Well, I took advantage of a late night to do some light internet reading. Although I don’t often read news about Japan in English, tonight I was in the mood so I checked some of my RSS feeds for interesting articles.
I came across a few that I don’t really want to link to, but were in major media outlets. One in particular on Salon.com was written by someone who seems to be making a career of freelance writing about Japan. Something I can only dream of with my lack of connections in the industry. It’s not only this particular Salon article that bothers, me, but in general I find the Western media to be way out of touch with what Japan is really like. I remember many years ago reading an article on some online national news site from the U.S. in which the author asserted that people in Japan take such good care of their cars that you can’t even find cup holders in them because no one would eat or drink in their precious cars. The author also justified the generalization by saying that when he had gone to Japan, his rental car didn’t have cup holders.
I am the kind of person that likes to give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to believe that people lie too horribly, but the above author is forcing me to choose between believing he’d lied and believing he was unable to find the cup holders in his rental car in Japan.
Other articles say the same things about Japan… for example, that it’s a Buddhist country (which is debatable, but can also give people a wildly mistaken impression of the religiosity of the people here)… or even that people believe in Shinto (though there are people who believe strongly in some aspects of Shinto, there are more that treat it as more tradition than anything else)…
Articles throw a few “Japanese” terms around that are supposedly hard to translate into English. More often than not, these are very easy terms to translate because I doubt that a lot of the people writing these articles have the cultural and linguistic knowledge to have these difficult discussions in Japanese. Hence, discussions are taking place in English with occasional intermediate level Japanese thrown in for good measure.
Finally, many people in Japan are very good apologists for what goes on in Japan. Many of the apologists also believe what they say, but it is often, in a sense, the party line. I previously wrote an article about how Exam Hell in Japan is only about as hellish as the parents and kids want to make it. I mentioned that modern Japan offers a lot more options for students, including alternative admissions opportunities such as what are called A.O. style college applications, special entry requirements for returnees, and special recommendations. The issue of exam hell is a lot more complicated than it seems… but only complicated because of how we are dealing first with very powerful misconceptions and we have to go from there.
I don’t believe these journalists are always the problem anyway. People are trying to get paid, to write articles and spin them. It’s possible that the Salon article I read that prompted this was written before the earthquake, published somewhere and now spun and submitted to Salon. Who would ever bother to fact check that, we all know that Japan is a buddhist country and the people work together, and the young people are motivated, and the technology is awesome and theirs cosplay going down everywhere all the time, right?
Well, on my @newzjapan twitter account, I’m going to start posting #RealJapan when the whim hits me and I think of something real about Japan that the mass media and average people would question. There are a lot of good blogs out there doing a good job of picking up on misrepresentations in Japanese media,
… to name one, but for every article in Japan Probe showing true life in Japan, there are a thousand articles on CNN and NYT and WP or distributed worldwide through Reuters and AP that perpetuate what people already believe about Japan.
The #RealJapan is an amazing and fascinating country worth learning about, visiting, and spending time in… it’s just not the amazing and fascinating country that most of the world thinks it is. You’ll see that when you come visit and see people munching a McDonald’s cheeseburger (carefully holding on to it by the wrapper and not actually touching the burger) while driving. #RealJapan
So please feel free to spread the #RealJapan hashmark on Twitter and start educating the world about this very interesting country!