The unconscious reversal of Americanization
For the past few years, American Hollywood war films, such as “Saving Private Ryan”(1998), “The Thin Red Line”(1998), “Stalingrad”(2001)1released in the United States as “Enemy at the Gates”-ed., “Pearl Harbor”(2001) and “Black Hawk Down” (2002), have appeared regularly in Tokyo movie theaters. War movies are one of the key genres in Hollywood, and Japanese moviegoers have had the opportunity to see a large number of Hollywood war movies thus far. While watching such movies, it is not uncommon for Japanese viewers to suddenly realize that unknowingly they have stepped onto the side of the United States Army. There are probably some instances when viewers have experienced discomfort upon recognizing Japan as the “enemy.” In such films, American notions of justice and heroism, as well as of freedom and democracy are deeply embedded, and such ideologies have influenced unsuspecting Japanese audiences.
The Vietnam War, however, which Americans themselves had difficulty justifying, changed the genre of Hollywood war movies. Representative works include “Deer Hunter” (1978), “Apocalypse Now” (1979), “Platoon”(1986), and “Full Metal Jacket”(1987). An undercurrent of protest against the brutalities of war and deep skepticism toward American military policies runs through these films. At the time that they appeared, Vietnam War movies had a great impact and their influence still remains.2Setogawa Shuta, “‘Burakku hôku daun’ to hariuddo sensô eiga” (‘Blackhawk Down’ and the Hollywood war film), from the “Blackhawk Down” movie program. Japanese viewers who have seen the Hollywood war movies films mentioned above correctly observe, as one observer put it, “Although [Hollywood war films] seem to emphasize America’s viewpoint…these films are basically anti-war movies.” There is no mistake that, since the Vietnam War, American values and overt ideological messages in Hollywood war movies have subsided, and this has been acknowledged among the Japanese viewing public.
After 9.11 and the war in Afghanistan, Japanese viewers` perspectives on Hollywood war movies have changed even more, which is especially clear in their responses to “Black Hawk Down.” The film is based on real life events of 1993, when American troops were sent into Somalia on a U.N. Peacekeeping mission. Their assignment to capture two Somali warlords failed when their helicopters were shot down and they were attacked by Somali militias and civilians. Viewers who watched this film gave the following comments: “It felt as though I was on the battleground, that this was what war must be like,” (25-year old female); and “I learned that it was an unfair battle. The problem was not at the level of those fighting the battle, but was a problem at the administrative level. Who knows when Japan will be pulled into a similar situation while taking part in peacekeeping efforts?” (54-year old male). The misery of a battle in which members of the force lose their friends, one by one, slowly draws the viewer into the perspective of the American soldiers: “It was shocking when the final death count appeared just before the movie credits stating the toll to be 19 Americans and 1000 Somalis. Even though so many Somalis had died, while watching the film my sympathies were drawn toward the American soldiers. I think that’s what’s so frightening about films,” (male in his 30’s).3Asahi Shinbun, evening edition, April 19, 2002.
In his review, Saito Tadao, a veteran film critic who has been writing film reviews since the end of World War II, stepped away from the ordinary review and expressed his thoughts on the state of America’s global strategy:
The director Ridley Scott concentrates on portraying the American soldiers’ feelings, whether it be of fear or solidarity, and keeps the causes of the civil war, the role of the peacekeeping forces, the pros and cons of America’s actions, and any explanation of the Somalis’ circumstances or feelings to a bare minimum. For the American soldiers placed at the heart of the danger, such information was surely irrelevant. Yet, at the present moment with the publicizing of the possibility of an American attack against Somalia because of suspicions of terrorist activity, it is necessary to be aware about such things.
“Blackhawk Down” touchingly depicts the camaraderie between the American soldiers on the one hand, while easily devaluing the lives of the Africans on the other. Viewers are left with a strong impression of poor Africans, but only because the situation is depicted as being utterly miserable. Though it is considered an American war film, for the Japanese people, the military actions of the United Nations and the peacekeeping forces cannot simply be disregarded as someone else’s problem.4Saito Tadao, “Blackhawk Down,” Asahi Shinbun.
