American misconceptions about Japan FAQ

     Subject: American misconceptions about Japan FAQ

        Date: 5 Dec 1998 05:28:57 GMT

        From: (Tomoyuki Tanaka)


Organization: Information Resources, UC Davis

  Newsgroups: soc.culture.japan,soc.culture.asian.american,,alt.tanaka-tomoyuki,alt.tcj,soc.answers,alt.answers,news.answers

 Followup-To: soc.culture.japan,alt.tanaka-tomoyuki

Maintained-by: TANAKA Tomoyuki <> Archive-name: japan/american-misconceptions Version: 5 (about 2000 lines) Posting-Frequency: at most once every two or three months Last-modified: 1998 12/4 URL: Written/edited-by: TANAKA Tomoyuki <> Abstract: This FAQ file examines common American misconceptions (false stereotypes) about Japan, which also affect Asian Americans. < soc.culture.japan> FAQ files are at =-------------------------------------------------------------------- contents -- preface: Daily Yomiuri, Mr Okada, Zipangu, Aardvark -- abstract -- some FAQs about Japan ---- (FAQ-0) "Is this < soc.culture.japan-bashing> ?" ---- (FAQ-1) crowded, expensive ---- (FAQ-2) slant-eye Micky Mouse ---- (FAQ-3) crucified Santa Claus ---- (FAQ-4) suicide very common ---- (FAQ-5) country and western Japanese -- some misconceptions about Japan ---- (MISCONCEPTION 1) Japan is tiny. ---- (MISCONCEPTION 2) Japanese cities are the most crowded in the world. ---- (MISCONCEPTION 3) cost of living in Japanese cities is the highest ---- (MISCONCEPTION 4) Japanese have first names followed by last names ---- (MISCONCEPTION 5) Japanese are inept at learning English. -- (0) introduction ---- (0.1) my (Tanaka's) first day of school in the USA ... Vincent Chin ---- (0.2) negative images of Japan contribute to ... ---- (0.3) US media coverage of Japan is a major obstacle to ... ---- (0.4) why I'm writing this article. -- (1) disparity: Americans view Japanese more inaccurately and ... ---- (1.1) from Endymion Wilkinson, [book] "Japan versus the West" ---- (1.2) a TIME poll -- (2) American myths and propaganda about Japan ---- (2.1) MYTH: Japanese (Asians) have slanted eyes. ---- (2.2) MYTH: Japanese are suicidal. ---- (2.3) MYTH: Japanese are sneaky and unfair as proved by the "sneak ... ---- (2.4) MYTH: Japanese are sneaky and unfair as proved by their unfair ... ---- (2.5) MYTH: Japanese are completely different from Americans and ... ---- (2.6) MYTH: Japanese are copycats (cheap imitators of the USA). ---- (2.7) MYTH: Japan is a sexist country. ---- (2.8) MYTH: Japanese men are either asexual or sex-hungry monsters. ---- (2.9) MYTH: Japanese are rich and hardworking (in a negative way) ---- (2.10) US media coverage of Japan, Ezra Vogel's "Japan as Number One" ---- (2.11) positive images of Japan in the USA -- (3) images of the USA in Japan ---- (3.1) Japanese media coverage of the USA --- mostly positive ---- (3.2) negative images of the USA in Japan -- (4) Hiroshi Nakamura: comments on various points -- (5) R. Tang: comments on various points -- (6) Earl Kinmonth: on Benedict and the tradition of Japanese studies -- (afterword (response to Mr Kinmonth's comments)) -- (bibliography) -- submissions to this FAQ -- about the author =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- preface: Daily Yomiuri, Mr Okada, Zipangu, Aardvark whenever i looked at the Japanese news magazines (AERA, etc) at the Indiana Univ library, i had this sense of vertigo: i was bewildered by the richness of materials presented. of the 100,000,000 things that can be reported about Japan, "NY Times", etc report only 20 things --- things that can be used to reinforce the notions of crowded, expensive, sexist, suicidal, copycat, etc. American reports are always filtered through the racist prejudice of Nicholas Kristof and others like him. i no longer have such vertigo when i look at Jp news reports. and the main reason is that i now look at THE DAILY YOMIURI from time to time. and i can keep in touch with 99,999,980 things about Japan that NY Times would not report. other notable recent publications: =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- abstract Americans and Japanese have basically friendly images of each other. according to a TIME article, 59% of US adults think of Japanese as "friendly", and 64% of Japanese adults think of Americans as "friendly" (see below for details). Japan and the USA are important trade partners and political allies. we have no need to worry about massive deterioration of mutual trust in the near future. with that said, I have noticed the following things that concern me greatly: --- disparity: Americans view Japanese much more negatively than Japanese view Americans. --- American myths and propaganda: the negative American images of Japan are largely manufactured by exaggerated and inaccurate US media coverages of Japan. in this article, I'll attempt to do the following: --- describe the disparity mentioned above. --- expose the nature of the American propaganda. --- debunk some of the American myths. my point is not that these "myths" are completely groundless. they are not. most of these have some basis (although tenuous). for example, much imitation of American culture does go on in Japan, and suicide rate is slightly higher in Japan than in the USA. my point is that they are grossly overemphasized in the USA to the point it is reasonable to call them "myths". =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- some FAQs about Japan here are some FAQs (frequently asked questions) I have come across about Japan, on and off the net. (see also other FAQ files for SCJ.) ---- (FAQ-0) "Is this < soc.culture.japan-bashing> ?" from time to time on < soc.culture.japan> , people post articles saying, "I want to read about Japanese culture, not about how much you guys hate Japan! Is this < soc.culture.japan-bashing> ?" this whole FAQ file is a response to that question. ---- (FAQ-1) crowded, expensive "Japan is crowded and expensive to live in, right?" ANSWER: not nearly as advertised in the USA. see (MISCONCEPTION 1, 2, and 3) ---- (FAQ-2) slant-eye Micky Mouse "you know how Japanese have slanted eyes? well, I just heard that even Micky Mouse in Tokyo Disneyland has slanted eyes." ANSWER: probably false. (reliable information is sought.) I've been to the Disneyland in Japan a few times and the Disneyland in California many times. I'm sure that there is no difference in how Micky Mouse is drawn in the two countries. therefore, I strongly suspect the "slant-eye Micky Mouse" story started as follows: those Americans with particularly strong belief that "Asians have slated eyes" perceived Micky Mouse in Japan with narrower, slanted eyes (see Section (2.1)). such Americans reported their wonderful findings to their friends, and thus the story spread as an urban legend. this is such a catchy story, with many elements typical of US media coverage of Japan. --- Japanese copying American culture (Tokyo Disneyland is a favorite example. see Section (2.6)). --- the Japanese version is in some way different: exotic, strange, ridiculous, confused, etc. ---- (FAQ-3) crucified Santa Claus "I heard a funny story: in a Japanese department store they installed a crucified Santa Claus for Christmas sale advertisement." ANSWER: probably an American urban legend. (reliable information is sought.) if it happened, it happened once about 50 years ago. Los Angeles Times (March 16, 1993) heading: "Japanese Parade for St. Patrick, Whoever He Was" subheading: "Western holidays are all the rage. But a poor understanding of their meanings leads to faux pas, such as Santa on a crucifix." there is one paragraph on crucified Santa Claus: "The granddaddy of cultural faux pas here occurred just after World War II, when a Ginza department store rolled out its elaborate Christmas promotion: a smiling Santa nailed to a crucifix." I admit that the image of a crucified Santa Claus is a striking one. but the oxymoronic juxtaposition is not totally unique (for example, the 1993 music video of a Nirvana song "Heart-Shaped Box"(?) with a crucified old man with a cap like Santa Claus's). is it so interesting that it should be mentioned in a heading of a major newspaper 50 years later? or are US journalists suffering from some kind of compulsive disorder? ---- (FAQ-4) suicide very common "suicide is very common in Japan, and it's because Japanese people have completely different attitude toward suicide. that is, the idea is much more acceptable in Japan, right?" ANSWER: see Section (2.2). ---- (FAQ-5) country and western Japanese "I just heard on TV that country/western music and fashion is the latest fad in Japan, that EVERYONE's into it. is that true?" ANSWER: see Section (2.6). =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- some misconceptions about Japan ---- (MISCONCEPTION 1) Japan is tiny. THE TRUTH: Japan is slightly smaller than California, the third largest state in the USA. Japan is bigger than (unified) Germany, and the U.K. it is 10 times the size of Taiwan and 350 times the size of Hong Kong. (source: "1994 Britannica Book of the Year".) other Asian countries view Japan as a large, powerful country, because of its economic might and its past military invasions in Asia (WW2, etc). Japan is not one big city-state. it has deserted coasts, open fields, and deep forests. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (MISCONCEPTION 2) Japanese cities are the most crowded in the world. THE TRUTH: in the book John Tepper Marlin, Immanuel Ness, Stephen T. Collins. "Book of World City Rankings". The Free Press, 1986. Table 9 Population Density compares 105 major cities in the world. 1. Manila 6. Buenos Aires 11. Jakarta 2. Shanghai 7. Tokyo 12. Lisbon 3. Cairo 8. Seoul 13. Moscow 4. Paris 9. Osaka 14. New York 5. Bombay 10. Naples 15. Milan other Japanese cities in the table: 23. Yokohama 67. Kobe 83. Sapporo 25. Nagoya 79. Kyoto the list of 105 most crowded cities contains 13 US cities and seven Japsnese cities. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (MISCONCEPTION 3) cost of living in Japanese cities is the highest in the world. THE TRUTH: Tokyo prices are high, but not as high as advertised in the USA. according to a survey conducted by Japanese government in Nov 1994, Tokyo is about 40-50% more expensive than New York, London, Paris, Berlin. since housing is especially expensive in Japan, I'll present an international comparison of housing prices. in the same book "Book of World City Rankings", Table 74 Average Monthly Rental Cost (Page 592) compares "average gross monthly rent (US$)" for 67 major cities in the world for 1981-83. 