Media coverage of Japan is confined to a few modernist paradigms of a vibrant technopolis, obscuring the problems affecting the rest of the countryby Peter Matanle / October 7, 2013 / Leave a comment
Celebrations abounded in Tokyo last month after it was announced that the Japanese capital would host the 2020 Olympic Games. The decision rested partly on the assumptions that the nuclear situation in Fukushima is manageable, and that the Games will bring opportunities for recovery to the tsunami-destroyed communities.
The former assumption is almost certainly correct. Fukushima may not be completely under control, but it is too far away to affect Tokyo. The latter assumption is less certain. Of the three most damaged prefectures, Fukushima lies to the south, between Tokyo and Miyagi and Iwate. The degree to which tourists will wish to travel through Fukushima to go north, stay the night, and eat and drink there, remains questionable. And what facilities will these coastal communities be able to develop to attract visitors away from the delights of Tokyo or Kyoto?
But there is a larger problem underlying the relationship between Tokyo and the rest of Japan, which the Olympic Games threatens to obscure as well as exacerbate; one which the world should take seriously. For this relationship is profoundly emblematic of great changes taking place across East Asia and which may present a historic cleavage between the 20th and 21st centuries.
Japan is, more or less, as far as one can go from the UK, if one thinks culturally as well as spatially. Our knowledge of the country and its people is generally scant; yet we have much to learn from that part of the world – and I don’t mean to parrot the dreary mantra of East Asian economic dynamism. The average Briton has little opportunity to learn about Japan as it is today, in its post-industrial phase. The school curriculum rarely includes a Japanese element, and the British government – in its effortless wisdom – is cutting what little we do teach of Japanese language, culture and social science at our schools and universities. Britons tend not to travel there in great numbers or interact with Japanese regularly.
Frustratingly, media coverage also remains narrowly constrained within modernist paradigms that feed tired assumptions of Japan as a vibrant and youthful technopolis; too often focusing on the bright lights of Shibuya and the weirdness of Japanese youth culture at the expense of deeper concerns. That impression is easily reinforced when commentators’ own experience is gained from…