This film does not manage to instill an American value system in the viewer, but is an example of a reversal in which a Hollywood film leads to a critical analysis of the American government’s global policy. Thus, viewers are overcoming the message of the classic Hollywood war film. The fact that current Hollywood films themselves are bringing about such reversals is an important factor to keep in mind. Hollywood films have been at the center of the spread of American value systems and their manifestations throughout the world, a cultural Americanization that began in Japan after World War II. These films have now lost that capacity, which can be clearly observed in the responses of Japanese film critics and audiences alike. While observing the American government’s actions, however, the extent to which America is conscious of its own actions is unclear.
During the Cold War, Americanization actively transformed the liberal world bloc. Those countries affiliated with this bloc were incorporated as part of the global policies of American military and diplomatic efforts, and were simultaneously placed under the influence of a culture infused with American ideologies. Among the various types of cultural Americanization, popular culture captured the hearts of those in this “liberalist” world, and the acceptance of American popular culture helped these countries also embrace the military and diplomatic forms of Americanization. Around the time when the socialist bloc was losing its economic power, however, those countries in the liberalist bloc, particularly countries in East Asia, were beginning to escape the one-sided influence of Americanization. Owing to economic growth, a popular culture unique to that region was being formed. This in turn altered Japan’s relations with the U.S. and yielded a relativistic perspective toward the United States role in the areas of military policy and diplomacy. This essay will consider the influence and transformation of Americanization on the cultural front, focusing primarily on Japan but looking at East Asia as a whole.
1. The American dream in post-World War II Japan
For nearly one hundred years since World War I—the century at times even referred to as “America’s Century”—the United States has wielded incredible influence, not only on diplomatic or military fronts, but also on the cultural front. The spread of culture led by such notions as the Christian tradition, liberal expansionism, and Wilsonian internationalism was contemporaneous to the spread of democracy around the world in the 20th century.5Emily S. Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream: American Economic Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945, New York: Hill and Wang, 1982. Particularly during the Cold War, as both eastern and western blocs were facing off in fierce ideological warfare, cultural Americanization was deeply imbricated by an American value system. The influence of Americanization had begun its work in Japan in the 1930’s. Hollywood films such as “Stagecoach” (1939) directed by John Ford, were being shown in movie theaters, and Filipino bands playing on cruise ships sailing to foreign destinations introduced jazz to Japanese passengers. Japanese musicians traveled to Shanghai, then the jazz mecca of Asia, to learn from American jazz musicians who were touring there. In daily life, homes boasting western or private rooms and American style modern roofs were called “culture homes (bunka jyutaku),” and there was a tendency to associate the luxury and convenience of American life to “cultural living,” or “progress.”6Kiyomizu Sayuri, “Bunka kôryu toshite no nichibei kankei” (Japan-American relations as cultural exchange), in Masuda Hiroshi and Tsuchiya Jitsuo, eds., Nichibei kankei kiwado (keywords of Japan-America relations), Tokyo: Yuhikaku Sôsho, 2001.