1. Jidda (800) 6. Los Angeles (450) 2. Hong Kong (750) 6. San Diego (450) 3. New York (617) 6. Sydney (450) 4. Tokyo (552) 9. Houston (449) 5. San Francisco (480) 10. London (430) (Jidda is in Saudi Arabia.) other Japanese cities in the table: 11. Yokohama (429) 40. Osaka (268) 20. Kobe (339) 50. Nagoya (236) 30. Sapporo (308) 55. Kyoto (193) Tables 44-51, 55, 56 compare prices of eggs, milk, bread, meat, household appliances, men's clothing, women's clothing, automobiles, public transportation in the 50 or so cities. Japanese cities dominate the top ranks only in the prices for milk and meat. some people told me that prices cited above are too old (1981-83). I agree, but I haven't been able to find reliable data that's more up-to-date. from: Wen-Kai Tang <> | | I will have to disagree with you on the point of prices in | Tokyo vs. other cities. I've been to Tokyo for about 2 weeks, | and I must say that EVERYTHING costs much more then in the US. | Of course, the cause of this is the strong Yen. While the | exchange rate is about 100 yen to 1 dollar, most economists | agree that in purchasing power terms, it should be about | 160-180 to 1. In the 50s and 60s, when the exchange rate was | 360:1, the dollar was overvalued and to most US residents, | Japanese prices must have seemed very low. So this whole issue | is really a function of overvaluing or undervaluing of a | currency and should not really reflect poorly or favorably on a | country. Americans should be reminded that despite the high | Tokyo prices, most Tokyo residents MAKE a lot too, in fact more | then Americans do in dollar terms. The result is that in | purchasing power, the average material standard of living is | about 85% of the US. Many Americans often just look at just | the high prices or the high wages (in $ terms) of Japan without | taking the other into account and yield many false conclusions | about the standard of living in Japan. I think you should | emphasize that point instead of just tackling the myth of | Japanese high prices. I agree that the people in the US | exaggerate the high prices in Tokyo. Having been in Europe for | the last 4 weeks, I admit that European prices, especially | Paris, are almost as high as in Japan. Of course, most | European currencies are overvalued against the dollar as well. | I think the rule is that prices in the US are among the lowest | in the advanced world and everywhere else must look very | expensive for a US resident, Japan included. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (MISCONCEPTION 4) Japanese have first names followed by last names just like Americans do. THE TRUTH: a Japanese name usually consists of a family name followed by a given name. most academic and serious treatment of Japanese culture in English text (such as scholarly papers and serious books) observe this original order, while popular and cursory ones (such as newspaper and magazine articles) reverse and "Anglicize" the order. note that preserving the original name order in English text is the default for people from mainland China (PRC) (Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, Li Peng), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh, Nguen Van Thieu, Pham Van Dong), and North Korea (Kim Il Sung). it is also common for people from Taiwan (ROC) (Chiang Kai-shek) and South Korea (Rho Tae Woo, Chun Doo Hwan). on a related note ... many Japanese people (myself included) don't find it particularly flattering or pleasant when non-Japanese do the following "Japanese" things in an attempt to be polite or show off their knowledge. --- saying, "Ah, so". --- bowing to us (instead of shaking hands). --- calling us "XXX-san" in English speech or text, such as "Good morning, Tanaka-san." (when friends do it, it's perfectly fine. use of "-san" in Japanese is always fine.) --- using words "Nippon" and "Nipponese" instead of "Japan" and "Japanese". (we usually say NIHON anyway.) I've stored some articles on notation of Japanese names in English text in my WWW site. see Section (A) for access information. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (MISCONCEPTION 5) Japanese are inept at learning English. Edwin O. Reischauer. The Japanese Today. (1995) "Unfortunately the Japanese have proved notably inept at learning to speak foreign languages or to comprehend them aurally." (Page 387) THE TRUTH: Japanese are not especially or notably inept. Japanese and English are two very different kinds of languages, and it is difficult for a speaker of one to learn the other. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (0) introduction ---- (0.1) my (Tanaka's) first day of school in the USA ... Vincent Chin I will remember that day all my life: the first day of middle school in January, 1976. I was 13 years old. having arrived in the USA from Japan in the previous December, it was my first day of being a student at an American public school in southern California. my impressions were almost all positive: helpful teachers and friendly fellow students. it seems that many of the experiences I was about to have in the USA were all symbolically represented in the events of that day, and that included my first real encounter with American racism; during the P.E. (physical education) class, I was running with a football in my hand with some boys chasing me, and a white boy yelled at me, "Stop, Jap!" I was not offended at all. I was just puzzled. I had read and heard about the word "Jap" in Japan, but my understanding was that the word ceased to be used decades ago. like most Japanese teenagers, I had no special negative feelings toward the USA (I had only positive feelings) and I naively believed that those sentiments would be shared by Americans. well, I was wrong. in the later years I learned of the systematic way the American society (parents, teachers, schools, churches, the media) reinforces (i) general racial hatred and prejudice and (ii) feelings of vengeance and grudge toward Japan regarding WW2. these societal efforts are ethically wrong, and they annoy me in my daily life. I felt that I had to do something when I learned the following from the film "Who killed Vincent Chin?". --- how Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat, with these words: "It's because of you (little) motherfuckers that we are out of work." --- how the killers only got small fines and probation for the killing. --- how there was no storm of protest about this from the general American public. --- how Vincent Chin's mother returned to China and left the USA, where she believed there was no justice for Asians and Asian Americans. I have stored some articles on the Vincent Chin case in my WWW site. see Section (A) for access information. ---- (0.2) negative images of Japan contribute to ... negative images of all Asia, and to anti-Asian violence. from [booklet, "Asian Pacific Americans" 1988] (see (bibliography)) | | === Anti-Asian violence === | The trade imbalance with Asian Pacific countries and economic | hard times in some U.S. cities have reawakened more violent | forms of racism against Asian Pacifics, who increasingly suffer | verbal harassment, vandalism, arson, beatings and killings. ---- (0.3) US media coverage of Japan is a major obstacle to ... non-Japanese's understanding of Japan. |----------------------------------------------------------------- | Date: Wed, 26 Oct 94 14:52:21 -0400 | From: <> | To: | Subject: US-Japan imagined differences | | Thank you for your posts about portrayals that seek to | "pigeonhole" US and Japanese characteristics of culture. | | For five years, I lived in northern Japan near the JASDF "Misawa | kichi" and I realized that what I had been taught about Japanese | was very wrong. There are many elements of human behavior that | are the same around the world, for example, the attention given | to children, or wage labor practices. | | Nothing was "inscrutable" about the Japanese. Behavior, opinions, | and feelings might be expressed differently, but it was just as | easy to gauge these in Japanese people as in US people. [...] |----------------------------------------------------------------- (this above and other Usenet materials (those that require permission to quote) are quoted by permission.) C. Douglas Lummis (professor of political philosophy at Tsuda College in Tokyo) writes in a book published in 1981. |----------------------------------------------------------------- | (C. dagurasu ramisu. "nai-naru gaikoku: KIKU TO KATANA saikou". | jiji-tuusin-sha. 1981. Pages 43--65. | back-translated into English by Tanaka --- | I believe the original English manuscript is lost.) | | From time to time people ask me, "What were your first | impressions of Japan?" I remember them very well. In 1960 I | came to Japan aboard a personnel carrier ship of the U.S. | Marines heading for Okinawa. [...] | | When I first came to Japan, I was completely ignorant about | the country --- at least at the time I thought I was. I had not | read a single book on Japan, and going to Japan was not by my | choice; it was by the orders of the U.S. Government. [...] | | I was indeed ignorant, but my ignorance had a definite structure | and content. In reality I "knew" a variety of of things about | Japan --- not from studying about Japan, but from simply living | in the USA for 23 years. Numerous images and concepts about | Japan exist in the American culture, and form a part of that | culture, which people who grow up in the USA automatically | absorb. 