Museum to Remember
Out, Kyoto Style
and September Eleventh
Out, Tokyo Style
FROM THE FIELD --
JAPAN : 2001
AND SEPTEMBER ELEVENTH
Japanese response to the events of September 11, 2001 have not been widely
reported in the American press. Even online coverage has appeared spotty
at best. Since my arrival a week or so ago, I have tried to be alert to
signals as to where the Japanese people themselves have been coming from
with respect to their placement of these horrendous attacks in their cultural
and personal mental space. What I have found has surprised me somewhat,
but overall the Japanese reactions I have observed fall within the range
of expected options and opinions.
Press coverage (at least in the Japanese English language newspapers)
has been extensive and exhaustive, pages and pages of dispatches and reports,
letters to the editor and editorials. The same has been true of the coverage
provided on cable television. Attention has been focused recently particularly
on anthrax, on the tensions within the coalition amassed to wage "the
war on terrorism" and concern with the situation evolving in the
war zone and adjacent territories. There is clearly no shortage of information
available on which to base an educated opinion!
What one does become aware of, however, is that these information sources
present the news from a slightly different perspective than found in the
USA -- and the ready acceptance of the American point of view is less
prevalent in the coverage available in Japan. Furthermore the American
version of events is never presented as unbiased here. CNN, particularly,
seems really "American" in the way it presents the news associated
with the attacks and the ensuing war effort. In this respect the British
and the perspective from Asia seem much less "wave the flag"
red, white and blue, more skeptical about the war effort in general, less
sure of the ability of the American government to pull off what it has
initiated. We as Americans seem from this "outsider's perspective"
more naive and untutored than we might wish to see ourselves as being
portrayed, as if we had just woken up to a reality others have been living
with for a good long while already.
My other observation
is just how "impersonal" the Japanese reaction appears to be.
750,000 Japanese reportedly canceled vacation visits to the United States
in the immediate aftermath of the attacks out of concern for their personal
safety, a reasonable reaction. Many travel agencies here are reported
close to bankruptcy as a result. Other similar economic consequences have
received a great deal of media attention throughout Japan, tied in the
eyes of many to an already-exisitng and overarching, decade-long concern
with the general state of the Japanese economy overall.
Unlike elsewhere, however, this new concern with terrorism as a threat
to personal safety doesn't seem to be accompanied by an empathetic, shared
emotional response to the human tragedy involved. One tour participant
reported that when she responded to a Japanese inquiry concerning where
she was from with "California", the Japanese asking the question
said simply, "Your country is a sad place now."
once saw the US as dangerous because of the high crime rate and a perception
of general lawlessness amongst the population; now that sense of danger
seems associated with the terrorist threat. In either case, the reaction
seems to be that of beating a hasty retreat to the relative peace and
quiet of the Japanese islands
rather than drawing Japan more fully and completely onto the world scene
(although the government has indicated its full official commitment to
on any of the report titles in the column
left to continue.