Yet, it is no surprise that Americanization’s greatest period of influence on Japan occurred during the American occupation after World War II. Japanese people who only the day before had been crying out, “kichiku beiei,” or “American and British devils,” now faced with the “generosity” of the victor began to take a more obsequious stance toward their vanquishers.7Rinjirou Sodei, Dear General MacArthur; Letters from the Japanese during the American Occupation, Maryland: Lanham, 2001. Released in 1946, the year immediately following defeat, Oka Haruo’s hit song, “Tokyo hana uri musume” (Tokyo flower selling girl), has the following verses: “jazz flows, light and shadows on the platform, ‘would you like a flower,’ ‘a flower for you’/ A real jacket of an American G.I., a sweet breeze that chases away the shadows/ oh Tokyo flower girl.” (lyrics: Sasaki Sho; music: Uehara Gen). In Sakurai Tetsuo, America wa naze kirawarerunoka (why America is hated), Tokyo: Chikuma Shobô, 2002. 123. The overwhelming authority of the American military occupation policy enforced the aforementioned ideological policies throughout the country, even while emphasizing demilitarization of the state and democratization. Democracy and pacifism were spread extensively and popularized through these forms of American ideological endorsement.8Igarashi Akio, Sengo seinendan undo no shisô: kyôdô shutaisei wo motomete (the concepts and activism of postwar youth organizations; seaching for subjectivity), in Rikkyo Hougaku 42: (July 1995). The new constitution, which took effect in 1947, was built upon the two concepts of democratization and demilitarization, which were quickly adopted by many Japanese.9John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. The extent to which this “imposed” democracy actually took hold in Japanese society or culture was undermined by the frequent incidents provoked by conservative politicians, which became the cause of general skepticism among the populace toward Japan’s “democracy.” Pacifism, a concept that was so entrenched in the Japanese peoples’ memory of themselves as victims of war, became unstable as the memory of war began to fade. Moreover, the fact that Japan is yet unself-conscious of its role as aggressor against other Asian countries in the war, or of the sacrifice of Okinawa to the American military as the price to be paid for postwar peace, makes the ideology of Japanese postwar pacifism quite fragile.10Koseki Shoichi, “Heiwa kokka”: Nihon no saikentô (‘peaceful nation’: a reexamination of Japan), Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2002.
In the immediate postwar period, what a majority of Japanese hoped for was the realization of a rational and affluent society. It was a hope for escape from a past of prewar and wartime control by imperial rule and militarism, and from utter poverty.11Takabatake Michitoshi, “Taishu undô no tayôka to henshitsu” (the diversification and transformation of mass movements), Nihon Seijigakkai ed., 55nen taisei no keisei to hakai (the development and destruction of the 1955 position), Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1977. What was particularly alluring about American culture for such Japanese were the prospects of freedom and material abundance. The spacious rooms and the big white refrigerator in the comic strip, Blondie, helped people to imagine the affluence of the American lifestyle. The flat side of a ham hock peering from the open refrigerator door was a source of wonder for a people who had only ever seen an entire hock of ham in a butcher’s showcase. For Japanese at the time, America’s prosperous culture of consumption, symbolized by chewing gum, chocolate, and women’s fashion, represented “the American Dream.”
With the occupation by joint military forces, jazz performances were resurrected in areas near bases, and with the ban lifted on NHK radio programs and dancehalls, jazz became accessible to the average Japanese listener. As part of their public relations efforts during the Cold War era, the American government promoted overseas concert tours of black jazz musicians, and in 1952, Louis Armstrong visited Japan. Along with jazz in the 1950’s, came rock-n-roll, and in the 1960’s came Bob Dylan’s folk music. Songs representing “freedom” arrived one after the other; the electric boom, group sounds, and music of a common global language among youths came pouring in from America.
Hollywood films were the most successful anti-communist propaganda tools and received powerful backing from the American government. These films exceeded the American government’s expectations by depicting the various circumstances of American society. The crowds that filled the movie theaters to capacity feasted on the freedom and affluence of American society in these films. The children who watched “Dumbo,” “Bambi,” and “Mickey Mouse” were captivated by the colorful and expressive Disney animations.
When television programming first aired in 1953 in Japan, it exceeded movies as a means for propagating ideas. Since production techniques and capital were still inadequate, particularly in the early stages of the newly begun television industry, American television shows were often directly imported. Family dramas like “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show,” and “I Love Lucy” were aired, and the image of an idealized American middle-class family-life without racism or the shadow of poverty stuck in people’s minds. These shows would later become models for Japanese home dramas. The Western boom also brought “Laramie” and “Rawhide,” implanting into Japanese society the image of Americans who were simple, yet cheerful, who burned with the fire of justice and lived in the vast countryside.12Kiyomizu, Ibid. At a time when Japanese viewers were just beginning an era of rapid economic growth, they envisioned their future lives as bright and affluent as the lives of the characters in the home dramas, and experienced the humanism of American society through the westerns.
In postwar Japanese society, there were many, however, who saw Americanization from a much more critical viewpoint. Those involved in left wing or liberal politics recognized Americanization as the cultural analog of the U.S. geo-political role in East Asia and other developing areas. They saw the U.S. as an oppressor that suppresses and exterminates those who actually seek freedom, democracy, or humanism, in order to protect its own profits. The student movements of this area were made up of the persistent denunciations of “American imperialism.” Although these students, leftists, and progressives were perhaps unable to avoid completely the effects of Americanization on their day-to-day lives, their view of America continues to hold an authority that cannot be ignored.13John W. Dower, “Peace and Democracy in Two Systems; External Policy and Internal conflict,” in Andrew Gordon, ed., Postwar Japan as History, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. See also, Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt, 2000.
2. The development of Japanization, and the decline of Americanization
Even now in the post-Cold War era, American culture continues to hold tremendous power. Coca-Cola quenches the thirst of people around the world. KFC’s and McDonald’s occupy street corners of major cities, satisfying people’s hunger. Jazz and rock-n-roll are played around the world in clubs and street corners, and the popularity of the Hollywood movie is alive and well.14The American film industry earns 40% of its profits from overseas sales. 75% of the movies or TV shows viewed by people worldwide are made in America. From Alfredo Valladao, trans, Itô Gô, Murashima Yuichirô, and Tsuru Yasuko, Jiyu no teikoku: American shisutemu no seiki (Le XXIe siecle sera americain), Tokyo: NTT Shuppan, 2000.
However, in the late 1980’s, another powerful popular cultural force joined American culture in East Asia: Japanization appeared on the scene and captured people’s hearts. In Seoul and Bangkok, the numbers of “izakaya,” or Japanese-style bars, outnumbered KFC and McDonalds franchises, and Japanese cuisine, such as yakitori and sushi, are all the rage. Pop music made in Japan (“J-Pop”) has swept East Asia, and in Thailand there is even a domestic magazine that specializes in Japanese celebrities and singers. In this area of the world, the Japanese “invention,” karaoke, is an essential part of the entertainment scene. Among the selections, there are many Japanese songs that have been reproduced with native lyrics and vocalists, and are often believed to be songs originating in that country. Animated films and television shows are watched by children in this region and beyond, and surpass even Disney in popularity. The NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) TV drama, “Oshin,” depicts the life of a girl who, born into a poor farming family, finally finds success after years of hardship. The show was a huge hit first among audiences in the developing countries of Asia and then elsewhere, and represented both Oshin’s and Japan’s success story as the realization of the “Japanese Dream.”15The International Symposium Organizing Committee, The World’s View of Japan Through “Oshin,”Tokyo: NHK International Inc., 1991. Japanese TV dramas that depict urban life are widely shown in East Asia. College women in Seoul clutch Japanese fashion magazines as they walk about town, while youths in Thailand fixate on “character-goods.”16Akio Igarashi, ‘From Americanization to Japanization in East Asia,’ The Journal of Pacific Asia, Vol. 4, 1997. The Committee for Research on Pacific Asia. This volume of the journal is dedicated entirely to the topic of Japanization. Akio Igarashi, ed., Henyosuru ajia to nihon: ajia shakai ni shintosuru nihon no popular culture, (a changing Asia and Japan: the infiltration of Japanese pop culture into Asian society), Tokyo: Seori Shobô, 1998, was edited for this special volume and was published in Japanese. In the late 1990’s, there was growing interest in this topic, and many research texts and articles have been published since. In the U.S. as well as other areas overseas, students taking Japanese studies courses have preferred it to the ever-popular subjects of Japanese economics and accounting. Tokyo is now the fashion center of Asia.
Several factors underlie the spread of Japanization in East Asia. First, the Japanese pop culture industry had accumulated capital and techniques over a considerable period of time. Second, in East Asia, which achieved rapid economic growth in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the new middle-class living in major cities created a heightened demand for pop culture. A third factor might be attributed to the common culture and consciousness of the people within the region, which may have helped push the growth and dissemination of Japanization as the popular culture of East Asia.
