J is for Japan-Centric

Picture a map of the world. Chances are you are picturing the Americas on the left, and the bulk of Asia on the right, am I correct? Well, a native Japanese would beg to differ. To them, the Americas are on the right, Africa is on the left, and the vast Pacific Ocean squats over the whole thing like a fat kid pushing all his mates out of a group photo. Poor Greenland gets cleaved in two or left out altogether. And where is Japan in all this? RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE.map1It’s an apt metaphor for what this post is about: that Japan sees itself as the center of the world, and everything else is on Japan’s terms.

But wait, isn’t every country like this? Doesn’t every country see itself as being most important? When there is a major international incident with casualties from all nationalities, Japan sure isn’t the only country to push it’s own fallen men and women to their headlines.

But it’s to the extent which Japan plays that Japan-centric World Map that sets it apart. International incidents are one thing, but Japanese news reports on every tiny drop of contribution their citizens make…at the expense of all else.

Example One: Ichiro Suzuki, a baseball player for the Miami Marlins (formerly the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees). If Ichiro’s only action in a game was to make a hit and get to first base, then that is exactly what the Japanese news will report, and little else. No other players or incidents or pitch streakers matter – sometimes not even the final score. Just what Ichiro Suzuki did.

Example Two: Shinji Kagawa, a football player for German team Burussia Dortmund and a former player for Manchester United. It’s the same story: the news will show a short clip of Kagawa making a perfunctory pass, and then a failed goal attempt. That’s it. Again, no other pitch action or final score. Just the Kagawa Clip Show.

You see the problem here? There’s nothing wrong with reporting on successful expats, but the way it is done, like the World Map, shuns all else to the side and makes Japan’s importance inflated, as if the whole game waits for baited breath for the Japanese Heroes to step out.

But let’s take a reality check here: as good as Suzuki was in his prime, he is well past his peak. And while Kagawa’s signing to Manchester United was met with much fanfare in the Japanese press, by the time he left he’d made nearly 60 appearances for the club and only six goals, and in one of the years he scored nothing. This isn’t to undermine either of these guy’s acheivements, but the Japanese press sorely needs to put things into context.

I could go on: when the movie Inception was released, a big deal was made of the fact that Ken Watanabe had a supporting role and a short segment of the film was in Japan. When a music artist is touring Japan, they are invariably asked cringe-worthy questions like “what’s your favorite Japanese food?” or just “do you like Japan?” instead of actually talking about the new album. During the Olympics, a certain famous electronics company ran a campaign of adverts of a depressed Japanese guy watching a load of turnip-faced foreigners in various disciplines, with the strap-line “Want to skip to the Japanese People?”

The world is getting smaller, and Japan, a country that existed in isolation for so long, is still learning it’s role in a global village. Again, Japan is definitely not the only country to think it is the Life Of The Party. And recognizing the achievements of their jet-setting Japs is at least better than pretending they didn’t exist. But it needs to recognize its effect as PART of the world, not ON the world.

Besides, that map is butt ugly. Had to say it.

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