20 years later, it is an interesting exercise to | remember what kind of preconceptions I had at the time. By | remembering them I can perhaps give the reader some impressions | of the nature of education the USA has given to its citizens | about Japan during 1936--1960. [...] | | Inside the Americans' heads there existed several images of | "Japan" simultaneously: | --- the diminishing wartime image of "Yellow Peril" | --- the image of occupied Japan, "bright and diligent student of | Douglas MacArthur's" | --- the "Made in Japan" image (cheap and often faulty products) | --- for a few people the image of "Exotic Orient", going back to | Lafcadio Hearn. | In the mid-50s there appeared a new image: that of Japan as the | country of Zen. [...] | GIs' heaven (occupied Japan) [...] | | I can go on, but I hope the reader already sees that when I | came to Japan in 1960, I was "completely ignorant" about the | country, and that state of "complete ignorance" is totally | different from that of a blank paper (tabula rasa) you can | write anything on. My mind was filled with stereotypes and | images about a country somewhat like Japan, a country which is | called "Japan" in the USA, but which exists not in Asia but | only as an artifact of American culture --- my mind was full of | attitudes and prejudices toward that country. Many of these | images were closely linked to my own culture and to myself. To | actually set foot in Japan was the beginning of a long battle | between those preconceptions and my real experiences. |----------------------------------------------------------------- because US media is so powerful and influential, these negative images are also exported to the rest of the world. I have met people from India with these same American stereotypes for Japanese: sly and sneaky. ---- (0.4) why I'm writing this article. ---- (0.4.1) reason 1: because the Japanese government isn't doing it. those who have a chance to go to Japan, study the language, and live there will hopefully discover for themselves how inaccurate US media images of Japan are --- as Prof Lummis and <> did. but this is something only few Americans (non-Japanese) can afford to do. in the meantime, US media images of Japan continues to have insidious negative effects (Section (0.2)), and continues to be a major obstacle to non-Japanese's understanding of Japan (Section (0.3)). I really feel that the Japanese government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (GAIMUSHOU) should be doing something to fight these negative images and promote positive images, but I know too well how bad they are at doing thing like this (while they are good at doing some other forms of advertisement. see Pat Choate, [book] "Agents of influence" (1990) and "buffers", "propaganda", and "Japan's foreign apologists" in Karel van Wolferen, [book] "The enigma of Japanese power" (1989)). that's why I feel that *I* have to something. ---- (0.4.2) reason 2: because I want to make the USA a greater country. when I write about these topics on the net, I sometimes get responses such as the following (lines from actual articles posted). > Now, will you SHUT THE FUCK UP about this topic, Tanaka? > Please enjoy your stay in our country, [...] (the poster is telling me, "Go home, Jap." in polite language --- this poster, at the same time, wrote to my postmaster about my "abusive" posting.) some people may interpret what I'm doing as some foreigner bashing away at their beloved country --- like badmouthing their parents or something. in my mind that's not what I'm doing at all. I've lived in this country for about 10 years, and plan to live here for many more. in a way I already feel more like a Japanese American than a Japanese. I love this country. more than anything else I love the energy that American people have to transform and improve themselves in the spirit of self-affirmation and self-expression. This is symbolized by the two marches in Washington: for civil rights movement in 1963 and for the gay rights movement in 1994 (?). I firmly believe that my criticism can make the USA a greater country. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (1) disparity: Americans view Japanese more inaccurately and ... negatively than Japanese view Americans. ---- (1.1) from Endymion Wilkinson, [book] "Japan versus the West" "The key difference is that Japanese images of Europe and the USA have tended to be more positive and closer to reality than European and US images of Japan. The reasons are clear: at the formative period of modern Japan, Westerners were regarded with a mixture of fear and respect, two excellent reasons for wanting to learn from somebody else. Westerners, on the other hand, until recently regarded the Japanese with indifference; sometimes with scorn and sometimes with fear, but seldom with respect." (Page 32) "But it [inaccurate Western images of Japan] also derives from the Japanese inability to project a clear and unambiguous message abroad." (Page 241) ---- (1.2) a TIME poll in an issue of the TIME magazine (1992 2/10) with the cover story "America in the mind of Japan / Japan in the mind of America", on Page 20 there is a graph showing the results of telephone polls (500 Japanese adults and 1000 American adults): |----------------------------------------------------------- | which words describe what which words describe what | people in Japan are like? people in America are like? | THE AMERICAN VIEW THE JAPANESE VIEW (diff) | | friendly 59% 64% 5% | competitive 94% 50% 44% | devoted to fair play 35% 43% 8% | | lazy 4% 21% 17% | hardworking 94% 15% 79% | prejudiced 53% 41% 12% | | violent 19% 23% 4% | crafty 69% 13% 56% | poorly educated 12% 21% 9% |----------------------------------------------------------- (the numbers in the rightmost column are (the absolute values of) the differences that I calculated.) three large differences exist: those for "competitive", "hardworking", and "crafty". in short, these results show that where a large disparity exists in the general attitudes between the two peoples, Americans view Japanese much more negatively than vice versa: --- competitive, hardworking Sections (2.9) (4) (5) describe how these are negative as presented by US media. --- crafty (or sneaky) in present-day American English, "crafty" is chiefly used negatively. the definition of "crafty" in on-line Webster: 1 dial chiefly Brit: SKILLFUL, CLEVER 2a: adept in the use of subtlety and cunning 2b: marked by subtlety and guile < a crafty scheme> syn see SLY synonyms of "crafty": cunning, sly, tricky, sneaky, ... . =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (2) American myths and propaganda about Japan ---- (2.1) MYTH: Japanese (Asians) have slanted eyes. /////\\\\ an entry from | --- --- | Tom Burnam. | \ / | "The Dictionary of Misinformation". (| U |) (Crowell, 1975): | ___ | \_______/ slanted eyes of Orientals. Although they may seem to, the eyes of Chinese, Japanese, and other Orientals do not slant; they are, in fact, closer to the horizontal than those of non-Orientals. The *effect* is produced by a low nose bridge and the Mongolian, or epicanthic, fold of the upper eyelid --- one of the very few genuine "racial" characteristics, incidentally. Children of Caucasian parents often show the apparent Mongolian slant until the nasal bridge develops. the author Burnam writes as though for EVERYONE Asians seem to have slanted eyes. even after becoming familiar with American cartoons, I have never felt Asians to have slanted eyes. I suspect that this is an illusion produced by the strong belief that "Asians have slanted eyes." this indoctrination of "slant-eye Asians" begins very early on. in children's book "The Badger and the Magic Fan" ("A Japanese Folktale adapted by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Tomie dePaola", published by G.P.Putnams's Sons, 1990), all humans (13 persons) and animals (a badger and a pigeon) have eyes that are narrow (slit-like) and slanted. I just sent letters to the publisher and the illustrator (who's American). I remember the surprise when I first learned that in the USA it is common to draw Asian cartoon characters with slanted eyes. it surprised me because (i) like most Japanese I have never noticed Asians to have slanted eyes compared to whites or blacks; and hence (ii) cartoonists in Japan never use the slant of the eyes to mark the differences in races. (an exception is when OTOMO Katsuhiro (of "Akira") draws faces parodying American cartoons.) unfortunately the author (Tom Burnam) does not provide his sources in most cases. would you please let me know if you have some good information on this subject, like a magazine article claiming that Asians don't have slanted eyes? (I'll check anthropology textbooks soon.) |--------------------------------------------------------------- | "Sign Language Reflects Changing Sensibilities" | (The New York Times, January 3, 1994) |--------------------------------------------------------------- | WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 --- Perhaps as recently as two or three | years ago, a deaf person would sign the word "Japanese" simply | by twisting the little finger next to the eye. | But today, many of the more than 200,000 people who use | American Sign Language avoid using this sign because it is a | graphic reference to a stereotypical physical feature, slanted | eyes. | Instead, many deaf people here are adopting the Japanese's | sign for themselves: pressing the thumbs and index fingers of | both hands together and then pulling them apart, carving the | silhouette of Japan into the air. | | [the article describes other offensive signs and their new | proposed alternates; for Chinese, Koreans, African-Americans, | homosexuals, "stingy", Jewish, ... . the previous | Russian sign for "American" was to suggest a big belly with one | hand and simultaneously mouth the word "capitalism."] =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.2) MYTH: Japanese are suicidal. THE TRUTH: suicide rate in Japan is not unusually high compared to other nations. the following are some rough figures intended to show the relative ranking, which has changed little during the last 30 years. (source: The Encyclopedia Americana (1992), etc) (per 100,000 people) Hungary 33 Austria, Sweden, Germany, Denmark 20 Switzerland 17 France, Belgium, Japan 15 New Zealand, USA, UK 10 Norway, Holland, Italy 5--8 ... Philippines 0.8 Mexico 0.7 Egypt 0.1 this shows that "suicide is unusually common in Japan" is another myth created by the US media: over-emphasis of seppuku (hara-kiri) and kamikaze (or "kamakazi") pilots; and suicides of novelists like Mishima, Kawabata, etc. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- MYTH: Japanese youth are suicidal. American propaganda: --- Edwin O. Reischauer. The Japanese Today. (1995) (Page 194) "The relatively high suicide rates for youth may be in part attributable to the `examination hell,' [...]" --- "Japan's demanding education system causes teen suicides" The Washington Post (March 9, 1990) --- "Teen-age suicides shed light on brutal bullying in Japan" LA Times (Dec 23, 1994) --- etc, etc, ... ad nauseam. THE TRUTH: for 15-24 year olds, US suicide rate is about twice that of Japan. for 15-24 year olds, suicide rate in Japan is --- lower than those of the USA, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Sweden; and --- higher than those of Italy, Netherlands, the UK. source: "Statistical Abstracts of the United States: 1994" Table No. 1360, which notes its source as WHO (1989-1991). according to Statistical Abstracts (and WHO), suicide rate among youth has been rising in the USA and falling in Japan since the late 1960s. it has been higher in the USA than in Japan since 1981 or so. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.3) MYTH: Japanese are sneaky and unfair as proved by the "sneak ... attack" on Pearl Harbor, and how they now "sweep history under the carpet". this and the following entry (2.4) are among the pillars of the 100 years of American "yellow peril" journalism. from [booklet, "Asian Pacific Americans" 1988] (see (bibliography)) | | yellow peril --- Used to describe Asian Pacific Americans as | a great threat to Western Civilization. The term gained | appeal in the 1880s, used by some newspapers and | politicians to whip up racism against Asian Pacific | immigrants, who were portrayed as taking jobs from whites | or were poised to invade the United States. [...] MYTH: the Pearl Harbor attack was sneaky and unfair. THE TRUTH: in a forthcoming article (see (bibliography)) I will show the fallacy of this propaganda and myth. very briefly, the bases of my arguments are as follows: [1] beginning a war with a surprise attack, without (or before) a declaration is the way the USA and Japan have usually fought wars. all surprise attacks are sneaky. the Pearl Harbor attack was no more sneaky or unfair than the US surprise attacks on Native Americans, Cuba (1961), and Grenada (1983). [2] the attack was not a surprise to the US politicians. [3] it is false that the Pearl Harbor attack was successful only because it was a surprise attack. (many Americans believe that Japanese can outperform Americans only by cheating.) [4] some people seem to believe that the Pearl Harbor attack was unusually savage or cruel. that is completely false. the attack was a precise maneuver targeting only military installations. of the approximately 2400 Americans killed in the attack, 68 were civilians, almost all of whom were employees of the military. later US bombings of Japanese cities resulted in about 1 million deaths of Japanese civilians. it is completely understandable that such unfair propaganda (promoting the idea of "evil, sneaky Japs" using the example of the Pearl Harbor attack) was used during the war. it is NOT reasonable that this propaganda is still going on TODAY, decades after the war. -------------------------------------------------------------------- MYTH: Japan sweeps history under the carpet. in the recent years the propaganda of Japanese "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor has often been coupled with another American propaganda (see, for example, "Sweeping History Under the Carpet", Newsweek, November 25, 1991). US media is trying to spread these notions: (i) the Japanese government is trying to distort its history regarding its invasions in the WW2. (ii) Japan is trying to make its young ignorant of its shameful past or to impart to them a distorted version of history. THE TRUTH: in the forthcoming article I will show that this is a false characterization. (I am NOT saying that teaching of history (regarding its own invasions and shameful past) in Japanese schools is good. it is not. but it is better than that in US schools.) based on my experience of being a student in American schools (middle school, high school, graduate school) and Japanese schools (elementary school, middle school, university, graduate school), I will show that, in reality, Japan is doing a better job of educating its young about its shameful past than the USA is. this difference results in Japanese being more pacifist and Americans being more warlike. here i'll give just one example showing that the American notion of "Japan sweeping history under the carpet" is false. in August 1995 Prime Minister Murayama issued the following statement, which (after some initial opposition) was uniformly accepted in Japan. he also made a similar statement in the previous August. |-------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | Statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on the | 50th Anniversary of the End of the War, 15 August 1995 | | [...] During a certain period in the not too distant past, | Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the | road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful | crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused | tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many | countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope | that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a | spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and | express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state | my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of | profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of | that history. [...] |-------------------------------------------------------------------- a US President has NEVER made a similar statement about the US invasions/genocides (in North America, Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, ...). I (like most Japanese) know that the Japanese Imperial Army did hideous things in China and the rest of Asia, so you don't have to tell me. I've read books by HONDA Katuiti and others, and I've also helped in the efforts to stop the Japanese government's authorization (censorship) of history textbooks, a movement led by IENAGA Saburou. (in Japan there is government's authorization of history textbooks similar to ones in the USA. see Joan DelFattore "What Johnny shouldn't read: textbook censorship in America", Yale Univ Press, 1992.) =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.4) MYTH: Japanese are sneaky and unfair as proved by their unfair ... business practices. from "Yellow-peril journalism --- Is latent racism coloring business coverage of Japan?" (TIME, November 27, 1989): | [...] | Even so, Japanese direct investment was only one-fourth that of | all Europe, about half that of Great Britain and roughly equal | to that of the Netherlands. Nor was it any more one-sided than | that of the Dutch. Neither Japanese nor any other country | immanently threatens to gain economic control over the U.S., | whose nonbank multinational corporations have assets totaling | well over $5 trillion. | Dismaying though the financial trends concerning Japan may | be, economics alone cannot explain the current media attitude | any more than the immigration levels of the early 1900s could | explain the Nippon hysteria of those years. | [...] (more excerpts in my WWW site. see Section (A) for access information.) see also Endymion Wilkinson, "Japan versus the West: image and reality" (see (bibliography)). Part IV deals with economic frictions. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.5) MYTH: Japanese are completely different from Americans and ... inscrutable. THE TRUTH: not so different. to me, Japanese and American peoples are more alike than different: both are hard-working, practically-minded, and socially and politically conservative. (Japan and the USA are among the most prominent of the Western capitalist nations.) ---- (2.5.1) Benedict-Reischauer model of Japan as the polar opposite of the USA, which has dominated American academia and journalism. however, American media and academia like to depict Japanese as completely different (diametrically opposite) and "inscrutable". this has been a consistent pattern in the Western depiction of Japan for centuries, culminating in Ruth Benedict's "Chrysanthemum and the Sword", which contrasted the Western culture of "sin" vs the Japanese culture of "shame". another common contrast is "individualist" vs "group-oriented" (see the quote from Reischauer below). (Japanese authors are similarly guilty in this respect. --- NAKANE Chie's "tate shakai no ningen kankei" (English tr. "Japanese society") contrasts the Western "horizontal" society vs the Japanese "vertical" society. --- DOI Takeo's "amae no kouzou" (English tr. "The anatomy of dependence") exaggerates the differences between the cultures. if AMAE really is a unique Japanese concept that can not be translated into English, why not use AMAE in the title of the English version?) even Karel van Wolferen (Dutch journalist who showed his excellent understanding of the Japanese society in [book] "The enigma of Japanese power") exclaims, "Inside Japan, nothing is quite as it seems." (printed on the dust jacket of the book, Macmillan edition) I suppose this is due to journalistic exaggeration and appeal to the exotic. in [book] "Human Universals" Donald E. Brown describes how anthropologists tend to over-emphasize the differences when reporting customs of "exotic" peoples. he beautifully illustrates this by taking a scene describing a foreign custom where the reporter was trying to highlight the differences, and noting the underlying commonalities in that very description. ---- (2.5.2) "Kung Fu", proverbs one way this notion of "completely different (diametric opposite)" is reinforced is through TV shows, such as "Kung Fu". this popular TV show has been spreading the following message to Americans, young and old, for decades: Chinese (and all other Asians) are completely different from Americans and inscrutable, that Asians operate under some kind of weird, exotic "Oriental logic" (symbolized by the cheap, fortune-cookie riddles used in