Written by Frank Li
In a previous post (America: What is Japan, Anyway?), I explained Japan to my fellow Americans. In this post, I will try to correct the top 10 American misconceptions about Japan.
Misconception 1: Japan is a serious economic competitor to the U.S.
Japan was never a truly serious economic competitor to the U.S.! It might have seemed that way in the 1980s, but that “threat” to America soon disappeared because Japan, after all, has been a de facto U.S. “colony” since the end of WWII. As a matter of fact, there is still substantial American military presence in Japan today.
It’s impossibly likely that Japan will ever become a serious economic competitor to the U.S. for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Japan is much smaller than the U.S. geographically, with far fewer natural resources.
Misconception 2: Both Japan and the U.S. are the greatest countries
Both Japan and the U.S. are great countries. But both pale in comparison with China and the U.K., and are therefore not the greatest. For more, read: The Greatest Countries in Human History.
Misconception 3: Japan has achieved global success
By 1985 when I left Japan, it appeared that Japan had achieved economically what it failed to achieve militarily in WWII: dominating East Asia and beyond. However, that success has proven to be unsustainable for two main reasons:
- Japan’s inability to expand and manage, sustainably, many businesses beyond its own borders, with some exceptions (e.g. autos and home electronics).
- Global competition, particularly from its neighbors, including South Korea, Taiwan, and especially China.
What Japan is trying to do economically (i.e. dominating the world with exports) may be impossible to achieve. You need a large home base first, like the U.S., China, or even Germany in the context of the EU! Japan simply does not have a large home base!
Misconception 4: Japan needs more diversity
This is a typical western medicine for Japan’s ills, which is not applicable. Japan, like its neighbors (South Korea, Taiwan, and China), is one nation with one people, without diversity. Nor does Japan desire it! This is not only cultural, but also geographical and historical: The same people have been living there for tens of thousands of years. Diversity will likely never occur in many already over-crowded lands, in East Asia at least.
Misconception 5: Japan needs U.S. military protection
While Japan had offended all its neighbors with wars and military invasions for almost 100 years by the end of WWII, nobody has ever invaded Japan, except for the Americans, and some Soviets, to end WWII. Americans have been there since then, because America wanted to (America: A Culture of War), not because of any real defensive needs of Japan, especially after the Cold War ended in 1991.
America can no longer afford to save the world while bankrupting ourselves at home!
Misconception 6: U.S.-Japan alliance should continue unabated
Throughout human history, alliances have been like (American) marriages (with a 50% divorce rate): You are the best friends today and you may be the worst enemies tomorrow. For example, during WWII, America and the Soviet Union were allies against the Japanese (and the Germans and the Italians). But as soon as the war was over, the Soviet Union became America’s enemy, while Japan became America’s ally.
The new #1 in East Asia is China. America would be wise to recognize it and accept it, without blind enmity.
As for the U.S. military presence in East Asia, imagine: what if the Chinese or the Russians stationed some troops in Cuba and had active naval activities in the Gulf of Mexico? America would not tolerate it as our history has proven. But isn’t that exactly what America has been doing in East Asia since the end of WWII?
Remember, Democratic Imperialism is still imperialism! Japan and China should, and will, work out their differences by themselves, without Americans!
Misconception 7: Diaoyudao is not a big deal.
Diaoyudao (aka Senkaku Islands in Japan) is a big deal in principle by both Japan and China. For more, watch this video: BBC Interview: Japanese and Chinese ambassadors on island dispute.
Tough talks (e.g. Abe sees World War One echoes Japan-China tensions) aside, Japan should realize and accept the fact that China is truly back and is the #1 in the region.The geography and the size of the country matters, often decisively!
Misconception 8: Japan is religious
The overwhelming religion in Japan is still Buddhism. However, like many other things, Japan learned Buddhism from an outside source (India through China in this case) first, and then has adapted it so much that theirs is uniquely Japanese. For example, in Japan, a monk is often married, instead being a celibate by definition as in China or India. A Japanese monk often lives a life similar to any other ordinary person, including working in a temple as a day job and even doing some financial investing as a part of the job. For more, read: Famed Buddhist sect loses big on Aussie dollar, bond bets.
In short, Japan is not at all religious in any traditional sense.
Misconception 9: Caroline Kennedy is a good choice as the U.S. ambassador to Japan
She got the job only because of her last name!
She may prove to be a good ambassador. But if you really want to know a truly good ambassador, look at this person: Gary Locke, the U.S. Ambassador to China.
Now, compare Caroline Kennedy and Gary Locke in resume, and the differences will be obvious. Gary was a 2-term Governor of Washington as well as the Commerce Secretary before becoming the U.S. Ambassador to China! What has Ms. Kennedy done so far?
Maybe the U.S. ambassador to Japan is just not as important as that to China …
FYI: Gary has been widely regarded in China as the best U.S. ambassador, so far! Let’s see how Ms. Kennedy is going to turn out in Japan …
Always remember: America is a republic, not a monarchy! Everything must be done to prevent, in the public offices at least, nepotism and dynasties, be it the Bushes, the Kennedys, or even the Clintons!
For more, read: America: A Nation of Self-Made Men (and Women)!
Misconception 10: The Japanese are small
Do you know anything about Sumo?