Offending nationalist sensibilities?

In last week’s _The Economist_ the Director of the International Bureau for the Democratic Party of Japan wrote in to criticise one of the magazine’s covers, pictured below.

Cover of The Economist: Japain

bq. You made fun of our respected nation’s name on a cover that is sold on newsstands all over the region. This conduct is equal to burning a national flag, which is base and inconsiderate. No nation’s name should be treated like this.

(See “Japanese Politics”:http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10838113 a third down the page for the full letter.)

Is he having a “black van” moment? What’s the big deal? It’s art! Is this guy writing in to every newspaper that publishes a political cartoon that makes fun of the Japanese? The only possible criticism of this cover that I can see is the stroke order is wrong. The director should be ashamed of this pettiness.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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30 Responses to Offending nationalist sensibilities?

  1. Scott Hughes says:

    I wouldn’t have thought it could offend them. But some people might not see why it is so offensive to some Americans when the American flag is burned–even in jest. It’s sometimes hard to understand people’s emotional attachment to symbols especially when it is based on patriotism.

  2. kende says:

    Well, the right to speak freely only exists up to the point where someone is offended, of course…

    As great as Japan is, and even though I have waaaaaaay more respect for the Japanese than the usual suspects (Muslim nations) in the race to cry “blasphemy!”, the only appropriate response to this nonsense is to make a lot more fun of the Japanese and the name of their nation. My first suggestion would be to rename them France.

  3. mozu says:

    Not Japan but DPJ was offended because Economist attacked and mocked its (ridiculous) conducts in Diet. DPJ is simply annoying.

  4. mozu says:

    Mr. Iwakuni!? As long as I know, He isn’t a nationalist type at all. He is famous for its dovish approach toward North Korea and he seems to be a supporter of Article 9. He worked for Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, so he is a specialist of financial matters. According to his website, he made a speech about “nejire diet” at a “Japain” conference supported by Economist(!). I don’t know what made him write such a meaningless letter, but I suspect that this incident has to do with this conference. Economist published his off-the-record remarks?

  5. Tor says:

    I think it is fine for someone to ask for a bit of respect from a generally respected international publication. Magazine covers are usually not appropriate places for political cartoons.

  6. Curzon says:

    Japan’s DPJ is a party looking to complain about something to justify their position in the opposition. There are plenty of issues out there which they could take to legitimize themselves but they never pick the right ones. This is just one such example.

  7. Aceface says:

    This is the biggest WTF coming from DPJ.(I’m a supporter,mind you).

    And as Mozu said Iwakuni is hardly a nationalist type.He was Vice-president of Merrill Lynch in the 80′s and is a liberal-type.

    And Curz is right.There are thousand of Japan related article out there in English media that I get pissed off for misrepresentation and hyperbole.But never from ECONOMIST,

  8. Mutantfrog says:

    It does have the feeling more of a cheesy Time or News and World Report cover than The Economist though, doesn’t it?

  9. dj says:

    Japan (and East Asians in general) are way to sensitive. The most hilarious “slur” is “Jap”.
    Seriously, most nations are not ‘disrespected’ half as much as the US/UK and France are. The USA get bashed and trashed more than anyone, and we shrug it off.
    I remember the Hong Kong Chinese would call the American expats “guilos”. The Americans laughed at it and started calling each other guilos. The slur lost its fun for the HK Chinese. I think this speaks a lot about cultural confidence.

  10. aceface says:

    Cultral confidence has nothing to do with this,me think.
    Japan’s pictures are always drawn by foreigners either in toungue-in-cheek manner or open hostility.And we have little or nothing to deter that.
    Anyway Japan is way more tolerant than other Easr Asians when it comes to foreign criticisms because that is part of our lives.

  11. mozu says:

    >And we have little or nothing to deter that.

    Net opens and extends our capability of detering nonsense. Aceface, I have seen you do good job. But I think we should improve todays’ (desperately miserable) J-media because English media relies on J-media after all. 自業自得!

  12. Soob says:

    “Japan’s pictures are always drawn by foreigners either in toungue-in-cheek manner or open hostility.”

    Always? I think that might be a bit of a stretch, at least from an American perspective.

  13. aceface says:

    Mozu,Soob check this.

    And see how much The ECONOMIST spends pages to cover Japan than other western presses.

    http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2008/03/23/the-world-according-to-newspapers/#more-1041

  14. Aceface says:

    “Always?I think that might be a bit of a stretch,at least from an American perspective”.

    Check U.S-Japan discussion at National Bureau for Asian Survey,Soob.You’ll see what I mean.

  15. Younghusband says:

    “@aceface”:http://cominganarchy.com/2008/03/21/offending-nationalist-sensibilities/#comment-383012 That is expected since Japan is the second biggest economy in the world. Also, the previous editor, Bill Emmott who stepped down in 2006 after 13 years, was an old Japan-hand. It is no wonder that Japan has often been featured in _The Economist_.

  16. mozu says:

    Aceface. I know the discussion of NBR sometimes fall into nonsense, but some well-informed members correct it. This forum is useful to know who are ill-informed japan specialists. Net is a open and permanent record and it empowers us. This is an unexpected situation, for example, compared to 1980′s.

  17. Aceface says:

    In regard to NBR,so far I’ve learned there are way too many ill-informed.
    You think Gregory Clark,a Japan specialist? How about Robyn Lim?I only see one guy who does all the corrections and it’s E.H Kinmonth and that’s about it.

    Can’t believe Japanese consulate is spending our tax for this.Total waste,if you ask me.

