A Short Guide To Japan Bashing

In the wake of the controversy surrounding CNN's reporting of Japanese video games, several on the Japanese internet pointed out the same thing: This is just another example of "Japan Bashing".

The last year or so has been particularly rough for The Land of the Rising Sun. Whether it be the Western media's handling of the Prius problems or the intensification of whale protests, Japan has been feeling as though it was the West's punching bag.

It is necessary to note that throughout history, Japan has likewise used the West as a punching bag — from burning Christians in the 17th century to burning Beatles records in the mid-20th century. Sadly, all humans, all nationalities excel at persecution. And "bashing" is not unique to the West, neither is it unique Japan.

However, in the context of CNN's recent reporting, it is necessary to put Japan Bashing into context with regards to the West.

For the 20th century, Japan Bashing reached a fervor with the Second World War. Japan was the "other", different and the "yellow peril". Japan was to be feared. The imperial nation had expanded its boundaries into China, South Korea and beyond. To this day, while most Japanese will concede that the country was extremist, they will readily point out the fact that America and Europe did a similar land grab in the preceding centuries, with all the atrocities that such moves entail so their hands are certainly not clean on this issue. Japan, if anything, was too late in its Empire building. The legacy of this failed conquest manifests itself in anti-Japanese sentiment in Asia.

In a post-Pearl Harbor world, films such as Air Force glorified the destruction of Japanese ships. The WWII period was heavy with stereotypes of the sneaky, slant-eyed, short Japanese. Conversely, the Japanese had their own stereotype of the smelly, butter-eating, unrefined American troop — a stereotype that was rapidly change during the Post War Era in which the U.S. Occupied the country. To this day, many elderly Japanese view Douglas MacArthur as a hero for the work he did in helping the Japanese rebuild their country.

The bucktooth character appeared throughout the Post War Era (see Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's) and long before that. The Post War Era also saw the once powerful nation pull itself up by its boot straps and start afresh. Right up until the War started, Japan had been a global superpower.

Besides the nuclear holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, major cities like Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka had been largely fire-bombed flat. Yet, factories were running at full steam by the late 1950s. Much like the way Chinese manufactured goods were viewed until recently, the Japanese goods were viewed as cheap and even shoddy. So, for example, Japanese baseball gloves were derided by folks like New York Yankees Casey Stengel. (However, Stengel most likely was expressing pride in American baseball.)

During the 1980s, Japan Bashing reached a boiling point. Riding the late 1970s energy crisis, competition from Japanese car companies offering cheaper, fuel efficient cars became heated. Japan, however, was not interested in buying large American automobiles with steering wheels on the wrong side. The country was labeled as "protectionist", and protesters burned Japanese cars and flags, and the term "Japan Bashing" was coined.

(However, as it has been repeatedly shown, Japan today is more than happy to buy imported goods. The country just doesn't want to buy what it views as sub-par foreign goods, but often luxury goods or even goods with high quality, competitive pricing and strong brand image.)

Made-in-Japan brands such as Sony became global, and naysayers said that Japan was simply copying Western innovation and selling electronics at a cheaper price. Innovations like the Walkman proved otherwise.

The gap between what Japan consumers wanted and what American industries wanted Japan to want continued throughout the decade. American farmers were upset that Japan did not import American rice — failing to understand that the properties and flavor of Japanese rice and American rice are different. To appease the U.S., Japan lifted its ban on importing U.S. rice in the mid-1990s. Imported American rice is usually turned into rice crackers. (Telling the Japanese about rice is a bit about trying to tell the French about bread!)

But as anime, video games and videos became diffused throughout the world, something happened. Japan went from this monolith nation of suits in the eyes of the West and was morphed into this nation of perverts. Japan has long had a more liberal and open view of sexuality than the United States.

And the West (here, the U.S.) seemed more than happy to overlook its own social shortcomings and issues and use Japan as a forum to work out its own neuroses and fantasies.

Because the West could always point to things it did not understand and simply say smugly, "Boy, Japan is so weird! Japanese people are wacky!"

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