through English media,because of international effort of mugging Japan.Thanks to the U.S parliment
    even the Dutch starts to backtrack the reconcilliation.

    All of the surviving ex- Dutch comfort women had recieved the money from AWF.But AWF had promised every recipients,that accepting the money would not mean the dissapearance of their right of future law suit to Japanese government,so what’s the hell,this was all predictable.

    What we see now is the huge moral hazzard and tragic failure of an approach for historical reconcilliation.I have seen this happening in the past 7 or 8 years, how Korean NGO had mobilized nationalism and curving Japanese intention to shift the argument to much their own needs and agenda.Western media and academics used this issue as their latest “what’s wrong about Japan”stories and Japanese left-wings divided in pieces and right wing went berserk and all of this had been thrown into internet by those who only have half-baked ideas on the issue.

  66. “Foreign Policy’s blog passport says it all.”X
    “Foreign policy’s blog Passport says so clearly about this double standard”

  67. “I think more appropriate comparison will be Armenian genocide resolution.”

    I think that the US / Iraq comparison is valid.

    More deep reflection on the Iraq War – not only on the suffering of “the troops” but of the Iraqi civilian population as well – may very well help to put limits on disastrous interventionism in the future.

    People can say whatever that want about Japanese victim complex, vague apologies, lack of payments, etc. One thing that Japan(ese) has very well is to spread criticism of militarism in its public sphere. Revisionists aside, Japan has strongly rooted anti-militarist norms that America should at least be debating more firmly. People may be questioning the wisdom of the Iraq War, but there has not been enough effort, outside of academia, to question fundamental assumptions about the use of force in general.

    Ace – If you could change the way that Japan has dealt with the war legacy since, say, the late 1960s, what would you have done differently?

  68. You might want to look at today’s NYT editorial on the sub-prime mortage crisis-
    I honestly don’t know very much about the lending situation that led to the crisis in Japan, or how it compared with the current mess over here, or even very much about finance in general, and I know even less about what US mainstream news media coverage of Japan was like during their crisis, but I think this editorial is fairly reasonable.

    “I think that the US / Iraq comparison is valid.”
    It might be valid in the future, but I don’t see how you can possibly make a comparison between Japanese attitudes towards decades past militarism and American attitudes towards a war which the country is currently waging. Wouldn’t a more appropriate comparison be the treatment of Japanese 1930s militarism by the media of that time, than 70 years after the fact?

    There are plenty of other historical injustices in American history you can also use as legitimate cases for comparison, some of which have been apologized for or addressed in some way, and others which linger. The US, for example, apologized for and paid restitution for Japanese-American citizens interned during WW2. There was also an apology resolution passed in 1995 for the illegal invasion of Hawaii, although as far as I know it had no real effect on anything, and even such token gestures of justice are lacking for the invasion and destruction of most pre-Columbian American nations.

    Furthermore, the relationship between early European-American and indigenous peoples is portrayed in a bizarrely mixed way in public schools, ranging from absurd glorification of Pocahantas/John Smith and the first Thanksgiving to discussion of the deliberate distribution of smallpox infested blankets and the Cherokee Trail of Tears (which I specifically remember learning about in public school, although I am not sure what grade it was.)

    And of course, slavery, while arguably taking second place on the injustice chart after the mass genocides of the native tribes, is the historical injustice that impacts the largest number of current living citizens. And although some compensation is attempted through Black history education (My high school was half black, so we had a very disproportionate amount of Black History compared to the typical American public school, which I’m somewhat glad for.) there has never been any formal apology resolution by the US government for slavery.

    In late 2006, Tony Blair expressed “deep sorrow” for the British role in the slave trade, and said “we are sorry,” but controversially stopped short of explicit apology, although other figures such as Peter Hain, Secretary for Whales and North Ireland and Mayor Ken Livingstone of London did offer full apologies. With the British PM waiting a full 200 years from the abolition of slavery to express “sorrow,” and still being more progressive in terms of apology than the US, is the standard that we wait until the year 2065 to offer a statement of national “sorrow”? Does “apology” take another century or two? To date, I believe Virginia is still the only state to have offered their own motion of apology, earlier this year.

    Now, this is just some blog comments (not even a blog post!) and I don’t have a real thesis or organized argument I’m driving at here, aside from trying to provide some examples that frame a larger context for the notion of apology. Incidentally, I would say that Blair’s apology is about on the same level as the multitudinous Japanese apologies which express “hansei” but stop short of “shazai.”

