Courtesy Reuters

Living with the Real Japan

In the first century of our relations with Japan, both countries swung from extremes of high hope to despair, and back again to hope. Now, with greater opportunities to know each other and with a dialogue reopened between our intellectuals, there should be wiser calculations on both sides of the Pacific. Instead, we are again moving in different directions and, at least for the moment, there is the danger that high expectations will again founder on misunderstandings.

It is not surprising that we are badly informed about Japan. Our press coverage of the major power in Asia and the fourth greatest industrial power in the world is absurdly inadequate. Only one of the regular American correspondents in Tokyo can speak and read Japanese usefully. American editors seem determined to limit all stories on Japan to the exotic, inscrutable or threatening. Scholarly works, with few exceptions, are becoming increasingly specialized. Despite new attention to East Asia in college and high school courses, it is still hard for the layman to find out what he needs to know about our most important and difficult Asian ally.

The Japanese, it should be added, have done little better. Members of their press corps in Washington speak English badly as a rule, and reach few important sources. Their editors favor critics of the Administration without giving equal space to majority views. Japanese visitors tend to be subjective and emotional when they record their impressions of the United States, and scholars are either specialized like our own or committed to a viewpoint before they arrive. Because of the Occupation and our continuing physical presence in Japan, it is easy for Japanese to feel they know us when often they are dealing in false images.

It may be that we can each survive our misapprehensions, letting the diplomats try to untangle the knots, but it would seem better to try to get the picture in focus now than to face a new round of frustrations later on.


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