Since the 1920’s, Japanese society sustained a considerable domestic market for popular culture, and the industry accumulated capital. With that as a foundation, it fell under the influence of Americanization on the one hand, and on the other it developed a popular culture all its own. In the music world, as western music was introduced alongside modernization, unique Japanese melodies and lyrics were developed for popular consumption. The postwar era also saw the absorption of music from America, such as jazz and rock-n-roll, and from all over the world, with the translation of these songs being set to “Japan-made” melodies or lyrics. Such hybrid songs even now dominate the top of the Japanese hit charts over and above worldwide hits, while they also spread throughout the entire East Asian region.
Film production has a long history dating from the prewar era. At one point after the end of World War II, there were nearly 7000 theatres in Japan, some even in small towns at the furthest outskirts of the country, which entertained over 1.1 billion spectators annually, and ushered in the golden age of Japanese cinema. It is well known that this era gave birth to such directors as Kurosawa Akira, who has greatly influenced movie-making in the west. Toei, Japan’s largest film company, began to work in animation early on. While Disney studios boasted of its unmatched share in the animated film market (for animation shown in movie theaters), Toei Studio’s work in animation constructed a foundation in made-for-TV animation, and gradually increased its share of the animated film industry. These days, children all over East Asia spend their afternoons glued to their TV sets in order to watch Japanese TV animation.
Toei Film Studios was the training ground for Miyazaki Hayao, whose animated films have captured the hearts of many fans. Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi (released in English as “Spirit Away”) was a runaway hit that broke Titanic‘s box office record in Japan. Japanese animation, or “Japanimation,” tends to depict stories that “have roots in real life,” and is a new experience for western viewers.17“Japanimation,” Nihon Keizai Shinbun, Nov. 18, 1995. Moreover, the expression of certain subtle psychological responses resonates with East Asian viewers, who share common cultural characteristics with the Japanese. With increased import demand, the Japanese animation industry reduced overt Japanese national traits in the images and began constructing “nationlessness,” or non-nationalist texts and images.
In the comic book industry, the power of Japan’s market and capital is unsurpassed. The Japanese comic, or manga books and magazines together make up to 600 billion yen in annual market sales. This is the no.1 market of its kind in the world and its quality and maturity is high. There are no other examples outside of Japan of major publishing companies taking part in comic book publishing, and editors have accumulated a wealth of experience. Only in Japan are there popular writers who make a yearly salary of over 100 million yen, and where over 100 cartoonists ranging from those with only a junior high school degree to those with masters’ degrees earn more than presidents of major publishing companies. Growing out of such a “system,” manga commands a wide-ranging readership from children to adults. While European comics like the French bande dessinée (graphic novel comic) are considered too highbrow, American comics, by comparison, generally cater to children. Japanese manga with children as protagonists depict a world of honest truths that have universal appeal, and have secured popularity among a diverse range of readers overseas. The allure of the Japanese manga lies in “storytelling that can capture the imagination of adults” and in “a manifold power of expression.”18Mainichi Shinbun, April 18, 1996.
Thus shaped and refined in the domestic market, manga are now coveted by many international readers. For example, the comic book series, Dragonball Z, sold over 50 million copies in Asia and 10 European countries. In Thailand and Hong Kong, manga appearing in “Jump,” the weekly manga magazine with a circulation of 6 million copies, are translated and printed alongside the works of native cartoonists. Korean comic magazines have such a large number of Japanese imports that they must make a special effort to print as many Korean cartoonists as possible.
These samples of Japan-made popular culture entered into the heart of the major cities of East Asian countries in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Enjoying a materially prosperous life as a result of economic growth, the “new middle class” of these cities carried on life styles similar to those living in Tokyo, the birthplace of Japanization, thus making the spread of Japanization that much more rapid. It is also likely that a longing for the lifestyle of those living in Tokyo, a major global city, helped to encourage the process.