  69. “Ace – If you could change the way that Japan has dealt with the war legacy since, say, the late 1960s, what would you have done differently?”

    Well, not compensate a totalitarian regime (South Korea under Park Chung hee, China under the control of the communist party) wait until it becomes a democratic society and insist on personal compensation.

    Of course what I have written above was impossible given the international relationship during the 60ies and 70ies (cold war).

    You cannot do a reconciliation with an opponent who don’t want any reconciliation.

    Basically the problem of the recent comfort women controversy is that it didn’t stem from anti-Japanese policies by the South Korean government (although there are highly anti-Japanese), or the Chinese government (they were silent about the comfort women, that even irritated some Korean medias) but that it stems from identity politics inside the US society.

    Maybe that explains the different attitude of the US government concerning the Armenian genocide.

  70. Yeah,I second to Tomo here.In fact I was about to write exactly the same thing.
    Problem is South Korea may not have become a democratic society without the rapid economic growth and that was started only after Park regime recieved money and technology from Japan in 1964. And insist on personal compensation has been Japan’s policy during the tough negotiation of 16 years before the normalization. It was nobody but Seoul who had insisted on handling the matter of Japanese days.Imperial army veterans,hibakusya and former independence activist etc. Comfort women were nowhere in sight,everyone knew what that was and who they were at the times.Ofcourse this is a typical view from male dominant society.
    I,and probably others,had this fantasy that if only Korea would have become the democratic society at least in the level of Japan,there would be a somekid of reconciliation.Western media’s coverage would also work in favor of deminishing the anti-Japanese nationalism in Korea,because,well…,the west have never faced the past of colonialization in the level of Japan,so I thought that too would work in our favor.How much happy minded I was back in the days is just unbelievable.

    What I would do if I could get back to the good old 1960 with allmighty supernatural power would be making Kishi revise the constitution and would tell all those students around the diet to buzz off and go back to campus. That would perhaps change things little in this part of the world.But at least lots of Japan’s political problem could have been solved with that.

  71. Roy –

    That editorial is very reasonable. What I’ve been on about is the tendency to describe the USA in reasonable terms and to paint Japan as flawed, broken, immoral, doing things that a kindergarten level, etc. with the smug assumption that America is the gold standard, even when the problems being discussed are rather similar in their implications (in the article’s terms “pain and suffering” which were have been engendered in Japan and the USA by patterns of irresponsible capitalism). I like Ace’s explanation of this, actually. You have to be reasonable when discussing your own society or nobody will take you seriously. The demand for someone writing about a distant place is often to serve up a neat summary of everything in two sentences and that is where extreme adjectives come into play. Maybe we can leave it at this, but I’ll say by means of conclusion, I hope that Mulboyne is right and the current level of coverage is adequate for brining about change.

    I think that the US / Iraq and Japan apology comparison is valid for two reasons – 1. the USA has shattered its international credibility and apology could do something to repair it; 2. the UK, the USAs major partner in the whole thing, has had a very vital apology debate (mostly focused on apology to the British people by the government but airing the Iraqi issue)

    Also, the USA is NOT supposed to be still fighting a war in Iraq at present. It is supposed to be carrying out a constructive occupation in the wake of a war against Hussein’s state. At present, the USA and Iraq, as national entities, are strong allies. The problem is that many Iraqis think differently. The occupation’s goals are being undermined by a pervasive dislike of America’s actions among Iraqis, something that an apology could do much to change.

    Also, the apologies that you listed for the USA are very different than the kind we have been discussing – they are aimed at groups that are now within the United States. Inter-nation apologies are a far trickier issue.

    Tomo and Ace – Do you think that a different wording of Japanese apologies could have left Japan less open to criticism? Or do you think that no matter what Japan did, it would not have mattered? You both played up the undemocratic character of the Korea that was compensated. Do you think that the Korean tendency to lash out at Japan is partly an attempt to avoid consideration of the state of Korea in the 1960s and 1970s? Almost a desire to start over with Japan, getting new compensation and new apologies, as a means of wiping the national slate clean?

    Also, Ace – How would you have liked to see Kishi change the constitution? If he had changed it like I am afraid he wanted to, would it not have been possible for Japanese troops to end up in Vietnam as South Koreans did?

  72. “Do you think that a different wording of Japanese apologies could have left Japan less open to criticism?”

