Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Two tips for anyone with a casual interest in Japan

Tip 1

Read this really interesting article by Joichi Ito in the New York Times. Ito is a internet type rather than a journalist or an academic. He is clearly a very sophisticated communicator. This is his blog.

Last time I read something this good, it was by someone called Ayako Yoshino in the THES (the article is kept behind a subscription wall, but it is so old now that I have taken the risk of mirroring it). What both articles do well is get into the specifics of the country. They avoid the over generalised stereotyping that so often substitutes for commentary on this country. Talking of over generalised stereotyping....

Tip 2

Ignore anything written by Martin Jacques in the Guardian. God knows why they commission him. He doesn't seem to have a clue about the country. If you do read his stuff, it is a good rule of thumb to think the opposite of every other thing he says. This article by Alexander Bukh is an excellent rejoinder to one of Jacques's commentaries and he is also slapped down here, here and here.

In general, the problem with his writing is he has a completely undynamic view of Japan, with no understanding of the differences between generations and no feel for the diversity of the country. He recycles stereotypes that were probably never true and certainly are not true now. I suspect his access to real facts about the country is limited by a lack of linguistic ability and good social contacts. He tries to make up for this with broad brush strokes about the "rise of China" and the "fall of Europe" and "fall of Japan". (We could add to the long list of Jacques faults that he appears to lack a sophisticated grasp of economics.)

One of Bukh's opening paragraphs locates Jacques within a broader trend in Western coverage of Japan: "Speaking from the perspective of somebody who is based in Japan, most of the coverage seems to be focused on exploring some imaginary 'Japan' that has very little in common with the Japan that I live in and interact with on a daily basis. For me, the numerous articles that discuss Japan's 'whitewashing' of history and its relations with its Asian neighbors, while having some perceptive conclusions, tend to reflect the strong anti-Japanese bias that dominates Western perceptions of Japan and goes back to at least the Japanese defeat of Russia in the 1904-1905 war. An article by Martin Jacques published in The Guardian on April 23 is a perfect example of this trend."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this posting very interesting- I read it after I had read the Joinchi Ito article (Doltrane had printed it off earlier)which I found most interesting and refreshing. Clearly the Guardian needs to be taken to task for using Jacques as their Japanese 'expert'