Most importantly, unlike Americanization, no ideology like Wilsonian internationalism exists in Japanization. For Japan, as yet unable to leave behind its historical responsibility for colonization and wartime aggression, has no desire to convey such ideas. Accordingly, Japanization is unequivocally “materialistic” cultural dissemination. Yet, as previous experiences of Americanization’s influence on Japanese society make clear, a “faith” in an affluent society, or in this case the desire to capture the “Japanese dream,” is the greatest motivation for the spread and influence of Japanization.
Notwithstanding the “materialism” of cultural dissemination, the influence wielded by the behavior of protagonists depicted in manga or animation and the thought processes behind their actions is undeniable, particularly in the case of children. An example of such influence is found in the use of the word, “HITACHI,” the name of a major Japanese company, which in Thailand has come to mean, “an individual who responds quickly and perceptively to situations.”
The Japanese influence in the East Asian region is not restricted to popular culture. Following the Plaza Accord in 1985, the Japanese economy advanced even farther into East Asia. This kind of economic advancement produced people who were both fascinated by the products of an “advanced” capitalistic society and also overwhelmed and awestruck by Japan’s economic and technological power. Japanese products, conceived with a wealth of capital and state of the art technology, are elaborate and fashionable and thus are trusted and valued as “luxury items” in various areas of Asia. Furthermore, those who witnessed the success of companies that had incorporated Japanese technology and established capital partnerships could not help but be drawn to Japan’s economic prowess.
Japan’s biggest department stores and supermarkets have opened branches in most major cities in East Asia, and utilizing techniques for pristine window displays, they tangibly demonstrate the “cutting edge” of consumer culture. Imported Japanese department stores and supermarkets outshine the traditional local establishments, and have brought about a “consumer revolution.” With ever-increasing power and allure, Japanese products are entering local societies through these Japanese department stores. The dissemination and assimilation of Japanese popular culture has not come without some protest or resistance from Japan’s neighbors. Particularly in Korea, Japan’s direct neighbor and a former victim of colonization, the government associated Japanese culture with the Korean experience of oppression and strongly opposed it, even prohibiting the importation of Japanese popular culture.19For further discussion see: Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 27-47. Yet, above the apartments of Seoul’s middle-class grows a forest of antennas tuning into Japanese satellite broadcasts, and pirated tapes of J-pop circulate the city. These circumstances illustrate the difficulty of intercepting the invasion of popular culture with national boundaries. This led the Kim Dae-jung administration to ease the regulations in late 1990s.
Meanwhile, in East Asia, economic growth has brought about capital gains, and the consumer market has grown with a newly emergent middle class, allowing for the production of their own popular culture. Inevitably, Japan’s popular culture is consulted as an archetype, and Japan’s experiences gleaned from manga and animation production are copied. In Korea, where not only Japanese films, but western films were also sanctioned in order to protect the domestic film industry, Hollywood film techniques were mastered. Korean production companies have recently released a slew of international hits. There are also films produced through legitimate partnerships with Japan. In addition, films, music, and fashion from Hong Kong, Thailand, and India are widely distributed. Furthermore, Japan’s popular culture industry now considers all regions of East Asia as a market, and while aggressively promoting Japanese popular culture they also have begun to scout out talent in China. In this way, East Asia has formed a borderless world of popular culture with Japanization at its center. The fifteen or so satellite broadcasts which travel through the airwaves of this region attest to this.