    Actually it would have been a bit different if Japan had a liberal party running the government and if compensation would have been done by them. At least it would have helped to ease the suspect and doubt of the western media that Japan did almost nothing or even if something has been done, it was not sincere enough.

    “Or do you think that no matter what Japan did, it would not have mattered?”

    In case of Korea, yes, nothing would have helped. Post war Korea built their national identity above the “Anti-Japanese” ideology, partly because that would help to erase the “humiliating” fact (although I don’t think that it is. But I can understand that it can be from a nationalistic point of view) that independence was gained because of surrender of Japan and not because of an independence war or an extensive independence movement. And also that the first Korean president (Lhee Sung-man) didn’t actually experienced the colonial era under Japanese rule and relied on building a national identity injecting “Anti-Japanese” Ideology without knowing the accurate state of the Korean society.

    The current “Anti-Japanism” in South Korea is purely a Korean problem, and nothing will help unless the South Korean find a way to overcome that by themselves. There are many Korean who acknowledge that. Therefore there was a huge “Overcoming Japan” campaign in the late 80ies, in this case it didn’t meant to confront Japan, rather it meant overcoming Japan inside the Korean psyches (tendency to blame everything to Japan, always comparing to Japan etc,etc). For the younger Generation, I think there are more confidential and see the absurdity to rely on anti-Japanese ideology, but the problem is that the generation now who are responsible about the Korean society (peoples in their 40ies and 50ies) are the most anti Japanese educated generation.

    In case of China, I think it also not that different. Actually the Chinese weren’t that much anti Japanese in the 80ies. It changed after Tiananmon incident and especially with the beginning of the Jiang Zemin regime because he relied on nationalism to compensate the large acknowledged “lack of Charisma” compared to Deng or Mao. And maybe because of the rumor in China that he stemmed from a Pro Japanese family who prospered under occupied Nanjing.

  73. “this is just some blog comments (not even a blog post!”

    That’s why we can talk freely without some angry Asian first-timers coming here via googling the words”confort women”,”Japan”””militarism” .

    I remember you were mentioniing about all these dark side of American history in the past post,Roy,I’ve learned that myself,But one thing different from the case we have here is all these topics are debated within one society.Slaves,Native Americans,Japanese Americans and Hawaiians,afterall they are all American citizens,No? The reconcilliation is a lot easier when the victim and victimiser are same contryman.Knew Shinzo Abe was doing his own part of historical reconciliation when he was PM?

    We talk plenty lot about suffering of Ainu and Okinawans,Peasant uprising of Chichibu.Discrimination toward Hibakusya.It’s both in media and textbooks.But that’s basically Japanese abusing Japanese,not the opression towards “otheres”.
    I never learned anything about William Walker’s conquest of Nicaragua,American Invasion of the Phillipines

    I always find the concept of “othereness” is pretty different between the U.S and Japan that somewhat effects the whole debate.

    ” I would say that Blair’s apology is about on the same level as the multitudinous Japanese apologies which express “hansei” but stop short of “shazai.”

    Never.Has British PM apoogized every single time they visit countries Union Jacked in the past? That was the case for our PM,especially in relation with China and Korea,one of the logic I don’t hear much from British press.In relation of what we’ve been talking here,which is Korea,Obuchi Keizo even signed in the joint communique with the word of apology and Kim Dae Jung had said “This is the end of historical problem in government level”. Ofcourse Kim had chsnged his mind six months later.
    Politiician’s apology would have to be scaled down,for they can not use the word that would bind them into legal case later on so I’m by no means to criticize Blair for that.

    “How would you have liked to see Kishi change the constitution? If he had changed it like I am afraid he wanted to, would it not have been possible for Japanese troops to end up in Vietnam as South Koreans did?”

    I heard about that argument.But you know what? Vietnam war was not popular among the conservatives at that time.That reminded them too much of their war in China in the 30’s.And my hypothesis is purely from domestic reasons,not the geopolitics of cold war era.
    This is all wishful thinking. But if Kishi would have changed the constitution,no question that Americans want Japan to make trialateral defense pact with South Korea and Taiwan and also want Japan to join SEATO,we will probably be in somekind of defense pact with Australian and NZ. And there you have it,Asian NATO.
    With that kind of alliance emerge in their neighborhood,Beijing might think again about their full fledge support on Indochina and kept their resource to defend their homeland. Anyway supporting Vietnam was part of Mao’s game to have Washington on it’s knees and forcing them to come to Beijing for negotiate Asian matters,bypassing Japan.If Japan become a real threat to their security,Chinese would start think about the bilateral relation a lot more seriously.There could even be an entente between Tokyo and Beijing after Sino-Soviet split. In another words,there may not be a war in Vietnam.But I dunno,even I think this is too much happy ending senario….

