From the overseas media
Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 17, 2009
TO SLIP BRIEFLY into blogging mode, here are two quick hits from the foreign media instead of another piece I was working on. (My wife suggested a trip to the baths, and that’s a suggestion I always agree to.)
The first item concerns the apprehension of the prime suspect in the Lindsay Hawker murder case, which aroused intense interest in Britain. A long-time lurker sent me this link to an article written by Jenny Holt for the Comment is Free section of The Guardian. I don’t follow police blotter/natural disaster stories very closely, so please accept my apologies if you’ve seen it already.
Ms. Holt pulls no punches in her description of the coverage of this country in general, and of the Hawker case in particular. The Uzai! she snaps off to the media suggests that she had reached her limit and could contain her disgust no longer. For example:
“(T)he mainstream media has seized on the crime as an excuse to indulge in practically the only form of overt racism still tolerated today – the demonisation and denigration, en masse, of Japanese men.”
I’d replace that last word with “people”, but after a start like that, I’m not about to pick nits with Ms. Holt. Then she shifts into second gear, referring to:
“…(T)he same xenophobic caricatures about an uptight society with an underlying streak of insanity that refuses to co-operate with western forces of reason and justice.”
“And it is not just the Blackman and Hawker cases that invite this approach. The same ignorant stereotypes are rolled out at any opportunity…Television programmes seek out oddballs to portray as mainstream…And cinemagoers would be forgiven for thinking that every other Japanese was a geisha or a yakuza. Any half-informed piece of disinformation seems to suffice where Japan is concerned.”
“I have lived in Japan for nine years, I have a Japanese husband and son, and I can honestly say that the most striking thing about people here is how downright normal they are.”
Lord have mercy!
“This is modern normality, and if foreigners who came here actually bothered to learn the language and find out what ordinary Japanese people think they would appreciate that.”
Yes! And now for the slam dunk:
“The stereotyping also speaks volumes about the western psyche. It suggests that westerners resent and fear successful non-white cultures and that they cope by denigrating and dehumanising them. What Britain chooses to see in Japan says more about its own insecurities than about the Japanese…”
I stand in awe—in a few paragraphs, she’s precisely laid on the line what I’ve been banging on about for several years, though I include the entire Anglosphere rather than just Britain. Thank you, Ms. Holt.
Allow me to make just one addition, if I may make so bold. Of the other countries in Northeast Asia, South Korea has become a successful society, and it isn’t on the butt end of ignorant stereotypes. China is making rapid strides toward success on Western terms, despite some serious handicaps of its own device. It is subjected to serious criticism in the Western media for its failings, but seldom does one see any of the schoolboy raillery aimed at Japan.
I submit that is because neither fought a war with the Western powers and lost. Imperial Japan was flattened and left a smoldering ruin at the end of that war, which is still within living memory for some. Yet while most of the veterans of that war were still alive, Japan not only reconstructed itself, it thrived, and surpassed in economic power all of the victorious Allied powers save one. Additionally, the residents of that one remaining superpower, the United States, had to face the fact as long as 30 years ago that the formerly humiliated Japanese now excelled them in the production and quality of the symbol of their economic power and personal freedom–the mass-produced automobile.
The attitude of the Western media, I suspect, is fueled by chagrin and mortification at the defeated nation’s demonstrated ability to outdo them all, and to do it so quickly.
Uzai, by the way, is a rough expression that packs quite a message into one blunt and compact word. The user is telling the listener that since he has his head up his posterior, just STFU and go away.
The second item concerns one of those minor teapot tempests that I wouldn’t have ordinarily bothered with until I had an uzai moment of my own.
That would be U.S. President Barack Obama’s two-for-the-price-of-one, super-sized bow and handshake offered to the Japanese Tenno and Kogo during his recent visit.
This caused some gnashing of teeth in America for several reasons. They include:
- Heads of state do not bow to heads of state
- Americans in particular do not care for their heads of state to bow to royalty any time, anywhere, for any reason. 1776 and all that.
- He already got slammed for bowing to the Saudi head of state earlier this year, which the ninnies staffing his White House initially denied, even in the face of video evidence.
- He gallivants around the world bowing and scraping but can’t be bothered to put his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem—another breach of American presidential protocol.
In other words, despite spending part of his childhood living as a Muslim in Indonesia, Mr. Obama is no more cluey about dealing with foreign cultures than those Americans in flyover country he denigrates as bitterly clinging to guns and religion.
Some rushed to his defense. A reader of Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit blog, who said he had spent seven years in Japan, pointed out that the Japanese always bow when meeting each other. The correspondent overreached himself, however, by including bows to “repairmen coming to fix the kitchen sink”.
Sorry Charlie, but only a horse’s ass would bow from the waist to a repairman, and that goes double for men. Besides, I would hesitate to use the term “bow” for a slight forward tilt of the trunk combined with an exaggerated but quick nod.
And regardless of the angle of incline, it is never combined with a handshake.
To be fair, it wasn’t just Mr. Obama. It turns out that Richard Nixon also bowed years ago, and Bill Clinton offered a semi-bow to the current Tenno. The New York Times offered some semi-criticism of Mr. Clinton here, observing succinctly that “Americans shake hands.” They also said he “put his hands together”, which is not what Japanese do with their hands when they bow.
Memo to Bubba: Thailand is several thousand miles away to the south.
Jake Tapper, the White House correspondent for the American network ABC, consulted a friend in academia whom he described as having some expertise in things Japanese. The response was every bit as excellent as Ms. Holt’s:
“Obama’s handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush’s back-rub of Merkel.
“Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.
“The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms….The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.”
That line about the first-year English teacher trying to impress with Karate-kid level knowledge of Japanese customs is so good I wish I had thought of it myself.
My uzai moment, however, came with this post at the Contentions blog at Commentary by John Steele Gordon. After getting his displeasure with Mr. Obama out of the way, he continued:
“President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking. As my mother used to say, ‘Pardon me while I throw up.’”
Before Mr. Gordon heaves all over his CPU and makes a smelly mess, he might consider the following:
- The Japanese government has apologized to the Chinese for its behavior on more than 20 occasions, according to former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in his book, Toward a Beautiful Japan. Those in the nether regions of the commentariat and blogosphere might scoff and suggest we consider the source, but I suspect the source could come up with a list in short order. I also suspect that none of the scoffers would be informed enough to dispute it.
- Since diplomatic relations have been restored, Japan has lavished enormous amounts of ODA on China as de facto war reparations. This largesse continues even though China is likely to surpass Japan as the world’s second-largest economy in the near future.
- The LA Times story to which he links notes that soon after assuming the throne, the current Tenno formally expressed his remorse to the countries that were the victims of Japanese behavior during the war. Yes, those are apologies. They’re also more of an apology than Queen Elizabeth has ever given for British colonial behavior.
- Inputting the name Askew in the Search function on the left sidebar will turn up a paper written by a professor of that name. It will help demonstrate to those with only superficial knowledge of the event the fact that real scholarship into the Nanjing Massacre is broader, deeper, more extensive–and more honest, all things considered–in Japan than in China or the United States.
And I don’t have the time for the research now, but as a regular reader of the Contentions site, I wouldn’t be surprised if the stomachs of most of the contributors there would start jumping at an American presidential apology for slavery.
Isn’t it time to do something about those double standards?
The LA Times article contains this sentence:
“The future emperor learned English during the U.S. occupation, but, inexplicably, his father ordered that his oldest boy not receive an Army commission as previous imperial heirs always had.”
Why should this be “inexplicable”? The Japanese were determined to eliminate militarism in their country after the war, and what better place to start than at the top? Did not the Americans intentionally try to create a culture of pacifism in Japan? Is it so surprising that they succeeded? Is the LA Times so clueless as to be unaware of this?
The words emperor and empress are inaccurate substitutes for the Japanese terms Tenno and Kogo, so I no longer use them. A case could be made that “pope” is more accurate than emperor, were that a hereditary position. Also, we already have the precedents of the English use of the terms Kaiser and Czar.
To those who would ask why I don’t follow customary usage, I would answer that they have their style manuals, and I have mine.