American popular culture in this region is alive and well; however, it no longer exerts an absolute influence. With the end of the Cold War, rapid economic growth and the resulting spread of globalization, East Asian society is undergoing great change. Popular culture or a consumer culture are not the only means by which people within the region share common experiences and deepen their mutual understanding. There is increased travel within the region for the purpose of business and tourism, and through the development of mass media networks and a heightened interest in other countries within their region, the amount of information made available through television and newspapers has also grown. Parallel to the heightened interest and interaction within the region, there is a stronger tendency towards a “unified” East Asian region at the level of international relations. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has taken up these issues with the most fervor, proposed the “Look East” policy in 1981, designating the economic development of Japan and Korea as models for his own country. In 1990, he proposed an East Asian economic community, or EAEG (East Asian Economic Grouping), which was to include only the countries of Asia, excluding the United States and the countries of Oceania. But because of strong U.S. objections at the time, it could not be realized. This community was conceived to counter the formation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which is made up of 21 countries, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, and China. With the history of Malaysia’s colonial experience always at the forefront of his thoughts, Mahathir maintains a strong anti-Western stance. In 1992, Southeast Asian countries, which have held together the unity of the Asian region, established the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), which would aim to lower tariffs among participating countries by 5% by 2003. In 1994, ASEAN countries established the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which dealt with the mutual building of confidence and trust among participating countries and provided a forum for preventative diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of regional disputes. ASEAN has had considerable success in setting the terms for a dialogue between 22 countries including Japan, the U.S., China, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India, and the EU.
In the wake of the currency crisis of 1997, the harsh intervention of the IMF incited a growing distrust toward the IMF and the United States, its most powerful supporter. The Japanese government proposed the Asian Monetary Fund (AMF) to prevent Asian currency crises. The proposal, however, was withdrawn after strong U.S. opposition over its potential obstruction of IMF functions. In October 1998, the Japanese government proposed the “New Miyazawa Initiative,” which would carry out the distribution of funds on a bilateral basis. Under this initiative, Japan subsequently distributed funds to Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, and was highly applauded within the region. In May 1995, “ASEAN+3” (ASEAN countries along with Japan, China, and Korea) agreed that countries would carry out bilateral currency swaps in order to prevent currency crises. This was a reinforcement of the New Miyazawa Initiative, and is also related to the AMF concept. In this way, there is talk of a regional unification with frequent comparisons to the European Union.
In East Asia, a new middle-class arose along with general economic growth, and by raising the power of their societal voice they have rapidly realized democratization since the mid-1980’s. In the Philippines, the “People Power Revolution” occurred in February 1986, giving birth to the Aquino administration. Following “The Bloody May” incident in Thailand in 1992, the civilian Chuan administration replaced the military administration. In 1987, Korea’s democratic movement brought the long years of military rule to an end. In 1998, after the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee Teng-hui’s succession as the new president propelled democratization in Taiwan. In Indonesia, 1998 was the year in which President Suharto resigned, following a huge popular mobilization. Thus confidence arising from democratization signified independence from American influence, and the image of “America, the land of freedom and democracy,” which had been implanted through Americanization, came to represent only one of many perspectives.
3. “9.11” to the Afghan War: Responses and criticism of the U.S.
The blow to Japanese society tuning into late-night programs on September 11, 2001, and witnessing the coverage of the 9.11 terrorist attacks, was great. Military bases in Okinawa and elsewhere were on full alert, and tensions enveloped the Japanese archipelago. Feelings of apprehensions over the North and South Korean tensions crossed the minds of the populace. Needless to say, as the state of the victims and the grief of their families were reported day after day, compassion for the American people deepened.
Listening to President Bush’s “This is war” statement, the Japanese government must have immediately recalled the “defeat” of the Persian Gulf War—a very recent memory of rebuke, Japan was excluded from Kuwait’s thank you letter printed in the Washington Post despite $13 billion of aid to the U.S., a contribution which was completely disregarded after the end of the war because of Japan’s refusal to comply with repeated demands for the deployment of self defense forces, an outright violation of Japan’s constitution. Prime Minister Jyun’ichiro Koizumi swiftly departed to the U.S. to promise Japan’s “cooperation.”20Kunimasa Takeshige, Wangan senso to iu tenkaiten (the Persian Gulf War as a consequence], Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1999.
