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Japan's global diffidence

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The Japanese do not have a very positive view of the influence of the US, China, South Korea, North Korea, United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, France, South Africa, Israel, Canada, European Union, Russia, Iran, Brazil, or Germany.  They do not even have a very positive view of their own country, Japan!  This is the conclusion of a recent BBC World Service poll across 28 countries conducted by GlobeScan based on almost 30,000 interviews globally.

Is this cultural diffidence?  Are the Japanese becoming a lost, lonely and confused tribe?

Before we delve into the Japanese stories, we must report that global views of the US have improved markedly.  This is reassuring.  For better or worse, the US remains the number one world superpower.  And so it’s all to the good that we think more positively of the US.  Thanks Barack!

But the US is still far from being the world’s most popular country.  Respondents consider more positively the influence of Germany, Canada, European Union, Japan, UK and France (even France!)  Only 46 per cent of respondents say that the US has a mostly positive influence on the world, while 34 per cent say it has a negative influence.  The US is viewed positively in 20 of the 28 countries surveyed.

Now let’s come to the curious case of Japan whose global popularity has been creeping down in recent years.  While 53 per cent of respondents globally believe that Japan has a positive influence, only 43 per cent of Japanese themselves believe that their country has a positive influence.  Against that, only 7 per cent of the respondents from the land of the rising sun believe that Japan has a negative influence.  In other words, half of the Japanese do not seem to have a view on whether their country has a positive or negative influence.

This pattern sets the trend for the whole survey.

Only 34 per cent of Japanese have a positive view of the US’s influence, with about half undecided!  Only 18 per cent of Japanese have a positive view of China’s influence, despite Prime Minister Hatoyama’s East Asian Community charm offensive (of the 28 countries, only Italy gives China a lower score).  Bytheway, the feeling is mutual, as China is the only country with a balance of negative views about Japan and these views have worsened.

The Japanese give their South Korean neighbour a better score than China.  And South Korea’s views of Japan have also warmed, shifting from negative to positive over the past two years.  And although Japan is flirting with India as a counterweight to China, this giant of the sub-continent does not get a great score from the Japanese. 

The Japanese are quite lukewarm when it comes to Brazil, the home of many of their blood brothers.  Not surprising perhaps, since when the global financial crisis struck they sent back to samba land a whole swag Japanese ethnic immigrants.  And lukewarm is again the word that comes to mind for Japanese views on Europe’s major countries.  Who do the Japanese like?

When it comes to North Korea, however, the Japanese get decisive.  Just 1 per cent give this terrorist state a positive score, and virtually all give a negative score.  Very low scores are also reserved for Pakistan, Israel, Russia, Iran and even South Africa.  Japan gives the lowest marks of any nation for most of these countries.

The obvious question to ask is whether there is some cultural bias in these results.  That is, do they reflect a cultural reticence, or some deep underlying pessimism and retreat from the world?

It may indeed be the latter.  Just a few months back, another survey showed that as the world economic recovery takes hold, consumers in the Asia-Pacific region are among the most confident in the world, with Chinese and Indonesian consumers leading the way.    

But there was one exception.  The Japanese are deeply pessimistic about the future.  Indeed, Japanese consumers recorded the lowest score of any country.

But it is more than that.  The Japanese have always been taught that they are different, unique.  This means that they feel ill at ease with the rest of the world.  And as the inevitable rise of China proceeds, many Japanese would like to retreat into their shell!

What’s more, the Japanese government and elite have never wanted the Japanese people to get too involved with international politics.  So they have never been sufficiently educated about the rest of the world.  And that education which does occur is still drenched with unhealthy undertones of nationalism.

Come on Japan.  It’s time to wake up and come to terms with the rest of the world, and find your own place in it!



BBC World Service Poll


Asian Nations—but Not Japan—among World’s Most Confident Consumers: Global Poll