the show) that reasonable, civilized Westerners can NEVER hope to understand. another way this notion of "completely different (diametric opposite)" is reinforced is by citing proverbs. a couples of Americans studying Japanese have told me the following: (they told me exactly the same thing.) --- in Japan people say, "deru kugi ha utareru". literally, "the nail that sticks out is hammered down." it means: "don't do anything different from the others; if you do, you'll be punished." --- in the USA people say, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." it means, "if you complain and make noise, you'll be noticed, get attention (and thus rewarded)." --- see how COMPLETELY opposite that is? Edwin O. Reischauer (famous Harvard Japanologist, ambassador to Japan during the 1960s) writes: Whereas the American may seek to emphasize his independence and originality, the Japanese will do the reverse. As the old Japanese saying goes, the nail that sticks out gets banged down. A personality type that in the United States might seem merely bluff or forceful but still normal is defined in Japan as a neurotic state. Cooperativeness, reasonableness, and understanding of others are the virtues most admired, not personal drive, forcefulness, and individual self-assertion. in Edwin O. Reischauer, "The Japanese" (1977) Page 135 and "The Japanese Today" (1995) Page 136 well, it's true that those maxims exist in the two cultures. but the bigger truth is that since both peoples are similarly conservative, the same kind of maxims abound in both cultures. in both cultures there are maxims that encourage boldness, as well as those that recommend conformity. in Japan there are many proverbs and maxims that encourage people to be bold, different, and independent. --- "atatte kudakero" literally, "go collide and smash into pieces." it means, "even if you're not sure, go ahead and try it." like the American expression, "go for broke". --- "gyuubi to naru yori keitou to nare" literally, "rather than be a cow-tail, be a chicken-head." American equivalent: "I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond." --- "i no naka no kawazu" literally, "a frog in a well". this and the following both mean the same thing: "don't be content in your small world; go and explore." --- "oyama no taishou" literally, "king of a (small) mountain" --- "anzuru yori umu ga yasusi" literally, "easier to actually give birth than as anticipated." it means, "it's not as hard as you think.", commonly said in the USA. --- "kawaii ko ni ha tabi wo saseyo" literally, "if you love your child, let it travel alone", for it fosters independence. --- "shounen yo, taisi wo idake" or "booizu bii anbishasu" from "Boys, be ambitious!". an American professor named Clark said this to his Japanese students in Hokkaido early this century. in the USA there are some expressions and maxims that recommend people to be conformist and quiet. --- "stick out like a sore thumb" (an expression meaning "to stand out and draw attention"; usually used negatively) --- "When in Rome do as the Romans do." (Japanese equivalent: "gou ni itte ha gou ni sitagae") --- "rock the boat" (usually negative) --- "make waves" (usually negative, sometimes positive) --- "go against the current" (usually negative) --- "silence is golden." --- "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." ("mizaru, iwazaru, kikazaru") --- "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5) far from what Reischauer and others are trying to show, the proverbs and expressions in the two cultures strike me with the many parallels and similarities more than the few differences. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.6) MYTH: Japanese are copycats (cheap imitators of the USA). "Don't be fooled by a cheap Japanese imitation." --- Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) in TV show "Get Smart" THE TRUTH: imitation of American culture does go on in Japan, but it's nothing like how American media presents it. The US media promotes the idea of Japanese copycats in two ways. (i) by exaggerating any imitation that goes on. (ii) by suppressing coverage of anything that suggests Japanese creativity and originality. I will give examples of both. ---- (2.6.1) how US media exaggerates Japanese imitation the TIME cover story mentioned earlier (1992 2/10) includes exactly 3 photographs from Japan. 1. three Japanese men singing country-western-style in a bar, all wearing cowboy hats. one holds a guitar; the other two are playing harmonicas. 2. two Japanese boys (elementary school age) dressed completely in cowboy outfits (cowboy hats, scarfs, leather boots, handguns, ...) sitting on haystacks in front a barn. (the caption reads, "Draw, partner: at the Japanese Disneyland outside Tokyo, children recreate America's cowboy myth".) 3. three Japanese men of a Tokyo rap group dressed completely in the way black rap singers dress in the USA. it is true that present-day Japan is very modern, high-tech, and westernized. but merely presenting this image isn't enough; TIME wants to present Japan as a cheap imitator of the USA and American culture. (also see (FAQ-3) crucified Santa Claus.) recently I watched a 1-hour PBS TV show entitled "The Japanese Version" (1991). it was all on Japanese imitation (adaptation) of American culture: Japanese cowboys in Tokyo, etc. this reminds me of another American myth. several Americans asked me to elaborate on what they saw on TV and read in magazines: that country-western music/fashion is VERY popular in Japan. my answer: it isn't. ---- (2.6.2) how US media suppresses coverage of Japanese creativity and originality an example: Tezuka's "Jungle King" and Disney's "Lion King". many people are struck with the similarities between Simba from Disney's "Lion King" and Kimba from Tezuka's "Jungle King", a popular Japanese cartoon series that was dubbed into English and shown on TV in the USA in the 1960s. the similarities are both in the pictures and the stories: Both stories feature orphaned lion princes who lose their crowns to an evil adult lion, then reclaim their thrones. The good lions are aided by a wise old baboon and a talkative bird, while the evil lions get help from hyenas. Kimba's foe was a one-eyed lion named Claw, and Simba's a lion named Scar. (from an Associated Press article) I have stored some articles and GIF files on the subject in my WWW site. see Section (A) for access information. it is not clear to me exactly how much Disney borrowed ideas and images from Tezuka. I think it is entirely possible that much of it was coincidence and the animators used scenes from "Kimba" unconsciously. the Japanese animators were convinced that the similarities were not coincidental, and they sent a letter to Disney requesting some kind of acknowledgement to Tezuka. by Sept 1994, 1126 people (animators and others) had signed the letter. the issue is quite well-known in Japan now. how US media has been treating the case is to suppress it, ignore it, and hope that the issue will disappear. examples: --- when Newsweek did a cover story on troubles that Disney is facing (Sept. 5, 1994), "The Lion King" was only mentioned as "perhaps the biggest moneymaker of all time". --- out of the hundreds of stories CNN has done on "The Lion King", I believe there was only one brief report on this suspected borrowing. the strategy is working: this issue is almost completely unknown among the general American public. see also the case of Sugihara in Section (3.1). =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.7) MYTH: Japan is a sexist country. (2.7.1) sexism in Japan: the American propaganda --- Japanese men are sexist. --- Japanese women are mistreated. --- Japan is one of the most sexist countries in the world. (2.7.2) sexism in Japan: the truth THE TRUTH: sexism in Japan is not much worse than in the USA. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.7.1) sexism in Japan: the American propaganda One of the most common themes in US media coverage of Japan is "Japan is a sexist country". Edwin O. Reischauer has been the biggest contributor to the "sexist Japan" image in the USA. In his book "The Japanese Today" (1995) Reischauer emphasizes sexism to portray Japan as backward and exotic. "Chapter 17 Women" opens as follows: "The position of women in Japanese society is one of the major differences between it and American society and a subject that is likely to raise indignation in the West. Japanese men are blatantly male chauvinists and women seem shamefully exploited and suppressed." in the last 20 years or so while I've paid close attention to the US media portrayals of Japan, I have rarely seen a positive coverage in reports relating to the issues of relationship between the sexes, sexism, marriage and dating practices, etc. (it's possible to report positively: about progress being made in fighting sexism, about the low divorce rate and the secrets of Japanese marital success, about characteristic courtship customs, etc.) on the other hand, I've seen numerous negative reports. some recent examples: --- Newsweek, "Take a Hike, Hiroshi", August 10, 1992, (2 pages). headline: "Japan's War of the Sexes is heating up --- because Japan's women are fed up. A report from the front". the caption to a photograph of 4 young Japanese men reads, "Self-centered, boorish and predictable? Young men relax in a resort town". --- TIME, "Fighting Off HANAYOME BUSOKU", March 21, 1988. headline: "Villagers cope with a shortage of brides by recruiting overseas" "... one reason Japanese women head for the cities is their inferior position in small-town families. Unless the status of rural women is elevated, ..." THE TRUTH: recruiting mail order brides from Asia is a practice that is much more common in the rich western nations than in Japan. it is unfair that these magazines draw attention to mail order brides in Japan, while neglecting the practice (and its problems) in the USA and other nations. --- TIME, "Tying the knot, Japanese style", April 17, 1989. headline: "A wedding can still be a feast of conspicuous consumption". a graph entitled "PRICELY PACKAGE --- Typical costs of a fancy wedding". a photograph of a couple: she is dressed in a western wedding dress; he is dressed like a soldier (very unusual for a Japanese wedding); caption: "In a mist of dry ice at a bridal palace in Tokyo, the happy couple descend to greet their guests"; together they look very silly. the hidden message is clear: we know Japanese are rich, but Japanese spend their money in such stupid ways. THE TRUTH: a typical expensive Japanese wedding costs no more than a typical expensive American wedding. if your main source of information on Japan is mainstream US media (and movies), then you may actually believe what has been drummed into your head: --- Japanese men are sexist. --- Japanese women are mistreated. --- Japan is one of the most sexist countries in the world. often Americans start telling me something like, "I know you're Japanese, and so I understand that you can be a bit sexist, ..." at which point I stop them, "whaaat? what have I done or said which indicates that I'm being sexist?" and they can't cite even a tiny example. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.7.2) sexism in Japan: the truth THE TRUTH: sexism in Japan is not much worse than in the USA. I very much doubt how meaningful it is to compare two cultures with different histories, and say which one is "more sexist". To look at superficial differences and drawing conclusions from them is ludicrous. Is the common practice of male genital mutilation at birth in the USA (circumcision) a sign of backwardness? Do the current debates over abortion and prayer in schools indicate that Americans are too backward to understand the modern concept of separation of church and state? Moreover, even by purely Western standards, sexism in Japan is not much worse than in the USA, as indicated by the following. (1) sexual violence/harassment against women in the USA is much more frequent/severe, as compared to in Japan. The number of reported rapes (per 100,000 women, 1987-89) is 118 in the USA and 5 in Japan ("Human Development Report 1994" by U.N._Development Programme). (2) In Japan the wife is usually more dominant than the husband in a married couple (especially regarding financial matters). Even Reischauer, who is obsessed with portraying the Japanese as sexist, admits this. (3) Female politician DOI Takako was once the head of the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), and is now the head of the Lower House (shuu-giin-gichou). Consider that the current head of JSP (Murayama) is the prime minister of Japan, and that the Japanese "head of the Lower House" corresponds to the US Speaker of the House. Conclusion: Japan is much closer to having a female national political leader than the USA is. (4) Male vs. female wage disparity. female wages (as % of male wages, 1990-92): Sweden_90, Norway_87, France_81, Germany_78, UK_70, Belgium_64, Canada_63, USA_59, Japan_51 ("Human Development Report 1994", U.N.D.P.). One factor in The New York Times and others' compulsive portrayal of Japan as a sexist country is the US backlash against feminism. About wage disparity (point (4) above), the USA may have things to learn from the European nations where gender equality has been more successful. But instead, these newspapers report "sexist Japan" to give the message of assurance and conservatism: "Look at how sexist the Japanese are. We've gone far enough in the feminism movement. In fact, we've probably gone too far. We must shift our attention from feminism to more urgent matters, such as the Japanese economic threat." American compulsion to portray Asian cultures as sexist is also seen in "The Joy Luck Club", a film filled with racial/ethnic prejudice against Asia and racially-Asian men. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.8) MYTH: Japanese men are either asexual or sex-hungry monsters. in the US media (TV and movies) Asian men are usually portrayed as asexual, unromantic creatures. Alan Hu wrote in a Usenet article: Asian men are portrayed as: asexual martial arts masters, asexual viet cong guerrillas, asexual servants, and asexual geeks. this is related to the following myths. MYTH: "Japs are wimps in bed." MYTH: "Japs have rice dicks." (tiny penises) when Asian men's sexuality is portrayed at all, the portrayal is usually negative. this was especially strong in the American anti-Japanese propaganda during WW2. see, for example, the poster in John W. Dower's book "War without mercy", Page 189. the caption reads: The sexual fears underlying Yellow Peril and anti-"colored" sentiments are revealed in the poster of a Japanese soldier carrying off a naked white woman (figure 13). ... this was a part of the American propaganda, "evil, sex-hungry Japs". THIS IS THE ENEMY. BEWARE OF THE JAPS. We must protect our innocent women from the evil Japs! there is nothing unusual about that. at the time, similar anti-US propaganda was going on in Japan too. what is unusual is that similar American propaganda is going on TODAY, in a subtler form. --- US media (The NY Times, etc) was so overjoyed to report on the "comfort women" issue. --- US media (even NPR) is so happy to report anything sexually-perverted about Japanese men. movies like "Rising Sun" and "Black Rain" (directed by Ridley Scott) provide ideas and images for the TV shows described below. |----------------------------------------------------------------- | Newsgroup: soc.culture.asian.american | Date: Sat Oct 08 01:07:16 EDT 1994 | From: jpark@soma.UMDNJ.EDU (John Park) | Subject: Some more racist television? | Summary: tired of it. | Keywords: Anti-Asian racist television, boob tube, idiot box, | brain washer | | Did anyone see episode of "Law and Order" on Thursday on NBC? | It was about a Japanese guy who was described as some sleazy | rich guy who took advantage of American blonde white girls. The | Japanese guy got killed early by a blonde American woman who | claimed that she had battered wife syndrome... One of the | regular protagonists of the show made some fairly annoying | anti-Asian comments. Towards the end there was a message about | the ignorance of Japan bashing but only after wading through a | thicket of stinging racist diatribes about Japanese (& therefore | directed toward all Asian) men. | | The next day on FOX, the "Mantis" episode was about the Yakuza | kidnapping the daughter of a mob guy... The screenwriters in | this show made these Asian men super cruel, and a big organized | crime threat to "America's city streets." They threatened to | kill the scared daughter, and "wage war" on the white American | mob. One or two of the regular protagonists on this show also | said some pretty stupid and ignorant/racist remarks without | being challenged or refuted by any of the other characters. For | example, he called an Asian criminal suspect a "ninja turtle." | Later on, the black hero talked about Japanese's racism towards | blacks, and honor of his father who was an air combat pilot or | something like that (to further accentuate hatred towards | Japanese/Asian men, to the viewer who is following the story), | right before he fights a duel in this insipid, racist, and | hypocritical TV show. | | Hmm, I guess these two prime time TV shows hit the usual buttons | to provoke hate and fear i.e.: "they're out to take and rape our | women, and take over our country...." | | I wonder how this affects all the children who saw these and | other anti-Asian racist manipu-tainment shows. I mean, not just | non-Asian kids who watch such television, but also Asian kids as | well... | | Does Michael Crichton have connections with the screenwriters on | these TV shows? ;-| | | -JSP =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.9) MYTH: Japanese are rich and hardworking (in a negative way) In article < ...> someone wrote: > > (Japanese as rich and hardworking people.) > > This is bad? as Mr Nakamura and Mr Tang point out in Sections (4) and (5), the depiction of Japanese as rich and hardworking people in US press is generally cast in negative context. typically it takes the following form: from "Coming to grips with karoshi" (TIME, Jan. 30, 1989) | | Despite their country's status as the world's biggest | creditor nation, Japanese workers continue to put in the | greatest amount of work time of any major industrial country: | on average, they spend as much as 500 more hours a year on the | job than do their counterparts in West Germany and France, 200 | more than those in the U.S. and Britain. Only 1 out of 3 | workers enjoys a five-day workweek. (Tanaka's note: KAROSHI literally means "overwork-death". every year at least a few people in Japan die from overwork. this happens in other western countries too, but there are a few differences: (i) the number may be slightly higher in Japan. (ii) in other western countries, people who die from overwork tend to be executives or self-employed. in Japan this happens to regular white-collar workers. I believe overwork-death is becoming increasingly uncommon in Japan in the last 3,4 years.) (I say "other western country" because I believe that Japan is both a western country and an Asian country.) the tone of the mainstream US press is the following: we know Japan is rich and Japanese people are hardworking, but we strongly emphasize how terrible life is over there, and their unfair, sneaky business practices. articles are often written in such a way to evoke images from George Orwell's "1984": a joyless, socially-controlled high-tech hell. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.10) US media coverage of Japan, Ezra Vogel's "Japan as Number One" I would characterize US media coverage of Japan as "generally negative and sometimes malicious". over the years, I have collected many TIME and Newsweek articles on Japan. most of them fall under the following categories. --- clearly negative: treats Japan as sneaky, unfair, threatening, etc. --- a "human interest" story with easily-detectable negative intentions: depicting Japanese as sexist, exotic, strange, stupid, inscrutable, etc. --- articles that are completely factual about the value of the Yen, etc. coupled with the negative treatment of Japan, these articles contribute to the image of the "faceless, nameless, ominous threat". even when the US media says positive things about Japan --- about its wealth, social order, hardworking people, etc. --- the hidden message is often, "beware of this ominous threat." Ezra Vogel's book "Japan as Number One" is a good example of this. please see the April 3, 1981 issue of "The New York Review of Books". there is a short article about the book by Vogel ("To the Editors:", Page 45). in the same issue, Tetsuo Najita, a Japanese-American professor at Univ of Chicago, expresses strong displeasure at the "racial reference" that Vogel made by referring to Najita as "American Nisei". except for the few recent articles on Sugihara (see Section (3.1)), I have NEVER seen an US coverage of Japan that is positive (newspaper, magazine, TV, ...). (please let me know by e-mail if you find any.) =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (2.11) positive images of Japan in the USA Some people pointed out these positive images of Japan and the Japanese: --- safe society (no guns) --- low unemployment, few homeless people --- no graffiti or vandalism --- corporate management based on harmony rather than confrontation --- good education system (esp. math and science; elementary and middle schools) --- hardworking, industrious (in a good sense) --- long life expectancy (healthy people; healthy diet) --- honest people actually some of these I take issue with (like "corporate management based on harmony"), but this is not the place for that. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (3) images of the USA in Japan ---- (3.1) Japanese media coverage of the USA --- mostly positive when I was in Japan this summer, I was shocked by the favorable way Japanese media covers the USA. more than anything else, I was overwhelmed by the volume of it. a person with no knowledge of Japanese society but with a good knowledge of the Japanese language, looking at Japanese TV and newspapers may conclude that Japan is a part of the United States, and that Clinton is the head of state of Japan. I kept seeing more and more examples. --- NHK's coverage of World Cup Soccer 1994. the coverage and interest was huge, because it took place in Japan's favorite country, the USA. but Japan didn't have a contingent, so NHK did the obvious and treated the US team as if it was representing Japan. (more coverage than the other teams, etc.) the most striking example was when the US team lost to Brazil. the announcer kept saying things like, "the American team did a wonderful job, but we all know that the Brazilian team is an excellent team with a long history. we must give the American team a big hand." all the while giving very little attention to the winners, the Brazilian team. --- NYC streetside misc help. (like Lucy's in the "Peanuts" cartoon) in a TV show there was a story about a group of 3 white American women in NYC, offering misc. help and advice on a streetside. (advice on romance, jobs, what to get as a gift, etc.) they are working on a book about their experience. --- for the last 5,6 years, every Sunday night around midnight TBS airs a 1-hour long show entitled "CBS document". it usually consists of three segments from CBS programs such as "20/20" or "60 minutes"(?). Japanese and English sound tracks are available. understanding of and interest for American society among the general Japanese public is so great that this is commercially feasible. these things really made me gasp. except for the few recent articles on Sugihara, I have NEVER seen an US coverage of Japan that is positive (newspaper, magazine, TV, ...), and comparable to these above. but again, the articles on Sugihara are not comparable at all. in order for a Japanese to get any kind of good publicity in the USA he must risk his life, save 8000 Jews, get imprisoned in Russia, and die in obscurity. for an American to get good publicity in Japan is very easy. (any American person who goes to Japan to teach English can easily become a local celebrity, through articles in the local newspaper, etc.) since Japanese people are generally so favorable toward the USA and Americans, they little suspect the negative ways Japan is covered in the media and the way Japanese people are treated in the USA. (this reminds me of the Arawaks and Columbus, as well as the white Americans and many native American tribes. having good intentions, not doubting the goodness of others proved deadly for the naive peoples. see Howard Zinn's book, "A people's history of the United States") when I tell my friends in Japan that I've been called "Jap", "Nip", "Nipponese", "Tanaka-san" (in a derisive way), etc. by white Americans, many of them can't believe it. (this morning an American friend of mine used the phrase "I know you `Tojo's!" in a conversation. he didn't mean any harm, and I wasn't offended. still, the fact that such a phrase is alive and well must be unbelievable to most Japanese.) in general, Japanese media coverage of the USA and European countries are unfairly positive, while Japanese media coverage of Korea and other Asian countries are unfairly negative. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- (3.2) negative images of the USA in Japan Some people also pointed out some negative stereotypes that Japanese have. of these, the only one that is common and overemphasized in Japan is "all of the USA is unsafe (crime-filled)". I try to correct this misconception at every opportunity by pointing out that there are many safe towns in the USA, like Bloomington, IN, where I live. I feel as safe here as when I'm in Tokyo. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (4) Hiroshi Nakamura: comments on various points Newsgroups: soc.culture.japan Date: 23 Sep 94 11:02:40 GMT From: Hiroshi Nakamura <> Subject: Re: American images of Japan [...] > > --- the Japanese as rich people > > This is "negative and malicious"? I don't know if I would go as far as "malicious" but at times, yes, I agree with Mr Tanaka. Pretty much everything, I believe, can be conveyed to the readers or listeners in a positive or in a negative way depending on HOW it is being said and in what CONTEXT it's in. I think what Mr Tanaka was trying to say is that media tries to say it ("rich") in a negative way. For example, I don't think people would think highly of a rich person who makes his/her money by tricking and taking advantages (unfair trade practices) of other people (fellow Americans). > > --- the Japanese as hardworking people > > This is "negative and malicious"? I agree with you. Hard and diligent workers are USUALLY admired and are used as role models. HOWEVER, workers who only work for money and have no social life are NOT. Mr Tanaka, I think, was referring to the latter type. > > --- the Japanese as invaders I think the point that Mr Tanaka was referring to is Japan taking over Corporate America and America itself. In the past decade many Japanese firms have bought a lot of assets in the U.S. such as Universal Studios, Columbia Recording Studio, Rockefeller Building, and has also improved its status (esp. economic): These takeovers are sometimes viewed as Japan's second attempt to take over the U.S. [...] how some US companies try to use the nationalism (and hatred toward Japan) that existed during the war to compete with the Japanese companies. e.g., "Buy American-made cars." NOT "Buy the best cars" > --- sexually perverted I agree with Mr Tanaka. Stereotypes toward Japanese have changed recently in North America. --- Before, it was Samurai, Geisha, and Ninja (Samurai related movies). --- Then, it was hardworking (in a bad sense) and stubborn workers as seen in Gung Ho. --- Finally, Hollywood has decided to portray Japanese as sly, perverted, and impossible-to-understand human beings. There is, however, one consistency in all of these stereotypes listed above: they are all negative. The most recent type of stereotypes can be seen in movies like: Black Rain, Rising Sun, and Mr. Baseball. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (5) R. Tang: comments on various points Date: Tue, 27 Sep 94 02:30:17 GMT From: Subject: Re: American images of Japan [...] > > --- the Japanese as rich people > This is "negative and malicious"? In some ways yes, it serves to promote a class distinction between common Americans and Japanese. Americans who are poor might resent the wealth of these "typical" Japanese. i.e., they're taking over, they're buying up everything. They are rarely portrayed as rich in the positive way (i.e. charitable, philanthropic). Whether or not the Japanese are in fact charitable or philanthropic is besides the point. My response is to show how the "rich Japanese" stereotype has been portrayed negatively. > > --- the Japanese as hardworking people > This is "negative and malicious"? Most commonly, hardworking in the sense of mindless worker bees. A side note on this issue. An article in (I believe) Macleans or some similar type of magazine had a story on the 'glass ceiling' affecting Asian Americans. The perception of upper management of AA's is that they are good hard workers, but not suitable for upper management from a lack of initiative and organization. While AA's are NOT Japanese, those who hold these prejudiced beliefs in AA's probably can't distinguish between the two groups anyways. > > --- slanted eyes > Uh, out of curiousity, have ever, during the time you "lived in > Japan" happen across any Edojidai paintings of, say, samurai, > geisha, or other subjests? How were the eyes depicted? I don't think you would go about claiming Japanese have big round eyes because of Japanese anime cartoons. Or maybe Spaniards are cubic creatures, because Picasso drew people that way? This eye slant is a myth and at most an optical illusion. Case in point, in the time of Genghis Khan, European emissaries made the observation that Oriental eyes were further apart then European. Both of which may be correct or incorrect, the point is that it was an observation based on nothing more than personal perception, which then got spread, and from a lack of real scientific judgement became commonly accepted as fact. As far as my perceptions go, I would note that Caucasians and orientals have about the same slant in eye angle, but Caucasians have a more pronounced ridge above the eye or bone behind the eyebrow. Making the eyelid less prominent over the eye. > > --- suicide > > Japan, Belgium, France ... 