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Hi Blog. Any good organization wanting public approval (or in this case, approval from its geopolitical “friends”) does outreach. And this very professional online magazine issued yesterday from the Abe Administration, called “We are Tomodachi”, is worth an introduction to Debito.org Readers. It offers fascinating insights into what the PM Abe Administration is thinking (or trying to convince you it is thinking — something few branches of Japan’s governmental organs do in any convincing detail even for its citizens).
As The Economist (London) recently noted, Abe is “Japan’s most purposeful prime minister for many years“, and many of Abe’s purposes are herein clearly argued in well-proofed English, albeit in all their stiff transparency.
I mean “transparent” in the sense that the aim of the propaganda is pretty obvious. But I also mean “stiff”. For example, check this picture out:
Surely they could have chosen a better picture. The message one gets is of a very stiff and uncomfortable Abe plonked amidst Japan’s little African brothers (okay, sisters) who have little idea who he is and practically no enthusiasm for him being there.
Yet this is the cover photo of the magazine!
Moving on, here’s the email promo I got last night:
From: We are ‘Tomodachi’ by Japan Gov. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: June 8, 2014
Subject: “Tomodachi” Newsletter Vol.4
This e-mail has been sent to people who consented
to receive the “Tomodachi” newsletter.
Greetings from the staff of the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan
“We Are Tomodachi” is an e-book published with the aim of further deepening people’s understanding of the initiatives of the Government of Japan and the charms of Japan. With the recent events that have taken place, including the visit to Japan by the U.S. President and the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to European countries from late April to early May, on May 31, we released the spring/summer edition, which is a revised version of the spring edition. The link is as follows.
*Clicking on the E-BOOK icon at the center of the screen will allow you to view the e-book in browsing mode.
The PDF version is available for download by clicking on the PDF icon.
We very much hope you will read this for a deeper understanding about Japan.
The summer edition will be released in mid-July.
We are preparing a broad range of topics, including an introduction to colorful fireworks that light up the evening sky and a feature on women who play an active role in society. Please stay tuned!
The Staff of the Office of Global Communications,
Prime Minister’s Office of Japan
*You can visit the URL below to terminate your subscription to this newsletter or change the address at which you receive it:
The inside of the 80-page magazine is, again, fascinating in its prioritizing of subjects, including:
- Abe in Fukushima
- The aims for the Abe Administration (depicted as “kokorozashi”, complete with large kanji; I wish we had a shakuhachi soundtrack)
- A photo essay of Abe hobnobbing internationally this Spring
- Abe’s speeches
- A photo essay of Abe hobnobbing internationally over the past year
- “Abenomics is Progressing! Making the impossible possible” (complete with a graphic with — you guessed it — three arrows! Plus another one of him “drilling” through vested interests; yeah, sure.)
- Abe “actively engages” in dialogue
- The Road to Revival
- Fukushima’s contaminated water problem
- Japan’s Proactive Contribution to Peace (with lengthy explanations of how Japan’s new National Security Council and Act on the Protection of Specially-Designated Secrets is similar to if not milder than Official Secrets Acts elsewhere)
- International Contributions of Japan’s Self Defense Forces
- The Senkaku Islands: 3 Commonly Held Misconceptions
- A bit on the North Korean kidnappings of Japanese, making it into an international issue by including abductees from Thailand, Romania, Lebanon, and China (but if that’s the tack you want to take, why no mention of South Korean abductees?).
- Japan’s contributions to international attempts to decrease maternal mortality rates in Cambodia
- Empowering Farmers as Mainstream Economic Actors (in Africa)
- Japan’s Global-Leading Medical Services
- Useful information for traveling in Japan
- Travel times from Narita to downtown Tokyo — “How Fast It Has Become!”
- Free Wi-Fi Expands (for foreigners!)
- Related Websites and Publications
- Flower Festivals in Summer
- “Friends of Japan” (with profiles of Kendo Master Alexander Bennett, Heritage Preserver Alex Kerr, and Tea Ceremony and “Heart of Japanese Hospitality” Master Randy Channell Soei)
- What Surprises Foreigners About Japan (with a survey of — count them — a whole 50 foreigners, the majority of whom had their lost belongings returned! My, those honest Japanese! Good thing they weren’t talking about umbrellas or bicycles — or that theft is by far the largest crime in Japan)
- Japanese Customs (and come to Japan and be a JET teacher!)
And more. Part travel guide, part geopolitical gaijin handling, part cultural screed (cue those shakuhachis!), this is a great read to deconstruct how the Abe Administration is trying to march the Post-Bubble discourse on Japan back into the first-generation Postwar discourse. Ah, those were the days, when Japan’s elites had near-total control over Japan’s image in the world, and so few outsiders had any understanding (or or had experienced Japan in great depth) that they would ever be taken seriously by anyone who wasn’t a “real Japanese” (moreover, the handful of NJ who did know something could be co-opted as anointed cultural emissaries; they’re still trying to do it within this very magazine).
No, since then millions of people have since experienced Japan beyond the GOJ boilerplate, have lived and invested their lives in Japan, and have learned the Japanese language. So the dialogue is not so easily controlled by the elites anymore. (PM Abe’s Gaijin Handlers: If you’re dropping in on Debito.org again, Yokoso and enjoy our Omotenashi!)
So, Gaijin Handlers, here’s a lesson on what to avoid next time: What irritates people like us who know better is your cultivated mysticism in elite conversations about anything cultural in Japan. Consider this example of bogus social science (depicted as a “secret”) from page 72:
“The Japanese have a reputation for being taciturn and hard to communicate with. Probably the most difficult part of Japanese communication for people from other countries is the way people here converse wordlessly. When people are standing silently at some natural attraction, they’re using their five senses to feel nature and commune with it. So if you notice some quiet Japanese in such a spot, you might try joining them in their silence, taking in everything around you with all your senses: light, wind, sky, clouds, sounds, smells. Because even when nobody is talking, there is plenty of communication going on in Japan.”
This is a juicy claim for deconstruction under a number of genres of social science. The biggest confusion you’re going to cause in NJ tourists and newbies will come when they confront the amount of noise at many a tourist trap (especially from those trying to “nigiyaka” the place up with their megaphoned music), and wonder how they’re supposed to use all their five senses like the mystical Japanese apparently do. Logically, this also means the purported J-silence around awkward conversations could be due to the inscrutably “shy” Japanese trying to take NJ in with all their five senses too (I wonder what happens when they get to “Smell”, “Touch”, or “Taste”?). What rubbishy analytical tools. And it’s one reason why so many people (Japanese and NJ) go nuts in Japan, because they’re constantly told one thing yet experience another.
Anyway, there’s a lot there, so I’ll let Debito.org Readers go through this magazine and have some fun. For as sophisticated as Japan’s bureaucrats can be, they’re pretty clumsy when it comes to social science. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito