The Japanese concept of their country is one big family, all descended from the Sun Goddess. This has made it easy to keep out imports and to keep wage rises in step with business success. It has also given the bureaucrats, in theory appointed by the Emperor, enormous, vague and unquestioned powers as guardians of the family's interests.
Guess when the author of the above passage is talking about? This is a quote taken not from an article that appeared, say, sixty years ago but from an article that the Daily Mail ran as late as December 1997.
This is one of the intriguing findings that a newly published booklet From Sun-rise to Sun-set: Japan in Britain's newspapers 1990-2000 (Wales Media Forum, Cardiff, the UK, 2001) introduced. It is a sequel to a study conducted ten years ago by academics of the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University about how the British media reported over the preceding years on Japan. Revisiting the same question the authors of this new study, also belonging to the school at Cardiff University, focus their attentions on the following three hypotheses in order to test them against as many as 1197 articles they gathered randomly from the period 1990-2000. 1) The Japanese are unique, inscrutable and incapable of being understood; as such they mostly do 'wrong' whilst the British, also distinctive, tend to see themselves as 'right'; 2) the rise and fall of Japanese business and economy is explicable in terms of the strangeness of Japanese culture; 3) Japan, when successful in business, arouses envy and is viewed as a threat. Conversely, when Japanese business encounters difficulties, resentment surfaces as schadenfreude (rejoicing at someone else's failures).
The result is a rare accomplishment in that a) it is unrivalled in terms of the depth and width it covers; b) it includes both quantitative and qualitative analyses. Quantitatively the study shows Japan still makes up a disproportionately high share in British print media compared to media representations of such countries as Germany and Switzerland, countries that conceivably matter more to the UK economy. Yet the number of Japan-related articles has fallen just in line with the decline of Japanese economic power. Qualitatively it convincingly makes the case of how deeply some of the long-held prejudices about Japan have persisted. Amongst the quotations introduced in this regard include the following: "The trouble is the Japanese are not brought up on Aristotle or Jesus Christ. They have no concept of guilt or sin. Gangsters live within the system" (Daily Telegraph 30 June 1991); and c) as is noted by the authors, the study "reveal[s] something about Japan, but at least as much about 'us'- the British", which is why the study will remain a useful source of reference for the Japanese as well to see what "they" are like, and perhaps by extension what English speaking Westerners are like in viewing Japan.
One feature particularly relevant to British media (or more precisely London media for they differ substantially from the way in which media in Wales, now an "independent" entity, deal with Japan, according to the authors) is that POW issues still arouse much public sympathy and that "in pursuing the case for financial compensation, the newspapers explicitly align themselves with the position of war veterans. It should be noted that time does not heal the pain as easily and as fast as the Japanese might have wished. "Memories of War" is one of the issues that the authors case-studied. Others include "Financial Markets", "Japanese investment in UK", "Gas attacks[in Tokyo subway system]", "Lucie Blackman", and "Japan and technology".
Highly readable with many telling quotations, this study is a must read especially for those covering Japan representing foreign media, but more broadly for anyone interested in how Japan has been viewed and reported on.