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  19. Ken says:

    @Aceface: Much agreed with your last comment. But, I was wondering about the money. NBR begs the members for the money to run itself every year (something around $30,000 total). Do you know how much is coming from the Japanese consulate?

  20. mozu says:

    I don’t expect too much and I don’t think they are so influencial, so I am not so irritated by ill-informed critics. This forum tells me not about realities of Japan but about a vicious cercle of discurses about Japan. An American liberal appropriates the vulgar theory of a Japanese cultural conservative and a Japanese liberal agrees with him and even offer some additional “proofs”. ouch! As you say, Mr. Kinmonth always does good job and I add some other members to the list of relatively well-informed people. Anyway the problem may be the poverty of English translation of important academic publications. The laziness of J-academics should be blamed. 自業自得!

  21. Curzon says:

    I would concur with Aceface that the English reporting and academic work on Japan is lacking. Yes, there is lots of material that is excellent and insightful. However, lots of rubbish is distributed and widely read.

  22. aceface says:

    YH:
    I’m veery much aware of Emmot.Been reading The Economist since 1994.He was in charge of “Japan’s amazing ability to dissapoint” about a decade ago,though.Iwakuni should be black van-ning to that,me think.

    My biggest WTF on The Economist was also the article by Henry Scott Stokes’s piece several years ago that Japan needs more Mishima Yukio!

    Ken:
    I’ve read that argument over NBR,30k for a year for a discussion board?Who are they outsourcing,Haliburton?

    I don’t know how exactly much Japanese consulate is spending for that pile p crap,not much I guess considering their financial situation.
    I’ve checked NBR web page after I read accusation from Komori Yoshihisa’s blog that “Japan Foundation is partially funding NBR”.Weird thing is I couldn’t find the name of Japan Foundation on NBR supporter list,instead I found U.S-Japan Foundation,founded by whoelse but Sasakawa Ryouich.Another black van conspiracy? NBR’s name does exist on link page of JF though.

  23. Younghusband says:

    I agree with the point that English-language coverage of Japan is lackluster, but have to wonder if that is due to the largely economics-based approach to Japan, devolving analysis to comparing lines on a graph. Is it this type of macro-analysis that gets the black van crowd hot and bothered? Ignoring dissenting views?

    For example, I think that there has been some very interesting work done in the security sector by guys like Dick Samuels and Christopher Hughes. Gentlemen like these (especially Samuels) get right into the bureaucratic mayhem of policymaking. I don’t always agree with their analysis, mind you, but at least there is some sound research going on.

    For guys like aceface and mozu, Japanese that can consume the English-language media, who do you think “gets” Japan?

  24. aceface says:

    YH:
    Iwakuni is one of those business leader entering politics in the 90′s.His reaction to the article is not out of nationalism,but his fear that foreign investors flea from Tokyo Stock Exchange gets escalate.While he’s probably right about that,The Economist is not to be blamed any reason.
    Besides he should have thought again of the sideeffect of his own action.DPJ leadership is now doing everything and anything to bring down Fukuda and LDP,Ozawa probably think current Japan-selling maybe bad for the country,but good for the party.And Iwakuni can’t even had that coming to his mind,or didn’t even care that someone may reads it as a sign of we-just-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing state of his party.I just think this letter-to-the-editor is not even a concensus of DPJ,but Iwakuni’s own performance without any
    consultation with his colleague beforehand.
    That letter is gonna cost a lot more to his party than Iwakuni had ever imagined.Just like that WaPo ad on Comfort women last year.

    And about Samuels and Hughes…
    They are scholar with Japanese linguistic ability,No?
    Than that’s different cases in many way…

    And for your last question..
    I think someone had asked same question and I answered The Economist….and Ian Buruma?

  25. Younghusband says:

    bq. “aceface said”:http://cominganarchy.com/2008/03/21/offending-nationalist-sensibilities/#comment-383046 “His reaction to the article is not out of nationalism,but his fear that foreign investors flea from Tokyo Stock Exchange gets escalate”

    Good point about the IO potential of the letter. That is definitely something to think about. Though I don’t think accusing _The Economist_ of pissing on Japan’s flag is very reassuring for investors, or very constructive.

  26. mozu says:

    >his fear that foreign investors flea from Tokyo Stock Exchange gets escalate
    I think his fear is excessive because the current Japan selling is not directly due to “distorted diet” and delaying reforms, but to the global fear of credit crunch. As Aceface says, the lawmakers who go on their own with speculations are annoying and harmful.

    YH,
    I find many academics with specific disciplines reliable and thought-provoking, although I don’t appreciate the generalist type much. I add that I dislike the cultural left type, but it’s only my taste. As for journalism, The Economist is always the best and Telegraph is the second best(I believe many don’t agree with me). I think Japan-related informations have been improving due to the emergence of good bloggers, so I’m optimistic in the long run.

  27. aceface says:

    “and Telegraph is the second best(I believe many don’t agree with me”

    Yep.I disagree.Colin Joyce had quit his job as the Tokyo correspondent of Telegraph last year and wrote an essay in NewsWeek Japan called “The confession of Tokyo Correspondent”.
    http://d.hatena.ne.jp/satoumamoru/20071110/119466422723268568-5006009,00.html

    BTW,there is also a paper named Daily Telegraph in down under.They do this to DPJ.Funny!
    http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,23268568-5006009,00.html

  28. mozu says:

    I like Colin Joyce’s articles and I’ve already read the confession. I believe this is not peculiar to Telegraph and most media adopt such a policy. Now, I like Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s articles, although they are not Japan-related.

    By the way, Guardian wants to become “daily Yakuza and Uyoku”. I think foreigners know about this world better than the average Japanese.

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