    At least LDP would have to fall apart in pieces a lot earlier and there would eventually be a better opportunity for the opposition to take powers if only the constitution was to be revised at that point.
    Students wouldn’t just “burn-out”in their revolutionary games at campus and remain criticial to the society even AFTER they graduate.Lots of ex-revolutionaries of the 1960 became abid fans of LDP,thinking leftism is simple illusion for the simpletons and that brought huge reactionary thoughts in the 80’s when I come of age.

  74. “Actually the Chinese weren’t that much anti Japanese in the 80ies. It changed after Tiananmon incident and especially with the beginning of the Jiang Zemin regime because he relied on nationalism to compensate the large acknowledged “lack of Charisma” compared to Deng or Mao. And maybe because of the rumor in China that he stemmed from a Pro Japanese family who prospered under occupied Nanjing.”

    I’ve never heard that rumor before, but it would be interesting if true.

    As an expansion on the rise of Chinese nationalism, when I was in Taiwan I spoke with a Chinese guy in his mid-late 30s who had come for a conference about Taiwan/China security and relations, and he gave me the following explanation:

    He was telling me about how his generation was actually educated to be relatively pro-Japan compared to their parents who remembered the war. This had been the policy for some time following the 1970s normalization of relations between with Japan, who was changed in the official rhetoric from being a villain to a normal country. Unfortunately, as hardline Marxist/Maoist ideology began to lose its spark in China, particularly in the wake of the Tiananmen incident, the CCP made a conscious decision to revitalize their base of support through appeals to Chinese nationalism. Naturally, the best way to promote national unity is in the face of some hostile”other,” and the pre-rehabilitated image of Japan fit the bill perfectly. And so, China ended up reviving the previously-outdated anti-Japan rhetoric, and the more reasonable approach to Japan that had come to the fore during the late 70s and 80s was swept away.

  75. Ofcourse there are some other elements in the rise of anti-Japanese feeling in China after Tiananmen.Like new generation that has no allergy on political movement and nationalism.The cultural revolution generations are nationalistic but they are a bit more cautious on any political agenda requiring mass mobilization.

    But my first internet experience was using Netscape(remember?)to gain some info on Chinese democratic groups in the U.S.Because I was doing some research on Karma Hinton,the director of “The Gate of Heavenly Peace”. And I’ve run into this site with big logo of 北京大虐殺on the right and 南京大虐殺on the left.Couldn’t understand why Tiananmen and Nanjing can have in common,but I later found out while democratic movement starts to deteriorate among exiles,they starts to rely more on nationalism.So there you have Nanjing as the supreme symbol of Chinese suffering,until before that it was cultural revolution.
    I think the page I found was fiercely attacking Tokyo helping to lift the G7 sanctions to China.Bygone episode now.

    I was also looking into one of the earliest Japanese news site called “Tokyo Kaleidoscope”,Founded by former NHK chairman Shima Keiji.And there was this weird screaming tone of manifesto-like post frim an Chinese American named Ignatius Ding, from this unknown group called Global Alliance for Defending the Truth On World War 2. Later I learned he was one of the mentor of Iris Chang encouraging to write the book.

    So much content for “Gaijin in the spot liight”….

  76. “Vietnam war was not popular among the conservatives at that time.That reminded them too much of their war in China in the 30’s.”

    I believe you, but I’d like to see some sources on that (for research interest). Do you know of any?

    I think that your point about Union Jacking fits in with my earlier discussion about extreme comments about Japan while softballing it at home. Has America or a European colonizer ever apologized for past misdeeds?

    Does Japan’s apology (and compensation) to Korea represent the only apology of this type ever?

    I’m also a bit wary about comparisons between the Holocaust and Germany’s handling of it, and Japan dealing with its own (horrible) conventional war crimes. It is my understanding that Germany has done LESS in the area of conventional massacre (more on forced labor). This would be fine, if not for the continued vilification of Japan on these grounds….

  77. Most of the impressions I’ve got from zadankai of magazines relatingg ex-Imperial army chief of staff,possible war criminal and lower house diet member Tuji Masanobu 辻正信 killed in Laos disguised as a buddhist monk.

    I think I’ve told you about Mizuki Shigeru had wrote Anti-Vietnam war,鬼太郎のベトナム戦記with description of Japanese invasion of Vietnam both direct and indirect.

    There are also groups of journalists while they did not support the Vietnam war,but had become extremely critical to Japanese progressives during Vietnam war coverage.
    Tokuoka Takao 徳岡孝夫f and Komori Yoshihisa 古森義久from Mainichi and Kondo Kouichi近藤紘一from Sankei. Komori and Kondo are co-authored 中公新書「国際報道の現場から」and they write a lot about political bias reflected upon foreign reports that curve the local reality. Kondo died of cancer in 1986.Komori quit Mainichi and joined Sankei in 1989. Writer Shiba Ryoutaro司馬遼太郎and Kaiko Takeshi開高健had both went to Vietnam to write reportage.司馬遼太郎「人間の集団について」開高健「ベトナム戦記」「輝ける闇」「夏の闇」.You may know about Shiba is keeping cultural icon status in the conservative circle.Kaiko joined the Beheiren after his Vietnam tour,but begun to take distance from progressives later on.

    Thomas Haven’s book “Fire Across the Sea”is centered more on civic protest movement,however has some description on Sato Administration’s rluctance over supporting Vietnam while making economic profit out from the war.

    “Does Japan’s apology (and compensation) to Korea represent the only apology of this type ever?”

    Japan’s war reparation/compensation

    Japan’s apology

    who apologized and for what.

    Todai’s Tanaka Akihiko’s home page.Lots of speeches including the topic at hands.

  78. M-Bone: “see my earlier Independent link”

    That was the link I pointed out to you!

    I strongly disagree that the US system was widely held up as some kind of gold standard during the bubble while Japan was disparaged as “dodgy” or “immoral”. The S&L crisis was a major disruption to the US system during the 1980s. The solvency of BankAmerica was threatened by bad Latin American loans in 1986 and 1987. In fact, many outside the US assumed “BankAmerica” was like the Bank of England or Bank of Japan and thought the US central bank was going under. Similar debt problems dogged Citibank and brought on the the 1991 bailout by Prince Al-Waleed. Black Monday also seemed to expose the inherent weaknesses of US finance compared with Japan. Schoolchildren in British economics classes were taught about the advantages of the main bank system whereby German and Japanese banks were shareholders in their major corporate clients which it was believed helped insulate them from the kind of shocks that dogged America and the UK and helped created a more stable long term investment climate.

    The main criticism levelled at Japan during the bubble was the lack of reciprocity. Japanese companies raised billions on the Euromarkets but overseas companies couldn’t do the same in the samurai bond markets. Overseas stockbrokers didn’t get on the floor of the Tokyo Stock Exchange until six were approved in 1986. In all this, though, the Japanese authorities were praised as smart. Britain’s Big Bang deregulation ultimately favoured overseas banks over British players so the feeling was that Japan’s system had considerable merits.

    The “gold standard” argument came much later when Japan seemed unable to come to terms with the bursting of the bubble. In this argument, the advantages of the US system were in its flexibility to recover from shocks which Japan’s much-praised system clearly wasn’t doing. Similarly, the US system, and capitalism more broadly, was heavily criticized during the Great Depression because hardship was widespread and recovery long in coming. On top of that, communist countries of the time had lower unemployment rates and faster growth rates which seemed another major reason to question the future of capitalism. The longer problems persist, the more time everyone has to come up with reasons why everything went wrong in the first place and, if someone else seems to be getting it right, then there are bound to be unfavourable comparisons.

    Roy wrote: “Peter Hain, Secretary for Whales”

    That would be Wales. An easy slip to make when the topic is overseas criticism of Japan but it made me smile.

  79. “That was the link I pointed out to you!”

    Oops. I meant the GUARDIAN link that I mentioned earlier….

    One of the more “alarmist” ones.

    I mean “gold standard” in far more general terms – that the assumption in the United States, running across government, education, mass media, etc. is that the USA represents the “best” country, far from a rare idea during the Reagan years. This idea is, of course, not limited to American Japan discourse.

    Ace – by “only apology of this type ever” I don’t mean Japan’s only one (I know about all of the apologies in those links as well as compensation), I mean have other countries done anything like it? Did Italy sneak in an apology to Ethiopia that I missed? America’s apology and compensation to the Philippines go under my radar? I think that this is an important question as it raises the very legitimate possibility that Japan went further in compensating and apologizing to Korea than any former colonizer has ever done for the colonized.