The attitude of a majority of the Japanese people, however, was far from approving Prime Minister Koizumi’s actions. Many Japanese who, while sympathizing with the victims and feeling anger toward terrorism, felt uneasy with the image of American society draped in the stars and stripes of the national flag and the American government’s race toward “war” as a solution. Sakamoto Yoshikazu, a leading postwar progressive scholar of international politics writes the following:
President Bush’s congressional address includes the following sentence: “Americans are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’… [The terrorists] hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
Upon hearing this, I was astounded. I wondered how he could believe that such words would be acceptable within the international community. Among terrorists, there may be those who fit such a description. Yet, there are also many people within the developing nations who, to some extent, harbor some sympathy for the terrorists and think, “the actions taken by the terrorists were wrong but their motives and intentions are understandable.” Is not the very reason these people hate America because America crushes and silences those very people who seek to realize the “freedom, human rights, and democracy” of which America speaks? Furthermore, is it not also because the “global standard” on which American civilization is based is perceived as increasing the gap between the world’s rich and poor and eroding that “other culture,” different from America? Japan’s “civilization,” which has been in continual alignment with that of the U.S., is no less guilty.21Sakamoto Yoshikazu, “Tero to ‘bunmei’ no seijigaku” (the political science of terrorism and “civilization”) in Terogo: sekai wa dô kawattaka (after the terror: how the world changed), Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho, 2002.
Sakamoto’s critique of Bush represents a widely held criticism of the U.S. government and its people, and their arrogance in believing in the universality of their kind of democracy, freedom, and human rights, their erroneous understanding of themselves, and their ignorance of the rest of the world. At the base of such views is a condemnation of the American government’s recent unilateralism that include its shelving of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty (ABM), their rejection of the Kyoto Accord, their disabling of international regulation of small arms, and their objections to the verification of the Biological Weapons Treaty. Such attitudes of the U.S. government deviate from the aforementioned concept of Americanization of the “Christian tradition, liberalistic expansionism, and Wilsonian internationalism.” Furthermore, each time the Japanese, or East Asian people in general, witness on television and in the newspaper the large numbers of casualties arising from the “collateral damage” of U.S. bombings, which are not widely publicized in the U.S., these opinions only grow stronger.
The former journalist turned critic and writer, Henmi Yô, who among the Japanese media has most aggressively and independently spearheaded the discussion on 9.11 and its aftermath, emphasizes the need to move away from the perspective of “a world seen through the eyes of America”:
The more we attempt to focus our vision, the more we see through the smoke and raining bullets a despairing and inequitable world system. It cannot be as simplistic as a clash between the “madness” of Islamic extremists and the “sanity” of the rest of the world. Behind Osama bin Laden lies, not several thousands of armed men, but a hatred of over a hundred million poverty-stricken people toward the United States. And counter to this, there is President Bush, who not only carries the vengeance of the WTC terrorist attacks, but also exhibits the irrepressible arrogance of the privileged.
…It is time for us to reexamine the true identity of the United States. Since it’s founding, it has repeatedly carried out over 200 foreign military campaigns, including nuclear bombings. Have we yielded ultimate arbitration to a country that has shown almost no official remorse for its militaristic actions? Perhaps we have been for too long “looking at the world through the eyes of America.” This time, however, we must reexamine these terrible war casualties through our own eyes and come up with our own conclusions based on fundamental moral codes. For the U.S. is showing vigorous signs of a new form of imperialism.
The U.S. counterattack was supported by an absolute majority of “nations,” however it was an act that defied the conscience of an absolute majority of “people.” The problem is not whether one “is with the U.S., or with [the terrorists].” Now is the time for us to stand, not on the side of the state, but on the side of those people who are being bombed.22Henmi Yô, Tandoku hatsugen 99nen no handô kara afugan hôfuku sensô made (independent remarks on the resistance, from 1999, to the war in Afghanistan), Tokyo: Kadokawa Shobô, 2001. 39-41.
What Henmi emphasizes is a move from one perspective to several overlapping perspectives by moving from “North” to “South,” from the powerful in war to the weak, from the state to the individual. These are ways to move away from the perspective of the American side and from the image of the world seen “through the eyes of America” fashioned by Americanization.
Akio Igarashi is a professor of law and politics at Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan. He is editor in chief of The Journal of Pacific Asia and author of a number of books and articles, including Japan and a Transforming Asia (Henyousuru Asia to Nippon [Seori Shobo, 1998]).