Thursday, October 3, 2013

Will Miss #35 - Japanese political advertisements (reflection)

MacArthur famously called Japan a nation of children. Over the years, this has been interpreted in various ways and one cannot know what he truly meant by this because MacArthur wasn't called on the carpet for this ethnocentric and possibly racist remark. He was around in the day when the press didn't dissect everything or grill the speaker for saying idiotic things.

I can see, to some extent, why someone may say such a thing, though I believe it's a gross misrepresentation of something which I observed in Japan. That is, there is a certain naivete which can be sweet or sour depending on how it manifests, which is a part of the culture in Japan. I think it's part of being a small country of people who perceive the rest of the world through a particular filter. It can make them look like unsophisticated dorks to outsiders because they don't possess the perspective that says it's not "cool" or "mature" to do a certain thing. It's actually a type of innocence and it sometimes results in things like the ridiculous political ad pictured above. These guys don't know they look silly, because they are lacking the sort of perspective that tells them that this is so contrived a pose that they look silly. Just as a kid deeply absorbed in a role play such as pretending to be a superhero or a cowboy may be oblivious to the way adults may find him amusing, sometimes Japanese politicians are unclear on how funny their presentation is.

I miss these political ads both because they are funny from my point of view and because they do reflect something which is rather unironic and, yes, even "innocent" about Japanese culture. In America, we're all so concerned about looking like enormous dorks that we examine our presentation and make fun of the way others offer themselves. Sometimes, I think we could do with a lot less of that and a little more of politicians goofily pointing at the sky as if they were looking to the future. 


  1. I am auditing a university class on Japanese political history right now. It makes something clear that I had only vaguely knew via my own personal experience of 40+ years of reading about and following Japanese culture: Japanese politicians are anything but naive or innocent in the way they function. The intense interplay between them, big business, and agriculture affects the policies and actions which the government takes on any and just about every issue in the country. Decisions made about nuclear power, public safety, the recovery efforts, etc since Fukushima since the '3/11 disaster' demonstrate how the LDP politicians in Tokyo are more beholden to the industry than to its citizens.

    Some might call it 'corruption.' Others simply see it as the 'way things are' in Japan. It is anything but naive, however. If the potential consequences were not so serious, it might be funny. Unfortunately, radiation sickness, the dislocation of large numbers of people, and the contamination of the land and ocean that will last for generations are not matters to be taken lightly.

    PM Abe telling the Olympic Committee that things in Fukushima are 'under control' (in English no less!) might have played a large part in convincing the Committee to award the 2020 games to Tokyo. His doing so, however, was a lot like the men depicted in this photo. Pointing up to the sky to indicate their hopeful determination while there are very serious problems right at his feet.

    1. Just a clarification - I never asserted that the politicians were naive or innocent, but that their presentation/advertising reflected naivete of how they will be perceived. The presentation is not as self-conscious as that of Western politicians. There is a difference between what I said and what you're saying, and I agree with you.

  2. Thank you for clarifying my misperception of what you said/wrote. If Japanese politicians are less self conscious than Western ones, does that mean that they are more naive themselves? Or that they believe that their constituents are more naive/less likely to notice the contradictions in their policies, etc?

    1. I think Japanese people in general are less self-conscious because of the insularity of the culture - the whole being contained within an island thing has an impact on how they perceive themselves and how they believe outsiders perceive them.

      Most of my students had no idea how Japan was seen by other countries. They were shocked when I told them how favorably Japan was seen on the whole and embarrassed by the otaku culture and how it may make them appear to outsiders.

      I think that Western politicians are more sophisticated and have a lot more image consultants. They work the media to their advantage and are pretty cunning. Japanese politicians, both from their ads and gaffs, appear to blunder through and look foolish without concern for how they look. I think this is a reflection of the overall sense that they are operating in a "safe" environment that is like a family that knows the members and won't judge them harshly.

      I don't know how they view their constituents, but evidence would suggest that they believe they will not be judged harshly by them because they don't seem too put out when they say completely stupid things. The Japanese do appear to forgive and forget the stupidity and indiscretions of their politicians pretty quickly. I think they know that people will shrug their shoulders and say, "shoganai", if nothing else. ;-)

  3. Yes, 'suimasen' with a very low bow excuses some pretty bad mistakes! It took a lot of serious errors before the central government would step in and take over from TEPCO, for example.


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