Japanese Americans should follow Japan news

Deer at Ise Shrine near Hiroshima, Japan

Over the years, I’ve been surprised that many Japanese Americans aren’t interested in Japan or even visiting Japan, mostly because they’re embarrassed that they don’t speak Japanese, or they feel entirely American.

I think it’s more important than ever for Japanese Americans to follow events in Japan.

The fact is, Japan is on the precipice of some potentially treacherous political turmoil. Most Americans are unaware of Japan’s dysfunctional democracy, which has led to a seven prime ministers in the past decade. The government has been unable to jumpstart a stalled economy, and there are a lot of disgruntled people, not just in the northeast who are still recovering from the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, but throughout the country.

And like the U.S., where the economic downturn has spurred the rise of some ugly, even racist, political and social movements like the one that keeps promoting the anti-Obama “birther” theory, and cloaking it in the veil of patriotism, national pride in Japan is rearing its ugly head.

The nationalist mayor of Tokyo has sparked a war of words between China and Japan by threatening to buy a cluster of tiny, uninhabited (except by some goats) islands in the Sea of Japan that have been contested ever since WWII by Japan and China.

The Japanese call the islands the Senkaku, while the Chinese call them the Diaoyu. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government bought the islands last month from their private Japanese owners to keep the Tokyo mayor from using them to gin up nationalist fervor. But the two countries are still pushing the limits of diplomacy, holding military maneuvers with warships in the area around the islands.

If tensions rise any more than they have already in the region, the world economy might be affected by a case of jitters — and that would be bad for the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, the issue of pre-war and wartime Japan’s treatment of people in countries it invaded more than half a century ago still haunts much of the region’s relationships.

The mayor of Osaka, a young politician who formed a new national political party that aims to restructure the government like an east Asian version of the Tea Party, has irritated Koreans by demanding proof that Japan forced Korean women to be “comfort women” to service Japanese soldiers during WWII. Now, Korean Americans have placed monuments across the U.S. memorializing the comfort women, and the Japanese government have unfortunately tried to have them removed.

And many in China are still so furious over wartime atrocities that the recent flap over the islands sparked violent nationalist protests in China (which the Chinese government didn’t prevent like they would protests over internal politics), and Japanese corporations such as Toyota have temporarily ceased production there.

Because the economies of Asia are now so intertwined, and all these countries depend on trade with each other, tensions may not end in war. But we should be paying attention to what’s going on in Japan – and voicing our opinion on issues such as wartime atrocities. And yes, we should also stand up for Japan if we feel that anger aimed at the country by its neighbors is unfair. .

And oh yeah, visit the country, for crying out loud – it’s a wonderful place to get in touch with our roots!

NOTE: An earlier version of this post was originally written for the Pacific Citizen newspaper.

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8 Responses to Japanese Americans should follow Japan news

  1. Michael Hiranuma says:

    The US government forced the disaffection of Japanese in America through the WWII internment. Japanese-Americans worked hard to prove their allegiance to the United States and the underlying fear of being branded unAmerican kept them from close affiliation with Japan. Elements of Japanese culture returned in the form of cultural events, customs, and food, but not the connection to the defeated enemy empire.

    The rise of post-war Japan in the world economy improved their image but only because of their adoption of American-style capitalism and their abandonment of militarism. Still, the disaffection remains with an acknowledgement of ethnicity only with the positive aspects of being Japanese.

  2. Aaron Yoshida says:

    It’s interesting to learn about your heritage and history, but as far as dealing with the political situations there; come on! It’s hard enough to get anyone to pay attention to the real issues in the United States.

  3. Gil Asakawa says:

    Ha, you’re right, Aaron. It’s true that it’s hard enough getting people to pay attention to what’s going on right here at home. But right now, things are so shaky in east Asian between North Korea;’s crazy threats and the territorial disputes between Japan, China and now even Taiwan, that it makes me nervous. Certainly, anyone who plans to visit Japan should do some research and know what’s going on there before they go. I still feel like JAs should pay a little extra attention to news in Japan, though…. 🙂

  4. Outis says:

    Japan is usually notorious for its treatment of its war record, especially the many human rights violations that committed by its military. And their governement is whitewashing it, adding salt to old wounds. While the people do have some role in it in general, I do not totally blame them. I do however blame the people in power in that and their cronies in the backroom.
    Even after the war, the elements who were in power in Imperial Japan were not totally erased. They still exist in spirit if not in person, through their words, their writings and the people who listen and follow them. Japanese youth are almost totally blind about the atrocities made by their country. If any of those in power have any real knowledge that the atrocities exist, it’s usually glossed over or used in a cynical and self-serving manner. It doesn’t help that the culture teaches them to be deferential to any authority, right or wrong.

  5. kenji says:

    My wife’s family are/were campers(WW2 Concentration Camps or Internment – you pick) and once they got out, they swore never to be Japanese so they lived in a white neighborhood and did not practice any Japanese culture. (not sure if practice is the right word… for example, ‘itadakimasu when dining’) In her youth, she would always make fun of Japanese visitors for being dorky or dressing without any fashion sense (subjective) or making fun of their make-up, etc. It’s taken many decades to convince her that she’s a racist!!! ha ha. Long story short, JA’s have issues with being interested in Japan due to brain washing from their parents. I really believe this. Plus, grow up with everyone talking about the A Bomb or Pearl Harbor, or J_p this or N_p that… You get a complex.

    Me, I was there at Yokosuka NAVSTA so I saw first hand Japanese culture and loved it. I am the defender of J-culture. I should also point out that my parents were not campers so we have a completely different view of being JA’s.

    Now, look at Chinese descendants that still speak the language or have strong ties to food or other bits of culture… I don’t get it.

    I enjoy this site!

  6. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Kenji, thanks for the comment, and glad you like the blog! I completely agree with you that being in camps caused many in that generation to turn their backs on everything Japanese. It’s a shame, because, as you pint out, so many other Asian communities have second and third generations who can speak their language…

  7. Cameron Lau says:

    I know this is an old post and I’m not Japanese, so I apologize if I’m being intrusive. I just wanted to say that I used to work with a Japanese American girl from Vegas at of one the local grocery markets in the city I live in. She was a very nice girl, but surprisingly, she wasn’t interested in anything Japanese. I helped her obtain some movies for her to watch, and about 99% of which didn’t contain one Asian. She and her Caucasian husband served the US military until she became pregnant. Before she moved, she had given me a card thanking me for the movies and acknowledging herself as my “Japanese twin” (since we share the exact same date of birth). This brought a smile to my face.

  8. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for the comment, Cameron! It’s always surprising to me when a JA has no interest in Japan. I thunk it’s mostly out of fear or embarrassment.

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