15 > > New Zealand, USA, UK ... 10 > > this shows that "suicide common in Japan" is another myth > > created by American media bias, the wide coverage of suicides of > > Hmm, this shows a 50% higher suicide rate in Japan than the > US. How, then, is it a myth that Japan has a higher suicide rate > than the US? I don't see Tomoyuki disputing this, he states that the premise that "suicide is COMMON" is overstated. The correct assertion is that suicide is more common in Japan then in America. However, the `suicidal' stereotype, is rarely attributed to French or Belgian peoples. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (6) Earl Kinmonth: on Benedict and the tradition of Japanese studies Newsgroups: soc.culture.japan Date: 29 Oct 94 08:12:56 GMT From: (Earl H. Kinmonth) TANAKA Tomoyuki ( wrote: : : however, American media and academia like to depict Japanese as : completely different (diametric opposite) and "inscrutable". : this has been a consistent pattern in the Western depiction of : Japan for centuries, culminating in Ruth Benedict's : "Chrysanthemum and the Sword", which contrasted the Western : culture of "sin" vs the Japanese culture of "shame". Your enthusiasm for your subject is leading you to exaggeration. Ruth Benedict wrote in the 1940s. I don't think you'll find much if any American writing on Japan before 1840. This gives you a century at best. There's also very little European writing before 1840. Second, emphasis on differences has not in fact been the consistent pattern. At various times and for various (usually political) reasons there has been an emphasis on similarity. Generally, I think you will find that journalistic writers have emphasized differences while academic writers have emphasized similarities. If anything American academic writers have probably been more guilty of trying to plug Japan into American models and not paying enough attention to real differences. Reischauer certainly falls into this bag although he was an academic only by virtue of his position, not by the quality and quantity (or lack thereof) of his research. You should read Kosaku YOSHINO, Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary Japan: A Sociological Enquiry (Routledge, 1992) and get some perspective. As Yoshino shows, writing stressing the (largely imagined) differences between Japanese and (abstracted) "Westerners" is much more popular among Japanese than it is among a non-Japanese audience. Indeed, he points out that the bulk of American academic response has been to attack the whole Nihonjin and Nihon bunka ron genre for its exaggerations. As Yoshino points out, very few American academics write the broad stroke "cultural comparisons" of the Nihonjin and Nihon bunka ron variety. Japanese academics do. Indeed, you've cited some of them. You should also keep in mind that Ruth Benedict did not speak or read Japanese. She picked up her ideas from Japanese informants and confiscated Japanese films. Most journalistic writers about Japan do not speak or read Japanese. If they have silly ideas about Japan, these usually come from two sources: previous writing in the same genre; Japanese informants who spout the "party line" (Nihonkyo as Yamamoto Shichihei called it) derived from Nihonjin and Nihon bunka ron writings. Also, I think you need to do some more research. There is a whole genre of US studies that dissect US images of Japan. Many of these have been inspired by Akira Iriye at the University of Chicago. It has been a fairly popular PhD dissertation subject. I've taught courses on this theme and found American students quite open to be told that what they read about Japan in journalistic sources is usually unmitigated bull shit. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (afterword (response to Mr Kinmonth's comments)) --- I still believe that emphasizing the differences has been a pattern in Western depiction of Japan. --- I also believe that influences of Benedict and Reischauer are still significant today on American and Japanese writers (including fake GAIJINs like Isaiah Ben-Dasan and Paul Bonet, on which I've written a short essay stored in my WWW site). Mr Kinmonth wrote to me, "Also, I think you need to do some more research." I just checked out 3 books by Akira Iriye (including "Mutual images: essays in American-Japanese relations") as well as Mr Kinmonth's book, "The self-made man in Meiji Japanese thought: from samurai to salary man". sure, it'd be good for me to read and learn more. but it is unlikely that I will ever reach the point of having read as much as Mr Kinmonth has on these matters. it is possible that my perspective will change significantly sometime, but I don't see it happening anytime soon --- maybe 10 years from now, but I may well be dead by that time, and I decided that distributing this rough sketch may do some good. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- (bibliography) I recognize influence of HONDA Katuiti and C. Douglas Lummis in everything I write. for the material covered in this article I was especially helped by these two books by Lummis. --- C. dagurasu ramisu. "nai-naru gaikoku: KIKU TO KATANA saikou". jiji-tuusin-sha. 1981. (see Section (0.3)) --- dagurasu ramisu, ikeda masayuki. "nihonjin-ron no sinsou" haru-shobou. 1985. --- Stanly Sue and Harry H.L. Kitano. "Stereotypes as a measure of success". Journal of Social Issues. Vol 29, No 2 (1973). this paper traces the changes of Chinese and Japanese stereotypes in the USA. it was written in the early 1970s, when these Asian stereotypes were probably at their most favorable point ever. --- [booklet "Asian Pacific Americans" 1988 (?)] "Asian Pacific Americans: A handbook on how to cover and portray our nation's fastest growing minority group." about 80 pages. out of print. (some excerpts available in my WWW site.) --- the negative images described in this article are big factors in "disparity in Asian/white interracial dating FAQ" (v7, 1300 lines). see the FTP locations in Section (A). --- Tanaka, "American WW2 myths and propaganda about Japan: 1941 to present" (forthcoming article) will examine the following myths in greater detail. MYTH: the Pearl Harbor attack was sneaky and unfair. MYTH: Japan sweeps history under the carpet. MYTH: Japanese are more fanatical than Americans. MYTH: use of atomic bombs on Japan is justified because [1] it was a retaliation against the Pearl Harbor attack. [2] it was necessary to avoid land invasion and to save American lives. [3] it was a punishment for Japan's misbehavior in Asia. [4] it hastened WW2's end. after posting versions of Section (E) in Nov and Dec 1994, I found the following books in January 1995. --- Sheila K. Johnson. "The Japanese through American eyes", 1991. --- Endymion Wilkinson. "Japan versus the West: image and reality", Penguin Books, 1990. ($9.95 in the USA) the author Wilkinson was born and raised in England, and got his Princeton Ph.D. in East Asian studies. he seems to speak at least four languages fluently: English, French, Chinese, and Japanese. he became an EC diplomat and served for six years in Tokyo and for six years in Southeast Asia. the book has three major parts: the West as seen by Japan, Japan as seen by the West, and economic frictions. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- version info version 1 posted on 1995 1/21 version 2 posted on 1995 4/8 version 3 posted on 1995 9/4 version 4 posted on 1996 2/10 version 4.1 posted 1997 10/15 "about the author" version 5 --- this version =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- submissions to this FAQ email submissions to <> . it'd be better if you could also post the submission to < soc.culture.japan> and < alt.tanaka-tomoyuki> . please indicate clearly that you wish to have your contribution included in this FAQ file. the opinions expressed in this article represent only those of the individual contributors. a small but vocal minority object to these views, and they often post rude comments about me (Tanaka) and this article. a common objection is (not exact quote) "Tommy, your so-called FAQ is full of racist poppycock. Your data and sources are old and worthless." my response to such an objection is, "instead of complaining in vague terms, could you raise specific points, or help me find more reliable data?" =-------------------------------------------------------------------- redistribution: as expected of all Usenet articles, copies or excerpts may be distributed freely electronically, provided that proper credit is given. please let me (Tanaka) know if you wish to use significant part of this FAQ file in traditional paper media or for commercial purpose. citation: as expected of all published articles, short quotes and references can be made provided that proper credit is given. please include the following three items. 1. author/editor: as "Tanaka Tomoyuki" or "TANAKA Tomoyuki" 2. title: "American misconceptions about Japan FAQ" (you can omit "FAQ" if you find it cryptic.) 3. source: Usenet, < soc.culture.japan> , Internet, etc. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- -- about the author in Aug 1996 i (Tanaka) moved to Davis, CA (from Bloomington, IN.). Davis is near San Francisco (90 miles away). i'm a 3rd year law student at U.C. Davis (J.D. program). i plan to elaborate these two FAQ files (American misconceptions about Japan, and Asian/white dating disparity) and publish them in a book form. i hope to publish the book within 1 year or so. =-------------------------------------------------------------------- my Usenet FAQ files: 1. American misconceptions about Japan FAQ 2. disparity in Asian/white interracial dating FAQ 3. <> and "GEB" FAQ 4. ITAMI Juzo, OZU Yasujiro, and the Japanese Cinema (FAQ) 5. NAKAJIMA Miyuki, Sakamotos, and Japanese music abroad (FAQ) my FAQ files are stored in FAQ repositories around the world, including at: =-------------------------------------------------------------------- if i become unable to update/maintain this FAQ (American misconceptions about Japan FAQ), no person may change its content. ;;; TANAKA Tomoyuki ("Mr. Tanaka" or "Tomoyuki".) ;;; ;;; For < soc.culture.japan> and < soc.culture.asian.american> FAQ ;;; files, see <> . ;;; ;;; e-mail: