Lame and shameless
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 16, 2010
Any half-informed piece of disinformation seems to suffice where Japan is concerned.
- Jenny Holt
THAT’S ODD, I thought. I hadn’t read anything about this at all.
I was looking at a story from the BBC website that claimed Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was in serious trouble with the Japanese public because he wore a goofy shirt to a barbecue for ordinary voters last month at his official residence.
Then I ran across another article on the same topic from the China Post.
Why haven’t I heard about this before, I asked myself. I subscribe to a Japanese daily newspaper, and nothing about Mr. Hatoyama’s shirt appeared there. I have an RSS feed that receives daily downloads from 17 more Japanese newspapers, four of them published nationwide. My feed also receives daily posts from 11 Japanese-language blogging sites, one of them a major blog aggregator. All of the aggregated sites are those of politicians, journalists, or commentators.
My wife is the television monitor in the family. I asked her if she had seen anything.
“There was something about a pink shirt a while ago, but it wasn’t a big deal.”
You mean you haven’t seen anything about the five-colored, checkered shirt he wore to the barbecue?
Because I just read a blog entry at the Atlantic magazine, which said it was “a fashion misstep (that) may be contributing to the derailing of (his government).” They said it was “so hideous it has drawn an international backlash.” The headline called it an “international furor”.
She briefly regarded me with a puzzled expression, but then shook her head. “What do you expect from the international media? Accurate reporting about Japan?”
I found the Atlantic blog post after curiosity prompted me to insert the search terms “Hatoyama” and “shirt” in Google News.
Google threw up 336 hits. The Atlantic story was at the top of the heap.
It quoted CNN’s Kyung Lah talking about an article written by “critic” Don Konishi for a national magazine, in which Mr. Konishi claimed the prime minister was out of touch.
The Atlantic also reported that the French news agency AFP collected and translated further commentary by Mr. Konishi, who suggested that the prime minister’s political party “is over with this shirt”. Mr. Konishi is a fashion designer by trade.
They quote the Daily Caller’s S.E. Cupp:
It’s like something Walker, Texas Ranger would have worn to a gay bar in 1994.
They add further commentary by someone identified as Gawker’s Jeff Neumann, who wrote:
Japan’s embattled Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama…may have done himself in by wearing a multi-colored plaid shirt that has pissed off the entire country. … Hatoyama recently hosted a cookout for everyday voters…in an effort to reach out to some of the people who hate him. But when he showed up wearing this shirt, people went crazy.
Let’s make this simple and direct, shall we?
Most people in Japan wish that Mr. Hatoyama were no longer their prime minister. But none of them really hate him, except perhaps a few Okinawans who think he double-crossed them over his intentions for the Futenma airbase. None of them went crazy when he wore this shirt. He did not piss off the entire country. In fact, most Japanese don’t even know that he wore this shirt. Those that would like to see him gone from office feel that way because of his performance in office, not because of his haberdashery.
Let’s continue to keep it simple and direct.
Jeff Neumann knows as much about what the people of Japan think as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth knows about marijuana cultivation in Humboldt County, California.
Gawker is a site that seems to be half show business gossip, half political snark, and zero Japanese cultural or political news.
S.E. Cupp may know what guys wore to Texas gay bars in 1994, but she’s in a dark closet when it comes to Japan.
If the AFP spent more than 20 minutes rounding up and translating anything Don Konishi said about this shirt in print, they need to hire competent researchers.
But you don’t have to take my word. Empirical methods can be used to examine the question.
The article Don Konishi wrote was for the Shukan Asahi, one Japan’s six major news weeklies. It appeared in their 23 April edition. The Atlantic blog post reproduces part of the page.
Recall that Google News had 336 hits about this international backlash that could bring down the Hatoyama government. Naturally, I switched over to Google News Japan, and input the search terms “Hatoyama” and “shirt” in Japanese.
It got three hits.
The first two were from sports dailies. The subject of every article was not that Mr. Hatoyama’s admittedly unusual shirt had caused revulsion throughout the archipelago. Rather, the articles focused on what the overseas media was saying. The reason for the overseas focus? Because the only person talking about it in Japan is Don Konishi, shown demonstrating his fashion sense in the photo at right.
The third hit was from a major Japanese news outlet. That was the daily Asahi, published by the same people who publish the Shukan Asahi.
Links in Japan don’t last long, so I usually don’t provide the ones in Japanese, but I’ll make an exception in this case. Here’s the daily Asahi article, and here’s the first sentence translated into English:
Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s taste in personal clothing has been increasingly criticized by the Western media.
Does the Asahi talk about the Japanese reaction? No, how could they? There is none, other than that of Don Konishi. They talk instead about the people CNN interviewed. None of them are Japanese.
Here’s the English translation of the end of the Asahi article:
Does the prime minister’s personal clothing look all that bad in the West? The Asahi Shimbun interviewed Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of the menswear design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. He said, “That five-colored shirt really is pretty bad. But Prime Minister Hatoyama looks rather svelte, and he could look elegant depending on the way he dresses. I would recommend that he wear either a bright cashmere sweater or a silk sweater with some tasteful jeans.”
Here’s what we have. Don Konishi is roughly the Japanese equivalent of Mr. Blackwell, who achieved notoriety in the United States for his annual Ten Worst Dressed Women of the Year List. The Shukan Asahi published his cattiness as amusing space filler and everyone who read it promptly forgot about it.
Everyone that is, except the know-nothings of Western journalism, who have deluded themselves into thinking that the shirt has “pissed off the entire country” and caused an international furor.
Long-time friends of this site know exactly what’s happening, however—anti-Nipponism. As I wrote in a post with that title: “These are not honest mistakes. This is not sloppy research. Someone, somewhere, has made a conscious decision to depict the Japanese as negatively as possible, however possible, whenever possible. These depictions of Japan are the rule rather than the exception.”
These people enjoy thinking of Japan as the Goofball Kingdom of East Asia. It’s not as if any of them have ever bothered to file a story providing any real insight for the reasons Mr. Hatoyama is seen as a failed prime minister–or any story providing real insight into Japan, for that matter.
Are they incapable of such stories, or are they uninterested in such stories? Most likely it’s a combination of both. People do tend to take the lazy way out, after all, and the Japanese-are-so-weird game is a marvelous diversion. How much easier it is to display junior high spitball artistry instead of expending the effort on research or study. Why should the too-cool-for-school crowd waste their time on analysis when they fall for the line that a dorky shirt threatens the political position of the prime minister of Dork Nation?
Who do they think they’re kidding? More to the point, just what is their problem? Ms. Holt, quoted at the top of this post, has a theory of her own that she offered to The Guardian:
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….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….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…
You think she’s exaggerating? The same Atlantic post took the opportunity presented by Mr. Hatoyama’s non-problem with the shirt to cite a brief report from Best Week Ever’s Sarah Walker titled, This Is Far From Japan’s Craziest Clothing. She mentions the “rice bra,” which is wearable and filled with soil and rice seeds. Walker takes a publicity stunt as something real, failing to listen as her inner Foghorn Leghorn protests, “It’s a joke, son. I said, it’s a joke!”
But she doesn’t want to get the joke. She wants to believe the Japan of her imagination actually exists.
Then again, this post was published in The Atlantic, which also prints the blog posts of Andrew Sullivan. His link to reality is so tenuous, he has been suggesting—for almost two years–that the fifth child of Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP candidate for Vice-President in the U.S., was actually her eldest daughter’s baby, despite the physical impossibility of those circumstances.
Perhaps we should just consider the source.
Regardless of the motives or the character deficiencies of those who indulge themselves with these fables, one thing is certain:
If what you know about Japan is derived from the English-language mass media, then everything you know about Japan is wrong.
UPDATE: More front than Blackpool
I sent a link to this piece to Neumann by e-mail, and he replied twice. Here’s the first:
Ha! I love blogs by expats that “explain” other countries. They “get it”!
Neumann’s visibility, such as it is, derives from the fact that he quit his job as a T-shirt vendor in a baseball stadium, went to Iraq, and wrote a book about it.
That’s right. He was an expat who wrote a book to “explain” another country. He “gets it”. He parlayed that into a gig at an Internet gossip site.
He sent me another one a few minutes later:
I’m guessing you’re a white guy English teacher who creeps around Roppongi trying desperately to get laid.
He didn’t have to guess who I was. He could have read About at the top of the page to find out.
Nah, that would be research. Too much like real work.