  80. “Vietnam war was not popular among the conservatives at that time.That reminded them too much of their war in China in the 30’s.”

    I’m not sure if I would describe Mizuki, Kaiko, and Shiba as conservatives. Shiba being adopted by conservatives does not make him a conservative. He has never made a secret of his dislike for the wartime state. Were any politicians making connections between Vietnam and Japan’s wars in the 1960s?

  81. I would definitlly have Shiba as conservative.The word 司馬史観was ofcourse not named by himself,but somebody else after his death,but he is pretty much of their cultural icon. Mizuki and Kaiko are not but they certainly reflected their own war time experience with Vietnam.Mizuk(who actually didn’t visit Vietnam)i for his combat experience in the jungles and Kaiko as his experience as growing up in bombed out Osaka.SO you can say,Mizuki had seen things from the view of victimizer and Kaiko,that of the victim.

    French did not aplogize to the Vietnamese when Mitterand went there in the 90’s.(Instead they told Vietnamese that French might help you to counter the possible Japanese economic domination).Same goes to Algeria.The current text book tells kids there were even some gains for the colonial subjects….Wonder how and why guy like Phillip Pons of LeMonde and Ignatio Ramone of LeMonde Diplomatique can argue about Japanese situation.

    The Dutch never apologized to the Indonesians.They demand compensation to Jakarta and gained some.I remeber when the Dutch veterans who came to Japan by the invitation of Japanese NGOs to tell their tales about being put in the consentration camps by the Japanese,was questioned about Dutch imperialism and re-capturing and “policing(the military re-conquest)”Indonesia after 1945,They said “We were both living happily in Indonesia,Both the Dutch and the natives”,”Policing was justified in the international law”.There are things you can’t find from books of Ian Buruma.

    I know the queen of England didn’t apologize when she went to India.Reading the Far Eastern Economic Review,one of the legacy of British colonialism in Asia,You naturally concludes Britons have different standard on measuring British colonialism and Japanese one.Chris Patten certainly thinks it was more of a blessing as I read his “East and West”.

    I spoke to some Russians on Mongolia,and they too think ,”We build Mongolia”.”Mongolia was almost our Sixteenth republic”and all that.No apology of killing of their minister while visiting Moscow nor massive purges in the 30’s.

    And the Portuguese…When East Timor got independent,Portugal was a huge supporter,especially because of the presence of Novel Laureate and Portuguese national,Ramos Horta(Now’s President)being the independence activist.Horta tried to have some meeting with late Ikeda Ikuhiko,the foreign minister at that time.Ikeda refused because meeting might hurt the ties with Jakarta.So Horta got furious and start ranting about Ikeda and Japan to JiJi Tsushin reporter.”Japan actually don’t have any influence in the region! Europe has the real influence,because they export arms to Indonesian military!”Horta got his influence to EU via Portugal.And after independence Horta chosed Portuguese as the national language of East Timor.Highly disputed topic,because the locals can only speak Tetum and Bahasa Indonesian.I also read this interview of Portuguese foreign minister that one of his country’s objective is to build international sphere of Portuguese language! This guy also pushed Japan for support on independence by bringing up the atrocities the Japanese troops did in the occupation in 1940’s.

    Never heard about Americans officially apologizing anyone in this part of the world.

    So there are some good reasons to praise Germans in the eyes of Japanese.,even though if you don’t agree with the comparison of Japanese war crimes with holocaust.

    Jean-Pierre-Lehman?I got a few words about him too.But too much ranting for one day already. Later.

  82. ”Mizuki and Kaiko are not but they certainly reflected their own war time experience with Vietnam”

    Meant to say,”Mizuki and Kaiko are not conservative”

  83. My bad.Those 2ch people are right,Something has to be done with my English.

    “They(The Dutch) demand compensation to Jakarta and gained some.”
    It was Indonesians who paid money to the Dutch for them losing a colony,not vice versa…

  84. I have, in the past, found the Dutch attitude toward Japan’s occupation of Indonesia and their own colonial adventure to be quite disturbing.

    Would it be safe to call Shiba a cultural conservative but not a political conservative? The same could certainly be said of Fujisawa Shuhei.

    Ace – Don’t worry about the English, I understood what you were trying to say without the corrections. I think that the level of English that you consistently put out in blog comments would put the Japanese of the vast majority of gaijin here to shame. You also turn out some gem-like idioms like “Union Jacked”.

    In any case, you life is bound to fall apart if you start listening to 2ch people….

