Thursday, July 08, 2010

Uniquely Japan

Half full or half empty? Because no two people are exactly the same, there are as many opinions in one issue as there are many people opining. My personal views may be good for me only. As well, yours may be good for you alone. In the article below, Japan is presented by a Japanese in a way that he thinks how foreigners in his country perceive them to be. While the facts may be close to being accurate, the presentation may be a generalization, which may not be true to all. It saddens me that the author of the Japan: The Strange Country, thinks that way. On the contrary, in the book JAPAN Lights and Shadows, Japan is presented in a more positive tone. Watch the video and the article below.

What comes to mind when you think of Japan? For many it's sushi or taiko drumming, but we all know Japan is far more complex than that. To mixed reviews, Kenichi Tanaka, a Japanese animation student, attempted to capture all the social quirks of Japanese life in a video called Japan: The Strange Country - first brought to our attention on

For Tanaka's graduate thesis, he intended to show how the Japanese are perceived by non-Japanese. He presents Japanese culture in eight different categories, such as Japan's modernization and the impact of the economy on Japanese people - all with a focus on their "strange" ways of living, perhaps as a kind of commentary on what is normalized in Japanese society.
Photo credit:

Hanako Okana, a Japanese international student at UBC found the video to be precise:
"...Everything is so true! I'm glad that [Japanese] people have started realizing some of the stuff we do in Japan are strange."
This video was also slammed with harsh criticism, as many international students from Japan found it offensive. There was so much criticism online over the video's "racism," that Tanaka has since taken the English version offline.
One international student commented:
"In a Japanese website [Tanaka] said he emphasized what is 'strange' about Japanese society from the eyes of the foreigners, but my family, friends and I would also question some of the issues raised in the video, for example [examples of] dehumanization, Westernization at the revolving sushi restaurant, extreme social pressure to go on a diet and an attachment to brand goods among young women.Some of the portrayals of Japanese people and culture were stereotypical, and it did not address the fact that Japan was both the victim and the assailant in war years.
But, I especially liked how he did a comparative analysis of the statistics surrounding each issue and provided a perspective to see domestic issues in Japan in relation to pressing global issues.
In a nutshell I have mixed feelings about this video, but I agree with his concerns and criticisms for some of the strange trends in ever modernizing Japanese society. This neat video is definitely something to share with others who have been to Japan!"
This video gives a quick and clear visualization for viewers that makes some of Japan's most complex issues simple and understandable. Tanaka was able to condense a mouthful of information into a 12-minute video, but perhaps he could have acknowledged that he also runs the risk of over-generalization. It's good to keep in mind that the areas discussed in the video were generalized. It never says explicitly that everyone is like that.
It's hard for me to agree that this video is racist. The video doesn't display hatred or intolerance of Japanese. I felt it was more of a self-criticism, or a self-reflection, as opposed to being racist. Self-criticism of any culture is generally hard to take. It must have taken much courage for Tanaka to make and put this video online where it would be exposed to all eyes.
As a communications tool, I thought this video was really effective. As social commentary, somewhat controversial. If anything, I am even more interested in going to Japan now.

Originally posted here

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