The Year In Review: Japan in the News
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
The year's end often provides a good opportunity to look back and reflect on what came to pass. This week's media review will do just that. To date, a total of twenty-seven issues have been written since June, all on news items of a wide range. Each review tried to highlight subjects that gained major interest throughout the world with the objective of providing our readers with a glimpse of what is being said and read about Japan. The following is a brief topical synopsis of how Japan was portrayed in 2001.
Koizumi's rise to power was initially viewed with skepticism. Back in April he was described as little more than a pop star who according to Times Asia, had "mastered the art of Bill Clinton's mannerisms." It wasn't until the LDP's victory in July's upper house elections when people started taking Koizumi's pledge for "no sacred cows" when it comes to reform seriously (Media Review 8). Articles led off with titles such as "In Japan, a leader whose words work wonders" and expectations ran high. However, not all were believers. The Financial Times remained cautious saying "Koizumi's popularity may end up damaging him". Sure enough, as Japan witnessed record unemployment (Media Review 11) and entered into one recession after the next rumors of a cabinet reshuffle started to spread. Japan's ministries were in disarray with the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture failing to respond to the Mad Cow crisis (Media Review 16) and Foreign Minister Tanaka embarrassing Japan at the highest of levels with her inappropriate behavior (Media Review 22). Nevertheless, with his latest show of resolve in healthcare and public sector reforms confidence remains in Koizumi's leadership.
Japan and Asia
On the regional level Japan continued to cause consternation as a result of its failure to deal, in an acceptable manner, with its wartime past. The publication of a history textbook that depicted Japan's military conquest of East Asia prior to and during WWII in a glorified manner drew large scale condemnation (Media Review 3). To make matters worse, PM Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine on August 13 (Media Review 10) led South Korea to recall its ambassador and cut off military and cultural ties with Japan. Relations with China also soured and were further complicated by a growing trade dispute between the two countries. Hopes for Japanese leadership in Asia began to fade. In fact, prior to the ASEAN plus 3 summit in November many diplomatic commentators advised that, "the best thing might be [for Japan] to try not to exert any leadership at all and just listen instead" (Media Review 21). Most recently, the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague ruled that Japan should apologize and pay reparations for the sexual enslavement of over 200,000 women during World War II (Media Review 26). Relations with Asia have not gone in a positive direction and Japan needs to take to heart calls for an official apology for wartime crimes.
Japan's international role
Early this year Japan's international image began to slip considerably. It failed to put sufficient force behind the Kyoto Protocol leading to its virtual collapse without US cooperation (Media Review 6). In July, Japan was accused of buying the votes of six Caribbean countries in order to prevent a ban on whaling from being put in place at the International Whaling Commission (Media Review 7). Its harboring of run away Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Fujimori, wanted for crimes against humanity, has put into question Japan's commitment to the protection of human rights (Media Review 13). However, beginning in September all attention shifted towards Afghanistan as Japan joined the US's war on terrorism. Koizumi responded swiftly to US calls for Japan to "show the flag" by passing the anti-terrorism bill and gaining approval to send the Self-Defense Forces overseas for the first time since WWII. Although there were voices of justified resistance, the rapid response of the Japanese government was met with pleasant surprise by most with some saying, "Japan did more in 3 weeks than over the past 50 years," in defining its military role (Media Review, 14, 15, 17, 18, 23). In addition, Japan has pledged to assume a critical humanitarian and developmental role in Afghanistan as it prepares to re-build the country (Media Review 24). In this sense, Japan's international visibility has increased dramatically and with it comes greater responsibility.
On the societal level, Japanese continue to face mounting difficulties. They have witnessed an increase in crime leading many to question whether their safe society has collapsed (Media Review 9). Worsening economic woes have caused Japan's homeless community to expand and human plight is now more visible in Japan than ever before in recent history (Media Review 19). Nevertheless, there were great human triumphs as well. Ichiro Suzuki has become the Michael Jordan of baseball and is a new source of pride for many Japanese (Media Review 12). However, most uplifting of all was the birth of Aiko-sama (Media Review 26). Her arrival has breathed new hope in the hearts of many Japanese, who now look with renewed courage to welcome in the New Year.
A happy New Year to all.