  85. “Would it be safe to call Shiba a cultural conservative but not a political conservative? The same could certainly be said of Fujisawa Shuhei.”

    Not according to this dude,Sataka Makoto佐高信.

    Sataka is a leftist critic and known for his harsh criticism on Shiba and his followers like bibliographer and Kansai Univ.Prof.Tanizawa Eiichi谷沢永一

    I’ll look into Kishi’s interviews,see wherther I can find his opinion on Vietnam wars.
    I think it was in here,Kishi was saying something about Vietnam wars in relation with war in China.
    Anyway,Vietnam war was understood widely in Japan as a war led by Vietnamese nationalist and not by international communist movement.

  86. The Dutch can say whatever they like about their suffering at the hand of Japanese,
    but there is obiously somekind of double standard here.Although I understand The Netherland is the only country in Europe where both their homeland and most of their colony had been occupied at the same time,so understandably they have much more stronger victim feeling than the others.

    Shiba is canned and Fujisawa is praised by leftish Sataka Makoto on this book.

    Reading book like this from Tanizawa Eiichi does make us think Shiba is more than cultural conservative.

  87. Aceface wrote: “Jean-Pierre-Lehman? I got a few words about him too.”

    You might like to get wound up by a piece Lehmann wrote two years ago in reply to Bill Emmott. The exchange was part of a dialogue for DK Matai’s Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance which I don’t think has been published anywhere. It’s too long to put here but I posted it on the FG Forums – I’ve replace letters with asterisks in the URL so you’ll need to put them back to load the page.


    The page also has a link to Emmott’s original piece.

  88. OK,where did my post with all these links go?Is there any problem with the post with more than two links?

    Shiba VS Fujisawa angle was proclaimed by leftist critic Sataka Makoto,in his book”司馬遼太郎と藤沢周平、歴史と人間をどう読むか”. According to Sataka,Shiba is a writer who boasts “hero-worshipping”while Fujisawa is a writer of “down-to-earth-individual-oriented”. Not that I agree with him completely(or any matter with Sataka),But I can understand what he tries to say.Shiba writes “公” more and Fujisawa has tendency on ”私”element than Shiba.Conservative bibliographer Tanizawa Eiichi has written a book called ”司馬遼太郎エッセンス”.Reading that I thought Shiba is definitely more than just a “cultural conservative”.I remember Shiba talked about war crimes commited by Japanese Imperial Army on one occasion and he had said “When I was in Shandong province as a cadet,I ‘ve heard none of such atrocities”.thus according to Shiba,war crimes commited by Imperial army are fabrication.Since that I have harbored some distrust on this man.That was strengthened when I find out his book on Mongolia was full of WTF description.

    There has been some series of essays from JPL on Japan Times.

  89. I’ve seen some passages from Shiba (can’t remember where) where he describes the “15 Year War” as “shinryaku”, etc. I seem to remember some instances of him referencing war crimes as well. There is a chance that he changed his mind at some points, such as after the Asahi letters in the 80s.

    Fujisawa’s 私 has conservative elements – Tasogare Seibei focuses on the family man, duty, etc. it is a “good Japanese” vs. bad superiors – a critical theme but one that leads to an imagined perfect order (by having readers think about the good side of bushido in place of the bad) rather than a total overthrow. I see a similar pattern in Shiba’s “Sakamoto Ryoma vs. the world” narrative.

  90. Posts with multiple links often get automatically flagged as spam. I found a couple in the spam folder and restored them, but there’s thousands of spam comments in there so I may not see them all.

  91. Roy:Gotcha.And now I see all three different version of the same comments.


    Shiba had spoken certain things after the Gulf war.But the concept of”Shinryaku”has been with him for all through his life,in that he never changed.
    Anyway,afterall the man started his career as the Sankei reporter and had column right before his death,It is natural to includ him among the conservative circle.

    I agree about Fujisawa.But then again “family,duty,etc” was the social ethic unavoidable in mentioning if you are writing a novel that has setting in the feudal days. And Fujisawa used imaginary “Han”of Unasaka as the settings of his stories and many of his characters has little or nothing to change national history. While Shiba,not all,but most of his popular books are focused on people(whether it’s real or imaginary) who did something “big” and became “big in Japan”.

