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Nichts Neues Happened Here on Sunday

Left: History of Japan's political landscape as of 2004 which is now subject to a minor update
Center: Streets of Yokohama China Town getting ready for the 60th anniversary of the Revolution
Right: Jiang, my friend from China

When I stepped out of my apartment on Sunday night, everything looked as usual except that some prettification work was going on here and there in the streets of the China Town in preparation for the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution.

No sooner had I walked into the nearby Chinese eatery I frequent than my Chinese friend Jiang pointed at the large screen display and said, "Seems like a landslide for minshu-to (the Democratic Party of Japan.)" I said, "Bullshit. This is all prefixed. Nothing has changed, and nothing will. Four years ago we saw another landslide when the media said it was LDPs turn to win. It's just that the same media kept saying it's DPJ's turn this time around." This ignited a casual conversation about the trajectories of the two ailing, or even failing, countries - Japan and China. We talked over the resemblances and differences between the two.

I didn't expect any professional comment from the young guy because he majors in business administration at the Sanno Institute of Management. But if one studies business, it's more likely than with a politics major that he understands what exactly the word "change" means. I usually avoid discussing change because the abstract word in itself means nothing. As a matter of fact, my organization theory backed by my 46-year-long career tells me any institution has to go through a destruction phase before its rebirth. There is no such thing as smooth, incremental change. I would call what we are witnessing right now a metamorphosis rather than change. Japan has metamorphosed many times in the past, most recently in 1993. Yet it has remained essentially unchanged. Otherwise these candidates for the parliamentary election would not have called in concert for change just like they did 16 years ago, and in 2005 to a lesser degree.

I asked Jiang, "Don't you think your country would be better off if it imported the Japanese version of the representative democracy, so its people don't have to listen to Hillary Clinton's annual lecture on democracy anymore?" He answered: "I don't think that is possible in the next 50 years. But I think in the near future China should implement a limited suffrage." By "limited suffrage" he meant an electoral system within the framework of the single-party system. I said, "That's exactly what we have in place here since 1955. By virtue of our nominal voting rights, we have been exempted from attendance at Clinton's class. But at the same time, we are sunk by now for the same reason."

He showed more empathy than I did for the two Asian giants. He said, "It takes time to change." And yet, I could somehow tell he is young enough to disagree to his parents' or grandparents' glacial way of thinking about change. Actually in the times when the elapse of time is measured by the dog-year (about 6-times shorter than the man-year,) 54 years, or 3 dog-centuries, are more than enough to conclude that Japan is disabled for change, totally and for good.

I said: "I don't think Deng Xiaoping really changed China's trajectory, but certainly Mao did that 60 years ago." Jiang interrupted me: "But I think Mao made a lot of serious mistakes." I went on: "Yes, he did. But who doesn't? Can you imagine such a thing as a change that is attempted without risking serious errors? We are not like those self-righteous pundits and scholars who are constantly secondguessing history, are we?"

Mao Zedong did make a difference to the history of China, for better or for worse. That means that the Chinese youths will still possibly undo what the Communist Party has done in the last six decades to make it better sometime in the future. On the contrary, we are helpless because who can undo what has not been done? The Japanese climate has long been such that no change agent is allowed to emerge with high aspirations to reform society.

Actually the diagram of Japan's political landscape embedded at the top of this piece is already too busy to look at. But unfortunately, it's now subject to another minor update for a couple of new party names. I can't afford to waste a single minute working on it, though.

While talking to the Chinese friend, I had a small dinner of curried rice cooked in the Chinese style. When leaving the place, I asked the guy my last question of the day: "Of course I can expect a gorgeous treat here, for free, on October 1. Right?"

"No way!" exclaimed Jiang, on behalf of the restaurant owner.

Tags: 民主党,政権交代,談合,鳩山由紀夫,1955年,建国60周年,毛沢東,横浜中華街 姜 ·

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Foreign Media Should...
Authored by: samwidge on Monday, August 31 2009 @ 03:27 PM JST

You have said many useful things in this article but the part that riveted my attention was your headline, “Foreign Media Should Calm Down.”

You are fundamentally correct yet I hope for something different because I think I see something deeper/shallower.

In the states we are taught that we were at the forefront of the change from one-sided journalism to objective, unbiased journalism. Supposedly, other nations of the 19th century lacked meaningful, useful journals.

That is why, as late as 1950, Norwegians guessed that we were a nation of murderers, rapists and thieves – Their papers, in comparison, reported little of consequence. They were fascinated by our own successful, capitalistic publications. Even the British knew more about the United States than they did about their own land. The people of Mexico could name our presidential candidates but could not name their own. (Does that show you anything revealing about Japan's fawning adoration of President Obama in the shadow of mellow disinterest at home?)

Some nations had no news media of their own at all, allowing a sense of peace-everywhere-but-in-America. The spread of American-style journalism is probably a good thing though no nation will ever have genuinely objective views of any other. We will always make quick impressions from headlines: Good. Bad. Unimportant. Those are the opinions we shall always make. We shall make them without logic. (That is why certain folks find it so easy to manipulate the masses.)

As America loses its importance I hope Japan will gain positive attention. Without that, we will always have goofy impressions of you, too. Do you still have breakfast of a tiny bowl of rice and a lunch of miso soup delivered on a bicycle? Does your wife still dive for pearls from a rocking boat? And do your children play with toys made from beer cans discarded by American soldiers relaxing on Mount Fuji?

I look forward to aggressive, noisy, ill-informed media. It is the best that we can hope for. In the meantime, please greet and thank your friend, Mr. Jiang for me. Anyone who can banter with you is very intelligent indeed.
Foreign Media Should...
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Tuesday, September 01 2009 @ 09:48 AM JST

Dear samwidge,

Thanks for pointing out these things.

I was a little upset by the ways the news organizations in the West and some other regions such as Russia reported the election results. A German newscaster, for one, was introducing the family of Yukio Hatoyama as “Japan’s Kennedy family” and the Prime Minister-to-be as a man who has a "potential" to become a Japanese Obama. At any rate they are exaggerating what is happening here. I don’t attribute their tendency to distort everything about Japan with their Orientalism to their bias. Instead I think their stereotypical views of Japan are a result of their intellectual laziness. That’s why I gave a misleading title to my piece.

Actually this has nothing to do with what I wanted to say with this piece, Now I have retitled it as you can see here. I borrowed the German words from Erich Remarque’s best-selling novel.

What you told us about Norwegian and Mexican journalists was quite interesting. Ian Buruma would call it Occidentalism. Occidentalism and Orientalism are inseparable twins.

Reviewing my hastily written post, I also realized that I had miscalculated the age of the People’s Republic of China. Actually they are celebrating its 60th anniversary this fall..

Yu Yamamoto