  92. Can we redefine Shiba as a conservative who had some liberal ideas?

    As for Fujisawa – it may be unavoidable to mention family, duty, etc. if you are writing about the Edo period, but Fujisawa did not need to write about the Edo period in the first place. There was a choice there. I’m not saying that it was a bad choice, I love Fujisawa’s writing (prose and themes) and I think that Tasogare Seibei is a masterpiece film (I’ve actually gotten quite into Yamada Yoji over the past year or so). However, it is a pattern of expression that is trying to find nobility in Japan’s traditions while the liberal / left approach, I believe, was to sweep it away (I’d point to lefty filmmaker number one Imai’s Bushido Zankoku Monogatari and the body of filmmaking and writing like it). Once again, nothing wrong with being a conservative in this way. However, I do think that these themes point to Fujisawa’s fundamental conservative orientation / longing for the past. On the most abstract level, Fujisawa’s body of work bears striking similarity to Mito Komon (certainly conservative) – “good” vs. “bad” elements of Edo society coming up against one another with the “good” side of tradition winning out. Of course, Fujisawa’s work has thousands of times more nuance than Mito Komon does, but if you boil down the themes, I think that there are some major similarities.

    I also can’t help but think of Shiba’s total glorification of Sakamoto Ryoma. His total rejection of samurai society and move toward radical resistance is not the type of theme that beckons to typical conservatives. 坂の上の雲 is like a conservative funhouse BUT I did read recently that Shiba was hesitant to have it made into a film or TV series because he was afraid that it would be misunderstood and used to glorify war. In any case, with figures this obviously complicated, perhaps using simple “liberal” and “conservative” labels is not the wisest choice….

  93. Exactly.But then again that is the burden upon anyone being seen as the “最後の国民作家”.

    Shiba hesitant in visualization:
    That’s reasons why Shiba chose to have the poet,Masaoka Shiki into the story along with all the military strategists,Akiyama bro. Ofcourse Masaoka too was from Iyo and that matches the narrative intended to follow the path of the youth from small rural province finding bigger newer world. Masaoka was also influenced heavily by the freedom and people’s right movement and became war correspondent in Sino-Japanese war and that too fits into the story of Japanese modernisation of era.
    Anyway,I did not use the term,”conservative”as bat term either.

    BTW, NHK is now filming 坂の上の雲 into mini-series.You believe that? It seems to be NHK is going to add Natsume Soseki as a central character for the precise reson in above. OK,Shiki was certainly a mentor of Soseki,and he did teach in Iyo,and “Bocchan” is definitly a tourist asset for Matusyama.But the timeline is slightly different.I predict this will cause major criticism from the fans of original novel.

    Fujisawa chose the jidaigeki genre since that is established and popular entertainment.Anyway,Sataka argument is Fujisawa’s protagonists are always low ranking Samurai,and no vice-shogun,like Tokugawa Mitsukuni and that make Fujisawa more closer to the people…..

    Yamada Yoji is JCP’s favourite film maker for years. Have you ever seen ”馬鹿が戦車でやってくる”? Great film.His choice of Fujisawa as the triology actually strengthened “Fujisawa=Liberal”view. Ofcourse Oshima Nagisa also chosed Shiba in his “Gohatto”.So like you’ve said the political labels is not the you’ve said the political labels is not the wisest choice. Critic Skikawa Natsuo,who is a big fan of both writer is pretty much a conservative guy”Longing for the past”is the right word to describe his literatual motivation).


    Interesting Japanese parallel to the reporting problems that I see in the USA. Here, the Sankei describes (gloatingly?) American society as basically on the verge of falling apart over this bad loan thing. They’ve picked up statistics that I consider extreme and are clearly using a level of fear mongering that I’ve seldom (never?) seen them use in Japanese cases. I guess that talking about how the grass is so much browner on the other side of the fence is a really good way to package international stories….

    Ace – I did hear that NHK is going to do it – the description of why Shiba never wanted it done came up in reporting on just that very thing.

    馬鹿が戦車でやってくる I have not seen. Must hit it next time I go to Japan (probably in April).

    “Fujisawa chose the jidaigeki genre since that is established and popular entertainment.Anyway,Sataka argument is Fujisawa’s protagonists are always low ranking Samurai,and no vice-shogun,like Tokugawa Mitsukuni and that make Fujisawa more closer to the people…..”

    I’d argue that Fujisawa employed “everyman” (or woman) characters because of their allegorical power in evoking what he say as the core of Japaneseness / Japanese tradition (and not in a bad way). The Coen Brothers (“Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski” and the now-playing brilliant “No Country For Old Men”) have been doing same thing flawlessly for America lately.

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